Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kentuckys on the Wire

It’s a hot, muggy August Friday night, just as I settle in the phone rang.
“What are you doing tomorrow?’
“Nothing why?”
“Want to go to Center Hill?”
“Ok, meet me at the house. We are going to the blind drawing at Old Hickory then head out.”
  This is my buddy Jimmy. He is a fishing and hunting machine and Center Hill Lake is his favorite, it’s full of good smallmouth which is what we usually try for. But August in Tennessee is not when daytime smallmouth fishing is best. But any day at the lake as they say.
   Center Hill, like every major lake in Tennessee except one, is a flood control lake, meaning it is man-made. It is also extremely deep with spots 100+ feet deep almost against the bank common. The bottom is mainly rock and rock ledges and a great place for bass of all flavors.
   I headed to his house the next morning with a couple of light spinning rods in hand since that is what he says to bring. No tackle box, no casting rods, just a couple of 6 ½ foot spinning rods loaded with 8 lb test. We get into the truck to go draw for duck blinds with a pleasant 90% humidity, clear skies, mid 90 degree heat without a speck of air moving. Since we had no boat I figure we will go back by the house to pick it up. Turns out, I was wrong.
   After the drawing heat waves are shimmering off the pavement I am wondering (1) why we are starting so late and (B) what in the world he is thinking when he says we aren’t going back for the boat. Center Hill is deep, I am pretty sure we aren’t going wading, he just tells me to wait and see. There are a number of good creeks in the area but we have never, in years of fishing, gone to one but I’m thinking this might be where we are headed. He says what we need is in the truck, that he is going to show me something new.
   It’s past midday, the heat is over 100 as we pull up to the dock where we normally launch the boat, get out and start to unload. Opening the back of the truck I see a large cooler, Jimmy opens it to reveal his secret. Small live crawfish. There had to be a couple of hundred crawling around in there. He transfers these to a minnow bucket, grabs a small plastic tackle box, a landing net and heads toward the walkway leading to the boat slips with me tagging along. We stop near the deep end of the slips, Jimmy opens his tiny box of goodies and removes a couple of #8 short shanked hooks. We tie these on as he explains what we are going to do.
   The Kentuckys (spotted bass) like to find shallower spots to hold during summer months where they feed on baitfish without working. They find local docks perfect for this. The one problem is the docks are in deep water with no bottom cover available to orient to. So the bass hold on the one constant, the steel cables running from the dock to barrels of concrete used as anchors. Schools of spots will stack up around these cables during the hottest part of the year. Jimmy had accidentally found this out one July 4th when he snuck away from a family picnic to fish. Now it’s a matter of finding the depth fish are holding so you can drop down a lively crawfish. While spots feed on baitfish not one of them will turn down crawfish, period.
   The rigging cannot be simpler, a single small hook with no sinker or if you must a tiny bb split shot added 12-15 inches up your line. A 1 ½ - 2 inch crawfish hooked in the last tail segment is dropped to swim freely to the lunch line. When it is at a depth you want to try don’t close the bail on the reel, instead, lay the line on the tip of your index finger to detect strikes. When you feel a light tap or two straighten your finger to allow the fish to run for a couple of feet then set the hook. Having 8 lb line helps when a fish weighing 5 lbs or more decides crawfish is a dandy snack. A net is a must in the tight confines of the boat slips. It might take some trial and error to find the depth but once established you can normally count on it for the rest of the trip.

  Another friend joined us as we set about locating the Kentuckys. After about 20 minutes of trying a few slips we caught the first fish 12 feet down. Once that was figured out we all started fishing that level and it was an eye opener. Jimmy caught three or four in minutes with one close to five pounds. Now everyone is catching fish, most of them keepers. Of all the bass we catch Kentuckys are the only ones we keep, they are great in a fish fry. We take a break to get drinks from the dock restaurant and get out of the heat for a few minutes.
   As we sit around a table, Jimmy tells me you can catch Kentuckys like this from after the spawn till mid September. When he found the fish were using the dock he caught close to 200 over that first weekend. He told about one slip where a tree had drifted in that in two days he caught 75. He went back several times that first year and developed this method of finding and catching Kentuckys. You will catch a few largemouth but we have never caught a good smallmouth. We headed back out for a few more then wrapped it up. When we left we had 3 limits totaling 15 fish that weighed 48 lbs. I was amazed. Simple rigging using live bait from a couple of tournament guys. We went home planning to come back in a few days.
   On our next trip we fished a different part of the slips but nailed them right out of the gate. First 9 casts produced 9 strikes, 8 fish landed totaling 24 lbs. Now the question was, will this translate to other lakes. The simple answer, yes.

   I fish another lake with a good population of Kentuckys, I went there to give this technique a shot. Since I didn’t have permission to fish from the dock I used my boat to probe the outer edges and find the cables holding it in place. Just like Center Hill the fish were holding on the cables and readily took crawfish. These fish are aggressive, possibly from the number of fish in the area, so getting them to hit is just a matter of depth. The lake I fish is very different in depth but still contains a lot of rocky areas. Like Center Hill, this is a warm water technique for the post spawn period, once the water starts to cool the fish move out.
   I know some purists are turning back flips about using live bait but I am not an elitist in any form, just a fisherman. I use what works for the conditions. I love throwing crank baits or plastics but like crappie fishing there are times you can’t beat nature. If the use of crawfish is legal in your area a trip to the local creek will get the bait you need. Throw the larger ones back, 2 inches is the largest you want. A good #8 short shanked hook, a spinning reel loaded with 8 lb test along with a 6 ½ foot rod and you are set.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Of Firsts and Memories

  Everyone has them. Firsts. No matter what you do there was a first time. A hunt, a ski trip, that first date when you are shaking like a leaf, when Grampa let you drive the tractor or old farm truck, whatever it was it left a memory that will always be with you. I was talking with my friend Kari when a memory popped into my head about my first buck with a bow. Not a monster, since I have never taken a monster, in fact, a buck many would pass up but he was a good buck for me and my first with a bow. 

