50 Great American Skills
Fishing, hunting, and camping tips from every state
This year, we made a cross-country tour to find the best hunting, fishing, camping, or survival skill in every state. We discovered new ways to track deer for miles in Vermont and dupe lunkers with live bait in Florida. We even learned how to survive on snakes in Arizona. Master all 50 skills and there won’t be one wild stretch in America that you can’t handle.
HUNTING TIP: Plot a Yearlong Ambush
Robert Pitman, owner of Alabama’s storied White Oak Plantation, has devised an ingenious food-plot design that provides yearlong nutrition and season-long shooting opportunities. “Branching the plot in different directions allows animals to get on the food—and in range—in lots of wind conditions,” says Pitman. His strategies can be put to use on any piece of deer ground.
Step 1: Plant fruit and nut trees such as apple, crab apple, oak, and Japanese persimmon in the center of the Y and the lower, outside edges of forks.
Step 2: Plant dense browse such as blackberry or the strawberry bush known as hearts-a-bursting at the upper, outside edges of forks.
Step 3: Inside the Y, one fork should be planted in early-maturing greens for bow season. Plant the other fork in forage greens for late gun season.
Step 4: Position the open end of the Y to face the prevailing winds in your hunting area, and put your deer stand at the bottom end of the Y.
SURVIVAL TIP: Construct a Fish Weir
Each year biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game count millions of salmon, rainbow trout, and Dolly Varden using fish weirs in migration streams. In a days-long survival situation you can build such a fish trap to help fill your belly.
In shallow streams, build a weir of a low stone wall that extends out into the stream. Migratory fish will swim into the trap. Once enough fish are in the trap, close off the entrance. Water flowing through the weir will keep fish alive for several days.
SURVIVAL TIP: Skin and Cook a Snake
Get lost in Arizona and you’ll have more than 50 snake species to dine on. This should be a last resort, as some of these creatures are protected.
Step 1: Cut off the head. Insert the knife tip into the anal vent and run the blade up the belly.
Step 2: Free a section of the skin. Grasp the snake in one hand, the freed skin section in the other, and pull apart.
Step 3: Remove the entrails, which lie along the base of the spine.
Step 4: Chop into bite-size pieces. Fry or boil.
HUNTING TIP: Call Ducks With a Partner
Arkansas is the duck-calling capital of the world—something Kent Cullum knows all about. He has won the Masters of the Marsh Two-Man Meat Duck Calling Championship and the World Championship Live Duck crown. You can double your chances at ducks, Cullum says, by doubling up with another caller.
Hail Call: Think “Row, row, row your boat” when team-calling to birds in the distance. As one caller hits his third or fourth quack in a descending hail call, his partner needs to follow with a similar descending hail call.
Hen Time: Once the birds are interested, dispense with the hail calls. Partners should blow a series of hen quacks that differ in pitch and cadence. If one caller starts off with a lazy hen, the other should cut in with a bouncing hen call.
The closer: When birds are skimming the treetops in green timber, Cullum dials back the volume and tries a realistic feeding call that simulates a single and very contented hen mallard. “Nothing fancy,” Cullum says. “Just imagine a happy duck making happy little soft, purring quack sounds. That usually does the trick.”
FISHING TIP: Adjust a Saddle for an All-Day Ride
The High Sierras top the wish list of any angler hankering for an Old West horseback fishing expedition, but plenty of desk jockeys arrive in Northern California cutthroat country barely able to walk. The length of a saddle’s stirrup leathers—which connect the stirrups to the saddletree—is the primary factor that determines whether your trail will take you to lifetime memories or salty tears. Here’s how to adjust your stirrups to fit your legs:
On the Ground: Get in the ballpark by running your hand under the seat to where the stirrup straps touch the saddletree. Adjust the length of the leathers so that the stirrup bottoms reach to your armpit.
In the Saddle: Fine-tune the fit by letting your legs hang down naturally from the saddle. Adjust the stirrup so the bottom of the tread is slightly below your anklebone. Now stand in the saddle. You should have a fist-size clearance between the saddle and your butt. If you’re a greenhorn, it’s wise to err on the shorter side.
In Your Mind: Adjust your expectations—riding over long distances hurts. There’s an old saying: “If your knees are sore, your stirrups are too short. If your ass is sore, your stirrups are too long. If both your knees and your ass hurt like hell, then everything is just right.”
HUNTING TIP: Shoot Standing With Shooting Sticks
Total Outdoorsman Peter Mosby, of Aurora, Colo., has used shooting sticks to take elk, antelope, and mule deer at long range. His method, shown here, creates a shooting cradle out of the shooting sticks and his upper body.
Step 1: Stand up straight. Adjust the height of the shooting sticks to adjust point of impact up or down. Never crouch or stand taller than what is comfortable.
Step 2: Having both hands on the rifle increases the chance for instability. Place the fore-end of the rifle in the V-notch of the sticks, then reach your fore-end hand across your body, under the gunstock, and into the opposite armpit. Clamp down gently on your hand to lock the arm in position. Now pull the stock into your shoulder, but not too tight. The goal is to be relaxed and put as little torque on the rifle as possible.
