Monday, August 13, 2018

Do you Field Dress your Kill?

A debate has recently emerged - again, from a hunting forum I follow concerning those who field dress their deer, vs those who prefer to pay someone else to do it for them. It is a debate that has raged for at least the past forty years I have hunted whitetail deer in South Carolina, and it continues to this day.

In certain parts of the country, it is common, and even expected to field dress your kill immediately, or as soon as possible. Hunters from the midwest, can be found slicing open the middle of their deer and removing the entrails before loading it into a truck, UTV or other mode of transport from the field. Hunters in the west, due to the remoteness of the hunts, tend to not only field dress, but also skin and butcher the entire animal for removal. Usually having to pack out the animal on their back, or the back of livestock.

In the southern states, it seems to be an anomaly to field dress your kill. The practice is even fraught with old wives tales about the practice. Case in point, about fifteen years ago, I was hunting some new ground with a buddy of mine. I was fortunate enough to kill a decent eight point buck. Upon recovery of the buck, I field dressed it and got it ready for removal. While I was walking to get my truck, my buddy showed up and offered his assistance. - What follows is as close to reality as I can remember it is not embellished at all. When he saw my buck with the entrails removed, he went ballistic - I mean ballistic -flailing his arms, screaming and cussing like I had never seen before. "What in the he%$ did you do?" He screamed. Me, looking puzzled at the question said, "I gutted the deer." "Why in gods green earth did you do that?" he said. "Uh to remove the guts." I answered.
"You have ruined this spot for the next two years, and probably killed every turkey on the place."
"What in the world are you talking about?" I asked
"No deer will come near this place for at least two years." He said. "And if any turkey finds that gut pile, they will get 'limp neck'" and die.
"What?" I asked. "What is limp neck?"
"If a turkey finds that gut pile, and eats any maggots that are in that, the maggots will get in his craw, and paralyze his neck and he wont be able to hold his neck up."
Trying not to laugh at his obvious conviction in this. I knew I would not get anywhere with this logic. So I offered to get a garbage bag and remove the guts before he had a stroke. Which I did. He hasn't spoken to me since.

Contrary to his belief, since that occasion I have field dressed dozens and dozens of deer, and never found a single turkey walking around unable to hold his head up. Not only this, but I have killed a deer in the morning, field dressed the deer, and killed again from the same stand that afternoon. Field dressing has zero effect on the deer in the area. For those of you who believe it does, here is my question. When a deer dies to a predator, or of natural causes, his carcass decomposes and feeds the animals. Does this cause deer to evade that location for two years? Does every turkey in the area get 'limp neck' if they happen upon a naturally dead deer?

Another example involves a buddy of mine who went to Colorado on an elk hunt. While there he killed a bull. He immediately called me and said, "Pete, I killed a bull elk! -how do I clean it?"
While he was there, I talked him through cleaning his bull elk from here in South Carolina. Had he field dressed his deer here, he would have learned how to properly field dress his elk. The process is the same regardless of the animal. Field dressing whitetail deer is the same as field dressing a moose. I have done both, one is much bigger and takes longer, but the process is the same.

Field dressing, skinning and general care of your animal is the responsibility of the hunter. Some hunters prefer to do it themselves, others opt to pay someone else to do their work for them. It comes down to a personal preference and misguided beliefs.

In the forty three years I have hunted, I have cleaned 100% of the animals I have killed. I believe it is part of the experience. Hunting, cleaning and processing my game is my responsibility. Granted, until recently I paid a processor to cut up my deer because I didn't know how and didn't have the equipment, but I always gutted and skinned my game. Now I do it all myself. I believe everyone should.

There are those who will disagree, I have seen those comments and have had those conversations. The fellow who lives in a subdivision says, "I don't have a place to clean my deer." Most subdivision homes have garages, use your garage. The guy living in an apartment says, "I don't have anywhere to clean my deer." The woods have trees, a little bit of pre-planning and you can hang your deer from a limb in the woods and clean it. I have done that dozens of times.  Gut it where it lays, and skin it from a limb. There are also winches and gambrels made to fit inside the receiver hitch on your truck to make cleaning easier.

