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

Monday, February 28, 2011

February Trail Camera Pics

I moved my Covert Cam from the Polk County lease because I suspected folks had grown weary of armadillo and possum pictures. I had. So, Travis and I positioned it by a corn feeder on a private ranch in Sarasota County.

The camera hangs on an oak in a small clearing surrounded by palmettos, a swamp, and scrub area. It's very much Florida.

After a month and 1200 pictures later, here are some of the best of the bunch.

This land is loaded with deer, but they shy away from the feeders, for the most part.

Plenty of hogs, but they showed at night. The hunting pressure has been tough on the swine. These pics show there's still a slew of them there, but finding hoggies during the daylight has proved troublesome.

This guy could become a stud one day.

I think this is him again.

Hogs come in all sorts of colors. This is a nice young boar.

A feeding Osceola.

Posing for the picture. Not permitted to turkey hunt here, but it's still nice to see the birds.

The gobblers hung around until mid-month then not much tom activity over the last week. Probably started spreading out. Turkey season in this zone starts this weekend.

I like this picture.

I'm heading down this week to see if I can get one of those pigs and will put the camera in a new spot. I really want to capture a huge boar on here to show off.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Two Squirrels and a Seventeen

I hadn’t been squirrel hunting in about five years. I have a Marlin 917 in 17HMR that’s been largely ignored for nearly that length of time. The moment had come to remedy these sorrowful facts.

Did you know that my first hunt was a squirrel hunt?


Probably because I didn’t tell you, nosy. My dad and I were invited to a camp in Cross City in the Florida Panhandle by some friends of his for a weekend of bushytail hunting.

I was six, so the details are a little fuzzy. Try and stay with me.

The morning was largely fruitless, but we did happen across one lone squirrel literally begging to be shot. Seriously. He sat exposed on a pine branch and just barked at us.

Dad let me carry the H&R single shot 20 gauge because, you know, most six year olds can heft a firearm that’s three-quarters their size – Dad started me out as his personal gun valet early.

I remember the squirrel. I remember aiming. I very distinctly remember that recoil against my young, growing bones. It’s probably the reason my right arm is four inches shorter than my left and why, consequently, I swim in circles.

After I stood back up, dusted the pine needles off my jacket, and Dad retrieved the gun, we went to look for the squirrel. Dad claimed later that I vaporized it, scared I guess to admit in front of peers that I was a terrible shot for a 1st grader who had never fired a shotgun before. Or maybe he just couldn’t disappoint those soft brown eyes of mine. Either way, he delivered it in the same patronizing tone I’ve since employed when I know he missed a deer by a mile and reassure him his sights were probably off.

Anyway, that was then. I got older, procured a pellet gun, and squirrels started becoming scarce around the ol' homestead. Pan-fried, barbequed, it was my formative years of learning how to burn food. Over time, squirrel hunting took a back seat to more important ventures, save the days when Travis and I would go to his ranch with my Ruger 10/22 and a 30-round magazine and try to blast them off branches like we were shooting an Ack-Ack gun.

Fast forward to present day. My trail camera captured hundreds of photos of these greedy little tree rats eating the corn from the feeders. I’d walk up to re-fill them, and they’d bound up the tree - pausing halfway up to catch their breaths they were so fat - but generally caring little for me. They ruled the feeders with impunity.

Enter the .17HMR. The day was muggy for Spring and the woods still. Birds weren’t chirping; really no sound other than the trucks on the highway. Never a good sign.

But I can make them talk. Oh, I have ways. Now, quick side note, this is the kind of knowledge I would have never shared in high school for fear of being beaten severely by members of the football team, but now that I am older, have developed more self-confidence, and carry a loaded .45 ACP on me at all times, I no longer harbor such reservations.

Find a likely squirrel haunt, loudly kiss the back of your hand and shake a palmetto or other tree branch. You look like a major goob, and it’s not really for the YouTube generation, but for some reason this gets them barking. This tactic is really a credit to me not having a girlfriend for a long time.

It worked. Unfortunately, the two squirrels that responded were in oaks way back in a sea of palmettos. Seems I’m not as gung-ho for rodents as I thought I’d be.

