The Time to Prepare
Growing up with a passion for the outdoors, I’ve heard just about every adage there is. Had a slow day on the water: “That’s why it’s called fishing and not catching.” No deer hanging in the garage: “A bad day hunting still beats a good day at work.” I’m sure we all have our go-to sayings for when things just don’t go our way. Even if they don’t change the results, we still feel a little better proclaiming them to those who ask us how things went in the wilderness.
One saying has stuck with me and has had more effect on my life than any other: “Minimal prep yields minimal results”. But it’s not one I tell other people when things don’t go as perfect as I would like. I just tell it to myself in those scenarios. In other words, what did I do to ensure my success?
When you come unprepared, no one knows how to punish you for it better than Mother Nature. This was a hard lesson I learned my first-time hunting Merriam’s turkeys in the Black Hills of South Dakota. With their 20/20 vision, acute hearing and physics-defying speed, the wild turkey can punish hunters like no other. Those longbeards had me running miles up and down the hills, constantly staying just ahead of me, but close enough to lure me into a false sense of having a chance. This went on for quite a while, then the rain came in. During that very long and bone-chilling walk back to my pickup, I decided I needed to be more prepared. Since that lesson learned, I have had many successful turkey hunting trips to the Black Hills. Here are the things I’ve learned over the years.
First of all, hunting season starts way before opening day. If you want success, you need to put your time in. With spring turkey season, that usually means starting when the snow is still around. Nothing will beat a “boots on the ground” approach. In terrain like the Black Hills, find a high spot on a hill just before dawn, and glass the valleys and pastures below as the sun comes up. Try to find the spots that turkeys are entering from and the routes they take on the way to find food and water. Targeting these well-traveled paths just off roosting areas can be great ambush spots, if you can get to them without being noticed by roosting turkeys. If you are hunting flat ground, go out just after dusk or just before dawn, with a locator call. An owl hoot call will get perched toms to gobble, giving you an idea of the roosting areas, without getting close enough to spook the birds.
Once you know where the birds are roosting, using a satellite map of the area is an invaluable tool. Locate possible food and water areas closest to the roosting area, and look for ways to enter along those paths, hidden from the roosting birds. If you own the land or have permission to do so, planting food plots can be a great advantage. This will allow you to create an area of concentration for the birds, but it won’t draw birds from miles around. You still need to place it in a location being traveled by the turkeys to maximize results, so once again, do the homework of finding them. We all have seen the big tom out in an open field sunning himself, but unless you possess the speed of Usain Bolt, the thunder chicken will be gone before you ever get a chance. It’s better to get ahead of their movements and be ready for them.
Ok, so you have an idea of where you want to start your hunt. What’s next? Time to start practicing. There is a special time of year when hormone-driven love is in the air and a big tom can be called into range with a squeaky car door. Unfortunately for most of us, our busy schedules and responsibilities keep us from hitting the peak of breeding season just right. Most of us are going to have to put a little more work into it. There are many options for turkey calls on the market today. The most popular are box calls, slates and mouth calls.
Box calls are the easiest to use and the most common but require both hands to operate. All too often we can misjudge the distance of a tom, and “Poof!” there he is, staring you down, while both your hands are on a call. For this reason, I prefer a mouth call. They are more difficult to master but offer a diverse range of sounds and hands-free operation. This is where the practice really helps. Because they are hands free, you can practice them virtually anytime. Chores around the house, long commutes, a dinner at the in-laws that you want to be excused from, all become practice time.
Once you have it down, it is a very versatile tool. A cutting hen call can be used to locate birds and help you move into position on them. Yelp calls will attract both toms and hens, so if a tom is already locked onto a hen, you might be able to pull his hen over causing him to follow. Purrs and clucks will allow you to calm an approaching tom, coaxing him into range. Mastering these calls is not easy and is something I have yet to fully do, so I continue to practice. There are a multitude of videos and articles online strictly about the calling of turkeys, and I encourage everyone to learn from those who have taken the time to share their wisdom on the subject.
