Tag Archives: Upstate NY

GLORIOUS MAYHEM

Our one mile turn-around

Last year we got into fish. Maybe a dozen six-to-ten-pound lake-run soupbones that had a mind to break our ankles before we even took a step trying to chasing them. Yea, we had a good day. My boys still talk about those rainbows. But this morning, crossing the bridge just up from the lake-mouth of the creek, any thoughts of pulling off a repeat performance vanished.

Low. And clear as a damn bell.

Yesterday’s report was that the creek was high and stained. The four days from opening day leading up to yesterday, even more so. And of course, the fish were throwing themselves like spotted silver-pink haymakers at anybody standing within spitting distance of the creek, let alone actually fishing. Today, on the other hand, my friend Jason and I were looking at bluebird skies and temps wandering toward the mid-fifties. And we were now a full week past the melting of our last typical late-March dump of snow. Thus, low. And clear as a damn bell.

It didn’t take long to figure out that whatever trout had bullied their way upstream in the days before had pretty much spent whatever mojo the creek had. We spotted maybe about a dozen fish as we hiked upstream plying runs and pools without even a sniff. Every last one was nose-down and parked as close to the fast, churning-white head of their lie as possible. Eventually, as the rising sun crawled down the southeast-facing shale walls and into the current, there was little to no place for any of us to hide, so the fish just kept their lips zipped and went about their shadow-like way, drifting away in direct response to every step we took, every roll cast we unrolled. We worked the full mile to the falls at the head of the gorge, turned and fished the mile back down.

Thankfully, we packed a few creekside beers. Add the warmest sun we’ve had in a long, cold time here in Upstate NY and a fat peanut butter & honey sandwich — and I was more than fine with letting today’s fishlessness slide in favor of re-living last year’s glorious mayhem, until I get out next.

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Filed under On the water

TRACKING DAD’S DEER

I had just walked back from my stand to the truck to meet the kids. Dressed in sweatshirts, jeans, muck boots and still sporting bed-head, they were ready to get into the woods and help track my deer.

Cam: Dad! You got a buck?

Jonah: Where is he?

Cam: Man, I can’t wait to see him. Is he big?

Bird: How many points, dad?

Three kids, my pack, bow and towing a trailer, I drove the golf cart toward to northwest corner of the course behind the 15th tee. Two days rain had given way to a thin, overcast mid-morning sky, as we made our soggy way between pines and locust trees, steering clear of greens, fairways and bunkers. As we passed a couple pairs of golfers and one foursome, the kids waved, drawing smiles and waves in return.

My in-laws own a public golf course with a good patch of hunting woods behind it. On morning hunts, I walk the dark quarter-mile from the clubhouse where I park my truck to the back corner where I drop into the woods and pick my way to my tree stand. I’m usually settled in and having my first cup of thermos coffee by 5:30, listening blindly to the ink woods around me.

The walk in always takes me back to my first few seasons as a bow hunter. After dad and I would part ways from the tailgate with a good luck and shoot straight, it would take me forever to walk the forty yards to my stand in the dark. The inability to make out my path forward, and the nagging thought that some sort of dangerous, nocturnal, Upstate-NY animal had to be right in front of me was paralyzing. First light would’ve just barely arrived and I’d still be 15 yards from my tree. Fortunately, I’ve learned how to unwind that overactive imagination in the years since.

Dad and I have talked about how the sound of the woods changes as shooting-light creeps in. We’re always surprised at how the light itself arrives imperceptibly, until we blink a few times and suddenly the shades of gray have picked up more contrast. Trees start to stand apart from the thorn-brush, swale and each other. Everything has gathered faint color.

This is when the sound changes. With sight, our inadequate human hearing shifts its intent from the close sounds of potential danger to the comfortable universe of sunrise. The constant re-balancing of our survival-instinct. Of course, while our survival-instinct and the deeper biological/anthropological importance of our senses are cool things to ponder, my dad and I also agree that the dark before the dawn is also a great time to catch a few more Z’s.

As we headed into the woods, the kids knew that being quiet is part of the deal. I brought the boys with me and my dad to track a doe of mine last year— my daughter electing to pass on the festivities. It was their first time following a blood trail and like young hound-dogs after a scent, their 7 and 5 year old enthusiasm would not be contained. This year was different. All three walked with me, talking in hushed voices, trying their best to pick quiet steps, keeping their eyes peeled for more deer, shush-ing each other every now and again.

I pointed out my stand. Awesome. We crossed the creek below my tree and picked our way to the rotted blow-down, 21 yards away, where the buck last stood before I let go of my arrow. I pointed out the first drops of blood and the direction that I had watched the buck bolt and all three immediately went into sleuth-mode.

