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VOLUME 13, NUMBER 3
The Magazine for the Avid Outdoorsman OUTDOOR
Grassroots Movement Takes Seed Second wave. By John Crump
17 Hog Heaven Pigging out. By Al Raychard 21 High Stakes for Small Game
Little shots. By Bob Frye
63 Training with Consistency Falling for tops. By Chris Miller
Long Range Bucks Aiming high. By Mike Marsh
37 Firearms Review Mossberg 940 JM Pro. By Jarrod Spilger 39 Bassin’ with JVD Falling for tops. By Jon VanDam
60 Supplier Spotlight Federal Ammunition
PanDAMic Hotspot Wide-open species. By John N. Felsher
ON THE COVER
51 Guns for Good Weekend to remember. By Carolee Anita Boyles 56 Breath of Fresh Air Planning an escape. By M.L. Anderson
Jerry Simmons took this North Carolina deer from further than 200 yards.
Printed in Canada
4 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020
In the last column I penned for NBS Outdoor, I made reference to Groundhog Day. At that time, residents of many major cities were under stay-at-home orders, businesses were shuttered, and the nation’s Covid infection rate was climbing at an alarming rate. Days and weeks blended together with sameness. Gun sales were soaring. Tensions across the country were high for myriad reasons. My what a difference a few months make! Not. While lockdowns have eased and businesses have begun to reopen (albeit with restrictions) Covid is still very much with us. Historians will discuss 2020 for centuries to come. On a granular level, each of us as individuals has had to make changes big and small to adapt to the new normal. For many of us, summer vacations, fall getaways, and weekends in 2020 look a lot different than they did in prior years. The leisure priorities of 2020 have become simple, cheap, close, and remote. What fits the bill perfectly? Why, camping of course! We’ve got an article in this issue that we trust will give you some new ideas to freshen up your next camping trip. Fishing is another activity that has skyrocketed in popularity over the past 6 months. Live in the Midwest? Check out the Nebraska lake that’s a hotspot for trophy walleye and other INSIDE NBS OUTDOOR
OUTDOOR The Magazine for the Avid Outdoorsman
species. If you don’t live in the Midwest, consider this article and its impressive photos inspiration to wet a line in your area. If you prefer bullets over hooks, check out the article about small game hunting. It may be one of the only shooting sports that’s experiencing a decline in interest. It lends itself very well to being practiced virtually anywhere. If big game is your thing, deer season is approaching. We’ve got tips for bagging a big one from a socially distant long range. We’ve also got inspiration for all of you hog hunters or hog-hunting wannabes. Just ask pretty much any owner of any good-sized plot of remote land, and you’ll learn how prolific and destructive hogs are. And, how easy it is to get someone to grant you the OK to hog hunt on private land. In case you haven’t heard, there’s an election coming up. With 2020 a watershed year, voters on both sides are making appreciate the efforts being put forth to protect this important right going forward; read about it in this issue. Enjoy this issue, and I hope next time I address our wonderful readers, I’ll be celebrating the return to our post Covid freedoms! their voices heard. Second Amendment advocates will
About the magazine:
NBS Outdoor is published quarterly for Nation's Best Sports. Our publishing goal is to promote hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor activities nationally. NBS is the largest and oldest sporting goods buying group in the United States. The group's 350 independent members operate more than 1,000 retail sporting goods stores and are represented in nearly every state. NBS works with a base of more than 1,800 vendor partners, including the biggest, most respected names in sporting goods and dynamic newcomers. The products featured in the articles throughout this magazine are available at your local independent NBS member retailer.
Fall 2020 EDITOR IN CHIEF Kellye Neuweiler
CONSULTING EDITOR James Hammer CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Steven Baker NATIONAL SALES DIRECTOR Steve Baker, Sr. ART DIRECTOR Shane Harrison PRODUCTION MANAGER Jessica Ellis DIGITAL IMAGING COORDINATOR Fiona Bootle GRAPHIC DESIGNER James Labadie
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Steven Baker Vice President Firearms & Distribution Nation's Best Sports
NBS OUTDOOR is published four times a year: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.
