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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

YouTube Video of the Week - World's Largest Snake Found Dead

I missed posting the YouTube Video of the Week last Tuesday. Blame it on work, hunting, or the Health Care Bill, but I feel I let you down. Sure, some of you may not realize I bring you this feature and couldn't care less, but for those of you whose week was a little grayer, I apologize.

But I am going to make it up to you and promise to never be so cruel to my readers again.

The Tuesday Morning Jake

“*%$#!, I missed!”

I can work a pumpgun like an evil man when I have to.

I had set up on the edge of a cypress swamp bottom flooded by the recent heavy rains. To the east was a cow pasture broken by pines and palmettos. To the north, another deep swamp of state land where hunting is forbidden. God knows where they’d be roosting.

Dawn brought no help. For the second straight outing, there were no gobbles. And on a perfect, cool morning, too. When you have a fine ambush, though, there’s no real reason to get antsy and stomp around. Plus, the lease is only 100 acres, not much land to run and gun on.

PJ had found this lease in Polk County a month ago. We scouted it for deer and turkey without much success. The hogs are thick – you’ll be reading about the hogs soon enough. Six of us bought in to have a place close to home. If we could snag a few swine and a predator or two, it’d be worth it. Available hunting land – wait, affordable, available hunting land - in Central Florida is scarce. We hung feeders and stands and expected little other than a cool escape, camping trips, maybe a dove field, and aforementioned hogs.

The cowboy had told us turkeys were in the area, but we never could find any tracks in the sandy roads. It sure looked turkey-ish – tall pines, swamp bottoms, plenty of clearings for strutting - but I kinda put turkey hunting here out of my mind.

All that changed with circumstance. My Opening Weekend plans to hunt in Nassau County was cancelled at the 11th hour. As clinically hopeless turkey addicts, Cole and I decided to give the lease a try. Everything changed that first Saturday morning with a gobble. And a few more.

I won’t go too much into those details here, but our concept of the property changed in a hurry. Of course, you do realize the realities and difficulties of six people with varying turkey hunting experience navigating such a small piece of property. The other guys spotted a couple birds and heard a few more gobbles, but nothing came of it. There were birds here, just not many of them.

My problem was timing. Every other weekend during the season had been booked, limiting my outings for a gobbler close to home. Luckily, my new job is a mixture of office and field work. When I didn't need to be in the office early, I could run down to the property with a change of clothes and get where I needed to go after a morning hunt. It had worked last week, though I had zero luck. I stared at my desk calendar, looking for another available moment.

Today was the day. My fortunes started off poor again. The mosquitoes, held at bay by the uncommonly cold weather over the last several months, returned with a vengeance. My Therma-Cell broke on the fourth "click." The skeeters took full advantage, leaving a line of pimply bite marks along the borders of my facemask until my skin now resembles that of a 9th grader.

And no gobbling. That’s the excitement of turkey hunting to me. I tend to write-off mornings when the toms aren’t cooperating. Maybe the weather had them screwed up, or perhaps the gold strike-like rush to hunt the property after the first morning had silenced them. Who knows? All I knew was, I didn’t bust a bird last year, and the desire to hammer an incoming gobbler and frying turkey bites one weekend was too powerful to give up this go-round.

Also, while I am not a super-competitive guy, especially when it comes to hunting, I did like the thought of being the first to harvest a tom on this piece of property. Sort of a “Kilroy was here” thing. So, the challenge had been settled.

When the gobblers aren’t working and I strike up the patience, I tend to ease back myself. It can be rather boring, but I always remind myself that the best turkey hunters I know don’t cluck and cackle like they are in a competition. They stay still, call softly and sporadically. I pulled my cellphone out to track the time between my sessions of turkey-like noises, slipped a slate out of the vest and settled into the long wait. If I could discipline myself to only call every 15-20 minutes, this may just work.

