Sunday, December 10, 2017

Who is My Audience?

Who is My Audience?

            I was listening to a podcast recently that sort of rattled my chains. During this podcast the interviewee made some comments that got me to thinking. He is an outdoor writer and he made comments like (and I paraphrase) “you need to identify who your target audience is and write to them.” And then he said, “Define your niche and write in that niche, too many aspiring writers are generalists and not focused enough.”
            As I listened to this, I became despondent. I have been writing for almost twenty years in the outdoor industry. I have published over one thousand articles, stories and reviews. My writing has been acknowledged by numerous agencies and groups with nearly forty respectable awards. Yet, as I thought about this, I could not for the life of me identify ‘who my audience is.’
            Then as I continued to think about it, trying to identify my niche was even more depressing. My niche has evolved, changed a few times and eluded me at others. My ability to write about a lot of different topics has been my niche. I have embraced being a generalist. The guy that can and does cover it all and does it all fairly well. I am not a whitetail deer writer, although I will publish a dozen or more stories annually on whitetail deer and how to hunt them. I have never been known as a gun writer. But this year I have written more stories about guns and reviews on guns than anything else. I do not believe I can be labeled a turkey writer, but this is perhaps my most favorite animal to hunt and write about.
            I have written stories on so many subjects and species that I cannot remember them all. I have written about Whitetail deer and mule deer, black bear, turkey, feral hogs, elk, moose, coyotes, bobcats, fox both grey and red. I have written stories on how to hunt squirrels, rabbits and quail. Many a story has been spun around ducks, geese and decoys. Stories about woodcock and grouse. Articles of dogs and how to select them and train them. Stories about knives, bow and arrow, target shooting, optics and accessories. I have written about the nuances of the bow and arrow. From selecting the best bow, arrow, rest, sight, release and quiver to why not to do so. There are stories about black powder rifles and handguns. Stories about crossbows, recurve, longbows and compound bows. I have written about catching largemouth bass, striped bass, spotted bass and smallmouth. If you look you will find stories on how to catch bluegill, redbreast, shell cracker and crappie. There are stories on catching walleye, northern pike in remote lakes and every catfish available. Then there are the trapping stories. How to catch coyotes, fox, bobcats and raccoons. I have written mostly about hunting, fishing, trapping and life outside.
            But of all of it, most of what I enjoy writing is not about the ‘how’, as much as it is about the ‘why’. I do not enjoy writing about the ‘how’. Although that is the only thing most magazines will buy. I do write about the ‘how’ – I just do not enjoy it nearly as much as writing about the ‘why’.  There are plenty of writers out there who are far better than I am about telling you ‘how’. I love writing about ‘why’ we are there in the first place. What is it that draws men and women into the distant wilderness or neighborhood creek? What is the allure? What is the essence of the why? I write stories about sitting around campfires, sleeping in tents far from civilization. I write about traveling to distant places or nearby woodlots. About floating rivers and wading streams. About climbing mountains and slipping into frozen ponds. It is my belief that the ‘why’ is far more important than the ‘how’.
            I can tell you how to catch a trout. But I long to tell you why you should want to catch a trout. I can explain the biology of the rut in deer, but I desire to capture the reasoning why we sit out in sometimes miserable conditions hoping for just a chance to see a buck. It is relatively easy to explain how to catch bedding bluegill. But to clarify the feeling of the fight from a panfish that causes grown men to tear up at the excitement is something difficult.
            I have written volumes on how to kill turkeys in the mountains, plains and everywhere in between. But trying to understand the man who is as transfixed by the sight of his two hundredth bird as he was on his first – now that is good literature. And that is what I aspire to write.
            So, who is my audience? My audience is everyone who understands that the why is far more important than the how. My audience are those men and women who crave for one more day, one more sunrise, and one more starry night. Those who inwardly smile at the perfect set of decoys, or the point of a setter. The man or woman who come across an old fence and marvel at the family that built it to survive. My audience is the little boy with his first BB gun. Or the girl on a pond bank praying her bobber will bounce.
            The outdoors is a magical place. It is a place where we can experience the perfectness of creation and the tranquility of our own soul. It is a place where we experience things that cannot be experienced anywhere else. Whether you are traversing ancient glaciers or sitting in your backyard, the majesty is everywhere.
            So I write for you. For everyone who dares to wonder and imagine. For everyone who looks out a frost covered window and dreams. For the upland hunter more interested in how his dog performs than he about his shooting prowess. For the big game hunter who enters vast wilderness in search of adventure. For the angler on a remote lake mesmerized by the loon and ripples. I write for you. For those who look into the flickering flames of a campfire and know. For those who don’t mind grounds in their coffee, or ice in their boots. I write for those who hunt the high country to go to sleep to the sound of bugling bulls and are transfixed by the millions of stars that are watching.

