Friday, September 30, 2005

The rookie

Surprisingly, today, I was back at it.

Was thinking not, being it was windy with rain in the forecast. But child duty was staring me in the face for Friday and the weekend; there would be no other time this week. I had to hit the timberdoodle woods Thursday.

I was just dying to see how my rookie pointer would do.

Well, he did fair. There were some good points. Young Hank stuck fairly close in the thick scrub brush and timber. I was expecting him to be rangy and bust way out in front of me. None of that happened. And I consider that the hard stuff to correct.

One of his weaker flaws was not being able to find the game even though I could tell his nose was onto something. He did get excitable at the wafting scent. I never saw him go on point at any time.

However, I am not discouraged. I know that stuff is natural to him. It's just a matter of getting it to click inside his head. More work is ahead. The way I plan to tackle this is with a scented dummy and bird wings hidden around the yard.

I must confess I've never trained a pointer, so I most likely will be refering to outside sources for help. But learning new things is always good.

And while Hank received a fair grade, I give the shooter a poor grade. Nobody is tougher on me than me. Let the ass-kicking session begin. How I missed three easy shots ... I can't even put it into words. Just ... aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Now that I'm thinking about it, those three birds I shot at, were all flushed by yours truly. So that's another badaboy for Hank. He'll learn. He's young. But the shooter ...

And to add insult to my flailing attempts, Henry the springer, was waiting at his pen when I pulled into the driveway back home. It was as if his eyes were saying, "You coulda used me today, boss."

No doubt about it. I'm not so sure the last shot I had was a miss. I searched the tall grass and briars for some time. Had the veteran walked point today, I would have felt more comfortable moving on to the next patch of cover.

Henry was awesome last year at finding downed woodcock on the forest floor. That is, when you could get him to stop long enough for a look. Found five of six birds that were shot over him.

So the early bird season has been a skunk thus far.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Back to reality

Yes, it's been awhile since I've last posted.

I came back from what will most likely be my last bear hunt for 2005 early Monday, Sept. 26. It was after 5 a.m., actually. Tough drive. Driving rain followed me from Curtis, in Mackinac County, Michigan, all the way to my home county of St. Clair. Felt like I was hydroplaning most of the time in the soggy, pitch-black night.

Earlier on Sunday evening of Sept. 25, I went on what has to be my greatest hunting gig to date.

Even without scoring a bear, you ask?


I had to boat across the South Manistique Lake to a secluded bay, where the outfitter had baited treestand.

It became more of a confidence course for me. Especially after my guide for this day's hunt, John, told me of how the original owner of Sherman's Resort was startled by a bear one time a few years ago while going into bait the site. He surprised the giant in waist-high ferns close to the shore, and the bruin reared up on him. The only thing that saved the old-timer was a swift swing of an ax to the bear's skull. It skulked away into the woods but not before shaking off the ax head near the stand.

Felt good about what would most likely be my last chance at a bear -- at least on this trip. Was shown some pics the night before my hunt from a trail camera that had been taken earlier in the year. A couple of real beauts were hitting the site on film. Looked like they went 350 or more. What became more of the story for later, was the times on those pics. Taken around 11:30 p.m. Nocturnal munchers, as they are primarily, I knew it would be a matter of whether they came in at legal shooting time.

So, once consumed with this information, I was on full-auto alert while on stand and when climbing down the ladder in the darkness. My muzzleloader was capped and ready to rap as I walked to the boat. But it never came to that.

Can't really say why I wasn't one of the hundreds of lucky tagged out bear hunters other than that's hunting. All I can do is try again next year. Or the year after, since it took me six years of applying in Michigan's lottery before I received a permit.

Today was more of a customary hunt for me. A woodcock hunt on public land near my house with my longtime companion, a springer spaniel named Henry. Hard to believe after nearly 12 years of slogging through the woods together that he was not the first four-legged choice for today.

I recently came into an English pointer -- formerly named "Tank" and who is now known as "Hank the Almighty Tank." See, I may possibly hunt with the former kennel owner and I don't want to totally offend him. But Tank ... eh, just wasn't working for me. The name Hank is just a good fit: he's the next generation, and Hank is short for Henry. It also sounds like Tank and won't confuse him.

It was highly suggested by the former owner that I get a shock collar for my rookie canine. Once I got the mood-altering neck hardware home, I read in the directions how it needed to be charged 14 hours before being used. Hank, I thought to myself, you're benched.

And the first advantage of having two dogs was notched. Henry, today is your lucky day. You're walking point for the first bird hunt of the year. (Shhhhh. Don't tell him he probably never knew he was second in line for today's hunt.)

