Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm


Let the season go out with a bang....yours!

By Mark Fike
Journal Outdoor Writer

Hunting season is all but over for a few months with only squirrel and rabbit season left in our area.
Given the economic situation in our country we all feel a bit tense and most of us are thinking before we spend any money. One small fix to the stress and a way to save a little money in the next few weeks would be to get in the woods during the waning days of small game season.
Taking a walk after work or on a Saturday in the local woods is a good way to relieve some stress and temporarily forget about some of the problems we are facing.
It is also nice to grab a .22 rifle or a light gauge shotgun and find a sunny spot against a tree or a log to soak up some sunshine on these cold days. Reliving a few childhood hunting trips is right up my alley, anyway.
The other benefit to take a walk. Besides the exercise and effort to relax a little is that you can put a little bit of meat on the table in the process and it is guaranteed to be lean and nutritious.
Squirrels are plentiful and finding some to bag is as easy as getting into the woods a few yards. The last two walks I took permitted me to see a brace of squirrels before traveling twenty yards into the woods.
First of all, wear drab clothes but don’t feel you have to get totally camo clad. I wear a chore coat and some jeans and a warm hat with some comfortable boots to sneak along.
Walk slowly and stop often. In fact, during this time of the season most of the squirrels that are seen will be on the ground. If you can sit still for ten or fifteen minutes, you will be amazed how many squirrels start appearing. Look for them near oak or hickory lots where they have buried nuts earlier in the season and are now looking to retrieve the nuts.
A careful eye will turn up where squirrels are frequenting. Look at fallen logs and stumps for nutshells. That is a dead give away to squirrels in the area.
Sometimes when you are walking along in the dry leaves it sounds like a dozen cows tromping through. I dread the sound and cringe at each step but I have also observed that many squirrels could care less.
In fact, last week while taking a quick walk before dark I got within ten feet of several squirrels, as they were busy eating. Too bad I was not carrying my firestick.
However, there are the squirrels that bolt like lightening when they hear the first crunch. Simply note where they run and then find a good spot to observe and wait them out. Fifteen minutes ought to do the job.
Late in the season, as we are now, the better option for squirrel hunters is the .22 rifle (or a .17 if that is your preference). Make sure you know where the little .22 bullet will impact at longer ranges and take head shots only if possible to save meat. Squirrels will often be seen at quite a distance and with a thick hide and fur to keep them warm shotgun pellets can have a tough time penetrating for a clean kill at distances over 40 yards.
 If you really want to use your scattergun take close shots only and if possible aim forward on the critter to keep pellet damage to the minimum.
When I dress out a squirrel I make a slit in the fur across the back and then pull the skin back exposing the meat to the ankles and wrists. Taking a pair of snips I cut the joints and then quarter the animal.
If you want, you can work the little strip of backstrap off as well. This way you never have to remove entrails.
There is no real meat to fool with on the ribs anyway and the method described here is quick and less mess. After dressing out my squirrels I place them in a small bowl or zip lock for four or five days. The aging process tenderizes the meat amazingly well while in the refrigerator. The last six or seven squirrels we have had in soups or fried have been very tender and have come right off the bone. This season ends January 31st.
If rabbits are your game, there are a few more days in the season to bag them. Hunting until the end of February will be enjoyable and rabbits seem to be plentiful this year. Hunting rabbits with a dog is the most fun and productive but if you know where to find the rabs you can take a leisurely walk and stop and wait every once in awhile to see if Mr. Thumper shows up.
A shotgun is likely the better choice here but a .22 will work well if you are a decent shot and are more apt to see the rabs are longer ranges such as hedgerows or old fence lines. Frequent such areas as well as cutovers to find more rabbits.
Early successional growth is where the most rabbits breed and feed at this time of year. While rabbit hunting you may want to field dress any you take that will stay in your game vest more than a few hours. Use surgical gloves to dress them. Rabbits have been known to carry tularemia. As with squirrels rabbits age well in a cool refrigerator and are great on the table.
Both are good fried the old Southern way rolled in cornmeal but they also dress up gravy and dumplings very well and look great in a casserole dish with veggies roasted or baked.
Take advantage of the few days we have left. Get a load off your mind, take a walk in a local woodlot or field, enjoy the clean, cold air and take home some old fashioned dinner. Consider it the cheapest therapy and least expensive meal you have had in awhile!

