I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately with my good friend Jack Hays at the local gun range. Jack has always had an adventurous nature to him but to be honest, he is among the most stubborn men I have ever met! He, like many others, (especially business owners) have gone on a gun-buying craze over the past year, spurred on by the constant political discourse regarding gun owner rights and possible bans to various types of weapons. Jack, like many others has gone out and purchased guns that are mostly tactical in nature. Not exactly the type you find in the hands of a deer hunter sitting in a tree stand on a cold fall day. So as part of my master plan to have my good friend become my local hunting buddy, I began having contests with him at the range (whenever I could persuade him to put down his beloved Glock 19), and pit my Ruger Super Red Hawk .44 mag at 15 yards against him shooting slugs at a marginally shorter distance. Although I primarily enjoy bow hunting, it was time to get my close friend out hunting any way I could. Thanks to outfitters Bob Cain and Jon Slick of Boarsight Outdoors, I was able to do just that, in a way that I knew would excite him and create an urge to take hunting to the next levels.
Hunting seasons in South Florida can be a difficult proposition for a newcomer, as much of the public land is overrun by hunters, many of whom are seasoned veterans. To be fortunate enough to apply for, and win a drawing for a quota hunt permit for most species and seasons is like playing the lottery and can be very frustrating. I had to think of something that would be filled with adventure and excitement, yet would be an experience that would make a newbie want to learn more about the sport and lifestyle. It also had to be simple and easy, with some greater chance of success than that of sending a person who just purchased their first shotgun into the woods to hunt an Osceola Turkey on their own. It came to me as I was looking through some pictures of my favorite past hunts and saw a few pictures of a hunt I had done last year thru Boarsight Outdoors. A Wild Hog hunt is about as exciting as it gets!
South Florida is overrun with wild pigs and many landowners will lease out the hunting rights to their property to outfitters, for a fee and the chance to curb the massive destruction done by these animals. Although I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to hunting and rarely hunt with dogs or guns, I always jump at the opportunity to go after Wild Hogs. The adrenaline rush of riding in a swamp buggy while specially trained dogs search the palmetto thickets to find the pigs is incredible. This is the perfect type of hunt for those who are just beginning and need the supervision of a qualified guide and are not ready or willing to be sitting in a tree or blind an hour before first light.
Two phone calls later and my buddy and I were all set for a Wild Pig hunt just outside of Okeechobee, Florida on what turned out to be a spectacular Sunday morning. There was a chill in there air when we arrived and were greeted by Blaine, who would be our guide for the day. Blaine was a very personal fellow with a great laugh who taken part in a team rodeo event just the night before, but still was ready and willing to be part of our adventure. I was so happy with Boarsight Outdoors for being able to put this together with a great guide on such short notice. So after getting the dogs into the buggy and giving Jack some last minute instructions we were off to the lush thickets and Cyprus Hammocks where we would hunt. Of course Blaine and I couldn’t help the good-natured ribbing of our new hunter Jack and his SWAT team style shotgun.
Before I go any further I’d like to say that setting up a hunt with an outfitter such as Boarsight Outdoors is the perfect introduction to hunting in South Florida. It’s difficult for a new person to get started and with these guys Hunters of any level are welcome. You can use whatever weapon you choose within reason, there are even those who like to live on the edge and go after Wild Boar with a spear. These guys really go out of their way to make it an enjoyable experience, whether you are alone or making it a family outing. Kids love to sit and watch all the excitement from atop a swamp buggy and learn as they observe. Bob Cain has often arranged for me to simulate my other big game hunts by setting me up in a tree stand with my bow or .308 at O’dark-thirty in the morning to practice well in advance of any specific hunting trips I may be considering. Since Hogs may be taken on private property all year long they are the perfect game for not only sharpening your skills but to add tasty meat to the freezer as well. The guide will skin and quarter your animal right there so be sure to bring a big cooler!
Okay, back to the hunt. We were cruising in the buggy watching the dogs work the dense brush when all of a sudden they started howling! A large boar broke out of the brush and Jack was out of the buggy in a flash and in perfect position for a shot. The dogs were barking…Jack had his finger on the trigger…the boar was now only 10 yards away and had to pass him to get to safety! Jack had the boar in his sights, the boar had Jack in his sights…Jack then began to squeeze the trigger and brace himself for his first shot at a angry Wild boar…we waited for the shot with the anticipation of watching Jack harvest the pig, then… Nothing! With the classic rookie mistake of forgetting to take the safety off, we watched a 150lb hog run by Jack, run through the palmetto, through the fence line and just keep going. We reassured him that he was not the first person to make this error and it was better than the other classic rookie mistake of forgetting to load the gun.
It wasn’t much longer before the dogs had found another large Hog deep in the brush and shortly after that with a big bang my good friend had taken his first Wild Pig. The look on his face was priceless, and he learned of the elation and sorrow that only a hunter that has harvested an animal can feel. My buddy has now asked me to schedule another hunt and is bringing along another friend who has never hunted before. This other friend is also at the range every week practicing with guns that would never see the light of day without South Florida Hog hunts.
Outfitters such as Boarsight Outdoors can schedule all types of hunts, from year round hog hunts to Spring Turkey, as well as Alligators and exotics. I love the Hog hunts as they are relatively inexpensive, can be done with any weapons at any time you and your friends feel the need to have an adventure, while filling the freezer with excellent meat. With the abundance of Wild pigs in South Florida, Bob Cain and John Slick of Boarsight Outdoors have also been able to set up unique hunts to offer me the opportunity to practice long range shooting to practice for my Fall Wyoming Antelope hunts. If you are itching to get out and use that assault weapon that never sees the outside of your neighborhood range, or want that extraordinary adventure for the entire family, or just can’t wait for the fall hunting season to begin. Give these guys a call, because when everyone else is sitting behind their computer or lying on their recliner watching television…We Are Out There!
