February’s Outdoor Column

febraury-in-the-woods-ffsgsWhen the month of February comes around it brings about a transition period between hunting and fishing and, with the warm weather we have had this winter, many of the local ponds and lakes are free of ice and fishing will begin early this year.

Hunters have that one last season ahead as the wild turkey season is just around the corner in Illinois and Indiana. Hunters and anglers alike are reminded to renew their licenses before the seasons begin and Big R Stores are a place to not only get your licenses but also many of your hunting and fishing necessities.

Looking back at the deer seasons always brings about some analyzing of figures to find what the season results show. The final tally for the Indiana seasons were not available at the time of this article but Illinois figures were down approximately 9 percent which is a substantial drop. Given the fact that the crops were out of the field and the weather was pretty decent, the drop in numbers should have hunters concerned.

These figures really stand out since the 2005 season when over 200,000 deer were harvested.

The hunt for antler sheds has now begun as bucks have dropped their antlers and hunters love to hunt for them to give them an idea of what bucks in their area survived the hunt. The hunt for these sheds is sometimes hampered by the fact that rodents gnaw on them to get calcium so their is a race between the shed hunter and the rodents within the area.

Of course a deer can drop its antlers anywhere but logical places include water areas where they lean over to get a drink and a side of the antlers drop off. Areas where deer jump fences and look an antler are also good as are deer trails through the woods where deer travel and catch an antler on a tree branch and lose it.

Look for sheds in your hunting areas, you might be surprised at what is running your area that you haven’t seen.

If you are lagging behind in cleaning your fishing equipment, time is fleeting! I clean all of my own reels and lures. This is the time to get your tackle organized in your tackle boxes. There is nothing worse than to go on your first fishing trip and find that your tackle is in the same condition and in the same mess as it was last fall. I like everything in its place when I go. New tackle is coming into our stores right now so get in a get the first picks.

Remember to attend some of the big fishing shows close to you to kill the cabin fever you might be experiencing. Many people within the area like the Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show at the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds February 17-26.

Winter boots from Big R covered in snow

Big R’s Guide to Buying Winter Boots

Winter boots from Big R covered in snow


As the streets begin to line with snow and the temperature drops to single digits, there’s one thing that needs to be done: dig through your hallway closet for the boots that make your feet feel twice as big and warm all over. But let’s be honest, these are the same ol’ winter boots you’ve been wearing since the dawn of time. So maybe this is the season to treat yourself by replacing those old winter boots with a pair of brand new ones! Read more

December's Outdoor Column

December’s Outdoor Column

December's Outdoor Column

December marks the beginning of winter for most of us even though we have a few weeks to go before winter officially begins. This also begins the cold period of the year and it won’t be long and here comes Christmas.

If you have an outdoors person in your family and you are considering getting him or her something for Christmas you might want to consider a gift card as a way of gift giving. Being an outdoorsman all my life I am very particular about what gun or fishing rod I buy, what boots I wear along with a few other things. Many outdoors people are the same way; they are particular about what they like and surprising them with a gift may end up in a Christmas return.

The one thing every outdoors person wants in winter is to keep warm. Whether you person is a waterfowl hunter, a deer hunter, an ice angler or a hiker, keeping warm and keeping dry are of utmost importance. Remember that when you go out to buy!

Hint around or ask an outdoor companion what your person might want or need and don’t be surprised if you find out they like to pick out their own things for Christmas.

My wife learned a long time ago not to shop for me. Instead she gives me a Big R Gift Card every Christmas because I have taken so many “I bought this for you” gifts back.

I do have some personal suggestions. I was a trapper for most of my life spending my trapping hours in a swamp-like setting and working primarily at night. I also hunt, ice fish, bass fish, and cut firewood as well as work in the outdoors.

I like to layer myself with T-shirt, thermal shirt, sweatshirt, and then cover this all up with a hooded sweatshirt during the real cold times. Your Big R Stores have great selections of all these items. A pair of warm gloves and warm socks will always be welcome at Christmas.

