Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Becoming a Certified Outdoor Writer?

Are bloggers, by definition, writers? If so, should they align professionally with other writers?  It's a complex question, and I asked it of myself about seven years and 600+ blog posts ago, when I began to put River Mud together as the organic thing that it is today.  I quickly found out that according to some, I was not a writer.  

At the time, I was working as a wetland restoration biologist for Ducks Unlimited.  Our regional communications director at the time - a bona fide professional writer - was one of the most spectacularly poor communicators I have ever known in the conservation industry, and I have known many.  I used to make myself laugh by thinking about how hard it was for her to write (or even type) coherently.  Did she have a giant massage chair with some kind of metal, electrified "thinking cap"?  Did she do yoga on her head to concentrate?  Flash cards with fancy words? The punch line was always the same - it didn't work! Still can't write!  

 I'd laugh less when, sitting, tired, briar-torn and mud-baked in a hotel room hundreds of miles from home, I'd receive 11:30pm emails like, "We need to hit the media in North Jersey.  Write me a story about our conservation efforts in North Jersey. Something about hunting heritage blah blah blah.  By tomorrow, 8am CST."   In a twist that was surprising to no one, the resulting articles would be published in her name, usually with an obligatory quote from the lowly field biologist who had written the entire article. I eventually quit complying with her requests by sending dismissive "nothing to report!" emails, a fact that was duly noted in my performance review.   She was fired a few months later for something or other, and I didn't think about her again until today when I read about OWAA's re-definition of "outdoor writer,"which was a relief to see after so many years.

When all that work-related stupidity was going on, this blog was just a few months old, and I thought it would be outstanding to get involved in one of these Outdoor Writer Thingies, because I could meet some folks who could inspire me or disabuse me of any bad ideas I had (I had, and have, many).  Maybe, through networking, fellowship, hard work, and luck, an organization like the Outdoor Writers Association of America could help me become a better outdoors writer.  Seemed like a good reason to invest in a membership of an organization, even one that claimed my former Comm. Director as a member.  So I looked it up.

That's when I met The Rules.  

(paraphrased, with snark)
1.  You have to pay a (not insignificant) annual fee to be called an outdoors writer
2.  You are not a writer unless writing is your full time job
3.  You are not a writer unless someone pays you cold hard cash for each writing task.  Preferably, gold pirate dubloons, or alternately, Confederate dollars in a burlap sack with "$$$" printed on the outside.

Ah.  A setback.  It seemed weird, because writing about the outdoors has been, and continues to be, central to my success as a field biologist.  High quality writing for magazines, newsletters, technical reports, grant applications, and permits has always been a basic requirement of work.  For a decade and a half. Not counting this blog or the many other I've contributed articles toward.   But the Outdoor Writers Association of America sure seemed to disagree.  I didn't meet the Writer requirements of The Rules.  And that was that. 

So, I had mixed feelings today when I read about OWAA's recent decision to allow some outdoor bloggers to join the ranks of their membership.  Dues are still $150, or about a dozen of the best custom duck decoys that money can buy. Or the price of a nice rod and reel combo.  Or the price of a few tanks of gas to share some days afield with old and new friends.  

My bottom line is that seven years ago, I craved and needed the support of an OWAA or something similar.  I found no such support, because unlike every camo-clad 21-year old Pro Staff communications intern for Mossy Oak, I somehow didn't qualify as A Writer.  Now, I'm nearly 40 years old.  My writing is still improving, but I've been at it for quite a while now.  My mind is still growing, but I am growing more stubborn as the calendar continues to turn.  I don't know if I have a place in my mind or my schedule for some of the people I've met who quixotically refer to themselves as outdoor writers - those who arguably care about neither the outdoors or writing as a profession.  That hurts, because I've dedicated my life and my career to both, a passion that can't be captured in a published article like, "Top 10 Shotguns Under $25,000!"  

I'm glad that OWAA is now accepting membership applications from some outdoor bloggers.  But "accepting applications" does not inspire the type of fellowship, critique, and professional enhancement that I've been seeking all this time.  Perhaps as the first cadre of outdoor bloggers enters into the fold at OWAA, that will change.  I sense that OWAA believes that's the case, and seems to accept it, which makes them a rarity among organizations.  Credit is due on that account. 

I owe much to my writing.  It has expanded my great professional reputation over a pretty nice geographical region, and has helped me explain some controversial outdoor issues I've been involved with over the years.  It has helped me sort my own thoughts and theories out in private, and in some cases, it has spared me very public embarrassment.   I would love for my writing to have a more spacious home one day, but for right now, its home is here, where the OWAA said - until today - that it belongs.   I look forward to seeing OWAA grow and seeing how their acceptance of the blog format as "writing" impacts their larger body of members, and their idea of what outdoor writing is supposed to be, and supposed to do.