  I had a 90 acre farm to hunt about 5 minutes from my house near Murfreesboro, TN, which had about 5 acres that you could hunt and expect to see something. It is bordered by a large Wildlife Management Area that I could hunt by stepping over a fence. I scouted to find a few spots where I could set up depending on wind. These included a couple of trees that were near good trails along with a couple of spots to ground hunt. I started in late September with our archery season but didn’t get an early deer but did manage to shave hair off a doe. Later I scared some turkeys when one arrow hit a fence then skipped along the ground through the flock and the next hit a tree limb before flying harmlessly over another one’s back.

  I hunted through 6 weeks of archery seeing some deer but nothing else close enough for a shot. Muzzleloader started and was my first chance to give this a try. I headed out opening day and managed to take a doe with a 115 yard shot. I was standing by a fence row where I had watched deer crossing the corner of the field. After taking the doe I built a small blind so I could cover that spot. As muzzleloader went along I hunted my little spot of woods and one cold morning with frost turning everything white, as I sat in my climber, I saw a buck headed to me obviously trailing does. Try as I might I couldn’t get him close enough for a shot. He came down to that same corner and then took a hard left into the WMA. He was the best buck I had seen in this spot and my heart rate got up a bit hoping. The rest of muzzleloader passed without another chance or sighting.

  Muzzleloader ended and a short 5 day bow season began so I grabbed my Golden Eagle to give it a go before gun season. I went out on Tuesday morning to see what was coming through. Instead of taking my climber I just walked in and went to the spot I had taken the doe. When I got to my spot I hung my bow on a cedar tree as I stood by the fence watching the field. After a couple of minutes I saw a movement to my right. Turning my head there at 17 yards is the buck from muzzleloader. Now things happen fast. As he heads past me I slip my left hand into my bow strap, clip the release on, turn to my right and draw all in one motion. The deer circles me to get to his trail then stops, looking my way at 30 yards, perfectly broadside. I complete my turn, find my anchor, pick a pin and release, all in one motion.

  I watch and hear the arrow hit knowing it wasn’t what I wanted. It hit high and back. In my excitement I had picked the brightest pin on my sights. It was my forty yard pin not the thirty. Damn it!! Calm down, breathe, think. I had seen blood as the deer wheeled to his left and ran hadn‘t I? I heard him cross the fence not far away so I eased over to where he had been standing and found a good blood trail. He continued leaving a good trail so I eased along finding where he had gone through the fence. I crossed over but then the trail disappeared. I was sick. Thinking about it I called my brother telling him what was going on and asking for some backup. He says hang tight he is on the way. That was the longest hour and a half ever. When he gets there another friend had come along to help. This was good because my brother was color blind and couldn’t see the red against the green of the low growth. As we start to fan out to find the trail things are not looking up. It is as if he had run out of blood. I finally found a drop 60 yards away going in a wide left circle of where I had shot. I began placing bits of toilet paper on the drips to keep track and get an idea of the path he was taking. This continued for a couple of hundred yards. Drop here, two drops there. Slow going taking tiny steps looking at every leaf.

  My brother tells me he needs to sit down for a minute so we take a break to grab a drink and think. As we sit talking we hear a big commotion and jump thinking we have been busted. Instead a flock of robins come screaming out of the cedars headed straight at us with a sharp shinned hawk in pursuit. Just as the flock separates to go around the tree my brother is leaning against the hawk slams a robin into the tree eight feet over his head. We cheer the hawk as feathers drift down on top of us. A great part of the memory of that day. We get up to start tracking again and within yards find what we had been hoping for. Not the deer yet but a huge spot of blood where he had fallen. The trail gets easier then even better. I find a massive spray along with my arrow leaning against a tree as if it had been placed there. I tell them the deer is within 80 yards of us. It is clear now it was a liver hit and the deer is headed along a creek for water. I look and see blood in the water. I decide to follow the rest of the track myself so tell them to hang back. I got into the creek and followed drops of blood drifting in the water. Just as the creek starts to deepen I look ahead and there in the deepest part is my buck floating just about 80 yards from where I found my arrow.

  I can’t tell you the feeling but if you have had it happen to you, I don’t need to. I yelled that I had him then waded into the deeper water to pull him out. I can still see the crawfish that was sitting on his nose as I reached for his rack. The water running into the tops of my boots didn’t matter at all, I had my first buck with a bow. I had accidentally made a good shot, worked hard to find him, managed a hard tracking job then recovered my deer only 125 yards from where I had started the morning. The buck, you see, had made a huge circle. After running when I shot he continued to turn left headed to the creek and the bedding area near there. We had tracked him for hours along a path nearly ¾ of a mile long to find him just down the hill from my blind. I pulled him to the edge of the creek so we could get a few pictures and celebrate. We got him up the hill and loaded then headed to the house. To this day an 8x10 of that deer hangs on the wall along side a picture of my first archery hog and my largest archery hog.

  He isn’t my biggest deer or my first deer but the day spent tracking my first archery buck with my brother, who is gone now, is one of my best memories. We would take many more deer and spend many more hours tracking but most pale compared to that day. Think back on your firsts, they will always be there. Maybe take time to put them into words. Even if you don’t think you are a writer others will. Share and preserve those moments that only you had so they aren’t lost. Memories are great, memories shared, best.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Crappie at Speed

  Today the first snow of the year is beginning to fall, winds are close to 30 mph and temps are dropping. Wind chill warnings for frost bite and hypothermia have been issued so ,of course, I am thinking of fishing. Not the warm weather fishing of late spring and summer but the sometimes you have to bundle up fishing of early spring. Where my fishing begins each year, heading out for crappie.

