Thursday, July 31, 2008

Family, Kids & Bow Hunting

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Your children need you. For many reasons, but one that is near and dear to my heart is to teach them about archery and bow hunting.

Some schools are becoming more involved in target archery, and as a natural extension of that sport, to help children learn about the hunters role in society, why hunting is the preferred way to reduce deer numbers, and to learn the disciplines of being a conservationist and hunter.

Many parents think hunting is solely an adult pastime, and predominately for males. Frankly, that is not true.

Women who take up bow hunting are the fastest growing segment of the minorities. Studies show that more women are coming into the sport by the year. They grow tired of their husband heading off to the woods, and have made a determined effort to learn to hunt.

There are two other segments of society that bow hunting must touch—minorities such as African-Americans, Asians and Latinos, and children. Other studies show that two major groups—African-Americans and Native Americans—belong to the two least interested groups to become involved in archery or bow hunting.

Those who are deeply involved in hunter education believe that if children are not exposed to archery and fishing before they are nine or 10 years old, they probably will never become involved. It’s sad but true.

The children of this generation are beset by many different activities. We know full well about their seeming addiction to television, video games and talking on cell phones. The latter seems to be a status symbol for kids these days, and I can remember 30-35 years ago when my kids were young. They were always on the phone. Back then it was our phone; now it is their phone.

So the problem rests with the parents in determining how to get their boys and girls involved in shooting a bow, and as their age and skills develop, into bow hunting. Sadly, very few parents wish to buy their child a bow that fits them. Instead, they try to make do with one of their older and heavier bows, and it seldom works well.

Fitting a child with a bow is different than outfitting an adult. For one thing, the bows are much smaller and the draw weight is much less than for an adult bow. But, it’s possible to shoot and kill a deer by shooting razor-sharp broadheads on properly spined arrows from a 25-pound draw weight bow. I know several women who pull only 25 to 35 ponds, and they kill deer every year because they can shoot straight and their broadheads are very sharp.

There is a somewhat natural progression for children from target archery to bow hunting. Some never make that jump, and that is fine. Bow hunting doesn’t have to appeal to everyone which is why I don’t bowl or golf.

Getting children involved is difficult and time consuming, and it’s up to the parents to make it fun for kids. An overly critical parent, filled with negative comments, can drive a child away from shooting a bow. The obvious thing is for the child to learn to shoot properly, and to be able to hit the target at 10 to 15 yards. Once they can hit the target on a regular basis, encourage them to hit the bulls-eye, and once they can do that, back them up to 20 yards. Shooting a bow accurately must become a constant challenge.

There are numerous challenges to overcome to become a consistently good shot while bow hunting or shooting targets. Consistency breeds confidence, and confidence makes children more susceptible to continuing to shoot a bow while hunting or target shooting.

I know many people who shoot targets who never hunt, and their joy comes from shooting well-placed arrows. I also know many hunters who shoot targets only enough to become deadly shots.

In the long run, if parents don’t encourage their children in shooting a bow, some day in the future there will be fewer bow manufacturers around to pay the excise tax that is returned to each state (based on hunting license sales) that pay for hunter education and fund many wildlife programs.

This is a complex issue, but it all hinges on parents getting their children involved. If you don’t do it now, who will be your hunting buddy when you get older?

Sadly, it won’t be your kid. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/31 at 07:28 PM
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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Deer Hunting Means 365 Days A Year Of Studying Them

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A man stopped by my house today with a friend. The guy wanted to meet me and have a chat.

We spent a couple of hours together. I gave him some time I really didn’t have, which is one reason I discourage people dropping in unannounced. I enjoyed talking about deer hunting with him, and my impression was he’d only been hunting a few years. He was still into killing deer.

He finally asked how many days of the season I hunt. I told him I never miss a day unless I’m sick in bed, and that usually doesn’t happen.

“Every day?” he asked.

“Every day!”

“Why do you hunt every day? Don’t you ever get tired of it?”

Both were very good questions, and they really are difficult to answer. The short and sweet of it is I enjoy matching wits with a nice whitetail buck. I enjoy the daily challenge, and somehow, it feels as if something is missing from my life when the season ends. I explained that hunting doesn’t mean having to carry a bow or firearm into the woods each day. During the off-season, I still study deer.

Trying to put into words how I feel is quite difficult. It’s like asking me why I breathe. I breathe to live, and also hunt to live.

Hunting is such an extraordinary experience for me. I hold the power of life and death in my hands, but I’m not playing God. I shoot bucks every year, and there are times when I pass on a buck only to kick myself later for having done so.

But, killing a buck or a doe, is not why I hunt. I’m out in the field every day of the season with a bow in my hand. Every day I climb into an elevated stand or a ground blind, and there isn’t a day of the season that goes by where I’m not prepared to shoot a deer.

Most days I don’t shoot a buck although almost every day I could shoot one if I chose. Killing a buck isn’t why I hunt either; it’s only one reason why I am afield. There must be some semblance of a challenge to hunting, and some reason to shoot, for me to hunt. However, watching deer and learning from them is equally important, and perhaps even more important than the possibility of killing a deer.

Many deer have fallen to my well-placed arrows but I don’t hunt to hear an arrow cut through flesh. I don’t hunt just to follow a blood trail, and I don’t hunt just to kill. I hunt for the sole purpose of hunting, of trying to be successful, of trying to learn more about the deer I love to watch.

What thrills me far more than shooting a buck is the first glimpse of sunlight glinting off white antler deep in a tag alder thicket. I thrill each time a buck is seen weaving through the pines en-route to my stand.

I love hearing a buck grunting with every step he takes as he hazes a doe through the woods. I know what the tending grunt sounds like, and know from the direction it is coming from, that a doe is leading the buck toward me. The anticipation builds as I try to prejudge the bucks antlers by the depth of his grunt. Large or small, it matters little to me. I know that sometime soon another buck will cross my path.

I hunt to spend time outdoors in the weather; to feel the wind on my cheek; to watch does and fawns come to attention when a buck is near; to puzzle out which trail a buck will follow; to determine the contact point where rutting buck and estrus doe will meet.

Much of hunting is more anticipation than participation. These deer are my teachers, and I study at the altar of deer hunting to become the best hunter I can be. I don’t hunt to impress other people; I hunt to satisfy some inner feeling that is difficult to put into words.

Hunting gives me life, teaches me to be humble, forces me to ever greater skills in making even better shots, and it makes me a more content individual. Even if I could, I doubt seriously that I would change my deer hunting life.

