Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Night Of Quiet Reflection

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It’s New Year’s Eve, and on this cold and wintry night, neither Kay nor I feel any need to go out and party. Neither of us drink, and once you’ve seen the big ball descend in Times Square, most of the magic of New Year’s Eve seems to vanish like a big buck in thick cover

It’s not that I’m against party going, and having a few well-spaced-out adult beverages over several hours, but neither of us like crowds. Neither of us enjoy or get a hoot out of watching some poor soul act like an idiot. It’s just easier to stay home, go to bed about 11 o’clock, and be sound asleep by the time the ball drops.

For me, tonight is a time for reflection. A time, if you will, to trot out some of the past fishing and hunting trips from this year, dust them off and take some time remembering some little thing that made each one special.

I’ve always enjoyed calling wild turkeys for my wife, for me, and for friends and relatives. It was no different this year.

Kay and I hopped in our car on the first morning of our hunt period, drove to a spot that I’d been watching, and we knew there were two adult gobblers and a couple of jakes, along with the usual grouping of hens. The day dawned clear and cool with no wind, and we’d been in place for more than an hour.

I happened to notice that Kay’s Holo Sight on her 3-inch magnum 12-gauge shotgun was loose. A gobbler 75 yards away had just gobbled, and I whispered “Trade shotguns with me. The sight is loose on your shotgun.”

We switched firearms, and I tweaked out a soft note on my box call, and three gobblers answered. One, I’m certain, was a huge longbeard I’ve been after for three years. He gobbled just that one time behind us, and then flew down.

The boss hen wanted to stay out in the open field where they landed, and the two gobblers seemed determine to come to us. The third bird eventually walked in very close, and we could hear his footsteps in the spring ground cover but he never would circle around because the other birds were coming from the opposite direction.

The boss hen called, and I could see the old hen and two gobblers 60 yards through the woods. Henrietta, our brazen hen decoy, was slightly off to one side of us, and as soon as the gobblers saw it, they started gobbling while the hen growled and yelped, trying to pick a fight with me. Every time she called, I called just a bit louder and far more insistent. It turned into an ugly turkey calling competition. She was ticked.

She’d yelp, and my box call would yelp a little louder and with more pleading tones. The bearded birds would gobble, the hen would scream at the decoy, and I was in my glory because here came both gobblers, two or three jakes and at least six hens. The boss hen had lost control of her group, and she trailed far behind, still yelping.

Kay has shot lots of gobblers, perhaps twice as many as me because I always call for her. I’ve shot enough to know that killing the bird is not nearly as exciting or as much fun as calling a good gobbler within easy shotgun range.

The big gobbler stopped 20 yards from the decoy, went into a full strut, dragged his wing tips in the dirt, and I gave a soft “putt.” His head came out of the full-strut position, started to look around, and Kay made an easy shot. That was her heaviest Michigan bird, and it weighed 26 pounds with a nice beard.

The other birds that had trailed this boy had separated, and when Kay shot, there were no birds around the gobbler. The others exploded into flight, and the other gobbler sailed over my head with about two feet of clearance. It was one of my most exciting turkey-hunting moments.

There were no bucks for Kay or I this fall. We’ve killed plenty of bucks over the years, and were happy to each shoot a big doe. We both passed up perhaps 20 bucks each in the different places we hunted, but none were what either of us were looking for. It was fun drawing down and aiming at each buck within range, and then letting up, knowing that if we touched the trigger we would have shot a nice buck.

I remember the bucks that I let walk long after I’ve forgotten the bucks I eventually pass up or shoot. We decided many years ago to let the young bucks live, and hunt exclusively for larger bucks. I took a big 9-point last year, and I have no intention of continuing to try to climb that bigger and bigger antler-size ladder. Seeing, and knowing we can shoot any buck within our bow range if we wish to, makes passing up smaller bucks an easy thing to do. I believe in Quality Deer Management.

There were several busted trips this year because of sudden storms. It killed our annual muskie jaunt to Lake St. Clair, but one trip that really stands out was one spent in an all-day fog. Several of us fished out of Glen Haven on Lake Michigan, and the fog was thick enough to cut.

It seemed to trigger great fishing, and for a few hours we had steady action. We didn’t land every salmon we hooked that day, but everyone had to be on red alert because boats were milling about in a reasonably small area, and no one wanted to get into a collision. Visibility was about 10 feet, and everyone except for one dude in a kayak was being sensible. I half expected to see the paddler put out a lure, but he seemed content to weave in and out of the fog and boat traffic while the rest of us strained our eyes to avoid running him over.

There were many other experiences. Most were good, and a few were not, but 2008 was a year that I enjoyed. Just enough fishing and hunting to satisfy me, and I look forward to another year just like this when it begins tomorrow. Happy New Year!

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/31 at 07:21 PM
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Checking My Ice-Fishing Lure

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Ice-fishing lures can be large or minuscule, come in all the colors of the rainbow and in different shapes, and oddly enough, most of them catch fish.

As is true with all other lures, most lures used for ice-fishing are made with that sole purpose in mind. Granted, they may catch other game fish but their basic use comes once winter cold puts a solid mantle of safe ice on area lakes.

I’m like most people … there are too many lures in my ice-fishing box of tricks. Too many of anything makes for difficult choices, and I tend to know exactly what I’m going to be fishing for. And mind you, I’ve got some lures in my on-the-ice tackle box that are no-name lures purchased well over 50 years ago.

This box of wee lures was found about 10 years ago after having gone missing for nearly 30 years. It up and disappeared, and I searched for it and its contents, through almost everything I own. When I finally found it, the box had been stored in with a box of Winchester AA shot-shell cases. Why I stuck it there is unknown.

Many of my ice flies and ice jigs for bluegills and sunfish are tiny. One-pound mono is ideal for these tiny lures, and my vision keeps me from tying them on out on the lake. I’m a great believer in experimenting with colors and sizes, but my weak eyes and one-pound line make it impossible. Even when tied indoors, it often takes me 10 minutes of fumbling about to get the knot tied with the wimpy light line.

I always carry a few crappie and perch spreaders in my box. Most come with pre-tied long-shank No. 10 hooks. Add a bell sinker to the bottom of the spreader, bait the spreader hooks with minnows or grubs such as goldenrod, corn borers, mousies or wax worms. The combination of a bit of color and the smell of meat can many these rigs productive when fished near bottom. Keep the line tight, and replenish the bait whenever a fish is caught, even if the fish doesn’t retain the bait. My thought is it’s better to go with fresh bait than to try to scrimp and lose valuable fishing time because some fish won’t hit bait that has been mouthed by another fish.

It would be easy to state my favorite game fish to catch through the ice, and there would be two choices – bluegills and walleyes. The bluegills provide the biggest problem for me because of having to use light line and retying lost lures. That isn’t a major problem with walleyes.

Walleye fishing is easier. Use a level-wind or spinning reel with six-pound line, a three- to four-foot limber rod, and jigging lures. Fishing lures are being made faster than I can keep up with brand names, but most of my walleyes are caught jigging a jigging Rapala, Sandkicker, Devle Dog, Swedish Pimple or Do-Jigger (made by Bay de Noc Lure Company, the manufacturer of the Swedish Pimple).

