Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Useful Hunting Methods in Southern California: Part 2

As a whitetail hunter, I used to hunt primarily out of a treestand and the need to spot and stalk wasn’t a priority. I took it for granted that I always had private land to hunt and could leave a treestand up all year. Now that I live in California, I focus on hunting public land, off of the main trails and that is where I concentrate my preseason scouting. If the area has game trails and I have patterned the animals to a degree through use of trail cameras, I will entertain the thought of using a treestand.  With that being said, it won’t be your typical stationary treestand left mounted to the tree. The main reasons are that it is public land and it is there for everyone to use. Leaving a stand up for a long period of time on public land doesn’t feel right to me. Also, a stationary treestand ultimately limits you to hunting a certain area. Unless you have multiple stands up, you are stuck hunting one spot. The other issue with them being on public land is, sadly, that they run the risk of being stolen. For those reasons I use a climbing treestand. I utilize a climber for many reasons, the first being that I paid good money for the stand and don’t want it growing legs and walking out of the woods.  Also, when I hunt a wooden area and I need to get high in a tree, a climber offers me the freedom to go as high as I want to without the limitations that ladders have. Plus, when I use a climber, I can be more mobile and can move stand locations much faster than if I were using a stationary stand. Which stand would I recommend for California hunters? I have used a few different climbers from Summit, but they weigh a bit more than I like for the amount of hiking I do. The one I think works best for hunters having to hike in a long way is the Lone Wolf Assault climbing treestand. It weighs in less than 15 lbs. and is very easy to carry using the backpack straps. It is what I would call a minimalist climber. 

It is easy to pack in, but does take some practice getting used to how it functions. I had to watch the online how-to videos a couple times and practice with it a few times before I mastered it. The Assault has a very small seat, which is the platform used to push off of as you are climbing, and requires a decent amount of upper body strength. Take note – don’t use a climber in a palm tree. They are prevalent down here and will be tempting to climb, but the descent is brutal. Another lesson I learned when using a climber is that wearing a binocular chest harness gets in the way. Californians love having their optics close at hand and many of us utilize chest harnesses. Leave it attached to your pack to be hauled up after you have made your ascent.

One of the differences with this climber vs. others is that instead of cables to go around the tree it uses traction belts. These belts are ribbed and grip the bark well. The small platform also has a built in bow holder that works rather well, just in case you forget to bring any hooks to screw into the tree.

Ground blinds can be used in a variety of situations, but I truly only use them if I have to. The most commonly used ground blinds are pop-up blinds. They are great for keeping you out of the elements and keeping your scent reduced. I use a Primos pop-up ground blind in Predator Camo when I turkey hunt or if I am hunting feral pigs, but I rarely use one for bear or deer. The Primos blind is nice because it goes up very quickly. It is beneficial because your movement is hidden for the most part and the animals won’t spot you. The downsides are that they are rather bulky and they can also be incredibly warm inside as the California temperatures rise. A pop-up blind can also be extremely limiting when it comes to archery shots. That being said, they ARE an effective tool for hunting feral pigs and turkey.

Rolled ground blinds are lightweight, convenient and easily portable, but you are only minimally covered. As a bowhunter, these work very well and allow you 360 degrees of motion. They are far less expensive than a pop-up ground blind and easier to set up. These work very well for uneven terrain and breaking up your pattern. I have utilized these far more because of their ease of use and the uneven terrain I hunt. A rolled ground blind also allows you set up quickly and pick up and move to a new location quickly if you need to. Making your own is a rewarding experience.

Then there is the blind you make when you get to the woods by using branches and material already found out there. While this can work well for many, I tend to shy away from building my own for a few reasons. First, I don’t like to trim too much off the trees on public land in the areas I hunt. The main reason is that there is poison oak all over down here and would hate to get it. Sure I wear gloves, but all it takes is one little mistake and BAM! you have it.  That being said, using what nature offers is the best material to creating your own camouflage barrier between you and the animal. If the area is free of poison oak and there are dead branches around, or bushes, I can use combine them to provide a minimalist blind to give me some cover. The major benefit to making your own is that you don’t have to pack anything extra in and you can leave it there when you hike out.

After years of hunting in California, I will attest that it is tough to hunt here, but it can be enjoyable. Each person will have a different outlook. Increase your chances of filling your tags by doing some research followed by trying out some new tactics. I am constantly strategically planning for the next deer season and in hope of finding a legal buck. What if it was you doing the planning? Imagine the sheer excitement you’ll feel when you see that big buck on your trail camera. Additional scouting and glassing will commence and you’ll put miles on your boots. Finally, when the season opens, all the hard work you put in will seem like a distant memory as you set your sights on the prize. Will you plan on a spot and stalk hunt? Is the buck in an area where you can use a treestand? Maybe a ground blind will work best for the hunt. Every hunt can change at a moment’s notice and the methods you use are entirely up to you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Useful Hunting Methods in Southern California: Part 1

Ask California hunters what the best way to hunt deer is and you’ll get a variety of different answers. The same goes for bear and feral pigs. Most of the time it depends on where you are hunting. For me, there are three ways to successfully hunt big game in California; spot and stalk, hunting from a treestand, and hunting from a ground blind.  Spot and stalk preferred, many wouldn’t even consider the last two, but depending on where you are hunting and the animals you are after, they can be utilized quite well. You will have to do some research to figure out the best method for you, but after you have done your homework you can increase your chances of filling that tag.

Let’s face it, in the modern hunting age, new gear is created every year to give us an edge to be more efficient hunters. The new gear doesn’t always work everywhere and isn’t always the easiest to get used to. I don’t always think easier is the best approach to some things either. Take hunting in California for example. If I had to describe hunting in California, in a single word, it would be ‘tough’. Yet, I accept the challenge and embrace it. Add to the mix the overwhelming number of hunting blinds and treestands on the market and frustration can quickly set in, but hopefully I can help with that.

In my opinion, spot and stalk hunting is the most effective method to hunt deer and pigs in southern California. It allows you the freedom to move about and go after them instead of waiting for them to come to you, which honestly might never happen. Stalking takes practice and I am going to help you properly plan for a successful one.  Here’s the scenario; you have glassed up a buck in the morning hours and he is heading to his bedding area. You have two choices; try to cut him off or you can watch him bed down and then put on a stalk. My advice is to stay put and watch him bed down. You do not want to alarm him or any other deer that might be watching. If he’s bedded he’ll be laying down a certain way so you can plan your approach. If the temperature is rising, he is likely to stay put for a couple hours. Approach him from downwind, otherwise he will wind you and bolt. That’s the worst way to blow a stalk and it will leave an empty feeling in the pit of your stomach. Play the wind, be patient, and slowly get in close. Be sure you are coming from above him and not below him. There’s a very good chance he will spot you if you make a lowland approach. Take care where you step as any extra noise will likely set off an alarm and the deer will scatter. To avoid this, you could take your boots off. This allows you to walk in your socks, very quietly as you approach.  You will feel any branches under your feet before putting your full weight down. Now, if you are in rattlesnake country, use caution. You can still put on a great stalk with your boots on and a stalk is not worth a trip to the hospital.

I have learned is that you usually have more time on a stalk than you think. Your mind will begin to play tricks on you, but stay calm and focused. Be patient and slowly creep in toward the bedded animal. When you are within range only you can be the judge of when it is safe to draw. You have to be on the lookout for other sets of eyes peering at you, too. Draw, set your pin and make the shot count!

If you have kids, you can start prepping them early and teach them some stalking techniques. My 5 year old daughter loves practicing her spot and stalk technique on the herons and egrets at our local park. It’s wonderful to watch and my pride swells when I watch her get close! Hopefully she will be scouting the forest with me one day in hopes of filling her own big game tag. 

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow when I will review treestand and ground blind hunting.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Gear Review: TightSpot Quiver

As you can clearly see, my TightSpot Quiver gets abused when I hunt.

Durable. Adjustable. Nearly Indestructible. Quality. All things you want to hear when considering new hunting gear. These are necessary if you want your purchase to last and be worth every penny. The TightSpot Quiver is every one of those and more. With so many people asking me about quivers lately, now is the right time to share my thoughts on this top-notch, must have quiver. 

First off, the TightSpot Quiver is Made in the U.S.A. Need I say more? I interviewed TightSpot owner, Joe Jacks, in 2013 and he explains why it is made in the U.S.A. You can read the interview here. They have constructed an incredible quiver that, if set up properly, eliminates vibration in multiple ways. It is quiet and solid.

Many of us hunt with our quiver mounted to our bow. There are plenty of other bowhunters who prefer to remove it while hunting. You get the best of both worlds with the TightSpot. Now, I remember a few years back, when I first heard about TightSpot, I had a few disagreements with others using this particular quiver on their archery rig. Why? The main reason was cost. It retails for $162.95 and not everyone is going to have that in their budget. I didn't have it at that time and I was a bit short-sighted. I went the hard way and purchased cheaper, lower quality quivers. Yes, that is plural. What I needed to do was to save up and purchase one quiver I would own for life.

It took a few years, but I finally came to my senses and got a TightSpot. I am pretty rough on my gear and when I lay my bow down, typically it is on the quiver. Rocks, sand, and the occasional truck bed were no match for the durability. The quiver is tough and stands up to everything I have thrown at it. You can take it off on a stalk, in a tree stand, or when practicing. You can move it closer to the bow itself which drastically reduces torque. One of the coolest features is you can adjust it forward and back to eliminate the need for a stabilizer, should you choose that route. I personally like having my quiver in a certain spot, so I use a stabilizer, too. It's a mental thing for me. Still, you can fine tune it to have the weight of the quiver forward or back depending on your shooting style. You can also adjust the quiver up and down to center it on your bow by the use of the middle frame. Just loosen up the screws a bit, slide the two carbon poles up or down to get it where you want it and then tighten them up again. It's a great system!

The old style TightSpot Quiver had a foam insert for your broadheads to fit into. I really liked this design. Many complained that the foam got cut up and they hated having to replace it. TightSpot switched to a rubber molded insert to appease the customer. Personally, I liked the foam better. The foam allowed you to insert any size broadhead with ease. The rubber limits the size of the broadhead you can use, and it makes it very difficult to get the arrow in and out. I have constructed my own foam inserts to fix this issue, as I don't think TightSpot will go back to the foam, but I like the foam better. Have I mentioned that enough? Foam is good!

Smaller diameter arrows (like the ones I shoot) can be tricky to keep snug in the quiver, but it's not that difficult to adjust the screws and spacers to fit them. The crew at TightSpot was super helpful in sharing how to adjust the quiver spacers to get the arrows to fit here. The same goes for really fat arrows, like crossbow bolts. You simply have to do the opposite and loosen the screws to accommodate the shaft diameter.

Some may find an issue with mounting the quiver to the bow when you shoot a sight like the HHA Sports single pin series. I know I did, but TightSpot thought of that and offers a mounting bracket that allows you to use the sight and quiver combo with ease. The bracket costs $21.95, but it is worth it. I also invested in the universal mounting bracket for my crossbow. Simple to install and allows me to use any of my TightSpot quivers. It's awesome! MSRP on the Universal Crossbow Bracket is $22.95.

A nice feature to consider if you own two bows is that you can buy one quiver and two mounting brackets. Yes, you can buy separate mounting brackets! That way if you choose to shoot a second bow, you can just flip the lever on the quiver on the first bow, remove it, put it on the other bow and lock it down. No need for a second quiver!

The TightSpot mounts easily to many sights, but many need the additional mounting bracket.

TightSpot customer service is excellent. Not only do they answer questions reasonably quickly, but they stand by their (original owner) lifetime guarantee. For example, last year I cranked on a screw a bit too hard and bent the frame that attaches the quiver to the bow. I tried fixing it myself and realized I had completely messed up. I contacted them and informed them of my overly aggressive tightening and they said to box it up and send it in to be fixed under warranty. I offered to pay for it as it was 100% my mistake and they said they would take care of it. In about a week I had my repaired quiver in hand and it felt brand new. 

Like I said earlier, many will balk at the price tag. My opinion is that you do get what you pay for and the TightSpot Quiver is one essential article of gear that you really need to invest in. They offer a five-arrow quiver and a three-arrow. Personally, I am not interested in a three-arrow quiver, but for those that hunt close to home and in a treestand, this might be an option for you.

Would I recommend the TightSpot Quiver? You bet! I have been recommending them for years and continue to do so. This quiver is hands down the best I have ever had the pleasure of utilizing. I have had many of my close hunting buddies start investing in TightSpot and they rave about them as I do. I highly (yes, I said highly) recommend TightSpot Quivers to any bowhunter out there. Do yourself a favor and invest in a TightSpot Quiver. It'll be the last quiver you buy for yourself because it will last you a lifetime.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Social Media Saves Life of Coyote

Yes, you read the headline correctly. Social media helped save the life of a coyote this past weekend. No, the wily animal didn't put out a call for help on Twitter. No, something else happened and it makes for a slightly entertaining story!

With the rains on Thursday and Friday, I knew I had to get out after feral pigs on Saturday morning. Soft ground makes for easier rooting and pigs love to eat. After spending 5 hours in the stand without seeing any pigs, I decided it was time to do something different. While I hadn't seen any pigs, I did have a great morning in the stand. I watched three rabbits (all within 5 yards of the stand) forage and sit. Fortunately for them, rabbit season doesn't open until July 1, so they had a pass. The beautiful birds chirping, hopping around, and chasing one another made for great entertainment. The best part was watching the hummingbirds. Actually, there was one who was very curious about me. Hummingbirds are like that and it's so cool to watch. First, they do a fly-by or two. Then they come in close and buzz you. After a while, they hover in front of your face and usually that's it. I have had them come in before and land on my arrows, but this time was different. This guy came buzzing around again and landed on my right shoulder! He only stayed a second (hunter halitosis can be quite aggressive) and took off, but it was a wonderful encounter.

Entering a particular grove of trees, my spirits lifted. I feel a particular connecting to this piece of property. It is quiet, offers shooting lanes every which way, and is an incredible spot for pigs and coyotes. My buddy Chris knows the spot well and I was just texting him my location when I caught movement off to my left. Sure enough, a coyote was zig-zagging through the trees and was headed straight for me. With my bow in my left hand and phone in my right, I was stuck and had to make a decision! Crap! I slowly lowered my right hand and slipped the phone into my pocket. I was going to shoot this coyote! As the phone slid into my pocket it hit my car keys. *Jingle* - that's about the sound of it I guess. It was enough to stop that coyote dead in his tracks less than 30 feet in front of me. I was locked down and there was nothing I could do but smile. In a matter of seconds, she bolted 90 degrees left  and trotted off back into the trees. She was upwind of me and couldn't figure out what I was, but she was having none of whatever had jingle bells in his pocket. It was a great encounter. In fact, a very similar thing happened a month or so ago in the very same spot. Two lucky dogs! I know exactly where I am going to go when I want to thin some yotes.

On my way back to my vehicle, I was able to find fresh pig tracks. I shook my head as they were heading away from where I was and into the thicket where I hunted that morning. In fact, they crossed my tracks from that morning. Hahahaha! Funny stuff, right? I just smiled and hiked out, happy to have been in the woods.

Many would look at this as a failure. I see it as a wonderful day in the woods doing what I love. Bowhunting. I didn't kill anything, but it was a successful day! I was alive, breathing, and able to hunt. I had encounters with wildlife, nature, and earned some peace and quiet. Yes, it was a great day and I cannot wait to do it again.

Friday, May 8, 2015

New Bowhunter Adjusts His Setup for Success

I had LT aim at the top point of the star. Great job at 40 yards!

Meeting new bowhunters is something I love to do. Seeing the look on their faces when they hit that bullseye or when something goes right. That is awesome to me. Recently, I met Lautoua (LT for short) in a unique way. Although we live fairly close to one another and shoot at the same range, we never crossed paths. He happened to find me on ArcheryTalk and we decided to meet up at El Dorado Park in Long Beach. We met up a couple weeks ago on a Friday night, chatted for a few minutes and then went about our shooting. LT explained he was having difficulty keeping a good group at 30 and 40 yards. Having had similar issues in the past, I thought I could help him out. When I received a message from him asking if I'd be at the range on Tuesday evening, I knew my answer was going to be yes.

LT is one of those guys who is always smiling on the range, even when things aren't going his way. After talking about his run at the park, we jumped right into his errant arrow issues. After verifying he had the correct spine, we set up at 20 yards and I had him shoot an arrow. Immediately I saw the issues. First off, his peep had been set very low and he was having to lean over to see through it. We literally raised it an inch and it was like night and day. You could now see the comfort in his form as he relaxed when drawing. Sure, he had to adjust his sight now, but after three minor tweaks, he was dropping arrows into tight groups. His confidence level doubled in a matter of minutes. For a new archer (he just picked up a bow six months ago), LT has surprisingly good form.

The second issue was a simple fix. His release was set too long for him and he was punching the trigger. He admitted it felt weird shooting the correct way with it, but you could see the change in arrow flight almost immediately. 

There was still one more underlying correction that we worked on that many archers struggle with. He was gripping the bow tightly, torquing it, and causing the arrows to fly errant left and right. After a quick lesson in torque and archery, LT began changing his grip. It took a few shots because he had been doing it for so long, but that is where anyone giving instruction must have patience. Right away he wanted to go out to 30 yards. This would be the test. He dropped arrow after arrow into a small window we had discussed. He did incredibly well! He mentioned this was his best group at 30 yards ever. I was super stoked for him!

LT didn't stop there and this is where I love seeing confidence take over. He wanted to shoot at 40 yards and who was I to say no! At 40 yards he did the same thing. Arrow after arrow was in the kill zone on the target. Once a few arrows started to drift left, I asked him if his arm was tired. He admitted it was and I encouraged him to stop shooting. Bad habits can form quickly when you shoot with a tired arm.

With LT dialed in, I was now able to get my HHA Sports Optimizer Lite King Pin sighted in at 60 yards. I figured I was close, after having shot on Friday and Saturday of last week, but I am a bit obsessive. I want to be 100% sure it was right on. Ten arrows later I was dropping arrows within 4" at 60 yards. That felt good! It also gave me the opportunity to talk single pin sights with LT. He had hinted at wanting to look at the HHA sights, so I handed him my bow to look over the King Pin. He was more interested in the Lite Ultra series, so I handed him a catalog and told him if he had any questions to give me a call.

Shooting at the range during the week can be tough to schedule, but this day worked out for both of us and the results were fantastic. LT is dialed in and so am I. We are now ready to hit the range whenever and start shooting without having to tinker with our sights. Meeting new bowhunters and sharing ideas is a great experience. I hope I have the opportunity to meet up with LT and many others this year. El Dorado Park's archery range seems like a great middle ground to meet, chat, and shoot. If anyone is interested in getting out and flinging some arrows and hearing boring hunting stories of my youth, feel free to email me and maybe I can meet you. Most Friday evenings you can find us out there at the far end getting in the zone.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Cigar Review: Romeo y Julieta House of Montague and 1875 Reserve Maduro Robusto

Normally my reviews are all about hunting gear or the something to do with hunting. This time, I decided to review something different, but that I enjoy - some good cigars! As with bow hunting, you have to practice (or smoke a few cigars, in this case) to get good at it. It takes some work to tell different flavors and aromas apart. At least, that's how it is for me. It's no secret that I enjoy good cigars and keep a stash in my humidor. I like one when I am planning my hunts, sometimes after planning, and many times as a celebratory end to a successful hunt.  The good folks over at Famous Smoke Shop found out I have a fondness for flavorful maduros and contacted me regarding the Romeo y Julieta line and gave me the opportunity to review two cigars; the House of Montague and the 1875 Reserve Maduro Robusto.

First, I want to let you all know that when the donated cigars arrived, I resisted the urge to smoke them right away. When any cigars are sent through the mail, you should let them rest for at least two weeks in your humidor at around 70% humidity. I like to leave them in the cellophane wrapper, too. This allows them to regain any lost moisture and burn more evenly. After two weeks, it was time to enjoy a smoke! 

While I did not go on a hunt, I set up my bow and began researching my fall deer hunts. That seemed like a great time to enjoy a nice maduro from Romeo y Julietta. Opting to try the House of Montague first, I removed the cellophane and admired the aroma of the wrapper. Smooth, earthy goodness greeted my olfactory system. The 5 x 54 Honduran cigar has a dark, natural, almost chocolatey wrapper. This one had plenty of veins, which sometimes scare me due to irregular burn issues in the cigar. The Brazilian wrapper is Arapiraca, a city in Brazil (don't worry, I had to look that up, too) that was only slightly oily. Most Brazilian wrappers I have smoked are a bit more oily, but this was limited and very nice!

The draw was much smoother than anticipated and that was a very nice surprise! Earth and leather is what flavors I got off this cigar throughout the hour I spent smoking it. While the cigar might look to be a strong cigar in flavor and smoke, it is a medium-bodied cigar that I enjoyed very much. It's one of those cigars you can share with a buddy after a day of hunting and he won't turn green. Trust me, if this review is sounding good so far, you can find great deals on Romeo y Julieta Cigars from Famous Smoke. I'm already itching to buy a bundle! At around $6.00 per stick, you are getting a great cigar at a great price.

Depending on how fast you like to smoke, the House of Montague will last anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour. It burned even with no canoeing. It gets a consumer rating of 78, but I feel that is extremely low for this cigar. It's not a complicated cigar, and maybe that factors in, but I felt this was at least in the mid-eighties. I thoroughly enjoyed this and I think one of the main factors was that it didn't have much of a black pepper or spicy finish. Many cigars have a peppery finish and I am not a big fan of that. No worries with this one as the peppery notes are virtually nonexistent.

The other cigar I was asked to try was the Romeo y Julieta 1875 Reserve Maduro Robusto. A smaller gauge cigar, the 5 x 50 Reserve is also a nice cigar. This hails from the Dominican Republic (I am a big fan of DR cigars) and has a dark, chocolatey Connecticut wrapper. I normally don't care for a Connecticut wrapper as they tend to taste like I am smoking a green leaf, but this was surprisingly delicious. It has an amazing flavor and similarly to the House of Montague, the 1875 Reserve has earth tones and a smooth leathery flavor that lingers on the back of the tongue. This one might be a bit sharper on the tongue, but not much. There was just a hint of spice on the back of your tongue.

The Romeo y Julieta 1875 Reserve Maduro Robusto should last anywhere from forty-five minutes to an hour. The draw was smooth, but I had some burn issues with mine, meaning that sometimes it canoed and other times completely went out. It gets a consumer rating of 85, and for those factors previously mentioned I would lower that personally. It's not a cigar that I found I could smoke slowly, otherwise it would burn out on me. I think it was packed rather tightly and for some reason it would burn out on me. The good thing was that when I would relight it, it didn't taste like charcoal. I would get nearly the same flavor as when I first lit it. For roughly $7.00 a stick, you get a balanced cigar, but I would have thought this one would cost less than the HoM.

On a side note, many people ask what drink I like to pair with my cigars. Do I like scotch or whiskey, or maybe a rich coffee. Neither one to be honest. As I have grown older, I shy away from the hard liquor that I once enjoyed. No, I prefer to smoke my cigars while drinking a Monster Energy Drink. It's just my own way of doing things. You should drink what you like and enjoy the cigar.

I must thank the folks over at Famous Smoke Shop for giving me the opportunity to review these two cigars. It was definitely a pleasure! If I had to choose one cigar over the other, I would have to go with the House of Montague as it had a consistent smooth draw and flavorful smoke. That's just my humble opinion though. Why not judge for yourself. If you want to try the House of Montague or the 1875 Reserve Maduro Robusto, you can pick up your next Romeo y Julieta here. Both are worthy of enjoying by yourself or with friends.