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.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Redneck Hillbillies

Rednecks.  Hillbillies.  Country bumpkins.  Heck, even gun-totin’ Bible thumpers.  These words are often used in a derogatory sense for those of us here in the South.  Yet, most often when we hear these names, we just shake our head with an air of confidence and pride.
We are stereotyped as if all we do is sip iced tea out of mason jars and shoot things for fun.  Even hit cable shows such as Duck Dynasty play on this fact as the Robertson clan meet those expectations, and meet them well.
Shoot-arounds have multiple meanings.  Sure, basketball comes to mind, especially this time of year.  But just as we are portrayed, we enjoy slinging the lead as well.
I have been invited twice to go out with an old high school friend who was also my roommate at NC State to shoot at his land with some of his buddies.  Twice I have missed it.  I’ll eventually get to though, Jeff.  Just don’t quit inviting me!
I was able to join a get together my Dad held a few weekends ago.  Some may ask what is so fun about just going out and shooting.  It is a lot more than just shooting.  Stories are told; some true, some as best as can be remembered, some deliberately as fake as a $5 diamond ring.  Of course many of these stories grips you to the end only to find out it was a long, elaborate joke that makes you laugh with a gush that would rival Santa.  There is often some sort of food and drink.  Steaks were on the menu this particular day, and yours truly was the chef.
Before and during these festivities though, was the shooting.  With firearms and firepower that rivaled small guerrilla factions, the group of us set up targets and tended to the range.  We had exploding targets, paper targets, and moving targets.  The smart person would watch and see who could shoot and who couldn’t so as to know who to team with during the Apocalypse and who to go after if further rations were needed.  Usually the ones who missed had the readymade excuse of ‘I’m sighting it in’.  All we needed to turn this in to a hit movie was a few young actors and a banjo.
These types of shoots allow something similar to the family reunion buffet.  With everyone having their own different caliber of firearm, we all were able to shoot weapons that we normally do not get the opportunity to.
Yes, I had to get at least one shot with the bow.
But shoots are not always involving over a dozen friends or family.  They can consist of just a few participants as well.  Several years ago I was on a deer hunt in the Northeastern part of the state.  It was the first season in which crossbows and Sunday hunting was legalized.  I had won the trip while a group from out of state had come down as they do each year.  I knew they were a tight circle of friends, but they accepted me right in, ribbing me for bowhunting only meanwhile accepting the ridicule I dished back.  One of the guys had bought a crossbow and wished to show everyone how great it was.  My ‘status’ had increased within the group as I had taken two deer the evening before with my bow while they were all skunked while using rifles.
“I bet Bill could outshoot that crossbow!” came the loud voice of one of the friends.
“No way.  This thing can hit a quarter from 50 yards,” responded the crossbow hunter.
“I practice out to 70 yards,” I said without thinking.  Then it was on.  The other hunters began the shouts, challenges and prods.  Before I knew it we were ranging 50 yards behind the cabin.  The first friend began laying the ground rules; each of takes a turn shooting and we will only shoot three times each.  We would measure in inches from the bull’s-eye each shot and the winner would have the fewest inches.  Because a crossbow usually uses some type of rest, the crossbow hunter would use a table.
What had I just gotten myself into?  Then money started changing hands between the friends.  Really!  What HAD I just gotten myself into?!?
In short, I won the challenge that day, and my opponent had to wash the dishes that evening.  He also had to accept more insults than one should endure.  Truth is, I was likely just lucky.  But I was able to hold my head high the rest of the hunt.
And at the end of the day, we all got together, we ate well, some were sipping from mason jars, and enjoyed the camaraderie.  Just a bunch of country bumpkin redneck hillbillies totin’ their guns before thanking God for the freedoms we have been given.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chasing Ghosts

I have been chasing a ghost for awhile now.  Well, let me clarify a little.  I have not actually been chasing a ghost, more like a deer that just will not show when I need him to.  And by awhile, I mean since the second weekend in September.  A pursuit this long usually ends with one party or the other finally making a mistake or giving up.
When the rut kicks in, the old wise alpha bucks tend to lose their sense of survival.  So after a little over two months of sitting in the stand, a hunter knows the mistake may finally happen.  I missed a weekend of hunting, and I was anxious to get back in the tree to see if my ghost, my opponent so to speak, would finally let down his defense and give me the opportunity I have been waiting for.
My ghost, he has not been invisible to me.  In fact, we have grown to know each other well over the last couple of months.  I patterned him early in the season.  My first day hunting had me realize he had outsmarted me.  I knew he would go through one area, only to have a gut instinct that something had changed.  Sure enough, I moved my stand that evening and the next day I spotted him.  I found out he would hit the area early.  Real early.  3:30am early.  He would stay until daylight.  But for me to get in the stand and have a shot at him in daylight, I would have to beat him to the area.  This meant I had to be there before 3:30am.
So, the chess game stepped up a notch.  I moved my pawn, he countered with a knight.  I attacked with my rook; he placed his bishop in a defensive position for protection.  In other words, I would get in the stand at 3am, and he would come in at 4:00am.  Only he would leave about 30 minutes before shooting time.
The full moon tested my patience.  His entries into the field gradually became later and I followed his lead and would get an extra 30 minutes of sleep.  But oh that full moon.  One morning I must have been in the stand for over an hour without even hearing an owl hoot.  The darkness can cause you to see things that aren’t there, and make you miss things that are.  It was approaching 5am and the clouds would occasionally open up just enough to make shadows move.  I knew nothing was below me, but I could see the light colored dirt in the field for 60 or 70 yards.  I would catch a shadow move in my peripheral vision and slowly turn my head and widen my eyes to gather all the light I could.  Then I would figure out the shadow I saw move was the same shadow that had been there for the last hour.
The full moon then blew through the cloud canopy.  Having grown accustomed to the low light, it seemed as though I was looking at the field in the middle of the day.  I spotted a large off-white object way out in the field, maybe 150 to 200 yards.  I wondered if it may be my ghost, but figured it had to be just some brush reflecting the moon beams.  I looked behind me and the tree I was in to see a raccoon waddling about 15 yards from me.  At first I could not make out whether it was a raccoon or an opossum, but as he neared I could make out the bands on his tail and his burglar’s mask over his eyes.  I watched in amusement and curiosity as he neared the corn pile, walking circles around it for about 30 seconds before leaving.
I remembered the brush and looked back in that direction…only to see it in a different location.  I was able to watch it walk across the field toward me.  I knew immediately this was my ghost.
Part of me grew excited for getting the chance to confront this adversary once again.  The other part of me knew it was much too early for this game to play out to my advantage, as he did not look like he was in the mood to visit for any amount of time.
He approached the feed pile.  I gazed at him trying to see if I could make out individual tines on his massive crown of bone.  I could not.  What I could make out though was whatever he was wearing was wide and tall.  It nearly glistened in the moonlight.  And his body…my, what a body.  It was huge.  I had seen several does from this stand over the hunting season, and this bruiser was definitely not one of those.  As I figured, he had no intention of hanging around.  In fact, he never lowered his head to the bait.  He just stood there, looking at the horizon (in my direction, although I was nearly 25 feet high).  He then turned and walked toward my left, then behind me, and finally to my right.  In other words, he came straight to me, circled my stand, and exited the field on the other side.
He won.  The pursuit would continue.
So this weekend I had another chance to go after him after a brief reprieve.  The stand was almost like a sabbatical from the daily grind of real life.  The cool wind offered freshness that my lungs and mind gripped wholeheartedly.  Then I heard a loud crash behind me.
I came home from the hunt, unlocked the door, and walked up to my wife.  “How’d it go?” asked Susan.
I paused, wanting the right words to come out.  I took a deep breath.  “Well, he came out.  I watched him for 30 minutes.   No further than 10 yards away.”  I could see Susan’s eyes widening.  “I waited for the shot to present itself, as he was behind a limb.  Finally, he stepped that one extra step I needed.  I slowly gripped the bow and hooked my release to the string.  I flexed my fingers on my bow hand, conscious of the fact a white knuckle grip would cause me to miss the shot.  I slowly drew the string.  The 70 pound pull was non-existent with the adrenaline flowing.  I held it back for what seemed an eternity, although it was roughly 30 to 45 seconds.  Then I let off the draw.  I eased it down.  I couldn’t take the shot.”
My daughter who was listening in held her mouth agape with the revelation of what I had just said.  My wife asked “Why?  Why didn’t you shoot?!?”
“Because, I was worried if I had shot that squirrel, the deer I was after would never come out.”
So, as for me and my ghost, we will continue to taunt each other during the season until one of us makes a mistake or gives up.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Gear Review: Coast HP14 Flashlight

You are out in the woods, either hiking the trails or camping amongst the creatures of nature.  Peace.  The outdoorsmen’s heaven.  There are several items that are always a ‘must carry’.  You know, a good knife, a comfortable pack, even a light weight tent and sleeping bag for those overnight trips.  But one item that I am an absolute sucker for and carry with me no matter what the situation is a good flashlight.
