Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Distance Estimation for Archers

Photo credit to Mike Riela
via Flickr Creative Commons
Every bowhunter knows that properly estimating the distance to your target is one of the most important obstacles to a successful hunt.  With today's fast bows, this really isn't a big concern for shots within 20 yards.  When you start to approach 30 yards, 40 yards, or even 50 yard shots small errors in distance estimation can mean the difference between meat in the freezer and a busted hunt.
For years I have used a hand held Bushnell laser range finder to help with this problem.  Once I would get settled in my tree stand, I would try to range and identify trees to my right, left, and in front of me at approximate 20, 30, and 40 yard ranges.  If an approaching deer would step inside, outside, or next to one of those ranged-trees, then I would know the approximate distance and which pin I would need to shoot from.  
I've used this method in the past for two reasons:
  1. You are not always guaranteed enough time to grab your range finder and range an approaching deer on the move.
  2. It isn't always a good idea to try to range an approaching deer, because the extra movement involved in doing this is liable to be detected and spook your game.
This has worked well most of the time, but there has always been problems with this method of estimating distance.
  1. It is difficult to keep track of each of those trees that you have identified and ranged.
  2. You usually never find trees to your right, left and center at the same distances that you have your sight pins set to.  There may be a tree on your right at 17 yards, in front of you at 26 yards, and to your left at 24 yards, and so on.  Keeping track of the variations in distance out at 30 and 40 yards and knowing the adjustments required before taking your shot starts to get really confusing.
  3. Inevitably, a deer will follow a path in that doesn't near one of your ranged trees, so you are still left guessing at the distance.
One of the things that I have done in an effort to overcome this has been to look at some of the bow mounted range finders on the market today.  The Dead-On Rangefinder is a non-electronic version, and is very inexpensive costing around $20.00.  The Leupold Vendetta is a high-end, electronic version that carries a little steeper price tag of around $240.00.

The Vendetta is a laser range finder that mounts to your bow riser.  It uses a pressure pad for activation, which you mount to your bow grip.  You calibrate it to your 20 yard sight pin during the initial set up.  Then when you are hunting, you simply aim at the deer (or other game) with your 20 yard pin, depress the pressure pad on your grip to activate, and read the distance on the LED display.  Once you have that distance, you can instantly switch to the proper sight pin depending upon the range, and let that arrow fly!

The Dead-On range finder is a non-electronic device.  It uses the concept of bracketing to determine the range to your game.  This device attaches to your sight bracket, and has a series of pins.  The bottom pin is aimed right at the chest line of your game.  There are then pins above this that are spaced out at predetermined distances that will reflect the range to your target.  By placing the bottom pin on the chest of the deer, you then check to see which distance pin rests on the deer's back.  At 20 yards, the chest to back silhouette of a deer will be larger.  At 30 yards, it is a little smaller, and at 40 yards it is even smaller.  As the distance increases, the chest to back distance of the deer becomes smaller.  The concept is pretty simple, but it is actually very effective.

Both of these models have their advantages and disadvantages.
  • The one that jumps out at you right away is cost.  The Dead-On is very inexpensive compared to the Vendetta.
  • The Vendetta wins when it comes to precision.  It is a laser range finder that is incredibly accurate.  The Dead-On uses a concept of 'bracketing' to determine range based on the average chest to back size of a typical whitetail.
  • The Vendetta also wins out when it comes to hunting multiple types of game.  The Dead-On requires reconfiguration of its pins for each specific species of game you plan to hunt.  Since the Vendetta is a laser range finder, it will work with all species of game.
  • Eligibility for Pope & Young record books may also be a concern for you.  If you think you have an opportunity to harvest a record book buck, then you won't want to use the Leupold Vendetta. Pope & Young disallows the use of any electronic devices on your bow for any buck to be entered into their record book.  You won't have that problem with the Dead-on, as it is a non-electronic device.
  • Legality may also be a concern for you depending upon which state you plan to hunt in.  The Vendetta is legal in for hunting in about half of the 50 United States, but is legal for recreational shooting in all states.  There are no legality concerns with the Dead-On range finder, as it is legal in all 50 states for hunting.  You can see a list of the states where the Vendetta is legal for use at this website: .

