Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dove Hunting

Saturday morning there will be familiar but distant sound filling the air.  At times it may even sound like a war zone as different muzzle blasts echo through the fields with distinguishable tones.
And doves will fall.
The opening day of dove season is akin to Christmas day to a wingshooter.  The party escalates as the birds hit the horizon and at times fill the skies.  Family, friends, and even those who are only kin in spirit kick off the fall hunting season.  Just one short week later, bow season begins; on Monday September 10 in the western part of the state and Saturday September 8 in the piedmont and eastern North Carolina.
I have mentioned before that dove season holds special memories for me.  I firmly believe a good dove hunt can entrench one’s love for the outdoors like few other activities.  Youth learn how to stay alert and patient and are rewarded with many shot opportunities.  Elders get to relive memories of past hunts with friends and family and often times a convergence of many generations.  It is not uncommon to see three generations from the same family in the field together suffering through the heat but enjoying the hunt.
Bill Howard, Turner Howard, and Bill Howard, Jr in 2008
Opening day of dove season has evolved slightly over the years.  For instance, I was a teenager before hearing of my first paid dove hunt.  I was already a seasoned but somewhat inconsistent shooter at the time.  Now dove hunts are as much of a social gathering as anything.  Pigs are spread open over flames that were started long before people start arriving.  BBQ, chicken, and even sausage and hot dogs are part of the event.
During the hunt, age diversity reigns, as both young and old, and those in-between group up or spread out amongst the cover of tree lines, corn stalks, sunflowers, and milo.  In one of the few exhibits where all ages get together to join in a common activity, generations are bridged and lessons are passed on and learned.
Bill Howard, Turner Howard and Bill Howard, Jr in 2010
The only thing I can find comparable that allows two people of different ages to enjoy the company of one another would be fishing, yet another outdoors activity.  But to me, the opening day of dove season just does more.  Maybe it is because of the one day excitement and anticipation.   Much like Christmas, the days start counting down a couple of weeks before (well, Christmas starts counting down around Halloween thanks to the big box stores, but that is ok).  There is only so much preparation you can do other than shooting clay pigeons.  Just make sure you have plenty of shotgun shells, some cool clothing that does not make you stand out (remember, doves see in all colors like we do so hunter orange is like a beacon to their bird vision).  So instead, you have to spend your time waiting and remembering hunts of past.
Mike Furiness, Ben Furiness and Bill Howard in 2011
When you are in the field, and the birds darken the flyways during their frantic weaving and darting speed, remember to not shoot at the low birds and mark the spot where the hit bird goes down.  Also, as was told to me one time, you have to pull the trigger in order to shoot the bird, so let the lead fly.  And in the end, Saturday may just become one of those hunts you talk about in years to come.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Animal Planet's Top Hooker Fishing Competition

Here is a shameless self promotion for Animal Planet's Top Hooker angling competion television show.  I was contacted by Pilgrim Studios (the producers of the show-same producers of Top Shot from History Channel) and asked to submit an application and video for the new show.

So, if you can find it in your heart, help me by clicking on the video link and sharing with your friends and let's see if I get a chance to show the world how great I am!

Thanks everybody!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Ah, the Peace!

