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 Sun, 23 Sep 2018 19:19:15 -0500 WATCH: Friendly otter greets kayaker

 

While kayaking at Moss Landing in Monterey Bay, a group of paddlers were visited by a brave and curious otter. The little critter doesn’t seem to be too phased by the situation.

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http://stepoutside.org/article/watch-friendly-otter-greets-kayaker http://stepoutside.org/article/watch-friendly-otter-greets-kayaker Tue, 11 Sep 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Deer Rifles—How to Choose The Perfect Gun It is fall, which means that the leaves are changing and gun writers are doing articles on the “Great American Deer Rifle.” Picking out a new deer rifle? You can do it the easy way or you can do it the hard way.

The easy way? Buy a bolt-action rifle in .30-06, put a good 3-9X scope on it and call it done. You might also call this process boring. This gun can do the job any place deer are hunted. Is it perfect for all deer hunting? Of course not. Now we are getting to the hard stuff. But, it’s also the fun stuff. Most hard core hunters will want to refine their rifle choice to match their hunting style, region they’re hunting in and personal preferences. Here’s how to find a great deer rifle just for you.

Bolt actions dominate the deer woods today, but there are still places where a lever action, pump or even a semi-auto shines bright. It all depends on where you hunt, how you hunt and your preferences in rifles.

In the Northeast, tracking is a very popular way to hunt deer. It is without a doubt the best option for hunting big bucks in the North Country. I know this because I have written two books on the topic.

Those who track deer and those who love to still hunt in other parts of the country have similar needs in a deer rifle.

The most popular rifle for tracking is the Remington Model 7600 pump action. It fits the hand well and is not too heavy to carry all day long. It points like a shotgun for those fast snap shots and is extremely quick for follow-up shots. The most popular cartridges are the .30-06 Springfield and .270 Winchester. I use a .35 Whelen, but Remington stopped chambering the M7600 for the .35 Whelen cartridge so if you want one, it will have to come off the used gun rack.

Southern hunters are often in a box blind watching a greenfield. They have some of the same requirements that hunters anywhere in the country who watch clear cuts, powerlines or large agricultural fields have. They need a rifle that is light enough to carry to and from the stand easily and accurate enough for a longer shot. Lucky for them, this is exactly where a lot of the new rifle introductions have been focused. 

The precision rifle is very popular today and are very affordable. Ruger started the affordability trend with the RPR, now Remington, Savage and perhaps others have jumped into the market. The precision rifle is usually built on a chassis rather than a stock. The chassis can be adjusted to fit the individual shooter, so the guns can be tuned to the hunter. They are designed for long-range target shooting, but in an appropriate cartridge, they are a great choice for the hunter who may encounter a long shot. The downside of these rifles is that they tend to be a bit heavy, but that’s not a big problem if you are sitting on a stand.

The new generation of hybrid rifles are combining the best features of a precision long-range target rifle and a hunting rifle. The results are very accurate hunting rifles that can manage long-range assignments just fine. Examples include the Browning Hell’s Canyon Speed Ruger’s Hawkeye FTW Hunter or the Remington Model 700 Long Range. They are very accurate and light enough to carry. One big advantage is that they are chambered for some very powerful cartridges.

Precision rifles are usually short-action designs chambered for cartridges like the 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5 Creedmoor or .308 Winchester. These cartridges are all very capable for deer hunting, but a hybrid rifle in .300 Winchester or any of several other long-action cartridges provides a lot more wallop at the target.

If you are in the market for your first rifle, budget might be a big factor. Consider the new generation of budget-priced, bolt-action rifles. I just came in from the range where I shot a Mossberg Patriot in 6.5 Creedmoor that I am going to hunt blacktail deer in California with. I was using Barnes Vortex LR ammo with 127-grain LRX bullets. My last 100-yard group measured just under half an inch. That’s good accuracy from a precision rifle and outstanding from a budget-priced hunting rifle. I have also seen excellent accuracy from the Ruger American rifle, Remington 783 and the Savage Apex. Budget price does not mean budget performance anymore.

Remington dropped their Model 750 semi-auto rifle a few years ago, ending more than a century of providing hunters with a self-shucking hunting rifle. I think that Browning may be the last of the breed with their BLR rifles. My BLR is in .30-06 and is accurate enough that I once shot the head off a rabbit at 300 yards with the rifle. (I won a bet and filled our bellies at the same time.)

New Ammo for Deer 

The ammo trend in deer hunting this year is for long-range hunting. Hornady has their new ELD-X long-range hunting bullet in most of the popular long-range cartridges now. That includes one of my all-time favorite deer cartridges, the .280 Ackley Improved. Look for more guns and ammo in this cartridge in the coming year.

Photograph Courtesy of Hornady Manufacturing Company
Almost every major manufacturer is now offering rifle ammo that is tailor made for long-range deer hunting.

Barnes has a new line of Vortex Long Range ammo with a wide selection of cartridges. I have long been a fan of Barnes bullets for their performance on big game and this new line has really impressed me with its accuracy. It meets the lead free requirements for places like where we will be hunting soon in California.

Remington’s Hypersonic ammo provides up to 200 fps. more velocity to help flatten the trajectory and to carry more energy to the animal.

Federal’s new long-range load, the EDGE TLR, features a Trophy Bonded bullet and is some of the most accurate hunting ammo I have tested.

Black Hills Gold Ammo has always been loaded with some of the best hunting bullets like the Barnes TSX. New this year they have added Hornady ELD-X bullets to several cartridges.

 

One of the biggest changes with this current generation of deer hunters is the acceptance of AR-style rifles for hunting. In the smaller AR-15 platform I am not a fan of the .223 Remington for deer, particularly from the shorter barrels common on these rifles. However, the .450 Bushmaster, .458 Socom and the .50 Beowulf are all hard-hitting cartridges that turn off the switches. The vast majority of deer, particularly in the East, are shot at distances of less than 200 yards and these cartridges can handle that if the shooter can.

The larger AR-10 or ARL rifles are designed for the .308 Winchester. That entire family includes some outstanding deer cartridges. The .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 7mm-08 Remington and .308 Winchester are all offered in these rifles. My personal favorite is the .338 Federal, which is a hard-hitting cartridge. I have recently been shooting a Wilson Combat AR style rifle in .358 Winchester, one of my all-time favorite deer cartridges.

The ARL rifles are rugged, dependable in any weather and are exceedingly accurate. This style rifle is very capable of long range hunting. As semi-autos they are very fast for follow up shots. The design ergonomics make these guns easy to hold comfortably in position while waiting. The pistol grip of the ARL rifle keeps the hand in a more natural position while you wait for the deer.

The Browning BLR lever action is chambered for several modern cartridges and has a following with deer hunters. The traditional lever actions once dominated the deer woods but have fallen out of favor in recent years. Still a great choice, they just are not all that popular with today’s new deer hunters. Some straight-wall cartridges, however, are enjoying a comeback of sorts.

Many states that had shotgun-only restrictions are now allowing straight-walled rifle cartridges to be used. The most popular are the .450 Bushmaster, .444 Marlin and the .45-70. Lever-action rifles, like the Marlin 1895 or Henry Lever Action rifle in .45-70, are an obvious choice. Where legal they are fast for follow-up shots. They are also accurate and easy to carry.

I’ll be hunting for giant Midwest whitetails this year with a Marlin 1895 in .45-70. I’ll have it loaded with Barnes Vortex 300 grain ammo and be ready for any shot out to 250 or maybe even 300 yards.

