SEPTEMBER 25, 2023

Welcome back to another edition of The Hunting Wire!

We kick off this hunting season with a new column from Chad Belding called "Keep Talking." Over the next several months, check in to hear from Chad as he talks with our readers about what's important to him. We also continue our Q&A series with the good folks at Federal's Custom Ammunition Shop, and we get to hear all about Ken Perrotte's California hunt for for Columbian Blacktails. Last but not least, we are pleased to announce our 2023-2024 Voice of Leadership Panel cohort. Peek inside this edition to see if any of your friends made the cut.

Enjoy this issue!

Thank you,

Jay Pinsky

DENVER (September 22, 2023) – The outdoor community mourns the loss of a beloved figure, Louise Shockey. Wife of renowned hunting personality, Jim Shockey, Louise was known for her strength and passion for the outdoors. Sadly, after a courageous battle with late-stage lung cancer, she has passed away. Her spirit and dedication to the outdoor lifestyle will be deeply missed.

Louise was known for her fierce strength, unwavering passion for the outdoors, and her warm, welcoming spirit. She was a pillar of the outdoor community, inspiring many with her commitment to conservation and the promotion of sustainable hunting practices.

"We are deeply saddened to hear the news of the untimely passing of Louise Shockey. She left an indelible mark on us all with her infectious enthusiasm, boundless energy, and unwavering commitment to her family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim, Branlin, Eva and the entire Shockey family during this difficult time, and we extend our deepest condolences,” said Matt Hutchings, President and CEO of Outdoor Sportsman Group. 

Throughout her life, Louise was an active participant in outdoor activities, often accompanying her husband on his hunting expeditions and sharing their adventures with a worldwide audience. All of this can be seen in the two-part MyOutdoorTV special about the Shockey’s, available for free to all at MyOutdoorTV.Com. During the episodes, viewers will see first-hand of her infectious enthusiasm for the outdoors, and how she played a crucial role in promoting and preserving the outdoor lifestyle.

In addition to her contributions to the outdoor community, Louise will be remembered for her kindness, generosity, and the indomitable spirit she showed during her battle with cancer. Her legacy will live on through the countless lives she touched and inspired.

About Outdoor Sportsman Group: Outdoor Sportsman Group is comprised of the world's foremost media and entertainment brands for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. It includes three leading multichannel networks: Outdoor Channel, Sportsman Channel and World Fishing Network, as well as Sportsman Channel (Canada) and MOTV, the world's leading subscription streaming platform created for outdoor lifestyle enthusiasts. The Group also consists of numerous established publishing assets: 15 outdoor magazines, including Guns & Ammo, Game & Fish, Petersen's HUNTING, In-Fisherman, and 20 top websites, including Additionally, Outdoor Sportsman Group includes television production operations, Winnercomm. For more information, visit

Together with VoLP partners, The NRA's Hunter Leadership Forum and The Outdoor Stewards of Conservation Foundation, The Hunting Wire is pleased to announce our 2023-2024 Voice of Leadership Panel cohort!

2023-2024 Voice of Leadership Panelists

Jon Zinnel, Federal Ammunition
Dan Forster, Archery Trade Association
Brent Miller, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation
Rick Brazell, First Hunt Foundation
Mark Peterson, Worldwide Trophy Adventure
Michelle Scheuermann, Bullet Proof Communications 


The Voice of Leadership Panel is an appointed group of outdoor industry leaders who have volunteered to contribute their voices on crucial hunting and outdoor recreation issues to inform, inspire, and educate participants within our community.

Early Season Goose Hunting: Chad’s Strategies for Success

I’m Chad Belding, with The Fowl Life Television, and I am stoked to share the knowledge I have accumulated from our good friends and waterfowl experts across the country.

As the season approaches, I am filled with excitement to kick things off. One big thing on my mind this time of year is early-season goose hunting. Early season requires a unique set of strategies to increase your chance of a successful hunt. Today, I have put together essential tips and techniques to help you gear up, scout effectively, blend into your surroundings, call with finesse, and make the most of your harvest. Let’s Keep Talkin’!

Gear Up - Layering and Essential Gear

Mastering the concept of layering is crucial for early-season goose hunting comfort. Unpredictable weather and temperature fluctuations can demand windproof and waterproof gear as an outer shell, but keeping the option of layering down is essential as the day rolls on and warms up. I recommend layering moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, and windproof and waterproof outer layers to stay warm and dry. Carhartt bibs are my go-to choice for providing protection from the elements and safeguarding my clothing and gear from blood. My Banded gear is one of the top contributors to success in any hunt, so protecting it is a must!

The Importance of Scouting and Understanding Your Birds

Scouting and planning are the linchpin of early-season goose hunting. Local birds are the knowledge champions of their territory and surroundings, making a low-profile approach essential to your success in fooling them. Use smaller decoy spreads and keep things looking low-stress and relaxed to match their behavior. The migration hasn't really started yet in most early-season goose hunts. The birds have mated, and a main gander has been chosen to lead. These birds are going to notice right away if your spread looks suspicious or overdone. Deploy around three dozen decoys, give or take by a little depending on the amount of birds you have scouted, to blend in and gain the trust of the smaller flocks present during this time.

Concealment is an art

Remember, concealment is where the real magic in early-season goose hunting takes place. Believe it or not, geese, my friends, have eyes that could rival those of a bird of prey. The structure of the eye in waterfowl allows the birds to see objects in fine detail two and a half to three times farther away than humans can. Ducks and geese can also see a much broader spectrum of colors-spanning from near-ultraviolet to red than people do. It's imperative to master the skill of blending seamlessly into your surroundings. Nature's vegetation becomes your ally in this endeavor; use it wisely to become as invisible as possible to keen-eyed geese. Remember to always ask permission from landowners to trim limbs and grass to create the perfect hideout. By blending seamlessly into your surroundings, your chances of being busted by wary birds are less likely.

