Hunting is a year-round passion, but it’s the late summer and early fall seasons when hunters develop one-track mindsets. It’s the start of an annual ritual and a natural pull to nature that can’t be fully explained but is understood by anyone who loves the outdoors.

As hunters prepare their tools and head to the range for their final practice sessions, we wanted to capture what it feels like to anticipate the return of the fall season. We interviewed Tim Wagner, an avid hunter, outdoorsman, Professional Outdoor Media Association speaker and Outdoor Life Grand Slam Adventure winner, for his views on hunting and why he returns to the hunt each year.

1. Who first introduced you to hunting?
Tim Wagner 1

This is going to be the most original answer ever! My dad. I think he gave me a Daisy Red Ryder when I was 4 or 5 years old. We were farmers, so I had plenty of room to explore with it. I graduated to a Crosman 760 pretty soon after that, and there was a five-cent bounty for me on the head of every sparrow and black bird raiding our wheat crop.

2. What was the first game animal you hunted?

My first game animal was a mourning dove — then bobwhite quail, then pheasant — all taken with a 16-gauge single shot made in 1916 that came up to me through my grandfather. We lived in the Texas Panhandle then, and there was no such thing as big game near us — nothing bigger than a coyote. When we moved to Arkansas, I hunted squirrels and rabbits with my Marlin Golden 39M.

3. When did you finally move on to bigger game?

Dad took us deer hunting once in the Ozark National Forest, but we saw hundreds of hunters and only one deer. It wasn’t until college that I shot my first deer, a button buck, and I was out all by myself. That felt good, to accomplish a huge goal through applying everything I’d learned via decades of reading Outdoor Life and listening to my dad. Later, my dad was with me in my stand when I shot my biggest buck ever. I’m not sure that’s a story coming full circle, but something like that.

4. What keeps you coming back to the field each year?

About a dozen different things, really. I’ve loved animals since I was tiny. I can never get enough of watching wild animals go about their lives. Non-hunters rarely believe how much a true hunter loves the animals that he kills. It’s a dichotomy — we know that.

5. Do you ever feel a conflict between your love for animals and your love for hunting?

There’s certainly a conflict inside us about loving, possessing, killing, thankfulness, and yes, even remorse over hunting. That’s also what makes us the best conservationists — we don’t just want to watch animals on a TV program. We want to interact with them, eat them, and enjoy all aspects of them.

6. Other than the interaction you get with game, what else do you enjoy about hunting?

I very much enjoy the strategy and pursuit of game animals. I also love the solitude, the quiet, the reverie of hunting. I like the trophies on my wall for the memories they bring and the pure beauty that has been captured.

And, I and my family enjoy eating wild game. I clean and butcher all of my own game and we make from scratch our own smoked, German venison sausage every year. The self-sufficiency aspect of hunting is also important to me. You just can’t extricate hunting from me — it’s an integral part of me.

7. What is your most memorable hunt?

Tim Wagner

I can’t remember what I watched on TV last night, but I can remember just about every hunt of my 40-year life. In the December 2009 issue, Outdoor Life ran a feature article about the hunt and you can still see the photos and videos online. I see my mounts from that hunt in my home and relive that experience every single day of my life. My son was also born that year, so he’s grown up under the watchful eyes of a gemsbok, impala, and steenbok. That makes me happy.

So, memorable might not be the right word to differentiate it, but there is one hunt that will stand out for obvious reasons. In 2009, I wrote an essay and entered it into Outdoor Life’s annual “Grand Slam Adventure” contest. Out of a couple thousand entries, they chose my essay as the winner. So, I got to take a safari to South Africa and hunt plains game! An editor and photographer went with me, and a videographer joined us for a few days.

8. Even if you don’t use your tags, what are your key takeaways from each hunt?

Well, come on — I always fill my tags! But, yeah, that’s just one of the end goals. I’m more peaceful and fulfilled after each hunt. I’ve found my solace in the outdoors. The world slows down a little for me after hunting. Although I rarely hunt deer with someone else beside me, I’m almost always with a group of family and friends before and after each hunt. So, I always get that camaraderie and fellowship, too. Plus, almost every time I’m out in the woods, I have a new experience. I see animals do something I’ve never seen before, or I learn something that will be useful when I hunt again.

