Friday, July 31, 2009

Learning Fish Patterns Leads To Good Catches

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There are quite a number of great things that happen to fishermen as they start getting a bit older. They seem to get smarter.

That’s one good thing. It’s debatable whether we gain any intelligence as the years pile on but we do remember things. If we fish long enough and often enough, we’ll see a definite pattern in how fish move or react.

Granted, this doesn’t happen every time we go fishing. There are still days when we get skunked, but there also are days when we something developing on the lake or stream that we’ve seen happen in the past.

We kick back for a moment, analyze the situation, and suddenly, as if by magic, a thought pops in our mind. This exact situation occurred several years and, and when I did this or that, I caught fish.

I used to fish Manistee Lake at Manistee for August walleyes. The full moon period always seemed to be best, and I was there one night with a friend.

Again, it was a full moon and the water was still and it appeared we were the only boat on the lake that night. I shared a plan with my buddy.

“On many occasions during August we’ve anchored right about here, an easy cast to shore, and waited for the big walleyes to come in shallow, herd the alewives against the shore and cut them to ribbons,” I said. “Hold on, sit down and I’ll get us anchored fore and aft.”

That accomplished, I rigged him up with a River Runt Spook, added a similar lure to my line, and cautioned him against making noise. He was reminded that it was an easy cast to shore.

He told me he’d never fished after dark where you had to cast to a specific object, and I reminded him that all he had to do was cast straight out in front of him.

“Just make a medium cast toward shore when I tell you,” I said. “Don’t make a bunch of noise, don’t shine a light between the boat and shore, and don’t fool around. When the fish show up, they may be there for four or five minutes and then they disappear.”

We sat for a hour, and suddenly a sloshing sound was heard between us and the shore. The walleyes had arrive.

“Cast up toward shore, and reel just fast enough to make the lure wiggle. If the lure stops, a big walleye has it so set the hook hard.”

I delivered that message as I fired a cast at the shore. Two cranks on the spinning reel handle got the lure moving and it stopped. I set the hook hard, and was watching my buddy. His line went off the bow of the boat, behind the boat, and everywhere except between the boat an shore.

“It’s easy,” I said, trying to talking him through it. “I know you can do it because I’ve seen you cast before. Just lob the lure toward shore, but be quick about it because these walleyes won’t stick around long.”

I was into a big walleye, and got him up to the boat, got a firm grip on the line and lifted him in. He bounced on the deck of the boat, the hooks fell out and I fired another cast into the melee in front of us.

“Grab the plug, open the bale of your spinning reel, and throw the plug toward shore,” I hissed. “You may have time for one effective try.

My plug landed within inches of shore, and I reeled fast to get slack out of the line and to get the lure wiggling, and hooked another walleye. My friend was having an awful time, and as I fought the fish, the noise of feeding walleyes suddenly stopped. My fish came undone, and I urged him to calm down.

“I know where the fish are going and we’ll anchor within easy casting range of shore,” I told him. “You’re making more of casting after dark that you need to. Hook the line under your finger, bring the rod tip back to 12 o’clock, bring the rod forward and let the line slip off your window. Just relax, and you’ll catch a big walleye this time.”

This pattern worked and we had about 10 minutes to get into position and get ready. I kept trying to steady my buddy but I know it was no use.

The big walleyes showed up, splashed water as the alewives tried to flee the slaughter, My first cast was on target and I hooked another fish while my friend hit the water with his cast in every location except the right one.

The night fishing came to an end, and it was time to give it up. I had hooked three walleyes and landed only one but it weighed 11 ½ pounds. The pattern worked like it was supposed to, and the fish provided ample opportunities but sadly my buddy couldn’t cash in.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/31 at 04:47 PM
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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Screwy Weather Can Bring In Salmon

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It’s an old Michigan saying: if you don’t like the local weather, just wait 24 hours. It will change.

I’m not griping about the current weather. If it never got over 70 degrees I be happy. My body doesn’t function at the peak of its ability in very hot weather. Anything over 75 degrees is very hot to me.

It rained today, yesterday, the day before, etc. Not a great huge amount of rain but a cool rain, and that could be a good thing for river anglers who are looking for an early salmon up some of the spawning streams.

Am I ready? You bet. I’ve laid in my supply of bobbers for fishing spawn, spooled some 10-pound mono on a spinning reel with a smooth drag, gathered up a bunch of Mepps spinners, and checked my waders for leaks.

Rumors are flying about some Chinook salmon in Manistee Lake already, and if that is the case, the fish are in the Big Manistee River below Tippy Dam. There have been some boats doing the harbor patrol at Manistee and Ludington, and it won’t be long before the fish will move into the Pere Marquette River in good numbers.

The PM River below Baldwin is one of the best salmon bets in the state. It gets good Chinook salmon runs, some summer-run steelhead, and the fishing is as exciting as anything a river fisherman could want.

The upper portion of the PM has about six miles of flies-only water, but downstream below that are deep holes and gravel bars where salmon will spawn once the water temperature cools down.

The flies-only water is perfect for the wading or boating fisherman. It has deep holes and deep-water runs along the river bank, and those spots are where anglers can find good sport with big fish. I favor the dark-colored flies like the Spring Wiggler or any of the similar imitations that anglers use. Streamers can work well when fished deep in the holding water, and fished hard and fast past these resting fish.

Fly fishing is perhaps one of the most sporting ways to catch big fall-run salmon, and once a big fish gets into heavy current and used it to take the angler downstream, it’s always a question whether the fish or the fisherman will win.

Bobber fishing with a chunk of spawn and allowing it to drift downstream with the bait held just above bottom is a great way to fish. Experiment with depth by adjusting your bobber up or down the line until the bait just ticks bottom as it floats downstream.

Often, the bobber will stop if the fish takes it. Sometimes a king salmon will head upstream with the bobber submerged and that is always a sure sign of a fish. Reel hard, catch up to it, and set the hook hard.

Many times the bobber with dip down, pop back up, dip down again, and when the bobber goes completely under the surface, reel up any slack line and pound the hook home.

I’ve caught lots of salmon in early to mid-August, and if these cool rains continue to fall and it doesn’t get hot during the day, start looking for salmon. It can offer some great late summer action while fishing in shirt-sleeve weather.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/30 at 06:40 PM
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sweat Equity Is Needed

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Let’s face it, right up front. Putting in food plots isn’t something I do well. Being a gentleman farmer is new ground for me to plow even though I’ve been putting in food plots for eight years.

It’s a bunch of work, and work of a type that is foreign to me. I don’t own a tractor so I do something for someone who can do something for me. It’s a nice trade-off.

I’ve put in food plots both ways: spring and fall plantings. I prefer fall plantings although I believe the deer, birds and other critters get more vittles than from a spring planting. There is always a period of time after the snow melts before good forage is available.

