Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Good Morning Largemouth

As I've griped about here for 8? 9? years, I don't get to fish enough.  Although it's true enough that like a living parable, everyone I know who can "fish enough" is not satisfied either.    I had a tour with elected officials canceled one morning and so I thought I'd challenge the October Gods for a Maryland largemouth before work.   I caught several 8-12" bass in extremely heavy cover in a flowing pool, and had big fish slip the hook at least three times, before getting a hold of this guy.  My second biggest largemouth of the year.  Interestingly enough, it was caught on a very small Diezel Chatterbait set up for redfish.   Silver hardware and pearl trailer.  Because why not.

It wasn't a monster, somewhere in the 3lb and 15" range.  But it's a big fish for me, and I was happy to come down in the swamp and "do what I came to do."  On the other hand, my fish selfie game needs some serious improvement.  See below.

Hope you all are enjoying the recent onset of fall weather and getting outdoors.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Richmond's Reedy Creek Restoration Project - Mistakes Were Made

I love Richmond, Virginia.  It's less than two hours from my hometown and though I've never lived there (not for lack of effort - the job market isn't so hot, and never has been), I love the city.  I love its historic past, both beautiful and ugly, its extremely gritty recent past, and the wonderful 21st Century city that it's becoming.   But change (or even growing up) isn't always easy in Virginia.   As the saying goes - it takes 8 Virginians to change a lightbulb.  One to do it, and the other 7 to stand around and talk about how much better the old one was.

Richmond, like many cities and counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, finds itself  - after 400 years of unbridled development and habitat destruction - in the vice grips of federal water quality mandates.    One, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, demands compliance by 2025.  The other, the Richmond MS4, demands compliance by 2018.    Arguably, the City of Richmond is not likely to comply with either the TMDL or the MS4, which means a costly Federal Consent Decree is likely. More on that in a bit.

First, how does a municipality "comply" with these mandates?  Largely, compliance is made through the completion of "projects" that reduce the input of key pollutants (typically nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, bacteria, and trash) into interstate (federal) waterways like the Chesapeake Bay.  "Projects" include sanitary sewer upgrades, tree plantings, stream stabilization, wetland creation, and other efforts that generally reduce sewage and stormwater from reaching large water bodies.  Each "project" is assigned a pollution reduction value (i.e. measures like rain barrels and tree plantings get a relatively low score, while sewer plant upgrades receive a high score).  

A measure of some controversy has been the relatively generous crediting of stream restoration projects that 1) stabilize eroding stream banks, 2) enhance hyporheic exchange, and 3) reconnect the stream to the floodplain on a more regular basis.    The City of Richmond has staked much of its 2018 MS4 compliance hopes on the construction of three stream restoration projects, one of which is known as the Reedy Creek Restoration Project.

Reedy Creek is a very typical fall line stream in a developed area.  It is generally highly eroded, and any historic floodplain wetlands have been drained due to stream downcutting in some areas.  In some areas, however, the stream has a relatively stable cross-section.   There are many trees present, however, many of them (like maples and poplars) are not considered to have high value for habitat or nutrient uptake.  Much of the stream valley is subject to run-outs and headcuts associated with the watershed's urban hydrographs.    In short, the system is a mess.    Here are what I believe to be indisputable facts:

1) Some sections of Reedy Creek are extremely unstable.
2)  These sections will not "heal themselves" in a human timeframe, even if all runoff was removed from the watershed (impossible). 
3) Trees will have to be removed to do the work. 
4) The planted trees will not achieve that same size for decades.
5)  Trees do, eventually, grow bigger, if they are maintained and kept free of vines.
6) The TMDL and MS4 permits are driving restoration projects. 

However, much more is *in* dispute.   The large, tree-holding area of Reedy Creek showing the most erosion happens to be City property.  If you're the City of Richmond, and you have to do these "projects" by 2018, the one way you can possibly achieve that is by using City property.   That's not in dispute, either.  There is no way between 2014 and 2018 that the City could negotiate enough private property projects to comply with the permit requirements.  However, it appears that the City didn't feel compelled to share their early plans with the community surrounding the park.  In fact, the City DPU (the MS4 permittee and the stream project sponsor) still doesn't seem ecstatic about this whole "public input" thing.  To their point, the MS4 and TMDL permits may have specified this project, and certainly did have public input periods, which I'm fairly confident this community ignored.

Enter a bunch of local do-gooders, or, at least they think they are local do-gooders, the Reedy Creek Coalition.   I chuckled at an online comment that read something like, "How come the only reference to the restoration of Reedy Creek on your website is "Stop the Stream Restoration?!" .....and it's a valid question.  The Reedy Creek Coalition isn't fond of the way this project materialized (which seems like a fair complaint) or the way that the City plans to re-align a stream on City property (which seems like less of a fair complaint).    I was excited to read one article that said that the City had not considered the validity of Reedy Creek Coalition's alternative plan for watershed restoration.  Upon hunting for that "plan," I read another article stating that it was simply a list of other City-owned properties in the watershed, that maybe could possibly sort of somehow be used for stormwater reduction.   As someone who has built 200+ ponds, wetlands, streams, rain gardens, etc., I know that a list is not a plan.  A plan is something that provides adequate information to judge cost, impact, and benefit.    After considering this for a while, I can't get over my feeling that this "plan" wasn't meant to be a real plan at all.

This begs a bigger question:  What is Reedy Creek Coalition's vision for saving Reedy Creek and restoring it back to some prior version of itself?  What calculations have been done on the alternatives they suggest? Where does their strategic plan say the highest quality projects would be - and how was that calculated?  To be fair, those same questions should be asked of the project proponents as well!  
But I haven't seen any calculations -   it certainly seems like the City wants to build this project because they have decided to build it; the Reedy Creek Coalition appears to object to the project because they have decided they don't like it.

If the Reedy Creek Coalition succeeds in killing this project, I can virtually guarantee a few outcomes:

1) In 2018, the City of Richmond will specifically blame this RCC for the City's failure to attain pollution reduction goals (and again in 2019, for the TMDL 2-year milestones).  That will become the reputation of Reedy Creek Coalition.  I cannot imagine trying to fundraise on that public reputation.  Especially when fines are levied, creating an excuse for the City to raise taxes/fees (and explicitly blame RCC).

2) Reedy Creek will not be restored, uplands or downstream, in this generation.   The state and city agencies will not allow substantial funding to flow to this watershed due to demonstrated risk of project failure.

