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My First Wabbit Hunt By Gary Howey

  As a kid growing up in N.E. South Dakota, my friends and I would pursue what we thought was big game that inhabited the thickets and woodlot along the Sioux River, the Wily Wabbit.

  With my Daisy BB guns in hand, off we would go, heading down the River out towards Lake Pelican.

  It did not matter much what type of rabbit it was, we were just after rabbits, it could have been a black-tailed or white-tailed jackrabbit or a cottontail, and we just wanted to say that we had bagged a rabbit.

  We knew there were many rabbits around as we had seen their tracks in the snow, so it was only a matter of time before we came across one.

  Well, after numerous trips we had yet to see anything but tracks, pure frustration brought our Great Rabbit Hunt Expedition to an abrupt halt.

  Like many things that one tries that do not always work out, rabbit hunting became something that I was willing to forget about, to bury deep in my subconscious hoping to forget all of my failures as a rabbit hunter

  Several years later Shorty, a friend of my Dad, Cal who worked with him at Sanders/Sharpe Chevrolet asked if my brother A.J. and I would like to go along and do some rabbit hunting.

  My first thoughts were, “Nope, Been there, Tried that, Did not need it” until he mentioned that we would be hunting them with Beagles.

  Once I heard that, I was all ears, sounded like a good deal to me; I could not wait, when it got close to going, my bags were packed, I was ready!

  That Sunday, after church, my brother and I waited not so patiently for Shorty to pick us up, man, we were ready!

  When he arrived, he looked at our BB gun and asked what we were going to do with them, I thought, Duh, were going to shoot rabbits.

  He shook his head, loaded us into the car with a couple of tiny little dogs, dogs that were not much bigger than some of the rabbits we had heard about, since we had never really seen a real live rabbit only their tracks in the snow.

  Well away, we went out into the country into an area that was covered up with plum thickets, brush piles and all sorts’ nasty vines with sharp thorns.

  Since I was the oldest, Shorty gave me the option of taking turns with my brother shooting our BB gun or using his 22.

  Once again, I had to think this over, well any way for at least one mila-second and then there I was, the big brother with the 22, man, I had made it, I was into the big time. [Read more…]

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Making a Difference For Wildlife By Gary Howey

  On a recent trip, I stopped at a cafe and sat down with a group of locals having coffee. Not long after I sat down, the main topic of our conversation turned to hunting and how it changed over the years.

  Several of the individuals were expressing their pessimistic views about where hunting has gone and why they no longer participate in the sport.

  They felt that the sport had literally gone to H—, placing the blame on everyone but themselves.

  Well, being the quiet reserved shy type person that I am, I jumped right in with both-feet, feeling them out and trying to figure out why they felt this way.

  One was a well to do businessman and another landowner, both of which could do a lot to help promote or improve hunting. Unfortunately, it looked to me as neither of them did anything to promote or help to improve the hunting in the area.

  My first question that I directed to them, asking if they were involved in any of the conservation groups such as Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, The Wild Turkey Federation, Whitetails Unlimited or the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.  I guess I knew their answer, but I wanted to make I had one before I went on.

  Their reply was no, they did not belong to any of them because all they did was to take our money; my reply to him was, really?

  They like many others really were uninformed and did not have a clue as to all that these organizations do for wildlife and to the sport of hunting.

  Then I proceeded to explain at length the numerous things these organizations have or can do for wildlife and the hunting in the upper Midwest.

  All of the above-mentioned groups have either purchased land that is open to hunting as well as contributing funds to enhance and develop wetlands or other wildlife habitat.

  These groups also have mentor hunts, taking kids out into the field, highlighting safe hunting practices and conservation while giving many of these kids their first opportunity to go hunting.

  Again, their reply was, really, we did not know that!

  Then proceeded to explain how these groups work closely with the Game, Fish & Parks and DNR to help purchase land or develop wildlife habitat on the public land.

  Then, that dumb look came over their faces as they realized that instead of complaining all these years about how bad hunting was and that hunting was becoming a rich man’s sport that perhaps there was something they could have been doing to improve both the habitat and hunting.

  Next, I asked the landowner what he raised on his land and what type of conservation practices he used and his comment was that he had a corn/bean rotation depending on what was bringing the highest prices.

