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Hunting

Hunting the Green Monster

How It Starts

There I was, opening day of Rifle season, sitting in a breakfast joint with my wife when I get a call from my best friend.

“ Dude! We just doubled up on four point Muleys! Can you come help us pack out, we are five miles from the truck.”  Instead of being excited for my two friends, I was instantly overcome by jealousy, the Green Monster.

You see, a few years back I decided to leave rifle hunting behind and pick up a bow and arrow. Early archery season had already come and gone without success for me, and I was upset that it wasn’t me out there. How could they go out there in one morning and double up, when I put in a full month of hard hunting without a notched tag. To add insult to injury, they wanted my help packing out! I wanted to do anything but go help. Them shooting two deer in the area I hunted so hard was a double lung to my pride. I felt deflated as a hunter. Like I was a failure.

The Problem

I believe that all hunters at one time of another find themselves feeling jealous of other hunter’s success. This day and age we are constantly subject to people’s success. Our social media feeds are swarmed with big deer, big bull, and any other trophy you can think of.  We see a far higher percentage of success than we do failure. This makes us start to feel that we are doing something wrong, or that we are missing something. What is it that I don’t know? How can everyone else harvest such monsters, but we haven’t notched a tag in two years?  We start to hope that it is our equipment, it must be my camos fault or maybe my scent control, so we spend money on gear we don’t need thinking it’s going to help us be more successful. What if you shoot a deer that isn’t big enough? So you pass on opportunity because you are worried about what everyone on Facebook is going to think of your “sub par” deer, even though five years ago, you would have considered it a trophy in your own books.  These are all natural feelings. So how do we overcome it?

The Solution

You have to ask yourself, “Why do I hunt?” As hunters we like to say it’s not all about the kill.It is about the experience, the family, the friendship, and the memories. It is the appreciation for this big wild world we live in and the opportunity to be a part of it. When I look back at my best hunting memories, it has never been pulling the trigger. It is always the packout, or the much needed beer after getting back to camp, or mutual misery of sleeping in a tent in sub-zero temps. I started bow hunting for the experience, and oh boy have I gotten it. I didn’t do it to increase my harvest rate or shoot bigger deer, I did it for the challenge and the sport. Whether I harvest a deer or not is never going to change the fact that I love hunting, and that is the answer to jealousy.

So, I drove the hour home, grabbed my pack, put on my boots and orange vest, then drove another hour to the trailhead and hiked in to help my best friends pack out their deer. And

I can tell you this, it was miserable, they shot the deer in a hole, and it was 5 miles out, all uphill. But, it was the highlight of this season, and a memory I will never forget. I hope they do the same thing next year.

A Spring to Remember

As the harsh winter months toil on, I sit by my fireplace and reminisce of hunts of yesteryear. All the days spent scouting and preparing for that coming season.  All those days spent a field where the only thing I managed to kill was time. All those days are made worth it when that day finally comes, the day that makes it all worth it. One such hunt always sticks out in my mind as the most memorable I’d ever been part of, my very first successful harvest of a spring gobbler.

The Story Begins…

It was the spring of 2017 after a winter that lasted well into March.  We turkey hunters were anxious for the land to start thawing out and for those old toms to start up their bird love orchestra. I had secured permission to hunt a friend’s farm not far from where I had been archery hunting every year. The interesting thing about this property was that my friends were actually have trouble with several wild gobblers coming onto their property and bullying their domestic farm turkeys. For a turkey hunter, this is a very good problem to have. Although it presents an interesting challenge; how do I tell the difference between the wild birds and the domestic farm birds?  The farm birds regularly wandered into the fields that I would later be hunting so I knew I would need to be absolutely sure of my target before pulling that trigger.

Opening day came and went with no sight or sound of birds anywhere in the fields and woods I was hunting. Did that old tom bullying the farm turkeys get shot? Did he get hit by a car? Or did he just get wise? All these questions raced through my head as I gear up for the second Saturday of the season.  I had decided to bring along my brother and friend Cody to add a couple more bird brains in the blind. We walked about 400 yards out through a cut corn field and set up on a finger of woods jutting out into the bottom of the field.  It looked to be the perfect spot to ambush an unsuspected turkey.

Just after daybreak we scratched that old slate call a couple times and then we heard the old tom let out his first gobble of the morning.  It thundered through the hollow and our hearts started jumping out of our chests. I called again and again he bellowed back at me. Then my brother whispers to me “I think I see him”. I turn to his side of the blind and see a turkey, but I notice the bottom portion of his breast feathers had been pulled out, and then I realized that was one of the farm turkeys.  I clucked a few more times, then we heard another gobble from down in the hollow behind us. We then realized what was going on, we actually had a wild gobbler and a farm gobbler both coming right at our calling and decoys. I turned to my brother and said “keep your eyes on the farm boy and I’ll stay focused on the old tom”. Every time we would scratch that call both birds would let out a thunderous gobble. There was no doubt in my mind that wild old tom was coming right for us.