After my third cadence of soft purrs and clucks, accentuated with a few louder yelps at the end, a red and white head popped up a 100 yards back into the private property swamp. The excitement of such a moment can't be adequately explained with words. Chilling, maybe. Attaining the clarity of what you must do next - keeping your calm and fighting back your nerves - is a skill I still have not mastered, but this time I prevailed over these life ruiners. Again, I had faith in my efforts. My decoys, set in the trim of the cattle pasture 20 yards from my haunt, would be in clear view once the tom emerged from the dark and through the broom sedge. As soon as he strolled behind a large oak and out of sight, I slipped the safety off and leaned into a solid rest.

He sure did take his time. The tom - a healthy jake - slowly maneuvered around pines and water oaks, and lifted his head occasionally to survey his surroundings. I refrained from calling any further as my philosophy is to just let ‘em come without betraying my mediocre calling skills.

The urgent need to breed certainly wasn’t on this fellow’s mind. He fed, picking through the grass, until he reached the wire gap separating the properties. All he had to do was slide under the fence, mosey 15 more yards, and it’d be all over.

Unfortunately, he hung up. Surely, he saw the decoys but paid little attention. The tom slowly started walking parallel to the fenceline; enough was enough with my not-calling-anymore decision. I putted and clucked a few times on the mouth call, and he swapped ends and charged under the fence into my spread.

Now, listen, children. Always pattern your shotgun. At twenty yards, there is no excuse for missing. Actually, this is a TWL exclusive since I didn’t tell any of my friends I'd missed - let's see how many of them read this - but it's only noble to fess up. That long, warty neck is too inviting of a target, and I was rock-solid. After last year's hunts and a few coyote jaunts, I hadn’t put that gun on paper, and those flimsy fiber optic sights on my Mossberg require more diligence than that.

The tom didn’t take two steps before Round 2 got him. I raced up to the bird, as is my custom, fist-pumping along the way. Trophy-wise, he won’t garner much attention from the record books. As you can see in the photo, his fan hadn’t quite matured, and the beard was maybe four inches long.

Some may look down on shooting a jake, but I’m not going to rationalize my decision-making any further on this point. Save the missed shot, my strategy was executed like the pick-and-roll, and I have turkey breast to fry this Easter weekend. That, to me, is the essence of a great hunt, and I am thankful for the moment.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Giving the Decoys a Milk Moustache

The cellphone picture below truly highlights the depths of my turkey calling skillz. Yes, I used a "z."

On a clear, 50 degree Florida morning, the gobblers should have been gobbling with vigor - they didn't.

At a set-up which could only be described as idyllic for a turkey kill, I was sure a tom would come strutting in - he didn't.

Using my patented, "don't call so much that they figure out you can't call worth a darn" strategy, I figured I'd get at least some response - I didn't.

The rest of the outdoor community was alive. Hoot owls hooted, and hogs rooted. A bobcat slipped behind me on a fallen tree trunk. A coyote stood close to my truck. The sandhills called, and the whip-poor-wills balled.

And if you want real poetry, just look at this picture. How many of you can lure in a moo-cow with a mouth call? That's what I thought!!!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Discovery Channel's Life

My first planned turkey hunting trip of the season was cancelled at the 11th hour. So, let’s just move on from that before I get all weepy and bitter again.

Sunday night, Carolyn and I tuned in for the Discovery Channel’s Life, a new documentary series in the thread of their former shows, Blue Planet and Planet Earth. If you’ve seen either of the former, you won’t be surprised by the format of Life – fantastic cinematography of amazing animals from around the globe.

My only real gripe was the narration by Harpo. I’d like to wonder how the producers chose her, but I think I know how – she came up and said she wanted to do it or else, and they agreed. Otherwise, I can’t imagine Oprah really caring too much about the environment or being an animal lover. And I kept waiting for her to pull her famous introduction when she brings guests onto her show:

“Please welcome the Ring-tailed Lemurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

Sadly, this didn’t happen.

David Attenborough was a solid pick for Blue Planet because of his British accent that always strikes wonder and awe in me. Sigourney Weaver was perfect for Planet Earth since she’s communed with gorillas in the mist and once had an alien pop out of her stomach. Hopefully, Oprah steps up her game in the coming episodes. She didn’t sound all that excited.