If City DPU succeeds in installing this project, I can virtually guarantee a few outcomes:

1) Reedy Creek Coalition will publicly document every eroded pebble, every dead planted tree, every slightly misplaced boulder with exposed soil behind it.   We have a guy who does this at restoration projects in Maryland.   He is miserable; hearing him speak with the media is even more miserable.  "Look here! It's dirt! This project is a failure!" The City can look forward to that, if they continue on their present course.

2) Unless substantial stream monitoring protocols are already in place, the City will have a hard time categorizing the site as a "success," because the majority of people talking about the site will remind everyone else of the dead trees.

A Real Framework for the Restoration of Reedy Creek

What does this all mean?  Well, in the words of comedian Keegan-Michael Key, "Ya done messed up!"  The two primary parties in this dispute have a lot to lose by sticking to their guns, and they seem reticent to admit that.   Might I suggest a "both, and" approach to the restoration of Reedy Creek instead of an "either, or?"  

For instance, the parties could execute an MOU that provides:

1) RCC to hire a stream restoration engineer (at their own cost) to recommend specific tree-saving techniques to City DPU.   Perhaps 10 major recommendations, of which 5 (City's choice) *must* be accomodated.   RCC must provide these recommendations to City DPU in 90 days or less.

2)  City will place "escrow" type funding with a local conservation organization with the capacity to do actual watershed restoration activities (unfortunately, that means probably not the organization whose restoration goal is "Stop The Restoration!") for the purposes of 10 growing seasons of mechanical and/or chemical control of invasive species.

3)  City will establish an "escrow" or "tree trust" funding for 30 years that will ensure that within 30 years, forest canopy coverage is high or higher than pre-restoration.

4) RCC will desist from anecdotal stream condition descriptions, and instead hire an independent ecological consultant (at RCC's own cost) to perform a functional assessment (recommended: Harmon-Starr Functional Pyramid) on various reaches of the stream to document whether City DPU's proposed restoration method will provide meaningful "uplift" to the stream's condition (if not, consider abandoning work or reducing impact in those areas).

5)  RCC will serve as the primary partner on the restoration of the private property "concrete gully" upstream.  City DPU agrees in concept to provide speedy permit review and grant application support letters (RCC should be able to raise the (guessing) $1.5 million to accomplish the concrete channel restoration).  RCC may be able to negotiate that the City provides up to 50% matching funds for that effort, as well (or, even more importantly, $200,000 in start-up funds to begin the survey, engineering, and permit work).    Also, local partners like RCC typically have better success navigating private property concerns (and right of way costs) than City agencies.   If RCC is serious about treating the stormwater to Reedy Creek, and not simply using the "concrete gully" as a red herring to stop the project downhill, RCC will readily pursue this huge opportunity for their organization.

My overall worry is that the City of Richmond doesn't care all that much about Reedy Creek, if they never produced a set of alternative approaches and didn't conduct meaningful listening sessions for the community.   My overall worry is that Reedy Creek Coalition might not care that much either, if they have no concrete plan for advancing meaningful-scale watershed restoration work with or without the City's engineers.  

There is a huge opportunity, and huge obligation, for community and city leaders to work together in this period of generous funding for watershed restoration and simply get it done in a way that everyone will be happy to describe to their grandkids one day.   But as of last week, the two parties couldn't be much farther apart.   And if Reedy Creek continues to erode and unravel (and take out big, beautiful trees) for another 30 years, I don't think anyone will be proud to tell their grandkids about their role in that lost opportunity.   "I tried to steamroll a community, and failed!"  "Oh yeah, well I stopped the City from investing in our community - and they never came back!" 

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Perils of a "Fish Every Day" Contest

A high-end outdoor outfitter recently had a widely publicized contest: "Fly Fish 20 Days in September."  Unless you were on a fishing trip for at least 22 days, that's a challenge.   My immediate thought when I read the exciting write-ups for this contest was self-disappointment, with a giant work calendar as a thunderhead over me.    I can't fish that much right now, I thought.

I built this fish habitat, but haven't had time to fish it.
I think that means I lack dedication and/or passion. 
We're planting trees and building streams in September.  My son goes back to sports in September.  His birthday is even in September, and none of the grandparents live close, so if they do visit, I'm pretty occupied with that for several days.   My wife has lots of night meetings in September.  Anymore, September is still a summer heatwave on the Mid-Atlantic coast, and coastal waters are horribly low in oxygen, leading to lots of lethargic, dead and dying fish.   Air temperatures in the mid-90s and water in the mid-80s.  September is just bad.  And I think it's that way for a lot of people.    To restrict outdoor adventures to specifically "fly fishing" - contest or no contest -  is adding insult to injury for your average angler.  Largely, they probably ignore it, and the retailer, which could be intentional on the retailer's part.

But again, what I felt most was disappointment, and the next immediate feeling was that maybe I'm not hardcore enough for that outfitter and their goods.    The Outdoor Foundation reports that the mean number of fishing outings (including *all* types of fishing) is 17.9 times per year.   As an advocate for the sport, these are the people you want.  They buy licenses, they purchase gear, and most of them are copacetic with fishing about three times every two months.    They're good for the industry and the fishery, much like gym members who rarely go to the gym are pretty good for the gym.

Property of Fox Broadcasting Company
However, making them feel like Homer Simpsons because they can't fly fish 20 times in one month seems like a bad idea, especially for an industry and a natural resource facing certain peril in the coming generations (to say nothing of the coming months).   Imagine a reality, like right now, when all the industry and lobbyist groups are wanting us anglers to be politically motivated.  Or pick up a phone and call our representative.  Or defend the value of National Parks.   Again, that reality is right now.   A great time to alienate anglers -  I haven't heard anyone who fishes less than three times per week state anything positive about the "20 days in September" challenge.  And I do know a lot of people who fish 2-3 times per week.

"Boy, he sounds sour."  Well, I am sour.   I'm confused at why, knowing what we know about the folly of creating outdoor celebrities - and how the animal rights crowd loves to use the antics of those celebrities to try and snuff out our sport -  that we are having contests to create more fishing rock stars.   I'm confused at why at a time when we need anglers to defend conservation, defend federal lands, and defend a potentially dying industry, we are designing highly publicized contests to separate the 1% from the 99%.    Because in larger society, that certainly hasn't been noted.   Maybe I need to get a bunch of drunken worm dunkers and we'll be "Occupy the Poudre."

I'm sour because fishing does not rank in the TOP TEN "aspirational outdoor activities" of 18-24 year olds.    

Or the TOP TEN "aspirational" activities of 25-34 year olds (for 20 years, a core market for outdoor retailers).  

And it squeaks in at #8 for 35-44 year olds, previously, but no longer, a core market. 

