Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hoping For Some Late-Ice Bluegills

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As inland lakes go the tiny bog pond was insignificant. The only thing that made it stand out was it had safe ice while nearby lakes were iffy after the recent thaw.

Three inches of frozen water covered the two-acre pond, and the bluegills were plentiful. They weren’t big, but they were hungry.

A tiny chartreuse teardrop spoon was knotted to my one-pound monofilament, and the wee hook was baited with a wax worm. As the baited hook drifted to the bottom six feet below my ice hole, a chunky bluegill inhaled my offering.

The fish sucked again at my bait as I set the hook. Not hard, but just a gentle rod tip lift to anchor the barb.

The ‘gill slanted off under the ice, and presented his broad side to the pull of the line. We tussled back and forth for a minute until he tired of the struggle, and he was slid onto the ice.

Several others followed the first bluegill, and as soon as the little jigging spoon was baited and lowered again, another fish bit. He was promptly landed, and for 60 minutes it was constant action with fish that measured from five to eight inches in length.

Bluegills are the stuff of which early winter dreams are made. Find them, and the action can be fast and steady. They hit well, are abundant in most inland lakes around the area, and they are tasty enough to quickly disappear once a steaming platter is set on the table.

That’s what I like about bluegills and sunfish. They’re easy ... most of the time. The most difficult thing about catching them is finding a lake or a spot on the lake where they are biting. It took a bit of hole drilling and experimentation to find them, but if an angler doesn’t make too much noise after some holes are drilled, the
‘gills usually start hitting.

Some days they go off their feed but most of the time they are as subtle as a car wreck. Locate a school, and they almost always hit hard and offer great light-tackle sport. If there’s anything I enjoy it’s having a slab-sided bluegill take one-pound line out against the drag. Playing the fish requires a soft touch.

After constant experimentation on countless inland lakes with many different expert bluegill anglers, several tricks have proven effective. The secret to consistent bluegill catches is to keep moving in search of small concentrations of fish.

Bluegills are gregarious. The prefer the company of other bluegills. Find one, and you’ve usually found a small wolf pack of eager biters.

One trick that almost always works is to drill four or five holes within 20 yards of each other. Fish one for 10 minutes, and if the fish aren’t biting there, move to another spot. If all holes are fished without action, pick up your gear and move at least 50 yards before trying four or five new holes.

One tactic favored by many anglers is to fish the inside or outside edges of green weed beds. Submerged green weeds produce oxygen, and bluegills often hold near vegetation for cover, food and oxygen.

Use tiny teardrop jigs and bait. Bait adds smell to the lure, and the delicate up-and-down or side-to-side quivering of the baited lure is a double-barreled attraction.

Start jigging near bottom and always keep the lure and bait moving slightly. Use just a slight quiver of the rod tip to impart lure action. Leave the foot-long jigging strokes home. They seldom produce fish.

Choose a good selection of proven lures. Bluegills have a small mouth so choose accordingly. Change lure colors often when fish are finicky, and some of the best bluegill colors are chartreuse, green, red, silver, white or yellow. There are days when orange or pink lures will also work.

Some of my favorite nearby waters are Arbutus, Pearl, Rennie and Spider lakes besides a few tiny bog ponds that shall remain unnamed because of their small size. Manistee Lake at Manistee has produced some of my largest bluegills and sunfish. Houghton Lake is another good bet.

Just watch for bad ice, and fish with a partner. Carry a five-gallon bucket with 30-40 feet of stout rope. If someone goes through the ice, the bucket and rope can be tossed to them from a safe distance. Probe ahead with a sput to check for weak ice. Be careful, and keep moving until you find fish.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/28 at 04:04 PM
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Friday, February 27, 2009

Don’t Get Mad When Deer Hunting

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Deer hunting, like so many other things, is always good. It’s just that some hunting days are better than others for one reason or another.

And, if you trust nothing else, remember this: hunting success can always get worse. Success depends, in large part on wind, weather conditions, hunting pressure and hunter skills. It’s easy to control hunting pressure in some areas, but other people often must hunt on federal or state land. Wherever we hunt, we cannot change the wind or weather conditions.

So our hunts may have been planned for a week and the weather doesn’t cooperate. We spit and sputter, gripe and complain, and then we go out and hunt angry.

That can be a big mistake. And it’s one we’ve all have made in the past. I’m a great believer in the old saying: I don’t get mad, and I don’t get even. I get ahead, and that applies as much to deer as to humans or other problems.

Hunting angry doesn’t help us. If anything, being mad about something we can’t control just messes up our hunting judgment. It makes us make even more angry and frustrated, and often leads us into making costlier mistakes.

We just goof up. We get mad, and that makes us feel worse, and we begin to fidget. We move around, make the occasional noise, and any deer that may have come to us might see a movement and be long gone.

Why get mad? I’ve hunted deer for too long, and over those decades, have become somewhat philosophical about bad weather. Learn to take the good with the bad, and think happy thoughts rather than how angry you are. That line of thinking only makes us madder, and that only increases ourr problems.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Instead of focusing on the things we can’t control, change your thoughts and think about those things that can be changed.

Climb a tree, if need be, and set in an elevated coop and do whatever can be done to beat the wind. Or ... do what some hunters do and that is to go home and take a nap. There is always tomorrow for many hunters.

Taking the good with the bad doesn’t always mean that a bad day can’t be productive. I’ve sat out, and had the wind ripping leaves off the trees, and about 30 minutes before shooting time ends, the wind gusts taper off and die. It then becomes whisper quiet, so quiet you are soon wishing for a soft breeze.

If some light rain falls when the wind dies down, there can be some very good deer movements. It seems as if the deer are happy to see the falling rain.

Caution often is more likely when deer move after a strong wind and rain storm. Hunters must learn to keep their cool,
and to take the good with the bad even though we seem to be have more bad weather in the early season than ever before. Is this part of the global warming trend. If so, deer and hunters will soon get used to it.

Last-minute weather changes have paid off for me more times than I can remember. Heading in to the house, and skipping the evening hunt, often means hunters quite possibly will miss the finest 30 minutes of the day as the wind and rain dies.

It’s far better to consider the weather, whether good or bad, as part of the deer-hunting experience. Such last-minute weather changes don’t happen often enough that we can plan around them, but they can pay off often enough that they should be one more trick in our deer-hunting repertoire.

It’s an awesome feeling when we’ve rode out the bad weather, and than see the last-minute change that we hope for. We no longer are mad at the weather, and things start looking up. When the bad weather suddenly changes, and the good weather moves in and the deer start to move, we feel blessed as we sit in a ground blind or tree stand.

Look up at the sky, nod and say “thanks,” and get ready for a nice buck to step out of heavy cover and be within easy bow range. Just remember: it never pays to hunt angry.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/27 at 03:46 PM
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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Answering Post-Season Deer Hunting Questions

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It happens almost every year at about this time of year. Bow hunting has been over for about two months, and sportsmen are second-guessing themselves and their actions. Many are wondering how and why they miss that shot last fall.

Bow hunters are always looking for a shortcut to success. They want to know what they can do to make each trip more successful?

First of all, don’t expect every trip to be successful in terms of killing a deer. It won’t be, and besides, if it was possible, deer hunting would soon become rather boring and tedious.

I’m here tonight with a list of things hunters can do to increase their success rate, but I’ll probably forget a few and that will make for another blog on another day. Pay particular attention to the following items, not just now but when drawing down on a buck or doe next season.

*Practice shooting every day if possible. Learn your bow, what it will do, and practice often. Everything else in these tips will fall apart unless you can hit what you are shooting at.

*Hunting isn’t just from October through November. It should be a year ‘round activity. Of course, you can only shoot during the legal open season, but scouting is often overlooked by lazy hunters. Spend time in the field every week. Watch and during deer during all four seasons, not just during the fall.