The trick is to sweeten up the jigging lure with a minnow. I often put a small minnow on each hook, and the jigging stroke is critical. Many people use a three- or four-foot savage upward jerk of the rod tip, but I must prefer a lighter touch. A three-inch lure movement is plenty, especially if the hooks have been baited.

A too-violent jerk does nothing but make the minnows come off the hook. They lay dead or dying on the bottom of the lake. Play the jigging rod gently. Lures like the Sandkicker (originally made for whitefish jigging) are a great walleye lure.

Lower the baited lure to bottom, reel up the slack line, and lift the jig two or three off bottom and let it settle back down on a tight line. Let the baited lure hit bottom, wait a second or two, and move it upward again. Most often, the strike occurs as the up-stroke begins and be ready to set the hook. Sometimes walleyes will hit the lure as it begins to fall, and it should be fairly easy to feel the strike or see the line jerk sideways. Again, set the hook hard.

Ice fishing for trout has always be a fun way to spend a day. Here, I prefer a white or silver Swedish Pimple, and one- to two-ounce lures will work. Buy some frozen smelt, thaw then out and cut off a small chunk of fillet. Put it on one needle-sharp hook, and lower the rig to bottom – often 100 or more feet deep.

Again, pound that baited jigging lure into the bottom. If it kicks up a puff of marl or sand, so much the better. Lake trout can hit a jigged lure extremely hard or simply grab it and hold on. If something doesn’t feel right, set the hook.

Some general rules apply. Use a hook hone, and keep hook points sharp. Any contact with rocks on the bottom can quickly dull the points.

Bigger lures can twist your line, and a quality ball-bearing or snap swivel can help eliminate line twist. Deep-water fishing can be much more difficult than fishing in shallow water. One trick that pays off occasionally is to set the hook whenever anything doesn’t feel quite right.

I look at this box of ice-fishing lures, and the box brings back countless memories of long ago fishing trips. I see 10-inch bluegills flopping on the ice, the soft but determined hit of a walleye, and the rugged deep-water battle of a lake trout that doesn’t want to leave the bottom.

All of these thoughts, and many others, are found in this small box of ice-fishing lures. Isn’t it amazing that a box of lures can bring back so many memories?

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/30 at 05:35 PM
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Using Our Five Senses During The Winter

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Cultivating my five senses is easy during the winter months. Hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching are things that enable sportsmen to enjoy the entire package of being outdoors.

Winter ice fishing turns me on, and I love watching my rod tip dip down as a pug-nosed bluegill sucks my bait. Though I haven’t seen that sight yet because of our heavy snows, there are countless other things to watch.

Saw a mature bald eagle soaring on the thermals yesterday, gliding first one way and then another, and their vision doesn’t miss a thing. Stand still next to a tree, and they will drift through the sky, but if they spot a human, they often head elsewhere.

Seeing a cold lemon-colored sunrise with frost sparkles in the air and the glint of weak light off ice- or snow-coated branches provides a kaleidoscope of colors. Ever notice how much sharper your vision becomes on a very cold day?

Hearing is another of the senses I rely heavily on because my vision is so poor. Put me in a room filled with people talking, and I can’t hear a thing, but put me in a tree stand and I can hear a mouse or chipmunk run through dry leaves 50 yards away.

Many times I’ve heard bear or deer approach from behind, and it gives me ample time to slowly prepare for a shot. The clamor of Canada geese in flight can be heard for long distances, and like a fog horn in pea-soup fog, it is a lonely and haunting sound. It’s a fact that a black bear can be as stealthy as a hunting cat, but I’ve heard every bear I’ve shot long before I saw the animal.

Is there anything than smells better to an ardent hunter than the crisp and nose-tingling odor of wood smoke on the wind as we make our way home to the wood stove or to our hunting camp. A close second is the smell of fresh-brewed coffee or the crackling of bacon frying. The latter tantalizes the ears and the nose and triggers the need to taste.

We’re short right now of prowling skunks on a damp autumn night, but I can smell foxes or skunks at a good distance. I can smell changes in the wind, and that is something a few people question. The smell of an approaching rain is something many people have come to recognize.

Walk into an autumn grouse covert near an abandoned apple orchard or a wild grape arbor, and if you are downwind from either one, the odor is unmistakable. So too is the pungent smell of marsh mud among the cattails in a duck marsh or the sharper musky odor of dead leaves moldering after a soft fall rain.

Taste is normally associated with eating but years ago before there was a problem of beaver fever there were a few springs and tiny inland ponds that had the sweetest tasting water in the world. To sip from those ponds or springs now is not only foolhardy, but a bout of beaver fever would always be a constant reminder of how our world has changed over the past 50 years.

Those same grape arbors that signal food to ruffed grouse are tangy, tart and so delicious. If I can’t put up a grouse, it just means I arrived just before or after they left. Once the grapes get a taste of frost, they are even bitter, but eat them quickly before they shrivel and die.

Taste is an enjoyable sensation, and for me, pan frying a brace of lovely and legal-sized brook trout is something I seldom do anymore, but once a year, I’ll try for a small meal of brookies. I gut and gill them, pan-fry them, and pick them up like an ear of corn and slowly strip the pink flesh from the rib bones. It is a tempting treat that will be long remembered.

Touching the knobby bases of a buck’s antlers always provides a sensation and one of wonder. How and why can antlers turn out in so many ways, and it must be part of God’s handiwork. All antlers seem as individual as finger prints.

Back to the brook trout for a moment. Run a finger down the sleek sides of a brookie, and they feel so soft and smooth, Nestle up next to an oak tree while deer hunting, and the rough bark will be scraping your back while you sit. I thrill to the feel and the magic colors of the feathers on a turkey gobbler, and turn the feather at a different angle to the sun, and different colors will appear. Try it sometime.

The magic of the outdoors is better enjoyed by being outside. Learn to test your five senses every day. Listen hard for the jackhammer rattle of a pileated woodpecker; watch for the slow and cautious approach of a nice buck; smell the mud in a cattail marsh as ducks whistle overhead before dawn as decoys are placed; taste the delightful flavor of a cup of good coffee on a bitter cold day on the ice; and never forget to reverently touch the buck, gobbler or ruffed grouse taken on a hunt.

The five senses add a special bonus to every outdoor trip, even during the winter months.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/29 at 06:49 PM
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bad Winter Weather & The Detroit Lions

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Perhaps hearing Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas” just once this holiday season was the main reason we got belted by bad weather the day before and the day after the Christmas holiday.

Some people might blame Mother Nature for the past six weeks of bad weather, and I’d agree with them. She is responsible, even on her good days, for a lot of mischief. However, once she gets all riled up, and makes a mess of everything, she then proceeds to show us just how nasty she can get.

So far, we have received 120 measured inches of snow. It snarls traffic, made a mess of parking lots for last-minutes shoppers, and then everything turned to rain. The ice on my driveway is evidence that Ol’ Lady Nature went and threw herself a tantrum before blowing on out of our area.

