Sunday, March 16, 2008

20+ Bow-Hunting Tips

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Good whitetail deer hunters leave nothing to chance. They plan ahead, and if conditions are wrong for Plan A, they know enough to switch to Plan B. It’s months before bow season opens, it’s never too early to begin making plans.

Many hunters always have a loose plan for the day. They may tighten it up or switch plans, but most successful bow hunters will always have one in mind. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

*Have a somewhat detailed plan and a good idea of how and where you will hunt.

*Have a good knowledge of the terrain and where deer travel to and from bedding and feeding areas.

*Always be positioned downwind of where deer move. The key word is always.

*Know which deer frequent your hunting area. Some areas are better suited for big bucks than anything else. Have everything in your backpack you’ll need. An extra release, more Game Tracker string, compass, light, matches, Space Blanket and other items.

*Wear clean clothing and clean rubber boots.

*Shoot two or three times at a target before going out. Know exactly where your bow is shooting.

*Use a Game Tracker device. It can help eliminate long hours of searching for a weak or nonexistent blood trail.

*Use only razor-sharp broadheads. Factory sharpened heads are rarely sharp enough.

*Wear a safety harness when hunting from a tree stand.

*Visually inspect all stands before committing to them. Don’t take unnecessary risks in any elevated stand.

*Inspect areas within shooting range for open shots, and commit them to memory. Know where you can shoot.

*Use a grunt call sparingly. Too many hunters call too loud and too often. Err on the side of too little and not too loud or often.

*Know your best shots and wait for either a broadside or quartering-away shot. Never take a low-percentage shot.

*Pay attention to what other deer are doing while you wait for your buck to turn and offer a good shot. Make certain you can draw without being seen or heard by another nearby deer.

*Pick your shot. Never shoot at the center of mass, but pick the exact spot to aim. Concentrate on not lifting your head at the shot because it can cause the arrow to go high. Follow through by holding your bow motionless until the arrow impacts on the deer.!

*Know your ideal shooting range and never exceed it.

*Always sit quiet and motionless. Be still and be quiet, and draw the bow smoothly and silently. Eliminate any bow squeaks or a squeak from your tree stand.

*Know a deer’s body language. It will tell a hunter what the animal will do. Each deer is as different from others as fingerprints, and that means that each animal can and will react different to various stimuli.

*Hunt alone. A solitary hunter is quieter, moves less, and there is less chance of one person spooking a deer than two people.

*Be prepared for a shot at any moment. Deer hunting means paying attention. Never be caught with the bow anywhere other than in your hand.

*And an extra bonus tip for good measure. Shoot once, shoot straight and don’t miss.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/16 at 05:46 PM
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Saturday, March 15, 2008

When The Walls Start Closing In

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Have you ever had that feeling that the walls are closing in? Do you find yourself needing more space? When doing something, anything, outdoors has to be more fun than being cooped up.

My driveway is scarier than crossing a shale slide during an elk hunt at 9,000 feet. It’s as slick as a greased pig/

It’s tough getting out and doing much after recent eye surgeries. The dangers of falling, jabbing a stick in my eye, or banging my foolish head on some hard object, are very real. Cabin fever has set in, and a walk up and down the driveway offers a great risk of slipping on the patchy ice.

So, I spend time going over my fishing equipment. Some time is spent on-line, and more time is spent sorting out my books. I reorganize my bookshelves, search the internet for other books, handle the many emails that come my way, and answer countless reader questions. It’s something to do.

There is a cadre of people with similar interests, and we argue about which books are the best buys. We discuss the virtues of the how-to book versus those books that take us on an emotional journey with an author that tells us why we should fish rather than how to fish.

I’ve been at this outdoor writing business for 40 years, and long ago lost the need to have a heavy game bag, a limit of fish or the ego-stroking need to brag about my catches or kills. So, when the walls close in, I go outside.

Not far, mind you, because there are no cross-country hikes for me right now. There are no slogging through deep snow, and no chancy ice crossings where a fall is probable.

There are other needs that can be fulfilled without risking an injury that could blind me for life. And, less you think I’m wallowing on the pity pot, such is not the case.

This serious eye problem has been creeping up on me for more than 25 years. It’s nothing new, but it is more serious now than two decades ago.

Back then, I had two good eyes. I was younger, felt invincible, and didn’t look or plan ahead for eye problems during retirement. Perhaps I delayed too long on being checked for glaucoma, but I don’t think that was the case at all. I just didn’t think glaucoma was as serious as it is. It’s a mistake many make.

No one in my family, on either my mother or father’s side, had glaucoma. Or ... they had never been diagnosed with the disease. Frankly, glaucoma is a silent, painless thief of our vision.

Anyone at the age of 40, or even earlier if there is a family history of glaucoma, should be tested at least once each year. The disease can move slowly, and then speed up. My vision had been checked, and my glaucoma pressure taken, six months before the onset of the disease.

It was within normal limits. Six months late the pressure in both eyes was four times higher than normal. By that time it had built up so much pressure in both eyes that it was pinching the optic nerves. The left eye was worse than the right, and it’s why I have no left-eye vision now and why this latest surgery was so important.

I think about my cabin fever or, “going bush” as they once called it, and figure I can tough out another month of relative inactivity. I miss being out in the field on a daily basis, but going blind is a permanent problem. Removing the entire eye, and replacing it would be possible, but if I understand it correctly there is no known way to connect the optic nerve to the back of the eye.

So, I sit and wait and put in my eye drops with religious fervor, and hope my readers pay attention to my words, and I write when I feel like it. I poke around getting ready for the turkey season and steelhead fishing, and a whole host of other things that I enjoy doing and that need doing. Now I get to do more of it, and while it isn’t as much fun as being outdoors most of the day, it has some advantages.

Somehow, it’s difficult to think of more than three advantages to staying indoors most of the time. But, I know the outdoors will still be there once my eye heals and new glasses sit astraddle my big nose.

Knowing that is almost as good as being out there.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/15 at 04:47 PM
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Friday, March 14, 2008

Steelheading Can Be A Two-Man Job

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How many anglers does it take to land one steelhead? The question doesn’t include netting the fish because we never carry one.

A pink blush was painting the eastern horizon as my son David and I eased up to a swift run on the Betsie River. We approached the river like commandoes moving on a target area.

We moved slowly, tread softly, and peeked through polarized sunglasses into the river below. A brief spate of rain and melting snow had the water level up slightly and a bit dingy. There, lined up like twin guards, were two male steelhead holding behind a 12-pound hen.

The males were holding in a steelhead fisherman’s worst nightmare. One never fishes for the female, which was more open, because to hook or catch her means the males’ reason for being has ended. They scatter up and down the river.

However, the water was still very cold and the fish didn’t appear ready to spawn. Their arrangement behind the hen was more of a protective nature than one of fish soon-to-spawn.

“What a pretty situation,” David said. “We’ll start with the smaller male at the back, and with any luck will land both fish or neither one. Judging from the looks of things, these are the only nearby steelhead.”

