Late April Crappie Fishing Trip
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Spring is definitely ahead of normal pace and the near-spawn hungry and shallow crappies are proof. We took advantage of light(-ish) winds yesterday – necessary to survive big lake adventures in a canoe – and headed out with 3 dozen minnows in the aerated 5-gallon bucket. It took over 3 hours to locate some brush with any receptive fish, but we finally did. The males were scattered along a 40-50 foot stretch of brushy shoreline and the larger females were staging 10-15 feet further offshore in 3-4′ deeper water. We landed around 15 with 5 throwbacks. The keepers ranged from just 1/8-1/4″ over the 9″ minimum to 2, 12″ers. 9 keeper crappie with one bonus bluegill in total.

Spring crappie fishing has become of the activities that I most look forward to because Raelyn enjoys it so much. The only thing that took us back to the boat ramp yesterday was her almost having a bathroom emergency. Hopefully this weekend’s rain and windy forecast does not put the rest of the crappie spawn fishing in jeopardy, because we’d love to get out a time or two more to keep stocking the freezer.

Pronghorn Hunting—What’s the Allure?
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This post is based on a conversation I had with dad about a month ago, and he shared some insights that I hadn’t quite pieced together in my own mind yet. I have always thought that pronghorn hunting should not be as fun as it is – stated another way, the experience of antelope hunting is always more fun and more enjoyable and more satisfying than you would predict given the old adage “anything worth having is worth working hard for.” Because let’s be honest – most of the time, a hunter does not have to work hard to fill his antelope tag.

For the Eastern white-tail hunter (long way of identifying hunters like my dad), it’s an ultra-packed compression of an entire season’s long effort into what could potentially boil down to a 60 or 90 minute episode of extreme intensity. At most, the entire 3 or 4 months of a deer season grind will play out over the course of 5 or 6 days; it amplifies, magnifies, swells – several low low lows, several high high highs. In course of an Easterner’s whitetail deer season, you might have a week or two or even a month to recover from a low before you replace that feeling with a high (only exception might be from instant you release an arrow, suspect a hit, and the drama-filled sequence to recovery). In pronghorn hunting, the months-long journey of a deer season transpires almost overnight, sometimes quite literally. That rollercoaster of emotion is what a pronghorn hunt is at its heart.

Pronghorn hunting is supremely enjoyable for adults, but think about the implications for introducing new hunters to the outdoors, or better yet – children and youth. It is exactly these sort of experiences that offer promise of action, animals, some shooting, and likely a filled tag. While punching tags should not be the end-all-be-all of any hunt, success sure goes a long ways in ensuring that introductory moment to the outdoors is a memorable one, and provides a taste that keeps young (can also be read new) hunters engaged, interested, and hungry for more.

Spring Smallies
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A buddy and I took the ol’ red canoe on its maiden 2017 voyage last Saturday. Even though we were both anxious to do a bit more spring deer scouting for next fall, the weather was just too perfect combined with solid water conditions to let go by the wayside. I took a simple approach from the first cast to the last – white Fluke Jr. on one rod and a small jighead with a 2” plastic greenish orange crawfish looking creature on the other. I ended up with 6 bites in a 6 hour float – not exactly on-fire fishing – and landed 4 fish. Five of my 6 bites came from within 10 feet of obvious rock and boulder structure, and all but one fish came on the jighead on a moderate speed up-down-up jigged retrieve. The highlight of the day was one of my best smallies ever, didn’t measure but I’d guess in the 16-17” range, as well as the diverse bird life that we encountered. Lots of paired off wood ducks, a great-horned owl that we bumped into twice, and the birding highlight – a stunning couple of black-crowned night herons.

Kodiak Winter Kill Update – Planning for 2017 Sitka Hunt
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As far as any more threat of significant winter kill on Kodiak, I think the deer get a reprieve until next year. This winter was nearly unprecedented, at least for recent decades, in terms of sustained bitter cold temperatures, but the precipitation that would have turned the island into a deer morgue never fell. Had it, kill-offs exceeding 50% of the total population would have almost assuredly been widespread with pockets of 70-90% mortality in particularly exposed portions of Kodiak. Thankfully, precipitation levels were below average – disaster averted for all hunters who took advantage of Alaska’s 2016 license/permit prices and booked Kodiak adventures earlier than normal.

