How to Rig the Gibb’s Hali Hawg

Adding a Gibb’s Hali Hawg grub to your halibut rig can make a big difference when you hit the water in search of flatties this spring. They swim, wiggle, glow, and give an added measure of attraction when you’re ringing the dinner bell on the ocean floor.

In this Gibb’s Delta video longtime Vancouver Island charter captain Trevor Zboyovsky from No Bananas Charters shows how to rig a Hali Hawg grub with two “J” hooks to hammer Pacific halibut. Hali Hawg grub’s are manufactured with a hole thru the center that makes rigging them on a halibut leader really simple and effective.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Tag Team Turkeys

The author and his father used many of the tactics discussed to harvest these two birds on opening day a couple seasons back. (Troy Rodakowski)

by Troy Rodakowski

The companionship of hunting with a friend of family member is half the reason we hunt spring turkeys. The other and most important half, however, is that working as a team is probably the best possible way to put some turkeys on the dinner table.

While hunting spring turkeys it is at times very beneficial to set a caller 10-15 yards or more behind a shooter. Why might you ask? That wise old gobbler will often hang up just out of range and if he feels the hen is still a bit further he might just break that magical barrier needed for your shotgun or bow.

Natural obstacles like creeks logs and other barriers can make turkeys “hang up,” and not commit to your set up. (Troy Rodakowski)

Another great benefit to hunting with a partner is the ability to sound like multiple turkeys when both hunters are calling. Getting gobblers fired up is a key to success in the spring and if you can sound like multiple turkeys a long beard is more likely to come in and join your party. Additionally, I have found it pays to have an extra set of eyes on that bird when you are stalking into closer range to make a set.

One year we had a bird across a canyon that wasn’t willing to come through the bottom to meet us so we took matters into our own hands. My buddy set up high all the while keeping an eye on him through the binoculars as I hiked closer to the bird. I was able to get fairly close to that turkey through hand signals from my partner as to the birds movements and whereabouts. I got setup, did a little calling, and the rest is history.

Birds often times do not like to cross creeks or thick obstacles such as logs or dense brush. Gobblers will pace back and forth along a creek or brush barrier searching for that hen that keeps calling to them. The best approach to this is to have the caller stay in place and have the shooter sneak into position near the brush line or creek channel where the bird is pacing. This has worked several times for me over the years!

Food Sources / Strut & Dust Zones: Find food sources, such as old oak stands with acorns, open fields with seeds and plentiful insects. Creek bottoms with snails and amphibious life are also hot spots. Turkey tracks are easily observed in soft soils during the early spring. Places where birds spend time strutting and dusting zones become prime areas to set up an ambush or catch birds moving. Often, birds will find old burns or slash pile remnants to dust in. Looking for areas where birds have scraped and taken dust baths can help point a hunter to an area where they will likely return.

If you plan on using decoys be sure to use dekes that look as realistic as possible. I like to save fans from some of my jakes to attach to various decoys to give them a more realistic look and I’ll paint faded decoys to give them a little brighter look. I’ll even go so far as to attach a jerk string or cord to one of my standing hens or jakes so I can give it some movement. This works pretty well on birds from a distance and has helped bag some birds for my hunting partners and I over the years. This is one trick where the buddy system really comes in handy!

Even the most wary gobbler can be fooled. You just need to know when and how to make the right moves on an old wise bird. (Troy Rodakowski)

Regardless of your approach using the “buddy” system in the turkey woods this spring can be very beneficial. I sure do appreciate the help a hunting companion and what’s even better is sharing that experience with a good friend or family member.

Troy Rodakowski
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

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

 

Seven Ways To Get Your Salmon Season Off to a Swift Start!

By Tom Nelson

Well, “show season” aka “winter” is fast fading in the rear view mirror and after several full days of seeing the latest and greatest the fishing industry 2017 has to offer, I’ve boiled down the vast array of choices to these top of the line items that will get you off on the right fishy foot this season!

Daiwa Four-Carrier J Braid: A whole lot of anglers who’s opinions I sincerely respect are moving toward a spool of 65lb braid with a 20-foot top shot of 25 lb test mono for their mooching and trolling reels. The Daiwa J Braid in particular has less flexibility and stretch than most braids and more abrasion resistance making it a great choice for salt or river salmon fisheries!

