Sunday, November 18, 2018

Passing it On

A few weeks ago, my oldest son and I had the chance to spend a weekend together hunting. It was a great weekend, and one that I will cherish. At 22, he is fast becoming his own man and getting ready to venture into the real world making our schedules difficult to align.

During this weekend adventure, conversations roamed. It was this weekend he shared with me his intent to propose to his longtime girlfriend, one whom we all adore! I was elated at the opportunity to gain another daughter! As we talked about the responsibility of becoming a husband, one thing emerged and that was the importance of insurance and a will. I am always shocked to see how people neglect to take a half hour out of their life to write a simple will.

Unfortunately one of the things I have done as a pastor is sitting with families who are struggling through death and are faced with the legal nightmare of handling the estate of an individual who did not have a will in place before they died.  All it takes is a few minutes to write it down and sign it.

As Alex and I discussed this, I brought up some of the provisions in my will. I also asked him if there was anything of mine he especially wanted when I died. Without hesitation he said he would love to inherit my Remington 700 .30-06. I must admit I was surprised at this request. Of all the guns I have, why this one? He said, "that is the gun I remember us hunting together with."

That particular rifle is my second 'deer rifle', and my most favorite. I have taken hundreds of animals with that rifle. It is dependable, scratched and well worn. For over thirty years, I lugged that rifle into the field, over mountains and have brought to the table. Only missing a handful of times, (all my fault) and never wounding any.  I have lost count on the number of optics that have sat on top of that rifle. From the very cheap to (by my standards) expensive scopes have all brought game to their demise. As I told Alex, "when I pull the trigger on this gun, something dies. Every time"

His request resonated with me for a long time. I pondered the request and my mind raced with reasons, and memories of us hunting together and me using that gun. My first 10 point buck, he was 10 years old and sitting with me. Bobcats, coyotes, mule deer, countless whitetails and pigs have all fallen at the report of that Remington 700.

Two weeks later, Alex and his friend came over for me to help them dial in their guns for hunting. At the range I took the old Remington 700. "Why are you taking that to the range?" Alex asked, "I jsut want to verify that it is still dialed in." I said.

We shot the Remington 700 first, and sure enough, a dead on 200 yard zero. I let Alex shoot it for the first time. He held it and looked it over. "Is this really the gun, you have hunted with my whole life?" he asked. "Yes it is." I said.

Watching Alex look at the rifle, I looked at him and said, "there is no need in you waiting until I die for you to enjoy that rifle."
Alex looked at me - shock on his face. "Daddy!"
"I just don't think there is any reason for you to wait until I die, I would like to see you enjoy it now."
"Are you giving me this gun?" Alex asked.
"Yes, son. If you still want it, it is yours."
The rest of the conversation is a blur. But I knew it was time to pass it on. I have other guns to use. He now has one. Admittedly, when I see the void in the cabinet, I am somewhat sad, but I am comforted in knowing that he has it, and with it, he has a part of me. Each time he ventures afield with his Remington 700, he will know I am with him.

I am glad I didn't wait. I am glad I got to give it to him, instead of leaving it to him.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Have You Ever Wondered?

    Have you ever wondered? Have you ever sat, breeze against your cheek as dawn breaks through the horizon, and wondered? Have you found yourself holding your breath, mesmerized at the light that transforms fear-ridden darkness into familiar comforting surroundings? Yellowish rays slicing through barren trees, grey mist rising from some hidden water source, and the scurrying of some unseen animal ushering in a new day. Have you ever wondered what those rays bring with them? Do they bring heartache or joy? Do they bring sorrow or happiness? What does the mist carry with it as it wafts into the morning air?
          If you are like me, you find yourself wondering. You wonder about those whose cup is always empty, and those whose cup seems too overflow. You wonder about those whose dreams are only a nightly occurrence and whose imagination is their only hope of discovery. You wonder about those who cannot find the joy in anything and those who seem to find joy in everything. You sit motionless as your breath finds its way into the morning air, and wonder. If you are like me, you sit and wonder as the squirrel buries another acorn and ask yourself, “Will he remember where it is when his stomach growls?” And as the sun climbs higher in the morning sky, you find your mind trying to absorb the majesty as you wonder about…it all.
          As a sportsman, I often find myself in places many others dream about. Places where the wilds engulf the soul. I find myself wading forgotten creeks in unnamed valleys, and I wonder about those who have gone before me. I wonder about the Indian or trapper who forged this creek. I have found myself standing and staring at glaciers fifty miles from another living soul and wondered about their progress. As the world elsewhere whirls around, this river of ice trudges along an inch at a time, year after year, century after century. What has it seen? Where has it been? Was it here when . . . ?

