What Makes A Hunter Great?

By Amy Rutzen
As someone who is a perfectionist and more than a little passionate about the outdoors, hunting and conservation, I find myself asking over and over, “What makes a hunter great?

After struggling with this question for quite some time, I feel I am starting to better understand what goes into the answer. It’s a variety of different elements that can be separated into two main categories, the hunt and the kill. Each skill can and does exist on its own; however, to be great, you must be accomplished at both. To better understand my point let’s further dissect each category.

What does it mean to be a hunter? A hunter is defined as…
…someone who determinedly searches for someone or something.

It is the searching that makes one a hunter. Therefore, by definition, a successful hunt is one in which the hunter finds what he/she is searching for. What are the skills needed for this? How does a hunter increase his/her chances at a successful hunt? The skills and determination that go into the quest of finding animals are truly a convergence of science and art.

Science, as it applies to hunting, is the gathering of information and testing that data’s validity in the field, whereby proving its value. Information that proves valuable is squirreled away in that hunter’s Tool Box of Tricks. Smart, ever-improving hunters go through this process numerous times each season, adding more and more vested information to their box. Through this, he or she continues to grow, develop and adapt as the years go on.

Lesser hunters lack the skills and/or determination needed to determine which information is valuable, how to test it and/or are not able to properly apply the information as needed. Their Tool Box of Tricks looks like that tackle box we’ve all seen (or maybe you yourself have) that is disturbingly unorganized to the point that the owner can’t ever seem to find what he needs when he needs it. The box is filled with used line, broken bobbers, random snack wrappers and sharp things that undoubtedly carry tetanus. Very little of the cluttered content is useful.

Art, in the world of hunting, is knowing how, when and why to apply the tools accumulated through science. This element is roughly half instinct and half experience. Much like a fine wine, this factor truly develops over time. It is also the factor responsible for the greatest separation between someone who is good and someone who is great. Watching a hunter who has decades of science in his/her Box move through the woods or educate on matters pertaining to hunting is truly fascinating. The depth of their knowledge is something to be envied. They have developed and perfected their tools. Unlike that tackle box that makes you itch, the seasoned hunter’s box is one full of useful tools laid out in organizational bliss. Each time this magical case is opened, you know a problem will be solved because of the artful way a tool chosen.

Alright! We have defined hunting as a search for something specific and touched on the science and art needed to better your skills as a hunter. However, something is still missing from the equations of the happily ever after hunting stories that fills social media with selfies, the garage freezers with meat and campfire stories with the cathartic ending we all crave. This missing element is the kill.

The definition of kill is to…
…cause the death of (a person, animal, or other living thing).

The kill is an interesting element of hunting. It is fully executed in a matter of seconds by simply aiming and firing a weapon. These two components are absolutely necessary to possess in ones Box of Tricks. Each ought to be practiced and developed as they are crucial to the kill. However, they should be viewed as two proficiencies among a menagerie of equally important skills to be further developed every year.

Regrettably, the kill is valued the most by many “hunters”. For these individuals, a season’s success is measured solely by whether or not a tag is filled. This mindset has led to an unhealthy emphasis on the kill sending the message to inexperienced and non-hunters that a dead animal is why we, as hunters and conservationist, do what we do. Rightfully so, this is one of the main contributing factors in the general populations’ distrust of and disrespect for hunters.

Let us not allow this to be! Let us act responsibly. Let us get better each year. When we seek out the services of an outfitter/guide, let us not do so in hopes of make up for what we were too lazy to develop on our own, but rather for the additional expertise they offer on the unfamiliar or private hunting land they represent. As hunters who respect our art and the animals we harvest, let us take it upon ourselves to diligently add to our Box of Tricks with useful tools. Let us become great hunters!

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Ready…Set…DRAW!

Ready…Set…DRAW!

Confession, this is by far my least favorite time of year! If you’re a big game hunter, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Unless you are able to afford an international hunt, it’s been a number of months since you were able to get out into the high country glassing for tan hide and it will be a number more before you can really ramp up this year’s training and hunt prep…this is no man’s land!

