Friday, November 30, 2007

User Fees Needed For All Outdoor People

Let’s face it. An increase for fishing, hunting and trapping licenses is desperately needed. More conservation officers are needed, but where will the money come to pay for them and other sorely needed state programs?

It will come from the same people who have always paid: the anglers and hunters. We help fund so many programs, and yet the Department of Natural Resources is forever broke. There is current talk about money from sales taxes being reverted, in part, to help fund the DNR. Will it work or pass muster? Who knows.

The National Rifle Association is talking about blocking any legislation that would cause an increase in hunting license fees. Have they taken a look at food prices? How about the inflated fuel prices we are paying? The fact is that the cost of everything is rising, and that means anglers and hunters will have to pay more to hunt and fish in this state.

The same is true in all states and throughout Canada. It wasn’t too long ago when a 10-day guide moose hunt in Alaska was $6,000. It’s almost double that price now.

Where will these price increases for sportsmen end? It will end with fishermen and hunters paying more for the privilege to fish and hunt while the DNR allows other user groups to slide and not pay a dime. It’s always been so. Personally, the time has come for a change in how the DNR looks at other user groups.

I well remember when anglers could not allow their wife to fish on their license, and when Mama had to buy her own fishing license, they griped. And then, when salmon were planted in the Great Lakes, it was determined that anglers had to have a special Salmon-Trout Stamp to fish for those species, and anglers griped but paid their way. That Salmon-Trout Stamp, which was a lovely thing to look at, eventually gave way to the All-Species designation that we have today. It was much nicer having a beautiful stamp on your license.

We as sportsmen have paid our own way for generations, and carried other user groups on our shoulders for too many years. That monkey has turned into a two-ton gorilla, and it’s time for other outdoor user groups to pony up some money to help defray costs.

We have nonresident fishing and hunting licenses, and those sportsmen from out of state must pay more to fish or hunt than a resident. That’s only fair. In many states, the cost of nonresident is often reciprocal (or close to it) except for some western states that gouge out-of-state hunters far more than what we charge a nonresident to fish or hunt.

But, I ask you: Why don’t we have a resident and nonresident forager’s permit to pick berries, leeks, mushrooms and nuts? Why not charge the backpacker, biker, canoer, hiker and kayaker to pay for the privilege that they’ve long taken for granted?

I am not anti-tourist but I am against some state user groups not carrying their share of the weight. There are areas all through the northern counties where hordes of mushroom pickers flock from out-of-state every spring Some pick as many mushrooms as they can find but spend very little while here.

They take but give nothing back. Why should foragers skate while anglers and hunters foot all the bills?

Is there any reason why bird watchers can participate in their outdoor passion without paying for the privilege? The backpacker, biker, canoer and hiker are putting nothing into the state’s coffers but are using the outdoors. Shouldn’t a canoer require a canoeing license?

How about charging those who wish to bait a “baiting” license for bear and deer hunting? Why don’t we charge them some type of user fee for them to cart carrots, corn, sugar beets, etc. into state-owned woodlots?

Should there be user fees for all outdoor activities? Granted, anglers catch fish and take them home to eat. The same is true for hunters who shoot bear, deer, elk, grouse, hares, pheasants, quail, rabbits and woodcock, so I’d appreciate the DNR telling me why berry, leek, nut and mushroom pickers can pick and eat but a forager’s license isn’t required?

Where is the fairness in this situation? Obviously, there isn’t any. But there should be a user fee for all outdoor activities. Everyone who uses the outdoors in one way or another should pay something for that privilege. It shouldn’t always fall on the slumping shoulders of the angler and hunter.

The backpacker, biker, canoer and hiker might gripe that theirs is a non-consumptive sport. OK, I can agree with that but one fact remains: why should they be granted special privileges? They too are part of an ever-increasing population on the water and in the field. They deserve to pay a fee to use the outdoors.

Hell, I can hear it now. Richey must have fallen out of his tree, landed on his bean and is having a bad case of the stupids. Nah, it’s nothing so dramatic as that. All I want, and what most sportsmen want, is equality. Treat others as we are treated. Make ‘em pay.

This planet is crowded, and many user groups rely on anglers and hunters to foot the bill to manage our resources. We’ve been doing it for many years, and manufacturers who produce boating, fishing and hunting tackle pay big bucks in excise taxes. I can’t understand why they don’t gripe about why other user groups never pay their fair share.

Tell me why the boater, canoer, kayaker or tuber shouldn’t pay a user fee to enjoy time on the state’s waterways. They complain that they buy a license. Big deal. So do car and truck drivers. If we recreate in the outdoors we should pay a user fee. Ten bucks would seem a fair price for an all encompassing user fee. So, if all the other users each paid $10 a year, they could enjoy all the benefits they now find relaxing, and help bail ths trouble state out of its tight fix.

There’s no doubt in my mind that my rantings will fall on deaf ears, and this everybody-pays philosophy will be as popular as a hobo crashing a family picnic. However, it’s time for all pf the other outdoor user groups to begin paying a fee for their outdoor pleasure.

Raise the fishing and hunting license fees a modest amount, and start making other groups pay to watch the state’s birds or to pick mushrooms on state land. Each, in his own way, is using our environment without paying for that privilege.

Let the resident foragers pay a $5 user fee and the nonresident can get tapped for $10. Require a different type of higher fee for those who pick and sell mushrooms. Canoers pay a rental fee, but they pay no user fee to travel downstream backwards and sideways. The examples could go on and on, but any right-thinking person should realize that everyone must pay their fair share ... instead of just anglers, hunters and trappers.

The DNR needs money. I’m in favor of charging a user fee. Granted, we’d need more conservation officers for enforcement but we have always have needed more officers than we have. It would generate more state income to pay for those additional officers, and the increased revenue might lead to better relations between the sportsmen and the regulatory agencies that are being paid to wisely manage our natural resources.

Our resources are not being managed wisely unless all outdoor user groups pay to play. And that is the end of this story.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/30 at 10:06 PM
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Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Listening Walk

The day began with the sounds of silence. There was no breeze blowing when I went out to grab the local morning newspaper before heading for a slushy walk through rain-dampened woods.

The paper was tucked under my arm, and I ambled behind the garage and through the woods to a ridge. It’s here I occasionally sneak when I want to eye-ball a deer or turkey.

I eased up next to my wife’s hunting coop, and stood motionless. My body blended in with a nearby maple tree and the elevated coop. The sun, what little that could be seen, looked like the bottom half of an over-ripe grapefruit. The upper half was lost in the cloudy sky.

Dark clouds, the color of soot from a hastily opened wood-stove, scudded across the sky ahead of a strong northwest wind. There was no wind at ground level but the upper-level clouds were moving fast on their journey across the sky.

The sound of rapidly jabbering turkeys came through the air like the clear ringing of a Sunday church bell. The birds were 250 yards away, and the busy sounds of birds on the ground helped me pinpoint their position.

They were over a hill and just out of sight. I stood in the dampness of the early morning, the wet coldness slowly seeping through my clothing, and listened to the wild sounds of nature. The birds soon grew quiet, and then they eased up over a hill and into sight.

