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

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Raccoon Games

“Boy, I wish I could’ve caught him doing it. I’d have given anything to catch that %!@#* doing it. It’d been worth him doing it just so I could’ve caught him doing it.” – Vincent Vega, Pulp Fiction, on someone keying his Malibu.

I purchased a Wildgame Innovations 6.5 Gallon Bucket feeder from the Wal-Mart in Sebring a month ago. I typically prefer bump feeders for ease-of-use. No battery changing or wires coming loose, and if anyone steals it, well, I'm out a bucket, essentially. But this one was on clearance, and we have a new lease in need of a few corn slingers. So I hung it in a stand of blackjack oaks to let it dust the forest floor with that magic gold, hoping deer or turkey or hogs would find it.

When I went to check it a couple weeks back, I found it hanging in the tree gutted like Drew Barrymore in the first Scream movie. The battery compartment door had been pried open, the alligator clips and all points of plastic chewed through. I knew the culprit already, but the wads of wiry white and brown fur wedged in the chain suspending the rig above the ground told the whole story.

Raccoons are a menace.

Most properties in the state I’ve hunted have a healthy raccoon population, but this lease is Ground Zero for ringtail activity. The land is bordered on two sides by orange groves and a swamp on a third. The trail cameras have worked overtime catching them at night sifting through corn piles – which makes me wonder why the Hell they’d destroy a feeder when I’m feeding them! These coons are well-organized and mobilized. And we fired the first shot.

Back in January, PJ and I set out for an evening of predator calling. PJ has a FoxPro digital call. With no luck on the coyotes or bobcats, we snuck down to the swamp right before dark and switched his call to a Fighting Raccoon noise. Basically, the sound is what you’d expect to hear if you dropped a plugged-in boombox into a bathtub, a cacophony of whistles and pops and grunts – everything but the white smoke.

I laughed when I first heard it, but it did work. Within a minute a coon rushed out of the myrtles and stood on his hind legs before PJ dusted him with a 12-gauge. Since then the Raccoon Army has grown vengeful.

I noticed it first in mid-February. I’d left my Covert Cam deployed for two weeks without checking it and couldn’t have been more excited to review the SD card to see what had arrived at my blue bump feeder. Over the course of some 800 pictures, the raccoons had managed to turn my camera 360-degrees around the small oak it hung on. A photo would reveal a tuft of whiskers, and the next would be pivoted 30-45 degrees in a counterclockwise position. No joke, this continued until they had completely spun it around the tree, tufts of fur caught between the bark and the straps of the camera. As you might guess, this ruined any useful pictures, though I did get a nice butt shot of a deer in the upper right corner of a photo that was framed around a vine twirling up an oak branch.

Thankfully they did not destroy the camera though I’m pretty sure they used it as a urinal on more than one occasion.

We fired the next salvo. PJ obtained live traps and set them near the feeders. He promptly caught and dispatched 3 coons. But then ethics took hold. There was a period of time when none of us would be able to visit the lease, and no one wanted to catch a coon and have it suffer in a trap for a week or so. Like England’s failure to control Hitler at the start of the war, we missed an opportunity to stave off further destruction. It was my new feeder that paid the price.

The thing is, raccoons are not only destructive to feeders, they are pretty rough on turkey and quail populations, as well. Notorious egg thieves, raccoons can really devastate upland bird numbers, especially in areas without healthy populations of these game birds. This land doesn’t have many roost trees and isn’t ideal turkey hunting property, but the nesting potential here is high. We’d like to improve that, as much as four guys on 150-acres are able to do. Predator control is one way to accomplish this.

We’ll probably get back into trapping them this summer when everybody is back in town from far-flung turkey exploits and can reliably check the cages. I’d like to use that predator caller and my .17 HMR and make a real hunt of it. Either way, it’s doubtful we’ll make any huge impact. As I’ve said, there are a ton of them, and raccoons are pretty sharp creatures that adjust in a hurry.

I’ve thought about just sitting in a stand by one of the feeders. Oh, it’d be so worth it for them to destroy another feeder...if I can only catch them doing it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Hunting Funk

I’m in the throes of a Hunting Funk. Like when your nose starts itching before a major sinus cold, I recognized the early symptoms. The first sniffle occurred when the nock of my arrow fell off the string while drawing back on a doe in January. The first sneeze was when I sailed a Rage over the back of another doe later that evening. By the end of duck season – after two hunts ended with crashing thuds – I had a full-blown case of Funk-fluenza.

My wife has noticed this affliction. Can’t say it pleases her. She’s made a lot of concessions to help me navigate through this malady. And, yes, she is correct – I’ve had opportunities to leave the house and the twins to enjoy the chirping birds and sunshine and all that crap, but she can’t quite understand the underlying issue.

