Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Here We Go...

So better late than never.  I'm off to the wilds of the Bruce Peninsula tomorrow evening for a couple of days.  I've had a bunch of random crap that I've been wanting to post here to make you chuckle in the last couple of days, but other (read: paying) commitments have waylaid those plans.  I'll have some updates Saturday evening or Sunday during the day, and here's hoping I've got some pics and/or video of a successful hunt to share with everyone.

Hope everyone is having some turkey hunting success out there wherever you are hunting.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Final Countdown...for Ontario Turkey Hunters

In about 30 hours many Ontario turkey hunters will be silently pressing doors shut, stalking silently through dark spring woods, nestling in at the base of broad trees, and getting ready for the start of another spring turkey season.

As the promised hour strikes, shotgun shells will be slid into place, arrows will be nocked, and crossbows will be drawn and cocked.  Purrs, clucks, flydown cackles, and all sorts of yelps (both of the authentic variety and our human interpretations) will ring through the dusky pre-dawn.  In some parts of the province the morning will be misty, others will find it drizzly, and some will hunt in morning air that echoes in clarity and crispness.

Good luck to all of you, and may your calls be answered with lusty gobbles, and the unmistakable spitting and drumming of tom turkeys as they approach.

Due to work commitments (at my real job) my opening day will be Wednesday morning, where I will be found rambling through the local public tract of forests, hoping for my own success this year.

I've got a line on two public land gobblers (finally...provided that they survive until Wednesday morning) so here's hoping that the coming days and weeks will find Get Out & Go Hunting filled with not only my stories and photos, but with some tales from the field provided by you, the readers.

All the best, and good hunting!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

When Something is Harder Than it Looks

I had a low-fat pudding cup with my lunch today, all as part of my greater long term goals of becoming a pseudo-healthy individual.  So instead of having a chocolate bar or some candy to actually leave me feeling satisfied after my lunch of high-fibre rabbit food…I had a low-fat pudding cup.  Or more accurately I attempted to have a low-fat pudding cup.  This particular pudding company (who shall remain nameless) seems to think their pudding should be sealed in the same manner as deadly toxic waste, and removing the foil covering of this particular dessert treat was nothing short of a baffling ordeal.

This particular piece of foil was attached to the cup portion with some sort of inconceivably strong adhesive.  Based on the colourful cartoon marketing on the foil, this product is aimed at children.  Either children of today have developed titanically powerful thumbs and forefingers (and given the rise of handheld technology in cellphones and video games, such a conclusion is not out of the question) or this is some sort of sick irony on the part of this company to tease children with the allure of secretly unobtainable pudding.

Nevertheless I persevered.  With hands and wrists aching with the strain of trying to remove this foil in one clean piece, the foil finally relented…the adhesive did not though and as the foil tore, I spilled gooey delicious pudding on my desk and my person.  It was not quite a pudding explosion, but it was enough of a mess that I let out a muted curse on the souls of the pudding oligarchs that conspired to leave me in this chocolate stained predicament.

Maybe my curse was not muted enough though; the woman in the adjacent cubicle snickered softly at my failure…not surprising really since I have developed a reputation as a witty but comically inept co-worker when it comes to the subject of social graces.

Once again I’ve started a hunting story from a non-sequitur.  Here’s how the minutia of my corporate existence relates to this blog.

There are “a lot of turkeys in Ontario” now, or so it seems.  There are certainly more than there were thirty years ago.  This past weekend I travelled the #6 Highway up to the Bruce Peninsula in search of some of those “abundant” birds.  I was scouting likely spots for the coming weeks of spring turkey hunting, which was going to “probably be pretty easy”.

The quotes come from a friendly but not entirely well-informed gentleman I met while I was having lunch with my uncle at the famous Lion’s Head Inn (an establishment which has passed my rigorous standards and now possesses my highly sought-after stamp of approval….read: good food, good service, cheap beer)

This man was quaintly polite in that, rural, ‘not shy about striking up a conversation about anything’ kind of way that I genuinely enjoy.  We talked briefly about federal politics, the weather, and upcoming events.  When the topic came around to my twin goals of attending a cousin’s stag & doe party and doing some scouting for wild turkeys, this nice man said that he had seen “hundreds of turkeys” and that since there were “a lot of turkeys in Ontario now, scouting ought to probably be pretty easy”.  That’s a direct quote.

He later referred to wild turkey populations as abundant, and commented that my cousin’s stag & doe party should be a pretty wild and fun event.  He was dead-on correct on the last point, but that’s a whole other story.

To the other statements, yes there are quite a few wild turkeys around in Ontario now and in some areas they are so abundant it is true that they have reached near-nuisance proportions.  Scouting however, is not necessarily what I would call ‘easy’.  Sure it is easier than running a marathon or going through childbirth, but it is not a “show up, see a turkey, come back in a few days and shoot said bird” sort of exercise either as some would have you believe.  If it is, they must be doing it wrong because the vast majority of hunters that I know put in a lot more effort than that.

