Backcountry Gear Starters

Gear to get you started hunting the backcountry

by Jason Brooks

For the backcountry hunter and hikers there really is no “off season” but instead the “adjustment season”. When the snows are too deep to get safely into the high country then it is time to organize and critique our gear. Veteran backcountry explorers know that mending, cleaning, and evaluating gear is an important part of success. For those that are new to the backcountry game this is the time to research and gain knowledge on what you really need in the high country. Here are a few tips to get a novice started as well as reminder for the experienced backcountry hunter to go thru their gear and purchase any necessities for the coming season.

Tents and tarps should be lightweight shelters to get you out of the weather-Jason Brooks

Shelter

Probably the most important gear is your shelter and it can vary depending on the season you plan to hunt as well as where you prefer to hunt. For hunters that find themselves along the Cascade crest or high elevations then rain and even snow is not uncommon during the early September “High Hunt” in Washington. I’ve spent so many nights in a “bivvy bag” during a rainstorm that I now prefer to put some extra weight into my pack by using a three season, two-person tent. When I am joined by a hunting companion we split the load and I carry a three-person tent and they carry other shared items.

Teepee’s and “hot tents” are becoming very popular in the backcountry these days, as well. These lightweight nylon tarp shelters are easy to pitch and when combined with a titanium stove you can stay warm during the surprise snow storm and dry out after an afternoon rain squall. One drawback is that most models don’t use a floor as this adds a lot of weight.

Campfire cooked trout is a delight in the high country-Jason Brooks

Food

Back in the “good ole’ days” the MRE, or Meal Ready to Eat, perfected in the finest kitchens the U.S. Military could find, at the lowest bid of course, meant we gorged on high calorie, high sodium, food that would live well past our lifetime. They are heavy and produced a lot of garbage with their packaging. Since then freeze dried meals started showing up in our packs and now there are many supplements we can add throughout our day to increase our energy. Check out some of the products by MtnOps. And when it comes to coffee, it’s hard to beat a fresh brewed cup and thanks to some innovative processing and packaging Ascent Packs from Dark Timber Coffee makes it easy to have a morning cup of coffee in the backcountry.

If you like to enjoy your catch or harvest while in the backcountry, it’s hard to beat some campfire trout or coconut oil sautéed grouse. To bring along some spices to flavor your harvest you can package them at home in plastic drinking straws, bend over the ends and secure them with tape or rubber bands. They are lightweight and waterproof. You can use this idea to keep matches dry in your pack too.

Dress in layers of quality clothing to stay warm, dry and safe-Jason Brooks

Clothing

Technology, fashion, and practicality have really helped the hunter who heads to the high country. With new materials like microfiber, nylon, fleece, and Gore-Tex those that head to the backcountry can lighten their load by not having to carry too many extra clothes. The company motto for Sitka Gear really rings true, “Turning clothing into gear”.

Layering is the most important survival “tactic” we can use and it starts at the trailhead. Pack away the outer shell and any cold gear, so not to sweat too much as you hike. Once you stop it’s time to add a layer. The fashion world might seem like an unlikely place for hunters to find clothing but in reality it reminds us that sometimes the natural world provides some of the best clothes. A fur hat on a cold and windy Montana mule deer hunt keeps you warm.

When it comes to your laying system, be practical about it. Instead of buying a heavy winter coat that a hunter would use in a tree stand in Wisconsin, buy a lightweight waterproof shell, a fleece jacket, a wool shirt, and some micro-fiber undershirts. You will stay much warmer and you can lighten up as you hike and adjust for sunny days or a sudden snow storm. Wool is truly your friend in the backcountry and remember “cotton kills”. Stay away from cotton clothing, especially “Long Johns”, t-shirts and jeans. Not only is it heavy but it also cools when wet and it will lead to hypothermia.

A lightweight and compact all-in-one stove, like the Stryker, is a must have-Jason Brooks

Cooking Stoves

The thought of eating a cold lunch always bothered me. Several years ago I started carrying a lightweight stove with me all day. Back then I used the MSR “Pocket Rocket” and then made the move to an “all-in-one” system with the Camp Chef Stryker. When sitting on a ridge it sure is nice to have a hot cup of coffee or some hot oatmeal for lunch. During a rainstorm I often crawl under a tree and have a hot meal. It’s hard to start a fire under such a tree without causing concern of a forest fire, even when it’ snowing and the fire would consist of one tree.

