Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years

We have made another trip around the sun. We do not get many of these.
If you were to think of a year as a M&M for instance, we have a small bag full. Right after you open the bag, you devour them. Each of the first ones you may gobble down two, three or four at a time. Once you have eaten about half the bag, you make a conscience decision though. You question yourself, “do I finish the bag or do I fold it up and save the rest for later?”
You have gone from your younger years to your mid-life crisis. But the similarities do not end there. Regardless of your choice, as the bag is emptied, each candy coated chocolate morsel means more and more. You begin to savor those last few. You may even chip away the candy shell and then catch all the flavor out of the chocolate inside. Your years are ending.
Most of us will experience around 78 or 79 trips around our sun. Some less, some more, but on average we lose 1/80th of our lifetime each New Year’s Day.
Take into account we sleep roughly one third of our life, and that 1.25% seems all the more precious.
If we averaged a 40 hour work week, add in our time for sleep, that leaves us with less than half of our lives that we actually have time to do what we want to do with the people we want to do it with. We also have to do chores at home, eat, bathe, be sick, and all kinds of other things in those remaining 79 hours per week, but it is our time.
What do you do with that time?
What if it took you 30 years before someone showed you your first sunrise? What if that first fish you caught was on your 45th birthday? What if the first doe and fawn playing together happened to be when you were in your 60’s? Would you think about how nice it would have been to have known the full extent of God’s beauty decades before?
Each New Year the mass populace puts together goals and resolutions. Many are broken just hours after making them. Most of them are regarding healthier diets or habits, adhering to financial budgets, or tackling one of our many other vices head on.
Some pertain to spending time with significant others.
Over the next year, our next trip around the sun, try to take in some of the extra beauty in the world. Notice the way the birds flock fluidly in the skies. Watch how the ants work together, following a strict regiment of something beyond what we understand.
Look at how the squirrels play, gather, and eat. Lay back on the lush carpet of grass on a spring day and gather in the movement of the clouds above just as we did in the early years when we took in everything we could to heart.
Show someone the beauty and grace that is out there, away from the concrete jungles and partitioned offices, and video console screens.
Appreciate those last M&Ms, for unlike the bag, we can not see when our last trip around the sun is upon us.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Cold Water Crappie


The deer are running a strange pattern for the time being, at least on the lands I have access to hunt on. They are either nocturnal, or nonexistent. Sometimes I even get confused whether that is one and the same since the results are also the same.

The bears are traveling in preparation of the coldest months ahead. Unfortunately, I have seen more lying motionless along the roadside or in the medians rather than gracing their presence in my vicinity while still alive.

The ducks are flying, if you can catch them at the right time. But again, they seem to have an internal clock more precise than anything the Swiss could manufacture, as they come in high during shooting times or low just after sunset.

And you would believe with the attempts at cold weather that Mother Nature has brought about occasionally, the fish bites would have become as rare as a snowman in July.

You would believe.

Now the saying goes “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him forever.” So let’s talk a little about one of my favorite cold water targets.

As the water temperatures have cooled down, one of the premiere pan fish have moved off the shore lines and into the deeper water. The crappie seek the deeper water during the cold and tend to stack up and school around submerged structure. When they do this, the fishing becomes fun.

First you need to know what to use to target the papermouths. Crappie love minnows. Love them! You can use live minnows or even artificial minnow jigs, but the live minnows are hard to resist.

You can fish for them just like you would bottom fish from a pier on the coast with a couple of variations. To make the drop jig, take several barrel swivels and tie on lengths of line, mostly between six and nine inches. At the other ends of the lines, tie on a small hook. Go ahead and make a half dozen of these short barrel swivel lines.

At the end of the line coming out of the rod and reel, tie on a small weight. It does not need to be more half an ounce in most places. Go up the line about six inches and loop the main line through the open barrel swivel eyelet. Pull the loop over the barrel swivel line and then pull tight. Go up another six inches and do the same. With this jig you can have an unlimited number of hooks dangling off at different depths, but start off with two.

Next, take a crappie minnow and hook it through the lower lip of the mouth through the top lip. This allows the minnow to live and be active in order to attract the crappie. You can also clip one of the tail fins which will cause the minnow to swim rather erratic, again attracting more attention to the predator fish.

If you notice most of your fish being caught on the top line, then move both lines up a little more. It will not take long before you will be bringing in doubles and maybe even triples.

I know I usually do not offer tips such as these in this column, that instead I tell stories of different events. I also know there are dozens if not hundreds of other ways to bring the slabs over the side of the boat or to shore. But give this a try and consider it a Christmas gift from me to you.

