Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 late season waterfowl

The 2011 waterfowl season has been unseasonably mild and a bit slower than years past in the Canoga Creek environs.  The late season opener saw very mild temps and light winds, not optimal for open water.  We hunted the bait ponds and shot four mallards.  Nick handled the retrieving duties and made some miraculous finds in heavy cover.

The second day of season seemed to promise cooler temps and some weather, so a field hunt was organized on the Hoster field. Rich was in on this one, a tough, muddy, hardcore layout hunt in which we knocked down 9 geese and 1 duck.  Three of the geese we knocked down made the end of the field and crash-landed in the gully behind my barn.  They were unfortunately not found (no dog).

Day three found us accompanied by Dan DeLaywer of NY Ducks Unlimited ensconced in the comforts of Double Black blind on Cayuga Lake.  Due to very late carousing the night before with Dan, we all shot very poorly for the first flights, but finally managed to scratch down a half dozen mallards between the group.  Brant did the the retrieving and performed well. It was great reconvening the old crowd- Ernie, O'Connor, Riegel, Dan, Danielle, and myself.

Day four found us back in the bait ponds, taking advantage of a hard freeze that occurred overnight.  We had planned ahead for frozen water and had set up a blind near a spring fed pond that almost never freezes, leaving a duck magnet when all other inland water is locked up tight.  We shot 5 ducks- 2 gadwall and 3 mallards. Nick was on duty for the retrieves.

Day five, it was back in the ponds, as Rich had reported having been frozen out still at Double Black.  Conditions were milder, but the ducks were still few and far between.  We again shot five ducks, the bag consisting this time of 2 black ducks and three mallards.  Brant did some nice retrieving, but there was nothing spectacular in that department.

Day six, the last hunt of 2011, found us once again in warm temps and very little wind.  Though we were ready for a change of season, the ponds were the choice.  the early flight was slow, but the action turned on after 1000 and we, once again, scratched down 5 ducks- 1 gadwall and 4 mallards.  Brant made some great finds in heavy cover, including two blind retrieves, demonstrating a kind of coming-of-age wherein he is developing instincts and beginning to use his nose where needed.  It was a great way to end the year.

Happy New Year to all grousers.  Here's to a happy and healthy 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Half Moon Creek - redux

Quit work early to return to the creek for another round of jump shooting. No kids this time (still visiting grandparents in Arkansas). Much colder. But the ducks were equally accommodating.

Canoga's Tiger Lilly, soaking wet
after two icy, but short, retrieves

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Half Moon Creek

Looking out my dining room window you can almost miss the half-mile stretch of creek that runs through my neighbors’ fields. A line through grass at the bottom of the broad valley, it’s usually more void than body. Forced out of its meander long ago, the creek cuts deeply into the alluvial soils that bound it. Leeches have made their home in its warm, muddy stretches.

Even with all of its ailments and insignificance, there’s not a member of this blog who wouldn’t see this little creek's potential. I covet it, although I could never afford to buy the farm through which it courses. Looking upon it I imagine a healthy riparian system with pothole ponds, trees, brush, flowers and wildlife. Like much of the land around my house it is a blank canvas.

Occasionally, the creek provides hints of what it would offer when healed.

I left work around 2:00 yesterday, heading home to watch the kids while Kelly shopped for their Christmas presents. It has been a gloomy week at work, federal budget cuts finally coming to roost upon our lab, and I had hoped at some point for a cathartic grouse hunt over Lilly. Now I had my beloved kids to factor in. Grousing seemed out.

We’ve had a lot of rain this year. More than 60 inches in an area that normally gets around 40. Recent rains had flooded wetlands along the drive home. By the time I rounded the last bend I had hatched a plan for waterfowl, unlikely as it seemed.

I stopped off at Bobby’s, my other neighbor, with the offer to swap my kids for a hunt with him. He has three daughters who bracket my kids’ ages, so the proposition wasn’t as unreasonable as it might sound. Bobby had seen ducks along the creek earlier in the week, and was nearly swayed by the offer. But, he had work to do making his participation out of the question. I couldn’t muster the chutzpa to ask if I could just drop off my kids without some form of reciprocation.

I’ll take them with me I decided.

So it was that we three marched with Lilly across my little farm, past my equipment shed, and down the lane to Half Moon Creek. I let Lilly run much of the way, stretching out her long legs after a day cooped up in the house. She ranged widely. Before I knew it she had reached the creek by the bridge and was making for the water. I called her back. Here! Here! Here! She returned reluctantly. So much for a sneak.

Even so, I was committed to the plan to stalk the remaining length of the creek. Kids trailing by a few yards. Dog on heel. Occasionally poking over the bank to search its contents.

Nearing the creek we cut off the laneway, bypassing the stretch that Lilly had travelled. I was surprised by the noise of stiff feathers launching birds from near the bridge. Two mallards rose, not 30 yards from my position and only 10 yards from the spot Lilly had momentarily visited.

I wheeled, noting the kids – great kids – were exactly where I had told them to be, several yards behind me.

I picked the green head and shot.

The bird flinched, but kept flying. Off, down the valley with its mate. Lilly trailing at full speed.

Wait. While the hen headed skyward the drake remained only 10 yards above the flood plane.

Dog and bird covered 300 yards in seconds.

Then the bird wheeled down to the creek. Lilly hot behind.

We waited. After a minute I told the kids to wait in the open at the bridge so that Lilly would see them and return to them with duck if she found it. I headed down the other bank to help dog locate bird.

50 yards downstream I saw Lilly racing back to the kids. No bird.

Here! Here! Here! She snapped to me. Launched herself, 10 feet across the creek. Bank to bank. A spectacle of athleticism.

We hunted the final yards downstream. Another bridge crossed the creek. Lilly ran across it and under it. I could see her stop momentarily, scooping the bird up. I didn’t even need to call her. She came. Fleet, fluid motion. Bird in maw.