Monday, January 28, 2013

A Day Late and Two Geese Short

After working hard and quickly adapting to find a way to kill a goose on the farm one day, I returned the next day to hunt with TB and Steve.  Conditions were weird.  50 degrees.  Fog.  No wind.  The geese had fed throughout the previous day in the rain.  What in the world would they do today?    What we did next, well, I can't really explain why we did it, but we did.  We decided to hunt the East Pit, where I have not shot a goose since December 2009, but have returned, like a dummy, at least once a season since then.   It's my comfort zone, and it's not a good one.


We had a few small flocks of geese take a look, but they just weren't really motivated to come into the spread.  Maybe if we had stayed longer.  Put out more decoys. Less decoys.  Called better.  The geese didn't do anything consistent on this day, and I learned almost nothing, which is rare.

Here's what I did learn - repeating the same mistakes and expecting the law of averages to right the wrongs of the past is a loser's game.  I won't hunt that pit again until I personally see live geese standing on top of it.  It's time to hunt differently. Harder. Smarter.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Lose Conventional Wisdom, Gain a Black Duck

Over the last three seasons, I've spent a lot of mornings hunting how I think I'm supposed to hunt.  We have duck blinds.  We have goose pits.  That's where you go.   In X wind, you hunt out of Y duck blind.  Simple.  That's how they did it in the 1960s.  That's how they still do it in Arkansas, on the Texas Coast, and up and down the Mississippi.  The problem with that ideology is twofold. First, this is the Atlantic Flyway - the migration is always patchy, and hunting regulations prohibit us from moving our hunting setup the way that folks can and do in other parts of the country.  Second problem is that each of the last four migrations have been completely different from one another, and no one tactic has worked.  For that matter, no twenty tactics have worked.  Last season, one of the worst waterfowl seasons on record, I stuck to the playbook, and got burned as bad as most.  This season, I'm trying to do it differently.
You're right, ducks probably can't see that duck blind. Especially after you shoot out of there like it's
the Battle of Gettysburg.


Conventional wisdom is that it's not worth hunting the evening flight on the east coast.  The birds start too close to the end of legal shooting time, sometimes not flying in until after dark.  So I threw out the first decoys at 2:30pm.


Conventional wisdom is that the migrating flocks have arrived at the wintering grounds, and as a result, setting out less than 100 decoys is a waste of time.  I placed 11.  One at a time.  Three magnum buffleheads, four magnum black ducks, and four burlapped foam black ducks.


Conventional wisdom is that there's no point setting up decoys between the loafing spot (200 yards offshore) and the roost (where someone else has licensed duck blinds), but the wind favored me, so I set up on a sand spit inbetween the two spots.

Conventional wisdom is that your best shot on decoying ducks is from directly inshore of  your decoys, but that doesn't account for the giant oak tree overlooking my spread, which makes the ducks swing wide.  So after the first few flocks swung wide and low, flaring at the last minute, I hunted from a point looking inland on my decoys.

Conventional wisdom is that nobody hunts outside of a blind anymore, especially in a flyway that boasts 8 and 10 year old geese who know the shorelines of the creeks. You'd think that the conventional wisdom would be that here, just 10 miles from the east coast's goose hunting capital, the ducks and geese get an idea pretty quickly about where the duck blinds are.  I used two hides on this hunt: a fallen red cedar on the shoreline, and a patch of reeds on the shoreline.  Conventionally, I'd laugh at the prospect of hunting behind either. Especially in January.

Conventional wisdom is that a wing shot is a wing shot.  But I'm pretty sure that was written by someone who either shot too many ducks, or not enough.  Because when I laid the hammer down on that black duck just two minutes before the end of legal shooting time, it sure fell. Fast and head first.

Conventional wisdom is that you can lose track of how dark it really is when the setting sun is in your face, and suddenly, you have to find a duck in the weeds.  Turns out, conventional wisdom was right about that one.



Wednesday, January 23, 2013

January Waterfowling - The Great Gear Gamble

For hunters without kids, it's relatively easy to prepare for a hunt.  You just stop doing whatever it is you're doing, and you go get your gear ready, probably for a hunt on the very next morning.  Can't do that with young kids around, though they are energetic and underfoot every moment they are awake.  Laying out and counting shotgun shells, lead weights, and knives is just not a toddler compatible activity.  Then there's the very real possibility that the distracted and exhausted parent forgot to pack some important gear.  Hunting license. Life jacket.  Push pole.  All are easy to forget.

And so, in the depths of my crisp, cool basement at 1:30am, I prepare, check, and recheck.   It's 36 hours before my next hunt, and it's January, so conditions could change drastically between now and when I let my first decoy sail through the air and into the creek.  Almost every piece of gear I've packed could be rendered useless by a shift in the wind forecast or a wild swing in the temperature forecast.   And there's nothing I can do about it.

I'm preparing for the kind of hunt I used to know how to manage.  The kind of hunt that taught me about hunting.  I'm not speaking of mallard hunts over rice, or pintails in flooded corn.  I taught myself to hunt on shallow saltwater in January.   The decoy spread isn't diverse or beautiful.  Honestly, unless wigeon are in town, it just can't be.   5 magnum black ducks.  4 life size black ducks.  3 magnum buffleheads off the edge of the decoy spread.  15 life size bluebills on a long line that I'll be converting to a jerk line as I sit in the blind.  Five floating geese (two pairs and a single).   That's it.  30 decoys in January.

