My son, his grandpa, and I cast live shrimp into the Indian River, hoping a snook or sea trout might take the bait under the Florida sunset.
Brown pelicans, simultaneously clumsy and impossibly graceful, coasted past with wingtips skimming the surface. Egrets and ibises searching the mangroves were so perfectly white they recalled me of the snow still covering the mountains back home in Montana.
Maybe you thought it always looked this peaceful. But you were wrong. In fact, the Indian River Lagoon is the bloody birthplace of an amazing American conservation success story. A story that is still hard-fought today.
Here is the back story: Back in 1900, feathers in hats were all the rage in women’s fashion. Market hunters wiped out egret and pelican rookeries in Florida to Satisfy the demand. Conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt feared those magnificent species might soon follow the passenger pigeon, which was careening toward extinction.
Theodore Roosevelt had a tool at ready: The Antiquities Act. That law gives the President right to protect special, federally managed natural resources as national monuments (the law does not apply to private or state land). Roosevelt used the law to protect Pelican Island, a 5-acre rookery in the Indian River Lagoon.
Although small, Pelican Island was something totally new: A national wildlife refuge. Since there was no US Fish & Wildlife Service yet, the Audubon Society hired game wardens to patrol the islands against poachers. It was risky duty: Two wardens were killed in the early years.
But those killings triggered a national backlash against the feather-hat fad and sealed public support for national wildlife refuges.
After century, the network of national wildlife refuges are spreading whole nation, protecting critical habitat for a wide variety of migratory waterfowl and many other species. Sportsmen funded that network by buying federal Duck Stamps, established in 1934. Today, there are more than 560 wildlife refuges, protecting 150 million acres of habitat in the US, managed under the Department of the Interior. Most of them are open to hunting and fishing and they all trace their history to Pelican Island.
But like those old-school market hunters, there are few enemies of conservation still lurking in the swamp. Anti-public land radicals, like Nevada’s Bundy family took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon during 2016 and claimed the refuge was illegitimate (like Pelican Island, Malheur was founded by Theodore Roosevelt and later supplemented by the Duck Stamp).
Meanwhile, Congressman like the powerful head of the House Natural Resource Committee, Rob Bishop, Riverten,Utah, are trying to skin the Antiquities Act. They are also trying to persuade President Trump to reduce the boundaries of the Bear’s Ears National Monument in Utah, which President Obama conserved under the law.
These politicians will need the Trump Administration’s help to undermine or overthrow the Antiquities Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System to get their way. Both Trump and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke have spoken glowingly about Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation work. let’s see if their actions reflect that legacy or undermine it or not.
These are few common canine hazards, if not your best friend could find himself in a dangerous situation.
Working dogs are literally on the front lines most of every bird hunts. The safe return of your canine companion determine a successful hunt if you bagged any birds or not. Spend too long time behind your dog, and you’ll eventually have to steer him around or maybe through danger. Here are some common—and uncommon—ways you might put your dog in danger.
Most waterfowling north of the Mason-Dixon Line takes place in frosty weather. Lakes can be wholly or partly frozen, and rivers can run fast with freezing water. Keeping your dog out of trouble in freezing water starts with restraint: Do not shoot birds if they might drop in strong, swirling current. If you must send your dog into swift water, search a downstream extrication spot, a place with slow water and low banks. And if the river is rimmed with ledge ice, do not send your dog in at all. he can easily get sucked under the ledge by the current.
Be careful about winter’s changing conditions. I lost my Lab last year when she broke through the ice of a slough that we had hunted together many times. The ice was thinner than I thought and the water in the slough was unseasonably deep. When i broken the ice to reach her, she had drowned.
Prevention: Be aware of changing conditions, and stay away both thin ice and swift water.
I was hunting greenheads with a friend and his hard-charging Lab in Idaho’s Snake River. We were set up on a cutbank, and his dog had made a lot of retrieves by vaulting off the bank. Taylor dropped a mallard, and Buddy leapt off the bank—right onto the submerged end of an ankle-sized willow tree that had been gnawed by beavers. Buddy was impaled by the tip, and when we pulled him off, he was dead from blood loss and critical wound.
Prevention: Scout not only water exits for retrievers, but also water entries, and make sure there are no underwater hazards.
Is grass really a danger to dogs? Yes, if that grass has a sharp seed with barbed hairs that point away from the seed’s spear point. Seeds with these Particular traits,are called awns, and they are produced by familiar species: cheatgrass, foxtail barley, and wild rye. A dog can sniff the seed heads, which work into the lungs and then create thoracic cavity trauma that can lead to fluid in the lungs. If untreated, the internal injury can lead to pneumonia.
Prevention: Know the species that contain awns, and don’t training and hunting in CRP fields with ripening awns. Take your dog to a vet if he exhibits a sustained low-grade fever and hard breathing.
One of the gospel of in-season dog care is to feed your dog following the hunt, not before. One reason for that mandate is to prevent flatulent, which can lead to gastric torsion. In this case, sometimes called “gut twist,” a dog’s stomach can rotate inside the abdomen, causing gas fill up in the stomach, blocking food passage in the esophagus, and finally leading to a catastrophic drop in blood pressure and death, usually within an hour if untreated. Causes of gastric torsion vary, from consumption of fermenting food to too much hard work shortly after feeding.
Prevention: Don’t feed your dog before a hard hunt or training session.
