Monday, December 30, 2013

Opening Day Goose Snoozer...

Opening day morning.

Let's rewind.  At our annual farm dinner the night before opening day, there were constant whispers about favorable weather, winds, and local birds for an opening day hunt that should easily eclipse the last several opening days (2010, 2011, 2012), which showed us thin flocks of birds, balmy temperatures and bluebird skies.

And unlike previous years, the revelry died off early, with hunters retreating to their trucks, tents, and nearby cabins to get some sleep.  Tomorrow, each of us thought, tomorrow will be one for the ages.

Turns out, we were wrong.   We guessed wrong on the wind direction.  We had competing (and unknown to us) hunting groups to both our southeast and southwest (in better winds).    I had a single ill-advised shot at a wood duck and didn't connect; my hunting partner had a near-fatal shot on a goose that gave us only a rain shower of white down feathers for 10 minutes, but no goose.   Oh, brother. Bye bye, geese.

Eventually we packed up, unloaded all the gear, and said good riddance.  Except for me; I decided to take another chance.  My hunting buddy TB had been hunting a blind under some cedars in the middle of a field.  Over 300 geese had spent the previous morning there.  Zero returned on opening day, for reasons I don't really understand.  Two good looking but non-functional hunting setups in one day.

At least I got to spend some quality time with a red cedar....

And less than a mile from the farm, I found the geese at 1pm. No hunting allowed here.  Guess the geese figured that out, too.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Late Waterfowl Season Dry Run

Not sure you can find the duck blind in the dark?  Go during the day first!
Waterfowl hunting is an expensive and dangerous sport.   Every year in the United States, perhaps a dozen duck hunters (out of ten million) die while pursuing the sport, and almost all cases were 100% avoidable.

The way that "We" (brothers, buddies, myself) try to improve our odds of success and decrease our odds of peril is to do a "dry run" hunt.   This is particularly easy to do on the east coast when we have two duck seasons that lead into two goose seasons (second and third splits).   Many of us set out into the marshes and rivers on the day before goose season opens (during duck season), regardless of whether or not there are ducks flying, and knowing full well that even if a hundred geese attack us, we cannot legally open fire on them.   The primary goal is to get comfortable with gear, dogs, and hunting partners in the boat, blind, marsh, etc., and to get a pattern down for setting up a hunt (ideally quickly in the early morning).   Mistakes and issues can be noted and hopefully corrected before the "Big Day" of the goose opener. 

So, that's what we did this year.  TB and I knew the wind was wrong, the sky was too sunny, and too few ducks were flying to have a great afternoon hunt, but we wanted to get our game together.  We set out to the island with about a dozen goose decoys and three dozen puddle duck decoys "just in case."  We fumbled around a bit with the mud motor, nearly forgot the battery, and nearly forgot to put the drain plug back in.  See - these are all great things to be happening at 2pm friday instead of 5am saturday! 

Ducks didn't give us much of a look.  Very sparse flights headed off the river, stayed high over our cove, and headed upstream into the marshes off of the farm where we hunt.    We got to adjust some of the switchgrass on the blind, re-anchor the dog leash anchor, and do a few other things before watching the sun set and then watching about 800 Canada geese pile into the cove.   A promising warm up for the next hunt.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Not the Ideal Way to Spend Late November

When it's time to party, we will always party hard!
Yeah, fun times here at the River Mud Ranch.   I've been exhausted.  I mean, having to pull over on the way home from work and sleep exhausted.  The "cold" I had was only sort of kicking my ass, meaning that I'd only missed about a day and change of work and lost a bunch of sleep due to coughing.

 But after two weeks, I sucked it up and went to the doctor, where the "medical professionals" say I have a "potentially life threatening" case of some minor thing called "spasmodic bronchitis."  Unlike acute bronchitis (which I also currently have, apparently, but to a much lesser degree, and something I've had dozens of times in my 39 years alive), spasmodic bronchitis is a non-boogery situation where for some random reason, your lung tissue becomes irritated and decides to swell up, and stay swelled up, to the point that the bronchioles are occluded and can receive no air.  Disclaimer: I only know the term "occluded" because some of our tidal wetlands at work become "occluded" from tidal flow.

So anyhoo, that whole "I'm really tired" thing is apparently an "I have to sleep every three hours because my body doesn't have enough oxygen to continue" thing.  Whatevs, my bad.

The doctor said, "Have you been taking any time off?"  I lied and said, "2 days."  He said, "take 2 more days." Ugh.  Haterz.

