Archive for August 2011


Photo provided by Howard Communications

The difference in the perceived size of a trophy on the hoof and the actual size of his antlers on the ground is called “ground shrinkage.”  Each year some hunters fall prey to this affliction.

How can one judge the actual size of the animal’s antlers before deciding whether or not to shoot?  Experience is probably the best answer.

Experience comes from looking at lots of animals.  Veteran trophy hunters are constantly looking at deer antlers.  They look at them in their friends trophy rooms.  They view them in the wild as well as in captivity.  They attend sports shows where displays of major trophy animals give a chance to see the “big uns.”  They study the record books and learn the scoring systems by which deer racks are judged.

No single factor makes a great buck.  It is a combination of attributes.  A great outdoor writer is attributed to have said that when you see a great deer you know it.  That is because he is awesome just in his appearance.  Ear spread is the best way to estimate the inside spread of a deer’s antlers.  The distance tip to tip of the extended ears on a white-tailed deer is about 17 inches.  This is for a mature buck that is looking straight at you.

Looking from the side it is a bit more difficult to estimate size.  The closer the main beams come to a vertical line through the end of the nose, the more the chance he is a big one.  He needs to have great length to the main beams to reach that far forward.

One quick way to estimate the number of tines on a buck’s rack is to count the number of fighting tines.  These are the tines other than the end of the main beam and the eye guards.  Thus a buck with two fighting tines is an 8 point buck.  That he has a main beam point, an eye guard and two tines in between.  This is one side and it takes a quick judgment to see if the other side is the same.  End result 8-point deer.

If the deer has exceptionally long tines or a heavy mass to his rack he is a keeper.

When a deer antler is scored for the record books, they add the length of each main bean, the inside spread, length of all normal points and the circumference of various locations on the points.  Thus you can see that over all mass of the antlers is as important as is the length of the tines.

The more you look at deer in the wild the better you become at field judging a good trophy.  Now is the time to begin scouting deer for the upcoming season.  The deer are not spooked and allow one to look them over carefully.  After the velvet is gone from their antlers they are not as likely to stand still.

Checking out deer in the field this time of the year may pay big dividends this fall.    Avoid the disappointment of “ground shrinkage” by doing your home work now.

Posted 08/31/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Hunting Big Game

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Peering through the weeds and brush, it is difficult to spot birds floating, diving and doing duck things on a pond.  Most of the time, they see you before you see them.  Then it is Katy-bar- the-door as they make for parts unknown. 

Jump shooting for waterfowl is an exciting, fast shooting experience.  It sure beats sitting in a blind and being eaten alive by mosquitoes.  Early season waterfowling often is a battle between sneaking up on the birds and keeping the bugs from consuming your blood supply. 

As ducks return to their traditional wintering grounds in the southern areas, so do the duck hunters.  Popular locations for duck blinds are sometimes difficult to obtain.  In an effort to get away from the crowds and still experience good hunting, many sportsmen turn to jump shooting.  

This combination of hiking, stalking and shooting of ducks is a challenge and a rewarding experience.  It beats sitting on one place all day in hope of seeing ducks.  That is boring. 

More interesting is sneaking along a creek looking for open spots that provide shots.  You listen for ducks on the water and try to outsmart them by being in their escape route when they try to get away.  Always keep an eye out for the most uncomplicated shot.  The use of binoculars to spot the birds is a great help in finding them before they find you. 

Farm ponds, oxbows, feeder creeks and small lakes all provide safe islands for migratory birds and are usually lightly pressured.  Puddle ducks come to these areas usually at dusk to roost.  They also use them for resting and getting out of the wind between feeding trips to the grain fields.  Bright, windy days are a blessing in this type of hunting. 

Pre-season scouting and consultation with local residents can lead to areas with large concentrations of birds overlooked by most hunters.  Timber islands near open grain fields are good.  Local maps of the terrain assist in finding those backwater hiding places.

Areas can be scouted from a distance with the aid of binoculars.  Once birds are spotted, notes should be taken as to time of the day that they are using the water.  And of course, be sure to secure the landowners permission to hunt. 

Jump shooting hunters must be sneaky.  A rested duck will not sit around once the hunter has been spotted.  Ducks are masters of survival.  They fly thousands of miles each year from their nesting grounds in the north weathering storms, avoiding predators, and hunters, to settle in a secluded island of habitat. 