If you are like me, you look at all these choices and think, “I would really like one of each.” Economic reality forbids that of course, but you have to agree it sure is nice to have options.

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Photograph Courtesy of Howard Communications, Inc. http://stepoutside.org/article/deer-rifleshow-to-choose-the-perfect-gun http://stepoutside.org/article/deer-rifleshow-to-choose-the-perfect-gun Thu, 06 Sep 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Paddle Your Way To See The Best Fall Colors It’s hard not to get a scenic vista when you’re paddling. Throw in the changing colors of autumn, however, and you’re in for a real treat as your own strokes take you into a world seemingly made of paintbrush strokes. Add the golden reflections off the water and, unlike the trees, you may not want to ever leave. The following are five of my favorite places to paddle among fall foliage.

Whether it’s canoeing on Jackson Lake or taking a scenic float on the upper Snake River, few places can compare to the raw beauty of the Teton Range, especially when its draped in the colors of fall.

The allure of paddling in Grand Teton National Park is the water’s proximity to the mountains—you’re literally at their base, staring up at the splendid pastels of autumn. And, more likely than not, a dusting of fresh snow high on the peak tops will augment the setting.

Best Place to Paddle: For a point-to-point river float, try the Snake River from Jackson Lake Dam to the town of Moose, where the snow-capped behemoths frame fall’s golds, reds and yellows.

Bonus: For a flatwater lake stretch, head out on Jackson Lake; but good luck staying on course as your eyes drift toward the surrounding mountains. 

Outfitters: Grand Teton Lodge Company (307) 543-2811, www.gtlc.com; Jackson Hole Kayak School (307) 733-2471, www.jacksonholekayak.com.

Known for its autumnal colors, Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore along Lake Superior's southern edge could easily be renamed “pictured forest.” The park is one of the Midwest’s most scenic places to kayak in a kaleidoscope of color.

Climbing anywhere from 50 to 600 feet up from the lake's lapping waves, the shore’s 15 miles of sandstone cliffs present a spectacular array of colors themselves. Mix their red and orange hues dripping down the cliff faces with the clear blue of the lake and the tints of fall foliage lining the lakeshore, and you have a complete palette any painter would envy. (The area’s trees change colors almost overnight, when the hardwoods explode in reds, oranges, yellows, purples, browns and greens.)

Best Place to Paddle: The official Lake Shore boundaries extend along 40 miles of coastline and include miles of sand beaches and dunes, sea caves and arches. Head out for a simple day paddle or stay longer and camp in the backcountry.

Bonus: The journey also features such landmarks as Miners Castle, Lovers Leap, Rainbow Cave, Indian Head, Gull Rookery, Grand Portal, Chapel Cove and Chapel Rock.

Outfitters: Northern Waters Adventures (906) 387-2323, www.northernwaters.com

While it might not be any more colorful that other fall waterways in the area, Maine’s St. John River offers perhaps the longest stretch of such mesmerizing hues. As the lengthiest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi, the St. John is the granddaddy of all Maine canoe trips, winding through several headwater lakes and on for 100+ miles through forests, rolling hills and open valleys (large portions of shore are owned by The Nature Conservancy).

Best Place to Paddle: The best, most accessible stretch for fall foliage is a multi-day trip from Baker Lake to Allagash Village, where your 100-mile northward journey begins on a river lined with fir and spruce before giving way to colorful hardwoods. Expect steady gradient with no portages, but scout Big Black and Big rapids.

Bonus: Campsites are maintained by the North Maine Woods Association.

Outfitters: Allagash Guide Service: (207) 398-3418, www.allagashguideservice.com; Katahdin Outfitters, (207) 723-5700, www.katahdinoutfitters.com.

Come October, leaves don't get any more colorful than on western North Carolina’s historic French Broad River, where an 8-mile canoe trip down Section 1 takes you from summer to autumn in all its glory in a peaceful, southern Appalachian valley. With wedding white clouds dotting a Carolina blue sky above, joining the banks’ leaves reflecting off clear water below, you can’t script a finer setting for fall’s colors to work their magic.

Best Place to Paddle: Using one of the world’s oldest modes of river transportation while traversing one of the world’s oldest rivers, after leaving Champion Park you’ll paddle by an array of pastels owing themselves to a riverbank lined with old and young hardwood trees. Gigantic sycamores bring yellows and browns, while black cherry and sourwood trees add deep, rich reds, tulip poplars add a dose of yellow, and deep-rooted beech trees complement it all with honey gold.

Bonus: For wildlife, keep your eyes peeled for osprey, great blue heron, kingfisher and more.

Outfitters: Headwaters Outfitters, 828-877-3106, www.headwatersoutfitters.com

Photograph Courtesy of Grand Teton Lodge Company and Flagg Ranch Company
Whether you plan on getting out for a quiet morning or taking a multi-day canoe adventure, take the time to get out on the water this fall.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) outside Ely, Minnesota, in conjunction with Canada’s nearby Quetico Provencial Park, is home to over 2,000 lakes connected by rivers and portages only accessible to paddlers.

Hit it in the fall, when the bugs and tourists are gone, and it turns into a melting pot of colors that change with every stroke of your paddle. (It’s also one of the few places on earth where you can drink water straight from the lake).

In autumn, its boreal forest bursts with vibrant splendor into a mix of yellows and reds, offset by the dark green of balsam, spruce and pine. The colors start early in September with the maples and peak with forests of aspen and birch in late September and early October.

Best Place to Paddle: the Boundary Waters and Quetico Provencial Park areas are so vast, paddlers can put in at any number of places and have a great experience. Piragis Northwoods Co. (see below) can help you narrow your options down as they offer trips tailored to specific interests with routes for great fishing, waterfalls, wildlife, solitude and more. Boundary Waters Outfitters also offers a number of route suggestions depending on how much time you have and your ability level.

Whether you head out for a day or week, en route you paddle through swamps, bogs, streams, wetlands, rivers and lakes, in as pristine a setting as you’ll ever find.

Bonus: With wildlife on the move in the fall, you’ll have a good chance at seeing moose, bear, otter, beaver, eagles and more, while listening to loon calls and the howl of wolves as you fall asleep under the northern stars.

Outfitters: Piragis Northwoods Co., (800) 223-6565, www.piragis.com

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Photograph Courtesy of Steve Piragis http://stepoutside.org/article/paddle-your-way-to-see-the-best-fall-colors http://stepoutside.org/article/paddle-your-way-to-see-the-best-fall-colors Thu, 06 Sep 2018 00:00:00 -0500
2018 Deer Forecast: Big Opportunities (and Bucks) Await Hunters Despite facing many challenges, deer hunters across the country have good reason to expect big things from the 2018-’19 season.

Whitetails, muleys, blacktails and Coues whitetails continue to thrive throughout America’s varied landscapes, and vast areas of state, federal and other publicly accessible properties still provide rank-and-file hunters with millions of acres to roam. Further, hunters are shooting a higher percentage of older bucks than ever before.

In fact, the Quality Deer Management Association’s Whitetail Report 2018 said yearling bucks only comprised about 35 percent of whitetail bucks taken nationwide during the 2016 season. That’s a stark shift in hunting philosophy from the “brown-is-down” mentality prevalent a few decades ago. Issues such as predation, increasing urbanization, chronic wasting disease, decreasing hunter numbers and periodic outbreaks of epizootic hemorrhagic disease complicate the modern deer hunting scene, but the overall outlook remains rosy. Here’s a brief regional forecast to put you on the track to success this deer season.

