This is the time of the year when families throughout the country are dusting off their good dinnerware in preparation for another round of holiday traditions. Unlike most people, however, the hunting community has had Thanksgiving on its mind since spring turkey season.  For us, Thanksgiving is a true celebration of our labor in the field, and it’s an opportunity to share our gifts with those around us.

As we are reminded of this, it’s only fitting that we share just what Thanksgiving means to us.

Hunters are still doing it the old way

I told Bill we were having another old-fashioned meal using only the food we had either raised or acquired ourselves. Just think: apple pie from our apple tree, squash casserole and sliced tomatoes from our garden, Idaho bakers from our neighbor’s field, homemade rolls, venison roast and grilled salmon. What a blessing.”

Not everyone has the pleasure of catching, killing, growing and cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal. Lenore Mobley is one of the fortunate few. With her husband at her side, Mobley rode through 6 inches of snow to collect the venison roast that will adorn her table. Why? Because that’s her Thanksgiving tradition.

National Wild Turkey Federation members pass the turkey

Hunting to put food on your family’s table is a special kind of achievement, but for the members of the Sioux Falls National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), it’s not quite enough. For the past several years the group has donated turkeys to The Banquet, a ministry dedicated to providing food to people in need. The organization will be able to serve 350 to 375 people this Thanksgiving with the 32 turkeys NWTF delivered. It’s a tradition for them that goes beyond the individual hunting experience and highlights what the season is truly about.

The Sioux Falls NWTF group isn’t the only organization offering a helping hand either. Hunters across the country are fighting hunger this Thanksgiving.

Work and play collide, and it’s delicious

There’s a great joy in sharing your passion of hunting with someone else — especially if you’re exposing them to something new. The fastest and easiest way to do this is with food. So bring on the jerky, goose chili, bacon-wrapped dove and whatever else!

 

Creating new traditions

Jeremy Elbert of Wildlife Pursuit decided a couple years ago that his family needed a new tradition. When you hunt as much as Jeremy does, changing things up is always acceptable. So now, once a year, his mother and brother meet up for an out-of-state long distance hunt. They captured their most recent journey to Montana in the video below and it’s worth a watch.

Remember, traditions have to start somewhere. Could this be the year you start a new one?


A different kind of dressing

Once you’ve got meat in the fridge, you’re only about halfway done. Everyone has their go-to recipes for venison in particular, but most reserve the best ones for the holidays. It’s also a chance to do something different. If you’re ready to move beyond your tried and true ways of cooking venison and WOW your guests, Celby Richoux of Wide Open Spaces makes a compelling case for why you should. This venison tenderloin recipe is so enticing it could steal the spotlight from the turkey. We’ll let you decide!

The big bird still rules the table

Somewhere in America, a hunter and his family are enjoying this wild turkey. We hope that whatever you’re serving this year, you’re with friends and family. Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at Hunter Ed!

 

Depending on whom you ask, the answer to this question is a mixed bagged. Many hunters will automatically answer “No,” but return with a quick, “Well…” and list off a few ways they use their phone out in the woods. However short or long that list is, more and more hunters are heading out into the woods with their smartphone in tow. Does this mean that technology is taking away from the hunting experience or actually adding to it?

What about getting back to nature?

On Twitter, Jacob Powers said it best, “Hunting season needs to hurry up, [sic] I do my best soul searching when I’m in the woods #metime.” We asked our Facebook fans why they hunt, and a number of responses cited being alone and being outdoors as the primary reasons. In that same vein, Hunter Ed launched a contest promoting tree stand safety where we asked hunters to take pictures while out hunting. What we quickly discovered is that hunters — old and young — are using their phones to capture their hunting experiences and share them with others. Let’s not forget the sprouting number of amateur videographers who hope their next successful hunt earns them a spot in viral history.

Most hunters can find themselves with a lot of time on their hands — especially if they’re in the stand early and nothing is moving. Keeping your hands busy with a phone is the technological progression from twiddling your thumbs — and it’s better than falling asleep. Plus, how else will you get shots like this?

Taking It Higher

Selfies aside, why hunters use phones

You don’t wake up before dawn, walk for miles, and sit up in a tree stand for hours just to take selfies (pictures of yourself) while waiting for a buck. It’s only a small part of why phones are valuable tools for hunters. Jim Shepherd, the editor and publisher for The Outdoor Wire Digital Network, recently wrote an article on why he takes his smartphone into the woods. Listed below are ways he uses his phone while hunting.