And so it was that Saturday morning saw me primed and ready to go scouting.  A bitterly cold rain put those plans on hold.  Then I had lunch and the conversation with the friendly man mentioned above.  After lunch the rain stopped, and although the skies stayed a low, cloudy, grey, and a wind began to howl a bit, I hit the road.

I stopped first, symbolically, at the last place that I had encountered the Pines Gobbler in 2010.   I got out, walked around a bit looking for signs of turkey activity while periodically squawking on my crow call.  It got the post-rain crows fired up and curious, but not a single shock gobble rang out.  It was also at this point that I realized that I had forgotten my camera at the farmhouse, so I am unable to show you pictures of the vast areas of low shrub that were over-browsed by deer in this particular spot.  Honestly, it looked like someone had come through with pruners and snipped off all the shrubs down to a height of three feet.

Returning to my vehicle, I looped the block slowly with the radio off and the window down, looking for turkey tracks in the soft shoulder and listening for a yelp or a gobble.


I made my way back to Highway #6 and powered north.  I stopped at my cousin’s new house and travelled back a two-track road to an isolated field.  I shut off and walked back a few hundred yards before blaring on the crow call again.  Still no gobbling.

I made a run up to a block south of Cape Chin that has historically held some turkey sign, but again found and saw nothing.  In the interim the rain began to drizzle down periodically and the wind picked up.  Not exactly great weather for observing turkey movement, but I was out there anyways and I wasn’t going to turn back for a few sprinkles of rain.

I went to Cape Chin North and stopped at many of the fields along the way, looking along field edges for turkeys, and paying close attention to the shelter offered by hummocks of cedar and balsam.  Still no sightings.

I went down another two track road to our deer hunting camp and walked a couple of kilometres of ATV trail back to a spot far-removed from prying human eyes.  Although I was (finally) fortunate enough to come across a single, reasonably large, turkey track in the mud, the solitude of the abandoned and overgrown field offered only that: solitude.  The rain was intermittent so I leaned against an old apple tree and observed some of the life moving around me.  Two squirrels scurried about, chasing after one another.  A pair of mallard ducks circled silently, the wind muffling the whistling of their wings and the slate sky serving as a contrasting backdrop to the poison-green head of the drake.  Small songbirds flitted about, not really bothered at all by my impertinent intrusion into this quiet woodland spot, and the turkeys gobbled not.  After about ten minutes of pondering (about what I can’t even really recall) I began to march back to the vehicle, leaving the spot exactly as I found.  I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with more purpose; hopefully a tom turkey will be there too.

I drove the East Road up to the spot where it terminated at a T-intersection with the Dyers Day Road.  Turning right I headed towards the village that lent its name eponymously to the road.  I stopped at another two-track road and walked for ten minutes back to a hidden field, kicking a ruffed grouse up along the way.  I’d hunted this field for the previous two springs, hearing a gobbler there in 2010, but never laying eyes on the bird.  Turkey sign there was a scarce as it was at every other place I had been to that day.  My ears were aching to hear a gobbler, no matter how distant.

Back on the road, I stopped to observe the hum of waterfowl life in a flooded field, or more accurately two flooded fields since both sides of the road were mostly submerged in shallow spring melt.  The right side of the road held a gaggle of Canada geese, some mallards looking stately, and a small mob of six or seven greenwing teal.  When I pulled the car over to the shoulder, the teal exploded up and flew off in that swerving, mazy way that teal do.  Not surprisingly, although I’ve shot at teal in the fall, I’ve never put a single pellet on one.  The left side of the road held more mallards, a couple of hooded merganser drakes with their striking black and white crests on full display, and twenty ring-necked ducks.  I’ve always liked ring-necked ducks, and they porpoised and dove as they swam away from my parked car.  I was temporarily excited to see to larger gray shapes against the trees a few hundred yards away, but on closer inspection with my binoculars I saw that the shapes were in fact a pair of Sandhill cranes.

A word about Sandhill cranes.  In flight the may soar, but on the ground they have such an ungainly, awkward gait, with a stooped, shambling posture that they are almost comical.  I imagine bumping into one of these birds unexpectedly in the dawn or dusk would be particularly frightening, and it is little wonder that many of the Jersey Devil sightings of the last few hundred years are attributed to chance, surprise encounters with Sandhill cranes.  This particular pair was moving in a slow, hunched way that was almost menacing.  Something must have startled them, because as I sat on the shoulder of the road, they came trotting and then flying up the field, crossing in front of my car about forty yards up in the air.  I rolled my window down and was delighted to hear their trumpeting, ululating call.

I moved on and checked into two other spots that I’d hunted before in the Dyer’s Bay area but to no avail.  Then the rain came back.  As I decided to call it an afternoon, two birds of prey whooshed past my car, flying down the country road almost at eye level.  They were apparently engaged some kind of pursuit, the lead bird was most definitely a kestrel, which is a pretty common little falcon in the area.  The pursuing bird was much larger and darker and I can say with some certainty that it was neither a Red-tailed hawk nor a Northern goshawk.  It may have been a Cooper’s Hawk, but my accipiter identification skills have fallen into disrepair, so I can’t be certain.  They towered away into the hardwoods and I can only assume the chase continued.