While I kept an eye out for the deer, they strung together the path of blood drops like one of their dot-to-dot coloring book puzzles. Not long into the search, Bird found the arrow. When we got to the swampy, tall swale (not wanting my half-pint help blindly leading the charge into the thick stuff) they filed in behind me. Four steps in I spotted him and the high-fives and hollering commenced.

After the kids were satisfied with the feel of his hair, hooves, antlers and where the arrow went in and came out, I rolled up my sleeves for the work at hand. They pointed out the liver, intestines and pinched their noses at the stomach-full of grass and corn which smelled like dairy farm silage. I showed them the heart and where the arrow passed through both lungs. Cam offered his approval. Yea, he’s not going far without those, right dad? Shades of conversations I’d had– still have– with my dad in the field.

Back at the truck, I poured another cup of coffee and stood, quietly appreciating the beauty and good fortune of the morning–Bird, Cam and Jonah proudly recounting the details of tracking dad’s deer to each other, their cousins, grandparents, my friend Grant and any golfers who happened to be near.

There’s not much in this world that’s better for my soul than that.

Posing with the buck

 

Photo credit: Grant Taylor

–This is my submission for the Sportsman Channel Writing Contest for Hunters hosted by the Outdoor Blogger Network.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods

CRACK OF DAWN

Wynona

Four rows for a reason

By quarter-to-six the decoys looked perfect in the field out front of the blind, a coyote had drifted across the field like a sneaky shadow, and the cadence from the inmates at Willard was on the breeze. From 7 miles away its population of convicted drug-addicts were out for their red jumpsuit left-right-left rain or shine morning constitutional.

We called to tight-beaked turkeys in the woods.
The eerie echo of felons in cyclone fence was the only response.

Right set-up. Wrong birds.

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Filed under In the woods

MAIN STREET AND A WILD TURKEY

I turned right out of the driveway onto Main Street, as I do every weekday morning–the kids clamoring from the back seat for for me to pump up the iPod and give them something to get their day started. Music to them is about 3 cups of hi-test for me. God love ’em.

A quarter-mile down, as I pulled into the turning lane for a left onto Gibson Street, a big, black object flew across Main Street from my right, just low enough for me to catch a glimpse through the windshield. That’s one hell of a big blackbird was the first thing that popped into my head, followed within a fraction of a second by the realization that it wasn’t actually a blackbird. At that same moment, my 6 year-old son’s voice from the back seat: Holy crap! A TURKEY!

My wife told me the other day that Cam had confided in her that his vision, when it comes to certain animals in their natural habitat, is sharper than mine. His words: I see geese and ducks better than dad. And sometimes deer too. I know exactly where his estimation comes from.

We live in the Finger Lakes region in Upstate NY. Wildlife in our neck of the woods is enjoying a resurgence. Geese, duck, whitetail, pheasant, rabbit, red-tail hawk, coyote, beaver, heron, fox, squirrel. Bear are even starting to find the area hospitable. It’s a bitter-sweet resurgence though. I’m very excited that pheasant are back and that other game animals have healthy populations. But available hunting land is drying up, as are numbers of hunters in the field. Both are troubling from the standpoint of conservation. I saw a hell of a lot more deer dead on the side of the road this year, which, ironically, is also a hell of a lot more than I saw in the woods this year.

So, given the uptick in animal numbers, every car ride that involves a route even remotely close to the outskirts of our fair city includes wildlife-spotting, just like they did when I was a kid.

Deer
, I announce.
Looks like 4, no 5, no 7, reports Cam. No bucks though, dad?
Nope, looked like doe.

I hear geese, I state. Where are they at?
Got ’em, points Cam. Followed by a few make-shift honks into his closed hand, like he’s holding a call.

Recently, he’s taken to leading the spotting charge though. And he’s good. On a recent drive to my wife’s parent’s house, we were heading down our usual country road route when Cam says:

Geese.
Where? I ask, glancing both ways and up through the windshield.
Up ahead, over there.
Where?
He rolled down the window and pointed into the wind. It took me a few more seconds to figure the trajectory of his finger, but sure as shootin’…he had a string of 7 or 10 birds pegged just above the treeline about a mile away.

Good eye, bud. You got ’em.
His smile in my rear view mirror couldn’t have been any bigger.

But that turkey caught us all by surprise…as only the jarring juxtaposition of Main Street and a wild turkey can. And while I’d call it a draw on who actually saw it first, I’m sure the next time he mentions his ability to spot game, as compared to dad’s…his list will include that gobbler. Which is exactly how it should be.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods