Managing Black Bear: the Mid-Atlantic’s Apex Predator

• Black Bear Sows Have 1-3 cubs Every Other Year
• Black Bear Males are Bigger than Sows
• Bear Super-Abundance: West Virginia has a 2-Bear Limit

By Joe Byers
Black bears thrive in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia as hunting seasons expand to meet the challenge. New York is not far behind.
An eastern Pennsylvania man watched the big game intently when suddenly his TV set sharply turned. Shaking his head in disbelief, the homeowner walked toward the set when it moved again. Freaked out by the experience, he examined the set cautiously and noticed that the cable cord was stretched taught and surmised that something was under the house. “There’s a bear hibernating down there,” an animal control specialist told him the next day and it’s wrapped around your TV cable. We can call the DNR or wait for it to wake up and move on.”
Black bear encounters have become common for homeowners in Allegheny and Garrett Counties in Maryland, where homeowners must be cautious about garbage containers and any type of food that may attract foraging bears. Bear populations have spread eastward into Washington and Frederick counties and for the first time the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has authorized a bear season to reduce the population.

Managing the Abundance

The Tri-State area abounds with game and by selecting the proper dates, hunters can pursue deer, bear, and wild turkeys at the same time, even hunt multiple states

West Virginia has so many black bears that several counties have a two-bear limit and a long archery and crossbow season that runs from September 26th through November 21st.
Bears have no fear of water and swim the Potomac River as they travel and migrate through the Tri-State area. The Mountain State has huge tracts of public land such as the Monongahela National Forest that are easily accessible and provide a nearly wilderness hunting experience. Beginning October 10th, an archer can pursue wild turkeys, whitetail deer, wild boar, and black bear at the same time and may find them in the same habitat.

Pennsylvania’s DNR relies on hunters to harvest about 25 percent of the state’s black bears annually to keep numbers in check. The recent addition of an archery season allows hunters to hunt deer and bear at the same time, including an early season in designated units that opens September 19th. The Keystone state abounds with public land including 2.2 million acres of big woods and 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands. Even 120 state parks are open for hunting. Pennsylvania’s state-wide archery bear season runs November 16-20.
Maryland doesn’t offer a separate archery bear season, yet bows, crossbows and firearms may be used to hunt bears during the limited season, October 24-27. Since the Free State’s bear population is smaller than bordering states, perspective hunters must apply to a lottery licensing system which limits the number of bears that can annually be taken. One-in-five hunters bagged a bear in 2015, less than a 10 percent harvest of the estimated 1,000 adult bears in Maryland.

Black bear management has been very successful and each year DNR scientists crawl into bear dens, tag cubs, weight and take samples from the sow and then allow everyone to go back to sleep. This information plus data from hunter-harvested bears helps the DNR make informed decisions.

Why Bowhunt Black Bears?

If you saw the bear attack scene in The Revenant, you’d probably question the sanity of anyone choosing to hunt the apex predator with a stick and string. Ironically, an arrow through the lungs of a black bear is almost instantly lethal. I stalked a bear in Quebec with a camera operator one step behind me. After shooting the bruin with an arrow, we reviewed the tape and saw that it made four bounds, crashed, and expired in five seconds.
Black bears have a keen sense of smell and hearing, but relatively poor eyesight, such that wearing camouflage, reducing human scent with ScentBlocker gear, and waiting or stalking near places of feeding activity may allow a bear to wander close to you. Bear scat is easy to see and the bigger the pile, the bigger the bear.
Archery bear hunting in Maryland, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia is much like hunts done by Native Americans centuries ago, a time when human survival depended on bagging game and you may also be able to harvest wild turkeys, whitetail deer, or a black bear. Check the season dates. Falling leaves, cold crisp weather, and the chance to sneak solo through the woods is powerful medicine for a world with technology overload.

 

 

 

 

Many hunters prefer to hunt deer and bears from tree stands, the difference being that bears can climb trees.

Bear Facts
Black bears are doing well as a species, partially due to scientific management. One Pennsylvania researcher routinely crawled into a bear den with a rectal thermometer to gather data…that’s dedication.

Here’ are a few facts about the bears in the Tri-State region:

• Black bear females have litters of 1-3 cubs, but one sow in Pennsylvania recently had six offspring in a single litter.

• Black bears breed every other year and the mother stays with the cubs 24/7 the first year of life.

• A female black bear has a home range of about 10 miles while a male will roam over 25 square miles. Young bears can travel 150-200 miles searching for a new territory. (Why they show up in cities.)

• Black bears average 125-400 pounds in weight with some males reaching 600 pounds. Typically, males grow larger than females.

• Many bears in our area do not hibernate in dens, but curl up in a brush pile or large pile of leaves. Females hibernate before males.

• Black bears are omnivores and eat plants, berries, hard and soft mast, insects, prey animals such as white tail deer fawns, carrion, and human garbage or food leftovers. Maryland law forbids baiting bears as it lures them into contact with humans.

 

Tri-State 2016 Bear Seasons at a Glance:

 

 

 

 

Check current regulations for your hunting state carefully.

Author’s Note: Lifetime resident of Washington County, Joe Byers just published “A Comprehensive Guide to Crossbow Hunting.”  Autographed copies are available, plus a 10% discount by contacting the author directly at joebyers@erols.com

Consider a Spike Camp This Fall

Choosing to hunt deer and elk without a guide from a tent camp in the heart to game country is high adventure and an affordable option.

Out early on opening day. When you hunt from a spike camp you are already in game country and can set your own course.

Shooting light had barely arrived when a bull elk stepped from the edge of the park 200 yards away. Although I only caught a glimpse, the animal’s creamy colored coat caused my adrenalin to noticeably rush. Four days of hunting had brought incredibly close calls, yet finally, would I get a shot?

Crouching low against a log to steady my aim, I turned the scope to its highest power, hoping the bull would appear in one of the parks slender shooting lane. Anxious seconds passed, when suddenly, the sound of hooves crashing down the mountain behind me stole my attention as a bull elk raced through a sea of vegetation, just 50 yards away. Instantly, I threw up my rifle and swung with the speeding elk, yet with the scope on high power, the animal filled the scope, making a proper lead nearly impossible.

The author took this 4×5 on the dead run after having numerous close calls slip away.

Instant Success Almost

This was my third hunt in the past five years for deer and elk from a remote camp in Colorado’s White River National Forest, a chance to learn the terrain and animal travel habits from the convenience of a deep mountain spike camp. Based on previous experience, I headed for the spine of a ridge where I could peer down into numerous canyons that provided excellent shooting opportunities with little chance of being detected.

Opening morning, the season was barely 20 minutes old, when I slowly peeked over a deep canyon hoping to catch moving or feeding game. Seeing none, I turned to move to the next opportunity when I came face to face with a mature bull. Just 40 yards away, our eyes locked into an OMG moment before the beast whirled and raced away.  I jogged a few steps behind it, but this animal was no dummy and raced away at full speed.

Of the six members in our camp, three took bulls, quite an accomplishment for hunters without guides.

This wasn’t a monster bull, but a mature animal with high, white-tipped points, the image indelibly etched in my mind. Had the bull been feeding, looking straight ahead, or otherwise distracted, opportunity could have knocked.   On an unguided mountain, elk hunt, one opportunity is all you can hope for. Had I blown mine in the first half-hour of the season?

The Camping Experience

Spike camps are best done with friends or at least acquaintances you know and respect. In the heart of the wilderness, everyone must work together for the process to work. Roles must be decided. Who buys the food; what foods to bring; who cooks; who does the dishes?

The author used a Ruger American rifle in .300 Winchester and Hornady Superformance Ammunition. Marksmanship is critically important in mountain terrain.

Prior to our October hunt, one member hosted a cook-out where we reminisced about previous hunts and went over the menu and various elements of camp life including who does what. Three members of our group fly to Colorado while three others drive, allowing us to “ship” our gear out and meat back. The fliers help pay for driving expenses which fairly distributes travel expenses.

Emergencies can happen in camp. One fellow came down with a day’s bout with nausea and diarrhea, a nightmare in a mountain camp. Another gashed his finger while field dressing an elk to the point that it required stitches. Luckily, a physician is a member of our group. We pack in the day before the season and cut firewood with a chainsaw, something I have extensive experience with, yet I do so with great caution.

After the first day of hard hunting above 8,000 feet, our tent was an absolute snore-fest and I slept while wearing shooting muffs. I’m also the camp rooster setting the alarm, stoking the fire, and usually one of the first members up each morning.

On two of our four hunts, mild-mannered insurance agent Charley Toms has killed an elk in the first hour of the season, relegating him to “camp bitch.” Charley cheerfully cooks, cleans, and roost for someone else to kill an elk so he can have company during the day.   Drop camps will save 50-75 percent of the price of a fully guided hunt and boosts camaraderie exponentially. We hunt for one week, plan and reminisce for the next 103, and already have dates for 2017 on the books. Technically, we save about 50% by using a drop camp, but it actually allows us to hunt twice as often.

The Final Day- Luck at Last

After that opening morning confrontation, I had been close to elk numerous times, yet could not get a shot. Determined to make the most of my waning opportunity, I hit the trail well before dawn. Elk hunters often debate whether it’s better to leave camp before daylight or sneak to positions when it’s light enough to shoot? On our hunt, the moon had set well before dawn so I believed it best to sneak to a stand in total darkness, believing that elk would be bedded and I could travel without disturbing them.

Daylight arrived as I sat against a huge log. Suddenly, I saw a bull in a distant park, as mentioned earlier. Colorado has a 4-point minimum for elk and I cranked up the magnification of my Nikon for a better view.

Within seconds, a horse race seemed to break out behind me and a heavy horned bull raced past my position. Without time to turn down the scope, which entered my mind, I swung with the bull, fired, and shot that jinx right between the eyes… because the bull stopped.

I don’t remember cycling the bolt or squeezing the trigger, but when the rifle fired, the cross-hairs were centered on the chest.   The bull broke into a dead run and piled up 75 yards away.

Walking up to the bull that lay in a sea of ferns in the deep mountain canyon, my head was a-swim with thoughts and emotions. Had this really happened? This bull ran nearly the same course as elk the previous day when I didn’t get a glimpse. Was this the best log to sit on in the Rocky Mountains or what?

When booking a spike camp, make sure the outfitter will pack out your game. That amenity was part of our package.

Equally as fortunate my good friend, Steve Sachs, was just one canyon away and soon came to help with the butchering of the animal. Quartering an elk alone is a mountain of work and a partner made the chore a pleasure. By 12:30 we concluded the mile hike back to camp, tired, panting for breath, but totally exhilarated. Every elk is a trophy, yet when you can bag one without a guide deep in the wilds of public land; it sparks images of Jeremiah Johnson, Pilgrim.

3 Steps to Giant Bucks!

Cater to Nutrition Needs and Bump Antler Growth, Here’s How

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Few trophy bucks are harvested by accident and this time of year is the time to take specific steps to create your best deer season ever. You can still boost antler growth for this fall, as well as put the local herd on a healthier plan for the future.

Deer go where they like to go. Create an area that will attract deer day after day, an area they will want to visit often.

Boost Nutrition and Bump Antler Growth

Nutrition is critical to deer and like most adults, a whitetail deer has a normal diet that typically lacks the proper mineral content to maximize growth potential. Although some hunters often focus just on antler growth, a proper vitamin and mineral supplementation will also support lactating doe’s as well as bucks growing antlers. A healthier and stronger deer can better fight off disease, harsh weather, and predators.

“I am so passionate about whitetail deer hunting that I moved from New Jersey to Southern Iowa just so I could grow and hunt bigger deer,” says Randy Ferman, owner of Extreme Hunting Solutions, the company behind many innovative deer hunting products suited specifically for hunters and whitetail deer.

“Hunters and fishers are the two most gullible outdoor groups and I was tired of getting smoke and mirror products instead of products that do what they say they do, so I decided to do it myself,” Ferman says.

1 – Feed Mineral Supplements

giantbucks2Where allowed by state law (check your regulations), mineral supplements can really make a giant difference in deer health. Mineral supplements can be misleading and Ferman quickly points out the difference between “ingredients” and “guaranteed analysis.” Guaranteed analysis means that the percentages of nutrients stated are the minimum that are in the product, whereas with Ingredients you don’t know how much are in the product. A pinch of selenium means it’s in there, but how much?  One crushed acorn means the bag contains “acorn.” One of the most important things a hunter needs to know is a deer can only absorb 34%-40% sodium (salt), “so any more than that is used as filler which leaves less room for the important nutrients.”

