Sunday, February 5, 2012

Swamp Rats

This is an excerpt from my article in BowAmerica e-Magazine.  You can subscribe for free at or


     I headed out to the duck blind early.  It was about 6am, another 45 minutes before shooting time.  I spotted some a commotion deeper in the swamp.  I adjusted my LED Lenser headlamp from wide angle light to a spotlight.  I saw a bunched up brushy area ahead.  It was likely a beaver hut.  I scanned the water and could see ripples, but I could not find the source.
     Shooting light came and after a 20 minute span of high flying wood ducks and ringnecks I knew the hunt was likely over except for just a few stragglers and maybe some Canadian geese.
     Down near the beaver hut I saw some more ripples.  I figured it could be a grebe, merganser, or maybe a woodie swimming from deeper in the swamp.
     Nope.  Dead wrong.  I caught the furry head.  Trailing was a motion filled ‘S’.  Not a beaver.  But it was huge.
     Nutria usually make their homes in holes they build on the shoreline.  Often, their digging will tear and expose roots.  This particular one had not made a home of the beaver den; rather it seemed curious as to whether it was occupied.

     Nutria are as rat-like as it gets.  Their long tail is round and slender like a rat, rather than the waffle shape of a beaver.  Their head has rat features other than being much larger and having a blunt nose.  Also unlike a beaver, its fur is of different lengths and appears unkempt.
     They were introduced to North America, relocated from South America, due to the fur trade industry.  They were valued for both their meat and their hides.  Once the value of the fur increased to a premium, at one time as valuable as mink, farmers found a way to raise them.  They were easy to keep, had large litters, and females could breed the day after giving birth.  Due to the farming of the nutria, the fur become over abundant and the value plummeted.  A hurricane hit the Southeast and many of the farmed nutria escaped.
     Like many invasive species, they began to take over their habitats.  Nutria feed only on the bottom of saplings and plants, leaving over 80% of the plant useless.  They choked out the muskrat, as they shared habitats and dens.  And with the beaver falling to near extinction, the nutria’s breeding habits, able to give birth nearly 3 times in a calendar year, the nutria overwhelmed many areas.
     If you know where to look, you can find nutria in nearly any southern state, and they range as far north as Ohio.  They can expand further north if there are subsequent mild winters.  The only barrier is they tend to get frostbite on their tails, causing infection and death.
     As mentioned prior, I took note of where I saw the nutria and the time.  The next time I would be in the water, the bow would be in hand rather than the shotgun.
     A couple of days later, the nutria had a head start on me.  As I was headed to where the blind was, I saw him already swimming well ahead as the water and air was clear.  I positioned myself near the blind and could see it still swimming amongst the trees in the swamp.
     It only took 15 minutes for it to become curious enough to see what I was.  Once it was in range, about 20 yards, I released the arrow towards its mark.  No thrashing, no circling, no fighting.  Just a roll over and the arrow was sticking nearly straight up.
     Once there, I had to look to see if it was a beaver and not a nutria.  It was as huge up close as it looked the other day.  I pulled it into the boat and headed to shore.  This was by far the largest I have taken.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

BowAmerica and Bowfishing

January 5th marked the inaugural issue of BowAmerica, the e-Magazine for Bowhunters.  Each issue features segments on traditional, compound, bowfishing, women bowhunters, target/competition, how-to, gear reviews, habitat management and more.

My feature article for the first issue was in the bowfishing segment titled 'Aim Low'.  Here is an excerpt:

     Aim low.  Not exactly the phrase you want to use when teaching kids how to be successful in something.  It is true, if you set your goals low enough then it is easier to meet your meaning of what success is.  However, aiming low in bowfishing is a must.
     I found joy in shooting at fish as a way to lengthen my bow season.  I also found bowfishing is a great way for youth to experience the flight of an arrow.
     Both my oldest son and my daughter experienced their first take with a string attached to an arrow.  Bowfishing mainly consists of going after ‘trash’ fish such as gar or carp.  It combines that thrill of the fight that have anglers hooked to their sport of choice, as well as the sight of the flight as the arrow seems to soar in slow motion toward its mark. 
     Bowfishing teaches skills such as instinctive shooting, a bit of stealth, and what I call ‘hunter’s vision.’  This is the ability to see all the surroundings, much like the predator see’s the prey so the predator can make its approach.  These skills are necessary for a bowhunter as he graduates to hunting larger game that are wound so tight they will take off with the slightest scent or noise.

