Thursday, March 31, 2011

Why Do I Write This Blog/Column?

That was the question posed on the Outdoor Blogger Network.  I guess I need to start off a little farther back in order to give the complete answer.  Once my grandfather passed away back in 2005, I had a renewed interest in the outdoors.  My grandfather was a big game hunter back in the 70's and 80's, traveling to Africa, Canada, and Alaska many times.  He had over 90 big game animals mounted and on display in his trophy room.  I was the envy of the neighborhood in that regards, and the trophy room was always a neat place to take a new friend.

As I began hunting more and more, I felt like I should give something back.  I became a hunter education and bowhunter education instructor, volunteering over 100 hours each year in teaching the classes.  I also enjoyed mentoring new hunters, not just kids, but people of all ages.

In December of 2010, I read a post on a forum from a gentleman asking if anyone was willing to write a column about the outdoors for a new newspaper set to launch in January 2011.  I went to college with a major in journalism, but my career path, like many, swayed far away from what I studied.  I spoke to my wife about it, and decided to write a sample column and send to him.  It so happened that things worked out, and I not only was able to write the column for that newspaper, but I picked up another as well.

Drum roll...that's why I started writing the blog.  I was going to be doing a weekly column anyway, so I decided to also include it in a blog so more people could read it.

In preparation for the column/blog, I wanted to do more than just a review or a hunting story.  I wanted to explain why people hunt and fish, and how it can enrich their lives.  So far it has done well.  The second newspaper had me on a 6 week trial and through reader response, it is now permanent.  I've been asked to speak at a few get-togethers.  When I asked what do I need to talk about, the response was to talk about the same things I write about.  The blog also allows me to do a little more than with the newspapers, as I can add video and more pictures.

I enjoy writing, and though its been over 20 years since I had anything published prior to this column, it has been very rewarding.  My goal now is to get more readers on the blog...SO HIT THE SUBSCRIBE LINK UNDER THE HEADER!

I hope all enjoy.

Bill Howard is a Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education Instructor , a Wildlife Representative and BCRS Program Chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, and an avid outdoorsman.  Please forward any pictures or stories you would like shared to

Through a Child's Eyes

North Carolina offers youth days for hunting some species each season.  It gives the youth a chance to go out and have an adult guide them through a hunt, allowing only the child to take a shot.  April 2 is youth day for turkey.  Bearing that in mind, I feel obligated to share a story a new friend, Chase Shepherd shared with me.
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I closed my eyes while my dad smeared camouflage face paint on my forehead.  “Just hold still.  We’re almost done,”  he whispered.  I was ready for the hunt to begin.  I loaded my gun, strapped on the gun rest, and put on my hat.  "Got everything?" Dad whispered.
"Yeah," I replied, while I too, was in a whisper.
We started walking back to the area my dad picked to hunt.   "Today’s the day you’re killin’ a turkey," Dad whispered.
"I hope so" I whispered back.
My dad stopped about five minutes later and whispered, “Go sit at that tree, I’m gonna’ set up the decoys."
"Okay," I replied.

I did my best walking over, trying not to make any noise.  I finally stopped at the tree and watched my dad set up the last decoy.  It was still dark out so we had enough time to sit down and get comfortable.
Dad sat down first, and then I sat down in between his legs.  He set his gun up against the tree and then instructed me to practice aiming on the decoys.

The sun just started to rise, and all I heard was gobbling.  It was crazy!  Then my dad started calling.  He did some average hen calls, and that’s when he whispered, “Don’t move!”   My mind started racing!  Is this really going to happen?  Is it a big one?  Am I ready?  I started to shake as I glanced over.  It was a big tom, beard dragging the ground, walking back and forth.  “Don’t move,” Dad whispered again.
Then the turkey heard a hen across the creek behind us, and never came in.  I was devastated.  When all of the sudden, “Here comes two more!" Dad whispered.  It wasn’t over yet.  My heart started pounding once again.  The two turkeys were running to us!  I gripped the cold metal of my gun.  Then they jumped up, and started attacking our decoy, they were flying in the air, and hitting it with their spurs.
I pulled the trigger, but not hard enough.  Since the gun didn’t fire I had to wait for another open shot.
Finally the time came.  One of the turkeys stopped, and stared right at us.  This time I squeezed the trigger, and the turkey dropped.  My dad shot at the other turkey, but it was flying and he missed.
We stood up and started high-fiving and fist-bumping.