            My niche? It is the outdoors. My audience – well it is you. All of you, all of you who want, need and live the outdoors. I hope you enjoy the times I try to capture. For the moments in time that are stilled long enough for you to come along. I hope you can feel the breeze on your cheek, and smell the fresh pine and decaying leaves of the mountain stream. I pray that through reading my simple words, you will know you are part of something far bigger. Your life in this vast place has purpose and meaning. You are valuable. So, I will write for you, my audience who live the outdoors. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Proper Baiting Tactics for Whitetail Deer

Baiting is one of those topics that really bring out some heated discussions. Should you bait or not? Is it ethical? Does dumping a pile of corn on the ground change behavior? Is putting food out for deer the same as mineral licks or water holes?

The debate can go on for days. In fact it has gone on for years in many areas of the country. Today's post is not to debate the merits of bait. It is not to discuss whether it is legal, ethical or merited. It is simply to look at methods of baiting and how to do it in the most effective manner.

It has been my experience that baiting can draw deer from other areas to the bait station. It has also been my experience that baiting does not necessarily cause deer to alter their behavior. If anything, the only thing baiting has done is create a generation of hunters how do not know, nor care to learn woodsmanship.

Recently I was scouting a location for the upcoming trapping season. I was walking along the edge of a mature soybean field. Beautiful chest high soybeans. When I reached the edge of the field near a back corner I stopped in my tracks. There on the edge of the soybean field was a large pile of corn! My fist thought was 'what an idiot'. Who would waste their money and time pouring out corn along a soybean field? That is akin to dumping corn in the middle of persimmons, or along the edge of a ridge of white oak trees while they are dropping their acorns. The deer are coming to the soybeans anyway, the use of corn or any bait in this situation is wasteful, and ignorant.

Bait is best used when there are NO alternative native food sources available. Let me say that again. Bait is best used when there are NO alternative native food sources available. If there is a good acorn crop there is no need to bait, the deer will always choose acorns over corn or any other bait. When there is green soybeans, the deer will always choose soybeans over corn or bait. Bait for this discussion is the placed food source. corn, carrots, alfalfa, pears, apples etc. anything that is placed by hand, feeder or other methods and does not naturally grow or planted.

Bait is often not used well because of its location. Deer do not like to expose themselves during daylight. If you are putting bait out in the middle of a field, clear-cut or other big opening you will not draw bucks to that food during daylight except in extreme situations. Bait stations near cover or in the woods are best for bucks. They need to feel safe. In Texas for example they like to put bait along roadways that are cut through the middle of thick bedding cover. the bucks can come our feed and retreat and still fee safe. In the southeast, bait stations that are in the thick cover get a lot more attention than those in the open. The closer to cover the better the deer like it when it comes to placing bait.

Another mistake hunters make with bait is only baiting during the hunting season. The deer will get skiddish quickly when the pressure is on them. Begin your baiting regimen months before the season opens. One method we began that seems to work is to begin using our feeders in July before the opening of season on September 1. This allows two things to occur. We can get a good survey of the herd, and it conditions the deer to the bait and the location without much interference. It also allows them to begin to associate our interference as a positive. They learn quickly that the sound of the four wheeler means food. Many times when hunting bait. We will drive the wheeler into the area, let out a hunter, and leave. Fooling the deer into thinking new food just arrived. On many occasions this has resulted in a kill at the station shortly after the machine is out of hearing.