I have several lights and they each serve their own purpose.  A good headlamp for instance is hard to beat.  Also, a mini light that you can use as a lantern or a close quarters light source is nice.  But for the trail, the field, or general use, a bright wide beam light is a necessity.
The Coast HP14 light fits the bill perfectly.  It has multiple capabilities ranging from overall brightness to width of beam.  Let’s break down some of features.
First, the HP14 has two modes of brightness.  One click of the power button gets 339 lumens of light.  Click twice more and the light goes out, then comes back on with a low power of 56 lumens.  Why have the multiple powered beams?  Good question.  The quick answer is power consumption.  That is not the main reason though.  When you shine the light on high beam during the night hours you will realize just how powerful the HP14 light is.  The low setting makes you a lot less inconspicuous and makes for an ideal light for close quarters as well.  On high power the light will throw a beam the length of nearly two football fields.  Low beam brightens up an area of about 40 yards.
Second, the HP14 has an easy to use focus system.  Simply slide the lens forward with one finger for a focused spotlight with a dimmer halo beam around it.  Use the same finger on the beveled lens ring pulling it toward you and the beam expands to a large floodlight style light.  No dark rings in the beam either.  Rotate the lens bezel to lock the focus in place to keep the beam the way you want it.  This can be done single handed also.
Third, since this light is made with a LED, battery power is a tremendous asset.  The HP14 only requires 4 AA batteries for operation.  Yes, that is AA batteries, not C or D cells.  Talking about cost savings!  Want to save more money on batteries?  On high power the light will function for nearly 5 hours.  Low power gets you an amazing 20 hours of use.
The aluminum casing is water and impact resistant and carries a lifetime warranty.  It is just over 8 inches in length, has a nice feel to the hand weighing just under one pound with batteries, and again, is operable with one hand.
With the Coast HP14, you will be able to light up the night and not worry about getting lost whether hitting the trails in America’s State Parks or tracking the wild game you just connected with before dark.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Government

Sometimes things just work too well.
Seventy-five years ago Nevada Senator Key Pittman and Virginia Congressman Absalom Willis Robertson sponsored a bill to help rehabilitate and rejuvenate wildlife.  The bill, officially titled the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, was designed to be self funding and used only for the betterment of wildlife and natural resources.
Looking at other bills used in both state and federal legislation that provide funding for various projects, a case can be made that most are made with good intentions but fail at least partially in achieving their intent.  For instance Social Security funds have been raided throughout the years to fund other projects.  The food stamp program was designed to help the less fortunate through temporary times of hardship, yet lack of checks and balances have allowed those who wish to massage the system receive benefits when they should not.  North Carolina pushed a bill to allow the lottery to come into the state in order to assist in funding our education system.  Sounded good from the seats, but in hindsight we now see that those funds can be stalled or raided depending on the circumstances of the time.  Even if the funds go where needed, it enables cuts to be made that normally would not have been based on the “well, the school system is getting the lottery money” response.
Fortunately, the Pittman-Robertson Act, as it is most commonly called, has withstood the challenges over the years and remained mostly intact.  Since 1937, the Act has been amended including several times in the 1970’s and as recent as 2000.  These amendments have mostly been positive in regards to the original intent of the legislation.
Breaking down the Pittman-Robertson Act, you can see how this has bill has provided the results it has to the hunting heritage and conservation of our natural resources.  First, the funds are supplied by those people who use the outdoors and enjoy the resources.  An excise tax was established on firearms and ammunition sales.  This is a tax paid by the manufacturers prior to the sale.  As archery became recognized as a feasible and effective means of hunting in the 1970’s, archery equipment manufacturers saw the benefits of the Act and led by industry pioneers such as Bear, Pearson, and Easton, these same manufacturers requested to be included in the P-R Act.  Handguns, handgun ammunition, and handgun accessories sales also were amended into the Act.
The funds, once collected, were then distributed to the states based on the numbers of licensed hunters.  This kept the funds from going to states based on population and rather going to state governments based on, again, the participation.  There was one caveat; half the funds received by the state would be required to go toward hunter education and safety classes or shooting and target ranges.
There was also a small ‘matching’ funds clause with yet another check and balance.  The state would be required to foot the bill for any of the projects and then could apply for reimbursement for up to 75% of the total cost through the P-R Act.  If a state did not use the funds, they did not just drop into the general funds of the federal government.  Instead, if any funds were unused for 2 years, they would be allocated to the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
Through the Pittman-Robertson Act, species such as whitetail deer, wood ducks, wild turkeys, and black bears made a swift comeback from near extinction.  Elk, mountain lions, and even the symbolic American bison were awarded much needed habitat in order to survive.  It is estimated that hunters, through their purchases of firearms, archery equipment, ammunition, and associated accessories as well as license purchases has resulted in over 2.5 billion dollars used in these manners since the inception of the Pittman-Robertson Act.