          I have stood, watching and listening, as a creek gurgles along sculpting land and stone, mesmerized by the tranquility and power of the shallow flow. And I have observed raging torrents that move boulders and carve canyons. And I have seen the northern lights as they dance across arctic skies. But I find that I do not have to travel to distant places or foreign lands to see and wonder. No, there is plenty of wonder right here where we spend most days. The loyalty of a dog. The softness of a down pillow, or the “crack” of an egg, all bring wonder to those who watch and listen. The wonder of creation is all around us. Fledglings leaving a nest for the first time, the crowing of a rooster, or lowing of cows. Orange and pink sunsets, cloudless days, full moon glowing in the night sky. For those who are willing to pause, and gently listen and look, the wonder is all around us. And for those who do so, we are able to enjoy the radiance of it all.
          Of the many things I have seen, I marvel most at old abandoned homes that are being consumed by time. Homes that were everything to someone so long ago, and now mean nothing to all who stumble by. I have sat on the porches of shacks nestled in the
hills of Appalachia and cabins along the tree line of the Rockies. I have sat on logs hewn by hands hundreds of years before and wondered. I wondered about those he loved enough to spend weeks making this home. And I wonder about those he buried in unmarked graves. I wondered about his life, his struggles and his dreams. Did his children scamper along these ridges? Was this fireplace where they hung their stockings?
          Have you ever wondered? Have you ever sat with friends around a fire and wondered? Have you stared wide eyed into the flames, and wondered about the meaning of it all? Have you gazed at the star-filled sky and wondered how many stars there are? Where are they from, where are they going? Have you wondered as you gaze into the heavens, who else is looking at these heavenly lights?
          I have, and I bet you have too. I bet you have sat and watched as flames consumed
the wood to bring warmth and wondered about the tree. You have stared at the stars and wondered, did Columbus see these same stars as he sailed into the unknown? Did those whose name I carry sit long ago and stare wondering about me, and what I would become?
          Through all of this I find delight in the wondering. The pondering of this and that brings a smile to my face as I imagine. Wonder is a wonderful thing. It invites imagination, complexity and simplicity. It brings with it an awe that the ordinary is magnificent. It brings with it the certainty that what is, will always be. That there is order in the chaos. It brings with it the confidence that what is now will be again, and what has been is now. The ordinary is marvelous. The ordinary is breathtaking. 
          When the rays of the sun change and the shadows shorten as the warmth of the day begins to overcome the cool night, I am reminded that just like centuries before, the sun will rise again. A new day will emerge among all of the heartache and joy. I am reminded that this new day brings with it the hope that today is new; it is a fresh start, and with it are all the possibilities we could ever imagine.  I am reminded that each blink is revealing and each breath refreshing. I am reminded as I wonder that today is full of anticipation; today is full of promises. I am reminded that today is exactly what I make of it. So I will wonder; I will marvel at all there is and continue to be captivated by the ordinary.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Hunting Ethics

I have to admit, I have been struggling with this story for some time. It has been spinning in my head, and wanting to come out, but exactly how it will come out is quite a different story.

In spinning it around, I really do not want the story to come across as flippant, arrogant, or 'preachy' but rather as a simple reminder to us all, that what we say and do as hunters affects not only our perception to the public, but also to other hunters. 

Ethics defined is; "moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity." This is a reminder to us all to conduct ourselves in a manner that is above reproach. 

As someone who cares deeply about the present state of hunting and the future of hunting, I am adamant about protecting the privilege of hunting for myself and my children. To this end, the amount of unethical comments, statements and practices being done while hunting in recent years are alarming. 

