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Are Wild Turkeys Considered Upland Game?

Are Wild Turkeys Considered Upland Game

In the scientific sense wild turkeys are upland game — but in the cultural sense that’s another story.

There are truly two versions of this question of wild turkeys, one in the cultural sense and the other in the legal sense. Legal sounds very uptight but meant in state law standards, as most states list wild turkeys as upland game. They are in fact part of Phasianidae family, which is home to our beloved grouse species, chukar and even pheasant. Many of us have seen the ruffed grouse behave like an old strutter with just as much confidence (and no turkeys do not effect ruffed grouse populations). But in the cultural sense, wild turkeys are in essence part of a very different world than the upland community.

We first asked this question when we created the brand Morning Thunder. Should the world of turkeys live in a community like Project Upland? Sure, plenty of us are die-hard turkey hunters, but we all know how different the pursuit, culture, and turkey world is.

There would be a tendency to start by pointing out the difference of our dog-obsessed world that for many has become the core reason for our pursuit. But a little digging and we find that many fall seasons have inspired dog cultures that, although maybe a little more obscure, are just as passionate. The idea of breaking a flock up with a dog and the patience for that said dog to stay still as the birds come back into an assembly call is something to be admired. Not my dog.

But many of us upland hunters are opportunists in the truest sense in those fall days. I’ve heard many stories of wild turkeys shot on the wing on bird hunts, by-products of different targets. Many even puddle jump ducks, adding to the lack of discrimination when it comes to our feathered obsessions. We can even take it one step further for those of us who also shoot fur with our dogs.

Nevertheless, turkey hunting with a dog is still worlds away.

Close up detail of an Eastern wild turkey

I am sure that by the idea of creating the brand Morning Thunder you would come to conclude that we deemed turkey hunters in a world of their own. But I dare not say that too loudly, as most (if not all) of our upland game deserve platforms of their own. The Northerners and even southern Appalachia grouse folk that tend to have a strong streak of nostalgia would love a brand like Project Grouse (not happening, sorry). Or the Southern culture of the gentleman bobwhite. Maybe the hardcore chukar hunters of the West, or even the legions of pheasant hunters in the prairie.

In fact, many of these species-specific things have inspired species-specific platforms like the non-profit Ruffed Grouse Society or American Woodcock Society. Or take a podcast like UpChukar that has a focus on the unique culture of chukar hunting in the United States.

To be fair, Morning Thunder does not represent one bird species. There are in fact a fair number of turkey species in North America. The Eastern wild turkey being the most common, followed by the Merriam’s wild turkey of the Western states, the Rio Grande wild turkey of the south-central United States. There are more obscure species like the Osceola and the Gould’s.

The Rio Grande wild turkey.

The aspect of killing a wild turkey becomes the greatest distinction from the upland culture, which often aspires to take birds on the wing which are too small for head shots. Add in the lack of calling, and things become even more distant. Although hunting sooty grouse in the spring may have some different similarities, it is still a world apart.

I recall some years ago my friend Tripp Way telling me about a gentleman who developed a spring grouse call. He swore it worked and the rumor is that some select states toyed with the idea of a Spring season. This aspect of the story is starting to sound more like urban legend rather than cultural exploration.

Maybe an even greater separation between the world of the wild turkey and upland is the story of success. While many species in upland including the ruffed grouse, sage grouse, bobwhite, and others struggle to maintain a foothold in our modern environment, the wild turkey is in a golden age.

From a scientific and legal standpoint, the wild turkey (no matter the species) is an upland bird. But when the culture is examined, it does not take long to see how odd the upland world can be. It is a niche inside a niche that often has even more niches past that . . . That was a mouthful. Because of that, we will have to say that turkey hunting and upland hunting are two very different things.

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Ep. 280: The Power of Habits for Hunters

Today on the show Dan and I are talking about the power of habits and other life-structuring processes to better prepare for and enjoy your next hunting season. Subjects Discussed Mother’s Day Montana public land audible Why habits matter for…
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Training to the Character of Your Gun Dog

Training to the Character of Your Gun Dog

Not all gun dogs are created equal, or personalities, or characters and those details matter.

“I don’t know who or what possessed my dog, but he just systematically relocated every bird into the next county!”  

If you have been in this game any time at all, you have been in a similar situation where things simply fall apart at the worst possible moments. Usually during a test or when you’re bragging to your buds on how amazing your bird dog works. It’s in these moments where we get to see the unadulterated character of our dog, highlighting weaknesses in our own foundational work, reminding us how bad things can truly get when the wheels come off.

“Bird dog training at its core is behavior modification reliant upon catching your dog in the thought process and being able to read their emotions.”

These are most certainly not the most enjoyable moments we have with our dog, though it does show us the holes in our training. It’s at this point we are forced to rummage through our bag of training tools (techniques) in hopes of finding the right tool for the job. And hopefully, one that matches the dog’s character at that moment, coining the phrase, “Train towards the character of your dog.”

Bird dog training at its core is behavior modification reliant upon catching your dog in the thought process and being able to read their emotions. Doing so allows us to predict behaviors before they occur, thereby maximizing the potential for learning. Also, the character of the dog at that moment and the behaviors they are exhibiting dictates the amount of pressure required to gain compliance.

Pressure comes in various forms. Understanding pressure and how to use it is entirely another article in itself. Basically, pressure can be generated in a variety of ways. Food pressure is when the dog feels internal pressure to perform for food. The leash and collar is an example of physical pressure. Standing in the proximity of your dog places spatial pressure on them and using corrective tones places verbal pressure on them. Social pressure can even come from the competition of using other dogs.

It’s our job to do our homework to learn how to best utilize pressure to become great teachers for our dogs. Training them to understand how to avoid or turn off the pressure, then driving them up to work while maintaining balanced attention, accuracy, and attitude. Always remember that a dog that has to work acts differently than a dog that desiresto work. Finishing each lesson with the dog wanting more.

Imagine now the possible emotions you would take on if I provided you with a large stack of cash, yet the moment you reached for it I applied heavy physical and verbal pressure on you. Some of you would run for the hills, some of you would stop, thoughtfully assess the situation and wait, where others would selflessly dive head first into the stack yelling, “Show me the money!”

These personality characteristics or reactions are largely genetically reinforced by your parents, with a fair amount of environmental influence thrown in, as well. Basically, you are just wired that way. To get each of you to wait patiently, you can imagine the amounts of pressure I would need to apply would vary wildly. The same is true when dealing with the character of your dogs.

What if I intermittently gave you some cash because I felt bad for you? The payoff would set you back towards where you started, muddying the waters towards confusion. Being a consistent leader is essential to learning. It takes many hours and layers of consistent and predictable training to create good behavior. Though it takes just one mistake at the wrong time to create bad behavior.

A dog’s character is perpetually in emotional flux, requiring you to be fluid in how you handle them. For example, watch a pointing dog and carefully study the dog’s emotions as its handler approaches them and the bird. Often you will see the dog flinch, eyes become fixed and ears perk forward as the body stiffens, loading into catch mode. Conversely, you may see the whites of the eyes begin to show, nervous flagging start and the dog loosens its pointing stance or may even lay down or retreat from the bird altogether.

These antecedent behaviors are a series of reactions to your steadiness (steadiness begins the moment the dog realizes the presence of its handler.) exercises.  Behaviors, especially in young dogs, can be abrupt and overt, at other times subtle or even invisible to the untrained eye. It takes a laser-focused trainer to be able to deal with these emotions at the right time. One that requires them to shift quickly from the punishment mindset to reinforcement and back as the dog’s character shifts.

It is impossible to do this if you are distracted in conversation, watching the bird or even worse, taking on the exhibiting emotion yourself. However, if done correctly, from outward appearances one would think you are batshit crazy. Shifting back and forth instantly from the happy, “Atta boy!” tone to the “Bad dog! Don’t you do that again!” tone, all the while matching your tone to the character of the dog. As a rule, the volume of your commands should be limited to the level the dog can hear. It’s our tone that draws out emotional responses that help us shape behavior.