I’d planned a late-season bow hunt for this evening but I was still working on cleaning up my decks and driveway. The wind was huffing and puffing a bit, and I wanted to get shed of last night’s snow on both decks while it was still possible.

I sat down today to watch The Detroit Lions play the Green Bay Packers. I mostly don’t give a rip about football, and am content to let two teams bounce each other around until one side wins.

Today was a bit different. The Lions were teetering on the brink of becoming a major footnote in football history. No teams in the modern-day era has ever gone 0 for 16.

It made little difference to me whether Detroit won or lost. The team is bad, and the team’s esteemed owner appears unable or unwilling to put a competitive team on the field. Mind you, some of the players are good, but as a team, the Lions stink.

Many may agree or disagree, as is their choice, but any club that goes zip for 16 isn’t much good. They have problems that new coaches and general manager can’t solve.

By half-time, with the score tied 14-14, I was beginning to see the faint possibility of a last-game turn-around. Those glimmers of hope fell through the cracks in the second half as Detroit players dropped the ball or committed stupid penalties at the worst possible time.

I thought the Lions’ quarterback did a pretty good job but some of the blame must fall on his and the other players shoulders. One or two good players do not make for a good football team.

Once the debacle ended, and The Detroit Lions lived up to their expected potential, and the talking heads for the televised event had their say, it was over. You could stick a fork in that turkey because the Lions were done.

I went back outside, tired of hearing about our Detroit football team, and about how it must feel to be the worst team in history. All that’s left for the team is to wait for the media to quit ripping them apart, and either wait for Mr. Ford to do something good for the team or move it out of state.

Michigan fans, with our horrid economy and the daily layoffs of workers who may never be called back to work, deserve something much better than The Detroit Lions. Fans need something to root for, something that offers them a glimmer of hope that the Lions, the job market and our stumbling economy will improve.

I don’t follow football but do remember the days of Bobby Lane and some of the other great Lions players. They had skill, they had heart, and they wanted to win. But unless I’m wrong, it was in 1957 when they won all the marbles for the last time, and that was the same year I graduated from high school.

Folks, that was 51 years ago. Even if I was a big football fan, which I’m not, those 51 years have produced far too many losing seasons. Mother Nature may be unpredictable, but even she is easier to predict than the whims of The Detroit Lions.

We could use a weather change, and a new team wouldn’t hurt a bit. This is the giving season, and Lions fans have been given nothing to look forward to, which makes them the biggest losers of all.

Excuse me for now. I still have more snow to move before dark, and as I man my snow blower I’ll do my best to forget what I saw on television today. It was enough to make a grown man sick

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/28 at 06:18 PM
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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Feed The Winter Birds

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I feed the birds all winter. My belief is it is a great and wonderful thing to do.

It also helps me give something back to the birds that provide me with so much enjoyment all year. Food plots were planted, and they feed deer and other animals and birds from the first green-up until winter.

The birds get fed every day at the feeders. There are sunflower seeds and thistle seed feeders. The woodpeckers get a big chunk of suet, and some of the other birds peck at it a bit.

Seventy-five yards behind my house is one of my food plots. There’s not much to it now that deep snow has covered the ground although deer occasionally paw through the snow and nibble at the old clover. It becomes a major source of nutrition during the spring months.

It satisfies all the rules that pertain to winter feeding. I no longer can distribute carrots, corn and sugar beets over the once-prescribed 10 X 10-foot area, and each day when I went out, there would be deer tracks everywhere but adding some corn to the winter deer diet is now illegal because of the Chronic Wasting Disease scare.

So far there is no sign of wild turkeys near us, and I seldom see them until the winter weather turns harsh. Right now, our area seems to be inhabited by a few does and young fawns from last spring although it’s possible a buck that has lost his antlers may be coming in, but in all honesty, since the no baiting, no-feeding law went into effect late last August, the deer have not been coming to my food plot.

Mind you: before last night and today’s rain and near 50-degree weather, the snow has been too deep for easy deer travel. We seldom see deer once the snow gets knee-high to a human. The deer vacate such upland country and head for traditional low-lying deer yards.

Frankly, I’m not 100 percent sure what comes to dine on the food plot behind the house.  Deer are common in early and late winter, and so too are rabbit and squirrels. On a warm sunny day we occasionally see a ‘possum or raccoon track in the melting snow.

Turkeys could starve this winter with the new restriction on no baiting. People can feed corn to turkeys from an elevated location that is inaccessible to deer, but I’m not thoroughly convinced about this new policy. Corn can be put out for turkeys providing it is off the ground and not readily available to the animals.

So tell me: if turkey are birds that scratch around for their food, and it is elevated so deer can’t get into it, what happens? The turkeys fly up to feed during the winter months, start scratching, and much of the corn will fall to the ground where the DNR doesn’t want it. The other problem is that with today’s tough economy, how many people will build elevated food sites for the birds?

The birds peck away at the corn, and just as it starts getting almost dark, up they fly into the trees for the night. Sometimes, when the night is bright, turkeys can be seen roosted in the trees.

We’ve enjoyed having wild turkeys stop by in the past, and one winter we helped feed a flock of 40 birds. One, a bird with a 12-inch paint brush for a beard, brought his harem of hens and little ones in every day for a feeding visit.

The birds would fly up onto the deck of our house and try to eat seed from the bird feeder, and they would walk up and down the deck. They usually roosted in trees behind the house but often would roost on the peak of our house roof or the peak of the garage roof.

The big gobbler was having a bad time of it, and a ball of ice as big as a golf ball covered his middle toe. He quit coming for a few days and I was afraid a coyote had pulled him down, but when he showed up, the ball of ice and middle toe were gone. The toe had frozen and broke off.

The birds came in January and were still here in April. One day, some idiot poached that big gobbler from his car window, ran onto my land, grabbed the flopping bird, threw it into the trunk and rapidly drove away. Those birds never came back to my land.

Birds will come to the winter handout, but once it is started, it must continue. To abandon feeding, especially during a bad winter, will cause irreparable damage to our wildlife.

The largest bird that visits our bird feeders (primarily the suet feeder) is a pileated woodpecker. We have both the male and female of that species, and see them almost every day. Flickers also visit, and they are a fairly large bird. We also get chickadees, goldfinches, grosbeaks, juncos, nuthatches, sparrows and a raft of the smaller downy and hairy woodpeckers.

We feed to help give something back to the wildlife community. It can be a major expense, but I’ve found that it makes me feel good. And watching the birds as they feed is far more entertaining than watching the soaps on television.

But then, that’s just one man’s opinion.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/27 at 07:26 PM
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Friday, December 26, 2008

A Raw & Savage Wilderness Experience

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One of the most fascinating things about northern Quebec is how many lakes and rivers there are, and how few people inhabit the region. Some Montaignais Indians and a small group of Inuit from the sub-Arctic coast, and that’s it for thousands of square miles of bush country.

My first Quebec-Labrador caribou hunt took place in 1971, and it left much to be desired. I saw two caribou, dropped the only bull with one shot, and that was it.