I personally love the disposable hand warmers and foot warmers and usually go through two or three bags each year. These make great stocking stuffers.

Whatever you decide to give as a gift to your outdoors person you need to check out the great selection at your local Big R Store.

November’s Outdoor Column

stand-alone-tree-in-fogIt is November and it is time to think about the big deer hunt coming up on us very quickly.

I get a weekly update of the archery deer harvest in Illinois and, with this warm weather I have to wonder how it will affect this year’s rut. I’ve been following these weekly results for quite a few years now and the increased rut activity is reflected in the ratio of does to bucks shown as the season progresses.

As the rut nears, the number of does taken by archery hunters tends to fall off and the number of bucks taken increases. This happens as hunters now begin to see more bucks and quickly shift their sights to taking a racked deer verses a doe.

So far this season the percentages have not changed much through the last part of October leading me to wonder if the rut will correspond with the Illinois firearm season this year. Illinois’s season is projected for the third weekend in November, a time when the rut should be nearing its peak. Harvest figures thus far have not supported that the rut is near at hand.

I listened to a news broadcast which stated that the earth has not seen these kinds of overall temperatures for the last 10,000 years. How true this is I do not know but I do know it has been warm and a concern I have is how will this affect the wildlife and how will these temperatures affect the deer season?

If you take a deer on a warm day during this year’s season there are a couple of things some hunters just don’t think about.

Don’t lay your deer on the floor of the bed of your truck. The metal floor, even with a bed liner above it absorbs heat and radiates it back into the meat of your deer. Carry something that will raise the deer’s body above the truck bed such as a skid, boards, or plywood. This keeps the deer off the hot metal and does not allow the meat to get hot.

When hanging your deer to cure, hoist it up with a rope around its antlers and not its neck, especially if you intend to mount it. Placing a rope around the neck to hang the deer will tear the hair which is almost impossible to replace. Also, never use a rope to drag your deer out of the area where you took it. Dragging the deer will cause major damage to the hide and many times will allow dirt into the check cavity which is then hard to clean out.

Make a trip to your local Big R Store and check out the many hunting items that will help you through this hunting season. Check out their line of outdoor clothing, boots, archery and firearm equipment as well as their meat processing equipment. Have a Safe and Fun Hunting Season this fall and winter.

October’s Outdoor Column

deer-in-tall-grassEach fall archery hunters head for their favorite spots trying to harvest their big buck for the season.  The problem is, big bucks arean’t very cooperative early in the fall and many hunters find themselves frustrated early in the season.
I’ve watched the deer hunt for many a year now and big bucks have always been tough in the early fall.  This is primarily because the big bucks hang out in the standing corn and only move out in the nighttime.  This makes it increasingly difficult to put yourself in the path of a big buck.
However, as time goes on, the corn gets harvested one field at a time and the rut begins to kick in so if you watch the harvest week by week you will see that the number of big bucks increases as does the mratio of bucks to does.  There is a correlation between corn harvest and deer harvest.  A dry fall with a quick harvest is most beneficial to the deer hunter chasing the big bucks.
A wet fall keeps the big bucks in the fields that much longer and there are some years where some of the corn isn’t harvested until early December making archery hunting even more difficult.
With modern farm machinery as it is today, fields get harvested very quickly during a dry spell where farmers can get into the fields and take a field out in hours rather than days.  Of course, the dryness of the grain is also a factor as many farmers will leave their corn to dry to a certain percentage before they harvest it to avoid paying the expense of drying their harvest.

Archery deer hunters as well as gun hunters need to hope for a dry fall that will get the crops out and the deer out in the open.

My wife and I just returned from a 22-day, 7.200 mile vacation through the northwestern part of the U.S., two Canadian provinces, down the west coast and then across country. During our trip we entered 8 different National Parks.

For those seniors traveling to our National Parks, make sure you purchase a Senior Pass for $10. This allows you free entry to our National Parks, National Monuments, and National Battlefields. Seven of the parks we visited had a $30 entry fee per vehicle; the other park was in Canada where the pass does not work. We saved a total of $210 by having this pass so I encourage every senior who is traveling to get this pass.

