Women’s Duck Hunting Essentials Part 1: Clothes (and Haley Vines Review)

Where are the Ducks?

My husband saying "Where are the Ducks?"

Duck hunting is not easy.  But it sure is fun!

Me and my Bogie, pretending she's a duck dog and not a lap dog.

Me and my Bogie, pretending she's a duck dog and not a lap dog.

One of the factors restricting more women from duck hunting is lack of comfort. It’s cold, it’s wet, and it’s a lot of work before you ever even get the opportunity to pull the trigger. But it doesn’t have to be this way! All it takes is a little planning and the right gear to make sure you are comfortable in the duck blind. In this series, I’m going to tell you all the gear I wear or bring when I go hunting. This is part 1 of a 3-part post on MY DUCK HUNTING ESSENTIALS.

My first duck!

My first duck!

The biggest difference between me and my husband when it comes to hunting is that I am much more susceptible to being cold than he is. He is usually too hot under all his layers! Flexibility and ease of movement are also very important to me. That shotgun is not light and I need to be able to move it quickly! Many of my duck-hunting essentials are also essentials for any outdoor venture, but duck hunting also requires protection from cold water. Here are my duck-hunting clothing essentials:

Patagonia Women's Capilene 3 Midweight Bottoms in Ozonic Blue 49.00

Patagonia Women's Capilene 3 Midweight Bottoms in Ozonic Blue 49.00

Patagonia Women's Capilene 2 Lightweight Crew in Turquoise and Seafoam 45.00

Patagonia Women's Capilene 2 Lightweight Crew in Turquoise and Seafoam 45.00

BASE LAYER
Probably the most important of the layers I wear. I’ve tried a lot of different brands and fabrics. Obviously you do NOT want to wear cotton as a base layer and there are so many other options to choose from these days! My favorite: Patagonia Caplilene. Patagonia Capilene baselayers are all assigned a number based on the weight (aka how warm it will keep you). 1 is the lightest-weight and 4 is the heaviest-weight, for very cold conditions. I wear Capeline-2 long-sleeve top and Capeline-3 bottoms. These work perfect for any outdoor adventures in the south. And these are the ONLY base layers I own. No matter the season, they work for me! The BEST part about these Base-Layers? They are flexible don’t restrict my movement, at all! Yes they are bright blue.  If it’s cold, I don’t need a camo base-layer because I probably won’t be stripping down that far. But if it is warm enough I may not wear this base layer and go right to my mid-layer.

Prois Ultra Hoodie in Realtree 79.00

Prois Ultra Hoodie in Realtree 79.00

Columbia Women’s Benton Springs Vest in Palm 39.00

Columbia Women’s Benton Springs Vest in Palm 39.00

MID LAYERS
My mid-layer is the one that I will adjust based on the current weather. My mid-layer is my most versatile layer with several options. It will usually be camo in case I get hot and need to take off my jacket but don’t want to be seen by the game I’m persuing. For my mid-layer, I will wear a non-cotton moisture-wicking shirt with a vest on top. My favorite? Prois Ultra Hoodie and Columbia Benton Springs Vest. I like the vest because it is flexible (unlike a down vest) but I will be looking to replace it with the Haley Vines camo Soft Shell Vest (with shooting pad!).  The Prois “hoodie” is actually a long-sleeve shirt that I reviewed last year.  Now if it is really REALLY cold I will also wear my Columbia camo fleece or my lightweight down Patagonia sweater. Only problem with that down jacket is that it’s bright purple! So it’s usually saved for camping/hiking/field work and not for hunting.

I generally don’t wear a pants mid-layer but I’m eyeing these Drake Under Wader Pants that hubby has and loves.

