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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Magnums, For Better or Worse

This is not something I am proud of but it happened. Hunting a Georgia clay logging road one foggy morning several Aprils ago, I dropped my biggest gobbler at 80 steps. I had my dad come confirm it. If I’d realized he was that far, I would have not lowered the boom. As it was, the wide open terrain of clear-cut combined with the fog caused me to misjudge the range. And I was a touch antsy anyway. Two mornings prior, a bounding coyote spooked an inbound gobbler, and the following morning a gobbler spooked upon seeing my jake decoy. Such things happen with turkey hunting, agreed?

Well, this tom slowly eased down the road without a gobble or strut. My H.S. Strut Lil Deuce slate was working its magic once again. And I don’t know. Call it a fear that something else would go wrong or call it just plain bad judgment, but I decided he’d crawled within acceptable range.

80 yards, stone cold dead. Lucky. The big eastern sported an 11 ¼-inch beard and 1 ½-inch spurs on each red clay stained leg. Fortunate.

OK, I’m a little proud. Though this wasn’t the first tom laid low by the shotgun, this incident earned my Mossberg 835 - shooting Winchester Supreme No. 5’s in 3 ½ Magnum - a special place in my heart. Maybe I got a little cocky, though.

A couple years ago in Levy County, Florida, I had been calling to a bird all morning. No one had killed a gobbler on this property yet and I wanted to be the first. On the roost he gobbled at everything, and I expected him to pitch down into a little food plot to my left as I huddled under a dewy myrtle bush. Never really happens how you want. Instead, he settled in a cow pasture obscured from view by a cypress swamp and a row of palmettos.

For nearly two hours I slowly worked this bird my way. I was badly out of position and couldn’t redeploy or he’d surely peg me. My first glimpse of him was through a Frisbee-sized hole in the brush, his white head bobbing up and down with every gobble.

And there he stood, in that hole, 45 yards away, gobbling like crazy at my increasingly poor attempts at calling. All he had to do was move fifteen yards to my right and I’d have a clean shot, or maybe he’d see my dekes and come a-runnin’. I was badly unwound.

He almost made it. Through my peephole, I saw him begin to move in the favorable direction then stop, flip his wing and about-face, heading back from where he came. I just couldn’t take it anymore. When his head settled in the middle of the clearing – that ugly white head resembling a front post settled in the ghost ring of an aperture sight – I drew my fiber optic bead and squeezed the trigger. Hey, I have a 3 ½ mag. I can go Predator-era Jesse Ventura on him.

In a long career of making dumb shots on all manner of game, this was the worst. I hopped up and circled the palmettos in time to see him beat feet into the dark of the cypress.

I returned to my set-up shaking, feebly fumbling with a lighter to fire up a smoke, wholly disgusted with myself. I’m no rookie, for crying out loud. I knew better. This bird got the best of me, and through hubris only did I attempt a shot like that.

When my hunting partner arrived fifteen minutes later, I’d chiefed through half a pack and still quivered. I explained the story and showed him what I tried to shoot through. The vegetation looked like it’d been hit with a weed whacker, and I seriously doubt many, if any, pellets scooted past.

The 3 ½ magnum is a wonderful tool, but stupid it will make you if you let it. In one of my previous blogs I wrote that just because they sell guns that’ll shoot across a cow pasture doesn’t make it a good idea. Now you know where that statement comes from.

If you ask me, I will look you straight in the eye and tell you I prefer having my decoys set within 15 yards of me hoping the gobbler will correspond with plans. In the same vein of honesty, I will also assure you I will take just about any opportune shot presented.

You know how it goes. Only so many days of hunting. Chances are limited. Self-imposed pressure to perform. Both these above stories have one binding thread: getting too excited and feeling too empowered with my weapon. The magnum’s siren song sure is sweet to those lacking self-control.

I’m not here to tell you what’s right or wrong or what shot to take. By most measurements, both these shots were ethically questionable. If you don’t think ethics has anything to do with it, we could also use the words “responsible” or “practical” and maybe a few others. Luckily, neither of these birds were crippled and left to the coyotes.

I don’t like “what might have been’s.” Maybe if I’d let that Georgia gobbler get closer he would have spooked. Perhaps if I’d shown a bit more patience with the Osceola he could have slipped back around and in an unfiltered line of fire. I don’t know.

I do know I’ve learned my lesson. “No lead, no dead” is a fun campsite slogan, but in the field I’ll be taking concerted efforts to slow down, breathe and try not to make so much happen simply because I am running with the big gun.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

YouTube Video of the Week - Help with Shooting Clays

I was going to dedicate this week's video to the wild hog. I kinda wanted to post a hog hunt, but last week I received just a frightening batch of hate e-mails from anti-hunters about topics such as three-legged bears and Johnny Weir. Weird. Not that these threats and disparaging comments really bother me, I just don't want to provoke them any further until I find out who they are and where they live.

Kidding. Kind of. Strangely, they were all named "Anonymous."

Then I thought about posting some cute clips about wild pigs. So, I YouTube-searched the words, wild, hogs, funny. Guess what came up? Clips for the John Travolta movie, Wild Hogs. I've seen it and was shocked that combination of words produced those results.

Then I realized I could use this platform for good and help others address the inadequacies harming their outdoor activities. Since I just came off a clay shoot this last weekend, I've posted a couple videos (Yes! Two! Man, I'm nice) to aid those of you, who like me, have difficulty killing flying inanimate objects no matter how hard you try.

The first guy is a little dry, but I like his system. The cutie in the second video addresses the approaches to success in different clay and trap shooting scenarios. Enjoy!!!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Weekend of Clays and Wild Hogs

We needed to post a 30 – the perfect score – in the final round of the clay shoot to tie for 1st. The leading team hammered the clays with cruel efficiency on Saturday. With the Olympics upon us, I’d like to tell you that our underdog team came back to beat the Goliath team in what we’d call, I dunno, The Miracle on Dirt, but it wasn’t to be.

Four shooters with 2 rounds each try to scratch down a flurry of six clays whizzing in from different angles. One practice and two “real” rounds of five flurries. Takes teamwork. I like it.

The practice round was tough. I couldn’t hit a clay if you’d set it on a fence post, a lingering result of the Captain’s Meeting the night before. We settled down in the first real round, dusting 26 of 30 clays to go into a tie for 3rd. The second round, interrupted for a long spell by a fundraising gimmick, wasn’t so kind, and we fell short of first by quite a bit, though we were still in the upper tier of teams when the shooting ceased.

The charity tournament, The Full Moon Howl 8th Annual Clay Pigeon Invitational, benefited the Peace River Center, a local non-profit “providing Polk, Hardee and Highlands Counties in Florida with quality mental and behavioral health care services,” according to its website. The day ended with live and silent auctions, dinner and dancing, and is a grand event.

I’ve never been great on clays – or flying birds, for that matter. I probably wasn’t helped by the fact I shot my dove gun, a Winchester 1400 with a modified choke. Wish I had a stylish over-under like the winning team fielded, but I doubt it would have mattered much. I’ve always been a rifle guy. And I got to prove that point, I think, Sunday with a trip to a private ranch in Sarasota for a hog hunt with some good buddies.

Quick side note, though. On the drive from Lakeland, in a huge field on the corner of SR-64 and Myakka Road, we spied a pair of gobblers strutting by a pine tree. Got the old heart a-pumping, that’s for sure. They are still a few weeks away. Hogs were on the menu.

Typically what we do on these hunts is canvas by truck the property’s sod fields and cow pastures for feeding swine. Once a batch is spotted, we stalk within range and lay the lead to them. Sounds easy, and sometimes it is, but hogs stay mobile. You have to move quick to get into range before they feed off into the brush. Switching winds will disrupt a stalk as will any unusual noises.

The first group escaped when a wind-driven truck door slammed as our contingent of hunters crept up to them. Travis caught sight of the second herd feeding along a fenceline running between a green sod field and dog fennel-choked thickness. There were four or five of them around 350 yards away. Five of us began the stalk, following an intersecting fenceline until we could reach a cabbage palm that’d give us cover to set-up and put us within reasonable shooting distance.

Four of us reached the palm. Barney spotted a different hog, a large, reddish boar, feeding in the opposite direction and set after him.

By the way, I don’t have any pictures of this. Having a website and all, I know I should take more pictures. But I grew up fishing, and when you are on a good bite, you shouldn’t slow things down with photos. Get while the getting's good. Kinda the same philosophy here. By this time, we only had a little bit of daylight left and plenty more land to explore. I guess I could have taken pictures at the cleaning shed, but it’s Sunday, we all have to be at work in the morning. It’s time to get these things cleaned and in the cooler. Plus, I’m not a fan of back-of-the-truck pictures.