  Crappie, a member of the sunfish family, cousin to bluegill and black bass, is one of my favorite fish for the table. In lakes where they are found these are a much loved species that many a folk spend countless hours pursuing. I, on the other hand, being short of patience or maybe just lazy have found a way that works for loading a freezer in just a few trips with minimum effort and cost. Of course, I found this after I spent a bunch of money.

  Like most fishermen I enjoy acquiring new tackle and baits to chase each species I fish for under whatever conditions I find. When I decided to start crappie fishing it was no different. You can buy quantities of crappie related baits on sale if you do a bit of looking. Local stores mark down jig heads and trailers, Bass Pro and Cabela’s run sales early each year featuring crappie rods ready to go, rod, reel, even line plus an extra spool. I would get one or two each year when I saw the sale in 11 foot lengths. High dollar reels aren’t needed since they just store line. Crappie aren’t known for their drag ripping runs. I bought packs of trailers, jigs along with massive sets of jigs/trailers where I found them marked down and soon had all I needed. I read magazines, watched pros on TV, researched how guides caught fish and then promptly threw it all out and did it my way when I realized it wasn‘t working. One thing I did was research how Europeans use floats. I was amazed at the information which I incorporated into my fishing with great results.

Just the basics. 11 foot rod, hooks, floats and sinkers

My panfishing basics box.

 After trying techniques learned from “pros” I found it not only boring but slow to produce with many hours of nothing. This, I knew, wouldn’t do. There had to be a better way, so, what was I missing? I care less about fish stacked up in 25 feet of water then waiting forever as a 1/32 oz jig falls down to their level. Trying to keep baits down while fighting my boat just wasn’t worth it. The lakes here don’t have many places to hide from early season winds. Even a relatively light wind moved the boat too fast. What to do? Easy, find aggressive fish other people were missing. While most fish this time of year are down 10-20 feet I wanted shallow, aggressively feeding fish I didn’t have to work for. I found them being passed by every fisherman, right under big commercial boat docks next to the boat ramps. Hundreds of slips, walkways and boats holding tons of fish and I didn’t even need to start my big motor.

Small jig assortment
  At this time of year crappie are starting to move into creek channels where they stack up 10-20 feet down. The dock near the ramp I use has a creek channel running under it that averages 25 feet in depth. The fish moving along it can be caught as they stop to rest and feed under the dock. Many are caught suspended 8-10 feet down but this takes time, too. I found that the end of walkways between boat slips, the spaces between boats, even the lower units of motors and boat hulls held actively feeding fish at less than 3 feet of depth. Now we have fish, what does it take to catch them at speed? I fished jigs in all types of combos which worked but I was still missing something. Small spinners were out because there isn’t room to cast and retrieve. Then it hits, you can’t beat nature. I went and bought some minnows, rigged up to fish them, returned to the docks and held on.

  It was amazing. After a very short learning curve finding the right depth it was literally fish after fish after fish. Crappie feed best on bait that is slightly above them in the water column. I rig my float to hold the minnow just below the walkway, boat, whatever then very lightly place it in the water. These fish are active but shallow and easy to spook. Letting out line to match the length of rod I am using I slowly ease the boat along placing the bait carefully within an inch or two of cover by swinging the bait like you would with a cane pole. Then count to 20, if I haven’t had a hit I move the bait a foot or two and repeat. Many times the float barely has time to right itself before being pulled under. Because the fish seem to hold tight to a very small area you need to try each corner, end, motor and hull you come to but only in water that is 15 feet in depth or more. The shallow water rarely holds fish. This is easy to explain but takes some trial and error to figure out each trip since the change of a couple of inches in depth means catching fish or not. Even during a trip you might need to adjust your float a few inches to keep catching fish.

Nice near limit

Good start for a day. Half a limit already and bonus 'gills.

  My favorite rigging is simple, a small foam float, a #1 gold wire hook and small sinker. I use a bobber stop if I am using Thill floats to make depth adjustments since they are sliding floats. The minnows are hooked lightly through the lips and the livelier the better. If a minnow looks weak swap it out for a fresh one don’t be cheap here. 4-6 lb line is plenty but remember that good bass like to hit crappie minnows so be prepared when a 4 or 5 lber latches on. Use the smallest float you can so the minnow can move freely and bait shy fish won’t refuse your offerings. This is the time for KISS. Small lines, no swivels or snaps, small sinkers, light floats, no casting and a lively bait. The results speak for themselves. What is a nice bonus when the legal size crappie move out bluegill are hitting so downsize your hook, go to worms, meal worms or my personal favorite, crickets and you are back in business. I can average close to 80 bluegill an hour doing this. Bluegill fillets are right up there as table fare, too.

  Even if you don’t have the big docks we have here smaller private docks can hold fish in the same way. It’s common to find brush piles near private docks so people tend to leave the fish holding shallow under the dock itself alone. Try this simple, back to basics technique and you might be surprised how well it works. Refine the idea to fit your area and get ready for some great fishing and good eating.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Full Circle