Enter, the draw! It’s not boots-on-the-ground hunting, but it will scratch the itch and help ensure you have longer, more well-rounded hunting seasons in the future.  Some planning won’t pay off for over a decade. However, when it pays off, it pays BIG!

Every state has its own laws regarding the acquiring of big game tags. These laws are tweaked annually, although the general structure/rules remain constant. Some are lotto (just pure luck of the draw). Some states are based on preference points. Some big game tags during certain seasons are OTC (over the counter) and don’t require any participation in the draw whatsoever.  Some states allow for the harvesting of multiple animals of a certain species, while others are one-bag limit or even lifetime tag. In order take full advantage of your state’s draw, educate yourself on the draw system. A great place to start is your state’s parks and wildlife website as well as talking to seasoned hunters within your state.

Colorado’s system is based on preference points. Each year in the spring, hunters can “purchase” points and/or put in for tags on certain animals in specific GMUs (game management unit). Each game animal and each season represents a separate point. The more desirable the hunt, the more points it will take before you are going to have any chance at acquiring the tag. For example, a first season rifle tag for elk in GMU 11 might only take one point. But a moose tag in GMU 6 might be a 12-point tag (meaning you will need to accumulate 12 years’ worth of moose preference points in order to have a chance at acquiring one of the very limited number of moose tags available in Colorado each year).

Every hunter should build a strategy to ensure they are maximizing their opportunities within the draw system. It’s quite frustrating to get three or four years into participating in the draw and realize you haven’t been putting in for points on a certain animal that you KNOW you are going to want to hunt in the future. Now you are four year behind where you would have been if you had been putting in for those points. It will cost you money for each point; however, the money (minus a small fee) that is spent on unsuccessful draws or simply preference points will be returned to you a few months following the end of the draw. So you can think of it as a kind of savings account!

For new hunters working within a point system, I would very much recommend simply purchasing preference points for elk, deer, sheep and moose.  You may also want to pick up points for bear and pronghorn. Then pick up a leftover tag or two (available in mid-July) for your hunt that year. That way you are going on hunts WHILE you are accumulating points for more desirable tags. By the time you are able to obtain more desirable hunts, you will have put in the practice and have a much better chance at notching that high-point tag.

The moral of the draw is just to participate, especially if your state is a point system! Each year represents future hunting opportunities. Don’t let those points go uncollected!

The Victory in Defeat

Okay, girls. Moment of truth: this week’s article is not the article I had thought I would be writing right after bow season. I planned to be able to tell stories of the high country possibly including random snow storms, huge bulls, 15-mile days, sore muscles and blistered feet, missed shots, kill shots, blood trails and packing out the meat in the dark. But…

blog-1…I can’t do that. My season didn’t include any of those things. Due to some unique circumstances that didn’t allow for me to hunt with seasoned outdoorsmen, this year I hunted with my dad, my 10-year old son and even, one morning, my mom. None of them had been bow hunting in the backcountry before. As much as the backdrop to our excursion was not the “backcountry” most hardcore hunters would think of, it was the farthest back my hunting buddies have ever gone, so it was (our) backcountry!

When you have a giant diesel pickup, an elk tag, a girl with a weapon, lots of snacks and three first-time wilderness-goers all thrown into a game unit with hundreds of square miles and endless possibilities, memories will be made. There were early mornings and late nights, trails taken, naps taken, pictures and videos taken, time lost, animals found, snack breaks, lunch breaks, conversations had, more naps had, teachable moments and priceless moments. No tags filled, but it was perfect!

When you train your mind and body for bow season, you are training towards certain ideals. I wonder if we would push as hard, finding satisfaction in the pain, if we’d plan, prepare and obsess over our season to the level that we do if we knew our hunt was going to result in empty game bags. Would we do it all anyways, year after year?

I know I would. I haven’t knocked anything down with my bow in the last 3 years I’ve gone out. Does that make me a lousy hunter? Maybe. I guess the answer depends on your perspective.

