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SACKING BIG GAME WITH JARED ALLEN

HUNT&FISH 2020


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Kayak Fishing Through Texas Robert Field ditched the 9-to-5 world to become a full-time kayak fisherman and share his passion with the world. Now, he travels the U.S. in a Keystone Cougar RV, documenting his adventures on Yakfish TV. He shares favorite places to fish in his home state of Texas. DEVILS RIVER

The crystal clear, spring-fed waters cut through the middle of the desert, surrounded by all kinds of wildlife, a legendary spot for kayak fishing. Fishing in Devils River requires a permit, so do your homework before you go. Camping here is totally off the grid, so I always pack my RV with several days of supplies before heading here. Even though the river winds through remote territory, much of the land on the banks is private property with only a few sanctioned put-in and pull-out spots. So what’s the reward for all this trouble? Untouched scenery, more bass than you can count and the experience of a lifetime.

LADY BIRD LAKE

In the middle of downtown Austin is Lady Bird Lake, 416-acres of water that was renamed in honor of the former First Lady of the United States. It’s accessible to anyone, laying in wait in the middle of the city. And it’s full of fish. In Lady Bird Lake, people regularly pull ten, twelve pound bass out of the water. Fishing here is a fun way to get a nature fix while you’re in the city. Although gas motors aren’t allowed on the lake, it’s very kayak friendly, making it an easy choice for anybody who has the urge to go fishing—novices and experts alike.

CORPUS CHRISTI

There are a number of shallow-water oil rigs just a few miles out from Corpus Christi. A rig acts as an artificial reef, making it a haven for red snapper, mackerel, cobia, sharks, sailfish and more. Some of the oil rigs are only a mile or two offshore, making an easy kayak excursion. Red snapper are abundant near the rigs. What they lack in size, they make up for in population. Sometimes, you’ll have so many king mackerel biting that you won’t know how to reel them all in. But watch out for yellowfin tuna–– hook one and it might take you for a long ride out to sea if it puts up a fight.

To learn more about Robert and discover other trip guides, visit THORIndustries.com.

LADY BIRD LAKE

DEVILS RIVER CORPUS CHRISTI

Pulling bass out of Devils River.

Best part about having my RV with me at all times? Being able to cook up the fresh catch of the day.

Stopped to fish on the beach in Matagorda, Texas, on my way down to Corpus Christi.


HUNT&FISH 2020

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FLORIDA OUTDOOR EXPERIENCE

FLIP PALLOT TALKS TURKEY Face of fly-fishing prefers chasing gobblers

Features 32

TACKLING NEW CHALLENGES Former NFL All-Pro Jared Allen now sacking game

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FIND YOUR FLYWAY Variety abounds in North American duck hunting

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BURNING ISSUE Preventing wildfires and improving habitat go hand in hand

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HUNT&FISH 2020

Departments 50 54

HUNTING Dogged Pursuit Reap rewards from training your hunting hound Festive Start Opening day dove hunt is a prelude to fall wing shooting

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Train Small Take your rifle skills to the next level with a .22

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Complete Picture Making the best use of trail cameras

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Beware of Zombies Renewed guidance on chronic wasting disease

FISHING

Up Front 60

ON THE COVER:

7 10

Bass on the Fly Casting for largemouth and smallmouth is a different experience

70

Terrific Tours From trout to tuna, these outfitters will reel you in Stay Put Shallow water anchors will help put more fish in your boat

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EDITOR’S NOTE GEAR AND SUPPLIES » New-school .22s » Choose your tools » Behind the brand » Field fuel

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R3 INITIATIVE

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STOCK UP

74 78

Bolstering hunting participation crucial to future of sport and conservation Making, using and storing wild game and fish broth

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GREAT OUTDOORS Going Primitive Minimalist camping is a great way to disconnect Heavy Lifting Experience Yellowstone with a llama hike

LAST WORD Drawn to Nature Hunter/artist Lyle Hebel celebrates the outdoor life

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White-tailed buck emerges from trees PHOTOGRAPH:

GETTY IMAGES

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All prices and availability are subject to change.

NANCY ANISFIELD; GETTY IMAGES; SAVAGE ARMS; PRIMOS

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Featured Contributors PREMIUM PUBLICATION EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Jeanette Barrett-Stokes jbstokes@usatoday.com CREATIVE DIRECTOR Jerald Council jcouncil@usatoday.com

Nancy Anisfield is an outdoor writer/ photographer based in Vermont who captures images and content for sporting venues, hunting dog breeders and publications such as Covey Rise, Project Upland, RGS Covers and Strung. She is the creative director for the Ugly Dog Hunting Company and a board member of Pheasants Forever.

Brad Fitzpatrick is a full-time freelance writer based in Ohio. His work has appeared in several publications, including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield and Gun Dog. He is a past recipient of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers Best-of-Best award and is a Professional Outdoor Media Association Pinnacle honoree. When he isn’t hunting he likes to sail and hike with his wife and two children.

Oliver Hartner spent his formative years afield in Louisiana’s Feliciana parishes and the piney woods of southwest Mississippi, but now lives in Columbia, S.C. Often accompanied by his Boykin spaniel Fowler, he covers sporting life subjects, culinary concepts and fine art features. His work appears regularly in Covey Rise, South Carolina Wildlife and Columbia Metropolitan.

MANAGING EDITOR Michelle Washington mjwashington@usatoday.com GUEST EDITOR T. Edward Nickens ISSUE EDITOR Harry Lister EDITORS Amy Sinatra Ayres Tracy Scott Forson Megan Pannone Deirdre van Dyk Debbie Williams ISSUE DESIGNER Lisa M. Zilka DESIGNERS Hayleigh Corkey David Hyde Debra Moore Gina Toole Saunders CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Nancy Anisfield, Brad Fitzpatrick, Gary Garth, Cosmo Genova, Oliver Hartner, Ashley May, Ryan Miller, Ken Perrotte, Kristen A. Schmitt, Sarah Sekula, Michael R. Shea, Jennifer Rose Smith

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VP, ADVERTISING Patrick Burke | (703) 854-5914 pburke@usatoday.com

Ken Perrotte, a King George, Va., resident, enjoys fishing waters from Florida to Canada. His work has appeared in more than a dozen magazines. He’s the conservation field editor for Turkey Country, a regular contributor to Ducks Unlimited and the outdoors columnist for the Fredericksburg, Va., Free Lance-Star. See more of his work at outdoorsrambler.com.

Kristen A. Schmitt writes about wildlife, science, adventure, sustainable agriculture and the outdoors from her home base in northern New York state. Her work has appeared in Glamour, Marie Claire, Smithsonian, The Washington Post, Outside Magazine, National Geographic and other publications.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @USATODAYMAGS

Michael R. Shea is a senior editor for Black Rifle Coffee Company, an editor-at-large for Field & Stream and a contributing editor at SHOT Business. He once tanned a deer hide in his apartment bathroom. His wife was not pleased.

ACCOUNT DIRECTOR Vanessa Salvo | (703) 854-6499 vsalvo@usatoday.com

FINANCE BILLING COORDINATOR Julie Marco

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Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved herein, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or reproduced in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the written consent of USA TODAY. The editors and publisher are not responsible for any unsolicited materials.

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Nice Catch. Watch live news, sports, and weather outdoors with a DISH Outdoors portable satellite antenna, and only pay for the months you use.

• Watch on TV, not a phone, without Wi-Fi or cell signal • Portable, rugged, and sets up in minutes • You don’t need DISH at home to get DISH Outdoors *DISH portable satellite antennas are not guaranteed to help you catch fish. They can, however, help you research sci-fi and fantasy movies to help you craft a better, more interesting story about the one that got away.

Explore our full range of portable satellite antennas and Pay-As-You-Go TV!

Call (877) 338-8031 or visit precisionsatellite.us © 2020 DISH Network L.L.C. All rights reserved.


EDITOR’S NOTE

An award-winning author, journalist and on-camera host, T. Edward Nickens is editorat-large for Field & Stream and a contributing editor for Garden & Gun.

New Approaches

DUSAN SMETANA

W

e’re all doing things a little differently these days. If there’s a silver lining to that, it’s this: Hunters and anglers have always thrived in mercurial circumstances, in solitude, in adjusting to changing conditions, in switching gears on the fly. We have to deal with fickle weather, fickle fish and deer and ducks that continue to act like wild animals. Challenge isn’t new to us. Challenge is our game. All of these things make this issue of Hunt & Fish a perfect read for these times. Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, we’d pulled together a roster of stories that celebrated a desire for next-level skills, gear and tactics. As the pandemic changed almost everything, we discovered that a theme of innovation was right on target: We’ve all felt the need for new approaches. Over the last six months, it seems more people have

discovered the outdoors than in recent memory. For some, that’s meant taking a first, easy greenway hike. For others, it’s meant picking up a fishing rod for the first time in years. And this fall, it will undoubtedly mean new faces in the woods. Procuring your own meat, reconnecting with the natural world and increasing self-reliance have always been timeless endeavors. Now, they are timelier than ever. It’s been fascinating to watch the hunting and fishing worlds respond to coronavirus-related challenges. There have been — and continue to be — valiant efforts to aid fishing and hunting guides who have seen their businesses deeply suffer. Conversations about social distancing — on a boat, in a duck blind, in the truck on the way to the water or woods — are robust and thoughtful. We’ve all asked difficult questions about how to pursue our passions in ways that protect our family, friends and communities. But one thing has never been questioned: We’re getting out there. We’re hitting the deer woods and dove fields and walleye waters. One way or the other, we will use our time outdoors, with rod and gun, to help sustain body and soul. Some things never change.

T. Edward Nickens, Guest editor

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Our National Parks The National Mall welcomes millions every year, but what they see is hardly welcoming.

It welcomes the world to our most significant monuments and memorials. But like many national parks, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., desperately needs our help, including $350 million in federal funding for maintenance, repairs, and preservation. You can help with a simple letter. Visit NPCA.org/mall. Or call 1-800-NAT PARK.


| HUNT&FISH

UP FRONT I N T H E N OW, I N T H E K N OW

GEAR 10

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BEHIND THE BRAND 14

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SUPPLIES 16

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ADVOCACY 20

SAUCE IS BOSS

COSMO GENOVA

Stock made from game or fish forms the basis of the recipes you can use to set your dishes apart. PAGE 24

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GEAR

Not Your Granddad’s .22

Three new-school rifles that are redefining rimfire BY MICHAEL R. SHEA

1 VUDOO GUN WORKS’ JP APAC APPARITION If we can thank

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a block of billet aluminum, with plenty of attachment points for the latest precision shooting gear, like bipods and bags, barricade stops and weight kits, heads-up electronics, cartridge holders and more. The .22 rifle has come a long way from old-timey small game guns and youth rifles. Here are three modern versions that represent the dawn of precision rimfire:

one company for this recent evolution of .22s from wood-stocked antiques to space-age chassis guns, it’s Vudoo Gun Works, the rimfire-only rifle builder from St. George, Utah. Perhaps Vudoo’s most brilliant design move was developing an action that sits in a Remington 700 footprint. That means any Remington 700 centerfire stock,

trigger, base or barrel will fit on a Vudoo rifle. Tactical and competition shooters can now have perfect replicas of their full-size centerfire rifles while shooting an inexpensive and no-recoil .22LR. Vudoo’s guns are not cheap. Its flagship rifle, the Apparition in the wonderfully modern JP APAC chassis, starts at $3,365.

Vudoo makes turnkey rifles, so while you can customize yours to no end with Remington 700 parts, they ship built, sighted in and ready to print amazingly small groups at 100 yards and beyond. If Savage and CZ make Harleys, Vudoo is Orange County Choppers — no detail spared. MSRP $3,365, vudoogunworks. com

PROVIDED BY THE COMPANIES

F

orget everything you know about .22s. Modern rimfire rifles have more in common with precision sniper rigs than that wood-stocked squirrel gun in your grandpa’s back bedroom. The latest tack drivers represent the next generation of .22s. You won’t find a wood or synthetic stock here. These chassis rifles are mated to


2 SAVAGE B22 PRECISION The new .22LR from Savage runs at a realworld price of around $500, and it shoots inexpensive CCI ammo incredibly well. The B22 Preci-

3 CZ 457 VARMINT PRECISION CHASSIS Czech firearm manufacturer Česká zbrojovka a.s. Uherský Brod — known simply as “CZ” — runs one of the largest small arms factories in the world. In

sion is a mashup rifle designed in partnership with chassis leader Modular Driven Technologies. The one-piece MDT chassis makes a rock-solid platform for the proven B22 action and an 18-inch heavy target barrel. For this rifle, Savage designed a .22LR match-grade AccuTrigger that’s adjustable down to 1 pound. The bang-switch on my test rifle broke crisp and clean and feels nearly

identical to the excellent centerfire target AccuTrigger found on Savage’s high-end target guns. The B22 Precision has heft about it, with a solid billet chassis that brings the rifle to 7.3 pounds. Whether you’re using it for long-range plinking or precision rimfire competitions, you won’t find a better chassis-riding .22LR for the price. MSRP $599, find a dealer at savagearms.com

1954, CZ based the 452 rimfire action on World War II-era .22LR training rifles. The 450-line has been a bestseller ever since. In 2010, the updated 455 launched with a user-detachable barrel and two action screws for a more secure action to stock bedding. Two years ago, CZ unveiled the 457, with a shorter bolt throw, American-style push-to-fire safety and better trigger, among other improvements.

