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 30, 2012

The Latest News for Crossbow Hunters

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 30, 2012.)
Here’s an American crossbow
that won’t force you to choose
between quality and price.
Whether you’re a crossbow hunter or not, you probably know crossbows are controversial. And never more so than a few years ago when the Pennsylvania Game Commission gave them the thumbs up for a four-year trial in the deer woods during archery season.

Some bowhunters swore they’d never shoot a crossbow. There’s irony in that because some were traditional archery hunters who had already forward-migrated to vertical compound bows, a design that’s far more modern than the traditional concept of a recurve-style crossbow.

Today, the controversy seems to be waning and crossbows are becoming acceptable, even popular. The PGC ended the trial period back in the spring. So, crossbows are here to stay.

For years, crossbows were associated with the handicapped and the elderly, so the market wasn’t big enough to drive innovation and competition. Now, advertisements in hunting magazines have made crossbow names familiar to us all – Barnett, Excalibur, Horton, Parker, PSE, Ten Point, and more. And it’s not just ads – Peterson’s Bowhunting magazine now includes a column on crossbows, as does Bear Hunting magazine and others. A couple of entire magazines are devoted to crossbow hunting. Fears that crossbows would ruin archery hunting have vanished.

One crossbow that hasn’t received much press is the Kodabow, made by a small company in Pennsylvania. If you were at the Eastern Sport Show in Harrisburg during February, you may have seen the Kodabow demonstrated. Chuck Matasic, retired Naval Officer and President of Kodabow, allowed all comers to shoot a Kodabow, and during the show a single crossbow flung over 2,000 arrows without a hitch.

Considering that vertical bows with a 70 pound draw need constant tweaking, and Kodabow models have a draw weight of 185 pounds or higher, that’s remarkable. That’s a lot of stress on any piece of equipment, but the Kodabow is built with such sturdiness and precision that it easily handles it. That’s why Kodabow isn’t afraid to take its message to the public that way.

You’re going to be hearing more about Kodabow because on June 26th, firearms company Sturm, Ruger & Co. bought a minority interest in the company. This will help Kodabow accelerate its business plans and expand its reach. I suspect other crossbow companies realize they have a strong competitor for market share in Kodabow.

About the partnership Matasic said, “Ruger shares our vision that delivering dependable and innovative hunting products made in the USA will drive industry leadership and success.”

Made in USA? Yes! Kodabow sources every crossbow component domestically and assembles them in its West Chester, PA plant. Although Sturm, Ruger has bought a minority interest, Kodabow will still be controlled by the innovators who started it. They’re hunters, they know crossbows, and their interest is in quality and reliability. The fact that every component is made in the USA is not only an important corporate value, it means Kodabow can be very responsive to its customers.

Kodabow crossbows are built on an AR15 rifle platform. That’s not unique in the crossbow world. PSE has also done it. But PSE uses the strength of the frame to support a compound limb design with cams and cables to maximize speed.

Kodabow takes a different approach. Using simple recurve limbs, the Kodabow crossbow capitalizes on the strength of the AR15 frame to maximize reliability, without sacrificing the speed you need. It’s quiet, accurate, and because the design is so simple, dependability is guaranteed shot after shot after shot, year in and year out.

A Kodabow is no bottom shelf crossbow. It’s not at the expensive end either, but it is high-end when it comes to quality. And, over time, its simplicity and reliability will pay off in savings.

When choosing between American products and Asian imports, consumers usually trade off quality for price. Here’s an American crossbow that won’t force you to make that choice.

A leader in the crossbow industry has risen right here in Pennsylvania and is making top end crossbows at a competitive price. Congratulations to Kodabow, and to Sturm, Ruger for recognizing a leader in the industry. Check out Kodabow online at www.Kodabow.com.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Pennsylvania – Home to Coyotes for 75 Years

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 16, 2012.)
With dramatic habitat changes, and with coyotes being an opportunistic predator, it should be expected that their population would increase.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is sometimes maligned and criticized, and the coyote question is one of the perennial controversies. It shouldn’t be controversial. It’s actually easy to explain.

1938 Elk County. (Courtesy PA Game Commission)

I’ve heard people say not only that the Game Commission stocked coyotes, but that for decades it also denied evidence that coyotes were in the state. The facts say otherwise.
Few people take notice of this fact – the PGC actually publicized the existence of coyotes within Pennsylvania’s borders, and did it consistently from the 1930s to the present. The December 1938 issue of Pennsylvania Game News, the agency’s official publication, showed a photograph of a live coyote taken by a trapper in Elk County just north of Ridgway, PA. Initially, the trapper thought it was a young timber wolf, but it was proven to be a coyote. 

1941 Venango County. (Courtesy PA Game Commission)
In March 1941, the Game News published pictures of coyotes killed in Venango County during January of that year. A group of hunters discovered them in deer season, and returned to hunt them in January. One of them weighed 62 pounds.

1946 Clearfield County. (Courtesy PA Game Commission)
In 1946 a coyote was shot in Clearfield County – and for at least the third time in eight years the PGC reported coyotes were living in the Keystone State. 

1976 Westmoreland County. (Courtesy Tim Flanigan )
In 1963, the Game News carried a story titled “Coyotes at the Edge of Philadelphia,” written by Joseph Lippincott of the J. B. Lippincott Publishing Company. Lippincott was well experienced with western coyotes, and saw his first Pennsylvania coyote in the winter of 1960. Some assumed those animals to be coy-dogs, but if coy-dogs are around, a coyote had to precede them.

In 1976, a 42-pound coyote was killed by a vehicle on Route 119 in Westmoreland County. It was photographed with Wildlife Conservation Officer Tim Flanigan holding it, then analyzed at Pennsylvania State University and determined to be an eastern coyote.

