Archive for December 2010


Although Northern states have an abundance of ice fishing available on the various rivers and lakes, there is something special about fishing a small pond.  Bluegill and yellow perch are the predominate species here. 

Finding fish through ice can be difficult but there are ways for it to be done.  The most obvious is to know the body of water and at what depth the fish are to be found.  Discussions with anglers and at local bait shops will often yield that information.  It also helps to know the habits of the fish.  Bluegills and perch are typically found near the bottom. 

A portable fish locator will indicate if fish are present and at what depth.  Fish tend to stay in a comfort zone.  They look for food at eye level or a little above it.  Knowing where they are will help in placement of a lure or bait.  Fish tend to school up in winter.  Do not just look for a fish or two.  Find where the crowd is to be found.  Fish that area. 

It is a good idea to drill a number of holes and try them all.  The actual drilling process is very simple.  The blades should be kept sharp on the auger.  The type of water and bottom should be watched carefully.  Water that is mixed with sand before it freezes or a very shallow area where the drill may break through and hit a sand bottom can dull blades quickly.  If one hole is not producing fish, move to another.  Fish will move but generally not very far. 

If the body of water is unfamiliar, a fish locator unavailable, then try drilling pilot holes.  Begin by locating an area with cover.  It should have a good route from deep to shallow water.  During colder, low light conditions, start deeper and fish tighter to cover.  With bright light and warmer temperatures fish shallower.  If possible find weeds.  Drop offs, weed beds and any other submerged structure attracts fish.  Drill a pilot hole and lower some kind of line to measure the depth.  A weight placed on a fishing line works well.  Once the bottom is determined, adjust the bait so that it is 2 to 4 inches off the bottom. 

Drill four holes on an angle or parallel to the slope of the bottom.  Each hole will have a different depth.  If a certain hole starts to out produce the others move to that depth and drill more holes.  Each hole will then probably produce about the same. 

Today’s ice angler should be mobile.  That is especially true of small pond fishing.  Many fishermen use snowmobiles and pull a portable fish house with a supply of fishing tackle.  An auger, power or manual, is needed to drill holes.  A skimmer will clean out the ice that falls into the hole.  A small portable heater or lantern will help to keep one warm.  Together this equipment is the “bass boat” of the northern winter. 

As for poles, there are many good ice fishing rigs on the market.  They are usually about two to three feet in length and many have small spinning reels attached.  Others have ice fishing reels that hold about 25 yards of 4 to 6 pound line.  Many ice fishermen use tip‑ups in addition to jigging rigs.  Tip‑ups hold the bait at a certain depth.  The reel turns from the tug of a fish and releases a flag signal.  When the flag flies, it is time to take in the fish. 

Hooks are usually number 8 or number 10 size.  Small tear‑drop jigs in a variety of colors are also good.  Bait for bluegill and perch is usually grubs, mousies, wigglers and waxworms.  Small minnows, hooked through the back, can also be used as they are able to swim freely.  A small bobber can be used to keep the minnow or other bait at a precise depth. 

Twitch the bait and then let it set motionless.  The movement attracts the fish.  They will strike when it is still.  Do not over do the action.  If fish are reluctant to hang on to bait try using a fish attractant.  Attractants are at their best in cold water. 

Finally, the best time to go ice fishing is any time you can.  But, when the ice thickens and the action slows during the mid‑winter, try to key on warming trends, abrupt weather changes and low light periods.  Night is a great time for ice fishing.



Most of the hunting seasons are over.   It is time to put away the shotgun until next summer.  No one is harder on a gun than are we the waterfowlers.  There are few colder places frequented by humans than the windswept late-season waterfowl blind.  Some of them seem like they are just suburbs for the North Pole. 

Considering the cost of weapons today, many of us do not take very good care of them.  As the hunting season winds down, it is time to consider just how we store them during the off season. 

A well cared for firearm will out last the hunter.  It becomes an heirloom to be passed along from generation to generation.  A poorly maintained firearm can result in missed shots, deterioration of the stock and metal parts, as well as problems with the functioning of moving parts. 

