Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Product Review: Hawke Optics 12x50mm Nature Trek Binoculars
Hunting here in Southern California is extremely challenging. There are miles of ground to cover and precious time to do it in. What's the best way to find your prey? Gain some elevation, get yourself a good vantage point and scan the land using quality optics.

For the past few months I have been using Hawke Optics 12x50mm Nature-Trek® binoculars on my hunts and scouting trips in the high desert of Southern California. Being a DIY hunter and having a limited budget for gear, I always want the best quality I can find for the lowest investment. I am a firm believer in that you get what you pay for. How would these optics hold up?

KEY FEATURES of the 12x50s:
  • BAK 4 roof prism design to be compact
  • Fully multi-coated lenses for maximum clarity
  • Lightweight, durable polycarbonate body for lifelong durability
  • Close focus from 6.6'-8.2'
  • Carry case with adjustable neck strap
  • Stay-on objective lens covers
  • Waterproof and Fog Proof
  • Hawke® Worldwide Warranty
Nature-Trek® binoculars come in a shock resistant polycarbonate body, providing a robust yet lightweight casing. All models are nitrogen purged to avoid fogging and they are sealed to be fully waterproof. The inner-focus optical design produces stunning optics.

The high resolution image ensures no details are lost when viewing at long or short distance. Close focus distance is 6.5' - 8.2'.

The effortless focusing and impressive depth of field makes these binoculars quick and easy to use. Twist-up eyecups make viewing easy with glasses or sunglasses literally as simple as the twist of your fingers. Diopter adjustment is smooth to operate making set-up easy.

The first thing I noticed is that you can't download the user manual and specifications from the Hawke Optics website. There are icons there, but Hawke tells me they are in process to get that updated. Personally, I think they should remove it so that it isn't confusing and so aggravating. Consumers dedicated to finding the best products want to read about a product, in detail, before buying and having a dead link on the site raises concerns with consumers.

When I first received the binoculars to test, I noticed the diopter was very loose. It was almost to the point that it felt like someone had over-greased it. I thought it was just me, so without telling them the issue, I had two other hunters check it out (at different times) and they also agreed that it felt loose. I spoke with customer service at Hawke and they explained that that was not supposed to be like that. I sent them back in exchange for a different pair. The new pair arrived and the diopter worked as it should.

Regarding Hawke's customer service, they are quick and efficient. Before I agreed to accept any product from Hawke, I spent some time on the phone with the Hawke staff discussing their product line. I was very impressed with them taking the time to listen to my ideas, concerns and past reviews.  They took the time to go over the 12x50s with me and when I had to return them they made sure I was satisfied. I appreciate good customer service and Hawke Optics has some of the best in the industry!

The 12x50 pull of the binoculars work well. On a recent hunt, I was able to locate a deer from a 1/2 mile away and determine that it was a buck. The view wasn't as clear as I would like, but they did work. I couldn't tell what the rack looked like, just that it was indeed antlers on the deers head. It was a bit on the cloudy side, yet they still performed.

The interpupillary distance (distance between the eyes) was a major issue for me. In order to properly use the binoculars I had to remove the larger 'Stay-on objective lens covers' to get each side as close as possible. The far ends of the binoculars had to be touching in order for me to look through them. It was disheartening to know that I had to do all of that just to see through them. This time I had three other hunters try these out to get their take. Two of the three said that was an issue for them. The other hunter had no problem as his eyes are set further apart. That is something to consider when making a binocular purchase.

The issue of parallax also comes into play with the 12x50 Nature Treks. Both sides never seem to truly focus on one spot at the same time and there is definitely some difficulty in locking on to your target. The depth perception is a bit off when using these. When I tried with other binoculars I did not have that issue. I tried countless times to get it spot on. I was able to get very close and that had to suffice.

These binoculars are not super-heavy, but because they have more glass they do have a bit more heft to them. This wasn't an issue hiking or sitting down because they don't weigh a ton. I wear a binocular harness so the weight didn't factor in much. It was balanced. When I used the strap that was provided I definitely noticed a difference. You have to factor that in when going to higher powered glass.

Here I utilized the tripod mount for a steady view of the high desert in Southern California.

I initially thought there was no spot to mount a tripod adapter with the 12x50 Nature Treks, but after further inspection I found it! I was able to use a tripod adapter that I had already purchased. I mounted it on a mono-pod for easy transport and tested them out. While in the rain and wind, I was able to keep steady with the binoculars mounted. That's a big plus when you are hunting the terrain I hunt. I would love to see Hawke come out with their own tripod adapter for their optics. Who knows, maybe they'd like to work with The SoCal Bowhunter to come up with a great one!

The warranty on the Hawke Optics concerned me, so I did some research. The Hawke warranty covers everything except user damage for the life of the product. I reviewed several of the competitor 'No-Fault' policies thinking they were better. I was wrong. While they do a no fault warranty, most require you to pay shipping to them, and some charge a fee for the repair or return, and ask that you send money to cover return shipping. Those optics come at a higher price tag as well. The Hawke 12x50s come at a very reasonable price of $199.99 and the warranty, at this price, is very reasonable. I take good care of my binoculars, but I want to know that if I pay good money for optics and something goes wrong that I can replace them without having to resort to buying a brand new pair. The Hawke policy is totally without charge, except for return shipping to them. With the fees and return shipping charges this could easily add up to a $50 savings on a valid warranty claim. This also saves on the product retail mark-up. Other products of this magnification easily cost twice as much and many are well over three times the cost.

