Step Outside WELCOME TO STEP OUTSIDE! Find the best outdoor fun near you! en-us 30 http://stepoutside.org/ Step Outside 144 144 http://stepoutside.org/ https://cdnstep-americantownscom.netdna-ssl.com/img/stepoutside_logo.gif Sat, 18 Aug 2018 10:50:47 -0500 10 Best Campgrounds for Cool Summer Camping It’s sweltering out, and the air conditioning is beckoning, but you’re longing to get away on just one more camping trip of the summer. But where to go that’s not going to bake you to a crisp? This round-up of cool (literally) places to camp for those hot dog-days of summer won’t leave you sweating as you enjoy the outdoors.

The criteria we chose: each campground recommended below had to offer some sort of respite from the heat, whether that be in the form of a body of water, high elevation, or temperate forest. Each also had to be a destination you’d actually want to visit, with plenty of adjacent outdoor recreation opportunities nearby.

Here are our top 10 choices for campers looking to beat the heat this summer and camp where it’s always cool.

At this campground, located in the heart of Olympic National Park, you’ll be surrounded by moss and old-growth forest, providing a canopy of shade, making Hoh Campground the ultimate escape from the August heat found elsewhere across the country. And if you do want to venture out of your rainforest jungle, the coastal beaches of the Olympic Peninsula are only a short drive away.

Bonus: Those beaches are likely to be cool and breezy.

A summer camping pick in Nevada? Yep! While the base of Great Basin National Park is decidedly desert-like, to get to Wheeler Peak Campground, it’s necessary to traverse a 12-mile, winding roadway with an eight-percent grade, to get to an elevation of 9,886 feet. Once you’re there, a cool, mountain oasis awaits, with plenty of hiking trails amid Alpine forests.

Bonus: Your nights will be crisp and cool at this elevation.

Beachside camping is the way to go in the Southeast in summer, and it’s hard to beat Alabama’s white sand beaches. They call them ‘sugar beaches’ for good reason. Gulf State Park offers classic car and RV camping, within easy reach of Gulf Shores’ many dining options, nature trails, kayak and paddle board centers, and swimming beaches.

Bonus: Paddle board with dolphins at nearby Orange Beach.

If you want to spend a holiday on Cape Cod but failed to procure a beach house rental, Shawme-Crowell may even surpass your expectations. A campsite here comes with beach access daily, plus paved bike trails and mountain biking trails

Bonus: You can even book one of the campground’s six yurts for a little more luxury.

Cool Gear To Beat the Heat

Here are four essentials guaranteed to keep you cool this summer.

  1. Rugged cooler: You’ve seen these rugged, industry-grade coolers from Yeti, Pelican and Otterbox everywhere this summer, and for good reason. They’ll keep your food and drinks cool for days on end.
  2. Shade shirts: Available from ExOfficio or Columbia these shirts wick away sweat effortlessly, dry fast, and shade you from the sun. Worth the investment for those dog days of summer.
  3. Sun shade: For under $100, Eureka’s solar shade provides just enough protection at the beach or campsite, and is easy to tote, too.
  4. Tower paddle boards: You’re going to want to get on the water wherever you go, and Tower’s high-quality, inflatable paddle boards are easy to transport and perfect for lakes and rivers. Toss one in the back of the car.

Believe it or not, Southern and Central Oregon get hot, hot, hot in the summer. But you don’t have to escape to the metropolis of Portland. Any of Oregon’s numerous coastal campgrounds will provide respite from the heat of summer. Our favorite: Sunset Bay, located in on the central coast by the town of Coos Bay. In addition to a stunningly beautiful beach, Sunset Bay offers hiking trails to adjacent parks and yurt rentals.

Bonus: The nearby Tenmile Lakes, located just off Highway 101 between Coos Bay and Reedsport, offer some of the best bass fishing in Oregon along with good fishing for perch, trout and some of Oregon’s best bullhead catfishing.

Quick Tip: For last-minute camping trips, opt for campgrounds in national forest regions that offer first-come, first-served campsites, as most state and national park campgrounds book well in advance.

 

Yes, it’s a resort, but at its heart, Lakedale is still the humble campground of its early years, with unique car camping sites, canvas-sided tent cabins, and even luxury glamping options. Located on San Juan Island, Washington, Lakedale is situated, as the name suggests, on three small lakes, all of which invite water sport play and swimming. If that’s not enough to cool you down, miles of shoreline await on this island, and thanks to the SJI’s position right next to Canada, the air temps stay pretty manageable.

Bonus: Glimpse San Juan Island’s resident Orca whales in the summer season.

If you can’t escape to the high elevation of the Rockies for your late summer camping trip, situate yourself in the heart of the Black Hills, instead. Custer State Park is larger than most national parks, and offers scenic drives, American bison viewing, multiple lakes, and challenging hiking. You’re at a high enough elevation to beat the heat, but also close to the historic towns of Deadwood and Keystone, not to mention that little monument called Mt. Rushmore.

Bonus: A hike up Custer State Park’s Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) takes you to even higher elevation, where the views stretch beyond the state.

Quick Tip: When car camping in the summer, freeze gallon jugs of water ahead of time, and use them as ice packs in your cooler. As they melt, you have ice water for drinking at your disposal, and you don’t have to find a place to discard thawed ice packs.

 

The Midwest of the US can become sticky with humidity in the summer, which means you’ll want to retreat to the Great Lakes. Peninsula State Park entices with eight miles of shoreline right on Green Bay. You have five different campgrounds to choose from, all of which offer easy access to boating and swimming.

Bonus: Go during Wisconsin’s storied cherry-picking season and enjoy great deals at road side stands en route.

Taking a trip to see Santa Fe, and perhaps the southern Utah national parks? Opt for air conditioning…until you get to northern New Mexico. Yes, New Mexico isn’t all desert. There are 35 different camping areas in Carson National Forest, ranging from primitive to backcountry to car camping; Langua Larga offers four campsites right on the water’s edge of a lake, with additional dispersed camping available.

Bonus: The depth of this backcountry offers almost unlimited backpacking options for those seeking to get off the beaten path.

We love that this remote campground on Isle au Haut, a rugged island off the coast of Stonington, Maine, is only accessible by mailboat. There are only five primitive sites (you’ll want to reserve well in advance). But just like the other Acadia National Park campgrounds, coastal Maine’s cool summer temps will be welcome.

Bonus: The national park offerings on the mainland include all kinds of activities from scenic hikes to a network of carriage roads to explore by bicycle (rented from one of the many shops in the town of Bar Harbor).

 

 

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Photograph Courtesy of Maine Office of Tourism http://stepoutside.org/article/10-best-campgrounds-for-cool-summer-camping http://stepoutside.org/article/10-best-campgrounds-for-cool-summer-camping Mon, 06 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
How to Hunt Whitetail Deer—A Beginner’s Guide As much as America is a country defined by grit, franchise hamburgers, and interstate highways, you could also say ours is a nation defined by deer. From corner to corner, coast to coast and most places in between, whitetail deer co-inhabit our landscape. They also fill our freezers, and this fall is your chance to have the best deer season of your life, whether it’s your first whitetail hunt or your latest.

If you go by numbers alone, there has never been a better time to be a deer hunter. The national deer census estimates some 30 million whitetails occupy our United States. Throw in another roughly 4 million mule deer, blacktails, and other species of Cervidae, and America truly is the land of opportunity for a deer hunter.

We’ll concern ourselves with whitetails for the purposes of this piece, both because there’s so much to say about them, but also because they give hunters more opportunity, challenge, frustration, and enjoyment than any other game animal in the country. Let’s start with where you’ll find them.

It's both true and useless to say deer live everywhere. They watch you from the woods of Indiana and Tennessee, and they bed in the greenways behind subdivisions from New Orleans to Hartford. And just about any evening this month, if you know just where to look, you’ll see stately bucks stepping out of their brushy daybeds.

If you’re a beginning deer hunter, your first job is to find those special places where access, or legal permission to hunt, intersects with whitetail habitat. The simplest—though often not the easiest—place to start is public land.

Nearly every county in the country has some type of huntable public land, whether it’s a state Game Lands tract, wildlife refuge, or federally managed parcel of Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land. You can find accessible public parcels by using free online maps like the one found on this page, those provided by Google Earth, or you can buy a state-specific mapping package. One of the best is curated by onX maps

Let’s say you’ve found a promising public parcel nearby. Your first job is to scout for deer sign and hunting potential, weeks (or even months) before deer season opens. Here’s what you’re looking for:

  • Tracks – Not just one or two deer tracks, but clusters and strings. You’re looking for trails, places that deer feel comfortable moving in numbers. Look for trails along woods edges, near secluded water sources, and in and out of brushy cover. As you find tracks, keep an eye open for areas where you might be able to set up an ambush for a passing deer.
  • Scrapes & Rubs – You won’t see these two signs until later in the fall, because they’re both made by breeding-season bucks, which use “scrapes” (spots where bucks have cleared away leaves and other litter, often beneath a limb that they use to lick) and “rubs” (bare spots on young trees where bucks rub their foreheads) to leave their scent and mark their territory. But where you see these, it’s a good bet you’ll encounter a distracted buck.
  • Human Traffic – You’re not only looking for the tracks of deer, but also dogs and their owners. Most public land, especially parcels near population centers, will have some human use, and you want to make sure your hunt won’t be busted by joggers, strollers, and even fellow hunters. If you see abundant human sign, move farther away from access points into the remote interior of the parcel.
  • Edges and Wind – Lastly, look for spots where you can view lots of edge habitat, including the perimeters of fields, meadows, and woodlots. Deer love these edges, places they feel safe watching for danger or feeding. You get bonus points for finding areas where you can sit and watch, and where the wind is in your face. That’s because wind that carries your scent has saved more deer than all the errant rifle shots in the history of hunting. Always plan your hunt based on prevailing winds.

Now that you’ve found a place to hunt, it’s time to gear up. About two-thirds of the whitetails in America are killed by hunters using rifles and shotguns, so we’ll concentrate on center-fire guns first. The definition of a deer rifle is pretty simple: It’s a gun with enough power to effectively kill a 250-pound buck out to about 300 yards that you can shoot well. All the firepower in the world doesn’t amount to much if you can’t hit your target. Similarly, a tack-driving rifle that doesn’t deliver enough energy to quickly kill a deer at distance should be restricted to the target range.