Step 3: To fire, breathe deep, and let it out slowly. Squeeze the trigger just as you are running out of air.
HUNTING TIP: Preserve a Turkey Fan
Wild turkey restoration has been so successful in Connecticut that the state sent birds elsewhere for relocation, including Maine, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas. No word on whether those transplants to the South have learned to gobble with a drawl. Here’s how to make a trophy out of a gobbler’s breeding finery:
Step 1: Remove the tail. Use a sharp knife to remove all flesh and fat from around the quill bases. Be careful not to cut the quills. When the bases are white and shiny, they’re ready. Rub 20 Mule Team Borax into the skin and all around the quill bases.
Step 2: Mold a wad of auto-body-repair filler. Lay the tail on a piece of plastic wrap, quill ends exposed, with enough plastic to fold over the quills. Apply the filler to the quills, cover them with the flap, and work the filler between each quill.
Step 3: Arrange the fan on a flat surface and spread the feathers, starting in the middle and moving to the outside edges of the fan. Tape the feathers down with masking tape. The filler should set in about 30 minutes.
FISHING TIP: Patch a Kayak With Duct Tape
Tiny Delaware is hardly more than a sliver of high ground on a massive saltwater bay, crisscrossed with rivers that run to the sea: perfect for kayak fishing and perfect for busting up a boat on a riprap landing. Here’s how to fix a cracked kayak hull and get back to chasing stripers in 30 minutes.
Step 1: Stop the crack from enlarging by drilling a hole at each end of the split. Rub the cracked area with sandpaper, and clean it with a damp cloth. Let dry.
Step 2: Heat the patch area with a hair dryer until it’s nearly hot to the touch. Neatly place duct tape over the crack, overlapping it by 2 inches. Push out air bubbles. Now heat the patch with the hair dryer until small wrinkles form under the tape. Use a spoon to press as hard as you can, starting in the middle and working to the edges of the duct tape. Don’t drag the spoon. Pick it up, press down, and roll toward the tape edge.
Step 3: Repeat with three other layers, overlapping one another by about 1⁄4 inch.
FISHING TIP: Steer Live Bait Toward a Lunker
Florida anglers fine-tune hook locations on live shiners to guide the bait into different kinds of structure. Hooked through the lips, a shiner tends to swim back to the boat, or stay in one place. A hook at the base of the dorsal fin creates bait action as the minnow tries to swim away, and it will splash on the surface. Hook one near the anal fin—close to the spine—to make it dive. To get the bait under floating mats of vegetation, hook it just above the anal fin. The shiner will swim away from the boat, and by gently lifting and dropping the rod tip, you can get the bait to swim deeper.
FISHING TIP: Chum Bream With a Dead Raccoon
Sweet tea and early peaches might come to mind when you think of Georgia, but Peach State old-timers go looking for something less appetizing once the bream bite heats up. Used to be, they’d nail a hunk of a dead cow to a tree over a farm pond, and sit back while sunshine and a thousand flies showed up at the party. These days a roadkill raccoon is more common, but chumming with maggots still works. Find an expired mammal of medium size, hang it over a pond, and come back in a few days. Bream that have swarmed to feed on the falling fly larvae will smack anything you cast.
HUNTING TIP: Kill a Wild Pig With a Knife
Centuries before Hogzilla, Hawaiian natives were dispatching wild pigs with little more than gumption and a 6-inch blade. Maui native Rodney Perreira Jr. (mauihuntingsafari.com) has been guiding hunters for years. It’s one of the most humane hunting methods, Perreira says: “Most pigs expire in three seconds or less.” Here’s his drill:
Step 1: Approach the pig from the rear, while it’s focused on the dogs. Move slowly and avoid getting between your quarry and anything that would prevent you from backing away.
Step 2: Grab the pig’s hind legs just above the hooves. Lift the animal up like a wheelbarrow. The pig will fight for a few seconds, then stop. Flip him over on his side.
Step 3: Let go with your knife hand and get a knee on the pig’s shoulder. Unsheathe your knife. Sink it low and behind the shoulder, so it enters the heart, and remove the blade immediately. Keep your weight on the pig until the deal is done.
SURVIVAL TIP: Track Back With GPS
At 2.3 million acres, the spud state’s Frank Church–River of No Return Wilderness is the second largest chunk of wilderness in the Lower 48. Show up here and you’d better know your way around a GPS keypad. “Most people use their GPS as little more than a fancy compass,” says Stephen W. Hinch, author of Outdoor Navigation With GPS. “But the track-log and track-back functions are perfect for hunters and anglers who want to plot a trail from a trailhead or truck to tree stands or duck blinds and back.” Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Turn the GPS unit on, leave it on, and leave it out where it can get a clear signal.
Step 2: Activate the track-log function. (On Garmin units, it’s called Tracks; on Magellan handhelds, Trails.) Don’t customize the settings, such as how often the unit plots a waypoint. “The auto mode is best,” says Hinch. “It changes the timing of waypoints depending on how fast you move.”
