Thursday, April 30, 2015

Badlands Hauls My Gear in the Backcountry

Hauling your gear through the backcountry isn't a job for a department store backpack. Educate yourself and choose wisely. There are many factors you must take into consideration when investing in a quality pack. Instead of giving you a complete rundown of the specifications for what you should look for in a pack, I am going to share with you what I am using and why.

Just yesterday, a friend of mine asked me what packs I was using now. Back when we hunted together I was using a Badlands 2200. It turns out that I am continuing to use that very same pack five years later. Why? It is THE most durable pack I have ever used, it fits well, and I used it to haul an elk off a mountain in Colorado, plus I used it to pack out my deer in California. It has seen its' share of blood, tears, busted zippers, torn fabric, and I could go on. I am very hard on my gear. It gets tossed in a pick up, dropped down the side of a mountain, hung in a tree, and it still does the job well. Badlands has a warranty I have never seen anyone else come close to beating. You do damage to your pack and need a repair, send it in and they will repair it. Done. No questions asked. In five years I have only sent my pack back one time. I had tears and such, but they were minor issues. When I busted a zipper, I figured there was no way they could fix it. Wrong. They repaired roughly six things I had done to the pack. Now it's as good as new and ready for another five years. They honestly have the best warranty in the business.

The second pack I use is the Badlands Point. It's a lightweight pack that works great for my day trips and my treestand hunts. I can still fit what I need to in it and when I am tough on it, it holds up very well. I used this one to help haul my gear out when I shot my first pig. I was able to swing the pack around to my chest while I carried the pig on my shoulders. 

Now, I also use a Badlands OX frame pack when the need arises. This is one I hope to utilize more this year when hunting bear and deer in the backcountry. It works really well right now for training and hauling sand. 

So there you have it. I love my Badlands packs. Sure, I am a proud member of the Badlands Operative Pro Staff, but that's not why I love the packs. I loved the packs before I was invited to join the team. Plain and simple, they are tough and will work well for you in just about any situation. If you have any questions, feel free to email me, message me on social media, or ask one of my fellow OPS members. We love our Badlands gear and stand by it.

Now I must go peruse the catalog and see if I need another Badlands pack. . . 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Getting Roasted by a Turkey

Turkey season has kicked off across much of the country. Some of you have filled your tags, while others have watched turkeys get run off by coyotes and sometimes other turkeys. It's a tough pill to swallow, but it's still great to be out in the woods. There is a thrill in calling in a mature tom turkey. My dad taught me how to hunt them, but as I grew older, hunting turkey's in NY was often a solo effort on my part. I wanted to share one such adventure that is sure to put a smile on your face.

It was over a decade ago. I was riding shotgun while my friend, Bill Fordon, drove down a local Geneva, NY road that we knew well. He pulled to the shoulder and motioned toward the far reaches of the edge of the woods. "That's where he is." It was private property, so I never gave much thought to hunting it. There, in the middle of the chewed up ground, was the largest tom turkey I'd ever seen, prancing around in full strut. The turkey had to be 400 yards away, but we knew it was a turkey. Far be it from a couple of farm boys who hunted not to have binoculars with them, we lifted the glass and took a look. This tom was incredible! Right then, Bill and I knew we would hunt hard for this tom. We just had to come up with a strategy.

Our dilemma was that this particular tom was strutting on private property. The owner allowed no hunting. Fortunately for us, Bill's family owned the adjacent property and we could hunt the fringe. We began planning and once turkey season opened, we hit the woods. Bill hunted. I hunted. We each had heard him, but he wouldn't get close. We knew he was there, so over the next couple weeks we hunted separately and we would see him frolicking in the open field and that frustrated the heck out of us. 

I knew I had to change tactics. As per the usual script, I was up long before dawn, hiked the half mile to the edge of the woods and set up. As the sun came up, the turkeys came alive. . . along with the mosquitoes. They soon found their way through the thin fabric of my gloves and the assault was too much for me. I needed to get up and move. Plus, the tom was in the open field across the field I was on the edge of. I could hear him gobbling away from me. I needed to move.

Earlier in the week, I had found out that the edge of the property I had permission to hunt bordered the private property across the way. In fact, it was split right in the middle of wide cut of hardwoods. I didn't know it well in the dark, but now that it was light enough, I made my way across. If the tom wouldn't come to me, I'd head to him and draw him back.

For three hours I called. For three hours he answered back and didn't leave the hens that were in the field. I prayed asking God to let him get withing shooting range. I was so frustrated. Turkey hunting can do that to you. He was less than 200 yards in the field, some swail protected my location, and if I just had permission to hunt the private property I could put a sneak on him! But the landowner had been very clear when she said that I could not hunt her property.