Anyway, we reached the cabbage palm and I deployed the Harris bipod on my Savage 110 .300 Win Mag. while the other guys found rests on fence posts. I’d take the farthest hog, a young sow that was, oh, let’s call it 160 yards away.

There was some confusion in our assignments. Krunk was supposed to shoot the closest hog that stood in the field, and Cole had the unenviable task of catching a bead on one that milled around in the dog fennels. At the count of three, my hog dropped as the other hogs wheeled back into cover. Krunk, through all the whispers and excitement, fired at my target. Barney’s hog took off at the report of our shots and got away despite a couple attempts on his life.

It’s entirely possible Krunk drilled the hog instead of me. My CSI kit was left at home, but I did have to clean it, so I guess I’ll claim it. We split the pork between us; it’s all teamwork anyhow.

Looking forward to the cubed ham steaks I’m getting off that 80 pound meat hog. Gonna try pan-frying it. I promise I’ll take pictures of that!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

To Johnny Weir or Whatever

OK, one more post and I'm really done for the week. A strange ally against PETA, for sure.

Johnny Weir 'Loves Wearing Dead Animals,' Calls Animal Rights Activists 'Crazy Fur People'

I have nothing more to add...

Saying Thanks and Shout-Outs

Have a large weekend planned. Saturday I will be participating in a charity clay shoot. Not a great wingshot, but it's certainly fun. Then on Sunday I'm heading down to Sarasota County for an afternoon hog hunt. Thank the Lord!

Before I take off for the weekend, I want to recognize a few websites that have helped me out this week in getting my hunting blog spread around. It is much appreciated.

First I'd like to thank Marialice Quinn at Central Florida Online. She was an editor when I wrote my old PolkVoice blog and sought me out when she got involved with CFO. Always supportive, I can't thank her enough for her help, and I encourage you to visit her site.

Next, I would like to mention two nice ladies who maintain excellent hunting sites and have offered words of encouragement for mine. Marian Love Phillips at Marian's Hunting Stories, etc., etc., etc. authored a very nice post endorsing TWL a couple days ago. Please visit her page - it's big on deer and big on big deer! And plenty more.

Then there's I Don't Wear Pink Camo to the Woods by Kari Murray. You just should check this one out. There's all kinds of cool stuff going on here! She knows hunting.

Finally, in the spirit of my forthcoming hog hunt, let me pimp The Hog Blog by Phillip Loughlin. If you have the swine flu, this is the place for you.

Thanks again to everyone for their support.

2010 Florida Spring Turkey Hunting Primer

With Florida’s Spring Turkey Season resuming March 6th in the South Zone, here’s a list of somewhat random things you should know before the 2010 campaign kicks off.

- Remember, Florida is home to two subspecies of turkey, the Osceola and Eastern. Regardless of what an entrepreneurial outfitter may have sold you, the Osceola resides only in the peninsular section of the state. If you’re coming to Florida to hunt the Osceola, make sure you haven’t booked a trip in the Panhandle.

- Here’s FWC’s list of walk-on WMA’s for those without a quota permit.

- Correctly, a third and fourth subspecies of turkey lives in Florida. The third typically inhabits WMA’s and is particularly dangerous. They can be lured in with a number of calls, a gobble being most effective, and are extremely hazardous to jake decoys in particular. If you suspect this beast roams your woods, take great care in setting up your spread in the morning. The Fourth breed of wild turkey comes in liquid form, and is, more often than not, directly responsible for the actions of the above-mentioned subspecies.

- I guess you should know the legal mumbo-jumbo. The daily bag limit for bearded turkeys is one, while the season limit is two, almost guaranteeing someone will break the law when, after days of fruitless pursuit, a pair of satellite gobblers comes wandering in. Hunting license is $17 for residents, $46.50 for nonresident 10-day license; Management area permit is $26.50 and needed for all WMA’s; and the turkey tag is $5 for residents, $100 for nonresidents.

- Popping a bearded hen is in the Top-Five of my hunting goals. And she’s going straight to the taxidermist when it happens. What a neat trophy, I think.

- You may not use dogs to hunt turkeys, hunt within 100 yards of a feeder, or shoot them from the roost. Why us hunters are held to strict standards is beyond me; it’s not like the toms play by the rules. They should be required to consistently gobble at call, never walk up behind you, and never follow hens to a feeder.

- I hunt with a Mossberg 835 3 ½ Magnum, stoked with Winchester Supreme #5’s. Those who’ve hunted with me on a regular basis know I’ve done some wicked things with this set-up, but I won’t repeat it here for fear of scaring the children. We’ll just say at forty-five yards it’s lethal, and beyond that it’s pretty deadly too. Still, the focus of turkey hunting should be getting the birds in as close as you can. The fact they manufacture shotguns that’ll poke across a cow pasture doesn’t mean it’s a great idea.

- Usually, I prefer to stay put when I hunt, but there are times to go mobile. Two things will make your day so much easier. One, a shotgun with a short barrel, 20-22 inches. You never know how helpful this can be until you go crawling through Florida tangle trying to circle a field bird or what have you. Two, a vest with a seat built in. Yes, they sell stools and chairs, but a vest where you can pull a strap and sit comfortably against the palmettos without toting extra junk is the cat’s meow. Go. Spend money. Help the economy. And your hunt.

- Take a hog with you when you go. Spring gobbler season in Florida is an opportune time to do a combo hunt either during the middle of the day when the birds have shut up and are back in the woods, or after you’ve tagged out. The hogs love the new growth grasses and vegetation of spring, and can be a downright nuisance some mornings. Plan accordingly. (Check with individual WMA regs!)

- Florida is one of the few states where it’s legal to harvest toms with centerfire rifles on private land. But man, if you want to raise the hackles of the faithful, show up to camp with an AR-15 for purposes outside of swine. Ethically, I see nothing wrong. People shoot deer standing in the middle of fields with rifles all the times. What is different with turkeys? As a sporting concept though, especially to those of us who plant decoys and roost birds, it’s akin to fishing with dynamite.

- Decoys, as you may have already picked up, are legal in Florida. One question I can’t completely solve is the jake decoy. I’ve had gobblers charge it, ready to whoop some butt, and other birds high-tail it the other direction on seeing the young foam stud hanging with his blowup dolls. I always carry one, but tend to regard it as a secret weapon anymore.

- Necessary items you should have in your turkey vest: decoys; one slate call, two strikers; one box call; one push peg; a Tom Gaskins call for practical and spiritual purposes; a pair of clippers; toilet paper and Therma-Cell refills. Anything else is extraneous unless you are backpacking into the Green Swamp for a month.

Good luck to you this spring. Gobble, gobble!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TWL Classics - Into the Wild

Two years ago I started my volunteer outdoor writing service through a local newspaper's public blogging site. Unfortunately, through powers beyond my control, my archives from that source are gone and lost forever. Luckily, I saved rough drafts of this work on my computer, and once or twice a week I'll re-introduce a past column back into the wild of the World Wide Web. Enjoy!

Originally Published May 2008

About a month ago, I watched Into the Wild. It’s the story of a young man, Christopher McCandless – well-played by Emile Hirsch – who graduates from Emory University, donates all his money to charity and ditches the life and family he’d known to explore the country. His wanderings lead him into the Alaskan wilderness where he resides in an abandoned bus until his death (no spoiler alert here – you figure it out fast). Based on a true story, the movie tells the tale of a man disturbed by the cruelty and novelty of mankind and drawn by the romance and freedom of the outdoors, with little thought about its own unique cruelty.

Simply as a movie, Director Sean Penn does a fine job moving through the tale in spite of the overabundance of cinematography where the character stands on the edge of a mountain wide-armed as the camera circles around him. Magnificent footage, but we get it - he feels free. Seemed every five minutes had a scene like this. And even though we know McCandless is doomed, the film captures hope and exploration. Pearl Jam’s legendary Eddie Vedder scores a soundtrack that’d be perfect for a lonely road trip. The acting is superb from Hirsch to Hal Holbrook and Vince Vaughn, and the under-appreciated Catherine Keener. Vaughn brings his usual flair and attitude, while Holbrook’s scenes, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, are enough to threaten the toughest man with tears.

As a hunter I like to examine how the sport is portrayed in a movie. With Jeremiah Johnson representing a “10” and the quail hunting scene in Wedding Crashers being a “0”, we’ll give this movie a 7 for no other reason than it always seemed like he’d be shooting through a tangle of bushes and twigs. In one scene, he kills a moose but is unable to salvage the meat before the blowflies ruin it. There's a fair amount of despair as a result. The whole scene underscores this young man's failure to understand the laws of nature before they took hold of him.