Drake Men's MST Fleece Lined Pullover in Realtree MAX-4 Camo $79.99

Drake Men's MST Fleece Lined Pullover in Realtree MAX-4 Camo $79.99

OUTER LAYER
The most expensive layer is the outer-layer. The better quality jacket you have, the more comfortable you will be. I’ve tried SEVERAL different jackets. A standard canvas Carhartt jacket was not warm enough, even though it was lined, and way too bulky. The Carhartt was more suited for muddy field work when I didn’t want to destroy an expensive camo jacket. My husband’s old warm cotton jacket from when he was a kid was nice but not ideal when you may have to deal with water. I have 2 go-to otpions for a warm hunting jacket. The first is my Drake waders jacket(which I often where even when I’m not wearing waders). The bottom half is all fleece and fits nicely under chest-waders. The top-half is several layers thick, soooo warm, and even water resistant! There are 2 handy pockets on the top part of the chest, one that zips (where I keep my camera) and one that magnetically closes (where I keep spare shells).  Both are accessible when I am wearing waders. I LOVE this jacket.but if its really REALLY cold I need a jacket that is full top-to-bottom.

Diva Outfitters Natural Fleece Pants $80.00

Diva Outfitters Natural Fleece Pants $80.00

For bottoms I have again, 2 go-to options, which both have their pro’s and cons. The first are my Diva Outfitters Fleece Pants. I love that these pants are made for women, by women.  The shop owners are super nice and passionate about hunting.  I usually hate the pink trend in women’s hunting clothes/accessories (what’s a girl gotta do to get some purple in her camo?) but the little hints of pink in these pants are sweet and perfect.  Not enough that is screams “Hey I’m a girl ya know!!” but just a little reminder that these are not my husband’s pants.  These pants are a soft and warm heavy fleece.  Now you wouldn’t normally think of fleece pants as an Outer-Layer, but these pants are thicker than normal fleece and offer amazing warmth and wind/rain protection. I don’t know the technology behind it (an inner layer? a coating?) but I know it works. The best part of these pants? ELASTIC STIRRUPS. I have NO PROBLEM putting on my waders and keeping my pant legs down where they should be. I also wear these deer hunting. My only issue is that they tend to slip down too far on my hips. This is a problem I have with most all my pants due to my body shape but these especially cause they are kind of heavy.  Wearing a belt and wide suspenders solves this problem but I still have to take off the right suspender strap when we are getting ready to hunt/shoot so I can line my shotgun up in my shoulder correctly.

Haley Vines Catalog jacket and pants $250.00

Haley Vines Catalog jacket and pants $250.00

Haley Vines Catalog jacket and bib $250.00

Haley Vines Catalog jacket and bib $250.00

Now, what about when it’s COLD cold? This is where my Haley Vines Waterproof Insulated Jacket and Bib come in. These are the warmest clothes I have EVER put on. I just got them late last year so I’ve only gotten to use them on two duck hunting trips but let me tell you, I am SOLD. This set is so warm, cozy, comfortable, fitted, and water-resistant I don’t know what I did before it. You can check out the entire Haley Vines collection on their website: HaleyVines.com and be sure to check out their catalog!

Me in my Haley Vines Jacket and Bib, right out the box!  So warm.

Me in my Haley Vines Jacket and Bib, right out the box! So warm.

Haley Vines Review for the Outdoor Blogger Network

Pro’s
WARMTH- sooo so warm. I usually have to take the jacket off on the hike in to the blind because if I didn’t I would overheat quickly.  In fact I would add a word of caution: don’t wear this suit unless you can easily take off the jacket to cool down.  It’s THAT warm.  I did wear the bib under my waders (which means I can’t take the bib off in the field) on the one day that it was very very cold and didn’t overheat as long as I could vent my head/neck/chest.

PROTECTION- I’ve worn my jacket while hunting in a flooded rice field AND while hunting in a salt-water bay. Both times I ended up face-first in the water. The first time I wasn’t wearing this jacket and I was FREEZING. Luckily we were on our way back to the trailer because if we had not been, the hunt would’ve been over. The second time I fell in the water I was wearing this jacket. I got the outside SOAKED but I barely felt it! We continued hunting and I was still warm and dry inside my jacket. Even when the sleeve cuffs got a little wet inside, it wasn’t unbearable because the jacket stayed warm.

