Hunting and Fishing News & Blog Articles

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The Downfall of the California Bear Hunting Ban Proves That Hunters Can Make a Difference When We Stick Together

An attempt to ban bear hunting in California was quickly struck down thanks to push back from dedicated hunters. (John Hafner/)

Hunters recently scored a big win in California when legislation that would ban all bear hunting in the state was withdrawn before it even had a chance to gain momentum. It’s a victory that overcame what many hunters felt was a hopeless situation, in a state where so many battles have already been lost. The situation demonstrated the power that we can bring to the table as hunters when we stand up together.

The bill was withdrawn thanks to an overwhelming amount of feedback from both individuals and organizations such as Sportsmen’s Alliance and the California chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Even the national BHA chapter—which seemingly avoids taking a stance on predators or species-specific issues— voiced opposition to this bill. The effort was almost instantaneous, and unified across a wide spectrum of hunters, many of whom weren’t from California. That was something those pushing this anti-hunting agenda likely weren’t expecting. It demonstrated that even when the odds are against us, we can still make a difference in the preservation of our hunting rights and heritage. But, it takes all of us.

Defeating this bill in such a quick manner was a big victory, but bills and proposals such as this are sure to crop up again. We need to remember that standing up for the rights and interests of other hunters, trappers, and outdoorsmen is critical if we wish to maintain our own. Make no mistake, those who want to stop you from hunting know that their best bet is to divide the hunting community. They will manipulate the public and their perception of hunters, as well as the hunting community itself.

In early 2021, Hakai Magazine published a story, Trophy Hunters Could Threaten the Social Acceptability of Hunting. It set the table to pit those who hunt for meat against “trophy” hunters. Even within the hunting community, terms like “trophy hunter” and “meat hunter” are thrown around carelessly, and hunters are often defined by these terms in a narrative perpetuated by those who have no vested interest in the future of hunting. This is often done without any consideration for context or room for individual circumstance. The article itself does not carry the weight of legislation. But it cues us in to what I believe is one of many strategies to slowly eliminate hunting altogether. It shared much of the reasoning behind the California ban, as well as the successful grizzly hunting ban in British Columbia years ago.

This strategy is to embolden an exceptionalism-type mentality of a “food hunter,” who hunts for meat and no other reason. In addition to falsely reducing the hunting experience to a single motivation—food—this sets the “food hunter” up as morally superior to the “trophy hunter,” who only hunts for ego and bragging rights (also false). Because much of the general public finds it acceptable to hunt for food, it’s suggested that “food hunters” should distance themselves from “trophy hunters,” which is very quickly interpreted to include those who hunt predators, like bears and mountain lions (even though we’re usually eating those critters). In fact, it’s suggested that meat salvage requirements for some predators is only an indication that people are hunting them for the thrill and nothing more. This misguided logic could lead to getting rid of all predator hunting. In this mode of thinking, science and population management don’t matter, only good PR.

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A Professional Coyote Hunter’s 7 Best Tips and Tactics

The author doubled up on this evening set. (Abner Druckenmiller/)

Coyotes, foxes, and bobcats are all cautious critters, and that caution only increases when they are hunted hard (if you have ever pursued any of these predators when they have been pressured, you know how difficult it can be). But predators have this stigma for being ultra-tough to kill, and that’s often not the case...if you understand how to hunt them. It’s critical you know the right places to hunt, how to approach a stand, what time of day to hunt them, calling strategies, and how to setup the e-caller so you can take an optimal shot. Put all these elements together and you’re bound to pile more pelts on the sled. You just have to remember to stick to a few simple tactics, and avoid costly mistakes. Employ these strategies, and your success rate will skyrocket.

1. Scouting For Stands

Cattle pastures are an ideal to place to ambush coyotes out West. (Abner Druckenmiller/)

Having multiple places to call predators is the main ingredient for better hunting, so you have to scout and secure places to make more stands. I’ll hunt public land but like to focus on private tracts, if possible, because the pressure on coyotes is usually lower there. OnX Maps is a great tool for e-scouting. Look for timber-lined areas around agriculture fields, chicken and turkey farms, or if you are out West, focus on large parcels of land that may have cattle feed yards and/or pastures. These are all places where I’ve killed a lot of coyotes. Also, gather as much intel from landowners as you can. Ask them where they have seen coyotes. It will give you the best chance to call in a predator.

2. Where You Sit Matters

Before you go bombing into one of these locations, pay attention to wind direction and try to sit some place with a good vantage point where the wind is blowing in your face. A small rise in the landscape that gets you elevated to better see coyotes coming in will do nicely. If you’re sitting in a low spot, it’s less likely you will see the coyote before he sees you. Also, find cover as well, or a backdrop that will breakup your outline.

Cattle pastures are an ideal to place to ambush coyotes out West.
Placing the e-caller in an open area where a predator can find it will make your shot easier.
Typically the darker it is the better your chances are of taking a coyote.

