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, May 30, 2009

A Landlubber Discovers Lake Erie

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 30, 2009.)

Our haul tripled what other charters
out of Port Clinton, Ohio took that day.
I’m not particularly aquatic. You might call me a landlubber, a terrestrial. What I’m trying to say is I seldom go fishing.

But once in a while I can’t resist the opportunity to put a line in the water, so I’ve spent a few days aboard fishing charters. The first was off the coast of Cape Cod with a commercial cod fisherman.

We were using large, shiny, triangular jigs, bobbing them up and down off the bottom of the ocean. The day started out slowly. Someone asked the question, “How will we know when we get a bite?” The fisherman answered, “You’ll know, believe me, you’ll know.”

We didn’t know. The hits were so soft that none of us realized when we had a fish on. Bringing them to the surface was like reeling in an old sneaker. Things got interesting when we netted a few strange-looking bottom-dwelling creatures. Interesting, but not very exciting.

My next trip was to North Carolina’s Outer Banks where we joined with another vacationing family on a charter boat. I don’t remember what we caught, maybe because I didn’t catch anything. While others were boating some kind of small, silvery fish less than a foot long, I failed to hook any.

The hook I was using was terminally rusty, its business-end as blunt as a pirate’s peg leg. So, I asked the first mate if he would tie on a sharper hook. He touched the well-rounded point and jerked his finger away. “Ouch! You better be careful with that!” he cried. I didn’t get a fish and, it might be worth mentioning, he didn’t get a tip.

I’ve also fished Alaska. In the mid-90s my family hired a charter to fish for silver salmon in the Resurrection Bay off the Kenai Peninsula. The captain (I think this guy actually was a pirate) wanted to leave the marina without bait, figuring we’d somehow catch our bait and then start fishing for salmon. I persuaded him to send “Cutter” (his first mate, and a kid I wanted far away from my daughter) to buy some bait.

It didn’t matter much. He wouldn’t go anywhere near other boats that were catching salmon. Instead, he kept his boat in the deepest water. Even though his paying customers wanted salmon, Ahab was after sharks. Trying to build our enthusiasm, he claimed to have hooked a huge shark a few days earlier that dragged his tub all over the bay.

We caught a few small flounder, plus two or three little sand sharks that he insisted would become man-eaters if he didn’t kill them. And we saw some incredible scenery. That was the extent of this adventure. I’d caution against hiring this charter if I could remember its name, but it’s probably no longer in business anyway.

My next fishing trip was on Lake Erie in July 2006. I highly recommend Captain Pete Alex of Vision Quest Fishing Charters (www.dreamsteelie.com).

That day Lake Erie was whipped into whitecaps by high winds and rain. Still, we managed to catch some “eyes,” plus a few bonus smallmouth bass. Pete Alex can’t control the weather, but this very professional, highly knowledgeable fishing guide knows Lake Erie as well as anyone, and he proved he’ll work hard for you.

Then last week I went to the west end of Lake Erie on a trip for walleyes, and met another reliable charter captain, John Tucholski of J. T. Sport Fishing Charters (www.lake-erie-walleye-fishing.com). A light wind is needed for good drift fishing, and despite the calm weather John knew how to find the breezes.

John spent a little extra time until we limited out on tasty walleyes (including a 29½" Ohio state citation fish caught by my friend Jim Brys.) Our haul tripled what other charters out of Port Clinton, Ohio took that day. We landed with 130 pounds of fish to be filleted, and the fish cutter said the next biggest box of fish had been only 40 pounds.

It took this landlubber some years to find his way to Lake Erie. If you’re hunting for a great fishing charter, take my advice: you don’t have to go far from home.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

St. Augustine On Turkey Hunting

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 16, 2009.)

I once watched a gobbler stand
as still as a statue at 60 yards, for 45 minutes.
St. Augustine said, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” The sainted philosopher and theologian wasn’t talking about turkey hunting, but his advice is as good in the turkey woods as it is anywhere.

The longer I hunt turkeys, the more I realize that the biggest challenge a turkey hunter must overcome is a lack of patience. Lots of turkey hunters would quickly advance from novice to veteran if they practiced more patience. But patience is not always easy, and the lack of it shows up in many ways.

In fact, a lack of patience probably leads to most of the main mistakes turkey hunters make: calling too loudly, calling too much, moving too soon, and quitting too early.

Calling too loudly: If we know a gobbler is nearby but he isn’t answering our calls, we think he isn’t responding at all. Yes, he might have hens with him, or he might be coming to the call. Either way, we become impatient to get an answer and, thinking the gobbler might not hear us, we yelp louder.

Call softly – he can hear you. And don’t worry because plenty of gobblers go silent when they’re coming. By calling louder we make it easier for him to pinpoint us, and a gobbler that knows where the caller is will probably be a “hung up” gobbler. Don’t let impatience make you call louder. I don’t advocate never calling loudly, but calling softly is seldom a mistake.

Calling too much: If the gobbler gobbles only a little, we often assume he will gobble more if we call more. But the more we call the more eager he thinks the hen is to come to him. When he thinks he has an eager hen, he’ll probably come to where he thinks she can see him and strut there, expecting to reel her in. Call sparingly. Don’t respond to him; let him respond to you.

Moving too soon: Sometimes impatience leads to moving too soon. How long should we sit waiting for the gobbler to come to our call? Is 4½ hours long enough? On one of my hunts the answer was “no.” Five more minutes would have produced a dead gobbler. I know that for sure because he was close, and the moment I chose to move was the moment he showed up.