PART II-Guide turns chaotic and rough start into great day

 When I left church and turned on my cell phone I had a message from our guide, stating that we were still on but the steering on his boat was acting up and he was not sure what the problem was.
 I called him back and offered to rebook but he wanted to get us out on the water. The following morning we hit the road by 7:00 a.m. and received yet another call half-way to Richmond from Capt. Mike, stating his steering cable had broke while he was out catching bait for us. He had managed to get his boat back to the dock, and was working on backup plans. I knew then that we had a great guide. He was not canceling despite my offer to turn the truck around and not be upset about it.

By the time we arrived at the dock, Capt. Mike had secured the use of another guide’s boat and had it all loaded up ready to go. The only thing he had left to do was get bait. I love catching bait so the slight delay in the fishing was not an issue.

It was obvious that our guide was well liked and respected because not only did he have the complete use of another man’s boat but also someone had set a gill net out for him to use to get bait. And another guide gave him a report on the fishing from a section of the river we were to fish.

  Unfortunately the gill net was empty save for two eating size catfish, which he put back in the river. So, without a complaint Capt. Mike took us to some promising bait catching areas. More bad news here though and that was the fish finder which would have marked bait, was not working.
Good thing our guide was experienced enough to know where the shad like hanging out. Within a few throws of a cast net he had enough bait for us to go fishing. I watched all of this happen and considered the variables he faced when trying to get us hooked up with a trophy catfish and was very impressed.

First, most guides who had planned a vacation like our guide would likely not have booked the trip.

Second, when things began going wrong with the boat I know most people would have canceled the trip and hauled the boat to the mechanic to get it looked at and fixed.
Third, if they would have driven on and tried the trip, I guarantee that once the steering cable broke and there was no bait it would have been over.

Obviously we had a guide who was determined and had the fortitude to make it happen. By the way, he never appeared to be stressed, grumpy as I would have been, nor did he cut our trip short. In fact, he added extra time to be sure we were happy and despite the odds he had to overcome we boated not one but two citation catfish to boot!
The first fish was a gorgeously ugly flathead that tipped the scales at 28 pounds and the second trophy was a blue cat at nearly 31 pounds. Plus we caught some smaller cats that were fun to haul in.

Should you be looking for a great guide to help you hook up to a citation catfish or two I can definitely point you an hour and a half south of King George to Captain Mike Ostrander. He runs the James River Fishing School for kids.

He can be reached at 804-938-2350. Check out his website at www.jamesriverfishing.com.
While there you can also look at a complete tackle kit he has put together to market for new anglers. I examined it while on his boat and found it was truly all that you would need to get started freshwater fishing all in one box. 