In addition to slowing me down on a lot of otherwise really productive stuff happening at work,  this illness has been a 20 day kick in the shins to my effort to finish my first novel in November (I began writing in September).  I'm roughly half done (30,000 words), and this illness is a real hindrance.  Why does it matter?  Because I am a world champion of getting things started, and somewhat of a court jester of getting things finished.   In addition to those somewhat important things, there's the fact that hunting season is ON....and I have no physical interest in sitting in a duck blind or tree stand right now.  And in addition to that relatively trivial pain in the rear, there's the fact that my four year old is starting to understand Christmas, Santa Claus, the actual Christmas story (minus historical inaccuracies like Jesus' actual birth date), etc.  And I've literally slept on the couch for a good two weeks of that.  Which makes me disappointed with myself.

So I hope y'all are getting outside (unless you're the jerk wad who built a secret duck blind 251 yards from mine, in which case, here's a bag of used sinus wash).  I'll take another puff puff from my albuterol inhaler, and pop another prednisone for the rest of you.  Nobody steal my azythromycins, though.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Goose Blunder, Part I

Thousands of geese taunted us all day by hanging out on other properties within sight of ours...

There were geese on Maryland's eastern shore this weekend.  Oh boy, were there.  I'm happy not to be the only hunter who didn't have a stellar opening day (our farm had 8 hunters, 3 shots fired, 0 birds killed), but under foggy, rainy skies, it should have turned out a lot different.  Most hunting parties in our area had their legal limit by 8:30am.

The full run-down of my "three hunts in 24 hours" is coming shortly, but at this time I'd like to frame the weekend by thanking my corporate sponsor, Sudafed-D.   That's right, one of my students rolled into class on tuesday night, all red-eyed and zombie-looking, and said, "I'm sick - I just wanted you to see."  I backed up immediately and told them to go home.  To no avail.  Thursday night found me up all night with the shakes.  I worked until about 2pm on friday and then hit the road for a quick duck hunt on the shore.   Went to bed by 930pm and was up at 5am to get ready for the opening day of goose.  Felt miserable all morning.  Gave up, and hunkered down in a goose blind in one of our fields.  Fell asleep snoring in the blind, much to my friends' amusement.  Drove the 90 minutes back home with insane sinus pressure, slept in 2 hour shifts all saturday night, and spent most of sunday on the couch in a haze of Sudafed....

Bummer! I enjoyed the dry-run of gear assembly, decoy untangling, and boat operation but I really wanted to take home a goose or two.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Atlantic Goose Season Returns

The weather is unseasonably warm, the wetlands are uncharacteristically dry, and if the moon were any more full or bright, I believe it would explode.  But goose season begins on Saturday, so into the rivers we will all go.

After the first 24 hours of goose season have passed, you won't find me hunting on a day on which either the moon is full OR it's predicted to be 59 degrees by lunchtime, let alone both.   But I'll go.

I'll go because I can still remember in perfect detail the last goose I shot, in January 2013.   It was a tough shot, I somehow got it right - overhead-left moving front-to-rear on the wind at about 40 yards in the air - stalling in the wind to look at the decoys for just a moment.  I pulled the trigger, and the big bird fell like a stone, dead in a pile just 20 yards to my left, in the heavy thorned vines of the River's sandy shoreline.

I'll go to rekindle relationships with people I respect - people I rarely speak to outside of waterfowl season.  We'll enjoy fresh Maryland rockfish and oysters, and toast to another season of hard work, success, and fellowship on the water.  We'll have a cigar and tell tall tales of hunts that were not as good as we remember them; and of close calls that hopefully weren't as dangerous or exciting as we remember them.

I'll go to relax and remember why I go to work.  I'll get my head together and by late saturday afternoon, I'll be home and ready to focus on more important things once again.  But first, we'll go out into the dark water, chasing the big moon and waiting for the sun to rise with birds on the wing.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saturday Morning Ditch Hunt

Saturday morning came, or really, that cold and dead part of night that precedes it.  I threw my gear in the truck and headed over to a local bowhunting spot where I can sit and spend time alone.  The place is a little coastal ditch - flat on both banks and dry up the middle with downed trees scattered across it.  I found out three years ago while working on the property that the suburban deer use the ditch and trees as a kind of secret tunnel between the deep woods and the small corn field near the road.   At varying distances from their destination - the soybeans planted in rotation this year in that field - the deer jump over the downed debris and take an angle into the field.   This is maddening if you are hunting from the field, because deer appear from everywhere and nowhere in no predictable pattern.   