One of the best investments I have made in a long time was a $40 Dashcam just before we took our trip. I now have video of driving through every one of the eight National Parks which we can enjoy on our computer or on our television set. I thought you might find this idea interesting.

Man hunting with his dog

Preparing for Opening Day of Hunting Season

Preparing for Opening Day

Attention hunters! You’ve been patiently waiting for almost an entire year to put your ammo and decoys to good use again – and soon your patience will be rewarded. While there are still a few days left before opening day, time’s sure to fly by quickly and there are some very important tasks to check off before the big day. Pass the time with some much needed preparation!


Hunting Gear - Prep for Opening Day Blog

Prepare Your Location

Before you can bag any ducks and geese, make sure the spot you have in mind is the perfect location for you to go on opening day. How do you make sure it’s the perfect spot? SCOUT! Visit your location in advance and check out what surrounds the area. Create a checklist of things you might need in response to the environment.  If you are planning on taking a boat out, make sure the water levels are compatible with that. Scouting could be the difference between coming home empty-handed or pulling in the drive with the full bag limit!

Prepare Your Hunting Equipment

It might have been a while since you last hunted waterfowl and small game – your equipment will probably need some TLC. Take your shotgun out of the safe, clean it fully, and take it to a range to get a little practice in. If you are planning on using decoys, make sure you have a new braided decoy cord that’ll be able to rig large numbers of decoys so you don’t lose any of them on opening day. If you plan to use your waders, pull them out and make sure there’s no rot or infestation. Throw out unusable waders and grab a reliable wader (like the bootfoot chest wader found in any Big R) for a successful opening day!

Prepare Your Hunting Sidekick

A hunting sidekick on opening day (and throughout the season) can be a very valuable resource. Your sidekick is your #1 helper and needs to be just as prepared as you. If your ideal hunting spot is in the middle of a lake or river, then you’ll need to have a trusty boat as your sidekick. Examine your boat before opening day to make sure it’s performing at the top of its game. Check the oil and make sure all the levels are correct so it’s running smoothly. Plan to do this soon in case you need to head to the store to grab marine oil or other boating essentials for your aquatic sidekick.


Another sidekick you may have out on opening day is your faithful dog! It’s sure to be an exciting day for both of you, which is why it’s essential to prep him for the big day.

Visit the vet for a quick check up to make sure he’s healthy and able to keep up with you. Make sure he’s been treated for fleas and ticks to prevent any unwanted “friends” from making a home on your furry companion. If he has one, pull out his hunting vest and give it a quick check to make sure it’s good to go!


Prepare Yourself

Now that everything around you is 100% ready, take some time to make sure you are prepared for that day. Think about what items you need to pack up for opening day. Prep your cooler and stock up on water. Pick out your camo gear and bring along some camo makeup for your face and arms if you’re planning on wearing a short-sleeve shirt. Brush up on the season dates and regulations for duck, geese, or small game hunting in your area to be completely safe and well-informed on opening day. If it’s your first time hunting, pick up a waterfowl ID book to study the different species. So when you’re out there, you’ll know every single species you come across.


Opening day will be here soon enough! Use this time to get all prepped for a successful hunting season. Though it may seem like there’s a lot to cross off on your checklist, you’ve got another sidekick to help you out – your local Big R Store! Stop by before opening day and grab all your hunting essentials in one place.


Dad camping with kids in the backyard | Big R

How to Vacation in Your Own Backyard

Dad camping with kids in the backyard | Big R

If you found yourself busy all summer, and didn’t get to take your dream vacation, it’s not too late! Forget stressful airports, cramped road trips or expensive hotels – try a “stay-cation” in the comfort of your own backyard! Create your own slice of vacation heaven with a few curated items from Big R. Here are a few tips and tricks to vacation in your backyard:

Go Camping

Are your vacations more on the adventurous side? Were you itching to pack up and set off for some time in the woods but just couldn’t slip away? Well it’s easy to quickly set up camp and connect with nature within the comfort of your backyard. Set up your favorite camping tent on dry ground, laying down a tarp if needed. Put out some lanterns to perfect the mood and light your way. Bonus: Try to find a light that also repels mosquitoes! Don’t forget to grab the marshmallows for roasting! Then gather around the campfire (with a fire pit that can assist with grilling) to tell ghost stories under a starry night. When the night air gets a little crisp, snuggle into your sleeping bag to be counting sheep in no time.