This year, CZ released a chassis version aimed squarely at the precision rimfire shooting market. It comes in two models, one with a 16.5-inch suppressor-ready barrel, the other with a 24-inch tube, both with Luth-AR accessories. Mine is extremely accurate with Lapua CenterX ammo. This .22LR is a high-octane match-ready rifle straight from the box. MSRP $999, find a dealer at cz-usa.com

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BEHIND THE BRAND

Conservation Dream Team

Filson and Ducks Unlimited launch new apparel line

T

his fall, you will have even more hunting apparel options at your fingertips thanks to conservation organization Ducks Unlimited (DU) and industry apparel mainstay Filson. They’ve teamed up for an ongoing, limited-series line featuring more than a dozen pieces, with the intention of expanding the partnership in the future. The new line will include a backpack, blanket, cap, briefcase, duffel, polo shirt, field and fleece jackets and

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four different T-shirts. “Ducks Unlimited and Filson are both iconic brands with rich histories,” says DU CEO Adam Putnam. “It only seemed fitting to align the two brands to provide DU members and supporters a unique, co-branded line of merchandise — many of which could be passed down from generation to generation. Filson items are known for their quality, and we know our members will be thrilled to see the DU logo appear on items they can wear or use all year long.” Both organizations have a long-

standing heritage in the outdoors and are committed to conservation and promoting outdoor recreation. DU conserves, restores and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. Filson has earned a worldwide reputation for producing durable gear. A few of the products will sport the licensed DU graphics and logos, and a portion of the sales will support DU’s conservation programs. Merchandise will be available at Filson stores, on filson.com and via select Filson retailers.

FILSON

BY SARAH SEKULA


GEAR

This ... or That? The gear you need often depends on the specific application BY JEN ROSE SMITH

G

ear up for the great outdoors with top picks for this year’s smart hunting and fishing finds. These strategic buys will keep you in fighting form:

Orvis Flash and Grab Fly fishers taking aim at cloudy pond and river waters can leverage this colorful new streamer fly to maximum advantage, tempting largemouth bass and other catch with a baitfish look-alike. The shiny perch version looks ready to party in multicolored sparkle, but yellow and brown options are available to max out your streamer fly quiver. $2.99, Orvis

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Boss Buck All-In Series 200-pound gravity feeder Hunters adding heft to trophy deer in remote locations will love the low-maintenance design of a feeder that can convert from gravity to automatic dispensing. Fill the 200-pound hopper to the brim and forget it; you’ll see the results when you’re fielddressing that buck in the fall. $199.99,

Tractor Supply Co.


EZ-Tree Feeder Strap this lightweight option to a fence post or tree trunk when you’re feeding closer to home. An internal baffle keeps feed flow steady, and the new feeder adapts to protein feed, rice, corn or your favorite attractant. $129,

allseasonsfeeders.com

Freedom FinTech men’s long-sleeve fishing shirt Beat back sunburn on tournament days with a lightweight sun-protection shirt. UPF-50 UV protection blocks 98 percent of sunrays. The quick-drying fabric means the competition won’t see you sweat, and a breathable weave is ready for the season’s steamiest heat waves. $14.98,

exclusively at Walmart

Faulk’s walnut deer grunt call Maximize the weeks leading up to peak rut with this Louisiana-made, hand-tuned grunt call, which is small enough to slip into an outside pocket. It’s the perfect starter call for deer-hunting newcomers who can practice challenge calls and breeding calls that will be mellowed by the resonant wood grain. $16.95,

PROVIDED BY THE COMPANIES

faulkcalls.com

Ozark Trail five-piece assortment lure pack Supercharge a beginning angler’s tackle box with a versatile lure set that goes from a deep-water rattle lure to a surface-skimming popper. Twitch-action on the nimble minnow lure sends distress signals to hungry fish, while hand-painted detailing adds realism to each of the lifelike body shapes. $8.82,

exclusively at Walmart

Ridgecut men’s long-sleeve outdoor microcheck shirt Durable fabric braves snags and brush unscathed, layering on 40 UPF sun protection to keep you comfortable on sunny days. A high collar fends off scratches even when you’re deep in the woods, where you’ll appreciate the breezy back vents, too.

$29.99, exclusively at Tractor Supply Co.

Illusion Black Rack rattling system Patented bone-core technology adds super-realistic sound to this top-rated deer rattling system. An included instructional DVD or linked Deer Society app means you can spend the off-season perfecting your rattling technique. $29.99, Tractor

Supply Co.

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SUPPLIES

Field Fuel Tasty, healthy snacks for your backpack

NUT BUTTER

Peanut and other nut butters have good fats, the kind that produce the fuel needed to maintain energy in the field. Nut butters are delicious eaten off a spoon or finger, or make a nice sit-down break spread on crackers or veggies. The less added sugar, the better. For convenience, single-serve packets win the award. Recommendations: Justin’s Classic Almond Butter squeeze pack, $14 for 10 packs,

Walmart

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BY NANCY ANISFIELD

N

ot all snacks are created equal. Most hunters and anglers don’t want to scarf down a tasty protein bar midday only to find themselves a few minutes later vibrating like electric banjo strings in hyperdrive because the snack was packed with more sugar than a kid’s Halloween fantasy. Effective field food should deliver a time-release energy boost. It should also replenish vitamins, minerals, carbs, fats and other nutrients. Stuffing a watermelon in a bird vest or dragging a cooler of sashimi into a deer blind isn’t practical, so field snacks also have to be compact and reasonably nonperishable. Fortunately, nutritional science and modern packaging make it easy to assemble field snacks that taste, pack and work effectively. Here are eight recommendations that provide one or more replenishment factors:

JERKY

Too much salt and too much sugar are the evils lurking in most popular brands of jerky, although both are key to preserving the meat and making it taste good. While a long day in the field can handle more salt and sugar than a day behind a desk, it still makes sense to look for a reasonable balance of protein, salt and sugar. Recommendation: KRAVE Gourmet Beef Cuts (nine flavors), $5.49, Walmart

FRUITS & VEGGIES

Fruits and raw vegetables are a great source of nutrients and hydration. Orange slices provide hydration and sugar energy. Bananas provide potassium. Cranberries have antioxidants that fight inflammation. Carrots, broccoli and celery are fiber rich and won’t get mushy. Cucumbers and radishes also provide hydration. Keep veggies in a plastic baggie with a damp paper towel, and leave the baggie open just a bit to let air in. Prepacked combo snacks are a great option. Recommendation: Hidden Valley carrot, broccoli, cheese & almond snack pack with ranch dressing, $2.28, Walmart

PROVIDED BY THE COMPANIES

TRAIL MIX

While people with too much time on their hands still debate whether GORP stands for “good old raisins and peanuts” or “granola oats raisins peanuts,” they all agree that a mixture of munchable carbs and proteins is one of the best field snacks. Traditional trail mix includes nuts, granola, dried fruit and chocolate chips, but it’s worth looking for ingredients that give more bang for their buck, such as dates for potassium, roasted chickpeas for zinc or pumpkin seeds for omega-3. Homemade or prepackaged, keep an eye on added sugars. Recommendations: Gourmet Nut Power Up protein packed trail mix, $4.98; Great Value Omega 3 trail mix, $6.87, Walmart


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SUPPLIES HUNTING DOG FIELD FUEL Most experts recommend feeding hunting dogs only in the evening or just a small amount in the morning and a larger portion in the evening. This provides adequate digestion time before strenuous exercise. If digestion is still underway, increased insulin slows the breakdown of fat, which is the important fuel that maximizes dogs’ endurance and energy.

HUMMUS

Dogs who have trouble keeping weight on during hunting season, however, might benefit from a small amount of their usual food midday — just a handful that is easy to pack in a small plastic baggie. It’s most important to feed hardworking dogs food formulated to support muscle activity and recovery, fuel metabolic needs and support joint health.Recommendation: Purina Pro Plan Sport high protein performance dry dog food 30/20, $47.98 for a 37.5-pound bag, Tractor Supply Co.

ELECTROLYTE DRINKS

Distributed through the body via fluids, electrolytes are minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium that need replenishing to help regulate fluid balance, muscle contraction and other bodily functions. Sports drinks contain electrolytes but are bulky, and many also have a ton of sugar. An easier way to get needed electrolytes is to carry packets or tablets to toss in your water bottle as needed. Recommendation: Nuun Sport, $7 for 10 tablets, Nuun Life; 15 flavors available

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PROTEIN AND ENERGY BARS

There are protein bars that give you energy and energy bars that have proteins. Complicate the choice by the dozens of brands and flavors available and you could spend weeks researching the best options. To keep it simple, check the ingredients and pick according to whether you want muscle recovery proteins or energy-giving complex carbs. The fewer the ingredients, the better. Recommendations: Larabar Carrot Cake, $4.98 for five bars; Kind protein dark chocolate nut, $14.22 for 12 bars; ProBar Meal-on-the-Go, $39.99 for 12 bars,

Walmart

It is also wise to keep a small container of honey or sugar for dogs who might have a blood sugar drop — exertional hypoglycemia — evidenced by symptoms ranging from sudden fatigue and lack of coordination to muscle spasms or collapse. Rub the honey or sugar on their gums until they become more alert, then give a small quantity of food. Individual packets of honey are the easiest to keep in your daypack or game vest. Recommendation: Nature Nate’s Honey Mini, $6.97 for a box of 20 packets, Walmart

PROVIDED BY THE COMPANIES

è

Walmart

TUNA & CHEESE

Packed with protein and healthy fats, tuna and cheese are versatile snacks that make you feel like you’re eating real food, not a chipmunk buffet. Eat tuna plain or premixed with a little mayo, then spread on crackers, a whole-wheat wrap or celery. Or make a vitamin-packed avocado bowl by cutting the avocado right before eating, taking out the seed and scooping your tuna salad into the hole. Hard cheeses such as swiss and cheddar hold up best, and wax-wrapped single serves like Babybel have the most longevity. Cheddar gets top votes for high amounts of protein and vitamins, including vitamin K2. Recommendations: Tonnino tuna fillets in spring water, $5.98, Walmart; Cabot Seriously sharp cheddar mini bars, $19.95 for 24 bars, Dakin Farm

è

With more vitamins and minerals than most spreads, hummus has lots of calories for energy and pairs well with crackers or veggies. Look for spreads made with the traditional ingredients of chick peas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and spices. Spread roasted red pepper hummus on a whole wheat wrap then add sliced black olives, spinach and a strip of provolone. Roll up tight in a plastic wrap then store in a baggie. Perfect for lunch. Recommendation: Sabra roasted red pepper singles, $4.72/six-pack,


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ADVOCACY

Recruit, Retain, Reactivate R3 initiative is crucial to the future of hunting and conservation BY BRAD FITZPATRICK

I

GETTY IMAGES

n the early 20th century, wildlife populations in the United States were in peril. Unregulated hunting decimated vast herds of bison on the Great Plains and white-tailed deer were nearly wiped out in Indiana, Kansas and other states. Waterfowl numbers also declined dramatically, and by 1901 many duck and goose species were threatened with extinction.

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Thankfully, forwardthinking conservationists at the time, many of them hunters, called on the government to stop this unrestricted slaughter before it was too late. In 1937, the Pittman-Robertson Act placed an excise tax on firearms and ammunition to support conservation efforts, and that same year waterfowl hunters formed Ducks Unlimited to raise funding for the protection of critical wetland habitat. Over the ensuing years, these and similar efforts paid dividends. White-tailed deer numbers increased from 500,000 in 1900 to more than 32 million today, and waterfowl numbers have increased to more than 33 million. Wild turkey, pronghorn antelope and Rocky Mountain elk numbers also rose dramatically, thanks to increased regulation and funds generated by hunters. Since its inception, the Pittman-Robertson Act has generated more than $11 billion, and sportsmen and women contribute more than $3 billion annually toward conservation. Wildlife is in peril yet again, but this time the issue stems from reduced participation in outdoor activities like hunting and target shooting. A decline in the number of hunting license sales over the last decade has resulted in reduced funding for critical conservation efforts. Hunting participation dropped by about 2 million people over the previous five years, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Total expenditures by hunters

declined 29 percent, from $36.3 billion to $25.6 billion, over that same period.

R3 INITIATIVE About 15 years ago, a group of outdoor enthusiasts grew concerned about declining numbers of hunters and target shooters and began examining ways to increase participation in outdoor activities. That initiative became known as R3, which stands for recruitment, retention and reactivation. Matt Dunfee was one of the early proponents of the R3 initiative and currently serves as the director of special programs at the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI). Founded in 1911, WMI is one of the leading voices for conservation, and in his current role, Dunfee develops R3 toolkits

and best practices to help increase participation in hunting and target-shooting sports. “R3 is a set of principles designed to change our thinking about how we go about securing the future of outdoor recreation in America,” Dunfee says. What he and other R3 advocates realized was that many hunting and target shooting recruitment programs were focused on the sons and daughters of those who already participated in those activities.

