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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

2011 Big Buck Expo

July 8-10, The 2011 Southern Trophy Hunters Big Buck Expo returns to the Lakeland Center. It is the perfect amp-up for the coming deer season.

This year’s events include a variety of speakers from the hunting industry. Muzzy Hunting Camp will be welcoming the boys from the award-winning Backwoods Life TV and radio shows to discuss hunting across the United States and abroad for a variety of game animals. Also entertaining will be Roger Raglin from BKS Productions and Roger Raglin Outdoors; Davie Ferraro of Hunt Strong who’ll share tips on preparing for physically challenging hunts; Antler Insanity’s Kenneth Lancaster and Shane Smith; and Sam Klement of “Country Goes Huntin’” and “Huntin’ is Good.”

Another interesting speaker - and a topic I find fascinating - is Stephen Hall who’ll discuss...well, I’ll just copy and paste:

“Have an idea for the next great hunting or fishing invention? Introducing a new product or starting a new business? Producing or hosting a new outdoor show? If so, the next question is: ARE YOU PROTECTED? Stephen Hall, attorney with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, will discuss the legal issues and strategies for protecting your ideas and publicity through patents, trademarks, and copyrights. As an avid hunter, fisherman, and outdoorsman himself, Stephen’s practical approach to protecting intellectual property rights is invaluable to those considering, or already in, the outdoor industry.”

The good folks at Muzzy will also display a dozen bucks that score over 200” and taken with their broadheads. A special gun section is hosted by Shoot Straight and will offer brand name firearms and optics at special show prices. Bring last year’s antlers to have them scored and entered into a tournament for a chance at braggin’ rights in nine different categories. Finally, those of you early morning Sunday visitors won’t want to miss Randall Myers’ pre-show Sunday morning service.

As always, there will be plenty of vendors, raffles, and cool prizes. I should be attending Friday evening and Saturday with fellow Mossy Oak ProStaffers. Bring your family and friends and enjoy the 2011 Big Buck Expo.

Admission: $22 Super Ticket (weekend pass), $10 adults, $8 Seniors 65+ and Retired Military (with ID), $5 kids 6-17. Admission Free for Active Duty and Active Duty Reserve (with ID) and kids under 6.

Click Here for more Information!!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Stalking Orange Groves for Wild Hogs

I wish I’d taken more pictures, but I didn't want to stop the action and burn daylight for the camera. Get while the gettin’s good. So after we tossed one meat hog in the back of the Chevy, down the road we went, sneaking from row to row, glassing for more targets in the open trails between the lines of Valencias.

And the pigs were thick. More pigs on the hoof than fruit on the trees. No scurvy swine in this herd. We stepped over the crushed rinds of oranges and grapefruit dragging hog after fat hog back to the main road. Whether the swine scavenge fallen fruit or pluck them off the lower branches, they take a sample of Florida’s signature cash crop in their snouts and smash it open, consuming only the pulp. Here I thought pigs would eat the whole thing!

But beyond the vast quantity of goodies, the whole grove proved something of an ideal location to spot and stalk wild hogs. The thick cover of the grove kept them shaded and provided a false sense of security - very false for those of us with a scoped magnum. The trees hung low to the ground and wide, concealing much of our movement as we glassed down the lanes and prepared for shots. The cowboy who worked the ranch knew all this and was more than happy to provide us the combination to enter the grove.

The plan in the mornings and evening was to sneak into the grove, and slowly creep down the main roads. The hogs, always the movers, often had us stalking back and forth between rows waiting for a shot. But eventually they’d freeze long enough for a steady rest – my Harris bipod proving to be a real winner here – to torch off a round.

The owner of the property made it well-known his distaste for wild hogs and gave us permission to strike down as many as we wanted. But we all sorta had our own goals. I was looking for a nice boar for a mount. Travis was grocery shopping. And E-Man just wanted to pull the trigger on something. Honestly, more got away than bit the bullet, all of us uncommonly polite around this bounty, waiting on the other to decide what to do.

T got the train moving, taking a couple of meat hogs. I got a small boar one evening, and whiffed another on a rushed shot as it bird-dogged a sow.

