Monday, January 31, 2011

Another Duck Season in the Books

T and I after a cold, snowy morning on the River. My last hunt of the season.
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So.  It's gone.  Another season in the books.  My brother T and I got out for a river hunt on the next-to-last day.  It was snowy and right around 30 degrees.  Great conditions.  We killed a few ducks, including T's first ever Canvasback, which made it even better.   I'll post up the story of our hunt once T sends me his pictures. 
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I'm done with waterfowl until at least September.  T is headed down for one last hunt with his tugboat buddies on VA's eastern shore, then he'll be done, too.  While the Conservation Order for Light Geese is in effect, and a few pockets of (Res. Pop) Canada Goose season will remain open, it's basically all done.   The timing is not bad.
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My face has been burnt and dried out for the last month.  My lips and hands are cracked.  My back has been bothering me for about 10 days, and now I can't bend over at all.  My wife would like to see me a lot more, although those are not the exact words she would use to express it.  A lot of things have to get done between now and late April, when fishing, turkey hunting, and gardening all start back up.  And conveniently, we have not had a solid migration of birds since our freeze-up in December.  The total number of ducks and geese are not bad, but I'll tell you - they definitely grew wise to our plans.  The migration route for humans isn't much better:

So I am really happy that I had a decent hunting season and a really respectable variety of hunting opportunities.  I'm looking forward to digging back into work and some home repair in preparation for another season afield.
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And in this year's snowy February, I have a new, totally mobile challenge!


Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Alright......let's try duck hunting again.....

Another bright, bright winter moon over the Chesapeake Bay
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I broke my hunting habits and took up a year-old offer to hunt for diving ducks and geese south of Annapolis.  It was with a contractor and a coworker I'd never hunted with, on a river I've never fished or hunted, in a county that I've never hunted.  And yet, only 40 minutes from home.  While it's true that hunting access is a real issue in the area, it remains that I need to get out more!  We broke ice going out the creek to the river, watching diving ducks flying in the moonlight.  Maybe we'd have a big hunt?

Bright moon, why must you torment me?
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The blind was impressive and the company was great.  Even though this hunt was 2 days after a nor'easter, we were blessed with a few clouds once the sun came up.  Our host quickly set up his rig (he's been hunting this river for 40 years) and we got ready.  Right at shooting time, a flock of 10 canvasbacks hit the water right in front of the blind.  We stumbled, the other two guys got shots off (and each downed a bird - bag limit is 1 per person), and in the confusion, somehow one bird flew off.  I didn't shoot because my coworker was leading his bird (the bird that got shot, fell, and flew off) and swung a little wide in front of me.  A little prudence on my part.  But his shot rung me pretty good, nonetheless.
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It was another quiet morning - geese very settled into a feeding & roosting pattern that did not include our blind location, bluebills out in the channels, and stray buffleheads coming in and out unpredictably.  We had a pair of goldeneyes (haven't seen them in five years) swing past us twice but they also kept going.   Eventually a pair of canvasbacks swung through.  They crossed behind us and gave us another pass.  Our host told us, "next time, they're coming in.  And don't shoot the hen." Like clockwork, the pair worked right in and my coworker and I shot the drake within a quarter second of each other (he shot first).  It didn't get back up.  The dog was happy to get some work after all of our yapping in the blind.

Beautiful drake canvasback
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We shared more stories and too many donuts. Eventually, my coworker had to leave for a meeting so we called the hunt.  Of course, pursuant to my last hunt, on the boat trip in we saw over 100 mallards hanging around the residential piers in the creek (thanks in no small part to our early morning icebreaking).  Oh well.  It was a great morning on the water with two new hunting partners, and I guess technically I got "half a limit" of canvasbacks.  I ended up with the bird, and I know he'll taste amazing.  This season has been a lot of work for not a lot of birds.  We've had ice - and no new birds from the north - since December 1.  But I'm happy that I've gotten after them, despite the results.  Definite improvement from last season.  Just one more hunt and we'll close the book on this season.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Taking Another Crack at Upper Shore Geese

Another beautiful winter morning on Maryland's Eastern Shore
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Some friends of my hunting buddy had gotten me onto a new goose field near home, so to repay the favor, I had them out to "the farm."  Expectations were mixed but one of the guys had never hunted in a goose pit before, so that was exciting for him. We were set up on time, although not quite in time to deal with the ducks that circled over the spread right after legal shooting time!  Another group of guys was also up at the farm, and confessed that they almost cancelled the hunt because of the full moon.  Despite my last few hunts here, the weather (falling barometer and snow on the way) had me a little optimistic. The temperature was up (upper 20s) from where it had been the week before (mid-teens), so we were able to lay out a spread of about 5 dozen silhouette decoys and 5 dozen full body decoys.  Unlike my last hunt here, this time we heard - really heard - the geese roosting in the nearby creek.  At least a thousand of them.  It was exciting!