Step 3: At your final destination, stop the track log and store and name the track before powering off. You can now easily follow that track back the way you came with your unit’s return feature (called TracBack by Garmin; Reverse Trail by Magellan), or even download it to GPS mapping software.
FISHING TIP: Dupe a Muskie at the Last Second
The nickname Prairie State may not lend itself to visions of bruiser fish, but Illinois has a growing reputation for breeding trophy muskellunge, which are notorious for shadowing a spinner bucktail all the way to the boat. Here’s how to sucker-punch these predators with a figure-eight retrieve.
Step 1: At the end of your retrieve, when there’s just a foot of leader outside the rod, plunge the rod tip into the water and sweep the rod quickly to one side in a straight line. (The rod in the water shouldn’t spook the fish.) As you prepare to begin the first loop of the figure eight, raise the rod tip to just above the water. The bait will look as if it’s making an escape. This should trigger a strike.
Step 2: If the fish still follows, complete the first loop and start the second straight line, sticking the rod tip deeper and moving the bait faster than on the first pass. Before making the second loop, raise the rod tip again to simulate a baitfish streaking for the surface. Straighten out the loop to complete a figure eight. Reel in.
CAMPING TIP: Start Snoring Before Your Bunkmate
When it comes to catching backwoods Zs, nothing is worse than racing a bunkmate to see who can fall asleep before the heavy timber cutting begins. In this case, the best offense is a good defense—and something slightly offensive.
A Toast: Offer him a nightcap: a rum-and-cola…with Red Bull.
False Alarm: Turn his cellphone to vibrate and set the alarm to go off a half hour after lights out. Once he figures out what’s making the fuss, he’ll have a hard time reentering la-la land.
Rock ‘n’ Roll: Saw an inch off one leg of his bunk so it rocks.
Scratchers Game: Slip a few local samples of scratchy natural materials between his sheets. Maple seeds, cockleburs, sand spurs, and toenail clippings all work well.
HUNTING TIP: Bleach a Deer Skull
Your biggest buck may not be Iowa big—the shotgun record scored 2251⁄8—but every buck is a trophy in some way. Make yours shine with this DIY bleaching process.
Step 1: Trim away all flesh and skin, then boil the skull, removing it every 30 minutes to scrape away as much tissue as possible. Keep the antler bases out of the water, however; trim around them with a sharp knife. Use a straightened wire coat hanger to dislodge brain tissue.
Step 2: Bleach will degrade the bone. Instead, buy 40 percent peroxide from a beauty supply store, and pour it into a spray bottle. On a sunny day, swab and spray the skull outside, being careful to keep the liquid off the antlers or they will discolor. Repeat every 30 minutes or so until the bone is completely clean and white. This may take a few afternoons.
Step 3: Glue loose teeth in place. Use wood stain to restore faded antler color. Dry, then spray the antlers with a clear semigloss polyurethane.
HUNTING TIP: Put Up a Ladder Stand the Safe Way
It is physically impossible to put up a ladder stand alone if you follow certain manufacturers’ instructions. And what if you want to move an old ladder stand? “It takes three people to safely put up a ladder stand,” says Pat McKenna of Ameristep, whose ladder stands range from 15 to 22 feet high. Here’s how to do it without cracking a cranium:
Ready it: Lay the ladder out with its base approximately 3 to 4 feet from the base of the tree for a one-person stand, or 4 to 5 feet for a two-man stand. The side of the stand that will touch the tree faces up. Tie a stout anchor rope to each back corner of the stand platform. The ropes should be 10 feet longer than the stand’s height.
Raise it: One person goes to the base of the stand and braces his feet against the ladder’s bottom, holding an anchor rope in each hand. The others raise the platform end overhead and walk the stand up as the anchor person stays put and pulls in the slack on the ropes, keeping them tight so the ladder rises straight overhead.
Ratchet it: With the stand against the tree, crisscross the anchor ropes behind the trunk and tie them tightly to the bottom ladder rung. One person climbs the ladder, attaches a ratchet strap to the base of the platform, and secures it tight.
HUNTING TIP: Bark a Squirrel
Okay, so the Kentucky rifle was developed in Pennsylvania. But John James Audubon saw Daniel Boone bark a squirrel in ol’ Kaintuck, and soon the gun was synonymous with Kentucky. Here’s how to make like Boone:
Hunt with a .32 blackpowder rifle—and be mindful of what, or who, is beyond your target. Aim at the branch under the squirrel’s head. Place the bullet so it hits above the branch’s centerline, so it will splinter the branch and knock the squirrel silly.
CAMPING TIP: Lash a Tripod
You can hardly throw a stick in Cajun country without seeing some old swamper cooking étouffée of squirrel in a massive black pot. Make a tripod of three poles and cord, and you can hold a kettle over a fire.
Step 1: Place three poles on the ground with the center pole going in the opposite direction. Tie a clove hitch* on the left pole.