I know that Hawke Optics has a few different lines and that I was only reviewing one make from one line. That being said, I feel this is a fair review. They do reach out and help you spot game from a distance and are easily carried. They are durable and waterproof (they withstood heavy downpours and held up). The investment is excellent at $199.99. Be sure to pay attention to the interpupillary distance as that was the biggest physical drawback in my review. Beyond that, for the hunter on a budget who needs good optics without breaking the bank, you definitely get your monies worth in the Hawke Optics 12x50 binoculars.

Follow Hawke Optics on:
Twitter: @hawkeoptics

Monday, November 28, 2011

Running My First 5K = Success!
Beachside before the 5K.
Anyone that knows me understands that I am not a runner. I am not built to be a runner, nor do I enjoy it. I have always been a sprinter and that came in handy when playing rugby, but endurance running has never been my strong suit. After watching my wife run as hard as she has for the past few years and then seeing an 85 yr. old man running the Long Beach Turkey Trot, well, I had no excuses!

I had no expectations going into the 5K. My two goals were to finish the race and to try to do it in less than 40 minutes. I also wanted to challenge myself in the fact that I did not go get new running shoes. Instead, I opted to run in my year-old cross-trainers. Heavier, bulkier, but still a good shoe that I was comfortable wearing.

Our start time was at 8:00 AM. There was hardly any sun, but the day was great. How many people can say that they went running, in Long Beach, CA on Thanksgiving Day in shorts? Sure, it was 50 degrees, but with a base layer under my The Will to Hunt shirt it was great.

There were over 6,000 people running/walking during the Turkey Trot, but I wasn't concerned. I was going to run at my pace, my way, and enjoy it. That's exactly how I did it, too.

The first mile wasn't so bad. I ran the entire first mile, but without having too much time to stretch my back started to tighten up. In the past, this is what has caused me to not go running. My back tightens to the point where I have to limp to walk. Not today! I was not about to let that stop me, so I slowed my pace and ambled along. After a short time it subsided, to a degree, and I was able to pick up the pace. 

At a mile and a half I started walking/running. My wife and I kept passing one another along the way. She's the one who encouraged me to run more and it was great to be able to participate this year with her instead of just cheering from the sidelines. It was great to support each other along the way!

When I made the turn at the halfway point I felt invigorated. I knew that if I kept pushing at the pace I was at that I'd be doing well. Steady as she goes!

I was entertained throughout the 5K by the great costumes people wore and by a few kids who kept running ahead and zipping in and out of people on the path. What energy they had! It was actually very inspiring and it kept me pushing a little bit harder. I only walked when I had to and jogged more and more.

The last leg of the race has an uphill climb, followed by a downhill slope and then a flat finish. I paced myself up the hill, walked the first part of the downhill to level out and then kicked in the afterburners. It felt so good to sprint that last 1/16th of a mile. Sprinting is what I do best and it felt fantastic!

As the time clock crept into view I could see that I was well under the 40 minute mark. Tick-tick-tick... 36:45...36:46... I started to run even faster. I was NOT going to let the clock hit 37:00. I crossed the finish line at 36:51 and it felt great! My adrenaline was pumping, heart was racing and my mind was clear. I was even handed a pumpkin pie at the end. Score! Always hoped to get one, but never expected one. (I love pumpkin pie, so this was a bonus for me!)

My wife followed me by only a few seconds (she is a much better runner than I am, I just love to sprint) and we were both full of smiles. We had done it and had done it together! It wasn't even 9:00 AM on Thanksgiving Day and we had run a 5K, collected a pie and it felt great. We both felt like we could run another one we felt so good!

The gratitude I have for my wife for inspiring me to run the Turkey Trot this year is beyond words. With us working hard to lose the weight we lost, well, I couldn't wait to get out there and run this with her. I saw first hand how hard she works at the gym and how dedicated she is to staying fit. Awesome job, babydoll and thank you for the inspiration and encouragement!

You can bet we'll be doing this again next year and I hope I can step it up to a 10K. That will be one of my goals for 2012 for sure. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

FMP Bowcast Blast - The SoCal Bowhunter Reporting
Helping others is something I live for. I also like checking out the archery podcasts from FMPBowcast.com. Last week I was asked if I'd be interested in occasionally offering up a report of what's going on locally in regards to archery hunting. When an opportunity to reach out and help the local bowhunters comes along like this, well, you don't say no. I still have a lot to learn, but this was my first crack at it.

The Bowcast Blast is a combination of hunt reports from across the nation. Fellow bowhunters gathered around their phones last week to report on their areas from Colorado, Southern California, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. It was recorded earlier this week and runs right before Lee and Tiffany Lakosky give their whitetail tactics.

Without further rambling on my part, click the banner below to go to FMPBowcast Episode #154 How to Kill a Whitetail w/ Lee and Tiffany.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Drainage Ditch Of Dreams
The setting is a farm in rural, Western NY. The cool, Fall morning was peaceful. A light fog was lifting and the trees were starting to materialize. It was archery season for whitetail deer and I was standing beside a drainage ditch because my gut told me that this is where I needed to be. I stood, unmoving for a half hour after the sun rose, waiting and watching. Suddenly, it appeared one hundred yards away, upwind and walking straight towards me.

I was fourteen years old and I was out hunting by myself. My brother wasn't yet old enough to be hunting with me and my dad was at the house because of a prior commitment. In order to hunt, I had to go out on my own that morning.  

I knew the farm well as I had been helping out here for two years and knew every nook and cranny for the deer to hide. My dad had taken me out multiple times hunting with him and had shown me how to hunt the elusive cervid known as the whitetail deer. He had spent countless hours showing me how to properly shoot a bow, breathe properly and just when to release my fingers off the string. Up until this day I had always been accompanied by him on our hunts, but this day he felt I was ready to hunt on my own.