Though you may vary your volume, it’s the inflection in your command that lets the dog know when you’re unhappy, no matter how loud you get. Your tonal bipolar mannerisms help the dog realize in the moment what they are doing is good or bad. Those theatrical emotional reactions generate teachable moments in the training process. It will create clarity, motivation, and understanding while painting a clear picture for your dog. In the end, we are training towards learning while maintaining mental balance. Mental balance being a calm or alert dog that is ready to take in information, keeping in mind that if we go too high into praise or too deep into punishment we lose balance and understanding.

A mother weaning her pup is the perfect example of how to scaffold your training towards the character of your dog. As a pup approaches its mother, the mother will visually posture and may curl a lip. If the puppy persists, she’ll escalate to a verbal growl with an aggressive bark. If still the puppy persists, the mother will verbally and physically pin the pup and mouth it harmlessly until the pup submits. Once the pup gives up the pursuit, she will lick the pup, reassuring them that all is okay with the world. Her discipline of undesirable behavior is absolute.

“Too often folks muck the waters attempting to humanize their dogs and let their emotional attachments interfere with their training choices.”

This illustrates perfectly how we should communicate as handlers. There is no grey area here to confuse the pup. As the bitch never nags her pups, nor should we. Nagging is a habit trainers get into that is simply an inefficient and ineffective way to shape behavior. Too often folks muck the waters attempting to humanize their dogs and let their emotional attachments interfere with their training choices. This prevents them from having the right timing and being able to give the appropriate level of correction when necessary. Instead, they second guess themselves and begin to hack and nag their dog incessantly — thus stealing the joy of the hunt from you, the dog and everyone around you that has to listen. We all should strive to be the pack leader for our dogs. Being fair and absolute balances our dogs mentally, giving them one less thing to think about during the hunt or training.

It’s also important to note the pitfalls of being a one-trick pony, as every dog learns differently. Adding tools and developing a variety of approaches is essential if we are going to meet the needs of the genetic packages we are provided. It’s essential that we are capable of tweaking our approaches to meet each dog’s individual characteristics as they appear. It certainly takes time to develop these skills, copious amounts of patience and realistically some guidance from folks who have been there before.

Your evolution as a dog trainer is dependent on the time you spend with boots on the ground. Don’t worry if you crash and burn, as burning is learning. Have fun, be a thoughtful and fair trainer, and success will eventually find both you and your dog.

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Pursuit Channel Surpasses Sportsman’s Audience

Pursuit Channel Surpasses Sportsman’s Audience

In the run-up to summer and fall 2019, Pursuit Channel has greater engagement with its audience than one of its primary competitors, Sportsman Channel. Pursuit Channel also delivers a larger amount of unduplicated viewers than Sportsman. “The picture at Pursuit Channel is one of growth and engagement,” said Rusty Faulk, CEO, “which is the direct result of the network’s decade-long push to provide more and more world-class programming created by […]

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IRS, FBI Investigate Anti-Hunting Groups

IRS, FBI Investigate Anti-Hunting Groups

The nonprofit Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) filed a complaint todaywith the IRS and FBI regarding alleging abuses of the tax code and/or criminal activity by PETA, Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), and Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation. These radical organizations have been actively lobbying for local and statewide bans on the sale of fur in California. The statewide ban, Assembly Bill 44, has already passed two committees. The complaint alleges […]

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Red-winged Blackbird

Do You Know Your Birds?

Red-winged Blackbird

By Chris Bellin

Agelaius phoeniceus

Red-winged blackbirds are one of the most abundant birds in North America.

Males are easily identified with their glossy back body and shoulder patches that are red trimmed in yellow. Females are much blander, with a brown back and heavily-streaked breast. They can be found in almost any cattail marsh or wet area in the Badger State during the summer months.

During breeding season, the males may have up to 15 mates and defend their territory fiercely. The females lay two to four light-blue eggs in a nest that she primarily builds and will have one to two broods per summer. The eggs will hatch in about two weeks and the young will fledge about two weeks after hatching.

Red-winged blackbirds tend to eat mainly insects when available but will eat seeds such as corn and wheat. If you are trying to attract them to your feeder, remember to put some seed on the ground as that is their preferred method of feeding.

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How to Sight in a Bow: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you are a devoted or a professional archer, you are familiar with the shooting form of your bow. One of the formations for archery shooting is attaching sight and sighting in a bow. Attaching sight drastically improves your shooting accuracy with the use of pins or crosshairs. On the other hand, a professional archer may find it harder to how to sigh in a bow.

Here, we are going to describe the best way to sight in a bow that you can do with the best bow sight on the market. If you are an entry level archer, we will be assisting you through the process of how to sight in a bow for the first time, or more specifically:

1) How to sight in a bow: step by step guide

2) Fine tuning your bow

3) Adjusting pin, 2nd axis and 3rd axis

4) Recording settings, bow safety and tips

How to Sight in a Bow?

One thing that archery hunters find challenging is sighting in a bow. Sighting in a bow is barely a hard task to accomplish. You merely need to start the shooting with the top pin. You just need to use your common sense, check how the trajectory is and make sure, arrow is not going out of the target.

Step 1: Check Your Bow is Tuned 

If you are an expert at archery, you still need to optimize the bow sighting, each time you shoot. Even if you are able to shoot the 30 yards target with precision doesn’t mean you are going to get the optimum and the finest performance out of the bow. So, you need to check the bow is flawless at shooting and fine-tuned.

  • Fine tune the bow prior to sighting-in
  • Later, re-sighting the bow when you are ready

Step 2: Adjusting the Pin


You need to ‘chase’ the arrow with the pin this time. You need to repeat the steps using this method. You should start using each pin for every 10 yards and start pinning at 20 yards.

  • When you test shooting an arrow, focus on the arrow’s path. If arrow hit low and turn to the left, you should move the pin low and to the left
  • Once you hit the bullseye at 10 yards, retreat at 20 yards readjust you pin to make your bow all set for the 20 yards shot

Step 3: Adjusting 2nd Axis 


The 2nd axis of a bow sight indicates clockwise or counter clockwise position of the bow sighting. Some of the archery sight doesn’t have the 2nd axis functionality, but fortunately, if it’s there, you need to adjust the sight while pins are plumb with the bow string.

  • Simplify the adjustment of your archery sight, mount 2 or 4 foot level and in vertical position
  • Make sure the lines or plumb is in the bubble
  • Take another level and check to make sure the level is plumb
  • Once all the plumb is set, take a sight while placing mounting plate in opposite direction of the side level
  • Hold the sight flat and bring the sight arm in horizontal or level

Step 4: Adjusting 3rd Axis 


The 3rd axis of the bow sight plays an ultimate role to sight in a bow. If an archer finds the 3rd axis is not properly adjusted, the shooting will be inaccurate; the sight’s level will not provide user’s a true reading and shooting will be off the mark. So, you need to adjust the 3rd axis of your bow perfectly.

  • Place sighting alongside the level of the bow and tilt the sight up and down

  • Take the reading in sights built-in-level at both of the positions, if it is off the position, third axis will get adjusted

  • Adjust the sight in and out while it reads the level at up and down position

  • After all the settlement, if the reading is precise, the 3rd axis is all ready to shoot

Step 5: Recording Settings


  • If all of the pins are correctly ‘dialed in’, take a note or record of their positions with pencil and a piece of paper

  • You need to keep the record as a reference, so you can use it in new sight in the near future

Bow Tips and Safety 

  1. When drawing the bow string, you must not pint your bow and arrow up the horizon

  2. Wear wrist wrap to avert the bow after firing and it is highly recommended

  3. Keep your finger behind the bow while releasing the trigger

  4. Also, keep fingers underneath the arrow when gripping the bow

  5. Keep Allen wrenches all the time for quick maintenance

To wrap up, the best way you can come across to shoot the target with accuracy is to take much time. Whether it is hunting or shooting competition, you need to have patience while you run through the process of adjusting the bow to have proper sight. You can follow the above recommendation on how to sight in a bow to improve your accuracy.

