Thursday, January 31, 2008

Some Tips On Turkey Calling

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My turkey hunting vest is full, and thoughts of cleaning it out entered my mind ... just for a moment. There are odd bulges where box calls are wrapped in old and soft green wash clothes,and then secured with stout rubber bands to prevent an accidental squeak.

The back of my vest has two decoys (a hen and jake) and stakes, and there is a turkey wing I use to slap against tree branches to imitate the hen flying to the ground.

Other pockets of the 10-pound vest hold slate and glass calls, another pocket has a bunch of diaphragm calls, and scattered here and there is a crow call and an owl call that I rarely use. There is a gobbler call that I’ve used a few times in 30 years on in-state and out-of-state hunts.

Turkey hunting has the distinction of being one of the most dangerous of hunting pastimes. Look at it this way: only gobblers are legal in the spring, and if someone uses a gobble call, another hunter may start stalking that sound. Move a bit at the wrong time, and a foolhardy hunter may shoot at the gobble. He could shoot you.

Most of my joy about turkey hunting comes from calling. The idea of a big gobbler strutting to my call is a great feeling. It is a wonderful sight, watching a bird react to soft clucks and purrs, and to see a long-beard sneak through the woods, stop to go into a full strut with a booming gobble, that makes it something very special.

Now me, I am not a good caller. Guys like Greg Abbas, Bob Garner, Bruce Grant, Arnie Minka, Phil Petz, Al Stewart and others fall into the category of being great callers. Not me. I seem to have been born tone deaf, and never could sing a lick. I couldn’t carry a tune in a 10-pound grocery bag, and I marvel at these great callers.

A friend of mine in Florida can call with his mouth. He can yelp, cluck, cutt, purr, do a fly-down cackle, and make a bunch of other great sounds. He often signs off his telephone calls with one call or another. He also serves as a judge in turkey calling competitions, and knows what they sound like and what they mean to a gobbler.

My calling abilities are limited. I can cutt, purr and yelp, and I’ve found that is about all I need to know. Those three, when used at the right time and not often or very loud, has called many birds for me and many more for others who hunt with me.

Many records have been listened to, and there’s no way the sounds that come from my calls resemble anything like those on a record or tape.
The tapes have true sound quality, and the notes are crisp and sharp.

Mine tend to run together. There are calls I can’t make, and I never try, but no matter how bad they sound to me, it matters little. It doesn’t seem to bother the gobbler.

One turkey calling secret I learned years ago was that gobblers and hens, like men and women, have different voices. They don’t all sound alike, and humans are not meant to sound the same. So if my turkey tunes seem a bit off key, it doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t bother the bird. Gobblers probably feel it’s a new gal, and she has a nasty cold.

I’ve argued back and forth with hens, and on more than one occasion, my squabbling with a jenny will bring her to me. Where she goes, the gobbler will usually follow, and more than several gobblers have met their fate by following a snarly old hen to my call.

I’ve read books on turkey calling, and the authors advise leaving the diaphragm home if a hunter can’t use it right. I always let the turkeys determine whether it is right or wrong, and even when it sounds wrong to me, the birds often accept it.

Turkey calling is not so much about what you say with a call as how and when you say it. There is a certain rhythm to turkey calls, and if a hunter knows the string of notes and puts them together in the right order, the birds may come. Nothing is guaranteed with turkeys

There is much good to be said about not calling too much. A hen that stays in one spot, and squawks at the gobbler may not call a long-beard to the ground anywhere nearby. Call a little bit, perhaps answer one or two gobbles to let him know where you are, may be all it takes to lure a big Tom to the gun.

However, having said that, I’ve long experimented with using two calls at once. If a gobbler sounds like he’s on the ground, and is gobbling and double gobbling, but won’t move in your direction, try using a box call and a diaphragm at the same time. It sounds like two hens, and sometimes it will cause a gobbler to come to investigate.

Nothing ever works all the time, and I’ve seen world champion turkey callers mess up. Too much calling at the wrong time is a can’t win situation, and hunters must have the experience needed to know when and how much to call and when to shut up.

Shooting a gobbler isn’t why I hunt them. I chase these long-spurred birds because I thrill at seeing a snowball-white head bobbing through the woods as it comes to my call. I’ve been known to let the bird come in, look for the hen and wander off, just so I can catch the buzz of having a gobbler up close. It’s fun!

And it’s a thrill I never want to lose.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/31 at 06:38 PM
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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Rotten Weather: Gobblers On The Move

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It was a rotten day. Snow, high-powered west winds and 5 degrees below zero early this morning. And then things changed just a bit as we contemplated our snow-filled driveway.

If nothing else, the old excitement still makes me tingle. We spent a wonderful 30 minutes watching three gobblers fighting the high winds and blowing snow. I don’t think the minded the snow but the cold and brutal wind almost blew them off their feet,

Who knows where they came from. My guess is they were just moving through the area. The deer had cleaned up what little bit of corn we provide every day for recreational feeding and viewing, and perhaps a few kernels were there.

The birds were walking deer trails through the light snow that fell early this morning, and they seemed to keep their heads down. Often, they would pop over a low ridge to get out of the full force of the wind.

All three had visible beards, and one had an eight-inch ropey beard. They seemed lethargic and were not prone to moving very fast.

They were in sight for 30 minutes, and it offered a brief preview of things to come. Hunters who applied for spring turkey permits should learn how the lottery draw treated them sometime in early March.

After they left, we had little snow to contend with. Most of it had fallen off the roof yesterday and last night. Heavy shoveling was in order, and after two hours of digging out, I came back inside. The combination of blowing snow and below-zero temperatures were enough to keep me inside most of the day.

I favor box calls and glass or slate calls. One by one each call came out, and I practiced my clucks, cuts, purrs and yelps until they sounded good to me. I practiced the soft calls that can close the deal when a gobbler stops for a look around.

A soft purr can coax a reluctant gobbler within easy shotgun range, and it’s a call I save for just the right moment. Another is a soft whining purr with a bit of a question at the end as if it meant “Hey, here I am. C’mon, big boy. Over here.”

I have some aluminum calls, and many work with a soft touch but some remind me of fingernails squeaking down a blackboard. It doesn’t bother the gobblers but it bugs me. It sends a shiver up and down my spine, and makes my ears and head hurt.

My favorite is a good box call. A soft stroke is all it takes, and far too many turkey hunters put some muscle on the call and the sound is much too loud. If the hunter is properly positioned, a soft call used sparingly works best.

I can coax a whining purr out of my old Ben Lee Twin Hen box call that seems to make the birds feel comfortable, and when I must get into a verbal argument with a nearby hen that seems determined to drag the longbeard away, this call gives me two calling surface that produce two different hen sounds. One side or the other always seems to work.

It always puzzles me why I can’t rely on one diaphragm call year after year, but each year I go through two-dozen diaphragm calls before finding one that seems to sound good to me and seems to make gobblers.
curious
I’ve experimented with dozens of diaphragms over the years, and some just won’t work for me. The mouth call is often used when a gobbler hangs up nearby. I occasionally back away from the bird if I know he can’t see me, call softly from a different direction, and sometimes it does the trick. Sometimes it doesn’t. Nothing works all the time with gobblers.

It’s my opinion that I’m not a very good caller. But, guess what? A hunter doesn’t have to be a good caller to call in some gobblers. I’ve worked some birds that have probably been shot at, and they are extremely call-shy.

My strategy with such birds is to move slightly closer, call once very softly, and if the bird doesn’t come, I’ll move a tiny bit closer and call just once and very softly. The bird really doesn’t want to go to the hen; he wants the hen to come to him.

