Step Outside WELCOME TO STEP OUTSIDE! Find the best outdoor fun near you! en-us 30 Step Outside 144 144 Sat, 21 Jul 2018 04:21:08 -0500 4 Easy Ways To Enjoy Mountain Biking On Your Vacation If you’ve been on a vacation to an outdoor destination in the past few years, you’ve likely noticed a new phenomenon: cycle paths, single track mountain bike trails, rail trails and bike parks now dominate the outdoor adventure scene. What just a decade ago might have been considered a specialized, extreme sport is now accessible to everyone, from serious mountain bikers to families. Luckily for all of us, including a mountain bike outing during your vacation is easy, affordable, and satisfying for the enthusiast in all of us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Enjoy the trails while traveling!

Photograph Courtesy Matthew Inden_Miles The Bureau of Land Management offers great riding opportunities on the public lands they manage and it’s all free. Thu, 19 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Paddling With Your Kids—How To Get Started Whether you head out for a day across the bay or a jaunt into the wilds for a week-long adventure, paddling is one of the best outdoor activities you can do with your kids. Add water to your children’s upbringing and they’ll remember it when they’re well down the river of life on their own. But there are some basics to consider before getting your feet wet to ensure everybody has a great time and wants to go again. The following are a few pointers on everything from paddlecraft to proper safety.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph Courtesy of L.L. Bean Thu, 19 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Why You Need to Take Your Kids Paddling Today Note: The following was adapted from Outdoor Parents, Outdoor Kids, By Eugene Buchanan, which is available on the author’s website

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph By Eugene Buchanan In the end, paddling with your kids is all about making memories that can last a lifetime. Get started now. Thu, 19 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
6 Tips To Make Family Paddling More Fun Getting your kids into the paddle sports is all about keeping the fun quotient high and the hassle factor low. Our water sport expert shares his favorite tips for making family paddling adventures more enjoyable.

  1. Have a Destination: Make the outing as fun as possible. To help with this, don’t just head out for a paddle; make it a journey somewhere. Paddle to an island or a rope swing or a secret swimming spot or a lighthouse for lunch.
  2. Don’t Overdo It: Don’t try to climb Mt. Everest in one day. Shoot for maybe a three- to four-mile roundtrip journey your first time out.
  3. Be Mindful of Tides: Take tides, wind and, if applicable, river currents, into consideration so your kids don’t get burned out on the return leg of your outing.
  4. Keep Snacks and Drinks Handy: Kids get hungry, especially in the Great Outdoors. Keep plenty of high-energy snacks and electrolyte-replenishing drinks (and water) on board. Don’t be afraid to put down your paddle periodically to chow down.
  5. Attach a Cooler Bag: Depending on your craft, a small cooler bag, like Yeti’s Hopper, will keep drinks and lunch cold all day. Make sure it’s attached to the thwart or slipped inside a canoe or kayak hull, so it’s not lost if you capsize. Hint: Give your kids their own snack pouch that they can keep with them for easy access.
  6. Carry These Odds and Ends:The following “essentials” will help keep your kids occupied and having fun.
    • Binoculars for wildlife watching
    • Squirt guns for mid-paddle soaking sessions
    • Nets for identifying marine life.
    • Two-way radios are also a great idea if you have more than one boat. 
Photograph Courtesy of Maine Office of Tourism Thu, 19 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
Paddle Games—3 Fun Games To Play On The Water
  • “I Spy”: (“I spy something green, something wet, etc.”) – perhaps make a rule that it can only be something people see in the natural surroundings.
    • “Pattern-Not-Logic Puzzler”: One person starts by saying something like, “I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing a book but not a magazine, a tool but not a saw, the moon but not the stars…” Everyone then has to guess at the secret to “packing” by coming up with similar examples. “A knife but not a fork” is incorrect, but “a spoon but not a fork” is correct. (Hint: think double letters).
    • “Story Game”: One person thinks of a story while the others try to figure it out by asking yes or no questions. “Is it about a person?” “Yes.” “Is it about you?” “No.” “Is it something that happened today?” “Maybe.” The trick is that there is no story. When people ask the questions, if the last letter in the question is a consonant, the answer is yes, if it is a vowel, the answer is no, and if it ends in a “Y,” then the answer is maybe. The stories created are usually better than anything that anyone could possibly think up on their own.

    Photograph By Eugene Buchanan Thu, 19 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    How to Charge Your Gadgets While Camping and Hiking There once was a time when carrying electronic devices with us into the great outdoors was pretty much unthinkable. Fragile and expensive, such devices offered few benefits to campers and backpackers, especially those interested in going ultralight. But times have changed and now it is not uncommon to take a host of gadgets with us when hitting the trail or simply car camping for the weekend with the family. Everything from smartphones and tablets, to headlamps and GPS trackers are powered by rechargeable batteries these days and keeping them functioning can be a real challenge.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Photograph by Kraig Becker Keeping your electronic devices charged in the backcountry is easier than ever thanks to portable power banks like these. Thu, 19 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    How to Catch Really Big Fish With Kids When it comes to fishing with kids, conventional wisdom says to find a place where they can catch any fish with a high level of frequency and you’ll make a fisherman for life. That’s true. Fast-action is always a positive, but if that action means catching small panfish over and over with no variety, kids can lose interest.

    However, if that action includes taking a variety of fish with the possibility of maybe catching a whopper, then they will enjoy fishing all the more. Getting kids into bigger fish takes a little effort, however, as a recent outing with my girls taught me.

    Our choice was either to fish off of the dock or take my twin three-year olds into the boat with my wife and try to find a more interesting spot to fish. It would have been easier to stay on the dock, but I had a hunch we could find a place that would provide better action than the small panfish that congregate near shore. 

