March Outdoor Column

Did you know; That the wild turkey population, nation-wide is estimated at 7 million birds? This is up from 1.3 million birds estimated in 1973. Illinois has an estimated population of 150,000 birds while Indiana has an estimated population of 120,000 birds.
These figures would just boggle a turkey hunter’s mind as these birds are wary and offer a challenge to any hunter. When I grew up there were no turkey or deer in Illinois so that should give you an idea of my age. There were pheasants, rabbits, and quail as well as squirrels, ducks and geese but no deer or wild turkey. It would seem that hunting the wild turkey would be a simple process; find where they roost and where they feed and place yourself somewhere in between to take your turkey.

Not so! These birds well adept at finding a way to avoid the hunter and this is what makes hunting these wild birds such a difficult challenge. Those hunters that can mimic the sound of an old “Tom” are those hunters that have the most success. Learning to work a turkey call properly is a skill not possessed by many hunters so getting a good turkey call and learning to use it is a must for hunting these birds.

I remember several old turkey hunters telling me some great stories of their experiences with wild turkeys. I have written an outdoor column for our local newspaper for forty years so I get a lot of stories from local hunters and anglers. One story I recall dealt with the speed of these elusive birds.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources were releasing some wild turkeys on this man’s property so he went out to watch the release. They had released four of the five birds when he decided to take a picture of the last bird, the only “Tom” in the bunch. He told me he had his camera focused on the box the bird was in and told them to release it. As soon as they opened the box, the birds jumped out and he snapped the picture; all he got was the box! He told me that bird was the “fastest bird alive”!

Another story was about the intelligence of these birds. This guy told me that he had a small field behind his home with three stumps in the field. An old “Tom” would come in there every morning so he spent the winter hollowing out an old stump which he could hide in. The first few mornings of the season he hid in his old stump waiting for the turkey to come in; it never did! This went on through the week-long season without the guy ever getting the turkey to enter the field. The day the season was over he took the stump back to the barn and the next morning, there was the turkey. He told me that old “Tom” knew that there were three stumps in that field and not four. The bird came back in the field every morning thereafter!

Check out Big R Stores sporting goods department for all your hunting needs. Retail locations in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin

 

February’s Outdoor Column

The month of February brings on the hope for spring and warmer weather in the Midwest. As the angle of the suns becomes more direct with earth’s surface this will affect your ice fishing somewhat as the darker objects on a pond or lake will absorb more heat and radiate it out to the water.  Stay away from rocks, boat docks, or anything that might absorb heat and pass it along to the ice. February produces some nice fish, but caution is more important the later the month progresses.

Shop at your local Big R Store. Big R is receiving their spring fishing equipment and now is a great time to check out the new items they have on their shelves.  Now is a great time to not only stock up on fishing supplies but also to clean and organize your fishing tackle.  Now is the time because many times I’ve been fishing in late February and that’s just around the corner. Fishing line can go bad over the winter as well as during the summer.  I always replace line on my reels each spring just for peace of mind.  I just hate to hang a big bass only to have my line break because I didn’t change it.

When I was younger and had little available money, I would tie my line to a pole and walk until the spool was empty.  I would then tie that end down and go back and begin winding up the used end, making the part that was deeper in the spool than the top.  This will work if you are low on funds providing you have loaded up you spool, and the bottom part is kept away from the summer sun’s rays.

Fishing and Cleaning Tips: Fishing reels need to be cleaned and oiled simply because they get dirty, especially if you are bank fishing.  You can keep your reels clean by buying a reel sock or just placing an ordinary sock around them once your fishing trip is complete. Heavily caked grease can harden in your reels over the winter.  A good solvent will break it free.  There are some solvents that can be used indoors that have no odor, gasoline has nasty fumes and is simply too dangerous to use indoors. Get ready; spring is coming, and it will be here very soon.

Shop your local Big R Stores for all your spring fishing needs!