In reality, it comes down to a simple - "I just don't want to do it." as some say, "why go through the hassle when I can pay the processor to do it for $20 more dollars?" My answer is - because it is your responsibility as a hunter to care for your animal after you have killed it.

I strongly believe it is your responsibility to care for your animal. You took the animals life, for food, sport, or whatever reason you chose. To drop it off for someone else to gut and clean, seems to me, to remove yourself from the fact that you killed it. When you gut and skin your kill, you gain a better understanding of the process of hunting and feeding your family. Moreover, you now control what your family will eat.

Regardless of what any game processor tells you, you never get your deer back. When these places make deer burger, they throw deer into the hopper and grind away, you are getting yours, Bill's and Susan's deer all mixed together. For me, I want to know that I am getting my deer. So I control every aspect of it.

When I kill the deer, I field dress it - usually- take it to my home or cabin and hang it to skin and butcher. Then I let it hang and age for 7-10 days depending on the weather. (If it is early season, I age it in a cooler) Then I butcher and process the meat myself.

A few years ago, I made a video on how to field dress your deer. There is one flub in the video where the camera fell, but it picks up and shows the process. With practice, you can field dress your deer in under five minutes. 

Take the time to learn how to do this, it will save you a lot of headache and give you a greater appreciation of the whole process of the hunt.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Are You Out of Peanut Butter?

Several years ago, a friend of mine who is now deceased and I were having a conversation about why some of our mutual friends had stopped attending church with us. She said, "I guess they must be out of peanut butter." I was confused by her comment, and I guess she could tell by the look on my face so she followed it with - "That excuse is as good as any." Her point was - there really is no good excuse.

In today's world I am still amazed at the number of hunters I talk to who refuse to wear a safety harness. Each year as an outdoor journalist, I receive reports of  hunters who fell from a tree stand. Either while hunting, climbing or descending. Far too often, those hunters who fall do not live to hunt another day. Instead, they leave a wife and kids without their husband and father. (No offense to the women out there - but statistics show that women hunters are five times more likely to wear a harness than a man is)  The DNR does not track treestand accidents that occur while hanging a stand or removing a stand. Only accidents that occur while in the actual act of hunting. This dramatically skews the data. There are far more accidents that occur in hanging and removing stands than while hunting.

As a warning, I am not officially on my soapbox.

I have had a lot of conversations with hunters who do not wear a safety harness and the response is either - "They are too expensive" or "I am careful."

In the dozens of people who I have personally interviewed who have fallen out of a stand at some point, not one of them ever told me they intentionally fell. Each time, it was an accident. Four individuals lost their footing, slipped or a limb they were trusting suddenly gave way. Seven fell while hanging or removing a stand. Five of these said it never occurred to them to wear their harness while working on the stand.

Six individuals, four of whom are either paralyzed or permanently disabled fell because the tree stand broke in some fashion. (I couldn't interview the dead ones, but investigations showed - old frayed straps on climbing steps and strap on stands, homemade climbing stands with broken welds, and one poor soul, just fell out of his stand. Three times, I talked with hunters who admitted they fell asleep and fell out of their stand. Anyone who says they have never fallen asleep while hunting is lying.

Two years ago, I made it mandatory on the property I own and manage, if you are going to hunt with me, you will wear a full body safety harness. If I catch you not wearing it, you will not hunt with me again. I care too much about your safety to let you climb a tree without a harness.

Honestly, with the bevy of brands out there that offer safety harnesses, there is no real reason not to wear one. I like Hunter's Safety Systems (No I am not paid by, nor sponsored by them). I like them because of the simplicity and I like the vest that holds my rangefinder. I love the multiple hook points for using a lineman's belt while hanging the stand, and the lifeline that will secure me from the ground up. I just clip in and start up my climbing sticks and never have to change, unhook or anything. At around $100 dollars it is cheap insurance.

