Transitioning from Targets to Hunting

By Tracy L. Schmidt

Turn Your Skills into Confidence
with These Three Tips

big doe at quartering-away angle

A big doe at a perfect quartering-away angle. These are the moments I live for as a bowhunter.
(Photo: Tracy Schmidt)

I’ll never forget that first year I learned how to shoot a bow. Weeks of practice made me proficient enough to place my aluminum arrows consistently into a paper plate at 15 yards. My boyfriend (now my husband) insisted that I wouldn’t be ready to head for a treestand until I could place 10 out of 10 into that paper plate he had stapled to a bag target.

When I finally mastered the feat, I thought it was time to go hunting and everything would be the same. It wasn’t. Although I was fortunate to harvest a deer my first time out with bow and arrow, I also learned that shooting at live game is a completely different ballgame than shooting at a paper plate, or even a 3D target. Here are three keys that helped me transition from target practice to go-time hunting.

ground blind view

A view from my favorite ground blind. I try to take a few practice shots from the blind before the season starts. (Photo: Tracy Schmidt)

1) Get Dialed In
It’s imperative to practice the skills necessary for accurate shooting out to your effective hunting range. (My personal limit is still only 20 yards.) That means shooting broadheads regularly in the weeks leading up to the hunt and throughout hunting season.

In the weeks before the season I shoot 15 to 30 arrows per session, but during hunting season my practice periods often consist of shooting only two or three broadhead-tipped arrows at a target. I squeeze my practice in whenever I have time — before or after work, or at odd times during the weekend. I don’t allow myself any warm-up shots. The first shot is always the most important, so my “make the first shot count” approach makes me practice more meticulously.

show proficiency at a target

You’re not ready to go hunting until you can demonstrate proficiency at a predetermined distance.
(Photo: Tracy Schmidt)

2) Get Real
Shooting at a 3-D target as though it’s a real-world situation helps me get ready for the hunt. For example, we will take our GlenDel buck target and tuck it into some brush exposing only the vitals. We will also place it at various angles (quartering away, broadside, etc.) and practice those shots from 15 to 20 yards.

During these practice sessions I’ll shoot my regular gear (Muzzy-tipped Easton arrows) and wear my hunting jacket and gloves. I wear an armguard while practicing, so I do the same when I’m hunting. I even take care in choosing my hats. I have to wear a short brim or it interferes with my bow. I make my practice sessions as realistic as possible so when I’m out in the woods and the real deal comes along it’s as much like practice as possible. I do in practice what I anticipate doing in prime time.

3) Get a Sense of Urgency
Lastly, my husband has pounded it into my head that bowhunting is a serious lifestyle (we never call it a “sport”), and one that requires a predator attitude. When you’re hunting for targets-to-hunting-call-outdinner and any deer will do, you need to act with a greater sense of urgency when a shot opportunity comes along. This means being instantly ready to draw your bow, anchor, acquire the sight pin on the animal’s vitals and release the arrow.

It might also mean that you have to “stop” the deer as it walks in front of you. A simple “blatt” with your mouth will do this, but you need to already be at full draw. Dan coaches me through what he calls “quick draw” practice. “Here comes the deer. He’s moving quickly. Get ready. Draw. Stop him. Shoot.”

be familiar with sight pins and know limits

Make sure you are familiar with your sight pins and know your limits before going hunting. (Photo: Tracy Schmidt)

Think of the quick-draw approach as a 1-2-3 countdown:

  1. Come to full draw in one smooth motion.
  2. Settle the bowstring to your anchor point (the corner of your mouth, your nose, whatever).
  3. Acquire the sight pin, focus on the point of impact and release the arrow.

When we practice this at home, the goal is to complete the entire process in just a few seconds. In fact, when Dan first taught me this technique, he’d count “Three-two-one-shoot.” We practice shots from various angles; from tree stands and from ground blinds.

In reading more about how Fred Bear approached the hunt, I’ve learned the hunter must develop a shooting instinct. It means learning how to perform under pressure by making your routine second-nature, without rushing the shot. If you have never tried this technique, please do. Even if you never have to shoot a deer using the quick-draw approach, you will learn that it makes shooting sessions more realistic than anything else you might have tried before.