Having given up and with the weather deteriorating, I rolled up my windows, put the binoculars away and headed back west along the Dyers Bay Road towards Highway #6.

Halfway to the highway, between passes of the wiper blades I could see a dozen or so black blobs moving across a field ahead on my left.  Sure enough, it was a group of wild turkeys.  I pulled over and rolled the window down, getting a blast of cold, mid-April drizzle in the face.  I scrambled out my binoculars again and trained my optics on the cluster of birds that was making a hasty retreat into the woods.  I counted ten birds in all, and I could clearly see three longbeards; one was exceptionally big.  The rest were either hens or jakes, and in a matter of seconds all had reached the safety of the woods.  I noted the exact location of the field, the time of day, and how many birds I had seen.

After over three hours, varying degrees of miserable weather, and a quarter tank of gas, I had seen some birds.  But all those metrics are irrelevant in a way, because had I not seen any wild turkeys at all that day, I still had been privy to the small dramas and day-to-day trials of the wildlife that calls the area home, events that scores of people will never have the benefit of seeing first hand.  It was a relaxing, centring experience and for good measure I got a line on some birds.

That evening at my cousin’s stag & doe party after a little bit of ale and a dram or two of whiskey had crossed my lips, I talked with my hunting pals about turkey seasons past and future, the hockey playoffs, life in general, the day's scouting, and this blog.  My other cousin’s husband Chris (who himself is a very recent, and very enthusiastic, convert to the hunting fraternity) suggested a tour of scouting in the same area the next morning at 7am.  I couldn’t say no even if I wanted to.  And I didn’t want to.

At 9am the next morning, with the countryside under a ¼ inch of snow, Chris came by to pick me up (it was, as I said earlier, a very 'successful' stag & doe party).  We travelled the same spots, talked about hunting, bounced some turkey calls off each other, shared some stories, and witnessed a whole new day of wilderness life.  We saw three times as many turkeys together as I had seen the day before, and even thought of some strategies to implement when it comes time in a week to go after these birds.  Then a blizzard blew in, visibility was reduced, and the turkeys sought shelter.

Chris and I decided to go get breakfast.  There were bacon and eggs, hash-browns, and toast, but there was no sign of difficult-to-open-pudding anywhere.

So there it is, opening a pudding cup ought to be easy, but sometimes it is deceptively tough.  Likewise it is with turkey scouting; there are birds out there, and sometimes they show up in the damnedest of places.  But it is not easy, and the rewards are not always as obvious (or sweet) as a spoonful of pudding.

But unlike my ordeal with the pudding cup, there are fringe benefits to be had when crossing the rural and wilderness landscapes by car or by foot, primarily the reward of being a player in the real world toils of wildlife, as opposed to being a passive observer just sitting at home watching the latest documentary about migration on NOVA.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go pre-treat my pants for the laundry.  After all nothing gets chocolate out.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Taboo of the Day: Dealing With Death

As a warning I’ll try to keep this post from getting too graphic or too heavy, but this has been on my mind much of the day.

Last night was a funny night…funny strange, not funny like a joke.  It might have been the half-moon or it might have been the turn of (long overdue) warm weather we’re experiencing here, but the raccoons were seemingly going berserk in Cambridge last night.

I had one of my last indoor soccer games last night, and when I pulled into the parking lot at the sports dome a big, fat, healthy-looking raccoon sat up on its haunches and watched me park me car.  Even though I could not shake the feeling that this particular raccoon was judging my park job, I’ve seen raccoons before so I moved quickly on to my game.  A couple of hours later, after my game and after some obligatory post-match conversation I left for home.  While I was waiting at a red light, a different, smaller raccoon crossed the road, anthropomorphically, at the crosswalk.  I did not observe if it looked both ways first.  I saw a third raccoon (more on this in a second) and then finally encountered a fourth as it sauntered up the gravel shoulder of the main road near my home.  I hadn’t seen four raccoons in the last six months, and here were four of them on one ten minute span of driving.  Skews the percentages a wee bit, I must say.

But back to the third raccoon.

I encountered this little fellow on a major three lane stretch of road, specifically Highway 401 just west of the Hespeler Road off ramp.  When I saw this animal it was about 40 yards ahead of me and already crossing from my lane (the right hand lane) into the centre lane.  This particular raccoon met his demise quite immediately under the right front tire of an eighteen wheeler that was travelling at over 100km/h.  I don’t think it is too inaccurate or graphic to say that this raccoon met his end by literally exploding.  No twitching, no writhing, and I presume no pain whatsoever.  Just a puff of fur and red moisture.  No time to swerve and no need to stop, as it was obvious that this specimen was beyond reprieve.