The golden rule: Always leave your hunting spot in better condition than you found it. Keeping our hunting areas pristine is not only ethical but ensures that you can return for future hunts without issue. Pick up your hauls and trash, only drive vehicles where you have permission, close every gate you open immediately, and use common sense when you are a guest on someone’s property. We are all responsible for representing outdoorsmen and hunters in a positive way.

Sweet Talkin' and patience

Let’s talk about calling. When it comes to calling, early-season goose hunting is the perfect example of less is more. Keep this golden rule firmly in mind: Restraint in your calling can yield remarkable results. Mirror the relaxed demeanor of the geese with realistic clucks and moans. You can gradually increase the intensity of your calling if needed but never overdo it. The objective is to entice the geese closer, not scare them away. So proceed light-handed on the calls, and watch the bird’s back flap right into your range.

Walk it out

In the early goose season, it's not uncommon to encounter situations where these birds land about 80 yards or so away from your setup. While it can be frustrating, it's essential not to rush in with shots. Instead, you'll want to gently guide them away from the outskirts of your decoy spread. Shooting into them will not only scare off the flock and educate them, but you also run the risk of spooking other nearby geese. To address this, consider sending a trusty dog to do the job, or if you're without one, take a slow and deliberate approach to walk them out. This way, you maintain the integrity of your hunting area while ensuring those elusive early-season geese don't overstay their welcome on the fringes of your decoy spread.

"Keep Talkin'" is not a one-way street. We invite you to participate actively in this community. Your inquiries and questions are not only welcomed but also encouraged. So, please contact us at, and let's talk about our waterfowl addiction!

For those who may not know, I belong to an exclusive club within the hunting industry known as the 6.5-284 Norma Club. Becoming a member is the easy part. You must shoot the world’s greatest medium game cartridge, the 6.5-284 Norma. The hard part is feeding your rifle. Factory ammo does exist, but pickings are slim. Recently, I discovered that I could add one more world-class ammunition manufacturer to my list of coveted 6.5-284 Norma ammunition sources – Federal.

Whoa. Whoa. Whoa, Jay. You can’t fool me! Sure, the 6.5-284 Norma is the world’s best medium game rifle cartridge, but Federal doesn’t list the 6.5-284 Norma on their website as a factory load.

Up until I spoke with Federal’s all-world marketing guy, J.J. Reich, I would have agreed with you, but Federal does load 6.5-284 Norma. They just do it in Santa’s Little Workshop of Ammunition, known formally as Federal Custom Shop Ammunition.

“We now have a specific selection of rifle and TSS shotshell loads that we will build on-demand, per order,” said Federal Ammunition President Jason Vanderbrink. “For example, Barnes 120-grain Tipped TSX in 6.5-284 Norma and 28-gauge TSS turkey loads aren’t products we list in our catalog, but you can certainly order them through our Custom Shop.”

Indeed, the Custom Shop loads quite a few other kinds of ammunition besides the all-mighty 6.5-284 Norma. According to Federal, customers can order direct from several different shotshell and centerfire rifle offerings, with a wide selection of the best bullets from Federal, Speer, Nosler, Sierra, Berger, and more. In addition, custom TSS Shotshells for turkey, waterfowl and upland game are available.

“The Federal Custom Shop is an all-new way to deliver your preference of the perfect centerfire rifle or shotgun load built by our ammunition experts,” said Vanderbrink.

Custom Shop products are for hunters and shooters who demand ammunition tailored for their individual needs at the highest level of quality, or who can’t find the right ammunition on the retail shelf.

I bet you have questions now. I have some answers from the Custom Shop team:

Is this factory ammunition or hand-loaded ammunition?

An elite group of Federal’s most experienced employees were selected to work in the Custom Shop. They are true experts, because every round of Federal’s industry-leading ammunition starts at the reloading bench. Using the best components available, these expert engineers handcraft this ammunition to order. In fact, each box of Custom Shop ammunition will be signed by the Federal employee who hand-loaded it.

Where is Federal’s Custom Shop located?

The Federal Ammunition factory in Anoka, Minnesota, is a 700,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility where 1,400 employees work in three shifts, 24/7, to produce millions of rounds of centerfire, rimfire and shotshell ammo per day. The custom shop is a separate, secured room inside the huge Federal Ammunition facility. It is a dedicated, state-of-the-art reloading workshop focused on the utmost attention to detail, quality and care for each hand-loaded round produced.

How will the order process work?

A dedicated page on takes Custom Shop users to an order form, where they select their ammunition options and preferences, then purchase the custom ammunition via credit card. There will be a comment section where customers can add notes for Federal’s hand-loading technician to consider when building the loads. The order will then be meticulously hand-loaded in the Custom Shop. Each round is then hand-checked with a final cleaning and inspection before being packed in Custom packaging and shipped out. Since ammunition is made-to-order, typical lead time is approximately 3 to 4 weeks to produce. Buyers will receive their order after a few days of shipping time.

How much detail will a customer get to choose online?

Federal’s online shopping site for the Custom Shop offers visitors the ability to select their version of the perfect rifle or shotshell load. For centerfire rifle, customers can choose from a variety of cartridges and then select a specific bullet type and weight. For shotshell, customers can select gauges, hull sizes, shot size and other options. The Custom Shop is a way to provide customers with more options that are not in its vast commercial catalog. If a desired custom ammunition option is not listed, it is simply not possible through the shop at this time. The long list of options on the Custom Shop menu is set, although options will change as the shop grows.

What cartridge options will be available for centerfire rifle?

