Thursday, September 29, 2016


My nephew loves asking questions. He especially loves asking advice and questions about hunting and fishing. Recently we had a conversation about climbing stands. You see, deer season is upon us, and if you bowhunt, you are using stands now, and if you gun hunt, you will be very soon. The best stand depends on how you plan on using it.
There are five basic types of hunting stands. They are the box stand, the tripod stand, the ladder stand, the climbing stand, and the lock-on stand. There are also variations of each, but we will stick with the five main types.
Both the box stand and tripod stand are free-standing types of stands. This means they can go up in the middle of a field away from trees or some other type of structure as they support themselves. They can be used in the open as mentioned, or they can be placed on the edge of a woodline for additional cover.
The box stand is essentially a small room supported off the ground by four or more legs. Basic box stands may just be a platform and a railing or four small walls. However, there are more elaborate box stands that can hold multiple people, have windows and doors, ventilation and I have even seen one with an air conditioner installed.
Box stands allow more movement inside as long as you can remain quiet, as the walls provide sight protection. They are wonderful for gun hunting and can even be used effectively with crossbows. They are also great for taking a new or young hunter as two or more people can hunt together. Because of height restrictions on many box stands, as well as difficult angles for downward shooting for deer, or bear even, that are close to the stand, bowhunting is much more difficult.
Tripod stands are similar to box stands in that they are self-supporting. A tripod is exactly what it sounds like. Three legs hold up a small platform, usually large enough for one person. There are usually rungs on one of the legs that act as a ladder for access to the top of the tripod stand. Because the tripod is less sturdy than a structure with four or more supporting legs, there is often a safety cable that comes straight down from the platform and attached to a ground embedded hook to assist with a firm sturdy support.
Tripod stands work well with gun hunting and crossbows, however depending on the size of the platform crossbows can be a challenge to cock. Tripod stands are usually built for only one person.
The ladder stand is essentially a ladder with a flat platform in which to sit. The ladder stand must be leaning against some type of structure which usually is a tree. The platform is fastened to the tree via a cable or chain that goes around the tree. Midway or lower there is an extension arm that also goes against the tree and another cable or chain is used to wrap around the tree to keep it taught.
There are ladder stands that allow for more than one hunter, but seldom more than two hunters. They can effectively be used while hunting with firearms or bows, and crossbows can be used as well if the crossbow is cocked prior to climbing the ladder stand.
Because ladder stands are attached to trees, they are popular for both woodlined fields or inside the woods near natural animal crossings and paths.
The climbing stand is one of the more difficult stands to master. It consists of two parts; a seat and a foot platform. A climbing stand requires a straight tree with no limbs up to the height desired. Climbing works by grasping the seat part while standing on the foot platform and raising it up the tree a few feet then sitting and clutching the foot platform with your feet and raising it a few feet. You continue to shimmey up the tree to the desired height. Things to be careful with a climbing stand include knowing the diameter of the tree is smaller at heights than at the base, the bark on the tree may give way causing a slide down, and always keep the foot platform attached to the sitting platform in some way so if you lose grip of the bottom it doesn’t get away from you.
Many climbing stands allow you to sit both facing the tree or away from the tree as well. Usually for gun hunters or crossbows sitting with your back to the tree is ideal. I personally like facing the tree when bowhunting as it provides cover between me and the deer in order to draw. And advantage of the climbing stand is it goes with you when you leave.
The last type is the lock-on stand. This is a single platform for one person that is strapped to a tree by cable or chain at the desired height. Usually climbing sticks are used to access the stand which is a type of ladder that is strapped up against the tree. If offers very little movement and can be attached for the season or taken with you. Both the climbing stand and lock-on stand are popular for hunters in public lands.
Choosing the right stand all depends on how you intend to hunt and where. All the types of stands require safety precautions as falling from a stand is the top danger for a hunter each year.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bow Season

Three hours after midnight is awfully early to rise from the bed. It feels even earlier when you achieved little sleep in anticipation of this day.
A quick shower and brushing of the teeth offered a little refreshment, but in all honesty, it was very little. The clothes were already pulled out. Long pants and long sleeves were the go-to choice of clothing. It wasn’t because it was cold, or even chilly for that matter, but because of the other purpose they were serving.
The camouflage pattern gives away the purpose. Lightweight and designed not much different than a form of netting, the purpose was to keep the body hidden while still allowing air to breathe through for warmer climates. Carbon was embedded to help trap bodily odors that were going to occur whether the person in the clothing could tell or not. Of course, the odors were not being trapped so people couldn’t smell them.
Deer have a heightened sense of smell. It has often been said if a deer had a turkey’s sense of sight, people would hardly ever spot deer in the wild due to the combined senses.
For several months, the trail cameras were taking pictures of a batchelor group of five bucks. Two were on the smallish size, likely year and half old each. Two were sporting typical eight point racks, with nicely curved main beams and a spread just to the ears. The other, well, he was what really drew interest.
The last remaining buck had some age. Along with the age, he had acquired wisdom. He always came into the field a little later than the other four. He always left a little earlier. Even though the trail cameras that were set up around the property were infrared, he knew they were there.
You could see him look at the camera in at least half the images that had him framed. But only a few showed his full body. He tended to stay just to the edge of what the camera could pick up in the dark of night. His eyes were bright, and occasionally you could see part of his crown of bone. The antlers grew throughout the summer and even in the early stages even a novice hunter could tell this was going to be a trophy.
He now sported eleven points. Five on one side and six on the other, with the extra point splitting just at the end of the main beam. The other side had a lump that was symmetrical with the other antler beam and its extra point.
The brow tines, the points that advanced straight up from the main beam right at the skull were long. One had a curl and the other remained straight.
In one of the few clear images, the buck could be seen with a sagging belly and a back that was beginning to sway. His age was telling on him well before the antlers began their new growth. He was consistent in coming to the field and feeding, but again, he knew when to come to the field.
The goal was to be in the stand by 4 a.m. This was a time when the batchelor group was on the other side of the field for the last few weeks. If the pattern held steady, they would be coming near the stand around 6 a.m. It would be a long dark sit, but in order to have a chance, this is what it would take.
Two days prior I poured some corn 20 yards from the stand. This was not so they would necessarily graze there. It was mainly to try and give them pause before entering the woods before daybreak.
This scenario will play out for a multitude of bowhunters on opening day. And the anxiety and excitement of the hunt just from typing this is nearly overwhelming. Are you ready?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Safe Opening Day