Some might question the state of whitetail hunting in a region with high human populations and heavy urban and suburban development. However, wildlife managers across the region agree that Northeastern deer numbers and hunting opportunities remain good. In fact, hunters have a better chance at taking an older buck nowadays, and they can still find good public land on which to escape the crowds.

  • Herd trends: Biologists report deer herds in almost every state are steady or increasing.
    • Rhode Island might be the exception, as Dylan Ferreira, senior wildlife biologist with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, said harvests there have been trending downward since 2008.
    • Dan Bergeron, deer project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said populations there are up.
    • Joe Rogerson, wildlife biologist with Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, described the state’s deer numbers as “robust.”
    • And longtime titans Pennsylvania and New York also appear promising for 2018.
  • Good public-land opportunities: Pennsylvania is well known for its state game lands, which hunters can navigate using the Game Commission’s mapping center.
    • The Adirondack and Catskill mountains in New York offer thousands of square miles for hunters.
    • Brian Eyler, deer project leader with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said most Eastern Shore wildlife management areas have good hunting.
    • Nick Fortin, deer project leader for Vermont Fish and Wildlife, recommended Birdseye Wildlife Management Area.
    • David Stainbrook, deer and moose project leader for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, pointed hunters toward state properties in the western part of the state.
  • What to expect this season:Jeremy Hurst, big-game unit leader with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, expects the state’s 2018 buck harvest to be about the same as in 2017 (The New York Department of Environmental Conservation reported the 2017 estimated deer take included 95,623 antlerless deer and 107,804 antlered bucks.)
    • Christopher Rosenberry, deer and elk section supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said 57 percent of bucks harvested there in 2017 were 2.5 years or older, and the state now has the oldest buck population in memory.
    • Carole Stanko, chief of New Jersey’s Bureau of Wildlife Management, said hunters there should expect another good season.
    • Bergeron said prospects look “very good” in New Hampshire.
  • Hot states or areas: Stanko said agricultural regions of New Jersey should again offer good action.
    • Hurst recommended central and western New York, plus suburban areas.
    • Most of West Virginia should produce good buck harvests, according to Christopher W. Ryan, supervisor of game management services with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

Southeastern whitetails have faced challenges in recent years, with an influx of coyotes and reduced fawn recruitment. Harvests in many areas were down the past decade, but biologists say the short-term outlook is mostly upbeat. Further, the region leads the country in terms of older age-class whitetail bucks in the harvest. Deer 3.5 years old and older made up more than 70 percent of the buck harvest in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, according to the QDMA’s Whitetail Report 2018.

  • Herd trends: Most states reported relatively stable deer herds and higher numbers of older bucks. Johnathan Bordelon, deer program manager with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said his state experienced increased production the past two years. Georgia reported a slight increase, and Kentucky’s herd is growing.
  • Good public-land opportunities: Kyle Sams, deer program biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Rolling Fork Wildlife Management Area in Larue and Nelson counties is an upcoming hotspot.
    • Chris Cook, deer program coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said Barbour Wildlife Management Area is probably his state’s top public property for deer hunting.
    • Florida’s many wildlife management areas — including Aucilla, Osceola, Big Bend, Three Lakes and Green Swamp — feature abundant acreage for hunters.
  • What to expect this season: Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, described his state’s outlook as “great.”
    • Charlie Killmaster, state deer biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said 2018 “looks like another excellent season ahead in Georgia.” Biologists in most other states were also fairly optimistic, assuming hunters enjoyed seasonal weather conditions.
  • Hot states or areas: Sams said western, central and northern Kentucky should be good.
    • Charles Ruth, big-game program coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said Aiken and Orangeburg counties looked promising.
    • Bordelon said the northwestern pine/hardwoods portion of Louisiana should continue to be productive.
    • Killmaster said the northeastern portion of Georgia’s piedmont is the hotspot for buck harvests.

Step Outside Deer Preview Regions


Northeast: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey.

Southeast: North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Virginia

Midwest: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio

Northwest: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska.

Southwest: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas

 

Most hunters would consider steady or even increasing deer numbers as relatively good news. But in the big-buck hotbed of the Midwest, that’s reason for considerable excitement. Relatively mild winters and good growing conditions should mean the region’s whitetails — and mule deer, in the western extremes — will be big and healthy this fall.

  • Herd trends: Harvest heavyweight Wisconsin has experienced three consecutive mild winters, so deer numbers in northern forest units have recovered, and southern and central ag units have abundant — often overabundant — deer.
    • Minnesota deer numbers look very good, and Michigan populations appear to be increasing.
    • Populations in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana all look strong, and the Dakotas and Ohio were on the upswing.
    • Whitetail and mule deer numbers look good throughout Nebraska, according to Luke Meduna, wildlife biologist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
  • Good public-land opportunities: Tyler Harms, wildlife biometrician for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said Stephens and Yellow River state forests remain great places for quality deer hunting.
    • Barbara Keller, cervid program supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation, pointed hunters toward Peck Ranch, Whetstone Creek and August A. Busch conservation areas.
    • Tom Micetich, retired deer project manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said the Shawnee National Forest, U.S. Corps of Engineers reservoirs and Mississippi River-area properties are worth investigating.
    • Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have abundant public land, and the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas also offer walk-in programs that allow public hunting on private property.
    • The Oglala National Grassland, Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest and the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey remain attractive options for hunters.
  • What to expect this season: Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin and Indiana should again produce plenty of large bucks.
    • South Dakota muley and whitetail numbers were increasing, according to Steve Griffin, wildlife biologist with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.
    • Kevin Wallenfang, big-game ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, expected the buck harvest there to be similar to that of 2017.
    • Michael J. Tonkovich, deer program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said hunters should see increases in the buck harvest and total harvest this fall, thanks greatly to conservative antlerless regulations the previous two years.
    • Ashley Autenrieth, deer program biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said hunters should see more deer this year than in 2017.
  • Hot states or areas: Northeastern and south-central Iowa continue to be good areas for large bucks and quality hunting, Harms said.
    • Upper Peninsula Michigan deer are rebounding well after severe winters in 2013 through 2015, Autenrieth said.
    • Erik Thorson, acting big-game program leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said the central part of the state has the highest deer numbers.
    • Keller said whitetail prospects in southern Missouri continue to improve.
    • Wallenfang said Wisconsin’s farmland zones should hold lots of deer.

If you like variety and big country, you’re in luck: Deer biologists have plenty of good news about whitetails, mule deer and black-tailed deer in this region, depending on the location. Public-land opportunities remain wide open, and managers said most herds feature good numbers of older-class bucks.

