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Recent entries


Versatile Hunter

Conservation Thoughts

Sun, February 26, 2017

I’ve long believed (as have so many others) that Aldo Leopold was a man that we all should look up to because of his deep belief in what true conservation is all about.  He believed in wise use of the land and a call for what he deemed a “land ethic” that would be used to sustain the land over the long term through a deeper understanding of the natural world around us.  He was an ardent hunter and outdoorsman but in a different sense than many of us consider someone who is an “outdoorsman”.  His version was one of learning our place amongst all living things and understanding that all things living (not just GAME animals) have a right (and a reason) to live on our planet. 

I recently finished a book by Curt Meine and Richard Knight entitled “The Essential Aldo Leopold” which contains a great compilation of many of his writings and thoughts over the course of his life.  I highly recommend it and will do it minor justice in my attempt to simplify it’s entries in this, a series of blogs with Aldo’s thoughts.

If you ever read anything that Aldo wrote, read “A Sand County Almanac”—you won’t be disappointed.  It’s perhaps the single reading that I can point to that led me down a path to better understanding the natural world—from my education to my career and overall belief in our place here on Earth.

“To see merely what a range is or has is to see nothing.  To see WHY it is, how it became, and the direction and velocity of it’s changes—this is the great drama of the land.”

“We love (and make intelligent use of) what we have learned to understand.”

“A conservationist,” Leopold decided as he stood with axe in hand, “is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”

“I do not pretend to know what is moderation, or where the line is between legitimate and illegitimate gadgets. . . I use many factory made gadgets myself.  Yet there must be some limit beyond which money-bought aids to sport destroy the cultural value of sport.”

“The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy—it is already too late for that—but in creating a better undersanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.”

“In our attempts to save the bigger cogs and wheels we are still pretty naive. A little repentance just before a species goes over the brink is enough to make us feel virtuous.  When the species is gone we have a good cry and repeat the performance.”

“The average American township has lost a score of plants and animals through indifference for every one it has lost through necessity.”

“.. . . There is value in any experience that reminds us of our dependency on the soil-plant-animal-man food chain, and of the fundamental organization of the biota.  Civlization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relation with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.”

“Girdling the old oak to squeeze one last crop out of the barnyard has the same finality as burning the furniture to keep warm.”

Hard to believe this man lived and wrote much of these things nearly 80 years ago—as much of it is as true today as it was back then.  Don’t get me wrong—in many ways Aldo would be proud of some of our conservation programs especially; however, as a larger society’s understanding of the natural world and its value we still struggle mightily. . .


Waterfowl Season in Central Illinois

Sat, January 28, 2017

Duck season for our group of friends started slow, continued slow and then ended with a bang.  From what I hear, many others experienced similar experiences here in central Illinois this year.  We hunt mostly public ground with some private duck and goose hunting spots in Tazewell and Fulton counties. The following reports were based on our experiences (not a typical duck hunter’s perception of expertise on all things waterfowl wink 

Wood ducks abounded this year, staying later than I ever remember them staying before because of the mild weather.  Early teal was mostly a bust with what I understood to be birds coming later than expected—also a result of weather. 

Mallards did not arrive until the later part of the season with a huge influx of birds (both divers and mallards at the tail end due to sub-zero temperatures up north and here. The birds concentrated on the warm water lakes and personally we had 4 days of duck limit hunting right at the end.  We saw more canvasbacks and redheads this year than on average and had some incredible hunts in which we finished our canvasback limit and watched them work and land on several days.  Half of our ducks harvested this year were gadwall and the grey ducks provided a great break from the lull mid-season.  Mallards didn’t visit us in the big numbers until late and as can be typical—still managed to mostly allude our spread. 

The old dog reminded me just how good he still is at the game of waterfowl hunting.  With hundreds if not thousands of birds shot over him in the course of an 11 year life thus far, he knows the game without me having to tell him (other than an occasional shout because of his deafness [or propensity towards not listening to me over the years!]). It’s amazing how he knows where to look for birds both in the air and on the water.  The comparison this year was to my young drahthaar (on his second season now).  The old dog can spot a duck dead on the water at an amazing distance even as they lay nearly flat at his vantage point.  His ability to work the appropriate cover when searching for a downed duck is also a result of his experience—things you simply can’t teach a dog without repetition and good genetics. The young dog held his own especially with his blind manners which I would argue is MORE important much of the time in this sport.  The light bulb definitely turned on towards the end of the season as he was able to gain good experience in retrieving ducks at distance and completing searches in cover. 

I got my father out this year on his first ever duck hunt at the end (he’s a turkey and deer hunter for the most part).  It was a limit day and he had an absolute ball, knocking the second bird of the day down with an amazing (lucky??) swinging shot at a 30+ yard bird.  Breakfast that morning was that much better with pops in the blind to share that memory with another of our friends. The last day of the season ended with the freeze up of our deep strip pit lake as we were pulling the boat from the water.  Our gloves froze to the boat instantly as we wetted them pulling duck decoys for the year-an annoying (and cool) end to another year I won’t soon forget.