As the story is told, coming from an abusive upper-middle class family, McCandless distrusted other people and the material gifts offered in lieu of love. Throughout his pilgrimage, those he met fell for his intelligence and spirit, but he’s never capable of fully reciprocating, crippled by his own upbringing and hell-bent on discovering himself or some paradise existing outside human bonds.

The real tragedy is he learns the fallacy of this thinking too late. Near the end, alone in his bus as he realizes his destiny, McCandless scratches out a final reflection in his journal.

“Happiness only real when shared."

I’ve pondered this movie a great deal - about how I don’t understand the kid’s motives and inability to let someone care for you. I grew up in a supporting family and probably take that for granted. I’m a social butterfly of the worst kind, and although I’m the outdoors type and threaten to wander into the wilderness forever after a bad day with work or Central Florida traffic, the fact is I’m not going anywhere too far from family, friends and a cold beer.

His final thought, though, is what I’ve dwelled upon the most. I do appreciate the feeling of getting away from it all. I enjoy the solitary nature of the deer stand as a time to decompress with only personal thoughts. Even still, my most memorable hunts are those in which others participated. Calling in a turkey with another hunter as the trigger-man will always excite me more than shooting a gobbler solo. Duck blinds are the outdoors equivalent of a fraternity house. And how about stalking a herd of pigs with a couple other guns flanking you, sneaking into range and shooting on the count of three?

One can’t forget camp. The fire. The good-natured teasing. If I hadn’t grown up in this atmosphere I promise I would not be as big into hunting as I am today. This past year I spent a few lonely days in Georgia. No one to talk to. No sports. The deer weren’t moving. By the end of Day 3, I was tempted to take an empty bourbon bottle, write a help note to pop inside and chunk it out into the cut cotton field in hopes it’d drift to someone who wouldn’t mind saving me by dropping in to swap a few stories. That’s how badly my mind disintegrates when left to my own devices. I won’t do it again.

That’s just me. Plenty of hunters in the heartland have no trouble going it alone. Good for them. Each person should derive their own pleasure from what they do. I kind of admire McCandless for being able to retreat into oblivion, although I simply reject the notion of cutting all ties with family. I can’t call his experience courageous or foolhardy – just his decisions, I suppose.

Me? I’m retreating to Homosassa this weekend with close friends. I’m hoping to take some redfish out of the wild and into the cooler.

Burgundy Venison Backstrap Chops

Some people claim venison should NEVER be marinated. If you cook it right, they say, it won’t taste gamey and come out tender without the additional accoutrements and fancy flavors. Ironically, these same people also tend to dump their venison in a pressure cooker with carrots and onions and beef stock and cook for hours on end until the meat, in vainglory defeat, is forced to give up its remaining flavor to the stew base and disintegrate.

This is usually followed by a, “Betcha never had venison THAT tender - cuts with a fork. Most people can’t tell the difference between my deer and beef.” Essentially, they’ve gone the long way in accomplishing the very same thing one can produce with a bottle from your grocer’s aisles.

Whatever. I like a good stew as much as the next person; I like to grill more, though. And I like to switch up some flavors in my life. I unapologetically marinate a lot of my venison, the premium cuts, too.

I won’t run down the list of all the marinades I’ve used simply because I’ll need to write another post one day about this and will want fresh material. So for today’s lesson, we’ll be working with Dr. Pete’s Burgundy Wine Marinade.

I discovered Dr. Pete’s in a little sporting goods store in Estill, SC a couple years back while on a turkey hunt. There was a decent selection of sauces available, but I’ve long wanted a respectable wine-based marinade of some variety. I’ve tried to make my own, but they always come out kinda bitter. Leave it to the Doctor, I say.

Now my prep work is the same as I do with most venison cuts: defrost, slice into steaks, hit with a tenderizer mallet, and soak in icy water for 30-45 minutes. This last step sucks a lot of the blood and any gamey taste out of the meat (does the same for fish). Then I place the steaks in the marinade and soak for six or more hours.

With grilled venison I like to cook hot and fast. This sears the meat and holds in the flavor. Get your grill up around 400 degrees and cook 1 ½ - 2 minutes a side for medium rare. I use some of the reserve from the bottle to toss with white rice. Dr. Pete’s also blends well with beef. It’s delightful.

Really, this is one of those sauces that enhances the natural flavor of venison. I think even the pickiest vension cook would enjoy it. Come to think of it, Dr. Pete's would be a fine base for a crockpot meal, if that's your cup of tea. Or soup.

Click here for more information on Dr. Pete’s.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Guest Post - Turkey Hunting Safety

Thanks to Treerooster at the NWTF Forum for permitting me to re-publish this post. Just a savage reminder to pay attention in the woods.

(Original Thread Here)

Some will be hitting the woods in a few weeks, and I thought it's time for a safety reminder.

I think this is my 4th year posting this, and I am sure a lot of you have seen this before. But there are new hunters going out on their first season and always new board members.


In the spring of 2005, I had just finished a turkey hunt in Colorado with my friend, James, a couple days earlier. James headed to Kansas for another hunt, and I was on the road to Black Hills of South Dakota. As I drove near a cellphone tower my phone beeped. It was a message from my wife. In an emotional and broken voice she said, “Gary call me, Fred shot James.”

Below are his X-rays

James was hit with a Remington #5 Hevi-shot from approximately 40yds (shooter's estimate). He was just getting up from a calling position and was in full camo, including face mask and gloves. He had at least 139 hits. One was within millimeters of an artery to the brain. One or two passed through his lung. Two are, to this day, lodged in his heart.

Let me get up on the soap box for a minute:

My job as a tree climber has some inherent dangers in it, and when I first started learning to climb trees my boss said, "Gary, there are 2 times when you will be a danger to yourself. When you are afraid, and when you think you can't get hurt." I think the 2nd situation applies to us turkey hunters. If you think you can't get shot, for whatever reason, you are a danger to yourself. If you think you could never shoot someone, you are a danger to others. James was shot by his BIL that had over 40 years experience hunting, and he was shot on private land.

Just like driving we can hunt defensively.

Always assume someone else could be in the woods with you, even if no one is supposed to be there.

Set up your decoy so if someone were to shoot it, the shot would not hit you. Use folds in the terrain, a tree as a block, or plenty of open ground behind the decoy.

Think about hunter orange (hat or flagging tape). Maybe while carrying your bird out, or possibly even a flag at your set-up. You don’t have to use it but at least asess the situation.

Be safe guys. Hunt defensively and be sure of your target.

Thanks for listening.

BTW James has recovered and continues to hunt turkeys.

YouTube Video of the Week - Three Legged Bear

I'm feeling pretty good today. On that feather, here's more of an inspirational video for you this week.

At first, I thought this might be a set-up for a Jack Link's Beef Jerky commercial featuring Big Foot.

Aren't the subtitles written in the same language as you see in al-Qaeda videos?

Anyway, it's a neat clip. Thanks to my man Stump for e-mailing me this.

Monday, February 15, 2010


There are some outdoor forums where the resident experts, holier-than-thou’s and other piranhas would rather rip throats than engage in civil discourse. I bet the moderators of these sites are heavy drinkers.

“Oh God, what is StandStud300WinMag going to say today that could cause me to lose my job?”

Sometimes it’s fun to stop by - more as a virtual train-wreck than anything else – to watch some neophyte have his colon clawed at for inquiring about hunting turkey with rifles or feeding deer with corn or agreeing with anything the local game department does. My guess is if you’ve spent any time at all on some of these sites, you know what I’m talking about.

I like to go the opposite direction if I’m going to attach my signature line to a thread. I would like some polite advice and return the favor when asked. I like a joke or two and an easy-going atmosphere.

This is why I actively participate at BackcountrySportsmen.com (BCS). I’ve been a member for a while now, and I truly enjoy the company in these parts. There’s a wealth of information whether one wants to fish or hunt, cook or camp, or just BS for a while.

The Administrator, Mike AKA EbbTide, runs a good show. The folks here are knowledgeable, friendly people. The Photography section is top-shelf, and there’s a myriad of interests represented. It's just a fun place to hang out for a while.

So surf on over to BCS and sign up, join the conversations and enjoy!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Busted! Turkey Tales of Woe

If you hunt gobblers long enough, you will get busted. A sure thing becomes a bad memory. I promise there is not a turkey hunter worth his salt who has not screwed up royally over the years – and never trust one who says otherwise.

I’ll never claim perfection. I’ve ruined enough hunts with bad decisions to even make such a remark, but at least I’ve come away with a lesson learned. Here are my Top 3 Gobbler Goofs (I could run this into the double digits, but would like spare myself some embarrassment).