6 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020
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Fall 2020 • NBS OUTDOOR • 9
8 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020
Grassroots Movement Takes Seed Second guessing fundamental rights
• NBS OUTDOOR • 9
By John Crump
When anti-gun groups poured money into the Commonwealth of Virginia during the 2019 election cycle, they designated Virginia a gun-control testing ground. Well-funded national anti-gun-group-backed politicians won by a significant majority on election day. They promised swift, decisive action on gun control. Almost immediately after officials counted and certified all the ballots, the newly elected delegates and senators began proposing new gun-control laws. What they couldn’t have known is that their call for increased gun control would awaken a sleeping giant of grassroots pro-gun activism. Virginia was long known as a gun-friendly state before the 2019 election, and most of the state remained gun friendly, except for Northern Virginia, Tidewater, and the Richmond area. Transplants from northern states densely populated these areas, which is where anti-gun groups concentrated their efforts to take over the state legislature. Gun owners reached out to these newly elected politicians, but officials dismissed them. One anti-gun politician went as far as calling gun owners “little children.” Instead of becoming discouraged, gun owners made Virginia the epicenter of a grassroots Second Amendment movement. Paul Moog started The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) in the 1990s. The gun-rights group’s original mission was to make Virginia a shall-issue state when it came to concealed-carry permits. The VCDL was instrumental in getting preemption passed in the Commonwealth, lobbied successfully for the repeal of Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law, and got the state to recognize other state’s concealed-handgun permits. After the 2019 election, the
group found itself in an unusual position. Instead of fighting to expand gun rights, it was struggling to protect gun rights. With the help of national groups such as Gun Owners of America (GOA), the VCDL started organizing “ At every board meeting in every county and every city, thousands of gun owners showed up to speak. ” on the local level. For years GOA has pushed for “Second Amendment sanctuary” localities across the country. On election day 2019, there were fewer than 50 Second Amendment sanctuaries across the nation. GOA, which is headquartered in Springfield Va., and the VCDL started crafting a strategy to use Second Amendment sanctuaries to nullify any new gun laws
passed in Virginia. The first thing each group did was work with grassroots activists within their localities to recruit average gun owners to join their mailing lists. The groups began sending their contact lists alerts letting them know about local board meetings firearms owners could attend to request that their locality become a Second Amendment sanctuary. At every board meeting in every county and every city, thousands of gun owners showed up to speak. Even in deep-blue counties such as Fairfax, overflow crowds spilled into parking lots. The plan was to turn up the heat on elected officials, according to Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America. By activating grassroots activists, he said, gun owners could push back against the millions of dollars anti-gun organizations were funneling to the state. “Grassroots activists are among the most powerful forces in politics,” Pratt said. “It’s often said that, ‘when politicians’ feel the heat, they see the light.’ At Gun Owners of America, that’s exactly what we do. We give everyday gun owners the tools
10 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020
they need to easily connect with their elected representatives and stand for their rights.” Politicians took notice. By January, Virginia added more than 130 Second Amendment sanctuary localities to the list, nearly tripling the number nationwide. More than 96% of the Commonwealth’s localities told Richmond they would not enforce what they see as unconstitutional gun laws by passing Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions. Membership in gun-rights organizations in Virginia and nationwide tripled. Average gun owners had become activists. VCDL President Philip Van Cleave estimates that more than 105,000 gun owners showed up to speak in favor of Second Amendment sanctuaries. The turn out at some board meetings grew from an average of 30 to more than 4,000 vying to speak. VCDL tripled its membership in six weeks. VCDL has held a lobby day every January since 2003. Historically, a couple hundred
gun owners have attended. On a cold Monday in January, 2020, tens of thousands of gun owners from around the country packed the streets around the Richmond state capitol grounds. Buses poured into the Virginia capitol by the dozens. Prominent gun rights advocates flew in to speak. The hero of Sutherland Springs, Stephen Willeford, whose AR-15 stopped the gunman who took the lives of 26 worshipers and left 20 more wounded at a Texas owners from around the country packed the streets around the Richmond capitol grounds. ” “ ... tens of thousands of gun
church in 2017, rallied the crowd. Antonia Okafor of Campus Carry discussed the importance of grassroots activism. It was a peaceful event that attracted national and international media attention. Other state grassroots organizations, including Connecticut Citizens Defense League (CCDL), sent delegations to Virginia’s Lobby Day. According to CCDL President Holly Sullivan, Virginia was a springboard to increasing gun rights activism. “State organizations can’t exist in a silo. What happens in other states must be on our radars so we can be prepared if we face similar legislation. The Connecticut Citizens Defense League stood in absolute solidarity with Virginia gun owners, and we’re proud of the CCDL members The Lobby Day rally and gun owner attendance at local board meetings made a difference. Hundreds of e-mails and phone calls to state representatives who stood in support of our VCDL brothers and sisters.”