 The hunter must use all the available cover as he eases along the water.  Often he is required to crawl or hunch down in order to get into the proper position or range for shooting.

 Jump shooting of ducks provides hunters with exercise and provides the duck with a sporting chance to escape.  The invigoration of the physical exertion, the anticipation of the flush, and the actual shooting experience all add spice to the early season hunt.


Treestand accidents account for over half of all hunting accidents in my home state of Illinois.

L.J. Smith spent many years studying the medical records surrounding treestand accidents. He reached some common sense conclusions as to what hunters need to do in order to enjoy a safe hunt.

Read on before placing your treestands this summer.

Here are some of Smith’s conclusions and recommendations.

Most hunting accidents are preventable. You need only to act in a responsible manner. If you take the time to plan necessary precautions you will enjoy a safe day afield.

L.J. finds that one of the big mistakes people make is getting in a hurry. They want to maximize the amount of time spent in place to take advantage of hunting time. Being in a hurry they ignore safety which in turn leads to trouble.

One of the more common problems people in a hurry have is falling through the ladder and getting a leg caught. It frequently leads to a broken leg.

A fatal mistake hunters can make comes from failure to wear a fall arrest system. According to Smith, “If one wears a full body fall harness and maintains contact with the tree at all times he will not hit the ground.” A person falling from 20 feet up a tree hits the ground at 25 miles per hour.

Another mistake is constructing a homemade wooden stand in a tree. In Smith’s study approximately 50 percent of the accidents reported were from homemade tree stands. This comes from rotten wood and nails that pull out of the tree.

Smith explains that the problem with home made stands comes where the legs contact the ground. The moisture in the ground seeps up into the wood and speeds up the rot. Using treated wood does not avoid this problem. Wood treatments involve the outer part of the board more then the center. Moisture seeps up the center part of the wood and rots it from the center out.

Smith feels a home made treestand should never be used. He points out that modern treestands are available for nearly the same amount of money. In addition a treestand that is TMA (Treestand Manufacturers Association) certified has been thoroughly tested for safety and durability in one of their testing centers. The centers put stands though tough tests and reject any that do not meet the minimum safety standards. Some 38 companies send their products to be tested.

Smith indicates that a treestand must be comfortable. If it is not, you will not use it. The ones on the market range from basic metal to panned ones that are very comfortable. You can get as fancy as you prefer.

The same is true of the full body harness safety systems that come with the treestands or are available as an after market item. They are in small, medium and large but are adjustable within those ranges. Most have a weight certification marked on the unit.

Remember to be sure you are attached to the tree from the time your foot leaves the ground until you return. Smith also wants you to have the tree strap above your head so that the life line attached to the harness is tight when you are seated. One should just be able to feel a tug when seated. When you stand it comes down to the middle of your back and not below the waist. If you do fall out of the stand it will only be a fall of about a foot.

Smith suggests that new treestand owners take it out back and place it in a tree about 4 feet above the ground. Then test the harness by falling out of it with the system attached and under the supervision of another person. Hunters do not need to go out in the woods and fall out of a stand without knowing what to expect.

One case studied by Smith was of a hunter in that situation who panicked when he was unable to get back into his stand. He unfastened the leg straps. The harness rode up around his throat and suffocated him.

It is vital that one make sure the treestand is properly and securely installed. Keep the harness system on while on the stand as well as while getting in and out. Unloaded firearms and bows should be brought to the stand via a haul line. They should not be in your possession while climbing in and out of the stand.

Keeping Smith’s research in mind may make your hunt this year, safe and secure.


Caution is paramount in avoiding falls from treestands

Treestand safety is a sometimes overlooked aspect of deer hunting. We focus on scouting and all the other aspects of the sport. Sometimes we give only passive attention to safety to getting into, staying on, and getting out of the stand. We injure fewer bowhunter each year. The figures are a combination of actual falls and injuries incurred by mistakes in installing the stand itself.

There are some precautions to reduce those numbers even more. The Treestand Manufacturers Association has taken to lead in development of programs and equipment that will aid in that effort.

Treestand Safety according to Treestand Manufacturers Association

1. Always wear a Fall-Arrest System (FAS)/Full Body Harness even during ascent and descent.

2. Always read and understand the makers warnings and instructions before use of the stand. Practice with the stand nearer the ground. Keep the warnings and instructions for future review and reference.