However, if I situate myself near the ditch about a hundred yards from the field's edge, they should all pass right by me.   On this morning, my grand plan was complicated by wind that had been predicted to move in my face and away from the deer was now blowing my scent - in gusts - right down the ditch line.   The first doe picked her head up at 80 yards, snorted, and ran.  Not great.  Second deer, a 160-180lb buck with a pitiful 4-point set of antlers, got within about 40 yards, picked up my scent, looked right at me, and nervously walked away.  Several more animals got within about 40 yards in the dense cover, knew what I was, knew where I was, and seemed to understand why I was there.  

Finally in the low morning cracks of scattered sun light, a 140-160lb buck with another tiny 4-point spread walked out of the wild blueberry thicket at 60 yards, and immediately looked at me.  The animal continued forward...38....35....32....30 yards without breaking off his stare.  I tried to control my breathing, knowing that he could see me.  I didn't dare pick up my bow, and finally the animal backed away from me, never once diverting his eyes from mine.    I would have been ready to take the buck at 20 yards if he would have just taken a few more steps and looked the other way.

The sun continued to rise and my breath became less visible.   I created some hopeful logic that maybe the wind would die after the sun rose, which would have brought the deer closer to me.   Of course, the wind never died.  I watched the morning sun burn into and through the kaleidoscope of sweetgum leaves, colored bright yellow, bright red, and bold maroon.  The leaves twisted but hardly fell - not ready to concede the season I suppose.  I rested my bow against the stump in front of me, and leaned back against the silver maple tree behind me, allowing my breaths to come heavier and slower.   As increasingly larger patches of light opened on the forest floor, the silently moving deer were replaced by squirrels - anything but silent, seeming to execute military style orders to retrieve food stores from under the leaves, then re-bury it just a few feet away.   Cardinals swooped into breaks in the forest canopy to eat seeds from wild grasses.  Soon after, it was woodpeckers and chickadees, both flitting about the trees, looking for the eggs of worms and insects tucked behind cracks and seams in tree bark.  

My attention faded away to all the things that needed to be done, which was my cue to wrap up. 

I'll be back, when the wind's right. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Toddler Outdoors v 4.1 - Finding, Looking, Understanding

I love being with my little dude outdoors.  He doesn't stop.  Ever.  He's not the most bonkers kid I know, but he is fast, and physical, and almost never rests.   For most of his four years, I've been chasing him in the outdoors.  He just goes, and I follow.  I have a thousand pictures like this:

From a mile up the farm road, Hank saw two other kids who were playing in a fort in this hedgerow.
I let him out of the truck, and this is what happened.  Happy Hank. 

He runs like he's living on the set of the zombie movie "28 Weeks Later."  The boy doesn't stop.  But at four years old, he's started doing more than just running.  While he almost never stops, he now runs to find things (and other kids).  He collects things.  He tries to understand where things come from, where they go, and why they are where they are.   He has the attention span of a cricket, but his curiosity and his mind are now moving his body around more than his desire to "just go."
We put the kids to work dragging cedar limbs down the hill, down the pier, to wait for the duck boat.
All for the promise of a boat ride, which they received (and behaved during!!!)

Hank had a thousand questions about the corn stalks ("tree trunks"), the corn cobs, and the new lines of winter cover coming in.  When we pulled up in the truck, he also got to see about 200 geese fly out, right in front of him.
Hank is still perplexed by the concept of hunting, "But....the ducks are nice."   He helped the older kids (5 and 8) drag
duck blind materials to the end of the dock.  3-year old Hank would have only lasted about three minutes at this task.
Mind-blowing.  Three weeks ago, the boy sat in a chair on a boat for about fifteen entire minutes with a fishing rod.
First, the fishing was horrible.  Second, he kept fishing for another half-hour once I told him he could stand up.
In a rare moment never before captured on film, two small boys sit and talk quietly on a beached boat.
No one was punching anyone, and no one threw anyone's shoes in the water. 
Yeah, a new era has arrived at our house.   No more baby.  No more whiny toddler.  Now there is this three-plus foot tall, 40 pound thing hovering around us.  He swings from monkey bars.  He can (and does) finish our sentences when we are sure he's not listening, let alone comprehending what we're saying.

He's a boy in every typical and stereotypical sense of the world.  He is brave and anxious, wise in general but foolish in the moment, and he has a constant thirst for more adventure and more information.  He'll turn down ocean-fresh tuna but loves street vendor hot dogs.  He's a boy.

