Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Passion-An Easter Message from a Hunter

     My grandfather was a man of many hats. With only a sixth grade education, he became an inventor, entrepreneur, engineer (using a knife and clay), a lay minister, and a big game hunter. His success and hard work allowed him to travel the world in pursuit of some of the greatest animals back in the 70’s and 80’s. He had over ninety animals mounted that were either Boone and Crockett record book or Safari Club record book. Creatures ranged from moose, elk, mule deer and pronghorn antelope to elephant, hippo, rhino, and Cape buffalo.
     This encouraged my early passion for the outdoors. Back in 2005, I picked up a bow for the first time and fell in love with the technique and style of hunting. The first big game animal I ever took with a bow was the American Bison, or buffalo. My dad and I planned the hunt shortly after my grandfather passed away. It was sort of a tribute to Papa as well as a chance for Dad and me to experience something that he and Papa never did together. Since then I have taken dozens of different species with the bow and hunted in several different states in pursuit of everything from mountain lion to alligator to snakehead fish. The enjoyment I have had on these hunts fuels my passion and has pushed me to share those experiences with others.
     I became a hunter education instructor and bowhunter education instructor here in North Carolina about five years ago in order to do just that; share my experiences and teach others. When I was teaching in Edgecombe County with Duncan Tatum, we were like a comedy show. We hit it off immediately and could bounce things off each other during the class to make it more interesting. You might see me one night getting prodded with an arrow in the ribs while trying to demonstrate the ideal shot on the vitals of a whitetail and then the next night you could find me getting targeted by an unseen hunter in the back of the class while performing a very (un)realistic gobbler call.
     This passion for the outdoors is what drives me. It’s part of what makes me who I am.
     One of the hardest, most difficult hunts I have ever been on was for mountain lion in the high desert of Arizona. When I scheduled the hunt I was told how tough the terrain was and how the temperatures could sway as much as 70 degrees over a seven or eight hour period. It was a ten day hunt riding horseback for nearly twenty miles each day. We would climb mountains that consisted of loose rocks and boulders so steep that instead of walking up the mountain, we would lean all the way forward on the horse and use our hands to protect our chest from the saddle horn as the horse would leap up, rest, then leap again. When going down the mountain side it was no easier as we would lay all the way back in the saddle, letting go of the reigns and resting our shoulders on the horse’s rump as he would just ‘slide’ down the mountainside. Every now and then I could feel the horse’s hoof slip and he would have to jump down to regain control. One day we were out and one of the shoes came off of one of the horses about ten miles in. When we finally made it back to the trailer, the horse was limping badly, blood coming out of his ankle and hoof, and in great pain. The guide told us he would never be able to do one of these hunts again with that horse, and later we found out he sold the horse to a children’s camp where the horse could retire.
     Now the word I used,‘passion’ should be explained a bit. We relate passion to meaning a great love for something. Originally, passion meant to suffer. In the 1500’s, passion was first used to describe the torture Christ went through as He was sent to the crucifix.
     I tend to look at things differently at times in order to better understand them. When I look back at that lion hunt for instance, I endured pain and fatigue in order to pursue something I loved to do. Jesus’ Passion was not just the torment He went through. It was the torment He went through for what He loved; us. It became His Passion because He was willing to go through the torture for His love.
     Hunting is a conflicting sport. As outdoorsmen, we love nature, God’s nature, yet we participate in the death of the creatures that are part of nature.       One of my favorite parts of bowhunting is how I can become a part of the prey’s natural habitat. I can blend in, observe, and become one with nature. Then, when the time is right, I take the shot. It is part of the hunt, and part of what nature entails. Because of this, hunters are challenged by some non-hunters in a way that portrays us as uncaring, blood loving, monsters.
     God is also challenged by non-believers in a similar way. He is questioned “How can God be a loving God if He allows killing, pain, and suffering even to the innocent?” Remember, without enduring the bad things in life, there can be no true ‘passion’. I believe the hunter; the outdoorsman, sees things in a similar light as God. God allows us to do what we wish. He has allowed us freedom. He has granted us stewardship over the animals, the plants, the land, the water, and the air. It is ours to do as we wish. With that responsibility, we must participate in both the conservation and control of this world.
     He allowed Job the freedom to do as he wished. Job had to endure great tortures and suffering. It would be Job’s choice as to how to handle the challenges thrown at him. In the end, Job chose to be with God rather than blame God.
     We have the same freedom Job had. If we wish to sin uncontrollably, to live without a reason, to not partake in God’s presence, God will not force us to be with Him in the afterlife. If we didn’t want to be with Him during our time on Earth, why should God require us to be with Him during our time afterwards? Ultimately it is our choice.
     Ultimately, we determine where we guide our passion.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tradition