The drake was very much alive when she dropped it off. A crisp retrieve.

We returned to the kids, waiting for us at the bridge where I had left them. Cheers went up when I hoisted the bird. Mallard! Mallard! Then excited prattle about Christmas duck and Christmas presents and Christmas music and duck feathers on our Christmas tree.

We walked the long lane home. Half Moon Creek babbling behind us. Nearly bank full.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

RIP God of Thunder

Smokygold's Thunder God
July 7, 2000 - December 10, 2011

Rough day today. Thor had a seizure, out of the blue, this morning and never recovered. He passed away as I rushed him to the vet.  He may not have been the best hunting dog I've ever owned, but he sure was the nicest.  Don't think I'll ever find another like him.  We've all lost our hunting buddies before, but it never gets easy.  Give your hunting buddies a good squeeze for me and remember the Thormeister.


Monday, December 05, 2011

Josh is on to something

Recently there was a request to start a "gun thread"... so here goes.  I want one of these (thanks Josh) for Christmas:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

PA Deer Camp

This year's PA deer camp at Warrior's Mark Winery (Pete's Place) was highly memorable. We killed two bucks. Pete and Kelly fed me well and plied me with wonderful beverages. I had the best sandwich of my life (more on that later). I was serenaded by Pete and Kelly's beautiful children.

Pete and I had been talking about revising the deer plan for the Fie Woods and the Valley of Death since last year's inaugural deer camp. The lay of the land from my perspective is that you have a classic escape cover mature hemlock forest with blowdowns and blackberry brambles in the openings, with a steep ravine and meandering creek (sound familiar?), including thicket and marsh bramble in the bottom, surrounded by corn fields. This is a place to kill a big buck. But, as I gingerly tried to explain to Pete, you probably lesson your chances of doing that by charging headlong into the center of the escape and bedding cover first thing in the morning on opening day. A big buck may be killed, but it will be by the fat-assed hedgerow hunters surrounding the good stuff as the buck squirts out after being booted from his lair. Not optimal. A better plan, I argued, was to ease in, play the wind, and, since there are no elevated stands (a HUGE problem in terms of safety in that place), incrementally work down the contour, ambushing the deer coming in from feeding all night in the freshly cut corn fields (those that manage to survive the gauntlet awaiting them in the form of the orange-clad-woods-edge-pot-shots-over-the-big-field program).

Pete never really liked the plan. I think Pete, God bless him, would prefer a good view over a likely ambush. I noticed that Pete would go to great lengths to preserve a romantic notion that he was setting off into the pristine wilds to take on nature head to head, in the absence of all lesser men. In other words, seeing other hunters is a total buzz-kill for Pete. I can appreciate that. On the other hand, one can go lots of places within an hour of Pete and get really big woods, so the charade is lost on me. And, its opening day, a day to hunt wide-eyed and focused until sunset...views, what views? To me, this is a place where a handful of guys who have been doing the same thing for a long time continue to hunt, still fling a lot of lead over the field on running deer, and at least on opening day, few bother to get down into the good stuff. Though you may see other hunters, its a place to kill bucks. Pete has himself a honey hole to drool over. And, he has a "sense of place" and a history to contend with. So I get it, but am trying to contribute in some meager way in assisting in increasing "the take" a bit. Its fun and nutritious.

The area I was sure would produce early was downstream of the valley of death a ways. I hunted and scouted it thoroughly last year, making a lot of mental notes and memorizing the contours, game trails, blow-down openings, and so on. There is a point just above the "Duck bridge" where 5 heavily traveled game trails all converge in a bed of ferns. Twenty yards from this spot is a cluster of 3 big hemlocks in the shape of a triangle. There is a blow-down beside it. I made a blind there last year and I planned to get to it first thing this year, to hunt the escape routes early, as planned. The other hot spot was the blackberry bramble blow-down opening. I felt Pete should hunt that spot, as it had the most buck sign last year.

We hit the woods, as Pete reports, just before dawn. I asked about the flagging we agreed Pete would install prior to the hunt to insure a silent and confident entry in the darkness... Pete related to me that he gave the order but no privates executed it, so no flagging. This was problematic, as the timing depended upon the smooth, quiet entry. If our plan was to crash around in the crackling under-story of a mature coniferous forest, perhaps we should have stuck with the Pete plan, had crepes and champagnes at 3 am, and started walking shortly thereafter. At least we wouldn't feel rushed as we pushed deer out in to the next county. Undaunted, however, we soldiered on. At some point Pete leaned over to me and whispered "Plan B?" I responded that it was time to improvise, that we just needed to get in a 100 yards or so and then sit tight until it got lighter so we could stop making so much noise and pick a spot to sit/stand for the first 30 mins. We agreed on this, both of us doing a fine job of quelling feelings of a hunt gone bust. As luck would have it, we arrived in a blow-down clearing (the only one like this on this section of the ridge) totally overrun with blackberries. It was the one I hunted last year and wanted Pete to hunt. I recognized it immediately, having hunted over it for a few hours last year. I whispered excitedly to Pete... "This is the blackberry bramble blow-down. The main game trail is just below and down hill, where the buck sign was last year. This is a great spot," I said. "The other spot I was thinking of, Ambush Alley, is just 150 yards up stream, on this ridge, a little to the left. Do you want to split up and settle in?" I asked, anxious to let the woods settle and get my listening post up and going (I hunt predominately on audio mode, not visual). We agreed to split up, to hunt the top for a few hours, then work our way down to the stream below, and to Pete's hallowed valley of death (monster bucks DO live there, I am convinced).

