Monday, September 28, 2015

First Bow Hunt in the Books

Since I started using a compound bow that actually fits me (15 months ago), I've come to enjoy archery more than I have in my entire life.  Not surprisingly, that parlayed into practicing archery two months before archery season (never done that) and getting in a tree within the first 10 days of our very early bow season in Maryland (never done that).   Since I'd been so jazzed up that I'd also gotten my tree stand sufficiently ready in the weeks prior to archery season (rarely did that), getting up, and through the woods to my stand at 5:45am wasn't a big deal at all.

It was a warm morning, about 63 degrees, and I wondered if the deer would move at all.  At least two deer scattered from their beds near my tree stand, and I scampered up into the darkness, leaving most of my gear on the ground, ropes dangling from my harness to ensure a safe gear pickup once I was clipped to the tree and seated in the stand.   Once I was set up in the dark, another deer let loose an alarm call, which is a common occurrence on this piece of property.

As the sun rose, I saw the bounty of acorns all around me and wondered if it would help or hurt.  Long story made short - it doesn't help on a day when the air temperature is at 63 and rapidly headed toward 70.  100 yards behind me in the swamp, I saw a doe and her two fawns.  They never moved closer.  Around 30 minutes after sunrise, a buck came from behind me and feasted on acorns right below the stand, paying me no mind.

End of the hunt, safely on the ground.
I became excited as I strained through the branches in the understory to see how big he was.  Three points on the right side! points on the left.  I debated - and am still debating - what the right course of action was, as I let him circle my tree for 10 minutes.  On the one hand, this forest has several much larger bucks, some of whom I've spotted less than 50 yards from my tree stand (not while hunting, of course!), and so using a precious buck tag (1 of my 2) on this animal didn't seem wise.   On the other hand, as I watched this deer spend almost 20 minutes inside of the 20 yard mark from my stand, would I be doing the herd a favor by eliminating this kooky animal?

In the end, I let him walk.  Unlike past years, my dedication toward summer practice made me feel pretty confident that I could have killed that animal multiple times - I don't feel that it is a mystery at all.

I didn't see another deer in the next 90 minutes, and decided to lower my gear down, unclip myself from the tree, and mozy down the ladder (still tied into a harness loosely around the tree and ladder, of course).   It was great to have a well planned hunt also executed well, without incident or mistake.  Hope I can parlay that into the next hunt and hopefully a successful harvest!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

One hour, One fish

I hate not catching fish.  Well, worse.  I detest not catching fish.   At my best, I am a negotiator and at my worst, I am a compromiser.  On the water, that means after just a few lame casts with a big bait, I start downsizing from 6" senkos to 3" craws; from 4" broken body jerk baits to 2" pin minnows.   Not surprisingly, the result is that I catch a whole lot of 8"-12" largemouth and 6"-10" sunfish.   And a lot of mornings, I'm fine with that.

Until the minute where I see a five pound bass cruising among the floating woody debris, deftly throw a 1" Yo-Zuri four feet in front of it, and watch a 5" bass swim past the monster bass, swallowing the lure.  

At the fishing spot down the street from my office, the bass population is pretty standard for a beaver pond:  3 huge fish exist but are nearly impossible to catch.  Nearly endless supplies of 8-12" bass lay throughout the pond, awaiting a good excuse to swallow a lure.   Some biologists say this is representative of a healthy pond; others disagree.  But man, I'd like to catch one of those big fish.  Just once.

The changing weather has brought a rapid change in fish patterns.  Three days ago, my buddy Mike landed a 4.2lb bass in a pond fishing contest, earning him 2nd place honors.   He used a 6" senko and I thought, "damnit, I need to get after those big fish."  I got to the spot around 8am under cloudy skies.  I had one hour.  I started with a watermelon red flake senko which got some chases but no hits.  I downsized to an orange/purple claw which brought me some success.  After catching a 5", 8", 10", and 12" bass, I remembered why I had come there.  I tied on a new lure, a Berkley Havoc Flat Dawg (white) straight to my hook.  No jig, no weights, nothing.

I threw it as far as I could and watched it dance just below the surface of the muddy beaver pond water.  I cursed myself for forgetting my sunglasses as the sun tried to peak out from the clouds.  The lure disappeared.   The lure went deep.