Unbelief

When the wild tom seemed to be just about 100 yards from us, he just shut up.  We didn’t hear a peep out of that bird for a solid 15 minutes (although it felt like 3 hours).  Discouraged and thinking we’d been beaten, I exited the blind (like a fool) to shoo the farm turkey away from our set up, fearing he’d pushed the wild bird off. I finally convinced the farm bird to leave our hollow and start making his way back to the farm.  As I turned to head back to the blind, I look up and realize that I see  the red of a gobblers head sticking up just over the crest of the hill between us.  In a moment of disbelief, I turned and looked back at the farm bird and then back at the one in front of me, and I realized I had made a big mistake.  The wild bird had simply shut up and began working around us to come into the field on the other side of the hollow. I had two choices, I could either lay low and hope that old bird didn’t spot me, or make a charge over the crest of the hill like a scene out of braveheart.  Well, this crazy turkey hunter chose the ladder.  As I charged up over the hill, that old tom had no idea what was coming for him. As I crested the hill the bird turned to move back toward the woods and I knew I wouldn’t have much time for a shot.  I pulled up the old 12 gauge and let the lightning fly. The next thing I knew, my first gobbler was on the ground.

It was an unorthodox hunt to say the least. I don’t know many guys that have charged a turkey like a character from a Mel Gibson movie, and actually came out of it with a bird. After it was all said and done and it was time for pictures, my brother Kyle, Cody, and I couldn’t help but sit there and laugh at the chain of events that led to getting that bird on the ground. It’s a hunt that will live on in my memory forever.  It doesn’t matter if your hunt plays out like a hunting show or like a cartoon show, what matters is the experience you had along the way. I appreciate the opportunity to harvest that bird, and getting to do it with my brother and best friend made it all the better.

 

Blood Trailing with a Bow

So you’re probably thinking, oh this just another article telling me to back out if I think I made a bad shot. Well… you’re wrong and right. This time you’re going to learn about the evidence your arrow leaves you, and how this is the most important information you have.

I had a personal problem with doe that I double lung shot earlier in the season. It happened like this; I shot the doe perfectly broadside at 24 yards. The shot felt great however, I went in much to fast, just thirty minutes or so after I shot her. I found blood very quickly and very plentifully, I had tracked about eighty yards and I heard a deer jump up and take off running. I figured this was just another deer bedded down. I soon came upon a massive pool of blood and the blood stopped after that. I marked my spot on my phone and picked up the trail the next morning. I did not find blood for another eighty yards, and when I did it was very spotty. I soon began to lose the blood trail and after about one hundred it ceased completely. I searched for another couple of hours but I was never able to recover the deer. I do not want this situation to happen to anyone else, so I made this four part guide on how to track a deer with a bow.

 

1 of 4: Gut Shots

Gut shots… everyone’s biggest fear. The best way to tell if the remnants on your arrow are gut remnants is by smell checking. Sometimes a deer can be shot in the gut but still make contact with the liver making it seem as though you made a good shoot because you have blood on your arrow. Always smell your arrow, you will know if it is a gut shot because it will have a distinct stench. When you have gut shot a deer always mark where the deer was standing and back out for at least six hours before taking up the trail.

2 of 4: Liver or Muscle

Liver and/or muscle shots can be tricky to identify. Usually the arrow will be covered in super dark red blood. When you identify this you should wait at least four to five hours before taking up the blood trail.

 

3 of 4: Oxygen rich Artery/Heart

These are the ideal shots and they get the job done quick. They are typically light to medium red in blood color. The animal expires very quickly and suffers little to none. It is a good idea to wait at least one to two hours to track these deer just to be safe.

 

4 of 4: Lung Shots

The ideal shot for a hunter other than a heart shot is a lung shot. Arrows will typically be light colored blood with bubbles in it.
[Image Source: Ryan Kirby (commissioned by Realtree)]

These bubbles indicate the oxygen from the lungs. When dealing with a lung shot deer, it is best to wait at least one to two hours to track them.

 

A personal preference in arrows is the Black Eagle Arrows’ Zombie Slayer.  I hope this guide helps you and any of your friends who need tips on tracking deer. Good luck hunting!

 

Walking with the Warlord

There’s a song by Rhett Akins I really love called “Granddaddy’s Gun.” It’s the ballad of a young man recalling the story of the shotgun his grandfather gifted him on his thirteenth birthday, and the deep meaning the gun holds for him. He reminisces about tales from yesteryear, and shares the hope he has to one day pass it on to his son. To him, no amount of money in the world could buy the memories and tradition that his granddaddy’s gun holds. If we’re lucky enough, I’m sure many of us can point to a certain gun or bow that can unlock the past and show us the treasures they possess for us, even though they may appear worthless to the untrained eye. This is the story of the gun that holds that prestige to me; my father’s rifle, the one he calls “The Warlord.”