Can you believe it? Hunting season has arrived. Lead will be flying and birds will be falling.
Because new and experienced hunters will be spaced in fields throughout the state waiting for the dove to fly within range, safety becomes a necessary concern. Keeping the muzzle of the shotgun pointed in a safe direction is the number one rule of firearm safety when hunting dove. In order to keep the muzzle in a safe direction, there are several techniques that can help assure a safe and memorable hunt.
Many times when there is a youth or new hunter involved, and even just under normal circumstances, two hunters will station side by side. In fact, without the completion of a hunter’s safety class, a novice or youth hunter is required to hunt beside a licensed hunter. This is so the experienced hunter can quickly correct the inexperienced hunter in case of a mistake.
Mistakes while hunting can have deadly consequences. You do not get a do-over.
The first thing to do is establish safe zones in which to fire. Sitting side by side, the left hunter takes everything from their left and straight in front of him. The right hunter takes the shot anywhere from straight in front over toward their right.
But there are other concerns to always be wary of. Whether hunting in pairs or sitting alone, if you are hunting on opening day there is likely to be other hunters all around. Because of this, there may be hunters located in the safe zone that we just established. A hunter may be somewhere in front or behind of you.
A low flying bird can make one forget about that. We always knew ‘low bird’ meant do not shoot. We shared that information with those around us. That way we knew we would be able to hunt another day.
We made sure that those around us knew not only where we were located, but where we were facing. It served two purposes. I could yell to a hunter down the way from me where a bird was located so he could both prepare to take a shot as well as be aware of where other hunters were likely to shoot from.
An experienced hunter often does the things without even thinking about it. But even experienced hunters need to take safety precautions further than just habit.
Back to the scenario where we have two hunters beside each other in the field; a new hunter and an experienced hunter. Youth hunters usually begin with shotguns in 16 or 20 gauges. Most experienced hunters rely on the 12 gauge shotgun. There is one problem with this that can easily result in a safety issue and this one particular case has nothing to do with where the muzzle is pointed.
The 12 gauge and 20 gauge shotguns share a unique feature. The 20 gauge shotgun shell is smaller in diameter than a 12 gauge shell. However, the 20 gauge shotgun shell fits perfectly into a 12 gauge shotgun. It just doesn’t fit the way you want it to. A 20 gauge shell will slide from the chamber down the barrel of a 12 gauge and lodge slightly down the barrel.
In the heat of the action when birds seem to darken the sky, an unknowing grab of a shell from the wrong box can result in catastrophe. Picture the hunter with the 12 gauge emptying the magazine and more birds are coming near. He quickly grabs a few shells, and drops one on the ground. He fumbles around trying to feel the shell while keeping an eye on the approaching birds and finds the third shell.
He quickly reloads his weapon and then fires quickly at one of the birds. As he marks one that falls, he reloads once again. After finding his downed bird, he returns to his seat and the next wave of dove come through. As he pulls the trigger there is a loud explosion. The barrel is shredded between his forward hand and his face.
The shell he picked up off the ground happened to be a 20 gauge shell and during the action he believed he had fired and ejected all the shells. After the next reload, the first shot was a 12 gauge shell which when fired had nowhere to allow the explosion to escape. So it made its own exit. Beside the hunter’s face.
Safety is the top concern when going hunting, not what time the sun comes up or where the birds may roost or what sides will be available for the pig pickin’ at lunch. Safety has a number one rule, which is keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, but it is not the only rule.
Stay safe and make opening day memorable.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Gun Basics

Dove season is upon us. The fields will be full of hunters spaced intermittently throughout. The skies will be blotted with fast moving birds looking for places to roost or feed.
In a continuing focus on safety, especially during a time when many young hunters, well, cut their teeth on not only hunting but participating in shooting sports, I think it is important to share some of the basics.
I have been asked many times on which firearm is the best for different types of hunts. If you were to poll each hunter as they entered the field on opening day, the overwhelming consensus would be the 12 gauge. However, it may not be the best choice.
There are other factors that need to be taken into account. For instance, the choke, the shot, the bird patterns all will determine the best setup for a particular hunt. Even the hunter’s technique will be important.
My dad is the best wing shooter I have ever witnessed. There is a reason for it. He is very patient during the hunt. If there is a bird that is borderline out of range, he simply does not shoot.
Think of a center in basketball. His odds of making a basket at the rim are much higher than having him shoot three pointers. Dad simply waits for his shot. And by doing so his shot to kill ratio is much greater. He rarely needed more than a box of shells to get a limit during a hunt.
One of my favorite guns is an old Ithaca 20 gauge my granddad passed down to me. Papa used it to quail hunt back when he was young. The old side-by-side had a shortened barrel and an open choke. He made it that way so when the quail erupted from the brush the shot expanded quickly making a large hit area.
As I was learning how to hunt, that Ithaca was always with me. I was a decent shot, but for some reason that I didn’t understand at the time, I had trouble bringing down birds with it. You see, I would shoot way too far for the range of that sawed-off double barrel.
A few years ago, my oldest son was going through the same issues. He handed me the shotgun and the next five birds that flew by were all dropped. My son was shooting too far effectively opening up too large of a pattern to either hit the dove or place enough shot in the bird to bring it down. This is the same son who I watched shoot a perfect 25 for 25 in trap with a 12 gauge a couple years later.
Just as the choke of the shotgun can determine efficiency, the size shot also matters in whether you walk away with a bird or not. The 7 ½ shot is now a popular shot and is found readily in many box stores. I always preferred the 9 shot. Why? Because there are more total shot in the 9 even though the shot are smaller.
With my style of shooting, I am able to hit and bring down a bird easier with the smaller shot. Shooting long distance, which you see a lot during opening day of dove season, especially if the birds are flying high, the larger shot is more effective though.
It is up to the hunter to determine what is the best fit. If you are patient enough to wait for the bird to be on top of you, the 20 gauge with as open a choke as possible is a fine choice. If you prefer to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more while stretching your distance, the 12 gauge with a tighter choke may work out best.
But that is part of the fun in hunting. Learning, shooting, understanding bird patterns as well as how your firearm and you work together all adds up to the complete experience.
Just remember to keep that muzzle aimed in a safe direction.