  I have been thinking about ways I spend time in the field or on the water. I thought I would pass along things I have changed over the years to add more to my trips. These are things that I do for me, I am not advocating that everyone rush out and give these a try, in some places I am sure these are probably not useful or laws may prohibit using them in your area. But there are ways all of us can make our trips afield more meaningful and memorable.Some of my changes bring back memories of when I was getting started many moons ago. In many ways it is the way my trips outdoors have come full circle.
  Like many folks I started hunting with a single shot .410 shotgun. Mine came from a local Western Auto store and was a Christmas present when I was 10. My Dad didn’t really hunt but took me out to shoot a few rounds. My Mom was a very good shot and she had taught me to shoot with my ever present bb gun. Many a squirrel hit the ground because of that humble little .410. I moved up to a single shot 16 gauge which allowed me to add doves to my bag. At sixteen I finally got a Remington 870 12 gauge and the push for more, bigger, faster was on. During this time I had gotten my first recurve bow which was replaced by the new technology of a compound about the same time as I got my 870.
  Over time I got rifles, shotguns and pistols that pushed the limits of technology in speed and accuracy. These did what they were designed to do and I enjoyed every minute using them including shooting in three gun matches. But as my skills increased the challenge of the shot diminished. Like all skills practice made shooting easier which translated to the field and after many years that became my problem, shots weren‘t as hard to make. I didn’t need to get as close to the animals or worry about how well I was hidden and my woods craft began to suffer. To solve this I made the decision to change what I carried to the woods. I still use things that help me make a clean and ethical kill. Optics on everything that will take them and a good range finder will always be part of my kit.
  I decided to go back to that one shot challenge. Rather than some of the new single shot rifles available I went with a muzzleloader with interchangeable .50 and 12 gauge barrels. It was a newer inline since the older traditional styles don’t fit me well plus I wanted something easier to keep clean. I found a used compound bow and then added an adult air rifle to the list. These limited my distance which increased my need for skills in the woods. Stalking, tracking, camouflage all became important again. Even though with a muzzleloader you can still make shots of 200-300 yards I was limiting mine to 150. The air rifle I keep to 20-25 yard shots. The bow I am good to 40 or so. In the future I plan on adding another recurve or long bow back into the mix. By doing this I have sharpened my woods craft which is being lost with the introduction of technology. I am not against the new stuff we have, in fact, I own alot of it, but I personally needed to make sure I didn't lose skills I was taught by some great outdoorsmen.
  Don’t want this to be some long winded article on how-to and why, so, here are some of my firsts taken with simpler equipment.

My first buck with a bow. Taken at 30 yards.

My first muzzleloader buck. Maybe 60 yards.

Muzzleloader turkey

Muzzleloader squirrel

Muzzleloader coyote. This one is on the wall.

Archery coydog. My first coyote taken at 14 yards while deer hunting.

Hard to see, this is my first double with a muzzleloader. Mentioned  in 30 Second Deer

Finally a bag of squirrels with my Gamo air rifle.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beyond Deer

  I have been wandering the house trying to find my writing mojo. Cutting thru the hunting room on the wall was a bit of inspiration. If you want something exciting that you can hunt year round this is how I started. Apologies for the bad pics.

  Hard to believe it has been eight years since I first went for hogs. I had been thinking of it for quite awhile but here in Tennessee most good places are far to the east where I didn’t have any property. My other option was a game farm which I have a big problem with. I am not a fan of high fence but state law says if you offer hog hunts it has to be high fenced. After researching places and prices I found one that on top of a mountain and covers a square mile of hardwoods and rock outcrops. Plenty of places for hogs to run and hide plus they know it better than I do. There are no guarantees here. If you don’t shoot there is no charge but no promise that you will get anything.
  I decided to use my bow, no dogs, spot and stalk with no gun backup. My friends thought I was nuts and asked why. I told them deer don’t bite and I wanted to try something more exciting. Something with teeth, attitude and on the ground with me filled the bill. I was using my old Darton Lightning with aluminum arrows tipped with 100 grain Muzzy 3 blade. This was before good mechanical broadheads and I was warned not to use mechanicals on hogs. The shield plate on the shoulder is amazingly hard. So armed with information I got my bow set up for the hunt, practiced even more than usual and got ready for an early September trip to the mountain.
  I got to the lodge on a beautiful, warm Saturday morning. I was the only one hunting that day so the guide asked if I wanted him to tag along. I said no I would go alone but took a radio to let him know where I was if I happened to take a pig. He pointed to the main gate and gave me a quick idea of the layout and said he would check with me later.
  I headed up the mountain slipping along pretty much clueless as to how to look for a pig, where to look or whether there would be herds or just singles. As I got to the side of a ridge above a big flat I could smell them, then I could hear them. There they were, a herd of about a dozen walking down the trail straight to me. At about 200 lbs each they looked huge. The thought of no backup didn’t seem quite the great idea it had when I was sitting on the couch.
  I backed off the trail putting my back to a tree just as the lead hogs got to within 25 yards. They saw me move but couldn’t decide what I was so 5 of them got in a line, literally, shoulder to shoulder then started popping their teeth and grunting. This, just so you know, will make the hair stand up on your neck and your pulse run up to around Mach 10. The rest of the herd moved in behind them adding more popping teeth and grunts. I decided the first one that came my way was going to eat a Muzzy then I would worry about the rest. They continued to ease toward me in a smelly, tooth popping scrum so I started to draw, picking out the one that would take the first arrow…….drawing……and the radio went off in my pack. The guide picked just this moment to check in. The hogs screamed and headed off up the mountain probably thinking talking trees where more than they wanted to tackle.
  Shaking and laughing I told the guide where I was so he could pick me up for a quick tour. We spent a little time checking spots finding several hogs but no shooters. He headed back to start lunch leaving me farther up the mountain to work my way back to the lodge. As I hiked back down I was entertained by the exotics. Fallow deer, sika deer, along with several types of goats and sheep like Mouflon and Corsicans. Then about half way down I got a call from the guide asking where I was. I told him, he says wait there he has a hog located.
  When the four wheeler pulls up he says that a hog is out of the fence and at a pond across from the lodge. I jump on and we go tearing through the woods. That was a thrill flying down the mountain along a twisting trail. Along the way one of the dogs, out of nowhere, starts following us, running as hard as he can to keep up. We get to the field where the pond is and set up for the stalk. The hog is 80 yards away out of sight below the bank of the pond so we get downwind and ease towards a spot where we could see, the dog now following close behind.
  We move up and the guide tells me where to place my shot. I ask if the dog is going in but he says, no, they are too smart to tackle a pig alone. I think this over because we are in a field, no trees close, nothing to hide behind or climb. At this point adrenaline kicks in and I start shaking. Worse than any shaking in a deer stand. I get an arrow knocked as we ease the last few yards and get our first look. He is laying in the mud facing away from me at only twenty yards. The guide is behind me, the dog behind him and I am trying to calm down enough to draw. I hear the guide whisper to use my 20 yard pin and aim behind the last rib. I am shaking so bad the arrow comes off the rest and I can’t get it back on. The guide reaches over, puts it back then says you can make this shot.
  I get drawn, aim and my tunnel vision takes over. When I release the arrow actually hits perfect catching both lungs and stopping in the off side shoulder. The hog screams and takes off with our dog in hot pursuit. That was the fastest dog I think I’ve ever seen. We lost sight of the pig as it hit the wood line but three more dogs come from the lodge to join the fun. We follow the sounds for about 100 yards to find my hog piled up in some weeds. Not a monster but a nice 140 pounder with nice cutters. The good part, he ran towards the lodge and gate so it was a short trip to the skinning shed.