Other good harnesses include Muddy Outdoors, and Summit, Gorilla Gear

One of the other elements that confound me is the same guys who complain about a harness being too expensive, drive up in a $40,000 truck pulling a $12,000 UTV, wearing $300 camouflage and toting a $1,200 bow. All while hunting on a lease that costs him $2,000 per year not to mention all of the extra stuff that goes into it. But they cannot afford a $125 safety harness?

I tell my children all of the time. There is a big difference between an excuse and a reason. There is absolutely no good reason that hunters are not wearing a safety harness. They only have an excuse, and none of them are good enough. "I guess they must be out of peanut butter."

Be an example for your kids and your fellow hunter. Wear your safety harness.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Sitka's New Early Season Whitetail

Hunting in the south is at times, unbearable. Our season here in South Carolina opens in mid August, during what is known as the "dog days" of the summer. Relentless heat and humidity that is so thick, that as we say, "you don't breathe the air, you swallow." 

Sitting in a deer stand when the temperature is triple digits, humidity pushing 90% is just plain miserable. But in order to have the chance to kill a velvet buck, you have to endure the torment. 

For over forty years, I and other hunters have sought clothing that could help with the heat. In the early days, there was only denim and cotton. It was tough trying to get a short hunt before the morning sun made it unbearable. Afternoons were worse, with the hottest time of the day being between 3:00 and 5:00, getting into the stand was not possible without leaving a strong scent trail and being comfortable. 

Thankfully, technology is advancing and clothing is getting better and cooler to wear. For over a decade now, Sitka Gear has turned the hunting garment world on its head with the technology they are introducing to the industry. Today marks a new launch into a new direction for Sitka Gear. With the introduction of their Early Season Whitetail (ESW) line, Sitka has listened to hunters and designed the lightest weight clothing available for those early season jaunts. 

“For the early season, it was important to design something that not only allows for quiet movement in the stand, but also maximizes breathability and odor control,” said Chris Derrick, SITKA Gear’s Whitetail Product Manager. “In addition to lightweight fabrics and body mapped mesh ventilation, we add Polygiene® to prevent the build-up of odor on the garments, significantly reducing the odor profile.” 
The new Early Season Whitetail Series is the lightest line SITKA’s created in the whitetail realm. It is optimized for ventilation, stealth and odor control in warm weather. With complete Polygiene® odor control and durable, quiet fabrics that are body- mapped for absolute breathability, ESW works hard for the hunter sweating it out on warm weather hunts. 
Like all SITKA systems, the ESW system is designed for layering. Streamlined cuts allow users to add insulation over the top of ESW gear as temperatures cool. It is available in the GORE™ OPTIFADE™ Elevated II™ pattern
 Here is a breakdown of the new ESW line. 

ESW Pant:    

  • A technical hunting pant ready to go to work in the whitetail woods. The durable four-way stretch polyester stands up to the brush but offers great breathability and stretch to make getting in and out of the stand a breeze while body-mapped mesh ventilation in the gusset and pockets keeps your scent and body temp low. For added stealth, we incorporated Permanent Polygiene® Odor Control Technology throughout plus cargo pockets that feature silent snaps and divided panels to prevent gear from rattling around.
    • Key Features:
      • Mesh Pockets & Gusset for Ventilation & Odor Control
      • Cargo Pockets with silent snaps and gear dividers
      • Permanent Polygiene® odor control technology
      • Durable water repellent finish
      • Fabric Details: Quick Dry 4-Way Stretch Woven Polyester
      • Colors: GORE™ OPTIFADE™ Elevated II Concealment Pattern
      • MSRP: $149

ESW Shirt:

