Archive for the ‘Hunting Small Game’ Category

OUTOOR WRITING – A WONDERFUL LIFE   Leave a comment

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Bad weather in the form of ice and snow has caused cancelation of plans to attend Dallas Safari Club Show for this writer. But something good did come of staying inside for most of the day.

Serendipity resulted in accidentally coming upon an essay by Craig Boddington, world famous hunter and outdoor writer, about his philosophy of life as it relates to his career in hunting and writing about it.

It caused some reflection on this writer’s career in the hunting and fishing field. Although I usually like to keep my personal involvement out of the article, I am making an exception today.

The first commercial success occurred in the 4th grade when the prize for an essay on a local bank’s new signage produced the princely sum of $3. It would be about 15 years before the second sale came along.

That was about 50 years ago. In between I produced a lot of articles that did not sell as well as some freebees for law journals and social work magazines.  I even edited an in-house journal for the social service department of a court system.

The real turning point came with a chance meeting at an outdoor show in Chicago. Gene Laulunen had just started MidWest Outdoors.  At that time both he and his wife were still teaching school in the suburbs and put the magazine together on their kitchen table in the evening.

He was looking for someone to write about bowhunting. He had a writer on target archery and a friend had told him of me.  I wrote a couple of pieces that appeared in the 3rd edition of MidWest Outdoors Magazine.  I did not write any more for him for some long forgotten reason.

In the interim I did write some article for other magazines such as Archery World and Bowhunter. In the mid-70’s I became editor of a journal for the Illinois Chapter of Safari Club International and we contracted with MidWest Outdoors to print and distribute it on a monthly basis.  Gene then encouraged me to get serious about writing about the outdoors.

Since then I have sold hundreds of article to him and to other publication throughout the upper Midwest.

In 1996 I retired from social work and corrections work. Six months later retirement became boring.  I returned to writing, appearing in outdoor shows, a couple of videos and sponsorship of a youth goose hunting contest that occurs annually during National Hunting & Fishing Days.

I will turn 75 in a couple of months. Writing about hunting and fishing has opened a lot of doors.  The field is well-known for a lot of freeloading.  For that reason I have been reluctant to accept gifts of trips and gear.  It just makes me uncomfortable.  Most of my trips whether to Africa or around North America are paid for by me.  If I do accept some hospitality in any form it is with the understanding that if it turns out to be a good trip, I will write about it.  If not then I will not write anything about it.  I do not do negative stories or reviews.

I have met, hunted with, fished with some of the greatest people in the outdoor industry. Many are gone now while the rest remain my friends for life.

In recent years health problems have caused me to cut back on some of my activities. It is heck getting old.  Sitting here today has cause me to reflect on the past (a great time) and begin to set goals for 2017 that include more travel for hunting and fishing.

Those goals when accomplished will appear in this journal. Stay tuned!

MAXIMIZE YOUR OUTDOOR SHOW DOLLARS   Leave a comment

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Going to the outdoor show is always a hoot.  It is a chance to see what anglers from all over are buying.  It brings up visions of upcoming trip opportunities and it is a learning experience.

The key to maximizing knowledge from a boat show is advance preparation.  A game plan will allow you to learn with a minimum of exhaustion.  Begin on the Internet.  Most all of the exhibitors web pages.  So too do the sponsors of the show itself.

Most shows are composed of thousands of square feet of products, places to go, and other bits of knowledge.  Covering the entire show and still being able to focus on your favorite aspect of outdoor recreation takes effort.  Some shows are so large that one feels the need of a GPS just to get around.

Once you select the show, check the ads that appear in newspapers, magazines, on radio and television for specific information as to when the show coming to town.  Look for the products and seminars that interest you.  If planning to make purchases, make a list of the items you are seeking.

Make two lists, one that you have to buy and the second of things you would like to examine.  Perhaps you will buy something from the second list and maybe you just want to see it.

Week day traffic is lightest and exhibitors can spend more time with you.  Arrive early to allow maximum time to spend getting the information you seek.