Our story begins thirty-five years ago, when my father was just fifteen years old. Many early mornings in the milking parlor and long, hot days on the construction site had finally earned him enough money to buy a brand-new Ruger model 77 rifle, chambered in .300 Winchester mag. The sharp recoil landed hard against his small but wiry frame, but he was determined to conquer this rifle and that’s exactly what he did. His passion for this gun and shooting it well quickly turned into an obsession, which manifested itself in the proficiency and notoriety amongst my dad and the newly minted Warlord would soon gain.

Whitetails would be the first to feel the wrath of the Warlord. As a young man my father would roam the mountains and hills of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia in search of these beautiful deer each autumn, and felled many with quick and deadly precision. One such instance was in the crisp opening morning air early in the 1980s. After an unsuccessful hunt, my father and his companions had gathered around the truck to recount the morning’s misfortune. Suddenly, upon a distant ridge a ten point buck came bounding out of the wood line and began racing across the field. Dad smoothly leveled his rifle across the hood of that old Chevy Cheyenne, settled the crosshairs on the buck’s line of travel, and fired. To the amazement of the onlookers, the buck folded mid stride and crashed to the earth in a tumbling heap some four hundred yards away.

Eventually wanderlust overtook my dad and he, with the Warlord safely in tow, made the journey west to the Rockies and the vast wilderness of central Idaho. Deer and elk were to be his principle quarry, and he would get his first opportunity within days of arrival on the deer of a lifetime. Upon his trusty horse Blue he glassed as dawn broke over the valley below. The spruce and fir trees that lined the landscape created a seemingly endless ocean of green. As he glassed diligently, the familiar gleam of antler and tawny hide rose from the tide and into view. This buck was tall and heavy with split brow tines, exactly what he had traveled west for. As Dad settled behind the scope and prepared for the shot, the buck did an about face and began his ascent up a distant hill. As the buck quickly began to fade over the roll of hill, a shot rent the air and the Warlord claimed its next victim. Three hundred yards away, the split brow eleven point lay dead, having crumpled and succumbed to a perfectly executed “Texas heart shot”. As he held the magnificent antlers of his Idaho trophy, my father wore an unerasable smile, one that signified the fulfillment of a childhood dream, catalyzed by his beloved rifle.

A few years and a bull elk later (a story for another day because I surely can’t divulge everything), dad found himself back in Idaho, this time as a guide. One fateful morning he was accompanied by my grandfather, his client for the week. Pap had been intrigued by dad’s success and stories of the wilderness and the giants that it contained, and decided he wanted a piece of it. After making it to a good spot above the tree line to stop and glass, things took a turn. During the glassing a rock gave way beneath him, sending my father careening down the mountainside, finally coming to rest beneath a log. The log slowly began to crush him and the pain was excruciating. Pap rushed to his aid but was unable to free his son and panic had start to set in. However, in stroke of fate the Warlord had drifted to my father’s side during the fall and it proved to be an excellent lever. Dad let out a sigh as he pushed with all his power to relieve himself of the weight that held him captive, eventually freeing himself while the log disappeared over the edge of the mountain into the valley below. Just this once, the Warlord went from reaper to savior.

With the legend cemented and my mother waiting in the east, the Warlord returned home for the final time. My father continued to dazzle back home in the east, with many deer and a bear or two feeling the wrath of his rifle. One buck in particular fell victim to the Warlord’s kiss of death, even though his vitals were obstructed by the oak board of a split rail fence. This season, I will be carrying the Warlord with me into the woods. My father beamed with pride when I came to him with this proposition, saying only, “Treat her well, and she’ll take care of you just like she took care of me.” This season, I will feel every nick and scratch in the wood of the stock and feel the history come alive beneath my hands. This season, I will hopefully gaze into the scope and draw the crosshairs on the shoulder of a big whitetail buck, just as Dad did all those times. This season, I’ll be walking with the Warlord.                     

Arizona Hunting: Over the Counter Elk?

You’re telling me you don’t have to get drawn?

Yes, it is possible you can buy a tag to hunt elk at any properly vetted license and tag dealer (cough, WalMart) and go elk hunting all year.  Now of course I’ll dive into the specifics and the catches of this hunt because usually if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. What I’ll share with you is mostly informational, but if you are wanting more information about states out west, this will be some good wisdom to have in your conservation brain.

 

How does it work?

