Photo illustrations by Dylan Coulter
Here are 16 advanced outdoor skills you need to catch more fish, hunt smarter, and camp like a champ.
1. Fly Cast to a Moving fish
For an authentic practice session, cast from the top of a picnic table. It’s about the size of a skiff’s casting dck and will give you a sense of being on the edge.
Got that double-haul down pat? You’ll need it for this challenge: Drop a fly in front of a moving gamefish, at 50 feet, with no more than two false casts. Here’s a backyard drill for the redfish marshes and bonefish flats.
Strip 50 feet of shooting line from the reel and stack it in large loose coils in front of your left foot (if you’re a righty). If you shoot that line now, it will pull from the bottom of the stack and end in a tangle. Grasp the line where it exits the reel in the crook of the pinky on your rod hand. With your free hand, grab the line and pull all of it through your pinky, restacking the line so it will shoot tangle-free. Now, pick a target 50 feet out.
Fire When Ready
Pull 10 feet of that stacked line through the tip. Hold the fly at the hook bend in your reel hand and point your rod tip up. Fire a roll cast and release the fly after you snap the rod forward. Back cast with a haul, false cast with another haul, haul on your second back cast, and shoot.
2. Film Jaw-Dropping Fish Videos
Point-of-view cameras, like the GoPro, are becoming as essential to a tackle bag as line nippers. Taking your fishing videos to the next level means taking killer footage underwater. Here’s how.
Rate of Success
Use a lower frame rate, such as 24 frames per second. You’ll need the boost in light gathering underwater, and you’ll reduce the visual “noise” in the video. If possible, choose the 4 : 3 format to take advantage of a slightly taller and wider frame.
Experiment with camera angles. With the camera strapped to a pole or stick, capture the trolling motor propeller or your wading boots moving along the stream bottom. Film a lure or fly as it’s worked through the water. Then take some time to dial in these two shots:
Mount the camera to a fixed stake in the water, a few inches above the surface. Back off and cast at the camera. With a dry fly, land the pattern upstream and let it drift into the shot. With a bass plug, aim a foot or two in front.
One of the coolest fish shots is capturing the release taken from just below the fish, showing the fish being held underwater and the angler’s grinning face above. Set up the shot so the sun is to the side or in front of the angler so you don’t create a dark silhouette.
3. Liven Up Live Baits
Still globbing your worm on an Aberdeen hook? Seriously? Here are three smart bait-rig tweaks to help you catch more fish.
**Eye Sore **
Pinch one eye from a large baitfish such as a shad or bluegill. The bait will struggle in the water, attracting predators.
Clean dirt from a dozen nightcrawlers and put them in a bowl. Add 1 Tbsp. food coloring (green is great) and stir. Cover and refrigerate for at least three hours and as long as overnight.
Add crushed eggshells to catfish dough. The fragments catch light, adding a bit of sparkle to dull dough baits.
4. Troll the Backcountry Downrigger
Between fishing kayaks and easier access to remote wilderness, going deep in backcountry lakes is a great way to reach walleyes and trout. To target fish 40 to 60 feet deep, use light lines to slice through the water and a weight to pull your lure into the depths.
Spool a reel with dark green 6-pound mono, or 8-pound braid. Tie on a three-way swivel. To another eye, tie 4 feet of mono, and to this tie a 1- to 3-ounce bell sinker. Tie 3 feet of mono to the other eye, and attach a light lure like a small spoon.
The trick is to get deep without tangles. Paddle forward and ease the rig overboard. Let line out a few feet at a time, occasionally pinching line so it goes taut behind the boat. As forward momentum slows, set the reel bail, get up a bit more speed, then flip the bail and let more line out. When you hit bottom, crank the weight up a foot and paddle in a zigzag path.
5. Shoot the Docks for Crappies
Illustration by Robert L. Prince
Docks provide shade, baitfish, ambush cover, and even a little night mood lighting at times. It all comes together as super crappie cover–except for those pesky docks. There’s no way to get a traditional cast in between all those boat lifts, finger piers, pilings, and gangways. To get there, you’ll need to shoot your way in. Shooting docks for crappies is where fishing meets bowhunting. You turn your rod into a bow and your grub into an arrow, shooting a jig deep into shady haunts beneath a dock. Look for old docks with wooden posts. Spool an open-face spinning reel with high-visibility monofilament in 4- to 6-pound-test. Use a medium-light or even ultralight rod in the 5- to 7-foot range. Arm it with a soft-bodied crappie jig. You are locked and loaded.