Shotgun cleaned and shells resting in their cases.  Feeders up, trail cameras ready, and bow sighted in.  Yes, it is just about the time of year when hunters’ wives become hunters’ widows.
Realizing this by looking at the calendar and the trips planned ahead, I explained to my wife this last weekend would be hers.  Just a husband/wife getaway.  I suggested to her for us to get a small quaint cabin in the mountains and separate ourselves from reality.  She bought in.  In fact, she was all in.  From the moment I mentioned it she was looking for places to stay.
Now the difference between men and women has been documented for ages.  Not physically, but mentally.  This set up of this trip was much the same way a shopping trip evolves.  When I (men) think about shopping for clothes for instance, I (us men) can go into the store, check the size of a pair of jeans, and pick them up.  Then I (again, us men) walk over to the clearance rack, look for the section with the right size shirt, grab one, and then I’m off to the register.
My wife (women) handles things differently.  She looks for the clothes she likes.  She spots something that really catches her eye.   She picks it up and realizes it is the wrong size.  She puts it up and will search the store for another that is the same.  If I ran a clothing store, I would put all the same style clothes in the same area.  Evidently the women’s sections are not arranged that way.  Or at least that is the way I picture it as my wife works rack to rack like a bumble bee on a bed of flowers.
The worst part about shopping in this fashion is not the part of having to endure the flight of the bumble bee.  It is having to hear all the way home how she could not find anything after shopping from dawn to dusk yet somehow I was able to collect an entire wardrobe in less time than it takes to count one, two, thr…  See what I mean!
So my wife is investigating cabin after cabin, all the while asking how far this is from that.  Finally, I give in.  I take the busiest 2 minutes and 15 seconds of my day and send her a couple of links to cabin locations mentioning a couple of choices from each link that I like.  Now it was up to her to figure out from there.
We agreed on the cabin, and hit the asphalt toward our destination.  We put together a list of about three things we would be interested in doing while staying on our getaway.   And we decided we would not be disappointed if we did neither.  Rest and relaxation was the main goal.  That is why the cabin I chose had a kitchen out on the porch!  A little camping out without camping out.
Yep, my truck is as long as the cabin!
The cabin was all of 100 square feet of non-air conditioned space.  Hey, we are in the mountains.  We don’t need AC.  A fan and the outside air will do.  We did have television.  Three channels.  All three were PBS (to be fair, one PBS channel was actually PBS Kids).   But, to me, that was fine.  In fact, it was fine to my wife too. 
We broke away one evening for dinner.   Juicy burgers sitting under an umbrella while listening to a banjo.  We didn’t have to paddle faster either.  Everybody had their teeth.  Everybody had shoes on.  Peaceful.
Now what has this got to do with the outdoors?  Everything.  This was the outdoors.  Simple cabin, simple amenities, simple life.  Peaceful. 
We decided we may, yes may, invite the kids along and go there again.  It won’t be as peaceful.  But you can’t lock them up in the closet but so many weekends.  My daughter told me she would call Social Security next time I did that.  I told her it would be quicker to just call 611.  So much for peacefulness.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Practice Makes Peace

I started late on setting up the hunting land this season.  Between bowfishing, writing, and work, I just haven’t had the time I can normally dedicate to prepping.  So this last weekend, I put together a couple of gravity feeders and set them up in a couple of locations that in the past has been productive.  I also set the trail cameras and did some brief scouting around the perimeters.
Even though I have been hunting recently for feral hogs, I have not practiced shooting as much as I usually do.  In fact, I only took 3 shots with the bow prior to the hog hunt to make sure my sights were still where they needed to be.  So I also made time to take a few practice shots after work one afternoon.
I put out the target and placed a small piece of paper near the center to represent the bullseye.  I paced off 20 yards.  Then I shot twice, laid down the bow and retrieved the arrows.  While I was cycling between reps of shooting twice and retrieving, I thought about the locations I selected for the feeders.  I thought about the monsters that were on the trail cams last year just prior to the opening of bow season.
I shot some more and retrieved some more.
I visually ran through the coming opening day on how I would hunt it.  Early in the season, especially if I have both nocturnal deer and ones that are hitting the feeders just after sunrise, I like to get out in the stand early.  By early, I mean I have been know to be walking to the stand at 3:30am.  Some say it is overkill.  I believe if I head out and scare off a few deer, once I have settled down in the stand the deer will be back out before day break.  I’m not getting the opportunity to skirt a field and get a shot at 200 yards.  My targets have to be within 40 yards.  20 yards preferably.
Hence the next 2 shots at the target from 20 yards.  I retrieved the arrows once again.
I thought back to some of the misses I have had.  Yes, I have missed before.  Unless we are face to face, then I have NEVER missed!  But I am human, and I do miss.  Just not often.
I focused on where I would need to be looking and where the deer usually would enter the field in the morning and evening.
I shot a couple of more arrows at the target.  I retrieved them.
Throughout all the thoughts and planning, I was completely at peace.  No distractions, no thoughts of work, no stress.  I was just pulling back the string and releasing it.  Two times each time.  Then I would retrieve the arrows.  I would often re-start a thought as I walked to the target.  I found myself thinking about the hunt while pulling back the bow and centering the bullseye.
After a little while my target paper resembled the stars on the bb gun targets at the state fair.  More holes than paper.  I reached down and grabbed a green leaf and put it up where the paper had been.  A fresh new bullseye.
I went back to my 20 yard mark and began the cycle again.  I noticed the green from the leaf blended in with the black and blue target backdrop.  It reminded me of how a deer blends in with the ground and soil just before shooting light escapes the horizon at the end of the day.  A few years ago I landed a shot on a deer some 40 yards away at the last possible legal moment to shoot.  I could not tell where the shot landed but I did see the deer disappear some hundred yards away in the field.
After coming down from the climber I went and searched for blood.  I could not find any.  After a few minutes of searching I did spot my intact arrow.  It was covered in red.  I had to postpone the search that evening.  The next morning I again could not find any blood near the impact zone.  But I did spot a rather large pool of blood 125 yards away from where the deer was hit.  It took less than 10 minutes to find the deer about 20 yards in the tree line after that.
I shot at the leaf; I retrieved the arrows.
I thought about the killing involved with hunting.  It seems heinous for someone to want to take a life.  That is before we dig into the matter a little more.  I wanted to focus more on this thought as I shot, trying to think in an anti-hunter’s point of view.  But as I tried, I pulled a couple of more arrows out of the leaf.
My thoughts moved to the premise that an animal is just as important as a human.  I do not believe this.  I believe God granted humans stewardship over this earth and its creatures.  Animals kill other animals.  We do not chastise them for this activity.  It is what they are and how they survive.  The same can be reasoned for us.  We were hunters long before we were contractors, technicians, doctors, lawyers, and accountants.  It is who we are and how we survive.
And if one can reason animals are as valuable as humans, then why are plants not of an equal basis as well?  They are living creatures.  Their life scale is just on a much different pace.
After retrieving the two arrows once again I pulled back and realized it was just too dark to keep shooting.  I then realized I had shot a LOT more than I have shot in any practice or competition.  The best I could count I had released the arrow over 60 times.  Maybe much more, but it was hard to count many of the holes.  I also noticed that I had very few misses.  In fact, I only saw 3 shots outside of a 2 inch radius.  I was relaxed and at ease.  I was lost in the hunt, and the thoughts of the hunt.  I had a hard time recalling individual shots, yet I turned in one of the best practices I have ever had.
I was at peace with myself.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Planning leads to Memories

