Old-School Hunting Tips for Today’s Outdoorsmen
Time-tested advice from a Field & Stream legend.
Each month for 35 years, H.G. “Tap” Tapply shared serious hunting and fishing know-how in his wildly popular Field & Stream column, “Tap’s Tips.” His encyclopedic knowledge covered all things outdoors, but here, we’ve compiled 18 of his greatest hunting tips, first published in the ’60s and ’70s. Though old enough to be antiques, these bits of advice still ring true, and we’re sure they’ll help you find success in the woods this season. —The Editors
Keep looking behind you when you are still-hunting for deer. A buck that stays hidden and motionless while you approach may step boldly out into the open to look you over after you pass by, giving you an easy standing shot at close range.
Wear a pair of inexpensive plastic rain pants between your long-johns and outside pants in wet weather. Your legs will stay dry, and there’ll be no wet shine or slapping noise to scare the ducks or deer. (Suggested by Skip Abel, Garland, Texas.)
If ducks flare away from your blind for no apparent reason, it may be due to light glinting off your gun barrel as you shift position to shoot. Try this: stick a strip of dull black tape along the top of the barrel. It peels off easily later.
To remove a dent from a gunstock, cover the area with a moistened cloth and press it with a hot Iron. The steam will raise the dent. Then smooth the steamed spot with fine sandpaper, followed by steel wool, and refinish to match the stock.
You can tell a knowledgable gunner by the way he closes the action of a double-barreled shotgun. You’ll notice that he always holds the barrels by the fore end and lifts the butt up to it so that the two parts click together. He never, not ever, slams it shut.
When you sight in a rifle, always use the same ammunition you plan to feed it when you hunt. This may seem obvious, but some hunters try to economize by using up old ammo for sightIng-in purposes, then buy new and different loads for hunting.
Most deer hunters who get their buck in the first hour of the first day of the season aren’t just lucky. They take time in the early fall to locate a runway or crossing that deer are using, and that’s where dawn finds them waiting on opening day.
Your binoculars give you a shaky picture because your pumping heart is sending little shock waves through your body. You can steady the image quite a bit, however, by holding the binoculars with both forefingers pressed against your forehead.
Dry-pluck game birds as soon as possible after they have been shot. The feathers let go easier then, and the skin of most upland birds—pheasant, grouse, quail, woodcock—tends to tear more readily after the bird has been allowed to cool and stiffen.
Use oil sparingly when you clean your rifle or shotgun. Lubricant left on moving parts can gum up the action, especially in cold weather. Also, excess oil may seep into the stock or foreend and cause rotting. Just a very thin film is enough.
Dip your nose into your hunting boots and inhale deeply. The pungent odor of dried foot sweat and swampwater will probably make you dizzy. To sweeten the boots, dust the insides with powdered Borax, a box of which you probably already have in the laundry room.
May and June are two of the best months for hunting crows. They are scattered new, and the young birds can be fooled by even a novice caller. So next time you go trout fishing take your gun and crow call along. If the trout won’t bite, the crows probably will.
Bird-hunting partners can locate each another quickly in thick brush if both wear blaze-orange caps or vests. The flash of color may prevent one hunter from shooting if a bird flushes toward the other. An orange collar will help locate the dog, too.
A small, compact binocular that can be carried in a pocket will be used more than a larger, more powerful one that is often left at home. For most purposes, a medium (6 or 7) power binocular with 35 mm objective lens is a good choice.
The term “gauge” refers to the size of a round lend ball that fits the bore of a shotgun. Example: a ball weighing 1/12 pound fits a 12-gauge bore; a ball 1/20 pound, a 20 bore. Exception: a .410, which is a caliber, is 410-inch bore diameter
Don’t be surprised if occasionally you bag a goose that is tough to carve and chew. Geese have a longer life span than any other game bird, so there’s more chance of shooting an old one. Geese have been known to live for several decades.
Many otherwise good cooks believe that venison should be cooked until it’s brown all the way through. Not true. Overcooking dries and toughens wild meat and destroys its natural flavor. Cook deer meat like beef: brown outside, red or pink inside.
Here’s how 11-year-old Brad Ludwig of San Antonio, Texas, makes a fox caller from two 6-inch plastic rulers: Stretch a small rubberband lengthwise over one ruler and bind flat sides of rulers together with bands over both ends. Blow like a harmonica.
Here’s an outdoor cooking trick every camp chef should know: When the coals of a hardwood or briquet fire burst into flame, sprinkle a handful of common table salt over the fire. The salt will prevent the flames from flaring up and scorching the food.
The antiseptic solution named after Sir Joseph Lister, and used to cure the bad breath your best friend won’t tell you about, also serves as a surprisingly effective insect repellent, especially for black flies. In most cases, it relieves discomfort, too.