If you are with a group make arrangements to meet at a specific location and time.  You may want to see different things.  Kids do not want to spend the same amount of time at a booth as an adult.  Wives want to see different things than do husbands.

Once at the show, take time to look over the program you usually receive as you enter.  It often has a floor plan and list of the exhibitors.  Use a pen or highlighter marking pen to mark the exhibits and seminars of major interest to you.  Make check marks beside the names of exhibitors who might stock the things you want to purchase.

Make note of the time and location of seminars you want to attend.  Some shows announce the seminars as they are taking place while some do not.  Be sure you have a watch so that you do not miss your favorite speaker.  Make note on the program of any last minute substitute seminar speakers or exhibits.  Look for such changes the entrance to the show or at the seminar area.

Take a cassette tape recorder to the seminar.  Most speakers have no problem with your taping their speech, but it is important to ask permission first.  Take notes in a spiral notebook.  You might even have some questions that you hope the speaker will answer, prepared in advance.  That way if he does not cover the subject, you can ask during the Q & A that usually is part of any seminar.

Pay attention and avoid side conversations with your companions.  If the subject is one in which you are intensely interested, sit near the front so that you can concentrate.  If you are only passively interested, sit in the back or on an aisle.  That way if you decide to leave during the presentation, you will disturb only a minimum number of other people.

Wear comfortable shoes.  You will spend most of your time walking on concrete.  Hiking boots or a new pair of athletic shoes is a good idea as they provide support and cushioning for the feet.  Older athletic shoes are not a good idea as they lack the support necessary to cushion your feet.  They are like walking barefoot and can lead to foot problems as well as fatigue.

If the outside weather is cold, then you need to do something with your coat.  Carrying it is a nuisance.  If the show provides a coat checking service, it is worth the cost.  If not, perhaps you might want to leave it in the vehicle.  A third alternative is to put it in a backpack.

Backpacks are also a good place for brochures that you pick up at the show.  You can acquire a considerable number of them in the course of visiting all the booths.  Although the weight of a brochure is not much, the weight of many brochures is a lot.  If you do not remember to bring your backpack, then look for a booth that is passing out plastic “shopping bags”.  Look around at the other people carrying bags and check for reinforced handles.  They are the ones you want.

Another help is to take frequent breaks and examine what you accumulate.  Sometimes it is stuff that you do not really want.  You can stop for a soft drink and a hot dog while culling your materials.  If after reading the brochure you still have some questions, go back to the booth and get answers.  It is easier than calling or writing from home later.

Finally, check your notes.  Did you miss anything that you had intended to see?

Attendance at sports shows is a great opportunity to gain a maximum benefit from your money.

 

HUNTABLE RABBIT POPULATIONS   Leave a comment

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Every year country roads and farmsteads show abundant populations of rabbits. Yet when hunting season comes around they all seem to have vanished.  Estimating rabbit populations are difficult for the best of small game biologists.

The winter just passed was the warmest on record. There was above average rainfall which should transfer to abundant rabbit populations.

One rabbit in ten ever lives to be a year old in the wild. It seems that everything works against their growing old.

Like most small game animals and birds, Mother Nature allows rabbits to rise 30 to 50 young each year. But the odds are just against their survival.

Rabbits do well in heavy cover and in remote areas of overgrown fields. Hawks and other flying predators present danger to these furry bundles.  For this reason they like cover that conceals them from overhead sight.  Weather during the birthing times also effects rabbit populations.  They young of the year need favorable weather in their early stages of life.

Here in Illinois the best locations to find rabbits are those with good habitat. Weather in the central and southern locations is not what has hurt the rabbit populations.  But rather habitat loss is the problem.

Rabbit hunters have to work harder each year to find suitable habitat containing the “smallest whitetail.”

For the past 10 years or so the populations have remained steady but at a low level. Much of the blame for habitat loss in those years was high commodity prices for corn and soybeans.  Land that might otherwise go to set-aside programs like CRP went into grain production.