Friday, September 23, 2016

First Rule of Gun Safety

Once upon a time I was a hunter education instructor. Each year I would volunteer so many hours educating young and old, new and experienced in the heritage, techniques, and reasons for hunting. It was a very rewarding experience.
Duncan, my partner in the courses, and I would meet with our wildlife officer Daniel after the last class and discuss how we felt the class went. Did we fail in any scenario? What were our strong points that the class really latched on to? What will we continue to do the same for future classes and what would we alter so as to help certain things sink in?
Yes, we took it seriously. Not seriously enough where we couldn’t get a smile and a laugh out of the class. We had to keep it fun and interesting rather than just a monotone lecture. We wanted our students to enjoy the class as well as learn from it.
However, once hunting season started, we could just about count on something happening after the first night of class where we could really bring something that hit home with the students. It is not the way we wanted to teach it; we preferred for these incidents not to occur.
The incidents were not with students in our class, but rather incidents that occurred during hunting season that we could report. For instance, one year an uncle and nephew were hunting dove. They sat beside each other in the field. When a bird crossed in front of then, one of the hunters stood up to shoot while the other remained sitting. The one sitting accidently shot the one standing up as he swept the muzzle of the shotgun along the dove’s flight path.
These stories were sobering. But Duncan and I felt we could turn a positive lesson from an unfortunate occurrence.
One question appears on the test several times in different forms. It regards the number one rule in firearm safety.
If you do not know, please heed the following advice. NEVER POINT THE MUZZLE OF A FIREARM IN AN UNSAFE DIRECTION.
We would repeat it nightly over the three evening course. We would repeat it four, five and six times during a single night. It is that important.
You see, if the muzzle if pointed in a safe direction, the odds quickly diminish to an injury or death. An accidental discharge will cause no harm other than a jump of the heart and maybe some slight property damage.
When Duncan and I would go in depth on the rules of safety, our demeanor would change. Duncan would usually stand to the side of the room. I would sit on top of the desk in front of the class. My head would bow as I began my story.
I am in my upper 40’s and have had very few in my high school class die. Our first one to do so was one of my best friends in high school. He went into law enforcement with the state.
I explained that he had received his dream job as that is what he wanted to do. He was also a newlywed. He respected people and he respected firearms. I had never seen him handle one in a way to prove something. No testosterone moments where that machismo had to show.
Then one night, after work, he sat down in his recliner. I pulled his sidearm from the harness. He dropped the magazine. He wiped down the firearm to clean it from the oils and moisture that can attach to the metal. And somehow, in an instant, the trigger was pressed just enough to activate the firing pin. In turn, the pin struck the one bullet that was accidently left in the chamber which set off the chain reaction that ultimately left him dead.
Even as I type this tears come to my eyes. Just as they did each time I told that story to the different classes over the years.
It was and is my one way to make something positive from that one moment of lapsed thinking that caused an officer, a man, a husband, and a friend his life.
In a few weeks we will have young and old and new and experienced hunters sharing the fields across the state in what has become a tradition amongst hunters. Do not let there be a moment that can be used as a lesson in a class on safety. We have plenty of those stories to tell already.
Never point the muzzle of a firearm in an unsafe direction. Never.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

QDM (Quality Deer Management)

Opening day of bow season for whitetail deer is nearing and like any hunter, past adventures begin to dance in my head. A little less than a year ago I experienced opening day in Texas hunting with a  childhood friend that lives there now.
Bobby owned a good number of acres of land and had enticed me several times to come visit. A business trip in Houston and Austin allowed the opportunity. Once I got there, I knew Bobby was proud of what he had accomplished there.
Bobby put a lot of effort in managing the deer population on his property and nearby properties. He established proper food areas, natural water sources, and the area was ideal for cover as well. Bobby made sure certain nutrients were plentiful to assist in developing a strong and healthy herd.
The results were astonishing. The deer grew with large bodies, beautiful antler growth on the males, and the doe to buck ratio was ideal for keeping a herd thriving. The deer grew to four and five years old with no issues. Compared to North and South Carolina, where a three-year-old buck is considered ancient, you can see how he was enjoying success in his endeavors.
The result was an amazing hunt. In one morning I saw more eight point and larger bucks as I had seen in my lifetime in North Carolina. Bobby had named each buck and knew when one hadn’t been around in a while as well as when a newcomer had joined the property. Cameras were set in various locations where the deer would frequent.
Bobby had managed and was managing his land and its resources properly.
Lessons in proper wildlife management do not come without failures though. In obtaining the knowledge we have now, there were many tough and detrimental results to what was thought at the time to be correct practices.
For instance, we once believed in order to manage a deer population properly that does should not be harvested. The resulting circumstances left the state with an overabundance of does, few quality bucks, and a huge population increase. Why? Because one buck can mate with many females. Then when the hunters went out, even when does became legal, the hunters were still looking for the big trophy to put on the wall.
We have learned lessons from other species as well. One story I used to share was with quail population and repopulation. A group set up what was thought to be ideal habitat for quail in the middle of a large farm. The natural habitat area had food the quail would eat, a water source, and they could use the cover of the small plants there.
After setting out the birds and waiting for a month, the group came back to survey the health of the newly established quail population. What they came to find out was there were no longer any quails, however there were owls and other birds of prey spotted nearby, raccoons and foxes had taken over the cover, and they were left bewildered.
Then it dawned on them. By setting the quail habitat in the middle of the farm, they had essentially placed a buffet table for the other creatures nearby, which in turn had taken all the quail. It had become apparent the habitat needed to be along the edges of the farmland and near naturally wooded areas to allow the coveys not only a place of cover, but a place to escape from predators.
The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) was established in 1988 with the purpose of using the past lessons in wildlife management to help people, groups and agencies in developing and establishing quality deer herds. The successes have been abundant regardless of the area of the country.
Bobby, and any of his guests can attest to it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It's that Time of Year