  Well as anyone knows, wildlife cannot live in corn and beans, sure, mature corn makes a great place for wildlife to hide, but there is no value there when it comes to nesting or roosting areas for birds or bedding areas for deer when first planted.

  He went on to explain that he irrigated much of his ground, doing his best to plant on the contour to keep erosion at a minimum.

  As our conversation continued, I asked him what he planted on the pivot corners, his answer was native grass, which he indicated wasn’t much good for anything so bailed it and used for bedding. [Read more…]

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Mid-Season Pheasants South Dakota Style By Gary Howey

   Lady, Gary Kubicek’s lab worked out in front of us as did some of Joel Vasek’s dogs and by the way, they were acting, we had better be ready as they were on a bird.

  The habitat we were hunting was perfect, with everything wildlife needed to survive throughout the year. Before us, stretched large tracts of native grasses, milo food plots, rows of Cedars, Maple, Plum and  other bushes, sloughs and shelterbelts, perfect upland game bird habitat.

  Gary Kubicek, Country Vet Dog Food had joined my cameraman and I on a late November pheasant hunt with good friend and Team Outdoorsmen Adventures member Joel Vasek, Missouri River Lodge and Missouri River Guide Service.

    The lodge, where we had headquartered out of years ago was beautiful, and since has gone through a major expansion. It’s an astonishing piece of property located in the small community of Geddes, South Dakota. A five star Lodge, which now sleeps forty-four people and with is second story that is in the process of being completed will only become more magnificent.

  Joel, “The Walleye Tamer” known as one of the finest fishing guides on Lake Francis Case and other bodies of water is not just an angler as his guide service also offers pheasant, grouse, prairie chicken, turkey and deer hunting.

  As we prepared to depart from the lodge, at 9:20 am, our group of five hunters, Matt and my cameraman climbed into one of the Lodges well equipped buses where Vasek gave a safety talk letting everyone know what type of habitat we would be hunting, how we would walk them and rules for a safe hunt.

  Then we headed from the Lodge for the short drive to where we would begin our hunt at the ten o’clock opener.

   In the bus were gun racks, comfortable seating, coolers with drinks and snacks as well as an on board DVD player. There was a carrier mounted on the front for the birds we would shoot and the dog’s water jugs and  mounted in the back are seven  large aluminum dog kennels,

  Because our group consisted of five hunters, Joel Vasek, Gary Kubicek, Maverick Hill, Dave Kotob and me, we were working several of the smaller fields with Switch Grass, Big Bluestem and Milo.

  Vasek has well trained dogs with his kennel housing both pointers and flushers including German Shorthairs, Hungarian Vizsla, German Wirehaired, Labs and Raptors. There are also additional kennels there for hunters who bring along their own dogs.

  Shortly after we arrived and started walking, one of Joel’s dogs went on point, the hunters off to our left, Maverick and David moved up behind the dog and as the bird flushed, they yelled “Hen”, as the first of numerous hens we would see on this hunt took flight.

  Maverick, David, Joel and Matt McGinty one of the people who helped Joel on the hunts were pushing the middle and the outside edge of the grass, with several dogs working out in front, when it became obvious that one of the labs as its tail shook in wide circles indicating it was working a bird.

  The other dogs closed in on the lab as the call of “Rooster” rang out across the field with Vasek’s gun coming up as he made a long shot, dropping the bird in an adjacent strip of grass.

  On this field, one dog, then another would get birdy or go on point as we flushed numerous hens, a good sign for the future of the wild birds in this area.  On this walk, all but the one rooster evaded us, with others going out the end of the grass into a wet slough we would not be able to walk.

  Gary would rotate his dogs, running his lab Lady in one field and then run Hannah, his German Shorthair in another, giving both dogs the opportunity to hunt.

  Lady, which was in front of us looking birdy and had a bird cornered as Gary and I moved up, the bird exploded from the cover, another hen with Gary calling “No Bird” as Lady worked her way back to search out another bird.

  In each field, the dogs worked well, pointing and flushing both hens and roosters, with very few roosters escaping, as all hunters in our group were excellent shots that spent many an hour in the field hunting pheasants.