So, two sides to the issue. My ground has been plowed, dragged, rocks removed from it (there is the back-breaking part of this job – picking them up), and it will be ready to plant in a week to 10 days. My planting in small plots is done simply by broadcasting the seed by hand.

Which seeds do I plant: Over eight years I’ve experimented with a number of different seeds, and often a combination of seeds. Frankly, I’ve found it difficult to grow things as well as I’d like.

My expectations often are exceeded by my disappointment. A few times I’ve been pleasantly surprised, although I’d admit that the deer come, munch on what I have to offer, and have been seen standing near one of my food plots as if biding their time until I plant and it starts to grow.

In years gone by, we’ve tried a mix of brassica, corn, Imperial Whitetail clover, purple top turnips, rape, rye, soy beans, winter peas, winter wheat, and others, I’ve found that planting one or two crops at the same time works fine, and gives the deer something that provides them with the nutrition they need to make it through the winter.

This year, in the three places I have food plots, I will be planting winter wheat mixed with rye in one location. Another spot will get a mix of winter wheat and white clover, and the third spot will feature a mix of winter wheat and canola. The latter crop I’ve never tried before but I’ve had people speak high of it as a good fit for a small food plot.

Will it work? Who knows until I try it.

What I try to do is plant things that my neighbors don’t plant. One neighbor often goes with corn and soy beans while another neighbor is going to plant a brassica mix along with a commercial blend of many different seeds.

I’ve found it somewhat difficult to get many of the clovers to grow but I’ve had a lot of weed competition in the past. Plowing up the soil three times before planting seems to greatly reduce weeds so I’ll try it and see whether it will come back in the spring. Meanwhile, the winter wheat will provide some food in the spring as everything else greens up.

The hardest part of putting in a food plot is over. I’ve moved a bunch of rocks, and it seems my ground grows rocks. It’s too bad the deer can’t eat them.

We’ve had plenty of rain so far this summer and the soil is damp in places. My hope always is to get the seeds barely covered with dirt, have a soft rain, and stand back and watch things start to grow.

I’ve often noted that I was born with two thumbs, and neither one of them is green. However, one important lesson I’ve learned over eight years is that the more you try things, the more often you’ll have some success.

It’s possible that planting crops is much like many other things. The more often you try, the greater the likelihood of it working to your satisfaction. And there is a great sense of satisfaction when your crop starts growing.

The sight of new growth in my food plots really tickles me. It’s then I know that I’m giving something back to nature.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/29 at 02:31 PM
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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Taste Of Personal Ethics

Outdoor ethics are like laws and rules that no one can enforce except each individual. They are those hard-to-explain things that keep sportsmen from breaking fish or game laws if we think someone may be watching.

That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it’s a gross oversimplification of a very complex issue. And, these issues baffle many sportsmen.

Outdoor ethics are those complex but unquestionable rules that sportsmen must follow whether others are watching or not. They are things we must endorse if fishing and hunting us to survive this century.

Want several examples? Consider these:

*I had six chances to arrow a big 10-point buck last October. He always showed up five minutes after shooting time ended. No one was within 500 yards of me, and no one would have known if I cheated.

No one, that is, except me. It would have ate at me like a malignant tumor until the taking of that big 10-point would have been reduced to a humiliating experience. It would have ruined my hunt as well as my perception of myself.

*One night last fall I climbed into my bow stand, tried to remove my wallet from my back pocket, and it wasn’t there. My bow license was home on the dresser in my bill-fold; I had a valid license but it wasn’t in my immediate possession so my bow was stowed away in its case.

The evening was spent watching deer through binoculars. It was a fun evening, even without a bow in my hands.

*A big problem with outdoor ethics is they are impossible to legislate and difficult for many people to understand. Only one person–you or me–can deal with these ethical situations whenever they arise.

*For instance: we shoot a rooster pheasant and it drifts across a fence on set wings and falls on posted land. Does shooting the bird give us the right to pursue it without landowner permission? Nope! The ethical sportsman would determine who owned the property, and make every attempt to gain permission to cross the property line.

What happens when it’s virtually impossible to track down the owner. No one wants to see the game go to waste. The next decision would be to contact the closest conservation officer. If he says you can’t cross the line, it still remains an ethical question. Cross without permission means breaking the law. Do you go or stay? Laws and ethics.

*We’re fishing flies-only water for trout and a stiff breeze puts down the hatch. Is it ethical to fish worms here? The answer, both ethically and legally, is no.

*Or, as I mentioned earlier about the 10-point buck, could I have cheated and shot? Sure, but I would to have had to deal with my emotions and my personal sense of right, wrong and/or my guilt.

*Mallards pinwheel down on a freshening breeze to spill into the bobbing decoys. It’s a perfect morning, and five minutes before legal shooting time, hunters in a nearby blind shoot and drop two hen mallards. Does that make it legal for others to shoot early?

The answer is an obvious “No” but some hunters would shoot any way, and be ticketed by a conservation officer.

Ethics prevent us from doing illegal or quasi-illegal acts. Hunters don’t shoot ducks on the water or grouse on the ground. We don’t snag fish, and we don’t keep undersized fish or fish over our limit.

Buying a fishing or hunting license is no guarantee of a full game bag, a trophy buck, a hefty creel or a brace of pheasants. The license only grants us an opportunity to fish or hunt during the legal season. It offers sportsmen nothing more and nothing less.

Ethical behavior is a topic as personal as the color of our morning toothbrush. It also serves as the bare-bones foundation on which our sports are built.

We are judged by our conduct, and those who wink at fish or game law violations or encourage any breach of ethical conduct, do themselves and others a great disservice.

If we can’t fish or hunt ethically, and within the confines of the laws that pertain to these pastimes, we should not be considered sportsmen.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/28 at 03:13 PM
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Monday, July 27, 2009

My Old-Fashioned Sense Of Justice

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It was something of an insult. I’m sure the reader didn’t mean it the way he said it, but it came across as a personal insult.

A reader told me that I have an archaic sense of protecting our fish and game from poachers. He chided me for being so concerned about the welfare of our poached birds, fish, fur and game.

He said I should let the DNR worry about it. They are trained to do the job, and if they can’t catch the poachers, too bad. I wondered whether he had ever picked up the phone and dialed the RAP Hotline phone number (800-292-7800) to report a poaching incident in progress.

I’m sorry but I don’t feel the same way he does. Poachers are basically opportunistic people, and break the law whenever they think they can get away with it. That line of thinking is dead wrong.

Years ago I did a newspaper story about a joker who was proud of being arrested more times than anyone else in the state for fish and game law violations. He boasted that he’d been arrested on one or more charges more than 50 times.

The guy is a bit younger than me, and I once figured up that he’d spent a few years in the hoosegow. Man, everyone wants to be known for something in their life, but being the state’s most arrested poacher?

Is that something to be proud of? I think not. One might think he has fish eggs for brains after having speared as many steelhead as he did during a long and largely unproductive poaching career.