I was hunting sharptail grouse with my friends on the sprawling grasslands of the Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Montana. Three of us had young, brisk dogs, and two had older, arthritic dogs. Larry tried to hunt his old dog with the young dogs, sending him across large fields of open grass with shadeless. We were about 2 miles from the truck when Larry’s Lab collapsed from exhaustion and heat stroke. We took turns carrying the 85-pound Lab back to the pickup.
Prevention: Prepare your dog for the season, and know his limitations. Carry plenty of water and take frequent rest breaks.
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THE WORST IT CAN GET I’ll tell you how bad it got. The last time I saw my son, Jack, he lay gasping by the trailside, face ashen and fearful, his head cradled in the arms of my wife. Two other hikers kneeled beside them. One had a different brand of rescue inhaler than the one we typically carry, and thank God for that. Our albuterol wasn’t working. Maybe the terbutaline would. That was four, maybe four-and-a-half minutes ago, and when I left them, I could not tell you if Jack would be alive when I saw him again. Now my daughter, Markie, has vanished around a bend in the trail. I tried to keep up, but she is a cross-country runner and my knees are wrenched. When I told her to run, run like she’d never run before, she vaulted through the forests below Wyoming’s Teton crest with the winged feet of Mercury. Now I sank to one knee and prayed. That was the best I could do. My son clinging to life in my wife’s arms, my daughter running for her brother’s life. That’s how bad it got.
Few of us appreciate how quickly life afield can turn south. When we’re headed out for elk camps and high-country lakes, swamp rivers, and salt marshes, we plan and pack for rough weather, rough roads, high water, poor fishing, flat tires, blown zippers, ripped tents, broken rods, and all the other evil contingencies that threaten to derail a blissful fishing or hunting trip. But when it comes to planning for situations where life or limb lie literally in the balance— and not just the fate of a wet sleeping bag— too many of us give it short shrift.
A bottle of ibuprofen, a wad of old Band-Aids, maybe a tube of antiseptic cream, and we are out the door. It can get bad in the blink of an eye. I’ve been carted off a dove field unconscious, dragged to the truck by my pal Scott Wood, who thankfully didn’t wait for the ambulance to show up. I hazily recall a mid-highway ambulance transfer, injections, the world fading in and out of pure black and fuzzy light.
The culprit: the sting of a single ground wasp. I’ve been on the other side of the examination table, too, field-treating all manner of ills. I’ve closed up gashes with superglue, carved away portions of infected toenail and flesh and disinfected the remains with whiskey, closed wounds with butterfly closures snipped from duct tape, removed treble hooks buried to the bend, forced food into companions stooped over in a hypoglycemic bonk. None of this stuff is rocket science. Read, think, prepare. Once, in the midst of a horrific climbing accident, I rolled my brother over on his back so he wouldn’t drown in a pool of his own blood. I compressed the gashes in his forehead and rib cage to stem the bleeding as he coughed bits of lung in my face. We immobilized his back as best we could and raced for help. Our simple, straightforward, right-out-of-the-books first aid probably saved his life.
As Markie dashed down the trail, I turned to pick my way back toward Jack and Julie. Already my mind was sifting the details, trying to figure out where this went wrong. Thanks to a late, wet spring in the Grand Tetons that year, the pollen load was epic. Bump a pine tree on the trail and yellow sheets fell. Every breeze sent paisleys of whirling pollen wafting through the woods. Jack suffers from the occasional allergy attack, so we always carry an inhaler.
But he’s a strong hiker, and we didn’t think twice before setting out to retrace a favorite 14-mile loop. My mistake. A big mistake. On the far side of Jenny Lake, miles from help, the asthma attack was instant, and instantly life-threatening. Within minutes, fleet-footed Markie made it to a floating dock that served a park boat for tourists who didn’t want to hike all the way around the lake. Fortunately, a seasonal ranger was there, and radioed to park headquarters. In no time flat, a rescue boat was in the water.
Meanwhile, Markie and I made our way back up the trail to Jack. I hobbled up the final rise, heart in my throat, with no clue as to what I would find. As I rounded the trail, I saw Jack sitting upright— the other hiker’s rescue inhaler worked. Jack still struggled for every breath, but there was color in his face, and he gave me a weak wave. Julie shook her head in relief. The evacuation team arrived, hooked Jack up to oxygen, lashed him to a backboard, and headed down the trail.
Five hours later we were out of the clinic and back at camp, knees still weak from having dodged the bullet. I may not know how to set a compound femur fracture— although I do think I could perform an emergency field tracheotomy if pressed— but this much I do know: There’s space in every tackle pack for a wilderness first aid kit. They don’t make a duffel bag that can’t swallow one more fist-sized lump— Benadryl, an EpiPen, an emergency survival blanket, another bundle of firestarter. This is the time to take the time to read up, bone up, and be prepared. Fishing and hiking and camping and hunting aren’t any more dangerous than a high school football game. But guess what’s on every sideline of those Friday night lights? An ambulance with the engine running. It’s up to us. You and me. And I can tell you just how bad it can get out there.
277 KNOW YOUR TOPO
Thankfully, the digital age hasn’t rendered the USGS topographic map obsolete. In fact, it’s now more important than ever to know how to decipher cartographic symbols, because topo maps are now accessible by desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. Here’s how to read the lay of the land … literally.
GENERAL MAP DESCRIPTORS Along the top and bottom of most maps are helpful blocks of information. The map series relates to how much land area is covered by the map. The most detailed paper maps are 7.5 series maps, which cover 7.5 minutes of latitude and 7.5 minutes of longitude. Converted to miles, that covers a land area of about 9 by 16 miles. The 7.5 series was completed in 1992 and was recently replaced by the digital National Map.
Declination is the difference between true north and magnetic north, in degrees. The farther north your location, the greater the declination— and the greater the need to adjust when navigating by map and magnetic compass. Scale is marked at the bottom of the map.
COLORS Background colors typically relate to vegetative cover.
• Green: Woods, forests, and scrublands.
• White: Open or semi-open lands, such as grasslands, agricultural lands, and deserts. Could include rock outcroppings.
• Gray: On maps with large blocks of public lands such as national forests and national parks, gray will indicate private inholdings within public boundaries.
CONTOUR LINES These are imaginary lines that trace elevation above sea level. Contour lines that are close together indicate steep land, and the closer the contours, the steeper the terrain. Cliffs can look like nearly solid blocks of merged contour lines. Contour lines that are farther apart indicate flatter lands. There are three types of contour lines. Indexed contours will typically be marked with numerals that indicate elevation.
Often, each fifth contour line is an indexed contour. Between the heavier indexed contour lines are lighter intermediate contours. These are not marked with elevation, but help express the general steepness of the terrain. In very flat areas, maps might be marked with supplementary contours, which appear as broken dashes. They indicate an elevation change of half of the total between the contour lines on either side.
Ridges will appear as a series of Us and Vs that point towards lower elevations. The highest elevation contour on a ridge, hill, or mountain will be marked by a closed circle of contour lines. Sometimes the very peak will be marked with the elevation and an X. A gap, pass, or saddle appears as an hourglass, where the contour lines from opposing ridges nearly touch. WATER FEATURES All water is marked in blue. Small streams are marked with a single blue line. Intermittent streams are marked with a blue line broken by three dots. Swamps and marsh are indicated by a blue pattern that looks like tiny cattails.
MAN-MADE FEATURES Most man-made features are marked in black. Buildings and smaller structures are marked with squares of varying sizes.
ROADS AND TRAILS Large interstate and divided highways are marked in red. Other roads are marked in black. Secondary gravel and dirt roads are indicated with parallel lines. Broken parallel lines mark unimproved or 4WD roads. Foot and horse trails are marked by dotted lines.
278 EVALUATE A BUBBLY COMPASS
The liquid that’s found inside most compass housings is a specialized mineral oil. Its two main purposes are to dampen excessive needle movement and prevent static electricity from throwing off the bearing. Bubbles can form in two ways: At high altitude or in extremely cold temperatures, the liquid can contract, leaving a bubble. Or liquid can leak out of the seal or a tiny crack in the housing.
Compass air bubbles are very common and won’t affect the compass unless they are so large—say, a quarter-inch in diameter—that the movement of the direction arrow is impeded. If your compass develops a small bubble, place it in direct sun. The heated liquid in the housing will then expand to its original volume. If the bubble continues to grow, it’s likely that there’s a tiny leak in the housing. If this is the case, you should simply replace the compass.
279 TREAT A SNAKE BITE
Snake bites require prompt attention, so don’t hesitate to begin moving towards medical facilities ASAP.
STEP 1 Remove jewelry and clothing such as boots and socks immediately. Once the bitten area swells, they can constrict tissues and hold venom in place.
STEP 2 Clean the wound lightly. Do not flush with water and do not apply ice.
STEP 3 Affix a wide, flat constriction band a few inches above the bite. Two fingers should slide easily under the band.
STEP 4 If a pump suction device is available, use it with the first 5 minutes after the bite.
STEP 5 Immobilize the bitten area with a loose splint and keep it lower than heart level.
STEP 6 Get to help. If the victim can be carried, do so. If the victim must walk out, first sit calmy for 20 to 30 minutes as the venom localizes at the bite site. Stay calm and walk out. Try to avoid unnecessary exertion.
280 CREATE A WHIRLING PROPELLER OF SIGNAL LIGHT
A small flashlight or chemical light stick is a pretty good signaling device, but you can supersize the effect with a small length of paracord. Simply tie an 18-inch length of cord to the light, and whirl it in a circle. Now you will have created a pulsing light source some 40 inches in diameter. Do the same during the daylight with aluminum foil or other shiny objects.
281 SAVE YOUR BACKTRAIL ON A GPS
One of the most useful features on a modern GPS is the ability to save the track or trail you have traveled. This will allow you to easily return to your starting point, or to duplicate the route of travel at a future date. Track logs are, basically, electronic bread crumbs that the GPS drops at various intervals of time and location. They are fabulous tools, provided you know how to operate the function on your GPS unit. Look for a menu heading that reads “track log,” “track recording,” or something similar. Turn the function on.
Now the GPS will record a track point at predetermined intervals. The default settings are likely something along the lines of one point for every 25 meters traveled or whenever there’s a significant change in your speed or direction. For most of the applications this works well, but there may be times when you want to drop more or fewer bread crumbs. If your route needs a finer scale—say you are trying to stay in a narrow creek channel on a flooded lake —then you should set your GPS unit to record more frequent track points. Another setting to consider is “record” mode.
Choose “wrap” to keep the display on and the track log will keep continually operating, even if it fills up and needs to overwrite your starting data. Choose “fill” if you do not want the starting data to be overwritten. The unit should sound an alarm to let you know when it’s reaching its storage capacity. Once set, let the track log function keep you on track. When you arrive at your destination, don’t forget to save the track if you want to keep it for future use.