  1. Compass – When everything looks the same, it’s easy to get turned around — especially if you’re not familiar with the land. Add in a sudden snowstorm or rainstorm and your surroundings can really get hazy. Now, you can always look up for the northern star or feel around for some moss on an oak tree. But with clouds and no moss, you’re still lost. Jim relies on a simple compass app to help him determine the wind and sunrise direction. He also uses it to establish his shooting lanes.
  2. Communication – You should always let someone know where you’re hunting before you leave. Even if you’re hunting with a partner, someone who isn’t with you should know how to find you in case of emergencies. Texting may be simplistic and sometimes impersonal, but it’s a great method of communicating deer movement, especially because it is silent. For larger hunting parties, the GroupMe app can help everyone stay on the same page.
  3. Guides – Every hunter wants to be a better hunter. That can mean buying more gear, more time spent at the practice range, or gaining more insight on what it means to hunt effectively. While in the blind, Jim read the techniques Navy SEAL firearms instructor Chris Sajnog discusses in his e-book, “How to Shoot Like a Navy SEAL.” Not only did he re-evaluate his shooting technique, he corrected an old habit that caused him to miss in the past.

Here are a few additional instances when a phone can come in handy.

  1. Managing Game – Many hunters, who share property or leases or hunt on club lands, must identify mature game before they are allowed to harvest it. Most often that’s done with game cameras, but cell phone or other photos can work, too. That way the whole group can decide if that’s really a 160-inch 6-year-old buck, or if it’s a 4-year-old buck that could be 180 inches and in the record books two years from now.
  2. Visual Proof – Did you really see that 8-pointer, and was it really a bad shot that no one could manage? Prove it with a picture or a video. Visual references are so important in how people process information. There are several apps on the market that allow people to record their successes with images. So, next time you see a buck the size of a mammoth, make sure you can prove it actually exists.
  3. Maps – On the boating side of things, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently announced its decision to discontinue printing traditional paper nautical charts after 151 years. Hunters, boaters, recreationist are not carrying around paper maps like they used to. Whether you rely on Google, Apple or another app, it’s never a bad idea to have a map handy.
  4. Games – If you’re not seeing action in the real field, there’s always a virtual hunting world you can escape to. The Deer Hunter Challenge apps by Glu Games Inc., are wildly popular. Just don’t confuse it with the real thing. Know when you can kill time and when you need to pay attention to your surroundings.

Whether you’re using your phone to connect with other hunters, check the local weather or just the time, it’s okay to make the off-button your favorite app, too.

Sometime this past spring, you had a vivid dream of a hunting trip where you shot a huge, cunning 8-point buck after two days of patience and intensive tracking. The shot was through the lungs — a perfect and clean kill. With family members by your side, you struck poses by your trophy to commemorate the moment. The congratulations and smiles were so great, you could feel the euphoria pulsing through you. But then you woke up with cold beads of sweat forming around your temples, your heart pounding, and one question gnawing at you: Where am I going to hunt this fall?!

Hunter-ed.comIf you have your own land, or you live near large tracts of national forest, this dream-turned-nightmare never happened. But for many hunters, this is a reoccurring question. Public lands might be the first choice, but there’s no longer a certainty that hunters will have access to them during hunting season. Having a friend or acquaintance with land is great, and best of all, it typically costs very little to nothing for the privilege of hunting. It doesn’t, however, mean that you’re guaranteed a place to hunt because, as you know, “things” can come up.

So, more and more, people are turning to hunting leases or other paid options from landowners who want to make a little money from their resources after crop season has ended. But, finding reputable and fair leases can be a difficult process. So, we’ve gathered some information that should help you on your next search for the perfect hunting spot … and giant 8-point buck.

Favors for Private Landowners

They say nothing in life is free. There isn’t much to say otherwise, but hunting as a favor to a landowner is as close as it gets. Once you move beyond the suburbs and into the rural areas of the country, you’ll find plenty of property owners with acres of land between one house and the next. If you thought mowing the yard every week was difficult, try keeping up with rambunctious wild pigs that destroy property and deer with insatiable appetites attacking your crops.

It’s a lot to manage, and some residents will employ the help of hunters to tame the wildlife populations that threaten their property. You’d be surprised how many farmers are not hunters. The exchange is simple. The hunter patrols the land and has the opportunity to take some of the wild game. The landowner receives protection and damage control — and, if you’re smart, a gift of game meat, sausage … and perhaps a bottle of Kentucky’s finest at Christmas.

These opportunities are rare. It will take time and effort to develop the right type of relationship. If you find a landowner open to the idea, don’t be offended if they take certain precautions. They are, after all, trying to protect their investment.

Hunting It’ll Cost You

If public land is out of the question and you’re short on friends, a hunting lease is the next most accessible option. Leases are great secondary sources of income for landowners — not to mention a way to manage the carrying capacity of the land.

