Bill McLaughlin

How to Secure Permission to Hunt

One of the best ways to kill a big buck is on private land and there is lots of it if you know how to gain access. Some of my best deer came from private land and if you know how to get permission you too can be successful hanging at hanging heads on the wall. Here is how to do it.

First, get off the couch, put your anxiety behind you, and act and dress with respect. You don’t need to wear a suit and tie, but jeans and a nice shirt (without last night’s wing and blue cheese juice on it) will work. It is important to look and act with respect—remember this is not your property and it is a privilege if they allow you to hunt.

Second, drive the back roads and start knocking on doors. The most promising properties are farms that feature State Game Commission signs. These farms usually want deer off their land to prevent crop damage and thus welcome most respectable hunters. This step takes time but you only get out what you’re willing to in. When looking at potential farms, don’t let the size discourage you because a small wooded lot can hold deer. Any access to land is always a bonus.

Third, ask permission. Introduce yourself: “Hello my name is Bill and I noticed the Game Commission signs on your property and was wondering if you would allow me permission to hunt you property.” While talking I give the property owner my “hunting resume.” This is the clincher and will almost always convince the owner to allow access.

Here’s a template for your “hunting resume”:

Your Name
Address
Phone Number

Place of employment

Position at work

Family: wife’s and kids’ names and ages, where they attend school

Credentials: how many years hunting, any extra hunting education

Promise: I will respect your property. I will pick up trash as I see it. I will obey any and all instructions.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to hunt your property.

If they say no, that is okay. Just say “thank you” and leave them your resume. They might change their minds. And finally, whether you gain access or not, ask if they know of other farms that allow hunting.

Hope this help you to kill a big buck.

Make the line tight,
Bill McLaughlin


River Dropshotting for Smallmouth Bass

river-dropshotting Three years ago my son Kyle and I joined my friend Joe and his son Josh to fish the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York. Using the dropshot method, we caught and released over 150 smallmouth bass in one day. And if that wasn’t good enough we did it every day, four days in a row and all in less than 8 hours of fishing. Seems unbelievable, but it happened again the following year. Weather conditions and wind direction had no bearing on the numbers or sizes. Each day we could have easily caught more, and probably would have boated over 200 fish a day, if our boys hadn’t grown tired of catching smallmouth. Instead they wanted to try for northern pike, just to change species and for a different type of fishing action.

Although we were fishing the St. Lawrence River, dropshotting is equally effective on the Lehigh, Susquehanna, and Delaware River systems. Dropshotting for river smallmouth bass is an exciting and highly productive method and will work in any river system, anywhere, any season. Dropshotting has been around for a long time but I use the method in a particular way—as a mixture of dropshotting and drifting.

The setup is simple. I use #8 size Eagle Claw Bait Holder hooks, 8 pound monofilament, walking lead sinkers in ½ and 1 ounce, large night crawlers cut in half, 3” inch Gulp Minnows and Gary Yamamoto Senco 3” in Bubble Gum or Green Pumpkin Watermelon. A dropshot hook in size 1/0 or 2/0, fluorocarbon and round dropshot specific weights can also be used for increased results.

To try dropshotting, tie the hook 10 inches from the end of the line using a Palomar knot. Run the tag end back down through the hook eye—this will make the hook stand straight out. Tie on the walking sinker to the tag end, leaving approximately 6 to 8 inches of line between the hook and sinker. I like to tie the sinker because when snagged, the line will break at the sinker allowing you to keep your bait. Lastly nose hook your choice of baits.

Once on the river, locate channels or water that is between 15 and 25 feet deep. Motor up river to the start of this water depth, turn the boat sideways and drift with the current. Once you approach shallower water, motor back up river and repeat. It is helpful but not necessary to keep your line as vertical as possible. Keeping the line vertical depends on two factors: water depth and strength of current. I personally prefer a 1 ounce weight in all water conditions. This weight keeps me in contact with the river floor allowing me to feel when I drift over rock, sand, gravel or mud. The weight below the bait keeps your presentation just off the bottom, out of the grass, and in the face of fish. Drifting allows it to be in the strike zone for extended periods of time.

If you haven’t tried this technique, then you don’t know what you’re missing. This method works so well that you will catch more fish than you know what to do with. I personally only keep the occasional walleye for the frying pan. I do not keep any bass; they are just too much fun to catch and release.

Make the Line Tight,
Bill McLaughlin


How to Kill a Mature Buck

A mature buck is a different animal than other deer. One that is in love is even more unusual. I’m not talking about the year-and-a-half or two-and-a-half year old that you see around other deer, or when you are spot-lighting. The deer I’m referring to is the truly mature buck, the loner that makes grown men tremble with buck fever. There are only two times that a mature deer can be harvested. One is the first week of archery season in Pennsylvania, when there is no pressure. The second is at the end of the archery season, when a mature buck in love makes a mistake.

