Important Deadlines and Reminders for Hunters in Ontario

Since the vast majority of my viewing traffic is coming from Ontario, I thought that I’d post these quick reminders of some important upcoming dates for hunters, as listed on the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website.
April 25, 2011 to May 31, 2011—Spring Wild Turkey Season
May 31, 2011—Moose Draw Deadline
For those of you viewing from outside Ontario, if you’d like to see more coverage of your area in Get Out & Go Hunting, send me an email with the kind of info you’d like to see and some reliable sources to research it from and I’ll do the legwork and post it up here for your one-stop-shopping convenience.

Confessions of a Turkey Hunting Gearhead—Part One

So…it has come to this already.  This blog, still in its infancy, has received its first fan mail, and to boot it is from someone who does not know me personally and someone that is not (I think) being ironic.  Before I go any further, I will say “thank you” to this particular reader who emailed and asked me what gear I would recommend for a first time turkey hunter to pack in their vest.  I can’t say I’m not a little flattered that a newbie would ask me for advice.  It also still leaves me a bit stunned that people read this at all.
Since I’m not a self-professed expert, I’ll try not to screw this up.  If you want to purchase any of the items I wear/use, I will include some links for each item with this, and future, posts on the subject of equipment.  If you don’t want to purchase them, by all means don’t or you might end up like me with a vest full of goodies that you feel obligated to use regardless of how effective they are.
Let me begin by adding this good-natured disclaimer:  I carry a tonne of gear into the woods so in the interest of making this as readable as possible, I’ll break this down into parts.  Today I’ll talk about all the stuff I wear.
Vest/Outerwear
I do recommend a vest, although it is far from a mandatory item for any turkey hunter whether a beginner or expert.  My father has never worn a vest and he has killed many a gobbler with nothing more than a fanny pack, a box call, some effort, and a shotgun.  However, based on the question, I can assume the reader that contacted me already has one.  For my money, I’ve tried on many turkey vests and found that the Primos Gobbler Vest was the best for me.  Pros?  It has a pocket for everything, fits well across the back (a must in my opinion), and has the comfiest seat of all the vests I tested out (also vitally important).  Cons?   It is a bit pricey (although not the most expensive on the market) and I found at first that it had too many pockets; so many that I forgot where I had placed certain valuable items, such as my license, left glove, and knife.
Prior to owning my current vest I started out with an entry-level model from Redhead.  While it was more than sufficient; the only two knocks on it were that the seat was prone to getting soaked by dew and leaching into my pants (a quick blast of ScotchGuard took care of that problem) and the wide-mouthed pockets, while handy for digging around in, had a tendency to let certain items escape forever…such as my facemask and two (much needed) shotgun shells which all made a break for it when sun-dappled afternoon and were never subsequently recovered.  Call them archaeological artifacts for future generations to discover.
For the entire spring turkey season I always carry the waterproof shell from my Remington 4-in-1 hunting jacket in a Realtree AP pattern.  It is warm enough for any really unpleasant days, it keeps me dry (which is of paramount importance) and it has extra pockets, which are always helpful.
Clothing
Weather in the Ontario spring turkey season can run in extremes.  I’ve been on opening weekend (read-late April) hunts that were hovering delicately in the near-freezing area and I’ve likewise been out on late May hunts that threatened to melt me, and vice-versa.  2010 was great for examples this wacky weather.  In the first weekend of May 2010, I was lucky enough to experience five seasons (yes FIVE!) in one truly nightmarish Saturday of turkey hunting in the Barrie area.  That day began in a clammy drizzle, calmed down a to dull-gray but reasonably warm mid-day, became a sunny and balmy double digit early afternoon just before turning into a freezing windstorm accompanied by three kinds of snow.  With this in mind, I have gotten into the habit of wearing more than I need and then being able to strip down if necessary.
For most of the season I put on an Under Armour mid-weight base layer for hunts, and some polyester long underwear that breathes; this usually suits me fine for the morning hunts.  If in the mid-day and into the afternoon I find things are getting too warm, I strip down to just my shirt and pants.
My shirt is a long-sleeved, breathable synthetic t-shirt from Columbia in a basic, splotchy earth tones camouflage pattern.  My pants are Redhead Stalker Lite in a Mossy Oak Breakup Pattern.
Boots
My boots are just plain old Redhead Bone Dry rubber boots boots from Bass Pro Shops in Mossy Oak Breakup and they were the last pair they had in stock and therefore a bargain.  But best of all they’ve lasted twice as long as any other pair of more expensive rubber boots I’ve bought.  Some folks I’ve talked to have had durability or blister complaints about Redhead boots, but to date, I’ve had no problem.  I think the key, for blister control at least, is proper socks.  I wear a light wool sock that comes up to my knee.  They are snug enough not to slip, rub, and bunch up, warm enough for a cold morning and light enough so that I don’t sweat.  In fact, they are my all-season, all-species hunting socks.
Accessories
To round out the look I have a ‘ninja-style’ camouflage face mask and some mesh camouflage gloves.  I like the ninja-style facemask because I wear glasses and they stay in place more consistently than they did when I used to have a ¾ style, elasticized, pull up/pull down kind of mask.  I cut about half of the index finger off each glove so that I can better run my pot calls and pull the trigger, but other wise I don’t make any other modifications.  I also wear a baseball cap in Realtree AP camo that my cousin had custom made for our hunting group of friends.  It is also my lucky hat.
So that’s what I wear.  Next week, I’ll post what I carry in terms of calls and equipment so if you’re still interested, then stay tuned.