I arrived at my spot, happy to have remembered things so well. I settled in. My phone buzzed as I rushed to my spot, so I retrieved it and saw two texts. Pete had seen another hunter and vacated the bramble blow-down. Damn! It was still dark enough that I needed to know where he was. I attempted to text back. No signal. We were out of communication, and had made no contingency plans. That was my error. I decided to focus on the hunt, and worry about reestablishing communication with Pete after the golden hour was over.

Fifteen minutes passed. There were turkeys clucking and putting and cutting. I saw a little motion in the distance, heard and sensed more motion, coming down one of the 5 trails towards me. Behind me , motion. I perked up, heard more. Gun up... doe. Cross hairs on her. Eased back to position of the first sounds, back up the ambush alley. Then, I was startled by a very close shot. Silence. No more turkeys. I cursed that jamoke. Probably poached a turkey. I later found out Pete had concluded his hunt by shooting a buck on the ambush alley. I stupidly sat tight for another two hours on that spot, while Pete gutted a deer, and then dragged it out. At 1000 I relocated. Down to the stream, as planned.

I saw deer running on the other side, saw antlers, but no shot. Too fast, too much brush. I ranged the area and saw that it was only 65 yards, so I stayed in that spot until 1145. While there, I noticed that young oaks lined the stream, and the deer had been digging for acorns. I then noticed a line of rubs on sapling hemlocks going up the ridge. I looked back at the water, and could see that the bottom lacked the dark green silt here, at this narrow spot. You could see little dimples in the bottom. A crossing! I got up and followed the buck rubs, then tracks, then located a switch back trail that joined the main trail back below the original blackberry bramble blow-down. There were fresh, maybe one or two day old rubs directly down hill from the bramble blow down. I decided to hunt here, given that it was noon, lunchtime, and perhaps Pete would circle back to the last point of contact to reestablish communication. I knew that one simply needs to set up with a favorable wind on a line of rubs like that and wait. Something will eventually happen.

I settled into my new blind, a nice fat tree with two crossed blow-downs in front for cover. I trimmed a little for shooting lanes, ranged a few landmarks, and listened. The shooting from the perimeter of the woods had slowed way down. I reached into my backpack for the sandwich that Pete had made. It was big and flattened a little, and appeared to be quality bread. I unwrapped the saran wrap a little and suddenly my deer sonar went berserk... I froze. Nothing. But now I was on alert. Finished unwrapping the sandwich and a beautiful little hunters sausage that reminded me of a lunch while hunting red-legged partridge in Spain. Sonar alert again... I paid more attention this time, scanning 360 degrees very thoroughly. Nothing. I returned to my sandwich, that Pete lovingly made, that I had been thinking about since 0930. I took a few bites... delicious meat and cheese and sun-dried tomato on rich thick bread. This was a high quality sandwhich, a true treat in the woods on a deer hunt. I looked down at my knees, at the lovely three-barreled wonder laying across my lap called a drilling, made by JP Sauer, that I had only blooded once, with Pete, on grouse, on the great Drowned Road covert near the "Thoroughfare Valley" along the Allagash in Maine. A fine sandwich and a fine gun. Deer hunting. Hard to beat.

I took another bite of my sandwich and noted that I was half way through it with a mix of pleasure and pain... chewed once or twice, and the deer sonar went off a third time. I froze, mouth full. I saw movement to my right. A deer... antlers - sort of. A half rack... 3 points. Dilemma... I promised Pete I'd shoot the first legal buck, since he mentioned that he was anxious to fill the freezer. But this was an ugly management buck, not what one travels all the way to a different state to hunt. And besides, I am eating my sandwich. He presented a broad side shot. I carefully set my sandwich down on my backpack. I peered through the scope, aware of the slight protrusion in my cheeks due to the sandwich I was waiting to chew and swallow. This is a chip-shot, I thought. Moved the scope and gun to the antlers to confirm three points. Good. Shall I attempt a buck with the drilling? He begins to quarter away. Yes, for the drilling and for Pete's freezer. BANG. Right barrel slug-- connects, but a little right on the quartering away shot. Hits left rear hip and angles nicely through vitals. He's hurt bad, but this is, as Pete calls it, the Jamoke-osphere... I need to anchor this deer. Breaking all of my own rules, I stand up and fire again. Grazing miss at 70 yards (poor shot selection with the second slug smooth bore). He's hobbling off toward the cornfields and a death in a firefight. I reach for a handful of 30-06 and note the exact position of my half sandwich... and off I go after the management buck. I catch up to him quickly, he is loudly stumbling forward, presents an 80 yard broadside. The drilling rifle barrel barks, and the deer is down. First ungulate blood on the drilling.

I quickly tag the deer, aware of an orange-clad perimeter zombie eyeing me only 100 yards away. After tagging, I grab the single antler and heave mightily, hauling the deer in a kind of sprint back to the blackberry bramble blow-down. I rush back to my blind only 30yards away, and savor the second half of my sandwich, and the sweet feeling of a buck on opening day, management buck or otherwise.

