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Best of 2023: Storytelling, Inspiration, Destinations & Humor

These were our editors' favorite hunting and fishing feature stories from last year.

Best of 2023: Storytelling, Inspiration, Destinations & Humor

PGA Tour golfer Brian Harman took this great Rocky Mountain bull elk with his bow a few years ago. Last summer, he won the 151st Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in England. The story of how he fuels his passions for hunting and fishing was one of the most-visited articles on gafmag.com in 2023, (Photo courtesy of Brian Harman)

While finding some of the best gear, how-to and species-oriented hunting and fishing content on the web, users on gafmag.com also found some great storytelling. Here are our some of our favorite features of the year—from an in-depth conversation with hunting legend Jim Shockey to the fictitious tale of a high-school football star who committed to a college bass-fishing program.

Country Star Toby Keith Turns Love of Fishing Into Business Venture

  • The new owner of Luck E Strike aims to restore brand to "previous glory." By Lynn Burkhead
Toby Keith
Photo by Lynn Burkhead

Country music superstar Toby Keith loves fishing so much he bought a tackle company.

First off, it's not all that unusual for country singers to express their love of fishing and the outdoors. Brad Paisley liked bass fishing so much he wrote a song about having to choose between love and a bass. Luke Bryan loves it so much that he wrote a song about his hero Bill Dance.

But Keith, who recorded "I'll Probably Be Out Fishing" in 2018, one-upped his other music brothers and bought Luck E Strike this past spring, with "plans to restore the brand to its previous glory.” And that's what brought Keith to the ICAST 2023 fishing trade show in Orlando, his first show as a fishing-industry business owner.

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A Conversation with Hunting Legend Jim Shockey

  • "Hunting isn't what I do, it's who I am." Shockey discusses new book, the love of his life, and the field-to-table lifestyle. By Tony Martins
multiple photos of Jim Shockey
Jim Shockey interview. (Photos by Tony Martins)

Jim Shockey is a man who needs no introduction to many American hunters. Award-winning television host and producer, worldwide traveler, guide and outfitter in British Columbia and the Yukon, museum founder and curator, conservationist, hunter, and now author of "Call Me Hunter," a new novel released recently. In the midst of a cross-country book promotion tour, we sat down with Jim for an interview in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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KVD's Last Dance as Bass Fishing's GOAT

  • A look at the amazing Kevin VanDam as his tournament career comes to an end. By Lynn Burkhead
Kevin VanDam
Over the 30-plus years he has competed on the B.A.S.S., Major League Fishing, FLW Tour and Bass Pro Tour circuits, legendary pro Kevin VanDam (left) has been a gracious interview subject for outdoor reporters like Lynn Burkhead (right). This week in Michigan, VanDam will give his final interviews as an active tournament pro, wrapping up his competitive career at the Bass Pro Tour stop at Michigan’s Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River. (Photo by Jeff Phillips)

In his 34-year career, Kevin VanDam has been there, done it all and then come back for more. After announcing his retirement from competitive bass fishing earlier this year, he prepared for his final event—in his home state—to end an amazing ride.

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Tents & Toms: Hunting in the Middle of Somewhere

  • Turkeys, tents and tribulation in the Sandhills of Nebraska. By John Taranto
Tent at night
Canvas wall tents aren't just for big-game seasons. They make a fine camp for Nebraska turkey hunters. (Photo courtesy of Joe Arterburn)

There isn't much in or around the town of Elsmere, Neb. In fact, the nearest place where a turkey hunter might get a few stitches after taking a chunk out of a finger while cleaning a gobbler is Ainsworth (pop. 1,655), approximately 40 lonely miles to the northeast. I know this from experience, but we'll get to that part of the story in a bit.

Indeed, as far as I can tell, the only business currently in operation with an Elsmere address is Goose Creek Outfitters, run by Scott Fink and his wife LaCaylla. And it was on their land, which, remarkably, has been in Scott's family since his great grandfather homesteaded there in 1904, where a group of friends and I set up a wall tent turkey camp last May.

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Recommended


PGA Pro Steadies His Soul in the Great Outdoors

  • Brian Harman's lifelong passions include hunting, fishing and 'just being outside.’ By Lynn Burkhead
Brian Harman turkey hunting
April means the Masters golf tournament in the Georgia pines for PGA Tour golfers like Brian Harman. It also means tagging longbearded Eastern gobblers for the world's 34th ranked player and avid outdoors enthusiast. (Photo courtesy of Brian Harman)

Like the other 155 golfers in the field of the 105th PGA Championship this week, PGA Tour player Brian Harman hopes to be holding up the 27-pound Wanamaker Trophy sometime on Sunday evening.

If so, that would mean his third career Professional Golf Association victory, his fifth career professional triumph and his first major championship victory after a near-miss runner-up finish at the 2017 U.S. Open.

But if the 36-year-old golfer from St. Simons Island, Ga., finds himself short of his major-championship dreams, he'll shrug, smile and head home to do a little fishing. Time spent in the great outdoors is the balm that soothes his soul.