In bowhunting, these three tips add up to confidence. And confidence is everything.

Tracy Schmidt headhsotTracy Schmidt is a deer hunting enthusiast, master gardener and certified food-preservation specialist from Wisconsin. Her husband Dan is editor-in-chief of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine and co-host of Deer & Deer Hunting TV on NBC Sports.

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Venison Chili: Ground Versus Cubed

By Tracy Schmidt

Two ways to great chili!  

In my family, we eat our chili prepared with both ground venison and cubed cuts. It can be an interesting conversation around the table when we discuss which chili recipe is better. I have several great recipes for chili, but the two I am sharing with you here are ones I make most often.


We like to top our chili with cheese and a little bit of extra chopped
sweet pepper. (Photo: Tracy L. Schmidt)

My decision whether to use ground or cubed venison depends mostly on two questions:

  • How much time do I have?
  • Which meat do I have in the freezer?

It’s hard to beat a perfectly cooked venison steak and a baked potato. I like my steaks for steaks and my chops for chops (and for kabobs in the summer). That’s why I don’t use up all those cuts on chili. Most often I’ll cube up a small roast when I make chili. (The roast is also what I use when I am canning venison.)

Those are the reasons I reach more often for ground venison. Ground meat is also really easy to defrost in the microwave in an after-work time pinch.

  • My recipe for ground meat: Chili with Bacon is perfect for a work night when time is short and I have plenty of ground venison stored away. The bacon gives the chili more of a smoky than spicy flavor.
  • My recipe for cubed meat: Smokey Valley Chili takes more time, so if it is a cold winter day and I’m planning to stick around the house, that’s the one I pick.

I often serve my chili with fresh chopped sweet peppers and freshly grated mild cheddar for toppings and cornbread on the side. Both of these recipes will fill you up and get you in the mood to go back out into the woods to get more deer (not that you really need another reason!)

Chili with Bacon (Ground Venison)


The green peppers and beans add great texture to my bacon chili recipe. The diced tomatoes also add texture and great flavor. (Photo: Tracy L. Schmidt.)

1 pound venison, ground

4 slices thick bacon, diced

3/4 cup onion, diced

1/4 cup sweet green pepper, diced

2 15-oz. cans red kidney beans

2 14-oz. cans diced tomatoes

1 clove garlic, minced

1-1/4 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon chili powder



In six-quart stockpot cook the bacon until crisp, remove pieces, drain on paper towels, and break into small pieces. Add onion and green pepper to grease in pot and cook until soft, but not brown. Add venison and cook until browned. Spoon out the drippings (mostly bacon grease and venison fat). Add beans, garlic, salt, chili powder, tomatoes, pepper and bacon. Cover pot and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer and additional 45 minutes until thickened. Serves: 6

Smokey Valley Chili (Cubed Venison)



The Smokey Valley Chili is one of my favorites to make and serve for deer camp. It simmers on the stove for several hours until it gets nice and tender. Early in the fall during bow season, I often have a few extra jalapenos left in my garden to put on the top.
(Photo: Tracy L. Schmidt)

1-1/2 pounds venison, cubed

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 jalapenos, diced

1 cup onion, chopped

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons tapioca (acts as a thickener)

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes with roast garlic and onion

1 16-oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained



In stockpot, brown stew meat in oil. Add all other ingredients, cover, and simmer for three hours making sure to stir and add liquid as needed.

Tracy Schmidt headhsotTracy Schmidt is a deer hunting enthusiast, master gardener and certified food-preservation specialist from Wisconsin. Her husband Dan is editor-in-chief of Deer & Deer Hunting magazine and co-host of Deer & Deer Hunting TV on NBC Sports.

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Christmas for the Lady Hunter

Are you Christmas shopping for a lady hunter?
Here are five things every man should know!

By Vikki Trout

Hunters take fond memories with them.

When hunters leave the woods without firing a single shot, they take fond memories with them – even if they don’t have immediate success.
(Photo: Vikki Trout)

Many years ago, my precious husband John invited me hunting. My excitement and anticipation was indescribable, but what was I to wear? I knew blue jeans and a sweat shirt wouldn’t work. And he was clueless to the needs of a woman hunter.

