The Science Behind Hot Streaks and Slumps in the Pheasant Field

The Science Behind Hot Streaks and Slumps in the Pheasant Field

Because confidence gets shooters into the zone—and the zone is a real place.

My cousin sent me a note the other day saying he had gone nine for nine so far during pheasant season, and he asked for advice and sympathy in advance of the inevitable slump. I congratulated him on his hot streak and told him not to worry about it when he did finally miss. The important thing is not to get too high about hitting or too low about missing but to take it in all stride.

Shortly thereafter, I learned that the “hot hand fallacy” has finally been debunked. It has always been an article of faith in basketball that you feed the hot shooter. In the ’80s, three behavioral economists conducted a study of the “hot hand” theory of shooting and hitting streaks, based on the hits and misses of the 1980-81 Philadelphia 76ers over 48 games. According to their analysis, there were no streaks that couldn’t explained by the laws of probability. Whether you made or missed a shot had nothing to do with what happened on previous shots. There were no hot hands, according to their data. The hot hand was just one more example of people seeing patterns in randomness. In practical terms, it meant there was no reason to give the ball to the hot shooter, because he wasn’t truly hot. Coaches and athletes protested, but the hot hand fallacy gained wide acceptance and has been applied to many endeavors beyond hoops.

In a recent study, Professor of Decision Sciences Joshua Miller and economist Adam Sanjuro, recrunched the statistics and found that the hot hand does exist. Making a shot increases the probability of making the next. They found the players on the 1980-81 Sixers actually had an 11 percent greater chance of making the next shot (and they think it may be even higher) when they were on a hot streak. That makes a lot more sense. Your confidence grows when you see the ball drop through the basket—or watch birds fall from the sky. Confidence gets shooters into the zone, and the zone is a real place.

It’s about time. The hot hand fallacy never made sense to me, because mental state has so much to do with hitting and missing. In fact, I’d like to see Miller and Sanjuro apply their method to missing. Just as hot streaks are real, so are slumps. If you let it, missing feeds on itself and can become a negative feedback loop that begets more missing. It’s been a few years since it’s happened to me in the field, as I’ve gotten better at letting go of misses, but I remember an afternoon field hunt in Alberta years ago when I was in a bad mood and let myself sink into a funk. The more I missed, the more upset I got, the more upset I got, the more I continued to miss. The downward spiral into futility and despair lasted into the next day’s hunt. I didn’t come out of it until I got back home.

Enjoy the hits, learn from the misses and put them behind you. That’s the way to get hot, and the way to keep from going cold.

Written by Phil Bourjaily for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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How to Choose the Best Gun and Load for Late-Season Waterfowl

How to Choose the Best Gun and Load for Late-Season Waterfowl

Late-season waterfowl hunting presents a pair of good-news/bad-news scenarios, depending on the weather. On mild winter days, any gun should do the job. That’s the good news. The bad news is that wary ducks and geese don’t fly as much or decoy as well in warmer weather. That means your chances are fewer, and your shots may be long.

On bitterly cold and windy days, ducks and geese trade caution for the need to feed. That’s great. But some guns turn balky in the cold and can also be difficult to run when your fingers are frozen and gloved. It’s frustrating when birds work and your gun won’t.

You need a gun-and-load combo that’s equal to both situations. It needs to hit hard and function reliably.

How to Choose the Right Shotgun Gauge and Choke

Late season is the time for big guns. Because winter birds tend to be tougher to kill, it’s a good idea to go to bigger shot, which hits harder. In order to do that and keep the pellet count up, you need to go with a 3- or 3½-inch 12-gauge, or even a 10-gauge.

I keep a 10-gauge gun handy for days when I want to send a lot of shot into the air, but the versatile 3½-inch 12 is far more popular than the fading 10. You can handload 3½-inch 12-gauge shells that are even more potent than factory 10-gauge ammo, and the 12-gauge guns are handier in the field. Plus, you can make or buy lighter 12-gauge loads for when you don’t need the extra range, or to shoot targets in the off-season so you can hit what you shoot at when the late-season comes.

If you expect birds to be skittish, you may want to tighten up your choke too. This gives you more range, and the tighter choke also compensates somewhat for the added density of cold air that makes patterns open more quickly. If you normally shoot Improved Cylinder or Light Modified over decoys, for example, switch to Modified or Improved Modified.

How to Choose the Right Shotgun Action

A late-season gun has to function in the cold. That’s why pump guns are a good choice now; they put follow-up shots on target as fast or almost as fast (depending on your skills) as an autoloader, and being hand-powered, they’re more reliable. O/Us and side-by-sides are the most reliable of all, since it’s difficult to get snow and ice inside their closed actions.

