Monday, December 28, 2015

Dams and Ecosystems

Dams are created for a variety of reasons.
Beavers build dams in waters too shallow to protect them from predators. By backing up the water flow, the depth increases which provides the protection they need. It also allows for habitat for a number of other creatures such as waterfowl, fish, rodents, and a variety of mammals.
People build dams for several reasons. Dams create reservoirs for people to clean and use the water. The dams also provide a means to create electricity. They allow people to harness the power of the water to use for processing food, watering fields, and protecting lands downstream.
But what happens if a dam is breached or broken?
The United States has avoided major catastrophies involving dams since the Buffalo Creek Dam in 1970 and the Teton Dam in 1976 which destroyed large amounts of land and caused dozens of deaths.
Near my home area, roughly within a 20 mile radius, there are three instances in which a dam was compromised resulting in the draining of the water upstream.
One was Bunn Lake in which Hurricane Floyd caused massive flooding which was too much for the dam to handle. In all, there were 20 reported dam failures reported in eastern North Carolina from the torrential rainfall that occurred from Floyd.
Another was the lake where I grew up when the dam needed repair. Silver Lake was but a small sliver of a stream during that time although the swamp side of the lake did maintain some water from the several feeder creeks.
Fish were transported to a holding pond as much as possible, then returned once the dam was repaired and the water began filling back up.
And recently, the Finch’s Mill dam broke. Located not far from I-95, the old mill pond drained quickly. The pond was regularly fished from shore and small boat and during the summer it is an uncommon sight not to see someone there with a rod and reel in hand.
Ducks and geese, egrets and herons, they all frequented the water in search of home and food.
Beavers were common and prior to the dam break I counted no less than four killed trying to cross the road from the stream below the dam to the higher still waters above. Every year when the cold air settles in, you could count on finding roadkill beaver there.

Of course there are many other species that called Finch’s Mill home. Now they will have to find another. They move further upstream, or maybe even downstream if possible. Fish have the hardest time in relocating as when the water drained quickly it left pockets where fish were trapped.
After the draining I looked at some of the features of what was previously hidden underneath the tea stained water. There was what we used to call a ‘boom box’ laying in the mud. Plenty of glass bottles, some soda and some of the alcoholic variety. A serpentine belt was on top of an old rag which gave an eerie voodoo sort of look.
Near the dam was the front end of a car, not the whole part of the car, just the bumper fascia. As always you can count on finding an old tire here or there.
We never realize it, but our trash became part of the ecosystem there. I am sure various creatures such as fish, snakes, turtles and even crawfish and freshwater shrimp found solace in those eyesores. Still, it is ashamed that we have impacted the area like that.
Several fish lay here and there, dried out corpses at this time as it has been a couple of weeks since the dam break. You do not see many small ones. They usually can find a way as the water shallows. The bigger fish are not as lucky.
It remains to be seen whether the dam will be rebuilt. But the ecosystem that thrived there will. It won’t be the same necessarily, but it will survive.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Cataloochee Elk

One of the things on my to-do list has long been to visit the elk herd in North Carolina. For a variety of reasons, I have never made my way into the Cataloochee Valley. I guess it is like a New Yorker never going over to the Statue of Liberty because they know it will always be there and never made it a priority.

I finally made it a priority. I happened to be photographing a property not far from where a large portion of the herd tended to stay, so it only made sense.

A little history of the elk in North Carolina would be an appropriate lead in. Elk naturally inhabited the state up until the late 1700’s. At that point they were hunted excessively and habitat began to dwindle. One of North America’s great beast had disappeared in North Carolina and the Southeast.

The Great Smoky National Park reintroduced an elk population in 2001 with a release of 25 elk they gathered from the Land of the Lakes area of Kentucky. The next year North Carolina received another 27 elk from a herd located in Canada.

Kentucky led the way with elk restoration. In 1997, seven elk were released in Eastern Kentucky from a herd located in Kansas. Kentucky had a long term goal of stabilizing their herd at 7400 animals with releases of 200 each year for 9 years. Due to the elk population flourishing, the plan was altered. From 1997 through 2002 Kentucky brought in 1550 total animals. The program of restoring the population through bringing the animals in stopped in 2002. Now the estimated population is around 10000 elk and the ongoing program is funded by hunting license sales.

North Carolina’s herd did not fare as well. With the introduction of the 52 elk in through 2002, the herd only stands at approximately 145 animals today, nearly 15 years after the first animals were brought in.

While the national park considers the elk restoration a success, a few years ago some battles began about the sustainability of the herd. Once the success was declared the herd was allowed to be taken of the special concern status. The question then began as to whether the Wildlife Commission should allow hunting for the elk outside of the national park.

Amazingly, hunters were the ones that stood up. Many expressed concern with the barely larger birth to mortality rate of the established population as evidenced over the decade. A population that has succumbed to parasites and predators and doubled over a ten year period is hardly a population ready to go up against even more potential threats due to hunting.

And here we are at this point in time. A small moderate herd that nonetheless consists of an absolutely beautiful creature.

Elk are much larger than our familiar white-tailed deer. In fact, a first time hunter who takes a deer is usually surprised at the small stature of the animal. Elk on the other hand, are quite impressive. Some of the larger bull elks in the park approach half a ton.

My biggest concern was locating the elk. I knew a large portion visited the Cataloochee Valley, but I was not sure if they would be like most in the wild in which a sighting may be happenstance.