  It wasn’t a long day of hunting but one that I hope never leaves me. I have been hog hunting since and it is always a thrill. I still hunt them off the ground without backup. I know other folks take it to extremes way beyond my hunts but for me I love hunting this way. If you get the chance and pigs are in your area give them a try. Year round hunting and in many places considered nuisance animals cheap to hunt and good on the grill.


Thursday, November 25, 2010


Just a quick thank you for everyone that has followed. Hope you all stick around to travel along with me. I do want to thank everyone that leaves a comment. I read them all and they do mean alot to a writer.
Happy Outdoor travels my friends.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Wind "Pig"

Like most of us I am not a fan of hunting in the wind. As I type the wind is stripping the last leaves from the trees in a typical late November temper tantrum. Between rain this morning and wind now another day planned for the deer woods has been cancelled. The weather has not been kind to me this year where deer season is concerned. Starting with rain opening day of archery to the mid October heat wave, wind, rain, skeeters it has been a tough year. But sometimes you just gotta go.

A few years ago the season had been going along at a good clip. Between me and my brother we had dropped quite a few does for friends needing freezers filled. I think this was the year he called in a nice 7 pointer and took it with his muzzleloader. I had gotten a double the same day with my muzzleloader with a pair of 120 yard offhand shots in less than a minute. Cool stuff. But then the weatherman said we were in the path of a big storm.

Weatherdude called it right a huge blow came in from the northwest hammering us with rain and winds that topped 70 mph. We had planned to hunt Cheatham county the next morning and talked about calling it off which any sane person would have done. Unlike other places, Tennessee isn’t known for it’s constant high winds so most of the time we just don’t go. But the forecast called for the winds to drop drastically during the morning so we loaded up.

When we got to the farm, by farm I mean a 20 acre mowed field, I headed to my blind only to find it had disappeared. Stakes ripped out and the blind nowhere to be seen. I checked the fence rows, woods, everywhere I could get to. No blind. The wind was still blowing 50+ so I went back to the house where brother was talking to the land owner, Pappy. The temps weren’t bad but the wind was howling so we decided to sit in the driveway using the house as a wind break and look across the field hoping the wind would lay.

Blind had been located by little cedar on the right. Found later in woods down the hill.

As the morning went on we talked about how stupid it was to sit in this wind since no deer were going to move but we figured we were there so might as well stay. Around lunch with no let up in the wind I looked up and standing on top of the hill is a doe. I poked brother to tell him it was there.
“Kill it.”
“Ok, you sure you don’t want to?”
“Nope, I don’t care she’s on your side. Shoot.”

I got braced, shot and say it with me, missed. She took off downhill bobbing and weaving. We tried to get her stopped but she kept running around the field then turned and ran straight at us. Finally at 50 yards we both yelled and she stopped broadside. I was loaded again and heard brother’s favorite saying when something gave me a shot…… ”That was a mistake.”
The doe we called “The Pig”. She weighed 142 lbs which is big here. Built like a football.

She dropped right there so we sat back down. It wasn’t five minutes later I looked up and said, “There’s your’s.”
Sure enough another one was standing not 5 yards from where mine had been. He took a shot and I saw the hit. The deer ran down and dropped 20 feet from mine. We looked at each other and agreed no one would believe this.

We had gotten two deer in 5 minutes at midday in a 50+ mph wind. Just one of those trips when Murphy was determined to ruin things but persistence or not wanting to drive home paid off. No one we talked to had considered going that day, hardcore or not.

As to the fate of the blind. It was found the next year when Pappy was driving his tractor near the fence row. It had blown over into the woods on someone else’s property landing upside down making it even harder to see. By the time I got it back it was useable but not in the best of shape. Later it would meet a bad end in a flood on another property.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The 30 Second Deer