Chase Shepherd with his first turkey.
"You smoked him buddy!" Dad exclaimed.
Then we walked over to claim my trophy.  When we got there we exchanged high-fives again.  "You killing a turkey means more to me than me killing one," Dad said.
When we got back to the truck, we started to take pictures.  Some were with Dad’s cell phone and others with the digital camera.
That was the greatest day of my life.  It was exciting, fun, and most of adrenaline rush.
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I believe Chase gives us an inside look at how a child feels sharing the outdoors with his parent.  It is a memory that will last long after his dad can no longer go out in the fields, yet it is also a memory he will surely share with his kids in the future.  I am also sure if you asked Chase’s dad about that day, he too would agree it was one of the greatest days of his life as well.

Bill Howard is a Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education Instructor , a Wildlife Representative and BCRS Program Chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, and an avid outdoorsman.  Please forward any pictures or stories you would like shared to

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Great new show coming soon to Time Warner Cable!

Watch Who You Fish With

The fish are starting to spawn, and the weather is cooperating.  It is a great time to be beside the pond or stream with hook and line.

I remember many a day visiting the South Toe River near Mount Mitchell and watching the fly fishermen bringing in their creel.  There is a poetic form in the casting of the line as the fly is placed in the pools where the eager trout awaits.  Peaceful just does not do the scene justice, it is something beyond.  The first time I attempted such, I ended up in a huge ball of yellow line, resembling someone who had just been sprayed with several bottles of silly string.  Yet, I did not give up, and soon could at least hold my own.

My father-in-law told me of a time when he and a long-time friend who had moved down south, donned the chest waders in pursuit of the trout.  They made their way downstream, casting with every step, and were having a wonderful time.  They brought in several fish, and each catch was a story in itself.  Well, it happened the friend had lived out of state for the previous couple of years (he landed a job as a game warden in Florida) and had forgotten to purchase his fishing license for North Carolina.  My father-in-law had worked himself down the river a bit, separating from his friend by several minutes.

As Murphy’s Law would have it, the friend noticed a familiar uniform checking other anglers back up stream from them, so in a quiet panic was thinking of what he could tell the wildlife officer.  When the officer approached, he asked “Any luck today?”

The friend answered, “Oh no, I’m not fishing.  I’m just holding the rod and fish for my buddy down the stream there.  I don’t have a North Carolina fishing license. “

The officer told him about some holes a little further back, and they could try there.  About that time, the radio went off and the officer waved and turned back.  A sigh came over the friend as the officer was called away before he could approach my father-in-law.

They continued to fish for a short while, and then headed back in before dark.  When they arrived at the truck, my father-in-law said “Hey, isn’t that the officer you were talking to earlier downstream?”

Before an answer and explanation could unfold, the officer made his way up to the two companions.  “I understand you had a good day out there today,” talking to my father-in-law.

“Who me?  My friend here is just trying to share the credit.  He’s a much better fisherman than I am.  I think he was pulling in three to my one.”

My father-in-law and his friend have not fished together since.

Bill Howard is a Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education Instructor , a Wildlife Representative and BCRS Program Chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, and an avid outdoorsman.  Please forward any pictures or stories you would like shared to