12 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020
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caused the legislature to back off of more extreme gun-control measures. State Senator Chap Petersen told Fox News that the show of political force from gun owners was a major part of what caused the legislature not to pass laws banning suppressors, magazines holding more than 12 rounds, and modern sporting rifles. The legislature watered down many gun-control measures that did pass. The grassroots Second Amendment movement in Virginia didn’t stop all the gun-control measures, but did slow the bleed. Increased funding from new grassroots activists is allowing groups to fight what they consider bad laws in court. After a lawsuit brought by VCDL and GOA, the court knocked down part of the new Universal Background Check law. Some in the Second Amendment community, such as Rob Pincus, whose company provides training services to military, law enforcement and
private security, sees gun owners taking the reins of the grassroots movement and demanding to be heard individually rather than through a spokesperson. “Grassroots advocacy has grown out of their understood need to represent themselves,” Pincus said. After all, individuals on the other side of the debate are certainly vocal. Grassroots activists took lessons learned in Virginia back to their home states. The Second Amendment sanctuary movement picked up steam, even in states like New Jersey, where counties began declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. Just a year ago, that would have been unfathomable. Pennsylvania gun rights advocates began pushing for Second Amendment Sanctuaries by volunteering with national groups such as GOA. Val Finnel, GOA’s Pennsylvania director, says he’s seen an uptick in Pennsylvanians volunteering to advocate for local Second
Amendment sanctuary ordinances. “GOA volunteers have successfully enacted two ordinances in Pennsylvania townships. Additionally, nine additional townships, three boroughs, and nine counties have passed resolutions to protect the Second Amendment.” Gun owners who were content to sit back and do nothing a couple of years ago are now engaged in local grassroots activism. That, Finnel said, sends a clear message to Harrisburg that there’s strong Second Amendment support in Pennsylvania. States considered “gun-friendly” just a few years ago have been inundated with anti-gun money. Case in point: Texas. Rachel Malone is a grassroots activist organizing citizens on the ground to protect gun rights in her state. “We’re counting on everyday Texans who care about their individual liberties to stand up now before they Virginia our Texas,” Malone said. “Fortunately, the
14 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020
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grassroots showed up in the recent primary run-off elections, and Gun Owner’s Choice candidates enjoyed overwhelming victories. In two races, our grassroots gun rights candidates prevailed over longstanding incumbents who thought they were safe but failed to stand strong for their district’s gun rights.” Lessons learned in Virginia have roused Texas gun owners from the sidelines. Gun owners are combatting outside money with grassroots activism. Even when it comes to primaries, the Second Amendment grassroots movement has shown its increasing power. Grassroots activists helped pro-gun candidate and newcomer, Bryan Slaton, unseat a nine-time incumbent for a Texas House seat. Activists also helped Texas candidate Shelby Slawson win her race against an opponent who voted against campus carry. Second Amendment activism is also extending beyond what politicians consider traditional gun owners. Grassroots gun groups have sprung up in the inner cities. Rhonda Ezell founded Chicago Guns Matter on the premise that people in urban
areas need guns just as much, if not more than, people in rural areas. Chicago banned gun ranges from the city but made it a requirement to go to a range in order to carry a gun. Ezell and her group, with the help of the Second Amendment Foundation, sued the city in federal court over its firearm range ban. The court sided with Ezell preventing Chicago from banning ranges. Chicago Guns Matter has seen an increase in gun ownership in the African American community,
and an increase in law-abiding citizens willing to stand up for gun rights through activism. Founded by ex-rapper Maj Toure, Black Guns Matter is a group that works to expand Second Amendment activism in urban areas. The group holds free seminars around the country to educate activists on how to recruit everyday citizens to their cause. Female Second Amendment activism is also on the rise. Former Tulsa police officer Dianne Muller started the non-partisan DC Project to bring 50 women from 50 states to Washington D.C. every year to lobby for gun rights. An organization that began with one woman in each state now has a chapter in each state. “We break the stereotype of the normal gun owner,” Muller said. “We’ve had a rally on the Capitol lawn each year. This year we’re expanding to the state and local level.” Grassroots Second Amendment activism is growing in every state and every demographic. What started as a defeat has awoken a sleeping giant and the powers that be have taken notice.
16 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020
Whether they live in or on the ground, hunting “hogs” can be a blast
By Al Raychard
per day. For the sake of comparison, that would equate to a 175-pound human eating 15 pounds of salad each day! Wild hogs are even worse. They devour crops, uproot fields and pastures, destroy wildlife habitats, kill trees, and spread disease to humans and livestock. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that feral hogs cause roughly $1.5 billion in crop damage annually (that doesn’t include damage to wildlife habitat.) Feral hogs are now prevalent in 36 states, and have been sighted in 47 states. Nationwide, there are an estimated five and a half million hogs (the actual number could be as high as eight million.) In 1990, the wild hog population was just two million! It’s no wonder that many states encourage hunters to pursue these beasts.
My Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary defines the word “hog” as, “one that uses something to excess.” That’s the perfect description of two critters I love to hunt: the sneaky groundhog (aka the woodchuck) and the prolific, destructive wild hog. Despite their marked size difference, the groundhog (a member of the squirrel family) and wild hog (in the swine family) have definite similarities -- not the least of which is their ability to cause widespread crop damage and their reputation as nuisance pests. While there’s no reliable estimate of how much damage groundhogs cause nationwide, they’re vegetarians and will happily gobble up pretty much anything that grows in a garden. These critters can consume almost a pound of vegetable matter
• NBS OUTDOOR • 17
Gunning for Groundhogs. I started hunting groundhogs as a kid, ambushing them as they raided the family garden patch. After moving to town in my senior year of high school I didn’t have the need or opportunity until years later when I moved back to the country. I’ve since found myself back at it, and find the pursuit just as fun and challenging as ever. Most states consider groundhogs pests or varmints, so they allow hunters to target them year-round without bag limits and, in most jurisdictions, without a hunting license. Since legal hunting options are slim in late summer and early fall, groundhogs fill a void and give hunters an opportunity to hone their marksmanship skills. Most groundhogs are about 16 to 20 inches tall, including the tail, when sitting. Targeting groundhogs as they scurry from burrows to feeding sites, their bodies hugging
hunting pressure, they’ve learned to adapt. In areas with light hunting pressure, you can reasonably make close shots of 30 to 50 yards. Where hunting pressure is high you may be challenged to make 100- to 200-yard shots. In either case, the sight of a human typically sends them diving for their holes. I’ve learned to hunt them with the same respect I do whitetails and turkeys: I dress in full camo, carefully glass an area before entering it, and once I spot a groundhog or burrow, I make a Active burrows are typically located on high, dry ground or next to cover. When you’re scouting, walk along shaded field edges and hedge rows to reduce the odds you’ll be spotted. When you finally set up to hunt, take advantage of shaded locations and choose a spot with cover in front to obscure your presence. A shooting bipod or shooting stick is helpful to stabilize your shots. You’ll usually only get one chance to pull the trigger; make it count! The reason you’ll only get one shot is that groundhogs seem to have unusually good recall or, at the very least, they’re overly cautious — especially if they see you. When they do, they’ll typically make a mad dash for their hole. Often, they’ll pause before they dive into their safety zone — as if they’re getting a final fix on your location. Instead of firing off a last-minute pot shot as you may be tempted to do, a better strategy is to wait them out. During prime feeding periods, groundhogs will emerge quickly, often within half an hour. When they do, they will do so very cautiously. The first place they’ll look is the spot you were at when they dove into their hole. As you’re waiting them out, change location, ideally move 180 degrees to the left or right (again choosing a shady stealthy approach hiding in shadows and natural cover.
“ Groundhogs are diurnal, meaning
the ground, provides a prime opportunity to hone your hunting and shooting skills. Hunting them regularly has definitely made me a more patient hunter and a better shot. Success depends on taking your time choosing and making your shots. Not only are groundhogs small targets to hit, they’re formidable adversaries. They have excellent eyesight and in areas with heavy they’re active during the day ... and they don’t require a relaible water source for survival... ”
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18 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020
spot or vantage point offering cover.) Once the cautious critters pop their heads out and no longer see you, they’ll emerge fully. They’ll hesitate for a final look around. You’ll be well-rested and ready. As they scamper away toward a feeding area, you’ll have your ideal shot opportunity! As with hunting anything, the more you know about your target the more success you’ll have. Groundhogs are diurnal, meaning they’re active during the day. Additionally, they don’t require a reliable water source for survival. Instead, their moisture comes from the plants they eat: that’s one reason why they’re particularly fond of succulents. You can hunt groundhogs any time of day, but plants are at their “juiciest” early and late in the day. This is especially true in the blazing hot days of late summer into early fall. Because coyotes, foxes, and most other predators aren’t as active during the first three or four hours after sunrise and the last few hours before sunset, groundhogs feel more confident feeding during
particularly active on overcast days or right after it has rained because the sun is less intense. Groundhogs may be pint-sized pests, but they pack a full load of fun. In these final days of summer, why not grab your gun and partake in some real-live target practice? Choose the right area, and you’ll be doing a public service to boot! On the other side of the “hog” hunting spectrum… Besides being classified in most states as an invasive species, and lacking any specific hunting season or limits, wild hogs are about as different from groundhogs as night and day. So is hunting them. For starters, hogs are huge; they weigh up to 600 pounds! They’re considered intelligent, are butt ugly, mean, aggressive, and potentially dangerous — particularly the boars whose tusks can run several inches long. This variety of “hog” doesn’t scare easily like its groundhog counterpart. Because wild hogs have few natural predators, they’re often the dominant species within their realm and they act accordingly, rampaging about at will and lacking the stealth of deer and other big game animals. Wild hogs plant themselves firmly at the top of the food chain and seem to dare anyone to challenge their position. Unlike groundhogs, wild hogs can be quite elusive. They’re primarily active at night, very early and late in the day, and on overcast days (particularly in warm climates). Typically, wild hogs spend the daylight hours resting in cool, shaded areas. Like their domestic relatives, wild hogs lack sweat glands. Besides wallowing in muddy and wet areas, traveling at night is the only way to cool off. They’ve also discovered, especially in areas with high hunting pressure, that darkness is a good defense against a bullet. Unlike groundhog hunting,
