Gear that will improve your hunt

One of the beauties of hunting is that everyone has their own approach. Often times, there is more than one right way to do things and, if you are paying attention, there is a lot to learn from how others approach their time in the woods or in the field.

The same can be said about gear selection. Everyone has their own taste in equipment, but keeping an open mind can lead you to new tools that will improve your hunt.

I surveyed a handful of my hunting buddies to get their must-have hunting gear. Here is what we came up with:

Price key:

$ = $50 or less

$$ = $51-$99

$$$ = $100-200

$$$$ = More than $200

Shappelle Jet Sled

This sturdy sled makes hauling decoys and gear a breeze. It’s lightweight, yet durable and can be a huge asset on solo hunts.

If you pick a larger size, you can even use it to drag out a deer. Better yet, it’s also perfect for ice fishing.

Price: $$

Milwaukee Heated Jacket

It’s been said that if something doesn’t help you hunt harder or hunt longer, you don’t need it.

Well, by that standard, this jacket is an absolute necessity.

Not only is the jacket incredibly warm on its own merits, the included battery pack powers heaters on the back and in both pockets for added warmth.

On especially cold days, the Milwaukee Heated Jacket helps maintain the core temperature you need to stay in the stand or blind longer.

Price: $$$$

OnX App

If you haven’t jumped in on this craze, you need to. For a relatively small yearly fee, you can have an entire state’s worth of plat books at your fingertips.

With OnX, you always know where you stand with realtime feedback on your position in relation to property lines and other boundaries. It’ built-in tools can help estimate distances between landmarks while giving you an aerial view of the property in question.

This app helps us plan, scout, and hunt with confidence.

Price: $

Thermacell

These units have saved so many hunts for us. Earlier this year, we arrived at our spot only to find that , when we turned on our headlamps, the bugs were so bad that it looked like it was raining.

We fired up a couple Thermacells and enjoyed a comfortable hunt free of the annoyance of bugs. A single unit provides a 15-foot radius of protection.

Price: $

Tanglefree Panel Blind

While these panels are on the pricer side, they make a big impact when waterfowl hunting. There is no substitute for the comfort they provide.

The panels feature plenty of stubble straps to aid in concealment and can be quickly set-up just about anywhere.

Once you enjoy your first hunt in one of these, you’ll never what to sit in a layout blind again.

Price: $$$$

MTM Case-Gard Shotshell Case

There is nothing worse than being in the middle of the duck blind and realizing your box of shells is wet and about to give way.

These plastic cases combat that problem and help keep shells dry and organized.

Price: $

Leupold Marksman 10×42 Binoculars

It would be irresponsible to compile a list of must-have hunting gear without including a reliable pair of binoculars.

Whether you are scouting or actively hunting, good glass is mandatory.

These binoculars are excellent for any scenario and will give you the visual feedback you need to make informed decisions.

Price: $$$

Crocs

After a long day of hunting or scouting, it’s nice to slip into something comfortable for driving, unpacking, or cleaning your harvest. Crocs provide a quick way to transition away from the footwear you’ve been in all day.

While I still catch some grief form my buddies for wearing these, they all have them to. And I think that speaks for itself.

Price: $$

Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast – Episode 15: Fall flight forecast and R3

It’s Episode 15 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast!

Joel Brice, Chief Conservation Officer of Delta Waterfowl, is back to discuss the flight forecast for the upcoming duck season. What does the drought in the prairie pothole region mean for this season? How does it impact the health of duck populations long term? Is it OK to continue to harvest your daily bag limit of ducks?

Joel answers all of that and more.

Then, Nathan and Joel chat about Delta’s HunteR3 initiative as we highlight the importance of hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation. 

For more information on Delta Waterfowl, visit www.deltawaterfowl.org

You can listen to the episode in the player below or wherever you get your podcasts. Like what you hear? Be sure to subscribe on your podcast platform of choice.

If you enjoyed this episode, you may also be interested in:

Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast – Episode 8: Waterfowl recruitment and hunting philosophy

An Opening Day duck hunt for the ages

Why you should buy a federal duck stamp (even if you don’t hunt)

The magic of Opening Day

If I had to choose, fall is my favorite season. I suspect that many of us who enjoy the outdoors share this opinion.

That’s because this season, arguably, provides more opportunities to connect with nature than any other. The final few months of the year offer fantastic fishing, foliage that serves up an incredible backdrop, and, in Wisconsin, the bulk of our hunting seasons.

