Sunday, January 1, 2017

Season wrap-up: Top hunts of 2016

By Mac Arnold
RTWO Editor-In-Chief

After nearly four months of insanity and mostly frustration, Michigan's white-tailed deer season will come to close Jan. 1.

Yes, sadly, and maybe with relief, when the sun dips below the horizon this chilly winter evening that is going to be it until mid-September.

The weapon of choice for this hunt by this worn, gray-bearded hunter will be a crossbow -- the same one as when the season began Sept. 17 for early antlerless deer.

There was some debate as to whether to go out instead with the freezer-packer -- the 12-gauge Mossberg slug gun -- but what if a decent buck chooses to come into range? So with that, the Parker crossbow made the grade, or at least we hope it does.

But most likely that is not to happen as few ... well, one antlered deer was seen on the hoof this past season, and it was hardly a nice buck. It was very much so a yearling buck, possibly a six-point, and if seen tonight it will be left alone to roam until next season.

So it is with this season wrap-up combined with a Top Hunts of 2016 post we hold promise for the new year with the knowledge that Michigan's lottery opens for Spring Gobbler from Jan. 1-Feb.1.

Goodbye 2016.

Starting in order from bottom to top:

No. 3: CAIDEN STAYS IN THE STAND -- It was all talk for most of the late November deer season with the 7-year-old grandson until we were to climb into the blind for that evening's hunt at the Sanilac County, Michigan camp. Once the young man got to the top of the ladder and a mere step inside the wooden enclosure, that was it. He was having nothing to do with it. "Whoaaaa, I'm coming down, Mac." Guess heights aren't his forte. But that's not how it ended. After a stern talk of "oh, no, you're a staying," from his Papa Mac, the hunt went on until dark. No deer came in to look over but some knowledge was passed on, and he learned how to use the grunt call ... um, ad nauseam.

RTWO Photo by Mac Arnold
While not everything might have gone to plan this
hunting season, we did bag our first mallard drake. 
And for being a part-time waterfowler, it was a
big deal. Augustus shows his approval.
No. 2: GOOSE FROM SEAT OF MY PANTS -- By early December, with the cupboards bare from few opportunities not only in the deer woods but along the duck pond, expectations were low as Augie and myself took point just outside the Monroe County, Michigan pothole. Despite the timing being right as many -- if not hundreds of ducks and geese -- picked up from their comfy confines inside the madly swaying cattails. The wind was howling on this day, but the only problem was our setup, which was back too far for a good shot. After a move to the edge of the pond, up went three mallards and once the Browning reported, one went down, which was my first-ever bagged mallard drake. A short time after that, a small flock of geese swirled overhead. While the others were wise to the nonsense behind the bush, one dipped in for a closer look despite the discombobulated hunter being twisted around to his backside in an effort to get a shot. So while practically lying down, with the first shot missing, the second shot rang true and down rained a goose.

No. 1: DAIRY FARMER DAVE'S PAYS OFF AGAIN -- The top hunt of 2016 was actually months ago on the very last day of May. Spring gobbler took me to three different states that provided a handful of decent opportunities but none of which that ended in a bagged tom. After mulling how to get the job done with the season down to its last days and securing a return invite from the Sanilac County dairy farmer, there I was back along the famous woodline where I shot my best-ever gobbler in 2010. Despite being late to the best place to sit for this hunt, the bunch of four or five birds that sounded off as I walked in eventually appeared with two nice toms in tow. Yet, not everything went as planned because the 1993 Mossberg Ulti-Mag did its occasional misfire gag not once but twice. That was enough for the wily big boys to say "uh-uh" to that and start turning around but not before one was dropped on the third attempt. It had a nine-inch beard and was pretty heavy, probably 20 pounds or better.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Reality looms as deer season dwindles and Michigan now a white wonderland

By Mac Arnold

With the fields having been turned into snowy moonscapes, it is clear that I am truly up against the odds of putting a white-tailed deer in the freezer.

Dec. 18 was officially the last day of Michigan's muzzle loader season.