This instantly struck a nerve with me and I felt a weird mixture of remorse, sadness, and a briefly retching nausea at this scene.  It all happened so quickly that it was, in a word, shocking.  One second the animal was alive, microseconds later it was not.  Simple as that.  Moments later, while still in my mind, the feelings had basically subsided.  BUt maybe it was this event that made me keenly aware of the fourth raccoon closer to my home.

I related this tale last night to my wife and today to a co-worker.  While my wife just grimaced and made a sympathetic noise for the untimely end of this particular little ex-raccoon, my co-worker could not understand why this bothered me for even a second…when I pressed her on why she thought I was some sort of remorse-free monster, she said that I kill animals all the time so she just thought I had become numb to dealing with death.

Far from it.

I’m paraphrasing, but a hunter more qualified than I once wrote that they always felt a little bit sad and conflicted when they were successful in killing an animal.  They hinted that it was an act that forced the hunter to deal with the reality of killing for their food; a reality that was miles removed from what most experience when they buy the nice, clean stuff wrapped in plastic on a Styrofoam tray.  This particular writer embraced the introspection that those feelings forced him to deal with, and argued that those feelings were as much a part of the hunt as the pursuit, the kill, and the memories.  I could not (literally) have said it better myself.

Any animal, whether it is road-killed, hunted, or processed at an industrial facility for mass consumption has a life with some value; it is certainly valuable at the very least to that specific animal, which is why respect for the resource, and an effort to minimize suffering in the act of harvesting should always be the primary concerns of a hunter.  Dicey shot?  Maybe don’t try it.  Not sure if it’s a legal animal.  Again, why risk the shot?  Have a limit already sitting at home in the freezer?  How badly do you need more?  These are all ultimately questions that can only be answered by hunters in the moment, but it is certainly at least worth pondering them now.

And what of my original point, what of raccoon number three?  Well this really bothered me for a couple of reasons.  First, the utter pointlessness of this raccoon’s death.  Second, the split second nature of actually seeing anything’s life instantly (and messily) doused out before one’s eyes is troubling (and if it ever stops being disturbing for me, please make sure someone commits me).  Third, the response of my co-worker, who is a perfectly normal woman with no formal opposition to hunting, seemed to indicate that instead of non-hunters thinking first about the hunting community as conservationists, or of a group upholding their family and cultural traditions, the first thought was (while not malicious) of us as remorseless killers.

I suppose it is all too easy for those don’t participate in hunting, or have no positive exposure to the pastime, or even those with a moral opposition  to hunting at large (which is fine, I have my own moral oppositions to some things as well) to caricaturize us all as gun-toting lunatics with a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality, as takers with no respect for the natural world, or as a bunch of rural reactionaries that are one national crisis away from starting a militia.  Sadly, some in the hunting community, by their actions and the way they describe their hunting experiences, do nothing to dispel this kind of slander.

So the next time someone says to you “I don’t know how you could shoot that animal” or “I think being in the woods would be fun, but I just don’t think I could pull the trigger” don’t get offended, and don’t go into a chest-slappingly macho diatribe about how the world has lost touch with the natural order of predator and prey (these are responses I have seen in the past…luckily from no one in my directly associated hunting group) and just smile, say something perfunctory like “I guess we’re all different” and then maybe explain to them in an honest, humble way how it really is for you.

They might come around, they might not.  But at least they dealt with a civil, polite member of the hunting community that treats the game with the respect that it deserves while simultaneously acknowledging the spectre of death that is ultimately inherent in successful hunting with reverence.  Let's try to not treat the act of killing as an act of self-definition.

Hopefully that is the example that they’ll think of first the next time the meet a hunter.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The 2011 Turkey Odyssey Begins

So I think we’ve officially put winter in its grave here in southwestern Ontario (with perhaps a temporary blip this weekend that will see a brief return to sub-zero temperatures…one day of zombie winter if you will) so I’ve decided that I can really put the spring turkey preparations into high gear.  Even though I’ve been talking about it for almost three months now, I’m officially dubbing today the start of 2011 turkey hunting for me.  Yes, I know the season isn’t open until April 25th, I even posted some links about it.  I’m referring to the arduous process of preparation that is really just a kick-start for the fun.

The gun has been choked, the bags packed, and the vest prepared for some time now, but one notable handicap persists: I have not been able to get a good line on a local bird.  As mentioned in an earlier post on the subject, landowner permission has been a non-starter in the area so I’m giving up and focusing on scouting in the county forests as priority number one.  I’m also trying to put together a scout-a-thon on the Bruce peninsula this coming weekend (with perhaps some festivities thrown in for the Friday and Saturday evenings…who knows?) but getting some turkeys on lockdown up there is still a nebulous endeavour at the current time.  Weekends are touchy in my household currently; daycare is required since my spouse works retail hours and it might not be responsible to bring my twenty-month-old son into the woods with the expectation that he can sit quietly still for a few hours…although maybe I can time his naps right.  Also simple overnight trips to Lion’s Head or even to Barrie are almost out of the question when fuel hovers around $1.30/litre in my neck of the woods.  So, infiltrating the local haunts of some gobblers becomes an even more pressing concern.