But this doesn’t mean the show was horrible – remember I am a little weepy and bitter. The part about the ibex was cool, especially the fox chasing a kid up the face of a cliff. The cheetahs bringing down the ostrich was fascinating. All in all, it's been a B+ start to the series.

I do love nature shows. Except when they start getting personal. One montage had killer whales unsuccessfully trying to make a meal out of a crabeater seal. Oprah then said something along the lines of, “in the wild, things don’t always work out for the hunters."

Tell me about it!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Urban Deer

Just read this excellent article by Don Mulligan over at ESPNOutdoors.com about urban deer overpopulation.

Here’s the lead-in:

The mainstream media somehow overlooked news of government sharpshooters being summoned to the grounds outside the Camp David presidential retreat in western Maryland last month. Had the shooters been deployed to quell a terrorist attack or put down some sort of coup, the lack of coverage would have been shocking.

When it became apparent the invading horde they were sent to suppress consisted of a bunch of whitetail deer, however, no one was surprised.

Like nearly every governing body charged with managing an urban area in the United States right now, the Oval Office is having its own deer crisis. And as they enter that battle, they are likely finding that taking care of urban deer overpopulation is as complicated and controversial as passing healthcare legislation.

This problem just isn’t natural to FL. Yet. Sure, suburbs of Orlando and elsewhere have their cases of marauding, flower-eating whitetails, but for the most part we are too occupied with alligators showing up in the swimming pool.

But this is a large issue up north. I’ve seen them in suburban Cincinnati and other parts of Ohio where I have family. Big deer, too. My aunt occasionally sends photos of Booners walking across her backyard.

Anyhow, we all know the problem with control right? Anti-hunters fight initiatives for a regulated harvest. Contraceptive methods are expensive and largely ineffective. And you can’t just turn loose large predators in neighborhoods to prey on the herd. Some forward-thinking communities have fought through this mess, established hunting seasons, and should be commended.

Go ahead and check out the article. The only thing missing is information on where to sign up for some of these urban hunts.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Stalking Sleep

I haven’t slept well lately. This is a rare phenomenon for me. You have to be far more responsible than I to be molested by the evil nights of fretful sleep, yet here they are. There have been nights in my youth when sleep was of little consequence. Like during a big night out or before a small hunt anywhere. These are natural when you’re in your twenties.

And that’s just the problem, I think. I’m staring down the barrel of thirty. August 11th is the big day. I’ve heard some say this age is no big deal. I’m not sure if these people are liars or just very strong, but I am neither at this juncture. Introspection is an activity that terrifies the peace out of me.

Given my schooling and talent, I should be more provident than I am now. There are many days when I regret my diplomas, wishing instead I’d taken off to the mountains to be an elk guide or to fish the boats off Hatteras. Many tell me this is a foolish reflection, and there’s more than a puncher’s chance they are correct. I am employed and have never truly been starving, elements that should annoy many out there with this fitful braying.

When I finished my formal education, though, the economy went south, but I refuse to blame that for tossing and turning. Indeed, my attitude towards circumstance has long been, “forget it; let’s go hunting,” and I cobbled what money and resources I could and shot off to accumulate the Good Times, driving many miles when I should have just gone the extra mile as an investment towards the future.

Living a life of leisure at this age is a fortune few are endowed with, for better or worse. I remember a quote by Hemingway - in a biography I can’t place my fingers on at the moment - that his aim in life was to fish and hunt as often as he could, share in the company of a few close friends, and have just enough to drink in the evenings to get a night’s rest. This I’ve accomplished, but as he ultimately proves, one must have a better plan or wind up miserable.

Carolyn says I shouldn’t think as much. Despite her agreeing to marry me, she is a smart woman. We both want children, and against the whirling ceiling fan, I count on my fingers the funds it will take to provide happiness for a family, a daunting skill considering I’ve only had to account for myself. Carolyn and a family I want most out of life; I find it bizarre to enter it with any anxiety.

