Friday, December 30

Wildfowl Ninja

Always Alert...

The cedar covered blind is his dojo, as he speaks in hushed tones and listens in reverence to the camo clad occupants. He knows that he is the there to learn from the Sensei ShadowGrass, as well as Master Max-4. They deliver nuggets of wisdom on the caloric value of Slim Jim's versus beef jerky. His young mind digests and stores the sage conversations on decoy placement, steel and non-toxic ballistic attributes, and what kind of shotgun Wile E. Coyote would prefer (Acme Accelerator 12 gauge, no doubt)

Above all, he is a patient, considerate apprentice.  Happy to set up dekes, pour hot chocolate and remain statue-still, he is a good sport and I am delighted that he sits next to me.

Once he completes hunter safety and can bring his Weatherby 20 gauge Christmas present onto the field, I know that the inclusion of his 20 gauge round interspersing with other shot going downrange will add another layer of understanding to his inquisitive mind.

When he shoulders the Weatherby, he will have a laser like focus on the bird (not the barrel)

He is the Wildfowl Ninja (in training)

Not content to complete a two dimensional blind placement drawing, the Wildfowl Ninja goes 3-D.
Note: according to him, the turkey leg is a “snack”. He knows my culinary proclivities well.

Turkey Legs for the Long Haul

Sunday, December 25

Sleigh Kebab!!

Santa got run over by a…F-104 Starfighter?!

psst, NORAD...tracking Santa a little close, eh?

I have to give it to the guy..With your main prop being a F-104 Starfighter, the coolness factor was pretty high.  Like any boy-man, I have a long fascination with jets and anything that goes supersonic (added bonus for 20MM Vulcan cannon)

However, when I took in the whole scene, my initial glee turned to concern over the mental health of the creators of this Christmas menagerie, which I will title “Sleigh Kebab”  (alternate title suggestions welcome)

Quite a Happy Scene

There is some tongue in cheek and I get that, but this is also on the main thoroughfare between two towns and am sure that it was a good conversation starter.  “Will we still have Christmas?...Does Santa have another sleigh?..Will Rudolf be ok?”, wide-eyed little Timmy asks  from the back of the minivan, as his parents accelerate past the holiday mayhem and change the subject to cleaning up the pile of discarded cheddar Goldfish at his feet.  
Peppered with over 4,800 questions a day, I am sure those in the front seat would rather not tackle why Rudolf is getting sucked into a General Electric J79 turbojet engine capable of Mach 1.8 on afterburner (sorry for the geek specs)
Considering that they could afford to have a jet moved onto their property, I hope that they put as much effort into providing for those in need as providing a grim view of their Christmas vision. Be safe in the knowledge that Rudolf made it out ok.

Capt. Claus got a new ride.

I heard the afterburner kick in around midnight.

Merry Christmas from Eastern Shore Outdoors!!

Sunday, December 18

Better to Hunt with Your Children than Hunt for Your Children.

Almost Ready for the Second Split

 I started woodworking with my son when he was close to four, as it provided time for us to be together and build things that last. His younger sister got her own nail apron a few years later and joined the sanding and hammering fun. The cuts were not always straight and the nails not in a perfect line, but the projects were ours. The first project, a birdhouse, lasted through hurricanes and still swings in the tree in the front yard of the house we sold six years ago.

 Soon enough, tack hammers were replaced with 16 ounce hammers; hand saws with saber saws. They enjoy designing and then building their creation. The latest projects, I admit, were for their Dad. One was to build stakes for goose silouettes given to me by my son and the other was a gun cradle to cleainng and light gunsmithing.
SBE II in gun cradle

 Correction, as the latter project is for my son and me. You see, there is a 20 gauge Weatherby that will need to be cleaned before Christmas. I hope to be out in the field with them soon, hence the title of the post.

Thursday, December 15

Stolen: Acrylic Strait Meat Honker…Reward if Returned!

 It was the last straw. After another brutal week at the work, I return to my car and find that my goose call is missing. Yes, stolen from my car. I devise ways to exact comeuppance upon the unfortunate soul who "lifted" the call. I can see it now. Walking across the parking lot to [pick a big box store], a dude calls me over to his vintage 1985 Honda Prelude held together with duct tape and caulk and painted primer grey. As I expect him to ask if I want to buy some speakers [remind me to find out who still buys 20" woofers in a wood laminate casing the size of a filing cabinet], I am surprised to hear that he wants to know if I want to buy a goose call. Not any goose call, he tells me, but a “Folles Mahgrah-ter Strayht Meet Hahnker with a smohk bar-ell”…..and a small scratch near the band!!

