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 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 ( 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 front of my 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...