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Success During the Last New Jersey Spring Turkey Hunting Period

I have to admit, I have not hunted much since I shot the jake back on April 29. I tried to wake up! Honest!

Since this week and next are the final turkey hunting period in New Jersey ('Week E'), I wanted to make sure to hunt at least a few more times. So, I set my alarm clock for 3:45 AM this morning and headed to the the turkey woods.

I wanted to try a different spot, so I went to a turkey hunting location where I almost had some birds last year. I set two turkey decoys in a freshly planted field on the edge of a woods and found a nice tree. I leaned back against the tree about 5:00 AM and faced the woods. Around 5:15, I heard at least 5 birds gobbling no more than 30 yards from me. I hurriedly repositioned myself about 10-15 yards closer to the gobbles. By 5:30, the birds were gobbling incessantly to my left, while several hens were yelping to my right! What luck! I set up in a perfect spot! Well, almost.

Since I was so close to the birds, I began calling softly with a diaphragm call. Every time I called, the birds would gobble back. (In fact, they gobbled at a passing ambulance's siren, a calling crow, and some blue jays.) I had to compete with live hens who felt the need to yelp like there was no tomorrow, so I made a couple slate calls. I then heard a sound I never heard before. Directly above me, in the tree I was sitting against, I heard a one-note cackle-gobble-yelp. Yes, that is the only way I can explain it. It was so loud it scared me! A couple minutes later, I saw and heard a hen fly out of the tree and land on the edge of the field. I watched to see if it looked spooked, but she didn't seem to care. However, I heard no more gobbling and no more yelping.

Fearing I spooked the birds with my hand movements on the slate call, I almost moved. I looked to my right, and my eyes caught some movement. I then saw about 12 birds all walking -- silently -- toward me! I quickly scanned and saw about 7 jakes and a handful of hens. One hen walked within 5 yards of me! I really wanted a nice tom, but I didn't see any! Then... I saw a final bird bringing up the rear. With most of the birds strutting, I could tell that none was a mature tom. However, this last one, looked a bit bigger and had a longer beard, though it still was not dragging the ground. The birds were within shooting range for at least 10 minutes. Seeing no true trophies, I decided to take the biggest bird.

I already had my Remington 11-87 resting on my knee with the butt against my shoulder. I still had to get the gun the remaining 10 inches or so to eye level before I could shoot. With so many birds so close, I knew I had to be quick. Picking the biggest turkey, I raised the gun in a split second, leveled the sights on the target, and squeezed. He dropped instantly.

With turkeys flushing everywhere like a covey of wild quail, I jumped up to retrieve the downed bird. As I did, a giant tom flew from the tree I was sitting against! Can you believe it? That bird must have made the phantom cackle-gobble-yelp. He probably saw me walk in and never flew down. Even with all those other birds on the ground, this smart old bird chose to stay silent and roosted.

This big boy's smarts enabled him to live another day.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Turkey Hunt

I managed to turkey hunt before work this morning. I arrived at my turkey hunting spot about 5:00 AM and set up on the edge of a woods that borders a big field. I put 2 decoys in the field, and set up on a tree with my back to the woods. I heard hens early, so I did some soft turkey calling. To my surprise, each time I called, a gobbler responded. Around dawn, I had 2 gobblers answering my calls.

I was hoping the turkeys would walk through the woods, come out to the field, see my decoys, and walk within range. However, things did not necessarily work out that way. I called again and heard some gobbles far behind me. I turned my head around the tree to look, and there were 4 hens standing 25 yards behind me in the woods. (As a bonus, one of the hens was 90% snow white with a few black flecks! I would rather have that one!) I didn't hear them walking because of the wet ground. They didn't see me, so I didn't want to move. They continued walking to the field -- with the 2 gobblers following! Again, I couldn't move, and my gun was facing the field! If I would have been facing the woods, I could have stoned either of the toms!