Using timed feeders or manually dispersing has advantages and disadvantages. For the absentee land owner, the timed feeder is excellent because it feeds when you are absent. It keeps things rolling while you are away. The downside of this is that it limits your options of what you can use for bait. it is hard to use carrots, apples or pears in a spin feeder. So if you use one of these you are limiting yourself to corn or pellets.

In our experience when using corn for bait, the cob corn tends to work a shade better. It seems that the deer take a lot longer to eat the cob corn so it last a lot longer then the shelled corn. There again, when using a feeder, shelled corn and some minerals is all that can be used.

Baiting can be effective at certain times of the year and under certain circumstances. Relying too much on the dumping of food to kill a deer is not the best use of your time. Finding the animals, locating their bedding, feeding and travel corridor is essential to placing a good bait station.

Baiting is legal in many areas, so if you are going to do it, do it well.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Best Place to Hunt and Kill Big Whitetails

I have been hunting whitetail deer now for forty years. ninety percent of this time has been spent in my home state of South Carolina. Hunting deer in the deep south is very different and in many cases much harder than in other parts of the country. 

For one, we have very large blocks of timber with very little terrain features. This is very different form the mid-west where agriculture fields dominate and finding funnels and trails is easy since the deer are concentrated into small woodlots. In the deep south, we have areas with very large blocks of timber that can stretch for thousands of acres. Tot op this off, this area may have an elevation change of only a few feet. This poses a great problem of where and how to hunt bucks and kill them consistently. 

The answer is pretty simple to state and difficult to accomplish. Will Primos, of Primos hunting calls says it like this; "You cannot hunt a buck where he is, you have to hunt him where he is going to be." This may seem obvious and easy, but in reality it is difficult to accomplish. The reasoning is trying to discern where he will be in hundreds or thousands of acres of a mono-culture can be daunting. 

Contrary to other parts of the country, we can walk for miles and not find a single trail. The deer just wander around feeding, grazing and moving from one place to another. This is where efforts to concentrate them into certain areas can make it easier. Whether your state allows baiting, or salt licks, minerals, food plots it doesn't matter. Whatever is legal in your state that you can do to concentrate the bucks into an area is your best chance to kill him. 

If baiting is allowed, then by all means use what the law allows and strategically place bait in a good location. If it is not allowed, find the core area of the bucks, and get a hundred and fifty yards from there and construct a small 1/4 acre food plot. Scratch it out in the woods, make something that will attract the deer to your location. Hang your stand and only hunt on the correct wind. Remember you cannot hunt a buck where he is, you have to hunt him where he is going to be. In this scenario you are controlling to some degree where he will be. 

If you are baiting, don't place your bait in the middle of a clearing. Make it comfortable for the buck to visit the bait during daylight hours. Place the bait near or in the woods. Near some thick cover, or some place he can hide and feel safe. If bow hunting your stand should be no more than twenty yards from the bait and high in a tree. Again, only hunt with the correct wind. Personally, when baiting, I prefer to gun hunt these locations and place my stand a minimum of eighty yards from the bait. This allows me the opportunity to get into the stand without disturbing the area. 

Killing food plots are small plots located in isolated areas typically these will be hourglass shaped with a stand near the center. The entire plot will be within range of a bow hunter. These plots need to have proper vegetation for all seasons. Warm season then top seeded with winter foods. Or a good combination from the beginning. Standing corn, soybeans, cow peas, clover, winter wheat or rye are all good. So too are crops like turnips or rutabaga.

The focus is to remember, you cannot hunt a buck where he is, you have to hunt him where he is going to be. Get your location set up long before you plan to hunt him and be ready when he arrives. Anything you can do to control where he will be is to your advantage. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Elk Hunt 2017

I just returned from a long anticipated elk hunt in north central Colorado. A group of friends and I drew tags for units 18/181. After a twenty four hour drive, we finally arrived and set up our camp. Consisting of a walled tent and a pop-up camper, horse trailer that served as our kitchen and three ATV's. The week started off great, cold a dusting of snow. Our anticipation of giant 6x6 bulls and elk running everywhere was very high. All five of us had either sex tags so we knew we were coming home with coolers full of elk meat.

