Friday, February 21, 2014

"Taking Action" in Conservation Means Offering Up Your Talent

How are you going to moan about the results
if you didn't show up to talk at the table?
It was late on a Monday night.  I sat in a stiff folding chair, in a partially restored historic home where someone had fired up the wood stove about five minutes before the meeting started.    Two hours into the meeting, my toes were getting numb, and I'm not sure the wood stove had made a hill of beans difference.   Around me sat a core of "fresh food for the poor" anarchist shareholders from Baltimore Free Farm, a local nonprofit that, among other things, teaches poor people how to grow their own fresh food and be less dependent upon The System, whether that be food stamps or the grocery store's frozen meal section.

At nearly 40, I was the oldest person in the room by a lot of years.  The conversation was startling and inspiring - talk of ledger balances, cash flows, receipts for grants, concerns that shareholder labor was not being billed to the correct grant for some activities.  An organized "stack" of commentors, each recognized in order.  Mutual respect for other people, which was shown several times as vocal proponents of a certain tactic or strategy heard that they did not have support, and as a result withdrew their proposal.   A hearty discussion over whether a new community should first engage the community at large, or the community members who had championed the project into existence.   This, my friends, is what the nuts and bolts of change look like.

While visiting an active habitat restoration site being
managed by a conservation non-profit, I realized that
I had my bidder number and raffle tickets in my coat
pocket from the previous night's banquet auction - a
different organization entirely.  The point remains -
Those raffle ticket dollars go somewhere.
They do something.
I recently have read several great articles about re-engaging sportsmen in conservation.  Sportsmen are, and will always remain, the last defense of the resource - and to negotiating trade-offs related to that resource.  Most notable was Todd Tanner's "Insidious: Let's Stop Our Losing Streak," (Hatch) with Tom Sadler's "The Coin of the Realm is Action" (Middle River Dispatches) coming in at a close second.  Both of those talented writers correctly state that the costs of the last 40 years of continued inaction by sportsmen - largely (in my opinion) as a result in our belief that "the environmental agencies will do the right thing,"  has started to send us into a negative feedback loop of habitat conservation, or more precisely, a "Death Spiral."

Duck Populations vs. Duck Stamp Sales: Hunting
Heritage on a Steady Decline (Vrtiska et al., 2013)

Want to talk duck stamps? The program is at a near standstill because even though duck hunters march to Washington annually to beg for the stamp (a tax) to be increased on themselves, Republican lawmakers have been unwilling to be on the record supporting the increase in any tax.   Want to talk clean water?  The Clean Water Act, administered by the US EPA, has been to the US Supreme Court 7 times.  EPA has lost 6 of those decisions.  In some regions, EPA watershed cleanup staff (directed to get into streams and wetlands and remove/abate pollution through restoration) are verbally threatened by their coworkers in the EPA regulatory program (whose jobs are complicated by the watershed cleanups).

But what lacks in both of those articles is kind of funny - what is this "action" for which the authors pine?   To be fair, both mention things like paying attention, calling the media, calling your elected officials, and things like that.   Those are all good things.  But they've amounted to almost nothing in the last 40 years.   And very few of us are adept enough at the workings of environmental law to be able to keep up with the near constant changes in legislation and trickle-down impacts of environmental litigation.  I'm certainly not.   Just last week, I found out that one of my coworkers had sealed the deal on the cleanup of the state's largest tire reading it in the newspaper.  I had no idea it was even close to being signed!  My point - it's hard to keep up, especially on complex court cases involving river rights, or on complex legislation like the Farm Bill.

As a life long conservationist (and in some circles referred as a dreaded "paid conservationist), I love to see organizations functioning well.   The older I get, the more disillusioned I become with our environmental regulatory structure and its innate tendency to say, "Oh what the hell, it's 5pm" when a watershed is dying or a coal waste pond is belching toxic slurry into five cities' water supply, or when poachers are illegally harvesting game from the public woods or waters and selling those animals (or their parts) across state lines. I am fed up that these agencies take our hard earned tax dollars, ask us, the sportsman community, to defer to their expertise, and then prefer to either fail to take action or to enter into sweetheart compromises with those whose actions are impacting the future of our natural resources.   I am fed up.

