Step Outside WELCOME TO STEP OUTSIDE! Find the best outdoor fun near you! en-us 30 Step Outside 144 144 Sat, 23 Feb 2019 13:42:33 -0600 WATCH: Skier’s helmet cam captures terrifying avalanche


While skiing Guardsman Pass in Park City, Utah last week, a man saw his life flash before his eyes. Wearing a helmet camera, the skier glides over a small ledge and then things took a turn for the worst. 

An avalanche forms beneath him and the skier starts flying down the mountain at high speeds as snow comes tumbling down. The Utah Avalanche Center estimates he was moving at nearly 30 miles per hour. 

Finally, the skier comes to a stop and for a few frightening moments the camera captures him screaming for help as he’s trapped beneath the snow. 

His friends acted quickly and managed to unbury him before things turned ugly. The skier escaped without any injuries. 

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Motorcycles—How To Get Started On Two Wheels Motorcycle riding offers lots of ways for outdoor enthusiasts to get into the sport—even if you’ve never ridden before. And though jumping on a bike and heading out on a highway or trail may seem intimidating, getting into two-wheeling is a lot easier than you think.

For some, the thrill comes from cruising into a desert sunset on a black strip of pavement with a group of friends or climbing to the top of a sand dune on a dirt bike. For others, it might be defying gravity and the environment while maneuvering their motorcycle through rock piles and off cliffs. And for those who enjoy dual-sport riding, it’s the chance to escape the pressures of everyday life by simply riding off into the backcountry. 

All of these are fun ways you can enjoy motorcycle riding. It’s just a matter of choosing which path sounds the most enjoyable to you. But how do you get started on two wheels if you’ve never ridden before?

Here’s a short course on how to choose the right motorcycle for the kind of riding you want to do along with a few tips on gear and training that will get you started into the fun world of motorcycle riding in no time.

Gone are the days when motorcycle clubs ruled the streets with fear. Today, most street bike riders are just a great group of people who like to ride. Street bikes are motorcycles designed for use on pavement, asphalt, or cement. They meet all Federal Highway Safety Standards for road use and are equipped with turn signals, side mirrors, a brake light and a horn. You must have a motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license to be able to ride a street bike. A motorcycle endorsement certifies that the rider has passed the Motor Vehicle Department requirements for motorcycle operation.

Types of Street Bikes

Street bikes fall into several sub-categories:

Cruisers are the classic type of motorcycles that come to mind first. The motorcycle seat and engine is placed low to the ground. The riding position usually has the seat located near the rear wheel and the riders feet are extended forward to a position close to the front wheel. The low ground clearance doesn’t allow the motorcycle to lean far, so cornering is more difficult.

Sport Bikes are built for both speed and cornering ability. Their seats are higher and the riders legs are positioned beneath the body. The handle bars of a sport bike are up whereas the bars on a crotch rocket are angled down so the rider leans forward out of the wind when riding.

Adventure Touring Bikes are designed to be the most comfortable on long trips. Windshields and saddle packs (bags that attach to the motorcycle for storage) are part of the design. These bikes also generally come with radios, cruise control, and climate adjustments.

Quick Tip: Every state has different rules for the age a person must be to ride a street bike. Check out the laws at your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to be sure you’re in compliance.


Getting Started

To get started riding a street bike, take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider Course. Although you don’t need your motorcycle endorsement permit to take the training, in most states, if you bring your permit to class, the final riding test will count as your on-road test for your endorsement.

Required gear varies by state. To find out if your state or the state through which you may wish to ride requires a helmet, eye protection, or other gear, check out the American Motorcyclist Association’s website

Gear You’ll Need

Regardless of the law, the safety gear I won’t ride without includes:

  • Helmet

  • Eye protection or face shield

  • Over-the-ankle boots

  • Long sleeved shirt

  • Long pants

  • Gloves

Additional safety gear includes:

  • Riding jacket with padding and rash resistant fabric

  • Riding pants with rash resistant fabric and pads

  • Riding boots with built in protection

  • Leathers

  • Ear plugs

Quick Tip: Although it might be hot standing in the sun, riding at 55 miles an hour can be chilly. Dress for the ride in layers.


The basic definition of “dual-purpose bikes” are motorcycles that are designed to be ridden both on pavement (on-road) and on natural surfaces (off-road). There are two main types of dual-purpose bikes; Dual Sports and Adventure bikes.

Photograph by Karen Umphress
Dual-purpose bikes allow you to ride on both highways and backroads. Adventure bikes, like those shown here, are larger, heavier and perfect for traveling comfortably on gravel surfaces.

Dual Sport Bikes are generally smaller, lighter, and designed mostly for off-road riding. They have the capabilities to do some on-road sections, but they are not at home on long stretches of pavement as their tires are usually designed or riding on more loose surfaces.

Adventure Bikes are usually larger, heavier, and designed to be ridden on-road with the ability to travel great distances at higher speeds. They also can do milder off-road sections, such as minimum maintenance roads. Adventure bikes are often very comfortable to ride on gravel surfaces, but their tires are usually more at home on-road.

Motorcycles designed as dual-purpose can not only get you away from the city but allow you to travel whatever back roads lies before you, regardless of whether those surfaces are pavement or gravel. Since these motorcycles use the roads, you must have your motorcycle endorsement to ride them. They also meet all Federal Highway Safety Standards for equipment and road use.

Getting Started

To get started, get your street bike endorsement. You will need this regardless of whether you spend much time on pavement since you will be using public roads. Then take an off-road motorcycle class outlined below.

Quick Tip: If you want to test drive a motorcycle at a dealership, you must have your motorcycle endorsement with you.


Gear You’ll Need

When dual-purpose riding, my must-have safety gear is the same as on a street bike:

  • Helmet

  • Eye protection or face shield

  • Over-the-ankle boots

  • Long sleeved shirt

  • Long pants

  • Gloves

Additional safety gear is dependent on which type of dual-surface riding being ridden. The more off-road riding a trip may entail, the more padding I wear. Gear with ventilation is also a plus as your body will be working more.

  • Riding jacket with padding and light-weight, tear resistant fabric

  • Riding jacket with padding and light-weight, tear resistant fabric

  • Elbow pads

  • Knee pads

  • Shin guards

  • Chest protector

  • Ear plugs

Dirt bikes are also called “trail bikes,” “enduro bikes,” or “off-highway motorcycles (OHM).”  These are motorcycles designed specifically for off-road use. These bikes are small, lightweight and nimble. Dirt bikes can get you deep into the woods and to sights and locations you wouldn’t be able to access any other way. Best of all, there is a dirt bike for just about every member of your family.

They start in size with 50cc for kids as young as 4 years old.  People in their 70s will still ride and race dirt bikes. These motorcycles are not made to be used on any type of public road regardless of the surface. They are well manufactured, but don’t meet the Federal Highway Safety Standards. Most don’t come with turn signals, a head light, a tail light, a break light or horn. More and more dirt bikes include an electric starter, but many models still use kick starters. Riders start out on wide or dual-track trails. As they progress, they move to single-track trails, which can be from 24 to 48 inches wide.

Getting Started

The best way to get started on dirt is to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Dirtbike School. You can take this course starting at 6-years of age. Children must know how to ride a bicycle without training wheels before taking the course and parents must be present during the entire course. Family and adult classes are available as well.

Quick Tip: The MSF Coach-Trainers can assist you with information about how to find a motorcycle that will fit you and your riding.


Taking both street bike and dirt bike classes is strongly recommended; it will make you a more rounded rider. Street bikes are mostly controlled by upper body movements. Dirt bikes are controlled by lower body movements. Dual-sport riding utilizes both the upper and lower body as the riding surface changes.

Gear You’ll Need

The minimum gear I wear for dirt bike riding is:

  • Helmet

  • Goggles or eye protection

  • Long sleeved shirt

  • Long pants

  • Over-the-ankle boots

  • Gloves

  • Elbow pads

  • Knee pads

Additional gear includes:

  • Chest protector/roost protector

  • Neck brace

  • Ear plugs

  • Jersey

  • Riding pants

  • Riding jacket

A number of motorcycle training providers rent motorcycles so that you can try riding while learning the basics before you purchase your ride. Once you have your endorsement, there are many places that rent street or dual-purpose bikes. Dirt bike rentals, however, are rare. Once you get trained, obtain your endorsement, and purchase the right safety gear, you’ll be ready to ride.

Sport bikes like this are perfect for those who want to experience highway cruising where speed and cornering capability are big requirements. Thu, 14 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0600
How To Raise Your Kids To Be Expert Skiers When I take my three kids skiing, everyone carries their own gear, puts on their own boots and helmets, and gets themselves easily out onto the slopes. Everyone can zip around the mountain with relative ease, and when we all meet up in the lodge for lunch, everyone’s still smiling.

Sound idyllic? Trust me, it wasn’t always this way! In our first few years as a skiing family, when our children were preschoolers, a ski day was a study in patience! We suffered it all: whining, crying, runny noses, full-on tantrums…and the kids got upset sometimes, too. Waking them up early and carrying all their gear and keeping it organized was a challenge, but now, we are reaping the rewards. If you, too, want to instill a love of skiing or snowboarding in your kids, know that my recommendations come hard-won and are all based on our own first-first-hand experience.

There’s no perfect age to begin teaching your kids to ski or snowboard, but I believe early is best, as long as expectations remain low. Introduce kids as young as 3-4 to the concept of a day in the outdoors in winter (complete with a bit of discomfort here and there) and they’ll be rugged skiers for life. We started teaching our kids to ski at age three. Yes, hauling around a kid that age in full ski gear is a pain, but they’ll look adorable in their gear, I promise. 

Quick Tip: You can teach your kids to ski yourself, if you know how, but if you don’t, this can be a good age to simply play in the snow with them…pull them in a pulk sled while snowshoeing or just go sledding!

When you’re ready to get serious about learning, you have several choices at your disposal; which you choose may depend on your personal situation. If you live within easy access to a ski area, definitely opt for regular, season-long lessons. Many ski areas have great deals for locals, and some school districts even have after-school programs for kids. 

“Progression” lessons (where your child picks up where he or she left off the week before) ensures growth. Be sure to pick a program that assigns the same instructor to your child each week, for consistency. If your local mountain doesn’t offer these types of lessons, consider a set of 3-5 private lessons. While more expensive, you get more done each day!

