Monday, January 3, 2011

Survival: A Heathen's Prospective- Hunting

Hail and a Happy New Year to everyone! I hope everyone enjoyed the Yule season!

I had the pleasure of interviewing a good friend of mine about hunting. His name is Joe Mandato and I would like to thank him for taking the time and doing this interview.


Hey Joe, how are you?

I’m doing very well, Wayne, thanks!

Let’s start with your hunting experience:
How long have you been hunting?

I’m 36 now, and I got my first hunting license when I was 12. I got my first kill when I was 13 (a pheasant). I started deer hunting in my late teens, but didn’t get my first deer until I was in my early 20’s.

What are some of your methods on tracking your quarry?

For me, tracking my quarry starts way before a shot is actually fired. I am lucky in that I hunt on my own property (my father and I have adjoining land in upstate NY), so I am able to scout for months before the hunting season. I can identify which game trails are active, and which spots are hot at a given time of day. Once I have an idea of where the most activity is (by actually seeing deer, finding droppings, and later in the season, scrapes and rubs), I’ll put up a trail cam so I can lock down exactly what time they’re in the area. A trail cam also helps you determine exactly how many different deer you have on your land, so you don’t overhunt. I’ll record all of this information in a notebook, and then when the hunting season comes, I can decide where on the 70 acres I can hunt. Proper scouting makes it easier to be in the right place at the right time.

How difficult is it to hunt? Can anyone pick it up?

Absolutely anyone can pick it up. I don’t consider it to be difficult, but I judge “success” not by what I’m able to bring home from the woods, but if I have a good, safe time, and I leave the woods with that feeling of connectedness that keeps me coming back year after year.

What are some of the basic rules one has to follow when hunting?

They vary from state to state, and sometimes from season to season. Happily, every state will publish the rules and regulations (in print and on the web), so everyone has an opportunity to get familiar with them before going out to hunt. As an example, the NY State regulations are here:

Now let’s talk about the type of prey you’ve hunted:
What are some of the prey you’ve hunted?

I’ve successfully hunted pheasant, turkey, whitetail deer, mule deer, antelope, squirrel and fox. I’ve hunted other animals like (everything from grouse to black bear and coyote), but haven’t actually gotten any.

Are there different methods and precautions you take when hunting different prey?

Wow… so many differences.

For pheasant hunting, you typically use a shotgun and go out with a dog (to point and retrieve).

For turkey, you want to pay a LOT more attention to camouflage, because they have color vision. You’ll also use a turkey call to try to bring them in closer to you. There are many different kinds of calls, but I use a box call. Generally, you’ll want to get yourself set up in a nice, well camouflaged ground blind, and try to get the birds to come to you. If you’re hunting on public land, you need to make extra sure that the “turkey” you’re calling in isn’t just another hunter with a boxcall!

You can hunt whitetails out of a treestand, a ground blind, or you can stillhunt (stillhunting isn’t very “still” at all… it means you stalk around the forest, trying to find the deer, rather than waiting for the deer come to you). Sometimes, you’ll change your tactics as the season moves on. Three weeks into the whitetail season, deer might not move be moving around a lot, so pussyfooting around the woods might be your best option, as you have a chance of kicking one up. Groups of hunters can also set up a “drive”. That’s when one group of hunters walks through the woods making noise, hoping to push game towards another hunter or hunters that are set up to intercept.

I’ve gone mule deer and antelope hunting in the wide open expanses of Wyoming. Your shots are MUCH longer out there because of the wide open spaces, so you’ll want to practice shooting at 200 hundred yards, at least (conversely, almost every shot I’ve taken in NY has been under 50 yards). You drive around until you can spot a herd in the distance, then you try to intercept, and then you finish the stalk on foot. I got my mule deer by using a hill for cover, and then marine crawling up it through a few inches of snow to set up for a 150 yard shot.

To hunt a fox, you just have to find out where the squirrels and other rodents are hanging out (usually near a food source), and you wait for the fox to come in to go after its prey. You can hunt coyotes over at the gutpile of a recently killed deer, or use a call that sounds like a high pitched rodent squeak that can bring them in. The laws are VERY permissive for coyote and fox hunting – you can even legally hunt them at night using a light source in many states. Just a note on predator hunting – I generally don’t shoot anything that I don’t intend on eating, but the fox and coyote population has gotten out of balance in recent years, and the animals have been coming onto our property and attacking our livestock, as well as our neighbors’ livestock, so the numbers really need to be culled.