One in which I have had some success in over the years. In fact, this time around, on Dec. 9, it produced the only shot I've had at a deer during any of the regular seasons in 2016.

But this has been such a trying muzzle-loader season and deer season in general. When I got back to the camp cabin, I told everyone who asked "if I found (the deer)" that the shot on the doe "probably went left and over her shoulder." For some reason the .45 rifle had this tendency to hit like that despite me thinking I had fixed it the last time I had sighted it in. But this was confirmed when I wrapped up that final day of smoke pole nine days later by clearing the load with some shots at a practice target.

Not only were the rounds hitting high and to the left -- but the three grouped in the upper left-hand corner with each round an inch apart. After some tweaking on the scope, I got the round to hit where I wanted slightly above the bull and nearly dead center, which effectively squashed talk of getting a new muzzle loader for next year.

This $99 special -- a Knight Wolverine -- has always been one of the more accurate rifles to come out of the gun safe. I don't know what got the two of us on such a wayward path but it seems to have come full-circle back to good. And now the season's over.

 The slogan at this time of year that is usually "one more deer" is now a foreboding "wait until next year."

Sure, the family will survive but venison often does help to sustain our food lockers, or mine, however you want to look at it since I'm the one who primarily eats it. Again, I'll survive.

I'm more questioning why this year has gone so poorly, at least deer-wise. Whereas it's not uncommon for me to not shoot a gobbler some springs, deer have been taken in at least every season since I started hunting in 1993 except one: 2000.

I guess all streaks come to an end at some point as all good things eventually do too.

However, at the end of all this reflection, there is still season left. Even if I don't want to carry on in the frigid December temperatures with a bow, the late season antlerless firearms season took off where the muzzle loader ended.

Which is where I was hoping to add another hunt for the slim selection this year for the annual Mac's Top Hunts of the year installment.

But a Tuesday, Dec. 20, hunt out at the Sanilac County camp did not quite go as planned. The targeted deer decided to keep on going despite the hole in its side. After a two-hour tracking job it was decided I was putting myself and a friend at risk in the teen temperatures with the wind-chill factor, and I backed out ... but not before I got turned around and lost in the dark, everything-looks-the-same woods. Looking back now, I'm thinking maybe the Hornady SST slug didn't hit any vitals. Usually those 300 grainers drop deer in their tracks unless the previously mentioned scenario happens. It's rare indeed when the freezer-packer -- a 12-gauge Mossberg slug gun -- can't get the job done.

Anybody who questions how hard I looked for that deer needed to only look at my shredded hands. The doe's escape route through bramble tunnels was a bear to follow. One that I could not overcome this time around. Still it's not something that has me happy. In fact, I'm pretty bummed out.

But there will be other deer hunts.

Just maybe not in Michigan this season.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Midseason report 2016 -- deer-less in Michigan and hope for colder weather

By Mac Arnold
RTWO Editor-In-Chief

Here we are for what is usually a magical time called the "Midseason report" at Rockin' the Wild Outdoors, yet it's been anything but a rockin' one.

If we look at the record here, we find little in the blam-blam of the shotgun and no whooshing of arrows from the Martin bow.

Let's see, from September to October there were four missed shots over five goose outings, all in Monroe County, Michigan; one missed shot in a lone October grouse trip to Gladwin County, Michigan public hunting land; no shots in one turkey hunt in Sanilac County, Michigan; and in an even bigger surprise, there were no shots period over roughly 15 archery deer gigs -- to include an early September firearms season one in which I used a crossbow -- from October to early November.

What's going on here?

For one, I'm much more patient.

Additionally, I've been sticking to the game plan, which is, make it something significant to be worthwhile.

So despite not having any downed game to my credit in more than 20 outings, I think this is a good thing.

Really, I would have to admit that out the chances on deer, only one do I think I could have turned into pay dirt.

I passed on two smallish does while in the ground blind with my wife, who remarked that neither deer was much bigger than Augustus, our 100-pound Lab. And with that, the decision was made. No way was I going to try a shot, especially when I heard previously there was a 200-pounder doe in that section of woods. We also heard a couple more behind us in the still green brush, so we waited them out but they never appeared.

