Christmas Gifts for the retriever lover

Pro-staff Contributor:  Zach Raulie

Important not to forget your hardest worker in the field on Christmas morning!

Important not to forget your hardest worker in the field on Christmas morning!

It’s creeping up on us faster it seems every year; Christmas that is.  My wife and family members are always asking what I’d wish for this Christmas.  Another new puppy isn’t likely this year but outfitting our newest pup is.  We’re not easy people to shop for, us hunters.  I bet most hunters’ families agree that “he has it all, so what do I get him”.  Here are some great pre-holiday thoughts on my top picks that will be for both me and my retriever Finn, for Christmas 2013.

Stocking Stuffers

Avery EZB Mallard

Avery EZB Mallard

A retriever owner can never have too many training bumpers and this really goes without saying as each season we lose some, pups chews some up or a couple extra just to make sure you have what you need next training season.

Whether by Mud River or Avery Outdoors these bags are fantastic for weekend hunting trips and overnight stays at the in-laws while you’re out of town keeping the dog food dry and transportable in an easy to tote bag.

You can never have enough.  Get a fluorescent color for upland game, one for waterfowling and another for the local playground.  Inexpensive and always useful in the day-to-day retriever world.

Nice list

My mother mentions that Christmas is a time when you gift something to someone that they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves.  Maybe the hunter in your life would like an item that they’ve done without for some time, but it sure would be nice to have.  Here are those items.

Maybe that new puppy you bought last Christmas is now ready for advanced training or maybe it has taken on a few bad habits that need some attention.  Whether for an upland bird dog or a new waterfowler SportDog has the right electronic collar for the job.  The Sportdog Wetland hunter is by far my pick of the litter.

Avery Jr. Ruff Stand

Retriever feeling extra comfortable Avery Jr. Ruff Stand and vest

A retriever never knew luxury could be so good until the Ruff Stand was developed.  This is a gift that every waterfowler has dreamt of and it sure makes waterfowling with your best friend a whole lot better experience whether in the marshes or the timber.  On many days this has provided a dry stable location for all my retrievers.

Products made by Avery Outdoors or Drake have years of experience in fine tuning the correct fit for man’s best friend.  A Dog Vest makes a great item for the retriever to insulate them on cold mornings in the blind and protect them from potential harm beneath the water’s surface.

Check out these and the entire selection of proven Guide Recommended Gear at

Christmas gifts for the Ice angler

Pro-staff Contributor: Jeff Gustafson

The direct message inboxes on my social media pages always start to get busy this time of year as the wives and girlfriends of my fishing and hunting buddies send me messages looking for ideas on what to get their “significant other” for Christmas.

For those of us that live in the north or in the “Ice Belt” as we like to refer to it, ice fishing is an activity that keeps us busy for four or five months out of the year.  Winter is long and there is no better way to spend time in the outdoors than by fishing on the ice.

Here are some great gift ideas to cover several price ranges for the hardwater angler on your list, all available on the ICE FISHING page at

Ontario Sunset Country Walleye

Gussy with a Ontario Sunset Country Walleye

Stocking StuffersFresh fishing line always helps catch more fish in open water and on the ice.  Power Pro Ice Tek is a top-notch braided line designed specifically for ice fishing.  It is specially coated to prevent freezing so anglers can fish without having to constantly clean ice off their line.

The Strikemaster Bait Puck is a handy little item that can be used to store things in our pockets.  I have used these for years for store tackle, live bait and other small items I want to keep dry or protect.  They are great for those remote, back country trips where packing light is a necessity.


Gussy Ice Jiggin’ for Crappie

 Nice list

Tip-ups and Combos

Anglers can never have to many fishing rods – so a new combo is always welcomed.  Depending on what your gift recipient likes to fish for, there is an ice fishing rod and reel combo that will work for them.  Anglers that fish for panfish like perch, bluegills or crappies should consider light or medium light action rods.  Walleye anglers should look at medium action rods, while pike and lake trout anglers should be using medium-heavy or heavy action rods.

Many anglers use good quality fishing rods in winter but team them up with mediocre reels.  This is a mistake because if you hook into a big fish, you’ll want to have the quality drag that comes with a good reel.  I use Shimano Sedona 500 size reels on my panfish combos and 1000 size models on my walleye and trout rods.  These reels are still affordable, while offering a big upgrade from the reels the come with most rod and reel combos.

