Friday, August 30, 2013

Dove Hunting Lessons

Labor Day. The last of two holidays that mark the summer. Labor Day comes in and white clothing becomes a faux pas. Shorts are no longer allowed at work. Swimming pools close.
And hunting season arrives in all its glory.
The first of the many hunting seasons is dove season. Usually it arrives the Saturday before Labor Day, however this year with the month of August still hanging around during the weekend, we get a Labor Day Monday opening day. Dove season has always been a special time for me. Doves were the hunt of choice as a kid.

The abundant game bird taught me a lot about hunting and the outdoors. They were responsible for me learning how to shoot for one. Action is constant and frantic at times. It is funny how the childhood mind can wander. With a combination of patience and observation, I remember catching sight of a small flight of birds just over the horizon laden treetops. I would picture myself as a soldier manning the artillery as enemy planes headed my way. “I have to bring them down,” I would think.
I would count my shotgun shells; I used 9 shot back then, and try to keep up with my efficiency. I still do. My father was one of the best wing shooters I have ever seen, often taking his limit in under a box. That was my goal, to shoot as well as him. I never out shot him. He is a marksman for both his skill and his patience. He would pick his shots, never taking one at a bird too far, too fast, or at the wrong angle. Seldom would he ever take two shots, unless he was going for a double. If the first shot missed, he figured the bird had an even greater advantage on the second.
I learned how to clean game animals from dove hunting. Doves are relatively easy to clean. No gory mess left behind; just clean breast meat with a bunch of feathers. In fact, if done right, the breast meat is clean enough for my wife not to refuse to touch. She even enjoys playing with the recipes.

The dove hunts taught me how to be a safe and courteous hunter. I observed where other hunters were located to know where not to shoot as well as to notify them when a bird was headed their way. On a downed bird, we would watch where it would land in order to help the successful shooter find his quarry, or help in the search if necessary.
I learned an appreciation for the animal. I watched the flight patterns. I studied its tendencies in where they would land. One of my most proud moments in the dove field was when I left the cover of the wood line one year and marched right to the middle of the field. The birds were funneled to me from the shooters on either side and rather than having them land in the fields, I was able to keep them in flight as well as get my limit early.
When a bird was not killed immediately, I learned to dispatch the animal ethically and quickly. Many think a common oxymoron is hunters having a heart, but contrary to this belief we care for the game.
The hunts also gave us a sense of tradition and family. Whether hunting with my father and grandfather, or hunting with my friends, or hunting with my son, father, nephew, and brother-in-law as I do now, it provides a bond that has lasting effects.
It is no wonder that dove hunting means so much.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Picture is Worth...

This photo I set-up using a timer
won a photography award.
The saying goes ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ Many of us have learned to take a camera whenever we are out on our hunting and fishing trips so as to not miss that golden photo that will memorialize a great adventure. Especially with not only the advent of cameras embedded in our cell phones, but cameras and software on our cell phones that can exceed even professional equipment from just a few years back, we all have the opportunity to enhance the memories of our excursions.
BowAmerica Magazine January 2012
     Last year I came across a photo of Emily Anderson of Colorado after a successful out of state deer hunt. The image consisted of the deer in sharp focus in the foreground with Emily slightly blurred and standing several yards away with her hands and bow outstretched above her head. That image said everything. It had the deer stand out as the main subject. It also captured Emily’s exhilaration yet showed she was not the main focus of the photo.
     Bill Kohls, of Bill Kohls Media in Winston-Salem, has a penchant for catching some of these types of moments. I spoke with Bill bout some tips he could share so we could put together a shot of a lifetime for that shot of a lifetime. Here are a few he pointed out:
Unique point of view:
Courtesy Bill Kohls Media
    The number one mistake I see new photographers make is they always take their shots from a standing, straight on position. This is boring and brings nothing new to the eye of the viewer. I am always moving around in the boat or yak to get a cool angle that you don't normally see.
    This can be a huge friend to me in the field. By trying a few different angles you may be able to show the trophy off in size. Another tip for angles is always having something in your photos to show the size of the subject relative to something smaller. This will exaggerate the size of the trophy. For example, if I have an angler with a large fish I try to focus on the fishes larger features like its poked out eyes, wide mouth or gut. For a large animal I would aim at its rack, shoulders or tail. Something that would set the animal apart from the average ones. Also, put something else in the photo like the lure or the gun to show the size of the animal.
Time of Day:
    If you can help it shoot your photos during lower light times of the day. Sunrise-11:00 am/3:00 pm-Sunset. This is the best light for natural light photography. Shooting during lunch time can be hard due to the intense light rays.
Courtesy Bill Kohls Media
    Everyone knows the ‘hold the fish out as far as you can trick’. Instead of having the same pose as everyone out there hold the fish different. Use two hands and hold the fish with its mouth open at the camera, or have the angler be down on one knee. Anything to set the photo apart.
    Use the sun to light your subject. Always have your back to the sun when photographing a trophy to catch all the detail. 
Courtesy Bill Kohls Media
By following these tips you can take a photo from ‘that’s a nice fish’ comment to a ‘Wow!’ reaction. After all, once the season begins and you bring down that trophy of a lifetime, your epic photo will look great along with the story I submit to the editor. You can reach Bill at or on facebook by searching Bill Kohls Media.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Jetski Fishing Offshore of the Atlantic-in a Storm!