The conditions weren't optimal for an 11-year-old dog wearing a little pen rust. Windy and hot, making the scent blow in all directions.

We did get one flush in an hour and a half. A total knuckleball that I shot behind twice. Unbelievable. That's the thing about woodcock: they don't jet out like charged lightning as does a grouse. One time they may go straight up like a flying saucer whistling madly. Next they might flap 15 yards, then drop to the ferns. Or like he did today, quietly glide through the popple scrub brush as if he were tiptoeing down the backsteps. Hence, their nickname, the timberdoodle. Yeah, he timberdoodled my ass, right into a shooting lullaby.

For today he did, yet, the season is young.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Smarter than the average bear

I'm back from the swamps of Michigan's Upper Penisula.

Bear-less, I might add. That's the way it goes.

But I learned plenty about bear hunting. Baiting them. Some of their habits. (Will add photos once I have time to have the film developed.)

Highlight of the trip was following behind the bear guide on my new quad (no, I didn't kill myself being a newbie driver and all) to some of his other bait sites.

At the one secluded bait along a river swamp, guide Phil of Sherman's Resort in Curtis, Mich., showed me where a boar marked his territory by scratching a cedar tree 7-feet high. Very exciting to see that since the area at my stand was fairly untouched for two days. Phil told me the bait where he put me had been hit every day prior to my arrival, and was "my best stand."

The weather had became unseasonably hot for being mid-September in the U.P. Temperatures were in the 80s. Told the heat really puts the slowdown on their movement and feeding habits.

Plus, the heat made it impossible to keep my scent in check despite wearing a Scent-Lok suit. I was sweating my gonads off. Wasn't aware of how powerful a bear's nose is. "Moreso than a deer's," Phil said. With that combination, we figured that's what kept them off my bait.

At least none of the baits had been hit at the other stands. So I was somewhat comforted. Phil also said he heard of no bear being taken anywhere around town.

Ended up being moved by how disappointed Phil and his helper John were that I didn't get a bear. Hard for me to be discouraged when confronted with that kind of dedication.

Just comes down to this: If Yogi doesn't come out, I can't shoot him.

During my 32 hours on the stand over a 5-day period, I often imagined him sitting propped up by a large rock along a ridge on the other side of the swamp saying, "Hey, hey, Boo-Boo, it's much too hot to go down to Mr. Hunter's feed today."

"Yogi, it's powerful hot, I'm with you," Boo-Boo would say back.

So I sat. Taking a power nap here and there. Watching the two families of coons fight it out around the large logs covering the bait in the pit the first night. Then on the second, only three coons appeared with a skunk to prance around like stooges in being stymied at getting a good hunk of "apple sauce."

Then the third day brought a couple of purring grouse beneath the stand. I cursed myself later for not getting a picture. And for not being able to hop down and chase them with my springer and Browning. Soon enough, small game opened today actually.

The last night there, only the reliable Peppie Le Pew, paid my area a visit.

But there's still hope. The boys at Sherman's are bringing me back if I can swing it, which it looks like I can Sept. 24-25. So don't count me out just yet.

Friday, September 09, 2005

In His hands

Well, tonight's my last night at work. Have next week off.

Leaving for the U.P. early Saturday. Need to be there by noon. Guide wants me on stand by 2 p.m. at latest.

My friend Mike P. nudged me with ideas of using one of my favorite guns in the safe, the Knight .50-caliber muzzlerloader. Definitely have been pondering the Knight .50-cal. I feel that's the best gun I have, but it's all systems go with the 7mm Savage. Knight up to 100 yards or so is deadly accurate. But I shot the 7mm today as I said I would in my last posting. Didn't have any guinea pop-up targets in addition to the paper one. Damn!

Confirmed the accuracy of the Knight last December when I was trying out a M-1 Garand before buying it while on a South Carolina boar hunt. Made a stop at the Garard's Fort, Pa., gun range while camped out at the in-laws in West Virginia. Also had smokepole with me. Couldn't hit s--- with M-1. (Later, I was able to sight it in at home range.) I put down the M-1 and took a shot with Knight. Right in center ring.

My one concern is the lack of blood you sometimes get with muzzle. Happened last year with the doe I popped behind my house. Was a heart shot at 80 yards. Only found tufts of hair where it was standing for the shot but not even a speck of blood.

Funny, went to outdoor shop down the road about a month ago. Had awesome deal on .45-cal Knight. Told a friend who's always needing a muzzleloader about it. "Naw, can't swing it," he says.

The more I looked at deal, the more I had to go with it. I mean for $99. You get gun. Free boresighting if buy a Simmons 3X9 scope for $45. Free pack of Power Belt rounds. And, of course, a free hat. Seems like I'm missing something, but that's enough to seal it. So I picked up one. Anyway, that's how much I like the one I already have.