But the all-in-one system allows me to heat water quickly and have a meal with no fire needed. The Stryker has a built in igniter and the butane canister nestles into the cup along with the burner and stand. One major advantage to carrying a lightweight stove during the day is that you can lighten up your lunch weight with dried foods and if you have a water source nearby you don’t even have to carry extra water. More than once I have found myself on the trail back to camp well after dark and stop along the way to eat dinner. When I finally make it back to camp I go to bed without having to stay up late to eat some calories.

Little comforts like a hot meal on a cold night make it possible to stay in the backcountry for long periods-Jason Brooks

Comforts

You would be surprised how a small item that takes your mind off of things helps you extend your stay in the backcountry. Though these “comfort” items add weight they are as much needed as a good tent or sleeping bag if you plan on a long trip, especially a solo one. I prefer to take a paperback book or the latest issue of my favorite hunting magazine. A hunting buddy of mine carries a small 35mm film canister with some dice. Another carries a deck of cards. You can pass a thunderstorm inside of a tent with these items, or if awakened by something going “bump in the night” they can get you back to sleep. One last item that is my absolute “must have” in my backpack for comfort is a small MP3 player and headphones (ear buds). It is extremely lightweight and last days on a single charge. This past fall while packing out my elk from the Idaho backcountry it took me four trips with heavy loads on my back. The last trip I was skipping along past camp to the meat hanging tree and the guys couldn’t understand where I got my energy from. I was listening to my favorite music and happily hiking along not even feeling the weight of that bull on my back.

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

2018 Pacific Northwest Turkey Outlook

The author (right ) called this big 21 lb. Boss Tom in for a friend last season. Curiosity and loneliness around mid morning once the hens had went to nest brought this guy into 18 yards. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

I’m going to go out on a limb here! No pun intended but I’m going to go ahead and say that the 2018 Oregon spring turkey season will be fantastic! Why will it be fantastic might you ask?

First of all, last year’s dry spring and mild winter made for a great hatch and good poult survival. Secondly, we have had a fairly mild winter with less snow pack in many portions of the Pacific Northwest equating to less winter die off of birds. Yes, some of the late cold and snowy weather took its toll on some flocks but for the most part they are doing better than ever.

Good Bets: In order to find a gobbler this spring a hunter should be prepared to look higher in elevation. Lack of snow pack in many locations has enabled birds to disperse quicker into the high country. This spring will be similar to last year in many ways and hunters should keep in mind where they found birds last year and begin their searches in those areas. Turkey are drawn to food around small creeks with fresh vegetation, newly hatched insects, snails and small amphibians which are all irresistible to them. If you walk ridges above draws with creek bottoms that have freshly sprouted plant life you will eventually run into turkeys.

Turkey populations continue to expand throughout the Pacific Northwest as birds continue to do well and thrive in many locations. Now is the time to get involved and become a part of this exciting sport throughout our region. If you haven’t been turkey hunting yet I highly recommend giving it a try because the prospects for the 2018 season are looking pretty darn good.

A group of mature gobblers in search of a lonely hen. Often times during the early season birds will be found in larger groups with multiple gobblers hanging together. (Troy Rodakowski)

Western Oregon: Last season 13,716 hunters managed to harvest 5,246 birds during the spring season in the Beaver state. The top five units on the west side were the Melrose, Rogue, Willamette, Evans Creek and the Applegate. All of these units had good harvests with some of the highest harvests coming from Melrose and Rogue followed by Evans Creek & Willamette respectively. Many of these birds congregate on private lands or borders of private timber and BLM tracts. With Douglas County being the “Turkey Capitol” of Oregon over a third of the annual harvest occurs here.

One unit to keep an eye on for this year will be the Siuslaw near Lorane especially in the southeast portions near the small towns of Drain and Creswell. Also, the McKenzie, Alsea, Chetco and Keno units have seen increasing numbers of birds on private lands near the foothills. Spend a little time door-knocking in these units and you could score some primo turkey hunting ground.

These are all great areas but Northeast Oregon in my opinion is one of the best regions to hunt spring turkey in the Beaver state. Locations near LaGrande, Imbler, Elgin, Union, Cove, Wallowa, Sumpter, and Flora all hold decent flocks of birds. Catherine Creek, Sumpter, Walla Walla, Pine Creek, and Minam GMU’s all saw decent harvest in 2017. Units that showed significant increases in harvest during the past few years were the Sled Springs, Chesnimnus, Keating, and Starkey.