These coyotes weren’t isolated individuals – the Venango County hunters and Mr. Lippincott proved that. And while it may be true that some people have heard individual PGC employees express personal doubt about the existence of coyotes, an employee of an agency isn’t a spokesperson for the agency, and may not be well informed.

All the foregoing are facts, but skeptics still ask how the population of coyotes exploded so suddenly. The likely answer is a simple predator-prey relationship. Several factors changed the landscape in the mid- to late-20th century, creating ideal habitat for prey animals and perfect conditions for predators.

During that time, family farms began to decline, and crop fields reverted to early successional forest. Then, gypsy moths began defoliating vast oak stands. As the leaf canopy disappeared, sunlight began reaching the ground and stimulating the growth of the understory, where prey species thrived. Landowners rushed to harvest the dying oaks, along with other mature trees at the same time, adding to the dense understory. The regenerating forests and brushlands provided ideal whitetail habitat. As the deer population increased, coyotes had another food source, particularly in the spring during fawn drop.

After World War II ended, the economy boomed. Suburbs swelled with new homes. Rabbits and woodchucks and other prey animals thrived around the edges of towns, giving predators even more easy opportunities. Those new suburban homes became host to family pets, but the family pet of choice was no longer Fido. It was Felix, because cats were easier to take care of when wives and mothers were entering the workforce in great numbers. And when cats wander a little too far from home, they too become easy meals for coyotes.

Changes to the landscape never happen in isolation. With dramatic habitat changes, and with coyotes being an opportunistic animal, it should be expected that their population would increase. It would be surprising if it didn’t.

So, it’s a fact that coyotes have been at home in Penn’s Woods for at least 75 years, and a very plausible explanation exists to explain their population increase. But if someone chooses to believe the coyote population came to us through artificial stocking, he doesn't have the facts, so don’t argue with him. There’s no law against being wrong.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Are Shotguns Viable for Deer?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 2, 2012.)

The short answer is yes, now more than ever.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, traditionally a rifle hunting state, I had never used a shotgun for deer. That’s not to say no one hunted with shotguns. Going back to the depression years and earlier (long before my time), many a hunter put whitetails down for dirt naps using 12 gauge punkin balls. Yes, shots were either short range affairs or long on luck, because smoothbores plus punkin balls never added up to bragging rights in the accuracy department.
Prevailing wisdom still holds
that shotguns are short-range weapons.
Prevailing wisdom still holds that shotguns are short-range weapons. Never mind that manufacturers are using barrels engraved with rifling that imparts rifle-like accuracy. Never mind the truckload of energy today’s modern slugs pack. Never mind their deep, bone-busting penetration. Never mind the big holes they punch that drain life quickly.

Today, some states still limit deer hunters to shotguns only. New shotgun technology has broadened choices, and forced granddad’s old smoothbore into a long-awaited retirement.

Fully rifled barrels now come on a variety of slug guns, from the inexpensive H & R single-shot, to the über-expensive TarHunt bolt action. Remington, Winchester, Browning, Ithaca, Mossberg, Thompson Center, Benelli and other companies produce slug guns incorporating modern technology whether in break-open, bolt, pump, or semi-auto configuration.

Other choices include virtually any 12-gauge using screw-in chokes. My Remington 870 turkey gun with a rifled choke tube downed a good 8-point in New York a few years ago. In that case, Lightfield 2¾" Hybred Lite slugs proved very accurate.

With an eye toward continuing to hunt New York’s shotgun season, I decided to buy a bolt action slug shotgun. However, during the delay between ordering it and its arrival, the rules changed. Chautauqua County has joined Cattaraugus and others in permitting rifles, so a shotgun isn’t the only option.

I thought about canceling the order but, hey, other states still mandate shotguns – particularly Ohio to the west – and there’s no reason I can’t use it in Pennsylvania, New York, or any state during firearms seasons. It would also be perfectly at home in a Canadian bear stand.

The shotgun I purchased is the new Savage 220F, and it’s very pleasing to this rifleman. For one thing, it looks much like a rifle, and it’s lighter than most slug guns. For another, the bolt action with a detachable magazine handles and feels like a rifle. Target acquisition is rifle-like – when I shoulder it the scope it’s perfectly centered in front of my eye. Finally, its accuracy is on par with many rifles.

The Savage 220F also has the adjustable AccuTrigger, which is set to break at about 3 pounds. If there’s any creep associated with that trigger, it’s the one who owns the finger that squeezes it.

For optics, I mounted the Alpen Apex XP Model 4053, a 2-10 power with a big 44mm objective. Set at 2-power, it will be great for close-range work from a treestand, and even at higher powers it will squeeze extra visibility from dim light.

I tried a variety of ammunition. Remington 2¾" AccuTips proved most accurate, with an astonishingly tight .61" three-shot group. Lightfield Hybred Mag-20 and Federal Premium Vital-Shok (both 3" loads) performed well, too.

I toted this Savage rig a few times last fall, and never felt like I was carrying a shotgun. Unfortunately, the times I carried it were the same times deer made themselves scarce.

If you’re looking to hunt a shotgun state, or want one gun that will perform equally well in shotgun or rifle states, you need to consider a shotgun with a rifled barrel. Certainly this Savage leads the pack among those that will be effective out to 150 yards and more. That’s what we expect of rifles.

Can you do better with some other slug gun? Probably, but not without laying out a lot more cash than the Savage 220F will cost you. Modern slug guns are far better deer killers than granddad’s old smoothbore, and this one will bring home the venison without needing the luck granddad sometimes depended on with his old punkin ball launcher.