Hunting participation dropped by about 2 million people from 2011 to 2016, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

And while that was an easy pool from which to recruit, there was an underserved population who had never been exposed to hunting and shooting sports — and likely wouldn’t be without a program specifically designed to recruit them. “If 30 percent of hunters would recruit one person we’d be back to pre-1980 levels in one year,” Dunfee says. “The goal of R3 is to replace ourselves with someone who doesn’t necessarily look, act or think the way we do and asking them what pieces of our world can help them act on their outdoor values.” For many, this means recruiting outside their close circle of family and friends and may require reaching out to someone who doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a hunter or shooter. >

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Oftentimes, it requires striking up a conversation with a casual acquaintance or stranger. Dunfee says there are large numbers of people who may be interested in hunting and shooting sports, but they’re afraid to reach out, perhaps because they don’t fit their own preconceived notions of a hunter or target shooter. The COVID-19 pandemic may be opening doors to start these conversations, says Samantha Pedder, director of operations for the Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (CAHSS). As the pandemic begins to stress food-supply chains, hunting has become a viable option for many — even those who have never considered the sport. This, coupled with the growing locovore movement, has created an opportunity to recruit new hunters. “Numbers are interesting,” says Pedder, “but at the core it’s not just about numbers. It’s about including other groups and recruiting different types of new hunters. If we recruit fewer hunters, then fewer people will care about conservation.” At the current rate, the number of millennial hunters won’t backfill the baby boomer generation, and that could spell disaster for target shooting and hunting, Pedder says. “The best way to introduce

new people to the sport is through mentoring. If you have more time (as a result of the current pandemic), spend it in the woods and take people with you.” Now in its 10th year, CAHSS has seen increased participation in mentoring and recruitment by established hunters, and as interest in hunting grows, it’s time to move on the

GET MORE INFORMATION ON R3 AT:

The Wildlife Management Institute (wildlifemanagement.institute) or The Council to Advance Hunting and the Shooting Sports (cahss.org).

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second and third planks of the R3 initiative — retention and reactivation. “It’s not good enough to take someone hunting once” and then expect them to continue to participate on their own, Pedder says. You may need to take them out for a full season or even more to ensure that they are comfortable with the sport. “We’re really focusing on the R2 and R3 steps — retention and reactivation — right now,” says Kristen Black, manager of communications and human dimensions at

CAHSS. She says social distancing may have made it more difficult to take someone to the woods or the shooting range, but that shouldn’t prevent safe communication. Whether it’s contacting a new hunter or shooter to discuss the sport or connecting with an experienced hunter or shooting sports enthusiast to make plans for a hunt or a day at the range, it’s time to strike up a dialogue about the sports. If you need help getting started with R3 in your community, don’t worry, Pedder says. There are regional representatives who understand the local populations and can help you or your business start your own local R3 initiative. R3 is critical to the future of both hunting and shooting sports and wildlife, and the companies and organizations supporting it include Delta Waterfowl, the Quality Deer Management Association and Federal Premium Ammunition. “Our support for R3 programs runs deep in our company DNA, and all of our employees are proud of the support to growing the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts,” says Jon Zinnel, conservation and youth shooting sports manager for Federal Premium and CCI Ammunition. Advocates agree that engagement by nonprofits and outdoor companies alone won’t save hunting and shooting sports. What is required is the grassroots support of outdoor enthusiasts. l

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ADVOCACY


Explore The Outdoors!

Okeechobee,Florida (863) 763-3959 www.visitokeechobeecounty.com


IN THE KITCHEN

Stock Up

How to cook, store and use wild game and fish broth BY COSMO GENOVA

S

COSMO GENOVA

tock is a flavorful bone broth that forms the basis of countless sauces, gravies, soups and more. It is easy to make, stores almost indefinitely and is a great way to extract the most yield from your successful days afield. Whether the base ingredient is mammal, bird or fish bones, the process for making stock is fundamentally the same. I generally make my stocks with a roughly 70/30 percent ratio of bones to vegetables, but don’t be afraid to clean out the fridge a little. The next time you punch a tag or fill a cooler, save the bones and carcasses for stock.

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Ingredients 2-4 pounds big-game bones or bird carcasses 3 carrots 2 onions 4 celery stalks 2 bay leaves

COSMO GENOVA

Directions Brown the bones in a roasting pan in the oven at 375 degrees. Transfer the bones and vegetables to a stockpot and fill with enough water to cover everything. Bring the stock to a bubbling simmer and periodically skim any foam or fat that pools on the surface. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, then strain. Refrigerate overnight and discard any fat that has solidified at the top. Storage The best way to store homemade stock is to freeze it. Ziploc freezer bags or old yogurt containers are my preferred storage vessel, but you can also freeze stock in ice cube trays for more controlled portioning. Once frozen, stock can keep for many years, though you’ll

surely use it up quickly. Now that you’ve learned how to make stock, here are some ways to use it:

SEARED BACKSTRAP WITH A DRIED CHERRY PAN SAUCE

è

BASIC BIG GAME OR BIRD STOCK

Ingredients 8 ounces backstrap 2 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil ¼ cup dried cherries ½ cup red wine 1 cup game stock 1 teaspoon brown sugar 1 pinch salt 1 pinch pepper

Directions Coat the backstrap in salt and pepper, then sear the backstrap on all sides. Transfer the loin to a 425-degree oven for around 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and rest the loin, then deglaze the pan with red wine. Add the stock, dried cherries, butter and brown sugar, then reduce until the sauce has thickened. Season to taste. Slice the backstrap and serve with the cherry sauce, an arugula salad and a fried egg.

WILD TURKEY GRAVY

Ingredients 1-2 whole turkey legs and thighs ¾ stick butter ¹/3 cup of flour 2 quarts turkey stock ½ cup heavy cream 1 tablespoon salt 1 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon garlic powder 1 teaspoon onion powder Directions Cook the legs and thighs in a crockpot with 2 cups of stock until the meat falls off the bone. Drain the braising liquids into a cup and pull the leg meat. Melt butter in a large pot, then add the flour. Toast the roux for about 30 seconds, then whisk in the remaining stock and braising liquids. Add the pulled leg meat, cream and seasoning. Cook until the gravy is thick and serve with your favorite biscuit recipe.

BASIC FISH STOCK

The main difference between fish and game stock is that fish stock is cooked much gentler and for less time — overcooking can make the stock cloudy and bitter. The bones and heads of lean, white-fleshed fish and salmon work best. Ingredients 2-4 pounds fish bones and heads 2 carrots 2 onions 1 head fennel 1 cup white wine 2 bay leaves 4 peppercorns Directions Rough cut all vegetables and clean the bones thoroughly. Put a stockpot on low heat and gently toast the bones and vegetables. Deglaze the stockpot with

the wine. Add enough water to cover everything, then bring to a gentle simmer for about 1 hour. Skim any foam or fat that pools on the surface. Strain and refrigerate until cool. Skim and discard any fat.

è

Seared backstrap with a dried cherry pan sauce

SALMON CHOWDER

Ingredients 1 salmon fillet 2-3 red potatoes 1 onion 1-2 carrots 2 celery stalks 1 leek 3 strips bacon 1 sprig each of parsley, sage, thyme 2 bay leaves 1 tablespoon salt ¼ cup all-purpose flour 1 cup white wine 2 cups fish stock 1 quart heavy cream Directions Cut the salmon into cubes and rough cut the remaining ingredients. Render down the bacon in a large pot, then add the vegetables, bay leaves and a pinch of salt. Add the flour and stir it into the mix. Deglaze with the wine, then add the remaining ingredients. Simmer the chowder until it has thickened, stirring occasionally.

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Sage of the fly-fishing world would rather chase a gobbler BY T. EDWARD NICKENS

H

e’s not a stickler for camouflage, which is a bit surprising for a hardcore turkey hunter. At the moment, he is sitting beside me under a Spanish moss-draped live oak tree, dressed in blue jeans, a checkered green shirt and tall snake-proof boots. We’ve strung up a meager few feet of camouflage netting and jammed a few oak branches and twigs in the ground to break up our silhouette. >

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FLORIDA OUTDOOR EXPERIENCE (2); GETTY IMAGES

Flip Pallot

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Setting turkey decoys

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But he’s not the kind to hide in a pop-up blind, or wear layers of face paint. For Flip Pallot, hunting is an opportunity to experience the wild world up close and on its own terms. The less between him and the birds, the better. That helps explain why he hunts with a traditional bow, using handmade arrows, most fletched with feathers from turkeys he’s called and killed himself. And it’s why he spends nearly every Florida spring day in the woods, which is all slightly ironic, because Pallot is one of the most famous and influential fly fishermen alive. From 1992 to 2006, Pallot hosted The Walker’s Cay Chronicles on ESPN, arguably the most popular fishing show in TV history. He helped design perhaps the most famous line of flats skiffs ever built, the beauties crafted by Hell’s Bay Boatworks, the company he co-founded. He’s a highly sought consultant to fly-rod builders and fly-line manufacturers. And at the age of 78, Pallot seems to have caught a second — or fifth or sixth — wind. Thanks to social media, new generations of hunters and anglers have become rabid Pallot fans. Just last year, with a trio of other fly-fishing luminaries and guides — including Oliver White, Clint Kemp and Graham Hegamyer — Pallot co-founded Panamanian rum distillery Frigate Reserve Rum. And he’s still a technical consultant to brands such as YETI and Costa del Mar, and could fill every weekend with speaking engagements if he wanted to. All that, however, takes place in another dimension. As we’re visiting, it is spring turkey season in Florida, and Pallot is quick to admit that fishing isn’t on his mind. It is the wild Osceola turkey, the species native to Florida, that rules his imagination and stalks his every waking thought from the time the first gobbler thunders in the spring until the last dawn breaks over turkey season. “Hunting has always been my greatest passion,” he says. “And these wild Florida birds just tie me in knots year after year.” For about a month each year, he guides turkey hunters at Florida Outdoor Experience, a 7,000-acre sweep of pine flatwoods,

live oak forests, meadows and marsh that retains its pre-Disney, Old Florida feel. That authentic, historic bearing is as important to Pallot as the crazy numbers of Osceola turkeys at Florida Outdoor Experience. His roots in the state run deep and true, and there aren’t a lot of places left that remind him of the Florida of his youth. Born in 1942, Pallot grew up in Miami, but it’s not the Miami that exists today. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was a small Southern city on the edge of the Everglades, and as a child, Pallot had free roam of a natural world that today is little more than a warren of concrete and steel. Adventure was right outside his back door. “It was nothing for me to get on my bicycle,” he says, “meet my friends and spend all day in the woods catching alligators and snakes.” He and his pals hunted ducks and snipe and gunned bobwhite quail by simply walking them up in the local orange groves. One childhood pal had a beagle named Bullet that loved to chase wild Osceola turkeys through the saw palmetto and Everglades prairies. “We’d take him down to the Big Cypress swamps and set him loose,” Pallot recalls with a laugh. “He would start yipping, yipping, yipping, and he had these short little legs, so we could keep up with him in the woods. And he’d chase a gobbler till he flew up in a cypress tree, and we’d shoot him out with our .22 rifles. “We’d cut the spurs off and sell them to the old Cuban men in Miami to glue onto the legs of their fighting chickens,” Pallot says. “This is a true story: We’d get up to 30 bucks for a set of spurs.That was good money when I was a kid.” His coterie of boyhood pals included youngsters who would grow up to be nearly as famous as Pallot. He met another renowned angler, Chico Fernandez, while hanging out at the shrimp tank at a local fly shop. In the first grade, he met John Emery, destined to be one of the most sought-after fly-fishing guides and reel makers in all of Florida. Norman Duncan, designer of the Duncan Loop knot, was another childhood friend. All four ended up rooming together at the University of Miami. After college and a stint in the U.S. Army — he >

FLORIDA OUTDOOR EXPERIENCE; GETTY IMAGES

“I thought it would be nice to have a show (The Walker’s Cay Chronicles) where the people were real.”

29


was a linguist in Panama — Pallot took a job as a banker in Miami. The experience “nearly cost me my soul,” he grimaces. He left in the early 1980s to kick off his guiding career. In the summers he guided archery elk hunts in the Rocky Mountains and fly-fishing trips on the Bighorn River in Montana. He guided hog and deer and turkey hunts across Florida. He hunted ducks and fished for bass on Lake Okeechobee and tarpon in the Everglades. “It was an idyllic life,” he recalls. “Always something new. Always something to discover.” Along the way, he dabbled in television. Pallot was featured on several episodes of The American Sportsman and Outdoor Life series. For two years he had his own TBS program, Saltwater Angler. The exposure provided a bit of notoriety that helped his guiding business. But those early forays in television could hardly have presaged the phenomenon of The Walker’s Cay Chronicles. Pallot’s lyrical, thoughtful style struck a chord with viewers. Debuting in 1992, each show had the feel of a journey: Taking off — either literally or figuratively — from the stunning, remote Bahamian island of Walker’s Cay, Pallot and his companions plumbed some of the planet’s wildest corners. “Everybody’s got a fishing buddy,” he explains. “Everyone has someone they love to spend time with and share adventures with. So, I thought it would be nice to have a show where the people were real and it wasn’t about a bunch of crap to buy but about the places and the friendships that give meaning to adventure. “It was a new concept, so we weren’t sure how it would be accepted,” Pallot says. “I thought we’d be on the air a year or two.” The series ran longer than Seinfeld. Pallot’s authentic, avuncular style — not to mention one of the outdoor world’s most famous beards — garnered legions of fans. And the timing was perfect. Saltwater fly-fishing tactics and gear were in an incredibly fertile period of development, as was the notion of fishing as a lifestyle. It was a heady period of exotic travel and rubbing shoulders with celebrity fly fishermen such as Tom Brokaw and Michael Keaton. And it helped establish Pallot as an educator, social media influencer and technical consultant. “And a rum-maker,” he grins. “Don’t forget that.”