While I work in these issues 40-60 hours per week, there are other parts of my life where I have been mired in complainer-dom.  Mainly, the failure of our City (despite ridiculously high taxes we pay) as a human institution.  The City I live in is largely a failure, spurned on by the politics of complacency (and single party rule) decade after decade.   I've been solid bellyaching about the City for a year or more, and was finally convinced by a colleague to get off my ass and get involved.  I found the Baltimore Free Farm, and it was great to tell them, "I'm someone who can find a way to work around the channels.  I know how funding works, how project planning works.  If you want my help, I can help you accomplish things."   It'll be interesting in the next few months to see how they want to use me.   But I'll leave it to their judgment.  For me, for now, I'm not just complaining.  I will work to be part of the solution for the things I find to be most objectionable.

That's what I hope you do today as well.   The conservation organization that you claim to "love" - where you send a $35 check each year (likely around 00.5% of your gross income - and yet still tax deductible) - yeah, that organization.  I want you to look up their local person and call them.  I want you to offer them your help with what it is you know how to do.  Internet programming? Event planning?  Contractor bidding?

None of this is as sexy as walking through a stream during a TU stream cleanup and picking up some trash - this is true.  But at the end of your trash cleanup day, nothing else has changed.  More trash is on the way, and the politicians are happy that someone came out to pick up the trash for free, rather than billing the state.

I think you can do more, and I think you should do more.  Not for the organizations I support, but the ones you support.  Support them with all your might.  Believe in their vision.  Give them a tool to help them succeed, whether it's your gift of gab when talking to elected officials or your ability to fix their perpetually broken email system.

Monday, February 17, 2014

2013-2014 Hunting Season Wrap-Up

This was a funny hunting season.   I have a few "big" thoughts about it but I'm not sure with which one I should lead.   So I'll just pick one.

It's so freaking cold.  This has been the coldest winter in 20 years, and the second coldest in 35 years.  The early and consistent cool, then cold weather moved wildlife in a way that hunters like to see, and I got to take advantage of that.  Even warm hunting days, something I've grown used to, were filled with active game recently arrived from other, colder areas.    For the first time in years, I had to think about safety this winter, because river ice provided great temptation to go after ducks and geese.  We stretched the bounds of safety a bit, but I pulled back the reins several times as well.   Toward the end of the season, I cancelled my own hunts and declined hunts with others with alarming regularity.  It was just too cold, and here in February, I still have the remnants of November's bronchitis to prove it.

Warm Winter Tactics Don't Work in the Cold.    When it's warm (say, 42 degrees), you know that the day's first flight (or first movement by deer) will likely be the only one that happens between 6am and 3pm.  Therefore, you can end your hunt by 930am and go on with your day, knowing you've seen the best of the day's wildlife movement (not always true, by the way).   When it's cold (say, 7 degrees), wildlife acts much differently.   Geese sleep on the water until 1130am.  Or 2pm.  Or 430pm.  Or until night time.  Deer come out into wide open pastures to feed at 2:45pm, after morning hunters have left and evening hunters are just setting up to hunt.  As a result, my "quick strike" hunting approach is a loser in these weather conditions.  I bailed on a goose hunt at noon (6 degrees outside, we set up at 6am); the other hunters killed their limit of geese at 4:15pm (they also caught bronchitis).  On another hunt, I left the blind at 10am with my limit of scaup.  The other hunters shot limits of canvasbacks, redheads, black ducks, and mallards through the remainder of the day (26 degrees and white-out conditions).   The next cold winter we have, I'll be mentally prepared to spend entire days afield to increase my odds of having "memory book" hunts with my friends.

