Mother’s Day Camping Trip

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Tent Setup
Tent Setup

There is no doubt when I married my wife, I married up. On this past Mother’s Day, I asked my beautiful 18 week pregnant wife what she wanted for Mother’s Day. I expected the usual: a day to herself at the spa or a new item of clothing that she had been eyeing. Instead, she asked for a weekend of sleeping in the dirt, eating food cooked over a fire, walking in the woods, and playing in the creek.

How could I say no?

REI Co-op Base Camp 6 Tent
Mission Accomplished
Wildlings
Wildlings
Camp life
Camp life
Stringing up the fly rod
Stringing up the fly rod
Choosing a fly
Choosing a fly
Fly fishing knots
Working on knots
Mama and her boy
Mama and her boy
Daddy and his girl
Daddy and his girl
Going Fishing
Going fishing
Throwing Rocks
Throwing rocks
Looking for fish
Looking for fish
Time to throw more rocks
Time to throw more rocks
Talking about fishing
Talking about fishing
Willy Dog in the wild
Willy Dog in the wild
Cicadas
Cicadas
More camp life
More camp life
Cooking buddy
Cooking buddy
More camp life
More camp life
Mama and her boy
Mama and her boy
Smores
Pay attention kids. This is how to properly toast a mallow
Smores
Smores
Sticky ball
Sticky ball
A light show before bed
A light show before bed
Breakfast
Breakfast

 

Rambling Review – Carlson Choke Tubes

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Rambling Review – Carlson Choke Tubes

 Carlson Long Beard choke
I harvested this Missouri Eastern with the help of the Carlson Long Beard choke

Why:

Spring time has quickly become one of my favorite times of the year for one simple reason – turkey season. Each year, around the first of the year, I start thinking about getting into the woods, looking for turkey sign, and straining my ears for the sound of a gobble. Last year, I was fortunate enough to bag my first Merriams gobbler after multiple seasons of trying to get it done, and as I reflected on my time in the field and the gear that I carried, I started researching on how to improve my efficiency with a shotgun. It wasn’t long before I was able to get my hands on a couple of chokes from Carlson, and after some time on the range and in the field, I was a firm believer in Carlson Choke Tubes.

Carlson Turkey Choke Tubes
Carlson Turkey Choke Tubes

First impressions:

Options – Carlson offers choke tubes for every situation a shotgunner will need. For the purpose of this review, Carlson provided a Remington Long Beard Choke Tube with a diameter of .660 and one of their Remington Extended Choke Tubes with a diameter of .675. If you take any time to peruse the Carlson website, you’ll quickly see that they have chokes of every shape, color, and size for all the major brands of shotguns, for any type of hunting or shooting scenario.

Lifetime Warranty – All Carlson choke tubes are backed by a lifetime warranty.

Made in the USA – All Carlson choke tubes are made in the USA.

Construction – Carlson’s Choke Tubes are made from the finest corrosion-resistant 17-4 PH stainless steel available.

Field Use:

To be perfectly clear, I am not a shotgun expert. I own a couple of shotguns. I shoot them often. But when it comes to the nuances of patterning them, I always went out, shot a couple of shells at different yardages to figure out what my max range could be, and called it good. With the Carlson chokes in hand, I took a Saturday morning to run out in the desert and see how these chokes patterned.  My good hunting partner Austin and I both shoot Remingtons which was advantageous when it came time to seeing how the different chokes performed through two different shotguns. I shoot a Remington 870 Express chambered up to a 3″ shell, and Austin shoots a Remington 1100 chambered up to a 3 1/2″ shell. 

We both had always just stuck with the factory standard Remington full choke (diameter of .691) that came with the shotgun for turkey season, so I started with shooting at 40 yards with the full choke. I switched chokes out and immediately was overwhelmed by how much denser the pattern was at 40 yards. I spent the next hour shooting different shells, swapping chokes between guns, and varying my distance from the target. To be clear, I’m not going to get super technical on patterning, but there was a significant increase in pattern density. After the smoke cleared, my 870 Express really liked the Long Beard XR choke with a .660 diameter shooting 3″ Winchester Long Beard XR loads.  Austin’s 1100 partnered the Carlson Extended Turkey Choke with a .675 diameter and a 3-1/2″ shell. After a morning of shotgun patterning, I had a sore shoulder and confidence in what my shotgun was capable of.