From September through November, I spend nearly all of my free time outside. Between chasing river run salmon, targeting smallmouth bass that are strapping on the feedbag prior to the arrival of winter, finding “the X” for that next waterfowl hunt, and ensuring I have a few hours to sit in the deer stand on occasion, it seems that there just isn’t enough time in the day come autumn.

But it is September 1 that is the gateway to all of these wonderful things. That day marks the beginning of the early goose, mourning dove, and, more recently, the early teal hunting seasons in Wisconsin.

I have been in the field, shotgun in-hand, on the first day of September each of the last 11 years. Every one of these trips has brought varying degrees of success. But none of that dampens the excitement that comes with the first hunt of the year.

The key ingredients for this excitement are a combination of reflection and anticipation. Remembering the past while looking to the future with an eye on all the possibilities that await can stir up powerful emotions. Even the act of preparing for Opening Day gets my mind racing.

Sure, the potential of filling my freezer with game and the allure of successful hunts is exciting. But hunting is about so much more than that.

In late August, I begin to get my hunting gear in order. I purchase my duck stamp, dust off my decoys, organize my shotgun shells, and make sure my blind bag is properly stocked. Every part of the process brings its own little trip down memory lane. From hunts with those who are no longer with us to remembrances of legendary outings in brutal weather, these memories quickly transition into a glance into the future and all of the potential that is waiting to be tapped.

On August 31, I go to bed with the special feeling of knowing that I have the ability to go hunting every single day for the next 90 days or so. Each of those trips has the power to turn into something special.

The dawn of fall means the chance to find adventure in places both new and old. It brings about the chance to create new memories that will be cherished and shared for years to come.

Opening Day ushers in more opportunities to catch up with old friends and keep meaningful connections alive. It means crisp days in the field that transition into cleaning birds on tailgates which leads to campfire-lit socials with plenty of cold beer and an even steadier supply of laughs.

Perhaps most importantly, Opening Day is a chance for those of us who invest time in the outdoors to reap what we’ve sown. It’s an opportunity to realize the fruits of our labor.

All of the hours spent brushing-in blinds, scouting spots, improving our accuracy, practicing our calling, learning our craft: it’s all for this. When daylight breaks on the first day of the season, the dividends of those efforts begin to pay out.

Those who spend time and invest money in protecting habit and promoting conservation will see that first flock of birds crest the horizon and get to enjoy the realization that those efforts played a part in making that moment a reality.

There’s a feeling that comes with all of this. And I’ve learned it’s impossible to find anywhere else.

Opening Day is a chance to reflect while also a looking ahead — a reminder of all that has been and all that could be.

And that’s the magic of Opening Day.

Why you should buy a federal duck stamp (even if you don’t hunt)

For those of us who are avid waterfowl hunters, purchasing a federal duck stamp is part of our yearly routine. It’s required by law, after all.

While it’s true that hunters make up the vast majority of those who purchase this stamp, the benefits from the revenue generated reach far beyond the hunting community. That’s why, if you love the outdoors, you should strongly consider purchasing a federal duck stamp, even if you don’t hunt.

The fact is: there is a cost that comes with keeping the wild parts of our country intact. Purchasing a federal migratory bird stamp (or “duck stamp”) is one of the easiest ways to do your part.

Stamps cost $25 and can be purchased online in most states through the Department of Natural Resources or at most local post offices.

Over 98 percent of every dollar spent on a federal duck stamp goes directly to preserving wildlife habitat. This money is allocated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. You would be hard-pressed to find an instance where the dollars of a goodwill investment work harder. In fact, the more than $900 million generated by these stamps has helped protect and restore over 6 million acres across all 50 states that birds, fish, and other wildlife call home. Approximately one-third of animals that utilize these lands are species that are listed as threatened or endangered.

This habitat produces wildlife and clean water that is enjoyed well beyond these properties. It can also help minimize the impacts of flooding and storm surges.

A classic example of duck stamp dollars at work is Wisconsin’s Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. This 33,000-acre property is one of the largest freshwater marshes in the United States and nearly 99 percent of the land was acquired with funds stemming from purchases of federal duck stamps.

If hunting isn’t your thing, buying a duck stamp can still offer some great experiences. For instance, a current federal duck stamp can be used to gain admission into any national wildlife refuge that charges an admission fee.