Our culture has been saturated with social media. So many things about it are positive, but I think some elements have had a negative effect on hopeful, young hunters. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., are flooded with pictures and stories of monster elk, moose, mountain lions, deer, speed goats, mountain goats, wolves and whatever exotic animals are being bagged in Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Russia or South America.

blog-2With remarkable pictures of behemoth mammals and the unbelievable tales to go along with them it is easy to feel like a failure when the result of a hunt is anything less than legendary. I wonder that we, as hunters, are forgetting why we do what we do.  Why should the measure of achievement be determined by someone else’s idea of a successful hunt? Our competition isn’t with others. Our competition is with ourselves. If we create new memories, learn new lessons, are better this year than we were last year, then our seasons will always be a success.

So much life is sorted out on the side of a mountain. Up there things are clearer. The lessons learned go far beyond hunting animals. There is a safety in the high country. A security that allows us to find a place of vulnerability where we can be honest with ourselves and others in a way that touches the core of who we are as people, as athletes, as hunters. The moments spent examining and challenging ourselves at that level are few and precious. Those are the times when we claim our victory, even in defeat.

Next Generation Conservation

WHY I DO WHAT I DO

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Hunters are some of the greatest conservationist on the planet. They are dedicated, passionate and educated about the animals they hunt, their gear and the outdoors.

But what about the next generation of hunters? Hunting is a way of life. If that it is going to be preserved, this generation of hunters has to bring up the next generation to love and respect this way of life. This is any outdoorsman’s true legacy.

This article is going to combine two of my greatest passions, hunting and my kids.

Being a stay-at-home mother of three munchkins means whatever I do my kids do with me.  Hunting included.  As with most things with kids, this can make for some unusual challenges and incredible opportunities.  

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Just like introducing a new math concept to a room full of first graders, when it comes to kids and hunting, we must teach them how. Communicate with them. When you are doing something related to gear, the outdoors, shooting, etc., don’t tell your toddler “not to touch” or push your inquisitive 5-year-old away. Teach them about what you are doing and why.

Teach them what it means to kill their own meat, what wildlife conservation is, why it’s so important and how hunters fit into this very delicate system. Involve them in the process. Keep communication age-appropriate but start them off as young as possible. Make up games. Quiz them on animal species, parts of a bow and how to care for your gear. I reward my kids for spotting big game animals when we are driving. Certain animals are worth a sticker (mule deer) while other are worth a new Lego set (mountain lions).

Next, lead your kids. Show them by example. When I go shooting, I bring one of the kids with me (yes, it’s easier to get a tight grouping at 50 yards with 1 “helper” instead of all three). If I am going on a run, my kids are strapping on their helmets and biking along with me. They come scouting. On occasion, my son comes on hunts. The older they get, the more they will do with me.

When an outdoorsman separates hunting and kids, he/she is robbing both parties of a vital component for a strong, healthy future. I’m not saying EVERYTHING has to involve your kids (there is a lot to be said for hunting and alone time), but I’m sure with a little creativity and a LOT of patience, you’ll find that hunting and the next generation fit perfectly together!

Finally, inspire. Teaching is done with your words. Leading is done by your actions. Inspiring is done with your soul. I can think of few things more powerful in shaping a child’s future than the inspiration of a significant person’s passion.

Dropping an animal is an experience that taps into the core of your being. It shapes us. It pulls us to the mountains. It drives us to train, focus, to push harder and go farther than we did last season. If you know why you do what you do, as any true hunter does, your children will see that passion. They will be inspired by your soul.  They will see your connection to the high country and the animals that live there.  And they will want to be a part of it too.

Teach. Lead. Inspire…a kid to hunt!Blog 3

 

 

 

Preparing for a Successful Scouting Trip

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I’m pretty darn jazzed about this, so let’s just dive right in! Scouting is super fun. An elk scouting trip means that you get to go on a hunt in the near future, you are going to be in the mountains (no better place on earth) AND you are upping your chances of a successful hunt. It’s a win, win, WIN.