I’ve been slowly transitioning my friends from spending their weekends at the gun ranges to actually going out hunting with me depending on the seasons, and it’s been fun. They are not getting to the point where the questions they are asking are very much on topic when it comes weapons and ammunition for hunting certain types of game. During the current ammunition “shortage” a lot of times I find people purchasing more of what is available then what is best for their quarry and a common element of the conversation is whether they should be using hollow points or soft points. This is really a very good question and the answer depends on a few different factors, so lets get into a few important points to help with your decision. One other thing to note is that the ammunition that I use for practice is not always what I use for the actual hunt, however you should be familiar with how your hunting ammunition performs by using a few rounds during practice. I generally use less than a box of the ‘good stuff’ during an entire season or two, so keep this tidbit in mind when and why you are buying your ammo.
Whether to go for Hollow points or soft points will depend on what your purpose is. Hollow points are quick expanding bullets, but due to this they will not penetrate as deeply as soft points. Hollow points will also cause sever tissue damage which may be of concern to those who are harvesting game strictly for table fare. They have incredible stopping power for most game but would not be my first choice when hunting especially tough animals such as wild pigs, as the it may not penetrate deep enough to hit any vital organs. A big hog or bear might get back up and you then need to take additional shots to put it down for good and thereby destroying even more meat. I also should remind you that pissed off bears and hogs are not especially fond of getting shot and can turn on you in an instant. Smaller game animals are not great quarry for hollow points either, also for the reason of too much tissue damage on any game heading to the frying pan. If you were a farmer and merely trying to rid your land of problem animals, etc, then you would not be worrying about the meat but more about stopping power.Soft point bullets will probably not use all their energy shortly after impact and you run a risk of not doing enough tissue damage to put the animal down. There is nothing worse to a hunter than the feeling of wounding an animal and then not being able to track it down knowing that it will more than likely not survive. So, if taking into consideration the need for penetration the soft point will retain more energy longer and penetrate deeper while the Hollow point will use up most of it’s energy at impact. Again, take into consideration what you are hunting, a soft point on a rabbit will kill just as easily as a Hollow point with less meat being damaged.
Okay, so you have a lot of very general information, but a reasonably simple explanation of the difference between a hollow point bullet and a soft point. The first thing to remember is that either bullet will do the job if you are proficient with your gun. Velocity, how many grain bullet and distance all come into play in some fashion but that is why we practice and learn. What is perfect for one hunter may not be the ammo or gun of choice for another. Those using their weapons for self-defense or those in the military and law enforcement may also choose differently depending on their needs and conditions.
My person choices as someone that shoots wild boar in the swamps from within 50 yards is to go with the soft point in order to penetrate the tough hide, muscle and bone of the evil beasties, but I practice enough to hit where I aim and am patient enough to wait for my shot. Smaller animals I may choose to go hollow point and for those critters that I want to fill my freezer, probably go with soft point. Listen, you may choose otherwise, but generally speaking you won’t go wrong with this philosophy. Get out there, hunt, learn and have a great time. Let us know what your preferences are as a comment to this article.
I was checking my mail this week and was happy to see that many of the non-resident Wild Turkey Hunting permits I applied for in other states had started to arrive. It got me thinking that Turkey Season is just around the corner and that I had better start getting my gear ready and making some calls to see what public and private land was available for me to hunt. I thought about how I had the benefit of some very experienced hunters teaching me how to scout these incredible birds, and how finding birds during hunting season is not always as easy as merely sitting under a tree in the early morning hours and having birds fly down in front of you.
It’s a lot easier these days to get a great lay of the land as the Internet and programs such as Google Earth can give you a great idea of possible hot spots where the Wild Turkey may want to roost, or even where they may want to go during various times of the day. This can be especially helpful if you are hunting public land and can see the probable entry points less experienced hunters who will invariably push many birds to where you can lie in wait. There is however no substitute for boots on the ground and the ability to read sign and deduce potential patterns. Get comfortable with that area if possible, knowing the terrain, water sources, types of trees and wind patterns for certain times of the year. This all should be done well in advance of the actual Wild Turkey season. Driving around the area, if possible is a great way to cover distance and with the use of a good pair of binoculars allow you to find birds and determine a ratio of Gobblers, Jakes and Hens in that flock. Remember that Jakes quite often like to associate in small bachelor groups.
Take your time and enjoy the day, as the area you are in may be showing dozens of birds at one time of the day while looking barren just an hour or two later. I once noticed group of Osceola Turkey in Florida showing up just before noon in a particular field just before the season opened. I created a brush blind and on opening day sat there for an hour until my very punctual friends showed up on the opposite site of the field and worked their way right to me. I didn’t use a Turkey decoy or Turkey call, I just waited and within 45 minutes noticing them, had a nice bird.
If you know you are in an area that has a flock of Turkey, spend some time patrolling the woods for sign. A sure sign of a tree that is popular for roosting will have Turkey droppings and feathers scattered below the branches of the tree. Mark this tree on your GPS so you can find it on an aerial map and be able to get stealthily near it when it comes time to hunt. Even before the season begins it’s a great idea to sit a few hundred yards away in the morning to hear any gobblers that may be vocalizing at first light. You may also hear them actually flying down as well. You can also do the same in the evening just before dark to hear or see birds that may be heading to those trees to roost. Just don’t get so close that the Turkey then may begin to see this area as dangerous.
