Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dixie Deer Classic 2012

The trophy hunt shows are in full swing throughout the nation.  North Carolina is no exception.  March 2 through March 4 brings one of the largest shows in the Southeast to Raleigh.  Each year the Wake County Wildlife club puts together outfitters, guides, and venders from throughout the United States to show off their businesses, share their expertise, and set many of us dreaming of future hunting trips.
It is not very often one can talk to one person about hunting whitetail, move several feet down the line and learn about hunting grizzlies in Alaska, then take a few more steps and speak to someone about the costs and necessities of an African expedition.
If you happen to be one of the people looking at finding an outfitter to schedule the dream hunt you have anticipated for many years, there is much information you need to discover beforehand.  Let’s assume you already know the game you are after.  You have also already done your homework, and know where you want to hunt and know the amount of money you are willing to spend.  Now what?
First, know what type of hunt you are doing.  The outfitter or guide should be able to tell you how the hunt is expected to be performed.  If you are accustomed to hunting whitetail deer in North Carolina from a tree stand, you are going to be in shock when you hike into the back country of the Midwest for what could be dozens of miles in search of a muley in a spot and stalk hunt.
When researching one of my past hunts, I was told that it is a VERY rough hunt.  We would be hunting by horseback through some of the roughest terrain we could imagine.  Even with the warning, to experience it is a different matter.  Climbing up mountains on a horseback where you practically are leaning forward past the horse’s neck and shoulder while it lunges up the side of the earth, well that is something that is hard to train for.  I was told that ATV’s would not be able to make it a few yards on the terrain.  The guide was correct.
You need to know the climate and expected weather during the time of the hunt.  The same hunt mentioned above consisted of 20 degree mornings and mid 70 degree afternoons.
Second, you need to know what type of lodging and meals YOU expect.  Most outfitters will offer lodging and meals.  However, you cannot expect the South African resort with pool tables, large mahogany dinner tables, maid services and personal chefs from every outfitter.  Speaking with one outfitter several years ago, he explained how expectations with research can get one into trouble.  He was hosting several waterfowl hunters on a duck and goose hunt in the pothole region of North Dakota.  The hunters were wealthy friends who made annual expeditions to different places throughout the world.  Even though the birds were everywhere and the hunting was tremendous, the hunters were disappointed in the small house the outfitter had as a lodge.  They expected a spa, wet bar, and more.  Their trip was as much about the non-hunting as it was the hunting.  You definitely do not want to anticipate something grand and end up sleeping in a drop camp.
Third, you must know of any additional costs.  You checked several guides and outfitters on the internet and found out the dream elk hunt you have wanted to go on runs an average of $1750 for a 5 day hunt.  So, being prepared, you allocated $2000, thinking the extra $250 for incidental expenses would suffice.  On the third day, a massive 7x7 elk steps out a mere 40 yards away.  You take the shot. Success!  After the celebratory hugs and excitement, the guide mentions the elk will make record book.  Even better!  Then the guide asks if you have your checkbook with you…you know, to cover the ‘trophy’ fee.  That’s the way to take the wind out of a sail!
It can go the opposite way as well.  You are in Ohio.  Whitetail heaven!  You have seen several deer that would compare to the ones you have chased at home like a moose to a Billy goat.  You see one come out from your left.  You wait, trying to count the points through the tree limbs.  As the buck steps into the clearing, broadside, you can tell it is a high rack, with at least 5 points on the side closest to you.  Boom!  It is a beautiful specimen of a whitetail.  Problem is the antlers are nearly straight up, not reaching the ‘outside the ear’ requirement.  Now you have another type of fee, not meeting the minimum requirements set by the outfitter or landowner.
There are but a few examples of what you need to find out from your outfitter to make that dream hunt a true dream and not a nightmare.  In all three cases, the outfitter has not misled or scammed anyone.  It just happened that we did not find out enough about the type of hunt they offer.
And if you get a chance to go the Dixie Deer Classic in Raleigh this weekend, I will be there, behind the curtain, measuring all those huge deer racks.  Unfortunately, none of them will be one that I was fortunate enough to encounter in the field.  For now, they will just help fuel my dreams.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gear Review: Camillus 8" TigerSharp Fixed Skinning Knife

I was looking for a good skinning knife several months ago when I was contacted by Camillus knives.  Like Ithaca, Camillus has been around for a while, with its origins dating back to 1876.  By 1910, Camillus was producing over 1,000,000 knives per year.  Camillus was influential with the military and Allied forces during the World War, providing over 13,000,000 to the troops during that time.  In 2009, primarily due to the overseas manufacturing of knives and cutlery, Camillus filed bankruptcy.  It was then purchased from bankruptcy by Acme United and slated to make a comeback.
I was offered a replaceable blade skinner, the Camillus 8" TigerSharp Fixed Skinning Knife, something I have never tried before.  The skinner I was familiar with; the replaceable blade, not so much.  The shipping was quick and I was excited to test out the skinner.  First, I wanted to get an idea of how the replaceable blade was designed, and then I would see how efficient it was.  What I thought was going to happen did not.  The replaceable blade actually slides in between two steel surfaces that look like it is the blade.  The actual blade is titanium steel and black.  You can only see the sharpened edge of the blade when inserted.  It is locked in by a hook on the blade that catches a pin between what I will call the false blade.
While this seemed like a neat idea, the next question that came to mind was about flesh and hair getting trapped between the false blade and the real blade.  I would find the answer to this question a little later.
I tested the skinning knife on nutria.  The blade worked fine in both cutting into the flesh and separating the hide from the meat and fat.  After skinning the entire hide, I performed a quick paper test with the knife.  A paper test is basically seeing if the blade cuts a piece of paper when slicing on the edge, or if it tears the paper.  If it cuts, it has a clean sharp edge for the most part.  The paper test performance was satisfactory as well.  Later I magnified the edge to look for chips or burrs on the blade, in other words, damage to the blade caused by the skinning.  Again, the blade showed good resilience through the skinning process.
Now to answer my question asked earlier.  I removed the replaceable blade and while there was blood between the blade and false blade, only a couple of the finest hairs made it between and none of the flesh, meat or fat.  I quick cleaning with water was sufficient and the blade was ready to go again.
Overall, I was pleased with the replaceable blade skinner.  It comes with an extra blade and a sheath that holds the extra blade as well as the knife itself.  The handle was plastic and seemed a little cheap, but did not hinder the ability of the knife for its purpose whatsoever.  The extra blades can be bought separately, and are reasonably priced for the way the blade performed.  I am interested to see how it handles tougher game such as beaver or bear, but have no doubts it can handle a deer with little to no problem.  It is nice to see a company with a history like Camillus has, to come back and make a quality product.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Outdoors Together