Silver Horde’s Two Face Spoons: Kelly Morrison of SIlver Horde noticed that most of the “hot spoons” that anglers had the pleasure of fishing have had one thing in common: some type of paint finish on the “back” or concave side. Silver Horde has capitalized on this trend by finishing both sides of the very popular -and effective- Kingfisher Lite and Coho Killer series of lightweight trolling spoons.

CANNON Terminator Kit: Are you still carrying around a box of crimps and a pair of specialty pliers that you rarely use for anything else? Here’s the thing: as soon as you crimp your cable, you’ve damaged it and the clock is ticking. Here come the wire frays and then “POP” another expensive ball, release and rigging has just become habitat. With Cannon’s nylon Terminator, the wire is cushioned in the channel of the loom and you’ll enjoy significantly longer wire life, saving you money and fishing time!

Pro-Cure Downrigger Dynamite: There’s little question of the deadly effectiveness of Phil Pirone’s proprietary blend of amino acid bite stimulants which is the backbone of the industry’s leading Brine-n-Bite herring brine. Realizing that artificial trolling lures could benefit from the same chemistry, a mixure of herring, anchovie and sardine was spiked with amino acids and BOOM! You’ve got Downrigger Dynamite. Give it a drag. It will get you bit…

Daiwa LEXA 300 Linecounter: It’s simply about time that someone came up with a line counter that’s out of the way, easy to see and palms like a genuine low-profile reel. Introducing the Daiwa LEXA 300 LC. High speed slick with a butter smooth drag, don’t underestimate the power of it’s oversize gears and 21-pound drag system. As great as this reel is, I can’t wait to see the LEXA 400 LC ’cause it will be the best reel at Buoy Ten this August!

Gamakatsu Big River Open-Eye Siwash Hooks: Now available in a wider variety of sizes, you’ll be able to find these replacement hooks to fit any size spoon, plug or lure you care to rig. Benefitting from Gamakatsu’s magnificent curvature and shape of their popular Octopus hooks, these Big River Siwash are a definite upgrade for the questionable “original equipment” hooks that are all to often furnished with our favorite lures.

SIMRAD NSS 16 evo 3: All I could say was “Wow” when I saw the speed and layout of this behemoth! Processor speed is no longer an issue, nor is screen space as custom splits are a fingertip selection away. In addition to the Simrad DNA of a fully integrated Auto-Pilot, there’s a “Hot Key” that you can program to your favorite function. The screen is the brand new SolarMAX™ HD display technology that delivers exceptional clarity and ultra-wide viewing angles, combined with an all-weather touchscreen and expanded keypad for total control in all conditions.

There’s lots to get your attention this season and there’s no reason to wait! Try out some of this gear now so it will be familiar to you come our busy summer seasons and we’ll see you on the water!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Fish Blades for Early Potholes Walleye

Potholes Reservoir is currently locked up with more ice than the lakes seen in quite a few years. It’s been awful chilly in Eastern Washington since early December and that bout of cold weather continues to this day. So why are we talking about walleye then?

The second the ice comes off Washington’s Potholes Reservoir and the boat launches are finally useable again you’ll find a group of hardcore anglers hitting the reservoir in search of walleye. It could be another month or so before that happens but when it does it pays to be ready.

One of those anglers is longtime walleye guide Shelby Ross of PotholesFishing.com. Shelby lives on Potholes Reservoir and has guided for walleye and waterfowl on the lake for years.

When the ice burns off and you’re itchin’ to hit the lake here’s a few tips from the master himself that will put some early season walleye in your frying pan this spring.

Find the Bait, Find the Walleye

There’s no shortage of drop-off’s and humps in Potholes Reservoir and Shelby will hit as many as twenty of them in a day until he finds one loaded up with bait. He targets humps and ledges in 25 to 50 feet of water until he finds one that’s holding a bunch of bait. If the sonar screen looks promising he’ll toss a marker bouy out and keep cruising to see if there’s anything else in the vicinity.

Some of the areas that he’ll scope out first are the rock shelves around Goose Island, the north shoreline just west of Linn Coulee and the deep humps near the mouth of Crab Creek. These are all staging areas for the spawn and walleye are usually feeding in these areas in the months and weeks leading up to the spawn.

