Archive for November 2011

LINE SPOOLING TOOL FROM PURE FISHING   3 comments

Now that the cold weather is closing in, my attention switches to getting tackle ready for next spring.  I do not like to wait to the last minute because that usually means wasting time that could be spent on the water. 

I just got a package from my friends at Pure Fishing and Blue Heron Communications.  I spoke with Ron Giudice a couple of months ago and was impressed with their Mini Line Spooler.  Ron had one sent to me to try out. 

Like most anglers I do not have a bunch of specialized equipment for spooling line on my numerous reels.  Being a multi-species angler, I find having specialized reels for each species a good idea.  Often different lines are called for on different occasions.  For example I do not use a crappie set up with light line for fishing for stripers.  The later brutes require heavy tackle. 

I spend most of my spooling time with a spool placed on the floor of my living room while I watch television.  The line goes from the spool through rod guides to the reel.  In order to maintain tension in the line I lay a book on top of the line as it comes off the spool.  It provides just the right resistance. 

Now thanks to Ron and Pure Fishing I do not have to do that any more.  Nor do I have to chase down a spool that might roll away or worry about creating line twists. 

Additionally, with the Mini Line Spooler is it possible to attach it to the rod and re-spool on the shore or in a boat.  It can accommodate up to a quarter pound spool of line.  It can be attached to almost any size of rod. 

The suggested retail price of the Mini Line Spooler is $5.00.  For more information check the Pure Fishing website at http://www.berkley-fishing.com.

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NATIONAL BOBWHITE CONSERVATION INITIATIVE   Leave a comment

It is no secret that the population of Bobwhite Quail in the US is declining for the past 50 years.  Less commonly known is that songbird populations are being decimated by equal numbers since they depend upon the same habitat.  Habitat is the key to returning these birds back to their former population levels. 

To that end a national alliance of 25 state wildlife agencies issued a situation assessment and call for decisive action.  A first step in the program is calling the situation to the attention of the outdoor press.  To that end, they attended the recent meeting of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) in Branson, MO. 

I met with Don McKenzie and Dr. Tom Dailey and am very impressed with their political savvy and biological knowledge in this field.  They are accomplishing a lot on a very limited budget and are dedicated to re-establishing quail habitat through out the range of the Bobwhite. 

These are some of the first steps they recommend during the next 12 months. 

            1.  The most important step is for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to quit making the planting of aggressive exotic plant species the first choice when they subsidize, with public money, plantings on private land.  In their place, native plant species should be encouraged as they provide better habitat for bird life.  This is probably the most important thing we can do to rebuild the habitat and increase wild bird populations. 

            2.  Each of the 25-member states should adopt and adapt the new national bobwhite Conservation Planning Tool in their respective areas.  The tool is a unified strategy for restoring wild quail that needs to be publicized for the public to understand and support the state wildlife agency’s efforts. 

            3.  Each state can highlight the National Bobwhite Conservation initiative in their state wildlife magazine and explain the challenges that are presented to their implementation. 

            4.  The public needs to join and support a native grassland habitat-related conservation organization whether it emphasizes quail, turkey or songbirds. 

            5.  Enthusiasts should volunteer their money and services to the state agency’s efforts.  It is advisable that they attend meetings of state commissions and boards and use their efforts to lobby for financial support. 

            6.  On a national level enthusiasts need to communicate to their Congressional delegations the need to support Farm Bill conservation programs. 

For more information on the habitat management for quail propagation and ways in which you can help go to the website of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative at:  http://www.bringbackbobwhites.org.

BLADE BAIT LURES   1 comment

There is no match for the tug on a blade bait when being retrieved.  The vibration at the end of a line and the smashing action as a hungry predator strikes.  There is no nibble or slow response.  It is a train wreck under water. 

Blade baits are especially effective in cooler water when the angler is in search of bass be they smallmouth, largemouth, or white bass. 

Whether vertically jigging or swimming this bait it cannot be denied that it is an effective part of an angler’s arsenal.  The shinny, usually nickel or chrome coating, reflects light as effectively as a crippled forage fish.  The fact that it is metal helps provide fish attracting noise when the hooks hit the body of the bait. 

To some the name Silver Buddy is the same as blade bait.  The original Silver Buddy lure has remained basically unchanged in the last two or three decades.  Although he did not invent the bait, fishing legend Billy Westmoreland had a lot to do with tweaking it and promoting it on television and at sport shows. 

Everyone seems to have his own way of using the blade bait.  The most popular seems to be in a cold water situation.  It is used to cover deep water break lines and points.  The blade bait is effective in all kinds of weather situations and times of the year.  Blade baits can be fished for any fish that will eat minnows.  The flash and vibration make it a special bait for anglers wishing to cover deep water quickly. 