Getting our youth out is important. Be sure to look into your states youth hunts for turkey this coming season. (Troy Rodakowski)

Washington State: The state of Washington has seen turkey harvest rise from a mere 588 birds in 1996 to nearly 5,000 in the past few seasons. Last year the total spring harvest was 4,980 birds taken by 9,565 hunters across the state. In the Northeast region of the Evergreen State the turkey harvest in GMU’s 101-136 have held at or near 3,000 birds. Both Yakima and Kittitas counties turkey populations have held fairly steady also with some minor declines over the last few years.

In Okanogan County turkey are found in scattered groups and are primarily found in larger numbers on private agricultural holdings. GMU’s 231 and 232 hold the best populations of birds and see some of the highest harvest rates in this district. With reduced numbers in the Methow Valley hunters are finding it a bit more difficult to fill a tag.

The Stemilt Basin outside of Wenatchee and lands along the Wenatchee River usually hold several flocks of birds. Most of the lands near Wenatchee are private and hunters looking for public lands need to search closer to the Stemilt Basin. In addition, the east slope of the Cascade mountain range is showing expanding populations of turkeys. The Eastern species of turkey in Western Washington are continuing to expand with GMU’s 667, 510, 672, and 520 being the best. Many of the turkey in these units are on private farmlands or timberlands and permission is required to access these birds.

Every once in a while a bird will come in silent. So always keep your eyes peeled for that red bobbing head. (Troy Rodakowski)

Idaho: Turkeys are found throughout the Panhandle Region, except in the mountainous units 7 and 9. Turkey hunting is usually pretty good in the Panhandle region however this past winter may have taken a toll on turkey populations.

The 2017-18 winter had above normal snowpack with lower elevations also receiving a good amount of snow. Birds will be concentrated in areas with feed following the receding snow lines. Decent hunting can be found on public land adjacent to private land in lower elevations especially in units 1, 2, 3, and 5. Obtaining permission from private landowners is a good option for finding turkey hunting spots. Many private landowners will provide access because they want turkey flocks reduced on their lands.

Good opportunities for turkey hunting are also found in and near Idaho Fish and Game’s Craig Mountain Wildlife Management Area south of Lewiston, as well as state and federal land, private agriculture land and corporate timber land.

Turkey production the past three years has been near the long-term average in the Clearwater Region resulting in numbers that should provide hunting success consistent with recent years.

Mild conditions during the past few winters in the Clearwater region has resulted in good survival into spring and also helps give hunters access to higher elevations early in the spring.

In the Clearwater Region hunters will want to focus their effort near the Clearwater River up to the Lochsa and Selway. Also, the Snake River, lower Salmon River, and White bird have held decent numbers of birds.

For early season success make sure to scout prior to season and obtain permission on private ground if possible. Figuring out a flock’s daily routine will help to put you in a good spot during the opening week of the season. If you plan to hunt some of the higher terrain be prepared to cover some ground to locate birds. Turkeys in the mountains are concentrating their effort on finding fresh food and dispersing into the higher meadows where the snow has melted off. These Rio’s and Merriams tend to be more nomadic and are not as easy to pattern.

Also, make sure to take some time and practice your calling. You don’t have to be a World Champion or even close to a professional caller but try your best to sound as much like a turkey as possible. Listening to You Tube Videos or having a friend or family member who is an experienced caller help you can make a huge difference. Simple box calls are easiest for beginners and with just a little practice slate calls can be mastered fairly quickly, as well. Mouth diaphragms tend to take a bit more practice but are very effective and best of all they render a hunters hands free and ready to shoot.

Turkey hunting is catching on out here in the Pacific Northwest and populations are continuing to grow and expand. Washington, Oregon and Idaho offer some of the best turkey hunting across the country and now is the time to start planning your 2018 turkey hunt. With the winter snows melting in the lower elevations now is the time to get out there and locate some birds ahead of the openers in these great Western states.

 

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
Western Oregon Region
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Tips for a Successful Late Season Quail Hunt

by Jason Brooks

With just a few weeks left in the upland bird hunts for Washington it is time to start changing up tactics a bit to increase your success on late season quail. The birds have been hunted hard now for several months but thanks to these small and tasty birds the broods are often large enough to handle the extra-long season of opportunities. But once the temperatures plummet you will need to change how you approach the day’s hunt.

Birds don’t start their daily movements until well after the sun is up when it’s cold-Jason Brooks

Don’t start too early

Though we often like to be in the hills at first light, and with that being somewhere after breakfast anyway this time of year, birds are slow to come out of the roost. Quail are mostly a ground roosting bird which means they will often be holding under sagebrush and dense cover until the sun hits and starts to warm them up. The tiny birds will roost in thick spruce or pine trees if available so look for a sage covered hillside that might also have a stand of evergreens. I find most of my birds in the middle of the day.