The tom wasn't going to move and I had to get back to town. I packed up and made the long trek back to my car. It gave me plenty of time to think and feel even more irritated by the time my rear fell into the driver seat. By the time I got back to my car it had taken me about a half hour. So, I loaded my gear into the car and started to drive back home.

I shook my head as I slowly drove by the open field and came to a stop. The tom was out of sight. I glassed and glassed and saw nothing. Seeing as this was my last day I would be able to hunt turkey, I had hoped to see him one last time. As I put the car in drive and began to move, I glanced over to my left and couldn't believe my eyes. I made a U-turn and came to a stop. Not twenty yards away from me was the tom and a hen in an alfalfa field! I got out of the car and walk to the edge of the road. He was in full strut and walking toward me!! I hustled back to the car to grab a call. I let out a couple of clucks and purrs with a diaphragm call and he went nuts. It was the coolest sight! Now, here is where most people tell me I should have shot the tom. For one, he was right next to the road (no shooting zone), he was on a different tract of private land and to me it wasn't hunting. I bantered back and forth with him for ten minutes and admired his strutting and gobbling. He absolutely refused to leave this particular hen. I waited for a while and they wouldn't move. Then, as if a switch had been flipped, his tail feathers came down and they headed for a far wooded lot. 

When I finally opened my car door and sat down, I simply smiled. I had just witnessed the most colorful, insanely large tom turkey I had ever seen strut right in front of me. In a way, God had answered my prayer. I had prayed asking him to allow that turkey to get within shooting range. He did just that. I should have prayed asking him to allow me to kill the bird! He had strutted to within 20 yards of me, pranced around for a long time,  and I was able to witness it all. I still revel in that moment. It was a day I will never forget.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Question: Who Makes the Best Compound Bow?

The main reason I started this blog was to help others learn more about bowhunting, especially in California. I know the difficulty that comes with learning how to hunt California. When I moved out here nearly a decade ago I struggled to learn the regulations, areas to hunt, and strict laws. To be honest, I am still learning and will continue to learn and I love that! The most common question I am continually asked is, 'which compound bow is the best?' and it is an honest question. This is something that is asked on a regular basis at pro shops, to pro staffs, and everyone has a different opinion. Even my answer may be different form the next person you ask. We all have different views on the topic of bowhunting. In the next few weeks, I also plan to share about a few other accessories like stabilizers, sights, and releases. Right now I will focus on your main bowhunting tool and that is your bow.

Who does make the best compound bow?  

That is the question everyone seems to want to know. My answer might shock you. Most compound bow manufacturers make a great bow these days. They really do! I have shot numerous bows over the last three decades and they have come a long way. Twenty years ago I may have been able to direct you to better made bows, but not today. The technology is incredibly good and you really just need to find a bow that you like to shoot. That's it! Don't go worrying about the fastest bow, or the bows you see on television as being the only bows to try out. Go to a pro shop, ask the staff, and shoot a few of the bows. Purchase the one that is within your means and that you like to shoot. Don't purchase a bow solely based on the price tag. Trust me, there is nothing worse than going cheap and shooting a bow you don't like. I did it many years ago and I paid dearly for it. In fact, I hated that bow. Bows that shoot 340 feet per second are great, but you can kill a deer with a bow that shoots slower, too. Keep that in mind when buying a new or used bow. 

I have numerous friends and acquaintances in the bowhunting world and the compound bows they shoot. Almost all of them are shooting bows made by different manufacturers. Yes, each and every one shoot a different bow and that is awesome! Do you know what it is that we all have in common? We love to bow hunt and that is what truly matters. If a handful of my friends and family got together for a hunt, we wouldn't be worried about what bow each of us was shooting. We would want to hunt, share stories, and have a good time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Off-season Prep to Feed Your Need for the Outdoors

This is an excerpt from an article that ran in the February 2015 issue of California Sportsman Magazine.

If you are like me, I often wonder what is ahead immediately after deer season ends. It doesn't take long for me to imagine all the possibilities that are just waiting to be unearthed. I think back on the previous year and what I did right, did wrong, need to improve on, and what fun I can have in the coming new year. I jot down each idea that pops into my head as it is time to plan out some hunting and fishing adventures!

At the top of my list is planning outdoor adventures with my daughter, whether it is simply taking a hike or choosing some new fishing spots. While I may be the guide, I also get her to share her ideas. Listening to her brings forth new ideas and also gets her excited to do fun things in nature. One of the things I most look forward to is going camping and fishing with her. Right now, she is asking to go hiking more and why not? It's a great time to shed a few pounds, get some leg work in, and bring out the binoculars to scout along the way. Plus, although my wife isn’t a hunter, she loves to hike and is pretty darn good at spotting deer! It’s great seeing the outdoors through their eyes.

Now is a great time to start looking for new public hunting ground. It is also a great time to introduce some new hunters to the proper way to find public land to hunt and to help them learn to scout properly. I talked with a couple of new bow hunters last year and the most common question was, "Where to I start?" You would be surprised at how many people haven’t hiked the foothills or mountains. More than that, many have never shot an arrow. It doesn’t always have to be about hunting. Get them involved in archery and many will find a new hobby they will enjoy for a lifetime. Now is a great time to introduce new people to archery or the outdoors! I have a few readers who have reached out to me asking for some guidance. Instead of just telling them, I am going to invite them to come out with me to do some scouting.

Practice using your cameras more often and in different ways. So many outdoorsmen are photographing and videoing their adventures nowadays that you have to think and work creatively to do something different. Now that the pressure is off, take some time to photograph a hunting partner or a family member in different ways that might be reflective during the season. Think about the light, position of the animal or fish, the position of the person, lighting of the face and eyes, and the background. All of these things need careful consideration. If you plan ahead, you just might land that cover shot of CA Sportsman! I have been shooting photos for twenty years and I still practice! I have to as I need to stay sharp. When I don’t practice, my photos suffer. If you plan on videoing your excursions, again plan ahead. The purpose of shooting a video is to tell a story, so do just that. Write out an intro and exit that can be used over and over. Then, begin writing out and considering smaller tidbits that add to the storyline. If you are a coffee drinker, shoot the coffee maker as it is brewing or you pouring it into a mug. Now, this may or may not be used, but if you have it you will be ahead of the game. You can always reshoot it. Plan a mini-trip and video it. Figure out who is the main focus and who is going to video it. Guidelines need to be set and adhered to in order for it to be successful. Now comes the editing part, which is often the toughest piece of the puzzle. Sit down and play around with different features on short clips. Working on longer ones in the off season can be overwhelming and drag you down long before the season ever starts. 

Off season really isn’t the right way to say it. It’s more like a ‘do plenty of other things outdoor related’ season. One of my goals is to learn how to saltwater fish. I grew up learning to fish freshwater lakes and streams. As a SoCal resident and having plenty of access to the ocean, I want to learn how to go after bigger fish. My knowledge base will be from my friends who have done it for years. No matter what you choose to do, you should embrace the time to learn and improve your skills in many different ways. As humans we like variety and challenging yourself in different ways will make you increase your knowledge and hopefully a better outdoorsman.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hunting Licenses Go On Sale Tomorrow!

What is April 15, 2015? Tax Day, right? NO! It's the day California Hunting Licenses go on sale! Time to put in for your tags and see if your name gets drawn for that coveted tag. I know I am going to switch things up a little this year and try for a couple different tags I normally wouldn't go for.  Who knows, I might get lucky!

Be sure to read through the changes this year and maybe start building some points for a future tag. You can't pull a tag if you don't try. Good luck to everyone in the draw and we will see what happens come June 2, 2015.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Crossbows. Why Do You Hate Them So?

This article ran in the January 2015 issue of CA Sportsman Magazine.

In this day and age, hunters have plenty of challenges to overcome. As far as I am concerned, we need to stick together. I want you to say something with me; crossbows. Did it make you cringe? Did you smile? Does it rile you up? Ask yourself why. Why the animosity toward crossbow hunters? I'll be the first to admit, I used to feel the same way. From the outside looking in, I was totally against having someone use a crossbow during archery season. In fact, when I lived in NY, I didn't even want to have it as part of the allowed weapons. I was ignorant and incredibly short-sighted. Since then, I have changed my tune after learning a bit more, talking with crossbow manufacturers, and listening to other hunters. 

Most of the arguments I hear are that they make it too easy to hunt. How so? My thoughts are to not judge and that hunters should support hunters, period. I would argue that some rifle hunters will shoot out to a thousand yards on an animal. Personally, I feel like I need to get closer to the animal to make it a hunt. That doesn't mean I am against it. It is my personal desire to do so and I do not push that on anyone. In fact, there are many who need to fill their freezers for the winter and this helps provide that sustenance. I don't need to hunt for my food like I used to, but I enjoy hunting and even more so, I enjoy eating wild game. With a crossbow, you still have to get close to an animal to shoot it. You might be able to shoot a longer distance with a crossbow vs. a compound, but how it that ‘easier’? You still have to make an ethical, kill shot.

What about using a compound bow vs. a traditional recurve bow? They are both considered archery equipment, but doesn't the let-off in a compound give the hunter an advantage over a traditional bow? Sure it does! I personally prefer a compound over a recurve. It is my personal preference. I don’t push that ideology on anyone else. If someone wants to hunt with me and they use a recurve, I welcome them. I think they are at more of a disadvantage than I am. I have sights, a stabilizer, a dropaway rest, 75% let-off, and I use a release. Does that make me better? Worse? No. In fact it makes me a hunter. If they want to use a crossbow, and it’s legal, bring it and hunt with it! I want you to hunt and have a good time in the hopes you are able to fill your tag.

In general, crossbows are faster shooting, but are also heavier and more cumbersome. Many weigh double what a compound weighs. They are less maneuverable when stalking and also take longer to reload.  On the plus side, they allow disabled hunters to hunt more and isn’t that a good thing? In California, you can hunt deer with a crossbow during the regular (firearm) season if you have a regular season tag. Did you know that? I didn’t until this year. You can also hunt wild pigs with a crossbow. With the pig population so large, I think that offers more opportunities to hunters. 

Personally, where I draw the line is classifying a crossbow as strictly archery equipment. It's not. There are slingshots that shoot arrows, too. They are not archery equipment. They are also not a firearm. Crossbows use different technology to store energy to send a bolt downrange. So where does that leave them? I feel that crossbows are in a category all by themselves. Shooting one takes skill, no matter what anyone says. They utilize similar technology from both archers and firearms.  I have heard hunters say that the technology in a crossbow makes the hunter lazy. What about the wheelie-bows vs. a recurve then? Many of the arguments against crossbows come from people who have never even shot one before. They just see the person shooting and assume it’s easy. 

Crossbows are another tool that allows hunters to go after wild game. Think about the fact that many areas firearms are prohibited, especially in many areas of Southern California. Yet, the crossbow is allowed, depending on the regulations and ordinances for that area. One of the animals anyone can hunt with a crossbow is the feral pig. Did you know that? Recently, I put my crossbow to the test and ventured out in search of some wild pork on public land.

Hunting pigs is incredibly fun, but is quite a challenge with any weapon. I have been unsuccessfully chasing pigs for a couple years with my compound bow. Last fall, my friend Chris Turgeon and I sat along a travel route that we were sure the pigs would cross through. Chris knows pigs. In fact, he has made it his mission to help me learn pig behavior and set trail cams to find them. In fact, he had been disappointed that he hasn't been able to help me shoot a pig. A couple weeks ago, both of us went about our daily routines and then we saw the weather report - RAIN! There was significant rain being forecast and we immediately came up with a game plan. If I could make the drive up to meet him, we could be on pigs on that afternoon.

When Saturday came, I decided I would bring the crossbow this time. It was another challenge and I had never taken an animal with one. I loaded up the car and hit the road as early as I could. Chris and I both knew the pigs would be on the move. It was much cooler, the ground wet, and we hoped the pigs would be foraging all day. It was just a matter of choosing the right spot to ambush them. We discussed ideas and paid close attention to the wind, as that was what had busted us numerous times before. We wanted our scent to be blowing in the right direction and not swirling. The wind was perfect for only one location and we knew where we had to go. We began our long hike around the woods to a natural blind to avoid detection.

I knew I wanted a pig really bad, so I was strict on my scent reduction. My clothes had been in an ozone tote prior to me leaving. I sprayed everything down with a scent killing spray at the vehicle and brought extra in with me. Once we hit our ambush point we both sprayed everything down again. We probably overdid it, but we didn't care. I'd rather go over the top and increase my chances. It was now 2:00 PM, so we sat down and waited.

Through the binoculars, we could see two sets of fresh tracks through one clearing. We made an educated guess that they were pig tracks. We hoped the rest of the group would come the same way. The wind was perfect and we continually sprayed down. We wouldn’t have to wait very long.

I looked down at my watch. 3:06 PM. As I looked up, two black shapes silently appeared in the clearing. Both of us saw them at the same time and Chris said, 'You're on!' My body felt different than on other hunts. The adrenaline was controlled and I was focused! One pig stopped broadside at 12 yards. I ever so slowly raised my crossbow and settled in on the pigs vitals. As the pig dug up the muddy ground, I took the shot. It was less thirty seconds from when the pigs came in and I took the shot. My Scorpyd Ventilator crossbow sent the bolt so fast that we didn't even see where it went. We heard the pig hitting some saplings and then a crash. Surprisingly, I was super calm and focused. I turned to Chris and smiled from ear to ear. We had done it!

If I had waited a few more seconds, the other pig may have turned for Chris to get a shot, but after hunting wild hogs for so long I was not about to give up the opportunity. We talked about the shot and knew it was a kill shot. I pulled up the binoculars to look through the brush and could see blood on saplings and undergrowth. It was going to be a fun tracking job.

We opted to wait an hour to see if any other pigs trotted through the area. It was a shot in the dark as they probably busted out of there when I shot my pig. As predicted, nothing happened, so we set off to trail my pig. The blood trail was easy to follow as the broadhead had cut through both lungs and left a wide spray of blood. Even with the excellent shot, the pig ran nearly 100 yards! Those animals are tough! We found her in a small clearing and estimated her to be around 80 lbs. A perfect eating pig and no matter what, a perfect pig for my first ever.

Some people have asked me if I regret not using my compound to take my first pig. Not at all! In fact, I am glad to have had the opportunity to use the crossbow. Plus, I now have wild pig in my freezer and that is a great thing. Hunters need to support hunters, period. We all have different methods, tactics, and use different weapons. We shouldn’t be elitist about one weapon over another when trying to encourage more people to start hunting. If a crossbow will introduce a new person to hunting, whether they are young or old, male or female, it shouldn’t matter what weapon they use. If it is legal and they want to hunt, welcome them into the fold.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Gear Review: HybriMAT No Wear CRM Archery Target

When you shoot an arrow designed to blow right through an animal, what target is the best at stopping your arrows? Most targets on the market work for most arrows, but I can tell you first-hand that they do not all work. I shoot the Victory Armor Piercing arrows and most targets don't stop them well. Not because I am a great shot, but because the arrows fly right through the targets or get buried up to the fletching. That is No Bueno! After doing some research and watching a few of the videos from American Whitetail, I knew I had to try the HybriMAT No Wear CRM (commercial range module) target

Why did I choose the HybriMAT No Wear CRM target to gauge arrow penetration? First and foremost, the target looked virtually indestructible and I can tell you that it stops the arrows dead. I have used some other brand name targets and the slim diameter arrows blew right through them. After using the HybriMAT No Wear CRM, I can tell you that I am more than impressed with the way it stops arrows.

Specs from the website: The hybrid design with a rigid laminated foam shell, packed tight with ballistic material, for extreme target life. Every part of the CRM is replaceable or repairable. The 26" x 26" size stacks four targets together to build a 54" square target with four 20" diameter NoWear Mesh cores that fit four, five or 3 spot indoor faces.

All arrows were shot from my compound bow set at 70 lbs. The finished length of each arrow from throat of nock to end of insert or outsert is 28”. I shot round after round of the VAP V3 arrows. The HybriMAT No Wear CRM was like a wall of foam not allowing anything to pass. Was it just these arrows? Instead of only shooting the VAP arrows, I also shot four other brands of slim diameter arrows. All were stopped dead by the target. The most arrow penetration I got was 13" from the VAPs, and that was on the backside with just the foam.

Alas, the target isn't going to work for everyone. The target is bulky and not easily moved around. It's meant to be a range target that can sit out for long periods of time. Unfortunately for me, I have to bring my targets to the range and then back home again, so this one will remain at home for the most part. When I can haul it out and shoot for long periods of time, it will work great.

The build of the target is solid, but it doesn't look very professionally put together. It's not perfectly manufactured like many of the targets you find in big box stores. That being said, this this can withstand any arrows I shoot into it. In my humble opinion, I still felt it looked kinda haphazardly put together and could use some more design work.

While the mesh on the front aids in stopping arrows, I think it's a bit much and I didn't care for it. Especially when trying to get the arrows out of the target. They kept hanging up. In fact, almost every arrow hung up a little. I turned the target around more often to shoot at the backside and that worked better for me. Shooting at the mesh was an inconvenience. The website says, 'one finger arrow removal,' and I highly disagree with that statement. Not once was I able to pull out an arrow using one, two or even three fingers.

The HybriMAT No Wear CRM target is designed to be used often, but it is bulky and expensive. It retails for $189.99 and that is not cheap. If you have an outdoor range, shoot slim diameter arrows, and have some some extra cash, this might be the target you are looking for. The way I looked at it was 'do I want to keep searching for arrows that blow through my target, or do I want the confidence in knowing I can hit anywhere on the HybriMAT No Wear CRM and my arrow will stop'. Overall, I like the ability to stop my arrows, but I don't care for the size or some of the features. I would love to see a smaller model of this target come out with no mesh. One that would be easily portable and still have the stopping power. I think it can be done. Half the size, half the price, same stopping power. That would be great.

Disclaimer: The HybriMAT No Wear CRM target was provided by American Whitetails as part of this review and a slim diameter arrow review. I covered the shipping.