"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Prosciutto Wrapped Grilled Quail Breasts w/ Swiss Cheese

Bobwhite breasts were the first wild game meat I attempted to cook. I’d shoot them in the horse pasture at the family home with pellet guns during my formative years of hunting. Of course, this was 15, 16 years ago when we had quail left in Florida.

As I recall, I fired up the big smoker, lit a small, yet raging fire and placed the bacon wrapped birds on the grill and smothered with barbeque sauce. The outcome was a crusty meatball somewhere in the range of well-done and dusty. But, hey, I cooked it myself.

I got better with more attempts, but my supply of quail flamed out when I went to college. For all five years I got my grubby hands on the meat only once. I pan-fried the breasts in Italian bread crumbs, and they were pretty good.

Truth be told, quail is my favorite game meat. Flavorful, easy to cook and accepted around the table, it is the tops in my book. Unfortunately, hunting the buggers gets trampled by other outdoor pursuits. I’ve eaten it numerous times since college cooked by others, but I’ve not been in the kitchen with my own until we returned with our bag from December’s Georgia quail hunt.

Before I get into the details of how I ended up cooking ‘em, know I am a recipe poacher. Nothing I have is original. I search for recipes online or in books, find a general concept and adapt to my tastes.

I knew I wanted to grill my quail for two reasons:

1. Wild game, unless you are making a stew or spaghetti, should be grilled.

2. All the baked or roasted quail recipes required a laundry list of ingredients that resembled something a witch would toss in a cauldron to create a poison or help her gaze into the future. “One tbs. currant jelly, 2tbs. grape seed oil, 1 tail of newt...”

There comes a point of diminishing returns after you pass the four ingredient marker.

I wanted kinda fancy, but not just the wrapped-in-bacon gimmick I use on everything from venison to sea duck, though I like the concept.

So, I discovered on HuntFishCook.com a recipe by Scott Leysath that fit these criteria – Grilled Quail Breast with Cheese and Prosciutto.

Prosciutto is a cured, salty, dry ham that is excellent in dishes like chicken cordon bleu. Using that line of thought, I substituted the gruyere cheese with Swiss, since ham and Swiss go together - and because a brick of gruyere was $13.

Also, instead of the Italian seasoning Mr. Leysath recommends, I substituted some Mrs. Dash and generous shakes of Ms. G’s Cajun Shaker which will, let me tell you, make your eyes sparkle. Add these two fine ladies to some olive oil and set aside for a marinade.

Take your whole quail and cut the breast halves off the bone, then cut the thighs and legs away from the remnants. Toss all of this in the marinade for an hour or two.

After this, take a slice of Prosciutto and place two breast halves on one of the end of the meat and top with a cube of Swiss cheese. Roll them up and place a toothpick or bamboo skewer through the middle. Leave the thighs as is. No point rolling them in anything unless you are trying to murder your guests by way of choking on hidden quail bone.

Heat the grill to medium-high. Place the thighs and legs to one side and the roll-ups to another. The thighs take only 3-4 minutes to cook and serve as a nice appetizer - toss them in some Frank's Hot Wing Sauce if you're feeling wild. The breasts shouldn’t take more than 8-10 minutes, and that may be overdoing it. Once the cheese bubbles out and the ham is browned, you’re done.

The result is a spicy, salty treat that would go great with an ice-cold brew.

If you want to see Scott Leysath cook this online, check out the video here.

And here is the contact information for Ms. G’s Cajun Shaker:

325 Mills Avenue
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana 70517

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

YouTube Video of the Week - Tackleberry

Happened across Police Academy last week. Loved that movie since I was a kid. I had not seen it in a long time, but was pleasantly amused how it has held up over the years, though many of its stars have not.

Anyway, this part of the film had me howling with laughter. Evidently this was true for YouTube users as well since it took no time at all to find this clip.

Three things I love about this:

1. How far the targets are away at the range, especially for what are almost certainly .38's.

2. Look at about the 22 second mark. Notice Bubba Smith's pistol. There's a puff of smoke, a one second delay and then the muzzle flip. Great editing!

3. The red flag at Tackleberry's station. Maybe this is protocol at some police academy ranges I am not familiar with, but I like to think the high strung cop cadet just made a show of his presence.

His hand cannon - a gift from his mom - certainly did!!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Touristing through Lake Kissimmee State Park

Sure, the campsite was a private paddock of palmettos, deer and turkeys ran wild – well, they ran semi-tame – throughout the park, and I was in good company, but I gotta tell you, the highlight of the trip was the restroom facility. The showers – the showers were immaculate. 10 minutes of high pressured hot water sans shower shoes, the perfect hangover remedy soak, you know, if Beam drinking were allowed in such areas. If nothing else, it blew off the oak smoke of the towering campfires I’d build to keep the wild beasts away, though one old drunk did stagger right through our camp without speaking a word, and the occasional child poked a nose in to watch the Olympic-level competition of our cornhole tournaments.

Lake Kissimmee State Park is located a few miles north of SR-60 just east of Lake Wales. Nestled between Tiger Lake, Lake Rosalie, and Lake Kissimmee, the park is a tiny taste of old Florida landscape. The fire-kissed pines and palmetto flats shelter an abundance of wildlife including the aforementioned game species, sandhills, eagles, owls, and a host of tweety birds. With 13 miles of hiking trails and photo-friendly animals, there’s a little something for every wanderer.

