Friday, April 11, 2014

Fear


There are many places that one could go that inspire fear. Trying to stalk into a lion’s hunting ground comes to mind. Or swimming off the coast of Africa where the sharks go airborne when attacking their prey. Honestly, one of my biggest fears, and I am not one to cower at much, is going under a house. Yes, that inspires as much fear in me as facing a black bear with now weapon available. It has something to do with a job I once had in which I had to check the crawl space of a business and just a few feet inside the door was a massive group of black widows. They smothered my coveralls and I could not get out of them quick enough. In fact, I ended up standing there in my underwear running the water hose over my body to wash any of the babies off of me that may have made it past my layers of clothing.
Nothing inspires fear and anxiety as much as the unknown though.
The very nature of the unknown is to provide uncertainty. While gator hunting in Georgia I expected to see alligators. Therefore, the sight and proximity of the gators did not unnerve me. I expected to come face to face with a mountain lion while in Arizona. The mountain lion was what I was after, and the guide explained to me that my shot could very well be from only five yards away from wicked teeth and an angry disposition. In those situations I was fine as it was a known expectation of what was to come.
This fella tried climbing in the boat while hunting in Georgia.
Walking into a closet of an abandoned house I was on my alert for snakes. Not necessarily because snakes had been there before. Mostly because I was young and if something was dark and unknown my mind slithered with snakes in the blackness. I nearly fainted when an opossum hissed with the ferocity of rabies stricken wildcat when I opened the closet door. The unknown and unexpected occurred. To this day, nearly 35 years later if I walk into an old, dark barn, shelter, or house I now expect to see the elongated jaw of a mad opossum to come out of the shadows. And I’m not expecting them to play dead either.
One of the common sayings about the fear of snakes is “I’m not scared of the snakes I can see, it’s the ones I can’t that I’m worried about.” That is me in a nutshell.
From the tree stand, while sitting in the dark waiting for the warmth of sunlight to break the horizon, many strange sounds can be heard. When taking my kids on their first hunts, they were always amazed and a little apprehensive about the shrieks and cries that surround the night. I explained what the different calls were, and on future hunts and camping trips they became accustomed to the noises. But that first instance of the unknown, that was the scary part.
The more we learn, the less we are in the unknown. After all, it becomes a known experience. We become comfortable in the environment that surrounds us and know what to expect.
Except for the owners of that business where I was crawling into the crawlspace. I am sure they will forever be afraid of seeing a grown man dancing around in his underwear while spraying himself off with a water hose.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Mating Season


As outdoorsmen, we rely almost completely on animal’s natural instincts. Mating and reproduction are some of the most basic of those instincts that can be predicted.
Everyone knows the rut for deer is the peak time for whitetail hunting. The bucks throw caution to the wind as they search for a willing mate, even if it means exiting the protection of their thick cover during broad daylight at just a scent of a female or sound of a competing male’s grunt. But this is not limited to our most popular hunting pursuit.
Every year over the last decade or so I have watched a series of underwater cameras on the Wolf River in Wisconsin beginning in March. They are similar to the various bird nest cameras or zoo cameras that grace the news every now and then, except they show underwater life.
If you are lucky, you can catch a sturgeon hovering in and out of the view of the screen. Most of the time, when the activity heats up, it is because of the sucker fish spawn. There may be several dozen of the bottom feeders bouncing and rolling over each other. Within a few weeks the sucker fish begin their spawn here in the Carolinas as well.
When I first caught glimpse of a sucker spawn, I was amazed at the sight before me. I have never been to Alaska, but I imagined the suckers crashing the running water with their tails in the shallows were a miniature version of a salmon run on the Copper River.
During the same time span, another species begins their journey up the river basins. The shad, whether hickory or American, will populate the rivers quickly and chomp at anything small enough to digest. Their hunger is only fueled for the tiresome swim against the currents over hundreds of miles so they can lay eggs and fertilize them.
Of course, once the shad begin their track, the stripers follow behind. The stripers are a favorite amongst anglers on the Roanoke River. The significance to a small area in Eastern North Carolina is historical in context, garnering nationwide excitement at the peak. Traffic jams in Atlanta have nothing on the gunwale to gunwale occurrences from the boats lining the river’s surface.
As the stripers ramp up their spawn, our still waters begin to swell with activity as well. Pan fish such as bream fan the bottoms of ponds and lakes in what appears as an underwater lunar landscape. The crappies come from the depths and cover up to the shallow shorelines to prepare for their annual ritual.
 The male largemouth, the predominate predator of the freshwater, begins his bedding process as well. He is hungry and angry and will attach anything that comes near the nesting area. The trophy though is the big female. She carries the eggs and has put on the weight. She may hover just off the bed out of sight until her confidence and safety allows her to re-enter. It all becomes a game of wits. Can the angler outsmart the prey? We can learn when, but we have to become wise to the tendencies and match the techniques.
Spring does not only bring the fish to a fevered pitch though. Neither is fish the only ones we have to outplay the game with.
The old gobbler begins his redundant calls announcing his dominance. His harem will feed and cluck; he will follow and strut. A smaller jake stands no chance against a beard dragging tom during the prime mating season.
Spring sets off a glorious sequence of events of what we would ‘humanize’ as love, and we humans love it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Invasive Season?