Don’t forget the 64th Annual Indianapolis Boat, Sport & Travel Show at the Indiana State Fairground in Indianapolis February 16th through February 25th.  Coinciding with this show is the Indiana Deer, Turkey, and Waterfowl Expo also held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds February 22nd through February 25th.  Purchase your tickets online to save a wait in line.

 

 

January's Outdoor Column

JANUARY’S OUTDOOR COLUMN

January, the coldest, longest month of the year as far as I’m concerned, and it doesn’t appear it will get much better.

The arctic blasts through the Midwest have been extremely bitter this time of the year and the damage to wildlife I’m sure will be apparent as time goes on. The one good thing these frigid temperatures have given us is ice. Ice that we can use to fish on and your local Big R Stores have everything you need to have a great day ice fishing.

I’ve ice fished most all my life and there are some things a novice or even a veteran should know before venturing out on the ice. Never put your life at risk because you don’t know the ice. The difference between good ice and bad ice is generally easy to tell if you scrape the snow off the top and drill a hole.

Good ice is clear and hard like a block of ice we used to get from an ice dealer to put in one of the old refrigerators called an ice box. Bad ice is much more like a snow cone; full of pores (tiny holes) and not tightly compacted together. You can’t get a good look at the ice from above; a snow may have fallen on the ice and then melted turning the top layer into a cloudy, milky looking layer. Once you drill through this top layer you will find some good solid ice particularly now.

Milky rotten ice occurs when the temperatures warm and slush develops on top and refreezes at night. When water comes through your ice hole; when the ice is milky and porous, it’s time to stay off. During a cold winter this usually occurs in mid to late February. During a warm winter it can happen anytime, especially if temperatures reach into the forty’s or fifty’s.
Fish light line tests such as 2, 4, and 6-pound tests if you are after bluegill or crappie; higher if you are after game fish. Use small bobber’s as well!

It is safe for one person to fish on 4 inches of ice, more if the ice is clear and hard. Four inches is iffy if the ice is rotten. Never risk your life for a fish! We hear this all the time yet, inevitably someone drowns every year and we must wonder why? It is simple, they chose to challenge nature and they lost.
Don’t be a statistic this ice fishing season. Learn to read the ice and use good common sense and live to enjoy ice fishing next season. I hope to see you on the ice!

December’s Outdoor Column

The month of December brings us Christmas and sends many of us scrambling to find the right Christmas present.

If you are buying for that person in your life that spends time in the outdoors, the number of possibilities for a Christmas present are tremendous. The upcoming months are going to be cold so outfitting your outdoor person may revolve around the purchase of something that will keep him or her warm in the outdoors. The obvious present is simple; a pair of gloves, boots, jacket, etc.

I encourage everyone to ask before they buy thus making sure the present is what is needed and, don’t forget, your local Big R Stores will have lots of nice items to make your Christmas shopping easy. December makes up a big part of the waterfowl season which is expected to be about the same as last season. Some duck populations have fared well over the years while others have not done as well.

The mallard, the number one duck in the hunter’s bag in this part of the country, is well known to most Americans. Often called “Green Heads”, the mallard is one of the largest ducks using our flyway. The hen mallard is mottled brown with black markings to allow it to hide from predators. The teal, the smallest ducks which come through our area in early September, is a fast flying bird that gives hunters a great challenge.

Waterfowl hunting is tough hunting and requires a lot of time in the cold. Nasty days are many times the best days as is the case many times with early spring fishing. Inexperienced waterfowl hunters need to spend some time with veteran hunters to learn the ropes as, not only is it a tough and cold hunt, but it can be a dangerous hunt.
Which blinds to use and the proper setting of decoys are just some things a novice needs to learn. Staying warm and dry, training dogs, and o shooting techniques are best learned from experienced hunters.

The dangers of hunting around water include drowning and hypothermia so proper care and calculating each move is more important than similar activities done during the warmer months. Being a survivor rather than a statistic is most important to you and your family, so making foolish moves while around water is something you need to consider before you make them. No animal, deer, duck, goose, fish, etc. is ever worth you not coming home so learn the ropes necessary to stay safe while in the outdoors and don’t stray from them!