I publish an online magazine for bowhunters each month called BowAmerica.  For February’s issue, I had a couple of male bowhunters explain how they felt about their wives joining them in the outdoors.  Both stories, coming from two different people from two different states, Wisconsin and Colorado, were remarkably similar.

The outdoors not only has a way of linking generations within a family together, but it helps build the bond between husband and wife.  It has a way of breaking barriers, opening conversations, and adding trust.  While the stories were biased toward bowhunting, it is the same whether it means hiking and camping together, fly fishing, or even bird watching and star gazing.

It allows the two to share interest in a common outlet.  Where one may daydream about his next hunt, he now includes his spouse in the reel playing in his mind.  She pictures herself with her husband laughing with excitement and joy as the two splash each other in a cool, clear mountain stream while hiking toward the pinnacle to view the world below.

The couple plans their trips together, each adding segments that they believe would increase the others enthusiasm and overall enjoyment of the quest.  They sit at the table or beside each other on the couch discussing and plotting the coming weekend expedition.

While in the woods, water or field each learns about the other in much the same way a soldier learns about his comrades.  The eyes are opened to what the other’s hopes and intentions are, and realize those hopes and intentions are usually dedicated to fulfilling their mate’s goals more than their own.

Both stories told of how much more the man appreciated the woman after hunting together.  I have spoken with the women and their sentiments are the same.  The love of the outdoors can lead to love in the outdoors.  Share your passion with the one you are passionate about.  It could be life changing and relationship strengthening.  And remember, Cupid is a bowhunter.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Swamp Rats

This is an excerpt from my article in BowAmerica e-Magazine.  You can subscribe for free at or


     I headed out to the duck blind early.  It was about 6am, another 45 minutes before shooting time.  I spotted some a commotion deeper in the swamp.  I adjusted my LED Lenser headlamp from wide angle light to a spotlight.  I saw a bunched up brushy area ahead.  It was likely a beaver hut.  I scanned the water and could see ripples, but I could not find the source.
     Shooting light came and after a 20 minute span of high flying wood ducks and ringnecks I knew the hunt was likely over except for just a few stragglers and maybe some Canadian geese.
     Down near the beaver hut I saw some more ripples.  I figured it could be a grebe, merganser, or maybe a woodie swimming from deeper in the swamp.
     Nope.  Dead wrong.  I caught the furry head.  Trailing was a motion filled ‘S’.  Not a beaver.  But it was huge.
     Nutria usually make their homes in holes they build on the shoreline.  Often, their digging will tear and expose roots.  This particular one had not made a home of the beaver den; rather it seemed curious as to whether it was occupied.

     Nutria are as rat-like as it gets.  Their long tail is round and slender like a rat, rather than the waffle shape of a beaver.  Their head has rat features other than being much larger and having a blunt nose.  Also unlike a beaver, its fur is of different lengths and appears unkempt.
     They were introduced to North America, relocated from South America, due to the fur trade industry.  They were valued for both their meat and their hides.  Once the value of the fur increased to a premium, at one time as valuable as mink, farmers found a way to raise them.  They were easy to keep, had large litters, and females could breed the day after giving birth.  Due to the farming of the nutria, the fur become over abundant and the value plummeted.  A hurricane hit the Southeast and many of the farmed nutria escaped.
     Like many invasive species, they began to take over their habitats.  Nutria feed only on the bottom of saplings and plants, leaving over 80% of the plant useless.  They choked out the muskrat, as they shared habitats and dens.  And with the beaver falling to near extinction, the nutria’s breeding habits, able to give birth nearly 3 times in a calendar year, the nutria overwhelmed many areas.
     If you know where to look, you can find nutria in nearly any southern state, and they range as far north as Ohio.  They can expand further north if there are subsequent mild winters.  The only barrier is they tend to get frostbite on their tails, causing infection and death.
     As mentioned prior, I took note of where I saw the nutria and the time.  The next time I would be in the water, the bow would be in hand rather than the shotgun.
     A couple of days later, the nutria had a head start on me.  As I was headed to where the blind was, I saw him already swimming well ahead as the water and air was clear.  I positioned myself near the blind and could see it still swimming amongst the trees in the swamp.
     It only took 15 minutes for it to become curious enough to see what I was.  Once it was in range, about 20 yards, I released the arrow towards its mark.  No thrashing, no circling, no fighting.  Just a roll over and the arrow was sticking nearly straight up.
     Once there, I had to look to see if it was a beaver and not a nutria.  It was as huge up close as it looked the other day.  I pulled it into the boat and headed to shore.  This was by far the largest I have taken.