Quail hunting in the middle of the day is the most productive-Jason Brooks

Don’t hunt late

Just like how the birds don’t really get moving until mid-day they also tend to head for their nighttime safety early in winter. As the sun starts for the far horizon quail will start to shorten their movements and stop feeding. The key to a late season bird hunt is to maximize the middle of the day when the birds are out moving and actively feeding.

The author prefers to use his side by side with size 6 shot-Jason Brooks

Pick the right shotgun, load and choke

With the cold temperatures I will bundle up in layers of wool, down jackets and gloves. Auto-loading shotguns help with the lack of needing to move a pump and aid your follow-up shots. If you do use a pump-action then be sure to use a gun oil that can take cold temperatures. I prefer to use my side by side as it is a challenge as well as a great gun to shoot. Tighten your chokes up from Improved Cylinder to Modified if you wish to continue to use light shot such as size 7 1/2’s. This will help with the dense plumage the birds have put on since early fall. Instead of changing the choke consider moving up to size 6 shot in a high brass. The wider choke allows for an increased pattern size and the larger shot helps penetrate the feathers.

Late season quail will hold very tight, even with a dog on full point-Jason Brooks

Expect tight holding birds

In the early season it seems I can barely get close enough to a covey before they bust and flush. I don’t mind this as it allows me to pick up singles and doubles on the second approach. But in winter the cold weather and snows make it so the birds don’t want to flush easily. This past weekend we were hunting with our Hungarian Vizsla and one bird was six inches off her nose and still wouldn’t flush. The dog held point and I kicked the bush a few times to get it to fly. Since the birds hold so tight most shots will be very close which is another reason to keep the choke wide and use a larger shot.

Hunt into the wind to give your dog the best chance to find the birds-Jason Brooks

Watch the weather

Cloudy days and days with lots of moisture, either in snow or fog, makes for a long and tough day of bird hunting. This is mostly because the birds will be in dense cover to keep from getting wet and cold. It can be almost impossible to get a covey to move or flush in these conditions. More than once I have seen quail running around in a big thicket but no matter what I did they wouldn’t flush. Try and hunt sunny days as the birds will be on the move and out in the warm sunlight. If there is a breeze then make sure to work your dog into the wind as the scent can travel and cause your dog to “false point” when hunting with the wind or even pick up birds from behind. I’ve made the mistake of hunting with the wind and walk right past birds only to have them flush behind me.

A late season quail hunt is one of the best ways to spend a winter day-Jason Brooks

Keep in mind that if you are cold then so is your dog. Give them some extra food at the end of the day to help them regulate their temperatures and get their strength back. Water for your four legged hunting partner and for yourself is often overlooked in the winter. Be sure to offer it to your dog regularly. The season is only a few weeks away from the end so on the next sunny day get out and chase some late season quail.

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Scout Now for Fall’s Hunts!

by Jason Brooks

With special permit draws being announced hunting season is starting to feel a little bit closer. If you drew your “dream tag” or struck out once again now is the time to start your scouting. If you attended my seminar last April then you heard me talk about other resources to help with your scouting, if you missed the seminar then keep reading as I highlight some of the details. A record snowpack means that you might not be able to put “boots on the ground” to find your big buck or bull this fall for a few more weeks or even a month but you can start your scouting right now!

Finding bucks in the summertime helps find them again in the Fall-Jason Brooks

Start with your state’s Fish and Game website and their hunt planning tools. For Washington it is the “Go Hunt” feature at the WDFW Hunting Tab. On this planner you can find public lands, private lands that allows access, integrated maps with satellite photos, roads, unit boundaries and harvest data.

WDFW Go Hunt allows you to find maps of your unit as well as harvest data-Jason Brooks

Once you have your unit figured out then it is time to start thinking about other places for information. Websites such as Hunting WashingtonEastman’s Hunting , Muley Madness, and other sites offer articles and even forums where hunters give up information. You can also contact members and ask them directly about their experiences, especially for the hard-to-draw tags.

The SNOTEL website lets you know how much snow is still in the high country-Jason Brooks

As you start to narrow down your areas search maps and topography websites such as “Google Earth”. You can also find other maps and data about your area from government websites such as the SNOTEL site that gives you up-to-date snow depth information. This will let you know when you can actually head to your unit and do some physical scouting of the ridges, mountains, draws, and drainages you want to hunt.