If you bring home a cooler full or just one outstanding memorable catch, send me a photo or two to BillHowardOutdoors@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reading is Fun

I was not much of a reader when in school. To me, reading was just a waste of time, especially when I could be learning something by studying science and math, or creating simple programs on the computer. For those younger than myself, those computer programs were a big deal back then, as the computer was still in its infancy with a decent computer having a whopping 64k of memory. The laptop I am typing from now has over 1 terabyte of storage memory and 4 gigabytes of operating memory.
Back to the subject at hand. A good way to describe my passion for reading was pure hate. I had a major test on the book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court for instance. I thought it would interest me, but it didn’t. So, in order to pass the test I read every other chapter. If I had a book that had Cliff’s Notes (again, for the younger readers out there, this was our example of a wiki page on what a book was about), I would read the synopsis only. I could not even read the chapter by chapter breakdown.
My reading habits changed in college, and I actually went through a very prolific reading stage. Those habits continued to this day. I particularly enjoy older books, those about religion and prophecy, and stories about the outdoors. Amongst my favorite reads are books by Jon Krakauer such as Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and personal accounts from former President Teddy Roosevelt on his many expeditions across America and Africa.
I was recently offered a complimentary hard cover copy of Dark Timber published by L’ivoire Press. First of all, beginning in March of 2015, L’ivoire Press will be running a subscription based service of four books per year. They are limited to 950 hard copy books each, hand numbered, and offer according to their tag line, The Greatest of Hunting Stories.
Based on Dark Timber, I believe in what they say. Dark Timber is a compilation of three stories selected after much thought and debate, to symbolize what the longer anthologies of the regular subscription base would be like. Remember my selection of Roosevelt? Well, Teddy is included with his account of “A Shot at a Bull Elk.”
Dark Timber focuses on elk hunting, and the premiere story of the three is the “Saga of the One-Eyed Bull” told in a rich and vivid recounting by Walt Prothero. Prothero exquisitely portrays both his passion for the hunt, and his compassion of the animal in his quest for the one-eyed bull he had encountered for four years. The ending handles the emotion of the kill in a way in which one feels when told their long loved pet would be better off put down than to suffer its remaining days.
These stories promise to offer more than tips and techniques of hunting. L’ivoire Press promises to bring the subscriber along on adventures that show why we hunt in the first place. I look forward to reading their future published works.
You can download an electronic copy of Dark Timber at LivoirePress.com as well as subscribe to their quarterly editions. I know they would not only make a great Christmas gift for the outdoorsman, they will very likely become a family hand-me-down to share with generations into the future.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Respect

Respect is one of many words that describes someone’s positive character traits. Respect represents admiration of someone or something. When there is lack of respect, it often shines like an aerodrome beacon for all to recognize.
For instance, earlier this year while fishing from the kayak at the coast, there were several boats as well as myself fishing along a train trestle. We were all evenly spaced providing plenty of distance between each other. One boat even moved up to a bridge piling, tying to the concrete beam and attempting to fish for sheepshead. While the boat did come close to where I was located, we acknowledged each other and knew we would not be interfering with each other’s fishing.
The current flowing under the bridge and trestle was rather strong as the tide was coming in. My anchor held tight in the open channel as my fishing focused away from the anchor rope.
In the distance, I noticed a large center console heading down the channel. I thought it was rather strange, as this channel is not a throughway, as not only is it narrow but also has several huge concrete power poles several feet in diameter positioned right in the middle.
As the boat passed the first anchored fishing boat down the channel I could tell this was not going to go well. The wake was high, and the boat passed within a few feet of the other.
Still, it kept coming down the channel. As it came closer, I spotted several trolling rigs set out to the sides. For sure this was not happening here.
As it passed between me and the other nearby boat, water breached my kayak easily and tossed the boat fishing for sheepshead into the piling it was tied to. My greatest worry was whether their trolling rigs would catch onto my anchor rope and proceed to snatch the kayak over. I grabbed the anchor rope and tugged and pulled as quickly as I could to prevent the potential catastrophe.
While this was a clear lack of respect for each of us fishing this channel, it also became dangerous.
Then there was the time a couple of years ago on the last day of deer season. As I walked into the clearing of the field to get to my stand, I noticed bright orange ahead in a tripod stand at a point in the woods. My dad and son were not hunting, and our gate had been locked. Yet there were two hunters sitting in our tripod.
I laid the bow and arrows down in the path and approached them. Well before getting there, they climbed down and started walking towards me as well. I knew I was unarmed. I knew they had rifles. This was not a time for me to offer threats, but instead I just asked did they know where they were. They said they thought they were on a nearby landowner’s farm. I corrected them and pointed them towards the farm they mentioned. While they had an excuse, I still doubted their sincerity considering the way they exited the stand and approached me as if they had been caught.
While that case can be argued, tree stands built onto private land cannot. I have seen it on our land, with access from a major highway. I have seen it where stands were built on other properties several feet into the woods in order to conceal the effort. I have seen cameras put up and bait put out. I have seen No Trespassing signs removed and trash left. I have even seen deer carcasses with just the back straps cut out left for the landowner to clean up.
For all the ethical, respectful hunter and angler out there, it only takes the few less than respectful people to tarnish the image.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Heroes


Have you ever been to a place and think to yourself, “I must be crazy, but if by chance I am not, then everyone else most certainly is”? Comic-con would certainly put you in that mindset.

To explain a bit of our sub-culture that you may not have experience with, Comic-con is short for comic convention. San Diego would be the Mecca of the conventions, where many Hollywood stars attend to promote sci-fi, fantasy, and comic based movies and television shows.

I attended my first Comic-con recently, although it was one of the ‘satellite’ conventions with a little less fan-fare and support from the big companies. I began to appreciate comics and superheroes at a young age just like many people do. My Saturday mornings consisted of Superfriends, Scooby Doo, and even Hong Kong Phooey. It is what kids did on Saturdays.

With the release of the Marvel movies, my kids have become fans as well. One of the few television shows I watch is based on one of my favorite superheroes, the Flash. My youngest, Cooper, will climb into my recliner with me and watch and talk during the hour it is showcased on the flat screen.

While watching all the people at the Comic-con, many cosplaying, in other words dressing up as their favorite characters, I felt like I was at a Halloween party in mid-November.

But, I realized it may not have been all that weird, especially for the younger once attending. While I occasionally donned a bath towel flapping off my back being held by a safety pin around my neck when I was little, I also dressed and played as other heroes.

For instance I had a brown coat with tassels hanging from the pockets, a coon skin hat, and a lever action bb gun. While this image may not strike a bit of resemblance with kids of today, most of you in your late 30’s and older will easily picture Davy Crockett.

The King of the Wild Frontier had the image and lore to inspire motion pictures and television shows to carry on his legacy for many generations. While being a state leader and politician as well as a hero who died fighting at the Alamo, he was a frontiersman, hunter, and trapper that knew the ways of the outdoors. While today’s movies try to develop our comic hero’s characters and traits, Crockett has a real backstory.

Daniel Boone was yet another hero immortalized from legend thanks to Disney expanding on his life and times. While the legend of Boone even spread to Europe during the 1800’s, our knowledge of both true and embellished events in his life are known mainly by the tales our generations have been able to see.

Another outdoorsman who played a huge part in expanding the frontier of a young United States, Boone readily acknowledged much of the lore was simply to make him bigger than what he was. He was humble, a man of few words, and claimed to be a simple man. That is saying a lot about someone who was said to have ‘grinned a bear to death’ while in the Appalachians. Let’s see Superman do that.

I’ve often wished a major movie studio would once again take on sharing stories of people like these so our kids, and their kids, could learn and admire them.

Of course, I always wished for a Lone Ranger movie to hit the silver screen for the same reasons, and yet we got Johnny Depp in a crow hat instead.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Easy Life


Like many, the family decked the halls, well, put up the Christmas tree and decorations in the living room and den, recently. While I enjoy the season, I would much rather watch then move everything around and hang ornaments. I’m not a Scrooge mind you, it is just not my favorite thing to do.

Afterwards I was able to get some bow time, throwing some arrows out of the new RhinoX from Ben Pearson Archery. It did not take long to set up, and after shooting groups with the arrows touching from 50 yards, I knew to start shooting at different spots. Due to some experiences in competition from last year, I also decided I may need to get some bench time and build some more Carbon Express XJammer arrows.

With the Wolfpack’s dominating win over the Heels (sorry, but I did go to school at the old school in Raleigh), I convinced myself to decorate my arrows with the brightest red fletching I could find. Bohning’s Blazer vanes fit the bill.

After setting up the fletching jig, organizing the glue, arrows, pin nocks, target points and vanes, I was all set to go. Then I lost myself. I lost myself in the task at hand, but in a very good way. Stress flowed from my shoulders as my only concerns were the proper placement of the vanes on the shaft of the arrow. I marveled at the symmetrical degrees of angle from each vane as looking at them from the sides and top.

It was as if I had painted a picture, except it was something I would be using rather than displaying. After finishing up the last of the arrows, I suddenly felt a sense of emptiness. I had put them all together, and now I just had to allow the drying time. I had no need for any more arrows.

But I had a revelation. Through Facebook or Instagram or Twitter I have seen several fishing world contacts, specifically those that focus on fly fishing, tying their own flies. I have always had the image in my mind of the wife and I growing old, settling down on some lake or river front land away from everything, and spending the rest of my days either fishing, hunting, or dabbling in tying my own flies.

I know, it sounds a little weird, but if you were to spend a day with me you would see that I am what it sounds like. Weird, quirky, crazy, are all good adjectives to describe how I am about some things.

The bench, with a small magnifying glass looking down upon an arm with an alligator clip holding deer hair, squirrel hair, or maybe even something more exotic such as pheasant feathers with a couple of strings wrapped here and there with a precision set of tweezers hanging from the ends offers than Hemingway-ish detail to my image of my latter days.

After tying one I am particularly proud of, I promptly tie one last knot; this one to the fly line tippet.

I step outside and walk down the water front. I begin working the rod and line eventually unloading the rod so the fly makes a presentation to the fish below. The end scene is not one of my bringing in anything. The result is just the satisfaction of being there.