It is, you see, one thing that makes me feel alive. And for that, I shall be eternally grateful.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/30 at 06:38 PM
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mother Nature: Give Us A Drink

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I’m beginning to believe that Mother Nature is a naughty old girl, and rates a well-deserved spanking. Some form of corporal punishment is needed to shape her up.

The problem is how to administer a paddling or other punishment. She might fight back with a hurricane or tornado, and we don’t need nasty weather that bad. Perhaps it’s best we forget this option, take our lumps and try to forget about how awful she has treated us.

As we headed down US-31 en route to M-115 West to Frankfort, we passed through Honor this morning with tiny water puddles along the streets. It’s obvious that this small Benzie County town got a bit rain overnight, and a light mist was falling as we pulled into Frankfort to meet our salmon skipper and others in the crew.

We hoped for some rain but hoped there wouldn’t be thunderstorms accompanying the rain. There wasn’t. The clouds disappeared into the southeast, and the day was nice.

Still, my fall planting hasn’t happened yet. The problem is that Mother Nature teases us with a tiny bit of falling moisture but she doesn’t produce enough to do anything but put tiny little pucker marks on dust-covered vehicles.

Just enough moisture may fall to speckle the windshield. At one point this morning in the pre-dawn darkness, our windshield received two or three dozen rain drops and then the cloud passed on.

My food plot areas are now hard-packed dirt by the continuing drought, and it could be a corner of the Arizona pr New Mexico deserts, but it’s possible those arid areas get more moisture that we’ve beem seeing lately.

I refuse to apply water from a hand-held sprinkling can commonly used to water the posies. There isn’t enough hose to reach the food-less food plots, and if there was, I don’t think there is enough pressure to water the area properly.

What we need is an all-night soaking rain followed by a few sprinkles the next day, and then another all-night rain. Not hard enough to wash away the seeds but enough to put moisture into the ground deep enough to generate proper plant growth.

We are less than a week to August, and the recommended fall planting schedule calls for seeding in August. So we still have a full month left so there isn’t any reason to become alarmed.

However, talking with others who are planning on a fall planting this month, the comments being heard are less than optimistic. Many feel the dry conditions will continue through the fall.

My planting this fall may well be an attempt to plant some winter wheat which grows fairly well under most conditions, and use it as a cover crop. It will grow some green winter wheat this fall, and will begin to green up when the snow starts to melt next spring.

It will provide some forage this fall and again next spring, and then it will be disked up and go back into the soil. It will serve as a means to build up the soil for a spring planting.

All of these things could happen, but we still need rain. Not a tease but something that resembles an all-night soaker. With any kind of luck we would get two or three days of rain, more sun and warm weather, and then two or three more rains before early October.

If that doesn’t happen soon, not only will people like me who wish to plant a fall food plot suffer, but every farmer in the state.

Without rain, almost everyone in this state will be paying more money for corn, which has tripled or quadrupled in price over two years, and the price may climb ever higher as people realize how scarce good corn really is.

Nothing good will come from a continued dry spell. Everyone in this state will suffer in one way or another, and so will the state’s deer herd. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/29 at 05:41 PM
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Monday, July 28, 2008

Take The Kids Fishing This Summer

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If summer means anything to a fisherman, than it should mean a great time on the water with their children fishing.

Young children need to be kept busy. Their attention span is almost nonexistent, and if a parent wants to keep them excited, take them fishing for bluegills, crappies, sunfish and perch.

These game fish can, when once located, provide steady fishing action for a youngster. Allow children to handle fish, but caution them about the spiny rays on certain fins. Those sharp spines, if stuck in a youngster’s finger, may be all it takes to turn them away from fishing.

If children wish to handle fish, caution them against handling fish with too much pressure. They should never squeeze fish, grip fish by the eyes, grip a fish by the gills, or allow them to fall. Never throw a fish back into the water. They may swim away, and appear to be fine, but the shock of the impact with the water may slowly kill fish.

Children should use reliable fishing equipment that is easy to use. It doesn’t need to be the finest gear, but it shouldn’t be cheap equipment that is easily broken after minimal use.

Bluegills, sunfish, and occasionally crappies, are the easiest fish to catch and often can be found in shallow or fairly shallow water. Use bait and a small bobber. Refrain from putting a huge bobber on a child’s line because a small bluegill or sunfish may not be able to pull it under.

Quill bobbers or small and thin wood bobbers are easily seen, and when a fish takes the bait, its easy to determine when you’ve had a strike.

Watching a floating bobber requires patience, something most children lack. Explain to them that bluegills and sunfish may bite very softly, and they must watch the bobber for any movement. Kids often get into watching, but if nothing happens, they get distracted.

Let the kids have a contest to see you can catch the first fish. A bit of this type of sibling competition is OK, and once one of them catches a fish, the others will spend more time watching bobbers.

Teach them how to land the fish without horsing it in. Show them, as much as possible, how the fun of catching fish can be expanded by taking their time getting the fish in. Teach them how to wiggle the hook loose, and them them that some fish should be released and some may be kept.

Keeping small bluegills and sunfish can be good for a small lake because it helps eliminate stunted fish. Tiny fish are the bane of most lakes, and their removal will not damage the existing population.

Summer is a great time for the kids. They are out of school, and the weather is typically nice. The fish will be found from very shallow out to five or six feet, and this makes for easy fishing for the children.

If a boat is used caution them against kicking their feet against the bottom or sides of an aluminum boat. Such noises have a tendency to scare fish away.

These panfish are easy to catch, and almost any bait will work. Crickets, grasshoppers, leeches, red worms or small pieces of a nightcrawler are live baits of choice.

Enjoy a summer day with the children. It’s not necessary to spend all day at it, and studies indicate that the best time to take kids fishing is when they are well rested. Children that are tired get cranky, and a fishing trip turns out to be a chore for everyone concerned.

Give them about two hours of fishing, and as they acclimate to it, add a little bit more. The purpose of taking them fishing is to make it fun, not drudgery.

And, above all, make the fishing trip fun for them.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/28 at 05:15 PM
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Long-Distance Deer Gazing

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Locating trophy whitetail bucks requires several things: a spotting scope, good binoculars, a high vantage point, the ability to stay downwind of the animals, and perhaps a tiny bit of luck.

You’ll notice I said nothing about a bow or firearm. Those may be needed when hunting two or three months from now, but locating a good buck means spending a good bit of time in the field with the above mentioned items.