For those who consider themselves philatelists, these stamps have become collector’s items. Each year dozens of artists submit their work to be considered for the stamp, with only one being featured on the new edition. Year-over-year, no two duck stamps are alike.

If you want to make an investment in the outdoors, a federal duck stamp is a great place to start.

For more information on how you can help support wildlife, check out Episode 10 of The Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast below or listen wherever you get your podcasts.

Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast – Episode 8: Waterfowl Recruitment and Hunting Philosophy

It’s Episode 8 of the Nathan Woelfel Outdoors Podcast!

In this show, Nathan is joined by Joel Brice, Chief Conservation Officer for Delta Waterfowl. Listen in as the pair talks about Delta’s role in conservation, discusses the importance of waterfowl recruitment, and offers some of their perspectives on the future of hunting. 

Learn more about Delta Waterfowl at deltawaterfowl.org. Listen to Delta’s Voice of the Duck Hunter Podcast here.

You can listen to this episode using the player below or by finding the show wherever you get your podcasts. Like what you hear? Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.

How to think (and cook) like a venison scavenger

The chest freezer in my garage is chock-full of venison. But I didn’t harvest a single deer this season.

How is that possible? Well, it’s actually quite simple. In lean seasons, I’ve learned to replenish my yearly supply of deer meat meat by perfecting the art of cooking parts of the deer most of my hunting companions don’t want or have never considered cooking themselves.

While that may sound less than appetizing, I can promise you that some of the lesser-known portions of meat can be turned into downright delicious table fare.

Last year, during a Netflix binge, I got hooked on the show “MeatEater.” While the subject matter of the hunting adventures is enthralling, I was most taken with host’s desire to utilize every last piece of meat on the animals he harvested.

Taking a life is a big deal. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that getting the most out of each kill was simply the responsible thing to do. So I started scouring the internet for recipes in advance of the deer season.

Thankfully for me, many of my friends enjoyed a deer season that was much more successful than my own and they didn’t mind parting ways with the “extras.” Admittedly, I encountered very little competition when requesting some of these pieces of meat. But, with the success I found in the kitchen, I think that may be about to change. Here are a few of my go-tos and some ideas about how you can start using them too:

Ribs

Like, many hunters, I never invested the time to take the ribs out of my deer. While I have long been curious about what they would taste like, it seemed likely they would be tough. And, frankly, the amount of meat didn’t seem worth the effort.

This changed after I saw Steven Rinella prepare a rack of venison ribs on MeatEater. In fact, I even used his recipe during my first venture.

The key is cooking them low and slow. Braising is an ideal method for yielding the most tender results. If you give these ribs the time they deserve, you will be pleased with the outcome.

Though not the same as beef or pork, these venison ribs are surprisingly tender. The dry rub provides a classic barbecue taste.

Though you can eat them the traditional way, I suggest taking the meat off the bone to simplify things.

Leftovers can be covered in barbecue sauce and served on a quality bun with some coleslaw. It’s a cool play on a pulled venison sandwich.

Heart

This one takes a little courage. But trust me, once you’ve had properly-prepared venison heart, you’ll never leave the ticker in your gut pile ever again.

On the suggestion of Rinella, I used this recipe for my initial voyage into deer heart territory.

Allowing ample time for the marinade to take effect is crucial. It’s well worth the wait.

The strips of meat chew more like beef than venison. In fact, I’d say it tastes more like a skirt steak than a venison product.

I decided to pan-fry the strips, rather than grilling them. In hindsight, I would also recommend using a meat tenderizer to get an even softer mouth feel.

Now, I’ll admit, it takes a minute to get over exactly what you are eating. But the flavors are wonderful.

You can serve as directed in the recipe or put them into warm tortillas with cheese and more vegetables to create some awesome fajitas.

Liver

This may be my European heritage showing itself, but I love liver pâté. But, for whatever reason, it never occurred to me to make a batch with deer liver.

Finding a good recipe was pretty easy.

My first batch had me instantly regretting every liver I have ever left in the woods. The full-bodied flavor provided by the onions, bourbon, and the natural taste of the venison makes for a powerful spread.

I strongly suggest letting your pâté sit in the fridge for at least a day before you dive-in.

While the end results aren’t much to look at, they are wonderful on crackers or toast.

If you want to go really old-school, there are plenty of awesome recipes for straight up venison liver and onions (like this one).

Neck

Venison neck roasts are a lot like the ribs.