What fills me with plain dread, and I am far too intelligent to let this happen, is when I cease to be an accountant and become an actuary, counting years of family and friends. These thoughts dwell in places no one should seek out, but you tend to wander towards in the gloom of night. There exists no truer fact than your daylight realities will never be solved while under the sheets.

So what to do? I’m a big believer in getting your rest to be prepared for the next day. Exhaustion is a crippling menace. Well, I think back on those times I’ve had. Remembering is always more comforting than wanting or worrying. Other people’s memories may be dull enough to put a reader to sleep but are a tonic from the first person perspective. I typically turn to thoughts of hunting.

I remember young Stephen and me nearly ten years ago. The rut was in full swing, and I grunted in a small six point I had let walk the morning before. Stephen, having never taken a deer, had the shot. He fought back the nerves and grounded the buck. Upon inspection, I saw he’d hit it in the neck, killing it instantly. He told me he tried to head-shoot it. Knowing best - as of course, I knew best - I told him next time to be deliberate with your shots and shot placement, and aim behind the shoulder. Ten minutes later, I tried to slap a .300 Win. Mag. round through a Popsicle-stickhouse of pine saplings at a trotting 8pt. Ha! Twenty-year olds are curious, hybrid beasts of maturity and abject stupidity.

A few years later, I recall sitting in the rain of a December cold front and guarding a feeder. A herd of hogs noisily beat through the palmettos and hovered near my stand. From behind the sows, a large, stud boar sniffed the derrieres of his harem. The wind shifted, they got spooky, and I pegged the boar in the side. At the shot, he swapped ends and ran towards cover as I stood and touched off another round, anchoring the boar. Later, cold and wet by the fire, I was triumphant with one of my best boars. The crew sharing that fire were among the best friends I've ever known. Bringing back a trophy was a large matter.

Not all my thoughts are of harvested game. Ironically, I think about some other sleepless nights. Trying to get comfortable in the cab of my old white Dodge after being chased out of the camphouse by a spider the size of a catcher’s mitt, I gazed out the window across a moonlit pasture and watched a single-file line of swine silently move towards a feeder. In that same truck a couple years earlier, I witnessed the space shuttle lifting up through the early morning darkness. Though I was nearly across the width of the state, when my eyes are shut I can still see that brilliant orange streak off into the heavens.

The worry is abating now. When I was 24 or 25, I sat in a North Carolina deer stand staring up at the brightness of the night trying to decide how past civilizations could possibly name a constellation that wasn’t dubbed the Big Dipper. I focused on a few of the brighter stars and hoped one day I could share this experience with a son or daughter. That was a telling train of thought looking back now.

I could go on and on, but as I said earlier, I don’t want to bore anyone with anything more than this last story. One evening I walked out of an oak hammock as a January full moon began to break the eastern horizon. It was a fiery red supernova against the fading blue sky. I dropped to my knees, placed my rifle down, and thanked God for the opportunity to hunt that land and for seeing such sights.

Maybe that’s the trick – being thankful for what you’ve had and showing faith in what could be. Turns out, even in my neurotic mind, thirty is eminently workable. I may not have the most sound perspective on everything, but I think I'll be just fine with these guidelines.

At the very least, I may actually get some sleep.

YouTube Video of the Week - Coyote Close Call

Have just an awesome video for you this week courtesy of WhiteTailAddicT at USA Hunting Pros. Silly coyote!

Sometime soon, too, I plan to get off my lazy behind and do some actual writing.

Until then, enjoy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

TWL Classics - Action in the South Zone

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 February 2008

For turkey hunters in the South Zone, start your engines, people. Of course, I seriously doubt you needed my reminder. This date has been on your mind for months. But yes, you are a-go on the 1st.

With the way the weather has been yo-yoing between cool and warm conditions every couple of days, I am looking forward to hearing some reports from down south on how the gobblers are responding. Generally, the earlier the warm weather, the earlier the birds are breeding. Cool weather knocks it back. Of course, farther south, this is not as much as of an issue as in other parts of the state. Maybe I’m just excited to talk turkey once again.