It’s been years since I’ve been camping. Most of my recent hunting excursions have come with roofed lodging. Though I had an air mattress this trip, my back is always one bad sleeping experience away from being a wreck. So tent camping hasn't been a draw in years, and I didn't really know where to go anyhow. Luckily, my good friends Chad and Kelly had visited the park in October and returned home with photos of deer and a couple huge gobblers. I was hooked. They booked a campsite, and Carolyn and I signed on, as did Jeremy and Brooke, Chad and Kelly’s neighbors.

Camping always turns into a let’s-see-how-much-junk-I-can-fit-in-my-truck affair. Three coolers, a tent that you could take batting practice in, sleeping bags and related accessories, firewood (I guess they have a problem with you chain-sawing your own), and various other sundries. You don’t want to be unprepared. Case in point, Jeremy showed up with a knife strapped to his belt. No way could I let this go unchallenged. Chad snuffed out that contest with a machete. I also failed in the flashlight comparison. I am no man.

Amongst my crap, I tossed the turkey calls in the truck. Do you know how annoying it is to others when you yelp out an assembly call in the twilight hours? Very, as I was reminded. I joked – and I use the word “joke” lightly as I was the only one entertained – about bowhunting here. Wouldn’t be much of a challenge. Three minutes in the front gate and I was already snapping my first deer pictures, a doe and a yearling feeding along the road. Ironically, this was the last weekend of deer season for this portion of the state. Within 12 hours of setting foot on this property I’d seen more bucks than I had the entire fall. Grrr.

The turkeys, too, ran amok. I never did catch up with an old longbeard as I’d hoped, but did run across a bearded hen, though she was quite camera shy. Her lady friends weren’t, thankfully. Riding back to camp from a late afternoon Nature Cruise, we spied a doe and hen feeding beside someone’s camper trailer. “They just don’t know how delicious they are, do they?” Carolyn pondered. Still, that’s fast company for any nature enthusiast.

The Other People are always a hoot. I’m not sure where they shop, but I somehow missed the memo that proper camping attire was required. If you don’t know, getting back in touch with nature requires some serious fashion considerations. Never mind you could sport a Hawaiian shirt and skip down the road firing off Roman candles without spooking the game, you have to look the part to be accepted in this crowd, probably why they shunned my board shorts and T-shirt. If I had to describe this whole granola look, I’d go with “floppy.” Floppy hats, floppy shirts, floppy upper arms.

Our camp setup was pure pitiful compared to the RV’s muscled in here from places as far away as Washington and Maine. One group of tourists, their skin colors various shades of pale, hung those pink and purple wind dancer things from the awning of their portable porch. I recall ol’ Lewis Grizzard when he said, “Yankees can be tacky, quite frankly.”

The redneck coalition was well-represented, too. A steady parade of bass boats marched down the winding roads to the ramp. I don’t bass fish, but I know this is an excellent area for it. The distant din of airboats was a 24/7 phenomenon. God knows what anyone is doing on Lake Kissimmee at 11 p.m. running around in an airboat. In the mornings you’d hear the shotgun blasts of duck hunters, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were covered with teal and ringnecks or just blasting coots off the water.

I do hope the cattleman at the end of the Cow Trail wasn’t startled by this noise. He might have thought the Indians were attacking. As it was explained to me by Chad, the Cow Trail is one of those "Journeys into the Past" out-of-state tourists drool over. It culminates with an actor playing the part of a Florida Cracker adorned with a bull whip and mannerisms of the Old Timey variety. “You here to buy or sell?” was the lead-in to his routine. The secondhand embarrassment would have slain me had I attended his act, but then again I’m not ten. As the story goes, he had been walking his three cattle for days and needed a rest. Perhaps he should wing into the Liar’s Lair bar across the road from the check-in station for some Karaoke and a sarsaparilla.

It does the heart well to know places like this exist. A Boy Scout troop wandered around the boat ramp as snowy folks on bikes took in the beautiful Florida scenery and weather. That land is never going to be developed, and it’s there for everyone to enjoy in their own little way. And though I’m an advocate for opening up as much land as possible to hunters, seeing unthreatened wildlife is a treat. I hopped out of the truck at one point to snap a picture of a feeding doe when, from out of the palmettos, a chocolate-antlered eight point emerged, careless to his dire situation of standing in the presence of a near-mythical deer slayer.

My closest encounter with wildlife I don’t even recall. Carolyn asked me Sunday morning if I remembered the armadillo assaulting the tent. Apparently, it kept bumping into the tent canvas and startled me quite a bit. She said I was about incoherent and panicked. I think she made it all up. Or, that’s what I’m going with at least. If I'd had a bigger knife and brighter flashlight I might have felt safer.

As I stood outside the bathroom area collecting my towels and toiletries Saturday morning, I heard two different hens yelping from the pines in the camp area. It is a tame version of nature, for sure. But let me tell you, it was a grand experience. If you’re looking for a camping trip with your kids, friends, or significant other, I’d give Lake Kissimmee a hard thought. The rangers were kind, cost of admission reasonable, the campsite spread out enough so your neighbor isn't bothered by your shenanigans, and there's plenty to do. The showers are probably cleaner than your ones at home. Not all state parks are as accommodating.

If you do come, make sure you bring your camera and floppy outdoor gear.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Last Call for Florida's 2009-10 Deer Season

Deer season is winding down in the Sunshine State. The South Zone closed two weeks ago, and the Central Zone calls it quits the 24th. Only the lucky nuts in the Northwest Zone can keep after whitetail. The General Gun season there ends February 17th but a blackpowder season picks up on the 18th and runs until the 28th.