Go to the Beach

If you weren’t able to make it to a beach this summer, don’t fret. Instead, turn your backyard into a private beach! Keep the kids cool in your very own pool, which is easy to set up and take down once you’re finished. Don’t forget the sunscreen for the kiddos (and parents too!) After splashing in the pool, give the kids some fun projects and toys to play with outdoors. Forget sand volleyball, play it in the pool! They will be entertained for hours — just like if you had made the trip to the beach…without all the sand clean up!

Go to the Waterpark

Nothing is more fun than a day trip to the waterpark– think slides, refreshing water, and BBQ food. Create your very own waterpark at home in a few steps and skip the lines. Set up folding chairs, towels, and umbrellas around the pool for a VIP section to soak up the sun. Float in a “lazy river” in your own circle inflatable tube. No trip to the waterpark is complete without grilled food. Cook up enough burgers and hot dogs for the family and friends visiting your backyard waterpark on a 6 burner gas grill – no charge!

Go to a Resort

When you imagine spending a vacation at the resort, you think of two things: rest and relaxation. The best afternoon, vacation–induced naps take place in a hammock. Also, no resort trip has started until there is a drink in your hand. Make your favorite blended drinks or smoothies in a top quality high speed blender. Avoid any spilled drinks by planting a drink holder stake next to your hammock. Sit back, close your eyes, sip your drink and enjoy the final days of summer from a truly exclusive resort.

Spend the last dog days of summer enjoying the outdoors, family and friends before fall comes around. Skip the driving and the stress of traveling to far places by taking a mini-vacation in your own backyard. With  just a few items from your local Big R store, you’ll be worlds away.

Winterizing Your Pool

How to prep your pool for winter

Cannonball! It’s time to make your last big splash as we head into the fall season! Is your pool ready for the colder months? Get it protected from damage caused by freezing temperatures and weather. Don’t live in an area that typically freezes? Best to play it safe and still take the proper precaution. If done correctly, winterizing your pool can save you time and effort when it comes to having it prepped for next summer’s BBQ and pool parties.

First thing’s first! Before closing your pool, be sure to brush and vacuum all the debris.  An Aquamate Leaf Skimmer can be used to easily pick up any leaves or bugs that are floating in the water.  Attach your garden hose to PoolMaster Pool and Spa Vacuum and lower it into the water to let the vacuum work its magic to clean the bottom of your pool.  Keep in mind that the water won’t be cleaned or sanitized in the off-season so get that water nice and clean! Don’t forget to remove any pool accessories that shouldn’t be left in the pool like toys, slides, vacuums, and heaters.

If you live in an area where freezing temperatures are common, make sure that the water level is at least 4 to 6 inches below the skimmer or tile line.  This prevents the skimmer from being easily damaged by any freezing water.  Freezing water expands and causes damage to the pool, plumbing, and filter system.  In freezing areas, add an antifreeze after draining the pool water a couple of inches.  Antifreeze prevents pipes from bursting or being damaged.  In areas that don’t experience frigid winters, you have two options when it comes to water level.  You can fill the pool with water to the point of overflowing, or drain the water to the level of the mouth of the skimmer and place a cover over the skimmer’s mouth.  Completely drained pools can crack from the pressure of the cold and will require costly repairs.

Balancing the water chemistry is the next step of the process.  It is very important to balance the pool’s pH, calcium hardness, and total alkalinity.  Having the right chemical balance helps prevent calcium deposits from staining the pool’s surface.  The pool should have a pH level between 7.2 and 7.6.  If it is higher, be sure to use a pH decreaser or a pH increaser if the level is lower.  AquaChek Pool & Spa Test Strips are quick and easy for pH testing as they give accurate results within 15 seconds.