Also, just picked up an ATV, much to the wife's chagrin. Man, I hope I don't kill myself on that thing. More worried about that and boloing the shot than getting mauled by a bear.

But it's in God's hands now.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bear in mind

My mind is racing since I talked today via cell phone with the hunting guide that is baiting my treestand for black bear in Michigan's Upper Penisula. The season opens Sept. 10.

Here I've been shooting my Mountaineer bow like a dedicated madman for the last month. Ordering the wife to corral the kids so I won't bounce a field tip off one of their cute, brown-tasseled heads if they were to come scrambling around the side of the house smack dab in the middle my balcony-to-deer-target archery range while I was shooting.

He originally told me that the shots would be about 25 yards. Tonight he tells me, "The bait is 40 yards from the hunter."

Huh? "So bow is out then," I ask.

"Oh, yeah, bring a gun," he says.

In some ways I'm relieved because I wasn't all that crazy about walking out of the woods with only a bow. He told me, "It's amazing how that rifle will feel like a little stick when you're walking out of there at night."

Gulp! Naw, I'm all business. Bring it on.

At least now I'll have a reason to retaliate tomorrow against the looney neighbor's constantly eeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEE-rrrrRRRRRRRppppp, eeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEE-rrrrRRRRRRRRRppppping guinea hens. All I heard today in my head as I drove into work, which is a 35-minute trip, is the drone of chirps.

Time to hit the back-yard gun range, which is a perfect 40-yard shot. C'meer, guinea, guinea, step into the target area. Heh, heh, heh.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The beginning

In the beginning, there was summer. Boredom. Fishing, eh. Boredom.

As the yellows show of goldenrod along the roadsides, and the nights become cooler, I know the dog days are fading. My juices flow for pursuing and killing wild game. It's only a matter of time now.

The first shots have been fired. Early goose season started Thursday, Sept 1. I have a welt on my right shoulder to show for it.

I was confounded by a million-mile sky and a trumpet player in a nearby blind. I would call with my $19.99 Olt call (that price was 11 years ago, mind you), and he would sound off with his wood or plastic flute that probably goes for triple my price.

I know of the culprits. We would call each other friends, yet I haven't talked to them since I was prodded with a political skewer after a hunt in the public land parking lot during the 2004 election. Seems my G.W. bumper sticker offended.

Anyway, there they sat in the very spot I used, but to no avail, last year.

"A-wha, wha, wha," I would call, and over to the river they would go, "A-wha, wha-wha-tootle-too-too-whaaaaaaa, whaaaaaaa-a-wha, wha, wha, whaaaaaaa, a-wha, tootle-wha ..." and on and on.

Nowadays in society, often, more is better. Not so in the calling of wild game. In some instances, yes. But the name of my game is a passing shot. Not a picturesque landing with geese gliding into a perfectly set decoy spread on a cut cornfield. Here, along a well-populated river on public land, that just ain't gonna happen. Yet, I would call and then a return volley of massive purportions would again be heard as to lure the geese into a safe landing area for a grassy buffet.

Somehow, in what must have baffled my river neighbors, the geese would pass by me or over my head. Not them. Only the bright blue, cloudless sky kept my game bag empty. Yet, a couple of times I tried in vain to bring down one of those honkers with my Mossberg. No, two or three of those honkers. Foolish me. My estimations failed me as the birds were farther off than they appeared in my mind's range finder.

As I packed up my gear and four empty shot casings two hours later, I was not mad. Experience has shown me I will have other bouts with the bullet-proof critters. Without nearby trumpet players, who I'm sure were cursing the very air I was breathing. "Man, Mac's calling really screwed us up," the one would say. "Yep, but whatcha gonna do?" his partner would reply as they walked up the clay trail to their truck.

The next day, Friday, Sept. 2, I tried a midday setup by a pond the flying rats were locked into during the spring nesting season. One of those spring gobbler season observations I often pick up. Mainly, this late morning gig was aimed at getting some needed sleep after my afternoon shift of the previous night, as much as avoiding the trumpet players I knew would be along the Black River at 0 dark thirty.

Boy, the decoys looked nice in the muck. So nice that the black ducks I spooked going in at 10 a.m. came back and hung around for the three-hour duration. One was so comfy among his private plastic guards, he curled his neck around and snoozed along with me barely five yards away hidden in the marsh grass. I took a liking to him and wondered if I would have been able to shred him with the 3-1/2 inch magnums had it been October and ducks are legal tender.

Hmmmmm. I wonder ...