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Midwest Summer Fishing Report, Dale Bowman , Jul 21

Ticks are becoming growing problem, Jeremiah Haas, Jul 19

Lake Iroquois Huge Fish Kill, Kenya Ramirez, Jul 19

The Science behind Fish Oil Supplements, NPR Illinois, Jul 19

Redear Sunfish Record, Dale Bowman , Jul 19

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Heartland Outdoors turkey hunt Illinois may 2018

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Shae
SHAE
BIRKEY

Versatile Hunter

Squirrel Day Has Arrived

Thu, August 16, 2018

19th annual squirrel day was a hit with friends and families as always.  It’s amazing how our focus and interests change over the years to family as young ones reprioritize our lives.  That’s no excuse as to why we can’t still enjoy the great outdoors—we just do it in a different way now and the focus is all about them. . . .

My son, Brooks and I hunted our usual haunt on the north side of the farm on the first Saturday of August. The boy awoke eagerly for his second straight squirrel hunting year.  At 4, he enjoyed every minute of it but at 5 he is now calling, picking out dropping nuts, and stalking squirrels like a pro. We brought along the youngest drahthaar, Aldo for picking up squirrels and for a chance to teach some obedience while hunting.  He walked well through the woods on heel, silently creeping along with us and whoa’ing in place when I asked him to so that I can close some final yards during a stalk.

We hit up our usual hickory and walnut groves and they didn’t disappoint as always.  First shot from my fully choked Vinci dropped one big Fox Squirrel and sent multiple squirrels high tailing it through the trees in all directions.  This area is full of black gray squirrels and it’s always neat to see them and try to harvest one or two.  Most of our harvest on this farm consists of the typical Illinois “giant” fox squirrels.  When I show the pictures of these squirrels to people in other states they are shocked at their size.  The boy holding them up makes them look even bigger!

Here are some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up from 27 years of squirrel hunting in the Midwest.  I’ve hunted with .22’s, .410’s, 20 gauge, and 12.  They all present their own challenges and opportunities.  I prefer the .22 for the sheer challenge but early in the season that is exactly what it is because of the dense foliage in the trees.  You’re better off finding some hickory and walnut trees that are producing nuts and sitting still rather than stalking (although I’ve harvested my fair share with a .22 that way also).  Shotguns are better at getting numbers early on.  Full chokes are necessary IMO given foliage and sometimes having to reach up into the treetops where they spend most of their time eating. 6 shot is my preference—squirrels are tougher than people give them credit for and if you don’t drop them clean you will either lose them in the trees or on the ground.  Calls may seem like a gimmick but trust me—it’s no different than deer hunting with calls—sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.  Knowing when and how to use calls is important.  I use a plunger style Olt barker paired with a Mr. Squirrel distress whistle.  A perfect example of how these calls SOMETIMES work in the woods went like this: my boy and I sat down near a hickory grove and as he barked I whistled and beat a branch against a honeysuckle bush.  We stayed behind some cover just in case a bushytail was out of our sight and so that they didn’t catch us moving.  Within about a minute a big Fox came flying out on the edge of a branch no more than 20 yards chattering away at us.  He succumbed quickly to our game bag.  I’m told (and it makes sense) that the sound is that of a squirrel being attacked (think dying rabbit) while another squirrel chatters at the attacker.  In nature, this could be a hawk attack for example.  All makes sense to me and if I haven’t seen it work I may just call BS!

Get out there and hunt—squirrel hunting is another excuse to get into the woods early in the season, improving on your stalking skills, shooting skills, and overall woodsmanship.  Even better—do it with your little ones and a well-trained dog to pick up cripples and find any downed in dense woods.  With the little ones, keep the hunts short and keep them interested by way of letting them lead from time to time and teaching them about other wildlife and plant/tree life along the way.

 

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Spring Turkeys and Summer Fishing

Wed, August 01, 2018

Spring turkey hunting was a tough one for me and some of the folks I run with.  I tend to hunt more early seasons nowadays as I believe the birds tend to be less educated and the foliage isn’t too thick yet.  I’ve also guided the youth season for the past 7 years.  This year my youth hunter couldn’t hunt the date they had a permit which fell on some pretty darn cold and rainy dates this year.

After youth season, I was able to take my little man on his first ever hunt at the age of 5.  Unfortunately, I had little time to scout and ended up getting skunked that morning with all the birds in the woods roosted well down the hollow and with hens.  Brooks made me proud by waking up in the dark and sitting for better than 6 total hours and all without electronics.  I took a ton of snacks that he picked out and he spent some time in the sleeping bag I brought along to keep him warm in the tent.  Mostly he spent time peering through the windows claiming to see turkeys-ha! I hunted day two by myself and had two gobblers that wouldn’t budge from their strutting ridge.  A fox came through around 11 and spooked them off. 