My next hunt was in 1974, and it was far different than my first outing. It was on the George River, north of Schefferville, Quebec, and near the Torngat Mountains. My Montaignais Indian guide, Peter Wanish, spoke very little pidgin English, a bit of French, but we managed to communicate with hand signals and a few spoken words.

We headed upstream through a series of rapids above Wedge Hills Lodge, and the sky was the color of soft putty. A cold wind blew out of the north, and we came to an area where the mighty river narrowed. My compound bow was ready, and we took up a position 10 feet uphill from the river bank as we kneeled behind some low-growing trees. We were near the edge of the tree-line, and our meager cover would have to do.

The weather turned colder, and then it began to snow. An hour later there was 12 inches of snow, and my Bushnell spotting scope was trained on the opposite shore a quarter-mile away. It wasn’t needed.

Wanish muttered a guttural “Caribou!” and lifted his finger just off his lap and pointed. Caribou were filtering down toward the river, and stood there looking across. We didn’t move, and the caribou stood at the waters edge, and more caribou began to pile up behind them.

The snow gained in intensity, and much of the time the animals could not be seen. And then, a stray gust of wind would flatten out the snow, and through the gauze-like haze of huge snow flakes, we would see them increasing in numbers on the opposite shore. I lifted my Bushnell binoculars, and when next the snow cleared, there was a steady string of ‘bou filtering down through the few trees off the hillside, and the animals just kept coming.

After many hunts, and having taken 28 caribou, I’m convinced only three things make caribou move. Cold temperatures, heavy snow fall and because the animals decide to do so. Cold and snow are the two things hunters can depend on.

We watched the animals pile up on the opposite side of the river, and then Wanish grunted. “Caribou. In water.”

He looked at me, signaled for me to get up on one knee and get ready for a shot. He motioned me to stay behind our skimpy shoreline cover.

I looked across the river, and at least 1,000 caribou were in the water. Their heads were sweeping our shoreline, their antlers interlocking with those of other bulls, and on they came as we remained motionless.

They would disappear from sight through the thick snow, and then we’d see them again. The current was strong but the caribou are strong swimmers, and their hollow hair serves as insulation and they seem to bob like a cork on the water.

Once they were within 100 yards of us, they became more visible. A big white-maned bull with long main beams, good mass on top, good bez tines and a double shovel was clearly the largest one that would make landfall near us.

My attention remained riveted on that bull, and as he reached shallow water, he lurched slowly up near shore. Dozens of caribou had already walked past us, and we were just downwind of them. They climbed the hill behind us and disappeared.

The bull stepped ashore, stood on the sand and rocks, shook himself like a Labrador retriever shaking himself off after retrieving a duck, turned broadside, and I came to a full draw. Aiming, I had to wait for a cow to pass in front of me, and then made a smooth release.

The arrow disappeared behind the near-side front shoulder, and the animal stood there for several moments, and started up the hill and fell. From shot placement to death took less than 10 seconds. It didn’t bother the other ‘bou, and they just passed by his position on either side, and for 15 minutes it was a steady parade of caribou walking past.

That bull was mounted but his rack was never scored, and years later, I had another bull scored that was slightly smaller, and it made it into the Boone & Crockett record books. This animal is a bit wider, a bit higher, and has more scorable points.

One day, that caribou may get scored but each time I look at him, all I see in my mind’s eye is a huge snow fall, strong winds, and a massive caribou migration that put 2,000 to 3,000 animals past us that day as they came past in waves of bobbing antlers.

Memories of other hunts may be forgotten but I’ll never forget my first bull with a bow, next to a lonely northern Quebec river, when the snow fell and the caribou just kept coming. It was a wilderness spectacle I’ll never forget.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/26 at 04:21 PM
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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Some Full-Tummy Christmas Thoughts

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There were thoughts of bow hunting this afternoon. They were very brief thoughts, and the notion of going out quickly passed.

I have hunted a good many Christmas days over the years, and there have been a few bucks taken. Not many though, and frankly, it’s become difficult of late to muster up much energy after chowing down on a big dinner to go climb into a tree stand or ground blind.

Too much food makes me act a bit like an old bird dog curling up before the fire. I turn around in a circle two or three times, slump into my easy chair, and if the chatter isn’t too loud, I might study the insides of my eyelids for an hour or two.

Old dogs, especially those lean and long-legged pointers, hit the floor like a sack of old bones, and are about as noisy on a hardwood floor as that bag of bones being dropped. The dogs curl up, make little puppy-like sounds as they follow the heady scent of a grouse, pheasant or woodcock through their dreamy coverts.

The older I get, the more sense it seems to make to sleep off at least an hour after a big meal. It allows the grub to settle into all the nooks and crannies of my digestive system, but sadly, I didn’t get a chance to doze today.

Some basketball game was on, and two or three of the players acted as if they had eaten too much, but perhaps that was just my lazy attitude this afternoon. It would have been a decent bow-hunting day.

There was very little breeze but just enough to rattle old dead leaves around the snow-covered ground to create a bit of natural noise. The sky was dark and overcast, but the ground held lots of snow.

It’s the first heavy-sbiw Christmas in many years, and somehow, heading out for an afternoon of bow hunting om deep snow seemed pointless. It’s not that I might not have seen a deer or two, perhaps even taken a shot, but it seemed a far wiser to spend time with family.

I kicked back, put my feet up on a foot stool, and remembered two or three Christmases in past years when I hunted. As I recall, all had snow on the ground and much colder temperatures. Our snow this year is deep, and where I live 117 inches have fallen since Nov. 15.

The cold and snow made those deer move, and one such day, a nice 8-pointer came walking by and offered an easy shot at 12 yards. The buck ran 45 yards, and fell with a two-bladed hole through his heart. It was an easy shot, and a wonderful Christmas gift.

Now days, as a rule, hunting on holidays (especially Christmas) is something I seldom do. It doesn’t bother me to hunt Thanksgiving Day or New Years Day, but I usually stay inside on Christmas.

So, my day was a lazy one spent here, as Kay slaved over a hot stove with grandkids. We men made some small talk about deer hunting but that conversation really didn’t go very far.

And, guess what? Sitting out today didn’t bother me one bit. I can still hunt through Jan. 1, and expect to do so. Some cold weather would certainly help, and then I’ll hang up the bow for a month before starting to practice for next year’s bow seasons.

Merry Christmas from my house and family to yours. May the best of the Christmas season bless and keep you, and while you’re at it, say a prayer for the men and women in our Armed Forces, who make such Christmas events possible for us. God bless one and all.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/25 at 07:45 PM
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Most Of The Ice Is Safe But Use Caution

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There is reasonably safe ice on most lakes or ponds north of US-10. It’s been cold the past two weeks, but taking a chance on early and thin ice is a risk that no one should take lightly.

Most of the big lakes such as Crystal, Glen, Houghton, Higgins and others have ‘gone over,’ (frozen over) in the past 10 days. However, any ice before Jan. 1 can be a little suspect and due caution is advised.

There isn’t a game fish that swims anywhere in North-Country lakes worth risking one’s life by venturing out onto one-inch-thick ice. I’m very squeamish about two or three inches of ice, but once a solid mantle of four-inch or thicker ice covers a lake, it’s safe for me to walk on.

This is a bad year for many outdoor pastimes, and the fact the ice is has formed early means that many anglers feel a pent-up need to go ice fishing. It is this desire to fish frozen water that can lead to an angler taking a chance.

Falling into ice-cold water is a tremendous shock to the human body. The water is so cold it rips air from your lungs. A person with a bad heart or high blood pressure could be in extreme danger of a heart attack or a stroke when they first plunge through. There always is the risk of drowning as well.

In the past I’ve written about the three times I’ve gone through, and they need not be repeated here. However, the initial shock of going through and into the cold water, isn’t something I need to do again. People who survive one such escapade should consider themselves fortunate. To fall through twice is uncommon, but to go through three times as I have shows either blind stupidity or loads of bad luck.

I’m not dumb, and don’t take chances, and in each case it was a freakish accident. I’m far more cautious now than ever before.

Common sense should be the common denominator for ice fishermen. They should seek advice on local lakes from bait dealers or other anglers, and avoid making a mistake because they are so driven to go fishing that they become willing to take a chance with their life.

Years ago, while working for Outdoor Life magazine, I was a frequent ghost-writer for people who had stories to tell but couldn’t write it themselves. One such story interview was conducted the same day I got married, and it involved the only survivor among several people who went through rotten ice on Lake Erie.

This man broke through three times, and was pulled out by the other men, and then they fell through and he had no chance to return the favor. It was, at that time, the first time Outdoor Life had run an ordeal story where someone died.

He described his gut-wrenching fear, told how he watched his friends and two other people go down during a blizzard, and how he was lucky to make it to shore. His clothing was caked with ice, and he was so cold that it was a major challenge to fit the key in the lock to unlock the vehicle door.

The fear hung in his voice like a black curtain being lowered over the faces of the victims. He questioned how and why he survived, and it was a horrific experience. The fact is they were fishing off a warm-water discharge, a blizzard came up without warning, visibility was zero, and they wandered too close to the discharge. The ice was rotted, and could not bear the weight of a single person.

Does a person need to drown for others to grasp the significance of bad ice? Do people have to wrap themselves around telephone poles, trees or vehicles to exercise more caution when snowmobiling?

This winter fishing business is based on making individual decisions. Others can preach about ice safety, but if the choir isn’t listening, it is very difficult to keep some people from making serious mistakes.

My buddy—Dennis Buchner of Grawn—is the state’s largest wholesale live bait dealer. He’s been starving, as have bait shop owners across the state, but he advises me that all of the smaller lakes and most, if not all of the bigger lakes, are reasonably safe. That said, it still become a person’s individual decision to venture out on the ice.

Weakened ice can be found on many lakes, and savvy anglers use a spud to test the ice ahead of them. Many carry a length of sturdy rope and some sharp-pointed objects like ice picks or screwdrivers to use to stab into the ice to pull yourself from the water. Wearing a life jacket may make you look like a sissy but I’d rather be alive and be called that than be a dead fisherman.

The ice conditions should be superb during the Christmas vacation. Take advantage of the early-ice opportunity but use all due caution.

Engage brain before venturing out on early-ice. The fishing is usually the best it will be at this time of year, but catching a fish isn’t worth risking a cold dunking or losing your life.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/24 at 08:48 PM
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Personal Christmas Wish

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It’s that time of year when folks make some odd wishes. At the age of 69, it’s been more than 60 years since I made a Christmas wish for some goodies I hoped Santa would stuff under our tree.

George and I both had bikes fairly early in our life. They were mostly rejects that other people were getting rid of when they bought their kids new bikes. We clamored loud and long for a new bike like the neighbor children were getting, and Dad being a barber in a small town with too many barbers, told us if we’d work at it we could buy our own bike. There was no way he could afford to buy us new bikes.

It was time, he told us, for the Richey twins to learn about the Great American Work Ethic. In his mind, and in mine, that meant working toward an objective, save money as you go, and pay for it when you have the money. There was very little credit back in those days of 60 years ago. Times were tough, and one didn’t spend money stupidly.

Such things as working toward a goal seldom happens these days. The kids whine and their parents give in and buy them what they want. We knew better than to whine, knowing it would do no good, and it might even earn us a swat on the rump.

Dad told us to grab our little red wagon, and go door-to-door and pick up old newspapers and magazines. We busted our backside knocking on doors right after World War II, and once we collected the papers and old magazines, we’d bundle them up with baling twine and once a week Dad would take us to Flint to sell the paper to earn money.

Week after week we worked hard, made money toward our bike while working at other jobs for spending money, and we finally bought a pair of new Schwinn bicycles with side-view mirrors, a horn, mud-flaps, fender feelers and go-fasters. Each bike was top of the line, and back in the late 1940s, they cost over $100.

That taught us a valuable lesson. If you want something bad enough, work and earn the money to buy it. This story takes me slightly off the path of this blog, but it relates… trust me.

What I want now isn’t something that money can buy. I can’t work hard enough to make the things on my wish list come true. You see, what I want isn’t what very many sportsmen are willing to give.

My goal for the last 30 years has been a matter of preaching to the choir, but in some cases, the choir isn’t listening. I’m trying to help restore our beloved pastimes of fishing and hunting to the point where everyone cares about our resources and our children.

My Christmas wish would be for every one of the thousands of monthly hits which indicate at least one person has read my drivel, would take it upon himself (or herself) to teach a child about fishing and hunting. Children aren’t learning these outdoor skills in school, and in some cases, some teachers are against hunting. They spend their time trying to influence our kids about their preconceived negative notions about hunting.

Children can learn from anyone, but parents who think they can start teaching their kids at the age of 16, are dreaming. Unless children get some positive reinforcement by the age of 10 years or younger, the chances are excellent they will never hunt and probably will not fish.

It’s impossible to lay blame on all teachers because it’s not fair and it’s not true. Many teachers fish and hunt, and many work some positive thoughts into what they teach. However, I well remember a story I wrote after shooting a mountain lion in northern Wyoming with a bow.

This woman, who taught at a school in southern Michigan, made every one of her 40-some students write a personal letter to me. There were several themes, but every child wrote one of her prepared letters about why hunting was bad. I called the school, spoke with the principal, demanded an apology from the teacher or I wanted her fired.

My complaint was she wasn’t being paid to push her anti-hunting beliefs off on students who were in the fourth grade. The principal agreed with me, and she reluctantly agreed to apologize in order to save her job. She told me she hated hunting, and I asked why she was sharing her personal hatred with the children instead of properly doing her job.

She had no answer. Sadly, there are many such teachers who are using some of their work time telling children that hunting is wrong. It’s not wrong at all, and legal hunting is the best way to manage our abundant natural resources.

So ... my wish is for each of you who have children under 10 years of age to take them fishing or hunting. Spend time with them now, give of personal time to help educate them properly about fishing and hunting.

Folks, if all of you don’t start doing your part now, within 20 years you won’t have to worry about it. The pastimes of fishing and hunting, as we know it today, will be nothing but a distant unpleasant memory of where we’ve been and what we’ve lost.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/23 at 05:57 PM
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Monday, December 22, 2008

Three Hours Spent Counting My Blessings

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The stand was comfortable. The view from 20 feet in the air allowed me to see 20 yards in one direction, 100 yards in another, 40 yards in a third direction, and three-quarters of a mile to the west.