Strolling through the woods you need to keep your eye out for areas that have been scratched by Turkey looking for food. An area that has leaves on the ground that have been pulled back by birds feeding on bugs and grubs is actually quite easy to spot and usually will have a good number of tracks as well. Remember that scouting in the summer when insects and corn, etc are plentiful may be a bit easier than scouting in early spring, but remember Turkeys are eating all year long, so adjust your scouting a little bit as needed for the time of year. Scouting a week or two before the season should give you an excellent idea of their current pattern and allow you choose an area for your Turkey Blind. Although Wild Turkey tend to use the same trails and patterns in the Spring as they do in the Fall, keep in mind any changes in food availability, water, construction and adjust accordingly.
Okay, we covered enough to give you a good idea about the habits and patterns of the elusive Wild Turkey, however there is one more tactic to employ and could quite possibly be the most important of all. The night before you are going to hunt it is a good idea to get to the woods an hour or so before dark and do a bit of watching and listening.
More than likely knowing where a flock of Turkeys are roosting for the evening will give you a great idea of where they will be at first light. “Putting the Birds to Bed” as it is most often called is the method that allows you to be set up in a blind or close proximity to where the birds will fly down in the morning. As dusk falls in the woods you should be listening for the beat of wings as the birds fly up into their roosting tree. This is a sound that once you hear it, you will never mistake it for anything else. Keep an eye open for birds coming in from an unexpected angle. If they are on the ground and you can see them, then more than likely they can see you too, so stay still and wait for dark before leaving. You may also listen for Gobbles, yelps, purrs and all other Turkey sounds coming from a particular spot seemingly without changing distance. Once it’s dark, it’s a good bet they are in the roost for the night.
Try and get to the Turkey woods about an hour before first light and slowly make your way to either your blind or another good spot to wait. If you plan on using decoys, make certain you set them out with as little motion or noise as possible. Try and walk to your blind in the shadows along a tree line as well. This is especially important if it’s a clear morning with a bright moon. Then listen and look, because if everything goes well, you’ll be at the diner about 30-60 minutes after sunup having a cup of coffee and telling tall tales about your Spring Turkey hunting adventure.
Busted! That’s the thought that goes through my mind on those occasions that I see a beautiful buck walking down a game trail towards my tree stand with his head down feeding on whatever may be along his way. Then all of a sudden, his head comes up, there’s a slight twitch, and in 3 great strides he is into the dense brush or over a fence, leaving me cursing under my breath. It’s my own fault as it is quite obvious he caught my scent and took off like a bat out of hell. Whether you are hunting with a bow from a tree stand, or at greater distances with your favorite deer rifle, not understanding how wind direction and velocity plays a crucial part in hunting Whitetail Deer, Elk or just about any similar game animal, is probably one of the greatest reasons for going home disappointed. Using the wind to your advantage just requires a little understanding and some common sense.
Wind velocities also have a great effect on how scent disperses, light winds and thermals can dictate which tree stand, or direction you enter a hunting area from as opposed to winds of greater speeds. Thermals are usually lighter winds that are generated from air that is warming or cooling, often depending on the time of day. Much of the land I have access too is in hilly areas or in valleys, so understanding thermals is of great importance. In the morning when it begins to warm, this warming air will tend to rise and move up a hill, while in the evening a cooling trend will let air drop back down the hills and into valleys. By understanding this you will know whether to hunt above or below specific areas or deer trails.
When wind is moving at higher velocities, it’s important to understand how the topography can affect its movement and thereby the scent that this wind carries. Look at a stream and see how various rocks and obstructions change the course of the water before it converges again. Now picture that as wind moving around hills, cornfields and stands of trees. Trees and foliage can push air higher or force it down quicker along with your scent. Get the picture? For this reason I usually have several tree stands set up so I can take advantage of the current and prevailing wind conditions. I may also consider several possible directions to get to that stand as well. If it gets too windy or blustery then its quite possible deer will feel more comfortable staying bedded down to avoid make a mistake as its harder to pick up scent and sound in really windy conditions of perhaps over 20 mph.
Try and do as much scouting as possible before the season begins. Using Game camera’s that log the time and temperature can actually be a great help, especially if you log your results in order to figure out the Whitetail Deer movement patterns in specific conditions. By doing this and setting up several stands or blinds to take advantage of your recognition of these patterns you can really enhance your chances of a
successful hunt. Don’t forget that humidity will also play a huge part in the deer’s ability to not only pick up scent in the air, but on the ground as well. Humid air or a slight mist will hold scent on the longer and also give a Deer a better idea of the direction and movement of any potential danger. Think of an old fashioned Television antenna that when turned around a bit, the picture becomes clearer. Older, Trophy Deer have learned how to use their senses better, that is how they grew to be Trophy Deer and harder to harvest. This doesn’t always hold true during “the Rut” as adult Bucks can become just plain stupid when their need to reproduce takes over for common sense.
Let’s briefly talk about what we wear when going into the woods hunting. The bottom line is although we can minimize our scent to a great extent we really never completely eliminate it, so no matter what products you use, it important to use it in conjunction with an understanding of wind direction. When you wash your clothes make certain you are using a scent free or scent eliminating detergent, meadow fresh ultra-Tide will not do! Make certain all your clothes are scent free and its best to place them immediately in a sealed plastic bag to avoid them being contaminated with any household scents. I prefer to put on my layers of clothes once I get to where I am parking the car and do it outside. I also make sure I take a shower before I go Deer hunting and use only scent free soaps and shampoos. Remember, the less attention you pay to clothes and hygiene, the more you need to pay to wind direction. They even have scent eliminating chewing gum. Once you are geared up and ready to move into your hunting area, it’s always a good idea to spray down with a scent eliminating spray. Don’t forget your boots as they will give you away to any Whitetail Deer that cuts your path. Many people prefer rubber boots to minimize this possibility.