Our season unfolded with plenty of turkey hunting. Austin spent a couple days in Texas and scratched out 2 Rios. I went to Missouri with my buddy Hunter and had some success decoying in a mature 3 year old. After that, Austin and I hunted here in Arizona which resulted in a Austin shooting a beautiful Merriam’s gobbler and I followed up with a jake. Our shots during these hunts ranged from 30-55 yards.  Having success with this many turkeys and giving all the credit to choke tubes is a bit much.  But, I will say, I’ve never been more confident pulling the trigger during a hunt, then after I spent time patterning my gun and knowing how much better it performed with the Carlson choke versus the factory choke.

Carlson Turkey Choke Tubes
Austin and his Texas Rio shot with his Remington 1100 and Carlson Turkey Choke combo
Carlson Chokes
My Missouri Tom taken with the deadly combo of a Carlson Long Beard Choke and a 3″ Winchester Long Beard XR shell
Carlson Extended Turkey Choke
Austin with a fine example of an Arizona Merriam’s gobbler harvested with the help of a Carlson Extended Turkey Choke
Carlson Long Beard Choke Tube
The Carlson Long Beard Choke Tube on the end of my Remington 870 with my Arizona Merriam’s Jake

Pros:

Made in the USA

Lifetime Warranty

Constructed of high grade stainless steel

Cons:

There really is no con for getting an aftermarket choke tube. The only con I could possibly see for tightening up your choke for turkey hunting is if you hunting in a thick area and most of your shots are closer than 15 yards. At that range, a more open choke would be appropriate for the situation. I can’t stress enough. Pattern your shotgun and have confidence in what it does at different yardages. 

Carlson Extended Turkey Choke Tubes
Carlson Extended Turkey Choke Tubes

Prognosis:  I was extremely pleased with the quality and performance of the Carlson Choke Tubes and would highly recommend them to any of my hunting buddies. Check them out.

* Disclaimer:

The reviews at Arizona Wanderings are my honest opinion. These choke tubes were provided for the purpose of this review by Carlson Choke Tubes. Arizona Wanderings is not sponsored by or associated with any of the stated companies and is accepting no compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this review.  My independent status may change in the future but, as of the date of publication, no relationship other than described above has been pursued or established.

Arizona Turkey Hunting: Daily Double

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Camp
Camp

The afternoon before turkey season opened, we got the truck stuck in a snowdrift that covered the road on the way to our camp spot. It took us several hours of digging and hauling logs and rocks in order to finally free the truck. By the time we finally pitched our tents and built a fire, the sun was going down and the temps were dipping towards freezing, so we opted to fill our bellies with red meat, potatoes, and a nip of bourbon.

The next day unfolded about as perfectly as any day of turkey hunting can. I screwed up our first setup on a tom gobbling his head off, but our second setup worked out pretty well. Austin shot a real nice mature bird that came into our mid morning setup. After cleaning his gobbler up and getting ready for the packout, we decided to make another set up on our way out. After a hen came clucking in, a young jake wandered in from the opposite direction. I couldn’t resist and knocked him down for a nice double bird day.

It’s not often that things work out like this on this hunt. I felt blessed to have a successful hunt and still have the weekend to spend with my family. After cleaning and stowing gear, it seems like a long time until the fall hunting seasons kick back on.

Coues deer steaks
Coues deer steaks compliments of Austin
Dutch oven
Dutch oven taters and bacon
Merriams Turkey
Austin with a mature Merriams tom
Merriams Jake
Afternoon jake
Jake Beard
Size doesn’t matter, right
Merriams plummage
Merriams plummage

Missouri Turkey Hunting: Eastern Gobblers

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Missouri Turkey Hunting
Missouri Turkey Hunting

The short flight on the tiny 8 person Cesna from St. Louis to Kirksville touched down hard and bumped along the run way towards a small building. The co-pilot turned around in his seat with a big smile and said “welcome to Kirksville.” The countryside that I had seen from the air was a maze of rolling crop and grazing fields, separated by vast swaths of timber – turkey country. My good buddy Hunter was waiting in his truck as I collected my bag and made my way out of the airport terminal. After a quick handshake and back slap, we were on our way down the road to roost some turkeys for the next morning.