    Photograph by Tony J. Peterson
    Kids thrive when the fishing action is hot, especially if there is the chance to catch multiple species—and possibly—a big fish, like this northern pike.

    With the whole crew in the boat, we idled to a point of pencil reeds that mark the inside of an old river channel. A slight current moved through the reeds, and a nearby drop-off provided some depth. In addition to finding sunfish, I thought we might catch a few other species. We did.

    Not only did we find bluegills tucked into the pockets between the reeds, but we managed to catch perch, rock bass, crappies, small northern pike, and a bonus 21-inch walleye. Since that experience, I’ve looked at fishing with kids in a whole new way.

    The scenario above sounds simple enough, but it took some careful consideration. Here are three key factors to consider that will put your kids onto fish and maybe, onto a monster to boot.

    Simple is good when you’re fishing with kids, which is why I like to start kids out on bobbers and bait. (Kids love watching those bobbers twitch when fish come calling.)  Most often, parents will pick up a dozen nightcrawlers and call that good enough. The thing about that is, nightcrawlers are deadly on panfish and perch, but they’re not the best choice for other species. It’s a much better idea to pick up a variety of baits, so pick up some leeches or minnows as well. 

    Quick Tip: Keep a needle-nose pliers and a line-cutter handy at all times when fishing with kids, because you’ll eventually need them.


    Personally, I’ll take a scoop of fathead minnows over anything else. These minnows are large enough to take some abuse, but not so big that nearly any fish out there can eat them. And fish ranging from crappies to bass to walleyes and northern pike love minnows.

    With one setup using a nightcrawler and the other using a minnow, you’re now greatly increasing your chances of catching different kinds of fish. Leeches, which always fascinate kids, are another choice that will increase the odds of diversity.

    Change the depths at which you set the bait below the bobbers to find the sweet spot. Oftentimes with worms, the closer to the bottom you can get, the better. With minnows, having them suspended a foot or two off of the bottom might be a better bet.

    Naturally, it doesn’t matter how deep your bait is set if you’re not in a good spot, so you’ll have to figure out where to fish that might offer multi-species action. 

    To find a great fishing spot for kids, try locating waters that may not get as much attention as super popular lakes near you. Then look for areas on those lakes that offer as many options as possible. For example, picture a rocky shoreline that is dotted with a few lily pads. That might look good enough, but was does it offer the fish? Probably not much.

    Now, follow that shoreline for a while until you get to a point that juts out into the lake. There, you’ll see the same rocks and lily pads, but also a potential current break (if there is any current). The point also probably extends into deeper water, which is always good. This spot, while it might not look much different than the rest of the shoreline, is most likely, better.

    Perhaps you want to fish a shallow bay that is full of pencil reeds and lily pads. One section will undoubtedly look as good as the next, so where do you start? In such situations I like to see if there is a beaver dam or some other kind of wood structure in the water. That added bit of habitat can change a sunfish morning, into something that includes largemouth bass or maybe crappies just by fishing closer to one extra type of cover. 

    Quick Tip: Whether you’re fishing on shore or from a boat, have a landing net ready. Kids love netting fish, and it makes the process much easier.


    The added bonus to this type of fishing with kids is that it puts you in the spot to maybe catch something bigger, and believe me when I write this, kids want to catch something big. It doesn’t matter if it’s a smallmouth, a dogfish, a carp or whatever, the bigger the better.

    Getting familiar with a map of the area you’re going to fish before you head out can save you a lot of time. Mark a few places that offer any of the suggestions above and head there first.

    The right bait and a great spot will go a long way toward a memorable fishing trip, but you can hedge your bets even further by knowing in advance what times are best for fishing. I like to fish at sunrise and sunset, and while my little girls don’t like getting up at 5 AM to fish, when they do, they love it because they usually do pretty well. Get them out there in the morning or the evening when the temperatures are tolerable, and the fish will be biting. 

    If you’re fishing plenty of weeds and wood cover, plan a trip when it will be sunny to take advantage of the fish tucking themselves into the shade. If you’re fishing a rocky point or island, wait for an overcast day if you can. 

    Fishing with kids can, and should be, as simple as you can make it. But that doesn’t mean you should not plan to catch fish, especially multiple species of fish. It takes a little planning to do it right, but one good experience where fish of all varieties pull their bobbers below the surface will do wonders for keeping your kids’ attention and excitement levels up. And if they catch a big one, well, you can consider it a job-well-done. 

    Photograph by Tony J. Peterson Thu, 19 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    WATCH: Don't drink and wakeboard!


    This wakeboarder glided up next to his boat in style, managed to catch a beer, and then…you’ll just have to see what happens next.

    ]]> Tue, 17 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    Learn To Drive Your 4x4 Like A Pro Four-wheeling is a hands-on experience. You can gather a lot of driving tips from online stories, magazine articles and books, but to really get a sense of how your 4x4 works on the trail, nothing beats getting out there and doing it yourself.

    Yet heading to your local off-highway-vehicle area without any previous trail time is akin to jumping in the deep end of the pool without swimming lessons: You may survive, but it’s not the best or safest way to learn the technique.

    Fortunately there are a lot of options open to newbie off-roaders (and more experienced ’wheelers who want to sharpen their skills or tackle new terrain). Joining a club and throwing in with like-minded locals will introduce you to the four-wheeling opportunities in your area. Signing up for an organized trail ride, like one of the many Jeep Jamborees around the country, will likewise put you with a knowledgeable community willing to help you negotiate the trail.

