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.


Missouri Rifle Opener


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.


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.


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.

Kansas Muzzleloader Success

dadkansas15 copy

As usual, my dad pulled the trigger first and downed a nice Kansas buck the first evening.  We’re now in day 4 of 5 and I’ve yet to see anything I’d like to shoot.  The weather has been decent, but the deer movement has been less than stellar.  Rather than move stands, I’m going to sit still and wait it out.  Patience is not only a virtue, it also kills deer.

Kansas Kickoff

kanasssWith hunters already in the deer woods in Kentucky, it is official, deer season is on us again.  With just under 4 days left, I head to Kansas this weekend for the early muzzleloader season.  It will be my 4th year doing this hunt and it is shaping up to be one of the best.

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Importance of the Cold Bore Shot

Shooting my bow in the evenings is one of my favorite thing to do this time of year.  It helps get the cobwebs out and puts me in the mind to bow hunt.  It also could go without saying that the practice time is irreplaceable when a shot in the field presents itself.  But am I doing all I can do to maximize my efforts? [Read more…]

Deer Management’s Dark Side

Back in 2011, Bill Winke from Midwest Whitetail wrote a very interesting piece called The Dark Side of Deer Management.  I recently discovered it and found myself nodding my head in agreement almost the whole way through it.  I’ve been a skeptic of new age hunting practices about as long as they’ve been coming out with them and this article makes me feel somewhat vindicated.  A more thorough response the piece has prompted will be forthcoming.  LINK

Shooting the Benjamin Marauder

benjamin bipod


It’s been a while since I got my Marauder finished up and I’ve been jonesin’ to get it out and shoot it.  The weather hasn’t been good for anything other than building an arc lately so I had to wait for the right day.  I was lucky enough to get a day with no rain and more importantly, no significant wind, so I took full advantage of it.  I know what the Marauder can do up close, so it was time to stretch it out a little bit.   [Read more…]

Followup: Burris Speedbead and Fastfire III

speedbead3While I’ve railed against the use of shotgun optics for a long time, I’ve come to realize they do serve a valid purpose in certain situations.  For instance, when patterning different loads, you might find a particular shell patterns very well but the point of impact is not where the bead is being held.  If you’re just using the bead on the barrel, you’re forced to find another load that has a truer point of impact.  The other nice part of having a sight like the FastFire III is your cheek can creep off the stock and you will still hit what you’re holding on.  So ok, I’ll eat my words.  Shotgun optics do have a purpose. [Read more…]

Gear Test: Mountain Khakis Original Mountain Pants

mountain khakis

Khaki pants are part of my work uniform and I’m not talking about a pressed pair of Dockers, either.  A good portion of my job includes working on a sporting clays range loading, moving, and servicing the trap machines.  Battery acid holes and grease stains are the norm.  If there’s one thing I’m qualified to tear apart, it’s a good pair of khaki pants.

These pants come in two fits, relaxed and broadway.  I have both and the broadway fits much better.  The relaxed are too baggy.  Maybe for a bigger person they would be ok, but they hang off of me.  They might not be bad in the winter with base layers but on their own, they’re like M.C. Hammer pants.  The broadway fit is where it’s at.

The material is heavy but not heavy enough to be restrictive or uncomfortable.  I have lots of Carhartt stuff but the canvas is just a little to heavy for everyday use, or wearing it without base layers.  The Mountain Khaki fabric is a little softer and a little thinner, but every bit as rugged.  It is a quality item.  The stitching is heavy and after three months of hard use, there are no real signs of wear other than some minor fading.

mk3  One of my favorite thing about the Mountain Khakis is the dual pocket on the right side.  The flat spot on the outer pocket holds a knife clip perfectly and keeps you from scratching the top of your hand every time you dig into your front pocket.  It’s pretty well thought out.

I’ve destroyed just about every pair of khaki pants I’ve worn to work over the past 4 years but so far the Mountain Khakis are holding strong.  They’re comfortable, fit well, and are durable.  While they started as my uniform pants, they’re slowly creeping into my everyday wardrobe.  5 out of 5 stars.  Mountain Khakis are legit.  $84.95