If there is anything I envy, it is that losing of oneself into the act of just doing. No thoughts, no stress, just doing. I can only hope and pray my days end in that fashion.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Change of Location


The weeks since archery season have been frustrating. Everything was promising early as the deer were plentiful and consistent to the area. There are a couple of monsters that roam the fields and they would occasionally show themselves on the trail camera during daylight.

Opening day brought a dead morning. The afternoon fared better as several does and their young came out well before sunset. Unfortunately none of them turned towards my stand and they grazed just out of range.

A small buck made his way towards the stand, and presented a great shot opportunity. I held the 70 pound draw of the bow for nearly a minute with the pin set squarely in the ole bread basket while fighting internally about whether to take the shot on the young six pointer. Eventually I decided to let him walk and said a little prayer that he may survive another year.

Since then, not nearly as much excitement. I never spotted another deer during shooting hours. Only twice have I had the startling thrill of hearing a doe blow while leaving the stand after dark. Forty pounds of corn may disappear overnight from a Wednesday evening to a Thursday morning, while it may lay completely untouched from a Thursday evening until a Sunday evening save for a large cardinal family pecking individual kernels as daylight would evaporate. Even the trail cameras were in confusion, with the only photos showing rain or a windblown field.

It was time to move.

Roughly 30 miles from where I hunt the early season is the next on the list. Sweet potatoes were recently harvested leaving behind chunks of natural deer bait. My first drive into the field yielded exactly what I was looking for. Tracks and hoof prints blanketed the soft white sands of the path leading in. In some areas the ground was so torn from the trampling of the deer you would think it was a detour of the Running of the Bulls.

And then I spotted a deer hunter’s heaven.

No, I hadn’t run across Mr. Big just yet. But I did see what Mr. Big wants, at least at this point of the season.

Acorns. Acorns everywhere. The magic fairy dust of a deer’s taste buds.

The white oaks were very kind. The underbrush, consisting of my least favorite plants was so damaged from the frequent travel of the deer to the acorn buffet that I easily was able to get to a perfectly straight and tall tree without fear of briars or poison ivy.

I pieced together twenty feet of climbing sticks and leaned it on the tree. First securing the lowest strap, I worked my way up one section at the time until the top strap held the elevator to hunting paradise squarely on the tree.

The lock-on stand was placed next. Three feet lower than the top of the climbing sticks allowed me easy access without threat of falling to certain injury or death. Just a couple of feet from my backside on the climb was a second tree. There, I screwed in a couple of hooks which would serve to hold the bow and my small carry bag.

The only thing left was to place another camera and hunt it.

Of course, I did.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ebola and CWD


The recent news of the Ebola virus being diagnosed in the United States raised many concerns. As well it should. The disease is on one of its largest killing sprees in western Africa.
It made its way into the U.S. after we were told a couple of weeks prior that it was highly unlikely the virus could spread here. The Center for Disease Control assured everyone that we were completely prepared to prevent it from coming over as well as control it with the citizens we brought back for medical treatment.
In the aftermath, we have found out the CDC was completely caught off guard when it was diagnosed in Texas. The medical personnel there were not prepared to handle anyone who may have exhibited the symptoms of Ebola. The Hazmat teams were not at the ready for cleanup and containment. In other words, we blew it. It could have easily have been worse, and hopefully it will not get worse as the next week or so plays out with those the patient was in contact with.
The deer equivalent to such a devastating disease is Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). CWD is not detectable in live animals and has long incubation periods. It is also always fatal. Several states have been affected with CWD in their various deer herds. Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia have all been hit with CWD. Once CWD has been found in a herd, it has never been eradicated.
Fortunately, North Carolina has an extensive plan to prevent an outbreak if it is ever spotted here. Recently, the state tested 3,800 wild deer that were either taken by hunters or road kill, in which none were discovered to be infected. This is another case in which the estimated 260,000 deer hunters assist in the conservation of our wildlife.
However, if, at some point CWD is discovered in the state, the CWD Response Plan will be implemented. First, the states will set up a surveillance area within a 10 mile radius of the infected deer.
To prevent attracting more deer from coming into the surveillance area, all baiting and feeding will be banned. The state will also set up mandatory check stations for deer harvested by hunters to check for potential spread of the disease by testing for CWD in the harvested deer.
Hunting seasons and times may be expanded in order to collect more samples for testing, as well as reduce the herd in the infected area.
All deer and deer parts, including the meat, antlers, skulls, and fur, within the surveillance area cannot be transported out without special treatment and labeling.
And of course, wildlife enforcement patrols will increase within the surveillance area to ensure compliance with the requirements.
Our plan is solid and seems to be well thought out. However, it does not take a lot of change to cause something like this to falter.
Let’s go back to the Ebola patient for a moment. Our only prevention of the spread from his home country to the U.S. was a questionnaire on whether he had been in contact with someone who was diagnosed with the disease. It was discovered he had been in contact with a pregnant woman who was suffering from the symptoms and later died. He answered he had not.
North Carolina is considering legislation to allow the opening of more captive deer farms. Remember, CWD cannot be detected from live animals. By opening these deer farms it increases the risk of bringing CWD from another state into our own without us ever knowing about it. Even a captive herd can have interaction with a wild herd. The only thing separating the two in most instances is a high fence.
We may need to look at the lessons given to us by our own species in order to protect other species who cannot protect themselves.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Simplicity is a Lost Trait


