The Luck Of The Draw - Sometimes It Does Really Happen!
When it comes to raffles, I have never had much luck and whenever I purchase a ticket, I automatically assume I’m helping a good cause, and that is the end of that. As they say, if you don’t at least try, you will never win anything. My name did get drawn for a 12 ga Remington Express shotgun at a Ducks Unlimited Banquet, but that was back in 1986, and nothing occurred from then on, after purchasing countless raffle tickets. Maybe the 2020 Michigan Elk Lottery was a turning point. Call it what you will, I looked at it on the order of simply buying another raffle ticket every year and wasn’t expecting much. After 36 years of dedication in annually “applying”, I was already quite used to rejection on the matter. Then that memorable day in June 2020 happened, which completely shocked (being “stunned” is too mild a definition) me, when I went online and discovered I had been drawn for an antlerless Michigan elk tag, a longtime dream come true, and eventually bagging a dandy cow elk was frosting on the cake! Since then, I have won a “home defense” shotgun at a Friends of the NRA Banquet and a .22 rifle at a Pheasants Forever Banquet, and yep, folks, I was completely stunned both times. It was near the end of March this year when I stopped by at the Cass City Do it Best Hardware Store to purchase all my hunting and fishing licenses (and ORV stickers as well), and I ran into Jeff Wallace, who is the President of the Cass City Gun Club. Jeff was there dropping off raffle tickets for the store to sell, which entailed a 20 ga Winchester “turkey” shotgun, which was purchased through the store, and it was present behind the counter to look at. Only 100 tickets at $10 each were being sold, and I didn’t hesitate to purchase one, knowing full well I didn’t stand a chance. As I said, I do like to support good causes. The Cass City Gun Club (CCGC) has been around for about 70 years, and I have had some fine times doing shooting activities there. They have regularly put on Hunter Safety Classes ever since it became required, and my 3 sons received their Hunter Safety Certificates there (and so did I, when I needed one to go hunting in Colorado – I really had a great time taking the class with kids). During recent times, the CCGC has been regularly improving their grounds which entails 40 acres, and now has well-constructed trap, skeet, pistol and rifle ranges. The rifle range is a real dandy offering targets at 50, 100, 200 and even an amazing 365 yards. It also has a raised and spacious shooting platform which allows rifle practice from above! It is open to the public, but non-members must be accompanied by a member for any shooting activities. There is also an annual free youth day each summer, and a new activity is rimfire shooting on the rifle range for both pistol and rifle, which begins the first Thursday in May, and is on every Thursday during the summer, which has really piqued my interest! Yep, folks, I had no problem buying that raffle ticket to support a good cause. When the phone rang one evening last week, I was glad I was sitting down, because Jeff Wallace called to inform me my raffle ticket had been drawn for the turkey gun. It didn’t take me long to get to Cass City Do it Best Hardware the following morning and receive my prize. It is a pump-action 20 ga (3 inch) Winchester Model SXP “Long Beard” that has been well designed by those in the know about turkey hunting. Featuring a chrome-lined chamber and bore, its 24-inch barrel features an external fluted, extra full “Long Beard” turkey choke tube. The composite stock features a handy pistol grip, and it, including the barrel, is externally coated in the new Mossy Oak DNA camouflage. This is a shotgun designed to handle a rugged and often wet environment (I have had some great turkey hunting opportunities during rainstorms as the birds don’t seem to mind such at all) and weighs in at less than 7 pounds. It is not a bad piece at all for “running and gunning” for turkeys. Turkey guns are designed to be aimed like a rifle, with this one featuring Truglo fiber optic sights attached to the vent rib, and the aluminum alloy receiver (which is strong and durable with less weight than steel) is drilled and tapped for adding optics (an extra cheek pad is included to match the height for using optics). The Inflex Technology recoil pad has additional inserts to extend the stock if needed, however everything fits me perfectly as is. This shotgun is also easy to assemble and disassemble, the trigger unit is also easy to remove for cleaning (the large trigger guard works fine with gloves), and the safety button can be switched around for right or left-handers. The shotgun comes with the “duck-plug” already installed in the 4-round magazine to limit overall shell capacity to 3, which works for me in most hunting avenues anyway. With the Michigan spring turkey season fast approaching, I put a priority in properly patterning this new shotgun and acclimating myself to all its handling characteristics on my backyard shooting range (yep, folks, I was just like a kid with a