FEEL- I cannot describe in words how amazingly soft the lining (and outside!) of this bib and jacket are. Even hubby was a little jealous when he touched it. It’s quite luxorious and feels like you are wrapped in your favorite fuzzy throw blanket instead of wearing practical hunting clothing.

FIT- Haley Vines really did their research and got the shape of these pieces just right. SO well suited for a women’s body. Tight and loose in all the right places. The big creates a very flattering shape. The pockets are also in the right places and soooo warm, especially when my hands are wet.

COMFORT- So soft and so comfortable, I don’t like to take them off! The bib’s suspenders are elastic and don’t dig into my shoulders.

STYLE- Yes, I look damn good in my bib and jacket. Even wore the bib by itself over a flannel shirt to go shopping (granted we were shopping at Mack’s Praire Wings)- watch out boys!

Me wearing my Haley Vines bib.

Me wearing my Haley Vines bib.

Con’s
COST- At $250 a piece, this set is NOT cheap. But it would be worth it to save up all year and buy at the beginning of hunting season next year. If you are going to spend top-dollar on any part of your hunting wardrobe, make it your jacket.

SIZE- I bought the largest sizes available and they are just a tiny bit too small. I’m generally a size 16-18 and all my weight is in my mid-section/torso. I struggle a little zipping the bib and the jacket on top of the bib. This tightness restricts movement a little, but I can deal with it fine. I would love to see Haley Vines sell the jacket and bib in one more size larger.

Warm and Comfortable.

Warm and Comfortable.

Well there you have it! My Duck Hunting Clothing Essentials! Being that Duck Season is pretty much over, the next posts in this series will wait til the beginning of next duck season.  But right now it’s time to look forward to some warm weather!  Thanks for reading!

My First Hunt

In 2010 I got the opportunity to attend an amazing workshop in Arkansas: the Conservation Leaders for Tomorrow.

The workshop was designed for upper-level natural resource students who have little to no personal experience hunting. Hunting licenses and excise taxes on firearms and ammunition are the largest source of funds for wildlife management and future managers need to understand the biological and cultural basis of hunting.


All of us from UAM (including our instructors) on beautiful Wildlife Farms in Casscoe, Arkansas.

We spent 3 days on a game farm learning about the traditions of hunting as well as firearm safety. The farm was spectacular, especially the food!


Down time in the lodge.

We also spent a lot of time practicing with the shotguns. We were each assigned our own 20 gauge to work with the whole weekend.


Learning proper shooting stance, it took a while for me to get that down!

And we got to spent some time shooting clay pigeons at the skeet range! I learned a lot about how I shoot during these exercises.


Practice at the skeet range

On the last day we got to go on our first hunt. Each student was paired with an instructor and we went out into the field with a guide and dog to go pheasant hunting. I was nervous and worried that I would not be able to do it but the instructors were so helpful and patient that the hunt turned into one of the best experiences of my life.


Our bird dog, Fred, on point.


Me on the hunt, watching Fred.

We spent a few hours hunting. I missed a few birds but I did finally take one!


Me with my pheasant and my instructor!

I couldn’t believe it! I was shaking when Fred brought my bird back. It was so exciting. I put my bird in my vest and we continued on. That was the only pheasant I got but I couldn’t have been more proud.


Me and my bird.

When we got back to the lodge we were taught how to clean our birds and remove the meat. Then we were taught how to safely store the meat and even given some recipe ideas! That night the chefs at the lodge used our meat to make a delicious creamy pheasant dish.


Our hunting party.

Not only did I learn a lot at this workshop I gained so much confidence in my abilities as a future hunter. I’m continually grateful for the opportunity the CLfT workshop afforded all of us.

This is my submission for the Sportsman Channel Writing Contest for Hunters hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.

Geocaching at Cane Creek State Park (with lots of pictures!)