November’s Outdoor Column

When November rolls around the major hunting seasons of deer, upland game, trapping and waterfowl begin to open.

The seasons differ if you live in Illinois or Indiana so hunters need to be aware of the laws that govern their hunt. Your local Big R Stores offer you most everything to outfit your hunt, whether it be clothing, footwear, ammunition, heaters, traps, or items for processing your game. Making the most of your hunt requires preparation prior to the hunt or the setting of a trap-line.

Don’t fall victim to assuming everything you put up last winter is in tip-top shape for this fall. Check every item you are taking with you and make sure it is ready to go before you head out. Tree stands need to be carefully checked. If you are an archery deer hunter you probably have already done that.

If you haven’t done that yet, do it now while you still have time. Most accidents involving a tree stand happen on the way up or the way down. Check your steps going up and down the tree carefully. Check the strength of the limbs you might use to secure yourself climbing up or down. Check the security of the stand itself to make sure bolts or screws haven’t come loose during the months it has set idle.

Waterfowl hunters need to do the same. Many times, these hunters find themselves out in extreme environmental conditions and, if something goes wrong or doesn’t work, the problems begin to mount for the hunter. Trappers need to have their traps ready to go. This means boiling and dyeing the traps and making sure all springs and triggers are working properly.

Scouting is most important in all phases of winter hunting and trapping. If you don’t scout out your area and just go in cold turkey, you may find your hunting or trapping season is over before it starts. Locating sign, finding feeding, roosting and sleeping areas is a must for most forms of hunting. Staking dens and setting wires ahead of the season can making trapping much easier, especially if it turns bitter cold.

Don’t forget the fishing gets good when the water turns cold. November has long been a good month for taking a big bass, walleye, trout or musky. Big fish prowl late looking for that last meal ahead of the hard freeze. Safety is a must during the cold weather whether you are hunting or fishing. Most accidents that happen to the hunter or the angler can be avoided by using a little care. Don’t become a statistic this winter; live to enjoy the spring!

October’s Outdoor Column

October, the most beautiful month in the minds of many as leaves change their color and the entire landscape takes on a different view. Waters cool down, hunting season comes in as temperatures begin to fall. Not only do the changing colors make this a great month but the fact that crappie move up into the brush ready for that last meal before winter and the row crop gets harvested leaving the big bucks with less cover to hide.
October has always been good to me when it comes to fall fishing; there are fewer anglers on the lakes and the fish are less stressed. Slipping into an area of prime cover allows me to take the big crappie that begin to stir.
I have never been a minnow fisherman instead I like the tube jig tipped with a bee moth. I find the bee moth to have the most tantalizing effect on both crappie and bluegill over anything I have ever used.
Many anglers don’t slow their baits down in the fall like I do. I’ve always said, “Fish your baits as slow as you can and then slow down some more!” Working your baits slow will get you a lot of snags but will also get you some monster crappie that you may have missed by moving your bait too fast.
I start the day with 25 tube jigs already rigged with a metal jig head and sitting right on the boat where I can reach them when I lose one of these baits. There are days when 25 baits are not enough for even a two-hour trip! Many times, I’m working my bait in the depths ever so slow and it just seems to stop as though I have hooked into a big strand of algae; then it begins to move. From October 10th on it is many times a big black crappie at that time of the year.
Let’s move on to another subject involving deer hunters. October is a prime month for tree stand accidents; many of these accidents could and should be avoided.
I know hunters that go into a stand that they’ve set up last season never checking it first. Steps going up and down from the stand can become loose and break bringing a hunter to the ground. The stand itself may have worked its way loose over the past year making it unsafe to shift your weight in.
Many tree stand accidents happen on the way up or down from the stand, the most vulnerable time when weight shifts especially if you are in a hurry after downing a deer.
Don’t become a deer hunting statistic, check your stand well prior to the season and make whatever adjustments and repairs that you need to make. Have a safe hunting season this year. I know a lot of hunters in my area that did not follow this good advice and are paying the price now; one was even a fatality!
Shop your local Big R Store for all your fall hunting and fishing needs.