Of course there is the associated tag and license fees that can come with it, and out of state license and  tag fees can be hefty for anyone out of the the Grand Canyon State.  Specifically, an out of state license is $160 and the non-permit tag is $650 for out of state residents, which is brutal, but for in state residents, the price is manageable. What is interesting though is your non-permit tag would last for the entire year and you can use it for any of the four designated areas.  These areas include:

Winslow – Holbrook Area
Camp Verde Area
Alamo Lake Area
Units 28-31 Safford Area

Each of these designated areas have their own specific boundaries, private versus public access, and some have specific dates. Generally, elk can be hunted most of year where Arizona Game and Fish is trying to keep unwanted elk out of areas of agricultural fields and in areas of competitive species, such as mule deer. What’s really cool is you can shoot any elk, with any weapon of choice, including a high power rifle.  Some of the areas may be in a town limits, and you’d have to adhere to local laws which may restrict to archery only.  For the nuts and bolts of each of the four specific areas and mapping,  here is a link providing all the rules and restrictions.

Of course this seems way too good to be true, and so I did some local online forum research.  To my surprise, I did find reports and pictures of people who have taken elk in these population management designated areas, specifically to an area I was interested in going to.

My Experience with Camp Verde OC Non-permit Elk Tag

It was crazy, there was big bulls bugling everywhere.  I’m sure you’re saying no way, but in reality, after a day and a half, I didn’t see any elk.  I covered ground hiking and glassing, miles of road and more glassing, but no elk. Mainly, I went up to this hunt over the weekend of December 1st and 2nd because of a snowstorm in the mountains of the high country, and December 1st was the opening day in this area for this specific population management hunt.  You can hunt elk all year in this area, but then it closes September 14 for the start of the regular elk seasons, while not opening till the December 1st again.  I thought the odds of seeing an elk were in my favor because of the weather and the season allotments, but it looks like the Dumb and Dumber voice in my head “so you think there’s a chance” may have been false.

Do I think this was a waste of my time?

Absolutely not because:

  1. I was in the field scouting a new area that could help for other species such as mule deer, which I did see a big buck and tracks everywhere.
  2. It felt awesome I was actually elk hunting with a rifle since it had been years.
  3. I could really see for myself what the hoopla was.
  4. The conditions were right because of the weather, and transient elk do go through the area’s deep canyons to the Verde River below.
  5. Discovering a pioneer lookout fort probably from the 1800s.

Why not take advantage of this opportunity since the funds go towards conservation,  and it will be my luck I’ll see an elk when I didn’t buy the tag. I found many areas that looked elky with juniper and pinyon-pine trees, which were perfect cover to meander down to the Verde River in the valley below.  More snow is projected up top on the mountains and rim country, and the elk may push down below through the canyon bottoms the rest of December and January.   What I also do know is over the counter archery deer season is January 1st through 15th, and wouldn’t it be something while looking for mule deer, I come across some elk and also have my 300 win mag with me. BLAM, way better eats too!

Possible 1800s pioneer lookout fort

 

 

Traditions Remembered

It was a cool November evening, I was walking down an old dirt road through the Oklahoma pines. There wasn’t anything special about this Tuesday evening, no cold front was coming, and it was in the middle of rifle season. “Why even bother go hunting?”, I thought to myself, but little did I know I was on what would be the most exciting hunt of my life.

Twenty sits in a stand, no shooters in range all year. Well I’ve seen a few, but there’s something you should know about me, I’m weird, yeah, real weird. I’m one of those guys that shoots a longbow, and wood arrows. I’m stubborn too, so rifle season didn’t stop me from taking my favorite stick to the woods. It’s not just any bow though, it was handcrafted in Montana by Trent Wengerd and shipped to me, one of a kind made just for me. I promised him it was going to win some buckles and kill some deer, and I wasn’t going to let him down. So, after all these sits in various stands over acorns, I decided to try something dangerous, something risky. I was going to hunt the bedding area, yes, I said the bedding area.

 

I knew if I wasn’t careful I could pressure the deer off my family’s eighty-acre plot. So, I hunted the mouth of the bedding area on a trail going to some oak thickets (the major food source I had been hunting). This area of the property burned down in a major forest fire a few years earlier. There were a lot of young pines and oak scrubs, with pockets of head high grass scattered throughout. Because all the trees were young and short, a tree-stand wasn’t an option, so I put my ghillie suit on and squeezed between a cluster of pines. I was only about ten yards from a fresh rub, which was on a heavily used trail. I trimmed some branches for a shooting lane, and had just begun to set my camera up on the tripod when I heard “CRUNCH CRUNCH”.