Ferman says. “We lowered our salt content to 13% which leaves more room for the important vitamins and minerals that contribute to growing larger racks and helping the total health of the deer herd. We also addressed the way a deer’s system absorbs vitamins and minerals. Human blood pressure medicines use a vasodilator to open up “enlarge” the blood vessels and arteries for better absorption of all nutrients. Our minerals use the same principle. This process increases blood flow and distributes the nutrients throughout the deer’s body faster and allows for better absorption. I have been managing my farm for the last four years with this method and we are getting bucks with bigger bases and significantly more mass.”

Mineral supplements should be fed year round, yet it’s not too late to give local antlers a boost and help lactating does boost their health. Ferman is proud of his formula and its packaging which allows hunters to make informed decisions. Big Buck Mineral Formula from Extreme Hunting Solutions lists the guaranteed analysis of 16 vitamins and minerals. Additionally these minerals include Vasodilator technology, which is worth repeating, has the effect of enlarging blood vessels and arteries which allows for maximum absorption of all ingested vitamins and minerals. The deer will hit it hard and Ferman recommends having at least two sites per 100 acres, 40 pounds per spot and refill as needed.

2 – Establish a Mineral Site

A mineral site not only boosts the health of your deer, but attracts them to specific locations where they can be imaged with trail cameras. This way you can evaluate the growth of emerging antlers, check for fawn mortality, and get an overall snapshot of deer health. By late summer, if you are seeing adult does with one or no fawns, you may have a predator problem as most mature females produce twin offspring.

Before selecting a mineral site, consider the prevailing wind direction, approach routes, and deer traffic just as you would when hanging a deer stand. Avoid field edges and wide open woodlots as these locations are most likely visited at night. A concealed, brushy area between bedding and feeding area will allow wary bucks to sneak in and access the minerals more frequently.

giantbucks3When placing your trail cameras, be sure that you have the correct angle so that you don’t get feet or antler tips. Ferman also invented The Wedge which takes the guesswork out of positioning cameras. Instead of using a twig that will roll and rot, these inexpensive wedges allow for precise camera aiming.

*It’s a good idea to protect your land, big bucks and healthy herd so intruders don’t reap the rewards of your efforts. Extreme Hunting Solutions also offer a “No Trespassing” sign with a camera clearly and boldly displayed on the sign to further deter poachers and trespassers.

3 – Choose an Appropriate Mineral Product for your Site

Depending on terrain, foliage, time of year, state regulations and so on, you’ll need to choose a product that works best for your situation.

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Ferman likes to post a Big Buck Stick N Lick Deer Pop which screws into a tree or any wood surface above ground where wild turkeys won’t eat it. Their patented Weather Shield prevents water from dissolving the minerals giving you months of attraction and deer enrichment. “It takes a lot more to lick something than to eat something,” Ferman laughs. Additionally, these ultra portable mineral stations are ideal for placing nutrition in very remote locations and since they last for months you won’t have to worry about replenishing them as often.

giantbucks5If baiting is legal in your state, mix your corn or soybeans with Kandy Korn, which is like putting caramel on popcorn for children. Deer love it just as much and the aroma will draw them in from a distance. It’s also packed with protein which will keep your herd healthy.

With just minimal effort, you can have bigger bucks and a healthier herd this season and for many seasons to come. Check out Extreme Hunting Solutions here: https://www.extremehuntingsolutions.com/

Good luck in the upcoming season!

TurkeyFan.com – Lure & Blind All in One

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New Tactic Device is Deadly Tool

Wanna’ fight?  Turkeys do.  After decades of learning the nuances of yelps, purrs, and clucks I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to outsmart an old gobbler is to challenge it with a rival.

Ken Byers and I were cruising a large ranch when we spotted two gobblers a quarter mile away casually feeding in a large plowed field.  Given the distance to the birds, we may have been able to get their attention with loud yelping and since they had no hens, possibly coax them closer.

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Instead, Ken and I sneaked to the edge of the field and raised a turkey tail fan from a bird taken earlier in the hunt.  The toms may not have been able to hear hen calls at great distance, yet nothing passes their keen eyesight unseen.  Immediately, their heads went up like periscopes and they stared intently at this possible intruder.

Ken and I had used this tactic before and learned that it usually works best if one person operates the turkey fan while the other shoots with a bow or shotgun.  Ken peaked from behind the spread turkey tail feathers and quickly whispered, “Here they come.”

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I laid down at the edge of the field with the Mossberg beside me, while my buddy turned the fan as a real gobbler would do.  The birds came into my view at about 200 yards and it seemed like a feathered horse race with each gobbler intent on kicking intruder butt.  At 20 yards, the  turkeys finally became suspicious and threw on the brakes giving me the perfect shooting opportunity.  Boom! One gobbler began to flop and the other seemed startled by the explosion and walked away slowly.

“Hand me the gun,” whispered Byers and before the second tom could break 30 yards, it was down as well.  Wow! Wow! Wow! What excitement.  Any inkling of frustration from previous hunts instantly evaporated and we tagged our birds and laughed and giggled like school girls all the way back to camp.

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Betting on Aggression

Will Downard is no stranger to this gobbler Achilles heel and has devised a turkey “fan” that invites a turkey to compete for breeding territory.  It doubles as an effective blind too, plus it’s very easy to carry and deploys in seconds.

“We’ve had such success with this product that we are looking at other animals to decoy,” he said in a brief interview before heading out with this camera operator.  He didn’t elaborate, yet his wry smile indicated that there may be more to TurkeyFan.com than just turkeys.

Downard’s invention carries and deploys like an umbrella with the lower half eliminated so that it forms a semi-circle.  To set it up takes only seconds and the device is large enough to easily disguise a shotgun hunter, bowhunter, or camera operator.  Typically, Downard hunts with his camera man who uses a turkey fan to disguise his presence as well.

The face of the fan/blind has the image of a strutting tom turkey to incite the kind of aggression that gobblers instinctively have.  The image is larger than life and I asked Downard about that.

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“With turkeys, size doesn’t seem to matter,” he said.  Even though the image is larger than life-size, gobblers aren’t intimidated, especially if there is more than one.”

That same evening, Downard was back in camp with a dandy longbeard and incredible video of the hunt.  Just as he described, the camera operator used a blind to disguise his presence while the shooter, concealed behind the “fan” moved closer to the gobbler.  After watching a big tom come right to the TurkeyFan, the hunter peeked over and shot the bird at five steps.  To see this unique tactic in action go to www.turkeyfan.com and you will be amazed.

Get Ready Now for Next Turkey Season!

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Irresistible Calls to Touch a Tom’s Hot Button

Spring gobblers like what they like.  Some will shock gobble an owl hoot, crow call, even a car horn while a similar tom roosting just down the ridge won’t make a peep.

My dad and I used to hunt a small farm that held lots of turkeys.  Since he was in his early 90’s, dad mostly drove around while I hunted on foot.  A particular gobbler loved (or hated) the sound of his old Dodge diesel truck and gobbled voraciously every time dad drove near.  Some locator call huh?

When trying to convince a spring gobbler to go against its nature and approach a hen, you have to find its hot button and make a sound that the mating bird cannot resist.  Since “The Dodge Truck” call works in very limited circumstances, savvy hunters carry a variety of callers and use them singularly or as a duet to light a tom’s fire.  Your turkey vest needs to have at least three kinds of calls: box, pot, and diaphragm, because each has unique characteristics that apply in special situations.  Hunters Specialties (H.S.) makes a wide variety of callers and here’s a good roundup of what’s sure to suck in a gobbler like a Star Trek tractor beam.

Boxes 

The Undertaker Box Call is constructed of engineered laminate wood for increased stability and durability. The call features waterproof chalk on friction surfaces for hunting in any weather conditions and the call is hand tuned to produce perfect high volume hen tones on either side.

Box callers are easy to operate and the sound carries well.  At times in late season, their unique tone will lure gobblers that have become used to other callers.  The new B-Line and Final Roost box calls from H.S. Strut® give hunters two great options for calling in a spring gobbler.

The B-Line Call is constructed with a walnut paddle and poplar box for creating great high-pitched hen sounds.  The call is lightweight and compact.  Finger grooves on the box provide a secure grip while calling.  The Final Roost Call has a walnut paddle with a medium-sized Poplar box to reproduce raspy hen vocals.  The box is contoured for a comfortable, secure grip while calling.  Both the B-Line and Final Roost Calls feature a waterproof paddle and box edge for calling in all weather conditions

Pot Calls

The Undertaker Glass Friction Call features engineered wood in both the pan and striker for increased stability. It has a ready to play frosted glass surface over the new patent pending Aluma-Tune™ sound board with hand tuned cuts for the most realistic hen sounds possible.

Whether glass or slate, pot callers are perfect for making precise, soft, hen sounds.  When you sneak close to a roost, the tom is thundering above you, holding a striker in your hand (like a pencil when you were a kid) gives the extra confidence to make the call sound exactly as intended.  Pot calls have great tone variation and you can use them to locate by loudly cutting or to entice those final steps with soft purrs.

The new Sweet Suzie Snood call from Hunters Specialties™ produces the high pitched hen sounds that drive gobblers crazy with plenty of volume to bring them in from long distances.  The Sweet Suzie Snood is a compact call with a frosted glass over glass surface.  The call is ready to run right out of the package and comes with a carbon striker which works great in wet weather conditions.

Diaphragm Callers

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H.S. Strut® Tone Trough calls come in a variety of cuts including the Split “V” II, Split “V” III (shown above), Double “D”, Cutt’n 2 .5 and Raspy Old Hen. Packaging options include the Starter 2 Pack with the Raspy Old Hen and Double ”D” calls , which is great for new callers.

 A skilled caller may get by using a diaphragm caller exclusively, yet this takes a lot of practice and you can literally overtax your oral muscles by calling so frequently.  The diaphragm is the most difficult of the three main categories to run and some hunters just can’t master its use.  Personally, I love the Tone Trough diaphragms because they operate effortlessly and I can produce quality sounds with little practice.

Unlike box and pot callers, one size does not fit all in the diaphragm world.  Since our mouths and palates differ, you may need to try a variety of callers to find one that makes a good fit.  Even my mother agrees that I have a big mouth, yet I find the smaller, more flexible callers work best for me.  HS offers a variety of diaphragms with the following a few examples:

The Pro 2 Pack includes the Cutt’n 2.5 and Split “V” II for more experienced callers.  Beginning turkey hunters can benefit from the Tone Trough Turkey Tutor package, which includes an instructional DVD, along with the Cutt’n 2.5, Raspy Old Hen and Split “V” II calls.

nextturkey5The new Undertaker diaphragm calls have an aluminum frame which can be easily adjusted for a custom fit to a hunter’s palate.  The calls feature Infinity Latex® for the most consistent tone available.  Three and four-reed models are available with selected cuts to create a wide range of realistic hen sounds.  Each call also comes with the new HS Strut Diaphragm Call Clip, which attaches to the bill of a hunter’s cap and holds the diaphragm call in place for quick and easy access.

Remember, gobblers like what they like.  If one call doesn’t work, switch to another call.  If all else fails, try using two callers at once such as the box and a diaphragm.

When two honeys are hailing at the same time, few toms can resist.

Sound Variation, Turkey Call Options, Cost

nextturkey6For the full line of Hunter Specialties callers, visit www.hunterspec.com.  The H.S. Strut® Premium Flex™ Calls come in a variety of cuts and reed configurations to help both beginning and experienced callers be successful.

The H.S. Strut Premium Flex™ frame uses Infinity Latex® for consistency and durability. Each call is precision built and stretched to create all of the sounds of a wild turkey. Two, three and four-reed versions are available as well as a line of small frame calls for junior callers, women, or anyone with a small palate.

Premium Flex Calls are packaged individually as well as in three and four packs.  New for 2016 is the Legends 4-pack with an instructional DVD featuring tips and tricks for being successful this spring.  It includes the Power Cutter, Power V, Deep Cut and Fang calls.

Premium Flex Calls sell individually for $5.99, three packs for $10.99 and the Legends Four Pack sells for $16.99.