The “here” he spoke of was a narrow slot, necked down by two log jams, into a millrace of strong current and five-foot-deep water. I urged him to take the first shift at teasing one of them into striking.

Overhanging tree limbs, tendrils of creeping vines, and a log jutting out of the bank near our feet made for a nearly impossible spot to fish. But, David and I both enjoy a challenge.

“I’m not certain what will happen if I hook one,” he muttered, sizing up the obstacle course downstream. “We’ve got a small log jam including this tree growing out of the mess. That’s the first problem. Fifteen feet below that, on our side of the river, is another log jam, and across the river is third twisted maze of logs.

“This is as tough as any spot I’ve fished. A steelhead landed here is something to get excited about.”

His first cast with a chartreuse yarn fly with one split-shot drifted over the two males. He adjusted his line, and cast further upstream and the males separated as the fly came downstream. Now he had the proper distance that would allow the fly to reach bottom and the fish.

“I’ll start with the smaller fish,” he said. “He’s not as big, and I’ll concentrate on him. He seems the most aggressive of the two.”

The fish nailed his fifth cast, and started boring downstream, leaping and splashing. David jumped into the tree growing from the water, and clung with one arm wrapped around it as the fish took out 50 yards of line before turning and heading back upstream.

I eased into the water below the tree, and there was one inch of freeboard. David handed me the rod, jumped from the tree back onto shore, circled the tree, grabbed the rod again and followed it downstream a short distance. I crawled up the bank and out of the water and headed down to help him.

The fish was almost around the downstream bend. David climbed up onto the log jam, handed me the rod, and was nearly swept off the logs. He finally eased into the chest-deep water, and I passed the baton (rod) back to him. This was much like a track-team relay race.

Down the river he went, cleared the line from under logs on the far side of the river, crossed a shallow gravel bar, and was heading around the bend as I ran ahead. Five minutes later, he was puffing as he skidded the rosey-cheeked male up on shore, the hook buried in the corner of its mouth.

We know a pair of elderly women that we give fish to, and this one fish would provide each with a nice fillet.

This fish had covered 300 yards of river, and the worst part of the thing was that after David had cleared the second log jam, the rod tip section came loose and slid down the line. Every time the fish moved the rod tip was poking it in the head, goading it into another long run.

It turned out that the rod tip survived all the dashes through log jams and under submerged logs, and wasn’t broken in a dozen pieces. He felt, keeping that one fish for distribution to the ladies, was a fitting end to that two-man battle.

He hooked another fish and lost it, and I hooked one and lost it on a wallowing half-jump. Apparently, the first fish—and the smallest—was most easily beat. The other fish we hooked in that almost impossible spot was on and off as the line broke or pulled free within five seconds.

Those were the only fish we found on the Betsie River below the old Homestead Dam today, and we never saw another fisherman ... for which we were eternally grateful. Had we had company, it would have looked like a laughable feature on the Funniest Home Videos.

So, to answer the opening question, how many men does it take to land an 8-pound steelhead? The answer is two: both named David Richey, which includes the younger version and the old goat. It wasn’t pretty, but it was one fish battle we’ll both remember as we ease our way into another spring steelhead season

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/14 at 05:50 PM
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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Give Outdoor Time To Your Kids

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The most precious thing we can give our children and grandchildren is not money, a video game. a fancy ride or too much freedom to do as they please. The big-ticket items are our love and time.

I raised four children. Two girls, two boys, and I love them all dearly. I spent a great deal of time with them when they were young. Did it pay off? I think so.

I broke my back in 1970 and again in early 1971, and my kids ranged in age from six to two. I was home daily for over a year recovering from my injuries. I made their breakfast, got ‘em dressed and ready for school, made their school lunch, saw them onto the bus, and made dinner in the evening. Cleaned house during the day, and included them in all of my near-home outdoor activities.

I was stuck at home. I wanted to fish and hunt but it wasn’t possible. Getting around was a time consuming task as I learned to walk again. So we did some outdoor things together around the house.

My back improved somewhat, and we could go fishing on a nearby pond. We could sit on the edge of the road shoulder, and watch our bobbers and catch tiny bluegills and sunfish. I used that time to teach them about panfish, and why we were catching so many little fish. The fish were small and stunted because there were just too many of them, and our catching fish and taking them home would help the other fish grow.

I found a low spot in a cornfield where water stood during the fall, and I watched ducks pitch into the corn from the road. I hobbled back into the corn after getting landowner permission, found the puddle of water and flushed a dozen mallards. I returned with my German shorthair, a 12 gauge shotgun and some No. 6 shot.

The birds were deliberately flushed again, and my brother had carried in a wood box for me to sit on. Ten minutes later the birds returned, and I would shoot two for my dog to retrieve, and then hobble back to the car. I always saved the cleaning process until the kids got home from school, and would teach them about ducks. I pointed out how iridescent the colors were of the speculum on a mallard’s wing. They would hold the bird at different angles, and see the loveliness of the sunlight highlighting feather colors.

A rooster pheasant that drifted too close to my back fence, and was pointed by my dog and shot by me, provided the kids with another anatomy lesson and a study about the beauty of rooster pheasant feathers. They always had one or two of the long barred tail feathers on the walls of their bedrooms.

We studied the night sky, learned some of the constellations, and I’d point out the visible planets that looked like bright stars. We often watched for shooting stars, and once on an especially cold and still winter night, we got bundled up and I showed them the Aurora borealis (northern lights). They watched the flickering color changes in the northern sky, and oohed and aahed more than at a fireworks display.

We talked about the role of the fisherman and hunter, and how these pastimes helped humans keep animal, bird and fish populations in line with their available food supply and within bounds of their local habitat. They were taught what the animals, birds and fish ate ... and what eats them. They learned that wildlife stays alive by being fit and strong, and capable of taking care of themselves. They sat with me in the winter, and wondered why does chase their fawns away and not let them feed, and were told that it’s part of nature’s way. It ensures that only the strongest survive, and nature takes care of the others.

They learned at an early age that Walt Disney’s Bambi and other anthropomorphic adaptations were so far removed rom reality as to be unbelievable. They had seen that movie, had watched how Bambi’s mother “talked” to her. They quickly learned that animals and animal life is far different in real life than in the movie. I didn’t have to try to influence their opinion: they were smart enough, even at five to eight years of age, to know the difference.

We fished and hunted together. I gave of my time, perhaps life’s most precious commodity, to teach my children about fishing, hunting and the outdoors. My intent was not to influence them one way or the other but to teach them some of life’s greatest pleasures can be found outside of our doors.

Now, of my four children, only one hunts. All but one fishes, and although two of the four now live in Florida, they have nothing against fishing or hunting. If we lived closer, I suspect they would fish and/or hunt more now than they did as youngsters.

Whether they fish or hunt is not the question. What is important is they have nothing against either pastime; they choose, because of family constraints, not to go. Perhaps it’s because Dad was gone so often.

We’ve taken grandchildren who live nearby out fishing and hunting, and now I have two great-grandsons. Some of my proudest moments are with my grandkids.