Simplicity is a lost trait. Our world of endless technological advances continues to march forward leaving the easiest tasks in an afterthought.
Take tire monitoring systems for instance. At one time, many years ago, when you would pull up to a filling station, an attendant would come out. Then he would proceed to pump the fuel, clean the windshield, check the oil, and check the air pressures in the tires. As the filling stations began to lose the necessity of attendants, then we began to check our own.
We even changed our own oil and performed tune ups on our own vehicles.
Then something changed.  Our lives were blessed with computer systems which could be integrated into certain simple tasks. Alarm clocks were no longer a series of gears clicking endlessly towards an eventual hammer attack on two bells. Analog went digital. Our vehicles started telling us when it was time to change oil rather than us keeping up with 3000 mile intervals on our odometers.
And then the cursed tire monitor was born. It came about because of necessity actually. We forgot how to check our tire pressures. We did not know how much air was supposed to go in the tires. We did not realize the affect temperatures played on the tire pressures. And we still do not.
That little flashing (or steady on some vehicles) light that looks like a horseshoe with an exclamation point in the middle causes anxiety, stress, and outright fear when we see it now. It only comes on for two reasons. Either the tire pressure is beyond a certain threshold limit or a sensor has gone bad.
Now we have come to boat motors. This is an outdoors column after all. At one time they were as simple as you could make a mechanical contraption with an enormous amount of moving parts that held both an engine and transmission within the same body.
Don’t get me wrong, they were complicated. They had to be worked on. However, anyone with a little mechanical know-how could do at least the basics and keep the motors where they could be counted upon every weekend.
It is much different at this time. More thing-a-ma-jigs have been added so they compare in number with the bells and whistles of most commercial airliners. In doing so, it has added more stuff to break, and the ability to get it repaired nearly impossible. Trust me; a marine mechanic that can fix a boat motor is no longer worth his weight in salt. He is worth enough salt to season a year’s worth of McDonald’s fries.
I can easily count more boat motors that are not running sitting on dormant boats than boats ready to hit the water by just the turn of a key.
Even the electric motors have gone crazy in technology. At one time they were just a motor attached by wire running through a shaft to a potentiometer located in the handle. Electric current running from the battery to the potentiometer would determine how fast and in which direction the propeller would spin.
Now they have powered trim, remote controlled, gps enabled abilities that takes a third year college course to understand how to use fully.
It is a wonder the Inuit were able to stretch seal skin over a wood frame, paddle out in sub-frigid waters and harvest whales for food, tools, and other required living uses. Their only gauges were the rumbling of their bellies and bite of the Arctic air. Luckily they did not use wheels very often; those tire monitors would have driven them crazy with the cold air.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Let it Grow, or Fill the Freezer?


One of my hunting goals is to take a symmetrical eight pointer in velvet with a bow. He does not have to be Boone and Crockett big, nor Pope and Young big. He just needs to be in velvet, have 4 points on each side that are fairly even in length, and look balanced.
For those not familiar with the terms used, as a deer or other antlered beast grows their antlers, they are in velvet. Velvet is a soft covering of the antlers. Once the deer rubs the velvet off, the antlers cease to get larger.
Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young refer to the two most common and well known organizations that keep records of North American game animals. Boone and Crockett keeps up with any type of fair chase kill as well as found animals. Pope and Young restricts their records to bow kills. Entry into either of the clubs records has to meet a certain criteria based on different scoring methods and measurements as well as ethical standards of the hunt. These entries are what is considered a trophy animal.
But what is a true trophy? I would be as excited and proud of the velvet symmetrical eight as I would a Booner (slang for a Boone and Crockett entry). Would this not count as a trophy in my eyes?
Of course it would. But sometimes we get caught up in what a trophy is in others’ eyes. Has it become just an extension of our school days?
You know what I am talking about. You become close to that cute girl that sits beside you in class. You casually mention her name while playing with your friends and several of them start making remarks about some feature they don’t like about her and just like that, you throw a cold shoulder. You like her still, but there is no way you would ever let her nor anyone else know.
Jeff Foxworthy runs a comedy routine about deer hunting and trophies. He plays a scenario where a huge buck is laying in the back of one pickup truck and all the guys in the hunting club are giddy over the size and stature of such a beautiful animal. Then, they work their way to the next truck where a much smaller deer lays. “That’s good eatin’ right there,” one says.
“Yep, the young ones are good and tender,” comments another. No longer will this hunter take an animal of that size again. Not when his hunting buddies are around anyway.
Opening weekend of bow season played out in a similar way. I was hoping to drop a couple of does for the freezer. The burger and sausage is getting low from last year’s hunts. Even my wife joked with her co-workers about me needing to go out and gather us some meat.
The morning’s hunt began at 3:30am, as I have done nearly every opening season over the past decade. Within 15 minutes of entering the stand I had three deer below me within ten yards of the stand. Unfortunately, after another 15 minutes, a torrential downpour flushed all the deer deep into the woods for cover. There was no action the rest of the morning.
That afternoon I again entered the stand. I watched as a small cow horn buck exited the tree line to my far left. Behind him three does and a small fawn sneaked in as well. They all walked away from the stand further to the left.
While I watched them graze on the beans I caught movement closer to me on my left. A six pointer, still in velvet must have entered the field out of sight and worked his way through the field towards me. He continued to close the distance and came as close as five yards from my tree.
He was a little spooked and darted away before stopping to look back once again. I pictured him making a turn and doubling back, which he did. At 17 yards I came to full draw and settled the 20 yard pin where the heart would be.
And I moved the string from the anchor position and waited for him to leave. My thoughts of shooting a buck that was too small overcame my intent of putting meat in the freezer.
I wasn’t on a guided trophy hunt. There were no size restrictions. The land is not managed for trophy deer. Yet I let a good four to five months of food walk because of the size of the antlers.
There is no right or wrong as to what happened. Only a question we all must ask ourselves at times. Why?