Next, make sure the water hardness is adjusted to the proper level of calcium already in the water.  For all pool types, a calcium level between 175 and 225 parts-per-minute is ideal.  To decrease the calcium level, you can drain some of the current water and refill it with water containing a lower calcium level.  Add a calcium hardener to increase the level of calcium.  The next step is to adjust the alkalinity- the dissolved particles in pools with water that have a pH higher than 7.0.  If the total alkalinity is not balanced, the water may be murky next spring.  To keep the water looking clear and blue, use a winterizing chemical.  This prevents algae from forming.  This chemical will be effective even into the spring.

Plan to clean the pool as well as its filtration system. For sand filters, refer to the manufacturer’s directions for backwashing the filter correctly.  The directions should involve closing the filter’s valves, adding a filter cleaner, backwashing the filter an hour after adding the cleaner, removing the drain plug, draining the filter, and finally, closing the valve.  For cartridge filters, refer to the manual to see when it is time for you to replace your filter.  Some cartridge filters can be cleaned multiple times before needing to be replaced.  After removing the filter, spray it with water and soak it in a filter cleaner.

After cleaning the filter, turn off the filter pump and drain the equipment as directed by the manufacturer.  Don’t forget to drain water from any additional pumps, filters, or heaters.  If you use a chemical feeder, drain and completely empty it.  Any leftover chemicals can wear down the equipment.

The final step in winterizing your pool is covering it up.  Not only does a cover protect the pool, but it also helps keep your family safe from accidents.  The water in the pool will help support the cover.  The type of cover depends on your pool, but a good, solid cover will protect against any extreme weather- rain, snow, and ice.  You may want to use air pillows under the cover.  The air pillows create a tent with the cover which helps debris slide off instead of clumping together on the top of the cover.

These winterizing steps will help your pool stay clean and protected during the months as you dream of sunshine and warmer weather! Take care of your pool and it will take care of you.

Two Ladies Kayaking | Big R

Kayak & Boating Safety Tips

A day on the lake is refreshing, fun, and a perfect way to beat the heat waves. Before you seek refuge in your boat or kayak, get prepared and freshen up on your water safety knowledge. Be ready for the sun, water conditions, and a potential accident with these safety tips for kayaks and boats.


  1. Know Your Stuff– Make sure to take an on-water course before you head out to the lake. During the course, you will learn how to handle your kayak or boat and the rules of the water, as well as develop your safety skills. This knowledge may come in handy if you find yourself in an accident this summer. In 2015, the US Coast Guard counted 4,158 recreational boating accidents that involved 626 deaths, 2,613 injuries and approximately $42 million dollars of property damage. Protect your life and property by taking a 101 course.
  2. Suit Up– Are you wearing the correct gear for kayaking? If you’re planning to be on the water in the early morning or after dusk, it is especially important to wear brightly colored clothing, so other boaters and kayakers can see you in the dim light. Keep your PFD, personal flotation device, or life jacket on yourself and the kids at all times.
  3. Protect Your Skin– We know it’s a given, but sun protection is essential for a long day outside. The fresh air may feel nice, but having a sunburn the next day won’t be as welcome. Sunscreen and a hat will keep your skin safe from the harmful rays. Don’t forget to reapply the sunscreen every few hours for maximum protection.
  4. Check the Temperature– Cold water can be extremely dangerous! Even water in the 50-60 degree Fahrenheit range can initiate “Cold Water Shock.” Should you fall overboard, the sudden change in temperature can cause your body to increase your heart rate and blood pressure, potentially leading to cardiac arrest. Aside from water temperature, watch your local news to stay up-to-date on weather conditions. Rain or thunderstorms, rough winds, or a drop in temperatures can be a sign to hang up your paddle for the day and reschedule your lake trip.
  5. File a Float Plan– If an emergency were to occur, it’s always best to be on the safe side and have someone on shore know all important details. If this information is written down, emergency searchers will know where, when, and who to look for. What should you note? Make sure to include the name, address, and phone number of the trip leader, name and number of any passengers, kayak or boat description with registration information, and a trip itinerary. Leave your float plan with someone on shore, whether that be a family member, friend, or staff member at the local marina.
  6. Communication is Key– Brush up on your universal river signals, so you can communicate with others on the water. If you only remember three, make sure to know how to signal for “stop”, “emergency”, and “all clear.” A whistle can also come in handy to communicate to other boats or kayaks.
  7. Recognize & Avoid Hazards– Be familiar with traps that could endanger you and your crew. For kayakers, avoid trees, branches, other strainers, rocks, and low-head dams. It’s key to backwash in hydraulics and stay on the inside of the bends. For boaters, avoid strainers at all costs, be cautious around any bridge or contruction, and stay clear of fences and low power lines. Be especially cautious in boat marinas, as electrical appliances can leak voltage into the water causing death by Electric Shock Drowning, or ESD.