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Best Mosquito Repellent Bracelet: Slip-On Bug Control

Keep the little bloodsuckers off of you with a quality mosquito repellent bracelet. (Anuj / Pexels/)

It’s the most dangerous animal on earth. It’s less than a quarter inch in size, buzzes around your backyard or campsite, and drinks your blood. And is there anyone on earth who has never gotten attacked by a mosquito?

Only female mosquitoes drink blood. Males enjoy an all-nectar diet. When it’s time to lay eggs, females tank up on blood to develop their brood. That mosquito knows you’re there way before you know she is, thanks to a suite of receptors on her antennas and mouthparts that sense things like the heat and chemicals your body gives off, and the carbon dioxide you breathe out. She lightly lands on you, searching for a blood vessel close to the surface of your skin. When she finds it, she pierces your skin and then uses mouthparts like drill bits to saw through your flesh, while another portion of her mouth acts like a surgeon’s retractor to hold the wound open. Then the mosquito drools specialized saliva into the wound to keep your blood from clotting, and begins to suck. As she takes that blood meal, she concentrates it inside her body, separating the water from the blood cells and dribbling that water out of her rear end.

The site then becomes inflamed, and it itches. It’s a most common annoyance in summer for just about anyone who’s outside, but can be more than that. Viruses can hitch a ride with mosquitoes and enter your bloodstream through the mosquito’s saliva. Some of those viruses cause deadly diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and various types of encephalitis. Mosquitoes are so deadly they kill hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every single year. Wolves and sharks each kill about 10.

The Centers for Disease Control recommend using a mosquito repellent registered by the Environmental Protection Agency, since these are tested and proven effective against mosquitoes. These repellents include DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), and 2-undecanone.


This adjustable band uses a citronella blend tested by an entomologist.
This reusable band uses pellets that last for 15 days.
This DEET-free bracelet relies on citronella and geraniol oils for waterproof mosquito control.
This ultrasonic bracelet is USB-charged and has three modes for tailoring the signal to your environment.
These small coiling bands use citronella, geraniol, and lemongrass to keep mosquitoes away.
This budget band promises 350 hours of mosquito control for 48 cents a pop.

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Best Snow Pants for Winter Sports and Activities

A good pair of snow pants are essential for any activity that puts you into contact with the white stuff. (Unsplash/)

Puffers and parkas may get the lion’s share of winter gear attention, but snow pants are an essential item for keeping comfortable in cold weather—particularly when any form of precipitation is present. But pants can look like...pants, and at a glance it’s harder to intuit which pair may be your best choice. For instance, what’s the difference between snow pants and ski pants? Snowboard pants? Insulated pants? Are all snow pants waterproof, and does it matter?

We did the research to make your purchase choice easy. Here’s what you need to know to find the best snow pants for you.

Best Waterproof Snow Pants: Flylow Foxy Bibs Ski and Snowboard Pants

Best Insulated Snow Pants: The North Face Freedom Insulated Snow Pants

Best Ski Pants: Flylow Cage Ski and Snowboard Pants

Attention to detail makes these snow bibs standouts.
Neither baggy or tight, with built-in venting and quality waterproofing, these insulated snow pants will keep you warm in extreme cold.
High-quality fabrics, put together smartly, make these Flylow snow pants a standout.
Everything you need in snowboard pants, without bulk.
These Carhartts have a tough Cordura nylon exterior, double knees, and hip-high leg zippers.
These Burton snow pants are warm, waterproof, and durable—perfect for everyday wear.
These snow pants hit the mark on durability, protection from the elements, cut, and style.
This bunting suit is easy to put on, and will keep your young one warm and comfortable.
They’ll keep the elements at bay without a large investment.

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How to Spear the Biggest Pike of your Life

This pike was lured to the spear with a brightly-colored perch decoy. (Richard P. Smith/)

I first attempted to spear northern pike through the ice with a buddy of mine who had a touch more familiarity with the winter sport than I did. He had been out once or twice in a shack with a spear, both of which were borrowed from a friend. It was neat having a fish-tank-like window into what was happening underwater by way of the large hole we laboriously chopped through the ice, and it was exciting when a large pike swam into that hole.

Truth be known, my buddy missed the pike; not once, but three times. Whenever he worked the decoy after retrieving the trident, the pike came back. Talk about thrilling action. That experience whet my appetite for more. Since then, I’ve learned that some of the largest pike ever taken in Michigan were speared from the Great Lakes waters of the Wolverine State.

A near-surface pike fell for the flash of this decoy’s fins. (Richard P. Smith/)

Michigan’s Giants

The official state record northern pike for Michigan is a huge fish that was 51.5 inches in length and weighed 39 pounds. It was speared through the ice on Dodge Lake in the Upper Peninsula’s Schoolcraft County during the winter of 1961. The unofficial state record is a monster 49-pounder of unknown length that was skewered on Lake Superior’s Huron Bay during the winter of 1955 by father and son Ben and Don Pickard from L’anse. The Pickards speared two more enormous pike from Huron Bay that same year, one of which equaled the weight of the current state record. The other was a pound lighter.

Huron Bay and other protected waters of the Great Lakes are still home to eye-popping pike. Most, if not all, bays, harbors, and marinas of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie harbor northerns, some of which would rank as the biggest ever for many spearers.