*Pick ground blind areas and tree stand sites with care. Know why deer move to those spots, where they come from and where they are going. Learn the travel routes.

*Don’t go above 15 feet in a tree stand. The downward angles becomes more acute, and missing or wounding a deer become much more likely. Don’t try to emulate the people on the television hunting shows. They hunt areas where most of us will never hunt.

*Learn how to be scent-free. Above all else, hunt downwind of where deer travel. If the wind switches so you are not downwind of the deer, move before they get your scent. Wear clean, tall rubber boots to hunt in, and stay away from gasoline or cooking odors. Never try to second-guess a deer’s nose.

*Sitting still is so crucial, and yet so many hunters fidget and wiggle around, making noise and spooking deer. Learn how to focus your mind and body into silence with no movement. Make a movement only when deer are feeding or looking away, and move in slow motion. Herky-jerky movements are easily spotted by deer and they tend to create more noise.

*Learn how to see deer. Forget about seeing something like a calendar photo of a big whitetail buck. Often, bucks are first seen by a flicking tail, moving ear, sunlight glinting off antlers, but usually the first sighting is just a piece of the horizontal body line. Look as deep into cover as possible, and anything that moves in-between will be seen. Once spotted, focus in on that area and watch it until you spot the motionless deer.

*Learn how to get to and from a stand without scaring deer. Each stand should have at least two entrance and exit routes, and mix them up. Go in one way and out another, and try not to use the same stand two days in a row. You must learn to pattern deer; don’t let them pattern you.

*Study deer at every opportunity. Watch and study their actions and body language, and get accustomed to seeing deer at close range. Buck fever is a fear of failing, and the best way to get rid of that problem is to find a place where deer can be studied at close range. The more you see deer, the less often buck fever will set in.

*Pick a spot. Good deer hunters never shoot for the center of mass; instead, they pick an exact place where they wish to hit. Of course this means being able to shoot well, and be able to hit what you aim at.

*Always take high-percentage shots. This means taking only broadside or quartering-away shots. Wait for the deer to give you the shot you want. Don’t take the first shot a buck offers. Allow them to move about and turn, and present you with the optimum shot opportunity. Don’t shoot if you don’t have an ideal shot.

*Always know what other deer in the area are doing. Don’t get so intent on the shot that you forget that other animals may be looking around. Keep track of the deer, and one with its head down and feeding or looking at another deer is preoccupied. If the animal is in the proper position, aim, pick the exact spot, and don’t lift your head until the arrow hits and the Game Tracker string flutters out. Always use a Game Tracker because it will help you recover a wounded deer.

*Listen to your gut instincts. If you have bad feelings about taking a shot, or worry about missing, don’t shoot. Your gut instincts are always right, and if you ignore them, a wounded deer may be the result.

*Use your senses of hearing, seeing, and smelling. Those three senses are what a deer will be using to try to stay alive.

*Believe in yourself, your bow, and your shooting ability. Confidence is an important part of hunting, and if you feel confident, you will be. If you dither over choosing a spot to hunt, forget it.

There are many other tips, but these are enough to start with. Master these, and we’ll think about a graduate course in the future.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/26 at 06:59 PM
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Late-Winter Drive

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My wife and I went for a drive today, and had to drop off our great-grandson in Benzie County after having him for two days. We spent a half-hour with our grand-daughter, and then put our wheels in motion as a soft and wet snow shower added more white stuff to the great huge mounds that litter the landscape.

My wife grew up in Frankfort, and wanted to go and look at her old family home. It was one of those nostalgic trips back 65 years, but the house was still there and next door was her aunt’s home. Both appeared to be in fine condition.

Now me, fishing is in my blood, and some of this travel adventure also was for me. We checked out the Betsie River near the old Homestead Dam, and saw only one vehicle. We followed River Road downstream to Betsie Bay, and the bay and the Frankfort-Elberta harbor was still frozen.

Back onto M-22, and we went into Frankfort, drove down past the condominiums, and found five men fishing on the Lake Michigan side of the Frankfort pier. The harbor is still locked in ice. We watched the anglers for 15 minutes without any action, and they were fishing near shore because mounds of ice still covered the Frankfort pier.

It was one of those spring fever days when a drive felt good even though gas is not too expensive. We took a drive up M-22, looked at some areas where both of us used to hunt deer. One of the locations was Point Betsie, and the sand dunes and land around the Point is now owned by the Nature Conservancy, and some of the dunes spots we once hunted now appear off-limits to deer hunters.

We could no longer get down to the point so we backed up, headed back out to M-22 and proceeded north. We checked out Crystal Lake’s west end, and it is still covered with ice and one forlorn shanty stood 300 yards off shore over deep water. The ice appeared reasonably hard, but the owner better move the shanty soon before it plunges through. A DNR ticket would then be issued if the shanty sinks, and its recovery can be very expensive.

Our journey up M-22 toward Platte Bay was uneventful. We pulled in at the Platte Lake boat launch, studied the lake and its ice, and it appears to be some time before that ice will break up and drift downstream into Loon Lake. The ice on that lake appears solid, so we headed downstream.

Lake Michigan Drive showed the river to be devoid of fishermen, and not a single car was parked at the township parking lot at the boat ramp. Lake Michigan was flat calm, but it’s still too early for any steelhead fishing.

My wife once lived just off the Platte River but her old house had been taken away when the National Park Service started buying up land for the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore property over 30 years ago. Nothing remains of her old home except a vacant spot among the trees.

We crept slowly up Deadstream Road, heading for Honor and then east to Traverse City. The ice looked very solid on Platte Lake, and barring any heavy rains, warm weather or strong winds, it may be some time before the ice goes out of the lake. There won’t be much chance for a strong steelhead run until the ice goes out of the lake.

We stopped at the Veterans Memorial Park east of Honor, and looked upstream from the US-31 bridge, and where early steelhead often spawn, there was no hint of any fish. Not one was parked near the Park, and the water downstream from that upper US-31 bridge doesn’t open until April 1.

There were no one fishing off the mouth of the Boardman River, and no one fishing the river itself. It may have been a premature thought on my part, but it was important to make the trip and see what the conditions were like.

Will the colder weather this weekend freeze everything up again? It’s anybody’s guess. All I know is we will take another drive next week, and perhaps head farther south to look over the fishing conditions below Tippy Dam on the Manistee River.

If any place will produce some good early steelhead fishing, it will be below Tippy Dam. Just watch the steps on the south side of the river from the parking lot down the steep hill to the river.

A fall on icy steps there will put a serious crimp in your spring steelheading plans. That is, if you live to tell the story.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/25 at 06:07 PM
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Legendary Muskie Guide

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Legendary is an honorary distinction bestowed only on a few fishing guides each year. It is an acknowledgement that a person has attained legendary status: a man who has made a visible impact on fishing over many years.

Bob Brunner of Utica, Michigan, was awarded this distinctive honor nearly four years ago by the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin, when he was inducted into the Hall as a Legendary Guide. Competition among people who lobby for their nominees can be intense, and those who are granted this status by the Hall’s voting committee are richly deserving of such an honor.

Brunner has been a muskie fishing guide on Lake St. Clair for many years. And he does his fishing in a most uncommon way on that great body of water near Detroit: he chooses to cast rather than troll for muskies, unlike 99.9 percent of the other muskie anglers on that fish-rich body of water between Lake Huron and Lake Erie.

“I’ve fished Lake St. Clair since 1929 and caught my first muskie in 1931 when I was six years old,” Brunner told me. “Dad and I fished the lake every Sunday for many years, but now at the tender age of 88, I still have people asking me to teach them how to cast for muskies. I rarely troll for them because I feel I can get my clients into much bigger fish by working the weed beds where trolling is very difficult.”