Guide turns chaotic and rough start into great day


Imagine having what some of you would consider a dream job of fishing every day for a living. If this is recreational fishing you are working as a fishing guide taking clients out for fish to make their dreams come true while you live out your dream as well.
Being a guide is not all good times and fun in my opinion.  I came to that conclusion a few years ago when I agreed to take a few people out fishing as a favor for someone else. First of all, strangers are not your friends or at least they don’t start out to be your friends. When someone else comes on your boat to fish and they step on a rod, drop the bait in the water or drop the anchor in the bottom of the boat effectively driving all the fish up the river, patience suddenly becomes scarce. The problem gets compounded when those you are taking fishing don’t seem to know better nor do they care that your favorite rod has a broken tip or the bait you spent the wee hours of the morning catching is now gone. I digress…
Fishing or hunting guides have all sorts of variables they must face and overcome such as weather, tide, stubborn fish or game, inept outdoorsmen (or city people without a clue), and yet they are still expected to pull the rabbit, err…the fish or game out of their hat to keep their clients happy. In fact, if they don’t pull the trip off successfully they risk having the client go home and badmouth their guiding business, effectively putting a damper on calls from future clients.
However, if the guide is able to overcome the variables and inexperience of the clients and send them home happy not only will those people come back for another trip but they are going to tell their friends who will tell their friends and business can suddenly be quite good. It takes a great attitude, fortitude and determination along with a serious dose of patience to pull it off and my hat is off to those that can do that day in and day out.
The Monday after Christmas I wanted to take my father in law fishing as he does not get a chance to go very often. Being the middle of winter I knew that unless I wanted to book a striper trip on the ocean fishing was going to be tough. However, I also knew that many guides plied the James River successfully in the winter for trophy catfish. So, I decided that was closer and a bit less expensive than driving to Virginia Beach.
After digging through some of my old contacts I found Captain Mike Ostrander’s phone number. Capt. Mike fishes on the James just below Richmond and he specializes in trophy catfish that has made the James River nationally famous. My initial contact with Capt. Mike was promising as he agreed to put off his vacation to visit his parents and take us fishing instead. What a guy! I felt bad and told him we could rebook it later but he wanted to take us out. Then all the variables a guide must face kicked in and things began to look quite bleak for a successful trip.
My first warning to this fact was the frontal system that blew through on Sunday. While in church I could hear the wind howling and knew that was going to make the weather nice the following day while we were fishing but the sharp change and passing of the front was also likely to shut down the fishing for a day or two.
To be continued next week….


Mark Fike, Outdoor Writer




Outdoor economics

All we seem to hear about right now is how bad the economy is. So, how does that apply to the outdoorsman? With times tight it may seem that spending time outdoors is going to get tougher. I beg to differ.
There are many ways to make that trip outdoors not only a great memory in tougher times but an economical one as well. Here are a few tips to get you going. We would love to hear of any others you may have and maybe we can put it at the end of the weekly column if it is good enough!

Small game
Many hunters overlook small game hunting. Most of us started our hunting with small game and those that went straight to deer and turkey hunting really missed out. Small game hunting does not require much in the way of equipment, can be done just about anywhere you can gain permission to hunt and the game is plentiful. A small game license is $18.
With that license and a box of shells or .22 cartridges you can easily feed your family several meals between now and the end of January. It takes approximately three squirrels to make a “loaded” version of Brunswick stew. Some may balk at eating squirrels but rest assured that these little critters eat only the best nuts and blooms and the meat is lean.
Squirrel is good fried if you par boil them to make them tender. I have also found that by aging them as you would a deer for a few days they become tender and it is easily done by leaving them in the refrigerator for two to three days prior to grilling, frying or making stew from them.
The same advice goes for rabbit. Rabbit is quite tasty, easy to cook and very nutritious. Again the rabbits eat good vegetation and are common everywhere. Rabbits are a whole lot easier to clean too. Both of these small game animals provide a good opportunity for entire families to spend time together. The stories told over dinner only add to the adventures and flavor of the day.

Big game
There are a few days of deer season left. I feel like I am pointing out the obvious here but going deer hunting and taking a deer will provide 30-40 pounds or more of meat that is lean, nutritious and very inexpensive. Again the memories made with your sons, daughters, spouse or friends are invaluable and the deer you take out of the herd helps the remainder of the herd by freeing up resources such as food.
It also cuts down on the number of vehicle collisions if we harvest enough deer. The cost for a big game license with six deer tags, three turkey tags and a bear tag is another $18.  A shotgun is standard fare and a box of buckshot or slugs can be had for less than $10. Remember your blaze orange!

