Take a Couple Hours: Quail Hunting

So months ago I wanted to start up a new blog series about getting in some good outdoor activities with only a few hours to do it in. I started it with an urban fishing trip but unfortunately have not been able to follow it up. Until now! Or should I say this past weekend? A group of buddies and I set some time aside to take part in one of my absolute favorite outdoor activities, quail hunting! We all needed a little break and a lot of fresh air, and this trip did just that! Let’s begin…

Well, first things first let us look at the gear. There were five of us going, and this was going to be the first trip for my buddy’s father’s bird-dog. He had to bring all sorts of other gear that, luckily, I didn’t need to hassle with. The rest of us needed: a hunting license, shotgun, ammo, appropriate clothing, snacks and water.

Don’t have an Arizona Hunting License yet? Pick one up at Game and Fish’s website. You do not need a Migratory Bird stamp to hunt quail, but of course read over the rules and regulations before you head out. (Limit is 15 birds a day this year… good luck filling that though!)

When I talk about appropriate gear, you need to consider where you will be hunting and when. What is the weather going to be like? Is it snake season? (It was cold out so we didn’t have to worry so much about those, but I was still looking where I was stepping.) Dress in layers so you can add on or take off clothes accordingly. Make sure to have some sort of blaze on you (hat, shirt, vest, etc.) so you are easier to spot by your own group and others. Bring a bird/shell vest! Only two of us had bird-vests, so we were doomed to be the pack-mules. I picked up the Browning Upland Strap Vest a year or two ago. Just like the new bird-dog, this was her maiden voyage as well. And I absolutely loved it! Fit nice and secure. Everything was able to be adjusted to me. Held plenty of shells and miscellaneous gear, including water bottles and snacks in the back pouch.

And wear good boots! The areas we hunted had a whole mix of landscapes and ground. Soft sand, hard rock and everything in between. And everything up and down! We went over too many hills to count. Having on my good boots made a world of difference that day… and the ones that followed.

We had a few 12 gauges and a couple 20’s between us. We made sure to keep the two kinds of shells separate, as everyone should! Don’t just rely on the concept that “yellow shells = 20 and red shells = 12”, always double-check! Most of us were shooting size 8, but I had a couple random 7.5s to shoot through as well. Good ol’ Dori the Citori will pretty much eat anything I toss down her!

We pulled off to our first location, and after squelching a minor political discussion we were engaged in, my buddy’s father started the hunt off with a safety meeting. Everyone should do this every time. We talked about watching line-of-fire, when to load/unload, who was going to be where and so on.

Also to not shoot his dog. (There is a special level downstairs for those who break this commandment. Somewhere between lawyers and people who leave shopping carts all caddy-wampus in cart corrals.) This meant no aiming at ground birds, no matter the circumstance, so the plot thickened.

And then to make sure we kept our line consistent. You should always be able to see the person to either side of you and them like-wise. This is where wearing blaze comes in handy. Only two of us were in blaze and with all the hills, washes and whatnot it was easy to lose sight of one another.

The hunt began literally with a BANG! Not more than fifteen yards from the truck, I flushed a couple quail and showed the rest of the group how good I am at shooting under flying birds! We kept moving. It is always a delight watching a bird dog work, and she was no different. This was her first time though, so she was rather timid and not used to the terrain. She had been trained by a professional and graduated top of her class, but the real world is different.

As we made our way, we bumped into something quite large that was just as startled by us. It was a small herd of wild horses! They wanted nothing to do with us and quickly scurried up a hill. One hung out long enough for me to get a picture. He probably knew that I worked for Bass Pro and would include him in a blog. We also bumped into an owl a little ways down the area.

We kept on the flurry-sound of a covey of quail that proved to everyone how hard those little guys are to hunt. They led us all the way to the border of state land, where all we could do is watch as they lounged about in the safety of their new home for the next short while.

We worked our way back towards the trucks and kicked up a few more birds, but no one was able to connect. One bird might have a sore rump though! At the trucks, we caught our breath, rested our feet, hydrated, snacked and started the next game plan. The bird-dog had had quite enough and was done for the day (ground birds are good-to-go!) but had well-earned her rest! She, and a few of us, would have some sore feet the next day.  She may not have gotten on point, but the experience from this trip and those to follow was important for her to gain.

Our next destination wasn’t that far up the way, but did give us plenty of time to talk guns and country music. We came to the revelation that the song Parking Lot Party is more or less the sequel to Redneck Yacht Club, because the people who were partying on the lake weren’t ready to go home yet and just moved it to some asphalt. This probably also gave ample time for my buddy and his dad to discuss such important topics like marriage and what arguments they let us think we win, because the one buddy has his wedding in a couple months.

At the new spot we hopped out and loaded up. We chose a hill in the distance and worked our way towards it. Those on the right side of the line took a few steps before bumping into a mule deer doe, which is pretty neat. I bumped into a rock.

Nothing was really moving until we had gotten over a few more hills and then it was a flurry of excitement. I noticed a nice sized covey moving along in front of us and something caught my peripheral. A couple mule deer does gave me the “See ya!” by bounding away, white rumps shown proudly. Watching the wonders of nature always makes me smile, but we were on a mission! With targets in sight, we closed in on them but came just about as close as the last place.

Clouds moved in and rain started trickling down. It was time to start heading back. In one area, I bumped a few and was able to put down a quail and recover. My buddy’s dad got one in the same area, but couldn’t recover it. One of the guys got himself a nice sized jackrabbit as well! He didn’t have a vest, so being the sport he is, the other of us two pack-mules hoofed it out for him. On the final leg of the trip back, my buddy got a bird and recovered it. And he found a nice little deer shed! Not a bad way to end the day.

We cleaned the animals and headed back towards town. After some grub I had to rush home. The missus wanted to take Christmas card photos, and I was definitely not going to be allowed to have bloody jeans in them! But before I took off, we all were able to take a second and breathe while appreciating what an awesome day we had. And make some verbal semi-contracts to get out next weekend!



I've Created A Monster

Ron's Monster BrownThere are few types of fishing I enjoy more than standing in a stream while swinging a hand-tied egg sucking leach to a aggressive and powerful steelhead, and I really enjoy sharing this experience with other fishermen and friends.  But....there's one guy I introduced to the sport of steelheading on my home waters who continues to explore them while catching all kinds of monster fish, including the beautiful lake-run brown shown in the picture.  To make it even better, he loves to send me pictures from streamside while he displays his superb catch and a Cheshire-Cat grin that seems more than a little spooky.

Ron and I started fishing together not all that long ago when he and I made a trip to Ohio to fish the Lake Erie tributaries for spring steelhead, and even though the catching was less than spectacular due to high temperatures and low water conditions, he discovered a new part of the fly fishing journey that needed further exploration.  I knew he had a terminal case when a gorgeous silver rocket blasted out from underneath a logjam running the length of the most beautiful blue pool either of us had ever seen.  Being a trout fisherman at heart, Ron fished this awesome looking spot like he would on any other trout stream but because there weren't any fish in evidence, I hadn't given it more than a passing glance.  He actually taught me a thing or two that trip even though the fight with that fish was over as quickly as it began.  He never got the line tight, nor the hook firmly in place, and he knew it.  Despite failing to land the fish or get a photo to commemorate the occasion, the look of absolute shock and momentary fear is what I'll remember for the rest of my days.