Do you know what time it is? No, not where the hands on the clock are located that indicates the daily travels of the sun overhead. I am referring to what time of year it is.
Yes, it is hot and feels like the Earth has bounced in its orbit towards the nuclear powered celestial orb that emits heat that is nearly unbearable. But in just a few weeks, we have a whole new season. Again, I am not necessarily referring to something based on the Earth’s position along its orbital path either.
I am referring to hunting season!
Are you ready? I am getting there. I actually am getting a late start to getting ready, but I am trying to catch up quickly.
First comes dove season. The annual celebration that is all but a national holiday. In fact, a national holiday is positioned perfectly beside opening day of dove season.  Birds, birds and more birds. That is what we want to see.
It will be hot. After all, the other season is still going on, summer that is. There will be bugs. Gnats will stick to our arms, necks, legs and faces due to the amount of sweat we will be pouring as we suffer through the plague of worrisome and aggravating miniature pests and heat. Mosquitos will threaten us with Zika or some other potential disease in which we will likely just receive an itching and maybe swollen bite mark along with a quick slap of either our hand or someone else’s hand nearby.
But it will be worth it. We get to hunt. We get to shoot. We get to have our annual duty of cleaning a little over a dozen birds each in order to wrap some bacon around the breasts of something that nature provided to us for a food source that happens to be downright tasty.
If we are lucky, we get to approach it as a marriage; you know, something old, something new. Maybe we get to hunt with someone new, or with a new shotgun we have been anxious to test. Maybe we get to teach and mentor a new hunter and show them not only the techniques to hunt in a safe manner, but also the techniques to make quick and ethical shots and an enjoyment and skill that will last a lifetime.
Maybe we will get to embrace the old part as well. Taking a parent, uncle or aunt, or even a grandparent for a hunt that will always be remembered with fondness. Maybe we will bring out that old 16 gauge that hasn’t seen a hunting day for decades, or the old side-by-side 20 gauge that has been handed down in the family generation to generation.
Maybe we get to carry an old companion that may be on his or her last hunt. You know, the one that sleeps at the foot of your bed, lays with you in the recliner, and begs for you table scraps during dinner because you sneak some down in one hand when your wife turns her attention elsewhere. The one who has been faithful and loving more than any human could be. The mutt, the registered purebred, or the immaculate bloodline of field trial champions, whether they behave perfectly in the field or not, your dog will likely be even more excited than you for that one more hunt.
Yes, it is that time of year. The time of year that leads into the rest of hunting season. Deer, bear, goose, and duck all become fair game one after the other as the days march by.
It is that time of year. I am ready. Are you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mountain to Sea Trail

While out with the kids in the mountains, specifically the rim of the Linville Gorge, we came across no less than seven distinct long distance hiking parties. The first thought from the kids were they were out looking for Pokemon characters along the trail leading away from Table Rock Mountain.
While the newest craze is getting people out in droves walking and wandering combining social media, smart phone apps and the outdoors (did we finally come up with something that gets kids outside again?), I knew Pokemon Go was not the reason for these groups hiking along with backpacks, tents and sleeping bags.
The Mountain to Sea Trail, commonly abbreviated to MST, was officially given status by North Carolina’s General Assembly nearly 16 years ago, August 2, 2000 to be exact. The trail has since been a popular destination and through-fare for hikers not only in North Carolina but the Southeastern United States.
Beginning at Clingman’s Dome on the North Carolina/Tennessee border and traversing in a zig zag fashion across the state ending at the highest sand dune in the Eastern United State, Jockey’s Ridge, the MST also boasts the distinction of being the highest trail east of the Mississippi as it crosses Mount Mitchell at 6684 feet above sea level.
The trail has some unique features that offer a variety of challenges and accomplishments. Specifically, it has alternate routes along the way.
Part of the trail runs roadside in various areas. Another alternate route runs along the Neuse river. Because of this, a different experience of traversing the whole of North Carolina can be had by biking the road sections and kayaking or canoeing the Neuse river portion. Consider it the ultimate triathlon.
What is really fascinating is what sections of the state the MST encompasses, though. Leading from Clingman’s Dome, a portion of the trail is also part of the Appalachian Trail, which is the most hiked US trail for long distance hikers. The trail weaves through the mountains towards the already mentioned Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain in the eastern United States. It then follows part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is and has been the most visited unit of the National Park System every year since 1946 except for two years.
Leaving the Parkway, the trail then meanders towards the Linville Gorge, also known as the Grand Canyon of the East, and runs along the western rim. It next encounters Grandfather Mountain State Park as it continues northward (as starting from the west and heading towards the east).
A few more unique landmarks occur along the way as it sends the hiker by Stone Mountain, Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock, with beautiful stone outcrops that make picturesque landscapes. At this point the MST begins a series of watershed hikes eventually leading to the Falls Lake area near the Triangle.
This also marks the first of alternate routes. The first alternate route leads around Wake Forest, through Wilson County, between Kinston and Goldsboro and eventually to New Bern before rejoining the common trail.
The second alternate route begins in Clayton with the Neuse River portion of the trail that is a paddler’s paradise. A paddle down the Neuse and eventually the Pamlico rejoins the main common trail at the same location as the other alternate trail.
The main trail however, takes you further south around White Lake and towards the first encounter with the Atlantic at Surf City and then northward towards North Topsail beach before breaking back inland to Jacksonville.
After rejoining the two alternate routes, the trail leads to the outer banks from Cedar Island to Ocracoke and along the entire expanse until terminating at Jockey’s Ridge.
Six people have reported completing the MST so far in 2016, and 68 have reported finishing the trail from start to finish since its inception. A full thru-hike, as it is called when attempting to hike the trail from start to finish in one trip, may take as long as three to four months, but sections can be hiked and stitched to complete the full trail as well.
And due to the nature of the nearly 1100 mile trek, it is easy to find at least a portion of the trail nearby to plan a day or weekend trip.
You can find out more about the Mountain to Sea trail at