Hunters and shooters select cartridge, projectile, and grain weight, choosing from a menu of available options. The Custom Shop will include ammunition for hard-to-find, SAAMI-approved cartridges that will be offered by Federal for the first time. Examples include 6.5-284 Norma, 26 Nosler, 257 Weatherby, 264 Win. Mag., 284 Win., 300 PRC, and 6.5-300 Weatherby Mag. Expect to also find popular calibers such as the 243 Win., 257 Roberts +P, 270 Win., 270 WSM, 308 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag., 30-06 Springfield, 6.5 Creedmoor, and 338 Federal in the Custom Shop.

What bullet options will be available for centerfire rifle?

Customers will also be able to buy ammunition with bullets not currently offered in Federal’s factory ammunition lineup. Examples include the Nosler AccuBond Long Range, Speer Impact, Barnes Tipped TSX, Nosler Partition, and Hornady ELD-X. Other bullets include Trophy Copper, Federal Premium Terminal Ascent, Berger Hunter Hybrid, Sierra MatchKing, and Nosler AccuBond. The specific list of available bullets varies per cartridge selected.

For Custom Shop Centerfire ammunition, how are components selected?

All components will be hand-selected for each load ordered. Custom Shop centerfire brass is selected and stocked for each cartridge. Primers are all Gold Medal Match, appropriately specified GM210M for standard cartridges or GM215M for magnums. Powders are chosen in the load design phase for optimum pressure, velocity and accuracy for the application. Each cartridge and bullet combination is a specific design in and of itself.

If Federal produces the brass we will use it, otherwise we source from top-quality suppliers such as Norma, Lapua, Nosler, Weatherby and others. Non-Federal brass will most likely not be FC headstamps, but rather the manufacturer’s headstamp. All brass will be nickel plated.

What types of inspection are done to make this ammo accurate?

Expert loading technicians will check multiple accuracy-enhancing specifications to maximize the potential of Custom Shop ammo. Technicians start with case/hull inspection, culling any potential defects, and will execute a series of inspections including, bullet-to-case concentricity, overall length, and base-to-bore dimensions. These checks coupled with extremely tight powder drop tolerance will ensure the maximum potential accuracy of all Custom Shop loads.

Can customers specify other aspects such as overall cartridge length or desired velocity?

Loading process aspects such as cartridge length and bullet seating depth, as well as performance criteria such as velocity will not be available for selection at this time. Rest assured, every ammo combination offered in the Custom Shop has been optimized for peak performance by Federal’s expert engineers. The experienced craftsmen and women in the Custom Shop will be combining only the best components with hands-on quality checks at every stage of the loading process. This attention to detail will produce consistent velocity, accuracy, safety, and overall performance for each round.

What shotshell options will be available?

The Custom Shop will offer more than 35 possible shotshell combinations loaded with Federal’s dense tungsten super shot (TSS) that is designed with turkey and waterfowl hunters in mind. Customers will choose their gauge, shell length, shot size and shot weight from a list of options. Gauges will include 10, 12, 16, 20 and 28, as well as .410 bore, with shotshell length varying from 2¾ inch up to 3½ inches. Payloads will range from 11/16-ounce up to a heavy-hitting 2½-ounce, and TSS shot sizes such as 7, 8, 9, and 10 will be available for selection.

Will the ammo be test-fired for accuracy or pattern tested?

Each batch of centerfire Custom Shop loads is tested for pressure and velocity. Accuracy is also validated for each batch of centerfire rifle loads. For shotshell loads, the design and pattern is pattern tested, but each batch is not, which is the same procedure for our standard factory-loaded shotshell products.

For Custom Shop Shotshell, will Tungsten Super Shot (TSS) be the only shot type offered?

At launch of the Custom Shop, other shot type and material are not offered.

TSS is an incredibly dense shot that has taken the hand-loading world by storm in recent years, and it’s an integral part of Federal Premium’s HEAVYWEIGHT TSS and Black Cloud TSS loads. Shotshells loaded with TSS represent a big upgrade from anything previously available, letting hunters kill gobblers, waterfowl and upland game farther than they ever thought possible. Payloads of No. 7, 8, 9 or 10s TSS shot provide high pellet counts—in many cases, more than double compared to lead loads of the same weight. The shot is 18 grams per cubic centimeter density and is 56 percent denser than lead. TSS provides optimum energy and the highest velocities at long ranges. Customers who have been asking for more options in TSS loads, such as 2¾-inch shell length, 28-gauge or 16-gauge, can now get them from the Federal Custom Shop.

What primers and powders will be used for shotshells?

All components will be selected appropriately for each load ordered and hand-loaded. This means components vary depending on the load ordered. All primers are selected appropriately for each specific load. Although 28-gauge hulls with primers are currently sourced by Federal. All powders used are of high-quality, reliable propellants from Alliant Powder and other sources, selected appropriately to create the most ideal loads for the best performance based on the Federal Custom Shop’s expertise.

What hulls, wads and cards will be used?

High quality hulls are built to needs of specific gauges. Colors will be the same as standard Federal shotshell ammunition: Brown for 10-gauge, purple for 16-gauge, yellow for 20-gauge and Burgundy (red) for 12-gauge, 28-gauge and 410 bore.

Hulls will have the length and payload information printed on the hull using a high-quality Apex printer, not a print stamp that can wear off. Wads and over-powder or over-shot cards (when appropriate) will all be of the best components available. Some loads will feature FLITECONTROL wads, others might feature standard wads, depending on gauge choice and other criteria. Card materials will depend on availability for each specific gauge. Some cards might be plain and others might be clear with Federal branding.

Will shotshell loads be buffered and roll-crimped or fold-crimped?

Waterfowl and upland loads will not be buffered and will be fold-crimped. The turkey loads are all buffered and roll-crimped with an over-shot card. These features are similar and consistent to how Federal’s factory-produced shotshells are offered.

Why are Custom Shop Turkey Loads buffered and roll-crimped?