Quick Tip: One of the fundamental rules of gun safety is to always know your target and what’s behind it. But it’s equally important to know what’s in front of your target. When you get set up to hunt, ensure there are no twigs, branches, or even grass in the path of your bullet. And make doubly sure that your shooting path won’t be crossed by people, cars, or anything else you don’t intend to shoot.

 

If you’re in the market for a first deer rifle, consider the venerable calibers: .25/06 Rem., .270 Win., .30/06, or .308 Win. All have enough oomph to drop a deer out to reasonable distances, ammunition is readily available in a wide variety of bullet weights and styles, and rifles chambered in those calibers tend to be both inexpensive and widely available. But also keep an eye open for relatively new calibers, including the hot 6.5 Creedmoor, new 6.5 PRC, or 6mm Creedmoor. Then match them with hunting bullets of at least 120 grains.

We are living in an era of inexpensive and accurate deer rifles. Models to consider include Winchester’s XPR, the Savage Axis, Ruger American, Mossberg Patriot, Thompson Center Compass, and even the German-made Mauser M18. 

You’ll want a simple but durable scope on that rifle. We are living in a golden age of purpose-built riflescopes, but go with a standard 3-9x42 or 4-12x44 configuration with a simple duplex or holdover reticle. Buy a couple of different ammunition brands and bullet weights and experiment, going with the combination that shoots best in your gun.

Many states prohibit rifles during deer season, but allow shotguns with slugs. We’re also living in the golden age of slug design—these are not the pumpkin-slingers of your father’s era. Good loads to consider are Browning’s new BXS Deer shotshells, Federal’s Trophy Copper Vital-Shok, and the American Whitetail Slug from Hornady.

The rest of your deer-hunting kit is pretty basic:

Optics: A binocular will save you plenty of steps in the woods, and will keep you from guessing whether a deer is a doe or a spike before you raise your rifle.

Rangefinder: A laser rangefinder will help you place your shot.

Footwear:  Don’t skimp on boots. Wear boots that are warm, comfortable, and will keep your feet dry. An uncomfortable hunter is a poor hunter.

Essentials:  A good gutting knife, seasonally appropriate outerwear (camouflage can help break up your profile, but learn and follow the regulations for wearing hunter orange during gun season), and a small backpack to haul your gear and any water and snacks you’ll need for a day of hunting round out your gear.

Phone: Lastly, make sure you have your cell phone and portable power with you. You’ll want to use it to call for help dragging your deer out of the woods.

Before we get into how to judge a buck, let’s talk about making a good shot. That starts with judging distance. Use that laser rangefinder, if you have one. If you don’t, then you’ll need to figure out how to accurately guess the range. At your scope’s highest magnification, the vital area on a deer is about the size of the skinny part of a duplex reticle at 100 yards. If the chest area of the deer is smaller than that part of your crosshairs, it’s probably too far to place your bullet accurately. You’re better off waiting for a closer shot at a broadside animal. Place your bullet right behind the front shoulder in the center of the chest as demonstrated in the accompanying video from the Quality Deer Management Association.

Video Courtesy of QDMA

So how do you know if it’s a deer worth shooting? I am of the school that any legal deer is a great deer for a beginning hunter, but let’s say you’re holding out for a buck, the bigger the better. Looking at antlers, if the rack extends past the deer’s ears, it’s probably worth taking. If you can count multiple points on each side of the main beam, even better. And if the antlers look as thick as your wrists, take a breath and pull the trigger.

Many hunters hold out for mature bucks. Read his physique. If he has a deep chest and a sag to his belly, he’s probably 4 or 5 years old, at the peak of his growth. And if he also has a swollen face and a roman nose, it’s a good bet he’s going to be an older deer.

Photograph by Andrew McKean
The first buck for Montana hunter Merlin McKean was this young Milk River whitetail.

Everyone wants to hold out for a trophy buck, but the reality is that most of us will never encounter a wallhanger. Instead of taking just any old buck, consider “spending” your deer tag on a doe, where legal. Remember that statistic about America’s deer population? In many places, that’s too many. Because they’re so adaptable, deer can easily overpopulate their habitat, and when they fill the places they’re welcome, whitetails often spill into places they’re not, like suburban lawns and freeway rights-of-way.

It’s up to us hunters to control populations, and taking a doe is a great way to not only help the herd but bring tasty, healthy protein to your family’s table.

 

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Photograph by Andrew McKean A trophy buck, like this Missouri whitetail, is a pinnacle achievement for most deer hunters. http://stepoutside.org/article/how-to-hunt-whitetail-deera-beginners-guide http://stepoutside.org/article/how-to-hunt-whitetail-deera-beginners-guide Mon, 06 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
10 Best Hunting Cartridges for Whitetail Deer Choosing a list of top 10 favorite deer hunting cartridges is no easy task, particularly since there are so many suitable cartridges that could make the list. But the list that follows isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction. It’s predicated on a lifetime spent hunting whitetails with a wide variety of cartridges. And it’s also the result of being a little older and having time to reflect on why the 10 cartridges I’ve chosen make my list. Let me put this perspective.

Yesterday was my birthday and while it’s a bit early to think about my eulogy, it has given me reason to reflect a bit on life. 

I am lucky; I have done something I love for much of my adult life. I paid a lot of dues to get here, but I have made my living for several decades by writing about guns and hunting. That has opened a lot of doors to opportunity and none more than for hunting America’s favorite big-game animal, the whitetail deer. 

I honestly don’t know how many deer I have shot, but it’s a bunch. I get to hunt a lot and some years I have taken as many 10 or 15 deer. When you multiply that by 30+ years, well, there is a reason my kids didn’t know what beef tasted like when they were growing up. (I also donated a lot of meat. Nothing was ever wasted.)

I don’t even attempt to deny that I am a hard core gun guy and I tried to use as many different guns and cartridges as possible while hunting. I tried all the popular cartridges as well as some well out of the mainstream. I mean, how many guys do you know who have shot deer with a .25 Remington? How many of you have even heard of that cartridge for that matter? No matter, that cartridge won’t make this list, but here are my top 10 current favorite deer hunting rifle cartridges that do. 

It’s bland, common and a little boring. For years writers would say that the .30-30 Winchester has taken more deer than any other cartridge. You don’t see that claim much anymore, though. That’s because the .30-06 Springfield has no doubt surpassed the .30-30 Winchester as having taken the most deer. 

This is a cartridge that is well suited to any deer hunting anyplace deer are hunted. The .30-06 is available from Federal and many other manufacturers in a wide range of factory ammo loads that offer a huge selection of bullets. This is one of the most versatile cartridges ever created. 

Photograph Courtesy of Vista Outdoor
Taking a trophy whitetail is every hunter’s dream, but we owe it to the game we hunt to use cartridges that deliver sufficient in power downrange to take deer cleanly.

I have a great affinity for .35-caliber cartridges, so it stands to reason that I would have a .35-caliber rifle cartridge high on my list. Why the Whelen? 

In terms of hunting deer, it may well be the best of the bunch. Recoil is mild, the .35 Whelen’s trajectory allows shooting at ethical hunting distances and it simply gobsmacks deer. (I borrowed that phrase from a PH in Zimbabwe.)

I was at a gathering of relatives and old friends recently and the talk turned to hunting in the old days. “I remember when you were a big fan of the .243,” my Uncle Butch said to me.

He is right; there was a time when I thought it was a dragon slayer. My response was, “I have gained a lot more experience and knowledge since then.”

The .243 Winchester is not a dragon slayer, but used correctly, it is a viable deer cartridge.  With high-quality big-game bullets it’s adequate for deer while producing very mild recoil, so new hunters shoot it well.

My first centerfire rifle was a .243 Winchester. I handled a lot of hay bales my 13th summer to buy it, so that cartridge will always hold a place in my hunter’s heart. 

Sorry Mr. O’Conner, I just never took to the .270 Winchester. I tried, but my experiences led me down a different path. 

However, I very much like the .280 Remington. My wife gave me my first .280 shortly after we were married, a long time ago. I have lost track of the game it’s helped me tag in the decades since. 

The .280 Remington can handle bullets up to 175 grains making it very versatile.  It shoots flat for long-range work and is an extremely accurate cartridge.  I have a Remington Custom Shop .280 Remington that weighs just six pounds and will group at ½ MOA.  

.30-30 Winchester—A Deer Hunting Classic

Photograph Courtesy of Vista Outdoor
Many cartridges easily outperform the .30-30 Winchester, but it remains a proverbial favorite among hunters who love hunting deer with a classic lever-action rifle.

Come on, I can’t leave this out! For a lot of years, I disdained this cartridge. Well before the internet made it popular to do so, I focused on the .30-30’s failures rather than its successes.

Even though it’s old and an obsolete design, and despite the fact that fewer and fewer rifles are sold chambered for the cartridge, the .30-30 still tops ammo sales charts year after year. There must be a reason.

Sometime in my forties I decided that no true gun guy can claim the title and not own a Model 94 in .30-30. I bought one made a year before I was born and took it hunting. A bunch of deer later I changed my mind. What I was not seeing in my youthful arrogance was that my problem with the .30-30 was the hunter’s failures; not the cartridge. If you do it right, this cartridge will put deer on the game pole.

Also, there is a satisfaction in using a “retro” rifle and cartridge and realizing that maybe the old guys did know a thing or two about deer hunting.

This more powerful version of the .280 Remington would never have made my list a year ago, because it was too obscure. It’s a great cartridge that provides near magnum performance without all the magnum baggage, such as more recoil and less magazine capacity. Previously the .280 AI required that a shooter make the cases and handload the ammo. Now it’s starting to go mainstream. 

Nosler and Hornady have factory ammo. Nosler, Kimber and probably others have rifles, too. And I have it on good authority that a major gun maker will be offering .280 AI rifles soon. I predict that will open the floodgates and in a few years most gun makers will offer this cartridge.

I was lucky enough to be on some of the test hunts when this cartridge was being developed. It absolutely performed on everything we hunted, including deer, black bear and even some big stuff, like elk and moose. 