Opportunities are Opportunities.   This was a really, really good season as far as opportunity, although  I never shot my two goose limit or my six duck limit in a day.  But almost every hunt featured at least one fleeting moment where I had an easy chance to put one or more birds (or deer) in my bag.   Generally meaning deer at 40 yards and birds at less than 10 yards.   In some cases, I missed an easy shot.  In several others, I failed to shoot.  My gun jammed after I crippled a bird, forcing me to watch the bird barely scrape its way over the tree top and escape.   Once a flock of ducks flew at us, then 5 feet over our heads, while our guns were shouldered (in the fog).  Another day in the fog, five geese almost flew into us as we were setting up our field hunt.  Our guns were all cased, in the goose pit, 20 feet away.   I had ducks fly right through my decoy spread as I checked my smart phone.  Yeah, most of my failure to connect this season was not due to "not being there" or "picking the wrong day" or "not being on the X."  I had chances.   I plan to think about what I can do differently to avoid some of these situations, although the resolutions that immediately come to mind are "get more sleep," and "stop thinking about work while you're hunting."

For Next Year.   Ehhh.  Who knows.  I did a lot of smart things this year.  I wish I would have had more hunts (in slightly more reasonable weather) to try some more smart things I had planned.  I hope to keep a kayak at my hunting lease next year, which will save me time, effort, and most importantly the stress of hauling it 80 miles each way in the dead of night, on top of my truck.  I also hope to hunt at least one Sunday in Virginia with my brothers, sweet fruit of the effort to roll back the Sunday hunting ban.   Everything else?  Not really worried.  Many things can happen between now and October.

Thanks for dropping by.

Gear Review: Smith Blackout Lenses for Sunglasses and Goggles

Anyone who's outside a lot knows that eye protection is important.  They also know that it's inherently difficult to figure out even through the course of a single day.  Light conditions, vision needs, humidity, and other factors change almost constantly through the day.  Add in weather and seasonal differentiations in sunlight and it gets really complicated.  But for most of us, you know what feels right.

For me, the lens that feels right the most often is a brown polarized lens.  I've used many brands and for the last year, I've used several variants under Smith Optic's pro discount program.   However, on open water or on a snowy landscape, man, brown lenses just do not cut enough glare.  I started having eye strain headaches while surfing at age 22, so I definitely can tell when my eyes aren't getting enough protection.  Enter the Smith Blackout Lens.

Yup.  Those are dark.  It's impossible to see through them from the outside-in, so when I received my pair of Terrace Blackouts, I thought they would be different.   They are.  The Blackout isn't just a dark lens, it's a lens that offers a very unique filter across the color spectrum, blocking the brightest visible wavelengths like orange and yellow.

My first several outings with my Blackout lenses were during fishing outings.  I fished open water on mid-day several times with the glasses on and my eyes were pretty relaxed.  The lens does not provide the kind of anti-UV glare blockage that results in being able to see into the water the way polarized lenses do, but they did effectively remove most of the glare bouncing off the water.

I then, accidentally, put these glasses around my neck for a morning fishing trip.  In an environment where little visible/colored light is present, these glasses with this lens were pretty darn annoying.  I felt like I was in the dark all the time.  To verify this, I've worn them in the mornings and evenings under cloud cover, and even highway driving mid-day with cloud cover.  In all cases, I got this feeling like I get when it's "Seattle Dark and Rainy" and you feel like no sunlight is making it to earth.

Fast forward several months into the first several snowstorms I've been in since buying these glasses.  Driving in snow is an absolutely perfect adaptation for this lens.  I also recently wore them goose hunting in a 500 acre, flat snow-covered field under a sunny January sky.  Total comfort.  The reflective rays from snow cover seem to be absolutely smacked down with this lens.

Overall grade:  A-.  Must be supplemented with other sunglasses/goggles for low light conditions
Price (Varies, $60-120): C.  This would be easier to swallow if I thought I could use them all the time.
Utility:  A+.  Provides comfort and effectiveness in very challenging extreme high-light environments

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Do County-Based Hunting Regulations Make Good Sense?