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Smelt Fry

A SMELT FRY STILL BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER 

One of the earliest signs of spring, when I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, was the legendary smelt runs on Lake Michigan and with it the ever-popular smelt fries. Every church, bar, VFW Hall and American Legion Post seemed to have one. 

Eventually, the smelt runs diminished and with it the smelt fries. But today, in the northwestern side of the state, The Baldwin Volunteer Fire and Rescue Station has kept the tradition of the spring smelt fry alive. On the last Friday in April, they put on a day long smelt fry attracting people from all over western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. 

Way before the trout and salmon fishing we have today in the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior had a thriving native trout population and with it, world renown fishing.  But, the sea lamprey decimated the trout in the early 1950s. Smelt had been the primary forage fish for the trout and with the trout gone, smelt populations exploded. In spring they came into shallow waters in incredible numbers to spawn making the smelt run the most exciting party to hit the beaches of Lake Michigan. 

From Milwaukee to Door County, once the word got out the smelt run was on, people from all over the Midwest flocked to Lake Michigan.  Although I suppose the smelt were active during the day, it seemed most of the smelt were caught at night or at least that was when the party started. 

On the beaches you would see bonfires burning all over. Some people were wading in the water, netting smelt. Others stood around the fire, warming their outside from the heat of the fire and the inside with adult beverages. There was always a case a beer around. No need to keep it on ice as the weather was cold enough to keep it cold. For those who needed a little more to keep them warm there was always a bottle of brandy or whiskey available too. People seemed to rotate from the fires to the water and back to the fires again. One must remember that in those days, we didn’t have the quality of waders or warm clothing we have today. It didn’t take long to get cold wading in Lake Michigan. It was noisy with the waves splashing up on shore, the crackling of driftwood fires, people yelling, laughing and bantering. It was a great party. 

There were several different ways to net smelt. There were seines, usually pulled by two or more people on either end of the long nets. There were dip nets, looking much like landing nets but with finer mesh netting. Then there were drop nets. Those were most often used off bridges over the rivers and streams running into Lake Michigan. A drop net was a square net with lead weights to get it down in the current without tipping the net in the water. The net was dropped down with ropes and once hitting the bottom would be rapidly brought up. 

Regardless if you were using a seine, dip net or drop net, when you brought the net in it was teaming with flashes of silver from smelt. Most smelt measured about four to six inches. The fish were dumped into buckets and many times one swipe of a net could bring enough smelt to fill a five- gallon pail. It was phenomenal the amount of smelt that were netted. In one evening, you could fill enough buckets of smelt to feed an entire church or small town. Which actually happened on a fairly regular basis. They really were that abundant. 

One of my buddies told me when he was a kid, his father would take him and his brothers to the beaches on Lake Superior to get smelt. They didn’t have a net. When the waves washed up on shore they would deposit bunches of smelt on the sand.  So, he and his brothers ran out picking up as many smelt as they could, skipping back up the beach with their smelt in hand before the next wave rolled up on shore, again stranding more smelt. They continued to do this until they had all the smelt they wanted. 

Another buddy of mine, living at the time in Milwaukee, would just take a twelve pack of beer and a bucket and drive north until he found a bunch of people standing around on the beach. He would trade his beer for a bucket of smelt. Considering his financial status in those days, it probably was fairly cheap beer, but apparently smelt fishermen weren’t particularly discriminating when it came to beer. They were catching more than their share of smelt, so it was more than a fair trade. Netting smelt sure could make a man thirsty. 

  A night of netting smelt could result in bunches of smelt sloshing around in five-gallon buckets and wash tubs. It wasn’t uncommon to come home with a trunk full or a pickup bed load of smelt. I wonder how long it took to get the fish smell out of the trunk? Then the next big chore was to clean them. Cleaning smelt was actually fairly easy. You just needed a scissors. To clean them, cut off the head with the scissors, cut down the belly, scoop out the guts and that was it. Although it was easy, it was a long tedious job when you had buckets of smelt to deal with. For many people it became a family or neighborhood project. Aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters, family friends and neighbors sitting around the basement or garage cleaning buckets or washtubs of smelt. Sometimes it took as long to clean them as it did to get them. As a reward, people left with buckets of cleaned smelt to have their own smelt fries. 

Smelt were so plentiful, men from churches, bars, VFW Halls or American Posts would get a bunch of them so their organization or bar could sponsor a smelt fry. Even if you didn’t go netting for smelt, going to a local smelt fry was part of spring. Of course, bags of smelt were passed out to family and friends and I do remember my father one day coming home with a bag of smelt. As the oldest child, I was allowed to sit up on Friday nights to watch the horror shows, which came on television after the evening news. My two younger sisters were a bit miffed they weren’t allowed to join us, having been sent off to bed by the time the news started. As we watched the movies, my father always made some for a snack. That was when I first had pizza. It was a Jess and Nicks frozen pizza. The Friday after father got the smelt, he made them while we watched the horror movies. He rolled the smelt in flour and fried them in butter. I remember them being very tasty. 

Unfortunately, the hay day of the smelt run and smelt fries began to die out in the 1970s and 80s. Smelt were no longer present in the vast numbers they had once been. By the mid 1960s, the lamprey was finally controlled enough that stocking of trout and salmon was possible. There might have been other reasons for the decline of smelt, but reintroducing trout and salmon back into the Great Lakes was a major factor. The great schools of alewives, another invasive species to the Great Lakes, were a principal forage base for trout and salmon and responsible for their tremendous growth rate. And now smelt had competition from the alewives for their forage base. As smelt were competing with the alewives, once again becoming bait fish for trout and salmon, their numbers dramatically declined. The days of the great smelt runs were now over and with it the huge smelt fries. Today, smelt are mostly taken through deep water netting in the Great Lakes. 

The Baldwin Fire and Rescue Station has been holding their smelt fry for thirty eight years. Originally, the Baldwin smelt fry was a community project.  But the town gave up on the smelt fry a couple of years before the Baldwin Volunteer Fire Station took it over. It is their major fundraiser according to Gary Newton, Baldwin Station Chief. It is held in the Baldwin American Legion Post a few blocks from the fire station. The fire station has 38 volunteer fire fighters covering four villages and ten townships. 

When the fire station first revived the smelt fry, some of the volunteer firemen went over to Lake Michigan to net smelt but soon after they began to purchase their smelt from a distributor. They initially purchased whole, uncleaned smelt and cleaned them themselves.  That became a real chore according to Gary. “If you wanted six hundred pounds of smelt to cook, you had to order twelve hundred pounds of smelt to clean.” Gary said.  

It became a tedious, weeklong process. All the fire fighters came into clean fish as well as people from the community. By the end of the week, people would get a bit testy, Gary pointed out. Now they purchase their smelt already cleaned. Their distributor is in Two Rivers and last year they ordered eight hundred and 50 pounds of smelt. “All we had left at the end of the day was one roaster of smelt,” Gary said. 

The Baldwin smelt fry provides all the smelt you can eat plus chips, coleslaw, beans, pickles and tartar sauce, all for a free will donation. According to Gary, “All of the money goes to purchase equipment.” Lately, the money has been going toward purchasing air packs.  

This year the smelt fry will be held on Friday, April 27. “For a couple weeks out we will be getting phone calls at the station asking about the smelt fry”, Gary said. They will receive the smelt earlier in the week and then on Thursday, the day before, they will start getting everything organized.  Active volunteer fire fighters with many of the retired fire fighters do all the work. For some it is a tradition that can‘t be missed.  Some volunteers will take a day off of work to help with the event. 

Bob Lokken, from Baldwin, a retired firefighter handles mixing the breading for the smelt. He told me it is a mixture of water, flour, eggs, molasses and baking powder. The tartar sauce is a family recipe from Gary Newton’s mother.  They will go through over thirty gallons of tartar sauce. They also make their own coleslaw.  Last year, they went through 250 pounds of fresh cut coleslaw. 

Friday morning starts out with a breakfast for the firefighters at the American Legion Post. It is part of the tradition. Doug Anderson, of Baldwin, another retired firefighter, is the fish cooker and has been doing it for years. At 11:00 they start serving smelt. “People from all over come to the smelt fry,” Gary said. “People from Menominee twenty miles east to Minnesota’s Twin Cities thirty miles west show up for the smelt fry.” 