3. Never exceed the weight limit specified by the manufacturer.

4. Inspect the stand and FAS for signs of wear or damage before each use.

5. Practice in the FAS in the presence of a responsible adult prior to usein it in and elevated position.

6. Install the FAS in a manner and method outlined by the manufacturer.

7. Hunt with a plan and if possible with a buddy. Let other know where you plan to hunt and how long you will be gone.

8. Carry emergency signal devices such as a whistle, flashlight, a cell phone, etc with you or near you at all time. Watch for changes in weather. In the event of an accident, remain clam and get help immediately.

9. Select a proper tree for use of the stand and FAS. Follow recommendations as to size and condition of the tree. When descending lower equipment on the opposite side from you.

10. Know your physical limitations. Do not climb when physically or mentally impaired. Do not climb to heights where you are uncomtable.

11. Do not use homemade or permanently elevated stands or one that has been modified against the recommendations of the manufacturer.

12. Do not hurry. Do not work more that 12 inches at a time and move slowly. Make sure you have proper contact with the tree. With ladder stands always maintain three points of contact with each step.

Posted 08/19/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Bowhunting, Hunting Big Game

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Decreasing habitat and access to private land are just two reasons for the increase in hunting preserves. Another and probably more important one is helping to introduce the novice into the sport of bird hunting. This type of hunting may not be the total future of hunting but is certainly seems to have a place.

Youngsters and older family members can participate in hunting for upland birds under situations more conducive to their physical condition. The veteran hunter is probably in good walking condition whereas others may not be so well conditioned. Legs begin to tire quickly when walking over uneven ground for several miles following a dog.

Land that was formerly open to hunting is being inherited by family members with a different agenda. Hunting upland birds one needs small patches of farm land such as those that once dotted the landscape. These small areas harbored flocks of birds.

Some present day landowners want to keep the land for their own use, while others are turning it into housing developments. Others are anti-hunting and do not want to contribute to a sport of which they do not approve. Still others are afraid of lawsuits in the case of an accident even though the number of hunting accidents has significantly decreased in recent years.

Those who lease the land to deer hunters find that the lessee does not want bird hunters going in and stirring up the deer just prior to or during deer season. They do not want bird dogs harassing the deer.

Those are the negatives, now some of the positives of preserve hunting. The main one is that it offers hunters a place to introduce novice hunters to the sport of bird hunting. If you really want to get a novice excited about bird hunting, take them on a hunt where they can see and shoot numbers of birds. They can be assured of seeing birds and will have an area to themselves. For the person living in town and without a bird dog, it is a chance to hunt over well trained bird dogs. Guides and dogs are available at most preserves.

For the hunter with a bird dog, it is a place to work the dog and work on training needs. Many bird hunters these days will travel long distances to hunt upland game. The preserve offers them the chance to check out the dog’s performance prior to making that trip. If there is some aspect of the dogs training that needs correcting, the preserve is the place to do it.

For the land owner it is a chance to put some marginal land into production. Perhaps the land is not good farmland. The landowner can still obtain an income from the land that will help pay the taxes and other expenses of the property.

Shooting preserves provide a quality hunting experience in a safe and ethical surrounding. They are a great place to build a hunting buddy for the future.


Emerging from Final Approach Layout Blind, Hunter Shoots Maxus Shotgun (Photo By Howard Communications)

Think that missed shot is due to your gun? Well just maybe that really is the problem. Failure to match a shotgun, choke and ammunition is probably a major source of missed waterfowl opportunities.

According to Mike Jordan, Winchester Ammunition Company, “With a shotgun the most important thing is the point of impact.” Probably the majority of hunters do not understand just what that means. Jordan maintains if you do not know the point of impact you’re not going to be an effective shooter. It may be off from where you would guess anyway. You need to know.

No matter what the shot size or choke, one needs to bench rest shoot a shotgun just like you would a rifle. Jordan recommends shooting it up to five times at a spot. Then examine where the patterns are centered.

If everything is centered it removes a big part of the job. If the gun is shooting off center, then it might be worth a trip to the gunsmith to remedy the situation. “You will never be a good shot with a gun that does not shoot where you are looking,” says Jordan.

