Friday, October 31, 2008

Follow Your Gut Instincts

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The weather conditions are perfect. A soft, gentle breeze of under five miles-per-hour allows us to be downwind of approaching deer. The wind is perfect, and two tree stands or elevated coops are well placed for an evening hunt.

Both are near the junction and downwind of three active deer trails leading from a bedding area to the evening food source. Both are 15 feet off the ground, and each one allows easy quartering-away shots.

The burning question is: which of these two stands should be hunted? Neither one offers a clear advantage, and both stands are equally good. So which one will be the hunting stand of choice on this night?

The average serious bow hunter wishes such options were available to them on a more frequent basis. It’s a rare time when two stands offer similar degrees of efficiency, placement and attraction to deer.

Trying to make the mental coin flip can be a lesson in frustration. So, how pray tell, is a hunter supposed to make a wise decision?

The answer is a personal gut check. Something about one stand or the other will serve to trigger an instinctive reaction. This is one of those situations where the hunter lets his instincts take over, and almost always, the proper decision will be made.

Often, the decision will instinctively be made based on one tiny thing that appears so intangible that many people would pay no attention to it. Here is an example of what might instinctively sway your choice from one stand to the other.

Stand A faces southeast, the direction that deer will travel, and as the sun starts going down, your shooting position is shaded from the bright sunset. Nothing can interfere with a shot.

Stand B is equally good but it faces slightly southwest, and deer cross in front of the stand at an angle. It’s a great spot, and plenty of deer move past, but the hunter is squinting a bit because of the bright glare of the evening sunset.

So ... in this situation, the instinctive reaction of hunters who know the particular quirks of Stands A and B would find most people picking Stand A. A gut check, or decision based on instinct, tells a hunter which stand should produce.

Now, if all things remained equal, the average hunter would probably choose Stand B for a morning hunt because they wouldn’t want to be squinting into the sun as it rises and they are trying to aim at a deer.

Gut instincts play an important role in other aspects of bow hunting. The wind is up a bit, and the tops of trees are swaying. The hunter tends to get a bit queasy in the stomach when the trees sway and he is in one of them.

If that hunter had a choice between a tree stand or ground blind on this evening, which do you think he would choose? If your gut instinct said the ground blind, you’d probably be right.

These instincts are what keep some big bucks alive, and a deer operates on the sensory stimuli of sight, smell and sound. They pay particular attention to what their ears, eyes and nose tell them.

On the other hand, hunter instincts are not nearly as well developed, but when something inside your body screams “do this or do that,” the wise hunter pays attention to such instinctive thoughts.

Deer seemingly appear and disappear, often without sound. You are looking one way, and a thought blasts into your brain telling you “Don’t move,” it’s a good idea to remain still. Often your senses, without your knowledge, picked up the presence of a nearby deer. Was the deer seen or heard?

No, but your sensory instincts determined the presence of a nearby animal, and you remain motionless. Soon it steps into view, and in time if all things work right, a shot will be taken.

These instincts date back to the dawn of Mankind where a a hairy prehistoric human paid attention to his/her instincts or was gobbled up by some large animal. Most people who fought in Viet Nam came to trust their instincts about whether they were walking into an ambush. They learned to sense danger.

The hunting instincts of most sportsmen have been dulled a bit over the passage of many centuries. We aren’t as sharp as our distant ancestors, but our instincts still work.

We simply must learn to depend on them. A person with good instincts is often a superb hunter. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/31 at 06:16 PM
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Practice Tree Stand Safety

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I know hunters who climb into a tree stand with their bow slung over their shoulder, and a quiver filled with arrows near their neck. One would assume the arrows were tightly inserted into the bow quiver.

But I’ve also seen those same people catch the feathers or vanes of an arrow on a twig or branch, and knock the arrow loose from the quiver. Sometimes the arrow falls to the ground, and sometimes the arrow is sticking out at an awkward angle near their neck or body.

So what do they do? I’ve watched people wiggle around, ease the bow off their shoulder, all while standing on one or two feet and using one hand to try controlling where the loose arrow will go.

Such things are accidents waiting for a place to happen, and the hunter is standing in the right spot. They could lose their grip, lose their balance, and could fall. They could bounce off one or two big limbs, driving a broadhead into their back or neck, or fall to the ground and land on an arrow or miss the arrow and break a leg or back.

Many tree stand accidents occur for a number of reasons: doing stupid things, taking chances, not having two hand-holds and one foot or two feet firmly placed and using both hands to climb. Sometimes an accident occurs when a foot or hand-hold slips.

Know this: most tree stand accidents occur while climbing into, climbing out of or while sitting or standing in a tree stand. There is no room for error when hunting from a tree stand.

But one thing a hunter should never do, with bow or firearm, is to climb into or out of a stand with a bow or firearm over their shoulder. If they jiggle a little, the bow or firearm may start to slip, and it’s an instinctive reaction to try to save it. This often results in a fall.

A haul rope and a safety harness should be used by all tree stand hunters. Strap yourself into a safety harness with straps around both upper thighs, straps over both shoulders, and all four straps attached to a belt that goes around the waist.

It makes sense that a haul rope be left at each tree stand. Tie one end of the haul rope up in the stand next to the seat or on a nearby limb, and let it dangle down to the ground.

Make certain all arrows are firmly inserted into the quiver, and the quiver securely snapped in place. Tie the rope around the bow with the closed end of the quiver facing up, and tie the bow so the lower bow limb is off the ground.

Climb into the stand, and securely attach the back strap of the safety harness to the tree before doing anything else. And then pull the bow or firearm up into the tree. If raising a firearm, make doubly sure the magazine and barrel is unloaded and the action is open before pulling it up.

More than one fool has loaded his firearm, pulled it up into the stand with the barrel loaded and the safety off, and shot himself. Dumb.

When lowering a bow to the ground, make certain the arrows are firmly placed in the quiver, the quiver is firmly clicked into place on the bow, and reverse the bow when it is lower. The broad part of the quiver that covers the broadheads should be pointed down.

Make certain the knot you tie with the rope is tight to avoid having the it come undone, and have the bow go plunging to the ground. The impact usually does bad things to a bow or a firearm.