RTWO photo by Mac Arnold

A Nov. 2 hike out to the woods in a short-
sleeve shirt is a perfect example of how warm
it's been this deer hunting season.
For the most part, I think the reason I'm not seeing many deer is it's just too warm. But all of that could change this weekend, with temperatures dropping low enough to cause snow, and blowing snow at that with the predicted blustery conditions.

I'm not sure if even this weather change will help my luck this season.

So is my 15-year streak of getting a deer each season in jeopardy?

Additionally, I have not gotten a deer only once, in 2000, since I started hunting in 1993.

Guess you will have to log back on this site later to find out what happens.

* * * 
This midseason report is so in-depth that it even touches on the first two days of the regular deer firearms season in Michigan, which opened Tuesday, Nov. 15. (Is it so in-depth or is because I'm so behind in writing?)

Anyway, again, temperatures were above normal and from where I sat at the Sanilac County camp for the opener and in Monroe County behind the house on the second day, I saw zero deer in any of the morning-evening sits.

The headline for a Michigan Department of Natural Resources news release from Wednesday, Nov. 17, pretty much concurred with my findings, "Firearm deer hunting season kicked off Tuesday; mixed reviews across the state."

It added, "warm weather and fog in some areas seem to have had an effect on deer movement."

Hmmm. You think?

No, I know because the only deer I had chance on was early Nov. 15 when one of two deer darted across the rural Sanilac County road I was hauling down in the Jeep and then peeled back in front of me a second time, and I had to lock them up on loose gravel before proceeding onward again. It was pretty close.

Ashley Autenrieth, DNR deer program biologist, said pretty much the same thing in the news release in all four of Michigan's regions, that deer numbers were down and would pick back up once colder temperatures returned and the corn crops were chopped.

It can only go up from here for me because I've pretty much have seen nothing.

For more information on deer hunting in Michigan, visit the DNR’s webpage at

Oh, don't miss my video below while on the tree stand Oct. 30.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Lazy days come to an end

By Mac Arnold
RTWO Editor-In-Chief

It seemed like just yesterday, when I was lazily floating down the River Raisin on a sweltering summer day, trying to keep the canoe righted and wishing I was making better casts.

Ah, the cast bugaboo, always a major torment anytime I take the paddle to the currents.

But let's not get tied up in that crux much like a buzz bait wrapped around an overhanging branch along the river's bank.

This post is more in line with that worn refrain we often at this time of year in September: Where did summer go?

Well, it's long gone.

It it is now autumn. And its bountiful hunting seasons (I hope) await.

In fact, together with Augustus, we've already closed out September's early nuisance season with what couldn't be more apropos: a goose egg.

RTWO photo by Mac Arnold
Augustus and I managed to find a new spot at 
the Monroe County pond.

This comes after scoring geese the past two years during the early season. However, I did have some help from the evil Monroe County Drain Commission who came through and caused carnage to my favorite spots. With all its digging and scalping back there, it kept me from going out in the morning.

But that is now all behind us. The drain commission will likely not come through for another 20 years. I doubt I'll be here for that entirety but of course one never knows.

And there will be the regular waterfowl season next month, when hopefully, the less informed migratory flocks will be passing through and think the pond is a great spot to stopover at until they take off the following cool foggy morning and rise over me, and I pick off a couple of their friends.

So it's hard to stay down. What I've found hunting and in life, holding onto past failures is really a waste of time.

This was shown to me by a late great spiritual adviser who helped me through a few trials earlier in my life. He used the salesman analogy from when he was a door-to-door lackey for some concern. One of the many occupations he had which ranged from that previously mentioned to being a 21-year-old Army infantry company commander in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

He would say he would get excited about rejections because it meant the next door he knocked on could be his next sale.

What a great way to turn failure into success, if you ask me.

Plus, I recently got my spring turkey mount from Taxidermy by Ron in Columbus Township, Mich. Ron has done pretty much every one of my mounts but he really outdid himself this time. I would talk him up but he is trying to slow down and is keeping business to his longtime customers only.