And it's no surprise that while at least TEN other outdoor activities are 2016 growth markets, according to the Outdoor Foundation, fishing is certainly not one of them.   And fly fishing? I mean, it's about 10% of anglers....so.... 2% or so of Americans.  "But it has grown 0.5% in the last 3 years!"  Yeah sure.  Kayak fishing has grown 17% in the last 3 years.  We're losing *total* anglers hand over fist.   Clearly, the fly fishing industry caters to a small portion of Americans.  But which Americans?

After making solid inroads into wider acceptance (broadly and socioeconomically) over the last decade, it would appear that high end fly fishing is again positioning itself as the pinnacle of the sport, the pinnacle of angler excellence, the pinnacle of dedication and passion - and you know, dedication costs big bucks.  "Fly fish 20 days in September" - because we sure are.   If you can't fly fish 20 days in September, you don't have the passion.  Bottom line.   So says our marketing team!

Perhaps, once again in 2016,  the soccer dads, football moms, inner city kids, and lonely apartment millenials aren't the sort of people that the fly fishing industry really wants.  After several years of claiming they wished for "growth of the sport" during the Great Recession, I guess they've got enough Titanium Card customers to rid themselves of that facade.   It is noted.

While I've hit personal records for both largemouth bass and chain pickerel in the last 12 months, and while I've fished in six states this year, including a four-day offshore trip in the Gulf of Mexico,  I couldn't fish 20 days in September.   Despite dedicating my life to wetland and stream restoration, I couldn't fish 20 days in September.  Clearly, I lack the passion that some guys have.  Maybe one day I'll have the kind of dedication to the resource and the sport that lets me enter a 20 Days In September contest.

Probably not.  They're looking for a different kind of people.

Moments in Outdoor Parenthood: Photos of Parents

My standard outdoors view these days -
the soles of my kid's feet. 
A lot of us know a lot of good parents.  Folks who show their kids the world, whether that is Central Park or Grand Canyon National Park.   You'll see pictures of kids fishing, climbing, shooting, catching frogs, looking through telescopes, making headdresses out of found feathers, and all of it's good stuff.   But you don't see pictures of parents doing "the stuff," which is pretty ironic because much of this outdoor culture - or at least the ethic, the part of the mountain air or the salt water that runs through our blood, so to speak -  is inherited, not learned.  Those parents used to do cool stuff.  But I think I'm typical when I say that I've hardly had a picture snapped of me hunting, fishing, surfing, or climbing since my son was born.   I'm in a support role, a coach's role now.   Sometimes I try to remember what it used to feel like to go pursue these activities unencumbered.  To kick ass.   It's hard to remember when that time was (if it ever existed, ha ha).  But sometimes life gives us amazing, wonderful, and priceless moments. 

I was climbing with my soon near the PA-MD border recently and he said, "Let's eat our lunch on that rock table up there."  I said, "Well if we can both climb it, sure."   He, of course, scampered right up there.   I handed him the gear pack (of course, I pack in all the gear and water), then my phone and camera.   I then studied the 10' tall boulder for a minute and found what I thought were some jugs and foot holds big enough for a dude like me.    What I didn't know is that my son was waiting to take a picture of me as I was finishing the climb.  

This is not only the first picture of me climbing since he was born in 2009.  This is the first picture anyone has taken of me climbing or bouldering since 1998.    What a wonderful day. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Captiva Surf Fishing Contest: Me Vs. My Six Year Old

I may not be great at catching big fish, or certainly trophy fish.  Heck, at age 42 I have only three citation fish to my name (chain pickerel, black crappie, and spotted bass).   But give me some basic tackle and a tiny bit of local knowledge (seasonal movements of fish, etc.), and I can generally "catch fish" on almost any day.  As a result, I falsely tend to think that I am pretty smart.

One day our little family rolled up to Captiva Island.  Captiva and Sanibel are significantly south of where I normally fish in Florida, and it conditions were less than ideal, so I wasn't expecting much.   After a little driving around, we managed to find some public beach parking.   As I unloaded the saltwater rods from the bed of the truck, my 6-year old son interrupted, "Dad! I wanna take my rod."  Isn't that kind of dedication great!

Until you realize that "his rod" is a 4.0' Bass Pro Crappie Maxx Jr., with the store-bought reel (ouch) still on it.    I handed him the rod, and continued to carry two rods (a clearly unnecessary 10' Tsunami and a more appropriate 7' Shimano combo), knowing, of course, that he'd be needing one of them.

I also noted that The Dude was carrying his tackle bag, which is fine except that the only lures in there are 5,713 colors of Mister Twisters, some Uncle Bucks Panfish Bugs, and some green camo Senkos he thought were "cool."  He ran ahead, because that's what he does.

When I finally caught up to him, he had sort of knotted a Beetle Spin onto his line and was picking out a 1" crappie grub (I mean, what?!) to put on it.   I tried to argue against the futility of using a Beetle Spin in the freaking Gulf of Mexico, and that argument failed on its merits.    I did convince him to use a chartreuse powerbait minnow (his favorite color is bright green, so he let that one pass), and when trying to re-do his awful knot, he hollered at me so I said, you know, whatever.  

I walked down the beach to bait my perfectly prepared line and terminal tackle, eyeing up a good sandbar offshore.   As soon as my 2 ounce slip weight hit the water, I heard screaming up the beach.  Gulf Kingfish, very close to legal size.  And admittedly, very fat and pretty tasty looking (we released it).  

The rod and reel were tossed into the sand (causing me to replace the store reel with a more sturdy Zebco 33) and by the end of the morning, I had still caught nothing.  The boy caught edible fish using a 4' crappie rod with a beetle spin tipped with half of a powerbait.  What in the world.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

I Done Gone and Built a Tree House

Living in the I-95 corridor is something special sometimes when it comes to property management.   If you need to replace a toilet and you are on public sewer, that'll be a $400 permit (or a $2000 fine) (90 days to review permit).  Want to build a fence?  $250 permit (or a $10,000 fine)  (6-10 month review time).   Of course, all those requirements are for "little people."   If you want to build a shopping mall that fills in 20 acres of wetlands and a mile of streams, well, those permit fees are waived and you'll have your permits in 60 days.  Apparently if you own a pipeline company and you want to drill across federal land, you don't even need written permission!  But I digress.