Around 845am, the geese started leaving the roost to feed.  When the first few big flocks flew up the creek without giving us a look, we weren't concerned.  Then around 930am, they all started heading directly out of the creek's mouth and flying upstream. 


Finally, we did get some small flocks to check us out.  One group of three flew right out of the sun and over our heads, silently without us seeing them until too late.  A few other flocks looked in, but it was easy to see that this field is picked over.  The soybeans are gone.  The barley cover crop has been nibbled down to nubs.   And because of the weather, we have not had new flights of geese who aren't aware that the food is all gone from our field.  All of the geese in that creek have probably fed in that field over the last month - they know the food is gone.  They ate it.

Again, it was an unusually perfect day for hunting (minus the full moon), but we just couldn't get the birds to cooperate. The other hunting party on the farm was packed up by 1030am, and we hit the road around noon. It was still a great morning to get out, and we couldn't say that we didn't see geese flying.  In fact, less than a mile up the road from the farm (right up the creek), we found where the roost's 2,000 birds were hanging out, along with another 3,000 or so friends.


Look at the first picture in this post and compare the cover crop to what you see in the picture above.   See how much green is in that field? Earlier in the season, hunting guides were pounding this place, which naturally kept the geese away.  The cover crop (probably rye) had a chance to take hold.  "Our" farm, on the other hand, gets scattered pressure all season, meaning that there are many days on which the geese can feed in peace, right in front of the blinds and pits.  Seeing this was kind of cool and only slightly deflating.  As we worked down the dirt farm road (which is about 4 miles long), however, I did observe what I know to be the "functional end" of good hunting for an area in a given season.


Those geese are less than 25 feet off the road.  Why is that a problem for hunters (besides the fact that hunting here would be a safety zone violation)? I'll tell you why - geese feed near roadways as a predator-prey response to getting hammered by hunters in the middle of fields.  They somehow learn that hunters rarely test the "legal safety zone" of 150 or 250 yards (dep. on your state law).  Under typical conditions, geese would rather feed in the middle of the fields, because they can see predators coming from a long distance.  So this tells us that an area is effectively "burned out" for hunting - the geese have figured out what is safe and what is not. 

As a result, I kind of doubt that I'll return to "the farm" over the last 10 days of waterfowl season.  This has made me think a little bit about being more creative with my opportunities there (there are 3 blinds and 2 pits on 300 acres).  I'm going to do some thinking about what I can do differently there.

I've got a few more hunts lined up for the season.  It has neither been the worst or the most memorable season so far....and I'm strangely okay with that.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Epic Day Part III - Canada Goose Field Hunt


(Parts I and II here and here). As the sun broke the horizon, the Canada Geese began to fly.  Small flocks, large flocks, they were all hungry.  The first few groups seemed wary of the snow goose mayhem up the hill, but eventually we had flocks working.  We focused on small groups of birds, so as not to educate (or cripple) members of large flocks.   When they started pitching into the decals, some minor problems arose.
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First, we were hunting in a big group - 3 nearly adjacent blinds with 3 hunters in each blind.  One guy (a farm lessee) in the middle stated before the hunt that shots would only be taken when he called them.  Of course, some of our party had in earplugs and (I guess) didn't hear that, so when the geese started moving heavily, we had "early jumpers" on most flocks, which ruined the shooting for everyone else.  Since I was literally in the middle, I would look left down into the next blind to see who had done it each time, only to be greeted with dumb looks and "I dunno who shot? Weird!"  That same group on the left, when birds were landing in the middle, would open up (with birds still 15' in the air) with a vengeance.  Ugh.  C'mon guys.