Once he’s got a good handle on exactly where the bait is he’ll stop the boat and start casting blade baits into the shallow water and work them out into deeper water. He say’s he’ll know instantly how good it is if they start catching perch right away. Find the perch and you’ve found the walleye.

The technique is somewhat simple to master but of course it does have it’s nuances. Shelby uses 1/2 ounce blades eighty percent of the time and has a few 3/8 and 3/4 ounce blades on board if he needs to switch up. If the walleye are just rattling the blades and they are missing a lot of hookups he’ll switch to a lighter 3/8 ounce blade first to give the lure a little slower fall. That usually produces a more aggressive strike and if that doesn’t work he’ll try the 3/4 ounce blade.

Position the boat on the deep end of the drop off and cast the blades up onto the shallow end of the ledge or hump. The lure should fall into about 25 to 30 feet of water. Once they hit the bottom start working them down the face of the ledge. He likes to work the jig up about a foot and then let it fall back to the bottom with the strikes always occurring on the drop. If you feel anything subtle or different about the action of the blade set the hook!

Make Your Own Blade Baits

Snagging up on the bottom is inevitable with this technique, so bring plenty of blades with you. Shelby spends some time in the winter months making up his own blade baits to cut the cost down a bit. He buys 3/8, 1/2, and 3/4 ounce nickel plated blades from Jann’s Netcraft and then adds the prism tape and hooks to finish them. His favorite prism tape colors are chartreuse, red, and silver and on any given day one can be hotter than the other.

He prefers to run Mustad split shank treble hooks on his blades because they greatly reduce the number of tangles. Blade baits with split rings are a tangle waiting to happen. Mustad split shank trebles are extremely sharp and they are easy to install on the blades.

Rig up for Success

Shelby likes a spinning rod in the eight foot range with a fast action. The sensitive tip allows him to feel the action of the blade and the backbone slams the hook home when a walleye picks up the blade. They can be surprisingly subtle and a sensitive rod tip definitely helps feel the bite.

He uses a Daiwa Excelor 2500 series reel spooled with 10 pound Power Pro braid. 10 pound Power Pro has the diameter of 2 pound test monofilament and it’s great for casting blade baits a country mile. The extremely small diameter line allows his guests to feel the action of the blade and contact with the bottom in water as deep as 50 to 60 feet.

He’ll attach a barrel swivel to the end of the braid and then he runs a bumper of six inches of 15 pound fluorocarbon between the swivel and the blade bait. The short section of flourocarbon is easy to cast, reduces tangles, and has some abrasion resistance against the blade bait and treble hooks.

Walleye don’t fair well when they’re caught out of deep water and it’s usually not possible to “high grade” fish when they’re caught in excess of twenty feet of water. If you land on the walleye in deep water keep your limit and head for the barn.

This has been one of the coldest winters in Eastern Washington in nearly a decade and Potholes has been locked up with ice since mid-December. When the ice finally comes off the lake though you can bet there will be walleye willing to jump all over a blade bait. Give some of Shelby’s tips a try and with any luck you’ll go home with some fresh walleye.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Let’s Go Ice Fishing!

Grandpa Al Brooks with Adam and Ryan enjoying a day ice fishing on Roses Lake-Jason Brooks

Let’s Go Ice Fishing!

by Jason Brooks

The recent cold temperatures have thickened the ice and a winter pastime is creating memories once again. Ice fishing is going strong in Eastern Washington with the trout bite being consistent on Roses Lake near the tiny town of Manson. Those that prefer to catch a mess of perch are doing really well on Moses Lake and don’t forget Fish Lake near Leavenworth.

Ryan Brooks waits for a bite through the ice-Jason Brooks

The fishing is fairly simple, just chop or auger a hole in the ice and drop your baits down towards the bottom where the water temperatures are a little warmer. Look for areas where other anglers have found previous success, as shown on the ice with places where fish have flopped around and froze, or by watching anglers on the ice.