Quick Tip: Even if your kids don’t think they want to ski race competitively, consider signing them up for your local race team. Our kids learned expert ski skills through the instruction of their race club, and even though none of them wanted to race competitively later on, they have fond memories of the friends they met and the skills they learned.

If you don’t live near a ski resort, you’ll probably plan to sign your kids up for lessons while on a ski vacation. This can be a great option, too, but it’s even more essential to find consistency, since your kids are likely to forget some skills between ski vacations. Take a few minutes to research the ski school program at your resort; the best will outline each level they offer and what ski skills are met in each (so you can accurately place your child in the correct lesson for each kid). Find a ski school program that ensures the following:

  • Age level distinctions as well as ability level distinctions

  • Options for half-day programs for young kids

  • Fun elements like snow castles to play in or snow slides to ski to.

  • Start times that work for parents (early drop-off options or staggered start times work well if Mom and Dad also plan to take a lesson or join a clinic).

  • End of day reporting, where the instructor fills you in on the skills learned

Quick Tip: Look for the option to take a family ski lesson at major resorts. Listed under “private lessons,” many parents assume these lessons are costly, but when broken down, a family lesson (usually with up to six people allowed to join) can cost less than signing up all the kids for group lessons, and the whole crew can stay together and learn together.

If you’re an accomplished skier or snowboarder and want to teach your kids on your own, this is, of course, the most affordable option! Just remember to go slowly, allow for plenty of breaks, and designate some runs as “just for fun,” when Mom or Dad don’t instruct. Bear in mind that sometimes, paying a professional will save your sanity!

Don’t forget to teach ski safety, too. When your kids are very young, teach them early and often that speeding straight down the hill (with skis pointed downhill without turning) is reckless (and just bad manners on the slopes). They should know to stop (to the side of the ski run) to wait for adults at every trail junction. And you should consider setting a meeting place should you become separated (the bottom of the lift the child rode most recently is a good choice).

When kids get older, more safety factors come into play. If you have “big mountain” kids who love to explore every side-country (technically in-bounds) gate, every tree glade and every jump, it may be time to sign them up for a class specifically dedicated to teaching them how to perform aerial moves safely, how to navigate terrain parks and powder, and how to stay safe in the backcountry.

Quick Tip: Sign teens who are very adventurous up for avalanche safety courses at home. These courses are usually only a few hours to get the basics, and will teach kids what to look for in unstable snow conditions.

Yes, the act of skiing in-and-of-itself is fun, of course, but for young kids, a few extra treats added in can make the difference between them being eager to get out on the slopes each day, or reluctant: 

Stash chocolate in their jacket pockets (a nice pick-me-up that won’t melt easily).

Make chairlift times fun with riddles or word games.

Say “yes” to small breaks in the lodge to warm up with hot cocoa. 

Ensure kids are comfortable with the correct layering and ski gear.

Consider hand warmers to slip into their gloves. 

These small things can make a big difference! Before you know it, you’ll have expert skiers who are out-skiing you on the slopes!

There is no perfect time to introduce kids to skiing, but age 3 is a good time to start. Just make sure kids are comfortably dressed and lessons aren’t too long. Tue, 12 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0600
Predator Hunting—How To Get Started The Easy Way It’s February, and the first turkey seasons are still weeks away. If you don’t have frozen water where you live, then you can’t dull your deer-season hangover with a dose of icefishing.

What you do have, whether you live in Maine or Mississippi, Missouri or Montana, is coyotes, and a growing number of your neighbors are figuring out that chasing them in the dark months is a great cure for the winter blues.

The reasons are obvious:

  • Sheer Numbers: We have more coyotes in more areas than at any time in our nation’s history.

  • Long Seasons: Hunting seasons are long and liberal, and many states don’t even require hunters to buy a license.

  • Hunting Challenge: Outsmarting a predator is no easy task, so bagging a coyote or a fox requires all the stalking, scent-elimination, and sign-reading talents that consistently successful deer hunters employ.

  • Easy Transition: Chasing coyotes in the winter months is also a great way for those new to the shooting sports to transition into hunting.

  • Great Payoff: There is a nice payoff to coyote hunting—literally. While fur markets fluctuate wildly, and prices depend on the region, size and grade of animal, and other unknowable factors, prime coyote pelts were fetching around $50 at the time this was written (with higher prices in northern states and lower fur prices in southern states). Put together a dozen dogs, and you can buy a lot of gas and shells to subsidize your next outing.

If you’re like most deer hunters, you’ve probably killed a few coyotes opportunistically, as you encountered them going to or from a deer hunt. And you’ve probably pledged to invest in the gear and knowledge to extend your season by targeting coyotes through the winter. This guide is for you, the educated beginner.

First, figure out if your state has a coyote season and license requirements. The National Shooting Sports Foundations “Where to Hunt” page is an excellent source for state regulation information.

Second, think about all the places you’ve had great deer hunts. Your success was dependent on good habitat, access, and knowledge about your quarry’s behavior. The same circumstances apply to coyotes, but the happy coincidence is that places that hold good deer often hold good numbers of coyotes. That’s no accident.

Deer are a coyotes’ prime prey species, and the more coyotes you kill, the more deer that will survive for you to hunt next fall. Of course, as scavengers and opportunistic predators, coyotes will also hunt small game, birds, and snack on roadkill, so generally where you see the most wildlife activity, you’ll also find the best coyote hunting.

A good way to approach a first coyote hunt is to think of it as a deer hunt for coyotes. You want to be just as conscious of the wind direction, the path that a coyote might take, and the distance and difficulty of your shot as you would be for deer.

There are three basic types of coyote hunts: 

  • A silent stand in which you post up and hope to shoot coyotes passing by.

  • A calling stand in which you hunker down and call coyotes into gun range;

  • What I call a “run-and-gun hunt” in which you drive rural roads and stop periodically to call, then set up when you get a response.

1. Silent Stands

Looking at the silent stand, your standard deer-season treestand or ground blind can work beautifully, especially if it is situated between deer feeding and bedding areas. Those are the same habitats that coyotes work, so as long as the wind is favorable—that is, blowing away from where you expect to see coyotes—then you should expect a shot.

This silent-stand hunting is not a numbers game. You are relying on a dog to simply show itself, and if you shoot, or do anything to alert animals that you’re in the area, then you might be in for a long, slow day. But you can make good use of your time by observing deer, seeing how their forage patterns have changed since November’s buck seasons, and looking for antler sheds.

You can also blow a predator call periodically to lure coyotes and foxes into range. We’ll cover calls below, but know this about coyote behavior, no matter the stand type: They will almost always circle around your calling location, trying to smell you before they come into view. So, keep a close eye on your downwind side, and try to see and kill a coyote before it sniffs you, or you’ll never see the coyotes that were in your area.

Good Gear

For this sort of coyote hunting, it pays to invest in a long-range rifle and optics. You can’t predict how far out you’ll be shooting, but it could be several hundred yards.

Quick Tip: It can be hard to see coyotes that approach through heavy cover. Look for tell-tale signs, like an agitated magpie or a crow. Watch any small openings downwind of your calling location for a fleeting shot at a moving coyote.

2. Calling Stands

Photograph by Andrew McKean
A classic coyote set. Notice the hunter is backed against cover, wearing full camouflage, and has his rifle on a bipod, elevated above the cover.

This is the most common way to attract coyotes. You walk into an area with abundant sign, sit down, blow a call, and shoot a dog. Of course, it’s never that simple, but the idea is to remain undetected and sound so realistic that a curious or hungry coyote or fox will shed its inhibitions and come to you.

Wind and terrain features are the big factors here. You want to enter the area stealthily, using a ridgeline or a gully or timber to hide your approach. Stay as high in the terrain as you can, to maintain visibility over a wide area, and use both good camouflage—including face masks—and shade to melt into the cover. This is a good game for a partner, one of you running the call and the other set up to shoot.

Use either an electronic or a hand call. The advantage to an electronic call, sometimes called an “e-caller,” is that it can mimic the sound of dozens of prey species, ranging from housecats to crows, and because most have remote-control capabilities, you can set the speaker many yards away from your location, misdirecting the laser focus of an incoming coyote. Hand calls can sound more realistic, and you can control the volume and cadence better than you can with an e-caller.

The universal coyote call is a rabbit being tortured. It might be a cottontail or a jackrabbit, but the death wail is the same – a high-pitched scream punctuated by growls and squeaks. Other effective coyote calls mimic deer in pain, mice squeaking, birds squawking, and coyotes howling to either challenge or court another coyote.

Most calling hunters plan to sit at each stand for no longer than 30 minutes. They typically call softly to start, to lure in nearby coyotes, and then escalate the volume and intensity of the calls for several minutes, pausing for a half-minute between to scan for incoming coyotes that might be coming from farther away.

Good Gear

This type of hunting calls for a light, accurate rifle along with a few other essentials:

  • Look to Savage’s Model 11 in flat-shooting, pelt-conserving calibers like the .204, .22-250, and new .22 Creedmoor pushing bullets like Hornady’s V-Max, Winchester’s Varmint X, or the Ballistic Tip Varmint from Nosler. Other essentials include:

  • If you’re looking for a hard-working e-caller, the new FoxPro Shockwave is a rager.

  • Rangefinding binocular like Leupold’s new RBX-3000.

  • A quality bipod. There are none better than the Harris HBH bipod, which extends to 23 inches. 

Photograph Courtesy of FOXPRO Inc.
An electronic call is a huge advantage to a coyote hunter, partly because of the vast library of sounds it generates, partly because you can set it up away from your set-up, and misdirect incoming coyotes.

3. Run-And-Gun

This type of hunting requires abundant access to good habitat and a road system to get you around. Park in a place where your vehicle isn’t noticeable – in a dip or in cover – and blow your call. If you hear or see a coyote respond, set up to shoot. If you don’t drive on and repeat until you hit a receptive coyote.

Photograph by Andrew McKean
When it all comes together, there are few more hard-won trophies in hunting. Coyotes are smart, have trip-wire senses, and are easily educated, so a coyote in the bag is cause for celebration. And prime fur.

Like trolling for fish, the advantage of this approach is that you can cover a lot of country. The downside is that you may call to coyotes that don’t “bite,” or respond immediately to your calls.