A haul rope is a genuine safety device. A full-body harness is a wise investment in your future health, and common sense means climbing trees empty-handed.

Follow these simple rules, and your tree stand hunting will be more rewarding and much safer.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/30 at 06:30 PM
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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Work With A Favorable Wind

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It never ceases to amaze when a person tells me it should be good hunting because the wind is out of the west. Under most circumstances, I would agree with them.

A west wind is usually good. A southwest, northwest and north wind can be very good as well.

However, the direction the wind blows from out in the fields is one thing. How it blows, and the direction the wind takes once it enters thick cover, can be an entirely different matter.

Hunters who count on that west wind, and fail to check it often during an evening or morning hunt, is taking some unnecessary risks. The problem is that a certain wind direction in the open may be considerably different back in heavy cover where the breeze tends to swirl once it hits the trees and heavy foliage.

There are a couple of easy ways to check the wind. Let’s say your stand is perfect for a west wind. Climb into the stand, and use a little squeeze bottle of unscented talcum powder. Squeeze the little plastic bottle once, and watch which direction the wind takes the powder.

Another trick is to dispense milkweed seeds on the wind. They are easier to see than talcum powder, and it’s important to watch them until they hit the ground. If they show the wind to be from some direction other than west, it might be wise to reconsider your choice of stand locations.

It’s a good bet that the wind won’t be straight out of the west. It may be from a westerly quarter, but may not be due west. It’s even possible that the wind in thick cover will be from an altogether different direction.

So, your heart and soul is set on sitting in that tree stand and shooting a nice buck you’ve seen there. If the wind is completely wrong for that stand, to stay and sit there means you will probably be making a major bow hunting mistake.

Spook deer once from a stand, and it may be some time before they return to that area. One squeeze, and a stream of talcum powder or a thrown milkweed seed hits the air, and they will tell you where your scent is going. And that could be that day’s big surprise.

I always use a Game Tracker string tracking device. I tie a loop knot, slide the loop over the broadhead and down onto the threads and leave a few inches of excess line dangling down. It serves as a perfect wind-direction indicator at your position, and it can offer an early warning alert if the breeze at your hotspot is a bit and blowing the wrong way.

I know a couple of traditional bow hunters who tie a dark turkey feather to their quiver, and I’ve seen a couple of compound bow users tie a feather to the bottom limb of their bow. Feathers are ideal because they catch the air, but the reason I don’t use them is because in a steady breeze, the feather will be spinning and twisting around. This could provide too much movement in your stand.

If the breeze is just a bit off-center, make a judgment call to determine whether to risk staying or make a move early. If it’s off just a tad, I’ll usually stay and hunt the stand.

However, if it is off too much, I climb down and head for a different location. Anyone who sits in a stand when the wind is dead wrong, and winds up spooking deer because of their laziness, deserves their hunting fate that day and perhaps well into the future.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyhow. Never, I repeat never, hunt a stand if the wind is wrong. You may get away with it once with a young buck or doe, but sooner or later, it will come back and haunt you.

Good hunting spots aren’t found just anywhere. They are good because of several factors, and often the biggest thing is the prevailing wind direction is in your favor. Hunt that hotspot stand when the wind is wrong, and one may as well kiss it goodbye for the season.

Such stands are not worth risking being winded by a deer. Bow hunting can be tough enough as it is without giving the deer an added advantage. Do it once, and you may find yourself going through a really dry hunting spell while wishing you would have never made that silly mistake.

On occasion, I have climbed down and left the woods entirely because of bad or swirling winds. The odds of success on such days are not good, and why hunt a bad night if you don’t have to?

Me, I hunt every night but am quick to switch stands if the wind shifts. This tip is on Page 1 of my longtime deer-hunting game plan, and it should be on yours.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/29 at 04:51 PM
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Knowing When To Come In Out Of Nasty Weather

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Those who have known me for many years know that sitting in a tree stand or a pit blind is my favorite deer hunting method. However, having said that, there are exceptions to most rules.

The are some evenings that demand a change. There are several reasons to own hunting coops: one is for those people who dislike sitting exposed in a tree stand. Another reason is to avoid inclement weather. A distant third is I’ve yet to hear of someone falling out of a ground blind and breaking their neck.

Inclement weather can mean anything from a down-pouring rain to strong winds that make sitting 15 to 20 feet up a tree an adventure, even when wearing a safety harness. I also dislike sitting in a tree when lightning is flashing. It sends me scampering for cover. Ma Richey didn’t raise any dumb kids.

Me and two friends scouted last night, and it was a windy and somewhat wet evening as it tried to snow and drizzle. I love to hunt during the new moon, and we were looking for something we hadn’t seen before. We were hoping to find something good for this weekend.

Was it a great scouting night? Of course. Any night when you can hunt or scout or spend time in a deer woods is a good night, but as the old joke goes, some nights are better than others.

Three bucks came to me tonight as I sat with binoculars and spotting scope, studying deer travel patterns. The deer came sneaking in late through occasional windy gusts and they crept through my area walking in an easterly direction while on their way to someplace else.

They were small bucks, and the largest was a decent six pointer but not an exceptional deer. He was a basic 1 1/2-year-old buck trying to stay out of the way of bigger bucks.

Each buck offered either a broadside or quartering-away shot but my interest level was on a higher scale. It was the type of night when I’ve shot some very nice bucks, but tonight I was looking for big bucks.

It seems on nights like this that most of the deer stay pretty close to their bedding area in thick cover, but even though it wasn’t raining or trying to snow all the time, some bucks are feeling the rise in testosterone levels. Wet ground makes for silent travel, and some bucks go for a hike to see what is new and different on their turf.

For me, just being out to observe the animals was fun. It looked like it would finally turn to snow, and it may snow later tonight, but I learned the travel routes of some smaller bucks.

I don’t hunt every night when it rains or threatens rain but I enjoy the stillness of a dry coop 20 feet in the air. It gives me greater visibility, and although the three small bucks weren’t what I hoped to see, it proved that some deer were on the move ... which is always a good reason to sit inside a stand, whether it was in the air or on the ground.

