Dan Koboldt

Sep 192016
10 ways to get ready for bow season

Credit: jsjgeology on Flickr

I looked down at the calendar and realized that the start of Missouri’s bowhunting season is just a few weeks away. The wait is almost over!. It went faster than I thought. Almost too fast. There are good hunter-writers like John and Chris Eberhart who take a year-round approach to hunting mature whitetails.

As much as we would love to, many of us bowhunters can’t really pull that off. At least, not while keeping our wives, kids,and gainful employment. But with about a month to go, there are things we can do now to get ready for opening weekend.

1. Locate All Hunting Equipment

Hunting gear tends to spread out over the course of several months. Other hunting seasons, spring cleaning, home improvements, and other activities tend to spread things around. I know that some of my gear is in the garage, and some in the basement, and some in my office. It’s going to take some time to track it all down.

I’ve read that one of the best ways to prepare before the season is pick a date and pretend it’s opening day. Gear up as if you’re really going out hunting in the morning. Get your clothes and boots together. Load your bow and quiver and tree stand and everything else in the truck. That’s the best way to figure out exactly what’s accounted for, and what’s missing.

2. Replace or Repair Old/Damaged Gear

Some gear is durable and seems to hold up year after year. Other equipment gets lost, damaged, or broken. The equipment I’m usually replacing every year includes:

  • Arrows, field tips, and broadheads. Shots taken in the field, or more often too much target practice, is hard on them. Broadheads become dull or mangled. And I want every arrow in pristine condition for the start of a new season.
  • Fuel and pads for my Thermacell mosquito repeller, an absolute must for early season. Because you can’t sit still with a cloud of mosquoties around you.
  • Odor neutralizers and cover scents. These get used up, and even if they don’t, cover scents and neutralizers lose potency over time.

3. Make new hunting buddies

Hunting is often a solo activity, particularly for bowhunters. Coming from a mostly non-hunting family, I’m always looking to meet new people who hunt, or try to persuade existing family/friends/co-workers to take up the sport. Doing either thing gets harder once the season begins, for a few reasons:

  • Time. With shorter daylight hours and either the rut or the end of season approaching, time is limited. Scouting and hunting have to take priority.
  • Learning curve. It seems harder to get a non-hunter educated, licensed, equipped, and up to speed once hunting season has started. Certain skills, like estimating distance and shooting tight groups, take long hours of practice.
  • Competition. Let’s be honest, there’s a bit of a conflict of interest involved during the season. Especially in heavily hunted communities where hunters far outnumber the deer or deer tags available.

But hey, it’s still summer so most of us aren’t worried about that. It’s a good time to make a friend. The same goes for online connections. If you  happen to be a hunter who writes or blogs about it (or was considering doing so), give me a shout!

4. Find private land to hunt

One of my goals this year is to get permission to hunt on private land. This isn’t as easy to do as it once was. There’s less land, more hunters, and greater fear of liability. I don’t have the magic answer for finding land and obtaining permission to hunt it, but it’s a topic covered by many writers. Bass Pro Shops has a good article on the passport to private land hunting.

But I’ve really only had success when I know the landowner personally. So ask around. One of your friends or family probably knows someone with a farm or tract of land that needs hunting.

5. Scout public land

More than likely I’ll still spend much of the season hunting public land. I simply can’t get myself out to conservation areas in spring or early summer to scout. There’s too much going on, the bugs are horrible, the weather’s hot… there are plenty of reasons not to go. Scouting is critical, we all know that. Here are a few reasons to go now:

  1. Most people aren’t thinking about hunting. People are taking vacations, getting ready for school, doing just about anything but thinking about hunting season. With all of that activity, you can scout much less conspicuously. That’s a must for hunting in urban zones.
  2. Deer patterns are changing. I’ve had the joy of watching a doe raise twin fawns in my backyard this year, so I’m pretty plugged into behavior. Now, the fawns are just getting to the point of independence. Food and water are the priority. Sounds like early season patterning to me.
  3. Competitive advantage. I’m talking about other hunters and the deer. Neither group expects you to be out there this early. It gives you more time to find that secluded spot for the perfect early fall ambush.

6. Clear shooting lanes

As I found out today with the weedwacker in my own back yard, crap has been growing like crazy over the summer. Isn’t nature just incredible? If you’re lucky enough to have some stand locations figured out, you can clear the shooting lanes now, and have your scent gone well before opening season rolls around.

digital scouting cameras7. Set up trail cameras

Here’s a fun way to get warmed up for bowhunting season: use your digital trail cameras to take a wildlife survey. I’ve done this once already to investigate a wooded area beside an orchard where we’d seen some deer a while back. Now’s the time to spot and pattern that new buck, or find out which does made it (and had fawns) over the last year.