Good Gear

Winter is an excellent time to hunt coyotes. Seasons are long, animals are more willing to come to a call and pelts are in prime condition. Tue, 12 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0600
How To Hike Safely In Spring—5 Easy Tips After a long winter, you’re no doubt itching to get back on your favorite trails, and inspired to explore new ones. But are you spring hiking ready? What is the snowpack like where you want to go? Will trailheads be open and will your vehicles make it to the parking lot? How about that temperamental spring weather? Here are some of the essentials you may need and the actions to take before hitting the trails again this spring.

If you’ll be hiking in a national forest, a call to the local USDA ranger station is the best way to get up-to-date and accurate information. You can easily find out which national forest your trail is located within by looking at any trail map or trail description website. A quick Google search will bring you to the correct national forest page. For instance, this page for the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest lists conditions for some popular Washington state hikes.

Be sure to ask about:

  • Trail conditions, including possible snowpack or high water warnings in stream crossings.

  • Road conditions getting to the trail.

  • Fire restrictions (should you wish to make a campfire).

Quick Tip: remember that during time periods of government shut-downs, ranger stations will not be open and websites will not be updated. Contacting the local backpacking shop that’s closest to where you want to hike may provide the information you need.


Layering is key! Even if you don’t think you’ll need a base layer, pack one in your day pack…it never hurts to have a dry layer ready to be utilized. In addition, always bring a knit hat (beanie) and a lightweight pair of gloves, just in case the weather turns. Lastly, every hiker needs a good rain shell. The good news: these shells pack down very small and are lightweight to carry…you won’t even know you’re packing it! A pair of waterproof hiking boots or shoes will round out your spring hiking gear. Consider gaiters (like those you might wear in winter while snowshoeing) in case mud or rain puddles hinder your hike.

Don’t worry: I am not suggesting you have an entire overnight bag at the ready. But in addition to the essentials you need to bring with you on any day hike in any season, your spring hike day pack should include:

  • A quality rain shell.

  • An extra pair of dry wool socks.

  • A rain cover for your pack. 

  • Consider carrying a GPS device such as a SPOT or inReach while hiking in the spring, too. Weather can change more quickly than during the summer months, and with fewer fellow hikers on the trail able to help out in a pinch, you’ll be glad you’re packing extra insurance.

Quick Tip: If your day pack didn’t come with its own stow-able rain cover, you can add your own (available at any outdoor gear store). My favorite is the Sea-to-Summit rain cover, in a variety of sizes, because it packs down so small.


Even if embarking upon a trail you know well, be prepared for some aspects of the route to look or feel different. You never know what the past winter might have brought: a tree might be down over the trail, for instance, or what is usually a dry river bed might be a rather formidable creek crossing. Always give yourself permission to call it a day and head back earlier than you intended if conditions prove more challenging than you expected, and give yourself extra time to complete your hike, in case you find yourself needing to navigate new obstacles. If you encounter snow pack, only forge ahead if you are using a GPS device or can see the trail resume, so you can be sure of your path.

This is important at all times, of course, but notifying others in advance can be especially important while hiking during the off-season. Let a family member or friend know where you plan to hike (giving as many specifics as possible):

  • Heading out: What time/date you plan to hit the trailhead. 

  • Coming back: When you plan to return. 

  • Check in: Always touch base with those you notified when you get back! 

  • Leave a note: Post a note on your vehicle while it’s parked at the trailhead, listing the number in your party and your cell phone number, if applicable, to make it easier for forest service employees or Search and Rescue volunteers to know exactly when you planned to complete your hike.

Quick Tip: Don’t forget to bring plenty of water! This is easy to forget when the weather isn’t warm yet, but dehydration still occurs in the cooler months. If you don’t want to carry multiple water bottles, consider a lightweight, easily packable water filter, such as a Sawyer Squeeze or a LifeStraw. Both are essential in an emergency but even while safely hiking, they can be convenient!


Enjoy your spring hike! There’s nothing quite like that first foray into the woods after a long winter!

Spring weather can be fickle with late snows or heavy rains that can leave trails a mess. Always check the road and trail conditions for where you want to go hiking before you head out. Tue, 12 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0600
How To Tap Into The Pre-Spawn Bass Bonanza Catching bass is never an easy proposition. As winter gradually morphs into early spring, however, it becomes less of a challenge. Dynamic changes that favor fishermen begin when the length of daylight increases and the water temperature rises. Depending on latitude, bass are at some stage of their spring migration, headed shoreward in fits and starts as the instinctive need to feed prior to spawning kicks in and the water warms into the mid-to-high 40s.

When spawning season approaches, experienced anglers know they can ignore most deep offshore waters and instead concentrate on manmade and natural shoreline cover, and structure such as points, flooded feeder creeks and river backwaters. How anglers fish, and the techniques they employ, are at least as important as the lures they use. Here’s a primer on how to locate and catch bass before the spawn sets up.

Hungry bass are on the move at this time of the year. The angler’s task is to focus on places where the fish are temporarily holding or passing through. In the pre-spawn phase, bass don’t swim from deeper water to the shallows in a straight line or all at once; rather, they migrate along well-defined underwater trails. A GPS unit or lake map provides quick reference to where such features can be located.

What To Look For: A travel route might be as obvious as a flooded roadbed or a narrow neck or stretch of creek that leads to a broad spawning flat. Sharp bends or spots where there is cover such as stumps, laydowns or brush piles should be fished slowly and thoroughly. Humps and rocks on an otherwise flat bottom, or places where rocky bluff banks gradually merge with clay or gravel banks, are prime areas.

How To Fish Them: When tapping a flooded ditch or creek, position the boat in the center of the feature if possible and cast along either side and down the middle of the feature. Probe every side of a hump, ledge or structure change  before moving. Start with “search baits” that are cast out and reeled back with a steady retrieve, and then slow down and switch to other lures as necessary.

Likely Lures: Jigs rigged with boot-tail grubs, buzzbaits, lipless crankbaits, vibrating jigs, football-head jigs, or suspending jerkbaits are good choices here. Wacky-rigged stick worms such as the Yamamoto Senko or Strike King Ocho might work, too.

A typical wacky rig consists of a stick worm or regular plastic worm hooked through the middle of its length with a wide-gap hook (2/0 or larger, depending on the diameter of the soft-plastic) or jighead so that it dangles and moves enticingly as it sinks. Anglers sometimes add nail weights to either or both ends to make the bait descend quicker in deeper water. Wacky rigs don’t make good search baits because their effectiveness depends on a slow presentation. Once cast, a wacky rig sinks on a slack line, then is lifted a foot or so and allowed to settle again as slack is taken up.

Tackle You’ll Need: Medium-action spinning rods of 7 to 7 ½ feet long and 6- to 12-pound-test fluorocarbon or braided line on the matching reel is preferred for lightweight presentations such as a weightless wacky rig. For other baits, baitcasting or spinning tackle capable of making long casts will work.

A Closer Look: Here are some additional fishing tips for spring bass

Bass are captivated – at least temporarily – by underwater points or similar bottom changes that differ from the norm.

What To Look For: In early spring, fish will begin to congregate at the deepest end of a main-lake or secondary point and then move shallower into coves as the season progresses. If there are stumps or manmade cover at the end of such points, even better.

How To Fish Them: If possible, start at the offshore end of a point and cover both sides within casting distance. Then alternately fish each side. If the wind is a factor, position the boat to cast upwind or quartering upwind. Fish secondary points in known spawning coves and feeders.

Likely Lures: Umbrella rigs are tops here, backed up by crankbaits, hard suspending jerkbaits, such as the Lucky Craft Flash Pointer 100, soft-plastic jerkbaits, such as the Zoom Fluke, and spinnerbaits.

Tackle You’ll Need: Conventional baitcasting or spinning gear will work. Two-handed rods that afford long casts are best. If you’ll be slinging an umbrella rig, fish it on a 7 1/2- or 8-foot medium-heavy to heavy baitcasting outfit and 60- to 100-pound-test braided line or 20-pound-test fluorocarbon.

A Closer Look: Check out this video on how to rig and fish an umbrella rig.

Quick Tip: Quiet, please. In the late pre-spawn phase, bass are jittery and easily spooked as they move shoreward. Correspondingly, the shallower and clearer the water, the stealthier an angler’s approach must be. Present lures with the pitching technique or sidearm roll cast.


Use the trolling motor sparingly, preferably only to make course corrections or bypass stretches. Be as still as possible. If the boat is equipped with a mechanical anchor and the water is shallow enough to use it, stop occasionally in one place and repeatedly make long casts to the area ahead before changing positions.

Most of the year, a boat dock might as well have a sign posted on it that proclaims “Fish Here.” Docks are among the best four-season fish attractors in any lake.

What To Look For: The most productive docks – either floating or fixed – in the pre-spawn phase are constructed over or near deep water in the 10- to 20-foot range or deeper. They have distinctive structure features under them such as brush piles, channel swings, drop-offs or rocky bottoms.

How To Fish Them: The most successful dock anglers are those skilled at skipping or pitching a bait into the dark cubbyholes underneath. However, pre-spawn bass don’t necessarily hold in hard-to-reach spots under a dock as is likely in summer. Instead, the fish often move from dock to dock or patrol nearby waters.

Skipping a lure underneath fixed docks can pose more problems for anglers this time of year, as flooding in the early spring often reduces the target area. Better to focus on areas of a lake where floating docks are the norm. In any event, stay a long cast away from the targeted dock. Position the boat to cast parallel to the end of the dock, then set up to cast down either side. Thoroughly fish the dock from about 5 feet deep down to the bottom with appropriate lures before moving on.

Likely Lures: Suspending hard jerkbaits, crankbaits, wacky rigs, swim jigs, boot-tail soft-plastic swimbaits, umbrella rigs and soft jerkbaits are all popular choices.

Tackle You’ll Need: Baitcasting or spinning tackle will work, but some reels are considered better than others for the skipping because of their resistance to backlashing. Baitcasting reels with higher gear ratios such as the 6.3: 1 Daiwa Tatula SV and rods in the 6 ½- to 7-foot range with medium to medium-heavy actions are preferred. 

A Closer Look: Here are some of the top lures used by the pros in in colder waters for bass.

In rivers or lakes where current is present, bridge pilings and current breaks, such as barges and wing dams, are bass magnets. In manmade lakes, bass tend to congregate below dams and feed until the rising water temperature signals that it’s time to move into bedding areas. These river bass feed in the main flow, but they also wait in eddies and other slack-current edges for their forage to come along.