Be prepared for some major changes next year. The FWC, in an attempt to put hunters in the field during peak rut times, has completely altered deer seasons throughout the state. Archery season in the current South Zone would begin July 31st. A new area, Zone B, which includes a majority of Polk and Pasco counties, would start general gun season December 4th and end February 20th due to the late rut in this region of the state. So, the traditional seasons of Florida’s deer hunting are about to be history unless something drastic occurs.

(Click here for the FWC’s list of changes)

Until then, there are still plenty of hunting opportunities. A number of WMA’s sport small game seasons. Whether you want to plug some bushytails or call predators, the chances are available. Hogs are plentiful and fun to hunt this time of the year. Load up your shotgun with buckshot on WMA’s (where allowed) and pop some prime pork.

You can also take this time to scout for the upcoming turkey season. Identify likely roost trees, or just get to know your way around the woods better. Scouting now for deer is also productive as you can discover old rub lines, sheds, and trails. Doing so in February will earn you a leg up when going to hang stands later in the year.

For those of you not quite ready to give up the ghost on this season, concentrate on finding that buck near food sources. Scrub oaks should be dropping acorns. The bucks don’t move a whole lot so it takes some precise planning, but they are still there!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Guest Post - Connecticut Deer Hunting

To me, deer hunting is more than an opportunity to escape the house, put some meat in the freezer, or hang horn on the wall. It's a discipline, and I take every chance allowed to learn more about my craft and how it is practiced in various parts of the country.

As such, I invited the author of Whitetail Woods, Rick Kratzke, to share what the hunting experience around his stomping grounds of Connecticut is all about, and he kindly offered this post.

In some ways, Connecticut is a state much like Florida - strong populations of whitetail, passionate sportspeople, yet largely ignored by the hunting press because neither region is known for B&C antlers.

So thanks to Mr. Kratzke, and I hope his information will help advance your education of whitetail deer hunting.

Connecticut offers some good Deer Hunting
By: Rick Kratzke / Whitetail Woods

Well I received a request to do a guest post for Ian Nance of "The Wild Life" and I was happy to oblige. I know Ian is from Florida so I am going to talk a little about deer hunting in New England - Connecticut to be exact.

I live in what is called the "quiet corner" which is the northeast corner of Connecticut. I have lived in CT. all my life, but I have only been hunting for what will be 20 years this coming season. I have been lucky enough to take quite a few deer in that amount of time. For me, I started out bowhunting then picked up the shotgun then muzzleloader and rifle. After injuring my shoulder I gave up bowhunting and stayed with the firearms. I always did better when the temperatures dropped anyway.

Just an FYI, if you can not hunt with normal archery equipment in CT. due to a medical injury you can apply for a handicap license to hunt with crossbow, with a doctors approval.

Typically in Connecticut, bowhunting season starts about the middle of September and pretty much goes right to the end of December with a couple of slight breaks.

Shotgun & Rifle opens in mid November; for state land shotgun it is split into two parts: "A" season which is lottery and "B" season which is not. Private land is both A & B combined.

Muzzleloader season starts early December and goes to just before Christmas.

I can say that in the northeast part of Connecticut there is a lot of hardwoods, swamps & laurels. The hardwoods consist of a lot of Oaks both white and red. When the white oaks are abundant you really don't see the deer as much because they stay where the acorns are which means you have to put in some scouting time to find them.

I have hunted everything from the hardwoods to the laurels and into the swamps which I really like. Back in 2007 I harvested this 7 point buck which was walking between the edge of a swamp and a small dried up pond that was surrounded with laurel bushes. He dressed out at 150 pounds.

Connecticut does offer a lot of different areas to hunt including farm land, if you can get permission. Deer totals the past few years, in my opinion, have been increasing so the opportunity is there to fill a tag or two.

I hope you enjoyed this short post and invite you to stop by and browse my "Whitetail Woods".

YouTube Video of the Week - Moron Shooting a Gun

I supposed I could do some Internet research and find out whether this guy broke bones in his face or not, but some mysteries I prefer to leave to the imagination.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Touring the 2010 Lakeland Gun Show

I attended the Original Lakeland Gun Show hosted by the Lakeland Rifle and Pistol Club this past Saturday. I hit a gun show maybe once a year. I’d go more, but unfortunately suffer from a moderate to heavy case of social anxiety and bumping into the general public flares it up. On top of that, I rarely have any money to spend and have more guns than I know what to do with now.

Still, I like to go from time to time to keep up-to-date with new products and trends. Like to see what the market is for older guns and ammunition. And, I like being out of the house.

So here we go - your tour of the 2010 Lakeland Gun Show.

The Greatest Gun Show on Earth – I couldn’t make this up if I tried, but on the same weekend the gun show was scheduled, the Lakeland Center also played host to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I want you to picture the faces of the young families trying to wade through the horde of gun-toting white people standing in line at the ticket counter.

Priceless comedy.

Here they thought they were going to be treated to acrobats and elephants, and, from all appearances, they stumbled into an armed Tea Party rally. If any of the animals broke free and ran amok, this situation would be pacified in a jiffy. That’s something the kids would remember.

Watch Your Mouth, Son - As such, I sought to avoid using any combination of the words “health” and “care”. Obama may not be the most popular kid on this block.

I’m a Conservative, but this is a stretch – Reagan to Palin is an organization that, evidently, really, really supports Sarah Palin. They had a booth at the show (don’t believe me? look here!).

I get what some people – heck, I’ll call them what they are, Puppet Masters – are trying to do, but if Palin stands to be a politically viable alternative in the next election, or even an asset to the Republican party, she needs to be allowed to build her own identity and live or die by it. What a lot of anti-Obamas refuse understand is, elections are no longer being won by one end of the spectrum or the other. They are won by moderates. The two main parties are trapped in a misguided notion that a successful election of one of their candidates is a mandate for a conservative or liberal agenda. Case in point, Obama is in deep trouble now because of his health care plan and the fact more than half the country opposes it, or at least wants him to focus on other issues.