A fleet of tip-ups is always handy, especially if the angler on your list especially likes to fish for pike.  Fishing dead baits under a tip-up with a quick-strike rig remains the number one technique for catching big pike, no matter where you fish.  My favourite is the Frabill Thermal 10” Round Tip-Up because it helps prevent your hole from freezing and they are very easy to store in a regular five gallon bucket.

Monster Hard Water Northern Pike

Monster Hard Water Northern Pike

Keep’em Warm!

Like most winter outdoor activities, keeping warm is one of the biggest keys, but with ice fishing even more important, as you find yourself standing on a giant sheet of ice.  Two key things to keep you warm are to have good base layers and proper footwear.  Nothing keeps you warm and dry like Under Armour Base Layer products.  For that special someone’s feet, consider a good pair of insulated boots or wool socks.

very very Nice listIf you really want to spoil somebody with a great gift, can help you out.

Hans down, the best suit on the market for the serious ice angler is the Frabill SnoSuit.  I have worn this suit for several years and I can promise you that it is warm and extremely comfortable in any kind of nasty winter weather, and trust me, I get to test it out over the course of our long, Canadian winter.  It is well built with plenty of cool little features designed for ice fishing.  It will last for many years on the ice!

Most serious anglers own a flasher or depth finder of some sort (a fish finder/depth finder device) and most of them would probably not even consider hitting the ice without one.  They allow us to check the depth of the water, see fish that are below our hole and watch how fish interact with our lure.  For the past five years I have used the Humminbird ICE 55.  It is very easy to use and will increase any anglers catches on the ice.  If you think your angler could use an upgrade on their flasher, this is the one you want.

Ontario’s Sunset Country Region ( where I live is one of the top ice fishing destinations in North America.  With over 75,000 lakes across the region there is no shortage of water to fish!  If you would like the plan the dream ice fishing trip, visit the link above and you can find the lodge or outfitter to help you plan your trip.  Many of the top TV fishing shows, outdoor writers and photographers visit this region every winter to take advantage of all of the great fishing opportunities that exist here.  I promise a great trip!

Jeff Gustafson is a professional angler living in Kenora, Ontario on the shores of Lake of the Woods. Outdoor writer, fishing promoter and host of “Fishing with Gussy.” You’ll see him fishing the Walmart FLW Tour representing and Lund boats among others. You can follow him on Twitter (@GussyOutdoors) and like him on Facebook (

Tips for your Retrievers First Hunt

Pro-staff Contributor:  Zach Raulie

I picked up my pup Finn up north of Atlanta, Georgia as a 7 week old black lab pup on soggy and cold January en route to a Kansas duck hunt.  What have I done since to prepare him for hunting this season, is he ready?

A young Finn

A young Finn

Fast forward 10 months, the migration has started and fall is well upon us.  Many states upland and waterfowl seasons have already begun.  Hopefully you have spent time this summer with your new retriever pup working on the basics, socializing in many environments and transitioning from yard work to field work.

Zach putting in the preparation with Finn

Zach putting in the preparation with Finn

Proper Preparation: My buddies that know me well know I am a big believer in the 5P’s.


Silly as it may seem, this college acronym is one of the few that stuck with me.  I like a retriever who’s prepared.  I hope to have Finn going into his first duck hunt thinking “been there, done that”.  Like an athlete who understands their role and at game time puts forth a solid effort and gets the job done.  I don’t expect that player to do this without countless hours conditioning, practice and watching film.

Don’t let “game day” be the day your pup experiences everything for the first time.  So here are 4 Keys to making your retrievers first hunt a success:

  1. Introduce your retriever to birds early.
    1. Start with a duck wing & live pigeons in your back yard.  Graduate up to using live mallards or pheasants in field-work to simulate a real hunting situation, so when that first greenhead hits the water he isn’t just nosing it and licking it.
  2. Train how you hunt.
    1. If you hunt out of a boat or ground blind make sure your pup is familiar with these and the dog stand/blind they may hunt from.
    2. Introduce your dog to all types of decoys that they’ll be running or swimming through.
    3. If you use duck/goose calls, use them in and around your pup while training
  3. Gun shots
    1. Familiarize your retriever with the tools you’ll be using; you don’t want to create a gun shy dog on its first hunt.
  4. Set realistic expectations of your hunt
    1. Don’t expect a young retriever to do a seasoned retriever’s work.
    2. If you haven’t mastered a blind retrieve in training don’t try it in the field.
Important to work with real birds before the first hunt!