Ok, you are now ready to move to a deer blind or tree stand but which one? You should have already chosen this by checking wind directions. There are even apps for smart phones that use GPS and weather stations to give you wind direction at your location, but I still prefer a Puff bottle filled with some type of scent free powder that when squeezed will show you the direction of the wind at your location. Watching leaves and grass works too. Move towards the stand that will place you on the downwind (or semi-downwind) side from the Deer trail you are covering. Deer coming from the upward side will have difficulty smelling you if you have prepared properly. I have had Deer walk right under my tree stand when I was positioned properly in regards to wind direction. I have seen them walk by me and then pick up my scent about 20 yards downwind and then take off like a bat out of hell!
Like the wind these rules concerning wind can change quickly depending upon velocity and other conditions and terrain. These are just some general rules to assist you in understanding how to hunt Whitetail Deer by understanding wind.
Pheasant hunting is fun, and with over two million hunters heading into the cornfields and brush of the Midwest each fall there has got to be something to it! It has over the past few years become among my favorite type of hunting and is actually not all that difficult if you are properly prepared. If you are new to hunting there are two things that are imperative to ensure you not only have a great time, but a safe hunt as well. The first is to take a hunter’s safety education class to learn how to be a safe and ethical hunter, and the second, find someone who is proficient at this type of hunting and is willing to allow you to tag along to learn the ropes. Remember that each state may have a different set of rules regarding where and when you can hunt and what amount of blaze orange is required for safety. With that accomplished, let’s get down to the hunting.
No matter what type of hunting you do, knowing the terrain, and if animals are present is a key factor to a successful hunt. Pheasant hunting is no different, as a fair amount of scouting is needed to know where the birds are and some of their habits. Just like when I am scouting for Turkey, I like to drive around likely areas in the mornings and late afternoons looking for birds on the move. For Pheasant I check around the drainage ditches just off the roads that go by cornfields, other crops and grassy areas that are known to be favorites of Pheasant. Pheasant use the gravel along these roads to assist in grinding their food in the gizzard. The farmers who work those fields are generally your best source of information and quite often a friendly conversation can turn into access to incredible Pheasant Habitat. By understanding the needs of Pheasant in terms of habitat and seasonal conditions, you greatly enhance your chances of a successful hunt.
The gear needed for pheasant is really very simple, but from past experience I suggest that you don’t skimp when picking out a pair of hunting boots. You will be walking most of the hunt through a variety of terrain, so a good pair of comfortable waterproof boots is a must. Since you will be walking through a variety of brush it’s a good idea to wear very durable pants that can handle moisture as well as sticky things that will invariable trying tearing at your clothes. If you are not sure about the weather, its always a good idea to dress in layers you can take off or put on as need, but this is basically true for most types of hunting, however a vest with a pouch to put your birds on is always a good idea to avoid having to leave them under a tree until you pick them up on your way out.
If its your first few times Pheasant hunting you may be better trying to get out towards the beginning of the season. The reason for this is after time the birds get fairly educated as to the movements of hunters and as the “stupid” younger birds get harvested, it leaves the more “educated” Pheasant which newer or less dedicated hunters may have a hard time locating. The good news is that as you gain experience you will not only be able to anticipate the movements of these smarter birds, but you will more than likely have additional hunting areas to yourself as newer hunters may not want to hunt later in the season.
Most shotguns will work fine for hunting and anything from the smaller .410 to a 12 gauge will work depending on the proficiency of the user. Practicing before the season with clay pigeons is always recommended. Depending upon the time of the year and the distance you anticipate shots to be taken at anything from #4 – #7 shot will due just fine. Again, the key is to determine where and when the birds are going to want to be somewhere and work that area. This will assist you in determining what shot to use.
Later in the season when there is much less cover and possibly even snow your shots may tend to longer so prepare with the correct shot and choke for you gun. Also be as quiet as possible as Pheasant have excellent hearing and can take off running through the cover without you ever knowing they were there.
Here is the tough part, although you don’t need a dog to enjoy a Pheasant hunt, your chances by yourself of flushing a bird are fairly slim, yet not impossible. A dog’s pretty much a must and they are so much fun to watch as they work the field trying to catch a scent of a bird. Cool but humid days are good days to work a dog as the damp grass and other cover will hold the scent of a bird very well. To wet and the birds may not hold in that area.
If you do not have a dog, its tougher but all is not lost, you will just need to adapt your hunting style accordingly. Begin by walking the field very slowly, stopping to listen for cackling and maybe a running bird if it is quiet enough and not too windy. If you are hunting with just a few friends and no dog, you can try to push or drive the birds through the crop fields by working the edges and trying to push any birds towards the corners of the fields. Its important to make this push in areas that are not too big, perhaps 100-200 yards wide as the birds can just move through the gaps in your drive with ease.
Ok, now you know that early season birds are dumb, Its best to hunt with a dog but not absolutely mandatory and that techniques and preparation needs to change with the part of the you are hunting. The rest is up to you, don’t stay home and think about Pheasant hunting when you can actually be out there doing it. Your success will increase with experience, but remember if you are out there you will at least have a chance, I’ve never shot a bird sitting in my chair watch TV!
My good friend called me one morning in early September and mentioned that he was thinking of going toWyoming for opening day of Pronghorn Antelope Season in Gillette,Wyoming and asked if I’d like to come along. He barely got the last word out of his mouth when I said hell yes! But I then realized that I had not applied for any Antelope tags for any zones inWyomingand began to get seriously depressed. “Not to worry” my buddy said, “I have a plan.”
I always begin to get a bit concerned when anyone tells me not to worry, but I decided to listen anyway. He said there are zones inWyomingthat have left over tags and that we can actually buy leftover non-resident permits over the counter. The only issue I now had with this trip is that my buddy, who is perhaps the most ‘economical’ (I’m being kind here) man I ever met said that we would be hunting public land as he refused to pay an sort of trespass fee to access private land. I agreed and before I knew it I was checking into the Best Western hotel inGillette,Wyoming.