Outdoors, Hunting, Fishing

SEPTEMBER’S OUTDOOR COLUMN

 September is here and Labor Day Weekend seems to be the turning point from fishing to hunting for many outdoors men. Many will put up their fishing gear and break out their hunting gear once the holiday passes. After the Labor Day weekend, many find themselves fishing on area ponds and lakes totally alone.
If you have smallmouth bass, big bluegill or even crappie in your area, fall is a great time to go after these resources. Especially crappie, since there’s always a good crappie run in the fall. Which makes fall a great time to stock your freezer with fish filets before the hard winter sets in.
Before you pack your tackle away at the end of the season, remember to take a little time checking your equipment over. Make sure you check for broken eyes on rods, bent or broken hooks on lures and reels that need cleaned. Then before you store them all away for the season in a moisture free location, make a list of what you’ll need come spring. If you take a little time now, you can avoid hassles when the season opens next year.
During the month of September, many hunting seasons occur such as Canada goose and teal seasons just to name a few. The waterfowl flight forecast is a great tool for a waterfowl hunter since many species are slightly down in numbers but ahead of the long-term forecasts. If you’re unsure of the season dates for your area, check your Natural Resources website. They’ll have season dates and other information you’ll need on these early seasons.
And if you’re interested in your local youth deer seasons, you can find those dates on your local National Resources website as well as all the requirements. Youth seasons is a great time for dad or grandpa to spend some time with their young hunter and pass down the traditions of the family.
September is also time for trappers to get their license and prepare for the season ahead by boiling their traps, cutting stakes, finding sign and preparing all the equipment to get ready for the season ahead.
Don’t find yourself frustrated with gear that isn’t working, things your forgot to repair or parts you need for this year’s hunting season and next year’s fishing season. Check out your Local Big R stores where you’ll find everything you’ll need to make your hunting, fishing and trapping seasons a success!

 

August’s Outdoor Column

August is upon us, which means it’s time for all the typical fall festivities. Bonfires, tailgating and of course fall hunting and fishing. Several seasons open during August, such as squirrel, Dove and small mouth bass.
While the number of squirrel hunters has dropped from many years ago, the number of squirrel to hunt has not. An active squirrel will challenge the best rifle hunters while a sitting squirrel will test the marksmanship of all hunters.
Doves have long been tabbed the “Gray Ghosts of Autumn”. A dove can be a challenge for the best of hunters, darting and zig-zagging across an open field. Many a dove has looked back and laughed at the person shooting at it. Dove breasts, especially those marinated before frying, are excellent. Look for and remove buckshot before putting the birds on a grill or in a pan. The same goes for squirrels if you are using a shotgun. Many a tooth has been chipped on a buckshot left in the meat.
As the temperatures begin to cool down in August, the fish will begin their quest for food by leaving the deeper waters before winter hits. Perfect time to slip off your shoes and go wading in the rivers while taking advantage of the small mouth bass season that opens in August.
Even though there are cooler days in August, you’ll still find a few of those “Indian summer” days where the temps soar. A few things you’ll want to remember when you’re hunting; 1. don’t lay your game directly on a hot truck bed which can spoil your meat very quickly, throw something in your truck to elevate it, which will allow air to flow under the animal and help keep it fresh. 2. Even though there will be cooler days, there will still be the chance for those bug bites. Grab some insect repellent before heading out. 3. Everyone’s favorite, spider webs are one of those fall nuisance you’ll run into while out. A little tip, if you’re hunting with a firearm, carry it up and down as you walk and it will save you from those big webs.
Don’t miss out on all the outdoors has to offer in August. Get to your local Big R Store and stock up on ammunition, fishing tackle and clothing for the fall months ahead!

July’s Outdoor Column

 

Once July arrives the temperatures tend to get very warm and so does the water. This keeps a lot of people off the water as far as fishing is concerned. Sometimes during these hot periods, the fish slow down and bass, bluegill, crappie and walleye really shut down for a while.

