Hunting and Fishing News & Blog Articles

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The Tokyo Rig Is Taking the Bass World by Storm

Bassmaster Elite angler Patrick Walters with a largemouth landed on the Tokyo Rig. (wired2fish/)

It’s not that bass pro Mike Iaconelli had an issue with being outfished; he just wanted to know why his Japanese host was smoking him, like 4 to 1, during a 2017 trip to Tokyo’s famed Lake Biwa. Frustrated and curious, Iaconelli confiscated his host’s rig and found something he’d never seen—a leadered punch shot. This became the inspiration for his collaboration with VMC hooks, and three years later, they introduced the aptly named Tokyo Rig.

VMC’s proprietary model consists of a welded ring that links a rolling swivel line tie, a technique-specific hook (wide gap, flipping, or worm), and a 2 1⁄2-inch leader connected with another rolling swivel. Slip a weight onto the leader, turn the tip 90 degrees to prevent slippage, and you’re ready to fish.

The Tokyo Rig is different from earlier punch shot forms that linked the suspending weight directly to the connector ring. Also known as the Jika Rig or Jig Rig, this predecessor lacked the Tokyo Rig’s distinguishing leader.

Here's how to set up the Tokyo Rig. (wired2fish/)

“When I first saw this rig, I thought, This is going to be a great tool for punching, flipping, and fishing deep grass,” ­Iaconelli says. “Back then, I never saw the potential for it in a lot of other places, but it really has become a versatile technique.”

Case in point: During a 2018 Bassmaster Elite event on the ­St. ­Lawrence River, Iaconelli was looking for something between a ­finesse-y drop-shot and a powerfishing wobblehead jig presentation for targeting deep smallmouth bass in swift current. Rigging a ­Berkley Powerbait Jester creature bait on a Tokyo Rig with a 3⁄4-ounce VMC tungsten weight enabled him to fool big smallies by mimicking the gobies and crayfish scurrying over the rocky bottom.

Here's how to set up the Tokyo Rig.

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Early-Season Teal Hunting Tactics You’ve Never Tried (But Should)

Blue-wing success on the last day of early teal season on Illinois public land. (Joe Genzel/)

There’s not much difference between a knowledgeable teal hunter and opportunistic one. You actually have to be a bit of both when hunting blue-wings during the early September season. Once you find the teal and pound on them, they are going to seek refuge like any other duck. But if you do find them again, you’re almost assured a good hunt. They aren’t wary birds, and love spinning-wing decoys more than a country boy loves Hank Williams. Consistently locating teal is the key.

Over the years, both of us have found different ways to target blue-wings (you can shoot green-wings and cinnamon teal during September as well). But we live in two very different states in terms of teal habitat. Weimer has plenty of it in Missouri, while I have limited access here in Illinois. He can typically shoot teal all season and has a better season framework than me (his starts later, and times the migration better). So our strategies are different. Weimer is looking for multiple good hunts per season, and I am looking for one or two. Both of our strategies work when the teal are in, so if you’re looking to bag more blues this September, try these unconventional tactics. —J.G.

1. No Floating Decoys

Pack spinners only and you can stay more mobile, and move to the ducks much faster. (Joe Genzel/)

The teal were more than a mile from the truck, and we had to stomp through knee-deep mud to get there. But if we could get to the birds, it would be a slam dunk. So I told my buddy to leave the floaters in the truck bed because it was 85 degrees and we were both going to be sweating enough as it was. We arrived at the hunting spot in just enough time to flip two spinners on and lay down in some nearby brush. The blue-wings came in perfect and we almost shot a two-man limit, ending it one bird shy because the teal were coming in such big groups we didn’t want to risk shooting over the limit (you can kill multiple birds with one shot since teal ball up so tight together when they finish at the spinners).

I’ve used that tactic many times over, particularly on mud flats where the bottom is soft and the water is in short supply. I typically employ four to five spinners—at least one of which will be an on-the-water spinner—with no floating decoys, but will bring mallards and/or goose silhouettes at times because they are so packable. Teal don’t seem to key in on floaters like other puddlers and divers do during big duck season, at least not on the smaller waters I hunt. All of the marshes I’m in are public and everyone else is hunting over the same blob of decoys and one or two spinners. My spread has more motion in it than most, plus it looks different. And anyone who has hunted ducks or geese for very long knows that being as unconventional as you can with decoys often sparks birds’ curiosity.

Pack spinners only and you can stay more mobile, and move to the ducks much faster.
Early teal is a great time to get your Lab multiple retrieves, just be mindful of the heat, and if you hunt the south, gators.
Always bring the spinners if you hunt early geese near a large watershed.
If you can't get on the X, get in the middle.

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How to Call Elk Like Legend Wayne Carlton

Carlton bugles to a high-country bull in the mountains above Craig, Colorado. (Andrew McKean/)

In another lifetime, Wayne Carlton might have been a carnival barker. He has that way of hooking you, yodeling or catcalling to catch your attention in a crowd and then keeping it with a slightly ribald joke or curious turn of phrase.

