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Recent entries


Versatile Hunter

Bog Suckers Are Here

Fri, March 29, 2013

Have you guessed what I’m talking about yet?  It goes by many names—timberdoodle, night partridge, wood snipe. . . It’s the American Woodcock and this is a good time to start getting out and watching them do what Aldo Leopold (the father of conservation) called the sky dance in his “Sand County Almanac” book.  I argue this is one of the greatest books on land conservation of all time—and I’m sure many would agree.  If you’ve never read it—make the time.  I think you’ll thank me later. 

Back to the woodcock “dance”.  It’s really not a dance at all, but an elaborate breeding ritual that males perform each spring in order to woo the ladies.  I read Aldo’s book in college and met some local birders who showed me where to observe such a ritual.  I was blown away at what I saw.  They start their dance just before dark in any open area—fields, country roads, and anywhere else they can be seen while completing their ritual.  The way to find them is to listen for the distinctive “peent” that they let out repetitively while starting their ritual on the ground.  The best explanation of what they do then comes from Aldo himself “Up and up he goes, the spirals steeper and smaller, the twittering louder and louder, until the performer is only a speck in the sky. Then, without warning, he tumbles like a crippled plane, giving voice in a soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy. At a few feet from the ground he levels off and returns to his peenting ground, usually to the exact spot where the performance began, and there resumes his peenting.” 

Woodcock hunting is something I can’t say enough about.  Our tactic is to go north during the fall migration and hunt woodcock and grouse.  Wisconsin and Michigan are great states for such sport and both have ample public ground hunting opportunities.  You will find the woodcock in lower swampy areas as a general rule, although we’ve also found them in adjacent upland habitat.  The habitat key that seems to stand for both wet and upland sites, however, is that the lower ground cover cannot be dense—woodcock need to be able to move around while on the ground and forage for their prey—mostly earthworms.  Their bill is pliable and they use it to thrust into the ground and “feel” for earthworms.  They are great birds for pointing breed dogs as they sit very tight. I’ve come upon old Brahms staring intently at a perfectly camouflaged woodcock not 2 feet from his nose on multiple occasions before flushing it and missing through a tangle of alders and/or young popple trees (aspens).  Woodcock habitat is said to be dwindling due to the reduction in timber harvest and disturbance over the years. This is a bird (like quail, grouse, and other disturbance-dependent birds) that thrive in areas of newer growth.

Our first year hunting woodcock and grouse in north central WI I met a guide who had been hunting these birds for over 20 years.  We became fast friends and I’ve been hunting with him for the past 5 or so years up there.  One night while having a beer in his front yard I mentioned that the woodcocks were really making a racket that night.  He asked what I was talking about—he never knew that it was the woodcocks making the strange “peent” sound he heard so often! 

If you’ve never gotten to see “the dance” check it out—it’s well worth the minimal effort to observe such an amazing sight in nature.  For some additional information, including pictures (I’m not near as talented as Gretchen with a camera), some hunting, and the “peent” sound I talk about above, check out some of these fact sheets and youtube videos:


Raccoon Callin’

Tue, March 12, 2013

Last summer while working a hunting dog test in Canton, IL I ran into some folks who had experience hunting raccoons with electronic callers.  They explained that it was an easy setup and all you needed was a caller with a boar fight or other raccoon vocalization (some have even said a predator distress call such as a mouse squeaker or dying rabbit will work).  You set the caller beneath a suspected den tree and then turn it on, sit back against a tree with a little camouflage on and be ready to shoot.  What does a den tree look like?  Raccoons prefer older growth trees that contain holes and cavities so that they can den together in family groups over winter. It is also worth noting that den trees are often located near water sources because of the raccoon’s preference for water creatures such as frogs, snails, fish, etc. If there is snow on the ground you can see their tracks leading to/from a den tree and take note for a later hunt.

My initial reaction to all of this was suspect.  I’d never heard of doing this before and questioned whether or not it was legal.  After looking through the IL Digest of Hunting and Fishing and talking with a local CPO, it turns out it is completely legal.  Raccoons have a season so you can’t hunt them year round.  Last year’s season ran from November 5-February 10 in the north and five days later in the south.  Choice of guns include any caliber rifle, shotgun (slugs are NOT allowed, however), and/or handgun.  Obviously you need to stay ethical and make head shots with the smaller calibers.  Another thing worth noting is that you should wait until the raccoons are completely out of their den hole before shooting so as not to drop them back into their hole and potentially drive the other raccoons denning with them out of the tree.
So my buddy and I decided to try it this past February.  We snuck up to an old den tree that I had noted in the past while deer hunting and set the e-caller beneath it.  Then we backed off about 20 yards and set next to each other, backs against a tree looking at the den tree.  It was a cold day and I was questioning whether or not the raccoons would actually come out of the tree when the caller started. Within a minute or two I saw a big raccoon sticking its head out of one of several den holes.  I lined my shotgun up on him and waited for him to exit the hole.  About that time another raccoon came out of another hole in the same tree and started running up and down.  My buddy was dead tired from being up all night with his new baby, so when my gun went off he nearly fell over.  Within 5 minutes we saw at least 4 raccoons come out of the tree, shot one, and missed another.  After retrieving the first raccoon, another raccoon came out of a hole and ran up the tree—apparently the e-caller is just too enticing for them to resist.  That was the end of our setup but wow, it really got the blood pumping. 

So, what do you do with a raccoon once you’ve harvested it?  There are a lot of options from selling the hide, using it for coyote bait, to cooking it up.  Similar to other hunter experiences with game traditionally thought of as garbage meat, I’ve had other folks tell me that raccoon meat can actually be quite tasty.  Again, it’s all in how you cook it.  I’ll be sure and report back once I get a good recipe and try it for myself. 

Here’s what I’m ultimately getting at with this article—raccoon hunting with an e-caller is a blast!  Give it a try and see for yourself the next time you’re looking to spend a little time outdoors.  I don’t want to give raccoons a totally bad name as they certainly have their place in nature (as all wild things do), but they are nest raiders and will eat whatever they come across as they are omnivorous in nature (they eat everything essentially).  With the loss of many raccoon hunters as compared to in the past, this is a good way of managing populations.  If you keep some around though, you can continue the good hunting year after year as they often utilize the same den trees over and over.


Joe Biden Talks Gun Control and Latest USFWS Outdoor Recreation Economic Numbers

Sun, March 10, 2013