Second season I guided some first timers in Fulton County on their farm and again we had two gobblers running from one strutting ridge to the other responding to calls but never wanting to close the distance before finally being dragged away by hens.  Normally I would stay for the late morning hunt which are some of my most successful but they had to call it early.

Third season found my dad and I again hunting our favorite public land spot.  Day one was frustrating and rainy with several birds staying out in the fields and wanting nothing to do with a call.  It was obvious they had been played with by earlier season hunters.  Day two we were set up on a big flock near the woods edge and had birds just inside the woods responding to calls but ultimately they stayed with their hens until we left mid-morning looking for birds with more interest.  After getting back to the truck and having coffee, catching up, Dad and I heard a gobble not 200 yards from where we stood.  I waited for 4 more excited gobbles and decided this bird was hot and I needed to get on him. Fifteen minutes later I had my biggest public land bird to date with 1 ½ inch spurs back at the truck.  Some soft yelps just inside the woods was all it took for this bird to come in spit drumming in full strut.  Can’t beat that sound in the woods! Hammerich’s is now putting together my first ever full mount turkey—gobbling on the roost from an oak limb.  I’ve seen and heard about his turkey mounts for years and I’m sure he won’t disappoint.  Can’t wait to see it on the wall. . ..
My extended family and I just got back from a weeklong trip down to Dauphin Island, Alabama near Gulf Shores. We had a blast swimming, fishing, boating, hiking, and hanging out on the beautiful beaches there.  We will definitely be back.

The fishing was done both on shore casting into the bay side and also out on a charter.  The charter had everyone aboard catching one after another—everything from hammerhead sharks, croakers, gaff-topsail catfish, speckled trout, stingrays, and many other species that I can’t recall off the top of my head.  Nothing huge but all perfect eating size—they all tasted excellent fried and baked.  The rigs were pretty much the same and consisted of a leader with heavy weight and snap swivel for a hook.  This keeps the bait (squid, dead and live shrimp) anchored near the sea floor.  The fish bit much lighter than I thought and reminded me more of crappie fishing than what I would expect from ocean fishing.  This was my rookie venture out onto the ocean fishing and driving a rented boat. 

We took the boat out onto the far side of the island where it’s undeveloped and swam and explored the tidal marshes.  After swimming for a bit, I walked down the beach where the waves were hitting the unprotected side of the bay and saw some big cruising stingrays—and I mean BIG.  That made me a bit uneasy swimming in the nearby waters as I was told a story by one of our charter Captains about him being stuck by one.  He said it was a small one but felt like being jabbed by a red-hot poker in the foot and it lasted for over 3 hours until the hospital simply emerged his foot in a really hot tub of water which apparently pulls the venom out. 

One of the local kids gave us a good tip for hammering all species of fish.  Asking permission to fish a local lighted dock at night with live shrimp below a bobber suspended halfway to the bottom.  The kid said that you will “wear ‘em out” that way and that he spent several hours cleaning fish the first time he tried it. 

Our neighbors renting the beach house next to us were from Florida and loved to shark fish.  They spent the whole week with rods in the Gulf catching and releasing mostly back tips and sand sharks.  The biggest of which was around 5-foot-long and right next to where we were all swimming!  All of us thought it was the coolest thing to see and touch these neat fish though. . ..

Dolphins were everywhere out in the Gulf and on the bay side and we could get right up next to them by jet ski and boats. 

The oldest boy and I did a hike on an Audubon birding trail on the island and saw osprey, numerous bird species, skinks, turtles, and giant millipedes, but never found the big alligator that resided in the inshore lake. 

So far, this has been another great year outdoors and with the boys getting older and more able each year I can’t wait to share those adventures with them.  This year’s lining up to be a good one in terms of hunting opportunities here in central Illinois as well as a trip to the Northwoods for woodcock and grouse and the VDD-GNA Utility hunt dog test with the youngest dog.

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River Drawdowns and Cerakote Guns

Mon, July 30, 2018

Apologies for the randomness of this blog but I had two recent subjects that I wanted to cover and didn’t want to write separate blogs. 

Given some of the controversy over the Emiquon drawdown project and construction I thought I’d share a good video on why the ability to mimic natural summer water drawdown is so critical and gaining momentum around the US:

http://mn.audubon.org/landingwater-birds-and-people/advocating-drawdowns

Also wanted to plug an excellent custom gun maker and cerakote gun finisher.  We’re starting to see cerakote finishes on guns of all sizes and types.  I had Deadeye cerakote in Kryptek variation my old Benelli Vinci in place of buying a new 1200-1600$ duck gun.  The gun looks, feels, and functions like new and from what I understand about cerakote it is now armor-clad unlike the earlier “dips” that used to be applied to guns.  This particular gun of mine was dipped aftermarket and within a year began to rub off and was always slick in my hands.  The cerakote is an obviously stronger bond and has a slightly tackier feel.  Plus—it looks super cool. . . .

https://deadeyecustoms.com/

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