FALL ACTION AT REND LAKE   Leave a comment

Fall comes later to southern Illinois.  But it is still a great time of the year.  The trees change colors weeks after the northern part of the state.  Chilly nights often give way to a hot clear sky during the day.  Fall is a study of contrasts for the hunter and angler.

The fishing for crappie is terrific on Rend Lake during fall.  Although the weather determines how long into the winter it continues, anglers willing to brave cooler temperatures continue throughout the fall.

Rend Lake is a reservoir located on Interstate 57 about 5 hours south of Chicago.  To get to the state park boat ramps exit at Highway 154 east and proceeds to the entrance of Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park.  Proceed north on the road.

The fourth quarter of the year in southern Illinois is a great combination time in the Rend Lake area.  There is archery deer season beginning the first of October and yet fishing action is still great.  By the third week in November the duck season begins and still the fishing continues.

Fishing into December is not unusual. But, the main focus is waterfowl hunting and the firearms deer seasons.  In early November hunters enjoy rabbit and quail hunting as the Upland Game seasons open.

The quail hunting is for wild birds. Rabbit hunting is with beagles. If you have never experienced the beagle hunt is it worth doing just to see those little dogs in action.  There is commotion everywhere.  It is just a fun thing to do.

Fall is actually a great time of the year for the outdoorsman. He can pretty well do it all.

A fisherman need not necessary to get out on the water as early as might be the case in the late summer. In the fall one can usually have breakfast and be on the water by about 8 o’clock in the morning.

Deer hunting can be on both public and private land. The ample public land available in southern Illinois provides many deer hunting opportunities.  Private land hunts are for quality deer hunting and clients enjoy some pretty spectacular results.

 

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TIPS FOR TRAILING A WOUNDED DEER   Leave a comment

You have scouted the property, stalked your trophy, waited endless hours in a treestand for the right moment, and shot true for a quick, humane kill.  Now you have waited to make sure he is down and it is time to see your deer up close.  Your breath comes in short spurts as you move closer to the place where last you saw him.  But, there is nothing there except some ground that was disturbed by his leaving the area.  What now?

The first thing to do is “don’t do anything.”  Look around.  Wait for at least a half hour.  This gives the animal time to bleed, stiffen up and to die.  Is there blood on the ground?  If not, it is time to reconstruct your shot.  You owe it to your quarry to make every effort to recover any wounded animal.

Relive that fateful moment when you first shot.  Where was the animal standing?  Use makers of trees and bushes to be precise as to location.  Remember that the land looks a different at ground level than it does from a treestand.  That is why it is important to use marking points such as trees, rocks and shrubs to pinpoint locations.  What did the animal do when you shot?  When you last saw it, which way was it going?  As you listened after it disappeared from sight, did you hear it crash.  If so in what direction did the sound seem to come from?

As you rerun the incident in your mind, remember how the deer reacted.  If it jumped straight up or fell and then ran off low to the ground with its tail tucked down, the hit was good.  It will probably expire immediately and is lying close at hand.  It is a good idea to wait about a half hour before following up just to be safe.

If the deer hunched its back and ran or walked away, it is probably gut shot.  If left alone the deer will usually remain where it first beds down and will expire there.  However, if disturbed before it expires, the deer may run off and you stand a chance of losing it.  You might even have to follow it for miles.  It is better that you leave it alone for several hours before following up the trail.

The third scenario is one where the deer runs a few yards and looks around.  It might even continue feeding.  You probably missed.  If there is no blood on the ground or bushes, you missed.

Once you decide that there is blood of hair on the ground in the area where you last saw the deer, it is time to analyze the hit.  Following a wounded deer is a slow and deliberative process.  If it is night time, a gas lantern is best as it highlights the blood spots on the ground.  Place a piece of aluminum foil on the side of the lantern toward you.  It helps direct the light toward the trail and out of your eyes.

In the case of hair, it is important to decide where the hair came from on the animal.  White hair usually means a chest or belly hit.  Darker hair means a vital or muscle area hit.

If there is blood on the ground, examine it.  If there is the unmistakable odor of feces in the blood, then you have gut shot the animal.  The result is that you should wait several hours before proceeding to follow the trail.

If you find blood that is thin and pale, it probably came from a superficial or flesh wound.

Blood that is bright red with bubbles means that you have a lung hit animal.  Look for tracks and stirred up leaves. Your deer is probably nearby.

As you follow the trail, mark each place where you find blood or tracks.  Blaze orange surveyor’s tape or toilet paper comes in handy for marking.  At some point you may lose the trail or the blood might just quit leaking out of the animal.  You will be able to go back to the tape or paper trail and start again using the trail to steer you in the right general direction.