One friend had seven does and fawns come to him at the end of decent daylight, and they moved swiftly on their way. As he put away his binocular for the hike back to his truck, a small buck moved through about 15 yards away. The other hunter saw only a pair of young deer.

Each of us had the same thought tonight. It’s impossible to be a successful deer hunter sitting in the house when we should be scouting. That means we were out in the unsettled weather tonight, but we all chose to sit in a coop.

We may not be the smartest gents in the world, but we’re smart enough to know when come in out of nasty weather.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/28 at 01:02 PM
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Monday, October 27, 2008

Skulk Or Walk To A Stand?

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One facet of deer hunting that few people bother to think much about is how they approach their stand. Should they sneak up to it or walk to it?

I’m a major believer that a skulking or sneaking hunter may spook more deer than a walking hunter. A walking hunter will attract the attention of deer but they don’t seem to sense any inherent danger.

Granted, they may run from a walking hunter. Once that hunter disappears from sight, the deer may stand for several minutes to figure out where the person went.

Chances are they may avoid the area through which the hunter walked, and they may circle that area, but a walking human doesn’t drive a whitetail nuts.

A skulking or sneaking hunter, moving stealthily from tree to tree, obviously trying to remain unseen, doesn’t make deer feel all warm and fuzzy. It scares them.

Granted, there are times when a hunter may wish to stalk close to a whitetail deer. If the hunter remains unseen, unheard and is not winded, he may work in close enough for a shot. But that is a deliberate attempt to get close without spooking deer.

A hunter who wants to reach his ground blind, elevated coop or tree stand, should walk to it, climb into position with a minimum amount of noise, and sit still.

The hunter who darts from tree to tree, drops down and does a belly crawl to the stand, often attracts more attention than a brass band. Deer are accustomed to seeing humans during hunting season as they walk through the fields or woods, but once the hunter disappears and no longer attracts their attention, they soon forget about the person.

The same is true of vehicles. A moving pickup truck will be studied, and as long as it keep moving or the riders stay inside when the truck stops, it doesn’t overly frighten deer. A truck that goes 50 yards, stops, a person climbs out, climbs back in, slams the door and moves on, is destined to cause deer to dart away.

It should be obvious that walking directly to a deer stand makes sense. It is the shortest distance between two points, and as soon as the hunter steps inside the blind, the deer may be curious but soon forget about potential danger.

That doesn’t happen if a hunter moves around in his stand, and is heard, seen or winded by deer. Those animals suddenly go on red alert, and move away from the area.

I’m convinced that walking upright without stopping or starting is the best way to reach a stand. It should be obvious, but will be stated again here, that hunters should choose a path to their stand that is out in the open and where the hunter does not move through a bedding or feeding area.

I often see deer while walking to a stand. I don’t stop and stare at them, but keep moving at a steady pace. I often glance at them with my head down to judge their tolerance of my approach, and just keep walking.

This business of walking makes a certain amount of noise. A hunter shouldn’t make any more noise than possible, but trying to sneak without noise creates more of a problem than normal.

Walk, don’t look at the deer, and often they won’t snort at you. Snorting deer often are startled deer, and they sound the alert for every animal within hearing. Just move at a steady pace, don’t stop or bend over to tie a shoe lace, and get to where you are going in the shortest amount of time.

Approaching a hunting stand means getting there, getting into it, and doing it as quietly as possible. And a walking hunter spooks far fewer whitetail deer than someone sneaking about, and the sportsman lays down far less scent.

Try it this fall and see if it doesn’t work for you.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/27 at 01:17 PM
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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Shake A Tailfeather One More Time

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Shake A Tailfeather One More Time! By Bill Privette. Published by Tailfeather Press, 1119 Hendricks Avenue, Jacksonville, NC 28540. Phone orders for credit card orders is (910) 455-5713. One copy signed & postage paid is $24.95. A signed and numbered copy is $29.95 postpaid.

Turkey hunting is mighty serious business. If you don’t believe me, just ask any other turkey hunter you know, especially those guys who rise about 3 a.m. to get an early start at sneaking into position on a roosted gobbler.

Most of them will agree with me, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Take a couple of tours through the turkey woods with author Bill Privette, and you’ll find plenty of this book that is worthy of a guffaw or a deep belly-laugh.

This, Privette’s third book on turkey hunting, isn’t a how-to book although there is some of that in this book. He believes in some tall tales, folderol, balderdash and tomfooler while hunting, and one look at this book proves his point.

Retired or not, very few preachers or retired fire and brimstone clergy members like the author, have a sense of humor. They take themselves and their religion so seriously that it’s hard for me to believe The Good Lord meant for them to be so strait-laced.

Privette tiptoes around the edges of blasphemy, dodges the issue of good taste, and skirts the edges of double entendre.  His first chapter is titled “Quickies: Wham, Bam, Thank You, Ma’am.” Now that’s a title that can be taken a couple of different ways, but what it does do, is grab your curiosity.

Any thought of hitting The Wild Turkey Book Trifecta should be a figment of a writer’s imagination. Even though Privette nailed the first two books in grand fashion, and with satisfying sales, tacking down the third book isn’t always easy. It’s too easy to be lulled by the success of the first two books into a mood where it becomes very easy to slack off.

The author homed in on the bulls-eye once again just as if he had picked a hole through heavy brush and killed a longbeard Gran’pa Gobbler with one No. 5 to the brain. T’ain’t easy, but Privette has met the challenge… again.

In one chapter he discusses the one consistency that gobblers have, and that is their unpredictability. Learn to expect the unexpected, and study wild turkeys at every opportunity. It can pay off, and peeping at Toms from a distance is another great way to study turkey behavior.

It’s rare in the world of turkey-hunting books to find a writer who knows how to hunt wild turkeys, who can write about and be funny at the same time. Most people can scrape by with the first two but fail to be funny.

Bill Privette does a wonderful job of all three. This year, if you’re looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the turkey hunter in your family, this is the one to buy.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/26 at 06:17 PM
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rut Hunting In A Soft Rain

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Many deer hunters who should know better, but apparently do not, shy away from the woods when it starts to rain. I’m not talking about a massive downpour or a gully-washer; I’m just talking about a soft rain.