We've since made a trip to Michigan where I got lucky enough to land a few fish while Ron worked very hard but was unable to remain connected more than a few minutes.  He always had his chin up and was looking forward to the next curve, the next river, the next 1000 casts, whether they panned out or not.  He was out there to have a good time.  He's taken many other trips to the region with greater levels of success while never failing to send me a picture or two of him busting chrome while I'm stuck behind the counter, resigned to watching live webcam feeds of my home waters.  He's not rubbing it in, but rather sharing the experience while still in the moment.Ron in the woods

Ron truly deserves to be on the water as much as possible after working hard his whole life, raising a family, and volunteering his time with a variety charitable organizations and causes.  He's always been willing to lend a hand and has never asked for anything in return so taking a few days out of my schedule to spark a new passion in someone like him wasn't even a question.  I knew he'd respect and appreciate the opportunity and the fish for the rest of his life, but I surely didn't expect to get pictures on a regular basis.  I love seeing them but there is a touch of jealousy when I reply "GREAT FISH!  CONGRATULATIONS!"  Being there with him would have made it all that much better.

I'm glad to have been able to share my passion with a great fishing partner who I hope to spend a lot more time on the water with.  I only hope he's willing to share some of his secret spots when I get the chance to return home to water I grew up on.  He probably knows how to fish them better than I ever did at this point.

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando 


Spy Drone You Can Be Proud Of

See The World Through a Spy Drone! Spy drones are todays newest and most interesting tech toy to experience! World Tech Toys Striker Spy Drone Remote Control Quadcopter is a fun and inexpensive starter drone. It has a plastic, lightweight body and has indoor/outdoor functionality. The gyro stability helicopter has 4 propellers and the ability to flip and fly upside down! Use the remote control to perform hover conversions and tricks. The Striker Spy Drone also features an on board camera that captures and records color video and photos up to 100 feet high away from the 2.4 GHz transmitter. Record up to 30 minutes of video during your flight. LED lights enable flying in dark area inside or outside.

The Drone comes with a 2 GB memory card, USB charging cable, and spare blades. Here is a video demonstrating its maneuvers and capabilities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbQxJKrSKwo If you are looking for a smaller or more compact drone there is also the micro-size quadro copter, the Envision Spy Drone. It also features an onboard camera that shoots both video and photos.



It's Time To Drop The Puck

Orlando Solar BearsIt's hockey time everyone and even though we live in Florida there's plenty of ice action to watch and my family is right there front and center when the puck drops here in Orlando.  Our two seats rarely go unused especially since they're just three rows up from the glass and we get to witness every bone-crushing hit, acrobatic save, and laser-fast slap shot first hand.  There's no way to adequately describe the emotion and energy that comes from the crowd when a good goal is scored or a member of the home team "Defends The Den."

My wife and I started going to hockey games way back in the days when Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, and Kevin Stevens ruled center ice and Tom Barrasso protected the goal with a steel curtain.  They went on to win the first of two back-to-back Stanley Cups.  It was a great time to be from western Pennsylvania.  Our love of the sport took a bit of a break when we first moved south but once the Solar Bears came out of hibernation three seasons ago, we can't wait for the season to begin again.  Our girls think all the players are the hottest men on earth (even though their significant others are sitting right next to them in the stands).  I'm not so sure about the cute factor but I sure can appreciate the skill levels.

Florida may not traditionally be known as a hockey state but once you consider the huge number of people who've relocated from up north, it's pretty darn obvious how we can support multiple professional teams.  The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning play in the NHL while the Orlando Solar Bears and Florida Everblades play in the ECHL.  There's a whole lot of talent down here in the "Sunshine State" and a lot of fans that love watching them play.  We're a Penguins family at heart so don't come in wearing a Flyers jersey. 

Tarting them earlyHockey isn't just about the fights and violence contrary to what most people think.  It's about skill, teamwork, and a love of the game.  Most of these guys grew up playing pond hockey during the winter which meant that their parents worried about broken bones and numerous bumps, bruises, and countless dollars spent on replacing equipment.  Hockey families sacrifice quite a bit more than other sports.  Just ask any mother that had to drive her son to practice at the crack of dawn.

Orlando puts on a very family-friendly show by ensuring that the kids are up on the big screen, dancing, making faces, and generally showing off to  friends while the play on the ice is thrilling from end board to end board.  The price of admission is pretty reasonable given the quality of the play and the love of the game exhibited be every player.  It only takes a few games to figure out the basic rules since you only need to determine who the crowd is yelling at to grasp whether a penalty is in our favor or against us.  Look no further than a local hockey franchise if you're thirsting for an exciting evening.

Hockey gets in your blood once you've experienced the game up close and personal so don't wait another minute before checking out a local team.  The players may be on young side but they'll never be short on heart and desire.

Brian "Beastman" Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando


Finding the Right Balance

Casting a fly rod is a pretty simple matter of physics once you get the hang of things and know what a well presented fly and line looks like in the air and on the water, but it can be a physical workout if you’re not used to the exercise or have equipment that isn’t moderately light or well-balanced in the hand.  We strive very hard to come up with outfits that “just feel right” the moment you pick it up and anglers definitely appreciate the extra effort once he/she is on the water swinging it back and forth a couple hundred times in a morning.  But what makes a well-balanced combination?

 I’m first going to compare throwing a fly rod to shooting a shotgun on the trap or skeet range and shooting geese, as opposed to a field gun for grouse and quail.  I know it may seem a bit strange to look at it this way but you’ll get the connection if you hang in there for a few paragraphs.  Shooting shotguns is all about acquiring the target, mounting the gun smoothly, starting and maintaining a smooth swing while pulling the trigger and passing through the target without pause.  Any hitch in that process will cause problems for sure.  So what does a gun’s balance have to do with that process and how is that compared to Browning Citori 725 Fielda fly rod?

Browning Citori 725 Pro Trap 



Trap shooters and goose hunters traditionally shoot long barrel shotguns (up to 32 inches) because maintaining a smooth swing through the target during the shot is more important than overall gun weight.  A longer barrel can make the gun feel a bit front heavy but that ensures that the gun remains in motion once the swing has started. Conversely, a true field gun will have somewhat shorter barrels (26 to 28 inches) and lighter stocks because the quickness (the amount of time needed to acquire the target and mount the gun) needs to be emphasized more than maintaining a lengthy swing on birds or targets flying a somewhat predictable path at a steady speed.  Flushing birds need to be acquired quickly and shot before getting out of range or ducking behind cover, thus requiring a light, fast-pointing shotgun.