Hunters are a traditional lot.  It's impossible for a legislator to propose a change to hunting regulations in any state without having one group of hunters applaud it while another group opposes it.  Where things get interesting is when one group has more power at the state level, and the other (opposing) group has more power in local government.   The eerie spectre that rises up most times is that of "County resolutions," "County Opt In" or "County Opt Out" regulations, sponsored or forced by those with local political power - or worse - special interest lobbyists at the local level who have no vested interest in County-specific politics beyond their own funder.    Since nearly every wildlife law in existence is overseen by federal or state wildlife agencies with massive budgets and highly trained scientists, lawyers, and wildlife officers (game wardens), it does beg the question - should Counties get in the game?  Let's take a look at the key issues:

1.  Enforcement.  If the state issues a wildlife law and a county chooses to contradict that law (assuming that contradiction is constitutional and legally sufficient - and it very well might not be),  local power brokers need to understand that state game wardens, police, marine police, and park rangers will not and legally cannot enforce those county stipulations.   If your county has decided to ban hunting squirrels with .22LR rifles but the state allows it, the game warden won't and can't ticket hunters for the violation.

If your state allows Sunday hunting but a group of wealthy lobbyists in your County sees to it that a county law is passed banning hunting on Sunday, the only law enforcement officers headed out to your tree stand will be local police officers and sheriffs deputies, inbetween rounding up felons and cleaning up deadly car crash scenes.  Taxpayers can and will ask if local cops trespassing on their farms on Sunday looking for a solitary bowhunter is the "highest and best" use of those officers' time on the clock.  I cannot imagine that it is.  Also consider that if Sunday hunting is legal throughout the state, a judge is likely to throw out any cases for violation of that law in a single county, for fear of being overturned on appeal (virtually certain).

Also thrown out of court will be nearly every case originating on a large property that crosses County boundaries.  An issue worth considering in areas with 5,000 acre hunt clubs.

It's highly likely that diverting limited local police resources away from crime solving and toward bowhunters in a tree on their own farm will likely have election consequences. At a cost of roughly $100,000/year (salary+benefits+expenses), the County can hire one single game warden of its own, who will only be able to legally cite those in violation of County (not state or federal) laws.  The Board of Supervisors will merely need to raise county taxes to pay for it.  That might also have election consequences.

2.  Technical Expertise.  I'll speak freely here, as someone with a BS in Wildlife Management, an MA in Environmental Planning, and almost 20 years of experience working in the field with wildlife habitat, hunters, and landowners.   Even in counties that have an environmental planner on staff (a rarity in rural areas), there is almost no chance that those staff people have any significant background in the assessment, regulation, and/or management of wildlife herds.   There is no chance at all that those staff have experience in the establishment or regulation of wildlife laws, or the prosecution of wildlife law violations.  In urban and suburban counties, there may be up to one staff person per county who has assisted state employees in administering organized, managed hunts.   So, while it's cute to think that a County Board of Supervisors can pass broad laws about hunting in their county, they must recognize that upon investigation, those regulations will be found to be "arbitrary and capricious," for the simple reason that no qualified individual in the County will be able to defend why the lobbyist-created county law was written exactly the way it was.  No County employee will be able to tell voters, the media, or the judge, why a state law that 30-50 state biologists deem to be effective in all surrounding counties is a "violation of wildlife's day of rest" in their own county.

3.  The Rule Making Process.   We keep hearing that Boards of Supervisors in 15, or 22, or 25 counties in Virginia have signed "resolutions" drafted by the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance (VaHDA) that ostensibly "ban Sunday hunting" in each of those counties.  But let's look at it further.  Actually, those resolutions specifically seek to "keep the current Sunday hunting limitations in place," which is critical because the wealthiest landowners in those counties already enjoy the legal right to hunt on Sunday - and certainly the VaHDA does not want to constrain those individuals from enjoying their Sunday hunting rights - which apparently are not in violation of "our current rural way of life" as the template resolution claims that bowhunting on one's own property will be.   So, already, these "resolutions" are full of legal holes that any law clerk could drive forty blue tick hounds through.  Add to this the fact that, perhaps under advisement from VaHDA, several (not all) Boards of Supervisors have met to approve these resolutions in private, without allowing public input or comment from their constituents on these "resolutions."   I'd bet that will hurt those "constitutional rights" and "private property rights" candidates, come next election.  Bad move, gentlemen. 

