BOOK REVIEWS THAT INTEREST THE EVERYDAY HUNTER. If you have a book you'd like reviewed here, email

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The F-Troop Camp Chronicles, by Don Feigert

Reviewed by Steve Sorensen
Published by Shenango River Books, Hermitage, PA., 2008; 213 pages, 27 chapters. Paperback.
Feigert’s prose is a treat to read. His paragraphs are
like potato chips -- you can’t stop with one.

Most hunting camps are buttoned up for a long winter, mothballed until the approach of trout season or spring gobbler season. But memories of camp continue to live as those who hunt or fish from them reminisce about camp camaraderie.

Hunting camps are a living paradox. Collectively they’re a breed that has a zillion things in common, but the paradox is that each camp is unique to itself. When camp owners maintain a logbook of their adventures, it reveals that camps are as unique as the individuals that make up the roster.

Such a logbook is behind a new volume by a writer you’ll take a liking to. Don Feigert writes about his camp and his comrades along the west bank of the Allegheny River in Warren County, PA, between Irvine and Tidioute -- a place called Althom.

Whenever you drive through hunting camp country you’ll note that every camp seems to have a name. In compliance with this unwritten rule of owning a hunting camp, Feigert named his camp “F-Troop Camp,” not for the antics of the 1960s TV sitcom, but for the antics of the Feigert family and friends. And of course, books need names, too, so his book is called The F-Troop Camp Chronicles -- A Life in the Pennsylvania Outdoors.

Feigert is the outdoor scribe for the Sharon, PA Herald, and as a writer he’s no amateur. During the past 25 years he has been published in more than 75 magazines -- including high-flying literary magazines -- and he has won numerous awards putting pen to paper.

Most importantly, with both feet firmly planted on the steep hillsides of western Pennsylvania, he knows how to connect with his readers. F-Troop Camp Chronicles recalls incidents from 22 years of camp life, complete with pranks and pratfalls that would otherwise be forgotten. Feigert’s prose is a treat to read. His paragraphs are like potato chips -- you can’t stop with one.

Along the way you’ll meet lots of Feigert’s cohorts, including “Miss Kentucky,” an able trout fisherperson in her own right, along with a host of other nicknamed associates: Pieman, Pigpen, Pocahontas, Decibel, Millimeter Matt, Wildflower and many others who have enjoyed the hospitality of F-Troop. You’ll also meet some of the guys who’ve written the stories you’ve read in Pennsylvania Game News and other magazines.

One of the great things about hunting camp is that no one is ever ordinary. People’s lives might seem mundane to an observer, but camp life somehow pulls them together and transforms them into something extraordinary. They might reveal themselves as first-class cooks and handymen, world-class fireside philosophers, or buffoons who claim no class at all.

Whether you’re the owner of a camp or a guest in one, there’s a good chance that camp owns a part of you -- which is why The F-Troop Camp Chronicles is proof that the days of hunting camps are far from over.

Two of Feigert’s previous three books are already sold out, including one with the bold title Trucks are Better Than Women. This book is likely headed for the same happy fate, so get your hands on it while you can. To order an autographed copy, send a check or money order for $16.75 per paperback copy (includes postage.) A limited edition signed and numbered hardcover is also available for $36.75. Send to Don Feigert, P.O. Box 1381, Hermitage, PA, 16148.

If you’re just starting a camp, or are a camp veteran of 50 years, you know that camp is a place where some of your fondest memories happened. And you’ll know that the memories have only just begun.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails, by Bill Vaznis

Reviewed by Steve Sorensen
Published by Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA., 2007; 242 pages, 25 chapters. Paperback.

If you’re willing to get out of your stand and
try a method that will make you a better woodsman,
a better student of deer, and a more successful hunter,
this book has arrived at the right time.

Since Teddy Roosevelt’s day, outdoor writers haven’t written much on the subject of still-hunting. In fact, it was way back in 1882 that Teddy’s friend Theodore S. Van Dyke wrote The Still-Hunter, which remains the classic work on the subject.

Still-hunting fell out of favor during the years of high deer populations. Most of the old-timers who mastered the method are now gone. My old friend Leroy was one; he knew the woods like he knew his living room. My grandfather was another. And when my dad had younger legs he was pretty good at it, too.