I pressed on in a loop around the lease. At the feeder on the north end, a squirrel barked profanely at my intrusion, cocky little miscreant. I missed him twice, but the second shot could have been at Spanish moss wedged in the crotch of the pine. So we’ll say I missed once. Sights were off, anyway.

(In all honesty, I was taking the best shot available which meant shooting through twigs and leaves at times; it doesn’t take much more than a change in atmospheric pressure to swing that 17 caliber off course. Or make that fragile bullet explode.)

Reading advice on outdoor writing, they say stories of unsuccessful hunts don’t sell, so let’s skip past the next 4 or 5 squirrels still breathing fresh air and go to the glory. Now this was a big squirrel. I felt a little under-gunned. Still, I kept my nerves at bay. He bounded up the tree pausing in the stratosphere as I steadied the rifle. I’d like to tell you I threaded the needle, but boasts such as these tend to get watered down after confessing to so many misses.

One squirrel just didn’t feel like success. But, it was nearing dark and I wanted to snap photos with my new camera, which, by the way, if calling squirrels doesn’t make you feel a little gooberish, setting up a tripod and timer to take your picture of one should usher you straight into Dorkville. (In fact, it was a conflict of conscience that I even posted the picture I did...yikes.)

I got lucky. On the hike back, one smug squirrel posted up in a scrub oak began barking incessantly at me – kind of like that vaporized rat from my youth. After reloading the magazine and trampling through the palmettos I avoided earlier, I finally tagged him. It was time we could all go home.

A lot of fun, squirrel hunting is, and it’s kinda sad I forgot that. I burned through half a box of ammo, got some exercise and dinner for a night when my wife is away.

Turkey season is pressing, and I did a lot of predator hunting this winter. Sure was nice to switch up to an event without so much scheming and detail.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Almost Blew It Bobcat

I almost blew it. I know better than to leave my rifle leaning against a tree when I’m in the woods, even for the briefest of moments. That’s when they take advantage of you.

I had finished my final calling session of the evening, eager to leave the mosquitoes and hit the showers for a birthday party I had committed to Friday night. Once again, predator calling skunked me, and I was over it anyhow.

On the way to grab the flipping and flopping MOJO Critter, two previously unseen gray foxes bounded into the swamp. Didn’t really matter – can’t shoot them anyway. I proceeded to the decoy and glanced down the road. Half-crouched, eyes transfixed on the MOJO, a bobcat was keeping watch.

Frozen in the open, with no weapon - there’s no way he didn’t catch me! Why he didn’t bolt like the foxes is beyond me.

How amateurish. From both our angles.

I had set up at the end of a truck trail along the fence that divides our lease in half and cuts perpendicular through a cypress swamp that strings north to south. On the east side of the swamp is a pasture consisting of scattered pines and scrub oaks, with just enough palmettos in between that clear shots would be short. Nick fired at a coyote here in the summer, and a month ago Krunk and I dialed up a bobcat that slinked away before a decent opportunity.

Walking in that evening, I noticed a healthy set of cat tracks in the deep black muck of a pothole in the road. Also found scat and claw marks where a feline had clearly relieved him or herself and tried to hide it from the world. So bobcats were certainly in the vicinity.

I unwound the thin black cord from the base of the Johnny Stewart Digital Call and hung the megaphone in the crotch of a pine branch about seven feet off the ground to give it that Reach Out and Touch Someone effect. The MOJO was placed at such a distance relative to the call and my haunt that I would be the fulcrum point of an isosceles triangle.

The tricky part was deciphering from where intended game would emerge. The breeze was flat dead, but I still wanted to have downwind covered as coyotes tend to swing around to that side. Smart money was to focus on the road along the fence, though. That’s where the sign was and predators tend to use well-worn paths on their approach. If anything wandered down the trail, it would easily catch sight of the motorized decoy. Then they'd come bounding in, I'd raise the rifle and shoot, and friends and family would host a Hero's Welcome upon my return.

I settled against an oak, shifted my rifle to cover the decoy, and the hunt was on. I selected the Cottontail in Distress offering and played four series, waiting 5 minutes in between each sequence.