We are very fortunate in that our local rivers are filled with fish. The most common fish in our waters has to be the catfish and the supply seems endless. They bite pretty much all year although the bite may be slower right now. Bottom fishing with worms, cut fish, or commercially prepared baits will bring home dinner quite easily.
But what if you don’t have a boat?
Well, there are numerous bank fishing opportunities from here to Fredericksburg. Wilmont Landing, the $5 Hole at the train tracks off Rt. 3, Little Falls, the whole riverbank in Fredericksburg, and Hopyard Landing is fair game and offers good catfishing. We could use more public access on the Potomac.
Local ponds in Westmoreland are open year around and offer free fishing with a license. There are bass, catfish and bream as well as crappie there. Chandler’s Mill Pond and Gardy’s Mill Pond are nice quiet places to fish and definitely good places to take family.
The fish you catch on your outing make good dinner and once again good conversation while saving money and spending time with your family. It is not unreasonable to expect to catch dinner, particularly once the weather warms up some. You do not need expensive gear to catch local fish. I have seen $20-$29 set ups that will do the job just fine. If taken care of correctly these setups will last years.
Finally, if you do not have the gear and do not know where to go to fish and have the time to learn or go often, don’t rule out a charter trip.
”But they are expensive,” I hear someone saying. Yes, they can be expensive if you pay for the whole thing yourself. But, consider the following first. If you take an average charter at say $600 and get a total of six or seven friends to divide the cost of the charter and the gas, you have significantly cut the cost for yourself. Some charters are still less than this depending on the species and the boat.
All gear and bait is provided and most will clean and bag your fish. I have never come back from a charter without some fish. Almost every time I have had my cooler slam filled with fish which will last months if you eat one or two meals a week. When you count the cost vs. the amount of fish you get, it evens out and you may even come ahead if the trip is successful. Do your homework on what fish are biting, the success of the captain and the time of year that is best to go.
This year don’t let the economy keep you out of the woods or off the water. Gas prices are reasonable and now is a great time to spend with the family and get back to the things that matter most.


How to have effective Man Drives for Deer

Deer season is winding down fast and doe days are now in for us in King George and surrounding areas. More hunters will take advantage of the either sex days in the woods, coupled with the Christmas break. A great many man drives will be attempted; some successfully and some not so successfully.

While your outdoor writer prefers to employ still hunting techniques over doing drives a well run man drive is tough to beat when you have the man (or woman) power to get it done and put meat in the truck. So what constitutes a good man drive?
Most would say a successful man drive for deer would mean that more than a few deer were taken. Certainly the drive must be completed in utmost safety.
Necessary components
To conduct a successful and safe man drive you need several things. First, you need a leader who will direct the drive. That person does not have to be one that is a dictator but certainly someone that is respected and one that knows the lay of the land well that is being hunted.
Second, you need a number of people to do the drive right. If you have too few hunters, the deer slip through your lines.
Third, a good topo and / or aerial photo is needed. Use the maps to figure out where saddles are located and deer slip through. Combine this knowledge with a discussion with hunters that use the property to get a clear picture of the comings and goings of the deer.
Fourth, good communication and a plan is necessary. You cannot just wing a drive and pull it off very successfully. Use of two-way radios is good to keep contact between standers and drivers. Drivers should be within sight of each other all the time for safety purposes and to keep deer from sneaking back through the line.
Last, good shooting to take deer humanely is very important. Hunters that take pot shots, long shots or spray and pray are not welcome on any drive I am part of.
Look over those maps, discuss with hunters in your group and lay out a plan well before attempting to move through a property. Anecdotal info is crucial to tightening up spots that need squeezed due to deer slipping through. Mark on the map where standers will be located. Use easily identifiable landmarks to emplace your standers.
Be sure to put hunters in places where they will be able to cover a decent area. Knolls overlooking a swamp, a treestand with a good view, a ridge top, and the edge of a field all make good spots. Pay attention to the habitat too. Deer cruise through the edges of habitats. Pine thickets that come to a marsh will be a good spot to find deer sneaking along.
Place veteran hunters near new hunters to assist them and put your best shooters in spots where the tougher shots may take place. Many drive hunts are conducted with buckshot. I prefer slugs but in some situations a slug gun is tough or not as safe to use on a drive. Put those slug guns overlooking open land where shots are longer and open. The buckshot users can take deer in the thickets. Use good quality buckshot that patterns well in your guns, too. I love the HeviShot buckshot because it really packs a punch.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. This is a very common mistake. Drivers want to walk through a huge piece of property with half dozen guys and three standers and wonder why they were not successful. If your leader of the drive insists on doing this time and again, it is time to convince them to try a different tactic or start hunting on your own. Sometimes the smaller drives covering a few acres of land are far more successful than a dozen guys trying to kick up deer to standers on forty acres or more. If the land is open, you might be able to get away with less manpower but in thick areas or marsh bottoms you need more people or make the drive several drives.
Lastly, be sure to hold a safety brief to ensure everyone knows what is going to happen, where the fields of fire are and when the drive will start and stop. No deer is worth an accident in the woods. I don’t care how big it is. Wear plenty of orange too. Take sure shots and think before you shoot. Is it worth crippling a deer and tracking it all-afternoon or just let it go and then maybe roust it on the next drive?
Good hunting these last few days!    Merry Christmas