Playing hard-to-get works on some call-shy birds and doesn’t work on other gobblers. Some pre-season indoor practice with the calls can help, but two important rules apply under most calling situations: call softly and don’t call too often. A third would be to never call outdoors unless you are hunting. Never call outdoors before the season opens.

Break these rules at the risk of spooking birds. Too much calling or calling too loudly can send a gobbler heading it for somewhere else. Educating gobblers with a call is too easy to do, and once they’ve been educated, getting them to move to any call is a very real problem.

All of this came about because of seeing three gobblers in a vicious wind and snow storm with below-zero temperatures. Turkeys have to be tough to survive such weather, and that’s what makes them so much fun to hunt in the spring.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/30 at 06:34 PM
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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Change Is Blowing On The Wind

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The wind came in hard yesterday with the rain and warming temperatures. It was straight out of the west, bouncing across Lake Michigan in a beeline for northwest Michigan, and it came ashore and slammed into our woods.

My intention was to check out my 20 acres of hardwoods, look for deer tracks in the muddy snow, and start making plans for hunting sites for next fall. I know where deer bed in my area but it was not my intention to go through those spots today or to put up stands anywhere near them next year.

Any timber removal of changes the face of a wood-lot. The sole purpose of cutting some trees is to increase the amount of sunlight that hits the forest floor. The more sunlight, the greater the new growth that will spring up, including trees to be cut 20-30 years in the future. I liked at some aspen trees and lilac bushes, and the warm weather has them budding out already. The grouse will find good pickings if we get the snow promised for tonight and tomorrow.

New growth is what deer and grouse and wild turkeys thrive on. It increases the number of songbirds as well, and once my wooded trails have had all vegetation killed with one or more applications of RoundUp, the soil can be tested, limed and fertilizer put down. And then, when the conditions are right, they can be planted in May or early June.

By mid-July the clover is up and the other crops will have gained a toe-hold in the soil. It doesn’t take deer and ruffed grouse and wild turkeys long to find the new growth. It becomes just one more source of nourishing food.

But the question is just how much space will I have for a new food plot back in the woods? I need an area that receives several hours of sunlight daily, isn’t prone to washing out in a heavy heavy rain, and it must be near a bedding area. Two spots hold some promise, and I checked them out while slipping and sliding in the woods.

Some trimming here and there, and plenty of brush-piles from the fallen tree-tops may help funnel deer from the bedding to the feeding area. It’s my thought to stay away during most of the winter, and then look at it again after much of the snow has melted in another two months.

I want the soil to drain well but retain some moisture. The sun must get to the seeds and when the ground is warm enough, the fertilized seeds will do wjat they are supposed to do. I want well-rooted plants, and want this additional food source within 150 yards of the bedding area with some fairly thick cover for deer to move through to get to it. I don’t want an open spot that means deer won’t move until after dark.

I expect to build two or three elevated stands in key spots. The stands must offer plenty of room to turn around in, and offer 15-20-yard bow shots. I’m not looking for lots of deer, but it would be nice to have one really good buck show up every year. Let’s face it: Grand Traverse County isn’t noted for many deer and very few of any size. There are no doe permits for this area.

There have been no bucks for last year, and that was by design. It’s hot that I haven’t had some chances at small bucks, but I chose not to take a buck. I passed up 31 bucks (none in this area) in 2007 and didn’t shoot an arrow or bullet. We’ve traveled to a few other locations to hunt, and frankly, spending two hours each day driving to another spot has grown tiresome.

I love to hunt new locations, but my vision prevents me from driving home at night. I must depend on Kay for the driving, and once it turns cold, she rarely hunts. So ... the answer is to hunt even near home. This means choosing some new locations and placing stands in key spots where deer naturally travel.

We know we won’t see as many deer—bucks or does—here as in other spots but we will be able to slip away more often during the rut and hunt the mid-day hours. If the wind decides to switch we’ll be only five minutes from the house instead of an hour away. When the early snows fall, and the roads become treacherous, we’ll still be only a few minutes from the house. If I choose to hunt and Kay does not, she will know where I am and I’ll be able to hunt long each day because I’ll arrive on stand an hour or two earlier.

It’s doubtful if we’ll have another timber cutting for another 10 years. It will give us plenty of opportunity to work with what we have, build our coops according, hang ladder-stands where they should do the most good, and get to know our local deer population again.

It wasn’t much but that is what I did today. However, there will be a great deal of work to be done next spring and summer. In the long run, we think it will be worth the sweat equity put into it

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/29 at 06:02 PM
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Monday, January 28, 2008

Chasing The Mid-winter Steelhead Obsession

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It happens every year sometime around the end of January. My thoughts turn from traditional winter fishing and hunting forays, and I begin dreaming the steelhead dream.

Many years ago (in the early 1950s) brother George and I would head north to Cheboygan County’s Sturgeon River in early April. And then, the DNR began opening other streams to early steelhead action.

By the early 1960s, there were many more streams that opened to steelhead fishing On April 1, and some sections of Great Lakes tributaries became open to year ‘round fishing. That meant, during a January or February thaw when air and water temperatures zoom skyward with a run-off causing some higher water, these silvery fish began nosing into these streams. Predicting their arrival was almost impossible, but I had it figured out fairly well.

Frankly, there have been years when good numbers of steelhead could be caught all winter. And then there are other years when the lower sections of the streams iced up and the fishing didn’t kick off until mid-April and the runs were spotty.

My yearly dream has temperatures in the mid 30s, a slight run-off from snow melt, and a few exploratory fishing trips in mid- to late-March. The rivers may be low and clear or up with a bit of color, and I’ll be prowling the river banks with a fly rod or spinning rod in hand.

I often go afield these days with two rods. A 10-foot or longer noodle rod for bait fishing, and an 8.6 No. 7 fly rod and a bunch of wet flies and streamers. The location of fish normally dictates my fishing method. Although I prefer to cast flies, there are situations and times when it may not produce or is almost impossible to get a fly down to the fish.

Then, spawnbags, wigglers or wax worms fished with or without a bobber in deeper water should do the trick. Ideally, what winds me up is a shallow stream with scattered pockets of slightly deeper water where early fish hold awaiting the water warm-up and spawning time.

I like to wade, and love the feel of water pressure squeezing my legs. I love hearing the river water gurgling around the end of a fallen tree, and looking for steelhead in all the right places. There must be a challenge to this fishery, and my preference is a section of river where I can be alone.

Prowling these streams is a sport best suited to individual efforts. One reason I prefer fishing in cold weather is it keeps some anglers home. I spent so many years fishing for steelhead when the fish far outnumbered the anglers, and it’s quite likely that thoughts of the “good old days” is still alive and well in my memory bank.

Matching wits with a broad-shouldered fish, a bright red sash down his side, a nasty looking kype, and orneriness under his hide, that makes me feel wonderful. I want a defining fish, whether it escapes or comes to hand to be released, is what makes my day.

Needed is a stiff wind, cold weather, and a few fish in the stream. I don’t need a limit catch because I’d release them back anyway. Eating spring steelhead filled with milt or roe is about as appetizing as eating a fall-spawning salmon. It’s not the fish itself that I need but the chance to again do battle with one of these worthy opponents.

Needed is the head shaking underwater battle, an occasional explosive leap, the head-strong downstream runs, and the give-and-take battle that gradually saps their strength. What turns me on is the battle, and if the fish beats me and gets away, it’s fine by me.

If fighting a steelhead hard and fast, and breaking his spirit quickly enables me to land it, the hook is gently removed and the fish is given its freedom. A long drawn-out battle builds up lactic acid, and under cold-water conditions, it can damage or kill the fish.