Went offshore on a jetski fishing trip hitting artificial reefs AR330, AR320, and AR315. The weather was forecasted with 80% chance of rain and I took off after a band of showers had passed through. AR330 is around 7 miles out and the only boat at the reef was a large dive boat. Weather began to go south quickly and I headed in towards AR320 which is located about 1.5 miles off shore. The choppy seas limited my speed to around 10-12 mph and the storm caught up with me. I was prepared for a storm and had safety equipment with me as well as a mapped out plan I left with my family in case of trouble.

Safety equipment included a Uniden VHF marine radio with GPS, WX, and one button distress signal, flare gun with 6 flares, installed bilge pump in hull of the jetski, Humminbird fish finder with GPS tracking, and my cell phone with offline mapping for GPS (GPS works even if cell coverage does not).

Friday, August 16, 2013

Just Do It.

The season is upon us. Just a few weeks and the hunting will begin. As I complete my final stages of scouting and setting up stands I have to look back at what has transpired so far this year. I always like a good adventure and doing some things I have never done before. And I cannot lie; this year has had its share of ups already.

I competed in my first local, statewide, and national archery tournaments finishing second at the Dixie Deer Classic. This was only 12 hours removed from receiving the 2012 North Carolina Bowhunter of the Year Award the night before.

I floated 22 miles down the Neuse River on a paddleboard fishing trip. Then a few weeks ago I completed another adventure taking a jetski fishing offshore.

I can look back over the last few years and each one held its own firsts for me. Memorable trips such as taking a bison as my first big game animal with a bow up in North Dakota, chasing mountain lion by horseback in the high desert of Arizona, and mixing it up with alligators in the humid swamps of Georgia.

I am asked occasionally about how I find the time to do things such as this and still include family time. It is much more than just family time though. I not only handle my weekly outdoors activities and write the column weekly, but I have a full time job during the week also. I freelance for several magazines and have been working on a couple of books in the little spare time I have to kick it up another notch.

But the real challenge is how to include my kids in my activities. While I did not feel it was safe to take one of my kids with me offshore on the jetski, I did have them ride with me on the ski while testing the rebuild and construction of the fishing rig in freshwater such as Kerr Scott Reservoir while camping.

Even when I put the paddleboard in the water for the first time in order to check the stability and make sure it would be a safe platform in which to try the float trip, my youngest son was brave enough to climb on board for a few minutes and stayed long enough for a couple of pictures.

They have often helped me when practicing in the back yard or a local football field by pulling arrows or helping me mark yardage. This was especially helpful on long distance shots of 60 and 70 yards as I would adjust sights as they retrieved the arrows and convey to me where the arrows were in regards to the bullseye.

I did not take them on the alligator hunting trip two years ago, but they helped me in planning what to pack and next year my oldest son, my daughter and I will have acquired enough priority points through the lottery draw in Georgia to do a hunt together.