Today I brought Bogie back to Cane Creek State Park for some geocaching!  We set out to find 3 caches and 1 multicache and let Bogie play in the water a bit.  We’ve both been stuck in the house because of the snow and needed to get outside in the sun!

 

I parked at the Visitor’s Center and got onto the Cane Creek Lake Trail headed for the first cache and a fishing pier.  I didn’t get any pictures of the first cache but it was a green ammo can and didn’t take me too long to find.  After the first cache we walked to the fishing pier to eat lunch.

Bogie wasn’t all that interested in the pier so I took her for a swim!

She’s like a magnet when it comes to water.  We hung out on the bank for a little while.

It was so nice to spend some time in the sun!

We headed back on the trail towards the visitors center after the next cache.  This one I spent a while trying to figure out where my GPS was trying to send me when I noticed something light-colored under a piece of wood.  I laughed when I saw it!

A PVC pipe hidden by the park!  And inside is what I came looking for…

My first Travel Bug!  I plan on brining it to South Texas next month and putting it in a cache down there.

Hit the trail for the next cache, part 1 of a 3-part multicache.  The hints given were: looks natural in plain site, easy find, and in a log next to a tree.  When I got to the area where I was within 10 feet of the cache according to me GPS, I found logs and trees everywhere!  I spent some time looking in all kinds of logs and couldn’t find it!  But the key to finding a cache is looking for someone unusual or unnatural.  For instance the flash of light color I saw at the last cache.  And then I spotted it…

Once I saw it, that cut piece of the log stood out like a sore thumb!  I sat down to figure it out…

Hmm…

So clever!!  I laughed out loud when I realized I had been walking around this cache the whole time and didn’t even know it.  Part 1 gave me the coordinates to part 2…

Which was thankfully really easy to find but I would’ve had no idea there was a cache in here if I wasn’t looking for it!  Got the coordinates to the final cache…

I was led the the area around this nest box but I thought surely they didn’t hide a cache in here!

But there it is!  This cache was on a ridge overlooking the lake and it was a beautiful view that I would’ve never seen had I not been geocaching.

The last cache was another fun one.  I couldn’t believe how well it blended in!  This was on a fishing pier and some people were sitting right on top of it fishing.  I told them about geocaching and they may have thought I was a bit crazy.

Found them all!  We made the short hike back to the visitors center to head home.  I think Bogie had a good time!  We hiked 4.3 miles today and got some much needed warm weather and vitamin D.  Can’t wait to do some geocaching in South Texas!

Deer Trapping

I am a wildlife graduate student studying elk habitat selection. All of the elk field work was completed before I started my project and all of my work is done in a Geographic Information System (GIS). While I don’t have any field work for my own research I am a part of a deer trapping team. This team includes 4 of us graduate students and 2 program technicians. The deer trapping happens in Choctaw Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and Deer Research Unit. We trap deer to take measurements and put a GPS radio collar on them. Then for the following year we collect locations from the collars via satellites. After about a year the collars are remotely triggered to drop and we go collect them from the field.

So how do we trap deer?

We set up 10 drop nets in different habitat types across the WMA. The drop nets are 60×60 feet and held up by 5 poles and a series of ropes, pulleys, and cables.

Setting up the Trigger Pole

The trigger pole is where all the ropes come together and attach to the trigger mechanism.

View from the Trigger Pole to the Blind

A rope is connected to a the trigger mechanism. The rope is then run to the blind where we sit and wait for a deer to come under the drop net. The trigger rope is pulled, the trigger is released, and the net drops.

Putting rice bran out for bait.

We get the deer to come under the drop net by baiting with rice bran. It takes a few days for the deer to start visiting the bait but once they do they clean it out!

Watching the net from the blind. You can see the bait pile in the center.

We check bait piles to find which nets are being visited and choose 2 drop-net sites to watch, about 3 times a week. We get into the blinds around 4pm and stay until we drop.

Hogs in the night vision.