I hope to get out there, mid-afternoon, and enjoy the wind.  Enjoy the silence.  And also to enjoy the luxury of setting up for a hunt in broad daylight.   I hope that the wind forecast doesn't change.  That the forecast doesn't change from rain to bright sunshine.  If it does, I will have lost my gamble.  All those decoys will sit in the basement until another hunt on another day.  I'll have to patiently wait for my son to go to bed on the night before my hunt and then furiously put together gear for a very different hunt than I'm envisioning.  A whole lot could go wrong before I wade out into that river.  A lot more could go wrong once I arrive there.

And that's the gamble.  To succeed as a result of it is good; to succeed in spite of it is remarkable.  For now, I'm ready for that wind - I'll be sitting on the leeward side of a sandbar, protected by a huge shield of growing bamboo.  I'm ready for that marsh. It's smell as I crush its surface and plunge my wader boot deep into the layered mix of sand, mud, and gravel.    I'm ready for that low tide that will give ducks a chance to eat in the mud all afternoon, all while being unaware of my presence.

It's January.  Time to gamble on ducks and geese.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Ducks on the Brain - One More Week



Thanks to an understanding boss and saint of a wife, I've been able to hunt several times in the waning weeks of the 2012-2013 waterfowl season.  It has not, in any way, been a banner year, but I've treated it like the blessing it is, anyway, as the memory of the last horrid season still hangs over me.   The biggest change, though, is ducks on the brain.  Listen to this:

video

I've seen and heard more ducks - and more species of ducks - than I have in at least four duck seasons.  I've watched tundra swans land on the water.  Teal, gadwall, wigeon, black ducks, mallards, wood ducks, bluebills, buffleheads, and even the lowly ruddy duck.  I've intentionally not shot at ducks because I didn't really want to eat them (bufflehead, ruddy duck).  I've intentionally not shot at ducks because they were just a bit beyond 40 yards out, and I was sure that more might be coming.  The latter is true for geese as well, although the memory of a few passed up "easy" 45-50 yard belly shots are haunting me more than I thought they would.

Over the last decade, I've cut my teeth on hunting "new birds" - those who have just arrived, under cover of darkness, from New York and Pennsylvania.  Hungry birds who do not know which fields have goose pits, which islands have duck blinds, and which farms are owned by anti-hunters who bait waterfowl.  The birds figure that all out in less than a week, I believe.  To keep hunting "traditionally," then, we need a continued cold air mass, snow and cold air to our north, and new flights of birds with no local knowledge.

But we don't get those things any more.  We're all having to face the possibility that the look and feel of winter in the Mid-Atlantic is changing - not drastically, but quickly.  10 years ago, a major duck hunting problem in almost every January was the fact that my hunting spots would all be frozen over, and ducks wouldn't have used them for days or weeks because they were frozen.  January 2010 was the last January like that (daytime temperatures in the teens), and even so, air temperatures stayed in the 70s until just a month prior (December 2009).

To be adaptive and hunt, when there are actually ducks and geese "around," is not a burden - it's a freedom I don't know, though I can and should know it. I'm exuberantly waiting my opportunity to use it.  To learn more.  And maybe that's the one thing I learned on this foggy, sleepy morning in the goose pit.  It's time to try  some new tactics and be free.   Fewer 10-dozen goose decoy setups.  Fewer mornings with multiple welded duck boats floating around placing 5 dozen floating decoys.  Maybe just a morning or two stalking the shoreline with a half dozen of my very best decoys, hoping to get a shot at a bird or two to make the effort worthwhile.  I have ducks on the brain, and I can't wait to try.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Hunting Fat, Lazy Ducks on Big, Warm Water

Crazy, crazy January weather.  But I'm not going to NOT go.  Set up on buddy John's river blind last week, hoping that the week's last sub-40 degree morning might bring around some hungry ducks and geese.  It didn't really pan out, but it was good to get back in the rhythm of things - hadn't been hunting since before the holidays.

Joe, a cohort of mine from another conservation group, joined us.  He's young, and had never hunted offshore, so he was pretty excited.  Being able to sit comfortably over the water and talk about wetlands and conservation and ducks was really an outstanding way to start the week.

Temperatures quickly rose from the low of 38 to 42, then 49.   We got to see quite a few buffleheads zipping right outside the edge of our decoy spread.  I'd gotten out of habit of being able to sight them, pick up a gun, and shoot them within a few seconds - a quickness required for a bird that flies at nearly 50mph.   Eventually, a whole raft of buffleheads was floating around us.  Taunting. We were also treated to a whole ton of ruddy ducks bobbing around in the decoy spread.  I have eaten exactly one ruddy duck in my life, and I hope that I never have to eat another one.  So we watched them bounce around in the waves for awhile.

Sometimes, it's about habit.  It's about going.  This was one of those days, and I don't regret the two hours of sleep I missed.  Just a few weeks left in the season - hopefully the cold weather will return.