A near-surface pike fell for the flash of this decoy’s fins.
Ben (left) and Don Pickard from L’anse with a trio of monster pike they speared from Lake Superior’s Huron Bay in 1955. The biggest was 49 pounds and the other two weighed 39 and 38 pounds.
Mike Holmes looking for northern pike in the clear waters of Lake Michigan, with his spear ready for action. He spends many hours like that every winter.
Mike Holmes holds up pike he speared from Lake Michigan waters.
Mike Holmes drags a sled with a speared pike from his spearing shack, with spear in hand.
Mike Holmes proudly displays his favorite pike spear.
Smelt decoy with eye on the side to produce erratic action. The eyes on most decoys are on the top of the back.
The 46-inch, 21.6-pound northern pike Mike Holmes speared on Lake Michigan in 2019. It’s his biggest pike ever.

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5 Pump Shotguns That Could Replace the Remington 870

The first Remington 870s rolled off the production line in 1950. (Mathew Every/)

In 1950 Remington debuted what would become the most popular pump shotgun ever made (11 million 870s have been produced in the last 70 years). You can find them in the mud rooms of duck clubs, on the trap field, in the turkey woods, and they even serve as capable home-defense shotguns (many police forces still utilize them as well). In short, the 870 is one of the most versatile guns a sportsman can own.

Remington has endured some long-standing financial troubles. The more than 200-year-old company entered bankruptcy and was sold off in blocks in 2020. Ruger now owns Marlin, Vista Outdoor has the ammunition, and a little-known entity, the Roundhill Group, bought two factories in New York and Tennessee. It’s rumored Roundhill will start production on 870s again as early as the spring of 2021. Time will only tell if the company is capable of bringing the vaunted pump gun back.

Meantime, the iconic 870 is ripe to be replaced by a modern pump shotgun. The 870 Wingmaster and Express are both still fine pumps, but with Remington in limbo, there’s an opening for another manufacturer to dominate the pump gun market. Here are some of the best pumps that could take the crown from the 870.

1. Mossberg 500

The design for the Mossberg 500 was based off the Remington Model 31. (Mossberg/)

The 500 has the best chance to eclipse the 870. It’s been around for a half-century and more than 10 million have been sold. There are multiple configurations of this pump gun that include turkey, waterfowl, upland, deer, and home defense in 20- and 12-gauge, plus .410. Mossberg also smartly designed the 500 Flex series, which allows shooters to switch out recoil pads, stocks, fore-ends, and barrels without any tools. It’s a fabulous system to start a young shooter on because the gun can grow right along with your boy or girl (and the gun’s typically cost under $500). But even if the 500 supplants the 870, Remington will still be king in a roundabout way. The design of the 500 was based off the Remington 31, which was one of Big Green’s most well-built shotguns. It was just too expensive to produce, and thus the 870 was born.

The design for the Mossberg 500 was based off the Remington Model 31.
More than 40 years old, the BPS is one tough shotgun.
Benelli's affordable Nova has a one piece stock/receiver.
The SXP has a recoil-driven fore-end that makes it easier for shooters to operate the pump gun.
The Cobra III is a blue-collar workhorse.

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Best Lever Gun Cartridge Showdown: The .300 Savage vs. .30/.30 Winchester vs. .45/70

A Marlin lever gun chambered in .30/30 Winchester. (Marlin/)

The .30/30 Winchester, it is often claimed, has hung more venison from meat poles than any other cartridge in history. But does that mean the .30/30 lever-action is the best deer rifle ever created? Maybe not. It depends on how you define “best.”

The challenge with judging things based on their popularity is that it doesn’t take into account human nature. Those weird, inexplicable, sometimes incomprehensible tastes and behaviors we suffer often make no sense. For instance, at this moment, the 6.5 Creedmoor is popular with hunters and shooters, but ballistically, the .260 or 6.5x55 Swede are both better options.

Similarly, the .30/.30 is thought of as the ultimate lever gun load. But is it? Only the ballistic data will tell. So, let’s do it. Here are how the .30/30, .45/70, and .300 Savage stack up against one another.

Lever-Action Rifles

This Winchester Model 1886 made in 1891 was restored in 1980 by Turnbull Restoration. One of the original chamberings for this gun was in .45/70. (Turnb/)

The lever gun was invented for simplicity sake. A lever that opened the rifle breech to expose its chamber, a convenient device easily integrated into what had been muzzleloaders. The firing hand pushed the lever down to open the breach, the cartridge was inserted, and the lever closed. By 1860 B.Tyler Henry had concocted a mechanism to feed cartridges from a tube onto a loading ramp also activated by the lever. And the race was on: Winchester, Marlin…Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley. The all-American lever-action became THE rifle to own.

This Winchester Model 1886 made in 1891 was restored in 1980 by Turnbull Restoration. One of the original chamberings for this gun was in .45/70.
The .45/70s power comes from mass not speed.
When Hornady introduced the LEVERevolution ammo, it was just the shot in the arm the .30/30 needed. The Evolution bullets delivered a substantially higher ballistic coefficient and retained more downrange energy than the old stuff.
Outdoor Life shooting editor John B. Snow with his Savage 99 chambered in .300 Savage.
You can see from this ballistic data that the .300 Savage is the superior load.
The .300 Savage has never been an ultra-popular load, but it should be if you shoot a lever gun.