  • Herd trends: Deer populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were increasing and, in many areas, recovering well from recent hard winters.
    • Blacktail numbers on Kodiak Island, Alaska, also look good after a severe winter two years ago.
    • Washington’s deer numbers look solid, and blacktail and whitetail populations in Oregon are relatively stable.
  • Good public-land opportunities: John Vore, game management bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said eastern Montana and the Missouri River breaks offer good public-land deer hunting.
    • Grant Frost, senior wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said all of Wyoming’s many public areas provide deer hunting opportunity.
    • Idaho has more than 50 million acres of publicly owned land, including the Boise, Bitterroot and Couer d’Alene national forests.
  • What to expect this season: Daryl R. Meints, deer and elk coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said whitetail and mule deer hunting should be good this fall.
    • Vore had similar expectations for Montana, and Frost said Wyoming hunters should find more mature bucks than in recent years.
    • Meints cautioned hunters that 2017 continues to be an active wildfire season, so hunters should stay up to date on the latest fire info.
  • Hot states or areas: Nathan Svoboda, area wildlife biologist for Kodiak, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said he anticipates fairly good blacktail hunting on Kodiak Island.
    • Frost said the eastern two-thirds of Wyoming should offer the best deer opportunities.
    • Vore recommended public ground in eastern Montana and the Missouri River breaks.

Biologists say the varied opportunities in this broad region — blacktails in California; Coues whitetails in Arizona and New Mexico; whitetails in Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico; and muleys in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, California, Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico — are mixed but strong overall for 2017-’18.

  • Herd trends: Whitetail numbers in Texas and Oklahoma should be very good. Mule deer herds in Utah are stable.
    • Nevada muley numbers have increased slightly but remain lower than the peak in 2015, according to Covy Jones, big-game program coordinator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
    • Dustin Darveau, terrestrial wildlife specialist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said deer numbers in the northern and eastern portions of Arizona remain stable, but populations in the central and western parts of the state have been significantly affected by drought.
  • Good public-land opportunities: Dallas Barber, big-game biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, recommended Kaw, Black Kettle and Three Rivers wildlife management areas.
    • Jones said Utah’s Central Mountains Manti Unit is a great public area.
    • Cody Schroeder, mule deer staff specialist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife, pointed hunters toward Ruby Mountain Wilderness Area 10 and Toiyabe Range Area 17.
  • What to expect this season: Whitetail prospects in the eastern part of the region seem especially bright. Barber said Oklahoma had a fantastic 2017-’18 season for big whitetails, as hunters took more than 30 bucks with racks larger than 200 inches. The western part of the state experienced some drought this summer, but he looked for the area to rebound quickly.
    • Texas’ whitetail population has increased about 27 percent since 2005, according to Alan Cain, white-tailed deer program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
  • Hot states or areas: Schroeder said Lincoln County, Nevada, has produced large bucks recently.
    • Barber said southeastern Oklahoma was a big-buck hotspot in 2017-’18.
    • The Edwards Plateau, in south-central Texas, has that state’s highest deer population, Cain said.
    • The Jemez Mountains in New Mexico’s Sante Fe National Forest are a great spot to hunt mule deer, according to Orrin Duvuvuei, deer and pronghorn biologist with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Key Links to State Game Agencies

Northeast

1) Maine: https://www.maine.gov/ifw/hunting-trapping/hunting-laws/season-dates-bag-limits.html

2) Connecticut: https://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?q=597514

3) Rhode Island: dem.ri.gov/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pdf/huntabs.pdf 

4) New Hampshire: wildlife.state.nh.us/hunting/deer-wmu.html

5) Delaware: http://www.eregulations.com/delaware/hunting

6) Pennsylvania: https://www.pgc.pa.gov/HuntTrap/Law/Pages/SeasonsandBagLimits

7) New York: https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/28605.html

8) Maryland: http://www.eregulations.com/maryland/hunting

9) Vermont: http://www.eregulations.com/vermont/hunting

10) Massachusetts: https://www.mass.gov/service-details/deer-hunting-regulations

11) New Jersey: https://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw/hunting.htm

12) West Virginia: http://www.wvdnr.gov/hunting/hunting.shtm

Southeast

13) Louisiana: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/page/42170-sample/18lahdlr.pdf

14) Arkansas: https://www.agfc.com/en/hunting/big-game/deer/deerzones

15) Mississippi: https://www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/deer-program

16) Georgia: http://www.eregulations.com/georgia/hunting

17) Kentucky: https://fw.ky.gov/Hunt/Documents/HuntingGuideEntire.pdf

18) Alabama: https://outdooralabama.com/hunting/seasons-and-bag-limits

19) Florida: myfwc.com/hunting/season-dates

20) North Carolina: https://www.ncwildlife.org/Hunting/Seasons-Limits

21) South Carolina: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/regs/pdf/regs1819.pdf

22) Tennessee: https://www.tn.gov/twra/hunting/big-game/deer.html

23) Virginia: https://www.dgif.virginia.gov/hunting/regulations

Midwest

24) Wisconsin: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/hunt/dates.html

25) Minnesota: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/seasons.html

26) Michigan: https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79119_79147_81438---,00.html

27) Iowa: http://www.iowadnr.gov/Hunting/Deer-Hunting

28) Kansas: https://ksoutdoors.com/Hunting/Big-Game-Information/Deer

29) Missouri: https://huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/hunting-trapping/species/deer

30) Illinois: https://www.dnr.illinois.gov/hunting/deer/Pages/DeerSeasonsDeadlinesAvailablePermits.aspx

31) Indiana: https://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/8367.htm

32) Ohio: http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/hunting-trapping-and-shooting-sports/hunting-trapping-regulations/season-dates-and-bag-limits

33) Nebraska: http://outdoornebraska.gov/deer

34) South Dakota: https://gfp.sd.gov/deer

35) Idaho: https://idfg.idaho.gov/sites/default/files/seasons-rules-big-game-deer-2017-2018.pdf

Northwest

36) Montana: http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting

37) Wyoming: https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Hunting/Hunt-Planner/Deer-Hunting

38) Alaska: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=wildliferegulations.hunting 

39) Oregon: https://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/hunting/big_game

40) Colorado: https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/RulesRegs/Brochure/BigGame/biggame.pdf

41) Washington: https://wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/regulations

Southwest

42) California: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/deer

43) Arizona: https://s3.amazonaws.com/azgfd-portal-wordpress/azgfd.wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/24093438/2018-19-AZ-Hunt-Regulations_WEB.pdf

44) New Mexico: http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/download/publications/rib/2016/hunting/2016_17-New-Mexico-Hunting-Rules-And-Info.pdf

45) Oklahoma: https://wildlifedepartment.com/huntingguide/#p=16

46) Texas: https://tpwd.texas.gov/regulations/outdoor-annual/regs/animals/white-tailed-deer

47) Nevada: http://www.eregulations.com/nevada/big-game

48) Utah: wildlife.utah.gov/hunting-in-utah/hunting-information/big-game.html

 

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Photograph Courtesy of Vista Outdoor http://stepoutside.org/article/2018-deer-forecast-big-opportunities-and-bucks-await-hunters http://stepoutside.org/article/2018-deer-forecast-big-opportunities-and-bucks-await-hunters Thu, 06 Sep 2018 00:00:00 -0500
ATV Riding--How To Avoid Confrontations On The Trail Autumn is one of the best times to take to the trail on your ATV or UTV to catch the fall colors and enjoy game viewing at its best. But you’ll not be alone in the woods. Fall hunting seasons are open and many hunters use ATVs and multi-passenger utility vehicles (UTVs) to go deeper into public lands on logging trails and forest roads, and to haul out their deer, elk or other tagged animals when their hunt is over. However, other hunters who have either backpacked in or accessed the backcountry on horseback are simply annoyed by ATVs when their hunts are interrupted or ruined by riders blasting by.

Photograph by David Halsey
Nothing makes those seeking solitude more upset than to have their time in the woods interrupted by noisy riders. Come fall, remember, you will have plenty of company in the woods. Ride respectfully.