If you are inclined to use an AR rifle for hunting, this is the best choice you can make for big game. 

It might be an old design (1873) but it’s still a modern deer hunting cartridge and a personal favorite. Particularly with new ammo like that offered by Barnes and Hornady. 

For those hunters living in former shotgun-only states where straight-walled rifle cartridges are now being allowed, this is one of the best choices. 

It’s what I’ll be using in Iowa this fall. 

If I could only own one rifle to hunt deer with in North America, it would probably be the .300 Winchester. 

This cartridge has owned a lot of long-range shooting records and it’s one of the top picks for long-range hunting. Unlike a lot of the popular cartridges of the day, it delivers good energy to the target. Everything the .300 Win. Mag. can do at long range it does even better up close. 

It’s also a great choice for the big body, winter tough northern deer. It’s more than just “adequate,” the .300 Win. provides an insurance policy when hunting trophy deer. 

There was a time when the .300 Savage was the cartridge of choice with smart deer hunters. Its performance has only gotten better with advances in propellants and bullets. It’s fun to use a gun and cartridge that was popular when our grandfathers or even great-grandfathers were young and chasing deer. 

I have several classic rifles, like the Remington Model 722 and Model 760, chambered in .300 Savage. I also have the parent rifle for this cartridge, a Savage Model 99. All of them go hunting with me often. 

Long-range hunting is all the rage right now. I am not sure I agree with the ethics of that endeavor, but if you want to reach out and touch something beyond the curvature of the earth, this cartridge does it nicely. It will also put the smack down on any other deer in the woods. It’s never going to break the top 10 in popularity, but it would easily make the list if performance were the only criteria. 

If you’ve read this far you can see my clear bias leans toward large, powerful cartridges for hunting. Don’t assume I have not tried all the others, I have. In fact, you would be hard pressed to name a cartridge I have not shot a deer with. Still, I have left out some that are very popular. I can’t list them all here and a lot of those not on the list are true deer hunting cartridges. Some are left off by design. It’s that experience and knowledge thing shining through. 

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Photograph Courtesy of Mossy Oak http://stepoutside.org/article/10-best-hunting-cartridges-for-whitetail-deer http://stepoutside.org/article/10-best-hunting-cartridges-for-whitetail-deer Fri, 03 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Early-Season Whitetails--4 Best Ambush Points For Success The most natural tendency for bowhunters looking for the best place to ambush a big whitetail in the early season is to gravitate toward the field edges. That’s not a bad strategy as few places more likely to produce deer sightings than the back corner of a soybean field, or maybe a wooded point jutting out into 25 acres of lush alfalfa. And these spots almost always show great promise during pre-season scouting sessions. The downside to concentrating just on field edges in the early season, however, is that they are usually best only during the first couple of times you can sit them. 

Getting into them is easy enough, but getting out tends to be more difficult. Deer are very likely to bust you slipping out in the dark. Once that happens a few times, their education level catches up and deer will be less likely to step into the groceries within the hours of legal shooting light. 

Photograph by Tony Peterson
Field edges are an obvious early-season choice, but don’t forget to set up stands and blinds in the cover as well to ensure you have plenty of options.

This means you must have a plan that stretches beyond simply sitting over an agricultural field or food plot to be successful on deer early in the season. Here are four of my favorite go-to ambush sites for early-fall bowhunting.

I travel to several states each fall to hunt public land whitetails and my strategy always involves water. Ponds, creeks, rivers, you-name-it. If it can satisfy a buck’s thirst, I’ll check it out. It’s not just on the road where I focus on water setups, however. 

Deer need to drink every day. Remember that, and use it to your advantage. While you’re hanging cameras and setting stands and blinds, try to have at least one ambush site that involves water. Unlike field-edge stands, where the soybeans could be a big draw this week and not-so-much next week, water stays consistent. 

Water also gives you the chance to hunt when the conditions say you should stay at home (and most of your hunting competition will). Hot, early-season days are common. These are the kinds of days when most people will find something else to do besides hunt, but that can be a mistake. If it’s unseasonably warm, the deer will move and when they do, they’ll point their noses at the nearest drink. When they do, you should be there. 

Concentrating on funnels and pinch-points is a strategy that capitalizes on terrain features that force specific deer movement. The thing is, this happens all year long and not just in November. 

That bottleneck of timber between two woodlots will be a go-to spot on Halloween, but deer will also filter through during mid-September. Setting a few of these stands up now will get you ready for the rut, but it can also be productive from the season opener on. Better yet, while it’s often difficult to find quality ambush sites for morning sits in the early-season, funnels, pinch-points and bottlenecks often qualify. 

Quick Tips
• Mark Trail Turns: If you’re tacking an entrance trail for a morning stand, double tack any spot where the trail takes a hard turn so you’ll be able to follow it easier.

• Look for Pinch Points: Many hunters struggle with finding suitable morning spots for the early-season. This is often where pinch-points and bottlenecks shine, so scout them out and get setup in areas that would traditionally draw a rut hunter’s attention.

• Tack Your Trails: Reflective tacks and flagging tape are inexpensive, so don’t be shy when it comes to marking entrance and exit routes during the preseason.

• Don’t Spare The Brush: You can’t brush in a deer blind too well. Take the time to truly make a blind disappear and you’ll have much more productive sits.

• Watch For Water: Scout all water sources on the property you plan to hunt. Those that are ringed with tracks are the ones you want a stand over to take advantage of warm, early-season days.

Every chunk of deer ground that is 40 acres or larger will feature a couple of good spots that are simply without good stand trees. This means it’s time to set up ground blinds. 

This strategy is particularly good for early-season hunts, because that is the time when bucks are most likely to be bedding in grassy swales, shelter-belts, and cattail sloughs. If you have a patch of cover that the deer love to bed in, but that doesn’t allow for an aerial strategy, take a hub-style turkey blind in and set it up. 

Make sure you clear out the brush down to the dirt inside the blind, and then brush it in. A good rule to follow is that if you think you’ve got it brushed in good enough, spend about 15 more minutes really working to get the blind to disappear into the greenery. Deer won’t tolerate a camouflage cube showing up in their neighborhood, and they won’t stand for a glowing spot in the woods where the morning sun is beaming down on a flat part of a blind’s roof. Take the time to make it disappear, and make sure to get your blind out at least a couple of weeks before the season opener to give passing deer a chance to accept it. 

When you’re setting up stands and blinds in the preseason, you can’t over-mark a trail. Reflective tacks are cheap, as is biodegradable flagging tape, so don’t be shy when marking a trail. If your entrance route takes a hard turn at some point, develop a system to ensure you know when to cut 90 degrees or more. I like to use double tacks in the tree. 

Never assume you’ll remember a route to a new ambush site once you’ve set it up, unless it’s a field edge stand that you’ll only use during evening hunts. If you’re planning to slip in, anywhere, for a morning hunt, mark your trail well. You’ll not only find your spot quickly, you’ll disturb the woods much less and enjoy better action once the sun rises. 

There is a world of options for the early-season bowhunter beyond sitting over a field or a food plot. Consider water, funnels, and treeless patches of cover in your plan to arrow an early-season bruiser. Get these setups in now, mark them well, and rest easy knowing you’re ready for the opening bell. 

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Photograph by Tony Peterson http://stepoutside.org/article/earlyseason-whitetails4-best-ambush-points-for-success http://stepoutside.org/article/earlyseason-whitetails4-best-ambush-points-for-success Fri, 03 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
5 Best ATV Rides to See Fall Foliage in The United States Of the four seasons, fall is by far the most popular for riding ATVs that seat one or two people, and “side-by-sides” that seat two to six. The cooler temperatures and spectacular autumn leaves make for great riding all across the country. Here are five outstanding ATV trail systems to add to your bucket list for fall riding, with your own or rented vehicles.

New England is world-renowned for its fall colors and visitor attractions, and Ride The Wilds has everything you need to see them from the seat of an ATV. Dedicated in 2013, this system has over 1,000 miles of interconnected trails in northern New Hampshire. Along the entire route, Ride The Wilds is connected to small towns that welcome ATV riders to enjoy their hospitality, fall festivals, and rider services, including food, fuel and lodging.

Photo Courtesy of Bear Rock Adventures

Ride The Wilds is popular with both novice and experienced riders. The terrain varies from easy-riding gravel roads and trails that wind their way through scenic woods and pastures, to routes for more experienced riders up into the mountains of New Hampshire, with many scenic stops for panoramic views of fall colors.

The Ride the Wilds website has many resources to help you plan your trip, including information on registering your vehicle or renting one, plus dining, shopping, attractions and lodging.

Quick Tip: Trail conditions change with the weather on this fall adventure. Carry both a dust mask and rain gear to keep the fun rolling no matter what Mother Nature sends your way.

 

TrailsHeaven is the name of the website for Hatfield-McCoy Trails. And for good reason. This expansive, professionally managed trail system offers over 600 miles of trails for off-road enthusiasts of all skill levels. Riders trailer their vehicles here from across the country, knowing they will experience a wide variety of fun, scenic and sometimes challenging routes, with heavenly views of the mountains of southern West Virginia.

Hatfield-McCoy is actually seven different trail systems, all connected to ATV-friendly towns where riders can find great places to eat and shop, with generous doses of Southern hospitality. Trails range from the scenic mountain views of the Pinnacle Creek Trail, to the tight and twisting trails of the Bearwallow Trail. Bed & Breakfasts, cabins and campgrounds are plentiful, all welcoming ATV owners year-round.

The Hatfield-McCoy website takes you step-by-step through trip planning, including how to get a trail permit, choose the right trail for your experience level, find lodging to match your group size and budget…and more. 

Quick Tip: There’s a good chance you’ll encounter puddles and mud on any ATV outing. Store your smartphone, tablet and chargers in a waterproof case or plastic sandwich bag while riding.

 

Paul Bunyan is a giant of American folklore. Just south of Bemidji, Minnesota, site of the famous statue of Paul and Babe the Blue Ox, stands the giant of all ATV trail systems in the Midwest. The Round River Drive Trail : attracts ATV and dirt bike riders from across the state as well as neighboring states and Canadian provinces.

