Thursday, December 27, 2012

Reflection on 2012

Well another year has passed.  The only remnants are the memories we get to carry forward, the lessons learned, and the opportunities either seized upon or missed entirely.
I like to reminisce about the past and reflect upon my accomplishments and failures.  The end of the year should give us a chance to look back and grow as an individual in doing so.
Over the past year I was lucky enough to experience a few things that I had never been able to before.  I went out-of-state fishing the Potomac River on a very historical stretch and nabbed my first snakehead.  In the process I learned about the alien monster and came to a better understanding of what an invasive species can do to an ecosystem.
Speaking of invasive species, I was also to partake in my first feral hog hunt.  I was successful in not only coming in contact with the pigs, but pulled off a wonderful bow shot taking two hogs with one shot.  Throughout the weekend, I encountered many more hogs than I did deer.
I bowfished for and got my first carp, a North Carolina state record flounder, and several other coastal species.
I was also successful in taking my first grey fox just a month ago while my daughter was watching from a nearby deer stand.
I had my share of failures as far as hunting and fishing as well.  While I had two very thrilling turkey hunts, I never did bag my first gobbler.  They were there. I had an opportunity. Mother Nature had other ideas.  Bears, deer, and even bobcats provided the obstacles toward my turkey success.
I did not get to trout fish like I had anticipated.  I longed to become part of the cold mountain stream, sharing the presentation of the current hatch with a rainbow, brookie, or brown.  It just didn’t ever work out.
I played mind games with an old wise buck throughout the hunting season.  Often I had plenty of deer within just a few yards of me, but I waited, hoping to catch a glimpse of the trophy during shooting hours, and in return the old buck survived the season as did many doe and smaller bucks.  Luckily for me, I have meat in the freezer from the two hogs to counter my lack of venison.
I was also able to camp a few times, witnessing the canopy of stars God has blessed us to see.  Strange, mysterious noises would echo through the night that are only strange and mysterious if you have never lived in the country.
My wife and I were able to getaway several times throughout the year, sometimes with the kids, sometimes without.  We bonded on the adventures we shared, helping each of us understand each other better.  We spotted the Brown Mountain Lights while staying in a small cabin no bigger than some vehicles.  We learned of our great nation’s history while in D.C. on the trip to the Potomac.
All in all, 2012 was an exciting and eventful year.  From these experiences, we now get to plan for 2013.  Time to work on our future memories.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Know What is Special

Many years ago, a gentleman wandered upon a group of friends who were fishing not far off shore from a boat.  “Having any luck?” he asked.
“No, we cannot seem to find any fish here,” responded one of the fishermen.
“Perhaps you should try fishing from the other side of the boat,” the first man said with a smile.
They laughed, and even entertained the stranger by throwing the net on the other side.  To their amazement, the net was filled with fish.  The boat returned to the shore and they recognized the stranger.  The group of friends were happy to see a resurrected Jesus standing before them.
God has granted us with a beautiful world within which we live.  Though tragedy and outside influences may influence our daily lives, our souls should remain strong and optimistic.  There is still much to be thankful for and worth celebrating.
We have many old Christmas stories which remind us of what the true spirit of Christmas is about, although we often forget.  It is not the gift we get from others that is important.  It may not be the gift we give to others that is important.  It is actually the presence of our loved ones and not the presents of our loved ones that is important.
While juggling in my mind’s eye the recent evil which took place, I thought about my own kids.  My youngest, Cooper, is coming into his own.  My wife is often burdened with Coop’s attention, and I know it can wear her down.  The umbilical cord is still attached.  But I look upon him as he gains confidence in different areas of life.  Little things such as going into martial arts class on his own, or performing his part in the Christmas performance.
My daughter, a blessed soul, is blossoming into a bright, anxious young lady.  She loves the time we spend in the outdoors together and anticipates the next hunting season even before this one is done.  If not for bugs or her big brother or the occasional scary movie, she would not be scared of anything.  Even with her constant reminders of my receding hairline (ok, receded hairline), graying facial hair, and the fact that I may not be as tough as I put on, I love her so.  As far as the tough comment, it stems from the fact that tears readily run down my cheeks whenever I watch her dance.  It’s a dad’s love, what can I say.
My oldest son, Turner, is maturing into a fine young man.  He can drive us crazy at times, but in the end we know we can trust his judgment.  When he asked me recently about hunting on his own, I told him he could without hesitation.  He texted me during the hunt, sometimes asking advice, sometimes just reporting in.
I guess what I am saying through this is a parent’s job is to ready their kids for society.  They need to be able to stand on their own, think on their own, and understand what to do with their freedoms.  One of the best feelings is when you can observe that occurring.  Too often, we miss that observation.
One of the best gifts may be the time and memories we get to spend with each other.  In the woods.  On the water.  In the field.  These times have few distractions.   We are together.  Just us.  We learn things about each other that we likely will not at home in front of the television or while on the computer.  Our kids gain experience and we learn what to teach.  We do this without realizing it.
Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Most Feared Thing in the Woods