I worked hard for the next three minutes, applying every hard-earned lesson from bass fishing I've learned.  Only let the drag peel where the water is open.  Kill the drag when he moves toward sunken wood.  Pick the fish up before his head comes out of the water.  I got my fish.  It set the tone for my week and I can't wait to fish the pond again, even if it isn't until next spring.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Prepping for Fall Archery Season: 5 Critical Steps

Are you one of those hunters who just rolls into September archery season - grabbing your bow off the wall the morning of your first hunt, and *maybe* washing a pair of jeans in scent-free detergent the night before?

Me too!

Well, usually.  Since my wife was pregnant with our son in the summer of 2009, I have blown off really important parts of preparing for the surprisingly taxing conditions and demands of September and October hunting.   This summer I tried a different plan, picking up the bow in July and working with it at least weekly, getting my clothing worked out (and separated) a week before the season, and getting my stands, blinds, and shootings lanes prepared far in advance of the September 11 opener.  Here's a few tips for getting ready - now's the time to start!

1.  Get legal!  Go ahead and knock out licenses, permits, and landowner permission.  Don't bait (and remove bait now) if it's not allowed.  If you need to post the property, paint stripes on trees, etc., now is the time to do that.

2.  Check your climbing harness.  See anything disturbing? Rusty? Chewed up?  This is the time to fix it, not after work, the night before your first hunt.  You know, that routine when you stop by your favorite sporting goods store....and nothing's in stock.  For example, I took advantage of a coupon to Eastern Mountain Sports and changed out my rusty carabiners for high-end rock climbing 'biners last month.  Now it's done, with an entire week to spare!

3.  Check your weapon.  All the parts present?  Bow string dry rotted? Peep sight crumbling?  Best way to determine any of this stuff is to shoot.  A lot.  Again, the night before your first hunt is not the time to be shopping for a new bow string, and we all know someone who has done just that.   In 6 weeks of practice shooting, I've learned a bunch about my now 14-month old primary bow.  I learned that $4 arrow shafts shoot as straight as $10 arrow shafts.  I've learned to take the extra 15 seconds to dig out my release, because one day while target shooting "for a few minutes", my fingers slipped, the arrow flew, and thank God nothing horrible happened with a loose arrow off-target downrange.  Most importantly (see arrow above), I learned that I have really, strongly sighted in my bow at 10 and 20 yards.  Hallelujah.

4.  Check your tree stand.  I left my two tree stands out in the weather over the last year.  Just never got around to pulling them down.  To give myself a little credit, I have no space to store them at home over the summer.  So they are rusty, loose from the tree, etc.   One stand earned another two ratchet straps and two standard straps. Another stand feels clunky to transition from ladder to stand, so I ordered a second tree strap which I'll leave above the stand.  This will allow me to quickly transition (using my new carabiner) from the strap around the ladder, to a strap around the stand, roughly 4 feet higher.   The $17 change will reduce the time I'm unsecured, 33 feet up in a tree, from roughly 40 seconds to about 6 seconds.

5.  Stash your clothes.   Get a bin.  Fill the bin with your clothes that have been washed with scent-free detergent.  Close the bin.  If you feel it necessary, add a "fresh earth" or "white oak acorn" disc from Hunters Specialties based on what's more appropriate in your hunting area.  If you don't have $11 for a storage bin, a 75 cent *unscented* trash bag will do just fine.

Here on the coast, September can be a time of swatting mosquitoes in the tree stand and wondering how hurricane winds might affect deer movement.   Waiting for the cool days of October is an art of patience, but one that might also be rewarded with a September deer harvest.  Good luck - be safe!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Fishing a Fish Passage Site on Maryland's Eastern Shore

I don't suppose that most of our federal biologists and engineers are great oddsmakers.  They are generally competent, generally well-meaning, but speak with the protection (and osbstructionism) of the labyrinthine agencies that employ them.   Those who like to do a lot of extra work are eventually instructed not to do so.  Those who don't do a lot of work aren't told much of anything.

Some of our conservation partners tried for over a decade to convince federal and state biologists and engineers that if a dam, in place since 1775, was removed and replaced with an expensive series of step pools (called a regenerative stream conveyance), that all kinds of environmental benefits would be likely - including the passage of migratory fish, several of which are species of federal concern (called "federal trust species").   But, being a risk averse bunch, los federales didn't budge for quite awhile, arguing that the project might actually be worse than the current dam (???).  Now, let's be clear that the project partners weren't seeking financial or construction assistance from the regulators - just permits to do the construction.

At any rate, the project was constructed in 2014.  I've enjoyed catching fish there this year that have successfully migrated up from the lower river, past the step pool project, and into the headwaters of the river for the first time since 1775.  Alewife, eels, and white perch are the notable newcomes.  Sometimes it's nice to be right.