However, before we can tie our boots and go jump in the truck, there are a few things we need to check off our listen order to ensure a successful scouting trip. What are the things you will need to do? What are the things you will need to have Glad you asked…

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Blog writer Amy Rutzen

For the sake this particular blog, let’s assume that we are scouting a new area (mostly because I love expanding my fluency in the mountains by finding new areas to hunt…and I’m the one writing this so I get to make the rules). First, know which GMU (game management unit) and season you’re hunting

If you have been lucky enough to have drawn a tag, the GMU will have already been determined for you. If you are hunting over-the-counter bow, your GMU options will be much greater. Don’t get overwhelmed. Think of this as a library of options to be explored over a lifetime.

Picking a unit can be done through online research, looking at the harvest stats of your season from previous years, reading forums, blogs and articles about the areas you are considering and talking to people. One thing I like to do is call Parks and Wildlife to chat about the units I’m considering hunting or to see what areas they think would produce some quality animals. Some of the “older” guys that work at your local Parks and Wildlife offices have spent 40+ years hunting the same mountains they now professionally represent.

Strive for at least 12-16 hours of boots-on-the-ground weaponless hunting. If you are fortunate enough to have a schedule that allows for an over-night stay, or longer, take advantage of that. The more familiar you are with the area you plan to hunt, the greater your chances are at having a successful season.

Once you know the GMU you’ll be hunting, start dissecting the unit’s landscape on a map such as Google Earth. Know the highways, dirt roads, trails and GPS coordinates that get you to where you want to sit n’ survey. I like to pick my first, second, third choice for places to glass.

These spots should be fairly close together, as you will not have the time or physical stamina to be hiking from one end of the unit to the other. However, they need to be far enough apart that each locations gives you a different scope than the others. Pick glassing points that are high and clear allowing you 360 degrees of vision.

Know the easiest route from one point to the next. Look for saddles or passes between the mountain slopes. Always remember, elk avoid a lot of direct sunlight. They like to be cool and elk are lazy. They will choose the path of least resistance unless pressured to do otherwise. They eat, bed down, drink, eat then bed down again usually beginning the entire process before sunrise.

Look for watering sources, meadows, aspen groves, oak brush, game trails, and cleared logging areas or burns (elk love feeding on the new grass that grows after a fire has gone through). Keep in mind that planning done using a map from the comfort of your kitchen table is for the sake of responsible preparation and will “play out” differently in the high country. Be flexible and willing to come up with new/better routes and glassing points while you scout. Adapt.Blog 2

Alright, you are now an expert on what to do in preparation for a scouting trip. Let’s talk about what to bring. First, consider how long your scouting trip will be. You’ll need reliable footwear, your GPS, optics and the food and water you are going to need for your allotted time in the timber. This is a whole other topic we will get into later.

Scouting trips are an excellent opportunity to try out new gear but sure that you have a backup for whatever you are “trying” out. Nothing like getting blisters from your new hunting boots two hours into a 48-hour trip and not having a plan B (no, Duct Tape does not count).

At the end of the day, keep it simple. Do your research and have fun with it. I dare you not to get excited about heading up to the mountains to test your “this is where the elk will be”theories

 

Conditioning for High Country Hunts

Physical Conditioning for High Country Hunts

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              Alright, ladies (and gentlemen tuning in to see what girls talk about when guys aren’t around), today I’m going to be touching the tip of an iceberg hugely significant to the world of hunting, specifically high country, big game hunting. The iceberg’s name is FITNESS. It’s not a four-letter word or the name of the monster hiding under your bed. It’s not an obnoxious acquaintance that won’t leave you alone or a one-night stand. It’s a life-long relationship. If you’ve never been in a relationship, start one today (I am still talking about fitness…your dating life is not something we’ll be discussing). If you’ve tried it out here and there but experienced a setback that became an excuse eventually turning into a full-on break up, get back together! Work(it)out! Here’s the deal, the depth and commitment level of your relationship with your body’s physical development has a direct effect on the quality of your hunts. Building a quality relationship can be overwhelming, so I’ll do my best to break it down and help get you prepped for whatever fall might bring (please bring lots of elk, PLEASE bring lots of elk!).

