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Author: Jim Shockey
Noted big game hunter Jim Shockey gives away some of his tricks and techniques to being successful.
I've seen many, many hunters fail to harvest a Longhunter Society record book example of whatever species they are hunting because they happened to see that animal on the first day of the hunt. This, even though, prior to the hunt, they would have been ecstatic with such an animal! Their reasoning is always the same; because they happened to see the animal so early in the hunt, they assume every day of the hunt is going to be as productive. Big mistake! Hunting is never predictable, that's why it's hunting not shopping. When you go into a hunt, go into it, from the very first minute, prepared to shoot if you see an animal that satisfies your goal. That way you won't spend the entire second half of your hunt searching for the same animal you could have taken on the first day.
Listen carefully to what the outfitter you intend to book with is telling you. I've seen many hunters crash and burn in a sea of despair because they didn't "listen" when the outfitter told them what the hunt would actually be like, and hence, came to camp with false expectations. Most hunters are optimists, when the outfitter tells them that six out of thirty hunters kill muzzleloader record book animals, most hunters think "Wow!" that's great odds. They naturally assume they're going to get one of those animals, and when the hunt is half way over and they haven't seen what they are looking for, they get terribly disappointed. Yet they shouldn't be, the outfitter told them the facts, but they just didn't take a moment to figure out that their odds of killing one of those record book animals was only 20%. Or put another way, they should have planned to hunt with the outfitter for five years in a row before they could reasonably expect to take one of those record book animals! Heck, they might even go ten times or more, without taking one!
When you sight in your muzzleloader, it is absolutely imperative that you let the barrel cool down between shots. Most people believe that since a muzzleloader barrel is thicker than a regular rifle barrel, heat doesn't affect it as much. Wrong! I've had warm barrels spit out horrible nine-inch groups. Yet by letting the barrel cool completely, I've had the same gun drive tacks shot after shot.
In bitter cold weather, forget wearing bulky mitts and instead wear a thin pair of gloves and a muff. No matter how fancy a mitt is, with an extra shooting finger stitched in, or a slit to slide your finger out, it isn't as practical for shooting as a muff. I'd be willing to bet that pulling off a mitt is a good second slower than pulling your hands from a muff. And in terms of whitetail hunting, where two seconds is how long you have to make the average shot, one second is the difference between success and failure. I wear my muff around my neck on a string, not only so I can't lose it, but also so it doesn't drop to the ground when I pull my hands out. Mitts have to be removed and have to be placed somewhere, that's extra movement you don't need.
The first things that get cold on a late fall hunt, are your feet and hands. This tip will solve the hand problem. Look at your wrists. What do you see? Veins. Lots of them, right near the surface. Now look where your shirtsleeve ends. Now think where your glove or mitt ends at the wrist. There's a gap right? A gap that lets every cold air molecule cool your blood which of course equals cold hands. So go get a pair of wool socks and cut out the toe. Pull them over your wrists and figure out a place where your thumb wants to stick through the side and cut that hole out. Voila! You've just made yourself wrist warmers and your hands happy!
When you are packing your gear for a backpack hunt, remember the following rule: If the item serves the purpose of keeping you alive, then bring it, but if it merely makes you more comfortable, then leave it. Remember, whatever gear you plan to bring has to be carried, therefore, weight is critical. Also look at the gear you intend to bring and determine if some items can serve two purposes, eliminating the need for the second item. For instance, a fleecy pair of long johns can also act as a scarf, hat, pillow and in a pinch, a second pair of dry pants to hike in! So why bother carrying up these other items? Unless you're some kind of fashion plate, wearing your underwear on your head shouldn't be a big deal, especially when it keeps you from freezing!
Wind Indicators - In the damp coastal climate that I guide in, I've found the very best wind indicator to be "foot powder" of whatever brand. Because of the chemical makeup of this powder, in wet weather it doesn't lump up inside the container or clog up the openings of the container. Also the plastic container it comes in has a couple dozen holes in the top, not a single hole like some wind indicator bottles. This also prevents clogging. More importantly, when my eyes are focussed on the bear I'm stalking, I can give the container a shake and a large volume of powder comes out. Enough so I can see which way it is floating without taking my eyes off the bear.
Photography - On that once in a lifetime hunt, carry two cameras. Why would you save for years, plan for months and travel for days, yet risk having your camera (the thing that will preserve your memories of the adventure) break down? Buy a second camera. Better yet, buy one with a different power lens and make sure you use it as much as you use your regular camera. Without doubt, you'll get some pictures that are great with each camera. That's the bonus. If one camera breaks down, you'll still have a slide show to show your buddies!
Safety - Sadly, I cannot count on two hands the number of my peers who've died as a result of "get-home-itis". In our modern world, we live by schedules and important dates. Our whole day is divided into lunch breaks, dinner breaks, coffee breaks and days off and quite frankly, it works. Or it works in the civilized lands. Out in the wild lands, living by schedules is a killer. Nature decides when and if you can travel to make an appointment. Nature decides if you're going to get out of the mountains to be at your son's or daughter's graduation. Remember that when you're stuck in camp after your hunt and can't fly out because of inclement weather. The weather will change, don't push your outfitter to fly you out before it does. Sit tight like the Inuit of the Arctic; home is exactly where you are when bad weather strikes.
Pre-conceived ideas are best left at home when you go on a wilderness hunt; especially pre-conceived ideas about food. On a wilderness hunt, food is anything that will keep you alive and functioning, period. On one hunt, we horse-backed for two days into a camp only to discover that all the meat left there hanging in the trees, had been compromised by flies. No big deal, we simply cut the egg and maggot covered parts off and dined away! The same goes for what constitutes food. Here at home, I'd gag before I'd eat a dirty little gopher, but up on the mountain? Some of the finest meals I've had have included dirty little gopher bits in what would have otherwise been a very runny stew.
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