The wild turkeys were still 250 yards away but now were in the open. I raised my Swarovski binoculars, and studied the birds as they moved through the open field in that herky-jerky travel pattern they have. Turkeys spook deer simply because they are in constant motion.

Four were hens, three were poults born last spring, and two birds were gobblers. The birds were busily pecking at the ground as they walked, and one gobbler had an eight-inch beard while the other was a jake with a tiny beard.

Suddenly, two hens began badmouthing the Boss gobbler. They cutt and chattered at him, dancing around, and chewing him out over some unseen or unheard insult.

The big gobbler puffed up his feathers somewhat similar to the way they do in the spring when trying to show off for the hens, but one of the old biddies wasn’t impressed. She sassed him hard, and he started heading back the way he came with the jake trailing behind.

I went back inside, waiting for the man who was checking our metal roof. My days of climbing roofs to shovel winter snow came to a halt a few years ago when my vision went bad. At my age, the idea of falling off my roof is not my idea of a good time.

My computer went down yesterday for no apparent reason, and someone from the phone company was coming to fix the problem ... or so we hoped. The fact you are reading this is evidence he succeeded.

That afternoon the DSL man was sitting on the metal roof working on my phone line, and the roofer was just climbing down from an awkward spot and everyone was silent.

The hens started acting up again, and the roof man, who also hunts turkeys, cut an eye toward the field. The birds moved across the field from where I’d stood earlier in the morning, and they were jabbering at each other. The gobbler and his sidekick were not in sight. The birds crossed the road and disappeared.

“That’s twice I’ve seen those birds today,” he said. “Once shortly after I got here this morning and just now. I saw them two or three times yesterday.”

He had a wide grin on his face. It was obvious he enjoyed seeing and hearing the birds as much as I did. It was a pretty rotten day, but I have learned to take my pleasures when and wherever possible.

Today was one worth remembering. It’s not often, especially at this time of year, when wild turkeys will bless your day with their trash talking and by showing themselves in an open field where even I can see them. My day was now complete.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/29 at 03:49 PM
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bow Hunting On A Snowy Night

It was a dark and dreary two-hour late afternoon hunt at my new hotspot. The deer had moved through earlier, and I was hoping to catch them on the way out to feed tonight.

No such luck. The pine tree with my small stand was waiting, and I creeped into place with the wind in my face. There were many tracks that were nearly snowed in from last night, and somewhat fresher tracks from this morning, but no deer moved to me tonight.

The wind switched directions at least twice. It wouldn’t bother me the way my stand was set up, and the travel patterns of the deer, but it was snowing quite hard.

The weatherman is calling for several inches of snow tonight, and more tomorrow. The snow is ankle-deep and still falling, and one wonders if the deer know the storm is coming with several more inches on its way.

That amount of snow will raise the snow depth to knee deep if the weatherman reads the clouds right. It makes me wonder if the deer know this, and are content to spend the rest of the winter in the densest cover. I’d hate to think I established a stand on the last day when the deer moved out of the cedar and pine swamp to feed.

We always get one of the January thaws, and sometimes they come in December, but most of our worst weather the past few years has arrived in December ... except for last year when we had no snow on Christmas. But here it is in late November and the snow is falling.

I crawled into my tree stand, readied my bow, and leaned back. My wool suit was toasty, my knee-high boots were warm, a hood and wool sweater and wool stocking cap completed my gear. A pair of leather mittens went over the top of a pair of brown Jersey gloves, and with my face mask down, I blended into the cover.

A pine bough hangs down and provides some concealment when I am in the stand. I know where the deer come from, and where they go, and both trails are within sight and my bow range.

I sat motionless on a rubber butt pad, and was still and silent. A hen turkey with two poults moved down the trail past me, muttering to each other, and soon disappeared from sight.

Five minutes later, there, a movement. A flash of brownish-gray, and I focused in on where I’d seen it. It was obscured by pines and low dense cover, and then I saw it again. This time the animal was in plain sight, and it was a coyote on the prowl. The animal was 40 to 50 yards away, and moving away from me, perhaps after the turkeys.

Me and the tree trunk were getting reacquainted, and the stand was comfortable. I always look for trees without a stub from a broken branch that would gouge my back. Pine bark is rather rough but this tree had just the right minor bend in the trunk so that only a small spot between my shoulders was in contact with the bark. I was as comfortable as anyone can be in a ladder stand.

My eyes flicked back and forth behind my face mask as I studied everything within sight without having to move my head. A few chickadees flitted about, and the up-and-down wavering flight of a pileated woodpecker was seen. Soon he could be heard battering on a dead tree but was well out of sight.

Shooting time in my area ended, and the arrow was removed from my bow, placed in the bow quiver, and my bow was silently lowered down to the ground. My backpack was shouldered, and I eased down out of the stand and to the ground.

I picked my way through the timber, and left by a different trail than I had entered the woods. Soon, the headlights of my car could be seen through the trees. I’d solved the problem of what to do with the car by having Kay postpone her grocery shopping until she dropped me off.

Two different purposes, one trip, a hunt in the falling snow, and no deer seen. I did see a coyote and three wild turkeys, and although it was a bit different than what I expected, I didn’t spook any deer. Now, I’ll just wait for the snow to stop falling before I try it again.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/28 at 06:03 PM
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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Drifting Back To Steelhead Fishing 35 Years Ago


People who just started steelhead fishing in the last few years missed out on the finest fishing ever seen back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Good numbers of fish were being planted all around the state, and the Betsie and Platte rivers offered great sport that was as good as it gets.

There was some natural steelhead reproduction 35-40 years ago, and the DNR was planting fish as well. The number of anglers who knew how to catch steelhead were few, and the numbers of fish were very high.

My guiding career began in 1967, and brother George joined me in guiding fly fishermen for salmon, steelhead and broad-shouldered brown trout. John McKenzie became the third of Tres Amigos, and we cut a wide swath through runs of spring and fall spawning salmon and trout.

Snagging was rampant in those days, and we fished with No. 4, 6 and 8 single-hook flies, and it may sound like bragging but it’s not: we were good anglers and guides, and there was no need to snag fish. We could fair-hook fish on a regular basis. The sheer numbers of fish meant if we spooked fish in one spot, a short distance away would be other willing fish.

The steelhead runs were huge in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I can remember days on the Little Manistee River when we could hook 30 steelhead in a day. Not all fish were landed, but George and John tied flies while I handled the bookings for three guides.

We were a busy bunch, and were on the river every day. We knew where the salmon, steelhead or browns would be from day to day, and we seldom had much competition. We came and went, and sometimes Tres Amigos were all on the same stream, and at times we would be spread out across three different rivers. We’d compare notes at night, and decide who would fish where the next day.

John, 13 years younger than George and I, was a good-looking guy. I often paired him with husband-and-wife teams or father-and-daughters, and his great talent—besides catching fish—was being able to teach people how to fish. He was patient, and clients easily learned from him.

George and I were older, and by nature, seemed to attract the older anglers or the chief person who brought a crew up fishing. We treated everyone the same; we’d fish from sunup to sundown every day if clients wanted it, and clean fish at night and be up early the next day and ready to go again.