3. Mr. Patience

I’d set up on the edge of a Florida oak hammock near a roost and dry wet-weather pond where I figured the birds would fly down. Morning came and not even a cluck. It was the first time I’d hunted this spot, but had plenty of reason to believe there was a gobbler in the area – I’d seen him on an earlier trip. Still, it was late in a warm season and gobbling activity had slackened, so I should have expected a quiet morning.

Impatience grabbed me early, though. I figured I could slip out to a cow pasture on the other side of the swamp and find a tom strutting.

I walked out to retrieve my decoys. As I returned to my oak-root seat to grab the rest of my gear, the gobbler was standing behind where I had been sitting, no doubt watching me get the dekes and shaking his head at this fool in the woods before high-tailing it, as only a gobbler can. But give it credit; the bird had more patience with me than I had for him.

Lesson Learned – It pays to have some faith in your set-up, especially late in the spring. Boss toms have an annoying habit of sneaking in quiet anyhow, but after the pressure of the season builds, they can go completely lockjaw. If you’ve done your scouting, located a bird and can exhibit just a bit more measure of self-control than you think you are capable of, you’ll probably get your tom, although it may not be the Made-For-TV moment of strutting and gobbling you expected.

2. Getting All Up In His Grill

If you’d watched gobblers constantly walk to this one tree to feed and strut, it’d make sense to sit under said tree to nail one, right?

One would think. I did such a thing. A huge oak sat in the middle of a 40 yard break between palmettos and a swamp bottom. Over the course of a couple mornings, we watched several toms strut right up to this tree and chase hens around before petering out into the cow pastures. I’d tried intercepting them on their way from the roost and on their way to the pastures with no luck. For some reason they keyed on this tree. They cared nothing about calls or decoys, and my set-ups were always just-too-far away from my kill zone.

Well, we’ll just solve that problem! One morning, a friend and I plopped down under the tree, deployed the decoys and waited. Sure enough, soon after the first crow caw a gobbler lit up, answering my calls and everything else – I could have thrown my box call against the tree and he would have gobbled.

He hit the ground gobbling and made his way to the tree. For some reason though, he held up.

Finally, I glimpsed back to see his head poking out of the myrtles, kinda like in Jurassic Park when the velociraptor kills the game warden – he was suddenly too close for comfort and knew something was up. He slowly backed up and gobbled his way to the swamp, out of view. I tried to re-position several times, but he was having none of it.

Lesson Learned – The tom knew trouble immediately. One, we were too close to where he roosted. He probably - I use “probably” since I don’t have a great grasp on any turkey’s deep thoughts and feelings - watched up set up, get adjusted, etc. Two, he and the other birds in the area had probably been following the same ritual every morning for a month. He may have been a talkative bird, but not a stupid one. To him, something’s wrong when he heard hens clucking at the base of the tree at first light. Three, me flipping my head around surely sealed the deal. He played cautious anyhow, circling us, but that movement no doubt iced the cake.

In hindsight, I could have set up on some trees by the palmettos within in shotgun range and been fine, but I wanted him to land in my lap. That mentality ignited every red flare in that bird’s consciousness. I guess the big lesson here is not to interfere with their habits. Stay just on the edge and out of their microscope.

1. The Big One

This incident still hurts, and it’s been 6 or 7 years by now. I’d set up in an oak hammock humbly named, “Ian’s Island.” A shallow creek separated it from the larger hammock, and I’d convinced myself it was the Promised Land.

Well, my dad hunted the big hammock, and I went to mine. After a quick sprinkle that refreshed the morning, a gobbler sounded off. Really, it bellowed – shook the raindrops off the leaves. Dad and I were at least 200 yards apart with the gobbler perched in the middle.

As luck would have it, the bird came my way, approaching from behind – seems all these stories sound the same – but separated from my ambush by the creek.

Now, we’ve all heard gobblers won’t cross fences, creeks, etc. The tom hadn’t read that. I had him gobbling and on a rope, but convinced myself he’d never cross that creek. Since I thought him to be the dominant male in the area, I pulled out my box call to gobble at him, hoping in desperation to challenge him across the water.

As it turned out, there was no need for this. I went to strike a gobble at him just as he showed up off my right shoulder. He was a big boy. And when he saw me hit the paddle and a half-gobble, half-car wreck noise wobbled out of the box, he hit the brakes and reversed course.

I tried to scoot over to get a desperation shot, but my vest has one of those fold-down seats that prevented me from standing or moving quickly. He ran straight through that creek and put it in the wind.

I shook my head all the way to the truck right up until now as I painfully recall this.

Lesson Learned – If a bird is coming to you, let him come. Don’t get too fancy. They won’t cross creeks? At least give him a chance to try. I’ve killed multiple birds that ducked under barbed wire which allegedly they won’t do either.

I swear the mortality rate of gobblers would be infinitely higher if hunters didn’t screw around so much. Call only as much needed to grab and hold his attention – if even that. I can almost guarantee a push-button call and 15 minutes worth of patience has laid more toms low than hurry and some “Screaming Eagle” metallic, marketing scheme of a call has.

Look, you will probably mess up one day. It happens. These birds are sharp which makes hunting them such an exciting challenge. Just try and avoid making them look any smarter than they already are!

TWL Classics - The Spot and Stalk Gobbler

Two years ago I started my volunteer outdoor writing service through a local newspaper's public blogging site. Unfortunately, through powers beyond my control, my archives from that source are gone and lost forever. Luckily, I saved rough drafts of my work on my computer, and once or twice a week I'll re-introduce a past column back into the wild of the World Wide Web. Enjoy!

Originally Published April 2008

To some, turkey hunting is a religious experience. Hunters develop a deep belief in the suitable manner of harvesting a tom - usually calling them into close range to dispatch with shotgun or bow. Reminds me of a line from A River Runs Through It - no one should be allowed to catch a fish unless they know how to fish. Or something like that.

Turkey hunters, like the fly fishermen in the movie, adopt that mentality as they gain experience. They then tend to get railroaded into the “proper method” for harvesting a tom. In a given camp, hunters preach and debate about the use of decoys, how old a bird must be to harvest it, which calls are the best – the list goes on, trust me, but each argument is assuredly spoken with hallowed conviction from the lips of the faithful.

Most would agree, a turkey hunt hits its climax as a gobbler struts into your attempts at calling. At that point, you’ve fooled Nature. You controlled – to a certain extent – the actions of a wild creature. It’s a unique experience that one never forgets, and to some, anything less is unworthy of the tom or the hunt.

I hear it all the time: “I won’t shoot a bird unless it struts and drums in the decoys, less than 15 steps, has gobbled at least a dozen times and paid due homage to my calling expertise.”

OK, I’m exaggerating a tad. I pride myself on the birds I’ve taken over the years that went something like what’s scripted above, but hunts rarely go as planned, and I’m not one to let opportunity pass me by.

The second bird I shot last weekend came against the Rules of Engagement generally agreed upon. We spotted and stalked him. Never an easy prospect made more difficult by his cohort of always-alert hens, another gobbler and some spooky cows, just for good measure. Lot’s of eyes and ears. I know several hunters who’d preferred trying to set up a decoy spread and call, or roost him later in the day for a chance the next morning. They’d never hop out of a truck and start some foolish quest of sneaking up on a bird with just about the sharpest set of senses in the woods.

The cool, clear early Friday morning arrived in sharp contrast to the wind and rain of Thursday. Nick dropped me off with instructions to sit on a distant treeline bordering a sod field. I had the whole north side of the ranch to myself, so if I heard any gobbles I could re-position, if necessary.

At 6:50, the first gobble – a deep, rolling call – echoed through the pines behind me. I waited until the second or third time he gobbled to post any response. He immediately replied to my slate, so I thought I was in business.

My failure in knowing the lay of the land would be my undoing. As the morning progressed, he’d respond to my yelps and purrs, but steadily moved away. I knew then he was probably henned up.

I picked up one hen decoy and rushed to circle around on him, thinking I was backed by woods, not a gigantic cow pasture. As I crossed a slough, the field came into view and the depressing realization that the bird was in the wide open hit me. I dropped down into a ditch and called, trying to get a bead on his location. He responded on the far edge of the field, now with another gobbler. Time to hatch a plan.

Using cow trails, I could stay out of sight and quietly run the border of a small pine island until I reached a point where the field sloped down to a point and re-deploy the dekes. Odd were they'd work that way before retreating into the cypress for the day. Worth a try, at any rate.

As I neared where I thought I wanted to be, a crusty hen call emanated from in front of me. It reminded me of a kid playing with a box call at Bass Pro or something. My immediate reaction was that I’d busted in on someone else’s hunt, and the call was the Unknown Hunter letting me know his position without spooking the birds.