The new Sweet Suzie Snood call from Hunters Specialties™ produces the high pitched hen sounds that drive gobblers crazy with plenty of volume to bring them in from long distances.

The Sweet Suzie Snood is a compact call with a frosted glass over glass surface.  The call is ready to run right out of the package and come with a carbon striker which works great in wet weather conditions.  The Sweet Suzie Snood call also comes with a rougher pad and sells for a suggested retail price of $9.99.

Designed with high quality components and backed by years of hunting experience, the new Undertaker line of premium calls from H.S. Strut® will help hunters put their tag on a gobbler this spring. The Undertaker series includes a box call, pan call and four new aluminum frame diaphragm calls.

The Undertaker box call is constructed of engineered laminate wood for increased stability and durability. The call features waterproof chalk on friction surfaces for hunting in any weather conditions and the call is hand tuned to produce perfect high volume hen tones on either side.

The Undertaker glass friction call features engineered wood in both the pan and striker for increased stability. It has a ready to play frosted glass surface over the new patent pending Aluma-Tune™ sound board with hand tuned cuts for the most realistic hen sounds possible.

The new Undertaker diaphragm calls have an aluminum frame which can be easily adjusted for a custom fit to a hunter’s palate. The calls feature Infinity Latex® for the most consistent tone available. Three and four-reed models are available with selected cuts to create a wide range of realistic hen sounds. Each call also comes with the new HS Strut Diaphragm Call Clip, which attaches to the bill of a hunter’s cap and holds the diaphragm call in place for quick and easy access. The new Undertaker Box Call sells for a suggested retail of $39.99. The Undertaker Pan Call for $39.99 and the diaphragm calls for $12.99 each.

Hunters Specialties’ new line of H.S. Strut® Tone Trough diaphragm calls are great for beginners as well as experienced callers. The calls feature a raised dome that forms a tight seal in the roof of the caller’s mouth. The Tone Trough™ creates perfect pressures for realistic hen sounds. The calls are built with a Premium Flex™ frame and Infinity Latex® for consistent tones.

H.S. Strut® Tone Trough calls come in a variety of cuts including the Split “V” II, Split “V” III, Double “D”, Cutt’n 2.5 and Raspy Old Hen. Packaging options include the Starter 2 Pack with the Raspy Old Hen and Double ”D” calls , which is great for beginning callers. The Pro 2 Pack includes the Cutt’n 2.5 and Split “V” II for more experienced callers. Beginning turkey hunters can benefit from the Tone Trough Turkey Tutor package, which includes an instructional DVD, along with the Cutt’n 2.5, Raspy Old Hen and Split “V” II calls.

Individual calls sell for a suggested retail price of $6.99. The Tone Trough 2 Packs for $10.99 and the Turkey Tutor 3-Pack with DVD for $15.99.

The new B-Line and Final Roost box calls from H.S. Strut® give hunters two great options for calling in a spring gobbler.  The B-Line Call is constructed with a walnut paddle and poplar box for creating great high-pitched hen sounds. The call is lightweight and compact. Finger grooves on the box provide a secure grip while calling.

The Final Roost Call has a walnut paddle with a medium-sized Poplar box to reproduce raspy hen vocals. The box is contoured for a comfortable, secure grip while calling.

Both the B-Line and Final Roost Calls feature a waterproof paddle and box edge for calling in all weather conditions.

The B-Line Call sells for a suggested retail of $14.99 and the Final Roost for $19.99.

For more information about other Hunters Specialties products, log onto the Hunters Specialties website atwww.hunterspec.com, or call a Consumer Service Specialist at 319-395-0321.

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LightFORCE Defies the Dark

LightFORCE bar lighting converts your ATV or UTV to a 24-hour workhorse.

LightFORCE is a Night Force to Uncover New Adventures

ATV’s and UTV’s have become commonplace in hunting camps and on farms and ranches across the country.  The small vehicles that go anywhere are ideal for getting hunters to remote places and moving game back to camp without the back-breaking work.  As often as you may use your favorite 4-wheeler, it’s probably limited to day duty, wasting away half of the thrill-generating go-power for lack of adequate light.

Enter LightFORCE with their incredible new light bars and ultra-powerful, wide-light, illumination beams.  Most headlights on ATV’s are designed like car lights as if you’d be cruising down the highway at 50 miles per hour, instead of close-in illumination that floods an area to do important work.  Field dressing a deer by headlight is worse than doing it in the dark because of the harsh shadows and powerful beams a headlamp produces.  Light bars produce just the opposite effect so that you can safely do essential work after sunset, like unloading your rifle or crossbow, examining a sudden track in the snow, looking for lost items, or evaluating hazards in the trail ahead.  Heck, you can search for morel mushrooms with a light bar! Imagine that, your daytime just found more time.

LightFORCE illumination is designed for safety, action functionality and performance.

Make Your ATV/UTV Shine

LightFORCE LEDs have changed the ATV and UTV market by allowing riders to reap the benefits of super-bright, super-versatile and super-tough LightFORCE light bars.  These are built to take the rugged travel an ATV can deliver.  Every bar in the LightFORCE LED Bar Series is extruded from aluminum and finished with a protective anodized surface-penetrating coating resistant to rain, snow, and ultraviolet light (UV) that will tolerate the harshest conditions.  The LightFORCE products are rugged and impact resistant, further featuring a hard-coated polycarbonate lens for maximum durability with a waterproof rating that meets and exceeds the IP69K standard.  The Ingress Protection (IP) rating system is an internationally recognized scale that relates to proven protection against environmental factors such as liquids and solids.  The numbers “6” and “9” are part of a higher detail definition that the units are dust tight and waterproof, even under high pressure spray.  Durable and safe for adventure outdoor use.

They also feature high-lumen light output with European LED’s tuned within their internal reflectors to produce unparalleled illumination capability.

With multiple mounting options available and complete with a waterproof Deutsch connector — including full wiring harness — the LightFORCE LED light bars deliver powerful performance in a complete package.

Available LightFORCE Options:

Dual and Single Row LED Bars

  • 6” single and dual row
  • 10” single and dual row
  • 20” single and dual row
  • 30” single and dual row

LightFORCE Product Specifications:

  • Input voltage range: 10-36V DC
  • Input cable length: 450mm (17.72”)
  • Operating temperature: -40°C to 63°C
  • Warranty: 3 Years
The LightFORCE hand-held spotlight model has tremendous range, perfect for night scouting purposes, safety around the camp and for general use.

Pick a Spot and Have it Both Ways

Just as light bars are ideal for illuminating close-in terrain, LightFORCE spot lights can spear the darkness like a missile with spot ranges out to 2,000 meters, that’s more than a mile.

Light bars need to be mounted for durability, yet LightFORCE spotlights like the 7-inch Enforcer, a 50-watt handheld unit, offer the ultimate in versatility and convenience.  For users who want more flexibility and agility from their portable lights and want it all wrapped up in a convenient kit, this is the solution.

This kit includes the new generation Cordless Enforcer, complete with a long-lasting, rechargeable Ni-Mh (Nickel-Metal Hydride) battery that is safe, an AC charger and heavy duty waterproof kit bag, complete with rugged YKK zip and a tough exterior ABS base.  To top it off, there’s a red filter to make this a coyote catching machine.

The scope-mounted LightFORCE spotlight model offers advantage for safety and predator hunting.

Whether you need a beam of light for added vision or to shoot predators, the beam will probably shine farther than you can shoot.  Enforcer is the top of the LightFORCE portable range and will give you all the light power you will ever need.  Check out all the LightFORCE illuminating products at www.lightforceusa.com.

Sweet-Seventeen for Woodchuck Control

The .17HMR has significantly more velocity than the .22 rimfire and resulted in 21 chucks with as many shots including seven in one day.

Even at age 93, my father was a terror on groundhogs and kept his rifle propped in the corner of the kitchen for quick action when a chuck began feeding in his alfalfa field.  A crack shot, the WWII marksman would lean out the kitchen window and unleash his vengeance on this farmer’s nuisance that never seemed in short supply.  A rifle to my father was a tool, like a hammer, and he gave it about as much care.  For his birthday, I bought him a Remington 5 mm, the first year that cartridge came out.  He shot a groundhog, but didn’t kill the varmint cleanly and bashed the pig over the head, bent the barrel, and never used the rifle again.  More recently, he found favor with a .22 magnum rifle that required frequent re-sighting due to his rough treatment.

Sadly, my father passed at age 94 and a full season of reproduction occurred among the alfalfa an indication of just how prolific woodchucks can be when their population is unchecked.  Now the population-control baton passed to me and I took on the job with determination.  I grew up and learned to hunt chasing groundhogs by spotting, stalking, sneaking, crawling, and mastering a host of shooting positions with a .22.

The Winchester .17 Super Magnum is the fastest rimfire cartridge in production and offers even more energy than the .17 HMR.

This go round, I used my favorite small game rifle in an equally favorable cartridge, the .17 Hornady Rimfire Magnum.  Chambered in a Ruger Model 77 and topped with a Zeiss 3-9 variable scope, this “tool” proved to be much more effective than I had remembered.

The author found that the .17 HMR proved to be an excellent round for woodchucks, typically anchoring them in their tracks.

The year the .17 HMR was introduced, I had a safari planned for Africa and wondered what at “.17 safari” would be like.  Since I had room in my double gun case, taking the diminutive caliber along for the ride took little effort.  Ironically, I met Erwin Kruger, a descendant of the former South African President and namesake of the famous park that bears his name.  Kruger was a tomato farmer and a small duiker and steenbok were mowing off his young plants like a John Deer lawn tractor in high gear.  Kruger was all about testing the rifle on his antelope pests and in one night we bagged five.  The .17 took down these 10-20 pound antelope consistently out to 100 yards and ruined very little meat in the process, since the antelope were considered excellent table fare.

Little Griz

I learned as a young boy that killing a groundhog with a .22 caliber cartridge required exact shot placement.  Unless the tiny bullet struck the top of the creature’s head or smacked it squarely through the shoulder, a groundhog would dash down its burrow to eat alfalfa another day.

The .17 HMR bullet is smaller in diameter and mass than a .22 Long Rifle but greatly exceeds the popular .22 in velocity and energy.  Additionally, it exhibited a much flatter trajectory and simplified the aiming process.

Hunting predators and varmints with a small caliber rifle is an excellent way to keep your hunting and shooting skills intact. Come opening day of big game season, you’ll be ready.

Sadly, the family farm went up for sale and I had the enjoyable task of getting the groundhog population under control.  Because residential development had encroached on the borders of the farm, a high caliber rifle was neither an option nor a preferred tactic.  I dusted off my Ruger 77, checked the Zeiss scope with a single shot, and went after the varmints with gusto.

Because the chucks hadn’t been harassed in a year, creeping 50-75 yards was fairly easy and with a solid rest, the .17 became a death ray.  Gone was the need for a head shot to anchor the pig where it stood.  By aiming in the chest area, the process was sight, squeeze, and hear a solid thud sound followed a patch of tail twitching.  In two weeks, I took 21 pigs with as many shots and left each for the buzzards and a bald eagle to recycle.

If you’ve never fired a .17 HMR, the cartridge is pure joy.  With virtually no recoil, it’s ideal for introducing youngsters to shooting, small game hunting, and perfect for groundhogs and other varmints.  Check it out at www.hornady.com

Even Hotter

Winchester pushed the envelope of the .17 cartridge with the hottest rimfire on the planet- the Winchester Super Magnum with velocities of 3,000 fps, comparable to the speed of some 7mm Rem Magnum loads.  Tipped with a choice of three bullets in 20 or 25 grain, this speed round is nearly impervious to wind and distance, yet delivers lethal energy to varmints and predators.

The .17 Win Super Mag is offered in a variety of bullet types including: a 20-grain plastic tip in the Varmint HV® (High Velocity) line, 25-grain plastic tip in the Varmint HE® (High Energy) line and a 20-grain jacketed hollow point in the Super-X® line. Each .17 Win Super Mag bullet will far surpass the long-range wind drift and bullet-drop limitations of popular rimfire calibers like .22 Win Mag and .17 HMR, while depositing more than 150 percent more energy than both.