We wanted to build an outdoor space in our tiny yard for my son and his friends.  Our design constraints were as follows:

  • Careful navigation of permit requirements (decided on a "temporary structure" exemption)
  • Footprint of less than 8' x 10' (shed exemption)
  • Basic safety constraints (won't tip over, handrails, etc).
  • A space that would grow with the kids, with minor additions over the coming years
My wife and I both have drafting and plan review experience, in addition to my construction experience.   So we scouted around some stuff on the internet and ultimately landed on a concept on the blog "A Handmade Home" called "Handmade Hideaway."   I really want to show you their beautiful version of the concept, but I am 93% sure they would sue, so I won't.    We didn't use their materials list but we did incorporate the concept into our project goals, and I'm pretty happy with the result, which is now two years old.   Notable changes from their concept:

  • Higher off the ground
  • Rectangular, rather than square design (they look to have a square yard, ours is like a shoebox)
  • Incorporated rock wall instead of slide
  • Ladder instead of stairs
  • Instead of six 4x4 posts cemented into ground, created a theoretically "movable" sled/cage with 2x8s and 2x10s as the horizontal units and 4x4s as the vertical posts. 
  • Instead of attaching posts with 1/4" lags, used 1/2" and 5/8" galvanized lags.
  • Used (more expensive) galvanized and decking hardware due to our climate
  • Used (more expensive) pressure treated lumber on support sled/cage due to climate
  • Used (less expensive ) asphalt shingles instead of aluminum roof  

Monday, September 12, 2016

63 Hour Offshore Trip with Hubbards Marine - An Odd Trip I Can't Stop Thinking About

Earlier this year I was able to cash in on a personal favor and was able to join some friends for a 4 (ish) day offshore trip out of the Tampa area.    Those who know me and this blog know that while I fish a lot,  the average amount of time I spend fishing per outing is about 90-150 minutes and the average size fish I catch is 11" long, and it is a bass of some variety.  Going offshore is something I rarely do, and I've never been offshore overnight.  WHAT COULD GO WRONG?  I've been stymied to write about this trip:  there's how the trip was, and there's how I feel about it, which are two different things.  So for now, here's how the trip was.

We flew into Tampa on thursday morning, each with a full backpack (clothes, snacks, fishing tools), and an empty roll-on cooler (hoping to take home pounds of fish).  After an expensive stop at the bait shop, we rolled down to Hubbard's Marina at John's Pass.   I now know that Hubbard's puts a hundred or more people on fishing boats every single day, but I didn't know that when we arrived.  We found a bit of a cattle operation going on during check-in, but the staff was pretty courteous.   They did seem frustrated that we didn't know precisely what was going on, which seemed like a dumb thing to be frustrated about (you know....new customers).

Lodging, below deck. 
Eventually our crew (three mates and Capt. Mark Hubbard) were assembled, and 14 of us loaded our small collection of clothing and massive assortment of bait onto the 75' catamaran.  By about 3pm, lines were on the dock and out to sea we headed. Around 11pm, we had settled on a reef several dozen miles offshore and I was one of the first successful anglers, pulling two keeper mangrove snapper onboard.

The night was filled with other adventures, including several other anglers getting on the board, and a nearly two hour fight (in the pitch black night) with what we were all sure was a swordfish, but turned out to be a 15 foot brown reef shark, which we released without handling.

The next day of fishing was moderate in pace but almost everyone caught grouper, so that's pretty much a successful day in my book.   In about 800-1000 feet of water on the Middle Grounds, we caught Yellow Edge, Yellowfin, Gag, Kitty Mitchell, Snowy, and maybe one or two other species of grouper.   The elusive Warsaw Grouper was....elusive.   Two blackfin tuna were caught on light tackle, but not by me, so, hooray for those guys!

The third day of fishing was hot and heavy, though a mixed bag.  There were several hour long dead periods, followed by deepwater frenzies and fish flopping all over the boat.   We put a hurting on the Blue Line Tile Fish and a few grouper, but increasingly porgies were being caught.  Porgies are fine, but definitely not the objective of a trip like this.

As the sun went down, the boat took a big turn and started back toward land, where we'd arrive at dawn.    The last day of our trip warrants its own story, between TSA crotch inspections and screaming matches about how to divide up the fillets (and dry ice) for air transportations, but this was a good fishing trip; we each came home with 30 or more pounds of the world's freshest seafood.  I don't know if I'll ever go on a trip like this again, but I'll never forget it, that's for sure.

6 Steps to Prep for My 15th Year of Bowhunting

Well, it's almost here.  I mean, that's almost my sentiment at this point.   It's not disillusionment with bow hunting, or the outdoors.  Certainly not the latter.   But at age 42, and 15 years after I first took a bow into the woods (what a clown I was!), I don't worry about bow hunting the way I used to worry about it.   Now - I still worry about duck hunting, saltwater fishing, surfing, and other things I love more than bow hunting, but I don't worry about bow hunting and I'll tell you why - it's that I have learned to prepare.

Now, I know what you're thinking, "He must have the Max-F7 Anti Carbon Stank Pants!" or something else.   No, not really.  "He must have gotten rid of his clover full plots for the new proprietary GMO Rack Buster Triticale!" No, still have the clover.  Except where I don't, where there's nothing.  So what has got me calmed down about bow hunting? A few things.

1.   Kept shooting.  After my last bow hunt around January 20, I only hung up the bow for about 40 days.  I go through periods where I show 20-30 shots every day for 3-4 days, then it falls off the radar for 3 weeks.  But I now target shoot, outdoors, from March to August.   I know how my bows are performing, for better and for worse.

2.  Given up on poachers.  At my #1 spot (which is well posted but has a long history of outlaw dumbasses), we have poachers.  They use my stand, and I've recovered various bolts and arrows from the woods around my stand, including a crossbow bolt stuck in a tree that could have *only* come from my stand.   So, I locked the tree stand seat in the upright position.  If they want to hang onto the ladder all day, I guess, whatever.  If they steal my stand, I mean, good riddance.  It's cheap and it's been hanging in the weather for four years.  The bolts in it are about done (why would you use indoor bolts when building a tree stand? - separate topic).

3.  I've decided to stop passing up deer.  Last hunting season,  I took two long shots on does (both mortal wounds) in the late season after having numerous does, fawns, and small bucks around my stand in the early season.   I know that big bucks were around and I didn't want to "waste a tag."  I'm over that.  If I have a shot, and I have a tag for it, it's getting shot.  Especially given the poaching in the area, it's not like I can effectively manage the herd.

4.  I'm quitting after one.   There's a lot coming up this winter, including trips to Louisiana and Florida.   I don't want to be freezing my ass off in a tree stand in Maryland in January.  But I would really like to take a deer.  Any non-infected deer with a fair amount of meat.  

5.  I stocked up in the off-season.   I didn't go nuts.   I bought another half-dozen shafts and three more field tips for each bow (125s and 100s).   I did that in July, because I'll be damned if you can find that stuff come October 15.