Startled, I hauled rear back to my original set-up, angry and convinced I’d ruined someone’s morning. The excuse-making began silently as I stewed. I'd just met a lot of these guys. Would I ever be invited back? Certainly, there would be repercussions for a transgression such as this. I’d admonish another hunter who’d done something like that to me, for sure.

A text message to Nick explained my situation with instruction to retrieve me when ready. After he arrived, we collected my decoys, and he assured me no one was hunting there but me. It must have been a real hen call. So now I’d shifted from angry to feeling stupid. That pathetic wheezing hen threw a curve, and I bit badly.

Nick had no luck, but reported that he’d just passed a big gobbler in a field by a ranch road without spooking him – my bird it turns out, as I relayed my story of the morning. And sure enough, as we headed back to camp, he stood strutting with the other gobbler and his hens. They'd done what I thought they'd do, just too bad I was in the front seat of a Silverado and not posted on a pine.

Originally, I wanted to let them be and hunt him again in the morning, but there he stood for the taking. The worst that could happen is he’d spook. In most situations, I’d rather be aggressive and risk scaring him than not take a chance and wonder what could have been. Besides, on this huge place, toms were everywhere. If this one ran off we could find another no sweat.

On top of this, Nick’s brother, Trace, had come down from Gainesville the night before and needed to take a crack at one of the toms. That sealed our decision. We drove a couple hundred yards beyond the feeding birds to a cypress head we could use for cover. If we could stalk to the inside edge of this head without being seen, the birds would be in shotgun range.

We shed binoculars, loaded the shotguns and proceeded into the banana spider woods following cow trails, stepping deliberately to avoid cracking branches and underbrush. No calls, no noise, just sneak through the woods and whack one. Simple.

We picked through the shadows of the trees, until the bright sun shining in the field filtered back into view. And then, a gobbler fed into plain sight. When he’d turn, we’d creep inches closer, freezing if any bird or bovine suspected problems.

As it turned out, the cows proved the biggest challenge. We’d snuck well into range of the one bird and now had all the hens and the dominant gobbler – in full strut and drumming at his lady friend – in sight. But the cattle; can’t shoot the cattle, and they stood behind all targets of opportunity. Also, we had a chance at a double and needed to wait for both the cows to vacate and the toms to line up so each of us would have a clear shot.

The satellite gobbler would wander about, but the bigger bird stayed in strut, turning his attention only to the hen feeding beside him. After what seemed like an eternity, all the stars aligned - the cows moved, and the gobblers came in range. Trace had the drop on the bigger bird. I’d take the satellite.

On the count of three we shot, and I rolled my bird as Trace’s whirled at the blasts and flew off unharmed with his hens. In all fairness, Trace didn’t have a great window to shoot through - that didn’t stop the ridicule for the next couple days, however.

In all, the hunters in camp took 5 gobblers Friday morning. All had ropes for beards, weighed around 20 pounds with decent to excellent spurs. The other 4 birds came strutting into calls in the traditional manner of the sport.

Not many people get a chance to successfully stalk a gobbler. It’s a low success affair. Everything went perfect for us, other than the missed shot. The gobblers just happened to be close to some cover that we could stalk through without making a bunch of noise. They didn’t spook as trucks drove by. The dark shadows of the cypress where we crept and waited hindered the birds’ ability to see clearly as they fed in the bright sunlight; an overcast day and we’d been busted for sure.

Either of them could’ve easily been shot with rifles, legal in Florida, but ranch rules prohibit it, and I doubt I would have anyhow. By my tolerant nature, I have no qualms with others doing it, but the Turkey Hunting Gospel According Ian says it was not the fair thing to do in this situation. Not proper.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

To the Lions or Whatever

Ahh, government in action! Kenya is racing to save their lions/tourist attractions from starvation due to a severe drought. Their plan of attack? More zebra!

Remember last week's post about introducing wolves into our National Parks as a solution to deer and elk overpopulation? Let's just bring the lions here. We'll knock out a couple problems at once! That oughta get some ranchers excited.

Anyway, here's the article. Thanks once again, AOL News - Kenya Rounds Up Zebras to Feed Starving Lions

Naturally, I have a few things to say about this.

If you add zebras to the park, won't they too die from the drought? How are they going to establish a breeding population? You might as well start tossing the lions steaks straight from the tourist lorry.

Notice, too, in both situations - National Parks and Kenya - we are dealing with areas that do not allow hunting.

BTW, for an animal that size, 2,000 - 3,000 lions sounds like alot. Probably wouldn't hurt matters to have their herds thinned out a touch.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Your Lease Options

Six years ago, responding to an ad in the Lakeland Ledger, I hit pay-dirt. Hunt club in SW Georgia needed new members. 2500 acres, lots of deer and turkey. I called the guys, asked a few questions and sent them the money, sight unseen. I got extremely lucky.

The hunt club folded the next year as the timber property that owned the land sold it. But, some of the guys I met proved to be excellent hunters, and better, easy people to get along with. They invited me onto another lease that I hunted another four seasons, collecting my best two bucks and a smattering of other game. Better still, I learned a ton about deer hunting from these guys.

Year 3 was tough, though. A couple of the originals moved on, and we needed some warm bodies in order to afford the lease. The newbies were nice enough, but there were some serious personality conflicts, to say nothing of a gap in hunting experience and methods.

Case in point, Georgia law says you can run corn feeders on your property, but must hunt 200 yards away and without a view of the feeder. Of course, we did use corn to attract deer to the lease. These guys did not want feeders at all, in the off chance they might happen to wander within 200 yards of corn at the same time a game officer would be in the area – the odds of this occurring was miniscule, especially when the gates were locked and one lawman was spread throughout four counties. They were rock-steady in their objections, and one meeting with them turned hostile. We eventually conceded – well, some of us did – and went about the season.

That wasn’t the only issue that tested my patience. All of us who had hunted this land used tree stands, placed them early in the season, and they didn’t move until January. The deer in these parts were extremely spooky and the less movement and human interference, the better. The new guys came and placed their stands in the middle of the rut and moved them constantly. When they failed to see deer from the stand, they wandered throughout the property. The results were predictable. A couple of them shot yearling does and jumped deer and hogs without getting a shot. As a result, by early December the lease was a ghost town.

By season’s end, I was frustrated and angry. The Others moved along to a different lease and that was that. Again, they weren’t horrible people; it’s just important to see eye to eye, or at least compromise, with others when you invest in a lease.

Lease and hunt club memberships should become available in the coming months. Here are a few tips to help you if you decide to fork out the cash.

1. Game Selection – My biggest irritation with the lease in Georgia was not being allowed to hunt turkey, which was very disappointing. I stayed on the lease because I enjoyed the company of the other hunters in camp, plus there was a legitimate chance of a Boone & Crockett buck walking out any minute. Also, I had a great wood duck hole that I hunted close to the end of season, and if I felt spunky enough, I could hunt coyote year-round. Turkey notwithstanding, the hunting opportunity return on my dollar was pretty high. If all you care about is deer, fine. But if you like some variety, ask fellow lease-members if they do any other kinds of hunting on the property, and whether it would be a problem if you did.

2. Doe Management – Seemingly everyone is moving towards some version of Quality Deer Management (QDM), and doe harvest is a key component of this practice. Georgia allows a hunter to take 10 does a year, which would’ve been excessive on our property. My first year in the club, we tried to establish a reasonable limit per person on does, with weight requirements and fines for shooting button bucks. No one was happy. I wanted a higher limit – which in hindsight was dumb because I only took one anyhow. One guy popped a button buck and balked at having to pay a fine because it was almost dark, and everyone’s made this mistake before, excuse, excuse. Think about this when you sign up; you’re more likely to have a chance at capping a few does than a huge buck anyhow.

3. Antler Restrictions – Speaking of QDM, this could be the biggest sticking point with lease and club members. The whole point of our original club was to let young deer walk, and I let a couple really nice bucks slip on by - ones that’d been deader than fried chicken in Florida - to achieve this goal. But that’s what I wanted. One guy in camp shot a young 8 with a spread that was close to, but not quite, the 15-inch minimum, or whatever we had established. He hadn’t shot many deer, and I didn’t want to take away his joy by imposing a fine, but those were the rules; let one person break them and it’s all over. If you decide to join a lease these days, you better know for certain whether or not you can live under such guidelines. I fully realize it’s hard to plop down cold hard-earned cash, hunt days on end without seeing anything only to let a nice deer that is so close to meeting the qualifications just walk away. Trust me, I do.