Most of all, what I need, is to be out on the stream. To forget about the winter, and again prepare to duel with a fresh-run steelhead. It is something that has kept me going for well over 50 years.

I need a rod in my hand, a big fish tugging me downstream, and the glimpse of a silvery shadow against the gravel. It’s what lights my fire, and gives me something outdoors to look forward to.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/28 at 07:26 PM
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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Remembering The January 1978 Stormnn

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The snow that day was falling hard, the wind was blowing even harder, when I pulled one of my more stupid stunts. It may go down as one of the dumbest mistakes of my lifetime, but you can be the judge.

It was in January, 1978. My son-in-law, Roger Kerby, stopped by while I was working, and as he walked in, the phone range. A friend who lived four miles away called from downtown Traverse City, saying she was snowed in, and would I go to her place to check on her dog.

Roger said the roads were really getting bad, and I said this shouldn’t take over 15 minutes. Out the door we went, me with shoes on but no socks, no hat, and a medium-warm jacket. We busted through a low drift on our road, and the snow and wind was cranking up. We later discovered the winds were pushing through at 40 miles per hour and gusting to 70 mph.

We made it a mile to the west, a mile north and another mile west. We were within a half-mile of her house, checking on a dog that probably didn’t need rescuing. And then, out of the swirling snow, loomed a huge drift.

I was able to back out of it after a few minutes, and we decided the dog was on his own in his straw-filled coop. We traveled another 300 yards down a road we had traveled just minutes before, and now we were high-centered on an even larger drift. Now, driven by the high winds, the snow was piling up into high drifts of rock-hard snow.

I had a pair of snowshoes and a shovel in the back, and nothing else. We started walking, and finally spotted a house with a light on. We knocked on the door, and they invited us in, and the man asked what I was doing out in weather like this, especially without socks on my feet.

My fore-finger made two or three circles around my temple, and he vocally agreed that I may have been a bit goofy when we left home, and once we told him where we lived, he started digging through old clothes and even found me a pair of five-buckle Arctics to wear to help protect my feet. These rubber boots were popular when I was a kid, and even though I was crowding 40 at the time, they were a welcome sight.

Off we went with a promise to return everything as soon as possible. We made it to the corner, started down another snow-drifted road, and stopped at the next house to warm up. We were now traveling into the teeth of the gale, and the strong winds were building up high snow drifts. We called to the next house, and was told in a very unsympathetic tone by an elderly lady, that she’d call the cops if we ventured into her driveway for any reason.

O-o-o-kay. We made two more stops on that road, and came to the corner a mile from where we lived. The snow drifts now were much higher than before, and I was breaking trail with the snowshoes. We stopped on an unfamiliar hill, and I asked Roger what was below us.

“That’s the road 10 feet below us,” he said, his teeth chattering from the well-below-zero wind-chill factor. I was basically walking blind without my glasses because the snow was packet tight between my lens and my eyes. I was fearful of having my eyes frost bitten. As it was, I wound up with a round patch of frostbite on my cheek.

We kept moving, knowing that if we stopped for any length of time we might not get started again. The wind was like a wild thing, biting at our faces, boring through our clothing, and threatening to push us off the mountain of snow to the road far below. It swirled around us, and it might have been easy to become lost but we could still see bare spots where the road was even though the drifts were way over our heads. We knew we were heading in the right direction toward safety and some warmer temperature.

We walked another 10 minutes, and the wind switched once more, and was beating us unmercifully about the face and body when we spotted our porch light flickering through the wind-driven snow. It seemed an awful long way away, but five minutes later we walked into our house, and into the welcome heat.

What should have been a 20-minute over-and-back trip, tops, turned into several hours. It was several days before I could get to my car, and the snow plows had built up a wall around it. I jumped in, turned the key and it started right up, and as I let it warm up, I shoveled deep snow away from the vehicle. I eventually plowed through the wall and out onto the road.

Now, my car always has a snow shovel, pair of snowshoes, heavy clothing, wool scarf, and a heavy and warm hat with a stocking cap that I can roll down over my ears. Travelers should throw in one or two sleeping bags, a Space Blanket or two, some half-filled bottles of water, and a heavy wool blanket or two. Store all this stuff in a large plastic covered storage tub in the trunk. A tow strap or tow chain would always be a good idea. Blaze orange or pink or bright yellow Styrofoam balls should be attached to the radio antenna, and remember something that we didn’t practice: stay with the vehicle and await rescue. We chose to take our chances but that was 30 years ago when I was young and not so smart.

I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson, but sadly, it’s not uncommon for many motorists to get stranded in heavy snow storms. It pays to be prepared for any and all eventualities. My mistake was going out ill-prepared for the storm, but sadly, many people are never properly prepared to cope with bad weather.

We wound up being snowed in for several days, and that mountain of snow that stood 10 feet tall became over 12 feet tall before the snow and wind died down, and for several days it was like driving through a tunnel. Encounter another car, and someone had to back up; there was room for only one vehicle at a time.

I know what it feels like to be unprepared for a major storm. Follow the motto of the Boy Scout of America, and always be prepared.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/27 at 03:00 PM
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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Remembering Past Bear Encounters & Hunts

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Me and black bears go back many years. There have been a large number of close encounters with bruins over 40 years, and some potentially dangerous confrontations took place.

Bears are very curious animals and are among my favorite wildlife species. Granted, they can do great bodily harm and can kill a guy if they choose, and if the opportunity presents itself, but mostly they want to be left alone. They can be downright curious, just like people, but after four decades of making a full-time living as an outdoor writer, it’s been my pleasure to have crossed paths with bruins on many occasions.

My hunts began in the late 1960s. No permit applications were needed back then. A hunter walked into a store, bought a bear license, and went hunting.

Those early hunts were fun because I sat on the ground, usually within 20 feet of an active bear bait, and hunting from tree stands had not become legal for bear or deer hunters. The first bruin I killed was with a bow at six feet. It wheeled, ran off into tall marsh grass, and I was right behind it, clueless and stupid in the middle of an Upper Peninsula swamp.

The animal went down on its back, and as I came running through the tall marsh grass, my right foot came down two inches from its open mouth as it let out a death bawl. My next step, I swear, was a 20-foot jump. It really wasn’t that far but that animal scared me silly under those circumstances. Circling back, the bear was approached from behind, but it was dead.

Another time I saw nine different bears on opening day of the fall bear season. A big bruin frequented the area but he wasn’t seen the first day although nine smaller bears showed up to feed. The larger bear came to me the second day, and offered an easy shot.

There have been some close scrapes with bruins including a stand-off with a sow with three cubs in Saskatchewan. Another close encounter came in the Northwest Territories as a foraging bruin was spotted and photographed from a distance of 20 feet. The bear approached to within three feet of me, circled all around as I stood my ground and kept turning to face the animal, and it never did anything except walk away. Its ears didn’t go back, its neck hairs didn’t go up and there was none of that teeth-gnashing business.

Another close call came when a grizzly was encountered in Glacier National Park during an early snow storm as I hurried down the mountain ahead of this violent storm that threatened to close the mountain passes. We eyed each other at 20 feet for what seemed like long minutes but the standoff probably didn’t last over 10 seconds, and the big bear ran off.

Another time, while hunting on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, my guide and I saw over 30 black bears on one mountainside. We probably saw 60 different bears in one day, including one with a 22-inch skull that would have placed high in the Boone & Crockett record books.