So while some of the top adventures did not include them in the actual trip, they were there in spirit and preparation. And through this preparation, they will have acquired some of the skills and appreciation needed as we set out on trips this season and next year. They will understand the work and patience needed in order to make an adventure successful and safe. And they will understand that life is not just working, sleeping and eating, but enjoying the things that life has to offer. You just have to do it.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Jetski Fishing off the Atlantic Coast

I like trying normal things a little differently. For instance, several years ago I bowhunted for mountain lion from horseback in the high desert of Arizona. Obviously, this is not the normal means of hunting a lion. I will routinely camp out in a tent beside a field I intend to hunt deer to prevent alerting any that may be in the field by driving onto the property. Earlier this year I took to the Neuse River fishing a twenty-two mile stretch by paddleboard over one weekend. I have also bowfished for flounder rather than using a rod and reel or a gig, and in the process took the North Carolina state bowfishing record.

After interviewing Brian Lockwood, otherwise known as Jetski Brian, a couple of months ago, I knew I had to try jetski fishing off the coast. Since that time I have been working on a ski and fishing setup so I could experience it. I wanted a setup that would not turn the jetski into a pure fishing machine. I have three kids and I knew if I altered the ski that much then they would not have a chance to just have fun on it.

The challenge was conquered by mounting rod holders and building a camera mount onto a 120 quart cooler. Instead of using a built on cooler rack, I installed feet on the cooler to lift it up off the back of the jetski and then rigged it so it could be attached to the ski using the eyelets already on the ski.

After a few fresh water lake test runs, I knew the setup was close to what I envisioned.

I made one inshore test run off of Emerald Isle. Running about 40 miles in one day and catching a few croakers and spots, I realized a few changes I needed to make if I was going to take it out in the ocean. Over the next week, I was able to make the changes and prepare for possibly my last coastal trip of this year.

I targeted an artificial reef off of Wrightsville Beach. The fishing was reported to be good and the weekend weather report showed expected favorable conditions.

I checked all the extra safety precautions I added to the ski; a newly installed bilge pump, a fish finder with gps tracking capability, two extra batteries for my cell phone and an offline map application to use with the phone’s gps even if cell service was not available, a vhf marine radio with one button distress signal that would send gps coordinates in the mayday call, and second battery for the jetski itself, just in case the main battery failed.

My wife was beyond nervous about my trip and I printed up a map of the reef I would be fishing to help ease her mind.

As for me, this was going to be a challenge, but not something I feared. I have always been comfortable with water. I learned to scuba when I was fifteen and have been known to swim several hundred yards out in the ocean to chase dolphins. The main challenge was going to be finding the reef. Satellite imagery works great for hunting, as you can spot different areas fairly easy. Satellite imagery of the ocean only shows you ocean. This trip would rely heavily on using gps equipment by instruments only. It kind of reminds me of a pilot having to rely on his gauges during night flights.

Second, I was going to target some species I have never fished before.