Large pools of blood on the trail usually mean that the deer stopped or even lay down at that spot before moving along.  Often the animal may change directions.  It is important to look in all directions from the pool of blood for a trail to follow.

Another factor that might cause the deer to change directions is a steep hill, roadway, fence line, or open field.  They will usually follow where the land is flat or downhill and with cover.  Often they will lie down in that cover.

If you cannot find the blood trail, try working in circles from the last spots.  Begin with small circles and work into ever enlarging ones.

All of the above supposes that the weather does not change radically and snow, rain or heavy wind conditions move in to conceal the trail.  Other hunters, dogs, coyotes can also stumble upon the animal and it will run off when it would otherwise lay down and die.

Animals such as crows, magpies and jays can alert the hunter to a downed animal.  They are attracted to the carcass and make a lot of noise.

Making a clean humane kill is the goal of all hunters.  Sometimes things go wrong and you might have to follow up on a wounded animal.  It is a challenging experience but a rewarding one when you are able to find the deer and bring it out of the woods and home to your family table.

 

DOVE HUNTING TIPS   Leave a comment

Dove hunting is a great warm up to the other small game and bird hunting coming later. Here are some tips for preseason preparation.

Decoys are vital to hunting doves. Use them creatively.  The most common placement is with a few on the ground and others on fences or bare tree limbs above water holes.  Another technique is to bring an artificial tree with you.  It can be commercial or homemade.  With your decoys already placed in the tree you can place it wherever the flight path of the birds seems to be on that day.

To make decoys more lifelike cut a small hole in the underside. Insert some BB’s and seal the hole.  On the upper side attach some fishing line that goes back to a rod and reel.  You can cast the decoy over a bare branch and reel it into a point where the belly of the decoy looks like it is perched in the tree.  The BB’s keep the decoy upright and looking like it is perched on the branch.  This allows you to place decoys higher than would normally be possible.

Doves are cautious birds. Approaching a water hole it is common for them to land on nearby power lines or the bare branches of dead trees.  From there they can survey the area for danger before landing on the ground to feed or drink.  The cunning hunter will place himself concealed in full camo or in a blind within range of the area.  As the birds fly down they present a slower target than as they do flying past.

Wait until the birds are within 25 to 30 yards from you position. This saves on ammunition and also provides the opportunity for a second shot before a missed bird gets out of range.

Use of a retriever dog aids in fewer birds lost on the ground. The dog will follow wounded birds wherever they hide.

Instinctive shooting is better than trying to lead the bird. The birds dip, dive, and seldom present a shot for which you can set up.  This is point-and-shoot hunting.  Early in the season number 8 or 9 shot seems best.  Later when not hunting local birds but rather migratory birds come into play you can move to number 7 shot.  The latter extends the distance for an effective shot.

The less you move around the less the chance of a scaring birds away. Sometimes staying still is difficult due to the presence of mosquitos.  Use effective repellants to keep away the bugs.

Two final tips are to use the latter days of the season when hunting pressure is lighter and to hunt alone with your dog. Early on with pressure from big parties of hunters the birds are flighty and the shooting difficult.  Once the early pressure lessens doves tend to get careless and present some fine hunting action.  Frankly late season hunting is a more pleasurable hunting experience.

LURES FOR FALL CATFISH   Leave a comment

It is no secret that catfish will eat almost anything. Anglers are adding the artificial lures to their arsenal of more traditional catfish baits.  There are the plastics impregnated with attractants.  And then there are the chemical mixtures of both natural foods and various other ingredients.  Even crankbaits and other hard body lures are coming into use.

Both flathead and channel catfish will attack artificial lures.  Beginning in late summer as the water temperature gets into the 80’s and low 90’s channel catfish move to the shallow water up tight against dams.  The flatheads move to the deep holes.  In both of these areas, catfish will take an artificial lure.

Using bass fishing techniques to catch flatheads, a fisherman begins by trolling with a trolling motor on his Jon boat.  By trolling over holes modern electronics help him spot fish on the bottom.  Experience says flatheads about to go on a fall feeding spree.

Look for structure in the holes.  Submerged trees, rock structure or any other kind of “home habitat” that flatheads are known to frequent.

Bounce jigs right on their nose.  Use a 2 ounce jig with a salt craw attached.  In order for the fish to take it the jig has to be right on him.  Not being a bottom feeder by nature, the flatheads eyes are located to find food slightly above it.