282 SHARPEN A SERRATED KNIFE
I’m a fan of the half-serrated blade. They cut like a small saw, and I use mine to saw off small branches when clearing shooting lanes, shear handfuls of cattails for duck blinds, cut a length of cordage, and more. You can’t sharpen serrations with a flat stone, however. The serrated blade will still do a decent job even when dull, so many folks don’t bother to sharpen them at all. But you should, and here’s how. Get a progressively tapered diamond hone made specifically for serrated blades. They’re cheap and very effective.
Think of the hone as being cone-shaped. Match the diameter of the cone to the scalloped portion of the serration —this is called the “gullet” (A). A tapered sharpener will easily match a wide variety of blade gullet sizes. Essentially, you are sharpening teeth, one at a time. Holding the hone at the original angle of the serration’s edge bevel, place the small end of your tapered hone into the gullet, and then push the hone down until the entire width of the serration is nearly filled with the hone (B). That’s the stroke you’ll want; Repeat until you can feel a fine burr on the flat back side of the blade. Move down the blade, sharpening both sides of each serration. When you are finished, flip the knife over and grind off the burr with a ceramic rod or fine sharpening steel (C).
283 SUPERGLUB A CUT
So-called superglues were ﬁrst used in Vietnam to close wounds and stem bleeding. The medical formulation, called Dermabond, is a slightly different composition that minimizes skin irritation, but as many an outdoorsman will attest, plain old superglue holds a cut together better than a strip bandage, and instances of irritation are rare. Always use an unopened tube of glue. Clean the cut and pinch it shut. Dab a drop or two of superglue directly on the incision, then spread it along the length of the cut with something clean. The watertight result seals out infecting agents.
284 CHECK A KNIFE FOR NICKS
To check sharpness, turn the knife edge so the very edge of the blade is facing you. Hold it under a strong light and look carefully at only the thin edge if the blade. A sharp edge will look like a thin black line. Any reﬂection spells trouble. Dull spots will shine. Minute nicks or burrs will be Visible as tiny glistening points of light. If you see them, head back to the stone.
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EVERYTHING WE NEED We make quite a scene at the airport: two adults, two teenagers, four carry-ons, and eight pieces of checked baggage, each of which weighs within ounces of the 50-pound-per-bag maximum. It’s all there: everything a family of four will need for a week-long camping trip in the big American West. We’ve done it enough times now to have it down to a science. A 48-quart cooler is packed with a stove, a lantern, and cookware. Every man, woman, and child has his or her own duffel of clothes and personal gear, fishing rods, and summer reading. There are two backpacks loaded with tents, sleeping bags, and pads, and my beloved canoe barrel packed with breakables. Once on the ground, we rent a van and buy cheap camp chairs and a square of indoor/ outdoor carpet. We hit a grocery store. And just like that we’re off for a week of camping and fishing and hiking. Two adults, two teenagers, and pushing 400 pounds of gear.
Every year we make the trip, I spend the night before we leave cinching straps and triple-checking gear lists and wondering if it’s worth all the work and hassle. And every year, as we pack up camp the night before we fly home, I know the answer. Yes. A thousand times, yes. There is simply not a more American pastime than camping. And despite the fact that we’ve upgraded from birch bark canoes and Conestoga wagons to jetliners and $ 40,000 pickup trucks, the spirit is still there, still true: pack up a semblance of home, move it to some distant riverbank or mountain ridge, and reassemble. Raise the tent, hang the grub, lay the fire. Set up camp. Pair a camping trip with a rod or gun, and the fun factor rockets. Now there’s fresh trout on the fire, and elk quarters hanging in the dark timber. Of course, having the right gear is a big part of the difference between a string of miserable nights in the woods and an unforgettable week in the wild. And the right stuff doesn’t necessarily mean the newest stuff or the most expensive gear. It can mean knowing how to get the most of some of the most basic tools you own. Consider the tent guyline, the cord that attaches the rain fly to the tent stakes. It’s a piece of cord, really, so what else is there to know? Plenty, which is the point of this book. Learn to tie a taut-line hitch at the end of the guyline and you can cinch the rain fly tight in front of a storm. Replace all your old manufacturer-supplied guyline cord with reflective cord and you’ll never again trip on those dark midnight trips to the groover. Learn how to rig a guyline picket stake and your tent fly will never again loosen when the winds start to howl. Those are three examples of how you can rig and modify one overlooked piece of gear. I’m an unapologetic gear hog, and I admit that I have a hoarder’s tendency to keep just about everything. My basement is crammed with camping gear that spans a half-century, from my dad’s old lensatic compass to a set of GPS-enabled two-way radios. Even in the woods, I’m the guy who brings it all. I was never one to drill holes in my toothbrush to shave a few ounces from my backpack’s weight. I’d rather sweat a bit more up the ridge so I can kick back with real coffee than make do with instant swill. I’d rather have two headlamps because you never know. Most likely, I’ll be the guy with the gun-cleaning kit stashed in the boat bag, and you’ll come looking for me when your canoe turns over. But we can’t forget attitude and aptitude. Good gear and know-how have a hard time trumping a whiny disposition when the trail turns tough. A positive frame of mind invites on-the-fly innovation and makes the most of every situation. A gracious spirit is thankful for every night spent under the stars— no matter how rocky and rooty the ground under your back. Your brain and your heart are your most important tools. Once, during an 8-day paddling and fishing trip down Ontario’s remote Palisade and Allanwater rivers, my buddy Scott Wood and I had to put in a monstrous day. We broke camp early and paddled 22 miles, with a 3-mile lake crossing and mucky overgrown portages. We were still on the go at 11 P.M., with no food for eight hours and daylight fading fast, yet we had our largest rapid to run. At the base of Black Beaver Rapids, we dragged the boat to shore as an orange moon rose through spectral fire-blackened forest, too exhausted to cook supper. We stamped down a rough bivvy 10 feet from the water, running tent guylines to blueberry shrubs, and collapsed in the sleeping bags as northern lights arced overhead, wholly unappreciated. We had a few more days on the river, and I spent the few fitful minutes before sleep triple-checking the map and wondering if it was worth all the hassle. In the morning we limped out of the tents to find the blueberry plains sheathed in frost, a world so glittery and serene, I half-expected unicorns to come prancing through the valley. We caught a breakfast walleye, cleaned it on the bottom of an overturned canoe, fried it hot and fast and washed the fish down with pure, cold water from the river and handfuls of blueberries. And just like that— I was ready to do it all again. Worth it every time.