Lake St. Clair is, beyond any doubt, the best muskellunge lake in North America. There are more muskies per water surface area here than anywhere in muskie country. This is why Brunner chooses to guide on this shallow lake. The chances of catching one of the big girls is better on Lake St. Clair than on any other lake that holds these game fish.

The largest muskies of all – the big girls – are always females. Male muskies do not grow as large as the females, and big girls is what he fishes for.

“I have never run an ad and I’m still booked most of the season,” Brunner said. “People come from all over to fish with me because they know I work hard to put them on big fish. If a person is willing to travel 50 or 2,000 miles to fish with me, it’s my job to put them on a big fish so they will hopefully catch the muskellunge of a lifetime.”

He loves to fish for most game fish species but muskies are the love of his life. That is one reason he has written numerous books about how and where to catch Great Lakes muskellunge. Brunner has developed a strong cult following among muskie anglers, and his methods differ greatly from those guides who troll.

“I want people to be able to catch these great fish and enjoy life as much as I have,” he said. “My books are not all about muskie fishing but some of them are focused just on these great fish while some cover other species as well.  I believe my book “Casting: The Feast Or Famine Of Fishing” is my best work. It explains where to fish, which lures and methods to use and where to use them.”

Sadly, most of his books are long out of print and are collectible. Some are offered on this website at Scoop’s Books. Check them out.

He considers his best times on the water are those spent teaching kids how to fish. He enjoys kids on his boat, but as long as he can put someone into fish, he’s in his glory.

His first business card said “On-water lessons available at reasonable rates.” His first two clients were a father and son for the boy’s 14th birthday. After they spent a few hours casting around several Anchor Bay areas, the kid hooked and landed his first muskie. It was a fat 40-incher caught on a spoon and he was hooked for life.

“I knew then that I had to get more children and their parents out to try for this great game fish,” he said. “So here I am, many years later, and still trying to get kids and people involved in this sport. I have been releasing muskies since the early 1970s.

“When I teach someone how to catch fish I feel I’m doing what the Big Guy wanted me to do. The look on a kid’s face while he tries to reel a 48-inch muskie to the boat is something that words can’t describe. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to see a child so happy because he caught a fish where I said one would be. I feel blessed to have helped so many kids land their first muskellunge.”

Brunner feels that muskie fishing has exploded over the past 15 years and it is hard to keep up with the many changes.  He feels saddest that now his life’s journey is nearing its end he won’t be able to fish the many other great muskie hotspots that he has fished over the years.

“I have met some really great people in my life and some have taught me some very valuable lessons,” he said. “Two are the Richey brothers—Dave and George. We lost George nearly six years ago to cancer, and he was a great person and a skilled fisherman.

George fished with me once a year for over 10 years. He taught me that we are all the same, and he was great company on the boat. He was one of the very few anglers that could beat me casting for the big girls.”

There is no doubt about it: Bob Brunner was well qualified for induction into the Hall of Fame as a legendary guide. He rightfully deserves this recognition, and I look forward to fishing with him this fall for one of his “Big Girls.”

I hope we can make our schedules fit. He is a special person in my life of muskie fishing. The fish in the photo above is of Brunner’s biggest muskie, one that weighed about 50 pounds.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/24 at 07:55 PM
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Check Out Your Turkey Gear Ahead Of Time

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My turkey hunting vest hangs in the corner of my office. It is loaded with box calls, diaphragm calls, and some other friction calls. It doesn’t have any tube calls or wing-bone yelpers,

I’m still learning about calling turkeys even though I’ve called in a bunch of birds for others. There are still some nuances of calling that I’m working on, and frankly, I haven’t got the knack of running a tube or wing-bone call ... yet.

I’ve studiously avoided my vest for several days because I can feel Turkey Fever lighting a fire inside me. To look at it means to pull it on, and I’ve been too busy to mess with it lately.

The vest hangs where I can’t see it from my desk, but I had to go over that way today, and I was a goner. It may as well have had a “Pick Me Up” sign hanging off it.

Oh well, the turkey bug bit me bad this morning. Each one of my calls came out, and each one was carefully inspected and cleaned. My favorite diaphragms were washed in warm water and allowed to air dry.

All mouth calls work best when kept cool, and there’s nothing wrong with keeping your clean diaphagm calls in the refrigerator. Cool temps keep the latex reeds in better codition.

My vest is cool, and when I not hunting, I wash the latex reeds and insert a flat (not round) toothpick between the reeds to clean and separate the latex reeds. A few callers I know store their diaphragm calls in the refrigerator when not in use, but I don’t go that far. Mine never hit the fridge but I keep them away from heat in my vest.

I don’t do too much to my box calls. I dust them off, including the paddle and lips of the sound chamber, and make certain there are no twigs or anything else inside them from last season.

A light sanding of the paddle and the edges of the sound chamber will remove chalk residue. It may need a bit of tuning after a light sanding. Just don’t use any force when sanding. Keep it light and gentle.

Many of my calls require the use of chalk although I also use chalk-free calls ,and I try to lightly remove as much old chalk as possible. Once they are cleaned and dusted off, I allow them to sit on a shelf near my desk. They are thoroughly dry when the time comes to use them, and I try not to let them get damp or wet. Too many wood box or push-pull calls have been ruined by using them in rain or snowy conditions.

My aluminum, glass or slate calls require little care. I clean the surface with a soft, slightly dampened cloth, and then they are wiped completely dry moments later. The peg or striker is another story.

It took me some time to learn, because I like to experiment with pegs, but gradually it dawned on me that certain pegs perform best with certain calls. I’ve used wood, plastic, glass and graphite pegs or strikers, and they all work ... on specific calls.

I’ve yet to find that one peg works on all calls. Use the wrong striker, and you’ll sound more like a ruptured duck than an amorous hen.

A major problem for some people is they keep all the strikers together, and invariably try to use the wrong peg on the wrong call. The sounds that come forth are not those of any turkey any of us has ever seen.

My trick, if that’s what it is, is to keep the peg with the proper call. I try to wrap each call (including my box calls) is an old soft washcloth. A thick rubber-band is used to keep everything tight so it doesn’t rattle or make an odd sound while walking to a spring hunting site in the darkness.

Many hunters have learned to put a layer of dry washcloth across the top of a box call, and then wrap the paddle in another layer of cloth. Rubber-band it tight, and you won’t have those telltale squeaks or raspy noises coming out of your vest if your arm bumps the call.

One tip on using a wash cloth. Use an old one that has been washed many times, and choose a dark color. Do not use a blue, red or white wash cloth for obvious safety reasons. A dark brown cloth works well for me. and dark green is my second choice for cloth colors.

A cagey old gobbler, who has made it to three or four years of age, may not hear human footsteps in soft soil or pine needles, but they will hear an untimely squawk if the box call or push-pull call makes a noise at the wrong time. Sometimes the sound may not spook the bird, but why take a chances?

Now is the time to sew up holes in your vest after all of your calls have been made ready for the hunt. Barbed wire or sharp tree stubs have a habit of ripping holes in hunting vest. If a favorite call falls out, and is lost, you’ll never forgive yourself for not doing it when time permitted.

All of this can be done at home in an hour or two. Use that time wisely, make certain all decoys and stakes are ready to go, and when the season opens, grab a bag of decoys, the hunting vest and shotgun (don’t forget the shotshells) and it’s off to the woods you go. Dougle-check that the shotgun sheels are No. 4, 5 or 6 and nothing larger or smaller in size.

And best of all, your equipment will be in perfect working order when you need it to be that way.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/23 at 07:43 PM
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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Putting The Sneak On A Winter Fox

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Many years ago there were far more red foxes than coyotes, and one of the things almost every winter day was to cut a fresh red fox track, and take off cross-country on foot along the straight-as-a-string trail.