I find this is a good time to fish for something else or to change my bass fishing tactics to something else. A good change of pace sends me after carp and catfish and many times I head for the rivers to get a little action. I have long been a fan of good fights with fish whether or not I land them doesn’t bother me. I encourage anglers to practice Catch & Release and not worry about how many you can put in your frying pan. Taking a big carp or catfish is just as exciting as landing a big bass or walleye and July is generally the month when the big river catfish can be caught, especially the flathead. Catfish have been known to tilt the scales at over fifty pounds in several of the rivers near where I live in east central Illinois.

Many of the big flatheads come during the month of July and you had better have some heavy-duty equipment if you want to land one of these big ones.
Shrimp, chicken liver, shad entrails, along with blood and cheese baits are all used for catfish but, the flathead has a different type of diet. The flathead feeds on clean live bait such as small bluegills and cut bait (fish that have been cut up and pieces put on the hook).

Of course, many big catfish are taken with bank lines, trot lines, nets and jugs but, to me, that doesn’t give me the thrill of the actual battle one can have with a rod and reel.
The same goes for carp; hang a big carp on a rod and reel and the fun begins. Catch that same carp on a light fishing outfit and you have won a battle lost by many.

Carp are generally caught on live night-crawlers in the early spring but in the hot summer, dough ball is considered the best bait. I make a great dough ball out of ½ cup of yellow corn meal, ½ cup of flour. Add enough water in a bowl to knead the two ingredients together to make a ball. Bring a pan of water to a boil and drop the ball in and let it boil for about twenty minutes. Be careful the pan doesn’t boil over. Find an old rag or towel and lift the ball from the water to the towel and let it cool. Wrap up the dough ball and head for the lake.

Of course you can add things like vanilla, licorice, or other ingredients to the boiling water if you wish but I prefer that dough ball just the way it is!

Your local Big R Stores have all the fishing equipment needed to land these big fish as well as pre-packaged baits so check out their selection and have fun trying to tame one of these big fish.

June’s Outdoor Column

kid in boat fishing

 

The month of June is always a transitional month for the fisherman. The fish have, for the most part, already dropped their eggs, the water is beginning to warm up and the muddy waters of spring are beginning to clear. Mosquitoes become a problem while fishing as well as gnats and ticks and these can cause a real problem for the angler.

Father’s Day always falls during the month of June as well as some Free Fishing Days, at least here in Illinois. This gives families a chance to renew their fishing times together as dad takes son or daughter or grandpa takes grandson or granddaughter.

Staying safe on a fishing trip is a must and I encourage anyone getting into a boat to be wearing a life vest whether you are an avid swimmer or not a swimmer at all.

Your local Big R Stores have long supplied its customers with their fishing needs. Insect sprays, life vests, and tons of fishing equipment are there for customers to stock up on for the summer.

Please check yourself for ticks when you return for your fishing trips. Ticks not only carry Lyme disease but they carry other problems as well.

You can remove a tick that is dug into your skin by placing a cotton ball covered with dish soap, such as Dawn, over the tick. This will shut off the air to the tick and it will eventually let go and become entangled in the cotton ball. If, after a tick bite, you become ill, get yourself to a doctor immediately and tick bites can result in some severe and permanent damage.

Another bad summer pest is a chigger. Walking through the tall grass to get to a fishing spot or a wooded area can bring you in contact with chiggers. These nasty mites can cause a welt which can itch like crazy. The best relief I have found for these is at a drug store; it’s called Chigarid. Back in the old days a chigger bite was covered with clear fingernail polish. Chigarid smells like it has fingernail polish in it but also has extra ingredients to stop the itch. The object to killing a chigger is to cut off its air supply.

A good insect repellent will keep chiggers, mosquitoes and many other summer-time pests from ruining your fishing trip or trip to the woods. There is nothing worse than coming home from a fun trip and finding yourself miserable for the next several days because you forgot to protect yourself from these unwanted pests. And while you’re at it; don’t forget the sunscreen!