For the next four days, I received a crash course in Hillbilly 101 as we called to turkeys, hunted for mushrooms, drank around the campfire and pulled off ticks. Life in Missouri is simple. Work hard, go hunting, help each other, and then go hunting again. I was overwhelmed with the hospitality of Hunter and the folks that he introduced me to. My goal for the trip was to shoot a mature Eastern tom, and as any turkey hunter will tell you, the best laid plans often go awry. For the first two days we hunted our tails off and danced the dance of sitting, calling, and stalking pressured turkeys. We had a couple of close calls, but luck was not on our side.

Our patience was finally rewarded on day three when we found a strutting tom in the back corner of a large field with a small flock of hens. He was clearly a dominant bird who showed off for his harem. After watching him for a few moments through the binoculars, Hunter broke out his strutting gobbler decoy, and we belly crawled about 300 yards across the field behind the decoy. The male bird was pretty upset that our decoy would have the audacity to try and steal his ladies, and he half strutted half ran his way across 400 yards to let us know his displeasure. When he made it to 45 yards out, I peaked my shotgun out from behind the decoy, calmed my breathing while picking a spot on his wattles, and squeezed off a shot. When the smoke cleared, I ran up to find a beautiful specimen of an Eastern turkey and my feet. I could hardly believe what had just happened. With a quick prayer of thanks, we tagged the bird and admired his spurs, beard, and iridescent plumage. For two days our patience and positive outlooks were tested, and to be honest, doubt had begun to creep into my mind that third morning. But with persistence, a good hunting buddy, and a little bit of luck, everything came together.

The next morning, Hunter and I were back in the same area, looking for a bird for him to put a tag on. A morning rain foiled our initial setup, but birds started to pop up in the fields once it cleared. We glassed up a mature tom strutting on the tree line and after a quick stalk, Hunter also filled his tag. It was a surreal way to end my time in Missouri. There is no substitute for being in the field with a like minded hunting partner. Thanks to Hunter and all the fine folks I met while in Missouri. Between the hospitality of the people and the beauty of the countryside, I feel blessed to have experienced the best that Missouri has to offer.

Post Script ~ Although we were hunting as friends, Hunter spends most of his spring guiding for turkeys and fall guiding for waterfowl. He’s got years of experience and I learned a ton from hunting with him this week. If you are in the Midwest and looking to book a hunt, give Hunter Bender a shout. Another plug I want to throw out there is to Rick and Drake Morris at The Turkey Roost taxidermy shop. Hunter and I would spend the afternoon lounging around their taxidermy shop, laughing, talking hunting, and  watching them work. If you are looking to have a turkey mounted, these guys have one numerous state and national awards and are the real deal. 

Cape Air
Plane to Kirksville
Cape Air
Tight Quarters on the Plane
Missouri
Missouri from the air
Turkey Tracks
Turkey Tracks
Turkey Season
Opening Morning
Morel Mushrooms
Morels for dinner
Dandilions
Dandilions
Turkey Hunting
My Eastern gobbler
Turkey hunting
Hunter getting ready to make his stalk
Turkey Hunting
Hunter’s Missouri tom
Turkey hunting
Hunter and I with his beautiful Missouri gobbler
A mix of fried and smoked bird

A Pyramid Lake Photo Essay

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Pyramid Lake
Headlamps at dawn

We made our annual pilgrimage to Pyramid Lake. Here are a few snapshots from the trip.