Federal Custom Shop TSS turkey loads use buffered shot and a roll crimp to further boost effectiveness. Buffer evenly distributes the ignition force throughout the payload, allowing for uniform separation of the shot at muzzle exit. The roll crimp provides uniform compression of the buffered payload, which generates consistent ballistics and better pattern efficiency. Combined with a polymer over-shot wad, it also ensures that the entire buffer remains sealed inside the cartridge.

Will orders be saved for a customer, so they get the exact same build again later?

Yes, if the customer creates an online account. However, component lots could obviously change over time.

Will customers receive ballistic information for their order of hand-loaded ammunition?

Yes. Customers will receive ballistic chart information for their custom rifle ammunition from Federal.

Will customers receive the component recipe or load data for their order of hand-loaded ammunition?

No. Customers will not receive their order’s component recipe and load data from Federal.

Can customers order wildcat cartridges?

No. The Custom Shop will not be offering wildcat rounds or services.

What if the Custom Shop isn’t currently offering the ammo I want?

Shooters and hunters who can’t find their desired caliber, bullet, preferred grain weight, or shotshell load for sale in the Custom Shop can let the team at Federal know what options should be considered for future offerings via the Custom Shop order form, on social media, or via our website’s contact form at

Can customers order and buy factory loaded ammunition online with their Custom Shop order?

Yes. The Custom Shop is part of Federal’s greater online shopping service. Select factory-loaded products are currently available to purchase online, direct from Federal. Customers can order both factory and custom shop ammunition on the same order, yet those products may ship separately based on factory ammunition inventory availability and Custom Shop lead times.

What will Custom Shop ammo cost?

Prices depend on caliber and shotshell configurations chosen. Customers can expect to see prices of $99.95 for a box of 20 rounds of rifle ammunition. A box of 10 shotshells will range from $79.95 for smaller payloads of TSS such as 410 bore, up to $120.95 for the larger 10-gauge payloads of TSS. Taxes and shipping charges will also be added. However, currently any order on over $100 ships free, and customers can combine Custom Shop orders with other Federal products for sale online to receive free shipping. Pricing and shipping costs are subject to change.

What can we expect from Federal Custom Shop in the future?

Loading the best projectiles from across the hunting and shooting world draws on Federal’s legacy dating back to 1977, when the company first began manufacturing rifle ammunition using premium bullets from other manufacturers such as Nosler and Sierra. In the future, expect Federal to build on this legacy by offering customers an expanding suite of options such as additional calibers, projectiles, grain weights, shotshell options, packaging choices, and more. Customers with ideas for future Custom Shop offerings are encouraged to contact the team at Federal. Federal listens to customer demand, so popular and frequently ordered custom shop ammunition might be added to the catalog as factory-loaded ammunition as well.

Customers are also encouraged to sign-up for Federal’s E-Newsletter for updates on Custom Shop ammunition, new products and much more. For more information about the Federal Custom Shop and all other products from Federal ammunition, visit:

A pair of young bucks pause in an opening - Ken Perrotte photo

Our position atop a small, grassy hilltop offered a panorama of several hundred acres of grape vines, precisely arrayed in sections at Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery, a modest, seventh-generation farm near Paso Robles in California Central Coast wine country. We had classic “command of the high ground,” something sought by countless armies for millennia. But we weren’t defending anything. We weren’t even hunting. We had all tagged out the day before. Instead, we were like spectators in an arena, riveted to a couple of distant moving dots, hugging the shadowed side of the grapevines.

Those dots were Arizona gun writer Fred Mastison, Texas deer-hunting legend, and wildlife biologist Larry Weishuhn. They were sneaking toward a bedded Columbian black-tail buck hanging out mid-vineyard with a few buddies.

Weishuhn, Mastison, and their guide Lucas Paugh had spotted the deer as they slowly crept around the edge of the sprawling vineyard. The plan was to use the terrain and cover to edge closer, set Weishuhn’s Mossberg Patriot LR Tactical rifle on shooting sticks, and then wait for the deer to stand and present a quality shot.

On the hilltop, our guide, Ryan Newkirk, the grandson of Howie Steinbeck, who planted the modern vineyard in the early 1980s, zoomed in on the action with a spotting scope. One wide-antlered buck was leisurely bedded. Others milled around and occasionally laid down. We spotted the object of Weishuhn’s pursuit. Although the buck wasn’t as wide as a couple of the others and lacked classic forked antlers, it had a tall, heavy rack with a short drop tine. Weishuhn spotted this deer earlier in the hunt and decided this was the buck he’d pursue, given the opportunity.

The duo closed to 147 yards before deciding they had reached the optimal shooting location. Weishuhn snugged into the rifle, found the deer in the scope, then waited.

“He just shot,” Newkirk announced. We saw deer moving abruptly and, a second later, heard the rifle’s report. After confirming the deer was down, we joined the celebration in the vines.

Larry Weishuhn and Mossberg's Linda Powell with Weishuhn's hefty blacktail - 2 - Ken Perrotte photo

“Between the nearby deer, the vines, and the vineyard structure, I had to thread the needle on that one,” Weishuhn said. “But I knew that, with the rifle's accuracy, I could be confident and put the animal down without possibly hitting another animal or the bullet being deflected.”

Celebrating success in the field is something at which Steinbeck excels. A wonderful tradition involves meeting at a skinning pavilion where fresh deer heart or liver is fried with thick bacon, and a bottle of Steinbeck wine is opened. The deer was shot in a section of cabernet sauvignon grapes, and Cindy Steinbeck, Newkirk’s mother and vineyard “visionary,” decided a wine they called “Voice,” featuring a blend of cab sauv and petite syrah was appropriate. It was magnificent, with deep color and structure – perfect for a little morning sipping as the deer was skinned and prepped for the cooler.