As I took exit 20 off of I-40 just northeast of Waynesville and turned onto Cove Creek Road, my anticipation grew exponentially. Once I entered the park and meandered my way down the gravel and paved roads my anxiety ceased.

There they were. Massive bulls, a multitude of cow elk, and several yearlings adorned the meadows of the valley. I have seen many things across the country that inspired awe. This was added to that list. How could I have not visited something so amazing sooner?

It is hard to put into words that vision. So instead, let me suggest taking a weekend day to the Cataloochee Valley. Visit early in the morning and again in the evening. It is something you will not regret.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Texas Hunt Part 3

In case you have missed the previous two columns, I had a chance to do one of those special dream hunts. I met up with a lifelong friend who now lives in Texas. He hinted, well maybe it was more like bragged, at the number and quality of big whitetail deer there, and I was going to find out whether it was really true.

It was.

I only had two days to spend on the hunt between assignments in which I would be in Houston and St. Louis, so if they were there, I was going to need to choose my prey and be ready.

On the first day’s afternoon hunt, I arrowed a nice eight pointer from 32 yards. After contacting Bobby and Chewy who were hunting for feral hogs on another part of the land, we went over to where the arrow was lying. Blood had coated the arrow shaft and fletching and there was blood spray behind it from the pass through.

A dozen yards away Chewy spotted more blood. I have tracked many a deer with blood trails, all in North Carolina. When tracking blood spots in Texas while in a drought, things were a little more difficult. The vegetation and landscape is completely different in the Texas hills, with more dirt that plants, and the grass was basically brown, brittle cover. Instead of a bright red blood spot, it was more of an orange residue as the ground quickly absorbed any moisture.

Still, with three seasoned hunters, we were able to follow along the trail. The deer made a run up a large hill and then went into a slow walk. We were able to determine the deer settled down twice underneath some of the dried up evergreens dotting the landscape before standing and walking again. As happens with many deer that are bleeding out, he began to search for water.

The Texas drought meant there was only one place to go, a pond that was nearly dried up. Based on the blood loss, he would never make it that far.

We tracked his turn, another spot where he bedded to rest for a few minutes, and then tracked him another twenty yards.

That was it. No more blood. We worked our way into broader and broader circles. Finally the darkness prevailed and we decided to forego a morning hunt and track once more.

The next day even the large patches of blood were nearly invisible where they soaked into the parched ground. We searched in an organized manner then began random searches. All were to no avail.

Bobby and I went back out in the afternoon for one last hunt. We were in a different location that was near the one water source on the land. We figured, if the one I hit the day before was still living, he may at least try and come by this stand.

After a bit the first deer made his way into the area. It was the first spike I had seen in the two days as most of the bucks, even the young ones, were at least six pointers. A doe wandered within ten yards of us. Another buck showed up at the back side of the pond. None were the one from the day before though.

As the day neared an end, the bucks were on the move. At least ten different bucks, all shooters here in the Carolinas, made their way to the open.

While trying to catch photographs of many of them Bobby nudged me. “Look! Hammy is about to show that other buck who is boss!” He whispered it in as excited of a voice as could be told quietly. Hammy was one of the many named bucks that had shown on the cameras, this one getting his name for an abundance of white hair on his hams.

I turned the camera towards the two bucks as they stared each other down. Then my instincts took over. I slipped my shutter control to ‘continuous-high speed’ with my left thumb and proceeded to hold the shutter button down with my right index finger in one motion. The results was over a dozen photos of the two bucks squaring off and locking horns while throwing dust and dirt as their hind legs dug into the dry ground behind them.

I never found my buck, but since then Bobby has informed me he has shown back up on the trail cameras with a wound that slightly missed a fatal mark. I saw more bucks in the two days than I would see in two seasons here. I saw more trophy bucks in two hours than I would see in two decades here.

Bobby Fontanini has put together a tremendous management system fostering a healthy and abundant free range deer population and there is no doubt the record books are going to be logging deer from his land over the years. If you would like to be a part of a hunt of a lifetime, contact Bobby at (512)944-0757 and be sure to check out Diamond W Ranch in Lampasas, Texas on Facebook.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Texas Hunt Part 2

Don’t mess with Texas. That is a popular saying both in the Lone Star state and across the country. There is a good reason for it as evidenced by my recent whitetail hunt there.

After seeing more bucks in one morning’s sit than I may see in a season anywhere else, the promise was good for the first afternoon hunt of the two days. Texas was/is in the midst of a long dry spell and the days were sweltering. The activity is much different than where I am used to hunting. There, you do not have to anticipate a cold spell to increase movement as they are on the move always.

We met up with Matt ‘Chewy’ Linton, before the hunt and worked on setting up a new box stand for future hunters during the weekend. Chewy and I were friends on social media due to kayak angling, but had never met in person. You never know the stories of people until you are able to really get to know them, and Chewy was a pretty interesting person.

I knew he was instrumental in kayak angling in the state of Texas, especially towards the central and western part of the state. It didn’t surprise me he was a deer hunter since he was an outdoorsman. What I didn’t know was he was a former bassist for 3 Doors Down and Ember. As much as I thought of Chewy prior to meeting him, I was even more impressed afterwards.

After getting a bit or rest Bobby, Chewy and myself headed back out to the land. I was hunting the same area and had bow, arrows and camera in hand. Bobby and Chewy drove to a different section and were going to try to down some wild hogs if they presented themselves since gun season was not in for deer yet.

It only took about 30 minutes for me to spot a couple of does and fawns come out to my right. I fired a few shots, from the camera not the bow. I knew it was easy for deer to sneak out into the open without realizing it so I kept all my movements slow and smooth, and moved my eyes before moving my head.

That was a good decision and skill. To my front left I spotted a buck peaking from around the brush. I could not make out which buck it was or how big was the rack. The buck was not looking at me though. He was fixed on the four deer I had been taking photos of.

I was able to get a couple of photos of him before knowing this was a shooter. I quietly placed the camera behind me to avoid any disturbances. Just as I did, the buck began to walk away from the cover.

It was a nice eight pointer. Based on best calculations I figured he would net around 110 according to Pope and Young. Not enough to make book, but something I knew was a shooter based on what Bobby and I had went over and would have been my largest taken with a bow.

My issue was going to be getting set and drawing the bow without my movement being caught.

The buck continued forward moving from my left to right. As he did, the four deer to my right worked their way further and further away. Directly in front of me in the stand was an evergreen that should offer me enough cover to draw the bow as the deer passed on the other side. I just needed to hold long enough for him to get in the open.

It worked exactly as I envisioned it. I stood, turned my body and drew the 70 lbs without notice. I waited as he walked and approaching where the four deer stood prior. All I needed was that one pause in his stride.

Then it came. He stopped and stuck his head to the ground for a sniff of the landscape. Thirty two yards was what I estimated to be the distance based on previous scans with a rangefinder marking various rocks, plants and markings. Just behind the crease formed by the front leg with the thirty yard pin set firmly above where I thought the heart would be located.

These moments are the ones that you become what you are. I cannot remember breathing in and then releasing half the air in my lungs. I cannot remember moving my forefinger from behind the trigger release to the front side. I cannot remember applying the slightest touch which in turn sent a 100 grain razor donned broadhead attached to a 28 inch arrow at over 300 feet per second. I do remember seeing the arrow’s fletching spinning towards the deer and disappearing as it passed through his reacting chest.

I waited there in the stand after carefully observing the direction he ran. I bowed my head giving thanks for the opportunity and praying for as quick and painless of a death as could be for my prey. A few minutes later I pulled my camera back up, zoomed in with the 300mm telescopic lens, and spotted my arrow a couple of yards from where the deer was standing moments prior. I was able to see the fletching of the arrow coated in red along with the ground nearby.

In bowhunting, you have what is the first hunt and the second hunt. The first hunt is where you get to take the shot. The second hunt is after you take the shot.

It was now time to start trailing blood during the second hunt.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Texas Hunt Part 1

If you were to ask passionate whitetail hunters across the country for locations to target their next whitetail, you would likely get answers such as Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Texas. They carry the reputation as trophy states with deer growing big antlers and big bodies.

So it was only natural for me to find a way to sneak in a couple of days bowhunting while on a photoshoot in Houston.

It was going to work out well. I had a two day period between jobs in Houston and St. Louis and I had an old friend who lived and owned some land outside of Austin. I briefly saw him on a previous trip when I was in Houston and Dallas, and he tried his best to convince me that I needed to see what he had hidden in the Texas hills.

I arrived Friday night and we caught up on old times until the wee hours of the morning. We also went over trail camera shots over the past few months. I could tell he had a good handle on what was there and he had put the time in to make these deer grow to their peaks.

It is not always easy to do something like that. We experience troubles with quality deer management programs in the Carolinas for a variety of reasons. One, we do not always have a large enough parcel of land to contain the deer year round. Deer tend to stay within a few miles of where they were born, and only during the rut do the males extend the range. Even then, it is not as much as you would think.


We also have an issue regarding the deer not getting old enough. A nice eight point deer around here may only be a year and half old, but we shoot knowing that the deer will likely not make it another season.

Why? Well other hunters on adjacent lands is a factor. Another factor is we have roads everywhere, and there are a lot of vehicle/deer collisions. As beautiful as our state is, it just does not possess the ability currently to allow deer to fully mature.

The deer in Texas is a completely different story. Bobby, my friend, poured over picture after picture of Wideboy, Hammy, and Megatron to name a few. Bobby actually had nearly all of them named. He even had names for the does on the land such as Methuselah, and elderly doe with a sagging back, pronounced hip bones and nothing but nubs for teeth. She had been having two fawns each year until last year. Now she fights other does for their fawns and raises them.

He pointed out deer that were four or five years old with monster racks, but he wanted to keep them around to pass on their monster genetics. He has others that were two years old with antler bases nearly as thick as your wrist. “Last year he was a big six. Next year he will be a ten with brow tines ten inches long, just like his daddy was.” Yes, Bobby knew what was on his land.

I would hunt Saturday morning. I was not trophy hunting per se, although there are several deer that would currently make Boone and Crockett standards, and many more that would make it into Pope and Young (the bowhunter record book). I was going for my biggest buck, which would not take a lot since I have mainly culled does over my hunting years.

I watched a beautiful sliver of a moon drop just as the sun began to rise while sitting on the platform stand. Texas hill country is much different than the still hunts here. I was over the trees, not hidden amongst them. I knew the challenge would be to find the deer to take, draw the bow, and release without being noticed.

