Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Baby Strokes

Sometimes life is a bit like wandering around an orchard, full of different fruit.  For a while, say you are into citrus.  You spend a bit of time sampling all the different kinds, running from the sticky sweetness of the honeybell to the puckery tartness of the calamondin.  You don't dislike the other fruit in the orchard, you just haven't got to them yet.  Finally you look around and see the peaches, which everyone has told you were excellent, and you begin to explore them as well.  This takes nothing away from the citrus, but only broadens you appreciation for their place with the other fruits of the grove.

I've gone down similar paths with my outdoors life, wandering sequentially from hiking to camping to hunting, with some of the best days being a blend of all of these (such as my hunts in Catalina and another great trip last fall that I will finally get around to sharing one day).  Recently I've started to explore kayaking, which it has, amazingly, taken me this long to get around to.  

I've never been a big fan of being on the water in boats, motors are just too noisy for me and sail boats are too damn complicated for my enjoyment (despite the best efforts of a dear friend to convince me otherwise).  I did fish a lot as a kid, and actually possessed a commercial license as a teen that my dad and I used to run trot lines for catfish for sale to the locals.  However, the interest in fishing waned as an adult, and even being given a nice center-console fishing boat did nothing to bring it back (yep, that happened, SeaPro 170 with a 90 horse Johnson that my dad got scratch-n-dent and fixed up, used it exactly twice in three years then sold it for the cost of maintenance to my cousin).  

I'd been on kayaks a few times in my life, but only a handful.  As I posted last fall, a trip to Lassen national park to visit the above-mentioned dear friend included a few evenings catching trout on some beautiful mountain lakes that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I found kayaking on still water to have an awful lot in common with hiking, and the fishing wasn't too bad either considering how many bites we had.  

When I got back to sunny FLA, I hemmed and hawed and shopped and pondered and ultimately purchased my first kayak. I didn't want to blow the budget on something that might become another doghouse like my trash-pile johnboat, but I also wanted something that was legitimate enough to be useful for camping and fishing from.  In my research I found a package deal from a big-box sports store that included a Perception Pescador 12.  The Pescador 12 is nothing more than a re-badged 2008 Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120, definitely a kayak that had, and in it's latest incarnation still has, a big following in the paddling community.  
Camo model even.  That actually worries me around motor boat traffic, it might get some judiciously applied hunter orange spray painted highlights soon. 

So far I love it, not the fastest boat on the water, but then again I was never after speed.  It seems to track as straight as I can paddle and so far is super stable.  The initial paddle was across a portion of the Potano Paddling Trail around Newnan's Lake on a warm, sunny afternoon at the height of the swamp marigold bloom back in October.

Big sky, Florida Autumn style

I followed it up with another sunny afternoon on Camp's Canal, another portion of the Potano Trail.

So much wildlife this day, critters and birds everywhere.

A few weeks later I hauled the 'yak down to the Everglades for a couple paddles, the first an afternoon cruise down the winding, mangrove shrouded maze of the Nobel Hammock Canoe Trail. 

A long kayak would have some issues on these turns

The next morning I did five miles, my longest paddle yet, across the sawgrass of the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail.

About 10-12 inches of water, talk about hiking in a boat!
Most recently, I took a short but bona fied fishing trip with some friends of mine to the near-shore waters of Cedar Key, Florida.  I didn't catch anything but we did have a few bites and it was a beautiful if cloudy day on the water, about all a newbie can ask for.

My friend in the hat there has the 2013 Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120, about $300 more for a slightly updated model of the same boat I'm in.  He's a real cheapskate too, I love rubbing that fact in :)

So now I've ordered or checked out a half-dozen books on the subjects of kayak fishing in general and Florida fishing in specific and hope to finally get a few reds or trout for dinner.  There are quite a few informative and entertaining blogs out there as well.  I doubt that this will turn into a full-blown obsession but I'm more than happy to add it to my repertoire of outdoor recreation activities, not that I have enough time for hiking, camping, gardening, hunting, and all the other things I love as it is, such a hard life.

And for the record, I'm a much better gardener than I am a hunter.  I actually get to eat out of my garden on a regular basis.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Squirrelly Distraction

I've been lax with these updates.  I have three or four things I'd like to write about soon, on topics ranging from rambles on current hunting topics to a day I spent with my brother.  I should have a big post coming up in December, borderline Catalina in scope and definitely competing with it for one of the coolest hunting-related things I've ever done if I get lucky and fates come together. However, those stories are for other times, mortal coil willing. 