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Virginia Delegate Lee Ware - Unknowing Ally in the Effort to End Hunting

Update - 1/17/13 - the scene is rapidly changing with regard to these bills.  Four out of five (the most compromising) were summarily tabled. The most aggressive bill, HB 2225, has not been scheduled for hearings but appears (at this moment) to still be alive.  When and if facts arise that contradict my predictions below about Delegate Ware's maneuvers on Sunday hunting, I will print a lengthy, separate correction that will be linked to the top of this post. 

Across the country, advocates for our hunting heritage are working tirelessly to expand access and opportunity to hunters.   More hunting days.  More places to hunt.  More ways to hunt.   Extensive studies show that these factors help drive hunter retention and recruitment within our community.  Those same studies show that the failure to expand opportunities for hunting has coincided with a decrease not only in hunters, but in participants in other outdoor activities as well.  Anti-hunting activists are well aware of this, and are working throughout the country, including throughout Virginia, to decrease the amount of access and opportunity that hunters might have.  Anti-hunters, of course, dream of a day when hunting is no longer legal.


In Virginia today, a perplexing thing will happen.  You see, within the first three full days of Virginia's 2013 Legislative Session, no less than five separate bills were proposed to expand hunting opportunities for Virginians (and for big spending hunters interested in traveling to Virginia).  These bills all seem to reflect a variety of well-thought out issues related to Sunday hunting - from deer and deer tick population control in Northern Virginia (HB 1762) to the transfer of the "sunday hunting ban" on military installations to the discretion of the base commander, to a revocation of the "sunday hunting ban" on private properties only (HB 2225).  None of the proposals, on their face, seem unreasonable or absurd.

So, as in years past, it is time for Delegate Lee Ware's Natural Resources SubCommittee to go to work on the business of governance.  This is particularly perplexing for Delegate Ware, who has been a vocal opponent of Sunday hunting.  Well, sort of.  Let's recall Ware's record here - he staunchly opposes Sunday hunting, but authored a bill - which became law - to make it illegal for game wardens to "assume" that a hunter "in the woods with a gun" is "hunting on Sunday.").   I think we can all agree that Ware paints himself into an amusing corner on the issue.

What's less amusing is that Ware has the opportunity to "get right" with the hunting community and with property rights advocates in the Commonwealth - by simply allowing some limited form of Sunday hunting for the general public, at least in some counties, at least for those who can get landowner permission or who are hunting on their very own property.    Yet, he will not get right.  He won't change at all, in fact.

 He scheduled every single Sunday hunting related bill to be heard and discussed, off the record, one after the other, rapid fire, at 5:00pm on the Subcommittee's first full day of business (today, January 16, 2013) (previous to today, their time has been taken up in committees as well as in the approval of elected state judges, and other formalities of the Session).  The Bills' patrons have individually requested extensions for times and dates more conducive to discussion and debate.  Ware has rebuffed each request.  Delegate Lee Ware intends to use his privilege  as Sub-Committee Chair to continue to summarily prevent landowners from hunting on their own property one day a week.  Many of his donors are hunters.  Some oppose Sunday hunting.  Some favor Sunday hunting.  All voted for him.  In my mind, that means that a detailed consideration of this legislation is very important.

Delegate Lee Ware doesn't believe that he is harming the future of hunting of Virginia - one of only seven states with an outright ban on sunday hunting.  He probably doesn't know (even though the NRA has reported on it several times) that Virginia is one of the few states that are not gaining hunters, and in fact, Virginia is suffering approximately a 3% attrition rate for hunting license sales - one of the worst in the nation.   All this while moms and dads shuttle kids around on Saturdays, and on Sundays, have to fumble for an answer when their kids ask, "Why can't we go hunting after church, but we can go fishing and target shooting and bike riding?"

Delegate Lee Ware, it appears to me, has never considered these things because they are not reality to him - and not because he is dumb, or lazy, or selfish. His family and his local friends enjoy a strong hunting tradition, rooted in decades of family, business, church fellowship, and good relationships that lead to high quality access to tens of thousands of acres of hunting land.  No, I really don't believe that Ware knows he is harming our sporting tradition.  I don't believe that he's in any way aware that true threats to our traditions really exist, because perhaps these threats have not quite permeated the conversations of hunters in his area.  An area where terms like "hunter harassment" and "interfering with a legal hunt" are foreign phrases.

But the anti-hunters know.  Oh boy, do they.  I've read that they've stopped sending representatives to Richmond on this issue because they know that they can count on Republican Lee Ware to represent their best interest - to slowly but steadily put out the flame of hunting tradition in Virginia.   They won't have to fight property rights advocates who rightly ask, "Why sunday, on my land?" They won't have to face it, because Lee Ware will handle it for them, without knowing he's doing them a favor.

 And today, at 5:00pm, every Sunday hunting-related bill proposed to the Virginia House of Delegates will be summarily tabled for another year.   Anti-hunting activists and eco-terrorists will celebrate.  So will Lee Ware and his staff.  Both camps will claim victory.  But only one group actually prevailed.  

