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Backcountry Strutter… Part 2

Part 1 can be found here

I had bought my hammock the evening before at Wal-Mart, which was Mistake #2 .  We set up our hammocks up aways from the fire ring and started laying out the plans for the morning. Brandon talked about how it might be difficult to get up and get back to the spot we heard them fly up at. I laid down and put my fleece blanket over me. Mistakes 3 and 4  are together right here. I brought a fleece blanket, not a sleeping bag. Because I “didn’t wanna burn up” and guess what? I didn’t! I froze! It was 37 degrees that night with a nice crisp wind. And to add to it, I didn’t have any form of insulation between my back and the ground. Just the hammock. I laid on the hammock with nothing underneath me.

I tossed and turned and then got up to put ALL my clothes on. And then a lone whippoorwill noticed me. It decided I needed company, and began to talk to me. He had some buddies come over as well. It was 2 am and I was shivering and listening to a chorus of Whippoorwills as I tried to sleep. It did not work. After fighting it, I decided my wake up time would be at about 4 am. Sun still had some time to come up, heck, Brandon and Johnathan still had an hour so before they wanted to be up for breakfast. So I just walked around. I wasn’t happy. I was freezing. I had a newly found hatred for nocturnal songbirds.

Brandon woke up soon after, because I was tromping around. Johnathan got up when he aimed to and we had a quick breakfast and I believe some coffee. We got our packs and gear and guns and started up to the spot. Not gonna lie, I was not in great spirits. I wanted to go home and sleep. I already assumed this hunt was going to be horrible. Mistake 5, I assumed.

Upon arriving to the edge where we had “pinned” some birds, we got a few things out and started waiting on some of the woods to wake up. We agreed to a 15 minute window between calls if nothing was gobbling. We then went silent as the tomb. On private land, we probably would not have been as cautious or quiet. We knew what to expect there, however on this part of Pisgah, we had no idea what to expect. Sun came up. Nothing. Johnathan let out some light yelps. Nothing. I did a bit of a fly down and we roughed up the grass behind us. Nothing. Brandon started yelping. Nothing. We then went to my favorite move. Before I tell you the move I want to lay something out. We had done every hen call and action you ever hear. We yelped, did some cackling, a kee-kee run, ruffled leaves, all of it. Yelped while another yelped and another just kept doing occasional clucks. It was the 3rd week of the season. This was public land. I opted for a Hail Mary. I told Brandon to start yelping and I pulled out my favorite call. It is a walnut Down-N-Dirty Outdoors Haint Gobble call. When Brandon started his second cadence of yelps, I thundered over him with a gobble. He started into his 3rd and I hammered the call again. Across the far distance we heard a lonely gobble, Im talking every bit of 200 yards or more on the other side of a huge draw with lots of timber. I started to look to Brandon when I heard another gobble that came from right at our camp. All 3 of our eyes lit up and we took off running towards camp. While we were running I told Brandon and Johnathan to set up while I threw some decoys out on a logging road.** I know, not smart to use decoys on public land. I know, some of you view decoys as cheating. Come here and hunt. Ill guide you. Then tell me about how unfair it is, or unsafe** Johnathan and Brandon set up along the bank and I put the ole trusty Funky Chicken and 2 hens out on the logging road and got back behind them. The bird gobbled again and I told them I would get further behind them in the case he hung up at when he saw the decoys. Maybe I would be far enough behind them that he would come in closer.

I called and the bird fired back one more time and then he stopped talking. Brandon and I texted back and forth and after about 45 minutes I got the “We are going to go look at the last place we heard him” I responded that I was going to hunt back near where we started that morning out. I eased back and found a spot where I assumed (refer to Mistake 5) I could see and be fairly concealed. After about 10 minutes I let out a yelp. I waited and was about to grab my slate when I heard that Thunder we all chase. He had to be in the 125-175 yard range and I answered with a gobble while yelping on my slate (slate was on the ground, one hand running the slate, the other working the Haint. Its tough, but a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then). I hadn’t even got the call out of my mouth when he gobbled at 70 yards and I started to look in his direction. My shotgun had been resting across my midsection down to my toes and was nowhere near being ready to rock. Only thing I had in my favor was that it was aimed in the general direction the bird just gobbled in. I grabbed and started easing up when I saw the tip of his fan, coming up the hill. The tail dropped and his head crested the hill, staring right at the tree I was at the base of, and probably right at me. He started to do the head bob that anyone who has chased these birds knows all too well; he was about to putt and take off.

The second I recognized  that he was wise to my presence, I went into a zone. It seemed time slowed for him and gave me just a hair more speed. I remember getting the bead on his head. I assumed (#5) 55-60 yards. I punched the trigger, didn’t squeeze. I could see him then I couldn’t. He disappeared from sight and I jumped up. While I was getting up and looking I heard “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” and watched as he started gaining altitude. I didn’t even think of my gun, I didn’t even think of giving it a pump and drawing up on him. My heart sank as he hit about 30 feet off the ground. I assumed ( yep, #5 again) that I had just hit him bad, if I even hit him and that he was flying off. Then, he started a rapid uncontrolled descent as only one wing seemed to be working. He hit the ground about 90 yards from where I stood in a tree line. My heart bolted back into my chest and a primal surge pulsed threw  my body as I hit my knees and started giving thanks! I had just killed a bird on Pisgah! I assumed (#5) he was down and began to bow my head. As I was closing my eyes I noticed a black blob limping up the hillside from the treeline to some big timber. That joker was running with one wing flapping in the wind! That sucker had about 90 yards on me and I started sprinting!

In most seasons, you have to have a plug in your shotgun. I keep a plug in mine, so I only had 3 shells. One had been spent already, so I had 2 left. I got to what I assumed to be 35 yards (#5) from the gobbler and fired. He never stopped. I ran and got right at 15 yards and let that Remington sing out and rolled him.