We have our spot, we have been practicing our call to the point that we at least don’t sound like a back-alley cat fight, what now? Now is the time to focus on equipment. Function over fame every time. I hunt with a Remington Model 870 that I’ve had for over 15 years now. It has been dropped, submerged, iced over, filled with mud and everything else under the sun. It just keeps kicking. I use this gun because I know it will work, without worry.
Once you have your dependable turkey gun, you will need a choke for it. People can argue which is the best, but it’s a piece of metal that constricts the shot, so I’m not paying more than $30 for it. That’s enough said on that subject. More importantly is which ammunition you choose. I’m not going to tell you one is the best, because everyone should take the time to shoot ammo from multiple different manufacturers and see what produces the best round patterns out of their gun/choke combo at varying yardages. I set targets up at 10, 30 and 50 yards. There is usually a clear winner, and it’s never the same for every combo.
Alright, we have progressed to the point where the hunt is almost upon us. It’s time for the last step in preparation: choosing what gets packed in my clothes bag. Hunting in the Minnesota and the Dakotas means that you know all too well what a 40-degree swing in temperature feels like and how quickly a forecast can turn from sunny to inclement weather. We must be prepared for this, because if we are soaking wet, too cold, too hot, or any other level of uncomfortable, we will not give our attention to the hunt. We will not stay out as long as may be needed, or be willing to make the moves to get on the birds.
For the same reason I have my go-to turkey gun, I have my go-to camouflage. I need to fool the turkeys’ superb vision while staying comfortable in any conditions, without fail. WILDFOWLER camouflage gives me that level of dependability that I can rely on, while providing patterns that will fool even the most astute turkey. Remember when our moms would harp on us about wearing layers in the winter? Turns out that’s true, and we should have listened. Using a stackable system like WILDFOWLER’s allows you to adjust to whatever the changing conditions may be --- just start with the base layers and add as needed. I bring a backpack along, and as the sun may warm up through the day, I can always put layers away in my pack. Once the sun starts to go down, those layers are readily available for me to throw back on.
In closing, remember that there is no such thing as being over-prepared, there is only prepared or not. Hopefully this will help you be prepared for this upcoming season.
Listen to the Quiet
Dianna and I live in a one-level twin home right in the heart of the Twin Cities. Within a half mile is Highway 35 E and every type of shopping or business that you can imagine. In other words, the world is bustling right out our door, damn near. But … directly across the street from our home is a patch of mature woods that covers no more than forty to sixty acres. It is completely surrounded by homes, commercial businesses, the local fire department, and heavily traveled paved streets. Every two weeks or so on my way to the store, I’ll slowly trek through those woods to see if I can sneak up on unsuspecting wildlife. Last month for only the second time in my life I surprised an owl that had to be eighteen inches tall. That was a cool experience.
Until just recently when it got even better. We finally got slammed with a few inches of snow and the entire woods was a blanket of white. I slipped into my WILDFOWLER Wildtree Snow winter camo just to see how well I could blend in with the natural setting. It was about 26 degrees with absolutely no wind; the perfect time to sit for an hour or so. I brought my iPad with me because I had downloaded Joe Albert’s third book about game warden Tony Leach, “Out of The Dark” (all three are great reads, by the way). As I hunkered down next to a fallen poplar, I could hear cars driving by not more than a hundred yards away. But the stillness from where I sat and the serenity which came with it was stunning. No rifle, no cell phone, no nothing; only the woods, nature, time to think and a story to read. It seemed to me that my WILDFOWLER waterproof bibs and jacket almost made me invisible to the rest of the world.
I’ve jumped deer here many times before. But this day was special. Within thirty minutes I caught the flick of the tail of a doe and two fawns, maybe forty yards to my right. I did not move, staying as still as I could. The sun was high and from where these deer were, there was no doubt that I would be easy to see. Stay still…don’t move…don’t blink. The fawns were off doing their own thing but mom was slowly meandering in my direction. From what I could tell, she had no idea I was there. Within ten minutes or so she was walking within ten feet of me, nose to the ground, not a care in the world. I swear to God I believe that I blended in so well with the environment that she never suspected that a potential predator was right there.