Today, with more hunters competing for the prize – meat for the freezer and antlers for the wall – still-hunting has given way to stand hunting. Times have changed from a day when no one had a tree stand, to a day when most hunters have more than one.

If you’re a stand hunter, your aim is to find a white-hot deer trail or gain access to a nutritious food plot. Find them and your odds go way up. Most rifle hunters settle into a stand that overlooks an escape trail, hoping that a buck will go by like the one they shot last year or the year before. Die-hard archery hunters use a similar strategy, but look for trails where deer will be relaxed, or they hunt over cultivated food plots if possible.

But, if you’re a hunter who doesn’t have the time to scout for the trails, or the land on which to plant high quality clover, the method that makes the most sense might be still-hunting.

The hunters who traditionally practice still-hunting are guys who live in areas with big woods and low deer populations, boots-on-the-ground-hunters like Dick Bernier of Maine, the Benoit family of New Hampshire – hunters who can truly be called woodsmen. Another is central New York’s Bill Vaznis.

Vaznis’s new book on the topic, Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails (Stackpole Books, 2007), will likely give a boost to this time-tested method because it shows up when most hunters are getting frustrated with stand hunting. If you’re willing to get out of your stand and try a method that will make you a better woodsman, a better student of deer, and a more successful hunter, this book has arrived at the right time.

Few methods of deer hunting are more satisfying than still-hunting. The still-hunter matches wits with a wary game animal in his own environment. He uses skills that many people associate with Native Americans, but they’re skills that any committed hunter can learn.

Vaznis says that still-hunting works for rifle hunters and bow hunters alike, and his book is a detailed manual that aims to teach the method to both. While it’s true that hunting can’t be learned from a book, this book can definitely shorten the learning curve.

The effective still-hunter doesn’t blunder through the woods hoping to intercept an unlucky buck. He sneaks along, taking advantage of every feature of the terrain, every wind current, every feeding and bedding area, and every skill including calling. Vaznis even has a chapter on how to wear blaze orange effectively.

He destroys a number of myths that people associate with still-hunting, arguing that you don’t have to be absolutely silent, that you don’t always move slowly, that you don’t get bored when still-hunting, and that still-hunters actually see more deer.

Lots of hunting books contain stories that you’re not sure you can believe. The stories and examples in this book have the ring of truth. That’s one feature that makes it such an excellent how-to manual. And they’re backed up with plenty of great color photos.

I spent years hunting from stands before I gained confidence that I could become a good still-hunter. That confidence would have come much sooner if I had Still-Hunting Trophy Whitetails a long time ago. Now that I have it, I’m making a regular habit of studying its contents. My advice is that you do that same, because the day will come when the art of still-hunting will rescue your season.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Politically Incorrrect Guide To Hunting, by Frank Miniter

Reviewed by Steve Sorensen
Published by Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington D.C., 2007; 268 pages, 14 chapters. Paperback.

Hunters are the key piece
to the wildlife management puzzle.

A generation ago, a man would take his lever action out the back door and provide his family with a supply of healthy meat. Celebrating the event wasn’t odd or unusual. It was normal and natural, as it had been for thousands upon thousands of years.

Today, that same activity is not only frowned upon in many segments of our society, but the man who engages in it is broadly mischaracterized and aggressively opposed.

What has changed? Obviously, what has changed is the attitude of modern man. (Of course, I also mean “woman.”) Man has insulated himself from the necessity of death as an instrument to preserving his own life. Maybe he’s more comfortable if he pretends he’s not involved.

He is involved, but has found a way to avoid acknowledging it. In an industrialized society, it’s easy. Just hire others to do your killing.

How? We pay a chain of people whose end products are air-tight, virtually bloodless containers of beef, chicken, pork and fish conveniently presented when we grab our groceries. We employ lawn-care specialists who apply chemicals to our lawns to eliminate the nasty bugs that chew up the landscape. We use exterminators to rid ourselves of insects that bite us and rodents that bite our stuff.