At a time when ammunition costs are escalating, the new .17 rimfire can economically deliver plenty of downrange fun for plinking or small game harvest.  The speed and flat trajectory makes it a groundhog nightmare and with virtually no recoil, it’s an ideal cartridge for younger shooters.

Why Hunt Canadian Whitetails?

One GOOD Answer: Far More GIANT Deer, Far fewer Hunters!

Whitetail deer are the most populous big game animal in the USA, so why should a hunter travel to Canada to hunt them?
North Dakota residents Lionie and brother Dusty Fladelande smile behind their huge Alberta whitetails that grossed 188 and 174-inches, respectively.

Alberta

“Most state-side hunters have never hunted deer where there are caribou, elk, mule deer, grizzly bear, black bear and wolves, lots of wolves.  Feel free to take a couple of those home with you,” Nemechek added with a laugh.  “I hunt North Central Alberta and the chance to hunt in snow and really cold weather may be very different than conditions back home, especially if clients live in a southern climate of the USA.”

The rifle season in Alberta covers the month of November which allows US sportsmen to plan around their back home seasons in the quest for a giant buck.  “The season opens November 1,” says Nemechek, “when the bucks are feeling the urge, but the does are disinterested.  Inevitably, between November 8th-10th, the rut kicks in and the chase is on.”

The photo above helps make the case for hunting deer in Canada, yet veteran North River Outfitter, Ron Nemechek, taps his 37 years as a whitetail operator to tout the advantages of a Canadian whitetail safari.

Central Alberta hunts can be much like the Midwest with enormous grain and alfalfa fields, though the bulk of Nemecheck’s hunting occurs in the boreal forest farther north.  In this situation, deer are larger in body size than those in more agricultural regions and posses one other important characteristic.  “If you see and pass on a buck in the bush, you may never see it again,” Nemechek says.

This Minnesota client has hunted with Sask Can 15 times and taken 7 bucks 170 or better, the reason he keeps coming back.

“These deer often reach old age due to very limited hunting pressure, but their territories are large and secluded.  Ten to 20 percent of our clients bag a buck of 170 or more and about that many again see or miss one that big,” says Nemechek.  “But you have to be ready,” he adds.  “The buck you see in the first five minutes of a weeklong booking may be just as big or bigger than one you’ll see until the hunt ends.  I tell hunters to look for a number of long tall points and heavy mass.  A buck with those characteristics will score well.  Visit this website to see more about that at www.HuntNorthRiver.com.

Saskatchewan

Alberta’s neighbor to the east is Canada’s other big buck powerhouse as represented by Vern Hyllestad of Sask-Can Outfitters, who was quick to tout the advantages of a Canadian whitetail hunt (www.saskcanoutfitters.com).  “The amount of hunters out in the woods with us and how many big deer they actually shoot says it all,” he says.  “In all of Saskatchewan there may be 2,500 US hunters while back in the states, how many hunters will be out there after the same big deer?  That’s why your chances are way greater for shooting a big deer up here.”

Hyllestad believes the amount of big deer keeps his clients coming back.  “We had a high count of 15 rack bucks one day and we have gotten as high as 25 in one day in good years.  It’s phenomenal and keeps clients on the edge of their seat.  You would almost think that it’s penned hunting, but its wild hunting and it blows a guys mind at how much depth there is.  Our stands are three miles apart, not 300 yards apart.  We have so much wild ground that a big buck may only show up once.  Some of our hunts are on the border of national parks and a buck may leave that sanctuary to check a doe quickly and return.

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Like in Alberta, deer hunters in Saskatchewan may see other game, but Sask-Can concentrates on whitetail deer.  “We try to do good job at one thing, rather than a poor job at a bunch of things.  You will see wolves, lynx, and wild things like that,” Hyllestad says.

Season flexibility is another plus for Saskatchewan.  “If the only time you can come is the 15th of October, I can run you archery, muzzleloader, or rifle due to the flexibility of our zones and the regulations we have.  Feel free to check out the website for up there, (www.saskcanoutfitters.com).

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FANNING Your Way to FANTASTIC Turkey Hunting

Phil Phillips comes to full draw on an approaching gobbler. Fanning works best when one person can operate the fan or decoy and the other concentrate on the shot.

Call in the “Boss Hog” tom – Here is the Trick to How

Savvy turkey hunters use creativity to outsmart wily gobblers, and there are few hunting challenges that compare to taking a mature gobbler with a bow and arrow.  Gobblers, blessed with incredible eyesight, quickly detect the draw of a bow and the slightest movement can ruin hours if not days of effort.

The author holds up a mature gobbler taken by fanning. Incredibly, the older henned-up toms are most susceptible to this tactic.

Just as eyesight is an asset, it can be used against Ben Franklin’s bid for National Bird.  Dominance drives most gobblers, and the older and more viral the bird, the greater the “Boss Hog” attitude.  One the most effective tactics to outwit mature gobblers is to simulate a rival tom, either with a decoy or the fan of a mature male.  Often one peak of a turkey fan brings instant action.

My friend Ken Byers and I spotted two mature gobblers ¼ mile away in a plowed field, a nearly impossible stalking situation with archery gear.  However, employing commando tactics, we crawled to the edge of the field where Byers popped up a turkey fan clearly visible to the gobblers.  Instantly, they burst into a dead I’m– gonna-kick-butt run, so fast, I could barely come to full draw and missed the lead tom.

Think safety when using any decoy. Be sure that target colors are exposed when moving and set up where you have a full field of view.

I’m not always the sharpest tool in the shed, but am a quick learner when Byers and I returned to the same field a few days later.  The gobblers hadn’t learned their lesson, but I had.  As before, a feathery fan in the air brought the toms on the run, but this time, the red dot sight on my Rossi shotgun focused a load of number six Hornady Magnums that ruled the day.  Great bird, great hunt!  

How We Learned the Secret

Fanning for gobblers is so effective; we did our best to keep the tactic a secret which lasted about six years.  Recently, since the word is out, we’ve been telling friends and readers how much fun and incredibly effective it is.  Fanning works best when you can sneak over a crest within sight of a gobbler at 100 yards or less.  We typically employ this tactic in South Dakota where the rolling plains are ideal for this type f hunting.

The year that Michael Waddell introduced the Thunder Chicken decoy, a friend and I were closing on a large flock of turkeys planning to fan one into range.  We had to belly crawl across an open pasture with very little cover.  So we could catch our breath, I popped up the Thunder Chicken so that we could peek above the grass and get a fix on the flock.

The rolling plains of South Dakota offer an excellent fanning field of play. Sneak within 100 yards, pop up the decoy, and get ready to shoot.

We rested for a minute when suddenly five gobblers were point blank right in front of us.  Boom! I downed a longbeard and we looked at each other in amazement.

Another time I spotted a mature tom and three hens in an open meadow.  I was using a compound bow and there seemed to be no way to get close enough for a shot. By using the Thunder Chicken, I was able to close the distance to 50 yards.  This gobbler seemed wary and didn’t approach as turkey usually do.  Eventually, several hens began to feed toward the decoy, more than Mr. Big Shot could stand.  Suddenly, I heard purring and spotted the gobbler just a few yards in front of me.  Unfortunately, crawling on the ground was so taxing, I couldn’t draw the bow and the bird got away with all feathers intact.

Archers can often get point blank shots by using fanning.

Safety First

I’ve used fanning in the Great Plains, New Mexico and Texas where I hunt private or lightly trodden public land, but not in Maryland where visibility is very limited.  I’m sure it will work on turkeys; yet having a life-like replica near my body when other hunters could be nearby is foolish.

Whether you use hen or gobbler decoys, always cover them during transport so that “target colors” don’t show.  Always deploy turkeys where a hunter cannot approach you without being seen.  Place the decoy 20 yards in front of you with a clear field of vision well behind it.  Should you see another hunter, shout out your location so there can be no mistake.  Turkey hunting can be so exciting that emotions can overshadow judgment and you must always error on the side of caution.

Hunt Africa Now – It’s never been cheaper or more fun!

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The author smiles beside his 50-inch “management “kudu bull taken last summer with Rassie Erasmus. African management animals are old, but not necessarily “horn challenged”.

I see as much game in one African day as I may in an entire season in North America.  The experience is awesome and within the financial reach of every working man or woman the bargain basement deal of a lifetime. Outfitters in South Africa and Namibia offer a seven-day, fully-guided safari (including trophy fees for five animals) for less money than most North American hunts for just one.

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Luke Blackbeard is a very experienced Professional Hunter from Botswana who operates his own game ranch.

Here’s the math:

 “Ball-Park” Costs for North American and African Hunting:huntafrica_chart

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Whether you spot and stalk or ambush by waterholes, African hunting is pure excitement.

Weather– Each day in June, July, and August (African winter) begins with a cold crisp morning, followed by a warm afternoon and a glorious sunset.  Every day is like Indian summer in the fall.

Bugs– In three countries, I’ve yet to see a mosquito.  Use repellent on clothes for ticks.

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The kudu bull is a trophy equivalent to a North American Elk. Both are elegant, wary, and challenging to hunt.

Game You’ll see plenty of game plus interesting birds and non-game animals.  Include a tour of a park and you can witness the big five, up close.

Camps – Rustic, yet comfortable and clean.  Your laundry will be washed and pressed every day so you can pack light.  Meals are all you can eat and expertly prepared.  Many are tented in the spirit of Hemingway.

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African accommodations and service are renowned, like a cruise for hunters. You will enjoy yourself and bring your spouse.

Gear – A 30-06 rifle and quality scope are ideal for plains game. Archers will do well with a 60# compound or recurve or crossbow.

Travel Fly non-stop by Delta or SAA, or take the scenic route and see Europe for free.  Frequent flier miles accumulate quickly. Get an airline credit card, change phone carriers and bargain for miles with telemarketers. Reduce the airfare and you can hunt two more animals. Right now, South African Airways has a special of $999 round trip from the USA to South Africa.

Trophies African antelope such as kudu, impala, nyala, gemsbok, and the feisty warthog are exciting game animals. Taxidermy is cheaper in Africa, even including shipping back home.

Timing Safari hunting will not compete with your regular fall seasons. When fall arrives, your shooting skills will already be in top form.

Hunting Style Bow hunters usually watch waterholes from enclosed blinds or from tree stands. Animals usually visit in late morning and throughout the day. Rifle hunting is usually spot and stalk. You’ll glass plenty of game animals.

Here three (3) Outfitters you might consider from my experience:

Rassie Erasmus offers “management” hunts for older animals at greatly reduced prices. My 50-inch kudu last year cost just $1,000. This is the best deal in South Africa. E-mail him at bowhunt@rassie.co.za.

Carin and Tielman NeethlingOperate Agagia Safaris in Namibia, a land of vast game reserves and wildlife populations. Agagia offers high-fence, free ranging, and a special bowhunting-only facility. Check their website at www.Agagia.com or contact Carin via email: carinneethling@icloud.com.

Luke Blackbeard Yes he is a desendent of the famous pirate, is a native of Botswana, and operates a game ranch in Botswana with top-end trophies and facilities. This is one of the few hunting places left in Botswana. E-mail Luke at Blackbeardsafaris@gmail.com.

I’ve hunted with each of these companies and highly recommend them.

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The author took his 16-year-old grandson on safari and he bagged this huge Waterbuck. Safaris are great family vacations and outfitters will often make special packages for you.

Ruger American Rifle goes “Magnum”

The author's bull went just 50 yards after a through the shoulder shot from the American and the Hornady payload that completely passed through.

The author's bull went just 50 yards after a through the shoulder shot from the American and the Hornady payload that completely passed through.
The author’s bull went just 50 yards after a through the shoulder shot from the American and the Hornady payload that completely passed through.

One of the best deer rifles in the country just got an upgrade.  Here’s a report from one of the first users.

Sometimes a fellow gets lucky and that’s how I felt when I had the chance to hunt elk with Ken Jorgenson, marketing director of Sturm Ruger.  The American Rifle was introduced in two magnum cartridges for the first time and what better caliber to hunt elk, than with the .300 Winchester Magnum?

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The author received the rifle just prior to the hunt with limited time to bench test it, yet got a 200 yard MOA group on the first try.

Unfortunately, the rifle arrived just prior to the hunt with enough time to sight it in properly, but not much experimentation.  I teamed the Ruger with Hornady Superformance ammo and quickly learned that the Ruger American Rifle was one MOA (Minute of Angle) at 200 yards.  This equates to approximately two inches of accuracy at 200 yards (similarly, one-inch at 100 yards, three-inches at 300 yards, etc.).