That bear was not shot. I passed on it because the only thing that would have made the animal appealing to anyone was its huge skull. It had rub spots on both front legs like it had been wearing manacles, two huge bald patches were on its hips, and assorted other problems made that animal truly ugly. It was an old boar, probably in its last year of life.

I knew if I shot that bear the only reason for its death would have been the big skull. I left that bruin to feed after stalking within 60 yards with my Knight .50 muzzleloader. I didn’t need a record-book black bear that bad.

Outdoor writer/photographer Judd Cooney and I hiked into one of his bear baits in northern Saskatchewan several years ago, sat down 20 yards from a bear bait, and took photos. A sow with a pair of young cubs came to visit, and he asked if I wanted the sow to turn our way. I nodded affirmatively.

“Hey, bear, over here!” Cooney hollered. The bear backed up a step or two, turned to look our way, and I started shooting photos. Cooney repeated this exercise three times, and then the cubs came over for a visit. They sniffed my boots, crawled over our legs, and walked back to their mother.

Had either cub squalled once we would have had an irate sow black bear all over us. The cubs behaved themselves, as did we, and they soon wandered off.

Hunting and being around bears all these years has been fun for me. There have been a few anxious moments when I’ve hunted down and killed bears wounded by other people who were too frightened to go after the animals. I didn’t want a wounded bear in the woods that could cause serious injury or death to someone unfortunate enough to get too close to it.

There has never been a problem during my encounters or when hunting down those injured animals, but anytime a person is within 50 yards of a wild bear, there always is an element of danger.

So far, I’ve been lucky. Now, with bad vision troubling me, my memory of those times when bears got too close, are still vivid. Each time provided an adrenaline rush that exceeds even that of when a big whitetail buck walks within bow range.

There is a magic to bear hunting. One only has to remember that this animal you hunt is fully capable of putting a person in a casket or a hospital room. That, my friends, adds some spice to the hunt.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/26 at 03:56 PM
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Friday, January 25, 2008

The Day After Eye Surgery

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I kept my date with the scalpel yesterday. My eighth surgery on my left eye was scheduled, and there would be no missing it.

The surgery went fine. The good doctor and his patient had a pleasant chat while he sliced and diced my eye, and judging by our conversation it was a fine time had by all. I put a little different twist on this surgery: he was asked to tell me what was happening. I wanted to know everything from the first slice to the last stitch.

He numbed up my left eye, shot me up with something to reduce the pain, but I had to be awake during surgery to follow his instructions. He didn’t tell me not to talk, so I began asking questions like a typical reporter. Motor-mouth Richey, on the job. Since my poor body was stretched out flat, everything was covered with blankets, and a paper jobby-do was spread over my face with just enough room on my left side so he could work on that eye.

“What’s first?” I asked. “Slice on my eye?”

“Yes,” he said. “We’ll make a little cut, and remove the bad flesh from around the site of the previous surgery.” Snip, snip, slice, slice.

“There, that’s done. Now we are going to take a look inside your eye to make certain that the viral infection you had in this eye last week is gone.”

He peered inside my eye, looked around, pronounced the eye as being free of any infection. There was no feeling to it, but there was a distinct feeling that he was looking deep into my soul. Hope he couldn’t read my mind.

“Everything OK?” I asked, hoping for a good reply. He said the eye appeared to be now in good shape.

Now you have to realize that both of my eyes have holes in them. They were placed there for one distinct reason: to act as an overflow valve. My eyes do not drain away the fluid in the eye as they should, and the fluid keeps forming and building up pressure inside the eye, and it begins to pinch the optic nerve. In a few words, that is what glaucoma does. If left uncontrolled, the pressure would build to a point that it would cause blindness.

My left-eye vision is very poor. I can see finger movement at six inches and some light and dark. That’s it. Any of the world’s beauties could be standing six feet away, urging me closer, and I’d miss out on any of the excitement that would come from meeting them. Met Cheryl Tiegs once, had a five-minute conversation with her, and that’s my exposure to such people.

However, I digress. There I was, in a prone position, and the doctor told me the next step was to pull the white part of my eye forward, and sew it in place where the bad tissue had been. Pulling it forward! Like a rug?

“Yep, and you won’t feel a thing. I’m pulling it from the back forward, and now I’ll have to stitch it up. We’re almost done.”

Time passes quickly once the nurses shoot you up with whatever it was. I’m going with the flow, fully conscious but feeling mellow. The good doctor is telling me that everything is dandy. I’m thinking that I like dandy, especially with my bad eye.

He knit one and pearled (purled?) two, put in several more stitches, snip-snip with the scissors, and he pronounced this operation a success, and he’d be in shortly to chat with me in the recovery room. Recovery? I felt great. He patched up the eye, and put a plastic eye shield over the eye, and taped it in place. Now I’m looking around for little kids to scare. Nah, just kidding.

In he came, and my wife was waiting for me in the recovery room, and the doctor explained what he did. I interrupted a time or two with my pertinent points about the surgery because I was on the receiving end of it. No one paid much attention to my babbling except the nurse who told me to get dressed.

On went my shirt, here came a can of cranberry juice and some cheese and crackers to stave off hunger (hadn’t eaten all day), and that was it. Hunger pangs have my belly grumbling. We stopped at a restaurant, and only one or two people stared. I ordered a steak to celebrate a successful surgery.

Dinner was great and Kay finished before me, and left for the ladies room, and I finished my steak. One bite left, and I was savoring the idea of stuffing it in my mouth when suddenly the cheap tape let go of my skin and the tape and plastic eye shield fell into my dinner plate. A woman across the way happened to look up just as it fell, and she stared at me as if my eye had fallen out. A forkful of steak was poised at my mouth and my left hand held the eye shield near the meat as the steak juice was studied. There was a distinct possibility she wondered which one was going into my mouth, the shield or the steak.

The steak won out, and the tape and shield was being cleaned off when Kay returned and we decided we’d tape it later after returning home. I tried to wink at the woman to show her there were no hard feelings about her staring at me, and I was past her before realizing I was winking with my left eye. It was bandaged up, and she couldn’t see it.

I’ll spare you the ugly challenge of looking at a photo of my blood-red eye. It looks something like a bruised plum, and I suspect that is easy enough to figure out. Today’s sunrise was creasing the southeast sky as I walked out for the morning paper.

The sky had gray anvil-shaped clouds over the sun, and it came slamming up in a ball of orange and red fury, shooting shafts of brightly colored lights up through the clouds, and as it paused briefly on the horizon like a big ball, it then rose into the sky and was swallowed by clouds the color of dirty dish water. That’s OK because I had the chance to witness another beautiful sunrise, and although it wasn’t visible to my left right, my right eye was captured by the glory of its short-lived beauty.

I’m fine, and although better vision is not possible in my left eye, it does help me keep my balance and enables me to avoid the two worst-case scenarios: wearing a black patch or a glass eye. And that’s good.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/25 at 06:03 PM
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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Take The Winter Coyote Challenge

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Calling in a coyote offers sportsmen as much excitement as anybody really needs. Several years ago I was sitting high on a hill overlooking a dense patch of very thick brushy cover surrounded by open land.

The wind was blowing uphill and downwind of me, and I suspected that was where the coyote would appear. However, I didn’t expect him to be as close as he got before I saw him coming.

I let out a screech with my portable caller, and let it run for about two minutes, and slowly turned down the volume. Fifteen minutes later, while sitting with my back to a tree and my wife’s .243 single-shot Thompson/Center rifle across my lap with an 85-grain hollow-point bullet up the spout, I slowly eased into another sequence of a screaming rabbit.