Planning is usually key when undertaking this type of hunt as the deadline for Pronghorn Antelope tags inWyomingis around Mid-March and depending on the zone you choose to hunt is not a guarantee as tags are drawn by a lottery system. I sometimes think I have a better chance of winning the Power Ball Lottery than ever getting the exact hunting time and zone I want. But this was a last minute adventure so I had to adapt. I was able to make the hotel reservations just two weeks out. My friend told me that certain zones had plenty of left over tags and that getting one would not be an issue, however the $270 dollar Antlered Pronghorn tag took me a bit by surprise, but I figured, since I’ve never done this type of hunt before, what the heck. Another possibility was to merely tag along and enjoy the beauty ofWyomingand just help out my buddy.
We went over to the Gillette visitor’s center where aWyomingwildlife biologist was available to answer all our questions as well as those of about a dozen or more other hunters. Many of the hunters were inquiring about a list of landowners who are willing to allow you to hunt their land for a fee. This trespass fee can range from a hundred to possibly a thousand dollars depending upon the size of the hunting area and the availability of game. If you have a few extra dollars to spend, this is not the worst idea, as after opening day many animals tend to move away from the public lands to the less pressured private land. But again, my buddy is thrifty and told me he had an ace in the hole, so to speak. This little advantage he spoke of was also mentioned by the a game warden and several other hunters who where enquiring where to buy a chip that loads into a Garmin GPS and indicates by color all the public lands available for hunting. It also has the names of all the landowners of the surrounding land. This is an amazing piece of technology and actually was the key to our hunt. I’ll talk more about this device in a future article, as it deserves one of its own. As we left the visitor’s center the Biologist did suggest that due to the very dry conditions that if we find water, we will find Pronghorn Antelope.
The day before opening day we began to do a bit of scouting. I had never done this type of hunting before and was eager to get started. Basically it consisted of driving up and back on the gravel roads with binoculars and searching for Pronghorn Antelope. Now, I’m sure there are dozens of methods to scout Pronghorn Antelope but remember, I’m writing this article as a first timer and sharing with you the easiest methods to get started with minimal preparation, just the same way I did. There were plenty of animals however many of them seemed to be congregated on the private lands. I’m sure much of this was due to the dry conditions and the ranchers having installed ponds and cisterns for their cattle.
It was the night before opening day and I had still not decided whether or not to invest in a $270 dollar pronghorn permit when I received an email from theWyomingwildlife biologist who I had become very friendly with. She mentioned that I could buy a Doe/Fawn Antelope permit for about 35 bucks! I was sold. Since I was there more for the adventure and wasn’t out for a trophy this was a perfect way to experience Antelope hunting on the cheap and if I didn’t get an animal or chose not to harvest one, I was merely out the cost of a dinner! If you are like me and give a large portion of any animals you harvest to local food pantries and are not after trophies but love the chase, this is the perfect way to go!
The weather had been hot and very dry and although animals were present they always seemed to be just out of reach. The weather was unseasonably warm at 84 degrees in the first week of October. The weather now had done a complete reversal and within 24 hours Gillette, Wyoming went from the 80’s to the 30’s with occasional freezing rain, just they way we like it! This change and the fact it was now 4 days into the Pronghorn Antelope season had thinned out the number of hunters but also scattered the Antelope as well. It was time to fully use the Hunter’s map GPS chip to its fullest and we decided to explore. We found one square mile of public land that had a public road leading to it and decided to give it look. There sitting on top of small ridge was a beautiful buck! To make a long story short and save material for another article, my buddy harvested the Pronghorn with a short 80 yard shot. I decided to forego my chance at a doe and thus ended my first Wyoming Antelope hunt.
This article was written to demonstrate that even newer hunters can have an opportunity to go after Wyoming Pronghorn Antelope. You need not spend thousands of dollars on a guided hunt, or even pay a substantial license fee, unless you feel the need to harvest that trophy buck. If you just want to experience some great hunting, meet some new people and see some of the most beautiful areas that one can imagine, it is within your grasp. The area aroundGillette,Wyomingis noted for the numbers of Pronghorn Antelope and Mule Deer, and if you miss the deadline for a tag you can look into the availability of leftover licenses. Don’t forget that if cost is a concern you may even be able to purchase a Doe/Fawn tag for considerably less. The only thing that is mandatory is that you get proficient taking long shots with your rifle, as although we knocked our beast down within 80yds, shots of 150 to 300 yards are common. This is most of what you need to know to get started, so don’t sit back and read about my adventure, get out there and create your own!
I’m left handed, so my choices for buying guns can be especially limited, especially when it comes to shotguns. But what about everyone else who wants to hunt Turkey, Pheasant, Small game, deer or anything else that can get them out into the great outdoors, do they need to own several shotguns or just be smart about only one? You are now about to learn about the wonderful world of Choke Tubes. But keep in mind that length of the barrel should also be taken into consideration.
It seems that each time I go into my favorite Outdoors store I begin to fondle and caress a variety of shotguns, saying to myself “oh this is a perfect Turkey Gun or no Goose stands a chance if I only had that one. I then begin to think about how much it would cost me to own a gun for every species and I get depressed. Well, not any longer, I was lucky enough to find a gun that I felt very comfortable with and had a barrel that allowed me to screw in a choke for several needs. The bottom line is that choke tubes take one gun and make it specialized enough to fit numerous types of hunting needs. The choke tube changes the pattern and range of the pellets so one gun can be used successfully for numerous types of game. Proper use of the choke tube can also extend your range so a Turkey gun can effectively be used wing shooting as well, merely by screwing in the proper tube.