Guiding fishermen was a way of life for Tres Amigos, and we were very good at what we did. We could spot fish, coax anglers into putting the fly in exactly the right spot so it would be scratching gravel when it passed the fish. Often the fish would take, and we’d have a big fight on our hands.

One thing captivated the three of us: putting people into big fish for the first time. The smiles that crossed their faces when they fought a 15-pound steelhead for the first time; got hooked into a 30-pound Chinook salmon; or was trying to land a big hook-jawed male brown trout weighing 12 to 18 pounds. It’s been many years since those faces broke out into a smile, but I vividly remember most of them.

There wasn’t anything we wouldn’t do for each other. John was known to tie flies by hand on the river bank when we ran out. George was always there to coax anxious anglers into following a big fish downstream, and I was the guy that made it all work with the precision of a Swiss watch. All of us had a job to do, and we greeted each peach-colored dawn with a smile on our face and a jump in our step.

For 10 years we were Tres Amigos—three friends—who made a living in the best possible way—being outdoors, on the river, and with a client holding tight to a big fish jumping in the river.

We often went without eating, found ourselves upside down in the river current trying to net a client’s fish for them, and we looked out for each other. We also paid attention to our clients, catered to their every wish that was ethical and legal, and we coaxed more out of our client’s skill levels than they knew they had.

We put people into fall-spawning rainbows that had tiny tails, fat waists, and a 23-inch fish that weighed 13 pounds. The browns, especially the big males, were a golden-bronze with big spots; the steelhead were mint-silver and high jumping; the Chinook salmon were tackle busters of the first degree, and some mighty battles would cover a half-mile of river. The coho salmon were seldom finicky about a fly: put it to them at their level, and they would hit.

It was a magical 10 years, and now brother George is gone. John McKenzie talk all too seldom, and when last we spoke, we took a trip down memory lane. We were there for the finest salmon and trout fishing this state has ever seen, and pride ourselves on being the first fly-fishing river guides.

And that, my friends, is something we’ll never forget.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/27 at 08:37 PM
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Monday, November 26, 2007

Remembering Some Great Ice-Fishing Days


“It’s gone over,” my buddy Dennis Buchner of Interlochen, the state’s largest wholesale bait dealer, said. “Many lakes went over last night.”

Lakes going over means just one thing. They froze from shore to shore. Mind you, it’s just a skim of frozen water, and tonight’s strong winds could break up the new ice. Time will tell. Even if it stays frozen, there is a bit of time required to make safe ice.

Ice fishing, like steelheading or deer hunting, offers many memorable trips. Some bring back fond memories for various reasons as we await safe ice.

About 20 years ago, my late twin brother George, Carl Salling of Mesick, father and son John and Steve VanAssche of Harrison Township, and two others went fishing on Lake St. Clair during the Detroit Boat & Fishing Show in February. The late Al Lesh of Warren led the way to what he said would be a walleye dream spot.

We were fishing in 10 feet of water off Ontario’s Thames River, and the action was nonstop for big walleyes. I augered the first two holes, lowered a jigging Rapala baited with three emerald shiners near bottom, and jigged the lure twice before something tried to steal my lure.

The hook was set, and the fish was on. I took two or three pumps on the rod to bring in some line, jigged the other lure once, and had two walleyes on at once. I fetched the first broad-shouldered walleye to the surface and skidded him out of the hole and then worked the other fish up and out. Both fish were fat 5-pounders, and my two fish soon paled in comparison to some of the fish caught by the other anglers.

George iced an 8-pounder, Steve nailed a 9-pounder, Al weighed in with two 6-pounders, and everyone else was catching fish. A friend of Salling’s hooked a nice 7-pounder, and the action kept up until all of us had a limit catch. It was the fastest winter walleye action I’ve seen in a lifetime of fishing for them.

Another time brother George and two other guys had two tip-ups each evenly spaced off the mouth of the Manistee River where it dumps into Manistee Lake in late February. My two tip-ups gave us a spread of eight tip-ups across a 100-yard area.

The first two flags were “wind bites,” caused by the wind blowing the tip-up flag into the air. Those lines were re-set, and within minutes we had a flag and a slowly turning tip-up spool. There was no need to hurry; we watched the line slowly peel out and then it stopped. A minute later the line started moving, and George knew the pike had swallowed the bait, and he set the hook.

The pike took out 25 yards of line, stopped, and George began the slow hand-over-hand retrieve of tip-up line until the fish neared the ice hole, and then it sped off on another run. Long minutes passed before George positioned the 15-pound northern under the hole, and I jerked a three-hook gaff into the fish’s bottom jaw.

We iced seven northern pike to 15 pounds that day, and four weighed over 10 pounds each. George seemed to have had the hot hole that day, and he also caught an 11-pound walleye. It was an incomparable outing, and the mix of pike and walleye made it one to remember.

Some 10 years ago the ice of Lake Michigan near Glen Arbor froze over, and Mark Rinckey of Honor and I went perch fishing. It took two hours of drilling holes in water of various depths before we found the fish.

Our quarry was 13- to 15-inch yellow perch, and we found them holding in 47 feet of water near bottom. We were using light-action spinning reels with four-pound line with a one-ounce weight at the bottom and two lines baited with emerald shiners spaced eight inches and 15 inches above the sinker.

We lowered the rig to bottom, took up slack line, and didn’t have to wait long. The fish seemed plentiful that day, and were willing to bite. I hooked a fish, led the sinker bounce against bottom again, and felt another tug and fought a doubleheader catch of 14-inch perch to the ice hole.

Rinckey, only 40 yards away, was hammering on the fish, too. His line would go down, I’d seen a soft upward jerk, and up would come one or two more huge perch. We didn’t limit out that day although it would have been easy, but neither of us had a need for too many fish. We kept 16 fish, eight each, and called it a day.

The next day was more of the same, and we found the fish in more than 50 feet of water. Each perch caught suffered the bends, and their air bladder popped out of their mouth on the way up from the depths. We kept 10 big perch, and then the wind switched to offshore, and I heard an ominous shudder as the ice heaved. Zig-zag lines darted across the ice like forked lightning across a sullen sky, and it was time to move.

We grabbed our gear and ran the 300 yards to shore. We had to leap a six-foot lead of open water between the ice and shore but we made it off the ice. Within 15 minutes, the ice was drifting west toward Wisconsin, and as exciting as our exit was, we’ve never seen this kind of perch fishing since.

Ice fishing is a great way to spend a winter day. Common sense should rule all fishing trips, but when the conditions are right and the fish gods smile, it can be a wonderful way to spend a day outdoors. But don’t go out just yet.

Give the ice a chance to firm up some more before trying your luck. A dip in ice-cold water isn’t worth all the fish in a lake.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/26 at 08:27 PM
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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Coyotes: Our Unseen Neighbors


Wiley Coyote, the cartoon character, is always being banged up and fooled by the Roadrunner. In true life, coyotes are anything but stupid as they are portrayed by people who produce such idiotic cartoons for kids.

The coyote of today is well acquainted with humans, and although they usually avoid a face-to-face confrontation with humans, they have learned to live in close proximity to us.