new toy). It is easy to load, and unloading is a breeze by simply pushing the shell-stop down and the shell pops out into your hand. Having to rack out shells to unload is not necessary, something I appreciate. I had the Allen wrenches which came with the shotgun to adjust the sights in my pocket, because I felt tweaking matters would be required, but such wasn’t the case at all. The shotgun obviously came from the factory ready to hit right on point of aim. A lot went into designing everything, because the chrome-lined barrel is also back-bored, which means the bore size is larger than normal specs, which prevents friction with the wad and distortion of the pellets going down the barrel, for creating denser patterns. Combine all that with an extra full choke, and you can expect amazing results, which I sure did! I was using standard bullseye targets for the initial sight-in/patterning and was indeed impressed. I was using more economical Winchester 2 ¾ inch, Super X shells with only 7/8 ounce of lead number sixes, and at 10 yards, the center of the bullseye was taken right out with a hole the size of a tennis ball! At 20 yards, it was the size of a softball, and 30 yards the size of a volleyball, and obviously, this load will work to that range. I stopped at that point, because I want to do some further testing using “turkey” paper targets, and I’m curious as to how far this 20 ga shotgun can reach out effectively, especially with its preferred (and more expensive) turkey ammo yet to be discovered. And yep, folks, you can easily miss a gobbler’s head/neck area at the closer ranges with this shotgun if you don’t use pinpoint accuracy. There is a reason for using rifle-type sights on a shotgun such as this. I look upon smoothbore shotguns as being very versatile hunting tools, and although this handy piece is classified as a “turkey gun”, I plan on getting a modified choke tube for small game hunting and a rifled choke tube for using slugs for deer hunting. To me, it begs to be used for other avenues. I appreciate the Winchester SXP “Longbeard” line of shotguns, because a portion of the sales is donated to the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) which is celebrating its 50-year anniversary this year. NWTF has played and continues to play, a very important role in the wild turkey becoming a very successful conservation story. I have attended numerous NWTF fundraising banquets over the years, and yep, I’ve enjoyed them all and have bought my fair share of raffle tickets, because it was for a good cause with always the chance of winning something. My being drawn during the recent CCGC gun raffle for a superb shotgun is proof positive the “luck of the draw” can become a reality, despite the odds!
By Tom Lounsbury.
Three’s Company…if you can keep up;)
As the three of us continued our walk down the ole’ skidder run I kept wondering where in the heck we were going. I yelled ahead a similar sentiment: “Hey, Bob! You must’ve walked back in here before, huh?” There was no answer. The three of us continued back into no-man’s land with my brother Bob leading the way. Trailing about 50 yards behind was Gage and I. Gage is one of Bob’s three sons (my nephew). Some might say that Gage and I lagged behind to hide our private conversations from our “lead scout,” but our lag was actually just our way of telling Bob to slow down. Our process of finding that just-right hunting spot was showing its success once again. All of a sudden we came upon an area that elicited an above average amount of deer sign. But, not just deer sign – buck sign, too. The deer sign was fresh and the buck sign was stale – a perfect spot to lock into the GPS during our annual May scouting session. Although I had a pretty good idea of what to look for when scouting for a deer hunting spot, I asked my brother, “So what made you trek back here and find this spot?” He pointed at the terrain and mentioned the transition between one area and another that created a pinch-point. He reminded me that not all pinch-points are “hunt-able.” Because I love to talk about this, especially with Gage in the mix of things, I asked that he explain himself. I think Bob realized his explanation gave all of us a chance to rest our legs before trekking into another no-man’s land. As an outfitter and guide in Michigan’s eastern UP, the challenge of maintaining viable deer hunting spots is always present. Some of our challenges are easily met and some continue to be just that – a challenge. I have come to realize, though, that challenges are nothing more than an opportunity for success. At the end of our scouting escapade, we always put together a spreadsheet with all the tidbits and details from each spot. Thus, begins the work moving forward…cataloging our year-round scouting information from each of these spots. I can’t remember a trip to the UP where I didn’t stop and check a few of our “hot spots” to decide if they’re worth keeping for the fall hunting season, or if it’s time to delete them from our spreadsheet. Last year was not unlike a few within the past 25+ years. The deer sign was not as prevalent