My first Shotgun did not have a screw in choke and although I loved it, I missed many opportunities, as anything outside of 20 to 30 yards was a difficult shot for me as I used it both for Turkey and Geese. Many hunters were forced to by several barrels to be able to hunt using one gun. Today is merely a matter of screwing in the proper tube.
So what does a choke tube do? Basically a choke tube affects the pattern of the pellets by constricting them for a longer or shorter period of time as they leave the barrel before the pellets begin to spread out into a larger pattern. By doing this, a tube allows the shooter to have a more flexibility on the desired pattern depending on what you are hunting or shooting at. A similar example could be one of those multi-purpose nozzles on the end of a hose, turn it to a more open position and the water sprays out in a wide pattern but does not have the distance of when you have it closed a bit tighter and although the pattern is significantly tighter, it holds together for a much longer distance. The same holds true for a choke tube. It is important to know which type of choke tube to use when hunting different game.
Now that we understand that a choke tube affects your shotgun’s range we need to understand which one to use under what situations, so here goes just a bit of good info:
A Turkey Choke is an extra-full type of choke pattern that is perfect to keep a very tight pattern for a longer distance thus ideal for the head shots need when hunting Wild Turkey.
A normal Full Choke is also for tight patterns and used often for waterfowl hunting or when using buckshot and also Turkey hunting. It is designed to deliver about 70% of the shell’s pellet load in a 30-inch pattern at approximately 40 yds.
The Modified Choke is ideal for hunting waterfowl and upland game such as Pheasant. It is also many hunters’ choice for small game such as rabbit as it delivers about 60% of the total pellets in a 30-inch circle at 40 yds.
The Improved Cylinder is an excellent choice for hunting game that is a bit closer such as quail, grouse and Pheasants that are flushed by pointers up close to a rising bird. If you were hunting Waterfowl over decoys this would be your choice as well. The improved cylinder is more open than a modified and delivers about 50% of a shell’s pellets in a 30-inch circle at a distance of 40 yds. Many hunters use this tube when using rifled slugs.
These are the most common types of choke tubes used today however with changing regulations on which type of metals can be used for certain types of hunting, specialty tubes are now available that work well with the varying hardness and pattern traits of the different types of pellets available. You may decide to use a specific type of metal such as steel when waterfowl hunting or Hevi-Shot for Turkey hunting and may then consider a choke tube designed for that type of shot. Just as with skeet and trap shooters, the right tube can increase the effective range of your shotgun.
With interchangeable Choke Tubes you merely need to screw in a choke for Turkey Hunting in the morning and then in a matter of minutes change it out for Pheasant hunting in the afternoon. You need only have to decide what your hunting preferences are for your the shotgun of choice and have the choke available that gives you the best pattern for that particular hunt. Remember, the is knowing the shot pattern that will give you the best chance includes knowing the probable distance to target, so know the environment you will be hunting.
It is extremely important to properly pattern your shotgun prior to its use as different guns can and do pattern differently. Set out a paper target at the predicted distance you will be shooting at. I usually do 30 yards when Turkey hunting and take several shots with my favorite load. If I decide to try a different load I will then need to pattern that gun again with the new shot. You may also try different chokes until you find the one that you feel works best for you and that gun. I will either buy Turkey Stickers or draw the bird on my test paper and mark where the majority of my pellets go and the effective pattern. You should do this with all your chokes and shells so you know how each one will act when needed.
I have blown many a hunt by not having the proper choke in my shotgun and not patterning the gun properly. I have learned much since then and now have really increased not only my shotgun’s effectiveness, but also my own enjoyment by having the ability to change my effective range and pattern depending on the quarry. The Choke Tube definitely allows the hunter to turn one shotgun in many.
As I crossed my friends’ hay field in the dim morning light, a distant flash of lightning started my internal timer. “If only I could
find a way to put thunder in a can”, I thought to myself, “I’d be a millionaire”. Sure, manufactured crow calls, owl calls, coyote howlers and
the like all have their place in shocking a gobbler into giving up his location, but nothing beats a booming assist from Mother Nature. “Eighteen
Mississippi, nineteen Mississippi…” At 20 seconds I finally heard the low rumble of thunder. Even before the simple calculation of 4 miles
distance to the lightning came to mind, the gobbler sounded off. He was kitty corner across a county road, on private property I couldn’t hunt. I tried my
best to ignore him, but a second lightning and thunder combo, this one a bit closer, generated another throaty gobble. It reminded me that I should probably
not stray too far from my vehicle with a possible thunderstorm brewing. It also reminded me that late season gobblers that sound off with gusto can be some of
the most fun and most reliable birds to hunt.
My home state of Wisconsin has a fairly brief but rich tradition of turkey hunting. Restocking of wild
birds beginning in the early 70′s has turned into a quantity and quality of harvest that game managers could only dream of. When hunting turkeys was first
allowed there were quite conservative quotas and seasons put in place. Those restrictions have been gradually liberalized over the years, based on solid
harvest data and research that followed the upward swing in bird numbers statewide. In the just-completed 2012 season the previous scheme of 6
individual turkey seasons consisting of 5 days on, 2 days off, was changed to allow hunting all 7 days. Those extra 2 days, Monday and Tuesday, make even
more hunting opportunities for hunters still holding tags. Despite the extra opportunities, it’s still human nature to want the first crack at the birds
each season and that’s why the first couple seasons are the most heavily subscribed in the lottery drawing. I’ve gotten those early tags enough times to
know that the birds are plentiful, gobbling activity is usually pretty good, and the loud-mouthed 2 year olds fill many a hunter’s game bag. I also know
that the weather can be nasty, foliage cover for moving on the birds can be nonexistent, and competition from other hunters is at its peak.