And through our state game agencies we engage hunters to kill the animals that ravage the forest if they become overpopulated, crash into our cars while we’re humming along at 65, destroy millions of dollars in agricultural crops, and eat our expensive shrubbery.

While hunters provide many benefits, they are anathema to lots of people – at best, a necessary evil.

But hunters are good. Very good. A new book details the many benefits hunters bring to our society. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting by Frank Miniter (published by Regnery Publishing), spells it out.

Ever wonder why alligators are killing and injuring more people than ever before? Or why bear and cougar attacks are on the rise? It’s simple, and Miniter explains it.

When these animals are not hunted, they lose their fear of man and they see man as prey. When we develop the land that was once habitat for these animals, we push them into closer and more frequent contact with people. Hunters serve society by keeping these animal populations in balance with their available habitat, and with human activity.

Miniter says that hunters are the real conservationists. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive, but sport hunting never endangers animal populations; it keeps them stable and healthy.

And, hunting benefits more than just game species. Without deer hunting, songbird populations would plummet. What’s the connection? Miniter gives example after example. Ban hunting and plant diversity suffers, soil erosion increases, and habitat disappears.

Miniter says that hunters pour more money into conservation than anyone on the planet, including “environmentalists,” and he offers proof. Miniter claims that hunters have saved many species from extinction, and he provides the evidence. Miniter shows how hunters even play a role in keeping our air transportation system safe.

I discovered how serious that issue is last spring. As I sat beside a US Airways pilot on a flight to Alaska, he told me that colliding with animals is one of the greatest dangers during take-offs and landings. He said that few pilots haven’t hit a deer or a goose.

Think it’s bad when you hit one with your car? When they are sucked into the engine or go through the windshield of an aircraft, they cause millions of dollars in damage. One goose can crash a plane and kill a whole flock of people.

I’ll say it again. Hunters are good, and we need them. They are the key piece to the wildlife management puzzle. Don’t get your information about wildlife management from Animal Planet and the Disney Channel, where wild animals stay hermetically sealed behind the TV screen. Get it from the real world. A good place to start is The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting by Frank Miniter. Read it, and support your local hunters with the truth.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Deer Wars: Science, Tradition, And the Battle over Managing Whitetails in Pennsylvania, by Bob Frye

Reviewed by Steve Sorensen
Published by The Pennsylvania University Press, University Park, PA, 2006; 305 pages, 12 chapters. Paperback.
A definitive history of deer management in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania hunters are at war over deer. On one side of the battle people believe that traditional deer management policies in Pennsylvania have been effective and can continue to be effective. Some hunters want higher doe populations (an end to herd reduction), others want yearling bucks back as legal targets (an end to antler restrictions), and some want both. Some do not accept that too many deer will harm the habitat for themselves and other species.

On the other side of the battle, people believe that managing deer and managing habitat are inseparable, and can succeed only as biologists use scientific management policies. They accept reduced herd numbers, and they want to keep young bucks off limits. Antler restrictions, they believe, are a way to allow most bucks to live beyond their first set of antlers, and provide hunters with the opportunity to hunt more mature deer.

In fairness to hunters, not all of them fall neatly into one or the other category.

And, in fairness to the deer managers who have come up with the current rules, none of them promised an eight-point or better in every thicket.

That, in a nutshell, describes the current conflict. Strong feelings run rampant on both sides. But what many hunters forget (or are unaware of) is that this is only the latest battle in a war over deer management in Pennsylvania that has raged for a hundred years.

Pennsylvania has a rich deer hunting history and tradition. And with the Pennsylvania Game Commission's funding coming primarily from hunting license dollars – maybe because of that fact – the voices of hunters speak loudly in the debate. They always have, since long before the advent of "herd reduction" and "antler restrictions" in 2002.

Part of the problem is that in the space of a century the Keystone State changed dramatically away from a rural culture. During that time the deer herd went from being too small to being too large for a shrinking habitat. Yet deer seasons hardly changed as more roads were built, cities and towns expanded, and suburban farms became housing developments while the human population doubled.

A new book called Deer Wars by Bob Frye, Outdoor Editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, is as close to a definitive history of deer and the conflict over deer management in Pennsylvania as you will find.