I spent several days teaching one grand-daughter how to fly fish, and watched her catch trout. One grand-daughter shot a nice gobbler several years ago, and I featured her in a story for The Detroit News. Two grandsons have shot deer, and one was sitting beside me in a blind several years ago when he shot his first deer.

It’s such times that are fondly remembered. It brings us closer to our children and grandchildren, and it’s fun watching them accomplish something on their own with little more than caring advice from the old man. I feel giving of ourselves in this way is how we will help to perpetuate our sports.

Time stands still for no man (or woman), and time spent with our children and grandchildren may be some of the finest days of our lives. And, as they age, they will remember those lessons learned as a youth, and pass them along to their children and grandchildren.

And that, good friends, is the secret of happiness in this life.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/13 at 04:17 PM
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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Are Gas Prices Hurting The Local Economy?

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Well, duh! What do you think?

It’s true the price of gas affects everyone. It’s hurting the local and state economy, and yet some major oil companies have announced another record profit last year.

And just think, they feel proud of their accomplishment. And they probably wonder why everyone is mad about it. Michigan’s economy is bad enough without high fuel costs (including fuel oil and propane) state-wide.

We went to a friend’s 80th birthday last weekend down state, and I began chatting with two people at the party. They told me that spring fishing trips were no longer being factored into their budget. They said they no longer could afford to drive north to fish for steelhead nor could they buy fuel for their boat.

Another person told me that although he drew a tag for the first turkey season in Area K this year, he wouldn’t be hunting. He also said that money was tight, fear of layoffs at Ford and General Motors looming overhead, and a lack of money would keep him near home this year.

Frankly, where I live at Traverse City, people are accustomed to the local gas stations raising prices Thursday afternoon, and dropping them slightly on Monday morning. They tell us that demand dictates price, and to a point that is true. But only to a point.

However, gas stations have known for years that more people fill up prior to the weekends. So ... the fuel prices get cranked up. It’s happened around here ever since the early 1970s, and perhaps even before that.

I read somewhere that Michigan tourism wants more people traveling around the state this year. Good luck on that one, because many folks are having a tough enough time just buying enough gas to drive to work and back home.

Sure, people can car pool but most don’t want to. There may come a day when we will be forced into carpooling whether we want to or not. We, as a nation, have become entirely too dependent on low-priced fuel and we’ve been spoiled.

So what happens? Big Oil figures it out, and starts jockeying prices, and what happens, they have record profits. Does anyone need a road map to figure out how those profits came to be?

Many local fuel company owners claim they do not manipulate the prices, but any second-grader could figure out why they raise prices on weekends. I’m not a big fan in trying to get people to do things, but ...

I’ve often wondered what would happen if everyone took a week vacation and stayed home. No trips to town, the bowling alley or onto Lake Michigan to fish. How much impact would that have on local oil companies? Would it get their attention?

We all know the oil companies could weather that storm, and could probably ride out a month-long boycott but somehow, some way, this business of high-priced gas gouging must end. At this rate we’ll be paying over $4 per gallon before summer arrives.

The automakers are working on cars that will run on alternate fuel. Is anyone naive enough to believe that this alternate fuel won’t become just as expensive as fossil fuel?

And then, one trip into downtown Traverse City, and we’ll see foolish drivers going 15 miles per hour over the legal speed limit. They weave in and out of traffic, and crowd up on the next car’s back bumper, goose it hard to get around, and then sit idling at the stop light.

They’ve gained nothing but have wasted enough fuel to ruin any chance for better gas mileage. So I ask: Are gas prices affecting sportsmen?

Absolutely. The spring steelhead run seems to be starting but angler numbers are down. I don’t see as many people trolling the harbors for spring brown trout.

Let’s face it. An angler that lives downstate, and who wants to drive anywhere up north on Friday night, fish hard on Saturday and Sunday, and drive home Sunday night, will probably spend $100-150 on fuel. Add meals and perhaps lodging, and it will cost them a minimum of $300 for a weekend. Not many can afford that anymore.

If I were working at Ford, General Motors or any of their parts suppliers, I’d think twice about making the trip. I talked last week to a guy who wanted to drive up to fish steelhead last year, but changed his mind and fished a nearby river for suckers. He caught some fish, they put a bend in his rod, and he had fun. His total expense was 10 bucks.

Anglers and hunters, if the fuel costs continue to soar so greedy gas companies can make greater profits, will soon learn that doing things near home will be on their agenda this summer. And, Michigan tourism people may find fewer and fewer people making the trek up to the north country. Too many jobs have left this state in the past year, and in some round-about way, it seems as if those of us who remain are picking up the added costs each time we fuel up.

And they don’t have to look any farther for someone to blame than greedy national gasoline companies, and the trickle-down effect bangs hard on local gas companies, and they then hammer the locals. It’s a vicious cycle that shows no signs of an immediate end.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/12 at 07:25 PM
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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Scoop’s Books: Need a Fishing-Hunting Book?

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Fishing and hunting has become far more sophisticated now that even five years ago. The people who participate often in angling and hunter 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 about their pastimes. They want to read things they can learn from, and over many years, I’ve worked with many people to help them build an excellent outdoor-related library.

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

I know what books are out there, I know what should 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 to 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 his book within 15 minutes.

It’s not always that easy, but I’ve spent years searching for some rather obscure book titles, 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 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 books. 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 scarce muskie books for a client. When we spoke, and I told him of my finds, it sounded just like a child shouting on Christmas morning. He was very happy.

Before we start I try to sit down, or next best, via email or a phone call, and discuss what the client wants or needs in books 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 both people.

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 for looking for books. They give me a list of titles, or ask me to prepare a list, and I go to work finding their book wants.

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 to obtain 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 priced books as time goes on and money permits.

People I’ve dealt with provide me with a value guide that tells me how much they can afford to 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 are interested in deer hunting, but 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 books. 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 whenever 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 eventually pass into someone else’s hands for a tidy sum of money.

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

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

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

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/11 at 03:12 PM
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Monday, March 10, 2008

Looking Forward To A Quick Warm-Up

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A new metal roof had been installed on our roof the previous year before all the snow set in. I was outside one day, looking up at what remained of the snow, and watching it come sliding down.

Mind you, I understand fishing and hunting, but the mechanics of metal roofs isn’t one of the better tactics in my bag of tricks. I was standing there, looking up, and heard a nearby hen turkey cut loose. She sounded as if she was scolding a gobbler that may have been pestering her.

There was a soft rumble, and about 10 pounds of snow landed on my head and slid down my neck. Thankfully, the snow was loose and not loaded with ice as it had been a week ago.

There is, I suspect, a short period of education required about metal roofs for stupes like me. I’m not the sharpest knife in our family drawer, and after scraping snow off my head, pulling out my shirt-tail and shaking out the snow that snaked down my back bone, it dawned on me that standing under the edge of a metal roof could be dangerous to my health.