Beautiful spread, sunny day
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Eventually, the birds started coming around to the right side of the blind.  The guys on the far right took their limit of birds....while the guys on the far left were shooting across the lengths of our blinds and yelling "I got one!" Ha ha, yeah, sure you did.  My blindmate and I dropped a pair about 4 feet off the ground and 8 yards in front of us, and I finished off with a long shot on a low flying (away) goose who fell dead a few hundred yards in front of us.  By 8:45am, we had killed 18 geese.  Yes, I took a photo, but pursuant to my last post, I'll resist the urge to post it here.  The "jump shooters" on the left were still mumbling this and that about "I was sure I killed that other bird....."  Outdoorsmen are liars.  What can you do?


The geese never did stop flying and it was great to get this video of them.  It was also great to be a part of a very successful hunt on a farm I could never afford to lease.  The birds aren't acting right this year, but in this part of the eastern shore, there are just so many that you're bound to have a chance at a few. 
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I have a few hunts left before the season ends on January 29th.  As my wife noted the other day, "Seems like the season is already over, given your results over the last month."  And she's kind of right.  But on this day, we had an all-time experience.  I'll remember it fondly for a long time.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Epic Day Part II - Snow Goose Trouble

Several thousand snow geese on the move at first light
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When I called an old friend and offered to trade hunts between leased farms, I hoped he would be game.  My hunting has been "off" for a solid 12 months now (granted, there are only about 4 legitimate hunting months in there, total).  We certainly have ducks and geese at the farm where I hunt, but nothing on the order of what he has.  His curiosity - having never hunted "my" farm - got the best of him and he accepted my offer. Lucky for me, he wanted to hunt "his" place first.  I've never hunted this 1500 acre farm, which I had heard is a special place for hunting ducks and geese.  However, I've hunted the adjacent farm (owned by the same family) twice - once in the field and once on the river.  Also a very special place.
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I went down the night before, and got news on the way that about 5,000 snow geese were feeding in the field we were planning to hunt the next day.  Snow geese have a strange lack of logic, so there was no telling if they'd be back.  Snow geese are universally hated by farmers and conservationists. Unlike Canada Geese who nip the tips off of vegetation, snow geese are intensive grazers who pull plants up by the root, whether they are cover crops, fescue, or highly valuable aquatic vegetation. They rarely feed in small groups, which makes the problem even worse, and which makes them rather difficult to hunt at times, since the proper number of decoys is usually either "zero" or "three hundred."  Their population numbers - 200,000 in 1980 and 1.4 million in 2009 - and the daily harvest limit - 15 per hunter - definitely bear that out.  However, if you are in the place they want to be (which changes about every 60 hours), it can be an amazing experience, as they arrive in flocks of 80 to 200 birds at a time.
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We woke up in the old farmhouse at 515am.  The coffee was on.  There was constant trafffic in and out of the bathroom, and the floor thumped from the sound of insulated rubber boots.  The air was 17 degrees.  The word had spread quickly about the snow geese, and our group swelled to nine hunters as we loaded up trucks and trailers full of about 12 dozen decoys.  We set up down the farm road, waiting to hear geese in the wind.  When the first light barely broke the sky, 3000-4000 snow geese started to move off of their roost.  And then they started to head our way.

Good luck picking out a single bird
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They hemmed and hawed a bit before starting to land about 150 yards in front of us.  And once the first few dozen were on the ground, we were in for quite a show. 

These birds knew where they wanted to be
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And then it continued.......


By about 715am, we had about 6,000 snow geese on the ground in front of us.  They were well outside of gun range, but slowly walking our way.   I have to say that "the show" left an impression on me.  I have never been so close (in hunting season) to a flock this large.  Many times I've been hunting for snow geese, and a large flock would take up residence across the street or on the next farm.  They are weird birds. Predictably, as we started to work on Canada Geese around 745, the snow geese hesitantly walked the other way, and eventually all left the property for more quiet feeding grounds.  Canada Geese work a lot differently, and our outing (which had been more nature show than hunt up to this point) got real in a hurry!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

OBN Photo Prompt - Favorite Places

Folly Municipal Pier,
Folly Beach, SC
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Rebecca over at Outdoor Bloggers Network asked about photos of special outdoor places.  While I spend time outdoors all over the map, when I think about what scenes on earth my soul might most miss when I have died, days of clean waves and light winds at ocean piers in the southeastern USA are right at the top of the list. 