Where he took his last breath

I walked up prepared to use the 870 as a club in the case he was still with it. As I sat there reflecting, I became aware of a buzzing from my pocket and grabbed my cell phone. “You alright?” ” Yea man, I got one!” “Awesome! did you miss or something? We thought you were under attack or something.” “Ha. Close. Ill meet you guys where we roosted those birds” I hung up and called my buddy Jordan. He answered and I told him all about the hunt. We laughed and I still couldn’t believe it. Had to call Daniel and my wife as well. I took the turkey and my vest and shotgun and set them at the spot I told Brandon to meet me at and started back to get my shells. When I started heading back, I saw that I incorrectly assumed at the vantage of the spot I chose to sit at. That bird had all sorts of cover coming from the bottom of that hill. I didn’t realize how much it dipped off. I walked to my 3rd shell and picked it up and passed by where the bird was when I missed with the second shot. I stepped it off to where the 2nd shell was and saw that I was off by about 10 yards on that shot…. I guessed 35 and he was dead at 45. I walked back to the tree I sat at and walked off to where I found feathers. Lets just say, it was in that moment I realized why I didn’t kill that bird with his first shot. When you are shooting a bird while assuming it is about 55 yards off, when it is actually 70 yards off… it isn’t going to go how you planned. Assuming, it will get ya.

Pisgah Bird before we headed out.

Brandon and Johnathan arrived and the high fives and back pats commenced while I laid everything out about the tale to them. We started hiking back to camp to break it down and stopped and grabbed my decoys. Johnathan carried the bird a little ways and then Brandon switched back to it. Between the 2 of them we determined the bird was probably in the 18-19 pound range and his beard was just short of 8″. His spurs had just started to turn at 7/8″. He was a two year old bird, by no means the biggest or oldest I have been blessed to kill, but he was my first bird on NF land. Getting him out was a bit of a chore as my pack is not conducive to game recovery. I had to call and get his number before I could start cutting on him so we strapped him to my back and I gained a new appreciation for awkward pack outs.

A little string and some prayer.

Remember how I had been freezing? Well, I put on a lot of clothes, and a lot of warm ones at that. In the picture above I am wearing fleece lined pants, a t-shirt with a cold gear base layer, than my sweatshirt. I had been wearing a jacket and some pants base layers prior to the harvest, but took them off and put them in my pack after walking around to get my shells. I had no other pants and no other shirts with me. I took off what I could and started the trek out… Spring time here the temps swing pretty good. I got up that morning in the 30s and hiked out in the high 50s/low 60s. Needless to say, it was a hot one.

Had my wool socks pulled down and my pants pulled up while we headed out. Unbearably hot.

When we got to the parking lot, I remembered I had jeans and a t-shirt in Brandons 4Runner. The “parking lot” here was the end of an old dirt road with a turn around and a spot to pull off the road. We all started loading up and changing while I knelt down and called in the bird. With my knife waiting patiently I scribbled the letters down as Johnathan and Brandon changed. After writing down my confirmation number I exclaimed “Alright, time to cut this sucker.” Johnathan laughed and Brandon smiled, but the couple who were hiking on the AT and happened out of the woods at that moment gasped. They walked on a burly man with a beard half naked, with another man in mid change and a flunky on his knees with a knife about to cut into a turkey. We all smiled and the husband looked nervous as he asked the proximity of a town off the AT that a lot of hikers frequent. I think he then tried to make some small talk about the turkey, but the look transfixed to the face of his wife is what held our attention. She looked from Johnathan to Brandon to my knife to the turkey. I almost committed Mistake #5 again before she spoke up and said “Thats a good bird” with a smile on her face. I put the knife down and started putting my tag and license up as they went on their way. After they were gone we started cleaning the bird and found a few BBs in the breast. A very few. But that wing that was broke bore the brunt of the Winchester XR Long Beard. Broke in 2 places, one from the shot and the other from the fall. After getting the breast out and the legs off, we wrapped the rest of the bird up and headed out. I looked back to the woods we had just left and heard Brandon say “See you next year”. Truer words have never been spoken.

Get out amongst it folks. Its no elk hunt in the great vast wilderness of the West. But it is a freaking good time. Follow it up with some fishing and you have a great weekend for the spring. Look forward to hearing from calla bout any turkey adventures this spring!

Also, don’t assume, practice yardage, think for warmth…

 

 

 

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Backcountry Strutter

My buddy Brandon walking in for our first backcountry turkey hunt last April on Pisgah NF

Since the turkey podcast and articles are popping up, I figured I would share a turkey hunt from last April that occurred on public land here in WNC. Enjoy!

I am very fortunate to work with some cool folks across NC, but even more so for working with one of my good friends Brandon. He and I grew up together in church and back packed Yellowstone when were in highschool. The tale of how we ended up working together is pretty swell as well, but that is for another time.

At our annual meeting for work, we struck up conversation with one of our colleagues from another county, Jonathan. We started taking about some past hunts and Jonathan started reminiscing on his days at the greatest university in the world in Cullowhee, NC (GO CATS!!) and how he missed the trout fishing and the mountains in general. He started talking to us about some stories from his time at Western and how bad he just wanted to get back up there. Brandon offered up the idea of a weekend of backpacking, turkey hunting and fly fishing. All of us agreed that it sounded like a great idea. After the meeting ended and we all went back to our respective field offices, we told Jonathan that we would figure out a spot if he would let us know a date. He has 2 boys that are in their early teens/tweens and that would be a busy time of year for them.

Finding a spot wasn’t too shabby for me and Brandon. We work in a county with 50,000 + of Pisgah NF, and knew the hot spots in other counties for trout. But we were skeptical about birds on federally managed land. Not a lot of edge on the lands here, and even less ESH (Early Successional Habitat) which would make a tough hunt, even tougher. We finally settled on a spot and left one day after work to go scout where we were going. Found some deer sign, saw a few squirrels nest and no turkey sign. I think we found a feather, but cannot remember. It was a speed trip and our optimism was very minimal. But, we called Jonathan and let him know the where, as he relayed to us the when.