Once I was driving to brother George’s house, and spotted a fresh track that crossed the road a quarter-mile from his place. I stopped, got out of the car, and studied it. The track was smoking hot.

George and I put our heads together, and he felt the fox would probably skirt behind the barn, head off across the open field, hunt those fields for mice, and then settle down for a nap atop a clump of uprooted trees a half-mile from his house.

We took turns dogging the tracks, and it was his turn. I’d lag behind, check ahead through binoculars, and try to make certain we didn’t accidentally bump the critter. We headed out on the hot track, and the fox did cut behind the barn, moved down a hill, and crossed the field.

I glassed the track from cover, and lost them near a patch of sumac this side of a fence row 300 yards away, and on the other side of the fence was the tree-tops that would provide a sunny hiding place for a napping fox.

We eased through the field, spotted several areas where the fox had tried for a mouse, but the tracks stay straight until it came to a small knoll, and we bellied up to the edge of the knoll. More fox stalks are blown when people rush to see what is on the other side, and blunder into the fox. Once spooked, the animal will run for a long distance.

My head just eased over the top, and I glassed everything within view. The fox was nowhere to be seen, but its tracks cut through the field, into a cluster of sumac bushes near the hill-top, and we couldn’t see the tracks past there.

We huddled, and whispered back and forth, and felt if the fox wasn’t in the sumac, which we didn’t believe possible, we’d have a reasonably clear look at the tree-tops. Perhaps the fox was already sunning himself.

I studied the sumac until my eyes were watering, and couldn’t see tracks coming out. We had to keep going while we were fairly close to the animal. Stalling now could ruin the hunt.

We crossed the open field and approached the sumacs with caution. We could then see the fox tracks heading toward the fence line and the nasty mass of tree-tops scattered about like jackstraws.

“I can see his tracks down to the fence,” George whispered. “Check the tree-tops, and see if you can spot him. We’ll stick out like two sore thumbs while crossing the field to the fence row.”

Long minutes were spent glassing the tree-tops before I spotted the reddish-russet color of the bedded fox. He was facing away, directly into the wind, and we formulated plans. I would give George hand signals, and a palm raised upright meant for him to stop.

He watched a minute or two longer, saw the fox raise his head and check his back trail. We waited until he checked his back trail the second time, and we had five minutes. As soon as his head went down, George stayed low and ran for the fence only 40 yards from the fox.

He eased into place just as the fox’s head came up to look around, and when it went down, I moved out. We met at the fence, and George pointed to a hole in the fence that would put him only 25 yards from the fox but he couldn’t make a sound getting into position.

The fox looked around again, and when his head went down, George crawled to the hole, and snaked through. He had to depend on me now to tell him when the fox raised his head again.

Two minutes later the fox raised his head, and I made one small hand movement to George. He raised his 12 gauge 3-inch magnum, started to aim and the fox stood up when it caught the movement, and with one shot this fox hunt was over.

Stalking fox is no different than stalking bedded coyotes. Work into the wind, check closely before making a move, and when the stalk leads to a close shot, make it count. It’s an exciting way to spend part of a mid-winter day, especially this time of year when foxes and coyotes are in the mating season, but not with each other.

The two species are deadly enemies, and a coyote will kill every fox they can catch. One rule hunters can count on: if fox are abundant, there aren’t many coyotes around. However, if coyotes are thick, very few fox exist in the area

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/22 at 08:51 PM
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Saturday, February 21, 2009

State Biologist Is Recipient Of Top Turkey Award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.  --  Michigan resident Al Stewart, the upland game bird specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), was honored with the prestigious Henry S. Mosby Award at the National Wild Turkey Federation’s (NWTF) 33rd annual Convention and Sport Show held Feb. 19 to Feb. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee

The Mosby Award is named for Dr. Henry Mosby, whose research with wild turkeys in the mid 1900s set the standard for their future management. He also helped found The Wildlife Society and was the winner of its highest honor --  the Aldo Leopold Medal.

For more than 30 years Stewart has dedicated his career to conservation. Stewart was instrumental in enhancing Michigan’s popular wild turkey cooperator patch program. The wild turkey cooperator patch program was initiated in 1988 as a voluntary incentive for successful turkey hunters to exchange turkey feathers they would mail in to the DNR, and in return, they would receive a turkey cooperator patch. Michigan students in grades K-12 create each year’s patch design through a contest. Stewart also championed the causes of the disabled, and made it easier for everyone to access the great outdoors.

In 1992, President George H. Bush and Congressman Dave Camp gave Stewart the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Award for his work on a barrier-free viewing and hunting platform at the Maple River State Game Area. In 1998, the NWTF Michigan State chapter awarded him the Outstanding Conservationist Award. In 2000, the Arizona Fish and Game Department selected Stewart to assist with the Gould’s wild turkey restoration program in Arizona. In 2005, he served as coordinator of the 9th Annual NWTF Wild Turkey Symposium.

“Al Stewart has shown unequaled dedication to conservation and wild turkeys throughout his career,” said James Earl Kennamer, Ph.D., NWTF’s chief conservation officer. “His work through the wild turkey cooperator patch program has brought the great story of wild turkey conservation to the children and hunters of Michigan.”

Stewart and his wife, Patricia, who serves as the MDNR’s chief communications officer, are the parents of two sons, Chris and Tom.

Since 1985 NWTF’s volunteers in cooperation with the MDNR have spent nearly $2.9 million on habitat enhancements, wild turkey research, law enforcement and outreach programs. NWTF’s efforts include spending more than $1.5 million on habitat improvement projects for maintaining and developing brood habitat and wildlife openings, conducting prescribed fires, planting trees, restoring riparian areas, completing water development projects, controlling invasive plant species and supporting seed subsidy and conservation seed programs—improving habitat for more than 57,886 acres within the state.

Many years ago this writer and my wife hunted wild turkeys with Stewart. We didn’t shoot a bird that spring, and I don’t remember whether we even saw a gobbler, but hunting with Stewart was our initiation into the sport of turkey hunting. and we still thrill to the sounds of a longbeard blasting the dawn to life with a lusty gobble. He and I have shared many great outdoor moments on the water and in the woods.

He is perhaps one of the finest men I know, a person of great integrity, a man at love with the outdoors, with fishing and hunting, and he has learned many years ago that being a hunter doesn’t always mean killing something. One can have a very successful hunt without pulling the trigger, and anyone who has called in an adult gobbler and didn’t shoot, knows what I mean.

Al Stewart is shown above with a 30-pound muskie he caught a few years ago while fishing Lake St. Clair with me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/21 at 06:28 PM
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Friday, February 20, 2009

Some Late-Season Ice Fishing Thoughts

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Ice fishing is much more than the tired old phrase that stay-at-home people say about ice fishermen. You know the one: “An ice fisherman is a jerk on one end of the line waiting for a jerk on the other end.”

Ha, ha, ha! That old saying has been around long enough to vote, drink beer, and grown long white whiskers.

It’s most often uttered by a gray or white-haired old-timer, many of which are my age or even younger. They think it’s funny.

Not me, I see something totally different whenever I go ice fishing. There are people having fun catching fish, but there are many more things that can brighten a winter fishing day. For instance:

*I was fishing Green Lake near Interlochen several years ago. Another angler had been fishing about 200 yards away, and had caught some perch and panfish. The fishing slowed down so he wandered 300 yards down the ice, augered two or three more holes, and began fishing.

My head was bowed as I studied the spring bobber on the end of my ice-fishing rod. A dark shadow floated over the me and the ice, casting a large shadow, and I looked up. A bald eagle had swooped down over me, and had landed on the ice. The big bird was gobbling up the man’s catch, and he spotted the eagle and began yelling. It wasn’t until the guy was within 100 yards that the eagle lifted off and flew away, a perch dangling from his beak like a yellow cigar.