Just last week, temperatures hit 50 degrees and the snow line is up above 600-800’ in elevation. Though there was some winter kill, mostly last year’s fawns, it was localized (reports seem to suggest ~50% of northwest corner of the island’s fawn crop is toast). I’ve heard multiple explanations from different folks on what reasons are truly behind die-offs on Kodiak Island, and though I don’t claim to know exactly which line of reasoning holds the most water, it is interesting.

To me, the one that makes the most sense (to me at least) is one twist on an ecological trap. To steal a definition from Wiki, an ecological trap is any scenario where rapid change in the environment leads organisms to actively select poor quality habitat. Browsing exposed alder and willow brush tips or any other available terrestrial forage would provide the highest quality nutritional profile for Sitkas in the dead of winter. However, when winter storms drop high snow amounts in short periods of time, deer are pushed down to the beaches. At low tide, beaches provide not only refugia from the deep snow but lots of green vegetation, kelp and seaweed that exposed by a receding tideline. Deer take advantage of an apparently fortuitous circumstance, but the trap lies in the extraordinarily low amount of nutrients provided by such aquatic forage. For deer already in poor and stressed condition, Sitkas literally starve to death on full stomachs.

(This hypothesis stands in slight contrast to a post I made 2 years ago on the blog regarding deer over-abundance which examined some data from another of Alaska’s seaward islands.)

For dad and I, we are still planning to hunt the northwest quadrant of the island, and I have not re-scheduled our drop location from the original alpine lake we chose. I will wait until the Kodiak game and fish biologists have had a chance to do spring surveys before contacting them to get one final verdict on how the Sitka deer population fared through the 2016-17 winter. In the meantime, here is a forum thread that I’ve followed the past month and there are a few other anecdotes floating around on the Interweb that provide some insight as well.

Quote of the Day
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“When you let yourself touch the pain and sorrow of live animals and trees as they become food and wood for humans, participating in that great mystery of recombination in which life dies only to bring forth new life. . .when you put your hands up to the elbows into the womb of nature through fishing, farming, hunting, logging, and tenderly caress the place from where life springs, lamenting as well when it departs its current shape. . .then truly is it difficult to reduce the world neatly into the quick and the dead, the knowing and the unconscious.”
-Ted Kerasote in his essay “Logging”

While I might not agree with every single nuance and implication of Ted’s statement, I do immensely enjoy reading his short works on environmental issues. In that he has achieved a pretty darn good sense of balance between use and preservation of the earth’s natural resources, he is certainly one of the good guys. As someone who actively participates in the cycle of life, I can personally attest that personal engagement does something to you, something positive, something that can’t be replicated in any other way.

Post-Season Deer Scouting — 5th Outing
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I don’t turn up something worth revisiting every time I go out for a scouting walk-about. That was certainly true this past weekend. Everything that looked decent on a map was covered in boot tracks, trash and litter, or treestands – sometimes all three in one!! Not that there wasn’t any deer sign, because there was, but there was nothing worth investing my time in hunting it this upcoming fall.

Though my most recent scouting outing was unproductive, I have stumbled across a few interesting things in past weeks – mainly as I’ve been out in eastern Ohio traversing some of the rights-of-way research plots I have established.

Pretty amazing what a little sugar sap will attract, even in 45 degree weather! This recently cut maple stump was crawling with flies and honeybees during the last week of March.

Poop! J-shaped turkey scat – classic shape and chalky coloration was worth the picture.

Road Shed!! 4th time in my life that I’ve spotted an antler from the truck window from a public road. I had just seen a forum post a couple days earlier where someone remarked on the unique “radial crown” geometry of antlers – a shape rarely found in nature. On a brushy hillside in eastern Ohio, a bleached “radial crown” jumped right out in contrast to the greening grass backdrop – even at the 55 miles per hour speed limit. A quick u-turn and verification via binoculars and I was on my way down the hillside to retrieve the antler. Decent 5 point side.

The other instances:

#1 came from a soybean stubble field on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. At a distance in the 300-400 yard range, my first “road shed” also still holds my furthest seen mark.

#2 came a day or two after a prescribed burn swept through some mature longleaf pines in rural Alabama. The sun-bleached antler was glowing white against that burnt, darkened ground.

#3 was sighted on a recently re-graded, re-seeded hillside on the west side of the Auburn, Alabama, municipal airport. I spotted it going to work one morning and foolishly thought I was the only person keen enough to notice it. When I came back through on my way home, it was gone.