Breaking in a new pair of boots? Carry a tube of hobby cement, and if you start to develop a heel blister, daub the spot with a couple coats of cement. It will dry hard and smooth enough to protect the skin from further chafing. (From Victor Gibson, Waterloo, Iowa.)
To prevent eyeglasses from fogging in cool weather, try this tip from J. L. Crowgey of Roanoke, Va.: Cover both sides of the glass with a thin film of soap lather, allow it to dry, then polish with a soft, dry cloth. This leaves an invisible coating that resists the steam.
Here’s a tip for camp chefs who forget a spatula, from Derek Zegarchuk, of St. John, N. B.: Butter both sides of a thick slice of bread, remove the center, and break an egg into the hole. When it is fried on one side, pinch a corner of the bread and flip the whole works over.
Ask your wife to save an empty roll-on deodorant bottle. Rinse it out and fill it with liquid insect repellent. It’s perfect for applying bug juice without getting it on your hands, or in your eyes and mouth. The thin, small, handy bottle fits in a pocket, too.
Next time you pack grub for a camping trip, take some time to mark the contents on one end of each can, using a felt-tip ink marker. Then if it rains during the trip and some labels soak loose, you will still know which can contains beans, and which frankfurters.
An old 3-ring binder with the covers removed makes a handy gadget for keeping camp cooking utensils together in the packbasket or cook box. A. Weber of Edmonton, Alberta, says each ring will hold a couple of large forks, spoons, or pancake floppers.
The old saying that water will purify itself by running over seven stones is not true. Bacteria can travel the length of a stream and give anyone who drinks the water dysentery or worse. Except in a remote wilderness, carry safe water or drink only from bubbling springs.
When running a canoe downstream in heavy, rock-strewn water, shift the load forward. This sinks the bow so the currents can guide it into channels, clear of boulders. The opposite is true poling back upstream: lighten the bow so it slides away from rocks.
The naked blade of a well-sharpened camp ax or hatchet can be dangerous. A simple way to cover the cutting edge is to slit a short piece of garden hose lengthwise and force it over the blade. The hose is stiff enough to clamp firmly in place, yet is easily applied.
Water from a metal canteen will taste better if, after you use it, you hang it upside down with the stopper off so it can drain and dry. To get rid of a metallic, musty taste, wash it out with a couple of tablespoonfuls of baking soda, then rinse it thoroughly.
One of the most practical match-safes I have seen was sent to me recently by Tom Fulford of Richmond, Va. It is the plastic case of a nasal inhaler, which holds a dozen matches, shortened to fit. To make it extra-waterproof, Tom smears melted paraffin on the threads.
To prevent binoculars from swinging at the end of a neck strap, cut a 7-inch strip of soft leather and make button-size slits at each end. Then button the binoculars to your shirt. Undoing one end frees them for use. (Suggested by W. D. Hartman. Edmonton, Alta.)
Tray-made ice cubes melt fast and rattle noisily when dumped into a picnic cooler. Harold Rhodenbaugh of Newaygo, Mich., makes jumbo-sized cubes by freezing water in 2-quart milk cartons. I prefer plastic jugs, which are handy to drink from as the ice melts.
Correct arrow length is essential to accurate bow shooting, and arrows should be fitted to the archer’s draw. To learn the approximate length of arrow you need, measure your arm spread from fingertip to fingertip and divide the inches by 2½. It’s close, although not exact.
Baking soda can be used dozens of ways on outdoor trips. Dissolve a little in water to settle a “sour stomach” or to sweeten smelly ice boxes, coffee pots, thermos bottles. Made into paste, it soothes burns, bites, ivy poisoning. Use it as tooth powder, too.
Wonder how long it’s going to rain? Here’s a fairly reliable rule to remember: When clouds gather fast and rain starts falling, it will probably clear up soon. But when it starts to rain after a long period of cloudiness, chances are it will continue for several hours.
Next time you pack your camping gear, drop a bar of soap into the toe of an old full-length nylon stocking. In camp, hang the top of the stocking close to the washbasin. The soap can’t get lost or fall to the ground and get dirty, and it suds right through the nylon mesh.
Fitting .22 cartridges back into their cardboard box is about as easy as stuffing feathers into a thimble. Besides, the box will soon break apart. It’s much simpler to dump the ammo into a zippered tobacco pouch. It’s spillproof, pocket-size, and keeps the shells dry and clean.
Paddling a canoe is easiest and most efficient if the paddle is the correct length—and that depends on how tall you are. The stern paddle is the long one, and should stand at close to your eye level. The shorter bow paddle should about reach your chin.