Right now I'm just going to tell you about a quick little squirrel hunting trip I took in a WMA near my house recently.  Now understand, I certainly was trying to get a squirrel, I've read some mighty tasty-sounding recipes for them lately, but mostly I was just using this as an excuse to take a Sunday afternoon stroll in the woods with my little Marlin 60.  The Marlin is just about my favorite of all my guns, it's just a neat little rifle, light and well-balanced and more accurate than I am.  I know that certain rotary-magazine .22's are more popular with the crowd that likes to dress up guns like Barbie dolls for guys (I kid!) but this one suites me.

Its also a Decepticon named Mini-Meg
The WMA I went to consists of a group of separate small tracks ranging from about one half to one square mile in area.  It isn't exactly exemplary habitat for busytails but it could be worse.  Mostly pine and freshwater marsh but there are plenty of turkey oaks in the pinewoods and clumps of sand live oak and laurel oak here and there.  When I got to the parking area for the tract that was my first choice another couple of guys were just getting out of there truck and heading down the trail.  Since they were the only other vehicle, I decided to leave them to their solitude and head down the road to my second choice.  I feel there's no need for crowding each other, for sure.

As soon as I pulled into the second (vacant) lot a big, fat squirrel jumped right up into a nearby tree and glared at my vehicle.  Cheeky little f-er, of course a neighboring house was right behind him so he was as safe as in his mother's nest as far as I was concerned.  Whatever, I got my gear out, slapped on my survivor orange cap and took off down the trail. 

What I was working with.  Meager but not hopeless
In this case the trail was the remains of an old logging railroad that cut cross the sandhills.  I'm sure it was once full of rail cars straining under huge loads of arrow-straight "yalla pine", oozing tar from their freshly severed heartpine hearts.  Those days are long gone, and the area is now filled with young longleaf planted by the FFS for habitat restoration.

The wind was picking up a bit, so standing and listening wasn't working as well as it could have.  I basically picked a few clumps of oaks out using my phone and decided to walk to each in the couple hours I had left before dark.  I saw a few turkeys during my wandering, and one remarkably calm gopher tortoise, but no sign of squirrels besides a few haggard looking dreys. 

I like toitles!
I finally tracked back to the old rail bed and followed it across to the other side of the property, headed for the largest group of oaks I'd picked out from the aerials.  When I got there I first saw it was indeed a nice grouping of mature white and red oaks, and then I spotted multiple dreys that did not appear to be condemned by the Squirrel Safety Authority.  This was more like it.

I picked a spot to sit with a bit of cover with a good shot at several nearby oaks.  Seconds after I got situated a bushytail started fussing at me from behind my back.  Great thing to me about squirrel hunting, I see and hear them all the time in town so when one shows up its not a huge shock, unlike being up close and personal with a deer or turkey.  I calmly waited, hoping this one's curiosity would bring him around for a shot.  Of course it didn't, and after five or ten minutes it shut up and went about its business.  I heard a few more in the distance, then saw a big one making its way towards me then way from me across the branches. 

Suddenly my heart skipped because something huge jumped up right next to me (or it seemed like it)!  I snapped my head involuntarily to look and saw a big ass turkey flying right up to roost not 20 yards away.  Regular butterball this was, balancing solo on a low branch, peeking around its prodigious girth to look back at me, its beard flopping into view.  

So, yes, irony strikes again.  Here I am, hunting squirrels, when a delicious tom turkey presents itself, shaking its rump provocatively with a come-hither shimmy.  If this had been private land I'd been finishing off turkey leftovers for lunch today, but of course, the WMA I was on has no open season on the thunder chicken (except for archery season, which is long over with).  Guess that's one more temptation I managed to withstand, its getting to be a way of life. 

Anyhow, as you probably guessed from the roosting turkey it was just about dark, so I soon gave a sigh and arose, scaring Mr. Tom in the process (although he didn't really go far).  I went ahead back across the old rail bed in the falling darkness, gallon ziplocs I had brought in my pack extremely empty. 