Jack Miner Calling Classic in Kingsville, ON–April 10, 2011

As the title of this post says, the Jack Miner Calling Classic is taking place this April in Kingsville, Ontario as the kick-off event for National Wildlife Week.

I am strongly considering going down (in the novice category so it is not like my presence would constitue any kind of special attraction) and seeing how I stack up against some far superior goose and duck callers.

Perhaps you’ve never been to a calling contest and are curious to know what the fuss is about; I can say with some certainty that I’ve never been to a duck and goose calling contest yet that was anything other than fun.  If you are a vendor thinking of trading your wares, the link above has vendor details as well.

There will also be some retriever demos and other assorted waterfowl-related fun going on.

Huntin’ Songs

I like music, and I think it is safe to say that most other people do as well.  You may like classic rock or new country, and you may not like what I like (in fact, because my musical tastes are absurdly diverse, I’m almost certain that you don’t) but that’s okay because allegiance to certain bands or genres of music is strictly personal.  I’m far from a music expert, and my analysis of an album may be skewed and entirely off-point, but I know what I like to hear.
Some people have a “desert island list” of songs or albums that they absolutely would need to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island; I have a “hunting camp list”, because there are some tunes that just put me in a hunting frame of mind.  Some of the songs may seem ridiculous to you my dear reader, but that is just the reality of the situation.  Likewise, some may be songs that you love as well and that equally remind you of a hunting camp, or your first deer, or other treasured hunting remembrance.  Almost all of them could be considered ‘camp songs’ in the sense that they are best played in a cabin, cottage, or some other out-of-the-way place where you could hypothetically sing, dance, and let loose.
So in the interest of letting you know a bit more about me, and maybe turning you on to a more diverse spectrum of bands and songs, here is a list of my five favourite musicians and their songs/albums (in no particular order) that remind me of, or make me feel like going, hunting.
The Lowest of the Low, Shakespeare My Butt!
This Toronto band, fronted by Ron Hawkins (not the 1960’s Ronnie Hawkins, a different one) released the album Shakespeare My Butt! in 1991 and I had a cassette copy of it for years (when cassettes were still accepted as a medium for music).  I picked up a CD copy about ten years ago and listening to this album while I make the 3 hour trek up to the Bruce Peninsula to hunt deer, waterfowl, or wild turkeys has become a ritual of mine; sometimes I listen to it three times in a single one way trip.  When I slide this album into the CD player in the car, it is a sure sign that I’m ‘gone hunting!’
It is a blend of folk, pop, and rock which at the time fell into that cavernous, early 1990’s abyss of music that was known as ‘alternative’.   I have a different name for the genre: campfire music.  Every song on this album just has a vibe that could be sung by a guy with an acoustic guitar while sitting around a bonfire or a camp stove.  For those who value music critic’s opinions, this album was named one of the Top Ten Greatest Canadian Albums ever released.  My favourite tracks include 4 O’Clock Stop and Subversives, although honestly this album is strong top to bottom without a bad cut to be found on it.
Hank Williams, 40 Greatest Hits
This is classic country, and it just does not get any more ‘down home’ than this.  Although I’m sure this is not the actual album that gets played three or four times a week at the deer hunting camp, many of the songs by the late, great Hank Williams that are vital to a week in our deer camp can be found here.  From classic ‘heartbreak’ ballads like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and Your Cheatin’ Heart, to raucous good-time songs like Jambalaya, Hey Good Lookin’, and Honky Tonkin, for my money Hank Williams playing at the deer camp is just plain old right.
Again, you can’t really go wrong with any songs here, but my top Hank Williams song is a toss up between There’s a Tear in My Beer and Kaw-Liga.
I’m not certain if I equate Hank Williams songs with deer hunting because there is some rural, wilderness aesthetic inherent in Hank Williams music or because I’ve grown accustomed to hearing those songs at least every other day for a full week of deer hunting for the last 15 years or so.  Probably a bit of both.
Don Messer & His Islanders