Hunt Steinbeck

Howie Steinbeck, who lives in a house on the ranch’s highest hilltop, is an avid hunter, a passion he instilled in his daughter Cindy and Ryan, who serves as the vineyard manager. Howie’s grandparents planted the original vineyards in 1884, when hydraulic mining for gold ended in California and agriculture began dominating the coastal landscape. Some of Howie’s hunting trophies grace the Steinbeck tasting room.

My wife Maria and I once had a small vineyard in Virginia, making about 500 bottles of wine a year. Growing wine grapes is work. Talking about vineyard practices and harvest challenges with Cindy and Ryan was fun and stimulating, bringing back fond memories.

Growing grapes - Ken Perrotte photo

Steinbeck grows 17 varieties of grapes, seven of which go into producing their wine brand, launched in 2006. Much of the crop is sold to other wineries. One wine, “The Crash,” honors the 1956 crash of a B-26 bomber, disabled by lightning in severe weather, in a barley field just 300 yards from Steinbeck’s home. Four of the five flyers survived. Today, a flag stands amid the vines, marking where the plane went down.

Link URL for Cindy Steinbeck video:

Cindy Steinbeck said the winery honors the service of all military members. The tasting room features considerable military memorabilia. Military personnel, veterans, and first responders get substantial discounts on wine purchases.

The Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) of the region have a range spanning from southern British Columbia to California’s Santa Barbara County. They’re found as far east as the Cascade and Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. The hunting season in San Luis Obispo County, the state’s A-Zone (south), is an early hunt, but bucks have mostly shed their antler velvet.

Paso Robles’ diurnal temperature variation, the range between daily high and low air temperatures, can be profound, sometimes 50 degrees. The region sits at the same latitude (35°N) as Crete and Tunisia. The warm, dry weather helps grapes such as zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon flourish.

We lucked out. A tropical storm pushing up Baja California just as we arrived ushered in four days of incredible weather with mild mornings and breezy, low-humidity afternoons rarely reaching the low 80s.

The deer like wine country living, too. These blacktails resemble skinnier, smaller versions of big-bodied mule deer in the Rocky Mountain states. Although, it’s quickly evident upon shooting and skinning a deer that these Steinbeck blacktails aren’t skinny.

Weishuhn, who’s consulted or worked with countless high-profile hunting operations, said he found the Steinbeck Vineyards’ deer herd healthy and prolific. Cindy Steinbeck said the overall health and quality of the deer during her lifetime has increased substantially, with body weights up 20-30 percent over the average deer taken in the area. Antler development indicates well-fed deer that are allowed to get some age on them. Hunts at Steinbeck are limited, usually reserved for one or two corporate parties each year

“We saw many, many fawns,” Weishuhn said, “and the deer we killed were in unbelievable great body shape. I mean, they had tallow on their back and sides up to an inch and a half thick,” Weishuhn said.

Indeed. The blacktail’s meat was incredibly flavorful and tender. Mossberg’s Linda Powell, who put together our hunt, calls it “pre-marinated venison.” You could easily cut it with a fork right off the grill.

Brooks Hansen of Camp Chef came to the camp not expecting to hunt – he sure put together some great meals – but after the four hunters on the Mossberg hunt tagged relatively early, he bought a license and got a crack at a blacktail. He ended with the widest antlered buck of the hunt, but it came after another early evening, multi-mile hike in the vines working for a shot. Photo by Ken Perrotte

Population Challenges

Hunting in the Paso Robles area is increasingly challenging. Many ranchers and vineyard owners opt to high fence their properties to exclude wildlife. This tends to crowd deer onto places like the Steinbeck tracts, increasing crop losses.

Cindy grew up hunting in the vineyard and said, “We’ve always understood the deer were here first. We’ve always taken good care of the wildlife on our ranch. We sacrifice a little bit of our crops for the sustainability of those herds…but we also must find a way for our seven-generation vineyard to be sustainable.”

Newkirk said the family views the deer as both a nuisance and a resource, something to be sustainably managed via hunting and unique farming practices, such as setting aside “sacrificial” sections of vineyard where deer are allowed to eat without harassment.

The biggest danger comes as the vines emerge from winter dormancy, after pruning, and just as the new growth buds emerge – bitesize buds that are tasty and nutritious to deer also recovering from winter.

“Our entire crop can be wiped out in a matter of days, with about a two-week window of primary concern,” Newkirk explained. Besides having a sacrificial section, Steinbeck plants cover crops deer favor, food that ripens into prime eating just as grape vines begin producing buds. “We do all we can to get the deer to focus on those other crops,” he said.

If it sounds like a lot of work and expense, it is. Most ranchers wouldn’t attempt it, but the Steinbeck family isn’t most ranchers.

Newkirk is struggling to get additional antlerless deer tags from California, receiving just two thus far, a minuscule number given several hundred acres of agriculture. Weishuhn estimates the property could easily handle a harvest of at least 20 does annually for the next couple of years. The population is approaching the point where something like exponential growth could occur. The current estimated buck-to-do ratio doesn’t appear severely skewed – at least anecdotally. Based on the deer we counted, the current ratio could be around 1-to-3 or 1-to-4.

Our group of five hunters took exceptionally mature deer. Weishuhn guesstimated most were likely around 5.5 years old. Aging older deer there was a challenge, he said, because these blacktails aren’t dining on foods that tend to generate a lot of tooth wear, the main indicator biologists use to age deer older than 3.5 years.

Link URL to Larry Weishuhn video:

Get on the Stick(s)!

Ryan Newkirk and Aram von Benedikt enjoy the moment after the deer win the first round of stalking - Ken Perrotte photo
Newkirk jokes that hunting involves mobile treestands – pickups. While the hilltop panoramic views can help spot reclusive deer, finding them from the ground takes effort. You slowly cruise the vineyard, looking for deer or portions of deer tucked among the vines. Attempted stalks are frequently blown when deer near your target animal startle and scatter. Multiple stalks on bedded bucks failed when an unseen blacktail, bedded just a foot or two away, spooked and led the buck away.