I am now in my middle fifties, and I can remember a time when hunters were revered. Hunters were seen as sportsmen and women who cared deeply about all wildlife. We never over shot a field, or covey. We always protected the resource. Whether by planting food for them during difficult times of the year, building watering holes, or simply not hunting a specific area because of a poor hatch that year. We supported other hunters and encouraged them to carry themselves in a particular manner. 

What I am seeing today is a degradation of values. I see infighting among fellow hunters, bow hunters condemning fellow hunters who choose to use a crossbow. Rifle hunters calling out someone because of their caliber choice or worse, brand of rifle. I see on a daily basis comments on social media encouraging hunters to break game laws, and those who brag about doing so. I see comments from some whose sole purpose is to tear someone down because they shot this animal, or hunted a particular way. 

Hunting ethics is a compass by which we all should be measured. It is not negotiable, it is not something that is good for one and not for another. It is a standard by which all hunters and hunting in general should be measured. As my daughter says, "you know what is right, just do that." It really is not that difficult. Let common sense, morals, and a reverence for game laws and the animal dictate the decisions you make. 

A lot has been written in recent years about the decline in hunter recruitment. As more and more hunters demonstrate a disregard for wildlife, game laws, and ethics that govern our conduct, it is no wonder people do not want to take part. I know many people who are not opposed to hunting, but do not want to be linked with some of the people who call themselves hunters. 

Do all you can to promote ethical behavior among yourself and others. Remember, just because something is legal, or effective does not make it ethical. 

So, as a reminder, here is a list of five things not to do;

1. Do not practice or promote unsafe methods. 
2. Do not promote taking questionable shots at animals. i.e. Texas heart shot, head shots with archery gear, gut shots, shooting at distances you are not proficient at shooting. 
3. Do not break game laws or promote the breaking of game laws.
4. Do not condemn other hunters because their methods are not your methods (as long as they are legal)
5. Do not over harvest your resource. (Just because the limit is 12 does not mean you have to kill 12 every time you go out)

Now here is a list of things you should do

1. Always put safety first! Handle your gun in a proper manner, wear safety harnesses when ascending and descending trees, wear blaze orange when required, etc. 
2. Promote hunting in an ethical and positive manner.
3. Congratulate fellow hunters and encourage them.
4. Hunt within the laws and boundaries 
5. Take someone with you.

Whether you hunt for the trophy, the experience, or for the thrill of the chase. Or maybe you hunt for the meat it provides. Whichever it is, do it with passion, and above all else, do it safely and with a moral compass leading your decisions. 

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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Taylor's & Company Ridge Runner Lever Action Rifle

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to get to test a lever action rifle that is manufactured by Chiappa and being distributed by Taylor's and Company. Their 1886 Ridge Runner in .45-70.

At first glance, it looked like any other lever action rifle with a few exceptions. The first thing I noticed was the matte blued finish. The matte complimented the rubber covered wood stock perfectly. The stock being covered in a rubberized finish was black and felt good in the hands. It provided a good grip without over doing it.

I really liked the big loop. Too many lever guns have a loop that does not fit bigger hands, and certainly not any hands in gloves. The Ridge Runner covers this with its generous loop. Lastly, I noticed the large muzzle brake on the end. Being a lover of big bore lever guns, I can appreciate any attempt to reduce recoil. It also comes with a thread protector if you want to take the muzzle brake off. Though, I do not know why anyone would.

Following the 1886 Winchester design, the Ridge Runner has a top eject, something I personally do not care for, but it is in keeping with the original design. To compensate for this, the Ridge Runner comes with a tactical rail mounted in front of the action to accommodate long eye relief optics. It also comes with a Skinner peep sight that is fast to acquire and pretty accurate from the factory. Minor adjustments were needed to get it on the steel targets, but it was simple enough.

Picking up the Ridge Runner the rifle just felt like a carbine big bore rifle should feel. Balanced, sturdy and well built. All of the fits were tight and well made. The action was tight at first, but after firing some rounds through it and working the action, it loosened up a bit, but not too much.