The day arrived and I brought in my Remington 870 12 gauge and hunting pack, newly acquired hammock, fleece blanket and other stuff for our hunt. Checked our food, water and phones and started in. We walked through some awesome deer bedding and sign as we went to the spot we had decided on through some e-scouting.

Heading in.

Total hike in didn’t take too awful long and we started getting camp set up. As we walked in, a rare thing happened; a grouse drummed the whole time. We actually bumped it a few times, but it stayed around us and drummed throughout the day. Jonathan had about a 3 hour commute, so Brandon and I did some exploring and scouting to see what we could see. After checking out our surroundings and getting dome rocks so we could build a fire ring, it occurred ot me that I needed to send Jonathan something so that he could find us. Mistake 1, I sent him our coordinates as a pin through Apple Maps. Close to us was a very large burn/salvage cut that was in approximately its 5th year of regeneration. Now, in the Southern Apps, that is thicker than a bamboo patch and one of the primary species that grows back is greenbrier. Other species that are around during this time are raspberry, blackberry and the invasive we all know and hate, multiflora rose. All this stickiness goodness was growing on that hill, and guess what? The pin I sent Jonathan was located directly at the top of this hill.

After about an hour after sending the pin, I heard clanking of pots bouncing on a pack like someone was walking down the trail. I let out a whistle and the sound didn’t stop. I whistled again and the clanking stopped and I assumed Jonathan had heard us and was headed our way. Brandon and I started building a fire ring and messing around the campsite and about another 45 minutes went by. Still no Jonathan. I walked up the hill to where I had reception and called Jonathan. He answered and sounded like he had just invaded Normandy on his own. Brandon set out up the trail hollering for him and Jonathan started making his way back down.

To do justice to what the next scene is, I must describe Jonathan. Brandon and I are of medium height and build fluctuating on the scales in the 155-165 region at about 5’9″. We have an athletic build with a little loving around the waste from our appreciation of certain red meats and craft beer. Jonathan shares those appreciations, but he has a different build. Jonathan exceeds 6′ and weighs about 200lbs or more. The amount of body fat on his body is directly proportionate to the amount of honest politicians in this world; maybe 3%. For fun, Jonathan picks up boulders in his yards and moves them around. Boulders people, flipping boulders. He follows a fairly strict work out regiment and is a freaking beast. He keeps his head shaved and has a fairly majestic beard that is reminiscent of a Tolkien novel. Generally has a very pleasure disposition, and his only fear is me. I joke, but seriously, he would never back talk me….

Brandon found Jonathan, or rather Jonathan found him. I heard Brandon give a little shout as Jonathan popped out. When they walked up, I could tell why. Jonathan had followed my pin to the top of the thickness. He was dripping in sweat, he was covered in scratches and he had just gained 500+ feet in elevation over a 1/2 mile. Brandon’s word to describe Jonathan popping out of the regeneration were along the lines of “All of a sudden I saw these 2 huge eyes and Jonathan appeared and he was covered in scratches, had some blood, dripping sweat and he wasn’t smiling. His beard and eyes were possibly the scariest thing I have ever encountered in the woods.” I could speculate that was very accurate. Lord knows I would have no desire to have that walk up on me!

After he called his wife and told her that he was safe he just looked like he had been “raped by a honey badger” we set up hammocks and started out to see fi we could roost one. We walked a bit from camp and came close to a clearing and let out a few yelps. Nothing. We waited and laid up against a bank as the sun sank over the horizon. The beauty of these mountains is indescribable, my attempt to compliment the Makers handiwork would fall short and most assuredly be blasphemous to the beauty of the landscape. I was snapped out of my trance by the sounds of wings beating. I gave a soft yelp and looked in the direction of the wings. We had found where the hens were roosting.

As we headed back to our camp, I spoke with Brandon and Jonathan about how we would get on those birds in the morning. I rambled on and on and was quieted only when Brandon gave me my Ramen Noodles. We sat there and told tales as the fire was glowing and the flames were adding to the story in a language we couldn’t speak fluently, but somehow we understood.

 

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED…..

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What Are You?

The following is a piece by my dear friend Sean Clarkson. Recently, I started a Facebook group called “Talkin’ Conservation”. The following is a post that I hope to immortalize through this website as well as the FB group. Feel free to look us up. – Tyler

 

What are you?

When someone asks that question in the context of conservation and our pursuit heritage, how do you answer that question? Among all the challenges we, as conservationists and sportsmen/women, face how you answer that question is perhaps the greatest of them all.

One of the most ancient paradigms in warfare and in social politics is captured by the Roman maxim “Dīvide et Imperā”; “Divide and Conquer”. Sun Tzu, Phillip of Macedon, Caesar, Napoleon; one can trace throughout history the effectiveness of this maxim in defeating and ruling their opponents. The opposition is identified, divisions identified or created within them, exploited, and victory then is assured. We see examples of it around us today in geopolitics, in social politics, and in sports. It is undeniably effective. And we, conservationists and especially “sportsmen/women”, have divided ourselves. The single act that those who oppose conservation and our heritage need most to accomplish has been done for them by us, willingly and unwittingly. We are no longer “conservationists”, or “sportsmen/women”, and not even merely “hunters” or “anglers”. We are “deer hunters”, “sheep hunters”, “elk hunters”, “turkey hunters”, “duck hunters”, “bear hunters”, “bowhunters” (made even worse by the “traditional bowhunter” vs “compound bowhunter”, etc., divide). We are “bass anglers”, “trout anglers”, “flyfishers”, “saltwater anglers”. We are “public land/water” hunters and anglers. We are “mountain hunters”, and “swamp hunters”; “dog hunters”, “still hunters”, “tree stand hunters”, “spot-and-stalk hunters”; “solo hunters” and “team hunters”; “meat hunters” and “trophy hunters”. The same goes for anglers. We divide ourselves on every tool, and habitat, and species, and facet or factor we can find. We’ve broken ourselves out into these camps, and we’re extremely proud of our separateness to the point of aggressiveness to and defensiveness against all other camps. This goes well beyond the championing of our totem species with magazines and banquets, apparel and bumper stickers; it goes into fighting among ourselves for special seasons, regulations, legislation, management and allocation of resources, and anything else we can possibly pull into “our camp” to the detriment of the “others”. If you don’t believe me, please attend the next meeting of your state’s legislative committees overseeing game management, or simply pick up any number of glossy magazines in your local book dealer. Or, just peruse social media. You’ll quickly find that we, as what used to be known as conservationists and sportsmen/women, are now locked in “battle” not against any groups or organizations that seek to diminish conservation or our heritage but among ourselves.