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The Story of Black Duck Revival: “I Never Found a Place I Belong, So I’m Making One”

The author, navigating the flooded Arkansas timber. (Courtesy Jonathan Wilkins/)

I have lived most of my life looking for a place that I belong.

When my wife and I purchased a derelict building in Brinkley, Arkansas, in the spring of 2017, I was just looking for a place in town where I could sleep and keep a few supplies during duck season. It was a practical way to be closer to the areas where I hunt, and a place to relax after a long morning of hard work and cold temperatures.

I started to realize, though, that this building could be more than a bunkhouse for me and maybe some friends. As I peeled back the musty layers of other folks’ jackleg repairs made with scrounged materials, I began to want this place to be more.

In its lifetime, the building had been used for many purposes: a home, place of worship, parsonage, and corner store. In its most recent incarnation, the place was a small, old-style Southern church. Coupled with Brinkley’s steady population decline and the aging-out of its few remaining members, the Heartline Christian Fellowship could no longer sustain services, and closed its doors in 2014. Why couldn’t it be a duck camp in its next life?

The old Heartline Christen Fellowship building, as it looked when the author purchased it in 2017. (Jonathan Wilkins/)
The old church in Brinkley, and the same room stripped down for renovations. (Jonathan Wilkins/)

The idea of creating a purpose-built facility for duck hunters formed quickly. With access to some of the best public waterfowl hunting in the world just a stone’s throw away, I figured I could recoup some of my renovation costs by offering the spot as a weekend rental to out-of-state hunters. A beautiful floor plan and recreation area took shape as I gutted the old church and transformed it into a modern hunting lodge for the do-it-yourself hunter. I learned to frame walls, and cleaned 100-year-old cypress beams. I made costly mistakes, took apart my work, and re-did many jobs many times over.

The old Heartline Christen Fellowship building, as it looked when the author purchased it in 2017.
The old church in Brinkley, and the same room stripped down for renovations.
The author's duck dog, Ammo, inside the partially-renovated church.
The author, calling mallards in Arkansas' flooded timber.
The author with a limit of specklebelly geese; demonstrating how to wax-pluck waterfowl to new waterfowlers at his lodge in Brinkley.
The dining area inside the finished hunting lodge, using a pair of original church pews as benches.

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A Cure for the Coronavirus Blues: Kids Need to Spend Time in the Wilderness

New and exciting challenges that crop up during outdoor pursuits—like carrying a canoe—build confidence and skills in kids of all ages. (Courtesy Northern Lakes Girl Scout Council /)

With school closures and state shutdowns, human connection has become nauseatingly virtual. Zoom calls seem to run together; weeks of indoor isolation blends into an unmemorable mush. Loneliness levels were already on a steady incline before the past year and have compounded since, exacerbating anxiety, depression, and other mental health crises.

Some people have found an unlikely cure to their isolation gloom: more solitude. An isolated trip in the wilderness may be just the fix for what’s ailing us. It’s an opportunity to look inward, to better connect with ourselves, our families, and the great outdoors. And it’s often possible in our own backyard.

Pre-pandemic, kids went on 15 percent fewer outdoor outings in 2018 than they did in 2012, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

Fishing license sales are up during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Ely Outfitters/)

Since then, hunting license sales in Wisconsin have risen 10 percent in 2020; in Vermont, sales of fishing licenses have increased by 50 percent. In a recent survey on how behaviors are changing because of the virus, 18 percent of respondents say they are spending more time outdoors, where transmission rates of Covid-19 are believed to be lower.

Read Next: Being a Parent, and a Kid, Hasn’t Been Easy This Year

Fishing license sales are up during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Studies show spending time outside improves attention, memory recall, and more.
Paddling trips are one way Girl Scouts in Minnesota and Wisconsin are introducing kids to the benefits of spending time outdoors.
Canoe trips help girls tackle new challenges and improve their relationship with nature.
A student tackling the high ropes course offered by Outward Bound in California.
A group prepares to tackle the high ropes course.

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The Best Handguns for Big-Game Hunters

If you want to challenge yourself, try hunting big game with a handgun. (Brad Fitzpatrick/)

The challenge of hunting with a handgun is what draws a small—but loyal—cadre of handgun hunters to the sport. Hunting with a handgun requires you to get close enough to an animal that it can hear, smell, or see you if you make a mistake. Handgun hunting also requires keen marksmanship and a level of familiarity with your firearm that hunting with other weapons don’t.

I wasn’t particularly keen on handgun hunting until I killed a deer with a Ruger .44 Magnum revolver, and since then I’ve looked for opportunities to use a handgun while hunting big game. I’m not a strict disciple of the pursuit, but I do understand what compels hunters to carry a handgun in search of game. If you have never hunted deer, hogs, bear or other big game with a handgun, it’s time to try.

You need to choose your weapon carefully. There are a variety of platforms and calibers at your disposal. Here are 10 of the best hunting handguns on the market right now.

1. Ruger New Model Super Blackhawk

Ruger's Blackhawk line was first released in 1955. (Ruger/)

Bill Ruger’s groundbreaking single-action Blackhawk was released in 1955 and a year later it was available in.44 Magnum. A modern take on the classic single-action revolver, today’s Super Blackhawk revolvers feature machined scope bases, stainless steel construction, and your choice for a traditional or Bisley-style grip contour. The Blackhawk’s action is extremely robust and accuracy is very good. MSRP: $959

Ruger's Blackhawk line was first released in 1955.
The author has shot deer out to 65 yards with this handgun.
The Ranging Hunter is available in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .454 Casull.
If you like more magazine capacity, this is your handgun.
This .44 is available with either a 4- or 6-inch precision hammer-forged 416R stainless barrel with a ventilated barrel shroud.
American-made, this revolver is for serious handgun hunters.
This unique bolt-action platform allows shooters to get more distance out of their hunting handgun.
The GOS is relatively light for a hunting handgun.
Chambered in .223 and .308, this handgun is capable of hunting a wide variety of game.
The X-Frame revolvers are for experienced handgun shooters.

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There’s More to Texas Hunting Than Expensive, High-Fence Ranches. Here’s Why a Texas Hunt Should Be on Your Bucket List

Texas has long been a top 10 B&C whitetail state. (Joe Genzel/)

A buddy of mine, who doesn’t hunt, moved to Texas in September some years ago. He pulled off the interstate to fill up at a Buc-ees, which are massive 60-pump gas stations where you can buy everything from fuel to deer feeders. There were dozens of people walking to their jacked-up trucks, arms full of ice and cases of beer. He went inside to pick up his own 24-pack of Lone Star, but all the coolers were near empty. Only a few Bud Light Lime tall boys remained.

He asked the closest person next to him, “what the hell is the deal? Is there a beer shortage in Texas?”

The old man was wearing a Stetson cowboy hat, had a huge handle-bar mustache, and wore a belt buckle the size of a Buick. He looked my buddy up-and-down, glared at his knitted winter stocking cap, thick-framed glasses, and painted-on skinny jeans: “It’s the dove opener ya god-damned yuppie,” and walked away.

My friend called and told me this story. I informed him that the first day of dove season is like a state holiday in Texas. You skip work, shoot birds, barbecue, and drink the wells dry. If you’re from Texas, you hunt (unless you’re an Austin hipster like my buddy).

But Texas actually gets a bad rap from non-resident hunters. They think it’s a private-land state that only the wealthy can afford to hunt. Not true. Texas has an incredible amount of opportunities for the everyday, blue-collar hunter, and that’s reflected in the state’s flourishing hunting culture. Many states have seen a decline in hunter numbers, but from 1966 to 2017, the number of hunters in Texas doubled, from 644,000 to 1.25 million (not all of those folks can be millionaires hunting zebras behind a 12-foot high fence). According to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) data, more than 1 million of the licenses purchased each year from 2012 to 2020 were bought by residents. The reason for that? The state cares a great deal about hunting. TPWD has created all kinds of public access opportunities (there are more public acres in Texas than 25 other states), from pronghorn draws in west Texas to gator hunts on the coast. And there are affordable private-land hunts sprinkled in between.

There's more than 1 million acres of public land in Texas.
Two pronghorn bucks on the grasslands at Rita Blanca.
Deer hunting reigns supreme in the Panhandle.
Aoudad hunting continues to grow in West Texas.
The Piney Woods of East Texas resemble the southeastern U.S. more than the rest of Texas.
Hill Country is know for its Rios.
Hunting redheads on the Texas coast is a long-standing tradition.
Private-land dove hunts can be done for a nominal fee.

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Wild Game Populations Are Thriving in Big Cities

Many wild game species, including waterfowl, are thriving in urban settings. (Robert Patrick Doyle/Splash/)

I was walking across campus one morning when I got a text from my dad. It was an image of a dead woodcock lying on the street in New York City. The message read, “Found another one on my way to work today.” This wasn’t the first time my father had come across a timberdoodle that met its fate by flying into an NYC skyscraper.

As someone who grew up 30 minutes outside the city, I never thought wild game would inhabit any part of the Five Boroughs. Seeing deer, coyotes, ducks, and other kinds of critters was common here in the wilderness areas and waters near my home in Long Island, but on the streets of New York? Our city centers continue to expand with development and urban sprawl, which means human infringement on animal habitat continues. So it’s not surprising that humans are encountering these animals within city limits more and more.

Residents of Houston’s suburbs are now capturing videos of coyotes on home security cameras. Some videos show coyotes walking through driveways, right under basketball hoops. In the summer of 2020, in West Milford, New Jersey, an 82 year-old man was attacked by a black bear in his garage. Ronald Jelinek received more than 30 stitches to his face after the bear took a swipe at him. The bear was later captured and euthanized by the state.

Woodcock and other migratory birds are flying into the windows of tall buildings, deer are well-established in the suburbs, coyotes roam city streets, and mallards are spending their days on man-made ponds within neighborhoods and apartment complexes. So how are these wild animals adapting—and thriving—in such places? Is it good for them? And what does it mean for the folks living in those communities? I talked to the experts to find out.

The Big Cats of L.A.

A collared mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains outside L.A.
Whitetails have overrun many urban communities.
Coyotes have been thriving on the streets of Chicago for decades.
A Canada goose protects its nest in the median of a parking lot.

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The Case for Squirrel Hunting, and Why It’s Completely Underrated

Bowhunting squirrels is a good way to break up a slow bowseason. (Beka Garris/)

The air was so cold that my eyes watered. Snow hung heavy on low-lying branches and blanketed the ground, muffling the sound of my footsteps as I made my way through the hardwoods. Late deer season in Ohio can be pretty uneventful, and although I still had a deer tag burning a hole in my backpack, I was concentrating on squirrels. After weeks of struggling to even see a deer during gun season, I was all about bagging something.

I spotted a flash of gray, a flick of a tail. Only 15 yards away, perched on a hemlock branch, was a fat gray squirrel. I felt my jacket bunch around my elbow as I drew my bow and released an arrow. It met its mark, and the squirrel tumbled, all but disappearing into the fluffy snow.

Success. That’s what it was. Going home with something to throw in the Crockpot is always a good feeling. And sometimes, especially when deer season gets tough, it’s good to just get out and shoot some game.

When most big-game seasons in, small game and squirrel seasons keep the cabin fever at bay. (Don Freiday / USFWS/)

Overlooked Hunting Opportunity

I grew up hunting squirrels, and still enjoy it every year. Hunting squirrels, however, doesn’t seem to be very popular. Small game in general tends to be overlooked for other larger, more glamorous game. And indeed, the available data confirms it. According to a 2016 national survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 70 percent of the 11.5 million U.S. hunters in 2016 said they hunted deer. A scant 13 percent—only 1.5 million people—hunted squirrels.

When most big-game seasons in, small game and squirrel seasons keep the cabin fever at bay.
Squirrel season starts early, runs late, and is a great reason to hit the woods.
Squirrel seasons are typically long, flexible, and perfect for accommodating cramped schedules.
Hickory nuts are a good sign you'll find squirrels nearby.
The author's daughter, carrying a fox squirrel back to the truck.
The best way to cook squirrel meat is low and slow.

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Stop Obsessing Over Gear and Improve Your Skills This Off Season

New gear will only take you so far. You must put the practice time in this offseason. (Tyler Freel/)

It’s easy for us as hunters to get wrapped up in gear, especially in the doldrums of the winter offseason when all manner of new gear, guns, cartridges, and equipment are flashing across our screens. There’s certainly nothing wrong with developing your “kit” as a way to look forward to the seasons ahead. Bowhunters will obsess over the slightest change in point weight, arrow selection, and the tune of their bow. Backpack hunters will spend hours filling out spreadsheets to optimize the weight of their packs. Rifle hunters will research the hottest-shooting new rifle to try to extend their effective range.

I don’t want to knock this kind of preparation. It plays an important part in both the anticipation and the effectiveness in our upcoming hunts. But just remember, it’s usually your skills and knowledge, not your gear, that make for a successful hunt.

Improvements in skills and knowledge take time and effort to develop. They cannot be bought. So rather than getting completely consumed by gear this offseason, we should balance it with improvement of our skillset and knowledge as well. Every hunter is different, so this will look different for each person. Pick one or two things to improve on this off-season and I can almost guarantee you’ll see tangible results in the field next fall.

For me personally, this means shooting my recurve bow all winter, mostly at short range in my garage. I focus on developing and maintaining good form and a mental shot process. Many of the nuances of shooting a bow are perishable, and rather than struggle with frustration by only shooting right before a hunting season, it helps me to be in a constant state of development.

Even in the midst of an unprecedented ammo shortage, rifle and pistol shooters can maintain and fine-tune certain aspects of their skillset through repetition. Dry firing from practical positions will keep your trigger control crisp and consistent. A 3-gun or action-pistol shooter can make mini targets and poppers out of cardboard. Tape them to the wall, and practice drawing, reloading (dummy rounds), cycling, and dry firing to gain valuable repetition without actually sending rounds downrange.

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How to Motorize Your Fishing Kayak

Adding power to your kayak provides worry-free power and hands-free fishing. (Ric Burnley/)

First came the sit-on-top kayak. Then the pedal-powered kayak. Now, anglers are clamoring for motorized kayaks to take them farther and faster.

Adding a motor does more than save human-powered energy, a motorized kayak turns travel time into fishing time. Now that most kayak fishing tournaments accept motorized kayaks, competitive anglers are engaged in an arms race to find the most powerful and efficient motor. Off the tournament trail, motors are popping up on plastic boats from freshwater to salt. To motorize a kayak, most anglers choose one of three options: electric outboard, trolling motor, or a factory-motorized kayak.

For anglers adding a trolling motor or outboard, the first step is choosing the right kayak. To handle the power and weight, pick a boat over 40-inches wide with at least 400-pound capacity. A shorter water line, under 13-feet long, will save weight and make the boat easier to control.

Many kayaks come rigged with attachment points to accommodate a motor system. To save weight and reduce set-up time, some anglers pick a paddle kayak to motorize. Others choose to add a motor to a pedal boat for worry-free power and hands-free fishing.

Brandon Barton uses a Torqeedo electric motor to power his Hobie Pro Angler. (Brandon Barton/)

Electric Outboard

Brandon Barton uses a Torqeedo electric motor to power his Hobie Pro Angler.
Netting fish is a breeze with motorized hands-free power.
Anglers can gain access to prime fishing waters more quickly when their yaks are outfitted with trolling motors.
Tournament pro Marvin Goda has been using a trolling motor on his Native Watercraft Titan 12 for several seasons.
Anglers can go farther and faster with less effort and more confidence.

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3 Jaw-Dropping Bow Season Bucks That Scored O 200 Inches

Bowhunter Dustin Bothman with his world-class Ohio whitetail. (Dakota Kellough/)

Giant bucks captivate our attention like little else. And there were three studs tagged during the 2020 deer season that made the year just a little more bearable for the lucky hunters who got them. These are the tales of their hunts.

The Ohio 217

Bothman points to where he saw the buck during the hunt. (Dakota Kellough/)

Hunter: Dustin Bothman

Buck: 217 inches

Date of Harvest: Oct. 11, 2020

Bothman points to where he saw the buck during the hunt.
Scott Tucker ended the multi-year journey for this Illinois stud the best way a hunter can.
Brian Davenport put in the time and effort it required to tag this Kentucky giant.

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The Proposed Bear Hunting Ban in California Is a Threat to All Hunters

A new bear hunting ban has been proposed in California, despite the state's increasing black bear population. (California Department of Fish and Wildlife/)

California’s Senate Bill 252 is but the most recent high-profile attack on hunting in the U.S., and would spell the complete elimination of public hunting for large predators in that state. The bill, introduced by democratic state senator Scott Weiner, is labeled “The Bear Protection Act” and would completely ban California’s current “sport hunting” season for black bears, which has a relatively small statewide quota of 1,700 animals (a quota that has never been met since the use of hounds for bear hunting was banned in 2013).

For many hunters living in other states, it might be easy to write off California as a cuckoo’s nest of unreasonable, insurmountable regulations. But we shouldn’t. California is home to a tremendous variety of natural resources and, under different political climates, it would likely be a much more popular destination for hunters. More importantly, California is too often a barometer of things to come in the fight for hunting rights. Many of the battles hunters are facing now in other states were first fought and lost in California.

As for SB-252 specifically, the ins-and-outs are detailed thoroughly in an article in The Sacramento Bee. The bill is framed as protecting a population of black bears that is struggling to survive among wildfires, climate change, and hunting. There are several key takeaways in this article, including the fact that bear populations are estimated to have grown from 10,000-15,000 bears in 1982 to 30,000-40,000 bears today. Also, the state wildlife managers actually wanted to increase the hunting harvest quota to 2,000 bears, but that was shut down. The article lays out clearly that hunting isn’t detrimental to the bear population.

Another issue is that about a quarter of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s budget is paid through hunting and fishing licenses, and associated taxes—including from bear tag sales. Last year, the state’s 30,394 bear-tag holders—whose bear tags generated $1.39 million in revenue—killed just 919 bears.

And bears would still be killed through depredation permits, similar to California mountain lions (California banned mountain lion hunting in 1990). From a wildlife management standpoint, there is no logic in legislation like this. It all comes down to ideology.

Since bear hunting with hounds was outlawed in California, hunters have not filled the state's annual quota of 1,700 black bears.

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How to Harvest and Make Your Own Maple Syrup (And Utilize Syrup From Other Tree Species)

Maple syrup ready for pancakes and waffles. (LadyDragonFlyCC via Wiki/)

There are windows of opportunity in nature, and one of my annual favorites is “sugaring time.” In late winter, tree sap begins to flow, and from the right trees, this sap can be collected and concentrated into a very special (and very delicious) caloric resource – sweet tree syrup. Most of us focus on how to make maple syrup during this window. But maple trees are just the beginning. Here’s what you need to know about the history of tree tapping and the basics on how to tap trees for syrup.

A Quick History of Tree Tapping

There are many legends surrounding the discovery of maple syrup in the American Northeast. One of my favorites involves a Native warrior practicing with his tomahawk. After sticking the axe many times into a sugar maple tree in early spring, his wife noticed the water running out of the trunk. She gathered this water and prepared a soup – which turned out to be surprisingly sweet. After a little experimentation, maple syrup was born. While it seems likely Native Americans independently discovered that tree saps can be boiled down into syrup, the idea that tree tapping is a unique skill of the First People of the New World just isn’t accurate. Tree sap was collected and used as a food and drink resource in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere for more than a thousand years (and not just in the boreal regions). The Arabian explorer Ahmad ibn Fadlān documented the Bolgar people collecting birch tree sap near the Volga River and fermenting it into an alcoholic beverage in 921. For many centuries in fact, birch sap has been consumed fresh as drinking water, boiled down into a sugary syrup, and converted into a wine-like beverage in Russia, Scandinavia, Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia and several other European countries.

It’s a common misconception that the only tree syrup comes from sugar maple and the only places it can be made are the American Northeast and Canada. (TIM MACWELCH/)

How Does Tree Sap Flow?

Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, you’ll see trees with running sap between January and early March each year. Specific timing depends on the weather, latitude, elevation, and the tree species you are working with. Some of these trees can be sources of water if you get caught outside without anything safe to drink. Other trees can provide delicious syrup. This sweet treat represents life-saving calories at one of the roughest times of the year for survival, but it’s also great for everyday culinary uses. Most tree tappers know that the sap flows best in the late winter, when the nights are below freezing and the days are above freezing. What is not commonly known (by non-botanists) is how the sap actually flows. During the late winter and early spring of each year, the water inside the tree has greater pressure in the roots than at the crown of the tree. This greater pressure pushes the water up toward the crown, carrying some of the sugars that were stored in the tree roots. Since this internal water pressure is higher than the atmospheric pressure, any hole in the tree bark will allow sap to flow out of the tree rather than continuing to flow through the tree.

It’s a common misconception that the only tree syrup comes from sugar maple and the only places it can be made are the American Northeast and Canada.
Tapping doesn't harm trees, as long as its done carefully.
With a cordless drill (or an old fashioned “brace-n-bit”), you can drill into your sap producing trees and begin collecting their sweet nectar.
With a large pot and some kind of heat source (either an open fire or a propane cooker), you can boil your sap outdoors (and keep all that steam out of your house).

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Authorities Find the Body of David Vowell, the 70-Year-Old Tennessee Man Accused of Killing Two Duck Hunters on Reelfoot Lake

Authorities searched by land, lake, and air for David Vowell, the Martin man wanted on two counts of murder. (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, via Twitter/)

Yesterday afternoon investigators recovered the body of David Vowell, the 70-year-old Tennessee man wanted in connection with the death of two duck hunters on Reelfoot Lake. Authorities report Vowell was discovered in the water “near the area of the incident.”

BREAKING UPDATE: The body of David Vowell has been recovered in the waters of Reelfoot Lake. He was located around 3 p.m., today, near the area of the incident. His identity has been confirmed and an autopsy will be performed.

— Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (@TBInvestigation) January 31, 2021

The discovery comes nearly a week after the manhunt began for Vowell, who was suspected of committing a double-homicide in the deaths of hunters Chance Black and Zackary Grooms, which occurred Monday morning on the north end of Reelfoot Lake, a historic waterfowling area. High water and adverse conditions forced authorities to suspend their search on Wednesday, but they resumed the search by land, water, and air Friday. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that an autopsy will be performed, but did not provide details as to the cause of death.

UPDATE: Today, TBI Agents along with the Obion County Sheriff’s Office, @tnwildlife, @THPJackson, @THPMemphis, and @MadCountyFire searched by land, water, and air for double homicide suspect David Vowell at Reelfoot Lake.

Search efforts remain active and ongoing.

— Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (@TBInvestigation) January 30, 2021

District Attorney General Tommy Thomas has relayed to news outlets the account of one reported witness, Jeff Crabtree, who said he went to hunt with Chance and Black around 6 a.m. on Monday. Thomas spoke with Thunderbolt News in a radio interview Wednesday, relaying Crabtree’s account:

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Leupold Discontinues the Venerable VX-3i Riflescope and Replaces it With a Brighter, Tougher VX-3HD

A sneak peek at the new Leupold VX-3HD. (Leupold/)

I like simple things that work. Buttons—not zippers—on my Carhartt jacket. The liner lock on my KA-BAR folder. My Hi-Lift jack that has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles in the bed of various pickups that weren’t half as tough.

And my Leupold VX-3 riflescopes. I must have a half dozen of these simple, reliable Leupold scopes on various rifles. They personify Leupold’s Gold Ring promise: hard-wearing, gimmick-free optics that don’t weigh much and don’t lose their zero from season to season.

So I was alarmed when my buddy Ryan texted me just after Christmas. He was shopping around for a VX-3i scope to mount on his new Alterra rifle. “Am I crazy or is Leupold discontinuing the entire VX-3i line?”

This was news to me. I checked out Leupold’s website for myself, and sure enough, every VX-3i (the “i” designation does not stand for “illuminated” as you might think, but served as a new-and-improved differentiator from the original VX-3, introduced a full 40 years ago) was shown as unavailable. So I forwarded Ryan’s text to my buddies at Leupold, hoping for an explanation.

What I got instead was a box in Leupold’s signature black-and-gold trim. Inside was the new VX-3HD, the next generation of the venerable scope. My sample was in 4.5-14x40, just about right for every hunting rifle on my rack. Inside was a terse note: “Discontinued, never. Evolving into the VX-3HD, yes.”

The throw lever on the author's VX-3HD.
The new Leupold VX-3HD on the author's coyote rifle.

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