Sometimes, confrontations between ATV riders and hunters on horseback using the same trail have turned dangerous when pack animals on steep mountain trails were spooked by ATVs, putting everyone in danger.

Likewise, bowhunters and traditional grouse hunters want to walk the woods with their bow or shotgun, and not see or hear any ATVs in the area they hunt. Others, however, especially those with older legs, are able to hunt a little longer and easier with the help of their ATVs.

The bottom line is, it’s up to ATV owners to ride responsibly and within local regulations during hunting season. Using ATVs irresponsibly may create hard feelings and conflicts, and increase pressure on wildlife management agencies to restrict ATV use during fall hunting seasons. Here are 5 tips that all off-road riders should use to avoid confrontations on the trail during the hunting season.

Regulations regarding OHVs (off highway vehicles), including ATVs, side-by-sides, dirt bikes and 4-wheel drive trucks, may change during the hunting season. In Minnesota, for example, to reduce disturbance during prime deer hunting hours, hunters are only allowed to use their ATVs before legal shooting time (one-half hour before sunrise), from 11 am to 2 pm, and after legal shooting hours (one-half hour after sunset).

When buying your hunting license, pay close attention to the details in the hunting regulation book for whatever state you’re hunting in regarding the use of OHVs. Cross-country travel via ATV is prohibited in all national forests. And ATV use may be restricted on state-managed lands, or allowed only to retrieve downed animals. It’s your obligation to know the rules.

There’s nothing worse than having your hunt—be it for big game, small game, upland birds or waterfowl—interrupted by a group of ATVs or utility vehicles motoring by. Have respect for hunters and everyone you encounter when riding on trails, logging roads and forest roads. Slow down or stop your ATV when you encounter hunters, hikers and campers. Visiting with them for a minute can help reduce tension and avoid conflicts. When going around them, pass people in a slow, safe and courteous manner.

Quick Tip: Before you head out, find out what county, state or federal agency manages the public lands you’ll be riding on. Contact them for the latest information on road and trail closures due to weather, fire danger or logging operations.

 

Over the past few years, ATVs and utility vehicles have become both larger and more powerful. They are also louder. Keep your ATV properly maintained and muffled to reduce the impact on your hunting area. Consider buying an aftermarket muffler that reduces the decibel level of your vehicle.

Trail etiquette is especially important when meeting horses or pack animals while riding your ATV. Horses always have the right of way on trails, because of their unpredictable reaction to other trail users. TreadLightly! —a national organization that promotes responsible off-road recreation—has published guidelines ATV and dirt bike riders should follow when encountering horses on a multi-use trail or forest road. They include:

  1. Pull to the side of the trail far enough for horses to pass safely as soon as you see them.
  2. Pull to the downhill side of the trail if possible since horses tend to perceive unknown threats on the uphill side as predators.
  3. Shut off your motor as soon as possible and remove your helmet. The horse will be more likely to recognize you as a human.
  4. Speak to the rider and horse in a friendly, relaxed tone. 

Even when off-road riders stop their vehicle and turn off the engine, horses may still be spooked, especially if the rider doesn’t remove their helmet. A YouTube video posted in 2014 demonstrates that. Titled “Crazy dirt bike horse encounter,” shows the importance of following all the rules to prevent trail conflicts. The lead horse, with two pack horses in tow, and its rider, end up on the ground of a steep single-track trail. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. 

Video Courtesy of Kurt Linford

“A helmet covering a person’s face can confuse the horse, so that’s why I generally ask someone to take their helmet off,” said Mark Himmel, past chair of the Back Country Horsemen of Montana.

Quick Tip: Find out if your riding habits are on target and respectful of others, or if they need a little work. Visit Ride with Respect—a nonprofit group working to protect natural resources while accommodating diverse recreation on public land—and answer yes or no to their list of questions.

 

People participating in all forms of recreation on public lands have a common interest: enjoying the outdoors and all that wild areas have to offer for exercise, quiet solitude, and memorable adventures. Whether you have a gun scabbard on your ATV or not, keep safety top-of-mind.

Riding your ATV safely and respectfully will help reduce the impact of off-road travel during hunting season, prevent conflicts, protect wildlife habitat, and improve the overall riding and experience for everyone. It will also reduce the need for more restrictions on ATV use and protect the ATV riding opportunities you now enjoy.

Follow the Golden Rules of ATV Safety, found on the website of the ATV Safety Institute. Rule No. 1: Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet, goggles, long sleeves, long pants, over-the-ankle boots and gloves. If you’re new to riding side-by-sides, which ride and handle differently than a regular ATV, take a free safety class on-line at the website of the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA).

Have an opinion on riding ATVs during hunting season or a tip to share? Start the conversation with other Step Outside users by adding your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Photograph by David Halsey http://stepoutside.org/article/atv-ridinghow-to-avoid-confrontations-on-the-trail http://stepoutside.org/article/atv-ridinghow-to-avoid-confrontations-on-the-trail Wed, 05 Sep 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Scent Control—How To Create A Strategy To Fool More Deer Whitetail hunters, especially bowhunters, can generally be divided into two factions when it comes to scent control. The first are the devout, do-everything-they-can hunters who swear by their ability to beat a buck’s number-one defense by using both passive and aggressive scent-control strategies. The second is comprised of the people who either never believed it was possible, or have simply given up.

The reality of scent-control tends to lie somewhere in-between the two sets of beliefs, with the needle tipping more and more to the scent-control junkies as we get access to better products. I can write this confidently, because I’ve spent a good portion of my bowhunting career believing that I simply could not (no matter what I did), have a deer downwind and not have it smell me.

These days, however, I know that’s not 100-percent true. I’ve seen too many examples of cagey public-land deer in multiple states do what they shouldn’t, and the only reasonable explanation I can offer is that scent control fooled them. The rub is that you have to be committed to the process, and follow it step by step.

Here’s how to create a scent-control strategy that really works.

The first step is to be mindful of the wind. This sounds simplistic, but why fight it when you can pull up hourly forecasts on your phone through resources like Scoutlook and know approximately where it will be blowing for your entire sit? Plan accordingly and tip the odds in your favor.

This is most easily accomplished when you know the wind is going to be blowing steadily from a certain direction. Usually this means you’re going to be dealing with a 15mph-plus winds, which often precede or follow a weather front. Either way, when that type of steady wind is forecast, playing it is easy enough. Choose a stand location where the prevailing wind is in your favor and you should be in good shape.

Quick Tip: There is no excuse to not play the wind given the fact that we can pull up hour-by-hour forecasts on our phones any time we want.

 

The wind that oftentimes gets you, however, is when it’s only blowing five or six miles-per-hour and its direction is variable. This happens a lot during the evenings when temperatures drop and thermals start slipping downhill. It’s also a great time to get busted because while the wind was supposed to be hitting you square in the face, it might suddenly switch directions and come in from behind you. At this point, if you’re not doing what you can to eliminate your scent, you’ll have a hard time getting a deer into bow range.

Odor-free detergent and scent-eliminating sprays, from companies like Dead Down Wind, are two ways to engage in a passive scent-control plan. Do they work? Sort of. They buy you an edge by allowing you to start clean, but after hiking for a while to your stand they will lose some of their effectiveness because humans are constantly creating scent. 

Quick Tip: Dousing knee-high boots with scent-eliminating spray can definitely keep deer in the dark when it comes to your entrances and exits into stand sites.