By Mark Fike
Journal Outdoor Writer

Last Minute gifts for your outdoorsman or woman

I really dislike commercializing Christmas and would be perfectly content with just wishing my family and friends a Merry Christmas or just telling them how much I appreciate them. But, we all tend to find ourselves in a store looking over items to get those special folks in our life.
The economy has put a good dent in our wallets and like most people I tend to get tired hearing about that too. In order to help readers out I have assembled a few ideas for gifts for that outdoorsman or woman in your life that may be easily overlooked.
Turn on the lights!
How about a light for that special person? Streamlight makes an excellent pen sized light that easily fits in your pocket and it very bright. I love the one I have and keep it handy in the truck or on my desk should the power go out. The Cyclops cap lights that attach to your hat brim are perfect for getting to a treestand, fixing the truck, changing a tire or baiting a hook come summer. Bass Pro Shops has their own version of the light too. I have seen the cap lights at major retailers in our area as well.
Keep your edge!
Most outdoors people hate a dull knife. I have several sharpeners that I use but with all the cutting I do I tend to wear them out in a year or so and appreciate a new sharpener on a regular basis. Sharpening sticks with diamond grit on them work very well for putting a fast edge on a blade and will work on filet knives and little pocketknives. There are many varieties and most will work great.
A memory is forever.
Photos make great memories and bring back a lot of laughs and stories being retold. If you have captured a good shot there is no reason that you cannot get it blown to a larger size and frame it on the cheap or simply take a photo album and put a dozen or so pictures in it to get your recipient started on a memory book of their own.
Don’t forget to check out The Journal website for photos. Many of the talented photographers have taken sports shots, parade shots or other community event pictures. The cameras of the newspaper staff have caught a number of citizens of our community.
Get some bang for your buck or duck or …
Sorry for the play on words but I know that I tend to go through some ammo each year and it sure is nice to get a replacement without having to head to the store. Since the local stores have shut down and the prices of ammo have gone up I almost hate to purchase ammo unless I am very nearly out. Be sure that before you purchase the ammo you sneak over and take a look at what your honey or friend uses and get exactly that. Some guns don’t use other brands or loads well and we hunters get picky about what we shoot. If you need to, get your camera phone out and take a shot to take to the store with you.
Keep them warm.
Nothing makes a hunt end faster than getting cold. I hate being cold and if I ever move again it will be south where it is warmer. No one will complain about getting an extra or new hunting hat (blaze orange is good), new gloves (do gloves disappear where socks seem to disappear?) or some really well made socks. Redhead has some socks that are lifetime guarantee that they will not wear out. I am going to try a pair. I tend to wear out socks within one season. Don’t forget to purchase a few packets of those throw away handwarmers too. They can be a lifesaver for kids that are hunting with you and even for the veteran hunters they can keep you in the field just a little longer!
Don’t forget
There are several things I want to remind readers not to forget. The first is why we have Christmas. We tend to get caught up in the commercialization but really we celebrate for one reason only and that is our Savior’s birth. Let’s not forget.
Also, don’t forget about our men and women overseas and away from home. There are many of them serving our country from our area. We are proud of them. Why not send them a subscription to The Journal so they can keep up with what is going on or maybe a magazine subscription that they can pass around to the others that enjoy the outdoors?
Finally, don’t forget that shut in that never has company. Get over to their house for a visit. Take them some game or fish and swap stories for an hour. That hour you spend will be golden to them.

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