Fly rod balance can be equally important to the angler but it’s more a matter of angler “feel” and how hard it is to control the rod’s path through the air once in motion.  Front heavy or butt heavy rods can cause fatigue, unnecessary torqueing or twisting, and a sluggish or listless sensation for the angler.  A perfectly balanced rod and reel combo feels light in the hand, accurate, responsive, and is generally a pleasure to throw all day.

Sage TCX 9" 6wt and Orvis Access

So how do you put together a properly balanced outfit?  Thankfully, the reel manufacturers think about this issue when they develop their products and a recent test session wherein I weighed a large number of our most popular reels in six and eight weight models, proved that they’re all pretty similar given the specific line weight they were designed for.  There was only a .5 to 1.0 ounce difference between fifteen different 5/6 weight models.  There was a much greater variation in fourteen 7/8 weight models with the lightest being 5.5 oz. and the heaviest being 10.0 oz.  Much of that difference can be attributed to drag design or the fact that the reel was intended to cover three different rod sizes (7/8/9) instead of the usual two (7/8).  I guess this means that balancing a number six rod is easier, given the similarities in reel weights, than a number eight.      

The rods themselves can vary greatly in physical weight but many times it’s a question of how the weight is distributed rather than the actual total.  Some rods are tip heavy and would require a heavier reel to balance out properly, while others are butt heavy and would benefit from a lighter reel to avoid feeling like you’ve got a brick hanging from the handle.  You just have to test fit a variety of reels to find the one that gives the proper balance for your needs.

Keep in mind also that the rod’s length will affect its balance as will the addition of backing and line.  Short rods have a center of gravity different than standard or long ones so there are instances we’d sell the customer a reel one size smaller than normal to keep the proper balance.  Of course we have to watch the amount of backing going on the reel at this point, but that’s not normally a problem given the rod’s intended purpose.  Short bass rods and ultralight outfits are the most obvious examples of combinations where we need to ensure a compatible match up.

The rod and reel combination pictured above is one of my personal favorites and it fits my hand so well that it seems like Sage called for my input before designing it .  The balance is exactly where I like it and because of that, I can cast all day, put the fly right where I want it, and easily become "one" with the rod.  There's nothing like having a piece of equipment that matches you perfectly so spend a little time building your next outfit.  Pay attention to the balance and how it's going to affect your fishing performance and how much you enjoy waving that stick around.  You'll be glad you did.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando


RedHead Select Outfitters: Quail Creek Plantation

So when it comes to checking out our RedHead Select Outfitters, the big-game-boys have really been stealing the show. Which is sad, because small game have been keeping us out in the fields for decades! So this month we are going to take a look at an outfitter that focuses on the “little guys”. Let’s see what Quail Creek Plantation has to offer!

Quail Creek Plantation is situated down in Okeechobee, Florida and has a lot to offer. They specialize in bob-white quail, pheasant and Osceola turkey hunting. The quail and pheasant season usually runs from October 1st until mid-March. The turkey season lasts for six weeks after the third Sunday of March. Besides those two seasons, they do have a full clay-shooting center that would delight any shot gunning enthusiast.

The quail hunts are broken down into half days and full days. Half day hunts come with 12 birds and the full day hunts come with 24. They are completely guided as well. They provide drinks and snacks during the hunt, and if you wish to partake in a breakfast or Southern style quail lunch they can be added on for a little extra, but worth it, charge. All of your birds will also be cleaned and packaged. They also have the option to add on extra birds if desired. Please note that hunters must be at least 14 years of age to hunt and they must have completed the hunter safety course prior to the hunt, but a Florida Hunting License is not required.

Their pheasant hunts are a little different, but something that should be on every hunter’s bucket list. They hold what is known as a “continental pheasant tower shoot”, which is where 400 pheasants and 300 wild pigeons are released from an elevated tower. This tower is surrounded by twelve shooting stations, which can hold two shooters. This hunt is held on only a few select days, so if you are serious about this contact them as soon as possible. All of your birds will be cleaned and packaged as well and it includes a gourmet meal.

And for those big ol’ gobblers, a lot is included with their package. The turkey hunts are 100% fair chase. This hunt is set up for three nights which includes: lodging, meals and two and a half days of guided hunting. During the down time you are also allowed to partake in such activities as: fishing, quail hunting, hog hunting and sporting clays. This is an awesome opportunity for any hunter.


Besides the amazing hunting opportunities, the place itself is beautiful! It has all of the characteristics and charm that you would expect out of a world-class Southern hunting plantation. They also have a Décor store on the property that features one-of-a-kind rustic, lodge and western furnishings. Their website is full of a bunch of commonly asked questions and helpful hints to prepare you for an amazing time. Some of my favorite times outdoors have been with good friends watching dogs work the field, this would definitely be a trip of a lifetime.

Hey wait… aren’t the holidays coming up? Hey, hunny!


Other Adventures:

The Basics Mellon Creek Ducks N Bucks Blue River Whitetails Hampton & Hampton  Timbers at Chama


Spend a Few Days in Matlacha


Folks that aren't familiar with the area may not get the rhyme I was shooting for but just like many other names here in Florida, it's pronounced differently than it looks.  Mat-la-SHAY is the proper phonetic spelling for the name of a small community along the Gulf coast between Pine Island and Cape Coral/Fort Myers.  And if you didn't know you were passing through the community, you'd miss it.  But that's exactly what makes it the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life without traveling a great distance.

Matlacha is a sleepy little town that sets its time by the tides with activity ebbing and flowing with the water flowing under the three bridges and around the mangrove shorelines.  The busiest time of the day is when the fishing activity peaks with the rising tide and the fishing poles outnumber the residents since everyone knows you need more rods than you have fingers.  Redfish, black drum, snook, sheepshead, shark, seatrout, and many others come across the rails when the timing is right but you can look forward to a whole bunch of catfish if it isn’t. A night bite is most popular since this is semitropical and the daytime sun can be a little bit oppressive.  Kayaking around the mangrove islands and dipping into the water occasionally is about the only way to get relief on a particularly hot day.

This is still a small town and you won’t find a McDonalds or a giant souvenir shop full of cheap trinkets that will be broken or lost days after purchase.  Small mom-n-pop shops dot the street for the mile or so through the downtown area, selling things you likely won’t find in many other places, and all of them with a local flair.  Eclectic artwork abounds right alongside the bars and eateries so there’s plenty of things to look at for the visitors that aren’t really into the fishing side of things (although I can’t understand why they wouldn’t be), and every time I turned to look around I spotted another mannequin on a rooftop, a painted lizard, a doll in a rocking chair, or some other eye-catching novelty. 

Matlacha JackSt. James City and Bokeelia are a pair of communities at opposite ends of Pine Island just to the west and they also prove that Florida isn’t only about the big cities or interstate highways.  If you take a day trip over to the actual Gulf shore, the barrier islands of Sanibel and Captiva provide beach access for the shell collector or someone that just wants to view a spectacular sun set.  Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is a birdwatcher’s paradise that shouldn’t be missed either.