Here, they can ride up to 100 miles of signed and maintained trails, choosing easy-riding forest roads winding their way through pine forests, or narrow, twisting, rock-filled ATV trails designated as moderate to difficult. An additional 100 miles of single-track trails are open to off-highway motorcycles only.

The public trailhead features a large parking area that accommodates RVs and trailers, with a few spots for free camping, no reservations required. The Stompin' Grounds Campground and Lodge, located right off the trail on the southern end of Round River Drive, caters to day-trippers and week-enders, with free parking and a wash station, plus a bar and grill, and many reservable campsites. 

Quick Tip: This trail has a lot of rocks and boulders. Wear over-the-ankle boots for good balance and foot protection.

 

Riding the trails of Moab is unlike anything else in the country. This area of Utah has hundreds of miles of unique trails on “slickrock,” with breathtaking views of rock formations sculpted by the wind. Choose any of 30 trails, from easy-riding routes geared toward families new to the sport to difficult trails that challenge the technical skills of the most experienced riders.

There are many steep climbs and descents, with dramatic views of La Sal Mountains, Abyss Canyon, and the Colorado River. Want to ride but don’t own an ATV? There are adventure tour companies where you can rent a side-by-side ATV or 4-wheel drive truck and head out on your own or sign on to a guided trail ride of non-stop outdoor adventure. 

Quick Tip: When you see a trail of dark, rubber residue on the rocks, consider taking that line, especially if you are a novice rider. It may not be the only route, but it could be the safest.

 

It’s official name is Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area. But everyone calls this open riding area of golden sand by the name of the local community: Glamis.

Located in the southeast corner of California and managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Glamis is the largest mass of sand dunes in the state. While you won’t find fall foliage here, in late fall, Glamis is a sight to see, for the variety of ATVs, side-by-sides and sand rails riding and racing each other, and the beauty of the dunes that reach heights of 300 feet above the desert floor. A note of trivia: these sand dunes were featured in the movies Star Wars and The Scorpion King.

The Glamis dunes stretch for 40 miles, with most of the riding activity in the area south of Highway 78. You’ll need to know the rules and regulations before riding there. Two “must-haves” are a riding permit and a tall safety flag, so other riders can see you coming over the top of a dune. Fall is a great time to get out to Glamis and enjoy a roller coaster ride on the sand. 

Quick Tip: Dunes are constantly changing. Use stationary landmarks or a GPS to help you navigate. And always ride with caution, watching for ravines, depressions and steep drop-offs formed by blowing sand.

 

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Photo Courtesy of Bear Rock Adventures http://stepoutside.org/article/5-best-atv-rides-to-see-fall-foliage-in-the-united-states http://stepoutside.org/article/5-best-atv-rides-to-see-fall-foliage-in-the-united-states Thu, 02 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
How to Catch Bass on Summer’s Hottest Days It’s hot, it’s humid and the dog days of summer are living up to their billing. But bass don’t stop biting just because the heat wave is on. The warmer the water, the hungrier bass get, and they can be caught by savvy anglers who know where to look and what bait to use.

By August, the post-spawn feeding frenzy is over and bass that have been constantly bombarded with lures are warier. Fish that were out in the open last spring and easy to catch are gone, and most of the rest have gotten smarter and less susceptible to any old bait that comes along. In lakes with open-water forage, such as shad and blueback herring, fishing offshore humps and ledges is a summer staple. On the flip side, however, fishing docks and weed beds can be just as productive. Read on to learn how.

Shady docks provide excellent cover for bass and their prey. By late summer, pressured bass have moved into the most remote reaches underneath docks and overhanging trees along the bank, and traditional overhand or sidearm casting won’t reach them.

Skipping a soft-plastic bait or jig under a dock or nearby shoreline cover as one would skip a flat rock across a lake’s surface is a proven presentation. Typically, a rod of about 7 feet long with a light tip is employed. The trick is to keep the rod tip parallel to the surface. Otherwise, the bait will sail up and lose momentum, or splash down short of the mark.

Baitcasting or spinning tackle can be used, with the latter being the best choice for beginners. Lures might include light jigs or lightly weighted plastic worms and swimbaits, tubes or wacky-rigged Yamamoto Senkos.

If skipping lures isn’t among your fishing skill sets, try pitching baits underhand with spinning tackle into the tightest nooks and crannies that others might not have been able to reach. Be patient and quiet, without banging a bait against pontoon floats or the dock itself. Let the bait fall slowly, twitch it or hop it a time or two, reel it in quickly and present it to the next target. 

All docks aren’t equal in their appeal to bass; some hold fish, while others are barren. Here are a few factors that might help you narrow down the possibilities:

  • Water Depth: Some docks could be standing in water that’s too deep, or not deep enough. Floating docks might have 6 feet of water under them, or 60 feet. The most productive docks usually are those that are built on pilings in relatively shallow water over a sloping bottom, rather than floating docks over deep water. Look at the shoreline. Is it relatively steep or flat? That topography is probably repeated under the dock.
  • Dock Location: Is the dock on a point or tucked away in the backend of a feeder creek? Is it standing in water that’s swept by current or wind? Moving water often pushes roving schools of baitfish, such as shad and blueback herring – assuming they’re present in a lake – and creates another feeding opportunity for bass. The dock itself makes an ideal ambush spot. On the flip side, a dock standing in the back of a quiet cove might also harbor bass, especially if there are crawfish and juvenile bream in the neighborhood.
  • Less Is Better: As is the case with wood cover, single docks or a few docks scattered along a fairly lengthy stretch of shoreline are more likely to be productive than several clustered together in one cove. That’s not necessarily because there are more or less fish on solitary docks, but rather because an angler can cover a single dock quicker and more thoroughly.
  • Other Factors: If night lights, chairs and clamp-on rod holders are present on a dock, it’s likely the owner fishes from it and perhaps has added brush piles or similar fish-attracting cover to the bottom in front of, and under, the dock. This is especially true in lakes where crappies are among the main attractions. Also, avoid busy docks. If jet skis and boats are almost constantly coming and going, chances are bass aren’t going to set up there.

Try Something They Haven't Seen Before

Photograph By Colin Moore

Gene Larew Bait Company (genelarew.com) recently introduced an innovative soft-plastic swim bait for fishing under docks and other cover. It’s called the Bass Shooter, and it’s designed to skip or “shoot” beneath a dock (or beneath overhanging shoreline cover) with an underhanded bow-and-arrow cast. Spinning tackle is the best way to bomb a dock with the Bass Shooter.

Available in tackle stores and online merchants, the Bass Shooter is 3 ¼ inches long and shaped like a flattened shad or sunfish. It has an enticing darting action when paired with an unweighted or belly-weighted wide-gap hook. A package of eight costs about $5.

 

Docks are great hot-weather targets for bass anglers, but so are weed mats. By late summer, aquatic vegetation has reached its peak growth and thick mats of emergent weeds become darkened cafeterias for fish of all kinds.

Bluegills forage for insects, small crustaceans and minnows. Young-of-the-year shad and other minnows feed in the nutrient- and oxygen-rich water generated by hydrilla, watermilfoil, elodea, water lilies and the like. Closer to the bank, emergent vegetation such as water willow, alligator weed, and water primrose provide temporary havens for the smaller fish being hunted by bass. Frog-fishing season might extend into late fall in Southern lakes. When the weed cover begins to die off due to cooler weather, the decaying process robs the water of dissolved oxygen, and fish will slowly leave.

Depending on the level of growth, there are three ways to fish aquatic vegetation:

  1. If weeds haven’t reached the surface yet, topwater lures, buzzbaits, swimjigs, weightless worms and lizards are good options to try. ChatterBaits , spoons, such as the Johnson Minnow or Dardevle Rex Spoon, and various lightly weighted swimbaits can be used successfully.
  2. For vegetation, such as hydrilla, that has topped out and is laying over on the surface with scattered openings, frogs and “toads” are top choices. Frogs are hollow renditions of their natural namesakes and usually have legs made of skirt material on either side of their rear ends that emulate legs, as well as a pair of hooks that cradle the body. 
Photograph Courtesy of FLW/Photo by Andy Hagedon
Most frogs have legs made of skirt material, but some have hard-plastic tails that revolve and splash water as they’re retrieved. Either type is effective when bass are feeding in weeds. Fish them with braided line.

Toads are solid-body renditions of frogs that are Texas-rigged by the angler. Most manufacturers of soft-plastics offer them, and they’re equipped with paddle-like legs that kick up a fuss when they’re retrieved.

Numerous colors are available, but plain white might be the most popular because it is easier to track. The LiveTarget Frog, Lunkerhunt, SPRO Bronzeye, Strike King KVD Sexy Frog, Booyah Toad Runner, Jackall Gavacho and Kaera, and River2Sea Spittin’ Wa are top sellers.

To fish a frog, simply cast it out and hop it back with short twitches of the rod tip. When it reaches an opening in the pads, weed mat or shoreline moss, pause it a moment or slow the retrieve to give a bass the chance to home it on it. If a bass grabs it, wait a second to make sure the frog is down in the fish’s mouth, then set the hook with a sweep set.

Given that the angler might be several yards away from the fish, with all that vegetation in between, stout braided line of 50-pound test and a stiff 7-foot rod is recommended. The trick is to hold the bass’ head up as much as possible, and keep it moving toward the angler.

3. In the thickest slop, the best way to reach bass in the hollow chambers below the top is to fish with a heavily weighted and Texas-rigged soft plastic.  A “punching” rig is a variation, and basically consists of a Texas-rigged soft-plastic, a bullet weight of between ½- and 1 ounce, a skirt and heavy-wire hook tied to the line with a Snell knot. 

Photograph by Colin Moore
Jig and Trailer Punch rigs used to fish heavy vegetation typically consist of a trailer of some sort, a skirt and hook attached to a heavy weight. Note the bobber stopper at the head that keeps the sinker wedged against the skirt and trailer.

A number of companies offer punching rig kits or components, including V&M and Siebert Outdoors. The idea is to give a bass with limited visibility an eyeful and, hopefully, compel it to strike. Whether it’s a crawfish imitator or some sort of swimbait, the soft-plastic and its hook are pegged to the heavy weight by a toothpick or sinker stopper. That keeps the bait and the sinker together; otherwise, the weight might sink while the bait hangs up near the surface.