But let's look closer at what a "resolution" does.  Which is to say....nothing.  A resolution does not carry any legal weight, it is an opinion paper by the County's ruling body.   To pass a law counteracting an overriding state law would require the rulemaking process.  First, the County Board of Supervisors would have to "show cause" for a law.  That would require public input, which most certainly would be divided on current and future hunting regulations (I'd bet that in Virginia, citizens would immediately seek to open up new county regulations on deer hounds, rather than tackle about a VaHDA backfire!).

The County Attorney would then have to draft the law, and then sign his or her name to the bill, asserting its legal sufficiency.  Now, most accomplished attorneys would be unwilling to do this for a law to counteract a state law that, like Sunday hunting, passed four votes in both state houses at a 2:1 bipartisan vote.   That would be career suicide.

But let's say this County Attorney is ambitious and sends it on to the Board of Supervisors for their approval.  They might approve it, or might not, and again, the process would be open to abridging, say, to eliminate hound retrieval on Sunday and/or all liberal retrieve of hounds (something the majority of Virginia citizens support).  If the Board of Supervisors passes the bill, then the County Attorney (or Law Office) would interpret the bill (now a law) into legal code, like a County ordinance.   At this point, the "idea" of "bucking the state" gets much harder, because the ordinance is subject to legal examination every time someone violates it.   Any defendant could call a representative from the state wildlife agency, who would testify that in fact, the county law serves no purpose and is thus arbitrary and capricious.   As soon as the first case is dismissed on this basis, no prosecutor would continue to file charges under this particular law, rendering it (like the majority of legal code in our law books) as an "unenforceable mandate."

So in short, legally, this cannot work except for a very short time.

4. Politics.   In almost all cases, these efforts to further restrict hunters' rights and landowners' rights at the County level are led by staid conservatives who campaign on their record of advocating for private property rights, constitutional rights, and rural heritage.  Does anyone not see a conflict there?  Sure, a few less-than-bright bulbs in County leadership might think that violating the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution specifically to stop me from harvesting food, within hunting season, on Sunday, on my own property on which I pay taxes, makes sense.  Such dim bulbs would find themselves answering tough questions about "private property takeovers" and "anti-hunter county regulations" during their re-election campaign for "personal rights" and "liberty".

5. Economics.  Again, the strongest opposition to new hunting opportunities passed by state government (new species like Elk, or adding Sundays to the season) has come from supposedly pro-business, pro-capitalism County Supervisors with possible ties to agricultural or hound hunting lobbyists.  Numerous studies have been conducted on expanding hunting opportunities - new opportunities create new hunters and numerous jobs and significant revenue to support new and existing hunters.  No one with an IQ above 70 would honestly contest the fact that adding opportunity, adds hunters, adds revenue, and so they contest it dishonestly by making vague quotes like, "Well, we're not sure about those studies in other states!"

Across the country (44 states and counting), County governments, Farm Bureau offices and Chambers of Commerce embrace hunters and hunting for the significant amount of business and tax revenue hunters bring with them.   Even liberal states like New York and Maryland have launched campaigns to attract out-of-state hunters and their disposable income.   However, these few County Supervisors see the increase of revenue to local businesses as "disruption to our rural lifestyle."   Come on, how can that be an honest statement, especially in states where liquor sales, strip clubs, 70mph bass boats, and all kinds of other activities are common in rural areas on Sundays.   Deep South states have liberalized hunting regulations across the board, and it's fair to say that churches in states like Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are not suffering from lack of church attendance - or lack of hunting license sales (unlike Virginia, one of a very few states that continues to hemorrhage hunters annually - 50% in the last 30 years to be exact).