The loss of CRP land is a major problem as more and more land does not go into CRP and other set aside programs. Rather it goes to produce grain crops.  The once abandoned farmsteads that were popular with rabbits are being cleared as seemingly every inch of land is too valuable not to be placed in production.  Landowners are clearing trees and brush piles in an effort to make every acre productive.

With the commodity prices softening some of that land may be going back into habitat production and rabbit production will follow. Should this trend continue for the next two or three years it is possible that rabbit production looks good for the future.

GENTLEMAN BOBWHITE IN ILLINOIS   1 comment

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The explosion of the flush, fast darting flight and the fact that they are excellent table fare makes the Gentleman Bobwhite a popular game bird in the southeastern part of the nation including southern Illinois.

Their adaptability to a variety of habitats helps in their development.  Modern forestry practices provide habitat for quail not previously found in some areas.  Studies show that clear-cut areas provide excellent habitat for as long as five years until the young pine and hardwood seedlings close the overhead canopy shading out quail food plants.

Nationally, the quail is the number one gamebird.  This is due to stocking of wild birds and the raising of birds for the preserve shooting market.

Quail live on the seeds of weeds, berries, insects and green vegetation.  They prefer vegetation that is neither too dense nor too thin.  Well managed habitat produces an abundance of quail for years.  The population replenishes itself within one or two years.

Extremes in weather can have some effect on the population. Illinois mild winter and slightly above average rainfall throughout the spring has seemingly aided in the survival of this year’s chick production. Predator control has a limited effect on the populations.  Probably more detrimental is the effect of free roaming cats or dogs.

Perhaps one of the better things to happen to the quail population has been the Federal government set aside programs which pay farmers to take marginal land out of crop production, sow them in grasses and leave them un-grazed and un-mown for years. In recent years fewer acres are now in place with the set-aside programs of CRP and CP42 Pollinator Habitat.

Proper fence row management provides cover as can a narrow strip of tall grasses or weeds.  Ditches, gullies and other such areas are manageable by letting vegetation grow to produce habitat.  It is important to quail populations that mowing be limited or even avoided from May 1 to August 1 each year. It is during this period that the hens are at most risk as they hunker down to protect either their eggs or chicks from the mower. The result is that the hens die and the destruction of the chicks and eggs takes place.

A bird of the edges, quail feed in more open areas but do not stray far from the safety of cover.  They would rather walk than fly and avoid anywhere that does not contain food, water and overhead cover.

Water to meet the needs of quail does not have to be standing water.  According to studies, quail will thrive on green plants and insects that result from damp soil.  Given green plant material and the insects that such growth attracts, quail metabolize enough water to survive and successfully reproduce.

The best place to hunt quail is where the quail are.  Hunters have limited options.  They have to know someone who has land available for hunting or belong to a club that manages for quail.  The minimum acreage is about 500-acres to hold enough birds to last an entire season without additional stocking.  With a stocking program, and the release of additional birds for shooting purposes during the season, less land will suffice.

 

DOVE HUNTING TIPS FOR THE LATE SEASON   Leave a comment

The key to late season dove hunting seems to be habitat management. It is not like shooting on opening day when there is a lot of attractive feeding sources in grain fields as yet un-harvested.

Here in Illinois hunters focus on grain fields and watering holes. With most of the land use dominated by agriculture that makes reasonable sense.  However, this land use can include such diversity in the habitat as to involve hedgerows, prairie, riparian and upland forest, timber draws and cedar glades in addition to the cropland.

The great habitat creates a potential for good wintering habitat and hunting. However, cold weather often causes the dove population to migrate south.

Fields planted to attract the late comers usually include such grains as native sunflowers and wheat. Fields usually nonproductive become productive by planting native feed-seed mixtures.  These seeds not only attract doves but they also benefit other birds native to the area.

The Illinois dove season usually begins in early September and continues for 70 days. Often dove hunters only hunt for the first few days.  Veteran dove hunters know that with planning and luck they can often find action for the entire 70 day season.

