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.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Simpler Things

I am what you could call a fan boy. For those that do not know the term, it means I enjoy all these movies based on superheroes. My wife tells me I am like a child.
I take that as a compliment.
I watch with a sense of wonderment at the visuals and take in the story wholeheartedly, no matter how strange and obscure the story may be presented. In other words, I take it in with the same naivety as a child.
This last weekend I was shooting in a national archery tournament in Cullman, Alabama. I had some equipment issues early on but kept my head in the game and shot fairly well considering. On Sunday, after hitting a called 12 spot on a leopard from 40 yards, I was bouncing with excitement. The day was beautiful, my shot was on (I had the third most 12s on the second day of the tournament), and I had executed a truly tough shot. Again, you could say I acted as a child, but I did not act childish.
A few weeks ago, while working on a story for a magazine column I write monthly, I found myself on the coast fishing for sheepshead and some bottom fish. I was having some moderate success and after a while begin fishing with two poles with different baits. I reeled one line in and checked a piece of shrimp on one of the hooks. To my amazement, there was a fish between one and two inches long with a strand of the shrimp in its mouth. I could not help but break out in a hearty laugh at this sight and held the minnow in my hand. I took a couple of photos, dipped my hand in the water for a bit so it would continue living, and then studied it.
I wanted to know all I could about this little ambitious fellow. It was the same intrigue a kid at his first petting zoo would have.
With hunting season just a few weeks away, I realize most of the times spent in the stand are much the same way. I listen to the eerie and strange sounds of the darkness imagining what would make the various calls and what they are doing. Only experience enlightens you with that knowledge, and the learning is the fun.
I sit in amazement as the groundhog stands and waddles repeatedly on the edge of the field taking in its last meal before entering his den. A lone grey fox trots across the field in the distance. A few birds playfully bounce from branch to branch, chirping and chattering to each other. A raccoon family makes their way down a tree scurrying towards the corn pile. Even the last run of the squirrel from a far off tree back to its nest in the swinging pine nearby brings a brief bit of excitement.
Times like that make me never want to grow up. I want to remain a child forever if that is the true feeling.
I understand what the professional hunter is doing in those television shows as he holds up the antlers and head of his downed trophy. He is not measuring it in his head at first glance. No, he is connecting with that inner child and admiring and learning about this fantastic creature he has just bested.
How much happier could this world be if we all connected to that inner child and enjoyed the simpler things that lie nearby to us?

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Visit with an Old Friend - Part 3

Silver Lake had shared many memories with me throughout the day, and I continued to paddle my way to the swamp portion of the lake. Several small feeder streams come in here and there used to be wood planks nailed to trees marking the inlets. Unofficial creek names such as Cottonmouth Creek and Moccasin Way adorned the wood signs. Bobby and I once followed one of the creeks several miles until we just could not paddle any longer due to shallow water and fallen trees. We could hear the traffic from the Interstate and were mesmerized by the experience.
I paddled into an opening in the swamp where I once hooked onto the largest bass I had ever had on my line. She fought with a vengeance on the Mann’s worm and even after several leaps that would make a mako shark proud, I kept the line tight and the hook in. Worn, she finally pulled up beside the boat. My friend, in his excitement of both the battle and the size, quickly grabbed the net and thrust it into the water. Unfortunately, the net whacked the largemouth and dislodged the beast from my lure. We both nearly cried.
It was not far from here where I caught my largest bass. I was only seven years old and brought her in on a Zebco 202 reel with a Mister Twister worm. She stripped the gears in the reel and I eventually pulled her in by hand. I see her on my wall as I type this.
I casted a jitterbug just as a boil surfaced in the direction of my throw.  I reeled the bait in, walking it across the surface and bubbling the tea colored water in front. I noticed a small wake behind the lure that I had never seen, figuring it must be one of the trebles hooked on the line. I stopped the bait, and then jerked it to try and free the snag. The wake still followed the jitterbug.
As it neared my kayak I realized it was not a wake, but instead it was the back of a large bowfin. With the fish not striking, I again stopped the reeling hoping it may go ahead and take the bait. Instead, the blackfish raided his head out of the water, as if to show me he was looking. It then slowly slid backwards into the depths much like an alligator will back into the water.
I rounded another set of trees. These same trees donned mistletoe during the winter. My dad and I, and many others, used to pick mistletoe sprigs here to hang from our hallways at home during Christmas. They also provided cover for wood ducks. During the season, it was expected to hear the shotgun blasts of several hunters as daybreak hit. It was our alarm clock.
I made another cast. Looking around as I began reeling in I felt a familiar shock through the rod’s handle. The strike was quick and massive. The small glimpse I was able to gather in registered an estimation of four to six pounds. It was the only largemouth I would see on the day.
Evening was coming, and I figured I should paddle out of the swamp and back down the southern shoreline. Houses adorned this side of the lake. Once, when we had an unusually cold winter, ice formed several inches thick. About six of us walked out into the swamp one morning. Nearly halfway across the lake we heard a high pitched singing sound. It was the cracking of the ice. Panic set in as we had no idea what to do. We decided to spread out away from each other and slide our feet across the ice one at a time to get back to shore. It seemed like hours, and may very well have been. We never tried that again.
One particular area looked unusually familiar. I looked at two spots where trees stood in the water 20 or 30 yards off shore. Then it dawned on me. A straight line through those two ‘islands’ along the shoreline would take me to a spot where several of us gathered Christmas trees from the neighborhoods one year and submerged them with cinder blocks. I wondered if they were still there.
I dropped a small minnow near where I believed we created the artificial structure. The cork disappeared. The rod was nearly snatched from the kayak’s hull before I could comprehend how quickly the minnow was struck. Yes, in the same place we dropped those trees over three decades ago; I had just caught a monster crappie. Fish after fish came over the side of the kayak as I reveled in the success. I returned all to the water, not wanting to take anything from this lake other than one more memory.
As I came back to my starting point I noted the place where the first Wildlife Club stood. The boat shelter was crumbled having lost its battle with time long ago. Here was where we spent the days hunting hooks, corks, lures and sinkers in the jon boats returned from being rented. Below, the bottom was soft mud. This was my favorite place to fish for warmouth. They would stalk the shaded sheltered area striking crawfish below and escaped crickets from above.
I pulled up to the shore where my truck waited. As I stepped out of the kayak I gathered in the lake once more.
When you see a friend from long ago, you know your goodbye may be the last one. Your intentions are to keep up with him, but deep inside you feel the loss of the inevitable. The lake and I shared our moments and we made a few new memories. And even in our absence of one another, we will remain close friends. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Visit with an Old Friend - Part 2

