Thursday, September 29, 2016


My nephew loves asking questions. He especially loves asking advice and questions about hunting and fishing. Recently we had a conversation about climbing stands. You see, deer season is upon us, and if you bowhunt, you are using stands now, and if you gun hunt, you will be very soon. The best stand depends on how you plan on using it.
There are five basic types of hunting stands. They are the box stand, the tripod stand, the ladder stand, the climbing stand, and the lock-on stand. There are also variations of each, but we will stick with the five main types.
Both the box stand and tripod stand are free-standing types of stands. This means they can go up in the middle of a field away from trees or some other type of structure as they support themselves. They can be used in the open as mentioned, or they can be placed on the edge of a woodline for additional cover.
The box stand is essentially a small room supported off the ground by four or more legs. Basic box stands may just be a platform and a railing or four small walls. However, there are more elaborate box stands that can hold multiple people, have windows and doors, ventilation and I have even seen one with an air conditioner installed.
Box stands allow more movement inside as long as you can remain quiet, as the walls provide sight protection. They are wonderful for gun hunting and can even be used effectively with crossbows. They are also great for taking a new or young hunter as two or more people can hunt together. Because of height restrictions on many box stands, as well as difficult angles for downward shooting for deer, or bear even, that are close to the stand, bowhunting is much more difficult.
Tripod stands are similar to box stands in that they are self-supporting. A tripod is exactly what it sounds like. Three legs hold up a small platform, usually large enough for one person. There are usually rungs on one of the legs that act as a ladder for access to the top of the tripod stand. Because the tripod is less sturdy than a structure with four or more supporting legs, there is often a safety cable that comes straight down from the platform and attached to a ground embedded hook to assist with a firm sturdy support.
Tripod stands work well with gun hunting and crossbows, however depending on the size of the platform crossbows can be a challenge to cock. Tripod stands are usually built for only one person.
The ladder stand is essentially a ladder with a flat platform in which to sit. The ladder stand must be leaning against some type of structure which usually is a tree. The platform is fastened to the tree via a cable or chain that goes around the tree. Midway or lower there is an extension arm that also goes against the tree and another cable or chain is used to wrap around the tree to keep it taught.
There are ladder stands that allow for more than one hunter, but seldom more than two hunters. They can effectively be used while hunting with firearms or bows, and crossbows can be used as well if the crossbow is cocked prior to climbing the ladder stand.
Because ladder stands are attached to trees, they are popular for both woodlined fields or inside the woods near natural animal crossings and paths.
The climbing stand is one of the more difficult stands to master. It consists of two parts; a seat and a foot platform. A climbing stand requires a straight tree with no limbs up to the height desired. Climbing works by grasping the seat part while standing on the foot platform and raising it up the tree a few feet then sitting and clutching the foot platform with your feet and raising it a few feet. You continue to shimmey up the tree to the desired height. Things to be careful with a climbing stand include knowing the diameter of the tree is smaller at heights than at the base, the bark on the tree may give way causing a slide down, and always keep the foot platform attached to the sitting platform in some way so if you lose grip of the bottom it doesn’t get away from you.
Many climbing stands allow you to sit both facing the tree or away from the tree as well. Usually for gun hunters or crossbows sitting with your back to the tree is ideal. I personally like facing the tree when bowhunting as it provides cover between me and the deer in order to draw. And advantage of the climbing stand is it goes with you when you leave.
The last type is the lock-on stand. This is a single platform for one person that is strapped to a tree by cable or chain at the desired height. Usually climbing sticks are used to access the stand which is a type of ladder that is strapped up against the tree. If offers very little movement and can be attached for the season or taken with you. Both the climbing stand and lock-on stand are popular for hunters in public lands.
Choosing the right stand all depends on how you intend to hunt and where. All the types of stands require safety precautions as falling from a stand is the top danger for a hunter each year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bow Season

Three hours after midnight is awfully early to rise from the bed. It feels even earlier when you achieved little sleep in anticipation of this day.
A quick shower and brushing of the teeth offered a little refreshment, but in all honesty, it was very little. The clothes were already pulled out. Long pants and long sleeves were the go-to choice of clothing. It wasn’t because it was cold, or even chilly for that matter, but because of the other purpose they were serving.