  There isn’t a deer hunter that hasn’t spent countless hours in a stand, blind or stalking. We get out and scout to find good spots then more time building blinds and setting stands. Some of the luckier ones have big permanent blinds over fields that are prepared every year just for the deer. But for most it is long hours of getting prepared with more long hours of sitting in blinds like steam rooms in early season to freezing in the rain, snow and cold late season. But sometimes you just get lucky.
  This is one of those times. Now it wasn’t me but a cousin that got lucky and like the hunt the story doesn’t take long so here we go.
I had gotten a call from my brother asking if I wanted to go to one of our spots near the Kentucky line in Robertson county. We kill a lot of deer there even though we only hunt a couple of spots on the 90 acre farm. He had several blinds set up around the property but I usually hunted one while he hunted another. He had killed his biggest buck there, a 154” 10 pointer so we tried to get there whenever possible. I said sure and headed to his house only to find our cousin there. He didn’t get to hunt often so it wasn’t a problem to take him along.
  We loaded up for the hour long drive. We were bad to rib the guys that don’t take the deer we do so cousin got the worst of it. He gave back pretty good so the drive was big fun and we got to the farm still loud and joking. This was an afternoon hunt and we had decided to put him in a blind on the far corner of the farm that never got hunted.
  As we pulled up I got out to help him get his gear in the blind. We are still joking, slamming blind and truck doors as I throw his vest and hat to him. My brother is, well not yelling, but loudly talking from inside the truck giving last minute instructions. Cousin starts into the blind after getting his .270 loaded and I jump in the truck as we start to head across the field to our blinds. We hadn’t gone 100 yards when the phone rings.
Brother, “Hello.”
“I just smoked that b…h!”
“What are you talking about?”
“I just smoked one!”
  Looking at me, brother says “I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about let’s go see.”
  I am looking at him as he points over his shoulder at the blind. I turn around to look as he turns the truck. Cousin is standing beside the blind looking down the fence row. As we pull up he comes over, sticks his head in the window and says again, “I just smoked one!” while pointing to a spot about 70 yards away.
Sure enough there is a big doe laid out, shot in the neck. She dropped in her tracks. I walked over with him to check her out. I looked up and had to ask.
“Why did you shoot her in the neck?”
“I didn’t want her to run.”
“Well, it worked.” shaking my head.
  Turns out as we pulled away doe critter jumps the fence and stands watching us leave. All we can think is she was used to the farmer feeding the cows near there, which he does, and thought it was him laying out a free meal. She paid no attention to all of our noise and barely waited for the truck to pull off to jump into the field. It was either that or a suicide. Whichever, it was indeed the fastest, strangest deer hunt we had ever been on.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Learning to levitate and getting nekkid afield

  Here is a little something for the folks out there that aren’t big fans of some of our creepy crawly friends. I am lucky to not be scared of the critters we run into on our trips afield. Snakes don’t bother me and spiders I can take. Having said that here are a couple of times that statement broke down.
  Over the years I have had encounters with many different animals. From chickadees and squirrels climbing onto my stand to skunks and snakes meandering across my boots. All of these were neat but none did more than make me smile or ,in the case of the skunk, cause a spike in blood pressure and breathing. But long ago in the distant past I had two run ins that still make me shake.
  One of the big things as a kid was the opening day of dove season. We waited for September 1st to roll around. We would start getting camo and shells ready. Look around the house and find our dove buckets and coolers then decide which fields we would head to for the first big hunt. Season starts at 12:00 noon and we would be there.
  Usually we went to either Beesley’s or Flippo’s farms in Bedford county. This particular year we decided to try a different spot. Never tried it but it was a good looking spot, a nice big field and a cedar filled cut off field which is what we were looking for. This gave us a place to shoot the birds before the hunters in the main field started blasting away.
  We got set up and began the 4 hour wait in the blistering heat for the birds to start flying. Sure enough just about 4 o’clock the birds began to pour into the field and the sounds of a young war echoed through the trees. I was having a good day and had a limit of 15 on the ground fairly fast. Back then my trusty Remington 870 was used on everything from doves to ducks to deer and she didn’t let me down.
  I started to search for birds that I hadn’t picked up which involved a lot of sweating crawling through the cedars looking for little grey feathers. I had just about finished gathering up the last when I felt something down the back of my shirt. This something had some mass not the usual tick or ant. I began some interesting gyrations while grabbing and clawing to capture whatever it was taking up residence between my shoulder blades.
  After a good imitation of Curly from the Three Stooges I got a hold of what felt like half a golf ball. I was yelling for one of the guys hunting with us to help get it out but he just stared and says “No.” “Ok.” says I and off the clothes start to come. Try taking off a shirt while holding a handful of material behind your back, not letting go while in a semi panicked state. Got the shirt off and chucked it as far as I could.
  Shirts have terrible ballistics and it hit the ground a couple of feet away. Now I had the creepies feeling things crawling everywhere. I went over to look and found a huge yellow and black garden spider. Huge I tell ya, maybe P&Y or B&C but I wasn’t in the mood to measure. Now the whole hunting party is staring at me half nekkid in the middle of a field. I gathered up my dignity, shooed the offending arachnid from my shirt and got dressed while thanking them for all the help. I can still feel those eight legs making a transit across my spine.

  The second encounter was with my first hunting buddy, Joey. We were in the infancy of our deer hunting. We didn’t know it then but we had a great place to hunt but had no idea how to go after the deer. Our parents didn’t hunt so we were trying to do what all the magazines told us to do. Now this was before climbing stands so you would find your spot and build something in a tree hoping not to fall through before then season ended. So before bow season we headed off to build our new stands.
  Joey headed to one end of the property while I headed up a truly steep hill to get to a ridge line I wanted to hunt. I beat and banged a Frankenstein of a stand into a likely spot and headed back to Joey’s spot. I found him near his stand kind of staring at the base. I walked up and asked what he was doing. He pointed at the 2 ½ ft rattlesnake still twitching a few feet away.
  I asked what happened. He had climbed down the tree and decided to drop the last three steps rather than climb. When he landed he felt something under his foot and looked down to see he was standing on the rattler. Not having anything but his hammer he managed to give the snake a quick bashing while not getting bit. This was bad enough but then came next week and opening day.
  The opener was cool early and late with warm in the middle. We hunted that morning then decided to scout a new ridge before the afternoon set. As we came down the hill I saw something pop up out of the leaves by my right foot. You know how you step on a stick and the other end pops up. That’s what I was thinking. I looked down and saw a big wide head staring at my leg and WAY over there a black tail ending in a stack of rattles.
  I froze and told Joey, “I see a rattler.”
  “Right by my foot, please, don’t miss it.”
  All we had then were recurve bows and I heard his “Oh Shit!” and the bow string pop. He hit the snake about 10 inches back pinning it to the ground. Everything slowed. I saw the snake turn and strike the arrow repeatedly. I saw the venom running down the shaft. I slowly rose off the ground to a level many a bird would be proud of, moved in a leftward direction while pivoting midair and drawing my bow. I landed at full draw and hit the snake behind the head such was my tunnel vision. The next shot hit about 2 inches back and Joey put one more in for good measure.
  After we calmed down a little and finished the poor snake off we measured to find almost 6 feet of Eastern Timber Rattler. We took it home and then donated it to our high school where it may still be today.
  So for those of you not thrilled with the idea of spiders and snakes I hope the images here are good enough to give you a bit of a chill and other folks a bit of a thrill. They sure did me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Revenge of the Christmas Duck