Of course, comfort and warmth were foremost on my mind. Professor Michael Tipton at the University of Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK claims studies have proven women suffer more from cold than men do. “The body’s thermo-receptors detect cold, causing the capillaries to shrink. This process is called vasoconstriction,” states Professor Tipton. When men and women are placed in cold air to lower body temperatures, women will suffer vasoconstriction faster than men will.

That means when your lady says she’s cold, pay attention. There’s a physiological reason. Fortunately, companies have finally addressed the needs of the gentler sex, giving women the warmth and fit we need.

  1. Camouflage Clothing

Surely you’ve noticed women and men are built differently, so don’t expect men’s clothing to fit women well. Bass Pro Shop ( offers shirts and pants in Realtree Xtra pattern by SHE Outdoors. Here are some tips to help you decide on size.

Cargo Pants and Shirt — My typical blue jean size is 2. Correspondingly, my camouflage size is Small for shirts and cargo pants. If your female counterpart wears size 3 to a size 7, I suggest Medium camo. If she wears anything over size 7, purchase Large cargo pants and shirt.

Women’s Contour Safety Harness

Hunter Safety System offers the women’s Contour safety harness. No hunter should be without a safety vest and Lifeline. Here, the author’s daughter-in-law Annette Trout prepares to climb a tree for a crossbow hunt. (Photo: Vikki Trout)

A catalog that sells women’s hunting clothing should have a size chart you can also depend on, but you want to allow room for her to wear long underwear and possibly a turtle neck or sweatshirt underneath her shirt and cargo pants. Cabela’s ( offers women’s long underwear tops and bottoms in “polar weight” that provide great warmth and little bulk. Match the size to her camouflage shirt and pants.

Bibs and Coat — Bass Pro ( offers an insulated jacket with hood and bibs in Realtree Xtra that provide warmth and protection from the wind. My coat size is Small, but my bibs and hunting coat are size Medium to allow room for layered clothing underneath.

Belt and Hat — Cabela’s ( offers a “youth” size Realtree Xtra camo belt that is available in waist sizes ranging from size 22 to size 32. Get a belt at least 2 inches larger than her waist, allowing room for her to fasten it comfortably. They also carry a baseball style cap in Realtree Xtra, adjustable for proper fit.

  1. Footwear

Purchase her a pair of women’s rubber boots. They provide warmth and comfort, plus rubber helps contain human scent. Cabela’s carries Irish Setter rubber boots sized for ladies. The Woman’s Rutmaster 2.0 with 1,200-gram PrimaLoft Gold Eco insulation will keep her feet toasty. It’s a great boot for all types of hunting. I wear a light pair of socks under my hunting socks. As for size, my sneakers are size 8 and so are my Rutmaster boots. 

  1. Safety Harness
nancy owens in tree stand

Nancy Owens sits comfortably in her tree stand watching patiently for a deer to come skirting the fringe. (Photo: Vikki Trout)

Hunter Safety System ( designed a most-perfect harness for women. The HSS-Contour has three stretch panels and a zippered front for a snug fit, and give safety, comfort and maximum range of movement.

If the camouflage you purchase is size Small, order her vest in size S/M, however, if you order size Medium camo, order size M/L vest. The HSS vest is easily adjustable, guaranteeing a great fit.

According to Jerry Wydner with Hunter Safety System, the latest surveys show 86% of treestand falls occur when the hunter is NOT in the treestand. This is why hunters need to stay attached to the tree from the moment they leave the ground until they return to the ground. The LIFELINE rope accessory allows her to connect the tether to the carabiner.   At no time will she be disconnected from the tree or need to tether herself after climbing. I strongly urge you to order the LIFELINE when ordering her vest.

  1. Bow or Gun

I began hunting with a compound bow, but now rely solely on my TenPoint crossbow. If crossbows are legal weapons in the state you hunt, I urge you to purchase the crossbow. Most are easier to shoot and will provide almost immediate accuracy. TenPoint’s website ( lists states where crossbow hunting is legal and even shows retailers in your area that carry them.

If you are purchasing her a gun, consider a lightweight 12 or 20 gauge shotgun — not a youth gun unless she’s very small. A trip to the local sporting goods store will be your best bet, but be sure they can adjust the gun for your lady’s frame or advise you as to someone that can. For example, the stock had to be shortened on the Remington 870 I use in order for me to reach the trigger.

