Tag Archives: hunting

THE BOWHUNTING BOOK

One of the best things about being a creative at an advertising agency is that I’m fortunate enough to call some amazingly talented people my friends….artists, designers, writers, musicians, photographers. Another bonus is being asked to collaborate with some of these talented people on a project that’s outside the confines of work…especially when the project is about bowhunting.

I had been on some shoots for Grant Taylor, a photographer, friend and kindred outdoors spirit. He’s slogged his way into a muddy January field, climbed 25 feet up a tree and hunkered down in a snowy hedgerow to get shots like these (and the masthead image on this blog):



So when he asked if I’d be willing to write poetry for a bowhunting photography promo book that he was planning, I was all-in. An added bonus: I got to work with another close friend and tremendous designer, Rachel Spence.

Aside from it being a beautiful collection and representation of Grant’s outdoor photography and Rachel’s design, the finished product turned out to be, for me, a pretty significant reflection on my passion for this sport and the outdoors, as well as my relationship with my dad. It’s not often that I get emotional about anything I write, but at one point while writing the piece for the image of the the generational picture, I actually got choked up – realizing just how fortunate I’ve been to have the time in the field that I do with my dad. It’s a big deal, and something I look forward to enjoying with my kids.

At any rate I wanted to share the book with all you kindred outdoor spirits…enjoy.

And with that, I give you SEASONS.

(Just click the link. It’s attached as a PDF)

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Filed under In the woods, Making a living

TOUGH TO SHAKE

There are few things in my life that I regret. That’s not to say there aren’t choices I’ve made that I would probably not make again if given the chance. I just find regret to be generally defeating, and thus try to avoid it.

But there is one regret I can’t shake.

I pretty much abandoned my love for fishing from 1990 to 2000…and hunting till 2004. When I say abandoned, I mean I completely. Poof. Gone. I lost touch with one of the most important elements of who I am – my love of the outdoors and being out in it. And the worst part? During those years I lived in places like Georgia, Alabama, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, Germany and England. Crap.

I went into the Army right out of high school. Once I got my feet under me, I realized a level of freedom most 18 year olds probably shouldn’t. Needless to say, beer, partying all night, fights and not giving too much of a damn about anyone but myself pretty much took over. I think back to Germany. I remember one afternoon that my buddies and I had been at a beer fest in the small town we were stationed in. Wandering our singing, loud, drunk-American way back to the barracks, I noticed we were crossing a bridge, so I stopped, leaned over the stone wall and got a look at the river flowing below. The water was captivating. Gin clear with a gold-brown pebbled bottom. And there were fish holding in the current. Browns, just downstream from the shadow of the bridge. Effortless and almost perfectly still. Their thin shadows the only thing belying their camouflage. I’m not sure what I was thinking at that moment, but I can tell you that it never crossed my mind to have my parents send my fishing gear across the big pond. Never crossed my mind that I should be finding an entry point to wade in and cast. Never crossed my mind that these fish are the original strain that spawned the population of Browns my dad and I fished for in our Upstate NY lakes and streams. I exhaled and let my chest settle into the wall. I was content to stay, beer-and-summer-sun-buzzed, till the day I died. Then one of my buddies poured the rest of his beer off the bridge. The fish spooked. We moved on.

By the time I moved back home and started college, my priorities were a little better. A little. Beer and partying, yes. But I traded late nights and fights for lacrosse, classes and a girlfriend. I was a Conservation major to start, and the outdoors was making a bit of a comeback in my life. I took classes in wildlife biology, North American fisheries, woodlot management…I even had a class dedicated entirely to the Whitetail deer – an animal that I chased with my dad since I was 14 and could draw a bow. I went with a half dozen classmates on a three-day trip to the Adirondaks. We used two-man saws and axes and cleared 16 miles of marked trails of trees downed by the ice storm of 1991. But the comeback fell short in spite of all these outdoor influences. My time and attention stayed focused on partying and lacrosse, classes and girlfriend. Even after my she and I split, I had finished my degree and drove my truck to Texas State University in San Marcos to finish my undergrad degree, my tackle box, poles, and hunting gear were left to keep making nice with dust and cobwebs in my parent’s garage. Yes, I know. Texas…for Pete’s sake.

My then girlfriend, now wife, and I were married in 2000. We moved to Manassas, Virginia the day after our wedding for my grad school. We lived in a farm house in the sticks for six months before we found an in-law apartment in the downstairs of a house on a private lake in Falls Church. It was January. One newlywed couple + one primo apartment on a lake. We were pregnant with our first within hours after moving in (conservative estimate). When Spring broke a couple months later, I found a fishing pole and old tackle box while poking around in the shed, walked to the water and cast an old jitterbug toward some lilly pads down the shore. Two cast later the line had a birds-nest tangle that swallowed the entire reel and I had to quit…but the fishing fog had started to lift. It wasn’t until my parents had come down for a visit, and my dad and went to an L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School to spend some time together and learn how to fly fish, that the fog left the water completely.

I felt like I had just woke up from a long nap…the kind of nap that leaves you feeling worse than you felt before you closed your eyes. I learned more in the next six months about fishing than I had learned in the previous 30+ years. Suddenly, there wasn’t a body of water that I didn’t look at without thinking I bet there’s fish in there, or look at those blow-downs, or I could get a fly under that ledge. The world was one big fishing season. Fishing even found its way into my Masters thesis. And while I didn’t get back into hunting until we moved back home, the time I spent on the water had me more than ready to get back into the woods when that time came.

Maybe regret, in the end, isn’t what I should feel about missing all that time and opportunity during those years. If things had been different, I wouldn’t have the perspective I have now. Besides, there’s one hell of a lot of water on this planet I haven’t covered yet to lament the small amount I’ve missed. Maybe it’s OK to shake this one.

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Filed under In the water

SNOOZING GOOSE

I should start out by saying that my dad and I have not had good luck when it comes to hunting geese together. We’ve largely been relegated to the January bonus season since most good hunting fields aren’t cut by the early (September) season and we’re usually in our treestands after whitetail during the regular (November) season. Needless to say, by the time we’re clear of our other outdoor past-times to get out in January, the birds have been shot at in enough through the fall that the only way they’re going to come into our field is if we we’re in town having breakfast. But I suppose that luck doesn’t have to be defined by whether you actually knock down birds, as as much as it does having an entire morning to talk, enjoy coffee from a thermos and some nice pipe tobacco and discuss the estimated time of departure for the flock of over 200 geese that overnight on a lake not a quarter-mile to the west. As I get older, I’ve come to value the latter definition of luck as much, if not more than the first. Well, this season my dad and I were determined to get out when the birds were still dumb and plentiful. I had an additional good-luck charm that I was bringing out too: one of my boys.

My middle child, Cam (I call him Hammy) turned 6 this past summer. He’d been talking about goose and deer hunting for the last two years and at 6 was already a more accomplished fisherman than I was at 13. One example: Father’s Day 2008, not yet 5 years old, he sat for 4 hours in a canoe casting for bass. That little sucker caught 5. I mean legitimately…casting a crankbait on his own, hooking up on his own, lifting the fish into the boat on his own. These weren’t dinks either. 12″ – 15″ the lot. I unhooked them, but hell, at that point he’d done all the work and I was ready to buy him his own Ranger boat. So, having turned 6 and having concluded that I could probably learn a thing or two by including him in the field this season, I suited him up for a morning amongst decoys.

I woke him up at 4:30 a.m Thanksgiving morning. His first comment: I didn’t know there was a time on the clock this early. Brilliant. He was into his long-johns and camo faster than scat. While he enjoyed a breakfast bar and some juice, I checked weather.com for the morning’s forecast. Cold. Clear. Wind barely above 5mph out of the SW. Not good for getting the birds off the water, but good for a comfortable first-time-out for Hammy. Dad arrived, all smiles for our new pint-size bird-dog. We loaded our gear in the truck and hit the road.

I’m always surprised and proud at how well Cam operates in situations where I think he might struggle a bit. Last winter he wanted to join the pee-wee wrestling program (another thing dad did that he wanted to do). I thought he’d have a tough time actually mixing it up with the other boys, but I planned on helping coach, so we gave it a try. He’s back at it again this year and loves it. This morning was another one of those times. Goose hunting requires that you set up your spread at least an hour before daylight. There’s no light an hour before daylight. None (read my post – ELEMENTS – to see how well I’ve handled the dark during hunting season growing up). So we gave Hammy a head-lamp. He started carrying decoys into the field like he’d done it his entire life. Game on.

By 6:30 we were set up. Dad and I had our layout blinds concealed as well as we could in a cut soy field. Hammy’s cover was a magnum goose shell- which fit him much better than it fit me when I used it the year prior. At sun-up, we were a few whispy clouds shy of a blue-bird sky. By 7:30 we had a couple sets of birds check us out and keep flapping. Cam did well. He sat as still as he could and enjoyed his breakfast bars and juice boxes. At 9:30, the faint sound of snoring drifted out from under the plastic shell of the giant goose.

The snoozing goose

Sensing no impending rush of birds anxious to light in our field, dad and I decided to start packing up. No wind. Blue sky and bright sun. A snoozing goose. No sense pushing our luck.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods

ELEMENTS

4:45 a.m. last Saturday.

I rolled out of bed to turn off the alarm and got dressed in the dark. Long underwear, jeans, sweatshirt, heavy socks. With a half-brewed pot of coffee nearby, grumbling its way to being fully-brewed, I sat at the kitchen counter and rubbed my face and eyes with my hands listening to the wind outside. Rain in the forecast. Gusts from 16 to 25 mph out of the southwest. It was going to be a bitch sitting in the tree-stand this morning. I did one last inventory of my gear, filled my thermos and shut the lights off.

I’ve only become comfortable in the last few years walking in to my stand in the dark. I used to focus so much on every footstep, every shadow, every sound that I’d find myself frozen at times…caught in a stare, worrying about spooking an animal that really wasn’t there. Now I find it almost meditative. Beginning my walk in complete darkness, welcoming the awareness of the field beneath my boots, the smell of fall on the wind, the way my eyes adjust and knit together the silhouettes of trees against the skyline. My sense of direction operates unconsciously, and I find my stand most times without having disturbed the natural order that slumbers around me. The weather the way it is this morning though, I could’ve been dropped off at my tree by a helicopter and gone un-noticed. By 6:15 a.m. shooting light was still a good half-hour/forty minutes away. The rain began to pick-up.

Using my jacket to block the wind, I lit my pipe, then poured some coffee into the cap of my thermos. By 7:00, weak daylight filled-in the bramble thickets, sumac, black walnut and waist-high grass that cover the three acres in front of me. The pop of each rain-drop was loud with my hood up. My tree swayed with each gust. I decided to get down and find a worthwhile ground-blind.

It’s interesting. I enjoy long, foul-weather days, as long as I’m out in it to hunt or fish.  There’s clout and respect that come with being able to rise above the elements and normal measure of patience and take a nice buck or land a hard-fought fish. Earning the right to tell that story takes a level of due diligence that fair-weather sportsmen simply can’t claim. By the same token, I could see no deer or catch no fish and still have a worthwhile story for having spent so many hours in crappy weather, voluntarily.

I took my time moving to a tangle of a couple old downed trees. Comfortable with visibility and cover, the wind proved frustrating though and I figured my morning’s story would fall into the category of having seen nothing, but yea, I was out in that crappy weather. I looked up and froze.

A raccoon had just crawled out of a thick tangle of underbrush not five paces from where I stood. A fair estimate would put him at 40 pounds, and my first thought was are raccoon in season? I decided to just watch him as he stood still, nose up, testing the wind for smells that would suggest he do an about-face. He began rambling slowly over the wheat grass toward me. Right toward me. I did an inventory of how many layers I had on my legs…heavy socks, long underwear, jeans, camouflaged hunting pants, boots. I’d definitely be able to dispatch him before he got through all that. I held still.

He walked up to my feet. I looked straight down at him. He sniffed at both of my boots, turned and rambled back into the underbrush he had crawled out of. No hurry. No fear. I was just another odd smelling downed tree in the universe of his daily trek to wherever. I gave the deer another thirty minutes to show themselves, but my heart was full enough with such a cool encounter that I didn’t care if I didn’t see anything else all morning, or if the weather was crappy.

I had a great story.

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Filed under In the woods