So that's about it, just a nice evening in the woods with a bit of a twist here and there.  Oh, and just in case you were wondering if any blood relative of mine can kill a deer, here's a pic of what my nephew, who's barely a teen-ager, shot last week.  We were thinking of getting it mounted for his Christmas but my brother wants to wait until January, with his luck he'll kill a bigger one before then.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fishing Lassen (And Hiking Too, Of Course)

I took a break from the ongoing pursuit of deer (well, and life in general too, right?) to visit a good friend in California and a trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  This might seem completely unrelated to the archery story in the preceding post, and it largely is, except for one coincidental but immensely important detail.  The Lassen area comprises the eastern extent of the historic home of the Yahi people, an indigenous group that inhabited a part of the land that is now California. For the man of the Yahi who came to be called Ishi, Lassen was his back yard and hunting ground.  Ishi later became inadvertently famous as the last of the Yahi when a series of tribulations cost him his remaining family and forced him into the outside world.  

Taken away to San Fransisco where he was studied extensively by academics, Ishi became an accidental window into life-ways then at the edge of extinction. However, the swarm of diseases Ishi was now exposed to took their toll and he eventually fell into the care of a Professor of Medicine named Saxton T. Pope.  An unlikely lasting relationship struck up between the two, and a very interesting transfer of knowledge began.  When Ishi was in good health it was he who became the professor, and under him Dr. Pope began a study of archery and bowhunting that lasted long after Ishi's untimely death (and subsequent autopsy and encephalectomy at Pope's hands).  

Pope and his companion Arthur Young set out with a vengeance to demonstrate that bowhunting, rather than an archaic footnote of history, was a viable and effective method of taking any game that breathed.  Their trip to Yellowstone National Park to collect a grand display specimen for the California Academy of Sciences yielded proof that even the mighty grizzly bear couldn't stand against a skilled archer (never mind the fact that grizzlies were already extinct in California might hint at their vulnerabilities).

Pope and Young were in at the nucleus of the movement that eventually led to Howard Hill, archery seasons, recurves, Fred Bear, fiberglass lamination, the Pope and Young Club, Zwickey, cut-past-center, FastFlight, eccentric cams, peep sights, Lumenok, quad limbs, Swhackers, Toxic Broadheads...and me, sitting in a tree, missing an easy shot at a young whitetail buck early one Saturday morning in September.  Long, circuitous route as it was, I was already linked by history to Lassen before I even set foot there. 

But this trip really wasn't about archery at all.  It was about communing with a dear friend and exploring in the great outdoors.  We set up base of operations in Manzanita Lake Campground, a front country facility right near the northwest entrance to the park.  Doug brought his kayaks along, so in addition to the day hikes you'd expect of me we were able to do a bit of paddling and trout fishing on the mountain lakes therein. 

The first evening we found time for a nice sunset fishing paddle around Manzanita Lake.  Considering this was my first time in a kayak in ages, I didn't completely embarrass myself.  I did rely a bit on the kindness of strangers though, as I got a nice push-off from some bystanders, probably waiting to watch the show in case I quickly flipped over or strangled myself with monofiliment or some other sundry mishap.  After that didn't occur I guess they got bored and wandered off, leaving us with the lake to ourselves.  

Scenery didn't suck.
Although a certain friend of mine was afraid I wouldn't catch anything, I quickly pulled in the biggest trout he's seen on that lake.  Not a bad start for a non-fisher.  Manzanita is catch-and-release only lake so fishy went free after a quick photo op.  Doug didn't catch anything.

No trout were harmed in the making of this picture.

We paddled around until sunset then retired to camp for a hot meal of left-over Asian ribs and accoutrements around a roaring campfire.  Only the serene sounds of the night such as the wind whispering through the pines and the screams of children in the group campsite lulled us to sleep.

I woke up at first light the next morning, as I tend to do while camping.  I left Doug to catch up on his beauty sleep and went out into the chilly dawn air to nose around.  I would have taken more pics but my iPhone actually shut down, presumably from the 30-something degree weather. 

Lassen Peak at dawn
When I returned we cooked up a great breakfast of fresh blueberry pancakes and sausage and headed out on our day trip adventure:  A hike up Cinder Cone.  Lassen is a world of volcanoes, with several great examples of various kinds.  Cinder Cone is a pristine cinder cone volcano (big shock) that is believed to have erupted in the mid 1600's (possibly 1666).  The trail out to it follows the Nobles Immigrant Trail, used by settlers to access the Northern Sacramento Valley in the 1800's.  Not far from the parking area the trail passes a 40 foot wall of boulders that marks the northwest terminus of the Fantastic Lava Beds, a  huge expanse of a'a (pronounced ah ah) basaltic lava that erupted from the base of Cinder Cone.