4. Food Plots – I didn’t start deer hunting to become a farmer. I personally don’t deal much with food plots. Don’t plan on it. Some guys on our lease did. Some enjoy planting community plots, and I don’t mind pitching in a few dollars for this. I know some properties require members to visit the land during the summer to work on brush clearing, planting food plots, and other such chores. Personally, I’m not spending any more on gas than I must for trips to till the land. I know adding food plots provides the deer with supplemental nutrition, contributes to antler growth, and makes for an easy stand location, but financially, my choices have always boiled down to either spending the money raising peas or spending the money to hunt without them. Easy for me.

5. Other Hunters – As I opened with, I got extremely lucky just tossing money at someone I’d never met, to hunt land I’d never seen. But, I didn’t do it completely stupid. I spoke with a couple different members of the club, asked about the land and game and expectations. This painted a fairly clear picture of who I’d be dealing with. None the less, it had the potential to be the worst blind date of all time. (As it turned out, I was the rube - a majority of the people very experienced hunters.) Still, it’s tough to judge personalities over the phone, and in that original group of fifteen, a couple guys rubbed others wrong. I’m easygoing to a fault at times and get along with most everyone. But in a hunting camp, you often have the issue of “I’ve spent my money, I can do what I want,” or “you’re hunting too close to me or walking around too much,” and just other alpha male nonsense that ruins the levity. Running with the wrong crowd will kill your season in a hurry. My advice is, get to know the other hunters in advance of paying the money – this is probably more important than seeing the land.

My experience with leases and clubs has been roundly successful. Due to financial concerns, I’ve been off that Georgia property for over year, though I missed it like the dickens this past fall. I got everything out of it I could’ve possibly wanted: big deer, new friends, and an escape in the fall. Sleep is hard when I think of it.

If you decide to join a lease or hunt club this spring or summer, make sure you do your due diligence - I got lucky this once. Not banking on that happening again

Wily Coyotes. Or, *&#$! Coyotes.

I am a master of all things hunting. Wait, let me qualify that. I am a master of all things hunting when compared to my coyote hunting “skills.” I have shot coyotes. I have called in coyotes. To date, I have not called in and shot a coyote.

This has been a nigh on 14-year quest. I bought a Lohman Circe rabbit-in-distress call when I was 16. It’s occupied every day pack, fanny pack and backpack since then, collecting lint, but nary a coyote pelt. It’s been wailed on from North Carolina to Colorado to South Florida and has done an excellent job pulling in fox, bobcat, crows, hawks, cows, deer, and one wild boar, yet only one coyote in South Carolina that circled through the brush and winded me.

I remember clear as day the first coyote I saw in Florida. Back in ’94 we were driving into a piece of private property early one morning to deer hunt in Manatee County when this big ol’ dog ran into the headlights. Today – and I’m not encouraging or endorsing this in anyway, kids – he probably would’ve have died in a hail of gunfire from either of the two in the front seat, but we were slack-jawed at the time. The yote just trotted in front of the Bronco, looking back to tease once in a while, then finally off into the imagination. Since then, the coyote has been a creature of mystique for me – of course, one smelly mutt I popped in Cedar Key about ended that.

A couple years ago I purchased a Johnny Walker digital call. Wait, that’s not right. Johnny Stewart digital call! Johnny Walker is what I drink to console myself after the hunt. Silly me. Out of sheer desperation, I also acquired a Mojo predator decoy that flips this cotton thing around in an attempt to distract incoming predators. Let me tell you something. Listening to that caller for more than 10 minutes will cause dementia and horrible, ghastly thoughts. It’s deranged, especially the fawn bleat that’ll almost make you want to join PETA. And watching the cotton ball device – while I believe the theory is sound – just reminds me how much I love to blow money.

This last weekend at Upper Hillsborough WMA, I put these last two toys to the test. My coyote calling-and-killing chastity remains sacred.

The dog came in from the right out of a sea of palmettos. Of course, this was off my wrong shoulder as I faced downwind overlooking a fire trail. I turned my head ever so slightly, and that was it. He spun back around and into that rattlesnake-infested oblivion. Stupid!

I hate to admit this, but aside from blasting the occasional one from a tree stand, that story pretty well illustrates my hunting experiences with coyotes. If I can beg a pardon from the Turkey Hunting Cult, I believe a gobbler is much more forgiving to movement than a coyote - a deer especially is. You know that old saying that if a turkey could smell you’d never see one? Well, guess what? You’ve just described the Southern Coyote. The parallels between hunting the two are striking. Calling to an animal in thick brush where calls only travel so far. Each animal has fantastic eyesight and hearing, and the coyote has the extra advantage of a functioning, no, superior olfactory system.

My strategy was to face downwind to intercept the dogs as they circle the source of the noise. Dad would guard the upwind side. Both of us carried 12 gauge 3 ½ magnums stoked with heavy turkey loads. The shotguns were perfect for this brush work in a small clearing of trails between a cypress head and aforementioned palmetto flat.

I’d hit the rabbit squealer button, and the card would play for about a minute. Then silence for five to ten minutes before hitting it again. I’d do this three times and move along. Well, this coyote came at the end of the third sequence. I was covered head-to-toe in a Scent-Lok ghillie suit, and he still saw just the mere twist of my neck from 60 yards away.

Coyotes have been in Florida now for a few decades, but the hunting literature has not caught up with them yet. I enjoy watching guys air them out on TV in places like Montana, but it’s a different ballgame in the South. Stay mobile and try new things. That’s about the best advice I can give. There are plenty of them here, but they are wicked smart.

I’ve been reasonably successful in most manners of hunting in which I’ve endeavored over the last 17 years. I’m not going to give up, but the coyotes about have me beat.

If anyone has any advice to share, please do.

YouTube Video of the Week - Muskox vs. Wolves

I chose this clip due to the great responses to the To the Wolves or Whatever post of last week. That and I've discovered there's a disturbing lack of muskox on my hunting blog. Two birds, one stone.

Watching these arctic wolves bring down the muskox calf is startling. We've all seen plenty of crocodile attack videos where the victim simply disappears in the water amid bubbles and rolling mud.

Or the big cats of Africa - their assaults on a young impala or Tommy are downright civil compared with the wolves. The big dogs torment and harass and slowly gouge the muskox to death.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

TWL Classics - Tale of the Pygmy Osceola

Two years ago I started my volunteer outdoor writing service through a local newspaper's public blogging site. Unfortunately, through powers beyond my control, my archives from that source are gone and lost forever. Luckily, I saved rough drafts of my work on my computer, and once or twice a week I'll re-introduce a past column back into the wild of the World Wide Web. Enjoy!

Originally Published April 2008

My 2008 Florida spring gobbler season ended around 10:30 Friday morning with a 20lb tom sporting a 10 inch beard and needle sharp spurs. The morning before my buddy, Nick, coaxed in the first gobbler through the wind and rain and into my shotgun spread. It sounds selfish after putting two birds in the cooler, but I’m wishing Florida would up the bag limit for the season. Two doesn’t seem like enough.

Not that I am bloodthirsty for turkey, but now my season is over, way too soon for all the planning, preparation, and anticipation.

Turkey hunting is always anti-climatic for me. The fun is truly in the chase. I’m almost disappointed it ends in a shotgun blast – almost because I do love that breast meat. On this hunt I got the best of both worlds. One gobbler was called in, and the other one died by spot-and-stalk, a terribly difficult feat with these sharp-sensed birds.

I had been invited to hunt a friend’s ranch out around Polk City. Four days of probably the best turkey hunting I’ve been a part of – and I’ve been fortunate to experience some excellent land over the years. Each green field surrounded by pines and cypress heads looked perfect for busting a gobbler. And most of them were.

Still, we worked for our birds as is usually the case with FL turkey hunting. If you remember from my last blog, Luck wanted nothing to do with me Opening Weekend, as weird weather and circumstance crippled our chances. Pre-dawn Thursday, in the wind and rain of an advancing cold front, the weather looked to sucker punch me again.

Nick and I sat in his truck listening to Bubba the Love Sponge and catching up since our last hunting or fishing excursion, waiting for something to give. The rain to stop, maybe. Perhaps daylight and a realization our morning had ended before it began. At one point, we’d geared up to enter the woods when another blast of wind, rain and lightning sent us back in the truck.

Our plans evolved by the minute as light approached, and we settled on one idea. Instead of trying to lay a decoy spread and calling, we’d sneak into an orange grove to sit and listen for any birds gobbling off the roost. The problem was, with the inclement weather, neither of us placed much confidence on the birds actually calling. Or pitching out of the trees any time before noon.

Nonetheless, the next break in the rain we climbed out of the truck, hiked a few hundred yards, and settled under an orange tree. By now it was light-thirty, and the rain kept spitting from the sky. People say nothing ventured, nothing gained, but certainly I didn’t believe it at the time.