I let her stroll by until she got another twenty-five yards to my left. This whole experience lasted fifteen minutes or so. By this time, her fawns were once again very close by. Just to see their reaction, I did the whippoorwill whistle my old man taught me when I first hunted deer near Ely, Minnesota. The doe stopped in her tracks just for a second, then trotted off toward wetlands to the north. I guess my bird calling sounds aren’t very convincing.
I sat for a few more minutes, read a few more chapters with Tony Leach trying to solve another mystery in northern Minnesota, then headed home for a glass of wine and a goal of finishing the book. What a neat experience. Sometimes I think we all have to quit chasing that damn rainbow. I truly love the woods and all of the outdoors and how, if you give it a chance, it can help remind you what really is important in life.
Go ahead. Give it that chance.
Passing the Torch: Introducing Children to the Outdoors
As a father of three young boys, I often find myself fantasizing about being an old man and watching over them in a duck blind. As the wind blows through my graying hair, I sit quietly with the satisfaction that I shared my passion with my boys who enjoy it as much as I do. This of course, is a fantasy. I have to accept the fact that there is a good chance that they won’t all share my passion for the outdoors. I was lucky enough to have a father that loved the outdoors and introduced me to his passion. Some of my favorite memories are being with my dad on the woods and water. However, I also remember being very bored and hungry as a young child and waiting patiently for my dad to say it was time to go home. With that in mind, I would love to go over some tips on introducing young kids to your passion.
1. Know your child’s limits: There is nothing more frustrating than spending 2 hours getting ready to go hunting and then your child saying he/she wants to go home after 15 minutes in the duck blind. However, remember that children are children. Be understanding of their attention span and don’t push it because otherwise they won’t want to go next time.
2. Make it about them: Put down your gun and concentrate on your child. As a duck hunter it is hard for me not to try as hard as I can to hunt, but paying complete attention to them when they are learning has its benefits and they will appreciate the attention.
3. Manage expectations: Don’t promise results you can’t deliver. Make every moment as exciting and fun as possible even if the hunting is slow. After all, it is really about being together.
Finally, the most important tip is that you must realize that they may not always have the same interests as you. Nourish whatever they love to do whether it be hunting, fishing, band, baseball or gymnastics (and ALWAYS bring plenty of snacks).
By Mark Lewke – The 4 Outdoorsmen
2017 Holiday Gift Guide
Here at WILDFOWLER we’re up with the sun every day working on ways to make hunters comfortable, concealed and ready for whatever comes their way. With the holidays fast approaching, we consulted with top pros in the field to come up with our 10 best gifts for hunters this season.
1. Stay dry, comfortable and concealed with our Waterproof Parka. We know what matters most when you are in the field and our Waterproof Parka checks off every box. Designed to be waterproof and windproof, yet breathable, to keep you comfortable in every season. Sizes: M-3X Pattern: Wildgrass, Wildtree Snow, White Snow, Blaze, Mossy Oak Break Up, Mossy Oak Winter Break Up, Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, Mossy Oak Duck Blind
2. For total concealment, add our top-selling Headcover to keep your face covered in every environment from grasslands to woodlands and everything in-between. Constructed of lightweight, breathable material that’s comfortable on the inside and water resistant on the outside to keep you dry. Pattern: Mossy Oak Winter Break Up, Digital Camo, Nature Brown, Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, Mossy Oak Break Up, Wildgrass, White Snow, Wildtree Snow
3. Go from the hunt to the cabin or bar with our new Soft-Shell Jacket. WILDFOWLER’s Soft-Shell Jackets offer the perfect combination of versatility and concealment, making it ideal for hunting, chores, or relaxing around a campfire. Wear it as a layering piece under your hunting gear or as a stand-alone piece after the hunt. Sizes: M-3X Pattern: Wildgrass, Nature Brown, Digital Camo, Wildtree Snow
4. Leave nothing to chance with the new Power Parka. We’ve added new features to our standard parka while still being waterproof, windproof, breathable and quiet. With a backside game pouch, shell holder pockets and a cell phone pocket, the only thing you must worry about is hunting. Sizes: M-3X Pattern: Wildgrass, Digital Camo, Nature Brown, Wildtree Snow