  Way back when I was a duck hunter. The Canadian geese were protected at the time and we rarely saw snows or blues. So I was a duck hunter. Along with my hunting partners, Brian and Keith, who happened to be identical twins we were the scourge of the ducks in our area. From the time we had to be hauled to the lake to hunt off the bank by our ever patient parents to when we could drive and owned our own boats we spent all winter duck hunting.
  We planned and studied. Collected masses of decoys and became pretty good callers. We made all of the blind drawings at the areas we wanted to hunt. Standing around in hundred degree heat hoping our number was called. Then spent days working on blinds in the same hundred degree heat with the added bonus of wasps, snakes and skeeters. Oh and chiggers and ticks. We had jobs at night so we could hunt during the day and all weekend. We had it bad.
  This is a little story about an “excursion” Brian and I decided to undertake on a holiday. Yep Christmas day we jumped in the truck and drove over two hours to be in our blind by daylight. I can’t remember why Keith wasn’t along but it was just the two of us.
  We got to the lake, unloaded the boat and headed to the blind. Cold and clear, man was it cold which isn’t all that normal for middle Tennessee even in December but today it was cold. Remember the cold part you will need it later. Set up the decoys and watch the sun come up over the treeline of Bear Creek. The ducks started flying and a few hit the water including a couple of blacks from a group of about fifty that snuck in while we were talking.
  During a brisk chase through the woods after a cripple involving a very bothered duck and an empty shotgun which led to much cussing and laughing, it finally sank in that we were the only ones in the bottoms. There were no shots coming from any blind. Our spot wasn’t bad but #11 was THE BLIND in the entire area and no one was using it. This required no real thought, we packed up, loaded the boat and drove 8 miles to get to a spot that was only about 600 yards from where we were hunting. I said we had it bad.
  This spot is a pump hole. Normally a corn or milo field it was flooded to create a couple of nice ponds. #11 sat in the middle of a wood duck roost and was a favorite place for anything flying down Bear Creek. No boat needed just chest waders. Sure enough it was empty so after parking we hauled bags of decoys down and got set up once again. By now it was midday and the birds were resting up. We take advantage to eat lunch and plan all the shooting coming this afternoon.
  Despite our best efforts we had a total of two ducks come in. A right to left suzie that I shot and a left to right greenhead that Brian knocked down. As the day wound down and the temps continued to drop we decided to pack it in and head for home. We gathered up the decoys and got them bagged with frozen hands trying to wind up frozen cords. Ice was forming on everything in minutes but the ducks coming in to roost in the ponds helped to take our minds off of the pain.
  The last thing to do was to go get the ducks. Brian’s had drifted into the bank so he walked over to grab it. Mine had hung up in a buttonball bush about 70 yards out in the pond. I started wading out knowing that the bottom was fairly flat and hard. This was a good assumption except for the wet ground the farmer had driven his tractor on during the planting season leaving a trench almost two feet deep in the bottom of the pond. Did I find it? Why yes I did. Did I fall in? Technically, no. But I did a fine bit of clogging while pirouetting, flailing about and doing an amazing imitation of a windmill, shotgun still in hand. I did not go under, I did manage to ship almost an entire load of water in my waders.
  At this point please refer back to the part where I said cold.
  By now it was extremely cold and ice started to form on my clothes within a minute. I couldn’t catch my breathe it was so bad but I continued on to get that stupid suzie. As I got back to the bank Brian saw how bad I was shaking and told me to get to the Jeep and the heater. By the time I walked the short distance ice was forming in my waders. Got the waders off and engine started but my clothes are freezing to me.
  If you have ever been in a mid 70s Jeep you know the heater is a heater in name only. It would be thirty minutes to get anything out of it. So instead of shivering in the truck I stood in frozen clothes and wet socks, no boots and watched the ducks pouring out of a darkening sky and land yards from me. First a few, then dozens, finally the sky was filled with ducks pitching in to go to roost.
  It was one of those hunts that stays with you. I’ve been on hunts where we took more ducks or had worse things happen. This one though we always called the Christmas Excursion or Suzie’s Revenge and always with a laugh. We had a good day, Suzie got me back and I will never forget standing at the water’s edge watching and listening to hundreds of ducks going to bed while slowly freezing into a duck hunter popsicle.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Humbling Turkeys