You might recognize Carlton, 76, from his career as a pitchman for Hunter Specialties, his Southern accent purring from beneath a cowboy hat as he describes how his latest call will turn trophy bulls inside out and bring turkeys running from the next township. He’s back in business with his Native by ­Carlton brand, and he still has plenty to say.

Outdoor Life: You have talked about setting the stage for a conversation with elk. What do you mean by that?

Wayne Carlton: When you blow a call, you’d better have some idea of what you expect the answer to be. You can’t stumble through the woods blowing a call and expect to create a conversation. One of the first bulls I ever called in was on Red Mountain Pass in Colorado. I walked in the dark to the crest, about 12,000 feet above sea level, and I waited for the wind to turn from blowing downhill to blowing uphill before I blew a call. I knew that any bull below me couldn’t smell me, and that they couldn’t resist answering an elk uphill of them. It worked. I had a bull start raking trees, and I was able to spot him and home in on him.

OL: So how do you advance the conversation?

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The Most Effective Rain Gear for Mountain Hunters Costs Less Than $200

IMAGE: 1-Freel-Sheep.JPGCAP: A good set of waterproof rain gear costs less than $200. (Tyler Freel/)

Hunting in the mountains can teach us hard lessons, and serve as the ultimate proving ground for hunting gear. I’m not referring to a short afternoon jaunt, but the sometime weeks-long expedition-style hunts that sheep and mountain goat hunters often subject themselves to. They are unforgiving hunts in unforgiving country, and your gear—clothing, in particular—is critical to both your survival and your success. Although good gear is often expensive, this doesn’t mean that it’s always the best.

In my 17 years of hunting sheep here in Alaska, I’ve learned almost all gear falls into one of three categories:

1. Dependable.

2. You can get away with it most of the time.

3. It doesn’t belong on the mountain.

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10 Mistakes Newbie Fire Builders Make

None of us were born with all the skills and knowledge needed to be a master fire builder. We had to learn them. There are many times in the wild that you need to be able to make a fire quickly, and you don’t want to be unprepared, especially when your survival depends on it. Practicing this skill is an essential part of good woodsmanship. If you are just getting started, here are the mistakes to avoid.

1. Picking Materials Off the Wet Ground

Picking up wet sticks is one of worst things you can do when gathering fire materials. (Tim MacWelch/)

Here in the damp Eastern Woodlands, I often jolt my survival students with a timed fire-making exercise when they all start looking too comfortable and confident in class. Out of the blue, I’ll tell them that they have 10 minutes to make a small fire and I’ll start the countdown on my phone. This test has two purposes. The first is to assess the fire-making skills of the class, and the second is so that each person has a benchmark to assess their progress. After a lengthy struggle to create a sustainable fire (or 10 minutes of failure), most people are eager for the tips I share. If I had to identify the main reason that most people fail the test, it is that they collected their sticks and tinder off the damp ground. Many people are conditioned by signage and training to gather loose dead fuel that’s fallen down, but in an emergency (or any other time you’d like to have fire-making success), you’ll have better luck breaking off the dead branches, twigs, crunchy leaves, and brown pine needles from standing woody plants, shrubs and trees. This is typically the driest fuel in any environment.

2. Don’t Use Rotten Wood

Decomposing wood is a weak fuel for starting a fire. (Tim MacWelch/)

The two main groups of organisms that break down woody plant materials are bacteria and fungus. These are often at work before the leaf or branch dies, and they may even be the cause of death. As plant materials succumb to these organisms, they turn back into the dirt from whence they came and the circle of life continues. Here’s the problem with woody plant decomposition from the perspective of a fire builder: We’re losing fuel value as the material breaks down. Every step closer to dirt that the materials take, they are another step away from being firewood. There are some exceptions, as a select few materials are improved by rotting. Inner tree bark becomes more fibrous after a few months of decomposition, for example. Logs can also become punk wood, which can be used as a smoldering fuel. Unfortunately, most materials are just getting worse as they break down. For this reason, build your fire starters and your firewood pile with wood that isn’t rotten yet. Sticks should splinter when they break, not break off in blunt-ended chunks. You’ll also want to avoid branches with fungal growth, like shelf fungi, mushrooms, witch’s butter, wood ears, etc.

Decomposing wood is a weak fuel for starting a fire.
You’ll need the right ignition method to match your fuels and the conditions you’re facing.
Tinder is an essential component of getting a fire started.
Don’t be afraid to start from the beginning if your fire won’t light.
You have to know what will and won’t get a fire started depending on the situation you are in.
Always bring backups for your main ignition method and a backup fuel source that is resistant to wet weather.
Getting creative may just save you in a perilous situation.