Edge of the A'A

The trail is not super long, and soon Cinder Cone itself loomed 750 feet above us.   

The trail up the actual volcano was like walking on beach sand (or a trail chewed up by horses) but at a 30-35 degree incline.  Quad-buster for sure, but with great views.  Interesting observation, the volcanic soils around Cinder Cone seemed to support no vegetation but a healthy stand of pine trees.  Cool how soil chemistry can influence community composition, no?

Half way now, I think I can, I think I can.  Like a natural cardiac stress test.

Cinder Cone has a cool double rim, though to be caused by variations in the eruption sequence. Trails follow around both rims and down into the crater itself.

We took another trail down the cone so that we could circle around the south side of the volcano, past the outflow vent of the Fantastic Lava Beds and along another section the Nobels Immigrant Trail. 

Fantastic Lava Beds vent
Base of the cinder cone, trail alongside.
After the Cinder Cone trail we ate a quick late lunch then put our kayaks out into nearby Butte Lake, where the Fantastic Lava Beds go right down to the water's edge.  This time I could eat what I caught, so the game was afoot.

Lava beds on the shoreline.  Evidently great for fishing.
Doug headed over to the forested shoreline, expecting to find fish nearby.  Not knowing any better, I went right over next to the barren lava flow and tossed out a cast.  A few seconds later I was calling my friends name so hard he thought I had capsized.  A big ol' rainbow trout was on my hook, straining the low-test line.  It was a beauty both in its rainbow sheen and its lovely edible girth!  We strung it along behind the kayak and headed off, Doug now intently interested in the basalt shoreline. 

Doesn't look it here but that's a 14 inch trout.
I caught another smaller rainbow a little further along, insuring our dinner protein.  Thereafter my curiosity outweighed my continued interest in fishing and I leisurely paddled around, exploring the lava inlets, my trout stringing along behind me.  Too soon the sun went down below a trio of volcanoes and we packed up and headed to our culinary reward.  Doug didn't catch anything.

From left to right:  Cinder Cone (cinder cone volcano), Lassen Peak (plug dome volcano), Prospect Peak (shield volcano)

I'm going to eat you little fishy!
'Cause I like little fish!
The second morning was much a repeat of the first, I took an early morning stroll then after a big shared breakfast we headed out on a day hike.  This time our destination was Bumpass Hell, an active geothermal area.  It is named after Kendall Vanhook Bumpass, a cowboy who was leading an expedition to the area when his leg broke through the mud crust, resulting in massive scalding that eventually caused the loss of his leg.  I'm sure to Bumpass it did indeed become his idea of Hell. 

Bumpass Hell was much kinder to us.  We decided to take the back trail to the place, past a Cold Boiling Lake (more like cold bubbling puddle this time of year) and up a steep trail with great views.   We saw a mother bear and two cubs, fortunately before we stumbled over them.  They were gobbling up manzanita berries, fattening up in the last days of summer.  In fact, the whole landscape had that feel of waiting, prepared for the first of the winter storms to settle in. 

After a long climb up we finally came over a ridge and arrived at Bumpass Hell.  The steam and vivid colors were a big contrast to the green and brown later summer landscape we just traversed. 

Lots of volcanic material degraded to clay minerals by the hot, acidic waters.

No leg scalding for me man, I'm staying on this here boardwalk.

Supposedly those are pyrite crystals making this pool dark grey.
We finally headed back down and made our way back over to Manzanita for the evening.  We had great weather for two days but the growing wind, dropping temps and clouds on the horizon heralded the approach of the first winter storm.  The mild end-of-summer day was holding out for a few more hours though, and we headed to Manzanita Lake for one last evening of fishing.

Chaos Crags, Lassen Peak with it's cloud, and my friend.  Great last look.

Oh yeah, and Doug finally caught a fish!

During the night the storm front rolled in, a steady rain lashing the tent well past sunrise.  We finally pushed our way out into the gloom, crammed our sopping gear into the truck and headed back to the city.  On the way out we heard from a ranger that there was slush at the higher elevations, and I'm sure our lovely trail to Bumpass Hell was an icy mess.  I wondered about our bear family, curled up with their fur and fat.  But no matter, they were well prepared for it.  As for ourselves, we had great weather for a few days, and I think we did a good job of catching the last of summer there in Ishi's back yard at Lassen Volcanic National Park. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Theory vs. Practice, In Which The Archer Receives Another Step in His Education.