*Another time while fishing a small lake near Lake Ann for bluegills, there was just me and one other guy on the lake. The bluegill action was fairly steady but the fish were small.

I was thinking a burger and hot coffee when I spotted a movement. I looked down the ice, and a coyote was walking slowly across the snow-covered ice. The animal looked at me, turned back and kept crossing. Once it hit the shore, it bounded up the hill and disappeared from sight.

*Another time, on another lake near Lake Ann, we arrived just as the sun was coming up. The first two twists of the ice auger apparently woke some roosted turkeys, and they began gobbling at the grating.

They gobbled and double-gobbled, and eventually flew down. One bird, spotted at 200 yards, wore a snow-dragging beard. A big knot of frozen snow clung to the end of the beard, and with every step he took, his beard swung like a pendulum of a big wind-up grandfather clock.

*A dozen years ago, while fishing Crystal Lake near Beulah, an angler broke through thin ice near shore. His two buddies were nearby with a long rope, and they yanked him out of the water.

The man was visibly shaking, partly from the adrenalin rush and partly from the cold, and the others rushed him to shore and a warm car. He didn’t suffer any problems except for a soaking and bruised pride.

*On more than one occasion, while fishing for panfish, I’ve hooked a big fish. The strike is often sudden, and line goes screeching off the reel while we stand and wonder what we’ve hooked.

I fought a big fish on light line for about 30 minutes on Manistee Lake years ago, and suspect I had hooked one of the monster northern pike that the lake was once noted for.

The fish took line, 25 yards at a time, and I’d slowly ease it back toward the ice hole. Back and forth went the battle, and two or three other people stood nearby to watch the scrap.

Finally, after 30 minutes of the line sawing against the bottom of the ice hole, I had the fish positioned under the hole, A man kneeled alongside the hole, and we both watched a long green fish with white kidney-bean shaped spots dotting it side as a pike of 20 pounds or more took out a bit more line.

This fish was being played with kid gloves and a soft hand. Both of us, the gaffer and me, knew the likelihood of losing this enormous fish was very good but I was committed to the struggle. He was willing to gaff the fish under the chin if an opportunity presented itself.

In time, the fish neared the hole and was wobbling, rolling over on one side to then over on the other, and we knew this was a critical time. My friend with the gaff lowered it down into the hole, and asked if I could raise the fish another two feet.

I tried, very gently, and the fish rolled again and the line parted with hardly a sound. It wasn’t my fault or his, but the pike had caught a lucky break.

Feeling bad lasted about 30 seconds, and we both muttered: “What a fish.” We knew that going fishing doesn’t guarantee a catch, and often it’s other little things that happen that make each outing spectacular.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/20 at 03:40 PM
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Thursday, February 19, 2009

A New Look For Some Outdoor Problems

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Guess what? Fishing and hunting isn’t the same as it was 10 years ago, and it won’t be the same in 2019 as it is now. Double-talk? No, government-speak.

Fishing and hunting have become fragmented. How so? There are many ways to look at our natural resource problems, such as:

Years ago, a bear hunter bought a license and went hunting. Now, we supposedly have sound, scientific wildlife management, and that means more bears are being killed each year under a quota system than were ever killed under the old rules when anyone could hunt bruins.

And that’s OK because we have more bears than before, and the animals are moving into new territories, and management means determining the social carrying capacity of bruins. How many bears will people tolerate near their homes before they start squawking?

We have elk hunts now with some rather new rules. The rules only affect those who draw an elk tag from now on. I applied for an elk tag ever since they had their first hunt in 1964. I’ve never been drawn, but instead of drawing names from those who have applied and missed out, the DNR are enforcing the newer rules. And frankly, I’m not the only one who has applied and been denied. It means that hunters who drew an elk tag years ago can still draw one. Does this make sense?

The DNR has had many chances to allow Region II turkey hunters to obtain some private-land turkey tags that would guarantee them a first- or second-season hunt for applicants who own property up here, but pressure from other groups is louder than the mumbles of regional landowners. So, private-land turkey tags can be obtained in the Upper Peninsula in those counties where birds are hunted, and throughout southern Lower Peninsula counties, but again Region II landowners get short and dirty end of the turkey-permit stick.

It appears the DNR is caving in to special interest groups. In case you haven’t noticed, the special interest groups are in the face of the DNR biologists to get what they want, not what is fair to everyone else.

Do you remember when Michigan had their statewide trout season opener on the last Saturday in April. And then, in hopes of streamlining our fishing seasons, the DNR allowed Lower Peninsula muskie, pike and walleye fishing to open at the same time as the trout season. There are countless sport shops in the Lower Peninsula, and this ruling several years ago, denied sportsmen two opening days—trout and walleye, etc., and simply lumped them all together.

Guess which one people chose, and in resounding fashion? It wasn’t trout, which are harder to catch. Those people who opened the trout season, and then on May 15, opened the walleye season jumped for joy. They got over two more weeks of walleye fishing, and the sporting goods stores lost an opportunity to make money on the second opener.

The DNR, currently backed into a corner by angry deer hunters, have been taking it on the chin. The DNR’s little dog-and-pony show took their act on the road to discuss issues with deer hunters three years ago, and were confronted by angry people who are tired of not seeing deer and even more tired on horrible deer management policies.

They were and still are clamoring for change, and rightfully so. I’ve backed the DNR for more years than I can remember, but things are changing ... and frankly folks, it’s not for the better. Deer are plumb hard to find in the U.P., and things aren’t much better in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula. But guess where the deer are: on private land in the southern Lower Peninsula counties. They aren’t Up North.

This deal over deer and deer hunting is far from over. The DNR needs to begin mandatory deer registration, and do away with the two-license deal. If they want to make more money, make it mandatory that hunters register their first deer before they can buy a second license. Hunters no longer believe the estimated Oct. 1 deer numbers, and they don’t believe the final totals that show deer kills higher than what anyone believes, especially those sportsmen who do not see a whitetail at all.

Now, because of one case of a Chronic Wasting Disease scare in Kent County last year, baiting has been eliminated in the entire Lower Peninsula. In the meantime, baiting continues in the Upper Peninsula. Many people started cheating last fall in the Lower Peninsula, and they continue to bait in the Lower Peninsula. Does it make sense to have legal baiting in one part of the state but none in the rest of the state?

And all because of one CWD disease in a private enclosure. Everyone had to pay the price for that solitary animal. Did people resent this, and is it sound scientific management? It makes one wonder. The DNR and Department of Agriculture should get their collective acts together.

Has deer and turkeys suffered in the northern Lower Peninsula. You bet. Folks, where I live we’ve had 180 inches of snow since Nov. 15, and another nine inches is predicted before tomorrow morning. I’ve seen very few gobblers, and only a few hen turkeys this fall. If the DNR’s weird sense of having turkey feeding sites so laughable, one would cry.

If we have few turkeys this spring than in the past, we can look to a lack of a winter feeding program. Turkeys are big birds and they burn a lot of energy launching into flight from the ground, but to expect birds to burn up even more fat reserves during winter months by having to fly to an elevated position for corn, is a bit silly.

But never mind me. I get a bit peckish after snowblowing for three hours, getting the blower stuck once in deep snow today, and watching the road plow fill in my driveway. Some things, like silly management policies, get me going.

Am I in a bit of a nasty mood? You bet! Michigan hunters once stood tall and proud of their DNR, our deer management policies, and the fact that we had more combined deer hunters and man-days of deer hunting than any other state in the nation. We don’t have much to be proud of now except in areas where there is a Quality Deer Management program. Hunters in such areas are now seeing more bucks and larger animals in some of those counties than ever before.