    Even better, take a class from one of the many off-road driving schools located around the country. Here you’re not just tagging along hoping to learn driving tips. Instead, your off-roading experience is the focus, as instructors walk you through the basics of vehicle control and how to read terrain. Most of these classes include info on vehicle prep for the trail, what to bring (for you and the 4x4) and even how to get un-stuck when the inevitable happens. Class lengths range from an afternoon to multiple days.

    Once you have the basics down, many of these schools offer advanced training, on topics like winching, negotiating specific terrain types, and even skills like geo-caching.

    While some schools offer 4x4s for student use, many will teach you in your own vehicle, which we highly recommend. There’s no better way to learn the handling, throttle response and other particulars of your rig than with an experienced instructor spotting you or riding shotgun. And with many schools offering instruction on Forest Service lands and in other scenic off-roading areas, adding a day’s instruction onto a road-trip can be just the thing to build a vacation around.

    Here are some of the top schools around the country.

    Its Southern California base allows Badlands Off-Road Adventures to offer clinics year-round. Many of them are held in the Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles (an easy drive from LAX and other area airports), but classes are also held in the Anza-Borrego area between LA and San Diego and along California’s Central Coast. 

    The Getting Started clinics are aimed at first-time 4WD owners, while the Rocks and Sand clinics teach skills specific to those terrain types. Other specialized clinics cover winching, vehicle recovery and tire repair. Women-only clinics are available, too. The company also hosts multi-day trips to some of the Southwest’s bucket-list off-roading areas, including the Rubicon Trail, Moab and Death Valley. 

    Photograph Courtesy of Badlands Off-Road Adventures
    In addition to teaching four-wheeling basics, Badlands Off-Road Adventures offers specialized clinics on negotiating rocks and sand.

    Quick Tip: Every driving school we’ve attended, both on and off the pavement, preaches this fundamental tip: Look up. Don’t fixate on the rock ledge or muddy rut right in front of your 4x4. Instead, look ahead to plan for the next obstacle, keeping the one closest in your peripheral vision. That helps you set up the vehicle for the challenges to come, reducing your risk of getting stuck or banging sheet metal as you transition from one to the next.


    The Land Rover Driving Experience is not just for Land Rover owners, though they do get a discount on the programs. Four North American Experience Centers (Carmel, California; Asheville, North Carolina; Manchester Village, Vermont; and Montebello, Quebec, Canada) offer a range of “Driving Experiences” that put you in a Land Rover for anywhere from an hour to a full day or two.  

    Instructors teach “skills for every season” and expose drivers to a variety of terrain, from slick wet grass to mud and rocks. Those who already have off-roading skills can take full-day classes covering Advanced Off-Road Techniques and Winch & Recovery Techniques, or a two-day course with customized coaching. If you like your Rovers old-school, a Heritage program allows you to have these Experiences in a Defender 90, Discovery or Range Rover. 

    Photograph Courtesy of Land Rover
    A student in a Defender 90 learns the fine art of negotiating ruts at the Land Rover Driving Experience Center at the Equinox Resort in Vermont.

    New York’s Catskill Mountains are the home to Northeast Off-Road Adventures, with a training center in Ellenville that’s just 90 minutes from New York City. NORA classes include beginning and advanced driving skills, plus specialized training in the use of winches, Hi-Lift jacks and other recovery equipment, even emergency survival.

    Public classes can accommodate up to 15 vehicles (bring your own or rent one from NORA), semi-private classes are for two to four vehicles, and private lessons are available that are custom-tailored to the student’s needs.

    A second NORA location at the Hunter Mountain Ski Resort offers one- and two-day adventure tours, including special tours during peak fall foliage season. The Hunter Mountain tours are BYO4x4, and the vehicles need to be street legal, registered, insured, and fitted with frame-mounted recovery points front and rear.

    Photograph Courtesy of Northeast Off-Road Adventures
    Northeast Off-Road Adventures teaches off-roading skills on a private, 68-acre facility in Ellenville, New York.

    Off-Road Consulting promises “zero classroom time” during sessions at Pennsylvania’s Rausch Creek Off Road Park, Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area and Famous Reading Outdoors. Students start with the six-hour 101 Driving Experience, a family- and stock-vehicle-friendly course focused on four-wheeling basics.

    The next step is the six-hour 201 Driving Experience, which builds on those skills with advanced driving techniques and specialized instruction on spotting, vehicle recovery, and how to best use locking differentials.

    The 301 Driving Experience tailors the program to suit the individual student’s goals. There is a class specific to winching techniques, and one about the preparation and skills needed for overlanding.  

    Photograph by George Soto Jr., Courtesy Off-Road Consulting
    In addition to driving techniques, Off-Road Consulting covers vehicle prep for the trail, including how to air down tires to improve traction.

    Off-Roading vs. Overlanding

    Overlanding is growing in popularity here in the U.S., and with it comes some confusion as to how it differs from more traditional forms of off-roading. The main difference is intent and duration.

    Off-roading is short-term, with a goal of traversing a particular trail or conquering a specific obstacle. Overlanding is “a long-term, self-sufficient, vehicle-based expedition,” says Overland Experts, which teaches specific overlanding classes. “This is long-haul off-road driving, which requires the same driver skills and vehicle skills as any off-road driving, and more.”

    The “and more” includes logistical planning, vehicle prep for extended off-highway travel, field repair, communications, medical training, even people skills like cultural awareness, “so you don’t run into problems at a border crossing because you’re loud and obnoxious,” says OEX.


    The Off-Road Experience holds its day-long classes in the Fernley, Nevada, area near Reno. The Level 1 class teaches vehicle basics (approach/departure/breakover angles, ground clearance, axle articulation) and driving tips, while the Level 2 class ups the wheel time and the terrain difficulty. 