Picture it:  North Florida, 2013.  A not-so-young-anymore man sets out down the trail to his deer stand in the almost-cool predawn hour.  The sounds of the night call out of the flatwoods as the small pool of his headlamp opens and closes in his passing, lighting the way to the edge of the swamp.  From there reflective blazes mark the way around the drying muck to his tree stand, carefully placed against a pond cypress tree, it's position along the confluence of game trails chosen after careful deliberation weeks before.

That not-so-young man is your's truly, of course, and I was beginning the morning hunt that marked both opening day of archery season 2013 and the christening hunt at our new lease, my portion of which I've dubbed Blueberry Flatwoods.  It's a ten minute walk from where I parked my truck to my stand, short by my public land standards but still far enough to enter another world.  The stand is placed on the edge of a clearing beneath the swamp canopy.  In wet times, such as earlier this year, the area is under standing water.  Now, Mid-September, it was still soggy but rapidly drying out.

I scouted this area back in the heat of summer (not that it isn't still hot here, but only just a bit too hot, not stupid unbearably hot).  The section of swamp that crosses B.F. is roughly shaped like an inverted cross.  I was in the eastern limb.  The southern branch reaches to the property boundary, while the northern limb intersects the road through the property, a favorite crossing point for deer.  The western limb contains ares of deeper water.  It is all surrounded by flatwoods planted in slash pine but with a very diverse understory, brimming in places with the namesake wild blueberries.

Several game trails (presumable only deer, as we have seen no confirmable hog sign) converge on and cross the branch of the swamp I have chosen.  It was here I captured several does and at least one buck on game camera several weeks earlier.  Just natural features, no corn or other bait involved.  I felt pretty good about the place as I settled into the tree stand with my Therma-Cell warming up to keep the six-legged "swamp angels" at bay, bow across my lap, ready to watch the world wake up in the gloaming of the new day.

Only a few minutes later I heard something approaching fairly quickly from the direction I came in from.  It sounded like a deer so I got my bow ready.  A few moments later I vaguely made out a deer approaching, its winter grey coat flashing through the leaves.  Still too deep in cover for a clear shot, this deer came right up near my stand, finally half-entering the opening only about 6-7 yards away.  I froze, but I could now make out antlers.  The dim light made it difficult to tell exact detail but it looked like an older, large-bodied (for Florida) buck with a small for it's size rack, perhaps a 6-point.  Unfortunately, even though this buck was super close I was now in his direct line-of-sight and couldn't move unseen. Just a couple of seconds later it hopped back into cover.  It never really startled, so I presume it did not know I was there, but worked its way rapidly around the south edge of the clearing, behind too much cover for a shot, and away to the west.

Of course, I thought this was amazing, only on my stand a few minutes and a very desirable-sized deer had already made a close appearance.  I thought a little about the savory stews I'd not be making from that guy but had little regret, he never presented a decent shot at any rate.

I settled back down and continued my silent observation. Only about 15 minutes later I could hear another critter approaching from the same place deer #1 had appeared.  This one wasn't as loud, and I was soon lucky enough to see why.  A much smaller-bodied but definitely adult deer (it was much lighter now of course) worked its way towards me, more slowly than the previous deer but on the same path.  I had my bow in a better position this time, ready to draw. 

The deer came out right where the other had stopped just minutes before, revealing itself as a young buck with a 4-point rack.  Except this time the deer kept on coming, out into the open.  It made its way at a walk right in front of me, still in the open, totally broadside, 8-9 yards away, head down, oblivious to my presence.  To be honest this startled the hell out of me, way beyond my wildest dreams.  I gave a silent "Do it!" to my immobile arms and I shifted my bow into shooting position and drew back.  I remember thinking, wow, it doesn't even hear the arrow draw from this close.  Right there he was, broadside, stopped.  Crazy easy shot...

Then it all just flew out the damn window.

Honestly the actual moment of the shot is a blur.  I believe I came to full draw, but I know I didn't pick a spot.  I was just washed over with a blinding moment of panic and what should have been an easy shot, one that I've practiced many times, went flying free and clear over the deer's back.

A wave of shame and anger at myself crashed in my brain.  How could I be that damn stupid?  Such a rank amateur! But then I realized the buck hadn't spooked.  He jumped away from the arrow when it half-buried itself ineffectively in the muck but now he was looking back at it inquisitively.  He still had no idea I was there.  I collected my shaking hands to slowly pull my backup arrow (Clippy, my favorite target arrow because the fletching is already somewhat damaged) and get it nocked.