 As the police arrive and convince me to release my grip on this poor soul’s windpipe, my anger fades as his toes scrape the asphalt. I do not have to convince the police, as they know the fate of a thief who takes a man’s goose call. It is akin to taking his gun and expecting that he will not be given an additional wire brushing for his inability to understand the bond between middle aged men and their gear.

 My melancholy mood continued for twelve hours as I doubted my sanity, muttering under my breath hobo-style that, …“ I never lose anything, what’s my problem!!” I checked the car three times, at night and day, in case the shadows hid the call. Looking through the leaves outside the car door delivered no results and, of course, it did not help I was looking for a Max-4 camo case.

 Despondency progressed… As I readied myself to find another killer eBay deal for the SMH, I checked my briefcase for the fifth time and there it was. In my office, I looked at it on my desk for a few hours and doubted its actual existence. I smiled and knew that I was given a second chance to master the call.

After all, it is not the Arrow, but the Indian.

Monday, November 14

Waterfowl Festival Part II

Willa, Webster and Friend
  It was the 41st annual Waterfowl Festival in Easton, MD this last weekend and the weather was as spectacular as many of the events in town.  This is one of the premier events for those, who like the non-profit that sponsor’s it , are “...dedicated to wildlife conservation, the promotion of wildlife art, and the celebration of life on Maryland''s Eastern Shore."
Many of you may have remembered that Easton ranked 40th of 200 in the 2011 Outdoor Life rating of best small towns for outdoorsman, based on the prime local goose hunting and superb angling opportunities on the Chesapeake Bay.

As for the Waterfowl Festival, here is a rundown of some of the more popular events or venues:

Dock Dogs:
 Who doesn't like watching a retriever run at full speed, launch off a dock and land in a ginormous splash? The Dock Dogs event at the Waterfowl Festival is one of the big draws, particularly for the under 12 set.  As there are many venues that do not cater to this demographic, this event offers good action and a good soaking.  This has become an annual stop for many. In a nutshell, here is what it entails: A retriever (or other water dog) runs down a 40 foot dock and launches into a 40 foot pool, ever eying the decoy that was thrown for him/her.  The Big Air event has all levels of canine competitors from Novice, for jumps 10 feet and under, to Über Elite, for jumps 25 feet plus. (It is actually the Super Elite class, but since I found the umlaut, I had to use it)

Triple Vision Parker!
 Artifacts and Sportsman’s Pavilion:
 Two other interesting venues are the waterfowl artifacts and the Sportsman’s Pavilion.
The waterfowl artifacts, housed at Easton High School, include many beautiful 18th and 19th century decoys and fowling guns, as well as restored sneak boats and sink boxes.  Many of these were items are well documented in The Outlaw Gunner, a fine book by Dr. Harry M. Walsh.
Excellent written information accompanies many of the older pieces, and there are also historians on hand to describe the early days of waterfowling on the Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay in general.

  Offering modern day equivalents of the artifacts, the Sportsman Pavilion had many offerings. From modular blinds to duck boats, ATV’s to layout blinds and the latest gear for the well dressed hunter (think Drake Old School, though there were some upland options), there was something for everyone. Well represented were many local hunt clubs and organizations.  While Jeff Foiles was not there (could have used the Dock Dogs pool for a dunk tank and I understand he is being fitted for striped camo), there were other call manufacturers. Local powerhouse Sean Mann Outdoors had a few booths and their guys were more than happy to give impromptu clinics on their short reed WingNutz and Eastern Shoreman line of flute calls. Since moving here five years ago, I have known these guys to be top notch and great with beginner and advanced callers, as well. These flutes are great beginner calls and have been used to win the World Goose Calling Championships. His website is definitely worth a look.

Bankes Duck Boat
 Art at the Armory:
 While there were paintings and sculptures of lions and giraffes (of which I have not seen in the Easton environs for at least five years), there were plenty of excellent wildfowl and nature scenes. I particularly enjoyed the work of Rob Leslie, whose paintings of ducks with waterfowlers working decoy sets in the background were evocative of past hunts. Also in attendance was Pat Pauley from Iowa, whose realistic works have been commissioned by the National Wild Turkey Federation.  I had a very informative conversation on his method and found him to be a down to earth artist/hunter/conservationist whose work is first class.

Town of Easton:
 The town of Easton was buzzing all three days, as the weather was great and with streets blocked off there was a lot of room to explore. Through town, which was founded in 1710, visitors were admiring award winning sculptures in tents, cheer was being offered by the glass at wine and beer tasting venues and bands were playing Clapton as cream of crab soup was ladled nearby. Not sure there is anything else I need. Except to introduce others to what I find an exciting sport and pastime: Eastern Shore Waterfowling

Friday, November 11

Waterfowl Festival and Scouting

Sunday is for Scouting.