As the deer continued toward me I felt my heart thumping in my chest along with each hoof as it hit the ground. I saw that the deer was a large buck and that made my heart beat even faster. Steam shot out of the bucks nostrils as he breathed and then smelled the air. He had no idea I was there, but I was extremely concerned. I was not in a treestand, nor a ground blind. No, I was standing in an open field, right in his walkway as he walked closer and closer. I froze.

Would the buck see me against the backdrop of our overgrown pasture? I was only wearing my camouflage coveralls and boonie hat picked up from one of the local department stores. I had no pack, no rangefinder or handy gadgets like we have today. I had my antlered-handle hunting knife on my belt. In my gloved, left hand was a Bear compound bow given to my earlier that year by my dad. I have no idea what the draw weight was set at. My sight pins, all three of them, had a little dot of paint at the tip of each one. Fiber optics were not something widely thought of in 1989 for bow hunters. Even a release was a new topic of conversation. Adorning my right hand was a well-worn leather glove covering three fingers just waiting to grip the bow string.

Baling straw on the farm.
My target all summer long had been a paper rifle target on straw bales, stacked three high, with the barn as a backdrop. My dad, my brother and I took turns sending $3 aluminum arrows into the paper pretending that each one was a kill shot on a deer. The hot, humid summer did not deter us. Neither did working long days of baling the straw we were using and stacking it in the barn. This was our stress reliever and bonding time. My dad was already an accomplished hunter and all I wanted to do was to make him proud.

What seemed like a lifetime, the deer closed the distance. Fifty yards, forty...thirty...twenty. I drew my bow and he abruptly stopped at ten yards facing me head on. I saw points, but was taught not to count them. Instead, I was taught to focus on the animal itself and not take anything for granted. Our stare down lasted only a few seconds as I anchored, found the crease in his front leg and sent the arrow on its way. It buried itself in the exact spot where I had aimed and then the buck bolted West, up the hill.
I watched the deer run away from me and suddenly drop sixty yards from where I shot him. One kick in the goldenrod and he was done.

The intensity of the moment had my mind whirling. Had I made a clean shot? Did I really see my arrow hit like it did? I stood in my spot stunned and in awe of what had just happened. To be honest, I was in disbelief. I had just killed my first deer ever and it was a buck. Best of all, I had done it with archery equipment while on my first hunt alone.

Having no idea how to field dress a deer I didn't even walk up to the buck. Ten yards forward I marked the start of the blood trail with an arrow. I knew I would need the help of my dad, so I said a quick prayer and began the long walk back to the farmhouse. I had about a half mile walk back and the entire way I tried thinking of the best way to tell me dad about what I had just done. Every scenario in my head disappeared when I walked in the kitchen and he asked me, "So? How many arrows do you have left?" I just showed him and then proceeded to tell the story. His eyes lit up, huge hugs and cheers erupted in that small farmhouse kitchen. I'll never forget my little sister asking me, "Did you catch a deer?" I could only respond with, 'Yes, yes I did!'

We hopped in the truck and drove to the drainage ditch. Even though I knew where my deer had dropped, I brought my dad to the spot of the kill. The blood trail was like a super highway. We followed it, so I could learn how to follow a blood trail, but it didn't take long to find my buck. My dad reached down, gripped the antlers and raised him up. We counted the points together and I couldn't stop smiling. There were seven, perfect tines pointing up and I was thrilled. Not that it was a buck, nor that it was a seven-point buck, but that I had made a quick, clean kill and that my dad was proud. The look on his face said it all. 

Together, we field dressed the buck and brought him back to the house to show my siblings. My brother was just as excited as I was. After seeing the look in his eyes, I knew he'd grow up to be a hunter himself.  He helped us hang the deer in the barn as I told the story once more. We started a continuing tradition that day as we feasted on the tenderloins for dinner that evening. To this day, we continue to enjoy the fruits of our labor on the day of a kill.

Of all of my hunting memories, this one is one of my favorites. There is nothing like being alone in nature and bow hunting whitetail deer with the scent of corn and apples filling the air. Feeling the cool mist as it is lifting off the ground and seeing a mature, whitetail deer appear. The anticipation as he walks towards you, the moment of truth when you make every second of the time you spent practicing count, and the feeling of sheer happiness when you see the look on your dad's face when you tell him your hunt was a success.


–This is my submission for the Sportsman Channel Writing Contest for Hunters hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another NY Bowhunter Finds Success
One of my good friends and former rugby teammates was successful in his quest to take a deer with archery tackle this past weekend. I have known Seth Sikes for at least a decade and he's a great friend. He is a guy who once he sets his sights on something he goes right after it. Just ask him how he got his nickname 'Spikes'. He is a new bow hunter, but you'd never know after seeing the passion this guy has for the sport. Read his exciting story from last weekend below. Congratulations, Seth!

Seth Sykes with his 2011 NY whitetail taken with archery tackle. Great job, Seth!

November 20, 2011 was the second day of gun season in upstate NY and my hopes weren't too high. The weather was in the fifties, breezy and carrying a light drizzle. After an already long (for me) bow season, with 2 close misses, and an opening day of gun season not seeing anything I didn't have the highest spirits when I got in my stand at roughly 6:30 AM. The stand I chose was the exact one that I had missed two nice bucks during bow season, but I was hoping that it would still prove to be a pretty active area.

At 6:45 AM shots started ringing out through the woods around me. At that point I decided to start using my grunt call (a hardwood Primos grunt tube) to see if I could attract anything to my area. For the next forty to forty-five minutes I grunted and bleated on and off with no sign of any life.

