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.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Deer Scout

Middle of July. The summer is pounding away with searing heat. The gnats, mosquitoes, and biting bugs are having a feast on you every time you go outside. But, the work must be done.

This is the prime time to get those cameras out in the fields and woods to see what may be hanging around. Deer season is less than two months away. Yes, only two months. It is imperative to start scouting if you have not already begun.

The deer are usually out in daylight, searching the fields for grazing spots on fresh soft vegetation. In the evening, they are even more plentiful. The bucks are not worried about what may be lurking and are gathered in their batchelor groups as they comb the areas for nutrients to help in the development of their growing headgear.

After all, hunters are not the only ones excited about seeing large antlers spreading from the skull of a deer. Bucks with the largest are the most dominant, and they want to establish themselves as the alpha in order to pick their choice of females later during the year.

As they are in feeding mode, the deer tend to stay in the area and make it home until the batchelor groups break up. Once that happens, the bucks will disperse and establish their own territories.

The secret is finding where the deer are. Look for tracks along the edges of fields and wood lines. This is where you set up the cameras. The deer are coming out there and heading straight for the food sources. Because this is not necessarily where you will hunt come opening day, you do not have to worry about finding the times they are coming through.

It does help to lay some type of attractant in front of the camera though. You do not want to catch the tail end of the deer walking to the field or hard angles where you cannot tell exactly how big the deer is. Corn remains the best way to stop a deer. Even if the deer does not stop and graze on the corn, it will be enough to slow him down and have him hang there for more than a few fleeting seconds, giving the camera time to do its job.

Things to be careful of are where the camera is set up in accordance with sunrise and sunset. A direct line towards the sunrise or sunset will ruin a shot, especially if using an infrared camera. Even the flash camera can be fooled and you end up with a dark shot or a completely white screen. For this reason, a north or south facing camera is best. But again, if there are no tracks near there, the camera will be useless. The only way to get a picture of a deer, is to have deer there.

After you check the images, you will have an idea of what has made it through another hunting season and you can start making a hit list. This will be when you fine tune where the camera is set up so you can catch the unexpecting giant on opening day. We will cover this set up in a later column as the season approaches.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reality of Getting a Story

Watching various documentaries on animals, hunting and fishing, one can become awestruck by the beauty of the photography and videography while listening to the voice over. Whether it was old television shows like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, or even current offerings such as River Monsters or any number of Shark Week presentations, someone had to get in position and do what most would not in order to get the shots that keep us glued to the screen.

I have heard people remark about how there was no way they would get as close as the hunter was to a charging Kodiak bear, yet they forget that there was another person, holding the camera trying to get the shot.

I follow a gentleman named Mike Eastman, who I believe is one of the premiere outdoors photographers. He continuously goes out and hunts for the photo. Each week he posts and displays samples in which he is hanging on the side of a thousand foot cliff so he can get a shot of two bighorn sheep ramming horns to establish dominance. Or it may be a grizzly staring directly at the camera after lifting his head with a mouth full of vegetation. And yes, it may be a shot of a mountain lion putting on a stalk of an unexpecting elk calf. Each case, he has put himself in harm’s way in order to pull off what most would consider a shot of a lifetime.

Daily, there are people such as he that do those same things in order to get the story or the photo, or both.

I am sharing this information to give you, the reader, an inside look at what has to happen in order to make the story interesting.

I recently was approved for a story regarding shark fishing on North Carolina’s coast in large part due to the national media’s coverage of the attacks. If things go right, and I can land the photo I want, it is possible to get the cover of the magazine as well. Magazine cover photos are a big deal for journalists and photojournalists and the pay reflects such.

Now the magazine does not want a hero shot of someone sitting on a shoreline holding a big shark. The magazine needs something that will reach out to the person at the newsstand and make them want to buy the magazine. There has to be action, but the photo has to tell a story.

So, for the shot, I need something like an underwater photo of the shark with the hook, bait, and line in the creature’s toothy jaws with the kayak angler’s silhouette above the out of focus water’s surface. There is only one way to make that happen. You have to have a camera under the water.

To set up the shot, we have to fish for sharks. We have to hook one that is large enough to garner that ‘wow’ effect. After fighting the shark for a bit, you have to tire him down to reduce the dangers of what happens next. Someone, me in this case, has to get into the now proven shark infested waters, get below the shark and angler, and compose the photo.

There is still more to it. Even though we may put ourselves in danger’s way, we still want to make it as safe as possible. For instance, while I am in the water trying to capture the shot, the angler is using gear a little heavier than what one would usually use. The reason? Just in case the shark is tempermental with a hook in his mouth and decides to make a beeline towards me, the angler will have a better chance of at least tightening the drag and making the fish turn with a good tug of the rod.

There is also a chance the shark could overturn the kayak. Well, if I am in the water and the angler ends up in the water too, we need someone else to help get the two of us out. For this reason there will be a boat tethered to the kayak and beside it with another person inside. The boat person can assist myself or the angler out of the water if things go south quickly.

This is just a little of the type of planning that goes into getting some nature shots of dangerous animals and dangerous locations. There are other precautions we have taken as well, but it does show what we will do for a story and accompanying photo or video.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Cecil the Lion

Cecil the lion was a popular and well loved attraction in a protected area in Hwange in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, Cecil no longer lives due to the callous actions of a hunter.

Or so it is made to appear.

Some of the details are yet to surface as of the time of this writing, so I can only go on what I have been able to read and deduce up to this point. As with anything, I encourage any that are interested in a story to thoroughly check things out themselves while making a decision on what to believe and not believe.

I have some second hand experience on African style hunts, mainly through my grandfather’s many overseas adventures. In fact, my grandfather hunted Zimbabwe (as both Zimbabwe and it’s former name Rhodesia) several times.

A typical African hunt consists of a professional hunter (called a PH) and hunting guides to assist a hunter who pays for the taking of an animal. The price tags are different based on the animal. An animal considered part of the Big Five (lion, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard, and cape buffalo) carry a premium and are often considered once in a lifetime hunts and the pinnacle of the African hunts. Papa was able to take each of the Big Five other than the lion.

Sometimes there is a reference to the Dangerous Six or the Big Six which includes one of Africa’s most dangerous animals, the hippopotamus. Taking each of the five or six animals is one of the greatest accomplishments of hunting Africa, if not the world.

Papa (the name given to my grandfather by all of us grandkids) once went out with a PH hunting a big cat. A male lion is difficult to hunt due mostly to finding one that would make a nice trophy. The mane is not always as beautiful and flowing as the talking lion in the grocery store commercials. Many times it is matted beyond repair or control, missing large chunks, or just ugly. Otherwise, a lion is a lion, laying around and doing little, especially the males.

The female does most of the work, while the alpha male hangs around to show he is boss. As with many species in which there is an alpha, if he dies, the new alpha will kill or run off any offspring from the deceased alpha. But, back to the story at hand.

Papa was hunting a big cat. After a long walk through the brush, the PH stopped Papa.

“Shhh. Can you hear that?”

Papa couldn’t hear anything. “I think there is one nearby. I can hear him breathing. Stay here,” the PH parlayed.

Papa was a wise man. Very wise. He only had a sixth grade education, but owned a very successful business and a sharp mind. He had hunted beasts throughout the world at this point, and had hunted Africa many times as well. Something didn’t seem right.

Papa continued forward anyway. He then noticed what he was beginning to suspect. In a cage, behind some large bushes, was a lion. Beside the cage were a couple of the PH’s guides waiting for the signal to release the lion. Papa refused to continue the hunt and flew back to the states.

But Papa was savvy. And even though Papa had hunted Africa many times, I cannot tell you for sure he would know certain boundaries in Africa. You have to rely on those in the know to a certain extent. I think this is what will end up being the issue with Cecil.

A dentist has now lost his practice due to death threats and constant protests after obtaining the proper permits to hunt what he thought was a legal hunt. He confesses he was lead astray unknowingly. The PH on the other hand has been called to court, and released on bail. Others in the party are also being questioned and held by the Zimbabwe government as the investigation continues forward.

As of this point, the hunter has not been called to question. Could the hunter have known he was doing something illegal? Sure. Did he? Time will tell. But I can say one thing that is almost a certainty. A hunter hates a poacher. We may very well find out the hunter was not the poacher, but instead was led by poachers unsuspectingly.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bill Howard Outdoors RETURNS

I have just noticed I haven't posted since July 10th. It is now October 1st. And I have written something each week.

I will have you bombarded with posts over the next couple of weeks as I catch up posting what I have written, and then hopefully it will all culminate with a very special story.

Stay tuned!