With surprise and stealth on your side, you can get your mature buck. Set up your tree stands early in the year and don’t return until you are ready to hunt. I set mine up as early as February, when I’m not worried about scent or spooking deer. When the landscape is barren, and travel routes, ravines, ridges and fingers are easy to spot, you can make an educated decision about where to place a stand. Most important, set up the stand so that the wind will be in your face.

Scent control is critical if you want to shoot a mature buck. I wear a Savannah Scent Loc Suit, Scent Loc hat and gloves, and knee high rubber boots. As I walk, puffs of air exit the top of the boot, so I wear the books inside the suit where the carbon will catch and eliminate this issue. To keep from sweating, I will walk to my stand location without my hat or gloves on. If you need to wear a jacket, carry it with you and put it on after cooling off in the tree. When walking in the woods to my spot, I use a flashlight that is dim or use the red light feature. I have seen and scared deer walking to and from my stand in the dark with a bright LED light.

Early season the deer are in their normal summer pattern—bucks are in bachelor groups, while yearlings and does are in their own groups. Mature bucks will rarely join them when the sun shines; they are mostly nocturnal. A buck can be spotted with binoculars and setup on without having to disturb the area with human scent until you are ready to hunt. Your odds are better for getting a mature buck before they are disturbed by hunting pressure.

If you don’t kill your mature buck in the first week of archery season, don’t worry. The absolute best time to harvest a mature buck is during the rut, in the last part of the season. Look for the does as they travel well-worn trails leading to and from a field. A love sick buck will lie in wait along a major trail used by does in order to intercept one on her way to bed. You should set up between the feeding and bedding area. I prefer to be a little closer to the bedding area at this time of the season. Make sure you are alert for any sound. I have killed more mature bucks on public land between nine and two o’clock. Leaving for lunch during the rut is a big mistake.

Hunting for mature bucks takes extra time and preparation to be successful. Set up your stand early. While you are hunting, be attentive to scent and what is happening around you. These strategies will greatly increase your odds of killing a mature buck. If you know where a big buck lives, keep it to yourself. Telling someone else is detrimental to your success. Guess again if you think your buddy promises he won’t hunt it!

Make the line tight,
Bill McLaughlin


Edge Hunting an Obstacle

Edges are a powerful way to pattern whitetails. An edge can be anything that makes game travel a predictable direction to avoid an obstacle. Common edges include an open pit, cliff edge, quarry, fence, lake, guardrail, highway, river, as well as open areas such as swamps, fields, and parking lots. An edge can also be a transition in the forest from an open wood lot to thick briars or a rhododendron patch. Deer will travel along in thick cover until they come to an obstacle that mandates them to go around. The change of direction is what you are looking for. It creates a predictable pattern that you can capitalize on to increase your odds dramatically.

How do you find these hot spots? The best way is to use Google Earth or Bing Maps to detail an area you are interested in. Reverse the date to a time of year when the trees are devoid of foliage, and print it out. Use the print out to mark the areas that have obvious obstacles. Also, look for color changes from dark to light in the foliage. This change indicates an edge. To travel undetected, deer will move along the edge just inside the cover. Mature bucks seeking does will use these edges to cruise in safety. After you scrutinize the aerial and topographic maps, you’ll do some groundwork. Walk the areas that you found on the Internet, looking for deer trails in the thickest cover near the obstacle that caused the direction change. Always keep in mind that older mature deer go where people don’t. You will see obvious trails paralleling the edges of the obstacle; add thick briar, rhododendrons, mountain laurel and a steep hillside and your odds just keep increasing. This is where all animals will travel. This is where you want to hunt.

Wind direction will take precedence over everything. Set up several stand locations near the obstacle that take advantage of the wind direction. Because a pre-forecasted wind direction is not necessarily the same as the actual wind direction where you are hunting, set up multiple sites around a particular hotspot to take advantage of any wind scenario.

I’ve put more than one set of antlers on the wall from edge hunting. One edge in particular was an area with an open pit dug into an extremely steep hillside used for slate excavation. A patch of hardwoods, extending several miles by two hundred yards or less, surrounded the pit. At the bottom of the hillside was a public area that deer would avoid, and at the top open fields. The deer would travel in the woods until they came to the pit and then would travel up along the top ridge of the pit to avoid the lower public area. This forced the deer into a predictable pattern that gave me the advantage. That day exploiting edges—one of the most basic fundamentals of hunting—paid off.

I hope that this technique helps you to become a more successful hunter, and if you do come across such a hotspot that produces year after year, try to keep it to yourself. People are going to want to know how you do it and where you hunt. Tell them you read about it on Bucktailoutdoors.com

Make the line tight,
Bill McLaughlin


Fishing for Fall Striped Bass

Fall is an awesome time of year to fish for striped bass— the days are shorter, the water temperatures are cooling off, and there is change in the air. Best of all there is less boat traffic! As winter approaches, the chances of hooking into a monster will only get better. Fall makes the bass feed like little piggies. They gorge on anything and everything they can catch, including gizzard shad, bluegills, perch, suckers, large crayfish and jumbo sized minnows. Striped bass are opportunistic feeders, especially when they are preparing for the upcoming winter months, which will bring a lack of forage in the lake, and the bass’s decreasing metabolism.