Grape harvest at Steinbeck is accomplished by a mix of hand and machine, depending on the section. The main “fruiting wire,” the lowest wire in the trellis system (not counting the wire supporting the drip irrigation line just a couple of inches off the ground ), is about four feet high. Suppose you imagine the vineyard as a forest. In that case, you ideally have a strong canopy above this wire, with leaves soaking up sunlight and producing nutrients and sugars to feed grape maturation. Below this primary wire, though, is the understory, most of which is wide open. Dropping to a knee, you can scan several rows of grapes simultaneously, looking for blocky shapes, tail flickers, or other signs of deer. However, those deer, already with a lower vantage point, likely saw you coming. They fled before you spotted them, either running away down the same row or scooting several rows beneath the fruiting wires.

Moving to higher ground, hoping for a last-minute shot - Ken Perrotte photo

Many rows feature gnarly old stalks with dense, leafy canopies. Visibility down the rows can vary wildly, affected by the vines’ age, canopy management practices in various sections, plus the extent of browse damage by deer. Even though rows may have 10-foot spacing, ample canopies can narrow your view to just a couple of feet.

Knowing your target and beyond is always critical, but it can be exceptionally challenging in the vineyard. Besides possibly striking hidden second deer, bullets can clip trellis wires. It’s the antithesis of a typical beanfield shoot for whitetails. The aim is a clean shot -- no obstructions or vineyard structures in front of or behind the deer. Weishuhn said the closest thing he had ever experienced to this hunting style was trying to hunt in a standing cornfield.

The deer are used to trucks and farm vehicles. Once you identify a “shooter” buck, you back off and plot the stalk. Most shooting is done off tripod shooting sticks, like those you might use in Africa. Rifles also can be equipped with bipods, with shots attempted from a prone position. Like Africa, opportunities are fleeting. You spot the game, then try to get to an acceptable position and shoot before the game vamooses. Weishuhn observes most scenarios never extend past 5 seconds. Stealthy humans on foot always provoke a wary response. Sometimes, as in my case, the buck stays put just long enough to let you quickly set up, acquire the aim point, and squeeze the trigger.

A Dream Hunt

Newkirk guided Arizonan Aram von Benedikt and me. Aram was toting a Mossberg Patriot rifle chambered in .308 Winchester. He graciously offered me the first crack. I accepted, recognizing that being first up imparts a certain pressure not to be too choosy on a hunt blocked for just a few days. Opportunity must be met and made to count with a quality shot.

We had our choice of Mossberg Patriot rifle offerings for the hunt. Mine was the Patriot Predator, chambered in the blazing fast 6.5 PRC. The camouflaged, lightweight rifle sports a fluted barrel and bolt. I topped it with a Riton 5 Primal, a 2-12x44 optic with a reticle ideally set for elevation and windage adjustments. Though the reticle lines were a bit faint, I worried a little about how my aging eyes might pair with it in low-light conditions. I had an option to put a Riton 3 Primal, a 3-18-50 long-range optic with an illuminated reticle on the gun, but since shots were likely less than 200 yards, I opted for the lighter scope.

Mossberg Patriot Predator on Steinbeck Gate - Ken Perrotte photo

California requires nontoxic ammunition, including loads for centerfire rifles. Retired state wildlife biologists tell me the protection of the endangered California condor was the pretext for the lead ban. I used Barnes’ VOR-TX LR cartridges for my hunt, featuring all copper, 127-grain bullets that leave the muzzle at an advertised 3,010 feet per second. The gun was zeroed in extremely hot Virginia weather at an inch high, likely ensuring point-blank shooting at anything found in the vineyard.

Anticipation was certainly high as we rolled out at daybreak following a sumptuous evening meal featuring a grilled blacktail hindquarter and fine wines. While the others trucked off for a distant section of the vineyard, we began closer to the main ranch house and work complex, investigating a large block of cabernet sauvignon across the street from an overgrown almond grove.

We immediately saw does and fawns. Bucks began appearing a few hundred yards further approaching a corner adjacent to a dry creek bed.

Newkirk spends much of the year in the vineyards and goes into the hunts with a good grasp of local herd dynamics. He explained we were looking for deer with antlers almost as wide or wider than their ears extended. That’s about 22 inches. Blacktails have those long, distinctive, mule deer-type ears. The ideal is a nicely framed four-by-four with “eye guards,” commonly called brow tines on whitetails. Character always counts with deer antlers. The ideal isn’t always the most interesting. I told Newkirk I’d be happy with whatever buck he suggested we target.

Glassing the rows in the improving light, Newkirk gave a running tally. “Not a shooter. Two-by-two. Two-by-three…” A couple rows further, he said, “There’s our buck.” We backed off about 50 yards and dismounted. The deer got spooky fast, skedaddling through the vines. No matter. They likely stayed in the same section of vines. They were wary but not “already shot at” wary. We saddled up and slowly circled the vineyard.

The sun was now over the horizon. Morning colors warmed. We rounded a corner a few hundred yards from the ranch house, slowly inching row by row. There! The same buck, this time frozen some 100 yards away and peered toward the truck. Again, we backed off and quietly exited. Newkirk and I hustled toward the location, quickly scanning each row.

Amazingly, the buck stayed put. Maybe it was curiosity, or maybe an instinct to remain motionless until pressed to flee. Once we stopped and presented danger, he’d barely give us a scant second. With von Benedikt filming, Newkirk set the sticks. The scope was dialed up to about 10. I grasped the tripod where the three sticks came together, positioned the rifle, and quickly located the proper aim point on the severely quartering away deer. I squeezed the excellent, crisp trigger on the rifle, one of my favorite features of that gun.