Some hunters wipe down their gun and then put it away.  That is a good start, but only a start.  Rust is one of the primary problems in gun storage.  A gun will collect rust spots during the winter, even if it is put away dry.  It is important that a gun be allowed to warm to room temperature before it is put away. 

If stored while cold in a gun case, a tightly sealed gun cabinet or safe, moisture that condenses on the cold metal cannot evaporate. 

If a gun has been shot, then deposits of powder residue and primer will remain in the bore creating a build up.  Over time, the build up becomes a coating that will interfere with accuracy, unless it is removed.  Additionally, if left in the gun untreated, the coating can cause rust and pitting of the bore. 

Gun care is not difficult, just time consuming.  It begins with the selection of a good cleaning kit.  There are a number of excellent kits on the market. 

It is recommended that one chose a kit that contains bronze brushes.  Select a kit that is made for the bore of your weapon.  If one is shooting a 12-GA shotgun then a kit of a rifle is not a good idea. 

One begins with the bronze brush which is attached to the cleaning rod and soaked in a solvent.  Work the brush from breech to muzzle about 10 times. 

Next the brush is removed and cleaning jag or slotted plastic tip is added to the rod.  A soft cotton swab of cloth is soaked in the solvent and worked back and forth for an additional 10 times.  If the barrel is particularly fouled, you can allow the solvent to soak it for a while to break up the residue.  This step is repeated a number of times with clean swabs until no more residue appears on the clean swab. 

The final attention to the bore is done by lightly oiling a patch and running it down the bore to oil the entire barrel. 

Turning to the action, an aerosol gun cleaning solvent can be used to get at all the working parts. 

It is important not to over lubricate a weapon.  Too often hunters will spray a heavy coat of lubricant and then wipe off the excess.  But, oil can drip into the action, firing pin and mainsprings.  Dust and fouling residues can build up in the oil and form a stiff paste that interferes with smooth operation of the gun. 

The correct way to clean the receiver area of the gun is to disassemble the gun as much as possible.  Use a solvent to remove any rust, excess oil or dirt.  Apply a degreaser to remove any residue build up.  Using a cotton rag, wipe off the remaining solvent and degreaser. 

Once clean, reassemble the gun and give the metal parts a LIGHT coat of lubrication oil.  Then apply a rust inhibitor or grease.  If grease is used, then it becomes necessary to clean the gun again before firing.  Regardless, it is important to run a clean patch through a gun that has been stored for a long period.  The clean patch will remove any excess oil before shooting. 

Turning to the outside of the gun, inspect the outside of the metal parts for any signs of rust.  They can then be cleaned with a little of the solvent and wiped clean.  A light coating of oil can be applied to the outside of metal portions of the gun with a cleaning swab.  Here, light is the operative word again. 

Inspect the stock for any cracks, chips or dents.  If the stock is cracked, a gunsmith should be consulted.  It may be necessary to install a new stock.  Scratches and dents can be filled in with wood putty.  Some of it comes in tubes that are colored the same as the color of the stock.  It is available in stores that sell it for the fixing of furniture finishes.  There are a variety of colors and shades. 

Before storing, wipe the stock with a silicone cloth, being careful not to leave any finger prints on the metal parts of the gun.  Fingerprints can develop rust spots during storage. 

Guns should be stored in cabinets, or at least in a gun case, where they are not exposed to dust and grime.  It is nice to be able to see a gun up on the wall, but if you are not going to clean it every couple of weeks, it is not worth the damage that might be done to it. 

Take care of your gun and it will perform for you and your children for years to come.

ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH   Leave a comment

Africa is a masterful seductress.  Once visited, once is not enough. 

Sitting in my trophy room the other day, the truth of the above statement struck home.  I have been there on six safaris and that is not enough.  However, due to health concerns I am afraid that six will have to do. 

My mind traveled back to the first trip to South Africa and what follows is from my journal of that time. 