1. Point the rod tip up and open the bail. Release enough line so the lure falls to the bottom rod guide. Trap the line against the rod with the trigger finger of your rod hand. With your free hand, grasp the jighead between thumb and forefinger and middle finger with the hook point up and the rest of your fingers out of the hook’s way. Holding the jig to your side, extend the rod tip toward your target zone. This creates the bend in the rod.
2. Keep the line between the rod tip and the jig low and parallel to the water. You may need to crouch. The lure should start skipping just before the dock.
3. Let go of the jighead first, and in the next instant release your trigger finger to allow the line to play out. To keep the lure from hitting the rod tip, pop the rod tip upward upon the release.
6. Master the Pullaway Lead
Get in front of the bird — and stay in front — with the pullaway lead. A field-proven technique that you can modify for nearly every shot.
Most shotgunners are familiar with the two more common shooting methods: sustained lead and swing-through. But long-range birds and angling crossers are often best felled with a tough-to-master lead called the pullaway, in which the barrel is pointed directly at the target, then accelerated ahead. With this method, the barrel never gets behind the bird, and by accelerating away from the target, it’s easier to maintain proper follow-through.
Make the Move
When you see the bird, bring the shotgun stock up to your nipple and point the muzzle right at the target. Track the bird for a moment. This builds speed and trajectory into the critical initial mechanics of the shot.
Mount the gun, maintaining the muzzle position on the bird. Put the end of the muzzle directly on the target. Next, touch the bird’s beak with the bead.
Moment of Impact
Push the barrel ahead of the bird, matching its direction of travel, and pull the trigger instinctively.
7. Pattern a Nocturnal Buck With Trail Cams
It’s easy to pattern deer that waltz into the best feed field an hour before dark each night. But what about a big, old buck that doesn’t show up till after dark?
“If your cameras have a time-lapse function, you can pattern the smartest late-rising buck with a three-unit setup,” says Darin Stephens, trail-camera senior product manager for Bushnell. Start at the best field or plot and set one camera each facing east, west, and north. (Too much of a southerly orientation causes direct sunlight to produce false triggers.) Set the time-lapse function to record an image every one to five minutes, depending on how much activity you anticipate. This allows you to watch the whole field during daylight, and while it won’t record your nocturnal buck, it will show you exactly where deer like to enter the field.
Odds are good that the biggest buck enters at the same, or one of the same, spots as other deer–just a little later. Once you’ve established these spots, switch off the time-lapse function and move the cams to watch the most active entry points, especially any favored by other bucks. Give the cameras a few days, then come back at midday to see your previously invisible night buck.
Now scout just inside the woods from the entry point to find a trail or fresh buck sign. There’s a chance your buck is staging here until dark, so move a cam here. Use a climbing stick to place it 6 to 8 feet high in a tree, with the lens angled slightly downward. If you get a daylight picture here, hang a stand and hunt immediately. If you don’t, keep moving a little deeper into the woods on the same trail until you do.
8. Use Binoculars as a Spotting Scope
Backcountry elk hunters and high-country sheep hunters look to shave ounces from their loads. Converting binoculars for use as a spotting scope saves weight and limited pack space. A couple of aftermarket accessories make the conversion work. The results aren’t as clear and bright as a dedicated spotting scope, but not having to carry both items is a definite bonus for wilderness big-game hunters.
Tripod adapters allow binoculars to be mounted to the 1⁄4-inch screw bolt of a tripod. Many manufacturers offer adapters specific to their models.
Twice as Nice**
An optical doubler doubles the magnification of binoculars, turning a 10X binoc into a 20X elk finder. A doubler typically fits over one eyepiece and is light enough that you can toss one in your pack and, in a pinch, use it without a tripod. Just brace the binoculars against a tree.
9. Cook a Meaner Wild-Game Popper
Scott Leysath, a.k.a. the Sporting Chef, has elevated the beloved jalapeño popper to red-carpet status, as if dressing it in Gucci and Louboutin heels. I mean, damn, these are good! The full version of the recipe is in Leysath’s The Sporting Chef’s Better Venison Cookbook. Here’s the quick version.