    At Level 3, students choose the ground they want to cover (literally) and get into map reading and GPS navigation. Navigation is among the specialized classes offered, as is winching and recovery, and rally driving. 

    Students can apply all of those skills during The Nevada Trophy, an annual challenge put on by The Off-Road Experience that combines off-road driving, geo-caching (finding waypoints in the desert using GPS), and tasks that include shooting, vehicle recovery and more. 

    Photograph Courtesy of The Off-Road Experience
    A flash flood provides an unexpected—but important—driving lesson during a class at The Off-Road Experience in the northern Nevada desert.

    The primary clients for Overland Experts are members of the military Special Forces, search-and-rescue teams, geological survey companies, even humanitarian aid agencies—people who drive off-road professionally. But OEX also offers recreational 4x4 training. 

    Its classes, on large tracts of private land in Connecticut, North Carolina and Virginia, fall into two categories: 4x4 and off-road driving, and overland training. Students may use their own vehicle, one of OEX’s 4x4s, or both. Most OEX sessions are done as private classes, with client groups setting up the dates, class size and location. (OEX trainers will travel and teach outside of their facilities.) Its North Carolina location also has regularly scheduled training modules, which consist of day-long classes that range from off-roading fundamentals to field repair. 

    Ford’s F-150 Raptor is the closest thing to a desert race truck you can buy off the showroom floor, and Ford has developed the Raptor Assault as a free-of-charge driver training program for owners of 2017 and 2018 Raptors. Classes are held at the Ford Performance Racing School in Utah’s Tooele Valley (about 25 miles from Salt Lake City), which offers rock, clay and sand to test the Raptor’s mettle. 

    Day-long instruction covers off-roading fundamentals with an eye to the Raptor’s unique features, including how to make the most of its six driving modes. Because the FPRS is a multi-use facility, Raptor Assault students have the option of adding a second day to drive a Mustang GT on the school’s racetrack. 

    Photograph by George Soto Jr., Courtesy Off-Road Consulting Tue, 10 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    How to Scout Deer the Easy Way The problem with scouting whitetails during mid-summer is that the woods are as uninviting as they’ll be all year. From hordes of mosquitoes to chest-high patches of stinging nettles, the places where whitetails call home aren’t conducive to human comfort. Factor in the inevitable heat, humidity and occasional flash thunderstorm, and it’s easy to stay home.

    The alternative is to do what most of us do these days, which is hang a few trail cameras and then head back to the air conditioning. Cameras are great, don’t get me wrong, but they won’t do all of the summer scouting work that needs to be done. 

    Photograph by Tony J. Peterson
    Long-range observation paired with some in-cover, boots-on-the-ground scouting is a great way to pin down buck movements.

    To really get a grasp on where your stands and blinds should go—and to get a first-hand look at the deer you’ll be likely to encounter from them—you need to get out into the woods and learn. Here’s how.

    Before trail cameras became the number-one scouting tool, summertime scouting meant loading up the spotting scope and binoculars and tucking into an agricultural field for an evening of observation. This type of scouting has become less popular in recent years, but it’s hard to understand why.

    After all, there is no better time to be able to observe mature bucks than right now. They’ll be sporting velvet racks, have plenty of company, and will navigate through the landscape with less caution than at any other time of the year. Simply watching a bachelor group for one evening can provide so many clues to mature buck movement, it’s invaluable.

    You might see just which trail they use to enter a food source or watch as they meander along a fence line to a tucked-away waterhole. You might lay eyes on the biggest buck of your life and suddenly realize that he lives in the very woods you’ll be hunting, or you just might watch as several bucks feed for an hour in one tiny corner of an alfalfa field—the very corner you’ve never hunted because it never seemed as good as other spots. 

    Quick Tip: When glassing bachelor groups, take note of the wind direction and how they enter the fields. The same wind condition during the hunting season might result in similar deer movement, allowing you to set up where they’ll be.


    Photograph by Tony J. Peterson
    Watching waterholes will reveal what deer are in the area and where you might want to set up a stand to intercept a buck on the way to water during those hot days in the early bow season.

    Summertime glassing is a must for serious whitetail hunters, and it goes best if you have a decent spotting scope (on a tripod), and some binoculars. Camo up, play the wind and watch the deer do their thing.

    You can’t glass every good deer spot. This is true of every property out there, but it’s a way of life on small properties—especially properties with no oversized food plots or agricultural fields. Sometimes you just have to wade into the thick stuff and take a look around.

    Doing this in the summer is most beneficial if you spent some time earlier in the year winter or spring scouting. The knowledge gleaned from those trips can be used with what you find out now to put together a concise plan on where stands and blinds should go. If you got distracted last winter and didn’t scout, don’t worry. You can make up for it now.

    Simply go into the places you’re curious about and take a hike. Cover as much ground as you can and take note of the pounded trails, or the abundance of deer tracks around a water source. 

    Quick Tip: If you’re going to hike into the deer cover on a scouting expedition, watch the weather and try to plan your trip during or immediately in front of a rain shower to erase your scent.


    Carry flagging tape and reflective tacks when engaging in boots-on-the-ground summer scouting. If you find a spot that will work for a stand, you want to be able to return and set up a stand where it needs to be. This means that everything has to be marked well. I’m so paranoid about this that I usually mark the exact location on my smartphone as well, so that I have a backup.

    While hiking through the timber, think of the deer season in its entirety and not just certain sections. We often go out looking for a place to set up on opening night, or a can’t-miss stand site or a rut funnel or pinch point to sit in early November, but there is a lot of season in-between those two times. There is also the late-season, which tends to be vastly different than any other hunting time.