Monday, September 19, 2016

Shark Seeking

I was reminded through social media flashbacks that one year ago I was on the hunt. My prey is considered one of the fiercest beasts on the planet.
I have hunted dangerous game before. A herd of American bison turning and charging can be a stressful moment when you realize there is very little to hide behind on the open prairie and they can reach speeds of 35 mph. And their nickname of the thunder beast doesn’t help as you feel the ground shake, a large cloud of dust and a deafening rumble of hooves growing increasingly louder.
Going after a large tom mountain lion while on horseback in some of the roughest country on the planet isn’t a picture of serenity either. Knowing the lion can bring down you and a horse in moments is always on your mind. And when you double back and see lion prints in your tracks you suddenly realize you were not hunting, the cat was.
Then of course, there is one of the country’s great reptilian monsters. The American alligator lurking just beneath the surface with a mouth of full of teeth able to take a grown man under water into a violent spin without giving that man time to realize what had just happened. Sweeping a light across the surface of the swamp is bad enough with the eerie sounds calling from the dark. Even the ever changing shadows that bring up night terrors from the same light is not the scariest thing. It is definitely the red glowing demonic eyes peeking along the surface getting closer and closer without you even realizing until it is too late.
But none of these were the dangerous creature I was seeking. No my goal was to tangle with something even more terrorizing.
In the 70s one of the most iconic movie posters ever released spoke of the terror. A lone swimmer centered along the top. Below, the depth is not given, but the triangular snout with a mouth the size of the swimmer and so many teeth that rows and rows of them are present in order to fit them all in.
Of course the movie is Jaws and the monster below is a shark.
While I wasn’t after the great white, I was after something big. I wasn’t alone. An experienced captain was tagging along as well as another friend. And for whatever reason, I was prepared to get in the water during the catch once we hooked on.
We had some excitement early on. We hooked into something that was giving a good fight; stripping line on the large reel with no effort. As we tired it down playing with the drag, we eventually landed a large stingray. Nice fight but it was the wrong creature.
Then we had something hit one of the baits hard. By hard, I mean it was relentless and quick. The backbone of the pelagic rod doubled. The 80-pound line was running at such a pace the reel had no hope of gaining the upper hand. The drag could not be set hard enough as it continued to strip line.
As a last ditch attempt to turn the battle in our favor, the drag was turned as tight as it could be. The rod let up and the line went limp. The fish, the big shark as we believe, had taken several hundred yards of line in less than a minute. We had nothing to show for it. We not only couldn’t get a glimpse of what attacked our bait, but we couldn’t even get it to turn direction.
Such is the nature when dealing with something whose only purpose is to find food no matter how big it is. And after a few attacks already this year and the news of a friend catching an 11-foot tiger shark surf fishing, we are planning on the attempt once again.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Rules of the Water

As I love to do this time of year, I packed the kayak and headed to the coast. I was actually going for work reasons, but figured I may as well bring the kayak along since the commercial photoshoot would only take a few hours.
The storms brewed and dumped massive amounts of rain in a typical summer microburst manner. It only delayed the inevitable though. There would still be fishing.
Because I was shooting in Wilmington, I made my way to the boat ramp at Wrightsville Beach and put in there. There were not many trucks and trailers at the ramp. I have seen days when you would need to park over a mile away but with the storm that just passed and it being a week day, it appeared the boats either never went out or came in early.
The weaving waterways are popular for both big boats that head out to deeper oceanic waters, inshore and nearshore fishermen, jetskis and kayaks and paddleboards. In fact, over the last three years I have never been there and not seen multiple paddleboarders standing on the surface of the salt water.
I try to be careful when I am in these types of waterways. Whether in a boat, on a jetski, or paddling the sit-on-top, the last thing I want to do is get in the way of others. There is a good reason to do so.
But on this afternoon, I noticed two paddleboarders working the middle of the canal. I had given pause as a 28-foot fishing boat was coming in from the Masonboro Inlet. The paddleboarders continued their pace, up until the moment the fishing boat began blaring the horn.
I have seen this around the port at Morehead City as well. Not with paddleboarders, as this is not about a particular type of technique that a person uses. The port wall is a popular place to bottom fish with the gray trout, sheepshead, croaker, spot, black sea bass and other species that dwell in the 50 feet deep water.
There are also large ships and barges that use the basin for shipping and work. Tugs are docked and constantly move other boats and barges and dredging platforms in and around the water. Another of my favorite places to fish from the kayak, but I must always be on alert of my surroundings and what is going on.
You see, on the water, the biggest boats have the right of way. You cannot expect a tug boat with a barge in front of it to maneuver around small anchored fishing boats. The smaller boats have to be on the lookout when anchored, trolling, or moving in general. Not only is it etiquette, it is law.
Really small vessels such as paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks such as the one I use, while not as fast as the larger boats and ships, can maneuver quicker as well as travel in just inches of water. We do not have to think about obstacles underneath.
The larger vessels do. They have to stay in certain channels. While the vessel may be able to turn quickly in open deep water, they cannot do so in these other locations.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