  1. Necessary Accessories  
nancy owens admires her havalon piranta edge

Nancy Owens admires her Havalon Piranta Edge. When the day arrives to use it, she knows her knife will be ready and able. (Photo: Vikki Trout)

Every hunter has personal preferences for equipment, but all need a knife and fanny pack or back pack. The knife for your special lady should fit her properly to help avoid injury. I have had several knives through the years, but my favorite knife is the Havalon Piranta ( I can hold it comfortably and the blade folds easily when not in use. I can operate it safely because it’s extreme sharpness lets me slice without a lot of strength or pressure on the blade. It’s lightweight and comes with a nylon belt holster. The blade remains sharp much longer than other knives and Havalon provides additional blades with each knife you buy. I love the orange handle, easily visible even in brush.

Fanny packs are more convenient and less expensive than backpack, but they do not hold as much. Be aware of the tradeoff. A loaded fanny pack weighs much less than a loaded backpack, but backpacks with a good waist belt distribute weight more evenly. Cabela’s carries the Herter’s 7-pocket fanny pack in Realtree Xtra that adjusts easily. If you need to carry more gear, Cabela’s also offers a variety of back packs.

My beloved husband John always enjoyed hunting with me, but now resides in Heaven. I am so grateful to have many awesome memories forever etched in my mind and on my heart. We hunted together for 25 years, and I miss him dearly, but until we can be together again to tell our hunting stories, he is keeping a spot for me beside him at the campfire above.


Outdoor writer Vikki TroutVikki Trout is a full-time freelance writer and photographer from southern Indiana. She hunts turkey, deer, bear, and small game. When she’s not hunting, she loves capturing wildlife thru the lens of her camera. Visit her website at


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What’s in Your Waterfowl Go-Bag?

Seven Tips for Toting Gear to
Your Waterfowl Blind 

By Mike Marsh

A buddy calls. “Let go duck hunting – I’ll pick you up in ten minutes.” Will you be ready?


A good blind bag will keep gear and ammo dry and secure for many years of use, even in the toughest hunting conditions. (Photo: Mike Marsh.)

If a friend invites you for a waterfowl hunt at a moment’s notice, it pays to be prepared rather than scramble around to collect all the necessary gear. The best way to pull off a last-minute hunt is to have everything you need already packed inside a “blind bag” – your go-bag for waterfowl hunting.

Years ago, I made-do with military surplus bags. Today, so many styles are available that no one needs to be without a properly equipped, dedicated bag. Avery Outdoor Products makes several good ones. Here’s what to consider:

  1. Water, water, everywhere.
    You’re duck hunting, right? So you’ll be dealing with water. Lots of it. So get a blind bag made of waterproof polymer fabric with watertight seams. Two-way zippers assure they open and close in salty or muddy conditions and endure many seasons of hard use. A flap that fits over the top and closes with snap straps creates a redundant seal and allows zippers to remain open during the actual hunt for quick access to gear when rain isn’t falling or your retriever isn’t shaking dry or nosing inside to help himself to a snack.
  1. Go for deep pockets.
    Having plenty of exterior pockets as well as interior compartments will help you to keep from overpacking. Outside pockets should hold small gear such as flashlights, spare batteries, heat packs, calls, cripple loads, spare gloves, cell phone, toilet paper, sunglasses, binoculars and a Havalon knife.  The more pockets, the less your gear will be buried inside the main bag.
  1. Lighten up.
    The inside main compartment is the place for heavy items like shotgun ammo and bulky items like food packed inside a watertight container. Using the exterior pockets will keep bulky items from crowding out smaller items. I was preparing for a do-it-yourself hunt at a public game land in a state where I was not intimately familiar with all regulations. My blind bag contained four or five boxes of ammunition from a previous multi-species hunt—making it rather weighty. I lightened the load by packing several shells of each type inside a single, 25-round plastic shotshell box. Later, I read the regulations again and discovered that each hunter could legally carry only one box of shells. On the walk to the blind, l was doubly happy I had reduced my load.