Step 2: Wrap seven turns over, under, and around the poles. Finish with frapping turns between the poles and another clove hitch.
Step 3: Raising the tripod will tighten the lashings. Now you can start a fire and get that pot of squirrel bubbling.
- How to Tie a Clove Hitch: Wrap the cord around the left pole, make another wrap over the first one, tuck the tag end under the second wrap, and tighten.
FISHING TIP: Fly Cast to Fickle Pond Trout
When conditions are perfect, one of trout fishing’s signature endeavors is fly casting to brook trout rising to surface flies in remote Maine ponds. But when the stars haven’t lined up over the North Woods, Maine guide Kevin Tracewski has learned how to fool pond squaretails. Here’s how:
Anchor the boat fore and aft as far away from structure, such as a suspended weedbed, as you can cast. Using a heavy sinking line, make a long cast. Strip out 10 feet of line and shake it through the tip-top guide. Drop your rod tip to the water—and do nothing. The line will sink to form an underwater L, dropping straight from your rod tip and then extending out toward the structure. “Count down, say, 10 seconds before starting a retrieve,” Tracewski says. “The belly of the line will pull the fly through the sweet spot until it is nearly to the boat.” If you don’t get a hit, cast again and count down to 15 seconds before retrieving, then 20 and 25.
HUNTING TIP: Set Up a Facebook Group for Your Deer Club
Sure, you can find your eighth-grade crush on Facebook, but create a Facebook group for your hunting club and you can dial up communication between all club members. It’s a snap to post trail-cam photos and videos of successful hunts, make a list of who’s coming to scheduled work days, and jump-start a discussion forum that keeps members in touch all year. First, all club members need to join Facebook. It’s free and easy, and you can control access to the group so it is visible to all Facebook users, or only to invited members.
Step 1: Log into Facebook. Choose the “Groups” link on the right side of the page, then click on “Create a New Group.”
Step 2: Fill out the online form and click “Create Group.” Upload a photo to use as a group theme by choosing a photo from your computer and clicking “Upload Picture.” Then click “Continue.”
Step 3: Invite members to join the group by choosing them from your friends list, then click “Finish and View.”
Step 4: While you’re at it, become a member of Field & Stream’s Facebook group.
FISHING TIP: Back a Boat Into a Slip
Had their captains backed the Dartmouth, Beaver, and Eleanor into their respective slips, the Brits might have been able to goose the engines and leave the Boston Tea Party rebels flatfooted on the dock. Moral of the story: There are lots of reasons to know how to back a boat into a slip. (Practice in a quiet cove to learn which way your bow turns when you attempt to back in a straight line—a phenomenon known as “propeller walk.”)
Step 1: Idle to your target slip. As your bow reaches the slip just before yours, stop forward motion by bumping into reverse. Shift into neutral and turn the wheel away from your slip as far as it will turn.
Step 2: Bump the throttle into forward to start a pivot turn. Shift to neutral, turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction, and then bump into reverse. This will stop the pivot.
Step 3: Align the transom with the slip, and back in slowly. Remember which direction your bow wants to “walk” when moving in reverse. Adjust course by bumping the drive into and out of gear.
FISHING TIP: Snap A Great Fish Photo
With four of the five Great Lakes, you can bet there are award-winning fish photos to be had in Michigan. Here’s how:
Set the scene: Move away from water muddied by the fight. Position the lure in the fish’s mouth the way you want it to appear.
Fire away: Have the angler kneel in the water, supporting the fish with both hands. Meter off the fish, then have the angler dip the fish into the water. Shoot as the fish comes up, streaming droplets of water.
FISHING TIP: Fillet a Northern Pike
The Y-bones embedded in the dorsal flesh of a northern pike prevent many anglers from dining on one of the tastiest fish that swims. Learn to remove them and you will never curse when a 3-pound pike bashes your walleye rig.
Step 1: Fillet the fish, removing flesh from the ribs as you would with any other fish.
Step 2: Find the row of white dots visible midway between the spine and the top of the fillet. These are the tips of the Y-bones. Slice along the top of these dots, nearly through the fillet, following the curvature of the bones.
Step 3: Slice along the bottom of the Y-bones, following their shape, aiming the knife tip toward the first incision.
Step 4: Connect the two cuts above the fish’s anus. Remove the bony strip. Get the grease popping.
FISHING TIP: Hand Grab a Catfish
In noodling expert Gerald Moore’s corner of Mississippi, they set out casket-shaped catfish boxes—with a hole the size of a football in one end—in chest-deep water. After a few months, a three-person team returns to the box.
Step 1: The “checker” blocks the hole with his feet and checks for a fish with a 7-foot pole.
Step 2: A “helper” stands on the box and steadies the checker. The “grabber” goes underwater and sticks his right arm in the box, up to the elbow.
Step 3: If the fish bites, get all four fingers in the pocket behind its teeth, with your thumb on the outside. Pull it out and wrap it with your left arm.
FISHING TIP: Master the Tube Jig
Smallmouths in Ozark streams are pigs for crayfish. Nothing imitates a craw like a tube jig.