When the sun sets we use night vision to watch the nets. Of course, not only deer like the rice bran. We commonly get birds, opossums, raccoons and even skunks visiting the sites. These native small animals don’t stay long and don’t disrupt the deer. But the animals that do disrupt deer movement? Feral hogs. To read more about the problems Arkansas has with feral hogs click here. While our main objective is to collar deer, if we get a large group of hogs, we will drop and dispatch them.

Our first deer of the season!

But the fun happens when we get a deer under the net!! This was my first night trapping deer and we dropped on this year-and-a-half buck.  The moments before pulling the trigger rope my heart was racing.  Once this buck put his nose into the bait, my coworker told me to “Drop it!” and I riped the trigger rope up!  As soon as the net dropped we flew out of the blind to get on top of the deer.

The net is incredibly heavy and knocked his spike antlers off, which is ok because he would be dropping them in the next few weeks anyways. The first thing we do is jump on the deer and put a hood over its eyes. The hood really helps keep the deer calm and the calmer they are the less of a chance they have of injuring themselves.

Attaching a radio collar.

Once we’ve got the deer under control, we quickly “work them up” which involves taking body condition measurements, sexing and aging. Then we attach a plastic tag and metal tag to the deer’s ears.

My first deer!

When we are on top of them we actually keep all of our weight in our knees.  That way if the deer tries to buck we can shift our weight to keep them down but we aren’t continually putting weight on their chest.  In this picture I am holding the hood down and keeping this buck from kicking and getting further tangled, but all my weight is in my knees and feet.

Checking for breathing.

We have to continually check to be sure their heart rate is not too high and that they are breathing. We generally do not sedate or anesthetize the deer. Sedation just adds another variable and another chance for things to go wrong for the animal. If we have a lot of deer under the net and not enough people, or a really large and aggressive buck, we will sedate with Acepromazine which will not put them to sleep but calm then down a little.

Working up an 8-point

On our second night of trapping, we dropped on this big boy along with two other bucks. Big boy turned out to be an 8-point. Usually the first thing we do with a big buck is remove their antlers. At this time of the year the rut has ended and the males are getting ready to drop their antlers. Sawing the antlers off is not painful for the deer. And it is a necessity for both our safety and the deer’s safety. Even if we get the collar on before removing the antlers, they still need to be removed before we release the deer because he could turn back and charge us.

My second buck!

Tagged, collared, tattooed and out of the net, ready to go!

This was our last deer of the night so we were all helping to work it up. We tattoo their ears too, thats what that green ink is. What takes the longest is getting them out of the net but once we do they spring off the ground and disappear back into the woods.

Post-trapping picture!

At the end of our second trap night we’d collared 5 bucks and dispatched 2 hogs. Everyone was still blown away by the 8-point and we all took pictures with the antlers! The antlers will go back to the wildlife lab to be weighed.

My first trap nights were amazing and I can’t wait to get back out to the blind! We’ve got 5 down, and 25 more collars to go out!

Hiking at Cane Creek State Park

This weekend my closest friends here were all out of town or doing field work and my fiance left to go back to Texas so it was just me and Bogie all weekend.  The weather was beautiful Saturday so instead of watching Netflix for 8 hours, I decided to take Bogie to Cane Creek State Park here in Arkansas.  (Thank goodness I did because it snowed ALL DAY today and I didn’t leave the house!)  I’ve only hiked once with her and she did a good job but it was a very short hike so I was curious to see how she would do on a longer hike.

Looking out onto Cane Creek
Cane Creek

Cane Creek, like most Arkansas state parks, is gorgeous and very well maintained. The signage is new and the trails are well marked. I didn’t really have a plan for what I wanted to do so I figured we’d hike the Delta View trail (2.5 miles with a beautiful overlook of the lake).

View from the Overlook on the Delta View Trail.

At first she was pulling pretty hard on the leash which was throwing my balance off, especially when we were going downhill. By the time we got to the overlook I wasn’t too happy about my right side already sore. So we took a break. The park had recently cleared out some trees for a better view of the lake and the water was low so I decided to bring her down to the lake (she LOVES water). I took her off leash to climb down (she’s a smart climber!). Once we got to the banks Bogie quickly found out this lake was not like our normal swimming hole, she sank elbow-deep in the mud and seemed surprised!