As for a choke/shot combination there are two ways to go: (1) use a choke and shot size that will take care of the most extreme shots, or (2) use one that takes care of your average shot situation.

Jordan believes that most shooters are well advised to use a more open choke than they think they need. “A modified is a good all around choke,” maintains Mike.

A modified is tight enough for all waterfowl hunting. Most hunters are still comparing steel shot patterns to the old lead shot. An improved choke will give a workable pattern out to 40 yards. The modified takes it out a little bit further. With steel you can add about five yards because steel patterns tighter than lead with the same choke.

Jordan explains that with waterfowl he used modified for just about everything. “It works for me but it might not work as well for someone that does not shoot as much,” says Jordan. “They might want to start with improved cylinder.”

“Bismuth responds to a choke,” maintains Jordan. “An open choke will shoot open with the average Bismuth load.” Buffered Bismuth loads shoot a lot like steel and will shoot tight no matter what choke one uses. Tungsten does not offer the option to shoot an open choke. It shoots tight with everything.

Mike finds that he goes a little bit larger with steel shot loads. “I use twos for a lot of my duck shooting,” says Jordan. “That would be equivalent to the old lead fours and it does a pretty good job.”

If one is shooting over decoys in timber Jordan feels you can use threes and ones effectively. If pass shooting over lakes then larger shot is better.

When it comes to geese, Jordan goes for a heavier load of steel. He maintains the big shot fills in the pattern. He stays with the modified choke because the bigger shot give about as tight a pattern as you can get. With too tight a choke the pattern tends to get ragged.

Jordan is quick to point out that if you do not get out and shoot a lot your not going to hit anything. He recommends sporting clay participation all year around for the shotgunner. “The improvement in a guy’s shooting is amazing,” concludes Jordan.


Carlyle is the largest inland lake in Illinois. Located about 50 miles east of St. Louis in Clinton, Bond and Fayette Counties, it is accessible via Interstate 64 and U.S. Route 50. The lake is a reservoir formed by the damming of the Kaskaskia River near Carlyle, Illinois in 1966. This Corps of Engineers lake is 24,580 acres in size with a shoreline of about 85 miles.

Rectangular in shape it is 15 miles long and 2 to 3 miles wide. Maximum depth is 35 feet with an average depth of 11 feet. During August the lake becomes chemically and thermally stratified and the dissolved oxygen level is low below 12 feet. This causes fish to be concentrated above that level. The area north of the railroad tracks that bisects the lake is shallower with an average depth of about three feet. It can be as deep as eight feet. Most of the better catfishing habitat is found there.

Good baits for this lake include: cheese baits, leeches, crickets, cut shad, shad guts and nightcrawlers. Good locations are the main lake points were creeks meet the main lake. If water is flowing past the dam, then the tailwater below the dam can yield good results.

Channel catfish from this lake tend to average 2 to 5 pounds with most being in the 1 to 3 ½ pound sizes. During some of the annual surveys taken by the IDNR 13 pound fish are found. Net catches done by the IDNR indicate that the abundance of channel and flathead catfish is at or above the mean for the last 10 years. Flatheads in the 3 to 7 pound class dominate the fall surveys. Flatheads up to 20 pounds are collected by biologists.

The flatheads in the lake tend to be 5 to 10 pounds in weight and the current State Record flathead catfish was 78 pounds was caught in this lake. It is mounted and on display in the Information Center at Eldon Hazlet State Park. Big catfish can be found in the spillway area from the dam to the swinging bridge.

There are four marinas on the lake. One is at the north end, just south of the railroad tracks. Two others are at Keyesport on the west and Boulder on the east. They all provide access to the main lake and the best fishing areas of the north end. For access to the southern tip of the lake, there is a marina at the Dam West Recreation Area. The Visitor Center is also located in this area.

The Corps maintains some 800 campsites in eight public campgrounds. Motel accommodations are available in nearby towns. Advance reservations are a good idea due to the popularity of the lake in late summer. Contact the Carlyle Lake Management Office, R.R. 1, Carlyle, Illinois 62231 618-594-2484 for information.

There are daily use fees in place on this lake. They are payable for use of the 14 parking and launch facilities. Self-deposit boxes are located in the fee areas and additional information can be obtained from the Visitor Center at 618-594-LAKE. Camping and cottage rental information is available at Eldon Hazlet State Park 618-594-3015.

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