Gas-operated semi-autos seem to have the most trouble in the cold. How you clean and lube one can have a lot to do with how it performs in winter weather, but no matter how much or how little lube I use on my favorite gas gun, it turns sluggish any time the temperature gets below 15 degrees. There are exceptions to this rule; I’ve been impressed with the gas-operated Remington V3, for example, for late-season hunting. But generally speaking, inertia and recoil-operated autoloaders do better in the cold.

The enlarged bolt release on a Browning A5 Wicked Wing is easier to work with gloved hands.
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How to Choose the Best Shotgun Ergonomics

Enlarged bolt handles, safeties, and bolt releases used to be aftermarket accessories. Increasingly, they are standard equipment on semi-autos intended for waterfowl. Enlarged loading ports, inspired by three-gun competition and its need for speed, are finding their way onto waterfowl guns too. All these features make a gun easier to handle in the cold. As one who suffers from numb, weak fingers on late-season hunts, I like a gun with a fairly soft magazine spring as well, so long as it doesn’t impair the gun’s function.

How to Pick the Right Late-Season Shotgun Loads

Switching to bigger and/or faster shot is also a good idea now. Bigger shot hits harder, bucks cold and wind better, reaches farther, and patterns tighter than smaller pellets. If you have a supply of bismuth or premium tungsten-iron squirreled away, the late season is the time to break it out. Here are suggestions for the most popular winter birds:

Big Ducks: Go with 3- or 3-1/2-inch No. 2 steel at 1450 fps, or No. 3 or 4 bismuth.

What I like: Kent Bismuth or Kent Fasteel 2s to save a little money.

Canada Geese: Use 3-inch tungsten-iron 2s or BBs, 3-inch steel BBs over decoys, or 3½-inch steel BBBs for pass shooting or wary birds.

What I like: Winchester DryLok Super Steel 3-inch 1¼-ounce BBs and 3 ½-inch 10 gauge DryLok Super Steel 1-3/8-ounce BBBs.

Divers: Go with 3 or 3½-inch steel 2 or 3 shot, or a steel/tungsten or bismuth duplex load.

What I like: Federal SpeedShok 3 or 3½-inch 2 or 3 shot, or Federal Black Cloud 3×9 TSS.

Written by Phil Bourjaily for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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Tough Love: Good Hunting Buddies and Makeshift Gear

Tough Love: Good Hunting Buddies and Makeshift Gear

The best hunting buddies push you to go farther and work harder than you would on your own

It was his jackleg float tube that really drove me crazy. I’d bought a brand-new camo belly boat for duck hunting—one of the first models that involved more than a ­Cordura-covered truck-tire inner tube—and my buddy Lee Davis and I had scouted the perfect duck swamp to give belly-boat hunting a whirl. When Davis showed up in the dark, however, he toted a Beverly Hillbillies version of my ride. He’d lashed a sky-blue boat cushion into the donut hole of a used inner tube from an 18-wheeler.

“Really, dude?” I said. “I got up at three o’clock in the morning for this hunt, and you show up with a yard-sale boat?”

He just grinned and easily bore it. ­Davis was used to being chided for leaning on gumption rather than gear. “Man, you don’t need all that new stuff,” he’d say. “Just tough it out.”

Just tough it out. That was his refrain, year after year. Long after the rest of the world had shifted to polypropylene thermal underwear, Davis sported 100 percent cotton waffle weave, despite the fact they stank like a goat’s belly after a few hours of hunting. He looked like the lumberjack on those paper towel rolls. I had to have every new flashlight on the market, while Davis was happy with his Rayovac that ate D batteries like jerky snacks. His decoys were anchored with a mishmash of U-bolts and railroad spikes. I swear I remember him once tying a decoy line to a can of beanie weenies. I spent a lot of time with Davis, standing in the dark, shaking my head.

Gear Hack

I had Davis on my mind recently for a couple of reasons. For starters, I’d just finished cleaning up the last basement-floor mountain of hunting gear—a nearly waist-high pile of decoys, boots, tree­stand climbing sticks, fetid clothing, and candy bar wrappers that had accumulated like battery-­terminal corrosion over the last few months. Like many of us, I’ve wound up with a ridiculous amount of gear over the years, and I can’t wrap my head around why I keep every worn-out and outdated doodad.

In addition to postseason gear sorting, I’d also recently wrapped up reading a book about the ill-fated Donner Party, the Oregon Trail migrants who were snowed in along the High Sierras. They walked until their boots crumbled and their feet turned black. They ate their dogs, then their buffalo-hide blankets, then one another.