A rainbow trout coming through the ice-Jason Brooks

Ice fishing is one of those activities that is more of a novelty than a “must catch a limit” fishery. Have fun out on the ice but realize that it is cold, windy, and if you take the kids along they might not want to sit out there for very long. To make it more comfortable I like to take a lawn chair and a piece of carpet. The carpet makes it so you won’t be sliding around all the time and it really helps keep your feet warm.

Just enough freshly frozen trout for dinner-Jason Brooks

For gear, a standard, light action Daiwa trout rod works well, but so do those tiny “ice fishing” rods you find in the mid-west. They are very sensitive as the bite is light with the cold waters. Spool the small reel with 6 pound Platinum Izorline monofilament. When trout fishing it is best to use a leader with the weight tied at the bottom and the hook tied off of the leader between the weight and the swivel. I prefer to use a 1/4 ounce bell weight and size 10 bait holder hooks. Common baits are powerbait, single salmon eggs, or my favorite-salad shrimp cured overnight in Pro-Cure’s “Shrimp and Prawn” cure. For perch, jigging is the way to go, and it also works great for trout fishing too. Use a small jig, like a 1/8 ounce or smaller Mack’s Lure Glo-Getter that is UV enhanced. Tip the jig with a piece of worm, shrimp, or maggots. I also use a lot of scent when ice fishing no matter the type of fish as this attracts the lethargic fish and turns on a bite. Try Anise and Garlic scents as they seem to work really well ice fishing.

Adam Brooks and our Vizsla Lucy use carpet to keep their feet warm on the ice-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks – Outdoor Line Blogger

Using a Side Planer with Plugs

It’s December 8th and we’re getting a steady stream of hatchery steelhead reports pouring in from around Western Washington. A handful of the big name rivers that routinely pump out hatchery brats this time of year are doing just that.

When it comes to hatchery brats we typically talk about jigs, jigs, and more jigs. Hatchery winter steelhead keg up just below the hatcheries giving bank anglers a great opportunity to don the waders and stroke some steelhead on a jig and float from the beach. It’s easy and it’s hard to argue with it’s effectiveness.

What about the fish that don’t hit a jig though? There’s more than a few fish in the river that simply don’t want to mess with a jig. They’ve been there, done that. That’s where a plug comes in handy and really the only way to fish a plug effectively from the bank is with a Luhr Jensen Side Planer.

This is a great way to come in behind the morning masses and mop up a few fish behind everyone else. And if you find some room on the river in the morning to deploy this killer system that’s fine too!

Here’s Forest Foxworthy showing how to setup the Luhr Jensen Side Planer:

Hatchery winter steelhead simply don’t see that many plugs nowadays, yet they are deadly effective. Run a Hot Shot 35 or a K-11 behind one of these bad boys in a hatchery terminal area where you just know that hatchery brats are keg’d up and you might be surprised.

Thanks for stopping by and good steelhead fishing to you this winter!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Daddy Daycare with Can Am, Camp Chef, and Grilled Cheese!

Yesterday I picked up our oldest daughter Ava from school with the Can Am Outlander 6 x 6 in tow and fully loaded with all the fixin’s for an quick afternoon adventure into the woods of the Kitsap Peninsula.

The mission at hand was to teach her five things about the outdoors – pine cones, fir trees, ferns, salal, and some interesting rocks. The bridge between adventure and learning would be a fun ride on this beast-of-a-machine Outlander 6 x 6 along with grilled cheese sandwiches and hot cider off our new Camp Chef Rainier Campers Combo stove.

bike_trailer_web

Shortly after launching the Can Am mothership we were blasting thru huge mud puddles in search of a nice spot for a picnic. It’s essentially been pouring rain non-stop here for the last couple of weeks and there was no shortage of water on the trails and roads where we were riding.

ava_6x6_webAfter finding a spot to hunker down for a bit I had the pre-made grilled cheese sandwiches (her fave!) on the stove in short order. I bought this stove because it comes with the griddle which makes it nice for cooking grilled cheese, pancakes, bacon, etc.. It’s a great piece of equipment for making adventures afield fun for the kids!

rainier_grilledcheese2_web

Ava’s no stranger to this stove. We use it quite a bit at home for “camping” on our back deck and it now resides permanently in my river sled. Packing it along in this ATV was a no-brainer!

rainier_grilledcheese3_web

It took all of five to ten minutes to whip up the samiches and warm up some cider in the coffee pot. One advantage to this stove is that I don’t have to cart along an extra frying pan. The griddle can also be replaced by a grill for cooking burgers, steaks, and hot dogs and it all packs nicely in a carrying case.

rainier_grilledcheese5_web

Thankfully Mother Nature gave us a rare sunny afternoon here in the Pacific Northwest to blast outside for this quick adventure. After a grilled cheese sammy and a few shots of hot cider Ava was all fired up to learn a few things about the outdoors.