One of my buddied locates Upper Peninsula bucks by sitting high on a rocky outcropping overlooking a crop field with close proximity to some heavy cedar swamps. He sits quietly, often 500 yards or more from where the deer are seen feeding in an open field, and studies them with binoculars or a spotting scope.

Another friend uses a tall free near a busy highway. He knows the deer won’t be crossing the road during daylight hours, so he has constructed a safe and sturdy stand that sits 30 feet off the ground. He crawls into it, fastens his full-body safety harness, and studies the deer and how they approach the field in the early evening.

Sometimes he crawls into the same tree while it is still dark, waits for the dawn, and checks out how deer exit the feeding area. After several early morning or late afternoon visits, he knows where the deer are coming from and where they are going ... and which trails to hunt.

The savvy sportsman does this in several locations, and long before the bow season opens he knows where the deer travel. And best of all, he knows how he will set up on them once the season does open.

Knowing where deer bed down, where they feed and their exact travel routes, can be pin-pointed during the late summer months. These areas will not change unless humans move into the area when deer are normally moving.

I used to have an elevated coop in the middle of an open field. I could see 250 yards to one end of the field, 350 yards to the other end, and the field was about 400 yards wide. Walking in to this elevated coop was a snap, and I’d do it long before the deer would start moving.

The coop had stood in place for 15 years, and deer had come to accept it as a permanent fixture. It had plexiglas windows on all four sides, and a flat floor that allowed the use of a tripod and my Bushnell spotting scope.

I dressed in camo clothing, and had two stools in the stand for use during the firearm and muzzleloader seasons. In mere seconds, a deer that was spotted was instantly brought into sharp focus. It was easy to tell where the buck had come from, and backtracking that animals trail wasn’t important. I knew the swamp he bedded in, and the trails he used to enter the field to feed.

The value of my spotting scope was it allowed me the opportunity to zero in on the buck’s rack, and determine his size. On many occasions, if I had a friend who really wanted to shoot a decent buck, I knew which stand would be the most productive, where the buck would come from, and when he would show up.

This pre-season scouting, and timing of when bucks arrived, became so skilled that I could predict within two or three minutes when the buck would walk in front of a particular stand. It paid off for many hunters, and if I told them the buck would arrive at 7:23 p.m., they came to realize that I had these bucks pegged. It led to a good number of hunters shooting their first buck.

What I’ve been able to do with pre-season scouting isn’t difficult but it can be time consuming. What works for me can work for you, but getting out into the field, laying down some foot prints, and studying deer from afar requires a large investment in time.

Some hunters are willing to invest that time, and give themselves a better chance at scoring on a nice buck, and some are not. It’s hot, dirty, dusty work, and the bugs can be bad. The results can be commensurate with the effort and work spent gaining in-depth knowledge of a deer and his travel routes.

Many hunters rely on luck to put them in the right spot at the right time, and other sportsmen make their own luck by knowing when to be at the right place at the right time. The big difference is skill will normally out-produce luck almost every time.

Me, I prefer making my own luck. It’s more fun that way.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/27 at 06:48 PM
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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rivers Can Be A Good Midsummer Bet

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Trout fishermen often think the only good stream fishing is for their favorite game fish, such as brook, brown and rainbow trout.

They might wish to reconsider. Early summer river fishing for game fish like smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleyes can be very good. And white bass, rock bass and panfish also are caught in many streams.

A case in point: a recent trip down the Tittabawassee River from Midland. The targeted species was walleyes but smallmouth bass and northern pike figured in our catch. We also landed crappies, rock bass and white bass. Every hole or run seemed to produce fish, and often more than one species was caught in each location.

It was a fun fishing trip and not one where we fished for the table. In years past, the Tittabawassee River held plenty of fish but none were fit for human consumption. It’s not as bad now as it was 20 years ago, but one measures the potential of risk, and says “Why bother?”

But, if it’s fishing action you seek, the Tittabawassee River offers good sport. Walleyes pounded on our lures in almost every hole we fished. They hit the lures as they swung in the current or caught up with jigs hippity-hopped along bottom.

We found the Mepps Luzon weight-forward spinner highly effective when tipped with a nightcrawler or shiner minnow, and inched over the rocky bottom. Small Mepps spinners produced panfish, white bass, rock bass, crappies and the ever-present walleyes.

Other good lures included Heddon River Runts, Erie Dearies, Dardevles and Cyclops spoons. The trick is to fish slow and work the lures near the bottom and tight to the rocks. That’s one reason why leadhead jigs can be so productive.

Our group, in four hours of fishing, landed more than 30 walleyes weighing up to four pounds each. Several walleyes were kept for photos and released with the others to provide sporting action for other anglers. Vertical jigging with minnow-tipped jigs was very productive for walleyes.

The stream is loaded with fish and it can be a good spot to instill catch-and-release ethics in a youngster. In time, the river will clean itself up and anglers won’t have to worry about eating contaminated fish. It’s very close to that point right now, but I always err on the side of caution.

Many anglers eat Tittabawassee River fish, but when I have my druthers, as I always do, I’ll catch and release the fish. My eating fish will come from somewhere else with cleaner and less contaminated water.

There are many other streams that produce good action through July, and most offer fish that one doesn’t have to worry about eating. A favorite is the upper Cass River near Caro and Cass City, where fishermen can catch rock bass, some jumbo northern pike and fair to good numbers of smallmouth bass.

The Shiawassee River near Owosso offers good northern pike fishing. I have caught hundreds of fish from the Shiawassee River, and almost all are returned to the river to live and fight again. Some of the shallow riffles produce exciting smallmouth bass action on jigs, Beetle Spins and Shad Raps.

The upper Muskegon River offers great sport with bass, pike and some trout. Another good bet is the upper Grand River near Lansing where smallmouth bass smack jigs and other lures.

The AuSable River between the dams (pick any two dams along the river) offer smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, walleyes, panfish and some trout. The Thunder Bay River upstream from Alpena is one of the state’s finest smallmouth bass waters.

Moving water attracts thousands of fishermen every year, and one only has to look nearby to find a fishable stream. Fishing pressure is negligible on most rivers and a wealth of angling possibilities await sportsmen with the need for a change of pace and a willingness to try something new.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/26 at 08:50 PM
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Friday, July 25, 2008

Planning For October

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Do you realize there is just a little bit more than two months before the bow season opens? It hardly seems possible, but August and September will zip by, and Oct. 1 will soon be staring us in the face. And you know what? I’m ready for fall.