  My cameraman would walk the fields with us, doing his best to capture the dogs working in front of us, the birds as they burst from the cover, the hunters taking aim and the birds being hit and coming down.   Filming wild birds is much different than filming other birds, as wild birds are runners, hard flyers that put as much distance between them and the hunter and dogs. When cornered and forced into the air, they erupt with authority, cackling, their wings grabbing air as they go high, heading in the opposite direction of the hunters.

  In the second field, Gary and I were on the right flank as Hannah locked onto the bird, Gary and I moved up on the bird as it came up, our shotguns firing in unison with the bird dropping, with one of the dogs quickly retrieving the bird.

  Shortly thereafter, another rooster made a fatal mistake coming up in front of David, Maverick and Joel and as it swung left, giving all three hunters the opportunity for a shot; it was hit hard, made one bounce in the grass with Vasek’s Lab catching it before it could bounce again.

  With each walk, we picked up a few birds, seeing good numbers of birds, as we worked our way closer to our fifteen-bird limit.

  After shooting my three birds, the plan was to walk a long field, where I decided to grab my other camera and try to get some footage of the birds that always seem to come out the end of the field. [Read more…]

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Creating Funnels

Whitetails are lazy animals and will almost always take the path of least resistance. An example would be a creek crossing. Both bucks and does would much rather cross the creek in a spot where the bank is gently sloping rather than at a spot that is almost vertical. The problem with existing natural funnels is that they are not always in an area suitable for hunting. This is an easy fix. Get out and make your own funnels in an area that suits your hunting needs.

I learned how much deer like to take the easy route several years ago — by accident. Wanting to make a shortcut to get my four-wheeler from my house to an abandoned railroad track, I cut a lane with my chainsaw through a narrow strip of timber for a distance of about 50 yards. It did not take long for the deer to find this “road” and begin to use it religiously to get from their bedding area to a harvested agricultural field and back to bed. I did not cut the trail with the intention of funneling deer movement, but the deer took to it. After noticing all the deer sign, I hung a stand along the man-made funnel. A few days later I killed a nice 8-pointer. Fifteen years later I am still able to kill a deer on this trail.

Here are three surefire man-made funnels that will get the deer moving where you want them to.

Creating Trails

Whitetails are creatures of habit, especially when traveling from food sources to bedding areas. They do not like to deviate much from their routine, but they like to travel along the path of least resistance. The problem with their routine is that it does not always take them by a suitable location for a stand. Hunters can either create trails that deer will eventually use, or they can make existing travel corridors less desirable.

One of the best ways to create a trail is by taking weed whips or a machete to create a path through the underbrush near your stand. Another good choice is mowing or using a weed whip to knock down trails along the edge of overgrown CRP fields. This is best accomplished during the summer months to allow deer time to find the man-made travel corridors and get comfortable using them.

Hunters can up the odds of deer using their preferred trail by making other trails less inviting. Once I have a stand placed within range of the trail I made, I begin to place obstacles on other trails. Logs, branches, limbs and any other obstruction that makes the trail less appealing than the one you made will work. Over time, deer will start to leave the original trail alone and use yours exclusively.

Sometimes all that needs to be done is to bring the deer 10 yards closer for an archery shot. An example of why this might be necessary is if the only good tree for a stand is to the north of the trail in an area with predominant north winds. Rather than risk hunting out of a stand when the wind is not right, block off the main trail. Create a new trail that loops around and brings the deer closer to your stand before the new trail meets back up with the existing trail.

After you have created trails and blocked other trails off, stay out of the area. Resist the temptation to go in and check if your creation, as well as your manipulation of other trails, has taken hold. A few weeks before season begins, go into the area once to check things out and to hang stands or set up ground blinds.

If you find yourself needing to close a trail or open another between hunts, use caution. Always wear knee-high rubber boots and rubber gloves to reduce human scent. Pick a time of day when deer won’t be using the area, and try to keep all noise to a minimum, which means using a handsaw instead of a chainsaw. Do the work as quickly and quietly as possible, and cause as little disturbance as possible. Leave everything looking as natural as possible, and you will have deer walking down the trails you want in no time.