My stand was downwind of two deer trails that filtered out of the brush-choked ravine with my face into the cold west wind. Although with my high-power binoculars six deer could be seen 1,000 yards away, but they were too distant to determine whether they were does or bucks.

Nothing was moving near my stand in fairly heavy cover. Fifty yards to the south was the site of a scrape found two years ago, and my stand was crosswind to the old rutting spot. It was looked at again last year, and on several occasions this year, and the pine tree nearby showed more sign of a big buck ripping off the bark.

It set me to thinking that there is much more to this deer hunting than many people think. Many people hunt for venison, as we do, but much of my time is mostly spent hunting as a way to spend more time in the woods, watching deer, playing the continual string of mind games with these animals.

Tonight was the first time in nearly a week when the wind was good for hunting this favorite spot. It was chosen with great deliberation, knowing that when it’s good, the hunting can be exceptional. When the hunting is bad, and the deer go in a different direction, it can mean a long night of sitting and looking for animals moving through the snow.

It was my sole intention to have a good time. If bucks were seen, that would be a bonus, and if a shot presented itself, it would be the frosting on my deer-hunting cake.

My intentions were to drink in the splendor of a partly sunny day. It was a day when deer should move, and the six big deer that were seen a long distance away were at least 200 yards from any hunting stand. Those deer moved very little, and as I sat patiently, many thoughts danced through my mind.

It’s not so important for me to shoot a deer as to sit out and hunt for deer. There is a big difference.

One squirrel was seen scampering around, and he was making quite a bit of racket as he nosed into the snow. Watching him extend his feeding in search of something tasty made me realize that bushytails have to forage hard to find food, which is why they cache as much as possible. However, we are at 110 inches of snow so far this winter, and it’s hard for squirrels to make a living in this weather,

A small flock of geese came over, the clamoring and honking was loud and haunting. There’s something about geese, and their calling that fill me with nostalgia for past hunts and hope for future outings when these big birds stool to the decoys on cocked wings, their heads moving in search of danger as they glide to the decoys, and the heart-thumping feeling of impending shots with heavy magnum loads.

A deer was seen sneaking through open hardwoods and tag alder thicket 100 yards away. The binoculars brought the animal in fairly well, but its head was lost in the underbrush. Buck, doe or fawn: who knows? It was well out of my practical shooting range of 15 to 20 yards. Just seeing the animal made my heart do a double-beat once or twice before the deer drifted out of sight as it headed for a distant unpicked corn field.

The wind was swirling a bit, and remembered were other cold and windy days like this when bellying up to a hardwood fire with an adult beverage in hand, and thinking that it’s now been 26 years since I’ve touched alcohol, but the memory of those days are keen as are the many reasons I stopped imbibing.

This often is the kind of weather that presages a temperature change with the possibility of colder temperatures or snow. That doesn’t coincide with the weather forecast, but hunting during this moon phase may be good if the temperature stays cold and snow falls.

Most of all, my time tonight was spent dreaming the dreams of past deer hunts; not only the good but the poor ones. There’s no disguising the fact that some hunting days are better than others, but for me, I milked today’s experience for all it was worth.

I matters little that no deer were seen within easy bow range. The memory of today will remain etched on my brain, and the day was memorable, even if a buck didn’t come within 200 yards of me.

Memories are made from good and bad days, and in some cases, the bad days are more memorable and last longer than the good ones. Go figure! I’ve given up trying to figure such things out, and just take whatever the day gives me and am thankful to be outdoors.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/22 at 07:15 PM
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Waning Days Of Deer Season

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The deer season is winding down. Granted, it’s still about 10 days off, but the interest in hunting deer is slowly dissipating.

Some really die-hard hunters are still hunting, and of those that are, most will wisely choose their hunting days, and none would hunt on a day with high winds like today. A few bow hunters will still take to the woods week or so, but the end is in sight.

Mind you, I’ll hunt right through until Jan. 1, and finish the season that evening. It will be a fitting end to my season, and I’ll greet it and say goodbye with happiness and some measure of f regret.

Happy, I suppose, to have it finally come to an end. The regret will be that it definitely marks an end, and nine months must pass before the season will open again.

Time, and the passing of it, is marked in many ways. It can be check marks on a calendar, remembrances of good days afield, the vivid distaste that comes with prolonger foul weather, and the thrills of making a wonderful shot or the agony of missing an easy shot at a deer.

There are many things that make up the fabric of a deer-hunting season. For most of us, we thrill to being outdoors with a bow in hand, and hope in our heart that an opportunity will present itself. Some days they do, and other days our hunts fail miserably.

We can plan, read deer sign, study the weather, and still watch our hunts fall apart almost as if someone pulled the one puzzle piece away that allows our efforts to reach fruition. All of these things --- the highs and the lows—are a constant part of our fall hunts.

We can study deer, which is vitally important, know everything about their habits and habitat, and in the end, it may come to naught simply because whitetail deer and the weather are equally unpredictable.

Hunting is more mental than physical, and although we may hike to our stands and it requires some physical effort to draw our bow, so much more of the hunt reflects the mental aspects. We must think out our actions, try to anticipate the actions of deer, and in the end we thrill to doing everything right, despair when we don’t, and remain somewhat ambivalent on the other days when we simply enjoy the day for what it has to offer.

Hunting deer will never be a pastime where we always succeed, and if we have common sense and some skills, it will never be a pastime in which we always fail. Instead, it will always be a pastime where we putter through periods of highs and lows, and take great pleasure in our days spent in the woods.

We learn to accept that which we cannot change, change that which is possible, and possess the knowledge to know the difference. Simply stated, that means we’ll have more days when we do not shoot than days when we do. Of importance is our ability to accept this, and move on with our hunting.

We learn not to brag too hard on our successes, humbly accept our defeats, and be grateful that we live in a country where we have the choice to hunt or not to hunt. This is not a pastime loved by all, but much the same can be said for bowling or golf. It would be an awful crowded world if we all had to participate in the same pastime.

Hunting, to me, is fun and a kill isn’t always necessary. Seeing deer makes the hunt more exciting, but even on those rare days when nothing moves while we are afield, just being there is sometimes enough.

If you are still hunting, I’m proud of you for sticking it out to the bitter end. If you’ve hung up the bow or muzzleloader, take time on occasion to dream the finest day of deer-hunting you’ve had.

It will light a fire in you that will burn like a hot ember. May that ember be one of love for hunting that will be shared with others.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/21 at 06:03 PM
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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Deer Hunting Is More Mental Than Physical

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It has often occurred to me that hunting is more of a mental exercise than a physical one. Granted, we walk into the woods, climb into a tree stand, and if a nice deer walks by and stands in the best possible spot, we draw and shoot.

If our aim is on, and we don’t miss, we track down the animal. It is field-dressed, loaded into the bed of a pickup truck, and hung up to chill out. That’s the physical part, and dragging the buck out is the most strenuous portion of the hunt.

Ah, but the mental aspects of a archery deer hunt is a different story. My claim is that a hunt is more mental than physical. How so?

My belief is that almost everything about a hunt is mental. We must determine where to go, when to hunt, and which tree is the best one to use under present conditions. We must consider the wind, and wonder if our clothing is really scent-free or not.

Long before we climb into a tree stand, we’ve had to mentally decide how much draw weight is comfortable for us. We must choose from a wide range of bows, make the decision to shoot aluminum or carbon arrows, and we must think constantly about how to set up on that big buck we’ve seen several times while preseason scouting. Our choice of broadhead to use can tax our brain as we consider various brands.

We’ve defined our hunting area, climbed into position, and then must consider where we can and cannot shoot. It’s a mental and slightly physical effort to scan the area for unseen twigs that could deflect an arrow, and should the buck show up, we must mentally calculate when to draw, aim and release the arrow.

We must mentally calculate the distance, decide whether this is a dead-on shot, or whether to allow the buck to pass while hoping for another chance on another day.

We must mentally prepare ourselves for a long or short wait. Only our mind can allow us to believe that the branch stub poking at our left hip really doesn’t hurt. We must always be aware of what the wind is doing, and a wind shift, no matter how subtle, can spook a buck.

The mental gymnastics increase when a buck shows up, because as likely as not, there will be a doe and fawns nearby. We must mentally condition ourselves to watch all nearby deer, and not just the buck.

It makes little sense to do everything right up until the time comes to take a shot. If we forget about watching not only the buck but the other nearby deer, the chances are excellent that one of the other animals will spot the movement made while drawing a bow.

We must mentally calculate angles caused by shooting toward the ground from an elevated position. Once our mind computes the angle and distance, we must then focus on the precise point of impact where we want the arrow to hit.

Drawing on a deer is as much mental as physical, and the mental picture of locking in on the heart-lung area forces us to see that spot whether we shoot instinctively, with sights or a red-dot sight. Our mind must translate what our eyes see, and relay that information to our hands and eyes, and allow us to properly aim and concentrate on that precise spot.

Our mental image of the deer in the right position, at a known distance and angle, must be maintained even if the animal moves. We must calculate any changes that must be made, and be ever alert to the one deadly enemy of shooting arrows: we must mentally concentrate on not lifting our head as we make the release.

To do so causes the arrow to go high, and it can result in a missed shot, or even worse, a wounded deer.

Mental concentration must be maintained until we see the arrow hit the deer, and then another mental exercise comes into play. Our mind must tell us exactly where the arrow hit the animal, and our mind must prevent us from saying it was a heart shot when in fact the deer was hit in the lower leg.

Hunting is much more mental than physical although few hunters ever see it that way. For many, it is idle time spent waiting for a shot. The true deer hunter knows better.

Success or failure is in your head. It’s wise to think about this issue long before a shot is taken.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/20 at 03:03 PM
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Friday, December 19, 2008

Ethics Means Much More Than Just Words

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My mother was a great believer in cod liver oil. It was good for what ailed us, we were told as kids, and a dose of the stuff every spring was thought to cure all of life’s ills. Oddly enough, I don’t remember my parents ever gulping the nasty tasting stuff. Must be it was just meant for kids.

Hunting ethics, like a double-slug of cod liver oil, is pretty hard for most people to swallow. For many, ethics and especially those that apply fishing or hunting, is a word as foreign to them as an ancient language.

Ethics are tough to explain to someone who has very little concept of things such as right or wrong. Some folks describe ethics as those things you would never do if you knew were being watched.

But this business of fishing and hunting ethics goes much deeper. It treads on the basic philosophy that in life, there are laws that must be must be obeyed. Break those laws, and we face criminal punishment.

Ethics mean different things to different people. They are not laws, but they are generalized rules of proper sporting behavior or conduct. They are unspoken and unwritten rules of conduct that sportsmen should follow.

Ethical behavior means believing in and following these unwritten rules. Not because you must, but because common sense and a feeling of ethical action dictat that we follow them because it just is the decent and right thing to do.

There are a few unspoken ethical things that sportsmen should do even though they are not illegal. Shooting a ruffed grouse on the ground while walking a two-track trail is one such thing we don’t (or shouldn’t) do. It much more sporting to flush the bird, and shoot while it is flying than while it is picking grit.

Shooting ducks or geese on the water is considered unethical for the same reason. Mature hunters never do it the easy way; they give game a fair chance to get away. The fairness doctrine is part of the ethics case. However, many wildfowlers will shoot a wounded duck on the water to end its suffering. There are many different angles to this sticky questing of outdoor ethics.

While being illegal, it is unethical to shoot a deer with the aid of a light, shoot deer after shooting time has ended, or, as was so commonly done when bears could still be killed during the firearm deer season many years ago, to kill a bear in its den.

The law reads that a fish must be hooked in the mouth. A fish hooked off a spawning bed will often swipe at a fly or lure, and be foul-hooked somewhere on the head. Keeping that fish not only is unethical but illegal to boot.

Unethical hunting behavior is a deliberate “winking” at the laws. It is stretching the shooting time before or after it begins or ends, and most people would not do it if they knew someone was watching them.

The only person watching their movements and actions in most cases is themselves. The act of trespassing, and hunting on someone else’s land without permission, is not only unethical but also is illegal.

I find it somewhat amazing how many wives have hunting licenses but are never seen out in the field toting a bow or firearm. It’s unethical to fill a tag for another person, but it is ethical for me to shoot an antlerless deer, use my tag to tag it, and give that meat to another person to help them feed their family. It is illegal to fill your wife’s deer tag by killing the deer for her. There is a major difference.

It is unethical and illegal for two or three fishermen to go onto a river, station one or more people downstream from a log jam, and have another person jump up and down on the logs to drive salmon or steelhead downstream to the waiting nets. Slobbish behavior always seems to be a part of unethical action on land or water.

I see it every winter when unethical winter anglers catch some tiny bluegills, throw them on the ice, and let the eagles and gulls feed on them. They keep the bigger fish, and kill the smaller fish. So what if it feeds the birds: it is unethical and illegal behavior.

So much of angling and hunting ethics can be directly tied to fishing or hunting laws and unspoken rules, but ground-swatting a grouse is not illegal. It’s just something that right-thinking sportsmen do not do.

Ethical sportsmen develop a habit of thinking about what they will do, and weigh their actions against what they would do if they knew you, me or a conservation officer was watching over them. Their conduct would change dramatically if they knew they were being studied by a law enforcement officer.

I’ve had countless opportunities to shoot deer a minute or two after legal shooting time has ended. I could try to preserve my dignity by setting my watch back five minutes, but deep down in my heart, I would know that my actions were not ethical, and I would be unable to live with that weight on my shoulders or in my heart.

This business of fishing or hunting ethically is simple to determine. We follow the fish and game laws, think about our actions before we take them, and ask ourselves this simple question: Is this an ethical decision? Is what I’m about to do ethical and legal?

If the questions cannot be truthfully answered with a “yes,” than we’ve answered this burning question for ourselves. What we do next is a matter of ethics and of obeying our fish and game laws. In the end, it boils down to those two questions and they should be easy for anyone to answer.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/19 at 07:16 PM
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Michigan Elk Hunt A Challenge

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A Michigan elk hunt is a combination of good luck, hunting skills and coping with the element. If you don’t believe it, just ask Ross Dalman.

Dalman, of Hudsonville, never felt an elk hunt was in his list of possible hunting trips because of the costs involved, but that all changed when he was drawn for the coveted 2008 eitheir-sex permit that would allow him to shoot a bull, cow or calf. Obtaining a bull tag is a huge thrill.

Dalman asked if I wanted to come along, and shoot photos. He’s a nice guy, and we’ve bought, sold and traded fishing and hunting books for years, and in the past, I’ve gone with two other hunters with an either-sex permit. Both of those earlier hunters scored on bulls. Dalman hoped some of their luck would rub off on him.

Our first day of hunting meant meeting Dalman’s guide Clem Kassuba of Gaylord, and his assistant Bill Blanzy of Gaylord, at Arlene’s Restaurant in Gaylord at 5 a.m. for a quick breakfast. We thought perhaps we would take a mid-day break for lunch, but soon decided we’d rather hunt all day.

Snow was falling at dawn on opening day last week as we hiked through thigh-deep snow with the thermometer hovering at 8 degrees. Our blind – a pop-up tent blind at one corner of a former food plot planted to corn, clover and turnips – looked out over the 250-yard-long open field.

We sat, huddled in clothing for an hour before lighting the small propane heater that hissed and sputterd but provided some warmth for an hour or two before we shut it off. The rest of the day was spent glassing the surrounding woods that bordered the field we hoped the elk would visit.

Early that morning I caught a glimpse of movement, nudged Dalman with my hand while pointing a bit to our right. Two deer, a doe and doe fawn, scampered past our stand, into the woods and within minutes were seen feeding at the far end of the field. Those animals would feed for two hours, disappear for a while, and ease back out to feed again.

The first day ended with five deer being seen but the elk were conspicuous by their absence. Did we want to sit there again the next day? Kassuba felt it would be our best bet with the cold and snow, but even though we were at the landowner’s house and prepared to drive partway back to our blind, it wasn’t mean to be. Nearly a foot more of snow had fallen the previous day and during the night, and it was now up to our hips.

The landowner came out of his house just as dawn was creasing the eastern sky, fired up his diesel tractor and snow-blower, and headed down the lane, making some kind of a path that we would follow. He was gone for 30 minutes, and came back to tell us the field was full of elk but we would have to hike much of the way to our blind.

We had 100 yards of trail left to drive, and then we got off the trail and began walking through the deep snow. We glassed ahead for elk, and saw numerous cows and calves but none that were obviously bulls.

We gained access to the woods where the snow was not quite as deep as in the fields, and once we passed within 40 yards of three cows and calves. The wind was blowing from them to us, and we moved slowly, partly because of not wanting to spook the animals and partly because wading through the deep snow was a very difficult and slow process.

We stopped for a breather, and I was in an open spot in the woods with my feet spread wide apart when we spotted one part of the local elk herd. The elk we had passed were now looking directly at us, and we stood motionless.

“What do you think I should do,” Dalman whispered. “I need to move a bit for a more open shot.”

“Try to move when the three elk look away, and get over next to that big tree,” I muttered. “It will provide you with some cover from the elk in the field while offering a steady rest if you decide to shoot.”

We watched the nearby elk, and when they looked away, he would take a few steps and soon he had the tree between the elk and him, and slowly moved to the tree. The three elk had wandered off, and none of the animals were paying any attention to us. We were only 30 yards from our tent blind but didn’t want to risk trying to reach it and spook the elk herd.

Dalman watched the elk for 15 minutes, alternately raising and lowering his rifle. I knew his problem; his arms were getting tired holding the rifle to his shoulder as we waited for a young spike bull to move away from the calves and cows or have them move away from the targeted animal.

“Spikes are bulls, right?” he asked. I nodded that they were.

“I came on this hunt to take a bull elk and that spike is a bull,” he said. “I had no expectations of shooting a huge bull, and this animal will provide us with great meat and it will have been worth wading through this deep snow. I don’t want to do any more hiking through this snow, and run the risk of damaging my legs where I had both knees replaced. If that spike gives me a clear shot, and nothing is behind it, I’ll take it.”

We stood silently, watching the elk feed, and then some of the cows and calve began moving into the timber where we didn’t have permission to hunt. The spike was only 20 yards from the trees, but still in the food plot, when his opportunity to shoot arrived.

“I’m going to shoot,” he said. “It’s a clear 200-yard shot, and it’s time.”

He shouldered his rifle, put the crosshairs on the heart-lung area, and slowly squeezed the trigger. The young bull dropped, and Dalman reloaded his single-shot Thompson/Center rifle, but the bull stayed down.

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Blanzy walked in to check on us, and walked the three-quarters of a mile back to the barn. He fired up the tractor, came back and pulled the elk to the barn where it could be loaded in Dalman’s pickup truck. Kassuba met us partway, and he stepped out of his truck and off the beaten path, and sank into snow up to his hips.

“It may not be the biggest elk (it weighed 300 pounds after field dressing) but I’m happy and proud of my animal,” Dalman said. “I’ll probably never be drawn for another elk hunt, but with the nasty weather and the unseasonably deep snow, I’m happy to have taken this elk when I did.”

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If this hunt proves anything, it is that it really is possible to draw an elk tag (even though I’ve never drawn a Michigan elk tag). It also proves that with determination, and a willingness to see a tough hunt through to the end, it is possible to achieve success.

And, best of all for me, it provided me with a good story. And obviously, Dalman is happy that I am now three for three with bull elk hunters.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/18 at 06:24 PM
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Think & Rely On Gut Instincts

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Gut feelings and instincts play an important role when hunting, and it took me several years to accept that my instincts and deep-down feelings are almost always right. Go back to your high school tests. Often, on tricky questions, your gut instincts provide you with the right answer

When my instincts tell me to try a different spot rather than my intended deer hunting stand, I now pay attention. If my gut feelings tell me that this particular stand is all wrong for this particular hunt, 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 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 other 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. It was a stand made to order for 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 realizing he had some nearby company. One shot from an old .35 Remington put that buck on the ground.

It was a hunch or a gut feeling, whatever you want to call it, but perhaps my instincts kicked in. All I can say is 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 my decision.

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 are good, the wind is perfect for ether one, so my instincts told me to hunt the previously unhunted stand.

It turned out to be a wise 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 Maxima carbon 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 and countless others, my hunches have proved correct.

If you find yourself facing a choice, run them back and forth, and your instinct will invariably be correct. And one more thing: don’t second-guess your hunches. It usually leads to making a bad mistake.

Today’s deer hunter must learn to think things out. The days of saying “Oh, that tree looks great for a tree stand” is long gone. Know why and were deer trave, and that will supply you with enough factors to make the right decision some of the time.

No game plan works every time.

Posted by Dave Richey on 12/17 at 06:56 PM
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