Matlacha’s just right for anyone looking to slow life down a little bit so they can enjoy the small things. Watching the pelicans dive, the otters play, or the dolphins herding mullet in the shallows for dinner is the natural pace of things around here, proving that Mother Nature has her own clock without regard for neon lights and reality TV.  Take a day trip or stay the night in one of the cabins or cottages right there along main street, and you’ll find yourself settling into the island rhythm, humming a little tune proclaiming “This is the Way, to Matlacha.”

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando


RedHead Select Outfitters: The Timbers at Chama

So over the past month or so, most people in Arizona have figured out if they got drawn for any big game hunts this year. Many associates got pulled, or have family/friends that got pulled. It is always an exciting time of the year, and people start to plan their trips, relive old hunts and salivate over the delicious game meat they will hopefully get. Now I didn’t put in this year, my stepbrother got pulled so hopefully I’ll get to go out with them, but as usual I start to daydream about a possible guided hunt. And I know not to look anywhere else but at the RedHead Select Outfitters.  And I caught myself spending a lot of time looking at The Timbers at Chama.

The Timbers at Chama is a full-service guide out of New Mexico. And when I say full-service, I mean it. They offer hunts for bull and cow elk, mule deer and Merriam turkey. They also offer a fishing service for rainbow, brook and brown trout as well. Beyond that they have horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, ATV riding, wildlife watching/birding and more.

Now being a proud Arizonan and a hunter, I have to maintain the fact that Arizona does produce the best bull elks in the world. BUT! I will admit that there have been some amazing animals to come out of New Mexico. And to be honest, some of the elk that I have seen taken at this place are more than impressive. The quality of the mule deer as well is something to be admired. (Check out their photo gallery!)

As usual with our RedHead Select Outfitters, we include several important tips and a checklist for what to expect on the hunt. The three tips below are exactly what anyone looking to go on a hunt should know.

“In elk country the primary guide to clothing is to dress in layers. You may also want to avoid wearing newly purchased footwear that has not been broken in. Camouflage scent-proof clothing is optimal and strongly recommended.”

The latter part is extremely important, as animals have a keen sense of smell and will pick up the smallest hint of a scent. I have had good success with washing my clothes in this product and then spraying it down with this one. And remember, sometimes it is better to not have a cover scent, but just to be sure to eliminate any.

Ready to book? (So am I!) Remember to book them through our RedHead Select Outfitters because you'll get 5% of your total hunt cost given back to you in Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Rewards points.


Other Adventures:

The Basics Mellon Creek Ducks N Bucks Blue River Whitetails Hampton & Hampton  


Learning About America's History One Rest Stop At A Time

Tuskegee Airmen MonumentI never cease to be amazed by the little things we can learn while on the road if we just take the time to stop and check out the little roadside markers and obscure memorials dotting the country.  Our nation’s history, whether good or bad, is documented by simple signs and monuments that many of us don’t even realize are there since we’re blasting by at 75 or 80 miles an hour.

My wife and I happened upon one of these such markers when we exited Interstate 95 in Walterboro, South Carolina for a gas and coffee stop on our way home from vacation.  I noticed a sign pointing the way to the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, and we decided to check it out since it wasn’t too far off the beaten path and we’d heard the stories and watched the movies related to the men of the 332nd Fighter Group.  You can’t help but respect men that lived through such intense diversity and we wondered what this little town had to do with a troubled history of racism and bigotry that was eventually overcome by men with a great deal of dedication, determination, and mental toughness.

As it turns out, the small Walterboro Army Airfield was a training site for fighter and bomber crews just before heading overseas to combat, and the Tuskegee airmen were a part of this war effort.  It was also the site of a camouflage school and a prisoner of war camp for German POW’s, which really surprised us considering that we thought POW’s would have stayed overseas rather than being brought in country.  Nor did I figure anyone needed a school to tell them how to look like a shrub or a bunch of weeds.  Obviously there must be more to it than just sticking a few twigs in your cap.

The 332nd and its tenant commands flew Curtiss P-40 Warhawks, Bell P-39 Aircobras, Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, and the ultimate fighter aircraft (in my humble opinion), the North American P-51 Mustang. The men of the 477th Bombardment Group flying the North American B-35 Mitchell, shouldn’t be forgotten since they trained at the same facility and fought against the same racism as the men in the 332nd, but they never actually saw combat operations according to the sites I’ve visited. Regardless of whether they saw combat or not, flying these machines by oneself, or as part of a larger crew took skill and coordination these men proved they were undeniably capable of.

The historic markers tell a story of hardship and division that was ultimately overcome by men with mental toughness that I can only dream to possess.  They joined a military that didn’t think they were capable of performing the necessary skills, while fighting for, and next to men who believed they were second class citizens.  They ultimately amassed a fighting record unsurpassed by the Caucasian squadrons, earning the respect of the bomber pilots they protected and the foreign enemy they fought.  The HBO movie “The Tuskegee Airmen” is one of my favorites with a great cast and a well depicted version of true life events.  Watch it if you get a chance!

Like I said in the beginning of this post, you never know what you’ll learn when you stop and read one of those roadside markers.  They dot the landscape across the nation, serving to document our history and teach us about who we are and where we came from as a country.  Be sure to stop and read a few when you get a chance.  You might just be surprised at what you learn.

Brian “Beastman” Eastman

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando




This Weekend @ Bass Pro Shops - Freedom & Fun for Everyone!

It's the FINAL weekend of Family Summer Camp and the first weekend of our NRA Freedom Days special seminars!

Family Summer Camp

Sounds like another HOT and sometimes stormy weekend for us. Join us inside for our last weekend of summer camp workshops for kids - plus, our outdoor activities are moved INDOORS, so your kids can try their hand at shooting a BB gun, casting, and shooting a bow.

Each child receives a Summer Camp lanyard at their first seminar, then a pin at each seminar they attend (while supplies last.) It's still possible for kids to get all nine pins on Saturday and Sunday! The workshops are about 20-30 minutes each and the schedule is:

Saturday - July 25
Noon  -  Fishing
1 p.m. - Water Safety
2 p.m. - Shooting and Hunting
3 p.m. - Kayaking
4 p.m. - Bird Watching

Sunday - July 26
Noon  - Shooting & Hunting
1 p.m. - Archery
2 p.m. - Travel Safety
3 p.m. - Camping
4 p.m. - Backyard Adventure

Crafts are noon-2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday






Celebrate our Second Amendment during NRA Freedom Days!

NRA membership drive - July 25/26 and Aug. 1/2 - Sign up in-store to for NRA membership and receive a $10 Bass Pro Shops Gift Card!

Free Seminars, July 25 & 26, Aug. 1 & 2 - Free Bass Pro Shops logo mug for the first 15 seminar attendees each day!

Saturday July 25 & August 1

  • 11 AM - Gun Competition Basics: MSR’s, handguns, shotguns and ammo
  • 2 PM - Accessorizing your MSR
  • 3 PM - Women and Self-Defense: How to train and defend

Sunday July 26 and August 2

  • 2 PM - Choosing the Right Home Defense System: Shotgun, handgun or MSR
  • 3 PM - Gun Safety in the Home: Gun safes, handgun vaults, and cleaning accessories

Plus, these additional sale and promotional opportunities:

  • Free gun case with any handgun purchase of $300 or more while supplies last!
  • July 20-Aug. 2 - 2nd Amendment Instant Savings: Instant savings on guns up to $150 equal to the value of your sales tax!
  • Triple/Quadruple rewards points on select products!
  • NRA Freedom Days Experience Sweepstakes




Are You Obsessed with the Weather?

