Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Outdoor Shows: A Sure Cure for Cabin Fever

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Jan. 19, 2008.)
Offset Groundhog Day pessimism by heading
for one of our area outdoor shows.
In a couple of weeks Punxsutawney Phil will probably forecast that old man winter isn’t ready to release his wintry grip. You’ll then be wondering how to cope with that dreaded disease of cabin fever, and what medicine that will break that fever. You could go ice fishing, snowmobiling, skiing or coyote hunting, but if those activities don’t appeal to you, what then?

You can offset Groundhog Day pessimism by heading for one of our area outdoor shows. The shows may not bring an end to winter, but seeing the latest hunting and fishing equipment, talking to outfitters, looking at the taxidermy they have on display, telling stories and debating the finer points of hunting and fishing can be a day well spent.

Here in northwest Pennsylvania we have lots of good options in sport shows. An easy drive will take you to some of the nation’s top shows where you can attend seminars to improve your hunting and fishing skills, get some good deals on new outdoor products, and meet professional guides promoting their trips. So mark your calendar, grab a friend and go.

Sport shows are a great place to begin investigating options for that hunting or fishing trip you dream of. Yes, guides and outfitters are there to promote their services, but they know the public relations game is also important. The small price of admission buys their time.

Even if a trip isn’t in your immediate future, it’s never too early to begin meeting outfitters and collecting their brochures. By eavesdropping on the questions other people ask, you'll pick up tips on what to ask when you get serious about planning your own trip, and you’ll develop realistic expectations.

National conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation often set up booths at outdoor shows. They’re explaining their goals and signing up new members. You can also get better acquainted with state and regional organizations. Consider joining one or two that align with your personal interests.

This is a good time to add to your inventory of hunting, fishing and camping equipment. Representatives from some of the biggest manufacturer's, plus smaller creative entrepreneurs, are there to demonstrate their products. You can see, hear, touch (and sometimes smell) their wares. The latest camo, game callers, bows, rods, reels and scents are plentiful at the shows. Take along a backpack or shoulder bag – and a little cash to spend on things to put in it.

The closest shows are the Erie Sport & Travel Expo, February 29 through March 2 at Erie’s new Bayfront Convention Center, and the Western New York Sport & Travel Expo, March 6-9 at the Hamburg Fairgrounds just south of Buffalo. Besides outfitters from all over the world, both of these shows feature Musky Hunter Magazine field editor Larry Jones, plus duck and goose calling contests, buck scoring and lots of activities for kids. In addition, you can attend seminars on fishing, in-line muzzleloaders, and shed antler hunting.

Also nearby is the Kinzua Outdoor and Travel Show at the Bradford Mall, February 22-23. As small shows go, this is a good one. Also within easy driving distance are the Allegheny Sport, Travel & Outdoor Show February 13-17 at Pittsburgh's ExpoMart, and the Cleveland Sport, Travel & Outdoor Show March 12-16 at the I-X Center near the Cleveland Airport. These shows always have plenty of exhibitors and outstanding seminars.

If you want to immerse yourself in the largest show of its kind anywhere in North America, it’s the Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show February 2-10 at the State Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This huge 9-day show draws about a million people and features enough exhibitors, contests and auctions, clinics and seminars, plus activities for children, to keep you busy for a couple of days.

Mid-winter sportsman's shows are cabin fever fests for the entire family – and a sure way to chase away the winter blues while you wait for the spring turkey and trout openers.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Where are the 'Booners'?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Jan. 05, 2008.)
It takes a cagey whitetail to stay alive
for 3½ or 4½ years in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania’s current deer program has encouraged high expectations. As a result, conversations at sporting goods counters, gun clubs, and Internet message boards sometimes turn to the question of whether Pennsylvania can become a “Booner” state.

Will Pennsylvania -- like Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and others -- regularly produce whitetails with antlers big enough to qualify for the Boone and Crockett record book?

Don’t get your hopes up. Currently Pennsylvania ranks low (about 33rd) in the number of bucks entered in the B & C book. Many factors come into play, including season length and timing, number of hunters and state game regulations.

But if you doubt that Pennsylvania deer have the genetics to produce record book antlers, take a look at areas such as Allegheny County. That area has long been producing big bucks largely because limited access to huntable land keeps bucks safe long enough for them to reach maturity.

Another place to look for a glimpse of the genetic antler capability of Pennsylvania bucks is photos of deer that old-timers killed before World War II, and before the hunting population took a sharp turn upward. A few old books show pictures of deer racks that will make drool dribble down the chins of most hunters today.

Those ancestors of today’s deer had two advantages. (1) They lived in an era when comparatively few hunters pursued them, not the million hunters we have today. And (2) the forested areas of the state were more remote, giving bucks room to escape and places to live to old age.

Our deer may not have the very best in antler genetics, but evidence shows that the genetics in Pennsylvania are strong. Still, when you see large antlers, and when you see small antlers, it’s more likely a reflection of the deer’s age than his genetics. A buck’s genes are built in at conception. As a spindly yearling and at 5½ years, his genes are the same. Age and nutrition are what allow him to show his stuff.

Genetics are what they are, and the Game Commission cannot control genetics. But even with good antler genetics, Boone and Crockett bucks will never be common in Pennsylvania. Why?

First, even in the best “trophy” states, most bucks don’t achieve the potential of their genetic endowment. So hunters in those states are not killing as many record book bucks as a glance through hunting magazines might lead you to believe.

In American states and Canadian provinces known for producing record whitetail racks, realistic trophy hunters are happy with far less. To hunt in Saskatchewan, home of the world record typical whitetail (with 213-inch antlers), hunters spend several thousand dollars every year. They bring home impressive 140-inch bucks, but that’s still 30 inches shy of what it takes to score the Boone and Crockett minimum for typical whitetails.

The second reason B & C bucks will never be common here is hunting pressure. Serious hunters hunt Pennsylvania hard, and some consistently kill 3½ and 4½ year old deer with very good racks. They’re representative of adult bucks from most places where deer have to face the rigors of a wild existence with food supplies that are unreliable.

It takes a cagey whitetail to stay alive for 3½ or 4½ years in Pennsylvania. A buck with three years of experience is much harder to kill (or even to get a look at) than a 1½ year old. A buck usually can’t produce its largest rack until he is at least 5½ years old, and a 5½ year old buck is ancient in this state.

Under today’s antler restriction policy Pennsylvania will not become a “Booner” state. But -- a few more B & C bucks will show up where they haven’t been seen in modern times. It has already happened. In 2005 a skilled hunter named Jim Riggle killed the first ever B & C buck to come out of Forest County -- a 189 4/8" non-typical -- but that doesn’t make Forest County a “Booner” county.

Will you or I ever get a Booner in Pennsylvania? Not likely. But the everyday hunter who hunts hard and smart now has a real chance of getting a few 120" bucks (nothing to turn your nose up at), and maybe a 130", a 140" or even bigger. That’s a far cry from Booner standards, but a dandy buck anywhere.