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9 Tips for Becoming a Better Rifle Shot on Wild Game

Shooting the buck of a lifetime isn’t as easy as shooting accurately at the range. (Ron Spomer/)

The competition world is crowded with incredible rifle shots. There are some guys and gals who seem to hit anything at any distance. Some of these hyper-long-range shooters man their artillery so effectively they can consistently drop little 230-grain bullets on 8-inch steel discs 1,500 yards away. But none of that means much when it’s time for you and me to shoot a deer this fall.

Important shooting—the kind that puts holes in your tag, antlers in your hands, and venison in your freezer—is field shooting. That sudden, heart-stopping, high adrenaline, no-time-to-prepare, quick-he’s-getting-away game shooting. The kind of shooting that leaves you shaking afterward. Here’s how to become more accurate on your next hunt.

1. Select the Proper Tools

It’s important to consider the type of game and the distances you will be shooting at in preparation for a hunt. (Ron Spomer/)

This may be superfluous advice, given the time and focus most shooters devote to their rifles, scopes, and ammo these days. But it’s probably not. Let’s hand it to ourselves: The average shooter today knows more about rifles, bullets, ballistics, scopes, and the Coriolis Effect than any previous generation of hunters. But knowing how to work a rangefinder, wind meter, scope turret, and attached bipod isn’t necessarily setting up our tools or ourselves to shoot effectively when hunting. That takes an unblinking assessment of where, when, and how we hunt—not just how we target shoot.

Case in point: prone bipod shooting. Everyone trains and practices prone with a bipod clamped to his or her fore-end stock. Wonderful. Rock solid. But if you’ve spent any time hunting, you know going prone is often a recipe for “I can’t see the deer!” Grass, brush, rocks, or merely the roll of the land makes prone shooting wishful thinking. Go prone at the sighting of a buck and that may be the last time you see him.

It’s important to consider the type of game and the distances you will be shooting at in preparation for a hunt.
What rest you use to shoot will be determined by the terrain you are hunting.
Sitting back-to-back using your buddy as a rest is an ideal shooting position.
Relax, focus on your target, and trust yourself.
Staying organized will make you a better shot.

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How to Hunt the Mysterious Woodcock Migration

The author’s dog, Grim, returning a woodcock to hand. (A.J. DeRosa/)

Silence can be a rather jarring experience. And sounds, with their strong associations, can hurtle us through time and space. I associate silence with wild places, camps of my youth—good memories, to put it simply. As my truck door slammed closed with an unnaturally loud sound, the opening day of grouse and woodcock season was upon us in New Hampshire. Three and a half hours of driving north, starting in complete darkness, had brought me to one of my favorite covers. I stood there for a second, listening to nothing other than the faint sound of the river in the distance. For any hunter, opening day—no matter what your game—is the hard-reset day of our year. The realities of life from the previous months are beat back with a new burst of energy and positivity.

A slight whimper snapped me back into the present and the task at hand. I opened the door to grab my side-by-side, dog collars, and bird vest. The whimper turned to scratching. Grim, my Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, was as excited as I was for this day (maybe more so) and after numerous weeks of pre-season training on resident woodcock close to home, the smell of gun oil confirmed his suspicion that something more exciting was unfolding on this day.

That initial silence was quickly swallowed by my conversation with the dog and his ever-growing excitement. I strapped Grim’s GPS collar around his neck; the bell hanging from it began a soft jingling, muted slightly by the duct tape strapped around the clacker inside. The sound of that bell made me think of the man up in Maine who had given it to me as a gift while I was traveling with the Ruffed Grouse Society. This time, the latch of the tailgate shutting once again snapped me back to the present.

Grim hopped around like a toddler on a sugar high. Moments like these have earned him a nickname: the bucking bronco. His joy literally uncontainable, the sounds shifted to paws bouncing from dirt to water to leaves and then there was the bell, ringing in a language only bird hunters can interpret. The silence from when the engine cut out was quickly forgotten. My mind had shifted to the moments of pause we always hope to find in bird cover: the even more profound silence of a dog on point.

I have a confession to make. Although I have a special place in my heart for hunting ruffed grouse, it is the American woodcock that has captivated me and earned my true love. Some may think it’s an obscure species to hunt, because unless you are a ruffed grouse hunter, not many people happen upon woodcock casually. Woodcock rarely wander unsuspecting onto logging roads nor do they offer the iconic, drumming display of their neighbor, the ruffed grouse. They are a hidden species. If you asked my dog how he felt about the American woodcock, his ears would perk up in eager agreement that this bird should be in his life every day. In fact, a couple of dancing males provided him with endless backyard entertainment this past spring. He could often be found standing on point for long periods wondering why I had not loaded a shotgun and backed him up. In reality, I was tortured the whole time; in true novice fashion, I sat there wondering just how much these backyard encounters were ruining my pointing dog. At least the fence stood between them.

Woodcock can be hunted across Canada and the U.S.
There is much debate amongst hunters over what determines resident vs. flight birds.
The author and his pup celebrate a successful flush, shot, and retrieve.
The preferred method to hunt woodcock is with a dog, but you don’t need one.