Her attraction is of an independent personality – connecting too many dots to the past or to the far right will tank her if she plans on holding the highest office. In a strict, “let’s-get-her-elected” standpoint, I am leery of her getting paint-brushed by organizations that want to portray her as another Reagan or strict conservative. Again, this only matters if she runs for office. If her destiny is as a fundraiser or pundit, this will be fine, I suppose. A lot of “if’s” with this lady already; she should pay heed to who she is yoked to.

(Having said that, she is an invaluable member to the hunting/2nd Amendment ranks and I’m glad she’s here.)

Political Opportunism – On hand at the show were several local politicians courting constituents. It’s smart strategy. Polk County is a Republican stronghold in the state. Gun shows are excellent opportunities to get your message out. Whispers around the booths said U.S. Senate hopeful Marco Rubio would be attending later in the afternoon. He is running against Governor Charlie Crist and has gained serious momentum in this race. If you live in Florida, I strongly urge you to check out Mr. Rubio. He has my support.

And not a Single Cavity Search – At every show there is a line for those who bring firearms to sell or trade to have their guns inspected. A guy makes sure it’s unloaded then fastens an orange tie strap through the action. In all my years of attending shows, I can’t remember a single incident where there was a firearm related security problem. No mass shootings, no accidental discharges, or parking lot robberies. Why can’t they get this right at the airports? Here we have respectable cross-section of gun enthusiasts – some of whom I’m not sure how they made it here in the daylight without bursting into flames – and nothing ever goes wrong. Just shows you that the average gun owner is not a criminal.

I Looked, but couldn’t Find any Loopholes.

I Suppose I Should Talk about Guns Now – Perhaps the neatest new gun of the day was the Remington VTR in .308 Winchester. I’d seen advertisements, but the rifle in person is eight hundred times the awesome. I’m not one to typically fall for marketing gimmicks and whatnot – after all, it’s just another bolt action – but the triangular barrel and cool synthetic stock grabbed my attention. And it was reasonably priced. In a place literally littered with AR-15 variants, this bad boy by far stood out to me as the best in show.

And the Winner for the “I’m Not Sure what the Fuss is about” Award Goes toThe Taurus Judge. I like Taurus – I have a .40 S&W that won’t be going anywhere for a long time – but for the life of me I can’t figure out the popularity of this pistol. If you don’t know, it’s one of those concept guns that shoot both .410 shotshells and .45 Long Colt, neither one real practical for a whole lot. It’s not concealable, heck, there are a plethora of .357’s, .38’s, and .44’s housed in smaller frames. Then there’s the price. Just don’t get it. It’s cool, but there are better alternatives no matter your purpose.

It was a Nice Thought, though – One booth had a Savage Scout Rifle, a concept long gun concocted and pushed by the late, great Col. Jeff Cooper. His rationale was sound – devising a rifle for any hunting or tactical purpose. The main feature is a forward mounted scope that the traditional American public rejected like the metric system.

What Col. Cooper attempted, unfortunately, was fight the tide. These were released back when the super-sexy Ultra-Mags and Short Mags were hitting the market and mundane cartridges like the .308 or .358 just weren’t lighting any fires. Hunters want to believe in unlimited possibilities that made these magnum rounds – and huge objective scopes – so popular, though the average deer slayer probably doesn’t need to shoot more than 100 yards. Practical rarely sells nowadays.

If I can save my pennies, I’ll buy one some day, just to have it.

Speaking of “Just to Have it” – I can’t believe how expensive WWII/Korean War era surplus military rifles have become. When I was young I mowed lawns and sweated out other yard work to purchase an Enfield No. 4 Mk I .303 British, a Mauser 98 in 8mm, a M-1 Carbine, and a Mosin-Nagant in 7.62x54R. I was on a big WWII kick at the time and I don’t think I paid more than $100 for any of them. Now, try to find one under $250 that you wouldn’t be scared of shooting.

At about the same time my dad, terrified like every other gun owner when the Assault Weapon Ban was a threat, procured a Maadi AK-47 and a new-in-the-cosmoline Russian SKS, not one of the cheap Chinese models. The SKS was $80 and the Maadi ran around $300. Today, just go ahead and triple the price of the SKS and double the Maadi.

Never shoot them, rarely pull them out of the safe, but not bad investments.

The show was packed, a great sign for gun owners and like-minded politicos. It’s encouraging to see the 2nd amendment thrive in your community especially with all the garbage and rhetoric on TV and Internet these days.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Go Go Gadget Hunter

I love this. Just in case you can’t read the text from my sorry camera phone picture:

“Crunching Feeding Sounds that Calm Deer.”

“Pacifies a Deer’s Alert Instincts.”

“Calms Spooked Deer.”

“Stops Deer in a Relaxed Manner.”

THE KRUNCHER!!! (Cue: triumphant horn music)

What will they think of next?

I have to be careful because I do represent Mossy Oak and I’m not sure who all they are in league with, but I had a good laugh at Wal-Mart last week. If it’d been on the other side of Christmas this could have ended up in a few stockings.

My best guess is that a hunter mashes this thing together to resemble the sound of a whitetail feeding and this, what, calls in deer? How close does the animal have to be for this to work? And how does the deer discern this noise from the cacophony of crows cawing, owls hooting, turkeys clucking, and squirrels themselves crunching on acorns? I suppose some things are best left for the eye to witness.