2011 PA Opener

I have to admit that I prefer to be sitting in my deer stand around the time that Tidball chooses to roll out of the house on opening day. It comes down to aesthetics, more than anything else. Leave early and you are less apt to run across many of the deer hunters who descend upon Fye Forest on opening day. Building upon last year’s experience, Tidball had strong logic for the day's plan. I was happy to follow, with few delusions of my own deer hunting acumen.
The new plan, cemented the night before over 8-year-old bourbon (Tidball), delectable Canoga Farms venison sausage and turkey mousse, and 4-day-old gout (yours truly), had us parking a mile from the forest where we would hunt.
At 6:30 we were finally working our way into woods, dodging the mob of hunters who were readily identified by their 1,000,0000 candle power lamps and pungent cigarette smoke. Admittedly, the “mob” was not large (5 or so members), but their presence was disconcerting. I had preferred a different entry point through “the Valley of Death” precisely because we could avoid encountering members of mob. "Nonsense! Pure delusion," insisted Tidball. That approach ran directly through bedding areas and escape cover. Contaminate this refuge with our own scent and our quarry would flee elsewhere. So ran the logic of Tidball.
As dawn arrived we were revising his new plan (new plan 1.1) in light of the location of individual mob members, forecast of prevailing winds and scent cones(there were none at that point), and who knows what else. My skepticism was rising. Of Tidball’s many decision making variables, I accepted only his observation that mob rules require members to remain within 100 yards of the forest edge. We stumbled through the dark, arriving at a point that Tidball confidently proclaimed was one he had identified last year: “Ambush Alley.” This seemed unlikely given Tidball’s poor night vision and the large number of blackberry glades that looked EXACTLY like the one we were in.
We agreed that I would sit in so-called “Ambush Alley” (uncomfortably close to the mob) and Tidball would move another 100 yards along the contour. It was time to put the new plan 1.1 to the test.
No sooner did I sit down than a member of the mob stumbled by, not 45 yards distant, headed straight for the Valley of Death. I re-relocated, expectations reduced to zero (new plan 1.11). Finally it was quiet.
Within five minutes I heard the snapping of a twig. Too late to move again, I hunched behind a massive hemlock, waiting for this latest mob interloper to move on.
Footsteps. No, hoof-steps! In the din I could see, 10 feet distant, a small doe. She winded me. Snorted. Jumped back. Peered at the gouty blob at the base of the hemlock. What was that? She stepped forward, tentatively, then snorted and ran away. I took the opportunity to pull out cell phone and film, aware that by this act I was changing this elemental experience from a primitive aesthetic to a modern, made-for-the-blogosphere production.

Thankfully I felt no compulsion to tweet.
What a morning! Soon I could hear turkeys near Tidball’s location. What an absolute joy! With a clear view of my surroundings I settled in to one of the most active hunts in recent memory. Good on you new plan 1.11!
Spirits fully restored and senses at their apex for the day, I peered around, getting familiar with Ambush Alley. And there he was. 100 yards distant, down hill and walking steadily toward me was a deer. A buck. I looked at him through the scope. A six point. Perfect.
Calm, surprisingly so, I picked an opening in the trees but quickly decided there was too much underbrush to make a good shot. The little buck was unaware of my presence and there was time. I picked a different opening, dialed my scope to roughly 5x power, and waited a moment. He was there. I checked again to be sure that he had the required three tines on one beam, then lowered the gun to his shoulder and shot.
The report was massive. The first to break the morning silence. The deer toppled to his side. A few kicks and he was still. I fought the urge to run to him and waited, adrenalin finally coursing through my system. Gout cured, at least temporarily.
Over the next 10 minutes I suffered, fighting every natural urge to run to the downed animal, whooping and hollering my achievement. Compelled to wait by the admonitions of friends with whom I had long-hunted (you know who you are). After a few minutes I sought diversion. First I checked the time on my cell phone. 7:30. Then, well, I texted. Mind you this is something that I have only been introduced to in the past 6 months. Sitting in the middle of the forest, finally content that I had escaped the presence of the mob, I sought distraction (and connection) by texting. First Tidball, then Stedman, then wife, then father. As a distraction it worked. At 10.00000001 minutes I walked, as calmly as possible, to the downed animal.

Barely legal (3x2), but my trophy!
What followed that day can only be seen as pure irony, or poetry. I could not contact Tidball as his phone had no signal and quickly lost power. So I dragged the deer alone. Slowly. Gouty toe a factor. 44 years also a factor (see Stedman’s recent opening day post).
At 10:30 I was met by wife at trail head.

By 11:00 I had dropped off the deer at the local butcher.
I was back in the woods by noon. With no ability to contact Tidball I walked, and walked. Toward gunfire. Is that Tidball’s drilling? Toward blaze orange. What was Tidball wearing this morning? At one point, back in Ambush Alley, I flushed a turkey, 10 yards off. Apparently Tidball was 30 yards beyond the bird, gutting his own buck. This modern, cell-phone texting hunter walked right by. I sat for awhile, had an opportunity at another small buck, but my season was over.

By 3:00 I gave in to the pangs of gout.

A great hunt of complex aesthetics. A complete experience.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

PA Deer Season Anticipation

Cagey on the way
Tomorrow season opens
High of fifty eight?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Famous Wife of Famous Grouser was to be stranded with kids opening morning, as the Famous Grouser in question had some sort of work obligation. Apparently there is an alarming
lack of babysitters willing to come over at 530am.

The NYSDEC or the Super Committee should do something.

Enter the StedmaNowlens and Julie in particular, saintly willing to watch four kids while Angela and I enjoyed opening morn. Opening Day Eve was thus filled with the usual trappings of deer camp: popcorn, chocolate milk (keep the rapscallions up late so hopefully they’d sleep in—it didn’t work), nerf gun fights, floor hockey (complete with hockey fights and penalty box episodes) and a suspicious looking character called ‘sponge bob’ something or other. Just a normal camp.

Morning dawned, as it tends to do around here. Contemplative halcyon moments of frantically fumbling with Angela’s rifle/ammo (.257 Roberts) in the garage, and then *out there*. I first sat out behind the barn and Angela opted for the driveway stand where she apparently had a monster buck doing jumping jacks in a santy-claus suit begging to be eliminated from the gene pool. I’ll let her tell that story as she wishes.I moved down the hill to the new orchard stand, to be closer to all of the action. Two does crossed the far end of the meadow @ 75 yards, moving pretty good, and I let them go. I was rewarded 15 minutes later with a nice doe working her way up the edge of the meadow. At 30 yards she was almost exactly broadside,
just barely quartering (“sixteenthing?”) toward me. Perfect.