For every day outside with Hank, I need another day to recover mentally and physically.  He runs flat-out for about 17 hours a day, absolutely every single day.   But I wouldn't trade it for the kid who wants to play video games all day and whose parents are already losing touch.  Nope.  I have my boy.  And for awhile, the world can't share him.  You'll get him soon enough.

And sometimes, he really does sleep.

But don't worry.  He'll eventually wake, and you won't catch him. Until he finds a dead crab, at least.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gear Review: Redfield Rebel 10x50 Binoculars

So I finally bought some big boy optics.  I didn't want to, I assure you.  I don't like the price or the weight of adult-scale optics and it took me about three years of warming up to take the plunge.

I had many options to choose from at my local Mega Sportsmans Store, but was pretty disturbed at the gap between low end optics ($40-$100) and high end optics ($250-$2,000).  If you want to buy a pair of binocs because you need one, a quick handling of the cheapos will leave you feeling unconvinced to say the least.

Redfield brand binocs seem to sit in that no mans land of price ($120 - $230), and it's hard to know what benefits you're getting over the $75 cheapos and what bells and whistles you're losing over the $400 Nikons, for example.   But let's be straight here.  I am buying binoculars to extend my visual range when I'm doing something else.  I'm not a birder.  I've used them scouting for deer and scouting for ducks.  I plan to use them to scout for surf when riding down the beaches of North Carolina and Florida.   In all cases, I plan to put the binoculars down and go do something else.

The binoculars I ultimately chose for this type of workload was the Redfield Rebel 10x50.  They are a solid handful and at 30 ounces, are a bit heavier than I hoped.    That, along with the very cheap case and woeful chest harness included with these retail $159 pieces (as always, I paid less than retail because I can't afford retail), really seem to be the only sacrifices made to keep the price point on the Rebel.

Magnification is everything you'd expect of a $250-400 pair of binoculars and clarity is amazing.  I bought these because I needed them to handle low light conditions, and they excel in that role.  That is, until their 30oz weight starts to cramp your wrist.   It should be noted that the new-to-the-market Nikon Trailblazer 10x50 ($169) weighs 25oz, while the Bushnell Marine 7x50 weighs 36oz, so my weight wimpiness is a factor in complaining about the Rebel's 30oz package.

This pair of binoculars actually feels good in my hands, despite the weight.  Like most optics these days, they are designed around the comfort of the user, even if it adds weight.  They'll be in the field with me quite a bit this winter - you'll see pictures of them again!

Review Grading:

Performance:   A
Price:  B+
Handling/Ergonomics:  B
Total Grade:  A-


Monday, October 21, 2013

This is Four

The photo is grainy because this ridiculous activity was occurring in the pitch black of night....

Anyone who loves their kids knows that once you start talking about them, it's hard to stop.  I am so proud of our little boy.  He is an awesome guy with a HUGE heart and he sure loves his mommy.   Being his dad makes me pay a little more attention to who I am supposed to be, since he constantly asks questions like, "If God is everywhere but God is nowhere, is God just pretend?"  And "What comes after outer space?"

Being his dad has made me more active and vigilant about things like the natural resources I'll leave him one day, as well as the Constitutional rights I'll leave him with (I know, my politics are bizarre).   Before fatherhood, I was an active volunteer for various causes and organizations.  Common sense would have it that I'd spend less time doing that stuff now, because I simply have less time.  Certainly, there are evening chapter meetings and cocktail fundraisers that I miss in more ways than one, but fatherhood has lit a fire of urgency under me.  I'm realizing that my life, if I'm lucky, is nearly half gone.

"What will I leave?" has become for me an inspiring call to return simultaneously to activism, punk rock, environmentalism, and spiritual study.   Time to galvanize, figure it out, and get things done.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Scouting....The Cold is Coming

It's October duck season and it's 75 degrees outside.  Ducks are barely moving and guys hunting the best farms on the best rivers are having good but not amazing luck (not the best news for the rest of us).

My crossbow still isn't shooting straight, so it's going to the bow tech.   But the deer are moving.   It's getting cooler (mid-50s) at night.   BUT IN EIGHT DAYS WE ARE LOOKING AT 39 DEGREES FOR A LOW!

Hang in there, keep fishing, the warm blooded critters will be here soon.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Upper Potomac Strikeout

Northern West Virginia is growing on me.  Unfortunately, during my (now annual) visit here, we were still in a drought and the water was low.  The grasses were also far less dense then last year, which while providing far easier retrieves, provided far fewer hiding places for red eye rock bass, which I thoroughly enjoyed battling last year on the very same stretch of river.

I had two big hit-and-run hits from either red-eye or smallmouth bass, and while it provided some great excitement, I was able to set the hook on neither one of them.  I'm wondering for the first time if I should come back here to fish on my "own" time.  I'd certainly do it differently, but the fish are definitely here.   Grass or not.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Crossbow Cross Eyes

For all the "hunting leisure" that crossbows are supposed to provide, I sure have trouble shooting one straight.  I told everyone that I canceled my first planned bowhunt of the year because the temperature was predicted to be 87 degrees that day (true story).  But the real reason is that I need to gain some serious accuracy and serious confidence with this tool before I take it afield with the potential to get after live game.

Fallfish Wrangler!

Suffered a rare trout strikeout on my favorite local trout water on the MD/PA boundary.   Water was warm, low, and crystal clear, none of which probably did me any favors.  But I did catch sixty five bushels of fallfish, including this 13-inch wall-hanger!

Look closely, he pooped on my waders.  Also caught a bunch of juvenile smallmouth, which was fine, but not why I came here.  2013 hasn't been a banner fishing year, for sure, but that's on me, and not Nature.  Sure feels good to get outside, though.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Top Five Ways Big Bass Gave Me the Slip This Week

Easy fishing spot, no?

Fishing was a rare treat this summer, which is unfortunate.  Last week I decided to carve out a little time to chase big largemouth bass and honestly, it could have been worse.  I caught one frankensunfish and brought zero bass to hand.  But I came so close, repeatedly throwing big baits into heavy cover.   So close.  How close....

Not the Droid I Was Looking For
5.  Blind Willie Bass.  Walking a popper back alongside a log, I watched a gigantic fish blow up the water behind it, then beside it, then in front of it, then behind it again, before finally getting bored with the chase.

4. Long Distance Commuting Bass.  Walked a 4" Rapala Gold Shiner around an old stump and got a monster hit.  The fish went down and for at least three seconds I couldn't even see my line.  In that time, the fish moved across the channel right toward me, and under a sunken tree right in front of me, on the bank.  My line got loose for just a moment, and I was rewarded with two treble hooks full of rotten leaves.

3.  Domestic Spying Bass.  The smallest fish of all, at about 15 inches, came the closest to being brought to hand.  Tricked by a red sparkle YUM Shakalicious, it ran deep, jumped, and made it to the bank, where it threw the hook.  It sat still in the shallow water and I awkwardly tried to grab it like a loaf of bread, getting nothing but a handful of weeds.  Obviously, it swam away.  Except it didn't.  10 minutes later, when I came back to cast from the same spot, I stepped into the water, causing the lazy fish - now in two inches of water - to jump once more, away from me and back to safety.

2. C-Blocker Bass.  I'll admit, I've had this problem many times in the last few years.   A big fish is eyeing up the lure, and the magic is about to happen.  Up comes an 8 inch teenager and short-strikes the lure, earning an eye roll of the bigger fish, who swims away.  Yeah.  Had a few of these.  Par for the course these days, as I keep pushing toward larger lures.

1.  National Geographic Breech Shot Bass.  This was the most exciting moment of the afternoon for sure.  I landed the big golden Rapala inbetween two brush piles in deep water.  At the moment I twitched the lure, the tiny ripple of a fish lip broke the water and kept swimming in an arc across the surface of the water, breeching, then diving in slow motion.   Nature documentaries always photograph big pelagic fish this way and it was amazing, like watching a subway drive past in slow motion.  I just saw the side of a gigantic fish, followed by more of the side of the fish, and  my line tightened, and my drag ran out, all in slow motion.   After the longest second and a half in my fishing lifetime, the fish was deep, the hook was thrown, and my Rapala was slowly floating back to the surface.

Next time: sharper hooks.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hottest Waterfowl Hunt of a Lifetime

Had we killed some geese on this 95 degree morning, it would be a fabulous bookend to my 2009 blog post, "Coldest Waterfowl Hunt of a Lifetime," where we hunted hard in -17F windchills (-4F air temp) and ultimately prevailed over the geese.  But prevail we did not, on this humid and sweltering morning.    It was hot (85F) when we left the dock at 6:10am.   It was hot (88F) at dawn.  It was hot when we picked up the decoys at 8:40am (91F), without seeing or hearing a goose.

That said, it was a fine time.  There was a breeze, at least for awhile.  Several good flocks of ducks stopped in to check out the well-managed habitat around the blind.  Hope the ducks come back for duck season.   I hope to hunt hard and hunt smart this season.   Guess I'll have to wait for another day to get the smartness going.

Monday, September 16, 2013

I Scouted the Hell Out of this Land, and All I Got Was a Nest of Seed Ticks

I apologize for the profanity.  Well, no, I don't.  Well, I do, basically.  Half-way.   Well, thank whoever the Patron Saint of Foreseeable Miracles may be, but I finally got written permission to hunt a property that I've been asking to hunt for a few years.  The landowner never said no, but my request never really got anywhere until I built the relationship and was able to bring it up multiple times in a row.   Now, I need to understand how deer actually use this property.   Only way to do that is to spend time there.

So yeah, it's marginally overgrown.  The photo to the left is looking down a 60 foot cliff.  Cons:  not being able to see anything below that canopy of porcelainberry.  Pros:  well defined deer trail on the cliff face.  Tactic:   wait until the leaves fall.

Landowner said that one small herd of deer beds down in the overgrown weeds clearly dominating the right side of this photo.  OH - you don't see the weeds?  That's because two weeks before archery season, the landowner got sick of the weeds and bush hogged them.  The herd freaked out (under the bush hog) and ran off the farm and onto the adjacent county road, causing an accident with a car.  Brilliant.

A long-standing client of the landowner has hunted here for many years and received the "first right" of hunting locations.  That he picked the best spot on the property - a mowed, grassy slope connecting the upper fields to the lower swamp - is no surprise.  That he chose to put a 20' tree stand right on the crown of a 60' slope is a bit of a surprise.  Guess the guy likes shooting long distances, straight down.

Bottom of the deer trail.  Can you see it? Above all, it's great to get outside this time of year.  Even though I walked through several chiggers and one solid nest of seed ticks, resulting in a total 30-40 bites.  The deer are there, and I'm looking forward to cooler weather to go find them.

Friday, September 13, 2013

All Your Creativity Is Belong To Us

If you're at all disappointed with the lack of updates on this blog, you're not alone.  Well, you're almost alone.  But at least you can confide in me, because I am also disappointed with the lack of updates on this blog.  While last month I promulgated some excuses for the lack of inactivity (dare you to read "promulgated" and try to swallow food at the same time - tip of the day - go ahead and dial 911 first), I haven't come totally clean.  And I still won't today, ha ha!!!!  Hey, look, Miley Cyrus!

Anyway, I'm working on a big writing project.  I have no idea what I'm doing.  But I'm writing.   Thousands of mostly coherent words spanning into mostly coherent paragraphs into slightly coherent chapters,  that hopefully are not rip-offs of the music I've been listening to lately, like Lucero's "When I Was Young."

I've also been writing a fair bit for work, and writing lectures for the night class I teach.  My creative energy is the center of an interesting tug-of-war between things that need to get done and things that I would really like to get done.  Apparently, it's not going to get any simpler, as I found out in the middle of writing this that I've been accepted as a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA).   I'm feeling excited and challenged by it.  I blogged awhile back about my reservations on OWAA, namely that for several years their membership screening process blocked out bloggers in favor of people who were perhaps "professional outdoor communicators" but not necessarily what I'd call an "outdoor writer."  Then ago, I'm sure this year's suite of Marketing Interns with OWAA memberships might say the same about me!

Anyway, I pledged to try it.  I hope that my writing improves and that my ability to sell my writing improves.  Those really are the only goals.   The other ethereal stuff has always been easy for me, "Meet new connections," and "share a river with a new friend."  I do that everywhere.

Okay you bastards, I have to write a lecture now. Love you all, you bunch of lurkers!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Lazy Morning Yak Fishing on the Middle Bay

I helped save this island as part of my job several
years ago. On this day, I paddled to it and caught perch
on the outgoing tide.
Got a chance to get out for a few hours with some friends somewhere on the border between southern and central Maryland.  I've been out so few times this summer that I was just focused on having a good time.  Surprisingly, we caught striped bass (none legal) in the channel and a good bunch of white perch against shoreline structure.  One buddy caught and kept a 13-inch perch; we returned everything else unharmed.  The wind was up and the water was cloudy - live bait would've helped us quite a bit.  Beautiful day out...hard to believe fall is here.  Well, it's close.  It was 87 degrees again today.

