Turkey Season 2016 Review

I love turkey hunting more than any other outdoor activity I pursue.  Theres so much about it to love that I cannot pinpoint what it is that makes me an insane person every spring.  From the obvious thrill of making a bird gobble, to the hen encounters where you get a free lesson in subtle turkey talk, I enjoy it all.

This spring season was like most of the rest, comprised of highs and lows, lots of miles traveled, good times with good friends, and a few dead turkeys.  My wife even had our first child before season ended so that was a bonus.  Here are some photos in chronological order of my 2016 season.

13001040_905958469527366_4111608974245239786_n

My dad drew first blood in Oklahoma.  He killed these two birds the first morning after working them up out of a wooded bottom.

12987210_903128563143690_7278935813672453781_n

My first day was a bit slower, but the second morning my luck changed when a gang of six or seven gobblers worked their way to me out of a rocky, rattlesnake filled canyon.  The survivors were still gobbling when I left.  If only I had more tags.

12993373_905335156256364_4606903929578748_n

After we finished in Oklahoma, we headed north to Kansas.  The action was a bit slower than in years before, but again it was my dad who struck first.  He killed this bird the second evening.

13012749_905227902933756_1834982039700963781_n

Shortly after, this bird tried to sneak by and caught a load of 6’s in his face for his efforts.  He’s 4 for 4 so far.

12994386_905958476194032_63178703391526825_n

I’d been hunting my favorite Kansas farm for two whole days and the there were two big longbeards that I came close on a couple times, but it just never worked out.  One time even included a harrowing stalk down a fence line complete with ticks, spiders, and briars.  I got set up and called them across a wheat field, but they gave up looking for me at 90 yards and I never saw them again.  The final day I hunted a new place on an Amish farm and had been there literally 30 minutes before I called up 4 strutters through some timber.  One shot collected these two gobblers.  We had planned to continue on to Missouri but with my wife being as pregnant as she was I didn’t think it was a good idea to be 12 hours away if stuff started to go down.  We packed up and headed east.

13041442_908335585956321_1916697941308454715_o

While I had to return to work in Pennsylvania, my dad set his sights on the West Virginia season opener.  It took a couple days but he connected on this Fayette County gobbler.

13124723_915884841868062_9203852527389724857_n

Dealing with turkeys that are reluctant to gobble is tough.  Add terrible weather to that equation and it gets downright difficult.  By the second week though, Pops had his second West Virginia bird in the bag.  Up north, however, I was having a rough go of it.  The only West Virginia land I have to hunt where I live is about an hour south near Morgantown and it is as public as it gets.  I killed turkeys here when I was in college but I could hunt every day and generally had a pulse on what was happening.  I came in blind and fighting rainy weather.  I heard birds gobble but they sounded 4 miles away.  No turkey.  Back to work.  Pennsylvania season opened April 30 and unlike West Virginia, I have some good private ground with lots of non boogered turkeys.  I hunted a few days before work and had one morning where I thought it was going to happen but some hens took them away.  I made note of where they went and made my battle plan for the next day.  When I woke up at 4 the next morning, my wife (who never stirs when I leave) was wide awake.  “I’m in labor,” she said.   The turkeys will have to wait.

unnamed

On May 4, we welcomed John Steven.  Our first born and a boy, to boot.  Way better than any stinky old turkey.  When my parents brought me home from the hospital my dad put a camo hat on me and took a picture.  I did the same.  Welcome to the world, boy.  I hope you like doing this as much as I do.

13177091_10103998730434209_542609577718596970_n

With the new baby at home, I took off work and my parents came to stay for a few days.  While my wife and mother got to spend some time together with the new baby, the newly minted grandpa and I hit the woods.  The rain that had set in weeks before had failed to clear and we spent several mornings getting wet but hearing lots of birds and even had a gobbler almost to gun range before a trespasser scared it off.  Pennsylvanians love trespassing on ground they have no permission on.  It’s their favorite thing to do.  On my first day back to work, we snuck out for one last hurrah before I had to go in at 830.  The bird that gave me the slip on the 2nd of May was roosted by himself when we managed to get within 60 yards of his tree.  Due to the thick fog, he stayed put until almost 7:30 but when he hit the ground, he was 30 yards in front of me.  Game over mister turkey.

While it is technically season here until May 31, I’m finished.  It has been a great season and I made a lot of memories and gained a hunting partner.  Only about 300 days to go until it starts up again.

 

 

Salt and Pepper

Cdy00131This salt and pepper hen was captured on a trail camera in Southern West Virginia.  There has been at least one hen in this area to exhibit these characteristics for at least 8 years.