Thinking strongly of coyotes, I was discouraged. They’d be here by now, I thought. Plus, my wife was assuredly anxious for me to return home to go to this party. Time to call it – they beat me again. The Canyon of Heroes would have to wait for another day.

That’s when I stood and leaned the Savage against the tree and advanced towards the MOJO.

The foxes.

The leering bobcat.

If only I could slip back...

I slowly sidled out of the cat’s view, quickening my pace to a trot when obscured by the swamp. I snatched my rifle, tossed it to the shoulder and crab-walked like a Navy Seal point man about to pop around a wall and blast a terrorist. In this case, a Turkey Terrorist.

Miraculously, the bobcat was still there. I guess it's true about the curiosity and the cats. Or maybe that MOJO works better than I surmised. More miraculously, what with all the hurry and anxiety, I connected on the 30 yard shot.

Gorgeous animal - the first I had ever called in and shot. The party would have to wait a while as I hiked to the truck, drove back, and set up the camera and tripod for the Grinning Idiot Hero pictures.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Birds of Spring

The white-winged dove have returned to town. I typically notice them around April. They migrate from the south as Spring approaches, leaving before dove season resumes in the fall. Pretty convenient.

I have shot a few. They are striking birds compared to the dumpy mourning dove or the collared dove, also native to my yard. Their calls are not as sorrowful, either. Rather upbeat, which is appropriate for this time of the year.

White-wings are indigenous to the Southwest and parts of Florida, best of my knowledge. Aptly named, while in flight their wings flash a vivid white. Taxidermy-quality animal, methinks. White-wings are also not in as big of a hurry as the rush-hour morning dove. My shot-to-kill ratio on a dove hunt would improve dramatically if they were here in October.

While the dove are early coming, another group of birds is late going. Strangely, there’s a gigantic flock of robins hanging around. They’re typically winging it back north by now. Some tree – I am not an arborist – by our kitchen door is budding berries and the red-breasted birds are bustling around this buffet, chirping and screeching. Always nice to see them in the fall; know ducks will be down soon.

And in the beauty of interspecies harmony and cooperation, the two species roost in the pecan tree that looms over my driveway, completely hosing down my beautiful truck with what looks like puked up blueberry pancake batter courtesy of a drunken houseguest. Thanks to our outmoded gun and game laws, I am barred by regulation from remedying this predicament. Otherwise, I'd sit on my tailgate with a semi-automatic shotgun at night in my crowded neighborhood in downtown Lakeland and lay waste to the little crapheads.

Makes me awfully hostile towards the avian kind. Luckily, turkey season is nearing.

Speaking of turkey, I almost caused a very serious traffic accident yesterday morning. Approaching the entrance to the Circle B Bar Ranch on the north side of Lake Hancock, three jakes pecked in a pasture near the road. I slammed the brakes on my caca-covered truck. Luckily the cement mixer that had been following me didn’t park on my cab.

Sadly, I had no camera, and thanks to our outmoded gun and game laws, I was barred by regulation from U-Turning and blasting them with the shotgun that may or may not have been in my back seat. Still, it was cool to see them and so close to home. The turkey population in central Florida appears to be expanding.

Unfortunately, and despite my numerous protests and letters, the silly County Commission closed the Circle B to hunting. I guess when they need funding down the line for whatever observatory platform, paved pathway or other gimmick birdwatchers require for their hobby, an auctioned turkey hunt will be out of the question.

Afterall, there's very little demand for unspoiled Osceola turkey hunting, right?

Last Friday night while predator hunting, the owls were going bonkers, their Who-Cooks-For-You’s? vibrating through the woods. Owls are so primeval in their mannerisms. Their pace is all off, reptile-like in patience and sheer coldness. Hearing one rev up the hoots around you in the dark will certainly result in goosebumps.

Soon their music was followed by the misereres of the chuck-will’s-widows. Folks often mistake the chuck-will’s for a whip-poor-will. Both are depressing names for a bird, if you ask me. I’d call them repetitive-songed night-haints. Both are members of the nightjar family, though you’d have to be a pretty serious bird dork to tell them apart by casual appearances alone.