No, this story doesn't have a perfect ending.  By the time I got Clippy ready to fly the buck had wandered back into cover.  I could see him looking around, sometimes at me but not always.  He was onto something, and finally accumulated enough input do decide he should be elsewhere.  He blew a few times and half-ran off, still not panicked but ready to be somewhere away from where sticks with feathers fall on him and strange shapes lurk in the trees.

I was left there alone with my thoughts, mentally flogging myself with wild enthusiasm.  The rest of the morning was uneventful.  As rationality finally returned (its hard for me to stay in a mental hole in the woods) a group of squirrels milled up behind me and finally decided to start scolding the blob in their path.  I guessed no deer was going to show up with that going on so I called it a hunt, and collected my things to head back to the truck.  But before I climbed down I did one last thing.  Choosing a leaf on the forest floor as a target I focused, drew and released.  The arrow thucked into the ground two inches away from it.  Two more leaves, two more arrows with comparable results.  Strange, guess core ability wasn't to blame. 

By this time I'd convinced myself that I had been overcome by a common nervousness that many novice hunters (which I certainly still am in many ways) fight with.  Target panic, or buck fever, or whatever the hell you want to call it.  Now I've had that experience, I told myself, and next time I'll avert the panic, grab the wheel instead of going for a lovely little backseat ride on the control bus and drive that arrow right home.  But as the soft rain of love bugs squashing against the windshield attempted to sooth me with their gentle plopping, I knew something else was wrong, some other piece was missing. 

Later at home after I told the story my husband added a simple observation that rocked me again.  "Maybe you just didn't want to kill it."  The words had a profound impact, and I knew them to have truth.  Now that I've mulled that over I believe the missing piece was that I just didn't want to kill that deer and it factored into my miss just as much as any "buck fever". 

Why didn't I want to kill it?  I'm not completely sure.  Partly because of sympathy for the animal, it was obviously a young deer, but maybe I just wasn't ready yet.  And I'm not sure what that means, but the more I think of it, I think that was a big part of it.  I did my time practicing, sure, I was halfway decent at target shooting. I think I was physically ready, but I just wasn't mentally ready to kill again. 

A friend of mine recommends for someone who wants to kill deer to spend a season or two hunting small game like squirrels, to get used to the idea of killing.  I'm not sure I'll go that far, but he has a point.  I've killed deer, yes, but always with the detachment of a gun, and always with the reinforcement of others.  This deal with me with a bow, alone, in the woods is in many ways a new thing.  Yes, I've done it many times now, but maybe the last two seasons were really a dry run of sorts, getting me used to the idea of taking the equipment out, learning to sit silently, reading the woods.  But this, this was the very first shot.  The first moment of truth, as it were.  

Now the big question, when am I going to be ready?  Did it just take this one time to jump start the learning curve?  Or will I have another T-0.5 abort the next time I draw back on something other than a leaf?  Or am I just going to start Blueberry Flatwoods Wildlife Sanctuary?  I don't think it will be that extreme, I am pretty sure I can eventually face a death in the deer woods.  Only time, luck and experience is going to tell me when.

Let it be a clean kill or a clean miss, nothing else.

Friday, July 19, 2013

New Product Plug

Just when you though that feelings of inadequacy would ruin your date for opening day:  Introducing the Cornholer, a handy package for delivering a salty treat that will stay like a rock even after hours of licking.  This is obviously for the hunter who feels he's being shafted by deer who pull out of his shooting zone prematurely, leaving him frustrated and unfulfilled.  You can find this fabulous new product right next to the Donkey Juice at your local Wallyworld.

Better than corn, ya'll!

Screw it.
Yeah.  But I'm the gay one, right?

One of my friend's comments  included "What's next, the Dil-Doe?" to "I knew hunting had the same marketing strategies as porn, but I didn't realize it was gay porn."

This pic also sent another typically even-keeled hunting budding into as close as I've heard him come to a tirade about how marketing for instant gratification has gone too far and he can barely stand to look at all these products pushing the idea of chumming animals to your location instead of actually, well, hunting them.