6.  My fat self is back in the gym.   I've been going to the gym pretty steadily since June, and pretty intensely since late July.   As a result, I have lost zero pounds.   But I can now GIT up that hill, and flex my knee over that boulder and carry 100lb of corn on my shoulder without wondering if something's going to give out.   I've gotten on a new, long term plan that hopefully results in some pounds being shed, but more importantly, not dropping dead of a heart attack while in the tree stand.

So as you see, I've trimmed back quite a bit.  I'll still wash my clothes in scent-free detergent and keep them in a rubbermaid tub in the truck cab (trust me, my wife is a huge fan of that activity), and if the deer trail moves terribly far from the stands I hunt, I'll entice them back to the old trail with bait.   But I'm not worried about it now.    I hope this time of year finds you the same way - not fretting over gear details at the 11th hour, and instead getting ready for your annual communion with the forest.  I hope it's as good as you dreamed it would be.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Snook Attack with Native Salt Charters in Sarasota County

Anyone who's followed this blog over the years knows that my son burns like a blowtorch stuck on full blast.  He's a non-video game playing, swimming, climbing, running fool.  We've fished together since he was about two, and at six, I'd say he's mildly interested in the sport.  Hell, with the summer weather we've had for the last two years (flash floods every four days, separated by massive algae blooms), maybe I'm only mildly interested in the sport myself.   Back to the story, though - what I don't want to do is give him the impression that fishing is work, or that getting skunked is the standard to which anglers should aspire, so I thought I'd take a step back.

During our last trip to Southwest Florida, I decided to (try to) get Big H on some real fish, to get him overwhelmed with catching fish.   For those of you who have fished in Florida....you know.  You know that while this is never guaranteed, it is most certainly possible.  And while I know spend "weeks" per year fishing the state, there is a lot I do not know.   My father in law had a great experience with Capt. Justin at Native Salt Charters, and so I booked a half day.   I knew it wouldn't be cheap, but I was willing to pay to get this one experience for my son on the books.  Thank goodness my father in law picked up part of the tab as well.  Our targets were speckled trout, redfish, and snook, with the outside possibility of hooking up with small tarpon or permit.

You can have Missouri. 

Those of you who know me, or have read this blog, know that I have pretty high standards (and high criticism) for guides.  You've read my commentaries about guides' hilarious blog posts that are all, "Yeah, bro, like, you know, clients are the worst.  No one ever gets skunked because of the guide! GUIDES SHIT PURE ZEN WISDOM BRO." My brothers and friends and I have been burned by more fishing and hunting guides in more states than I care to recall.  I've also had a few amazing guides.   So I was curious about how this trip would really go.  Would the guide be a detail-driven prick, yelling at his clients?  A dud who had refused to scout for our trip?  Or the guide who spends more time with his line in the water than his clients do?  

Long story short, I was satisfied and impressed by Capt. Justin at Native Salt.  He picked us up at the dock, maybe 90 seconds late (bringing another charter in).  He had already picked up *most* of the bait we'd need, and we rendezvoused with another charter boat en route to get the rest, losing no time in our charter.   I explained to him that the goal was to get Big H on fish, and nothing more, and he seemed to know just where to go.

Fishing pressure was heavy and the first two spots we tried on the ripping tide were duds.  Capt. Justin knows the water so well that he maintains a "10 minute rule."  If no bites in 10 minutes, he moves on.    We eventually started to light into some snook.   Capt's first bite showed me what kind of guide we had, he immediately put the rod in my son's hand and backed him up on the retrieve, getting rod position right and helping H out with the reel.   It was what you pay guides for, but rarely receive.

We tooled around a ton of different spots and messed around with live and artificial bait.

In about 3.5 hours, we ended up catching and releasing 31 snook, with my son landing 17 or so of those fish.   He talked about it for the rest of the trip.   He talked about it when he returned to school.  He asked me the other week "what's that name of the fish we caught in Florida? That was SO FUN."    I don't know what else you need, but I'm a satisfied customer.    Can't wait until our next trip to Florida and our next charter with Native Salt.  I can only afford to do it a few times per year, and I know these guys will help me make it count.

Monday, May 16, 2016

What's Up in the Rainy Mid-Atlantic Outdoors?

So apparently changing all of one's computers, cell phones, and office address in a 90 day period is not helpful for the production of digital content.   Check.

It has been an interesting spring for Mid-Atlantic Outdoorsmen and women.   

  • The oft-maligned EPA Clean Water Rule has survived several Congressional attacks and awaits a federal lawsuit in the 6th Court.
  • USACE v. Hawkes, a Clean Water Act case focused on whether citizens have the right to administratively appeal federal agency actions, is before the US Supreme Court, with a decision (anticipated to be against USACE/EPA) due in June.
  • Kolbe v. Hogan (Maryland Assault Weapons Ban) is before the 4th federal circuit *again*, this time en banc.  Decision anticipated in late 2016.  
  • Virginia failed to repeal or restrict hound hunting, while states to their south took direction actions to do just that. 
  • December 2015 and March 2016 were record hot weather months, while May 2016 is a record cold weather month already. 
  • 2015 was a banner year for aquatic grasses in the Chesapeake Bay.  

April was cold and rainy and afforded few times to go fish.  However, we did fly south and get offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, a report I look forward to sharing with you. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Bigger and Better: My Changes for the 2016-2017 Archery Season

2015 was truly the year that I fell in love with archery.  All it took was the right bow and some patience.  I say those two things like they were simple, but they were not.   While I saw fewer total deer in the woods in 2015-2016 than I did the previous hunting season, I generally saw more quality deer this year.   While the harvest didn't meet my expectations, my enjoyment and overall better odds in the woods were a result of:

  • hunting solely in the tree stand, never on the ground
  • stand is located right next to a topographic draw that's a "deer highway"
  • being calm and confident with my gear, from my harness to my arrows
  • having the confidence (and intel) that yes, the deer are around....somewhere
Some reasons I was not as successful as I wanted:

  • Very tough weather (hot October, hot November, no distinct rut season, cold January)
  • Lack of a distinct rut season - many hunters were out all week, with no harvest
  • Bumper crop acorn season - deer did not have to travel to find food in early winter
  • Someone (poacher) using my stand - I found an arrow (not mine) in a nearby stump
  • Someone (doesn't have current permission, but not evicted by landowner) has a stand roughly 100 yards away, on the peak of the hill, and he baits (which is legal here)
  • Almost all deer came from behind me, causing me (later in the season) to constantly be wiggling around in the tree stand
  • tree stand is extremely exposed after leaf fall (oops)
  • had to walk through woods/leaves to get to tree stand
  • wind wasn't always favorable
  • made a few laundry mistakes with detergent, brighteners, etc. 
So where to go in 2016-2017?

