Friday, March 27, 2015

Personal Floatation Devices

One debate amongst sportsmen with active outdoors lifestyles has long been the use of safety equipment. We see year after year results of either no or inadequate use of the different safety equipment and measures. The results, obviously and unfortunately, are injuries or deaths that could have been avoided if the safety precautions were taken.
Each year I have writing this column, I make a note to cover tree stand injuries and deaths prior to the hunting season for instance. It happens every year with no exceptions. Hunters take to the trees or box stands, and we have someone who falls and either has a life changing injury or dies. All it would take a safety harness properly worn and used, and the accident could have been avoided.
Laws have been passed requiring riders of all-terrain vehicles to wear helmets, and many places require safety goggles or glasses as well. We have people riding too fast, many times on land they are familiar with and believe is safe for the speed they are driving, yet ultimately, they get thrown from the ATV and they are injured or die. The law requiring helmets to be worn has helped in saving lives, but I can rest assured that many of us, including myself at times, will not or have not worn a helmet each and every time riding a four wheeler.
Another safety item we regularly omit is the personal floatation device (PFD) or what is commonly called a life vest. Children under a certain age are required to where one when in a boat and on the water. Adults are offered an option. There are also requirements as to the type needed based on the type and size of boat and means of power.
As a note of disclosure, I am on the Elite Council with Johnson Outdoors. Johnson Outdoors makes a variety of equipment under different brands such as Old Town, Ocean Kayak, Extrasport, Carlisle Paddles, Humminbird, and Minn Kota, amongst others.
During one of our conversations amongst the pro-staff members, a debate arose on whether to display photos promoting our various products with or without a life vest on. Several of the staff live in warm water climates and rarely are fishing from a kayak with a shirt on, not to mention a PFD. The debate was whether this was in the best interest showing someone using the products without proper safety equipment on, regardless of whether it was law or not.
One of the frequent comments, and one that I am sure anyone who has ever worn a life vest will agree with, is they are cumbersome and uncomfortable. There is an adage, “necessity is the father of innovation.” Maybe money can be as well.
The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water and the Personal Floatation Device Manufacturers Association are offering the money part. They are currently sponsoring a competition that offers $10,000 to the winner of a new design for a PFD that will encourage people to wear them while on the water.
The deadline is April 15, 2015. The design will be judged on four criteria: wearability, reliability, cost, and innovation. The designs can be hand drawn or they can be carried out as far as having a prototype. The best thing about this competition is nearly everyone who has ever been in a boat and had to wear one is an expert. You know what you do not like about existing PFDs. You also know what will be comfortable enough, and in a price range you would purchase, so that you would wear it.
You can enter your design at

Friday, March 20, 2015


I do a lot of reminiscing through this column each week. This week is no different. As I sit and listen to or watch the basketball tournament it just makes my mind go back to those good ‘ole days. The days when the Atlantic Coast Conference only had eight teams and no matter which team was your favorite, the coaches of each team were awarded a sense of respect that put them on a much higher plateau.
We, as nothing more than kids, could name every starter for each school along with the top two or three subs as well, and every player including the non-scholarship walk-ons for our favorite and most hated teams. It was exciting to watch without having twice as many teams involved.
But reminiscing is what brings us back to the some things that we forgot we loved. Take the old fly fisherman who spots an old fiberglass rod that resembles one of his first he ever used. He picks it up and remembers the feel and balance. That first trout he landed becomes a vivid picture in his mind. Before long, there he is fishing with it, having put the high priced and before cherished bamboo up. He still catches fish. He still has fun. And he remembers.
The old upland hunter now chases pheasant, quail and grouse with a custom Benelli over-under shotgun. But once upon a time, the shotgun was not weighted as well and would occasionally jam on the shot shell ejection. The choke at the muzzle was not designed to have a screw in adapter to change the patterns costing several hundred dollars. But every once and a while, he sees that old gun resting and the gun cabinet, and thinks back. What fun it would be to be reunited with that now rust covered metal and vintage wood stock. He can still hit the birds and drop them. He still has fun. He remembers.
We gradually go to the new things because they are fascinating. “What an upgrade that would be over what I have!” is the whispers we get in our ears from our inner conscience. We have to have the new, sparkly, what-ever-it-is that everyone else that knows what they are doing is using and has.
However, we enjoyed the outdoors before we had the next big thing. And we will enjoy the outdoors whether we get the next big thing or not. If we get the new toy, we will use it with pride.
Then one day, maybe years from now, we will spot something somewhere that reminds us of the times when we were young or when we had a special trip with someone, and we will become envious once again, but for something old rather than new.
We will seek to have that one last memory. And we will remember.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wild America

Back in the day, the weekend’s television schedule consisted of Hee Haw, The Lawrence Welk Show, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and Marty Stouffer’s Wild America. We only had five channels to choose from, two of which were the same network, and one that could only be seen with wavy lines and then only if the tin foil on the antennae was placed in the correct position.
While it seems we were forced to watch certain television shows due to lack of options, I think it allowed us to be more cultured and have something in common to have conversations about. We would laugh and pretend to be pickin’ and a grinnin’ with Roy Clark and Buck Owens. We would sit in amazement while watching a fleet footed cheetah launch towards a herd of gazelles and tumble in a mass of claws, fur, and teeth.
One of the episodes of Wild America proved inspiration for my first big game bow hunt kill. Stouffer took us the Dakotas. There I witnessed the fabulous thunderbeast, the American bison. The people of the bison, the Lakota tribe, lived with the great animal. It was during a time of resurgence of the once nearly extinct symbol of the west.
Shows such as Wild America is what made household names of Stouffer, Marlin Perkins, Jim Fowler and Jacques Cousteau. And it is what brought animals we would never have thought about seeing in the wild into our living rooms. The family watched them together and was mesmerized with both the cruelty and beauty of the wild.
These are the shows that inspired documentaries that are now shown on networks devoted towards nature and are seen exclusively on big screens like IMAX. Without shows like Wild America, I dare say there would be far less people who enjoy what the wild, nature and our planet offers.

Marty Stouffer took to Alaska with a video camera at the age of 18. After his return, he was greeted by nearly 1800 people in Arkansas who watched nothing much more than a home movie. Stouffer was hooked as well as his brothers.
Stouffer went on to create a number of specials, but Wild America was a highlight, enjoying a run of 15 years from 1981 until 1995 on PBS. While Wild America still can be seen occasionally as a rerun special, the film is outdated and there are challenges to keeping it able to run.
Now Stouffer is leading a charge to preserve Wild America for all. For one, he has initiated a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.
The goal is to re-master 120 episodes into 4k Ultra HD digital video. Once this is completed, Wild America can be enabled for use in internet-based education and entertainment. The uniqueness of Wild America’s slow motion and up close videography helps in understanding animal behavior, and with the long run of the show, virtually every representative mammal, bird, fish, and reptile of North America is featured.
“For years, educators have thrilled students with Wild America videos accompanied by our in-depth teaching guides. This project will provide teachers simplified access to their favorite wildlife content while making it even more engaging for their students with added clarity,” says Stouffer.
The Kickstarter campaign is active through March 18, 2015 and can be accessed through with key words Wild America.
The show used to end with “I’m Marty Stouffer. Until next time, enjoy your Wild America.”
I have enjoyed it Marty, and I hope many generations to come will also.