In just a few weeks things will get interesting for an outdoors writer like me here in North Carolina.  Opening day of dove season is Labor Day weekend, and then bow season opens for whitetail deer the following weekend.  To add fuel to the fire, I will be in Texas the weekend after that on a bowfishing trip for one of the largest freshwater fish, the alligator gar.
So in order to help me keep everything I need to do in order without forgetting deadlines for the newspaper and magazine article submissions, as well as hunting dates, I sat down and begin making my list.
I have a few weeks in this month to iron things out.  I still have one more trip I need to make one weekend this month, but I have not decided which one would be best.  Then I came upon both my late grandfather’s birthday and my dad’s birthday.   I thought back to earlier years, when I was not so locked in to daily life.  I reminisced about the only time I was able to hunt with my grandfather and my dad together.  It was a dove hunt.  Papa had on his brown felt hat that he often wore.  Dad was wearing his baseball style cap.  I was wearing my favorite boonie hat with the drawstring looped over the top.  From what I remember the birds were not flying great, but I do remember it not being a failure of a day either.
Of course, that memory rolled into opening day of dove season, the next date I would mark on my schedule.  Over the last few years I only remember one opening day not being successful.  It was following a hurricane if my mind is not altering the memories.  It rained to the point there was standing water everywhere, and we ended up hunting Labor Day Monday instead.  I think I only saw 3 or 4 birds total.  But ever since that year, the birds flew.  My son and my dad shared a few of these years in the field.  Last year I carried my nephew and brother-in-law on their first dove hunt.
Then I thought of my nephew sitting in a tree stand about 10 yards from me last year.  We watched a doe feeding as the sun crested the horizon.  He texted me asking if I saw it, which immediately made it run.  I did not get a shot, but I had a remarkable time.
As I looked down at my paper, I marked opening day of bow season, following the dove season opener on the calendar just as it did in my thoughts.  “What did I do last year on opening day of deer season?” scrolled through my mind.
“Of course!”  I thought to myself.  I missed it!  I was in Georgia on one of my dream hunts.  Chasing alligators during the night.  I met Dane and his wife Sherri.  They put me up for the weekend hunt.  A complete stranger, other than a passion for hunting and attempting the same quest.  I guess in the outdoors there are no strangers.
I continued to turn the pages on the calendar thinking what the remainder might be in store for me this year and next.  What may I experience?  What great chapters may I be able to add to my life’s book?  Who will be there to experience the moments with me?
Then I thought about the last question a little harder and deeper.  Who will be there?  I have been on plenty of excursions by myself and enjoyed them.  Those trips have been instrumental lessons.  But I do not have the same attachment to them as I do with the flashbacks of family and friends.  They were not more than lessons.  They taught me everything from how to appreciate the wild to the tendencies of deer movement.  They were there and they have their place.  Without those moments I could never share it with others.   But they did not have the extra element needed to take the slight grin from the memory to turning the corners of the mouth and making it an outright smile.
So as I continued to work on my scheduling, I began looking for ways to involve family and friends more often.  I would much rather smile after thinking back.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Summer Sausage