“ They’re considered intelligent, are butt ugly, mean, aggressive, and potentially dangerous... ”
these times. And, of course, it’s cooler then. Groundhogs hate the heat! On hot days, they take refuge in the coolness of their burrows making early morning and late afternoon prime hours to be out there looking for action. Many avid groundhog hunters like hunting the spring season. I prefer targeting them in late summer and early fall. Groundhogs are true hibernators and need to put on fat to survive the winter. In late summer, their feeding activity peaks. They venture out of their burrows more frequently. They’re
Fall 2020 • NBS OUTDOOR • 19
wild-hog hunting is a specialized sport that requires established stands and bait sites. Where it’s allowed by law, it’s wise for hunters to enlist help from canine companions. For novice wild-hog hunters, money spent to hire an experienced guide or outfitter is money very well spent. Hunters who prefer to go it alone typically choose one of two tried-and-true approaches: hunting from blinds and elevated stands or stalking. Before choosing a tactic, it’s necessary to find areas where hogs are active by getting into the woods and wet spots and looking for fresh sign. Begin your search along oak bottoms and creek beds along the edges of boggy and swampy areas with lots of dense ground cover. These locations offer food, bedding, and cooling-off spots. As much as 90% of the wild-hog diet is vegetation, but these opportunistic omnivores are indiscriminant when it comes to food. They love agricultural crops like corn, soybeans, and strawberries. These are prime scouting and hunting locations. You’ll have no question about whether or not hogs are in an area. Wherever these beasts feed you’ll see an unmistakable path of devastation. When considering sites upon which to set stands or stalk, keep in mind that wild pigs are creatures of habit and will repeatedly return to a feeding area as long as food is available. As you scout, look for trails leading from feeding areas to wallowing holes, rooting areas, rubs, and bedding areas. You’ll know it’s a trail because it will be riddled with tracks. Wild hogs will use their major trails daily, and will beeline to wallowing spots frequently, especially in the late summer heat. Areas around mud and water holes are prime locations to set up ambush points or start a stalk. Once you identify promising hot locations,
set up digital trail cameras to learn when and how often those trails, wallows, and feedings sites are used. You’ll be able to decide where to set stands and the best time to hunt. Speaking of setting up stands, only consider sites that overlook active trails or feeding or wallowing areas where you’ve confirmed recent activity. Even when your stands are placed in the ideal location, you’ll need to exercise patience since you’ll be restricted to one spot. In my experience, stand hunting is especially productive when a cold front (this time of year that could mean a blast of air in the low-90 degrees!) is scheduled to pass through and bring rain and cooler temperatures. You can enhance your stand sites by spraying the area with commercially available wild hog attractant and creating a bait site by digging a hole and burying bait. When bait is buried, hogs have to work for their food by digging it up. This keeps them on the site longer and increases your chance for a shot. Additionally, wild hogs are greedy. When they have to root out bait, they’ll be motivated to sneak in and hit the location during daylight hours. Some hunters prefer high-set stands for better visibility and shot opportunities, less chance of arrives, caution and heightened stealth are essential to scoring a kill shot. ” “ When the moment of truth
being seen, and the reduced risk of being charged by a wild hog. Others prefer low stand placement, which requires cutting shooting lanes through low brush. I’ve had the best luck setting them up where I would when rifle-hunting deer — 50 or 60 yards back from potential target areas, making use of the best canopy cover and letting that dictate height. The most experienced wild-hog enthusiasts seem to gravitate toward the heightened thrill factor of stalking. Stalking boosts your chances of success because it allows you to cover more ground and follow hogs you see or hear. It, too, requires patience and a moderate to high level of stealth. Expect to walk silently, often for miles, stopping frequently to listen. Stalking requires you to hunt as much with your ears as your eyes. Major travel routes and wallowing and feeding sites are often surrounded by the area’s thicket cover, and sometimes the wettest habitats. It’s common to hear wild hogs before you see them. When the moment of truth arrives, caution and heightened stealth are essential to scoring a kill shot. Your shot must count. Wild hogs typically travel in groups. You will be on the ground and vulnerable. When you pull the trigger, chaos will ensue. Groundhog and wild hog … two very different beasts. Two very different hunting adventures. And that’s precisely the reason to target them! During this in-between time of year when few hunting opportunities exist, both of these animals are abundant and available for the taking with few, if any, regulations to interfere with your plans. Hunt them for the challenge, the pork, the practice, or the feeling that you’re doing a public service by making a tiny dent in the prolific number of these pests.