Folks, it goes against the grain of Mother Nature to try to maintain a status quo, year after year. It’s an impossible to accomplish, and management of our deer herd is lacking. I never see a wildlife biologist in the field, and in the words of a fine wildlife biologist who retired a few years ago, “the new wildlife biologists don’t have any dirt on their boots.”

One might wonder if they ever own a pair of boots. They spend little, if any time, in the field. They manage by building computer models, and I for one, know that it isn’t working.

And sadly, the biologists seldom want to talk with landowners, especially in northern counties. They know they’ll get an ear full, and most of the anger generated their way these days, is justified.

Perhaps we need a shake-up in state government. One doesn’t have to look hard or far to see that state government has wrecked the economy, our jobs and our livlihood, and has left taxpayers holding the bag ... again.

This is the adult version of the old snipe hunt trick we played on other kids when we were young. That was funny back then, but nobody is laughing anymore.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/19 at 07:21 PM
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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Trout Are Important To Me

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For centuries, anglers have touted the sporting value of trout fishing. But what is it that makes thousands of anglers dream like me dream all winter about catching these lake and river game fish? Why, for goodness sake, would any sane individual count down the days to the trout opener?

Why are 10-inch trout a prize to be cherished? Why should people spend good money to buy fine tackle just to catch a small trout? Or, on the other hand, why would anglers gloat over a 10-pound brown trout or a 14-pound steelhead? Why do they stir our emotions in such ways?

What is it about this game fish that stirs our juices, captures our thoughts and engages our soul on a day like this when several inches of snow is being predicted for tonight and tomorrow? It’s just one of my many questions that trout anglers attempt to rationalize as they tour Michigan’s greatest trout lakes and streams once the spring seasons open.

What follows are just a few of today’s idle thoughts that have made me wonder about this trout-fishing addiction of mine, one that has afflicted mw for nearly 60 years. There are many trout thoughts from season openers I’ve covered since the early 1950s. They, like lingering ghosts, are tjpigjts I’ve carried with me for years about these fish.

Think long and hard on trout, and make a list of some of your favorite trout fishing thoughts. One often will find that the experiences, sights, sounds, and other sensory perceptions are far more important at the end of a day’s fishing than the fish we’ve caught. Here are just a handful of reasons why trout have captured my soul over almost 60 years.

*These beautiful, colorful and fragile game fish are the canaries in our environmental coal mine. They are a key barometer of our times. What harms trout can’t be good for humans, and when these species are gone forever, can our civilization, as we know it, be very far behind?

*Brook trout are the prettiest of all. They come in four sizes: tiny, small, legal-size and lunker, each with an array of spotted beauty that hints of wild places that stir our senses. With their tiny blue spots, and white piping along the outside edge of orange fins, brook trout take first-place in any fishy beauty contestt. I look at a trout, all smooth-skinned, and painted up in all their finery, and the sight takes my breath away.

*Trout respond well to a careful approach and a delicate delivery. Fancy waders and top-of-the-line rods, reels and nets do not impress this char and trout clan. They feed when hungry, fast when not, and nothing we do can or will change this pattern. They are what the art, and we must deal with their actions or lack thereof.

*Trout inhabit some of Michigan’s most beautiful places. They live in a land of towering pine and spruce, beaver ponds, impenetrable cedar swamps, sparkling gravel-bottomed streams, gurgling meadow brooks, remote Upper Peninsula rivers dotted with waterfalls—all such places and more are home to lake and stream trout, and humans are nothing more than infrequent visitors to their world.

As such, it behooves anglers to put back more than we take. Conservation of wild trout means joining and backing such organizations as Trout Unlimited, who fight for our fish and their special environment. Their needs include clean water and an environment friendly to the fish. They are truly game fish worth fighting for.

*I fish for trout because of soft dimpling rises, blanket hatches, selective trout, wild places, stream-side camaraderie with other like-minded fishermen, wild fish and the history and romance of trout fishing. Trying to outwit these game fish is for the thinking angler, not a gluttonous fisherman intent only on a full creel.

*One last and untapped trout bastions are the inland lakes. Such waters produce robust fish, and for those who learn lake-fishing secrets, the rewards can be many and great. Huge trout are taken from inland lakes that seldom, if ever, see a bait, fly or lure. These lake-dwelling trout are a thrill to catch, and it requires specialized skills to do so on a regular basis.

*My familiarity with trout forces me to fight for them and to proceed in a manner that gives each fish every advantage and opportunity to escape. Trout fishing means much more than a limit catch. This sport is and always should be a major challenge of man against the temperamental trout..

*Seldom are my trout kept. Trout deserve to be caught more than once, and on a raare occasion I will keep a few small ones for the frying pan. My thoughts are that big trout should be allowed to spawn and reproduce, and small ones should be released as gently as possible to avoid harming them in any way.

*There are places where brook trout live that rarely see a fisherman. The fish are naïve, easy caught, and some anglers take advantage of these fish. Often, in such areas, the spot may be over-fished in one day by one greedy angler. Catching a limit, day after day, doesn’t prove someone is a good fisherman. Instead, it points out a serious character flaw.

*For years it’s been my practice to fish those back-of-beyond spots where brook trout hold at the base of a cedar tree. Such black swamps have produced numerous sightings of bear and deer as I slip slowly from tree to tree, dapping a fly or single-hook wee spinner in the water between tree roots. The fish come hard to fly or lure, are easily hooked, and quickly released without taking them from the water.

*I have a problem with those who regard trout fishing as a social event. The fish are not impressed by our homes or the cost of our cars, so why clutter a stream with people who are there only to impress clients or other fishermen with fancy creels, fly rods and vests?

*People go through three trout fishing phases. The first is to catch as many fish as possible; the second is to catch the largest trout possible; the third is to exact the greatest challenge from trout and our fishing tackle while giving the fish every chance to get away.

*I’m in Stage No. 3, but can remember as a kid passing through stages 1 and 2. It’s easy to remember the heavy catches, huge fish and the bragging of yesteryear, and I’m ashamed by the number of big trout taken during my earlier years. But those days are long gone, and my efforts now out-weight my heavy catches of 30-40 years ago.

*For 10 years, guiding trout fishermen was my life and the major way for me to make a living. The hours were long and hard, the weather sometimes bitterly cold, and although memories of those days with large numbers of browns and steelhead still linger, they foster no strong feelings that make me want to return to that way of life. It was a tough way to make a living, pay bills and put cooked groceries on the table. Ten long years of guiding was enough for me.

*I fish for trout now because I want to, not to prove anything to myself or to others. I fish because of the tremendous enjoyment it brings, and the challenge of hooking trout from difficult places with tackle that gives every edge to these game fish.

*I now fish for trout because fishing soothes a troubled soul. It energizes tired fishermen, and it provides me with something I deeply love and something to look forward to in beautiful areas where it’s not necessary to rub shoulders with other anglers. It offers me peace and solitude in a world of turmoil and unpleasant things.

That’s me. A guy with simple ideals and needs that continue to make me very happy. And just think: an eight-inch brook trout can make me feel great for weeks on end.
No amount of money, big house or fancy ride, can do that.

Running water., cold water, wild places and wild fish, are why trout make me feel good in a way that I’ve tried to explain but find it impossible to say any better than this. So, if you’ll excuse me now, I’ve got a date with a fly rod and reel that needs a good cleaning before trout season opens.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/18 at 05:32 PM
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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reading Great Words Of Outdoor Writers

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There is a one-word statement that often is spoken following the mention of a famous but deceased outdoor writer’s name. It is blunt, direct and simple: “Who?”

My outdoor education began when I was about 10 years old, and I began my personal subscriptions to Field & Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield—the so-called “Big 3” in the outdoor magazine business.