Last year, when I arrived with two friends from Hudson, the parking lot was filled with cars and a line out the door with people waiting to get in. “We have had people call in twenty or more takeout orders at one time,” Gary said. “Some of the factories in the area have whole shifts come over at lunch or dinner time. We have seen people come by for lunch and then return later for in the evening for dinner.” Last year by 8:00 in the evening they had served over 1100 people. 

The smelt run and smelt fries were all about people having fun. It started that way in the 1950s and 60s and in Baldwin it still is that way thanks to the Baldwin Volunteer Fire and Rescue Station. Gary summed it all up by pointing out, “It makes for a fun community day.” 

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The Gun Dog Notebook Podcast Joins Project Upland Listen

the gun dog notebook

Project Upland welcomes The Gun Dog Notebook as part of our network and community.

Listen to the inaugural Gun Dog Notebook podcast episode hijacked by Project Upland Podcast Host Nick Larson and Creative Director A.J. DeRosa as they interview Durrell Smith to cover his back story.

If there is one thing certain, it’s that true enthusiasm is contagious. It is exciting, it creates momentum and often creates change. Maybe change is a prerequisite for enthusiasm as one needs something to work towards, to aspire to, to want to love more. I felt that enthusiasm the first time I went on the Gun Dog Notebook Podcast. To say host Durrell Smith is passionate and enthusiastic is an understatement.

For those of us who have caught the gun dog bug, conversations are easily steered into that realm. We muse about training, critique breeds, and speak candidly about our failures with an eye toward being enthusiastic about specifics on how we can improve ourselves.

At some point I know I sound like a broken record about one personal goal I’ve always kept foremost with Project Upland: to leave the uplands better than we found them. That means making our community stronger, closer, and an integral part of the greater fabric of modern American culture. And even more ambitious than that, to leave our natural world better, more diverse, as part of our mutual coexistence with the environment. Our planet. Not to get too far off topic, but as an intelligent species we have a responsibility toward the future of species diversity and the suitability of that world to combat extinction on all levels, climate change, and to fight for our home — Earth.

The Gun Dog Notebook is not intrinsically a podcast about conservation, though just start a conversation on the state of bobwhite in the South and Durrell will certainly overflow with his enthusiasm. But as you might gather from the title, the podcast is about a journey into the world of gun dogs.

Maybe it’s more fitting to think of this as an ongoing “notebook,” a running journal of how we evolve as handlers, trainers, breeders and hunters. The thing about taking notes is that you can go back to review the valuable lessons learned to be applied to our future. A notebook can remind us where we have been, that we all had to start somewhere — something the greater industry often forgets. All too often, the industry at large exhibits little patience for the new journeys being embarked on daily, no room for candid confession or discussion of failures.

Durrell bridges this false reality in his podcast. Overcoming the “Super Dog Syndrome” that media has portrayed. I will be the first to take comfort and admit that my bird dog is no champion or rigid robot but just what I wanted, a half decent grouse dog. Nothing wrong with field trialing, professional training, or attention to detail after all, our realities are only the subject of the user, not for public opinion. A dog that is good enough to put birds on my table and give me unconditional love as part of our family is my pace. Maybe that’s misleading, since he is of good pedigree, but as my first bird dog he is certainly a product of my novice skills and failures. Or maybe I should say, his bad habits are a product of me and his good abilities the product of instincts.

Enough about my dog; this is about all our dogs. It is about our journey that Durrell will continue to capture from the day before picking up a puppy to the professions that keep the wheels on the community. A place to be candid, honest, and never afraid to question or explore. A place for us as community to ask questions, muse about all things dog and explore our expanding culture.

On a more selfish note, Project Upland is proud, honored, and downright enthusiastic to have The Gun Dog Notebook as part of our network — a sister to the Project Upland Podcast with Nick Larson, and another piece key to assembling the puzzle of leaving the uplands better than we found them.

Durrell is a valuable member of our community and we anticipate that his enthusiasm will continue to infect those around him.

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Spring Walleye Tradition

Crank Out A New Spring Walleye Tradition

By Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajecz

There is a lot of tradition in fishing. Whether it be an annual fishing trip with a group of friends, stopping for breakfast at the family-owned restaurant on the edge of town, or wearing your lucky hat, tradition isn’t something many people stray from.

Once you get on the water, you will most likely head to your favorite honey hole. On smaller lakes in the springtime, chances are once you get to your spot, you will start out jigging. This is because it is what you have always done or because you read it in a magazine. This is a big mistake. Fish don’t care and they don’t read magazines! They live in their own environment.

There are many opportunities for casting cranks on lakes beginning in early April as the water starts to warm up. The key is to fish shallow structure near shore.

Lake Winnebago is an excellent example of a place to try this technique. The west shore has several shoreline points, humps, and reefs. The entire length of the east shore contains shoreline rocks and both natural and man-made reefs.

Any lake with features like this can hold spawning walleyes, even if the lake is connected to a river system.  On the Lake Winnebago system, many people make the mistake of thinking that all of the walleyes head up the Wolf or Fox Rivers. Yet many of the walleyes actually stay in the lake to spawn.

The best areas top out at 2 to 5 feet, like a hump that is shoreline connected or a hump that is within real close vicinity of the shore.  Another thing to look for is any shoreline spawning area with a 2 to 5 foot drop onto a shelf. Unfortunately, because the water is really cold, most people automatically think that they have to jig these areas slowly.

This was the case years ago when Gary was pitching jigs on a lake while pre-fishing for a tournament. When fishing pro-co tournaments, there are times that the co-angler doesn’t have technical jigging skills. However, because it is a “boat weight” tournament, it is important to get the co-angler catching fish.

Gary was thinking about how it would be difficult to pitch jigs on that spot if it was windy. Looking for an alternative presentation to put fish in the box, cranks became the answer. The key was to fish them slow.

Since then, time and time again, we discovered that if we were catching fish on jigs, we could also go through the area and catch those casting cranks.

The #6 Berkley Flicker Shad is a lure we designed for casting. It was important to make it neutrally buoyant and heavy enough to cast. While any shad styled bait will get bites, it is best to steer away from #7’s and #9’s early in the season, as they have a wider action. Baits with a subtle action are best for casting in the spring.

The #5 Berkley Flicker Minnow is also a good choice for casting, as it dives quickly and has more of a minnow type profile as compared to a shad style bait. The #5 refers to the length of the bait, so at 5 cm, this bait is a great size for early season walleyes that are relating to the newly hatched bait. By alternating between the shad style and minnow style bait you should be able to dial in the cranking presentation.

When it comes to the retrieve, slow and steady, but still being able to feel the vibration is the rule. Berkley Nanofil in 10# test is a great no stretch line. Not only does it allow you to feel the bait, but it also has the additional advantage of being a Uni-filament line. Uni-filament means there is no braiding or fusing, making the line super slick, which can add significant casting distance for these lightweight lures.

Steady retrieve is the norm, but occasionally the lure should also tick the bottom, which will cause it to jerk off to the side. Also be aware that the no-stretch lines will telegraph fish swiping at your bait. If that happens, stop and pause for a second, then restart the retrieve. This will often trigger bites.

On any given day, casting cranks will work better than jigs. It is mind blowing to see how aggressively the fish will hit the bait!

Then there is the early spring crank bite on the Great Lakes. Fishing cranks on the Great Lakes (and in particular Lake Erie) in spring is a whole different animal, as the big females will head out to deeper water right after spawning to chase big minnows. After you find the bait they want, it is a numbers game as you troll over a school of roaming fish. Only a certain percentage of the walleyes in the school will “take the bait.”

Boat speed and water temperature are key. When the water temperatures are still in the 30’s and 40’s the fish tend to prefer cranks that are 9 cm-13 cm long over nightcrawler harnesses. Once again, slow and subtle is key. You aren’t going to be trolling at 2.5 mph! We typically like to troll anywhere between 1 and 1.5mph. Historically, minnow shaped baits with a more subtle action have been best.