Teddy Roosevelt knew that we, as sportsmen and women, inherited and hold in trust for those still in the womb of time our most ancient human legacy of pursuit and of the demand of conservation. And yet, today, we are closer than we have ever been to losing it all. Yes, we still do amazing work for game and non-game species. Yes, we still collectively put hundreds of millions of dollars into conservation and on-the-ground, in-the-water every year. Yes, we still have our abilities to do these things. For now. Every year there are less and less of us. Every year, we lose a little bit more of our heritage and of management of habitat and resources in places like California, New Jersey, British Columbia, and across the globe. And, I can assure you that this happens wherever you are as well. Each of those loses, both in numbers and on specific issues, brings us one step closer to losing it all. Rome was not built in a day, nor did it fall in a day, but “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Luke 11:24-25). Instead of standing against each of these loses, together, we turn inwardly to our own camp and write it off as the problem of one of those “other” camps. Instead of looking at the decreases across our combined ranks, we worry only about whether we have what we consider “enough” within our own camp. When trapping is attacked, where are the turkey hunters? When the use of hounds is attacked, where are the sheep hunters? When the numbers of license sales fall 2 MILLION over the course of a half dozen years, are we all collectively working to figure out why and reverse the trend, or are we looking within our own camp and talking about how many of “us” there are? Did not Martin Niemöller warn us sufficiently about this?

Yes, we must police our own ranks. Yes, we must figure out how to better present ourselves and our heritage. Yes, we must once again take control of the conversation about the management of our resources, wresting this away from the equally misguided preservationists who seek to lock everything away and the destructionists who seek to extract maximum short-term gain at the expense of posterity. Yes, we must do all manner of things to improve what we do and how we do it, for the heritage we hold in trust and for the conservation of the species that we love beyond our limited ability to express. Yes, these things are true, and so many more.

Yet, we are going to lose the chance to do any of these things because we have divided ourselves so effectively that we no longer even see other sportsmen/women as our own. Instead of our prideful independence as “____ hunters” and “_____ anglers”, we need to recognize our dependence on all those “other” groups and realize that the only divisions between us are created by us for the benefit of none of us. We’re all conservationists and sportsmen/women, and that is who and what we should be first and last, for our heritage of pursuit and for our legacy of conservation. Can we once again simply be a “hunter”, an “angler”; a “conservationist”, a “sportsman/woman” instead of some needless faction within? I say that we can, and in the words of Benjamin Franklin: “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

To the question of “what am I?”, I answer “I am a hunter; I am an angler; I am a conservationist; I am a sportsman.” What say you? – Sean Clarkson

Sean Clarkson is a devoted father of two daughters, and husband to an incredible woman. A native Virginian with roots several centuries deep in that red clay, Sean is an avid outdoorsman pursuing whatever is in season by whatever means he can. A career conservationist with more degrees than necessary, he would most want to share a campfire with Aldo Leopold, Fred Bear, Teddy Roosevelt, John Colter, Harry Selby, Derzu Uzala, and whomever was first across the Bering Sea land bridge.

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5 ways to Honor our Conservation Heritage

 

Davidson River Transylvania County NC

It is a weird time isn’t it? Last night the government shut down again. A dude who didnt pay his fees and was acquitted of charges is being paraded as a hero of civil liberties and private property rights. But there are some constants that we should all know by now; folks in office are still pointing fingers every which way but at themselves, and people still turn into keyboard warriors over fixed blade versus mechanical. What a time to be alive.

With all this going on, its easy for us to slip into the mud slinging and flag waving in the “us vs them” scenario that is found in almost every single issue. For example, Cliven Bundy is on tour across the country starting in Montana today. As well all know Mr. Bundy and others held up at a Wildlife Refuge (that is yours) in protest of “Federal seizure of land” and other atrocities he claims have happened due to federal oversight. He ran the flag up of “us vs them” facing off with the federal land managers. Which is his right (to protest, not take over our land), and the rights of those who joined him. However, he did so with half truths and flat out lies. If you have not heard the facts about public land ownership, particularly in the federal realm, there is loads of information out there. Factually accurate sources like Randy Newbergs Hunt Talk Radio where he covers the laws and history of the lands and statehood of Western states. Randy is a model for how we as conservationist should act. He recognizes that in order to honor our heritage of being the most devout conservationist on this Earth, we are called to be efficient and honest.

How do you and I do this?

1.) Be knowledgeable – In today’s age of technology there is so much information at our fingertips. Google is an excellent tool. Online forums are also excellent ways to gain knowledge. But, they also have one major flaw; a lot of the information is derived from emotion and opinions. There are keyboard warriors all over and armchair biologist just waiting to rage out on the keys. I myself, am guilty of this. Probably still am.* But, if the issue is based on a practice or requirements of a species or anything along those lines, I put a “scholar.” in front of Google. This resource sends you to a plethora of peer-reviewed articles based on scientific research. Now, some require a subscription and what not, but abstracts can hit a lot of the study. Also, if it was performed at certain USDA Research Stations, the article in its entirety is available. Language can be somewhat complex, but I hope emojis and the acronyming of everything has not won out yet. Also, if it is a bill, there is generally a way to find it written out. This is a spot where folks lose their minds. This is a place for speculation and emotion and crazy assumptions. Some may be well founded. Some, not so much. Read, discuss, research, discuss some more.