I can see the County welcome sign now:  "Welcome:  Philanderers with an eye for young strippers and $200 to burn, who will then drive drunk all over our roads on Sunday.  Not welcome:  Christian bow hunters with $1000 to burn and kids who want to learn to hunt. Our rural heritage does not include your family."  What a disaster.

In Summary.    Local wildlife regulations that intentionally defy state wildlife regulations are not likely to have a solid technical, conservation, legal, enforcement, or fiscal basis.  They are not likely to satisfy their original objectives (to keep hunters and tourists away...however nonsensical that idea is), and they are likely to suffer from unintentional consequences, such as those unanticipated by the lobbyists who put forth such "County resolutions" in front of County leaders in the dark of night, hoping for a signature before the citizens hear the story of what their local leaders have foisted upon them.   If that ain't American....what is?

Unlike firearms laws, which can and should change with population density, there is no basis for County-specific wildlife or hunting laws, nor a way to create them effectively, nor a way to enforce them efficiently and constitutionally.  Fish, wildlife, hunters, and anglers don't stay within county borders.  Neither do good policies which seek to effectively regulate those things.

My Radio Silence on Virginia Sunday Hunting

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Some of you may notice I've recently kept this page largely free of a pretty consuming effort on my part to help repeal the ban on Sunday hunting in Virginia, my home state.  That's been by design.

I became interested in the fight for Sunday hunting a few years ago, while trying to schedule a weekend hunt in Virginia while not burning any non-existent vacation time.   I found that several groups of hunters and landowners actually do have Sunday hunting privileges in Virginia, and for a small fee, I could join their ranks at least for a day.  I did so, happily, enjoying a fun (if partially bungled by our guide's horrendous dog) Sunday quail hunt on the Virginia-North Carolina border among browned switchgrass and tall loblolly pines.   "Why not every sunday, for more hunters?" I wondered.  I immediately heard, "It's a day of rest - go to church" (which I knew was probably illegal) and "It's a day of rest for wildlife,"  which, as a wildlife biologist, I knew was nonsense (and apparently didn't count for the quail we shot up that one beautiful, cold Sunday).

I was involved, with a few dozen hardy souls, in the push for Virginia Sunday Hunting in 2011 and 2012.  Our group, based in the Facebook page "Legalize Virginia Sunday Hunting for All," really took off after the failed attempt to repeal the ban in 2012, when the Virginia Senate approved the repeal 2:1, only to have a tiny subcommittee of wealthy landowner politicians kill the bill in a low profile House Subcommittee (known alternately as the Natural Resources Subcommittee or the Sunday Hunting Death Committee).  In 2013, the Senate refused to act unless that Subcommittee acted differently.  They did not, with their chairman jokingly asking the patron of the "Repeal Bill,"  "Boy, why'd  you bring this bill to my committee?"  It never saw so much as a verbal house vote or show of hands within the Subcommittee.  "Tabled."

Yup.  That's Virginia. But in 2013, the group continued to grow, flush with bow hunters, houndsmen, waterfowlers, and black powder maniacs.  Standing at nearly 6,000 members now, we did something that wasn't innovative.  We told the truth and discussed facts and data from other states.  We reached out to the elected officials seated where we live (and in my case, where we hunt).   We contacted the media.  We monitored the media.  We responded - like adults - to incorrect reports in the media.  We monitored the opposition on a daily basis for several months.   And we told retailers, non-profit organizations, and outdoor lobbyists that they would not receive the support of Virginia hunters if they themselves did not get involved in the push to repeal the Sunday hunting ban.

On Monday, the House-approved Sunday hunting bill - a partial repeal focused strongly on private property rights, much more than hunters' rights - was also approved by the Virginia Senate.  The bill's enemies in the "Sunday Hunting Death Committee" continue to froth at the mouth, and they continue to lie to the media, their supporters, and their colleagues. Their collusion with anti-hunting and animal rights organizations continues shamelessly.  Nonetheless, the bill will soon go to bicameral crossover, and then likely to the Governor for signature.  He has told the media that he will sign it, as well he should - the voting tallies are a strongly bipartisan 2:1 in both houses and every committee the Bill has seen.

Over the next several months, much will be written here about this struggle.  I'll be called what the opponents of Sunday have called me before:  a heartless killer, a carpet bagger, an out of state hitman for northern interests, a liar, a selfish person, anti-rural, an anti-Christian, and someone who is un-Democratic and anti-patriotic.

I look forward to telling you about all of them, and some of the things they've had to say about why THEY should have more hunting rights than YOU on YOUR LAND.  My documents on the topic go back to 2008, and I bet they'll wish they hadn't said some of the things they had.  I'll also tell you about some of the key personalities in the struggle make sure the 2014 bill didn't suffer the same fate as the similar bills from 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Curtain Call: Hunting Polar Vortex 2.0

If you live in the eastern half of the United States, you'd like to meet the term "Polar Vortex" in a dark alley and pummel it.  If you don't, the above shows you a picture of a polar vortex moving into town.  When I hopped in the goose blind at 3:00pm, it was 44 degrees out with no wind, no clouds.   By the end of legal shooting time at 5:15pm, it was 21 degrees with winds gusting to 30, and a wind chill around 0 degrees.

For the second time this season, and only the second time in several years, I got really cold.  I was literally shaking.  A very few geese flew as the cold front pushed in violently, but those birds were coming up out of one creek, passing over just one or two peninsulae, and then setting down in another wind protected creek.  We never even had a shot.

Though there were a few days of hunting season left, I was done.  I am done.  Ready for warm mornings and turkeys and bass and trout.   I am a blessed man - I received at least one invitation for every day of the last 10 days of hunting season.  This was the only hunt I went on, borne of convenience.  I turned every other hunt down because work is busy, because it's late January, because I'm done.  Appropriately or ironically, I said no to a hunt on the last day of goose season because I was asked to testify on behalf of Maryland DNR and a local delegate on a Sunday hunting (expansion) bill here in the county where I work.   It's been a decent season, though the coldest I remember in about five years.   My summary of the hunting season will post up in a few days.  Now is the resting time - my only one of the year.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gettin' Down with Late Season Diving Ducks

After two busted goose pit hunts on the eastern shore, it was time to try something different as waterfowl season wound down.  Four of us and two hundred decoys later (only half of which are shown above), we had a hunt.  The SECOND polar vortex of the winter was headed into town around lunchtime, which we hoped would spook up some ducks.  It did - we shot a four man limit of scaup by 10am, when I left.  The stragglers shot canvasbacks in whiteout conditions in the afternoon.  It was a great morning- everything that flew into the decoy spread died.  I'll leave the rest to pictures. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Busted Forecast, Busted Hunt

Sometimes you just have to make a call and go for it.  I donated a hunt on my lease for a charity auction last year and the lucky winners cashed in, or at least they tried to.

I hired extra help (an up and coming goose caller) to really run the hunt so the donors could enjoy their hunt and not really have to work (or call geese). The first polar vortex had just cleared, leaving us relatively pleasant, if moist, 40 degree temperatures.  I was a bit anxious about a fog bank that was supposed to blow inland by 5am.

I left home at 5:30am and saw plenty of  fog on the road - bad sign.  Fog all the way to the farm.  Fog after sunrise.  We were standing around outside the goose pit, not having heard a single goose call from the creek.  Out of the fog came four Canada Geese headed right into our spot.  Of course, all of our guns were in the goose pit.   At the last second, the birds flared and flew away, and we never got that close again.

As I sat helplessly in the goose pit, I watched waves of fog moving in from the Chesapeake Bay, sometimes reducing visibility down to 100 feet or so.  We called the hunt off at 3pm having had only a few geese come close.  None wanted to land, although a few groups circled around once.

I'm bad luck in these goose pits in the late season.  Maybe it's just me, but these geese seem awful smart.  Here's a picture of them on the roadside, down the road from our lease (a guide hunts this field 1-2 days per season).  Smart birds.

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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...