He covers the era of market hunting... to the days when the forests were clear cut... to the time when a deer track was rare... through the various attempts to repopulate the state with deer... to the arguments about protecting does... right up to our current controversy. It's all in this book.

Through the decades, the voices of conservationists and biologists including Aldo Leopold, Richard Gerstell, Roger Latham and others recognized that because the forests changed, deer hunting policies needed also to change.

Most hunters don't realize that as early as 1935, Game Commission biologists were advocating a decrease in the deer population to improve both the deer and the habitat. To the hunters themselves, however, shooting does was unpopular idea. Doe season followed an on-again, off-again pattern, and the herd continued to increase as the battle between tradition and science waged on.

Anyone joining the debate about deer management in Pennsylvania should read this book before speaking – it's that important. Read it and you'll understand more about Gary Alt, the biologist who had more to do with bringing us to where we are today than anyone else. Read it and you'll gain a better grasp on the relationship between a healthy habitat and a healthy deer herd. Read it and you'll learn enough to speak with confidence backed up by knowledge.

Frye's book is thoroughly researched, comprehensive, and an easy read. Whether you're a hunter, an anti-hunter, a farmer, a forest manager, a politician, a biologist, an environmentalist, or just an ordinary person who wants to understand what's happening with deer management in Pennsylvania, read Deer Wars: Science, Tradition, And the Battle over Managing Whitetails in Pennsylvania by Bob Frye. It's available from at a discount.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Year-Round Trophy Whitetails by Joe Brooks

Reviewed by Steve Sorensen
Published by Cabin Fever Publications, Sylvania, Ohio, 2006; 200 pages, 14 chapters. Paperback.
Big bucks come to the hunter who pays his dues,
and this book is about dues paying.
Lots of hunters are spending their summer months thinking about how to score on a great buck come fall. A book that will increase the odds of achieving that goal -- and a book you can read and digest quickly -- is Year-Round Trophy Whitetails. The subtitle is "The Secrets to Putting All of the Odds in Your Favor," but it's no secret that hunting deer all year-round will raise the hunter's odds. What separates exceptional hunters from average hunters is deer hunting homework. This book is about what that homework is, and when to do it.

Joe Brooks, the author and a trained wildlife manager, has killed lots of big bucks. He lives and hunts in northwest Ohio. But his book does not take a regional approach. His area is much like parts of northwest Pennsylvania, and most of his tactics are adaptable here.

He teaches that monster whitetails can live anywhere, even with pressure, and he's right. Big bucks have been spotted in or near every town wherever whitetails live, and Brooks has developed a comprehensive approach to hunting them successfully. The prepared hunter can harvest them using his step-by-step system. He includes many ideas that he has personally developed, and they make this book useful.

I'll argue with a few of his ideas. He says that doe populations are too high, that hunting does is good game management, and that a doe-to-buck ratio of close to one-to-one is desirable for trophy bucks. That's all well and good, but he also says that trophy hunters should not shoot does on property where they hunt bucks. He believes that will destroy the trophy potential by moving animals to neighboring properties.

Instead, he says the trophy hunter should depend on hunters on neighboring properties to thin the doe herd. My view is that there is nothing wrong with managing property for trophy bucks, but hunters should be game managers before they are trophy managers.

Brooks advocates baiting where it is legal and admits that some of his trophy bucks were shot over bait. That's worth mentioning because most Pennsylvania hunters will object to the tactic, but the author is merely open to using the method where legal. I don't believe baiting is a lead pipe cinch to scoring on a trophy buck, especially where natural food and farm crops are available. But baiting is controversial, and it's a minor point in the book.

Brooks gives plenty to think about that hunters don't always consider. Have you thought much about how you approach landowners to ask for hunting permission? Brooks shares his secrets on getting permission on pages 48 through 51. He says that standing corn plays a significant role in how you should hunt, but you'll be surprised at what he says. Check it out on page 154. He does not advocate the usual methods of scrape and rub hunting. Why? He gives three reasons. Read them on page 166.

This book may not deliver all that it promises, and some of the ideas presented are not as original as the author believes they are. For example, his ideas on using maps and aerial photographs are not new. But the bottom line is that, with occasional exceptions, big bucks come only to a hunter who pays his dues, and this book is about dues paying.