A good example of how these animals have become our wildlife neighbors is rather amazing. My wife and I looked out behind the house today, and tracks led between the garage and the railing for our back deck. The tracks sniffed around under the bird feeder, and then they walked across the back yard, around the end of the house, and cut down to the road and crossed.

This happened last night. We didn’t see the coyote, but I checked the snow on the back deck for tracks. Apparently this coyotes curiosity would take it so far.

People misunderstand coyotes. However, we may be the best thing that ever happened to a coyote. We clear land, plant crops, and game animals and birds come to those crops. We manage to provide a place for coyotes to check for a steady food supply.

Do you have a house cat that has turned up missing? If so, the cat is probably gone forever. A coyote will eat anything, but one of its favorite meals is house cat. The bigger and fatter and slower, the better.

Turn Tabby loose to wander around all night, which should never be allowed, and it’s likely the little puddytat will wind up a blood-smeared mess on the winter snow. The first coyote that spots the cat will have it for a meal unless the pet can make it up a nearby tree.

Coyotes have learned to live close to humans. We don’t bother them unless we spot one or two animals running together and are prepared for a shot.

It’s rather up in the air right now, but only man and wolves, are natural enemies of the coyote. A wolf will kill any coyote or fox it catches, but so far there doesn’t seem to be many wolves in the Lower Peninsula. One was caught in a trap a few years ago, and one or two other wolf tracks have been found, but it’s doubtful we have many wolves below the bridge.

Coyotes fear wolves, if they coexist in the same area, but fox and coyotes avoid the larger predators whenever possible.

There is no shortage of coyotes in the Lower Peninsula. They are common around Detroit, which I assume still holds a tenuous grip on the title of Michigan’s largest city (it has dwindled from over 2 million in 1980 to about 800,000 in 2000. Many nights I’ve stepped outside, and listened to coyotes howl and yap while listening to the whine of tires traveling down the many expressways.

There are, near where I live, at least 10 coyotes that live on whatever they can find. These animals are resourceful, and the mother and father of a litter will raise their pups. The little ones yap at night during all seasons, and it’s not uncommon to hear five or six in one area and another five or six a half-mile away.

A man I know shoots two or three coyotes every winter. One might wonder why. For those who know little about coyotes, consider this: They are the most active predator of wild turkeys. They can and will kill dogs and cats, and are very effective at killing and eating whitetail fawns in the spring shortly after birth.

Last spring I went for a walk to check my food plots, and found two dead fawns. Or rather, I found what remained of the fawns. In each case, there were tiny fawn hooves on the ground and a ball of wadded-up deer hair. That was all that remained of the baby deer.

If I could find two dead fawns, without really trying, I suspect it would be quite easy to find more if I went looking into some of the bedding areas. Coyotes are curious and inquisitive animals, and they’ve learned to live next door to humans and prosper because of it.

And just think: some of those animals are just outside our door. It would have been a treat to see the animal but daylight sightings seldom occur.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/25 at 05:16 PM
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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Anticipation Often More Fun Than Participation


Snow-covered trees and gusty breezes greeted the dawn, and sporadic flakes fell as the John Deere snow blower threw the snow into a nearby field. Cleaning my driveway of five inches of mushy snow gave me nearly three hours of uninterrupted time to think.

One thought came to mind. It was from a 1984 trip to the Upper Peninsula to fish the legendary Frenchman’s Pond with famous author John Voelker who wrote under the pseudonym of Robert Traver. I was eager to get to the pond, and had realized a personal dream that had been gnawing at me for many years.

“The more you want something, the more you anticipate it,” he said, sensing my impatience as we stopped to pick blueberries, chanterelle mushrooms and black raspberries. “That means Frenchman’s Pond will be a bigger thrill once we finally get there.”

We eventually slid down what passes for a trail to his secluded cabin on the pond. The two-track leading into it was a mix of boulders, corduroy trails, rocks and sand. His battered old fish car was bouncing from side to side as he tried to keep it between the trees.

Frenchman’s Pond glittered like a rare jewel amid a sea of cedar and spruce. Here and there a brook trout rose to an unseen insect, and my dream of visiting this hallowed water had become a reality.

It was like coming home after a long absence. I was speechless with the pond’s beauty, and Voelker wisely stood by quietly and allowed me to absorb the rare mood of the moment without interruption.

Frenchman’s Pond was his private retreat. He had owned it for over 30 years when I first visited it over 25 years ago. It’s location is a closely-guarded secret, and the brookies are as shy and reclusive as the owner is to many people. We had traded letters, and I had interviewed him on several occasions, and it took a few years before the fishing invitation came.

He knew I wanted to fish it, but by nature, he didn’t trust many people that lived below the bridge, and like or not, I had to measure up. What his standards were for admittance to the pond were unspoken. Therefore the invitation to fish came as a big surprise.

“Why don’t you c’mon up and fish Frenchman’s Pond with me?” he asked one day. “The trout are notoriously camera-shy, but we may be able to hook one or two.”

An invite to fish the pond was like a special request to dine with the Pope or the Queen Mum. It wasn’t something to ignore or to refuse. To do so would probably have sealed my fate and kept me away for all time.

I was full of questions. Would the trout rise? Which flies and sizes produced best? Any tips on fishing the pond?

His philosophy at his 81 years of age at the time came through on his first comment.

“Chances are good we won’t catch a fish,” he said. “And if we do get lucky or skillful, as you fishing writers are wont to say, the brookies will probably be small and take only tiny dry flies.

“Fish a long leader tapered down to 5X or 6X, and try No. 18, 20 or 22 flies. We don’t land many fish on such light tackle, but it sure is fun when we do.”

We fished from casting platforms built around the pond, and I changed flies frequently. Brookies rose whenever the sun went behind a cloud but only one came to my fly. It missed or I missed, and that was it.

Voelker had several rises to his tiny flies but failed to hook up. We crouched low on the platforms to reduce our silhouette, made adequate presentations but the trout weren’t impressed.

“That’s what I like about brook trout,” he said over a ritualistic sundowner of bourbon manhattans during our U.P. cribbage championship game. “Brook trout are not impressed with who or what you are, or how much money you have, but they are responsive at times to a gentle and quiet approach.”

It’s been well over 20 years since that trip, and it’s been many years since his death, but I returned two more times by written invitation to fish with the old master. I would never go back even though I know where the pond nestles like a rare diamond.

John Voelker fished around his last bend many years ago, and one day I may report what he told me about the frailties or old age and death’s looming presence.

For now, on a snowy day, I’m satisfied with remembering this man of letters, a writer of vibrant books on trout fishing, and a masterful writer of novels such as Anatomy Of A Murder. He taught me a valuable lesson that day, and it’s one I occasionally pass along to others.

“There is more to fishing than catching fish,” he said. “Learn to savor each day like a fine wine, listen to good music, fish often and keep few fish. Learn about life from brook trout because they are found only in cold, clean waters, and when brook trout disappear from our wild places, mankind won’t be far behind.”

Those are words worth remembering.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/24 at 05:03 PM
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Friday, November 23, 2007

Five Stages Of Becoming A Hunter


Jim Dabb was one of the greatest friends a legal hunter could have for many years. He’d spent years In the DNR as a conservation officer, and then got yanked to Lansing for his final years on the job. He put in his final years riding a desk and doing everything necessary to get as many kids (and parents) involved in a Hunter Education class as possible.