The major trouble with the Funk is the associated feelings of failure. Take buck hunting. I’ve been Buck-Funked since 2008 – I know the reasons why. I shot a young six-point on my last day of hunting in Georgia that season. I recognized then the Hunting Gods would take it out on me, and I shouldn’t be surprised. Still, three seasons later, it’s like I’ve completely forgotten how to hunt deer. Never mind the odd weather patterns, weird acorn harvests, and general challenge in trophy hunting - I blame myself, mostly.

And as far as incompetence is concerned, the coyotes have sat me in a corner with a dunce cap on, once again. This new lease I’m on is LOADED with coyotes. It’s as if some strange, vindictive organization trapped them with rocket-propelled nets - like the NWTF does with turkeys – and released them on this 140-acre plot. Everyone – except me, naturally – has dozens of pictures of song dogs on their trail cameras. I spent the better part of February trying to call one in without even convincing myself a blowing shrub could be an incoming predator.

Again, it’s the feelings of incompetence and inadequacy that is the worst. And I write, now, for actual pesos. There’s a self-imposed pressure. I like to have fresh success stories to share. Furthermore, I prefer to sound like I know what I’m talking about and have actual real-time proof that I do. When I don’t, it’s sometimes a struggle to whip up something. Then, every time I have been able to arrive at a topic, I go brain-dead at the keyboard. It’d be similar to a mechanic who’d spent the better part of a week repairing a vehicle - with a great deal of difficulty - suddenly forgetting how to start the car and drive it out of the garage after he had finished. The Funk.

Heck, I conjured up this idea while turkey hunting this morning on the aforementioned lease. There aren’t many turkeys here. I think when they imported the coyotes, someone else exported the turkeys…wait, maybe I can do this math on my own…

Anyway, Dad and I scouted the land a month ago and found gobbler tracks on a road bordering a field of new-growth grass and the neighboring orange grove. Looked like a textbook set-up for strutting action. I scattered corn here and checked it last week and spied more gobbler tracks. The excitement began to build.

Obviously I didn’t hunt over the corn this morning rather set up under a stand of scrub oaks at the highest point of the property to listen for gobbles. The land doesn’t have natural roost trees, as you would normally think of, but you never know what may happen over the course of the breeding season. Plus, it hadn’t been uncommon to discover hen tracks over the last month, either. I surmised they roosted off our lease but would wander over to feed in the mid-morning.

Well, 10:30 arrived and my back was over the sit. I had not heard a thing, so I decided to sneak down to glass the corn pile. The “gobblers” were there.

I’d never considered sandhills would eat the corn. Nor had I ever taken the time to learn the distinctions between a gobbler track and that of the Almighty Crane. They are roughly the same dimensions. The sandy soil would’ve made it difficult, and it's not like Sandy's have a fifth toe to betray their hoofprints. I suppose I should have placed a trail camera nearby and saved myself a morning of personal embarrassment, but, you know, I’m just too busy trying to photograph my first coyote.

So, yeah, with that level of hunting acumen it is likely turkey season doesn’t blow me out of the doldrums. But there’s plenty of time left, and, eventually, I’ll run into a wild hog.

They are perfect slump-busters.

Let's hope.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Good Hunt

I apologize for the neglect I have shown towards my website and others. It’s been a long few weeks. Been sick. Been busy with work. The twins grow larger, my time away shrinks. Plus, I’ve not done a lick of good coyote or hog hunting when I have hit the woods.

Also, I’ve been working on a new project. I was hired by the local paper, the Lakeland Ledger, to helm the hunting section of their new website, PolkOutdoors.com. Money for writing about hunting – it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but the wheels turn slow!

Anyway, I’m there now, but I will not abandon my baby here. I’ll still crank out the stories and whatever else jumps to mind. They prefer newsy things of local interest; not my 2000-word rants and long-form style. Nice part is, I can still write that here and link back to it.

In all honesty, there’s pressure to perform. I want this venture to be successful – and make money! The Hunting World is large tent, and no one can do it alone. It is my intentions to reciprocate the love those of you have shown me here. If there’s a topic of interest or tips or photos you’d like to share, feel free to drop me a line.

So check out the new website. I chose to title my blog "Good Hunt,” something buddies and I say after almost every hunt. Or at least I do.

Thank you again, sincerely, for all the support. I would not have achieved this without you!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Theorizing the Perfect Turkey Rifle

As you might assume, just about any centerfire will lay a gobbler low. But if you want actual turkey breast to cook at home, you have to ease up on the velocity. I’ve seen things. Unpleasant things others have done to toms with a .270, .223, .300 Win Mag. Well, the last one was me.