Held right behind the right shoulder and touched trigger. She staggered, spun, and ran. Out of sight. But a big crash. This was good. Called Angela, waited about 15 minutes, and went looking. Clear scuff marks in the skiff of snow where she spun, but no blood. An easy trail of scuff marks, but still no blood. And there she lay: went about 30 yards and never bled a drop. No exit wound, but ribs busted up and heart cut in half.

Called up Julie and she and Colin (Angela and Andy’s youngest) came down the hill to share the experience, leaving Hannah in charge of the other two boys (these three [including both of mine] apparently lured by the siren song of the fire and the HD TV rather than the great outdoors). Sigh. Colin toted his double barrel just in case.
I was glad to have Angela’s help on the drag: that is a steep hill and a big deer and I am not the paragon of physical fitness I would like to be (sucking in the gut really doesn’t help that much when the chips are down).

Monday, November 21, 2011

PA Woodcock 2011 - Coming of Age

It's been so long since I've last posted to the blog that I had to renew my password. Apologies abound. Many significant posts missed.

2011 was the year that I had hoped for my 3 year old german shorthair pointer. No, it wasn't the trip to Wisconsin, which was wonderful but primarily served to show me that I didn't know how to to hunt over my pointer. It was only on the last day in Wisconsin that Lou and I figured out how to work with Lilly. At home in Pennsylvania, it was the warm weather and a flight of woodcock who just wouldn't fly south that cemented the late Wisconsin lesson, helping to convert a (hopeless) flushing dog owner into a (reasonable) pointing dog owner.

In the past 10 days Lilly has pointed - really pointed! - at least 60 woodcock, and bumped a dozen or so more. We stumbled upon these birds one afternoon, in search of grouse on the game lands down the road. A fluke, as many good things in life seem to be.

That first afternoon was pure chaos. The cover was thick, often 6-10 ft high, making shooting impossible most of the time. Lilly bumped many of the birds, but she began to point after I yelled "whoa" in frustration. I shot two birds that afternoon. And she retrieved both to hand. GSP retrieves: saliva soaked birds that were well tenderized. Impossible for me to find on my own.

Lilly, with the cowbell Jim Tantillo gave her on her inaugural hunting trip in 2009. The cowbell disappeared on the first day of 2011 PA woodcock hunting, victim to multiflora rose, hawthorne, locust, something....

After that I recruited my neighbor, Bobby, to serve as gun while I handled the dog. Bobby is a wonderful woodsman but is as new to dog hunting as I am to being his neighbor. On the first day we began to work out our technique. Lilly would point. I would walk in to flush the bird. Bobby would shoot. We killed two birds that day. Out of 10 or 20. Who's counting? Lilly occasionally broke point to flush a bird. But that was rare and I would call her in, scold her, and we would try again. The birds were accommodating.

We repeated our afternoons, several times, always killing a few birds. The points accumulated. The bumped birds declined. A ritual evolved. We would end the day picking ticks off of ourselves and the dog, listening to woodcock twighlighting. The surprising gift of warm weather in November.

Last Saturday found us with a colleague who owns an English Pointer. The pointer, a sweet dog, hadn't hunted in awhile, so we left colleague and dog to their own ways and hunted the late afternoon. Lilly pointed. We missed. She pointed again and again. We missed again and again. At one point Bobby looked at me and remarked: "there's only one hunter here, and it's the dog, not us." Touche. Or motivation.

I shot my first bird of the day at point blank range. Lilly picked the bird up. Dropped it. Refused to retrieve it to me. It was only half a bird. Breasts salvageable, but no lower half. Even a versatile hunting dog has its limits.

We hunted until the light was waning. On the way back to the car Lilly pointed a bird while heeling at my side. She pointed three more until, in the dusk, I finally dropped one. Lilly found it, 40 yards off, and retrieved it to my hand. Much better tasting than the previous bird!

The shooting percentages this last week were dismal, but that's ok. A transformation occurred. Between hunter and owner. Ain't no one going to tell me she's not the greatest woodcock dog. Ever.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Opening of deer 2011-- a family affair

Mo and I were up and in the stand before first light, sharing the double stand christened the Honeymoon Suite (you'll have to get the details on the name from Rich).  We weren't planning to use the "Suite" for anything but deer slaying, and deer slaying we did.

The hope was to get Mo her fist shot at a whitetail.  She was carrying her Savage 24C "Camper," loaded with Federal 20 ga. rifled slugs.  I was carrying the trusty Ithaca Deerslayer.  At around 8 am,  I caught faint rustling to my right and picked up movement.  As I am now a left handed shooter, the right side is my side, so these deer were coming up on the wrong side for Mo.  I watched the deer work their way to within 20 yards of our stand, a doe and two big fawns, all the while whispering to Mo in hushed tones about the dark arts of deerslaying from tree perches. She was uncomfortable, as was I,with the notion of shooting across me, so we waited and waited for a shot for her to materialize.Our scent was being blown in the direction of the quarry, and they finally winded us, exploding in a confusion of "tail-up" fleeing deer.  Mo later said it was pure chaos to her, that she couldn't really register what was happening.  Meanwhile, I registered that a few meals over the Weber were attempting to elude their fate.  I swung on the left deer, peering through the scope...fawn.  Far right deer...fawn.  Middle deer, big doe, running--- now broadside, running, lead it... a little forward... BANG.  Dead deer.  Mo said "Holy S@#t" or some such, beaming with exuberance and the thrill of all of that.  I felt a strange calm, a sense of surprise at my gladness to have shared that moment with my wife and best friend.