20 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020
High Stakes for Small Game
By Bob Frye
These woods were suddenly different in ways previously unimagined. My grandfather and I were sitting side by side, our backs to an oak tree. We were in a small woodlot separating the pasture where the Lazar family kept their dairy cows from the back side of a row of country houses. I roamed this country after school almost every day for years, Crosman BB gun in one hand and Patches, the family mutt with just enough bird dog in her to point occasional grasshoppers as a puppy, at the other. Our routine was the same. We cut through the hayfield, peered into familiar groundhog holes to find familiar woodchucks staring back at us, crossed beneath the power lines that hummed in rain and snow, wriggled under the barbed-wire fence, skirted the Holsteins, then hit the woods. I shot stumps, tossed crabapples like I was throwing out a baserunner, explored a trickle of a creek. Now, though, I was hunting. For the first time. For real, with a license of my own and a borrowed single-barrel 12-gauge shotgun that reeked of potential lethality.
Fall 2020 • NBS OUTDOOR • 21
Seconds before there was a scurrying in the dry October leaves. Though my eyes were wild and alive, I moved my head as slowly and stealthily as I thought hunting required. Desperately, I wanted a squirrel — one of the many I regularly saw each day, at the same time and in the same places — to materialize. And something was certainly moving. That’s when my grandfather leaned close and whispered into my ear. “False alarm,” he said. “It’s just a grinny.” That’s what folks around home called eastern chipmunks. I spied it then, scurrying frenetically from spot to spot, tiny rib cage heaving as its heart raced at its amazingly normal 350 beats per minute. Later a gray squirrel did appear and I took a shot at it as it scampered along a grapevine. And missed. Talk about a bummer. My grandfather came of age in the Great Depression, at a time when white-tailed deer were scarce enough that merely finding a track from one merited mention in the
newspaper. But small game was abundant. He often rode home on the streetcar, shotgun and all, discussing the day’s take of rabbits with admiring passengers, men and women both. I’d boyishly dreamed of stuffing my own praiseworthy game pouch to the admiration of all around. It didn’t happen that day. But over the years I bagged my share of squirrels and rabbits, an occasional pheasant and, periodically, miracle of miracles, one of the ruffed grouse that seemed so elusive. And I still chase them all. That’s outside the norm these
days. At a time when hunting participation overall is falling at a cringeworthy rate, threatening funding for state wildlife agencies that rely on license buyers to stay afloat financially, small game hunters are disappearing fastest of all. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service statistics show that America lost about 5,000 varmint and predator hunters every year from 1991 to 2016. The annual decline in migratory bird hunters over that time was 25,000 a year, for big game hunters 60,000 a year. But small game hunting lost 165,000 people each and every year, on average, over that 25-year span. No brand of small game hunting was spared either. Participation in quail hunting dropped by 43%, squirrel hunting by 58%, and pheasant, grouse, and rabbit hunting by 68% each. And worse is coming. The prospect of small game “hunter extinction” is not far off, said Scott Taylor, National Wild Pheasant Conservation Plan Coordinator for Pheasants Forever and the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. “If you look at these linear trends, and you run these linear trends out in time, you can ask when do they hit zero? When do we run out of small game hunters completely?” Taylor asked. “For small game as a category, that’s about 20 years.” The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which represents wildlife managers across North America, identified that as a “serious national conservation concern” last fall. It put together a task force of sorts to figure out what’s behind the decline, how to reverse it, and — most profoundly of all —whether it’s worth the effort to try. It is to report back with recommendations by fall 2021. But there seem no easy
“ And worse is coming. The prospect of small game ‘hunter extinction’ is not far off ... ”
Ring-necked pheasants have long been a popular gamebird with small game hunters. But wild populations aren’t as widespread as they were decades ago thanks to changes in agriculture that have limited habitat, among other things.