When I was little, this time of year would bring a sense of excitement. The neighborhood kids (my neighborhood consisted of about a square mile or two of rural homes in the country) would all gather at my cousin’s house and declare residency at his pool. Curfews were no longer in effect as long as you walked in the house quietly when you got home. And we would take our annual trip to the beach.
We seldom would stay somewhere like Atlantic Beach or Emerald Isle or Topsail Island. They were much too busy. We would stay near Elizabeth City, Manteo, Swan Quarter or Hobucken. Places where unless you were from near there, you would never recognize.
I was allowed to bring a friend on the beach trips, as I was an only child, and my parents were much better off if I had someone else to divert attention towards. We would stay in hotels that had never heard of a star rating, and they had some sort of boat ramp access either on premises or nearby.
Dad had a map book that showed drop-offs in the water that he would study weeks prior so we could find just the right spot to drop a line or six. We didn’t have internet back then, nor forums in which you could ask people the best places to go. You either shared information verbally with someone you knew that would fish there or you would buy one of a couple of magazines that had fishing reports.
Bobby was usually my partner in crime when we would head to one of these outposts. We fished together more than I have anyone else in this lifetime. If we were not fishing it was because one of us was grounded, we were cutting grass, or it was raining and even then we would try to find a way to go to Rose’s and see what lures we wanted to add to the collection. Heck, we even tried taking different plastic worms, cutting them in two, and then melting them back together with different tails so we could have our own custom color combinations.
On the trips to the coast, we only used one type of outfit for fishing though. We used a simple double drop rig with a three-ounce pyramid weight. Baited on the two hooks would be two pieces of shrimp, usually torn in to two pieces, unless Dad wasn’t looking in which Bobby would put a full shrimp on each hook.
Fishing that way was and is similar to throwing a cricket or earthworm on a hook in fresh water. There will eventually be a bite. For whatever reason God intended, there are fish everywhere. And at some point and time, they will find your bait. And when they did back then, the action usually on stopped because Dad would say “reel ‘em in, it’s time to go home.”
The usual fish that would grab on were spot, kingfish or mullet as they are also called, an occasional flounder, and many, many croakers. Croakers were always my favorite simply because of the frog like sound they would make out of the water. It is also where they derived their name. Of course, another reason they were a favorite is because once they started biting, you never finished bringing them in the boat. It was almost like they gave birth deep in the depths, the babies crew up instantly and a whole new school would start attacking the hook embedded shrimp.
Everyone deserves days like that. Days in which the sun shines, the water has gentle rolls, and the fish never stop biting. There is no time to think of what else was going on in the world, no arguments and conflicts, just a battle of who could grab the next piece of shrimp and put it on the hook so another fish could be brought in. Yes, that is what everyone deserves.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Pond

There used to be two things you could count on during the summer when I was growing up, well, at least once we had cable television installed. Yes, I am of the generation where I can remember getting our first phone, still having black and white television sets, getting cable, getting the first computer in school, and only knowing a few people who had ‘car phones’ because the service was only available in Raleigh.
But enough about my age, and back to the two things you could count on during the summer. My step grandmother, affectionately called ‘Ma’, would always be watching the Atlanta Braves on TBS and she would always go fishing down by the pond.
The pond was a special place for us growing up. We had two rules at the pond. The first was you could only keep a fish if you were going to eat it or mount it. The second rule was there was never, ever any fishing on Sunday at the pond.
My friends and I regularly held bass tournaments there. The fishing was easy, the fish were big, and we learned the patterns the fish would fall for each year. Some days I would go fishing three times with three different sets of friends depending on who had to go back home and when. I was already home, so the pond and I would get to spend the entire day together.
I caught my first fish in the pond. A very unlucky bream that happened to get hooked by a big plastic hook on a play rod and reel set that was either purchased at Rose’s, Cook’s, King’s or Nichol’s. I can’t remember for sure which one it was, but I do know if it had to do with fishing or Star Wars figurines, they were the places to go.
We had the regular group come over on the bikes. Bobby, Scott, Mark, Mike, Pat, Brent, Vince, Johnny, yes, we would all fish the pond. The fish would always bite. The fish were big. The fish would always return for another catch another day. It is how we grew up.
A simple, little pond meant so much to so many and the lessons learned there would carry on to our kids. We all have grown up and gone our separate ways, but whenever we see each other it is as if we had just been together the day before. Some of us are no longer here, as time unfortunately is limited for our lives. But the memories carry on.
Yes, a simple little pond was at the source of those friendships. It wasn’t necessarily the reason we had those friendships, but it was as much a part of the memories of those friendships as baseball, scouts, and school.
We went to the reservoirs and lakes and rivers as we grew older. The fishing was never quite the same. The fishing was harder, the fish were not quite as big, and the two rules didn’t exist there. We didn’t all fish together. Our lives changed. The memories are still important but do not consist of the same fondness as that pond did.
Perhaps that is why the introduction to a show such as Andy Griffith portrayed Andy and Opie walking alongside the old fishing pond. The pond possesses a different feeling.
I ran into one of my old neighborhood friends the other night. We talked about baseball and fishing. We reminisced about the good old days.
You know, Ma, Elsie as I called her when I was older, probably had life figured out. During the summer it is hard to beat a day fishing at the pond and watching baseball.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Peace from the Outdoors