We both sat back.  I reloaded.  She noticed this.  "Will she get up?" she asked.  "Not likely," I said, "but a buck might have been trailing her-  we'll wait awhile.  We sat together.  I ranged the downed doe at 83 yards.  After a while the inevitable question emerged... "are those fawns going to make it?"  I thought about this.  I said "They will nose around here a day or two, looking for Momma, and they will be on their own.  She would have kicked them off in a matter of days or weeks anyway, as soon as she hit her estrus. The best plan is for you to hunt this area again tomorrow and have a crack at some young vittles."  She was quiet and thoughtful about this for a few moments.  I am sure as a mother, she pondered larger issues.  Then she said, "for me, this is about food.  A lioness doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about zebra orphans when its time to feed the family."  I let that sit in the November air, smiling to myself and availing myself of the new-found pleasures of hunting with a partner.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Striper Idyll

Before the talk turns to deer,
Some surf to go with turf.
A good time on the Jersey Shore.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thanks, Andy

Nov 12, 2011
Glad for the "nudge."  I decided to take Andy's advice and "do the dog a favor"  by skedaddling to a woodcock covert or two in the FLNF (one brand new one furthest north)  between bow hunts this past weekend. Glad I did.  Artemis and Victoria were glad I did, too.  Especially poignant given that "Miss" recently had some serious health issues.  We almost lost her over the summer, but she is back in her typically stylish form now.

Sat- 3 for 4 on woodcock.  0-1 on grouse.
Sun- 2 for 3 on woodcock. 0-2 on grouse.

Just the rest of this week for an archery buck.  Then, the "freezer hunts" will commence.

Nov 12, 2011
Nov 13, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The ADK Cocktail

On a recent October gathering at Twin Moose in the ADK's, Kleinmans and Stedmans and Nolans and Tidballs and Siemers discussed the venerable Adirondack Cocktail and our facsimile thereof.  Some of us might have even sipped a few (I seem to remember trying to find firewood in the dark with Pete, but stumbling somehow).

I finally found the official recipe, in a Cornell publication no less!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Timberdoodle Time

Just 4 more days left in the NY woodcock season (last day Monday, November 14th, which coincidentally is the date of the Elmira, NY RGS banquet ;-)). The woodcock seem to be "in" in the ever-increasingly-shrinking Hector neighborhood, and the forecast of west/south winds the next few nights is not conducive to birds leaving in any big way (nor migrating in for that matter).

I had a brief and productive hunt with Brody recently -- moved 10 woodcock in about an hour and 45 minutes. Not big bunches, but rather a steady encounter rate of mostly singles. Same sort of thing we experienced in Maine.

Do your dogge a favor and get thee to a thicket!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Overdue on Wisconsin Grouse

Quite a trip. I won't let down those of you who depend on my statistical acumen and accu-velocity in journal hurling. 25.5 hrs hunted (hooray), 108 flushes, 30 shots (Tantillo count; 21 different birds shot at), body count = 8 grouse, 3 woodcock.

Many of the days (save for the Kleinman incident of which enough has been written) have blurred into a kaleidescope of cover, flushes, dog work good and indifferent. As it should be. Some moments stand out, especially the morning in which I bid adieau to an old friend and celebrated the new. I wanted to scatter McPhee's ashes down at "the loops" and wanted to do it right. Neither melodramatic, nor shortarming it--each of these can happen in the presence of witnesses. I wanted the freedom to be as casual ("well, g'bye old pal") or as melodramatic as I wanted.

But I also wanted to hunt.

So Conley and I took a long walk down the old West Running Rd, to 3 Mile. We took the right spur off 3 mile. Just to limber the legs, you understand. About 4.5 mile walk from the cabin. One way. 15 minutes into the hunt, on New White City, I jumped a bird that arrowed off to my right. Nice and relaxed, high gun mount, elbow up. Fired, and off the bird flew. Nothing unusual there. But wait, what is this? It is my dog returning to me through the puckerbrush with a live bird in his mouth. Good boy: a first for him. After 3 mile rd, on the spur, Conley got birdy in a deadfall and up jumped a grouse. Again, relax, relaxed. High mount, elbow up, bang, dead bird. Conley made the retrieve. Nothing fancy.

One of the things I love about Conley--especially compared to McPhee--is that I do not have to command him much. It is really a pretty calm affair most of the time: a hand wave here and there, or a hunt 'em up. Lots of quiet and not much talk.

So we hunted back out the W Running Rd, covering groujnd already covered. Another flush or two. What I am trying to convey here is that it was a very orderly hunt: 5 fl, 3 shots, 2 birds in about 2+ hours.

And then I scattered McPhee's ashes. I did so near the entrance to the loops rather than way back in where I killed my first grouse over him back in 1994. The loops are closing up, being reclaimed inexorably by the balsams, and I wanted to be able to find the spot in my doddering years. I carved his name in a birch, stuck a spent shell on a branch nub, smoked a pipe, had a nip of something amber colored, and thought a bit about the old boy and the old days when I was young, just learning to be a hunter, a dog trainer, a husband, a man.

I asked McPhee for a little mojo for the last hour.

And it came in true McPhee fashion. Stats help here. Recall: Pre-McPhee Ash-Spreading: 5 fl, 3 sh, 2 birds. My totals when I exited the loops 1 hour later: 19 fl, 10 sh, 2 birds. Quite simply, all hell broke loose. As soon as I opened the bag with his ashes, a mighty gust of wind--I kid you not--sent them flying helter skelter: in my face, up Conley's nose (he sneezed). The wind did not diminish, and the birds became incredibly spooky: wild flush after wild flush. Doubles, even triples: some close, some far, some from trees. An my calm zen like demeanor revealed itself as a facade and promptly crumbled.

