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, June 26, 2010

Do You Have One For the Books?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 26, 2010.)

What if there was a ‘book’ that
recognizes bucks on a regional basis?
I’ve never seen – alive and in the field – a buck that meets the minimum standard for the Boone and Crockett record book. It takes some mighty big bones to reach a cumulative net score of 160 inches (for a typical buck) and 185 (for a non-typical buck), and that’s only for the B & C three-year awards recognition. To make the “All-Time” B & C list, the minimum scores are 170 for typical antlers, and 195 for non-typical.

That doesn’t mean record book bucks don’t live where I hunt. It just depends on what record is being kept. The Pope & Young Club keeps one. It has lower standards for entry because only archery bucks are eligible. Then there’s the Northeast Big Buck Club (www.BigBuckClub.com.) I’ve seen many bucks that qualify for that book. In fact, maybe you have one.

Until recently, the Northeast Big Buck Club admitted bucks from New York, Maine, and the New England states. Now, it includes Pennsylvania. If you’d like to enter a buck in the NBBC, I can tell you how. But first, a few comments on why bucks grow big antlers, what big antlers mean to me (and maybe to most of us.)

Antlers get big because of age, nutrition and genetics.

Age: In states with high hunting pressure, world-class bucks are uncommon because few bucks live to the age of five – generally the earliest age at which bucks can grow their biggest antlers. Heavy hunting pressure means most of our bucks are harvested long before their prime, so they tend to be on the young side.

Nutrition: On poorer soils, bucks don’t eat as well as bucks that benefit from more fertile soils. Nutrition shows up in antlers. Our bucks do well on a little corn and a spotty acorn crop, but Midwestern farm bucks do much better. They eat more, grow faster, and put more of their food resources into antler growth.

Genetics: Most hunters know little about genetic potential in antlers. Genetics are best exhibited where bucks grow to maturity with quality nourishment year ’round, so few bucks reach their potential. However, we do see a few bucks with strong antler genetics.

Many northeast bucks don’t have the “maturity factor” on their side, and they seldom have the “well-fed factor” going for them, so they rarely exhibit their full genetic potential. These factors drag the odds of producing a “world-class” buck way down.

Lots of hunters don’t focus on antlers. I respect that. There is no shame in hunting for meat. But if a hunter wants to be challenged, it’s a greater challenge to harvest a buck well on his way to maturity at three or more years of age, than it is to shoot a tender young buck sporting his first rack. So, I respect hunters who hold out for older bucks, too.

Most hunters enjoy looking at big antlers. They’re unique, and always interesting. To my way of thinking, putting one in a record book doesn’t earn bragging rights because these magnificent animals are God-given as much as they’re trophies of an expert hunter. Besides, someone always has a bigger buck.

Does a big buck ever establish a hunter as an expert? Maybe, but one big buck can be a stroke of luck. When a hunter consistently gets bucks that are bigger than the norm in the area he hunts, he’s definitely a skilled hunter.

So, maybe there ought to be a place that records bucks representative of what is realistic in the area you hunt – nice bucks taken by everyday hunters who have little hope of ever seeing a B & C buck in the wild. What if there was a “book” that recognizes bucks on a regional basis?

That book is produced by the Northeast Big Buck Club. I’m working on an opportunity later this summer when you’ll be able to have your buck taped, and possibly entered in the NBBC program. Check it out at www.BigBuckClub.com. (It takes 110 inches for buck harvested by rifle.)

When that day arrives, don’t come popping your buttons or strutting like a wild gobbler. But if you have a nice buck that others would like to see and you’d like to have measured, watch this space. In the next month or so I’ll provide more details.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

If You Want a Bear

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 12, 2010.)

“We baited and hunted our own stands
for two years before we dared take any clients.”
If you want a bear and you’re willing to travel, I can tell you where to go.