Enter the late season.
Mid May takes on a whole new flavor from mid April. The leaves are fully out, especially after the recent mild winter. Hens are busy
with nesting duties, so the remaining gobblers still interested in some company are less likely to get it. This is the time of year when you might catch the nearly constant calling of a “troller” – a gobbler that does a lot of
talking while also doing a lot of walking. Sometimes he’ll frustrate you to no end, answering all your calls but still not turning back to check out the “hen” that’s pursuing him. But there are other times when things work
out in your favor. That’s what I was hoping as I quietly closed the tailgate of my truck and slipped off through the woods to try to intercept the thunder bird I’d heard 10 minutes earlier. With only 3 days left ’til the end of the season,
it was game on.
He was on the ground now, gobbling on his own without any prompting from the thunder, which had since vanished. By the time I got settled
in and ready to call to him I realized he’d already crossed the county road and was now on my side. While that was good news for me, unfortunately he was still well to my south on unhuntable private land. As he continued east I called to
him sparingly with my diaphragm. He answered, but each gobble was further and further away. He was paralleling me so I picked up the pace and jogged through
the woods along the old barbed wire fence separating the properties. I knew from aerial photos that there was a large grass field on the neighbor’s land
and that’s where the gobbling stabilized to a single location. Since I couldn’t see that far through the thick greenery, I could only imagine that bird
strutting and gobbling out in that field, trying to coax me out of the woods from the north.
I knew the woods well – setting up against a big oak just 50 yards downhill from a favorite tree stand that had yielded several deer in past
years. My calling was very low-key, interspersed with a lot of scratching in the leaves to simulate a feeding hen. No need for the long strings of yelps from the earlier seasons. Single or double clucks kept him interested, and it
was clear that his gobbling was getting closer and more insistent. Finally, I saw that black form slinking through the woods that all turkey hunters long to see. He set up shop in an opening between some mature oaks that gave him a sight line to his expected hen. Trouble was, he managed to put a wind fallen dead pine tree right between us. From under my facemask I was chirping clucks
out the side of my mouth to try to get him moving to my right and away from the tree, but he liked his spot and let me know it by alternately fanning and gobbling, but without moving his feet. After a few tense minutes of enjoying
what I like to call “The Greatest Show on Earth”, I straightened my back against the tree and gained just enough height to manage a shot between the branches of the downed pine. At 35 yards the Hevi-shot 6′s caused massive
head and neck damage, anchoring the bird in place. I rushed over and steadied his wings so he wouldn’t break any feathers when he thrashed. The tom was my first 5 year old – with inch and a half spurs, an 11.5 inch beard, and weighing 22.6 lbs. As I stood over this beautiful bird and gave thanks, I thought about the friendly location, the 2 hours of elapsed time from when lightning-caused thunder gave way to shotgun-caused thunder, and the quarter mile this talkative old bird walked before turning to my calling. It all convinced me in an instant
that he’d be mounted in full strut to preserve the memories of a very satisfying late season hunt.
It wasn’t until my buddy Dave came down from Wisconsin to hunt the elusive Osceola Turkey with me that I really noticed how difficult a time I had living in South Florida and trying to find new and exciting areas to hunt. Most of the prime hunting land down here is either privately owned and leased to Hunt clubs for more money than I can afford, or if public land, part of a quota hunt system that is kind of liking hitting the lottery for the best wildlife management areas. Since almost all the land we hunt in Wisconsin is privately owned, I decided to learn how to make some of the same arrangements to hunt private land in Florida too. This is not to say that I don’t take my share of game hunting public land, but when you have set up nicely in a blind for Turkey and several sets of inexperienced hunters come clattering through the area you have worked a bird in close, well, it gets a bit frustrating. One such group came crashing through the brush with a big aluminum ladder to sit in trees, go figure!
It’s not easy without connections or introductions to gain the privilege of hunting private land or on someone’s farm, but it can be done. Remember, you want to hunt private land, and the owner’s of this land have little or no incentive to allow strange people to traipse about carrying weapons. All the methods to obtain permission to hunt private land are based primarily on one important factor, you and your personality. Being well-mannered and showing a consideration for the land owner’s concerns as well as safety can get you the combination to that locked gate that you have driven by a hundred times on your way to the public hunting areas.
The key to getting started hunting on private land is to first go on a scouting mission and find the areas and particular lands you wish to hunt. Drive around some areas and look for animals on that land. How many times have you been driving by and seen flocks of Turkeys or Deer mulling about on some private farm. Once you do this one can then go about the task of discovering who the land owner is. Most of the time this may be done merely by checking the name and address on the mailbox in front of what looks to be a primary residence. If you get the name and or address, the Internet may be a great method to check your information as much of this is public record. The next step is to make contact with that person.
Just walking up to the door with a bottle of scotch and knocking used to be the preferred method of securing consent on hunting private land, but today it may not only end with a no, but it may also end with a few dog bites and a butt full of bird shot! This method only puts the landowner on the spot and is uncomfortable for both parties, and if he or she is not having a good day, your chances are slim to none. By having the address of the owner you can construct a letter merely introducing yourself and telling a bit about what kind of person you are, without directly asking for an answer on the subject of hunting private land. You will of course mention that you’d like to stop by and discuss the possibilities, but don’t ask for definite answer.
You can communicate with the landowner via mail, email or by telephone, if they have responded with any of the above mentioned forms of communication, and if the mood seems friendly and inviting, you may then ask if there is a convenient time for you to stop by for a visit. When discussing the possibility of you hunting private land, be as friendly as possible and try to pick up any signs that will help you understand the landowner better. If you notice he is a hunter as well, talk about hunting and how you would be willing to hunt on days when he will not be hunting himself, and that you will not hunt any prime times such as opening day if he wishes. Try and make the conversation light and easy for the owner to say yes to this request.