Are you ready? If the season opened tomorrow, I’d be ready. I shoot my bow almost every day, and the bow and I work together as a team. I come to full draw, aim and stroke the release trigger, and the arrow goes where it is supposed to.

But, enough about me. How about you? Are you mentally and physically prepared for the season? The truth is that most people are not.

An old fishing saying is every bit as appropriate to bow hunters as anglers. Anticipation is 90 percent of a hunt (or fishing trip), and participation makes up only about 10 percent. That means we spend most of our time looking forward to an October bow hunt but only a little bit of a year is spent in the woods.

That means mental preparation. If only 10 percent, at the most, is spent in a ground blind or tree with a bow in hand, it means that we must be ready and well prepared for a shot at any time. Most people, quite frankly, cannot maintain that high level of interest for long periods of time.

They hang their bow on a hook, stretch the kinks out of a sore back, watch a rooster pheasant or ruffed grouse picking its way through the woods, and we get distracted. We’re thinking of a steak dinner, wishing we had a cup of coffee, chewing ourselves out for not using the bathroom before we left to go hunting.

There we sit, accustomed to working and thinking and doing, but at a point where we must be motionless and still. We are not mentally prepared for that point in time when a buck steps out only 20 short paces away, and we are fumbling to quietly lift the bow off the hook.

We have just over two months to counsel ourselves in being ready. Turkey hunting is a delightful way to learn how to sit still without making a sound. It teaches hunters how to be prepared long before the shot presents itself.

Good hunters have mastered this knack. They can sit still for hours if need be, and never make a sound. Look at them and they look as if they are asleep with their eyes open.

Don’t be fooled. This attitude is one of optimism, and preparation. Many are holding their bow in such a way that it is instantly ready but it puts a strain on their hands, wrists or arms. They may appear to be half-asleep but they are well aware of everything around them.

An arrow is nocked and positioned perfectly on the rest, and the release is on the strong. It requires little wasted movement to bring it up while drawing the string back, and as they achieve full draw, the sight is nestled low behind the front shoulder. From spotting the deer to releasing an aimed shot is about one or two seconds.

There are two basic ways of settling the sight behind the front shoulder. One is to come to full draw below the deer, follow the front leg up to the shoulder, inch in over and release. Or, some people start their draw high up on the body, and bring the sight down until it is in the right spot.

Following a vertical leg up seems easier than bringing the sight down through the horizontal part of the body, and then move the sight to the proper location. Try each one until you get it perfect and know which is best for you.

Too many people draw their bow horizontal to the aiming point, and then try to finesse it into the right spot while holding at full draw. Following a leg up, inch it right or left, and release works well for many people.

Let’s face it. If we don’t shoot all winter, our muscles aren’t as strong and accustomed to holding a bow as they are after months of practice. Whichever method you use to drawing and aiming, stick with it.

As you practice, develop a attitude of minimal movement. Always sit or stand in a stand with your feet properly positioned for a shot. Moving your feet and/or your body when a buck is within range is likely to spook the animal. The movement involves the whole body. Learn to be properly positioned for a shot at all times, and it will save you precious seconds in getting lined up for a shot.

Planning ahead should be your motto during the next two months before the upcoming bow hunting season. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/25 at 04:40 PM
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

How To Lose A Muskie

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I have no clue on how many ways there are to lose a hooked muskie, but it seems I’ve found quite a number over 40+ years.

Many are directly related to poor tackle, not paying attention, or putting too much pressure on a green fish or one that has been hooked for a lengthy period. Some losses are a result of simple bad luck. Check out some of these dumb moves, and know that they represent just a handful of ways that a big muskie can be lost.

*Poor tackle - Many anglers head out for muskies and are ill-equipped for the task. This is no place for weak line, sticky drags, sharp edges on line guides or inattention.

*Frozen reel - It was late November, and I’d been having some success chasing the big girls, and it looked as if the freeze-up was near. My boat had a little bilge water in it, and the rod and reel slipped off the seat and fell in the bilge. It was pulled out, and set aside.

Two hours later I decided to run a spinnerbait along the edge of some structure, and the reel seemed to cast well. Several cranks of the reel handle were taken, and I felt a savage yank. The hook was set, and the fish tried to take line against the drag, and it was froze up. The line parted as a 30-pound fish tried to dart away. Dumb move on my part.

*The lit cigarette trick - A buddy was a two-pack-a-day man, and we were fishing Lac Vieux Desert on the Michigan-Wisconsin border, and the weeds were thick and matted. We were fishing little lanes of open water when my friend hooked a big fish.

The fight rampaged back and forth, and we were able to keep the fish away from the heaviest weeds. As the fish tired, my friend fired up a smoke and satisfied that it was going, began pumping and reeling the big fish closer to the boat. The net was out and ready, and he leaned back with a satisfying puff on his cheroot, and the FireLine touched the glowing end of the cigarette. The line melted and broke, and that was the end of that fight.

*Another time, while fishing alone on Wisconsin’s Tomahawk Lake, I hooked a good fish in a rather tight spot. This was in the days before bow-mounted trolling motors, and I jerked the motor to life, and backed away from the fish, and put the motor into neutral.

The fight continued for long minutes and the near 50-inch fish was coming toward the boat. The fish began coming too easily, and then it darted at the boat. I shifted into reverse, backed away from the fish, and then it switched directions. Before I knew it the muskie had darted under the motor and cut the line.

*A friend had landed a good muskie on a spinnerbait, and the split ring was mangled. He asked if I had any good split rings, and that box had been left at home. He dug through his box, found a smaller split ring, put it on and began casting.

You guessed it. He hooked another big fish, and this one kept digging for bottom in deep water. My friend kept up some heavy-handed pressure as I urged him to remember the small split ring. Fifteen minutes later as the fish was approaching the boat, it flipped over, tried to go deep one more time and succeeded. The split ring twisted apart, and the muskie got away.

*One time, while fishing with a Suick, a muskie followed the lure, made a half-hearted strike. I set the hook into nothing, and the plug came sailing back at me. I ducked, and it flew past me, and one of the hooks nicked the graphite rod. I examined the rod, and it appeared to be fine.

Later that day I hooked another fish, and it was in the 25-pound class. It lathered the surface, and began to lose its spirit. I kept up the pressure, and as it got almost within netting range, it tried once more to turn and go away. Yep, the rod tip broke, and the tip slid down the line and touched the muskies nose. It went nuts, rolled in the line, broke the tip section again, and swam off with my lure as the two pieces of the rod sank into the lake.