I walked away from the roof, stood out of harms way, and listened as a gobbler 100 yards away and out of sight, gobbled. It appeared on this bright, warm and sunny day, that he was trying his best to pull together a harem of unruly hens that were uncooperative.

It’s probably still a bit too early for him to get very excited about breeding hens, but for me, spring fever has set in. I’m eager to go back outside after this is written, and soak up some of the warmth that has been missing from my life since early last fall. The temperature had zipped upward into the high 30s, and I was looking for something even a bit warmer

Something about 50 degrees sounded good for a start, and even for a writers, it’s a stretch one one’s imagination to say that 50 degrees is warm, but all things are relative. Fifty degrees is warm when compared in the teens and the 20s last week.

It’s a day for doing very little except trying to get accustomed to a bit of warmth in the air. I’ll still have to shovel off the deck when more snow has fallen, but that is fine by me. Todaya I emptied out the Fish Car, a misnomer for my Jimmy that was keeping my ice-fishing gear dry. Out came my sled, rods and reels, minnow buck, two five-gallon pails and a six-gallon pail that I sit on. There was a box of ice-fishing lures, minnow net, and a metal ice strainer.

A warm-up is a trade-off. Warm weather makes snow slide off my roof. In places, it misses the deck and falls over the railing. In other places it lands with a dull thud on the deck, shakes the house, and just lays there making a mess of things until I clean it up.

I could do, as I once did, and figure if the Good Lord wanted snow there, He put it there and could make it go away. It seems the going-away part gets lost in the translation, and it also means that it’s time for me to go to work.

Shoveling snow isn’t one of my favorite winter chores, but it is a necessary evil. Last summer I reached the age of 68, and everyone—including me—thought crawling up on the roof to clean it off three or four times a year was foolhardy and stupid. I couldn’t have agreed more.

My balance is bad on slanting surfaces, and even worse when those surfaces are snow and/or ice-covered. My depth perception and peripheral vision is off a twitch, and my family could see me sliding off the roof. Even worse than falling to the deck would be to fall and spread-eagle myself on the deck railing. It would probably ruin not only a day but many days and nights, and it seems an unnecessary risk for anyone to take.

So ... the metal roof was installed. All I need to do now is get a hard hat to wear, start paying more attention when the roof snow starts to melt, and listen more attentitively to my roof than listening for turkeys gobbling behind the house.

Oops, there was another gobble. I must be learning, because I’d moved away from the edge of the roof just in time to escape another avalanche of snow. Your don’t suppose a gobbling turkey is like a high-pitched note that shatters crystal? Could a gobble be of the proper tenor to vibrate the metal roof and cause the snow to fall?

I stood, listening to him rattle the woods and kept trying to spot him through the trees. I haven’t seen a hen or gobbler today, but I’m about to start shoveling. Maybe a couple of birds will come to stand back in the woods and watch the foolish human as he shovels off the decks. Those birds are smarter than me. They walk around, eat and I’ve yet to see one carrying a show shovel.

Whoever said that turkeys are dumb. It certainly wasn’t me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/10 at 05:48 PM
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Sunday, March 09, 2008

Outdoor History Is Important To Sportsmen

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Studying the history and the high points of a person’s lengthy career can be an informing and somewhat behind-the-scenes look into that person’s life.

It has been my great good fortune to have been given a great and wonderful gift from my longtime friend, Gordie Charles, of Traverse City. This gentle and kind man was a rare breed; he gave more than he took from his outdoor life.

He told his wife, Dorothy, as he lay dying, not quite a year ago, that he wanted me to have his files and papers from over 55 years of outdoor writing. Years ago, my late friend Ben East of Holly, made the same gracious gift after his death.

Each man left behind a treasure trove of Michigan history concerning fishing and hunting in this state. After having sifted through it, and gathered what seemed important from a written standpoint, it is my task to make a contribution of the remaining material to the Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor in their name.

Ben East kept voluminous files, notes and published book manuscripts and newspaper articles. Gordie Charles did the same. All but three file drawers of East’s material has been donated, and all but 10 boxes of Gordie’s stuff has been donated to the same research library.

Gordie’s files covered the gamut of fishing and hunting, as well as resources management, in this state. Reading through his notes, and his newspaper columns, adds still another dimension to this multi-talented man.

He was well known for his puns and his corny jokes, but he also was a man deeply in love with the outdoors. In fact, he was so captured by the beauty of nature that he vowed as a teen-ager to write a future column for the Traverse City Record-Eagle newspaper.

That he not only did that, and did a wonderfully fine job of it, he also syndicated a newspaper column to 50-some state weekly newspapers, wrote magazine articles and still had time to research and write six books.

How does one measure value? If going through these old files of men like Charles and East, there is nothing of monetary value to be found. What is valuable, although it is not tangible, is a close-up look at the history these men helped record for the enjoyment and protection of Michigan’s natural resources.

I found numerous things in Gordie’s files that have been returned to the Charles family such as family photos that had been lost or misplaced. What isn’t needed by the family, or by me at this moment, will be donated to the Bentley Historical Library.

Some files, from a historical viewpoint, are rather important to me at this time. I have permission from both families to keep these files until my death at which time all of my files (and theirs) will be donated to the same research facility.

There they will join the files of Charles, East, Harold (Opie) Titus, of Traverse City, an editor for Field and Stream magazine; Jack VanCoevering, outdoor writer for the Detroit Free Press; and Corey Ford, an U of M alumnus and well known outdoor writer and the author of many books.

These files now give me a look at what has gone before. It allows me to determine the thinking of the Department of Conservation, the forerunner of today’s Department of Natural Resources, about topics that affect our resource management and the fish and game we seek.

It allows me to learn about different fish plantings that were tried but failed, such as the grayling and kokanee salmon. They let me know what the collective thinking of sportsmen were in earlier generations, and let me compare them to what the current thoughts are now.

It also enables me to determine the effectiveness of biologists from an earlier period against those of today. The differences, in most cases but with some rare exceptions, indicate that earlier fisheries and wildlife biologists were in much closer contact with sportsmen than they are now.

I’ve sifted slowly through Gordie Charles’ files for nearly a month with the blessings of his wife, Dorothy, and some files have gone on to Ann Arbor. Others will go after I’ve spent more time examining them.

Gordie Charles was as all outdoor writers should be: a man with an inquisitive mind, a willingness to dig deep for a story, and to put our resources ahead of everything else. The stacks of correspondence lauding his work far outweighed the few crank letters sent by people with an axe to grind.

I see Gordie as a man who was born at the right time to do what had to be done to help protect our resources. I, for one, appreciate his hard work and the unique genius of this man who spent his adult life writing so that others could enjoy and better understand the outdoors.

Going through old files, and studying such history, must make me an historian. Hopefully, it also will make me a better writer ... even after plying my trade for 40 years.

It’s when we stop learning that we stop being effective outdoor communicators. I am still learning, thanks to these gifts from other outdoor writers.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/09 at 07:25 PM
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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Taking The Trail Least Traveled

Do I enjoy fishing alone? Absolutely. Do I get a kick out of hunting by myself? You bet.