The thing is if you’ve arrived at the point where you’ve bought the Kruncher, you probably own every other grunt call, bottle of deer urine, rattling bag, and doe bleat that’s hit the market. No way can this be any outdoorsman’s first call. Reminds me of a hair loss lotion or male enhancement product you see advertised – you’ve tried the rest, now try the best! A hunter’s own chance at battling their deer hunting insecurities.

Gadgets, by definition, are devices that probably aren’t worth what you paid for them regardless of price. Hunters are a gadget-intense bunch. I’ve had my own. My very first, as I recall, was a boot knife I purchased at a gun show for ten bucks when I was twelve. Functionally, it was about as practical as my nipples, though it did possess the same aesthetic appeal. The “blade” was some aluminum/plastic compound that was only fitting for throwing into the sides of trees. Not much help skinning a hog. All the guys in camp were realllll impressed. Or nervous. Pick one. The vendor at the show had no qualms hawking it to me, and I’m sure has slept fine since.

One year in college I acquired a “Spit & Drum” turkey call from a manufacturer I’ve long forgotten. It came with a video. One half looked like - and probably was - the mouth piece from a standard grunt call and made a very similar noise. The other side was a rubber ball somewhat resembling the float in the back of a toilet. The concept was to blow on the grunt tube end to simulate a gobbler drumming, then you flipped it over and slammed the toilet float half on your leg creating a sharp hissing noise, that, I guess, sounds like a tom spitting. It left bruises.

Now, I’m not a professional turkey hunter by any means, but the first rule of this sport, clear as I’ve understood it, is to stay as still as possible; I don’t see how this fit in to that strategy. Same goes for the plastic turkey wing I once bought and toted for years. It worked for the guys in the video. It’d be probably noon judging by the sunlight when they would spit and drum, and sure enough, the camera would cut away to a gobbler beelining it to the decoys, though it was much darker outside then for some reason.

Gadgets have a powerful pull against one's common sense. For a large portion of the county - who nonetheless sees this regularly occur on TV at a variety of exotic private locales in Texas - rattling antlers are pretty serious, make-your-hands-bleed gadgets. I dutifully carried a pair for years and would clack away, nervous I'd be stormed by Mucho Grande before I could hoist my gun or bow. Can't say this turned out to be an issue. But one day I had an epiphany:

“Ian, you’ve paid God knows how much money on the latest camouflage to hide in the trees, have driven many miles for a chance at a buck, and you’re out here waving your arms around and banging horns together just making a racket? C’mon, boy! Sit down and be quiet.”

It’s is remarkable the number of bucks I’ve killed since this enlightenment.

Once upon a time I had a plastic polymer shooting stick. As a teen – yes, a teen – I fancied myself a big-time pistolero. Carried a Ruger Redhawk .44Mag in a shoulder holster with two speed clips totaling 18 rounds of kick butt awesomeness. Well, I’d seen in a magazine where this other big-time pistolero used the exact stick with his .44 to hunt caribou. Not having a prevalent population of caribou in Central Florida, I figured it could at least translate into a useful hog hunting tool.

One evening a member of camp came out of my tent, presumably in there perpetrating some prank, with my shooting stick in hand. I won’t repeat the fire-side jokes and sick sexual innuendos here because there may be children reading, but to this day I still catch grief. Someone claims to have it and is waiting for the proper time to abuse me with it for old time’s sake. I showed them, though. I bought a bipod.

Perhaps my favorite gadget, that I’m proud to say I did not buy, was a little key chain device that when you hit a button it made a sound like a corn feeder spinning off. Now, I’ve seen deer and hogs and turkey literally run over each other at this noise before on private lands, but I have laughed myself to tears on the stand thinking of some hunter in the Green Swamp or some other public land romp-and-stomp hunkered by the tree, pressing this button, and grasping his gun in eager anticipation. Wait fifteen minutes, hit it again – standard deer call instructions. Maybe if he or she had a Kruncher to make it seem more realistic it could have worked.

Truth is, we rarely stop buying gadgets; they just get more expensive and sophisticated. This is especially true as we branch out from hunting just one species. Duck hunting is a mad disease. I have robo-ducks and bags of decoys, including some now that don’t have heads to make it seem like they are feeding. I recently acquired a 3 ½ magnum though I duck hunt maybe four times a year and would miss most in-flight waterfowl with a heat seeking missile.

Turkey hunting can get ya – all the scribes say you can’t have too many calls. These scribes also tend to go on industry-sponsored hunts. And predator calling is bad, too. Have this device that flips a cotton ball thing around in erratic circles. A hawk is gonna take off with that some day. Goodbye, eighty bucks! Have a digital predator call that has, of all things, terrified chicken calls, fighting toms, wounded wombat, and annoyed anteater.

It’s all in fun. The Kruncher may fill a void in some hunter’s daypack and lead him or her – though “her’s” are much less apt to buy such things – to Boone & Crockett glory. And really, I think there is still an untapped market. Just think of the other bodily functions we can simulate from your favorite game animal! Combine doe estrous with a water bottle and we have the Urinator – wait, I think that is the name of a narcotic masking device.

Well, you may need that gadget too if you find yourself buying this stuff on a regular basis!

YouTube Video of the Week - Charging Boar

Ha! I've had to watch this one a few times. The dog sounds pretty injured and the guy is lucky he wasn't chewed on, and he clearly missed the shot. This is why I tell people to stop screwing around and just kill the things. Big boar!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hunting the Deep Freeze

That sugar or scrub sand that is so prevalent in parts of Central Florida is some nasty stuff. One spring I feared a rain-soaked road of it would swallow Dad’s old diesel suburban. I'd paused to glass an open field for gobblers and happened to look down as this quicksand enveloped the tires. We were sinking. Luckily four-wheel low chugged us to safety.