Barnes VOR-TX cartridges - Getting It Done - Ken Perrotte photo

The shot was spot on - almost. I pulled it right about an inch, enough to nick the front of the left hindquarter before the bullet cut through the ribs and sped toward the deer’s right front shoulder. Still, the big buck was hit hard. Two other bucks emerged nearby. My deer crossed a couple of rows before piling up and quickly expiring. The recovered bullet was fully intact with copper petals extended, despite traveling more than three feet through the blacktail’s insides.

Ryan Newkirk and Ken Perrotte drag buck from vineyard - Aram von Benedikt photo

A quick inspection of the buck’s stomach contents showed an abundance of digesting green grape leaves and almond husks. This buck had been using both the vineyard and the nearby overgrown grove.

My hunt lasted an exhilarating 30 minutes! Now, I could relax and enjoy shooting cameras while the other guys hunted. But first, we had our Steinbeck classic “Wine by Nine” moment. That 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon was delicious! In fact, given the beautiful weather, the scenery, and the people I was privileged to share this unique experience with, it’s tough to recall a more enjoyable glass of wine.

Ken Perrotte savors his first Columbian Black-Tail deer - 2 - Aram von Benedikt photo

Link URL to Outdoors Rambler overview of the Hunt:



PRADCO Outdoor Brands announces a new partnership between outdoor content platform Barstool Outdoors and Summit Treestands, the leader in treestands, safety harnesses, and treestand accessories.

Waterfowl hunters, get ready to take your game to a new level with Millennium Marine’s B-100 seats, now available in two Mossy Oak® patterns. The B-100 BTL features the original Mossy Oak “Bottomland” pattern while the B-100 SGH seat features Mossy Oak’s “Shadow Grass” camouflage.

QuietKat and The National Deer Association are excited to announce the launch of the "Gear For Deer Sweepstakes," a thrilling opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts to contribute to wildlife conservation while winning fantastic prizes.

Henry Repeating Arms is proud to announce a new video guide promoting safe participation in youth shooting sports and hunting.

The Headrest Safe Company™ is pleased to announce they will be exhibiting at the upcoming 2023 TRIGGRCON Firearms Convention.

This November, the National Rifle Association of America and its members will celebrate the first ever “Wild Game Meat Donation Month” to encourage all hunters to donate extra venison or other game meat to help provide meals for those in need.

Brownells proudly announces the exceptional recipients of the Brownells Gunsmithing Scholarship awarded at Montgomery Community College.

Protecting Pennsylvania’s deer and elk from Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) remains a priority, now as ever. That hasn’t changed. But the rules for hunters who harvest those or any other cervids outside of Pennsylvania or within parts of it have.

Urge Media, a premier marketing agency specializing in shooting, hunting, archery and outdoor recreation brands, has added new services to its roster that leverage technology platforms to solve problems faced by its clients in today's digital marketing landscape.

Moultrie Mobile has launched an exciting lineup of accessory products, including two Universal Solar Battery Packs and several items for its Edge Series cameras.

Gun Owners of America (GOA) presents a new podcast: "The State of The Second," an interview style show focusing on the impact that legislation and activism is having on the firearms industry, and the Second Amendment community.

The September 12 launch of Unguided—a new short film presented by Franchi in association with Fiocchi and Banded—drives right to the heart of the waterfowl hunting. Delivered through the experience of friends and fellow Wyoming big game outfitters, Unguided perfectly underscores the true reasons dedicated waterfowlers return to the stubble fields, marshes, and flooded timber year after year.

This invite-only, championship for the best-of-the-best scorers of the most prestigious sniper competitions worldwide was held in Refugio, Texas, Sept. 8 - 10, 2023.

The Armory Life is proud to announce that respected military consultant, actor, director and writer Capt. Dale Dye, USMC (Ret) has authored an article on the Battle of Peleliu, one of the most brutal encounters in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

Volcon ePowersports, the first all-electric, off-road powersports company, announces the expansion of the Stag UTV lineup to include a Limited Edition (LTD) trim and three additional trim levels.

Northbrook IL - Trailblazer and Category Leader in Thermal and Night Vision, extends summer savings with 10% off select night vision and accessories. This promotion is available through all authorized Armasight dealers.

In a ruling issued Friday, September 8, Judge Daniel S. Murphy of the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, affirmed that the damage claims in a lawsuit filed by Franklin Armory against the California Department of Justice (DOJ) are sufficient to proceed with litigation. 

Brownells unveiled two new additions to its popular line of BRN-180 uppers, releasing a 14.3” and a 13.9” complete upper, both chambered in .223 Wylde.

The Texas Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America will host the Fall Sporting Clays Shoot NSCA Tournament 2023. This year’s fundraising event will be held on October 1, 2023, at Moyesway Shooting Sports, located at 12601 FM 20, Kingsbury, TX 78638.

Federal Ammunition adds two 28-gauge, 3-inch, ¾-ounce loads in shot size No. 3 or 4 to its Black Cloud product lineup.

Real Avid continues to roll out innovative DIY tools and gun cleaning products that set new standards in efficiency and effectiveness. This latest round of essential gun tools just introduced was developed to take your do-it-yourself prowess to the next level.

ZeroTech Optics, a leader in optical innovation, proudly unveils its latest masterpiece - the Thrive HD Micro Reflex Optic (THDM21).

1791 is now offering a Kydex holster designed specifically for the popular Springfield Hellcat Pro handgun.

Meopta Sport Optics is excited to announce its Optika5 2-10x42 riflescope has been named “Best Overall Riflescope Under $500” by Outdoor Life

Angled Spade Technologies, a strategic product engineering and development company, has announced that Hunter Outdoor Communications has been named as its agency of record. This announcement comes after a careful review process and is effective immediately.

The 84 attendees enjoyed participating in a variety of shooting events including crossbow, trap shooting, lever action rifles, 9mm semi-automatic pistols and single action revolvers. These activities were safely managed by a cadre of HAVA volunteers from all over the United States.