Scent Control: Jam a small piece of sponge soaked with scent into the tube.
Depth Perception: In still water use a 1⁄8-ounce jighead for water less than 10 feet deep; 1⁄4-ounce for water 10 to 20 feet deep; and 3⁄8-ounce for water deeper than 20 feet. Add weight in moving water.
Craw Crawl: Let the jig fall to the bottom. Reel up the slack and count to 10. Bass will often strike right away. Start a series of rod-tip lifts. The jig should swim a foot off the bottom, then flutter down.
SURVIVAL TIP: Search for a Lost Person
Lose a party member in the backcountry, and you shouldn’t sit around until Search and Rescue arrives. Here’s the drill for putting on your own manhunt while waiting for the pros.
Plot the position: Mark a map with the letters PLS (Point Last Seen) at the lost individual’s last known position. Draw 3- and 6-mile radius circles around the PLS. Half of all lost persons will be found within the 3-mile circle, and nine out of 10 within the 6-mile range. If the PLS is within a 10-minute walk, immediately hike there, yelling and whistling every 30 seconds.
Contain the damage: Make a list of likely high-traffic areas the lost person might stumble across and send someone to mark the area with notes, daypacks, and directions back to camp.
Use your head: Get in the lost person’s brain. Think of where he could have lost his way.
Establish search teams: Make sure searchers have a way to navigate and communicate, and agree on specific times and locations for meeting back up. Send one team to the PLS and others to places identified as likely areas.
Stop at night: If it’s not a true emergency, suspend the search after dark.
HUNTING TIP: Film Your Next Deer Hunt
Nebraska has whopper populations of both whitetail and mule deer, so there’s plenty of chances to put a hunt on film. The trick? “Keeping your composure is the tough part, because a great hunt is so exciting,” says Dan Johnson, cameraman and editor for Realtree Outdoor Productions. Realtree crews carry a “shot list” of must-have scenes. So should you.
- Dialogue about the date, season, quarry, and location
- Hunter getting ready
- Wide location shots
- Hunter’s feet walking to stand
- Panning shots connecting hunter to game animal
- Close-ups: looking through scope, tip of broadhead or muzzle, finger pushing the gun safety off, clipping release to bowstring
- “Re-creates” after the shot: reenact hunter aiming in direction of game, looking intensely, feet shifting to take position
- Finding arrow
- Different angles of animal
- Closing shot of hunter with animal with no talking
HUNTING TIP: Teach a Bird Dog to Point
Reno hunter Lori Steinshouer is the only woman ever to run a dog at the National Championship for Field Trialing Bird Dogs. She knows what makes a bird dog stick.
Get the pup in feathers: For the first year, it’s all about getting the dog into birds. “You want him to find so many birds that he figures out there’s no way he can catch them,” Steinshouer says.
Get to the dog: Once the dog points, get there fast. “He needs the bird shot in front of him. That’s the positive reinforcement.”
Get the point across: Never shoot at a bird that hasn’t been pointed. Teach your dog that the only way he’s ever going to get a bird in his mouth is to point it so you can shoot it.
CAMPING TIP: Scale Fish With Bottle Caps
Do you drink beer from a bottle? Can you scrounge up a piece of wood about 6 inches long? Do you have two screws and a screwdriver? If you can answer “yes” to all three of these questions, you can assemble this handy-dandy fish scaler.
SURVIVAL TIP: Eat Roadkill
New Jersey has the nation’s highest population density, so the feral forager along its roadways will always have a hefty gamebag. But to separate plate-worthy roadkill from vulture food, follow these guidelines:
Body Check: Look for critters that have been clipped and tossed to the side of the road. If you have to use a flat shovel to retrieve your prize, well…
Smell Test: Any hunter knows what fresh dead meat smells like. Give the carcass a good sniff.
Cloudy Eyes: Pass it up; it’s been dead awhile.
Flea Check: If you find maggots, keep it out of your shopping cart. Fleas and ticks, however, are a good indicator of a fresh kill.
SURVIVAL TIP: Make Fire From Air
These unusual fire starters use compression to heat air up to 800 degrees F, which ignites tiny glowing embers that can be transferred to any tinder. Simple and elegant, they are difficult to make. Thankfully, they’re easy to find. To make fire with a piston, place a small piece of highly flammable material—decayed wood (1) or tinder fungus (2) both work well—in the cavity at the tip of the piston. Place this in the end of the chamber, smack it hard with your palm, and immediately remove the piston. Blow on the glowing coal as you transfer it to tinder, such as shredded cedar bark (3).
CAMPING TIP: Pipe Water From a Spring to Camp
Every New Yorker—from Manhattanites to upstate cowboys—dreams of a camp in the woods. But nobody wants to haul water. Locate your cabin or base camp downhill of a spring, and you can pipe clean water to where you need it.
Getting started: Find a suitable spring. You’ll need space for a narrow-mouth, 1-gallon plastic milk jug.