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Set the Trail Cams

“Awwww.  Look at the baby!” my daughter Julianne shrieks with excitement.
Believe it or not, it is that time of year to start scouting deer.   Really?  Yep, really.  I am not talking about patterning the deer, but I am talking about seeing who made it and how many.  And, this is something I can even get my youngest son to assist me with! 
Several years ago I bought my first trail camera.  There were several film cameras on the market, but I was able to find an inexpensive digital camera which saved the images on a SD card.  The first thing after opening the box was to get the camera in the field and see what it would catch.  Anticipation mounted, and in the process, I made some mistakes and learned some neat tricks as well.
There are basically two types of cameras on the market now.  Older models were film cameras, but as digital technology became the norm, the film cameras have become as rare as mountain lion in North Carolina.  (There are none, at least until we finally catch one on a trail cam…)  Cameras now are digital, usually utilizing SD cards for storage, and are either flash type or infrared type.  Flash cameras tend to be less expensive, but can kill the batteries quickly.  Infrared will allow you to capture many more pictures, as they do not startle the game animals, and are usually easier on the batteries.  When setting an infrared camera, I am careful not to set it where shade may cover the light sensor, as it may result in a ‘white out’ condition.  White out is when the infrared is working during light, and the camera’s image cannot be made out.
I typically use the camera for different things depending on the time of season.  In the early spring, I like to set the camera to inventory the animals on the land.  I can find out what deer made it, and the approximate numbers.  I can also find out what turkey I have and their times of travel since turkey season is nearby.  This is when the placement of the camera is less important, as I am not patterning my deer.  I currently have mine set on a mineral drip with a small corn pile nearby.  The corn pile is to initially attract the deer to the location; the mineral drip is to provide nutrients to the deer.

Notice the larger deer in the soybeans behind the twins.

In late summer, I set the cameras to find out where the deer are holding.  I start by scouting the areas, looking for tracks on the edges of the fields.   I find a place where the deer tracks are plentiful, and throw a camera up.  From the images, I can see when the deer are in the field, what my ratio of does to bucks is, and whether there are any ‘shooters’ in the bunch.  If there are a load of yearlings and doe, and no older bucks, I know to look elsewhere.  If I do find an older buck, I try to monitor how often he hits the area.  I also will start utilizing techniques to hold him in the area.  Since I mostly bow hunt, it can be beneficial to hold him to the area for the early season before the rut may cause him to roam off.
Before the rut starts, I try to find scrapes through scouting, and set the camera nearby.  This will determine what bucks are nearby.  As soon as a nice buck is found on the camera, I know to hunt that area.  I try to go back to where the deer looks to have traveled from to get to the scrape, and hunt there.  Late in the season, I again set up the camera over corn piles and on trails leading from the woods to the fields. 
The camera gives me a chance to know what is in the field and where.  But the neatest thing about the camera is it allows me to get everyone involved, as the ‘hunt’ is not centered on what I have shot with a gun or arrow, but what I have shot with the camera.  The whole family gets excited looking through the photos.   It does not even have to be a large buck.  I get the same result when we spot a raccoon, fox squirrel, bobcat, or coyote. 
My wife and kids are especially excited when a small spotted fawn shows up.  You know, the baby.

Bill Howard is a Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education Instructor , a Wildlife Representative and BCRS Program Chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, and an avid outdoorsman.  Please forward any pictures or stories you would like shared to

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Men are silly

“Men are silly.  Can’t you just look at a deer and see which one is bigger?”
James Atkins, Bill Howard, and Stan Spotswood measuring
a bowkill at the 2011 Dixie Deer Classic in Raleigh, NC.
That was the question my wife gave me when I left to go to the Dixie Deer Classic in Raleigh this last weekend.  I was one of many volunteers scoring deer for the show.  It posed a good question, and I had to think about it a little.  If the numbering system was used correctly, I would say there were some 700 plus trophies turned in to be scored.  It kept the volunteers busy for the most part.  I started out working with Mr. James Atkins, a fellow member of the North Carolina Bowhunter’s Association and an officer with the Raleigh Police Department.  James was training to become an official scorer with the NCBA, and the process includes measuring as many antlers as you can.  Of course, he could have had a better teacher, as I skipped a whole section on our first deer we scored.  Luckily James was wise enough to figure out I was NOT a great teacher, and asked about the missed section on the second deer, allowing me to humble myself to the officials with the Wake County Wildlife Club and ask for the deer back to be re-scored.  James and I came to know each other pretty well through the show, and it once again proves the camaraderie that forms between people who love the outdoors.
Back to the question though; are we really that competitive to find out whose is bigger?  Well the answer is no.  The scoring of a deer involves many measurements, lengths of the antlers, circumference of the antlers (measured at different locations), and length of the tines.  The score we get does give an indication of how big the deer’s antlers are, but the reason we score is to see what it takes to make a ‘perfect’ rack.  Deer antlers get deductions for abnormal or missing points and differences in lengths and circumferences of the antlers.  These deductions are often what determine whether a deer will make it in the record book or not.
Usually a hunter will tell of how many points his deer has and his spread (the greatest inside distance between the antlers).  But this does not tell the whole story.  If someone took an 8 pointer, was it 4 points on each antler placed symmetrically, or was it more like a 6 pointer with 2 small points sticking haphazardly out?  What we are attempting to accomplish is perfection, an 8 pointer with 4 points on each side, each of the same length, out of the same spot.  Michelangelo should not be able to paint one better.  A ‘perfect’ 8 will be just as nice looking as a ‘perfect’ 12 pointer, and look better than a 13 pointer with 9 points coming off one side.
So while the higher score usually means the deer was bigger, it also means the deer was closer to perfection in relation to its size (most of the time).  It’s a good thing women do not have an elaborate system scoring men.  After working the show all weekend, I would hate to see the score my wife would give me.
By the way, I would have to give my wife a ‘perfect’ 10 for her understanding and watching the home front (and that’s not by the antler method)…