Pyramid Lake
Ladder Line
Lahontan Cutthroats
Whale Tails
Pyramid Lake
Lahontan Cutthroat Trout
Pyramid Lake
Mirror Mirror
Pyramid Lake
Scales
Pyramid Lake
Landeen striking a pose
Pyramid Lake
Bent
Pyramid Lake Popcorn Beetle
Beetles
Pyramid Lake
Fishing the dropoff
Pyramid Lake
Fish
Pyramid Lake
Splash
Pyramid Lake
Lunch of Champions
Pyramid Lake
A well stocked bar
Mahogany Smoked Meats
“The Stroke” courtesy of Mahogany Smoked Meats in Bishop, CA
 Mahogany Smoked Meats
I slept the whole way home

Arizona Quail Hunting: End of a Season

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Mearns Quail
Montezuma’s Quail

Hunting with Pat Flanagan on his guide’s day off is no picnic. After walking through Mearns country all day, I began to imagine that if he took off his boots, you’d see goat hooves instead of feet. I guess that’s what happens when you guide for quail in southern Arizona and chase your pack of shorthairs up and down those hills.

Watching his dogs work out the birds was a thing of beauty. Their dark bodies weaved and crossed in front of us through the yellow grass, occasionally circling back for a gulp of water before plunging back into the golden landscape. Pat’s dogs lived up to the hype and found us multiple coveys. The ice cold Modelas and tailgate full of birds at the end of the day was worth the work.

As quail season winds to a close, I can’t help but ponder over the days in the field spent by myself and with friends. I know that it’ll be a couple long months before I’m watching a covey flush and bringing the shotgun to my shoulder. Until then, I’ll be living off of days like this, replaying the day’s events over and over again in my mind.

Pat runs Border to Border Outfitters and you can hunt birds with him from Minnesota all the way to Arizona and everywhere in between. Check him out at Border to Border Outfitters.

Border to Border Outfitters
Pat of Border to Border Outfitters
Mearns Country
Canyons on canyons on canyons
Mearns meeting
A Mearns meeting with Pat and Rooster
Mearns Quail
Checking out the findings from the day

Javelina Hunting – Stickbow pigs

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Grasslands
Grasslands

I spent a few days in southern Arizona with my good buddy Austin and a few of his friends from Idaho chasing coues deer and javelina. The guys had been down there for the week, and I caught up with them for the tail end of their stay. It didn’t take but a few minutes over a cup of coffee to become fast friends with Blake and Chad.

It’s cliche to say, but the next few days were less about the hunt and more about time in the field with good friends. We spent the next couple of days doing more laughing and telling stories than actual hunting. In the times that we did spend glassing hillsides we found a few herds of pigs and were able to connect on a couple of javelina.

The few days I spent in the field flew by and before I knew it, I was packing up my gear and pointing the truck north to home. When it’s all said and done, I came home with a few physical objects: a cooler full of meat for my family, a skull for the bookshelf, and a handful of pictures. But ultimately, I left with something greater: A couple new hunting buddies and the memories of a successful hunt.

Arizona Hunting
Glassing some sunny hillsides
Javelina Hunting
A last minute pig
Blake after a successful stalk
Austin gets it done
Javelina Hunting
Upward
Arizona Hunting
The Valley Floor
Javelina Hunting
Bacon wrapped javelina on the open fire
Someone helping unpack the truck

Arizona Quail Hunting: Javelina Scouting

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Sunrise
Sunrise

It’s usually around Thanksgiving that I found out whether I drew a January archery javelina tag. It’s pretty convenient that javelina and Gambel’s quail habitat overlap, so during the month of December, I usually quail hunt the unit I drew and tuck a small tripod and pair of binoculars in my bird vest. When the morning slows down or I’m waiting for the birds to start talking, I’ll have a seat and scan a hillside or two to try and get the lay of the land and maybe even find a herd of pigs.

This particular morning was a bit on the cloudy side and the sun never did warm the hillsides. I sounded out a few calls on my Jim Matthews custom call and recieved an answer from a quail a couple hundred yards up the wash. After walking to that location, I was rewarded with a double as the covey flush in front of me. I marked where the covey flew and retrieved the two downed birds.

I zig-zagged my way through the calf-high grass and prickely pear and flushed a single quail straight away in front of me. Three shots and three birds. I never shoot that well, so decided to stop while I was ahead. I spent the rest of the morning glassing for pigs.

Gambel's quail
A trio of Gambel’s quail
Javelina country
Javelina and Gambel’s country
Cholla
Cholla