A soft rain is a sprinkle. If you were driving a car instead of sitting in a ground blind or a tree stand, you would have the windshield wipers on Intermittent. Anything from Intermittent to the slowest continuous back-and-forth speed is a light rain.

Sit in it long enough and you may get a bit wet. But the best way to describe it is anything from a mist to a soft sprinkle.

It’s the kind of weather that bucks seem to love. There usually isn’t much breeze blowing, and it’s possible to hear individual raindrops hitting the fallen leaves of late fall.

The rain makes just enough noise to put natural sounds in the woods. Bucks seem to like roaming in such weather. They often move constantly, and the rain helps muffle their footsteps in the leaves.

I’m mindful of a time when it was a heavy mist. It took five minutes for my exposed bow hand to get damp, and it had been misting for most of the day. It was the kind of time I’d been waiting for.

The wind for this elevated stand in a tall cedar was perfect. The deer normally approached by one or both trails, and the wind was taking my scent away from each trail.

I crawled into the stand early, and sat back to await whatever the day would offer. The deer began filtering through on both trails within 30 minutes of when I climbed into the tree.

First came the does and fawns, and then some small yearling bucks. The deer were in constant motion, and hardly five minutes passed without a deer walking past. All of them seemed to be heading in the general vicinity of a nearby winter wheat field to feed.

The 10th deer past me was a forkhorn wearing his first set of antlers, and he seemed pretty excited about the bone on his head. He squirted past my stand as a 6-pointer nudged him out of the way, and then another 6-point and a small 8-point came moving through as if they always traveled together.

A short time passed, and a nice 8-point moseyed through. He wasn’t looking for danger. He was on the move, and he slipped silently past my stand without me raising my bow.

A few more does and fawns trickled by, and with the misty rain, the does seemed a bit more relaxed. They couldn’t smell me, never saw me, and since I made no noise, they had little idea that a hunter was anywhere nearby.

Twenty-five minutes before shooting time would end came my first sighting of big antlers back in the brush where all the other deer had come from. The buck was in no mood to move fast, and kept nosing around where the does had stopped. The pre-rut was underway, and this old gent wasn’t missing any bets. If a doe smelled like she was coming into estrus, he would be hot on her trail.

He began that slow and dignified stop-and-go approach that bucks use that can drive hunters crazy. I’d seen this slow-moving pace before, and figured he would arrive below me with just minutes to spare.

He stopped, 20 yards from stepping out into the open, and stood, looking around. My bow was ready, the release on the string, and I sat patiently. What else is there to do? Nothing will hurry up the pace of a big buck if he doesn’t want to move fast.

The 8-point took two or three steps closer, and was now within shooting distance but there were no clear shooting lanes through the brush. Just relax, I told myself, he will or he won’t move. The odds are in your favor right now because 15 minutes of legal shooting time remains.

He stood stock still for five minutes, the misty rain continuing to fall, and still he waited. And then, his head went down to the ground, and then he stepped out of the brush. Another deer stepped out on the other trail, and the buck turned to look at the other animal.

That slight turn opened up his heart-lung area, and I waited until the other deer turn its head away, and I drew and shot just as he wheeled to go after the intruder. The arrow cut a divot out of the ground near where it had been standing, and it was one of those cases of bad timing.

Deer move in a soft rain, and if hunters are patient and in the right spot, a buck will walk out in front of them and offer an easy shot. Sometimes we make the shot and other times we don’t, but misty, damp weather during the rut doesn’t hurt a thing.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/25 at 05:32 PM
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Friday, October 24, 2008

Whetting My Bow-Hunting Appetite

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One person could call it whetting an appetite. Another might say that watching deer right is like an itch you can’t scratch in public.

Nonetheless, going out and watching deer before sundown in just one way to keep yourself involved in this bow-hunting scenario. Of course, we can’t be afield with a bow an arrow except during hunting season, but it’s easy enough to leave the bow home to avoid any possible hassles with DNR or local law enforcement officers during the off-season.

Head out, and I’ve found sitting in my vehicle at the edge of the road can be a superb way to watch deer. If you own private property, sit on a high hill, and use a window mounted spotting scope to study deer at 300 to 400 yards.

Do this often enough, and suddenly you’ll be sucking air as a genuine dandy whitetail steps out and offers a good view of his antlers. Study the deer from as many angles possible so it can be recognized later, and study where that animal came from and what time he showed up. This is an important factor during the rut.

In certain areas, I often know where the animals will come from, and will turn my truck sideways, and it works great for my spotting scope. If the binoculars can pick up the deer, and your vision is good enough to count the tiny bumps on his antlers, stick with them.

However, there are many occasions when quality spotting scopes are required. The spotting scope allows a hunter to zoom in on the rack, check it for any irregularities, and it’s possible to obtain a more accurate assessment of the animal and his antlers.

Look for width between antler beams. Count the number of tines, including brow tines, and then assess the approximate length of each tine. Look for mass at the base of each antler, and mass around each beam between antler tines. This will give you some idea of just how big the buck really is.

Many bow hunters are accustomed to shooting smaller basket-rack bucks, and this is fine if it satisfies you. It’s still important to know what you are dealing with. Some Quality Deer Management areas have different restrictions for number of antler points. Counting antler tines is necessary.

It’s critically important to know what you may be shooting at in late October and early November. A sneak peak now can tell you if the bucks in view will meet the QDM requirements. It’s no fun to get a ticket for thinking a buck had six point an inch or more long only to learn, once the deer is on the ground, that the one tine you thought was an inch long was only a half-inch in length.

Punishing such unwitting mistakes should, and often are, are made at the discretion of the conservation officer. Personally, I’ve always felt the three-inch minimum for a spikehorn is crazy. How can anyone tell if an antler tine is three inches or 2 7/8 inches? Or, in a QDM area, a buck may have three well defined points on one side, two well defined points and one marginal point on the other side. If the marginal point doesn’t measure an inch in length, the person is subject to a ticket for shooting an illegal deer. I know a young man who made that mistake four years ago, and got a ticket. He could see the point but it proved to be only 3/4-inch in length. He got wrote up.