As the week wore on, the temperatures soared! Temperatures in the middle 70's kept the elk away or in hiding. In short, only one of us even SAW an elk. I believe that had I been hunting Sasquatch or a Triceratops my odds would have been just as good.

We hunted from 11,500 feet of elevation down to just below 8,000 feet of elevation and could not find fresh elk sign, and no elk. Averaging eight miles a day and we could not find them anywhere. In total we were spread out across several miles of terrain and none of us could find any elk.

For four of the five days I rose at 4:30 and hunted past dark. Stalking, sitting and glassing. Watching open meadows, moving through dark timber. Calling, nothing seemed to work. We determined after a week of hunting hard that the Rocky Mountain Elk is extinct.

It is during these difficult hunts that I am reminded of why I hunt. Sure I am after a big animal, and some meat for my freezer. But more importantly it is for the adventure and friendships that are made.

I love hunting the high country. The Rocky Mountains have a hold on my soul and I love being out there in the high country. I enjoy chasing different animals in different areas. I am thrilled with the pursuit, the challenge of hunting and hunting hard for an animal I know little about.

So while I have hunted elk several times, and have yet to SEE an elk on a hunt. I will continue to hunt them and other animals. I will continue to pursue the passion. Continue to travel to the high country and the Rocky Mountains and other regions across this country. I will not be deterred. As Gene Hill once quipped "At home a friend will ask, “Been [elk] hunting?” You will say that you have, and when he asks,” Have any luck?” You will think of what you have held in your heart instead of your hand, and then answer that you certainly did—without a doubt." 

So yes, my heart is full if my cooler is not. I am thankful for the opportunity to hunt, to pursue and to live my passion. And the full heart is why I hunt in the first place.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

How Young is Too Young

My Son Ridge with his first Buck. He
was 11 years old. 

Increasingly, I am seeing pictures all over social media of children with big game animals. Recent photos of a five year old with a massive buck caught my attention and got me to wondering, how young is too young to allow children to kill big game animals?

First let me say, I do not have the answer, but I do have some thoughts that may help you with your assessment of deciding for your children. As a father of five children, three girls and two boys, I have made some mistakes along this road that I would like to prevent you from making. My oldest son killed his first buck when he was nine years old. I waited until then, because I wanted to make sure he understood the finality of killing something and to make sure he could handle the gun safely. My second son, I waited until he was eleven, and my middle daughter (the only one of the girls that hunts) she was thirteen. But in hindsight, I wish I had waited for all of them. And here is why.

In each case, the first animal they killed was either a whitetail or a turkey. In our home state of South Carolina, that is about the only 'big game' we have. In retrospect, I wish I would have started them off on small game. My dad was not a hunter at all, he preferred to chase white balls across mowed grass. I came to hunting naturally, and without a mentor. I began by hunting squirrels, then doves, a few rabbits here and there, but most of my time was spent chasing bushytails with my Sears and Roebuck .22 rifle. I was in my 20's before I ever thought of hunting deer. Back inn the 1970's there were so few deer it wasn't even on my radar. Once I began, I had to figure the whole thing out on my own, And it was many years later before I killed my first one.

There is something pure about hunting small game. It is easier for kids to enjoy the 'less stress' of chasing squirrels. More movement is allowed, talking is not a terrible thing, and you can walk around without fear of scent control, or full head to toe camouflage. .22 caliber rifles or small gauge shotguns, are not loud and do not have enough recoil to measure. It teaches some patience and marksmanship. Hunting small game teaching kids to be safe with their gun while walking through the woods. It teaches them how to cross streams, fences and blow-down logs. And how to ensure safety all of the time.

If we allow four and five year old children to kill big game before they loose their front teeth, are we not setting them up for disappointment later? What is there to aspire to if success comes so easy so early?

A  friend of mine likes to use the analogy of 'ratcheting up'. Meaning, you start at point 'A', and ratchet up one click to the next level 'B'. Then to 'C', and so on. Perhaps this is a good analogy for introducing kids to the world of hunting. Start with small game, teach them to sit quietly, stalk slowly, make good clean ethical shots. Show them how to clean the game and then how to prepare it for consumption. Show them how to clean the guns after the hunt. Let them face defeat with a squirrel, or groundhog, perhaps a jackrabbit or cottontail. Let them feel the success of developing good skills for killing crows, or doves. Help them to focus on the event, the splendor of participating rather than the size of the antlers at such a young age.