Some reflection on our new duck hunting spot cemented a few tricks of the trade for us:
Duck dogs need appropriate manners above all else, followed by force fetch training, repetitious retrieves at DISTANCE (erring on the side of ALWAYS doing longs retrieves else beware a dog that CONSTANTLY marks short), and then training involving blind searches for live ducks in dense cover at distance (something that can easily be done in the spring and summer). Another huge advantage for our duck dogs is to provide them a good line of sight on decoying birds from the blind in order to make retrieves faster and easier.

Although Common Reed is considered an invasive species (one species here is native and another exotic), it does a great job in acting as duck blind cover because of its height, color, and durability. Here’s my take on Common Reed (Phragmites australis): if it’s not taking over the entire lake, pond, or wetland and you plan on hunting there, use it as hunting cover; otherwise cut it down and use an appropriate water safe herbicide to remove it entirely and allow native wetland species to survive and provide food for waterfowl and other native species. Beware however that it’s extremely aggressive and over time if not controlled will overtake all other species of plants in similar water depth (see Banner Marsh as an example).

Deep strip pit lakes such as those here in central Illinois can take a LONG time to freeze up, especially if they are exposed to the wind.  Our ice eater remained unused through the end of duck season on our particular lake because of this fact when most every other pothole, pond, and smaller lake had frozen solid.

To get the most out of an ice eater, set it up so that you are using the wind to your advantage.  The ice eater works by pulling warm water from below up to the surface and preferably onto the ice in front of it.  Wind can then carry that water and open a hole beyond that in the direction of the wind so placement is critical.  An ice fishing auger is extremely useful when opening a hole in solid frozen ice directly in front of or above the ice eater.  A half hour of running the ice eater where it is pushing water up out of the hole and onto the ice will open up a hole generally large enough to hunt over.  Additional time beyond that is needed depending on ice depth and wind speed/direction. 

Respect is due to other duck species beyond the might mallard when it comes to table fare and overall enjoyment of our duck hunting sport: see the “lowly” spoonbill as a perfect example. . . . To this point, a good read on what ducks actually eat here in central Illinois (and by which they should therefore be measured as table fare), see “Waterfowl of Illinois: Status and Management” by legendary waterfowl Biologist Steve Havera. Like many animals in this world, what is available is often what is eaten.  It will likely surprise you as to just how omnivorous many species of waterfowl actually are.

In my opinion, “expert” duck hunters are measured by such species harvested as mallards, pintails, and white fronted (specklebelly) geese as these birds are typically some of our most wary here in central Illinois.  The ability to “talk” a large group of mallards into your spread late season is an art in and of itself—some old Arkansas boys I met down that way one year proved that to me personally.  Let me complete this paragraph by saying that based on the above I am NOT an expert duck hunter.  Ha.

All in all, a great season is any season we get outdoors and hunt and considering two growing young boys at home and a typical American’s busy life. . .  this was a great season.


Handgunning for Deer

Mon, December 12, 2016

First, some regulations that are sometimes confused when it comes to using handguns for deer.  As long as you are using a legal handgun, you CAN carry that handgun AND another legal firearm (such as a slug gun and/or muzzleloader) during their respective legal seasons.

Straight from the rule book:
“For handguns, a bottleneck centerfire cartridge of .30 caliber or larger with a case length not exceeding 1.4 inches, or a straight-walled centerfire cartridge of .30 caliber or larger, both of which must be available as a factory load with the published ballistic tables of the manufacturer showing a capability of at least 500 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle. There is no case length limit for straight-walled cartridges.”

“Non-expanding, military-style full metal jacket bullet cannot be used to harvest white-tailed deer; only soft point or expanding bullets (including copper/ copper-alloy rounds designed for hunting) are legal ammunition.”

I’m no handgun pro but from what I understand, a typical .45 handgun round would not be considered legal. Popular and legal guns include the .44 Mag, as well as the .454 Casull and .500 (overkill in my opinion based on having shot them), .41, and .357 although I hear the .357 is the smallest caliber you would want to use. I’m going to guess there are other options out there but from my research these appear to be the most popular.

I’ve carried a handgun on me for a total of 3 seasons along with my H&R 12 gauge heavy barrel slug gun.  I’ve target shot with the Ruger .44 Super Red Hawk comfortably out to around 40 yards.  That’s off hand with a red dot.  Putting it on a rest I’m told proficient shooters can reach out to around 100 yards but that seems crazy to me.  The first two seasons I was able to get deer within 40 yards during firearms season but the deer were either moving and I couldn’t stop them or brush was in the way so I never got off a shot. I have harvested deer with my slug gun while carrying the pistol in my Uncle Mike’s holster which fits beautifully under a heavy winter coat while hunting.  Because of the need to get them in close with a handgun I liken it more to bow hunting, which is a passion of mine.

This year was my third season carrying and the second season of firearm season I was able to stop a doe running past me at about 25 yards quartering away and was able to put the red dot in the right spot and make a double lung shot.  The deer went 40 yards and piled up.  Upon inspection of the shot placement it blew my mind that the 240 grain soft point American Eagle rounds did that kind of damage.  I likened the exit to a 12 gauge slug.  There is no doubt in my mind that this setup is a deadly one for deer.

In short, give hand gunning for deer a shot—it might do for you what it did for me—made me look forward to firearm season again!


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