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But during a Florida spring, Pallot is less concerned about the performance of a fly rod than he is about where the turkeys are; how we can get in place without spooking them off their overnight roosts; and how close we dare stalk in the darkness that’s giving way to dawn. We’ve already hunted for a day and a half, but have yet to connect with an Osceola turkey. The morning before, we called in a crowd of hens, but

GETTY IMAGES

“Hunting has always been my greatest passion, and these wild Florida birds just tie me in knots year after year.”


FLORIDA OUTDOOR EXPERIENCE

Pallot and Gray Drummond, owner of Florida Outdoor Experience

Pallot was more interested in a massive wild hog that had emerged from a dark palm forest. He watched it through binoculars as it sauntered along the edge of the meadow. “You sure you don’t want to shoot that pig?” he asks. “My god, what a magnificent animal.” That afternoon, six jake gobblers surrounded us as we hunkered down in the cabbage palms, clucking and staring so close that we couldn’t move a muscle. Now we’re back in the woods. We pull off the edge of a sandy two-track road and step gingerly out of the truck. There is moonlight and fireflies. Barred owls counter-call in 360

degrees. Pallot leans against the truck’s hood, the engine ticking as it cools, and waits. He looks up at the Big Dipper and the half-moon, intent on stilling his spirit. This is the time to quiet the heartbeat and dampen the pulse and listen for the soft tree-yelp of a wild Osceola turkey. It’s the quest that has fueled Flip Pallot for seven decades. Somewhere out there, something is worthy of the chase. l

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“He was so thrilled to hear a turkey gobble or an elk bugle ... everything was so fresh and new,” Relentless Pursuit host Tim Wells says of Allen.

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PROVIDED BY JARED ALLEN; JAMIE SQUIER/GETTY IMAGES; GETTY IMAGES

Former NFL star Jared Allen now hunts Olympics and Hall of Fame berths

BY KRISTEN A. SCHMITT

PERCHED ON THE SHALLOW SEAT OF HIS TREE STAND, retired NFL defensive end Jared Allen is patient as the sun begins its final crawl to the horizon. It’s deer season, a time of year he used to spend tracking and sacking quarterbacks. Allen has traded that adrenaline rush for the quiet focus of a solo hunt. Raised on a steady diet of ranching, hard work and football, Allen had his first taste of hunting as a kid watching his father and grandfather bag bucks each fall >

Sacking

Big

Game 33


“There’s this competitive nature between me (and) the prey.” — JARED ALLEN

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Allen, left, with hunting companions Jeff White, center, and Richard Davis.

and turkey and waterfowl in the spring. But it wasn’t until he moved away from his California roots and was deep into the day-to-day scrimmages of professional football that he began hunting in earnest. “I grew up around it,” says Allen, “but it didn’t really take hold until I could afford to do it, and then it was addicting. I wanted to be in the woods every day.” During the football season, hunting allowed Allen a reprieve from the daily grind of the field, a chance to escape the spotlight, sit in the woods and breathe. “Hunting was a good release,” he says. “I was into whitetails for a while, then birds. Then I got into predator hunting, which is still one of my favorite things to do.”

Competitive nature

PROVIDED BY JARED ALLEN; GETTY IMAGES

F

OR ALLEN, HUNTING appeals to his competitive side — the same side that generated 136 sacks in 12 NFL seasons, primarily with the Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings. A five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro athlete, his career sack total was 12th-highest in NFL history when he retired after the 2015 season. “There’s this competitive nature between me (and) the prey,” says Allen, who has hunted throughout the country, but has a soft spot for Midwestern whitetail. “Who’s going to win that day? Sometimes you do everything right and end up not taking the shot. Sometimes you do everything wrong and you smack one.” That competitiveness, combined with his physicality and determination, drove Allen to pursue black bears in grizzly country and accidentally bring in a pack of wolves with a coyote call. He also took down an elk with a Samburu spear on the TV show Relentless Pursuit — an appearance Allen made after befriending host Tim Wells. “Without his natural athletic ability, >

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Always prepared

no one could have done what he did in such a short period of time,” says Wells, a proficient spear thrower. “I’d thrown the javelin in college so I could give him a bit of technique to keep the spear flying straight. We worked together and got him in the tree and, over time, we pulled it off.” Prior to spear hunting, Wells and Allen spent many trips together bowhunting deer as well as bear and predator hunting. Wells, a seasoned hunter, took Allen under his wing, which, he says, created “a lot of epic moments together.” “Everything was just so fun and so exciting and hunting was kind of new to him,” Wells says. “He had done it, but not much of it. So, the fact that he was hunting with me ... he was all jacked up. It was like taking a little kid hunting again, and it was so much fun. He was so thrilled to hear a turkey gobble or an elk bugle ... everything was so fresh and new. He just loved it.” These days, Allen is more likely to be found with a bow. “I really fell in love with bowhunting because it takes the element of skill to a new level,” says Allen. “It takes mental fortitude to endure because it’s completely the opposite (of football where) you use your aggression to your advantage, use that adrenaline to your advantage.”

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like clockwork. Rosati told Allen to meet him at the site, but on his way Rosati ran into a group of hunters from Wisconsin. “They told me they didn’t get drawn in Wisconsin for late season and they were trying to bait bear in Minnesota,” he says. The men were hunting bear on behalf of a young man who was dying of cancer. Rosati offered up the bear he and Allen were after, and the pair joined the group for a night of bear hunting. The hunt was a success, and Rosati still remembers it with reverence. Allen has “a big heart,” Rosati says. “All the hours and time we put in to try to get a bear — instead he gave it to that young man. That boy died two weeks later, so it was kind of meant to be.”

O

Sweeping into his next pursuit NLY A HANDFUL of years into his NFL retirement and waiting to see if he’ll be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — he’s eligible for the first time in 2021 — Allen is keeping busy. He’s married with two daughters and is active with his charity, Homes for Wounded Warriors, which builds houses for military veterans. He has a few hunting trips planned — travel pending due to COVID-19 — and a new hobby: curling. Actually, it’s a lot more than a hobby. Allen has set his sights on the 2022 Winter Olympics. “It was between badminton or curling,” says Allen of his decision. “Curling seemed easier, less taxing on the body and, I come to find out, it’s mentally like chess on ice.” While his first foray included a slightly different team, Allen’s current crew includes former NFL Pro Bowl quarterback Marc Bulger and curling veterans Jason Smith and Tim Solin. Smith, a 2010 Olympian, is the team’s secret weapon, bringing more than 15 years of experience to

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS; GETTY IMAGES

A

LLEN DOESN’T CONSIDER himself a risky hunter. Rather, he’s someone who believes in having all his bases covered. Whether he’s heading off for the day, a weekend or longer, he makes sure that he is familiar with the landscape by talking to locals, game and fish biologists and anyone else willing to share details about the area. “I’m the guy who’s always prepared,” says Allen, noting that he never heads into the field without an end goal of what he wants to accomplish with that hunt. “I’ll never run out of ammo. I always have water and a blanket. My pack is always way heavier than it should be. I don’t want to be the guy who brings the bare minimum and then gets stuck out there for three days.” While he takes his hunting seriously, Allen also brings a fun side to the sport — like wearing a red union suit at deer camp for laughs, according to longtime hunting buddy Jared Rosati. “He’s very driven in the woods, but a lot of fun,” says Rosati. “Probably some of the best times I’ve ever had hunting have been with him. I tell him when we hunt together that this meeting of the campfire girls has got to end because we’re not going to see anything if we keep snickering or chuckling.” Rosati and Allen met during Allen’s first few months with the Minnesota Vikings in 2008. Since then, they’ve hunted together off and on, chasing bears, white-tailed deer, turkey, pheasant, grouse, ducks — “you name it,” says Rosati, adding that he hopes to one day hunt elk with Allen, too. But one of Rosati’s most memorable bear hunts with Allen didn’t end exactly as they had planned. After several weeks of attempting to harvest a bear near Sioux Falls, S.D., the buddies finally had one hitting their sweet spot


JIM MONE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

the year-old team and acting as a coach on the ice. Smith says the team’s two rookies are constantly improving. “They’ve only been playing for a year, and they still wanted to win — even against guys who have been playing their entire lives,” says Smith, who acknowledges that their competitive edge is helpful for him as a coach and teammate. “I can be more assertive in telling them things, and they take that information really well.”

With about a dozen U.S. teams competing for a chance at the Olympics, Smith says the plan is to play eight to 10 events this year with the goal of accumulating more points. “The more events we play, the better chance we have to gain points to automatically qualify for the (2021) nationals,” which is the first step toward qualifying for the Olympic trials in November 2021. While Smith and Allen were both optimistic that the curling season will pick up again in September, the

Allen works on his curling technique with coach and former Olympian John Benton.

ongoing coronavirus pandemic has scheduling up in the air. “Everything seems to be on pause. Who knows what the curling world’s going to look like going forward?” says Allen. “It’s been a fun adventure. We’re getting better as a team and turning in the right direction. We’ll see what happens now.” l

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WIDE WORLD OF DUCKS With four flyways in North America, variety is the spice of waterfowling life BY T. EDWARD NICKENS

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CHRIS JENNINGS/DUCKS UNLIMITED

M

y buddy Josh Pelletier saw them first. “A wad of birds coming in, out by the buoy,” he murmured. Hunkered down like a crab, his eyes barely poked over a rim of kelp-covered rock. “Man, those are big ducks.” Big and getting bigger. By the time we rose to fire, the common eiders were B-52s in front of the shotgun muzzles. These are the largest ducks in North America, growing to better than 6 pounds, with heads the size of a golf driver. When three of the birds tumbled into the swells, we war-whooped with excitement. This is what we’d traveled from North Carolina for. Around us sprawled 50 square miles of Boston Harbor’s big water, dotted with craggy islands. The city’s skyline rose in the gray dawn like jagged teeth strung with Christmas lights. Pelletier and I had wedged our bodies deep into jetty boulders, calculating just how low we could go without taking breaking waves over our waders. Gunning sea ducks along the wind-thrashed Massachusetts coast was some of the craziest hunting I’d experienced in three decades of chasing feathers. And it was proof of the incredible diversity that awaits duck hunters in North America. No matter where you live — close to saltwater, freshwater lakes, rivers, swamps or even deserts — you live close to where ducks want to be. Here are four iconic landscapes for waterfowlers, and why you shouldn’t lock up your shotgun this year until you sample a few of the adventures they offer:

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WIDE WORLD OF DUCKS

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IF THERE’S ONE TYPE OF DUCK HUNTING ON PRACTICALLY EVERY WATERFOWLER’S LIST, THIS IS IT: timber duck hunting in the Mississippi Flyway. It takes a number of forms, from standing wader-top deep in flooded green forests to hanging out in a blind big enough for a half-dozen gunners and a four-burner cookstove. But there’s one image that remains constant: ducks maple-leafing down through crisscrossed limbs of red oak, cypress, tupelo and willow. While flooded woods can be found in a lot of duck country, it’s the Deep South river valleys that are the heart and soul of timber hunting. Rice and soybean fields blanket the earth here, pocked with duck pits dug into gumbo mud. It was rice, in fact, that turned Arkansas, in particular, into one of America’s duck hot spots. By the 1920s, thousands of acres were being flooded and farmers noticed that their rice fields drew ducks in mind-boggling numbers. It wasn’t long before green tree reservoirs — areas of bottomland hardwood forest — dotted the region’s rice country, drawing both ducks and hunters. Now, some of the most famous duck clubs on the planet are here, some of which require a small fortune to join. But there’s plenty of public lands open across the timber-rich states of Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. When you walk into a timber hole, you’ll want to pack a few specialty items: a tree hook so you can hang your gear pack and gun out of the water, camouflage face paint or a face net and camouflage gloves. Get just a little bit lucky, and you’ll have ducks trying to land on the top of your hat.

TIMBER

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THE SUN HADN’T EVEN CRACKED THE HORIZON and we were already wet to the bone. My buddy had blown a boot seam in his chest waders, while I’d gone overboard taking an off-balance shot at highoverhead birds. My breath chattered through the duck call, but I couldn’t have cared less. Cattails towered overhead as ducks strafed the water. We picked out mallards from gangs of gadwall — flocks by the tens, scores and hundreds — and pulled triggers only on the greenheads. The birds were in our face, orange feet stuck out kickboxer-style, homing in on our decoys. It was a classic prairie pothole hunt. When the last glaciers retreated from North America, they scoured out countless depressions in

DUCKS UNLIMITED (3)

PRAIRIE

2

the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, northern Montana, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. Those primeval gouges are now multitudes of potholes, sloughs and prairie marshes, surrounded by vast fields of wheat, peas and corn. During fall migration, these prairie potholes are covered with ducks. Unguided hunters — called “freelancers” in these parts — will spend afternoons driving the gridlike system of county roads and farm paths, scouting for fields where ducks and geese feed and the potholes and small lakes where they rest and loaf. In many areas, local farmers are happy to let you hunt. Across the region, government agencies and conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited provide open lands for duck hunters. Pack waders, a few dozen decoys and the best binoculars you can afford, and you can have a DIY duck-hunting adventure you’ll never forget.

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WIDE WORLD OF DUCKS

BRING YOUR “A-GAME” to a river hunt: your best gear, your toughest hunting pals and a hardcore attitude. From the Mississippi River’s sandbars and sloughs to the swampy flows of Georgia’s Altamaha, rivers offer duck hunting on a grand scale. You’ll have to deal with currents, tides and flows that can vary wildly throughout the season. But hunt for ducks on moving water and you’ll find a connection to the landscape as direct and visceral as anything you can do with a gun or rod.