How To Fish Them: Position the boat to cast upstream or quartering upstream at the target, which might be a bridge piling, barge tie-up, sunken barge, jagged bluff bank or any current break. Fish riprapped banks below dams as well, especially where turns in the bank, creek mouths or shoreline obstructions create eddy pockets.

Likely Lures: Umbrella rigs with boot-tail swimbaits, deep-diving crankbaits, lipless crankbaits, football-head jigs and underspin jigheads such as the Blakemore Randy’s Swim-N-Runner with or without a soft-plastic swimbait trailer. Natural shad finishes are usually best when swimming lures are the choice.

Tackle You’ll Need: Two-handed conventional baitcasting or spinning tackle capable of making long casts works here.

A Closer Look: Check out this video for everything you need to know about fishing with underspins.

Photograph Courtesy of Mohawk Trails Guide Service As the pre-spawn period begins, anglers should try to intercept bass moving toward spawning coves along traditional travel routes. Tue, 12 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0600
Youth Trap—How to Join In the Fun Right Now In the world we live in today with guns socially demonized and most schools being gun-free zones with zero tolerance, who would have imagined that in many places the fastest growing high school participation sport is trap shooting?

It’s true; Minnesota, Iowa, Oregon and perhaps others have reported that trap shooting at the high school level is growing at a remarkable rate, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Many years ago shooting was the most popular sport in America. Participation was extremely high and it was often the way families spent time together on a day off. Now it looks like  recreational shooting may be making a comeback. 

Trap shooting is a sport with no boundaries. Age and gender don’t make a lot of difference and anybody can be competitive. If you are not the competitive type, you can just have fun shooting targets. It’s impossible not to smile when you powder a clay target. Teenagers learning to shoot trap will hopefully expose their families to the sport and it will continue to grow. So how do youth trap shooters get started? Here are the basics to get your teen breaking clays on the trap field right now.

Your first stop should be to your local shooting range to see if they offer any introductory classes. Most gun shops can help you locate a shooting range. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) also has a range finder on their website. Just plug in your zip code and it will list shooting locations near you.

Another handy source to check out is the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation (SCPT), which manages the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP) across the United States. SCTP is a youth development program in which adult coaches and other volunteers use shooting sports to teach and demonstrate sportsmanship, responsibility, honesty, ethics, integrity, teamwork, and other positive life skills.

SCTP was developed as a program by the National Shooting Sports Foundation until the SSSF was created in 2007 to operate the SCTP.

NSSF’s Chris Dolnack calls this “Little League with shotguns.” He also points out that this program is a great feeder program for collegiate shooters and even for the Olympic team, so you just never know where this can lead. Perhaps you can become the next Kim Rhode.

Kim is a six-time Olympic medal winner. Most recently, she won the bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics, making her the first Olympian to win a medal on five different continents, the first Summer Olympian to win an individual medal at six consecutive summer games and the first woman to medal in six consecutive Olympics.

I watched her win her first gold medal in Atlanta in 1996 and was the first to interview her after that win. She had just turned 17 years old. Perhaps the next 17-year-old Olympic shooter is just waiting to pick up a shotgun and get started.

5 Great Entry-Level Shotgun Picks:

Photograph Courtesy of Remington Arms Company, LLC
Remington’s new V3 line of autoloaders offers soft recoil and a variety of stock options. Synthetic-stock models, like the V3 Field Sport Compact shown here, are compatible with an adjustable length-of-pull system to create a custom fit for any shooter. The author’s favorite entry-level models are listed below.

1. Remington Model 870

This pump-action shotgun has been a standard for years. Trap shooting legend Rudy Etchen was the first to ever break 100 straight targets using a pump shotgun. He used a Model 870. Rudy went on to win a lot of championships with the pump gun. The Remington Model 870 is inexpensive and all but indestructible. It’s been breaking clay targets for nearly 70 years and is still a great choice.

2. Remington Model 11-87

This gas operated semi-auto offers affordable dependability. I have been shooting an 11-87 since it was introduced in 1987 and it’s never given me a bit of trouble.

3. Hatfield USA SAS

This is a very low-priced shotgun that will get you in the game. Made in Turkey, mine required a little breaking time, but after 100 rounds it’s working fine. Best of all, you can buy it for $250.00 from the bigger retailers!

4. Tristar Sporting O/U

Break action, over/under shotguns have a safety advantage in that they can be broken open until you’re ready to shoot and it’s very easy for everyone on the field to see that the gun is safe. Most are very expensive, but Tristar can get you into a completive shotgun for well under a grand.

5. Franchi Affinity Catalyst

Often semi-auto shotguns are big, thick and a bit hard for smaller people to handle. This one has a stock that is optimized to feel right in a woman's hands. That means it fits well with a youth shooter, too. The Affinity Catalyst's drop, cast, pitch and length-of-pull are all tailored to a woman's build. Franchi shotguns are well respected in the shooting world and the price for this one is low compared to the value returned.


Ben Berka is the President & Executive Director of The Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation During a recent interview he said that there are about 40,000 youth trap shooters in the U.S. today. SCPT works with about 18,000 of those youth shooters across the country. They also have 4,000 volunteers to help run the programs. 

SCPT’s National Championship, held in the Cardinal Shooting Center in Marengo, OH each year, hosts 3,000 shooters and they launch over a million clay targets during that eight-day event. I asked him how an interested person could get started. 

“Just go to our website and plug in your location,” Berka said. 

“We work with both schools and clubs, so the odds are there is a shooting facility near you. If not, consider starting a shooting club. We provide assistance in getting started, finding instructors and we even have discounted equipment packages thanks to our sponsors.” 

The website is very user friendly and there are emails and phone numbers listed for personal contact if you need more detailed help. Ben took time out from a bird hunting trip to talk to me. In my world, that’s true dedication to the job.

Trap shooting is a shotgun sport in which the shooter attempts to hit and break a series of flying targets moving away at various angles. The sport dates back to the late 18th century. 

There are reports that that by 1793, trap shooting was "well established" in England. Back then real birds were used; usually passenger pigeons, which were extremely abundant at the time. Birds were placed under hats or in traps and were then released as targets. 

In the 1860s live bird  targets transitioned to glass balls. They were often filled with colored powder to create a dramatic effect when they were hit. In the late 1800s clay targets were introduced and they are still in use today, although most are not really made out of clay. Modern targets are made from a mixture of pitch and ground limestone. Somehow, though, “clay pigeon” rings better off the tongue than “pitch-and-powdered-limestone pigeon,” so the name stuck.

There are a multitude of variations for trap shooting, but the basic game is for the shooter to fire at 25 different 4.25-inch diameter saucer-shaped targets during a “round” of trap. The shooter gets ready and calls for the bird, usually by saying “pull.” The bird is released and the shooter attempts to break the clay target in flight. 

American Trap is the most popular sport here in the U. S. and can be broken down into three categories: singles, doubles and handicap. The targets are thrown from ground level from a machine in the center of the course and located inside the trap house. 

For singles and doubles, there are five stations, 16 yards behind the trap house. In singles, each competitor shoots at five targets from each station. The trap machine oscillates left to right so the bird’s direction is unknown to the shooter before it is released. 

In doubles, the machine throws two targets simultaneously with each competitor shooting at five (5) pairs (10 targets) from each station. 

In handicap events, the machine operates the same as in singles, but the shooters stand farther away from the trap house.

The equipment list to get started is pretty simple. In addition to a shotgun and ammo, the shooter will need:

Eye and ear protection.

A bag that fits on your belt and is designed to hold the shotshell ammo is very helpful.

Most shooters wear a brimmed hat to help keep the sun out of their eyes. 

Later you may wish to add a shooting vest with pockets for shells and a built-in recoil pad. 

Odds are high that for your first time you can borrow a shotgun from one of the instructors or perhaps one that is owned by the club. How a shotgun fits you is important to the success and enjoyment of this sport, so it’s probably best to try a few shotguns until you find one you like. 

Top shooters use shotguns that cost many thousands of dollars, but a new shooter can be well served with a much less expensive shotgun. An inexpensive single-shot shotgun can work well to get you started, but you won’t be able to shoot double trap with it. So, it’s best to buy a gun capable of at least two shots. 

Many experienced shooters recommend a gas operated semi-auto shotgun for new shooters because that design tends to mitigate felt recoil. While target loads do not have a lot of recoil and are easy for everybody to shoot, the cumulative effect of shooting 25 to 100 targets in a single session can have a negative impact on your shooting performance. The down side to a semi-auto is that they tend to be a bit heavy. On the other hand, pump action and over/under shotguns are extremely popular and they tend to be lighter in weight, which helps to reduce fatigue.

Trap shooting is a healthy way to enjoy the outdoors and the shooting sports. Give it a try. Who knows, you might just be in Ohio next year shooting for a world championship position or even standing on the podium at the Summer Olympics.

Photograph Courtesy of Paul Erhardt—Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation With 40,000 young trap shooters scattered across the U.S. today, it’s easy to find a youth shotgunning program near you. Tue, 12 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0600
Bowhunting Turkeys: 6 Smart Ways to Prep Right Now Last year’s turkey season treated me very well, with four longbeards falling to my arrows in three different states. A bit of luck certainly played into my success, but I also spent a few months in the pre-season working on my gear and scouting specific spots. The culmination of the planning was that I spent some amazing time in my blinds, but the highlight of the entire season occurred when I shot a tom while one of my seven-year-old daughters hunted with me.

This month, I’m starting the pre-season turkey process all over again to ensure that my shooting skills and equipment are in top-shape before the season opens in April.

I’m also starting to think about taking a few leisurely walks through some of my hunting grounds to take note of where the wintering flocks are right now, because many of those birds will be around when the opening bell rings. If you’re interested in having a killer turkey season this year, you might want to adopt a similar strategy, which starts by planning some appropriate practice sessions.

When it comes to spring turkeys, most of us bowhunt from a hub-style blind. This means that you must be able to draw your bow straight back to your anchor point without lifting your bow arm. In other words, you need to be shooting a bow that is set to a draw weight you can easily handle.