August 1st marked the opening of night hunting for feral hogs in North Carolina.  Many in North Carolina have never run across a feral hog.  Hogs are smart compared to other animals, they are observant, and when cornered, they fight.
Just a few years ago I was trying to set up a dog hunt for wild boar in the mountains near the Tennessee state line.  After talking to several hunting clubs, guides, and groups, most said they would not go after hogs on purpose.  Finally, one person who lived in Tennessee but had a guide license in North Carolina agreed to take me.  I asked him why so many people were skittish about sending their canines after a pig and what he responded with was enlightening.
“The hogs can’t climb trees like bear.  They turn and fight.”  They are just too dangerous was how the response was parlayed to me.  I asked him why he agreed and he told me that it pays well when taking someone out, and he was accustomed to providing care to his dogs.  Care was later explained to me from a brief encounter his dogs had the year before.  After striking a track, the dogs surrounded a 450 pound hog.  The hog proceeded to gut each and every dog in the pack.  The tusks tore through the flesh and left them the on the ground for dead.  He quickly got back to his truck and grabbed a first aid kit.  He then would push the insides back in and sew the bellies back up.  The hog got away.
I ended up not being able to make the hunt do to some circumstances with the gentleman’s personal life.  But I still longed to experience a hog hunt.
Last weekend I was invited to hunt a cypress swamp near South Carolina for feral hogs.  I did not have much notice, but I did not need much either.  This would be a hog hunt with the bow from stands.  I wondered just how many I would see.
I arrived at the camp site just after 5:30pm.  Feeders were set up in multiple locations to go off at 7:00pm.  This land is a deer hunting club once gun season comes in, and the owners wanted the hogs gone.  According to my host, the hogs would eat all the corn and leave nothing for the deer.
The night before I shot a few arrows to check my sight and make sure I was comfortable.  I own a wild boar 3d archer target, so I visualized the ‘kill’ zone and started at 40 yards.  I was told the average shot would run around 15 yards.  After shooting 40 and feeling good, I moved up to 30 yards, then 20 yards.  It was a good practice session and I felt good about the vital area.  I also taped a small picture that showed where the vitals were on a hog to the lower limb of my bow.  This was primarily to remind me that the vitals sit differently in a hog than a deer.
My host shot several arrows while I changed to my camo.  Then around 6:00pm we headed out.  It was hot and muggy with the temps in the mid 90’s.  I was worried about scent control as I knew pigs had a superior sense of smell.  I was given a bag that had some hog attractant to lie at my feet in the stand to use as a cover scent.  I was also told the main scent I had to worry about was my boots.  I was wearing rubber boots, known to not carry odors.  But for pigs, they can even pick those out.
The feeder went off at 7:00 pm and I remained alert.  After another 30 minutes, I noticed something to my left in the wood line.  It was brown and pulsating.  After studying it for a few seconds I could tell it was a hog.  The pulsating was the hog taking deep sniffs of the ground where I had come into the stand.  Three more followed him and they were overly cautious.  As they approached the clearing where the feeder was they turned away.
They continued around the clearing and I could finally see their full bodies about 25 yards away.  A larger black boar was closest and leading the group.  The brown one, slightly smaller, stayed to its left and would step forward in stride with the black one.  I continued to study their movement.  The way they were moving side by side, I would not have a clean shot if the arrow were to make a pass-thru.
So, what if I made the shot where the pass-thru, if there was one, would hit both in the vitals.  It could be done.   The closer hog was slightly taller.  I would need to aim at the top portion of the lungs on the black one, and then if the arrow passed through then it should hit the brown pig near the lower lungs and heart.
The opportunity presented itself.
I released the arrow with its fixed blade broadhead.   I watched it fly as the fletching stopped short in the front hog.  The whole group took off, much faster than you would expect from a robust round animal with short legs.  I texted that one was down even though I was trying for the double shot.
After sitting for another 30 minutes I headed down the stand and to where I shot the pig.  I followed a nice blood trail for about 10 yards and then it split.  Two different directions.  Hmmm.  I followed the one on the left first.  Another 10 yards and I found the brown one on the ground, heart exploded.  He was the back pig.  I had hit both.
I backtracked and followed the other trail.  15 yards away in a briar thick lay the black one.  Blood bubbled around the location where the top of the lungs would be located.
I had taken a double with one arrow on my first hog hunt.
We went on to hunt the remainder of the weekend.  I easily saw pigs out number deer 5 to 1.  The land was infested with them.  And up to this point I had never seen a wild hog.  But I have seen summer sausage.