Proceeding to the firing range, I opened a box of Black Hills Ammunition's 405 grain .45-70 bullets. what a beast of a bullet! Made for their Cowboy action shooters, the Black Hills ammunition was the perfect fit for the Ridge Runner. This ammunition is the perfect companion for this style of rifle. I really like the vintage packaging that fits with the old style rifle. I will certainly shoot more Black Hills ammunition in the future.

I have shot and tested a lot of big bore lever guns, from all of the major manufacturers and I can say without hesitation that the Ridge Runner is the best shooting one of them all. The only draw back is the top ejection  - which as I said earlier I am personally not fond of. But the feel, weight, balance and accuracy out of the box were extraordinary.

I had no way of testing the recoil difference. But when I removed the muzzle brake in favor of the thread protector it felt more like shooting a twelve gauge in 3 1/2" steel shot! With the muzzle brake on, it was a light 20 gauge. The difference was extreme. As a comparison, I shot fifty rounds of this rifle with the muzzle brake in place. Something I would never consider in any of my other lever guns. The most I have shot of my other .45-70 lever guns was ten shots before it becomes uncomfortable. Being able to shoot this rifle over and over is a thrill and the time on the range is extended due to the muzzle brake. I really wish other manufacturers offered this option on their big bore rifles.

MSRP on the Ridge Runner is $1,830. A bit steep for this market but a gun well worth the price. If you are looking for a big bore rifle that will put a smile on your face each time you shoot it, the Ridge Runner is the gun to choose. In the world of lever action rifles, the venerable 1886 action is a classic design that has proven the test of time. Marry this with a modern manufacturing process, muzzle brake and rubber coated stock, and you have the makings of a great rifle. The Ridge Runner, by Taylor's and Company is a great gun for your next purchase.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Recycling into Quality Deer Stands

Old Playhouse converted
into a tower stand. Picked up
for FREE.
More than twenty five years ago, I began an experiment in my deer hunting. Being somewhat financially challenged and staring poverty right in the face I tried to get as much out of a nickle as I could. Some have even said that in my prime, I could get $10 out of a nickle. I am not sure if I was that talented, but I have been known to be more cheap than frugal.

During this time, (and to some degree still do) I had an addiction to yard sales. I learned early on that at the right yard sale I could get a dollars worth of goods for a penny - or less. On more than one occasion I negotiated a package deal that included me hauling off all of the left overs for free if I could get a deal on this one item. Often in the "left-over" items is where I would find a gem. Finding an old ladder is common, and these are perfect for fabricating ladder stands. Outgrown playhouses are also common at yard sales. Who wants to go to the trouble of dismantling the whole playhouse, or play-tower? Umm I do! Because I see a perfect deer stand where the children used to play.

Tower stand wrapped in an old
artificial Christmas tree.
Paid $5 for Christmas tree at a
Yard sale. 
Another item I look for with abandon at yard sales are artificial Christmas trees. For some reason, people throw these things away or  practically give them away in yard sales. I have never paid more than $5 for an artificial Christmas tree. Man the uses of the Christmas tree! I have reassembled them right next to ground blinds. Used their branches to hide ladder stands and rungs of climbing sticks. I have donned their decorations on box blinds and anywhere else I can find to use them. The strong wire is easily bent or shaped to fit the items. On wooden stands, I drill 1/4" holes at a 30 degree angle and just place the limbs into the holes - fluff up the limbs and viola you have instant camouflage that will last seven to eight years. If it is not in the sun, it can last over a decade easily. The sun will eventually deteriorate the "needles" and they begin to fall out.

Ground blinds have a bad reputation of fading. I know here in the south where the sun is more than brutal, my blinds seldom last two seasons due to the sun. As they start to fade, I use the loops to wrap Christmas tree limbs into them to hide the outline of the blind.

Shipping pallet blind with Christmas tree
wrapping and a full tree on Front Right Corner. 
I have also made ground blinds out of free shipping pallets. Placing them in a "U" shape I fasten them to one another with "L" brackets and some "T-Posts" to hold them in place and then cover with Christmas tree material. The only expense are the posts and brackets. Usually less than $10 I have a ground blind.