A few weeks ago I wrote about anglers and hunters who really don’t care about the fish and game. It’s becoming even more prevalent by the day. Apathy is alive and well in the sense that poachers are seldom apprehended even though their family and neighbors know they are potting deer out of season.

Does this make them feel proud? It apparently must, because for them, outwitting the conservation officer is a big game they love to play. If they get caught, they pay their fine, and go right back to breaking fish and game laws again.

Apathy is running rampant as people shake their head and mutter: “Old Uncle Pete got himself another deer last night. Oh well!”

It makes one wonder why they don’t turn Uncle Pete in. Ten or more days in the slam might wake him up, but even that is doubtful. For most poachers, it is a game of beating the local game warden at their game. Trespass is a major problem throughout the state, and most poachers trespass on a regular basis.

Some poachers are ingenious in their willingness to test the game warden’s skills. They go out of their way to concoct ways to mislead the officer so they can operate in impunity.

Sooner or later, their worst nightmare comes true. The conservation officer steps out from behind a tree, and catches them red-handed with a freshly killed deer that was taken out of season or after dark.

Those who catch and keep more than their limit of fish are just as guilty as deer poachers. So too for those who put out 10 tip-ups during the winter, and when caught, shrug their shoulders, pay their fine and do something else that breaks our fish and game laws.

People dither, complain a bit, and soon everything blows over and they go back to the meat market in the woods. Family members, who could call and ask to remain anonymous, sit on their hands and wonder why nothing ever gets done. The answer is they are afraid to take that first step by making a phone call to the authorities.

Sad but true, there seems to be little improvement in the number of people arrested for breaking our wildlife laws. Conservation officers are spread too thin, and in some counties, there is only one fish cop to cover too much ground. If he is patrolling the north end of the county, and things are happening at the south end, the chance of the violators being caught are very small.

Our sense of protecting our fish and game tells me that this is a matter of education. We must start with the school children, and teach them that what Uncle Pete does to make his weekly beer money is a crime against everyone else in the state.

Children must learn that shooting game out of season, setting a web (small gill net) across a spawning stream, jacklighting a deer at night, and all the other things that poachers do, is wrong.

In days of old, when knights were bold, poaching of the King’s fish and deer in England, was a risky proposition that some poachers gladly accepted.

In some parts of Africa today, poachers are summarily dealt with. The law officers who try to protect the elephants and rhinos are both judge and jury, and the sentence is delivered immediately. A hail of bullets and a sudden death is what happens to many African poachers. Most don’t have the guts to do that again.

A snide and very impersonal remark? I don’t think so. Poaching is big business, and educating long-time fish and game thieves is a battle we seldom win. Caught, they are fined and may possibly serve a short prison sentence, and then return to poaching again.

Where is the justice in that? There isn’t any.

Of course, in this country, using some of Africa’s short and swift punishment would be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Poachers think little of our rights, but we must consider theirs when they are caught. A flaw exists in this argument.

Shooting poachers may be too harsh, but locking them up for a longer period of time and handing out much higher fines and restitution fees might make a difference.

It’s my thought that we must deal with this problem in a different way, and teaching our children that poaching is wrong, is just the first step. If the kids start ragging on the old man whenever he takes game out of season, perhaps knowing that the kids are watching would do the trick.

It’s certainly a good place to start.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/27 at 06:08 PM
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Love Affair With Smallmouth Bass

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Whenever a smallmouth bass smashes my lure, it renews an old belief that this game fish is a back-alley scrapper.

Here is a barroom brawler, and if this fish was human, you wouldn’t want to meet it alone on a darkened street when it’s in a bad mood.

I’ve seen my share of brutes on the beach, in bars, and swaggering down the street. They exude a massive level of testosterone, and that’s the feeling I get whenever I do battle with a sizable smallmouth bass.

An angler enters the fishing arena with this game fish knowing one thing: the smallie will try his best to ring your bell.

They expect you to pack a lunch because they plan on giving you a hardnosed scrap that lets an angler know that here is a fish willing to mix it up, and if you’re not careful, he’ll eat your lunch as well.

A day on Green Lake several years ago was a good example. A lure was fished along the edge of the steep dropoof where the Little Betsie River flows out of Duck Lake and into the north end of Green Lake. Bass and trout often gather off this dropoff in the spring.

This five-pound smallmouth bass had about as much class as one of our modern-day wrestlers. He swam into the picture, hammered the lure, and bolted into the air once he felt the hook. His tail kissed the water, and then it bounced into the air and tail-walked across the surface. Class, sheer class.

He dove, swam under the boat, and jumped on the other side, and if fish had very many brains, he could have been accused of trying to foul my line in the motor. He was steered clear, and we drifted into deep water and still the fish raged on.

Steady rod pressure eventually took its toll, and the fish, sapped of strength, came reluctantly to the boat with blood-red eyes staring at me. My thumb went into his mouth, my fingers curled under his chin, and I lifted the fish into the air for a closer look while the lure was wiggled loose.

I admired the fish, and received a baleful stare in return, and it was eased back into the water. This bass gave me a tail-salute, and splashed water in my face before boring toward bottom and away from the boat.

There are many things to like about smallmouth bass. I used to spend after-dark hours casting River Runts and other wiggling plugs near dropoffs, over submerged slabdocks, and smallies seemed to love feeding after the sun went down. It was great fun hooking them in the darkness, and not knowing exactly what you were hooked up with until it began jumping.

It didn’t take me long to realize that smallmouth bass feed avidly during the day. Find the right spot, and fish it properly with the right lure, and smallies seemed eager to please.

They are a noble fish, and willing to stand toe-to-toe with a daylight angler, and the joy of this is being able to see every jump they make in an effort to get away.

It’s been my great good fortune to fish for and catch smallmouth bass all around the country. Some of the Shield lakes in Ontario, besides producing muskies, also produce some great smallies and most are of good size.

I’ve fished the upper Mississippi River 75 miles north of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, and have found those river fish as eager to please as those found in lakes along the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota.

Many dandy smallmouth bass have been caught from Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair, and the Detroit River. Countless smallies have slammed my lures in the Grand River below Lansing, and in the Tittabawassee River below Midland. I’ve caught some in the Kalamazoo and St. Joseph rivers, and Grand Traverse Bay is a good bet right about now. An overlooked spot is Little Bay de Noc off the Stonington Peninsula.

Lake Erie has a wonderful smallmouth fishery around the Bass Islands, and I’ve caught some great bass in the St. Lawrence River while muskie fishing. I’ve seen some smallies smack a 9-inch muskie lure. That is a fish with an appetite and an attitude.

Fish like that have juice flowing through their body that many other game fish seem to lack. It makes them fearless, and they are willing to take on all comers.

Tired of trolling for salmon, and long to fish with a rod and reel in your hands all the time, then grab one with six-pound line, and some diving lures, and give bronzebacks a try. You won’t be disappointed. Smallies bring the fight to you, and that makes them a wonderful game fish.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/26 at 04:34 PM
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Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Come-Uppance In The Quail Fields

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Once upon a time, a long piece ago, I had a problem. A big-head problem.

Somebody told me I was a good wing shot and I believed them. It went to my head, and for a few years, back in the 1960s when pheasants were common in southern Michigan, and southern states--especially Alabama, Georgia and parts of Mississippi and South Carolina--seemed overrun with quail birds. Opening day of the pheasant season back home, and a few years hunting the burned-over piney woods and pea fields of the south, made me something of a bore.

Mind you, in those days, my vision was keen, my hand-eye coordination was sharp and my reflexes quick, and I was able to shoot upland birds with the best of them. My problem was I knew it, and if there’s anything I can’t stand now, is someone who brags on themself. Back then, if you didn’t believe I could shoot a shotgun, just ask me and sit back for a lengthy one-sided chat about my shooting prowess.

The pheasant numbers in those days were astounding. A two-rooster limit was easy, and I always killed my two birds right after the 10 a.m. opening. No problem, not sweat, two shots was all it took.

I did well on grouse and woodcock as well although these little scamps were a bit tougher to hit than a long-tailed cackling rooster, but I took my shots as they came, and more often than not the birds would drop as the the shotgun barked once or twice. I lived a life of praise for my German shorthair and his ability to sniff out any birds in the area and then pin them down with a soft-footed, sure-as-death-and-taxes point, and he never bumped a bird.

The birds held tight, as if they were tied to the ground, and the shots were close and fairly open. Life was good, and I began believing I was a fair hand with a shotgun.

I went, on invitation, to a massive Georgia plantation to hunt them little-bitty quail buhds, as many of my southern friends call them. These “buhds? were bobwhite quail, and they seem as plentiful as our ringnecks back home. I got in fairly late, had a drink or two with my host, and explained that I was a pretty good shot when shooting over steady-to-wing-and-shot dogs.

He nodded sagely at some at my less than bashful praise of my shooting ability. He said he had a perfect hunting partner for me but I’d have to reign in my enthusiasm a bit.

“You’ll be huntin’ tomorrow with Ol’ Billy,” he told me. “He’s gettin’ up in years, and he’s lost a step or two. Hopefully he won’t slow you down too much. He’ll be bringin’ his lame pointer.”

I shook and howdied with Ol’ Billy the next morning at breakfast. He was so typical of many rawboned men of the land. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he talked, and his hunting attire was a pair of ratty bib overalls, a light flannel shirt, and a pair of old boots that should have been replaced years before. He eyed me up and down, taking my measure as I took his, and he proved to be a man of few words.

“Ready?”

“Yep!”

We loaded his gimpy old pointer in the bed of his pickup, stowed the unloaded and cased shotguns behind the front seat, and we headed off to hunt.

He got out, stretched his back a bit, muttering something that sounded like “lumbago,” and waved his hand at the limping old dog, and he moved off in front of us. “You take the first shot,” he said, softly. “A covey of buhds always hold over in yonder corner of the pea field. Me, I’d druther hunt the singles and don’t bother shootin’ the covey rise. Is that OK with you?”

It was, and soon the pointer had some birds pinned. He walked in ahead of the dog, flushed the quail, and everything seemed to change about him and his dog after that initial flush. The dog, still a bit stiff in the slats and unsteady on his feet, locked up on the closest bird.

“Take him,” Ol’ Bill said, but I declined, saying that where I come from the dog owner always took the first shot. He nodded, loosed a thick stream of tobacco juice at a grasshopper, and walked in. The quail punched into the air, and the man shot fast and accurately, downing the bird.

We went after the next bird, and he said “I’ll back you up.” The bird from from a thicket next to a fence row and I shot too quickly. “Boom” came Ol’ Bill’s shot, and the bird dropped. We walked over, he pocketed the dead bird, and he patted the lame dog on the head, and we went over to where the dog was half-leaning against a tree on point. “Take him,” he said,"I’ll back you up on this bird.”

Blim-blam came two shots as the bird rocketed out from underfoot, and both were missed. Bill didn’t miss with his one shot. The pointer made as good a retrieve as was probably possible, and stood there on wobbly legs waiting for his master to send him off in search of another bird.

“Dog’s a bit shaky now,” Ol’ Billy said. “Let’s take us a rest for a bit, and let the dog’s back legs and hips rest for a bit. I can only hunt him a couple of hours, and one day I’ll have to carry him out of the field.”

We sat for 15 minutes before Ol’ Billy offered up that quail were pretty small targets when compared to those big long-tailed rooster pheasants that seemed to lumber into the air at a slower pace. I agreed that this was a fact, and I knew and he knew that we were discussing my bragging and poor shooting.

“Never pays to brag too hard on a man’s dog or his shooting ability,” he said, putting a fine point on the topic. “That there pointer don’t look like much, but other than my truck, a shotgun cabin and this here 20-gauge sibe-by-side, I got much. That dog helps me when it comes time to shoot because his nose is always pointing at the bird. I know where to look, and he finishes his end of business with a broken-down retrieve. It an’t purty but it works.”

We chatted another 15 minutes, and never again touched on the topic of my bragging and shooting. I learned something else that day: Never bet against an old-timer dressed in bib overalls and carries a beat-up side-by-side shotgun. That gent can probably shoot more game with two shots that most can with three from an autoloader or pump shotgun.

More than 40 years have passed since that hunt, and I wish I had a photo of that old man and his broke-down pointer. In a handful of words, he set me straight without offending my sensitivities, and in doing so, taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. Never brag too hard on yourself because there are some people out there, who can, with quiet efficiency, show you how that game can be played.

It’s not much fun being on the back end of that joke. 

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/25 at 06:12 PM
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Friday, July 24, 2009

Any Book Or Magazine Collectors Out There?

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A weird thought crosses my mind on occasion. I wonder if there are any fishing or hunting book collectors or outdoor magazine collectors out there.

If so, for God’s sake, raise your hand. The worse thing about being a writer is it’s a very lonely job. It’s just me and my computer, and writing to a mostly silent audience. Oh sure, on occasion, people will write with their thought on a topic I’ve covered, but folks, this is the communications business I’m in and that you share by reading what I write.

That means I write the stuff, and when everything works right, the readers responds. The idea is that they tell me what they think. In a perfect world, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. As we all know, especially here in Michigan, very little is perfect at this point of time. I hope my daily written commentaries will at least make some folks feel better for a few minutes about the lack of jobs and the low pay.

To help me pay for putting up a daily column for almost six consecutive years, it’s necessary to raise some money to help pay bills. Contrary to popular thought, outdoor writers are not and never have been paid big money. We pay our own benefits and insurances, and are taking our financial lumps just like you folks. Mine has always been a free website with no charge to my faithful readers.