I looked up and I saw a buck about twenty yards away, walking straight towards me. I turned on my camera on and grabbed my bow, no time to focus the camera, he kept coming. Fifteen yards now, there was no shot, he was quartering towards me too hard. As he was about ten yards away he reached a small pine, and I knew he was going to have to walk around it, forcing him to turn more broadside. By the time he got around the tree he was only about eight yards away (no range finder, I walked this off after the shot.) and he was still quartering towards me, making this a tough shot, but one I was confident I could make. I quickly started my shot process, drew back, hit anchor, picked a spot, let go, and said a prayer (this last step is by far the most important of all when shooting trad). I watched the arrow connect two inches forward of where I aimed, and I heard the solid crack of the shoulder. My arrow snapped in half and the deer jumped skyward running in the air. Not only am I using a longbow, but its only forty-two pounds at my draw length. Yeah, this isn’t good I thought.

I listened as the deer crashed through the forest full speed, till I couldn’t hear him anymore. After almost a minute of listening I realized I hadn’t been breathing I was so nervous. There was blood everywhere, I grabbed my arrow and backed out. The buck had snapped the arrow about 4 inches from the tip. After an hour I went back to start trailing the blood. I knew based off the angle, the arrow either got through to the lungs and he was dead by now, or it wasn’t a fatal hit, which gave me a little comfort. The deer had run through tall grass and it had already soaked up most of the blood, thirty yards later I was out of blood.

Fortunately, I knew of great a tracking team a few miles down the road. I gave my friend a call and he brought his dog (all state tracking laws were followed). The dog started at the beginning of the blood trail and followed the trail a good way with no blood. Then, she found new blood and yanked us through a couple brush piles, I was on my hands and knees thinking she found a rabbit trail. Then I saw him, my buck was piled up under some brush and tall grass. After looking at my GPS I saw he only went 120 yards. I know for a fact however I would have never found this deer if it wasn’t for the help of this smart pup, and if I can’t find a deer I will always call her, as I feel it is my duty to make every effort to recover any animal I’ve shot. When I got closer, I saw I had blown through the shoulder and hit the front of the lungs. I credit this to my efficient arrow setup and nothing else. I’ve heard of compound shooters with 70 pound bows not get through the shoulder. But luckily for me I was shooting a 617 grain arrow, which was tipped with 225 grain single bevel vandieman broadheads, made of solid steel.

After thanking the tracker and cleaning the deer, I was driving home. And I was reflecting on my hunt. The deer wouldn’t score close to my best mounts, and it didn’t have any special features about it. However, it will go down as my favorite hunt so far. You see, I chased a buck all last year with my longbow, and one day I decided to bring my rifle instead. The monster buck walked right under my longbow stand and I took him with a rifle. The whole year since I regretted not getting him with my bow. After this, I learned success to me wasn’t measured in the inches of antler on the buck (although that sure doesn’t hurt), but it’s measured in the hunt, and the effort I put into the hunt, as well as the experience as a whole.

Shooting a deer from the ground that close, with a weapon that requires dedication and skill, rewards a hunter with feeling of accomplishment like no other.  I can’t help but grin when I think about using two sticks to kill a deer, and better yet, getting to honor some of the traditions of bow hunting.

That Bow Season Feeling (in Upstate New York)

Non-stop action

Early bow season 2018 – a true season to remember. The bow swinging in the breeze and the deer on the move. With new spots scouted out and some old ‘tried-true’; successful harvests have found me over the course of the whole early bow season.

Meat in the Freezer

The first came from a stand I had never been in. I had asked permission last spring to hunt gobblers with no success, but I knew it would be a nice spot to check up on deer later in the
year. With work being busy, I got up the courage to ask the owner if I could bowhunt the
property knowing there was another person set to gun hunt it.

Permission granted, I made a quick set after work and like clockwork the deer started filtering
into the corner I had chosen. A big doe and two little ones came first at 50 yards, then some 300
yards out. As I watched and contemplated a shot, biding my time, another nice doe made an
appearance at 25 yards. The bow drawn and tactacam rolling, I sent the carnivore and jak knife
clean through. It was the second week in October and the weather was cool, just about how you
would dream it.

More!

I spent the next couple weeks hunting when I could, mostly afternoons, as I did not take any full days off to hunt in the week. Seeing deer pretty much every day; I was loving every minute of just being in the woods.
I made weekends about spending time on a small postage stamp of WNY land I hunt with a good friend and my girlfriend. We had a tough first weekend – with lots of deer coming in to only taunt our intentions of putting carbon airborne.

With a few weeks rest, the weather cooler yet we met back up and managed to nearly each harvest an antlerless deer. I was able to bring a mature doe in on a string to a mock Evercalm scrape and my buddy met success in his ‘five finger’ stand just riding the breeze. It was a proud weekend as I recorded his first bow kill on camera. The emotion and spirits were real; the kind that truly make for life-long memories.