And why shouldn't they be? Along the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern coasts (and dare I say gulf coast as well), the nearshore zone is like a flat, shallow underwater desert for miles and miles and miles - for there is no natural structure - no reef - no natural rocks.  Piers act as artificial structures that aggregate game fish and just as importantly to me, aggregate sand, which creates waves of a quality and length you're unlikely to see in this part of the country (sewer pipe outfalls and rock jetties excepted).
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But this picture really gets at what I love about piers in the Southeast.  On a pre-dawn outting, the pier is likely the first place you check for surf, and the first place you check to see who's catching what fish.  And again.....it's all about memories.  The first time I rode a bodyboard at age 12, at Sandbridge Pier.  My first time surfing in a real live hurricane (stupid....oh, and it was Hurricane Gordon) at age 20, at Virginia Beach Pier.  Getting bitten by a bluefish (?) while surfing at the Kitty Hawk Pier at age 22.  An amazing summer full of small fun surf days at Frisco Pier (destroyed in a storm 4 months ago) in the outer banks - age 24.  Surfing the Virginia Beach 15th street pier the morning after my best man's wedding - age 25.  Surfing the site of the old Virginia Beach Steel Pier the morning after my bachelor party - age 26 (wow, that was cold).  Two amazing fall surf weeks at Oak Island Fishing Pier.  And some fun mornings of tiny, clean surf at Folly Beach Munipal Pier and Isle of Palms Pier in South Carolina, between ages 23 and 35.  Absolutely mind-blowing surf sessions at the Mall Pier, Ocean Pier, and Steel Pier in Atlantic City, NJ over the course of about 5 years.  And of course, surfing the Nags Head Fishing Pier with my brother and my best man, the morning after my other brother's wedding.
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And that's not counting the fishing memories!
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And then, of course, the most treasured of all.  Those nights on the fishing pier with buddies and girlfriends, drinking beers and catching (usually few) fish.  The days on the beach, whether April, July, or October.  Catching sun, taking in the salt, meeting up with friends (planned or not), and just living.  God, it's wonderful.

Yup.  I love the salt marsh.  I love a lot of other places too. But I always think back to periods of my life - whether short afternoons or entire summers - when my life revolved around what was happening at the pier.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Epic January Day Afield

Things are totally insane around here, between work, the outdoors, and that whole "life" thing, but I had an amazing morning out today and thought I would just share a quick video of it.   I've been up since 5am, and before I can even think about a very busy friday at work, I have geese to process.  I'll post up more details when the smoke clears!

In the meantime, just watch this.  Thanks for stopping by!


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Jeff Foiles Conundrum

Looking back on it.......not a fortuitous choice for a movie title
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Note: February 2011 update here

I've been surprised and quite intrigued by the number of emails I have received about high-profile hunting guide Jeff Foiles over the last month.  Some are voicing opinions, and others are asking for mine.  For those of you outside the waterfowling world, Jeff is a famous and talented guide, as well as a TV/video host and a producer of pretty high quality waterfowl hunting gear.   In early December, a nearly EIGHT year long investigation of Jeff's hunting practices culminated with a grand jury returning a 23-count Federal indictment against him.  I believe he is to be arraigned in Federal court within the next week or two.   The complainants in the case include the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, Illinois DNR, and Iowa DNR.
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Jeff is charged with violations of the Lacey Act, a robust 110-year old Federal law intended to create speed bumps for the nation's commercial hunting industry during that era.  This is not like you or I pulling the trigger and killing either 1 or even 10 birds over our allowed limit.  Such a violation would be a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, among many other Federal and state laws.  No, the Lacey Act is different.
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The Lacey Act isn't about "simple violations" like I described above.  The Lacey Act prohibits anyone from 1) buying or selling wildlife that was killed illegally, or 2) conducting a business dependent upon the illegal killing of wildlife.  In some ways, it is the natural resources equivalent of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).  RICO is an umbrella law to cover criminals who commit multiple separate crimes as part of a larger criminal enterprise.   For instance, you stole the money from the bank (federal crime), and then you intentionally did not report the cash as income on your tax forms, which is - legally speaking - stealing from the US Government, and then you invested those untaxed earnings in an illegal business, like black market pharmaceutical drugs (federal crime).  RICO allows the US Government to tie those all together - along with any possible "illegal earnings" - as one single, gigantic crime.
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The Lacey Act is similar in scope.........and nearly as serious.  The indictment alleges (among numerous other things) that guided hunters were encourage to kill more birds than legally allowed (Federal crime), which resulted not only in higher cash tips for Jeff (not reported as taxes - Federal crime) and good references for Jeff's crew, but also allowed Jeff's crew to get more footage for upcoming hunting DVD's that would be sold for profit (in this case, a legal business funded by illegal profits).  Jeff is still awaiting his day in court, in which I assume he will either refute this, or state that he was entrapped by informants or law enforcement officials.  It's not inconceivable that he's right, at least to some degree.
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But what I really want to discuss here is beyond Jeff Foiles, the indictment, and the perhaps hundreds of other inadmissable charges the Federales would have liked to charge him with.  I'd also like to go beyond the usual scope of this topic on message boards, which involves a whole lot of (quite accurate) "this is so bad for hunters' images!"  What I'd like to bring up here - and I'd like you to think about - is the culture of commodification in waterfowl hunting. The culture that allows guys like Jeff Foiles (innocent or otherwise) to become millionaires by flaunting excess "everything" - leg bands, kill shots, piles of birds, decoys, you name it.
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Look at Jeff's picture above.  How many bands does he have? Do you ever feel bad for not having more bands on your lanyard? I sure have.  But I don't hunt in an area where there are a lot of banded birds.  Don't you imagine that 5 lbs of bands is heavy while setting out decoys? Or maybe those giant aluminum lanyards might shine in the sun and flare the geese?  Why is it soooo important that we focus on numbers like this?
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The fact is, your average young waterfowler would rather have 20 bands on his/her lanyard from locally banded golf course geese, than 2 bands on his lanyard from ducks s/he killed in Argentina or Belize.  Think about how ridiculous that is!