Two weekends ago in Manatee County, I found two separate gobblers, each on the edges of an oak hammock between a palmetto flat and river bottom – a perfect strutting area. Unfortunately, most of Manatee County is in the Central Zone, as is this place. I don’t have a tag here anyhow, so I guess the point is moot.

It has been three years since I’ve hunted in the South Zone. The last trip was on an invite to private property south of Immokalee. The person who invited me is no longer a member of that lease, so I doubt I’ll ever see the place again, but the memory of that hunt is not going away for a long time.

We rode down a few days before the start of the season and made it to a camp on the edge of a bromeliad-infested swamp that looked like Skunk Ape could have wandered out of it at any moment. The weather was pleasant, and we knew where a boss Osceola strutted from a previous scouting trip. The plan was to set up blinds early so when the other members of camp showed up, we were prepared to tell them we’d staked out our zone.

Now, let me tell you, the majority of people in this camp were not serious turkey hunters – Weekend Warriors, actually. Spring hunting meant driving around in swamp buggies all morning. Fun, yes, but not the most effective way of bagging a bird. We wanted them as far away from our set-ups as possible.

So we built blinds and did some additional scouting. Strolled through some of the dried-out strands in the area looking for orchids. So close to the famed Fakahatchee Strand, we talked about the rare ghost orchid. We found bear tracks in the dirt road leading into camp and panther tracks on the edges of a large cattle pasture as we did some preliminary hog hunting. And snakes, well, I prefer not to talk about them. Even after years of hunting this state, a wilder place in Florida, I have not been.

The opening morning of season was not so memorable. A lot of gunshots from our Rambo friends – came to find out later someone was shooting at running pigs with a .45ACP pistol from a swamp buggy. But, I could hear that ol’ boss gobbler we’d scouted hollering in the trees ahead of me. At flydown though, he wandered back into the swamp.

That evening, Travis and I set up in a hammock of some of the strangest looking trees I’d seen, which unfortunately, the name of them escapes me. The important part though, was the clearing in the trees where we hoped we could lure a gobbler. Before we set out, one of the guys in camp asked if we were heading out to roost a bird. In unison, Travis and I replied, “No, we’re going to kill one."

After fifteen minutes or so, a turkey flew into a tall pine on the edge of our strange hammock. Rested behind and to the right of me, I couldn’t see his red head until the sun hit him just right. I urged Travis to yelp a couple of more times, and as he did, the tom flew down, and I rolled around on my stomach simultaneously.

Just barely could I see the front of the tom’s head around the trunk of one of these trees. I whispered to Travis to cluck once more. The gobbler took three steps forward, and Travis ran to the dead bird before the smoke from my shot even cleared.

We brought out the camera and bipod, snapped photos, and laughed our way back to camp before the sun had even started to dip towards the horizon. At the shack, the tom was hung on a lodge pole, drinks were poured, and yeah, we showed off a little bit without being too obnoxious. We’d gone to kill one, and once in a while it’s nice to at least sound like you know what you’re talking about.

The next morning I returned to my blind where I’d hoped that big gobbler would stop for a visit. It wasn’t to be, though. As the day warmed, I heard the sharp cluck of a jake to my right. A couple of minutes later, nine red heads poured out of the swamp, no more than ten yards from my outstretched legs.

They were all jakes, and to take one after shooting a gobbler the night before seemed to push a little hard on our host’s graciousness. Fortunately for them, this was my mindset. They sure tempted fate. Instead of walking away, they wandered under the myrtle bush where I was sitting, the nearest one now inches from my black rubber boot.

If I wasn’t going to shoot the shotgun, I’d give my camera a try. Slowly, I pulled my Canon out of a pocket in my hunting vest. The birds seemed concerned, but with the sun sitting directly on my shoulder, they couldn’t get a good bead on my movement.

I snapped my last shot on the roll of film – I’ve since gone digital – and the jakes scooted amongst the decoys and finally away, leaving me with a memory and a photo that remains one of my best trophies.