1 SLEEP UNDER THE STARS
Growing up we slept under the stars, sans tent or tarp, to prove how tough we were, but now I sleep in the Big Scary Open because I get a huge kick out of nodding off to shooting stars and waking to the first rays of the sun. And it’s super cool to sleep with frost sheathing your sleeping bag. If you’re squeamish about dozing off without the protection of a nylon cocoon, try it my way: Spread out a space blanket first, then a super-comfy sleeping pad. Having a spread of ground cloth between you and the bare ground is a mental comfort, and it also means you can spread your arms and thrash around a bit without actually wallowing in the dirt. I wear a toboggan to hold in extra body heat and keep a flashlight tucked in a boot near my head so I can find it quickly. If it makes you feel better, the other boot can hold a knife, handgun, pepper spray, or ninja death stars.
2 MAKE GUYLINES SHINE
In 30 minutes you can replace all your old tent guylines with reflective cord, and never again trip over them while stumbling around during a middle-of-the-night pee, during which you stub your right big toe so badly that the nail splits and the toe swells and you can’t wear wading boots for two days. Listen to me.
3 STRENGTHEN A TENT WITH PICKET STAKES
This supercharged guyout plan kicks in when the wind cranks up to 25 mph. Picket stakes boost the holding power of tent stakes, so use them on the guylines attached to the side of the tent that faces the wind.
STEP 1 Drive the first stake into the ground at the desired location, and attach it to the tent guyline. To make a picket-stake line, tie an overhand loop in one end of a 16-inch length of parachute cord. Attach the p-cord to the first stake by threading the running end through the overhand loop and cinching it tight against the stake.
STEP 2 Drive a second stake— this will be the picket stake— into the ground 8 to 12 inches from the first stake so that it’s in a straight line with the guyline. Wrap the running end of the p-cord around the picket stake twice, then tie it off with two half hitches.
4 FIX A TIRED TENT POLE
It ranks among the most humiliating of outdoor snafus: When you pull the tent poles from the stuff sack, where they have been lovingly stored since portable CD players were all the rage, the pole sections fall to your feet like pick-up-sticks, the shock cord holding them together slack and limp. It’s always best to replace old shock cord as it starts to lose its elasticity, not when it is gone forever. In most cases, elastic bungee cord is threaded through the pole sections and held in place with a stopper knot that jams against a washer or some other stop inside each terminal pole section. A few tent models require a kit if the shock cord goes south, but most can be handled with nothing more than new bungee. First, remember to keep the pole sections in their original order throughout this process. Access the cord by prying off a pole tip. Remove the old cord. Tie an overhand knot in one end of the new cord. Thread the cord through the poles one section at a time, joining the sections together as you make progress. If the bungee bunches up while being pushed, cut a straight length of coat hanger wire, attach to the end of the bungee, and feed the wire through the poles. When finished, pull the bungee cord fairly tight, but leave some slack. Tie another stopper knot, but don’t cut off the excess yet. You may need to experiment with the cord length to get the tension right. You want enough to hold the poles together, but not so much that the cord is stretched too tightly when you decouple the sections.
5 USE GARBAGE BAGS AS SAND SPIKES
It’s always been a challenge to anchor a tent or tarp on beaches, river sandbars, and other places where tent stakes won’t hold. The solution: bag it. Fill garbage bags or empty stuff sacks with sand, tie a knot in the opening, then tie the tent’s stake loops and rain fly guylines to them. For high winds, burying the bags will provide a rock-solid stake point. And stuffing sand bags along the inside tent edge will help batten down the hatches.
6 TURN BACK EVERY TICK AND CHIGGER
It’s taken me decades of tinkering to perfect this system, but I’ve cut my number of tick and chigger bites by 90 percent or better with a tactical approach to applying bug dope and modifying clothing. The advent of roll-top and sponge-top insect repellents also helps keep the required dosage to a minimum. Here’s the drill. Start with the strategic placement of high-percentage DEET bug dope. I rarely use anything less than 30 percent, and when the chigger infestations are at their worst, I use 100-percent DEET without hesitation. The idea is not to slather your entire body with the strong stuff, but to minimize use by drawing hard chemical lines to turn back the insect hordes. Run a stripe of dope around each leg on the upper thighs, below the bottom edge of your underwear, and another one below the knee. Now lift up your shirt, pull the pants waistband down an inch or two, and apply another stripe of bug dope around your waist an inch above the top of where your pants ride. The idea is to prevent a tick and chigger recon squad from crawling up or down. Now tuck pant hems into socks and run a band of duct tape around the seam. Apply more DEET to boots, socks, and pants legs below the knees. Exposed areas around your neck need bug dope, as do wrists. A double stripe below and above the elbow will keep creepies from crawling up your arms. Designate a hat as your bug-dope-friendly brim. Apply dope to the crown. Last, run a stripe of repellent along the edge of the hat brim. This helps produce a vapor barrier of bug dope in front of your face, but keeps the chemicals out of your eyes.