The hunt I booked was a do-it-yourself event in the White River National Forest during the second bull elk season when tags were available over the counter.  Typically, a hunter in this area sights a rifle in at 200 yards so that an elk from zero to 300 yards is at “point blank” range.

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We discovered that Hornady Superformance magnum ammo provided consistent accuracy and an extra margin of knock-down for big game animals when teamed with the Ruger American Rifle.

Ironically, the hunt nearly ended after 20 minutes.  I walked a buddy to a likely elk crossing and then sneaked back toward a ridge top overlook and walked smack into a nice 5×5 bull at 40 yards.  Sometimes elk can act unresponsively when they first see something they can’t identify, but not this one.  As we came eyeball-to-eyeball on the ridge top, the bull whirled and crashed into nearby oak brush in a heartbeat.  I tried to circle back and out flank the fleeing animal, but it was in high gear and completely gone.

I had taken every precaution to maximize opportunity in long range conditions with an accurate rifle, powerful Hornady Superformance ammo, and Nikon optics, including a 2.5-10X Prostaff Scope, Prostaff 8×42 binoculars and rangefinder.  If I could see a bull, it was probably within range.  Ironically, I’d fill my tag at 50 yards and a broadside shot.  Not complaining, mind you, but not the long range shot I’d prepared for.

Since I also had a mule deer tag, I spent seven full days with the Ruger American Rifle from dawn to dusk and quickly learned to appreciate its assets.  Here’s a quick rundown of the rifle’s merits in bullet point fashion:

  • Ruger Marksman Adjustable™ trigger offers a crisp release with a pull weight that is user adjustable between 3 and 5 pounds, allowing shooters to make that perfect shot.  In the field, this is one of the most critical variables of accuracy.
  • Ergonomic, lightweight nylon synthetic stock designed for quick, easy handling blends a classic look with modern forend contouring and grip serrations.  It didn’t reflect light and looked great after banging it on the rocks.
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The Ruger American series includes a variety of models and calibers. New are the 7 mm Rem Mag and 300 Win Mag.
  • Soft rubber buttpad is crafted for maximum recoil reduction and came in hand with the recoil of the .300 Win Mag
  • The one-piece, three-lug bolt with 70° throw provides ample scope clearance and utilizes a full diameter bolt body and dual cocking cams for smooth, easy cycling from the shoulder.
  • Patent-pending Power Bedding®, integral bedding block system positively locates the receiver and free-floats the barrel for outstanding accuracy.
  • Offers ONE minute-of-angle accuracy that can make every hunt a success.  My first 200-yard group was MOA.
  • 5/8″-24 threaded barrel is cold hammer-forged, resulting in ultra-precise rifling that provides exceptional accuracy, longevity and easy cleaning.
  • Features a visible, accessible and easy-to-actuate tang safety that provides instant security.
  • Single-column detachable box magazine.
  • Also includes – magazine; sling swivel studs.  A rifle strap is a must when climbing in difficult terrain.
  • Factory-Installed One-Piece Aluminum Scope Rail.  This sounds like a small item, yet if a base comes loose, accuracy heads due south to a warmer climate. If you are looking for a big game rifle at a very modest price, give one of the new Ruger American magnum rifles a look.  I’ll bet you won’t be disappointed. Check www.ruger.com

Longbeards, Broadheads, Your Aim

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Tackling a wily spring gobbler with archery gear is super exciting, yet the broadhead you select can make all of the difference.  I learned this the hard way last spring after work caused me to miss the opening week of the season.  I have permission to hunt a small farm that has lots of birds and hunting pressure.   After getting skunked my first day out, I changed areas and roosted a trophy longbeard.

The next morning, I arrived extra early, set up against a large sycamore tree with honeysuckle for concealment.  I placed a jake decoy 15 yards in front of me and waited for the first gobbles of the morning.  As daylight arrived, the gobbler began to thunder and I called just enough to keep it worked up.  Eventually, I heard nothing but silence as the big tom sneaked toward the small clearing where my charade played out.

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I caught a slight movement to my right as the big gobbler walked past at ten yards and headed right for the decoy.  My Excalibur crossbow was already on my lap and I watched the big bird circle the decoy at point-blank range.  As the gobbler strutted and approached broadside, I launched a bolt with a large-blade broadhead.  My jaw dropped as I saw the arrow bounce off of the wing butt and the dumbfounded gobbler walk away.

Extra large broadheads are designed to cut the spine of a gobbler with its neck extended or facing head on, a detail I wasn’t aware of.  It was exceedingly exciting to have a plan come perfectly together, but oh so frustrating not to close the deal.  I cut a few feathers from the bird, but otherwise it was unharmed and I watched it walk 100 yards away and gobble as if taunting me.

Broadheads for longbeards come in two basic categories: penetrators and loppers.  If you plan to make a body shot, you want the largest broadhead you can shoot accurately.  When practicing, if you can’t make the fletch touch on a target at 20 yards, switch to a shotgun.  Hitting a wild turkey with an arrow takes extreme accuracy and practicing on a 3-D target helps immensely since a strutting gobbler will disguise the location of its vitals with a fluff of feathers.  You know exactly where the vitals of a deer are, but turkeys can expand their feathers and turn their body in a way that makes picking the exact spot difficult.

Expandable’s work well for turkeys so use the largest one you can find.  Some manufacturers offer heads up to three inches and the greater the diameter of the cut the better.  Cut-on-contact heads offer the advantage of a large cut on the way in and don’t rely on moving parts.

Lopper broadheads are designed to break the bones in the neck or decapitate the bird.  Personally, I don’t like the heads-off action because it looks bad for hunters even though it’s very humane.  Again this is my personal opinion, but wild turkeys are such beautiful birds, dismembering one seems disrespectful to the bird.

As I learned last year, the angle of the shot is critical if you are using a lopper head.  I should have waited until the gobbler faced me directly or made a putting sound with a mouth call so that it extended its neck.  That way, I would have made a clean, instant kill.

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Where to Aim

Lopper-style broadheads require a very specific position for a shot.  Basically, any angle where you can hit the extended neck is good.

With expandable or fixed heads, you can shoot for the body or the base of the neck.  By using a decoy, a gobbler will often strut near the bogus bird and stand perfectly still.  Use this time to take the shot.

  • If the bird is head on, shoot for the beard
  • If the bird is facing directly away, shoot in the middle of the back
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  • If the bird is broadside, come up the leg and shoot in the middle of the body.
  • If the bird is strutting, aim for the base of the neck.

If you body shoot a turkey and it runs off, give it time to expire like a deer.  And like for whitetails, you can’t practice too much.

Good luck!

Gearing Up for Spring Gobblers

The author took these two limb-hangers in the same day, thanks to a little luck and gear. Read the story to learn about calling, gear and lady luck.

Turkey hunters love gear and it seems we can never get enough to outsmart those un-killable toms.  I once hunted a flock of Merriam’s in South Dakota that had been pursued relentlessly the week prior to my arrival.  “The birds are there, but they won’t come to a call and I’ve been at them all week,” said a hunter as he packed his truck and left the camp.  “Good luck!”

Since I knew where the birds roosted, I was there the next morning in the pitch dark, but instead of being greeted by a prairie sunrise, a clipper system dropped six inches of snow.  Luckily, I wore a Browning Hell’s Canyon water-proof suit and a Mossy Oak vest complete with a hefty seat pillow to keep warm.

Always test pattern your shotgun, especially if you are trying a new shot shell for the first time.

I heard the birds fly down an hour after daylight and stayed still unsure of where they would go.  Ironically, I saw a flock of a dozen crest a ridge and feed toward me as I tried to sit still despite frequent shivering.  About 75 yards away, the flock seemed to camp for the morning with the big tom lagging well behind.  If I could nudge the flock back over the ridge where they’d come from, I could race up the hill and ambush the gobbler as it languished behind.

Popping a diaphragm caller into my mouth, I gave several soft yelps and every hen’s head went up.  A few more yelps and the flock moved slowly, but deliberately up and over the hill with the old tom playing caboose.

The soft snow covered my approach and as I crested the ridge, the gobbler raised its head like a flag and no doubt knew his goose was cooked.  I hate to admit that my calling actually scared turkeys away, yet I was sure the birds were ultra call shy and there was no way to lure them closer with bird sounds.  Luckily, I was prepared for the weather and was thrilled to return to camp with a big tom in such challenging conditions.

As a turkey hunter you never know which gear will make the greatest difference and here are a few of my favorite pieces that have made a difference over the years.

The author took this boss gobbler on a cold snowy day when turkeys would not approach a call. Make sure your clothing and insulation matches the weather conditions.

Mossy Oak Camouflage– I’m partial to the MO brand since I’ve hunted with them almost from the pattern inception.  Other patterns work well  also, but be sure to have gobbler gloves with an extended cuff and a head net.

Mossberg Turkey Thug Shotgun– I use my Mossberg for deer and turkey hunting and the shotgun is short, compact, and very effective.  When I have a gobbler within 40 yards, I know the deal is done.

Learn to use multiple callers. Box callers are ideal for locating, while a diaphragm allows for hands free shooting.

Aimpoint Red Dot Scope– Turkeys are easy to miss and adding a red dot scope like the Aimpoint Hunter will make a tremendous difference.  Aimpoint’s are military grade and ultra rugged.  You can adjust the brightness of the dot and the battery is so powerful, the dot will stay illuminated for five years of constant use.

Mossy Oak Turkey VestA turkey vest is like the desktop of a computer, a place where you can see the tools you use most often and know where they are.  If you are an adventurous hunter, you may want to check out the Alps Turkey Pack, a light, compact pack that will store gear and help carry out your turkey.

An Aimpoint Hunter red dot scope makes an excellent turkey sight. Put the dot at the base of the neck and close the deal.

CallsYou need three types of callers.  A box for long distance locating, a peg and slate for close in work, and a diaphragm to manipulate a gobbler with both hands free.  Use these various calls to vary the volume and quantity of calling.   If a gobbler sounds off when approaching and suddenly gets quiet, be ready to shoot as they often are looking for your location.

Shot SizeWhether you like #4, #6, or compromise with #5 shot, be sure to pattern your shotgun with each load choice.  You want to especially shoot a target at 10 yards to make sure your sighting system in on line.  You’ll be amazed at how small the pattern spreads at this distance.

Gobbler decoys can be deadly when used in wide open spaces, yet caution must be used if other hunters could be in your area.

Want Excitement? Try a Winter Wolf Hunt

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Pure and simple, I hate wolves.  It’s beyond me how anyone can profess a love and respect wildlife yet support these merciless killers.  Hunting in packs, wolves kill whatever animals they want, but mostly prey on big game in deep snow where they become helpless and of course calves and fawns too, who don’t stand a chance.

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Animal rights groups make wolf hunting difficult in the USA, yet Canada offers a liberal season on both wolves and coyotes.  Ironically, wolf hunts are very specialized and only a few outfitters offer them at a reasonable price.  The exception is Keith Atcheson of Jack Atcheson & Sons booking agency.  I’ve hunted with Keith and his wife Nikki and can attest that they know their stuff.  Here’s their offering that’s the perfect break for cabin fever and a high adventure in one of Canada’s most beautiful areas:

We get quite a bit of hunters inquiring about wolf hunts but in reality there are not many successful outfitters out there offering this type of hunt. The few outfitters that do offer this type of hunt charge in excess of $8 to $10K.   

However, we have an outfitter that we have been working with on Bighorn sheep and trophy deer hunts, and this hard core hard working young man has some very good wolf hunts he wants to run between now and the end of March 2016.  His partner has had 80% success on hunts for themselves and friends.  If you have the time and interest to go to northern Alberta, brave the cold and experience the “Call of the Wild” this might be it.

Cost is $3800 per hunter US dollars for 6 days of hunting.  Full lodging and meals provided at the remote ranch setting.  Fly commercially to Grand Prairie, Alberta. 

These hunts will be taking place to the northeast around the Peace River. They have heated blinds used for bait hunting and if you get tired of sitting in a blind, then they we will locate the wolves and call them in with voice or electronic calling.  There are lots of wolves here with many colorations many being black.

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Bow hunters are welcome and the guide has been successful in this pursuit.