 That was one of many hunting mantras of a friend, who managed environmental matters at the Nylon 66 plant where I once worked. As you can't hunt on Sundays, that was the day for scouting. Makes sense, but Sundays are generally loaded with other items on the docket.  So today, it was Friday is for Scouting. Loaded with all sorts of gear and my Muck boots, I drove south of Cambridge, MD in search of walk-in hunting opportunities for ducks and geese. First off, this part of the world is marsh central and I should have worn chest waders.

 They don't call it Blackwater because it sounds tough. I realized this after stepping into an abyss that swallowed my leg to the hip.  Pants dry (note to self: bring extra socks) and it was sunny and in the high 50's. There were some promising areas, but you really need a jon boat, though a canoe would work in many areas. While the water is "skinny" (shallow in the greenhorn vernacular), the bottom is super silty and you may need a winch to pull your boot out. Overall, it was a good day out and I made it home in time for the calling competitions for the Waterfowl Festival.

 Every year, they have the World Championship Goose Calling Contest. They also hold the Mason-Dixon Regional Duck Calling competition, where the winner goes to the World's in Stuttgart (Arkansas, not Germany) I watched many of the entrants for the duck calling and these guys were incredible.  However, there are so many geese on the Eastern Shore that goose calling is the real draw.  While I enjoy competition calling with all the incredible vocal tricks that these guys perform, I find that the live goose competition is much more interesting. As the callers try to imitate live geese, their 90 seconds can be completely different between the callers.  Closing your eyes, you could imagine that these are the sounds that you hear overhead every day, or hear when a gander feeds on the ground. I was just as delighted to hear this as I was to share this with my son and daughter.

As the next two days of the Waterfowl Festival unfold, I hope to talk to a few of the callers to get some tips. Those days I relish where I can get outside, further my knowledge, and be in the company of true experts. What could be better? Buying a new shotgun? Oh I forgot, that was how the day started.

Monday, October 31

Opening Day Goose Season - 2010 (was in draft and never posted..out of Chronological order)

Date:  11-20-10
Where: Near Claiborne, Maryland
Who: CP and JLP
Area Hunted: Field of cut soybeans, with grass growing. It was a late cut of the field

Harvested: 2 geese
Weather: Mid 50's, sunny, high clouds, full moon
Time of Day: 15:00-17:30
Gun:  Benelli Super Black Eagle II
Choke: Carlson Extended Super Steel Mid Range
Ammo: Hevi-Shot 3"/ #2 /12 GA
Decoy: Dozen magnum shells and 18 silhouettes
Wind: 0-5 MPH from NNW
Clothes: Bean Boots, thick cotton socks, Patagonia thermal, Browning Shadow Grass shirt, duck pants, Drake boonie; Parka (but did not wear)
Personal Comfort: very comfortable, feet warm
Left Behind: goose flag; more powerful flashlight (Princeton Tec); consider bringing Powerbelt for ammo, as it is always there. Bring pruning clippers for blind brushing and clearing "view holes".  
What I learned: Focus on the eye of one bird, swing through the head and yank.  I was looking at the body and missing.  Take your time and wait til they are closer; there is enough time. They are slower than clays. Deliberate Action.  If there is a cripple, wait til the shooting stops and let everyone know you are going after it. Unload your gun and high tail it. Load a slapper round (#6) and aim above the head. Consider trimming some branches in front of blind to see better.
Calling:  Eastern Shoreman. I was rusty and needed to practice, but had a few good calls. Lost insert of Dad's old wooden goose call while hightailing after wounded goose.
Decoy Pattern: Long C with X at blind

Wednesday, October 12

45.02501, -110.18206: A Yellowstone Creek to Explore and a Fly Rod

Leaving the ranch, we ventured downstream to find pools that held trout, mostly cutthroat in this part of Montana, but also browns (check this fact). The grass was high, as we approached the creek, and it covered gopher holes of the dinner plate diameter, leg breaking variety. Avoiding these, we marched on in cadence with the soft ding of the bear bell on my pack.  We were below the small falls and rapids and at this point of its path, Slough Creek began to flatten and started to follow a slow “S” shaped route.  The Gore-Tex did not keep my feet dry once my leg was in a foot of water, as I trudged from bank to bank.  The plan was to recon downstream and then fish up.