RTWO photo by Mac Arnold
It's hard to stay down when you have past 
successes like my 2016 spring gobbler to
reflect on.
This turkey blew me away in all facets from what a great job he did to what a tremendous bird it was, which is a positive way to head into the deer archery opener next week, Oct. 1.

It's likely I'll be patrolling the back 40 near home for the opener despite not much turning up on the trail cam in the woods. There are other places, and they will all be hit over what I call the "90 days of insanity" with hopeful returns to old stomping grounds in the Port Huron State Game Area and even possibly at an old Army buddy's farm in Ohio.

But a final baaaaaaaaaaaass fishing gig is planned for this upcoming week, along with a long-awaited birthday bird hunt in the first week of October at one of the most sacred spots of my yesteryear in Gladwin County.

So much fun ahead in the coming months to be troubled by past failures, if you can really call them that.

To which I scoff: No geese, no problem.

Friday, July 22, 2016

A kickin' bass summer on the river

RTWO photo by Richard Schindler
So along came a kayaker and we began shooting the breeze under the River Raisin bridges in Monroe, which all started when I explained to him I wasn't trying to photobomb his pictures. Next thing I know I had a nice one on and I asked Richard Schindler of Monroe, who had paddled down from the state park, if he wouldn't mind snapping a picture for me since it's hassle while canoeing by yourself. Thanks, Richard.

By Mac Arnold
RTWO Editor-In-Chief

How's the bass fishing this summer you might ask?

Pretty doggone good I would reply back.

At least in the spots I've been fishing, which have been nearly exclusive to Monroe County, Michigan's River Raisin. I've also heard of friends and others doing well around the state.

It is obvious now that how the river flows dictates the action. Like last summer for instance, when June rains turned the River Raisin into a River Wild and caused a longtime friend to swear I nearly killed him when we were turned upside down in our canoe and pulled into its swirling chocolate waters.

Before that episode and after, the fish were tough to find. And other than a time when I found a couple real nice smallies along rocky bank near where I've been going at the end of the Raisin this year, it was pretty fruitless.

But that was then.
RTWO by Mac Arnold
I can't even explain how this
happened. I know longtime bud 
Bill Brisebois would have howled
with delight had he witnessed this snag,
turned into a massive bird's nest, 
and then a catch.

This summer the waters are clear green and tame, and comfortably warm on my feet and ankles when I've been forced out of the canoe to traverse shallow spots, which has been often upriver.

The biggest problem has been dealing with all the grasses and weed beds more easily snagged because of lower water levels. It's required diligence when choosing what lures to throw.

Another of my goals this bassin' season was to try and diversify the arsenal, which is part of the reason for subscribing to "Bassmaster" magazine, to see what the pros offer up as suggestions. A couple of the tips have worked -- the wacky-worm delivery with three -inch Senkos rather than four and five-inchers, and the other being Shad Raps by Rapala. Both caught fish but really became more of a nuisance to toss because of the constant mine-sweeping of grass piles and the re-setting for the next cast.

By far, as always, the best bet because not only can it be weedless but because it can get down to the big boys at deeper depths has been the drop shot with Senkos. And speaking of exclusivity, nothing else works like they do, so that's all I use. Mostly, it's a matter of determining what color to choose.

It's funny. There was one day with the shade darkening the waters under the bridges and trestle foundations,  that I couldn't throw enough of the red shad laminate ones. But it clicked! Darker lures for darker water. Then the next time I was patrolling in and out of the pillars, it was nothing doing with those, and the best fish were caught with old standbys, blue pearl and chartreuse.

A surprising nonfactor has been the buzz bait, which has always been a sure bass buster, but with the fish apparently hanging in the deeper depths from warmer, shallow water it seems top water is out. But again, that is fine because I would like to get away from the usual go-to lures and try new stuff.

As far as equipment goes, paying some bucks for a St. Croix rod to help replace the three lost in last summer's canoeing debacle, has made a world of difference. Out of the four to seven fish I've been averaging when out this summer, two to three are pretty nice, and as we know, those bigger smallmouth bass can really fight. But where maybe one or two of those get off in year's past, they aren't this year.

