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, October 18, 2008

Time for some hunting tips

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, October 18, 2008.)

If you hunt from a camp, notice who
the most successful hunters are. They're the guys
who spend the least time in camp.

It’s time for some “pre-season” tips. You may already be hanging treestands and trail cameras, and doing all the rest that goes into scouting.

If you’re not, now is the time to get with the program before it gets any later. Here are some things to think about now.

1. If you’re a stand hunter, visit your stand a few weeks before the season. That’s the time to look for obstructions to your visibility and clear them away – or to add obstructions. Consider altering deer trails by placing barriers that guide deer to spots where you’ll have a shooting opportunity.

2. When you get to your stand on opening morning, get the noisy things you need to do done right away so that you don’t make any sounds once you’re settled in. Clear away the leaves, sticks and rocks from the spot you’ll stand in. Arrange your gear so that it will take minimal movement to reach it. Unwrap your snacks, and put them within easy reach.

3. Check over your equipment. Is your scope clear? Will anything interfere with drawing your bow or raising your rifle? Is there a shell in the chamber of your gun? Are your binoculars in focus?

4. Don’t limit yourself to one favorite stand. Remember that opening day is different than any other day. The patterns of deer may change once early season pressure is gone.

5. When stand hunting, never leave before the legal shooting time is over. Often, the best time of the day to kill a buck is the last minute of shooting light. I once saw a big, mature buck a minute or two before quitting time. I was disappointed that I couldn’t get a shot, but I’d rather have seen him than not seen him. Leaving 10 minutes early can easily cost you the buck of a lifetime.

6. Always carry a deer call, even if you don’t plan to use it, and even if you think it might scare deer away. You’ll get opportunities to try it out on deer that you don’t want to shoot. Use it to see their reactions. Sooner or later, you’ll gain confidence and have an opportunity to use it where it makes a difference.

7. Keep exploring new areas because property ownership and land uses change. When hunting a new area it pays in the long run to hunt a new stand each day for a few days. This is the fastest way to learn the deer movement patterns on that property.

8. Knowing the land leads to greater success. The more you know, the better luck you’ll have. Learn how to use aerial photos and topographic maps. Become familiar with where the ridgeline changes, where any old orchards are, where water sources are. Always review a topographic map before hunting. Even better, take one with you. If you wound a buck the map will come in doubly handy.

9. Think of hunting as taking a test. Review what’s important before going hunting each year – especially in the areas of hunting ethics and gun safety. Remember that being 99.9% sure of your target is not enough. Commit to safe and ethical practices before you go into the woods. Remember that when you hunt ethically and safely, and return home from a positive experience, you’ve passed the test.

10. Finally, the best tip to killing more game is to hunt more. Someone has said that the key to success in life is to show up. That goes double for hunting. Getting into the woods as much as possible is the guaranteed way to increase your luck. The most successful hunters are not lucky hunters. They’re out at daylight, come back after dark, and hunt in the rain. They’re the hunters who spend the most time in the woods and the least time in front of their TV sets. If you hunt from a camp, notice who the most successful hunters are. They’re the guys who spend the least time in camp.

Much more can be said, and usually is, but you’ll learn more by listening than by talking. That’s as true of hunting as it is anything else.

Friday, October 03, 2008

A riflescope worth considering

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, October 4, 2008.)

(This column is a follow-up from the July 12 column.)
Today’s debate is not about iron sights versus scopes.
It's about cheap glass versus high-end optics.

Lots of us, when we were kids, probably started hunting deer with a rifle that had open sights. Money was tight, so the iron sights that came on the rifle had to suffice until we could catch up to our cutting-edge friends who used a scope.

That first scope seemed like a miracle. It enabled us to see better in dim light and brought our targets several times closer, but we crossed our fingers in hopes that it wouldn’t let us down.

Scopes had their detractors. Old-timers often turned up their noses at them and warned us that glass was fragile and crosshairs were unstable. A scope might get knocked catawampus at the slightest bump. The contraption might get a dollop of snow on its lens, or fog up in the rain.

Now, a scope sits in the saddle of nearly every deer rifle because the advantages of today’s optical sights are huge and the drawbacks are minor. The argument is no longer about iron sights versus a scope. In fact, most new rifles don’t even come with iron sights. The debate is about cheap glass versus high-end optics.

A couple of months ago I promised a follow-up about a 3-9 X 42 Alpen Apex scope I mounted on my brother’s old .30-30, a Marlin 336 clone that was sold by Montgomery Wards. Alpen Outdoor Corporation, a relatively new company, is making binoculars and rifle scopes that every budget-conscious hunter would do well to take a look at.

The old rifle is special only because it belonged to my brother. I recently took it to Ontario in hopes of shooting a black bear with it, but that was not to be. (Some people think baited hunts give hunters too great an advantage. Not so – but that’s a subject for another time.)

What was to be, however, was a nice surprise on how well the scope worked on the rifle. It was easy to mount using Weaver rings. The gun is a lever action so I couldn’t bore-sight it, but that didn’t matter. The shots were on paper at 25 yards, and the adjustments quickly brought them into center. Finger-adjustable quarter-inch clicks for both windage and elevation were positive, and moved the point of impact predictably.

I sighted in the rifle at 50 yards. Even though lever actions are not famous for accuracy, the old rifle laid the bullets into a tight little 5-shot group represented by one ragged hole plus one “flyer” that was separated from the others by a tiny scrap of paper. At 100 yards, it will do very well.

What’s just as important is how the view through an Alpen Apex compares to famous-name scopes – like the much advertised and pricier American model that sits on my bolt action deer rifle. The clarity and brightness of the Alpen Apex is indistinguishable from the famous-name scope. Plenty of light arrives at my eye, thanks to the fact that every lens inside and out has multiple chemical coatings that prevent light from getting bounced around and lost on its voyage through the tube.

Often, even in name-brand scopes, you might see some distortion at the perimeter of the field of view. Not the Alpen Apex. The view is sharp right out to the edges, and it’s easy to center your eye in the path of light traveling through the tube. And the scope is guaranteed to be waterproof, fog proof and shockproof.

Alpen Outdoor Corporation was started in 1997 and is one of several new optics companies on the market. Its owner is a former executive in the sporting optics division of Bausch & Lomb. He knows engineering, sourcing and manufacturing. And he knows how to produce a quality optical instrument that exceeds what you’d expect for the dollars you spend.

No, I’m not suggesting you put a $50 no-name scope from a big box store on your rifle. That’s not the shelf where you’ll find Alpen scopes. But if you’re open to considering a new name in scopes, a little judicious shopping can save you some big dollars, and put you in the same league as higher priced scopes when it comes to performance.