Initial Gear Thoughts – Kodiak Island Hunting Trip
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One of the nicest things about the Kodiak Island trip is that dad and I won’t have to carry all our gear for a week on our backs. Hunting out of a base camp is not something I’ve done often, and the thought of being able to splurge on luxuries – like a book for rainy reading weather and a thermos to sip hot coffee from!! – almost makes me giddy. With a flight payload max double that of our body weights, we might even take 100 pounds or so of dry firewood from Kodiak proper into the alpine. Why not!?!?

Once our gear list finalizes and I go through the usual minutia of weighing each item, I’ll report a full equipment list, but these are my thoughts in the early stages. Bottom line–Kodiak Island is wilder and wetter and windier than anywhere I’ve ever hunted. If you go ill-prepared, misery will be your company (or worse).

There is no point elaborating on the “wilder” side of things other than to say we’ll be picking up bear spray and a portable electric fence to erect around camp from a vendor there in Kodiak City. An inReach or satellite phone is also on the To Buy list for basic communications with our bush pilot as well as the obvious but hopefully unutilized emergency capabilities.

The “wetter” nature of Kodiak Island is almost as famous as its brown bear population, and I’ll be making sure dad knows that any cotton apparel is subject to being burnt at the stake. I already picked us both up a Helly Hansen PVC rain jacket – not exactly as stylish as a Kuiu set of raingear, but the local word (meaning Alaskan, not Ohioan) on HH gear is unparalleled. Perhaps more important than trying not to get wet is having an efficient way of drying out once we inevitably do get wet. Enter the TiGoat WIFI stove – I just picked up a large off a guy on a classifieds hunting forum. Still debating on boot choice, but I’m leaning towards my standard Salomon’s since I’ll be able to dry them out when necessary.

The “windier” climate would likely trash any of the shelters I’ve hunted out of before and potentially lengthy periods of rainy weather is not a good mix with cramped living quarters. From the same guy as above, I actually made a combo purchase of the TiGoat stove with a Seek Outside Redcliff. The set-up was used a single time and he realized it was more spacious than what he needed it for. I dumped some serious change on this set-up, but the reviews are outstanding for having handled some of the nastiest conditions on earth. Both products are teetering on the “bombproof” ranking, and the entire shelter/stove weighs around 6 pounds.

More gear details forthcoming, and certainly the reviews are the real posts of interest. Patience, grasshopper.

I Bought a New Gun — 6.5 Creedmoor X-Bolt
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So I bought a rifle. I hemmed and hawed over a couple different centerfires, but ultimately settled on a known quantity – a Browning X-bolt Long Range Stalker chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. As far as caliber choice, I was torn between a 7 mm-08 and .270 Remington (same caliber as “Betsy”; the Boss-equipped Browning A-bolt that both dad and I shoot like a dream). Ultimately, my research led me down a slightly different path in interest of minimizing recoil, matching down-range trajectory with many of the long gunners, and placing cartridge accuracy above all. Behold, the 6.5 Creedmoor.

Ever since the last evening showdown with a big black bear in NW Montana in 2014, the temptation of upgrading rifles to be more compatible with proficiency in the 300-500 yard range has been fluttering around in my head. Dad’s A-bolt performs at that range, especially now that he has it topped with quality optics, and I wanted to join suit. That big bruin would have been dead to rights.

I won’t try to convince you why the 6.5 Creedmoor is better than a .308 and I won’t weigh the merits of the 6.5 CM versus the aforementioned 7 mm-08. Those debates have been had by far wiser rifle snobs than I. I will, however, tell you why I bought an A-bolt in the caliber I chose (besides the ridiculously good deal I got on it!!).

Barrel life…NOT!! Back to those rifle snobs, one of the favorite arguments against the 6.5 CM by .308 “homers” is that of abbreviated barrel life. I’m sure this is true if your weekends revolve around long-distance shooting matches – mine don’t (and won’t). For a hunter like myself, what’s the difference between a barrel w/ life expectancy of 3,000 shots fired versus 6,000? Zero.

Let me illustrate–if a guy totaled 200 lifetime takedowns of game with a single rifle in a single caliber and let’s assume a liberal 2-shots fired/kill average, there’s 400 shots. (An aside, dad and I went through a 20-round box of .243 Remington Core-lokt ammunition and logged 19 kills during one span in the mid-2000s in North Carolina!) If you own that rifle over 50 years and you consistently check your zero w/ a pre-season firing range tune-up, let’s assume a 10-shot average/year there. That’s an extra 500 shots. Let’s say you manage another couple firing sessions per year where you’re really stretching your limits and attempting to improve your mid-long range proficiency – let’s call those 15/shots/session, 30/year, over 50 years would be another 1500 rounds fired. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying 2 range session/year would make you an ethical and proficient long-range marksman; re-read above mid-range—this is the 300-500 yard range at which I’d like to become MOA-accurate). Long story long: 2,400 shots later, you’re dead of old age and your rifle still has some life left in the barrel. For the 99% of us, stop with the barrel life argument.