But E-Man got the trophy of the group, plugging his best hog ever, a 220 lb. boar with 3-inch cutters and a pair of the sharpest wetters I’ve seen. So happy, he even claimed he’d tattoo a boar on his chest with the gate combination to the grove inked in above the hog body art.

This has been a couple winters ago. We’ve since hit the grove during all the seasons and routinely enjoy a fine hunt. In Spring and Summer the hogs camp out to feed on new-growth grasses and wallow in irrigation ditches. They know when the workers are abandoning their labor for the day and emerge in the evenings and early mornings, or after a thunderstorm. No matter the constant efforts to keep the grove hog-proof with fencing, there are always plenty of trails they sneak in through.

If you have access to an orange grove, you may have access to successful Florida hog hunting year round. Ask around, you never know who may accomodate your request.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Scallop Knowledge 2011

I’ve said and written it before, but scalloping is about the most fun you can have in saltwater. When they’re thick you absolutely zone out of any other cares or thoughts in the world as you pick through the seagrass beds in crystal clear waters off Florida’s Nature Coast. With friends and a couple cold drinks at the dock, cleaning the buggers is no big deal, and cooking them up fresh is fine feasting.

And it’s so simple that it is not incumbent upon the recreation to employ any grand schemes or planning. Find a boat, motor out amid the other boats and hop in. Pay attention to your limits and stay safe running the channels, and you have a fine day in the bag.

However, not everyone is as accustomed to the sport as I am. So, I thought I would do a little primer of needs and wants for a successful scallop outing.

What Gear - Mask, Snorkel, Fins, Catch Bag. No need to be certified SCUBA; a snorkeling set from Wal-Mart will serve the purpose. I would spend a couple more bucks on de-fogger for your mask. And you want a mesh bag to place them in – you can find these bags at most local gas stations and bait stores. Oh, and sunscreen and a well-stocked cooler.

Where to Start – Easy, also. Look for the other boats. Armadas of divers gather every year – at least off the Homosassa/Crystal River area. Allow other boaters their room and anchor up. If you aren’t finding scallops right away, pick up and move a few hundred yards.

If you’re in a location where the crowds are more subdued, scallops live on the grass flats in clear water of varying depths. If you’re near a river mouth, you’d do well to move away from the fresh water’s influence on the salinity – in other words, get away from the river mouth and seek saltier seas.

Where to Look – There’s a grave misconception that scallops migrate from the deep as summer advances. This is incorrect. Scallops grow, live and die within a limited area. I think this whole migration belief started because it’s hard to believe that with so many boats on the water, there would be any scallops left after the first month – but there are, and the bivalves are typically bigger.

Two things. Even with all the boats, that’s still a lot of sea floor to cover and not every diver is as keen-eyed as myself. Next, as said above, they grow and die in the same general area – and they grow fast. Scallops don’t live longer than about a year. So it’s easy to believe that bigger scallops travel in from the deep.

That’s a lot of credit for a barely-sentient creature. They do move courtesy a form of water propulsion. They use that delicious white muscle inside their shells to squeeze water in and then out of their bodies. The result is a clam hopping up from the sea bed, being carried by current, then dropping back in the same fashion as a quarter would fall if thrown in a swimming pool. Scallops do this on changing tides so they can optimize their position to filter-feed.

As such, scallops that are bedded in deep grasses and passed over by divers often compromise their safety when they find themselves in the open or rested on the broad leaves of turtle grass. This activity creates the sense of a migration.

Finally, scallop numbers have a bad year every three years or so. If you are clamming in a good year, you’ll find them all the way until the end of season, bigger and covered in algae. Locating them in sandy spots and sections of sparse grass is the easiest way. Others prefer looking deeper in the turtle grass. Still others like to be slowly pulled behind the boat to cover more ground.

Best Times to Hunt – I prefer calm, clear days on the start of an outgoing tide. This keeps the jellyfish away and lowers the water column. Scalloping in water over six feet gets to be work. Some folks prefer to wade in water under four feet. I prefer snorkeling in water 5-6ft; you are high enough on the surface to canvas more area below – like a raptor surveying a rice field for helpless mice. Water clarity is also important. Too much silt and the clams are easy to miss.

Do keep an eye out for late afternoon thunderstorms. They pop up quick, move fast, and are infested with lightning and waterspouts.