              Let’s start this relationship off the way any long-term, healthy relationship should begin, with honest communication. Be honest with yourself about the current condition of your body. If you’ve got a few pounds to lose, tell yourself you need to get leaner. If you can run like Forest but you’re only pulling 35# on your bow, tell yourself to get stronger. If you’re thinking, HOLY COW, IT’S JULY AND MY SEASON STARTS THE LAST PART OF AUGUST, don’t panic. It’s not ideal. But starting something good and sticking with it for the next few months will put you miles ahead of where you are now. Do something today that your future-self will thank you for!

               Training for a high country hunt is a hybrid class of fitness, requiring both strength and endurance. If you’re fortunate enough to drop an animal, once the adrenaline dies down, you will experience a moment wherein and you look at the massive creature you just killed and suddenly realize you now have a sportsman’s responsibility to get 200-300 pounds of dead weight back to your truck that’s parked over 5 miles from where you are currently standing. How do you prepare so that in that moment, though tired, you have complete confidence in your body’s ability to perform? You’re going to be pressing, climbing, pulling, jumping, curling, lunging, bridging and anything else you can do to challenge yourself physically. Enter muscle development, i.e. strength training. You use every muscle you’ve got hiking, drawing and holding, cleaning, quartering and packing out. Every muscle needs to be trained. However, in the late spring and summer, focus on building shoulders, back, core, glutes and upper legs. This is done primarily in the gym…over in the weights…yes, I said “weights”. Get comfortable in the Iron Jungle. Start frequenting sites like bodybuilding.com. Look up Jamie Eason and Heidi Powell. Find sources that focus primarily on conditioning for hunters like bowmarfitness.com, traintohunt.com and bowhunter.com. All of us are completely different and we will find results in different ways. Educate yourself about your body! Experiment. Find what works for you. You’re not going to “bulk like the Hulk”. You’ll develop theses crazy things called muscles. And you’ll love the way they look on you!

              Second component to physical prep for a great high country hunt is endurance training. Please don’t think of this as “cardio”. That word tends to conjure up very negative feelings in most people. I want you to think of it as the vehicle that is going to take you places you would have not have been able to go before. It’s the power you are going to use to grab ahold of opportunities that you never thought possible. Reaching the top of a peak to glass for elk is no easy feat, but there is no other experience like it. Endurance is your ticket to shows very few will ever see. If you’re just beginning, take it slow enough to avoid injuries but be sure to challenge yourself. Walk/hike as far as you can at a challenging pace for an hour. Every week, go faster. Then move into a jog/run. I’m not a fan, but few cardiovascular activities parallel the results of running. Along with low intensity steady-state (LISS) training, implement days of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and/or circuit training into your week. The results of these forms of conditioning are priceless in the world of hunting. There are endless combinations of HIIT movements, circuit groups and timing methods. Youtube.com has some great training channels. Look up dailyburn.com and cameronhanes.com (this guy is a beast). Again, find what works for you. Learn to push yourself beyond where you were the last week. The prize is mountain adventures like nothing you’ve ever dreamed (and maybe even a filled tag!).

              Remember, big game animals are some of the most elite athletes on the planet. Don’t insult them by bringing anything less than your best to the mountains this fall.

Amy, out.

The Migration Patterns and Population Explosion of the Snow Goose

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By: Staff

The Snow Goose is a wildlife success story. Amid almost universal concern about the conservation of dwindling wildlife populations, the opposite is the case with the Snow Goose: the massive rise in numbers in the past couple of decades has resulted in various states implementing special ‘conservation orders’ designed to control the population by setting goals for the numbers of birds to be harvested. In the early 20th century the Snow Goose population was very low and hunting was severely restricted. Concerns were raised about the threat to migratory bird populations because of several aspects including the popular women’s fashion of wearing feathered hats, were the main causes of their drastic decline. The solution was the Migratory Bird Treaty Act 1918 in which the US, Canada, the Soviet Union, Japan and Mexico laid the ground rules for the complete protection of migratory birds. The Snow Goose is still a protected species under the act, hence the need for further legislation. In various states a special permit for hunting Snow Geese may or may not be necessary, and the hunter may be required by the regulatory authority to supply information on the number of birds killed.