Be sure to read the rest on page 32 of BowAmerica.  You can subscribe at either or on the page and best of all, IT'S FREE!  A copy of the magazine is embedded, feel free to read, download, and share.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Here is the first issue of BowAmerica, the e-Magazine for Bowhunters. Be sure to subscribe so you can get each month's great stories from bowhunters across the nation!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gear Review: Barmah Australian Hats

Every outdoorsman has their one ‘can’t do without’ item.  It is like a security blanket or teddy bear for a toddler.  As long as that one thing is with them, he can tackle anything nature throws his way.
For me, it is a hat.  I have always worn hats.  As a child and through my teenage years, you could hardly ever catch me without a ball cap on.  The only exception would be while hunting dove.  Then, you would find me with a green boonie hat with the draw string usually pulled over the top of the hat with one side snapped up.  I have always been a ‘little’ different.
Recently I was offered an item to review that was right up my alley.  After all, I had been wearing one for over 10 years!  Barmah USA makes Australian style hats.  Barmah is based in Australia and their hats are made from such leathers as bronco and kangaroos, are water resistant, and have that flare I look for.  They are also designed to be folded and spring back into shape.  They come with a nifty bag that has imprinted instructions on how to properly fold the hat for storage in the bag.

Gators at night in Georgia
with Barmah.

I have been wearing a Kangaroo Barmah hat in a hickory.  I have also owned one in a limestone green that was sent to retirement.  Barmah supplied me Foldaway suede in a sand color to try as well.  Like mentioned in the previous paragraph, the hats are designed to be folded and spring back into shape.  I have found there are a few tricks if you have a preference to the look of your hat, and I like the front of the hat to curl slightly down with the side curled slightly up.  Letting the hat rest on the edge of a table or desk with the front hanging off for several days will give this desired look.
The hats have been treated with Scotch-guard prior to shipping preventing stains and giving the hat the water resistance.  How water resistant is this hat?  Let’s just say Niagara Falls resistant!  While the exterior of the hat was soaked on a trip to the national landmark, the hat dried quickly and retained shape and fit.

Not even the mighty Niagara
can stop it!

Now I have been blessed/cursed with my father's and grandfather's genes.  This means my head lacks some natural covering.  The Barmah hat provides covering that can be worn in the heat of summer or the bitter temperatures of winter.  While I have not worn the suede during excessively high temperatures, the kangaroo hat does a great job of allowing my noggin to breathe in the heat.  As far as cold temps, both hats keep my head plenty warm.

Even the September sun and dust are under control.

The price points for the Barmah hat varieties are in the $75 or less range.  I’m pretty cheap when it comes to clothing and apparel, but I believe in the worth of the Barmah hat enough that I have bought two.  I can be pretty rough on them, as I wear them in the woods and in the field, and they continue to survive unscathed. 
In a recent interview with the Outdoor Blogger Network, I responded to the question "What is the one thing you cannot do without?" with "My Barmah hat."  In fact, my Barmah hat is not just a hat, it identifies me!

Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the blog site Bill Howard's Outdoors. He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Gear Review: Fieldline Glenwood Canyon Backpack