I read each monthly magazine from cover to cover, and eagerly awaited the arrival of the next issue. Certain writers captured my fancy, forced me to probe my mind, and they made me want to learn more about fishing and hunting.

There were many of them through the mid-1950s and 1960s that helped me develop an awesome interest in outdoor writing. Some of those names have vanished with time as the author passed away, or in some cases, disappeared and was never seen again.

Many were people whose outdoor writings captivated my imagination, and made me dream of far-flung fishing or hunting adventures. My early favorites, should anyone care, were men of great stature in the outdoor writing field at the time.

Men such as: Charlie Askins, Erwin “Joe” Bauer, Havilah Babcock, Fred Bear, Craig Boddington, Nash Buckingham, John Cartier, Homer Circle, Eugene V. Connett III, Jim Corbett, Byron Dalrymple, Frank Dufresne, Ben East, Charlie Elliott, George Bird Evans, John Taintor Foote, Corey Ford, Arnold Gingrich, Roderick Haig-Brown, John Jobson, Bill Jordan, Elmer Keith, Tom Kelly, Dana Lamb, Arthur Macdougall, Gordon MacQuarrie, John Madson, Jack O’Connor, Robert Ruark, Archibald Rutledge, Jack Samson, Edmund Ware Smith, Ted Trueblood, Ray Voss and countless others helped, in many ways, to forge Dave Richey’s writing future.

Many, in their later years, came to be personal friends. Some like Corey Ford and Robert Ruark passed away about the time that outdoor writing became an inspiration, but had yet to become an avocation or vocation.

I remember many discussions, in person and by mail, with Bauer, O’Connor and others. Some, like John Madson, were truly great writers, and I have dozens of handwritten and typed letters from Madson. His writing sparkled in a down-home manner.

The late Ben East of Holly, Michigan, was perhaps the finest copy editor I every worked with. Some of these men were more outdoorsman than writer, but the late John O. Cartier, was as good in the field as at his computer or with a red editing pencil.

Ruark, although we never met, touched me with his whimsical “The Old Man & The Boy” book (see my Scoops Books for a copy), which should be required reading for anyone with an interest in fishing and hunting. It is warm, wonderful, filled with homespun wisdom, and Ruark died much too young as the result of far too much strong drink and a defeated liver.

The late Joe Bauer began writing while a game warden in Ohio, and he became most known for his superb outdoor photographs, his many books and his constant parade of feature articles in The Big 3. He was quiet almost to the point of being shy, and was hired to teach writers for Outdoor Life how to shoot great photos. His humble “I don’t know how I do it” was the truth, but after listening to him talk for two hours, me and many other people came away with greater knowledge of taking prize-winning photographs.

Most of the really good writers were reticent about discussing the fame and glory of their work. Others barked and bleated if things didn’t go their way, and still, they did some things that others wanted to learn.

There are many tales of the late Elmer Keith. He was fairly small, wore a big cowboy hat, disliked Jack O’Connor intensely (the reverse was also true), but many are the tales of Keith’s exploits. He somewhat reminded me of a little banty rooster, but if Keith said he could do something, whatever it was could be done.

These men were heroes of a sort to me, and meeting them (most of them), was a high point in my life. I also met Ted Williams, baseball’s last .400 hitter years ago, and I showed no more hero worship for him than for the outdoor writers noted above. I simply admire their skills at their chosen jobs, and in truth, the angling or hunting writers were more real to me than someone like Williams played a childhood game for big bucks.

The point of this discourse is that reading today’s outdoor writers offers a peek into their lives. You can learn from the true outdoor writer, one who spends time in the field, and learn very little from the indoor-outdoor writer, a person who writes about fishing and hunting but never does it.

Fishing and hunting, as we know it, will gradually lose some of its luster in the future and some of it can be seen now as newspapers cut back or eliminate their staff or freelance writers. It will never entirely die out, but people will become more diversified, and parcel ever smaller amounts of time to these pastimes. So, if you love fishing and hunting as I do, read as much about it as possible now.

And offer a word of occasional thanks to those who toil so you can better enjoy the outdoors. Many of my favorite writers are long gone, and one day, some of today’s favorite writers will also be gone, this writer included.

Let these people know you appreciate their efforts. Doing so after they have passed on, as is true with some of those mentioned in tonight’s blog, is a belated attempt to reverse an earlier error of omission. Those writers and photographers who have given so much of their lives to enlighten their readers deserve to be remember once they’ve fished around their last bend. Their likes will never be seen again.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/17 at 08:40 PM
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Monday, February 16, 2009

Choose A Warm Blind Next Winter

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Quick now: Name the warmest winter blind?

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

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

Not to my way of thinking. For my money, a hay-bale blind beats whatever else comes in second-place. It has many advantages, and one disadvantage. Hunters afflicted with hay fever shouldn’t hunt from a hay-bale blind unless they take some allergy medicine. I know because I’m allergic to hay.

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

The solid points in favor of these blinds are many and all are valid. Here are some good reasons to use such an easy-to-build blind.

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

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

*A rectangular blind requires quite a few rectangular bales. Pile as many bales up on the left and right sides, and behind you, and put a chair inside to sit on. Stack the bales at least two high in the front, and leave just enough room to crawl over and to shoot through. Cover the top with plywood and more bales, and you are set. The disadvantage of this blind is if one or two bales get bumped, the blind can fall like a house of cards. The other obvious disadvantage of a hay-bale blind is it is not easily moved from one area to another without falling apart.

*Of the two, my favorite is made of round bales. Five minutes with a tractor to move the two round bales together, and then laying a sheet of plywood on top and several rectangular bales on top and in front to form a shooting window, and the blind is completed. You can walk away from it until it’s time to hunt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Is it too late to build a hay-bale blind for next year? It depends on deer numbers in your area, the available food supply, and how quickly the blind can be constructed. Deer often take three or four days, and sometimes as much as a week, to become accustomed to the blind. Even though it’s best to put hay-bale blinds in place early, it can be done anytime. I find that the longer the blind sits there the better it works. I know people who roll up their first cutting, position the bales far ahead of time, and forget about them until cold weather sets in/

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

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

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

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/16 at 01:56 PM
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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mid-Winter Dreaming About Bow Hunting

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The buck was banging his substantial antlers against a tree, and I listened to him working a scrape for 30 minutes late last October. The buck was within 20 yards of me but was screened by thick brush and completely invisible.

I sat in my tree stand and listened. He was close enough to hear the urine hitting the scrape, and he was upwind and the pungent ammonia odor was almost as strong as skunk spray. He worked that tree over, yanked at the overhead licking branch, and for all the noise and commotion he made, the buck seemed impossible to see.

I checked that spot the next day. He’d been working two scrapes, and one was eight inches deep and as big around as two large turkey platters. The buck had pulled the old licking branch down, and I replaced it with rubber gloves to prevent human odor messing up my spot. It suited him just fine because the scrape had tine marks and a hoof print in it, and the new licking branch looked pretty ragged after just one day. The second scrape was opened up, and the licking branch was chewed to a frazzle.

What was even more interesting was that the buck had opened up a third scrape. Huge clots of wet earth was piled at the north end of the scrape, and he had made it the night before. How do I know?

Buck scrapes have dirt and debris piled at one end or another, and if the dirt is piled at the end closest to thick cover, it generally means the deer is tending that scrape in the evening as he leaves the bedding area for a night of chasing cute little does with big brown eyes.

This told me several things: One is the rut had not started but the pre-rut chasing phase had set in. This chasing phase lasts several days before the full rut starts. As long as fresh activity is seen at the scrapes, and it is being tended one or more times daily, the rut has not begun. Once the scrapes show no sign of intense activity, that means the rut is underway.