Marinate 3-inch-long strips of venison, duck, or other wild game in a mix of olive oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, orange marmalade, Tabasco, and black pepper.
Make a normal, everyday, wild-game popper–wrapping the meat, jalapeño, and cream cheese with a strip of bacon and securing it all with a toothpick (preferably one that’s been soaked in water so it doesn’t catch fire on the grill).
Replace the cream cheese with a piece of sliced mango, and use prosciutto instead of bacon. Grill the poppers until the prosciutto is crispy.
Distribute. Eat. Take a bow, chef.
10. Shoot Lights-Out From a Layout Blind
Illustration by Robert L. Prince
Shooting from a layout blind is tricky. You have a split second to sit up while shoving blind doors open and shouldering a shotgun, only to find that your range of motion is seriously limited. Here’s how to set a decoy spread so the birds present you with the best shot–and how to make the shot when they come sailing in.
1. Work with an H-shaped decoy pattern in a cut field. With the wind coming from your right, set two parallel groups of decoys about 60 yards apart. Position a perpendicular line of decoys upwind of the blinds to connect the first two–this creates the H with a landing zone right in front of the blinds. Now when birds approach, their attention will be diverted away from the blinds, giving you and your hunting buddy crossing shots at decoying birds.
2. Figure out exactly where your blind will be, then make a hip hole by digging out 4 or 5 inches of dirt at the position of your butt. Once inside the blind, pull the knee of your shooting side up a bit, which will give you a bit of leverage to drive your rear end into the hip hole as you sit up for the shot. In this scenario birds will be landing from left to right, and should have their wings set just as they cross into range. When it’s time to shoot, rise into position, lean forward an extra inch or two to help absorb recoil, and concentrate on swiveling your entire torso with the birds instead of pushing the gun with your arms. Shoot as the birds drift into the H, so they will be directly above your toes for a follow-up shot.
11. Buck a Log With an Ax
Channel your inner axman and double up a v-cut to cleave fallen trees and clear roads or ATV trails of obstacles.
You round a corner and groan: A fallen tree blocks the road. Your buddy’s default response is to stomp to the back of the truck, pull out the chain saw, check the chain tension, futz around for premixed fuel, try to find earplugs, and look for safety glasses. By the time he walks up with chain saw ready, you’ll be well on your way to a bucked tree and a clear road with little more than an ax and attitude. Smirking follows.
Stand on top of the log and chop a V-notch into the side of the log between your feet, using a six-stroke count: Make three swings angling in from the right–the first one high on the log, then low, and then in the middle. Next, repeat with swings angling in from the left–high, low, and middle. On that sixth and final stroke, flick your wrist slightly outward–an inch will do it–right after the bit bites wood. This will help toss the chips out of the notch and prevent the ax from sticking. Cut halfway through one side of the log, then turn around and chop another V-notch through the other side. Plan the Vs so the tips of the two notches are slightly offset. This prevents the final stroke from overtraveling, sending the ax bit between your legs and that strong hickory handle into your nuts at warp 9.
12. Trick Out a Mudproof ATV
Unless you live in the desert, your ATV’s biggest challenge is likely to be good old-fashioned mud. Although ATVs are trailworthy right off the factory floor, you can take your machine’s performance up several notches with shade-tree mechanic skills and a modest cash investment. “If you can change the oil in your truck, you can handle most of this,” says Rick Sosebee, an offroad guru and the ATV blogger on fieldandstream.com. Here are Sosebee’s four ATV upgrades that will boost your machine’s mud-eating potential in half a day’s work.
Pull with Power
You’re going to get stuck. Be prepared with a winch whose pulling power is rated at least twice the weight of your machine. That way you’ll have plenty of reserve for uphill tugs. Make sure the components are sealed for a waterproof unit; water resistant isn’t good enough.
Recalibrate the CVT (continuously variable transmission) with an upgrade kit. “This changes the engagement of the transmission so the motor ramps up before fully engaging the drive,” Sosebee says. The result: less spin, more get-up-and-go-through-the-muck. Many kits are available with the tools required. It’s a three-hour job, give or take, and any hobbyist grease monkey could pull it off.