Surprised to sink into the mud!

 

We went out onto the sand bar and she romped in the water a bit. My spirits were lifted seeing her have fun. We made the short climb back up to the trail and continued on. I decided to let her stay off leash (even though that is against state park regulations) because I needed to maintain balance and she wouldn’t go further than 8 feet from me! I was so impressed with how well she did! She would stop and wait for me and didn’t run off. She got very interested in some armadillos but putting her back on the leash straightened her out.

Tail tucked- Bogie’s not so sure about this place yet

 

We got to a sign that pointed to the Timberland Trail Cut Off (1.75 miles) and because Bogie was doing so well I decided we would go see where this trail went. I’m so glad we did, it was beautiful in the piney woods. Our destination was a suspension bridge where we ate lunch. I had a sandwhich and Bogie had some dog food and the crust.

Timberland Trail Suspension Bridge

 

Lunchtime

 

By the time we got back to the trailhead my hips were screaming but I felt pretty great. We ended up hiking 6.8 miles in 3 hours, including breaks! This trip has really given me the confidence to try a night backpacking at Cane Creek. And I think I’ll bring Bogie with me! 🙂

Proof that I was there!

 

Things I learned from this trip:

  • You really can hike 6 miles!
  • Don’t forget your camera cause your cell phone takes really crappy pictures!
  • Even though its warm enough for shorts you should still wear long socks or your ankles will be covered in scratches!
  • Bring a bowl for Bogie so she doesn’t have to drink straight out of your Camelbak resevoir!

 

My hike logged from my RunKeeper app on my phone:


My First Duck Hunt

Even though I’m in grad school for wildlife management, before this year I’d never been hunting.  During 2010 I got to go pheasant hunting, deer hunting and duck hunting.  I plan to make a separate post for each so I’ll start with the most recent: duck hunting.

Over Christmas break, as my fiance and I toured the south for family parties, we made some time to stop at his uncle’s rice farm here in Arkansas to do some duck hunting.  My fiance is an avid duck hunter and was excited to introduce me to the tradition.  Unfortunately it has been very dry and there weren’t many ducks at the farm.  But it was our only chance this season to go so we did!

Mallards hanging out in a puddle at the farm.

After some scouting we realized there was a slim chance of us getting some ducks to come in because the water on the field we were going to was very shallow.  But we still got up and out to our spot before sunrise.  Drew set up the decoys while I adjusted to moving around in my new waders.

Me helping pick up decoys.

We ended up sitting waist-deep in a ditch next to the field and used some vegetation to hide our silhouettes.

I was a little cold!

I was completely bundled up but that cold water still sucked the heat out of me.  We stayed for about 3 hours calling ducks and watching geese.  Early in the morning we had some shovelers fly in and I had my sights set on one but when I pulled the trigger, nothing happened.  My gun misfired.  The shotgun I was using was my grandfathers 12 gauge and has only been shot a few times in the last 40 years.

The next hunt I borrowed one of Drew’s uncle’s shotguns: a Benelli 20 gauge that I LOVED.  Much lighter and easier for me to handle.

4 whitetails running through a field

We didn’t end up taking any ducks but I really enjoyed the experience.  Sitting in the mud listening to thousands of geese honking above us…  Feeling my heart race when a group of mallards flew around us…  Seeing Drew in his element where he’s happiest…  It was wonderful.

The dogs having a blast!

Not only did I have a good time, so did the dogs!!  We would drive the ATV up and down an air strip between fields and they would run with us until they were exhausted!  They were head-to-toe covered in mud and couldn’t have been happier.  Spartacus chased barn cats and Bogie chased killdeer.  I’ve never seen Bogie sleep so hard.  Makes me excited for the future when it will be our children worn out after playing hard at the farm.

Speckle Belly Geese taking flight