Ah, turkey hunting, you never know what each morning will bring. To those of you packing your gear and heading south this weekend, best of luck. Hope you capture that unique memory of your own!!!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Scouting Chassahowitzka for Spring Turkey IV - A New Hope

Scouting is hope. You can pore through aerial maps, ride the roads, and ask others where to look for your chosen quarry, but the real excitement doesn’t start building until you do some actual snooping around. Sometimes the things you find aren’t exactly what you went seeking, but are certainly thrilling.

This last weekend I finally burned calories wandering around Chassahowitzka (Part I, II, III). Emerging from a swamp bottom off the North Road, Dad and I cut a set of large hog tracks. Really large. One set of hoofprints led up the hill, and a corresponding set led back down the road to the swamp. We followed the tracks for a hundred yards or so to a skinny pine sapling in the middle of a burned scrub flat, far from the cover of the cypress. The poor tree had been rubbed raw by the hog. Teeth marks were gashed into the bark. The most remarkable aspect of this find was the height of the rub – up to my hip, and I am six feet tall. This was a bad boy, the Darth Vader of swine.

He had obviously been using this tree for some time. Why he chose this particular one and wandered all this way to it is beyond me. On a place that runs dogs throughout a good portion of the season, this pig had obviously been pretty smart or pretty lucky to avoid capture, though I will say I pity any mutt that decides to latch onto his ear. Heck, maybe he has slashed one or two in his time. Again, I’ll never know.

On a hiking trail through the thick black-water, mosquito-breeding cypress swamp off Rattlesnake Camp Road, we found a couple of old boards nailed into a tree. You’d be excommunicated these days for doing such a thing. Dad remarked it was possible some boy killed his first deer off that stand. I thought the stand was so old somebody may have killed their first bear off of it. No telling.

And I guess I should be excited by the turkey potential, too. We jumped a flock of a dozen hens in one swamp. Following the old fire trail into the dark, we heard the rushing noise of stampeding critters through the head-high vegetation. Only when they took flight did I realize it was turkeys and not some blood-thirsty beastie.

We found tracks in a burned flat and up and down the roads. Wish we could have spied a gobbler or some strut marks, but no. Identifying roosting trees? Ha! They are all roosting trees at this place. The continuous swamp is a repeating cartoon background of tall cypress and pines. The two of us walked many a mile down hiking paths and trails and identified some promising spots. From there, it’s a gamble of where to set up.

Sorry, but I’m gonna play coy for now on the location of these places. When I lay a bird low, I’ll share these spots as my chances of drawing this hunt again are slim. Hopefully though, I’ll leave a blueprint for another lucky hunter needing some advice.

There’s nothing left to do now. I won’t have any more chances to scout. The weekends are getting busy again. I have a general plan of how to proceed. The birds will gobble or they won’t. If they do, I can go to my woodsmanship and calling “skills.”

I’m crossing my fingers the birds and weather will cooperate - it all comes down to hope.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

To The Balkans or Whatever

Outside of red stag and wild boars, European hunting doesn't make the print very often - certainly don't read much about the Balkans. So it was kinda neat to run across this article and learn a bit about the wildlife issues over there.

Hunting Surges in Southeast Europe

There are some surprisingly intelligent and thoughtful user comments here - not the norm for articles like this.

Albania is a case where a wildlife management plan - including regulated sporthunting - could go a long way towards providing economic benefits to the community while guarding the biodiversity of the region. The difficulty in implementing a management plan, especially in places where it interferes with sustenance or market hunting, is law enforcement. There probably isn't a whole lot of funding for wildlife officers.

Still, there's a chance the lessons of game management in places like America and Africa can be applied here. And there are examples of wise-minded hunting policy in surrounding nations, such as in Romania.

Anyway, just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

YouTube Video of the Week - Christian the Lion

I am selling out big time this week. My Three-Legged Bear post is still bringing in heavy traffic from all over the globe as well as scorn from anti-hunters. Don't judge me! People love this sappy stuff.

I chose this particular video for a few reasons beyond commercialism. One, this could be the first time something positive has been referenced in a hunting/outdoors blog that came from The View. Besides Elisabeth Hasselbeck. I like trying new things.