Fences And Gates

Fences can make great man-made funnels. One of my favorite stand sites on my family farm is near a fence funnel. Over the years we have gotten away from raising cattle, but many of the fences are still standing. One fence line in particular on my property separates a bedding area and nearby agriculture field that has either soybeans or corn. In order for deer to get from one spot to the other, they have to cross a small portion of the abandoned cattle pasture and cross the old fence. The deer have one of two options: They can either jump the 5-foot fence, or they can walk about 50 yards and cross through a low spot in the fence that is wide-open. They almost always choose to travel a few extra yards and enter the field through the low spot in the fence without any obstacles.

If the fence on your property is woven, you could cut a 3-foot section out to give the deer an opening to cross through.

Even if the fence is in good shape throughout the property you’re hunting, it’s still possible to make a funnel. If the fence is no longer serving a purpose, as is the case on my farm, it probably will not hurt a thing to doctor it up a bit. If you are not the property owner, make sure you have permission before doing anything drastic. If the fence is made up of several single barbed strands, it takes nothing more than tying the top two or three strands together to make a low spot in the fence. If it is a woven fence, cutting out a 3-foot section should do the trick. Again, always get permission.

Another option hunters have with using fences as funnels is to build a fence. If deer seem to be swinging around the area you are hunting, build a fence to help the deer go where you would like. Keep in mind it does not take a lot of fence to accomplish this. Usually less than 75 yards of a 4- to 5-foot fence will do the trick.

How about a fence row that does not usually have a fence? You know what I am talking about: the boundary lines of two fields that have become overgrown with thick brush, small saplings and thorny bushes. Go in with a machete or a handsaw and make a clearing about 3 feet wide. Now deer will have easy access from one field to the next. These are best made in the corners of fields. If there are no trees in the area that can accommodate a stand, place a natural or commercial ground blind downwind of the funnel.

Open gates also have the potential of being a good funnel. An almost certainty with fences is that they will have a gate somewhere. Here, where I do most of my hunting in the Midwest, fences are usually not too long before they are interrupted with a gate. Gates are needed to allow landowners access to their fields, as well as livestock. If a fence row does not provide an opening for deer to cross through, you can bet they know where a gate has been left open. This a great place for hunters to set an ambush.

If there are gates on the property that you hunt that are always closed, seek permission to open them up. As long as livestock are not living on the property and unwanted people (trespassers) are not an issue, you will probably be granted the go-ahead to open a gate. In order to funnel deer through the gate of your choice and past your ambush, you might need to close other gates on the property.

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Food Plots

Food plots are planted for a couple of different reasons. One reason is to offer nutritional food that is off-limits to hunting — a sort of sanctuary. This type of food plot cannot be used as a funnel. Other food plots are used to draw deer in for a shot, along with providing a food source. Food plots planted for this purpose can be used as a funnel. When hunters or landowners plant food plots that are meant to be hunted over, they should take into consideration where the plot is planted and the size of the plot.

When I plant plots that I will hunt near, I try to make them as close to cover as I can. Deer seem to visit my food plots under the cover of darkness. For that reason, I hang my stands on the trails leading to the food, rather than right on the edge. Hopefully I am able to ambush a buck as he is heading to or from the plot. This might not sound like a funnel, but you are dictating their movement with the food plot. Therefore, a food plot is a man-made funnel.

Another way food plots can be used as effective funnels is by planting a road with food that deer love. A few years ago I logged off several trees out of a tract of timber on the farm. After the logging crews made roads for their equipment through the timber, deer quickly began to use them as their own trails. Thinking I could coax even more deer to use the “trails,” I planted white clover on the road. Before I knew it, deer were not only walking down the road, but also spending a lot of time eating the lush plants that now grew in the road. Since the food plot was surrounded by vegetation, deer would come out earlier and stay later to eat.

The awesome thing about hunting such a plot is that deer are never out of archery range. Set up your stand 10 to 15 yards downwind of the trail so you are not so close that the deer will bust you. Even if you are 15 yards off the trail, the furthest shot will only be about 25 yards.

If you have not had a logging company on your property recently, all you need is a chainsaw, a brush hog, and permission to build your own road — not to mention one heck of a funnel.

Funnels are easy to make where you want them. Take a close look at what you can do to make a path that offers little resistance to deer in the area you’re hunting. It might be as quick as tying a barbed-wire fence together, or as much as planting a food plot on an old logging road. Whatever you do, once you begin to see the results, you will know it was time well spent.