We met when I began ramrodding The Detroit News’ Hunter Education Program in 1980, and 20 of my 23 years as the staff outdoor writer was spent honing our two-day program each September. The newspaper scrapped this wonderful program because it cost $6,000. It was one of the greatest public relations gigs they had, but the dropped if after more than 40 years in existence. Training kids and their parents is something that still flows through my body and soul.

Dabb and I discussed one day what he calls “The Five Stages Of A Hunter.” It is a continuing maturation process that takes hunters through these various stages. Wisconsin has done numerous studies on this topic, and I shall report more on it again at a later date.

*Shooting is the first step in this process. A novice hunter wants to shoot his or her bow or firearm. It can be nothing more than plinking at tin cans or stumps in the woods, although some novices attempt to shoot songbirds, which is illegal.

This shooting can fall into two distinct areas: one is to practice shooting at a target or at game in season. It’s been proven that the more a hunter shoots a bow or firearm, the better their skills become providing they have capable assistance from other caring sportsmen. Kids, in particular, love to hear the firearm go bang but must be taught the responsible use of a firearm and the dangers of careless use.

*The second stage in hunter development, Dabb says, is limiting out. They want to kill a limit of rabbits, ruffed grouse, woodcock or deer.

This is one stage that many hunters find themselves stuck in, and some feel the purchase of a small game or big game license should guarantee them the right to a full bag limit.

What many sportsmen don’t realize is the purchase of a license guarantees them only the privilege of going hunting. It means they can legally hunt, and nothing else is granted or should be expected.

*The third step in the progression of a hunter is learning techniques. The hunter seeks out advice from longtime sportsmen, reads hunting magazines or weblogs like this one, watches videos and reads books.

They want to work with bird dogs or hounds, hunt with a centerfire or muzzleloading rifle, and they study various methods of hunting the rut, hunting deer in cornfields, how to call wild turkeys or other game-birds, and they are on a quest to soak up knowledge about hunting.

*Step No. 4 is the trophy stage. “This,” Dabb said, “is where hunters want to shoot the biggest buck in the county, the largest bear, the ringneck pheasant with the most bars on its tail.”

This stage often becomes the macho period in a hunters life where they want bragging rights. They want to be known as a good hunter, and nothing but the biggest and the best will do. Sadly, some will jump on a plane, fly somewhere on a canned hunt, and shoot the critter within a matter of an hour or two, and be on their way home the same day.

*Last but certainly not the least is the Sportsman Stage. This is where the hunter acknowledges the fact that he/she can become the supreme predator, and the kill no longer becomes the sole reason why we hunt.

The kill is the end result of a hunt, but a true sportsman can have a successful hunt without firing a shot. It means pitting one’s skills against an animal while giving the game the greatest chance to escape. It is ethical hunting, fair-chase hunting, and the hunt becomes more important than the kill.

This final stage often isn’t attained until middle-age, and with some sportsmen, they never reach this level. It is where the wind on the cheek, spotting a deer, hearing the gobble of a wild turkey—when all of these and many other things become more important than pulling the trigger. It’s when we start caring about and respecting what we hunt.

Take a long look at this issue, and ask yourself: which category do I fall in. If you’ve read this blog for very long, you’ll know that I’m in the fifth stage. Killing is no longer the reason why I hunt.

I hunt to have hunted. I hunt to have spent time outdoors, and have been at it long enough to learn that the deer that got away will be remembered long after the deer we kill has been forgotten.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/23 at 07:56 PM
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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Some Early Winter Thoughts


Snow fell last night and today, and depending on where anglers and hunters live, they may have got very little of the white stuff. Me, I had four inches to shovel this morning.

Early winter is a breathtaking time. Cool breezes, bright sunny skies, and glistening snow as far as the eye can see can provide a brand of outdoor pleasure only for those willing to spend the time needed to enjoy it.

There are countless things that capture winter moods, and from now through mid-April, we are thinking winter. There are ample opportunities to use our five senses now. Winter is made for nature lovers, and outdoor sportsmen can reap the greatest benefits.

These personal delights are just a few of many that will tempt an outdoorsman over the next several months.

*I relish the sight of straight-as-a-string fox tracks moving across freshly fallen snow and find them mesmerizing. Each track is deeply set in the snow, and they are dark indentations that show pad marks. They move forward, stop, meander from one side to the other and then moves on again as the animal endlessly searches for food.

*A good buck, its antlers gleaming in the winter sun against a cedar and snowy backdrop, is a beautiful sight. And a person doesn’t have to hunt to enjoy the image of the deer’s haughty attitude.

*The distant and forlorn sound of a coyote pack on the move. Listen to each voice, and determine how many animals there are. Some yip in a shrill manner like a youngster’s voice changing during puberty. Others have a rapid yapping style and some seem to yodel or howl like a wolf. Each voice is distinctive, and it’s easy to tell when they are on the hunt because the sounds continue to move.

*The distant smell of a wood fire after a long afternoon of bow, muzzleloader or rifle deer hunting is tangy to the nose. It is the smell of wild places and a home hearth. Nothing fires my belly faster than a sniff of wood smoke drifting on the winter wind.

*Most folks take vision for granted but for some like me, who only have one eye that works, we count our blessings when we see snow devils swirling like dervishes on a winter wind or a broad expanse of unblemished snow. A line of snowshoe tracks by a sportsmen going over a hill and out of sight makes me wonder what may lie on the far side. The sight of white snow buntings flying low across a field, always on the move, is an enjoyable winter sight.

*Snowshoe hare hunting is a major winter challenge for me and many others. Watching a white hare run across a white blanket of snow can be a lesson in frustration. Hares can be difficult to see until one learns to look for the black eyes, black ear tips and tiny puffs of snow kicked up by the animal as it dodges in an out of thick cover.

*Kids always used to stick out their tongue to taste falling snowflakes. At age 68, I hardly qualify as a kid but my tongue still catches snowflakes. It’s just one way to taste the outdoors, and that taste is one that will linger as long as I live.

*Touching winter-hardened trees, the soft fur of a downed coyote, the cold steel of a shotgun or snow dropping from a cedar bough to trickle down your neck are reminders of our human status and our ability to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the outdoors.

The pleasures of nature are there for those who are willing to expend the energy required to spend a winter day outdoors. And Thanksgiving Day was my day to remember why I spend time outdoors.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/22 at 08:14 PM
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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Quick Now: What Is The Warmest Winter Blind?

It’s a quick question and answer time. What is the warmest blind for winter deer hunting?

The deadliest and most unconventional but warmest blind in the deer hunting woods seems to have escaped many hunters. At first guess, many late November and December hunters feel a heated on-the-ground or elevated stand is best.

Not to my way of thinking. For my money, a hay-bale blind beats whatever else comes in second-place. It has many advantages, and one disadvantage. Hunters afflicted with hay fever shouldn’t hunt from a hay-bale blind.

Hay-bale blinds is like dipping snuff. It can leave you cold and sneezy.

Solid points in favor of these blinds are many and all are valid. Here are some good reasons to use such a blind.