Landowners can define the lease details for their property. This includes:

  • What game is available
  • What types of hunting are allowed (bow, gun, etc.)
  • The hunting area
  • How many hunters are allowed
  • Upfront cost and kill fees
  • Duration of the lease
  • Accommodations
  • Transportation
  • The use of hunting dogs
  • Other amenities

There are four main types of leases, and we’ll use properties listed in the Texas Parks and Wildlife registry to outline each one.

Daily

If you’re looking for a quick, one-off hunting trip, a daily lease will be your best bet. It doesn’t, however, give you much time to scout the area, which lowers your chances of a successful hunt. Landowners may remedy this by offering guides or hunting dogs. The Texas Parks and Wildlife registry has 34 properties offering daily leases. Prices are listed from $40 to $4,500 per hunter, and property size is between 67 and 23,000 acres.

The most important thing to consider with daily lease options is how many hunters could be on the land at once. An area can only support so many hunters. Hunting on 23,000 acres sounds like an unlimited opportunity, but if you’re competing with 120 other hunters in 13 hours … the odds may not be in your favor.

Seasonal

Also referred to as short-term, these leases allow hunters more time on the land. The explicit timeframe is determined by the landowner and can be a week or longer. With longer visits, some hunters can anticipate accommodations or at least campsites on the property, but it’s not always a given. For landowners, the longer the hunter is on the property, the more trust that is involved. Take the time to develop the relationship to make it an arrangement you can use for more than one season.

In Texas, seasonal leases are available for $200 to $12,000 per hunter on 50 to 15,000 acres.

Yearly

Avid hunters will be most interested in year-round leases, but they also require considerably more commitment from the hunter and trust from the landowner. For a group of dedicated hunters, yearly leases provide substantial benefits — namely not having to worry about your next hunting spot for an entire year and the ability to improve your odds of success by scouting and setting up multiple stands. You can set your strategy in motion months in advance of a season opening.

As the hunter, you become just as invested in the health of the land as the owner. The Texas Parks and Wildlife site lists yearlong leases that cost $580 to $7,000 per hunter on 150 to 21,289 acres.

Hunting Clubs

Finding a suitable place to hunt can take a lot of legwork, and many hunters simply don’t have time for that. Hunting clubs are the stop-gap between hunters and landowners. Not only do they establish the relationship with the landowner, they also provide liability insurance. This can be a huge relief for a property owner.

Hunting clubs also provide several amenities — sometimes including multiple properties under the same umbrella. The downsides are that you won’t always know who you’re hunting with and a property can be over-crowded.

To combat this, multi-state hunting services like Hunting Sports Plus (HSP), provide hunters with access to private lands in multiple states. Missouri-based HSP is an affiliate of the American Wildlife Association, which gives members access to more than 250,000 acres in 17 states. Its members also enjoy exclusive rights to the property for a desired amount of time. Prices are need-based, but if you’re a bargain shopper this could work in your favor.

To avoid watching this hunting season from the couch, plan your trips early in the year. Research all of your options before making a decision on a lease, because not every property is suitable for every hunter. If you’re a hunter or property owner interested in more information on leases, read this article on how hunting leases work.

Most of us go into the hunting woods each year concerned with safety. We keep our chambers empty, safeties on, full-body harnesses for hunting from tree stands cinched and buckled tight. Here in Texas, a lot of us wear snake-proof chaps or gaiters to thwart rattlesnakes — the little scorpions and ever-present fire ants are harder to avoid. However, outside of grizzly and brown bear zones like Alaska, Montana and Wyoming, most hunters really aren’t concerned about becoming the hunted instead of the hunter.

Whether because the Internet makes news more accessible, or because attacks are actually increasing, we’re seeing news all the time about hunters and other outdoorsy folks being attacked by animals. Many of the attacks are by animals we don’t expect to be a danger, like the coyotes that killed a woman hiking in Canada a couple of years ago. All hunters need to have situational awareness to be effective hunters — and to avoid danger. We’re going to look at five of the more common situations where hunters face danger from animals and steps that can be taken to avoid them.

The classic: Wounded animals

Hunter-ed.com Hunter Safety CoursePeter Capstick and Robert Ruark have eternally embedded in the minds of their readers the classic scenarios of a wounded lion or leopard charging hunters with fangs bared and claws extended. The stories will get your adrenaline racing, even if it’s extremely unlikely you’ll ever face that situation. On the other hand, there are plenty of stories of having wounded non-predatory animals defend themselves with horns and hooves. In North America, the most likely situation for a hunter to encounter is to have a wounded grizzly bear or coastal brown bear in your lap. Mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, and especially wounded hogs can all turn defensive and deliver nasty wounds when cornered.