I’d never figured Davis for a cannibal, but there was no doubt he was cut from a different cloth than many. He’d played football in high school, a 5-foot 9-inch ­atlatl bolt in the cornerback position whom the local paper called “pound for pound the toughest player to wear the Yellow Jacket uniform.” He took that approach to hunting. He might not have had the best gear, or been the best duck caller, but he could outwalk, outpack, and outlast just about anybody. Hack through the worst beaver-swamp briers. Haul boats across the mudflats. Stay longer. Never complain. Not rely on stuff. Just tough it out.

What I noticed during all those years I hunted with Davis was that I had to rise to his level. It never occurred to Davis that maybe I was just average, so I grunted it out alongside. We pushed each other. No one was going to quit or cry uncle. I grew tougher—had to be—to hunt with Davis.

We’re lucky if we’re blessed with field partners who push us to levels of skill, endurance, and pain tolerance that we never would reach on our own. Another who’s inspired me is my pal Scott Wood. I’ve hunted with him when he was so sick that I had to pull over to the side of the road so he could puke out the truck door, wipe his face, then hammer down to the woods. Hard to tell a guy like that that you’d rather just catch a few extra winks in the morning.

Davis’s crowning achievement was his country-boy hack of the L.L. Bean Town and Country jacket. This was the ubiquitous tan corduroy zip-up coat with the knit sleeves and cuffs, designed for casual Fridays and lunch at the golf club. In Davis’s hands, it became a blank canvas for a D.I.Y. camo job. As I was salivating over the latest love child between Gore-Tex and Mossy Oak, he was in the hardware store aisle, loading up on Rust-Oleum spray paint in flat black and drab green. He went with a vintage pattern, accentuated with a few stenciled leaves. That coat looked like a mildewed rucksack and smelled like a chemical plant, but he wore it for several duck seasons, rain or shine. Wet, the jacket must have weighed 15 pounds, and I’m convinced that he wore it long after he probably wanted to. Same thing with the cotton long johns and the Levi’s jeans under his waders. Makeshift gear on the outside came to symbolize steely resolve on the inside. If you’re tough enough, what do you care for comfort and convenience?

Of course, Lee broke down eventually. Maybe he didn’t have anything else to prove. He bought a decent pair of waders, traded his old o/u for a semiauto, and even sported a few sets of synthetic underwear—although I’ve long suspected that he picked them from a ski-shop bargain bin.

But for many formative years during which I learned the limits of my own intestinal fortitude—not to mention the limits of my anterior cruciate ligaments—Lee would stage his gear at the edge of the railroad tracks, roll up a flannel shirt to show the waffle weave underneath, and hoist a pack of three dozen decoys that clinked with his junkyard anchors. I’d do the same, grunting, as he’d stop to turn around and shine that big Rayovac in my eyes and call out, “You coming, tough guy?”

Gear Tip: Refined, But Rugged

Banded Tall Grass Oil Cotton Chaps Banded

Lee Davis would never spring for fancy bird pants, but he would love Banded’s Tall Grass Oil Cotton Chaps ($150; They’re bird britches, sure, but they’re turkey-scouting, shooting-lane-clearing, dog-training, and firewood-splitting britches, too.

Written by T. Edward Nickens for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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How To Wash Gore-Tex Hunting and Fishing Gear

How To Wash Gore-Tex Hunting and Fishing Gear

Learn how to maintain your waterproof clothing so it keeps you warm and dry every season

The weather forecast called for sunny skies a high of 83 degrees. Instead, it’s minus-25 and starting to snow, and the wind-chill factor is enough to make a longshoreman blush. Underneath my rain suit, I’m dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. Without base-layers or insulation, I’ll be dead—frozen solid—in a couple of hours.

Fortunately, only a step away there is a warm and dry place where I can retreat—because while these ice-cold conditions are harsh, they’re only a simulation. I’m at the Gore headquarters in Delaware. More specifically, I’m inside the Environmental Chamber of the company’s biophysics lab, where Gore tests all of their gear by subjecting it to extreme temperatures (-58 to 122 degrees), simulated rain showers, UV-light damage, and other environmental stressors. Another way to put it: This is where Gore puts every new Gore-Tex product through their own version of hell. They burn gear, freeze it, stretch it, grind it, and expose it to things like saltwater, gasoline, and human sweat—then they rinse it off and do the tests all over again. Grundens is collaborating with Gore this year to bring out an awesome new line of fishing bibs and jackets. They invited us to test out the new gear, and to see how Gore-Tex is made.