A popular way to fish a blade bait is vertically over the edge of a creek channel where it joins the edge of a flat.  It is hopped though what the angler perceives as the strike zone of the fish.  Moving the boat along with the trolling motor he makes short upward pumps of the rod.  This raises the bait off the bottom and allows it to fall back again.  A depth finder makes it possible to follow the winding path of the channel. 

The vibration of the bait is felt via the line.  Keep a tight line and watch for a twitch during the fall.  Currents cause a flutter of the lure in a swaying side to side motion.  Fish tend to hit blade baits on the fall.  Once hit it is simple to set the hook by a sharp upward jerk of the rod. 

Some anglers like to rip the bait with strong, quick jerks.  This makes the blade bait jump off the bottom to stimulate aggressive fish.  It can cause the bait to be jerked out of the strike zone of lethargic fish. 

For less active fish suspended on points or along creek channels the swing presentation may be best.  Cast beyond where fish are believed to be suspended.  With the reel engaged the lure falls in a pendulum motion back toward the boat.  As it falls there is a sway from side to side like a falling bait fish. 

The Silver Buddy is a blade bait with a head weight cast on a shiny stainless steel body.  A pair of split shank hooks are mounted to the lure through holes in the body.  One hook is set forward in the design of the lure and the other set in the rear.  The body of the lure tends to last longer than the hooks.  Hooks can be replaced.  It is best to replace them with ones of similar size and shape to provide the best vibration possible. 

The lure is attached to the line by way of a snap provided with the bait.  It is attached through a hole in the top portion of the lure body. 

For fishing those white bass on the jumps it is best to burn the lure.  You simply cast to the fish that are breaking the surface in a feeding frenzy.  Then crank it back hard.  Some times it helps to wind with occasional hesitations. 

Fishing for bass along weedlines and atop weeds is usually the province of the crankbaits.  Blade baits can be used like a crankbait in the same manner. 

Blade baits are excellent cold water  go-to bait.

BLACK POWDER AND MR RINGNECK   2 comments

The pheasant hunting for this old ground pounder is about over for another year.  Thinking back on my almost 60 year career of chasing the Chinese chicken there are a lot of very fond memories. 

The first pheasant I ever saw was exploding out of a patch of prairie grass on my grandmother’s farm and I was about five years of age.  The whir of his wings and the shout of my uncle “rooster” startled and excited me at the same time. 

There is something about the cackle of a pheasant that gets the juices flowing.  After being introduced to black power hunting by Joe Arterbern from Cabela’s, I embarked upon years of shooting them with primitive weapons.  It is a way to maintain contact with the old way of hunting in our modern high tech world. 

Using any type of weapon, shotgun, bow or black powder, I prefer to hunt over dogs that work close.  At the approach of danger, pheasants can drop their head and tail to the ground and sneak off.  They disappear even in the thinnest of cover.  Pressured by a dog that works far out the birds can be seen zipping down a fence row like a road runner.  Or worse yet, they will flush way out of gun range. 

In addition to hunting close to the dogs, it is advisable to work slowly and stop often.  Pheasants are nervous birds.  If I stop they seem to think they have been spotted.  These kings of the prairie just can not stand to sit tight if they think they have been spotted. 

An advantage of hunting pheasants with a muzzle loader is the lack of recoil.  Due to the relatively slow burning of the black powder or Pyrodex, the recoil is significantly reduced.  It is a feature that greatly appeals to me since I am prone to not mounting my gun properly to the shoulder.  The result is an increase in recoil that really smarts. 

Problems can appear when hunting black powder with other partners.  There is the rub about the amount of time it takes to reload, even though it is just a matter of minutes.  Using speed loaders, one can reload quickly.  It is still not as fast as with shotgun shells. 

Another problem is the amount of smoke emitted.  Like most hunters I like to see if I hit the bird and where he lands.  On a windy day smoke disperses quickly.  On quiet days it can be a nuisance.  On windy days I find that shooting into the wind demands keeping my mouth shut.  The smoke tastes terrible. 

Modern muzzle loaders add a new dimension to pheasant hunting.  Hunting pheasants with my Cabela=s 10 gauge double-barrel muzzle loader is great fun.  The factory installed choke tubes work well on all kinds of small game hunting.  Finding the right shot pattern and load for a black powder weapon is not difficult.  It just takes a little time. 

The three chokes that come with the gun are: Extra-full, Modified, and Improved Cylinder.  Other chokes are available.  Having various chokes means I have to develop a different load for each choke.  Each choke presents a different pattern with the same load. 