Monday, March 9, 2015


You know, it is weeks like this where all you can do is sit back and think about what is to come. I mean, we just had our fill of snow and ice. Next is a forecast of rain at some point every day of the week and then another cold weekend.
It makes it tough for the outdoors lover to get motivated and get outdoors. Sure, we have the Dixie Deer Classic and the Greensboro Fishing Expo over the weekend. All they do is get us more into a frenzy only to have the wind knocked out of us when we step back outside.
It may give us time to catch up on our honey-do lists so there will not be any excuses when Mother Nature decides to cooperate.  But if you are like me, these to-do lists are more like ta-da lists as it will be a magic trick if I were able to finish anything on it.
Even if I try to take a look at an inspirational documentary on something like Netflix such as River Monsters (yes, it is my favorite show, there are plenty of seasons to watch for the third or fourth time, and Jeremy Wade knows how to fish), I am pushed to the back burner because with all the school time that has been missed the kids have begun to binge watch shows such as Friends which has like 500 episodes and they are only in season 3.
Yes, you can call me Negative Nelly. I am becoming stir-crazy.
I am ready to hit the waters on the kayak with rod and paddle in hand and find those big fish that Jeremy Wade catches with ease. I am ready to start scouting for the gobblers and setting up ground blinds in their trampling grounds. I am ready to start some early spring food plots and set up trail cameras to see what deer made it through the winter and start the target list.
What is one to do?
I guess the first order is to start planning. The sucker fish, shad, and striper will all start spawning once the water temperatures begin to rise. Will I try to hit the striped bass early on their migration up the Roanoke River or try to catch them amongst the hundreds of other anglers on the upper Roanoke? Timing is everything, so lots of thought must go into this!
I can target redhorse suckers on the Contentnea Creek and river suckers on the Swannanoa River. The redhorse will only have a week or so of great fishing. The river suckers can be targeted throughout the summer months.
The shad will begin their runs slightly before the stripers. Both hickory and American shad will overlap the spawns on a variety of rivers. Will it be the Neuse, the Tar, or the Roanoke? I will monitor the reports from the North Carolina Wildlife website when the sampling season starts in mid to late March. That will let me know when and where I should be.
Just have to stay focused on the important things and get the game plan together. That way there will be a quick response to the “what are your plans this weekend?” question from the wife. Otherwise I will never find a way to avoid such gloom and doom pains like housework and cleaning.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tracking in the Snow

It is hard to say winter has come in late when it is still February. But with the winter being mostly mild, and the snow and below freezing temperatures setting in now, it seems that way. Still, there is plenty to see if bundled and brave.

Snow always was a highlight of our youth. We did not see the white stuff enough to get used to it. When it came through though, we knew exactly what to do. Our mothers would pile on layer over layer of clothing to keep us warm. With all that extra padding, the first order of business was a neighborhood game of tackle football.

We were not fast as we resembled sumo wrestlers wobbling across the fresh fallen snow. We had fun though. After an hour or so of more ‘kill the man with the ball’ and less anything resembling football, it was time to get dried out and warmed up for the next phase of snow fun.

Behind the house and beside the lake was a patch of woods totaling a couple of acres of space at best. It was the perfect spot to build snow fortresses and have snow ball fights without tearing up the yard or being too far from home in order to warm back up.

It was also a really neat place to learn about nature and her inhabitants.

Without a doubt, we would spot all kinds of animal tracks in the snow in the brush of those woods. It was how we first learned how the front foot prints of a rabbit would show up behind the long hind foot print by the way the feet land when the rabbit is running. For a bunch of kids, that was a huge revelation.

Occasionally we would have the pure life startled out of us by way of a flurry of quail launching from their protective covey circle. Once we got our heart beats back to normal we would search the brush pile as diligently as any crime scene investigator. We could see how the birds would nestle and swap places by the way the snow was embedded. Their three pronged footprints (four if you count the part in the back) may show a single file march if the snow had stopped falling.

We imagined the footprints of some wolf, coyote, or even dingo leading here and there. Yes, I know dingos are in Australia and not the United States and North Carolina, but we were kids after all. In fact, the only canine prints were more likely the result of a wandering pet rather than a snarling predator searching for small animals and little boys to eat. Of course, decades later, a wolf or coyote is not a fairy tale any longer and depending on the place you find tracks may be the most likely candidate.

It was not uncommon to scare up a red fox as well. It seems we did not have as many grey foxes back then, at least near home. The beautiful amber fur would show up nicely against the white background of snow covered thickets and fields. And the tracks were about the same as a house cat.

So, as we continue to get a few blasts of winter coming through, seize the moment. Go look and see what has been left behind from the creatures around us. It is an open world that we do not always notice.