How to Clean – Keep the scallops alive in a livewell until the ride back in when you should transfer them into a cooler of ice. Best to keep the ice bagged and place the scallops on top. This makes the scallops open.

Take a spoon and match the curvature of the spoon with the curvature of the shell and cut one side of the meat away from that side of the shell. Then, take a Mini Shop-Vac and suck out the scallop goop. When deprived of its innards cut away the remaining snow-white meat into icy water. Make sure you rinse out the Shop-Vac when done. Trust me.

Or, you can open them with spoons and use the spoon to lightly scrape away the guts – it’s messy and time-consuming but not too difficult. Or, you can drop them off to the nearest kid on a dock offering to clean them for five bucks a gallon.

How to Cook – Fresh scallops are the best you can get. You can fry them or make ceviche – I prefer to sauté them in a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic salt or Everglades Seasoning. Just a couple minutes and you’re done. Don’t overcook them. If you’re feeling rugged, you can pop a few down the gullet raw. They are sweet as candy.

The 2011 Scallop Season starts this weekend and runs until September 25th. Enjoy your time on the water and bring back a bunch!


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What to do with a Blackpowder Shotgun?

My buddy Vo gifted me a muzzleloading shotgun - I’m officially a double-barreled .458 away from having it all.

He won it in a raffle a few years back. Vo is not a hunter. Unless he goes with me and that has been a very long time. After feeling guilty for not attending my wedding last June, he decided it would make a fine gift for us – or me, I suppose. He didn’t know what to do with it.

Not sure I know what to do with it. The gun rests in the corner of my nook like an alien weapon stumbled upon by humans in a Sci-Fi flick; I’m vaguely aware of its intentions, but have little idea how to make it work or define its exact purpose.

Well, let’s start from the beginning. The shotgun is a Knight TK2000 12-gauge. Vo was unaware of my Mossy Oak affiliations or he would not have given it to me replete in its Realtree-clad barrel and stock. I guess that’s not a big deal – best of my knowledge there are no Hatfield-McCoy blood feuds between the two companies, so I accepted it with open arms.

Besides, neither camo organization manufactured the shotgun; Knight was responsible for that. I’ve owned a .50-caliber Knight Disc Rifle since 2004 and absolutely love it. Maybe too many were donated for auction purposes or, like me, folks were satisfied with their first Knight purchase and did not buy upgrades, but sadly the company went into bankruptcy in 2009. But all glory was restored when the Knight line was resurrected in 2010.

The TK2000 utilizes a musket cap nipple in the breech plug. If I discover an upgrade to 209 shotgun primers, I will swap it out. Instead of a closed bolt system like my Disc rifle, this is a simple inline system where the bolt slams into the primer – a Streetsweeper it is not. No matter what, I’m guessing it kicks like hell.

Since we’re talking about a frontstuffer, obviously the shot is dumped down the barrel on top of some form of propellant. This is where my knowledge really waters down. Despite the vast amount of hunting and firearm literature I consume, I know very little about muzzleloading shotguns and will definitely need help with all considerations pertaining to how much shot, how much powder, and what wads to stuff down that barrel. And how to keep the shot from rolling out if I tip the barrel down!

(I’d offer my guesses on how to properly load it, but I’d inevitably wind up making a joke involving wads of chewing gum and condoms and get sued after some reader lost a few fingers for taking me seriously.)

The next big trick is how and when to use it. This is a hunting rig, not one of my many WWII rifles that just sit around collecting dust. The shotgun balances well, is camo-ed, and is fitted with fiber optic sights. No questioning its aesthetic suitability in the field.

Turkey hunting is the obvious answer, but let’s come back to that. Cole has suggested taking it on a duck hunt – you know, just to see what would happen. I think this would irritate others when that early-morning flock of teal disappears in the gray-blue smoke of my first shot. Each year we have a moorhen tournament and the Knight would certainly up the challenge quotient for that event. But water and blackpowder don’t mix well.

My other problem with waterfowling is the lead shot. This thing has a pretty tight choke on it, and to load up enough steel to down a duck, I’m scared it’d peel the muzzle open like a firearm in Elmer Fudd’s safe. I suppose I could use Tungsten or another malleable non-toxic shot – but that’s getting into cash for a novelty.