  • Spring:  Move tree stand to a location where poachers less likely to see/use
  • Spring:  Get bows fully tuned (one at 52lb, one at 65lb)
  • Summer:  Build a stand or blind on the south valley cliff - easy walk in; favorable wind setup
  • Install any tree stands with coverage of a holly or evergreen on at least one side
  • Summer/Fall:  More active use of a trail cam - I had stopped in September.   When deer disappeared in late October, I felt completely blind to their activity. 
  • Summer:   Practice long range (40-50 yard) archery the way I practiced short range archery in Summer 2015
  • Make a decision early (August) on whether to bait at all
  • If baiting, do so seriously, with a feeder.  Infrequent baiting hasn't seemed to be an aid.
  • Do not bait in areas frequented by poachers

Monday, February 8, 2016

Swinging For the Fences: Goose Hunting on the Wye

Literally the only picture I took this morning.
If I could goose hunt anywhere in Maryland, it'd be on the lower Chester River.  But if it couldn't be on the lower Chester (which, at $1500 - $4500 leases per person, it can't be), it would be on the Wye River, just a dozen or so miles south.    The Chester, known as "AP Goose Ground Zero" is the first area to fill up with Atlantic Population geese, usually in November.  As the numbers grow, small groups of geese filter north to the Sassafras (where I've hunted since 2009) or south to the Wye and Choptank.

But that first big flight of geese never came in this strangely odd El Nino winter.  In the last week of the season, I was invited to hunt geese with some work friends on a farm that usually generates limits of geese.     A typical morning might have you see one to two thousand geese, and kill a 6-man limit of 12 geese.  

So we hunkered down and waited, and in the end probably saw about 60 geese total, shot and missed at one goose, and went home empty handed.   This might not have happened, had the guide not told us to arrive at 9:00, leading some of the hunters to arrive at 9:10; and of course about 30 geese had landed around the pit at 8:55, and a few more at 9:05.   I would have gladly given up another hour of sleep to have arrived at 8:00.  Sigh.

But that's how hunting goes, and that's how many hunters' seasons have gone this year on the east coast.  As one buddy told me, when I asked if they'd killed geese, "No.  We did not.  And I hope they freeze to death."    A harsh sentiment to be sure, but after watching a few dozen fickle geese toy with us in a frozen, snowy corn field, good riddance to them.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Season's Last Bow Hunt

I'm not one for moral victories, but at least the only real
trail in the woods is the one that goes right past my tree stand.
I have a new fire in my belly for bow hunting, but life has been trying to put it out.  I don't know what has been the biggest obstacle:  1) my failure to take a turkey with a bow in Nebraska, 2) a beautiful, relaxing Florida fishing trip in December, 3) the bitter cold temperatures immediately upon returning from Florida, or 4) spending 7 of the last 10 days of the season either shoveling out from Baltimore's worst blizzard in history; and/or spending 7 of the last 10 days dealing with school cancellations.

But knowing there are big deer, and plenty of them, in the woods is a strange motivator.  I put on three layers on top and bottom, along with Hot Hands in my gloves and boots, and trudged through well-packed, knee deep snow out to the tree stand three hours before sunset (hoping to maximize my chance of seeing something).

Like half of my bow hunts this season, I saw nothing.  There were very few tracks and trails in the woods, which told me that the deer were likely hanging around bird feeders in nearby back yards.   It was a quiet afternoon and after awhile, I got into almost a trance state (don't worry, I wear a full body safety harness in the tree) and thought about a lot of things.  When I kind of snapped out of it, it seemed like every time I blinked, it was darker.   A pink sunset over the next ridge told me that the hunt was over, and the season was over.

After my last hunt in most years, I'm done thinking about hunting gear, hunting tactics, and 330am alarm clocks for awhile.   But unlike previous seasons, I'm excited to consider what I can do better next season.    I think next season might be a classic.   I'll be writing soon about what it'll take to get me there.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Back in the saddle - late season bow hunt

The last time I'd climbed in my stand, it was late November, unseasonably warm, and the leaves were still on the trees.  How naked I now felt, 20 feet up, with nothing shielding me from acres of land.  Granted, perception is an illusion here, because a man standing still in a tree is generally not going to be seen by anything or anybody, including deer.

I got in the tree a little late, about 2 hours before sunset, and I was hoping that the cool temperatures - predicted for the upper 30s but actually stalling out around 34, would prompt some deer movement.  I was pretty disappointed.   Of course, I made the cardinal sin of getting out my phone.  When I looked up from texting my boss, there was a spindly 6-point buck on the next ridge, staring at me.  Even if I was watching for him, I wouldn't have seen or heard him approach, and the 80 yard shot through the treetop branches would have been impossible.  But as he stared at me, now frozen stiff and staring back, I knew I was busted.  He flicked his tail and bounded off.

And that was it.  Very few birds in the woods.  Few squirrels.  And no more deer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Praising the Wild, Young Spirit

We have rules at our house.  Good manners (politeness), good attitudes.  No whining.  Always greet people.  Always hold the door.

I'm partial to those rules, because they affect how each of us make first impressions.  First impressions affect how we build friendships and business networks.

But there are a lot of other rules in our society, too.  They revolve around sitting patiently and waiting for a prescribed portion decided by someone else.  They revolve around being able to describe your idea in 12 words or less.  13 words is a failure, regardless of the idea. Then, of course, there is the standardized testing.   Sigh.  Those rules work well in a society where everyone can be upwardly mobile "if you just play by the rules and use some good old elbow grease."   But it's clear to me that we don't live in that society.

The middle class that built those rules 70 years ago is evaporating over a burner of 15-year stagnated wages matched to a 30 year, order-of-magnitude increase in college costs and a 300% increase in the cost of living.   Note that I chose my words carefully in the previous sentence.  A middle class still exists, and a stronger one (of some sort) will emerge in due time.   But this one, and its rules, are relics.  I'm not convinced that our middle class will be saved by giving every student a STEM education.   And I'm a career biologist.

One of my college roommates, a smart and successful process engineer who runs a half dozen factories for a well known food supplier, was watching my son almost literally crawl the walls and briskly told me, "Do not ever medicate that."  It was a bold and unsolicited statement.  But as I read the world news, with chaos and opportunity unfolding simultaneously every day, it actually seems like prudent and conservative advice.   In 2015, we already know that 1955's models no longer work.  My son won't emerge from college or trade school until at least 2029.  Why would I still teach him skills borne of a 1955 mindset?  Sit and be quiet son, so you can get a good union job at the video game coding factory!   None of those are things anymore.  Not here, anyway.

