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 29, 2010

Getting Restarted in Bowhunting

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 29, 2010.)

The high price of bows can actually
work to the buyer’s advantage.
Although I’ve bowhunted regularly for the last few years, I haven’t paid enough attention to my equipment and I’ve let my skills decline. So, you might say I’ve decided to get restarted in archery, and that means getting up to speed with new equipment and refining my shooting technique.

It’s easy to be scared off by modern archery gear, even though the aim is the same as the Native American hunters had with primitive gear – to put an arrow through the vitals of the deer. But compound bows are anything but primitive. They’re a creation of modern technology, so they look intimidating. And they’re expensive.

They’re not as intimidating as they look. You don’t need to understand the technology or the mechanics. All you need to know is that the compound bow (some call it a wheel bow) has wheels (or cams) with cables designed for a mechanical advantage. They reduce the effort it takes to pull back the bowstring and hold it, without diminishing the force that launches the arrow. That means a weakling like me can use one.

And yes, modern compound bows are expensive. Part of the reason for that is the race among bow manufacturers to introduce new materials and better designs. But the high price of bows can actually work to the buyer’s advantage. Some hunters always want the latest and greatest, which puts high quality, little-used bows on the market.

Don’t be afraid of buying a used bow. The quality in today’s bows from reputable companies including Bowtech, Hoyt, Mathews and many others make it hard to make a mistake. And don’t be afraid of offending the bow dealers – if someone didn’t buy the used bows, they wouldn’t sell as many new bows.

I bought my latest bow, a Mathews Outback equipped with a sight and an arrow rest, from a friend. Since I didn’t buy it in a store, where would I go for advice on tuning it and learning to shoot it? I decided to join His Way Archers (www.HisWayArchers.com), the Christian Bowhunters of America chapter in Jamestown, NY.

By joining His Way Archers, I learned what I needed to know from helpful bowmen who won’t make me feel foolish. I also got a place to practice on a variety of 3D targets.

Pete Hofert and Andy Johnson, regulars at His Way, counseled me on setting up my used bow. Pete checked my draw length, and advised me to upgrade from aluminum to carbon arrows. He also helped me learn my way around the bow press and the arrow cut-off saw the club owns. He helped me install a better peep sight and adjusted my D-loop, an optional accessory that helps lessen torque on your bowstring and protects your string against premature wear from your release aid.

Knowing almost nothing about selecting carbon arrows, I contacted Carbon Express, a leading arrow manufacturer, to see what they’d recommend. I explained my needs, and they provided a dozen Maxima Hunter arrows, already fletched with vanes.

Let me tell you, if you’re still shooting aluminum arrows, consider arrows made from carbon fibers. They’re straighter, stronger and maybe even quieter. Yes, they’re more expensive, but they also last much longer. And they’re lighter. Which makes them faster. Which makes range estimation more forgiving. Which makes you more accurate.

I still need a few items. I’m using an old release aid that I bought with my first bow way back in the 1980s. Although there’s nothing wrong with it, I’d like to have a new one and use that as a back-up. I also need a quiver I can attach to my bow.

A target is a must-have for the archery hunter. I already had a 3D deer target from McKenzie Targets, plus a “Monster Bag” target. So, I bought an 18-sided Rinehart foam target that I can toss out into the yard at random distances and transport easily.

Finally, before hunting with my bow, I needed some broadheads matched to the carbon arrows. Broadhead technology is also very advanced compared to a few years ago. Although I haven’t yet poked a deer with my new setup, when I do I’ll be using the new F-15 broadheads from Carbon Express. With six cutting edges, they make a huge hole for rapid bleedout.

Practice is essential. Although everyone practices alone, it pays to practice with someone else, too. You can keep an eye on each other’s form and learn from each other’s mistakes.

I’ll be better equipped for this fall’s deer season than I’ve ever been before. If you want to be able to say that, there’s still time to get a bow and go through the short learning curve before the season arrives. Don’t let a bow intimidate you. And, check the used market – you’ll find some great deals.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What does it take to tag a late season gobbler?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 15, 2010.)

All that gear won’t do it for you.
When it comes to turkeys and hunters, the turkey usually wins. No, he doesn’t shoot the hunter, but neither does he get shot.

Even though the modern hunter has plenty of advantages, turkey hunting is a low percentage game. We have specialized shotguns today with custom choke tubes and ammunition that will push the ethical limits of a shot to 50, even 60 yards.

We have turkey calls in a variety of styles that make incredibly realistic turkey sounds. We have foolproof camouflage which hides us in plain sight, and decoys to fool the wariest gobbler.

We have access to the best information, with programs on television, videos lessons from expert hunters, scientific research on turkey habits and habitat, magazines dedicated to the sport, and seminars that reveal the secrets of the best hunters.

We have maps, aerial photos, and GPS receivers that help us get to that honey-hole deep in the woods. We have raingear that keeps us dry in a downpour. We have seats that keep us comfortable while the gobbler takes his sweet time approaching our set-up, or not. Usually, despite all the advantages the turkey hunter has, it’s “or not.”

We also have the most specialized hunting gear ever, right down to the knives we carry. Who would have thought this simplest of technologies had so much room for improvement?

Even turkey hunters can get their own multi-tool, which helps minimize the gear we carry. It combines all the essential tools the turkey hunter needs, knife blade, saw blade, ruler, shotgun choke wrench, retractable ruler for measuring the gobbler’s beard and spurs, a pin punch, all in one compact unit wrapped in a sheath that transforms into a safety orange turkey tote with a carrying hook. Avid design (www.AvidDesignCo.com) makes it possible.

Now all we have to do is get that gobbler. The hunter’s big advantage is that the springtime gobbler or “Tom” turkey often announces exactly where he is before morning breaks. That enables the hunter, assuming he has a pretty good idea how far away the turkey is, to approach the turkey under cover of darkness and set up to call the turkey after he flies down from his roost tree at daybreak. Close the distance to 100 yards, or 75 yards, or even closer, and you increase the odds of the turkey coming to your sweet calls.

That’s the classic turkey hunt, but it seldom works out that way. In fact, by the middle of the season the odds have swung dramatically toward the turkey (though they never really were in the hunter’s favor.) If you still have tag today, you’re likely to have it when the season ends.

This year’s unusually warm days in March and April seem to have set the clock way ahead. Normally, our dogwood blossoms show up around May 10, but I saw many in bloom as early as April 24. Spring sprung almost overnight, turning winter’s white to spring’s green.

We’re already in late-season mode. The hens have been bred, many are on the nest, a few have already hatched their poults, and gobblers are transitioning to their summer mood.

Gobblers might spend hours with hens without ever breaking into strut. They just follow the girls around. But they still might respond to calling, so it’s still possible to get one. It will take a lot of persistence and a little serendipity, too.

So, don’t let the rain, the temperatures, the hunting pressure, or the late season challenges stop you. There are plenty of gobblers out there that you can still give a ride in your pickup truck, and transform into mouthwatering table fare. And all that gear you bought won’t help you if you don’t get out there and do it.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Turkey Hunting's Most Dangerous Moment

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, May 1, 2010.)

I used to sprint to the turkey after the shot.
I now coach myself to walk.
Adrenaline. It can be dangerous.

Adrenaline (also called epinephrine) is a hormone. It has been called “the fight or flight hormone.” It’s what prevents people from thinking about risk as they face danger. Without adrenaline, we wouldn’t have heroes. Without adrenaline humans would be far less successful, and possibly wouldn’t even survive.

Adrenaline is also what keeps a hunter awake as it trickles into the bloodstream the night before the season opener, and it’s what adds intensity to the moments before the shot.

Under a big dose of adrenaline, we go on autopilot. Think about that as you look forward to calling in and shooting that big tom turkey.

You’re sitting in the woods with a gobbler responding to your sweetest calls. Your adrenal glands sit atop your kidneys and release adrenaline into your bloodstream, boosting your heart rate and breathing rate. Your eyes focus intently. Dilated blood vessels prime your muscles for action.

As the big bird gets closer and closer you focus more and more on him, anticipating where he’ll become visible and when he’ll be in range. Once you see him, nothing else will compete for your attention.

You’ve mentally made a note of which trees he must pass in order to offer a safe and ethical shot. You’re functioning according to as many predetermined factors as you can anticipate.

Of course, this is turkey hunting, and you can’t anticipate everything. You can’t anticipate another hunter stalking your sounds, or closing in on the sounds of the gobbler you’re calling. That’s when turkey hunting accidents tend to happen. The caller’s focus is centered on the turkey while the careless stalker takes a stupid risk.

We don’t usually expect another hunter to stalk us or the turkey we’re calling to. That’s one reason it’s dangerous. We can’t predict it, so we give it little thought.

But another potentially dangerous situation happens virtually every time a turkey hunter pulls the trigger. I’ve done it myself, and I have to remind myself not to do it.

Bang! The turkey goes down, flapping his wings violently and tumbling amidst a whirlwind of feathers. Everything but the turkey is blocked from the hunter’s adrenaline-charged focus. In one fluid motion the hunter rises and runs to the gobbler to make sure it doesn’t get away.

What’s wrong with that scenario? The hunter is still under the influence of adrenaline, and unless he’s shooting a single shot shotgun, he may be running through the woods with a loaded gun. His finger is near the trigger in case a follow-up shot is needed. Heaven forbid that he should stumble and fall in the excitement.

We talk a lot about the potential danger of other hunters stupidly stalking the sounds of a turkey. We caution hunters to be sure of their targets. But rarely do we think much about that most adrenaline-intense moment – the rush to recover the turkey after the shot.

I used to sprint to the turkey after the shot. I now coach myself to walk. After all, if he was in range when I took the shot, if the shotgun properly targeted his head, and if the pellet pattern is dense enough, his head is jelly. He’s down for the count.

Of course, there are no guarantees. If the shot wasn’t lethal, and he somehow gets oriented and gets his head up, that’s the time for a follow-up shot.

I figure it this way. If I’m standing and have walked a few steps toward the bird, he’ll still be in range for that follow-up shot. If I’m running toward the bird, I’m introducing extra risks of falling and an accidental discharge of the shotgun.

Thankfully, I don’t know of any cases where an accident has happened under these circumstances. But it still makes sense after the shot to stay calm and approach the gobbler carefully. If you can’t keep yourself from running toward the gobbler, then I’d recommend shooting a single-shot, or a pump-action, and not chambering a new round until you know you’re going to need it.