As stated before, I have also erected the entire tree - usually more than one around my blind to make it appear more natural. This works especially well when the blind is in open country. Rather than have an odd square standing out in the field or CRP, I erect two or more Christmas trees next to the blind to break it up. One on each front corner is usually enough. If I need a third, I place it in the center of the back. Trees usually around 7 feet are adequate for this.

When using the trees on ladder stands or chain on stands - one tree will cover several stands. I will wrap the limbs around the legs of the ladder or climbing stick to cover the outline of the ladder. On the stand itself, a few limbs wrapped on the bottom of the stand help to break it up, and keep them out of your way.

Scavenging old playhouses, play towers, shipping pallets and Christmas trees will help you make some quality deer stands and blinds for very little money. Pictured above is a play tower I scavenged from a friend that was throwing it away. I got it for free, modified it some without using any additional materials, hauled it to the location, stood it up (Using the winch on my UTV) and covered the top with Christmas tree material. I will finish the rest of the stand at a later date, but the support arms and legs will be covered in the tree material.

My next items is going to be a "Hay-bale" blind. I believe I can make one out of a few old Christmas trees shipping pallets and some fence panels. Who said a hay bale blind had to be beige? I'll make mine green with Christmas trees!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


My Book “So, You Want to Hunt Turkeys” is selling very well.
I will be conducting a few book signings in the next week. Just in time for Fathers Day.

Thursday June 7th at Books on Main in Newberry, SC from 11-1:00 and again from 5-7:00.

Monday June 11th at Edisto Island Book Store from 3:00-5:00.

If you are in the area, please stop by and get a personalized copy and let’s talk turkey.

Why Do We Name Our Deer?

A few years ago, while watching one of the more popular television hunting shows, I heard the host refer to a specific deer he was seeing on camera as "super freak". At the initial sound, I noticed one of my eyebrows raise involuntarily. Why would you name this buck "super freak?" I wondered. Secondly, I wondered why he would name the deer at all. What purpose does it serve?

As time went on, naming deer caught on like a California wild fire and before you knew it, virtually every outdoor personality was giving names to bucks they were seeing on camera. Names became more and more frequent and outlandish. It looked as if they were not just naming a deer, but trying to outdo their counterparts with the most ridiculous names they could imagine.

It got to the point you could not turn on the television and watch a good hunting show without these hosts referring to their bucks with some insane name. It in itself became a competition to see who could name the most bucks and develop a "hit list" of named bucks.

As I have contemplated this phenomenon, I wondered why they wouldn't choose names like, "Steve, Bill, or Tony." or even, "Rover, Spot, or Drake". Rather than - "Nasty nine," "Broomstraw," or "Sidekick." It seemed just as plausible that they would choose human names or pet names over these outlandish names.

Then in a conversation about this a few months ago, while discussing this with a well known television show host who incidentally refuses to name any of the deer he hunts commented, "We named a deer years ago and it almost killed hunting."  I asked him what he meant by that and he said,
"You ever heard of Bambi?"

It was like being hit in the face! He was absolutely correct. The hunting industry took a big hit when Walt Disney introduced Bambi to the masses. Even today we are still feeling the fallout of that cartoon rendition of how "terrible" hunting is.

As we discussed the impact this has had on hunting I couldn't help but wonder if those who are participating in the name game ever considered that they are one bad name away from setting back hunting like Disney did.

Personalize (humanize) the quarry and you jeopardize the pursuit.

By giving these animals names, we are personalizing them, and in some respects humanizing them. Humanizing the quarry causes the non-hunters to question even more the concept of hunting, much more the satisfaction of success.

Consider this a word of caution. Name them at your own peril. As soon as some PETA member, or HSUS identifies with "Broomstraw" or Nasty Nine" The comparisons to Bambi will emerge and hunting will suffer a greater setback than it has already.

Hunting retention and recruitment numbers are at an all time low. Let's not inflict harm on ourselves by personalizing the animals we are pursuing. Herald them, praise them, and revere them, but do not humanize them. You will do so to your own peril.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Word of Thanks to the Sporting Writer

For almost twenty years now, I have spent an inordinate amount of time plugging away at a keyboard trying to describing the sporting life. In this time, I have had to learn a great deal about the industry, and about writing. Much of which I am still learning. 