Patterning a shotgun goes a long way toward hunting success.  It allows me to know where the shot is going to hit.  Patterning is a simple and inexpensive way to make sure that the gun is shooting where I aim.

What I use in addition to the gun, powder and shot, is a sheet of plywood, some large target faces, safety glasses, and hearing protection.  A bench rest or sand bags help in being consistent from one shot to another.  My target faces are about 3 foot square so as to help see where all the shot is going. 

The mix of pellets from different sizes and different chokes quickly become apparent.  If I aim at the center of the target and the bulk of the shot is consistently hitting off to the side, then perhaps the fit of the gun is off.  A gunsmith can fix that problem. 

If the bulk of the shot is just a little off from center, then I adjust my point of aim to compensate.  Although a few pellets can kill a pheasant, the goal is to deliver the bulk of the shot in a pattern that will humanely down the bird. 

By experimenting with the various chokes I see which choke delivers a pattern I desire.  For example, an Extra-full choke works very well when hunting turkeys.  But, it is not as effective on pheasants.  Extra-full chokes have a .040 constriction of the barrel and is good for 55 yard shots.  Improved-modified has a .015 constriction and is most effective at 30 yards.  The Improved cylinder has a .010 constriction and is for shots less than 25 yards frequently encountered in hunting upland birds. 

A good combination for the double-barrel shotgun shooting could be the Improved cylinder in the first barrel and Extra-full choke in the second.  In that way, the close shot can be taken at the rising pheasant and more time can be taken in aiming for the second shot at a greater distance. 

I pattern the barrel with my chosen choke at the distance I expect.  Each choke/barrel combination can be shot with varying loads of powder and shot.  Every gun comes with charts of recommended loads of shot and powder in a range.  There are differences between black powder and Pyrodex data.  For instance the 10 gauge with Pyrodex might be recommended with 1 2 ounces of lead or steel shot and 88 grains of powder.  The same gun using black powder and the same amount of shot might require 110 grains of powder. 

My muzzle loaders are percussion guns.  The ignition of the powder is achieved by the hammer coming down on a percussion cap mounted on a nipple.  The resulting fire passes through the nipple into the barrel of the gun causing the powder to ignite.  The resulting explosion forces the shot up the barrel and out the muzzle.  I have a slight problem with the cap on the second barrel often falling off the nipple by the recoil of the first shot.  I solve this by slightly squeezing the caps before mounting them on the nipples.  The slightly tighter fit helps keep the cap in place. 

Modern muzzle loading shotguns allow me to take birds for the table and still enjoy the romance and challenge of using a weapon from the past.

HUNTING THE OTHER WHITETAIL   3 comments

Hunting the diminutive whitetail provides excellent hunting with a long season and generous bag limits.  That is not the white-tailed deer, but rather the cottontail rabbit.  They afford ample opportunity for enjoyable days in the field and the promise of good eating for the effort. 

In Illinois the season runs from early November to January of the following year.  The dates are slightly different between the northern zone of the state and the southern.  Bag and possession limits vary from one state to another. 

Many farmers regard the rabbit as a pest, and gaining access to private land is usually quite easy.  A polite request is often all that is needed to gain access.  Choosing a good location is sometimes another matter.  Areas with clean fields and pastures lush with fescue are usually devoid of rabbits.  Fescue offers poor cover and as a food it can cause problems that affect reproduction. 

Because they are the top of the menu for just about all of Mother Nature’s critters, a rabbit’s first consideration is cover.  They are concerned with cold and wetness first and wind second.  As anyone who has owned one can tell you, rabbit fur is not warm, and when it is wet it tends to mat. 

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

Some good locations are clear-cut and powering right of ways.  A mix of hardwoods, run‑down farmland and brush piles worth exploring.  If you can contact local rural letter carriers, they often know where they have seen large populations of rabbits all summer.  

Rabbits will inhabit wood lots, hedgerows, slews and weed patches.  They will tunnel under abandoned farm equipment or buildings.  They are very adaptable and can live almost anywhere.  Generally their populations are damaged by house cats.  If cats are around, the rabbit population is usually not that good.

Other predators that attack rabbits include the hawk.  On cloudy days, rabbits are very nervous and tend to stay in the deepest part of their cover.  On sunny days hawks cast a shadow on the land that alerts the rabbit to their presence.  On an overcast day there is no shadow and the rabbits react to this vulnerability by hiding in heavy cover out of the reach of any winged predator. 

Public hunting lands are often a good place to rabbit hunt after the deer season is over.  Often they have been overlooked all through the deer season.  Hunters have been so concentrated on the deer that they have left the rabbits alone. 