It’s not desperation time just yet…but it’s getting close.

I’ve also ramped up my practicing; both in my basement and garage (as those are the only places where I’m really allowed to crank up the volume) it constantly sounds like the drunken happy hour at some unholy wild turkey beer hall.  Suffice it to say that my neighbours (and maybe my wife) hate me at this time of year.  The biggest challenge this year was mastering the rhythm of running a mouth call at the same time as I operate a box or pot call.  I’ve never been too adept at doing two things at once, and the risk is that one will fall into the same yelping or cutting rhythm with both calls…a problem which inevitably ends up sounding like a symphonic and harmonious hen turkey duet.  I will admit that this is actually a pretty cool sound, but it is in no way natural.  I’ve heard two hens barking at each other in the wild and the outcome is usually anything but harmonious.  Luckily, after weeks of endless yelping, cutting, squealing, and kee-keeing I think I’ve got it down and can sound like two or more distinct hen turkeys…yet still the practicing continues.  This is a sickness I tell you, a sickness.

Lastly, my discretionary spending is almost non-existent now (see the section above about gas prices) so the new decoys I was itching for will have to wait another year.  Since I am a gear nut, this is disappointing news in one sense because I was really hungry to get some new, ultra-realistic decoys.  But in another way, since I am a gear nut, this is great news because it means I get to do some cosmetic surgery on my current decoys, a process of maintenance that I thoroughly enjoy regardless of what time of year it is.

Quick sidebar: I once flocked two dozen Canada goose decoy heads inside a 700 sq ft apartment, and then hung the heads by strings over the 6th floor balcony to air dry.  Not only was my apartment and everything in it covered in a fine dust of black flocking material, my wife was enraged and mortified because from the parking lot the dangling decoy heads looked like some macabre set of wind chimes.  The superintendent had some questions and it may have even made the local newspaper…mind you this was all done at a time when I (erroneously) cared much less about what others thought of me or of hunters in general.  Still, it was all pretty ingenious in retrospect.

Anyway, for the turkey dekes, some duct tape, some touch up paint, and maybe some stuffing should do the trick.  They are foam collapsible decoys from Flambeau and despite the manufacturer’s guarantees to the contrary, they hold a dent like mad.  More than once I have found myself attacking them during the pre-season with my wife’s hair dryer in an effort to smooth out the bumps, creases, and dents.  This is of course a completely insane and fruitless undertaking since they become horribly stilted and deformed once they go back into the carrying bag or stuff into the back of my vest.  Last year I even used the steam iron to straighten out the stub of a beard on my jake decoy; it had taken on a distinct, unnatural looking kink while in storage.  Results were…uhhh…mixed.  I’ve always thought about just filling these decoys, stakes and all, with spray foam insulation and eliminating the need to ever have to worry about them looking sunken, misshapen, and flaccid again.  Problem is that I don’t really have a line on a cheap and ready source of spray foam insulation, hence this dream goes unfulfilled.

So with scouting, calling, gear maintenance, and (probably) a lot of driving ahead in the comings weeks it becomes a case of so much to do, so little time.

High stress? Hardly…but here we go again.  I couldn’t be happier.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Right Tool

The inspiration for this post came from a stapler.

I have a cheap, generic black stapler at work, but that bland corporate appearance masks the fact that in reality this stapler is a beast.  It is not very big, but it tears through paper with two powerful steel fangs.  I’ve stapled as many as forty pages of together securely with it, and I think some of my coworkers are getting stapler envy.  It consistently succeeds where lesser staplers would undoubtedly fail.

The stapler is an outwardly simple design, with a humble lever and a couple of springs operating in unison with the sole end of fastening together papers.  I think many inventors would be hard pressed to improve on the stapler, although without a doubt I’m sure many have tried.

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen.  The stapler.

Where is this going?  Good question.

I am not a craftsman so I lack any ethic of intrinsic appreciation for the finer points of mechanics or manufacturing.  Like most of my ilk, I’m just concerned with what works.  Yes, I am aware that the craftsman’s life is much richer than mine.  Stop bragging.

But to that end, in honour of my desk stapler, here’s a brief list of items that hunters can use that offer the esoteric pleasure of pursuing game with tools that are simple but almost flawlessly effective.

