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.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Summer Tune-Up for Deer Season

by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, July 20, 2013.)

If you’ve missed any shots at deer in the last year or two, you may have blamed your rifle, scope or ammunition, but it’s likely that none of those are the reasons for inaccuracy. It’s probably the fault of the guy who shoots your rifle.

If you plan to hunt deer this fall, now is the time to do something about that guy. Tune his shooting skills by heading to the woodchuck fields.

Knock on some farmhouse doors and 
request permission to thin their woodchuck population. 

Some people advise making your deer rifle your woodchuck rifle. I don’t, mostly because it’s way overkill on woodchucks. A .30-06 is loud, punishes your shoulder, and its bullets are much heavier than necessary to kill a woodchuck.

I recommend a rifle that handles much like your “loudenboomer” deer rifle, but shoots a lighter bullet. If you shoot a bolt action deer rifle, use a bolt action for woodchucks. Lower recoil is a plus. That might mean a .22 rimfire, but beware – .22 rimfire bullets ricochet more than others so make sure you have a good backstop and never shoot into rocks.

Or, it might mean a classic varmint cartridge, like the .223 or the .22-250. Those reach out to 300 yards and beyond – much farther than typical deer ranges. I’ve been using the tiny .17 HMR because it’s quiet, accurate, and its bullets tend to disintegrate when hitting the target – they don’t ricochet like heavier bullets can. 

Check the trigger pull weight on your deer rifle, and use a rifle with a similar trigger. The weight of the trigger can have a big impact on accuracy. Thanks to corporate lawyers, most new rifles today are shipped with fairly heavy triggers. If your rifle has a heavy trigger and you don’t want to lighten it, it should break crisply and cleanly.

Before hitting the woodchuck fields, shoot a few rounds at a target. You’re looking for headshot accuracy, and a woodchuck’s head gives you little margin for error. Most deer are shot inside 100 yards, and woodchucks are easy to find at that range (give or take). So, either sight in for 100 yards or know exactly where your bullet hits at that range.  

Once you’re satisfied with how your gun shoots, knock on some farmhouse doors and request permission to thin their woodchuck population. Woodchucks may look cute and innocent, but these warm-blooded machines do nothing but eat, excavate, and replicate. The alfalfa they eat costs farmers a little, but the cost goes way up when they dig holes and pile up the dirt. No farmer likes damaged farm machinery, wasted time from dulled mower blades, and injured cattle from stepping in the holes.

On these hot, stifling mid-summer days, the best times to hunt them are mornings and evenings. Of course, you’ll never see as many woodchucks as there are. For one thing, they can easily flatten themselves to hide in grass that’s just a few inches high. Once mowed hayfields turn green again, you’ll see them when they lift their heads to periscope for danger. (Binoculars are a must, and good practice for using them in the deer woods.)

It doesn’t take much strategy to hunt woodchucks, but you do need a plan. Don’t go traipsing out through a hayfield and expect much success. For one thing, woodchucks have an uncanny ability to locate their holes where they can spot danger from almost any direction. Besides, open expanses of field don’t harbor as many woodchucks as the tall weeds along the edges, the fencerows, and the brush around trees or other structures. So, concentrate on those features -- woodchucks sneak out into the hayfields from them, and and you can approach them from directions where you’re less likely to be seen.

Finally, here are the benefits. A live target doesn’t give you endless time like a paper target does, so you have some pressure to get the shot off. Also, you’ll squirt just enough adrenaline into your bloodstream to increase your heart rate. If you learn how to cope with those two pressures, you'll gain confidence that you’re going to hit what you shoot at.

I’m betting that if you send a few woodchucks to their happy grazing ground this summer, you’ll be less likely to miss a deer this fall.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The Pennsylvania Triple Trophy

by Steve Sorensen (Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, July 6, 2013.)

In 1966, the Pennsylvania Game Commission created the “Triple Trophy Award” to recognize hunters who harvest an antlered deer, a bear, and a wild turkey in the same license year. The PGC presented a certificate and a patch to those who accomplished the challenging feat. 

The playing field is level. A hunter who can 
afford the Grand Slam of Wild Sheep would 
have no advantage over an everyday hunter.

The idea had its roots in the concept of “grand slams” in the hunting world and borrowed its name from the rare baseball event where scoring comes in in fours. In hunting, the grand slam is achieved using a firearm or bow instead of a Louisville Slugger. And it can’t be done with one swing of the bat in a single plate appearance.

The Grand Slam of Wild Sheep became the first grand slam of the hunting world  in 1955, and is widely considered the most prestigious. It includes all four wild sheep species found in North America – the Dall’s, the Stone’s, the Rocky Mountain Bighorn, and the Desert Bighorn. Because it takes lots of time and lots of money, it’s out of reach for all but a few hunters.

Grand slams in the hunting world often have an elitist nature because you won’t find many ordinary working class guys with enough spare cash and vacation time to afford top-end guided hunts. So, to bring the “Grand Slam” concept to the level of the common man, grand slams were created for lots of species. For example, a Grand Slam of Wild Turkeys would include the Eastern, the Merriams, the Rio Grande, and the Osceola subspecies. A turkey slam is not necessarily expensive, but it does require lots of travel.

Some hunters came up with their own grand slam concepts. A “weapons slam” might mean a hunter takes a buck with four different weapons – a rifle, bow, handgun and muzzleloader.

I wouldn’t say a “slam” can be bought, because even a guided hunt is not a slam dunk. (Pardon the mixing of baseball and basketball metaphors.) None of them are an easy achievement.

The Pennsylvania Triple Trophy may not be the most difficult, but it certainly ranks up there. To be recognized for taking a Pennsylvania Triple Trophy, a hunter must harvest all three species in a single license year, July 1 to June 30. Making it even more challenging, the hunting season for black bears, the most difficult of the trio to get, is short.

But – the playing field is level. A hunter who can afford the Grand Slam of Wild Sheep would have no advantage over an everyday hunter. And since Pennsylvania doesn’t license hunting guides, you gotta do it on your own – sort of on the amateur level.

That’s what made the Pennsylvania Triple Trophy such a respected award. But, the program was dropped after only six years. Opinions differ about why the Pennsylvania Game Commission ended its formal recognition for the accomplishment in 1972. Some thought the award placed too much emphasis on a few species. Others felt that it created a temptation to cheat. So, the Game Commission ended the program. 

But hunters have never forgotten it, and accomplishing the trifecta is still a big deal. A few individuals and clubs have offered a pin or a patch to the handful of hunters who accomplish this feat each year but now, after 4 decades, the Game Commission has designed new patch for those who pull it off. It’s cleverly designed in three sections, each part featuring one of the three animals. (Each part of the patch can also be purchased separately.)

Pennsylvania hunters who harvest a 
whitetail buck, a black bear, and a turkey, 
all in the same license year, can purchase 
the new “Triple Trophy” patch from 
the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

So, if you’ve ever harvested the Pennsylvania big three, or you do in the future, it’s still a significant hunting accomplishment and once again you can get patch to commemorate your success.