Sunday, September 30, 2007

It's that time again

My truck's all loaded up for Michigan's 2007 archery opener, and I'm now finally sitting down to write this blog entry.

I should have been in bed hours ago but that's how it goes for me on the eve of any opening day.

Inventory of gear is meticulously gone over because I'm getting to be an old fart and if I zoom through it I'm certain to forget something. And when you're out on stand in a Sanilac County farm field a couple hundred yards from the truck, it'll stay forgotten, misplaced or laying on the backseat or at home unless it's something you can't live without, such as your release or rounds for your rifle.

So I tend to use this time as a meditation period and reflect on what tactics I want to employ depending on what season it is, and, of course, to load up my calls, scents and utility items. Remember it's a very sorry hunter indeed who ventures out into the woods without toilet paper.

To the novice and uninterested this date, Oct. 1, is overlooked as the opening day of deer season. Most only think of Nov. 15, the first day of rifle. As my friend Brian from Tai Kwon Do replied when I told him I might miss a few days of class once the season begins and he said, "Yep, only another month away."

"Uh. No, it's this Monday," I corrected him.

For me, I really don't get as fired up for Nov. 15 unless I'm hunting a private land plot and I'm like the only person there.

Nov. 15 is usually looked upon by this hunter as a drag because it brings out the yahoos and amateurs. Or "Kmart hunters" as my neighbor once called them.

But it's only two weeks and then they resign themselves back to their recliners and I get my woods back.

Nevertheless, I do not care to digress into negatives on such a glorious day.

While I was driving back from my 12-Step meeting tonight, I was thinking of how few items get me as high as being on stand with a stiff autumn wind in my face taking in the leafy splendor of golds and reds. Then on top this, add in having the opportunity of taking the long-coveted whitetail brute. It really doesn't get any better. The allure of the bars never even came close to matching this thrill.

There is no more waiting. The 90 days of craziness are only hours away. By the time many of you -- if any -- read this I will have already completed the opening-day watch at the perch of my ladder stand.

That is if it didn't get lifted over the past few days.

* * *

Henry Update

The loyal and dedicated bird dog I've walked behind for 14 years is making good progress.

In fact, he is bolting from the pen when I open the gate for his nightly walks much like the old days. I expect he will be ready for a short encounter as early as next week.

I have come to accept the operation he recently had might have slowed him more than originally thought. But as the vet said: "If he doesn't have hunting, what does he have?" Which is what I've told fellow hunters and family for years. Hunting is what he was bred to do. This is his lifeblood.

* * *

Hunting Mag vs. Blog

I would like to keep those interested abreast of what I'm thinking for my mag and this blog.

It would appear as I go along this course that eventually I may move my operations over to this site permanently. But it won't be for some time yet.

For sure, the more timely updates will be logged here as in the past with more indepth features and photos slotted for the mag.

The main reason is simple. I need to get on board with this technology myself.

What happens is if I need to make changes, the process is long and convoluted.

For example, I had written out an itinerary on the mag for the upcoming season of what hunts I would be doing and when, but my wife's work schedule interfered and I had to make alterations.

So instead of bear hunting in the U.P. as was planned for these last couple days, I won't be going until this upcoming weekend. Which is why I'm bowhunting in Sanilac County today.

Anyway, I see where I need to be more hands on, and please look for the revamped itinerary on the magazine site in the next week or so.

(To check out my online magazine, log on to

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wrong turn in Gladwin County

"I think he's done," I told the vet after stepping through the clinic door.

The vet looked skeptically at Henry, my 13-year-old springer spaniel, and asked him, "Is that right, you're done?"

He had me cold.

"I'm not ready to part with him just yet, mind you," as I changed my tact, "but he's just acting mopey and limping around."

Of course, this was in addition to having a recent surgery to remove a baseball-sized tumor from his testicles, which was the real reason for the vet visit. To have the stitches clipped.

Anyway, I went on to tell the vet how I went longer in my pursuit of grouse and woodcock than I wanted at one of my most favorite places in the world, a couple of public land tracts in Gladwin County, Michigan.

The rolling popple woods thick with fern floors never fails to produce numerous flushes of woodcock in late September. This, matched with the yellows, reds and whites of early autumn and all the other game -- sandhill crane, turkey, deer, grouse -- that comes through there, makes this area a hunting gold mine.

And Sunday, Sept. 23, the hunting didn't disappoint.

I was done in less than a hour after stepping out of the truck. In fact, I nailed the first bird I flushed. Or Henry flushed. Probably another Henry-Mac tag team, where I follow the liver and white superstar and he circles around in front, putting the panic on the bird cowering low between us beneath the fern leaves. The bird has no choice. He must go up and then get a ride for the rest of the day in my game bag.

And after rapid cadence. Two more went up and two more came down. Three's the limit.

Being I had another two or three hours kill before I had to pick up my wife and kids who were shopping at Birch run, I decided to try add five grouse to the menu. (Yeah, right, I'm lucky to hit one pat.)

I was keeping a close eye on Hen, who seemed to be doing well after an hour and a half in the mid-70 degree heat. He was delicately weaving in and out of the cover like he usually does. His game these days is one of finesse. It used to be shock and awe, where speed and blasting through cover were what he relied on.

The later is much more preferable. Probably the same could be said for me.

I finally had a shot at what I thought was a grouse slipping through the trees 30 yards on the edge of a dried-out swamp.

After marking where I thought I had hit the bird, I walked over to the big, bare popple. Or was it the pine? Hmmmmm. Maybe it was through this opening here?

Yep. I was in trouble. Depending on Henry was iffy now because he had slowed considerably. Not good for sniffing out downed birds.

I realized I was turned around. By the time I reached for my GPS and noted which way I needed to go, it was going on the third hour. Six years ago, no problem. Henry would still be in third gear.

But it wasn't six years ago. He made it to the road through the spongy swamp OK with only a slight delay behind me.

By the time we proceeded down the sandy road in the direction of the truck, Henry was creeping as if he was dog who was 130 in people years. Made for a few pics -- which he's always crazy about doing. Uh, not really. These ones will be special since this might be the last time we're there as an active team.

And with a bear hug at the truck, I had a very relieved dog.

The realization starting to hit me that his could indeed be it. "What am I gonna do without you?" I muttered to him.

Anyway, if you think I'm crazy about my dog. You're right.

Three days after this hunt, with temperatures now near 60, he seems to be coming around. There was more pep in his step while I took him for his moonlight walk.

He would prove me wrong again if he climbs back. I've written this dog off many times before but this time it looked for real.

To wrap up, I will put it like this because there is no other factor more responsible for my successful bird hunting than Henry. Before he arrived into his hunting prime, I never shot a bird.

Doesn't get much more definitive than that for a gun dog.

Long live Henry.

(To see pictures in the near future of our hunt or learn some of our secrets to woodcock hunting, see