Step 1: Punch holes in the bottom of the jug and up one side. Wrap the jug with a filter of clean cloth and secure with cord. Cut a hole in the cap just large enough to insert tubing. Seal around the tubing with a silicone-based sealant. Place the jug in the spring with its mouth facing downhill. Anchor it with a log.
Step 2: Run the tubing into a collecting bucket. Give it a day or two for sediments to clear.
CAMPING TIP: Paddle a Solo Canoe Like a Champ
Total outdoorsman Paul Thompson, of Marion, N.C., has mastered how to paddle a canoe solo. Here’s how he does it:
Go backward: Thompson turned his boat around and paddled from behind the center thwart, distributing his weight across the widest part of the canoe.
Get low and lean: Kneeling slightly off-center kept Thompson’s center of gravity low and put his paddle closer to the water than if he’d been sitting upright. A slight lean gave the boat a long, keel-like profile, which made a huge difference.
Chop Chop: Thompson attacked the water with powerful chops like Paul Bunyan with a caffeine buzz. Short strokes are the best way to get a canoe moving.
SURVIVAL TIP: Survive the Night With A Knife
You can use a fixed-blade knife to turn a conifer into a overnight bivvy. First, fell a 9-foot balsam or other evergreen and remove all the branches close to the trunk.
Make a bough bed: Cut the tips of the evergreen branches to 1 foot in length. Use wooden stakes to chock a 3-foot-long, 4-inch-diameter log (cut from the tree trunk) at the head of the bed. Shingle the boughs at a 45-degree angle pointing away from the foot of the bed. Compress tightly as you work your way down. Anchor with a second 3-foot-long log from the trunk chocked with wooden stakes.
Glean tinder: The low, dead branches and sucker twigs of conifers make excellent tinder. Carve a fuzz stick from the thickest branch. Gather wood shavings from the others by scraping with the knife held at a 90-degree angle to the twigs.
Gin pole a fish: To cook a fish with no utensils, snip away all twigs from the longest branch. Sharpen the fat end, and drive it into the ground at about a 45-degree angle. Chock it with a rock or Y-shaped stick. Run cord through a fish’s mouth and gill like a stringer, tie it to the branch, and let it dangle and cook beside the fire.
HUNTING TIP: Make Your Own Deer Drag
Ohio deer are big. Ohio woods are big. Ohio hills are big. So you can bet that Ohio hunters have figured out an easy way to drag a big buck out of the woods. You’ll need two black plastic pallet sheets in good condition (try getting them from a warehouse), a grommet tool, 20 feet of parachute cord, and 10 feet of drag rope.
At Home: Stack the two pallet sheets one on top of the other, slippery sides facing down. Attach them with grommets spaced about a foot apart all the way up both sides. Next, double over 2 inches of one of the short ends; secure with two grommets. Fasten the drag rope onto this reinforced edge with stopper knots.
In the Field: Place your deer on the plastic sheeting. Use parachute cord to lace the plastic around the deer, just like lacing up a shoe. Get dragging.
FISHING TIP: Shoot a Rolling Gar
Each year, hundreds of shooters show up for the annual Youth World Bowfishing Championship on Oklahoma’s massive Gibson Lake. The hands-down favorite target of archers is longnose gar, which surface to gulp air, giving shooters just enough time to let fly. There are two ways to do it:
Clear Water: “If you can see a foot and a half deep, we call that clear water,” says Randy Woodward, the event organizer. Archers typically spot the fish as it’s about to surface, and draw and fire as the fish heads back down. Most missed shots go over their backs. “You’re looking at nothing but tail and thinking the head is about the same depth, but it’s not. They dive at a 45-degree angle in clear water. You’ve got to shoot maybe 6 inches below the fish.”
Muddy Water: Most archers never see their target gar when it rolls in muddy water. “You hear that sucking-air sound,” Woodward says. “That’s all you’ve got.” In dingy water, gar don’t head for the bottom quickly; they sink like an alligator. Shoot right at the ripples, where the fish are suspended. Most people will shoot too deep.
HUNTING TIP: Set a Decoy Gang Line for Big Water
Duck hunters on the Columbia River have to contend with extreme decoy-setting conditions. They’ve developed gang lines that will hold decoys in place through Armageddon but still give hunters the option of moving them when the birds need tweaking.
Tie a 5- to 10-pound anchor to each end of 150 feet of decoy cord. (A tip for hunters with retrievers: Use lead-core line to keep this long mother line underwater and out of your pooch’s paws.) Tie in 18-inch dropper lines for each decoy, spaced about 6 feet apart. Tie in a metal trout stringer clip to the end of each dropper. Set a number of gang lines parallel to one another, and fill in the gaps with individual decoys.
HUNTING TIP: Remove a Backstrap Like a True Butcher
Many hunters ruin the best cut of venison. To begin, says Brad Lockwood, former president of the Pennsylvania Association of Meat Packers, hang the deer from its hind legs and remove the shoulders.
Step 1: Insert the knife beside the spine right in the middle of the deer. Keep the blade tight against the vertebrae, and cut down to the neck. Turn the knife around and extend the cut to the hindquarters until the knife hits the pinbone of the hip. Repeat on the other side of the spine.
