In just a few days I will reach my 50th birthday. I guess that qualifies me as one of the old men in camp.
Seems like yesterday, I was the young kid in camp quietly fixated on the stories and wisdom of the older gentlemen of camp.
Over the last 40 years, I have spent just about every minute I could find escaping to the woods and water looking for adventure with bow, gun, or fishing rod in hand. I don't consider myself an expert at these sports. I don't shoot the biggest bucks every season, nor do I catch the biggest fish, but I have had tons of fun and adventures over the years. While I may not be an expert with my own TV show, I have learned a few things over the years, sometimes the hard way.
For the last 20 years, I have enjoyed sharing my experiences writing for different magazines and for the Carroll County Times. Through the writing, I have learned that the pursuit of outdoor sports is about the adventures and enjoying the experience. Watching the sunset over a western mountain or sunrise over Maryland's eastern shore marsh are the experiences we remember the most, not the expensive camo we were wearing or the type of arrow in our quiver.
Now that I have reached the point of being the old man in camp, here are a few things I have learned over the years and feel compelled to pass on to the younger hunters.
Countless books, magazine articles, and TV shows go into exhausting details of how to deer hunt. Deer are simple animals we love to complicate. They eat, sleep and reproduce. Find the food. Keep your scent down wind. Sit down and wait. The deer will come.
Take that dream Elk hunt when you are young. Do without a few things and stay in on a few Friday nights saving up the money for the trip. Your old man legs and lungs will thank you later. The hunt will be much more enjoyable, less painful, and those extra miles you are able to cover can mean the difference between coming home with an Elk or coming home complaining.
The key to successful waterfowl hunting is being on the "X."
Scout the locations of where the ducks and geese are going to feed or roost and hunt those locations. No amount of top of the line decoys or custom calls will produce birds where they are not. If I was given the option to hunt over six cheap plastic decoys on the location I had witnessed ducks feeding the day before or a location 500 yards away with high end cork decoys and a custom tuned cocobolo wood duck call, I would choose to hunt on the "X" with the plastic decoys.
Even with that said, I do own and enjoy a small spread of hand carved decoys.
A properly fitting shotgun will make you a better shot, not a more expensive shotgun. I take a lot of harassment over my old Browning 12 gauge pump with it's spray paint camo job and years of wear. When I first purchased the gun, I had the gun fitted to me by cutting the stock to the correct size. While the old Browning has had the springs replaced a few times and has been re-blued twice, it has been the best waterfowling friend I could have asked for over the last 20 years.
Go on a hunting trip instead of buying another rifle. Guns are to the hunter what a hammer is to a carpenter. Purchase a quality rifle that will perform the job correctly and go use it. A carpenter can only use one hammer at a time, just as a hunter can only use one rifle at a time. A .270 or 30 caliber rifle will kill all North American big game. Invest in one good rifle with quality optics and go hunt. In my case, I have a Remington BDL .270 with a Leopold scope and use it on all my hunts. Grizzlies are the only animal I would not use it on.
Somewhere a long time ago, I read that a hunter should purchase the best binoculars he can afford. My experience reflects that statement. For the big game hunter, especially on western hunts, binoculars are the most used tool. Quality binoculars will improve your ability to see and find game with better clarity and better low light visibility.
In my teenage years, if I was not sleeping or working I was in the woods. Then as adult responsibilities crept into my life, the time became limited. Make time to go hunting when the conditions are perfect. Instead of bow hunting three or four days a week from September through January, focus on the prime deer hunting times such as the time in November around the rut and during feeding times prior to major storms. In the same tone, I focus my waterfowl hunting around the weather and storms.
Hunters are bombarded with advertising for the latest and greatest gear. TV shows center around the gear. They send the message that if we do not have every imaginable gadget and the latest equipment, we will not be successful hunters. Quality counts concerning the major equipment you purchase, I agree, but most of the gadgets we could do without.