Success – Hunting the Rut

The hunt is always on for me, pretty much year round I’m thinking, prepping, and dreaming of
November days just like these. A brisk 30 degrees, barely frozen, the is air wafting fresh, wet
snow. I picked up some tarsal scent from buck camp the weekend before. I set up in a stand I
had not hunted since opening week. I stamped that stranger buck scent in a few strategic locations, making it the first thing any wandering buck would wind. It worked flawlessly, so much so, that the deer were all over within 40 yards.
Now into full blown rut, it is the second week in November. No amount of self filming could have prepared me for the onslaught of activity. Camera set, the deer started and didn’t stop coming. When that 200 pound 8 stepped on the scene it was like magic. With 15 seconds to manage time, I opted to forego trying for the camera and steady the bow. He spotted me almost as soon as he stepped in, blew right by at 10 yards and made that classic stop at 25 to make sure his eyes weren’t deceived. I had branches but quickly drew and looked for an opening. It came fast,
between the hardwood canopy and overgrown saplings, he made one last glance and caught the green streak of the Nock Out contender 6 ribs back. The air escaped his side in a hiss, he disappeared down the hill – crash.

Celebrating, but still unsure; I waited to check my arrow, shining green, in a stained blanket of white. It looked great… but feeling just off about the shot, I gave it time, and after 4 hours I made the trip back out. I geared up my novice blood tracker pup and my friend and we set off. The blood was visible in the snow, then washed and pink from rain. The dog accepted my guidance as we followed.

 

 

Heavy prints and wet displaced snow told a story. Then sideways slipping hooves and eventually a landing strip, there he was.

 

Fall Decisions

Fall Decisions in the Midwest

Fall is a magical time throughout the Midwest. The warm summer days have slowly faded to cool crisp mornings. The colors are emerging and leaves are starting to fall. Bucks have shed their velvet and deer movement is picking up. I have always looked forward to this time of year. However, I find it challenging due the numerous activities available. And when I say challenging, the challenge is trying to make a decision on what to invest my time in.

I spend the summer months chasing the elusive muskellunge, which really isn’t very elusive here in Wisconsin. No matter how great the fishing is over the summer months, it’s always a better bite come fall. Typically I would fish for muskies through the month of September, occasionally sitting in a tree trying to get a doe in the freezer. The bucks around my property (a mere 4 acres) don’t move much until mid to late October. This year, instead of fishing through September, I had to put in the time to check baits every few days. I drew a bear tag for this year, which really adds to my indecisions on what to do on a daily basis. The bear activity came to a halt when the acorns dropped, but the deer movement increased with the cooler temps. The archery season for deer opened September 15th this year, so I’ve been ready with my bow in case that Pope & Young buck steps out. Even when I’m sitting over bear bait, a larger part of me is hoping some deer will walk through just to get some action.

On top of all of these decisions, small game season is open too! I just spent a week in Colorado chasing elk for my dad’s archery tag, and we saw dozens of grouse! It made my itch to grab a shotgun and hit the woods back home even harder to ignore. I know I can’t waste time on small game right now, not when there’s bigger fish to fry. A bear tag only comes around every few years, and it’s a big commitment. My wife could attest to that. I’m lucky enough to have a wife that will stay home with our son while I chase my dream, even when we both know I probably won’t see a bear each night I go out. That’s why fall is a magical time. You just never know. You never know what you will see. You never know what opportunities you are missing if you stay in for a night.

It’s easy to choose the day’s outing if you know you will be successful. Success is defined differently to each person, however. I could hit the river three times in a week and come away with three or more muskies, and call that a success. I could come away each of those times with no fish, and still call it a successful outing. The hardest part is deciding to hunt or fish for something that may not yield success by a harvest. The success is in the hunt itself; the preparation, the terrain, the weather, the calming sensation of Mother Nature. My indecisions of the fall season will never change, and neither will my success rate.

Trevor Wittwer
Fall Creek, WI

 

Black Bear Baiting/Hunting 101

The Roots of it All

If you happen to live in a state that is fortunate enough to allow you to bait during black bear season then this is already a win for you.  Hunting bears is an art and something I express almost all of my interest in when bear season comes around. My passion for whitetails is gone and it’s all about the bruins.  There’s nothing more exhilarating than having bears coming in all day eating, playing, fighting, and sparring. I bow hunt northeast black bears from the ground over a bait station.   Personally, I do it because it’s the highest adrenaline rush I have ever experienced and once you get the taste for that kind of adrenaline you can’t help but want more.

In a stand you will see them all day long no problem.  From the ground it becomes a chess match with the North East’s largest predator. Your scent game needs to be stronger than hunting the rut as I use a blend of dirt deodorizer and cedar. You best be a perfect shot because if you need to, you only get one shot at a bear with the bow.  Now, for the most part the bear is much more afraid of you than you are of it and have nothing to worry about but it only takes one time to be the last time. Your safety should always come first. Your senses need to be at their peak and you need to be alert at all times. You need to use your hearing for behind you and your eyes for the front as movement is detrimental to a bear hunt.  Whatever you choose to hunt from just don’t use a blind because they’ll tear them apart if they’re left out and will not bring larger bears in if you’re taking them in and out every day. Always respect the animal you’re hunting and never take them for granted.