I have to reset myself sometimes to look at the small things in nature instead of searching for big game, big fish, and big everything. For a four-and-a-half year old that can be kind of daunting. This was the perfect opportunity to do that!

rainier_cider_web

After jumping up and down in a few mud puddles and horsing around a bit we spent some time looking at the different plants that grow in our area. It’s winter and there’s not many bugs or frogs around, so today plants were the go-to item and of course a couple of interesting rocks.

We talked about how pine cones become fir trees, checked out some ferns and salal brush, and looked at a bunch of rocks until we found some interesting ones. One, in particular, looked like a dinosaur tooth. It took a grand total of fifteen minutes to scope out a few items in Mother Nature’s treasure chest, just the right amount of time for a four and a half year old’s attention span.

pine_cones_web

This morning at breakfast Ava was sitting at the table telling us how the pine cones fall to the ground and become fir trees. I figure I only have around nine more years with her until I become her idiot dad that knows nothing. That may not be far from the truth, but at least for now we can have some fun together. I’d say this adventure was a successful one!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle   

Next Hunting Season Starts Now

Kyle Hurst with his Idaho Mule Deer-Jason Brooks

Kyle Hurst with his Idaho Mule Deer-Jason Brooks

Tips for Becoming a Successful Deer Hunter

by Jason Brooks

With most deer season’s winding down and and folks updating their social media sites with “success” photos some might find themselves asking, “How are certain people so successful and other’s only find a buck, any buck, every few years?”. I am often asked this same question and what it comes down to is lifestyle. Those that live to hunt also hunt to live. Making eating venison a priority in their life. Ryan Lampers, of Ray’s Baits, is one of these guys, and so is his family. Ryan is a very successful hunter and he explained on The Outdoor Line radio show a few weeks ago that the primary reason he is so successful is because hunting is a lifestyle. Lampers lives, eats, and breaths hunting.

A Montana Late Season Sunset-Rob Endsley

A Montana Late Season Sunset-Rob Endsley

Rob Endsley and I were talking about hunting and how it drives the way we live. Both of us agreeing that preparing for next year’s deer season starts the day after this year’s season ends. Endsley spends a lot of time scouring maps and a lot of time on Google Earth. Pouring over data, success rates, public lands, and access to public lands is what successful game plans are all about. This leads him to new hunting grounds and a higher success rate than the “average Joe”. A willingness to hunt new places, and even other states, will force your to learn new areas, migration routes, herd management, and deer behavior. All of this leads to becoming a better hunter.

Scouting, and learning new areas lead to successful hunts-Jason Brooks

Scouting, and learning new areas lead to successful hunts-Jason Brooks

My main hunting partners, Chad and Kyle Hurst, also subscribe to the “hunter’s lifestyle” and make wild game a staple in their diet. Kyle is one of those hunters I describe as a “machine”. A guy who puts physical fitness as well as dietary essentials as a main focus of how he lives. It showed this past fall when we flew into Idaho’s backcountry. Kyle hiked nearly 39 miles in five days and packed meat on three of those days. The last evening of our trip he heard about a hot springs three miles upriver, which he jogged to.

Kyle Hurst with a high country buck-Jason Brooks

Kyle Hurst with a high country buck-Kyle Hurst

Luckily, we don’t have to be in “super-human” physical shape like Kyle or Ryan, though it does help immensely. Back to how Rob and I prepare for our hunts. By expanding your hunting areas and knowledge you increase your chances at success. Of course I prefer to hunt from my deer camp in my home state of Washington, and I have taken some nice bucks over the years there, but on an average day in Washington I might see three or four bucks. In Idaho I see around ten to fifteen a day. Even then, the “caliber” of bucks is no comparison. In Idaho I passed up bucks until the last afternoon, always looking for “Mr. Big”, and let go several four points that were in the 140-150 inch class. In Washington I rarely pass up any legal buck.