This is not about me being angry with the DNR for ticketing a young kid. It’s about studying deer ahead of time in your hunting area, and having a good idea what bucks are available. Study a buck several times, and that nubbin that looked one-inch long two weeks ago may soon change into a half-inch-long point.

This is where the use of good optics can help keep a person from making a serious mistake. Buy a spotting scope and the best binoculars that are affordable, and spend time in the woods bringing whitetail bucks up close.

Study them intently, and after you watch enough bucks, and study their actions and travel routes, you’ll find that the old heart doesn’t seem to beat quite so hard and slowly the anxiety of seeing deer doesn’t get a hunter as shook up as before.

All that can happen as a result of some intense scouting, even during the season. Imagine that! 

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/24 at 05:38 PM
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Whetting My Bow-Hunting Appetite

One person could call it whetting an appetite. Another might say that watching deer right is like an itch you can’t scratch in public.

Nonetheless, going out and watching deer before sundown in just one way to keep yourself involved in this bow-hunting scenario. Of course, we can’t be afield with a bow an arrow except during hunting season, but it’s easy enough to leave the bow home to avoid any possible hassles with DNR or local law enforcement officers during the off-season.

Head out, and I’ve found sitting in my vehicle at the edge of the road can be a superb way to watch deer. If you own private property, sit on a high hill, and use a window mounted spotting scope to study deer at 300 to 400 yards.

Do this often enough, and suddenly you’ll be sucking air as a genuine dandy whitetail steps out and offers a good view of his antlers. Study the deer from as many angles possible so it can be recognized later, and study where that animal came from and what time he showed up. This is an important factor during the rut.

In certain areas, I often know where the animals will come from, and will turn my truck sideways, and it works great for my spotting scope. If the binoculars can pick up the deer, and your vision is good enough to count the tiny bumps on his antlers, stick with them.

However, there are many occasions when quality spotting scopes are required. The spotting scope allows a hunter to zoom in on the rack, check it for any irregularities, and it’s possible to obtain a more accurate assessment of the animal and his antlers.

Look for width between antler beams. Count the number of tines, including brow tines, and then assess the approximate length of each tine. Look for mass at the base of each antler, and mass around each beam between antler tines. This will give you some idea of just how big the buck really is.

Many bow hunters are accustomed to shooting smaller basket-rack bucks, and this is fine if it satisfies you. It’s still important to know what you are dealing with. Some Quality Deer Management areas have different restrictions for number of antler points. Counting antler tines is necessary.

It’s critically important to know what you may be shooting at in late October and early November. A sneak peak now can tell you if the bucks in view will meet the QDM requirements. It’s no fun to get a ticket for thinking a buck had six point an inch or more long only to learn, once the deer is on the ground, that the one tine you thought was an inch long was only a half-inch in length.

Punishing such unwitting mistakes should, and often are, are made at the discretion of the conservation officer. Personally, I’ve always felt the three-inch minimum for a spikehorn is crazy. How can anyone tell if an antler tine is three inches or 2 7/8 inches? Or, in a QDM area, a buck may have three well defined points on one side, two well defined points and one marginal point on the other side. If the marginal point doesn’t measure an inch in length, the person is subject to a ticket for shooting an illegal deer. I know a young man who made that mistake four years ago, and got a ticket. He could see the point but it proved to be only 3/4-inch in length. He got wrote up.

This is not about me being angry with the DNR for ticketing a young kid. It’s about studying deer ahead of time in your hunting area, and having a good idea what bucks are available. Study a buck several times, and that nubbin that looked one-inch long two weeks ago may soon change into a half-inch-long point.

This is where the use of good optics can help keep a person from making a serious mistake. Buy a spotting scope and the best binoculars that are affordable, and spend time in the woods bringing whitetail bucks up close.

Study them intently, and after you watch enough bucks, and study their actions and travel routes, you’ll find that the old heart doesn’t seem to beat quite so hard and slowly the anxiety of seeing deer doesn’t get a hunter as shook up as before.

All that can happen as a result of some intense scouting, even during the season. Imagine that! 

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/24 at 05:38 PM
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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fooling The Overly Cautious Does

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It is often mentioned that doe deer get the brains and bucks get the antlers. One might think so because outwitting most bucks is much less difficult than fooling a wise old doe that has survived several hunting seasons.

Bucks, by the time they have some antlers on their head, seem to realize they are something rather special. Does, fawns and younger bucks defer to larger bucks, and this serves as something of an ego massage.

We’ve all seen does and fawns check things out from a distance, check again once they draw closer, and do a last-minute check before committing themselves to what could be a dangerous move. The buck stands back, often somewhat aloof from this danger business that does seem accustomed to, and when they decide to make their move, out they come with little apparent regard for possible danger problems.

Watch a buck near a food source. If a doe or smaller deer, including another buck, approaches, the buck often will run them off. They usually don’t go far, and keep coming back and getting chased off again, until the buck either moves or allows the lesser deer to feed. They will tolerate other deer, but only up to a point.

This is a confidence builder for the buck. Nothing in his life has prepared him for anything other than being what he is and acting as he does. It’s little wonder that the savvy hunters soon learn that shooting a buck is much easier than shooting an old doe.

A doe is an animal in dire need of a tranquilizer. They are high-strung, and are constantly checking for danger. I’ve watched does cross an open field of rolling hills and narrow valleys or through open woods, and they may stop several times while crossing.

A buck may move slowly, but if he wants to cross a field, he’ll cross it. Some may walk across. Others trot across, and some will cross on a dead run. Sometimes they run pr walk headlong into danger.

Outwitting an old doe is a chore. They have stayed alive as long as they have because the female deer are born with a make-up that is purely instinctive but it almost seems as if they can sense danger. I believe they do sense danger and react to it. A buck senses himself, acts as if he owns the world, and it’s why some big deer get shot.

Don’t take this the wrong way. A buck isn’t stupid, and one that has lived as long as he has, has done so through some acquired instincts that were probably inherited from his mother.

Hunters who don’t know any better say bucks act stupid during the rut. I’ve seen many instances where that would appear to be true, but have seen more cases where bucks act cautiously optimistic around estrus does. They may make an occasional mistake, but if the hunter can figure out how to keep from being heard, seen or winded by a doe or fawn, the chances are much better of getting a shot at a nice buck.