The Strategy

The key to a great bear stand is to find an area with cover as bears don’t like feeding in open areas.  Find a place where bushes, deadfalls, and saplings are in abundance as they get a sense of security in these areas.  Another important aspect is being near a source of water because feeding from your bait barrel will make them very thirsty and the closer to a good water source they are the more likely you will keep these bears around.  Pick a tree that suits the spot you found to anchor your bait barrel to.

There are a couple methods I’ve used in the past as far as the actual bait barrel goes. The one I like most is taking a 55 gallon barrel (I use the blue plastic ones) and cutting two holes near the top to have a place to string a ratchet strap through to hook around the tree.  Then on adjacent sides cutting square holes out about 1/3 to ½ the way up the barrel. Large enough so they can get their paw in but not their head! This allows the bear to get the food without taking off with it leaving you with little to no pictures or opportunities for a harvest. The holes in the sides of the barrel allow the bear to line up a perfect broadside shot to your tree as you would face the uncut front side of the barrel directly at your tree stand.  

Bring ‘Em in Far and Wide

Now that set up is out of the way and you’ve got yourself one heck of a spot to start luring these beasts of North America in, it’s time to think about what to put in the barrel to keep them coming day after day.  You want to bait early and often, you’ll get the hang of it after a couple weeks. Learning your area is key and it will teach you how often you need to refill your barrel. I always start baiting a month or two ahead of the season so it gets your bears in a routine.

Now depending what your season is will be how you determine what to put in your barrel. My season here in NJ is a week in October (Bow) and a week in December (Shotgun). So during the October season you can put just about anything in there, sweets, protein, fats etc. as everyone knows, bears will eat just about anything.  Now when the December season comes around or if yours is November like Pennsylvania’s is even though they can’t bait, then protein and fats are your best friends. They need to bulk up and add a ton of weight heading into winter and will absolutely empty your barrel in three days if you have a decent amount of bears in the area (10-15).  That’s when you fill that barrel as high as possible with dog food, bird seed or any protein you can think of. Get a good fryer grease hookup and douse that barrel with 5 gallons of used fryer grease. Spread it all over, inside, outside, on the ground, on the tree, everywhere! The grease acts as a high distance attractant, much needed fat for the bear and as they roll and eat through the food they get covered in grease and track it through the woods for any bear to come across the tracks and follow it to your barrel.  This method has worked for my dad, my uncle, myself and many others in our neck of the woods in North West New Jersey.

For those of you that have spring bear hunts you want to focus on the sweets as too much fat and protein will irritate their stomach and digestive tract coming out of winter hibernation. A buddy of mine in Maine uses Oreos, marshmallows, chocolate syrup, and any type of sweet he can get a hold of in bunches from his bait dealer up there. Fluff is his main stay as whoever he works with can get gallons on gallons of expired fluff.  Once the barrel has been filled, stuff the access holes with sticks and logs, it’ll keep the raccoons, opossums, ravens, and crows out of it and will let you know when there’s something hitting it. So whenever your season is and whatever stand you prefer, these methods will give you a great, if not the best chance to take the bear of a lifetime.

P.S.  For those of you that are not allowed to use bait during the season, Signal 11 Peanut Butter Spray is a bear attractant godsend.  

 

Photography Basics: Capturing Captivating Pictures

I recently published a blog on our sister company angler-pros.com about taking cinematic photos. In the age of digital where there are so many things shared, it’s nice to have content that you are proud of. There is no excuse for grainy, out-of-focus, boring photos as the technology we have at our fingertips makes it so easy to look professional. With applications like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and text messaging, it’s likely the average person sends upwards of a dozen pictures a day, and that equates to thousands of photos a year!

While I want to dive into some of the topics that I did in my fishing photography blog, I want to leave my Cervicide family with a piece of advice: Perfect practice makes perfect. If the photos you are already taking throughout the day (Snapchat, texting, social media) are done haphazardly, then you’re likely never going to be a great photographer. There is so much to process all at one time when taking a cinematic photo that in real world situations, like when you’re celebrating a downed animal, you’re getting a candid action shot in the field, or you’re taking a group photo at camp, sometimes there are only seconds to get the shot just right. This is why perfect practice makes perfect – you shouldn’t have to think twice about taking the right shot.

There’s a couple things that you need to process immediately in a seamless fashion to get a great action photo that doesn’t look staged. Photography is a dance and you need:

  1. The subject
  2. Capturing emotion
  3. Proper lighting
  4. Depth of field

Wow, sounds easy, right?