Important to work with real birds before the first hunt!

One of the best ways to prepare your retriever for hunting situations is by joining a local retriever club.  Participate in their monthly or weekly training days and their semi-annual hunt tests.  A great way to learn training tips, experience real hunting situations and see what finished retrievers can do.

Training days will simulate almost all situations presented to a retriever while hunting; allowing you to train, practice and teach your pup invaluable lessons.  All the sights, sounds and smells associated with a real hunt are present at these events, including your own excitement.

Finn equally comfortable in both the field and water

Finn equally comfortable in both the field and water

Hunts tests are sanctioned by UKC or AKC organizations and designed to challenge your retriever against a minimum standard for grading.  These are also fun competitive events, and much can be learned by simply attending and observing; or for those with a competitive heart they tend to be very addictive and truly rewarding as you watch your retriever handle tough conditions and excel during challenging hunts.

I mention all of this as a way to prepare our retrievers for “game day”, the big hunt or season opener.  When you show up with pup on their first hunt, hopefully the sounds, smells and excitement are nothing new to them.  One of the best suggestions I was ever given about a retriever’s first hunt is for the handler of the dog to put his or her gun away that day or at least to the side at first.  Focus on your retriever.  Make sure they are steady to gun, obedient and controlled.  Taking this time to focus on the dog will be more rewarding here on out as they are less likely to form bad habits.


Finn is ready for his first hunt, but prior to that he will be participating in his first UKC hunt test in November.  I think we are more than prepared but I’m sure he will exploit an area or two that we will need to work on before opening day here in Florida.

Zach Raulie is an avid hunter and amateur retriever trainer living outside of Jacksonville, Florida.   He is a multi-year qualifier for the World’s Duck Calling Contest and is highly competitive in AKC and UKC sanctioned hunt tests.  You’ll see Zach representing and Lodge Creek Calls in all of his endeavors each year.  You can contact Zach at and find him on Facebook

My First Season: Beaver Trapping

Pro-staff Contributor: Michaela Anderson

I began trapping my senior year of high school with one of my favorite hunting partners. We were in the same outdoor connections class and our teacher used to trap in Alaska so we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to learn something new.  We only trapped a few weeks that first winter but were able to get two grey fox and learned a ton before our mentor moved back to Alaska. I go to college in St. Paul and there are not many places to trap near by so I took a year off. Last year I decided to try trapping something new after talking to my grandpa. He wanted to hire a trapper to trap the beavers that according to him were “devastating“ the forest at our farm. Because I had never trapped beavers before I did some research online to try to learn as many different tactics as possible before I actually tried my hand at trapping a beaver. YouTube helped a lot because there are plenty of videos that go through how and where to place different sets.

53lb Trapped Beaver

53lb Trapped Beaver

At our farm it was pretty obvious where the beavers were feeding so from there I started looking for slides and trails. Slides are where the beaver actually slides down the bank on his stomach back into the water. You can tell if they are fresh or recently used if they are muddy. I had a dozen snares from when we trapped foxes so I decided I would try to us them first. I was able to find five slides near where they were feeding and that is where I decided to place my first sets.

            When making my sets I started by cutting 2 sticks from a surrounding tree to use to keep the snare in place. These sticks can’t be flimsy they need to hold up to being pushed into the ground and the weight of the snare.  You want to place these sticks in the water one on each side of the slide and about an inch or two in front of where the slide meets the water. I took a small diameter wire and ran it through a rubber ring on the snare, which I used to hold the snare in between the two sticks I placed in the water. I had my snares partially in the water so it hid a portion of the snare. The bottom of the snare should be at least 2 to 3 inches off the ground if the beaver is going to be walking through your set. The loop on the snare should have a diameter of about 7 to 10 inches. With a snare you want to catch the animal by the neck so the trap will work effectively if you have your trap to low or with too big of a loop you may catch the animal by the stomach or miss them all together.