Once water temperatures reach about 50 degrees, a mix of harnesses and cranks are often used. When the water crosses 55 degrees, a lot of anglers like to stick with harnesses, but cranks are always a player.

This is why we spent three years perfecting the big Berkley Flicker Minnows. The #9 and #11 sizes were made for trolling in both cold and warm water. The action of the lure changes slightly with the speed of your boat. When trolling at slower speeds it has more of a roll. At higher speeds it has a little bit of a “kick.” These changes in action make this a very versatile lure!

A big part of this early season Great Lakes bites getting your lure in the right zone. The fish can be tight to the bottom, but more often than not, the feeding fish are suspended. In this case, you need to fish your baits at or above the marks you are seeing on your fish finder.

For example, if you are seeing marks at 20 feet down over 30 feet of water, the deepest you would want to run the crankbait is 20 feet down. In dirty or stained water, you might want to also run lures at 17 or 19 feet down. In clear water where the walleyes visibility is increased, the range would more than likely be 12 to 16 feet down. The easiest way to get a crankbait right where you want it is with the Precision Trolling Data (PTD) app.

The PTD app is available on the Apple App Store and on Google Play. Once you have downloaded it to your phone or tablet, you don’t need an internet connection for it to work out on the water.

Let’s say you were going to run one of the new #11 Flicker Minnows and wanted it to go 18 feet deep using 10# Berkley XT line, which is the most commonly used trolling line. On the app you would simply bring up the #11 Berkley Flicker Minnow, dial the first wheel (Feet Down wheel) to 18, and the app would tell you to let out 95 feet of line. Then let out that length of line and you can be confident your bait is running 18 feet down, just above those big arches 20 feet down on the graph.

So as you are dusting off your rods and loading your storage compartments with tackle trays for the maiden voyage of the year, be sure to pack the cranks! Remember, you can never assume that one technique will always be better than another! Then put on your lucky hat, stop at the restaurant for eggs and bacon with your buddies, and start a new tradition with cranks to get your Next Bite!

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#62 | Shooting the Breeze and Birds with Andy Duffy – Project Upland Podcast

Andy Duffy

Want to improve your wingshooting? Can you answer these questions: How important is gun fit, really? What role does your vision play in the shooting process? How can you program your subconscious mind to better your wingshooting in the field?

Find out the answers to these questions and more on this episode of the Project Upland Podcast with Andy Duffy.

Joined by Andy Duffy, champion competitive shooter and world renowned shooting instructor, we discuss the mechanics and necessary components to better shooting. Andy Duffy is one of the best instructors in the country and he draws on decades of shooting experience at the highest levels to inform and educate his students. From mounting the shotgun to programming the subconscious mind we’ve got you covered.

About | Andy Duffy
“Andy began shooting sporting clays in 1983, like many other avid shotgun shooters, as a way to improve his wing shooting. Since that time he has been on the National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) All-American Team 17 times, Team USA 20 times and has over 130,000 Lifetime Targets. He has claimed the NSCA National Championship title 3 times, winning it first in 1994, successfully defending the title in 1995 and claiming it again in 2002. In 2005 Andy was honored by being inducted into the NSCA Hall of Fame.”

Notable Achievements

  • 1st of only 2 competitors to ever win the NSCA National Championship 3 times.
  • The only back-to-back NSCA National Championship winner.
  • 1996 European FITASC HOA
  • 4-time National FITASC Champion
  • 3-time World Side-by-Side Champion
  • 2005 Inductee NSCA Hall of Fame

Learn More About NSCA | National Sporting Clays Association

Find Andy Duffy on Facebook | Andy Duffy

Get it on iTunes: Project Upland Podcast – Episode 62

The Project Upland Podcast is brought to you in part by: Pineridge Grouse Camp – Adventure Awaits, Gordy & Sons Outfitters, Eukanuba Performance Dog Food, Dogtra Collars, Dakota 283 Kennels and Trinity Kennels

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Ep. 279: The Buffalo Food Plot Methodology with Grant Woods

Today on the show I’m joined by Dr. Grant Woods to discuss a fascinating and more ecologically friendly methodology for planting food plots that mimics the relationship between buffalo and the great plains to create higher quality forage for wildlife…
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To Catch a Trespasser: What Would You Do?

To Catch a Trespasser: What Would You Do?

I’m normally an even-headed dude when it comes to hunting and property boundaries. You will always attract more flies with honey than hostility, and a Christian attitude will sooth over problems (with all aspects of your life) and bring peace and perspective to any situation. But what’s a guy to do when he catches someone blatantly trespassing on a property? It’s super easy to get mad, get aggressive and escalate […]

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What is the Churchill Method of Wingshooting?

Churchill Method

Shooting Instructor Keith Coyle Explores the History of Richard Churchill and Methodology of the Churchill Instinctive Method of Shotgun Shooting

During my last 30-plus years as a professional shooting coach, if I had a pound (or dollar) for every time I’ve been asked, “The Churchill Instinctive method, what really is it?” I could have retired some years ago as a wealthy man.

I remember the first question I was asked by my gun fitting mentor, the great Christopher “Chris” Craddock (friend of Robert Churchill himself), as we sat in the library of his house in the City of Bath, England. “Keith, what is a shotgun?”

As I started trying to come up with some ingenious answer, Chris, observing my brain wheels turning, looked at me with a smile. He said, “I’ll tell you what a shotgun is: it’s  a clever idea thought up by a simple man!”

In his lilting Somerset accent, he explained that one day as a simple man was walking across his field, a rabbit ran across his path. The man simply lifted and pointed his finger, making visual contact with the rabbit as his finger lined up with his eye, all done without thinking. A bit further on, a big fat wood pigeon flew out in front and above. The man again lifted and pointed his finger, which again made visual contact with the bird as his finger instinctively lined up with his eye.

He stopped in his tracks for a moment, realizing that he had the wonderful natural instinct of “pointing ability” which enabled him to make quick, accurate decisions about speed, angle and distance without having to think about it.

Realizing this, he said to himself, “If I had a gun what my finger could do, I could feed my family!” From there arose the birth of the “Shotgun” or more accurately, what could be called a “Pointing Gun.”

To this very day, this is the story I tell every pupil coming for their first lesson with me to get them to understand that you just simply point a shotgun, you don’t aim it. It’s not a rifle. It’s just an extension of your pointing finger.

How the Churchill Method Came to Be

Robert Churchill, being brought up in the family business of his Uncle Edward (E.J.Churchill) and shooting on the grouse moors and driven game estates of England from an early age, naturally understood, practiced and promoted this simple instinctive method. When combined with a properly fitting gun and, most importantly, the correct gun mounting technique of aligning the eye with the rib of the barrels (the extended finger), this method proved to be consistently effective when shooting all forms of game birds and rabbits.

As Churchill states repeatedly, “A shotgun is a weapon of movement. You must swing on to the bird, trust the unerring ability of the eye to make the necessary forward allowance and leave it to the gun to do the rest! Train the eye and front hand to take charge of these matters and learn their job without brain interference!”

Which really sums up what we refer to as the “instinctive method.” I guarantee that all of you who upland hunt with your dog in the field, the bird you most often hit is the one that gets up without any warning and surprises you. That’s the one you don’t think about, the one you shoot instinctively, the one you just “point at!”  As opposed to the bird you most hate, which is the one that gets up some 30 yards away, flying across or towards you, and gives you far too much time to start thinking about the response you are going to have to make to cleanly shoot it. And worst of all, asking yourself the question, “How much lead do I give it?” That’s when you start measuring and riding the bird.

In Churchill’s style, there is no question of trying to compute muzzle movement, forward allowance, or any other complicated matters. All he asks the shooter to do is look at the bird and by correct gun mounting, shoot naturally. Without constraint or effort, you are making contact with and shooting at the bird, but subconsciously over throwing (swinging on) a little and so giving compensation for flight time. In that way, you are successfully completing what in any other terms would be a complicated mathematical problem.