Seated atop Ed Wilson’s truck we have a panoramic view of Hillside Ranch near Sidbury.  Rolling hills lush with grass and brushy draws green with vegetation attest to a summer of ample water.  Such is not always the case in this part of southeastern Africa. 

Behind me is the omnipresent Phinaile, tracker and one of the best skinners I have encountered.  He does not say much but his gestures communicate quite well.  He speaks to Ed in his native language.  It was not for several trips before I found out he also speaks English quite well. 

Earlier this morning we spotted a herd of ten Red Hartebeest, our quarry for the day.  As quickly as we saw them the beasts vanished into a deep draw. 

In an effort to find them again, Ed drove us to this lofty point.  From here we can see for miles.  Distant specks on the landscape turn out to be wildebeest or blesbuck when viewed though powerful optics.  They are not what we seek today. 

Edward and Phinaile glass the hills and draws.  My mind takes a trip back to just how I got here yesterday. 

My first view of the “dark continent” was from the window of a 747 gliding into Cape Town.   A picture postcard view of Table Mountain and the harbor are resplendent in the early morning light.  My mind is a bit foggy due to the 15 hour flight.  It was dawn on the ground but my biological clock was at midnight.  The mountain is resplendent in the clear air of dawn and I know that I must climb that peak some time. 

Suddenly I am drawn back to the task at hand.  Ed has found our quarry.  He calls them the Red “break your heart beast.”  This inhabitant of the open savanna country is also at home in woodlands.  A rather awkward-looking antelope, it has a long pointed head topped with horns in the 50-plus centimeter class.  Brown in color, they also have black down the front and on the legs. 

It is the end of summer here in South Africa, the roads can be a bit dusty and the ditches are overgrown with grass and brush.  The only thing snapping me out of my daydreams is the animal life. 

As I am brought back to the present, Ed is pointing out three bulls in the valley off to our left.  Bulls are the male of the species.  “The one in the front is a good one,” exclaims Ed.  Scrambling down from our perch, we jump into the truck and drive over to the drawn next tow here we last saw the Hartebeest. 

On foot we cautiously approach the top of the hill.  Keeping brush between us and the bulls we are able to sit down on the edge.  Resting the rifle on shooting sticks, I have a good firm rest for the shot.  The problem is that the bull I want is grazing with his back to me.  That is an impossible shot. 

“Wait him out,” cautions Edward.  And wait we do.  We watch as he grazes into the draw and out of sight.  With no clear shot, all I can do is wait and watch. 

This Hartebeest hunting is getting a bit frustrating.  Maybe the third time will be a charm. 

With Ed in the lead, we side hill into a position from which we can better view the draw.  Sitting her, we play the waiting game again.  But, this time is going to pay off. 

There, about 100-yards away, grazing with his side to me is the bull.  Because he is moving in and out of the brush there still is no clear shot.  He finally stops in an open area and looks toward us.  The crack of my rifle is the last thing he hears.  He is down. 

Back home in my trophy room, looking at the mount of the Red Hartebeest, my heart is a victim of the seductress named Africa.  Perhaps one day we will meet again.


After many years of scoffing at the practice, veteran coyote callers have taken up the decoy as a means of increasing their take of this cunning predator.  By a combination of calling and the decoy, they have also increased the excitement of the hunt by fooling the coyote to closely approach the decoy. 

Coyotes range over more of the U.S. than any other single species of wild animal.  Increased interest in them by hunters has caused the animal to become quite shy.  Coyotes have just heard too many calls that they found emanated from humans. 

Gear for coyote hunting is fairly simple.  It consists of a coyote decoy, a howl call and a distress call, such as those that imitate a rabbit in distress, or a small bird call.  Of course, warm clothing and a weapon, either firearm or archery, are necessary as well. 

Hunters place the decoy facing toward them about 30 yards away.  The decoy can be made from a taxidermy full‑mount form with a coyote pelt stretched over it.  Other’s are made of a simple coyote silhouette cut out of plywood and painted.  It is important to have a clear shooting lane and to keep the wind in the hunter’s face so that the coyote does not catch his scent.  If possible, the hunter should keep the sun to his back.  That way, if the coyote looks toward him, the sun will impair his vision.  