as we had hoped. It was obvious the previous winter was a tough one on the deer herd. Scouting trips are always a nostalgic and meaningful stay at camp. They give us a chance to review what we were seeing out in the bush…or sometimes the lack thereof. As Gage reiterates from year to year, “It separates the pretenders from the contenders, and we ain’t pretending!” As we mold our spreadsheet over the course of several months, our notes affirm the importance of keeping current and paying attention to all details. Whether we notice a lull in deer sign/increased presence of wolf sign or a change in local food source, etc., we realize the significance of year 'round scouting. As an example, we once hunted an area where deer sign was prevalent. It was a picturesque area hidden from the world, so to speak. It hosted all the components of a great deer and bear hunting spot. For bear, there was plenty of water, including a huge beaver pond, and as a bonus, a pair of nesting swans for viewing pleasure. For deer, a lot of pinch-points from bedding area to feeding areas were interspersed throughout. We decided to go back to that area which had been absent on our spreadsheet. What we found was a completely dry beaver pond, lack of game sign…and the nesting swans were gone! “Son of a gun…I ain’t promoting a hunt spot without eye candy!” I thought to myself. A wolf pack was not what we’d expected for our viewing pleasure…no offense intended. Last year we had a few people that were successful early in their hunt – tagged out early. Usually, these hunters want to know what activity is available for the remainder of their stay. It is at that time that I grin from ear-to-ear and say, “You can tag along with me while I’m baiting and checking hunting spots if you want.” Rarely do we hear no for an answer. That activity begins each day once breakfast has finished. It usually concludes four or five hours later…exhausted, but exhilarated. I remember one hunter/client asking me why I was always checking my smart phone. “Can’t your emails wait ‘til you get back to camp?” he asked. I reminded him we have hunters out there that need an available flow of communications with their guide. I was simply checking for texts and maybe a phone call. As we drove and then walked from one area to another, carrying bait, a backpack with the necessities, etc….my ‘companion guide’ began to understand the aspect of scouting just a wee bit better. I noticed his questions were less and his comments were more. Before we had departed camp he noticed I had a backup supply of clothes and boots. 'Show n tell' of my backpack contents were not just hunt-related items, but items like bottled water, a couple energy bars, a hatchet, a small first aid kit, extra rope, tape, cell phone battery, flashlight, etc. We were back at camp and he offered some good advice…an added item or two for backpack content consideration, etc. He did notice one thing that was a surprise: trail cameras are a wonderful tool on one hand and a pain in the rear end on the other. He noticed keeping tabs on trail cameras at two to three dozen hunting spots poses a challenge all by itself. My explanation of what the trail cam can do for us seemed to make sense to him. “A guide or hunter’s success can live and die by the addiction that they offer,” I told him. “They aren’t a substitute for good ole’ fashioned scouting.” They are, however, a wonderful tool that helps manage our precious time out there…out in the woods. The conclusion of our hunting season brings another challenge to our activity list – collecting and storing our hunting gear, namely hunting blinds, tree stands, etc. Removing two dozen ground blinds and half as many ladder stands can bring exhaustion to most anyone. However, proper time management can lead to an improved ‘next season’. It reminds me of performing exit interviews to employees that voluntarily leave employment with a company. Before we pack up and leave we always take time to post-scout each area. This will help us with preliminary judgment for stand placement next year. Time is precious! Besides, the dishes are piled up back at camp and dinner must be ready when the hunters return from the woods…hopefully, with a story to tell and a blood trail to follow. This is where the real fun begins! Some of the contents of the backpack are changed out, along with everyone in camp wanting to be a part of the action. All good! As with every year, the snow will melt. Boots-on-the-ground scouting will start up again. My brother, nephew and I will redo our spreadsheet back at camp, having in mind the type of hunters we think will appreciate each spot. Very few spots are a quick walk. Most are well off the beaten path. Some are quite a hike. I wouldn’t hesitate to put my best friend in any of these sites, or sit there myself with high expectations, nonetheless. The UP offers a vast wilderness that cannot be compared to anything “below da’ bridge.” It can test the patience level of the best of hunters and at the same time reward the person who decides to fully “plug in” to what is at their beck and call. Let the memories begin.