Leave your calculator at home. The Churchill method is about economy of movement and elegant, efficient gun mounting. Because the swing is based on our natural ability to point, the mount and the movement, though appearing visually slow, are actually highly efficient. With the flat, diagonal converging approach (which gives the visual impression of  shooting directly at the target), it’s the increasing momentum of the moving gun (the barrels) that naturally achieves the lead. So as the comb of your stock comes up under your cheekbone and the butt reverses back into your shoulder pocket, that’s the moment you simple squeeze the trigger.

Richard Churchill
Richard Churchill in his book Game Shooting

A Brief History of Robert Churchill

Robert Churchill was born October 23, 1886, in the suburb of Wandsworth, London. His occupation was that of a forensic ballistic expert and expert witness. For the wingshooting world, he is the famed creator of the “Churchill Method” as well as author, shooting instructor and gunmaker.

Robert’s uncle, E.J. Churchill, taught his nephew all he knew about gunsmithing, ballistics and the art of craft in English sporting shotguns. His uncle died in 1910, leaving his London gunsmithing and gunmaking business to Robert.

While continuing to innovate in gunmaking, Robert Churchill became one of the foremost authorities of his time on firearms ballistics, testifying as an expert witness for the prosecution in countless cases brought by Scotland Yard against criminal suspects. His expertise was unquestioned, as were his courtroom opinions during the years 1910 to 1920.

He introduced and perfected his newly-designed short barreled (25 inch) game guns. He was “perhaps the last of the great gunmakers of London,” wrote his friend, MacDonald Hastings. In addition to being a famous London gunmaker and ballistics expert, he was one of the greatest shooting instructors of his day. As Hastings further wrote, “The essence of Churchill’s Method is that he taught his pupils to swing on to the bird; to trust the unerring ability of the eye to make the necessary forward allowance, and to leave it to the gun to do the rest.”

(See the book “The Other Mr. Churchill” by Macdonald Hastings)

Quotes from Richard Churchill that will help your Wingshooting

(From the First Edition of Robert Churchill’s book “Game Shooting”)

“In practice, the shooter should not be conscious of his muzzle, the rib or sight. His eye, or rather his attention, should be fully occupied with the bird and, if he holds his gun properly, he will hit whatever he is looking at.”

“Dismiss all ideas of calculated allowances.”

“All systems founded on allowances are inherently unstable and unscientific. Indeed, it is only in the sport of shooting that the matter even arises. I have never heard the question raised in any other form of game where the hitting of a moving object, such as a ball, is involved.”

“It is high time that the whole allowance system was deposited in the wastepaper basket. It is not practical and it establishes an entirely false foundation of thought at the back of the shooters mind.”

“Your job is to keep your eye on the bird; forget all you ever knew about the thousands of different allowance and the thousands of varieties of shots and let your eye and the natural over throw of the gun take care of everything else.”

“In my method there is no question of trying to compute muzzle movement, allowance, or any other complicated matter. All I ask you to do is to look at the bird and by correct mounting and body work, shoot naturally without constraint or effort apparently [seemingly] straight at the bird; but subconsciously, over throwing a little and so giving the necessary lead or compensation for time flight”

“When I say ‘look at the bird,’ I mean it. You must glue your eyes to it, focus on it and see nothing else”

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Small Game Hunting Fur with Bird Dogs

Hunting Fur with Bird Dogs

A Bird Dog Owner Shares his Passion to Hunt both Feather and Fur in the Uplands

One of my first pheasant hunts was when I was a kid out with my uncles in Wisconsin. I remember being so excited about the birds that were hiding in the field of CRP in front of me. My uncle said, “If you see a rabbit you can shoot that, too.” I got even more excited. Suddenly, the chances of bagging my first wild game effectively doubled in my head.

I had no idea what was waiting for me in that field, but I was determined to find out. It wasn’t long before my uncle’s dog, a young yellow Labrador, started to get birdy. I readied my shotgun and anticipated the rush of wings — but instead, I saw a flash of fur burst out in front of the dog. I was about to take a shot at the rabbit, but the dog wasn’t far behind. I held fire. The rabbit escaped, but most importantly, my uncle’s dog came away unharmed. A lapse of focus on my part combined with an untrained dog could have led to an unfortunate outcome.

The Mixed Bag Hunter

It’s 20 years later, and I’m diving back into the uplands and getting my own hunting dog. I’ve worked hard to get to the point where I can responsibly own a dog, and I’ve spent more than a few nights thinking about our future hunts. I’m an opportunist, so whenever I’m in the uplands I will take any legal game I can find and make a meal out of it. I plan to continue this same process with the new dog. If we find a squirrel during a woodcock hunt then there is no question — there will be some fur in my game bag.

Some bird dog owners disagree with my approach. The criticisms around shooting fur over your bird dog revolve around the idea that it will distract the dog from what it is really out there to find: birds. There is probably some validity to this, but for me, the advantages outweigh this cost.

In my home state of Indiana, wild game birds like pheasant and quail are tough to come by. The mixed bag approach is especially advantageous if my goal is to bring home wild game meat. Rabbit and squirrel meat can both be used as a substitute for chicken in lots of dishes. One of my favorites is Buttermilk Fried Rabbit.

Another advantage of taking fur during a bird hunt is that it gives new hunters more opportunities for success. I’ve helped a few hunters get started and they get hooked on those first harvests. I am one of those “variety is the spice of life” kinds of people. While wingshooting is one of my favorite activities, squirrels and rabbits offer shot opportunities that birds don’t. They are both challenging, but distinctly different.

If you do decide to take on other game with your dog there are a couple things I recommend keeping in mind.

Safety First in all Hunting

That pheasant hunt in Wisconsin taught me a valuable lesson on how important our shooting decisions can be. Choices like this are a critical layer for the safety of the entire hunting party, including the four-legged members.

However, we shouldn’t only rely on the choice to shoot to avoid an accident. It’s important to train our dogs to stop on command for their safety. This is a popular opinion — training bird dogs to “whoa” is common. Still, there are some who choose not to spend time with their dogs on this. When hunting birds there is less risk to a chasing dog if the bird has enough altitude.

Based on just a few experiences, I recommend that someone who wants to shoot fur over their dog should train a solid “stop.” The added risk of the dog and game running at the same level, plus the vegetation that can obstruct your view, make it dangerous to rely only on split-second decision making. You might be thinking that it’s impossible to teach a dog to stop mid-chase, but I’ve seen it done. I’m sure it’s not easy, but my dog and I will both be learning how to make it happen.

No On-Off Switch for Fur

If you decide a mixed bag of fur and feathers is your thing, keep in mind that once you start shooting fur over your dog it will be difficult for him to ignore it. I’ve trained a few non-hunting dogs, and they will do more of something if it is encouraged and less if it is not. If a dog jumps up on people and receives excited voices and pets it will probably keep jumping on people. On the other hand, if people turn away and ignore a dog that jumps it will learn it’s not such a fun behavior.

I think the same idea can be applied to hunting with your gun dog. If the rabbits and squirrels your dog finds are consistently shot and the dog gets to experience the fun of smelling them, tasting them, and retrieving them it will likely want to keep finding them. This is where the argument comes in from people that just want their dog to focus on birds. If the dog learns it will never get to catch things without wings, then it will probably ignore the fur it smells and keep trying to get on birds.

I’ve considered this while anticipating the day I get my dog. In my situation, where wild birds are hard to come by, when my dog starts to get excited with “birdy” behavior, there is a pretty good chance that it’s fur she’s smelling. There are lots of skilled dog trainers out there, and I’m sure some can tell their dog, “We are just going after birds today.” But that’s beyond my skill level as a novice. Whether you want your dog to be an upland generalist or a bird specialist, it’s probably easiest to pick one and stick with it.

It’s your Dog. Hunt how YOU Want 

If you haven’t learned already, upland hunters have no shortage of opinions. This isn’t such a bad thing because it means they are passionate. The dark side of those opinions is when they turn people away from the uplands. Every hunter is going to have different goals and experiences they want to have afield. No matter the game they want their dog to hunt, or even if they don’t have a dog, their quest has a place in the uplands and it should be welcomed.