In the summer, this dirt is baking hot. It’s inhospitable. Snakes love it, as do scorpions and spiders. And during any time of the year, game tracks are distorted to dimples making it impossible to discern what had passed through. At the very least, this ankle-turning sand makes even a simple hike seem like an interminable hump through the desert.

This weekend, though, the sand was frozen hard. Only with a quick bounce would the earth give way to crumble. Other than that, it was like walking on pavement. And in the pre-dawn darkness of Sunday morning, the trail to my stand sparkled in the flashlight like one of those whiny Twilight vampires.

Twenty-four degrees the truck thermometer read. With apologizes to my Northern friends, that’s cold here, easily the coldest I’ve hunted in the state of Florida. Icicles hung from palmettos and scrub oaks. Saturday, the sleet pelted me in the tree stand as I got texts from my sister saying it was snowing in town. Record lows throughout the state. Weird.

Just for fun I’d spit on the rail of my Summit Viper to see how long it’d take to freeze. My phone kept shutting off mid-text or Internet search, the circuits seized by the cold. And the tweety birds in the tree ahead of me looked like little brown cotton balls or monster dust bunnies as they gripped their perches with ruffled, shaking feathers. The woods were quiet. This made it all the more surprising when the coyote showed up.

In all honesty, on public land, in this weather, almost any warm blooded mammal was going to catch an arrow, a coyote especially. But, I always underestimate them. As he trotted behind some bushes following a trail that’d lead him within 15 yards of my stand, I stood to draw. How he saw me through the myrtles, I won’t ever know, but between gaps in the branches I saw him lift his head, gaze the 20 feet up the pine where I stood, raise his tail and bounce right out of the area.

And that was it for my Upper Hillsborough WMA bowhunt. Spent just shy of nine hours on the stand between Saturday evening and Sunday morning freezing my keister. Strange thoughts dominated my hunt.

“I wonder how warm it’d be if Han Solo showed up and rolled Tauntaun guts on me?”

“How the hell did the Jets win/Cincy blow that game?”

“I bet they find me clinging to this bow like Hatchet Jack.”

I guess my other moment of excitement was when the bottom half of my climber escaped me during the descent down the pine. Dressed in so many layers I wasn’t exactly limber, and I was in a big hurry to return to the seat warmers in the Dodge.

Anyway, in haste, I didn't exercise the proper caution I normally would this high up and failed to properly secure my boots in the holders. As you can guess, they slid out and the foot platform went bouncing down the tree, settling cockeyed against the trunk when the safety line – the same line that had recently been tied back together; not confident it would stay together – took hold. I’m tall, but I could just barely extend my boot toes to touch the suspended half. I contemplated the situation.

“Dad’s on the other side of the property, I have the truck and keys. It’s 30 degrees and I’m still at least 15-16 feet up this pine. Hmm. After the fall do I bleed out, freeze to death, or does the coyote finish me off?”

I’ve always said safety straps are for those afraid to fall. I’ll be buying mine before September. I took a breath and used my 3rd grade gym training to lower myself on the rails of the upper half of the stand like balance beams. I managed to get low enough to jockey the foot rest back onto the tree, then slowly worked the stand back to the ground. By the way, my flimsy gloves helped none on that cold metal.

Ugghh. At first glance, the spot I sat was a goodie though it was close to a road, usually a no-no for me when hunting WMA’s. My original haunt had been violated by a lock-on some miscreant had erected on converging trails in a transition zone between a thick cypress head and palmetto flat I’d scouted months prior. Compromising, I wandered a few hundred yards to the west and settled on my location thanks to a fresh rub on a well-used trail. I fell victim to that temptation, ignoring some of my common sense.

For starters, there wasn’t crap for them to eat here unless they headed for the palmetto flat, which I expected them to do. But then again, I was hoping the deer would venture into the open on public land, which is foolhardy in itself. Tracks pummeled the firebreak road walking in, but who knows when they were made or what time. Wish I had spent more time scouting, but it was a busy fall and winter.

Dad had it right. He hung his climber on a shift between the tall pines and an open cypress swamp. In the swamp there was still some browse, and the scrub oaks surrounding the area were dropping acorns. He saw four deer, including a nice buck that was a little out of range.

On the ride out Saturday night, some guy had a little six point hanging at the cleaning station. It was a scrub buck for sure – small body and spindly antlers, but good for that hunter enduring the cold and coming out on top. I thought about that buck all night hoping to get my chance, but it wasn't to be.

And like that, my deer season is over. Fitting the weather was so strange as it has been since September when I started. Looking forward to finishing off duck season and maybe some hog hunting. For sure, I'm taking my predator calls back to Upper Hillsborough to settle the score with one coyote.

It should be warmer.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Winter Tips for Wild Hogs

The days for chasing deer are dwindling down. Alas. The bells toll for deer season throughout much of the country by late January, and the dreariness of winter hides the promise of Spring Turkey. Nothing left but football and NASCAR.

Not so fast.

Wild hogs - plentiful in many parts of the country and sneaking into others with each passing day - are a year-round hunting opportunity. And, man, do I enjoy hunting them this time of the year. Whether you are seeking a fatty for the freezer or that big boar for the wall, December, January, and February are my favorite months for popping a pig here in Florida.

So if you just can’t stand staying inside watching the playoffs in the coming weeks, here are some tips for finding some pigskin of your own.