Do I dislike fishing or hunting with others? The answer is no. So, what does this say about me and my preferences for taking the path least traveled, and going it alone?

Given a choice, I may be with a group of hunters but we all go our separate ways. Sometimes one or two of us will have a special hunting stand, and they know where other sportsmen are at, but we still hunt alone.

Two years ago I took my grand-daughter bow hunting on several occasions. She didn’t want to sit in a elevated coop or a ground blind alone. These coops are not made for two people but we made it work. She hunted, and my reason for being there was for moral support.

I didn’t miss not hunting on those nights I sat with her. She had opportunities to shoot a doe or small buck, but she just wasn’t confident of her ability. She needed more practice at drawing, aiming and shooting, and I spent time with her to bolster her confidence. Sadly, she didn’t hunt last year and I don’t know if she will this year.

But, back to me. Did I begrudge sitting several nights with my grand-daughter? No, I didn’t. Had it been someone I didn’t know, I may have felt differently.

My choice to fish or hunt alone is a personal thing. It’s not that I don’t like people, but it’s that when fishing or hunting, I prefer my company to that of everyone except my wife. Even at that, she enjoys hunting her own spot and is delighted to see me head off for my spot.

There is much about hunting alone that is good. We get to make our own decisions, whether good or bad, and no one is there to tell us what we are doing is wrong.

When hunting alone, it’s my decision to head toward the swamp edge or sit up in a tree stand 100 yards from a food plot. If I’m fishing, it is an easy decision to fish upstream or downstream. There is no one else’s opinion to consider.

I don’t have to think whether I’m offending someone when I choose to go downstream when secretly the other person wanted to go downstream. Some people are content taking whatever is left but that doesn’t fall within my definition of fair play.

If grouse hunting, back in the days when I still owned a good bird dog, it was easier. As the dog owner, it was my choice to shoot first if I choose to. I usually gave the first shot to whoever was with me.

I’m not selfish, nor do I need to be the first person to fish through a hole or to take the first grouse flush. Even though my vision no longer allows me to see flushing birds well, the chances are good that I’d still offer the first shot to whoever was with me.

What does make me feel good are those days when it is possible to be alone. I determine which section of stream to fish, I decide where to start and how far I’ll fish upstream before turning around and fishing back downstream.

If I choose to fish wet flies, I don’t have to concern myself with staying out of the way of the purist who will only fish with dry flies. I let him pick first, and intentionally go the opposite direction.

Frankly, I can fish all day or hunt all day and not feel bad about not sharing myself with someone. I enjoy being selfish on occasion, and that doesn’t bother me.

Much of my life was spent guiding anglers and hunters, making sire they had a good time, and I enjoy doing that. But there are those days when being alone, making decisions, whether good or bad, and knowing they are mine to make.

I don’t have to feel obligated to talk when I don’t feel like talking, and I don’t have to feel considerate of other peoples wishes, and I find it most enjoyable to be alone at times.

And, for those who feel I may be a bit strange or foolish or selfish, I’d be the first to agree with them. I am a bit strange, perhaps even to the point of foolishness at times, and I quickly admit to being selfish on occasion.

Being that way is just part of who I am. Most people who know me well, know my little quirks, and accept me as being a bit eccentric in my dotage. And, as a result, I accept their little quirks as a part of who they are. It works for us.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/08 at 07:42 PM
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Taking The Trail Least Traveled

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Do I enjoy fishing alone? Absolutely. Do I get a kick out of hunting by myself? You bet.

Do I dislike fishing or hunting with others? The answer is no. So, what does this say about me and my preferences for taking the path least traveled, and going it alone?

Given a choice, I may be with a group of hunters but we all go our separate ways. Sometimes one or two of us will have a special hunting stand, and they know where other sportsmen are at, but we still hunt alone.

Two years ago I took my grand-daughter bow hunting on several occasions. She didn’t want to sit in a elevated coop or a ground blind alone. These coops are not made for two people but we made it work. She hunted, and my reason for being there was for moral support.

I didn’t miss not hunting on those nights I sat with her. She had opportunities to shoot a doe or small buck, but she just wasn’t confident of her ability. She needed more practice at drawing, aiming and shooting, and I spent time with her to bolster her confidence. Sadly, she didn’t hunt last year and I don’t know if she will this year.

But, back to me. Did I begrudge sitting several nights with my grand-daughter? No, I didn’t. Had it been someone I didn’t know, I may have felt differently.

My choice to fish or hunt alone is a personal thing. It’s not that I don’t like people, but it’s that when fishing or hunting, I prefer my company to that of everyone except my wife. Even at that, she enjoys hunting her own spot and is delighted to see me head off for my spot.

There is much about hunting alone that is good. We get to make our own decisions, whether good or bad, and no one is there to tell us what we are doing is wrong.

When hunting alone, it’s my decision to head toward the swamp edge or sit up in a tree stand 100 yards from a food plot. If I’m fishing, it is an easy decision to fish upstream or downstream. There is no one else’s opinion to consider.

I don’t have to think whether I’m offending someone when I choose to go downstream when secretly the other person wanted to go downstream. Some people are content taking whatever is left but that doesn’t fall within my definition of fair play.

If grouse hunting, back in the days when I still owned a good bird dog, it was easier. As the dog owner, it was my choice to shoot first if I choose to. I usually gave the first shot to whoever was with me.

I’m not selfish, nor do I need to be the first person to fish through a hole or to take the first grouse flush. Even though my vision no longer allows me to see flushing birds well, the chances are good that I’d still offer the first shot to whoever was with me.

What does make me feel good are those days when it is possible to be alone. I determine which section of stream to fish, I decide where to start and how far I’ll fish upstream before turning around and fishing back downstream.

If I choose to fish wet flies, I don’t have to concern myself with staying out of the way of the purist who will only fish with dry flies. I let him pick first, and intentionally go the opposite direction.

Frankly, I can fish all day or hunt all day and not feel bad about not sharing myself with someone. I enjoy being selfish on occasion, and that doesn’t bother me.

Much of my life was spent guiding anglers and hunters, making sire they had a good time, and I enjoy doing that. But there are those days when being alone, making decisions, whether good or bad, and knowing they are mine to make.

I don’t have to feel obligated to talk when I don’t feel like talking, and I don’t have to feel considerate of other peoples wishes, and I find it most enjoyable to be alone at times.

And, for those who feel I may be a bit strange or foolish or selfish, I’d be the first to agree with them. I am a bit strange, perhaps even to the point of foolishness at times, and I quickly admit to being selfish on occasion.

Being that way is just part of who I am. Most people who know me well, know my little quirks, and accept me as being a bit eccentric in my dotage. And, as a result, I accept their little quirks as a part of who they are. It works for us.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/08 at 07:16 PM
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Friday, March 07, 2008

Don’t Make These Turkey-Hunting Errors

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If wild turkeys could smell, no hunter would ever shoot a spring gobbler. These birds have extraordinary hearing and vision, and if a sportsman makes just one mistake, the hunt is over.