Plus, it takes a lot of work to get those shots that you can submit to Field & Stream‘s trail cam photo contests!

bowhunting clover food plot

Clover Crush food plot

8. Mineral Licks and Food Plots

Nothing draws game like food and nutrients. For bowhunters, baiting is usually out — for legal or ethical reasons — but salt/mineral licks and planted food plots are good alternatives. Both are effective lures for deer and other wildlife, but both need to become established before they’re valuable for scouting or hunting over.

Setting them up now leaves plenty of time for your scent to wash away, and the animals to find them, before hunting hours are open. Today I bought Evolved Habitat’s Clover Crush, which you can plant in the spring or fall and provides perennial clover growth to attract deer.

9. Practice with the Bow

There is probably no more important skill in bowhunting than being able to shoot accurately. You can do everything else right, have a perfect 170-class pause broadside at 20 yards, and still not take him if you don’t have the shooting skills down cold.

For me, it’s the distance estimation that’s the challenge. I’ll have to get back into my habit of constantly estimating distances to things as I go about my daily routine.

10. Build goodwill at home and at work

Hunting, for most of us, is an obsession. Between September and January it’s all-consuming. Lots of things take a back seat to the pursuit of the monster buck, including:

  • Work responsibilities
  • Family activities
  • Home repairs
  • Social engagements
  • Personal hygiene

Now’s the time to make some headway in those areas. Any goodwill you build up now can be drawn upon when you have to get up at 3:30 a.m. to be in your stand an hour before sunrise.

Sep 182016
get kids into hunting

Image: usfwsmidwest on Flickr

Most of us hunters who also happen to be fathers of small children dream of the day that we can bring them out as our apprentices. Yet with video games and Barbies and Power Wheels, kids face more competition for their attention than ever. What happens if your child finally gets old enough to take out hunting, and he or she has no interest.

In other words, a nightmare scenario.

So I started hatching a long-term plan for getting kids into hunting. By starting young, and building the excitement and mystery about the outdoors, my plan is to have them chomping at the bit to come out into the woods with me. My plan has three simple, progressive steps.

Step 1: Get the Kids Into the Woods

The first and most important step is to get the kids out into the outdoors. This is something you can theoretically do as soon as they can walk on their own. There are low-impact hiking trails everywhere. You can take kids on a hike — it doesn’t half to be miles long, just as long as you get out of view of the parking lot. When I do this, I want my kids to be engaged with the woods.

Child's Binoculars WIlderness signal whistle Map Compass
Child Binoculars Wilderness Whistle Map Compass

When they’re geared up with some binoculars, a whistle, and a compass, they’re not just out for exercise. They’re on a mission. I make sure they get back in time for a drink and a snack. Now they associate woods with adventure. The seed has been planted.

Step 2: Get Your Kids to Stay in the Woods

kids-ground-blindAnyone who’s hunted deer or turkey knows that, more than anything else, a successful hunt requires patience. But patient is not in the top ten list of words I’d used to describe my kids. If they’re going to become successful hunters, they’ll have to learn to sit in the woods for a long time. They’ll also have to stay quiet and still, but that can come later.

There are plenty of things to make kids not want to stay in the woods. Like mosquitoes, or the unexpected squall. A ground blind is the perfect solution. It’s collapsible, lightweight, and pops up in about thirty seconds to provide a shelter. Bass Pro has a kids ground blind… it’s like having their own little fort in the forest. Who wouldn’t love that?

Step 3: As Long as We’re Out Here

Bear Archery Brave Youth Bow SetNow it’s time for the final step. As long as the kids want to go in the woods, and want to stay in the woods, shouldn’t we give them something to do? Maybe something to hold, draw, and aim? This is an important step, but it’s not as big of a deal as it seems.

Think back to when you were a kid off running in the woods or the creek. Didn’t you ever bring along a knife or a walking stick, or some kind of weapon? It’s a natural feeling. Probably one coded in our DNA.

So I’m betting most kids who like going in the woods would love the idea of carrying a bow with them. My kids aren’t big enough yet, but I’m already eyeballing the #1 youth bow at Bass Pro Shops: Bear Archery’s Brave set. It’s got a 15 to 25 pound draw, not enough for deer hunting but plenty for target practice at 20 or 30 yards.

Now they have something to hold when they’re out there in the woods, in the ground blind. How long until they ask, “Dad, this time can I go out alone?”