I keep this dog-and-pony show going by the occasional sale of fishing and hunting books and old outdoor magazines. My question for this evening is, whether you collect fishing and hunting books or outdoor magazines? It can be a simple “yes” or “no.” If you wish to volunteer additional information about any particular books you might be looking for, that would be great. Conversations must start somewhere. I’ve giving each a written invitation to respond.

If you want to discuss outdoor books, that’s even better. It would be great if you want to share with me what your true interests are. I don’t sell my list of who contacts me. I dislike getting junk mail probably worse that you do because the junk stuff often numbers over 100 items daily that I must discard.

I’m interested in the communication part of this. I want to hear from you, and want to reply to your comments and thoughts. Communicating means we both must travel a two-way street of give and receive. It doesn’t always mean you must just read something that I write and forget it. Tell me how you feel about things.

I don’t need an ego stroke, so don’t bother. I’ve been in this business of outdoor writing since 1967. That is a long time, 42 years worth, spent writing and selling to every one of the major outdoor magazines and most of the minor ones as well. No brag, just fact, but I’ve sold every story I’ve ever written. Granted, with some stories it may have taken 50 tries to get the thing sold, but I’ve done it.

I’ve written 24 books, written well over 14,000 blogs and more than 10,000 newspaper columns and illustrated features for The Detroit News, back in the days when newspaper knew what they were and weren’t trying to be something they aren’t. I don’t need pats on the back for all of my award-winning pieces, and I don’t need someone pounding my back in congratulation when something turns out to be great.

The same “silent” readership that sits on their hands rather than putting them to a keyboard, and without some input from my readers is one sign of apathy. I write what I please. I’m tickled if you like it. Outdoor copy is supposed to do two things: entertain and inform. I want you to read some of my things and hope they make you happy or sad. I want you to read my stuff, and think “I’ve had that same experience.” I want my readers happy.

A weblog is much the same as a magazine or newspaper column. I can write about what I feel, see, do, etc., in the outdoors. I try not to get too bogged down in natural resources issues, but none-the-less, I write such columns when there is such a need. Hints from readers are always welcome, but send your hate mail somewhere else. I got my share of it from the newspaper readers who would argue about anything, and call me names in the process. I just turned 70 two days ago, and haven’t got time for crabby people.

I had a letter from a guy last night that wants to be an outdoor writer, and he asked for some advice. I gave it to him, free of charge, knowing if he was going to make it in this business as I have, he’s going to have to work harder than he’s ever worked before. This outdoor writing business is a buyer’s market, and those magazines that are going to make it will continue to ride the backs of the outdoor writers to keep them going at a very low rate of pay.

Am I crabby tonight? Not in the least. I just want to hear from people. Tell me what your outdoor book interests are. Advise me if you have any fishing or hunting books or old outdoor magazines printed before the 1950s. Tell me what you like to read, what you’re not interested in, and be broad minded enough to realize that I’m catering to a widespread group of people with different tastes.

Bass fishermen like to read about bass fishing, steelhead fishermen like to read about catching these silvery bullets, and deer hunters can’t seem to get enough stuff about hunting whitetails. I do all these types of fishing and hunting, and write about all of them, but must present a broad mix of fishing and hunting stories so everyone can get their share of interesting topics. That said, c’mon, it won’t hurt. Set down to the computer and tap out a short or long message.

Talk to me. Tell me what I can do to make this award-winning website even better. You have to play some part in the direction this website is going to travel, and sending me notes is the first step.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/24 at 02:37 PM
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

A New Decade Has Dawned

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A new day dawned in my life yesterday. I turned 70 years old.

It was, as far as I could tell, the only change there was. Some of the same old aches and pains of a misspent youth still exist. Check my face in the mirror, and you’ll see my face is as ugly as ever. The beard and hair is still white or very gray, and other than about 20 unwanted pounds I’d like to give to someone, I can see no other changes.

So what’s the big deal about turning 70? So far, none that I can see.

I can still fish and hunt, and one major problem with fishing comes when wading streams. My depth perception is terrible but it has been for several years. Each year, either in the spring or fall, I put on a one-man demonstration on how how to wade. I lose track of the bottom depth, stumble or stub my toe, and do a pratfall or a face-first splash into the river.

It’s always good for a few yucks from the bystander. There goes ol’ Richey again, stumbling over his feet. Face-first this time. Yuck. Yuck.

I crawl to my feet, take a deep bow in acknowledgment of them noticing the precision of my movements. No sense getting mad over something over which I have no control. Give the crowd a laugh. They probably need it more than I do.

Other than that, yesterday didn’t feel one bit different than if I was turning 69, and starting backwards. The fact is this fear of aging is a matter of mind over matter.

People who fear getting older begin to age quicker, I feel, than those of us who really don’t give a rip.

I can’t walk or run as fast as I once could. I can still climb the same mountains I scaled at the ages of 50 and 60. It just takes a bit longer for me to get there. Conquering mountains or steep hills is a matter of pacing myself. If you get tired, stop and take a breather. I’ve had numerous mountain guides want to race this gray-haired old goat of an outdoor writer to the summit. I refuse to play that silly game with some 25-year-old kid.

Can I shoot a bow or rifle as good as I once could? Probably not, but I haven’t lost much in that category. A few years ago I shot a very nice mule deer along the north rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and it was a long shot across a side canyon. I found a scrubby little tree, sat down. adjusted my hold on the tree so my rifle laid across my wrist in stable fashion, and put that buck on the ground. A one-shot kill.

That’s no brag, just fact. One might wonder just how far it was. It was between 350 and 400 yards at a 10 percent downward angle. Deep shadows had purpled the top of the canyon calls and the shadows were much darker at the bottom. I knew my Winchester pre-1964 Model 70 in .264 Winchester Magnum, and where to hold on that heavy-antlered buck.

The crosshairs settled in on the proper spot, and a breath was eased in, let out, and as the reticle settled in, a gentle squeeze of the trigger sent the custom-loaded 140-grain bullet on its way. It seemed to take five seconds for the bullet to impact on the mulie, and for the sound to bounce back to me. There was no need to hear the bullet strike because I was watching through my Swarovski scope, and saw the deer go down. The guide was impressed.

Would being younger have made me a better shot? How does one improve on perfection? Don’t get me wrong: I’ve made my share of memorable misses but there were extenuating circumstances, such as shooting into the sun when it was impossible to achieve a better angle from which to shoot. In such cases, I’d much rather miss than wound and lose an animal.

So, the old dude can still shoot and can remain on his feet most of the time while wading. What, at the age of 70, no longer can be done. My back hurts after three or four hours on the seat of a small boat where I can’t get up and stretch my back and legs. That problem isn’t new, and has been a major part of my life since 1970 when I broke my back during a fall in northern Ontario. So my back has been sore ever since. No major change there.

