Friday, April 29, 2011

Training Exercise to Prepare for Full-Contact Turkey Hunting

As I mentioned in a previous post, my very first REAL hunting experience was pursuing turkeys.  Sure, it was hot... and there were the poisonous snakes.... and chiggers in the nether-regions but other than that... it was grand fun.

This past Fall on a combination 3-day hunting trip to one of my favorite places on the planet (Three Rivers, TX) as the guest of some equally favorite folks, I killed a "smaller than I thought" buck the first day.  This opened up quite a bit of extra "walking around time" and allowed me the opportunity to chase some turkeys.

After receiving a text from my buddy Kevin that he saw a big flock of turkeys headed towards the interior of the ranch, I started to move that way.  I'm 99% sure this was the same flock of turkeys that scared me half to death while I was field dressing the buck and I intended to return the emotion, in 150 grain increments.

As I slowly made my way along an interior road, I spotted the flock meandering along the ridge of a shallow ravine about 40-50 yards wide and directly in front me.  Oh man...this was perfect.  I quickly slide into position in front of a gnarled mesquite tree, while repeating the phrase in my head... "It is too cold for rattlesnakes!  It is too cold for rattlesnakes!  It is too cold for rattlesnakes! ... "

Assuming turkeys were (i) bound by the common laws of physics and (ii) lazy, I was sure the flock would seek the path of least resistance and continue to travel along the ridge of the ravine about 40 yards away.  Also, knowing the kill zone of a turkey is quite small, I cranked up the scope on the trusty .308 to the highest magnification (9X) so I could really zero in and make a clean shot right at the base of the neck.  This was looking like a "slam-dunk".

Apparently, the flock and I were not reading from the same script.  Instead of continuing along the ridge, they, for absolutely no valid reason, turned 90 degrees left and walked DIRECTLY towards me and my now trembling rifle through the geometric center of the ravine, completely disappearing for about 2 minutes.  The next turkey I saw was 15 FEET away from my FEET.  Instantly, this turkey morphed into about 30 turkeys.  I had the rifle pointed directly at the feathery, flowing mass, made a quick mental note to not blow off the end of my foot, but really could not move since they are RIGHT THERE.  Slowly I lowered my head to get a good picture through the scope.  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!  I forgot I had cranked up the scope to 9X magnification.  The image was about as clear and effective as looking at a Buick under a microscope.

It was at precisely this point I made an astute ornithological observation:  NO turkey on the planet, hen or jake, bearded or beard-free, domestic or wild, EVER keeps their head still for more than 17 milliseconds.  I instantly appreciated why turkeys are usually hunted with shotguns.  I'm not only TRYING to distinguish one individual bird from the next but am also TRYING to determine the right gender too.  I'd find one bird with what looked like a beard only to have 2-7 others enter the view of the scope, bobbing and weaving like a thrice convicted crack dealer running from the cops.  This impossible task went on forever (i.e. about 30 seconds) until the mass worked their way behind me and into the tall grass.  There was nothing I could do but return to camp and eat a piece of home-made apple pie about the size of my head that had been baked in a cast-iron skillet. (The real reason why Three Rivers is such a joy are the hosts and the food.  And the real reason I like the food so much is THIS pie.)

In my constant pursuit of helping educate other inexperienced hunters from my mistakes, I developed a Field Simulation Exercise to help prepare them should a similar situation arise while they are hunting uncooperative turkeys, at close range, with a rifle, while dreaming of pie.

Field Simulation Exercise - Hunting Turkeys with ADHD

Materials Needed:
1 thirsty, mildly hyperactive 6 year old child
1 empty paper towel tube (simulated rifle scope)*
2 cans of Coke
TV playing child's favorite television show (substitution of a cute puppy is fine)
~10 small hard plastic or metal toys (jacks or jagged rocks can be substituted)
* For obvious reasons, do NOT point a rifle, scoped or not, at the child, no matter how poor her conduct grades are in school.