Bill Howard is a Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education Instructor , a Wildlife Representative and BCRS Program Chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, and an avid outdoorsman.  Please forward any pictures or stories you would like shared to

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Safety First!

"No person, regardless of age, may procure a hunting license in this state without first producing a Certificate of Competency showing completion of a hunter safety course..."  2010-2011 North Carolina Inland Fishing, Hunting and Trapping Regulations Digest.

My wife was not really big on firearms.  With our first son, we had many conversations as to when he would be allowed to get a BB gun for instance.  I firmly believe curiosity and unfamiliarity are the two biggest dangers for a child and a firearm.  Once one starts actually using a firearm, the top dangers typically go to safety rules violations.  I handled firearms at a very early age, so I did not have that urge to grab one of Dad's guns and experiment or show it off.  It was kind of like 'yep, I've held that one, know how that one works too...'  I learned to respect the power that a firearm has.  For safety reasons, even the BB gun was not allowed to be aimed at a person, pet, or building.  Learn that early, even with a BB gun, and you'll learn to watch where you point the bigger weapons.

I've been told in the past that a BB gun won't hurt you, and most pellet guns cannot even kill a squirrel.  Unfortunately, North Carolina has learned the hard way this is not the case.  We have had three tragedies involving youth in the last week that I am aware of, and two of them were with either a BB or pellet gun.

In the hunter education classes we teach, the number one rule is always have the muzzle (the opening at the end of the barrel where the projectile exits) pointed in a safe direction. We say it constantly and consistently throughout the 10 hour course.  If the firearm is pointed in a safe direction, and there is an accidental firing of the weapon, there is no harm other than the scare it gives you.  There are other rules we go through as well.  Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.  Keep your finger away from the trigger until ready to shoot.  Know what is in front of and behind your target.  In the class, we have firearms for the students to handle, some of each type of firearm, so the student will at least have a basic familiarity of the firearm.  When we hand the firearm from one person to another, we do it with the action (the part that does the work that loads and fires the ammunition) open so that all can see it is unloaded.  Even with 'dummy' guns, we do this, and keep them pointed in safe directions, and explain what safe directions are.

Of course this is what we teach those that attend the hunter education classes.  It does not help much when you have a young child who may be too young to go through a course like this.  This is where my other suggestion comes in.  As soon as a child shows interest, you need to start teaching them how the firearm works, and let them know they can only handle it when a responsible adult (you) is there with them.  Practice keeping it pointed in a safe direction, with the action open, even with toy guns. The more the child handles the firearm, the less curious they are.

However, there is still another problem.  Now the neighbor's kid comes over, and has never held a firearm.  Curiosity is there.  Peer pressure sets in, and now your child has succumb to pulling out your firearm to show.  Do not ever let it get to that point.  Keep the firearm locked up, and keep the ammunition locked up in a separate location.

So, in review once more, unload your firearms but treat them as if they were loaded.  Keep them pointed in a safe direction.  Keep them stored separate from the ammunition and locked.  And based on the last week's news, treat every firearm as if it is powerful enough to kill.  Even a BB or pellet gun. 

Bill Howard is a Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education Instructor , a Wildlife Representative and BCRS Program Chairman for the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, and an avid outdoorsman.  Please forward any pictures or stories you would like shared to