Instead, I remained still and let them pass. They too came to the edge of the field, about 30 yards to my right. The hens walked farther out in the field, and the gobblers when nuts with gobbling when they saw my decoys. They didn't commit too far to the field, so I didn't have a shot at them. Too many bushes were in the way. If they walked 5 more yards towards the decoys, I would have had them! Instead, they opted to chase the live hens. Damn! I tried some more calling, but they would not leave the hens. All of them eventually walked away. I tried to move, but I could not get any closer before they left the area.

Next time!

***** EDITOR'S NOTE *******

I spoke with several people today, and they all told me the same thing! I committed a cardinal sin when turkey hunting this morning. As soon as I heard the gobbles, I should have repositioned myself so that I was facing the gobbbles. Ugh. Oh well. We live and learn. - SMK


New Jersey Turkey Week C: Finally - A Turkey

Monday's rain prevented me from hunting, but I awoke this morning with focus. I was up at 4:00 AM and was in the turkey woods at 4:45. With legal shooting time coming around 5:30, I still felt pressed for time.

I had about a 10-minute walk to my hunting spot where I figured birds would be roosting. I crept in quietly, but still managed to spook about 10 deer. Seeing a good spot, I set out my decoys and placed my ground cushion against a tree. Around 5:45 AM, I heard gobbling about 70 yards to my left.

There were at least 2 birds gobbling, so I answered with some soft tree calls. Every time I called, I would get gobbles in return. Things were looking good.

I saw one bird fly down from its roost tree at about 6:15. After that, things were silent for about 5 minutes. I heard some clucking, so I began purring, cutting, and yelping on my slate call. I then heard two turkeys gobbling big time -- and heading my way. Because the birds were to the left of where I thought they would be roosting, I had to move a bit. After moving, I could no longer see my decoys because of bushes. However, the decoys still seem to be in the turkeys' lines of sight. Since I didn't want to risk being seen, I switched to my diaphragm call. I yelped a couple times, and the turkeys came running.

I saw the turkeys moving behind a bush at 20 yards. I aimed my gun just passed the bush, made one more call, and watched the first turkey step out. I saw his smallish beard, but since I had no meat in the freezer (and because I had to go to work), I squeezed the trigger. BOOM! He fell in his tracks. I then saw his companion, a jake, run the other way.

I quickly jumped up to retrieve the turkey. He was shot perfectly. I checked him in at Bradways (15 lbs, 4.5-inch beard, 1/2-inch spurs), returned home to shower and change, and was at work by 9:45 AM. Not a bad morning's work. I can now sleep in (at least until 6:00 AM) the rest of week!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Remembering a Turkey Hunt

Got up at 3:00 AM this morning to turkey hunt Season A of the New Jersey Wild Turkey hunting season. After yesterday's ordeal, I was chomping at the bit.

I met my buddy Tom M. at 4:00 AM, and we drove to the turkey woods. We were in position by 5:00 AM, set up where we observed two big gobblers last week. We did some calling before dawn and some more after dawn, but we got no response. We heard no birds and saw no birds. By 6:30, we decided to move locations.

By 7:20, I heard a gobble in the distance. I set up on the ground with my back to a tree, and Tom set up about 10 yards away. He was calling for me, so he has a bit behind my location. I heard the turkey respond to Tom's calls, but it sounded like the turkey was walking all over the place. I heard him in the woods, then in the field, then back in the woods, and then in the field again! The second time I heard the gobbles in the field, I knew he was coming toward our calls. I heard a loud gobble, and saw him walking through some tall weeds at the edge of the field. He stepped into the woods cautiously, and held up for a bit. He was about 40 yards from me, but I had no shot through the trees.

Tom could not see the bird, so he just watched my trigger finger. When he saw me get down on my 12-gauge and take the safety off, he knew the bird was close. However, I just needed the bird to walk about 5 more yards! Tom noticed my hesitation and clucked a few times on his slate call. This was just enough for the turkey to take about 10 more steps into a SMALL clearing between 2 trees. I aimed my gun between the 2 trees (which were about 2 feet from the turkey) and squeezed the trigger. The turkey dropped.