So I will praise the bouncy (outdoors), the unruly (playing pirate with his friends), and the boundless, impossible questions like, "What comes after outer space?"  and "if no one has a body in Heaven, who fixes things?" And "How can I get to the future faster than every second?"  The boy could be a fireman, a surgeon, a playwright or an infantryman.  If he is disrespectful to people in his life, or he never learns to listen, of course, none of these positive things might happen.   But I'm not sure they necessarily will by arbitrary compliance.

Let kids be free.  Today's docile student - afraid to even walk near the lines we've created for him or her -  simply isn't a great recipe tomorrow's revolutionary thinker - whether it be in the field of commerce, art, science, or law.   Having impeccable manners is good.  Describing ideas that are so big and bold that no one else can understand them, while having impeccable manners, is even better.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mens Underwear for the Outdoors - A Gear Review

I have to admit, reviewing underwear is infinitely less exciting than reviewing a $600 fishing reel.   And let's face it, before the first time you missed a day of kayaking in Peru due to jungle rot, or the first time you nearly froze to death while deer hunting in cotton camo pants and cotton-blend boxers, you didn't care about underwear.  Neither did I!  But now I do, and I think most of you do as well.

Two things (beyond "not freezing to death" and "not loving moisture-driven infections on my skin") drive me to pay attention to underwear.  First, I spend a lot of time outdoors for both work and my personal life, and I hate being uncomfortable when it's not necessary.  Second, I don't like missing an outdoor adventure being of something dumb, like cheap underwear.   If you haven't had the wind whip through you (all of you) and your cheap clothes, or if you haven't had to work all day in clothes that got soaked in rain, pond water, or sweat at 830am, then you might not get what this is about, and that's OK.  This review isn't for you.  If you're in that category of men, by all means, carry yourself to the nearest super store and buy yourself a 3-pack of whatever drawers are on sale.  There's usually red, black, and blue in every pack...you know the ones!

I forsake cotton a several years ago, and bought my first nice pair of underwear in the Eastern Mountain Sports store next to my gym at the time, about 4 years ago.   I've been a member of three other gyms since then, but those underwear - the initial release of Ex Officio's Give and Go boxer briefs, have been worn about once a week for four years.  They're tough sons-of-guns, and for $22-25, they had better be.   I've since tried other brands, with varying success.  The review below addresses some of the high (and dry) points, as well as some of the damp challenges.

The overall review consisted of whether the product functioned as follows:
  • Is the product well made?
  • Does it hold up over time?
  • Is it comfortable for casual wear?
  • Is it comfortable for sport/exercise wear?
  • Is it comfortable for water wear?
  • Does the fabric dry easily and quickly?
  • Does the fabric wick body moisture away?
  • Does the fabric tend to hold any trouble areas ("swamp zones")?
Gross? Gross.  But read on, here's what I found.

The Ex-Officio Give and Go ($22-25).   This has been a well-received product, experimental in 2011 and a success for Ex-Officio.  It's advertised to be good for 17 days in 7 countries without a wash, but I'll pass on that.    These underwear are manufactured comparably to the high price.  The waistband is sturdy and not prone to fail, stitching holds after dozens of uses, and they carry sweat away like a dream!    They do bleach easily in pool or laundry water, so be careful.   My favorite thing about these underwear is that I can wear them fishing, get them wet, change my shorts or pants, and these are bone dry in less than 45 minutes.   

Icebreaker ($40-50).  I bought a pair of these off the rack at REI in Fall, 2015.  They are the most comfortable pair of underwear I've ever owned.    The waistband is weak and tends to get bound / twisted a bit, which is something I'm keeping an eye on, and like the Ex-Officio, I never feel sweaty in these.   After roughly 15 wears, the super thin merino wool blend is starting to pill in some areas, so I'm watching that as well.  I'll buy another pair of these, hopefully at outlet prices.

Jockey Air Boxer ($18-20).  Ranking at the lowest end of the price range, these underwear are surprisingly comfortable, have passable wicking ability, and have held up admirably for swimming, outdoor work in hot and cold conditions, and for everyday wear.  They do feel a little...bogged down...on particularly hot and humid days (around here, that's 105 degrees and 90% humidity).  All in all, I'd say that they're more than half as good as the icebreakers and less than half the price, making the Air Boxer a good deal.

Under Armour Heat Gear ($20).  Now, you would think that of all brands, Under Armour's underwear would perform the best.   And in some ways, they are, but just not in the ways that I, and I think a lots of outdoorsmen, really need.  On the positive side, these underwear are bombproof.  Everything seems to be double- and triple-stitched.   The material refuses to tear, refuses to pill up, and doesn't even bleach when it encounters chlorinated pool water.   They are also the most supportive, which is great, but it means they are also the most constricting, which isn't great.  I was really confused and surprised at how poorly these underwear wicked away sweat.   On hot days, or heavy workout days in the gym, these are not the underwear I want to be wearing.   After fully wet (I took an accidental swim in my waders while wearing them), they didn't dry out all day, hours after I'd removed my waders and put lightweight shorts back on.

Summary.   I don't like being uncomfortable when it comes to underwear - I guess that much is clear.  While I am happiest with the Icebreaker Oasis, I simply can't afford to fill my drawer with them.  The Ex-Officio boxer briefs, however, are constructed and sold at that meeting point of price and quality, and in the process of doing this review, I bought my fourth pair of Ex-Officios.   You can't go wrong with most of these products, but there you have it.  Underwear.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2015, The Year in Water

2014 was a hard year - what they call a "growth" year.   It was so bad that I didn't write a year-end summary on this website, or write anything about "goals for 2015."  I mean, to hell with 2014.   The best thing about it was that I survived; the second best thing about 2014 was that it eventually ended.

2015 was a lot different.    No major disasters and a fair amount of success.  I caught a few big fish, missed a lot more big fish, and generally did OK.    I probably fished 20 times, hunted a half dozen times, went to the gym 30 times...the standard.   2015 was a yeoman's year: here are the highlights.

Back to Surfing:  I hadn't surfed since my son was born in 2009.  The last time I had surfed, actually, was April, 2009 in Folly Beach, SC.   It seems almost perfect that my first session back in the water would be nearby at Isle of Palms, SC, in April, 2015.   Nothing about it was epic, but I caught waves and surfed.  In July, 2015 I managed to surf one morning at Delaware's Indian River Inlet.  I was the worst and most out of shape surfer in the lineup, but I still caught about a dozen little waves.  In December, 2015,  a freak swell in the Gulf of Mexico caught me unprepared, and I was forced to bodyboard at Boca Grande, Florida, which was still super fun!