RIVER

channel, the spruceserrated ridges rising into scudding clouds — seemed supersized. But it doesn’t take a huge river for a big duck-hunting memory. It’s easy to camouflage a canoe with saplings and brush and push off into a pint-size river for a float hunt for unsuspecting mallards and wood ducks. I always wear a life jacket, carry spare clothes in a dry bag and choose shallow rivers for such an adventure. Easing close to loafing ducks is a heart-pounding experience matched only by the sight of all those ducks exploding at once off the water.

DUCKS UNLIMITED

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I remember one hunt on the massive Columbia River, between Astoria and Portland, Ore. We hunkered down against a driftwood-strewn sand bluff. Seals cruised the river’s dark current rips. The tides were so big and strong we had to move the decoys every hour or two, the river itself rising and growing throughout the morning. Every aspect of the experience — the skeins of cackling geese overhead, the massive barges in the shipping

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CATTAILS LEAN IN THE breeze. A flock of ducks swings wide, and the calling begins — highballs and hen quacks and feeding chuckles that turn the birds. This is the classic duck-hunting setup, along the edge of marsh where water meets the land. There’s a wide variety of marsh types across the country, from beaver ponds lined with cattails to coastal wetlands to hidden spring seeps in the Rocky Mountains. What they share is a wide-open landscape that gives you a ringside seat to the action. Watching flocks of ducks wheel over the decoys, circling time and again and then setting their wings with the final descent is what makes all the work and sweat worth it. No matter what kind of marsh you hunt in — freshwater or saltwater — decoys and decoy

MARSH

4

placement is probably more important than in any other waterfowling landscape. Bear in mind that ducks will land into the wind, so hide or place your blind on the downwind side of where you want the birds to end up. Always leave a “hole” of open water in the decoys, either by bunching the decoys into groups, or setting the decoys in an elongated “J” shape with the curl of the J downwind. That way, ducks lighting on the water will be in front of the blind and in range when it’s time to shoot.

FIND YOUR FLYWAY

Most ducks and geese funnel south along four major migratory routes in North America. These are the famed “flyways,” and each one offers hunters a different kind of waterfowling adventure.

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ATLANTIC FLYWAY Along the Atlantic seaboard, the Chesapeake Bay region has it all — tidal rivers, agricultural fields, freshwater and saltwater marshes and vast open waters. There are state and federal lands all around, but the area also is home to one of the richest guiding traditions in America, where outfitters offer hunts that often include lodging and meals.

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MISSISSIPPI FLYWAY Southern Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin is the largest swamp forest in America, a million-acre mosaic of bayous, lakes, cypress-tupelo swamp forests and river and coastal marshes. It’s wild country, but thanks to state and federal wildlife lands and waterfowl reserves, there’s plenty of public access.

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CENTRAL FLYWAY When everything else in Montana freezes, the Big Hole and Beaverhead tailwater rivers run free — when they’re not gummed up with geese and mallards. While these waters are better known for trout than ducks, they can draw huge numbers of waterfowl. And if it’s bluebird weather, no problem. Just trade your shotgun for a fly rod.

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PACIFIC FLYWAY Lucky hunters in Pacific Flyway states have the longest duck seasons in the country and can chase some of the most impressive migrations on the continent. Much duck hunting in the region takes place on private lands, especially in California. But a string of refuges in the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge complex offers incredible opportunities for do-it-yourself hunters.

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Collaborations are underway to improve wildlife habitat and prevent wildfires BY KEN PERROTTE

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U.S. FOREST SERVICE

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Controlled burn in California’s Stanislaus National Forest.

wildfire funding fix coupled with a commitment by the U.S. Forest Service to cut more timber and conduct other active management programs on the 193 million acres of land the agency manages is expected to have a huge upside for hunters and anglers, namely better habitat and water quality for wildlife and fish. Catastrophic wildfires have scorched 23.5 million acres of U.S. land between 2017 and 2019, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, destroying property, damaging the environment and imposing severe financial strain on the Forest Service. Fighting massive, intense fires has staggering costs, often requiring the Forest Service to shift funds from other natural resource management programs. U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen says more than 54 percent of the agency’s 2017 budget was spent on wildfire suppression, compared with 13 percent in 1990. Policymakers and legislators recognized the situation as unsustainable and included a funding solution in the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, an omnibus spending bill. Major fires are now treated like hurricanes, tornadoes and other disasters when it comes to relief. Christiansen calls the solution a “game changer,” explaining that for the next eight years, wildfire funding reverts to the 2014 10-year average. “Any additional costs due to catastrophic fires will come out of a new disaster relief account (versus other Forest Service accounts),” she says. Fires used to occur naturally in forests, contributing to renewal and resiliency. As human communities encroached on forest lands, though, fires became something to prevent and put out. “We’ve had a fire deficit, actually excluding fire in its more natural condition, for more than 100 years,” Christiansen says. “We haven’t managed as actively as we should have. We’ve had extended drought and more people moving into the landscape and changing the balance of the ecological conditions.” In some regions, environmental activists mounted costly, time-consuming legal challenges to almost any type of active management work. Aging forests became increasingly susceptible to disease and insect infestation. Standing dead trees are ready >

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SHARED STEWARDSHIP

A large stand of dead and diseased trees rapidly went up in flames on this Colorado hillside.

fuel for wildfires, creating tinderbox conditions ripe for a lightning strike, careless campfire or a tossed cigarette.

FORESTS YOUNG AND OLD By definition, active management requires some manner of land disturbance. Practices such as prescribed fire, where trained experts conduct managed burning, timber thinning and creating small openings in closed stands of timber, have become increasingly difficult to accomplish. Yet, managed low-intensity fires remove forest fuel loads. And, opening forest canopies lets sunlight reach the ground, promoting growth of succulent and soft-mast plants that benefit a host of wildlife species feeding on the seeds and fruit.

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Hunters have been reporting appreciable declines in wildlife in aging forests. Virginia, for example, has 1.66 million acres of national forest; neighboring West Virginia has more than 1 million acres. Jeff Hoke of Waynesboro, Va., has hunted the Old Dominion’s forests for more than 40 years. He points to a steady decline in the quality of deer and turkey hunting, with grouse hunting becoming “almost nonexistent.” “Bear seem to be the only thriving species,” he says. Retired West Virginia game warden Larry Case has hunted national forests much of the last 50 years. “Without trying to be negative, I would say there is, in general, less game

on all of these lands than back in the day,” he says. “If the forest is all mature timber and there is no oak mast (acorn) production, there is no food — and animals don’t stay where there is no food.” Without timber cutting, forests increasingly lack what wildlife managers call “early successional

Christiansen says the Forest Service is committed to improving forest conditions and resiliency, where tools such as prescribed fire can be again employed. A current approach involves forging partnerships with state forest agencies, nongovernmental organizations, private landowners and the forest products industry. Under a Shared Stewardship Strategy launched by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in 2018, states assume

leadership, convening stakeholders to identify their primary collective goals. Christiansen says this gives the Forest Service “a clear trajectory as to what we need to work on as our highest priorities.” The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) is one key partner. NWTF CEO Becky Humphries lauded the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for their current focus. “Our forest systems are not independent between private and public ownerships — boundaries connect,” she says. “Forest fires, insect damage and disease don’t respect property lines.” NWTF and NRCS are helping private

Forest enhancements, such as wildlife openings, improve conditions for hunters and game alike.

PATT DORSEY; RYAN BOYER/NATIONAL WILD TURKEY FEDERATION

habitat.” Wildlife benefits from forests with vegetation at all stages of growth. Such variation creates the spectrum of food and cover sources wildlife needs to survive.


MATT LINDLER/NATIONAL WILD TURKEY FEDERATION; PATT DORSEY

landowners via a five-year partnership established under provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill legislation. Since 2019, NWTF has been using its foresters to help private landowners develop and implement management plans in their forests. “When we can pool our assets, ensure all planning and environmental review is done and we work on a landscape-level with partners throwing their weight behind larger projects, we can get so much more accomplished. There is great economy of scale,” Humphries says. Christiansen says the U.S. has more than a billion burnable acres across all forms of land ownership — private, state and federal. One-third of

the Forest Service’s 193 million acres needs restoration and is at high risk of catastrophic fire or insect or disease outbreaks, she says. Active management work that includes prescribed burning, creating forest openings and controlling noxious and invasive vegetation is underway on more than 3.1 million acres of Forest Service land, Christiansen says. Other improvements include building nest platforms and roosting habitat for birds, and improving habitat for important insect pollinator species. “We’re working hard, but not all acres are created equal,” she says.

RESTORATION INITIATIVE One example of a high-leverage project

Healthy watersheds and clean water are among the benefits of wellmanaged forests.

pulling together multiple stakeholders and agencies is in Colorado. Forest lands there are considered an important component of citizen well-being, in addition to being an important economic driver. Colorado’s most important forest management outcomes relate to water quality, recreation and wildlife, Christiansen says.

Spruce trees, dead from beetle infestation, create conditions ripe for wildfires in Colorado.

Last year, the Forest Service and NWTF crafted a plan that became the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative. A model for shared stewardship on a grand scale, it covers 750,000 acres and multiple land ownerships in southwestern Colorado, including parts of the San Juan National Forest. Insect-plagued and diseased trees riddle the rugged landscape. One fire in 2018 quickly spread through the closely packed forest canopy while igniting dead trees and dense underbrush, burning so hot that it torched live aspen groves,” recalls Patt Dorsey, a biologist and director of conservation operations for NWTF in western states. Much of the area covered by the initiative is targeted for

restoration, thinning and clearing using commercial timber harvest where possible, as well as prescribed fire and mastication, which involves grinding down small trees. Humphries calls the initiative a roadmap for future landscape-level operations. “Pooling dollars, resources, brainpower and muscle is part of the game plan, with each stakeholder leaning in with their shoulders to drive progress in creating more resilient sustainable forests that protect and benefit regional communities, deter catastrophic wildfires and improve habitat for countless species of wildlife,” she says. Christiansen agrees. “We’ve created considerable collaborative capacity,” she says. l

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| HUNT&FISH

INTO THE WILD HUNTING 50

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FISHING 66

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GREAT OUTDOORS 74

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LAST WORD 80

PRELUDE TO WING SHOOTING

REBECCA HARTNER

Opening day of dove hunting gets the fall season off to a festive start. Page 50

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HUNTING

Waterfowl retrievers that sit quietly won’t flare incoming ducks or geese.

DOGGED PURSUIT Reap the rewards of training your hunting hound STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY NANCY ANISFIELD

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muscular black and white English pointer named Mike is at work on a small game preserve where a new hunter is hoping to shoot her first quail. Mike courses through the low junipers and brushy dogwoods, locking on point by a hedgerow a couple of yards from the planted bird. But as the hunters scurry toward him, Mike turns into a flushing dog, sending the bobwhite skyward

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before anyone is close enough to take a shot. They keep up with Mike for the next bird, and the new hunter gets a chance to fire as the quail flies, taking it before it banks to the left. Unfortunately, when Mike — never officially released to retrieve — bolts toward the downed quail, he slows down just long enough to snatch the bird and run deep into the tree line. He emerges a few minutes later licking his chops.


Taught to “back” each other’s points, Scratch and Tiza hunt in sync as a result of their training and time together in the field.

Now consider a different scenario: a pair of lanky German shorthaired pointers, Tiza and Scratch, hunting together on a Southern quail plantation. As Tiza narrows her range closing in on the scent, Scratch turns toward her and joins the search. Tiza slams on point. Scratch stops, honoring that point. Three hunters slowly spread out in front of Tiza, and a covey of seven birds rockets into the air. Neither Tiza nor Scratch move except for the quivering of their tails and the swiveling of their eyes as they watch the birds, marking the ones that drop. Tiza’s owner taps her on the head, and she bounds toward the birds that fell on the left side of the arc, bringing back first one, then another to her owner. Scratch waits, tense, eyes on the bird he marked to the right. His owner strolls to his side, then sends him on the pickup, grinning when he delivers the bird to her hand. Gun dog owners train their dogs to different levels. Some don’t have the time or expertise to “finish” a dog; some are content with just the basics or don’t realize the benefits of

further training. Others train more extensively, bringing out their dogs’ instincts and shaping their behaviors to create a true partnership between hunter and dog. Whether you’re thinking of getting a gun dog or haven’t trained yours to its full potential, it’s worth considering four fundamental reasons for having a well-trained dog: to produce game, to conserve game, to ensure safety and to have more fun.

PRODUCING GAME To produce the game for a viable shooting opportunity in upland hunting, bird dogs need to search in an intelligent manner, working purposefully through the cover rather than racing around so fast they bump birds or overrun their noses. Pointing dogs that hold steady until released will give hunters time to get in position to shoot. That may mean more than just catching up to the dog; it may mean finding an open shooting lane in dense cover. Flushing dogs need to stay in close range so they don’t put birds up beyond a realistic shooting distance. >

Proudly retrieving to hand is a sign of good training and an understanding between dog and owner.

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Hunting with a well-trained dog is a true partnership.

Waterfowl dogs with poor blind manners will affect whether or not the game gets close enough to shoot. Barking, whining, fussing or jumping around is a sure recipe for flaring inbound ducks and geese.

CONSERVING GAME Not being able to find or retrieve downed game is a waste of the resource. While bag limits exist to safeguard bird and waterfowl populations, making sure crippled birds or waterfowl aren’t left behind is an equally important aspect of game conservation. Therein lies the need for a reliable retriever. Dogs that learn to mark the fall of shot birds or search for them using their noses — on land or water — are the best hedge against wasted game. Retrievers taught to follow hand signals are another asset, assuming the hunters marked the fallen bird if the dog couldn’t see it.