The sound grates on your nerves. It is 10 times worse than someone dragging their fingernails down a blackboard. That though was going through my mind when I saw a movement 30 yards to my left. My rifle was across my knees with the butt stock to my shoulder, and I watched the old dog coyote slip through the last bit of heavy brush. He was coming in for the kill.

The safety was pinched off silently between my thumb and forefinger. i eased the volume up just a tiny bit to cover the sound of pulling the rifle’s set trigger. This rifle has a set trigger, and once it is set, breathe too hard on the other trigger and it will go off. It’s best to have the cross-hairs on the animal before touching the trigger.

I’m familiar with the rifle, and the coyote was focused on where the speaker was hid in some tall weeds and brush. It sounded like a rabbit dying, and the coyote was looking at the sound rather than me. I knew he would step out, and then streak in for the kill. My time to aim and shoot would be when he first stepped out and before he ran.

The coyote stared hard at the spot, and the rifle was up and the scope cross-hairs were centered on his chest. He took one step out, staring toward the sound, and a soft caress of the trigger sent the bullet on its way. The coyote flipped over backwards and lay still.

I’ve been at this coyote hunting business for many years, and as soon as I shot, up went the volume again as the rifle was quickly unloaded and a fresh cartridge inserted into the chamber. Two minutes went by, and I was watching closely for another coyote.

Winter hunters know that in January and February coyotes often run together in pairs, a male and female. I soon spotted the other coyote, and its tail was clamped tight to its rear quarters, and it was 400 yards and sneaking out of the area.

Once, several years ago, my son-in-law, Roger Kerby (shown above) of Honor, called up a coyote and shot it. He fired up the recording, and out stepped another coyote, and he shot that one as well. He then turned up the volume again, and out steps a third coyote despite hearing two shots.

He aimed at it, and decided against it. He had cross-country skied into the area over deep snow, and knew dragging out two coyotes and his rifle would be as much work as he wanted to do. He let that coyote walk off, and later, after skinning out both animals, he decided to go for a ride. Ten minutes into the ride a coyote crossed the road in front of him. and began mousing 200 yards out in an open field.

He could have shot that animal but decided that two coyotes in one day was enough excitement for one person. Make no mistake about it: coyote hunting is exciting, especially when one sneaks in close to the caller without being seen.

My first coyote was shot 45 years ago when I started hunting coyotes and foxes with hounds. I took that one with a 3-inch magnum 12 gauge with No. 4 buckshot at 30 yards.

These animals are hardy, and a flat-shooting rifle with a hollow-point bullet is needed to prevent them from running off. There is no shortage of these predatory animals, and hunting them is never easy. It’s as big a challenge as one can find during any time of the year, but especially during the winter.

Don’t believe me, then take the coyote challenge. Anyone who takes a coyote by calling it, running it with houses or by stalking it, has accomplished something very difficult. It has become a popular winter pastime, and hunting hasn’t made a dent in the coyote population and it never will.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/24 at 11:46 AM
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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Grant Me A Gorgeous Sunrise Before Surgery

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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 a generous amount of imagination, you might hear it say: “Here I come. Look at me. Admire and revel at 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. 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 come alive.

The sun seemed to punch 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 far-off 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, shooting spears of golden light into the atmosphere, 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 people. For five minutes, a sunrise can take away the daunting fears of a plummeting economy.

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.

Sunrises and sunsets are of major importance to me. I’ve seen both bathing free-drifting blue- and green-colored ice bergs while hunting caribou on Canada’s Baffin Island. The ice had 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 happy to be alive.

I’ve taken the track of a hunting fox just as the morning starts to gray 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 surrounded by an orange and yellow brilliance that is stark and beautiful. One must be there to see and believe it but it is 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 sun behind them appearing to fall into Lake Michigan without causing a ripple or splash. Of course, if it was sinking 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 linger long enough to bathe the sky in brilliant colors before gradually winking out while fading into night’s darkness.

The reverse is obviously true on Lake Huron. One heads out onto the lake when dawn is nothing but a 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 again as the water seems to ease the sun out and up into the air.

I’ve seen sun and I’ve seen rain, and 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 or evening 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. I go in tomorrow for eye surgery. It’s no secret that my eyes are bad. This surgery will be the eighth on my left eye. I’ve had nine surgeries on my good (right) eye.

For me, my waking thought each night when I go to bed is to see just one more sunrise or sunset ... today ... and tomorrow ... and as long as God grants me life, good health and some vision.

And each day when this wonder of nature comes bursting up onto a darkened landscape, I see it as a wondrous gift for which I shall be eternally grateful.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/23 at 08:13 PM
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fishing and Hunting Has Become More Sophisticated

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Fishing and hunting has become more sophisticated. The people who participate often are well-schooled, have graduated from college and are accustomed to learning new things in their leisure time.

Many anglers and hunters strive to stay well informed. They want to read things they can learn from, and over many years, I’ve worked with many people to build an excellent outdoor-related library.

It’s no brag, just fact: I have collected fishing and hunting books for over 50 years, and am in the midst of compiling a major bibliography of fishing and hunting books published in the English language. This research book is only half finished, and the bibliography features some 1,300 typewritten pages that list between 25,000 and 30,000 titles.

I know what books are out there, I know what is needed to go into a research library for an angler or hunter, and I’m accustomed to doing research. A teacher friend wanted an obscure book to show his class, but didn’t have the book and couldn’t find it. He knew the author’s name and book title, and asked for help. I found the book within 15 minutes.

It’s not always that easy, but I’ve spent years searching for some rather obscure books, and this is a service some people need. They need help determining which books to buy, learn how much the books will cost, and have someone do the search service work.

Other people need to have their present collection checked out, and determine its value for an estate sale, for insurance purposes, or to determine what the value is for a gift donation. I perform such appraisal work as well on a fee basis determined by what a collector needs done.

And work is the right word for doing appraisals. It is a long and time consuming task.

Of the two, I most enjoy working with people who are just beginning to establish a collection of books on their favorite fishing or hunting topic. I’ve worked with some to build their collection of muskie fishing titles, and helped others who collect deer hunting or turkey hunting books, and some who specialize in Atlantic salmon, tarpon or trout fishing. One thing I don’t do is stray out of my field of fishing and hunting titles.

Finding books for clients can be easy, very difficult, nearly impossible, or a thrilling challenge. The challenge topics are the most fun because it is like hunting for a diamond in a coal pile. It’s dirty work but look how much fun it can be when you find one.

I just found 12 muskie books for a client. When we spoke, and I told him of my finds, it sounded just like a child at Christmas. He was happy.

I use e-mail or a phone call, and discuss what the client wants or needs from a particular genre. I’ve helped a few collectors locate some very scarce and rare African hunting books, but each collector is different in his or her wants.

But find a key book, and their joy is similar to taking a first-time trout fisherman out and putting him or her into a 10-pound steelhead. It’s fun for me and for them.

There is, as is true with all types of work, some expenses involved. Doctors and attorneys have been good clients, and their busy fast-paced work life doesn’t leave much time to look for books. They give me a list of titles, or ask me to prepare a list, and I go to work.

I’m helping a muskie-book collector finish up his collection now. Many of the books are reasonably common; some are hard to find; a few are most difficult to locate, and two or three are nearly impossible.

There is a general theme to my advice for budding book collectors. Try for the hardest books first. They are very difficult to find now so get them while they are still available on occasion, and fill in the collection of lesser valued books as time goes on and money permits.

Many people I’ve dealt with provide me with a value guide that tells me how much they can spend over the period of a year, and I begin looking for key books within that range. In every genre, there are cornerstone books that are very important acquisitions. I always suggest a new collector decide which books they want first (with some advice from me), and we work toward that goal.