Look, I know there's a long, long gradation of styles in the spectrum of "hunting", from those that think the Timucua were too advanced to those that would happily pay the cost of a Cadillac to punch a keyboard in Miami and pop a elephant on the Serengeti (yes I made that last example up, but its not that far removed from things that have been proposed).  Somewhere on that spectrum is where the game laws kick in that have made conservation function, so far.   On the legal side of that line we have to make our own judgement calls about what is meaningful and real.  Should we constantly push the letter of the law and use all the advantages we can, or should we say the spirit is enough and find our fulfillment there?  I posted some of my thoughts topic before.  However, there's no doubt it is human nature to tinker and improve.

But these choices do have consequences.  Lately I've seen more and more stickers on vehicles with some mix of human bones and hunting iconography, that ubiquitous Bone Collector crap being the best example.  I guess if you really think of yourself as some angel of death in your hunting endeavors, sure, whatever gets you off.  However, if I find it questionable, who the hell knows what someone unacquainted with hunting thinks, someone who may have thought more favorably of hunting with the right message?  You certainly don't have to give a rat's ass what that person thinks, but then again that person may one day have their hand poised to cast a vote that would take hunting away from the bone-wrapped camo crowd.  Who knows?

Done now, that soap box was getting rickety and sort of slippery anyhow.  I'm sure everyone will agree with me, right?  Who's up for something fun and non-controversial?  Ice cream? Puppies?  Puppies eating ice cream?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blueberry Flatwoods

(Author's note:  This is post number 75 for Eating My Deer.  Not exactly a record but longer than I ever thought this blog would hold my occasional attention.  My original deer are long since eaten, and what started mostly as a feeble cooking blog has morphed into more of a record of my hunting and occasional outdoor ventures, most of which involve entirely no harm to any animals other than myself.)

There isn't a lot of story to this one, just some photos.  There is a bit of good news though.  Even after last year's attempt to acquire a hunting lease ended in frustrating failure, we weren't dissuaded from the desire for a place of our own.   My friend and I kept our eyes and ears open, and last month I got a call from him on a Saturday morning about a parcel that had come up on a timber company website.  It was within an OK driving distance and at an OK price, so he placed a bid and, surprisingly, we managed to get it.  Later his brother joined up as well, and we decided to split the parcel three ways.

My share of it is roughly rectangular, about 40-45 acres, fairly mature pine flatwoods in the east and a basin swamp in the west (the deer aren't thirsty here, unlike the old situation in 40 Acre Pines).  I'm still exploring it, but it's surprisingly high-quality for timber land.  The pine has an intact understory that is absolutely loaded in places with the blueberry bushes that inspired my informal name for it:  Blueberry Flatwoods.

A bit more after the photo tour: 

Road that divides the parcel, my part is on the right.

Tar-Flower, Bejaria racemosa

Marshy area

Lots of blueberries

Even more blueberries

Hooded pitcher plants Sarracenia minor (I think)

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Cool twisting grass(?)

Hopefully my killing field one day (that's probably about the most aggressive thing you'll hear me say)

Old turpentine pine in the swamp

Sublime, yet spooky.  Perfect.
I placed a game cam on the outskirts of the swamp last week, I'm going to try to head up soon to check it and move it to an even better trail I discovered.  So far I've spotted two does, one of which was very near my truck when I returned from a circuit.

There are some issues on the horizon though, later this decade an extension of a major highway is going to be built almost adjacent to the west boundary of the property.  We aren't sure how that might change things, it may not even be that big of a deal, and we can even think of a couple of ways it could work out in our favor.

But that's years from now.  For now, I'm looking forward, hopefully, to this September.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Using Fowl Language: Spring Turkey 2013

Spring Turkey 2013 has come and gone faithful followers (well obviously, since its now June.  So much for timely blog posts).  Spoiler alert:  We didn't get any.  However, we did spend some quality outdoor time and make some great memories, for real.  

In recap, I applied for and procured limited entry permits for Goethe State Forest.  Upon hearing of this, my good friend Charlie, who as I've mentioned was instrumental in reintroducing me to hunting after all these years, decided a chance at an Osceola tickled his fancy and he proceeded to make plans to fly over from California to spend a nice few days in the woods with me chasing turkeys.  

Charlie arrived on the Wednesday before the first weekend of the season.  We made him legal to hunt at the local Walmart, then proceeded to spend Thursday and Friday scouting several areas of the forest, some of which I was familiar with either from hiking or hunting. On Friday afternoon we spotted a nice mixed flock walking one of the woods roads at the western boundary of the forest.  If it had been the season already, I'm pretty confident I'd have gotten a Tom that day, a grown one paused and posed pretty for me just 25 yards or so off in the woods, right between two cypress trees. 