License is $68.22, Wolf per tag $12.40. CHEAP!!! Pelts will be prime as well.

There will be a $250 trophy fee for any additional wolf above the one included in the hunt and you can buy several tags.  If you don’t want to sit on the bait, it will be a 2 on 1 guided hunt using snowmobiles and ATV’s and trucks. This may allow better success because usually there is more than one wolf in a pack responding to calls. This is quite exciting to say the least.

This is a winter hunt so it maybe be very cold or you might be lucky and catch an Alberta Clipper so plan accordingly. It should be a “Howling” good time!

February and March also offer many sporting shows, chief among them the NRA Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  These events often assemble multiple outfitters from around the world and offer another chance to book a wolf hunt.  A few outfitters may advertise wolf or predator hunts, but don’t be hesitant to ask if one can be arranged.  Canada has amazingly high coyote populations and hunters often see them driving to and from deer hunting areas.  Typically, they aren’t shot for fear of scaring deer or consuming valuable time getting to a stand.

In late winter and early spring, you can concentrate on predators specifically, you’ll get to see Canada at it’s most beautiful and success will challenge shooting skills, both close and long range.  Best of all, every wolf or coyote you kill saves the life of other animals that don’t consider themselves dog food.

For information on Jack Atcheson wolf hunts, contact Jack Atcheson & Sons, Inc.  3210 Ottawa Street Butte, Montana 59701, 406-782-2382 (office), 406-723-3318 (fax), office@atcheson.com * www.atcheson.com.

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Wolf size varies, yet large males are equivalent to an average human and color phases vary from white to grey to black. Don’t skimp on caliber size. You will need a flat shooting rifle in a deer-size caliber and your best optics for best results.

Six Tips for Bowhunting in the Cold – Late Can be Great

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Call it an Arctic clipper, Polar Vortex, or other trendy name, yet whitetail deer have dealt with the challenges of winter for 1000’s of years and are doing fine. The colder the weather the more you can bet that your hunting competition is in the warm, one of the reasons that the deer woods settles down in late season and you’ll have the whole place to yourself.

Hunting in late season gives you that Jeremiah Johnson feeling and once you learn to laugh at the cold, the worse the weather the more enjoyable it becomes. Here are six tips to make the most of this year’s deer season.

  1. Tune your Bow and Body for the cold

As the season progresses, archers tend to practice less, despite the more demanding conditions of late season hunting. Shorter days, inclement weather, and work schedules often compete for critical practice time. To overcome these obstacles, move your range indoors. Bag and foam targets from McKenzie, Block, and other allow you to keep your muscles and form in top shape. Turning your bow’s draw weight down a crank or two is often advisable. After sitting in cold weather, your muscles may stiffen and heavier layers of cloths may impede your draw. Every hour or so, you should come to full draw or conduct some discrete stretching exercises. Make sure that you practice shooting in your full hunting dress, including gloves.

  1. Deer will Herd Up – Late season deer will concentrate near food sources. Find an afternoon travel path to a corn or alfalfa field and you have a hot-spot. In cold weather, you may want to consider using a ladder stand or a stick-type climbing device. Heavy clothing may cause you to perspire as you work up the tree with a climber. Ladder and stick-type stands allow easier access with less exertion.

As you settle in, make sure you can stand and move without creaks or squeaks. Platforms can be slippery and your safety harness will be especially important. Snug it to be sure.

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  1. Plan to Stay Warm

Sitting in the stand involves less movement than standing and allows you to exercise your feet occasionally, increasing circulation. For warmth, sit on a foam cushion. Inflatable seats provide incredible warming power when used in the Lombard back area. The dead-air insulation feels like a heating pad.

If your feet often get cold, spray them with antiperspirant before putting on socks. This helps prevent foot sweat. Consider using a “Tosti Toes” inside your boot. These pads are designed to operate in the low oxygen levels inside your boot.

Scent-reducing rain suits can be an excellent choice in cold weather because they contain scent and block the wind.   Outfit that are waterproof, windproof, and contains human scent are excellent. Since last minute whitetails can be any-weather events, having this 3-way protection comes in mighty handy, especially in the South where the rut occurs during the rainy season.

  1. Don’t Forget your Rut Tricks

Late season is often a second rut period. Don’t forget your grunt tube and rattling horns. Hunter’s Specialties TrueTalker is very versatile, offering excellent volume and the versatility of a grunt and bleat sound. Instead of carrying rattling antlers, consider a rattle-bag. It generates the antler sound and stores easily in a pack or large pocket.

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Scouting is still important in last-minute deer hunting and trail timers can put you onto that buck of a lifetime, a process made easier with the advent of snow.   Cold weather may prevent you from spending as much time in the woods as you’d like and this device can pinpoint the best times to sit the stand as well as capture the quality of deer on film. Even if the big one gets away, you can show the beast to your friends and begin making plans for next year.

  1. Plan Your Approach Getting to a stand in cold weather takes some planning. If you have to climb or walk through deep snow, consider dressing in your shirt and trousers and carry insulating outer layers. Daypacks are invaluable and can hold and organize your gloves, calls, knife, survival gear, etc. Be sure to carry matches, a lighter, and an extra candy bar or two. Staying dry is the key to staying warm.
  2. Keep Coyotes in Mind You can never kill too many coyotes and they may be more responsive to a caller in late season. If you are in a stand and things seem slow, cast a few squeaks or rabbit squawks and see what happens. The iHunt app for smart phones has a dozen or more calls that can entice a coyote or other predator.

A side benefit of late season hunting is seeing how deer react naturally to food sources and travel corridors. As you watch and monitor animal movements, you’ll be more prepared for next fall. Even if you spot Mr. Big and can’t get a shot, you’ll know his whereabouts come opening day.

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Savage Arms: Lefthanders aren’t “Left Out”

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Savage Model 10FCP-SR, a left-handed tactical rifle, great for deer hunting

Over the past two decades, Savage Arms has achieved an impressive stronghold in dominating niche markets.  “Whether it’s a bigger gun, faster gun or one that fulfills a specific customer need, Savage strives be the leader in specialty guns,” said Firearms Marketing Director Bill Dermody.  “Because when you add up small chunks of a pie, you quickly get a big slice.”

An excellent example how Savage fulfills a special need in a niche market is its broad variety of left-handed firearms.  A recent interview with Dermody reveals why Savage is the leader in producing left-handed firearms.

Why does Savage offer so many left-handed options?

DERMODY: Specialty guns are our bread and butter, and they’re great business for us. All of our product offerings made it in our catalog because they fulfill a special need.  For example, lightweight predator rifles, F-Class Target rifles, a firearm that properly fits a woman—those are all special customer needs.  A bolt-gun that has the bolt on the other side of the gun is a special need. It’s as simple as that.

How many left-handed firearms do you offer?

DERMODY: More than 18. We have left-handed options available throughout our product line including big game, law enforcement, target competition and predator hunting.  We also offer left-handed slug shotguns and bolt-action and semi-auto rimfire rifles.  To quickly see all our left-handed options, open the “Gun Finder” tool on our website (savagearms.com) and select “left” in the search function.

Do you have plans to offer more in the future?

DERMODY: “Yes, definitely.  When we release a new firearm it’s usually only in a right-handed model, but oftentimes we introduce the left-handed version in the years that follow.  However, if you are a dealer looking to stock a left-handed Savage firearm, or order one for a specific customer who is looking for a left-handed model not listed in the catalog or website, just call us.  Many times our special order department can build left-hand versions of any our rifles.  The only limitation to this is the availability of left-handed stocks for particular rifles. Some of our right-handed rifles are built with stocks our vendor simply doesn’t have a left-handed version for.  But the majority of the time, we can special build a lefty for you.”

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How big is the left-handed firearms market? 

DERMODY: “Research reports more than 10 percent of Americans are left-handed.  Then there are those who are right-handed, but left-eye dominant.  These hunters and shooters greatly benefit from a left-handed firearm.  Sum them up and the number of potential customers spikes up significantly.  Simply put, if dealers want to sell more guns, they can’t ignore this niche.  That’s why we’re here to supply dependable, accurate and popular left-handed choices.”

How big is the right-handed, left-eye dominant segment of the market?

DERMODY: “I haven’t seen any official numbers, but we know quite well these people exist.  It is not uncommon for people to tell us at sports shows and through social media channels that they are right-handed yet shoot lefty.  Several of our employees, plus a few outdoor writers we work with, are like this.”

“The right-handed, left-eye-dominant customer is interesting. When a right-handed person switches the gun to their left shoulder and uses their dominant eye to aim, they are often more accurate.  Most brand new shooters test their eyes to see which shoulder they should learn to shoot from, which is great.  However, it’s not uncommon for us to hear about shooters and hunters—those with years of shooting experience—deciding to sell their right-handed guns and buy a left-handed one, especially bolt-action firearms. These folks are shooting more accurately and getting more satisfaction at the range and on their hunts when using a left-handed gun.”

How do left-handed shooters benefit from a left-handed gun?

DERMODY: “For lefties, having a left-handed bolt gun is extremely important because it allows a fast follow-up shot.  A shooter’s support hand never has to leave the forend—or their cheek leave the stock—while their trigger hand operates the bolt.  Also, having the action open on the left side makes for easier loading with your left hand, and hot spent cases never fly across your face.”

From the manufacturing standpoint, what makes Savage Arms the leader?

DERMODY: “Becoming the left-handed leader is not an accident.  Part of the genius behind our long-standing, time-proven action designs is versatility.  Quite simply, our actions are easier to convert to left-handed.  Many of our competitors need a completely different receiver design to convert their right-handed rifles to the left.  This is time-consuming and expensive, so they often decide to opt out of the left-handed market.  Not us.  Both our Model 10/110 receivers and AXIS receivers have a fairly symmetrical design.  Our top-tang safety is symmetrical as are bolt releases on several models.  So basically it just comes down to changing the bolt assembly and machining the ejection port on the other side.”

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How difficult is it to make left-handed firearms in your factory?

DERMODY: “We greatly benefit from operational agility at our factories.  We are set up to changeover our machines to efficiently to build left-handed parts for our rifles. This allows us to manufacture small batches of left-handed guns whenever we need them—without labor-intensive and time-consuming expenses—and without messing up our planned production schedule.  It’s just one of those things we are better equipped to do than most of our competitors.”

Why should more dealer’s stock left-handed firearms?

DERMODY: “For the same reason we manufacture so many: If you don’t neglect other niche segments, then why neglect this one?  We love catering to left-handed shooters. And once they try a Savage rifle, we know the feeling will be mutual.  Many left-handed shooters buy one gun from us and they come back for more.  We sell great guns and we have an impressive variety of options left-handers are looking for.  We are not going to ignore this niche and neither should our dealers.”

Is there anything else you want readers to know about Savage’s left-handed guns?

DERMODY: “We make specialty guns.  Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes: Would you rather have a general purpose gun or one made to do exactly what you want?  Just look at the many TV personalities we sponsor—they can shoot any Savage they want and we will give it to them, but they all gravitate to our specialty guns.  Jackie Bushman chooses left-handed guns.  Some of our other sponsored hunters choose the Compact Hunter and Long Range Hunter rifles.

Whether it is a left-handed gun or a different specialized gun—it’s the same idea: It’s a gun that fits the shooter’s needs.  It’s just one of the things that keep them and all our customers happy. When they’re happy, we’re happy.”

To review more about Savage Firearms and review the large assortment of left-handed firearms available for sportsmen, check out their link and go to the search block, type in “left-hand” and hit enter: http://www.savagearms.com/.  Savage is saving their best day of new discovery at the range and afield for many hunters.

6 Tips for Staying Warm

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A group of lady hunters in South Dakota in one of the state’s worst cold spells. They used many of the tips found here to help them enjoy the cold, works for hunting or fishing.

A group of women hunt in South Dakota in one of the state’s worst cold spells.  They used many of the above tips to help them enjoy the cold.  By Joe & Vel Byers

Staying dry and dressing in layers are a one-two punch that will tap out the cold on the worst of days.  Regardless of the quality of your gear, once you become sweaty, staying warm for any length of time is nearly impossible. Try these five tips to stay longer and enjoy winter more.