Year-Round Trophy Whitetails is self-published, and I don't mean to discredit the book by saying that. Many great books have been self-published, and it's not an easy path. But in this case it shows. The quality of many of its photos leaves something to be desired. (Some are very low resolution.) And the text is not polished writing. But how much does that really matter when the book is chock full of instructions that you can put together to increase your odds of bagging the buck of a lifetime?

Criticisms aside, there are three things I have no doubt about. Joe Brooks is a better trophy hunter than I am. Any deer hunter who reads his book will be a better deer hunter. And this is not a run-of-the-mill book that rehashes what everyone else says. In these days of smaller deer herds, older and smarter bucks, and all-around harder hunting, it's a book worth reading.

Year-Round Trophy Whitetails is the number one selling book at Cabelas -- a solid endorsement from hunters themselves! It retails for $24.95 but is available through at a discount -- only $16.47. And if you buy more than one book you're eligible for FREE shipping!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Hunting Pressured Turkeys by Brian Lovett

Reviewed by Steve Sorensen
Published by Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania 2007; 195 pages, 12 chapters. Paperback.
It's about time someone addressed the issue of
how to hunt turkeys that have seen it all before.
Someone has said that Pennsylvania's turkeys are
so pressured that if you can call in and kill
a spring gobbler here, you can do it anywhere.
At the beginning of each summer I make a few suggestions for the hunter's off-season reading. Summer is as much a time to reflect as it is a time to prepare for the future, and the hunter who lives and breathes his sport has no better time to catch up on the latest ideas and issues. So when you head out on vacation, or sit down to enjoy the summer evening, or wait for summer thunderstorms to pass by, pick up a book that will help you to reflect or prepare.

One book that should be at the top of your stack of summer reading is Hunting Pressured Turkeys by Brian Lovett, former editor of Turkey & Turkey Hunting magazine. It's a virtual textbook that leads a long and growing list of excellent turkey hunting books.

Unlike many books, this one delivers on its title. "Pressured turkeys" are what we hunt in Pennsylvania, and it's about time someone addressed the issue of how to hunt turkeys that have seen it all before. By the end of the first week of our spring season, the odds are that the turkey you're hunting is under pressure. He sure behaves like it. In fact, someone has said that Pennsylvania's turkeys are so pressured that if you can call in and kill a spring gobbler here, you can do it anywhere.

Lovett starts with good news – he says that the glory days of turkey hunting are now. Populations are at record levels, interest is high, information is widely available, and turkey hunting gear is highly refined. Passionate hunters are better equipped than ever before by what's available to stuff into their vests, and into their heads. But with the woods full of passionate turkey hunters, it's no wonder turkey hunting has become harder. So what we need to remember is this – it doesn't matter how much pressure turkeys are under, "they are still out there and gobblers still want to hook up with hens."

That's reason enough not to give up, and reason enough to believe Lovett's book will help you with that gobbler that beckons you back to the woods with each morning sunrise – even if that stubborn songbird escorts you to the season's final day.

If you want to judge this book by its cover, go ahead. The picture on the front is only one of dozens upon dozens of beautiful colored photographs throughout. And the text is just as satisfying. Along with chapters on "How Turkeys Use the Land," "Calling Pressured Turkeys," and "Troubleshooting the Tough Ones" are chapters on scouting, strategies for different times of the day and finishing the deal. The chapter called "Staying Safe in the Pressured Turkey Woods" is more than an obligatory safety lesson.

Back when I began hunting turkeys, most of us learned how to call in and kill a gobbler by trial and error. The few hunters who regularly killed spring gobblers succeeded mostly because they were fanatics about it or they had access to lands they kept secret. The few books we could find on the subject, even though some were written by the early masters of the sport, were interspersed with questionable wisdom.

Today, even though turkeys are highly pressured, learning to hunt them is much easier for at least three reasons. The first is because our turkey populations are at historically high levels, offering more opportunities to hunt turkeys than ever before. Second, because skillful turkey hunters whose expertise would challenge the likes of a dozen or so famous old-timers (Latham, Lee, Elliot, Harbour and others) live everywhere turkeys exist. And third, because solid instructional materials have proliferated right along with the flocks of turkeys themselves.