During the sunrise I spotted two jack rabbits as big as Siberian Husky to my left. It was not long before the ‘unicorn’ buck also made his way in. This was a buck on the hit list. He had one side of his antlers that looked fine. The other side was just a single branch mess. I knew if I had the opportunity I needed to take this deer as I would still be able to hunt longer.

The shot did not present itself though. Not because the deer was not in range or in the clear though. The shot could not be made because in just a matter of a few more seconds and there were another five bucks roaming in front. In all, I would estimate I saw over 20 different bucks and another 10 does and fawn. And this was just on the first morning of the hunt.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Gun Control

Note: This column ran originally back in October in the newspapers. I refrained from running it on the blog, but will now in light of the latest incident.

Once again we have had a terrible thing happen at the hands of a mad man. Once again, there is a push for legislation on gun controlling measures. While this is an outdoors column, ownign and using firearms are an essential part of the outdoors as well as one of our primary rights as not only Americans, but humans.

I may be in a minority, or I may be part of the majority, it is hard to tell these days. Either way, I think it would have been refreshing to have heard a speech from our leaders worded in this way:

“Dear fellow Americans, I come to you tonight with heartache from yet another incident in which innocent peoples’ lives were taken at the hands of a gun wielding criminal. Details will immerge over the next 24 to 48 hours which will help authorities determine the root cause of act of evil that was bestowed on one of our school campuses.

I stand before you saddened and outraged all at once. WE cannot let this happen again. Other countries similar to ours, allies in fact, were able to take up legislation immediately following such an incident. England passed laws and confiscated all firearms in 1997 to prevent this from happening in their country.

Fortunately, we can learn from our allies and their moves to stop such violent crimes. Once England confiscated these weapons, their violent crime rate and homicide rate nearly doubled the year following. In fact, England has only had one year in which the rate was less than the year before acting upon this legislation.

Our very principles for establishing this more perfect union calls for the arming of the citizenry. It was important enough to list as our second amendment right.

Therefore, starting tomorrow, my staff and I will begin contacting each and every member of Congress to enact new legislation going forward to prevent these mass killings, as well as the abundance of gun related homicides and other crimes. We cannot do this without Congress’s participation, and we will see to it that they are motivated to do so.

I will ask Congress to establish legislation that requires firearm safety to be taught as part of the school curriculum for all fifth and eighth grade classes. This will help teach our children to respect what a firearm can do, become familiar with a firearm rather than scared of it, and to know what circumstances they can be used in self defense.

I will ask Congress to help fund classes for all teachers, administration, and support staff in our schools, colleges, and universities in proper firearm safety and handling, and recommend if not require teachers to carry firearms. Another of our allies currently arms their teachers, and Israel has not had these types of events happen in their schools even with the threat of constant terrorist attacks in these environments.

I will also ask Congress to pass legislation to do away with concealed carry laws. There will be no ordinance anywhere that will not allow an American citizen to carry concealed or otherwise in order to protect his or herself or others.

We have seen in such things as natural disasters that the government cannot always be there immediately to help. We even have a plan online called that teaches and outlines what to have and do in case of emergency. I will ask our Department of Homeland Security to add this website how to handle attacks such as these so that we may protect ourselves first and foremost.

Whether sane or mad, a man will not run into a group of well armed people and decide to pull a firearm. We cannot wait for the next massacre at a church, school, hospital, or establishment to happen because our people were not able to defend themselves.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Home on the Road

The past couple of months I have spent more than my share of time on the road. However, my career has lead me in that direction. Now, being self employed, I have to land jobs and assignments, juggle paperwork and red tape, and find ways to cut expenses to not only increase profits, but also help me price my quotes at a more affordable rate in order to go back to the first part of the circle, which was land jobs.

Of course, I am not writing an outdoors column to discuss business and how it works. I only bring this up because of something I did to help cut my costs.

A friend of mine shared a post from Outdoor Life on Tips for Truckbed Camping. You see, I purchased a camper shell for my pickup. It was used, but exactly what I was looking for. Came off an identical truck as mine and has a full door on the back rather than the standard hatch. You remove your tailgate and the shell replaces it.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy tent camping. But one thing is guaranteed to happen if you pitch a tent. Rain. Doesn’t matter if you are in a desert that is in the middle of a four month drought, if you put a tent up and sleep in it, the skies will darken, the thunder will crack, the lightning will flash, and there will be a deluge of water pouring from the heavens. Based on the last week, I would imagine someone has forgotten they left their tent up in fact.

The camper shell offers something a little better. I have expanded my functionality and comfort. I have a synthetic straw mat that is folded double and covers the entire bed of the truck. This helps take away those ridges built in from the manufacturer. On one side I started with a self-inflating foam bed mat which I use when camping with a tent and sleeping bag. I also thought of something else to add to the comfort though. I added a lounge chair cushion that fits perfectly on that one side as well. I arguably sleep better in the back of my truck than in my own bed.

I have a stuffed chair placed on the other front corner. It is super comfortable as well, and I have occasionally used it outside beside the truck when stopping. Primarily though, I use it inside the camper. It is short enough to allow me to sit upright without hitting my head on the top.

I also have a rectangular basket in which I keep food, eating utensils, paper towels, and butane. In other words, the basket acts as my cupboard inside the truck. As you can guess with the butane, it is the fuel for a single burner stove that is the same size as the basket so they can be stacked.