Something about bears has gripped me ever since I was a kid. Maybe it was that story I read where Daniel Boone carved “D. Boon kilt a bar on this tree.” Maybe it relates to that little wooden carving of a bear my missionary aunt sent me from Japan so long ago. Maybe it’s because of that guy who stopped by to show off his Pennsylvania black bear, but failed on his promise to give this kid one of its claws.

I’ve always wanted a bear. Black bears in Pennsylvania seem common any time but hunting season. I’ve seen many, and been within a few feet of them several times. I’ve pursued them in Pennsylvania and Alaska and hunted over bait in Canada. I’ve learned that hunting baited bears is not like shooting fish in a barrel.

Many hunters in the northeast go to Ontario for bears. It’s friendly to American tourists, and loaded with bruins. At least that’s what the numbers say.

Ontario does have lots of bears, but other factors must be considered. Ontario is also a very big province, and it extends far north beyond easy driving distance. It also has the longest border with the lower 48 states, so its southern half is within reach of millions of hunters from highly populated states. It has lots of guides that take aim at American dollars, but it offers only fall hunts.

Hoards of hunters invade Ontario every year for bears. But is that the best place?

My first Canadian hunt was in Ontario. “You must not be a very good bear hunter.” The American customs agent flipped that insult at me as I returned with empty coolers and an unfilled tag.

In no mood to argue, I said, “You’re probably right.” Was that a smirk on his face as he waved me on my way?

That was in 2003. In 2004 and 2008 I returned home from Canada, bearless again and again, so I’ve thought a lot about that comment. I’ve wondered what makes a good bear hunter. I’ve wondered whether I made good choices. I even wondered if my attitude might not be positive enough, or if I sweat some mysterious kind of bear repellent, innocuous to humans but intolerable to bears.

Last month I headed for New Brunswick to hunt with P. R. Guides and Outfitters. With only 17,000 bears (a fraction of what Ontario has), New Brunswick is a province hunters often overlook. But New Brunswick has less than 8% of the land area of Ontario, and the bear population is dense. It shares a border with only one state, Maine. It’s a long drive, but an easy drive. Go there, and you’ll likely come home with a bear.

Pierre Roy and his partner Ron Hachey have been guiding for ten years. Pierre recalled, “In the beginning we were a little afraid of American hunters. We thought they’d easily spot any deficiencies in us. So, we baited and hunted our own stands for two years before we dared take any clients. We began with high standards because we felt we would be judged by hunters who really knew their stuff.”

Ron added, “We learned quickly that most hunters aren’t experts, but we didn’t change our approach or lower our standards.”

Smart thinking. Some guides think guiding for bears is easy money, that success is up to the hunters, and that all they have to do is provide the hunter a bait that has been hit, even if it has been hit only once, or it’s getting hit only at night.

Pierre knew I had been on three previous Canadian hunts and hadn’t taken a shot. “I can’t imagine that happening here. When you come here, you need to know how to shoot – because you will shoot.” That’s what he wanted to prove, and he did.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Two Writer Awards for Sorensen

Steve Sorensen (left) receives two awards for “The Coffee Break Phantom” from Tom Tatum, President of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. The article appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of North American Whitetail.

Wellsboro, PA – Outdoor writer Steve Sorensen won “Best Magazine Article” at the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association annual conference in Wellsboro, PA on May 22. The POWA “Excellence in Craft” awards program honors writing, artwork and photography in several categories. Each award is reviewed by a panel of judges, all independent of the POWA.

Sorensen won with an article entitled “The Coffee Break Phantom,” published in the Spring 2009 issue of North American Whitetail. The story chronicles Jerry Simkonis’s three year hunt for a buck that ranks number one in the Pennsylvania records for a non-typical whitetail buck taken by bow. It was harvested in Allegheny County, PA on November 2, 2007.

Sorensen’s “The Coffee Break Phantom” also won the Pennsylvania Deer Award, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Deer Association.

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. He also writes a popular column called “The Everyday Hunter” that appears in several newspapers. Sorensen’s website is www.EverydayHunter.com.