2.) Let emotion fuel the desire to find the facts- One of the coolest things about those of us who participate on the landscape is that we are so emotionally charged and invested into the resources. From clean air and clean water and protecting soil to providing wildlife habitat, we are at the fore front. And it is something that swells me up with pride watching folks come together to do our part for that which we love. But dont let that emotion get out of control. Use it to grasp a better understanding of an issue, but above all, to find the facts. In my career and my personal volunteering on conservation measures I have seen folks come from a place of emotion and speculation.  Their heart was in the right place, but they did not come from a place of facts. Their credibility has eroded. They created divisions that are still not mended and have slowed down progress on many fronts. We owe it to our predecessors and those who come behind us to come from a place of facts. Facts matter.

3.) Be respectful- Dont be that guy/gal. When I say that I am referring the guy/gal who starts the personal attacks in person or on the keyboard (a lot of that lately) and completely regresses to some schoolyard punk. You can have a civil discussion with folks. If they change their tone and raise their voice or they begin the personal attacks, its best to just acknowledge the point you are making and take the high road. Even if they deserve a good cussing or beating.

4.) Leave the party line out of it- This times a million. If you still think that either party cares about you as a hunter, as a conservationist, as an individual; I would argue you have had blinders on your whole life. The left primarily hates the 2nd amendment and is not as friendly to hunters as one would think. The right wants to transfer your land and limits conservation work and agencies abilities to function. They do not care about you. I am sorry if this hurts. But it is true. Recently, I was having a beer with some folks and one of the gentlemen made the statement “Hunters dont vote for folks who value public lands”. Instead of responding with a quirk about the 2nd amendment or constitutional amendments to protect hunting and fishing, I pondered on it for a while. Here is the truth of the matter; we need public lands to hunt and we need someone to protect our ability to do so (in every way). A candidate who does that may exist, but some folks also claim they have seen Bigfoot. Or we could just get Mr. Rinella to start a new version of the Bull Moose party….

5.) GET IN THE ARENA!!!!-  (this times a trillion)I am often fascinated by the comments I see in forums and groups on post about broadheads, which truck, measure my buck, QDM vs. TDM vs. Traditional. They hit the thousands in some venues. In those same groups though, I have seen (and made) post that are more about issues in the conservation and policy realm. Issues that directly impact your ability to pursue game. Public meetings, calls to actions and so on. It may hit 50 comments, very, very rarely have I seen any with 100 or more comments. Now, there are forums that are created just for these discussions, and they are great resources. However, not too many folks participate or are a part of these forums or groups. It hurts us all to not be involved, to not be engaged, to not USE YOUR VOICE! I hate going to meetings. I love being at home with my family. But, because of them I go to the meeting. Not saying I do not enjoy meeting and talking with fellow conservationist, I do, but I want to be home or in the woods. They may be an inconvenience, but it is a privilege to participate. If I do not go and speak on behalf of my sons, who will? If we look at what our predecessors endured, it is our DUTY.

With all of these points, try and think about what message it does for hunting and fishing. There are less and less of us. We need to recruit and retain. How are we going to add to our numbers and appeal to those who do not hunt if we engage in the same style of rhetoric as those we oppose?

Join a NGO like the RMEF, BHA, QDMA, NWTF or so on. Go to a meeting. Ask a question. Reach out to folks you see who are getting out there. If we do not do this, our future is looking pretty bleak and dismal.

Get in the Arena.

*I recently did this in a discussion (this morning) on the TRCP Facebook page. Had to go make a note in an edit. I made an assumption. But, I corrected it after learning I was wrong. Part of it

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CRP: What is it? Why does it matter?

As many of you have seen in the past few days, and in some cases, the past few months, there has been a push about CRP and the need to increase its funding and capabilities in the future Farm Bill. CRP stands for the Conservation Reserve Program and is administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). It is the largest private lands conservation program in our nation.

According to the FSA website, CRP is an agreement between the FSA and a landowner/farmer in which “in exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. Contracts for land enrolled in CRP are 10-15 years in length. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat…” Land also has to be deemed eligible and the applicant goes through a process in order to enroll their land. The FSA will and has partnered with their sister agency the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), NGO Conservation Agencies and their local Conservation Districts on developing the plan and implementing the program.

 

All in all, it is a great program that is very beneficial to multiple resources. It goes without saying that this program is beneficial to wildlife, especially deer. But with acres coming out of enrollment, deer numbers have seen a decline. Loss of habitat has led to population decrease which the Quality Deer Management Associations Kip Adams has been talking about for some time. In a 2015 article that Kip authored on the QDMA’s website, he cites habitat loss as number 5 on the list for factors causing deer decline. As a hunter on the most deer deficient area in the Southeast, I agree wholeheartedly. The loss of habitat is, in my opinion, one of the greatest limiting factors to multiple game populations; especially the whitetail. Kips article is a must read and he goes into the details about the amount of CRP coming out.

CRP is not just beneficial to the whitetail. In fact, it has many initiatives that target other species across the landscape. One of the initiatives is geared towards Duck Habitat, another for Honeybees, Upland Bird Habitat, and another for the long leaf pine. A list of the different initiatives can be found here. Another hot topic right now is the Sage Grouse and its habitat on both public and private lands. According to a 2011 study done by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sage Grouse nesting in CRP saw drastic increases over the course of the programs life span.

In the 2014 Farm Bill, CRP saw a drastic reduction in funding. The program was essentially crippled and millions of acres came out. For myself, I have noticed the lack of wildlife in other states I hunt. I have spoken with folks and read comments on social media and other forums on the lack of numbers folks are seeing. The time to act is now, especially as the Farm Bill debates start up. Check out crpworks.org and get involved with groups like the National Deer Alliance (free to be a member). This is an opportunity to get involved. This is our duty as conservationist to speak on behalf of the resources.