If you listen closely, you can hear their celebration across the miles:  "Here's to 3% fewer Virginia hunters in 2013! Three cheers for Lee Ware!"

If this lack of government transparency concerns you, please use the Commonwealth's "Who's My Legislator?" tool to contact your local delegate today, January 16, 2013.  Please request (politely) that they ask Delegate Ware for the Bill to be heard outside of the Subcommittee, in the ACNR.  Even if you do not support Sunday hunting, please allow the Bill to be heard, on the record. 


Monday, January 14, 2013

Sassafras River Goose Stalk


Sometimes, going outdoors becomes routine.  It's a blessing, actually.  But when that happens, it's important to be able to find a day to get out and exercise our brains again.  A new place to hunt.  Or the same old place, but under very different conditions.  The constraints of my work and family obligations don't leave a lot of time for those, and sometimes I forget that a free-roaming imagination can still be mine - if I make the time.

I hunted in a familiar spot on Maryland's eastern shore.  Conditions were acceptable (light rain, 40 degrees) but certainly not optimal for January hunting.  Bob and I hunted an island blind that was just barely out of the wind over about 2 dozen floating goose decoys and another dozen floating duck decoys.  Right after legal shooting time (6:50am), the ducks flew.  It's been a long time since I've seen so many ducks in one place.  And I don't know that I've ever seen so many ducks while duck hunting.  To hear the symphony was amazing - mallards, wigeon, wood ducks, loons, geese, and swans.   Just amazing to see it.  Unfortunately, they were swinging wide of us - the mild weather has made them well aware of the best feeding areas (i.e. not in front of our duck blind) and so they now move quite efficiently from spot to spot, without any real concern about our truly masterful decoy setup.  But what a beautiful sight.

I left the blind at one point, hiding behind a fallen tree on the island's northern point to see if I could pass shoot any of the birds on their way to the feeding grounds.  I could have shot at dozens, and at least three flocks came within 60 yards.  What can I say - the shot never felt right.  But what a sight - watching tundra swans circle the creek like loaded-down C-5 Galaxies, each of their graceful glides ending with a huge splash and a wave on the creek's surface.  By 9am, the ducks had fully moved off the roost, and onto a shoreline protected from the wind, and obviously loaded with clams, worms, and acorns.

Luckily, the geese began moving off of the River around 8am.  They were lazy, having fed in mild temperatures and sunny fields for the better part of the week.  But they were also anxious, well aware of the dropping barometer (luckily they didn't know a warm front - not a cold front- was on the way).   The geese weren't overly concerned about whether, or how we were hunting, which was a bit of a concern to us.  Nothing we did seem to scare them or attract them.  Calling, not calling.  Flagging, not flagging.  Standing in front of the blind, or not.  They just were not coming - this is what happens when migratory birds become patterned in a wintering area.  They know where to go.  And if you're a hunter on the east coast, where it's illegal to hunt on anyone's private property without an annually signed permission letter from the landowner, you probably don't have access to wherever the birds are going.

But we worked.  We worked out of the blind.  We worked in the blind.  We patterned the birds themselves, and found out that in several large flocks, single "attached" birds without a mate could be pulled off of the flock fairly easily - but not quite into the decoys.  We then figured out that as the flocks were headed upstream, any birds on the left of the flock that peeled off and looked at the decoy spread did not have to fly over the entire island above the trees......the left-peeling singles were low, before they turned over the far right edge of the spread, they were within gun range for just two or three seconds.  It took us a lot of talking, watching, listening, and, the funnest part, a hike up to the island's cliff, to figure out our odds.

Once we thought we had figured it out, no geese peeled off of the left of any flock for 20 minutes.  Then, in two flocks in a row, a single bird peeled left.  Each one fell to the water with a single shot, at about 45 yards, at one particular angle off of one corner of the island.  I was shooting 3.5" Hevi-Metal #3, which apparently can kill a goose at 45 yards.  Bob was shooting 3" Black Cloud #2, which I already know can kill a bird stone-dead at 45 yards, and I watched it again.   Just 10 minutes later, around 10am, the morning flight was over.

I saw the farm from a few perspectives I'd not seen before.  I used both old and new knowledge of the river to truly hunt birds, not just lay in wait for them with calls and decoys.  I loved it.  And I can't wait to go back.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gear Review: Doc Martens Dubbin Polish for Boots

I know what you're thinking.  Doc Martens. England.  And....well....


But, this blog post is only about taking care of your boots.   I've written passionately about my Danner Mountain Lights ($320) time and time again on this blog, and even how to heat-wax them (highly recommended).   My other two primary pairs of boots are Danner Sierra Upland Boots ($320) as a back-up pair to my Mountain Lights, and Doc Martens 1490s ($140) for wear in the city on wet and snowy days.   Unless you don't pay for your own boots, you absolutely must take care of them.  If they are leather, wax is where you start.