When I do cook, and on my trips I very seldom buy food or drink on the road so it is every meal, I have to have somewhere to put my hot items. I keep a small bamboo cutting board that acts as a tray in these instances. I can either sit the board down on the inside of the bed and eat standing, or I can sit in my stuffed chair and sit the board in my lap.

I also pack two gallons of water in milk jugs which I freeze prior. This helps keep the cold things cold while in the cooler, and as the ice melts, provides me with more water for things such as brushing my teeth and cleaning my cooking stuff.

I also have room for such things as my rods and tackle, bow and arrows, and camera equipment. Of course, when I am stopped I have to keep the camper locked to keep the honest people honest. At night, I can move those items to the cab of the truck and lock the doors.

You know the saying goes, ‘home is where you make it’. Might as well make it as comfortable as possible while you are at it. Old bodies like mine tend to recover more slowly from uncomfortable situations as the years pass.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Faux Record

Let’s face it. The hunt can be intoxicating. A brief glimpse or something like you have never seen can drive you to pursue the beast with such passion and desire that it can cause madness. Then, when you are able to connect it is a brief feeling of joy as you accept the accolades welcomingly from your peers and acquaintances.

But what is left afterwards? Move on to something else? Not if you are really into the sport. So you must pursue something bigger and better in order to get the same recognition as before. Take a beautiful eight pointer? Been there, done that. Next goal is for record book. Finally, a record book buck. Now something bigger. Much bigger. You have to keep your ‘fans’ interested in your pursuits.
In the last week we have had two instances of varying degrees over just this pursuit.

The ‘Hunting Syndicate’, a cable television hunting show that is aired on the Sportsman’s Channel had nine of their members and host charged with federal crimes due to the Lacey Act from hunts as far back as 2009 in the state of Alaska.

There have been many inquiries over the years, but ‘things got real’ when search warrants and interviews were issued last summer. Several charges were issued including taking game without a permit, hunting on the same day as flying in to the area, and taking game without a guide which is a requirement for a non-resident in Alaska.

However, you do not always have to break the law for the result of the intoxication of the hunt to manifest itself.

Earlier this month, Joey Thompson, a friend and fellow Pope and Young official scorer measured a ‘green’ kill by hunter Nick Davis of Elkin, NC. By ‘green’ it means the deer’s antlers have not dried the required 60 days in order to officially be measured. But the deer taken by Nick’s bow was so big, even after the drying period, the deer would become the new North Carolina state non-typical record. Green score was some 30 inches bigger than Brent Mabry’s 176 ⅞ inch non-typical monster taken back in 2005.

After Joey announced the green score, the bandwagon had begun to play Nick’s tunes. Several media outlets picked up on the story and cited Nick’s story of how he had first spotted the beast bedded in kudzu. Then, when he had his first chance to hunt it, he decided not to because he had a cold and didn’t want to cough and spook it. Finally, on the fourth encounter with the deer, Nick was able to take him from 32 yards.

With notice comes notoriety. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission decided to interview Nick as well. What they turned up in the interview was nothing short of astonishment. Nick admitted to an elaborate hoax.

Apparently the antlers came from a farm raised deer in Pennsylvania. They were then screwed onto a small buck here in North Carolina.

Nick had taken two bucks the previous year scoring over 150 inches. Could the pursuit of something bigger been the trigger to have pushed Nick to this point? Were the two from last year legitimate kills?

Ethics in hunting is not always encompassed in the print of the law. Sometimes it is just knowing right from wrong. The sport can present enough thrills without crossing those lines.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Opening Day

Bow season finally arrived. There was plenty of deer on the cameras, but they all were coming into the area just before sunset. After a long road trip during the week and a late night, I decided I would get up about 3:30am and assess how I felt before heading out.

The alarm went off on time and I turned over to shut it off. As I rolled back over I noticed my youngest laying between my wife and I. Again, it had been a long week in which I was gone from the family and it felt good there in the bed. Knowing the deer were not usually out in the early morning, I slept in.

I loaded up everything and headed to the stand in the early afternoon. There was fresh sign of where deer were there the night before. Per the camera shots, they should be there about 30 minutes before sunset. The weather was good with only a slight breeze and it was blowing away from where the deer should be entering. It was going to be a very good day.

For a couple of hours (yes, I get in early in case any deer were to notice me coming in) I sat there checking and double checking my yardages to various spots. The big leaf, 23 yards. The bright green lump of grass to the left, 17 yards. The trampled area just in front of me where the deer should head toward, 10 yards exactly.

I checked the football scores on the cell phone, reading the updates on my beloved Wolfpack as they struggled early and then marched to a resounding victory.I saw that the Yankees were getting swept in a crucial double header with the division leading Blue Jays. I read social media posts from other hunters in the field.

Until it was time for the deer to start showing.

The cell phone went in my pocket. The arrow was nocked. I was at the ready. Still another 15 minutes before a deer should sneak her way out below me.

“Blam. Blam. BlamBlamBlam.”

I jumped on the first blast. Gun fire. Not shotgun fire, no there was no one shooting dove. This was the distinct sound of rifles. They were not hunting. They were simply shooting. Maybe they were sighting their rifles in getting ready for a few weeks later when gun season comes in. Maybe they were just shooting for fun. It didn’t matter, immediately after that first round of shots a doe screamed from about 50 yards away from me. I knew then my hunt was over that evening.

They continued to shoot for 20 minutes or so. At the end they were firing something like an AK rifle based on how they were shooting.