Hunting season has once again departed; at least until turkey season comes into full swing. The fishing is trying to heat up a bit, but the weather continues to keep it from its prime. With that in mind, there are some ‘community services’ that one can partake and have a blast doing.
Predation from invasive species is not only a nuisance, but is growing in the effects it leaves on our wildlife and the habitat. In particular, coyotes and feral hogs do not appear to be going away; in fact their numbers are growing rapidly.
Now hunters and outdoorsmen are beginning to understand the significance and the increased opportunities in the process.
The fawns being born over the next weeks and months will become prime targets for a hungry coyote population following a cold winter and early spring. In areas where the coyotes exhibit high numbers, the deer populations will obviously be affected the heaviest.
With the mating season for turkey fast approaching, the same concerns for our turkey populations exist. Again, the poults are especially vulnerable. Not only do nesting birds have to worry about scavenging hunters such as opossum, raccoons, and foxes with their eggs, but they have to protect their young birds from aggressive packs of coyotes.
Then there are the feral hogs. They have multiple litters each year and can overpopulate an area in a very short amount of time. They can obliterate crops, driving away turkey, deer, quail, and other game animals that are drawn to the lands for both food and cover.
A couple of years ago I was invited on a cull hunt for feral hogs on a deer hunting lease. The hogs were consuming all of the baiting areas making it more difficult to hunt the whitetail. Our job was simple, take out as many hogs as possible.
The first evening, just a half hour after arriving and throwing on some camo and climbing the stand, I saw my first hogs come into the open area. Two different groups came in from different sides about 15 minutes apart. I was bowhunting and had four about 27 yards away standing beside each other in twos. I texted to my hunting partner that the way they were lined up I did not have a clear shot at just one. But after assessing the situation, I concluded I did have a clear shot at two. Shoot high in the lungs at the first and on a pass-thru I should be able to connect with the one beside it in the lower lungs or heart.
I drew back the 70 pound bow and waited. After approximately 30 seconds, the shot presented itself. A soft touch of my trigger finger to the release and the 100 grain broadhead found the mark. I saw the fletching of the arrow stay in the closest hog so I texted my partner again that I had one, but I don’t think I was able to hit the second. The arrow must have struck the massive shoulder blade.
After coming down from the stand and starting the blood trail, the trail split about 15 yards away from impact. There was one part of my arrow as well. The arrow had passed through the first hog, and when it struck the second, their reaction broke the arrow in flight. Another 15 yards in a briar patch lay one of the hogs. Ten yards away from the first lay the second.
Sausage and cubed ham filled the freezer. I had a wonderful hunt, had some great food for the family, and helped with the population control of the feral hogs. Overall, I saw a dozen hogs for every one deer during the weekend. And this was on land where good money was spent on leasing and managing the deer herd.
That is a community service with some awesome benefits for both myself and the one’s I helped.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Competition-Right or Wrong?


Competition can bring out the best or worst in someone, even those that are not competing.
I was following a kayak bass fishing tournament at Santee Cooper, South Carolina this last weekend. I thought about trying it myself this year but other engagements kept me from making the trip and entering my first bass fishing tournament.  Regardless, I was still interested in the outcome as I have become acquainted with several of the anglers participating.
Drew Haerer, who I have interviewed and used as a source for several stories, was one of those participants. I have never met Drew face to face, but I would say he is a friend simply from our interactions with each other. Drew had a really good first day placing 5th out of nearly 150 other competitors, all fishing from a kayak.
This was the second year for the KBF (Kayak Bass Fishing) Open, and Drew’s second year participating. Last year Drew placed in the top 15 even though it was water he was not familiar with.
After the first day, while browsing Facebook posts from people in the tournament, one post caught my attention. It basically belittled anyone competing. “If I had to compete to fish, I would just quit. I fish for fun.”
I thought it was a little over the top. Personally, I have never competed in sports such as fishing or shooting until recently. I tried out for the television show ‘Top Shot’ on History Channel and made it through several cuts based on my passion for the outdoors and my abilities. One of the things that probably kept me from the last stage was the lack of hardware from testing my skills against others. I was not upset about it; I just took it for what it was. I hunted and my skills were used for hunting, that was all.
Now, especially over the last six months, I have challenged myself to improve skills such as archery. I have learned plenty, and it is all due to competition. It pushes me forward and keeps me focused. I am sure it will help come hunting season even though there are some differences in both equipment and skill sets.
But what about this fishing tournament? Why would someone feel that way as to call out someone for competing? I tried putting myself on that side of the argument. I thought about how I would debate competition destroys the sport or how it can defile an otherwise pristine experience. In high school we would occasionally have to argue a point opposite of the way we felt in order to help us empathize with another’s view. But even with the arguments I could make, they just felt week at best. Merely talking points in order to express a view, they just did not make a strong case.
There are ugly sides to any sport. You can find cheating in tournaments such as this. You can find people who are in it in order to gain sponsors and money only. But these are the exceptions. If someone were to cheat and ‘pre’catch fish saving them for the weigh-in (or in the case of kayak fishing tournaments, measuring boards, as the fish are by the inch rather than by the ounce), does it defile the sport any more than the weekender who tells everyone of the 8 pounder that was really 4 pounds, or the fish caught out of the farm pond that he trespassed to fish on?
The majority of competitions, and competitors, whether kayak angling or target shooting, actually do everything they can for the sports, the promotion of the sports, and the continuance of the sports. They believe the sport in bigger than themselves, and it is. They may where a jersey with several logos emblazoned across them, but they, the majority, do it for companies that have the same beliefs and passion for the sport as well. The competitions are just another way to enjoy something they have always enjoyed. They would be just as happy with a cane pole, a cup of earthworms, and a fighting bream, it is just a lot tougher to get all those people sharing the same pond and enjoy it together.
Honestly, if you look into the depths of the sport, you are really competing against whatever is on the other side of the line whether in a tournament or sitting on the shoreline anyway.
And as of Drew’s fate, he finished third overall after the second day measure.