Google Earth shows you topography as well as other features such as lakes, open slopes, and ridges-Jason Brooks

Other websites that provide information are ones that non-hunters frequent and provide trail reports for such as Washington Trails AssociationWilderness.net and wildland fire data at National Interagency Fire Center.

Before you head to your unit make sure to check the local forest service website if you are hunting the national forest. This will list road conditions and closures, trail conditions, planned projects such as construction or prescribed burns, and other information including ATV use.

National Interagency Fire Center provides up-to-date fire maps and information-Jason Brooks

Now that you know if your hunting the yearly “deer camp” or are heading to a new unit and a dream hunt it is time to start scouting. Between weekend trips keep up to date with various websites and maps. Learn the area and talk to those that are familiar with the unit such as biologist, guides, and other hunters. Just remember to share information as well when asked.

Kyle Hurst knows scouting pays off and helped him harvest this mule deer during a general season-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer 

Deer Cartridges – A Trio at the Top

by Wayne Vanzwoll

Name three fine deer cartridges? Easy! Name only three? Oh. That’s really, really hard!

Wayne shot his first deer with a SMLE in .303 British. He still hunts with the round, here in a Ruger. (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

The deer was loping through Michigan poplars when a bullet from my $30 SMLE broke its neck. My first whitetail. The .303 British, now 130 years old, still works fine for deer. It has surely killed more Canadian moose than any other cartridge. It has downed elephants.

A pointed .303 British bullet outruns flat-points from the .30-30 and .32 Special popular in lever-action rifles for most of the 20th century. So do modern softpoints from the 6.5×55 and 7×57, also infantry rounds pre-dating the Great War. Fine deer cartridges, all.

Dating to 1892, the 7×57 with modern pointed bullets is a fine deer round. It gave Wayne this muley. (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

But at its debut in 1925 the .270 Winchester started hunters on a different track. Since then, bolt-action deer rifles have chambered ever-friskier rounds, with flatter arcs and more punch.

The .270, introduced by Winchester in 1925, set hunters on a faster-is-better kick. Scopes contributed. (Wayne Vanzwoll)

Now the deer-cartridge bin bulges with options. The 7mm and 30-caliber magnums, while useful for bigger game, strike me as excessive. Like sending Junior to college in a $50,000 pickup. You needn’t have my blessing to hunt with a hotrod cartridge or spring for a new F-250. But I’ll stick with milder deer loads – say, those firing 100- to 140-grain bullets at 2,650 to 3,150 fps from bolt rifles with 6mm to 7mm bores. Specifically: the .243 and 6mm, the .257 Roberts and .25-06, the 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5×55 and .260 Remington, the .270, 7mm-08 and 7×57. Add the .300 Savage and .308 with 150-grain missiles to make it an even dozen. How can I include the .270 and not the .280? You’re right; they’re too similar. A baker’s dozen, now, these are easy to shoot, and with proper bullets deadly even on quartering shots to 300 yards.

But what about the .30-06, long America’s darling and arguably its most versatile round? Well, arbitrary lines must fall somewhere. The ’06 is a notch up in power and recoil from the .308, which itself has more punch than plaid-clad riflemen a century ago could have imagined using on deer.

Top trio? Perhaps the three 6.5s, ballistically very close. The .260 and the 6.5 Creedmoor work in short actions, the Swede not so much. The Creedmoor trumps the .260 for efficiency and paired with long bullets. But these are academic differences.

The .260 Remington, a necked-down .308, shoots flat, recoils gently, kills deer past 300 yards. Bravo! (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

If you like lever rifles, sifting cartridges became harder after Hornady introduced LeverEvolution ammo. It sends spitzer bullets fast from hulls long shackled by flatpoints, almost doubling effective reach. Last fall I shot a buck at 80 yards with a .25-35 rifle predating women’s suffrage. The 110-grain Hornady carried 1,200 ft-lbs at impact – three times the energy of a .25-20 at the muzzle. You’ll recall it was a .25-20 that in 1914 killed the Jordan buck, a gigantic whitetail that topped Boone & Crockett lists until 1993.

The .308 with 150-grain bullets makes Wayne’s list. It creates wound cavities once hard to imagine! (Wayne Vanzwoll photo)

Favorite deer cartridges are like favorite songs, or favorite dogs. Your top picks depend largely on what you expect of them. I prefer to hunt close, increasingly with iron sights. Given a 100-yard limit imposed by cover or irons, a .25-35 makes sense. It’s about as light a cartridge as I’ll use. A humane kill matters to me, and not every buck is a ribcage awaiting a bullet from the side. I had to fire again to kill the deer I hit (obliquely) with the .25-35.