I’ve learned that although there are many people who are interested in deer hunting, there is a plethora of titles to choose from. I determine which authors and titles are most collectible.

Books—good books—appreciate at 10-12 percent yearly, and sometimes as much as 15 percent for a few. I would never suggest collecting fishing or hunting books as a means of making money, but only a fool would ignore the fact that good books increase in value while poor books do not.

My thought is to help a new collector pursue this hobby with an eye toward acquiring very difficult books when possible. I urge them to enjoy the books while they are alive, and when they pass on, the books will probably be sold. I can lend assistance in planning ahead to this unfortunate day when the beloved books will pass into someone else’s hands for a tidy sum of money.

Planning ahead is what makes precision collecting not only a hobby, and provide good reading while allowing the sportsman to acquire more angling and hunting knowledge and skills, but in the end, provide loved ones with a significant investment.

I buy fishing and hunting books, sell them, and will help outdoor-book collectors get started or improve their collection.

If you are interested, drop me a note at < >. I’ll be happy to help.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/22 at 07:30 PM
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Monday, January 21, 2008

One Of Dave Richey’s Dumbest Steelheading Stunts

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It’s widely thought by most sportsmen that outdoor writers are pretty neat people. They fish, hunt, and get paid to write and photograph their outdoor activities.

This is all true. What isn’t known is that most of us make the occasional mistake. We do some pretty stupid things at times, and often try to keep people from learning about our miscues.

Not me. I’m a straight-arrow, upright, upstanding, and willing type of person who is willing to share one of my fishing gems with my readers. It wasn’t one of my better days, but here’s the story.

One spring day two years ago is a good example. My son, David, and I were prowling the Betsie River looking for end-of-the-run steelhead. I was walking along one of those crumbly paths that overlook the river. Stop and start, look for fish on spawning redds, and then instead of fish I spotted a empty Diet Pepsi bottle.

Mind you, I’m fairly high over the river when I spotted the bottle. Fools who toss away empty bottles and cans on rivers annoy me, and I stopped to pick up the bottle. It would be stowed in my fly vest until I got back to the car.

My fly rod was in my left hand as I bent over to pick up the bottle with my right hand, and I took two steps, stubbed my toe on a tree root in the trail just as my son hollered something at me. I turned as he spoke, tripped and spun, off-balance and obviously out of control, and slipped off the trail.

I landed on my back, and began sliding downhill. I spotted a small tree rapidly approaching, put both feet together, and they hit the tree. The slope is steep, and 20 feet below me is a deep hole with heavy current. Twenty feet above was the trail that looked to be miles away.

It must have been a pitiful sight. There I was, standing mostly upright on a steep slope with a fly rod and empty pop bottle in my right hand and a fly rod and reel in my left hand. The trick now would be to pivot around to where I’d be facing the slope, and do it without continuing another slide into the river.

Hands were needed, and both mitts held something. As distasteful as I found it, I let the bottle go. The fly rod was placed on the slippery slope, and dirt was pushed up at the bottom of the reel to hold it in place.

That done, and while my son fished for a late-running fish and was oblivious to my situation, there was nothing he could do to help. I carefully tried to rearrange my feet on the base of the small tree, and turn over to face the slope. It wasn’t a truly vertical slope, but was very close to it. I had 20 feet to go to the water, and 20 feet to climb to get out of my predicament.

A bad move while turning would probably throw me off balance, and I’d continue the rest of the way to the river in a head-first slide. Not cool.

Looking around, I found a small tree root at ground level. I dug my fingers under it until I had a finger hold. With caution, I reached across my body while maintaining constant foot contact with the tree. I was able to grab the root with my right hand, reach up with my left hand to find another tree root, and once in this awkward position I slowly eased my body around.

One foot slipped off the tree but a death-grip will my right hand kept me from sliding off the precarious footing. Now I’m facing the steep slope, and I looked up and spotted another half-exposed tree root. It is grabbed with my right hand, and my rod is pushed uphill with dirt scraped under the reel to keep it from slipping down into the river. Wow, me and the rod are making some progress.

Up I go, two feet with my left hand grabbing for purchase on another tree root, and my feet trying to gain some type of toe-hold. Huff, puff, this is hard work. Another and still another tree root is found, and slowly, a foot or two at a time, I crawled upward feeling like Spiderman in waders.

Each time my fly rod is boosted up, and my fingers are digging dirt out from under half-exposed tree roots. It’s progress but very slow because to rush things might send me splashing head-first into the river. That might break my foolish neck and scare David’s steelhead.

I eventually found my head at trail level but no more tree roots in sight, and me in my corn-stalk camo waders would have looked odd to anyone watching this bizarre climbing feat. My rod was picked up and gently tossed onto the trail as I began digging for finger purchase in the soft dirt, and I’m huffing and puffing like a worn-out steam engine.

My grip with both hands on bare dirt was as good as it could get, and I began trying to do a vertical chin-up in the dirt. My right shoulder, and then the left came over the top as my toes kept pushing me up.

I’m not home yet and a small sapling was inches from my left hand as I released my grip on the dirt and grabbed the sapling, hoping it was deeply rooted enough to hold my weight. It was and finally both legs came over the ledge and onto the trail with my nose on my fly reel. Together again!

The climb took about 10 minutes but it was the hardest my old body has worked in a long while. I finally sat up, my back to a tree, as my heart rate and breathing slowed.

It was a sad piece of work, and if you don’t mind, I’ll take my leave now. My back is sore, and in need of a hot shower. Oh, if anyone is really interested, the Diet Pepsi bottle is still down at the bottom of that slope and I am not going back after it.

One trip back up that slope is enough for this lifetime.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/21 at 08:42 PM
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Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Foolish Mistake While Hunting

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This true story took place more than 40 years ago, and for the most obvious of reasons, the names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty.

Zeke was a hard-hunting, hard-drinking, hard-fighting man, and loved all three with a passion. It’s very possible he also loved his wife, but she always got shortchanged because he took care of his hunting dogs and his hunting gear instead of her. At times, she was left to shift for herself for days on end.

Their marriage had been crumbling like a house of cards for several years, and she began making noises about a divorce. Zeke was young, as was his wife, and he felt it would be possible to weather this domestic storm.

He failed to see the clouds of divorce looming on the horizon, and she eventually issued an ultimatum. Pay some attention to me, and spend more time at home, or you will come to regret your unwise decisions. She just wanted more than he was willing to give.

It was a tough issue for Zeke. He’d fished and hunted all of his life, and had raised bird dogs and hounds for 20 years. He lived for the fall and winter, the pungent odor of leaf piles being burned by other people and the crisp cold and snow of winter. The leaves were never his; he refused to rake and burn them. He never shoveled snow off the sidewalk or driveway. He felt that was his wife’s job. She even had to feed his dogs.

It was more fun to whistle up his pointers, grab his double-barrel 12 gauge, and hie himself off to the woods. His dogs worked well together, and if one pointed, the other would back him as they were supposed to. Zeke had two of the finest pointers in Michigan, and they were as tough as whang leather, just like him.

Soon, the day-after-day hunting took its toll on the marriage. His wife didn’t want to leave, but she didn’t want to stay, and Zeke said he would try to change his ways. He felt it was time to mend his fences as best he could but feared it would never be possible now.

His words were nothing more than a hollow and temporary diversion. He tried to spend more time with her, but would always sneak off to go hunting. The words between them became more harsh and heated, and Zeke could see the handwriting on the domestic wall. His stock was no longer selling well.

He began putting money aside for the eventual day when the divorce would go to court, but he had almost three months to chase grouse and woodcock before it happened. He went for about a month working his dogs but leaving the shotgun at home. He wanted the dogs to be in prime condition for the last week of October and first week of November when the flight woodcock came down from the north, riding the chilly wind into local alder thickets.

He continued to work the dogs, and hide money from his wife. The dogs were as sure as death and taxes on birds, and he enjoyed the comments he received from friends and other hunters. They made nice comments about the dogs, and wondered why he wasn’t shooting. He explained his home situation, and said going out without a shotgun really wasn’t hunting. At least that is what he had come to believe and what he told his wife in an attempt to explain his daily absence. He was training his dogs, not hunting with them. A case of apples and oranges to his way of thinking.

Zeke kept hiding money from his pay check, and his wife wondered if he was spending it on another woman but he was never gone from home at night, and spent every day off with the dogs. Week after week he salted money away, choosing a place where he knew his wife would never look.

You see, she had nothing against hunting but hated firearms. She didn’t understand them, didn’t know how they operated, and didn’t want to learn. Zeke knew this. Every week he would stick one or two $100 bills down the barrels of his 12-gauge double. He felt the money was as safe there as in Fort Knox.

The last week of October soon arrived. and it was ushered in with a heavy rain. Zeke knew the woodcock would come drifting into his area on the strong winds and heavy rain. His pointers could smell the cooling wet air, and knew it meant bird hunting weather, and were ready to go when he hollered “kennel up.” They jumped into the dog boxes in the back of his truck, and off they went. This time Zeke would be hunting, and he was overjoyed at the thought of hunting over his pointers.

They drove to one of his favorite coverts, and he puttered around, trying to figure how to hunt the pointers into the wind. He knew the puddles of water would bring nightcrawlers to the top of the ground, and the birds would not be far away.

He grabbed the double-barrel, stuffed two low-brass No. 8 shotshells into the chambers, closed the action, clicked on the safety and headed into the dripping woods. One pointer soon snuffled up a nose-full of woodcock scent, and slammed into a quivering point, his tail as stiff as a dagger, his head cocked slightly to the left. The other dog backed him, and Zeke moved in slowly, watching the ground in front of the dogs for flushing woodcock.

“Steady, now, steady,” he whispered to both dogs as he eased past then with his eyes looking about six feet off the ground.

Two woodcock twittered up, one peeled off to the left while the other flew right, and Zeke was primed. This was what he’d waited for, and swung left, clicked off the safety, shot, and quickly swung through the second tpweromg woodcock, and shot again. He’d done this so many times, and usually the bird fell but not this time.

Both birds flew away unscathed. It took Zeke a moment to figure out what happened. In his haste to hunt this perfect day, he had forgot about stuffing both barrels full of rolled-up $100 bills.

Scattered all around were tiny bits of charred and burning green paper. He later said that he had squirreled away over $2,000 in his shotgun barrels, and there was nothing left but green confetti and his two pointers. He hung his head and cried. To make matters even worse, when he returned home, he found it empty except a sad and poignant note on the kitchen table.

“I’ve leaving, Zeke,” the note read. “The divorce papers will arrive in two days. I’m sorry, but I can’t take this lonely marriage any longer. I’m moving out. Love ...”

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/20 at 06:43 PM
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Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Different Era For Steelhead Fishermen

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Time has a way of changing all things. It’s zero outside, and I’m remembering an era 40 years ago this April when steelhead fishing was a thing of which wild dreams were made.

It was 1968, my second year of guiding brown trout, salmon and steelhead fishermen, and I was scouting the Little Manistee River for clients who would arrive the next day.

The river was rain-swollen and murky, and in another hour of heavy rain, it would be a foot higher and the color of chocolate milk. I thought a big buck steelie was spawning with a hen on a shallow gravel bar an easy cast from shore. Brother George shinnied up a nearby tree and stood on a big branch to study the spawning bed.

“That fish is huge,” George muttered to me. “It’s bigger than any steelhead I’ve ever seen, and his cheeks and gill covers are an orangish-red color. It is an awesome fish.

“You know about where he is. Cast a copper spinner upstream and reel hard when I tell you.”

I cast, and George said to cast another six feet farther upstream in hopes of getting the spinner down in the heavy current. My next cast, he said, was on target.

“That’s the spot,” he said. “Keep casting to it. Reel hard now!”

I reeled, and nothing happened. Cast after cast went into the right spot, and I’d reel fast enough to make the spinner blade turn over in the current, and after 40 or 50 casts, George yelled “Hit him!”

The hooks were slammed home as I felt the strike, and nothing happened, so I pounded the rod tip back to set the hooks again. The huge fish rolled to the surface, his cheeks and gill covers glowing like an evening’s campfire embers, and the fish started upstream, his dorsal fin creasing the surface like a shark. Not fast but with great determination and power.

I moved along the bank but stayed downstream of the fish. The trick was to make the giant fish fight the rod pressure and the river current. We duked it out in the soggy rain for 10 minutes before the fish swapped ends and headed downstream into a deep hole. I was reeling while running but still the fish tangled the line in underwater brush and broke me off.

“How big,” I asked George. He’d caught steelhead to almost 20 pounds, and guessed this ponderous male was at least 25 pound, perhaps more.

Wow, you say. That’s what I said, and of the thousands of steelhead I’ve caught before and since, it remains the largest one I’ve seen.

My point with this rhetoric is that it occurred back in the days of very few steelhead fishermen and lots of fish. The Little Manistee River at that time had a huge run of spawning fish that averaged, according to the DNR, between 11 and 12 pounds. A 15-pounder wasn’t anything special, and it took a 17- or 18-pound fish to raise any eyebrows. And fishermen were conspicuous by their absence.

That year, also on the Little Manistee River, I found a 30-yard stretch of gravel that was wall-to-wall fish. The bottom was honeycombed with spawning redds, and 15 or 20 feet away would be another redd, and every one held a female and one to four males. We fished only for the male fish because a hooked hen would take all the boys with her.

On that day I set a record of sorts. I hooked 30 steelhead in eight hours, and am proud to announce to one and all that I made a professional release on every fish. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a professional release means I lost every fish, one way or another. Did it rather handily, I might add.

There were far more steelhead in those days than now. There are far more fishermen today than back then. It’s easy to do the math; fewer fish are being caught by more fishermen.

There are still some rather exciting days if anglers can find a spot where fishing pressure is minimal. Two years ago me and another man hooked 30 steelhead in a morning. We landed about half of them, and released each and every one. Those days seldom occur anymore.

Low Lake Michigan water levels haven’t helped. The Betsie River mouth has been so low in recent years that very few fish make it upstream. Rivers like the Manistee below Tippy Dam can be very good at times, but fishing pressure is just too much for me. I can take a half-day of fishing in a crowd, and then get turned off by it.

That doesn’t mean that you should, but it’s easy for me to remember way back when to those days of yore when a steelhead fishermen would be unlucky to see two other anglers all day. And, back in the day, the fishermen didn’t crowd you or wade down through a spawning bed like an idiot.

Anglers back then had some class. The fish were larger and more plentiful, and the rivers weren’t swarming with anglers. It was a much different era, and although steelhead fishing now is still fairly good, when comparing what it was like 40 years ago to what it is like now is enough to make a grown man cry. It’s doubtful fishermen will ever see fishing of that magnitude again.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/19 at 06:23 PM
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Friday, January 18, 2008

My Best Winter Friend Is A Machine

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I’m not ashamed to admit it. My best winter friend is a machine. A John Deer snowblower, to be precise.