I’ll leave you with a video of Melissa Bachman talking about the CRP and the North American Wildlife Model. Check em out. Make a phone call, write an email……

As always, Get in the Arena

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Talking Points for the hunter

In my youth, I would engage in arguments or justify my actions in ways that lack maturity and understanding. I would regurgitate things that I had observed others use to defend their actions and/or decisions. I would just take these arguments as truths, because it is what I had heard, from folks who may have been older than me, or seemed to have more in common with me than other folks. In the hunting realm, I am seeing this on a daily basis. Resistance to so many different notions and ideas that go against the grain or what we have heard from others that we may look up to, or that we hold in high regard. Look, there is nothing wrong with looking up to those who took the time to teach or mentor you. I get it, we put those individuals on a pedestal. It’s a common occurrence.  But its starting to hurt us as a user group, way more than help us. Allow me to expand on the “truth” we have been told and we use to justify our actions in taking the life of an animal.

Hanging out in a stand of Chamaecrista fasciculata, commonly known as partridge pea on some state-owned game land. This plant is utilized by many game species and has been rarer on the landscape.

“If we do not hunt, the wildlife will populate at an unstable rate and then spread disease and die off. So, we help by keeping them in check.” This justification has played itself out. The examples of where this is legitimate is few and very far between. In fact, there are very few cases where overpopulation to the extent of disease is a thing. If it was, why are certain areas sterilizing deer to reduce the herd? Wouldn’t they rather just “Let nature take its course”? And rid themselves of the deer infestation with the mythical die off from the disease that allegedly is looming out there? The entire discussion is flawed and not one that is shared by many hunters, or biologist. I recognize that there are areas where this is a thing, (Connecticut, NJ, etc…), but not as widespread as one would believe after scouring social media. And it really is not a good conversation piece for those who do not hunt, or are opposed to hunting.

According to a  2011 National Survey  by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, 6% of the nation participate in hunting, and the largest majority that hunts were the 45-54 age class. 6 % of the nation is now estimated to be around 5% now. The contributor to that decline covers a few variables, with people “aging” out, lack of access for hunters, habitat degradation and fragmentation, and so on. Why does that matter? Because on the other end of the spectrum sits an estimated 5% who are severely opposed to hunting. And the 90% that is in between are being suited hard by those who oppose. We see it in the mis-information of land management. We see it in the advertisements and “documentaries”. And we also see it when a decision is made that is less than admirable for hunters. So why does this matter? Because many know that hunting is in fact a privilege.

So what am I saying? I am saying that we need to get away from the close-minded, finger-pointing, name-calling, middle finger in the air attitudes that cause the division. I am not bashing certain campaigns on social media over hunters (primarily huntresses/female hunters) being bullied. But we need to be bigger and rise above. We have many examples on how to do that. Engaging in the old banter and holding “the line” of mis-information and ignorance is harming us on so many levels. I am all for voicing opinions, or sticking to your beliefs. I have a blog. And anyone who knows me will tell you, I don’t shy away. However, I have been able to keep my mouth shut and my ears open in my older age. Voices like Shane Mahoney, Randy Newberg, Steven Rinella, Kip Adams, Lindsay Thomas, Craig Harper, and others are where we as hunters need to gather information to have actual intellectual conversations. We need to recognize where someone is coming from and then, in a respectful way, present our views on why we do what we do.

Unless you live under a rock, or just hate social interaction with fellow hunters, Steven Rinellas “Meat Eater” is a show that has done so many things to change the negative image of a hunter. Another excellent resource from Rinella and company is The MeatEater Podcast that comes out on a weekly basis. One of my all-time favorite podcast from Meat Eater is Episode 53, where they discuss the 5 talking points that we as hunters generally use and their overall effectiveness. To listen to the discussion (its pretty sweet and very informative) click the link above to give it a listen. They also discuss Pittman-Robertson, Dingle-Johnson, and other contributing factors to conservation in our country. They ranked them in order of effectiveness based off of the study, but instead of delving into each point, I am gonna go with my big 3. I am probably going to be way off of how they are categorized in the podcast, but I will go with what my thoughts are on the conversations we have.

Elk Scat found on some recently acquired gamelands. This is a testament to what we as hunters accomplish through conservation.

 

 

1.) We care so much about the resource and being ethical that we follow rules and guidelines while buying license and taking classes to be certified to pursue game. Many folks who do not participate in the pursuit of wild animals realize what all goes into being legal. In NC, after a certain birthdate, you have to take Hunters Safety. If you buy a license as a non-resident you must have your Hunters Safety Certification. We follow ethical pursuit of the game out of respect for the animal. Some folks take it a step further and restrict the equipment they use, or the age of the animal they are after.

2.) We pay an excise tax from Pittman-Robertson. The tax came from a time when we had NOTHING and we opted to take the burden on. It’s no secret the US was in bad shape in the 1930’s. even with all the financial burdens, even with the lack of food, jobs, etc… a group of folks told FDR they would bear the burden of restoring wildlife and wild places by placing a tax on themselves. Our predecessors asked for a tax on themselves to restore what had been wrecked…. Let that sink in. How many of you just jump at the idea of additional taxes? We went to war in 1776 for a 2% increase on tea. Our conversation forefathers had an 11% tax to restore wildlife and habitat degradation. In 1999 other user groups were asked to do the same through the Conservation Reinvestment Act. Introduced on February 10, 1999 the CRA would have a tax on other outdoor equipment similar to the Pittman-Robertson or Dangle-Johnson. The bill passed the House on May 11, 2000 and went to the Senate. It died there due to groups claiming that their users “paid too many taxes already”. Others had the opportunity and chose not to.

This is an older Elk rub on some gamelands in NC. This is the first one that I have seen with my own eyes in my own state. Hunters brought this species back. Hunters made the habitat available. Whats not to love?

3.) We use the meat harvested to sustain ourselves and our families. The meals provided are the healthiest forms of protein we can harvest. And for those who do not enjoy the taste of wild game (weirdos) there are many food banks who will take that meat and give it to those in need. Many conservation organizations, hunter organizations and farmer groups work together to provide for the less fortunate in their communities. Our primal call as hunters is to be a provider.

In closing, I would like for you to read and take to heart the words of renowned conservationist and one of my heroes Shane Mahoney.   “Wildlife and wild places no longer exist by accident or without the intervention of those that truly and deeply care.” This is a talking point. This is what is constantly left out of the discussion.

Get in the Arena.

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Dealing with the crazies

I believe we all have been there. Talking with our friends or like minded people until someone who is “superior” in their own mind shows up or feels the need to get involved with your discussion.  Or, you are weighing in on something like braodheads (I know, men have been killed for less) and then the name calling starts and does not stop. Or, an individual who is fairly new to the area or hunting itself starts offering advice based off of things they have heard from outdoor tv. In all of these, people lose their minds. I’m guilty of it from time to time, but as time has progressed, I only become that crazy dude when it impacts 1.) my ability to hunt, 2.) the ability of others to hunt, and 3.) anything to do with Public Land. 

As many of you know, I am on a couple forums. I love these forums because I think of how valuable this would have been to have when I was getting into hunting. And we may have had these, I just didn’t know about them. But, 2 decades later here I am. A dude who loves to read advice, offer advice, speak with people who are like me, found a place to fit in.  But there are crazies. 

In the world of being pro active in hunting and conservation, you meet a lot of people face to face. Particularly those who are not ultimately fans of us. This form of interaction is attending the public land meetings, meetings on habitat and management. And in some regards it’s meetings with like minded individuals who are fellow conservationist and you are discussing regulations, fundraisers, youth hunting, recruitment and retention or disabled hunters. Anything really to engage people with the natural world that you voluntarily submit yourself to. But, then there are some crazies there as well. 

Social media. This is where it all comes ahead. Hunters. Anti-Hunters. Newbies with advice. Newbies to an area. Grizzled hardened hunters. Grizzled hardened antis. The dude who just read Leonardo DiCaprios tweets and is now an expert. The person who allegedly had every degree known to man and has worked in every career and remains a victim. A place where people cry for safe spaces. And it is chock full of crazies. 

Many people will say too ” not engage” the crazies. This is solid advice. But, as I am about to tell you, I did not take it. I engaged. And now I feel like I need a shower, and to read leather bound books in a room of mahogany. 

Here is the scenario. An individual started a thread in a forum asking about public land opportunities in my area. He had just moved there and said he was a disabled veteran. I replied with names of NCWRC managed game lands. Just the names. I wanted to tell the dude what tree to come to and so on and so forth. But I just gave names. The gentleman thanked me and then responded to others who had wrote in the thread. 4 weeks, not hours, not days, but WEEKS went by. And then I had a private message. It was “unsolicited advice” about not sharing information about hunting spots in our area. The individual who wrote it said that they knew a guy that had been burned by other hunters who used his info. Then, he said we would regret it. It came across very condescending. Which, leads me to my first tidbit; you don’t know anyone’s tone in text. You just don’t. So don’t assume. I assumed. And started down the path of engaging a crazy….

I read the message and then read the thread over and over. Had my best friend look it over. Co-workers. My wife. And they said choice things but the meat and potatoes of what they said was “I wouldn’t look too far into it”. I started to take that advice and then a little voice started reading through it. I started getting fired up. Then I decided to engage. Not my finest hour… or days…

Upon responding to the message, the authors was offended and then it became a full blown contesting of whose stream could go the farthest and remain streaming for the longest amount of time. It got ugly. And I just couldn’t stop. Neither could he. 

But to be fair, it’s not his fault. I was not nice. I was very jerkish in my rant on how he needed to worry about himself. I went off the deep end (maybe like 8 foot) about how all I did was give names that are readily available. I didn’t give road or trail names. I gave names of the game lands. Names that are very easy to find. I enagaged a crazy. You have probably heard, “It takes a monster  to defeat a monster” which may be true. But “it takes a crazy to beat a crazy” isn’t a thing. It just ends up with you stooping to a low place to hurl knives at a person who you should be supporting. It puts you to a place where you are wanting to go middles school and say “Flag pole 3pm” with someone you should be inviting with you to a meeting. If I had just said “Ok” and swallowed the pride, my fingers would not be so sore with the type backs and I wouldn’t be having to re start MeatEater episodes on Netflix. But, I went full crazy. Don’t go full crazy folks. 

In my final response I retracted back to the days of my youth. I started slinging mud and belittling the person. I went to a place that I would tan my sons hide for. I regressed. And I cannot sleep because of it. 

I tried to justify my dislike for the individual who wrote the message by reading other post. Then, I discovered we had spoke many times in the past on this particular forum. We had many interactions. We commented on many threads about the area we reside in. Obviously we had differing opinions on some things, but nothing too wild. Then I started re evaluating….

Who was the one at fault? Who was the crazy? The answer is not what he nor I want to admit or hear. We looked into that abyss of having the final say and we both jumped head first, racing to the bottom of that pit to see how would splat first. 

In my day to day I engage anti hunters who use blatant lies about conservation. I engage certain hunters who bash others or who do not reflect on what I feel represents hunting in a positive light. Who am I to be that guy though? I spoke about my 3. Obviously I will not waver there. But, I need to do better on my delivery to my fellow hunters. Obviously I’m not gonna go easy on the person who opposes hunting based off fabrications and half truths. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not back down from a debate with someone who hates what I represent. I’ve lost friends, and subsequently, also gained friends by this trait. But, with hunters who disagree, we need to come from a place of respect and facts. Don’t start the “I have 8 degrees and 5 masters, I’m your superior” or the “I have killed so many things, you don’t even know” or “I’m on like 10 pro staffs and a handful of field staffs” or “well, my friends dads co workers nephews dog trainer had a friend who is a biologist, and they said this”. Look, if it’s a thing of science, get the facts. And for the love of God can we stop with the over population, doomsday rhetoric? That arguement has been drove into the ground. Over. And over. Let’s talk about wildlife and wild places and overall conservation that only we provide and fund. We have too much access to too much research to remain ignorant on this front. If it has to do with matter of opinions on equipment or methods, agree to disagree. And if it had to do with anything that may be misconstrued as condescending, just don’t engage. The dude I have been intonit with probably is a cool guy. But I assumed his tone and he assumed mine and now it’s akward. 