I recently finished a piece for a magazine article on the benefits of the outdoors for stress reduction and peace of mind. More specifically, since the article was geared more towards kayaking, it mostly dealt with kayak fishing and the good that comes from it.
All of us have those moments when stress from family life, financial obligations, to-do lists for both home and work, and the feeling as though you are underappreciated and over-obligated can carry us to the point of great anxiety or even, unfortunately, to the breaking point. It usually culminates where we become the bad guy. You know, we are the ones that are the total jerk as we lash out over something minor because of all the other major burdens.
The article dealt specifically with the Heroes on the Water organization, a non-profit group whose primary purpose is to assist returning soldiers to relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors. One chapter is based in the foothills of North Carolina.
A study into the program showed that it does actually work. Soldiers dealing with lack of sleep, as in two hours or less during the night due to traumatic stress were shown to have a 60% reduction in re-experiences and sleep increased to five hours or more after engaging in the activity.
There was also a 63% drop in avoidance of family and friends and other social activities after learning and participating in kayak fishing. Avoidance is when the person can become caught up in self thought that can be harmful causing depression. Other benefits were also noted as well.
While the study gave numerical data to the activity, it is something we already knew, whether with kayak angling, shore fishing, hunting, or even hiking as the activity. The outdoors helps us rejuvenate and reinvigorate. It helps bring clarity to an otherwise muddled world.
It is something we all need. We do not have to be a combat warrior returning from a tour of death and destruction to appreciate it. We can be dealing with stress, albeit on a much different level than our returning heroes, by being a secretary, a restaurant manager, a technician or even a stay-at-home mom.
The outdoors does not discriminate. It does not care what our gender, race, or political affiliation is. It heals regardless. All it takes is for us to commit to experience it. Sometimes that is the hardest part though.
With all the things we have going on in our lives, it seems like a simple paddle, sit in the stand, or walk with the dog in the woods is a burden. Yet it is the relief of the real burdens, and we have to realize that.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Heroes on the Water

Many people use paddling sports as a way to come to peace with nature and themselves. It is an activity that offers relaxation and serenity away from the abuses of our everyday busy worlds.
Perhaps it has never been more evident than from the results of an organization’s efforts to help our returning military veterans re-adjust to life back home.
Heroes on the Water (HOW) is a national non-profit organization with the mission to help warriors relax, rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors. HOW has chapters throughout the country including here in North Carolina.
Essentially, HOW provides instruction and access for military personnel to the use of kayaking and paddling and fishing. By learning the skills of both kayaking and fishing, it provides a peaceful activity that offers the peace that our veterans and active service members need in order to readjust to normal everyday lives.
One person labeled the results from the Heroes on the Water program as ‘triple therapy.’ Rather than having to pursue occupational therapy, physical therapy and mental therapy, the HOW program offered occupational therapy by means of learning a lifetime activity and skill, physical therapy from the benefits of paddling and fishing, and mental therapy from relaxing in nature with no distractions or expectations of performance.
‘Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him forever.’ Never has this been more true, yet with even more added benefits.
Troy University conducted a study over an 18-month period on alternative forms of therapy for individuals who faced traumatic experiences. The study showed that after learning and participating in kayak angling, the soldiers were more inclined to get out and participate on a regular basis rather than stay solitary in an environment that allowed one’s mind to re-enact stressful scenarios.
Numerical results showed 56% less stress was experienced by the participants after participating in these outdoors activities.
Those that incurred sleep deprivation resulting in approximately two hours each night due to highly traumatic experiences showed restful sleep intervals increase to five hours or more with a 60% decrease in nightmares, night terrors and re-experiences.
The kayak angling community has long been known as a tight-knit community. The bonding aspect of kayak angling resulted in a 63% decrease in avoidance of family and comrades giving the participant healthy social interaction.
Heroes on the Water is not just a one-time event either. Between the paddling and fishing clinics, guided and semi-guided trips with both professional guides and non-professional kayak angling enthusiasts, and the ability to bond with fellow friends and comrades to participate in the sport together at any time, HOW allows a constant and lifetime ability to further re-associate with the world without the limitations that traumatic stress incurs.
Matthew Frazier leads the local foothills chapter in North Carolina and can be found on Facebook by searching Heroes on the Water-Foothills North Carolina Chapter.
Brett Hinson, founder and owner of Carolina Custom Rods is also running a raffle to help provide funding to the chapter by offering a custom made rod. The rod is a 6’8” cobalt blue Batson Eternity blank with a Batson Alps MVT smoke colored reel seat. It has Batson Alps micro guides in smoke color and a split cork grip with a black butt cap. Retail on the rod would exceed $500.00
You can email for both raffle information, or information on how to participate or help. You can also find more information at

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Grey Trout - North Carolina Sportsman Column June 2016