This is fair. I did not have many zen-like moments with McPhee and my sense now is that he is out there as the wind howls, and winter comes, and all the forest creatures and their pursuers wonder...what's next?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Deer so far

Passed on this "spike horn" at the Log City property (Eric's new hunting property).  It was an absolutely crazy hunting day.  More on that later.  Nothing in the larder yet, venison wise.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Birds so far

Figured I'd fill space until Pete or Rich contribute the write-up on the Old T trip. Here's a summary of my bird season to date. Before I went to MN, I got Brody out hunting at the FLNF for a couple hours, moved 1 grouse, and Brody pointed two woodcock (2/2). I left Spy home when I went to MN -- I figured all that travel and crate time would be a bit much for a 14 yr old dog. In MN I was able to work Brody several hours scouting coverts and guiding a few hunters. (photos: MN double rainbow, Earl's ES Otto w/ Earl's DIY tricked-out mudflaps, Brody pointing a woodcock). On the way home I was able to hunt half a day. After I packed the car, the first stop on the way home was some paper company land in MN. Tried a couple spots ("fishing") but did not move any birds over a couple hours. The temp was nice -- 50s -- but it was very windy. The final spot was also on paper company land that had been cut periodically. Lots of stands of aspen from <5 old sapling to mature. I popped a grouse that I bumped. Wing-tipped him, and fortunately Brody caught it. Little while later Brody went on point where I saw a woodcock settle in. I walked up expecting a woodcock, but instead two grouse rocketed out simultaneously, away and high. I missed two shots at one bird. In about 15 seconds Brody was on point again. This time the bird came over me high and I dropped it behind me. Over the next 1.5 hrs we moved a few grouse (pointed, bumped or bumped by me) and a couple woodcock. Killed a pointed wc. The final action was a long walk to the beeper. I swung wide, and flushed a red phase bird about 30 yards ahead of Brody, and fortunately killed it. We hunted that place about 3 hours total. Brody handled nice -- I didn't have to talk much. I ran him w/ a beeper on point only, and a bell. Seems to work nicely. Got to have the beeper -- he's hard to see and ranges well out of gun range. The grouse seemed harder to handle this year -- sneaky runners and silent escape "hop flights" well out. The age ratio of grouse from the hunt was pretty heavy to adults. The birds I killed were two adults and one youngster.

Back in NY for a week, I ran Brody almost daily on the backyard woodcock. Just training runs, no guns. (photo pointing local woodcock on a rainy day). I hunted Brody one afternoon at the nearby state forest. Moved two grouse (no points) and one woodcock (pointed, bagged).

The last week of October I was in Maine. Work trip, but I was able to get out hunting a couple hours a few of the days. Had a great time in my old home coverts outside Old Town, but for the life of me I could not connect on a grouse! (just like old times). We moved on average 4 grouse and 3 or 4 woodcock per hour; got points on about 75% of the grouse. Did well on woodcock. Later, out in the vicinity of Grand Lake Stream, the woodcock were just as abundant but the grouse were more variable (1-4 per hour). I heard later that friends in Aroostook County were averaging 10 grouse flushed per hour... Anyway, I had the pleasure of hunting over a friend's springer, which served up a grouse and a few woodcock for me.

Back again in NY, the boys and I tried to find a backyard woodcock with Brody, with intent to kill, but we came up empty. I think our local birds had skedaddled. I got Brody out again to the local state forest, and in 2 hours we moved 4 spooky grouse and 1 woodcock (see Brody's mouth, below). Now with 10 days left in the woodcock season I want to get ol' Spy out for a last chance at a last bird -- a point, maybe a photo op, hopefully feathers in the mouth.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Learning from dogs

I took Brant hunting for ducks this morning.  He communicated a simple truth last night as I left him for a deer stand, in the rain. With his eyes he said... "when its raining, we hunt ducks."  I believe he crystallized another "versatile hunter" maxim in that moment.

This morning, the hunt was a classic October duck hunt... a few birds flying around right at first light in the light rain, and then tapering off by 8:30 am. The hunters shot reasonably well, the dog retrieved reasonably well.  But, for Brant, it was just a marvelous day... a hunting day.  He was simply happy, blissed out, digging the "is-ness" of the dawn, the ducks, of the sublimity of the damnable pleasure (Tantillo 2002) of hunting.  I sat watching him, studying him, his demeanor, from our shared spot in the tall marsh grass-- we were both sitting on the ground together, both watching the skies hopefully, awaiting the moment when we could do the next thing, the thing that we love slightly more (only slightly) than what we were already doing.  He felt my gaze and turned his head to look at me.  Thump-thump-thump went his tail as his eyes brightened, looking deeply into my own, and then he looked away, looked out over the waters. His could have been the eyes of any of my companions, as the ducks are setting their wings, communicating sentiments like "isn't this amazing?" I sat there processing the second lesson from Brant in less than twenty-four hours.   Find ways to wag more and bark less, he seemed to say.  Words to live by.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fall turkey

They were calling for a blue bird day.  Nice turkey conditions.

22 lbs
7 & 1/2 inch beard
7/8 inch spurs

Durkin: Eternal debate over what's OK, what isn't

Durkin: Eternal debate over what's OK, what isn't

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Opening Day of Ducks 2011

Given that scouting and field reports indicated low numbers of ducks on Cayuga Lake and higher numbers on small ponds, creeks, etc, I decided for the first time since living in Canoga-land to open the duck season somewhere other than the Double Black blind.  I am glad I did (except that Rich was short by half the required team mental power in the "sheer-force-of-will-to-conjure-ducks-from-nowhere" department... but that is his story to tell).

The idea was to conduct a methodical, calm, safe, fun hunt for Danielle's (Eric's daughter) first duck opener as a licensed NYS hunter. No typical opening day "whipped-up-into-a-frenzy" blood-lust, no assault-style Mexican army barrages against hapless Wonder-bread eating young of the year mallards from up the lake, where one not quite green-headed fowl is claimed by 5 shooters who have all emptied their guns.  No, we'll have that fun later (and that IS fun sometimes).  This hunt was for Danielle.

We (Eric and I) debated about whether we should try the ponds at Kuneytown, at Log City, the new ones in my back fields, or at the Morehouse Bait Ponds (see Jim's map here  (cat icon)).  We decided, once again, for the "sensible route"... go to the place most likely to produce.  Pre-hunt scouting confirmed the choice.