ENSURING SAFETY This is the No. 1 reason to make sure gun dogs are well trained. We’ve all heard horror stories about bird dogs killed when someone takes a shot too low or duck dogs shot when they jumped in front of a gun barrel. Brush taller than the dog, over-excited shooters, the chaos of multiple birds flushing or a flock of ducks landing in the decoys are just some of the many dangers. A pointing dog trained to stay on point until

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released, a flushing dog trained to stop when the birds take flight and a waterfowl retriever trained to sit still until released removes much of the potential for disaster. Besides steadiness, having a dog trained to “whoa” on command is another valuable safety tool. Whether the hazard is a busy road, a porcupine lumbering nearby or the pursuit of deer heading for the horizon, the dog that can be stopped is less likely to end up lost or at the vet.

HAVING MORE FUN Success in hunting can be defined in many ways, including how well you shoot, how much game you harvest and how much fun you have. Some days, it might simply be a matter of climbing into the truck at the end of the hunt with dry clothes, unfrozen fingers and a few good laughs. When it comes to bird and duck dogs, however, the extent of their training can have a big impact on the success of the hunt. In this case, Mike’s lunch was the first bird his owner had ever shot; Scratch is now his owner’s best hunting partner. Seeing your hard work pay off is a reward in itself, and when you and your dog hunt as a team, the partnership is reciprocal. You learn from each other and share the adventure. The extra dimension of hunting with a well-trained dog — your well-trained dog — brings joy, pride and satisfaction. l


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HUNTING

FESTIVE START Opening day dove hunt is a fun prelude to fall wing shooting BY OLIVER HARTNER

to claim the best possible places with the potential for good shooting. Swarms of doves dive into the field, and after the first few shots fail to connect, the challenge of shooting doves on the wing becomes apparent. For anyone fortunate enough to receive an invitation to an opening day dove hunt, here are some helpful tips for maximizing the experience:

Bringing a cooler full of drinks and a side dish for sharing to the post-hunt picnic is a great way to secure an invitation to the following year’s opening day hunt.

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LUCY MAHON

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ach season, the sequence of events remains mostly the same for an opening day dove hunt. Labor Day weekend arrives and hunters swap stories in the shade before the afternoon flight of mourning doves lights into the crop field. Everyone gathers their guns and gear, then traipses into the withering heat


A well-heeled dog is a great hunting companion and a conservation asset. Shooting doves on the wing will challenge veteran and novice hunters alike, but a bag full of harvested doves brings great satisfaction.

SHANNON WOOTEN (2)

OUTFIT FOR THE FIELD Dove hunting doesn’t require much in the way of equipment. A well-fitted shotgun in 12 or 20 gauge, several boxes of cartridges in No. 8 lead shot, hearing protection, sunglasses and a stool or folding chair are all that are truly required. Clothing varies on a wide spectrum, with comfort for the heat and protection from the sun taking precedence over concealment. Doves flare away from brightly colored clothing, so wear camouflage or earth-tone colors.

SET UP FOR SUCCESS Under optimal environmental conditions, opening day dove hunts are action-

“A dog’s nose is one of the greatest assets to conservation.” — ALAN WOOTEN JR. , PALMETTO GUN DOGS packed with high-volume pass-shooting. Most will be left or right crossing shots or overhead shots taken at the last second as the doves come into view. Before opening day, frequent visits to a shooting range with five-stand, skeet shooting or sporting clays would be well worth the time and effort. Finding a good spot to sit also makes a big difference on the day of the hunt. South Carolina farmer Heyward Swift says, “Try sitting along the edges of the field where an outcropping of

trees offers shade and light concealment.” Swift plants dove fields for his hunting preserve, Fork Plantation, and for several other clients around Anderson, S.C. Large round bails of hay also provide adequate cover and concealment, and if there’s a utility line running through the property, the base of one of the poles can be a great location to sit.

READY, AIM … Keep eyes on the skies and stay sharp. Doves maneuver in and out of view like gray

phantoms, and their nimble flight pattern challenges even the most veteran wing shooters. Mourning doves are migratory birds with bag limits mandated by federal and state wildlife authorities, so keep an accurate count of those harvested. And if a semiautomatic or pump action shotgun is used, it’ll need a magazine plug for limiting the weapon to three shots. It’s paramount to keep safety in mind as the action heats up. “There will likely be other hunters to the left and right, so be mindful of their location, and only shoot at doves when their silhouette is framed against the open sky,” Swift insists. Also, high-volume >

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HUNTING

Jalapeño dove poppers are a staple treat at many post-dove-hunt parties.

shooting quickly generates a mess of empty shotgun cartridge hulls, so pick them up during lulls in the action. Finally, be mindful of other nongame species flying overhead; most of these smaller birds fly more erratically than doves, and their feathers have a different color scheme.

ASK IF TRAINED DOGS ARE WELCOME Watching dogs work during an opening day dove hunt further enriches the experience. When doves fall into thick cover, the “nose knows” where to find them and ensure they aren’t lost. “A dog’s nose is one of the greatest assets to conservation,” says Alan Wooten Jr. of Palmetto Gun Dogs. Wooten and his wife, Shannon,

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train retrievers for dove and waterfowl hunting. The utility of having a dog in the field on opening day requires extra measures of care and preparation on the part of the dog handler. “A gun dog needs to be disciplined, mark birds well and stay on task,” Wooten says. “Having an unruly dog in the field is more of a hindrance than a help.” Bringing a dog on opening day isn’t a good idea unless given permission by the host of the hunt, and then only after the dog and its handler achieve a proper level of training and conditioning.

ENJOY THE SPOILS Some of the best fun happens at the completion of the hunt.

Gamebags are emptied to clean the harvested doves; be sure to get in on this action because of the camaraderie, but be prepared for friendly jabs about shooting skills if the number of spent cartridges far exceeds the number of doves harvested. Breasted doves become field-fresh table fare as jalapeño dove poppers, which feature bacon-wrapped dove breasts bathed in a savory marinade and stuffed with a dollop of cream cheese and a slice of pickled jalapeño. For the post-party, be sure to have an ice chest filled with your beverage of choice and a side dish for sharing. Bringing good food and helping clean the doves increases the odds of being invited back next year. l

LUCY MAHON (2)

From the looks of things, this Boykin spaniel’s first opening day dove hunt was a great success.


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HUNTING

Precision endurance rifle champion Greg Hamilton practices with a .22 on a 50-yard range.

TRAIN SMALL Take your rifle skills to the next level with a .22 BY MICHAEL R. SHEA

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n the world of precision endurance rifle shooting, Greg Hamilton dominates. With his teammate Sean Murphy, Hamilton won the 2020 Mammoth Sniper Challenge, one of the premier precision shooting contests in the country. Over three days, competitors hike, camp and shoot a 30-mile course, engaging dozens of targets with centerfire rifles from 250 to 1,000 yards. Hamilton, a weapons test specialist at firearms manufacturer PROOF Research, does 100 percent of his rifle training for these events with a humble .22 on his 50-yard backyard range. “Whether you’re

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plinking with a .22 or big game hunting with a magnum rifle, the skills are all the same,” he says. “There’s tons of value in training small.” Here’s Hamilton’s advice on building a range and developing a shooting routine to boost your rifle marksmanship. Get work in now with that little .22, and never miss that shooter buck again.

BUILD A RANGE Hamilton uses a simple know-yourlimits plate rack with eight spinner targets that start at 2 inches and go down to a minuscule quarter-inch. At 50 yards, that quarter-inch target

Greg Hamilton


Hamilton uses a simple plate rack with eight spinner targets in his backyard range.

equates to a half-minute of angle or a 2-inch target at 400 yards, so if you can reliably punch it, you’re doing great. Hamilton will start a training session in a new shooting position on the 1-incher, work down until he’s “found his limit,” then he drills there.

PHOTOS BY STEPHANIE HAMILTON/CURRENT CRAFT

SIGHT IN Hamilton’s rifles cost more than $4,000 each, but he uses CCI Standard ammo, which you can find for less than $4 a box. “It’s economical and accurate at 50 (yards),” he says. Hot rod rifles are fun, but any .22 that will reliably print a 1-inch group at 50 yards will work. If that’s a stumbling block, move the target closer and use the gun you have.

can. Take your time: Focus on getting stable and comfortable and breaking the trigger cleanly. Set and reset your position every few shots.

GET FAST That deer or elk isn’t going to wait around for you to set up, so once you’ve drilled a stable shooting position into muscle memory, it’s time to get into it fast. Hamilton does this with a shot timer, but a stopwatch or kitchen timer will work, too. Start standing with your rifle slung over your shoulder. Put 30 seconds

KNEEL, SIT, SHOOT For big game hunting, Hamilton focuses on a handful of shooting positions, namely standing off-hand, sitting, kneeling, prone and off a tripod. “If you hunt country zigzagged with fence line, get a four-by-four (inch) post and shoot off that,” he says. The idea is to replicate field conditions as best you

Hamilton says any .22 that will reliably print a 1-inch group at 50 yards will work for training.

on the stopwatch, then get into a shooting position and break two clean shots. When that becomes easy, cut five seconds off the clock and repeat the process.

EMBRACE THE WIND To train for unknown wind conditions, Hamilton enlists his wife’s assistance. Ask your partner — in life or shooting — to spin a few minutes of angle of windage into your .22’s scope turret without you looking at it. On your first shot, the bullet will be way right or left. Practice calling how far off that shot was, mentally marking it, then follow up with a second shot, making the wind correction with the scope’s reticle. This drill simulates an unknown amount of wind downrange. “We all know that seasoned old guy who’s killed an elk or a good buck every year for the last 30 years,” Hamilton says. “If there’s a window of opportunity, however brief, the dude puts one down. That’s a skill set you can practice, at close range, for not a lot of money with a decent .22.”

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THE COMPLETE PICTURE Making the best use of your trail camera BY BRAD FITZPATRICK

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GETTY IMAGES

wrote my first article on using trail cameras to pattern white-tailed deer more than 20 years ago. At the time, trail cameras were still a novelty, and viewing the images captured on those cameras required developing rolls of 35mm film. However, the data provided by those early trail camera photos offered hunters and scientists new insight into the life of the white-tailed deer. These days, trail cams are practically standard equipment for any serious deer hunter, and modern cameras are far more sophisticated and user-friendly than their predecessors. Modern trail cams record high-resolution images and 4K video, transmit photos wirelessly and provide detailed shots any time of the day or night. Are hunters making the most of that wealth of data, though? Sorting through hundreds of images of live, wild deer certainly is fascinating, and capturing a picture of a big, mature buck quickens a hunter’s heart rate. But simply seeing an image of a mature white-tail in your hunting area doesn’t necessarily improve your odds of encountering that same deer during legal shooting hours. To get the most from your trail camera images, you must learn to interpret what you’re seeing and identify clues to white-tail behavior hidden within each picture.

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WHAT SCIENTISTS HAVE LEARNED Trail cameras are vitally important to white-tail researchers since they offer an effective, low-cost alternative to traditional population censusing methods such as mark-recapture and helicopter surveys, and they don’t interfere with the natural movements of the animals. For example, a 1997 study revealed that 53 percent of the deer in managed hunting areas were male, while a similar study conducted in 2009 on public hunting land in New York revealed that bucks in that area made up just 21 percent of the white-tail population, a clear indicator that management efforts were effectively balancing buck/doe ratios. Hunters are also learning how deer behavior varies by region. A 1995 study in South Carolina demonstrated that deer moved up to 3.3 miles from their core territory to visit bait sites. However, a 2006 trail camera survey conducted in an area of West Virginia with abundant native food sources showed that deer in that area maintained the same core territory regardless of the presence of bait. So how can average hunters use their own trail cameras to improve their odds of hunting success?

CRACK THE CODE Stephen Webb studied spatial ecology and the genetics of white-tailed deer at Mississippi State University before accepting a role as the range and wildlife scientist at the Noble Research Institute in Oklahoma. “Most camera surveys show what we know about white-tailed deer — they are most active at dawn and dusk. But there are factors that can change a deer’s behavior,” says Webb. “First is

the rut. During the rut, it will be hard to pattern individual bucks because they increase their movements in search of does.” This increase in movement as bucks begin pursuing receptive does can make it difficult to pinpoint a mature white-tail and intercept him during legal shooting hours. But you can increase your odds because trail cameras can help identify “the areas that bucks are using more,” says Webb. “For example, camera site five might get two to five times more pictures of individual bucks than sites one through four, so this says that the habitat around camera site five is more suitable, or that there are more does using that area.” Webb suggests overlaying trail camera images on a map to determine which vegetation, terrain and other habitat features a buck prefers. Using this information, hunters can select stand sites with similar habitat features to increase the odds of intercepting that deer.