The most popular method for hunting rabbits is the walk‑up method.  By moving slowly and stopping frequently, lone hunters and groups alike are likely to flush a rabbit.  If hunting hedgerows, or where cover is thin, then it is a good idea to post a blocker to intercept a sneaker. 

If there is snow on the ground, then the work of hunting is easier. Stalking and flushing techniques work well in snow.  An abundance of tracks in a given area gives away the presence of several rabbits.  Well used rabbit runs will be used by a flushed rabbit to return to the point where he was flushed.  It may take some time, without the persuasion of a beagle, but all rabbits circle back to the point where they were first jumped.  In this way, they often are able to circle around a walking hunter and are securely back in their home as the hunter goes on in frustration. 

In warm weather, rabbits can be jumped almost anywhere there is food.  However, in cold weather they move to the thick cover.  That usually means a tough trail for a human to follow.  It is then that a good beagle is worth his weight in gold.  Beagles are great rabbit dogs as they will stay on the trail, baying to tell their master where the trail is leading.  The hunter often has only to wait and as the rabbit circles around, the sound of the beagle alerts the hunter to the approach of the rabbit. 

Weapons for rabbit hunting range from the ever popular .22 to 12 gauge shotgun.  More recently bowhunters have also taken up rabbit hunting.  To the shotgunner, shot sizes of six or seven lead, and four steel, are good.  The small size shot gives a good wide pattern to cope with the zig zag run of the rabbit. 

The hunting archer can use the same bow that he uses to hunt other game.  His arrows can also do double duty thanks to the interchangeable arrowheads.  The broadhead is removed and a blunt or similar head is substituted.  Bowhunting rabbits is very difficult, but also quite rewarding. 

Hunting the bouncing white tail of a rabbit is challenging and provides some excellent meat for the table.  It is also a good way to bring back old memories of a childhood spent in search of the littlest whitetail.

WATERFOWL WINGING OVER SOUTHERN ILLINOIS   7 comments

Streaks of orange appear over the horizon in the east.  Gradually they disappear as the cloud cover blocks out the sun.  The day is gray and damp but not our spirits as hunters.  It is waterfowl season in southern Illinois on public waters.

 Late in the season the bulk of the ducks tend to be mallards and the Canada geese begin to arrive.  The abundance of public water in southern Illinois attracts waterfowlers from across the nation for the late season action.

 Rend Lake Wildlife Management Area contains some 7,690 acres near Bonnie, Illinois in Franklin County.  Site specific information can be obtained by calling the IDNR office at 618-279-3110 or writing to them at RR1, Box 168G, Bonnie, Illinois 62816.  Carlyle Lake Wildlife Management Areas is about 8,764 acres in Fayette County near Vandalia.  The address for the Site Superintendent is RR2, Box 233, Vandalia, Illinois 62471 and their phone number is 618-425-3533.

 Private water also holds birds, but they can be difficult and/or expensive to gain access for hunting.  That does not mean that the average hunter has to have second rate hunting.  Not at all!

 Good hunting areas for duck and goose hunting can be found on many state management areas such as Oakwood Bottoms, RendLake and Carlyle Lake.  The past few years, both of the later have held birds right on through the season.  Some birds even wintered with us in Illinois. 

Oakwood Bottoms is about 3400 acres of flooded timber in Jackson County near Murphysboro,Illinois.  For information about it, contact IDNR at 618-687-1731.

 Far southern Illinois has always been known for the goose hunting.  Up to now the secret has been the excellent duck hunting. 

Ducks are taken in areas near both the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.  Fewer public hunting areas are found along the eastern part of the state.  Both areas have good harvests.  More recently the focus has been around the Union County Conservation Area, Crab Orchard Refuge and Horseshoe Lake.  Commercial goose hunting clubs have taken to managing crops in a way that is not baiting and does not run afoul of the laws on baiting.  Yet, they do attract ducks to their areas.

 Union County Conservation Area is about 2800 acres near Jonesboro, Illinois in Union County.  The refuge office can be reached at 2755 Refuge Road, Jonesboro,Illinois 62952.  Their phone number is 618-833-5175.

 Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Williamson County is operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  The 23,000 acres near Marion, Illinois are a Mecca for waterfowl with parts of the refuge closed to humans.  There is ample waterfowl hunting from refuge blinds or independently from boats in the west end of the lake.  For more information about waterfowl hunting at the refuge contact USF&WS, Marion, Illinois 62918 or call the refuge office at 618-997-3344.  Additional information can be obtained from the Williamson County Tourism Bureau, 1602 Sioux Drive, Marion, Illinois62959.  Their phone number is 800-GEESE-99.