All so I could experience something that most will never attempt to try.
* * * * *
The morning started early. 3:30am early in fact. The coast is a long ride from the house but the promise was too great to not get there early. Reports on the area showed Spanish mackerel fishing was going well in the morning and late afternoon hours.
The track I intended on taking would be through the Masonboro Inlet and then head to the bouy AR-370, known as the Meares-Harriss Reef. Once putting in at the wildlife boat ramp just over the bridge at Wrightsville Beach I was able to park quickly and head out. The Intracoastal Waterway was nearly like glass and very few boats were out. In fact, there were many more people paddleboarding in the area during the early hours than there were boats heading out. Wrightsville Beach has become somewhat of a paddleboarder’s Mecca and hosts one of the largest paddleboard races in the world bringing in competitors from as far away as Australia and Hawaii.
After exiting the no wake zones I throttled on up to 30 mph. And then the unexpected happened. The jetski chugged and shut down. I restarted it and it fired up quickly. Again, as I throttled it up it shut down. Cursing to myself I realized a three mile plus trip out into the ocean was not the best thing to do with a jetski acting up. I turned to head back to the ramp.
Then I decided to check one last thing just as I turned back on the ICW from the inlet. Sure enough, I was able to turn the fuel switch further than the marks indicating the tank was on. The switch was loose, so even the marks were aligned, the switch had twisted meaning I only had the fuel on partially.
After a few checks, I once again gained confidence in my vessel and took toward the inlet once more. The jetties guarding the inlet presented much rougher water but nothing that presented concern. I stopped briefly to put a leader with a Gotcha plug attached to a planer on the rod. I casted out just a few yards and allowed the setup to sink and restarted the ski. As I left the inlet I drove within a couple dozen yards of the jetty wall. The water was around 50 feet deep and 78 degrees. I tried to monitor the setup as I exited the inlet but didn’t notice much. I continued out from the inlet a few hundred yards and stopped again to reel in my trolling rig. Something did not feel quite right.
That was because I hooked my first Spanish mackerel, an eight inch specimen. Not big enough to keep, but my first none the less.
Anxious to try my hand at both finding the reef and experiencing the near shore fishing, I decided to go ahead and head out to sea.
My preparation proved efficient and I was able to locate the reef rather easily. There were a few other boats fishing nearby also, and I knew I was getting some strange looks. I set up my rods for some reef fishing and dropped the baits.
The next several hours consisted of bringing in fish constantly and consistently. Ten seconds on the bottom seemed like a break as the fish attacked the bait as quickly as I could put it in.
In the course of the day, I witnessed a sailboat race that painted the ocean’s surface and toward the end waves with eight foot swells. The jetski performed flawlessly after the fuel switch correction and acted as an enlarged bobber through the rougher seas.

And in the end, it proved a viable alternative for some excellent fishing.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Trail Cams

Opening day of deer season is less than two months away for bowhunters, and three months away for gun hunters. That sounds like plenty of time; however it is very easy to get a late start on scouting. For a chance at a successful opening weekend of deer hunting, one must find the deer and pattern the deer.

One hunter’s advice I listened to a few years ago when asked about his secret to success was obvious and clear. Hunt where the deer are. That kind of says it all. Scouting is the process in which we find out that very thing.

This year one of the places I have to hunt is planted with soybeans. That makes it an ideal area to bring in deer. Sure enough, after checking the edges of the field I found plenty of tracks. After back tracking the trails I located points of entry from the woods to the field.

The next step is to determine when the deer are coming to the field and to catalog what deer are available. The easiest way to obtain this information is through the use of trail cameras. Trail cameras come in several varieties. Just a few years ago cameras were separated into two types; film and digital. Now nearly all trail cameras are digital for two reasons. The first is film became expensive because it was a one-time use because of processing and if there was an abundance of game and movement, a roll of film would disappear on the first night. Second, film is pretty much obsolete now as digital cameras and cell phone cameras have taken over the market, much the same way compact disc destroyed the market for cassette tapes and records.

Trail cameras are now separated into flash and infrared styles. Flash cameras tend to burn through batteries quicker and are more invasive. They also invite theft as the flash can be seen clearly in the dark. Infrared cameras are less alarming to both animals and humans. They also can burn through batteries depending on the settings due to the number of photos it can take. The fact is, without the flash, the deer tend to stay in the area longer.

Where the camera is set up also determines the types of pictures you can get. Since I have just started using the camera this season my goal is to see what I have and when they come through. For this, I have set the camera near their entrance point to the field and baited the site with corn. This will show me when the deer are coming out to feed and how long they are staying in the area. It also accomplishes the other goal of cataloging what deer are in the area.

If you are a trophy hunter, the advice changes slightly. Instead of hunting where the deer are, you need to hunt where the big bucks are. That is where the cataloging comes in. I am not hunting just for trophy bucks, but I would like to take one in velvet. That only leaves the opening weekend or two as viable opportunities before the bucks start removing the velvet from their antlers. Seeing what deer are in the area also gives me an idea of the buck/doe ratios and the number of fawns born during the spring.

Over the next few weeks, the camera will be moved to different locations in order to find the best area to set up a stand to hunt deer during legal shooting times. If done properly, scouting with the use of the trail camera can show you both where to hunt as well as where not to.