I marched the shot distance off, and we determined the shot was about 35 yards. I was quite impressed that my choke tube and Remington Heavy Shot Turkey Loads (1.5 oz. number 5s) held the pattern together for the shot. There were 2 or 3 pellets in the two trees that were in front of the turkey, but all in all, most of the shot hit the target.

The turkey was a jake that weighed 16.5 pounds and had a 6.5-inch beard.

There is meat in the freezer. I can now be choosy with my next bird!

The Well-Dressed Turkey Hunter -- and Other Turkey Hunting Updates

My luck has to change soon. I am getting close to turkeys, but just not close enough! Here are some updates.

Monday, April 21

I met my friend Curt at a New Jersey turkey hunting spot Monday morning around 5:00 AM. We each set up in spots where we have seen turkeys. We heard turkeys gobbling around us at first light, but when they flew down from their roosts, they walked away from us. Monday's hunt was uneventful.

Tuesday Morning, April 22

I went to a new turkey hunting spot today. I set up on the edge of a big woods around 5:00 AM, and by 5:30 I heard gobbling from nearby trees. From what I could tell, I heard at least three different birds gobbling from 75 to 150 yards away. I moved closer to the gobbles and heard the birds fly down from their roosts. The toms answered my calls, but I could tell they were walking away from me. I walked toward the direction of the gobbles and came across a freshly disked crop field. The turkeys had already made their way to the middle of the field -- about 250 yards from me. There was no way for me to get to them without being seen. There was a HUGE tom in the group. He was in full strut almost all morning, but since there were hens with him and a few other jakes or toms around, he had no reason to respond to my calling. Rather than trying to play to these birds, I decided to head to the other turkey hunting spot I have been targeting for the past several days.

I arrived at the other spot and called for a few minutes. I received no answers to my calls, and I saw no birds. Seeing no opportunities for turkeys on this day, I returned to my truck to change into my work clothes. (Keep in mind most of my hunts occur from 5:00 AM to 8:00 AM, then I head to work.) Just my luck. As I was changing, I saw 7 or 8 turkeys cross the road in front of me about 150 yards away! There were a couple hens, but there were at least 4 gobblers! Like a lunatic, I quickly through my camo on over my dress slacks and oxford shirt. Not having time to put my boots on, I grabbed my gun and turkey vest, and sprinted toward the woods ahead of the birds. Like a mocassined Indian, I walked though leaves, sloshed through mud, and climbed over branches in my black Bostonian cap-toes. I began calling on the edge of a field opposite the birds, and they gobbled back! Things were looking good!

I called some more, but then hens started yelping (instead of toms gobbling). The yelps got softer, and I realized the birds were walking across the road, directly to a protected area. I ran back to my truck and drove down the road where the turkeys just crossed. While driving, I saw all of the turkeys 2 yards off the road in the woods! They were just pecking and scratching and could care less about my truck. I parked and ran to the woods on the legal side of the road with hopes of calling them back across the road. Content with the hens they already had, the turkeys had no intention of coming to my lone call. I could see the turkeys on the shoulder of the opposite side of the road, but I refused to shoot. While the opportunity was tempting, I decided to avoid unethically shooting the birds across a road and on protected land. Invigorated but dejected, I sloshed my way back to my truck and headed for work.

Tuesday Evening, April 22

Around 7:00 PM, I met Curt and Paul at my morning turkey hunting spot with hopes of roosting some gobblers. By 8:00, we heard gobbles and pinpointed their locations. We made a plan to set up on the birds in the morning.

Wednesday, April 23 3:45 AM

My alarm went off, and I awoke with another headache. My exhausted body defeated my mind, and I went back to sleep. I just couldn't hunt this morning.