ELIMINATE PRESSURE Hunting pressure is another factor that affects buck movement, but contrary to popular belief, white-tails don’t simply abandon their home range when pressure increases. Instead, they alter their movements to minimize the odds of encountering a hunter. “Many hunters think that bucks will up and leave an area and seek a refuge, like a nonhunted property, but this is not what we found in our research,” Webb says. “During the hunting season, it is likely that hunters may stop capturing individual bucks at camera sites that the buck used regularly before hunting season. While tracking bucks with GPS collars, we found that bucks still use their home >

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DEFINE RANGE Trail cameras may help identify the areas within a deer’s home range that it utilizes most during periods of high hunting pressure, and this is when cellular trail cameras are most beneficial. Cameras that send images directly to a phone or mobile device eliminate the need to add more pressure to a deer population already affected by human encroachment. What’s more, trail cameras can help pinpoint the core areas that bucks use during periods of increased hunter pressure. “If a hunter is relying on camera surveys to hunt a particular site for a particular buck, it is best to hunt that area earlier in the hunting season before bucks change their behavior — like moving to other areas of their home range or shifting to completely different habitats,” says Webb.

MOVE YOUR CAMERAS When a deer that has been a regular visitor disappears from your trail camera images, it might be time to revise camera locations. “What once was good habitat ... may become an area avoided by bucks because hunters are now disturbing these areas, driving deer away,” Webb says. Hunters can rotate camera locations until new areas of greater deer activity are found. Sifting through trail camera images allows us to spy on the white-tail’s secret world. But learning to interpret what you’re seeing — or what you aren’t seeing — in those pictures can go a long way toward helping you fill your tag this hunting season. l

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Five Great Trail Cameras PRIMOS AUTOPILOT The AutoPilot is a breeze to operate: Simply open the main door, adjust the four internal switches, mount the camera and you’re good to go. Despite its simplicity, the AutoPilot manages to pull in high-quality 16-megapixel images, and its 0.3-second trigger speed captures animals on the move. $99.99 to $129.99, primos.com

WILDGAME INNOVATIONS INSITE AIR The Insite Air uses Bluetooth technology that allows you to transmit images to your mobile device without having to sign up for a data plan. Images transfer to your phone when you’re within 150 yards of the camera; you can also livestream from the camera when you’re within range. It captures 24-megapixel pictures and HD 720p video, and the Tru-Dual Cams feature optimizes pictures day or night. $149.99, wildgameinnovations.com

STEALTH CAM FUSION This cellular trail camera transmits images directly to your phone, desktop or app so you can view pictures in real time. Images are stored on the cloud, and the camera can be programmed remotely. This high-contrast 26-megapixel camera has integrated animal recognition and artificial intelligence software that makes it easy to store and manage pictures. $199.99-$249.99, stealthcam.com

MOULTRIE X-SERIES 6000 The X-Series 6000 cameras offer 16-megapixel image quality, 70-foot detection range and come with the company’s Illumi-Night sensor technology to provide the best-quality field images day or night. View images instantly using the Moultrie Mobile app, which also tags and sorts images. So, if you just want to see pictures of bucks (or turkeys, etc.) simply type in the keyword. $119.99, moultriefeeders.com

BUSHNELL CORE DS 4K TRAIL CAMERA Bushnell’s new 4K 30-megapixel camera captures superb picture and video thanks to a 150-foot range, 0.2-second trigger speed and 0.6-second recovery rate. The “DS” stands for dual sensor, meaning the camera is equipped with separate day and night sensors. Three preset programs make the Bushnell easy to operate, and battery life is promoted as being a full year. $249.99, bushnell.com

PROVIDED BY THE COMPANIES

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HUNTING

BEWARE OF ZOMBIES Officials offer chronic wasting disease guidance

I

n some parts of the country, deer bow-hunting season starts in late July or early August, and wildlife officials are renewing warnings about chronic wasting disease (CWD), the brain-wasting malady informally called “zombie” deer disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 299 counties in 24 states had reported CWD in free-ranging deer, elk or other cervids as of January. There are no vaccines or treatments available for the disease, which is always fatal. And while no cases have been reported in humans to date, some researchers worry it poses a risk to people. CWD is a type of prion disease called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. It is believed to affect deer’s brains and spinal cords through abnormal prion proteins that damage

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normal ones. Symptoms, which can take more than a year to develop, include drastic weight loss, lack of coordination, listlessness, drooling, excessive thirst or urination, drooping ears and lack of fear of people. Some infectious disease experts worry that if CWD were to infect humans, consuming infected meat would be the pathway. “It is probable that human cases of chronic wasting disease associated with consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the years ahead,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told that state’s legislature last year. About 7,000 to 15,000 animals infected with CWD are eaten each year, and that number could rise by

20 percent annually, according to the Alliance for Public Wildlife, which Osterholm cited in his testimony. Scientists can’t say for sure that CWD will cross over and infect humans, but as time goes on and more infected meat is consumed, the likelihood increases, Osterholm says. “It’s like a throw at the genetic roulette table,” he says. The CDC offers the following recommendations for minimizing exposure to CWD: » Don’t touch roadkill » Don’t shoot or handle deer that are sickly or acting strangely » Wear latex or rubber gloves when field dressing, and minimize the handling of organs » Strongly consider having the deer tested before consuming the meat » If using a commercial processor, have the deer processed separately.

GETTY IMAGES; ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID HYDE

BY RYAN W. MILLER AND ASHLEY MAY


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FISHING

BASS ON THE FLY Casting for largemouth and smallmouth is a different experience BY GARY GARTH

Tom Rosenbauer

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GARY GARTH (2); GETTY IMAGES

ike many bass anglers, John Deshauteurs has an abundance of specialized tackle: rods with broomstick-strength backbone; multigear reels that are engineering marvels; and tools with the precision to drop a jig into a teacup-size spot and the muscle to wrestle a hefty, hard-fighting largemouth or smallmouth bass from thick cover. Then, a few years ago, the Vancleave, Miss.-based angling entrepreneur who serves on several fishing-related pro staffs, including Jackson Adventures, decided to add another tool to his fishing arsenal: a fly rod. “I started fly-fishing for bass about six years ago when I saw a couple of buddies doing it,” Deshauteurs says. Many — perhaps most — anglers associate the fly rod solely with trout fishing. Fly rodding for trout is steeped in fishing history, soaked in angling literature and occasionally — and somewhat unfairly — carries a bit of a snobbish air. “Yeah, I’d guess a lot of people would mainly associate fly-fishing with trout,” Deshauteurs says. “But it’s largemouth bass in my part of the country. And it is great fun.” Deshauteurs hasn’t abandoned his traditional bass tackle for the fly rod and has no plans to do so. Fishing is his business. But he now makes time for fly-rodding for bass when he’s out on the water, and would suggest to his fellow bass traditionalists — and fly rod enthusiasts who have not targeted bass — not to knock something they haven’t tried. “It’s another tool to use. Just another way to fish,” Deshauteurs says. “But bass on a fly; I do enjoy that, very much.” Ypsilanti, Mich.-based fishing guide Mike Schultz, an ambassador for Simms Fishing Products, is another fan. He likens wielding a long rod for bass to hunting with a bow and arrow. “Fly-fishing for bass is a completely unique experience, especially for anglers who have never tried it before,” says Schultz. “In my mind, the coolest aspect about targeting bass on fly is that it’s really a close connection to the fish. It’s really kind of like comparing an archery hunt with a rifle hunt.”

WHERE THE BASS ARE The aggressive, hard-fighting bass — the most popular sport fish throughout much of North America — can be found in streams, creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes and reservoirs throughout much of the country. “Bass are just about everywhere,” says Tom Rosenbauer, marketing director for Orvis, the Sunderland, Vt.-based

sporting goods outfitter that has been synonymous with fly-fishing since it was founded in 1856. “They’re not that picky about water quality. Most urban areas have bass. You can catch bass in New York City. They’re easiest to pursue when they’re in shallow water. So, they’re pretty accessible with a fly rod from shore — just walking along the bank — or from a boat.” Rosenbauer considers shallow water to be down to a depth of 5 feet. Even during the scorching days of summer, bass can usually be found tight to cover in >

Fly-fishing for bass is like “comparing an archery hunt with a rifle hunt,” says fishing guide Mike Schultz.

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FISHING

“It’s another tool to use. Just another way to fish. But bass on a fly; I do enjoy that, very much.”

the surface-to-5-foot depth range. He says prime time for bass fly-fishing is early and late in the day. “In the summertime, largemouth will stay in shallower water for the most part, although they will be in deeper cover,” Rosenbauer explains. “It’s usually best (to fish) very close to brush piles or docks, and they’ll be in dense weeds and lily pads and really close to structure.” Smallmouth are similar, he says. “They’ll often both go deep, particularly in big Southern reservoirs. But the fish may come in shallow where it’s easier to target them with a fly rod early morning — very early morning right after the sun comes up — and in the evening.”

EQUIPPING YOURSELF Unlike trout, fly rodding for bass generally isn’t a matchthe-hatch proposition. “Bass are typically not very picky about what they eat,” Rosenbauer says. “It never hurts to imitate a frog or a mouse because we know they eat them. But (bass) will eat any baitfish that gets in their way.” Fly rods and reels, line, leader and tippet are available in a dizzying array of choices. Rod prices range from less than $100 to more than $1,000. Reels span an equally wide price spectrum. Tippets have a language of their own (5x, 7x, etc.) It can be intimidating, especially to someone new to the sport. But it doesn’t have to be. “You can catch bass on a standard 8-foot, 6-weight trout rod, and people do it all the time,” Rosenbauer says. “But if you want a dedicated bass rod for either (largemouth or smallmouth) it’s probably best to go with a 9-foot, 8-weight rod.”

ADVICE FROM A GUIDE The Niagara River hems the western tip of New York, flowing northward from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. Along the way, it drops over one of the most famous waterfalls in the world. About 15 miles downriver from Niagara Falls, the river enters Lake Ontario. Overlooking this strategic point is a stone fort that predates the founding of the United States. Today, Fort Niagara State Park attracts nearly as many visitors as the exceptional fishing provided by the waters it guards. Capt. Frank Campbell, who runs the Niagara Region Charter Service, glances at his electronics, picks up a 9-foot,

68 HUNT & FISH | 2020

8-weight fly rod and, with a practiced sidearm cast, drops a chartreuse-and-white Clouser minnow near a break where the depth slides from 11 feet to 20 feet. “We’re early in the season,” Campbell says. “But if you’re looking for big smallmouth (bass) you try to time it to where the water (temperature) is just about 50 degrees or so. That’s big fish time.” Campbell has access to some of the most varied and diverse fishing in North America. Lakes Erie and Ontario, and the river that connects them, harbor salmon (king and Coho), trout (brown, rainbow and lake), steelhead, smallmouth and more. All can be targeted with a fly rod, but Campbell says most of his fly-fishing clients come for the smallmouth, which are chunky and numerous. “It depends on when people want to come, but during the summer, when the water temperature is in the 70s, (smallmouth) are going to be a lot more active and be in chase mode.” Campbell makes another cast, stripes a few handfuls of line and lets the fly drop into the strike zone. Early season fishing demands patience. The fish strikes lightly. That’s unusual for smallmouth but the fish were still shaking

GARY GARTH (2); GETTY IMAGES

— JOHN DESHAUTEURS, FISHING ENTREPRENEUR


off their cold-water winter doldrums. He brings the fish to hand after a bulldoggish fight. “I think if you’re looking for fly rodding for bass here, you should stick with an 8-weight (rod), but you want to have fluorocarbon leader on there because our water is generally clear and the fish can be (skittish),” Campbell says after sliding the bass back into the lake. “If you’re fishing early in the season or when the fish are deep in the fall, you’re

probably best with a sinking tip line — something that will get you down between 12 to 20 feet. During the summer you’re good with a floating line.”

IT’S JUST FISHING

Largemouth tend to like shallower water, but deeper cover, in the summer.

“I love (fly-) fishing for bass,” says Rosenbauer, a lifelong fly fisherman who has authored several books on the subject and hosts The Orvis Fly-Fishing Podcast. He also strives to demystify a pursuit that is sometimes shrouded in lore and can be a little heavy on pretense. “Fly-rodding for bass is just another way of throwing a lure out there,” he says assuringly. “It’s not that much different (than other kinds of fishing). The casting is a little different, but people shouldn’t forget what else they’ve learned about fishing because that’s all it is. Just fishing. It’s not voodoo. It’s not some black art. It’s another kind of fishing rod. The casting requires a little practice. But that’s it.” l

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FISHING

TRIED AND TRUE TOURS

From trout to tuna, these outfitters will reel you in

GULF ISLAND CHARTERS

Orange Beach, Ala. This operator specializes in familyfriendly tours in the Gulf of Mexico, including inshore fishing trips for kids, four-hour trolling trips and five-hour trolling and bottom-fishing excursions to nearby artificial reefs and oil rigs. Targeted species include red snapper, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, cobia, trigger fish and amberjack.

gulfislandcharters.net

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70 HUNT & FISH | 2020

GETTY IMAGES

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hether you’re looking to polish your flyfishing skills on some of America’s most scenic rivers or head offshore in search of your next big catch, these 10 fishing charters and outfitters — voted the best in North America by USA TODAY 10Best readers — are sure to increase your chances of success:


THREE RIVERS RANCH

Warm River, Idaho Anglers from around the globe come to Three Rivers Ranch to fish the waters of the Madison, Yellowstone and South Fork of the Snake rivers. Guided flyfishing tours are available throughout the year and include expert instruction for float or wade fishing.

threeriversranch.com

ALASKA KING FISHING CHARTER

ANGLING UNLIMITED

Sitka, Alaska Visitors hoping to catch salmon or halibut can charter a boat from Angling Unlimited. The waters near Sitka offer some of the best saltwater salmon fishing in the world, and depending on the season, it’s possible to catch king salmon, halibut and rockfish in the same day.