Two, Carolyn and every other woman who's watched this clip has absolutely balled. Guy or girl, it'll tug on your heart strings. Not mine, though.

Three, after the tragic February 24th orca attack a few miles to my east, I wanted to keep a torch lit for those of you out there who believe interacting with large, aggressive predators is a sane idea. (It may be too soon for that joke.)

So, without further ado, here's Barbara Walters. Get your hankies.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Accidental Shed Hunter

Saturday, March 6th, I finally wrapped my longing fingers around deer antler. Too bad there was no buck attached.

Monitoring the online forums a month or so ago, I asked my friends as USA Hunting Pros how they went about hunting for sheds, an activity they regard with much enthusiasm. In short, the answers I got were solid – search bedding and feeding areas.

One problem with this, though – geography. Most of the hunters on this site hail from the Midwest where the terrain is more open than where I hunt in Florida. No doubt they have choked up bottoms and such, but unless a buck drops horn in an oak hammock or food plot, it is a different game here, and Lord knows I’m not going traipsing through palmetto flats and swamps looking for a shed. Honestly, I’ve not spent a great deal of time on the hobby.

I’ve found a few – and some right fine ones – over the years, but completely on accident, which makes plenty of sense since most of the deer I’ve harvested have come to me in similar fashion. But, I always keep my eyes open.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? I found my first shed in a long time, a little forkie horn laying on a game trail between the broom sedge as I walked a climber stand out of a hammock. Dad thinks it may have come off a small buck he’d been seeing in there during the season. Though it’s awfully wimpy, I was pleased.

I don’t have any real answers to how Florida hunters could go about searching for their own sheds in any purposeful manner other than spending a lot of time walking around. Some people have suggested checking burned out palmetto flats and pine stands and look for the white horn against the black landscape. Makes sense. A couple of sheds I’ve happened upon have rested by creek beds and totally random spots while I’ve been quail hunting or following up blood trails while winter hog hunting.

If anybody has any tips on hunting sheds, here or up north, feel free to share!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Honey Teriyaki Venison Ham Steaks

Remembering, of course, my affinity for grocery-bought marinades, I would like to present my latest concoction for dining on deer - KC Masterpiece Honey Teriyaki Venison Ham Steaks.

I originally was going to make honey pepper steaks, but found this leftover bottle of goodness in the fridge, my reasons for having it in the first place long since forgotten. Hmmm, it's so crazy it just may work.

I prepare the meat the same way for either ham or backstrap steaks. Trim fat and sinew, hit with tenderizer mallet, soak in icy water for thirty minutes, pat dry, and toss in marinade.

Let the meat get to know the marinade for a few hours. Fire up the gas grill until it's good and hot. Cook two minutes on either side for medium-rare to medium. Tent tinfoil over the meat for a few minutes then serve.

Try this marinade once and hope you have more venison in the freezer. Otherwise, you may start wondering if your truck insurance is paid up next time you see a doe feeding on the side of the road.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

YouTube Video of the Week - Spring Snow Geese

Turkey and hog hunting aren't the only events in the Spring. Other outdoorspeople will be in pursuit of black bear and geese when their seasons open across the country.

Today we'll look at a Spring snow goose hunting video. As you can tell, there are no shortage of snow geese. In fact, this season was established to knock back goose numbers to prevent them from eating their summer tundra habitat out of house and home. I think that's what I've read.

Anyway, this hunt is on a short-list for me. Unplugged shotguns. Few, if any, limit restrictions. And just waterfowling, fun in itself. This video doesn't have a great number of "kill shots", but I like it anyhow. Enjoy!

Monday, March 1, 2010

To the Finches or Whatever

Sickos. I don't really have anything more to say about this. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Finch Fighting: A New Breed of Animal Cruelty

Scouting Chassahowitzka for Spring Turkey III - Gobblers Gone Viral

Scouting for spring turkey season is an art that’s really only picked up steam in the last decade or so. Or maybe just written about in the last decade or so. I remember talking with my taxidermist a couple years ago about his hunts at Richloam WMA in central Florida. I asked how he went about scouting a property of that size, and he scoffed at the question.