In Florida and a handful of other states, it is legal to hunt gobblers with a rifle in Spring and Fall, at least on private lands, so let’s not even quibble with the ethics or sportsmanship of it. If some people want to, it’s legal. Not my preference, but I think the concept of a specialized turkey rifle is neat – if nothing else, it gives you something to analyze in terms of how ballistics and bullet performance affects game-shot animals.

I have shot 4 toms with a rifle, 3 in the fall, including my biggest Osceola with the .300. I don’t regret it – it was a spot-and-stalk deal, and I plugged him at 50 yards. The other two were taken with a .25-06 at a pretty good range. The birds were salvageable for the frying pan but the rounds were overkill. The final tom I shot with a Marlin .22 Mag. I had loaned my only shotgun at the time to a buddy whose gun had malfunctioned. The .22 round slapped that turkey in the wrong spot, and he flew away, never to be seen again.

For our project today, I want to focus on building the perfect turkey rifle – a firearm you can employ on a standard turkey hunt and come home with more than the thighs and a wing left but will still cleanly drop the bird. The autumn targets of opportunity or sniping strutting field toms aren’t our concern for this discussion. Once these variables are in place, you quickly realize that it may be as sporting as toting a shotgun, though far-less appreciated.

Let’s look at the velocity angle first. If you ever get the chance, go out one day and shoot water-filled jugs – or a watermelon – with a .223. Then shoot one with a .45-70. The effect with the smaller, lighter round is appreciably different. The bottles tend to violently explode. The slower, heavier round is less pronounced. This would be true all the way up through the .300 Mags and beyond. It’s not a perfect comparison to a turkey, but not far off, either.

The sticky wicket is bullet construction. A hollow point or ballistic tip out of the .223 is likely to exaggerate the damage – not as much with the .45-70. You could shoot turkeys with the military-style full-metal jacket loads and probably get away without mangling your trophy, but I’m still weary. My dad killed a gobbler with one, and there was plenty of damage and hematoma in the meat.

What I go back to are those plodding rounds with a semi-wadcutter projectile. The old 38-55’s – which rounds like that, back in the day, made turkey right scarce – or lever action .357’s or .44 mags are about in the ball park. Modest velocity in handy, lightweight rifles perfect for toting in the Spring.

Prior to me winging that one gobbler with the .22 Mag, I had read an article from a Texas hunter who claimed it was a suitable round. Which, with proper shot placement, he is correct. I guided a hunter one year who borrowed the same Marlin. He carefully shot a jake that ran 60 yards before collapsing, just like any deer would. But I’m a .22 Mag bigot after my experience and want more bullet than that. I’m sure more than one has been laid-low with other rimfires, but that is teetering on the lines of responsibility, for me.

So when I first started this concept, I really looked hard at the .357. I used to reload all my ammunition and know there’s a wide variety of bullets available to the handloader. I’d load 158-grain wadcutters that would poke clean holes through hogs with minimal damage. Though I was shooting them from my Dan Wesson, I knew Henry Arms, amongst others, offered slick lever actions that would be suitable for turkey hunting.

But then as I was browsing through my old handloading notes, I came across a load I developed way back when. The .308 I shot at the time was tough on my young shoulders. Still, I needed to shoot. I came across some advice about this. Develop a low-velocity round using 110-gr. full-metal jacket bullet designed for the .30 Carbine. They turned out to be pleasant on the shoulder, surprisingly accurate, and, as a bonus to a young man who believed in infinite possibilities afield, the perfect fodder during the fall in case a gobbler strolled by the deer stand. This, of course, ignored the practical realities and noise of ejecting a deer round, digging though pockets and chambering one of these bad boys, but still, young hunters will be young hunters.

No gobbler ever gave me a chance, but this is where my search for the perfect turkey rifle ends: the M-1 carbine. Lightweight, turkey-accurate, simple firearm that shoots a round with a mouse-modest 1900fps velocity and solid bullets that’ll poke through any tom strutting the woods today. I have one in the locker already, complete with scope mounts. I suppose I could replace the original wood with a synthetic stock. It's ballistics make it, at most, a 50-yard rig which – let’s just face it – is the ultimate goal of most shotgun manufacturers these days.

I dunno. It’s a fun concept for me to think about. I doubt my turkey rifle will hit the woods anytime soon. It’s generally frowned upon on any private lands I’ll hunt this year, and rifles have been eliminated from Florida’s WMA’s for safety reasons, and rightfully so.

One day, maybe I’ll have my own piece of dirt again when I can carry out this experiment. That Carbine has been doing nothing in the safe anyway.