I was recently asked what was the most frightening moment I had while hunting.  I am sure the images conjured up from the person consisted of encounters with mountain lion in the Arizona high desert, or perhaps wrestling with an alligator as we tried to tie the legs together and tape the mouth shut.  The black bear that scared away my chance at my first turkey this year may have even been on his mind considering I was within a few yards of the potential mauler with nothing more than a camouflaged pop up tent between us.
Although looking back at my answer I would have thought I would have needed more time to come up with the appropriate response, it really just rolled of my tongue.  “I would have to say the time I walked up another hunter who was on the land I was about to hunt.”
A situation like this happens all the time to wildlife officers.  They will receive a call that someone is trespassing or poaching on someone’s land.  While the officer is not quite sure of how the situation will play out, you know they run through their mind’s eye several scenerios for preparation.  While there is uncertainty to the outcome, they know going in that the person they are there to see has a weapon of some sorts.
The same thing played out with me.  I wasn’t sure if the person was purposely on the wrong property or how they would react.  I was fairly certain they would have a weapon, and likely a firearm.
It was not the only time something like this had happened.  My father and I were sighting in his rifle before an out-of-state hunt one day when a dark Suburban drove across the back side of our property.  It turned, coming down the path towards us.  Once it crested the hill approaching us, it braked, then backed up and turned around.  They knew they were on property they were not supposed to be on.
I was also hunting game lands once in which I feared an altercation may ensue.  I was set up early in the morning for turkey, decoys already out.  I spotted a flashlight shining several hundred yards away.  I heard some talking but could not make out what was being said.   The light made one more sweep and then was extinguished.  No big deal, as it is pretty easy to have several hunters trying to hunt the same patch of ground on game lands.  The problem came to when I spotted the hunters in the tree line near me and a barrel edging out past the one of the trees.  I turned on my light, blinking it several times.
The next thing I heard was a few words not appropriate to put in a story as the person realized he had just stalked up on my decoys rather than an early morning brood in the field.  He then walked right through the middle of my set up as he exited the field.
Just to show how the chase of the game can alter one’s ethics and present a dangerous situation, I’ll share a quick story from a few years ago.  A gentleman had several teenagers driving on his land after dark for a period of a couple of weeks.  About every other night, the man reported gun shots.  Finally, he convinced the wildlife officers to come out and find the poachers.
The gentleman was reassured that his land would be patrolled but had not seen the officers for a few days.  As he drove into his driveway, he paused, backed up, swept his high beams across the land, then pulled back up to his house.  He hurried into his house, turning off the porch light as he entered.  He then came back out of the house, 30-06 in hand.  He rested it on the ledge of the porch and fired.
The deer didn’t fall immediately.  He then shot again.  This time it dropped where it stood.
He laid his rifle down and grabbed his four-wheeler driving out to where he had killed the deer.  Just as he approached the fallen buck, headlights popped on a truck concealed nearby.  Two wildlife officers stepped out and asked the landowner what he was doing.  The deer he had just shot was an electronic decoy the officers were using to try and catch the potential poachers.
“It was the largest deer I had ever seen on my land, and I won’t about to let those teenagers come by here and kill me deer!” responded the confused and excited gentleman.
By far, a human is the most frightening thing in the woods.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hunting Matters

The numbers are in.
Each year the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission releases a report showing both current and historical data related to licensed hunters, the hunter education program, and the number of hunting incidents and fatalities.  Mining through the data can tell you how successful the program is working. 
And in North Carolina, the program is working well.
The 2011-2012 hunting season saw an increase of over 16000 licensed hunters in North Carolina over the year before.  While that is significant in itself, there is more to the story.  The nearly 522000 licensed hunters are the most North Carolina has had since 1994-95.  Sandwiched between those years were many high 300000 to mid 400000 licensed hunters.
Another story that can be deduced from the numbers is we are doing a very good job of bringing new hunters into the mix.  The 19246 hunter education students that were certified during that year were the second most since 1993-94.  These students are primarily taught by volunteer instructors who go through a weekend long class.  The instructors are taught on not only the course material, but various teaching methods that help the student understand the material thoroughly.
Why are we picking up these extra hunters?  It is not a simple one sentence answer.  I personally believe it can attributed to a large variety of factors.
First, society as a whole seems to be at least tolerant of hunting.  While anti-hunters are often the most vocal, the bulk of the population is either for hunting or has the mentality ‘to each his own’.  In hunter education classes we teach how to be ethical.  Ethics is not just whether you should do something that is lawful or not.  We discuss how bloody clothing and photos showing the impact wound can be a detriment to what hunting symbolizes.  Hunters are often painted as being barbaric, and scenes such as these only enhance that mentality.  It seems now, and this is totally unscientific, that the anti-hunters are often painted as the fringe now, and their antics are magnified consistently.
Television shows such as River Monsters, Man vs Wild, Survivorman, Swamp People, and Duck Dynasty have captured the imagination of the viewer as many have never seen nature in this way, nor have they seen the people that interact with nature do so in an ethical manner.  These shows may have done more for the acceptance, or at least tolerance of hunting than any other thing.
But society as a whole is not the only factor.  Programs such as the Hunting Matters mentoring program have been a success as well.  This program in particular asks the hunter to pledge to mentor a new hunter over the coming year and show them our hunting heritage.  In return for this promise, the hunter will receive a hat and bumper sticker from the NCWRC.
Walter Deet James, who began the Hunting Matters program a few years ago recently wrote a piece for me explaining why it is important to recruit new hunters.  Even though our numbers are increasing, our percentages as a nation are not due to overall population growth.  Deet explains that if our numbers do not grow in correlation to the overall population, it will become easy for hunters and outdoorsmen to lose their say, and vital programs for both hunters, anglers, and wildlife may lose their funding.
Funding from programs such as the Pittman-Robertson Act is how the state gets much of its money to furnish our volunteer instructors with material for the over 19000 students certified last year.