One thing few hunters realize is that the mid-day hours just before and during the rut can produce a fine buck.

This buck may have other nearby scrapes that it had been working, but once a buck is shot and is removed from his home area taken out of the woods, another good buck will take its place. Nature abhors a vacuum, and when a big brown trout or a big whitetail buck is taken out of the mix, another moves in and takes over.

Hunting from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. works well during the chasing stage and the rut. If possible, be in your stand by 9 a.m., and sit patiently. The bucks will move during the late-morning and early-afternoon hours.

I first learned of this phenomenon many years ago while hunting ruffed grouse. Two days in a row a buck was seen darting away from me in the same area. I checked the area, found his scrapes, and went back and set up a stand 30 yards downwind of it. The buck came by that first day at about noon, wind-checked the scrape from downwind, and offered me a 12-yard shot. I didn’t miss.

Hunting the pre-rut and the rut during mid-day hours can pay off. Sure, many hunters can’t take time off work to hunt those hours, but keep it in mind for weekends. Hunt near natural funnels between bedding and feeding areas, and once the rut kicks in, start hunting the heavier cover when does and bucks filter out of heavy thickets or duck back into the to breed. It’s very difficult to get ahead of bucks and does in open terrain unless you are willing to stay in one place for periods of time.

My only real problem with hunting the mid-day hours is a personal one. I’m good for three to four hours maximum in a tree before everything gets sore. I’ll stick it out until about 2:30 p.m., grab a bite to eat, and then hunt from 4 p.m. until legal shooting time ends. It means spending long hours in a tree, but it can pay big dividends with a husky whitetail buck.

This method has worked for me for a great many years, and can work for you regardless of where you hunt. Try it this fall and see if it doesn’t produce action at a time when no one else is hunting. It’s rut hunting’s biggest secret, and now only you, me and several hundred thousand other people will share the secret. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/15 at 01:15 PM
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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Helping Beginning Outdoor Writers

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Forty-two years of outdoor writing has taught me several things. One is to help beginning writers learn how to produce something that people will want to read.

Most beginners come searching for the magic key that will unlock the many secrets of outdoor writing. They want to know how to write well, get paid well, and learn how to succeed in only a month or two. Dream on!

Honestly, it’s hardly possible these days to make a living in the outdoor magazine market. A friend who has been at this business for 20 years told me yesterday that he’d starve to death on what he can make writing for today’s crop of outdoor magazines.

Many magazines, like many daily and weekly newspapers, have gone downhill and then out of business. Nearby Antrim County has lost three newspapers in the past month or so. That’s a tragedy.

The national economy has gone into the toilet, people who once had good jobs, are now out of work. Look at house foreclosures and the closings of many businesses, and you’ll start to get the picture. Auto companies get bailouts but what about those who are struggling to stay afloat and solvent? What about the money most of us lost as corporations get huge bailouts only to pay out millions in bonuses to the idiots at the top that managed to get them into financial trouble.

It hasn’t always been this way. I’ve voted in every election since I turned 21, the legal voting age back then. It was then that I began to see politicians for what some of them are – crooks. Most seem to have some common decency but others are there to make big money. Back in the old days, an outdoor writer was envied, looked up to by his readers but we were paid about the same rates as they pay now.

I began writing in 1967, and here it is 2009, and almost in the blink of an eye, 42 years have passed. I made some very dumb mistakes when first starting out, and soon learned from those mistakes.

An editor’s best friend, and his greatest tool, is a red pencil. It can cut a wide swath through a manuscript while making red editing marks everywhere. Sentences, and occasionally whole paragraphs, are deleted or undergo radical changes. Editing one’s own copy requires years of training, and it doesn’t come without some pain.

I’ve mentored beginning writers for more than 30 years. Some are now household names to Michigan sportsmen, but I’ve mentored other budding writers from other states as well. I’m currently working with several writers, including two from Michigan. I look for people who want to learn, and who are long on grit and determination.

The little tricks they want to learn are the simplest of all. A young friend from Wisconsin, who I met at an outdoor writers conference, sent me a manuscript some time ago that I haven’t read. He made two simple mistakes that I caught before reading his manuscript. A short note pointed out what should have made those two errors very obvious but he had missed them. I helped him and he won’t forget.

When I began writing in 1967, all of these errors and many others were made by me, but no one mentored and taught me anything. Learning from errors may be the best learning tool of all, but it’s hard watching other writers make the same dumb mistakes. If young (or old) writer put some trust in me, it behooves me to inform them of their mistakes and teach them the right and proper way to do it.

Many writers never learn how to self-edit. They figure it’s an editors job, but if a writer can save an editor time and work by doing it right, the guy who buys articles may look more kindly on his work.

I’ve been into this mentoring game for many years, and every beginner makes the same mistakes. My red pen marks up their pages, and it looks like a flock of chickens walked in red paint before scratching across each page of their marvelous manuscript.

Budding writers are warned this will happen, and if they don’t have thick skin or acquire one quickly, they will soon be angry and fuming. Anger and frustration from someone I’m trying to help doesn’t set well with me, so I offer them a fair warning it is coming. We part company if their anger becomes too steamy or strident.

Most people handle constructive criticism well. One Michigan gent didn’t, and called me some very nasty names and we soon parted company. He floundered on his own for a year or so and soon disappeared, never to be heard from again.

Others who absorbed some of their rather painful lessons have gone on to become full-time outdoor writers who are making their living at it. Most eventually come to realize that all the red marks were there for a reason: to show them how to better construct sentences.

Most beginners are too wordy. I give an assignment of 500 words. The topic isn’t important, but should relate to fishing or hunting but I don’t want 400 or 600 words. I want 500 words.

A 15-year-old high school boy contacted me once, and wanted help. I’ve heard from him twice, sent him a six-page letter, and he was given an assignment. He sent in a story, and it was on steelhead fishing, a topic I’m very familiar with. His story used a phrase I’d never heard of in more than 50 years of steelhead fishing.

He didn’t want to change the phrase, and seemed unable to see my reasoning. The story could have been salvaged but only with my recommended changes. He chose to do it his way, and I wish him luck but I’ve never seen his story in print. A sad mistake on his part.

Writing, my students are told, is easy. Good writing is difficult, and the longer one writes, the harder it becomes. Someone once said writing is easy: all you have to do is stare at a blank computer screen until drops of blood form on your forehead, and perhaps then words will start flowing from the brain to the fingertips.

I consider writing fairly easy but 42 years of doing something every day helps a person become better at it. I’m there for my students because once I’m dead and gone, it’s my hope that those I’ve helped will have become good enough and motivated enough to help others learn how to write outdoor copy.

What goes around, comes around. If you give of yourself, you are usually repaid, and it makes me feel good to work with beginning writers, regardless of age.

However, in today’s horrible economy, it’s extremely difficult for anyone to make a fair living. There isn’t anyone I know, out of more than 1,000 outdoor writers that I do know, who can make a fulltime living writing just magazine copy. The writers of today must be competent in other related fields: books, newspaper, public speaking, radio, television and other venues. Magazines are dying, and some may not make it to when the economy starts to turn around.

The simple truth is that good outdoor writing really isn’t very easy for most people and marketing stories is another facet that students must learn. Marketing a magazine story now has never been more difficult. Only those with some great talent, a knack for stringing sentences together, knowing how to shoot quality photos, and being able to meet deadlines, will have any chance of making it.

Anyone who considers a job change to outdoor writing should hold on to their day job and stop dreaming the almost impossible dream. Those of my generation held that dream, kept it intact, and now are trying to keep our outdoor writing heritage intact. It may no longer be possible as it was 30-40 years ago, and that is a shame.

Posted by Dave Richey on 02/14 at 08:17 PM
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