When Do You Get to Fish?

20160207_141306_zpscphubdvm

As a fishing guide, one of the most frequently asked questions I encounter is, “when do you get to fish?”  The short answer is not that often.  I guided trips for 28 days in a row my first year.  You’ve got to make hay when the sun shines in this business so if that involves working through prime time fishing or making time for all the other things that involve being an adult, you do what you have to do.  When the weather turns cold and work is a little more flexible, though, is when I get to to fish.  Every winter is also when I get to fish a lot with my best buddy Dustin Wichterman.  Every year without fail, we fish during a Winter Weather Advisory and kick some ass on some terribly technical no-name West Virginia spring creeks.  Here is our trip from the weekend.

DSCN0229

DSCN0226

DSCN0205

DSCN0210

DSCN0219

DSCN0218

DSCN0223

DSCN0231

 

The Time to Scout is Now

turkey tracks

Winter is one of my least favorite times for a myriad of reasons but mainly because there is nothing to hunt.  That doesn’t, however, mean you shouldn’t be romping around in the woods.  In many places, shed hunting is hitting its stride about now, but where I live, you stand a better chance of getting struck by lightning than finding a shed.  So what’s the draw that keeps me in the timber?  Prime scouting weather.

With turkey season a mere three months away, now is when you should be getting your game plan together.  I know a lot of people go and listen for birds pre season and call that scouting but you’re really shorting yourself if you aren’t out there right now.  There may not be any gobbling going on, but the value of what the woods can tell you right now outweighs that ten fold.

The best thing about being in the woods right now is how much you can see, especially with a little snow on the ground.  Out here in the mountains, using the lay of the land to your advantage is what kills turkeys and there’s no better time to get a read on it than when the leaves are off.  With a little bit of snow for contrast, things like deadfalls, streams, and rock outcroppings that could mess up a willing bird can be mapped and marked.  I cannot stress how important knowing a piece of ground like the back of your hand will increase your odds come spring.  Knowledge like this has saved my ass more than once in the turkey woods.

I know this seems obvious, but it’s pretty easy to track stuff in snow.  But instead of just saying, “oh there’s a turkey track,” follow them.  See where they go.  See how the bird navigates his environment.  While it might not seem this way at first, turkeys don’t just arbitrarily walk through the woods.  There’s a reason they walk where they do and with their tracks telling the tale, you can use this along with your now superior knowledge of the terrain to help predict their movement in the spring.

Finally, one of the most important things about winter time scouting is that you don’t run a risk of messing up a place like you do when season is near.  If you bust a flock of birds, there’s still 90 days for them to calm down and forget about it.  And they will.  You can also cover vast stretches of ground in relative comfort, free of bugs and sweat.

So instead of sitting in the house complaining about cabin fever, get in the woods and look at what it’s showing you.  Time moves fast and turkey season will be on us before you know it so go get a head start and get your spring time plan together.   When you’re walking back to your truck this spring with an extra twenty pounds on your back, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Reality Check

As a society, we are more connected now than at any time in history.  With this hyper connectivity, however, reality has a tendency to get a bit skewed.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard how a lot of people are concerned that airbrushed magazine covers and carefully curated social media accounts of celebrities give girls and women an unrealistic view of beauty and the female form.  As silly as it sounds, deer hunting has followed this same trend. [Read more…]

Missouri Rifle Opener

20151113_173812_zpswtye0fko

This marks my second year hunting with longtime friend Rusty Willis at Stateline Trophy Hunters on the border of Kansas and Missouri, just north of Joplin.  For someone who doesn’t live in the midwest, outfitters are a necessary evil for me because a.) I don’t have access to good ground, and b.) even if I did, I don’t have the time to do the scouting, stand hanging, etc.  Rusty definitely deserves a huge thank you for making us successful every year.  The amount of time he spends pre season scouting pays big dividends.  The thing I like the most about his operation is I can trust what he tells me about the deer movement and I know he wouldn’t put me somewhere he wouldn’t stand himself.  Great job, Rustyguide.  Keep up the hard work.  20151113_084051_zpspxidp96o

As far as the actual hunting goes, it was a full of highs and lows.  I bow hunted the two days prior to the gun opener and the first morning, I watched a doe bring a giant 5×5 across a CRP field right to me.  It was pretty windy and after coming to full draw on him at 30 yards, I elected to let the bow down because I couldn’t keep the pin on him.  As he chased the doe around, he made it to 17 yards and I picked out a hole in the brush to try and thread one through.  The resulting shot hit him in the shoulder and even though I’m shooting a fixed blade head, penetration was pretty bad.  We tracked him for about 150 yards before the blood stopped.  I’m pretty confident the deer is not dead and will live to fight another day.  It doesn’t, however, make it any easier to take.  Bad shots happen, and like it or not, that’s bowhunting.  I saw another big buck out of that stand the following day but never got a shot.  The deer were chasing and it was a great primer for the upcoming gun opener.