On this trip, I borrowed a sit-in boat, rather than haul my 12' boat 50 miles down the road for a 3 hour fishing trip.  I should have hauled my 12' boat 50 miles down the road.  I never want to fish from a sit-in boat again in my life, despite having done it for almost a decade (until 2012).

Hope everybody's getting outside - we're turning over the summer garden, scouting for bow season (that 87 degree thing is a kicker), and planning for our first resident goose hunt later this week.

See you on the water!

I swear this was the smallest one I caught!  Flubbed the photo on two bigger fish....classic maneuver (blurry hand photo)

Whenever I land a kayak on the beach, I'm reminded of the Kenny Powers quote, which is something like,
"You always have to advertise with jet skis!!"  "WHY? Why? Listen here, have you ever seen a SAD PERSON on a jet ski? Of course not."   Well, I hate PWCs but I feel that way about the beach. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

10 Things A Beginning Duck Hunter Must Have

Sunrise in the duck blind - that's why you are doing this
I didn't have a whole lot of guidance when I got into waterfowling 20 years ago, and so in my first few seasons, I wasted money buying things I didn't really need.  In most cases, I bought things that were helpful, but simply weren't necessary.  In other cases, I bought things that were literally useless and a waste of money - and I didn't have much money to spread around.

It's true that some of the most successful hunters I know shoot 30-year old guns and wear blue jeans and frayed brown sweaters in the duck blind.  Getting into the "intangibles" of their success (like hours scouting vs. hours hunting) has been the subject of many, many great books about waterfowling, so I won't belabor the point here.  It'll be part of your learning curve, as it was mine.

Waterfowl hunting is an expensive pursuit, and as the average age (and roughly age-associated disposable income) of American hunters increases, the pursuit is only getting more expensive.  Purchasing "the right gear" can be a new hunter's budget killer if you let the advertising (or pursuit of perfection) lure you in.  Don't do it - but don't do nothing.   To be successful, you're going to need some stuff.  Not all of the stuff.  Just some.  In addition to the intangibles, I've left off notable "things" like "your hunting license" and "permission from the property owner."  This is strictly a gear list, so here you go:

10. Your own shotgun.  This could have been #1 on the list, but I wanted to get it out of the way immediately. Do not borrow a gun as a routine.  You need to know your gun, how it shoots, and very importantly, where the safety is and how to know (by feel and by sight) whether the safety is on or off.   Sounds stupid, right?  Well, I once found my face at the wrong end of a borrowed, loaded 12 gauge as the handler struggled to find the safety in the darkness of the duck blind.   If you don't have religion, you'll find it that day. Let me pause for a deep breath.
The venerable Remington 870 Express - I still shoot mine (purchased in 1996) a few times per year

You need to understand how your gun fits you (even if it fits poorly, take that into consideration when you are preparing to shoulder it and take a wing shot, and after the season's over, take it to the gunsmith to be fitted to you - small money well spent).   Another tip you should know - not all guns shoot all types of ammo the same way.  Seems ridiculous, but it's true.  You'll want to find out which loads (what we call duck ammunition) work with which choke in which gun.  It takes time...and it can't start without you buying your own gun.

Many thousands of ducks have been shot with $250 Mossberg and Remington pump action guns.  Buy one. Budget recommended:  Remington 870 or Mossberg 835 12 gauge, with chokes included, both about $325.

9.  Gun oil. And not WD-40.  If you don't own gun oil, you don't take your gun, or your hunting, seriously.  Buy some.  Even the expensive oil costs just $19.00.  Clean that damn gun.  Especially if it's a cheap gun. WD-40 is not gun oil.  Real gun oil either says "Gun Oil" or contains the word "gun/firearm" PLUS the acronym "CLP" (clean, lubricate, protect).    Budget recommended:  Your gun manufacturer's gun oil, usually $5.00.  Currently under evaluation by 'me' : Frog Lube CLP ($20).

8.  A good folding knife.  This does not mean a $300 knife.  Your knife will need to serve many purposes - dressing birds, working as a screwdriver, use for gun repair, cutting brush, and cutting decoy line.   Some will get dull, others will break, others will chip.  I don't have 3000 hours to spend researching the perfect blend of steel alloys for a hunting knife, and you probably don't either.  Spend $35-60 on a decent knife.  If it lasts and it feels right in your hand, buy a back-up.  Budget recommended:   CRKT Tanto ($40), Buck Parallax ($25), Kershaw Kuro ($40).  All are solid knives, and you won't cry when you break them or they rust shut after being left in your waders.  Oh, you laugh now....but you'll see.