And there’s hope for future generations.

What about you? How did you get your kids into hunting? Please leave a comment and share?



Sep 172016
Buck hunting stand or blind

Credit: Shutterstock via SocialMonsters

The stories of a deer wandering up to a newbie hunter, only to be felled by a fumbling shot, are the stuff of legend. Though possible, these are cabin legends in the same category as hitting a deer with your truck after a weekend of failed hunting. Expert hunters do not rely on luck. The right equipment, knowledge and patients make a skilled hunter. Tree stands and ground blinds are useless tools if used improperly. Even a rifle is only a club if you do not know how to shoot. To bring down a mature buck, you need to understand the animal and use your gear properly.

Pick a Location

Any seasoned hunter knows that it is crucial to do as much research on hunting locations as possible before choosing a spot. In April, NorthAmericanWhitetail.com released a list of the 20 Best Whitetail States for 2014. The states on this list were ranked by a various factors including, “…cost and ease of acquiring a license, quantity (and quality) of public land and hunter density…overall harvest…ratio of kills to the number of hunters…per hunter in each state, how many deer total and record book bucks were harvested.”

States that made the list include Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, Mississippi, Nebraska and Illinois. Although states like Colorado and Iowa are more expensive when it comes to acquiring a hunting license, they make up for it with lower hunter density and public land size.

Know The Land

Deer roam in limited area. As a buck matures, his living area decreases. According to the updated King Ranch study, the average ranging area for a mature buck is only about 151 acres. This is where a tree stand and a good pair of binoculars come into play. Expert hunters know that the first part of the hunt is visual. Place yourself in the tree such that you have at least a half mile of view. Then wait and watch. This part is not about spotting the buck and taking a shot. Your goal is to learn the movement patterns and rutting objective of the buck. With this information, you will be able to gain your shot and guarantee the kill.

Find The Entry Point

Ted Marum, owner of Tri-State Outfitters and expert hunter, says that deer use different lands depending on their season, not necessarily using the same land for grazing as for mating. Finding the entry points between the two will give you the best possible shot. Use a sound proofed ground stand to place yourself in the middle of the buck’s entry point into the new land. You can also force the movement of the buck by creating rubbing posts. Bucks rub their antlers to mark their scent as the dominant in the herd. By placing posts or tying back trees, you can make “rubs” that will increase the likelihood that the mature buck will come into your range.

Camp On Their Doe

Like humans, mature deer do not have the energy of their young counterparts. Mating is still a prime motivator but running and springing about is the purview of the young. The mature buck will look for a group of doe, usually in a limited area. By finding their doe, you are assured to eventually find the buck. Since a buck achieved its maturity by being smart and safe, expect the deer to be very wary. Mating is an olfactory instinct so your smell is as important as the sounds that you make. Be sure to keep yourself downwind when sitting on the doe and use squirrel or turkey calls to mask your noise.

Effects Of Age

The maturity of the buck is one thing but the age of the hunter is another. Rick Fahr wrote a great article for the Arkansas News with expert tips for the maturing hunter. They revolved around techniques to keep you off of Funniest Home Videos and out of the hospital while still letting you bag the kill. After all, the best tree stand means nothing if you cannot climb into the seat.

Sep 162016

ways to hunt without huntingIt’s a week until bowhunting season opens in Missouri. The wait has been agonizing. Already, countless things are trying to get in the way of early season hunting plans: school schedules, work events, family gatherings, and everything else.

Just as it is every year, most of us hunters won’t be able to get out into the field nearly as much as we’d like to. It occurred to me, though, that there are other ways to “hunt” when even not out in the woods. Here are a few of them.

1. Raise the flag

We hunters have a common flag that unites us. I’m not talking about stars and stripes (there are hunters in Canada, too, after all). I’m talking about camo. Wearing some of your camo when out running errands or doing family stuff is a great way to represent.

hunting capI went out apple-picking with the family last weekend, and saw plenty of my hunting brethren. I could pick them out by their camo hats or hunting boots or Bone Collector shirts. We’d share the look that says, yeah, we’re here. One week to go, right?

Vehicle stickers are another way to keep the flag raised year-round. They’re a great way to meet other hunters who live in your area. I saw that my neighbor had a buck sticker on his truck window. We got to talking; it turns out, we hunt in around the same area in north-central Missouri.

2. Study the game

Suburban deerAt this particular apple orchard, they had all sorts of farm animals including wild turkeys. I went over to get a close look at them, something you really can’t do in the woods. Strangely, I heard the hens making this super-soft clucking noise while feeding that I’ll have to try imitating with my slate call. It was just the soft sound of birds that are really satisfied as they eat. I think that’s going to draw some other birds in, if they hear it.