Items in this blind bag include: silicone-impregnated cleaning cloth, Ballistol cleaner and lubricant, calls, waterproof matches, hunting gloves, waterproof gloves, paper towels, shotgun shells, flashlight, binocular and lens cleaning tissues. There is still plenty of room for more gear, but is it necessary? Add some spare gloves and a cap for padding, but don’t pack it with more weight than the bag and strap can take. (Photo: Mike Marsh.)

  1. Strap it up.
    Choose a blind bag with elastic straps across the top. I use them to hold a ski mask, towel and my Avery neoprene floating duck strap. The straps will also help you add that last-minute item without opening and rearranging the contents of the bag.
  1. Heed the calls.
    Most hunters carry several different calls. The place for them is in an outside pocket of the bag where they are safe and easy to reach. Calls placed in the main compartment can roll under ammo boxes, which can crush them, or they’ll get loaded with debris at the bottom of the bag. I doubt you want to dig trail mix, sand, or other rubble out of a call before you can use it.
  1. Pack some heat.
    Carry a can of Sterno jellied alcohol when hunting in cold weather. Have two means of lighting it—back up a butane lighter with a box of waterproof matches. Use it to heat lunch or tea, warm a blind or thaw frozen gear. If you fall into the water in cold weather, the heat from it can save your life. A poncho or Mylar emergency blanket also fits easily in a blind bag and comes in handy in a downpour or an emergency.

Store small gear items such as calls, heat packs, flashlight and binocular in outside pockets where they won’t be crushed by shotgun shell boxes. Notice the two-way zippers which ensure easy access and redundancy in the event the zipper on one side of the track becomes broken or stuck. (Photo: Mike Marsh.)

  1. Choose carefully.
    My seventh tip isn’t what to bring, but what to leave out of your blind bag. What you leave out can be as important as what you put in. Blind bags have a way of accumulating more and more gear, so make sure you sort your gear between hunts (not at the last minute) to keep your bag from becoming overweight. That’s what my buddy didn’t do. As we loaded the boat for an early season teal hunt he handed me his bag. I grabbed it with one hand and it nearly dragged me out of the boat to the muddy bottom. With a normal load, a well-designed blind bag floats, but an overweight bag can sink like a rock.

Avoid adding weight and taking up extra space in a small boat by getting rid of squashed, out-of-date granola bars, old or dirty shotgun shells, and dead or corroded batteries. Consider doing without a vacuum bottle—if it leaks inside a watertight bag, your calls and ammo will be swimming in coffee. Also avoid overloading it with calls you never use and the myriad pieces of gear that keep money flowing out of your wallet.

It’s wiser to invest your dollars in a proper bag. It will pay off because a good bag will protect the investment you make in your gear—and keep you from missing out when a buddy calls at the last-minute and says, “Let’s go duck hunting—I’ll pick you up in ten minutes.”


Mike Marsh outdoor writer headshotMike Marsh of Wilmington, N.C. has written thousands of hunting and fishing articles for newspapers and magazines plus four books (Fishing North Carolina, autographed, inscribed, $26.60; Inshore Angler—Carolina’s Small Boat Fishing Guide, $26.20; Offshore Angler—Coastal Carolina’s Mackerel Boat Fishing Guide, $22.20 and Carolina Hunting Adventures—Quest for the Limit, $15. (Prices are postpaid; send check or money order to: 1502 Ebb Drive, Wilmington, NC 28409). To contact Mike, read his latest Barbs and Blasts or order his books online, visit

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7 Ways to Sort Out Deer Trails

By Mike Bleech

Active deer trails are the key
to hunting success — here’s how to
find them!

Buck in the woods walking on a trail

This 8-point buck is about to walk through a downed fence section. This may be a good funnel to set up at any time, and likely will be used by both bucks and does once the rut is underway. (Photo: Mike Bleech)

Any whitetail hunter — even those at the novice stage — will know heavily used deer trails are easy to recognize, and good places to wait for deer.

“Big whoop!” you say. “You’re telling me what’s obvious.” Am I? Yes, both of us know if it was that simple we would always fill our deer tags. Well-worn trails can be good places to hunt, but what you really need to know is how, why and when deer use them.