Friday, September 12, 2014

It is TIME!

When I played baseball in high school I remember a talk the coach, another player, and myself had prior to our first conference game of the season.  The other player was our leadoff batter. He was fast and in practice could spray the ball to any field easily for a base hit. I was not as fast of a runner, nor did I hit as well as he did.  However, for some reason, he was struggling in our non-conference schedule and I was getting on base regularly whether by walks, hits, or fielding errors.
I could go in to a number of reasons why this occurred. One, the other player admitted he was extremely nervous leading off. My role was to take pitches to give any runners on base a chance to test the catcher’s arm to set into motion our base running plans. Even with the bases empty, I stayed in that frame of mind, and it allowed me to get to base by taking bad pitches.
Our meeting was to inform the two of us we would be switching batting positions. As the leadoff batter, I had to get on base. No matter what our third base coach would signal, I had the green light to steal second base whenever I felt I had an advantage. Again, the goal was to test the catcher’s arm so we would know how aggressive we could be when on the base paths.
Each evening leading up to that first conference game I would fall asleep envisioning that very first at bat.  I would watch the opposing pitcher during warm-ups to determine what pitches to look for. The umpire would signal the last warm-up pitch and the catcher would toss it back to the second baseman as the ball would flow around the horn and back to the pitcher. “Play ball!” the umpire would grunt loudly motioning towards the field.
In real life, those steps played out exactly as planned. The pitcher threw a lot of curve balls during warm-ups and I planted my feet squarely towards the front of the batter’s box. “Let’s see what you’ve got,” I thought to myself. I could see the break in the pitcher’s wrist as he released the first pitch. The seams of the baseball grabbed air as it rotated towards me. I clearly saw the curve ball was on the way and could tell where the break would occur. Instinctively the bat reached out across the plate making contact with the rawhide. The ball hugged the barrel just before launching down the third base line. The angle was right and I watched the ball sailing towards the outfield. As I neared first base I watched the ball clear the outfield fence by about 20 feet.
“Foul ball,” the umpire called out as he waved his arms towards the other team’s dugout down the third base side of the field.
Although the ball was foul, I had played the moment through my head so many times that nothing in the scenario up that point was foreign or surprising. I was confident in the moment. I was ready. For full disclosure, I struck out on the next two pitches as the pitcher had a heck of a fastball that I could not catch up to standing there in the front of the batter’s box.
Now, nearly 30 years later, I lay down at the end of the evening doing much the same thing. There I am, in my tree stand with hours to go before sunrise. I hear crunching below as a couple of does and a fawn chew on the corn in the field. The moonlight catches something way out in the field, however it is still much too dark to see what it is. Or is it? No, I can see now that the light is glistening of a couple of tree limbs.
No, wrong again. Those are antlers. They are moving towards the stand. As he approaches I can only hope he hangs around until day break. The nervousness departs as I become comfortable watching this beautiful specimen establish his alpha dominance over the smaller bucks coming in.
And I fade off into my dreams of the night.
You may think to yourself, “Bill, this mental preparation dreaming didn’t work too well for you 30 years ago as you struck out.”
Yes, but I finished the game with two hits and three stolen bases.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Four Wheelin' and a Contest!