What insane intrinsic valuation makes any of us think that this hunt:

was any more fun, memorable, or worthwhile than this hunt:


I know it seems like common sense when it's phrased that way, but the next time you (like me) see some pictures of guys hauling giant straps of ducks out of the marsh, be jealous of the day's story - not the harvest.  Our collective priorities - and our motivations for hunting -  allow a market to exist for movies like "One Over the Limit" and "Fallin' Skies" where the focus is kill shots - over and over and over.  And a hunting culture where the value of a winter day outdoors, or the dedication of a hunter, is determined by a collection of little aluminum bands that could have easily been purchased online, or as the Federales allege against Jeff Foiles, were taken from city park birds with a BB gun.

Think about all of that insanity the next time you venture out.  I hope it's a safe and wonderful time for you - work hard to not get distracted by nonsense commodities that mean so very little in the scheme of life, or even hunting.  I'll try, too.


Jeff's statement: Jeff Foiles an American Sportsman, respects the law relating to regulations of wildlife and hunting, and now faces an indictment (charges) accusing him of acting in violation of that respect.  Jeff appreciates the patience and understanding of friends, sponsers and supporters.  Because a court case is pending, His attorneys advise that He cannot comment on the indictment.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dear Pennsylvania, Please Send Us Some Geese

Snow, 5-10kt winds, 26 degrees, and January along a major goose flyway.  It's a prescription for a perfect goose hunt.  Maybe.
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My friend Rich has miraculously worked himself into a new goose hunting spot near the Pennsylvania border.  As those things go, it's typical of central Maryland.  He has a longstanding relationship with the guys who hunt there, and has been building a relationship with the landowner himself.  That it's near Pennsylvania is significant, too.  For the past three years, Pennsylvania has surpassed Maryland, including Maryland's Mighty Eastern Shore, for Canada Goose harvests.  There are many reasons for that, and many more speculations.  But it behooves us to focus some hunting attention on the area........when we can get a spot lined up
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This area - the northern end of Maryland's piedmont - is perfect for wintering geese.  It's basically and endless series of rolling hills, large horse farms, luxury golf courses, scattered row crop operations, and verdant mansion "lawns" covering 10, 15, or 20 acres.  The weather, predicted and realized, was just as perfect.  26 degrees, light snow, light wind, and heavy clouds.  Let's do it! We had about 6 dozen decoys out (above).  We had plenty of trustworthy guns, too.......

Vintage Rem 870, 1990s Rem 11-87, Moss 935, Franchi (model?)