Charlie wanted to set up nearby but I, ever the paranoid one, was reluctant to hunt that close to the boundary with private land.  I talked him into going a little farther east where we picked a nice triple intersection of trails and set up our blinds for the morning.

The pre-dawn of opening day was slightly chilly (ah, memories!  Won't feel cold again soon...) but we warmed ourselves up on the hike in.  I had bought a small flock of inflatable decoys on clearance last spring, so after a bit of puckering up and blowing we set them up and then blended ourselves into the adjacent background as well as possible, I with my 835 and Charlie with his recurve.  I intended to let him take a first shot if possible, of course, since he traveled much further for it. 

Charlie, geared up.
Over the course of the morning we heard gobblers in several different directions.  One took an interest in Charlie's calling and he carried on a nice leisurely conversation with him.  Alas, some unknown breach of turkey etiquette evidently occurred and his answering gobbles reversed course and faded into the distance.  

We spent the last couple hours of that hunt walking farther north.  We found another triple intersection that we felt really good about and decided to make it our new hunting ground for the next morning.

Turkey blow-up dolls.
A heavy fog hung over the forest on Sunday morning as we exited the truck and made our way a few miles back towards our blinds.   I felt really good about this setup, near a place we spotted another small flock while scouting and with plenty of tracks.  Again we placed the turkey blow-up dolls out in the opening and faded into the brush.

Foggy dawn over the Mossberg
It was there that the coolest few moments of the hunt occurred.  Although it was still foggy, it had brightened up a bit.  I heard a rustle from behind me.  I froze and shifted my attention to a faint trail scarcely ten feet to my left, one I had obviously underestimated as a potential travel lane for the morning.  What emerged from the woods confused me.  It was a turkey all right, but instead of the normal browns and bronzes of the typical wild variety, it was a mottled grey and tan.  Man, I thought at first, somebody's farm turkey has got loose and is wandering around.  

A slight concern for personal safety followed, as it dawned again on me that a full-grown turkey who's head was at an even height as mine was standing the aforementioned ten feet away, staring at me intently.  These damn things used to chase me around my grandparent's farm when I was a little kid, and I had a dim flashback as I struggled to control my breathing and slowly squinted. My camo apparently worked well though, as the turkey wasn't alarmed and continued picking its way past me.

Due to the angle away from me the oddball turkey had assumed I was unable to ascertain the presence or absence of a beard, so I didn't attempt to pull the trigger as the turkey walked directly across my line of sight and down to the awaiting decoys.  If it was a Jake I was sincerely hoping Charlie would get a good shot at it.  

A few minutes later the turkey again ambled right through my line of sight and I was able to clearly see that it didn't have a beard.  By that time I'd wracked my memory and sneaked in a quick Google search to determine that it was likely a leucistic hen.  Since then I've learned that these have been spotted in the area before, rare but heard of.  I felt pretty special to have been so close to one.

The hen spent the better part of an hour walking back and forth into and out of our rubber flock, clucking a few forlorn clucks now and then.  I was actually pretty happy to have a live "decoy" now, but no other feathered brethern and sistern showed up.  Little Miss Lonely finally gave up on her stuck-up new friends and took off to the south, calling all the way. 

That was the highlight of the Sunday hunt, maybe not the same as turkey tetrazzini but I enjoyed it none the less. 

The next day we woke up to rainy forecast for the late morning but made our way out anyhow.  It was relatively clear until 10 or so, when a steady drizzle began to fall.  I tenting in under my poncho and was actually quite content listening to the woods in the light shower while putting out an occasional call and a bit of hope until Charlie finally decided to call it a hunt. 

Monday morning coming down.

Its a skunk ape!  Charlie in his blind in the drizzling rain.
That Monday hunt was the end of it for Charlie and he hopped a jet plane back to Cali the next day.   I, however, got myself a permit for Phase II during the pickup period. I only got to take one more stab at it the next Saturday, chosing an area on the side of a prairie, not far from where I called up a gobbler last spring.  It was a beautifully clear morning with a waxing moon hanging over the dawn, which made it worth the trip regardless.

Blow-up dolls in the middle distance.

Just a few clouds for decoration.

Florida Maple, more leafed out than we saw it last.
I tried to talk to a few distant gobblers but got no real response so after late morning I headed back home.  When I stood up I noticed this rub on a nearby tree that I had missed in the darkness.  Hopefully this is an omen for things to come:

There's always next fall.