Another bill was later submitted and enacted to support another popular outdoor activity called the Dingell-Johnson Act.  This act’s funds can be determined by its official name; Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act.  This was set up just like the Pittman-Robertson Act.
But, as I stated at the beginning, sometimes things just work too well.
I am not sure I can explain what a ‘fiscal cliff’ is, but I am certain it is not something I would like to jump off of.  Fiscal cliff has unfortunately become the buzz word of the day.  We all realize the government must do one of three things in order to right the ship we have set sail; raise government income, decrease government spending, or as most agree, a combination of both.
What does the fiscal cliff have to do with a 75 year old legislation that has seemed to work as intended?  Automatic budget cuts will go into effect without an agreement in Congress on ways to reduce the deficit.  The Budget Control Act of 2011 set the stage, and the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012 brings the actors.  Basically, it says that these two very important acts may have the funds raided if a budget agreement is not reached.  As much as $65 million between the P-R Act and the D-J Act may be pulled in fact.  Other areas where funds may be taken include the aforementioned Migratory Bird Conservation account.  This could be detrimental for what was, and are, self-funded Acts.  This is equivalent to a volunteer fire department having a chicken dinner sale in order to raise funds and then having the government take the funds in order to pay the sheriff’s department.
If you have concerns for the uses of these funds that do not contribute to the national deficit at all, you may contact your representatives and ask what their plans are for the sequestration and request them to leave two of the only bills to have ever passed that work as intended alone.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

We Are America

Our country is unique in many factors.  Our founding fathers designed checks and balances that control our government without compromising our freedoms.
This country, in a large part, has embraced the land in which we reside as the foundation to its building.  Searching throughout our history, one comes to understand without the respect we have given to nature and the frontier; this country may have never survived.
I have written in the past about an episode with Teddy Roosevelt when he was bear hunting in Mississippi.  The story goes that President Roosevelt was pursuing a black bear and had several high ranking state officials invite and join him in the expedition.  The party enlisted the help of Holt Collier who was known as the best bear hunter in the area to assist in the hunt.  The gentleman also happened to be black.  Roosevelt and Collier hit it off and stole the show with their tales of different hunts they had been a part of.  One thing of note; Roosevelt insisted Collier be treated as a member of the hunting party rather than a servant.  Later in the hunt, Roosevelt had a chance at a black bear that was beaten and worn from a ferocious battle with the hounds and Roosevelt refused to take the animal as he deemed it unethical.
A newspaper cartoonist in New York picked up on the story, and tied his rendition of a bear cub strapped to a tree with Roosevelt waving off the shot to the fact that Roosevelt treated a black man in the South as a human of equal standing, titling the cartoon as ‘Drawing the Line in Mississippi.’  It became one of the hallmarks for equal rights amongst races during the time.
We have also had other outdoorsmen make their marks on our history.  People such as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone were indicative of our American spirit and beliefs.  Not only were they more than capable of living on the land, but they served their states and our country with passion.
Even before we became a sovereign nation, we relied on the resources our land provided.  If it wasn’t for the assistance of a Native American named Squanto in Rhode Island, one of our first settlements may have gone the way of the Lost Colony story here on our own coast.  Squanto assisted the Pilgrims led by John Smith through their first winter, teaching them how to fish for the native species of the region.  Without Squanto’s assistance, the Pilgrims would likely have fought a battle with the local tribes and not been able to survive for lack of food.
One story I find particularly interesting is that of our first President George Washington.  Washington built his Mount Vernon estate on the shores of the Potomac River.  There he became a proficient fisherman.  He learned of the annual shad run there also.  Washington constructed huge nets he could place in the river trapping the massive abundance of the darting silver scaled fish.  It provided
Washington with not only a stable source of income, but actually an abundance of wealth.
The winter of 1777 in Valley Forge was a typical winter for that part of Pennsylvania.  Many stories tell of the harsh conditions and the picture in one’s mind is of deep unrelenting snow and wind.  Actually, the winter consisted of moderate snow that would melt during the day.  The constant wet is what the harsh conditions consisted of.  Disease poured over the troops as there was no way to stay dry.  Most meals were a flour and water mixture called fire cakes.  Washington tried his best to get relief but Congress was unable to assist.  Toward the tail end of winter, Washington realized the time was near for the annual shad run.  Washington directed his men to construct nets and traps and place them in the nearby river.  His hunch proved correct, and nourishment for his weakened and starved troops was provided by shad making their own pilgrimage.