In roundabout numbers, 11 million hunters pursue 30 million whitetail deer in North America annually. That’s three highly efficient noses in the air for every trio of us stinking up the woods. For over a quarter century, ScentLok has been unlocking the secrets of successful scent control.

Answering the call for a sound that’s irresistible to honkers, Cupped Waterfowl is excited to announce the launch of its SRG (short reed goose) Hammer Calls.

Urge Media just launched a Quick Hunts 2023 Hunting Outlook Survey

CKM is partnering with Dallas Safari Club, striving to be better conservationists, sportsmen (and women), hunters, and outdoors people in general. Ralph & Vicki Cianciarulo have always pushed conservation and true sportsmanship across the outdoor lifestyle.

Ralph and Vicki invite you all to tune into their 18th season of The Choice on The Outdoor Channel! The first episode begins airing Monday September 25th @2:00PM (EST)

TBA Outdoors is excited to share the Fifth Annual Duck Huntin’ Giveaway from Frogg Toggs, a purveyor of high-quality rain gear, waders, footwear and accessories. 

Beretta USA and First Lite are excited to announce an exciting new collaboration. Together, they introduce the A400 Xtreme Plus shotgun, now available in First Lite Typha™ and Cache patterns.

The National Wild Turkey Federation will induct its fifth class of the Grand National Calling Championships Hall of Fame this February in Nashville at the 48th annual NWTF Convention and Sport Show.

KOR Technik announced a technology partnership with Zarges USA. Zarges’ aluminum cases integrated with KOR Technik VRS protection panels, represent the latest evolution in reusable packaging for transporting objects.

Featuring an open top design for speed, covered trigger for safety, and tension screw adjustment for added security, the highly versatile Speed Master™ 2.0 adds convenient on/off ability to the equation when set up as a paddle holster. As a bonus, the Speed Master 2.0 can also be configured as a solid and stable belt holster using the included belt slot attachment.

The Fowl Life with Chad Belding has just revealed an exciting new partnership that will transform outdoor entertainment and hunting television like we have never seen before. The Fowl Life is thrilled to announce its partnership with True Southern TV, a production firm specializing in content creation, top-quality production, and in-depth industry knowledge. 

This September, to mark Emergency Preparedness Month, 1791 Everyday Carry (EDC) announces an exciting partnership with Survival Med. Together. This collaboration will feature a series of free online classes, engaging contests, and exciting giveaways throughout the month of September.

Rock Ridge Outdoors is pleased to announce the company has named Dani Navickas as its new Regional Sales Manager.

With opening day of gun deer season in Wisconsin close enough we can taste the backstraps, Vortex® is officially kicking off their Countdown to Opening Day.

The NRA Whittington Center will host the Women's Wilderness Escape, a women-only event for the introduction to the proper and safe use of firearms. Registration for the event is now open.

Remington Ammunition’s 2nd annual Shoot to Cure fundraiser was a resounding success. The event took place at the Remington Gun Club in Lonoke, Ark., on September 22, 2023.

Show up to that special occasion decked out and looking your camo best in the Realtree Original Sportcoat by Perfect Pattern Sportcoats. Boasting the Realtree Original camo pattern, this blazer shows off a love for the outdoors while offering a polished look for casual or formal settings.

The National Deer Association is excited to announce its partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Silencer Central has officially announced its continued partnership with Pheasants Forever. The mission of Pheasants Forever is to conserve pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public access, education and conservation advocacy.

Volcon ePowersports announces the expansion of the Stag UTV lineup to include a Limited Edition (LTD) trim and three additional trim levels. The new trim levels provide a wider array of options and price points to meet a broader base of customers.

MidwayUSA is pleased to announce a partnership with provider of buy now, pay later financing solutions, Credova. This partnership will give customers flexible financing solutions for purchasing, all with no credit card.

Christian Outdoors Podcast: is pleased to announce the release of the 200th episode.

In an industry driven by passion and a fervent desire for safety and unbridled performance, Angled Spade Technologies (AST) is proud to unveil its groundbreaking product, The AST P320 Fire Control Upgrade Kit.

New for 2023, Fisher Pen Company is releasing an exciting new color primed to stand out and be recognized by sportsmen and women, the EDC crowd and all pen enthusiasts alike.

ZeroTech has joined forces with Kenton Industries to offer its customers adjustable scope turret upgrades. The partnership means shooters will have access to fully customizable ZeroTech Turrets tailored to suit their firearm, scope, environmental conditions and ammunition type.

Target Sports USA announces a day of excitement and unprecedented savings with the inaugural AMMO+ Day. On September 19th, all Ammo+ members will double their savings to 16% off selected in-demand ammunition – doubling the standard 8% savings usually offered to Ammo+ members.

Gun Owners of America (GOA) and the Gun Owners Foundation (GOF) are excited to announce that the ATF has backed down from attempting to revoke the FFL license of Morehouse Enterprises in Valley City, North Dakota.

The BCA Foundation supports a wide variety of worthy causes. One that is highly anticipated each year is the BACK IN THE WOODS AGAIN event, a deer hunt for mobility-challenged hunters.

MYSTERY RANCH recently released a film Journal of Mountain Hunting.

Everest announces the launch of its new and improved website. You can explore the upgraded site at, designed to offer user focused navigation, enhanced AI fueled search capabilities, and a modern layout, ensuring customers can easily discover their desired outdoor products.

Dead Ringer announces the debut of its new Triple Acuti Fixed Blade Broadhead. The trocar tip cuts on contact before three razor-sharp blades penetrate deep with a devastating 1¼” cutting diameter.

As a staunch supporter of the Freedom Hunters military outreach program, Benelli is encouraging all outdoor sports enthusiasts and shooting industry members to participate in this year's Freedom Hunters online auction.

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