We all know the best way to avoid a wounded animal attack — make the first shot a good one. Beyond the ethical, humane reasons for making a one-shot kill, safety is the next most important factor. Unwounded animals are far less likely to confront a human. When hunting for game, hunters should always work in teams. A pair or group of hunters are more intimidating to animals and better able to thwart an attack or help a wounded friend. When trailing a wounded animal, tracking dogs (where allowed) can divert an attack, and their additional agility often keeps them unharmed. If you must trail a wounded animal, extreme caution and attention to details in front of you and to your sides is very important.

When you take a game animal

Perhaps the most likely scenario where you might face confrontation with a predator is a fight over a game animal you’ve taken. The brown bears of Kodiak Island, Alaska, are famous for coming to the sound of a shot, like a dinner bell ringing, to steal a hunter’s Sitka black-tailed deer. Similar tales are told in Montana and Wyoming by elk hunters who faced grizzlies over their downed elk. In the southwest, if you wound a white-tailed deer and trail it later at night, you may encounter coyotes or bobcats taking advantage of an easy meal. In the east or the Rocky Mountains, that could be a cougar or black bear.

Never approach your game animal without a firearm or other protection. You never know what might get there first. (Actually, you never know that the game animal isn’t still alive.) Now, that doesn’t mean you can automatically defend yourself with a firearm. Because of the protected nature of grizzlies, shooting one to recover an animal is a bad idea. Bear spray is your friend — and often more effective than a firearm at deterring bear attacks. Pro tip: Bear spray works on everything, not just bears. Ultimately, don’t put yourself in danger. No amount of venison is worth losing your life, or really, even worth a hundred stitches or a course of rabies shots.

Using calls that attract predators

Bugling in a bull elk is one of the most thrilling experiences any hunter can have worldwide. Likewise, rattling in a procession of big bucks in the South Texas brush is a thrilling experience. Imitating animals to get them closer goes back thousands of years, whether through decoys for waterfowl or imitating the mating sounds of a larger animal. But, you know what else recognizes those sounds? Predators. They know as well as you do that rutting bulls or bucks are distracted. They also know their prey can get injured in battles over mates. So, when you call, predators can come running. Every year grizzlies come running to bugling elk hunters in the Northern Rockies, and deer hunters rattling horns in the brush see bobcats respond frequently.

There’s nothing you can do to signal game that won’t signal predators. However, calling in animals is often more effective when two hunters are working together anyway. One hunter calls, and since the game animal is focused on pinpointing the location of the call, the other hunter goes unnoticed. Two sets of eyes and ears can detect a predator better and avoid a confrontation. Situational awareness is again the key. Don’t get tunnel vision on a single animal, trail or shooting lane. Keep your head on a swivel and notice everything you can.

Surprising a predator when camouflaged

Hunter-ed.com Bowhunting CourseAbout 15 years ago, I was backed up against a tree, in full camouflage, hunting for squirrels. I hadn’t noticed how close I was to a game trail until a coyote crested a rise about 10 feet from me. Thankfully, he was more surprised than me when I whistled at him. I didn’t know an animal could turn inside out to reverse directions! Later, in that same spot and in the same situation, a bobcat followed the trail past me and never knew I was there. Modern camouflage and scent covers are amazingly effective. They work on game and predators, just like game calls. But, if you find yourself in close quarters with a surprised predator, you never know if they’ll choose fight or flight.

In a situation like I faced, it’s always better to alert the predator when they’re as far from you as possible. You never want to spoil your hunting, but making some movement or noise to alert a predator to your presence is a better option than fighting one off. Backing up to a large tree or rock face is a good way to use your camouflage most effectively, as well as protect your back from approaching danger.

Non-predator attacks

Fangs and claws are not prerequisites for animal attacks on humans. Rutting white-tailed bucks injure people every year — those antlers are sharp and deer are far more powerful than humans, pound for pound. Wild hogs are so widespread, and can defend themselves very effectively with their self-sharpening tusks, that they probably injure more people now than any other game animal. Even turkeys have been known to injure hunters with spurs, sharp beaks and bruising smacks from hard wings.

Every single wild animal can hurt you, whether they’re defending themselves or think you might make an easy dinner. You can’t drop your guard when you’re hunting. Just the same as firearm accidents happen when we become complacent and make assumptions, treating animals and the wilderness like we treat our pets and living rooms is the surest way to find out how hard animals fight to survive. Be aware, be cautious and be safe.