We have a family of deer that lives practically in our backyard. My kids like just watching them to see what they do. Me, I study them and their behavior. I practice spotting parts of them through heavy clover. Whenever I see one, I make a quick guess at the range, and then I check to see how close I was. Little things like that will make the difference in hunting season.

3. Get the gear together

Cleaning the garage is one of my least favorite chores, but it’s got to be done a couple of times a year if we want to park the cars in there. You have to have good weather to spend hours in the garage, so that means a perfect day gets wasted cleaning it out. On the bright side, I can take that chance to locate all of my hunting gear and put it together. Over the course of several non-hunting months, my equipment tends to float around and get misplaced. While I’m getting things picked up at home, I’m slowly getting it together so nothing will be missing on opening day.

4. Gauging Distance

Estimating the distance to your target is a crucial skill for hunting, especially bowhunting. Until I cave and get myself a laser rangefinder, I’ll have to judge shooting distances myself. There are many opportunities to do this even when not at the range. I have this hallway at work that’s 32 yards long. I memorize the distance every time I walk past it. Any time I’m out walking, either to go scouting or just to get exercise, I’ll pick an object ahead, quickly guess the distance, and then pace it off. It’s a way to keep sharp and improve my ability to gauge distance quickly.

hunting range practice5. Get in some range practice

Marksmanship is about as fundamental a hunting skill as they come. Heading out to the archery or gun range is an obvious choice. I’ve been sighting in my bow and shooting targets for several weeks already. As the weather turns, I’ll get out there again, to practice shooting with heavy clothes on. There’s also the gun range: target shooting, shotgun patterning, and skeet and trap shooting all improve marksmanship. Even a pellet gun and empty beer cans can be useful.

6. Check the wind

Any time I’m outside, even if it’s just for yard work, I’m gauging the wind direction. I’m also trying to learn what I can about animals that depend on their sense of smell for survival. My dog is the best, closest example of this. He’s a border terrier, a born rodent killer, and if he smells a squirrel or rabbit, it’s obvious. I watch him, and then try to figure out how he smelled the prey and how the wind affected that.

7. Track some critters

Bowhunting urban turkeys

Turkey track (about 3″ across)

Tracking is another hobby of mine for the off-season or off-days. I love looking for animal tracks in the yard or along the edge of a field or right under my trash cans. Sure, most of them are raccoons — those rascals are everywhere — but I can always use the practice.

When I was out scouting earlier this year, I came across a fox den under an old rotting tree. It was obvious that something lived there, and since I know my tracks fairly well (for Missouri animals, at least), I knew what it was. Tracking is fun and it never gets old.

8. Find a friend

Since the close of last year’s hunting season, I’ve found a few new guys — neighbors and people at work — who love hunting as much as I do. It wasn’t that hard, between the camo and the bowhunting stickers and the latest copy of Field and Stream, hunters are easy to pick out. Hunting is often a solitary activity, but it’s always good to have a friend or two to swap stories and talk strategy with. I’m game for it any time; just look for me on Twitter.

What Do You Do?

Let’s be honest, these are all warm-up exercises for the main event. Nothing beats heading out to the woods with bow or gun in hand. But since we can’t hunt every minute of every day, I hope you find some of these useful. What ways do you hunt when you’re not in the field?


Sep 152016

Turkey Hunting BasicsIt’s late March as I write this, and with spring rapidly approaching, all I can think about is turkey hunting. I just read an article in the Missouri Conservationist in which the author took a friend on his first turkey hunt. One morning out and they brought down two gobblers. Hard to believe, right? It’s a little different from my experience. Most days, I’m lucky if I see a turkey, let alone have a shot at one.

The spring turkey season pits hunters against the wariest of woodland creatures: the mature gobbler. This is the wily bird that I stalked last year, wooed with clucks and purrs and cutts. Until he finally lost patience with gobbling at me and came in for a closer look. Then he “made” me, as they say, and the hunt was over. So this year I’m going back to turkey hunting basics.