It’s easy for me to write this weblog because at one time or another over my turkey-hunting career, I’ve made some of these mistakes. I know to avoid them because making a mistake has cost me a gobbler.

*Being too concealed—Every turkey hunter knows they must be dressed in quality camo clothing, must sit still and must blend into the background. What some people forget is that one cannot be buried in thick brush, and still move. I watched a guy burrow into heavy undergrowth near an abandoned orchard, and the gobbler flew down at dawn and walked to within 20 yards of the guy. He couldn’t raise his shotgun, and while struggling with old berry briers, became so entangled that he couldn’t mount his shotgun, aim and shoot.

Solution—Sit with your back to a tree, draw your knees up, tuck the shotgun butt into your shoulder, and wait for the bird to walk in front of the shotgun. Shoot when his head comes up to look around.

*Calling too much—Turkey hunters know that too much calling is much worse than too little. However, they toodle away on a diaphragm call, switch to a sweet-talkin’ box call, pick up a slate, and yelp with it, and start over. The constant calling can and will spook birds.

Solution—Use a call sparingly. If a gobbler keeps calling, wait him out. After he gobbles two or three times without an answer, muffle the call, and make it soft and sweet. He may come on a dead run so be ready.

*Decoy placement—It takes some willpower to curb the use of decoys all the time. Don’t hasten to set out decoys if a hot gobbler is coming. Don’t hide decoys in thick cover where a gobbler can’t see them, and forget the decoys when hunting near water. Placing too many decoys too close together will make them appear to be a flock of frighten birds.

Solution—Two or three decoys work best for me. Have a jake decoy face the hunter, and keep it between you and the hen decoys. Put some room between the hens and jake, but keep the jake decoy between you and the hens. Don’t place the hens more than 30-35 yards out to avoid having the gobbler do an end-run on the jake decoy. The jake is the object of concern for an adult gobbler so keep him in the open.

*Improper camouflage use—Camo is camo, right? I’ve watched hunters dress in green camo when everything in the woods is still tan and bleached out from winter. Dark-colored camo will stick out early in the season. Avoid anything that is colored red, white or blue, the color of a gobbler’s head in the spring time.

Solution—Know the terrain, and if the woods are brown, wear brown camo. If everything has greened up, switch to green camo. Make certain that boot eyelets are spray-painted black or brown, no white socks are showing, and watch that white undershirt peeking out.

*Making unwanted noise—You’ve roosted one or two gobblers the night before, and you are walking swiftly through the woods before dawn. A tree branch is bumped in the darkness, and the box call squawks like a ruptured duck. Or, you are carrying two decoys with metal stakes and a shotgun, and you are almost to where you’ll sit down, and the stakes and shotgun clink together.

Solution—Wrap box calls in a soft and dark washcloth, and fasten the lid and box together with stout rubber bands. Carry the decoys and stakes in the back of the hunting vest. Do everything possible to avoid noise once you are close to the roosting area.

*Moving too much—Movement spooks more gobblers and hens than anything else. Hunters forget to clear a suitable area at the base of a large tree, and after 15 minutes and a gobbler is on his way, they fidget and move to relieve the pain of a tree root under their butt or a broken tree stub gouging their back.

Solution—Scrape all leaves away from your sitting position so there will be no noise made if it becomes necessary to move. Carry a rubber pad to sit on, and pick a spot where the tree trunk is bare. Remove any object that makes you uncomfortable. Learn to play through pain.

*Not having the shotgun to your shoulder—I’ve seen this one happen far too often. The hunter becomes uncomfortable sitting with his knees bent and his boot heels against his butt. They stretch out their legs, and the muzzle is pointed at the ground when a gobbler walks out in front of them and gobbles his brains out.

Solution—If a hunter is gunning for a wild gobbler, they must be ready for a shot at all times. Keep the shotgun resting across you upraised knees with the buttstock against your shoulder. It is impossible to raise a shotgun up, aim at the bird and shoot before it flies or runs away. Gut it up, and sit still and be prepared for a shot at any time.

*Not patterning the shotgun—Yeah, it’s OK. It was dead-on last season. I don’t have to mess around with it this year. Stuff ol’ Betsy full of shotgun shells and go hunting.

Solution—Sights get knocked out of kilter for one reason or another. Pattern the shotgun with No. 4, 5 or 6 shot, and shoot whichever provides the most pellets to the head-neck area of a target. Make certain it is on, and don’t forget to do this. It cost me a gobbler once.

*Setting up in the wrong spot—There are right spots and wrong spots to set, and only preseason scouting and experience can tell you which spot is best. Forget to scout, and start calling to birds on the other side of a big water puddle or flowing stream or a lake, and the birds will hang up near the water.

Solution—Do the scouting, spend time at it, and know where the birds will be during the morning, at noon and in the early evening. Turkeys usually (not always because I called a gobbler across a river in South Dakota once) hang up at water and at some fences. If you know their travel route, it’s easy to avoid such places. Chances are the birds will come right to you.

*Taking long shots—Many hunters have no clue what the effective range of their shotgun is. Make the mistake of spotting a big gobbler at 60 yards, and trying to shoot that bird, is a lesson in futility. If anything, the bird is wounded and gets away.

Solution—Know your distances, and if necessary, put a small branch on the ground at 35 to 40 yards. If the bird is coming, let him come and wait until he gets inside of the range markers. Granted, the big 3 1/2-inch 12-gauge or 10-gauge magnum shotguns can kill a gobbler past 40 yards, but why take the chance. Let the gobbler come within 35-40 yards and then shoot. The closer they come, the more fun it is.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/07 at 06:01 PM
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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Choose A Smart Fishing Guide

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Fishing guides are smart. If they stumble in the brains department, they usually go out of business quickly.

Guides know when to make savvy decisions. and then proceed with an action plan. That plan may not always produce the desired results, but I’d rather have a guide who is willing to make a sound decision based on his experience than fence-straddle all day while nothing happens.

Three years ago today is a good example. Arnie Minka of Grawn and I had booked a steelhead trip with Mark Rinckey of Honor (231-325-6901). Fishing had been extremely slow, but that day was too nice to reschedule a trip. We were committed to it even though we knew steelhead fishing had been remarkably dismal for two weeks. However, we had enjoyed two or three days of warm weather and there had been some run-off.

“We are going to try something new,” Rinckey said when we met in Honor at 5:30 a.m. “The water level flowing over the river mouth where the Betsie River flows into Betsie Bay is so shallow that few steelhead seem to be moving upstream. We will be fishing Betsie Bay today.”

Rinckey has been guiding river salmon and steelhead fishermen since 1978 when I first started fishing with him. He’s come up with some strange ideas in the past, but they often pay off. Minka and I would go along with this venture with great anticipation.

We drove to a spot that borders the Elberta side of Betsie Bay, walked to the water, and stuck short sand-spikes at the water’s edge to hold the rods. Rinckey began rigging lines with a quarter-ounce pyramid sinker, a four-foot leader of four-pound-test line, and a No. 8 hook. Spawnbags would be used for bait.