I was ordering a new set of laces for my Docs and saw on the Doc Martens USA website that they are also selling leather care products as well (a no-brainer, since almost all of their boots are shiny leather, extra-shiny leather, or patent leather).   I did a little homework and saw that the most utilitarian wax in their product line appeared to be their Dubbin Polish.  When the package arrived, I was pretty pleased with how clean and simple the packaging was.  Good stuff.  (Deep inhale)....good branding.


Dubbin (Dubbing) wax has the long and tedious history that one might expect of any traditional product made of natural ingredients.  Uses of dubbin wax range from fly-tying assistant to toilet wax rings, and I reckon that "boot waterproofer" fits nicely inbetween those two extremes.   I honestly wondered if Doc Martens Dubbin Polish, designed to waterproof leather boots in the cold, wet, and dirty streets of London, would offer serious protection to not just my Docs, but my work boots as well.  Before waxing:


After waxing:


Doc Martens Dubbin Polish went on thick and tacky.  This is not a wax for dress boots.  It worked easily into the pores of three different types of leather and moved quickly across dry leather at room temperature.  But - it's very tacky - much more so than typical boot waxes.   It also tends to disappear quite quickly:

I've had a chance to wear all three pairs of boots in the mud, snow, and rain since I waxed them.  On both pairs of Danners, I was amused/disappointed at how long the wax stayed tacky - I ended up with tiny bits of leaves on the toe boxes of both boots.  That was not the case with my Docs, which I wore twice in the City, in the snow, with what appears to be no impact to the initial finish from the wax.

The downside to using such a durable wax, aside from the leaf-collecting that I mentioned above, is that it's easy to get random, lasting spots and stains on your boots because bits of dirt and grime will simply just remain attached.  In the case of my Danners, both of which have seen over 1,000 miles of hiking/surveying/ working/hunting, nobody would even know if there was a spot on my boot, and hell, a spot probably means a good story.  On my Docs, well, honestly I don't want to re-polish and re-lace them any time soon, so I will just make sure to wipe them down after they get wet.  Hopefully that will extend the lifespan of the recent waxing.

Here they all are, below, after about a solid week of being worn during work (Danners) and life in the City (Docs).  Each pair has been worn in rain and snow (tough week).


While I haven't used other Dubbing Waxes on my boots and cannot offer a comparison between brands, I'm pleased with Doc Martens Dubbin Polish and will probably purchase it again in the future.  Five bucks (and free shipping) gets you about four waxing's worth of polish, but honestly, out of curiosity, I'd go ahead and get a big tin of the Wonder Balsam for another nine bucks.   Need heavy duty wax? Doc Martens Dubbin Polish might be just the thing for you.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hunting the New Year Full Moon - Or Not

Every year, somewhere around the last week of December or first week of January - the height of duck season - we are blessed and cursed with this sight:

Image: NASA Goddard Space Center
I mean, holy moly, that is a big, bright old moon.  And in the mid-Atlantic around this time of year, the humidity is low and the cloud cover is non-existent unless we have a real weather system move through the region.   Every year, around this time, I'm antsy, because the family obligations of the holidays and the work obligations of the new year generally prevent me from hunting much between December 15 and January 5.  Happens every year.   And until this year, every year I've gone stir crazy and hunted under this moon.  In literally every case,  I've come home empty handed.  For a decade.  So this year, I'm waiting for the moon to fade, and then hunting heavy as it's out of view (roughly December 9 - December 18).

Why does the moon matter to hunting?  Any hunters who are reading already know the answer.   Mid-winter hunting offers certain promise to the human hunter, because our warm-blooded quarry must eat to maintain their body temperature.  The smaller the animal, and the colder the air and water temperature, the more they must eat.   When little moonlight is present, most animals roost or bed down at night, rather than expose themselves to predators and exhaustion while inefficiently rooting around for food.   Then, as soon as the animals can muster up enough strength to get moving, they feed in the morning, also known as "legal shooting time."  This is how we'd all prefer our winters to go.   However when ample moonlight is available in cold weather, the animals can and will move all night, and you might be best served by staying home unless the weather is so cold that the animals must continue to feed during the day as well.

In Maryland, I've found that if daytime highs will be above 35 degrees, and a clear, full moon is out, I am wasting my time by hunting (although the fields and rivers are usually bright enough to set up without a headlamp).  Deer, ducks, and geese will eat their hearts out all night, and head back to bed on the roost or the bed before dawn, awaiting the inevitable warmup.     Then, having warmed up, they are likely to stay on the roost all day, and head out once again after dark.

However, if the daytime high isn't expected to really warm the water or the shaded woods, I've found that there still may be value to hunting, because around 930-1000am, those animals are going to get motivated to find some more food.

This mid-winter, under this mid-winter full moon (called "the 13th moon of 2012" for your personal files), our night temperatures are in the upper 20s, with daytime temperatures around 40 degrees.   I've been watching the ducks, deer, and geese moving (a perk of working outdoors) and after about 800am, they simply are not moving.  All day long.    Then, after dark, the river is full of the sounds of beating wings and fat birds crashing into the upper creeks to feed on acorns, worms, and who knows what else.  The suburban woods, about 30 minutes after sunset, become thick with the sound of crushing hooves through briars, leaves, and carefully landscaped shrubs.