1. Location Scouting

Turkey scouting wing feather

A wing feather

Many hunters like myself don’t have the luxury of choosing between half a dozen 100+ acre farms to hunt. You probably already know where you’re headed this spring. I do. And since I can’t (won’t) change that, I’ve made it my business to get to know the turkeys there. Here’s what I wanted to know:

  • Roosting trees. In my case, I discovered these the loud, startling way of bumping birds several early mornings. There are usually feathers on the ground beneath that the birds lose when flying up or down, and sometimes you can spot the droppings as well.
  • Strutting zones. Fields, clearings and open areas where gobblers go into full strut for their hens are great ambush locations. Supposedly one can spot the wing drag marks, though I’ve never had luck with that. Instead I’ve spotted the toms strutting from a ways off (with my binoculars).
  • Food sources. I think that identifying food sources for turkeys can be tougher because they eat such a wide variety of food. However, in the areas I hunt they seem to be after acorns, berries, and grasshoppers.
  • Travel routes. If you can figure out how the birds get from roost to feeding areas and strutting zones, you’ve got your ambush.

2. The Hunting Setup

RedHead Tec-Lite Camo Pants for Men

Tec-Lite Camo Pants @BassPro

I’m in full-on stealth mode this year. That means head-to-toe camo, of course, including gloves and face mask. A lot of what I’ve read about turkey hunting says you only need something to break up your outline, and as long as you have good camo (and stay still) you’ll be invisible. I don’t buy it.

At least, I thought I was pretty well broken up and camouflaged when that tom busted me last year.

Perfect Cover: My Ground Blind

turkey hunting ground blindThis spring I get to break out my secret weapon – the ground blind. It worked like a charm during deer season; the deer came so close I got to use my 20 yard pin. Done right, I’m thinking this will be an important part of my setup for turkey hunting. It’s quiet, it conceals my movement, and it covers my hands while I’m calling.

As for where to setup, my general strategy is to get as close to the roost trees as possible without being detected. This is a fine line to walk in the dense woods an hour before sunrise. As far as I know, there’s no early warning system for when you’re about to bump a turkey off of roost. There’s just an explosion of feathers that usually causes the heart to skip a couple of beats.

Using Turkey Decoys

flextone Funky Chicken Turkey Decoy

Funky Chicken Decoy

It’s kind of a hassle to carry turkey decoys around, but I do try to use them in the field. I’ve got three hens and a jake decoy, but I rarely use the latter. Yes, if you believe many of the hunter-writers out there, the jake decoy might be the perfect thing to draw in a territorial gobbler. However, I’m hunting mostly public ground, where the pressured birds are harder to coax in. I use the decoys for three purposes, really:

  1. To give the incoming tom something to look at
  2. To lure in and comfort hens, which may also draw in a gobbler
  3. As yardage markers, especially if I’m hunting with my bow

I greatly prefer the collapsible decoys — remember that carrying a full-sized decoy through the woods isn’t safe!

Turkey Call Choices

Last year I pulled out all the stops, and took just about every kind of turkey call imaginable out into the woods with me. Here were my impressions:

Crow and Owl Locator calls

The idea is that the calls of other large birds may induce a shock gobble out of toms in the area. I’ve not had much luck with this, but it may have to do with the area I hunt. There are already lots of owls and crows, so the turkeys may be accustomed to them. Especially the crows. I hunt along a large reservoir with a lot of crow traffic, and even the real ones don’t seem to induce gobbles, so I wasn’t surprised when I had no luck.

My Hoot Flute was fun to use — I ended up catching the attention of another owl, which was fun but not useful for the next morning.

Classic Box Call

I still think this is one of the easiest calls to use, and the sounds from my Primos Wet Box are incredibly rich. As described, it will work even if it gets wet from rain or dew, thanks to a special resin coating. The two-handed operation isn’t ideal, but it’s great for walking-and-calling to locate birds.

Tom coffin turkey call

The Tom Coffin

The Tom Coffin

This is one of my favorite calls, one I’ve used for several years. It allows for one-handed operation; you can even mount it to the barrel of your shotgun. When I get the angle and pressure right, it works beautifully. Sometimes that requires some trial-and-error, which can be frustrating. I also hate the way the call sounds off when it’s bouncing around in your bag or pocket.

That said, the one-handed operation and relatively small size are so convenient, I use this call more than any other.

Ol’ Betsy Slate Call

Here’s a new call that I used last year and absolutely loved — the Ol’ Betsy slate call from Primos. No other call offers the range of different call types and volumes. Using it takes a bit of practice, and you absolutely can’t get the slate (or striker) wet. Even so, I love the fact that I can yelp, cut, and purr from the same call. It does require two hands, but the range of motion is far less than a box call. Once I’m set up in my blind and ready to announce my presence, this will be my go-to call.

More On Turkey Hunting

That’s it for the basics: scouting the location, the setup, and the calls. Be sure to check out my more comprehensive wild turkey hunting section, and my guide to choosing the right turkey call.