There are many ways to lose a muskie. These are just a few, and I’m certain you have a few stories of your own. Pass them along because I can always use a good laugh.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/24 at 08:25 PM
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Trust Your Hunting Instincts

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Gut feelings and instincts play a very important role when hunting, and it took me several unsuccessful years as a youth to accept that my instincts and deep-down feelings were almost always right. I spent too much time in those days second-guessing myself.

When my instincts tell me to try a different spot rather than my intended hunting stand, I now pay much more attention. If my gut feelings tell me that this particular stand is all wrong for this particular hunt and wind direction, I pack up my gear and go elsewhere.

It wasn’t always that way. Many years ago I’d seen a guy sitting in the shadow of a huge root wad from a wind-topped oak. This was in the days before tree stand hunting was legal in this state, and he killed a nice buck on opening day of the firearm season.

The next day I went back into the woods, and his little hotspot was empty. Fresh snow had fallen, and there were no deer tracks coming down the trail 50 yards away. Still I thought about sitting in that root wad, out of the wind, but a nagging thought kept saying: “Don’t do it!”

I moved off down the trail, and 200 yards later came to a point where two side trails merged with the one I was on. I checked around, found a decent downwind spot 40 yards away. It was a natural blind, and required no work to fix it up. A fallen tree provided a place to sit, a nearby big tree provided a back rest, and scraggly brush was behind me. A bit of brush with numerous open holes lay in front of me.

My butt hit the log, my back was against the upright tree, and I kicked snow and leaves out from underfoot so I could move slightly if there was a need. I was buck hunting, and it didn’t take long until three does and fawns came down one of the side trails, and minutes later deer came down the other off-shoot trail, but nothing came down the main trail from where the other gent shot his buck the day before.

I sat still, and 15 minutes later a fat 6-point came walking down one of the side trails, and walked past at 40 yards without knowing I was there. One shot from an old .35 Remington put that buck on the ground.

It was a hunch or a gut feeling, and perhaps my instincts kicked in, but I had a feeling that if I sat where the other hunter had shot a buck that I wouldn’t see a deer. There wasn’t a single deer track moving on that trail. Yesterday’s gun fire put all the deer in the area on the other two trails, and my hunch had paid off.

Another time, only two years ago, the wind was right for two of my stands. My wife was in her stand, a friend was in his tree stand, and the wind was perfect for either one of the other two. I put a great deal of thought into choosing one over the other, and a coin toss would do but I wanted to take the element of chance out of this equation.

Finally I decided to hunt the one bow stand that had not been hunted that fall. The other stand had been used twice, once by me and once by another friend. Both were good, the wind was perfect for ether one, so my instincts told me to hunt the previously unhunted stand.

It turned out to be a smart choice. I’d been in the stand only 30 minutes, and even though deep in the edge of a tag alder run, it wasn’t dark but everything was shadowed. A soft rustle in the leaves alerted me to an approaching deer, and I sat and waited to see what would develop.

Two minutes later a fine 8-point eased out of the tags, and kept moving my way. The deer at this stand came from the upwind side of my stand, moved across in front of me on a trail 17 yards away, and I was ready.

The buck got to the right spot, and I was at full draw. I bleated softly once, and the buck stopped to look around, and the Carbon Express arrow slid between his ribs. He ran 80 yards through the woods toward the field, and this would be a short drag.

Both bucks could have gone elsewhere but instead they went into my freezer. My gut feelings told me which decision to make, and those two times, along with countless others, proved that my hunches were correct.

If you find yourself facing a choice, run them back and forth through your brain, and your instinct will invariably be correct. And one more thing: don’t second-guess these hunches. Doing so usually leads to making a bad error in judgment.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/23 at 07:40 PM
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Happy Birthday To George & I

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Ho-hum. Another birthday. My 69th today, and boy, am I excited.

Actually, birthdays always made me happy until my twin brother passed away nearly five years ago. I visited his site in a cremation cemetery a short time ago, knowing it would be impossible to do so today for a variety of reasons..

Birthdays should be happy occasions, and I am happy, but not having my brother nearby to share it with me makes this just one more day in my life.

Much of yesterday was spent in anticipation of visiting the site of his marker. His ashes had been spread in the Platte and Sturgeon rivers, as per his wishes, and some were spread in his favorite rifle hunting blind and woodcock covert.

Some of his ashes were buried with our father after he passed away almost two years ago. George and Dad were always close, and it was my decision to send part of George with our father to keep him company.

So now, on our shared birthday, there is only one of us left. It’s up to me to carry on this life without either of them. Some may consider this blog rather morbid or self-serving.

This I can promise my readers: There is nothing to be gained by telling today’s blog as I feel it. It’s just that I miss my brother and father, but especially on our shared birthday.

Today is just another day of business as usual. I’ve been working on my Sunday feature story for the Traverse City Record-Eagle, and if you want it hint, the piece is about what people can do in the off-season to learn how to sit still.

I admit to being excited about the prospect of another year of writing my daily blog. At this time I’m four months shy of five years of writing a daily blog without deliberately missing a day. It’s a feat I find somewhat amazing even though I did miss a bit of time when my computer got shot down.

Any readers who find my daily blogs interesting are urged to give my website address < http://www.daverichey.com > to friends, neighbors and relatives. This is Michigan’s largest fishing and hunting website, and don’t forget to check out my fishing and hunting books for sale.

Birthdays are for children. I remember as a kid wondering if there is a thirteenth birthday why there isn’t a twelve-teen or an eleven-teen. Why start teenagers at the age of 13? Didn’t make sense then and doesn’t now.

I find myself thinking of brother George more and more as time goes on. He was what made me whole, and I helped make him whole. We were always supportive of each others chosen career, and we always did what we could to help.

What is missed most of all are the shared fishing and hunting trips. I’m mindful of a trip we made to Quebec in 1970 for a deer hunt. We hunted hard for three days, and only one whitetail was seen.

It showed up on the last day of our hunt, and a beautiful 8-point buck stepped out and I killed the animal with one shot. George wasn’t unhappy about not taking a buck, and was happy that I shot a good one.