Last week I was telling a friend who grew up in New Jersey about how important the ACC tournament is here in North Carolina.  When I was a kid, everyone in the class would bring small transistor radios to school and we would prepare for the noon time game.  By prepare I mean we would run our little earphones up our shirt and out our long sleeves.  When it became game time, we would prop our heads up with our hands which would conceal the earphones located in our ears.  I remember vividly a highly recruited freshman from Georgia Tech taking the ball and running in for an open layup in which a highly favored Carolina team just kind of cleared the way for him.  Unfortunately for Mark Price, he scored on the wrong goal and after the game joked how he always wanted to score a basket for Carolina.

This became a tradition amongst us each year as March Madness approached.

Traditions are interesting, as they are basically a ritual that involves more than one person.  One of my favorite traditions is opening day of dove season.  It has become a tradition to be in the field on opening day whether rain or shine.  Over the past few years the day has been very rewarding as far as numbers of birds and numbers of shots.  Generation after generation share the field and you never see anyone without a smile on their face.

Also in my younger years, my dad used to convince me to go duck hunting with him on Thanksgiving morning.  By convince I mean ‘made’ me go.  I hated the cold unless there was a football and running around going on.  But mixing the cold and the water and the biting wind was a little too much for me.  It never became a tradition in our household.  Probably because I dreaded it at the time (of course now, I look forward to those moments!) we just never did it on a consistent annual basis.

About five years ago I got involved in something that I never thought would have become a tradition.  I was interested in learning more about bowfishing and had been told of a place where the longnose gar was plentiful.  That March I drove down to the creek and started walking up and down the banks.  There, in one of the shallow rapids, I saw a strange fish leaping, splashing, and flopping over the river rocks.  It was as close to a scene of Alaskan Salmon spawning as I had ever seen in person.  There were hundreds of them.

After some research, I came to find out these fish made the spawn on just about the same week every year.  They would bottle up at this end of the creek due to a dam about a half mile upstream blocking further progression.  I also found out they were legal to bowfish and gig for.
Turner and a couple of suckers from
a few years ago.

I carried my new bowfishing gear out and after dozens of shots I finally hit my first fish.  Since then I have become much more proficient at bowfishing, and have hunted many species with the bow with an arrow attached by string.

I have also introduced many to the sport during this annual spawn run, including my son and daughter.  Now, each year, as March comes in, I head down to the creek to look for signs of the redhorse sucker.  Again, it has become a tradition.

The redhorse sucker can be found anywhere from 3 ½ pounds to 6 pounds.  The current North Carolina state bowfishing record is 7 pounds.  When you think of how big these fish are and the numbers of them in such a quick flowing low water stream it can be awe inspiring.  The fish has a beautiful orange glow with a deeper orange tint on the ends of its fins and tail.  First glance and it will remind you of a common carp or an oversized streamlined goldfish.

Julianne and I with a couple of suckers over the weekend.
It is also very tasty considering it feeds off the bottom of the river bed.

As far as the tradition, my daughter is probably the most excited.  She bounces with joy with the mention of the sucker run.  In fact, we recently hit the banks of the water several times both during the day and at night.  My youngest son can’t wait until he is old enough to draw back the bow.