9. What is your ritual before hunting season?

All those things I mentioned above. I usually start growing a beard a month or so before hunting season. This year I started three months early! I check all of my gear and replace anything that is worn out or damaged. I sharpen my knives, sight-in my rifle, and get my camouflage ready. Then I wait another month for hunting season to roll around.

Seriously, hunting is a process that starts in August and usually ends in January for me. We’ll have dove season in Texas over Labor Day weekend, and I’ll get to hunt while preparing our property for deer season. My season usually wraps up after New Year’s weekend, when the family gathers to make sausage. So, it’s really that whole season — almost half a year — that I anticipate. Man, do I anticipate it! I’ll start literally losing sleep over it pretty soon, because I can’t stop imagining the coming hunts when I lay my head on my pillow.

I can’t say that I “live to hunt,” because I live for some loves and beliefs that are much grander than hunting. But on my priority scale, right below those eternal priorities, hunting is right there.

You can connect with Tim Wagner on Twitter at @prranch and make sure to follow @Hunter_ed for more updates and interviews!

One of the true delights of spring is a brined and seasoned wild turkey breast slow smoking on your barbecue pit — maybe right next to a wild hog ham. Everybody has their own recipes and processes for cooking wild turkey, but everybody also knows the real trick is to acquire the turkey in the first place!

That’s probably why so much has been written about hunting turkeys in the spring. We didn’t really think we could improve on what has been written in general — you know, up against the National Wild Turkey Federation — but we did want to share some of the more unique tips for when turkeys don’t behave like normal. And, being “normal” is something wild turkeys are known for avoiding. As an education and safety organization, we also want to share the most important ways to stay safe in the spring woods.

 

Make your decoy move

Many hunters carry turkey decoys in the field now. The use of hen decoys, strutting gobbler decoys, and jake decoys to draw in gobblers has been perfected over decades. But, the one thing necessary for any decoy to work is that it must be seen.

Duck hunters know that motion attracts ducks to decoys from much farther away, so before there were even spinning-wing dekes, hunters would put a jerk string on their decoys or throw rocks to cause waves that made the dekes move. Turkeys have amazing eye site, but even they could miss a motionless decoy in tall grass — or up against a wooded background where turkey feathers are camouflage. Therefore, some manufacturers are making decoys that move a little. A simple jerk string can work with turkey decoys as well. Don’t make it move too much, though, and make sure your own movements are tiny and undetectable.

Watch ‘How to Hunt with Ground Blinds’

 

Hunt turkeys like you hunt deer

Turkeys are big, messy birds. They poop. They shed feathers. And turkeys have habits. They will roost in the same trees from season to season if undisturbed. They follow trails to food and water. If you’ve tried calling and just can’t get the hang of it, you can be successful during a spring turkey hunt by patterning birds and setting up to ambush them.

If you watched turkeys do something during deer season, do a little scouting to see if the pattern is holding this spring before the season opens. With the raging hormones of breeding season, though, it might not be easy. With careful scouting, you may be able to determine new patterns for hens, and toms will follow the hens. If they visit a watering hole at about the same time each day, find a good tree or bush you can back into. Because turkeys have no real sense of smell, you don’t have to worry about the prevailing breeze. Or, find a turkey roost and sit out a couple of evenings and mornings to see how they approach and leave the trees. You can be in the right spot early or late on opening day. Follow the feathers and droppings along turkey trails — be careful not to bump birds — and see if you can find a dust bath or feeding area. Turkey patterns may not be as predictable as some deer, but if you know food, rest, and water sources — and you spend enough time in the woods — you can have a reasonable chance of success without being a champion caller.

 

Add a dose of reality to morning calls

Have you ever heard a turkey come down off a roost? Let’s just say it will wake you up pretty quick when you’ve dozed off in a deer blind! Big turkeys have big wings that are noisy when they beat against their sides and knock against branches and vines as they come down from a tree. If you’ve tried fly-down calls without coaxing a bird in, the next morning take off your cap or hat and slap it against your thigh and nearby branches while you call. Follow that up with some cuts and purrs, like hens trying to find each other in the morning, and you should be in business.

Give those three tactics a try this spring and see if you want to keep them in your repertoire for coming years. There are plenty of other strange decoy tactics and different, but less weird, tactical variations that might help out.