 Come in and head back to my hunting closet. Look around and find the turkey vest. Take careful note of the properly placed calls, ammo, chalk, scrub pad, gloves, head net and, of course, bug spray. You will find the water bottles, decoy stakes and the TP. Look down by your feet and you will find the stack of decoys ranging from the old foam style to the latest on the market. The camo is hung and arranged by type and weather conditions. The custom camo painted shotgun rests in the gun safe just to the left of where you stand. Taking all of this in you can only think that this is one of “Those” guys. The ones other turkey hunters whisper about. The guy with more long beards on the wall than you will ever see in the woods.
  Nope! Wrong! I am one of “Those” guys that like to make many trips to the store and gather all the cool equipment. . Don’t take me wrong I am a serious hunter but something of a gadget collector. This is not to say that I don’t turkey hunt. I do. This isn’t to say I haven’t killed turkeys. I have. But believe me I have come home beaten by the thunder chickens many more times than I care to admit. But I want to tell you the story of my first bird, the one that led me to believe I had it all figured out in my first two days of hunting.
  After finding a farm to hunt in Marshall county that was full of birds, I watched them all winter as I picked on the deer. Along comes spring and a friend gives me a decoy and some camo gloves for my birthday. I explained that I knew nothing about turkey hunting couldn’t call and had never even thought about actually hunting the things. I mean, they are stupid, how hard could it be. Nothing like deer.
  I went along with the idea because it allowed me to expand the contents of my closet. After a few trips I had a pile of stuff guaranteed to kill turkeys at every outing. I practiced calling and figured out a load that was sure to thump the first one to come into range. I waited for opening day with little of the excitement I have for opening of bow season.
  I crawled out of bed the first day and drove over to the farm. Just before light I walked into the field and could hear turkeys on four different roosts. “See? I knew this would be easy.” I told myself out loud. I set up and waited. Sure enough here they come. About sixty birds come out into the field and the toms go to strutting. Eight big long beards showing off for the hens. I called and sure enough here come some birds. All hens. They come up to the point that a couple were within a foot of my boots. After a few minutes they lose interest and wander off but none of the toms come close.
  I watch them go to the woods across the field and decide I can set up on them by moving a couple of hundred yards. After a few minutes in the new spot I have a tom gobbling and headed my way. Easy, piece of cake, told you so. Nothing. He gobbles and gobbles but won’t come in and then I feel something watching me from behind. I turn to find all eight of the big toms watching me from 10 yards through the fence. After they scatter I pack it up for the day and decide tomorrow will be better.
  The next day goes pretty much the same. Eight toms strutting and then off to the woods in the wrong direction. So, I move to the other end of the field where I had never seen a bird and set up one decoy. I called a couple of times and saw two birds fly into the field a good four hundred yards away. I called every few minutes never really thinking about those two birds. They were too far away. They were in high grass. They wouldn’t bother coming this far. They were standing right in front of me!!
  I saw a tiny movement and like magic there they were. Both now in full strut at twenty yards. I had my gun on the ground, not ready the way I was told to be. I knew that the birds would be gone at the first movement but had no choice. I eased the gun up and they paid me no mind. All the time showing off for the girl they had found. I got the gun up, the hammer back and the sights on the closest bird. He had a head that seemed to glow and was an easy shot. I touched the trigger and felt that great shove into my shoulder. I looked and sure enough I had killed my first long beard. I ran over to get him and found out the hard way about flopping birds with spurs and gloves not protecting fingers. Still have that torn pair of gloves. A torn glove and finger was worth it. He weighed in at 22 pounds, had a 9 ½ inch beard and I had taken him with a muzzle loader.
  After a few pictures and a trip to the check in station I knew that I had this turkey hunting figured out. This was as easy as I knew it would be. I called my brother and told him, sent pictures to anyone that would listen and retold the story of my hunting prowess and the ease of turkey hunting to my friends. Three years later I finally got a chance at another bird. Three years!
  Hunt after hunt. Farm after farm. Too many early mornings to care to remember and the turkeys proved my wrong again and again. For a stupid bird these things proved pretty hard to kill. In that time I have learned from many hunters that are good at this sport and take great birds every year. I found out how humbling and difficult it can be to get a good old bird to come in.
  The only bird I took this year would set no record. That hunt wasn’t much of a hunt. I drove to a spot less than two minutes from my house and got set up. The birds flew down right in my lap and I got a shot at a nice young bird that I was proud to take. I did manage to miss a big tom a week later but that is ok, too. I did every thing right and he came in right where I thought he would. To me a successful hunt because I had listened and learned from some good hunters and come to respect the turkeys for the great game birds they are.    
  If you are considering turkey hunting, by all means, give it a try. There are plenty to go around. If you have never hunted them take the time to listen to the guys and gals out there that can and will give you good advice. Practice your calls, gather your stuff and get to the woods. But believe me, all of you that are new to the sport, it isn’t as easy as you might believe. Take it from someone that found out the long and humbling way.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Simple Things

  I got to the woods this morning warmly ensconced in my Under Armor, Gortex and Thinsulate. Hopping out of my new $40K hunting rig, I quickly unloaded my 700cc 4 wheeler with hydraulic steering and shifter for the trip to the stand. Just to be sure I checked my GPS so I wouldn't get turned around and see that all of my waypoints were installed. Everything checked out and with weapon and pack loaded I headed out.
   After an arduous 125 yard drive across a cut cornfield I finally made it and prepared for the hunt. I tied off with my self adjusting retractable safety harness as I climbed into the stand and hoisted my gear up with my solar rechargeable electric winch. I placed my custom .300 WSM with heavy, free floated barrel, synthetic stock, bipod and 4x20 target scope into it's one of a kind pneumatic, remote controlled rifle rest which is attached to my 10 x 15 ft. aluminum and fiberglass tree house blind. I got the heat up and running to knock the chill down a bit and settled in for the morning.
  Breaking out the essentials for the hunt, cell phone, hand held video poker, laptop with wi-fi connection and portable TV. Popping a bit of breakfast into the microwave I felt I was ready for the hunt to begin. After a couple of quick calls to some friends hunting in Illinois and Canada and checking the weather and news through the laptop, I took out my image stabilized, range finding, gps enabled binoculars for a quick check on the field and wood line. Not seeing anything I switched to my new thermal imaging spotting scope and sure enough there was a squirrel and two does out at 238.5 +/- yards. With that kind of movement I knew it was just a matter of time before a shooter showed up.
  While waiting on a good buck I did manage to get some great shots of the woods on my hi def camcorder and 15 megapixel hd still camera. I got all of these edited and uploaded to youTube and plixi in my down time.
  Unfortunately, the big deer just weren't moving this morning so there is no extra meat in the freezer but how great it was to spend a relaxing morning just hunting and getting back in touch with the simple things in life.
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Born and raised in middle Tennessee.I'm a working wildlife and landscape artist specializing in watercolors. Now making cedar lures and custom turkey calls.



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