About once each year I try to get away for a two to three day hunt.  I try to ‘rough’ it, camping beneath the stars and enjoying nature.  It presents a bit more of a challenge and separates myself from the ‘rest of the world.’  When I do this type of hunt, it is necessary to have a good backpack that brings comfort and functionality into the equation.  Hiking several miles into the wilderness can take its toll and you need a way to bring in the necessities.
I tested the Fieldline Glenwood Canyon pack recently.  I have other Fieldline products, including a backpack, and they do a nice job of combining low costs with nice workmanship to make their products a really good value.  The backpack I owned is comfortable and spacious but I had to strap my bow on the outside without any support.
First of all, the Glenwood Canyon pack comes in two camouflage patterns featuring Realtree and Mossy Oak.  I mostly use Realtree so that is what I chose for my pack.  The local stores that carry the G.C. pack only had Mossy Oak as a choice.  It has an internal frame for pack support.
The straps on the pack offer a waist belt and a chest buckle strap for better comfort.  The chest strap is attached to two straps located on each shoulder strap to allow it to slide up and down for personal adjustments. They are also well padded to prevent extra fatigue on the shoulders.
Over the left shoulder is an access port for a hydration bladder, which has a separated compartment in the main bag.  On top of the bag is a strapped rain cover with an extra zippered compartment.  It does not provide a lot of storage, but is nice for something like a wallet or map.
On both the right and left sides are zippered compartments that can be reached with the pack still on.  These hold items such as a rangefinder, binoculars, cell phone, and flashlight.  I found it pretty easy to reach in a feel for the items I was looking for.
An angled zippered compartment rests in the center of the pack.  I keep my Knives of Alaska knives there as well as my LED Lenser headlamp.  Snacks would likely fit there as well.  Two adjustable snap straps are located on the outside of this compartment for strapping something like a foam pad or small tent.  The straps can be adjusted to a diameter of approximately 6 to 7 inches.
To the left is another zipper that allows access to the main pack area.  This is nice as you do not have to open the pack from the top and can get to items located in the bottom of the pack without pulling everything out.  The zipper is about 12 inches long.
On the left side of the pack are 2 adjustable straps along the side and a small zipper at the bottom.  After unzipping the bottom, a boot pouch with 2 straps attached to it can be pulled out to accommodate the butt of a rifle or shotgun or the lower cam of a compound bow.  As a bowhunter, I naturally tried it out with my compound.  The boot pouch does not work well with a compound with parallel limbs, but if I strapped the riser with the straps on the side and strapped the string with the two straps in the center, it did hold the bow pretty steady.  It does not work will with the quiver on.  However, for a firearm, the boot works great and the pack held fine.
The access to the main pack compartment is under the rain cover.  There are two straps sown into the access material that are rolled and then fastened to prevent any water from entering.  It also can add several inches of storage.  Inside you also have access to where the hydration bladder would be located.
All the zippers have a rubberized material covering the closed zipper area and also have plastic lined pull strings with large loops.
Here is the best part of the pack; it can be bought for under $30.  As far as holding up, if it is like my other Fieldline Pack it will hold up fine for years if it is used for a few trips each year.  My other pack has been through some reasonable abuse and has held up fine for the last 5 years.  I do not like the absence of straps on the bottom or top to connect a sleeping bag for instance.  The inner compartment has plenty of room for use as a one to three day pack.
Overall, the price is hard to beat providing features of packs that are in the $150-$200 price range.  The functionality for a gun hunter or hiker is great.  I will continue to use this in the future for short multi day trips.

Glenwood Canyon Frame Pack

(Company Specs)

Dimensions : 20 in x 15 in x 8.5 in / 50.8 cm x 38.1 cm x 21.59 cm
  • Top and vertical pack entries
  • Front access scope pocket
  • Stowable rifle carrier pouch with zipper closure
  • Hydration compatible (2-liter Hydration Reservoir sold separately)
  • Top flap includes zippered compartment
  • 2 compression straps to secure your load
  • Ultra quiet zipper pulls
  • 2 large zippered side pockets
  • Gear-lock attachment points on waist belt
  • Yoked shoulder strap system with adjustable sternum slider
  • Adjustable waist and chest straps
  • Vertical front entry opening for easy access to gear
  • Top compartment has been designed with quiet roll-top closure
  • Stowable rifle carrier pouch with zipper closure

Want to read more reviews?  Bill Howard's Outdoors Reviews and GiveEmTheShaft Reviews

Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the blog site Bill Howard's Outdoors. He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Custom Built Bow in Progress

Lester Harper, owner of LH Custom Archery, is fashioning a custom take-down recurve for the staff (that would be me) at and  Lester can be reached at if you have any questions about a custom bow for yourself.  You can also see some of his other works-in-progress at his website by clicking the photo.

The nice thing about a customer bow is you get to choose the look you want to go along with the draw weight you need.  With traditional bows (longbows and recurves), draw weight is measured at 28" draw length.  If your draw is longer, the weight would be greater.  Conversely, if your draw is shorter, the draw weight will be less than the weight listed.  This is important to know in areas where there is a minimum draw weight.  For instance, here in North Carolina, a minimum of 40lbs of pull can be used for traditional archery equipment when bowhunting.  If you purchase a recurve with 40lbs, but you only have a 26 inch draw, you will be below the requirements of the law.

Below is some pictures of my bow in progress of being built.  You'll see there is a lot of work put forth in the shape, look, and overall fashioning of the bow.  I chose zebra wood for the riser and limbs with a cocobolo accent.  Before it is finished, it will also have a partial copperhead snake skin on the risers.

Form for shaping the limbs.

Limb being placed in form.

Wood blocks to be used in the rise and limbs.

Blocks put together prior to cutting the shape of the riser.

Riser begins to take shape.

Riser and one of the limbs.
Here is a short video of some of LH Custom Archery's work featuring the Apostle bow.

Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the blog site Bill Howard's Outdoors. He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.