As someone who entered the world of outdoor writing very late in life - my early 40's. I have had to learn a lot about how the outdoor industry works. I still have a lot to learn. It is ever evolving and changing and in some areas, not a good direction. 

But through this journey, that I began with my first article that was published in the Ruffed Grouse Society journal. I have grown from one or two stories a year, to ten stories a year, to now over 120 annually and having published over a thousand stories in all. Including two books on the outdoors. 

Through this process, I continue to look up to and admire some sporting writers that I read my whole life and who shaped me as an outdoorsman and as a writer. 

Most of these names I will never be worthy to sharpen their pencil when it comes to their quality of work. I can only strive to capture the dust of their mistakes to make my writing shine. Still, it is with high regard that I recognize some of the writers, some of whom are no longer with us, and others who are still plying their trade. 

Great writers like, Gene Hill, Robert Ruork, Havilah Babcock, Nash Buckingham, Archibald Rutledge, and Jack O'Connor. 

But perhaps the ones I admire most are the ones I am honored now to call colleagues. Gentlemen of the sport, and masters of the craft of writing and writing well. Gentlemen whose stories captivate, inspire and move me to be a better sportsman and a better writer. Gentlemen who are not just great writers, but who are great woodsmen and outdoorsmen. Who motivate me with encouragement and who push me with much deserved observations of how I can improve. 

It is to these gentlemen that I owe a great deal of gratitude. I write this to say thank you to these gentlemen of sporting literature. If you have not read their works, you are missing some of the finest words ever to describe the outdoor lifestyle. 

Specifically, I want to say thank you to; Jim Casada, Terry Madewell and Pat Robertson. Certainly some of the finest gentlemen, outdoorsmen and writers of the past fifty years. I am honored to call them colleagues and friends. I always look forward to the time we spend together. Whether we are swapping stories, sharing some pats on the back, followed by good-natured ribbing or enjoying an after dinner libation. I am grateful and humbled for the wing they extended to me a decade ago. 

Outdoor writing is changing, we are seeing some of the greats retire, or pass on. There is a need for spirited younger people to share their experiences and their passion with good prose. As long as people read, there will be a need for good writing that captivates, inspires and promotes the outdoor lifestyle. 

Thankfully we still have some of the legends among us who can show us the way and encourage those of us who try to carry the torch into generations to come. 

Writing about the outdoors is an honorable profession, one that encourages, and motivates the soul of the individual into action. It stirs and fuels passion and leads generations into a sense of peace and wonder. 

So, I say "Thank You". To these gentlemen who have shown grace, and who have set the bar for us to aspire to achieve. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Hunting Club or Public Land?

Recently I have had a lot of conversations with people who are looking for clubs to join for deer and turkey hunting. (I am sure they will hunt other things also, but this is the primary focus). In these conversations, a lot of things have been discussed. We have discussed, the pro's and con's of hunting clubs along with the pro's and con's of hunting public land. It has been interesting to hear all of the different perspectives. In listening to these, it seems a common thread is emerging. People want a place of their own to hunt. A place no one else will mess with, a place they can scout, set up a stand, bait, plant etc and no one else will mess with it.

Having their own little slice of undisturbed land is the main reason people tell me they join clubs. This desire is getting people to pay large sums of money for that opportunity. Even with tens of thousands of acres of public land available, people are paying big bucks to join hunting clubs.

The dichotomy for me is this; I can use the public land that my license dollars are paying for and have access to tens of thousands of acres - albeit public land. Or I can pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars more for a very small piece of land that is shared - with less people, but still shared.

In querying different clubs and discussing their  bylaws rules and regulations the common thread is that all members of the club have access to all of the property. Meaning that if your club has X number of acres, by paying your dues, you have access to X number of acres - along with every other member. Making it more like semi-public land.

There is still the limitation on your little piece of heaven. When I asked about private stands or private areas, three of the clubs I had some rules for each member can designate ONE stand to be private. No other stand can be within 200 yards of that stand and no one can hunt that stand without your consent. (the details varied, but this is close to what other were). One club that allows baiting, allowed members to bait a stand and no one else could hunt it, but there were no restrictions on how close other stands could be. This seems like a fight waiting to happen.