In the end, Danielle shot three ducks on her own, and "participated"  in others.  I was hoping to be a videographer, but lighting and vegetation made it difficult.  So, I called ducks, encouraged, and took shots that Danielle and Dad (Eric)  passed on (or rarely, missed).  It was novel, challenging, and fun.  I ended up with some memorable solo successes on multiple species, nice and unexpected rewards for patience and deference.  We ended the day day with 11 birds-- 1 gadwall, 1 green wing teal, 1 black duck, and 8 mallards. Danielle's smile at the end of the hunt was priceless.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Montana outdoorsmen blog?

Hello all - The move and adjustment to Montana has been treating me well. The learning curve is steep. Simply choosing a direction, any direction, to start exploring is daunting. Missoula has been welcoming and the streams cooperative ever since the record-breaking snowfall finally retreated. Between fishing trips and visitors to town, I've been weaseling my way into a few different groups out here, among them the HHA. In addition to a simply badass name, the group seems to be a very active, very forward-thinking group of conservationists bent on spreading the message and giving voice to outdoorsmen concerned with protecting Montana's vast, but surprisingly threatened, natural resources. One of their more recent projects is a blog, found here. Their goal is to draw traffic with hunting/fishing stories, but also as a platform for steering hunters/anglers toward current conservation issues. As for political influence, their legal structure allows for "accountability" of office-holders and agencies, but not outright politicking or advocacy for certain candidates, as you'll see. I share it here for your feedback. It's a new endeavor, with motivations right up "our" alley, and a work-in-progress; your thoughts would be appreciated! Hope you all are well and wish you luck in the woods and in the blinds!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Salmon, ADK Camp, Salmon, ADK Camp...

And on we go, in merry fashion. Here's a real big fish, netted in grand kamakazie style by the famous wife of a famous grouser.

Monday, September 26, 2011

ADK Bear Camp 2011

Bear Camp 2011 has ended, and there are no bear steaks to distribute to Grouser friends.  I had a great time, though, exploring the environs of my new ADK camp, christened Twin Moose.

I made camp with a friend two days before the opener of early bear season on the "middle landing" of the timber lands I am leasing in the Big Moose tract, near Big Moose station, Twitchell Lake, and Big Moose Lake. The weather was unseasonably cold and we spent the first few nights dealing with the hardest September frosts anyone up that way could remember.  But it felt like hunting season, and all was well, so long as you had a mummy bag and some good whiskey.  I had both.

Bear Camp on the middle landing

Another view of Bear Camp.
My friend Paul and I fished Twitchell Lake and scouted on the first day and probably spent too much time crashing through the thick stuff bushwacking the property lines.  It is my opinion that we sent a bear right through the camp the day before the season, and I could hear my dog Artemis going absolutely ballistic like I have never ever heard her sound before. We could find no bear sign in camp, however.

Twitchell Lake at sundown.

On opening morning, we were up long before dawn and made a hearty eggs and sausage breakfast complete with Cagey's campfire coffee.  We flipped for stand selection and Paul won the toss.  He selected "the bench" stand, a stand up on a bench between two beech ridges.  Its a great spot.  That left me with the stand along one of the two beaver ponds on the lease, along a recently cleared logging road-come-snowmobiling trail.  There was game sign of all kinds in the mud there a-plenty- deer, turkey, fox & coyote, and older not-so-fresh bear sign.  And there were moose tracks.

After a few uneventful but stunningly beautiful early morning hours on stand, where I watched the frost melt from the leaves of the reddening maples and heard it rain down on the still lush forest floor like a spring shower, I was jolted from my reverie by the sounds of crashing brush and snapping twigs coming down the mountain to my south east.  The sounds got closer and louder, and my heart raced as I raised my gun (the trusty drilling) and began to collect a site picture through the scope of a spot on the logging trail where I expected the dark and large sounding bruin to pop out.  As I found a rest on the tree, the brush rustled and a branch snapped at the overgrown-with-brambles trail's edge.  Any second.  I saw movement.  I saw a a dark shape. It poked out its head and there stood before me a massive brown horses head.  I blinked. "What the f*#$?!" could be heard in the Adirondack wilderness.  As my mind raced to make sense of what was unfolding before me, and as I watched through the scope, the "horse," after pausing a few seconds to make sure the coast was clear, stepped into the clear.  The cross hairs drifted to vitals as this beast stood broadside.  And then, out plopped one, then two, miniatures of the big long-legged creature, which I was now identifying as  Alces alces americana.  Now, I have seen a few moose, but never a cow with a calf, certainly not a cow with twins, and most definitely not within bow range broadside.   This was just simply COOL.

The moose hung around abit, winding me, and causing me to remain frozen for as long as I could rather than make movements to lower my gun and try to retrieve my camera.  They finally ambled off, to the north west, vaguely in the direction of Paul, who was about a mile away.  The excitement was over by about 9:30 am.

I spent the rest of my morning hunt relishing what I had witnessed, and basking in the good fortune that was mine in seeing any moose at all in the Adirondacks.

Almost unbelievably, it turns out that about a half hour later, the same three moose passed directly under Paul's stand as well.  He, though, was, er, resting, and was awakened by the sound of a rock being kicked. He opened his eyes, saw moose, and grabbed a camera. What are the odds?!  The odds of me seeing a moose, never mind three moose, including twins at that, are slim indeed.  But the odds of Paul seeing them as well, almost a mile away in thick country, the same day--- now that is damn near auspicious. Hence, the camp has been named Twin Moose Camp.

Cow moose and twin calves, 2011.

The following day's hunt was uneventful and I bid Paul a goodbye.  I remained in camp for another few days, a week in total, exploring, paddling ponds, pointing and flushing grouse into impenetrable labyrinths of leafiness. It was bliss, but no bear.