Unlike carp, the suckers are not invasive nor or they detrimental to the river system.  So we hunt them in moderation, only taking a few.  Those few made for good meals.  But we know not to overdo it so our tradition can continue.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hate Mail

     Using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as blogging and writing this column, I have had my share of hate mail for what I do.  Of course, what I do is hunt and fish and spend time with family, friends, and others in the outdoors.  For instance, one of the things I love to do is bowfish.   I have several videos up on YouTube featuring bowfishing.  In fact, one has nearly 700,000 views.  But apparently, Europe doesn’t think much of bowfishing.  So, almost daily, I get notifications of where someone has attempted to post something really nasty about the sport.
     Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty open-minded.  I understand there are people that will disagree with certain aspects of different styles and types of hunting and fishing.  But I do not think the proper way to express an opinion should be laced with words that would make the devil blush.
     There are many that only believe in catch and release.  I tend to fall on this style of fishing for the most part, but not for any special reason other than I am not a big fish eater.  My grandfather had a rule at his pond where I grew up.  If you catch a fish, throw it back unless you are either going to eat it or mount it.  Made perfectly good sense to me.
     Sometimes, there are things that are instigated between the different styles that were only to get in-fighting between the different outdoorsmen.  A good example of this is the supposed battle between bowhunters, crossbow hunters, gun hunters, dog hunters and bear hunters.  I could go off a completely different topic based on the previous sentence except one of my goals with this column is to share information on different outdoor activities that bond.  If something strikes one’s fancy, then hopefully it will promote that person to learn more and become active in the sport.  Another goal of this column is to hopefully bring back one’s own memories of their own adventures so they will share their experiences with others.
     Last year I interviewed a lady from Michigan on what turned out to be an adventure of a lifetime.  She became the first lady to take a certain animal with a bow.  She endured extreme environmental conditions in the process.  It was a great story.  Unfortunately, it was a story I had to pull before I could get it out to each of the outlets I had worked on.
     Shortly after I ran the story locally, she began to get hate mail.  Not just regular hate mail, but hate mail that threatened her life.  Her employer was threatened with boycotts unless she was terminated.  She called me in tears one day asking what she could do.  I tried to help her and found a group on Facebook that had posted her picture (from a different interview) and targeted her.  After much research, we eventually found a blogger for a newspaper in Canada was the origination of the attacks.  It was filled with vile comments and threats towards her.  We contacted the newspaper and they apologized for any problems and admitted they did not read over the blog posts he was putting up.
     I mention all this only because I received an email this week from a reader.  While it was not nearly as bad as some I have seen I felt it deserves a response.  Not because they were right, nor because I want to ‘show them up’ in a public forum.  Actually, it is quite the opposite.
     Steven Rinella, author and host of Meateater and recent featured guest at the Dixie Deer Classic in Raleigh had a confrontation with an anti-hunter at one of his book signings.  The gentleman phrased his question in a way to introduce the words ‘murder innocent animals’ which can quickly turn someone on the defensive.  Rinella kept his cool and answered.  He explained how the whole anti-hunting movement has only come about in the last few decades.  That being the case, not hunting is as much against human nature as anything.
 
Mr. Howard,
I was shocked and sickened to see the photograph of you and your son carrying the dead bodies of what was once a beautiful and graceful pair of swans slung over your shoulders like sacks of potatoes. My Cherokee forbears hunted, yes--to feed their families, but not for the "thrill" of the kill. You are kidding yourself and fooling no one when you say, "The beauty of God's canvas with you being an integral but non-invasive part of it, that's really the goal." Non-invasive? REALLY?? I can't think of anything more invasive than a bullet puncturing my heart or my brain and taking my life. Be careful: When you invoke God's name and bring Him into things, He will be a force to be reckoned with. He is your judge, I am not. But I am the judge of newspapers and what I will pay my money for the privilege of reading and supporting.
With all the cuts and "improvements" going on in the media, we need columns like this? I think not.
     Now, my response is nothing magical; nothing philosophical that will one day be Hemingway-ish.  It is simply this.  I will never convince someone that is adamant about the way they feel to feel something different.  I am ok with that.  I was brought up that if you stand for something, stand firmly, but keep your eyes open.  Try to understand where the other party is coming from rather than combat it.  Therefore I am thankful for the letter.  You took a stand.
     This column is my stand.  I believe hunting and fishing and camping and hiking are all great character builders.  I learn as much from sitting in a stand all day and seeing nothing as I learn from catching fish all day on the river.  These activities build bonds, trust, and memories.  And these activities are both legal, ethical, and morale.  There are other activities out there as well, but this is not a column on building train sets or playing baseball.  This is one on the outdoors.  And if one day you wish to see what I do and how it can influence someone positively, I am available and will be more than happy to take you hunting or fishing.
 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Brave Men