Ketchikan, Alaska This operator offers 28- and 32-foot boats for salmon and halibut fishing, crabbing and wildlife watching. Large and small groups are welcome, and the company even offers shorter packages for cruise ship passengers.

alaskakingcharter.com

anglingunlimited.com

THREE FORKS RANCH

Savery, Wyo. The owner of Three Forks Ranch funded one of the most extensive river restoration projects in the U.S., so conservation is key at this luxury lodge just north of the Colorado state line. Thanks to these conservation efforts, guests enjoy world-class trout fishing in the upper 16 miles of the Little Snake River (as well as winter ice fishing).

threeforksranch.com

OHANA SPORTFISHING ADVENTURES

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii “Ohana” means family in Hawaiian, and this family-owned and family-friendly company specializes in trips along the calm waters of the Kona coast. Options include trophy fishing for blue marlin or yellowfin tuna, offshore fishing for billfish or angling for smaller species like mahi-mahi and wahoo.

ohanasportfishing.com

BIG HOLE LODGE

Wise River, Mont. Established in 1984, Big Hole Lodge specializes in wild trout flyfishing in the rivers of southwestern Montana. Guests at the lodge might spend a day floating on the Big Hole River or wading in private waters, with helpful casting advice from lodge guides.

PROVIDED BY THE COMPANIES

bigholelodge.com

LUCKY BEAR FISHING CHARTERS

CAJUN FISHING ADVENTURES

luckybearfishing.com

cajunfishingadventures.com

Big Bear Lake, Calif. Lucky Bear unlocks the waters of California’s Big Bear Lake, located some 7,000 feet above sea level. Tours are flexible, and it’s possible to snag rainbow trout in the middle of the day.

Buras, La. Established in 1980, Cajun Fishing Adventures specializes in Louisiana saltwater fishing in the Mississippi River Delta. It’s one of the best areas in the country for redfish, as well as spotted sea trout, black drum and Gulf flounder.

HUMDINGER SPORTFISHING

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Passengers aboard Humdinger Sportfishing charters often catch mahi-mahi, wahoo and yellowfin tuna, and crewmembers are happy to filet your catch. The 37-foot Rybovich Sportfisherman serves as a base for these Kona Coast fishing excursions.

humdingersportfishing.com

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STAY PUT

3

Reel more fish in to your boat with these quick and quiet anchors

SUPERSTICK

B Y T. E D WA R D N I C K E N S

F

ew boating accessories have taken over the fishing community as completely as shallow water anchors. These devices drive a tough stake into the bottom to hold a boat in place without the hassle of a traditional anchor with its cumbersome chain and rope. They make it very fast, easy and quiet to anchor close to sandbars, weedlines, docks and flats with just the touch of a button or an easy shove into the sand or mud. “We hear it all the time: Once you try one, you really can’t live without them,” says Adam Knowles, a brand manager for shallow water anchors manufacturer Minn Kota. “For starters, they will make you a much more effective angler. And you can’t believe how much easier it is to anchor for lunch or hold a boat at the ramp.” Shallow water anchors come in electric, hydraulic and manual models. Here are three of the best available:

1 MINN KOTA TALON

minnkotamotors.com

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thesuperstick. com

2 POWER-POLE

Power-Pole has been making shallow water anchors for two decades. Unlike the electric Talon, a Power-Pole is driven by its own onboard hydraulic system and deploys by unfolding its virtually indestructible spike away from the transom and down to the bottom. The upsides include the lack of a tall structure at the transom while you’re casting, and you can tell at a quick

glance if the spike is up or down. The downside is that the pole extends out from the transom, which can make it tricky fighting at the back of the boat. Power-Poles come in models ranging up to 10 feet. Starting at $99.99,

power-pole.com

PROVIDED BY THE COMPANIES

Built by one of the top manufacturers of trolling motors, Talon shallow water anchors utilize an electric motor to drive a three-stage fiberglass pole vertically into the bottom. Electric anchors take up less space than a hydraulic system and are easier to install: Just bolt the device to the transom, hook it up to the battery and roll. Compared to other shallow water anchors, the vertical deployment can make it easier to fight fish that are racing around the back of the boat. But you still have to manage casting and fighting around the upright Talon, which doesn’t move into a horizontal position. Talons come in models up to 15 feet. Starting at $1,899.99,

For a nonmechanized solution and for smaller craft such as skiffs, kayaks or standup paddleboards, the SuperStick anchor pin excels. The pole marries high-tech design and materials to the straightforward approach of sinking a stick in the mud. Made of aircraft-grade fiberglass and a tough aluminum spike tip, the SuperStick includes mounting clips and a cinching lanyard. SuperStick also makes a 6-foot to 12-foot telescoping push pole with a shallow water anchor pin on one end. Starting at $75,


Explore the Mighty Altamaha,

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www. w donalsonville-seminole.org w.


GREAT OUTDOORS

GOING PRIMITIVE Minimalist camping is a great way to disconnect BY GARY GARTH

In addition to remote campsites, many full-service campgrounds also offer more remote hike-in sites that only allow tents.

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NEMO EQUIPMENT

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elcome to the world of primitive, or basic, camping. That’s what you’ll find at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky. Overlooking the Kentucky Lake, the largest man-made loch east of the Mississippi, the spot — managed by the U.S. Forest Service — is pretty simplistic: about a dozen, fairly dispersed campsites, a handful of water faucets and two chemical toilets. No electricity. Spotty cell service. But still considered on the luxurious side of primitive camping. According to the 2019 North American Camping Report, America is home to 78.8 million camping households, an increase from the 71.5 million counted in 2014. Its appeal casts a wide net, is multigenerational and crosses a deep economic swath. And for the first time in the study’s history, the percentage of new campers from nonwhite multicultural groups (51 percent) outpaces that of Caucasians (49 percent). The study, published by Kampgrounds of America, found that campers are “excited to try new and different methods of camping, including full-service cabins, glamping tents and van camping.” At peak times (prior to COVID-19), full-service campgrounds often resemble bustling communities, complete with the hum of air conditioners and generators powering and cooling creature comfort-packed RVs, campers and travel trailers. But that’s why some purists answer the back-to-basics call of primitive camping, which refers to remote sites that lack standard amenities such as electricity, cellphone reception, flushable toilets and running water. Primitive doesn’t necessarily have to mean off-grid. In addition to the remote campsites that typically define the genre, many full-service campgrounds also offer more remote hike-in sites that only allow tents.

WHAT’S THE APPEAL? “Primitive camping is a great way to enjoy a little more peace and quiet — to really relax into nature with fewer distractions, like nearby campers, big RVs with generators and the general commotion that often goes on at more established, crowded campgrounds,” explains Britany Robinson, managing editor of TheDyrt.com, a website and app that allows users to research and reserve camping spots. “There are lots of different ways to camp, and no one style is better than the other,” she says. “But disconnecting from the many screens that so many of us are glued to all day will do wonders for your mental and physical health. I’m staring at a screen for most of my (work) week. When I’m able to get outside over the weekend and put my phone away, I come back feeling refreshed, well-rested and happier.”

DO YOUR RESEARCH Primitive camping may be a bare-bones, refreshing proposition, but doing it comfortably — and safely — requires some forethought and planning, Robinson advises.” Researching your campground ahead of time is important, both for your safety and to ensure minimal impact on the place in which you’re camping.” After deciding on a destination, she says >

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GREAT OUTDOORS

Primitive camping can be an exhilarating experience, but doing it safely and comfortably requires planning.

76 HUNT & FISH | 2020

WHAT YOU’LL NEED Your basic primitive camp supplies, Robinson says, should include a tent, sleeping bag, headlamp, small camp stove and either potable water or a water filtration system, if needed. She also suggested “a good book.” A headlamp is efficient and useful, and an extra layer of clothing is a must, Robinson emphasizes. “When the temperatures drop at night and you don’t have warm enough clothing, (sleeping) is no fun at all,” she adds.

WHERE TO GO From national parks to local public access areas, primitive camping options abound. TheDyrt.com offers a list of top primitive camping destinations and reviews, but a few jewels not to be overlooked include: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, N.D.; Big Bend National Park, Texas; and Baxter State Park, Maine. l

A purifying pump is an excellent addition to a primitive camping kit. Camp stoves come in many sizes and configurations.

NEMO EQUIPMENT; GARY GARTH (2)

it’s imperative to consider your surroundings. “I would encourage anyone to try primitive camping,” Robinson says. “But first, it’s really important to know what facilities will be available and which will not.” Does the site have a bathroom? If not, you’ll need to be prepared to follow “Leave No Trace” guidelines for burying human waste or carrying it out. Also, research your water source. Many — but not all — primitive or basic campsites do provide a water source. However, that could be a faucet or a creek, so be specific when checking with the campsite. If it doesn’t provide a faucet, you’ll need to bring water and/or a filter with you for purification purposes. Robinson is partial to purifying pumps, “But tablets are also super convenient, as long as you don’t mind some dirt floating in your water,” she says. “A pump will filter that stuff out.”


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GREAT OUTDOORS

HEAVY LIFTING Experience Yellowstone with a llama hike BY SARAH SEKULA

T

Llamas have been used as pack animals in Central and South America for centuries. At Yellowstone, these sure-footed animals allow hikers to camp in the backcountry without having to carry weighty packs. The llamas are in charge of the heavy lifting, so you can focus on soaking up the scenery. The furry porters are agile, dependable and forgiving. They slog through

WILDLAND LLAMAS

he mountains and valleys that surround Yellowstone National Park offer some of the finest hunting and fly-fishing terrain in the United States. If that region of the country is calling you and you’re looking to combine a hunting or fishing trip with an offbeat family adventure, how about a llama hike through a national park?

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GETTY IMAGES

rivers with no problem and can even get past fallen logs with a vertical leap that can exceed 3 feet. “Llamas are gentle and safe to be around, even for little kids,” says Susi Hulsmeyer-Sinay of Yellowstone Safari Co. In fact, once camp is set up for the night, Hulsmeyer-Sinay always lets one llama, Candido, loose to roam. “He is beautiful, and the kids can touch him,” she says. “A little girl once sketched him, and he sat down right next to her and posed for her. He also wanders around camp making sure everybody is there, peeking into the tents.” An added bonus: Llamas are a natural bear repel-

lent. They have excellent eyesight and loud vocal reactions, so you can count on them to recognize trouble and let out piercing cries to drive threatening animals away. Add to that the fact that they also growl like Chewbacca, and you’ve got yourself an excellent and entertaining hiking companion.

Yellowstone Safari

(yellowstonesafari.com) offers treks starting at $395 daily (per person, minimum group of four). If you want the experience but don’t want to camp, or are short on time, day hikes are available for $250. Another operator,

Wildland Llamas

(wildlandtrekking.com), offers

trips ranging in duration from three to seven days, starting at $1,695. Hiking in Yellowstone (nps.gov/yell) is appealing on many levels. There are nearly 1,000 miles of hiking trails to explore, rushing rivers filled with trout, scenic meadows and dramatic mountains. Not to mention, there’s a very good chance you’ll spot mountain goats, moose and bears while you’re out. Come nighttime, you’ll be treated to a dreamy view of the star-studded sky. Peak season at Yellowstone is June through August; expect crowds as the park reopens in phases following its COVID19-related closure.

FUN FACTS Llamas weigh between 280 and 450 pounds and can carry 25% to 30% of their body weight. thoughtco.com 79


LAST WORD

DRAWN TO NATURE Hunter/artist Lyle Hebel celebrates the outdoor life BY KRISTEN A. SCHMITT; ILLUSTRATIONS BY LYLE HEBEL

L

yle Hebel counts curls — the timeless task of aging a bighorn sheep ram from afar — as he studies the patriarch of the herd, its horns a patina of ivory and white. While field judging is essential in selecting a ram ripe for harvest, Hebel is doing more than just that: He’s also assessing the animal’s brow line, the way the sun is reflected in its honey-colored eyes, the degree at which its hind legs curve — committing each nuance to memory as he sits, perched with his binoculars on the rim of a canyon. As an artist and illustrator, it’s an exercise Hebel repeats at nearly every hunt or scouting mission from his home base in Bozeman, Mont. He uses his iPhone to snap pictures or a pocket sketchpad and pencil nub to capture moments to be used in later drawings. “My passion is really the hunt

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and fish side of it,” says Hebel. “The outdoor hunting images come naturally for me because I’m drawing from experience or photos that I’ve taken.” As a child, Hebel was exposed to an eclectic mix of mediums. His mother painted western folk art and his grandmother created Native American art and beading. His father “was really into horseshoeing and forging,” and his uncle was a saddlemaker and leather artisan. His stepmother quilted and sewed, resulting in a “whole kind of art realm” that Hebel readily entered, drawing his way through school until he obtained a bachelor’s in fine arts in graphic design from Montana State University. Hebel’s illustrations are no longer contained between the pages of sketch pads — he’s transitioned to digital illustration using his iPad, Pa-

perlike screen protector and his Apple pencil. And he’s created an impressive portfolio that encompasses work for iconic hunting brands like SITKA Gear and Yeti. He’s currently the marketing director for technical apparel company Stone Glacier, and he works with a diverse array of nonhuntingrelated clients, including BMW, a local brewery and medical websites. “I’ve been pretty fortunate because I don’t really market myself as an illustrator,” says Hebel, who posts the majority of his work on Instagram. “People find out about me and reach out.” Hebel is already passing along his art and hunting abilities to his three kids. “We probably do more art than we do hunting because my kids are small, but last year, Archie (his oldest) was able to go hunting and we got him his first deer.”


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