Population and Habitat

A massive increase in agricultural production during the 20th century resulted in plentiful winter food for the geese, mainly in the form of waste grain lying on the fields after harvest, and this has helped to produce the current high population. Another factor was the strict hunting regulations in force during the 1970s and ’80s. A higher rate of adult survival and increased reproduction allowed this recovering population to flourish and become overabundant. A trend of warmer summers and better food supply in their summer breeding grounds in the high arctic regions of the northern Canadian islands west of Greenland, as well as northeastern Russia and Wrangel Island in the Siberian Sea, has possibly also contributed to population growth. An early thaw followed by a warmer summer also means a longer breeding season, while in years when the thaw is late, when the birds cannot build their nests until the ground is free of snow and they need to allow time for the young to mature, large numbers of a population may forgo breeding. The current trend of favorable climate and abundance of food has been good for the Snow Goose, although their success has had a harmful affect on the populations of other bird species because of the pressure put on the fragile Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystems.

The Snow Goose’s favored breeding habitats are the shallow arctic lakes and marshy meadows that are safe from spring floods. Huge flocks of migrating geese settling to feed on similar areas of coastal marshland further south can severely damage these habitats, as well as deplete agricultural crops such as winter wheat, barley, rye and hay. The Snow Goose is mainly herbivorous and will feed on the leaves, fruit and roots of many different plants including agricultural grain. Its original wintering areas were in the Atlantic states from South Carolina up to New Jersey, in the Midwestern states around the Mississippi south of the Great Lakes down to the Gulf of Mexico, in northern California and the area around the border between Arizona and California. One of the largest original breeding colonies was on Bylot Island, north of Baffin Island, where there was a population of up to 70,000 birds that had been counted; of the two subspecies, the Greater Snow Goose nests in this area north of Hudson Bay, while the Lesser Snow Goose nests in central Canada and around the Bering straits.

The greatest damage to habitats, staging areas and wintering areas are caused by the Lesser Snow Goose because they are more thorough in digging up entire plants. On their migration they use the central flyway, which takes them across some of the most fertile agricultural land in the country and has allowed them to diversify their diet to include practically any crop they encounter. They travel farther than other populations of geese to winter mainly in the southern states, where the increasingly widespread rice crop provides an ideal habitat of flooded fields and newly planted rice grains. Wintering in such balmy surroundings gives them a distinct advantage over others that struggle to survive: by the spring the birds have suffered fewer fatalities, and they are healthy and have fattened up in preparation for the return flight north.

Hunting the flocks
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Although the Snow Goose population is booming, it can provide the most challenging of all forms of waterfowl hunting, requiring a good knowledge of the bird’s habits and the use of specialized strategies. Few outdoor experiences can match the thrill of being in the center of a swirling flock of several thousand birds attracted by your decoy spread. The geese begin their migration from mid August onwards, usually reaching the prairies around September, the Central Valley of California around December or January, and the Eastern states south of the St Lawrence River from October onwards. These dates are variable of course, depending on the weather. A cool autumn with forecasts of early snows will mean the early arrival of the geese, so it pays to keep informed. Hunting seasons also vary between states depending on which flyway the geese have used and how far they have come, which will determine when they arrive from either their nesting grounds or wintering areas.

Snow Goose migration have three different migrating stages. The first wave is made by the older adults, which can be anything up to 30 years of age and with many similar journeys behind them. They will have experience of hunters and their decoys so will be difficult to fool. The Snow Goose is not easy to decoy at the best of times: a good rough guide is to use 500-1,500 decoys per spread. If the weather is stormy, cut these by half. You must have a clear plan that includes hiding areas, holes, family groups, landing areas etc. Groups of decoys separated by open areas will look more natural and seem larger. You might see a flock of thousands in one field and think this is easy pickings, but that is not the case. In the second wave there are fewer birds in total but more of them are younger juvenile geese and competition between the birds is not so intense. Use a good sized spread of decoys to achieve a good result, but this second wave of birds responds well to extras such as rotary decoys or fliers. Finally, the third wave consists of mostly all young birds in small flocks of about 5,000 rather than 20,000 or more in the earlier waves, making them hard to scout, although putting up good numbers of decoys will pretty well guarantee you success.
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