5. Post or push game in comfort with our new Power Pants. Complete with the advanced hunting technologies WILDFOWLER is known for, Power Pants hunting trousers take it to a new level. We’ve added extra reinforced leg room around the knee and two waterproof cargo pockets to ensure plenty of places to keep essentials handy in the field and tree stand. Sizes: M-4X Pattern: Wildgrass, Nature Brown, Digital Camo, Wildtree Snow, White Snow
6. For his first or fiftieth hunt, make sure he is wearing our Youth Pants. Crafted with the same waterproof, windproof and breathable material as our adult clothing, our youth pants will keep him comfortable, dry and concealed in every element. Built with roominess for layering over other outerwear and an elastic waistband with draw cord, plus reinforced seat and knees for durability. Sizes: Youth M- XL Pattern: Wildgrass
7. Keep your hunter-in-training dry from sunrise to sunset with our Youth Parka. As he learns the ropes out on the field or in the woods, make sure he can last all day by keeping him dry and comfortable. Designed from the same waterproof, windproof, and breathable material as our adult Waterproof Parka, the Youth Parka will last all season and can be utilized as a layering piece. Sizes: Youth M-XL Pattern: Wildgrass
8. Get the perfect foundation for a successful layering system with our new Quick Dry Long Sleeved T-Shirt. Built with lightweight and breathable moisture-wicking fabric, this base layer will keep you cool and dry during the early season and warm and protected during late season hunts. Sizes: M-2X Pattern: Wildgrass, Nature Brown, Digital Camo, Wildtree Snow
9. Never leave home without your WILDFOWLER Baseball Cap. New this season, its water-resistant fabric makes it ideal in all seasons, while our superior camouflage patterns blend into any terrain. Our lightweight, adjustable and affordable Baseball Cap will soon become your go-to in every situation. Pattern: Wildgrass, Nature Brown, Digital Camo, Wildtree Snow
10. Perfect for those cold, windy days, our classic Insulated Waterproof Bibs stand up to the harshest hunting conditions. We considered every situation when designing these waterproof, windproof and polar fleece lined bibs. Complete with a two-way zipper front, zippered pockets and reinforced seat and knees, you’ll sit comfortably waiting in a duck boat, goose blind, or deer tree stand. Sizes: M-3X Pattern: Wildgrass, Wildtree Snow
Show Me Your Stuff...Put That Scope Away
Struman here from The 4 Outdoorsmen. The only rifle I have ever used for deer hunting since the age of fifteen is the old reliable 30-30. My first gun was a 1960 Winchester that my dad handed down to me five years later. That rifle with tons of sentimental value helped me harvest fourteen deer before I was thirty. It was stolen in 1982. The last twenty kills or so have come at the hands of a Marlin. The common denominator here is both are scopeless. For me, there is something gratifying about accomplishing the goal with open sites. And where I've spent most of my hunting life on public land in St. Louis County, Minnesota, there seldom is a shot over seventy yards. Every square mile is ridge and swamp with literally no logging trails, no tree stands, no shooting lanes. I would guess the average distance of every deer I have fired at is about fifty yards. So if the irons are set, a scope SHOULD not be necessary. In my opinion, in all areas of hunting and fishing, technology is replacing skill.
I will never forget my first double, at a time when taking two deer was legal. I had dad’s Winchester, with the stock notched to pronounce each Whitetail that he had taken. I was tip – toeing the ridges just north of Bass Lake east of Lake Vermillion. Dad taught me too that "if you are feeling a sweat coming on, you're moving too fast". I was so slow, it seemed like it would take me half an hour to make a hundred yards. I kept scouring the bottoms, being as quiet as I could be. Out of nowhere, I could just barely pick out the flick of a tail below to my left. I stopped...crouched...shouldered the Winchester...and waited for her to give me a clear shot. She did, and my forty yard shot, nearly straight down, dropped her. Within a half second, an eight point buck bolted from behind her and streaked along the swamp bottoms. I fired twice through open sites from sixty-five yards (measured after the dust settled), and the Whitetail buckled under a windfall. Holy crap! The old man will be so proud.