"Well, I show up before light, listen for a gobble and work my way to him. I don't waste time scouting.”

I guess it worked for him. But I am also guessing he’s not the only one who employs this approach and has resulted in a few busted hunts and PO-ed hunters.

For me, turkey scouting was engrained at an early age – identifying roost trees, looking for tracks and scat, paying attention to where the gobblers hung out during the offseason, and getting to know the lay of the land. It was no real art and never 100% successful as turkey habits change throughout the spring, just some basic woodsmanship and observation skills. Of course, my history of turkey hunting has been conducted primarily on private lands with ample opportunity to see birds on a regular basis and explore the property at will.

Those days are gone. If I hunt private property these days, it is on an invite basis only, and I am stuck wherever someone wants to place me. Until this changes, I’m hunting WMA’s.

A lot of public land in Florida is downright daunting to the newbie. The Green Swamp, Richloam and others that allow entry without a quota are huge and access to scout throughout the year is limited. Big Cypress is even more intimidating. When season starts, you have the access, but plenty of other hunters wandering aimlessly about, too. If you can hunt during the work week, you have the advantage of access and fewer hunters, and yes, listening for a gobble and moving in is probably a safe gamble.

Weekend warriors such as me need to be a tad shrewder, I think. Again, I am not a pro on public land; I’m just picking things up as I go along. Case in point, I drew a quota tag for Chassahowitzka WMA. (You can read about my other scouting posts here: Part I & Part II). I’ve done my Google Earth scouting and have been able to get a general idea of the terrain. I’ve driven the property and got a real eye-opener. It is huge piece of thick land, and the hunting is going to be tough. Chazz, luckily, is open year-round, but it’s not exactly next door for me to scout. My next step was to ask around the Internet forums for advice.

Outdoor forums have become a valuable database for all sorts of hunting and fishing information. Yes, some will be hesitant or downright hostile towards helping others, especially when it involves their cherished hunting lands, but others are more than happy to lend a hand. I try to, at least.

The beauty of Chazz is only a handful of other hunters drew a tag this season. There won’t be several hundred hunters giving a crap about the turkey here this season and reluctant to swap notes. And I’ve received great advice on how to proceed with scouting and my hunt.

Bigcountry at NWTF.org really came through:

“That place is awful thick and the birds don’t gobble much! We hunted off of main grade where it starts to tee to the left and right! It’s mainly swamp but it’s got large roost trees and fairly open! We found a bluff in there with a lot of sign on it and went back the next day and listened that morning for a bird! Heard 9 different birds but none gobbled after they flew down! Between 7 and 9 we killed two 2 year olds on the same knoll!”

“Get in there before they hit the ground or ur gonna be mad! They calm up right after fly down! I’m sure you will be on birds if you make the trip! Let me know if I can help any! Maybe one day I can pick ur brain on a few places??? Have fun and good luck.”

That’s solid recon. I don’t think he’d purposely mess with a stranger!

Even if someone can’t offer firsthand knowledge on laying a bird low, they may know a thing or two about the land itself that can help you plan and prepare.

Rackman at Floridafishandhunt.com gave a sobering account of hunting here:

"At the end of rattle snake camp road there is a turn around spot with a picnic table. There’s a closed road that starts there and goes into the swamp. Just walk that road and you should see turkeys all day. Move slowly and keep your eyes on the ground, snakes are big and everywhere."


Since no one invited me to hunt the opener in the South Zone this weekend, I am trekking out to Chazz to burn boot leather to check out these spots. Obviously, there are some advantages such as open access and limited hunters that Green Swamp enthusiasts won’t enjoy this season, but many of the tactics here can work there as well.

Social media is the chic form of communication these days, and promoting products and businesses and whatever else online is the norm. Going viral is the buzzword for utilizing social media to increase knowledge of whatever it is you want increased knowledge on. There’s no reason not to apply it to hunting – or, in this case, spring turkey scouting.