The use of camouflage that blends with the background also hinders a coyote’s keen eyesight. 

The prescription for success includes blowing to 3 or 4 soft howls with 20 second intervals between them.  Next allow 3 or 4 minutes of silence and then blow a series of soft distress calls of about 45 seconds each.  Wait 2 to 3 minutes and begin another series of howls that are louder than the first.  Continue alternating the calls for a least 15 minutes, but no longer than a half hour. 

The alternating of the calls is designed to attract both the hungry coyote and the curious one as well.  Coyotes are curious when another coyote is working their area.  The purpose of beginning with the soft call is so as to not spook an unseen coyote that may be near the hunter.  

Coyote hunting with a decoy is “slick as the cat’s meow”.  By the way, a cat’s meow is another good distress call that can call in coyotes.


One of the late winter game animals most neglected and yet most challenging is the rabbit.  My early bowhunting training came at the expense of brother rabbit.  The archery tackle needed to hunt this animal was none other than the normal hunting bow and a few blunt tipped arrows.  Later when I had deer hunting arrows with the replaceable broadheads, I just removed the broadhead and substituted a blunt one in its place.  My arrowheads came from places that sold archery equipment.  

For those who have arrows with glue on heads, the change is a little more work but just as simple.  It is simply a matter of heating the head over a flame.  The kitchen stove works well.  The glue becomes liquid in the heat and the head can be removed with a pair of pliers.  Do not use unprotected fingers to pull it off as the metal head becomes very hot.  The shaft and glue are reheated and a blunt tip is applied to the shaft.  As the glue cools the head is solidly in place. 

Those with carbon arrows should leave them at home.  Rabbit hunting is hard on arrows and the carbon arrows are too expensive to be shooting into brush and snow.  They might get broken or lost. 

If one has a problem obtaining blunt heads, a .38 caliber brass casing from a place that sells pistol ammo works as well.  The inside diameter of the casing is 11/32 inch.  This caliber is popular with pistol shooters and they are reloaded to save money.  Gun shops that sell reloading supplies often sell the brass as well.  They usually are only a few cents a piece. 

While on the subject of doing it yourself, let us not forget the arrow.  If you are using wood shafts, as they are the cheapest to make, it is a good idea to dip them full length in a clear lacquer.  The lacquer helps to seal the shaft and reduce warping from exposure to rain and snow.  Keeping costs down is a good idea for rabbit hunting as many arrows are lost in the snow and brush. 

As for the fletching on the arrow, the flu flu normally used on small game is not recommended for rabbits as it flys too slowly.  The faster, straight fletching of four to 5 inches is better. 

Hunting rabbits late in the season is far more difficult due to weather, smarter quarry, etc.  Early season hunters have already harvested most of the “dumb bunnies.”  Rabbits that make mistakes have been taken.  Mother Nature has taken her toll on the population by claiming the weak ones through reduced food supply, disease and natural predation.  The survivors are well aware of the danger you present.  Bowhunters are in the field for the challenge or else they would have taken up another weapon. 

Because they are the top of the menu for just about all other critters, a rabbits first consideration is cover.  Late season rabbits are concerned with cold and wetness first and wind second.  Ask anyone who has owned a rabbit fur coat, they are not warm and when wet they tend to mat.  Therefore, rabbits want to have an area where they can get sun for warmth and still be out of the wind.  On sunny days, they are to be found in direct sunlight.  They will preen and fluff their fur to maximize its protection from the cold.  If the ground is wet in some areas and dry in others, they will go to the dry bare patches with cover nearby. 

If the day is cold and windy, they can be found deep in the cover, shielded from the wind.  They will burrow into brush piles or seek ditches and culverts for protection.  On cold days with the sun shining, rabbits move to the side of the brush pile bathed in sunshine. 