  1. Allow extra time to reach a distant tree stand or driving post.  Carry as many layers as needed over your shoulder or on a pack.  Then suit up. Walk with your shirt un-tucked and zippers open to allow for maximum air flow.  Carry an extra pair of warm socks and don’t double up unless your boots handle them easily.  The more compressed socks become, the poorer they insulate. Today’s wicking under-layers are terrific for keeping you dry, warm, and scent free.  Products from Under Armour, Scent Blocker, Scent Loc, Medalist, and other can reduce scent and lay a warm foundation.  Add an insulating fleece mid layer and an outer shell and you’ll be toasty for some time.  Pack a down vest to cover your lap and legs, a super solution if your knees tend to get cold.

    Late season hunting harbors all types of game. Autumn Ifland took this good muely buck on a drive that resulted in a well-placed shot.
    Late season hunting harbors all types of game. Autumn Ifland took this good muely buck on a drive that resulted in a well-placed shot.
  2. Today’s wicking under-layers are terrific for keeping you dry,warm, and scent free.  Products from Under Armour, Scent Blocker, Scent Loc, Medalist, and other can reduce scent and lay a warm foundation.  Add an insulating fleece mid layer and an outer shell and you’ll be toasty for some time.  Pack a down vest to cover your lap and legs, a super solution if your knees tend to get cold.
  3. Oxidizing hand and body warmers work incredibly well.  Pop one in each shirt pocket and feel the warmth.  Instead of holding a heat packet in your hand, which often causes sweating, put the heater on your wrist so it will heat the blood going to your fingers.  When it’s really cold, put one under your hat.
  4. Keep your buns warm.  A thick insulated cushion will help you hunt more comfortably and don’t forget your feet.  If you’ll be standing on the ground in snow cover, carry a small piece of carpet pad or other insulator to stand on. 

    Keeping your head warm is paramount. Kim Cahalan chose a face cover and multiple layers as her keep-warm strategy.
    Keeping your head warm is paramount. Kim Cahalan chose a face cover and multiple layers as her keep-warm strategy.
  5. In frigid weather, keeping our head warm is paramount.  If youhave to walk some distance to a stand, tuck your hat under your arm.  Covering your face is equally important, especially on windy days.  A light head net, like turkey hunters use, will make a surprising difference.  Ski masks are also ideal, especially if they allow your breath to flow without causing condensation on the mask. 
  6. Finally, think old-school and carry a small thermos of hot chocolate or coffee and your favorite snacks.  A sip or two of steaming liquid will warm your core and tasty munchies help pass time and keep your spirits high.  Remember, every monster buck harvested was just a little smaller the season before.  Unless you’re out there, you’re not in the game.

Not Your Grandfather ’ s Muzzleloader

Not Your Grandfathe#69F850F

Traditions Vortek StrikerFire LDR

Here’s a look at a muzzleloader rifle that will excel in any season.

Rain had fallen for most the night and the steady downpour was projected to last the next full day.  Generally, wet weather and blackpowder hunting or shooting exploits don’t play well together, yet the persistent downpour would be a great test of a new rifle.

The author took this buck during a pouring rain and developed a continued confidence in the Vortek link.
The author took this buck during a pouring rain and developed a continued confidence in the Vortek link.

A friend and I headed for a thick creek bottom where we hoped to find a good buck, tucked into a tight pocket of cover like many sane hunters were on this day.  After several attempts, we crossed the swollen stream and climbed through a dense patch of cedars on the far side.  Suddenly, two bucks jumped from a small depression.  One bounded away, yet the second deer – which may have been asleep, took a few jumps and stopped.  My red dot centered on its chest and the air filled with dense smoke, downing the 10-point buck in seconds.

Special muzzleloading seasons often occur during inclement weather and you need the confidence that your rifle will fire every time and strike with sufficient force and accuracy to down game quickly.  I’ve found the Traditions LDR is up to that challenge and more.  Here’s a quick look at the features:

  • Going the Distance- This rifle has a 30-inch barrel that’s designed for accuracy and a complete powder burn.  You’ll get consistent down range accuracy and buck-bagging ability out to 200 yards.
  • The internal striker fire system helps seal the breech and makes the rifle safer to shoot.  The hammerless design makes it easier to mount a scope.
  • Slide the striker button forward until it locks and the rifle is cocked. The striker fire system allows for quicker and quieter cocking of the rifle, faster lock time, and gives you recessed de‐cocking button allows for quick and quiet de‐cocking of the firearm.
  • De‐cocking the firearm is simple. The recessed de‐cocking button allows for quick and quiet de‐cocking. Also, when you break open the gun an automatic de‐cocking occurs.
  • The rifle is also equipped with a 1‐piece stainless steel Accelerator Breech Plug™ that allows you to fire both loose and palletized powder without changing the breech plug and
  • Stow‐N‐Go Removable Butt Pad for storage just to name a few in the long list of feature.
  • This rifle is equipped with a TAC2™ Trigger System that is a 2‐stage, competition‐style trigger set at two pounds.
The break-open action easily removed breech allow the critical elements of the firing system to be easily cleaned.
The break-open action easily removed breech allow the critical elements of the firing system to be easily cleaned.

I often use a muzzleloading rifle in traditional rifle or shotgun seasons.  Although I’m limited to one shot, with this rifle, I’m confident that one is all I will need.  Check it out at www.traditionsfirearms.com.

Not Your Grandfathe#69F8523

.223 Remington: Too Light or Just Right for Whitetail Deer?

Many younger hunters today enjoy hunting with an AR because ammunition for the .223 Remington is affordable, allowing people to shoot and practice more with their rifles.

Many younger hunters today enjoy hunting with an AR because ammunition for the .223 Remington is affordable, allowing people to shoot and practice more with their rifles.
Many younger hunters today enjoy hunting with an AR because ammunition for the .223 Remington is affordable, allowing people to shoot and practice more with their rifles.

As the popularity of AR firearms increases, so does the interest in hunting whitetail deer with its traditional brew, the .223 Remington.  Deer hunting is normally the territory of the .30-30, .270 and the .30-06, with bullet weights nearly three times that of some .223 projectiles.  This is a statistic that may indicate that the tiny .22caliber pill is not up to the task.

“We actually loaded a special batch of .223 ammo for a large customer in Texas where using a .223 is very popular,” said Mitch Mittelstaedt, Director of Engineering for Hornady Manufacturing.  “We loaded a special 60-grain spire point and added it to our whitetail deer ammo line.  Hunting with the .223 Remington is very popular in Texas,” he said.  Small flat shooting calibers are ideal for Texas sendero’s with open shooting lanes where hunters can take a rest shot from a tower or shooting blind, as the body size of some Lone Star bucks is generally less than those from the Midwest or Northern Tier.

On the other hand Mittelstaedt is quick to admit, “I wouldn’t recommend it for the every-day hunter,” alluding to the minimal bullet weight and the fragmentation of many standard bullets for the caliber.  “I suggest a minimum bullet weight of 60 grains and a penetrating bullet like our GMX.  You want something that is going to hold together.”

For an accurate shooter, the .223 Remington can be an effective whitetail deer cartridge when fired in open country from a solid rest.
For an accurate shooter, the .223 Remington can be an effective whitetail deer cartridge when fired in open country from a solid rest.

If you peruse the Hornady ballistics chart and those from other manufacturers, you will find bullets in the 75-grain weight and assume the heavier bullet is better.  Not necessarily, as most bolt action rifles have a 12:1 twist ratio which handles bullets up to about 60 grains, yet accuracy diminishes beyond that weight.  Many AR-style rifles have rifling ratios of 9:1 to 7:1 which may handle heavier loads.  Experiment to see which load shoots best from your rifle and don’t be surprised if various bullets of the same weight shoot differently.

Shoot What You Shoot Best

Debating the .223 for deer is similar to campfire conversations about how much gun is needed for elk.  While hunters like to tout ballistics, an experience outfitter is more likely to ask, “Which rifle do you shoot best?”  Magnum calibers are a popular choice, yet ammo is expensive, some hunters are recoil sensitive causing them to flinch, so practicing at longer range can be difficult.

If you love your AR in .223, you probably shoot it often.  With virtually no

Mitch Mittelstaedt, Director of Hornady Engineering, sees the .223 as a viable deer cartridge under certain conditions and reports that it is a popular option for many Texas deer hunters.
Mitch Mittelstaedt, Director of Hornady Engineering, sees the .223 as a viable deer cartridge under certain conditions and reports that it is a popular option for many Texas deer hunters.

recoil and inexpensive ammunition, burning up the range is fun and exciting.  Given the flat shooting characteristics of the round, tight groups out to 200 yards may become routine.  Given this ability with a rifle, you are a good candidate for this caliber if you follow a few guidelines:

  • Shot placement is critical.  Aim for the heart/lung area or at the base of the neck where a bullet will shatter the spine and drop the animal instantly
  • Be willing to pass up anything but a standing, broadside shot.
  • Take a stand and hunt like a sniper.  Stalking through brush can easily produce difficult shot angles, moving deer, partially brush covered targets or all of the above.
  • Shoot a 60-ish grain copper or non-fragmenting bullet.

 

Finally, check your game regulations to be sure that the .223 is legal for deer in your state and develop the self discipline to make every shot a lethal one.

How to Buy Your First Crossbow- Six Points to Consider

When the big day comes, make sure that you watch the brand's YouTube videos for safety, assembly and shooting tips. Be sure you know how the bow works before shooting it.

Crossbow
When the big day comes, make sure that you watch the brand’s YouTube videos for safety, assembly and shooting tips. Be sure you know how the bow works before shooting it.

If you are considering the purchase of a first or newer crossbow, keep these six points in mind. There is no one best bow so that the trick is to buy the one that best fits your needs, dimensions, abilities, and goals. For sure, these are generalizations, but you need facts and to some degree, my opinion on important factors. Here you go:

Recurve vs. Compound- I own each style of bow and took both kinds to Africa on safari, so one isn’t necessarily superior over the other.   Recurve limbs are simpler, may be easier to replace, and often can be relaxed with a cocking rope and the proper procedure. Recurve bows cock like a vertical recurve bow such that the farther you pull the string back, the more force is required. If you are considering one, make sure you can cock it manually or purchase a cranking device. Recurve bows have fewer moving parts than compounds and won’t go out of tune, that is, one cam working differently than the other.

Compound crossbows, by contrast, are usually easier to cock since the cams reduce draw weight as the string reaches the cocking point. The Excalibur 365 is the maximum bow I can manually cock, while the Mission Micro which shoots about the same speed, cocks easily. Compound bows, can be more compact and store more energy resulting in greater arrow speed from shorter limbs if speed is important to you.

Cocking Device- Crossbows cock differently and with various devices and this can be a deal breaker on some models. TenPoint has this process down to a science with their ACUdraw 50 and ACUdraw systems. The “50” uses a traditional cocking rope, yet the handles and the rope nest in the stock. In this way you never have to wonder if you brought your cocking rope or where it is for a quick extra shot. Likewise, the crank handle for the ACUdraw system nests in the stock and is as easy as turning a crank.

Mission bows offer a standard cocking rope, yet they do not have a traditional cocking stirrup which give a much better cocking posture. I’m just 5’8” tall and cocking a long bow with a stirrup forces me to pull the rope nearly to my chin, a poor mechanical advantage. Without the cocking stirrup, I can cock the Mission primarily with my leg muscles and doing so is a breeze.

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Crossbows must be cocked on “fire”, unlike firearms. If you buy your bow from an archery shop (recommended), practice cocking and firing the bow to assure you know the proper procedure.

Trigger Pull- Considering all of the factors of various bows, the one that consistently fails the Byers’ test is trigger pull. If you are a rifle shooter, you know the importance of trigger pull. You want one that’s crisp (about 3 pounds of pressure) and has no creep-felt trigger movement. This varies not only from brand to brand, but model to model within a brand. Here’s where the importance of shooting the bow in the shop really comes through. On some of the most expensive bows I’ve tested, I can feel the trigger move and must continue the squeeze further. You want a trigger that’s firm enough for safety, yet fires with no felt travel.

Trigger Tech is a custom trigger manufacturer that makes custom triggers for crossbows. I’ve used them on two models and love the result.

Crossbow
Crossbows have extensive penetration. Make sure you have a practice target adequate for the speed of your bow.

Scopes and Sights– Most crossbow models come as a package with accessories such as a quiver, cocking device, arrows, and a sight, usually a scope. The sight shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for a bow that you really like because you can replace the scope with another model or a red-dot as you’ll see in the chapter on sights.