 

Turkey hunting safety tips

Turkey hunting would seem pretty safe at first glance because shotguns are short-range firearms, but to the contrary, accidents happen all too frequently. We’ve compiled two safety lists — one for every hunting situation and one specifically for public land.

Turkey hunting safety everywhere

  • Be careful hunting with decoys — if they look real to turkeys, they’ll look real to humans and other predators.
  • Make sure you can see clearly for 50-70 yards to see where you will shoot.
  • You need to see past where you will shoot, and you need to see behind you, where a predator or another hunter might think you’re a turkey.
  • Cover your back with a tree or barrier  to break up your outline so a turkey is less likely to see you. And, if a predator or hunter mistakes your call for a turkey and is moving in you’ll have a better vantage point.
  • Don’t chamber a shell until you’re set up and ready to call or wait.
  • Keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction in front of you with your finger off the trigger.
  • If you have a partner calling for you, keep him or her behind you (it’s safer and better to keep the birds from focusing on you).
  • Never spot and stalk a gobbler— it might be another hunter calling.
  • Never shoot at sound or movement — wait until you can identify the particular bird you want to shoot.
  • Never drink alcohol while hunting.

Turkey hunting on public land

  • Make human noises, and/or use a flashlight while moving.
  • Assume that there are other hunters in the area.
  • Call out to any hunter you see so that they know you’re there — it’s better to mess up their hunting than to have an accident.
  • Realize that other hunters may come to your gobble, but are less likely to come to hen sounds like clucks, cuts, and purrs.
  • Carry out any turkey you harvest in a turkey bag.
  • Avoid sudden movements that might cause another hunter to aim or even fire in your direction.

Want to share your tips? Leave us a comment. We’d like to hear what turkey hunting techniques have been helpful to you.

“The couple who hunts together, stays together.”

Sound familiar? Those words are posted on images and shared in statuses over and over again. However, when you’re out hunting, it’s not always with the person you’re married to — or with any person at all. You’re out there because you love it. But, when you’re not alone, you’re usually with someone you like and want to share a unique experience with.

Ask anyone who hunts or spends time outdoors why they do it, and you shouldn’t be surprised to hear “love” at any given point. With Valentine’s Day near, for the season of “love” it’s fitting to dedicate a post to people who have made hunting and being outdoors a part of who they are.

www.hunter-ed.com

It might be hard to find statistics that confirm couples who hunt together have better odds at staying together, but the stories of couples that do make great headlines. The Grooms, an Ohio couple, are a great example of how hunting brings people together. With bows in hand, the pair tackles the Ohio outdoors — taking turns at hunting the biggest bucks. Kevin introduced Lindsay to hunting while they were still dating, and as the relationship developed so did their commitment to spending more time outdoors.

In 2012, Lindsay tagged her largest buck, a 150-class 13-pointer to accompany her husband’s 170-class buck nicknamed Corncob. The two are never in competition but hunt as a team to fill their freezers each season. As Lindsay sees it, “I’m not trying to get a deer bigger than Corncob in our house. Kevin can have the bigger deer, and I can cook better than him.”

Just as Kevin introduced his wife to hunting, there are hundreds — maybe thousands — of educators and trainers who are working to do the same for the next generation. Bridger Card is one of those young people who have been able to hone their hunting skills because of people committed to the advancement of outdoor sports.

One conversation with him is all you need to figure out that Bridger loves hunting, and there isn’t much that keeps him from being outdoors. Not even the numerous brain tumors, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and surgeries that Bridger has had since childhood can remove the passion he has for hunting.

His dedication inspires expert hunters to come to his aide whenever he needs them. Earlier this year, Bridger and his dad were on a hunt in Wyoming but were running out of time to fill his deer tag. His dad called in help from Adam Eakle, of KSL Outdoors, who brought in his friends to track down a 4×4 buck for Bridger. After firing a shot that wounded the buck, Bridger and his seven-person team tracked him until they found him — the afternoon of the next day. The expertise and persistence of the crew helped fill his deer tag, but this story speaks more importantly to what it means to be a part of the outdoors community.

