16 oz. Belgian dark strong ale or other dark flavorful beer
1 cup (or more) chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
1⁄4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the butter and bacon, and cook until barely crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, reserving for later. Dry the venison with paper towels, then salt and pepper generously. Add the meat to the pot, in batches to avoid overcrowding, and raise the heat to high. Sear the meat well on all sides, then remove to a plate.
Add the onions and brown sugar to the pot or Dutch oven and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until the onions are soft and caramelized, with a deep golden-brown color. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.
Raise the heat to medium-high. Pour in the beer and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to dislodge any tasty brown bits. Bring to a boil, then add the reserved bacon and the meat along with any accumulated juices. Add the chicken stock (you may need more than a cup to cover the meat), bay leaf, and thyme, and bring to a low simmer. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the meat is very tender, about 2 hours.
Before serving, uncover and raise the heat to medium to bring the stew to a fast simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the liquids are reduced to a saucelike consistency. Stir in the vinegar or lemon juice, and check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. Serve the stew over buttered egg noodles or dumplings, if desired, topping each bowl with a sprinkling of parsley.
Written by Jonathan Miles for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gun dogs are bred to work hard under tough conditions. That’s why a good first-aid kit for your hunting dog is important. Kristina Mott is a central Wisconsin veterinarian who is also a serious hunter and dog breeder. Consequently, she’s aware of just what can happen to dogs while in the field. “Going without any preparation is not a good option,” she said. “It’s good to have a full-service kit in the truck or car, then maybe a smaller option to take into the field.”
You can purchase first-aid kids designed for gun dogs—but you will want to add a few extra essentials. That’s where this list comes in to help. Here is the must-have gear that Mott recommends adding to your hunting dog’s first-aid kit.
“An antibiotic ophthalmic ointment is safe to use for pretty much any eye problem,” Mott said. “It will treat things like corneal ulcers, mild conjunctivitis, and that sort of thing. It might not always be the right answer, but definitely the safe answer.” Mott warns against using leftover human eye medications since many contain steroids. “The thing you want to avoid for sure is any kind of steroid eye medication on the eye without having a veterinary diagnosis first.”
You’ll need a prescription for the eye ointment, so consult your veterinarian to stock it in your gun dog first-aid kit.
Another good eye-related item to have is saline solution, which you can us to wash debris out of your dog’s eyes after hunts. Inexpensive saline solution like contact-lens solution works fine.
“This is good used post-hunt up on the tailgate to flush their eyes out and get any seed heads or grass pieces or anything like that out of their eyes to avoid foreign bodies in their eyes,” Mott said. Saline solution is also handy to have around to clean cuts, scrapes, or punctures. “Those big bottles of saline flush have a nozzle top that you can actually squeeze the bottle and get some pressure,” she said. “So, you can use that to flush out a wound to get any dirt or debris out of it.”
“On hairy dogs, the first thing that we do when a wound or puncture comes in is shave the hair away and clean the wound,” Mott said. “The last thing you need is all the hair and debris acting like a wick and getting stuck in there, causing more infection.”
Since there’s obviously no place to plug in clippers in the field, a battery-powered beard trimmer is the perfect tool. “Sometimes you just see one big puncture and if you don’t get rid of the hair around it,” Mott added, “you miss the little one next to it and it never gets cleaned.”
Nail Trimmers and Cauterizing Powder
“Toe injuries are one of the more common problems in the field,” Mott said. “Sometimes they’ll split up the side so a big chunk is hanging or break off the whole toenail.” Simply clip off whatever excess toenail might be hanging on and use a clotting powder like Quick Stop or others to stop the bleeding. “In a pinch, if you don’t have Quick Stop powder, corn starch will also work on a toenail if you pack it into the nail bed to help clot it.”
Cheap Reading Glasses
If you can’t see a wound, you can’t treat it correctly. “I always tell people, if you need to put cheaters on to read a menu in a restaurant, throwing an extra set in the first-aid kit is important,” Mott said. “Knowing what you’re looking at and being able to get a good assessment so you can make the best choice for your dog is critical. She admits this might seem like a strange object to include in such a list. “It sounds like a foolish thing, but everybody who has put them in their kit has thanked me.”