Ultimately, the only opinion that matters besides yours is your dog’s. And his main concern is that you get out there and go hunting.

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Springtime Crappies

Springtime Crappies 

By: Blake Tollefson

 

Spring is here. You can feel it in the air. A feeling of rejuvenation has been breathed into the natural world. Water temperatures are rising, and fish and anglers alike have one thing on their mind: the spawn.

Drones of antsy anglers are anxiously awaiting their chance to wet a line in an unfrozen body of water for the first time in several months. Depending on where you live, game fish opportunities are likely limited to a few areas or completely closed altogether. However, panfish opportunities are among the best they’ll be all year long. Springtime crappies are no secret, but there are some factors that can really influence your success. Water temperature and weather are among the leading influencers. 

 

Location

At ice out, crappies can be found in areas similar to those in the winter and fall. Depending on the conditions, it is usually a safe bet to start your search in the areas where you had some success at late ice. Featureless basins and deep weeds are all fair game. Spend a little time checking these areas with electronics, but if you’re not marking fish it’s likely necessary to move shallower.

As the season progresses, fish continue their trek to skinnier water. During the timeframe when waters remain less than 50 degrees, it is important to look towards transition areas which will likely hold the majority of fish. Mid-range depths between the basins and the shallows are usually the best bet (10-20 feet of water). Look for something specific to help congregate fish (ex. rock piles, sharp breaks, cribs, etc.). I’ve personally found that this period provides some great opportunities to target giant schools of crappies staging on cribs and submerged wood in particular.

 

Water temperatures in the mid-50s will show signs of life as crappies make their move. It is important to note that specific areas of lakes tend to warm much faster than others. Shallow dark bottom bays tend to soak up the most sunlight. Additionally, the northernmost portions of the lake will typically see the most direct sunlight and as a result will hold warmer water. When seeking out spawning grounds, it is important to depend primarily on water temperature and structure. Structure can be identified as anything from manmade structures (such as docks and cribs) to natural habitat (such as submerged wood and rock piles). Do your homework: Using lake maps, identify high probability areas where fish are likely to reside.  The fish tend to seek out warmest water and will typically look for some sort of protection. While on the water, rely on your electronics to identify the areas with the warmest water.  Side imaging technology does a fantastic job of locating mass schools of crappies working their way to shallows. Crappies will typically begin to spawn when water temperatures reach 55 to 65 degrees. 

The spring season is known for varying degrees of weather patterns. It may be 65 degrees and sunny one day, and 35 degrees and rainy the next.  These drastic changes in weather can cause some shifting in fish patterns. Warm, sunny days will typically drive crappies to shallower water, meanwhile, cooler days will tend to have the opposite effect.

Gear

There is a plethora of rod options available to the average panfish angler. One of the real advantages to targeting spring panfish is that high end equipment isn’t necessary. However, it shouldn’t go without saying that certain features will give you an edge over the competition. Look for fast to extra fast rods in the ultralight to light variety. Faster actions allow for quicker hooksets and the proper power will help keep fish pinned on their way back to boat. Rely on rods long enough to make long casts with light jigs (6’9” to 7’3”). My personal choice: Elk River Rods 6’9” Light Panfish Gold. 

 

When it comes to panfish lures, this list is truly endless. Countless varieties, colors, and styles are available in any bait shop. Tubes, paddletails, and hair jigs are among some of the top artificial choices for springtime crappie fishing. Due to the shallow water action, it is necessary to make long casts with light lures.  Light jigs (1/64 ounce to ‪1/16 ounce) will allow for a soft landing and not spook as many fish. Cast and retrieval methods can be extremely effective during this time period. My person favorite is a Eurotackle B-Vibe threaded on a 1/32 ounce jig. A lure of this size can be worked at variable speeds in extremely shallow water, and still provide enough action to entice fish to bite. Bobber presentations are another effective choice for shallow water crappies. Bobbers allow anglers to present light lures in an effective manner, and have the ability to suspend baits anywhere in the water column.  Typical bobber presentations include a jig or plain hook and minnow, or a jig and plastic or hair jig. Both styles of fishing have their time and place in which they are most effective.

 

An often overlooked method for spring crappies is presenting light lures via a fly rod.  A lightweight fly rod (3WT – 5 WT) allows anglers the ability to present essentially weightless lures with ease. Not to mention, the fight of a big crappie on a fly rod is hard to beat.

Conservation

With large congregations of fish in shallow water, it’s likely that you’ll have some pretty impressive days as far as overall numbers and quality of fish goes.  If you have interest in preserving these resources for future generations, it is important to develop a conservation mindset. Consider releasing all larger fish, especially those greater than 12 inches. Depending on the body of water, fish of that caliber are a valuable resource and are becoming increasingly less available. Also, put some thought into how many fish you plan on keeping. It only takes a handful of 9 – 11 inch crappies to feed a family of four. 

Springtime crappies are truly a treasure to the angling world. They can provide some of the most exciting and fast paced action anglers will find all season long. Gear requirements are minimal, and opportunities are plentiful. Be sure to have fun, and do your best to protect those resources for generations to come.

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Gunner Kennels – G1 Dog Crate Review

Gunner Kennels G1 Review

Is man’s best friend getting man’s best kennel?

I’ve sat in dozens upon dozens of creative/marketing/product/brand/you-name-it meetings over the past handful of years and I would venture to say that — in 9 out of 10 of them — someone would utter the phrase, “ . . . like Yeti did/does/is doing.” Whether it’s product development, marketing plan, content creation or brand building, Yeti has become the ubiquitous gold standard for all of the above. Now this is a pure kudos to Yeti, as it’s an enviable position for any brand to be synonymous with quality, innovation, and brand-strength. So it is an incredibly high compliment and endorsement for Gunner Kennels when people ask me to describe them and I simply say, “They’re the Yeti of dog kennels.”

If that’s not enough of an endorsement for you, I’ve got a few more details coming.

Safety is the Foundation of Gunner Kennels

Unless you’ve lived under a rock over the past few years, you’ve seen the ridiculous videos showing the bomb-proofedness of these kennels. You can see it withstand 4,000 pounds of force, a 12-gauge shotgun blast at 7 steps, a 200-foot-plus cliff drop, and 630 pounds dropped from over 8 feet. And you can just scroll through Gunner’s Facebook feed to see story after story (with pics) of full size trucks twisted into mangled heaps with a Gunner Kennel laying peacefully intact next to it. They are the only “double-walled rotomolded” crate on the market, which plays a huge part in the fact that Gunner Kennels passed the Center for Pet Safety certifications.

You can see it withstand 4,000 pounds of force, a 12-gauge shotgun blast at 7 steps, a 200-foot-plus cliff drop, and 630 pounds dropped from over 8 feet.  And you can just scroll through Gunner’s facebook feed to see story after story (with pics) of full size trucks twisted into mangled heaps with a Gunner Kennel laying peacefully intact next to it. They are the only “double-walled rotomolded” crate on the market, which plays a huge part in the fact that Gunner Kennels passed the Center for Pet Safety certifications.

The door is equally impressive. A custom welded, powder-coated, reinforced aluminum frame that works with the fiberglass filled injection-molded door panel is no doubt a huge reason that the G1 Kennels hold up so well in car accidents. With every crate that I had prior to my Gunner, I could practically pull the door out without even unlatching it. And to tell the truth, I never felt very comfortable with it being strapped into the back of my truck. The Gunner, on the other hand, leaves me with no such reservations. And that actually brings me to another great feature.

The tie-down pins. Few kennels used to have them at all, and even the newer crates that are coming out with them don’t have the level of integration that the G1 has. They are fully integrated into the rotomolded kennel, which means that they won’t rip out in the event of an accident. I got the Gunner Kennels branded tie-down straps with mine mainly because I’m an aesthetic snob, but they are as beefy as the kennel itself (2500 pound load capacity buckle/4500 pound breaking strength nylon webbing), so, if you can swing it, grab a set while you’re at it. I anchor my kennel at all four corners to the four corners of my truck bed.

Gunner Kennels branded tie-down straps used in 4 point tie down.