How about other aches and pains. Ah, my feet hurt some but the more I walk the better they feel. So it’s unreasonable to assume that this is a major problem.

All in all, my health seems good. I’m not a young monkey any more when climbing a tree, but them, I never was great at it. The bottom line is that I can do every I could do 10 years ago. Perhaps I’ve lost a step or two, but I don’t miss it ... if that has happened.

One thing that is different from 20 years ago is I’ve come to enjoy the outdoors even more than I once did. A beautiful sunrise or sunset still captures my imagination and fills me with awe. I still marvel at the northern lights, the gurgle of a little brook trout creek, or the more robust current found in deep spots on the Betsie River.

The joy of hooking and releasing a fish, or making a clean kill on a nice buck, is still a part of my life. Adrenaline is still as addictive as ever but I’ve learned to harness my reactions to the situation and the adrenaline coursing through my body. Being 70 doesn’t mean I’m washed up by any stretch of my imagination, and I look forward to many more years of writing about fishing and hunting.

Let’s hope the same thrills will be there when I turn 80. That would be something neat to experience, and let’s face it, the 42 years of my life spent as an outdoor writer has simply been one wonderful adventure after another. This, my friends, has been the best years of my life.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/23 at 04:10 PM
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Love A Rainy Day

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I love a rainy day because it gives me an opportunity to search through those old and dusty cardboard boxes filled with “junk,” as my understanding wife occasionally calls these hiding places for little bits of forgotten folk art. I can assure you, 99 percent of this stuff is not junk. A far better word would be a lost or forgotten treasure that suddenly surfaced again.

Very little of this stuff is valuable, but all of it is interesting. One thing that pulled my chain today for a half-hour was an old 1984 press release celebrating the 50th anniversary of the widely known Federal “Duck Stamp.” This stamp is required of all North American waterfowl hunters.

The first Federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp, as it was called in 1934, cost one dollar. It was drawn for the Federal government by Jay “Ding” Darling, the Des Moines Register’s editorial cartoonist, a man whose time had come and he was ready for it.

Darling led the campaign that convinced Congress to authorize an annual Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp, and his cartoons stuck a painful barb in the hides of greedy marsh and swamp drainers, fillers of duck nesting ponds, greedy politicians, and others who would destroy this natural resource.

Habitat loss, railed Darling, was a major problem, especially with wild ducks. Some of those early stamps, especially Darling’s first ever stamp, are worth thousands of dollars for one that has not been canceled by a hunter writing his name across the stamp front. According to old statistics 635,000 of these stamps were sold the first year, and those dollars went into preserving and purchasing waterfowl habitat.

As of 1984, famous waterfowl artist Maynard Reece had won the duck stamp contest five times—in 1948, 1951, 1959, 1969 and 1971. Twenty-three years ago more than 119 million federal duck stamps have been sold.

Waterfowl have been featured on these stamps every time, except for one. John Olin’s black Lab—King Buck—was featured on the 1959 federal duck stamp. Olin was the president of Winchester/Western for many years, and owned Nilo Farms. Nilo is Olin spelled backwards. That stamp of King Buck was a big hit with hunters.

It’s been said that winning the Federal Waterfowl Stamp contest can and will make the artist a millionaire. Not from the stamp sales, but from sale of other work. It boosts an artist into the upper echelon of waterfowl artists, and their future drawings sell well.

Proceeds from the sale of these “federal duck stamps” continue to help provide better and more waterfowl habitat, now and into the future. They are available from U.S. Post Offices across the country.

My twin brother George was the lure collector in the family. If I ever had anything of any value, George would trade me a book I wanted for a lure he wanted.

I found an old Super Duper lure today, rattling around in the bottom of a box, and can remember buying my first one in 1956 from Wanigas Rod Company in Saginaw. It was touted as being one of the best trout lures every made, and demand for these “clothes pin” lures was strong. They looked like a metal clothes pin, and their shape is apparently what provided the trout-catching action.

Rattling around in the bottom of another dusty old box was filled with old outdoor magazines was a 12 gauge brass shotgun shell. It was a rather nice find although there is little demand for them these days except as a collector’s item. I have two of these brass shotgun shells.

Talking of old outdoor magazines I found about 1,000 old timers ranging from the 1950s back to the early 1920s. I love the art work on those old covers, and there is a rather brisk trade among avid sportsmen for such magazine covers. Another of them are listed in Scoop’s Books, which can be accessed from my Home Page. Go ahead, take a peak at fishing and hunting history.

Sadly many of the old covers are cut off the magazine, and the cover is matted and framed for use as a wall decoration at fishing and hunting lodges. Many lure collectors buy these old mags to search for ads for specific lures. Some lures were in and out of business in less than a year, and a magazine advertisement is collectible in its own right. Some of the color covers also have lures visible in the drawings, and such covers are a delight to the lure collectors.

I’ve found several knives stuck in stumps from when a hunter apparently shot a buck, cleaned out the deer after cleaning his handles, and struggled off dragging the deer. Often, the knife was left behind in all the excitement of a successful hunt.

One of those knives was found today in another box. It had once been a pretty knife, but the test of time spent out in the elements had dulled and rusted the blade and turned it into an object best thrown out with the trash. But, I kept this blade for what it had been, not for what it was today. I know what it’s like to lose a good hunting knife, and I hope anyone who has found one or two of mine did so before the were ruined. It’s my hope they care for my knives as I care for those I find.

Stuff in a box may be junk to one person but it may be a treasure to a pack rat like me. And that is especially true on a rainy day.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/22 at 09:04 PM
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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mixing Up The New & The Old

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In the old days (before graphs and other sonar rigs) we used two- to six-ounce sinkers, heavy mono and tied the line to a capped Clorox bottle. A bottle would be at one end of our trolling run, and the other would be at the opposite end.

That left a lot of bottom structure that might have several humps and bumps in it, along with a few indentations, a weed bed or two, some submerged points and the result was we had many chances of getting hung up on bottom.

Then came dumb-bell shaped markers with a heavy weight. Toss it out at one end of the trolling pass and another at the opposite end, and the results were much the same as with the one-gallon jugs. We learned, and used markers every 50 yards, and it was an improvement because they were brightly colored and more easily seen.

Next came sonar units, liquid crystal and paper graphs, and fishing became a little bit easier. Electric bow-mounted trolling motors allowed us to stay pinned to the hotspot, and we could work it until the fish hit, stopped biting or took off.

All the modern electronics in the world do not make fish bite. We can have a paper graph (not many in use these days but I loved mine), and a depth sounder. We can have electric downriggers to put our lures at the depth our graph tells us the fish are holding, and we can check the surface and deep-water temperatures, and even a marine radio to check with our buddies to determine how deep, which lure and what color to use.

Has these improvement helped? Of course, but they aren’t a cure-all of fishing ills. They don’t automatically hit a nd stay hooked.