If you ever see one. Occasionally one will fly in front of your headlights while returning to camp. Sometimes in the dark you can catch their glowing eyes with a spotlight as they hunker in a myrtle or palm. Many people down this way refer to them as Bull Bats.

The Chuck is more often found in my part of the country than the whip-poor-will, and his call is singular in refrain and lyrics. It’s crazy to know that, actually.

Beyond the power gobble of a tom in the twilight, the pleading of the owls and the dirge of the nightjars I identify more with March and April than any songbird.

I like them.

Most notably because they don’t defecate on my truck.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reconstructing The Wild Life

For me, blogging is a lot like singing karaoke, without people heckling me to my face. And much more sober. I enjoy writing. Some folks enjoy reading. It can be rather cheesy and amateurish, but, for better or worse, it’s in good fun and entertaining for all involved. Still, I continue to harbor a small measure of hope that from out there in Cyberspace, a publisher or editor will step forth with a lucrative contract and a 10-day Tanzanian Cape Buffalo assignment.

Doesn’t hurt to dream.

I did realize recently that my blog has become somewhat stale and awfully linear. If said executive was seeking a piece on deer hunting, he or she would have to scroll down through the garbage of 180+ posts on everything from ducks to cows licking turkey decoys. Busy people like this want to be presented with information quickly, not have to hunt for it. Likewise, I receive a load of traffic from various search engines. These visitors tend not to stay on the site long - nothing to really keep them in tune.

It came time to cut the Kudzu back and provide sunlight and air to the better elements of this site. I needed to categorize and spread things out for easier access. So, I’ve added these links at the top of the page. It was, literally, the least I could do. It did, however, take time to sort through the last year or so and copy and paste all the links to past posts – if you don’t spend at least an hour browsing through my handiwork, my feelings will be gravely injured.

Anyhow, take a gander about. The headlines are pretty self-explanatory – if they aren’t, I explain them once you click on them. I’ve written about a wide variety of subjects and not all fit perfectly. And more than a few posts will just be left in the archives, uncategorized and unloved.

If you have any advice or criticism, I’m welcome to hear it – unless there is too much criticism, in which case I will quickly and ruthlessly quell your rebellion.

Also, unless the mood really strikes me, I am taking a couple-week hiatus. The February Funk has me in its fangs. I spent several hours trying to get a post on Turkey Hunting Tips to fly and ended up junking it, frustrated and annoyed. This post is my last spurt of creativity for a while. I may try and tweak the feel of this website per your suggestions.

But don’t go far; I’ll be back to sing a few more songs a little later.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011 Florida Spring Turkey Hunting Primer

Oooh….turkey season is close, brother. Watching the Outdoor TV, I’m filled with anxious feelings as I scan down the calendar. Have the first and second weekends booked. And I’m sure I’ll fill in most of the rest in the coming weeks.

The Glory of Spring Turkey Season!

If you’re hunting Florida this year for the famed Osceola, here are some things you should know.

1. Florida is home to two subspecies of turkey, the Osceola and Eastern. 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.

2. Tags and permits you’ll need:

Hunting license ($17 for residents, $46.50 for nonresident 10-day license);
Management area permit if hunting public land ($26.50)
Turkey permit ($10 for residents, $125 for nonresidents)

These licenses and permits are available at county tax collectors' offices and at most retail outlets that sell hunting/fishing supplies. You can use a credit card and call 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (888-486-8356), or shop online at www.fl.wildlifelicense.com.

3. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to 1 p.m. on public land and all day on private.

4. The only firearms allowed during spring turkey hunts on wildlife management areas (unless otherwise noted below) are shotguns and muzzleloading shotguns, using shot no larger than No. 2. Bows and crossbows also may be used. On private lands, you may hunt with centerfire and rimfire rifles and pistols.

5. It doesn’t matter if you are on private land or not, these rules stay the same: Only gobblers (male) and bearded turkeys may be taken. The daily bag limit is one turkey, and the season limit is two. Baiting is against the law, but using decoys is allowed.

You may not use dogs to hunt turkeys, use recorded turkey calls or sounds, or shoot turkeys while they are on the roost (in a tree).

6. The above information comes from FWC.com. If you don’t believe me, click here. This link also provides a list of 42 public lands you can hunt without a quota permit.

7. The season runs from March 5th – April 10th in Zone A, and March 19th – April 24th in Zones B, C, D. Please check the FWC website for zone boundaries.

Best of luck this season!

Past TWL Turkey Hunting Posts

2010 Florida Spring Turkey Hunting Primer
Magnums, for Better or Worse
The Tuesday Morning Jake
The Pygmy Osceola
Spot & Stalk Gobbler
South Carolina Gobbler
The Chassahowitzka Hunt
Turkey Hunting Safety
Green Swamp Gobbler

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Downside to Wild Hog Management

Have you ever hunted by a feeder when the hogs start trotting in? It’s quite the cacophony. The urgent hoofbeats and grunting. Greedy buggers.

Per usual, I heard this one coming. The ground blind was designed as an archery ambush. The shot would only be 25 yards or so. You take a folding metal chair and sit amidst the ring of cut palmetto fronds underneath a fallen pine braced by a rotting water oak. It’s a fine, shadowy haunt, but today I left the PSE and toted my pet Savage .300 to eliminate the guesswork.

While the rest of the country was being buried under snow, South Florida was caught in the frontal boundary. Warm Southern Winds made this afternoon a sweater. The switching gusts of the weather system created a cyclone of human stink. I could spray down with cover scent and possibly fool a deer. Not so with a hog.

The small boar, maybe 50 pounds trotted by at 10-12 feet as an ungrateful switch of North Blow piled him with sweat. If I’d hopped out and hit him in the face with a pie, he wouldn’t have been more spooked.

The young guy wheeled around and hauled pork butt, front legs between the back, motoring as fast as he could. As a final indignation, he paused for a few moments out of sight and whoofed at me. Maybe my trail camera will catch him later.

And that’s as close as I’ve come to killing a hog in a year, the longest time since when I was 12 and shot my first, and 14 when I shot my second. Strange, because I have always taken it for granted since then.

You see, conservatively estimating, I’ve laid low 150-200 hogs in my day. A great many more would have headed to the Sty in the Sky had my bullet found its mark. Others were lost to unsuccessful tracking efforts.

Oh times, how they have changed.

In the day when my father and his buddies worked for the phosphate mines, we hunted thousands of acres of un-pressured Hog Heavens in the unspoiled river bottoms and adjoining fields. In the summers, it was nothing to pop several dozen a year. I credit my shooting acumen to those well-spent days.

After that was gone, intermittent invitations over the next couple years to others’ properties filled the void and rather successfully, I may add. Then Travis and I started regularly hunting a large ranch in Sarasota County where T had been hunting for years on a strict invite-only policy. This place swarmed with hogs, and the landowner entreated us to shoot as many of the pasture plowing pests as we could. He didn’t care, and we obliged.

This is where I was hunting the ground blind.

Last year, we signed onto a lease in Polk County that had a fair population of pigs. Almost every trip out, someone saw at least one. A few were killed. But six months of activity on 120 acres left the land vacant before the October air cooled the state.

Back to the Sarasota ranch I was talking about, we have hunted a half-dozen times – by stand, by still-hunting, by truck to spot and stalk – and a couple boars were taken in August. Since then, nada.

Came to learn, the ranch had hired a young man to tend to things around the property. As a job perk, he was able to run dogs at his leisure, and he spent his summer rounding up swine. Couple this with a new deer season that ran from August to January and the accompanying hunters, the survivors learned their lesson. One group from North Carolina comes down annually with horses and runs dogs, as well. They’ve been known to take a few dozen pigs a trip. The cowboys will run traps from time to time. And in the 5 years I’ve been hunting there, we’ve made our presence felt, too. (One particular December hunt I call “The Day of the Dueling 300’s.” If that paints a picture for you.)

Not that there aren’t plenty of hogs left. There are. They are just a little wiser in the ways of the world. The owner wanted serious hog management and he got it. The fields are no longer plowed through. His waterways and irrigation ditches don’t look like he hosted a year-round mud bog competition. In the long run, for the deer and bird hunting, it’s a great thing. If you’re looking for a meal of pulled pork, it’s a little unseemly.

Hogs will respond to this kind of pressure. The older ones will hole up in the real nasty stuff. Or they’d just trot off to a place with less pressure. It doesn’t take wild hogs long to travel a few miles. And they will. That’s what I think has happened at our Polk County lease.

It may not be possible to totally get rid of them, but at least you can keep them down to a dull oink.

If you're into that kind of thing.

Monday, February 7, 2011


I’m like the Dickey Simpkins of the Online Deer Hunting Tournament junket.

You don’t know who Dickey Simpkins is?

Well, he’s a three-time NBA champion from the Jordan-Pippen Chicago Bulls dynasty of the ‘90’s. He may not have contributed much on the court, but I’m sure he delivered plenty of enthusiasm and support for his superstar teammates.

Before the start of deer season I entered the 2010 Whitetail Contest at USAHuntingPros.com. My team – well, the team I was a part of – the Annihilation Squad won this year’s tourney. I would like to tell you my entry, a North Carolina doe, pushed my team to victory, but this just wasn’t the case. My teammates swept up, and we won in convincing fashion. Man, these guys whack big bucks.

First though, let me tell you about USAHuntingPros.com. It is one of my favorite hunting websites. The forum is rife with information from users on just about any hunting subject from predators to waterfowl to finding sheds in the winter. It is comprehensive, and the members willingly offer advice and congratulations for each others’ hunts without the hostility and pretension common to other hunting forums. They make you feel welcome.

Despite the entirety of hunting prowess here, what these folks really know is big whitetails. A fair number of members call the Midwest home. Their deer knowledge for hunting this particular region of the country is impressive as are their photos of harvested whitetails.

Below are a couple giant bucks taken by my team members.

I was a bit apprehensive entering the tournament since the Southern Deer I hunt rarely compare to these giants, but the team carried me through it in a near rout. I have already signed up for the 2011 Turkey Contest – the playing field will be a little more even.

I strongly encourage you to visit USAHuntingPros.com. If you’re into forums, sign up and enjoy the company. Otherwise, peruse the photos and expertise of some of the finest hunters I’ve had the privilege to interact with.

A Trapper's Guide for New Predator Hunters

Predator hunting has not taken off in my parts the way it has in other regions of the country. It should. In the South and East - where in the last 20 years has experienced a coyote explosion - the terrain is varied, from old timber to thick swamps where sound does not flow as freely. This makes predator calling challenging. Woodsmanship is more important than calling skill or strategy.

Knowing this, I asked CJ Williams of the blog Trapping Supplies Review to give us a trapper’s insight on how new predator hunters can get closer to the game they seek.

He turned on this and belted it out of the park!

Trappers and hunters are the closest of kinfolk - trappers being the finest of woodsmen, in my opinion - and I appreciate him sharing his knowledge. Be sure to visit his blog regularly.

*****PLEASE NOTE*****Check local game laws on seasons and bag limits. In Florida, coyote may be hunted year-round; bobcats from December 1st – March 1st, and there is NO open season for red or gray fox.

I'm among a dwindling few who find trapping to be the greatest outdoor challenge. Trapping forces you to be a student of your prey, to intimately know their habits and habitat and, ultimately, to get that animal to put its foot where you want him to put it.

The best woodsmen I know are trappers. Heck, the best woodsmen ever - the Mountain Men - were trappers. If you ask this modern Mountain Man Wanna-Be the best way to hang a coyote's pelt in your fur shed, I'd recommend the foothold trap as the tool of choice.

However, trapping is not ideal in all circumstances. Severe weather conditions can give the best trapper a headache, and setting traps in areas where there may be domestic animals is just asking for a headache. This is why I got into predator hunting a few years back. I started out just using my knowledge gained from the trapline and learned a few other basic things along the way. I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I've had enough success to pass on a few basic words of advice.

Predator hunting has exploded in popularity over the last few years, and with that explosion has come an army of experts writing on the subject in countless books and magazines. Some have it down to a science, taking into account every variable, every circumstance and every scenario. As for me, I like to keep things simple. I'm a firm believer in the KISS principle....Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Rule #1 is get out there and do it. Seriously. If you try to learn every trick in the book, and think you will be unsuccessful unless you do, you'll never really enjoy this sport. Even if you just have a gun, a caller, some camo and what little you'll learn in this article it's enough to get started. Invest some time. One of my very first hunts (alone and with little knowledge) was rewarded with a beautiful gray fox. That experience taught me that it's not quite as hard to do as some make it out to be.

Secondly, I'd suggest you put in some good time scouting for sign. Just take long walks during the day looking for trails, scat and tracks. Use Google Earth to look for natural travel routes and pinch points in the terrain you plan to hunt. Take note of outstanding features, especially the high points of the landscape, and keep them in mind for places to set up and call. A commanding view is always desirable.

I like to hunt right at sunrise and just before sunset with natural light. I've had the most success in the early morning hours, so I like to be at my first stand while it is still dark. Plan your route ahead of time and get in as quickly and quietly as you can.

One thing to remember is that most predators will approach your call from downwind. Pay attention to wind direction, and if you are hunting alone keep the wind at your back and your eyes peeled downwind. If you have an electronic caller with a remote control, place your caller downwind. If you hunt with a partner, station the caller upwind and the primary shooter downwind. That way when they circle around they'll circle right into the shooter's lap. The downwind approach is just a general rule. I've seen a few predators approach at high speed on the shortest path possible! It depends how hungry they are and how much hunting pressure they've been subject to.

The areas I hunt in Southwestern PA have pretty dense cover, so I use a shotgun most often. For more open areas I use a .17 HMR or .22 Mag. You will hear many guys say this is not enough gun to anchor a coyote, but I disagree wholeheartedly. The larger centerfires some guys use may be needed out West for 500 yard shots, but not in my neck of the woods. The bigger calibers cause too much pelt damage.

Full camo and strict movement discipline are a must, especially when hunting in close quarters in wooded areas. Try to break up your outline with the surrounding cover, and control your scent as much as possible. I've used cover scents such as coyote urine and skunk essence, and I believe there is some benefit to this tactic. I know from the trapline that predators are very curious when they smell skunk essence, and I use it as a long distance call lure with success while trapping when the weather is coldest.

Speaking of weather, my experience has been consistent. The colder and nastier the weather, the better it is for predator hunting. I believe in the coldest stretches of January and February they are hungry and just a little more desperate. I generally stay on a stand for about a half hour before moving on.

One thing I learned the hard way: always be ready for action. You may only have a second to shoot. If you let your guard down for a moment, that's exactly when a predator will come into view. Murphy's Law applies in the woods more than anywhere else.

As for calls, I use the simple Johnny Stewart electronic caller and find it perfectly adequate. It costs about $100 and has a wide selection of sounds available for it. It is not remote, but it has enough cord to set it up at a respectable distance from your stand location. Mouth calls are handy, and I use them on occasion, but I find the electronic caller is much better if you are not well practiced with the mouth calls. There are other high-tech, expensive, remote callers on the market, such as FoxPro, but I never felt compelled to drop $600 on one when my humble Johnny Stewart works quite well.

Lastly, never get discouraged. You will connect with a coyote soon enough if they are in the area and you are persistent. Predators have phenomenal senses but they aren't super geniuses. You are smarter than they are.....but even if you're not, it works just as well to be too dumb to quit. Keep at it. Pretty soon you'll be hooked.

This is one simple trapper's approach to predator calling. I don't like to complicate things. It doesn't take a ton of gear or endless hours of research to be successful. What it does take is attention to a few simple details and time spent in the field, the more the better. Scout, call, scout and call, then scout and call some more. Keep it simple, and you'll have some pelts in no time.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Hunting Bobcats, By the Way

As a game animal, the bobcat is worthy quarry. Smart, sneaky, and sly, wildcats are challenging hunts. If you’re into that sort of thing.

My general disdain for cats notwithstanding, I tend to leave bobcats alone. When I happen across them, I’m earnestly chasing deer or hogs. Sometimes turkey. Not about to spoil a hunt like this on a random passerby. I’ve heard they’re good to eat, but...eh. I won’t be selling fur any time soon, and as far as I know, no banks – in my part of the world, at least – accept cat pelts as legal tender.

This is not to say I’ve not whacked a few – I just need a different set of reasons to pursue them than other mentioned game and have let far more go about their business than I would a coyote or other such vermin.

This includes predator hunting. I called one in while hunting South Carolina about a decade ago. I was after song dogs, but this old cat snuck up an irrigation ditch right beside my stand without as much a rustle of a leaf. I just happened to look down and saw those striking eyes staring up at me. I shifted the rifle for a shot. Just didn’t hit me right. After about 10 minutes, he ambled off.

A month ago, Krunk and I were suffering through the the final series of that God-awful dying rabbit squeal on the Johnny Stewart. From the corner of my eye, just the tiniest flick of white in the tall grass. I whispered to Krunk to hold still.

The cat sat peering in the broom sedge, not moving a muscle. My MOJO predator decoy kicked its batteries the previous setup and hung limp in the field. Surveying the situation, the bobcat finally grew bored and slinked away. I would have whacked him first clear chance.

What’s the difference? Who knows?

In Florida, the legal season for bobcat starts December 1st and ends March 1st. This time of the year, toms are on the prowl sorting through receptive females. The weather is nice, deer season is about over, and small game seasons are in effect on a lot of public land. It's primetime for a cat hunt.

Calling bobcats is but one strategy. On average, they come to call at a slower pace than coyotes or fox. That’s their wrinkle. While the canines possess superior smell that makes them difficult to hunt, the bobcat has the ultimate patience. Though some will barge on in like a stumbling college drunk, typically budget 30-40 minutes per set-up.

Wounded rabbit calls work. So do wounded birds. I have the Johnny Stewart Electronic call with interchangeable digital cards. Amongst these is the frightened chicken and distressed woodpecker. Most of the time, though, a mouse squeak or rabbit squealer will do.

Pick your calling locations around easy thoroughfares next to cover. Firebreaks, cowtrails, bike paths, paved roads – it doesn’t really matter. Edges of fields are always money. Any place you find prey animals such as agriculture areas or corn feeders. Stay absolutely still and let loose a series of calls once every 7-10 minutes or so. A decoy can help take those staring eyes off you. Trust me - calling in a bobcat is startlingly good fun, even if you don’t shoot.

Speaking of feeders, there’s another way you can come across a wildcat – sheer luck. Yesterday afternoon, I was holding sentry by a feeder awaiting a pig for the cooler. I knew the cat was coming by the squirrels. They make a huge ruckus when a predator walks by, much more so than they do with deer or anything else. This may be why the cats are largely nocturnal – the chorus of raucous tree rats has to make their diurnal stealth work nigh impossible.

Sure enough, the cat bolted out of the palmettos towards a feeding squirrel that jumped about 6 feet up the side of an oak. The cat threw his paws on the bark resembling my husky when she chases squirrels. Foiled, he moped around for a moment as I contemplated things.

On this ranch, bobcats are a serious enemy to the landowners' turkey efforts. It’s a shoot-on-sight policy that’s common on private lands that host spring gobbler. But I really wanted a hog and didn’t want to stir things up by cracking my .300.

The cat regained his composure and trotted off into the world accompanied by his squirrel soundtrack. He was only 15 pounds or so. I probably should have popped him, but besides the hog hunting, I had another reason for not lowering the hammer.

On the way to the ground blind earlier that evening, out in a clearing between a swamp and the scrub oaks, a big tom was posted up. This was a trophy cat. I’ve long wanted one for my trophy room. Of the peculiar quirks I use to justify shooting a bobcat, a mount is one of those. I’ve looked up and down many, many felines, and here was The One.

As I closed the 75 yard strike, I knew I had bagged my mission. The cat was 25-30 pounds with a gorgeous coat. At the shot, another bobcat scrambled off, probably a hot female. His paws were as big around as a 100-watt light bulb, with those sharp retractable turkey-killing claws. He’ll be on his way to the taxidermist next paycheck.

Again, bobcat hunting may not be for everyone; after this hunt, it probably won’t be for me for a while. Still, when the mood swells and opportunity arises, it’s as exciting as chasing any other wily animal in the woods.