7. A serviceable duck or goose call.  A $20 duck and/or goose call will get you farther than you think, although like all bird calls, they can cause a lot of problems too.   You will be humbled on the day that your well-practiced call sequence causes decoying birds to literally stop and fly in the opposite direction....away from you.  Ahh, memories.  You're not going to call in a flock of 60 birds with a $20 Primos call, but on a foggy morning, you absolutely might earn a return visit from a single, lost bird who just flew past your spread and only needs to get five yards closer to be within range.  Budget recommended:  Primos Timber Wench, $18-22.

6.  Camo, brown or black PFD.   If you hunt in a boat in more than three feet of water, you need to leave your PFD on at all times.    And if you buy a colorful PFD, you are going to convince yourself not to wear it because ducks will see it.   If you can afford it, purchase a black, low profile inflatable PFD ($100-200). Budget recommended: MTI PFDs, $55-90.

5. 6-10 decoys.  Know your area.  Know what ducks or geese are really there.  And - for now -  buy only as many decoys as you can reasonably, quietly carry to your hunting spot.   Budget recommended:  4 pack BPS Redhead Canada Goose floaters, $79 ; 6 pack weighted keel Avery Greenhead Gear duck decoys (pick your species or a mixed pack), about $40-50. Note: Yes I know that better decoys exist. They all cost more money, too. 

4. Smart phone / emergency radio / 2-way radio.  Choice is up to you on this one, but having been out on the water in a sudden white-out in late January, it's more than just "helpful" to have access to weather and marine forecasts or to be able to broadcast your location to "someone" on the other end of the airwaves.  How wrong you can afford to be (and how much you should spend) depends on whether you're hunting on a farm pond 1000' from a hard road, or on an island 4 miles from fast land.   Cost:  Up to you.

3.  Flashlight / headlamp.  Hunters have a wide range of opinions on what's best for the job, and the range is almost comical.  Some hunters prefer $5 clip-on LED lamps that fit on a ball cap brim (a great place to start), while others want a 65 million candlepower hand-held light to make sure the boat doesn't hit a stump at 15mph.   I've owned many headlamps and many flashlights and I'm not yet sure I've found the "one size fits all" solution.  I'm currently using the Black Diamond ReVolt (100 lumens, $70).

2. Bird and wing identification book or pamphlet.  Can't overemphasize this one.  If you haven't been around ducks on the wing, the learning curve can be difficult, and a hunter using strong ethics will avoid taking shots on birds that he or she has not identified prior to shooting.   This is especially tough outside of the best hunting areas, because the majority of shots will be in low light conditions.  Hold your fire, let them land, and figure out what they are.  Hopefully the first flock will help decoy in a few more.  Budget recommended:  the gold standard for 30 years was the free USFWS guide "Ducks at a Distance," but it is out of print.  You can still download the pdf sections here and store them on your smart phone, if you're so inclined.

1. Waterproof waders or boots.  It would take a phenomenal idiot to attempt waterfowl hunting, even in a winter corn field, without waterproof boots.  Yet, it happens every year.  No matter what boots or waders I wear to a hunt, I usually end up pushing them to their maximum depth or other tolerance either due to standing in water to repair boats, setting and retrieving decoys, and retrieving downed birds when the dogs refuse to do it.  A lot of times, cheap is good.  But being cold, or possibly losing a toe to frostbite, doesn't pay well either.  Suck it up and buy at least two of the following three:  a good ($100-150) pair of insulated rubber knee boots, a good ($80-150) pair of thigh waders or wading pants, and/or a good ($150-300) pair of insulated chest waders.   Personally, I wear (and am quite happy with) Cabela's LightMag Waders ($169) and LaCrosse AlphaLite Mud Boots (reviewed by me here) ($80-130, depending on your size).

I hope you, the new hunter, has found this list to be helpful.  At least as of the time of writing this, I'm on the payroll of none of the companies or products I've described above, and as a beginner, you'll do fine with all of them.  The important things are twofold: to have your bases covered, and to remind yourself, on that frosty January morning when the alarm goes off at 3:15am, you "can't kill 'em from the couch."  Get out there and try it!

Killed over five decoys while I was hiding behind a stump on the shoreline, last week of goose season 2012-2013

No Video Content For You

Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...