Knockdown…NOT!! Knockdown, smockdown. Place a bullet in the lungs, watch animal fall over quickly. I’ve never been infatuated with big calibers, wide-cutting broadheads, and heavy poundage bows. I watched my dad kill LOTS of deer with an old Fred Bear compound that slung aluminum arrows at the blazing rate of 167 FPS. Between dad and I, we’ve killed a couple hundred+ whitetail with the .243. There are guys that swear by the 7 mm-08 as a go-to youth gun for elk, and for crying out loud—the .30/30 still probably holds the record for most Western game taken in history. And for those interested, there are plenty of long-range guys tipping over muleys and elk at longer ranges than I’ll ever even practice with 6.5 CMs. I’ve always adhered to the “shoot something you shoot well” philosophy and then things like knockdown hardly ever matter.

So why did I choose the 6.5 CM?

First, accuracy. They are deadly accurate, match-grade precision and incredibly popular with the target shooting guys. Really anything <1 MOA will allow me to achieve my accuracy objectives at 500 yards, and it’s likely I’ll discover a factory load that performs in the 0.6-0.8 MOA range before it’s all said and done with. With a 26” barrel and “normal” rifle weight, I should be able to shoot it exceptionally well off bench or in field.

Second, ballistic trajectory. Also (and this is completely beyond my level of gun nerdiness), apparently some dimension of the bullet profile means that wind drift is significantly less in the Creedmoor than with other similar-grain bullets. I could throw up a wind drift chart or bullet drop figure, but this simulation tells the story best I think (full information here: Precision Rifle Blog). What’s important to know is that the simulation was “based on 0.25 MOA extreme spread, and good wind-calling ability, which means we’re able to call the wind speed within 1.25 mph 68% of the time, and within 2.5 mph 95% of the time.” Tall orders but you get the point–with a 6.5 Creedmoor, I should hit my target more often than with other “comparable” calibers.

Last, recoil. I’m a small guy and I don’t like recoil. The 6.5 CM is comparable or edges out all the above mentioned calibers in the different aspects I’ve mentioned so far. In this area, the 6.5 CM blows them away (except for .243 of course). Not that shooting a .270 is like cranking off an elephant gun, but did I mention? I don’t like recoil.

Can’t wait to start shooting it, but first need to settle on a scope to top it with. Well under 6 months until its first field test up on Kodiak Island!!

DIY Trail Camera Mount
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I’ve posted several DIY hardware projects on the blog before, and I came across another gem last week.

Blasts from the past:

DIY Euro Mount Hanger

DIY Industrial-Strength Wooden Treestand

And the reason for today’s post. I’ll be trying a couple of these out, although the screw-in feature makes them illegal to use on public lands in Ohio.

DIY Trail Camera Mount from Cambush on Vimeo.

Post-Season Deer Scouting – 4th Outing
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Two or three times I’ve stumbled on to such a high density of shed antlers that there is no doubt if you look 10 more minutes, you’ll find another, and with another 5 minutes of searching, another will materialize out of the leaf litter. One such occasion was a magical weekend in which myself, dad, and 2 friends picked up 42 antlers or deadheads from private ground on the Eastern Shore roughly a decade ago. It’d been a long time since I’ve been in that situation but it happened again last week. A bachelor herd of bucks had evidently called this open ridge home for the past couple months and the deep-cut trails and abundant sign was paired with a scattering of antlers. First one, then two, then a pair lying within 10 feet of one another (albeit from different bucks), and then a fifth and most impressively sized one to conclude. The cold weather ended up killing my cell phone battery in between the second and third pick-up, so my “as it lay” album is a little abbreviated.

I am already looking at my schedule and the weather to time another outing before green-up makes it too difficult to shed hunt (which is already and rapidly progressing with the amount of bush honeysuckle in the area). I am hoping that the big non-typical buck that we had pictures of throughout the season is cohabitating with the bachelor herd and another search yields one or both of his antlers.

Infolinks 2013