Our country has had plenty of courses that seemed to be astray, yet we continually find the right path.  Adversity, tribulations, and trials have always been countered by instinct, knowledge, and love of the land and people.  We have prospered from our freedoms that allow us to have the chance to develop those instincts and obtain that knowledge.  And in those virtues, we further our love of our land and people.
It’s great to be American and free.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chasing Ghosts

Sometimes a hunter will seek a trophy that teases.  It will remain elusive, while leaving just enough clues to entice the hunter to continue the pursuit.  I call this ‘chasing ghosts.’  Not because it is a ghost mind you, but because I might as well be looking for ghosts, as the chess match between the two of us edges forward to either a checkmate, or a draw.
I have one of those games going on now.  A large buck that has kept a regular pattern has proven to be elusive.  I have found when he hits the stand site, and I have remained determined and patient in the quest.  Even if it means going to the stand at 3:30am in order to beat him to the area, I do.  I sit, and I wait.
Not everything involving the outdoors is hunting or fishing though.  Even when participating in those two activities, the communion with nature is the real reward.  Sometimes I try desperately to involve as many family members as possible.  But there is just so much room in a stand or boat, so I have to think of interesting expeditions that can be shared between us all.  Last year I convinced my wife that a camping trip in Pisgah National Forest with the kids and dogs would be fun.  Luckily it was.
We also made a trip to the zoo last October.  My family, with my mother, met with my cousins and my aunts and toured the exhibits.  Everyone enjoyed the trip, as well as seeing each other.  We reminisced about our trips to the zoo with my grandparents when we were kids.
When we left though, I had a surprise up my sleeve.  It was the weekend before Halloween, and my family enjoys the paranormal televisions shows.  So I figured I would take a detour and visit a site I have heard about since my pre-teen years, but was never able to go to.

We headed down a back road out in the middle of nowhere.  In the road we spotted a large cross painted in white.  I knew we were near.  I located a small path and pulled over to the side of the road.  We had found the Devil’s Tramping Ground.  What we found there made me uncomfortable so we didn’t hang around long.  Inside the mythical circle of barren ground was a small fire.  Just outside of it was what used to be a very nice and expensive tent, ripped to shreds.  I never found out what happened; I didn’t care to.
This year, I decided to knock off another of my bucket list adventures in North Carolina.  We ditched the kids and my wife and I found a small cabin (REALLY SMALL!) to stay in over the weekend.  The quest: The Brown’s Mountain Lights.
The legend goes that there was a war between neighboring Indian tribes many hundreds of years ago.  After the slaughter and bloodshed, the widowed took torches through the valley near Linville and up the Brown’s Mountain in search of their perished loved ones.
The United States Geological Society even tried to find explanations for the lights.  The common belief was they were reflections from a train that would travel nearby.  During the survey, a great storm came through and washed the train tracks out, yet, the lights again appeared.
Other common theories such as swamp gases were also ruled out, in large part because there is no swamp.
My goal was to just see the lights.  How could there be no explanation if they appear so regularly?  So on our second evening, we drove a long and winding path past Linville Falls and headed to the Wisemans View.  The best time to see the lights is between September and November according to reports.  Talking to locals, they can be seen just about any time, although shortly after a storm and in the fall they are more prevalent.
We arrived just before dusk.  There was a slight chill in the air.  Many people had gathered at the view, and we went beyond a fenced area to sit atop a flat boulder ledge near the main overlook.  At first, the people that were near us would shout and point “there’s one!”  I looked at my wife and thought it may truly be a myth as we didn’t see anything.
Then, I spotted a red light, dancing down the mountainside.  Then another a few hundred yards away.  Then another.
As the night embraced the area, we saw more and more.  Many of the lights seemed to flicker in response to other lights maybe a half of a mile to a mile away.  One greenish hued light worked its way up from the river all the way to the side of the cliff where we were.
A rational man would say the light was from someone below.  Usually I am rational.  However, when the light would appear below the tree canopy below and then float above the trees in other spots, rational is no longer a state of mind.
Is it ghosts of long ago?  Is it reflections?  Is it swamp gases or somebody down below in the valley trying to get their own closer look or even fool all the viewers above?
My answer is I just do not know.  I intend on pursuing the answer again.  The intrigue grips me.  But for now, I have my other ghost to chase.
Note:  Brown Mountain Lights can be seen about 4 miles from Linville Falls, NC.  The lights have supposedly been seen since the 1600’s.
The Devils Tramping Ground is located near Bennett, NC.  The ground is reported to be sterile of vegetation and is located about 100 yards from the roadside.