7 FIX TORN MOSQUITO NETTING
Having a properly sealed mosquito net can spell the difference between a healthy safari and a bout of malaria— or at least, a good night’s sleep and one full of itches and welts.
For straight tears less than 2 inches long, thread a needle and stitch the rip closed. If you have extra netting in a repair kit, reinforce with a netting patch cut ½ inch larger than the tear. In the field, any makeshift thread will work: dental floss, fishing line, or even plant fibers. You can always pretty it up with nylon sewing thread back home. For jagged, Frankenstein rips large enough for bats to fly through, heavier lifting is required. First, pull the edges of the tear together and tape with masking tape (A). (Duct tape is too sticky.) Then tape a strip of paper over the tape to serve as extra backing (B). On the other side, brush on a layer of silicone-based repair adhesive (C). Give it two days to cure, then remove the paper backing. Dust the patch with body powder (D) to knock back the stickiness and prevent it from picking up dirt or sticking to the rest of the tent.
8 MAKE A BUG BLOTTER
Duct tape makes a fine insect blotter. Wrap a few strips around your hand and blot the bugs trapped inside the tent. Better than smashing them into the tent fabric.
9 SURVIVE A LIGHTNING STRIKE
There are lots of snappy sayings to help you remember lightning safety: When the thunder roars, get indoors! If you can see it, flee it! But what do you do when you’re caught outdoors with almost nowhere to hide? The National Outdoor Leadership Schools, or NOLS, and other experts, recommend the following.
IF YOU ARE CLOSE TO YOUR VEHICLE OR AN ENCLOSED STRUCTURE Get inside something— your car, a house, a barn. Open shelters such as picnic shelters provide little to no protection.
IF YOU ARE CAMPING Avoid open fields and ridge tops during seasons when thunderstorms are prevalent. Stay away from fence lines, metal and tall, isolated trees. Tents provide no protection. If you are in dangerous open terrain during a thunderstorm, leave the tent and assume the “lightning crunch” (described in the last paragraph).
IF YOU ARE IN OPEN COUNTRY Avoid the high ground and contact with dissimilar objects, such as water and land, boulders and land, or single trees and land. Head for ditches, gullies, or low ground. Spread out at least 50 feet apart and assume the “lightning crunch.”
IF YOU ARE ON THE WATER Head inside a boat cabin, which offers a safer environment. Stay off the radio unless it is an emergency. Drop anchor and get as low in the boat as possible. If you’re in a canoe on open water, get as low in the canoe as possible and as far as possible from any metal object. If shore only offers rocky crags and tall isolated trees, stay in the boat.
IF YOU CANNOT FIND SHELTER Some experts believe that the “lightning crunch” provides little to no protection for a direct or close strike, but at this point, some action is better than nothing. Stand on an insulated pad or bag of clothes. Do not stand on packs; the metal in frames and zippers could increase chances of a lightning strike.
Put your feet together and balance on the balls of your feet. Squat low, wrap your arms around your legs, tuck your head, close your eyes and cover your ears. Maintain the position until danger passes.
10 MAKE CONTACT WITH YOUR TOUCHSCREEN
Most of us bring along a smartphone on our camping trips. When it’s cold, however, the device is impossible to use with gloves, which block the transfer of electrical energy from your skin to the capacitive touchscreen. You can buy touchscreen-compatible gloves, outfitted with small, conductive fingertip dots. Or you can save 40 bucks and take pride in being a postmodern mountain man by sewing a few stitches of conductive thread to the tips of your own mitts. All you need is a pair of old-school gloves, a sewing needle, and a couple feet of conductive thread.
STEP 1 Thread a sewing needle with 18 inches of conductive thread. Double the thread, and tie an overhand knot in the end.
STEP 2 If possible, turn the glove finger inside out to start the stitching. (If your glove is too thick to turn it inside out, trim the excess thread as close as possible to the knot, and start from the outside.) Make 4 to 5 parallel stitches, keeping the threads as close as possible. You want enough exposed thread to conduct the electricity from your skin, but not so much as to make the active touchscreen dot too large. On the inside of the glove, create a half-inch bird’s nest of thread to help transfer the electric charge.
STEP 3 Tie the thread off by slipping the needle through the last two stitch loops and snugging down with a knot. Trim the thread with a 3-inch tail on the inside of the glove. This will serve as a kind of antenna to help pick up electricity. Turn the glove right-side-out and you are smartphone-app ready. Now you can text your pal about the bruiser buck headed his way. The one you could have shot had you not been playing Fruit Ninja.
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THE ART AND SCIENCE OF DIY The Ozark Puffball was born on a picnic table in Missouri’s Montauk State Park, where photographer Colby Lysne and I sat drinking beer and licking our wounds after an unimpressive show of fishing skill at one of the premier trout parks in the Show-Me state. All morning long, stocker trout had snubbed our dough baits, following them through slow riffles, eyeing them warily in the pools, but simply refusing to eat. We were stumped, but not yet beaten. It seemed that we needed some kind of hack for the lowly ball of scented dough, some trigger to turn the trout’s obvious interest into a committed bite. The Puffball was Lysne’s idea— I’ll give him full credit— but it fell to me to field-engineer the innovation. Our solution was to fasten a pea-sized glob of fluorescent orange PowerBait to a tiny #16 treble hook. Next, we smeared the glob with a skim of Secret Bait, a dough-and-glitter conglomeration made by some Ozark hillbilly and sold in every trout park for miles around. A split shot and split-second timing were the only other ingredients.