My favorite deer loads? Whatever’s in the chamber when my rifle comes to cheek, and the brass bead or the crosswire finds a forward rib.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Journalist, Gun Writer
The Outdoor Line 
710 ESPN Seattle

EXO Mountain Gear Backcountry Hunting Packs - Boise, Idaho

5 Turkey Musts For This Coming Season

Make sure to have the scales tipped in your favor come this April and you’ll surely find yourself packing more birds out of the field. (Troy Rodakowski)

By Troy Rodakowski

In general, extreme weather patterns are not beneficial for wild turkeys.  In particular, winters with deep snow at lower elevations can impact overwinter survival when turkeys can’t dig down for their favorite foods. “We have actually seen them stay in the roost for days at a time when snow is too deep to feed,” says Mikal Moore NWTF Biologist for the Pacific Northwest. The other big driver of turkey population’s dynamics is wet springs, which can inhibit hatching success.  For those poults that do hatch, protein-rich insects will be plentiful in wet years, a critical component of bone, muscle, and feather growth in young wild turkeys,” adds Moore.

The yin and yang of a severe winter in the Pacific Northwest may keep some from hunting turkeys while others will find success. My advice is that there’s never a better time than the present to pursue these handsome birds.

A spring gobbler searches through the grass for other turkeys while listening carefully for hens and keeping an eye out for danger. (Troy Rodakowsk)

Over the years I have made plenty of mistakes and learned some valuable lessons when hunting turkeys. Here are a few tips of what not to do on opening day to help you be a more successful turkey hunter.

1.) Don’t expect to pull into a place that you have seen turkeys and find them in the same location during season. This has happened to me a few times and is a lot like going to a job interview without your resume. Locating a prospective spot, not taking the time to scout it out and still hoping for positive results just doesn’t work. Unfortunately, most of us have been in this position at least once, had a lack of time to spend in the woods prior to season and hurried out on opening day only to find disappointment. The lesson here is get out before season, get out often, scout and you will be rewarded with more birds for the freezer.

2.) If you hear a gobble don’t get excited and over call. Hunters need to remember that it is natural for a hen to go seek out a tom. We as hunters are trying to convince these birds the opposite of what comes naturally to them. When first encountering a bird I like to gently test him out with just some light yelps and purring. If he doesn’t respond then hit him with a couple cutts and cackles to see if he will shock gobble.

I like to mimic what a hen is saying. If she yelps at you yelp right back with the same tone and cadence. If she cackles and cutts make sure to do it right back at her, make her mad, you are there to steal that gobbler from her.

3.) After a long morning, find a tree, take a short nap, get a bite to eat, drink some water and relax. I have harvested countless birds in the afternoon and just prior to sunset. Many hunters get frustrated and call it a day after hiking a few miles without hearing any gobbles or even seeing a bird. Remember, most of the breeding occurs in the morning within the first few hours after fly down. Gobblers urge to breed and their potency is higher during the morning hours and they will usually, try to locate a receptive hen immediately after fly down. Afternoon hunts are great because many of the hens will return to their established nesting sites to lay and incubate eggs. This leaves Mr. Tom lonely and in search for any hens that are still wandering about and feeding.

Gobblers are smart. Getting one to make a mistake isn’t always easy. (Troy Rodakowski)

4.) Be prepared to cover lots of ground. Nesting hens usually stay within a radius of 1 mile spending the day feeding, laying and sitting on eggs. Gobblers on the other hand can cover ground often times wandering up to 2 miles from their roosting site looking for receptive hens. Hearing a gobble over a ridge doesn’t mean you will find that bird in the original location that he sounded off from. I remember one year I contacted a bird and ended up killing him 3 miles from where I had first heard him. Wear good base layer clothing and plan on sweating a little.

5.) When hunting from a blind make sure to know what stage of the breeding cycle the birds are in. Don’t “over –do” your decoy spread and make sure not to over call. Larger breeding groups of turkeys and birds at fly down are very vocal but solo gobblers are not always keen to radical calling techniques. Infrequent calling and silence can be exactly what a bird is looking for as it stirs their curiosity and seems more natural especially later in the day when birds are a somewhat less vocal.

Troy Rodakowski is an award winning outdoor writer based out of Western Oregon.

The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

Shed Hunting 101

As the snow melts it’s time to go find some sheds-Jason Brooks

by Jason Brooks

With deer and elk dropping their antlers and the snow level climbing above 5,000 feet it’s time to go shed hunting. This long and harsh winter is finally coming to an end and before green-up occurs the matted-down vegetation found in the woods right now makes it easier to find the prized bone. Here are a few tips as well as some reminders on shed hunting here in Washington.