Step 2: Insert your knife out in the curve of the ribs, 4 inches from where you think the edge of the backstrap lies. Work the knife along the curve of the ribs and the bottom of the vertebrae to meet your long initial cuts. “Bring all that rib meat out with the backstrap,” says Lockwood.
Step 3: Make the final cut across the backstrap at the pinbone, connecting the two long incisions.
FISHING TIP: Surf-Cast a Country Mile
Make a good “off-the-beach” cast, and the stripers beyond the breakers will learn to fear your truck. You’ll need a shock leader of three times the test of your fishing line—and plenty of beach.
Step 1: Face the water, left foot forward. Twist your upper body 90 degrees to the right, and look away from the water. Drift your rod tip back and let the sinker or lure drop to the ground at the 3 o’clock position. Move the rod to about the 1 o’clock position. Drop the rod tip down until your left arm is higher than your right. Reel in the slack.
Step 2: Start with your right arm straight. With the sinker or lure on the beach, rotate your body at the hips, rod still behind you but moving in a smooth circular pattern, trending upward. Rotational energy fires the cast.
Step 3: As your body straightens, shift your weight to the left foot, pull your left arm sharply down and in, and push with your right arm. Practice the timing of the release to straighten out a curve in the cast.
FISHING TIP: Plant a Crappie Tree
Crappies crave structure, and a PVC tree will attract slabs to the most barren lake bottom. The slick pipes keep hangups to a minimum, and PVC lasts and lasts.
The trunk: Drill a small hole through one end of a 4-inch-diameter PVC pipe. (The pipe length depends somewhat on the depth of its final destination. A 4- to 5-foot tree works well.) Next, drill three 3⁄4-inch holes along each side of the pipe “trunk” at angles so the “branches” will angle upward and shed hooks easily. Insert a long nail into the small hole you drilled at the bottom of the trunk, and anchor it in a 3-gallon flowerpot with concrete.
The branches: Cut six 3-foot lengths of 3⁄4-inch PVC pipe for your branches. Drill a small hole through the end of two of these. Run the PVC branches through the holes in the trunk, securing them with PVC glue.
HUNTING TIP: Hunt Pheasants Solo
Pheasants were successfully introduced to South Dakota more than a century ago. Most hunts are group affairs, but the solo gunner shouldn’t be intimidated by the size of a piece of pheasant land.
Hunt structure first: Key in on smaller habitat elements that will hold birds—tree belts, ditches, and thickets. Once you drive birds from cover, you’ll be more apt to put them up in a field. One pheasant magnet to look for: the grown-up banks of dams. The thick vegetation provides a windbreak, food, and cover—and the confined spaces needed by a solo hunter.
Move quickly: Speed up your pace and sprinkle in stops and starts. Nervous birds will take to wing.
Work road ditches: In the late afternoon, birds move to roads to pick up grit. They won’t want to leave their safety zone—until they see your boots.
Learn from your mistakes: It’s inevitable that you’ll flush birds out of range. Take note of which side of the food strip they flush from, and what routes they use to escape to cover. Learn how the birds use a piece of land, and you can fine-tune your drive next time.
HUNTING TIP: Make a Cherokee Blowgun
Drop your squirrel rifle in the river? It’s time to channel the Cherokee, who hunted squirrels with blowguns and darts fletched with thistle.
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Step 1: Cut a piece of river cane 6 to 8 feet long. If necessary, straighten it by heating the bent parts over a fire and bending until straight. Leave it to dry in the sun for a week.
Step 2: To remove the solid joints, heat the end of a straight steel rod until red-hot and burn out the joints. Repeat until the cane is hollow. Smooth the bore by wrapping the steel rod with sandpaper and sanding the interior joints smooth. The smoother the bore, the faster the dart will fly.
Step 1: Whittle a hardwood shaft to about 12 inches in length and 3⁄16 inch in diameter. Whittle a sharp point on one end.
Step 2: Tie a 2-foot string to the dart’s blunt end. Hold a bundle of bull thistle or cotton against the blunt end, hold the end of the string taut in your mouth, and roll the dart shaft so that the thistle or cotton is held tight to the shaft but is still fluffy enough to form a fletching larger than the inside diameter of the blowgun. Tie off the string.
CAMPING TIP: Open a Beer With a Dollar
Here’s a simple way to uncork a brew at camp with nary an opener in sight.
Step 1: Fold the dollar in half, crease the fold, and tightly roll the bill up. Bend the rolled bill in half.
Step 2: Crook your index finger and hold the rolled bill in place with your thumb on top, with the fold barely sticking over the edge of your knuckle.
Step 3: Place the fold of the bill under the bottle cap. Push upward.
FISHING TIP: Land a Big Trout With No Help
Since Utah is a sleeper in the realm of western flyfishing, you may have to land that 20-inch trout solo. Here’s how:
Step 1: Start with your rod overhead with 10 feet of line out. Rotate your rod arm to move the rod to a horizontal plane, pointing upstream, keeping the pressure on the fish.