I’m not plugging John Deere. It’s just a fact. I’d be as lost as last year’s Easter egg if it were for my snowblower. Getting too old to do that much shoveling although I do shovel both front and back decks every day plus a path to the propane tank and the bird feeder.

We got hammered again last night. Several inches of snow fell, and a strong west wind filled the driveway. Hey, no problem. Me and my buddy Mr. Deere were up to the task. It was fired up, and as it warmed up, my Carhartts were pulled on, heavy boots were laced up, leather mittens pulled on along with a wool stocking cap of my Buckmasters brimmed hap, and my urge was to throw all of the snow out into the fields and woods around my home.

The tractor soon had the snow flying. This is one of those jobs where you must pay attention to what you are doing, but there is a good bit of dead time while traveling up and down the driveway. It’s when I spend time thinking about the outdoors.

I seldom think much about the weather as it pertains to me but I do think about what this snow, if it gets too deep, will do to the local deer and turkey populations. The quick and simple answer is it won’t do too much unless we get another 12 inches tonight, and still another dumping the next night and it keeps up for a week or two. Then, the consequences could be catastrophic. But ... we are nowhere close to that point.

There is enough wind today to scour most of the snow to the east, and wherever it hits the wood-line, the storm will start backing up in drifts. It’s when those drifts become belly-deep on deer and too light and fluffy for turkeys to flounder through in their efforts to feed, that bad things happen to our wildlife. Should the snow pile up to a depth of two or three feet, things would start going bad in a hurry.

One thought today was that it’s been a relatively easy winter so far. We’ll get a storm, 10 inches of snow will fall, and then it warms up, and the snow melts. So far, deer and turkeys have had a pretty easy winter of it. There’s no need for panic because of another nasty snow storm.

Most of the winter has seen brief warm-ups, snow melts, bare ground appears, and then it snows once again. The process seems to repeat itself every two or three weeks.
Two or three days ago we had deer tracks around the mail box. A week ago a small clump of turkeys snaked through our woods behind the house, and they were jabbering as they fed freely on weed seeds and other things. I put out some shell corn for the turkeys, but too much or it will get buried and be useless and a big waste..

So, is this weather something critical for deer and turkeys? The answer is no. Nor will it become a problem unless one of two things happen: a nasty ice storm hits and remains on the ground for a week or more without an increase in air temperature. The second bad thing would be a storm that brings two or three feet of snow in one wave after another without a break or warm-up.

Two or three feet of snow, too little food, very little thermal cover, and deer start living off their fat reserves. A deer near death from starvation tries to plow through deer snow, wears itself out fighting the snow, and if it’s lucky it dies quickly. If it is unlucky, the coyotes will find it and begin eating it alive.

The mild warm-up and thaw we experienced 10-14 days ago has sucked most of the frost from the ground. Any warm-up will help the snow melt, but if the temperature plummets as the weatherman forecasts for the next week and snow continues to pile up, this is when wildlife could get into trouble.

Actually, deer and turkey are in good shape at this writing. When bad weather started in November and December, and if there hadn’t been a midwinter break, that is when these animals would start to slowly die off. We could have a bad winter during February and March, but unless a severe ice storm hits, most of our birds and deer will make it.

Now that my driveway has been scraped, the deck shoveled, the bird feeders filled, it’s time for dinner. Company is coming, and the young man and his wife want to become outdoor writers. Kay and I will spend two days explaining the good and bad points of the profession.

It will offer a welcome break for us, a chance to meet new people, and share part of ourselves with them. We’re looking forward to the visit.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/18 at 01:24 PM
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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hound Music In The Cedar Swamps

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The sounds came drifting through the cedar swamp like choir bells on Sunday morning. Three golden-throated beagles were on the hot trail of a snowshoe hare, and the white swamp ghost was giving them a hard run on this winter day.

We’d walked into the swamp, and although snowshoe hare numbers are down in the northern Lower Peninsula, we found several tracks. The dogs snuffled deep of hare scent in each track, and with a beller that seemed to shake snow off the thick cover, away they went.

The chase was underway, and this hunt was more to listen to the deep bawls, the tenor yodeling bark of another hound and the steady chop of our strike dog. The cold trailer led the other hounds for 200 yards, and a minute later the beagles picked up the intensity of their barking.

A hare was up and running, and the hounds passed within 50 yards of me but the snowie was impossible to see. The cedars were heavily laden with snow, and seeing a white-on-white hare moving through the snow can be exceptionally difficult.

I moved over that way, cut the tracks, and stood by with a double-barrel Lefever 20 gauge. The other hunters were not in position yet, and the hare avoided any human contact. Ten minutes later the bawls and chops had turned and were heading my way once more, and I knew the dogs could be sight running the hare or be 500 yards behind.

The hare blasted through a narrow opening 20 yards away, stopped behind a cedar to look back, and there wasn’t enough of the animal visible to shoot at. The hare wheeled, and disappeared following his original circle. Minutes later a shotgun coughed once 300 yards away through the swamp, and then the hounds fell silent.

We’d bagged one of the hares, and we’d already determined that no more than two hares would be taken from this spot. The hounds cast about for five minutes in search of another hare track, and then they jumped another snowie that had been pushed into moving from one area to another by all of the commotion.

Away went the hounds, inhaling snowshoe hare scent like a Hoover vacuum sucking up dirt. We stood, quietly talking as the hare led the dogs on a long oval loop, and a short time later we could hear the bell-like sounds of hound music heading our way.

We hurried to take up positions, and this hare sneaked past all of us, and then the white hare seemed to lengthen his stride. He took the hounds out of hearing, and 20 minutes later we were trying to cut the last set of tracks that had circled past us, and took up our positions.

Hare hunting is usually done in tight quarters where visibility often is measured in feet rather than yards, and we try to find a place where we can see for 10 to 20 yards. I was closest to it, and the dogs were still 200 yards away when I barely saw puffs of snow flying into the air.

The satchel-footed hare was by me and heading toward another hunter. I whistled loudly to alert the sportsman, but this hare was past him before he could raise his shotgun. The beagles dashed by, looking sideways at me as if to ask why I didn’t shoot, and they too disappeared through the snow beneath the cedars.

Again, the snowshoe hare managed to elude us, and his circle again took the hounds out of hearing. It wasn’t long before we could hear the chops and yelps of the hounds heading our way. I moved 30 yards, took up a different position as I’m certain the others were doing, and I waited patiently.

The dogs seemed to be within 50 yards when the hare burst out around a low-growing cedar just 10 yards away. He stopped, turned to look back at the trailing hounds, and one shot ended that chase.

We caught up the dogs, put them on leashes, and decided to try another location. We try not to hunt the same snowshoe hare area twice in a year.

The second location showed a few tracks but nothing was fresh. The dogs couldn’t pull enough scent from the track for them to follow, and we decided that two hours of listening to a mix of happy yelps of 13-inch beagles is just about as good as it get.

We ended the day with two snowshoe hares, and countless memories of the happy sounds of a small beagle pack and the mad dashes of snowshoe hares. This is a pastime where, if a hunter desires, the hares can be passed up in favor of listening to continuous hound music.

To me, even though I did shoot a hare, the sounds of winter silence are best broken only by dog music. It reaches right down into my soul, and gives me ample reason to be standing knee-deep in a cedar swamp on a cold winter day.

It gives me something wonderful to look forward to each winter. A white hare on white snow can be tricky to spot, but if the truth be known, hound music and feeling snow fall down our neck is why we hunt these animals. Taking one or two snowies is important for the hounds, and in many ways, it helps seal our fate for future hunts.

Posted by Dave Richey on 01/17 at 06:24 PM
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