The trail was clear, although the terrain was rough. Hills and rocks and slides were as much a part of the trail as asphalt is to a highway. Throughout the whole length, a short step too far would carry you over the edge which dropped hundreds of feet where the only thing to break the fall was the ground itself.
My wife, daughter and son were taking this treacherous route. Since the trail lead to nowhere, I kept thinking to myself this is why mountain climbers seek the pinnacle of a majestic outcropping of rock and earth made from eons of plates colliding with each other. We just wanted to see what lied ahead, remember what was behind us, and enjoy the present.
While making the trek, I caught a high pitched rumble behind us. The noise gradually grew louder and I motioned for my daughter and wife to stay close to the inside of the trail near the upward mountainside. Bears, bobcats and even a rumored mountain lion, though highly doubtful, are said to roam the area. This was no predator though.
In a flash three motorbikes broke around the curve and passed us. They were so quick all we could really catch sight of was three helmets and dust being thrown from the rear tires.
I had never been on the off-highway vehicle trail system that encompasses Brown Mountain, but on a weekend getaway we thought the family would enjoy running the four wheelers on a trail such as this. Over 33 miles of trail exists there, and even though there are plenty of bikes, all terrain vehicles, and Jeeps testing their skills and just enjoying the adrenaline rush of acceleration and maneuvering, the trails remained open enough where you were not constantly looking over your shoulder or peeking around the corners.
With the kids with us, we stayed on the easy trails. There are much more difficult tracks to take, and each trail marker has a symbol showing not only the difficulty of the run, but which types of vehicles are allowed to traverse the trail as well.
We spent several hours exploring just the main trail which was highlighted with turnoffs, steep climbs and descents, powdery dirt and exposed rocky outcrops. We stopped twice on the 12.6 mile ride, once for pictures near a large boulder, and once just to talk and take a five minute break.
The cool mountain air was crisp and refreshing compared to earlier in the week where the temps reached the lower 90’s and we soaked in all we could.
As far as the mountain goes, it is filled with mystery and history, and having both covered, seen, and studied the famous Brown Mountain Lights, I wondered just how they emanated from the mountain.
Even the United States Department of Agriculture acknowledges the floating orbs but the explanations are as much a mystery as the lights themselves. This being my first time actually on the mountain, I paid special attention to features that you just cannot see from afar during the night.
That evening, as we tended a fire near the small two room cabin we stayed in and melted s’mores over the flames; we recanted the tales of the mountain and others from the nearby area. We ate well, slept deeply, and continued a bond between ourselves and the land.
The Brown Mountain OHV Trail is located less than thirty minutes from Morganton, NC and requires a pass that can be purchased at the entrance.
 

So, What is your BEST DAY EVER? Kolpin Powersports wants to know!

 
 
 
 
ME AND MY BEST ATV DAY EVER!!!
That title sounds like something you’d read in a friend’s Facebook post as a caption for an awesome photo or video, doesn’t it?  Well, it is actually, or will be soon, thanks to Kolpin Powersports.
On Friday, August 15, 2014, Kolpin Powersports kick-offed a social media video contest asking ATV fans to showcase their Best ATV Day Ever by submitting a video for a chance to win a Grand Prize pack from Kolpin worth $1,000. 
The Grand Prize is $500 in cash plus a $500 Kolpin online gift card (coupon code).  But if you don’t win the Grand Prize, don’t worry, there are nine other prizes being offered, including four Runner-Up prizes of $250 in cash plus a $250 Kolpin online gift card, and five Honorable Mention prizes, which earns winners a $200 Kolpin online gift card.  Gift cards are only available for redemption at KolpinPowersports.com.

 
Kolpin is making it really easy to enter the contest. Here’s all you have to do:
1)                 Make your video
2)                 Upload your video to YouTube or another video hosting site and once the video is live, copy the URL.
3)                 Paste the video URL to Kolpin’s Facebook Best Day Ever contest tab which is located at KOLPIN FACEBOOK COMPETITION PAGE 
 
 
The contest has one round of voting and the winner will be determined by a combination of social media fan votes and a judge’s panel comprised of ATV and video buffs who will look for originality and video quality. 
Here’s a BIG TIP for you:  once your video is posted, quickly give your friends the URL - email it, text it, post it on your social channels – heck, do everything possible to get as many people as possible to vote for your video. But be quick about it, because voting ends at 11:59 CST on Sunday, September 14, 2014.
This awesome contest is sure to be entertaining, with hilarious, exciting or otherwise excellent videos, so even if you aren’t planning on making a video yourself, be sure to visit the page early and often to vote for your favorites!
If you haven’t heard of Kolpin Powersports, they’re the industry leader in ATV and UTV accessories, offering universal accessories that work with every brand of ATV and UTV. Kolpin has been around since 1943, so you can trust their products, and rest assured that they’re constantly innovating and engineering new equipment to add to their large assortment of other ATV and UTV accessories.
For more information about Kolpin Powersports, call them at 1 (877) 956-5746 or visit their website by clicking HERE.
 