You’ll want to fish the shallows for striped bass at twilight. As dusk approaches, the gizzard and threadfin shad move to shallow water flats where they spread out into the cover of grass beds, rock and boulder fields to hide and forage. In the morning, when the sun has already peaked, they school up and head for deep water. At twilight, though, the striped bass will follow the shad into the skinny water. This is when you want to concentrate your efforts on the shallow flats. Believe it or not I have caught striped bass in excess of 20 pounds in as little as 10 inches of water.

Stealth is your absolute best ally when targeting these fish. A monster fish will not tolerate a boat that is generating a ton of noise. And, in the shallows you don’t have the luxury of deep water to hide your approach. You need to use your trolling motor at a steady slow speed, or better yet, find a nice large flat in 8 to 10 feet of water and let the wind set your course across it.

To fish live bait, hook a large minnow, creek chub, perch, or sunfish behind the dorsal fin with a large appropriately sized hook. Add a large bobber 24 inches above the bait with a medium sized split shot halfway between. Live bait tend to swim up when hooked on a line–the split shot will help keep them in the strike zone. When large fish are in the area, the bait becomes scared and tries to get away by heading to the surface. You will need a medium to medium heavy spinning rod. The reel size should be big enough to allow a big fish to strip at least 100 yards of line off. I use a minimum line diameter in 10 pound test. Heavier lines can be used, but I believe they take away from the natural action of the bait. When a striper hits, allow it time to consume the bait before setting the hook. Once you do, hold on because you’re in for a fight of your life.

Fishing for striped bass is one of my passions in life. And Fall is a great time to be on the lake. Most guys are hunting, so there is less fishing boat traffic, and the water is too cold for water and jet skiers. The air is crisp and alive with anticipation of winter. So get out and experience some awesome striped bass fishing. Always remember only keep what you can eat. Throw the rest back for the guy who just “happens” to catch one. Until next time.

Make the line tight,
Bill McLaughlin


Crankbaits for Walleye

You can use crankbaits anytime of the year as a search-type bait to find and locate roaming walleye in any lake anywhere. I first discovered how well this technique worked a few years ago while fishing with some friends on the Ottawa River in Ontario, Canada. It was late in the month of May, so we weren’t catching many walleye on the traditional jig and worm. My friend Scott tied on a small Rapala crankbait— basic black and silver—and tossed it to a sandy bank that dropped into the main river channel and started catching quality walleye. We had an awesome time the rest of the week hauling in fish after fish.

We caught these fish during midday because the water in some Canadian lakes and rivers can be brackish, which allows walleye to be active throughout the day. But, here in northeast Pennsylvania, most water is clear, so walleye fishing is best done at night, twilight, and dusk. I enjoy crankbait fishing early in the morning, when the air is crisp, clean, and full of promise. Early in the day, there is no boat traffic and the fish haven’t been disturbed all night, both of which greatly improve your odds.

Crankbaits come in hundreds of colors and styles. My favorites are slender and long like the Deep Diving Smithwick, Cabela’s Fisherman Series Mini Walleye Runner, Cotton Cordell Wally Diver, Rapala Deep Tail Dancer, and the Rapala Shad Rap. I keep my colors basic with black/silver, purples, and clown combinations. Let the fish tell you what they want by switching colors and styles until you discover and find the one that works. I use a seven-foot medium action Schimano Clarus rod and a Schimano Sahara 1000 series reel spooled with 10 pound test Trilene Sensation fishing line. Cast the crankbait so that it digs into the bottom of the lake stirring up dirt, mud, and silt. The trail of dust will help the walleye home in on its target. Different baits dive to different depths no matter what the package says. If fishing in eight feet of water, I throw a lure that dives ten feet; in ten feet of water I throw a bait that dives twelve feet, and so on. Don’t worry about snagging the bottom—while the bill is digging into the bottom, it kicks the back of the bait up, raising the hooks off the floor of the lake and keeping it relatively snag free. And if you do snag and lose a lure, just remember, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet! So don’t worry! Drag that bottom, because walleye live there.

Choosing crankbait in a variety of styles, sizes, and colors will help you match the conditions that you are fishing. Up in Canada, Scott was catching walleye by chance. Without realizing it, he set up and developed a pattern of what and where to use these baits that we used to capitalize on our fish-catching experience. For example, he figured out how to cast the most effective crankbaits against a slopping bank of sand that led into a river channel. When cranking for walleye, keep a mental note of the conditions—depth, contour, rock, sand, grass, slopes or flats—of the spot you caught your last fish or had missed strikes. With this information, you’ll perceive a pattern that you can use throughout the lake or river to increase your odds of catching a limit of marble eyes.

When you do go out and catch a limit night after night, keep only what you can eat and release the rest. Fresh-caught filet of walleye tastes much better than a frozen brick from the freezer. And marinade soaks through the meat of the smaller, legal-sized fish better than the big ones. Walleye tastes fantastic with coleslaw a batch of fries and canned corn.

Make the Line Tight,
Bill McLaughlin