By Tom Lounsbury.
You Ever Get That Feeling…?
The spreadsheet showed a busy schedule just around the corner as several small groups of hunters booked with us for the upcoming season. The other spreadsheet showed what was behind us – year-round scouting results. Our scouting in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula usually begins in early May. You see, we wait until the snow melts in the heavy timber, but not too late to allow for a full blown black fly and mosquito hatch. After ‘the hatch,’ the next tolerable field work depends on weather patterns, usually sometime in the later part of July. I remember a number of years ago when I completed scouting according to my schedule and not ‘the call of the wild.’ I swear I can still feel a black fly gnawing at my eye brow. Wait a bit longer and the black flies make way to the wood ticks. Oh joy! Anyway, our scouting results get cataloged on a spreadsheet. This tabulation has proved very valuable throughout the years. After all, Sergeant Friday would approve of our method….“Just the facts…” As I made my third trek down what could be the start of a foot path, I knew this bear hunt spot would be a dandy. It had all the makings of success: far away from any human activity, a nice water source on one side, a swale on the other and a beautiful down-wind approach for the hunter. As I approached my potential hunting spot, I could see that the bait was hit. I emptied the bait from the small bucket into the crevasse under the large log pile. The logs were repositioned. Then off came the backpack. It was time for a scent reapplication and then a realization that I should’ve checked the trail cam beforehand. I resisted handling the trail cam, making a mental note of reversing my order of application the following day. Absent of a picture giving me affirmation of a good spot, I noticed fresh bear scat again. Good enough. The next trip back I would add a portable blind to my carry. I meandered my way out through a rough marked trail from the bait to a pipeline. I decided to exit from the wooded terrain onto the pipeline about twenty yards south of the entrance. I skirted a small raspberry hedge and noticed more bear scat. This sign was probably a few weeks earlier since the berries had been absent that same time period. My thoughts were, “Cool! I’ll pick up where Mother Nature left off.” With a hefty baiting schedule ahead of me, I began my trek back to the vehicle. I was no more than a couple hundred yards from that has-been berry patch and noticed a fresh lay of canine scat…right in my newfound foot trail. My senses went quickly from looking around to see what (not who) was watching. With a ‘coast is clear’ lift from my shoulders and the hair relaxing on the back of my neck, I flicked the scat a few yards off my trail and continued with my brisk walk. Down the pipeline I continued, making a mental note of what I carried in my backpack. I remembered from last year the ramifications of not hydrating myself often enough during the bear baiting, so retrieving a water bottle was in order. Besides, my glasses were just about glazed over from sweat and needed a fresh rinsing, not to mention I didn’t need to give my brother any reason to question my ability to recognize the difference between wolf and coyote scat. The sun in the sky coincided with the clock in my pickup and about a dozen miles later I was back at camp. A long look out over the lake proved a better day to be fishing than carrying bear bait to all those spots on the spreadsheet. The neighbor had it right. He was filleting a mess of fish caught earlier that day. He knew what my question would be so he quickly asked, “Did you notice the two pair of nesting swans out front?” Damn if he wasn’t rubbing salt in the blisters on my feet. Then he suggested I stunk. I smiled against his compliment and left to change out my baiting clothes before they became adulterated with late summertime camp smells. Running the small boat and outboard out to the hotspot would have to wait. I once ran the idea past my brother of baiting up a remote spot across the lake. I told him I could troll for dinner on the way over and back, but he didn’t seem to think I could separate the two outdoor activities from each other. (Fishing and bear baiting!) He mentioned the time I brought the famous Pocket Fisherman on a deer hunting trip. The idea was to tie a weighted cloth on the end of the line, saturating it with buck lure and casting it out to a nearby scrape line. You know the rest of the story. The next day arrived in style and without an alarm. I guess keeping myself hydrated while watching Detroit Tigers baseball has its delayed downfall. After changing back to my bear baiting formal wear and loading the pickup with containers of Mother Nature’s replacement, I was off and running. One thing I’ve learned from others is that bear baiting is an individualized sport. Most everyone has a common base of