The easiest way to figure this out is to set up a target and hold your bow arm out while loosely aiming your 20-yard pin at the target. Slowly draw the bow while trying to move as little as possible. If you struggle at all, you’re pulling too much weight and should back out your limb bolts by a full turn or maybe two

Once you can draw this way without struggling in the least, grab your blind chair or an office chair and make sure that when you’re seated, nothing changes in your drawing motion. Eventually, I like to practice wearing all of my gear while shooting out of my blind at a 3D turkey target. If you do this once or twice a week, you’ll be deadly in the field. 

Quick Tip: Practicing at all distances can help you become a better shot on turkeys, but to be the most effective make sure you’re truly dialed at close ranges before anything else.


And speaking target practice, consider buying at least one 3D target. They come in full strut or walking/standing turkey options. Either way a life-sized, anatomically correct target will allow you to concentrate on exactly where you should aim on a real bird, and will help you become a better bow shot overall. I like to set up my decoys for close shots, but I always practice with these turkey targets from maybe five yards to 40. This keeps things fun and really allows me to really dial in before the season opens. 

Quick Tip: The perfect spot to aim at a turkey is just behind the wing butt on a broadside turkey. For a shot facing straight on or straight away, envision a line between the wing butts and split the difference.


Bowhunting turkeys is also perfect for testing out a single-pin sight, because most shots will be close. If you’ve considered using a single-pin mover for big game but are cautious, try it out during the turkey pre-season and then throughout your hunting season. A lot of archers benefit greatly from an uncluttered sight window as well as a single, vertical pin, which makes target acquisition quick and easy. 

Three Mistakes Every New Turkey Bowhunter Should Avoid

Photograph by Tony J. Peterson

1. Not Practicing With Broadheads: Don’t assume that because you choose a mechanical head that it will fly just like your field points. Practice with your broadheads to match arrows to specific heads so you know exactly where your point-of-impact will be.

2. Rushing Your Shot: When a gobbler approaches your decoys, be patient. If you’re using quality fakes, he’ll commit and eventually focus solely on your decoys—usually your jake decoy if you have one out. At that point, you’ll have a perfect opportunity to draw, settle and pick your shot.

3. Not Brushing In Your Blind: Lots of people will tell you that you don’t need to brush your blind in when it comes to turkeys, but don’t believe that. Tuck your blind into the cover well before the season opens if possible, and then brush it in so it truly blends into the environment and won’t flare in the bright sunlight and spook approaching birds.


The biggest considerations for spring turkey hunts are blinds and decoys. When it comes to decoys, I always recommend people buy the best quality, most realistic options available. They are always worth the expense when you’re trying to trick a tom into range.

When it comes to blinds, size, weight, and window configuration are important considerations. If you’ll be hunting with a partner, bigger is always better. If you’ll be by yourself, you won’t need too big of a blind, but no matter what, you’ll want to practice shooting from it regularly before the season starts. Shooting through a blind window can be tricky, and more than a few of us have sent an arrow through the side of our blinds in a panic. 

Quick Tip: If you’re shopping for a new turkey blind, pay close attention to the hub-to-hub width and overall blind height. It’s usually a good idea to err on the side that bigger is better.


Not only should you set up your blinds to shoot from them, you should do it just to get used to the process of putting them up and breaking them down. Familiarity here can lead to a lot less stress when it’s dawn and you’re scrambling in the gloaming to quietly erect a blind while birds are gobbling from the roost 150 yards away.

The other thing worth mentioning here is that February is a great time to mess with new calls, or learn to master the ones you already own. I carry several mouth calls in my truck at all times to practice with while I’m driving somewhere by myself. At home, as long as it won’t drive my family or my dog nuts, I’ll spend some time practicing with my slate and box calls as well. As with shooting, a little calling practice each week now will lead to more confidence and success in a couple of months when it’s showtime. 

You have a couple of months to get everything dialed before turkey season if you start right now. Consider everything from your bow setup to blind choice to all of your equipment needs now, so that by the time you’re setting a 3:30 a.m. alarm in anticipation of opening morning, you’ll be ready to go. 

Photograph by Tony J. Peterson Even the biggest wild turkey presents a fairly small target when it comes to vitals, so prepare your equipment well ahead of time and make sure to practice regularly before the season opens. Mon, 11 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0600
How to Get Started with Winter Camping For many experienced outdoorsmen and women, the very idea of winter camping sounds terrifying. After all, the idea of spending the entire time outside in cold conditions seems like it could be very uncomfortable. But as it turns out, winter camping can be just as rewarding (and fun) as it is any other time of the year, provided you have the right gear, use some common sense, and are willing to embrace your sense of adventure.

If you’ve always wanted to give winter camping a try, but weren’t sure where to start, we’re here to help. Here’s what you need to know before setting out on your first cold-weather camping excursion. 

When embarking on a winter camping trip you’ll be bringing along much of the same gear that you would at other times of the year, although some of it will be specifically suited for cold weather outings. For instance, you’ll need to bring a tent to serve as your shelter, but that tent should be a four-season model made for winter conditions.

On most camping trips you use a three-season tent, which is built for use in warmer weather and offers improved ventilation. But in winter, it’s all about staying warm and a four-season tent offers better protection from the wind and cold. A good example of this type of tent is the Nemo Equipment Kunai, which was built with winter backpacking trips in mind. 

In addition to a warmer tent, you’ll also want to bring a sleeping bag with a proper temperature rating as well. During the warmer months campers can get by with a sleeping bag that is rated for 35ºF or even warmer, but in the winter that won’t cut it. Instead, look for a bag that is made for use in temperatures of 20ºF or lower. Better yet, play it safe and go with a 0ºF bag as it will give you a bit of wiggle room should temperatures drop unexpectedly. 

Quick Tip: Cold conditions can cause a butane stove to become very inefficient, as the gas canisters have trouble vaporizing in temperatures below freezing. Keep your gas canisters warm by placing them at the foot of your sleeping bag overnight or switch to a white-gas stove for winter trips instead.


Pair your sleeping bag with an insulated sleeping pad as well and you’ll have a complete sleep system to keep you cozy all night long. The Therm-a-Rest Questar 0ºF bag and NeoAir All Season SV sleeping pad make a formidable winter camping combination.

Obviously, warm clothes will be a necessity, too, and dressing in layers will provide both comfort and versatility:

  • Wear warm base layers close to the skin to regulate temperature and moisture.

  • Add a down jacket or other insulating layer for warmth.

  • Cover it all in a shell jacket to provide protection from the elements.

  • Pack an extra layer or two just in case your clothing gets wet or you need to bundle up a bit more. Winter conditions can be a bit unpredictable and it never hurts to have emergency gear along with you just in case.

  • Don’t forget to bring warm socks, gloves, a hat, and winter boots to keep your fingers and toes toasty, too.

Most of the other camping gear that you own should work just fine in the winter. Your backpack, stove, cookware, and other equipment will serve the same purpose no matter the season. You may need to bring extra fuel, however, as most camp stoves don’t burn quite as efficiently in cold temperatures and you may have to melt snow and ice for drinking water.

For the most part, you can go winter camping at all of the same places that you would go camping at any other time of the year. That includes local, state, or national parks, although you may want to check the appropriate website ahead of time to ensure that all campsites are open.

Some backcountry areas may be closed due to their remote nature and heavy snow, but generally speaking there aren’t many additional restrictions on where you can set up camp during the winter.

If you’ve never been winter camping before, you may want to give it a go in your own backyard before heading out to the backcountry. This allows you to test your gear in a controlled environment, allowing you to try out your tent and sleeping bag in a controlled environment. This approach has the added benefit of allowing you to pull the plug and head inside should you find the cold temperatures are a bit too much to take. 

Quick Tip: If you’re bringing any battery-operated devices with you, be sure to keep them as warm as possible. Nothing zaps the life of a battery faster than cold temperatures. Keep smartphones, cameras, and headlamps inside your jacket and sleeping bag to extend their life.


When you’re ready to venture out, check online to see if there are any local hiking or backpacking groups that go camping during the winter. It’s always nice to have some company at the campsite and experienced winter campers can provide helpful tips to help you stay more comfortable.

As with other times of the year, when you pick your campsite be sure to look for a location that can provide shelter from the elements. This can help keep your tent warmer and drier, while minimizing noise too. Avoid setting up camp directly at the bottom of the hill, as that is where cold air tends to collect and keep an eye on the conditions above to ensure you aren’t in the path of potential avalanches. These are all variables that play a role in whether or not you get a good night’s sleep, which is key to your enjoyment of any camping trip.

Before pitching your tent, tamp down the snow at the campsite to provide a more stable base underneath. This makes it easier to not only set up your shelter, but it allows you to move about more securely when inside the tent as well. Loose snow also tends to melt much more quickly, which can cause the tent floor, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag to become damp.

If you wore snowshoes and cross-country skis on your hike to camp, use them to smooth out the ground more efficiently. Alternatively, you can also use the snow to build a wall to serve as extra protection from the wind as well.

Quick Tip: Bring extra food on your winter camping trips. In cold temperatures your body burns more calories in an effort to stay warm, and you’ll want a steady supply of snacks and meals to serve as fuel.


During the winter months you don’t have to worry quite so much about where you place your campfire, although finding dry wood and kindling can be a challenge. Wood buried under the snow can still be used to make a fire, although getting one started can take a bit of extra time and patience. Bringing a windproof lighter, dry kindling (Fat Wood is great), and fire starting materials (Vaseline soaked cotton balls work nicely!) from home can help make the process easier.

It is important that you make sure your campsite is as safe and comfortable as possible. The shorter days and longer nights of winter mean you’ll be spending more time inside your tent and sleeping bag, so you’ll want the experience to be a pleasant one. Bring a book, a deck of cards, or some games to help pass the time. Chances are, you’ll be happy you did.

Finally, it is important to be both smart and safe while on a winter camping adventure. 

  1. Always alert several people about where you’ll be going and when you expect to be back before you head out. If something should happen, they’ll know where to come looking for you.

  2. Leave a “flight plan” in your vehicle if you’re backpacking into a campsite, noting the timing of your trip, which trail you’ve taken and your final camping destination in case search-and-rescue personnel need to assist in an emergency.

  3. Keep a close eye on the weather at all times and be prepared to head home if a sudden storm hits or temperatures fall to dangerous levels. 

By monitoring conditions closely, bringing the proper gear, and embracing the winter weather, you can have an amazing backcountry experience that you won’t soon forget.