You would hope that this becomes a long term prospect and you will be able to hunt that land for years to come, so don’t forget this person at Christmas or any other time when you can reaffirm your budding friendship and gratitude for the privilege of hunting private land. There have been many times when a land owner has seen a flock of Turkeys working a neighboring farm and has made a call to his neighbor on my behalf in order to secure a day of hunting on that property. Remember, you are not just hunting private land; you are making new friends, so keep in touch even if it isn’t hunting season and on occasion, it doesn’t hurt to offer to help with some of the chores!
While so many of us are grabbing whatever little bit of summer that is left by hanging out at the beach or the local swimming pool, there are those that are quietly preparing for the upcoming hunting season. These folks are trying to gain every little edge they can, which means more than just checking your equipment and wondering where in the basement you put your hunting boots or walking through your local Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s to see what sales are going on to buy the newest equipment for this season. Here are some great tips to help you gain an edge over your quarry, and over the other guy who just doesn’t think about putting in a bit more effort.
One of the first thing hunters need to do is to decide how they are going to hunt this season, and if you are planning on being one of the growing number of bow hunters heading into the woods this year, you will have to take even more time for preparation. Practice, practice, practice; and look over your equipment to replace anything that may be worn or troublesome before it causes you aggravation. You need to get out and shoot at least once or twice a month, I prefer shooting outdoors, but if you can only get to an indoor range, so be it, but remember, there isn’t any wind indoors. The key to successful bow hunting is knowing what your comfortable distance to your target is and being able to accurately judge that distance accurately. At the range you will have your distances marked for you but remember that you are shooting flat. If at all possible try shooting from a tree stand outdoors to more precisely simulate your hunting situations. A rangefinder is of great help if you are having trouble correctly judging distances. When you are sighting in your bow get a good idea of how small corrections on each sight pin changes your shot. I have gone back to using only one pin that is sighted in for 20 yards which is an easy shot for me and I am very accurate with only slight trajectory changes from this one pin. After 30 yards, I am hesitant to take a shot in wind beyond 20 yds as my average ability could make this an irresponsible shot. One or two pins should cover most situations with dedicated practice. If you don’t have a range finder, count out the comfortable yardage from your stand and place a marker there for some idea of distance when hunting.
Whether you are hunting with a gun or a bow, it is important to practice from where you will be hunting, this means the tree stand or the ground blind, not in the exact spot you will be hunting. I tend to frown from practicing in the exact spot you plan to hunt as even though it may be a while before you use that spot to hunt, why take the chance on polluting the area with scent, or giving the critters something to get nervous about. If you do go to place your tree stand or ground blind in the woods, (and perhaps place a trail cam), then bring along your weapon by all means, and make certain you have adequate shooting lanes and are comfortable with the stand, Also remember that the prevailing winds may be a bit different by the time hunting season rolls around, so take that into consideration when placing your tree stand or ground blind. If you are hunting on public land and must remove your blind each time you hunt, try marking your trail with tape, reflecting tacks or something that will assist you to find your spot. Also become proficient in setting up your ground blind or tree stand in the dark. This you can do in your backyard or a local park, the quicker and quieter, the better.
I have recently begun hunting with my Ruger Super Red hawk .44 cal handgun with leupold scope, and god only knows that I need lots of practice with this. I will try to get to the range a few times a month before season opens to know what my comfortable shooting distance is and how many yards out I feel I can take a responsible shot. I’ve used the term responsible shot a few times in this article, there is nothing sensible in taking a shot that requires more luck than skill. If you aren’t reasonably certain you will make a clean kill, don’t take the shot, there is no feeling worse when hunting than wounding an animal that you will not be able to harvest. If you are planning on hunting with a rifle or shotgun, practice at the outdoor range and know the distance and comfortable range for the weight of the bullet you will be using. The folks at Bass Pro Shops have helped me a lot with instruction on various techniques for using my Ruger Super Red hawk, and I now feel comfortable out to 35 yds. Funny, all I had to do is ask for some assistance at the range, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
It is so important to do some serious scouting well before the season opens not only to familiarize yourself with the area so you can easily and safely get to and from your stand but to also learn what animals are frequenting the area. In addition to placing a few inexpensive trail cameras in the area, you may want to take some walks or sit in an area that you have found deer sign so as to actually see some of the deer moving about. This is done well in advance of the season as we do not want to pollute the actually area we would like to hunt. Take a leisurely walk through the woods and look for deer scat, deer scrapes and converging game trails. These are usually great spots to place a trail camera. My good friend and hunting buddy Dave Sumner, owner of Turkey Dave’s Footrests and Flirty Girty Panfish jigs in Wisconsin always has a hot cup of coffee ready in the early morning hours when I visit. This and an extra set of binoculars and then we are off to ride around the local farms and fields in order to see what the coming dear season may hold for us, (before he kicks my butt in a “friendly” round of golf). The point is; do your homework, see where the deer want to be, and with the camera, when they want to be there. Look for a good tree or area for your tree stand or ground blind and perhaps cut some shooting lanes.
OK, so the key tips for a successful deer hunting season are practice, practice, practice, make sure you are skilled enough with your weapon of choice and the maximum comfortable distance for taking a shot whether it be bow hunting or rifle. Familiarize yourself with the area you wish to hunt, including scouting possible locations for a tree stand or ground blind. Place trail cameras at those areas in which you have found substantial deer activity, such as deer scrapes, game trails and bedding areas, this includes scouting the area from time to time with binoculars in advance of the hunting season. If you put the time and effort into preparing properly, you will not only give yourself the best chances for harvesting a great buck, but you will more than likely have a nice end of summer and be ready for an even better fall!