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Madness, Obsession, and the Hunt for the World-Record Tarpon

Legendary tarpon guide Steve Huff shows off a 186-pound tarpon caught off Homosassa, Florida, in 1977. (Steve Huff/)

This story is adapted and excerpted from Lords of the Fly: Madness, Obsession, and the Hunt for the World-Record Tarpon, by Monte Burke. Fishing records is not a new topic for Burke. He’s also the author of Sowbelly: The Obsessive Quest for the World Record Largemouth Bass—easily one of the best and most entertaining works of lunker literature.

In Lords of the Fly, Burke takes a deep-dive look into the world of tarpon fishing and the town famous for it. In the 40-plus years since Tom Evans, a New York City stockbroker, first caught a world-record fish in Homosassa, Fla., in 1977, he has returned to the area and landed six more record tarpons in the surrounding waters. His success made this small town the hub of saltwater flyfishing in the 1970s and ’80s, and attracted professional anglers, such as Stu Apte, Lefty Kreh, and Billy Pate, as well as fishing enthusiasts including writers Jim Harrison and Thomas McGuane and landscape painter Russell Chatham. Burke wonderfully captures their stories as well as those of their unsung guides, detailing the alliances and rivalries. Lords of the Fly comes out on Sept. 1, 2020, but is available for preorder now . Till then, enjoy this sneak peek. —The Editors

Tom Evans was one of the few regulars at Homosassa who was not from South Florida, and he was the sole Yankee (at the time, he lived in New York City). He was not a famous angler, as Apte, Williams, Pflueger, Lopez, and Pate were. He was also one of the few who had an actual nine-to-five job. He felt he was viewed as a latter-day carpetbagger, a bit like an outcast, even though he was allied with the Keys-based guide, Steve Huff. And yet, early on, he and Huff—the former collegiate nose tackle paired with the wiry guide—were the team to beat in Homosassa.

They were on the water, idling out of the Homosassa River, every morning at 5:30. Even when other guides and anglers were up earlier, they’d often wait for Huff to leave and follow him out, because he knew how to navigate the tricky river and its mouth. Evans and Huff were nearly always the last boat in, as well, tying up close to eight at night. “It seemed like we never saw the dock in the light of day,” says Evans.

Every day was an endurance test for both angler and guide. “It was an athletic event. We’d kill ourselves, torture ourselves,” says Evans. “Steve never wanted to go back in until we were dead. That made him happy.” They were both on their feet for around eleven hours a day. Huff learned the flat slowly and painstakingly, one plunk of the push pole at a time, pushing into the fifteen- to twenty-mile-per-hour winds that always seemed to arise in the afternoon off the Gulf. He would never start the engine if fish were around, even if he and Evans were leaving for the day. Instead, he’d pole out of the area, which sometimes added another forty-five minutes to the trip home. “The tarpon were lying around, doing their thing. This was their house. It was disrespectful to blow them out,” Huff says.

Tom Evans fights a tarpon in 2019.CREDIT: Monte Burke
To be continued… You can purchase iLords of the Fly/i in bookstores and online on Sept. 1, 2020.

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Why Hunting Is More Important Than Ever for Your Mental Health

The author’s son and younger brother on the opening day of dove season. (Joe Genzel/)

It’s September 1, and my head is on a swivel, frantically looking in every direction for doves. Finally, I see the flitter of wings. Doves either fly like fighter jets shot out of a cannon or float along through the air, riding the wind. This one is high, but straight up, just cruising. My ass is already sore from sitting on a plastic five-gallon bucket, so I stand quickly to shoot, but fumble the safety. I haven’t clicked one over since spring turkey season, and when I finally push the button, the weight of months spent separated from friends and family fades away. The familiar feeling of a wooden stock to my meaty cheek is comforting. I slap the trigger and a gigantic puff of white feathers plumes from the bird’s chest. The best months of the year are here again, and it’s about damn time.

Like the rest of you, my life looks very different than it did before COVID-19 hit. For weeks in March and April, I only left my house when necessary, sheltering in place with my wife and 6-year-old son. I live in an urban area, but have access to hiking trails and my parent’s farm, so I relied on those places when I needed a break from these challenging times.

I am fortunate to have outdoor spaces to roam. Because many folks in big towns and cities were virtually trapped in their apartments for months, or lived in fear of stepping outside as social unrest led to violence and looting on the streets of major cities across the U.S. It has been stressful and unsettling for us all; more so for people of color and the tens of millions of Americans who are jobless due to the pandemic. We are facing unprecedented challenges in a time when the future of our country remains uncertain.

That’s why I feel so lucky to be a hunter right now, too. It’s been proven that going outside is good for us. And I plan on doing a lot of it this fall, just like many of you. We can finally get the hell away from the negativity this pandemic has brought with it, and go hunt.