This means that your pre-hunt ritual should address building a foundation of scent-free (ish) clothing and gear so that you can get into your stands and blinds without leaving a scent trail. This is important, and should not be understated. The more deer know you’re hunting them, the less deer you’ll see moving during shooting hours. It’s pretty simple.

My go-to method for this stage of scent-control almost always involves knee-high rubber boots and a good dousing of scent-eliminating sprays. When I’m running trailing drills with my black Lab so that she is on top of her game during pheasant season, I can see how she easily tracks me when I wear leather boots. If I pull on the knee-highs and spray them down, however, I can see that she has to work the wind to find the dummy. That says a lot, because confounding a well-bred, well-trained bird dog has to be in the neighborhood of fooling a wild whitetail.

Take a look at the deer-hunting scent-control market these days. There is an entirely new category that has sprung up around ozone technology. Skeptics will claim ozone can’t work in the open, but they simply don’t understand how it works, or are unwilling to learn. Ozone is a natural bleaching agent that binds to molecules, like those that the bacteria on your skin creates. In doing so, the unstable ozone molecules render it scentless by essentially bleaching them clean.

This process can be harnessed for hours with an in-field ozone unit, and that means you can actively kill your scent as soon as it’s created. I know, it sounds like malarkey. I spent a ton of time trying to prove that it was, and failed.

And you remember those variable wind conditions that will get you busted every time? That’s when an ozone unit shines brightest. It’s an absolute game changer in certain situations.

Deer Disclaimer

This process won’t keep you from getting busted every time you get in stand. There is no 100-percent guarantee. What it will do, however, is keep more deer from knowing you’re after them and when that old doe does start to get wise to your presence, she’s far less likely to turn inside-out and let the whole woods know there is a predator in the neighborhood. That matters, a lot.

If you’re hunting a small woodlot that could easily be ruined by sloppy hunting, or are fighting for elbow room on public land like I usually am, this scent-control strategy will produce more exciting hunts for you. It takes a little work, but it’s worth it when you have deer in close proximity that are oblivious to your presence.

Have a scent-control tip you’d like to share? Add it to the comments section below.

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Photograph By Tony J. Peterson http://stepoutside.org/article/scent-controlhow-to-create-a-strategy-to-fool-more-deer http://stepoutside.org/article/scent-controlhow-to-create-a-strategy-to-fool-more-deer Thu, 30 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Shoot Your Way To Catching More Crappies Crappie fishing is often associated with open water, cane poles, live minnows and brush piles, but by the time autumn arrives the popular panfish have switched their preferences to shorelines, shady docks and small jigs. The main reason is that young-of-the-year baitfish and sunfish use docks for cover, especially those whose owners have deposited brush piles and other fish-holding attractors under them.

Getting to the crappies that forage around docks isn’t a matter of simply using a pole with a minnow for bait. For one thing, crappies usually hold in the hard-to-reach dark spots where only precise casts with small, bite-size jigs will entice strikes.

Texas crappie specialist Wally Marshall or “Mister Crappie”  as he’s known in the crappie-fishing world, has made a science out of enticing crappies from underneath docks and employs a fishing method called “shooting” to reach them. Basically, “shooting a dock” means using an underhanded bow-and-arrow cast to send a tiny jig into a crappie’s lair from up to 30 feet away.

Crappie-Fishing Tips To Live By

1. Fish Into Cover: On shady days, crappie will be above cover or shallow in the water under cover such as docks. On sunny days, it’s just the opposite. If you’re trolling over brush on a sunny day, you’re not going to catch much until you stop and fish down in the cover.

2. Go Small: The most important thing about being a crappie angler is downsizing jigs from 1/16- to 1/32-ounce and slowing down presentations when the water temperature is below 57 degrees. Crappies don’t move as fast, and they don’t eat as much.

3. Get Reading: Learn how to read side-scanning sonar and understand what you’re looking at under docks. When you catch a fish, stop at some point and see what the fish look like on the screen of your sonar. Crappies tend to stack up in sort of Christmas tree-shaped school.

4. Use Your Hands: When you shoot a jig under a dock or other cover, always close the bail with your free hand. Don’t use the handle to close the bail because it will throw a loop in the line and it will eventually snarl on the spool.

5. Jig Up: Crappies might rise in the water to take a bait, but seldom will descend to feed. It’s best to keep a jig up in the water column rather than bouncing it along the bottom.

“Anybody can cast a jig in open water and wind it back in, but most of the crappies you’re fishing for have already been caught by somebody else,” Marshall says. “The fish that are hard to get to aren’t easy pickings, but if you can put a jig in front of them, you’ll catch them.”

Photograph Courtesy of Wally Marshall, mrcrappie.com
It’s best to use a monofilament or fluorocarbon line that is bright enough to be seen in the shade of a dock. If you see the line hop or move off to the side, set the hook.

 

When Marshall targets docks, his approach is always the same. He’ll first get on his computer and use Google Earth to show him where the docks and bridges on a lake are located. Then he compares what the computer indicates with the bottom configurations shown on a lake map. If a river or creek channel swings in close to a dock or bridge piling, all the better.

“I like 8 to 10 feet of water under a dock, and if you’re lucky enough to find a dock with a creek channel underneath, it’s awesome,” says Marshall.  “I want a big dock because I’m going to fish the areas of it that the sun never reaches. That’s where the crappies are, waiting to pick off minnows and threadfin shad that go by. The shade is all the cover they need.

“I look for the darkest corner of the dock—never the sunny side. Docks low to the water, or covered boat slips with jet ski lifts or pontoons, make excellent cover for crappies. What I like to do with pontoon boats is load the rod up and shoot the jig between the pontoons up under the platform, beside the motor and the side of the pontoon. I shoot it on each side of the boat and underneath.”

So easy to say, so hard to do; putting a small bait in front of a crappie in such close quarters requires good hand-eye coordination and aerodynamic baits. Marshall almost always winds up using one of two types of jigs: the sort that might have split tails or a single tail, such as those offered by Strike King, YUM and Gene Larew (Bobby Garland series). His favorite offering is Strike King’s ShadPole, with its flat body that tapers to a single tail with a small knob on the end.

“The reason I like the ShadPole is because it’s streamlined and can go far, or it skips well when I need it to skip up under a dock a ways,” says the Texas fisherman, who favors the basic shad-colored tails unless the water is stained, in which case he dabbles with wilder colors such as hot orange or chartreuse blends. The right color can make a big difference between success and failure.

The jigs he uses have built-in action that kicks in as they fall in the water column. Crappies waiting in a shady spot to ambush juvenile threadfin shad don’t need much encouragement, and might be turned off by a bait that has too much action. A 1/32-ounce head is Marshall’s pick on warm autumn days, and he likes a 1/16-ounce jig in cooler weather because it falls slower, which matches the temperament of the crappies.

“Depending on how dark it is under a dock or pontoon, crappies will be fairly close to the surface,” notes Wally. “Once that jig falls in there, you don’t have to do much except watch your line. If it hops or darts forward a little, lift the rod and set the hook.”

Marshall reckons he’s shot crappie jigs many millions of times during his life. If you don’t have that much time to spend on the water, at least practice in your backyard until you become sufficiently proficient.

1. “Put an ice chest or box 10 feet away, sit in a lawn chair with your rod and reel, and start shooting a crappie jig at the target,” Marshall suggests. “The trick is to stay low and as parallel to the ground as possible.