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Release the Hounds: Bear Hunting with Dogs Means Keeping Up with the Pack

  • In the vast wilderness of central Idaho, tight packs of tough dogs find bears and bring them to bay. For their two-legged partners, it's anything but an easy hunt. By Adam Heggenstaller
black bear hunting with dogs
Hounds and author alike celebrate the culmination of a two-hour race resulting in a 30-yard shot at a bear. (Photos by Adam Heggenstaller)

When the mud-spattered Toyota stopped at the end of the gravel road, I slid out and strode to the edge of a clearing that had most likely been a log landing in the recent past. The ground dropped off quickly beyond the crushed stone and scattered bark fragments, and below me stretched a vast forest of pine towering above thick, green undergrowth. A soft wind swayed the branches of the trees at the edge of the landing, and I caught my breath when the breeze delivered the faint yet unmistakable sound my ears had been straining to hear.

A bark, a bawl … somewhere down in there—way down in there—the hounds were still on the trail.

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Florida Teen QB Phenom Rejects Football for Bass

  • People called him an April’s Fool to give up super stardom to 'chase little green fish.’
high school quarterback throwing a football
In the spring of the year, instead of slinging pigskins and working out to get ready for next fall’s football season, a Florida Panhandle teen with almost mythological pigskin throwing skills, is making a fool-hardy switch from football to fishing. (Photo by Lynn Burkhead)

Last April, just before his final spring workouts were to begin, can’t-miss high-school quarterback Jimmy Dance made an announcement that would make Bear Bryant roll over in his grave. In a press conference in the school cafeteria with media from all across the country expecting to hear his college of choice, Dance performed a flea flicker to remember.

"I'm gonna be the next KVD,” Jimmy said, referring to bass-fishing legend Kevin VanDam. "I've decided I really don't want to play football for a living, so I'm retiring from football and going to go bass fishing. I'm much better at that, especially in my Gheenoe."

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Turkey Time in South Georgia

  • Six gobblers! April Fools' Day was not a good day to be a turkey in the Peach State. By Craig Boddington
turkey hunter in the woods
A wonderful stroll through the Georgia pines. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

The opening morning of turkey hunting in south Georgia was slightly cool and calm. We were in a little cove of a clearcut, with birds gobbling up on a ridge to our left. My friend Dow Kirkpatrick was on the call. That was a good thing because he's a vastly better turkey caller than I will ever be.

It was April Fool Day, 2023. It didn't matter how good Dow sounded, all the tomfoolery was on us. The birds shut up just after daylight. We saw nothing and never heard another putt. At midmorning, we picked up the decoys and regrouped, this time setting up at the Long Field, a known gobbler haunt. A breeze had come up—hard to hear, probably for the birds as well. Dow and I were tucked under a tree, me on the left, decoys out in the field. Nary a sound, as noon come and went. Truth is, I was falling asleep. I glanced past Dow, and this black thing was coming along the treeline. Big black thing with a bright red head.

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You Know When Bill Dance is in the House

  • The beloved icon continues to bring knowledge and smiles to the bass-fishing world. By Lynn Burkhead
Bill Dance and Jimmy Houston
Bill Dance and his pal Jimmy Houston have been fishing competitively, telling stories, filming TV shows, and making people smile and laugh since the 1960s and 1970s. And whenever they get together like they did at the ICAST show a couple of summers ago, you know good times are ahead. (Photo by Lynn Burkhead)

With free food and drink usually being enough to draw a crowd at gatherings like ICAST’s New Product Showcase reception, a murmur suddenly moved through the crowd. And just like that, the attention at the annual International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades  turned to a man wearing blue jeans, a powder blue shirt and a white mesh baseball hat emblazoned with a familiar big orange T.

Bill Dance was in the house. Ladies and gentlemen, the "Elvis of ICAST" had just walked onto the floor. He blushed when he heard that moniker, insisting he’s just a regular guy. But like Elvis was to music, Tom Brady was to football and Michael Jordan was to basketball, Bill Dance is that to bass fishing.

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Marsh Madness: Chasing Teal in Southern Louisiana

  • The sprawling marshes around the Mississippi River Delta in Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish offer fantastic early season teal hunting and plenty of adventure. By Drew Warden
teal hunters in boat
The coastal marshes found throughout Plaquemines Parish draw thousands of migrating blue-winged teal in September, and hunters flock to the region to hunt them. (Photo by Drew Warden)

The entire area surrounding the Mississippi River Delta in southern Louisiana is incredibly ecologically diverse. Almost 40 percent of the coastal marshes in the continental U.S. are found here, and the array of interconnected habitats, including freshwater, brackish and saltwater marshes, play home to millions of birds, fish and other wildlife.

Of particular interest to us, however, were the migratory birds. And more specifically, the thousands upon thousands of blue-winged teal descending on the swamp in September as part of their annual migration.

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Lucky 13: Breakdown of a Dream Deer Season

  • The author and his friends all took bucks (13 for 13) in Kansas. They did some things right, but how much was luck? By Craig Boddington
Lee Newton
Lee Newton kicked things off by taking a heavy-racked 8-pointer on the third day of the season. (Photo by Craig Boddington)

I’ve had a Kansas farm for more than 15 years. For the past decade, neighbor Chuck Herbel and I have pooled our properties and operated “Timber Trails” whitetail hunts. We have a lot of deer and a high buck-to-doe ratio. I’m convinced the population has increased over time, and I think our buck numbers have gone up.

The state’s 2021 rifle season spanned the traditional 12 days, and in two rotations of six, our 12 hunters took 12 bucks. I took an “ugly” cull buck to make it 13 for 13. A few seasons ago, I would have said such results were impossible.

It may never happen again, but our 2021 season was so exceptional—without ideal weather—that it’s worth examining. Whitetail rut movement being so random, was it blind luck or did we do some things right?

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