what works best and then customization from that point. I guess I’m no different. Changing the order of which spots get baited first, etc., is something that I like to do to mix it up a bit. My baiting timeline remains relatively the same, with me eating first, of course. As I drove two miles to the end of a two-track, I noticed no other tire tracks but my own. As I backed my pickup into the same spot, aligning my mirror with the small hemlock tree, I began to think about the posturing taking place back on the pipeline. Like it was scripted, I found another canine scat pile in the same place as the day before. I was determined to defeat the competition, therefore, I kicked the pile aside and one upped him, leaving my own scat behind, in the exact same spot. As the entry into the woods became more apparent each day, I found a spot about a hundred yards away from the bait that gave me a heads up of that area. Again, the bait site was disturbed. I approached to find the morsels completely gone. My memory bank told me to swap out the SD card in the trail cam first. I again baited and “in-scent-ivized” the immediate area. Heading east, I stopped to brush in the popup blind. I knew the next day I would be baiting and carrying in a portable chair. Never waste a trip. As I arrived where the woods meet the pipeline, I stopped to catch a glance of the open area. Something said, “You are not alone.” I looked and looked, but nothing. My next move was to step over a small mud hole, remembering that I stepped in it on my way into the woods. I looked down and saw a fresh imprint inside my own boot print from not more than half an hour earlier. I thought to myself, “Where there is one…” By the time I arrived back to my vehicle I had developed a game plan for this particular bear bait. It was almost like I was trying to see if the local bear would help me get rid of the gang-stas. After supper and during the Tiger game I remembered to check the swapped out SD cards. What was thought to be a great bear hunting spot proved otherwise. As I viewed all of the pics at the spot I called “Pipeline” it was obvious I was losing the posturing battle. Mr. Black Bear wasn’t helping either. We were both giving in to the neighborhood bullies. The following day, it was scat for scat as my own was displaced, advantage canine. I continued my baiting routine two more times. That last day I retrieved my popup blind and chair. On my walk back to the vehicle, there it was again in the same spot. More scat! ‘Checkmate’ – they win. When I returned to my vehicle, I sat there with the printout of my scouting spreadsheet. My eyes scrolled down to the “Pipeline” hunt spot. I noticed plenty of data pointing to a beautiful hunting spot, noting a nice natural shooting lane, nice downwind approach, etc. However, my scouting data noted otherwise. In the spirit of “just the facts,” I drew a line through Pipeline. Hunter: 0, Canis lupus (wolf): 1.
By Tom Lounsbury.
Said the deer: “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?”
In the midst of a busy lifestyle…time is of the essence. I won’t argue that point because most people don’t have time to listen anyway. But as I listened to a couple of my hunting buddies talk about driving up north a day or two before the start of their season with bait-in-hand…I must say, “really?” You see, I rode up with them a few years’ back. Every couple of miles I heard a noise come from one of their cell phones. Then the other’s cell phone must have rung a half dozen times. I finally spoke my mind and asked if this was all work-related or whether they simply “can’t miss communications from the fam?” As it turned out, almost all of the above was work-related, or at least violated our prior agreement to unplug from down below before heading up (north, that is). In years past, our northern hunting trip began months before the season started. In fact, it began as soon as the snow melted but before the black flies and mosquitoes hatched. Usually in early May we’d head up north and scout our hunting areas. This included valuable time back at camp talking about passing years with the promise to keep our tradition moving forward. Waxing nostalgic, I “perspectivized” the whole deer hunting process, comparing it to a great relationship – one that’s revered as a year-round commitment and not just that special something that comes off the shelf in the eleventh hour. Our 3 ½ hour northbound road trip included our usual stops to refuel our tanks and stomachs with even our snack choices being predictable. All aspects of our journey revealed our “creature of habit” mentality. This was even evident in our efforts to maintain deer camp so it was in the same order when we left as it was when we arrived. We didn’t want a surprise at camp or at our hunting spots. And of course, everyone had their place in camp, from what bed each person slept in, specific chores, etc. There was no need for names on coffee