*Hay-bale blinds can be constructed from big round bales or the smaller and more manageable rectangular bales.

*A round bale blind is made by putting two round bales together at an angle to form a capital “V”. Put a sheet of one-inch plywood over the top, and stack six or eight rectangular bales on top to provide a warm roof over your head.

*A rectangular blind requires quite a few rectangular bales. Pile as many bales up on the left and right sides, and behind you, and put a chair inside to sit on. Stack the bales at least two high in the front, and leave just enough room to crawl over and to shoot through. Cover the top with plywood and more bales, and you are set. The disadvantage of this blind is if one or two bales get bumped, the blind can fall like a house of cards.

*Of the two, my favorite is made of round bales. Five minutes with a tractor to move the two round bales together, laying a sheet of plywood on top and several rectangular bales on top and in front to form a shooting window, and the blind is completed.

*Any hay blind placed early in the fall in a key location will pay off when December rolls around. The deer get used to it, and by the time the winter archery season rolls around, it will entice deer to your area.

*Key spots for a hay-bale blind is near the edge of a cornfield, in an open field where two or more trails converge, or back in the woods where a good trail carries a great deal of deer traffic. Wooded hay-bale blinds are difficult to construct. Most people place them in open fields or close to heavy cover.

*This blind is warm. Unless the shooting window faces directly into the wind, this is the warmest blind possible. Wet hay builds a certain amount of heat, and hunters can stay warm in the most brutal weather.

*Human odor isn’t a problem with hay blinds. The heavier odor of hay serves to cover human odor inside the blind.

*It would be difficult to consider a hay-bale blind as a bait site although deer occasionally eat some of it while the hunter is inside.

*Of major importance to me, and to others who use such blinds, is they offer straight-out, horizontal shots at whitetails. There is none of the problems of shooting downward while sitting or standing in a cold tree stand or elevated coop, and deer often walk within six feet of a hay-bale blind. The shots can be easy to make unless the hunter suffers from buck fever.

*The hay absorbs almost any noise. I’ve coughed, sneezed, and done other noisy things in a hay-bale blind without having nearby deer hear it. Of course, any movement visible through the narrow shooting window can be seen.

*Is it too late to build a hay-bale blind? It depends on deer numbers in your area, the available food supply, whether you bait or don’t bait, and how quickly the blind can be constructed. Deer often take three or four days, and sometimes as much as a week, to become accustomed to the blind. Even though it’s best to put hay-bale blinds in place early, it can be done anytime.

If I were a hunter with a new hay blind, I would not sit in it for a week. The one exception to that would be if a major winter storm was due to hit that morning or evening. Every deer in the area will be on the prowl before the storm hit, and I’d suggest being in the new stand early before a storm hits.

If snow falls before the deer move, so much the better. It will help cover any human scent, and it can produce the occasional big buck.

Hay-bale blinds are not difficult to make, and they provide everything a December bow hunter could ask for: no scent, being as warm as toast, and being in a blind while the deer nibble around the edges of it. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/21 at 08:45 PM
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bless Me Daily With Another Sunrise

The southeast sky was a radiant glow of mixed oranges, purples, reds and yellows as the sun prepared to make its daily statement to mankind. Listen hard, and with some imagination, you might hear it say: “Here I come, and please look at me. Admire and revel in my beauty.

I did. I looked hard, studied the orange flames lancing into the air at odd angles just before the sun bulged the horizon. There are things in nature that are a happening, and this was one of extraordinary beauty.

Dark purple-colored clouds crowded the horizon, forcing the sun to move through, bringing light to the darkness of the land. The purple shades, growing darker closer to Earth was what made this display so wonderful. Shaded levels of dark red lay above, and then came the orange and yellow to make the day crash into our sensory perception of visual beauty.

The sun seemed to punch ragged holes through the clouds, splashing various shades of color across the sky, and the land was bathed in the sun’s glory.

Up it came, like an orange periscope out of the depths of the horizon, and within seconds was a golden ball of fire in the southeast sky, pushing away the darkness. The clouds held the color against their bottom, and the sun rose completely above the horizon, and another day was born.

There are major spectacles in nature that I may not fully understand, but anything as beautiful as a glorious sunrise or sunset doesn’t need much explanation. It is what it is, and that is several minutes of beauty in a world troubled by too many problems caused by too many uncaring people.

I stood there that morning, watching the sun rise to spread its lemony glow across the landscape. By doing so it makes everyone feel better, and I drank in the wonder of this daily ritual. It’s little wonder that ancient people worshiped the sun.

Sunrises and sunsets are of major importance to me. I’ve seen both washing over free-drifting blue- and green-colored ice bergs while hunting caribou on Canada’s Baffin Island. The ice possessed a peculiar shade of blue or green coloration, and when a golden sunrise or sunset lit them up, it was a breathtaking event that made me very happy to be alive.

I’ve taken the track of a fox just as the morning grays up before the sun rises, and the tracks travel one foot in front of the other up and over a ridge ahead of me. As the sun begins to rise, it bathes the tracks in a special brand of side-lit beauty. The tracks appear as dark holes punched into the snow by an orange and yellow brilliance that is stark and beautiful. One must be there to see and believe it but such spectacles are only seen outdoors.

There have been days at Ludington, Manistee, Frankfort and Leland when a charterboat loaded with anglers and a heavy fish box head in to the sight of the setting sun behind them as it appears to fall into Lake Michigan without causing a ripple. Of course, if it was sinking into the water we’d all be in deep trouble, but that is what a sunset over water appears to do.

Down it goes, slowly at first, and then seemingly gaining speed. The last sliver of sunlight glows like a distant beacon before it disappears. The after-glow seems to hang on long enough to bathe the sky in brilliant colors shooting into the sky before gradually winking out while darkness settles in.

The reverse is obviously true on Lake Huron. One heads out onto the lake when dawn is nothing but a vague promise, and as the sun begins its ascent, the water turns gold in the distance. Slowly, and then gaining speed, the sun begins its daily birth as the water seems to ease the sun out and up into the air.

I’ve seen sun and I’ve seen rain, and also have seen both at the same time as the rising sun is mottled by a rainstorm between us. One wonders how this happens, but I really don’t care; for me, seeing it continues to be a wondrous event that I can bear daily witness to.

Each morning is like being born again. A look out the window, or off the bridge of a fishing boat or from a morning tree stand, answers the daily unasked question. Am I still alive to see this beauty of nature?

The question is answered in one’s heart. For me, my waking thoughts are to see just one more sunrise or sunset ... today and tomorrow ... and as long as God grants me life. Each day I can grasp this wonder of nature is a moment that I wish everyone could share with other.

That would make it a wondrous gift for all mankind.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/20 at 09:10 PM
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Monday, November 19, 2007

Dreaming Of The Old-Fashioned Winter Days

I dream of the old-fashioned winters. Hard freezes that lock the ice to the shoreline on all sides of the lake, enough wind to scour the snow away, and no worry about pitching through when the ice caves in under my feet.

The memories are still fresh even though my first ice fishing trip was taken about 55 years ago. It was a little lake near Millington in Tuscola County named North Lake. Our parents owned a small lot and kept an old house trailer there, and we visited the area often from January through March.