I am 53 years old, and I have been hunting since I was thirteen. So forty years of hunting animals all across the continent. Still to this day, getting my old .22 Sears and Roebuck rifle out and wandering into the woods after squirrels is one of my most favorite things to do in late winter. The leaves are all gone, the air is crisp, and the scampering of bushytails bring a sort of nostalgia to my soul.

After my sons and daughter killed their deer, and turkey and pigs, we started over. Now their favorite hunting is squirrel hunting. We can talk, walk around through the woods and get to shoot at some squirrels. Often we stop by the creek, build a fire and put a squirrel on a spit and have it for lunch. They are enjoying the outdoors in a way, that sitting in a ladderstand just doesn't do. For them anyway.

At the end of the day, it is up to the parent and the laws of your state to determine when you can and should take your children hunting. From my experience however, too young is far worse too old, because there is no 'too old'. One of the reasons I began so early with my children, is because as an older parent, (I was still having kids into my 40's) I wanted to introduce them to something we could do together when I am well into my eighties and beyond. Time has a way of sneaking up on you, as my children became teenagers, school, cars, girlfriends and boyfriends, jobs, sports all became more important than spending time with dad in the woods. That is fine at this stage, the seed was planted and hopefully it will grow. But we still find several times each fall to spend a day together in the woods, carrying guns, looking for game. But mostly, we spend the day together. More memories are built based on the adventure shared than of the bulge in the game bag.

Just remember, for them, it is not about killing big bucks or a limit of ducks. It is about spending time with mom or dad one on one. So when you take them, let them decide when you leave. When you take them, let them decide what your'll hunt. Make it more about spending time with them, than killing something. Because they will remember the days spent with mom and dad a lot more than they will remember what they killed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Le Chameau Boots - A Review

Image result for le chameau
If you have spent any time afield, you have heard of the boot company Le Chameau. 
If not, you are missing out on the finest footwear built today.
It all started when master boot maker Claude Chamot spent the day listening to his customers of farmers, hunters and fishermen complaining that their boots were uncomfortable and unreliable. Mr. Chamot designed and built a natural rubber boot that was tested and stood up to the punishment his customers needed.

As his reputation grew, expansion followed but the craftsmanship remained. In 1950 a real breakthrough emerged with Le Chameau boots. Mr. Chamot merged his rubber technology and craftsmanship with that of the saddler and fashioned the Saint Hubert - the first rubber boot with a leather lining. This boot quickly became the standard by which all other boots were measured.

Image result for le chameau chasseurIn 1970 Le Chameau introduced a boot that has become the standard by which all rubber boots are measured. Created with the hunter in mind, the Chasseur was the first rubber boot to have a full length waterproof zipper. It even comes available with eight different calf sizes for an almost perfect fit. The Chasseur comes with Kevlar reinforcement on the front of the boot to protect against wear, premium leather lining and leather insole. Each Chasseur boot is hand made by a master boot maker after a long and rigorous apprenticeship. Each boot is unique due to the handmade qualities.

In addition to the high quality, Mr. Chamot believed in permium customer service and offers a full 2 year guarantee for all of his boots.

To make matters even better, if rubber boots aren't your thing. Le Chameau now offers a full hiking/hunting boot called the Condor.

Image result for le chameau condor boots
The Condor
An Ultra-lightweight Nubuck leather boot with some of the finest leather available. This boot has a multi-layer Le Chameau LCX® Technology. This technology guarantees waterproof and breathable. The full grain leather is made with environmental friendly Terracare®. The sole is deep forest green with Michelin Compound for superior durability, flexibility and traction. These boot are insulated and made for hunting, hiking and other activities down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Weighing in at a total of 4.6 pounds these boots are the lightest full size leather boots I have ever personally tested. The full speed lace is another plus. By removing all of the speed lace getting a foot inside with full wool socks is a breeze. Allowing the lacing to be quick and easy. The quality of the leather meant that from the initial fitting the boots 'felt' like they were already broken in and ready for a hunt.