To work the Puffball’s magic, I’d cast it downstream and watch the drift until a trout eyeballed the mutant wad but refused to eat. That’s when I’d snap the rod tip, telegraphing a pulse of energy down the line, which jerked the Puffball just enough to release a brown smudge of atomized Secret Bait into the stream. Intrigued by the piquant fog, the fish would then spot the orange PowerBait emerging from the mist. It would be like waking up from a dream about Thanksgiving dinner to find a ham biscuit on your pillow. The wiliest trout couldn’t resist. Unorthodox? You betcha. But jerry-rigging a doughball is just par for the course for the avid angler. Fishing seems to bring out the shade-tree design engineer in outdoorsmen. With fishing, the margin between success and failure is often tippet-thin— and dependant on an angler’s ability to innovate, modify, and adjust gear to specific conditions. Trim a spinnerbait’s rubber skirt by a half-inch and you might double your rate of hook-ups. Upgrade a baitcaster’s gears and you can rip lunker bass from the thickest weeds. Make your own fly rod and you can save hundreds of dollars. And most fishing gear tweaks and hacks are cheap and easy. In fact, a lot of the tricks in this book require little more than odds and ends you likely have in your basement or garage right now. A small finishing nail to give a soft-plastic crayfish a more lifelike action. Leftover plywood for a worm box. An old coffee can to convert to a leech trap. That’s so much of the fun of fishing— figuring out how to use what’s close at hand to better your odds at catching fish. After all, it’s not enough to know where the fish are. It’s not enough to be able to make the perfect cast or tie a gorgeous fly. You have to put a hook in the fish. You have to convince your quarry to eat whatever you’ve tied to the end of your line. Sometimes that’s easy. Sometimes that’s nearly impossible. You
never know until you’ve done everything you can to stack the deck in your favor. I learned that lesson down on Florida’s Suwannee River, in a tip you can read about in this chapter. Sometimes the smallest tweaks can make a huge difference. During the spring spawn, the male redbreast sunfish, known in the South as a “robin,” is a riot of crimson, green, and blue colors. Fishing for redbreast is a tradition so steeped in Southern culture that it’s the subject of local festivals and highbrow doctoral dissertations. Jim Greek and Billy Cason, however, were less concerned about the robin’s role in the fabric of rural experience than in how to entice one onto a hook.
When I ran across this pair of anglers, they were each 64 years old and had forged a deep friendship based on a love of bream fishing. Thirteen years earlier, Cason was running a backhoe on his peanut farm when Greek, his neighbor-through-the-woods, dropped by to ask if he might have time to push dirt over his trash heap. Cason was there within 30 minutes. A couple of days later, they went fishing together for the first time. Ever since, they’ve fished two or three days a week. Every week. These boys know how to catch a robin, and they were happy to share their secrets.
“I think a worm’s about the sorriest bait there is, at least for river fish,” Greek told me matter- of-factly, as he threaded a cricket on a hook. Their go-to rig was a #6 extra-light wire hook topped with a small orange bead and a 1/ 16-ounce bullet weight. But it was the bobber they fussed over most carefully. Each one was hacked very specifically. I won’t tell you how, not right here. Just turn to item #151 for the details. But I’ll tell you this. Their change resulted in a cooler slam-full of robin, and a riverside fish fry I’ll never forget. “It makes the line slide through the cork easier,” Greek explained about their tweak. “It don’t get hung up as bad, and drifts deeper. Sometimes those little changes make a difference.” As in all the difference.
74 SUPERCHARGE A LURE WITH A NAIL
With nothing more than a simple nail, you can make your softbait do all kinds of crazy moves. Here are a few.
HANG YOUR HEAD Make a wacky-rigged worm or Senko even wackier by putting a small finishing nail into the head of the bait. The soft plastic will flail more erratically.
MAKE A BACKDROP Push a nail into a soft-plastic shad’s back just ahead of the tail and run a plain hook through the nose. The lure will drop back when you pause the retrieve.
STICK IN THEIR CRAW Put a finishing nail into the tail of a soft-plastic crawfish and hook the bait through the head. The nail keeps bait and hook at a better fish-hooking angle.
75 HACK YOUR PLASTICS
You don’t have to fish with a standard lure. With a careful trim, your lures can take on new life.
MAKE A MINISKIRT One solution to bass tapping at your spinnerbait without connecting is to add a trailer hook. That’s fine for open water but can result in more snags around any structure. Instead, trim the skirt so it hangs evenly with the hook bend.
SHAVE YOUR LEGS Sometimes bass grab the skirt legs of a hollow-body frog lure and miss the hook. Trimming legs back even ½ inch can reduce short strikes and actually give frogs a smoother side-to-side glide when “walking the dog.”
TAKE A BACK SEAT How many times have you reeled up a curly-tailed grub with no tail? Solve this by cutting away a portion of the front so the hook sits just in front of the tail. Cut back a soft-plastic shad for the same hook placement.