By knowing his quarry’s habits, the bowhunter can ease along heavy cover from the shaded side and strike before the rabbit knows he is there.  Rabbits tend to hold tight to cover in the late season.  When stalking rabbits, it helps to remember that they will face into the wind on a blustery winter day so that the wind blows with their fur and not against it.  It helps to keep them warm.  In addition, facing into the wind helps their ears to catch the sound of an intruder or predator.  Bowhunters are advised to walk into the wind in hopes of catching a rabbit from behind.  Often the archer can get quite close without the rabbit even being aware of his presence.  

On cloudy, overcast days, rabbits are very nervous and tend to stay in the deepest part of their cover.  This is probably due to the problem with winged predators.  On a sunny day, a hawk will cast a shadow on the land that the rabbit will react to by fleeing.  On the overcast day there is no shadow and the rabbit reacts to this vulnerability by hiding in heavy cover out of reach. 

As a rabbit flees, he does so in a pattern.  His first few jumps are wild, erratic and evasive in nature.  The rabbit will straighten out his path as he gains speed and hits one of his runways.  At that point he presents a better shot for the bowhunter.  Runways are rabbit game trails.  Rabbits travel in such patterns that they beat down the snow.  As they travel along, rabbits have a tendency to browse on the twigs, making the trail even more open.  The trails are usually about the width of a rabbit and about 10 inches high. 

Since runways are escape routes for the rabbit, the intersection of several runways is a good place to stake out.  If there is a thicket or a brush pile nearby, give it a look as you might flush the resident.  In snow, it is a good idea to follow the tracks.  Many times the quarry is not seen, but tracks will lead to the cover.  By then stomping through the cover, a rabbit may be flushed.  When tracking in snow, it is best to walk beside the tracks and parallel to them. 

By walking parallel, a hunter has a better chance to see the rabbit.  It is easier to spot a rabbit from the side than from directly behind or straight on.  A rabbit seen from the side presents a better target. 

Like many of nature’s animals, rabbits react to fronts.  When a storm front moves in, the rabbit will hole up and not feed.  As the front passes they come out to feed and will be active all day. 

Late season rabbit hunting is fun and can add another meat source for the freezer.  Rabbit stew on a cold winter night is an excellent end to another fine day in the field.


Just how successful is the rattling of antlers in attracting bucks?  With the Illinois deer season and rut just winding down, I have faced that question from quite a few readers.  It seems they found it frustrating that a monster buck did not come into their sights after they used “the horns.” 

Frankly, I have not had a great deal of success in rattling in those big guys.   I only have been able to attract a couple of button bucks and a spike or two. 

I ran across an article by Dr. Mickey Hellickson a renowned expert on whitetail deer.  Regular readers of this blog will recognize his name from the helicopter deer capture story and another one in the game management section. 

The story is posted in the archives of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute.  It reflects a study done by Hellickson while pursuing his graduate degree.  He divided the rattling sequences used into four categories and compared them. 

The divisions were based upon volume and length of time engaged in the activity.  The sequences were randomly tested during the pre-rut, rut peak and post-rut over a three year period on a wildlife refuge in Texas. 

The sequences were named short and quiet, short and loud, long and quiet and long and loud.  

Both of the short sequences involved three 10-minute segments of one minute of rattling and nine minutes of silence which was repeated in sequence.  Both long sequences also included three 10-minute segments but each segment included three minutes of rattling followed by seven minutes of silence which was repeated in sequence. 

The two loud sequences were performed 85 times and attracted 81 bucks.  The two quiet sequences were performed 86 times and attracted only 30 bucks. 

During pre-rut the long and loud sequence attracted the highest number of bucks.  During the rut peak, the short and loud attracted the highest number of bucks.  In the post-rut the long and quiet sequence attracted the highest number of bucks.  The highest number of bucks in any sequence occurred in the first 10-minutes of each sequence. 

The highest response from mature bucks occurred during the post-rut when and equal number of middle-age and mature bucks responded.  The highest number of bucks responded during the morning hours between 7:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. 

I guess the answer to the question of whether rattling works is, it depends.  The above information may be helpful in determining when and how to use the horns.  Check it out next season.  I am going to.

A PRIMER ON CRANKBAITS   Leave a comment

Selecting and using a crankbait takes a little thought.  Many anglers find the use of crankbaits too complicated and tend to use only a few of their favorites. 

In the tackle stores one can find countless types and colors of crankbaits.  There are the bright colored ones, the baitfish colored ones, those with bills of varying sizes and those without any bill.  The manufacturers all make good baits but their does not seem to be one company that is the leader with all the answers.  Take a look at the bait boxes of the pros and you become even more confused.  They all have a variety of crankbaits. 

I once had the opportunity too look into the storage area of Brent Chapman’s bass boat.  There were a number of plastic boxes containing countless types of crankbaits.  That spawned a conversation with the pro angler. 

Chapman has turned his knowledge of bass fishing and crankbaits into over $400,000 in career winnings on the BASS and FLW tournament trail.  I asked him to explain the basic theory of crankbait selection and use for this layman. 

“As far as what crankbait to run when,” said Brent, “the selection is dependant upon what depth the fish are being found.”  Bass may be in 2 foot of water or 20 foot of water.  In order to choose a crankbait, Chapman maintains that one has to have some idea of where the fish are located. 

If the fish are shallow, then a shallow running crankbait is needed.  If they are deep then a crankbait with a bigger bill is required to make the bait run deeper.

Chapman has found that a shallow running crankbait is often better for fish that are not aggressive enough to take a spinnerbait.  “The spinnerbait does not look realistic as does a crankbait,” states the pro.  He maintains that the crankbait will fool those fish when they are a little more finicky. 

Brent does not trim the bill of a crankbait as do some pros.  They trim it to make the crank bait run shallower.  “If I feel I want a bait to run shallower,” says Chapman, “I will just switch up to something with a smaller bill on it.”  Crankbaits can be found that will run from a depth of six inches to those that go 20 foot deep. 

A crankbait that will run straight is important to Brent.  “It means that you are getting its maximum depth and best action,” he asserts.  However he also points out that one can detune a crankbait if he is fishing along a dock and wants the bait to run underneath it.  It is possible to tune the crankbait to run to the side.  But, for 99% of the time one wants the bait to run straight. 

The physical toll that crankbait fishing takes on the angler is also a problem.  Many anglers are just so turned off by losing fish and just being worn out fishing a deep diving crankbait. 

Chapman always uses a fiberglass rod for crankbait fishing.  He declines to use graphite or titanium rods for this type of fishing.  Brent uses a 7-foot cranking rod for deep running baits and a six and one half foot version for smaller crankbaits and under tighter conditions.  He likes the flexible tip of the rod that absorbs a lot of the pull when retrieving.  “If you are using a really stiff rod, that pull is going to be absorbed somewhere and it is usually in your arms,” proclaims the pro.  He maintains that is what wears you out. 

Brent also spurns the 6.3 to l gear ratio on his reels.  People think he is just fishing slower.  But, actually he will take a crankbait, put it on a 5.2 to 1 gear ratio reel.  He maintains that he can really feel the difference.  The difference is that the torque is going to be dispersed right into the arms and wrists and that is what really wears people out. 

To really learn crankbait fishing, Chapman recommends going to a lake that has good crankbait potential.  Take every thing out of the boat except that bait and equipment related to crankbait fishing.  It will force you to learn the techniques necessary if you do not have any alternative equipment available.  It helps you overcome the urge to catch a fish at all costs.  It forces you to go out and figure out how to make the crankbait work to catch some fish. 

He describes a good crankbait lake as one that is deeper with ledges or a perhaps a good drop-off.  Another good crankbait lake will contain some type of distinct cover where you can work that crankbait over it. 

Crankbait fishing may not be the easiest pattern to learn, but is a great tool than will be very productive once you learn how to use it.

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