            You have to tie your trap to something that can with stand the fight of the animal you are trapping. This was the part I was most concerned about because there were not a ton of big trees in the area I was setting my traps. When I could not tie to a tree I used a big rebar steak and drove it as far as I could into the ground and tied the trap to that. The lead on the snares I was using was about 3 feet after setting the loop of the snare. This was nice because I was able to hide the snare wire better than the cord I used to tie the trap to. I used a thick wire cable that is coated in rubber so it is easy to tie but hard to cut.

Once you have your trap set and anchored you want to block off any other possible paths. We used broken tree limbs and sticks you don’t need to make it impossible to go through. Animals will try to go through the clearest path so adding obstacles on the nearest alterative paths increases your odds of the animal going through your trap. Beavers make caster mounds, which are clumps of mud that the beaver will secrete caster onto to mark their territory. You can order beaver caster online so I used that to make my own caster mounds in hope of causing the local beavers to come and investigate the new smell. I was not sure if this would actually work but I did notice all the mounds I built were destroyed with-in a week. I also added some fresh shaved birch sticks, which from my research I found out is a favorite snack of beavers, in the slide to try to attract a hungry beaver. 

            My grandpa came out with me and helped me set traps the first day. We set 9 total snares because some of the slides split as the entered the water. He definitely had his doubts as we were setting the snares; he kept asking me if I knew what I was doing or just making stuff up on the go. But after an hour our two we had all the sets ready to go. Unfortunately I had to go back home that night to get back for class in the morning so I had my grandpa check the traps for me the next morning. In Minnesota you need to check your traps every 24 hours but you can give someone written permission to check traps on your behalf if you cannot. That first morning I was so excited to hear from my grandpa that I could hardly pay attention in class. I knew from my previous experience with the foxes that the first night normally gives you a good idea if there are animals interested in your bait or using your trails. The first night is also when most misses happen because you are not sure what to expect or exactly how to place the trap. My grandpa finally called and he had good news, we had trapped our first beaver! It wasn’t any average beaver either it was a 53 pound beaver! This thing was massive it measured into the biggest class of beavers which is a double blanket. We also trapped three of the pups before the pond iced over.


Michaela showing result after skinning beaver

            The hardest part was skinning and fleshing this massive beaver. I was really nervous because I did not want to ruin the hide and I had never skinned a beaver before so I was going off of YouTube videos. After it was all said and done I think I did a good job there were no massive holes just a couple small cuts. The pelt is at the tannery now and I am looking forward to getting it back to see how it turned out.


Three Pup Pelts

Michaela Anderson is a professional angler fishing the FLW, B.A.S.S. College Circuits and select FLW Walmart Tour events representing, Trigger X
and the University of St. Thomas. You can follow her on Twitter
(@MichaelaFishing) and like her on Facebook (


Join us this weekend at Hard Water Expo

Don’t let the cooling weather get you down, it just means ice fishing is just a few weeks away.  Get a jump-start on the hard water season by checking out all the latest and greatest ice fishing gear, houses, augers, tackle and more this weekend at the Blaine Hard Water Ice Fishing Expo.

Set the Hook at the Hard Water Expo

Set the Hook at the Hard Water Expo

Kruger Farms plans to have great deals on just about every ice fishing item they carry including the best selection of the new 13 fishing rods, reels and clothing. is also having a guided trip and gear away.

KF_Hard_Water_Ice_Fishing_expo_flyerLocation: NSC Schwan Center, 1750 105th Ave NE, Blaine, MN 55449.
Hours: Friday, November 1, 2 – 8 p.m.; Saturday, November 2, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sunday, November 3, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $10/day; Students, $7/day. 11 and under admitted free. Unlimited free parking. Go to Fishing Facebook Page for $1 Off Coupon on Admission.

Features: ice fishing celebrities, seminars and classes, guide services, wheel houses, youth programs, travel destinations, new equipment, outdoor equipment testing.

Unique things to look for at the Hard Water Ice Fishing Expo:

Kids’ programs. Special youth activities, including a fish pond. and Fishing for Life will team up to provide a great way to get usable equipment into the hands of kids. Attendees are invited to drop off old rods and reels at the booth at the Hard Water Ice Fishing Expo. Those making a donation will receive a $5 off coupon for any ice fishing combo at the booth. Fishing for Life will then take the old rods and reels and refurbish them for kids who want to fish.