Another hunter I met when I was teaching bowhunter education several years ago sent me a message later that evening wanting to know how I did. I told him what happened. He went on to say he was in his stand after watching day after day of deer coming out only to be foiled because the farmer started taking in tobacco that day while he was hunting.

Neither of us were upset at the shooters or the farmer. You see, they have a right to do those things. It is their land to manage, to play on, to live on, whatever they may want to do. Just as it was our right to hunt the lands we were hunting. We were down a little because of the possibilities of the hunt. But that is why the season is longer than just opening day. We get to enjoy our activities as long as we can. No matter what they are.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Deer Season

The time has come to take up the pursuit of big game. For me, big game may be smaller than others as I have a tendency to find the smallest of the creatures. Yes, my prize trophy whitetail may or may not have antlers, and may or may not have made a trip around the sun twice in their lifespan.

Not that it is all a bad thing though. I get the enjoyment of the hunt and pursuit of a dream. I also get food in the freezer. If I get a deer, that is.

I primarily bowhunt. Actually it is exclusively bowhunt to better define non-bird hunting activities. I do not have issues with hunting with firearms. I just enjoy hunting with the bow more.

I have been rather successful with the bow as well. I have taken a bison with the bow. I have taken an alligator with the bow. I have taken countless small game and even some birds with the bow. Two years ago I tagged six deer with the bow.

Last year was different.

After much preparation I anticipated another highly successful freezer-filling season. The cameras had card after card filled with deer photos including nearly a third of them during daylight hours. I could hardly wait.

I climbed in the stand around 3:30am as I do most of the time. This way the deer I may spook as I enter the stand will have relaxed and made their way back by time day breaks. I waited, and sat, and looked at my phone all day. I found a way to take a nap during the late morning only to get back in the stand once again that early afternoon.

Then, just minutes before darkness would creep its way to close the hunting day, a buck emerged. The velvet was already rubbed off, but it was a nice symetrical small eight pointer. I pulled back on the string and nestled the draw hand to my right cheek. I slowly dropped the pin from the bow sight down towards a clean lung shot.

But I didn’t release. He was no more than a year and half old. The bucks in that area have been known to grow to Pope and Young trophy size, and this was just another of that genetic make-up, only he was still a little too young to have trophy sized antlers.

It was day one of deer season. I had pictures of as many as 15 different deer, does and bucks, on the camera. I let him walk to grow feeling confident that I could at least take a few does later in the season, if not the next day.

It didn’t happen. I never had another shot the rest of the season. For the next couple of weeks I had a few does come out but all were well out of range for the bow. After that, I didn’t even see any deer during daylight. Disease had hit and there was a major kill-off.

I do not regret not shooting that first deer. I do hate that there were no more opportunities and the freezer is now bare. Will this season be like two and three years ago? Maybe. Will it be like last year?


It is a prime example of how life works though. You never know what will be your last opportunity, so sometimes you have to take what is given to you. It is hunting. It is life.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Best Shooter

If you have read my columns in the past, you may have seen where I have openly professed that my father is one of the best wing shooters I have ever seen. It is hard to admit someone is better than you when you can get a little cocky sometimes, but it would be akin to hearing a local kid saying he was a better basketball player than Michael Jordan.

Even my friends growing up would comment about Dad’s prowess with a shotgun. He would have his limit and a half of a box of empty shells laying at his feet in a neat pile. Meanwhile, you would have two empty boxes of shells, five birds downed but two of them you couldn’t find, and hoping you would have enough shells to finish your limit.

Several years ago I met Dad’s match. I was at a hunter education instructor meeting in southern North Carolina. We had different seminars we could attend focusing on several different aspects to hunting and outdoorsmanship. Duncan Tatum, who helped me teach classes in one county, and I both signed up for the wingshooting class as one of our breakout sessions.

It was a hard class to get into. The people in the know understood the valuable knowledge you could gain in the class and we also had unlimited shells we could shoot on the skeet range. We were both lucky enough to get in.

One of the hunter education specialists, Fred Rorrer, was our instructor. He went over basics that served two purposes. One, if wingshooting and shotguns were not your thing, you could quickly grasp what to do. Second, it helped us learn how to teach our students who may not be familiar with shotguns, hunting, or even firearms in general in a way to make sure everything was covered.

We each competed on the skeet range, and I was happy with my results, even though I do not shoot the shotgun the way we are to teach the course. I was brought up with the one eye closed technique. Now, everything is with both eyes open. Even the technique in shooting pistols has changed from the way I learned, but that is another story.

Afterwards, Fred gathered all of us for another exhibition and competition. We were each given 10 shotgun shells. We were allowed to load two shells in the magazine and one in the chamber of the shotgun. The other seven we had to hold in some fashion of what we felt would work best.

The rules were a skeet would fly every five seconds, except numbers four and five, and numbers nine and ten would fly as doubles. We had to shoot the skeet, load another shell, and be ready to shoot the next.

We all struggled with the game. I think the best may have been five targets hit out of all of us seasoned hunters.

Then Fred stepped up and talked to us. He explained the proper way was to have your forehand point towards the target. The shotgun was just an extension of where you were pointing. As he was talking, he loaded the shotgun and slid the other seven shells between the fingers on his trigger hand. Then he nonchalantly said “pull”. He proceeded to blast every target quickly and efficiently while reloading the shotgun between shots.