My partner, Joe, found a pool where trout were “sipping”, as I walked further down toward a part of the creek, I had seen from a hike along a parallel wagon trail. There are no motorized vehicles allowed so the trail provided the route for food and dry goods for those at the ranch.

By a leaning pine, I found a pool along the bank under the riffles of a gentle drop.  There I lost my first fly, a green hopper. Walking upstream, I came upon a pool with two dead trees and a nice hole.  I worked my cast, concentrating on the water. My line seemed lighter. Odd, I thought as I reeled it in. This is not good, I reflected, looking at the broken loop on the end of the backing. As a neophyte, I was unsure of the fix for this as I did not have a leader. I continued my recon up where Joe was fishing a pool. The concentration of his crouch as he watched his fly float indicated that this was a hot spot. “They are all around here”, he whispered.  His tone signaled that this was the best spot yet. As I watched him and mentally took measure of the fluidity of his cast and precise presentation of the fly, I witnessed the swirl and shadowed broadside of a trout. Joe reeled in and showed me exactly where to cast. Under the opposite bank were at least two submerged trees providing cover from the sun and the current flowed right by, sweeping any unlucky bugs [t] into the kill zone for the trout.

Letting out line, I swept my rod from “10 to 2 o’clock”.  Joe provided patient instruction, as I tried to keep the line off the water. The line dropped, the fly landed shy of the hole, but drifted out in an arc away, then back toward me. Letting it float, watching patiently, reeling it in. The next cast (or perhaps the hundredth and next cast), landed in the sweet spot of the hole and I was rewarded by watching the fly getting pulled under the gin clear waters by a hungry trout.

Now I understand that it was in the specialized gear and technique that fly fishing offers which provides the best way to deliver a lure to these trout: the presentation. 

Isn’t that what it is all about? Using the tools at hand to provide the highest probability of catching a fish. And having a great time with a good friend.

Sunday, October 9

In the Waters Off Aquinnah

Standing hip deep in the gentle waves on the west coast of Martha's Vineyard, the water was blue and near seventy degrees. Looking down, I could see stripers swimming around my legs. Stripers swimming around my legs. 15”  to 20” sleek striped bass swimming along this sandy trough uncaring of this interloper among them. Exhilarated at the thought that we shared the same space and just coexisted, I almost took my rod to shore as I bathed in a Cousteauian moment of Utopian harmony. Almost.

I was “fan” casting with an eight foot rod and a trusty Penn Reel (Made in USA version) about 40 feet from shore in four feet of water when it happened. I had been working a Hopkin’s spoon with a dressed hook and had a few bites, but no hookups. Startled at first, seeing a 30” fish in gin clear saltwater within an arm’s length was incredible enough, but watching him curl around my lure as he bumped it and took a taste was freaky . As quickly as it registered that dinner was taken care of, the large blue turned tail and swam away.

Friday, June 24

Ghillie My Ride

In the hot summer months of July and August, the fields wilt under the wet blanket of humidity. The waters are tepid and the fishing slow. You can "hunt" clays but even standing in the midday sun is pretty toasty. A few months ago, I decided to rekindle my first outdoor love: cycling.

If there has been a constant in my life (as far as outdoor pursuits), it has been that since the age of five, I have always had a bicycle. I have joked that my brothers taught me how to fishtail as The Way to Stop.  Whether as a bicycle messenger in DC or jumping my Schwinn Stingray from ramp to ramp with a Kneivelesque wipeout, my bikes have always been game. Though it was on the bruising end and I tried subconsciously to destroy it, the infernal Iron Horse always came back for more punishment.  Older and (hopefully) wiser, I now treat them as I do my shotgun: by keeping them in excellent operational condition knowing they are taking the brunt of the action, while I sit back and enjoy the ride, so to speak.

My bikes have changed over the years, as components have worn out, been replaced and I finally replace my faithful steed for a newer model.  From the early 70’s Stingrays tricked out for BMX action and European 10 Speeds (Gitane and Motobecane) to the 80’s Japanese 12 Speed (Nishiki) and early Mountain bikes (Trek and Specialized), all have been excellent companions.  It is funny that although I view a car and a bike as a tool and rail against the depreciation of a car as an unfortunate purchase byproduct, I never have thought as a bike in the same way. Granted, you cannot sell it once it is ridden “into the ground”, but it has provided physical and spiritual well-being that a car cannot. While I do use the cab of the Tacoma as my “think tank” for the 120 mile (roundtrip) commute each day, I find that the same time on my bike provides more productive deep thinking. I am the most efficient, when noodling through a problem, if I am multi-tasking. In college, I would bring a small voice recorder and dictate my term papers as I pedaled along the C&O Canal or on the Capital Crescent Trail near DC.  As I engage my pedals, my mind engages in the mental task at hand.