But just getting into the woods isn’t enough for every hunter—myself included—to be happy. This pandemic has made me hyper-cognizant of the importance of my own mental health. A little background: When my son was born almost seven years ago, I hadn’t thought much about how my actions and my frame of mind affect other people and my own wellbeing. I wasn’t prepared for the added responsibilities of parenthood, and my wife encouraged me to seek therapy. I didn’t want to, but eventually I saw that the frustrations and anger caused by the stresses of work and life itself were impacting my family in a bad way. I had to make a change.

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4 Tactics For Catching Late-Summer Smallmouth Bass

Late summer is an ideal time to catch big smallies. (Jonathan VanDam/Major League Fishing/)

This weekend, I plucked a pair of 4-pound smallmouth out from directly underneath the boat in a 5-minute flurry that put me at 50 smallmouth landed over 4 pounds this summer. About a dozen of those topped five pounds, and three went over six, including my personal best of 7.4 pounds.

I’m blessed to live in a part of the country where smallmouth aren’t terribly hard to find. I’m within two hours of two of the greatest smallmouth factories on this planet: Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie, not to mention some lesser-known lakes located in northern Michigan that can produce truly giant brown bass. A few years back, my son caught an absolute beast of a smallmouth that went well over 8 pounds, just a half-pound shy of the state record. Catching a giant smallmouth isn’t exactly an art form, but there is definitely a system to it. Here are the tactics I use to hook more smallies.

1. Fish Where They Live

The old deer-hunting mantra about not being able to kill a big buck where big bucks don’t exist applies to fishing as well. If you’re looking to catch a giant smallmouth, you have to fish where they are. That happens in one of two ways: Lakes that are large enough that bass can get old (and thus big) even if the lake sees extensive fishing pressure. Smaller lakes with heavy fishing pressure simply haven’t proven capable of producing trophy-caliber fish on a regular basis in my experience. Which, of course, leads to the second type of lake capable of delivering giant bass: Fertile smaller fisheries with minimal fishing pressure. Like with whitetails, age is the key. Big lakes and/or limited pressure makes for big, old bass.

2. Find the Forage

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10 Natural Ground Blinds That Keep You Hidden from Deer

A nice 8-point the author shot from a natural ground blind. (Josh Honeycutt/)

There are three does feeding on sage, and making their way towards me. This a straight meat hunt, but it doesn’t stop the adrenaline from coursing through my veins. I’m running hotter than a rusty Ford Pinto engine as the trio meanders to within 15 yards. A 4-foot-tall boulder is all that conceals me; still, I draw my bow so slowly it’s almost painful. The fattest of the three hefty does finally turns broadside, and I release. The green light from my knock disappears into her shoulder, and she crashes 10 lunges later.

Until last season, it had been a long time since I’d killed a deer from the ground. In an age where gear drives the hunting industry, people have forgotten that natural hides abound in the deer woods. There are plenty of places to tuck into and shoot a deer. Here are 10 of the best.

1. Boulders

Perhaps my favorite option is a large boulder, and especially a pile of boulders in close proximity to one another. I’ve come across several of these natural ground blinds in my life, and one of them is the hide I used to arrow that big doe last fall. Just remember: Never draw your bow while pointing the arrow toward a boulder or rock. That’s a recipe for disaster.

2. Brush Piles

Find a good cedar tree and cut out a small window so you can get a clear shot.
A creek bank with good cover is a great place to stay hidden.
You can disappear into cover along field edges.

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What it’s Like to Hunt with Eagles in Mongolia

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Coffee or Die Magazine on August 19, 2018. For more stories like this, visit

Lauren McGough and her Kazakh mentor rode on horseback through the Altai Mountains until they caught up to their golden eagle, who was removing the fur from the fox it had just caught. Because of their language barrier, the two recreated the spectacular flight they had witnessed with their hands rather than retelling it with words, miming swooping and snatching, smiling at the memory of this dance between predator and prey. McGough’s mentor looked at her and lamented, “Why didn’t I take my daughters hunting?”

McGough is the only woman among the small fraction of American falconers who hunt with golden eagles. She discovered the sport by chance at age 14 when she came across the book “A Rage For Falcons” by naturalist author Stephen Bodio on a library shelf. She was immediately intrigued.

Lauren McGough hunts with her golden eagle. (Photo by Jeff Fincher/)

“I had assumed it was something that medieval knights did,” McGough said.

The teenaged McGough struck up a correspondence with Bodio, and before long she was taking tests on raptor husbandry and building an aviary in her parents’ backyard in pursuit of her falconer’s license.

Lauren McGough’s father took her on a two-week trip to Mongolia to witness an ancient form of falconry unlike what was practiced in the United States.
Lauren McGough’s golden eagle sits atop his fresh kill after a hunt.
Lauren McGough carries her golden eagle’s recent kill.
Lauren McGough’s golden eagle closes in on a wild hare during a hunt.

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Why Don’t We Hunt Ducks in the Spring?

Mallards and pintails will follow the ice line on their return flight north. (USFWS/)

Without fail, the week after duck season ends, the ducks show up. And as hunters, we lament the timing every year. Why can’t duck season last just a little longer?

To understand why hunting spring ducks doesn’t makes sense—and why it’s illegal under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act—we need to first look at their ecology. In spring, we always see more birds in places they don’t frequent in fall. This occurs because birds are less social this time of year. Hens and drakes pair up and spread out, looking to feed, roost, and loaf in places where they won’t be disturbed by unpaired males. Ducks become more solitary in the spring, simply because it’s safer.

“In the fall, we see big groups of ducks, but during the spring migration they become less tolerant of other pairs and unpaired males. When they arrive in the Prairie Pothole Region or other breeding areas, their lack of tolerance of others of the same species really spreads them out,” said Ducks Unlimited chief scientist, Tom Moorman. “That’s why it’s so important to have as much habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region as we can, because the millions of ducks need vast space for each pair to ultimately produce a brood.”

Many duck hunters want to hunt the spring because they believe ducks are much more susceptible to being fooled in March than in the fall. But the reason all those birds are showing up after your season closes is fairly simple: It’s because they’re not being hunted. If we could shoot mallards into February, that magical switch—the one that turns greenheads on and has them fluttering into the decoys with reckless abandon—would never get flipped. If hunting pressure persists, those ducks are going to seek refuge in order to survive until the Benellis go back in the gun closet.

“Ducks don’t like to get shot at and are averse to disturbance, so they are going to change their habits accordingly,” says Moorman. “It may look like there are 10 times as many ducks in the spring, but it’s because they are not getting disturbed.”

Snow geese can be safely hunted in the spring because their populations are so dense.
Spring is when duck populations are at their lowest and most fragile.

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5 of the Best Cartridges for Hunting Western Big Game

From left To right: 6.5 Creedmoor, .280 Ackley Improved, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-06 Springfield, and the .300 Winchester Magnum. (Aram von Benedikt/)

During the past couple decades shooting equipment, including rifles, optics, and ammunition, have evolved to take advantage of the, well, advantage, that laser rangefinders have brought to the field. Rifles are more accurate, scopes more capable, and ammunition more aerodynamic and precise.

I’ve been blessed to hunt extensively on the North American continent, from the wilds of Alaska to the border country of Arizona, and for mule deer, whitetails, elk, pronghorn, Coues deer, moose, and more. I’ve outfitted and guided for many years. After a quarter-century of adventuring, I’ve formed opinions on what cartridges work well for western big game.

In an effort to compare apples to apples I’ve provided typical velocity numbers from each cartridge, using Federal Premium’s excellent Terminal Ascent ammunition. This ammo is loaded with their highly aerodynamic Terminal Ascent bullets, is typically very accurate, and performs superbly on game at close or long-range. Here are my top five picks.

1. 6.5 Creedmoor

The author’s daughter Cheyenne, with a once-in-many-lifetimes buck she harvested with her 6.5 Creedmoor. (Aram von Benedikt/)

Last fall my 16-year old daughter Cheyenne wrapped herself across the top of a boulder, trying to steady her crosshairs on the biggest mule deer she’d ever laid eyes on. It took her a minute because the shot was difficult and the buck was at an extreme angle below her. She’s a steady lass though, and a crack shot, so when the gun went off the buck was DRT (dead right there). Sixty days later the buck officially grossed over 208 inches B&C. She killed that deer with a 6.5 Creedmoor, the same one she and her mama have used to harvest multiple deer and elk.

The author’s daughter Cheyenne, with a once-in-many-lifetimes buck she harvested with her 6.5 Creedmoor.
The .280 Ackley Improved is the ideal all-around western big game cartridge.
The one and only drop-tine buck the author has harvested, taken with a 7mm Rem Mag.
The author packing out his first Coues deer, taken with a .30/06.
A DIY Alaskan moose, taken with the tried-and-true .300 Winchester Magnum.

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.338 Federal: The Best Deer Cartridge You’ve Never Tried

The .338 Federal (second from right) doesn’t have the popularity of other .30 calibers, but it should. (Ron Spomer/)

The .338 Federal is the best deer and elk cartridge you’ve probably never fired or maybe never heard of. But you should have. This efficient short-action cartridge flattens game like the hammer of Thor without kicking you in the shoulder like a stubborn mule.

So why is it so uncommon? Well, it has a couple of “issues” that turn many hunters off. One, it throws heavy .338 bullets. Once hunters in the U.S. get to .308, they’re pretty much done. The old .30/06, the .308 Winchester, or any of our many .300 magnums will handle any game stateside and most anything anywhere else on the globe. So why go bigger? Second, the .338 Federal launches its 180- to 250-grain bullets from a small, short-action case (.308 Winchester). Most shooters have no problem with short-action cartridges if they throw bullets faster than the .308. That’s why the .243 Winchester, .260 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 Remington, and now .277 Fury are wildly successful. The .338? It’s hiding in the basement.

Before we dive more deeply into why this cartridge gets no respect, let’s outline what it does. Yes, it’s pretty much just the .308 necked up to take .338-inch bullets. But here’s the thing: When loaded with 180-grain bullets, the little .338 kicks out more muzzle energy than a 7mm Remington Magnum pushing 160-grain bullets. It recoils less than a .30/06 throwing 180-grain bullets and at 300 yards drops only a measly 1/2-inch more.

If that doesn’t impress you, look at it this way. Load 210-grain bullets in a .338 Winchester Magnum and a .338 Federal. Zero both for their Maximum Point Blank Ranges (MBPR). At 300 yards the Federal will drop just 1.5 inches more than the Winchester Magnum. And it’ll slap your shoulder with 12 ft/lbs less recoil.

All of this should impress the many North American hunters who celebrate the mid-caliber deer rounds of the good old days, like the 32 Winchester Special and 35 Remington. Those, the old timers insist, put deer down now—hard. Heavy bullet. Wide bullet. Dead deer.

The .338 is a potent, short-action cartridge capable of killing any North American big game animal.
The ultimate flat shooter in .338.
Bullets at this weight will retain 1,500 ft/lbs of energy out to 380 yards.
This is not an ideal long distance load, but it’s a solid elk load if you dial in your rifle correctly.
The 225-grain .338 has a higher muzzle velocity than the iconic .30/30, so it would make a fine deer rifle.

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5 Ways to Become a Better Rifle Shot on Mountain Hunts

Keep your rifle setup as basic as possible on mountain hunts. (Tyler Freel/)

A rifle shot takes a fraction of a second. It’s the fastest part of a mountain hunt, but only a sliver of what makes a mountain hunter successful. There’s much more time, effort, and cash spent to get you to this point, but it’s also critical to make the shot when it matters. That’s why we’re out here, after all. Choke at the most inopportune moment, and all your dreams and efforts will be for nothing.

We always want to make the first shot count, and the stakes are high on a rugged, backcountry, mountain hunt. It’s not like chasing pronghorn, where if you miss or bust an antelope, you just go find another one. If that first bullet misses, or worse, strikes the animal too far back and only cripples it, the hunt can turn into a negative experience quickly. You might not get another round off in time before losing sight of the animal, and that will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth for years—you may never get over it.

Shooting your rifle accurately in the mountains when the pressure is on takes the right rifle platform and practice. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help ensure your first pull of the trigger results in a hike with a heavy pack—and not the walk of shame.

1. Choose the Right Rifle Setup

In the mountains, more bells and whistles on your rifle translates to more weight to carry, so you will often find the most ideal rifles are lightweight and simple. A 12-pound chassis rifle with a high-powered optic and an Atlas bipod is going to be an easier gun to shoot accurately than a lightweight mountain rifle, but it’s hell to carry. Even on a bench rest, some of the lighter rifles are challenging to shoot, as their lack of mass weight makes them much more susceptible to human error. So, you have to get plenty comfortable with lightweight guns before the hunt. Everything becomes more important when you’re shooting a lighter rifle: position, grip, breathing, and the rest all factor in. You also need to consider the cold vs. warm bore impact shift, and how quickly the pencil-thin barrels will heat up, which causes projectiles to become less accurate.

Just because mountain rifles like this Weatherby Ti are capable of shooting big game at long distances doesn't mean you are.
Spend time at the range and dry-firing, so when an opportunity presents itself on the mountain, you feel confident in your abilities.

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Busted: 10 Myths About Scaring Off Deer

There are many factors that alert deer to danger. (National Park Service/)

There are many things that alert deer and cause them to hightail it to parts unknown, never to be seen in your food plot again. However, hunters have misconceptions about the things that always put deer on edge, or that all-out spook them. Deer are interesting animals, and the rules that govern when and how they blow out of an area are not always black and white. In light of that, here are 10 things that don’t always send whitetails running for safety of heavy cover.

1. Wind Stalls Deer Movement

I watched a big typical emerge from a cedar thicket. A sentry on his right and left, the trio of mature bucks marched across the field, straight toward my stand. Sweat poured from my brow, but the wind was so stiff it wicked away the perspiration droplets as fast as my adrenaline could manufacture it. Within minutes, I arrowed the biggest deer in the group.

Hunters say it all the time: “deer are spooky on windy days.” Well, tell that to the Penn State University (PSU) whitetail experts. The research undeniably supports bucks are more apt to move on windier days. Researchers analyzed three different categories of wind speeds (less than 1 mph, 1 to 15 mph, and 16 to 27 mph). The replicated study showed that, during daylight hours, bucks moved 30 meters per hour with less than 1 mph of wind, about 35 meters per hour in 1 to 15 mph winds, and a staggering 65 meters per hour in 16 to 27 mph winds. Translation? Wind doesn’t bother deer.

2. Human Urine Runs Off Deer For Good

You can’t always predict how deer will react to human scent. This buck didn’t seem to mind.
This deer wasn’t deterred by the author’s trailcam.
The farmer’s tractor won’t spook bucks.
This old doe has been on the author’s cams since 2011, and she’s infamous for blowing. So much, in fact, that other deer oftentimes ignore her alarms.

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Alaska’s Pebble Mine on Life Support

A sockeye salmon migrating upstream to spawn in Alaska. (Ryan Hagerty / USFWS/)

As recently as early August, the Trump Administration appeared set to green-light the long-contested mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run. However, a letter from the Army Corps of Engineers to the Pebble Partnership, dated August 20 and obtained today, reveals that administrative support for the open-pit gold and copper mine may be unraveling.

The letter noted “discharges at the mine site would cause unavoidable adverse impacts to aquatic resources,” and requested that the Pebble Partnership create and submit a mitigation plan within 90 days. Further erosion of support for the proposed mine could be forthcoming in a call today with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

President Trump himself was reportedly preparing to issue a public statement withdrawing his administration’s support for the mine. That statement could be made as early as today, say sources, as Trump begins a week of public appearances at the Republican National Convention.

“The president is hearing from a number of his supporters that punching a mine in the heart of Alaska’s salmon country is maybe a bad idea,” says one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He’s hearing that being opposed to a mine isn’t a Democratic or a Republican position, that maybe this is a bad project for this particular place.”

Sources indicated that Trump could either rely on the federal permit-approval process to delay the mine until after November’s election, or could vocally remove his administration’s support for the project altogether, which would have the same outcome but could bolster Trump’s standing with the conservation community. Coming just weeks after he signed the landmark Great American Outdoors Act, which dedicates billions of federal spending on conservation projects, Trump is hoping to appeal to outdoors-minded voters ahead of the November election, say sources.

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This Fitness Regimen Will Get You into Elk Hunting Shape

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Coffee or Die Magazine on August 15, 2019. For more stories like this, visit

There’s no doubt that hunting elk in the Rocky Mountain West is a physical activity. If you don’t live in a state like Colorado, where the average elevation is 6,800 feet above sea level, then you are already going into the season at a disadvantage. One of the most common killers for elk hunting hopefuls is the elevation and rugged terrain elk live in.

Just about every experienced elk hunter will agree that the farther you get from roads and subsequent hunting pressure, the better the quality of your hunt. Physical fitness directly relates to mental fitness. The fitter you are, the more likely you’ll be able to stay on the mountain longer.

Shooting your bow is great, but you need to get your legs in shape, too. (Michael Herne, Coffee or Die Magazine/)

Weighted Step-ups

If you’re hunting elk, moving uphill under load is almost inevitable. Aside from loading a pack and humping up and down hills, one of the best exercises for training your legs is weighted step-ups. I do weighted step-ups one to three times a week starting about two months prior to my elk hunting trip and rotating between these three workouts:

Step-ups prepare hunters for the steep climbs of hunting in the mountains.
Get fit for elk season.

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3 Forgotten Cartridges Found on the North Dakota Prairie: .225 Winchester, .307 Winchester, and the .244 Remington

From top: Winchester M70 in .225 Winchester, a Winchester model 94AE XTR in .307 Winchester, and a Remington 740 Woodsmaster in .244 Remington. (Alex Robinson /)

Each year I head west for a waterfowl hunt in North Dakota, where I stay with a family friend who’s a dyed-in-the-wool cattle rancher. He rides a horses instead of an ATV, his Ford truck is older than I am, and all his rifles are made of wood and metal.

This rancher is a true rifle nut, and his hobby is collecting guns. Every time we look through them, he finds rifles he didn’t know he even had. When I was out there last week, he dug up three rifles from his stash of hundreds that were chambered for cartridges I wasn’t familiar with, namley because guns for these cartridges are no longer being produced. Here’s a quick look at each one.

1. Winchester M70 in .225 Winchester

The Winchester M70 in .225 Winchester. This cartridge was introduced in 1964 with the parent cartridge of the .219 Zipper. (Alex Robinson /)

Starting from the top, we’ve got a Winchester M70 in .225 Winchester. This cartridge was introduced in 1964 with the parent cartridge of the .219 Zipper. It was meant to be a replacement for the .220 Swift, but it never really caught on, and by 1971, Winchester stopped producing rifles in .225 Win. According to Hodgdon, it fired a 60-grain bullet at 3,428 per second and a 40-grain bullet at a screaming 4,020 feet per second (but still slower than the Swift in the same grain).

2. Winchester Model 94AE XTR in .307 Winchester.

The Winchester M70 in .225 Winchester. This cartridge was introduced in 1964 with the parent cartridge of the .219 Zipper.
This lever gun is a Winchester model 94AE XTR in .307 Winchester.
A Remington 740 Woodsmaster in .244 Remington.

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