Late summer also means low water conditions on most rivers.  Cats, be they flathead or channel, seek out deep water, fast running well oxygenated water, or both.  Beneath most dams are deep holes created by the water cascading from one level to another.

Anglers have long known that casting up under the dam they can catch fish.  But, few try it with a small jig.  A 1/8 ounce leadhead with a dark plastic grub body will do a good job enticing channel catfish.

With care, the shore angler can catch nice cats, holding in the highly oxygenated water found below dams.  One needs to exercise extreme care in this fast flowing water with all the washed out holes.

Over on the Ohio River flowage, some anglers use crankbaits to catch fall cats.  They get their boats right up in the shallow water at the dam and then cast floating Rapalas.  The river flow helps to provide action to the lure.  The #13 and #18 are most used.  Blue is the preferred color.

The use of artificial lures to catch catfish is relatively new. But we will probably hear more about them in the future.

 

DEER DECOY A DOUBLE EDGED SWORD   2 comments

White-tailed deer are social as well as territorial animals.  A popular tool in the hunt for trophy whitetails has become the deer decoy.  Do they really work? The answer is yes on occasion but they may also create a problem situation.

Sitting in a treestand overlooking a flood plot with a buck decoy standing guard is a perfect scenario. That is until out of nowhere a rutty buck springs into action.  From out of the brush he charges the decoy.  His antlers lowered, he smashes into the foam decoy scattering pieces in an explosion.  The incident takes only minutes and the surprised deer is gone back into the concealment of the brush.

Arguably the decoy worked but not in the way the hunter planed. Planning in the placement of a decoy is still an effective tool.

Decoys that are a part of the environment and have a natural look to them certainly fool deer.  The more techniques one uses in placement and blending of a decoy the better the chance it will fool a deer.

Perhaps the best time to use a decoy is during the rut. During the rut, deer are very territorial.  Bucks constantly make and check their scrapes.  Near a scrape is a great place to place a decoy.  Be sure to place the decoy so that it is not looking at your stand.  Any deer approaching will look in the direction that the “stranger” decoy is looking.  You can use the decoy to divert the attention of the other deer away from a stand.  It is important for the hunter to pick camo that blends into the background, not the foreground.  The idea is to keep the deer focused on the decoy, not the hunter.

Placement of a decoy can maneuver the deer into a position for a shot.  One can use a blowdown or other structure to move the deer as he tries to get a good look at the decoy.

A bedded doe decoy is good for this type of action.  Bedded doe decoys have a calming effect on an approaching buck.

Another set up is to place a buck and doe decoy together on the edge of a corn stubble field or grass field.  By placing them at the edge of the field it is possible to pull in a deer that is entering an open area.  With the buck standing and the doe bedded it presents the appearance of a buck trying to get a doe to stand.  During the rut, bucks breed does as long as they will stand.  A dominant buck will attempt to run off the buck decoy so as to be able to take over the doe.

It is important that the decoy buck have a small rack so as not to intimidate any arriving buck.

Although decoying is basically a visual situation, scents and calls are sometimes used.  It is not essential to use scents or calls.  Some hunters just like to cover all the bases.  If using a scent the best one is from the tarsal gland or a mild buck scent.  It is important to wear rubber gloves when handling the decoy so as not to leave a human scent on the decoy.

Human scent is scary to a deer.  Some hunters leave their decoy out in the elements just to reduce the chance of human scent on it.

In using a call, again the best plan is to use it as little as possible so as not to scare off an approaching buck.  When a big buck comes to a call, it is expecting to see another deer.  If it does not, then he becomes suspicious.  The best plan is to use a doe bleat interspersed with a buck grunt.  If you get a response from another deer, quit calling immediately.  You don’t want to distract the deer from the decoy.

Decoying deer is another tool, not an end all, for the deer hunter.  With a little common sense the results it brings is a pleasant surprise.

FISHING WITH CANE POLES   Leave a comment

 

We often refer to the basics of fishing as a rod and reel and some terminal tackle. Yet there is nothing more “basic” than fishing with a cane pole.  To many it began a fishing career and a lifetime of fond memories.

Today’s fishing poles and rods come in a seemingly endless variety of lengths, materials and shapes. Yet, they all owe their beginnings to the cane pole.  Early anglers simply chopped down a bamboo or river cane stalk, tied a line to it containing a fishing hook baited with an insect or worm.

Back in the “stone age” when I was a youngster, my grandmother introduced me to the pleasures of fishing with a bamboo pole on a tailwater below the Mitchel Dam in northern Iowa. I was probably about 4 or 5 years of age.  We only caught one fish that day but it was a bass of about 6 or 7 pounds.  We did put it on the scale but I have forgotten just how much it weighed.