The camouflage pattern gives away the purpose. Lightweight and designed not much different than a form of netting, the purpose was to keep the body hidden while still allowing air to breathe through for warmer climates. Carbon was embedded to help trap bodily odors that were going to occur whether the person in the clothing could tell or not. Of course, the odors were not being trapped so people couldn’t smell them.
Deer have a heightened sense of smell. It has often been said if a deer had a turkey’s sense of sight, people would hardly ever spot deer in the wild due to the combined senses.
For several months, the trail cameras were taking pictures of a batchelor group of five bucks. Two were on the smallish size, likely year and half old each. Two were sporting typical eight point racks, with nicely curved main beams and a spread just to the ears. The other, well, he was what really drew interest.
The last remaining buck had some age. Along with the age, he had acquired wisdom. He always came into the field a little later than the other four. He always left a little earlier. Even though the trail cameras that were set up around the property were infrared, he knew they were there.
You could see him look at the camera in at least half the images that had him framed. But only a few showed his full body. He tended to stay just to the edge of what the camera could pick up in the dark of night. His eyes were bright, and occasionally you could see part of his crown of bone. The antlers grew throughout the summer and even in the early stages even a novice hunter could tell this was going to be a trophy.
He now sported eleven points. Five on one side and six on the other, with the extra point splitting just at the end of the main beam. The other side had a lump that was symmetrical with the other antler beam and its extra point.
The brow tines, the points that advanced straight up from the main beam right at the skull were long. One had a curl and the other remained straight.
In one of the few clear images, the buck could be seen with a sagging belly and a back that was beginning to sway. His age was telling on him well before the antlers began their new growth. He was consistent in coming to the field and feeding, but again, he knew when to come to the field.
The goal was to be in the stand by 4 a.m. This was a time when the batchelor group was on the other side of the field for the last few weeks. If the pattern held steady, they would be coming near the stand around 6 a.m. It would be a long dark sit, but in order to have a chance, this is what it would take.
Two days prior I poured some corn 20 yards from the stand. This was not so they would necessarily graze there. It was mainly to try and give them pause before entering the woods before daybreak.
This scenario will play out for a multitude of bowhunters on opening day. And the anxiety and excitement of the hunt just from typing this is nearly overwhelming. Are you ready?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Safe Opening Day

Can you believe it? Hunting season has arrived. Lead will be flying and birds will be falling.
Because new and experienced hunters will be spaced in fields throughout the state waiting for the dove to fly within range, safety becomes a necessary concern. Keeping the muzzle of the shotgun pointed in a safe direction is the number one rule of firearm safety when hunting dove. In order to keep the muzzle in a safe direction, there are several techniques that can help assure a safe and memorable hunt.
Many times when there is a youth or new hunter involved, and even just under normal circumstances, two hunters will station side by side. In fact, without the completion of a hunter’s safety class, a novice or youth hunter is required to hunt beside a licensed hunter. This is so the experienced hunter can quickly correct the inexperienced hunter in case of a mistake.
Mistakes while hunting can have deadly consequences. You do not get a do-over.
The first thing to do is establish safe zones in which to fire. Sitting side by side, the left hunter takes everything from their left and straight in front of him. The right hunter takes the shot anywhere from straight in front over toward their right.
But there are other concerns to always be wary of. Whether hunting in pairs or sitting alone, if you are hunting on opening day there is likely to be other hunters all around. Because of this, there may be hunters located in the safe zone that we just established. A hunter may be somewhere in front or behind of you.
A low flying bird can make one forget about that. We always knew ‘low bird’ meant do not shoot. We shared that information with those around us. That way we knew we would be able to hunt another day.
We made sure that those around us knew not only where we were located, but where we were facing. It served two purposes. I could yell to a hunter down the way from me where a bird was located so he could both prepare to take a shot as well as be aware of where other hunters were likely to shoot from.
An experienced hunter often does the things without even thinking about it. But even experienced hunters need to take safety precautions further than just habit.
Back to the scenario where we have two hunters beside each other in the field; a new hunter and an experienced hunter. Youth hunters usually begin with shotguns in 16 or 20 gauges. Most experienced hunters rely on the 12 gauge shotgun. There is one problem with this that can easily result in a safety issue and this one particular case has nothing to do with where the muzzle is pointed.