Do Tread on These
Upgrade to a mud tire. Look for lugs at least 1 inch deep and in an open pattern with plenty of spacing in between. Sosebee likes a broken-chevron pattern, in which the two sides of a V come in from the right and left and cross at the centerline of the tire.
To keep grime out of differentials, extend a hose from the differential vent up to the steering bracket. You can cap it with an inexpensive fuel filter to double the protection. While you’re at it, remove CVT covers and run a 1⁄4-inch bead of silicone around the rims, then replace. It’s a snap. “If you can caulk cracks around your house to keep air from coming in,” Sosebee says, “you can caulk CVT covers to keep water out.”
13. Strengthen a Tent With Picket Stakes
Illustration by Robert L. Prince
This next-level guy-out plan kicks in when the wind cranks up to 25 mph. Picket stakes boost the holding power of tent stakes, so use them on the guylines attached to the side of the tent that faces the wind.
Drive a tent stake into the ground and attach it to the tent guyline as you typically would.
To make the picket-stake line, attach one end of a 16-inch length of parachute cord to the first stake (A, below). Run the cord around the stake twice and finish with two half hitches. Cinch tight against the stake.
That’s a Wrap
Drive another tent stake (B) into the ground 8 to 12 inches from the first stake so that it’s in a straight line with the guyline. Wrap the running end of the p-cord around the second stake twice and finish with two half hitches.
14. Follow the Law, Pack a Poop Tube
“Pack it in, pack it out.” That’s the leave-no-trace mantra of many wilderness areas, especially popular rivers, and it’s not just talking about candy-bar wrappers. Packing out your own poop is actually required in some backcountry regions, and it’s not as gross as you think. (Almost, but not quite.) The elegant solution, devised by big-wall climbers who spend days aloft, is called the Poop Tube.
Pipe for the Job
Cut a length of 4-inch-diameter PVC pipe to size. For a three-day trip, 6 to 10 inches should do it. Better too long than too short. This is irrefutable.
Glue a solid cap to one end of the tube, and a threaded fitting to the other. Attach a tether of parachute cord to the tube and a screw cap.
It’s All in the Hips
When duty calls, bring along a plastic grocery bag. Reach behind your back, grab one handle of the bag in each hand, pull the handles toward your hips, and get ‘er done. (A doubled bag never hurts.)
Tie the bag, then deposit into the Poop Tube.
15. Bring Batteries Back to Life
When batteries give way in frigid conditions, there are ways to pump them up with temporary new life. These techniques won’t give you enough juice to battle your way to the next Fruit Ninja level, but you could get enough to lock down your location on a GPS or send a text.
First, remove batteries from the device if possible. Warm them next to your body. Armpits work well. Chest pockets do the trick, especially if you are moving and generating body heat. Overnight, toss batteries into the foot of a sleeping bag. They should be ready to fire up come dawn.
Fill a zip-seal bag with dark materials–a black T-shirt, dark leaves, or a swath of black foam padding will work. Put the batteries on top of this dark material, seal the bag, and place it in direct sunlight. The sun will heat the materials, trapping the resulting warm air inside the bag. The batteries should heat up sufficiently for a few seconds or minutes of emergency use.
16. Dig a Dakota Fire Hole
Illustration by Robert L. Prince
Native Americans used a Dakota fire hole to hide cooking fires from their enemies. Turns out that these small pits also consume less wood while burning hotter than open fires. Plus, they excel in windy conditions and provide a great platform for cooking. The fire hole works by drawing fresh air into the combustion chamber. Hot air rises from the hole, creating a draft that draws air through the vent and into the base of the fire. The cycle is self-sustaining, and digging the vent on the upwind side of the fire hole helps suck up the breeze like the air scoop on the Bandit’s Trans Am. Here’s how to dig one.
1. Dig the fire chamber. Excavate a pit 1 foot in diameter and 1 foot deep. Now widen the base of the chamber a few inches so it has a juglike shape. This lets you burn larger pieces of wood.
2. Dig the air tunnel. Start a foot away from the edge of the chamber, on the upwind side, and carve out a molelike tunnel 5 or 6 inches in diameter, angling down toward the base of the fire chamber.
3. Build your fire in the chamber and top the hole with a grate or green saplings stout enough to hold a pot over the flames.
Next Level Gear
Once you master the skills above, you’re going to need some next-level gear. These three items were made for the advanced outdoorsman.