If you hunt or fish, chances are, at least once in your life, you’ve gotten soaking wet—and were so miserable that you probably wondered, briefly, why you bother spending time in the outdoors. Good, dependable rain gearand waterproof boots are things we learn to appreciate the hard way.

When it comes to waterproof gear, it’s hard to beat Gore-tex. And even though I have been using Gore-Tex gear for years, I never appreciated just how innovative, and durable, this clothing was before my trip to Gore HQ. I also didn’t realize how simple it is to clean and maintain my waterproof gear and keep it working properly for years to come.

Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski and angler Claus Claesson trying to stay warm in the Environmental Chamber. Grundens

How Is Gore-Tex Made?

Gore-Tex, and the material it is made from, actually come from a rock—or rather a mineral called fluorspar. It gets ground to a powder, baked into a soft doughy polymer, and then stretched into fabric. This fabric is called ePTFE (or expanded PTFE), and it’s a lot like the Teflon plumbers tape (used for sealing the threads on pipe) that’s commonly found at the hardware store.

Gore took ePTFE and explored possibilities for any application they could think of. It became a launchpad for many products, including life-saving medical devices and the membrane found in Gore-Tex jackets, pants, bivy bags, and more. The ePTFE was perfect for clothing because it could keep water and wind out while still allowing air to escape through microscopic pores.

Gore-Tex is made from the mineral fluorspar. Alusruvi / Pixabay

Our bodies can produce up to 1 liter of sweat per hour and the tiny holes in a Gore-Tex membrane allow sweat to evaporate and escape. At the same time, they are too small for larger water molecules or wind to pass through. What you get is a waterproof, windproof membrane that breathes and adjusts to your body’s fluctuating temperature.

The membrane isn’t strong enough to hold up to the constant wear and tear that a piece of clothing experiences, so Gore laminates it onto different kinds of fabric for warmth and support. The fabric then gets another waterproof coating on the outside called Durable Water Repellent (DWR), and every seam–where a needle and thread punches through–gets glued and taped. Gore-Tex needs to be sewn and taped in a specific way, and Gore inspects every facility that does this.

Is it OK to Wash Gore-Tex Clothing?

After our spin in the gear torture-chamber, we all took off our rain gear and headed upstairs to a room that was remarkably less high-tech than the Environmental Chamber—but still sort of unbelievable: a room filled with 200 washing machines. I’m not exactly sure why, but I never thought you were supposed to wash Gore-Tex. I just assumed that running the clothes through a washer would destroy the waterproofing, so I have never cleaned any of my Gore-Tex gear.

Some new Grundens rain gear holding up to a heavy downpour in the Gore-Tex Rain Room. Grundens

Turns out, I wasn’t alone here. The folks at Gore told us that many people aren’t aware that washing Gore-Tex is actually good for the gear. When it gets dirty, the microscopic pores that are so important for breathability get clogged, and the garment no longer performs to its full potential. The easy fix—and one that is often overlooked—is simply to wash it and unclog the pores. The DWR coating is also available in many stores and online, and with a wash and a new application, your Gore-Tex will be ready for more gale-force winds and whatever else the Mother Nature throws at you.

Imagine my delight when I realized that all of my smelly, mud-encrusted hunting gear, crammed in tote boxes in my basement, could be washed—and worn in public again.

You could wait until your Gore-Tex is as dirty as mine (and by that, I mean dirty enough to walk out the door and go hunting all by itself), or you could look for a couple of telltale signs that your gear is ready to be washed: If water stops beading up on the outside and starts soaking into the fabric… If dirt is ground into high-wear areas like the cuffs and elbows… If sweat has discolored any part of the garment… These are all good indicators that it’s time to pick up some extra DWR, and give your gear a good wash per the instructions below.

How to Clean Gore-Tex at Home in a Washing Machine

Step 1: Use one capful of liquid detergent and set the machine to warm permanent press cycle (105 degrees F/40 degrees C). Make sure not to use any powder detergent, fabric softener, or bleach.

Step 2: Check the pockets on your Gore-Tex gear before zipping them all shut along with any other zipper on the garment. Add the garment and select the low-spin option, then wash. Rinse twice before hanging it to dry.

Step 4: Once the garment is dry, put it in the dryer for 20 minutes to reactivate and condition the DWR. If a dryer isn’t available, iron the garment on a warm, gentle setting without steam, and make sure to use a towel between the garment and the iron.

Step 5: Apply a DWR spray repellent or a DWR wash-in solution and tumble-dry again for 20 minutes on low.