Honey or Karo Syrup
Sometimes hunting dogs will have seizures from hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. It’s a good idea to keep some honey or Karo syrup on hand in case that occurs. “If a dog is having a seizure and it is from hypoglycemia, the sugar could help by being absorbed across the gums or the mucus membranes,” Mott said. “The nice thing about that is if the seizure was caused from something else, you’re not going to hurt them by giving them that. It may not help if that’s not the reason for the seizure, but it won’t hurt them.”
Written by Mark Chesnut for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
A late-season pheasant is an entirely different bird than those found early on or even in the middle of the season. Hunting them is similar to trying to tag a wary old whitetail buck. They’re paranoid, jumpy, and just plain difficult to get close to.
Depending on which state you live in, pheasant season may run until the end of January. Not only do you need a good dose of luck to connect with birds that have been continually harassed for nearly three months, but you also need to hunt much smarter than you did on opening day. Here are a few ways to outsmart one of the smartest game birds on the planet—the late-season rooster pheasant.
1. Hunt Early Mornings and Afternoons
While late-morning hunts can be good in the middle of the season, you should get up early during the late season. Wary birds often like to fly out and feed before shooting time and right at first light. You’ll want to be in the field before daybreak to catch any stragglers. Just make sure that when you shoot, there’s enough light to differentiate between hens and roosters.
Morning hunts are even better on exceptionally cold days when pheasants may be tempted to sleep in a little and feed at daybreak or a little after. You may be tempted to sleep in, too, but don’t. Bundle up and get out there. Roosters are more likely to hold tight when the weather is cold too.
Likewise, afternoon hunts can be productive in the late season. Hit the field a few hours before sunset, after pheasants have had time to feed and return to their loafing/roosting areas. Just be sure to quit well before the sun goes down to give birds time to settle for the evening.
2. Hunt After Fresh Powder
A fresh skiff of snow may be all it takes to get late-season roosters to hunker down and hold for the dog. The snow doesn’t need to be too deep, either, just enough for pheasants to burrow into, but not enough to make walking overly difficult for them. Best of all, you can track pheasants in fresh snow, because it’s much quieter than refrozen, crunchy snow.
3. Pay Attention to Cover
When hunting pheasants during the late season, keep a close eye on the cover. Try lying down in a CRP field on a cold winter day. You’ll immediately notice how much warmer it feels at ground level out of the wind. Whether there’s a bunch of snow on the ground, or bitter low temperatures, or both, pheasants prefer tall, thick cover to protect themselves from the elements. Also, pay attention to areas in a field that have slight depressions or pockets that are noticeably warmer than the surrounding area. Pheasants love these spots, especially early in the morning or late in the day.
4. Hunt Waterfowl Production Areas
Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) and wetland habitats are great places to find late-season pheasants. The uplands surrounding wetlands often have good stands of grass, while cattails on the edges of the water provide cover all season long. What’s more, parts of the area that were previously inaccessible due to high water during the early season should now be frozen and easier to walk on. Lastly, during the winter, there are fewer hunters in these areas, making it easier to hunt on weekends, whenever the weather allows it.
Regulations on WPAs may require you to use non-toxic shot. Waterfowl loads will work for pheasants, but consider using a premium non-toxic load such as Winchester’s Blind Side Pheasant, Federal’s Prairie Storm steel, or Hevi-Shot’s Hevi-Metal Pheasant. All are designed specifically for knocking roosters down. Earlier this season, I shot a young rooster with Hevi-Hammer, a devastating new duplex load from Hevi-Shot that contains both steel and bismuth.
5. Use Enough Gun
Late-season roosters are big, heavily-feathered birds, and while smaller-gauge shotguns may be sufficient early on, you’re better off hunting with a 12-gauge now. However, that 12-gauge should be lightweight, because you’ll be carrying it way more than you’ll be shooting it.
My favorite lightweight late-season scatterguns typically weigh around or under 7 pounds. The new Browning A5 and Winchester SX4 are both great options, along with the Franchi Affinity and the Remington Wingmaster.
Bigger roosters also require heavier payloads. For a 12-gauge, that means at least 1 ¼ ounces in 2-¾-inch shells and 1 ⅜ ounces (or even 1 ½ ounces) in 3-inch shells. If you absolutely must use a 20-gauge, consider upsizing to 3-inch shells with 1 ¼ ounces of shot. Also consider using copper or nickel-plated shot instead of just lead to better penetrate all those feathers.