North Lake held bluegills, largemouth bass, perch, sunfish and some northern pike. Ice-up came quick and hard, freezing the lake’s surface, and within a week there was six to 10 inches of firm clear ice.

The early-ice action always featured a good bite. We had triangulated the green weedbeds with three shoreline landmarks, and we often could return to the same holes that we’d fished the week before. The ‘gills and sunfish would still be there, and we often lowered a six-inch sucker below the ice near the weedbeds, and often caught some nice pike.

That was then and this is now. I don’t know whether anyone has been paying attention, but the last three or four years has featured much more wind from the east. That wind often brings rain, and heavy rains make early ice treacherous and unstable.

Are we in the middle of the global warming that everyone has talked about for the past 15 years. I’m not a scientist, and certainly not a meteorologist, but I am observant. I remember things about the previous years, and I see a pattern forming, and it’s one I don’t like.

The past several years has produced some rather dramatic changes in the Great Lakes and many inland lakes. The Great Lakes undergo a cyclic rise and fall of water levels over the years for o, and levels have been low for longer than normal. Five years ago many marinas had to dredge so boats could enter and leave their slips during the summer months.

Look at the Betsie River where it flows under the M-22 bridge between Elberta and Frankfort. Chinook salmon and steelhead runs have been poor for five years, and part of the reason is low water. There is barely enough water flowing through the channel to allow fish to run upstream.

Several years ago Crystal Lake didn’t freeze well and I did a story about three men (two from the same family) that broke through the ice. That they lived was a miracle. The ice stayed bad most of the winter.

We can take a long look at this year. The stage was set for some excellent ice. Cold weather, freezing temperatures and no wind set the stage in early December, and for two weeks the cold weather was making ice every night.

Then, before Christmas, it began to warm up. Our January thaw began in late December, and it shows little sign of making really good ice. An all-night rain the night before last, and a persistent drizzle all day yesterday and today, is taking its toll.

Bare ground is everywhere. The deer are free to roam wherever they wish, and they still have access to green fields, unpicked cornfields, and open woodlands. There is no need for deer to yard up, and this could result in an excellent winter for whitetail survival. What is good for the deer is good for wild turkeys as well.

It also could bring on an early steelhead run, and put lots of fish in the river before it freezes over again. I’ve seen that happen, and many fish move upstream to winter over in deep holes. I remember once, years ago when I was guiding, when the steelhead run was over long before the spring thaw began. People who waited until April 1 found few if any fish in the river.

The weather is changing. That much is obvious, and it is having an effect on many people who depend on winter sport for most of their yearly income. Baitshops will suffer if safe ice doesn’t come soon.

The snowmobile industry is facing a loss of revenue as are northern communities that cater to sled riders. Downhill skiing, although I don’t partake in that sport, is another business that faces tough conditions.

A lack of snow cover keeps winter hunters housebound. They feed their hounds all year in hopes of having good snow, and when it comes late, it is often spotty.

The weather patterns are changing. Will this change continue? Who knows, but if it does, the economy of northern Michigan will suffer once again. The stakes are growing ever higher the past few years, and people can hang on only so long before they are forced to fold up their business and seek other employment.

I try to avoid such doom-and-gloom columns, but the changing weather is talked about in every coffee shop in the north. Many people long for the old-fashioned winters, and I am one of them. This slop makes for miserable driving, and little fish and game action.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/19 at 06:23 PM
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Sunday, November 18, 2007

I Love Good Outdoor Writing

I’ve been in this outdoor writing business for 40 years, and have met most of the greatest outdoor writers of our time.

Men like John Amber, Erwin Bauer, Havilah Babcock, Nash Buckingham, Chuck Cadieux, John Cartier, Ben East, Corey Ford, Ben Hur Lampman, Lea Lawrence, Nick Lyons, John Madson, Jack O’Connor, Edmund Ware Smith, Norm Strung, Ted Trueblood, Charley Waterman, and others. All had one thing in common: they loved the outdoors.

It wasn’t so much they loved to kill fish or game, but they enjoyed being out there and matching wits with game. Things were a good bit different in those bygone days. Outdoor writers wrote stories that people loved to read. The how-to or where-to story were not in style years ago.

They called that brand of writing “Me & Joe stories.” If a reader read real close he could spot some how-to and where-to stuff, but what gave these stories legs was the writers had the ability of pulling the reader into the story and making them read it. They felt a need/ They needed to read good writing.

We felt as if we were hunting sheep with Jack O’Connor, catching big trout with Joe Brooks, shooting ducks or geese with Lynn Bogue Hunt or Van Campen Heilner. We hung on the words of Robert Ruark as he sat at the Old Man’s knee and absorbed some of the wisdom that old-timers used to hand down to the young ‘uns.

Corey Ford was another favorite back in the 1950s and 1960s, and his Tales of The Lower Forty were funny but also shared some fishing or hunting wisdom.

Ben East, who lived near Holly, Michigan, was a friend and I spent hours watching him work his red pencil over a story, cutting and splicing, turning words of some wisdom into pearls of wisdom. I thoroughly enjoyed my many conversations with John Madson, and he had a down-home feel that many writers honed their skills at writing.

Madson did a great deal of work for Winchester and the Olin Corporation, and he could make the ingredients of breakfast cereal read well. He was a master of phrases, of setting scenes, and of working his brand of literary magic on a story. When he was finished, the piece was a gem, a work of art.

Madson was arguably the finest true outdoor writer of the mid-1900s, and we spent many hours together before his death. I have a healthy-sized stack of his letters, and a common letter from one buddy to another became a piece of art when he put his hand and mind to it.

There seems to be something that has gone missing when an article just tells the reader how to catch fish or shoot deer, or even worse, where to do it. The old-time outdoor writers did all of that but they also told readers why they should do it.

They wrote from the heart. They invoked our five senses and why they should be important to sportsmen, and they knew how to drag the reader into the story and leave them thrilled and wanting more.

Outdoor magazines no longer have strong editors. I sold my first “Me and Joe” story to Outdoor Life magazine in 1970, and back then, editor Bill Rae was an editor. Editors below his lofty position could offer their opinion, but Rae was a one-man editorial staff. If he wanted a story, he got the story, and suffered no nonsense from junior editors.

I sold a number of stories to Bill Rae, and he happily bought them because I could give him what he wanted and what he knew his readers wanted to read. Now, it’s different; there is such a thing, commonly called “editing by committee,” which doesn’t bode well for the writer because many young editors don’t know what they want. Many want two or three rewrites from a professional outdoor writer. Things have changed and not for the better.

I sell many fishing and hunting books, and some old outdoor magazines on my website (Scoop’s Books which should be back up next week), and I figure if a book is a good read for me, it will probably appeal to my readers. I enjoy going back to some of the earlier writers, and although some of their copy could be stilted at times, they knew how to grab the reader’s attention.

It’s always been my intention to write from the heart: to drag readers into the story; to offer them something that is nearly impossible to find today in the how-to, where-to world of outdoor writing, and I’m not ashamed to admit to a mistake. I tweak my readers five senses, and them seem to enjoy it. I work hard to paint word pictures.

What comes through in my writing is a deep and abiding love of the outdoors and of fishing and hunting. I know our natural resources needs some restraints, and I know that being afield is part of why we go fishing or hunting.

We share the outdoors with others, and those of us who love these outdoor pastimes, are perhaps the last of our breed. And just think: all of this rhetoric tonight is about our respect for the fish and game we catch and kill, and a deep love for being outdoors.

And it has all come to pass because of another love. A love of reading is what makes the long wait between fishing and hunting trips bearable, and that is why so many people visit this site every day.

I may be the luckiest person of all because I have a deep urge to write what people want to read. And for that, I’m genuinely thankful for my many readers. Keep reading and I’ll keep writing.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/18 at 10:34 PM
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Saturday, November 17, 2007

How Much Is Too Much Draw Weight

A hunter stopped in Claude Pollington’s Buck Pole Archery Shop in Marion, and had them replace a worn string. Two other hunters were taking practice shots on the archery range, and he posed an appropriate question as they watched a young man shoot a bow set at 90 pounds.

The hunter who had his string replaced wondered if drawing that much weight wasn’t harmful.

“It’s harmful if you must struggle to pull that much weight, and most people can’t do it,” Pollington told him. “The major problem with drawing that much weight is it is very easy to tear back and shoulder muscles. A bum shoulder isn’t fun to deal with, and it takes a long time to heal.”

Pollington has had numerous people in his shop that were capable of drawing 90 pounds, and one muscle-bound guy could draw 100 pounds. Almost every one of them ended up tearing up their shoulder and back muscles, and before they knew it, a 55-pound bow was their limit.

“Well, why try to pull that much weight?” the customer asked. “What benefits are there to drawing 90 pounds and shooting an arrow that travels over 300 feet per second?”

The obvious answer is a flatter trajectory over a greater distance. It means the difference between shooting 20 yards and 60 yards with very little change in their sight picture.

It means being able to shoot accurately at longer distances, and this can be of great benefit when hunting the desert southwest for Coues deer, the Rockies for mule deer and elk, and the sagebrush flats where antelope roam. In each case, shooting at longer distance can spell the different between success and failure.

“Of course, there are some people who wish to be a macho man,” Pollington told him. “Those people think the more weight they draw, and the faster the arrow flies, the better hunter they will be.

“And, in some ways high poundage and very fast, very flat-shooting arrows can improve accuracy at longer distances and help accurate shooters achieve kills at longer range. However, one must weigh the benefits against the possible risk of personal injury.”

This hunter was pulling 60 pounds and was comfortable at that draw weight. He said he could pull 65 and 70 pounds, but is uncomfortable with the longer range and finds it a struggle to draw the heavier weight.

Pollington put one of their new Extreme bows in his hands, and it was set at 65 pounds. He pulled it back with little apparent effort, commented on how smooth the draw curve was, and asked if the poundage was set at 55 pounds.

He was told it was set at 65 pounds, and he couldn’t believe he could pull that much weight without great effort. Claude put it on the scales, and the needle settled at 65 pounds when it rolled over.

“Sixty-five pounds it is,” he said. “Let me shoot that bow again.”

He shot it again and again, and 12 times in all. Each shot was side-by-side with the other arrows, and he moved back to 25 yards. He chose the same aiming point he’d used at 20 yards, and all arrows plunked into the target bulls-eye.

Now this guy was a good shot with excellent form and a consistent anchor point. He looked at his old bow with a new string and set at 55 pounds, looked at the new C.P. Oneida Extreme, and hit the hip.

“I’m going to buy that bow,” he said. “It’s not that I want to shoot faster or flatter, but in the back of my mind I’ve been hankering for a Colorado elk hunt. The extra speed, the flatter trajectory and smoothness of drawing this bow makes it a perfect choice.

“I’ll have to practice more and would like to be capable of shooting a tight group at 50 yards. With this new bow, I think that is a distinct possibility.”

He could handle 65 pounds with all the new designs in the Extreme bow.  He won’t be working his shoulder muscle any harder with this bow than he was with his old bow at 55 pounds.

He wrote out the check, said he’d give the older bow to his son, and left the shop a happy man. Granted, Pollington had made a sale but there is more to an archery shop than good service and good sales.

Making a customer happy is important. He will show his new bow to his friends, they will draw it at 65 pounds, and he will become one of the archery shop’s strongest supporters.

And that is why Claude makes, sells and services bows. He delights in making hunters happy. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/17 at 08:20 PM
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Friday, November 16, 2007

I Need Your Prayers For My Great-Grandson

Love from teen-age children seems to have disappeared from the American way of life. So we look for love from little children.

Reece Kerby of Honor is my great-grandson. He is 18 months old, and before he was a year old he had won some of those contest that determine if the child is photogenic enough to go to Chicago for further modeling. Some of these things are con jobs that sucker the parents into investing a ton of money in child modeling classes.

That said, the little guy adores his great-grandpa. He follows me around, walks out to the mailbox and carries in the mail, picks flowers and gives them to his great-grandma, and I tell him fishing and hunting stories that he seems to understand.

Now he is ill. Seriously ill, and we’re hoping for a cure. It may not be that simple.

Reece grew ill yesterday, and was taken to the hospital in Traverse City. That led to an exhaustive battery of tests. Once the answers came back, the news wasn’t good. In fact, it was shocking news about a child so young.

He has congestive heart failure, heart murmurs, and an enlarged heart, liver and spleen. The doctors made those determinations today, and decided to airlift Reece to Grand Rapids. No beds were available. Then the Traverse City doctors decided to airlift him to the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor, and then that was called off for lack of a bed. How much room does it take to house a small sick child?

He has now been airlifted to Grand Rapids for another battery of tests tonight and tomorrow, and he may yet wind up in Ann Arbor. Great-grandma Kay, my wife, is with her daughter, the grandmother and the mother, her grand-daughter.

The little tyke is frightened to death as nurses come to take blood and urine samples, his temperature, and monitor his heart beat and pulse. He is hooked up to all types of monitors, and is much too young to understand that all of this is needed to help determine the extent of his illnesses. The Up North doctors said that a heart transplant may be required if this turns into a worst-case scenario.

A heart transplant on an 18-month-old boy? Everyone is keeping the faith that all will turn out well, and that medications and time will help cure these problems. The mother, a single parent, allows Reece’s father to have the boy two days a week. No one knows yet, or has not said, what caused his problem.

Is it a birth defect, the result of a virus (which some doctors feel) or is it something that just happened to a nice little boy that deserves something much better than what has got.

It’s easy to say that other children of a similar or older age may have other life-threatening diseases that may be much worse, but it’s difficult to grasp the depth of concern that his family is going through. We are agonizing over how and why did this have to happen to our little boy?

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, things happen unexpectedly. Now we must deal with it as best we can, and I ask each of you for your prayers for a cute little boy that deserves something better from life than what has been dealt to him.

And as I sit by the phone, waiting for good or bad news, a line from Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” drifts through my mind. Paraphrased, it goes something like this: Where does the love of God go when the waiting turns the minutes to hours?

I’ll end it here before I begin weeping all over this page. Grant a little boy one of your prayers ,,, and thank you.

Posted by Dave Richey on 11/16 at 07:13 PM
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