Swimming in the surf by himself.  Not normal, I know.
Taught My Son to Swim:  At 5 (now 6), Hank has spent a lot of his life in the water.  He's drawn to it, as I've been for my entire life.   Swimming (real) swimming is non-negotiable for our family - it's a required life skill.   I figured Hank would learn as I did, by being left at the pool by my parents for the entire summer (hey...it worked).   But he was inspired by our local YMCA's requirement that he pass a full swim test before using the water slide at their pool, which seems reasonable enough, and we spent the summer in the pool together.  In early September, 2015, Hank passed his swim test on his first attempt, one of the few 5 year olds to do so.  He's since had additional swim lessons and continues to grow stronger.

Took Two Trips With My Brothers:   My brothers and I are 36, 38, and 41.  Between us we have two wives, a fiancee', two kids, two dogs, and 300 miles.  Brother T set up a trip along the Shenandoah River in Virginia.   There was some rain and the crazy children to deal with, but the trip was just right.   We needed the time together and it was nice to just show up with food.  In December, the three of us reconvened in Denver for a 6-day hunting trip in western Nebraska.  The trip didn't go exactly how any of us thought it would, but we definitely shot some birds and the trip galvanized our relationship in a way I hadn't predicted.

Caught a Fish I'd Been Chasing:   This stupid fish had been ducking me for two years.  I finally set out specifically to catch him one morning before a staff meeting.  I succeeded.  It was more of a moment than it possibly should have been, but oh well.  I didn't have time to get amazing pictures of it because I swear, the thing was ridiculously heavy.

I suppose it's an accomplishment for a couple of small reasons.  First, it was caught (and released) at a spot that's notoriously difficult to fish, and second, the choice of lure (large soft plastics) is the Achilles heel of my tackle box.  But I pulled it off.

And yes, in 2015, I lost a a bigger bass....in front of my son....at my feet.   But these things happen.

I'm not sure what 2016 will bring.  Two weeks into the year, I feel like I still haven't properly encapsulated 2015 and set it on its merry way.  But I'm hoping that the pretty decent list of good things I put in motion in 2015 will turn into some real happiness and fulfillment in the new year.  More on that soon!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hunting Rio Grande Turkeys in Western Nebraska

Atrocious cover in an actual turkey hunting spot. 
I'd never harvested, hunted, or even seen a wild turkey other than the Eastern Turkey.  I'd heard that several of the western turkey subspecies, including the Rio Grande, are dumb as rocks, but that the sheer numbers of the birds made it very tricky to split off a small group within bow range, or even within gun range.   With an 8-year standing invite to hunt some private rangeland and CRP ground in western Nebraska, my brothers and I finally committed on the trip.

I had heard rave reports of the size of the turkey flock, and the density of the roosts, prior to our arrival, and so I arrived ready.  I mean, it sounds straightforward.  We had roughly 1000 acres of private land to hunt, hundreds of turkeys on that land, and a landowner diligently watching the birds' movement.     The rave reports of the turkey flock started to overshadow the original intent of our trip - duck hunting.  I was fired up!

But as it turned out, I wasn't ready at all for the "on the ground" reality.   Three factors gummed up the works and turned my trip into one of the most frustrating trials I've faced in my two decades of bird hunting.   Hopefully, through my description of these factors, you can avoid some bumps in the road in your next hunting trip in the west.

The first confounding factor was this: lack of cover.

That's about 11 trees on 500 acres.  The lack of cover should have not surprised me at all, but as an east coaster, I admit, I was overwhelmed by the openness of the land.  You could walk a mile and not see a single mature tree, even in the distance.  That becomes a problem when you go to your conventional turkey hunting playbook, which would contain a dozen or so methods of hiding in cover between the roost and the feeding area, or in cover between the roost and the gobblers' preferred strutting area.   So, by itself, the lack of cover is a challenge.  Add the large size of the turkey flocks (and number of eyes in each flock), and you have yourself a problem.

Say that you've identified the dominant active turkey roost, and you have access to hunt that piece of property, but (obviously) you don't want to bust the roost.  This is where we found ourselves during our several turkey hunts, spread across 6 days.  We simply couldn't put enough hunters in the field to cover the vast area through which turkeys *might* travel en route to or from the roost.   And hunting "a ways" off the roost, as all turkey hunters know, is the key to harvesting a bird or two without having the entire flock abandon that roost.   All of this, and the resulting frustration, leads to the second confounding factor:   hunting tactics that educated the birds. 

My first morning in Nebraska, the landowner had us in pasture creases, 500 yards from the roost where dozens of turkeys had been roosting.   In the 10 chaotic minutes after dawn, we had run all over Hell's Half Acre, and one turkey had been killed - a small group of birds happened to work up the crease where my brother was lying in wait.   But only 12 turkeys had flown out - more on that in a minute.  Subsequent hunts found us next to roosts, underneath active roosts, and in general covering huge areas of land to get in front of moving turkeys at various parts of the day.  If you were a turkey in the area we were hunting that week, you saw humans, over and over again.  We hunted high, we hunted low.  We moved through ditches and across valleys.  We covered some ground to get on top of the surprisingly small groups of turkeys, which was successful in the sense that we killed turkeys, but was self defeating in the sense that we were education the turkeys about our tactics the entire time.   With only two roosts in a 2500 acre area, what could have motivated them to move on (or stay in small groups along the creek)?  Well that's our third confounding factor - prior hunter pressure.

Had some intel that turkeys used this route to return to a roost
behind this cedar tree every evening.  Didn't pan out - 

turkeys were scared to return to this roost.
We learned that all of our turkey spots had been hunted within the last month.   Again, on the east coast, with small roosts of a dozen or so birds, this wouldn't be an issue.   But the (long gone) hunters in Nebraska left a trail of wary birds that I couldn't have anticipated - afraid to move in big flocks, constantly laying down in heavy cover, and refusing to roost together in their typical large groups.

I learned an important lesson about hunting in the west.  By choosing to hunt turkeys in December, we gave ourselves an enormous hardship in the way of having to hunt a turkey flock that had been made extremely wary of hunters.

All this being said, we didn't not shoot turkeys.
Yes, you should go hunt out west. 
In the end, I was the only hunter on our trip who did not punch my tags for Rio Grande turkeys - the birds were there, to some degree, and "we" eventually got on them.   The other guys worked hard, shot straight, and had some luck (your hunting buddy can't help that the gobbler walks right up to him, and not right up to you, when you're sitting back-to-back).

I've had a month to think about this trip, and I believe that had I really understood the three factors above (lack of cover, need for well thought out tactics, and pressure/tactics from other hunters previously on the property), I would have been 100% successful.  I hope that these tips are helpful for you on your next trip to the west.

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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...