Whether with friends, family or the kids, make sure everyone returns home from your day on the water safe and sound. While a day on the lake is fun, a big dinner around the table with those you love is the icing on the cake.

For additional help finding all the equipment you’ll need for a day on the water, visit your friendly associates at your local Big R store.

DIY Projects for Kids & Parents to Do Together


Biodegradable Ice Cream Cone Seed Planters

This is a project that’s perfect for the little ones – even the smallest of hands can help! To begin, fill an ice cream cone with potting soil, sunflower seeds, and water. The cone is the perfect home to watch your seedlings sprout! Then, have your kids help transplant the cone into the backyard. The cone will eventually disintegrate leaving the end result – Bright, growing sunflowers that are fun, easy, and eco-friendly!

Cookie Cutter Bird Feeder

Turn your backyard into a bird-watching paradise! Simply mix unflavored gelatin (yes, it is bird-friendly!), water and loose bird seed over the stove in a sauce pan. Then, have the kiddos press the warm mixture into their favorite shaped and oiled cookie cutter on a lined baking tray. Make sure to insert a straw at the top to create a small hole for hanging. Put the tray into the fridge for an hour to allow the feeders to set. Remove the cutter and the straw, tie with string, and pick the perfect branch to hang the new feeder. Sit back and watch the birds fly in for an afternoon treat.

Inflatable Tubes Turned Obstacle Course

Test the neighborhood kids’ fitness with your very own obstacle course. Use an air pump to quickly fill inflatable tubes. Forget throwing them in the pool – lay them on the grass. Use duct tape to tape the tubes together to create a a kid-friendly tire agility drill, and race to see who can complete the drill the quickest. Next, move the group over to tube alley. Separate into two teams. Lay eight tubes in a row, and have each kid step into the tub, shimmy it overhead, and drop it behind them as they continue forward. Whichever team is able to move their entire team through and finish fastest wins.

Tropical Sand Dough

Take a trip to the beach without ever leaving the backyard! Forget packing into the car and, instead, head to the kitchen! Have your kids mix sand, corn flour, and melted coconut oil together. This makes a yummy-scented dough that they can press, play with, squish, and create. Their imaginations will run wild with the endless amount of sand castles they can build. This dough is perfectly moldable and is a great sensory activity for the kids.

Outdoor Teepee

Call in Dad to help the kids with this one. You need a few power tools to create the cross shape junction of wood planks. Drill large holes into the wood to use to connect the four pieces of wood to the ridge pole, and two braces into the bottom for additional support. This is the frame for your teepee. Once this is done, you have a strong structure to spend long, hot days and many starry nights under. Drape an old sheet over the top to create the shady canopy. Want a teepee that can withstand the elements? Trade the sheet for a waterproof canvas tarp. This way, a little afternoon sprinkle won’t stop the fun. A bonus — the canopy will protect the children from prolonged sun exposure. Lay a soft blanket underneath, gather your kids’ favorite books, and sip a refreshing drink. Share giggles and stories in the comfort of your very own backyard teepee.

In need of a few more DIY or kids’ craft ideas? Visit Big R’s Pinterest board for great ways to keep them busy this summer!