So turkey. Gonna have to put it on paper to determine that. Knight claims it will punch an 85% shot density in a 30” circle at 40 yards. But, having been around the block, I’m wary of such claims. And, I’m not exactly concerned with 30” circles when firing at a tom. We need pellets in the head/neck area.

Plus, turkey hunting is tough and frustrating enough with a normal shotgun. All I need is a bad primer to ruin a hunt and that would be the end of that experiment. I’d feel a whole lot easier with a closed bolt arrangement for those ultra-foggy Spring mornings in the latter end of Osceola season. (I can practically hear the flint and frizzen primitive blackpowder crowd banging their collective heads against a table. Hmmm....it is drilled and tapped for scope mounts...)

I do suppose, after some range time and fine-tuning, it will find the turkey woods one day. I like a new quest and the quirk of doing something as esoteric as shooting a tom with a blackpowder shotgun.

It’s a project and one I’m seriously looking forward to. If anyone has any suggestions – tips that won’t blow MY face off – please feel free share.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Father's Day Gifts for the Hunting Dad

I loathe wearing ties. You know that scene in Casino Royale when the villain straps a naked James Bond to a seat-less chair and proceeds to whack him in the undercarriage with a rope that would normally be used to secure an ocean liner to a dock?

I’d endure a session of that a year if it meant I didn’t have to Windsor another knot around my neck.

I only bring this up because Father’s Day is a few days away, and ties have become the unofficial mascot of this holiday. For some reason, well-intending wives and offspring continue to think it would be a grand gesture to gift Good Ol’ Dad another reminder that he has a spiffy Power Point presentation on the effects of halogen lighting on employee productivity on Monday.

It’s a noose that isn’t fit for me. Before marriage I had two ties. Only one of them was a clip-on. Since then I’ve accumulated quite the collection - two more and I’ll have enough rayon and polyester strips to lash together to fashion a tether to haul my bow up and down from the treestand.

In the world of hunting, there are too many cool gadgets out there to be trifled with bogus gifts like neckwear. For the purpose of this post, I’ve created a list of awesome gear that will thoroughly excite the modern hunting dad. Men, print it out and post it on your fridge.

Covert Scouting Camera – I have used the DLC Covert Cam since last September and been very, very pleased. The kit is lightweight and compact. Unlike your standard issue trail camera, the unit saves space by housing all it’s adjustments in a remote control. So instead of dials and buttons to adjust the settings, you plug the control into the camera, make your selections and let it ride.

The battery life is outstanding, especially when using the infrared feature for night-time pictures. My first set of batteries lasted three months – it would have lasted longer had I realized that the camera ceased snapping pictures after 15 shots because of a bad digital card and not spent juice. So I can’t say how much longer they’d lasted, though the second set is rolling strong.

I don’t care for the flimsy plastic lid over the battery case - broke that in a hurry. Also, the digital card ejector was ruined pretty easily. Have to take the needlenose with me to extract it – but you can plug a USB cable into the camera and into any number of picture viewers. (There are newer models that have a viewer built-in.)

Therma-Cell – Kids, if your dad doesn’t own a Therma-Cell yet, I’d go ahead and purchase a couple sessions with a shrink just to examine his faculties.

Therma-Cell changed my hunting life, and I assume it has done the same for countless other hunters. One, it is invaluable turkey hunting. Two, it has its place in the early season teal and wood duck phases when awaiting shooting light in those nasty marshes these birds typically inhabit. Three, I love it bowhunting for deer in September and October. Yes, it releases scent but not nearly as much as OFF! or other such DEET-based products. And while bug suits will keep the skeeters from getting breakfast, the swatting of swarms away from your ear and out from under a facemask does nothing to attract deer.

There are mornings I’d rather not hunt than enter the woods without my Therma-Cell.

Under Armour – Whatever the purpose, Under Armour gear works. Their warm-weather shirts and pants wick sweat away effectively. When a breeze blows, it feels like a cool compress is placed on your chest. Likewise, their cold weather gear is far less cumbersome than most thermal gear and will keep you toasty in waders or in the stand.

Sure, Pops may not be in the shape he once was and Mom may chuckle seeing him in it, but Under Armour gear will prove its worth in the woods when fewer people are around to mock him.