For starters, many hunters don’t take the time to collect the meat. But that’s also because many hunters just don’t know how to prepare it.

Adding the neck meat to your scrap pile just doesn’t do it justice.

Instead, just go low and slow. With the proper time and preparation, venison neck roast can be fall-apart tender. You need to try it for yourself.

My 2020 outdoor adventures by the numbers

Though math isn’t my strong suit, I am very much a numbers person.

But, for whatever reason, I have struggled to keep a complete hunting and fishing journal over the course of a calendar year. In 2020, I finally accomplished that feat.

If you are passionate about the outdoors, I strongly recommend you make time for keeping a journal or log. I’ll even help you get started.

Before turning the page to 2021, I wanted to share some of the more interesting numbers that came out of my record keeping.

166 – Outdoors trips

In total, I spent 346 hours partaking in outdoor activities this year. Fishing was, more often than not, my activity of choice, encompassing 133 of my 166 trips. I ventured out on 26 hunting trips and seven dip netting outings.

502 – Fish caught

Averaging just under four fish per trip, I was able to catch more than half a thousand water-dwelling critters this year. I pulled in 17 different species from 12 different bodies of water across four counties here in Wisconsin.

Fish No. 500 came on Nov. 10. If you so wish, you can read the story behind that trip here.

Smallmouth bass made up the lion’s share of my total, 357 of my fish this year were smallies. Rock bass were the second-most popular fish to end up on my hook. I hauled in 37 during the open water season.

A complete breakdown of my 2020 catches, by species, is below.

SpeciesNo. Caught
Smallmouth Bass357
Rock Bass37
Bluegill31
Bullhead19
Northern Pike16
Carp11
Sucker6
Largemouth Bass5
Perch4
Rainbow Trout4
Creek Chub2
King Salmon2
Shiner2
Walleye2
Whitefish2
Lake Trout1
Sunfish1

24 – Ducks our group shot on my best hunt of the year

A four-person limit in just over two hours is, by far, the most productive waterfowl hunt I have ever been on. As I have mentioned many times and in many places, being able to share this adventure with two first-time duck hunters made it even more special.

10(th) – Highest finish in a bass fishing tournament

I tried my hand at tournament bass fishing for the first time in 2020. I fished my first online event through Lucky Go Fishing in mid-September.

During the one-day event, I landed 35 fish, including 26 smallmouth bass. I placed 10th out of 30 anglers in my region with the combined length of my top-5 bass measuring out at 51.25 inches.

15 – Suckers caught dip netting

With all of the craziness going on in the world, I was late to the dip netting game this season. The sucker run was nearly over when I went out for the first time in mid-to-late April, but I still managed to find a few fish well into May.

Fifteen is certainly not an impressive number. On your steady nights, you can manage that in a few pulls. But I’m just thrilled I was even able to go this year and I wanted something in this recap to reflect that.

67.5 – Best combined length, in inches, of my top-5 bass in a tournament

A couple of weeks after my first online bass tournament, I fished a weekend-long event with Lucky Go Fishing.

Over the course of the three days, I caught 216 fish (all from shore). My top-five bass scored out at 67.5 inches, 16.25 inches longer than my top-five from the first tournament. I finished 73rd out of 180 anglers in my region.

4 – Deer harvested in 24 hours of our group’s annual deer drive

The last weekend of each gun deer season is reserved for a series of deer drives with my friends that has since been named “The Big Push.”

We generally enjoy success during these outings but this year brought one of the best harvests I can recall. In roughly 24 hours, we put for does on the ground and everyone went home with some venison.

98.6 – Percent of fish I caught that were released

I’m certainly not here to shame anyone who wants to bring home their legal allotment of fish. But I am very proud of the fact that nearly 99 of every 100 fish I catch go right back into the waters they came from.

I kept seven fish for the table this year, three rainbow trout, king salmon, a lake trout, and two walleye.

19 – Length, in inches, of the biggest smallmouth bass I caught this year

This fish (pictured above) was one of the highlights of my year. In fact, there’s a complete chapter about it in my upcoming book (shameless self-promotion).

It was early September and I was fishing one of my most consistent spots on the Sheboygan River. I hooked into, what I thought was, a carp. It ended up being the longest smallmouth bass of my life.

I have caught hundreds of smallies in this spot throughout the years, but nothing that ever would have led me to believe something of this stature was swimming around.

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