1. Follow the food – hogs will eat anything, but by this time of year, most of the acorns are off the ground and once-lush oak hammocks are all but barren of food. It’s now when they ramp up their rooting activities, working over ditches, creek bottoms, and wet-weather ponds seeking anything edible. The reason for this is simple – these places capture moisture which in turn produces new-growth plant life and attracts insects and grubs. In addition, these spots collect berries and acorns that have been washed here by previous rains. Palmetto patches, while tougher to hunt, offer a similar buffet of groceries. Of course, if you have a magical tree that slings little yellow acorns, that much better.

2. Stay on the move – since there is no real obvious concentration of food, stay mobile. The weather is nice so you won’t sweat to death, and hogs are apt to move throughout the day for similar reasons. Next, with all the leaves off the trees, still-hunting through fall’s impenetrable swamps is much easier, and the hogs will still hole up here.

3. Avoid full moons – this is a general hog hunting rule for me anyhow. For some reason, I’ve had no luck at all this time of the month. Maybe others have, but I’d schedule a different date if I were you.

4. Hunt fronts – hogs are active all times of the day before and after a front blows through. A light rain is perfect to get them on their feet and feeding. Now, if it’s too windy, you are better off staying in camp, but a drizzle and drop in temp is a good recipe for putting one on the ground.

5. Take advantage of small game hunts – most FL WMA’s will offer small game hunts with hogs on the menu. They usually allow only shotguns or rimfires. OO Buckshot works – not my favorite, but it will – but slugs are the way to go here (check individual WMA regs.) Or if you are feeling spunky, I’ve put down more than one hog with a .22LR or .22 Mag. This is also a fine opportunity for archery hunting practice.

6. Plan for next year – The FWC and Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swift Mud) offer hog hunts throughout the year for winter hunts. Sometimes they are still hunts, other times it’s for those who run dogs. Either way, keep an eye out!

7. Hold out for that boar – my best boars have come during the winter. As mentioned above, their Eden-like swamp strongholds tend to be barren so boars will wander farther and more often for food and females. This is their most vulnerable time of the year, in my opinion - kind of a hog rut, you could say. If you’re trophy hunting, it may be worth letting the little ones work under a feeder for a while longer and wait for Mr. Grinnin’ Lips to sidle on in.

Hog hunting is a great deal of fun in the winter and they can be hunted in a variety of ways. If anyone else has some tips, please feel free to leave a few!!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Minding the Mercury

There is a 5% chance of snow in Central Florida this weekend. I will be bowhunting Upper Hillsborough WMA if the skies do open up. Easily, this will be the coldest archery trip I’ve been associated with.

For those of you who’ve never graced Upper Hills, it’s not exactly conducive to slipping through the woods or other techniques that’ll get the blood cranking. With a bow, this is going to be an all-day, freeze-my-butt-off vigil hoping ol’ big buck pops his head out early.

Though a Floridian, I do have some tricks to help keep warm while on the stand. Nothing is going to totally fight off this Arctic assault, but these things should help.

1. Dress in Layers – I wear a moisture wicking undershirt topped with a fleece pullover of some sort. Top this with a bomber jacket to cut any wind. For pants, I wear Under Armor Micro-Fiber for my under-roos. Then my thermals covered with a pair of Mossy Oak Wrangler Jeans. Socks, a pair of polypropylene liners topped with wool stockings stuffed in my Rocky Mountain boots with 600 Grams of Thinsulate. A wool facemask and some gloves, and I’m good to go.

2. Get a hand warmer – and, no, I don’t mean those chemical packets. Buy one of those fanny pack-looking things you can stuff your gloved paws into, like what every Green Bay Quarterback starts sporting on Sundays from October forward. I bought one in Dothan, AL a few years back and it was one of the best items I’ve ever purchase. Mine doubles as a day pack which is perfect for carrying…

3. Snacks – carry a pocketful of Snickers minis in your day pack. The chocolate and peanuts will give ya an energy boost.

4. Think of someplace colder – if it’s 28 in Lakeland, FL, think of where the mercury is dipping anywhere north of you. Get a good laugh in, and be happy you’re hunting.

Best of Luck

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Asleep in the Stand - Hunting Links: The Coyote Edition

I'm not real sure what got me thinking about coyotes today. Heck, it's been a full three weeks since I've seen one. Maybe it was my dad who asked to borrow my predator caller, Mojo decoy, and .17HMR that bounced my mind this way. Perhaps it's the recognition that it's been one year since I've been off my Georgia lease where I'd listen to the yotes moan their misereres in the quiet cold of the December gloaming.

Whatever the reason, I have Song Dogs on the brain.

Dad's plans were thwarted, not by Wile E. himself, but someone who was supposed to meet him, but didn't, and yadda yadda.

I've killed a few - none that would have been any burden to man. Just those that happened by at the wrong moment. I've set out to intentionally kill more, but...well, they are about the smartest blasted animals I've run across. You need to be fully camoed, watch your scent, and cover some ground to unearth canines bedded in thickets. Hunting them in the South is supposedly a different sport than in the wide-open West. I've called a couple in. Killing them is a different task. Hopefully in February I'll get another crack at some.

Anyway, coyotes have been in the news a lot lately. Back in November I ran across this article about the dogs interfering with taxiing airline at Raleigh-Durham International. As if the airline industry doesn't have enough to worry about.

Coyote attacks on suburban house pets is also a fairly common evening news segment in Florida these days. One pack ruined the Thanksgiving holidays with it's taste for something other than turkey...guess Fido doesn't contain Tryptophan.