But for the most part, all the fancy stuff still doesn’t do diddly. We must still determine what the fish are hitting, and how best to present the bait or lure to that depth to elicit a possible strike. We can take it to the fish, but there must be something present to make the fish slam into the bait or lure.

The bottom line is that the best electronics can help anglers but the proper use of bait or lures is what causes fish to strike. Planer boards are used for muskies, salmon, trout and walleyes, to name a few, and anyone who has been on a walleye charter knows that there are times when all lures of the same model, and often of the same color combination, but two or three out of a spread will consistently produce a decent catch of fish.

All we do with the others is wash the dust off them by trolling them through the water. Hold identical lures with the same paint color over the side, and both lures will produce an identical action.

So why, pray tell, will one catch fish and the other one never gets a bump? Why can we switch rods and positions, and the same lure continues to produce while the other does not?

I get curious about some of the oddest things. Look back, those of you in your sixties, and remember how we used an anchor or hond-held marked rope with a five-pound lead weight to determine the bottom contour. We would triangulate these positions with three shoreline locations, and when done fishing that spot, we’d go back to retrieve our markers.

Now, we can punch in the way points on a GPS, and be on target every minute of the day. Has electronics taken all the fun out of fishing?

No, I don’t think so. Regardless of how many electronic goodies we trick out our boat with, and how often we use them, they are still incapable of making fish bite.

Granted, we can locate a school of perch with some type of sonar unit, ease a bow and stern anchor to bottom. We bait up with long-shank hooks directly over the fish and use wigglers, minnows or soft-shell crabs. We ease our baits to bottom, keep the line tight, and if the perch are in a mood to bite, they will. If they choose not to hit, nothing we can do will make them pull our string.

We can use a sonar unit on the Detroit River to find rocky humps and the big walleyes that hover nearby in mid-April. We can vertical jig minnow-tipped jigs and stay directly over those fish, and pound the baited jig into bottom, but it still doesn’t always make them strike.

It’s said that presentation is everything in fishing. That is close to being true, but without the human element: the lift-drop of the jig; the proper retrieve; the certain something that muskie fishermen put on the jerkbait to make it dance—all of these things are much more important than the electronics we use.

The first magazine article I sold was to Sports Afield in 1967. It paid the princely sum of $400, and I used that money to buy one of Lowrance Electronic’s “little green boxes.”

Did I catch more fish? Sure did, but I was fishing more and learning how to tell the difference between fish near bottom and bottom. It was fun, but in the long run, had I fished salmon at the proper depth (near the surface that first year in 1967) I still would have caught fish. No electronics were needed.

The human touch and the ability to think things out is what helps us catch fish. Our electronics aid in certain ways, but in most types of fishing, the human element is more important when it comes time to catch fish.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/21 at 04:08 PM
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Monday, July 20, 2009

How Lead Shot Is Made

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Quick now. Answer this question: how is lead shot for shotgun shells made?

A few years ago I toured the Winchester shot tower facility to see how lead shot is made. Terry Kessmann, manager of the shot tower, gave me a guided tour. I could look but could not photograph the process.

“Olin’s shot tower is seven stories high, and its function is to transfer pig lead ingots into lead shot for shotgun shells,” he said. “Ingots weigh 70-100 pounds. The process of forming shot from No. 12 (smallest) to 000 buckshot (the biggest) is done by pouring molten lead through a screen from a great height. This technique has been used by Olin since 1922.”

He said the mechanics of making shot of various sizes is quite simple until a hunter considers that Winchester uses 75,000 pounds of lead daily. A crucible capable of heating 15,000 pounds of lead at once is used as workers manually feed lead ingots into the crucible.

“Three types of lead are used,” Kessmann said. “Six percent, four percent antimonial lead and soft lead,” he said. “The lead is heated to 400 degrees before it is poured into the shot pans. The proper shot pan size determines the bulk of the shot to be made.

“A No. 6 pan produces mostly No. 6 shot. The molten lead runs through small holes in the shot pan in teardrop form. It begins to form into a round pellet after falling a short distance. The lead shot falls about 200 feet, and solidifies before it hits the well of water.”

He said the lead shot is then elevated from the water well to a water box on the second floor by means of chain-driven buckets. The shot enters the water box where water is drained away and graphite is added. The shot then goes through a steam dryer into a storage tank, and then to a dry elevator that delivers it to a shot distributor on the fourth floor.

“Our sorting table rejects imperfect shot, and they are fed by gravity to a scrap tank on the first floor or returned to the seventh floor to be melted again,” Kessman said. “Imperfect shot like doubles, oblong shot or shot of improper size goes through the melting process again. Perfect shot rolls over the sorting tables, and is gravity fed to shot sizing screens or sizing tables on the second floor. Lead shot that passes this inspection is delivered to the sack sewer as a finished product.”

He said all shot is inspected by the second floor shot group leader and sack sewer. This insures that bagged shot meets Winchester’s criteria.

The entire process, from meltdown to sewed bags, takes 10 minutes and fewer than 10 workers are used. Winchester’s shot making processes and the packaging of component shot in various sizes is governed by customer requirements.

Each year when shotgun shell reloaders buy bags of Winchester lead shot to reload shotgun shells for hunting, skeet, sporting clays or trap shooting, they will know how it was made. It’s a fascinating process, and this basic method of making lead shot has changed very little over centuries.

It’s a bit of shotgun shell trivia that few people know about and fewer people have seen.  There are many little secrets to the process that I wasn’t told, but hopefully some day, I can return and watch shot be made again.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/20 at 05:00 PM
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Natural Resources Thieves

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A guy e-mailed me, and was looking for a scarce book. He wanted to buy a copy for sale, and I didn’t know where to find one for him. We traded e-mail three times, just chit-chatting, and he proceeded to tell me about a big buck he shot last year.

This guy has bought a couple of books from me over the years, and is as honest as the day is long in his daily business life, and wouldn’t think of cheating a friend. If he came to my house, and a $20 bill had fallen on the floor, he would pick it up and hand it to me.

He could have not said anything, put the twenty in his pocket, and no one would have been the wiser. But he’s not that kind of guy.

Except, he apparently cheats when hunting. If he has a good buck pinned down, and the animal walks past him 10 minutes after legal shooting time ends, he would still take the shot.

That’s exactly what happened last year. He apparently heard a buck grunt nearby, and he kept waiting for the animal to show up. The buck finally made his move, he said, 20 minutes after legal shooting time had ended.

“The buck was following an estrus doe,” he said. “She led him all over the woodlot I was hunting, and soon the doe came past my stand and I knew the buck was nearby because I could still hear his tending grunt. He was close.”

The doe moved on, and he said the buck stopped in the same spot. It stood there, and all he could see was its bone-white antlers. He came to full draw, aimed at where he thought the chest was, and let fly with an arrow.