 Horseshoe Lake Conservation Area is operated by the IDNR for an office at Box 85, Miller City, Illinois 62962.  Their phone number is 618-776-5689.  The Alexander County hunting area contains some 4,190 acres and is open to waterfowl hunting with special hunts for physically challenged persons in addition to regular hunting programs.

 Traditionally there are a lot of ducks in the Cache River area and there is public hunting available. Cache River State Natural Area, in Johnson County, is an unusual cypress swamp hunting area.  The 9,507 acres is different from the more traditional hardwood hunting areas to be found around Illinois.  For information about the hunting program contact the Site Superintendent at 930 Sunflower Lane, Belknap, Illinois or call the office at 618-634-9678.

 Moving to big waters areas, ducks are taken from boats with blinds.  Rend and Carlyle reservoirs are excellent examples.  Both also have excellent walk-in opportunities. 

Other walk-in areas include LaRue Swampand Oakwood Bottoms.  Both areas enjoy excellent hunting.  LaRue Swamp Federal Land is 1000 acres inUnion County near Wolf Lake.  For information call 618-833-8576.

 The above areas combine to provide over 60,000 acres of waterfowl hunting in the southern tier of counties.  They do not include several hundred thousand acres in the Shawnee National Forest that also contains waterfowl that visit it each winter.  Public land waterfowl hunting is alive and well in southern Illinois.

FREELANCING FOR PHEASANTS   Leave a comment

What began as a sunny day deteriorates into one of drizzle and clouds.  Pheasants which seemed to be in abundance suddenly vanish.  What gives?  Finding pheasants on the best of days is difficult for me as a freelance hunter.  Hunting without dog or partners to flush birds from their hidey holes is challenging. 

Pheasants react to their surroundings.  They adjust.  If I can make similar adaptations I am the one who continues to take birds even after the weather turns sour. 

The key to finding pheasants under specific conditions is to know about their biology.  On any given day they might change their habits due to weather, wind or other variables.  I have to examine the environment and out guess Mr. Rooster. 

At the crack of dawn birds begin the day by waking in their roosting sites.  The roosting sites are usually areas of short to intermediate height cover.  It can be a grain field or grass where they spend the night.

 If the day dawns cold and bright their high metabolic rate requires them to seek a steady intake of food.  After a chilly night they are ready for breakfast.  The birds begin by heading to the roadsides or similar areas where they can find gravel or other forms of grit.

 In times of pre-frontal conditions pheasant activity reaches a peak.  These are conditions characterized by warmer weather and light winds from the south that accompany them.  It seems they know worse weather is coming and they want to stoke up with food.

 As a cold front moves in birds tend to nest up and to wait out the weather.  They are not moving about and are difficult to find and flush.

 Once the front passes and the sky clears they are out of the nests and continue their daily activities of finding grit and food. 

Because pheasants do not have teeth they need to swallow gravel to aid in digestion of grain.  The grit is held in their crops where it combines with the grain they eat to make a digestible compound.  It then moves through their system.

 If the day dawns wet or stormy pheasants are likely to remain in the roosting areas a little longer before venturing out in a search of grit and food.  During this period I work the pastures and short grass near the edges of fields.  The idea is to catch them as they are moving from grit area to grain area and back again.

 Up until midmorning birds will work the feeding areas such as grain fields.  I find birds in the small grain fields or on the edge of larger ones.  On windy days they seldom move into open areas.  Instead they seek areas where a tree line breaks the force of the wind where are finding their way to the lee side.

 Pheasants usually finish feeding by midmorning.  Then they move to the loafing areas which usually contain heavier cover for concealment.  Thickets, sloughs, swamps, drainage ditches and fence rows are good areas to find birds.  Often they stay in these areas until mid-afternoon.  On particularly sunny days they may skip the loafing areas and stay in the feeding area all day.

 In late afternoon, birds tend to move back to their feeding areas to stock up for the night.  They are found on the edges of grain fields or within the first twenty rows. 

At dusk they move back to the roosting areas for the night.  Dawn and dusk are the prime movement times for pheasants.

 On rainy days pheasants tend to hunker down until the weather passes.  As soon as the rain passes they have to get up and move around to maintain body temperature.  They also need an influx of calories to produce body heat.  This causes them to begin feeding immediately.

 If the cloud cover continues pheasants seem to be more secure.  And why shouldn’t they?  Most hunters generally give up and head for the house.

 Taking pheasants alone and under unusual weather conditions is an art.  You must not only be a good shot but also a naturalist.  You must know the habits of pheasants and use them to be in the right place at the right time.

Posted 11/12/2011 by Donald Gasaway in Hunting Small Game

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