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hunters — kids who would have been exposed to hunting anyway — but took kids out after species like deer, elk, and turkeys. On those hunts, an adult would set up a stand, do any calling needed, then tell the youngster to sit still until given instructions on how and when to pull the trigger. At best those are cool “one and done” activities, Dunfee said. At worst they’re expensive daycare. The problem is that they center around taking a newcomer hunting, rather than going hunting with them. He believes that’s a big — and mostly fatal —difference. Dunfee said children, and newcomers in general, who aren’t involved in the process won’t adopt an activity as their own. The journey must be theirs in some way for it to stick. “We somehow forgot that in youth development, if you make something too easy too quick, our youth will actually choose to do something else because that seems too easy,” Dunfee said. State wildlife agencies and sportsmen bear additional responsibility for marginalizing small game hunters, Dunfee and O’Dell agree. The former — trying to stay alive financially — are more eager to sell expensive big game licenses than cheaper general
There was a time in America when small game hunting was king. In the 1950s, when populations of big game species like white-tailed deer were still rebounding from years of unregulated market hunting and habitat loss, small game hunters outnumbered big game ones by about 2:1. Now the almost exact opposite is true, said Matt Dunfee, director of special programs for the Wildlife Management Institute. The increased availability of big game is partly behind that, he said. But so, too, is a change in hunting culture. Hunters who bag a 10-point buck not only end up with more meat in the freezer, but more accolades, too. “In our culture, there’s no reward system around small game. In other words, you don’t get recognized the same way for your first bag limit of squirrels as you do for shooting your first deer,” Dunfee said. Johnathan O’Dell agreed. Migratory gamebird biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, he points out that outdoor media celebrates big game hunting and hunters to the almost total exclusion of their small game counterparts. Everyone knows big game hunting personalities, from Teddy Roosevelt and Jack O’Connor to Jim Shockey and Randy Newberg, he said. Squirrel hunters, by comparison, are portrayed if at all as caricatures from a Norman Rockwell painting, relics from the realm of “small boys and nostalgic old men.” “Big game has a lot of champions, but it also has a lot of heroes. But small game doesn’t have heroes,” O’Dell said. “It’s tends to be seen as more counterculture or subculture.” Manufacturers of products from binoculars to rifles cater almost exclusively to big game
“ In our culture, there’s no reward
system around small game ... you don’t get recognized the same way for your first bag limit of squirrels as you
do for shooting your first deer . ”
hunters, too, O’Dell said. They just can’t make the same profits selling to small game hunters, outside of those who use and invest heavily in dogs. Then there’s the well-intentioned so-called “R3” efforts. That stands for recruitment, retention, and reactivation. State wildlife agencies, in partnership with sportsmen, increasingly desperate to ensure a steady stream of license buyers into the future have been working hard on R3 programs for the last decade. But they have until recently missed the boat, Dunfee said. Traditionally, most R3 events not only catered to children of existing
With dove populations high, seasons on them are long and bag limits high. Yet few hunters set out decoys or find other ways to hunt them.
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ones. The latter are more likely to argue and advocate for big game than small, in the process determining that resources will shift away from small game programs. Neither believes the often repeated lament that there’s no small game to hunt holds true. It’s true that, in parts of the country, wild pheasants and bobwhite quail have disappeared, and ruffed grouse are struggling. But squirrel populations are robust everywhere, and rabbits and doves remain almost superabundant. That’s where opportunity lies, O’Dell said. Arizona, for example, has more hunters applying for deer licenses each year than it has licenses to award. So not everyone who wants to hunt deer each year gets to. “But we could triple our population of dove hunters and our harvest with no negative impacts,” O’Dell said. “We have to sell what we have available to sell.” The Fish and Wildlife Association tasked with looking into the small game issue will examine all of those possibilities and more, like how the loss of small game hunters might impact sportsmen’s organizations that in turn support habitat restoration. The overarching question to be determined, though, is whether small game hunting’s survival matters. Everyone is concerned with perpetuating hunting in general, Taylor said. There’s at least a little less consensus on what role small game hunting should or needs to play in that. “Are we going to worry about declines in any particular category of hunters, or are we just going to try to maintain hunter numbers by hook or by crook, whatever they want to hunt or can hunt or that we can provide?” Taylor said. “That’s sort of the central question.”