2. Once you get good at close range, move the target out some.

3. When you get really good, swap the box for a chair, and start trying to get the jig to go under the chair to the far side.” Starting out, better make sure it’s a big chair, preferably a taller barstool, with lots of space underneath.

Wally Marshall’s Terminal Tackle Picks For Crappies

Rod: Lew’s Wally Marshall Signature Series Light 7-foot, 1-piece spinning rod with light/medium tip

Reel: Lew’s WMS100 spinning reel

Line: 4- to 6-pound-test Mister Crappie High Viz, a chartreuse/yellow blend that stands out under dark docks

Lures: 1/16- or 32-ounce ShadPole jigs made by Strike King

Colors: In clear to mildly-dingy water, stay with more natural-looking colors in the Strike King ShadPole line such as Smokey Shad, Blue Ice, Refrigerator White, Salt & Pepper and Glimmer Blue. When fishing stained to muddy water, try brighter colors such as Electric Chicken, Chartreuse Shiner, Red Chili Pepper, Electric Lime and Punkin Pie. Other companies that cater to crappie fishermen typically have a wide assortment of similar colors in their inventory.

Photograph Courtesy of Bobby Garland Crappie Baits
No color is too wild for undercover crappies, though sometimes a jig color that suggests a shad or bluegill will draw plenty of strikes.

 

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Photograph Courtesy of Wally Marshall, mrcrappie.com Some of the biggest crappies of the year are caught in the fall, when they’re fattening up on young-of-the-year baitfish such as shad. http://stepoutside.org/article/shoot-your-way-to-catching-more-crappies http://stepoutside.org/article/shoot-your-way-to-catching-more-crappies Thu, 30 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
WATCH: Rabbit escapes cat, immediately regrets it

 

In a backyard in Brush Prairie, Washington, a person discovered a cat proudly bringing home a rabbit in its mouth. When it sees an opening, the little rabbit makes a run for it. Just when it thought it was home free… an owl swoops in and scoops it up in its talons. Nature is amazing.

WATCH: When fishing for catfish goes wrong 

Noodle video play button

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http://stepoutside.org/article/watch-rabbit-escapes-cat-immediately-regrets-it http://stepoutside.org/article/watch-rabbit-escapes-cat-immediately-regrets-it Wed, 29 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Fall Foraging in the Northwest and Beyond It’s September, and the coming of fall equals an abundance of autumnal harvest…in the woods. Foraging is currently all the rage at top restaurants (chefs are foraging everything from dandelions to fiddleheads), so get into the trend while getting some exercise in the outdoors. Yes, you’ll feel the satisfaction of self-sufficiency as you wander through the wilderness, and when you bring your harvest home, you’ll be a hero. It’s always good to know how to live off the land (as well as which plants and berries to avoid), right?

So, come along on a virtual hike and enjoy fall foraging. Our adventure takes place in the Northwest, but you can apply all of the foraging rules you learn here to wherever you live. I promise that when you give foraging a try, the thrill of the hunt will entertain you, whether you end up with a hearty supply of berries, mushrooms, nuts, and fruit…or don’t have much luck.

Note: Many wild edibles have toxic and even deadly look-alikes and you could eat the wrong thing. It takes a good amount of research and actual field work to know your mycology and herbology before you can just start picking wild edibles and eating them. Always do your research before setting out.

Elderberries: Elderberry harvest season is fairly short, from mid-August to mid-September, depending upon your region (this is certainly the season near my home in Southern Oregon). These tiny berries grow in clusters that are a bear to pick, but they are well worth the effort!

Best used for: make an elderberry jam to spread on toast all winter long.

Blackberries: Depending on where you live in the Northwest, some blackberry harvests will be at the very end of August, but at higher elevations, the season can extend into fall. Look for thorny blackberry bushes near streams, or climbing up the sides of remote fences (be sure to ask permission before foraging on private property). Bring sturdy hiking boots and protective clothing, as scratches are a guarantee if your skin is exposed while picking.

Best used for: freezing to use in smoothies and in muffins.

Photograph by Amy Whitley
Blackberries are commonly found on trails and along roadsides from coast to coast—perfect for snacking or jams.

Quick Tip: September is the start of hunting seasons in most states. Check your local Game Department for exact season dates and make sure everyone in your foraging party wears a hunter orange hat and vest to unsure their safety.

 

Wild apples: Sometimes called crabapples, wild apples grow in abundance in Washington State, but you can find them in many other states as well. You never quite know what you’re going to get with wild apples, which can range from sweet to barely editable. The key is to get to them before the wild birds do.

Best used for: pie baking and apple cobbler making.

GREAT FORAGING RESOURCES:

The following are my favorite resources for foraging outside of my home region.

If you live in the Northeast read: Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries

If you live in the Midwest read: Midwest Foraging: 115 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Burdock to Wild Peach

For Backyard Foraging read: Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat

If you live in the South read: Stalking the South’s Wild Edibles

 

Juniper Berries: aren’t actually berries at all, but rather a type of pine cone found east of the Cascade range, for the most part. I’ve found them in Central Oregon, and I know that some Oregon distilleries use local juniper berries in their wares.

Best used for: tea and…you guessed it…gin! Make your own infused winter gin! Find juniper berries east of the Cascades range. I’ve found them in central Oregon.

Quick Tip: Not sure where to start? Check out an urban foraging park, such as Seattle’s Beacon Food Forest, located inside Jefferson Park. Here, you’ll be educated on what you can forage and eat…then take the knowledge into the wild.

 

Mountain Huckleberries: Found in the northern part of the Pacific Northwest, huckleberries are in abundance in mid-summer. In early fall, you’ll still see their close cousin, the Mountain Huckleberry, at higher elevation in Northern Idaho, Washington State, and British Columbia (among other locales). Look for them along hiking trails near the treeline.

Best used for: huckleberries make a great addition to a vanilla ice cream shake, or on top of pancakes. Fold huckleberries into just about any baked goods, actually.

Photograph by Amy Whitley
Wild huckleberries are a favorite foraging food in the Pacific Northwest, but wild varieties can also be found in the East and Southeast.

Quick Tip: Go farther north to Alaska, and you can add salmonberries to the list, along with blueberries and thimbleberries.

 

Dulse – This red-hued seaweed is common throughout the Pacific Northwest shorelines and is among the tastiest. If you live near a coast, harvest Dulse by removing only parts of the clump, for conservation’s sake, and always wash three times or more in cold water before using. You can also harvest kelp (particularly forest kelp), throughout coastal Pacific Northwest.

Best used for: add to soups or atop salads.

Oyster mushrooms: In western Washington, oyster mushrooms are often found growing on dead or dying alders. On the east side of the Cascade Range, you will more often see oyster mushrooms on dead or dying cottonwood trees. The key to finding them: look on downed logs.

Best used for: sautée in garlic and butter, or make a risotto.

Photograph by Amy Whitley
Edible mushrooms can be found in almost every state, but you must be absolutely sure you can identify them to ensure they are safe to consume.

Golden chanterelle mushrooms: Chanterelles grow in conifer and oak forests (think lower elevations). You’ll need to look in an area with mossy growth under your boots. They’ll be growing through October, so they’re great to forage after the spring morel season is over. Look for mushrooms with a funnel shape, that have a solid stem. They’ll grow in groups and near trees. Note: Jack-o-Lantern mushrooms are toxic, and grow where there might not be trees.