Are you obsessed with the weather?  You are not alone.  People want to see what is going on 24/7.  The technology we have today will keep you updated as it is happening all around the world.

Entertainment - yes it is! Hanging on to each second as to what may or may not happen.  This is pure drama in the sky.  Watch a real life movie as it unravels before your eyes.   How should you dress? Do you need to get groceries for a few extra days?  Do you need to check how many flashlights or batteries are needed?  Water?  We watch TV, computers or phones to see in advance what the weather will bring us.  Although people watch weather as TV, there is a far more serious side to this.  Knowing when you need to evacuate an area or take shelter, how it will affect crops and your livelihood.

How about some weather related sayings.  Have you ever heard?

Red Sky at Night, Sailors Delight - Red Sky in the Morning, Sailors take warning

When the moon raises red and appears large, with clouds, expect rain in twelve hours

A sunny shower won't last an hour

Mares' tails and mackerel scales make tall ships take in their sails

A wind from the south has rain in its mouth

Birds flying low, expect rain and a blow

If the rooster crows on going to bed, you may rise with a watery head

Do you know how big a raindrop is?  Usually they are very small about one hundredth of an inch.  Large raindrops are one tenth of a inch in diameter.  Small rain drops fall approximately  2 miles per hour.  Large rain drops are 18 miles per hour.

Lightening can travel 136,000 miles an hour.  You can figure out how close lightning is by counting the seconds between the flash of lightning and a clap of thunder.  One mile for every 5 seconds.  An example would be if you count 10 seconds between the lightening and the thunder the lightening is two miles away.  Lightning can be very dangerous.  Do not use land line phones during lightning storms.  Do not go out on the water or play golf during a thunderstorm.  If your hair stand on end get close to the ground with your hands on your knees, then put your head between your knees.

Thunderstorms are usually in the summer when the weather is hot and humid.  You may also witness thunderstorms during the winter months as a cold front approaches.

Bass Pro Shops has a large variety of weather instruments you can use to help you with the weather.  Here are just a few ideas that are great fun and we have much more at www.basspro.com.

The Bass Pro Shops Acu Rite 5 in 1 Weather Center has a illuminated color display and a backlight that always stays on.  This unit has a strong signal that works through walls and long distance.  Check out all the other features by clicking on the picture or visiting our website www.basspro.com.


Never miss a beat with the Eton Corporation FRX4 Rugged Weather Radio.  NOAA weather alerts, solar, crank, and red beacon light are just a few features this unit offers while being tough and durable.










Want something portable?  The convenient Lacrosse Technology Handheld NOAA Weather Radio is high quality while being portable!



Do you follow lightning?  Why not look at the AcuRite Instruments Portable Lightning Detector.  Water resistant for outdoor or indoor use. This component will detect the presence of lightning and the speed it is approaching at.  25 mile range









While your obsession with the weather keeps you informed, get your kids involved in the fun too.  Explain to your kids the safety that is needed and why you follow the weather.  Here is a quick and easy way to simulate a tornado.  All you need is 2-2 Liter Bottles, Duct Tape, and water and perhaps some glitter to simulate debris.  Here is all you do!  Fill one 2 liter bottles up about 2/3 with water and some glitter.  Place the other bottle on top and secure with duct tape well.  I would do this outside in case of leaks.  Turn the bottle upside down so that the water is on the top and spin counter clockwise. Watch as your tornado form and repeat!          R. Piedmonte - Events Coordinator




Four Dream Fishing Trips

Let me tell ya a couple things about Dreams: One- Killer song by Van Halen. Two- Gotta have them. Everybody needs to have a dream of some kind. Whether it be owning a certain place, meeting a celebrity, inventing some new form of transportation, winning an arm-wrestling contest against someone or whatever. Just gotta have a dream.

People who love the outdoors have a lot of dreams. This world we live in offers so much to see and experience. And I have noticed that fishermen tend to have a lot of dream trips. They usually focus on two things: the species of fish and the location. So in the effort of getting our minds to escape the humdrum of everyday life, let’s start daydreaming about these four dream fishing trips.

Trip One- Fly Fishing in Alaska

Every fisherman needs to take a trip to Alaska at some point in their life. The land there is so expansive and beautiful, that it is worth the trip alone. Sure, you could make a point for this trip being for deep-sea halibut, but I’d say fly fishing would be the ideal dream trip. Grab a good guide and its fish on!

Fly fishing there puts you on some of the most amazing streams in the most gorgeous surroundings. It also puts you into bear territory, and every fisherman needs a good bear story. Depending on when you go you can catch the salmon as they run or the other year-round fish population. Just think of all the fish you can catch: salmon, trout, arctic char and so much more! Plus taking a float plane with one of them crazy bush pilots is always a good time!

Trip Two- Peacock Bass on the Amazon

Now if you have watched any of the episodes of River Monsters involving the Amazon, you know it can be a dangerous place. But there is mystery and beauty in that danger, and luckily most outfitters are well equipped for emergencies. I can think of no better quarry than the peacock bass to go after in such an epic landscape.

Peacock bass (not bass, but cichlids) are some of the hardest hitting fish out there. Be prepared to use heavy duty gear for some tough fighting fish. They are beautifully marked fish that will leave an everlasting impression to any who encounter this fish. Plus you have the chance to see some of the most elusive wildlife while fishing. My buddy’s dad actually caught a small caiman while fishing there!

Trip Three- Billfish (Anywhere)

Stories from Zane Grey and Ernest Hemmingway have longed captured the allure of big billfish. All members of the billfish family are built for speed and display some of the most amazing feats of physicality when caught. And of course, no dream fishing trip list would be complete without one deep-sea trip.

Now, different billfish inhabit different areas at different times. So when you pick out your exact quarry, you can start figuring out the specifics for your adventure. Personally, I am hungry to catch and conquer a marlin. I would like to advocate that all billfish should be returned to the ocean to help preserve their populations, but be sure to get a picture with your trophy. These fish can flash colors to startle prey and communicate with other fish. You will likely never forget the image of a sailfish leaping out of the water, and your body will likely never forget the effort it took to bring it in.

Trip Four- Spear Fishing with Namor the Submariner

And look, if we are talking dream trips… I am going all out! Sure, Namor the Submariner is a comic book character and the chances of spear fishing with him are next to non-existent. But think of the awesome adventure you could have!

Namor is the Marvel version of Aquaman, and much more moody. He is the king of the oceans and hates most land-dwellers. So the fact that he would go spear fishing with me is awesome in itself. But we are talking the whole ocean! Who knows what epic battles we might ensue in?! Perhaps we decide tackling a giant squid is in order, or no Wednesday is complete without taking on an orca pod or two! All I am saying is that it would be a dream trip.