This is another classic deer camp album for me.  Our deer camp patriarchs were all born in the early & mid-1950’s and all grew up in a world where for a period the CBC was primarily the only television station they could watch.  Don Messer was a folk musician on the CBC who played the fiddle (violin to all you aficionados out there) and for a while was the star of the most popular television show in Canada (even outdrawing Hockey Night in Canada!) so the men who passed the deer hunting tradition down to myself, my brother, and my cousins also passed along an appreciation for this little-known (at least outside of Canada and the Eastern US seaboard) musician.  Don Messer’s fiddle sings a lively brand of East Coast-style music; songs like Red Wing and Little Burnt Potato are alive with a spirit of good times.
I defy anyone who listens to this album (or any music by Don Messer period) to not be inclined to start skipping a little jig or to find themselves walking with a bit more of a spring in their step.  One of the sadly deceased members of our deer camp was known for playing the spoons along with the tracks on this album; he also had a small pair of sticks he referred to as ‘bones’ that, when played similarly, would tap out a sprightly rhythm that was downright infectious.
I find that the musical stylings of Don Messer and His Islanders are best enjoyed after the dinner hour, when a hunter has a full belly and an inclination to enjoy their favourite drink and partake in some good conversation.
The Animals, House of the Rising Sun
This song has a lengthy and muddy history, and it has been covered more times than I can count (or research on the Internet).  Bob Dylan’s version is excellent as he growls and throats his way through the story of a wayward young woman in his own inimitable fashion, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar.  Older versions I have heard (where it is entitled The Rising Sun Blues) also have their appeal but for this hunter the unmistakeably grim, rolling notes of the classic guitar riff that kicks off the version performed by Eric Burdon and the Animals is the definitive essence of this tune.  So aside from being a great version of the song with a timeless riff and soaring, soulful vocals, what warrants the inclusion in this list of songs that remind me of hunting?
While slightly embarrassing to admit, I do occasionally get bored sitting in the ditch overlooking a few dozen goose decoys or while on stand during a lull in the action while deer or spring turkey hunting, and it is this song that I sing in my head during those (sometimes lengthy) periods.  Usually something else grabs my attention after a few moments and I’m then engaged doing something else such as calling for game, watching a blue jay chase a chickadee, paying attention to my surroundings for some sign of game approaching, or enjoying a small snack (I find that those mini Coffee Crisp bars are the best for that).  But at least two or three times a hunt, I find myself quietly listening to House of the Rising Sun and that iconic almost menacing lead guitar riff in my mind.  Perhaps if I did less of that and more of the ‘paying attention to my surroundings’ thing I’d be more successful, but then again maybe not.
Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gumboot Cloggeroo
I have a younger brother who kind of likes Stompin’ Tom…except during deer season when that Canadian legend’s album (Stompin’ Tom’s, not my brother’s….he hasn’t even released an album yet) is played almost ad nauseam inside the cabin.  That is when my brother quite quickly grows weary of Stompin’ Tom’s vibrant guitar playing and twangy but mellow singing tones.  I’m actually a big fan of Stompin’ Tom but I will admit that by mid-day on the Friday of deer camp, after three or four days of The Hockey Song and Sudbury Saturday Night playing on a non-stop loop, even my normally tolerant orchestral nerves are beginning to become a bit jangled.  But frankly, even when played constantly and at a volume bordering on the torturously loud, the Gumboot Cloggeroo never gets tiresome.
This song has a beat that makes want to do more than just tap your foot; it makes you want to hunker over, round down your shoulders, stomp your foot like Stompin’ Tom himself while simultaneously clapping your hands in time, shouting the lyrics, and generally rattling the cabin walls and windows with a raucous good time.  For some unexplained reason, it feels like this song embodies all the camaraderie, spirit, and unbridled relaxing silliness of a hunting trip.  Even my brother, jaded though he may be by the constant barrage of The Ketchup Song over the week of deer hunting, gets in on the act every time we “do a little gumboot cloggin’”
So there you have it, far from my complete list, which includes Charlie Pride, CCR, Bad Religion, The Mamas and The Papas, Rise Against, The Doors, George Thorogood, and Johnny Cash (see what I said earlier about diverse?), but definitely five songs or albums that make up part of my hunting tradition.
I’m sure you’ve got your own list too, but then again you might even add something from my list to yours…who knows?

Hunting. Not Hype.