IMG_20151115_120237_zpsaaoopmgo

As dawn broke on Saturday, the deer movement that had been so good the two previous days had slowed.  I was hunting a different area out of a box blind that covered a large area of cut corn with some wooded draws in between.  Around 1700, I saw a buck working his way to the north.  After confirming he was big enough to shoot, I waited for him to come through the hedgerow and into the open.  When he appeared, I took the shot and he ran probably 40 yards before piling up.  Although he wasn’t the once in a lifetime giant I stabbed a couple days before, he was a great buck that I was happy to put my tag on.  In the five years I’ve gun hunted Missouri, I’ve tagged out the first day 3 times.  It’s pretty easy to love this state.  We had 5 guys in camp the first week an all 5 were successful.  Pretty tough to beat those odds.

After eating a tag in Kansas, Ohio, and Missouri (archery), this season has been tough.  A lot of travel and time away from home has yielded less than stellar results, but if anything has strengthened my resolve and made me more determined.  This is hunting and sometimes a long streak of good luck can wane.  It’s also a good reminder of why we do what we do because there is so much more that goes with it than actual killing.  Spending time with good friends and getting to see different country is really what it’s about.  Again, a big thank you to Rusty Willis at Stateline Trophy Hunters for a top notch hunt and well run program.  I couldn’t do it without you.

 

How To Hang a Lock On Stand Without Killing Yourself

Hanging a lock on tree stand can be downright sketchy.  Testing the effectiveness of my safety harness is not something I feel  like doing so here’s a little trick I use to hang my lock ons.

20151012_173715_zpsirhtgkro

[Read more…]

Knot Tying 101: The Orvis Knot

Knowing how to tie knots is a pretty important aspect of being a good woodsman.  I love things that are multitaskers and the following knot is useful for in a lot of situations.  Commonly referred to as the Orvis knot, I originally learned this one to tie my fly to the leader.  It is useful in far more situations than that.

20151107_110511_zpspfw9d4kjStart out with the tag on top and the opening of the U facing right. [Read more…]

The Curse of 2015 Continues

After eating my Kansas tag in September, I was hoping for a change in fortune headed into Ohio.  My dad, some of our good friends hunted hard for a week on some good ground about 40 miles north of Dayton, but a shooter never appeared.  Sometimes, stuff just happens thats out of your control.  Like it or not, that’s deer hunting.  A little over a week though, I’m headed to Missouri to try and shake this streak of bad luck that’s been following me since May.  Anyway, here’s some photos from the Ohio trip.

20151030_162508_zpssuopt09u

20151030_172822_zpsqewazokh

A couple photos from the stand.  No deer were harmed on this trip.

20151025_151635_zpseelruek9

A photo from the place we stayed.  I’ve crashed in a lot of hunting camps, but this one by far was the nicest.  It was a finished out pole building with some really cool barn wood walls and it even had a bar.

20151025_191746_zpse8hr0ixe

20151029_112429_zps1nql2x9k

I’ve never had my own locker before.  Definitely a nice touch.

Pennsylvania Archery 2015

After eating a Kansas Muzzleloader tag, I was eager to put that behind me and prepare for the coming archery season.  While I’m going to Ohio for a week at the end of this month, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the woods preparing for archery season here in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  I’ve been trying very hard the past 3 seasons to connect on a big mountain buck, but after several close calls last year, my goal remains unfulfilled.

While I do have access to a good tract of private land, I also have almost 17,000 acres of public land at my disposal.  The deer  aren’t densely populated, but if you want a shot at a legit big buck, this is where it’s most likely to happen.  The #4 all time typical buck for Pennsylvania was killed in 2011 a couple miles from one of my favorite spots.  They’re here, but the hunting is challenging and requires a lot of scouting, stand sitting, and a whole lot of luck.

While I’ve basically sat out the first week, I’ve also spent that time checking trail cameras, finishing hanging and stashing stands, and I’ve even brushed in a few ground blind spots.  Over the next few weeks, I’m going to start documenting my Pennsylvania archery season where I’ll go from how I’ve found deer in big woods and selecting stands, to hopefully stabbing a big one before it’s all said and done.