Can't wait to get the next one on. Hope it's a big one.

There's plenty more season left with it still being only July, and August likely will continue to be productive, at least for anglers like myself who cruise the rivers in a canoe. But summer as we all know also tends to fly by and then it'll be closer to the time for getting ready for deer.

Oh no, did I just say the "D" word?

Still a little early for that but might be getting time to begin practicing with the bow.

RTWO photo by Mac Arnold
First catch with a Shad Rap. Had a good feeling about the color when I bought it at Bass Pro Shop in Rossford, Ohio. It ended up being one of the better fish on that day.

Monday, June 27, 2016

More trials await for bass fishing

By Mac Arnold
RTWO Editor-In-Chief

With the kids safely dispatched to their West Virginia home, it is now time to get serious about baaaaaaaaaaaaass fishing at Rockin' The Wild Outdoors with Mac.

I don't know what it is about the heat and July Fourth, but once those elements come together, I must bass fish. And I must do it intensely.

Which means casts until shoulders ache, and rowing and navigating the canoe until the lower back locks up.

But with the melanoma only three years or so removed, long sunstroke afternoons of being shirtless man in the canoe are definitely out. Covering up to some degree is a must.

There have been a couple of gigs in the backyard pond in June but those have only produced the little guys.

The last outing Thursday, June 23, which at first was quite frustrating, actually offered logistical results. After an initial 12-incher was pulled out, it was all systems fail with the rod rigged up for drop shots and plastics, and that seemed to be the preferred bait. This "monster" was yanked in along with a mound of pond grass, which at first gave off the hint of a jumbo and got me all worked up.

Photo by Mac Arnold
So far only the little guys have gotten hooked, 
but we will definitely do better this summer.
But things eventually went downhill when all casts afterward would barely go 10 feet. At first it seemed like it was that the reel was stripped. The later diagnosis was bad line.

And this Seaguar line was touted highly by the salesman at Cabela's. (I think this has come up before in a past post.)

OK, maybe it was because the line was still on from last summer or because it's just plain lousy line, whatever it was, it's no longer on the reel.

After an initial harrumphing in the kitchen to the wife who was in her own disarray trying to leave for work, I stripped it off and put on 10-pound Trilene test. This is not my preferred line, which is Stren, but it is one I'm familiar with and I at least know will do the job.

While stringing up the reel I realized this was another of my trials on gear. Every so often it's fun to see how some broadhead, bow or ... fishing line works for the novelty of it. Once the newness fades, it's always a return to what is a proven winner.

Here it was no different. And it has been the same way in the deer woods: After trying out one pack of broadheads after another I'm back with the 100-grain Wasp Jak-Hammers.

I'm pretty sure this is what I'm going to stay with for the upcoming deer archery season. Over the last two seasons two deer have been easily recovered -- one dropped immediately on the spot from a high shoulder hit and the other after waiting overnight because the shot was back a ways, but it was found only 50 yards from the stand.

How did I go from bass to deer? Anyway, there will plenty of time on here to delve into fall bow gear and whatnot later as October approaches, so back to baaaaaaaaaaass fishing. Bass fishing.

With the lack of rain we've been having, I'm predicting a much better season this summer, mainly because the fish will be easier to find in the deeper pools from lower water levels.

So the line is on. It's just a matter of getting on the water. Let's hit it.


Upcoming draws also are on my mind: elk and bear. The Michigan DNR will be releasing the results Wednesday (June 29) for both.

Not really expecting much here elk-wise, which for Michigan rolls the same results as for Maine moose: zippo! 

But bear in the Upper Peninsula has come through tag-wise here and there over the last few years and it would be cool to score another one. A tag that is. I still haven't found success even seeing one under the stand let alone bagging one.

So getting another opportunity would be nice. Besides, the U.P. is a great place to view the outdoors and have an adventure. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Gobblers never come easy

By Mac Arnold
RTWO Editor-In-Chief

Some hunters get it done in a couple tries.