I spend much of my time watching does, and seeing how they react to different stimuli. I also spend time great amounts of time watching bucks as they respond to the same stimuli, and in many cases the does are moving away from danger while the buck appears to still be processing information at a much slower pace.

Learn how does react to various things. I’ve seen some run headlong for heavy cover when a bird flies overhead. I’ve seen them sniff a stand where a careless hunter left his scent behind. Does that spend an inordinate amount of time checking tree stands can help a hunter ambush a good buck.

Figure out which tree seems to bother a doe, and set up somewhere within 50 yards of the doe’s line of travel, and if she examines the tree that must have spooked her at one time or another, every trailing buck will examine the same tree. That gives a hunter a wonderful edge and an opportunity to draw and shoot the trailing buck.

To fool a buck often means fooling the doe. If the doe detects no danger, the buck will prance along like he owns the land. That can work to your benefit, but it only works if the doe remains totally clueless about a nearby hunter.

It’s a simple concept that requires nothing more than fooling the does and fawns. Fool them all the time, and fooling the buck is a much easier program.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/23 at 05:01 PM
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Choosing A Deer Stand Can Be A Coin Toss

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Flip a quarter in the air, and call heads or tails. Heads would put you in a tall pine and downwind of where deer travel. Tails would put you in a ground blind and downwind of where whitetails move.

I’ve tried putting many years of watching deer on my land to good use, and at times, guessing where I should sit could just as easily boil down to a coin flip. I know where deer normally will move on any wind direction but a bright, full moon-lit night or high winds can make all such deliberations a guess at best. Frankly, at times choosing a deer stand is a roll of the dice.

Only my wife picked a really good spot tonight. She saw several bucks chasing does, and everything was on the move. Does that had already been bred moved out of the way of the bucks, and went back to feeding. She saw a pair of 4-pointers and three small 8-pointers, and some button bucks, but she was doe fawn hunting on this particular evening.

She could have shot a dozen mature does but she’s helping me fill our quota of doe fawns that are necessary to help keep our antlerless deer numbers in line with the landowner’s management plan. She shot a doe fawn last night, and was hoping for another tonight to bring her closer to a chance for a nice buck.

I saw some does, and two small bucks, but no doe fawns. A friend spotted a gimpy-legged doe fawn, but the small deer was just too far out of decent shooting range.

Three others didn’t see a deer ... buck, doe or fawn. The weather may have had something to do with the poor hunting conditions, and many deer simply didn’t move until long after dark.

We’ll tough it out for another four or five days, and let the moon work its way to the new moon and do its job on deer movements. We’ll continue to hunt, but several have said they will probably try a different spot for the next few days. Can’t blame ‘em when things get tough. Moving may make a difference.

Staying put in a good spot makes perfect sense right now but moving to a different stand for a change of scenery also shows some promise. Me, I’ll keep moving around. I hate sitting in the same stand night after night. I’m willing to take my chances with the deer but I always choose a stand that puts the wind in my favor.

Who knows. As some southern deer-hunting friends say: “Even a blind sow can find an acorn once in a while.” Hopefully, a big doe fawn will amble out in front of me, and offer a good clear shot.

We’ve about finished taking doe fawns, and soon we’ll be taking a few bucks. It’s a time we’re all waiting for, and with the rut in its chasing phase right now, we should start seeing some nice bucks, and sometimes all it takes is a change of hunting stands. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/22 at 06:45 PM
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Predicting The Best Bow Hunting Day

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Predicting things means different things to different people. To me, making a prediction about deer hunting is fraught with potential hazards.

It’s just too easy to make a mistake. Make one prediction about what deer will do, or when the best deer hunting will be found, and you leave yourself wide open for a mistake. Well, folks, I’m about to crawl out on a deer-hunting limb and make a prediction.

Hopefully, no one will be sawing on the limb behind me. My prediction is that Nov. 14 will be the best day of the bow hunting season.

That’s right, the day before the firearm season opens. For more years that I care to remember, hunting the evening of Nov. 14 has been the best time for me to see some good bucks. I sometimes get a shot at a good buck on this day.

Why, one might ask, should this day be better than any other? I’m not sure, but for many years it has been my best bow-hunting day of the season, despite all the people who decide to sight in their rifle in their hunting area. It doesn’t make sense to bang away where you plan to hunt, but there it is: many people apparently think deer can’t hear, see or smell.

The bucks seem to be on the prowl, moving from place to place, and some of it may be caused by hunters moving around checking out their hotspot for the firearm opener. I know that human traffic in the woods takes on a special meaning for most firearm hunters as they check out their hunting blind, holler back and forth to their buddies, and then start traipsing through the woods while talking.

That added traffic and human noise can obviously work two ways. It can cause deer to move more or it can cause them to bed down early.

I just know that over the years some of my finest buck hunting, especially for trophy bucks, often occurs on this evening. The deer seem to move exceptionally well, and with most of the rut yet to come, only the largest bucks are seriously looking for estrus does.

Stands that have been stale and flat for the past week or two seem to show an increase in deer movement. Both bucks and does seem more active, and such deer movements translates into an increased number of deer sightings and that usually leads to more bow shots.

I well remember a foggy Nov. 14 about 15 years ago, and I was sitting in a ground blind near an alder run near a creek and an open winter wheat field. The bucks were moving that night, and grunting deer seemed to have surrounded me.

I’d heard a buck grunting nearby, and strained my eyes to spot the animal, and it was obviously chasing a doe around the winter wheat field. Once I caught a glimpse of the buck as the fog disappeared for a second, but the pea-soup closed in around me as I began drawing my bow.

The buck disappeared in the milky fog, and then a buck would give off a tending grunt as he coursed that doe in circles. Car lights going by on the highway gave off an eerie glow through the fog, and still that buck kept chasing the doe.

There soon were at least four bucks, based on the sound of their grunts, that were moving through my area. Only the one buck had been visible, and just before the end of shooting time arrived, the fog lifted slightly and each buck could be seen. The last one that ran past me stopped for an instant, and it was just enough time to draw, aim and shoot. It was his last mistake.