Note: This is a sponsored post by Kolpin Powersports.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Know Your Choke


Many years ago my grandfather used to hunt quail religiously. He had an Ithaca side-by-side double barrel 20 gauge shotgun in which he sawed much of the end of the barrels off.
When I began hunting, my first experiences with real firearms were with that Ithaca. My father always warned me in the dove field to “stay down until they are right up on you and then pull up and fire.” I always thought it was because he was unsure of my newly developing abilities and a close shot would give me the best chance of downing the game bird.
It was not until I was well into my twenties that I finally realized why. The sawed off barrels would not hold a tight pattern for the shot very far. This was the reason my grandfather modified the shotgun. The quail would usually wait and fly after being marked his dog when he was right upon them. They would flush in a loud whoosh of flapping wings and he would throw the shotgun up and pull the trigger. He was not trying to aim. He was trying to get the shot out of the gun and into the bird.
I find many people never really grasp what type of choke to use. As a quick lesson, the choke is the amount of constriction of the barrel. The tighter the choke, the more focused the shot are as they exit the muzzle (end) of the barrel.
Think of the sprayer on your water hose when picturing the choke patterns. When you are spraying your flowers or grass you want an open spray that covers a large area. However, when you are trying to wash bugs off the headlamps of your vehicle you want a focused stream to attack the leftover mush of a bug.
The choke works the same way. There are many combinations of a choke, but there are four main ones.
The open or cylinder choke is basically a straight barrel with no constriction. This is what my grandfather accomplished by sawing off the end of the Ithaca. It is used for tight quarters and close shots. This is great for that quail hunt when you want to just throw the shotgun up and fire.
An improved cylinder begins to alter the constriction of the choke. Again, this is used in situations where you think the game will be close by for the shot. Personally, I have used this for hunting wood ducks in swamps where they come in fast and close between the many trees.
A modified choke constricts the muzzle more tightly than the improved cylinder, therefore it offers a tighter pattern and the ability to focus the shot pattern at a greater distance. In many cases, this will be an ideal choke for open field hunts, such as for the coming dove season. This choke also is widely used for duck and goose hunting on open lakes and reservoirs as the goal is to draw the waterfowl towards your decoys which may be positioned several dozen yards away from the blind or boat.
The last of the four primary chokes is the full choke. This is the most focused and constricted of the basic chokes. It allows for shots of greater distances but the pattern is very small on close shots.
Discussing a dove hunt with a fellow hunter several years ago he mentioned how he always missed on his first shot but rarely missed as the bird was flying away and he fired his second shell. He could bring down a bird from above the trees but for the life of him he could not hit one that would nearly land on top of him. After talking about and laughing at the way hunts go sometimes we checked his shotgun and sure enough, he had a full choke screwed into the muzzle. It was not his lack of ability, but rather the equipment he was using.
So before you head out to the dove fields in the coming weekends, know your ability and know your equipment. After all, you don’t want to choke when you get the shot.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Do You Have Everything Prepared?


Several years ago a friend set up the perfect hunting property. He surrounded an existing box stand with  a lush food plot he planted in the Spring of that year.  He positioned channels to allow for rain run-off that would both keep the plot fed with water but not allow it become flooded.
The plot was built beside a tree line entering a rather large wooded area. The cover of the small forest was perfect for all types of game animals, especially whitetail deer, turkey and bear. The tracks through his food plot proved the point.
The trail cameras were set six weeks before the season and he was able to give an itinerary for each deer that came on the property. He knew which does would enter first with which fawns. He knew the tall eight pointer was likely two and a half years old that followed. He also knew the non-typical twelve would usually rush the scene and establish the field as his domain just before sunset.
Prior to the gun season opener for whitetail, he sighted in his rifle with the ammunition he would be hunting with, Remington Core-Lokt 180 grain cartridges for his 30-06 rifle. Whether the shot was from 100 yards or 300 yards he could plant the hole in the target in a circle as small as a quarter.
His hunting clothes were washed with scent free detergent. He made sure he had his tags and license. His hunter orange was packed and ready to go. His anticipation for opening day was only enhanced by his preparation.
The friend skipped the morning hunt. He knew the only thing that would appear would be a few turkeys, a fox squirrel, and several of the does. There was no reason to offer a chance of spooking his main target by going to the field that morning. Instead, he entered the field around 4 pm.
Carefully and quietly walking on the side of the field the deer never entered, he almost had a skip to his step. In fact, he probably would have skipped all the way to the box stand if he did not think it would create too much commotion.
He strapped his rifle over his shoulder and began the climb up the wooden ladder. The door to the box stand opened inward and he gently turned the knob as he pushed it forward. That is when lightning struck.
No, not lightning from the sky, but rather a swarm of evil beasts that could only be motivated by the devil himself. The wasps’ nest was on the ceiling of the stand and the door was all it took to bump the nest and send the black buzzing pain bearers down upon him.
Eight feet to the ground he dropped, landing on his prized firearm and top of the line scope. Still, the wasps continued to strike without mercy, not caring about how bad the fall affected him. Luckily he survived the fall, the multiple stings, the broken scope, and the bruised and embarrassed ego.
As the season nears and we all are getting ready for our own Mr. Big remember all the preparations that need to take place.
Bows need strings and d-loops checked as well as being sighted in. Rifles need to be checked for operation of the firing mechanism and safety.
Hang-on stands and ladder stands that may have been left out during the year need to be checked also. A tree grows each year and can severely damage any type of strap that holds them secure through the stretching. Replacement of any rusted metal bolts and nuts may cost ten to fifteen dollars but could save ten thousand in medical bills.
And of course, check for any flying creatures that may have taken harbor in any box stands.