You didn't fool me this year, full moon.  Not this year.  When this post becomes public, I'll be sitting in a duck blind, looking up at a fingernail sliver of a waning moon.  See you in a month, full moon - two days after duck season ends.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Not the Winter Omen I Envisioned....

This was alongside a header reading, "Has winter already peaked?"  NOOOOOO! There's three weeks left of duck season!  Not warmer air!

On the plus side, this means that we likely won't get "frozen out," which, for you non-hunters, means that temperatures are so cold that 1) ducks may eat all day and night but still can't keep warm, and 2) the creeks and smaller (less than a quarter mile wide) creeks freeze up, eliminating most roosting areas and many feeding areas for ducks.  Which, of course, means that one morning, they wake up and fly south to southern Virginia and northern North  Carolina.

On the negative side, if temperatures don't stay near freezing, the ducks and geese simply don't have to leave the roost and feed in any regular or predictable manner.  This makes hunting them almost impossible unless one has hunting access in areas where they roost.

On the nervous side of the coin (that's right, this coin has THREE SIDES), I've only hunted a half dozen times this season (which started in September), and I'd planned to get out another half dozen times in the last three weeks of the season, which historically, can be very productive.  See above - that could now be in jeopardy.

Oh well, there's only one way to find out, and that's to try to go out and find them.

Friday, January 4, 2013

2013, What Up With That?

Someone unsubscribed? It's a Tragedy, Baby!
For those that have read two of my last five posts (here and here), you can see that in our world, 2012 was a hot mess.  I started 2012 just 6 weeks into a new job, and not really understanding how my outdoors passions would fit or not fit into the duties I had as a project manager for a small nonprofit organization.  Some tough lessons were learned.  We lost trees, part of the roof, and continue to pay off debt, while taxes go up about twice as fast as our wages.  The 2011-2012 duck season was such a disappointment that it made me consider quitting the sport.  This blog continues to grow and mature, but at a pace so tortuously slow that it's self-defeating to really analyze it, so I won't.

In 2012, I planned to do a lot of "things."  A lot of little steps that I really thought - and still think - would add up to something, if they were completed.  But around those "things," and in many cases, countering those "things" are my jobs, my marriage, my son, and my mental, physical, and spiritual health.

So, I pledge to not make 2013 a year of "things" on the blog.  Instead, I will:

1.  Let the important things be important.  I am 15 years into my carefully-built career, which means that I am the master of a whole lot, except myself.  It makes planning hunting and fishing days damn near impossible, and I will try to be less frustrated with that reality in 2013.  Also, I have a second job, a marriage, and a young child in the house.  And, you know, a relationship with God.  Minor detail.  This may, and should, mean a little less blog posting, although I'll still aim for about 10 posts per month.  I've been working on finding "the right frequency" for the last six years several months.

2.   Keep doing what I'm doing in the parenting realm.  Things I know about the outdoors are starting to rub off on my 3-year old son, which is pretty amazing.  I need to take advantage of all opportunities to get him outside again in 2013, and continue to be patient (as I was in 2012) when, four days in a row, Hank says, "I wanna go to the playground. I don't wanna go to the lake."

3.  Focus on a few aspects of the blog that have short term promise - namely, product review/sponsorship from companies that I blog about already but haven't asked to support me (or lend me equipment to review).  I will work harder on writing better.  I will promote my writing more aggressively - something I meant to do in 2012 but only made a small effort towards that goal.

4.  Meet Other Bloggers.  I finally started doing this in 2012 and I need to do it even more in 2013.  As a parent with a young child and no local family to support us (i.e. provide free babysitting), I don't have a lot of close friends these days.  Meeting other outdoor bloggers provides a ready-built relationship and there's no excuse not to do it, with a dozen or more outdoor bloggers from North Carolina to New Jersey.

5.  Take other people fishing and hunting.   This is difficult right now (refer to #1) because I don't have a lot of spare time that I can count on actually having.   But it's important to my career, my sanity, and honestly, the sports I pursue, and so there's really no great excuse for not doing it.  

You know, that's enough.  Except for learning to dance like Jason Sudeikis.  That too.




Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 Tour of Devastation

Confidence without Execution
I'm in a horrible mood, and that title makes me feel just a tiny bit better than something more appropriate, like "2012 in the Rear View." (note: I swear, I wrote this post prior to Tom Sadler posting "Putting 2012 in the Rear View," which you should also read).

 In 2012, we were fortunate not to have any deaths in the family, or lose our jobs, house, car, or truck.  Already, that's not a horrible year.  In totality, 2012 was a series of calamities set between a pretty good life lived under stress.  I got outside to fish or hunt about 60 times - c'mon everyone - don't call them "fishing days" unless you are actually out there all day - and I'm satisfied, but not thrilled with that total, as well as the skill I demonstrated while hunting and fishing.   I worked hard to increasingly involve my 3-year old son to the outdoors, which surprisingly (to me) continues to be a thrill, despite the bungles and debacles that seem to inevitably occur.