***  This was first run in NC Sportsman Magazine June 2016  ***

Several years ago I was on one of my first attempts to kayak fish along the coast. I chose not to go too far away from land as I was still gaining my confidence in the stability of the craft. I kept the fishing simple, using a double drop bottom rig commonly used in bottom fishing for croaker and spot.
That particular trip I was catching a vast assortment of species on cut shrimp and bloodworms. Strange creatures of the deep such as oyster toadfish and lizard fish were hooking up. Of course, pinfish and sea mullet and pufferfish were plentiful, but in the mix I would occasionally bring in a gag grouper or some other unexpected entry as well.
One particular hit proved interesting. The fish hit with a quick series of pops and then bent the rod over. I thought maybe I had hooked into another toadfish, something that deserved to stay on the bottom. The strength of the fish was pretty good but it did not make the run I would have from a small shark for instance. I managed to keep the line tight without overpowering the fish.
Once the fish neared the surface I could make out a long body. I reached for the net from beneath the kayak seat and in doing so allowed the line to go slack. That was all it took for the fish to make its getaway.
Since that time I have become enamored with a certain species. Its cousin is much more sought after by both boat anglers and kayak anglers along the coast. After all, the speckled trout, once found, can be easy pickings. Speckled trout also have larger creel limits.
The grey trout, or weakfish as it is also called, has its own merits as well.
The weakfish lives in a different habitat than the speckled trout, preferring deeper and cooler waters. They also school like the speckled trout, but the schools are not as large in numbers or size.
The speckled trout can be found chasing schools of baitfish, especially in small inlets of shallow water where the baitfish cannot escape. Because of this, the speckled trout is commonly targeted at the same time as red drum and can be sight casted.
The greys are harder to locate. Because they dine in the deep, it pays to have a fish finder on board the kayak. The search is not necessarily looking for the trout themselves, but rather the schools of baitfish. If you can find the baitfish, you can the fish the prey on the baitfish. The grey trout is one of those predators.
When grey trout are feeding, you can bring them in on a variety of baits. The common bottom rig baited with cut shrimp will catch them. The problem is there are so many other fish the grey trout has to beat the pinfish, pigfish, croaker, spot, sea mullet, puffer and everything else to the bait. For this reason, it is best to use something that will weed out the other potential catches when targeting the weakfish.
A popular choice is a jig head with a buck tail and grub bouncing near the bottom. Even with this though, the pinfish will try to eat the grub tail.
Another, and my favorite is a Stingsilver. Depending on the current and wind, the weight will vary in order to keep it on the bottom. Stingsilvers come in multiple weights and also with and without buck tails.
I like to keep a variety at hand when going after grey trout. For example, on a recent trip I was having little success with a silver Stingsilver. I swapped over to one with a buck tail and still, the only thing I was catching were black sea bass (all under sized). I was about to move on to another area when my bottom rig took a good hit. I reeled in a 14 inch grey trout on a piece of shrimp. The rule is, if there is one trout, there are many, yet I wasn’t catching any on the Stingsilvers. The shrimp was not a good bait because of all the other competitors.
I then switched to a red and white Stingsilver. I dropped the lure to the bottom and on the bounce I felt a hit. Sure enough, there was another grey trout, this one 12 inches long. For the next 30 minutes I probably brought in 20 more weakfish mixed with a few black sea bass. All but one of the trout were legal size to keep.
North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries currently has a creel limit of one weakfish per day and it must be over 12 inches in length. If you plan on keeping one for a future meal, but want to keep the largest you can land, make sure you have a way of keeping the fish living. I have used float baskets attached to an anchor trolley on one side of the kayak.
Also, the fish gets the name weakfish due to the soft nature of the fish’s mouth. No need to set a hard hook. A lift of the rod is often all you need to embed the hook in the lips. When landing, a rubber net is the preferred method. Lifting the fish with rod, hook and line may tear the lip to the point of losing the fish.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Surviving the Elements

The sky was a perfect slate of brilliant blue. The temperature was expected to be in the upper 80’s. Winds were blowing from the east around nine miles per hour. The water was slightly choppy, but the waves were not high and the current was moderate. Yes, the day presented itself well for fishing from a kayak on the coast.
The fish had a history of biting over the last couple of weeks, and I was anticipating the same results. But something was different. The water was flowing one way, the wind the other. The kayak just did not want to behave like it should in the turmoil from above and below.
The chops were created from the mix of the current and wind as well, which caused a lot of sea spray and slaps along the side of the plastic vessel I was relying on to stay afloat in 60 feet of water.
And the water was extremely cold.
Despite the fact the air was warm, heck, downright hot, and had been for the last few weeks, the water just had not caught up in temperatures.
Why is this relevant? Well, Memorial Day is here and that historically and culturally marks the time to hit the water. Pools open, ski boats come out of hibernation, and the lakes and reservoirs. Skiing, boarding and getting pulled on floats behind the boat is one thing. You are in the water and then you get out. But a new popularity has brought about new dangers.
Kayaking, canoeing and paddleboards are becoming the in thing. Paddling seems easy enough. The vessels are more stable than what we had several decades ago as engineers have taken to the designing and composition of the crafts more seriously as the purchases increased.
However, you still have a great potential of ending up in the water. Even the most experienced are known to turtle, a term used for flipping the vessel upside down while on the water.
The issue with this is the number one cause of outdoor fatalities is not being bitten by venomous snakes or spiders, nor is it falling from cliffs or even drowning. No, the number one cause is succumbing to hypothermia.
Recently two kayakers traveled out on one of our rivers for a fun day’s paddle. One was new to the sport, in face it was her first time. Paddling the river, they found spot that was not kind to them, and both topsided. Left clinging to one of the rocks breaking the water’s surface, they held on tight for fear of getting swept away in the river’s current.
One more seasoned paddler found a way to use his phone and call for emergency help. With a storm approaching during this same time, it took the emergency personnel nearly six hours to rescue the two stranded paddlers. Their only words of encouragement were to hang on to the rocks until help could arrive.
Things turned out fortunate for the couple. Things could have turned a lot worse. The cell phone could have been damaged by water not allowing for the call for help. They could have been either swept away or taken in the currents while trying to make a swim for shore. An injury could have cause prolonged exposure in the water, which then could have turned into danger from exposure to the cooler waters.
There is no way to prevent accidents. That is the very nature of an accident. There is a way to be as prepared as possible for the worst and knowing the inherent dangers even in an otherwise normal situation.