As the daylight hours become shorter, doves tend to feed earlier until in November when they are feeding in the early afternoon shortly after 1 P.M. Hunters tend to move to the prime feeding and watering areas.  These can include those nearer buildings such as grain bins.  They seek out spilled grain from harvesting operations.  The birds prefer watering ponds with bare shores as they provide a source of grit for digestion and security from predators that might be waiting.

Although late season dove hunting can be an iffy proposition there is also the possibility of a big flock of migrating birds arriving overnight.

A 12 GA shotgun equipped with a skeet choke and loaded with No. 7 shot can knock down doves up to 40 yards away. Steel shot is federally required for hunting all migratory birds including doves.

Late season dove hunting can be frustrating in that there are usually fewer birds available. However the temperature conditions are more comfortable for the hunter and often one has the hunting area to himself.

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ILLINOIS PUBLIC DOVES AND DOVE HUNTING   Leave a comment

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To some a dove is a diabolical way to humble the wingshooter. All that is required are the 3 P’s: Patience, Persistence and Plenty of ammo.  Here is everything else you need to know to plan a good dove hunt on Illinois public land.

Doves are one of the most widely distributed and abundant bird species in North America.  Yearly harvests fluctuate due to liberal bag limits, habitat conditions and the vagaries of the fall migration.

Illinois is over 350 miles long from the Wisconsin border to the Ohio River.  As a result the weather conditions can be significantly different from one public hunting area to another.  Doves are very susceptible to weather, especially temperatures.  Extended low temperatures will cause the birds to move south their wintering grounds.

The best shooting is during the first few weeks of the season. The first cold front usually sends the birds on their way followed by migrating birds from up north.  Shooting often continues through the end of the second season.

Illinois has two dove seasons.  The exact dates and length of each vary from year to year.  However, they usually begin in early September and early November and extend for a few weeks.

Hunters in certain areas are required to get a free dove hunting permit for the first 5 days of the season.

Often holders of the permits will not appear on the days designated and a drawing is held before the hunt for unclaimed locations. Information about these drawings and license requirements is available the site superintendent at the location of the hunt.  The phone numbers and addresses of all the public sites are contained in the Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations available free from IDNR offices and license vendor sites.

With backswept wings and long pointed tails, these little gray rockets have a cruising speed of 30 to 40 mph. They can reach 60 mph hour in short bursts.  Their ability to bob and weave at the same time makes them a challenging target.

A little pre-season practice on the skeet, trap or sporting clays course will go a long way toward improving ones shooting skills. An inexpensive mechanical trap or hand held thrower and an open field can help.  Try tossing clay birds to present targets coming toward the gun, crossing and doing things that the little gray rockets are likely to do.

Steve Schultz, a national shooting instructor, maintains that good dove hunters work on their shooting style. Things such as looking only at the head of the bird when aiming and employing the correct mounting of a shotgun are important.

One “trick of the trade” employed by Schultz is to back away from a mirror with an empty shotgun so as to make sure you will not hit the mirror with the gun. With weight evenly on both feet, slowly bring the gun up to your cheek and then into your shoulder.  Check the mirror to see where your eye appears.  If done correctly, you will be looking right down the barrel.  Your eye should appear to be floating just above it.

Dove hunters are encouraged to use steel or other non-toxic shot in order to spare doves and other wildlife from potential lead poisoning. Number 6 or 7 steel shot works well with shotgun chokes one size more open than used for lead.  Improved cylinder is a good idea.  If using lead shot, number 9 shot is the most popular.  Seven and one half or 8 can also be effective.

Usually individual shooting locations are determined by a drawing for stake locations. The hunter is required to remain within a short distance of his stake for safety.  On days when the hunting pressure is less or when no stake requirement is in force, a hunter is wise to choose a location that places him within 40 yards of the dove flight path.  Wind direction and structure on the ground influences flight paths.