A Break Action Shotgun
My first youthful rabbit hunts as a teen were carried out with an absolutely gorgeous 20 gauge Ruger over-under shotgun with a break action.  Even for a gangly and awkward fifteen year old it swung like a dream.  Now that I’m a grown man, it is the most balanced gun that I’ve ever had the pleasure of pointing at game.  I’ve shot it at grouse as they exploded out of snow drifts and rabbits that made mazy runs through bottomlands.  I’ve never gone after waterfowl with it, but I think it would make an exceptional gun for decoying mallards, and at this very moment I am picturing a smooth left to right swing on a plump greenhead as it drops into some secluded backwater and then pulling the trigger crisply as I move the barrel past the drake's beak with a deft, painter’s brushstroke.  Beauty and handling aside, there is a ritualistic satisfaction that comes from loading and unloading this gun, thanks to the simple machinations of the break action.  Pop two shells in, snap shut, fire twice, and pluck two shells from the extractor while savouring the pungent aroma of spent gunpowder.  Also, when I shot that gun I somehow found myself a better and more focused shooter, likely because I knew that I only had two shells in the gun.

A Fixed Blade Knife
I do not actually own a fixed blade hunting knife; my two knives are clean, compact lock-back folding jobs.  I have however used the fixed blade knives of friends and I can say that I am a fan.  A reasonably sized (no need for Crocodile Dundee here) fixed blade knife has clean classic lines, possesses exactly zero moving parts, and when a sharp, gleaming blade is fixed atop a smooth wood (or better yet, bone or horn) handle…well, you can’t get any more simple or effective than that.  Period.  Full stop.

Rubber Boots
They go by many names.  Gumboots.  Wellies.  Rain-boots.  Barn-boots…call them what you will: I am a devoted, and shameless, rubber boot enthusiast.  Perhaps we’ve all been fooled into believing in the scent-proof, space-age fabric, elaborate lacing systems, moisture wicking, $250 a pair voodoo that we are sometimes told, and those products certainly have their merits.  After all, I don’t think I’d like to hit the high Arctic in a pair of Wellies, nor would I want to go chasing Mountain Goats in the Rockies without some real mountaineering footwear.  But for the rank and file of us, do we really need anything more than a pair of well constructed rubber boots?  I say no.  For the average turkey hunter (except perhaps for those in heavy rattlesnake country) rubber boots offer exactly what is most needed; light, un-insulated, reliably waterproof footwear.  Fall waterfowl hunts?  Outside of hip or chest waders for the deep water crowd, I can think of no better boot to have than a rubber boot.  But what of the late season deer hunter?  Not warm enough for November and December you say?  I think rubber boots are great then too, especially quality name brands that won’t freeze, rot, and crack in the cold.  Still worried about insulation, eh?  Well then, just layer up and put on some wool socks.  What?!  You don’t like wool socks?!

Wool Socks
How can you not like wool socks?!  They’re great.

A Compass
I suppose that before compasses hunters determined direction by the sun, and so long as you know what time it is, the sun does give a general bearing on east versus west.  Still, a simple compass (and the know how to use it) is not only a great, self-satisfying way of finding your way around, but a sight cheaper and easier to use than even the most basic of GPS units.  I fear that in some ways, good old fashioned woodsmanship might be dying out thanks to the advances in GPS units, that now not only tell you where you are, but how you got there, where to go to get out, the location of nearby eateries, history on interesting tourist attractions in the vicinity, the time of sunrise and sunset, the corollary calculation of minutes of daylight, the number of days until the next full moon, and so on and so on.

Open Sights
I won’t spew on this too much, because I’m not of the mind that progress has no place in hunting.  I did have a pretty upbeat conversation with a man once who thought the use of scoped rifles was tantamount to cheating and that the widespread use of rifle scopes only contributed to extending a hunter’s idea of “range” into untenable territories, leading to an increase in unethically distant, longer is better, “hero-type” of rifle shooting.  I haven’t really seen evidence of this in my circle of hunting amigos but, like everything, I’m sure there is an element out there that views themselves less as hunters and more as special-ops snipers.  So be it.  But still, open sights are pretty great.  By “open sight” I mean any kind of iron style sight, whether that is a bead, a peep-sight, a tang sight, or a buckhorn.  Of course, even open sights have made the technological leap forward into the world of fibre optics.

There are dozens of other simple, effective tools out there for all types of hunters including wooden snowshoes, natural blinds, single reed duck (or goose) calls, bolt action rifles, and turkey box calls…but to espouse the benefits of all the gear out there that is both useful and elegantly simple would take posts upon posts.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mellowing Like Whiskey…with Age

In my younger, salad days I think I could have been (in fact I often was) described as ‘reactionary’ or ‘combative’.  Maybe even ‘passionate’ or ‘reckless’ or ‘wild’.  And in some ways I guess that I still have my moments in that idiom.  But a minor miracle of metamorphosis (alliteration, anyone?) is happening.

I’m settling down…or more accurately, I’m changing and I’m refocusing.

There was a time when I was cynical, angry, defensive, self-righteous, and downright ornery when it came to talking about hunting.  That others disapproved of hunting, or threatened the long term viability of the tradition politically or socially, or eroded the high ethical standards that we should all aspire to as hunters, or even did things in a different way than I did them made me upset and all ranty.  For some reason I took the differences of opinion that others had as a personal slight, or a judgment of my personal worth.  Maybe it was the pride and idealism of youth but I spent the better part of my teen years and basically all of my twenties living as a judgmental, loudmouthed a-hole.  It was a habit that became and consumed my identity.  Better psychological analysts than I could probably tell you why I was that way, but I attribute it basically to some futile attempt to define myself as an individual within a set of traditions, actions, beliefs, and philosophies…or something like that.