The 12 gauge and 20 gauge shotguns share a unique feature. The 20 gauge shotgun shell is smaller in diameter than a 12 gauge shell. However, the 20 gauge shotgun shell fits perfectly into a 12 gauge shotgun. It just doesn’t fit the way you want it to. A 20 gauge shell will slide from the chamber down the barrel of a 12 gauge and lodge slightly down the barrel.
In the heat of the action when birds seem to darken the sky, an unknowing grab of a shell from the wrong box can result in catastrophe. Picture the hunter with the 12 gauge emptying the magazine and more birds are coming near. He quickly grabs a few shells, and drops one on the ground. He fumbles around trying to feel the shell while keeping an eye on the approaching birds and finds the third shell.
He quickly reloads his weapon and then fires quickly at one of the birds. As he marks one that falls, he reloads once again. After finding his downed bird, he returns to his seat and the next wave of dove come through. As he pulls the trigger there is a loud explosion. The barrel is shredded between his forward hand and his face.
The shell he picked up off the ground happened to be a 20 gauge shell and during the action he believed he had fired and ejected all the shells. After the next reload, the first shot was a 12 gauge shell which when fired had nowhere to allow the explosion to escape. So it made its own exit. Beside the hunter’s face.
Safety is the top concern when going hunting, not what time the sun comes up or where the birds may roost or what sides will be available for the pig pickin’ at lunch. Safety has a number one rule, which is keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, but it is not the only rule.
Stay safe and make opening day memorable.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Gun Basics

Dove season is upon us. The fields will be full of hunters spaced intermittently throughout. The skies will be blotted with fast moving birds looking for places to roost or feed.
In a continuing focus on safety, especially during a time when many young hunters, well, cut their teeth on not only hunting but participating in shooting sports, I think it is important to share some of the basics.
I have been asked many times on which firearm is the best for different types of hunts. If you were to poll each hunter as they entered the field on opening day, the overwhelming consensus would be the 12 gauge. However, it may not be the best choice.
There are other factors that need to be taken into account. For instance, the choke, the shot, the bird patterns all will determine the best setup for a particular hunt. Even the hunter’s technique will be important.
My dad is the best wing shooter I have ever witnessed. There is a reason for it. He is very patient during the hunt. If there is a bird that is borderline out of range, he simply does not shoot.
Think of a center in basketball. His odds of making a basket at the rim are much higher than having him shoot three pointers. Dad simply waits for his shot. And by doing so his shot to kill ratio is much greater. He rarely needed more than a box of shells to get a limit during a hunt.
One of my favorite guns is an old Ithaca 20 gauge my granddad passed down to me. Papa used it to quail hunt back when he was young. The old side-by-side had a shortened barrel and an open choke. He made it that way so when the quail erupted from the brush the shot expanded quickly making a large hit area.
As I was learning how to hunt, that Ithaca was always with me. I was a decent shot, but for some reason that I didn’t understand at the time, I had trouble bringing down birds with it. You see, I would shoot way too far for the range of that sawed-off double barrel.
A few years ago, my oldest son was going through the same issues. He handed me the shotgun and the next five birds that flew by were all dropped. My son was shooting too far effectively opening up too large of a pattern to either hit the dove or place enough shot in the bird to bring it down. This is the same son who I watched shoot a perfect 25 for 25 in trap with a 12 gauge a couple years later.
Just as the choke of the shotgun can determine efficiency, the size shot also matters in whether you walk away with a bird or not. The 7 ½ shot is now a popular shot and is found readily in many box stores. I always preferred the 9 shot. Why? Because there are more total shot in the 9 even though the shot are smaller.
With my style of shooting, I am able to hit and bring down a bird easier with the smaller shot. Shooting long distance, which you see a lot during opening day of dove season, especially if the birds are flying high, the larger shot is more effective though.
It is up to the hunter to determine what is the best fit. If you are patient enough to wait for the bird to be on top of you, the 20 gauge with as open a choke as possible is a fine choice. If you prefer to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more while stretching your distance, the 12 gauge with a tighter choke may work out best.
But that is part of the fun in hunting. Learning, shooting, understanding bird patterns as well as how your firearm and you work together all adds up to the complete experience.
Just remember to keep that muzzle aimed in a safe direction.