Best used for: soups and stews.

The California King Bolete mushroom: this mushroom grows in the woods in California and Oregon. You won’t find them near trees, and they are distinct by their sponge-like tubed surface on the underside of their cap. These bad boys can get very large, and can be foraged in September, October and November.

Best used for: any recipe that calls for a ‘meaty’ mushroom; grill them like steaks!

Quick Tip: Get into foraging this fall, then return to it in the spring, after the snow melts. In the Pacific Northwest, spring is the season for many wild greens, morel mushrooms, and for clamming on the coastline.

 

Live outside the Northwest? I’ve picked early fall blueberries galore in Maine, and have heard tell of wild ramps in West Virginia, wild ginger in Tennessee, and maple for syrup-making in all parts of New England. No matter where you live, a great resource for foraging in any state is the Cooperative Extension. Local garden shops and master gardener programs are also great starting points. Let us know what kinds of things you forage for by adding your tips to the comments section below.

Remember, never, ever forage and eat anything without being 100-percent certain of its identity as a safe plant to consume.

Add your foraging resource suggestions to the comments section below.

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Photograph by Todd Smith http://stepoutside.org/article/fall-foraging-in-the-northwest-and-beyond http://stepoutside.org/article/fall-foraging-in-the-northwest-and-beyond Wed, 29 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Best Fall Camping Adventures To Do Right Now! It’s mid-September, and instead of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic awaiting your turn at the Yosemite National Park  entry gate, you’ve breezed through in minutes, already pulling into your camp site. Or maybe you’re photographing American bison without a mob of tourists surrounding you, in South Dakota’s Custer State Park. Either way, you’re probably wondering why it took you so long to realize that the best time to visit some of North America’s best camping destinations is after the busy summer season.

Once kids have gone back to school and an autumn routine has resumed for their parents, state and national parks empty out, and wilderness areas with regulated daily entry have much more flexibility. The perfect fall respite awaits! In September and October, the weather is still nice and the crowds have all disappeared. This is a great time of year for wildlife glimpsing as well, including bugling elk, pronghorn and rutting mule deer. Read on to discover five of the most awesome fall camping adventures across America you can do right now.

Apart from the unfortunate threat of wildfire smoke inhibiting your trip, Yosemite (and neighboring parks Sequoia and Kings Canyon) are prime for your camping trip in the fall. Groveland, CA is one of the gateway towns, and while some of the waterfalls (especially Bridal Veil, on the valley floor) may have slowed to a trickle, you won’t mind much, because you’ll be navigating the gorgeous valley without bumper-to-bumper traffic. Hike the Mist Trail, or better yet, secure you lottery reservation to ascend Half Dome, a strenuous 17-mile round-trip hike from the valley floor.

If you really want to avoid people, head to the Tuolumne Meadows section of the park, and camp there, or head into the backcountry, where even in summer, you’ll be lucky to see another soul every other day or so. 

Hoping to camp amid the beautiful Giant Sequoia trees this part of California is known for? Try Grant Grove Campgrounds in Sequoia National Park, which sees only a fraction of the visitors per year as Yosemite.

Quick Tip: Backcountry permits for Yosemite must be secure well ahead of your visit. See instructions here.

 

With adjacent landmarks, like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park teems with tourists from June through August. However, the fall colors dazzle in this part of the Black Hills in September and October. Stay in a cozy cabin in Blue Bell Campground, or opt for one of the many rustic motels that will remind you of a bygone era of Americana. Either way, you’ll have your pick of reservations in autumn, with less crowded trails to boot.

Definitely take a day to hike Black Elk Peak, the highest peak east of the Rockies. Drive the Needle Highway without your views marred by RVs, and enjoy the bison viewing during the Buffalo Roundup in the park each September.

Bonus: the wild west towns of Keystone and Deadwood await, where you can walk in the footsteps of Wild Bill Hickok and see where he was shot by Jack McCall in Saloon #10.

While never too crowded thanks to its massive size and remote location, Dinosaur National Monument reaches 100+ temperatures during the summer months, but it cools down to the ‘70s and ‘80s in the autumn months. The Utah side of the park is where to go to visit the paleontological sites to see dinosaur fossils (you’ll share the Quarry Visitor Center with some school groups, certainly, but not with the masses of families who descend in summer).

The Split Mountain and Green River campgrounds adjacent to the fossil sites are a good bet for those in RVs and campers, as it’s still pretty hot and dry, with little natural shade. For tent campers, it’s well-worth driving to the Canyon Visitor Center entrance in Colorado, (Craig is one of the gateway towns on the Colorado side) where the Green River awaits with its Gates of Lodore.

Quick Tip: the Green River rafting season at the Gates of Lodore ends in early fall, so bear in mind that the river water levels may be too low for a rafting trip in autumn, but hiking trips are still in full swing.

 

On the Colorado side of the park, camp at Echo Park near Harper’s Corner, where Steamboat Rock will tower over your tent. Bear in mind: the last 10+ miles is dirt, and while the campground is open year-round, it’s impassable in wet weather.

Bonus: You’re not far from the pretty Colorado town of Steamboat Springs, where mountain biking and hiking abound through the sunny, dry fall months.

While its neighbor, Great Smokies National Park, tends to remain busy with retirees enjoying the fall foliage even after the congested summer season, Shenandoah is just enough farther north to empty out (somewhat).

Head to Shenandoah (Harrisonburg, VA is one of the gateway towns) in the later fall weeks to catch the best of the leaf peeping on the fabled Skyline Drive (105 miles one-way by auto). However, when it comes time to settle in for a camping getaway, opt for the lesser used entrance to the park, at Thornton Gap. There, you’ll find the trailhead to one of Shenandoah’s best hikes, the summit of Old Rag Mountain.

You’ll also have access to the beautiful Nicholson Hollow trail, which, while much more mellow, is beautiful and accessed amid residential streets, and therefore often off tourists’ radar.

Bonus: The weather is still warm enough in Virginia to make for very comfortable camping, and as a bonus, the summer bug season will be behind you. 

Often producing its own unique weather system thanks to towering Mount Rainier itself, this high Alpine park can be tricky to time correctly (Eatonville, WA  is one of the gateway towns). Early summer is unpredictable, so most campers aim for a late July to late August visit. By September, the weather is usually perfect, but everyone’s returned to school and work. Early September is the prime time to hike the iconic Wonderland Trail (100 strenuous miles), and as a bonus, permits are easier to come by during the less-crowded fall season.

While you’ll miss Washington’s wildflower bloom in September and October, you will have a better opportunity to glimpse marmots and pikas. Camp in Ohanapecosh Campground for easy access to trailheads and both the visitor’s centers, which will still be open in the fall months.

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Photograph Courtesy of South Dakota Department of Tourism http://stepoutside.org/article/best-fall-camping-adventures-to-do-right-now http://stepoutside.org/article/best-fall-camping-adventures-to-do-right-now Wed, 29 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0500
WATCH: Girl wrangles giant catfish with her hands

 

Noodling for catfish is no easy task. You have to be willing to get in the mud and wrestle with them. And sometimes, they can even exceed 200 pounds. That’s no joke. Watch as Hannah Barron pulls an enormous catfish from the murky water with only her hands!

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http://stepoutside.org/article/watch-girl-wrangles-giant-catfish-with-her-hands http://stepoutside.org/article/watch-girl-wrangles-giant-catfish-with-her-hands Wed, 22 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -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