It is wise to choose a location where you will not be shooting into the sun. Nothing spoils a shot like swinging into the sun just before you pull the trigger.

Once you select a location find concealment. Locations on the edge of grain fields or beneath a large tree with bare limbs are ideal.  Doves like to land in such trees to survey the field.  Once convinced there is no danger they drop down into the field to feed, or quench their thirst.

Make your location as comfortable as possible. Fidgeting only attracts attention.  Early September in much of Illinois is hot weather time requiring plenty of water and sunscreen lotion.

DO NOT FORGET FALL TURKEY SEASON   Leave a comment

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In fall high turkey numbers provide the opportunity and hunters need only provide the preparation. Success is when opportunity meets preparation.

The changing seasons mean an anticipation of fall turkey hunting success throughout the entire country. Midwest turkey hunters have hunted spring turkeys with great success and look forward to fall birds.

Many of the tactics used during the spring season also work in fall. The birds are just as wary and frustrating.  Hunters are quick to discover all hunting can be just as heart pounding.

There are a few more wrinkles to fall hunting. Turkey hunters should shoot their shotguns to make sure they are delivering the kind of pattern needed.  It is not unusual for identical guns and ammunition combinations to throw different patterns.

One of the turkey patterning kits made by Birchwood Casey simplifies the job. It contains turkey head targets at which the hunter shoots.  Once the turkey head is the center of the pattern, the hunter knows where his point of impact is in regard to the sight or scope of the gun.

Once the point of impact is determined, hunters can shoot shells with different pellet sizes, or from different manufacturers, to find the best load combination. Many companies make special turkey loads that have the right pellet weight combined with velocity needed to penetrate the vitals of a turkey.  These loads deliver a pattern density that is superior and places more pellets in the vital zone of the turkey target.

If shooting with a bead sight, the hunter might want to make the sight more visible. Birchwood has touch‑up pins in white or fluorescent red.  Once painted the sight is brighter and more visible in low light conditions.

The calls, box, slate, glass and diaphragms, will work well in the fall, as they did last spring. Turkeys still yelp, cluck, purr and gobble.  The one addition is the young turkey’s “kee‑kee”.  This is the sound made by young‑of‑the‑year birds that are lost and looking to regroup.  You can produce this high pitched call with a diaphragm call or one of the aluminum calls.

Fall hunters begin by looking for birds where they found them last spring. The most difficult part of hunting turkeys in the fall is finding them.  Food sources such as acorns, corn or soybeans are a lure of fall birds.  During dry periods, water is a major attractant.  The fall birds tend to roost in the same areas they use in the spring.

Drive back roads, check harvested fields and talk with local landowners. The best times to locate turkeys are in the early morning and early evening.

Hunters who traditionally use a decoy in the spring leave it home in the fall. The turkeys usually ignore them except during the spring mating season.

Once a flock of birds, usually a family group of hen and young‑ of‑the year, are found they are “rushed”. The flock scatters as each bird takes an “everyone for himself” approach.  Once the action has quieted down, the birds begin to call to one another in an attempt to reassemble.  These flocks are large and can contain as many as 40 birds.

There are two other types of flocks in the fall. Males group in the summer and stay together until the following spring.  More rarely found are groups of barren hens.  The male groups can range in size from 3 to 15 birds and the hen groups are small and more difficult to find.

Once adult hens begin with their assembly yelps, the hunter takes up a position and allows the woods to calm down. He then begins calling by using yelps and kee‑kees to let the scattered and confused birds know where to find him.  As they begin to re‑assemble, the hunter can pick his quarry and concentrate on getting it into the range of his shotgun.

The fall season is usually an either‑sex hunt but one should still be sure of target identification. A safe and responsible hunter is sure of his target before aiming a gun at it.  Adherence to safe gun handing skills is an utmost priority.

While hunting fall birds is different, it is usually more successful from the hunter’s point of view. With advance preparation fall turkey hunting is an excellent way to get a bird for the Thanksgiving table.

 

 

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