Photograph Courtesy of Jason Hummel/Nemo Equipment Nemo Equipment’s Kunai is a four-season tent built to handle the winter cold. Mon, 11 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0600
Man jogging in Colorado kills mountain lion in self-defense The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department is reporting a mountain lion attack at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space on Monday, Feb. 4.

A trail runner was jogging the West Ridge Trail when he realized he was being followed. After turning around and discovering it was a mountain lion that was following him, the big cat lunged and attacked the man.

The man sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries as the juvenile lion attacked his face and wrist. In self-defense, the man was able to successfully suffocate and kill the lion, according to reports.

A local wildlife manager said that, “Mountain lion attacks are not common in Colorado.” The big cat was just following its instincts. 

The lion’s body was later retrieved and taken to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife animal health lab for a necropsy.

Visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website to stay up to date as more details of the investigation unfold. 

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How To Keep Firearms Safe In Your Home Perhaps you’ve finally taken the leap and purchased your first firearm. Or maybe you’re thinking about buying your first handgun or longarm. Either way, owning a firearm requires that every owner be responsible for the safe handling and storage of guns.

Proper training is a must to ensure safety. Most gun ranges offer entry-level classes. Your local gun dealer may also help you find some local classes. But it’s equally important for gunowners to have a full understanding of how to keep firearms safe in the home.

Part of the responsibility that comes with being a new gunowner is keeping your firearm safe in your home. It is your responsibility to control access to the firearm. You certainly want children and their playmates to be safe. You may also be worried about theft and want to be sure your firearm is safe and inaccessible to unauthorized hands. On the other hand, you understand the dichotomy of needing a firearm at ready access to protect yourself and your family if the need arises. Fortunately, there are a number of resources and options available for safely storing firearms in your home.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation provides an excellent resource for gunowners through their Project Child Safe web page. The page is full of helpful information; all supporting the motto: “Own it – Respect it – Secure it.”

Much of the content is about storing guns safely. The educational value of this website is invaluable, for new gun owners as well as seasoned veterans. There is even an offer for a free safety kit that includes a gun lock.

To begin to better understand safe gun storage, let’s look at the options you can choose from.

The most common safety device is a gun lock of some kind. Most new guns ship with a lock. If you bought your firearm used or do not like the lock that came with it, your local dealer can help you find the right kind of lock. While you’re exploring safe storage options, be sure you fully understand and obey your state and local laws concerning firearm storage in your home as laws many vary depending on where you live.

There are several types of locks for guns. 

Built-in Locks: Some companies build locks into their guns that require a key to unlock the firearm.

Chamber locks block ammunition from being loaded into the firearm.

Trigger locks typically cover and block the trigger. Usually they will be two pieces that come together from either side behind the trigger and are locked in place. They are unlocked with a key or combination, depending on the type of lock. Trigger locks physically prevent the trigger from being depressed to discharge the firearm.

Cable locks usually thread into the receiver through the open ejection port. These locks physically block the gun from going into battery so it cannot be loaded and fired.

One problem with any of these locks is that they can be easily defeated with simple tools. The best way to store your firearm safely from unauthorized use or theft is a gun safe.

Quick Tip: Never put a lock on a loaded gun as that can make it even more dangerous.


Quality safes can be a bit expensive, but they can also keep your jewelry, cash or other valuables safe. Beware of inexpensive safes as they may simply be a locked cabinet that can be easily opened with a pry bar and are light enough to carry off the entire safe and contents.

Buy a safe with a solid vault door that has locking bolts and thick walls. These are heavy enough to prevent theft and the door cannot be easily breeched. These high-quality safes usually have fire protection to keep your valuables safe in the event of a fire.

The safest approach is to store the guns unloaded in a safe and to store the ammo in a different location, also under lock. This adds an extra layer of inaccessibility to any unauthorized access to the firearm. 

In the event you wish to keep a handgun bedside for self-defense against a home invasion there are a wide range of single gun safes for this use. Some are biometric and use your fingerprints to open. Others have a simple combination that you punch into a keypad to open. Some, like the Hornady RAPiD Safe are RFID (radio-frequency identification) activated. A wristband, key fob or decal is held next to the safe to instantly open the spring-assist lid. They also have a keypad for back-up, or in the event you do not have a RFID entry tool available. Most of these safes have a cable lock that can be secured to something solid to prevent theft.

If you have just purchased a handgun and do not have the resources for a large gun safe, these one-gun safes provide a much less expensive alternative. They can be stored inside a locked cabinet to add another layer of security. They can be hidden in a wall or under the floor. One approach is to secure one high and hidden on top of a bookshelf. You can reach it if needed, but the kids won’t know it is there and have no way to access it if they do. This approach keeps your handgun safe from unauthorized access, but still readily available in the event you need to keep yourself and family safe. 

Taking the Mystery out of Firearms Ownership:

If you keep a gun as “forbidden fruit” from your children, they will only become more curious about it. Taking the mystery out of firearms ownership and imparting the rules of gun safety is important and it should begin at an early age.

My kids were raised around firearms so there was never any mystery. I took them hunting when they were still very young. I gave them toy guns and later BB guns to carry and always insisted that they follow the safety rules. Rather than beat them over the head with those rules, we just made them part of our lives. By the time they were old enough to use a firearm, safety was already deeply imprinted into their behavior.

While hunting they witnessed the destructive power of a firearm, which was an important lesson. I also took them shooting a lot. Above all, I let them know that if there was ever any gun they wanted to see or shoot, all they had to do was ask. As a result, they have been responsible around firearms their entire lives.


You are responsible for your own safety and for the safety of your loved ones. That may well be why you have decided to buy a gun. That decision comes with responsibilities. It’s imperative that you know your state and local laws on the use of deadly force for self-defense. It’s also a good idea to buy insurance if the worse happens. This will help find legal representation and help with the financial burden.

Firearms ownership is an important aspect of our freedom, but it carries a responsibility. Safe storage of your firearms is a big part of that responsibility. Respect your firearms and store them safely. In return you will have the security of knowing that you can protect yourself and your loved ones. You will also find that the shooting sports are challenging and exciting. From simple target shooting to participating in competitions, shooting is fun and very gratifying.

The door you open with that first firearm can lead to a huge world to be explored and enjoyed. Just make sure you do it responsibly. 

Photograph Courtesy of National Shooting Sports Foundation Keeping firearms locked and safe is every gunowner’s responsibility. Fri, 11 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0600
National Parks: How To Book The Best Campsites If you’re planning a spring or summer camping trip to one of our national parks, now is the time to book your campsite reservations. Whether you’re hoping to camp in the Yosemite Valley or along the Virgin River in Zion, navigating the complicated and competitive online reservation system for US national parks can be tricky, but making advance reservations is worth it.

While most parks have first-come, first-served campground options, you’ll enjoy the peace of mind that comes from securing reservations using the parks’ online reservation system. Your planning needs to begin more than six months ahead of your trip, however, as campgrounds fill up quickly, making it necessary to reserve on the very first day available to you. 

Here’s how to book the campsite you want in three easy steps along with some quick tips that will help you formulate a solid back-up plan if your first-choice dates are taken.

This is the fun part! Engage everyone in your camping group to submit their requests or requirements in a campground (such as desired amenities or views) and if you haven’t narrowed down your choice of parks yet, this is the time to do so. Search the official national park sites for campground descriptions and select your first choice. Remember, some campgrounds have few amenities (perhaps limited to pit toilets) and some are not open in all seasons. 

During your research:

Identify alternatives to your preferred campground, just in case. 

Aim for midweek visits for the best availability, and skip weekends or holidays completely if possible. 

Finalize your preferred dates, but have some back-up dates in mind if at all possible. 

Using your first-choice dates, do the math to know when you’ll be allowed to book your reservation, so you can reserve it the moment the registration window opens. For almost all US national parks, that window is six months in advance, based on the day of arrival. The exception: Yellowstone National Park, for which you must book a full 12 months out.

Start by creating an account on, the online booking site for almost all national parks in the US. Again, Yellowstone is the exception. They use a private booking site (their official website will redirect you)

Plug your preferred campground and dates into the availability calendar to gauge current availability (remember, campers booking longer stays may have already removed your choice dates from availability) or use the “Build a Trip” feature to see potential sites within your calendar window. 

Quick Tip: In addition to Yellowstone, which books 12 months out, Yosemite National Park also deters from the norm by booking exactly five months out, on the 15th of each month, at 7 am PST. To book at Yosemite, familiarize yourself with their official website and their booking site, When booking, be prepared to quickly move to your back-up plan if your first choices aren’t available.

Make sure your computer is all ready to go for when your booking window opens. 

Log in early: Log into  at least one hour before your window opens, so you aren’t surprised by a misremembered password or other technical problem. 

Check your clock: Make sure your computer’s clock is accurate, too. 

Refresh the page: You’ll need to refresh your page at just the right moment of booking, and yes, being off by a minute could mean a lost reservation. 

Double check credit information: You’ll also want to make sure your credit card information is loaded and ready the go, even if you don’t typically save credit card information on websites.

Book your reservation: Once the booking page is live, enter your arrival date and nights. If your dates are available and you’re successful, you’ll be given 15 minutes to complete your reservation. 

Have your back-up plan ready: If you’re not able to reserve the dates or campsite you want, click immediately to your alternate campsites or dates and try again. 

  • Are you already past your reservation window? Call the park’s registration line to find bookings that have been dropped or cancelled. You may have to do this regularly, but it can pay off in the end.

  • Just can’t get the weekend dates you want most? Spend those days enjoying restaurant meals and hot showers in a nearby hotel, lodge, or resort, then head to the campground on a Monday or Tuesday. Another option is to avoid summer altogether and enjoy the shoulder seasons at national parks: spring and fall are gorgeous in most US parks and you’ll love the extra elbow room.

  • Consider a private campground stay instead. Many are located conveniently just outside national park boundaries, and enjoy more luxurious amenities such as laundry facilities, mini-golf or on-site dining.

  • Look for ‘walk-in’ or ‘tent-only’ sites in national park campgrounds. Since fewer visitors desire these more remote sites, you may have better luck in parks where such sites are not rare. And you’ll enjoy more nature and privacy once you arrive. Even better: consider a backpacking trip and explore a park’s spacious backcountry. Permits are often required, but with a few exceptions at the most impacted parks, they’re not too hard to come by, and day-of passes can be secured with some effort.