My Hungarian Vizsla “Lucy” helps me find sheds-Jason Brooks

Use your dog! One way to increase your antler cache is to train your dog to look for sheds. Play fetch or force break retrieving using an antler and heavily reward your dog when they find it and bring it back. It won’t take long and they’ll be out searching for sheds and bringing them back to you in trade for a small treat. You will note my Hungarian Vizsla Lucy is wearing her hunting vest by Browning. This helps me keep tabs on her as she races across the hillsides. If we stumble across some deer or elk I can easily see her and call her back, leaving the animals alone.

When you find one shed look around for the other side nearby-Jason Brooks

When you find one shed, look for the other. The bases loosen and they fall off, which often happens simultaneously. If you find one shed search around and you might pick up a match set.

Leave winter kill skulls and antlers in the field-Jason Brooks

Leave winter kill animals alone. In Washington you can only collect naturally shed antlers so if you come across a winter kill leave it for the coyotes and other animals.

Leave deer and elk alone so they can recover from the long winter-Jason Brooks

If you find a group of deer or herd of elk then back out and come back another day. You might be out stretching your legs and getting a good workout in while hiking the hills but the animals are still enduring the harsh winter. Their fat reserves are gone and until the grasses and brush start to green up they don’t have much of a food source. It’s best to leave animals alone, even if you see a nice buck and hope to follow him until the antlers drop. Mark the spot on your GPS and come back next week.

Finding sheds is a great way to get afield in the springtime-Jason Brooks

Remember that shed hunting is a business for some and it can be very competitive. If you find an open slope and are lucky enough to find a shed or two then remember the spot for next year and keep it to yourself. Popular places near known wintering grounds can be very competitive. Only shed hunt on public lands or where you have permission and check the WDFW website regarding WDFW lands as most of them are closed until later in the spring to allow wintering animals a place to rest.

I love shed hunting because it’s a chance to work with my dog, get some excersice, and spend some quality time outside with my kids. After the winter we’ve had here in Washington it’s about time all of us get outside anyway. It’s been a long one!

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line-Blogger
Jason Brooks Photography

 

Montana Mule Deer “Matriculation”…

Anytime one ventures outdoors in search of fish or game and returns without learning anything, it is an opportunity lost indeed. One of my favorite aspects of this wonderful lifestyle we call hunting and fishing is the fact that no one can possibly “know it all” and as such, every single one of us can add to our knowledge base literally every day afield. That’s a long-winded way of explaining my use of the word “matriculation” in the title of this post as I learned much on this hunt that will allow me to become a better deer hunter.

The planning of this hunt began in March when we applied for non-resident deer tags and then we had to wait until the November rut to make the 12+ hour drive to our Montana area. It was a uniquely challenging and fun hunt on many fronts from the minus 20 degree temperatures, the unfamiliar landscape, my first hunt using the Outlander 450L Max ATV and Lord willing, it will not be my last!

Mule deer or “muleys” as they are known to most hunters, get their name from an pronounced set of ears that are well suited to picking up any -and every- noise within a wide radius.

abigbuckThe first morning of our hunt we were “greeted” with temperatures in the minus 20 degree range and a breathtaking snowy landscape. We unloaded the 4-wheelers and got to it!

aOulanderSnVintage Montana: The landscape is littered with abandoned artifacts of days gone by. In this case, a loosely assembled pile of wood that was once someone’s boat!

aBoat

One of the most fun and unique aspects of this hunt was the use of our Outlander ATV’s. We were able to reach remote areas and once we hopped off our energy was intact to fully devote to the hunt! Our Triton ATV trailer made loading and unloading the ATV’s a snap and towed like a dream!

aTriton

The trailer made long hauls on mountain passes and gravel roads look easy…until you looked at our license plate that is…

aPlate

The State of Montana does a great job of opening up blocks of private land known as BMA’s or Block Management Areas. Here Robbo signs in at the registration box allowing us to hunt the area.

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Glassing, glassing and more glassing. Learning to pick an area apart and find an ear, antler tip, tail or patch of hair is an invaluable skill to a mule deer hunter. Patience and persistence is the key…and hand warmers…Brrrr…

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Robbo and his beautiful mulie buck taken on the final day of our hunt. Robbo passed up more bucks than I could keep track of and his patience and discipline were rewarded when he spotted and stalked this dandy deer!