We had a reasonable but rough blind (it seriously needs a roof), and four guys who could all call geese reasonably well...........
Definitely not the worst blind I've hunted
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But on this perfect day for waterfowling, the birds simply did not fly.  I suspect that large numbers of migratory geese never made the trip south this year.  Maybe they will?  My brother and I have been working on a theory that when the majority of ponds and lakes freeze up in Maryland and Virginia, migratory ducks and geese simply pass up the entire Chesapeake Bay and winter in North Carolina's Outer Banks, instead. 
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Another problem was that the geese we did see (less than 50) all knew exactly where they were going.  A few circled, and none flared. But none ever set their wings for a landing.   This, I believe, is the result of two separate problems.  First, I believe the geese in the area have been in the area for weeks, if not months.  They know the landscape well.  Which leads me to the second problem - I would bet the geese are aware that this field is hunted.  Based on the goose poop in the field, they still use it at night.  But during the hunt, they seemed confident that they were making a good decision to fly right over our pretty impressive setup without too much of a look.
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In the end, we didn't shoot.  Any of us.  It was the first time this season that this field did not produce at least one goose.   I am starting to run out of "things I could do better" and just wonder if I need to be doing something totally different, for example, not hunting locally at all, and saving my money for an annual trip to Mexico or Canada to hunt birds.  Ultimately, I wouldn't be able to stop myself from hunting locally even if I promised to do so, and that's one thing that stops me from feeling at all frustrated about this run of poor hunts.  Oh well.  Be back at it in another few days!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Setting Goals for 2011

In 2011, I would like to surf and fish more, and worry less.
I found warm, clean, tiny waves in Venice Beach, FL when I visited, but could not find time to surf.
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Well, I mean, that caption pretty well sums it up but perhaps we can flesh out a few more details.  I've never officially put one of these together.  Wikipedia says that my goals should be "specific, measurable, and time-targeted objectives." Wow, doesn't that sound exciting?  OK then, let's go. 
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Professional Life
I work in the environmental non-profit sector and the professional climate is still one of dodging bullets and biting fingernails.  My job is stable but we are constantly under threat of pay decreases, furloughs, and other unpleasantries.  In 2011, I want to keep my eye on my long term goals, particularly by building relationships for the long-term.  Which will mean going to extra meetings, attending alumni dinners, and showing up for networking happy hours that I'm too tired to attend.  Ugh.  It must be done.  I tried and failed at this exact effort in 2010.

Family
After the birth of my son, I tried a new approach to dividing family time and non-family personal time (outdoor time).  I made a commitment to try to make my outdoor experiences memorable - and not just "go for the sake of going," which means canceling trips when conditions don't look favorable. On the flip side, when I'm not working, or outdoors, I committed to being "fully present" with my family (i.e. not checking marine forecasts every 6 hours).  I have struggled on both ends, especially with hunting (going when conditions predict failure) and surfing (not going at all).  In 2011, I'll work to improve this.   More importantly than this, I pledge to make a sound and educated decision about whether Hank will enroll in preschool in September (at 23 months old), or remain in day care until he is almost 3.

Fishing
Honestly, in 2011, I will try to repeat what I did in 2010.  To take advantage of geography, time off, and local conditions to have "quick strike" success on the water.  I hope to do more saltwater fishing, but I can't commit to that right now!

Hunting
When I lost my local goose hunting spot in early 2010, I didn't realize the impact that it would have on my ability to do "quick strike" local hunts or to maximize my odds. In 2011, I will work harder to maintain relationships so I can have a diversity of hunting experiences and hunting partners when the hunting season starts.  I have only recently started using my hunt club membership (and its guest policy) as leverage, and I plan to do that more often. 

Surfing
In 2009, I only surfed in South Carolina.  In 2010, I didn't surf at all.  What a bummer.  I miss seeing the ocean and good waves, and getting to ride them.  It's true that "only a surfer knows the feeling."  In 2011, I will surf more.  In fact, I pledge to surf once a month from May to August.  That's the bottom line.  I don't care if anybody thinks it's wussy.

Health
This is the hardest one.  In 2011, I pledge to get a checkup.  I pledge to keep off the 15lbs I lost in 2010, and to lose and keep off an additional 10-12lbs (I really need to lose another 25, not 10, but let's keep this semi-realistic).  I pledge to start exercising the day after duck season ends. I pledge to run at least 2 5K races in 2011. I pledge to eat less conventionally raised meat, and either buy more local, sustainable meat or depend more heavily on wild game.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Anticipation Builds!

Is that a punt gun or are you just happy to see me?

The next 10 days are shaping up, and it's maddening (just ask my wife).  Deer hunt on the eastern shore - canceled.  Goose hunt near the PA border - confirmed.  Canvasback and goose hunt on the eastern shore - confirmed.  I am cashing in some favors to hunt some different rivers and to do some different types of hunts than I've been doing since January, 2010.  I'm in a bit of a rut, so who knows, maybe this will pull me out?