Wednesday, April 23 9:30 AM

Curt and Paul called me. Unlike me, they showed up to hunt this morning. Paul informed that the turkeys followed the exact routine we thought they would. He then told me that he harvested a nice tom with a 10.5-inch beard. To make matters worse, there were two toms together when he shot. If we set up together, we each would have harvested one! Congratulations to him, but shame on me! Again, my luck has to change soon! I will post photos of his turkey when I get them.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Record Deer Harvest, New Woodcock, Turkey, and Dove Regulatations

Below are some interesting notes from the Delaware Advisory Council on Wildlife and Freshwater Minutes meeting held on March 27.

Some good points are that it looks like there could be 4 extra days added to the Delaware woodcock hunting season, and 2006-2007 may have been a record deer harvest year. Hurray!

A bad point is the change in the early Delaware dove hunting schedule. We archers like to have the woods undisturbed on those September morning hunts, but it now looks like dove hunters will be able to hunt doves before noon. See below.



Deer Season Update

Joe Rogerson, Game Mammal Biologist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, gave a presentation on deer management. Mr. Rogerson discussed some of the benefits and problems associated with the multiple methods of deer registration (i.e. check stations, toll free phone number, or website). Due to numerous harvest forms that need to be entered, the Division does not have a final harvest total from the 2006/07 hunting season. However, preliminary results indicate that the overall harvest may be the all-time highest. As of March 26, 2007, 10,399 deer harvest records have been entered. The previous record harvest (14,669 deer) occurred during the 2004/05 season. The Division hopes to have all of the harvest data entered and analyzed by the end of April. After this task is completed the Division will present the final harvest results to the public.

Turkey Hunter Ed Classes (Ken Reynolds).

Ken Reynolds discussed the proposal to require first time Delaware turkey hunters to take the turkey hunter education class before they could apply for the public land lottery. Currently, everyone can apply and be selected for a permit. Those that have not had the turkey hunting instruction are issued their permit after completing the class. Unfortunately, many fail to take the class after being selected for a permit. This is unfair to those who have already taken the class and results in a large number of permits that then are up for grabs just before the season starts. Mr. Reynolds further noted that this change would not be implemented until the 2009 spring season. Council members agreed that this was a reasonable proposal.


Greg Moore gave a brief update on waterfowl seasons and federal regulations. Mr. Moore recently attended the Atlantic Flyway Council meeting in Portland, Oregon. Mr. Moore reported that at the meeting he learned that the duck season for Delaware would probably be a 60 day season with a 6 bird daily bag limit for 2007/2008. The Atlantic Flyway Council voted to recommend to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Regulatory Commission a 60 day 6 bird daily bag duck season for the Atlantic Flyway. This season must be adopted by the SRC in August before states can implement it. The Council also discussed the greater snow goose Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This EIS has been under review by the F&W Services' solicitors. They have subsequently requested an update of some of the information within the statement which was originally developed in 2001. A date for the final ruling and implementation of the EIS is still uncertain.

Mr. Moore also indicated that the Flyway Council supported a proposal to the SRC to request compensatory days for the woodcock season. Currently, Sundays are counted as part of the 30 day framework to establish woodcock seasons. If the SCR accepts the Flyway Council's proposal, Sundays would no longer be counted adding four (4) potential hunting days to the woodcock season. Mr. Moore concluded his remarks about waterfowl seasons/regulations by indicating that he had discussed the early teal season shooting hours with the enforcement section and the majority of the agents were opposed to hunting all day.

Mr. Moore concluded his remarks by reading several letters of opposition to changing the shooting hours for the first segment of Delaware's 2007 dove season from a noon opening to a 1/2 hour before sunrise opening. Mr. Moore indicated that he had also received several phone calls against the change in shooting hours. Following Mr. Moore's comments, considerable discussion from both the Council and the audience ensued. A petition was given to Councilman Dave Healy by Mr. McGaffin requesting that the council reverse their decision to change the shooting hours for the first segment of the dove season. A motion was made by Councilman Berry to place the topic on the April agenda, seconded by Mr. Burris. However, the motion was defeated and the base dove season will stand as established at the February meeting with all three segments running from 1/2 hour before sunrise to sunset. Letters concerning this issue are available for public review at the Wildlife Section Office in Dover.