The Subject

So why is it that something so simple, that I can break down into only 4 categories can yield so many different outcomes? I conducted an experiment on our private Cervicide FieldStaff page where I asked our staff to upload a pic of their favorite Cervicide hat. I received a bunch of responses where the subject is nearly the same, but there were no rules. I’ll post some of the pictures below so you can see the difference of a cinematic photo vs. one that didn’t have much thought. Now stop and think about the 4 categories that I explained and you’ll have a better understanding that for a photo to truly look good, you need all parts to the equation.

Capturing Emotion

Why did I choose a hat? Well there was a reason behind it – it’s an inanimate object. Essentially it’s up to the photographer how to add emotion to an inanimate object. Place that same hat on someones head and now you just brought it to life. Is that hat drying out in the sun after being wet? Perhaps it was being tossed midair; there are all sorts of ways to add emotion to an inert object.

A great photographer lets the end viewers mind wander so the photo tells a story to them. The viewer’s mind should fill in the blanks. This is why there needs to be a sense of emotion in a photo. Even if the subject you’re photographing doesn’t have emotions, you can position the subject where emotion will bring it to life.

The next important thing I see a lot of hunters doing wrong with photos is not paying attention to the background. In order to nail this down, it is so crucial to practice this anytime you’re taking photos. Even when you’re using Snapchat you can practice this. The background is a perfect opportunity to tell more of the story without words. Put it this way, whitetail deer are huntable in almost every state. When a hunter takes a picture of their harvest, the backdrop can give the viewer a lot of information right off the bat. You get an idea for the terrain it was harvested in: farm country, mountains, maybe there was snow on the ground, or palmetto trees signifying southern heat.Was this in a remote destination or in a city? The background tells a lot of the story and it also adds depth to the picture which makes it more cinematic.

Take this photo for example. The lighting isn’t ideal and there are a lot of shadows being cast on the subject. Additionally, it doesn’t add much emotion or tell a story. As a viewer, this photo is not very captivating.

This photo has better lighting  and the background gives viewers an idea of where the subject is. It also tells a story and is captivating – what exactly is he doing? Where is he going? The viewers’ mind can wander and create a story all their own.

Lighting

The next thing to help with a photo being more cinematic is the lighting. Lighting is such an important thing, and really comes into play for whitetail hunters as there are a lot of instances where harvest pictures are taken at dark. Before the harvest pictures, there’s an elephant in the room I need to address and thats the tree stand selfies. First off, one of the things I see a lot of guys do is snap a bunch of pictures from their tree stand. They are stuck in one position, usually their back to the tree and it almost never fails these pictures are taken about an hour after sunrise. To the hunter it’s bright daylight, they are bored, and they start snapping pictures. This makes for some really grainy pictures, poor usage of the rule of thirds, and angles where the backdrop just looks silly, and is very unflattering for the hunter. There are a few ways to make treestand selfies better (I personally think they are played out) and the first way to up the tree stand selfie game is to wait until there is adequate light!

Here I’ll post one of my all time favorite treestand selfies which has amazing lighting, background, and emotion by Brendan Kelley of Ohio. To get a shot like this you’ll need a DSLR camera with an f stop below 4. I would suggest that you manually focus the lens so it will stay focused on whatever you want (in this case your face). Sometimes the auto focus will jump around so much you’ll never get the shot. A fourth arrow camera arm to hold the camera and a timer are helpful tools, too. Brendan’s emotion in this photo is awesome. He’s focused and it looks like he’s ready to cut the arrow loose!

Cervicide Fieldstaff Bow & Arrow

I don’t want to offend anyone here so just go ahead and open up Instagram and search #treestandselfie and you’ll see for yourself exactly what I’m talking about NOT TO DO.

Depth of Field

Ok – Rule of thirds, I briefly mentioned this before, but let me dive into this one real quick. The idea of the rule of thirds is to divide your photo in 3rds from top to bottom and side to side. You either want your subject to be focused in the dead center of your picture, like Brendan’s above or you want to have the subject offset so you can add some depth of field in the picture. Just go on Google and type in ‘rule of thirds’ for some examples. If you begin applying this rule to your photos, you’ll instantly become more cinematic.

I intentionally didn’t get into harvest pictures with this blog as I’m going to leave that for another blog. I want you to take some of my advice that I talked bout and begin applying it to your pictures. Most importantly, start applying it to the pictures you already take every day. When you go to take a photo that you want to last a lifetime, you’re going to be so much quicker to do the right things automatically that you’ll be able to get more creative with your shots and move to the next level with your photography skills. Check out the blog post I did on Angler Pros as I dove into some of the concepts we just talked about and applied it to fishing.

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