I wrote a odorous ridiculous tedious copious "to do list" for the blog in 2012.  Going through it point-by-point would only ensure that both you and I would never return to the blog again.  So, going from the Gospel of Year-End Reviews, Second Verse, First Stanza, from the Book of Troutrageous!, here are five of the overall goals I laid out for myself, and how I fared in actually completing them.

1. Fishing and Hunting.  Let's cut to the chase, shall we?  I really wanted to diversify my fishing and hunting in 2012, and it just did not happen.  I fished for trout a few times, with success, but never bothered to fly fish for them.  I went fishing in the salt just once, and only caught perch.  I fished for bass, and caught a lot of them, even on fly tackle.  Probably more bass than any year in my life.  I fished in a new state - West Virginia - and caught bass there.  The end of the 2011-2012 duck season was a waste, but I got after them hard at the beginning of the 2012-2013 season - I was skunked several times before laying waste to several geese over the course of a few hunts in November and December 2012.  I had a notable disappointment in my failure to go surfing in 2012 again - I miss the ocean so much it nearly breaks my heart, but $3.75 gas x 210 mile round trip = discouragement.  On the other hand, one successful outdoor accomplishment was that I was able to fish and hunt with three bloggers I hadn't met before (Nick DoumelTom Sadler and Steve Kline).  Those were real highlights.   Overall Grade: B-

Me, before 2012 weight loss
2. Health.  Hmm.  I've made a point not to blog about this topic, as it's highly personal, and failures tend to be embarrassing.  A year ago, I pledged to start working out by April 1, losing 20 pounds, and keeping off at least 10 until December 31, 2012.  On February 1, 2012, I started working out and dieting (keeping under 1800 calories/day).  By August 1, I had lost 31 pounds.  I continued to work out, bouncing between gym work, road running, boot camp classes, and a cheapo personal trainer, until I came down with pneumonia around 10/26/12.  I haven't worked out since, and was on a heavy round of drugs until 12/15/12, and ate like a horse, which is my way of saying that I gained back between 10-15 pounds of the weight I lost.  I'll re-start the quest the day after duck season ends (1/26/13).    It's a bit of a letdown because my initial success was so great, but technically, I beat my goals and I'm confident going into the next round! Overall grade: A-

One can be horrible, and still
accumulate style points
3. Blogging and Growth of the Blog.  Statistically, I did well here. Aimed for 15,000 pv/month and am averaging about 18,000.  Aimed for 200 blog followers and reached 150.  Aimed for 100 FB followers and reached 86.  Aimed for 150 posts and completed about 135.   However, I set some bigger goals, too, to push the blog into a position where in 2013 and 2014, it could be at a significantly higher level.   Life interfered with these goals mightily - we dealt with job drama, house drama, parenting drama, power outages, unexpected gear replacement, unexpected gardening problems, and the list goes on and on.  As a result, I really didn't get to grow the blog as its own entity, which is unfortunate, but something I have to look at with clear eyes and understand whether 2012 was an abberation or whether the growth of this blog has to be considered differently.  In 2012, I pledged to find new outlets for my writing and I failed at that, save for a piece I'm really proud of that was published in the Backcountry Journal.   Grade: C

4. Outdoor Parenting.  I am still learning how to be an outdoors parent.  I am passionate about it, and honestly I tried really hard.  Henry rode in a kayak and a powerboat before his third birthday.  In 2012, he fished in residential ponds, spring-fed creeks, and ancient cypress swamps.  Not bad for a two year old.  As everyone knows, the single largest factor in whether adults participate in a hobby is the extent to which they were exposed to it as children.  Soon Hank will be big enough for bicycles, climbing walls, and (gulp) his own kayak.  It's going to be a wild adventure.  Grade: A-

5. Writing.   In early 2012, I thought a lot about whether I even consider myself a writer.  It's kind of a silly question, because I write reams of technical reports and funding requests for outdoor work, I occasionally blog about the outdoors as part of my job, and in fact, I ghost write for a variety of folks on a variety of topics (I'm cheap! Be in touch!).   I consciously work on my writing now, and posted several very personal pieces here in 2012.  I have mixed feelings (relief, disappointment) over the fact that so few people read or commented on them.  I guess that's to be expected from articles on an outdoors blog that lack pictures of the gaping jaws of a big fish or a dead, bloody goose.    I will continue to work on my writing, and I'm happy that this blog exists as an avenue for me to do so (where at least a few people read it).  Grade: A

Overall, 2012 was not anything like I expected it to be.  I primarily mean that in a negative way, but there were some positives along the way as well - most of them documented here on River Mud.  At moments in 2012, I was really shell shocked by what reality was handing me, but in all cases, the personal growth that resulted has made me feel really comfortable in my own skin - something that has not always come easy.   I'm looking forward to a strong 2013, and will be making some goals for the blog in the next several days that take into account some of what I learned in 2012.