I worked hard to help promote his Richey’s Custom Flies, and helped make his Michigan Laser Squid, Sparkle Fly and other trolling lures into the hottest sellers on the Great Lakes. Those trolling lures are now being made and sold by his son. Contact Casey Richey at 1016 Leelanau, Frankfort, MI 49635 or phone him at (231) 383-0312 for lure information.

I recall days when George and I were fishing or hunting, and remember once when duck hunting on Saginaw Bay when his hunting partner (not me) chose not to shoot in his field of fire but tried to shoot into George’s field of fire. Luckily, it was the barrel of George’s fine double-barrel shotgun that was shot and not him. So much for that shotgun, and so much for his short-term friendship with the other guy.

George was my soul-mate from the womb forward, and today on our birthday, I think of him often. Some thoughts are funny, some are incredibly sad, and some were George moments that I’ll always remember.

So ... Happy Birthday to us, and I ask that you help by thinking of him as well. My thanks!

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/22 at 06:50 PM
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Monday, July 21, 2008

These Memories Won’t Fade Away

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I spent a good bit of time today remembering many of the fishing trips my late twin brother George and I shared. There isn’t a day I don’t think of him on several occasions, and today (the day before our birthday) brought back many fine and pleasant memories.

Thinking of George is a distinct pleasure. We shared so much as twins, and our mutual love of fishing and my thoughts about him, keeps his memory alive and fresh in my mind. Some of today’s memories included:

*A day many years ago when we were fishing the Sturgeon River. I hooked a nice steelhead, and followed the fish downstream to the upstream end of a deep hole. I tip-toed out as far as I could, and battled that fish to a standstill.

Suddenly I could feel the sand washing out from around my wader-clad feet, and knew I was going for a swim. I tried to back up but the current was too strong, and there I went, trying to swim with my rod hand. I hollered at George as I washed through the hole, telling him to grab me at the next shallow riffle.

He ran ahead while I foundered, and I hit the shallow gravel upside-down, and he grabbed my wader straps and hauled me upright. I was thoroughly soaked on a very cold day, and five minutes later I landed the fish and headed for the car for dry clothes and a warm towel. If any one cares, the steelhead weighed 5 1/2 pounds.

*Another time he was wading a soft place on the Platte River. I’d warned him against it because of the soft marl bottom, but he got out and into the current, and then both feet got stuck. He was in waist-deep water, and if he fell over, he’d drown because the current would hold him down.

I dropped my rod, grabbed a long and limber tag alder limb, and waded out toward him. He wasn’t panicking, but knew the consequences if he lost his balance. I was right on the edge of firm footing and soft, and still 10 feet from him. My branch was about nine feet long. I knew I could stretch out two more feet, and his arms would reach two feet without having to move his body, but I wanted him to get a firm grip.

“All I can do is pull,” I told him. “No sense in both of us being stuck in midstream. Grab hold tight, and I’ll push slightly, and hopefully it will give you enough leverage so you can keep your balance while pulling one foot clear of the muck. Take off your wader belt and shoulder straps, because if you lose your balance I’ll try to pull you out of your waders.”

He got a death grip on the limb, as did I, and I pushed slightly to help him maintain his balance. He worked feverishly on the foot closest to me, and got it free and took a two-foot step. That foot went a foot down in the muck but landed on a submerged limb. He worked on freeing the other foot, and even though it took a half-hour, we got him up onto firm footing and to safety.

*One night we were fishing Manistee Lake at Manistee in August for big walleyes. Back then some big freighters would move up the lake, and throw a huge wake. I hooked a big walleye, and got it close to the boat, and this was bigger than any of the 12 and 13-pounders we had landed over the years.

“He’s huge,” George said in an understatement. “I’ll put the flashlight in my mouth, and try to net him.” He did, and just as the net went under the fish, the wake from a passing freighter hit us. The lure hooks tangled in the net, and the fish lay delicately balanced across the net rim.

He did the only thing he could, and tried to keep the walleye balanced on the net frame. He got the net and fish over the gunwale before the walleye flipped once, tore the hooks free, bounced once off the gunwale, and I grabbed for the fish. It slid through my hands like a greased pig, and got away. We estimated his weight at 15-16 pounds.

*George loved fly fishing and tying flies, and I remember one of the last brown trout he caught was with the late Frank Love of Frederic. They were fishing the upper Manistee River near the 612 bridge from Frank’s riverboat, and George hooked the fish just after dark.

It jumped and splashed, and George was making the woods ring with his whoops and hollers. He fought that fish well, giving line when needed and taking line when he could, and several minutes later George landed a 22-inch brown.

He admired it briefly, leaned over the edge of the longboat, held the noble brown trout into the current until it pulled away and swam back to his home under a log jam.

That was just a part of what George Richey was. He loved life, loved trout fishing, detested crowds of people, and thought kindly of many people. He loved trout and trout fishing enough to release the larger fish, and many people should emulate his actions. He fished for fun, not for food, and that makes me miss him even more.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/21 at 05:36 PM
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Another Birthday Celebration

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It was 69 years ago when I came kicking and squalling prematurely into this world, after whipping on my smaller twin brother George, for the right to be the first-born. We celebrated my birthday today, but the actual date is Tuesday, July 22.

Thinking back on it, it’s difficult to believe I’ve been drifting through this outdoor life for so long. My life has truly been blessed with not much money but the opportunity to choose my life style, and live life (within reason) on my terms.

There has been heartbreak, deaths (including my father, mother and twin brother plus both sets of grandparents), and through it all, a love for fishing and hunting has helped rule my life. I’ve fought long and hard for our natural resources, and that hasn’t always been an easy task although it has been a thankless one.

I began my writing career 41 years ago with a sale to Sports Afield magazine, and the first six free-lance sales were easy. Then it became much more difficult because I’d used up my best story ideas.

It took time, but learning to recognize good stories, learning how to edit my own copy, and how to out-work most writers became my stock in trade. I worked solo from 1967 to 1976, and when my wife Kay and I married in 1977, my income doubled because of her help.

We traveled six months a year (May through October), and wrote magazine copy and outdoor books the other six. The output of magazine copy was prodigious, and unparalleled by most outdoor writers. I once wrote nearly 400 full-length magazine articles and three full-length books each year for two years in a row. I could see potential magazine articles that other writers couldn’t see, and I capitalized on it.

For years, a photographic memory allowed me to remember what had been published each month in several different magazines over a five-year period. I knew when a certain type of article was needed by a magazine, and I’d propose the article a year ahead of time.