Then something started happening.  Those feelings began to go away.  It was a three step process really.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that this first step occurred right around the time my son was born.  It is hard to have time to be a cynical jerk when a new life demands your undivided attention.  Even harder when that new life is just so dang awesome, what with their knack for seeing the world simplistically through eyes that are almost constantly happy and innocent.  Simply put, being a happy Dad makes for a happy kid.  Also being an angry victim all the time is draining…and I needed to focus my energy on other things…notably making sure my son was safe, warm, and healthy.  Sure, I still get mad at political, social, and environmental actions that are jeopardizing the future (hunting or otherwise) for my son and by extension the futures of other people’s sons and daughters, but simply complaining about it does not a problem fix.

Secondly, and perhaps this is where I saw real progress, was that I came upon an epiphany.  Being an angry, opinionated person that spouted off my own beliefs and agenda related to hunting to anyone that cared to tune in really made me no better than those who use similar tactics to attempt to disabuse the hunting community of our outdoor privileges and traditions.  Also, feeling like a martyr all the time really sucks…I realized that it just wasn’t doing anything positive for me.  It may be a positive life choice for some people, but not this cat.  I have bigger, tastier fish to fry.

And finally, I realized that positive outlets (as I hope this forum will be) can have a much more positive impact on the direction of debate.  In a recent post I made reference to hate mail, and I’ll delve much deeper into that later on in related posts, but for now I’ll just say to those of you who follow Get Out & Go Hunting and that are still vociferous and impassioned drum-beaters for the hunting community, I urge you not to stop if you don’t want to…but at the same time, please do stop telling me (as one emailing fan of this site did) that I’m a “sell-out” or that I’ve “gone soft” or worst of all that I “don’t really give a damn about the future of hunting”…because I do.  I just don’t use militant tactics or rhetoric.

It requires no justification on my part (so I won’t bother with a rambling justification) because I’m comfortable with where I am with this site, and I think that aside from being semi-entertaining and pseudo-informative, this blog has the opportunity to share my genuine love and passion for hunting (a passion and pride that is the common thread I share with millions of hunters in North America and around the world, regardless of how we choose to express it) in a positive way with stories and thoughts that represent (for me) the core of why hunting is great and why I hope to be able to pass this tradition down to my son and the next generation at large.  There’s still passion and commitment (especially when it comes to stamping out illegal or negatively representative actions), it is just that now I don’t lament and shout about it all the time.

Ten years ago I wanted to be the voice of hunters everywhere.  Thanks to the mellowing factors of experience, perspective, and yes plain old growing up, I now only desire to be one of the voices of hunting.

You have your own voices too, so don’t be afraid to use them…just don’t make the mistakes of my earlier days and spread your message in ways that might actually be detrimental to the hunting traditions we all value so much.

That’s experience talking.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Year’s (Hunting) Resolutions

I was pleasantly surprised to note that today was April 4th.  Somehow, and without me really knowing it, March slid quietly away to leave us with exactly three weeks to go until the spring turkey opener here in Ontario.  I blame this niggling cold that has been hanging on to me for the last week or so for using a Vicks induced haze to blur my normally acute perception of time.

Initially it appeared that the weather was wanting to cooperate as well; then we had a small blip last night in the form of five centimetres of snow over four hours.  It’s all gone now though because it was followed fast by a midnight thunderstorm…now it is 16° above zero with drizzle and it looks as though we’ll be experiencing a solid string of days above freezing.  Ahhh spring in southwestern Ontario; the place to be if you want to experience five different seasons of weather in less than 24 hours.

So barring another spring snowstorm or cold snap (because seriously, I’ve had enough of them) things should start coming together soon in terms of scouting, nailing down plans, and increased bird movement.  For me, the opener is in a way my real New Year’s Day.  I get to begin another year of hunting, and it starts with spring turkeys.

According to many unconfirmed and anecdotal sources, it takes 21 days to make or break a habit.  So in that spirit, here is another list (see I told you it was a sickness I have) of the 10 habits I intend to make or break for the 2011 spring turkey season.

1.      Stop calling so damn much
As I’ve said in previous posts, I love calling.  I can hear some of you now saying “I call all the time, and I’ve had lots of success” or “I read an article that touted the advantages of constant aggressive calling” and I don’t doubt you at all.  However, this is a the top of my list because this approach has only taken me so far, and this year I’m resolving to only call twice after a turkey stops answering me.  If he answers I’ll keep putting the wood to him, but if he clams up so will I.  I’ll report back here on how that goes.