    Look at the summer woods with an eye toward each month of the season, so that when you find an interesting spot you can plan to hunt it when it should be the most productive. This is easy enough with field edges and waterholes, but it changes when you’re tucked into the thick stuff where October bucks might stage, or an overgrown homestead that might serve as a late-season, December sanctuary.

    No matter what, mark your findings well and take notes so that when you return with stands in tow, you’ll be able to set up exactly where you want. That matters, a lot. 

    Hopefully, by now, you have a few cameras out and are ready to embark on the type of summer scouting that involves getting out there and spending some time in the woods. If you put together a glassing program with some deep-cover hikes, you should be able to identify some killer spots to hunt this season. 

    Photograph by Tony J. Peterson Tue, 03 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    WATCH: Hippo races after tour boat

    A group of people on the Pangolin Photo Safari on the Chobe River in Botswana were greeted by an unlikely guest while zipping across the water. A giant hippopotamus submerges itself beneath the water and resurfaces just a few feet away from the tour boat. A little too close for comfort.

    ]]> Mon, 02 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    How To Shoot Big Game Accurately at Long Range When it comes to long-range shooting at big game animals like deer and elk, the best advice is don’t do it. Do your hunting before you pull the trigger and get as close as you can before you take the shot. That will eliminate a lot of potential problems.

    That said, if you are going to try long-range big-game hunting, do it right. You owe that to the game you hunt and to the ethics of sport hunting we all support.

    One big, often ignored, factor in making long-range shots on big game is terminal ballistics. Far too many hunters pick a cartridge and bullet that are designed for long-range target shooting. The problem is that the goal in target shooting is simply to hit the target. When hunting, you must also be able to also dispatch the animal humanely. 

    Long-range target bullets are designed for accuracy and a high ballistic coefficient, which is a measure of atmospheric drag on the bullet in flight. They are not designed for predictable expansion on animals the size of deer and elk. For that, you need a hunting bullet and most hunting bullets will have a minimum impact velocity required to guarantee expansion. Usually it’s somewhere around 2,000 ft/s (feet per second), although that can vary from bullet to bullet.

    Some of my favorite bullet choices for long-range hunting include: The Barnes LRX, Nosler Accubond Long Range and the Hornady ELD-X. They are accurate, provide a high ballistic coefficient to retain energy and all will expand and penetrate at long range.

    The cartridge must also have sufficient power. The long-accepted rule for hunting cartridges is that the bullet should deliver a minimum of 1,000 foot-pounds of energy to the target for deer-size game.  There are a few exceptions to this rule, but none apply to long-range hunting.

    Many of the popular long-range target cartridges drop below both of these thresholds at far shorter distances than you might expect—often at 500 yards or less. The solution is to either pick a more powerful cartridge that can deliver a well-designed bullet with sufficient energy to the target or limit the distance of your shots.

    The cartridge you pick depends a lot on how far you will shoot. If the cartridge can deliver a hunting weight bullet of at least 100 grains to the target with 1,000 foot-pounds of energy, then it’s a fine cartridge for the job. Anything from the .25-06 Remington through the various .300 magnums will work for long-range deer hunting.

    My all-time long-range hunting cartridge is the .300 Winchester Magnum because it provides a lot of options. It’s very accurate, shoots flat and hits hard at long range. With a 200-yard zero it impacts 6.5 inches low at 300 yards. It carries 1,000 foot-pounds of energy out to 925 yards, farther than I will ever shoot at an unwounded big-game animal.

    If it matters, the longest shot I have ever made on a deer was with a .300 Remington Ultra Mag. It’s also the cartridge I used for my longest shot on elk and my longest shot on red stag.

    My current favorite is the .280 Ackley Improved. This former wildcat is now mainstream with ammo from Hornady and Nosler easily available. My custom rifle pushes a Barnes 139-grain LRX at 3,150 ft/s with moderate recoil. With a 200-yard zero it’s only 5.78 inches low at 300 yards. It carries 1,000 foot-pounds of energy out to 800 yards. 

    Another huge factor is the hunter’s ability to hit the animal’s kill zone every single time. The dirty little secret that many who are promoting long-range hunting keep hidden is how difficult that can be under hunting conditions.

    Rifles, optics and ammo have improved vastly over the years and that has extended the ethical distance for shooting at game. What has not changed, however, is the cold, hard truth that you can’t buy skill; you must earn it. Before considering long-range hunting you should burn a lot of powder to build the skills needed and to determine your MED (maximum ethical distance) to attempt a shot.

    My method is biased to the animal being hunted and sets a tough standard for the shooter. The first step is to determine the distance at which you can hit an eight-inch target every single time you pull the trigger. That means under any weather conditions and from any field position. Not just on a good day, or most of the time, but every time. It also means that you can do it when you are cold, wet, miserable, tired, out of breath and stressed.

    You find your MED number by shooting a lot and by pushing yourself. Go to the shooting range on those nasty days when you would rather stay home. Shoot from the positions you don’t like rather than just practicing what you do well.

    Try running 50 yards to your rifle, then make the shot when you are breathing hard. It takes a lot of shooting to develop the required skills. The upside is that long-range shooting is a lot of fun. 

    Photograph Courtesy Howard Communications, Inc.
    Practice at the range until you find the distance at which you can put all of your shots into an 8-inch group, then subtract 20% of that distance to allow for factors that can affect your shot in the field such as adrenalin or being out of breath.

    There is a huge difference between a shooter’s ability to hit a target at the range and their ability to humanely dispatch a big-game animal at long range. Most experienced hunters have learned to control their emotions enough to make the shot, but it’s never 100%. Nobody is that stone cold. Once you find the distance you can make the shot every single time, subtract 20% to allow for the adrenalin and other stress factors when hunting.

    It’s important that you be honest with yourself in the evaluation. Your MED will likely be much shorter than you probably expected and no doubt closer than the shots you see other hunters bragging about on the web and TV.

    Remember, your obligation is to be ethical with the game you are hunting. You are taking a life and that means something. At least do it right. If you want to test your skill at longer ranges, do it on targets. There is far less heartbreak with a miss on a steel target than if you wound an animal. Besides, the extra practice might allow you to extend your MED as well.

    Long-range shooting is both a physical and a mental game and requires a mastery of rifle shooting skills. Every error you make will be magnified as the distance increases. A wobble of one inch at 100 yards becomes 10 inches at 1,000 yards. 

    The equipment you choose is important as well. Your rifle must be accurate. The rule of thumb is that a hunting rifle is considered to be very accurate if it can put all the bullets fired into one minute of angle (MOA) which, for practical purposes, equals one inch at 100 yards.

    For the record, I have tested a lot of factory rifles over 35 years as a professional gun writer. Few can achieve this accuracy mark. For serious long-range hunting, you most likely will need to hire a gunsmith to tune your rifle for accuracy.

    MOA expands its width with distance. It roughly corresponds to adding an inch for each 100 yards of additional distance. So, at 1,000 yards, one MOA equals 10 inches. That means if your rifle is well tuned and you break the shot with perfect precision, you are only guaranteed to hit a five-inch target at 500 yards. That does not yet include any of the multitude of variables, which can open the group up even more when shooting in hunting conditions.

    For example, if you factor in that one-inch wobble we mentioned, you are now only going to hit a 10-inch target at 500 yards. That’s larger than our eight-inch, deer-size, kill-zone standard and we have not yet talked about wind or other environmental factors that can affect the shot.

    In this circumstance, with a one-MOA rifle and allowing for one inch of shooter error, the distance to keep all the shots on an eight-inch target is 400 yards. Already much closer than you expected, right?

    Better skills and a more accurate rifle can extend that. But, it’s not easy. The alternative is to try the following.

    If you shoot a rifle with a modern, high-velocity cartridge and pointed hunting bullets, set your zero for 200 yards and don’t worry about the math.

    Depending on the cartridge, the bullet will impact one to two inches high at 100 yards and five to eight inches low at 300 yards.

    For any shot from 100 to 300 yards, simply hold on the critter, perhaps a bit higher for the longer distance, but always on hair (not air), and you will hit the deer.

    Past 300 yards, it becomes necessary to either hold over or dial up the elevation on your scope. Better yet, simply limit your shots at big game to 300 yards and you’ll be doing the right thing.

    Photograph Courtesy Howard Communications, Inc. To ethically take shots on big game at long range, you must determine the distance at which you can hit an eight-inch target every time you pull the trigger. Mon, 02 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    Why You Need To Be Hunting Squirrels Right Now What if I told you about a hunting opportunity that’s happening right now, which offers abundant access to productive land, requires a minimum of technical gear, and provides the chance to bring home tasty meat that is routinely overlooked for its palatability?

    You’d probably think I was blowing smoke, but I’m talking about one of the most neglected and productive hunts in the U.S.—for common tree squirrels.

    Squirrel seasons start now, in the lazy days of late summer, giving you time (and an excuse) to get out in the woods to scout for deer while also ground-truthing the gear that you’ll rely on all autumn.

    But you don’t need an excuse to go squirrel hunting. The first argument in its favor is that squirrels live almost everywhere, from the leafy hardwoods of the East to the piney woods of the South to the mountains of the West. Squirrel hunting is also a great way to introduce new shooters to small-game hunting

    The two squirrel species most often pursued by hunters are the largest and most widely distributed: the fox (or red) squirrel, and the gray squirrel.

    While peripheral habitats can hold squirrels, you’ll have the best luck finding summertime squirrels in their core habitats of nut-producing hardwoods, especially oak and hickory stands. But here’s the other appeal: hardwoods define a lot of public land east of the Mississippi, from small tracts of county land to larger state game lands and wildlife management areas, to big U.S. Forest Service tracts.

    Find hardwoods, and you’ll almost certainly find squirrels. But don’t neglect private land, either. Your chances of getting permission to hunt a patch of farm-country hardwoods for squirrels is orders of magnitude better than getting on that same land for deer.

    Now that you know where to find them, how do you hunt squirrels? You’ll change tactics once the leaves drop, but for summertime squirrels, when the critters can be hidden in the dense green foliage, the best approach is to first walk and then sit and listen for rustling high in the branches.

    Patience is a virtue with this style of hunting, because not only must you positively identify that the movement is being made by a squirrel, but you must wait for a clean shot.

    Try sitting near the top of a steep hillside that drops into a ravine or creek drainage. Your elevation will provide you with a better view of the upper limbs of trees that hold squirrels, and you can look over several acres of trees on the slopes below you.

    Another benefit to hilltop stands, especially for rifle hunters, is that your shots will be traveling safely downward, often with a tree trunk or limb behind the squirrel to stop your bullet.

    A small binocular—either an 8x24 or 8x32—is useful for this sort of surveillance. Scan areas where you hear or see leaves moving, then be ready to follow up positive identification with a rifle shot. 

    Quick tip: If a squirrel keeps running around to the opposite side of a tree trunk, and won’t give you a clean shot, try placing your jacket on the ground, then walk to the other side of the tree. Squirrels often can’t decide which side of the tree is safe, and their indecision will give you an open shot.


    The perfect set-up for this type of hunting is a .22 rimfire topped with a 4-power scope. Your shots won’t be much over 50 yards, but the scope enables you pinpoint aim, an important advantage when you often see only pieces and parts of leaf-hidden squirrels. Your goal should be head shots.

    If you’re a morning hunter, get in the woods early and sit against the base of a large tree with a wide vantage of the woods around you. Squirrels are often active on the forest floor in the mornings, and you can have good shooting as long as you can move quietly from place to place. Once you’ve shot a couple times, squirrels will get nervous and remain in the sanctuary of the treetops.

    This is also a good time to try calling. If you know squirrels are hanging out of sight in the treetops, blow or push a chatter call. You’ll need to experiment with the rhythm and volume (as well as various brands), but the idea is to mimic the sound of an agitated squirrel, causing the real chatterboxes to show themselves, often with their tails puffed out, standing on an exposed limb.

    A call is a great device to use with a buddy. Your friend calls, you get ready to shoot. After you’ve bagged a tree rat, switch jobs and call another one.


    Photograph by Andrew McKean
    Use a knife with a stout blade but sharp drop point for squirrel-skinning chores.

    Especially if you’re hunting in the heat of summer, you’re going to want to field dress and cool squirrels pretty quickly after you add them to your game bag. Here’s a quick way to get rid of heat-trapping hide and cool down the thighs and shoulders of a red or gray squirrel.

    The bonus: you don’t have to field dress, or remove the guts, from inside the squirrel, so this is a relatively bloodless and clean way to produce pieces of meat that, after they’re washed, are ready for the frying pan or stew pot.

    1. Make incisions around both hind legs, then slit up the inside of each leg to the anus, there your slits should join.
    2. Stand on the squirrel’s tail and pull the skin upward from the leg incisions. If the squirrel is still cool, the skin should come off fairly easily; if it’s cold, you may have to encourage the skin by making short cuts as you pull.
    3. The skin should come off as an inverted tube. Keep pulling until the shoulders and upper legs are skinless.
    4. Then cut the shoulder bones at the first joint and the neck just below the head. You’ll now have a skinless carcass with the tail attached.
    5. Remove the tail by cutting it at the first joint behind the rump.
    6. Spread the thighs until the hip bones pop out of their joints. Then cut behind each thigh, detaching the hip ball from the socket, and cut through to remove both thighs.
    7. Cut from the neck back along each side of the backbone, and then down and around each shoulder to remove each front quarter.
    8. Put each skinless quarter inside a breathable bag (don’t use plastic, because it will trap bacteria-causing heat), and keep hunting, knowing that you’re gaining tasty, healthy meat with each “chicken-of-the-tree” you add to your bag.

    Visibility in hardwoods improves greatly once fall arrives and trees drop their leaves. Squirrel hunting can be red-hot for the first few weeks of the bare-branch season.

    This is the nut-gathering season for squirrels, and they’re working overtime to store acorns, hickory nuts, and chestnuts for winter consumption, so they’re often visible and vulnerable.

    If summer was .22 season, the fall is a better time for a shotgun. Walk the woods and look for snap shots on the forest floor as squirrels run from tree to tree and scamper up trunks. But if you prefer a rifle, then sit on a hillside, wait for the forest to settle down from your intrusion, and then take longer shots at squirrels pausing from their nut-gathering mission.

    This can also be a wait-and-listen game, only at this time of year, you’re listening for the loud rustle of squirrels moving through dried leaves. You’d be amazed how often a 2-pound squirrel can sound like a 200-pound whitetail buck moving through the woods.

    The most effective all-around squirrel gun is a scoped .22. You want a rifle that can repeatedly stack shots inside a 2-inch bullseye at 50 yards. Good options include the durable Ruger 10/22, Browning’s T-Bolt, or Marlin’s Model 60 or 795

    An accurate .22 pistol, such as Browning’s Buck Mark, topped with a red-dot sight is another great squirrel rig. If you want to opt for a little more range, consider a .17 rimfire; the light, fast Savage A17 in .17 HMR is a good choice. 

    A suppressor is a smart addition, because its blast-taming muzzle keeps you from announcing yourself to squirrels with every shot you take.

    For shotguns, there’s no need to go heavier than a 20 gauge, and a 28 gauge or even .410 is a better choice. In fact, the introduction earlier this year of Federal’s Heavyweight TSS (Tungsten Super Shot) is a wonderful squirrel load. Designed for turkeys, the size 9 shot delivers great penetration and range and is a good choice for a walk-about squirrel hunter who doesn’t want to lug around a heavy shotgun.

    A vest with a bloodproof game bag, a good knife, some snacks, water and a binocular round out your gear needs.

    Here’s one more: a good shooting stick to settle your gun for longer shots. Look for a telescoping monopod or tripod with a head that fits the forend of your rifle, and then use it on different pitches of slope or any time you can’t find a tree trunk or other support to stabilize your gun.

    ]]> Mon, 02 Jul 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    Pick A Perfect Puppy—5 Things to Look For People have a lot of methods for picking a puppy, but most of them involve trying to evaluate a litter of six-week olds to find the right temperament. This, essentially, is impossible. You can’t look at the behavior of a newborn puppy and accurately predict how it will be as an adult any more than you can with a newborn baby.

    No matter how timid a puppy seems, or how overtly aggressive a puppy is when compared to its littermates, you won’t be able to make a great call one way or another. By that point in the process, the only decision you’ll really be making is on looks.

    The true method for picking a perfect puppy is to start long before it’s born by studying its pedigree.

    Photography by Tony J. Peterson

    One of the most common bird dog legends involves the shelter dog, or the accidental farmhouse Lab, that grew into a bird-hunting machine. We love those stories because they give us hope that any old dog can be amazing in the field. The truth is, those dogs are outliers and their field prowess likely benefits from a bit of storytelling license.

    To get an amazing hunting dog, or at least hedge your bets, you need to dig into bloodlines. Whether you’re looking for an English setter to hunt quail with, or maybe a golden retriever with a nose for roosters, you need to research not only the parents, but the grandparents of the litter. This serves a couple of purposes, the first being health.

    Dog breeding in America is an unchecked, unregulated business. That’s why so many breeds have reputations for coming down with cancer or developing debilitating joint issues. A well-bred dog will have all of its health checks in place, and that is a major reason for going this route.

    The same kind of dog, with pure lines and, hopefully, a history of hunt tests, will not only be healthy but will also be smarter than average. Any dog that comes from generations of hunt-test or field-trial winners has problem-solving skills built in, mostly because dimwits don’t excel at tests. This is a great way to hedge your bets with an easy-to-train dog whether you’ll ever run a field trial yourself or not.

    And any dog that sports a solid pedigree will likely possess plenty of drive and athleticism. These two assets are extremely important to hunting ability. If you want a dog that can hunt the big woods of northern Wisconsin for ruffed grouse all day, you want a dog that has some athleticism in his background. 

    Quick tip: Unlike Europe, we really don't have any breed standards in the United States. This means there isn't any governing organization that polices breeds and ensures quality. The American Kennel Club is the closest organization we have.


    This is the tricky part. The main focus of reading a pedigree will be to look at the parents and the grandparents of any prospective litter. Any generations beyond that are a bonus, but the biggest genetic contributors tend to be the latest two generations. Every reputable breeder will have a website, as well as the pedigrees of all sires and dams, so finding the base information should be easy.

    When reading it, look for designations like MH (Master Hunter) or FC (Field Champion) after a dog’s name. Both are good.

    You may also see NFC (National Field Champion, AFC (Amateur Field Champion) or SH (Senior Hunter), which are all indicative of dogs that have titled and are likely to be passing on the right genes.

    If you see CH anywhere, pass. That is a show dog designation, and not what you’re looking for in a hunting dog. Show breeding is all about looks and has been disastrous to many of our once-popular sporting breeds.

    Keep in mind that it will be easier to find a good pedigree in a popular breed than it will be for a more obscure breed. The same goes for color. A lot of people want a chocolate, a red, or a silver Lab these days. The problem with many of these dogs is that they have been bred for color and nothing else, which is very similar to show breeding.

    Dig into the pedigree and look for the right field trial or hunt test designations before worrying about color—you won’t regret it.

    Don’t be afraid to ask any prospective breeder about:

    • Health guarantees.
    • What the parents or grandparents were used for if it’s not clear from the pedigree.
    • How many litters did the parents produce a year?

    The best dogs often come from small operations that are meticulous about their breeding, which means they might only produce a couple of litters per year. If there is a waiting list and an interview before you can put down a deposit, this usually means there has been some investment into the lineage. That matters.

    Well-bred dogs are worth a lot but convincing the average sporting-dog owner of that is not so easy. This is because they are usually more difficult to find than any run-of-the-mill dog, and they are more expensive.

    These days, if you want a golden retriever that is field-bred (no show breeding) and boasts a pure pedigree and all of the health checks, you’ll spend at least $1000 and most likely, quite a bit more. You can find goldens all day long for half that price, but they’ll be a total gamble. 

    Quick tip: If you’re unsure how to research quality bloodlines for your next bird dog, enlist the help of a professional trainer.


    Well-bred dogs are more expensive, and they are harder to find. However, look at it this way: you’re making a commitment that should hopefully last about a dozen years. Spending twice what you would for a questionable dog amortized over the lifespan of a dog you’re going to be very happy with is not much more of an additional investment. Factor in the likelihood that you’ll have a much better hunting dog and the idea of “buying up” is even easier to accept.

    A lot of people will still scoff at paying that much, and the typical justification is that they only hunt a couple of times each year, so who really needs an in-field rock star? The answer is, they do. And you do, too, probably; even if your days in the field are very limited. 

    The thing about bird dogs these days is that even when a diehard upland hunter or waterfowler owns them, they only spend a small amount of time actually hunting. Most of their lives consist of being house pets. This means that while hunting skills, instinct and drive are all important, overall trainability and temperament are even more critical.

    A well-bred dog that comes from a line of thinkers will be much easier to train.

    My current Lab, Luna, comes from a solid pedigree. She’s a machine in the field, but at home she is incredible as well. It took me two days to house train her, which was a relief because I’ve never had a dog take to that task so quickly. I also had her sitting the first day we got her as a puppy, which I wouldn’t have believed possible until I experienced it myself.

    None of this came from exceptional training ability on my part, but instead was the result of paying up for a dog that carried the right stuff in her genes.

    Well-bred puppies are expensive, but they’re worth it. If you’re paying for genetic potential you’re hedging your bets against a litany of issues that might crop up, not the least of which is health and overall abilities in the field and at home.

    Forget what you think you know about picking a puppy and start researching litters. If that task is too much, enlist the help of a professional trainer. If you do, you’ll most likely end up with a dog that exceeds your expectations at home, and in the field.

    And who can put a price on that? 

    Photography by Tony J. Peterson Tue, 12 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0500
    WATCH: Mountain biker plummets 30 feet in epic crash

    While competing in the Red Bull Rampage, a freeride mountain bike competition held in Utah, rider Nicholi Rogatkin withstood one of the most frightening crashes in the history of the event. After falling over 30 feet down the side of a cliff, and briefly receiving medical attention, the bold biker dusted himself off and finished his run. Incredible. 

    ]]> Fri, 08 Jun 2018 00:00:00 -0500