If you are a fan of quality optics, you may want to check out the XB75scope engineered by Zeiss. This scope offers the best in light transmission and adjusts to the speed of your arrow. Also, the Vortex Viper XBR that’s specifically designed for long range shooting. It offers a “tactical turret” that allows for dead hold-on out to 70 yards.

Size- Just like a firearm, how well a crossbow fits your stature will impact shooting consistency. The stock should fit your frame well and you should be able to swing the bow without difficulty. Weight and size become important if you are very mobile or hunt from compact places such as ground blinds or tree stands. Does the bow come with standard sling studs? If so, you can carry the bow over your shoulder like a rifle.

Warranty/Price- Finally, the amount you pay for a crossbow is probably the greatest choice of all. Prices range from under $300 to nearly $2,000 for top of the line bows. Usually, the more the bow costs, the better the warranty, yet you should ask about the fine print, such as how the bow will be repaired. Do you need to mail it back to the factory or can the shop fix it? Is the warranty transferable? Unlike compound bows, crossbows hold value well and you may want to sell this model to a buddy when a new one catches your eye.

Ultimately, selecting a bow is a matter of choice. How much speed do I want or need? How will I cock the bow? Will it be for target shooting, hunting, or both? What kinds of sight I like to use and so on? If you can’t decide, purchase a used bow, try it for a year and, after saving a few more bucks you’ll know exactly what you want.

Second Season Whitetails

Second Season Whitetails
Hunter teams can conduct organized drives to push thickets in the late cold season to stay warm, often they also share the cold and the harvest.

When the season’s is at 4th and long most hunters punt, despite the multitude of great bucks still in the game. Here’s how to score in the final quarter, even on the last day.

“You guys can sleep in tomorrow if you want,” said guide Josh Cobb, my host on the eve of Iowa’s late muzzleloading season. “What???? After traveling half way across the country, I’m gonna sleep in on opening day.” As I would learn, winter hunting takes different tactics and strategies than early season. Then Cobb added, “I’ve been seeing a 200-inch buck recently.   If I can spot him, we’ll make a plan.”

The Iowa snow cover crunched with each step making a deer drive the best tactic for the morning. Cobb jumped several bucks on this drive, yet only one crossed my path within range. Ironically, two weeks later, a hunter would stand against the same tree and take a dandy 165-inch, 10-pointer. Right place, wrong time.

Second Season Whitetail
Second seasons are excellent for father/son adventures, a chance to mentor young hunters.

Second Season isn’t Second Best

“Clients from Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan and other high-pressure states think you must bag a deer in the first five minutes or the hunt is over,” said outfitter Jim Aller, only partially in jest. “Hunting the big farm country of Kansas and the Midwest is very different than back East. Personally, I think the second week of the season is the better week and that’s when we almost always kill our biggest bucks.”

After the shotgun season closes, Kansas offers a late archery season like many states across the country. “That’s the only chance the guides and I get to hunt and honestly, it’s a really good time,” says Aller. “The deer are bunched up near food and you can pattern them pretty darned well. The days are shorter, you don’t have to get up as early and you can virtually hunt a food plot all day long. The weather is cold, but not unbearable especially with the newer insulated clothes.”

Afternoon Delight

Phillip Vanderpool took a Boone & Crocket buck with a muzzleloading rifle in a second season and is quick to point out how to adapt to winter deer hunting. “If it’s second season, you want to concentrate on food sources right off the bat,” says the Hunters Specialties Pro Staff hunter. Interestingly, he prefers to hunt different areas in the morning and afternoon.

Second Season Whitetail
Matt Wettish hunts the Northeast with great success. In recent years, winters have been milder and much more comfortable to hunt.

“Deer don’t move very much or very far in late season because they are conserving as much energy as they can,” Vanderpool says. “I try to catch deer moving from a bedding area to a food source but that’s difficult in the morning in crunchy snow or ice. Unless you can get to a morning stand without spooking deer, you are better off waiting until the afternoon.”

Expect the Unexpected

Second season bucks are motivated by conserving energy, food, and mating in that order. No one, (to my knowledge) has text messaged a survey to the herd asking, would you rather: A) Take a nap, B) Do lunch or C) Chase women? However, when a snow storm hits, deer are likely to just lay low initially and may “yard up” in the Northeast. A prolonged cold spell will bring deer into food plots and to other food sources if available.

Don’t forget the rut. “If you see a big buck in the open in late season, there’s usually an estrous doe involved,” says Josh Cobb, mentioned earlier. “After the bucks have been chased a while, they hang pretty close to cover.” A healthy deer population with an adequate food source will produce fawns that breed as yearlings. These youngsters come into heat in December, January, even February and may force a buck to get his A-B-C priorities out of order.

Successful second season hunters adapt strategies from the pre-rut and rut including rattling horns and deer calls. If you find fresh scrapes, rubs, and other rut signs, rattling and doe bleats can be extremely effective. Without signs of breeding activity, use them in moderation. Most importantly, be out there. As the late Yogi Berra once said, “It isn’t over until it’s over.”

Blackpowder Fun for Late Season Action

Blackpowder
Seth McGinn, owner of Can Cooker, smiles behind his nice 8-point buck taken in a blizzard.

Late muzzleloading seasons are among the most underutilized in the country, one of the reasons that big bucks are taken each year while the center-fire crowd is sipping eggnog and watching football. A prime example is a hunt I took with Seth McGinn, owner of the Can Cooker, in South Dakota during the worst weather imaginable. A foot of snow had just fallen and the wind howled at 30 miles per hour closing roads and knocking out power.

Our camp was snuggled in a shallow river basin with plenty of cover and I knew of a high point that would be sheltered from the Northwest wind. “Hunting in this weather is probably crazy, but I know of a good spot where deer may be moving to get out of the wind,” I said to my partner, a native of Nebraska, he wasn’t going to be intimidated by a little snow and wind.

We had barely left camp when we began jumping deer, an indication that the weather may be pushing them into tight cover. Half an hour later, we peeked over my ridge top and saw an 8-point watching its back trail, apparently a deer we had jumped on the way in. McGinn settled his rifle on a small tree, fire flew from his muzzle and the buck dropped right there. Imagine our amazement. Hunting in a blizzard and one peek over the ridge bagged a buck. As we watched the buck with binoculars to be sure it was dead, a second buck suddenly appeared on a path that also crossed below us. Apparently the howling wind had confused the deer and it ran toward us. I steadied my rifle, squeezed and the buck went down 20 yards from McGinn’s. This was insane!   Two bucks in 10 minutes in a roaring blizzard with muzzleloading rifles.

Family Fun

Blackpowder
Late season deer hunting may be cold, but the deer woods is rarely crowded. Consider afternoon drives and evening sits to handle the frigid weather.

Late muzzleloading seasons often occurs over the Christmas break when youngsters are out of schools and college kids are home for the holidays- an ideal time to spend quality time with them. Most young boys and girls are interested in firearms and the ability to develop a load appropriate for them is a huge benefit. If you are shooting for fun, load one pellet or about 50 grains of powder which will result in very moderate recoil, yet an accurate bullet and plenty of smoke. Eye and ear protection are important as are safety rules which are easy to teach and reinforce.

Once youngsters are dialed into loading and shooting safely, bump up the powder to 80-100 grains which is plenty for most deer hunts. Personally, I love an Aimpoint red dot scope because it allows me to put that red dot exactly where I want to hit.

Deer by the Bunch

Blackpowder
Cold weather can shrink a barrel making bullets difficult to load. Using a hand warmer will quickly expand the muzzle and get that bullet off to a good start. Note electrical tape to prevent snow and debris from entering the muzzle.

McGinn and I were certainly lucky to take our two bucks so quickly, yet high winds and storms will force deer into tight cover, especially along creeks and streambeds. In general, deer tend to “herd up” in December and January and you may see groups of deer bedding together or focusing on a food source.

Snow is often a crystal ball that can’t guarantee where deer will travel yet shows you where they’ve been. Winter wheat fields, picked corn fields, and any leftover crop is bound to be a magnet.

Hunting early morning stands in very cold weather can be brutal and it may make more sense to try small deer drives during mid day or hunt the afternoon at likely food sources. Yearling does may come into estrous in late season and don’t be surprised to hear a buck grunt or see one sniffing the ground. Be sure to carry a grunt and bleat call and sometimes rattling will work.

Gearing Up

In-line muzzleloaders continue to dominate the hunting market due to their consistent performance with the break-open models the most popular. I used a Traditions Vortek that shot very accurately at 200 yards and beyond. www.traditionsfirearms.com

Hodgdon Triple Seven pelletized power is also a huge benefit and makes measuring a load safe and consistent. www.hodgdon.com

Finally, new bullet designs make loading easier, even after the first shot. Federal Premium’s B.O.R. Lock MZ bullets load easily, seat consistently and deliver deep penetration. There is no sabot to worry with and you don’t need to clean the bore for a second shot. Visit www.federalpremium.com.

Muzzleloader shooting and late season deer hunting are just plain fun. You’ll find the deer woods uncrowded, even on public land, and there are far more big bucks hanging around than you imagine. Heck, just look, McGinn and I found two, that’s sure tells a story.

Squirrel Hunting – Where Hunters Learn to be Woodsmen

.17 HMR
The .17 HMR is an extremely accurate caliber that’s ideal for squirrel hunting. Aim for the head so you don’t waste meat.

Decades ago, squirrels were a very popular game species. I once flew to Mississippi to hunt squirrels with Mr. Fox, the patriarch of the Mossy Oak family, a hunt I’ll never forget. Mr. Fox belonged to a hunt club where members bagged a limit most days of the season and graced their tables several times a week.

Today, many youngsters don’t begin their hunting career trying to sneak within range of a wily grey or fox squirrel. Instead, young hunters take a deer as their first game animal, partially because of the excitement and abundance of the species. Squirrels teach woodsmanship and we’d all be better at our craft if we had to bag a limit at least once each year. The furry buggers have good hearing and eyesight, like wild turkeys, that make them difficult to stalk and their elusive tree-to-tree travel can leave a hunter sitting by one trunk as a sly squirrel sneaks away among the treetops.

Squirrel hunting is fun and challenging with one drawback. The rascals can be very difficult to skin unless you know a secret which I’ll get to in a moment. I’ve killed squirrels with bow and arrow, yet the equipment cost is significant and can reach $40 per pound. A shotgun is your best bet in which ever gauge you shoot well. My first animal was a squirrel taken with a .410, a memorable trophy. Because squirrels are elusive, you’ll need number 5 or 6 shot from a shotgun with a full choke. The wide pattern of the shotgun allows you to make moving or running shots as squirrels rarely stand still.

If you hunt in late muzzleloading seasons, don’t pass up a fat fox squirrel that’s foraging for nuts. Today’s in-line rifles are accurate enough to make a head shot which saves valuable venison. I once killed a doe in deep snow and as I field dressed the deer, a fox squirrel made the mistake of passing by. Each fell to a flintlock.

If a rifle is your choice, consider the .22 long rifle or the 17 HMR. You’ll need a good scope on par with a big game optic and a shooting sling for those times you can’t get a rest from a tree. Air guns are also an option and possibly allow you to hunt in urban areas where squirrels are often a pest, but be sure to check your local regulations.

Squirrel hunting
Squirrel hunting is fun for the whole family and an excellent way to teach woodsmanship to young sportsmen.

From Tree to Table

Some states offer spring squirrel seasons that allow hunters to harvest the first batch of young born in the new year. Unlike deer, you don’t want the biggest beast in the woods as older, large bodied squirrels, can be tough and often require a pressure cooker to prepare well. Young squirrels, on the other hand, can be easier to stalk and make excellent table fare.

Skinning a squirrel is the down side of the sport. My father and I each killed a limit of squirrels and after returning home spent two hours skinning them. He vowed never to do that again. Once a squirrel is cold and stiff, skinning it is difficult, while if you skin them when first killed the skin comes off easily. Be sure to carry a knife and a few plastic quart-size freezer bags with you and you can return to your vehicle with game that’s ready to cook. The following video shows you how to skin a squirrel in about a minute and its even easier if the squirrel is still warm. Check out this video and get ready for a challenging hunt and great table fare: Click Here for Video