2.      Learn to sit still
‘Nuff said.

3.      Calm down
I think a significant part of my hilarious ineptitude stems from my excitability.  Thankfully I’m not one of those yahoos that gets excited and shoots at movement or gets so jittery so as to be generally unsafe, but I am admittedly a bit high-strung in the turkey woods.  The euphemistic word would be ‘intense’.  When I’m intently listening for a distant gobble or concentrating on scanning the bush for any signs of movement I get startled easily.  Three years ago a sparrow landed on my gun barrel when I was not expecting it and I almost soiled myself.  Last year some very fresh bear sign in my hunting area had my nerves stretched extra taut.  And so on.  I still enjoy turkey hunting (almost too much) but perhaps if I can take a deep breath and live in the moment, maybe I’ll enjoy it that much more.

4.      Be patient
This is directly related to the “sit still” resolution.  My dear old dad has told me a hundred times that I abandon my stands too early, in all hunting scenarios, turkey or otherwise.  So this year if I hear a gobble and the bird doesn’t rush right in to my serenades (because, after all, they usually don’t) then the bird gets two hours by the clock before I get creative on him.  If I’m not hearing anything…that’s a different and much more difficult scenario.  With limited time to hunt, I often feel that I have to “make something happen”.  Three times in the past this tendency has resulted in me bumping gobblers.  I can’t commit to a time (because again, I don’t have a surplus of hunting opportunities), but I’ll try to hang out on stand a bit longer this year and try to wait out a silent tom.

5.      Pay attention
Twice last year I looked up and saw turkeys that had “materialized” in a place where they weren’t before.  Once it was two hens who apparently had not noticed me yet.  The other time it was a jake that trotted away, and was never really in gun range to begin with.  I’ve had the same experience while deer and waterfowl hunting so I’m really going to try to expand my field of view.  Like most, I tend to focus on key areas that I think look like probable places for a turkey to show up in; this approach has mixed success at best.

6.      Try new things
Last year was my first year of having a fighting purr routine in my calling repertoire.  While it was not the magic bullet that some product marketers might have you believe it is (I found no truth in the statement that “everything comes to a fight”), I did have some success using it to get gobbles out of turkeys, and in the case of that dastardly Pines Gobbler, it almost led to his demise.  This off-season I’ve put in some time practicing a couple of calls and have pretty much mastered the arts of kee-keeing on a pot call and of using a mouth call to gobble to turkeys.  The latter skill should come in handy as a “kitchen sink” tactic for hung up old toms, especially since I usually hunt on private land where this call can be used with relative safety.  I would strongly advise against gobbling on public land or any place else where another, less responsible, hunter could mistake you for the real thing and try to sneak in on your calling.  A face full of lead #5 is not an experience I would relish or wish on another hunter.

7.      Record every hunt (within reason)
Part of the fun of having this blog is the ability it gives me to share the hunting experience with others (seemingly on a worldwide basis).  So this year I’m going to give it my best shot to record every hunt here on Get Out & Go Hunting.  Please stay tuned for stories, lies, photos, cameo appearances from my hunting buddies, and maybe even some video from my 2011 Spring Turkey Odyssey.

8.      QTIP (Quit Taking It Personally)
I’m a very competitive individual, so failure does not sit well with me.  That said, I was raised with the ethic (and I still strongly believe in it) that hunting is not a competitive sport, it is recreation and it is best enjoyed as such.  It is nice to shoot the biggest bird or the trophy buck, but those goals should not be the sole driver of the hunting experience.  Reconciling these two opposing pulls on my personality has led to some hilarious outcomes, and it has deepened my overall understanding of the hunting experience.  Like everyone else, I’m always learning more every time I go out into the forest.  A soccer coach of mine once said it perfectly.  To paraphrase, he said “Winning isn’t everything, but then again, who likes losing?”  To put it another way, the ultimate goal of hunting, obviously, is to bring home some game.  Failure to do so does not necessarily make the hunt worthless, but then again, besting a perfectly adapted wild animal in its natural element, when all of nature’s advantages are tipped in the game’s favour is a pretty special feeling too.  If you’ve been following this blog at all, you probably have a feel for my personality, and I do consider it an affront to me as a hunter that I don’t shoot more game.  That said for 2011, I’m going to put aside the small shred of pride I still have left and just accept whatever hands are dealt me.  Much like resolution #3, this may make the experience even more enjoyable.

9.      Share with my readers
Like I said above, in my efforts to record all the hunts from this year, I likewise intend to put as many of them up here on the blog.  I’ll share what works and what doesn’t work, but this will serve as a proactive disclaimer to state that doing anything I do does not necessarily mean that you’ll be successful.  In fact, given my track record with spring turkeys, quite the opposite is the more likely outcome.  That said, with these tales of hope, failure, and possibly success I hope that can give some incentive for readers to pop in here throughout the season.

10.  Make some new friends
Since I’ll be sharing with you, I encourage anyone that feels so inclined to contact me here with any hunting stories or photos that you may want to share with this little corner of the hunting community.  I’ll apply the filter of the Comments and Terms of Use policies (I don’t think they’ll prevent me from posting anything) and post your experiences up here.