There are countless other stories I could tell about Nov. 14 deer hunts, but why belabor the point? It’s an evening to look forward to, and it is still over three weeks away. It gives hunters adequate time to plan for it and to make certain their blinds are set up properly. Once a rifle stand is set up, stay away until the firearm opener.

This somewhat hazy prediction may or may not tempt a bow hunter to be afield on the last day of the early archery season, but if nothing else, it might offer some hunters that little something extra that is needed to drag themselves away from packing their gear for the firearm opener.

I know where I’ll be. There is a stand I’ve used often on Nov. 14, and I’ll be in it early this year. It’s been very productive in the past.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/21 at 05:52 PM
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Monday, October 20, 2008

When To Take The Trail

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The doe came out two nights ago at 6:45, stood behind a doe fawn, and looked around for danger. I watched her, knowing full well that I would shoot if I got my shot.

That meant a broadside or quartering-away shot at about 15 yards. My eyes don’t function like those of most people. Very little depth perception and one-eye vision means everything has to be in my favor.

I also know that if she didn’t present a quality shot opportunity by 6:55, there would be no shot. It would be too dark for me to see well, and as I checked my watch, it was 6:45 and the doe showed no signs of moving.

I’d watched her, her button-buck fawn, and a small 8-point follow the same trail from the swamp up onto a ridge. They would follow the ridge to a farmer’s corn field about 200 yards away. The small 8-point always met them near my tree stand.

The seconds ticked by and at 6:50 the doe and fawn were still milling around, and the fawn still stood between her mother and me. I wanted freezer meat, and hoped to get this doe out of the way before the rut kicked into full gear. I wanted to concentrate all my efforts onto taking a good buck.

Slowly, the fawn began to edge away. Her rump still blocked the doe that was standing broadside to me at 15 yards. C’mon, I breathed to myself, take two more steps. Perhaps she was reading my mind but that’s just what the fawn did. She took two more steps.

I eased back to full draw, centered the internal red dot on the middle of her chest and right behind her front shoulder, double-checked my anchor point and aiming point, and concentrated on watching the doe as I touched the release.

The arrow disappeared from sight, and I would later be asked where the arrow hit. I didn’t know where it hit because I can’t see that well but I knew what my sight picture looked like, and felt it was an excellent shot.

I waited for Kay to come by to pick me up, and then we cautiously took the track. We always use a Game Tracker string tracking device, and there was blood on the trail where she had stood, and the blood and string went down into a nearby swamp. We followed slowly through tall marsh grass, and Kay was on the blood while I stayed with the string, and the two were close together.

We eased over marsh hummocks, through tall marsh grass, out into the open and through bracken ferns, and up onto a small ridge. We’d covered about 30 yards so far, and we could have traveled faster by just taking the string but we wanted to keep on the blood trail. If a string breaks, we didn’t want to be off the blood trail.

The blood and string took us down off the ridge and through tall bracken ferns and the sharp spines of thornapple trees, and then the string did break. We had the last blood marked, and Kay found two other bits of blood. We’d come to the end of the trail.

My gut feeling was we were very close to the deer. It was 34 degrees that night, and we made a calculated decision, and it’s one all deer hunters hate to make. We could continue to stomp around, and possibly obliterate the blood trail or we could back off and hope the coyotes didn’t find her that evening.

I had a restless night of tossing and turning, and we were up and on the trail again shortly after sun-up. Sure enough, the doe had jumped hard to the right, dashed down the hill in full stride, fell and skidded on her nose through the ferns. The coyotes hadn’t found her, and other than being stiff, it was an easy cleaning job and we only had to drag her about 20 yards to a woods trail that we could reach by truck.

Making that decision – shoot or don’t shoot – and then having to decide whether to keep trying at night or wait for the morning sun to light the way is always a pair of difficult decisions. The arrow double-lunged her, and she didn’t go over 80 yards.

It really wasn’t all that difficult of a decision to make, especially when I can’t see blood and the string is broken, but more than 50 years of experience told me that the sudden loss of blood usually means the deer has jumped off the trail she’d been following. Such a major change of direction is almost always a sign of the deer dying.

I was certain of being right, but about 3 a.m. I was questioning my decision. As it turned out, I was right and now Kay and I both have a deer in the freezer so we won’t starve this winter.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/20 at 06:44 PM
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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Looking Forward To The Rut

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Trying to anticipate what a buck will do during the rut is like listening to a politician’s promise. Both are risky ventures.

Frankly, the only predictable thing about a rutting buck is his unpredictability. They do things that make absolutely no sense to the bow hunter, but apparently, their actions make sense to them. 

The oddities of rutting bucks have been well documented. What is seldom stressed is how their mood swings influence their actions, but seldom will they be totally clueless. They do not lose their inherent fear of humans, and a buck that hears, sees or smells a hunter, will waste little time getting out of there.

This means that hunters can n longer take any liberties with deer. They must stay downwind of known travel routes. They also must sit still, don’t move and take only high-percentage shots. Another thing to note is that bucks are seldom still, and hunters must be prepared for a quick and accurate shot. That means beging ready for a shot at any time.

The most predictable thing about a rutting buck is he will never be far from his latest squeeze. Of course, as soon as he’s had his way with her, he is off on a continuing search for another estrus doe to breed.

Remember this: bucks will always be near the does. He may hang back in heavy cover near a food source, but once she moves, the buck is on her trail again. It’s one reason why hunters often set up a stand in heavy cover near a food source. The buck will cruise back and forth as the doe feeds, and will check other does to determine how close they are to estrus, but he’ll be keeping a close watch on his current lady friend.

Bucks will often be seen crossing open fields as they course a doe. He will go where she goes, and if she is almost in estrus, he will be ever closer to her. If she goes left or right, he will cut her off, and if she head-fakes him into going one way while she goes the other, he will soon catch up with the wayward doe.

Hunting these animals can be great fun, and almost every hunter will say; “So close and yet so far away at one time or another.” The bucks and does often travel just out of bow range, and it’s not a deliberate thing. The hunter makes a mistake by setting up just out of effective bow range.