Quitting too early: Sometimes impatience leads to quitting too early. Several times I’ve had to stop working an active gobbler and leave the woods in order to be somewhere at a certain time. Wild turkeys don’t have that kind of schedule. Sometimes a gobbler will come to a calling location you’ve left or revisit that vicinity until it’s time to fly up to roost. More than once, I’ve returned at daylight to a spot that I left the previous morning to find the gobbler roosted right there. If I had stayed the previous day, I’d have added his beard to my collection.

These are four ways impatience works to the gobbler’s advantage. If I could eliminate all the mistakes my impatience has caused, I’d have given more gobblers a ride in my truck. How many, I don’t know. But one thing is sure – the more patient a turkey hunter is, the more successful he will be.

I once watched a gobbler stand as still as a statue at 60 yards, for 45 minutes. If I had made any of these mistakes, he would have kept his spurs. But that time, I had more patience than he did. And it prompts the question: How many times have I called gobblers in but didn’t know it because I got impatient?

St. Augustine is right. Patience is the companion of wisdom. That’s why it’s the turkey hunter’s number one virtue.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Press Release: Sorensen wins third "Whitetail Management Award"

Steve Sorensen (left) receives the "Whitetail Management Award" from Tom Tatum, awards chairman of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. Sorensen won this award for the third consecutive year.

Outdoor writer Steve Sorensen won the “Whitetail Management Award” at the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association annual conference in Oil City, PA on May 2. The POWA “Excellence in Craft” awards program honors writing, artwork and photography in several categories.

Sorensen won with an article entitled “Where are the ‘Booners’?” published in January 2008 in the Warren Times Observer and the Forest Press. This is the third consecutive year Sorensen has won the Whitetail Management Award, which is awarded for the best published piece dealing with management of the white-tailed deer, and is sponsored by Trupe’s Quality Hunting and Wildlife Management of Shinglehouse, PA. Each award is reviewed by a panel of judges, all independent of the POWA.

POWA is the largest state outdoor writers’ organization in the nation. Sorensen lives in Russell, PA, serves as pastor of Pine Grove Christian Fellowship, speaks frequently at sportsmen’s banquets, and writes for a variety of regional and national magazines. “Where are the ‘Booners’?” appeared as an installment in his regular column called “The Everyday Hunter.”

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Turkey Hunting Terminology

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 2, 2009.)

Take off your running shoes,
and try sneaking and speaking.
We sometimes don’t realize that the words we use can be misleading. I “roosted” a turkey one night this week, and it occurred to me that some people wouldn’t understand that word.

It doesn’t mean I somehow forced it, prompted it, or otherwise compelled it to fly up into his roost.

A synonymous phrase is “putting a gobbler to bed.” Yes, the image of tucking him in with a bedtime story and kissing him goodnight is ridiculous. All we’re really doing is trying to get him to disclose the location of his nighttime roost.

In “roosting” him, or “putting him to bed” a hunter doesn’t actually do anything at all, other than be nearby when it’s time for the gobbler to fly up into a tree for the night – so that he knows where to be when it flies down at daybreak about 9½ hours later.

That almost sounds like cheating, but it often doesn’t work out. And it leads to another phrase, the meaning of which should be obvious: “Roosted ain’t roasted.” So true.

These phrases probably won’t mislead even the greenest of greenhorn hunters. But turkey hunters sometimes use phrases that might steer a rookie hunter down the wrong path.

“Cutting and running” is one of those phrases. Ideally, turkey hunters like to be near a gobbling turkey at first light. But when tom turkeys turn silent, lots of hunters turn to a strategy they call “cutting and running.”

But “cutting and running” doesn’t describe what turkey hunters do. It might even imply some things that put hunters at a disadvantage. “Cutting and running” doesn’t mean we hightail it out of there. Rather, “cutting” describes a particular sound in the turkey vocabulary – loud, sharp, irregular staccato clucking.

But why limit yourself to one call? And why call loudly? If you call loudly and use only one call, you won’t get very many turkeys.

Nor will a hunter who goes running through the woods have much success. In fact, it’s not a good idea to run through the woods. Remember, you have a loaded gun in your hands. You might get hurt, and you’re likely to give turkeys the “heads up,” telling them where you’re coming from and where you’re going.

An even less descriptive phrase that means the same thing is “running and gunning.” Taken literally, I can’t think of a more counterproductive strategy in the turkey woods. “Running and gunning” will tip-off any gobbler that a hunter is coming.

You’ll overlook a lot if you “run” through the woods. It’s better to move slowly. If you need to cover a lot of ground, move slowly and steadily.

Brian Lovett, editor of Turkey and Turkey Hunting magazine, objects to the term “cutting and running,” and probably wouldn’t think much of “running and gunning” either. He likes the term “piddle and crawl.” To me, that isn’t quite right either, but it’s a move in the right direction.

Piddle and crawl.” “Cutt and run.” “Run and gun.” If you like rhyme and alliteration, maybe you’ll like the phrase “sneaking and speaking.” Yes, that’s it. That’s the way to move though the turkey woods, disturbing the least wildlife, and speaking the language of turkeys before they realize you’re not a turkey.

Sneak along and stop every 50-100 yards to call softly with quiet yelps. Add some low volume purrs and clucks. Perhaps there’s a ravine that’s worth calling into. Or maybe a thicket could hide a gobbler. Before calling, always choose a place where you can quickly set up, in case a gobbler answers and he’s close.

Add some volume and get more aggressive here and there – maybe add some louder cutting. The cutting calls just might do double duty. They might not only “shock” him into gobbling. They might also make him believe an excited hen is nearby and he’s desperate to get to her.

Having trouble getting a gobbler? Take off your running shoes, and try sneaking and speaking.