The first bait hit the water, and Rinckey was rigging the second rod, when a steelhead rattled the rod. I grabbed it, set the hook, and held on as a fish powered off on a 20-yard run. Five minutes later an 8-pound steelhead was skidded up to shore.

Rods No. 1 and 2 was baited, and Rinckey was working on Rod No. 3, when the second rod dipped toward the surface, and Minka grabbed it and held on as another fish powered off on a short but determined run. That fish was soon landed, the line was baited again, and we soon had five lines in the water before the sun rose above an eastern hill.

“This is the first time I’ve fished this spot,” Rinckey told us during a lull in the action. “It made sense to me because the fish often follow the dropoff as they move upstream, but I think these fish are stranded here because of the extremely low water just below the M-22 bridge. Very few fish are making it upstream through that skinny water.”

Another strike, and this was a 10-pound male for Arnie. I hooked an 8-pound silver female, fought her and she was soon released. The strikes weren’t coming too fast, but every 10 to 15 minutes, we’d have a bump or a hook-up and it kept our attention level high.

Boats were trolling the harbor but the action was slow for them. For us, we seemed to be in the right place at the right time. And frankly, folks, that is why people should hire fishing guides to show us how and where to fish.

The fishing often slows about 8 a.m., but not today. A bright, sunny day, and the only thing that changed was the fish went slightly deeper. We’d make longer casts, allow the sinker and line to sink to bottom, tighten up the line, stick the rod in a sand-spike, adjust the drag and wait for a nodding rod tip to signal another biting fish.

Other steelhead were caught, and then Arnie landed a seven-pound brown trout. The fish fought hard, stayed deep, and was a lovely specimen. It was quickly unhooked, held aloft for a photograph, and released.

“Hunches do pay off,” Rinckey said. “I’ve had a few that didn’t work, but often a hunch is based on fishing knowledge, an analysis of existing river conditions, and a small portion of good luck. I thought about this spot last night when I was trying to fall asleep, and it proved to be a genuine hotspot.”

He said that tomorrow’s fishing at the same location may not produce a fish. If so, then a good guide refers his clients to Plan B.

Rinckey doesn’t need Plan B very often. He knows spring steelhead, and is adept at helping clients catch them. A 10-fish catch and the swift release of six fish over a half-day of fishing should be good enough for anyone. It was certainly good enough for us.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/06 at 05:22 PM
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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Window Watching Winter Wildlife

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Late-winter is a great time to spend indoors looking out. Last week it was nice being outdoors, but so far this week, the weather has left much to be desired.

It’s a time when I enjoy watching birds and other wildlife critters. A pair of Swarovski binoculars are nearby, and the chickadees and goldfinches are everywhere. Some nuthatches, downy and hairy woodpeckers are common visitors, and last week I saw a pileated woodpecker on two different occasions. Kay saw a female pileated woodpeck

Today was a veritable bonanza. We had fox squirrel, 10-15 different bird species, a possum, woodchuck and a ruffed grouse that flew into the house and broke his neck. We had one cat track in the front yard, and behind the cat track was that of a coyote. If people don’t have enough brains to keep their pets indoors, Fluffy will become dinner for Wily Coyote.

We have at least four cottontail rabbits living near the house, and every spring we find where the bunnies have nibbled on our shrubs. Most winters we’ve seen the cottontails on several full-moon nights when the backyard is bathed in winter moonlight.

This winter, and perhaps because of the heavy snow, the cottontails have been conspicuous by their absence. But there is always something to watch if one cares enough to look out the window.

I’ve seen days when crows line up in the trees behind the fence when the wind is strong, and strong gusts blow them off the branches. It’s then a struggle for them to find a branch to hang on to so they can maintain their balance.

We have mourning doves. They come and get seeds the smaller birds knock out of the feeders, and they have come to roost on the back porch at night. Their droppings are all over the deck, and they are a messy bird but fun to watch.

The pileated woodpecker is a big bird, and it serves as the caricature for the cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker. They pound great huge holes in trees, and once they get a favorite tree that provides the bugs they like to eat, they riddle the bark with holes six inches deep and 12-15 inches from top to bottom.

I used to have a tamarack tree near one of my favorite tree stands, and these big woodpeckers battered holes into the tree. Finally, during a windstorm a few years ago, it blew over in a storm.

These huge woodpeckers fly in an up-and-down manner, and look big, black-and-white, and in the case of males, they have a flaming red crest atop their head. We also have some large hawks and owls in the area, and they take their share of songbirds and small animals.

A coyote came up one day and stood underneath our bird feeder, hoping to catch a bird, but his tracks wandered off into the woods. There were no feathers on the ground so I assume he wasn’t successful.

A hawk did nail a ruffed grouse near our back deck. I’d been out shoveling snow, and cleaned the deck. I went back out two hours later, and a half-dozen male grouse tail feather lay on the snow. Looking closely, it was possible to see wing-tip feather marks in the snow where the predatory bird came out of the sky and snatched the grouse off the snow.

Every day is different. Mind you, I don’t sit all day, every day, near the window. There are too many other things to do, including writing my daily weblog, Sunday website feature or book reviews, and my Sunday Outdoor Page feature for the Traverse City Record-Eagle. And then there are fishing and hunting forays, but I look out the windows whenever I pass by and am always amazed at what I see.

I saw a pair of fox squirrels last week running across the snow, and they were the first I’d seen since last November. I keep checking the snow for opossum and raccoon tracks, and expected to see some last week when it was warm and we weren’t disappointed. There has been a war between me and the local raccoon population, and I hate to admit that I’m winning it. They are too destructive to have around my house.

There was a coyote seen the other day, and on two or three occasions, I’ve see small groups of wild turkeys making their way through the snow. I haven’t seen a deer track all winter, and the great amount of snow we got in late November, December and January drove most of the animals into swamps for the winter.

There have been numerous reports of snowy owls locally but I haven’t seen one this winter. They are beautiful birds that move down from the Arctic, and often can be seen sitting on fence posts or light poles.

The thing I like is to see the winter wildlife. We’ve had a pair of cardinals around most of the winter, and seeing the bright red male was always a welcome sight. They seem to have disappeared, but hopefully they will pay us a visit again next winter.

Bird-watching is fun to do, especially in this between-times period when the ice is getting mushy and the steelhead aren’t running. A guy has to have something to do, and frequent peeks out the window is a nice diversion, so keep the birds fed and think spring.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/05 at 04:20 PM
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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Warm Day & Some Bluegills Is Great

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A soft hush spread across a little bog-pond lake near Traverse City. It’s one of those wee lakes where bluegills can be caught, but where too many people can ruin the pristine quality of this fishery.

So, with deep regret to my readers, it shall go unnamed. Hopefully, hordes of anglers won’t discover it and over-fish it into nothingness.

A faint breeze blew early in the afternoon when the temperature reached 28 degrees, and it was one of those days when being alive and out fishing seemed the best two ideas a person could have in one day.