Many magazines considered me a “hole-filler,” a person who could write a feature-length article, based on my experiences, on demand. If Joe Blow wrote a poor story, or didn’t meet the deadline, they came to me and I filled their hole. Besides, such stories always paid more money.

Our travels crisscrossed North America for six months each year. We’d be in Quebec one week, and on the Kentucky-Tennessee border the next week. Get home, shower and wash clothes, and then we’d be off on another adventure. I’ve been from Mexico to Baffin and Victoria islands in Canada’s Northwest Territories, and from Hawaii east to North and South Carolina and northeast into Maine and Pennsylvania.

We’ve suffered through miserable trips where the fishing or hunting didn’t pay off, been lied to by guides, left up in the Idaho mountains by an idiot guide, had guides who were trustworthy and keen at their job, and had guides who stole some of my gear.

One yoyo stole a whitetail buck I’d killed at gunpoint, and I’ve faced down black and grizzly bears at spitting distance. I fell off a fire escape while taking photos and broke my back, and have been attacked by a pack of wild dogs. I stupidly jumped into quicksand once, and have tripped and floated, upside down and backwards, through many river holes. I’ve been in countless storms in a small boat, and managed to make my way to shore without becoming a statistic.

There have been some of the nicest people in the world who have worked with me, and a few who seemed certifiably crazy and didn’t warrant a second chance. I’ve never been on a trip where I wasn’t welcome to return sometime in the future, and second invites are sometimes difficult to attain in this business.

I’ve filled camps and lodges for a year with some of my stories, and other stories just never seemed to click with readers. There is no predicting what readers will like or dislike, and this weblog is a good example. Some will find it interesting, some will consider me a braggart, and others might wish I’d written about a fishing hotspot they wanted to learn more about.

I lost my beloved twin brother almost five years ago, and my life hasn’t been the same without him. I think of him daily, recount our thousands of fishing and hunting days together, and wish they hadn’t ended when they did. He had multiple forms of cancer, and when he died, I was happy for him because his battle was over.

Now, I fish and hunt whenever I wish, and look to buy books on fishing and hunting from my readers. I enjoy short emails from people, and answer as many as time permits, but an average of nearly 200 emails cross my desk on a daily basis. Some I won’t answer because nothing about them applies to me or my website.

Dad passed away almost two years ago, and his life was very difficult toward the end. We now look forward to future fishing and hunting trips.

So, if you’ll excuse me now, the Richey Clan and assorted friends and relatives, are gathering to help welcome this old codger into his 69th year. So, with a hearty thank-you to those who have passed on birthday wishes, and to those who could care less about my birthday thoughts, I bid you a fond adios for another day.

Stay well, and take care of each other.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/20 at 05:04 PM
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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Understanding Michigan’s Wolves

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Your love ‘em or hate them. Wolves have few people who are ambivalent about them

Discussing wolves in this state means people are either “for them” or “against them.” Wolves, somewhat like black bear numbers, have a certain human acceptance or tolerance level.

When animal numbers exceed the social carrying capacity in that area, the local human residents find themselves switching sides from “for” to “against” in very little time. So, managing either animal is as much about managing humans as the wild animal populations.

It appears there are somewhere between 500-550 grey wolves in the Upper Peninsula, and best-guess scenarios have the animals well distributed from north to south and east to west. The number climbs in the spring when wolf pups are born, and drops slightly during winter months as some wolves perish for a variety of reasons.

Wolves are fascinating creatures, and here are some facts about Michigan’s gray wolves that may be of interest.

*Key dates from 1838 to the present include: 1838 is when Michigan’s legislature enacted a wolf bounty; 1840 was when wolves disappeared from the southern Lower Peninsula; 1910 was when wolves disappeared from the northern Lower Peninsula; 1954-1956 was when the last original verified wolf pup was produced in the Upper Peninsula; and 1965 was when wolves were legally protected.

*Other dates of interest was 1974 when four wolves were translocated to the Huron Mountain Area in the U.P. All four wolves were killed within a year; 1991 was the first year when documentation of the first wolf pup was produced in the U.P. in nearly 40 years; 1996 was when wolves were believed to be present in all U.P. counties; 1997 was when Michigan adopted the Michigan Gray Wolf Recovery & Management Plan; 2002 saw Michigan reclassifying its gray wolf population from endangered to threatened under the Michigan State Endangered Species Act; 2003 saw the Federal government reclassifying Michigan wolves from federally endangered to federally threatened; and 2004 saw the first documented return of the gray wolf to the northern Lower Peninsula where one was accidentally trapped and shot by a person who thought it was a coyote.

*As of last year, Michigan’s gray wolf population was about 500-550 animals. The breakdown since 1989 is as follows: 1989 showed a state mainland total of two wolves; 1991 saw 17 wolves; 1992 saw 21 wolves; 1993 had 30 wolves; 1994 showed 57 wolves in eight packs; 1995 found 80 wolves in 12 packs; 1996 showed 116 wolves in 16 packs; 1997 showed 112 wolves in 20+ packs; 1998 had 140-150 wolves in 20+ packs; 1999 showed 174 wolves in 30+ packs; 2000 had 216 wolves in 30+ packs; 2001 had 249 wolves in 30-50 packs; 2002 showed 278 wolves in 60 packs; 2003 had 321 wolves in 68 packs; 2004 found 360 wolves in 77+ packsl and 2005 found 405 wolves in 86+ packs. It’s unknown exactly how many wolves are present this year as pups were born earlier in the year.

*It’s estimated that each gray wolf can consume 17-20 whitetail deer annually, states the Timber Wolf Alliance, a program of the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute of Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin < http://www.northland.edu/soei/timber_wolf.asp >.

*Gray wolves (Canis lupus) are the largest member of the Canidae family. This family also includes coyotes and fox.

*Wolves do not necessarily require wilderness to survive. They can live anywhere there is an adequate food supply, enough suitable forest land to roam and, most importantly, human acceptance.

*Wolves are carnivores or meat-eating mammals that feed primarily on beaver and deer, but also add to this diet some birds, small mammals and snowshoe hares. There has minor depredation complaints from farmers, and all complaints are investigated by the DNR and/or Federal officials.

*A pack of wolves will cover at least 100 square miles or about three geographical townships. They can travel long distances quickly for short periods, but maintain a dog-like trot for 20 hours without resting.

*In 2004, wolves killed 17 domestic animals including five dogs in the Upper Peninsula.

*Wolves survive as families in a pack system with a strong hierarchical structure of members that include: the alpha or male and female leaders of the pack, juveniles from previous litters, individual wolves that may not be genetically related plus pups from the present year. They work together to maintain the survival of the pack which leads to the survival of the individual animal. Packs are very dynamic, developing and breaking apart depending upon circumstances such as the death of an alpha male or female. The average number of wolves in a Michigan wolf pack is four to five animals.

*Isle Royale, in northern Lake Superior, belongs to Michigan. It has held wolves for many years, and in 2005, 30 wolves lived on the island where their primary food source are beavers and moose. The entire island is a National Park, and no hunting is allowed.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/19 at 03:24 PM
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Learning About Michigan’s Massasauga Rattlesnake

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The Massasauga rattlesnake was well camouflaged in the short grass of a sandy area, and the tiny buttons on the end of its tail were making a sound quite similar to a buzzing bee.

We gathered around for this photo opportunity as Rebecca Christoffel of East Lansing, Mich. kept the snake corralled and not too close to any of us. It was a unique chance to see one of these snakes up close and personal.

There are some people who would probably question the sanity of those who would deliberately go searching in thick cover for a glimpse of Michigan’s only venomous snake—the Massasauga rattlesnake—and be within their rights to question our mental state.

“Actually,” said Christoffel, a Michigan State University doctoral candidate, “these snakes are not aggressive. They are content to be left alone and they are rather shy and retiring unless handled.”

She had met up with me and Jacob Van Houten of Midland in Cadillac. She took us in search of these small rattlesnakes, and our destination was a nature trail on the east side of Lake Skegemog near Rapid City.

“Massasaugas can be found almost anywhere,” Christoffel said. “This area has a great mix of low-lying ground, upland woods with sandy hummocks, marsh hummocks, fallen trees and ground debris. It’s in such damp places where mice and voles are found, and they are a favorite item in a rattlers diet.

“Just walk slowly, watch where you put your hands and feet, and these snakes aren’t always on the ground. They can slither up a dead-fall, and even though they are far from common, it pays to be careful.”

We spread out, walked along the nature trail and covered both sides of it, and Christoffel turned over leaves, bark chips and fallen limbs. The search, because of time constraints, wasn’t as long as any of us would have liked, but our leader had to present a seminar that evening.

“The key to helping to insure the future of these rattlesnakes is through education,” she told us. “Michigan has the most massasauga rattlers in the United States and Ontario, but finding one on short notice such as now, is very difficult. Another MSU student has located some snakes in this area, and some are fitted with a tiny chip that allows her to find the snakes when necessary.”

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the radio telemetry equipment needed to find the snakes, but that was of little concern. Christoffel had that covered with a massasauga rattler with us in a small six-pack cooler that I had used as an armrest from Cadillac to Rapid City.

We looked for snakes, and then Christoffel found one for us in the six-pack cooler. She hooked it out of the cooler, and it was a fascinating creature. She placed it first in the grass, and its coloration made the snake almost impossible to see.

She then placed the snake on a warm sandy area, and the rattler seemed to flatten out and grow thicker. Massasaugas are thick-bodied snakes to begin with, and this 24-incher was no different. We photographed it from various angles, and Christoffel gave us her thoughts on the value and future of these snakes.

“The only way to keep people from killing these snakes is to educate them,” she said. “We must inform people that these snakes are important to this state. Michigan has the largest number of these rattlesnakes, but even so, there are not many of them anywhere. A person could spend an active lifetime outdoors without ever seeing one.

“Massasaugas are effective at controlling mice, and on occasion, will nest in a house foundation. cistern or well pit. People who find these small rattlesnakes can have them removed safely. There is no reason why anyone should kill even one, and doing so is against the law because they are a protected species.”

Habitat loss is a major factor in causing these small rattlesnakes to dwindle in number. Habitat fragmentation is another cause for decline. They depend on wetlands for food and shelter. Sadly, the fear factor causes the needless death each year of many snakes of all species.

We found this opportunity to learn about the massasauga rattler to be enlightening. Hopefully, this article will help others resist the urge to kill this or any other snake.

Additional information about the eastern massasauga rattlesnake can be obtained from: Department of Natural Resources , Michigan Natural Features Inventory < http://web4.msue.msu.edu/mnfi/ >; Detroit Zoological Institute at < http://www.detroitzoo.org >; Toronto Zoo at < http://www.torontozoo.com >, and Ojibway Nature Centre at < http://www.ojibway.ca/rattler.htm > in Canada.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/18 at 02:17 PM
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Thursday, July 17, 2008

It Wasn’t A Smooth Move

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

All of this is true. What isn’t known is that most of us make mistakes. We do some occasional dumb things, and often try to keep people from learning about our miscues.

Not me. I’m a straight-arrow, upright, upstanding, and willing to share some of my fishing and hunting gems foibles with my readers.

One day my son, David, and I were prowling the Betsie River looking for last-minute. I was walking along one of those crumbly paths that overlook the river. Stop and start, look for fish on spawning redds, and then 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 annoy me, and I stopped to pick up the bottle. It would be stowed in my 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 in my right hand, and I took two steps, stubbed my toe as my son hollered something at me. I turned as he spoke, tripped and spun, off-balance and obviously out of control, while slipping in the process.

I landed on my back, and began sliding downhill. I spotted a small tree rapidly approaching, put both feet together, and they hit the base of the tree. The slope was steep, and 20 feet below is a deep hole with heavy current sluicing under a half-submerged tree.

I 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 hands. 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 I had none free. 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 oblivious to my situation, there was nothing he could do. 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 close to it. I had 20 feet to go to the water, and 20 feet to climb to get out of there.

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 look up and spot another half-exposed tree root. It was grabbed with my right hand, and my rod is pushed uphill with dirt packed under the reel to keep it from slipping.

Up I go, two feet with my left hand grabbing for purchase on another tree root, and my feet trying to gain some purchase. Huff, puff, this is hard work.

Another and another tree root is found, and slowly, a foot or two at a time, i crawl upward feeling like Spiderman wearing 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 into the river. Now I know what it must feel like to climb mountains.

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 experience. 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. Good reason: I am worn out.

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.

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. My back was sore for a week. 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.

I feel glad about making an attempt to keep our stream banks clean, but rather stupid for tripping and falling over the bank and sliding downhill. It really wasn’t a pretty sight, and I’m glad no one, including my son, caught a glimpse of the old man scrabbling slowly up the slope to safety.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/17 at 07:56 AM
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