Where do you fish in a lake seemingly covered with miles of matted weeds? To narrow the search, look for bass-attracting bottom configurations and start there.

Patches of scattered offshore vegetation suggests the presence of humps and bars near deep water. Curving grass edges might indicate a creek channel ledge. Trees and laydowns in the mats, or mixed vegetation such as lily pads and peppergrass, are bass magnets. In other words, look for the differences, and fish them.

 

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Photograph Courtesy of Bass Pro Shops A Senko is a good choice for fishing in mixed cover of wood and weeds, or under and around docks. It can be rigged wacky style with the hook in the middle, or Texas-rigged with a wide-gap hook buried in the head. http://stepoutside.org/article/how-to-catch-bass-on-summers-hottest-days http://stepoutside.org/article/how-to-catch-bass-on-summers-hottest-days Wed, 01 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Paddleboarding Made Easy—Get Started Now! Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) is the fastest growing watersport in the world for good reason: It’s easy to learn, fun, refreshing, awesome core exercise and SUP gets you out in the Great Outdoors. Plus, since you’re standing, stand-up paddleboarding provides a great perspective for seeing fish, wildlife, scenery and more. Here are a few tips to get you up and paddling like a pro, even if you’ve never tried SUP before.

Use the map on this page to find an outfitter, rental operation or paddling club in your area. If there’s water nearby, chances are you’ll find some SUPs available. Try renting or borrowing a board first before investing in your own to assess the different paddleboard styles.

Before you head out, at the minimum you’ll need a board, paddle and PFD (personal flotation device).

Your board choice is determined by your weight, skill, intended use and conditions. There are a multitude of makes to choose from, including boards designed for racing, downwind paddling, surfing, lake paddling, river use and even yoga. Determining where you’ll use your paddleboard will help you decide your board type.

In general, hardshells (fiberglass, plastic or composite) are better for surfing and longer tours, while inflatables are better for river use (and/or shorter tours) due to their durability. Inflatables are also easier to store since they roll up.

Your paddle is more or less an elongated canoe paddle, oftentimes with the blade angling forward (note: make sure the blade is angled forward, not backward; this keeps it vertical longer during your stroke, which provides more power).

To determine the right paddle length, extend your hand over your head; the paddle should come to your wrist for touring, and slightly below for surfing or river use. Paddles come in a variety of materials, from high-end fiberglass and composites to less expensive plastic. Or try a new feels-good-in-your-palm bamboo paddle from Grass Sticks.

Technically, SUPs are classified as “vessels” by the U.S. Coast Guard. This means you have to have a PFD on board (exceptions include when surfing or within established swimming zones). Some, like the MTI SUP Safety Belt, deploy via a water-activated CO2 cylinder and can be worn around the waist. Play it safe and bring one (especially for kids) at all times; when not in use, you can stash it underneath deck rigging on the bow.

Quick Tips:

  • Choose a small, calm body of water your first time out.
  • Start someplace shallow where you can wade in before launching.
  • Beware the wind! If there’s a breeze, head upwind first so you can return home easily.
  • Go with a partner.

 

Paddleboard leashes come in a variety of styles, tethering your SUP to you for safety in case you fall off. Some (i.e. surf) attach to your ankle while others (i.e. river) are designed to clip onto your PFD with a quick-release feature in case you need to detach in a hurry. Purchase the correct one for your intended use. Note: They’re a great safety feature if it’s windy, as a breeze can quickly separate you from your board in event of a fall.

Wear clothing suitable for the conditions you're going to be paddling in. In summer at warm water locales, a swimsuit/rash guard/board shorts will suffice. For colder conditions, wear a wetsuit or dry suit.

For footwear, you can go barefoot if it’s sandy; if it’s rocky or reefy, wear wetsuit booties or river sandals (not flip-flops). Also, wear sunscreen/sunhat; a retainer system for your sunglasses (trust us); and a water bottle to stay hydrated if you’re going to be out longer than an hour. Other safety items can include a whistle and light in case you get separated from your SUP.

Photograph Courtesy of Tampa Bay Paddling Club
Many clubs and local dealers offer stand-up paddleboarding classes that can make learning the basics even easier.

Unlike surfing, you’ll likely get up the first time on a SUP, which is why they’re so popular. Here are a  few tips to get you up and paddling:

  1. Stand to the board’s side in knee-deep water (beware the fins hitting bottom).
  2. Grab the board by the edges and kneel at its center point (marked by the carrying handle). 
  3. With hands along the sides, stand up one foot at a time, slightly behind the center point.
  4. Keep your feet parallel and about shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointed forward and knees slightly bent. Note: some people like to stagger their stance, placing their dominant foot slightly behind (aft) of the other. 
  5. Look straight ahead instead of down. 
  6. When paddling on the right, place your left hand on the T-grip and your right hand about even with your elbow height down on the shaft. Reverse these positions on the opposite side.

Everyone falls; it’s part of the fun. When (not if) it happens, try to fall flat into the water and not onto your board, and hold onto your paddle (note: you can drop to your knees to prevent a fall). To get back on, align yourself with the board’s center, grab the handle and kick your legs while pulling yourself back on.

  • Forward: Reach forward and plant your paddle in the water near the bow and pull the blade sternward, keeping your arms straight, pushing with your top hand and twisting your torso to use your core muscles (note: stop your stroke when the blade reaches your feet). Some people employ a slight draw stroke at the beginning of the forward stroke (pulling the blade toward the boat) to counteract turning. Otherwise, switch to the opposite side after a few strokes to go straight.
  • Reverse: Useful for turning, slowing down and backing up, reverse the motions of the forward stroke, planting the blade behind you, still keeping your arms straight.
  • Sweep: This is used for turning your board. After planting your paddle forward, move the blade in a wide “C” or arcing motion from the front to the back, rotating your torso. Sweeping on the right side will turn the board to the left and vice versa.
Photograph Courtesy of Grass Sticks
Running whitewater in rivers or streams takes more advanced skills. Note the helmet, knee pads and wet suit this paddleboarder is employing for safety.

 

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Photograph Courtesy of Hala Gear Stand-up paddleboarding is great exercise and easy to learn. Once you get the hang of it, you can even take friends along for a ride. http://stepoutside.org/article/paddleboarding-made-easyget-started-now http://stepoutside.org/article/paddleboarding-made-easyget-started-now Wed, 01 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
5 Amazing Weekend Fall Hikes Across the U.S. The warm days and crisp, cool nights of autumn make the perfect conditions for a weekend hiking and camping excursion. There is nothing quite like exploring a scenic trail on foot while the leaves overhead make their annual shift in color. The reward for a long day of trekking is gathering around the campfire at night, where stories are swapped and tall-tales are told while the stars shimmer brightly across the dark sky.

But the recipe for a perfect fall outing doesn’t just include spectacularly colored leaves and a shift in weather conditions. You’ll also need the perfect trail to stretch your legs on, too. If you’re planning a weekend backpacking trip this year we have a few suggestions on where you should go and the trails you should hike. These are our top 5 picks for the very best fall hikes across the U.S. 

One of the best fall hikes in the entire eastern U.S. is located inside Shenandoah National Park. That’s where you’ll find the 9-mile-long trail that leads to the top of Old Rag Mountain, a challenging trek that is well-suited for experienced hikers looking for a challenge. The walk is a difficult one, but the pay off at the summit is a 360-degree view of the surrounding countryside, made all the better thanks to the amazing fall colors that are typically on display starting in late September and running into early November.

The National Park Service prohibits camping above 2800 feet on Old Rag Mountain, but descend below that height and you’ll find a few places to rest for the night. Campsites can be a bit limited so be sure to reserve yours early and grab your backcountry camping permit  ahead of time. 

Quick Tip: When reserving campgrounds in national parks and forests, visit recreation.gov. The site is a one-stop-shop for reserving campgrounds and purchasing permits, making it easier for hikers and backpackers to get all of the paperwork they need.

 

This 7-mile long trail is a scenic one all year long, but it turns into something truly special during the fall. Found inside the Huron National Forest in Michigan, the Highbanks Trail wanders along a series of tall bluffs overlooking the Au Sable River, and on a clear day it is even possible to see Lake Huron in the distance.

The hike offers spectacular views of the autumn colors throughout, with the river reflecting the shades of yellow, crimson, and orange in its waters. Start your hike at the Largo Springs trailhead and spend the day hiking to the Monument Campgrounds where you’ll find a secluded spot to set up your tent for the night. The next morning you can make the return trip, completing the out-and-back excursion with relative ease. 

There are few places as scenic in the fall as the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area, located in the White River National Forest near Aspen, Colorado. This stunningly beautiful place is known to attract crowds each September thanks to the changing colors of the local aspen trees. The higher altitude causes autumn to arrive a bit earlier than in other parts of the country, setting the area aglow in golden hues.

The highlight of this hike is a visit to Maroon Lake, which not only reflects the brightly colored trees on its still waters, but two 14,000-foot peaks that tower impressively overhead. There are multiple trails to hike throughout the area, the longest of which is 13 miles in length and will provide a full days’ worth of adventure.

And when you’re ready to pitch your tent for the evening, head to nearby Silver Bells Campground where you’ll find a quiet, peaceful place to enjoy a fall evening. 

Quick Tip: When hiking and camping in the fall, be sure to dress appropriately. The days can be quite warm and yet temperatures can drop off sharply in the evening. Bring extra layers and a jacket. You might not need them on the trail, but they’ll come in handy at the campsite.

 

The state of Washington is blessed with some truly amazing hiking trails, but one of the very best can be found in the shadow of Mt. Baker at Heather Meadows. That’s where you’ll find the Chain Lakes Trail, an 8-mile long path that is especially beautiful throughout September and early October when the fall foliage begins to change color.

The route features numerous mountain meadows and a series of alpine lakes, each more breathtaking than the last. Several of the lakes have campsites located not far from their shores, making them an idyllic spot to pitch your tent for the evening. And since this is a loop trail, backpackers can elect to hike it in either direction. There is no wrong way to go here, as the route is equally stunning no matter which way you walk.