1. There’s the rub

The rub I’m talking about has nothing to do with actual rubs bucks make on trees with their antlers. The rub is that deer trails are notoriously unpredictable. That’s the first lesson in sorting out deer trails. The woods are not a static place — when something changes, deer change. It may be easy to find a deer trail, but it isn’t so easy to know when deer are using it, or if they have abandoned it. Changes in food, human intrusion, the rut, predator activity, weather or almost anything else can cause deer to switch trails. In other words, yesterday’s trail is not necessarily today’s trail. When you discover a trail, ask yourself what may have changed since it was made.

2. When the apple cart is upset

Hunters get excited with bumper crops of apples. Trails leading into apple orchards are often hot in the early season, but once apples are gobbled up deer don’t stick around. Hunters can get caught holding the bag if they rely only on trails in the vicinity of orchards. That’s also true if the apples aren’t very tasty. Deer abandon trails when food sources change, so hunters must keep up with the changes in deer activity as apples disappear, crops are harvested and acorns fall.

3. The golden funnels

Deer use funnels throughout the year, and discovering one gives you a golden opportunity. Nowhere can you learn more about the deer in any given area than at a funnel. Usually funnels are just sections of longer trails. A funnel usually has a physical barrier — water, fallen trees, steep banks, field corners or other terrain features — that forces deer to narrow their travel routes. At certain times the use of funnels by bucks may be limited. While antlers are growing bucks may avoid certain areas altogether in order to protect soft antlers — keep that in mind when you place trail cameras in the summer. In other cases, all deer might change patterns for various reasons. Perhaps land use has changed, or a favored trail may require deer to use too much energy in winter. A strategically placed trail camera can give you a handle on the number and size of bucks, especially after velvet is shed, and whether they’re coming through day or night.

A deer at the top of a slope

Trails will often run along the top of a slope. This gives deer a quick escape route if they sense any danger. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

4. Different strokes for bucks and does

From the time antlers harden until the rut nears its peak, bucks and does generally travel different trails. Not always, but often enough that it is important to determine the difference before choosing a stand location. Usually doe trails will be much more well-worn, and therefore much more obvious than buck trails because does and fawns outnumber mature bucks. Two does, each followed dutifully by one or two fawns, can cut a deep trail if the ground is soft. Bucks tend to move along a less defined route. So, the most obvious deer trails are probably being used by does and fawns.

5. A parallel world

Those less obvious routes bucks use often run roughly parallel to doe trails. Bucks may, after all, be traveling to the same food sources or bedding areas. Buck trails will often take the prevailing wind into account — their parallel path will be downwind somewhere between 20 to 50 yards, so the bucks can use their noses to keep track of does as they anticipate them coming into heat.

6. When the rut heats up

During the pre-rut, understanding the differences between buck trails and doe trails is critical to hunters. If you are hunting specifically for a buck, then a doe trail won’t be a good place for a pre-rut stand. Instead, set up where the buck can monitor the doe trail. But once does start coming into heat, bucks seek every opportunity to scent-check does. For the last couple of weeks before the peak of the rut, stands that are close to heavily worn doe trails may be very productive.

7. Back to the funnels

During the peak of the rut, a period that may last only a few days to a week, hunting funnels makes a lot of sense because does lead bucks by the nose. Bucks won’t sleep when does are on the move and ready to breed. If you find a high-traffic funnel, head there during the rut.

Snow in the woods change the way deer move

Snow will change deer movements, funneling them to easier travel routes. They’ll move along more deliberately to feeding areas because they won’t find as much to nibble on as they travel there. (Photo: Steve Sorensen)

Always keep learning

There you have it — seven ways to sort out deer trails. Wherever you find trails, examine individual tracks. Judge how recently they were made. Consider size — big tracks with little tracks in them are does being followed by fawns. Bigger tracks, especially those that have rounded points or splayed toes, are probably bucks. The successful hunter is a student of deer trails and the deer that make them.

About Mike Bleech:

Headshot of outdoor writer Mike BleechMike Bleech has been a full-time freelance writer/photographer since 1980 with more than 5,000 articles published in more than 100 publications. He is the outdoor columnist for the Erie Times-News and the Warren Times Observer. Over the years he has become an accomplished trout fisherman and an expert at hunting the Allegheny National Forest and other public lands.

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