Ask the Experts: Saddle Hunting, Public Purists, and the Truth About Squirrels and Their Nuts

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This week, F&S hunting editor, Will Brantley, explains the virtues of hunting public land, the importance of the squirrel rut, how to get accurate broadhead flight from a high-speed crossbow, and much more.

Q: What do you think of saddle hunting? —Wayne T., via email

A: It’s great, so long as you’re willing to hang from a tree in a leather diaper, claim with a straight face that it’s more comfortable than a tree stand, and introduce yourself as a “saddle hunter” to your kids’ teachers, potential employers, and everyone else.

Seriously, I had a saddle several years ago but never could get used to it. Some hunters kill big deer out of them every season, though, and I’m perfectly open to trying one again.


Q: I’ve heard that hunting public land not only makes you a better hunter but also a better person. Is that true? —Jess Hampton, via email

A: No, but it does give you a good platform for virtue signaling. Sadly, that all-for-one attitude can fizzle fast when public hunters run into competition. Last fall, someone near Bozeman, Montana, saw another hunter at a trailhead, and the whole state’s been complaining about overcrowding ever since. It’s obvious they’ve never seen an Arkansas WMA on the opening morning of duck season.


Q: Down South, is the 30/06 SPRG still king of the woods? —@t1000_jh17

A: Much as I hate to say it, no. My personal go-to deer rifle is chambered in .30-06, and I enjoy carrying on about it to antagonize gun writers who are more interested in ballistics than hunting skills. But many southern hunters do take their rifles very seriously. I don’t know what cartridge is “king” these days, but the big three PRC rounds seem pretty popular around shooting houses and bean fields. Everyone makes fun of the 6.5 Creedmoor, but a lot of us secretly shoot it, too.


Q: What is your preferred style of strike indicator? —Kent Collins, via email

A: You mean, bobber? Why do fly fishermen use two words when one will do?  


Q: Is the “squirrel rut” really a thing hunters should pay attention to? —Hal Travers, via email

A: Rabbits get all the glory, but when it comes to rodent reproduction, squirrels are actually nature’s marvels. There’s a reason why boar squirrels have disproportionately large testicles. As for the rut, they get distracted by the deed, same as any other critter, and of course hunters can use that to their advantage.


Q: Have you found a broadhead that’ll shoot straight out of a 400 fps crossbow? — Michael Pendley, via Facebook

A: One of the great ironies of the high-speed crossbow race is that broadhead flight gets elusive at 400-plus fps. I’ve tested dozens and dozens of arrow-and-broadhead combinations out of high-speed crossbows and have determined that good flight hinges on arrow length, fletching design, and the individual crossbow, same as rifles that shoot best with a particular bullet weight. Most speedy crossbows shoot acceptably at 20 to 30 yards with whatever broadhead you want to use. It’s the 40-yard-and-beyond groups that become problematic. 

As a rule, mechanical broadheads are a good place to start, but even they’re not a guarantee. Plus, I don’t like mechanical broadheads. My go-to fixed-blade for crossbows is an Iron Will X-Series, which flies well even out of my wife’s Ravin R500 (though a scope adjustment from field points is required). They’re pricey, but if you’re spending three grand for a premium crossbow, you need to budget for multiple broadheads until you find something it likes.


Q: What are the top five foods to avoid at all costs on a hunting trip? —Tim Daughrity, via Facebook

A: A couple of weeks ago, my buddy and I were socked into a Colorado wall tent during a two-day mountain storm. We made a big pot of rice, beans, and bacon over a Coleman stove to pass the time. The regret from eating that stuff lasted for days. To that dish, I’d round out the top five with gas-station chicken livers, Mountain House Chili Mac, the tiny burgers sold at White Castle and Krystal, which my mom calls “rectum rockets,” and anything cooked by Canadians.


Q: With all the replaceable blade knives on the market, is there still a place for a traditional skinning knife? —Matt Seymore, via Facebook

A: I always have a stout fixed-blade knife in my pack, but I don’t use it for skinning anymore. I use a Havalon with a #60A scalpel blade for skinning, caping, and quartering everything from furbearers to moose, and so do most guides who clean multiple critters in a year’s time. They’re more convenient and work better.


Q: What do you recommend to target deer earlier in the evenings rather than them only moving near me right at last light? —@hunterrossallen

A: If you’re not getting many evening opportunities in shooting light, my gut response, without knowing specifics on your hunting area, is to back away from the food sources a bit and set up closer to suspected bedding areas—carefully. 


Q: What are your top tips for a beginner backpacking deer hunter who is planning a trip? —@Poverty_bob on Instagram

A: Save money on your rifle (there are plenty of cheap ones that shoot great), but splurge on good optics, good boots, and a good pack. Be prepared to quarter out your deer, because dragging one any significant distance is an exercise in misery. Bring a tarp to make a clean work station, good knives, game bags, and be sure you know the regulations for tagging, transporting, and retaining proof of sex with the meat.

Email your questions for David E. Petzal, Phil Bourjaily, Will Brantley, Richard Mann, or Joe Cermele to [email protected]. Or read more F&S+ stories.



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