I am sure everyone has their own family reunion horror stories.  Well, horror may be a little harsh in describing the gatherings.   Although, after hearing the joke “What’s purple and hums?” from your Uncle Bob for the last 40 years of your life, horror may be the only genre that adequately embodies the thoughts running through your mind as to Uncle Bob’s demise.
I could easily throw a time or twelve that reunions got the best of me.  But my family reads this column so I better refrain from such hence a column may not make it to the paper next week.
There is one reunion I have become very fond of.  Over the last decade I have come to anticipate the Dixie Deer Classic with tremendous enthusiasm.  I have participated as a volunteer in various capacities over those years.  And believe it or not, it is very hard work.  But it does not include cleaning and drying the dishes afterwards so the work is worth it!
I have come to know many of the people that either volunteer or have their own booths selling their services or products.  I have gained a better understanding of the industry side of the outdoors.  I have met celebrities, pioneers, and walking encyclopedias of all things outdoors.
For me it has become a reunion of my extended family.  This family shares a bond and not blood.  Most will do anything for anyone.  Some will give everything for anybody.  Following the closing of the Dixie Deer Classic on Saturday I was introduced to just such a person at the North Carolina Bowhunters Banquet.
Last year, Richard Burkett sat in the same seats as this year.  Burkett attends the Classic each year and volunteers as a measurer, shoots his bow in the 3d tournament, and assists anywhere else he is needed.  To quote the speaker Saturday night, Burkett “has dedicated his time to bowhunting and his life to this country…He is a Marine, a husband, a father, and a bowhunter.”
Burkett was deployed just a few days after the Classic in 2012.  Just a month later, on April 11, 2012 to be exact, Burkett and 3 other crew members were on a training mission in Morocco.  The MV-22 Osprey that was carrying the 4 Marines was participating in a joint exercise with the Moroccan military called African Lion that included nearly 1000 Marines and another 200 U.S. military personnel.
Shortly after dropping off Marines near Cap Draa, the Osprey took off from the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima.  Around 4pm the Osprey lost control, crashing, and killing 2 of the Marines.   All 4 of the Marines received immediate medical care on the ground, and were evacuated by KC-130 transport aircraft to a medical center in Germany.  Burkett survived.
Burkett went through more than 20 operations to save his legs.  Every tendon and ligament in his left leg was severed along with his right ankle.
But Burkett is a Marine.  Despite his severe injuries and the need to use an aid for walking, Burkett continues pursuing his passion.  Since the accident, Burkett successfully hunted and harvested several hogs, a deer, a bobcat, and a coyote, all with his bow.
Country music star Colton James presents Major Richard 'Train Wreck' Burkett
with the Golden Arrow Award
The North Carolina Bowhunters Association honored Burkett with the Golden Arrow Award.  The Golden Arrow is given to a bowhunter who has sustained physical challenges that would normally hinder someone from hunting yet still hunts with a bow.
Presenting the award to Burkett was country music star Colton James who followed with his song “Brave Men”, which was dedicated to Burkett and our military.  There were few dry eyes in the Kerr Scott Building.
And Sunday, Burkett again shot the 3d tournament.
For the record, Major Richard ‘Train Wreck’ Burkett never told the joke “what’s purple and hums?”  But I bet if your Uncle Bob was there he would let you know the answer is an electric grape.