How wrong I can be. Around 7:45 we got a gift gobble. One tom off the roost, perched by a food plot, Nick said. That one gobble made the difference between turkey hunting and sitting in the rain like fools, to say nothing of shaking off my pessimism for the day.

Afraid of boogering the bird off the roost, we gave him another 30 minutes before making our move. Nick knew of a berm that ran to the food plot. We snuck to the edge of the field, spying the tom on the far fence line, walking back and forth. Nick scratched on his slate call, and the tom responded.

I wish he’d come running right in at that point, but without decoys, that wasn’t happening. Instead the bird circled the far edge of the field, popping in and out of sight as he moved behind obscuring palmettos. We took these opportunities to get comfortable and clicking on the Therma-Cell to beat back the swarm of mosquitoes. Finally, as the gobbler reached the far right side of the plot, he started our way, not on a fast trot, but a very deliberate pace that assured us the hunt would be ending soon.

As the tom approached, Nick whispered what my range was with my Mossberg 835 3 ½ Mag.

“40-45 yards?”

“80" I replied, which is true, since I killed a bird once at that distance, but we had plenty of time to avoid that level of irresponsibility. Long shots, especially at that distance, are iffy prospects, at best. You are more likely to wound the animal than anything. Plus, the thrill of turkey hunting is getting them close and personal; I’d preferred if all the gobblers I’ve killed over the years were within 20 yards or so.

But sometimes it won’t happen this way, and you need to take the opportunity presented. The gobbler eclipsed the 50 yard line, and we’d planned on letting him come closer, but I nearly botched the deal. Holding that shotgun up for so long as he approached had fatigued my arms to the point where my barrel did figure eights in the air. I shifted to steady my aim, and the bird saw me move, popped his head up and looked directly at us.

Now, I’ll admit, I don’t get Buck Fever with deer or other big game, but an incoming gobbler unnerves me to no end. This whole time I had an acute case of the shakes; however, when that bird’s head snapped up, instinct kicked in. I quickly re-shouldered my gun, placed the fiber optic front post under his chin and fired, toppling the gobbler around 45 yards away – farther than I’d liked, but in the bad weather and having potentially ruined our morning with careless movement, any shot worked.

With some high fives, we collected the gobbler and set back towards camp for photos and bragging. Unfortunately, the boasting side of this didn’t go to plan. The gobbler’s beard reached 10 inches, but the body size was puny as was quickly pointed out to me. By itself in the food plot, he couldn’t be compared to bigger or smaller turkey, he just had a big beard and a love for Nick’s calling.

We caught a ration of grief from the other guys. Some called it the smallest gobbler they’d seen. Other, crueler comments compared it to a chicken. A few insults flew that the tom was a turkey social reject, desperate for a hen’s attention and Nick’s calling.

Friends can be cruel, but they were right. The gobbler barely tipped the scales at 15pounds. Wet, dirty, and with a tail feather missing, he did look pretty ratty. I defended his honor and declared a new subspecies of Osceola turkey – the Pygmy Osceola. Hey, if there can be Key Deer, there can be miniature turkeys. And I shot the first one ever. A legitimate trophy pygmy at that.

Ceremony and trophy-naming aside, the hunt is what mattered. We’d played around the weather, persevered and got lucky, or at least put ourselves in position for luck. As a reward, Nick called in a fine tom, and we’d witnessed him gobble and strut about the food plot, memories that’ll last far beyond caring about how big or small the bird happened to be.

So far though, I’m the only one with a trophy Pygmy Osceola. The next morning I’d take a common Osceola gobbler in an entirely different circumstance which made each bird unique and memorable.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I’m not sure if it was the sixth, seventh, or eighth bird that we’d missed that had given my hunting partner, Dirty J, the Sean Penn-crazy face, but certainly it was one of the three. And while I have long maintained that snipe hunting is tons of fun, there is something to be said for giving up and preserving one’s mental health.

See, for those who have never hunted snipe, it’s difficult to fully describe how maddening this can be. First, they are impossible to see on the ground, and they induce a massive coronary by flushing underfoot. Next, they wobble back and forth in an erratic flight pattern while the shooter vainly empties the shotgun without cutting a feather. All of this culminates with the little bird flying high into the sky, easing off the throttle when out of range, circling the area from where it flushed and dropping back down on the far side of it, daring you to come again.

Honestly, I believe snipe find it more entertaining tormenting hunters than most hunters do in trying to shoot them. After reading this, experienced snipe hunters have either smiled thinking of past trips a-field or have collapsed in a corner, clutching a pillow while rocking silently back and forth.

Of course, I’m fooling around, and in all honesty snipe hunting is one of the few simple pleasures offered in the wingshooting world. Dove hunting is fun, but finding a productive field locally has been difficult the past several years. Bobwhite numbers are on the decline, and the best shooting is usually on pricey game preserves. And ducks, well, duck hunting is a separate disease all its own. Snipe hunting involves rolling out of bed any time between sunup and sundown, doing a little walking and pulling the trigger on some little bird that is inexplicably difficult to hit.

And fortunately for us, we live in Florida with ample places to find these birds that torture our dreams. Snipe inhabit any place with some water – wet-weather ponds, ditch banks and flooded cow pastures. Find some soggy ground where it’s legal to tote a shotgun, and it’s a ready-made snipe hunt. No dogs or decoys required.

Right now is the time to hunt snipe. They migrate down on cold fronts throughout the winter and with the recent series of fronts and rain, Florida hunters should have no difficulty finding the birds in the next couple of weeks.

For a game this easy, it’s difficult to come up with much advice, but a couple strategies can help the day’s event. One, if alone, move slowly in a zigzag pattern across the marsh or pond edge. This covers a bit more ground than walking in a straight line. Plus, it unnerves the bird somewhat. Snipe will hold tight like a bedded whitetail buck, and it’s not uncommon for them to wait out fast-moving hunters and flush after they’ve passed. So move slow and make them nervous.

If hunting in a group, spread everyone about thirty to forty yards apart and walk together in that same slow pace. When hunting smaller areas where this is not possible, have a hunter or two lag behind fifty or so yards. As mentioned above, if a bird flushes it will usually circle around and drop down opposite of your position. The trailing hunter can squat down and possibly get a “re-entry” shot or watch where the bird lands and re-flush him. And there’s no need to go sloshing around in standing water; they aren’t seagulls. Ground that squishes like wet carpeting is just about perfect.

One other thing that is pretty important that the beginning snipe hunter must realize – killdeer are not snipe. Sandpipers are not snipe. And no, plovers are not snipe either. Plenty of species of birds that are small and probably hard to hit with a shotgun live around the marshes, but find a bird book and do a little research. Snipe are really not that well known, even amongst avid hunters, but I promise most game officers know the difference and won’t be happy inspecting a pile of killdeer, and by extension, the indiscriminate or ignorant hunter won’t be happy either.

As for shotguns, well, I miss birds with my 12 gauge pump and autoloader with such equal reliability that I am not sure how to dispense advice on what to carry. I guess just put as much lead in the air as possible. Use number 7 ½’s or 8’s with an open or modified choke. Other gear includes a pair of waterproof boots and a vest that holds plenty of shells. Some say doves require 4 to 6 shots per bird killed. Snipe will command 8 to 10 shots on most days.

If I am lucky enough to put a couple birds in the vest, people always ask me, “You really eat those things?” Snipe breasts resemble dove breasts in size, color and taste. I marinate them in an oily Caesar dressing and wrap them in bacon before grilling. I usually never have many to cook, but they make an interesting appetizer for friends and family.

A couple years ago on a deer hunt in Georgia, I sat around shucking oysters with a Florida Cracker from Ft. Pierce chatting up hunting creatures big and small. We talked deer and elk and pigs and quail until I finally asked him if he’d ever shot snipe. His eyes brightened as he told stories of his father and grandfather chasing the birds out on the ranch back in the day. He said he learned one trick from his grandfather – when the bird flushes, it’ll go Number Two, and that’s the time to shoot because they are about impossible to hit afterwards.

Well, I don’t know about all that. I am usually in a panicked rush to get my shotgun up to observe any falling snipe guano, but I do know now is the perfect time to go hunt snipe. What else is going on after the Super Bowl? Honey-do’s? Please, that’s worse for the frame of mind than snipe hunting, I promise.

Florida's 2009-10 Season ends February 15th

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

TWL Classics - To the Hunt

Two years ago I started my volunteer outdoor writing service through a local newspaper's public blogging site. Unfortunately, through powers beyond my control, my archives from that source are gone and lost forever. Luckily, I saved rough drafts of my work on my computer, and once or twice a week I'll re-introduce a past column back into the wild of the World Wide Web. Enjoy!