STEP 1.  Give the 2 cans of Coke to child and tell him/her to drink up.
STEP 2.  Wait 30 minutes for high-fructose corn syrup to work its sugary magic.  (Potty breaks are NOT allowed since a ripe bladder will only add to the challenge.)
STEP 3.  With child facing you, place TV/puppy behind the child.
STEP 4.  Spread small toys on ground (i.e. simulated ground debris) and sit on them at an awkward angle while a magazine rack or corner of a coffee table is jammed firmly in your spine (i.e. simulated gnarled mesquite tree with simulated pain).
STEP 5.  Have the child stand about 15' away holding up one of the now empty cans of Coke approximate turkey head level (24").
STEP 6.  Looking through the cardboard tube with your dominant, shooting eye, read the ingredient list on the label of the can.  The image should look something like the following.

STEP 7. Once your eye starts bleeding, stop and eat a piece of home-made apple pie about the size of your head that was baked in a cast-iron skillet.

With practice, I guarantee you will start to carry a shotgun into the woods. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

How to Use a Depth Finder - A Guide for Morons

A few years back, my in-laws purchased a house in a neighborhood where all of the houses back up to a man-made, 7-fingered lake.  A 24' long pontoon boat, named "Sweet Chariot", came with the house.... for free.  (I've since learned to be very, very leery of free boats and the required amount of work, time and expense to get said free boat sea-worthy again.)

Sweet Chariot was a mess.  The wood decking was rotted and the fasteners were either rusty or non-existent.  Most of these existing ones had to be removed with a torch, salz-all, crow bars, cutting wheels, a 3' long bolt cutter and other implements of destruction.  (The head of a rusty bolt, when snapped in half with a bolt cutter, makes an interesting noise as it whizzes by your head close to speed of sound.)  Every time the trolling motor batteries went out, the previous owner would acquire a new set and leave the old ones on the boat.  There were 8 HEAVY DUTY batteries which ultimately resulted in creating the same number of hernias after trying to get them loaded in the truck for environmentally-friendly disposal.

I worked on Sweet Chariot for months stripping everything off, throwing most of it away and rebuilding it from the frame up with new marine grade plywood, paint, carpet, etc.  While she was never going to win any beauty contests and she was a tad underpowered with a 70lb thrust trolling motor, it was sea-worthy (lake-worthy).

After a few trips with the family around the lake, a couple of friends and I got the bright idea for a midnight fishing excursion which would end with breakfast (all before an early morning meeting at church).  THIS was a good plan.  We were younger and "stupider" then and could sleep later.

After waking up half the neighborhood getting our gear loaded on the boat just past midnight, we were off.  Since we had NO IDEA about this lake regarding structure, depth, etc., my buddy Genaro hooked up his depth finder.  A wire was shorted out and I was quite impressed that he, without missing a beat, immediately found a replacement fuse and had the unit working!

After rigging up the transducer to the omnipresent 2x4 nailed to yet another 2x4 and turning the depth finder on, we were literally BLOWN AWAY.  There were fish everywhere... and structure like we never imaged.  There where brushpiles.  There were deep channels....and drop-offs.... and schools of baitfish... and some real monsters hovering above the bottom.  Heck, there was even something that looked like a wreck!  Who would have ever imagined that this little, innocent body of water would be so interesting and so "fishy" underneath its surface!!!

We flew into action.  "Should we anchor on an edge and fish in a channel?"...  "Should we anchor in the deep and fish up in the shallows?"  The boat was abuzz with excitement, chatter and people fighting to get their gear ready.

After a few minutes, Dave, quite innocently, mentioned.... "Hey guys, I think we've seen that fish before".  A few seconds later, someone else noticed we were in DEMO mode.

The lake was pool table flat and has a depth of 5' with the occasional "hole" of 5.5'.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Collective Game Scouting - Coming to an Internet Near You

I recently learned of a program called Project Noah.  The little tag line on their website says...

"Project Noah is a tool to explore and document wildlife and a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere"

errrr....OK  ???

While I don't think collective game scouting was an initial goal of this site, I have to admit.... I'm intrigued.