We looked in amazement. He then loaded the shotgun again. He put even shells in his left hand, and held the shotgun with his right hand by the trigger with it firmly on his right shoulder. He then broke all ten targets by shooting with one hand.

Next, he loaded the shotgun once again. Only three shells were used. While talking to us, in mid sentence, he said “pull” and the first skeet flew. With the shotgun behind his back and his head turning towards the skeet, he pulled the trigger. Immediately afterwards two more skeet flew. He quickly dispatched both with two more trigger pulls from behind his back.

To Fred, shooting the shotgun was the same as throwing a baseball at a catcher’s mitt. It was natural.

Fred was just as comfortable with a bow as he was a shotgun from what I learned later. It takes a lot to admit someone is better than you in something sometimes. It is completely different when you have a group of lifelong outdoorsmen who serve as instructors for hunting education and firearm education, and someone can not only cause your jaw to drop but also teach you more than you could have ever imagined.

Fred Rorrer passed away five years ago next month. I am honored to have had Fred as one of my instructors to become certified to instruct hunter education as well as been a part of that last class he taught.

Friday, October 16, 2015

North Carolina

Here I am, sitting in a rest stop in Louisiana an hour away from my New Orleans destination. Over a period of three weeks I will have either gone through or be heading to Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and of course, North Carolina. Seventeen states over a period of about fifteen days.

Do not get me wrong, I love this. It presents a bit of adventure, inner reflection, and most of all excitement that not everyone either gets to do or enjoy. But on this inner reflection portion, it gives me a lot of time to think as I turn off the radio since the stations go in and out due to the travel.

I have seen some beautiful sights along the way, and will always remember these experiences. But something has occurred to me. I have always somewhat known it from my travels in the past, however, it is becoming more and more clear as I think about it.

We are lucky to live in such a beautiful state. While my travels have carried me state to state along the eastern seaboard, I have also literally been ‘from Murphy to Manteo’ as those who talk about the state of North Carolina phrase it.

From mountains to sea, we have a treasure right here. We may ignore it, not think of it, and become so used to it that we declare we want something else other than here. Like most kids in school want to be anywhere other than where they are. But our grass is not only greener, it is the greenest. We just have to open our eyes and our minds and be willing to appreciate it.

Seeing a storm front roll into the valley below just after crossing the Continental Divide shows the strength of mother nature. A rainbow beaconing on the other side of the storm displays her forgiveness.

The rolling hills of the Piedmont with shallow yet flowing rivers meandering between outlines the canvas for us to color in the details. And then as a surprise we spot something just enough out of norm such as Pilot Mountain to widen our eyes like a cat’s at night.

Or we come across an opening in the dense underbrush leading down a path to a huge homestead sitting back in the Eastern plains. A deer stands there trying to determine your intentions just as her fawn steps out also.

We fight off our desire to catch a few more winks because we know the sun will be rising in moments, and God painted that portrait for us to observe as it breaks the surface of an ocean so vast it compares with the stars at night. For several minutes we get to watch the skyline change colors from pastel blues, purples and pinks to a blazing orange. Soon two suns will be seen on the horizon, one in the sky and one, the reflection on the calm waters of an early morning sea.

Other states, other places, may offer beauties that not only should we see, but must see. But there are few that offer so much to see as this wonderful place we are already in.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Last

I caught a post on social media from a fellow outdoors writer regarding a story on a gun dog’s last hunt. Something struck me about it and there was a yearning to read the writer’s take.

As I get older I have experienced things such as my last baseball game and witnessed my oldest son’s last soccer game. There are times when you knew it was coming and you took in the moment along with all the emotions that you would expect on such an occasion.

I have also seen when a career ends abruptly. Whether it be something like Joe Theismann’s injury or someone on a much less public scale walk of the field because of a disagreement with a coach and decide it was over.

That brings about a different set of emotions, and sometimes they do not manifest themselves until years later. Either way, in hindsight, you look back and try to see what would be done differently as well as how could the moment been captured.

I read a story about where a hunter started hunting with his dog at the young age of 14. His dog Riley was one year old at the time. They were duck hunting and he had a wounding shot on a diver. The wind was as strong as the current and the water was choppy. Riley leaped into the spread and began searching for the downed duck. However, every time the dog got near, the duck would dive for a minute or so at the time and resurface a few dozen yards away.

Still, Riley would not give up. He continued and continued. The hunter and his dad decided to call the dog off for fear of him tiring in the turbulent and frigid waters. Riley would not listen. Finally, the duck gave another dive and Riley disappeared from the surface at the same time. The young hunter thought he had just killed his dog on his first hunt. Moments later, Riley resurfaced with the diving duck in his mouth.

They hunted for over a decade together. They learned how to hunt together as both gained more and more experience. They were not the perfect hunters, but both enjoyed each other’s company.

Riley had aged over that decade, gaining arthritis in his hips and other ailments that come with aging. It had come to the point that after the last hunting season, even with trying to hunt Riley lightly, the toll had been great. The veterinarian suggested any strenuous activity for Riley should be avoided.
The hunter struggled with the idea. Riley still shared the excitement of a pup whenever there was a shotgun shell nearby or at the sound of a duck call. His body just wasn’t as ready as his heart. The hunter had said that Riley would die trying to find a hard to spot bird, and it was to the point Riley would prove it.