And Struman did it, and will continue to do so, with open sites. Go ahead. Give it a "shot".
Don’t Give Up Yet: Tips for Late Fall Duck Hunting
Temperatures are starting to drop and the northern winds are starting to blow, which means many hours of scouting and early mornings in the duck blind can bring great success. Enjoying that morning cup of coffee right before the sun rises coupled with the sound of whistling wings surrounding you is one of the coolest feelings a duck hunter can experience. Besides having your WILDFOWLER gear to keep you comfortable from the elements, finding the honey hole where ducks want to land is a big part of having a successful harvest. Whether you are hunting public or private fields/ponds, take the time to scout a few days before your hunt. Fill up that coffee thermos, put your trusty binoculars on your dashboard (with a full tank of gas in your truck) and drive around right before the sun goes down to find where those northern tornadoes of ducks are roosting. Ducks can be creatures of habit, and more than likely if they’re not disturbed they will often roost in the same places again and again. Check the local and surrounding weather forecasts to see if changing weather patterns, such as strong northern winds, will be moving ducks south or blowing more migratory ducks into the area. Optimally, you’ll want the wind at your back when setting up your blinds and decoys as the ducks prefer to land into the wind. Test out different calling styles from loud to soft in order to see how the ducks react to your setup and mimic the calling cadences that bring ducks cupped into your decoys. Mid-morning shoots can sometimes be as successful as the early mornings, so bundle up in your WILDFOWLER gear to stay comfortable and make the most out of your duck hunting adventure.
Co-Host, The 4Outdoorsmen on BOB Country
WILDFOWLER Guide to the Right Camo
Wearing camouflage hunting clothing is important for a successful hunt, especially for those after waterfowl, turkey, deer / big game, and predators. Ducks, geese, and turkeys have very sharp color eyesight, and predators also have keen vision, so effective camouflage is a necessity when pursuing these species. And although most big game animals generally cannot see color, the silhouette or outline of a hunter that does not blend into their surroundings will set off warning instincts. However, in the case of camo, patterns are not “one size fits all”. Most patterns fall into either all-purpose patterns that blend into a variety of environments or specialized patterns intended for specific hunting situations.
All-purpose camouflage patterns usually combine detailed images of tree limbs, leaves, grass, and / or tree bark with blurred color backgrounds in layers to create a nearly 3-D effect that is effective in a variety of environments. Hunters in the woodlands of the South or East, wetlands of the Great Plains, or mountainous terrains of the West will be well served with an all-purpose pattern. In addition, the popularity of camouflage hunting has led to the development of special-purpose patterns that mimic specific regional environments such as the deciduous trees of Southern river bottom areas or the corn fields of the Midwest.
Patterns for spring turkey hunting include some green leaves, while big game bow hunters will need late fall patterns with brown, greys, and tans. Specialized patterns for specific hunting situations also are available, such as those patterns that mix a white background with a camouflage pattern, or even all-white clothing, for late season snow goose hunting or winter predator hunting.
Choosing the right pattern, therefore, requires some thought about your hunting environment, the time of year, and the species you will be hunting. Will you be in a woodland, grasslands, or wetland area? Choose an all-purpose pattern that includes the colors and terrains you will be hiding in. Will you be hunting in the spring, early fall, late fall or winter? Choose patterns with or without green, browns and tans, or white to blend into a snowy landscape. Will you be going after ducks and geese, turkey, or deer / big game? Waterfowl can see colors, so choose a camo pattern that blends into the light-colored grasses, reeds, and grain fields where they tend to gather. Turkeys also have impeccable eyesight, so when the woodlands begin to leaf out during spring gobbler season, hunters should utilize patterns with green and shadows. Big game have limited color perception, but they are able to discern a hunter’s silhouette so you should still make every attempt to blend in. Many states require hunters to wear blaze orange for safety from other hunters, but blaze orange will not be detected by big game. By matching your camo hunting clothing as close as possible with your surroundings in the time of year that you will be hunting, and with regards to the type of hunting you will be doing, will ensure that you’ve picked the right camo pattern.