Do you set up snares to help you in the hunt?


How difficult is it to hunt Black Bear or Wild Boar?

I think it really depends on the area you’re hunting. Down south, wild boar are considered a nuisance animal, and hunters are encouraged to kill as many as they can due to overpopulation. Up where I hunt, they just opened up the bear season a few years ago, and there isn’t a huge black bear population. I haven’t seen a black bear, or any sign of one, in about two years.

Equipment used in hunting:
What weapon do you personally use when hunting?

It depends on the game. I use a 12 gauge over and under Browning Citori for turkey, a Remington .25-06 bolt-action for whitetail, and a 7mm Remington bolt-action I use for longer range hunting. I have an Excalibur Equinox crossbow, too. I’ve gone bow hunting before, but in recent years, I haven’t had as much time to practice as I’d like, so I wouldn’t go out again unless that changed.

What are the advantages and disadvantages in hunting with a bow or crossbow?

There are a lot more disadvantages. Bowhunting must be done at short range. A 25 to 30 yard shot is the sweet spot, but an above average bowhunter (and I’m not among them!) could go out to 40 or so with accuracy. You have to compensate for wind more with a bow than you do a rifle at the same range. Because an arrow isn’t nearly as fast as a bullet, a deer can actually dodge an arrow, turning a lethal shot into one that simply wounds the animal.

A key advantage is that bow season (in NY, as well as most other states I’m aware of) occurs before rifle season, so the deer are more plentiful and less spooked. Also, a bow is a lot quieter than a gun, so if you miss a deer with your first shot you can sit tight and wait for another deer to come in. If you miss with a gun, all the game in the area knows it!

What are the advantages and disadvantages in hunting with a shotgun or rifle?

Shotgun range is short – a 12 gauge can get out to 40 or maybe 50 yards reliably. A rifle can obviously shoot a lot father. One of the reasons I use my 7mm for longer range is it´s very flat shooting (little drop off between say 200 and 300 yard shots). The main benefit to a shotgun is the spray pattern you get when using birdshot – you don’t need to be as precise, which is great for shooting birds in flight, for example.

Do you use tree stands or do you hunt on the ground?

Both, but I have a strong personal preference for hunting on the ground.

What are the advantages and disadvantages in doing either?

You get a much better view from a treestand, but can’t really adjust yourself too much (so if a deer comes in from behind you, you won’t have a shot at it). A deer might have a harder time scenting you if you’re up in a tree, but there’s also the threat of falling out of the tree – more accidents are caused by falling out of a treestand than anything else.

Do you use animal scent products to attract your prey? If so, how effective are they?

I do. I use doe urine (specifically Code Blue’s Doe Estrous), and will create a couple of scent trails in the area, but not leading right up to my blind, of course. I’ve had great results from these. One other trick is that if I get a doe early in the season, I remove the tarsal glands from her rear legs, and drag those through the woods to lay a scent trail.

Safety Rules and Regulations:

Can you tell me briefly what some of the safety rules and regulations are when hunting, how practical they are, and if all hunters abide by them?

I’ll give you the one safety rule that my dad drilled into me every day in the woods when I was a kid. Treat every gun as a loaded weapon. Never point your weapon at something you don’t intend to kill, even if you think it is unloaded. Heck, even if you’re SURE it isn’t loaded. It is just a good habit to get into.

I’m lucky in that I’ve always hunted with people who are incredibly safe, but there’s obviously a small minority of hunters out there who don’t fall into that category.

What is field dressing an animal, and why does it need to be done on the hunting ground?

Field dressing is the process of removing the internal organs from a deer you’ve just killed. There are two main reasons to do this. First – many of those organs are filled with waste and bacteria – you’ll want to carefully removal the viscera to get it away from the meat you intend to eat. Second, opening up the body cavity helps cool the body more quickly - this also minimizes the possibility of a bacteria problem.

Is there anything else you can add that might be useful to the readers?

Focus on enjoying your time in the woods, and don’t worry so much about whether or not you’re going to be “successful” in bringing game home. You can’t control whether or not you’ll see a big buck on a hunting trip, but if the simple pleasure of enjoying nature puts a smile on your face, then EVERY hunting season will be a success.

Thanks again Joe for the interview.

I hope you readers enjoyed this look into hunting, and stay tuned for my next article

In Frith,

Ragnar Valfrekr

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