The Gila Loop Trail, located inside New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, is another challenging hike that can test the legs of hikers. At 20 miles in length, it typically takes two full days to walk the entire route, but visitors are rewarded with plenty of solitude for their efforts. This wilderness area stretches out for 3.3 million acres and is one of the largest sections of roadless land in the entire U.S.

The hike wanders through a variety of landscapes and even passes by ancient cave dwellings, with golden aspen trees dotting the landscape throughout the fall. One of the best aspects of this hike is that there are no designated campsites to be found along the trail. This gives backpackers the opportunity to stop for the night at any point that they choose, providing extra flexibility to the outing. There is no shortage of scenic places to set up camp either and chances are you’ll have the entire site to yourself.

 

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Photograph Courtesy of NPS http://stepoutside.org/article/5-amazing-weekend-fall-hikes-across-the-us http://stepoutside.org/article/5-amazing-weekend-fall-hikes-across-the-us Wed, 01 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Archery Gear on a Budget—Best Buys This Year Archery industry manufacturers seem to have fractured into two factions lately. On one side you have high-end, uber-expensive equipment that while nice, is clearly out of reach for most of us. On the other side is the bargain-basement, sell-to-the-masses gear that sometimes breaks before you get it out of the store.

Fortunately, there is a sweet spot right in the middle of that spectrum where you’ll find products that are reasonably priced and will help any bowhunter or archery enthusiast shoot better. Here are 10 of my favorite products that budget-conscious archery enthusiasts should consider buying this year.

Photograph By Tony J. Peterson

You can spend $250 for a drop-away rest, or you can pick up a do-the-job-just-as-well COVERT from Apex Gear for just $99. This new full-capture, drop-away rest features a thumb lever to raise the launcher, and utilizes HAMMER RELEASE TECHNOLOGY to ensure there is zero launcher movement during the draw cycle. The COVERT is designed with independent windage and elevation adjustments and will provide total vane clearance for excellent downrange results.

Photograph Courtesy of TRUGLO, Inc.

If you need a quiver that is built to last, consider the new Bruin from Bohning, which is constructed of strong-as-metal high-impact polycarbonate. For only about $30, the four-arrow Bruin is an absolute steal with its molded hood that can house any style of broadheads, its rock-solid lever locking system, and also its built-in hook for quick hanging in your treestand or the backyard shooting range. 

Photograph Courtesy of The Bohning Company, Ltd.

Quick tip: While many bow shops run specials on select items year-round, the best time to purchase bow gear is right after New Year’s when new models come out and dealers may be clearing out last year’s models at reduced prices.

Whether you’re looking for a total bow upgrade, or to get into the archery thing for the first time, BOWTECH has you covered with their Fuel. This highly-adjustable hunting rig can generate arrow speeds up to 320 feet-per-second and measures 31.5 inches between axles. It’s adjustable for draw lengths of 18 to 30 inches and draw weighs of 14 to 70 pounds (all sans a bow press), and comes R.A.K. Equipped, meaning for $500 you get a fully accessorized bow that will fit nearly anyone.

Photograph Courtesy of Bowtech Archery

Anyone who enjoys the arc of the arrow should try out lighted nocks. They make practice so much more enjoyable and are an asset to bowhunters who want to know exactly what happened during each in-field shot. The best and most cost-effective way to outfit your entire quiver with the brightest nocks on the market is to get the new Combo Pack from Lumenok. For $50 you get four Lumenoks, two spare batteries, and an arrow puller.

Photograph Courtesy of Lumenok

Few sights are easier to set up than The Wheel from Dead Ringer. This $80 four-pin (.019-inch pins) mover allows you the opportunity to simply print out sight tapes at home free of charge. After that, head to the range and sight in for specific distances and then affix the proper sight tape. This is a great option for anyone who just enjoys target shooting as well as the hardcore hunter who might target back-40 whitetails one week and then western critters the next.

Photograph Courtesy of Dead Ringer Hunting

Quick tip: Your local bow shop is always the best place to go for sales and service, but if you don’t have a good local dealer near you Camofire offers great prices online.

Laser rangefinders have come a long way in recent years, and not only are they now highly portable and extremely accurate, but they are also very affordable. Take the XR800 from Halo for example. This water-resistant rangefinder is designed with 6X magnification, will provide instant readings that are precise to +/- one yard, and is designed not only with Scan Mode, but also Angle Intelligence so that you’ll get true horizontal readings no matter where you’re shooting. The best part? You get all of this for $150.

Photograph Courtesy of Halo Optics

$700 may not seem like a bargain, but it’s important to remember that cheap doesn’t always equate to value. The PowerMax Compound Bow Package from Hoyt is A LOT of bow for the money, not-to-mention it comes with every accessory you need to start flinging. The 3.8-pound PowerMax measures 31 inches axle-to-axle, can produce arrow speeds up to 328 feet-per-second, and is loaded with Hoyt-specific technologies that make it not only highly accurate, but also very enjoyable to shoot.

Photograph Courtesy of Hoyt Archery

If you’ve never considered a Quest bow, maybe 2018 is your year. This company, which is under the G5 Outdoors umbrella, has quietly been churning out some of the best bows on the market. This year, they’ve released the 3.4-pound Thrive, which features a seven-inch brace height and can send arrows downrange at 330 feet per second. Peak draw weights of 50, 60 and 70 pounds are offered in this $650 rig.

Photograph Courtesy of G-5 Quest

Everyone needs a target, and most of us need a 3D target of a whitetail. The problem is, a lot of the targets on the market are really expensive. Not so with the Big Shooter Buck from Shooter 3D. This 48-inch tall target is designed with a replaceable vital insert, can handle all field points and broadheads, and allows for easy arrow removal. On top of that, it can be yours for $100.

Photograph Courtesy of FeraDyne Outdoors
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Photograph By Tony J. Peterson http://stepoutside.org/article/archery-gear-on-a-budgetbest-buys-this-year http://stepoutside.org/article/archery-gear-on-a-budgetbest-buys-this-year Thu, 26 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
4 Easy Ways To Enjoy Mountain Biking On Your Vacation If you’ve been on a vacation to an outdoor destination in the past few years, you’ve likely noticed a new phenomenon: cycle paths, single track mountain bike trails, rail trails and bike parks now dominate the outdoor adventure scene. What just a decade ago might have been considered a specialized, extreme sport is now accessible to everyone, from serious mountain bikers to families. Luckily for all of us, including a mountain bike outing during your vacation is easy, affordable, and satisfying for the enthusiast in all of us.

Maybe you’re already planning a cross-country road trip this summer, with stops outside national or state parks. Ask park rangers for the best public- access trails in the area. Perhaps you’re hitting some ski resorts in the summer season, many ski resorts offer ticketed lift-served single track as a source of income during the off-season. Getting a ride up the mountain can be a fun treat.

If you’re camping while taking in some of North America’s iconic landmarks, find a local bike shop and ask for an area route map. No matter what type of outdoor vacation you’re embarking on, you can add mountain biking to the mix. 

If you’re not familiar with this term, a “rail trail” is an unused railroad track that’s been removed and converted to a dirt or paved bike trail. These trails are ideal for family riding, because the grade is naturally level, they’re free to use, and, of course, there’s an absence of any car traffic. 

The Mickelson Trail connecting the small 'Wild West'-style towns found in the Black Hills of South Dakota is one of our favorites. Additional rail trails can be found everywhere from the Pacific Northwest to Maine. Most have bike shops ready to rent you gear at one end or both (more on renting gear below).

Single-track mountain biking trail networks are most often found on National Forest Service land. Like rail trails, they are free to use. The best way to find them is by inquiring at a local bike shop, at which there are almost always maps. You can also find trail networks on the vast lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Most trail networks include both hiking trails and mountain biking trails, so be sure to follow signage indicating which are bike-friendly. Expect up and downhill grades. The best will indicate trail level on the map or on signage, usually rating trails by difficulty (advanced trails will include a lot of uphill, downhill and curves, for instance). As always, stay on designated trails. Tread Lightly has a great list of tips for responsible mountain biking

Our favorite trail network lies just outside of Sisters, Oregon, in the high desert, but excellent systems can be found outside of Moab, Utah and Breckenridge, Colorado. 

Quick Tip: To find bike trail systems close to home, contact local bike shops for advice on the best trails for kids. Visit the webpage for your local National Forest Service, as many of their hiking trails are suitable for beginner mountain bikers as well (just be sure to check the rules for pedestrian-only trails). Also consider joining a local mountain biking club to get kids comfortable before a trip. For instance, many International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) clubs host Take a Kid Mountain Biking Day events and additional events designed to get kids out on trails.

 

Bike parks are slightly different, in that they offer an enclosed space of mountain bike trail elements designed for training and teaching purposes. Kids can often find lessons here, or simply get used to trail elements such as rails, boardwalks, and boulders before embarking on the single- track trail systems. 

Most include “pump tracks,” which are short loop trails designed for very young children to navigate. The Frisco Bike Park in Frisco, Colorado is one of the best, where novices can try their skills next to pros. Bike parks, unlike trail networks and rail trails, often do come with an admission cost.

This option is my teenagers’ favorite. Many ski resorts have adapted downhill runs into a network of single- track downhill “gravity-based" trails, which are accessed by ski lift (lifts are adapted as well, to haul bikes up the mountain).

For the price of a summer mountain biking lift ticket (usually still much less than a winter ski ticket, though prices have been going up), riders can ride up the lifts and bike down runs that vary from beginner to advanced.

Sometimes, “cat-track-style” dirt roads are also accessible from the top, providing longer, more mellow riding to the bottom. 

Our favorite ski resorts for gravity-based mountain biking include Park City Mountain Resort in Utah and Northstar Resort in Northern California. 

Quick Tip: Lessons will cost extra at ski resorts, but they can be well-worth the expense to ensure kids’ stay safe. Extra protective gear, such as a full- face- guard helmet, are smart choices, too. Bike rentals are always on-site. Consider looking for a biking academy setting, which will offer a structure similar to a day’s ski lesson.

 

I recommend renting quality mountain bikes (or cruiser-style bikes for rail trails) before buying. You’ll save yourself the hassle of transporting your bikes on your vacations, and you’ll be more certain of having the correct bike for the terrain you’re tackling.