76 MAKE A WOODEN DOWEL POPPER Making custom diving lures is a challenge. Lips, weights, balance, and buoyancy all factor in to getting one to swim properly. But making a popper is cheap and easy. All you need is a wooden dowel, some screw-in eyelets, hooks, split rings, and some simple tools, like a drill and sandpaper. Cut the dowel to your desired length, taper one end of the cut piece with the sandpaper, drill out the mouth with a large bit, and screw an eyelet into the tail, the belly, and the mouth. How you decorate the popper is up to you, but it will float and it will pop, and you need not be an engineer to get it right.
77 AVOID TREBLE
I recently spent half an hour un-trebling a trio of snarled plugs and— more than once— I’ve had to extract trebles from human flesh. And they can rip fish mouths to pieces. If you’re fishing with kids, especially, replace treble hooks. Most spinner hooks aren’t attached with a split ring, so use side-cutting wire snips to remove the trebles. If the hook eye is particularly stout, clip it in two places to create a gap, and slip it off the body wire. Replace with open-eye hooks. Before replacing trebles, evaluate the track of topwater and diving lures so you can compare their performance with single hooks. Most will do fine. For many largemouth baits, replace the hooks with some 1/ 0 or 2/ 0 ringed live-bait hooks. Remove the belly treble entirely, or just replace it with a ringed live-bait hook with its point facing forward. The point on your trailing hook should face up.
78 MAKE A CUSTOM FLY ROD
Working just an hour or two a night, you can build a fly rod in less than a week, and fish with your handmade custom beauty for the rest of your life. Rod kits contain all the components and instructions, and you can use rod blanks that vary from basic to cutting-edge.
SEAT THE REEL Find the hood recess at the base of the handle. You’ll probably need to enlarge it slightly to fit the reel seat hood. A rotary tool works well. Set the handle aside. Use 1/ 2-inch-wide masking tape to create two bushings under the place where you’ll glue the reel seat, just thick enough so that the reel seat fits snugly over the bushings. Spread waterproof two-part epoxy over these bushings, then slowly slide the reel seat into place. As you slide the reel seat down, fill all gaps with epoxy. Attach the butt cap with epoxy.
TOP IT OFF Use epoxy to glue the tip top in place.
HANDLE IT The rod channel needs to be custom fitted to your blank, so use a tapered rat-tail file to create a good fit. Go easy and check the fit frequently. You should have to use gentle pressure to fit the handle into place. Once you have it right, prepare the blank by gently sanding under the handle with 200-grit sandpaper. Spread more epoxy at the location of the handle, and slide the cork into place. If your kit has a winding check, glue it into place now.
GET GUIDANCE Taper the end of each guide foot with a fine-metal file. Rod-building kits will come with a spacing chart. Hold guides in place with thin strips of masking tape. For a consistent width, mark up a business card with the desired width of the wrap, and use it as a template to mark the beginning and ending points of each guide wrap with a grease pencil. Begin by wrapping the rod blank with a half-dozen tight wraps over the tag end of the thread. Snip off the tag and continue. As you spin the rod, angle the thread from the spool slightly so that each wrap is snug against the previous one. To finish a guide wrap, stop when the wrap is 1/ 8 inch shorter than the planned finished length. Form a loop of monofilament with an overhand knot, pinch it so that the closed end is narrowed, and place this closed end on top of the wraps so that the pinched end sticks out just a bit. Wrap over this loop to the end of your wrap marks and cut the winding thread with a 3-inch tail. Thread this through the exposed end of the loop, then pull back toward the wrap. This will pull the loop and the tag end under the wraps. Trim the excess with an X-Acto knife. To hold the rod in place and provide thread tension while wrapping the guides, make a rod wrapper: Cut notches in a cardboard box to hold the rod blank horizontal. Run thread under a book and through a small hole punched through the box. Last, wrap the female end of the ferrule with a 3/ 4-inch wrap to give it added strength. Apply rod finish to all the windings. To prevent the finish from running, support the rod in a horizontal position and rotate 90 degrees every minute for 15 minutes.
79 MARK FLY LINES I had wads and wads of mystery fly lines until I started marking each new fly line with a permanent marker: eight tiny little hatch-marks at the end of the fly line for an 8-weight, seven hatch-marks for a 7-weight, etc. Simplified my life and saved money.
80 FLOAT A LINE WITH AN EARPLUG For a cheap yet effective bobber for light-tackle fishing, use a foam earplug. Just thread the hook through and slide it to the desired position on the line. You can make it a slip bobber by inserting a length of plastic coffee stirrer.
81 FISH A GREASED LEADER Before strike indicators, fly casters greased leaders to provide bobber action and fly suspension. It’s still a great tactic. Fishing with a greased leader suspends pupae and midges at predetermined depths and makes it easier to track the path of a fly by keeping an eye on the floating leader. But there’s a cost. A leader floating in the film is more visible to trout. Beware. Use a thick silicone paste, and smear the goo on your thumb and forefinger. Pinch the leader butt with these fingers, and pull the leader through. Stop a few inches farther from the end of the tippet than the depth you want to suspend the fly.
82 DAMPEN LINE TWIST A big problem for spinning anglers, whether using live bait or lures, is dealing effectively with line twist. This can cause tangles or affect the action of a lure to the point where it won’t attract fish. Here’s how to keep the line running straight and true.
STEP 1 Close the bail with your hand, not the reel handle. When you turn the handle, the spool also turns slightly before the bail snaps shut, which causes the line to twist.
STEP 2 Set the drag properly. If the line slips too much while you’re playing a big fish, you’ll end up with line twist.
STEP 3 Let the rod fight the fish. Spooling line under tension creates line twist. When you have a big fish on the line, raise the rod. Reel in line only while lowering the rod (when the line is no longer under tension).
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