So what about you? What is your dream trip? Or have you already been lucky enough to go on one of these? Share your thoughts or stories below!



Family Summer Camp

Summer is in full swing here at BPS Nashville!  That means our annual Family Summer Camp is well underway. 

Every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday until July 26th, we have workshops from noon to 5pm on everything outdoors including Archery, Hunting, Water Safety and Backyard Adventures.  In addition, we have our Daisy BB gun range set up on our boat canopy along with a Bear archery range and a casting challenge where kids can practice their technique and cast from one of our boats.

We also have a weekly craft and each completed workshop earns kiddos a lanyard and pin so they can collect all 9!


Turkey Track Magnet   July 7, 9, 11 and 12

Turtle Sun Catcher   July 14, 16, 18 and 19

Lady Bug Clip Magnet   July 21, 23, 25 and 26



Noon   Bird Watching

1pm   Fishing

2pm   Archery

3pm   Kayaking

4pm   Backyard Adventure



Noon   Archery

1pm   Shooting/Hunting

2pm   Travel Safety

3pm   Water Safety

4pm   Camping



Noon   Fishing

1pm   Water Safety

2pm   Shooting/Hunting

3pm   Kayaking

4pm   Bird Watching



Noon   Shooting/Hunting

1pm   Archery

2pm   Travel Safety

3pm  Camping

4pm   Backyard Adventure


Bring the family in for an afternoon of fun and educational outdoor activities!


Summer Family Camp


Bass Pro Shops Family Summer Camp features fun games for kids, and activities and workshops where families can learn the skills they need to enjoy great outdoor adventures together. And it’s all FREE!!

Family Summer Camp begins Saturday, June 27 and continues through Sunday, July 26 at Bass Pro Shops in Sevierville, Tn.

During Family Summer Camp, free workshops and Family activities will be held every Tuesday, Thursday Saturday, and Sunday- June 27- July 26. The entire family will enjoy learning the basics of camping, fishing, archery and hunting. Other workshops include kayaking, water and travel safety, backyard adventures and bird watching.

Workshop Schedule


  • 12 pm    Bird Watching
  • 1 pm      Fishing
  • 2 pm      Archery
  • 3 pm      Kayaking
  • 4 pm      Backyard Adventure


  • 12 pm    Archery
  • 1 pm      Hunting and Shooting
  • 2 pm      Travel Safety
  • 3 pm      Water Safety
  • 4 pm      Camping and Conservation Awareness


  • 12 pm    Fishing
  • 1 pm      Water Safety
  • 2 pm      Hunting and Shooting
  • 3 pm      Kayaking
  • 4 pm      Bird Watching


  • 12 pm    Hunting and Shooting
  • 1 pm      Archery
  • 2 pm      Travel Safety
  • 3 pm      Camping and Conservation Awareness
  • 4 pm      Backyard Adventure

In addition to all the workshops, kids can try a free craft from 12-2 pm

  • June 27-28                                          Make a wooden wind chime
  • June 30, July 2 and July 4-5            Create a kite photo frame
  • July 7, 9, 11-12                                   Color a plaster turkey track magnet
  • July 14, 16, 18-19                              Turtle Sun catcher
  • July 21, 23, 25-26                              Create a lady bug clip magnet

Other free hands-on activities include:

  • Fishing at the catch and release pond and Souvenir Photo - July 4-5 ONLY
  • Fish Casting Buckets
  • The Duck Shooting Range
  • Daisy BB Gun Range
  • Wildlife Carousel



Capturers of the Outdoors: Steve Rinella

So far on this blog series I have covered let us say “an older generation” of capturers of the outdoors. Most people my age have never heard of Zane Grey or Peter Capstick. And many probably think Planet Earth was the first program to show nature on TV. It makes sense, the number of people who recreational fish, hunt, camp or so on is dwindling drastically. Many younger generations think of these activities as “old school” or what their grandpa used to ramble on about. With all of the anti-meat, anti-gun, anti-hunting and so on so prevalent in the news and media many people hide the fact that they hunt. It can be hard for younger generations of hunters to be able to voice their opinion and beliefs when it comes to holding onto that tradition. But luckily, our generation and future ones has a voice in Steve Rinella.

Steve Rinella is an avid outdoorsman who has had a success writing and television career under his belt under the age of 40. When you think of many of your successful outdoor television personalities, people like Jim Shockey or Bill Dance come to mind. And while no disrespect to either of those two greats, they are harder for the younger generation to connect with. You can truly see the passion and love for the outdoors and hunting in his shows and through his writing.

To date, he has published three books: American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon, The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine and Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter. (His books are available through his website.) I have read the first and last one. I loved them both. (Go way back to Oct. 2013 and you’ll see I mentioned his first book in a blog.) The American Buffalo book is a great one for anyone. The Meat Eater book is excellent and should be owned by any hunter. In it, he takes us on a journey through his life by using different hunts. The Scavenger’s Guide book will hopefully be on my shelves here soon. In it Steve apparently tries to collect enough food for a 45 course meal of wild game recipes.

Other than books, Steve writes avidly for numerous outdoor magazines. Those including Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, Bowhunter, Fly Fisherman and Petersen’s Hunting. But his articles don’t stop there, he has also written for: Men’s Journal, Outside, New York Times and Oprah’s magazine. Some of those last few might blow the mind off of who a “normal hunting writer” should be writing for. But that is the thing! Steve transcends those “norms” and can discuss hunting with anyone. And he does quite frequently. He has appeared on national radio programs and has even done live web chats with people. He is not afraid to voice his opinion and passion.

As mentioned at the beginning, Steve also appears on TV. His first show was called The Wild Within and was produced for the Travel Channel. It was amazing. Unfortunately it was only eight episodes long, but each one of them was great. Since 2012, Steve has hosted the show MeatEater on The Sportsman Channel. It has followed his adventures for four seasons now, and looks to keep going. What I love about his shows is how he shows every aspect of hunting. Some TV shows it is just “here, watch this” and “wow, what a nice animal”. With both of these shows the process of scouting, tracking, harvesting, cleaning, preparing and cooking the game is all included. Which is important, because those are all things including in hunting itself.

Steve has also mastered the art of media and has successful YouTube videos and a podcast. To him there is a strong bond and need for the outdoors and wilderness with mankind. He aims to maintain his bond and encourage others to discover and develop theirs.



Zane Grey Disney Nature Peter Capstick


Ansel Adams Teddy Roosevelt Fred Bear Boone and Crockett Club NWTF and DU

Henry David Thoreau Pope and Young Club


Family Summer Camp – 2015 at Mesa, AZ!

Well I guess it’s about that time again to start marking down the ol’ summer-fun calendar and making arrangements to bring the family on down for Family Summer Camp here at Bass Pro Shops – Mesa, AZ! This is one of our larger events we hold every year and it is definitely one of the most fun! If you thought the Gone Fishing Event was intense, you have no idea what is coming our way! It is a month long, four days out of the week, five hours each day FREE and FUN FRENZY!! We have numerous activities for the younger generation to participate in!