At 7:40 AM I leaned around my tree to check the trail leading up to my stand because already this year I had had two doe follow me in right up my trail. As I straightened back up and looked out into the field directly ahead of me a large doe was standing in the clearing at maybe 45 to 50 yards. I saw my opportunity to put meat in my freezer so I lined up my shot with my smooth bore Mossberg pump action and took it. She flinched, jumped and ran off into the ding-weeds on the other side of the field. I was so excited I set down my gun and laid my head back to thank the powers that be for giving me the opportunity to take
such a nice deer.

After my thirty second prayer, I opened my eyes, looked out and there in the same exact spot as the doe was a good sized 6 pointer looking around. I couldn't believe my luck and swooped up my gun to realize I hadn't chambered another round yet. Trying to be as quiet as possible I pumped the action and he stood straight up looking around for the source of the sound, but never moved. So I lined up and took my shot. He flinched and ran to the exact same spot as the doe and was gone from my view. What luck!! I couldn't believe it and no one else was going to either.

For the next half hour I sat shaking with excitement before I got down to check for blood. That was when the hammer came down to crush my hopes and dreams... no blood! Not a drop from either deer. Those were my last two bullets and some how I had missed both deer, my gun season (at least til I got paid again) was done. In the hopes that either bullet had exited the deer I spent the next three hours on my hand and knees crawling through the thickest brambles and pricker bush you can imagine trying to find a hint of a trial to follow and found nothing! So I tucked tail and went home for lunch very depressed and VERY pissed off at myself.

For the next two and a half hours I scolded myself and thought about giving up on hunting for the season... I mean come on, I didn't deserve to call my self a hunter. That was four open shots so far between bow and gun season now and four huge misses! At 2:30 PM I decided I had put too much time and money into this season to quit now, but I had no bullets left. My bow! Since the day I got my Hoyt Rampage this past August, I had practiced constantly and felt very comfortable with it so that was my weapon of choice. so I scrambled to get my gear on and get into a treestand far away from early morning debacle.

At 2:45 PM I was settled into my stand and the waiting began. For the next two hours I sat motionless except to blow my grunt call and all the while hadn't seen a hide nor hair of a deer. At 4:45 PM, a mere minutes before the end of legal shooting hours, here comes a buck straight to my stand.
Oh please don't take too long to get to me, the light is fading fast! 

At about 20 yards he cut to his left and started sown the trail that would come straight by the left hand side of my stand. PERFECT! I'm a right-handed shooter so this would work great. He disappeared behind a large tree just off the left front corner of my stand and stopped with just his head showing. that's when he started sniffing the wind. Great he's gonna wind me at ten yards in front of my stand and I can't even draw on him. Nope! He dropped his head and kept right on coming. Just as he was getting into the open I started to draw and he stopped again to sniff and looks right at me. I held my draw at a about a quarter and froze! This was it. Do or die (pun very intended). He dropped his head back down and and walked right out into the open. I brought my bow to full draw got my sights on his "boiler room" and gave a quick yelp. He froze and I let loose my arrow. I watched in what felt like slow motion as my Easton arrow with its Muzzy 3-blade broadhead found its mark! A chunk of fur flew and he took off. He got five big leaps and then four slow paces behind me, stopped and just stood there! What?! Did I miss again? Nope his legs got really wobbly and he stumbled maybe three steps and dropped! BUCK DOWN!! When I got down he wasn't the original 6 points that I thought he was, but a good sized 8 pointer with a great symmetrical rack. That day is one that I will never forget not just because I got my first buck, but because of the lessons I learned about never giving up!

I hope you like reading my story because I LOVED living it! Hunting is something I always wanted to do and I now know why. It is ingrained into my DNA now and I can't wait to learn more, live through my disappointments and be over come with joy in my future adventures and successes. This lifestyle is not for everyone, but I can't wait to pass it on to my son, who when he saw me in my camo with a deer squealed 'DDAAAAA!' and gave me a huge hug. I am a hunter now and forever!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Steve Rinella Is A MEAT EATER.
As a big fan of The Wild Within on Travel Chennel, I was a bit caught off guard today when I began to read this letter from Steve Rinella on The Wild Within's FB page. As I read further, I was stoked and even excited for the new stuff coming from him. Here's the letter and I encourage you to follow him on Twitter and on Facebook for updates. I can't wait for the new show!

Dear fans of The Wild Within...
by The Wild Within on Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 10:01am

Dear fans of The Wild Within: As some of you have probably figured out by now, Zero Point Zero Production and I are no longer making our show for The Travel Channel. While it was great experience to be working with that network, and while they gave us a lot of room to make the show we wanted to make, we had to part ways. Ultimately that's turned out to be a very good thing, because for the past four or five months I've been working with the same crew to make a show that's better than anything The Wild Within could have dreamed of being. This new show, Meat Eater, will premiere this coming January on Sportsman Channel. It has the same look and feel as The Wild Within, the same non-stop action, the same philosophical approach, but it's even more authentic and gritty and gorgeous. During the creative process of putting the show together, we used the slogan "Killer Hunts, Killer Food" as our rallying cry. And that's exactly what Meat Eater will deliver to you. If you don’t believe me, check out some of these choice new photos that were taken while we filmed.

And it gets even better. When you’re working with a network like Travel Channel, they end up owning all your footage. You might shoot 60 hours of tape on a hunt, which gets pared down to about forty-five minutes in the edit. The rest of that material ends up in a sort of video graveyard, doing no good for anyone. But now, with our new setup at Sportsman Channel, we own our own stuff. It’s ours to be greedy or generous with, whatever we choose. And we’ve chosen generosity. We’re in the process of building an on-line community where we pour out our hearts and souls (and our footage) for anyone who wants to see what’s up. At anytime. So if you’re sitting around in the middle of the night, 1) wondering what to do with the bullfrogs you just speared; 2) wondering how to properly grill a venison loin; 3) wondering which knives are worth the money and which knives aren’t; 4) wondering what next fall’s crop of presidential candidates might mean for hunting; 5) wondering what happened on past episodes or what might happen on future episodes; or 6) just wanting some wild and wooly entertainment, you can come visit the Meat Eater site and satisfy all your curiosities and desires. Or, if you just want a t-shirt with our sweet new logo on it, we might be able to help you with that as well.

Right now, though, before any of that happens, I need you to do me a big favor. I need you to go to the new Meat Eater page on Facebook and get joined up.Since there is no button that says “love it,” you’ll have to settle for the button that says “like it.” Please, do it now. If not, I’ll come to your house and skin you out and stuff you into a backpack. Well…not really.  But you get the point.

Thank you, and good luck out there.  --Steven Rinella.

P.S. If you don’t get Sportsman Channel, don’t worry. We’re going to help you with that as well. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Quick Saturday Hunt Full Of Excitement
Last Saturday, Michael and I hit our hunting spot to try and fill our deer tags. Once again, we were running behind as the sun came up before we hiked the last quarter mile to our spot - uphill. The rain had slowed down to a light drizzle, but the wind was howling. We refused to allow disappointment to set in and got set up to start glassing.

Set on a hillside, we split up and began our watch. Let me tell you, that wind was cruising over the hill and right down my spine. Fortunately, my clothing was waterproof and wind resistant. I also had packed some warmer clothes just in case. They all ended up being worn and my hood stayed up most of the morning.

I wasn't seated for ten minutes when I saw movement below me. In the valley below there were four deer standing like statues, hunkered down out of the wind. They couldn't avoid some of it as I could see their fur ruffling up from time to time. Even in SoCal we get cooler temps. With the wind chill it was around 45 degrees. Perfect for hunting, but the wind made it a challenge. 

I sat and watched these deer for two hours as they fed around some bushes. Then, out of nowhere, a beautiful deer crested to far ridge and barreled right towards Michael. I stood up, bow ready and just watched her approach. She was so light and orange-colored that she looked like a whitetail. It was so cool to see! She was on the trail that if she went past my hunting partner that she'd walk right to me. Unfortunately, either of those scenarios didn't happen. She was 50 yards from me and right in front of Michael. The only problem was she was behind a bush the entire time. When she stepped out, she winded him at 30 yards (wind was blowing right in her face) and she bolted - away from us. Bummer! She ran right be where we had originally talked about sitting. Deer: 1 - Us: 0. It was such a cool experience though!

The rest of the morning I watched the deer below feed and bed down. I watched as a fifth deer appeared that I had not seen before. She had been bedded on the opposite side of the bushes. There was no way to put a stalk on from the area we were sitting. Michael and I discussed putting on a stalk, which entailed me skirting the foothill and hiking some steep areas. We agreed to wait until they bedded and I'd begin. Unfortunately, they didn't bed down and one of the largest does spotted me as I shifted my position. She couldn't figure me out because they stayed there for 15 minutes and she just snorted over and over. She stomped her feet a few times and just stared through me. They all walked away at a slow pace and then instinct kicked in and they bolted over the far ridge. That's hunting folks!

We had to call the hunt early on account of prior plans, but we had a great time nonetheless. We spotted six deer in a few hours, had one in close and stayed positive. We have a few weeks left to fill our tags and just a few more dates where we can get out, but we will be out there. We have a great spot and just need to make it happen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Product Review: ScoutLook™ Outdoor Weather Guide
When hunting, I like to have some sort of GPS on me at all times. Even if it is just for locking down different spots I highlight for future reference. The problem with handheld GPS tools is they usually take forever to find a satellite, your location and then you have to punch in a bunch of info just to save it. It used to drive me nuts until I started using the ScoutLook Weather Guide.

I was approached by the North American Hunting Club to field test the ScoutLook app on my hunts. I used it in New York and California. Two different terrains. Two different hunts. One phone. Yes, you read that right - it's on my phone and NOT on a suped-up GPS unit. I am using an LG Ally Android phone and NOT an iPhone. The app worked the same in both environments, so I am only highlighting my NY hunt.

Being a member has its perks.
Here are just some of them:

  • Activity and Category based map locations for precise weather
  • Wind maps – ScentConeSM, SetZoneSM, DriftPointSM
  • Free photo sharing tool – ScoutPics
  • News and articles sent from our Pro Staff and Experts

Getting the app on my phone was fairly easy. I went to the ScoutLook website and opened a free account before purchasing through the Android Market. There I was able to set my preferences and such. The great thing about this app is that you can access it from your computer AND your phone. Once loaded into my phone, I started reviewing the different components. There are many features that function very well, starting with setting a location.

When you first start off, you can search for a general area or if you are on watch, you location will be found by homing in on your GPS signal. Then, simply touch the screen at that point and choose the type of location this is. Here is an example of the dropdown you'll see. There is a wide variety of choices so that you can pinpoint an exact set-up. For my testing, I was hunting the whitetail season, so I chose Whitetail [hunting] and it gives me an icon with a deer silhouette. Pretty simple and cool!

Choose your category.
Once my location was set, I touched the icon. A small dialogue window appeared with the current temp/weather for that area. I touched the small arrow inside the window and a few other choices appear. I won't go into all of the details, but I chose the Weather Details. You get a detailed forecast and you can choose the Solunar Details, too. This is an excellent feature if you follow the moon phases (and I do). Also, once a location is set, you can pull it up on the other device as well. If you set a location on the computer, you can pull it up on the phone and vice versa.

The weather report is very detailed.
Fast forward to a few days later when I had marked up four hunting locations. I wanted to see what the ScentCone looked like for that area. The ScentCone gives you the wind direction and speed (bottom right of the screen of your phone). That way I could choose which stand locations were going to be the best set-up for the wind and temperature that day. This is a VERY cool feature. It saves you having to find the weather online or on the television and guess at what the wind might be doing. I checked this against weather reports AND the actual wind in these locations. The ScoutLook app had the wind pegged! This was awesome!

Wind direction with ScentCone enabled.

After I pulled up my stand location, I wanted to see what the weather was doing right then. On the bottom of the app you can click on Radar. That pulls up a live weather map. I found this invaluable when there was rain and wind in the forecast. I was able to figure out when the rain was going to hit and prepare myself in the stand. While I agree it's an average, it was still nice to know if rain was in the forecast.

To be fair, I only used a few of the available components to the application. There are other features like ScoutPics and advice from other hunters. For me, I wasn't interested in any of that. When I am hunting I want to hunt, not read, so I chose to use the features that applied to me as a hunter in the field.

I did find a couple of issues with the ScoutLook app. The first was if you search for your GPS location and the service is spotty it will 'hang' and blip over and over. I tried over and over to 'go back' or go to my home screen on the phone, but something in the program didn't allow me to do that. Three times I tried it and I had to shut my phone down each time. I stopped using the app in that location. There should be some sort of time out code that allows the app to stop searching so you can try a different location.

The second issue is a user interface issue. The SAVE button appears as a grayed out button in the upper right corner. (My Android phone won't let me take a screenshot of what I am seeing, so I can't show you.) Most times, on an app or a web page, if the button is grayed out it means you can't use it. I think that this is one of THE most important buttons and should be changed to a green or a different color so the user knows they can press it. It will also help them find where it is. When you are up in a treestand at 7am and trying to find the save button when it's grayed out you will have a tough time. I did.

I also don't like the fact that if you are on the computer and looking at your location, and click over to ScentCone that is goes back to an overall map and you have to search or plug in your info again. I think you should be able to click ScentCone, as you would on the phone, and it should just switch over to that feature while still viewing your location.

A beneficial added feature would be to have a PRINT function for an area where you have marked several locations. That way, when you go to set up your stands for the next following year you'll have a good idea where you had them the year prior.

I do like that when you exit out of the app it logs you out and closes the app. It doesn't continue to run in the background thereby draining your battery. It loads back up when YOU engage it. 

Overall, the ScoutLook app is an excellent tool for hunters. For $1.99 this is a tool you must have. Once you begin using it, you will quickly forget about the minimal fee. I always have my phone on me and to have a tool like this, especially in California where we do a lot of spot-n-stalk hunting proves to be priceless. I highly recommend getting this for your hunts.

Disclaimer: The reviews on The SoCal Bowhunter are solely my honest opinions. The ScoutLook weather app was  provided to me for the purpose of review. I received no monetary compensation in exchange for this review.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

UPDATE: Pasadena Roving Archers Range In Jeopardy
Back in June, I wrote up a post regarding the Pasadena Roving Archers and that their archery range was in jeopardy. I received an email with an update from the club president, Gary Spiers a few days ago.

This issue has arisen because people have chosen to hike between the targets and the shooting positions and now claim they have the right to do so even though the city's Lower Arroyo Master Plan (LAMP) clearly states that the hiking path is to the East of the archery range to ensure separation of archers and walkers. The LAMP also addressed the need for improved signage yet 9 years after approval of the LAMP the city had not acted on the signage need until pushed to do so this past January and even then this was done in a temporary fashion and the signs ignored. 

The Pasadena PD report issued in May reiterated the need to block the trail to prevent hiking on the range and to install adequate signage. 

A week long survey of people hiking in the Lower Arroyo conducted by the archers found that the vast majority of people were hiking the paths designated as hiking paths in the Lower Arroyo Master Plan and that only a handful (<10) people were hiking on the archery range. 

There are many miles of hiking trail through the Arroyo as well as elsewhere in Pasadena but there is only one archery range and it is unique in being the oldest Field Archery Range in it's original location in the World. 

Although there has been discussion about arrows landing in gardens overlooking the Arroyo Pasadena PD has never been called on such an incident. 

Pasadena PD has publicly stated that the issues that occupy their time in the lower Arroyo relate to dogs off leash, homeless people in the vicinity of the casting pond  and other non archery related incidents. Archers act as eyes and ears for the community and have notified Pasadena PD when suspicious activity has been observed. The archers keep a medical kit on site and have assisted in medical emergencies in the Arroyo before the first responders could arrive. 

In talking about safety it is interesting to consider a couple of examples: 
People have been injured and died because of bicycle crashes all across Pasadena yet bicycling, quite reasonably, has not been restricted in the city. 

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission the injury rate for Archery is 0.65 injuries per 1000 participants. The rate for fishing is 1.27 injuries per 1000 participants - twice as dangerous yet no one considers restricting access to the casting pond on the opposite side of the Arroyo! 

The city should implement the recommendations in the Lower Arroyo Master Plan, keeping the separation between the archers and hikers and finally put up the signage that was called for in the LAMP and by Pasadena PD. Calling for the restriction of hours on the range and constant supervision is not a reasonable response to this concern given the real safety record versus a rumor fed perception! 

Thanks Gary

Over on SavePasadenaArchery.org, there is some further commentary. They are not associated with the Pasadena Roving Archers, but they are also fighting the good fight for saving the range and I hope they prevail. Here's a brief snippet from their website. You can read the full story here.

We won this round, but we’re not done.
Posted on November 2, 2011

Last night the Recreation & Parks Commission voted to support the archery range in every way possible, even going so far as to attach a general statement rejecting the very concept of “shared use” of the area. They told the city very clearly that (a) it’s an archery range; (b) there should be no restriction of archery by times and/or days; and (c) it should not be the PRA’s responsibility to provide supervision of the range when they aren’t running an event or class. They also addressed the issue of revenue, specifying that the costs of maintaining the range should come out of the city’s portion of the revenue derived from the use of the range, such as tournament fees and instruction charges.

This is quite the fight and I will keep you all updated on what happens as the City Council meets, votes and figures out what the final outcome will be.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

2011 NY Archery Whitetail Deer Hunt: Part Two
The suspense is crazy, but when a hunt turns out like this you just have to draw it out!

One thing I forgot to mention was something you should all think about. At the end of day #3, right before our evening watch, I found something that made my heart sink. The trigger on my release was GONE! I knew what had happened and it made me feel pretty stupid. When we left the woods, I had attached my release to my bow and then attached it to the Prowler. The vibrations had somehow loosened it up and it promptly dropped off. You would think I'd be sick to my stomach (I was a little ticked at myself), but I was actually pretty proud that I had packed a spare release in my pack. Game on!

I always carry a spare release in my pack, just in case!

Day 4: My brother was back to hunt and 4:00 am came way too quickly. The coffee seemed to be the only thing keeping us motivated, but again, there was a New Moon and we wanted to hit the woods. I hadn't traveled 3,000 miles to watch TV. Our plan was discussed and we geared up. The day was going to start in the high 30's and warm up fast, so we wanted to be out there right at sun up.

We arrived at the woods at a perfect time. We finished getting our gear on and made our way to our stands. I was on watch well before daylight. There was a SSW wind which was perfect for my set up. I checked the ScoutLook Weather app on my phone to check the weather (review coming soon) and quickly put it away realizing it was illuminating my face. 

An hour goes by and I started to feel a bit bored. I contemplated flinging an arrow at a squirrel, but they were staying well out of range. That's when I heard the distinct crunching of leaves underfoot. The ground had been so wet from the rains that you couldn't hear anything walking through the woods the first three days. The winds had blown through over the course of the few days and dried them out just enough. I turned slowly back to my right and that's when I saw him. 40 yards away and closing was a nice looking, healthy button buck. He stopped to munch on some leaves and that gave me the opportunity to slowly take my bow off the holder.

Now, I have been practicing at 60 yards for weeks and know I can make a 40 yard shot, but this deer is coming in closer and closer. 30...20...10... and then finally at 5 yards I had to blat to get him to stop. THWACK! A quick double-lung shot and my deer piles up 60 yards from my stand in plain sight. I am still feeling the goosebumps! I am no trophy hunter as the current definition may describe, but this was a trophy for me.

I waited for an hour to see if anything else came into range. A few minutes go by and I hear more leaves rustling. Louder and louder. Closer and closer. A big, fat hen turkey around 70 yards and closing and she was followed by a dozen or so other turkeys. I did not have a turkey tag, so a shot attempt was not in the cards, but it was awesome to see!

My first archery kill in over 5 years. God blessed me with meat for the freezer.
You are probably wondering why I don't have my bow in the photo. Well, I had taken my gear out with me to the trail head when I met up with my dad and brother. I left it there, along with most of my warm clothing so we could go get the deer dressed out quickly and not sweat my butt off. It was 10:00 am and already 59 degrees and climbing fast. So, I have a shot without my bow. I truly don't care! I have venison in my freezer and that's what counts.

After field dressing the buck, we made our way back to the house to get him hung up and skinned. It's so much easier when the animal is warm, and it also help the meat cool quickly. Once that was done, we cleaned up and went right back to the woods. The three of us saw absolutely nothing the rest of the night.

Day 5: During hunting season I have a love/hate relationship with the alarm clock. Going to bed late (visiting with family and watching the World Series) makes for waking up early that much tougher. Getting up at 4:00 am sucked, but we rolled out. Our plan for my last day was going to be simple. We would hunt the morning, come back to the house and quarter up our two deer and then I would pack up to fly out the next day. It was now or never.

Once in our stands, the day started off like they all had. Cold, a bit breezy and beautiful. An hour into my sit I watched as a fox walked up behind my stand, spotted me, jumped and waltzed toward the spot where I gutted my deer. Sure enough, he started circling the spot and tearing into it. Everything was gone except the stomach, so it was quite amusing watching the fox go downwind and get a whiff of the contents. He still kept coming in and tearing off small pieces. The continued for over an hour and I was able to capture plenty on video.

I saw the turkeys again, but they stayed well away from me. Once they vanished, the forest quieted down for a few moments. That's when the telltale crunching was heard. I turned around in my stand and two does quietly walked a trail behind my stand. They were already out of range, but I picked up my bow and waited. The smaller of the two got a whiff of the gut pile and turned and started walking right towards me. She walked down a secondary trail and was at 20 yards when I left the arrow fly. I watched, almost in slow motion, as the arrow flew on course and then it happened. She jumped the string! I had arrowed a hefty piece of forest moss. She didn't run far as a nocked another arrow, but she was behind saplings and gave me no shot. I couldn't believe she jumped the string!

I met up with the guys and we weren't ready to call it a day. After some discussion we decided we would work fast to complete our tasks. I'd run to pick up a cooler, we'd quarter up the deer and make it out for the evening watch. I figured I could pack my bags in between and  finish later that night. So that's exactly what I did.

We were back in the woods by 4:00 pm and I saw nothing but squirrels and people walking their dogs. It was such a disappointment watching the neighbors come down the property line with their two dogs, talking super loud and dragging their feet. By the time they spotted me, they were 40 yards from my stand and basically jumped out of their skin. Rather loudly the husband yelled out that he was sorry and they hadn't seen me there. I just gave them a friendly wave and smiled. What was I going to do? It WAS their property. The dogs (two Cockers) saw me and didn't want to leave. It was rather amusing to watch as they walked away tugging at the leashes.

At 4:30 pm I heard crashing and thought my dad had arrowed another. When I met him at dark he said he hadn't, but he was almost certain my brother had. When we met up with my brother he proceeded to tell us the story of his first double. He had arrowed two does! Not one, but two! Sure was a good thing we decided to get back out there. What an amazing five day hunt! I have no photos of my brother and his deer because it was raining and we wanted to get things taken care of quickly. We had tenderloins to eat!

In five days, we had killed four deer. The three of us couldn't remember when we had been this successful during the first couple weeks of archery season. We were certainly blessed! We had persevered and were rewarded for it. I had a great time hunting in NY and being able to hunt with my dad and brother is something I always love to do. I owe them a big thank you for all of the hard work they put in with scouting, putting up stands, setting me up at the house and driving us all over. Also, a big thank you goes to my wife for putting up with me year round with the archery practice, hunting, constant hunt-chatter and for giving me the time to hunt for a week while she took care of our daughter. I smell a nice spa weekend and getaway for her in the near future.

Now I am looking forward to getting out and hunting here in Southern California. I hope to be able to arrow a Pacific-Hybrid now. I won't be spoiled with a 4x4, food being cooked for me and being driven around, but you can bet I will work harder than ever to get my first CA kill with a bow and arrow.

I want to be sure to thank the companies and people that have sponsored or helped me out in some way with equipment this year. A big thank you to SEEMZ Technology, Muzzy Broadheads, Mark from Sole Adventure (used a Muzzy 3-blade on my deer), Piranha Bowstrings, Easton arrows, Hawke Optics, Gamehide HushHide camo, Carbomask, Magnum Boots, North American Hunting Club, Archery Outpost, DIYbowhunter.com, and my hunting buddies.

This past Sunday morning I received a text message from my brother letting me know he knocked down a nice 3-point buck. That makes five archery deer taken in the first two weeks of archery season for the Quackenbush family. God gave us the ability and the means to hunt and put food on the table and we are doing just that.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

2011 NY Archery Whitetail Deer Hunt: Part One
Disappointment can either set you back or push you to work even harder. I haven't had an archery kill in over 5 years. Mainly because of moving to California and not having the opportunities like I used to. Have I let that get me down? Hell no! I have worked my tail off to find land to hunt, hit the range more to hone my skills and I still made time to hunt with my family. Perseverance, baby!

I just returned from a week of whitetail deer hunting in New York State with my dad and brother. Normally I would travel to NY later in the archery season, but this year my gut told me to book my trip earlier. Funny thing was that the moon phases would be perfect for hunting. Many people don't believe in the moon phases or just disregard them. I am a believer and this hunt would prove why.

Day 1: We saw nothing. No deer, not many birds and not many squirrels. Pouring rain and chilly.

You can see the water build-up on my gear. Pretty much lasted all day.

Day 2: Nothing again. This wasn't looking so good, but I had hope.

I stayed nice and dry in my GameHide rain gear, but I wished the rain would stop.

Day 3: My brother had a prior engagement, so my dad and I hit the woods by ourselves. We wondered if using the 4x4 Arctic Cat Prowler was going to push deer away with the noise and smell. The woods we were hunting was being logged and there were 18" ruts in some of the sloppiest mud imaginable. That Prowler tore through it well. I even got it stuck and still managed to make it out. What power!

My dad and I got up in our stands, about 100 yards apart, about twenty minutes before first light. Just as the sun was coming up I heard a distinctive 'TWHACK' followed by a crash, then a double crash and then silence. First blood! I just knew my dad had killed his first deer. My gut told me that it was probably a buck because this stand area he was in had bucks crossing all of the time. Sweetness!

I had my bow in hand just waiting for something to come from that direction. Ten minutes later I look in the opposite direction and here is a small doe bounding around like she's being stung by bees. Turns out she was just galloping around in the cold air feeling frisky. She was followed by a big doe. I got my bow ready as the small doe made her way towards me. She stopped 30 yards away, right behind a sapling. Patience would be key. She then took a side trail and disappeared. As I turned to the other side of the tree, here she comes... right down the trail to my stand! She stops, turns and then comes to a complete halt 10 yards away, underneath a large branch. I had no shot, but it was awesome to finally see deer.

She bounded off towards my dad as the big doe disappeared 80 yards away into the brush. Two minutes later I heard rapid snorting from the small doe reaffirming that my dad had a deer down.

We waited two hours and I met him at his stand. He proceeded to tell me the story of the kill. He had wandered around setting up scent wafers. He had just made it up the tree in his climber when a buck came in at 10 yards and was smelling the wafers. With no time to question it, he drew, aimed and let the arrow fly. One arrow, one kill! This buck was determined though as he ran a good 100+ yards and doubled back not once, but twice! We found him in a cluster of buckthorn. He was a beauty of a 4-point with a huge body. He had stiffened up, and it was nearing 60 degrees, so this was the photo we got.

This was a well-earned buck and my dad was super proud of him.

My dad dressed him out and after some hard work, we got him back to hang in the cool garage. We were stoked to finally have a deer down! The rest of the day we saw nothing, but that was just fine. My dad had the first kill hanging and there were still two more days to hunt.

Will I get my chance at a deer? My arrows are hungry and time is slipping away!

Part Two of the trip will post on November 3.