NIKON D3100 – For my 30th birthday, my mother bought me one of the beefier models of the Nikon Coolpix line. It was portable and had all kinds of neat settings. Just one problem – it took horrible, horrible pictures. I wanted to smash it after my trip to Montana where a decent camera is required. Actually, the thought of smashing it still warms my heart.

Well, Mamma tried. To their credit, Nikon was excellent about refunding the money. And I’ve long been a fan of Nikon products. So I put the cash into a D3100. And for my photojournalistic needs it has paid dividends.

It’s a little bulkier than I’d prefer for a daypack, but the picture quality is admirable. I like the 18mm objective lens for taking wide-angle, close-up shots that captures the details of harvested game and grip-and-grin hero photos. The 55mm end of the spectrum is a little lame for far-off shots; however, I take far more close-ups than anything. It’s your preference, and Nikon has a selection of other lenses. The price is a tad prohibitive – especially if you’re raiding a piggy bank – but it’s worth it for that buck-of-a-lifetime.

165 Quart Maxcold Igloo Cooler – I’ve long been a fan of so-called coffin coolers for hunting. One, it can carry to camp all your food and perishables and items that won’t be making the return trip. On the way back, it can carry up to 3 whole, dressed deer.

This cooler is the cat’s meow. I dropped two dressed hogs into it last March, and hauled them both whole to the processor, wasting no meat. The hinges are reinforced. And the top arches if you need that extra room for antlers and caped game.

In all fairness, I’ve not yet loaded mine down with drinks and ice to see how long it will keep. And like most coolers I’ve run across that have hatches in the lid, it leaks rain, but it is versatile and I'm rather pleased.

Coolers may not be that exciting to the kids, but they are of great value when you find a durable one.

This is but a rudimentary list of items that I’ve tried and would recommend. We could add many more, but let’s face it – it’s Father’s Day, not Christmas.

As a father-to-be of twins this fall, I’m naturally scared of the future – of my children following in their mother’s formal, socially-responsible sensibilities and the forth-coming collections of ties and homemade crafts.

It may be too late for me. Hopefully, though, this list may inspire the loved ones in your life think a little harder and reach a little deeper in their wallets and piggy banks to show you they like you.

(And if you buy any camo-clad items, make it Mossy Oak!)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Fun Hurricane Facts

Hurricanes are no fun, but it is that time of year again. I want to make sure people really understand what the Big Wind is all about and how it affects the state of Florida in rude, contemptuous, tempest ways.

Category 1 Fact: There is a strong statistically significant correlation between hurricanes, drowned surfers, and higher collective local SAT scores.

The newspeople have three basic videos they show leading up to and through the storm in ascending scales of drama. They teach this brand of video-journalism at local colleges.

One, the surfer riding storm swells…opens all sorts of creative banter between the anchorpeople.

Two, the stop sign that shakes back and forth in the gusty wind.

Three, the classic “Roof Blows off the Circle K” followed by commentary from Cletus and his merry band of barefoot looters.

Category 2 Fact: The next hurricane that hits Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, basically anywhere in the state is going to be the most destructive storm to strike Florida.

Why? Global Warming? Bad Luck? Casey Anthony?

No, because we continue to put condos and homes directly along the beaches. It’s going to cost more because we put more there. Everyone grasping this concept? For some reason, this realization escapes most talking heads.

Category 3 Fact: Evacuation is for sissies.

I say this boldly because I reside in the highest area above sea level in this state, which, comparatively speaking, is still about as high above the ocean as a pool-side diving board you’d feel semi-sober comfortable with letting your 4 year old jump off of.

Plus, it’s been demonstrated time and again that the federal government is well-equipped to lend a hand if your house is transformed into flotsam.

In a very small way, I do feel bad for weatherpeople and government officials who repeatedly, year after year, plead to the point of obnoxiousness with the mob to evacuate in the event of a dangerous storm. Year after year, there are fights with evacuation officials.

Let’s pretend that every afternoon for five months one of these entities warns the public on the dangers of smoking. Continuous inundation of graphs, models, spaghetti tracks, videos of devastation, and PSA’s – somehow all of this would inevitably seep into the subconscious, and we’d give up cigarettes before September. I’m convinced.

Hurricanes? Nope! After given all these data to process, as the abject terror of Hurricane Woman Name approaches, the common rube thing to do is ignore this unrelenting media and governmental blitzkrieg.

I’d feel like such a failure if I were a weatherman or bureaucrat.

Category 4 Fact: You are not prepared.

Hurricane-preparedness is a cottage industry down here. It’s like shopping for newborn baby stuff. Once the season begins, Panic develops a market. They toss any conceivable item they think they can get you to buy – from generators to deep freezers to run on the generators – on a “survival guide” and taunt you until you buy it all. Flashlight and candle sales must peak this time of year. (As I’m sure contraceptives do.) It’s not uncommon for some folks to rummage through hurricane kits of years past and re-kindle lost memories, as in, “I remember buying this at Junk Depot before the store blew away in 2004.”

In all seriousness, fill up your vehicle with gas ASAP. One, the lines at the pumps become non-negotiable once a storm approaches within 300 miles of shore. Two, whether the hurricane hits or not, gas prices will shoot through the roof because offshore drills, refineries, and commodity experts will be overwhelmed by demand and the potential for disaster.

Category 5 Fact: If you have major plans – family vacations, weddings, hunting trips – scheduled during hurricane season, a storm will invariably strike.

When this happens you have three real options. All three of them have numerous undesired consequences.

1. Flee the scene and go ahead with your trip. But then again, you could return home and find all you have left – either because the rest all floated/blew away or became property of happy-to-help strangers pillaging your wreckage – is what’s in your suitcase. Or you could get stuck wherever you are, leaving you to curse your nephew for getting married in Ypsilanti.

2. Cancel your plans and retreat to a shelter. You run into a few of the same issues as above – looting, left with luggage amidst strangers of varying and rapidly declining hygiene levels. Plus, as described above, you’ll be tarnished a coward for life.

3. Cancel your plans and ride it out. Now, if you live in coastal areas and the terms “flotsam” and “wreckage” and “federal government” don’t scare the bejeezus out of you, sand bag your doors and windows and stow away your life’s memories and trinkets and make sure you get things right with the Big Guy. It’s going to be a long ride.

Or come visit me. I should have plenty of beer in my generator-powered deep freezer, though just in case it runs out of gas or an oak falls on it, I find it important to keep a bottle of non-perishable brown water somewhere close at hand.

It helps to be prepared.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Buffalo Turkey Tenders

You killed a turkey this spring, didn't you? Didn't you!

I'm not envious, resentful or consumed with fits of murderous rage. Promise. And to show you I'm not, here's a recipe you may try that will burn the taste buds right off your tongue.

It is tough to beat fried turkey. Fried in chunks or whole, this bird eats. One day though - last year, perhaps - I kinda wanted something different, outside the normal order of things. I catch a load of crap from my wife and others who think I’m 12 for ordering chicken tenders at restaurants. Even fancy restaurants that don't necessarily serve chicken tenders. I'm not invited to many fancy restaurants any more. I tell them all the same thing – it’s hard to screw up tenders.

Turkey. Fried. Yes, yes...for something special? Add the hot wing sauce. Dammit, let's shoot that sodium level through the roof!

½ boneless turkey breast
House-Autry Original Recipe Seafood Breader
Vegetable Oil
Frank’s Buffalo Sauce

Cut breast into chicken tender-like strips, slicing around tougher tendons and removing any remaining yellow fat (and lead shot!). Cover in plastic wrap and whack on each side with tenderizer mallet. Soak in milk for 30 min. - 1 hour. Heat oil in cast iron deep enough for frying. Remove strips from milk and press well into breading – if milk soaks thru, re-press!

By the way, I've used all kinds of seasoning for fried turkey breast from cornmeal to breadcrumbs and smashed-up saltines. This House Autry seafood breading is the best by far for this recipe. Has just enough kick to complement the hot sauce. Trust me. Don't ask questions, just be amazed.

When the oil is ready, add the fingers until golden brown on both sides. Toss with Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and dip in blue cheese or ranch dressing. Simple, delicious, fun at parties.

And since I'm basically a failure at turkey hunting and have been found wanting, take pity on this boy and feel free to bring a batch over to fry.

And definitely watch your back. I'm still fairly bitter.