The buck ran off, and he quickly lowered his bow to the ground, and climbed down. He left his bow at the tree, and took up the blood trail. The buck covered 200 yards before it died. It was a gorgeous 10-point, and he asked if I had killed a 10-point that year.

“No,” I said, the anger audible in my voice, “I did shoot a very nice 9-point and a beautiful 8-point two years ago, but then, I don’t break the law and didn’t shoot my bucks after legal shooting time had ended.

“You are an honest man in many other ways but you’ll cheat by shooting deer after dark. If someone called you a thief, you’d get madder than hell.” I told him/ “But a game thief is really what you are. I’m very disappointed in you, and wish you wouldn’t have told me that story.”

He didn’t realize that shooting game after dark is stealing ... from every citizen in this state, and from the state of Michigan. Will you or I or the state miss that 10-pointer? Most likely not.

But if we compound that 10-point by all the other opportunistic honest hunters who cheat by breaking our fish or game laws, how many good breeding bucks have we lost? And how many, pray tell, small bucks will do the breeding. Small bucks and small does beget small fawns which often do not have the genetics to grow large antlers.

He was angry and hurt by my comments, and mentioned he would never buy another book from me and I told him that was fine because I didn’t plan to sell him any and didn’t need his business. The truth of the matter is that I’m sure that others who have bought a fishing or hunting book from me over the years may have been guilty of a similar game-law violation.

I suspect that a few people who read this daily weblog may have broken a fish or game law on purpose at one time or another. They too rate my lack of trust.

The difference is that most people don’t say anything about their fish and wildlife crimes to me. My stance for many years has been the same when it comes to fish or game-law violations. I call the conservation officer or some other law enforcement officer if there is any evidence of wrongdoing. This guy is from out of state, and except for his story, I couldn’t prove a thing.

Do I enjoy registering complaints? Absolutely not, but some time ago I wrote about fishing and hunting apathy. That apathy runs rampant with opportunistic poachers when an opportunity presents itself. No one wants to rat out Uncle Harry for the late-summer doe hanging in the barn, and buddies, friends, neighbors and relatives refuse to turn in old Bob who picks up some extra beer money by shooting and selling deer to out-of-the-area hunters.

No one wants to gripe too much about ol’ Kenny, one of the best walleye anglers on the St. Clair River, who catches a ton or more of big spawning walleyes in April or May and sells them to restaurants for big money. He’s a bit hard up, you know, and needs the extra cash.

Well, Kenny can do the same thing as the rest of us do. He can get himself a better job or a second job, save some money, and become a legitimate, upstanding citizen rather than a thief who steals our natural resources.

E-mail me, and ask to buy a book but please don’t tell me about how you broke the law last year. I don’t want to hear that sad story one more time. I am less than sympathetic for those who get caught.

In fact, I always root for the conservation officer. Will that cost me a book sale now or in the future? I don’t know and don’t care but perhaps it will teach the poacher a lesson

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/19 at 05:24 PM
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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer: Bear Breeding Season

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Me and black bears have a long history. There have been a large number of close encounters with bruins over four decades, and some potentially dangerous confrontations took place. Some came during the summer breeding period but most of my bear encounters have taken place during the fall hunting season.

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

My hunts began in the late 1960s. No permit applications were needed back in those days. A hunter simply bought a bear license and went hunting.

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

The animal went down on its back in the tall grass, and as I came running through, my right foot came down two inches from its open mouth as it let out a death bawl. My next step, I swear, covered 20 feet. That animal scared me silly under those circumstances. Circling back, the bear was approached from behind, but it was dead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Had either cub squalled once we would have had an irate sow black bear all over us. The cubs behaved themselves, as did we, and they soon wandered away to look for something else to do.

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

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

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

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

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/18 at 05:54 PM
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Friday, July 17, 2009

The Hunt Is What It’s All About

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Dawn was blushing the eastern sky with a blaze of fiery color when a drake and hen mallard slanted down over the treetops, lost altitude in a banking left turn and settled to the river in front of me.

One day soon, I thought last year while fishing a dry fly on the AuSable River, we may meet again during hunting season. Those thoughts carried me back to past hunts where I asked myself, once again, why I hunt.

It’s a question hunters quiz themselves about, but few can answer for others because hunting means different things to different people.

Some hunt to enjoy the whisper of duck wings ghosting over a marsh before dawn; others like the damp, musty smell of the autumn woods; and others seek the challenge of spotting and stalking wild game.

The challenge of pitting knowledge and skill against a wild animal is part of the reason, but other factors enter into the picture. For many it means the chance to enjoy eating wild game at every meal.

Perhaps the reason is knowing that the hunter’s role in conservation has always been one of keeping game bird and animal populations in line with food supplies and habitat requirements, and protecting them when it is required.

Michigan’s hunting seasons will soon begin in September and October, and they offer millions of licensed sportsmen the freedom to work the woods and fields, lawfully carry a firearm or bow and arrow, and peaceably follow a pastime as old as man himself.

Hunting means many things to me, as it does to almost anyone that shares my love of wild places and wild things. The out-of-doors has so much to offer, both to hunters and non-hunters.

Hunting has never contributed to the decline of any game animal or bird during modern times. Many times hunter license dollars and taxes on equipment have been used to increase game habitat, fund studies or offer protection to wild game during severe weather conditions.

An overpopulation of any wild game results in death by starvation, surely a less humane way to perish than by a hunter’s arrow or bullet.

But the actual killing of wild game is something I’ve never been comfortable with although I’ve taken my share of bear, caribou, deer, elk, grouse, moose, muskox, quail, pheasants, rabbits, sharptails, squirrels, waterfowl and woodcock.

The tinge of remorse I feel doesn’t mean I am against hunting or ashamed of what I do, but it means I hold my hunted animals and birds in deep respect. My belief is that hunting plays a defining role in wildlife conservation. Man cannot be a sophisticated hunter without having respect and love for the wild game we hunt.

Hunting is a feeling, something described by many as a deep inner experience. Man, as the ultimate predator, holds the power of life and death in his hands.

This power means that we must know our equipment, know what it can do, and be skilled enough to place a shot so the animal or bird is killed cleanly, without suffering. It also means that hunters must know and obey hunting laws and respect the rights and property of others.

A hunting license gives no one the right to a full game bag, or a two-buck limit. It grants sportsmen the privilege to hunt ... nothing more, nothing less.

I hunt because I need to hunt. It satisfies a need within me to go afield in pursuit of wild game and enjoy the wonders of nature.

It offers me the thrill of an exciting stalk through thin cover, the fleeting glimpse of a wide-antlered buck, the explosive sound of a ruffed grouse thundering from an alder run, or simply the chance to hunt and be out with nature.

The taking of game is secondary, ranking far below the mental and physical experiences of the hunt.

The hunt, and not the kill, is what hunting is all about. And it is enough for me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 07/17 at 09:55 AM
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