This one here often takes multiple efforts to bag the intended target. Not sure why it has to go down like this but nothing ever comes easy.

So after three states and nine gigs, a mature gobbler was bagged.

It had been nearly six years since the majestic fall tom with a 14 1/2 inch beard was taken at the magical hunting grounds that is Dairy Farmer Dave's, and it would have been three years since any turkeys were slammed -- when two jakes were shot -- one in spring and one in September with the last having the best beard at six inches in length.

So when the second of two toms hit the deck on the morning of May 31 it was sure a welcomed sight.

And the kill nearly didn't happen at all thanks to the confounded Mossberg 12 gauge.

As that day unfolded, the one hour before sunrise target time was missed but not as badly as the week before on May 24  when I strolled in at 6 barely beating sunrise but actually getting to watch the glorious southeastern Michigan sky light up in orange gold.

Photo by Mac Arnold
The sunrise that greeted me May 24 at Dairy
Farmer Dave's was quite spectacular. 
It was quite the sight. So much so that I stopped to click off a picture to capture the moment. Later, as it was noted, despite the stench common with all dairy farms, there is always much beauty to take in at Dave's paradise. Here was a nice example of it, which I had forgotten until that abrupt stop before setting up in the property's east pine woods.

Even though there would be no success such as a tagged bird, much intel was brought to light as to just how many birds were strutting around the wheat fields. After a late morning move on the 24th, I got within 80 yards of him but that was as close as the tom would get. But I got a good look at him and his beard was dragging on the ground.

In addition, I discovered a great place to sit, which would be right in the center of his strutting ground.

After securing approval for a second gig from Dairy Farmer Dave, the plan would be hatched May 31 with the mission of getting out at that one hour before sunrise time.

OK, again, that didn't happen but I was closer. It was 5:33 when I popped the back hatch on the Jeep and 30 seconds into to gearing up, a gobble echoed from behind the retention pond.

Only good things happen when the birds are roosted there. Unfortunately it is best to already be on the other side of the smelliest pond known to man. I would be hitting the ground running, which meant I would try to sidestep the roost by a mere 100 yards to get on the other side of the woods that opens up into a lane skirting the wheat.

He gobbled a couple of more times, likely to my footfalls, which I tried to delicately set down in between the broken twigs and fallen logs the grayish dawn light. It wasn't easy but it went smoother than I thought. Soon I was right where I wanted to be in the corner of the farm field edge that gives you a good look along the woods for when they step out.

I made some gentle tree yelps with the Ring Zone glass call and then louder ones with the H.S. Strut mouth call once I figured they were on the ground. Within a half hour, a hen stepped out clucking in a disturbed manner and soon hustled back into the woods after it seemed she was unhappy about the lack of response from the decoy.

It appeared the jig was up as she putted while walking away through the trees.

Yet, the gobbling never ceased and even became louder at times.

They were close, but were they closing? I wondered.

The answer would come 15 minutes later when two more hens slipped through the tall grass along the wood line with two toms in tow. Nice ones at that. I acquired the yardage with my recently purchased Simons range finder. This was the first season I've ever used one and let me say it helped tremendously because it read "83 yards." The same as a week before when I had a bead on the one turk.

A couple of clucks on the mouth call soon had the one hen coming straight to me and the two big boys on her tail. I was shaking with nervous excitement. When they were in range I waited until the two gobblers were separated enough, took aim and pulled the trigger. Click!

Oh no. But it was just like that, and now I was freaking out. If the whole season weighed on this it would really be a bummer.  To my amazement, they were still close as I re-cocked the shottie. Yet, another click. This time the birds were done with the odd noises coming from inside the opposite woods and started to turn in the other direction. I ejected the one shell and chambered another, picked out the back tom's head and this time a shot rang out with the bird on the ground.

Finally, I had dropped a good-sized tom.

Some might ask what's up with the shotgun? I've had it looked at before and it was determined that for a gun bought for $450 in 1993 it's not worth the cost to fix. But when it comes down to it, it usually gets the job done.

And it did again May 31.