Step 2: Back up toward the bank, steering the fish toward shore.
Step 3: Raise the rod back overhead to vertical. Drop your net and scoop the fish under its chin.
HUNTING TIP: Track a Buck in the Snow
Recently, Vermont outdoorsman Matt Stedina shot an 8-point buck after tracking it through the snow for miles. Here’s his plan for hoofing a buck in the white stuff.
Pick your day: Stedina likes the day after a snowstorm. Bucks often hunker down during the storm and may not move for 24 to 36 hours.
Pick your track: Find a big track that will stand out in a crowd, and look for a dragging hoof. Visualize the buck to make the hunt personal.
Pick your pace: Take it slow the entire way. Says Stedina: “The only time to pick up the pace…is never.”
HUNTING TIP: Rig a Prusik-Knot Safety Rope
Virginia boasts the country’s largest white oak tree. At 86 feet, it’d make a heckuva tree stand. But to hunt safely from even the strongest oak, you need to climb with a safety rope tied with a Prusik knot clipped to your harness. Tie off a rope to the bottom of the tree, and to the trunk above the level of your head when standing up in your stand. Tie a Prusik knot around this safety rope, and slide it up and down as you go.
Step 1: Make a loop using 21⁄2 feet of 1⁄4-inch rope. Join the ends with a double fisherman’s knot: Use each tag end to tie a double overhand knot onto the opposite end. Pull the rope until the knots join to lock the loop.
Step 2: Hold the loop behind the safety rope. Pass the end with the knot through the loop three times.
Step 3: After the last pass, push the end with the knot under the other end of the loop. Tighten the knot evenly, taking care not to allow the winds to overlap.
CAMPING TIP: Get a Tarp Up Fast
Washington’s Hoh Rain Forest averages 145 inches of rain a year. You can have a tarp up in two minutes if you have it pre-tied and follow this routine:
At Home: Attach two 18-inch guylines at each corner of the tarp. Attach 12-inch guylines to all other grommets. In the tarp’s stuff sack, stash a 50-foot length of parachute cord for a ridgeline, another 10 sections of cord cut to 20-foot lengths for extra grommet ties, and 12 tent stakes in case there are no trees.
In the Field: Tie a ridgeline to two trees. To attach the tarp, wrap one corner guyline clockwise four times around the ridgeline, and wind its mate counterclockwise four times in the opposite direction. Connect them with a shoelace knot. Stretch the tarp out, and repeat on the opposite corner. Tie the remaining guylines along this edge to the ridgeline. Stake out the back and sides. Erect a center pole to peak the tarp so the rain runs off.
FISHING TIP: Oar a Raft in the rapids
More than 125 named rapids bare their teeth in West Virginia’s New and Gauley Rivers. As a guide for Class VI–Mountain River, Brian “Squirrel” Hager knows what it takes to get a raft downriver.
Setup: Sit just aft of center so the oars are centered in the middle of the raft for maximum pivot power. Adjust the length of the oars by starting with 4 inches of space between the handles.
Coiled Spring: A proper oar stroke is part leg press, part upper-body row. Stay compact and don’t overextend your body or arms. Reach too far with the oars and you lose control.
A Good Defense: A back-ferry stroke is the rafter’s best move. Slow down as you point the raft’s nose at an obstacle. Turn the boat at an angle against the current, and row backward. Watch the water to gauge the proper angle. Look for current seam lines to read current direction and speed.
SURVIVAL TIP: Survive a Fall Through the Ice
Say “hard water” in Wisconsin, and folks know you’re not complaining about rinsing soap out of your hair. In these northern climes, hard water is ice—as in ice fishing. And up here, you’d better know how to climb out when it’s not as hard as you thought. Here’s a handy self-rescue device that has saved many a Cheesehead.
How it’s done: Cut a broomstick or 1-inch wooden dowel into two 5-inch sections. On each piece, drill a hole into one end slightly smaller than the diameter of whatever nails you have handy, and another hole crosswise at the other end. Drive a nail into each end hole. Cut the nailhead off, leaving 1 inch of protruding nail. Sharpen with a file to a semisharp point. Thread a 6-foot length (or a length that’s equal to your arm span) of parachute cord through the crosswise holes and tie off with stopper knots.
HUNTING TIP: Glass With a Plan
“We use glass to tear the country apart and find that one memorable animal that gives us a high chance for success,” says Wyoming guide Sy Gilliland, whose SNS Outfitters targets big game across the state. Here’s how he does it:
Make like a pirate: Spotting scopes can produce eyestrain-induced headaches. Wear a patch over the eye you’re not using.
Brace yourself: You might be glassing for hours, so get comfortable and get rock solid. A backrest is key.
Have a formula: Avoid letting your eyes wander. Use binoculars first to pick apart the obvious cover. Then work a spotting scope over the rest of the landscape. Pick a viewing pattern and stick with it. Don’t forget to look away from the glass every few minutes. Your trophy might have walked right up on you.