That summer I was allowed to fish with the bamboo pole at a creek on her farm and in the horse tank where she released some bullheads. It was a great summer.

Anglers can use a cane pole out of a boat, from shore, or from a dock. It works in rivers, streams, creeks, ponds and lakes.  Its limber nature allows one to notice the slightest jerk from a fish.

You can keep the short line tight with a couple of sinkers and when a fish nibbles, one just jerks straight up. Jerking quickly is best.  But, don’t try to rip their lips.

The angler with a cane pole has to contrive to catch fish within the limit of the poles’ reach. That reach is only the length of the pole and line, less the distance from the butt to the grip.  Without a float (bobber) this distance could be as much as 20 feet.  But, as the bait sinks, the distance gets less due to the bait swinging in a pendulum fashion back toward the angler.

Without a float, the angler can lower the pole until it is horizontal with the surface of the water. That will place the bait roughly 10-feet deep.

A cane pole requires an angler be stealthy when approaching fish due to the limit of their tackle. He must read shoreline water and know where to find fish.  The shoreline also tells them what kind of bottom to expect.  Different species of fish like different bottom structure.

Cane pole fishermen might look for short stretches of rocks and gravel. Or for largemouth he might pick the weedy shoreline in low places where black dirt and vegetation is visible and where areas off shore are over grown.  The vegetation might be lily pads, coontail, cattails and rushes.

Areas below bluffs would be perpendicular and go to a depth beyond reach. It is vital to find areas of modest depth reachable by this equipment.  It serves as home to forage fish upon which game fish can feed.

Use care to avoid spooking the fish in clear water situations.  Shallows containing lots of emergent vegetation or weed beds provide the angler some concealment and a better chance of getting closer to fish.

The kind of bait used or strength of line varies according to the angler’s preference and species he is seeking.

For some it is fun to return occasionally to cane pole fishing and meet the challenge it presents. Such anglers experience the peace and tranquility of a type of fishing many of us grew up experiencing.

 

PUBLIC LAND HUNTING PLANS   Leave a comment

Hunters should not look to public land hunting as a last resort. As someone who does not have access to private land and not the time to manage a private lease, there has been a need to resort to making productive use of public lands.  The average hunter ignores many acres of public land.

Public land located near home can be a savior of quality time spent afield. Maybe we could call them “stay hunts.”  Many of us are familiar with the “staycations” that have become popular due to the present economic situation.  With proper planning and care to details quality hunting opportunities are available.

Pre-season scouting is helpful. However, it is not always possible to get out to the hunting area ahead of time.  No matter where it is located all hunting areas are on a map.  It can be a topographical map, GPS map, highway map, county highway department map or even something published by local wildlife agencies.

Become familiar with the land regardless of species sought. Learn the location of natural structures that effect wildlife.  Find food plot locations and in general find areas game is likely to prefer.

Maps also aid one in locating the most remote portions of the property often overlooked by hunters. Game is not likely to stay near parking lots and roads.  Hunters quickly use those areas first.  Search out the dirty, thick cover where game hides during times of hunting pressure.  Cattail swamps, briars, weed fields and such are where most public land hunters will not readily enter.

It is common logic that would lead one to hunt public areas during the week. On the weekends and in the early days of any species specific season you find the heaviest hunting pressure.  Toward the very end of the season you may even have the entire area to yourself.

If you cannot hunt during the week, use the hunting pressure to your advantage. Movement of other hunters often drives game.  Figure where that game is most likely to move and set up your hunt accordingly.  It helps to be aware of any hunting that is likely to be going on in adjoining land.  Hunters there may drive game onto public land.

Know the exact boundaries of the public land to avoid trespassing fines. Trespassing can get expensive if the landowner is not understanding of your mistake.  Fines are high.  It is good to know the location of buildings and livestock areas.

Just because it is taxpayer land does not mean that you can do anything you want to it because your taxes paid for it. We all share the land.  In most cases it is first come first serve on a hunting spot.  It you are hunting an area and come across another hunter, do your best to avoid him or interfere with his hunting.

On the flip side, if you are hunting in an area and see another hunter approach, make sure he knows you are present. The best practice is to whistle or shout.  Once you have his attention, wave you hand to make him aware of your location.  If he is considerate, the other hunter will move off and make way for both of you to have your own areas.  Do not let rude behavior, yours or his, ruin your day.

Some hunters stay away from public land hunts and that is their right. But, just because it is public land does not mean that it is not a good place to hunt.  Common sense and courtesy go a long way toward you and other hunters enjoying a great day afield.

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