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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Prepare Now For Stubborn Gobblers

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, March 15, 2008.)
Even a king-size keister that rivals the size
of a hot air balloon isn’t as padded as it looks.
As I write this, it’s a little more than six short weeks until many Pennsylvania turkey hunters will be sitting, backs against trees, with a rock or root punishing their bottom sides. They’ll be wondering how long they can outlast a stubborn gobbler. It’s time to make a few decisions that will add to your stamina.

My worst case scenario was a couple of years ago. I had been working a mega-gobbler for almost 4½ hours when I chose a moment to adjust my position. Little did I know that the pigheaded gobbler was within shotgun range, screened by a patch of brush. He chose that exact moment to fly off the mountainside, and I never heard from him again.

All I was left with was the question of whether my backside would recover. My derriere hadn’t been punished that badly since Mr. Scordo gave me a whack in gym class way back in eighth grade.

It’s a wonder I didn’t get a bedsore from the ordeal. What I got was a lesson in failure. I didn’t pass the test of wills. In the four-plus hours I danced with that turkey, I could have walked home, watched Costner’s marathon movie “Dances With Wolves,” and waltzed back to continue the battle.

If you hunt turkeys enough, sooner or later you’ll have an experience like that. Hours will go by. You’ll long for the comfort of your easy chair. Now is the time to think of the things that will put you in a position to win the test of wills with a wily longbeard.

Probably the first place you’ll wish for relief is your bum, butt, or whatever you call that large muscle mass you sit on. Even a king-size keister that rivals the size of a hot air balloon isn’t as padded as it looks, and it’s likely to go numb after an hour or so. You can get a foam pad to sit on, or even a turkey vest with a drop-down seat. But these are almost nothing compared to a hunter’s seat.

BuckWing Products from Allentown, Pennsylvania makes one that will definitely keep you on your nether parts longer, and one day it will be the difference between carrying a gobbler home or not. It has folding legs that adjust to uneven terrain, keeping you above the rocks and roots, and making it easier to find a place to sit. It also keeps you off the ground, and therefore dry. And it keeps the seat of your pants from collecting dirt and depositing it on the seat of your truck.

Besides your basement, another place that can get rubbed raw is the roof of your mouth if you use a diaphragm call. Quaker Boy has solved that problem with its new “Foam Fit” series of calls. Instead of ordinary tape, these calls have a softer cushioned tape that seals against the roof of your mouth and prevents your palate from chafing.

Not many turkey hunters use a shooting stick, thinking they’re just for varmint hunters. But varmint hunters never hold the gun up for hours at a time. The right shooting sticks will do the job here, and some are inexpensive.

I’m a minimalist who tends to shun carrying extra baggage. I’m afraid I’ll leave something behind when I head to the next spot, make a tactical move on a bird, or carry a gobbler out of the woods. Too many times I have left behind decoys, box calls, and padded seats – and found things other hunters have left behind. That’s proof enough that traveling lightly has its advantages. But carrying certain comforts with you has its advantages, too.

Now is the time to consider what minor comforts will add to your stamina, and increase your odds of bagging the most obstinate gobbler. Hunting pressured gobblers requires certain sacrifices. If carrying an extra piece of equipment or two means carrying home a trophy gobbler, the sacrifice is worth it.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Hunter’s Random Thoughts

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, March 1, 2008.)
As ethical hunters we should have a short list
of things we’ll never do, lines we’ll never cross.
It’s Spring: Deer season doesn’t seem very long ago, and now we’re thinking and planning for spring gobbler season. The turkeys are gobbling. It’s time to begin scouting. When you have a couple of hours, get out in the woods to look for those three-toed tracks. Get out early to listen for those glorious, thunderous sounds.

Shed Antler Hunting: Don’t forget the other woods-wandering early spring activity – hunting for shed antlers. It won’t be long before this snow melts, and that’s the time to look for those clues that some bucks made it through the hunting season and escaped old man winter. But, you’re not likely to find antlers if you approach it randomly, or by scouring the open woods. Deer limit their movement during winter and spend very little time in the open woods. You need to concentrate your search on bedding areas, feeding areas, and the trails between.

Holier-Than-Thou: Lots of people think of a holier-than-thou attitude and religious nuts in the same thought. But lots of non-religious people have a holier-than-thou attitude. We find it in politics all the time – and even in the politics of hunting. “You should eat everything you kill” is one example. On the surface, it sounds right. And often people hold up Native Americans as the model. It feels good to think of Native Americans in that idealistic way. But Native Americans killed lots of animals they didn’t eat – even animals that they didn’t use. Sometimes they burned the habitat to encourage new growth, increasing the food supply for their game animals. In doing that, they killed non-game animals by destroying their habitat. This is merely a fact, not a criticism. None of us eat everything we kill.

An Anti-Hunter Strategy: The “eat everything you kill” attitude sounds like it’s a pro-hunting attitude, but it isn’t based on sound game management principles. It fails to recognize that the role of hunters is to be stewards of all wildlife – both game and non-game species. It actually divides sportsmen. It allows a few of us to feel righteous while anti-hunters attack us on the flank. And it's part of the anti-hunter divide and conquer strategy.

Hunting Is a Paradox: People have a hard time with the idea of paradox, and lots of wrong thinking results from trying to resolve paradoxes. Hunting is a paradox. Call it a blood sport if you want. Someone has said that hunting would just be hiking without the killing. Yes, it’s about killing, but it’s also not about killing. I’ve hunted plenty of days without killing, and I wasn’t just hiking. On almost every one of those days, the hunting was worth it. On many of those days, I’ve even been glad I didn’t kill something. If hunting is nothing more than primitive bloodlust, how do you explain that?

The Orange Rule: Since 1993, spring gobbler hunters in Pennsylvania have had to wear "A hat containing a minimum of 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange material, visible 360 degrees,… at all times when moving." That rule was recently lifted by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Members of the PGC were reluctant to make the change, but Pennsylvania was the only state with that rule and we had no clear evidence that the rule added to our safety. Bear in mind that the PGC took a risk in making this change. The risk is that if hunters get careless and accidental shooting incidents increase, we have only ourselves to blame.

Never, Ever: To those who say, “Never say never,” I say “Hogwash.” As ethical hunters we should have a short list of things we’ll never do, lines we’ll never cross. And at the top of that list should be five short, simple words: NEVER TAKE A RISKY SHOT. Never. Ever. Not one.