Some clubs put limits on what you can shoot. Others are a free for all. Some have antler restrictions, age restrictions and and daily and season limits, others are "if its brown its down." Some allow your fees to include turkey season, others sub lease to rabbit hunters, hog hunters, duck hunters and turkey hunters. Some clubs do not allow any small game hunting at all, even after deer season. Others allow hunting of anything that is in season. All clubs asked that have any type of restrictions have strict punishment and fines for members that break these rules. Almost all clubs have a "NO GUEST" policy. In other words, you have to pay to play.

Rates varied widely based on location. Here in my home state of South Carolina, rates are based on a per acre fee scale. Some -albeit poor land goes for $5/acre while prime land will rent for as much as $30/acre. The average being around $15-$18/acre. Regardless of the size of the parcel. Clubs with as little as 200 acres are paying an average of $15/acre and clubs with 2500 acres are paying the same amount on average. Most clubs use the yearly dues to cover land rental and insurance only. Costs for food plots, bait, mowing, road maintenance, stands, clubhouse expenses, etc, are gathered on an as needed, or in a yearly assessment. For many these fees can add up to as much as or more than the yearly dues.

The average dues paid my the clubs I questioned was $1,250 annually. This did not include their portion for extra expenses, or stands they are required to purchase and install.

As you can see, there is a wide array of opportunities. There seems to be a style of club for most everyone. If you are willing to pay, and drive - and put up with the rules, you can find a club that will let you watch deer grow and hope you can kill one one day.

But one thing I have learned about the few clubs I have been in, you will not get along with everyone, and not everyone hunts the same way you do. There will be moments when you have been waiting to hunt a particular stand all season for the right wind, and you get there and there are candy wrappers, and cigarette butts on the stand. You will have members who are retired and will hunt four or five days a week, and others who work and only hunt Saturday's. You will find some clubs that only allow stand hunting, and others that allow stand, stalking and dog running. Some allow you to hunt all season, others allow only certain days of the week and never on Sunday. Some will limit your weapon, and others don't care - as long at it is a rifle and at least a .30 caliber. I have seen some clubs that have so many rules, it is hard to know if you are in compliance or not. And a few that only want you to close the gate when you go through it.

Personally, I do not see any difference in hunting in a club and public land. Both have rules we hate, both have property that is shared and will have a few misguided participants. Both will have some who will not follow the rules. But by choosing public land, I can save a ton of money.

It has been several years since I last paid to be a member of a hunting club. It cost me $800 dollars, I had to put up two stands and I could have one private spot. We had somewhere around 1000 acres. I do not remember the number of members, but it seems it was around 10-12. I was in this club for two years and never pulled the trigger on a deer. Why? Because I could only kill deer of a certain size. I saw deer, but never one that qualified. Then it dawned on me. I can pay $800 dollars and not kill a deer. Or I can not pay $800 and not kill a deer. I chose to save my money and go hunt public land.

Since then I have been able to acquire my own land and now I hunt there. With only a select few friends and my children. It's not a lot of land, but we enjoy it and have a good time hunting what ever we want when we want.

I still hunt some public land, because it is closer than the land I own. I seldom see any hunters in the woods. In fact, one piece of public land I have hunted for almost a decade, I have never seen another hunter while I was there, during deer season, or small game. I have almost 1,700 acres to myself - all public land. It seems so many people avoid public land that more and more of the public land is available to hunt undisturbed.

Public land or hunting club? It seems to me a hunting club is like a labor union. It had its place, but the longer it goes on the less effective it is. You get to pay dues so you can be restricted in what you can do, where you can hunt and what you can kill. You are paying for a small piece of land that you get to share with a few other people. All under the disguise of benefiting the membership.

For my money here in South Carolina,  stick to to public land, it is cheaper, and the hunting is just as good. If you want to spend thousands of dollars at a chance of killing a big deer - save your club money and go hunt Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or a host of any others and hunt their public land. The hunting is easier, the deer are plentiful much bigger than any deer you will find here.

If its camaraderie you're after, by all means, join that club and have a great time sharing your hunting with your friends and family.