From June 27th – July 26th

Every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from Noon to 5PM

We will have the following activities:

Shooting Arcade

Zing Toys

BB Gun Range*

Archery Range*

Wildlife Carousel

Casting Buckets

Workshops will run from Noon to 4PM (Schedule of topics will be below.)

Crafts will run from Noon to 2PM/While Supplies Last (These do change weekly.)

*Participants under the age of 18 will have to have parent/legal guardian fill out a waiver

For the weekend of July 4th and 5th we will also be bringing back our Catch and Release Pond along with FREE Photo Download! Both of those will run from Noon to 5PM.

We have had the pleasure of seeing a number of familiar faces over the past few years, come time and again! We have also seen a significant increase in the amount of families attending! It is awesome! I mean where else can you take the kids for several hours that is air-conditioned, full of activities and has taxidermy? This is a great way to beat the Arizona heat and encourage kids to get passionate about the outdoors! AND IT IS ALL FREE!!!!

For the Workshops, we have NINE different topics. Each seminar will start on the hour and go for about 20 minutes. After the seminar is done, kids will receive an activity book with special questions. The answers to those questions are hidden somewhere in the store, and kids have to find the signs to figure them out! After they figure them out, bring the book back to the Workshop Area and show the Associate your answers. If you got them right you earn a pin for that specific workshop! First time comers will receive a lanyard to put their pins on, but there will be a limited supply. The workshop schedule is as follows:


Noon- Bird Watching

1PM- Fishing

2PM- Archery


4PM- Backyard Adventure


Noon- Archery

1PM-Shooting & Hunting

2PM-Travel Safety

3PM-Water Safety

4PM- Camping


Noon- Fishing

1PM- Water Safety

2PM- Shooting & Hunting

3PM- Kayaking

4PM- Bird Watching


Noon- Shooting & Hunting

1PM- Archery

2PM-Travel Safety

3PM- Camping

4PM- Backyard Adventure

Family Summer Camp is always a great time here and we can’t wait to start making some awesome memories with you all!



The many reasons to camp at Peninsula State Park – Door County Wisconsin

“Go West, young man” may have been Horace Greeley’s advice to those seeking success back in the 1850’s, but if he’d a met a family looking for a good place to go for a week long camping trip then he might of said “Go North”.  Let’s face it, summer heat and camping aren’t always a great mix but cooler temperatures can often be found in the northern parts of the U.S.  One fantastic destination that gives you a chance to beat the heat and enjoy awesome family fun is Peninsula State Park located in Door County, Wisconsin.  Located 409 miles from the East Peoria Bass Pro Shops, Peninsula State Park is a huge park on the shores of Green Bay on Lake Michigan.  This northern location and the close proximity to the lake make for naturally cooler summer temperatures, perfect for evening campfires and cozy sleeping bags, but it also makes daytime activities that much more enjoyable as well. Peninsula State Park and Door County definitely have a wide assortment of things to do.        Peninsula State Park - Door Count Wisc, photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Peninsula has five campgrounds totaling 486 camping sites.  While most campsites are reservable, there are also some that are strictly first-come-first-serve.  All the campgrounds offer flush toilet and shower areas and some have electrical hook-ups available.  A vehicle sticker is required to enter the state park area ($35.00 for out-of-Staters staying a week or more). Once you make it into the park and set up your camp, then the real fun can begin.

Peninsula is a park with lots of different activities that will appeal to just about everyone. 

Peninsula State Park, Eagle Bluff Lighthouse Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

  • Swimming is available at Nicolet Beach, a sandy oasis that has a snack bar and rentals of kayaks and other water amusements. 
  • Bicycle rental is also available within the park and Peninsula has awesome bicycle trails.  You can stop at Eagle Bluff Lighthouse for a tour or bike to Sven’s Bluff or many of the other park’s famed scenic overviews.  Peninsula State Park, Outdoor Theatre Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
  • The park also has 20 miles of hiking trails which will let you explore the diverse habitat of the park, view impressive cliff formations and give you a good opportunity to spot some of the park’s wildlife.
  • Fishing, golf, tennis and volleyball are all available within the park. 
  • The White Cedar Nature Center is another great destination, it offers tours, nature crafts and outdoor activities.
  • You can take in a show at the American Folklore Theater with its magnificent open air, red pine backdrop and its family fun performances. 
  • And of course you’ll want to make sure you take a drive along the scenic Green Bay shoreline for incredible views and to find a great place to watch an awe-inspiring sunset.


Not only are there an amazing amount of activities at Peninsula State Park, there are also a wealth of family fun attractions packed into the entire Door County area.  There are many quaint, picturesque towns scattered around the county that have wonderful shops, restaurants, artist galleries and other fun family activities.  There are historic old lighthouses to see and cherry orchards where you can pick your own.  You can find Museums, Fish Boils, Petting Zoos, and Charter Fishing trips. From mini-golf to high end art studios, Door County has something that will interest everyone in your group.  This is one vacation spot where you won’t run out of things to do during your week-long stay.

Here’s a great camping tip before you escape the heat and head for Peninsula State Park in Door County.  First, stop by Bass Pro Shops and pick up a screen house enclosure.  Easy to set-up and big enough to contain a picnic table, a screen house will provide you a bug-free zone to cook, eat, or just relax if the local insects get a little too pesky.  Check out the Bass Pro and Coleman brands of these handy structures, your whole family will appreciate the comfort they provide.  Bass Pro Shops camping department has all the equipment you need to get out there and enjoy the great outdoors.

Peninsula State Park Visitor's Guide

This is the 3rd in a series of great Places to Camp. Please visit Bruce's other blogs:

Bruce Zilkowski, Camping Department
Bass Pro Shops, East Peoria, IL




Look at That! Weather Vanes

One of my favorite movies has to be Open Range with Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. One of my favorite characters is Percy, the stable worker. At one point a huge storm rolls into town and Percy warns the main characters to get inside. “Big-un’s comin!” I love it. Phrases like “Storms a-brewin’!” and “Best get the livestock in!” have pretty much made themselves home in any kind of discussion considering a storm. Fun fact, as my buddy and I were driving down the highway he noted an incoming desert monsoon. I put all those phrases together and it caught him just as off-guard as the storm did!

Now there are many ways to have a heads up with the weather. Listening to the radio, watching the Weather Channel, checking your smartphone or reading the newspaper all provide hints at what the day will be like. Two of my favorite ways though are to look at the sky and check your weather vane!

Looking at the sky gets us away from technology and lets us take in the world for its true beauty. Checking your weather vane lets you utilize an older technology and probably appreciate your front or back yard for a few extra moments during the day. And the style/topper of your weather vane can say a lot about yourself.

There are two companies that we carry a bunch of different options online of weather vanes. The first we will take a stroll through is Good Directions, Inc. They make a ton of attractive options that would look great in any number of places in the yard. I am quite partial to the rooster myself. They may come with a higher price-tag than one would expect but you know you are getting something that will last for seasons.