Saying the Eastern Shore is flat is an understatement. I can stand on a beer can and see Scientist Cliffs across the Bay. While the mountain biker in me yearns for more vertically challenging terrain, the spider web of quiet, empty rural roads allow for exploration of the beautiful landscape.  With the farm fields allowing unhindered airflow from the Bay, Choptank or other points on the compass, you will generally have a head or tailwind. With the extra morning light as we have now Sprung Forward, I have gone back to to ride in the morning.  With a new bike and a new season of riding in front of me, I will need to keep a close eye out as I missed a deer by about six feet last November. Considering that the buck did not see me (or gore me) this might prove to be the ultimate portable blind. All that remains now is to ghillie my ride.


Bike Blind (patent pending)

Thursday, January 6

Why I Write and Why I Have Not

I love to write.  I enjoy crafting a sentence and then distilling it to its essence.  The product of my thoughts is for my enjoyment and to make me consciously review and analyze the experience. 

The idea of cataloguing experience and thought was part of me before I decided to be an English Major (though I wound up with a degree in Finance). The reason I do not write more is borne of my faulty belief that one day I will catch up and put ink to paper. Time goes by too quickly to rely on my aging memory to be able to pull the once precise observations and allow them to be saved for me to see later.

Just as my photographs capture the untarnished moment, so must my words provide the caption to my adventures.  So here is a photograph of what looks like bulls standing their ground in a field near Easton. Next post, I will leave a caption and no photograph and I will be heartened that I have words to look back on one day, that will fill in the gaps of my memory.

Opening Day - Second Split of Goose Season

Date: 12-16-10

Time of Day: 0700 to 1130

Where: Saint Michaels, MD

Who: John M. , Al V. , John N. and Jake the golden retriever

Area Hunted: Open field; not sure of crop type; flat

Blind Type: Piano blind; ~12 foot, with cedar tree brushing on front and brown base coat of paint

Temperature: hovered between high 20’s and low 30’s

Weather: overcast; no wind until light wind and snow started. Less than an inch was on the ground at the time we drove off the field (and found the one goose that was hit and crash landed)

Direction Facing (compass bearing from blind: “12 o’clock” at front of blind): ~130 Degrees

Gun: Benelli Super Black Eagle II

Choke: Carlson Extended Super Steel Mid Range

Ammo: Hevi-Shot 2 ¾” and 3”/ #2 /12 GA

Decoys: Mix of Big Foot full body and shells, with approximately 12 full bodies and 12 shells

Wind: light, leass than 3 mph

Calling: Sean Mann Eastern Shoreman poly. Got in the rhythm and was told my feeding call helped with a flock.

Clothes: UA Metal, Patagonia top, UA long underwear, Patagonia fleece vest, liner socks, SmartWool mid-weight and Mucks, LL Bean canvas pants, UA Glomitts, UA balaclava, Drake boonie, Cabela’s parka with liner zipped in. Also, brought UA beanie and extra gloves in pocket.

Personal Comfort: comfortable, feet warm in new Mucks

Left Behind: goose flag

What I Learned: make sure that you can expose your trigger finger, and mount your gun with ease, ensuring it will not get hung up on blind, etc. Also, should probably tell the partner that if you are heads down, they need to call the shot. Always bring face mask and darker shooting glasses. Always wear hearing protection and use the Silencios (which I need to keep in gun case outer pocket). Next time, wear your glasses/brim down. Pick the bird and don’t stop shooting until it hits the ground.

Decoy Pattern: the decoy were placed in 3 spots. At our 7 o’clock, John set up four in a line that he called the “safety”, or confidence, geese. John commented that he believes these help provide a sense of safety for incomers. The remaining two groups were set up in: a open circular grouping of ~8 full bodies and shells at our 11 o’clock; and a teardrop with the remaining 10 dekes. The teardrop starts at 12 o’clock and curves to our 2 o’clock with the “drop” containing more dekes. This three grouping set created a nice X right in front of the group. and allowed nice size and safezone.

Personal Observations: Fun guys to hunt with; good conversation and insightful hunting commentary; always looking or a better way of doing things, they were commenting on everything from decoy placement, calling rhythms to proper blind placement at a new potential site we recconed after we left the field.

Concentration on the head of the bird was the key to my shooting success. I looked at the head, let the wings “not” appear in my vision. The first kill was a finishing shot on a bird that had been winged. Shortly thereafter, a flock came in from our 2 o’clock position and as he landed I sent shot downrange.  The resulting headshot caused him to crater into the ground.