Take it from me: we once tried to bring a quality hybrid mountain bike onto a challenging, rocky single track at a gravity-based bike system on Mt. Hood, Oregon. That bike looked more like a pretzel after just one run. (Luckily, the rider was unscathed.)

Bike rentals on-site at ski resorts and in bike shops adjacent to popular bike trail systems will have the shock absorbers, lightweight frames, and tires you need on tough terrain.

However, in addition to the gear you would normally pack, you should come with your own helmet and other protective gear, to ensure the proper fit. We’ve often found ourselves at bike rental shops, only to realize they lacked the correct sizing for our kids’ protective gear. Add knee and elbow pads for go-getters, and remember to bring closed-toed shoes (no sandals).

Quick Tip: Want to buy your own bikes on a budget? Consider buying a used mountain bike from an online community page, like Craigslist, or from your local bike shop (after all, kids outgrow them all the time). Alternatively, prioritize buying a quality bike frame, and upgrade individual components as your budget allows. Before heading into a bike shop to purchase a mountain bike, make sure you know the bike user’s inseam, height and the size of his or her current bike.

 

Enjoy the trails while traveling!

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Photograph Courtesy Matthew Inden_Miles The Bureau of Land Management offers great riding opportunities on the public lands they manage and it’s all free. http://stepoutside.org/article/4-easy-ways-to-enjoy-mountain-biking-on-your-vacation http://stepoutside.org/article/4-easy-ways-to-enjoy-mountain-biking-on-your-vacation Thu, 26 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Paddling With Your Kids—How To Get Started Whether you head out for a day across the bay or a jaunt into the wilds for a week-long adventure, paddling is one of the best outdoor activities you can do with your kids. Add water to your children’s upbringing and they’ll remember it when they’re well down the river of life on their own. But there are some basics to consider before getting your feet wet to ensure everybody has a great time and wants to go again. The following are a few pointers on everything from paddlecraft to proper safety.

The number one rule when paddling with kids is to make sure you and your child wear a properly fitted life jacket at all times on the water. Today’s Coast Guard-approved Type III life jackets are more comfortable than ever, and there’s no excuse not to wear one.

Stay close to shore until you’re comfortable with self-rescue techniques, and always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return. 

There are as many crafts to choose from as there are birthday presents at a toy store. Those living in the mountains often take to waterways and lakes in rafts, canoes and inflatable kayaks. In the Midwest and along the coasts, families break out canoes, sea kayaks and rec kayaks. Even taking the family rowboat out on Golden Pond or inner-tubing a slow-moving creek instills the magic of water. Following is a quick rundown on popular paddlecraft to consider. 

Inflatable kayaks, or duckies, are the perfect family craft for mellow river or lake use. And the merganser moniker is an apt analogy. You bob around on the water propelled by web-like paddles, conjuring images of the rubber duckies floating with Ernie in a bathtub. The nickname alone should make your kids start putting their swimsuits on.

Nomenclature aside, they’re perfect for introducing your young-uns to paddling. In the first place, they’re not fragile like that heirloom canoe. They’re made of rubber or PVC, just like most indestructible toys. They also bounce off things rather than go “thunk.” But their best attribute comes in how they handle.

They have wide enough bottoms — like us parents get — to make them stable; are narrow enough to keep them maneuverable; and have enough hull speed to get you back to shore for snack time. All this creates a versatile craft that gives your kids a more intimate connection with the water than a raft, yet a more stable one than a traditional kayak or even a canoe. 

Quick Tip: In event of a capsize, stay calm, make sure everyone is accounted for, and either climb back on your craft (if it’s a sit-on-top, standup paddleboard or inflatable kayak); or get help righting it (ideally you should always head out in pairs).

 

They also have advantages off the water. When you’re through, simply deflate and roll for easy storage back home—which you most definitely need, now that your garage is littered with mounds of kid gear. Your kids can even get involved in the deflating process, sitting on the tubes to errant fart sounds emanating from the valves.

How much do kids like duckies? On a five-day raft trip down the San Juan, young Henry, 3, summed up his sentiment succinctly. “I want to go chicken,” he said, pointing to the inflatable kayak. “Quack, quack!”

Canoes have a major advantage over inflatable kayaks and rafts: you don’t need to inflate them. Simply pop it off your car, throw it in the water, and play Lewis and Clark on your local lake. For younger kids, they even offer playpen-like walls to keep your brood in the boat. These same sidewalls also give them grocery cart-like carrying capacity. Even a simple 16-footer can fit a family of four, as well as Rover the dog.

I can vouch for the craft’s family practicality. Our perfect family craft manifests itself as a 16-foot, Royalex Old Town Osprey, as forest green as our canoeing skills. When we first got it, it was big enough to fit 3-year-old Brooke five times end-to-end, with room left over for newborn Casey, and our dog, Java.

At first, Casey was affectionately known as a “bow baby,” riding shotgun and inevitably falling asleep. Eventually, your child will graduate to the middle, where she falls under the stern paddler’s jurisdiction, and become a midships munchkin. Now, she’s part of the team, especially if you outfit her with her own pint-sized paddle.

Once your kids actually start paddling, they might want to move back to the bow. When this happens, and there’s just one grown-up along, turn the boat backwards and place your child up front and you in the rear to give the canoe better trim.

When your kids get old enough, the last transition is to turn the canoe back around and paddle it normally, taking turns between bow and stern. But this configuration is also short-lived; by the time most kids are big enough for this, they’ll want nothing to do with mom and dad -- they’ll want a boat of their own.

Brooke was giddy all morning. She was only 4 and we were heading out for a sea kayaking tour of British Columbia’s Barkley Sound. I put her up front in a double, a nylon spray skirt with suspenders rainbowing over her life jacket to keep splashes at bay. No sooner than we put in and she started singing, “Down by the bay, where the watermelons grow,” a Raffi favorite.

Her strokes didn’t really help, but they didn’t need to. She was having a blast—especially when she figured out how easy it was to splash me in the stern. Seals poked their heads out of the water, as curious as children in a classroom, only to disappear like kids come dinner time. But the starfish, in all shades of purples and orange, stole the show. “Look, Dad!” Brooke exclaimed. “They’re all over the place! Just like in the sky!”

Unlike canoes, sea kayaks are easily propelled by one person, and put your lower half out of the wind and rain. Plastic boats are tougher, heavier and less expensive, while fiberglass is lighter and faster, but more fragile and expensive. Tandems work best for younger kids. You can man the stern, putting your child in the bow. 

Quick Tip: Until your kids are capable swimmers, stay close to shore instead of heading out on the high seas. Also, make sure your craft has bulkheads or float bags, and that you have a rescue plan should things go awry.

 

Some parents store gear in front of children’s feet, so they won’t slide under the deck; others use a drybag or pad as a booster seat. The added height helps their paddles clear the cockpit rim for paddling.

Speaking of which, don’t get a paddle sized for Yao Ming. Get a small one, and teach proper paddling technique by having their hands shoulder width apart (a lot of kids put them too close together), and rotate the torso with each stroke. Then rotate sea kayaking into your list of family friendly activities.

Finally, make sure you bring along plenty of water and snacks to keep everybody well hydrated and fed

Rarely will you find a better craft for getting your kids out on the water than rec kayaks, whose wide, flat bottoms make them stable enough for even the most torrential tantrum. Think of them like a sea kayak with training wheels. They’re so stable your grandmother could hop in one and paddle away.

Like kids themselves, they come in a variety of styles and sizes. Two types work best: sit-on-tops, where you and your child sit on top of a depression in the kayak’s hull; and rec kayaks, which have large, open-cockpits for ease of entry and exit.

Without claustrophobic cockpits to cram into, both let you and your kids paddle away on the first try without fear of tipping, and both are perfect for paddling as a family, whether your child is still in Pampers or on her way to a Ph.D. 

Quick Tip: To keep everyone comfortable, wear clothing suitable for the conditions and weather, bring plenty of water, and slap on the sunscreen (UV rays reflect off the water).

 

In warmer climates, sit-on-tops make the perfect choice. Your bodies are out in the open, and your child can even jump in the water to cool off and climb back aboard. Self-bailing holes near the seat keep the water out, and in the rare event of a capsize, you can simply flip it over and climb back aboard—just like climbing back on a bike. Rec kayaks have the same wide, stable bottom, but come with an enlarged cockpit. This keeps you and your brood out of the elements, and water from puddling around your derriere. Most single-cockpit rec kayaks are big enough for you and your child, and some come with cockpits so large they can fit your mother-in-law as well (though that might be too close for comfort). When your kids get older, position them in the front of a two-person craft while you steer from the stern.

Rec kayaks have the same wide, stable bottom, but come with an enlarged cockpit. This keeps you and your brood out of the elements, and water from puddling around your derriere. 

Most single-cockpit rec kayaks are big enough for you and your child, and some come with cockpits so large they can fit your mother-in-law as well (though that might be too close for comfort). When your kids get older, position them in the front of a two-person craft while you steer from the stern. 

The learning curve for each is akin to riding a tricycle. There’s no leaning, and most importantly, no rolling. Simply hop on and go to get your children’s feet wet in the world of paddling. If you need a little nudge to keep everyone occupied, try one of these classic games.

Paddleboards are a sort of extra-buoyant surfboard that you paddle standing up with an elongated paddle. This makes them the kid equivalent of a paddle-able, floating dock. Of all paddlecraft, they’re the easiest to cannonball off of and climb back on, and are the most conducive to massive, water-plunging games of King of the Hill. They’re also easy to paddle tandem when your kids are younger.

I became sold on them when camping with my family on Colorado’s mist-covered Pearl Lake. We’d brought every craft under the sun -- a canoe, sea kayak, inflatable kayak, rec kayak, even a kid’s kayak. But they all looked on with envy as the paddleboard commanded the kids’ affection. They were on it—or rather, on it and off it—eight hours a day, while the other boats barely got wet. We had to chide them back to shore for dinner.

Born as a Hawaiian surf tool, they’ve become the quintessential family craft, suitable for lakes, oceans and even mild river travel. Sure, they require a modicum of balance (you’ll feel like a toddler taking his first steps the first time you try one). But once your kids try it, be prepared for homework to take the back burner.

Casey and I even used one to surf the Yampa River through town, her playing Kelly Slater up front while I steered from the stern. If the going ever got rough, she’d simply jump down to all fours and then pop back up once the river settled down. We even received applause from diners on the riverside deck of the Yacht Club restaurant as we surfed by. 

There are two ways to get your feet wet with a family outing on the water: either John Wesley Powell it yourself or go with an outfitter.

For those unfamiliar with paddling, I highly recommend that you go with an outfitter your first time out. They have the gear and skills to ensure your indoctrination doesn’t become an “indunktrination."

Unsure? Take an outfitted trip first and then play Huck Finn. Better safe than soggy. Either way, realize that paddling with your kids is a way to come together on a medium that’s responsible for all life itself—which means it’s bound to help your family life as well. 

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Photograph Courtesy of L.L. Bean http://stepoutside.org/article/paddling-with-your-kidshow-to-get-started http://stepoutside.org/article/paddling-with-your-kidshow-to-get-started Thu, 26 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Why You Need to Take Your Kids Paddling Today Note: The following was adapted from Outdoor Parents, Outdoor Kids, By Eugene Buchanan, which is available on the author’s website

It was Oct. 27, a little late for such a trip in the Rockies, but warm enough to pull our inflatable kayak out of its premature hibernation. Throwing rocks in the river, my 2-year-old daughter blurted out 10 percent of her vocabulary: “I wanna’ go rafting.” 

She had learned the word a year and a half earlier when we took her as a nine-month-old on a three-day trip down the Colorado River’s Ruby-Horsethief Canyon. And it was then we’d realized that — aside from the scorpions, rattlesnakes, cactus, fire ants, poison ivy, sunburn, cliffs and rapids – paddling with kids is one of the best things in the world that you can do as a family. Whether you go with an outfitter or on your own, it will float your spirits as much as your craft.

It’s not without its pitfalls—diaper changes, pacifier cleaning, cry arbitration and crib packing will compete with everything else you need to do on such a trip. But when you’re making mud pies and skipping rocks, you’ll realize that there’s far more to a paddling trip than meets the grown-up eye.

Armed with these experiences that October day on the Yampa, Brooke and I set off for our final voyage of the year, leaving the baby jogger and her stuffed camel at the take-out for shuttle.

Our Year of the Flatwater Trip evolved every year thereafter, and now we make paddling—be it on rivers, lakes or the ocean—an annual activity for our family. 

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Photograph By Eugene Buchanan In the end, paddling with your kids is all about making memories that can last a lifetime. Get started now. http://stepoutside.org/article/why-you-need-to-take-your-kids-paddling-today http://stepoutside.org/article/why-you-need-to-take-your-kids-paddling-today Thu, 26 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
6 Tips To Make Family Paddling More Fun Getting your kids into the paddle sports is all about keeping the fun quotient high and the hassle factor low. Our water sport expert shares his favorite tips for making family paddling adventures more enjoyable.

  1. Have a Destination: Make the outing as fun as possible. To help with this, don’t just head out for a paddle; make it a journey somewhere. Paddle to an island or a rope swing or a secret swimming spot or a lighthouse for lunch.
  2. Don’t Overdo It: Don’t try to climb Mt. Everest in one day. Shoot for maybe a three- to four-mile roundtrip journey your first time out.
  3. Be Mindful of Tides: Take tides, wind and, if applicable, river currents, into consideration so your kids don’t get burned out on the return leg of your outing.
  4. Keep Snacks and Drinks Handy: Kids get hungry, especially in the Great Outdoors. Keep plenty of high-energy snacks and electrolyte-replenishing drinks (and water) on board. Don’t be afraid to put down your paddle periodically to chow down.
  5. Attach a Cooler Bag: Depending on your craft, a small cooler bag, like Yeti’s Hopper, will keep drinks and lunch cold all day. Make sure it’s attached to the thwart or slipped inside a canoe or kayak hull, so it’s not lost if you capsize. Hint: Give your kids their own snack pouch that they can keep with them for easy access.
  6. Carry These Odds and Ends:The following “essentials” will help keep your kids occupied and having fun.
    • Binoculars for wildlife watching
    • Squirt guns for mid-paddle soaking sessions
    • Nets for identifying marine life.
    • Two-way radios are also a great idea if you have more than one boat. 
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Photograph Courtesy of Maine Office of Tourism http://stepoutside.org/article/6-tips-to-make-family-paddling-more-fun http://stepoutside.org/article/6-tips-to-make-family-paddling-more-fun Thu, 26 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Paddle Games—3 Fun Games To Play On The Water
  • “I Spy”: (“I spy something green, something wet, etc.”) – perhaps make a rule that it can only be something people see in the natural surroundings.
    • “Pattern-Not-Logic Puzzler”: One person starts by saying something like, “I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing a book but not a magazine, a tool but not a saw, the moon but not the stars…” Everyone then has to guess at the secret to “packing” by coming up with similar examples. “A knife but not a fork” is incorrect, but “a spoon but not a fork” is correct. (Hint: think double letters).
    • “Story Game”: One person thinks of a story while the others try to figure it out by asking yes or no questions. “Is it about a person?” “Yes.” “Is it about you?” “No.” “Is it something that happened today?” “Maybe.” The trick is that there is no story. When people ask the questions, if the last letter in the question is a consonant, the answer is yes, if it is a vowel, the answer is no, and if it ends in a “Y,” then the answer is maybe. The stories created are usually better than anything that anyone could possibly think up on their own.

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    Photograph By Eugene Buchanan http://stepoutside.org/article/paddle-games3-fun-games-to-play-on-the-water http://stepoutside.org/article/paddle-games3-fun-games-to-play-on-the-water Thu, 26 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    How to Charge Your Gadgets While Camping and Hiking There once was a time when carrying electronic devices with us into the great outdoors was pretty much unthinkable. Fragile and expensive, such devices offered few benefits to campers and backpackers, especially those interested in going ultralight. But times have changed and now it is not uncommon to take a host of gadgets with us when hitting the trail or simply car camping for the weekend with the family. Everything from smartphones and tablets, to headlamps and GPS trackers are powered by rechargeable batteries these days and keeping them functioning can be a real challenge.

    Fortunately, there are now a number of great solutions available for charging our electronic equipment while on the go. So, whether you’re heading out for just the day or for weeks at a time, these are the best ways to prevent your devices from running out of juice and becoming nothing more than dead weight in your pack.

    Even if you’re just going out for day hike, it is always a good idea to take a portable battery pack with you just in case. Sometimes you find yourself hiking for far longer than you expected and the last thing you want is for your smartphone or rechargeable headlamp to die on you just when you need it most.

    There are literally dozens of compact battery packs to choose from, but if you’re going to be spending a considerable amount of time in the outdoors, you’ll want one that is rugged and built to withstand the elements. 

    Lifeproof’s LifeActive Power Pack ($79.99) fits that description nicely, offering enough power to recharge an iPhone more than three times and featuring a durable case that is both water and drop-proof. The LifeActive includes a quick-charging USB port for rapid refills and bright LED lights that allow it to be used as a flashlight or emergency flasher, too. 

    Quick Tip: Cold conditions can kill rechargeable batteries very quickly. To help prevent this from happening, keep your smartphone and other devices in an inner pocket inside your jacket during the day or in the foot of your sleeping bag at night when temperatures take a plunge.

     

    If you are camping or traveling for a few days at a time, a higher capacity battery pack is likely in order. On longer getaways you’re more likely to be carrying extra electronic gear with you, such as a camera, GPS device, or Bluetooth speaker. You’ll also need to keep your smartphone running for extended periods of time too, which can be a challenge in and of itself. 

    The RAVPower Exclusives Solar Power Bank ($52.99) stores enough energy to recharge a smartphone as many as ten times and it comes with a built-in flashlight too. It is also dust, drop, and waterproof, has multiple USB in and out ports for rapid recharging, and is equipped with its own solar panel to help keep its internal battery topped off as well.

    An extended camping trip lasting a week or longer could involve a considerable amount of electronic gear. Not only will smartphones, cameras, and GPS devices be a part of the mix, but tablets, laptops, and even drones may come along for the journey too.

    In those circumstances, you’ll need a much larger power source, typically moving away from compact battery packs in favor of portable power stations instead. What these devices lack in portability they make up for with batteries that are much higher in capacity. They’ll also offer more options when it comes to charging ports too.

    The Jackery Explorer 240 ($230) is a great choice when choosing this type of portable power station, bringing a nice mix of size, capacity, and charging options. With 240 watt-hour of battery life it can recharge an iPhone more than 15 times, or a laptop as many as 2-4 times.

    And since it features an AC wall outlet built right in, it can be used to power just about anything, from LCD televisions to small appliances. It also includes two quick-charging USB ports and a 12-volt DC port too. On top; of that, it can even be recharged in the field using Jackery’s 50-watt solar panel

    Quick Tip: To get maximum efficiency from a solar panel, lay the device flat and in direct sunlight. You may have to adjust its position throughout the day to collect as much light as possible.

     

    For those who spend extended periods of time in the backcountry and need power in a base camp setting, a larger power station is likely in order. Not only will you need more capacity, you’ll definitely want more charging ports and outlets too.

    Compatibility with a solar panel is a must too since you’ll need a way to recharge the power station over an extended period of time. With the right set-up, you could theoretically stay off the grid indefinitely and keep your electronic gear charged the entire time. 

    For these long-term needs, Goal Zero’s Yeti 1000 Lithium is the perfect choice. Not only does it offer more than 1000-watt hours of power, but it includes two AC wall outlets, a 12-volt DC port, and four USB ports, all in a package that weighs just 40 pounds. It is also compatible with the company’s Boulder 100-watt portable solar panel for convenient charging anywhere. 

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    Photograph by Kraig Becker Keeping your electronic devices charged in the backcountry is easier than ever thanks to portable power banks like these. http://stepoutside.org/article/how-to-charge-your-gadgets-while-camping-and-hiking http://stepoutside.org/article/how-to-charge-your-gadgets-while-camping-and-hiking Thu, 26 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500