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, April 19, 2008

What’s your style for spring gobblers?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, April 19, 2008.)
If you’re going through a dry period,
it’s time to broaden your approach.
Spring gobbler season is upon us, and it offers one of the longest seasons of the year. But many hunters enter the woods on opening day unsure of what it will take to call in an unpredictable gobbler. This year, what’s your approach?

Unpredictability is not always bad. Sometimes it works in favor of the hunter. My earliest experiences taught me that gobblers can be surprisingly easy to call in. You don’t need to be an expert caller, a seasoned woodsman, or a turkey biologist to hang those first few beards on the wall. In fact, a successful novice will often wonder why hunters think it’s so hard. After a few more turkey hunts the rookie will wonder why his luck changed.

Usually nothing has changed, and that’s the problem. The rookie got stuck on his first successful strategy. If you’re going through a dry period, it’s time to broaden your approach.

Turkey hunting strategies can be broken down to two basic styles. I call them the low-impact and the high-impact approaches. Everything else is a combination of these two.

Both approaches require you to become invisible in the woods. Begin with proper camo. Practice stealth. Be as silent as a bobcat sneaking through the woods.

Both approaches rely on woodsmanship. Being able to identify certain areas where turkeys will be comfortable is essential to success on a regular basis.

Both approaches resist the assumption that just because a gobbler is not sounding off, there is no gobbler nearby.

Other than that, the two styles differ.

The high-impact hunter is looking for a dominant breeder, and assumes the gobbler is looking for love. That dictates his approach.

He’s likely to open the hunt with shock calls – calls that trigger a vocal response from a gobbler. He might use owl calls, crow calls, hawk calls, coyote calls, even peacock calls. Any sound that penetrates the woods will often prompt the gobbler to reveal his position.

The low-impact hunter listens to the morning’s orchestra of songbirds as they awaken. Even if he doesn’t hear a gobbler, he knows that the gobbler might be as active as the conductor of the orchestra – but just as silent. The bird might not be looking for love, but will be looking for companionship, or to satisfy dominance. The gobbler might not make a sound, and that doesn’t mean he can’t be called in.

The low-impact hunter knows that loud shock calls might reach out a mile or two, and get gobblers to answer beyond the hunter’s own hearing range. If they do, he may only be helping other hunters. So, he’ll often allow the woods to awaken naturally. Our woods have plenty of owls, crows and hawks, and the low-impact hunter lets them sound off on their own.

The high-impact hunter thinks the gobbler is driven by instinct, and he’s right. That makes him an aggressive hunter. He uses all the calls and tactics in his tool box, wanting to make sure he gives the gobbler something that flips his love switch on.

The low-impact hunter also knows the gobbler is driven by instinct, but not just the mating instinct. He tries to capitalize on the gobbler’s inborn anxiety. So, the low-impact hunter hunts as though the gobbler is always on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

The high-impact hunter is an aggressive caller. He covers lots of ground and does everything he can to get a gobbler’s attention. A loud box call is his best friend. He doesn’t worry about making perfect sounds, because turkeys aren’t always good callers.

The low-impact caller also knows his calls don’t have to be contest-winning quality. He might rely more on slate calls and diaphragm calls, using them softly and sparingly.

The high-impact hunter and the low-impact hunter both carry home their share of gobblers, but most of the best hunters use both styles. The high number of hunters in the woods on weekends might dictate a low-impact hunt, but on weekdays the high-impact approach can be very productive during the first half of the season. Make it your goal this season to learn what works best for you, and when.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

He Has Rambled On Ahead

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, April 5, 2008.)
He was one of the world’s best at photographing
the beauty and symmetry of individual snowflakes.
What do you say when you’ve lost a hunting partner? What do you say when it’s your brother?

I know I’m not alone. As time goes by the hunting population ages, and each day people lose more and more campmates, fishing buddies and outdoor heroes. And although brothers are irreplaceable, when they leave this world at 48 years it’s a tragedy – especially when they leave a couple of young outdoorsmen behind, ages six and nine.

Although Andy was younger than I am, I looked up to him as a big brother. Of all my siblings, he was the rambler, the one with wanderlust. When he left Pennsylvania for Alaska in 1991 he broadened my world, opening the way for me to fulfill a childhood dream of hunting Alaska. Our experiences together are today all the more valuable, and two big sets of moose antlers testify to Andy’s skills as my Alaskan guide.

When in the valley of the shadow of death, people tend to look at a person’s positive qualities and overlook his deficiencies. But also when in that sorrowful valley we realize how insignificant those faults are, and how glaring our own seem. We remember that we all have shortcomings, and we realize again what a mistake it is to hold on to our grudges.

Andy had lots of special skills, and all of them intersected with the outdoors. Through his expert photography he recorded and preserved family activities – hundreds of pictures that will become more precious as time goes by.

He was one of the world’s best – and that’s no exaggeration – at photographing the beauty and symmetry of individual snowflakes, a thousand times larger than real life. No one who sees one of these photographs can avoid a closer look. (If you want to see them, check out his gallery at www.AndySorensen.com where you can gaze to your heart’s content, and maybe even buy one.)

He was one of Anchorage’s best fishermen. All who fished this world-class urban fishery knew him and admired his ability to catch 40 to 50 pound king salmon on fly tackle. I saw him doing “the Andy run” more than once, yelling “Fish on!” as he chased a giant chromer down Ship Creek to keep it from stripping all his line. Everyone would immediately abandon the “combat fishing” mode and move aside out of respect for Andy as he fought yet another impressive king.

Some people make repeated trips to Alaska and never catch a king salmon. Thanks to Andy’s help I caught two a couple of years ago, and Dad landed one that was near 50 pounds. Andy’s son Erik, the first time he ever wet a line for king salmon, waded amidst diehard fishermen while he tossed his fly into the water and landed a nice king on his very first cast. Grown men stood with mouths agape. That could happen only to Andy’s son.

Each summer in Anchorage, there is a King Salmon Derby in Ship Creek. Lots of people thought Andy was a likely winner, but he never did win it. Last summer, however, he coached a young lady to a first-place win in the women’s division. She now brags on Andy as “The King of Kings.”

That’s a name Andy cannot accept, because he knew the one who really is the King of all earthly kings. Today, Andy has again rambled on ahead, and is now standing waist deep in a stream somewhere learning new techniques from that King while he waits for the rest of us to catch up.
Andy, with a 40-pound king salmon.