  • Optimized for warm weather performance, the ESW Shirt features a lightweight stretch polyester in the body and arms for a quiet draw, silent snaps for quiet layering, mesh pits for ventilation, and complete Permanent Polygiene® Odor
    Control Technology throughout. The ESW Shirt will be a reliable tool for the whitetail hunter and can be worn on its own in the heat or as a foundation for layered insulation as autumn sets in.
    • Key Features:
      • Button-up front with silent snaps for stealthy layering
      • Mesh pit panels for ventilation and odor control
      • Tall collar for added sun & bug protection
      • Permanent Polygiene® odor control technology
      • Durable water repellent finish
      • Fabric Details: Quick-Drying 4-Way Stretch-Woven Polyester
      • Colors: GORE™ OPTIFADE™ Elevated II Concealment Pattern
      • MSRP: $129

ESW Glove: 

  • A technical shooting glove for the discerning bow hunter. A durable Cordura nylon back and synthetic leather palm will withstand many seasons of abuse while the exposed and reinforced thumb and forefinger design enable an accurate and
    unhindered release to help you arrow the monarch you patterned all summer.
    • Key Features: 
      • Exposed & Reinforced thumb/forefinger for precision shooting
      • Permanent Polygiene® Odor Control Technology
      • Fabric Details: Nylon Cordura with Ax-Suede Leather Palm
      • Colors: GORE™ OPTIFADE™ Elevated II Concealment Pattern
      • MSRP: $79

ESW Hat:

  • Streamlined and featherlight, the ESW Hat features a rounded brim, breathable mesh back and Permanent Polygiene® Odor Control Technology to keep the sun and
    sweat at bay.
    • Key Features:
      • Breathable Mesh Back
      • Low-Profile Closure
      • Permanent Polygiene® odor control technology
      • Fabric Details: Quick-Dry Bi-Component Polyester Knit Front Panels, Mesh Polyester Back Panels
      • Colors: GORE™ OPTIFADE™ Elevated II Concealment Pattern
      • MSRP: $30

I am anxious to try the new ESW. Our season is right around the corner. I will be bow hunting in August, hoping for that elusive velvet buck, and then turn around and head to Florida for some pigs at the end of August. Both of these hunts should be a great test for the Early Season Whitetail line from Sitka Gear. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Is Perfect Scent Control Possible?

A recent discovery of mine are Pod Casts. I have found a few hunting and outdoor related Pod Casts that I really enjoy. And when i find myself traveling, which is often, I tune into a Pod Cast to listen, learn and pass the time on the long road trips. 

Image result for whitetail deer smellingAt the end of last week, I was listening to a Pod Cast (I will not name it here) and the guest the host was interviewing is a well known outdoor writer and accomplished hunter. During this interview about how to hunt and kill big mature whitetail deer on high pressure ground, the guest made the statement; "My scent control is perfect, I don't pay any attention to the wind."

When I heard this, I pulled the truck over, rewound the sequence and listened again, and again and again. Was I really hearing what I thought I heard? Did he say, his "scent control is perfect..."? Indeed he did say that, and throughout the interview he kept eluding to the fact that he does not pay any attention to the wind - because his scent control is so - well....perfect.

I know I am not the most accomplished hunter out there. Not by a long shot. There are throngs of hunters who are far more successful than me. So once I heard this, I began to poll many of them. I called, texted and emailed a dozen or so world class hunters and asked them this simple question. "Do you think it is possible for your scent control to be so perfect that you can ignore the wind when hunting mature whitetails?" 100% of those I polled said - "No I do not think that is possible."

Frankly I must concur. The whitetail deer has a nose that has been well documented. His ability to smell, and detect unnatural odors are so keen, I personally believe it is impossible to completely hide your human odor enough that he cannot smell you under the right conditions. Meaning, if he gets down wind of you, regardless of how good your scent control is, he will smell you.

Killing mature bucks is difficult even under the best situations. Totally ignoring the wind is something you do to your peril. In places of high pressure or low. Agriculture fields or big woods, small parcels or not, ignoring the wind results in an enjoyable sit in the woods with little activity.

To kill big bucks, or any bucks for that matter, the number one thing you must pay attention to is the wind direction. You must hunt with the wind in your favor - 100% of the time.

Scent control sprays, soaps and laundry detergent all help - a lot. But they do not take the place of woodsmanship and hunting the wind is lesson number one.