Several holes were scattered 30 to 40 feet apart, and there was still plenty of hard ice. Bluegills were on tap, and although it had been a few years since I’d augered a hole in this little lake, I remembered where to find the bluegills.

The lake isn’t very deep, perhaps 18 feet at the most, and in many areas, the best fishing is in seven to 10 feet of water. I’d rigged up especially for this lake with two-pound monofilament, a tiny spring bobber on the end of the rod, and a small teardrop jig that tipped the scales at 1/32-ounce.

A wax worm was added to the jig, and it slowly spiraled down toward bottom. When the slack went out of the line, I reeled up until the line came tight with the lure just hitting bottom, took up another two inches of line, and began slowly soft-dancing the wee jig near bottom.

This is a movement one doesn’t rush, and an angler that rushes the tiny jigging stroke will often spook more fish than they catch. Late-season ‘gills can be caught, but what works on first-ice seldom produces decent catches during the last two or three weeks of fishing.

My little jig, chartreuse in color with tiny pinpoints of red, was barely moved. I tried to make the lure shiver in place without raising or lowering it. Imagined being a bit cold, and a faint shiver goes through my body.

That’s the action I was trying to impart to the baited lure. The way to do it is to try to move it sideways rather than up or down. A sideways shiver often works, and on this day, it produced some fish. The first ‘gill was in the 8-inch class which is nothing to ignore when most lakes produce mostly four to five-inch fish.

This dandy swam in circles under the ice, and I’ve learned with two-pound line that it’s best to let them swim. When they start slowing down, try to bring them up. Often they will tug toward bottom again, and the drag on my tiny spinning reel was softly buzzing.

Eventually the bluegill was slid onto the ice, unhooked, and the lure was baited again. One of my winter tricks is to rebait whenever I get a strike. It seems that fresh bait, even if a fish just mouthed the previous one, will slow the action. Wax worms are cheap, and all I wanted was eight fish, and four each would feed my wife and I in grand fashion.

Moments later, a pug-nosed 9-inch ‘gill sucked in on the baited lure, and was hooked. A 9-incher has some shoulders, and they can’t be rushed to the ice hole. Take your time, and enjoy the scrap.

I looked around the lake, and I had it to myself. I’d seen tire tracks in the old snow, and knew at least one car had stopped to fish in the past few days. Other than that, the lake seemed to have come through the winter without heavy angling pressure.

It took about an hour to catch eight keeper fish. Two or three were lost, and a larger fish—probably a bass—broke me off on the strike.

The fish ranged from 7 1/2 to 9 inches. Not terribly big bluegills, but the little bog-pond had produced several 10-inch bluegills in past years. I suspect some larger fish still frequent the lake, but as is true with most large fish, all conditions must be right to catch them.

The best thing of all is it was quiet. An occasional crow mouthed off, and an odd bluejay scolded, but it was an hour without a single human voice being heard. And folks, it’s not that I’m anti-social, it’s just that an hour of silence on a beautiful day seemed wonderful.

It was a day to recall fondly in the future when it becomes impossible to escape human noise. I can then think back, smile to myself, and remember the sounds of silence on a warm March day.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/04 at 07:12 PM
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Monday, March 03, 2008

Lost In The Sixties Tonight.

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It was a different time. Things were different 40 years ago than now.

The music was better, the lyrics mostly intelligent, the back-beat was hard-driving and clean, and many of the artists and songs were written by people with a solid name.. Granted, the era of the protest songs about the Vietnam War captured the hearts of those waiting at home for a soldier who may not return, or if they do, they often were mentallly and physically broken. Some of those scars have yet to be mended.

Songs like Puff The Magic Dragon, Black Is Black, Galveston and countless others tore at the heartstrings of those with loved ones in some southeast Asian hell-hole. There were good things as well. People became aware that protest was possible, not that it always worked, because it seldom did. Protest was good for the soul of those young Americans who cared about the war, but didn’t care for the the deceit and lies that came from our nation’s capital.

Those of us with big families (I had four kids) and an early discharge from the Naval Reserve stayed home. Not that I didn’t want to go and fight for my country, but they didn’t want me over there. I stayed home, went fishing, sat on riverbanks, and thought of friends in a faraway land in life-and-death situations.

I’d sit along the banks of the Betsie, Little Manistee and Platte rivers and watch the fish. I guided brown trout, salmon and steelhead fishermen on those and other rivers, and made my living helping others learn to fish and to fight the good battle with big fish. Not very dangerous stuff, but it was what I did.

The rivers were full of fish from1967 into the mid-1970s, and looking back after two hours of listening to many of the protest songs, made me think of just how good we have it in our country. Granted, we get to vote eventually for a new president who can hopefully fix this current mess. Will it Clinton, McCain or Obama? Don’t know yet.

All I can think of is the sheer number of fish during that era. There were more steelhead than anglers to fish for them. Steelhead groups sprang up like morel mushrooms after a spring rain, and in the early to mid-1970s, more people came to the river to retreat from the hellish news of big body counts, photos of our troops going into body bags for their last plane ride home.

I remember hearing Glen Campbell singing as he cleaned his gun, and dreamed of Galveston, and wondered if or when the bloody mess would end. There were fish everywhere, and landing 30 salmonids in a day on flies was not uncommon. There was one day when a friend and I caught and released 100 steelhead. Thirty-fish days became an attainable goal but somehow it seemed wrong to be wading through Steelhead Heaven while soldiers waded rice paddies and jungle. It bothtered me then and bothers me now.

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Back in those days as we fished, and prayed for friends and relatives, we hoped never to see an official U.S. car pull into the driveway. Everyone knew what that meant, and for some, that bad dream came true. No matter how well people thought they were ready, many soon learned that nothing could prepare us for the official word that our lovedf one had been killed in combat.

We had spring and fall steelhead, fall-spawning rainbow trout. chinook and coho salmon, and brown trout in a size and quality unheard of by most people. We fished hard and well in those days, hoping that a full day on the water would erase the television images, the harsh words of radio commentators, and the vivid magazine images and stories of the personal hell that our armed forced had to face.

We had chinook salmon to 30 pounds or more, steelhead to 18 pounds, fall=spawning rainbows to 15 pounds, coho salmon to 20 pounds and scads of browns that would weigh up to 18 pounds. Did they assuage our feelings of guilt about fishing while others were fighting? No, it didn’t. I stood behind my country and the men and women who served in that ugly, unnecessary war, and prayed for their safe return.

Some did, some didn’t, a few who fished showed little interest in it, and even fewer hunted because they’d had enough of firearms to last a lifetime. A loud bang would send them scrambling for cover, and I’d shed a silent and anonymous tear for those who would never come to grips with what had happened to them.

Two or three songs took me back to an era of good fishing and hell on earth. And tonight, after hearing a few of the protest songs, has me lost in the sixties tonight. Sorry about that, but it was something that was itching to get out. It’s out now, but I don’t feel any better for it.

Just tell a veteran you care. And all of us should care.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/03 at 04:49 PM
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