Written by Matthew Every for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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Aggressive Tactics For Late Season Deer

Aggressive Tactics For Late Season Deer

If you still have a buck tag to fill, it’s time to ditch the usual stands and blinds and get aggressive. The clock is winding down, for one thing, and you’ve got little to lose. But more important, it works. A few weeks ago, during the Illinois second gun season, I hunted with The Buck Quest in Gallatin County, and our group used a playbook of out-of-the-box moves to go three for four on late-season bucks.

This isn’t just an Illinois thing. These tactics can work anywhere, as long as you have a mix of open ground and cover, some wind smarts, and good dose of fearlessness. Here’s how it’s done.

1. Climb Down from Your Treestand and Stalk a Buck

Do you really want to end your whitetail season in a treestand, watching that deer you’ve chased for months slide off just out of range? “Get down, and get after him,” says Tommy Paul, head guide with The Buck Quest. Paul has killed his biggest deer from the ground, having spotted them from an elevated stand and then used terrain and cover to make a stalk.

“In big, open farm country like this, you’ll see lots of deer well out of shotgun or muzzleloader range,” he says (those being the only implements allowed during the Illinois gun season). “But remember that deer like to keep their nose in the wind. So if you’re sitting downwind from them, that means they need to go against their instinct to get to you. Not going to happen.”

However, most big ag fields are edged with ditch lines or thin shelter belts, so Paul advises his clients to get down from their treestands, and make a big swing on a far-off buck. Many ag fields also tend to rise up slightly in the middle, too, so it’s possible to get invisible and close the distance by just staying on the low side. “You have to keep the wind in your face, at all times,” he stresses. “Wind is No. 1, then noise. You need to be quiet.”

Knowledge of the terrain is mandatory, too. In Illinois, we shared waypoints on OnX Maps, and texted ideas to Paul on the best approaches to bucks we spotted. “You’re going to bump deer and have unforeseen challenges, like a bedded doe you didn’t see,” he says, “but at least you made a play, instead of letting that buck walk out of your life forever.”

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2. Skip the Ground Blind and Hide in the Grass

Joe Raben, owner of The Buck Quest, has killed his biggest from the ground, too, but he’s done it most often by hiding in tall grass or brush at the edges of food plots and fields. Raben favors natural hides over pop-up blinds. “If you put a blind up, it’s not natural, so the deer spot it right away,” he says. “They work great if you set them up early, and leave them out all season, but we like to adjust where we sit based on what the deer are doing. And that can change daily.”

Grass, hedgerows, brush, rock piles, junks piles—anything that will break up the human silhouette—will work, Raben says. “If you have good back cover and a little front cover, deer won’t see you, so long as you can sit still.” Raben set up just like that with his 9-year-old son Gryffin the week we were in Illinois—using a folding chair with a tripod gun rest tucked into some tall weeds by a plot. A few hours later, the boy had his first deer.

The grass along the plot edge was by design. Raben purposely leaves 10 to 20 yards of grass between his plots and the wood’s edge. “That buffer helps the deer feel secure enough to move off the timber earlier,” he says. “We didn’t always do that. Before, a lot of the time, bucks would stage in the timber and move into the plot after dark. Now they tend to stage up in the grass, so you have a better chance at a daylight shot.” It’s something to consider when planting food plots this coming spring.

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3. Hang-and-Hunt in a Buck’s Bedroom

If you’re committed to stand hunting, watch out-of-range deer carefully from your original position, and be ready to make an aggressive move with a climber or a lightweight hang-on stand with sticks, says Chris Derrick, whitetail product line manager with Sitka Gear. Derrick saw deer all week in Illinois but never had a shooter in range, so with only a couple of sits left, he made an all-or-nothing play. After watching several deer move to a particular bedding area one morning, he decided try a hang-and-hunt right in their bedroom early the next day. “You want to know about what time deer are moving into the bedding area, and from what direction,” he says. “Then you have to move in super early, with a good wind, and you need to be careful not to walk over ground they’ll cover to get to you.”

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This is often a one-and-done move, as you will either kill the buck you’re after or possibly blow them out, but even still, it’s smart to plan a safe exit route, so you can squeeze another hunt out of the stand if needed.

Derrick did not take a buck from his bedroom stand this time, but he did shoot an 8-point buck while walking back to his truck. Meanwhile, I arrowed an 9-pointer with a bedroom attack move of my own.

“As the week progressed, we all got more and more aggressive,” Derrick says of our time in Illinois. “The season was closing, so we weren’t worried about messing things up. That’s the case everywhere this time of year, really. It’s time to get after them.”

Written by Michael R. Shea for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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