He tossed about the idea of one last hunting season, on last hunt, and if Riley could not withstand the rigors of the season, then at least he would die doing what he loved. But as the season neared, he just couldn’t make the call. It was too hard to watch an old friend wither away.

And as is many times the case, someone else’s story begins to show as reality right in front of you. I was approached by a lady at a AKC agility trial in Concord, NC towards the end of one of the day’s events. She told me her dog Gus was retiring after this trial. He was old, he couldn’t run quite as fast. He couldn’t jump quite as high and far. Although he still had the desire, he just did not have the ability that he once did.

It was an emotional moment. There was happiness in her voice, but not because it was the last run. It was present because of all the memories they had shared together.

Watching Gus navigate the course, I wondered, “does he know?” Is Gus aware that this is his last event? Afterwards Gus walked by with his toy frisbee in his mouth. He held it with both tenderness and love just as a child clutches a favorite stuffed bear or a security blanket. His eyes shown the innocence of that same child, but you could tell they were aged. Maybe it is best he didn’t know.

Maybe to him, there is only hope and anticipation of the next and not the last.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fish Out of Water

I was recently hired to photograph an engagement session and was brainstorming with the couple for a nice outdoors setting. It dawned on me about a river nearby to all of us that had shallow flowing water over a solid yet craggy rock bed. It had been a while since I had been there, but the setting would be great for engagement photos.

Upon mentioning the place, they too agreed that the setting would be perfect and we set a time to meet.

I showed up a little over an hour early to walk around and check everything out beforehand. At the head of the park where the river comes in is a small dam. The water blocked at the dam was several feet below the top. The river was stagnant with little flow downstream from the dam. Several places in the rocky bottom lay small pools of water, many with less surface area than a small above ground pool would have.

With the rocks as the bottom, the water was fairly clear and I could see an abundance of fish still swimming in them. There were bass, shad, various species of bream, and even a bowfin surfaced to take a gulp of air. Yes, bowfin can breathe air if necessary in low oxygenated water.
That also meant the water had little oxygen left in it.

I met with the newly engaged couple and we had a great session together. But I was still concerned about what I saw. With no rain in the forecast for a few days I questioned whether the fish would make it. Many were of good size. There was no telling how many smaller fish there were that I didn’t notice.

I drove back a little later, as the location is less than 30 minutes from home. I was not sure what I could do, but quick simple thinking had me grab a net to see if I could harvest a few and help them to the river a few yards away.

When I arrived, I noticed several other people there looking at the fish. One had a cast net. Since I was coming in behind them, I checked out the scene. No bucket or stringer was nearby. Evidently they were not trying to get easy catches. It was very near the saying ‘trying to catch fish in a barrel.’
So here we had a half dozen people all with the same concerns. Unless we had a strong enough rainstorm to either fill the river over the dam or create enough runoff to cause the small pools to flow to the river the fish were not going to make it. And we did not want to see that happen.

Each of us had fishing licenses we came to find out. We all hunted. The same callous, uncaring, animal murderers that outdoorsmen get portrayed as many times were the only ones out there trying to find a way to save several species of fish that became landlocked in too little water.

The truth is outdoorsmen do care. Yes, another time we may have been there solely to catch our next meal. But this day we were trying to make sure these creatures survived to be caught another day, to reproduce, to be part of life’s circle.

Friday, October 9, 2015


The outdoors world can be a strange culture. On one hand, there is a set of people that will do anything to share their knowledge, teach those that do not know, and spend valuable time to help others. The other hand, is the complete opposite. They tend to be boastful, hide their secrets so others cannot obtain the same success or exceed their own accomplishments, and ridicule others.

I guess it could be a microcosm of the business world as well. Or it could be a similar sampling of a social group. But this is an outdoors column, so we will look at it in that perspective.

Usually the ones that are on the helpful side will see a recent photo of a monster buck and look at in awe. They will admire both the beauty of the animal, and the blend of talent,hard work, and in some cases luck that went into the successful hunt.

The ones that are on the other side, usually remark about how the hunter was only successful because the land is private, or the hunter  just happens to have better quality game in that part of the area, or the hunter gets to hunt more often.

The willing-to-help side will share what he did in preseason scouting. He will explain how he set up a food plot, what time of year he started the plot, and what he used in the plot. He will draw a diagram as to where to place it and where he placed his stand accordingly. He will talk about where he set trail cameras and when he would go in and check them.

The other side, well, they tend to keep things hush-hush. Answers to questions remain vague except for exactly how big the game was, and then it tends to be over exaggerated. If you happen to find out what county the hunt took place you have found out more than was intended.

The real fireworks happen when the two come together with a third person asking the questions though. Something as simple as a question of what caliber firearm to use can start the exchange. The mentor type will begin with an answer only to be interrupted by the other. Then it will be a conversation devoted to how much I know and you don’t. And the novice is left with a bad taste and disdain.

Our sport deserves more. Our heritage deserves more. Many times we may feel inadequate and it is easy for us to take an avenue of ‘well, I need to show what I know’ or ‘well, look what I have successfully hunted.’ It takes on a grammar school mentality if we let it.

Instead, we should be able to recognize when someone does know what they are talking about and has been successful and realize it is time to listen rather than to speak. Even writing this column for several years does not make me an expert on anything. I can share my experiences and what has or has not been successful and hopefully others can and will learn from it. But I have many more instances of what has not been successful compared to what has.

The world could use a little more humbleness. Even the outdoors world.