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, August 27, 2011

Picture a Scouting Camera in Your Hunting Arsenal

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 27, 2011.)

Add a scouting camera to your arsenal,
and you never have to quit hunting
just because a season ends.
Our grandfathers could never have imagined the hunting tools we have today. Back then Grandpa might have placed a piece of thread across a trail to determine roughly when a deer walked by. Today we not only can know exactly when a deer shows up at a certain place. Scouting cameras can show us the deer, and every other animal that passes by.

The period during which we can legally kill a deer is relatively short, especially if we hunt only with a firearm. If you add the archery and the muzzleloader seasons, it’s longer. Add a scouting camera to your arsenal, and you never have to quit hunting just because a season ends.

A few years ago scouting cameras made the transition from film to digital. This technology-driven improvement increased prices, but not by very much. I suspect that a careful analysis would show that the real price actually dropped because digital cameras eliminate the cost of developing film. With digital cameras, you can view photos instantly, without cost.

Another big advancement came just in the last year or so. My previous cameras were bulky and used D-cell batteries, which didn’t last long. Cold weather would usually kill the batteries, and often in warm weather they’d expire before I got back to check them.

Today the cameras I’m using are the Bushnell® Trophy Cam and the Moultrie® Game Spy. They’re very compact and use AA batteries. I buy lithium batteries, which cost more than alkaline batteries but they last much, much longer – so in the long run, lithium batteries are cheaper. They tolerate the cold much better too, and they’re so reliable that I don’t bother to carry extra batteries.

This week when I checked some of my cameras I took my little netbook computer along in a backpack. I pulled the memory card out of one camera, inserted it into the computer, and transferred the photos to the hard drive. It took only a couple of minutes to view almost 400 photos. Parading in front of that camera was a menagerie that included several deer, a raccoon family, a coyote pup, a woodchuck, rabbits, and a possum.

The great thing for hunters is that scouting cameras show you that the deer are alive and well, tell you whether they’re bucks or does, and give you an idea where they’re spending their time. You still have to figure out how, when and where to kill one.

Some hunters think scouting cameras offer an unfair advantage. If you think so, nothing says you have to use that advantage. Just enjoy the wildlife your cameras will show you – maybe in your own backyard!

In the woods, they definitely will show you more deer, and more critters of all kinds. If they don’t, the solution is simple. Move your camera.

Scouting cameras mean we don’t have to be limited to looking for tracks in the snow or mud. They mean we aren’t dependent on finding the saplings rutting bucks have rubbed clean of their bark. They mean we don’t have to be discouraged when all we see is a glimpse of a white flag over the bounding rump of a deer as far away as our eyes can see.

Digital cameras are a lot more expensive than the thread Grandpa used, but so is everything else. Today, the least expensive digital cameras are probably as good as or better than more expensive cameras of a few years ago. If you’ve ever had any interest in using scouting cameras, now is the time to buy. They’re easier than ever to use, they’re extremely reliable, and they take very good quality photos.

Even if they don’t lead you to your next buck, you’ll still get lots of enjoyment viewing the wildlife they capture.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Archery -- For the Kid in You

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, August 13, 2011.)

When a bunch of archers get together,
the enthusiasm breaks down
all kinds of barriers.
Most rural kids, when I grew up, were intrigued by the idea of shooting game the way Native Americans did – with a stick and string. But, I never killed a buck that way until I was in my 40s. Even then I didn’t use a traditional bow. I used a modern compound.

Some hunters I know are very proficient with traditional recurves and longbows. Rick Sharp takes a nice buck with his recurve as often as good hunters do with a gun. Reg Darling immerses himself in archery as a mental and spiritual quest. Mike Stimmel crafts his own bow, arrows too, and is a serious student of primitive ways.

All are dedicated and knowledgeable woodsmen, like the traditional archer I met over in Potter County last year at the Eastern Traditional Archery Rendezvous (ETAR). You’ll never meet a more hard-core hunter than Mike Mitten, from Iowa. He’s totally comfortable in true wilderness – even on solo adventures in the most remote places.

When I reconnected with Mike last month at ETAR, he showed me a picture of a buck his brother shot last fall with a primitive bow and an arrow tipped with a hand-knapped stone head. That’s one of the most impressive hunting feats I’ve ever heard of. And it was no ordinary buck – it was an absolute giant even by Midwestern standards.

The Mittens are associated with Gene and Barry Wensel, also known as “Brothers of the Bow” (www.BrothersOfTheBow.com.) The Wensels and the Mittens are among the best hunters anywhere. They’re icons of the archery world, known internationally through their books and DVDs, and have a knack for making you feel like you’re an old friend.

“Old friends.” That’s the atmosphere at ETAR, and anyone with the slightest interest in traditional archery should attend. It’s held annually during the last weekend of July, on the slopes of Ski Denton near Coudersport.

“Traditional archery people love relaxing in the mountains,” says event organizer Joyce Knefley. “Some come in a week early, and before it’s over 8,000 to 10,000 people show up.” That says something about the passion traditional archers have for their pursuit.

ETAR has been running for 22 years, but it’s not the only archery event held at Ski Denton. Joyce and her husband Mike host four archery events, and the next one is the Potter County Bowhunter Festival (PCBF) which will see almost 5,000 visitors August 18-21. (The others are at Sawmill Run ski resort, south of Wellsboro in Tioga County. Details about all events, including cost, are at www.archeryfestivals.com.)

PCBF has less of a focus on traditional archery so you’ll see a predominance of compound bows there. With lots of vendors under big top tents, and a swap meet too, it’s a little like Arlo Guthrie’s 1960s song “Alice’s Restaurant” – you can get anything you want (as long as you want something connected with shooting a bow.)

Whether you go for just a day, or for the weekend, take advantage of instructional seminars, as well as the opportunity to shoot seven 3-D target courses – almost 180 targets. All of them are set up with realistic hunting scenarios to sharpen you for this fall’s hunt. If you want to shoot competitively, enter the Sharp Shooter competition or the King of the Mountain course to win money or prizes.

More than anything else, it’s the people who make an archery festival worth attending. They’re simple, helpful, joyful, and all-around nice folks.

Archers are dedicated to simplicity. Something about a string propelling a pointed stick helps you focus on the essentials of life.

Having problems with eye-dominance? Target panic? Release? Bow tuning? Lots of people at the festival have faced what you face, and are qualified to offer help.

When a bunch of archers together, their enthusiasm breaks down all kinds of barriers and creates a camaraderie seldom found anywhere.

An archery festival is a place where you can revive that kid in you. Why not take a modern kid along and plant the idea of hunting with a stick and string in his or her mind? Let him shoot the kid’s course, plus the popular kid’s balloon shoot. Get him involved in archery at a young age, and it might lead to a lifelong pastime.