Chad Hurst packing out an Idaho buck he killed 5 miles from camp-Jason Brooks

Chad Hurst packing out an Idaho buck he killed 5 miles from camp-Jason Brooks

This brings us to the measure of “success”. I talk to a lot of hunters, some who brag about their big bucks, as they should, but also frown on those that take barely legal bucks. Then there are the hunters who draw a doe permit and get stoked at filling the freezer. The measure of success is an individual decision. Personally, I still get excited to get a doe with my muzzleloader or bow as much as shooting a buck with my rifle.

Adam Brooks with his first deer, a muley doe, and a successful hunt-Jason Brooks

Adam Brooks with his first deer, a muley doe, and a successful hunt-Jason Brooks

In Idaho this year I wanted a “monster” buck but on the last afternoon of my hunt I ended up taking one of the smallest legal bucks I found on my entire trip. I was thankful for the deer, as I wanted the meat more than the antlers. Plus, I was able to hunt the entire week, given an opportunity at any moment to find my “buck of a lifetime” and enjoying the week in the mountains. This was a total success and at any time I could have shot the buck of a lifetime.

When we got home both Chad and Kyle took their four point racks and put them into the pile in their garage again reminding me that it is the hunt that drives them and their hunt-to-live, live-to-hunt lifestyle.

Most big game seasons are coming to an end right now, but next season is just beginning. Make a pact with yourself to do your homework and up your game between now and next fall. Spend some time studying maps, Google Earth, game department data, and online forums. Become overly proficient with your bow, muzzleloader, or rifle and get yourself in shape. If you’re a weekend warrior then make those weekends count!

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
Northwest Outdoor Writer 

Blacktail Success – Reading the Sign

By Rob Endsley

Blacktails will drive you to madness!

For starters they live in the dense jungle known as the Pacific Northwest rainforest. Chest-high salal brush, re-prod, salmonberry’s, alder thickets, and some of the deepest, darkest pockets of timber you can imagine is what you’ll find in blacktail country. And you can expect rain and lots of it. The rain is punishing at times.

One minute they are right there in broad daylight and half a second later they are gone, never to be seen again. A study printed in Northwest Sportsman magazine several years ago concluded that lowland blacktails in Western Washington live in about a two square Kilometer area. They don’t migrate long distances and they know every stick, stump, bush, rock, and brush-tunnel in their environment.

I start every season by tromping around the open country of Okanogan County in Eastern Washington hoping to spot a big buck from a mile away and then move in for the shot. When that doesn’t happen, and it usually doesn’t, I head home to Gig Harbor and mentally prepare myself for hunting jungle blacktails on the Olympic Peninsula.

That mental preparation is what helped me this year. It kept from from quitting and saying to heck with blacktails.

On day one of my blacktail mis-adventure it was a balmy 61 degrees and I didn’t see a single deer. What I did see though were rubs, a lot of rubs, and fresh tracks and sign everywhere. That led me to believe they were still nocturnal. It was October 24th and I knew that my best chance wasn’t until the end of the general season on Halloween or perhaps the late hunt the third week of November.

I had focused my attention on some of the more open clear cuts on day one so I shifted to the re-prod on day two, thinking the deer might be opting for a little more cover. That hunch turned up three does and a bunch more sign. Since I seemed to be onto something I checked a rather large clearcut that was around seven or eight years old and full or re-prod. My brief scouting mission into that cut turned up a bunch of rubs that were less than a day old. It was mid day and temp’s were again around 60 degrees so I headed home.

On day three I awoke to pounding rain on the roof of our home. This is one of the many reasons why blacktail hunting is so brutal here in Western Washington. You can plan on your binoculars and scope being fogged up and covered in rain drops non-stop all day long and even with the finest rain gear you’ll be soaking wet. On this particular morning it was coming down in sheets. I’m not gonna lie, dragging myself out of the sack was tough that morning.

I made my way to the edge of the clearcut with the fresh rubs around twenty minutes before shooting light and sat atop a large mound that overlooked a good portion of the cut. It was POURING down rain. I turned off my headlamp and sat in the darkness wondering what the hell I was doing there.

As it began to get light I started glassing the reprod for signs of life. I keep my binocs holstered in a  KUIU binocular harness that helps to keep them dry a little, but I was still having to use a paper towel that I stuffed in a pocket before I left the house on the lenses.

After twenty to thirty minutes or so I decided to move to another mound in the cut that overlooked a series of draws. That’s where the freshest rubs were the day before and I was hoping maybe the decreased light level from the black dinge overhead would keep that buck out in the open a few minutes longer.

Slowly creeping up to that mound I noticed two white spots in the salal brush in the distance on the other side of a draw. I skipped the binoculars entirely and quickly set up my Primos Trigger Stickknowing darn well that I might have two seconds to get a shot if it was indeed a buck.

I popped the scope covers off and settled the rifle into the notch on the stick and quickly determined that it was a decent blacktail buck in the salal brush. The white spots were the tip of his nose and his throat patch.

I had merely peeked my head over the edge of the mound and he was already onto me. Without time to range the animal I cranked my Leupold up to it’s full magnification, settled the crosshairs just behind his shoulder, took a breath to gather myself, and slowly and evenly squeezed the Accutrigger.

My .300 Winnie barked and the muzzle break was so full of water that it looked like I had just fired a shot from a muzzleloader. A massive cloud of steam completely blocked my sight from the buck. I caught a glimpse of him struggling to make his way to the timber and then he was gone. Pulling out my range finder I quickly determined where he was standing was only 127 yards away. I knew the shot was right on the money and I also knew that finding a blacktail in chest high salal brush and timber in the pouring down rain was going to be a challenge. I’ve taken a lot of deer over the years and here I was trembling over a blacktail that would never make any record book.

I made my way to where the buck went into the brush and started walking a grid back and forth in the salal and huckleberries. The rain cranked up another notch and I was nearly drowning. After around fifteen minutes of working a back-and-forth grid I could see his rump underneath some brush ahead of me. The shot had hit him exactly where I aimed and he’d still managed to travel around 40 yards before falling to the 165 grain Barnes X.Washington Blacktail - Rob Endsley - The Outdoor Line

It was a nice, mature 2 x 3 that wouldn’t make any magazine covers but I didn’t care. These lowland blacktails are as challenging a critter to hunt as you’ll find here in the west and the countless days I’ve spent studying them had payed off once again.

I put my tag on him, field dressed him, and slogged my way back to the Can Am 6 x 6 parked over a mile away. Lifestyles Can-Am in Mount Vernon, Washington loaned me this rig for the hunting season. The general manager there told me “this ATV will take you places you shouldn’t be”. He was right. It’s six wheel drive, has a 700 pound dump bed, and 1,000 cc’s to power up and over just about anything that stands in it’s way. It’s simply a killer rig for hunting!rob_2016_5_web

Take Away’s from This Hunt:

Reading the Sign

I used the first two days as more of a scouting mission. The sight of fresh rubs and tracks everywhere led me to believe there were plenty of blacktails in the area but they were feeding and moving at night. This is classic blacktail behavior and the odds of seeing some animals would get better as the season approached Halloween and the rut started to heat up. If it didn’t happen before then I could count on something on the late hunt in November when sixty percent of the blacktails are harvested in Washington.

Don’t Get Discouraged

Hunting mule deer in open country means you’ll probably see some animals every day and sometimes a lot of animals. Even if you can’t get close enough for a shot at least you know they are there. With blacktail hunting I’d say that at least half the time you won’t see a darned thing. It’s all about the sign though. If you can find fresh rubs, tracks, and droppings and can stick around until the rut starts to heat up you’ll have a much greater chance of success. Don’t get me wrong. I get as discouraged and frustrated as anyone. I know how these critters operate though and that’s what keeps me going back. If you’re patient and keep working the sign eventually you’ll get an opportunity.

The blacktail I took this year wasn’t in the rut yet and I had him butchered into boneless steaks and hamburger that our family will enjoy for the next year. If you tag out with a nice buck this year don’t hesitate to post a quick photo on the Outdoor Line forums.

Thanks for checking in and good hunting to you!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle