Sunday, April 8, 2018

Five Habits to Become a Better Hunter

If you are like most people, the momentum of your New Year resolutions are a distant memory. Statistically speaking, there is a greater than 90% chance you have backslid on your resolutions. Most studies show it takes anywhere from 21 to 60 days performing a new behavior to form a habit. The odds are stacked against you, that’s the bad news. The good news is you have time to become a better hunter before the fall season by focusing on five overlooked habits you can easily develop. Start your hunting resolution today by developing regular routines of reading, listening, exercising, practicing and scouting to make your next season the best one yet. 

The benefits of reading are well documented and numerous, including reducing stress, improving memory and enhancing your problem solving skills. Why not double down by reading more books on improving as a hunter? We are living in unique times where the volume of information we have access to is greater than at any time in human history. Take advantage of this opportunity and earn your hunting doctorate. Set a goal to read at least four hunting related books before fall arrives. 

Read a diverse selection to enhance your woodsmanship and understanding of conservation. 
As you are reading hunting-related books, the benefits of acquiring new knowledge spillover to other areas of your life. For example, reading a chapter or two before you go to bed is scientifically proven to help you sleep better, reduce stress and improve your intelligence. In this case, you are increasing both your hunting intelligence and overall brain functions! That’s a true win-win scenario. 

Make sure you are turning actual paper pages of a book before you go to sleep and not swiping electronic pages on a smartphone or tablet. There are many emerging studies showing blue light emitted from electronic devices actually has negative effects on sleep patterns.The blue light emitted by televisions, smart phones, tablets, etc. stimulate the brain to remain alert instead of relaxing at the end of the day, thereby causing your body to produce lower levels of melatonin, a hormone produced to help regulate sleep. 

Listening is the second habit to improve upon this year. Not just listening for the subtle sound of an approaching deer moving through the woods, but listening to podcasts and audiobooks. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American spends 50 minutes each day commuting to work. That means 250 minutes a week or 13,000 minutes a year are spent behind the steering wheel. How can you maximize that time? Use it to exercise your mind by listening to content related to your outdoor interests. 

Hunting, health and conservation are the primary subject I listen to during commutes. 

Podcasts are an excellent way to stay up to speed on everything from archery tuning to big game butchering. If there is a subject you are interested in, chances are there is a podcast out there that will expand your knowledge on the topic. Some excellent podcasts to check out are MeatEater, Hunt Harvest Health, The Hunting Collective, Wired to Hunt and Gritty Bowmen. There are hundreds of hunting related podcasts out there to choose from, simply type in some search words and see what you can find. 

Along with exercising your mind, start an exercise routine to improve your physical fitness. You don’t need to be an Olympic power-lifter or compete in a local marathon to get more out of your hunting seasons, but you will be amazed at how your hunting ability improves simply by being in better shape. There are also a variety of ways to get into great shape without having to plan your daily routine around going to the gym. If you have not exercised regularly, consult with your physician before starting an exercise routine and start slow. Beginning with a mixture of cardiovascular and body-weight exercises is a great way to increase your physical activity and produce results. Plus, you can do these routines anywhere as no equipment is involved. 

Running trails is another way to enjoy the woods outside of hunting season. 
Here is a great body-weight routine to start with: On Monday, Wednesday and Friday begin with one set, ten reps each of squats, walking lunges, push-ups, planks, jumping jacks and burpees. Rest for two minutes then repeat for four more sets, making five total. At the completion of five sets you should have a really good sweat going and an elevated heart rate. Adjust this routine accordingly by increasing or decreasing reps, sets and tempo of your movements. On Tuesday and Thursday work on your cardio by walking, jogging or running a few miles, or for at least 30 minutes. The best time to get your exercise is whenever you can fit it into your schedule. In the morning before going to work, during your lunch break or in the evening are all opportunities to take 30 minutes for exercise. Focus on forming the habit first, not  an overnight transformation. Remember, progress happens one day at a time. 

The next step to becoming a better hunter is practice. Life has a way of consuming our time but it is critical to take time back and practice your craft. With the many responsibilities we all have these days you may need to take a proactive approach to your practice and schedule time for it. A great way to do this is by joining a league in the off-season. Whatever your hunting passion is, there will be a league that aligns with it. Look locally for trap, skeet and sporting clay leagues to improve your wingshooting abilities, or find 3D archery shoots to hone your bowhunting skills. Getting involved in local clubs hosting these events is also a great way to network with fellow hunters sharing your interests. Practice is also the funnest habit to develop. Have you ever seen somebody frown while shooting a bow? I know I haven’t. 
Perfect practice makes perfect. 
The last dimension to ensure a better season this fall is scouting. If you happen to hunt whitetail deer, which are pursued by the vast majority of hunters, late winter and early spring are the best times of the year to scout your hunting areas. Take advantage of the missing foliage to hike your hunting grounds looking for tracks and trails you may have overlooked. With all of the vegetation gone you can study the barren landscape to better decipher subtle terrain features that funnel deer. Follow buck rubs left behind from the one that got away to reveal the direction he traveled while looking for a consistent pattern. Those rubs might lead back to a secluded area that looks perfect for a new treestand. Perhaps the buck made it through the season and is using a different winter range but will return to the same area next fall. Keep track of your findings by taking notes as this type of intelligence can pay big dividends next season. 

Scouting is a great way to involve the next generation of hunters. 
Colin Powell is quote as saying "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, persistence, and learning from failure." The habits of reading, listening, exercising, practicing and scouting are directly related to preparation, hard work and persistence. Hunting is all about learning from failure as no hunter is successful filling tags every time they go afield. There may not be a single secret to success, however; these five key habits will certainly provide you with a strong competitive advantage leading to less time learning from failure and more time filling your freezer.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Deercation doe 11.09.17

The last few days of my deercation were the ones I was looking forward to the most. Since our college days, a group of us have been getting together at least once a year to hunt public land in southern Ohio. It all started many years ago with gun season, but quickly transitioned to spending more time together during bow season. We've been "keeping it public" long before "keeping it public" was cool, and our time at deer camp is something I truly look forward to  every year. 

A good deer camp has a magical way of letting friends pick up exactly where they left off. At camp we eat like kings, laugh until it hurts and make our time together an adventure. There's old war stories relived while new memories are being made. We wake up earlier, hike in farther, stay later and hunt harder than we do when we're all hunting separately back home... where ever each other's home hunting grounds may be. There are no trail cameras, no deer with names, no food plots and no corn piles. We review maps, supplemented with the latest apps to formulate ideas on new spots to hang and hunt. Then we mix in real-time boot leather, a dash of woodsmanship and a sprinkle of tribal knowledge to create our strategies. This recipe usually results in at least one or two good bucks taken at camp every year. 

The first afternoon, Marc and I decided to put the venison vessel in the water and hunt "the swamp." Another quality all good deer camps share are names of specific places. In addition to "the swamp" there's places like "the secret spot" and "the horse farm" along with everybody's favorite, "the shit-stir." I could try to explain, but some things are better left a mystery. The swamp is accessed by boat so it doesn't see as much pressure as the other roadside walk in areas, although people do hunt it. It's public land in Ohio so chances are somebody is hunting it. 

I dropped off Marc to hunt the top end then I ventured on, heading toward one of those predetermined way-points already pinned on my phone app. As the canoe quietly cut along the river channel, I must have jumped at least 50 wood ducks and a few mallards. The drake woods ducks looked amazing in the afternoon light. A short paddle later I pulled the boat ashore and diagnosed every tree in the vicinity of several well-worn trails. My stand was promptly hung among a selection with some cover and a favorable wind. I settled in for the afternoon hunt.

Not much happened until the last part of the evening when two does wandered in from behind my stand. They made themselves at home underneath me for quite a while, browsing away on everything green. Hoping a buck would soon follow I was stranding, bow in hand, release on my d-loop. Suddenly they both picked their heads up and looked to my left. I could hear the steps approaching but didn't want to move too quickly as the does were right beneath my feet. With my eyes strained to the left I could see another doe joining the party. Still optimistic that perhaps she would be luring a buck along I scanned the woods. No suitors in pursuit. 

Now there were three does under my feet with shooting light fading. I continued surveying the area for a cruising buck while debating whether or not to take a shot at one of the does. It seemed as though they were going to be dining underneath me for a while, but my time was setting like the sun. The decision was made. As the largest of the three turned broadside the string was drawn back toward my face. Feet, grip, anchor, pin, follow. That mantra repeated thousands of times during practice becomes automatic in the moment. 

The shot felt good, the arrow looked good, I felt certain I heard the deer crash after a short scramble through the brush. I paddled up to Marc and we returned to retrieve my deer. The trail was a short one and easy to follow. Just like you want. We recovered the doe within 50 yards of where my arrow passed through and stuck in the ground. Thanks was given, new memories were made and I was fulfilled.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Trophy is a Bastardized Term

Hearing the word "trophy" associated with "hunting" makes me cringe. Not because I'm against keeping non-consumable parts of an animal. As a conservationist, I advocate for utilizing as much of the animal as possible. I cringe because the anti-hunting movement has completely bastardized the term "trophy hunting," painting a picture of those who hunt as blood-thirsty mercenaries killing for their next taxidermy mount. This could not be a more fictitious representation of the hunting community. But why do hunter's feel the need to keep something like a skull and antlers, to hang for display?

This 2015 archery buck provided many trophy meals for family and friends. 

Archaeologists discovered fossil evidence suggesting humans hunted and ate meat as far back as 2.5 million years ago. It was at this point in time that humans began cooking and eating meat, leading to the increased brain and body size of modern man. If we use an average human life expectancy of 80 years, those fossil remains represent 25,000 lifetimes of genetic hunting experience. Considering planet earth formed over 4 billion years ago the length of time humans have walked the planet is a drop in the bucket, but for humans to have hunted that many lifetimes certainly explains why we hunt. But why do hunters keep and display non-consumable parts of the animals we hunt?

Hunting is part of being human, as is our desire to express emotions through song, dance, art and countless other ways. Art is mankind's attempt to communicate an experience, to express what is difficult to describe with words. No different than our ancestor's recreating the emotion of a hunt through petroglyphs and pictographs. Early petroglyphs date back to 700,000 BC while some of the earliest pictographs date back to 70,000 BC. To continue measuring in terms of human lifetimes, that represents 8,750 and 875 lifetimes of artwork expressing and communicating the hunting experience.

Pictographs from a back country canoe trip in the Boundary Waters.

Keeping possession of hides, antlers, feathers or creating artwork through taxidermy is a continued expression of the hunting experience. Beyond the nourishing meals provided by the animal, artifacts kept for display tell the story over and over, honoring both the life of the animal and the pursuit involved. This ancient practice is akin to hunting, just as acrylics or oils are akin to creating a painting.

Art is one of the oldest forms of  human expression and part of our documented hunting experience for thousands of lifetimes. The argument can be made that in our increasingly modernized society, the discipline of hunting is an art itself. After all, few people existing today have a connection with the natural world, and their food, like a hunter. Regardless of bastardized terminology, hunters shouldn't shy away from these discussions. Instead, we should create conversation and have an open, honest dialogue about hunting. We understand the true trophy is the complete hunting experience, we simply need to do a better job of expressing and communicating this with others. 

I'm thankful to have hunting pictures of my Grandpa, and the antlers from this Colorado mule deer.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Opening Night 9.30.17 ~ All the fun, none of the mess

My goals for hunting are simple: 1. Have fun. 2. Fill the freezer. With those expectations set I ventured out to bowhunt for the first sit of Ohio's season. The breeze was coming out of the north to the north east with temperatures in the mid 60's and dropping throughout the afternoon. I decided to hunt out of an oak tree situated on the edge of a freshly combined bean field and inside corner of two blocks of woods. The deer should show up as evening arrives to dine on either waste grain left by the combines, grass along the freshly cut waterways or acorns dropping from the canopy that are not yet squirreled away by the squirrels. It felt good to be back in my element.

The golden hour was fleeting when the first doe appeared like a mirage, standing sixty yards to the south feeding toward me in the open field. What began as one, suddenly turned into three deer casually dining their way northward. I was already on my feet, reaching for my bow as they inched closer to one of my open shooting lanes. 

The lead doe quickly saw or smelled something that made her uneasy. As she was quartering toward me, her head snapped alert, staring into the woods to my left. I was at full draw, waiting for her to turn. She blew, spun and trotted out of the left side shooting lane. A clean shot was now blocked by the leaf cover in front of my stand. I was still holding at full draw as she stepped back into my lane. The doe was now quartering away at a hard angle, nearly facing away from me. Moments later she and the other two trotted south, bounding back into the woods. I let down from full draw, wondering if they had winded me or if something else had their attention. 

In the waning minutes of legal light I could hear more deer approaching, this time from the woods behind me. Two does stepped out into the field, working just outside of range through the shooting lane to my right. At about 40 yards out the lead doe froze in her tracks, her attention focused to the south. Noticeably uneasy, she turned and trotted back into the woods with the younger doe, running just ten feet from my stand. 

With darkness signaling the end of opening night I thought, "Well, that's that I guess." Just as I hung my bow on the hanger I could see what had all the deer on edge. The silhouette of a coyote quickly slinked through my shooting window and into the woods, following the deer that had just done the same. I don't blame the coyote for messing up my hunt, after all the coyote and I were both after the same thing, a meal. It definitely felt good to be back in the woods. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Simple and Delicious Venison Backstrap

Scouring the internet for backstrap recipes is unnecessarily complicated. Keep things simple with this recipe and treat yourself to the most tender, juicy, delicious backstrap you've ever had. For this recipe I used half of a whitetail backstrap, a smoker and a hot skillet. Now, I've heard people say that smokers are not for tender cuts of meat like backstrap. To that I would say don't listen to those people, you don't need that type of negativity in your life.

  • Coarse ground salt & pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh pressed garlic
  • Butter
Several hours prior to smoking, rub the backstrap with a coating of olive oil and cover with coarse ground salt and pepper to your liking. I purposely chose not to measure anything, but my salt to pepper ratio was probably 2:1. Keep refrigerated until you're ready to smoke.

Different woods add a different flavor to the meat you smoke. I used hickory chips for this recipe mainly because it's considered "The King" of all smoking woods and it was what I had on hand. Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees and smoke the backstrap until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees. Depending on the size of the cut you're working with it should take roughly an hour. Use this time to press a fresh clove or two of garlic into a glass bowl with quarter stick of butter. Heat the garlic and butter up in the microwave until it melts and stir them together. Once your backstrap reaches an internal temperature of 120 degrees remove the meat from the smoker and head to the kitchen.

Heat a large skillet, add the backstrap and begin searing the outside. While you're searing, spoon the garlic butter over the meat. Do this until your internal temperature reaches 130 degrees. Remove the backstrap from the skillet, place it on a plate and cover with foil for ten minutes. Slice, serve and enjoy.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Is Wild Game Really Organic?

Organic eating is the fastest growing food phenomena in America. Everywhere you look, certified organic labels are strategically placed on packages attracting consumers to a healthier food choice. Organic produce, cereals and meats found in grocery stores across America have experienced double digit sales growth each year for the past four years, according to the latest Organic Trade Association survey. In the case of some organic food categories, consumer demand is outpacing supply with no signs of weakening.

From little league games to the office lunchroom, conversations are taking place about organic this and organic that, but hunters have been eating organic since before it was cool. At least that's the claim made through a growing number of Instagram and Facebook posts. But can hunters accurately claim the wild game photographed from their kitchen table is really organic? Are hunters eating organic by filling tags and stocking their freezers with free-range, fair chase wild game?

Let's break down what it means to be organic. Merriam-Webster defines organic as

1 a: of, relating to, or arising in a bodily organ. (Hunters are good here. The wild game hunters eat is related to an animal muscle group.)

b: affecting the structure of a living thing <an organic disease> (It's safe to say hunters affected the structure of a living thing because it's on a dinner plate.)

2 a. of, relating to, or obtained from living things <organic matter> (Check the box. The meal hunters are eating was once living until it was caught or shot.)

b. of, relating to, or containing carbon compounds (Hunters are good here too. All living things on planet earth are carbon-based.)

c. of, relating to, or dealt with by a branch of chemistry concerned with the carbon compounds of living things and most other carbon compounds. (While hunters are not really referring to chemistry while using this term, a chemical reaction definitely takes place when a backstrap hits a hot grill.)

d. relating to, producing, dealing in, or involving food produced with the use of feed or fertilizer obtained from plants or animals and without the use of laboratory-made fertilizers, growth substances, antibiotics, or pesticides. (This specifically addresses food production and hunters use the term organic referring to meat obtained from animals they kill.)

So far, wild game is organic by definition. Next, let's narrow the field of view to the technical aspects of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) definition. I won't make your eyeballs bleed by reading through all of the USDA regulations, but let's analyze livestock requirements. After all, when hunters use the word organic it's done in relation to meat. The main requirements for livestock are: 

1. Raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors. (100% yes for this criteria. It's called wild game for a reason.)

2. Not administered antibiotics or hormones. (Another 100% A+ here. Free-range, wild game animals are not receiving antibiotics or hormones.)

3. Fed 100% organic feed and forage. (This is the gray area. It is the one criteria that is impossible to verify unless you have become one with the animals and are living as part of their herd.)

All that being said, in the current and historic social context defining organic, wild game absolutely qualifies. Let's speak specifically to whitetail deer because they are the most pursued wild game animal in North America. A free-ranging whitetail deer that is hunted, killed and butchered by a hunter is infinitely more organic than any certified, grass fed, organic beef you buy at the store. Why? Besides everything addressed thus far, consider the complete quality of life a deer experiences compared to the neatly packaged, carefully weighed and labeled cellophane meat product in the grocery store. Moreover, do you know where that meat came from? Do you have a natural connection to the meat aside from swiping your bank card at the register? Did you prepare and practice shopping for that meat for months on end, just waiting for the one opportunity to place it in your grocery cart?

The deer's entire existence defines complete freedom. They live in the wild, adapt to a wide variety of habitats, eat natural forage, constantly avoid predators, exist as an integral part of the food chain yet live in complete survival mode. This begins the moment they're born and ends only at the time they die. Deer have roamed the land this way for thousands of years and mankind has hunted them for just as long. To be a hunter involved in that process is organic as hell. Nobody needs a government certification stamped on a package to tell them that.

Besides truly being more organic than any meat consumers put in their grocery cart, venison is also a healthier choice than store bought beef. According to the USDA, venison beats beef in several categories. It is lower in calories and fat while delivering higher amounts of protein, vitamin B-12, B-6, iron and magnesium. Not to mention the ancillary health benefits the act of hunting provides. While I haven't found any scientific studies comparing calories burned grocery shopping versus hunting whitetails, I'll place my money on hunting as the healthier activity. So next time you prepare the perfect venison steak, get your phone out, snap a picture of those grill marks and post up your organic, free-range masterpiece! As a hunter, you put the OG in organic.

Nutritional ValueVenison Roast%DVBeef Tenderloin Roast%DV
Amount Per 3 oz.85 g85 g
Total Fat 2.7 g4%21 g32%
Saturated fat 1.1 g5%8 g40%
Polyunsaturated fat 0.5 g0.9 g
Monounsaturated fat 0.7 g9g
Cholesterol 95 mg31%72 mg24%
Sodium 46 mg1%48 mg2%
Potassium 285 mg8%281 mg8%
Protein26g52%20 g 40%
Vitamin B-1260%35%
Vitamin B-623%10%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Somebody Needs to do Something

Words have a way of staying with us. Especially those words received in a way that make an impact. At times the impact is immediate. The words spark a fire and create action. Other times the words are absorbed, reflected upon and remain idle until one day they begin to percolate. Nonetheless the words remain until the exact moment they are needed most.

Several years ago at a national sales meeting the opening speaker addressed the group with a presentation centered around the mantra, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” Those words excited the crowd, not because of a clever rhyme but because of the speaker’s empowering delivery. He energized the crowd, the words chosen created action resulting in year over year sales growth and market share gains for the company. Those long-forgotten words now percolate once again.

It serves no purpose to keep positive, meaningful words to yourself. Those words can accomplish so much more when they’re shared because the words might be the catalyst someone is seeking in their life. There is a drive inside us to take action, to expand our thoughts, to write these words, to share them with others in hope they inspire action.

Sportsmen have had it so good for so long that we have largely become complacent. We take for granted all of the amazing resources at our fingertips. We live in a time of abundance compared to the time of scarcity sportsmen experienced just one century ago. Yet decades upon decades of conservation advancements will change drastically if today’s sportsmen do not engage in the growing number of issues affecting our wildlife and wild places. It is our responsibility to protect our passion.

How many times have you thought, somebody needs to do something? How many times has that thought resulted in you taking action, beyond posting a rant on social media? How many times have you looked in the mirror and thought, is that somebody me? What can I do? I'm just one person. With those four little words creeping into your mind you've just let yourself off the hook. You've given yourself a way out. And yet, you've done absolutely nothing.

Whatever the topic is that grabs your attention and raises your blood pressure, you need to know that you can have an impact and there are many ways to use your time, talents and treasures to do so. The easiest way to start engaging in the process of protecting our outdoor heritage is to stay educated on the issues of today. Seek out and join organizations that have a proven record of results coupled with a vision for the future.

At the very minimum sportsmen should belong to three organizations. Which organizations to support is the choice of each individual, but you should protect your method, protect your pursuit and protect your passion. If your method is bowhunting then belong to an organization experienced with that discipline. If your pursuit is rabbits then align with the group working in that arena. If your passion is hunting, fishing or trapping then you need to join the Sportsmen’s Alliance, the only organization whose mission is 100% dedicated to protecting and advancing those outdoor traditions.  
Conservation carries a cost. One that won’t be covered by simply buying a hunting, fishing or trapping license. If deer tags, duck stamps and trapping permits were adjusted for inflation half of our aging demographic would have a heart attack and die! The bottom line is sportsmen need to step up and get in the game. The good old days we have all been able to experience must remain available for the next generation. That simply will not happen if we sit on the sidelines mumbling, “somebody needs to do something.” Get engaged, get involved and protect your passion. If it is to be, it’s up to me. No, if it is to be, it’s up to all of us.

Need a few more sources? Here's what leading outdoor writers have to say....