It’s difficult to go wrong by hunting fairly close to feeding fields where does will go. Choose one of the corners, and especially the field-edge corner with the heaviest nearby cover. That is where bucks will hang out to watch the does, and they often pace back and forth. That doesn’t mean the buck would enter a feeding field, and occasionally by luck or design, a doe will lead an amorous buck past a ground blind or tree stand, but it’s not something to bet the homestead on.

Tending bucks are vocal bucks, and a buck about to breed a doe will be grunting with almost every step the animal takes. This tending grunt is low and guttural, and sometimes it can be heard for 100 yards and at other times the buck may only be 20 yards away when the sound is heard. In some cases the sound is like a ventriloquist “throwing” his voice; it’s nearly impossible to tell where the sound comes from.

Bucks will sometimes still check ground scrapes, but once the rut starts, they stop opening up and freshening scrapes. They have used those scrapes over the past 10-14 days to locate the estrus and soon to be ready does, and every buck in the area knows which does will soon be bred.

This is when young bucks try to mount the does, but most does will not stand for a lesser deer unless the big buck has been killed. Few 1 1/2-year-old bucks will do any breeding.

Hunting the rut is entirely different than hunting bucks in other ways. Hunters must start thinking like a buck, and once they figure out where the does are, and where the thickest cover is where much of the breeding takes place, it becomes a bit easier.

Rut hunting isn’t easy, but it stimulates your brain and makes hunters think. And that is always a good thing.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/19 at 08:10 PM
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Sampling Of Fishy Excuses

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I’ve chased muskies in many locations over a period of many years. Most of my muskie trips have been in Michigan, Wisconsin or Ontario waters, and I’ve sampled the pleasures of these great game fish in other states as well.

I fished for, caught and lost muskies in Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, New York and several other places. I’m always fascinated with the excuses anglers, myself included, have used after losing a fish. Some of these excuses show imagination, ingenuity and a sense of humor.

Someone who is a known angler, and is trying to protect his sterling reputation may refer to a lost fish as “a professional release.” Another angler may call it a “long-distance” release. They mean the same thing; the angler messed up.

We’ve heard all the common excuses. People have been known to blame too much sun for weakening their line, and one guy offered up the excuse that storing his reels with heavy monofilament near the furnace said nearby ozone weakened his line, which caused him to break off on a big fish one day in Ontario’s Lake of the Woods.

Anyone who has cast all day with big jerkbaits or spinnerbaits speak of having a sore arm and wrist from the tiring repetitive exercise of continuous casting. They blame their missed fish on a weak wrist. “My wrist didn’t have enough strength left to set the hooks properly.”

Most muskie addicts I know use their whole body to set the hook, and not just once. My tactic is to pound the hook home at least twice.

There are thousands of reasons why people miss muskie strikes. The major reason is people often are asleep with their eyes open. They’ve become lulled into daydreaming by inactivity and begin nodding off while fishing. They come back with some hair-brained excuse such as:

I laid my rod down with the lure in the water to fire up a smoke. (A good reason to quit.) Many people are midway through a cast, and as the lure leaves the rod tip, they notice the snap swivel is still open after switching lures. Guess which cast the muskie will hit?

You’ve noticed the line is frayed, and figured: “Hey, the fish aren’t hitting. I’ll make another cast.” Again, that’s when muskies hit and when anglers lose the lure and the fish. Sometimes, though not often enough, the muskie isn’t hooked. He opens his mouth and the lure bobs to the surface, giving anglers time for a spiffy quote. “Boy, look at that. She give me my lure back.”

I was fishing Tomahawk Lake in Wisconsin one time, and my buddy and I were working a weed line. I was working a jerkbait, and he was buzzing a spinnerbait, when a muskie was spotted behind my jerkbait. The fish smacked it as it rose to the surface, and I set the hook.

The fish didn’t have the lure, and it came sailing out of the water at my friend’s face who was turned slightly away. I stuck out my hand to keep the big Suick from hitting him in the face. That buried two hooks in my hand, and I muttered some not-nice words while he pulled the hooks out. We poured some iodine in the wounds, put Band-Aids on them, and went back to fishing. Muskie fishermen are tough.

Another guy and I was fishing at night once for Northern muskies in a Michigan lake, and there can be a coincidence between casting after dark and getting a backlash. He was working on what appeared to be a huge backlash (a.k.a., professional over-run), and his muskie-size Jitterbug lay idle on the surface 20 feet away. He pulled on one of the loops, and it twitched the lure and the line, and the Jitterbug jittered on the surface. A big muskie slammed that lure, gave a vicious yank, and the line broke.

So who is going to believe a guy who says a big muskie hit while he was untangling a backlash? No one except someone who has had it happen to them once or twice.

I was fishing on a trolling boat on Michigan’s Lake St. Clair for muskies one time, and we were using Homer LeBlanc’s method of keeping lures in or very close to the prop wash. One rod on each stern corner is a “down” rod, and it has a heavy weight to keep the lure about six feet behind the boat in the most violent part of the prop wash.

I was bored, and decided to hold the rod instead of leaving it in the rod holder. I was looking around at all of the lines when a muskie hit my lure and nearly yanked me overboard. The fish took out 50 yards of line and stayed deep, the sign of a big fish. We eventually brought in all lines, and stopped the boat so I could fight the fish.

Fifteen minutes went by and the fish stayed deep, and then the line started to rise in the water. The fish rolled on the surface, and we’d already landed a 30-pounder and this fish was bigger than the earlier one. It stayed 30 feet behind the boat, and then it rolled on the tight line, and the hooks fell out.

How big was it? Thirty-five pounds, probably, and it could have been even heavier. I looked around, everyone looked at me, and no one spoke until I broke the lengthy silence.

“How can someone have a muskie on for 20 minutes only to lose it right behind the boat and just out of netting range? It must have sprung the hook or broke off a hook.”

Yeah, sure, everybody looked away and we began setting lines again as I checked the lure. There were no sprung or broken hooks. The whole secret to this muskie fishing game is to come up with an original excuse that no one has heard before.

It never works but it makes us feel better.

Posted by Dave Richey on 10/18 at 09:02 PM
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