Recently I received each of these boot to test and evaluate. I have to say the Condor is performing  above expectations. Which is hard to believe. The boots fit perfectly to my size requested. The leather is some of the finest I have seen in any quality boot. And the comfort is above par. The price of these boots is nothing to balk at, but after trying them, it is easy to see that for many, these are a lifetime purchase. These boots will hold up for decades. Barring an accident that could damage any boot, I am confident I will never need anther pair of boots. In two weeks I will be taking these Condor boots to Colorado for a high country elk hunt. It will be interesting to see how they perform basically 'out-of-the-box'. Thus far, testing has been positive and the over thirty miles I have placed on them have been comfortable.

The Chasseur full length leather lined rubber boot with a full zipper was quite the surprise. Reading about the leather lining, the first thought that came to mind is 'i bet they are some more hot boot'. Thinking my feet would sweat profusely being inside a leather lined rubber boot. And if you have ever worn rubber boots you know there is no way for your feet not to sweat in them. Add to that the leather lining and the initial thought was not positive. However after trying them on and wearing them for several hours, I realize just the opposite was true. The leather allowed your feet to breathe some and my feet were not nearly as hot an sweaty as other boots.
I love he full zipper for ease of entry and removal. To this point they have not leaked at all. Comfort is a difficult thing when it comes to rubber boots. The out-soles are typically hard and the support is terrible. However, I found that with the Le Chameau Chasseur, the opposite was true. The comfort and feel was outstanding. If you are looking for a boot that will last a lifetime, or even an everyday rubber boot, the comfort of the Le Chameau is worth the money.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Not All Scope Bases are the Same!

A few months ago, I was able to acquire a Weatherby Mark V in .308 for an upcoming elk hunt. THe Weatherby Mark V has long been THE one rifle I always wanted to own. Granted the specific configeration I have is not quite what I had in mind, but still, it's a great gun.

Like all good gun writers, I also try and put good optics on good guns. I have never had the budget for high end German glass, regardless of how much I coveted them. So a compromise was issued and I opted for a light weight Leupold scope. Specifically the VX2-3x9x40. (You can read here how I came to choosing the Leupold) To go along with the VX2 I also selected the Leupold Bases and Rings for the Weatherby Mark V. The packaging said; "For Weatherby Mark V". That was all it said, nothing else. Which is what leads me to this story.

After mounting the bases, rings and scope - as I have done dozens of times before, I headed to the range to break in the barrel and sight in the gun. (More about barrel break in later). After bore sighting the gun, I noticed the target was about four feet above the crosshair of the scope. A simple adjustment would fix this, I thought. WRONG. After several adjustments I could not ever get the gun to shoot onto the plywood target holder. We were still shooting several feet too high. A dilemma arose. Some investigation determined that something must be wrong with the scope and it was not allowing proper adjustments. Or the scope was not level.

I took the scope off, checked the bases, rings and remounted the scope - all total I did this over twenty times! and still count not get the situation corrected. Several gun smiths, expert shooters and still no resolution. Now I am three weeks away from my trip and still do not have a scope on my rifle.

Four phone calls to Leupold and two to Weatherby and we Think we have the solution. It seems that Weatherby makes two different Mark V guns therefore Leupold makes two different bases for each specific version. NOTE: There is nothing on the gun, or in the owners manual that indicated that I have the six lug version rather than the nine lug version. (I never got an answer to what that actually meant). The bases for the nine lug gun are shorter in the front because the action is taller. Therefore nothing I could have done would have fixed the problem short of discovering the proper mounts.

New bases and rings were ordered and should be in today just in time to head back to the range this afternoon to see if we can finally get the gun sighted in properly.

Point of the story. Check and recheck to make sure your bases match your gun EXACTLY or you will find yourself in the same situation I was in, shooting hundreds of dollars of ammunition to sight in your gun and still not be even remotely close to getting the situation resolved.

Stay Tuned - perhaps I will be able to report a beautiful target with holes blowing out the center at 200 yards.