6. Tighten Chokes
While you don’t want to over-choke when hunting pheasants during the middle of the season, now is the time to tighten up your patterns. This isn’t to say you can’t shoot pheasants in January with more open chokes (especially while quail hunting). If you’re hunting over a pointing dog, you may be able to get by with a Modified or even Light Modified tube, depending on how staunch the dog is. But as a general rule, if pheasants are the main course on the menu, tighten chokes up by one or two constrictions in the late season. A full choke works well, especially if hunting with a flusher, and most aftermarket chokes labeled as “late season” are actually Improved Modified tubes.
7. Be Prepared for Quail
Speaking of quail, bobwhites and pheasants often inhabit the same areas. If you’re choked tight and loaded for roosters, that’s fine. Shoot what’s in your gun at the covey rise, but bring a few spreader loads along for going after the singles.
Spreader loads use a specialized wad that causes the shot to quickly disperse after leaving the muzzle. The result is a wide-open pattern at close range, and they will open up patterns a couple constriction sizes without requiring a choke swap.
My go-to spreader load is Poly-Wad’s Spred-R, but Kent also offers a neat new spreader load in its Elite Pro Target line. I usually carry three or four in my vest pocket throughout the season in case quail show up.
8. Listen to Your Dog
A couple of seasons ago, bobwhite numbers were high in my area, and we’d enjoyed a record quail season. However, pheasants were a little harder to come by. All that changed one mid-January morning when my dog, Phantom suddenly went on point. She’d pinned down a small group of pheasants, and as I approached, two hens rose on either side of a rooster. I aimed for the middle bird and hit him, despite having a cylinder choke in my gun.
I directed Phantom to the where the rooster fell, and she ran around in circles before trying to run back the way we’d come. I reined her in and made her re-search the area, but she tried backtracking again. This time I let her go.
As I followed her out of the grass and across a cut cornfield, I spotted bloody pheasant tracks in the snow. I followed the tracks across the cornfield and called again for her. This time Phantom came bounding back with a very much still alive rooster in her mouth, but with no tailfeathers. The two lessons I learned that day were simple: Always trust your dog, and don’t give up on a bird, especially in the late season.
Written by Jarrod Spilger for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most hunters move too quickly when a bird flushes.
A friend once emptied an unplugged Benelli at a ringneck pheasant that had jumped up at our feet. The rooster was still in range when his gun spit out the last smoking hull. So, I mounted my gun and shot the bird.
Take a deep breath and do the math: A flying pheasant—one of the faster upland birds—might hit 40 mph. That’s 58 feet (19.3 yards) per second, which means almost any gamebird that flushes at your feet will take at least two seconds to fly out of range. Even a bird that flushes 15 or 20 yards ahead gives you a full second to work with. That’s plenty of time if you learn to use it wisely. The trick is to move neither too quickly nor too slowly—to learn how to mount the gun and shoot with a rhythm and timing that gives you the best chance to connect. Here’s how.
Ready for Your Close-Up
It should probably go without saying that when you’re hunting birds, you should expect to see some. Yet upland hunters are often startled by a flush, which is an excellent first step toward a rushed shot and a miss.
You might walk all day for only a couple of chances, and you never know when they’ll come. You have to be ready, but you can’t remain in a state of whiteknuckle alertness for hours. Remember the first time you drove a car? If you were like me, your forearms hurt afterward from squeezing the wheel. Now when you drive, you’re relaxed, but your eyes are looking far down the road, and one small part of you is ready to react. That’s what walking in the uplands should be like. Cultivate that state of casual alertness, and you’ll be ready when the time comes.
Not So Fast
Being ready buys you time, so use it. If you mount your shotgun as quickly as possible the moment a bird flushes, you won’t consistently hit where you’re looking. This is simple enough to prove to yourself if you’ve got a dirt bank handy. Set a target on the bank 20 yards away, and then mount your gun and shoot at it as fast as you can. Chances are, you’ll spray shot everywhere except where you intend.
When I tried this drill several years ago at a clinic, my shots went all over a 3-by-3-foot metal pattern plate at 20 yards; one shot missed the plate entirely. The instructor told me to slow down just enough to be sure I hit the center of the plate without aiming. I hit the center every time, and the difference in mount speed from my fast, erratic shots to the more deliberate ones was 0.256 second. A bird can fly only about 5 yards in that time. Work on your mount at home (we’ve discussed this) until it’s consistent, and don’t fret about speed. Pellets moving 900 mph catch up to a 40 mph bird every time.