  • Looking for a state park campground instead? The same ‘formula’ applies for securing state park reservations, with minor alterations. Instead of primarily using, you will be utilizing to find out the booking window for the campsite you’d like and to make reservations.

Enjoy planning your national park camping trip this winter, and best of luck to all who are looking to secure reservations for next summer!

Photograph Courtesy of NP Getting the best campsites in our busiest national parks starts by knowing when dates become available. Yosemite books exactly 5 months out on the 15th of each month. Fri, 11 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0600
How To Hunt Ducks The Easy Way Duck hunting is one of the easiest hunting sports for new shotgunners to expand into. Ample public-land hunting opportunities abound for waterfowlers and the gear you’ll need to get started is not overly expensive. 

Hunting ducks is also a great way to spend some quiet time with your kids or grandkids, while introducing them to gun safety and hunting. Best of all, you can get started with just a few simple tips. Follow these six easy guidelines to start enjoying gorgeous sunrises in the blind and the thrill of whistling wings coming in to your decoys this season. 

Learning to become a proficient waterfowler takes time and experience, but you can begin enjoying the fun right now. If you have a friend or someone at your local gun club who can take you out your first time or two, that’s best. They can share their knowledge and you’ll pick up a lot of tips on your first trip out. 

Photograph by Todd Smith
Hiring a guide your first time out can help you learn the basics of waterfowling fast and experienced guides, like Lamar Boyd, can supply everything you need to enjoy duck hunting.

Hiring a guide can also get you started down the waterfowling path quickly as they have years of knowledge and all the gear you’ll need. I recently spent two great days hunting ducks at Beaver Dam Lake (see sidebar) in Tunica, MS. Their full-service operation featuring experienced locals guides and top-notch accommodations is a good example of how a well-run operation can bring the excitement and tradition of duck hunting to newcomers and veteran waterfowlers alike.

The beauty of waterfowling is that it doesn’t involve a huge investment. You probably have a lot of what you need to get started right now, but here are a few of the essentials to consider.

  • Shotguns: While nearly every major gun manufacturer makes waterfowl-specific shotguns, the autoloader or pump you’re using for trap and skeet may be just fine for your initial outing. Either 12- or 20-gauge guns will work perfectly well for waterfowling when paired with proper loads designed for ducks and geese.

  • Chokes: For ducks in close over decoys using steel shot, improved cylinder (or even skeet) is ideal. For longer-range pass-shooting opportunities, you’ll want to step up to modified.

  • Loads: Check your state regulations, but non-toxic shot is required for waterfowl in most areas. No. 2 steel is a good all-around choice, but you should pick up several different brands/types of non-toxic shot to see what patterns best in your gun. Splitting the ammo costs with a friend or two and patterning your guns together at your local range will help all of you get off to a good start. 

  • Decoys: A dozen decoys will easily get you started making simple spreads that will bring ducks in close. Look for close-out sales at the end of the season or pick up a set of used decoys on Craigslist to minimize costs.

  • Camo: A simple waterfowl parka with a hood, worn over layered clothing will block the wind, keep you dry and let you blend into surrounding cover. I used insulated bibs and a wader jacket top with a zip-out liner from Banded camo on my recent hunt and it worked really well. Given that temperatures can be at freezing in the mornings (even in southern regions), make sure you bring warm gloves and an insulated hat that covers your ears.

  • Waders: In the early season when temperatures are still relatively warm, hip boots or the waders you like to fish in will work fine. As temperatures grow colder, you’ll want to transition to insulated knee-highs or waders. Again, shop online for bargains.

  • Calls: If you book a guide, they’ll do all the calling, but you don’t need a fancy call to do it yourself. Ask your local dealer what they recommend, but choose a model that’s easy to make a few simple calls with.

  • Hearing protection: Don’t forget earplugs as the report of guns in an enclosed blind is greatly amplified.

While decoy spreads can become an elaborate art form, they don’t have to be. A basic “fishhook” or “J” pattern with just a dozen or two decoys is all you need in many small pothole areas or shallow warm-water sloughs, to get plenty of ducks headed your way. It’s perfect to use on days when you have a strong wind blowing consistently from one direction. (A simple “C” or “horseshoe” pattern, with the open ends of the C extending out from the shoreline, works great on days when winds are lighter.)

  • Put a few “feeding decoys” right in front of your blind.

  • Extend the foot of the  fishhook out and away from the shore on the upwind side of the blind. These visible decoys will be your attractors.

  • Let the tail of the hook trail down and out from the shoreline to the downwind side.

  • Ducks will normally come in heading upwind, see your attractor decoys and hopefully set down right in the open hole created by the hooked end of the spread.  

  • Set your blind up on the open (downwind) end of the pattern.

  • Figure about 30 to 40 yards from one end of the hook pattern to the other.

  • Try to keep the sun at your back as much as possible. This will keep the sun in the birds’ eyes to minimize their picking up your movements.  

  • Brush in your blind and keep your movements to a minimum.

  • Don’t overcall.Let the decoys do the work. Here are some simple pointers from veteran Beaver Dam guide, Lamar Boyd, on how to bring ducks into your spread.
    Video by Todd Smith
  • Minimize movements: Ducks are sharp-eyed. Keep movements to an absolute minimum, especially when birds are on the approach to your decoy spread. Any false movements or upturned faces that catch the sun will cause birds to flare.

  • Be patient: Wait for ducks to fully commit to landing before you pop up to shoot.

  • Know the regulations: Regulations on bag limits and what kinds of ducks you can legally harvest vary by state. A quick visit to your state’s DNR website will familiarize you with the regulations for wherever you’re hunting.

  • Be safe: Gun safety is always of vital importance and is critical in crowded blinds and excited conditions when ducks come in. Go over the ground rules with your party to make sure muzzles are always pointed in a safe direction and safeties are always on unless you’re shooting. Make sure everyone unloads and actions are clear before anyone ventures out to pick up downed birds.

Like any moving target, ducks require lead. The biggest mistake beginners make in shooting any moving target is that they simply stop the gun. They see the bird, they swing to the bird and then they stop.

You must keep the muzzle of the gun moving out in front of the bird and train yourself to “follow through” even after you’ve pulled the trigger. When taking passing shots on ducks, the simple acronym “butt, beak, bang” can help. Here’s how it works:

A. As the duck crosses in front of you, bring your muzzle up from behind the bird. 

B. Swing through his butt and past his beak, then pull the trigger. 

C. Keep the muzzle moving out ahead of the bird after you’ve fired to finish your follow-through.

I asked veteran waterfowler and Beaver Dam owner, Mike Boyd, to share what he believes are the three biggest mistakes those just getting into waterfowling need to avoid. Here’s what he had to say.

Video by Todd Smith


Hunting In Waterfowl Heaven:

This historic hunting destination provides visitors with a taste of what duck hunting was like in the heydays of waterfowling.

Photograph by Todd Smith
The best part about duck hunting is sharing the experience with family or friends.

Hunting at Beaver Dam Lake is like taking a step back in time. The lake, made famous through the stories of Nash Buckingham, is one of the most historic duck-hunting destinations in America. And if you book a hunt here, you’ll find the woods and waters little changed from the way they were when Buckingham and his parties paddled their way among the ancient Cypress swamps to distant blinds a hundred years ago.

Today, hunts are conducted by Beaver Dam Hunting Services. Mike Boyd and his son, Lamar, have a combined total of more than 70 years of experience guiding at Beaver Dam and their experience shows. From their comfortable lodge facilities to their amazing blinds (complete with electricity and a stove for making fresh coffee), this father/son team provides a duck-hunting experience that is second to none.

“We don’t sell duck hunts, we sell opportunities,” Mike says. As I discovered, those opportunities extend far beyond merely harvesting wildfowl. Hunting at Beaver Dam is a total experience. It’s the opportunity to glide over dark waters with the hint of dawn in the eastern sky, taking in the quiet of the marsh as you gaze up through the gnarled fingers of ancient cypress limbs to view a canopy of stars. It’s the opportunity to experience the slow rising of the sun to reveal the beauty of the marsh all around you tinged in red-and-orange brushstrokes of light. The opportunity to see two calling virtuosos work incoming ducks to perfection. And the opportunity to share a special morning with friends or family members—in a place where time still moves at the slow tempo of the changing seasons.

Where to Eat

While the lodge comes with a fully equipped kitchen and barbecue for those who like to ply their culinary skills, two local eateries are must visits.

Blue and White Restaurant: This place dates back to the early Beaver Dam days when Buckingham and friends would stop in for mountainous breakfasts. The B&W still serves breakfast all day (biscuit and gravy fans will be in heaven here) or try the daily buffet for huge helpings of southern comfort food. And don’t miss the fried peach and apple pie for dessert.

The Hollywood Cafe: This rebuild of the original blues café, which was previously lost in a fire, was made famous by Marc Cohn in his hit, “Walking In Memphis” and is one of the many landmark establishments along the Mississippi Blues Trail. Many of the world’s most famous blues artists have played here including Howlin’ Wolf. Try the fried green tomatoes and pickles, barbeque or Cajun specialties like friend catfish and grilled shrimp.

Photograph by Todd Smith
The Hollywood is one of the stops along Mississippi’s Blues Trail and is a must-see if you come to hunt ducks at Beaver Dam.

What to See

Be sure to visit the Mississippi River Museum at nearby Tunica RiverPark. You’ll not only get one of the best views of the “Big Muddy” from atop the museum’s observation deck, but the films and displays inside tell the fascinating story of how America’s mightiest river has shaped our culture and history.


Photograph by Todd Smith Duck hunting is one of the easiest ways for shotgunners to transition into hunting and there are millions of acres of public land open to waterfowlers coast to coast. Fri, 11 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0600
Snowmobiles And ATVs: How To Find The Best Winter Rides Weeks before the official start of winter, snowmobile riders are heading for high elevations in the Rockies in search of groomed trails leading to deep powder. And in the desert Southwest, families are trailering their ATVs and multi-passenger Side-by-Sides to popular places where they can play in sand dunes and wide-open desert spaces.

Whether you’re looking for the solitude of putting the high mark on the mountain with your sled, or the fun of an RV/ATV “village” in the desert, here are some of the best resources for finding great winter riding areas on public land.