However, not everyone needs a team or even a person to understand a love for hunting. Sometimes it’s a four-legged family member that’s at your side. Some people believe that dogs are simply tools for humans to use, but for others, that can’t be farther from the truth. What tool gets excited before dawn and is ready to go with very little effort? What tool sits patiently and quietly at attention, waiting for the call to retrieve the day’s prize? What tool is content sitting in the woods for hours, and isn’t disappointed returning to the truck without any tags filled? What tool loves to hunt?

None come to mind.

Hunting with your dog is a rewarding experience on its own. They spend hours on end training and improving their skills with you. They’re consistently eager to please, and when the season arrives, you know exactly what they’re capable of doing. They just might be the best hunting partner you’ll ever have.

Whether you hunt with a spouse, a child, your dad, or a best friend — as long as you take someone you love hunting, you’ll be getting the most out of your time in the field or woods. In the end, a community that hunts together will grow together.

“If money wasn’t an object, where is the first place you would travel, and what would you hunt?”

We asked that simple question of our social media audience, and the overwhelming winner was Alaska. As for the type of game, just about everything the land has to offer was suggested. For the average person, the frigid temperatures and long nights are best endured from a safe distance with some nice filmography on the National Geographic channel, perhaps. But for an avid hunter, conquering the vast and brutal wilderness of Alaskan can put your hunting skills up to the ultimate challenge.

MuscoxWhy Alaska?

The question should really be, “Why not Alaska?” Of the 50 U.S. states, it is the final frontier and offers almost unlimited opportunities to hunt, including game you can’t hunt anywhere else in the states:

  • Brown Bear
  • Carib
  • Muskox
  • Sitka Black-tailed Deer
  • Dall Sheep

Sure, you can find moose in states like New Hampshire, Maine and Minnesota, but only Alaska claims it as the official state animal. And the Alaska-Yukon species grows bigger than any other.

Perhaps the best part about hunting Alaska is the fact that you can do a variety of combo hunts, and lots of outdoorsmen do combo hunting/fishing trips that include salmon, trout and halibut fishing. Hunters who hunt Kodiak or the Aleutian Islands often stay on boats, where crab pots and rods and reels provide the surf portion of dinners, and the hunters provide the black-tailed backstraps for the turf part.

So, really, why not?

Well, there is a reason the phrase “if money wasn’t an object…” is a consideration for hunting in Alaska. A non-resident annual hunting license will cost you $85, and $250 for a non-resident annual hunting/trapping license. Various non-resident annual hunting license/sport fishing license combos are $105 to $230. Non-resident tags for big game range in price from $30 for a wolf tag, up to $1,100 for a muskox bull, including $400 for a moose and $500 for a brown/grizzly bear tag. So far you’re saying, “Hey, I could save up for a while and do this!”

Brown Bear

While you’re saving, consider the one major cost that almost everyone will want to choose: a guided hunt. Alaska is a huge state, and the game isn’t standing shoulder to shoulder by the highways — even if the game is plentiful. Do-it-yourself hunters are mostly limited to driving the highways and making day trips from the road as far as possible and back during daylight. But, they’re competing with plenty of hunters in similar situations, and their odds of success are not good — especially on mature or trophy-sized animals. Guide services can fly you or transport you by boat or horseback to prime hunting country, and your guides will know the habits and patterns of each animal you’re after. And, most importantly, guide services will know the very detailed hunting regulations in Alaska by heart, which is important to staying on the right side of the law.

Your better odds of success come with a price. You could be looking at $1,500 for a deer hunt, up to $15,000 for a prime brown bear hunt. You can trim costs by using one guide for two hunters, or by opting for sparse tent accommodations and foot power over four-star lodging and float planes. No matter what, though, saving up for a guided hunt is recommended on your first hunt. After that, if you’re the bold kind, you might venture out with a friend and try to save some change. You’re probably going to need it for plane tickets, shipping costs for your meat and trophies, and taxidermy costs when you get home!

Resources

Caribou

Nothing makes sure that you follow up on a dream like having resources around to constantly remind you: magazines, a notebook with ideas and packing lists, etc. So, we put together a few links that you can bookmark and refer to when — not if — you start planning your Alaska hunt of a lifetime.

Do you have experience hunting in Alaska and want to share your tips? We’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts with us in the comment section.