Find the Time
Exactly how fast is too fast or too slow? I can’t tell you. Or at least, I can’t be precise because it’s different for everyone. Too fast is the point at which proper gun mounting breaks down. Too slow is when you start thinking and looking back at the barrel. Find the sweet spot in between, and you’ll shoot your best.
Recently, I used a trapshooting traininer to check my own timing. Combining a camera with radar, it tells you how long it took you to shoot, how far away the target was when you shot, and exactly where your shot went.
Using a trap that throws a 40 to 45 mph target, my shooting was a mess when I tried mounting and firing as fast as I could, which took between 0.5 and 0.6 second from a low-gun start. My breaks came at 14 yards, but even on the hits, my point of impact shifted, and I missed over the tops of two birds by a foot and a half because my head wasn’t fully on the stock.
When I slowed way down, into the 1-second range, I shot better but still had misses. Then I found my sweet spot—between 0.7 and 0.8 second—and I couldn’t miss. Every bird broke at 19 yards, and virtually every shot was centered within a few inches of the clay. Taking just an extra 0.2 or so of a second put me in perfect rhythm. They say slow is smooth and smooth is fast. But that’s not exactly the case. Smooth isn’t as fast as fast, but it’s more accurate and more than fast enough.
And now, because this is my column, I get to contradict myself: If a lot of your hunting features birds flushing at 20 or 25 yards, not at your feet, you might have to speed up—a little. There’s a simple way to do this, but it’s completely counterintuitive: Shoot a heavier gun. A few years ago, I timed five shooters on straightaway targets from a low-gun start. We used a 6¾-pound 20-gauge Remington 870, a 7¾-pound 12-gauge 870, and that same 12-gauge with 15 ounces added to the butt and magazine cap. The average times per hit, from lightest gun to heaviest, were 0.98 second, 0.91 second, and 0.77 second. I also recorded hit percentages, which, in the same order, were 63 percent, 71 percent, and 72 percent. In other words, the heavier the gun, the faster and more accurate it turned out to be. S0, save your ultralight gun for the grouse woods, and pack something heftier for late-season, open-country hunts.
You can also learn to get a little faster. Using a trainer, or a buddy with a stopwatch, can help. Use either to track your progress, and be sure you’re still on target as you work on making a faster yet still deliberate move to the bird.
For everyone else, finding your perfect timing can be as simple as just getting on the range and shooting at targets fast, slow, and in between while watching your hits and misses. It’s not about hitting a precise number, like 0.7 or 0.8; it’s about finding a rhythm that feels right and puts more pellets on the mark. Then bring that to the field.
Written by Phil Bourjaily for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
A whitetail buck’s urge to breed—preceded by a drive to establish home turf and defend it against competing males—is the only real chink in a buck’s year-round survival armor.
How many bucks (especially big ones) would we shoot if whitetails didn’t have a breeding season?
On the other hand, how many bucks could we shoot if we simplified the core ideas of how the rut operates, took a big breath, and re-framed the idea of rut-hunting—instead of just focusing on one week in the whitetail breeding season?
Let’s re-examine the whitetail rut by taking a fresh look at the event’s entire flow. Below we've identified specific hunting strategies and approaches to six simplified stages.
1. Bachelor Days
As mammals, whitetail bucks can actually breed at any time of year. It’s just that the drive to do so doesn’t really start kicking in until summer begins turning to early fall and male hormones start doing their work to stop summer antler growth, harden those head-topping bone structures, and cause their velvet to peel off.
This is, believe it or not, the first stage of the rut. And you should hunt it. Most bucks live in bachelor groups now and will continue to do so for a few weeks until daylight really begins receding.
Do you hunt early season bucks, or talk yourself out of it? The good news is, bucks can be vulnerable during this stage. One secret is understanding that early-season bachelor-group bucks don’t occupy classic, prime habitat. Those are the kinds of places where does and fawns live and feed.
There’s nothing wrong with hunting those antlerless deer (something I am a fan of personally), and you can certainly shoot a good yearling buck in prime habitat too (also something I like to do). But when a bigger buck is on my mind, or yours, now is the time to head back into the kind of gnarly, secondary, sub-quality habitat that early-fall bucks use as they get ready for the rut.
2. Turf Setting
Those friendly bachelor buck pods don’t last forever. As September turns to October, bucks begin breaking off and start looking for—and establishing—territories of their own. The older the buck, the more solitary he will strive to be.
This is when scrapes begin appearing on the landscape. Some hunters believe these first scrapes mark territory against other bucks, and that’s true. But these early scrapes also serve as signposts for does, advertising there is a buck in the area to service the females’ breeding needs.
Yes, some does will come into estrus this early. We’re talking the first weeks of October here. Biology ensures some does are ready to breed early, and some are ready to breed late (all the way into and through December). This spreads out the concentrated spring fawn drop to reduce the chance of a weather or predatory disaster.
I always have to sort of shake my head when I hear other hunters say they are going to wait for the bucks to really get rocking and rolling—what might be called “peak rut”—before they hunt. Say what? Bucks are out there now at turf setting time. They’re dispersing, breeding-ready, and beginning to look for does. Let’s say you have a line of scrapes, maybe with some rubs intermixed. You’re on a travel route—a place a buck has been, and a place he will come back to—so set up and hunt.
This is the best time of the season to use doe-in-estrus scents because few real does are actually in estrus. Now is also a good time to try that buck decoy: grunt a little too, and try to goad the home buck into confronting the intruder.
As late October rolls around and buck turfs are established, breeding activity begins in earnest. While it’s true that most does will come into estrus later, mid-October to late October sees enough doe-in-heat activity that bucks are really starting to get active.
Many hunters make the mistake of sitting out the pre-party too, preferring to wait and concentrate on the full-on onset of the “real” rut. But this is prime time, and it’s when a lot of bucks go cruising all day long for doe activity. This is an excellent time to simply hunt natural travel routes, well-used deer trails, funnels, and pinch points.
Become a weather watcher and make a play when temperatures drop into the 30s during the day, and when it gets frosty to hard-freezing (20s or below) at night. Whitetails get active as the weather gets colder, and bucks will travel all day looking for a party. With their insulating winter coats to keep them warm, deer just won’t travel much when daytime temperatures get much beyond the mid-40s. So make hay when the weather cools.
Call it chase, call it pursuit. Either way, the party is just starting when the bucks really begin working the countryside full-time, and the does begin coming into heat. The females’ hormones are chugging now, too, and the bucks can smell it.
Photoperiod drives everything in the rut. That’s the “macro” driver. But day-to-day “micro” conditions (warm weather, bad precipitation) can curtail deer movement. This is also a good time to be on-call and ready to hunt when conditions get right. Anytime it's cool to cold outside (clear skies or cloudy, it doesn’t seem to matter), hit it hard!
Now is the time to hunt where the does are. They are the objects of the bucks’ affection and pursuits. The beauty of this stage is that the does are just getting ready, but the bucks are far ahead of them in desire. This is why you’ll see does running away from bucks now.
Another good strategy during the party stage is to work the travel corridors and funnels you have scouted—those natural places where bucks are steered or, as I like to say, contoured, as they cruise and chase.
Sooner or later, does begin accepting bucks’ advances. This is when whitetails lockdown and bucks hang tight with does, not leaving their sides. The woods may seem empty, and some bucks may be out of circulation. However, one redeeming quality of the bedroom stage is that not every buck has a potential breeding partner to hang with. Some bucks will still be cruising and looking for a date, trying to get to the bedroom. Breeder bucks will be preoccupied and right on the doe’s tails, and satellite bucks will be working all the angles to try and fight their way in.
There is a specific way to hunt those occupied bucks: Set up in (or right next to) daytime bedding cover—the bedroom—and wait there, where the does (and hence the bucks) want to be. Pack a lunch, get up in a tree, and stay all day.
6. Cleanup Duty
When does the rut end? When you quit hunting for the year.
While it’s true that breeding activity slows considerably as the bulk of does get bred and bucks get tired, it’s also true that younger does (year-and-a-half olds and then, even later, the year’s early-born fawns) come into estrus after the calendar hits December.
It’s cleanup duty now. There are still breeding jobs to be done, but it’s not an active or aggressive pursuit on the bucks’ part. “Opportunistic” is more the watchword.
Now is the time to get into the prime habitat where the does and fawns retreat—good cover near prime feeding areas. Bucks aren’t usually actively on the lookout for does, but bucks still like to hang near the females if for no other reason than to eat well, have an extra set of eyes or two around for safety, and maybe even get lucky.
Hunt The Whole Season Through
Rather than a one-week event in which to put all your hunting effort, the rut is a full process that lasts all autumn long and consists of distinct stages, any of which can, when hunted with the right strategies and approaches, put a buck on the meat pole.
Written by Tom Carpenter for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.