Dont engage the crazies. And don’t become a crazy. If you have a disagreement, it may always be better to just ignore the person. Or respectfully disagree and Lee the opinion to yourself. Or, just make the call yourself. 

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The elusive “Cull Buck”

We have all said it. We have all heard it. “Deer here just have bad genetics”….”That’s just a cull buck”….”I better shoot him before the neighbors do!” First off, I am no purist or great hunter. I’m a Flunky that likes to eat deer and wild game. In the realm of whitetail, I have only killed does and a button Buck. My harvest will be part of another blog on here that more or less let’s you know more about me and “My Story”, but my point is, hunt how you want. But don’t use TV lies to justify your kill. 

I am writing this from a tree stand in some game lands down from the house. Dove hunters are letting the lead fly and chucking shells all around me. I am looking at my buddies deer from last night. An absolute STUD!!! I will be doing another post about it and other WNC deer, kind of a second part to this one. But what got me to this point, this post, this blog, this rant is what I have noticed. Jordan killed a BRUTE because he has practiced letting them age. 

Contrary to popular belief, cull bucks don’t exist in many places in the natural world. In fact, unless you have managed a property for 25+ years intensively, then you will probably never see a “cull buck”. I know what your thinking, “This guy/gal in Instagram says otherwise” or “I just watched this show where the host Possum Trot Leg-Swarp swears there are areas with bad genes and tons of culls!!” Fair enough, let’s take a look at what those “cull bucks” have in common shall we? Usually, they have 2-6 horns, are very skinny and their legs seem very long for their bodies. I have asked people about these alleged “cull bucks” they have killed and one dudes response was “They always have really flat backs and just look kind of awkward” I responded with “Like teenagers?” He nodded his head and said “Just like em! Like they never grew up!”  I didn’t remind the man that after his harvest they could in fact, never grow up. After a stroll through social media today, I noticed how many people where teeming deer as “culls” or talking about inferior genetics. Hence this post. 

All the afore mentioned similarities to these “cull bucks” also bear an uncanny resemblance to another group of deer: the young bucks. Ages 1.5-2.5. The 13-18 year old awards teenage boys of the natural world. According to the QDMA the common traits that I have mentioned are also common for young deer. So, according to them, “Cull Bucks” are few and very far between and in a lot of areas, do not exist. So why is this all over social media? Why is this still a thing? I recall congratulating a young man in his teens on harvesting a beautiful 110 inch 7 point white tail buck. The hunt he recounted in his post was so awesome and inspiring but then he ended it with “Got another cull out of the herd!!” I congratulated him on the deer and then just suggested that the deer was in fact not a cull, just a young deer. Never brow beat him, never beat the deer down, just a thought. All of a sudden he had recruited his buddy to “teach me a lesson” in this. The buddy began with the rhetoric of “This gene pool has some deer that get decent antlers and mast, but their bodies indicate they are genetically inferior to our dominant bucks in the area” Full disclosure, I engaged. I shouldn’t have, I should have been the adult, but I engaged. 

What happened next was a whirlwind. I addressed the young mans friend with questions on how they determined it’s inferiorness? What’s the jaw bone look like? Have they worked with a biologist on their private ranch they hunted? The responses reminded me why I miss spankings in school and then also reminded me I share the same generation. Can’t blame the kids though, they are just a product of their up bringing. Which was re affirmed when I started this morning. I saw picture after picture of 1.5 year old deer laying on the ground with “#cullbuck” and “Had to get him out of the gene pool” in the descriptions. Look, I am not knocking how people hunt, if it’s legal and you wanna mow down every single 1.5 year old buck in your area, have at it! Just don’t come back and say “Took all these culls out of the herd!!” And you know what? You could be right! They could in fact be the elusive “cull buck” I have apparently missed all these years. But a jawbone is the only truth to the matter. If the age shows different, I’ll agree. But I like my odds that the jawbone will in fact show it’s a young deer. 

My preference for whitetail is obvious. I want to let him go so he can grow. That’s my choice. But my choice doesn’t need justifying…. does yours? If it does, is it really about the hunt? Is it really about the filling of the freezer? Why not shoot a doe? I think the primary culprit is outdoor television. Shows needed footage to get the kills on camera. Needed to show how their sponsor who made the super duper scent free bio degradable toilet paper how their product helped produce results. Be skeptical folks. Talk to a biologist. Join a conservation organization. At least have the facts. 

However, if you are in Texas, a cull buck to them, would be a Euro Mount on my wall. And it’s also the home of the good Al Brothers. So they can say a few things differently. 

Happy hunting. And don’t hashtag the word cull. Please. For the love of God. 

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What I learned from the great Spear debacle….

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you know all about the Bowmar vs. Under Armour hunt deal. For those of you who have not read or heard or seen anything about it, feel free to google it. I am sure there are plenty of other articles/blogs and what not about it. This isn’t one of them. That being said, I hate that this is going on. I am sure there were errors in judgement on both sides, and both sides regret certain actions. But, the Bowmars will be alright (have you seen Sarah? And pretty sure Josh can throw trees after he up roots them) and Under Armour will still be selling gear and sending money to conservation. But there are 2 common themes that we can talk about from this; 1.) Anti-hunters and how we actually can deal with them and 2.) the public perception of hunters matters.

Continue reading What I learned from the great Spear debacle….