Work is totally insane, as predicted.  Family life moves on at warp speed, as predicted.  Maybe - just maybe - I'll have a couple of amazing days outdoors before waterfowl season ends, and the late winter blues - usually February 1 - April 1 - set in.

Word came today that two duck hunters drowned in separate accidents in eastern Virginia.  Both were extremely healthy young men under age 30.  Everybody be careful out there, don't get in a boat alone, and make sure that PFD is handy (or on you, preferably).  No amount of ducks, geese, or fish are worth dying out there in some godforsaken frozen river.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Outdoors 2010 in Review

As we get fired up into the January work schedule (have an early Feb. board meeting to prepare for, and I start teaching on January 19), and the end of waterfowl season (January 29), I'm going to take it light on posting for the next few weeks.  I think it's also worthwhile to look back on 2010, which was a completely crazy year.  
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I celebrated my 10th year of marriage (woo hoo!), my first full year as a "Manager" (woo!), my first year as a Dad (WOOOO!) and my first year trying both community gardening and farm leasing (for hunting).  And my return to part-time teaching (woo).
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The year started with a series of really bad goose hunts.  God, they were tedious.  Between really crazy weather (December freeze, January thaw) and poor goose reproduction (= older smarter geese), the only thing that saved these hunts was the company.


This was followed by a ruthless February, which included a 48" week of snow, and a season total of 80" - all-time records for Maryland. 


We suffered about $3500 damage to our porch and gutters, and at the time Hank was about 6 months old - we hardly left the house with him for two weeks.  It was tough!  Everybody was really depressed, and our house was destroyed (I'm exaggerating).  However, eventually, the winter broke! I will remember this scene for a long time - I pulled over on the way home from work to take this picture of geese headed back north -hopefully taking the snow with them:


Around that time, I found out that I had been awarded a garden plot at the "City Farm."  This was great, since our yard is really too shady to garden.  At first, the plot looked like this:



In the meantime, I actually got to do some semi-serious fishing in 2010.  I worked harder to fish on better (though fewer) days than in the past, and I chose to focus on larger bass instead of catching large numbers of panfish on the ultralight.  And although I was skunked the last three times I fished in 2010,  Spring and Summer were good to me.   On the first cast of 2010, I caught this:

Absolutely not a trophy, but not a bad start.  My patience paid off again, soon (not soon enough!) after that fun first day out, with this fatty and some of his friends....

And it paid off again in July when I caught my first spotted bass, which just happened to be a citation fish......and the only bass I caught in 3 hot, muggy July mornings in North Carolina:

Around that time, Hank (10 months old) learned how to stand.  I could tell that things were about to get even more interesting!

The summer was absolutely torrid, with over a dozen days over 100 degrees, and dozens more above 90 degrees.  It made it hard to go outside with Hank, because he's just a little dude.  I tried dove hunting in the heat, which, other than the exercise and sweating, proved to be a waste of time.  So I did some more fishing:

I worked hard for this fish, and was happy to catch and release him.  In 2010, I started to impersonate someone with actual fishing skill!!!!!!     Pretty soon after, it was Hank's first birthday!


Fall came and went in a hurry, mostly because it was 80 degrees until Thanksgiving.  Which found us in Southwest Florida.  Which - I ain't gonna lie - was beautiful.


The trip to Florida wasn't totally what I expected, but I hope to return soon to take advantage of the ridiculous fishing opportunities down there, and maybe even the occasional wave.  If Florida wasn't what I expected, well, neither was the rest of 2010.  We returned home to 10 degree air temperatures (what happened to Fall?), frozen creeks, no ducks or geese around........and a busted furnace.  $6000 and two weeks later, we got a new one. 


It's only worth a photo - a small one, at that - because it's the most expensive thing I bought in 2010.  I think I bought a $50 baitcasting reel, a $50 spinning rod, and some new fancy sweat-proof underwear were the next highest dollar purchases after that!  Oh yeah, I forgot the $300 gutters and $3000 front porch. Woo.
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December was tough - not as tough as February, but tough, and with the contractor coordination for the furnace, there was almost no time to hunt or get outdoors.  Eventually, Christmas came, though, and I got the best present of all!


And that was 2010.  Glad I lived through it.  If I could repeat 50% of it, I would.  See you all soon!