cups – you always knew which cup was yours despite the array of mismatched cups. That first cup of coffee gave us a sort of “welcome back to camp” feeling. It was a time when camp seniority meant a little something, like getting your cup refilled by the greenhorn without being asked. One year someone forgot to bring the coffee to camp. As Frank Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond would say… “Holy crap!” Don’t ask what was really said before the greenhorn drove 10 miles to the nearest store to pay twice as much for the same amount. It was something we enjoyed discussing year after year. I can still remember my first time going up north with the veterans. For me, deer hunting took on a whole new persona. I remember having a long list of questions leading up to the northern adventure that I would ask the soon-to-be former greenhorn. His response was, “Don’t worry about it.” It all soon became crystal clear during one of our summer “let’s check out the hunting spots” trips. By the end of that long weekend, the deer hunting trip had already played out in my mind; I could hardly wait until November. My mental check list of hunting clothes, gun, ammunition, etc. were reviewed often. In other words, there was no chance I was going to forget the coffee! Greenhorn or not, that re-told story is going to hang over the other guy’s head for a long time if I have anything to say about it. But damn it, I had to borrow a pair of insulated boots that first year – live and learn! There were years we tagged out and years in which deer were downright sparse. We always finished the season with the same feeling…a sense of being refreshed, renewed and “all is good.” The higher seniority guys (I did not say old) made sure the cabin was properly winterized. They also made sure I mopped the floor properly, washed up all of the dishes and set out the mouse bait. I found out there was also a proper way of hanging the coffee cups. Yes, there was even a certain order in which they were to be hung. Later I think I realized the cups may represent who was in camp that year. It solidified my realization that little things mattered. Little things sometimes represented big things. For a camp that allowed a stiff draft through the single-paned windows, especially when the wind was straight out of the north, it was treated with utmost respect. After all, our coffee cups were hanging in there. …Back to the cell phone ringing in one guy’s ear and the texting audible in the other’s. As we approached the Mackinac Bridge northbound, we noticed a pretty sizeable lineup at all the toll booths. My feeling was “Oh, well,” but it was obvious my two hunting companions felt differently. I looked outside my window in the adjacent line noticing a travel trailer being pulled dressed in full camouflage with a spray-painted portrait of Bullwinkle on the side. It seemed typical that time of year, causing me to alert the other two to take a look. They did without reply…one with the cell phone affixed to his ear. When we got to the toll booth I noticed the employee was the same one that took our money this past summer. After we refueled at the Holiday gas station, we were on our way with another hour’s drive to go. That feeling in my gut always intensified as we got closer to camp, something that those distracted with the other details of life just don’t get. Was the camp the same as we left it? I noticed the coffee cups were still in the drying rack near the kitchen sink and that small change irritated me. Soon the draft coming through a window had me whining. It wasn’t long before we’d unpacked all our essentials and were ready to head out to our hunting spots to give them a once-over before the opener. I remember that same feeling, that sense of anxiety that would intensify as we drove closer to where they would drop me off. There was a turnout there, but they drove down the two-track further before I grabbed my backpack and a bit of deer feed to hit my site. After a 20 minute walk, a few flushed partridge, a new buck rub and no sign of anyone else hunting my area, I arrived to find my spot just as I’d imagined it to be. A couple rounds of Pre-scouting gave me confidence that the deer sign supported a reason for the spot selection and I was not disappointed. And hopefully, if another person had happened upon my spot, their hunter etiquette would kick into full gear and they’d move onto another area. But then again, back-up spots are there for a reason, too. If nothing else, they provide a better vantage point for that off-wind day of hunting versus blowing your “A” spot. Both spots offered a pinch-point, an area where deer naturally travel from one terrain to another. This is definitely not a “feed them and they will come” method, but rather a way of “spreading a little love” to their daily travels. And in the end, said my dear, “And I’ll fix you a little venison to eat.” Welcome home, cowboy.
By Tom Lounsbury.