Originally Published January 2008

My truck is four thousand miles past its last oil change. My knees and back are shot from miles of traipsing through palmetto flats and swamp bottoms. Worse still, my dog barely recognizes me, and I am all but broke from traveling so often.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For me, hunting season is not just an opportunity to escape the house or work for a weekend - it is a passion, a way of life born from being raised in the outdoors of Polk County and Central Florida. I am one of the lucky ones. From September to April, I actively hunt throughout the Southeast for just about anything that has a sanctioned season. When not actually hunting, I’m actively researching new ways to spend more time in the woods.

Already this year I’ve hunted deer in three different states, and ducks in two. Chased hogs in South Florida with rifles and dogs. I’m catching gobbler fever and close to donning the vest, laying out the decoys in the front yard, and calling to the neighbor’s cat. I dream of Africa and constantly check prices for hunts on the Dark Continent as if I could afford it right now. If an outfitter offered hunts for a giant slug on some tropical Pacific island that runs hunters a merry chase and tastes good wrapped in bacon and grilled, I’d be scheming on how to get there and what rifle I should bring.

As I said, I am one of the lucky ones; however, writing about hunting – or fishing for that matter – is a unique task. One can write about football or baseball without ever taking a snap or swinging a bat in a meaningful way. Come to think about it, there are numerous major television networks, publications, and radio stations geared around this very model. To write about the outdoor life, an author must actively engage in these activities or the reader will color them a fraud.

This, of course, leads to some challenges when dispensing advice. Let’s suppose I write an article about how to harvest a deer in a particular place during a specific time of the year with a certain firearm I feel is the most adequate for the situation. Some will take it as the suggestion it was made to be, and others will read it as gospel and go out of their way to tell me I’m wrong. If you need proof of this, read the “Letters” section of any outdoor magazine. Or check online blogs and forums.

Another trouble with writing about hunting or fishing is within the game itself. Hunters and anglers go to great pains to try and predict what their quarry will do under certain conditions. Much ink has been spilled trying to explain the many wrinkles in deciphering game activity. I use this example all the time – I once read that a gobbler will never cross water to come to your calls, and that was true until one old boss tom did.

My point, if I am forced to make one, is that the best way to become a better hunter is to be in the woods and learn for your self. The ultimate goal of this blog is to help discover ways you can enjoy your pastime – to be active and enjoy the tradition and adventure of sport hunting. At the very least, hopefully I can help you slack off a few minutes of work discussing what you love to do.

Living in Polk County, this should not be too difficult of a task. We are fortunate to be surrounded by plentiful public land, and opportunities for private land access for a wide spectrum of game animals. The central Florida hunter is also blessed to be within a tank of gas or so away from some excellent hunting prospects to the north in states such as Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolina's.

Of course, there will be some advice-related topics as this is the nature of the outdoor writing business. Certainly, some people enjoy discussing different hunting strategies and equipment, and I hope to keep readers updated on dates of applications, special hunting opportunities, and any legislation involving our sport. But most of all, I want to use this forum to broaden the scope and bring into focus the multitude of hunting possibilities available to the Polk County outdoors person at a time when the sport seems to be at its least accessible point.

As we prepare to put another fall hunting season - hopefully a successful one - in the books and ready ourselves for the doldrums of February and the blissful return of spring gobbler, I’d like to propose a toast to our fortune in the woods and on the water. This naturally would be better around an oak campfire and with an actual drink in hand, but still - to the hunt, the memories of years past and the promise of the future!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

To the Wolves or Whatever

From Chapter 4 - "What Were They Thinking" in The Annals of Bad Ideas comes a report on AOL News that scientists are contemplating releasing wolves in National Parks and other lands to fight the expanding ungulate herds.

Quoth Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as Stupid does."

Look, I know a few things. One, allowing hunters in National Parks to control the deer and elks herds, while a fine idea that could make the park system some money, would rile up a series of lawsuits from the anti-hunters that would last at least until the next asteroid hits us.

Two, yes, something probably has to be done in parks around the country to thin out deer and elk populations. Widespread starvation or disease is the absolute least tolerable option yet is a grave threat. Some form of control is needed - ahem, hunters.

Three, for the most part, wolves are done in the Lower 48. Morally right or wrong, I accept it as functionally accurate that these animals do not have a place in Modern America. The room is not available. Run-in's with people - ranchers, hikers, bikers, Boy Scouts, whoever - is inevitible. Hell, just watch the news tonight; there's probably a coyote-ate-my-pet story. I'll share my sorrow about this fact and wish it had never come to that, but as they say in the locker room after someone pulls a gun on a teammate, "it is what it is."

Perhaps the most ludicrous part of this is the thought of erecting fences, to speak nothing of tracking collars and contraception. What, are they going to fence off a population of deer, add wolves, wait 2 years until cooked through? Is this their recipe? Then tear down the fences, round up the wolves and move along?

Maybe I am being cynical - no, I am - but someone much smarter than I should explain this to me so it makes sense.

YouTube Video of the Week - Turkey Season Promo

For those of you mourning the conclusion of deer and duck seasons, boy do I have something for you. For those of you who have already dusted off your mouth calls and re-chalked Ol' Reliable, boy do I have something for you. For those of you who just can't wait for the miserable month of February to pass so you can get your jollies in the spring woods setting up on Mr. Tom, boy do I have something for you!

A special thanks to Darin Clifton and Charles Paddock of Open Season TV for letting me post their clip.

Mr. Clifton explains its genesis:

The Open Season / Ol Tom promo intro is the opening segment for a DVD we are producing for use in the Rutwear / Ol Tom booth at the 2010 NWTF Convention to be held in Nashville,TN this February. The clips used here were taken from footage shot in Alabama, Montana, & Wyoming during the past two spring seasons. The final product will also include footage from other states as well.

We would consider this DVD a preview of sorts for upcoming episodes of Open Season which will feature some of the most Awesome Wild Turkey Hunting in the Country! We have some hard core turkey hunters on our staff and feel that these hunts will complement our big game hunts well.

Stay Tuned !

If this doesn't dry out your mouth and get your heart to quake, you...well, I don't know what. I just feel bad for you!

Enjoy and check out Open Season TV!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dumb Ducks

I’ve been accused of being awfully whiny this hunting season. Things just haven’t gone well thanks to one obstacle or another. Some plans were scrapped and others didn’t go to plan. But it has been pointed out to me that, yes, I’ve been able to get away with regularity, and I did kill a few deer and hogs and quail. Which is all true. I am thankful.

The ducks, though. Honestly, I didn’t spend as much time on it as I’d hoped, and offseason's bar stool plans hit the reality wall a few times. If I have to choose between deer and waterfowl, which I do, deer win every time. It’s terribly difficult to do a combo bowhunt in Pasco County with a ringneck adventure to Toho in one day.

But a few of the opportunities I did have went to pot thanks to weather and other circumstances I have no control over. Cole and I hunted Toho in early January a couple times, but it was freezing cold, the lake had been severely pressured, and the ducks stayed rafted up in the open water far from any concealable vegetation. Had a blast, learned a bit, but no shots were fired.

I enjoy – really, thoroughly enjoy – splashing sea ducks, sawbills, mergansers, whatever you want to call them off Homosassa. A couple days before New Years, Nick and I popped a few. Hunted there this last weekend and didn’t pull the trigger on any in-range birds. Did try to blast some speck of a duck out of the stratosphere Sunday morning in pure desperation.

For whatever reason, there just weren’t as many birds off the Nature Coast this year. No telling how the record cold weather of a few weeks back influenced them. The full moon last weekend pulled a lot of water in on the morning high tides. And it’s rained buckets this winter. My guess is those birds that were present flew to the back bays and creeks protected by the oysters and limestone bars. In years past, there hasn’t been as much water and the ducks are forced to the open bays and accessible side creeks. So, lots of water + fewer birds = limited chances.

Oh well. I prefer to put a lid on this season with some positive thoughts.

1. I have two brand new boxes of shells for next season. With the price of ammo increasing, I’ll save some cash next year.

2. I have a new duck gun, a very stylish Browning BPS in 3 ½ magnum, that promises to be a favorite in the safe, supposing I shake the albatross-like bad luck it has inflicted on me since I acquired it. And not having pulled the trigger, my shoulder doesn’t ache from the mammoth recoil of these loads.

3. I was loaded up with new, good-looking decoys for Christmas that did a great job reeling in cormorants, egrets and sea gulls last weekend.

4. I have a cult of successful duck hunting friends who are more than happy to regale me with tales of their triumphs, and from whom I am able to hunt vicariously through.

5. I did kill the first two ducks I shot at this season, though these incidents occurred almost a month-and-a-half apart.

6. I have almost 9 ½ months before next season starts to forget this season existed.

Hope everyone else had an exciting duck season. Time to look forward to turkey.