The Price of Gunner Kennels

The smallest crate, the G1 Small, comes in at $399 and is suitable for your Jack Russel Terrier. And before you judge me for beginning with a JRT, you should definitely check out this episode of The Hunting Dog Podcast with Alex Brittingham, who hunts GEESE with her pup – https://thehuntingdogpodcast.com/episodes/alex-brittingham-and-her-goose-hunting-jack-russel/

The next three sizes up, G1 Medium (all manners of spaniel), G1 Intermediate (most versatile breeds), and G1 Large (Labs, etc.) each step up $100 so they come in at $499, $599 and $699, respectively.

Obviously, that is not cheap. However, most of us have no problem spending $200-plus on a pair of boots and, depending on where and how often you hunt, you’d be buying new ones every couple years. I firmly believe that your first Gunner Kennel would literally be the last kennel you’d ever need to buy for your bird dog. Oh, and they give you a lifetime warranty to back up that claim.

The fiberglass filled injection-molded door panel.

Those Gunner Kennels Accessories

The folks at Gunner have built out a lot of really cool accessories that are custom made for their kennels. They have a fan kit that mounts to the kennel, providing air flow on particularly hot days. And, though you should never leave your dog unattended for extended periods of time, I have to say that due to the thickness of the walls of the kennel, it stays significantly cooler on hot days — even without the fan kit. The thick walls act like a reverse-cooler, keeping it warmer inside. But if it gets really inclement where you live and hunt, you can get the all-weather kit that allows you to further restrict the airflow into the side grates.

They also have a security lock so you can literally chain your kennel to your truck bed and the door itself has a keyed lock so no one can swipe your dog. I’m so paranoid about someone stealing my dog (a Braque du Bourbonnais) out of my truck bed that I once locked the door when I was hunting (over a buddy’s dog) in the middle of nowhere in Montana. You never can be too cautious.

Conclusion on the Gunner Kennels G1 Dog Crate

I’ve been a fan of Gunner long before I actually owned a product (a testament to their excellent branding) and if you’re not following along on their Instagram, you’re definitely missing out. Even though I’m not a Lab guy, I am still proudly rocking their logo decal on my truck window and I haven’t taken off my Gunner hat since I snagged one at the SHOT Show. If that makes me a fanboy, so be it.

At the end of the day, Gunner is a family-owned and operated business out of Nashville, Tenn., doing their damndest to make the best dog crate money can buy. Their crates are made right here in the U.S. and they only sell direct to consumer, so you should definitely swing by their website https://gunnerkennels.com to check them out. I have to say that Gunner Kennels broke the mold (pun intended) with their G1 Kennel and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Afterthought – My one complaint is that I got my Gunner Kennel in September and it felt like the next day (I know it was a bit after that, but it felt that way) they came out with their ridiculously cool gunmetal color.  Ah, too bad. I guess I’ll have to pick up a second crate. Then I’ll have two for the rest of my life.

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Buck on Shoulders, Hunter Orders at McDonald’s Drive-Through

Buck on Shoulders, Hunter Orders at McDonald’s Drive-Through

Deer hunters love fresh venison, but when it’s really fresh, sometimes a stop at the local fast-food drive-through is in order. That was the case for the New Zealand deer hunter who walked through a drive-up window with a dead deer on his back. According to Fox News, Tehanairo Tetawhero of Taumarunui, New Zealand, stopped by a McDonald’s drive-thru after a day of fallow deer hunting with three of his […]

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L.C. Smith Shotguns – A Look into the History of Double Guns

L.C. Smith Shotguns

Exploring the Shotgun Vintage Manufacturer Famous for their American Side Lock

L.C. Smith is easily one of the most recognizable names in the world of American double guns. They are also unique in design when compared to many of the other popular doubles of their time and are inarguably tied to wingshooting history in the States.

W. H. Baker and the brothers Leroy Smith and Lyman Cornelius Smith began making guns in partnership in 1879 under the Baker name. Their offerings included side-by-side shotguns with external hammers and three barrel guns — side-by-side shotgun barrels over a rifle barrel, commonly referred to as drillings. In 1880, W.H. Baker and Leroy Smith would go on to create the Ithaca Gun Company, leaving L.C. Smith to make guns under the Baker name until 1889. At that time the company passed to John Hunter of Fulton, N.Y., and the production of the L.C. Smith Gun that most folks are familiar with began at length. During this period of production, options and variety were added to the lineup, including a number of grades, gauges, stock configurations, ejectors and trigger options.

Though company ownership changed hands over the course of time, the next significant purchase came in 1945 when the Marlin Arms company purchased the L.C. Smith name. Production continued for 4 or 5 years until a portion of the factory collapsed, causing an eventual shutdown and the suspension of production. The Marlin Arms Company did produce a few guns in the late 60s and early 70s, though production was very limited.

L.C. Smith Ad with Prices
Ad from 1915 –Image from L.C. Smith Collectors Association

Models, Grades and Options for the L.C. Smith

Though a number of models were available in early Baker Vintage production as well as the L.C. Smith Baker, most of these models would be impractical for today’s wingshooter. Most of the early guns were either hammer guns or had Damascus twist barrels, and were built to handle the common loads of the times. You would not want to put a modern 2¾ inch sporting load through one of those vintage 1800s guns. For most wingshooters there is romance in shooting old guns, but one does question the efficacy of using a hammer gun in real-world bird hunting scenarios. The same goes for the risk of shooting Damascus steel barrel guns. There is a time and place for keeping history alive, no doubt, and I have a share of very old guns — hammers and Damascus included. But safety is of particular importance when we consider all the other factors at play when wingshooting.

“Welcome to the hundreds of thousands of shooters who have joined the ranks of L.C. Smith gun owners during the past 50 years! Your gun bears the most famous name in shotgun history. Shoot it with pride and confidence.”

An excerpt from the L.C. Smith Manual

Pictured Above: A pre-1913 L.C. Smith No. 2 with ejectors, refereed to as model 2E. Image courtesy of Dogs and Doubles.

Early L.C. Smith guns, that is to say guns from the pre-1913 date, were graded with numbers or letters, ascending/descending and covering a variety of options available at the time. The earliest were described as ‘qualities’ rather than grades from this vintage. Needless to say, the latter system was in place until 1913 when the change in hands resulted in new options for Fulton Arms L.C. Smith guns.

The most common of these became the ‘Field’ grade. Field grade guns were stamped as such on the water table of the gun. In addition to Field Grade, the company produced Ideal, Skeet, Trap, and Specialty guns ranging from $25 to $1000. These five options represent the most commonly found L.C. guns and are what one would likely find on the gun rack at a local shop. There were additional high grade guns made, but production of these guns was limited to under 1000 of any particular model and as such they are a rarity.

Interesting Facts about L.C. Smith

L.C. Smith was one of the only American makers to produce a side lock shotgun, where the internal mechanisms of the gun were fixed to the side plates that extended back from the action. There were few other American makers who did the same, but none with the same clout as L.C. Smith. L.C. was the first to offer auto-ejectors in 1892. They were also one of the first gunmakers of the time to offer a single trigger, their “Hunter One-Trigger”.

Image from L.C. Smith Collectors Association

The L.C. Smith Collectors Association

No vintage double gun company is complete without some kind of collectors club. The organization is active and membership includes a quarterly publication, the L.C. Smith Journal. Membership is $40 annually and their mission described below.

“The L.C. Smith Collectors Association was formed to (1) stimulate and educate members and the public in their knowledge of the history and production of the L.C. Smith shotgun; (2) encourage the value of good sportsmanship to shooter and collector members and the public; (3) promote a positive, responsible use of firearms to members and the public; and (4) encourage creation of an L.C. Smith museum.”

Find out more about the club at: https://lcsca.clubexpress.com/

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7 Great Pieces of Women’s Turkey Hunting Gear

I returned from another unsuccessful spring archery turkey hunt in Nebraska. I use the term unsuccessful very lightly because although we didn’t harvest any gobblers, we came home with so much more. My goal is to leave the field knowing something just a little more than when I arrived. With these seven spring turkey hunting […]

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