My ‘book’ on hunting distilled down to a three-by-five card
By JIM MATTHEWS
Readers like you call or e-mail me all the time asking for advice and expertise.
I have no idea why. I’m not sure I’d take my advice, and my expertise in the outdoor sports is less than most of the avid fishermen and hunters I know.
Oh, I’ve listened to enough really good sportsmen that I’ve picked up some solid tips over the years that I’ve applied and had success, but the reality is that most of what I know about most outdoor activities you can fit on a three by five card with easy-to-read block print.
Maybe it comes from being a newspaper writer for more than 40 years, but when I read books on fly-fishing midges or hunting Gambel’s quail, I end up gleening about a three-by-five card of salient information -- if that -- from 150 to 200 pages of reading. I’ve read at least a dozen books on Western deer hunting, and most of them could have been distilled into an informative paragraph or two. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy those books, which had some fun stories and lots of illustrative examples to reinforce the handful of points they are trying to make. But all of them repeated the same handful of things you need to know to be a successful deer hunter -- a three-by-five card of information. It’s as though the guy who wrote the same thing 50 or 100 or 150 years ago couldn’t be trusted by the current generation so someone new has to restate the same thing to give it credibility.
Friends ask me why I’ve never written a book or two, and I guess that’s why. I can fit everything I know on any outdoor subject into a sentence or two. Maybe I could sell a card file with 20 or 30 cards in it by category: Fly-fishing Nymphs, Hunting Chukar, Hunting Desert Deer, Quail Calling. Thinking about it, maybe there wouldn’t be 20 cards (or a lot of them would be blank: What men need to know about women).
It would be easier to fill a card file with “stupid mistakes I’ve made outdoors” or “how not to....” Fill in that blank. Those are precautionary tales, and there might be enough of those to fill a book, but it would have as much relevance as faux-reality television or who some Hollywood starlet thinks we should elect as president. But maybe I’m just an old fool. Those kinds of things get big ratings and make the so-called news, but they are distractions to reality.
So back to the card file. Since it is hunting season, I thought I’d share what I’ve distilled from lots of reading, interviews with people who are honest-to-gosh experts on hunting, and what just makes sense. These tips cross over to all hunting. There’s not a lot here, but you can clip this out, paste it on a card, and pretend you have a copy of my first hunting book, imagining there are lots of pages of wonderful prose, tales of hunts, and maybe some of my great photos. But I’m telling you, there won’t be much more salient information in that book than I’m giving you here:
HUNT NORTH FACING SLOPES: All the big game hunting books I’ve read, all the successful hunters I’ve ever interviewed, all the guides who are any good, all the successful chukar hunters, every hunter who pays attention when hunting any type of game will tell you that game congregates on north facing slopes. This isn’t rocket science. The north sides of mountains, foothills, even desert washes out in the flats of the Mojave Desert, have more shade. They hold moisture better because of that shade. That means there is more food and cover (due to better plant growth) on the north facing edges. That is where everything from deer and elk to chukar and quail hang out most of the time.
HUNT NEAR WATER: Again, not rocket science. All the wildlife we hunt needs to get a drink from time to time and most drink daily. Most wildlife plan their days around feeding and drinking. They feed going to and coming from water in most scenarios. If you know where the water sources are located, you have a leg up over hunters just blundering around -- which is what most hunters do. Hunt north-facing slopes near water and you are really improving your odds. You will suddenly move into the 10 percentile that harvests 80 percent of the game.
THE HUNTER WHO COVERS THE MOST GROUND WINS: Now, there are two ways to cover lots of ground. One is with your feet (or some type of vehicle; although most people frown on road hunting, it is darned effective). The other is with your eyes from some vantage point. You will see more game, the more ground you cover. Sort of makes sense, doesn’t it?
Now, if this were in my book, I’d tell you a couple of wonderful, long stories about Mearn’s quail hunting guru Dave Lukens and a peer who is an expert at spotting mule deer and bighorn sheep from great distances with high-power binoculars, Dwayne Adams. I’d also tell you the story about Riverside deer hunter Rich Chagolla, who has taken more big bucks from Southern California than anyone I know. I would include photos of his trophy mounts so you’d know I wasn’t full of tamales. All of these guys cover lots of ground: Lukens and his dogs walk miles and miles in Mearn’s quail habitat (near water on north slopes) to find birds, some years lots of birds. Adams sets up and glasses north-facing slopes from adjacent ridges, moving slowly and infrequently to get another vantage point so he can peer at every nook and cranny of whole mountain ranges with his 20 to 25-power tripod-mounted binoculars. He is famous for finding big bucks and rams in Arizona. Chagolla is a common man who gets into remote country well before first light by hiking into miles and miles and then glassing and glassing, combining both types of “covering ground” into one hunt.
LOOK FOR TRACKS: For new hunters, there is a final tip that sometimes seems really obvious, even to hunters who don’t know the three rules above: You have to hunt in places where the game lives.
Your regular hunters, don’t snicker and snort. All beginning hunters have hunted where there was simply no game. A lot of veterans still do. We all waste a lot of time going through country where game doesn’t live, partially because we don’t know where game lives and partially because game isn’t spread evenly across the landscape, even in ideal habitat.
When I first started hunting chukar, I didn’t know anything about the birds and I tromped around out on desert flats and foothills. In hindsight, I sometimes wasn’t within 10 miles of a chukar. I didn’t know they mostly lived up on those steeper, north-facing slopes, within a mile or two of a water source. All I saw were jackrabbits.
Today you can find range maps of most species of game and learn about their habitat preferences from reading, and then in the field, if you aren’t finding tracks (and fresh poop when hunting big game) around water or on trails, you need to refine your search.
You can call me for help if you want, but I’ve just told you all I really know about it.
Maybe if you’re lucky, I’ll give you my fishing “book” come spring.
[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 909-887-3444.]