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Although I wasn’t able to fill my tag this time around, I learned more by hunting hard each day of this trip than I would of otherwise. Learning what to look for and where to look is a huge part of the mule deer equation and seeing numbers of Montana mule deer each day is a great way to learn to spot deer when few are around. I’m looking forward to next hunting season to test what I learned on this hunt and to answer the challenge of becoming a better hunter!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

Montana Spot and Stalk Mule Deer Hunt

I just returned from a fulfilling mule deer hunt in the Missouri River breaks of Central Montana. Hunting here means hours and hours behind the glass searching for mule deer in the open sage country of the breaks. A great set of field glasses, a spotting scope, and an eye for locating deer is a must in this country.

Glassing the Missouri Breaks - photo by Rob EndsleyMy eyes are accustomed to gazing thru my binoculars for long periods of time and I’ll usually use them to locate deer at great distances before I jump on the spotting scope to take a closer look. In this country a spotting scope gives you a huge advantage in determining whether you want to go after a buck or take a pass in hopes of a bigger one.

I happened to grab the photo below by placing my small digital camera over the eyepiece of my spotting scope. I spotted this buck in his bed at around 900 yards.  It was one of many on this trip.

Bedded Down Mule Deer - Photo by Rob EndsleyAfter you find a mule deer that you want to take comes the hard part…closing the distance. My good friend Jim Heins and I spotted a good 4 point from around 500 yards away and then Jim used the cover of a knoll to close the distance to 250 yards. You can’t just walk up on a knoll like this and shoot your buck though.

Deer that live in open country depend on their eyesight just as much as their sense of smell to detect danger. Even the sight of the top of your hat peaking over a ridge can send them hauling ass for the next county.

Once Jim got to the knoll he was going to shoot from he slowly pushed his pack and rifle up to the edge of the small ridge to get in position for a shot. There’s also plenty of cactus here, which can literally be a pain in the ass when you’re putting the sneak on a mule deer.

Spot and Stalk Mule Deer HuntingLuckily I was along to range this mule deer at 245 yards before Jim took the shot. He used a Kimber .300 WSM with a Leupold VX-3L that was nothing short of a tack driver. This load carries plenty of energy to knock a muley down at great distances.

Kimber .300 WSM with Leupold VX 3L Rifle Scope - Photo by Rob EndsleyHere’s a little better view of the ravine Jim was shooting across. The mule deer was standing at the top of the dark patch that looks like “Z” on the right side of the ravine. This is a chip shot for a .300 WSM!

Mule deer hunting in open country means long shots - photo by Rob EndsleyJim made a perfect shot and the mule deer went down immediately. Off we went to go check it out.

jim_mule_deer_ravine_webThis deer was down alright…all the way down in the bottom of the canyon. Here’s Jim looking down to the bottom of the canyon where his first deer is laying.

spot and stalk mule deer hunting - outdoor line rob endsleyJim “Bucket” Heins first deer turned out to be a heavy-bodied 4 point with a single eye guard. All that time at the rifle range payed off for this happy hunter. Not too shabby Mr. Heins!

Jim Heins with his Montana mule deer - photo by Rob EndsleyJim cutting his Montana deer tag before we field dressed his muley and hauled it out of the canyon. It took some work but before too long we had it back up to the road where we could pick it up with one of the four wheelers. Well worth the effort if you ask me and Jim was more than happy with his first deer.

Jim Heins cutting his Montana deer tag - photo by Rob EndsleyI’ve hunted deer most of my life but I hate to admit that this was my first out of state deer hunt. It definitely won’t be my last though. The hunting was very challenging and on average I would see around four to five bucks a day with a couple of good shooters in the bunch. For the guys with little to no experience hunting deer that daily buck count can quickly go down to a single buck a day or less. These animals blend into their environment perfectly and more often that not if you see them…they see you!

Thanks for stopping by and good luck on the remainder of your hunting season everyone. Go get’em!!!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

 

Middle Schooler Scores First Black Bear

After two years of perseverance hunting the rugged west slope of the Cascades in Whatcom County 14 year old Justin Miedema finally got a chance at his first black bear. Justin took the 250 pound black bear at 370 yards with a 140 grain bullet from his .270. “The bear just folded after the shot,” said Eric Vanhofwegen who was along on the hunt.

I’m sure Justin was already hooked on hunting to begin with, but after this great black bear I know exactly what he’ll be doing every fall from here on out. He’ll be hunting!

Kudos to his dad Brian for getting him hooked on hunting at such an early age. Great job you guys!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle