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Heartland Outdoors cover November 2017


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Recent entries


Versatile Hunter

Outdoor Recreation Destinations

Tue, January 02, 2018

It used to be that trip planning was all about what I wanted to do (hunting, fishing, etc. . ) and/or what my wife wanted to do (beaches and outdoors recreation).  Planning trips these days is all about the family. As we go about this planning, I’ve read about and talked to families about so many great outdoors spots that I’ve kept a small list when I hear something that catches our attention and/or that we visit ourselves. 

With really young kids (ours are 2 and 5), I’ll make this blog a little more specific to the Midwest which means it’s slightly more tolerable on drives (are we there yet??).

Southern Ozark Mountains-This generically covers everything from the beautiful rivers and lakes of the Ozarks in Missouri to Branson.  So many different things to do outdoors.  Take your pick of crystal clear rivers to float and fish for trout (Black, Current, North Fork of the White, White, Buffalo in Arkansas, etc. . . ) to the three amazingly crystal clear and yet uncrowded lakes (Norfork, Bull Shoals, Table Rock).  The lakes are also crystal clear and if you are a water sports person there are none that compare.  This is also an awesome place to rent a house boat.  We grew up spending summers in this area and my family still has a house on the beautifully preserved Bull Shoals Lake.  Development is generally not allowed within so close to the lake as the Corps of Engineers owns that forested buffer. Branson and of course, the Bass Pro Shops headquarters in Springfield are within short drives and well worth the drive.  Check out the new Wonders of Wildlife exhibit for an adventure I’m certain will blow away your expectations on natural history (both living and dead).

Lake of the Ozarks-I’m sure this lake once looked and felt like the three lakes I write about above but it is now much more of a party atmosphere (also cool if you’re into that).  The water is not nearly as clear but the things for the kids to do (like the many family-friendly restaurants on the water) are still dynamite.  Don’t even think about bringing a smaller boat out onto the main lake.  Millionaire yachts throw up huge wakes on busy weekends. Find the coves to avoid big boat swells and better opportunity for water sports.

Wisconsin Dells-A family favorite since I was a kid and we’ve now planned trips to this area two seasons in a row.  We prefer to stay off the main water parks and then water taxi in (Wilderness Resort is our favorite spot).  From the on and off road/river army ducks to the deer park and more—kid’s things to do are more than you can fill a weekend with. . . .

Northern Wisconsin—What I love about northern Wisconsin in the summer are the cool night time temps which means that outdoors campfires still make sense all while swimming during the day.  Camping is also still enjoyable throughout the summer.  Float and white water trips down the many beautiful and well-preserved rivers (Wolf, Peshtigo, Black, Flambeau) to flowage camping and fishing trips on islands, cabin and pontoon rentals and more.  If you are an outdoors family, the north woods are hard to beat. Check out the Flambeau flowage on state-run parks for island camping like you’ve never experienced before.

Michigan beaches—Want beautiful beaches that might rival going to Florida but are within 6 hours drive time from central Illinois?  Check out the west coast of Michigan.  From the more popular Holland, Grand Haven areas up to the Traverse City area that has both beaches and plenty of local wineries and breweries for mom and dad to check out, the beaches and family stuff to do will keep everyone happy.  We stayed in the Hart area and also spent time renting Jeeps to ride on the many incredible recreational dune areas.  Seeing a 250,000$ long carriage dune buggy hit 100 miles an hour on sand is quite the site and even the Jeep rental trip near Hart, MI had our entire family’s hearts pounding.  Trust me—its more adventure than what you think when you sign up—and that’s a good thing! There are also slightly slower and milder options for cruising the dunes but they’re a blast. . . . One beware—the water temps in Lake Michigan in mid-summer are still really cold.  Finding beaches with inland lakes discharging to Lake Michigan were the trick.  Duck Lake State Park was our favorite.

I’ve given you some of our family’s favorite trips—what are yours??


Dakota Cold, Young Hunter Luck, and Outdoors Perspective

Thu, December 14, 2017

The Dakota duck trip did not disappoint although it proved once again just how volatile the weather can be there.  Per usual, ducks died and nicknames were born.  Ice Log, Winnie the Pooh, Gray Beard, and the Old Man once again prevailed against the northern winged mallard hoard.  From 40 degrees to below zero with wind chill while we were there and then less than 2 days after we left back up to 50.  Our group was quickly reminded just how important being prepared for various scenarios is when travel hunting.  75% of the water in the area we were hunting was locked up when we arrived but with ducks, geese, and swans migrating in and out the entire trip and limited water the secret was simply to find open water and the hunting would be good.  Lots of those late season way up north full plumage and corn fed fat mallards feeding hard and then hitting roost water at night was the norm this year.  We hunted water a couple days and then headed to a hot corn field to give the dogs a break from the brutal cold and biting winds.  Some great video was taken in the field with a dozen mallards turning into 500 plus as they tornado’d above us before descending in and around our layouts—just what we came for!  Lessons learned on this trip—be prepared for any hunting scenario and when it comes to hunting dogs in the cold and wet—rotate dogs, use vests, and when the most brutal of temperatures happen—make sure you have backup plans (dry land hunts) if need be.

Sustaining the back injury earlier this summer put me down hard for doing a lot of the physical work I enjoy in the outdoors especially for deer hunting.  Dad and I were forced to hunt our field stands given that we had little intel on deer movement from lack of camera use and lack of maintenance on some of our forested deer stand setups.  We decided to try tent hunting (something I do little of because of my propensity to using elevated stands and belief that tents tend to spook deer if not properly brushed and set out in time for deer to get used to them).  Well, I was reminded that if done properly, tent hunting CAN be a good alternative to a tree.  Where you set them (think about sunlight angles to hide within the tent as well as shooting elevation and ability to see the largest areas from the ground) as well as how you brush them in are vital.  We met those expectations and were rewarded with a visit to our cut corn field by two mature bucks at last light.  This trip was all about the little man as dad and I packed the whole house to make him comfortable.  At 5 years old he sat for almost 4 hours without complaint but with plenty of snacks, binoculars, hot cocoa, and even a little YouTube kids on the phone to keep him interested. His second deer hunt of his life brought along his luck that night in seeing deer, but the old man (that’s me) promptly missed one of the two bucks cleanly.  The review of the shot location proved a clean miss which prompted a barrage of questions from my boy mostly asking why exactly I missed that deer.  A hunt with little expectations given the scenario turned out to be a big opportunity and dad, Brooks, and I will not soon forget it!  I ended the shotgun season with a mature doe for the family’s freezer and although I shot all summer until the injury I did not bow hunt given my condition and lack of preparation on the property.  Once again; however—I’m reminded just how lucky I am to not be in pain and to get out with my dad and son . . .

IRAP applications need to be sent in ASAP—and having guided several young hunters using this program over the last several years I’ll tell you—it’s a darn good opportunity!  Don’t miss out on the fun!  This program rivals some of the better programs I’ve seen in States that do a much better job overall of private land access programs. . . .

One last thought that I pondered with friends while hunting this year—I’m a pretty analytical guy as are many of my friends.  Sometimes, especially in hunting, you just have to trust your instincts in order to fool game and be successful.  Some of the most successful hunters I know just have a knack for taking animals consistently.  Overthinking things can not only take some fun out of it but can also lead to simple mistakes that result in lack of game sightings and missed opportunities. Instincts and gut feelings can often win the day when it comes to hunting. . .


Youth Pheasant Hunt and Wingshooting Clinic

Wed, November 15, 2017

The Spoon River Chapter of NAVHDA is a registered 501c3 charity that not only helps new and old hunting dog trainers to train and test their own dogs but also works to provide dogs and guides for various youth and disabled hunting events in the central Illinois area.  A good example recently occurred at Clinton Lake State Recreation Area near Clinton, IL. This year’s event took place on November 11 and consisted of an IDNR youth shooting clinic in the morning followed by a controlled pheasant hunt in the afternoon.  Events in the past like this have taken part here and at Mackinaw State Fish and Wildlife Area.  Clinic participants are paired up with a trained wing shooting instructor and then with a guide and dog for each respective event.

If you have interest in training your own hunting dog (for testing or just to hunt), please consider Spoon River.  Our Chapter consists of members both young and old and varies with experience and breeds.  For $35 per year you receive access to excellent training grounds in central Illinois, new and costly training equipment, knowledge and experience from all the Chapter members, and a chance to gain some friends that love to be outdoors hunting and fishing with their dogs.  Kids are always welcome and many of our members have them participate in our events.  Training days typically occur at least once a month starting in early 2018 and run until hunting season begins.  Members are also given opportunities to guide at various local hunting clubs and at various youth and disabled hunting events.  Join us in 2018!




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