Note: I have been having problems getting the blog to take the posts lately so I apologize for the lack of posts. You will be bombarded with a few over the next couple of weeks as they catch up.

The first cast dropped perfectly into the location I was trying for. The offering must have been ideally suited, as the beetle spin immediately took off before I could even begin to reel. A robin, or red-bellied sunfish, struck hard and quickly. The hook was set with a flinch of my wrist and the first battle was on. The micro-lite rod and reel responded with each tug, pull, and dart the fish exhibited. Soon, he was breaking the surface of the water coming into the kayak.
I knew fish would be located here. Several years ago I got permission to take my youngest son fishing in this very spot in order to catch his first fish. Not only were we given permission, but the landowner offered his pink Barbie tackle box to assist in the historic and memorable event. My son did turn down the Barbie box, but he also caught his first fish, much in the way I used to fish the same spot when I was his age.
Silver Lake offered many more memories than just a fishing hole though. This place was a long lost friend.
I paddled down the shoreline that ran parallel with the highway. Just past where the dam ended was a mysterious land for my friends and me decades ago. Once, we were riding our bikes on the embankment, maybe five or six of us. Just as Johnny approached the dam we noticed a tree limb that began to move. Yes, the moccasin was well camouflaged. Although we all got a jolt of adrenaline from coming so close to danger, we were somewhat accustomed to it. Snakes were plentiful all around the lake. We once stood in amazement as a copperhead over six feet long and as thick as a grown man’s forearm was beheaded by the men at the Wildlife Club. He was caught at the boat shelters.
On the other side of the embankment a small stream ran from the corner of the lake to the lower waters of the dam. There was a small island in the shape of a triangle there that we called Arrowhead Island. We made camps there, played with army men in the flowing waters, and just generally got away from real life to continue our youth fantasy worlds as explorers and adventurists.
The head water of the stream sprouted from an underground waterfall. Several times we tried to go up into the underground stream. We envisioned a massive river system flowing beneath the earthen layer. It was nowhere near that big. A child’s imagination is a wonderful thing to behold though.
The corner of the lake used to don lily pads as big as a truck tire in circumference. We would toss soft plastic weedless frogs and salamanders on the pads and let them gently slide in. Usually a bite would ensue. My favorite bait was a Mister Twister purple worm with a red wiggly tail. Largemouth loved the spot. Now the pads are gone, but fish beds are plentiful. Panfish ruled the corner now.
Paddling the back side of the lake I approached the second Wildlife Club’s location. A log cabin used to host the club there. The cabin still stands but is now dressed in ivy and other vines. The boardwalk and piers still stood as well, though they resembled old bridges from movies where the hero always steps through a rotten board and hangs for his life. My family’s business supplied wood pallets for the makeup of the piers. Lots of volunteer hours were spent in making the club a place of beauty and function.
A hundred yards offshore stands an island of trees. There is no land, just the trunks towering through the water. I spent some time bringing in crappie and shellcracker both as a kid and now as an adult here. I could not help but picture the boat dock busy with boats and kids with their dads. I could almost see Dennis pulling up on his small Chevy pickup anticipating another great day on the lake.
The lake was sharing many stories of our past together.