Florida and North Carolina aren't the only states suffering. Georgia, as I mentioned above, hosts a sizable population of coyotes. Officials there are trying to get the word out about the dangers of these animals, mostly rabies and attacking pets. As proud as Georgia fans are, I bet a hungry yote dog would give Ol' Uga a run for his money.

If you want to know more about these mini-wolves, the FWC has information here.

But really, all you need to know is well-written here by James Swan at ESPNOutdoors.com

If you're looking for a thrill this postseason, order up a rabbit sqealer and give coyote calling a try. If I'm ever successful, I'll share what worked for me!!!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

ESPN Outdoors Wildlife Cameras

Looking for a way to blow some time while whittling away hours in the office? Perhaps you just haven't spent enough time in the deer stand this season - and let's face it, who has?

ESPN.com has had a streaming video camera set up on some remote Arkansas food plot for a few months now. With two active feeders and C'Mere Deer sprinkled about, deer, hogs, bear, and turkey are frequent visitors throughout the day and night.

So, check it out when you get a chance. In addition to a plethora of does, quite a few nice bucks turn up. It's an awesome site!

ESPN Outdoors Wildlife Cameras

The Annual Christmas Hunt

Remember the “Gallimimus Stampede Scene” in Jurassic Park when the long-legged dinosaurs trampled past Dr. Grant and the kids? Remember the noise of that charging herd? That’s about what this flock of hens sounded like as they bum-rushed the feeder for a late afternoon meal of whole corn.

Travis and I had constructed a ground blind of palmettos and other debris in hopes of sticking a big boar with our bows. Hogs were on the brain – knew turkey came here, but they were an afterthought. Imagine the excitement, then, when you hear this commotion quickly advance from behind, and all you can think about is your flimsy hideout being demolished by hungry snouts and clacking cutters of timer-trained swine. Nonetheless, you are hunter, and must remain totally still if you want the kill. Imagine the strange relief and catch-your-breath moment when, instead of being bowled over for foolishly getting in the way of some stud swine’s supper, you are staring eye to eye with a clucking jake.

The flock fed under the feeder for five minutes or so, vacuuming up every last kernel. Eventually, they meandered off, though they’d return every 30 minutes or so until we heard them fly up before dark. The hogs never paid a visit. With the turkeys holding such vigil here, it’s no surprise why the hogs didn’t visit.

This was our annual Christmas hunt at a ranch in Sarasota. Some members abandon to camp after dinner Christmas night. I, not wanting to be single, usually leave the next morning, and it’s then I reach the full holiday spirit. It’s a fun hunt, nothing too serious. Pigs are the usual fare with the occasional doe or predator taken along the way. In fact, this effort for an archery boar was even a bit more than we do on this trip. Typically, this is a spot-and-stalk from the truck ordeal. The ranch owner and manager wants ‘em dead and there’s a lot of land to cover.

Really, this campaign may have been too successful the last couple of years. I can’t prove it beyond empirical evidence, but I think we’re finally putting a dent in these things. Piling up a half-dozen an evening used to be no big trick. Times, they have a-changed.

In full disclosure, I had my chances. The Sunday after Christmas, with the woeful Bucs having just beaten the Saints, E-Man, Dirty, and I were cruising through a sod field when E-Man noticed movement in an adjacent cow pasture. Out in the open, four to five hundred yards out, was a pretty decent mottled-colored boar. We hopped out of the Dodge and hurried along the barbed wire. Recognizing he wasn’t sitting still for very much longer, we reached a fence post where I could get a clear 250-300 yard shot with the .300.

At the report, the boar swapped ends, ran in a circle, then off into oblivion. Normally, I’d kept slinging lead his way, but he ran right towards a herd of cattle. We marked him well but still found no spoor, not totally surprising as those boars can soak up even big loads. Disappointed, we returned to the truck and pressed on – he turned out to be the only hog spied that night.

E-Man had better luck earlier that morning. While driving through an orange grove, someone caught sight of the hog he had shot Saturday night. A 220lb. – on a scale - listed barr hog, we couldn’t decide if he’d hit the pig that night, his 6.5 Mauser not leaving any sign in the poor light of the grove. We settled on a miss, but Sunday morning proved us wrong. E-Man’s mood flipped in a hurry. The meat was still good and full of fat, perfect for a BBQ. It was just another reminder of how tough those animals are.

Don killed a few sows. Travis popped a doe. Dirty and E-Man each added another hog or two to their coolers. Young Jacob had his granddaddy call in a fall gobbler for him, but he missed the shot. Once he advances past Junior High he’ll have to start taking his lumps about this. His brother, Austin, may have taken the trophy of the weekend, a fine bobcat that stalked around a feeder. It was the biggest critter Austin had taken, he made a perfect shot, and we were right proud. And in another sign he'd gotten closer to full initiation into the hunting ranks was the cut on the bridge of his nose where the scope caught him on the recoil. And out came the war stories from everyone who'd done something similar.

Hunts like this are few and far between. This crew has hunted together a long time - the elders even longer. There’s a fair amount of teasing and lying involved, with a toddy or two flaring that fire. Food is always hot and plentiful. And the wildlife on this ranch is something to behold. Besides the hog and turkey and deer, we saw fox squirrels, caracaras, bald eagles, teal, mottled ducks, and ibis of several different varieties. I think I remember at least one guy saying he’d seen a coyote, outside the standard fare of gators, coons, possums, and armadillos.

Lucky, no doubt, that I’m able to do this year after year. These Christmas gifts amongst the trees are quite often better than any I’ll ever find under a tree.