You've made your share of mistakes, and you probably know that nothing can take the place of learning from them. But you can learn from the mistakes of others, too. Like most turkey hunters, Lovett has made many, and he clearly teaches the lessons of his mistakes. Unlike most hunters, he doesn't make excuses, and you have no excuse not to get your hands on a copy of Hunting Pressured Turkeys. You'll be a better turkey hunter if you do. You can order Hunting Pressured Turkeys from at a discount.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Books for Hunters Young and Old

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., December 9, 2006.)
The Legend of Johnny Big Buck and
Strategies for Whitetails are the perfect
Christmas gifts for hunters young and old.
One frustration hunters have is that Christmas come after the regular deer season. If it came before deer season, hunters wouldn't have to wait a year before actually using the stuff the find under the tree.

Today, I solve that problem for you with a couple of gift ideas for hunters and aspiring hunters -- things they'll want to spend some time with before the next season. First, I've discovered a book that is the perfect introduction to deer hunting for kids up to about 4th grade, and another book from Charlie Alsheimer that will soon find a place among the classics of whitetail hunting.

To the too-young-to-hunt kid who can hardly wait to join Dad as he heads out to the deer woods, give The Legend of Johnny Big Buck, written and illustrated by Jason R. Mumford of nearby Girard, PA. It's a story about archery hunting, sportsmanship and the camaraderie of five friends that will cultivate kids' interest in hunting.

By creating this book for children, Jason has done hunting a valuable service. The Legend of Johnny Big Buck helps present hunting in a positive light for children, depicts what hunting is like, and teaches some of the skills hunters use.

Each 8½" x 11" page is a full color illustration with kid-appeal. The text is large type, and will be read over and over. The pictorial cover is hardback, and it has a pictorial wrap.

If you know a kid whom you'd like to get interested in hunting, or one who is already interested but still too young to participate, this beautiful book will make a great gift. He or she will live the adventure again and again. Provide any youngster with a positive viewpoint about hunting by giving a copy of The Legend of Johnny Big Buck.

To the adult hunter, you can do no better than give Charlie Alsheimer's new book Strategies for Whitetails. Alsheimer, a top professional wildlife photographer, field editor for Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, and host of the national television show Deer and Deer Hunting TV, is from Bath, New York. The many seminars he has presented locally have made him well known to hunters in this area.

Strategies for Whitetails represents a lifetime of study of the natural history of the whitetail and how knowledge of America's favorite big game animal can help the hunter to be successful. On the back cover it's called "A landmark book from the master whitetail hunter," and that's no exaggeration. Alsheimer has been ranked with Fred Bear, Aldo Leupold and Teddy Roosevelt as deer hunting's top inspirational leaders of the past century. Anyone on the same list with those greats definitely has something to say.

When I was a kid I remember reading "All About" books on chemistry, astronomy, and a variety of other subjects on an elementary level. Strategies for Whitetails could properly be called "All About Whitetails." However, it's anything but elementary.

Read Alsheimer's book and you'll find your questions answered about how wind, temperature and precipitation affect your hunting. You'll learn what is realistic to expect with regard to antler size in your area. The chapter on "What Makes Deer Move" is worth the price of the book. A discussion of the five stages of a deer hunter will help with some healthy self-analysis. And you'll understand what "quality deer management" is.

Alsheimer has been developing a theory on what triggers the whitetail rut (their breeding behavior) and tells how its phases are broken down and how to predict its timing. And, he offers tactics for every stage of the season. Strategies for Whitetails is truly a comprehensive book, and it's loaded with the best photography you'll see anywhere.

It has been a while since a book on whitetail hunting has joined the short list of must-have classics on the subject, but I predict the Alsheimer's name will be added to those of Larry Koller, Theodore Van Dyke, and a few others.
The Legend of Johnny Big Buck
and Strategies for Whitetails are the perfect Christmas gifts for hunters young and old. Both are available from for under $18 each. And if you buy both, you'll get Free Shipping!
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