The second company is EZ Vane Inc. They have quite a number of options, including colleges. As flying your school’s logos/colors have become more and more popular, this company might offer something your front yard would not do without. I’ll let you look online to see what schools they currently offer, but let me just say this, if you aint a gator… you’re gator bait!


Other Nifty Things to Look At!

Propane Fire Ring Hand Towels Rainproof Camo She Outdoor PETT

BPS Extreme Qualifier Tackle Bag RedHead Gun Rack Chicken on a Stick

Traeger Smoker/Grills Casio Pathfinder RedHead Wellington Boots


Springtime Camping at Starved Rock State Park

April is gone, May has begun and if you haven’t done so already, it’s time to start thinking Camping!  Comfortable daytime temperatures, cool nights and less bugs makes this a great time to go camping. So, whether you’re just looking for a little weekend adventure or want to do a shakedown campout before a big summer time trip here is a great destination for early spring; Starved Rock State Park near Utica Illinois. 

 Starved Rock waterfall - courtesy WikimediaLocated about 70 miles north of the East Peoria Bass Pro Shops, the “Rock” is an
awesome park and one of Illinois’ most visited outdoor locations. 

On the banks of the Illinois River, Starved Rock offers some incredible hiking opportunities that will take you through, in and over beautiful sandstone rock formations.  The park has over 13 miles of well-maintained, well-marked trails that let you explore its sandstone canyons; many of which have fabulous waterfall features. In fact, after a winter of heavy snowfall, this “Jewel of the State Park System” boasts up to an amazing eighteen running waterfalls. Early spring provides a once a year opportunity to witness their magnificence. In addition, you can also enjoy some incredible scenic views from on top the high bluff walls that overlook the IL. River valley.  Hike the paved trail to the top of the most famous formation in the park and learn about the Native American history which gives this “rock” its name. All of this right here in central Illinois!  Who knew? 

Actually, a lot of people know and during the summer season Starved Rock’s 120+ camping sites fill up fast and its trails can be downright crowded.  That makes April a perfect time to beat the crowds before the summer season arrives.  So check the weather report and find a nice weekend and make your camping reservation for Starved Rock with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. And remember, while spring rains can dampen some weekends they also bring out the beautiful early season wildflowers and you may even spot a tasty Morel mushroom or two. The early season moisture can also enhance the parks waterfalls making them even more spectacular than you’ll likely see later in the year.

Early spring is also an excellent time to spot lots of wildlife like White-tailed deer and the Bald Eagles that frequent the river banks around the park. It's also a great time to catch some fish from the park’s cement wall just above the river. Sauger, walleye and white bass all migrate upstream this time of year and some real trophies can be landed. If an unexpected spring shower does pop up then go check out the interior of the beautiful Starved Rock Lodge or visit the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center located just across the river from the park.  Here you can watch huge river barges “lock through” the dam and you can learn more about the river system itself. 

If you need help getting started with camping then stop by the camping department at Bass Pro Shops, for less than the cost of a two night hotel stay we can outfit you with a quality tent and sleeping bags from the top names in outdoor gear.  Companies like The North Face, Kelty, Coleman, Eureka, Ascend and many more.  If you’re a seasoned camper then stop by and see all the newest camping gear available, you’re sure to find something that will make your Starved Rock weekend getaway awesome family fun. Download the Starved Rock brochure.

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Bruce Zilkowski, Camping Department

Bass Pro Shops, East Peoria, IL   


The Day that Changes Lives

By Rod Slings
Central Iowa Long Spurs Member
Hunting safety expert and retired Iowa DNR law enforcement supervisor,

“This day changed lives!” 

A quote heard over and over, from our hunters and our volunteers, at the 2015 Wheel’n Sportsmen Turkey Hunt. The weather was not what we had ordered. Conditions were strong winds and heavy rain beginning at sunrise and that came in waves.   However, that did not dampen the spirits of our hunters in the turkey woods.  At the end of the hunt, 11-year-old Quinton was the one hunter that harvested a turkey.

As the hunters and volunteers began to arrive at 3:00 a.m. (yes, that’s in the morning), the excitement began to build. The camouflaged clad silhouettes came in, one at a time, armed with big smiles and filled with anticipation of what the day had in store. Without hesitation, handshakes, hugs, the reestablishment of old friendships and establishing of new ones began. Those in wheelchairs, power chairs and those that needed just a little guidance were welcomed and made comfortable to find a place at the breakfast table.   

Welcoming everyone was first on the agenda, followed by introductions, a prayer for safety and thanks for the resource about to be enjoyed. A hot breakfast was served, along with the Pledge of Allegiance and a safety briefing was all part of the plan. 

Then, Team Todd, Team Cole, Team Angie, Team Quinton, Team Matthew, and more, began to load up and head for the turkey woods with guides and helpers ready to begin their hunt. Blinds had been set, those that needed to be lifted into Utility Terrain Vehicles were lifted, those that need to be driven to the door of the blind were carefully guided in the dark. 

This event is about people helping people, kindness, respect and love of the outdoors all rolled into one event. It changes people in just a few hours; it creates life long bonds between those that do not have the luxury of easy mobility and those that before this event took it for granted.

It’s about sitting beside an American hero and hearing their stories of war in a dark hunting blind.
It’s about sitting next to someone whose life changed in a moment in time, then reflecting on one's own life.
The harvest of a turkey is just a small part of being part of this spring morning in Iowa.
It’s about life.
It’s about empathy, courage and watching the world wake up in a place where everyone is equal in creation.
Listening closely, watching for someone who cannot see.
It’s about being their eyes, being their helper, or just being their friend.

Some think this event is about harvesting turkeys, but it is so much more than that.

It’s about life; it is about improving the quality of lives.
It’s about a new adventure for a person that is now a hunter that just happens to be mobility challenged.
It’s also about a helper who is now surrounded by a new environment, which even brings rejuvenation to their soul.
It’s about the guide that is helping share the gift of the hunt in this wild outdoor place.
Finally, for everyone involved, it’s the excitement of the sound of a gobble or songbirds singing the praises of a new day.
For these hunters, it’s not like their yesterday, it’s about making memories today, for their tomorrow.   

The results of this event cannot be measured. It can only be shared, enjoyed and become part of our individual life stories.  It’s not certain whose lives are most improved or impacted by this experience. We can only hope it improves those lives that this event is intended for, only if for a few hours, or reflecting on their memories made and the photographs taken.

A very special thanks to the American heroes at Camp Dodge, whose passion for helping disabled veterans participating in our hunt is always beyond the call of duty! The Rangers and Staff at the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers at Saylorville Lake and their never-ending hospitality with meeting space, for planning, site preparation and scouting for success. The Staff at Polk County’s Jester Park and hosting our base camp for the event and providing hunting blind locations. Thanks to our volunteers for giving of their time and skills to serve as guides and helpers those who make this event possible. Also, to our cooks who serve a wonderful breakfast and celebration lunch to all of those who attend. Most importantly, thanks to our extraordinary hunters and their families.

We want to thank each of them for allowing us to honor them with an experience we hope they will treasure as much as we do.