O’Dell for one believes it’s essential that small game hunting survives. In years gone by, most hunters pursued a little bit of every kind of game. They were what he calls “all-purpose” hunters. They’re disappearing, however, to the detriment of small game hunting. “I think that’s where some of the disconnect is happening. People are specializing. And not in a good way,” O’Dell said. He was trending that way himself before rediscovering small game. He’s now a diehard advocate — some call him the “small game evangelist” — who a few years ago became the first person to complete the American squirrel slam. That involves harvesting all eight species of tree squirrels in the United States. The reason for his change is simple, he said — small game hunting is fun! There are typically long seasons, large bag limits, and, accordingly, lots of action. State wildlife agencies scrambling to replace the baby boomers who will age out of hunting altogether in the next decade need to get that message out, he believes. “It’s an ‘I bethcya’ thing,” O’Dell said. “As in there’s a bag limit and I betchya’ I can hit it. Usually you don’t. But it’s fun trying.” Dunfee, too, believes it’s forms of small game hunting are on track to blink out even sooner than in 20 years.. ” “ If existing trends continue, some
important small game hunting survives. It’s how most hunters alive today got into the sport, he noted. And, he believes, circling back around to it might just be the best way to recruit a new generation of sportsmen and -women. “If we allow hunting to be relegated to cultural or political silos, hunting will lose,” Dunfee said. “So small game is a part of the bigger picture. And it just might be the most effective tool in our toolbox. Who knew we’d have to go back to where we came from to move forward? Maybe our dads and granddads knew what they were doing.” He’s optimistic, more so than at any time in the last few years, that sportsmen and wildlife agencies are starting to get that. Time is running short, though, Taylor said. If existing trends continue, some forms of small game hunting are on track to blink out even sooner than in 20 years. Rabbit hunting’s fans may all be gone within 10 years, he said. Pheasant and grouse hunters could be gone in 11. If wildlife managers and sportsmen are to save small game hunting, they’ve got to act fast. “We obviously hope there is some sort of floor out there, where these trends will level out at some point. But I don’t think that’s necessarily guaranteed. And the floor might be pretty close to zero, or close enough to zero boutique types of hunting rather than mainstream types of hunting,” Taylor said. “So if we’re going to do something about this, if we think there is something we can do about this, we probably shouldn’t wait too much longer. Because we don’t have a lot of time.” that these hunting types are largely irrelevant or sort of
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Long Range Buck Even the ones that get away make for lasting memories
By Mike Marsh
that got away” don’t happen again. I’ll never forget that morning, Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11, 1980. Since then, I’ve made a career of hunting and shooting. But, while deer hunters today have ample opportunities, I came from a place and time with no deer. I grew up in Greensboro, N.C., in the middle of the state; the state’s middle 60 counties had no deer I started handloading for a Savage Model 340 bolt-action in .222 Rem. when I was 14. I targeted crows and squirrels and shot many crows at 300-plus yards. I had also handloaded ammo for the Winchester 670. At age 27, I should have been able to pull off that long shot at a target as big as a whitetail. In retrospect, I now know that three things matter most when it comes to long range shooting — equipment, conditions, and skills. season. Instead, I hunted varmints and small game.
Equipment. Any modern centerfire rifle chambered for an appropriate caliber is suitable for taking a deer at ranges of 400 feet or more. While discussions can grow heated over which caliber and rifle are best, any hunter who possesses a rifle that fires a bullet of 100 grains or more at a velocity approaching or exceeding 3,000 feet per second has enough gun to do the job. Examples of excellent long-range deer cartridges include .260 Rem., .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., and .30-06 Springfield, but there are many others. Generally, bolt-action rifles are the most accurate, but I’ve seen experts take deer running ahead of dogs at ranges of several of yards, shooting offhand across agricultural fields and clear-cuts with semi-automatic rifles. Therefore, action type is not so important. What is important is accuracy.
The elliptical depression in the grainy soil of a coastal North Carolina sandhill told the story. My heart was still thumping from both the adrenaline rush of taking the shot and climbing down from a tree stand to walk 325 yards to the location of the bullet strike. Digging until the sand compacted so hard beneath my fingernails it hurt, I uncovered the 165-grain Hornady Interlock bullet fired from my Winchester Model 670 bolt-action .30-06. I found running tracks in the sand, but no blood or hair. The shot had missed the biggest buck I’d ever seen while I was hunting. It was emotionally devastating. I’ve since come to believe that misses, rather than hits, make us improve at our sport. Missed opportunities translate into upping your game to make sure bitter memories of “the one