State Snowmobile Associations and Clubs

There are an estimated 230,000 miles of signed and maintained snowmobile trails in North America that have been developed by snowmobile clubs and associations, usually in cooperation with state, provincial and local governments. 

Photograph Courtesy of Minnesota United Snowmobile Association
A great place to start your search for snowmobile clubs and trail maps is at the website of your state snowmobile association.

Choose a state or province with snow, and there is likely a snowmobile association for it. Their websites include local snowmobile rules and regulations, as well as lists of popular riding areas and trail systems. Also included are links to their association’s member clubs — often numbering in the hundreds — that groom trails and feature trail maps on their websites.

To get started, do an internet search for “(State) Snowmobile Association.” You can also go to the American Council of Snowmobile Association’s site for a complete list.

Quick Tip: For the best snowmobile trail conditions, find out when the local club or agency grooms the trail system you’ll be riding on. Be there soon afterwards for the best trail conditions, because trails get beat up fast, especially on sections close to towns.


U.S. Forest Service Interactive Map

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) manages over 150 National Forests. Many of them have snowmobile trails, and those in mountain states have vast expanses of public lands that get snow early and have long riding seasons.

  • Open the USFS interactive map,

  • Zoom into the state you are interested in

  • You’ll see the names of the National Forests in the area, with links to website pages for each Forest. You’ll also find season dates, directions, available facilities, trail maps and more.

Photograph Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service
The U.S. Forest Service has an interactive map with links to National Forest websites and details on their snowmobile riding opportunities.

In Western states, large swaths of the public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are also open to snowmobile riding in mountainous terrain. To learn more about the riding opportunities in your area, check the website of the nearest BLM office in your state. Many feature winter recreation areas, with trail maps.

Rails-To-Trails Website

Across the snow belt at lower elevations, a good place to search for popular trails is the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. It’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of motorized and non-motorized trails on former rail lines and connecting corridors.

  • Go to their website

  • Open the U.S. map 

  • Tap “filter” and check “snowmobile” in the list of trail types

  • Zoom into your state of choice to find routes of popular snowmobile trails groomed by state or federal agencies, or by volunteers with local snowmobile clubs, with links for more details.

What To Pack For Winter Riding:

Whether you’re headed to snow country or the desert Southwest for riding this winter, here are some quick checklists of key gear items you’ll want to carry with you.

Photograph Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

For Trail Riding In Cold Temperatures

  • Cell phone and charging cord

  • GPS

  • Extra clothes

  • Flashlight or head lamp and extra batteries

  • Emergency food and water

  • Knife

  • Rope

  • Hand axe and/or backpacking saw

  • Windproof lighter and waterproof matches

  • Fire-starting materials (fatwood, paper, candle, cotton balls dabbed in Vaseline)

  • Spare spark plugs and transmission belt

For Snowmobiling In The Mountains

  • Wear an avalanche transceiver

  • Pack a shovel and probe

  • Take an avalanche safety class.

When Riding Atvs in Dunes and Deserts

  • Water

  • GPS

  • Cell phone

  • Whip mast and flag (check state regulations for details).

Step Outside's integrated map automatically pulls together all of the rider information near you. Just type in your town or zip code to search your area on the site. Start your search with the map accompanying this page to find local destinations where you can go to enjoy riding off-road with friends and family.

In the southern half of the country, many ATV trails are open year-round. You should dig a little deeper in states across the snow belt. In some states, most ATV trails close during winter months, but some trail systems are open throughout the winter.

In Minnesota, for example, 20 trail systems are open year-round, and some ATV clubs hold “polar bear” rides in January and February, attended by dozens of hearty riders who like to hit the trails no matter what the thermometer reads.

RiderPlanet USA

This website displays a state-by-state list of public and private destinations for riding ATVs and side-by-sides (SxSs), as well as dirt bikes and 4WD trucks.

Go to the website

  • Tap on the state you are interested in, and you’ll discover a long list of public trails, open riding areas, private ATV parks and motocross tracks.

  • Details for each include open/closed status, rules and regulations, trail miles, difficulty level, local services, directions, plus photos and videos submitted by riders.

Quick Tip: Carry the charging cord for your smartphone, and a 12v/USB adapter if needed, to charge your cell phone in your snowmobile or ATV.


American Sand Association

The desert Southwest comes alive with off-roaders during the winter months. For a list of major sand dune areas open to off-highway vehicles, rules and regulations, and how to ride safely in the shifting desert sands, check out the American Sand Association.

Photograph Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management lists popular dune-riding areas, how to ride safely on shifting sands and much more.

Ride Command

Created by Polaris Industries, Ride Command features a website and a free mobile app with maps showing designated, signed trails as well as open riding areas across North America.

  • Create an account and log in

  • Then click on “map,” and move the tab to the snowmobile or ATV icon.

  • Zoom into the area you are interested in.

  • You’ll see the legal routes and trails. The far-left column lists public and private riding opportunities in the area, with links to their websites for more information.

  • When out riding, open the app on a smartphone or tablet to see your GPS location on the trails, as well as local places for food, fuel and lodging. 

Photograph Courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service You can find popular snowmobile trails across the U.S. on a map provided by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Thu, 10 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0600
Winter Hiking—5 Time-Tested Tips For Staying Warm One of the best things about hiking is that it is an outdoor activity that you can do all year long. So why is that so many avid hikers hang up their boots with the arrival of winter each year and don’t return to the trail until spring? As it turns out, a winter hike can be just as rewarding and exhilarating as a trek through the woods at any time of the year. That is provided you’re prepared to deal with the elements and can embrace your sense of adventure.

If you’re tired of staying inside all winter long and are ready to embrace the cold on a winter hike, we have some handy, time-proven tips that can help you stay warm. Here’s what you need to know before you go.

One of the most important keys for staying warm while outside in the winter is dressing properly for the conditions. That means using a proper layering system to keep you comfortable and dry no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.

Start with a set of base layers next to your skin, add a down jacket for warmth and insulation, and cover it all up with a wind- and waterproof shell. Those layers can be added or removed as needed, allowing you to adapt as the weather—and your own level of comfort—change. If you get warm while climbing up a slope, shed the insulating layer to vent out excess heat. Reach the summit of your hike and find that it’s a bit windier? Add the jacket back into the mix and pull on your shell, too. This level of versatility will help keep you prepared for just about anything. 

A layering system is great for keeping your core warm, but those layers won’t do much for your head, hands, and feet. It is important to give your extremities the attention they need as well or you’ll find yourself extremely uncomfortable in the cold. That means gloves, hats, and boots paired with warm socks.

When it comes to picking a hat we’d recommend the Dome Perignon ($36) from Mountain Hardwear, as it was designed to keep your noggin warm in all kinds of extreme conditions. Add in a pair of North Face Apex gloves ($45) and Wigwam Merino Airlite socks ($14) and you’ll be well protected against the wind and cold. You’ll also need a good pair of winter hiking boots as well and its tough to beat the Lowa Renegade EVO Ice ($295) in that department. 

Quick Tip: No matter what season you’re hiking in, don’t forget to let someone know where you are going, who you are with, and when you expect to be back. If trouble should occur, at least they’ll have some idea of where to come looking for you.


Cold weather conditions will cause your body to burn more calories in an effort to stay warm, so it is important to keep yourself fueled up while out on the trail. Be sure to have a good meal before setting out on your hike and bring a few snacks along for the trip as well. Energy bars, trail mix, and cookies are relatively lightweight but are also packed with calories, which makes them excellent options for a quick snack while on the go.

Staying hydrated is another key to staying warm so be sure to drink plenty of water. The colder temperatures you’ll experience on a winter hike will trick you into thinking you’re not expelling as much moisture, but the fact is your body can dehydrate quickly without you even realizing it. Always bring water with you on your hike either in an insulated bottle or a hydration reservoir that is stored inside your pack to help prevent freezing.

Warm beverages, such as coffee or hot cocoa, are excellent options for winter hiking, too. 

One of the best ways to stay warm is to simply keep moving along the trail. Aerobic exercise will help the body to generate more heat, keeping you warm in the process. This will allow you to stay surprisingly comfortable on the trail, even when the mercury drops well below freezing.

If you do stop, be smart about when and where you choose to take a break. For example, pick a spot that is protected from the wind and blowing snow. Large rocks, a cliff face, or even a tree can make for a good windbreak, giving you a chance to escape the maelstrom of winter for a bit. Wherever you decide to seek shelter, though, be careful not to sit down directly on the cold snow. That can cause your clothing to get wet, which will ultimately prove detrimental to heat retention once you resume hiking again.

When you aren’t walking your body will naturally begin to cool down, so limit your pitstops to just a few minutes. The sooner you start hiking again, the sooner you’ll start to warm back up and feel more comfortable.

If anyone in your party begins to exhibit signs of hypothermia, take steps immediately to get their core temperature restored:

  • Get them to shelter out of the wind

  • Build a fire to warm them up

  • Get them out of wet clothing and into warm, dry coats

  • Place them in a sleeping bag with another person to transfer body heat

  • Wrap warm heating packs or hot water bottles in a t-shirt and apply to the back of their neck, head, chest and groin area

  • Have them sip warm, sweet liquids

  • Never give a hypothermia victim alcohol as it restricts blood vessels and will only make the situation worse

Quick Tip: When hiking in the winter it is always a good idea to stash an extra layer in your backpack just in case. If temperatures start to drop or you find yourself getting wet, having a warm and dry piece of clothing you can pull on could be a lifesaver.


Even on cold days the feeling of the sun on your skin is reassuring and provides a little extra warmth. Use that feeling to your advantage by hiking when the sun is up and keeping a close eye on the time to avoid getting caught out after dark. The temperature can drop quickly once the sun goes down and even though you may have dressed properly for your hike beforehand, you may find yourself getting cold very quickly.

During the winter, the days are shorter and it is easy to lose track of time, so be sure to return to the trailhead while there is still some sunlight left. This will not only help you navigate better but will eliminate the chances of getting caught out after dark.

Keep these handy tips in mind when planning your winter hikes. Chances are, you’ll stay a bit warmer on the trail and be much safer in the backcountry. You’ll probably end up enjoying the experience that much more as well. 

Winter can provide great hiking opportunities provided you’re properly dressed in layers that can be added or shed as you warm up on the trail. Thu, 10 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0600