Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shake Ups

     The outdoors world is not without it's controversies and scandals. Sometimes these issues surprise us, and at other times they seem par for the course. I've recently received word of a couple of shake ups.

     In our first shake up Ducks Unlimited has landed smack dab in the middle of a money grab. Recently DU fired long time DU magazine correspondent E. Donnall Thomas. Why? Well,...follow the money. Don, who also writes for several other publications, earlier this year wrote about a series of stream access court cases going through the Montana court system. At the heart of the matter a land owner, James Cox Kennedy, objected to people floating the Ruby river, which runs through his property, and accessing it from a bridge, on a public road, that went through his property. After a series of trials Mr Kennedy lost his bid to close off the stream, and public access was upheld. The thing is Mr Kennedy is very wealthy, as in Billions, and is a DU contributor. It seems, at the end of the day DU would rather have Mr Kennedy's money than Mr Thomas' writings. What I find distasteful in all of this is the fact that the issue which Mr Thomas wrote about was a) a matter of fact, and b) had nothing to do with DU. And once again, money gets it's way. Anyway, for me, it's bye bye DU, Delta Waterfowl here I come.

     Here is Mr Thomas' original article.

     And here is a statement by Mr Thomas.

     Also, a follow up article on the case.

     On to our next shake up. This may or may not be a bad thing, but Weyerhaeuser is set to buy Plum Creek. Plum Creek owns a lot of land in Western Maine and New Hampshire, and allows public access. Plum Creek's lands in Maine and New Hampshire are essentially public lands, though they do lease land in some other states. Weyerhaeuser, on the other hand seems to operate on a pay-to-play basis, offering land leases, and for sale land use permits. It is unclear if Weyerhaeuser will continue the New England tradition of allowing access to forest lands, or if they will begin selling permits and offering leases. Time will tell.

Friday, November 6, 2015

And Then There Was One.

     Love them or hate them, big box stores are a way of life.To the outdoors enthusiast this can be a benefit, or a bust. My experiences have been mixed, leaning towards the poorer end of the spectrum. Filling out a big box store with enough employees is tough. Getting people with knowledge of the department you plant them in is a challenge, too, I'm sure. While I'm certain that on all levels of the sporting retail world the intention of the employees is good. Save for the most special of specialty shops, where the staff is made up of part-timers who are only working to get the employee discount and guide as a full time job, most people are spending 40+ hours a week in the store and the odd weekend in the outdoors. Couple that with the fact that football season and hunting season are the same time of the year, and I'll bet you there are some employees who don't even remember how to load their slug gun. But like I said, big box stores are a way of life, and that brings me to the point of all this. Rumors abound that Bass Pro Shops is trying/planning to buy Cabelas.

     What does all this mean? I don't know, but I doubt it'll mean either retailer actually starts carrying things sportsman and sportswomen actually want (on a regular basis, that is. Sure, we occasionally find something we want). Anyway,......

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dispatches From The North

     Regular readers of this blog will have noticed a bit of an absence of new material lately. Sorry. Real life sometimes gets in the way of sporting and other enjoyable things. Recently real life has kicked me, and my wife, right in the teeth. Suddenly our energy was required elsewhere.


     I found, or perhaps made, some free time to get away up north to do a little grouse hunting. In fact, I am writing this from the great north woods. A week in grouse camp is really good medicine, even if nothing ails you. Though, it has been an interesting week.

     I've always enjoyed cold, November grouse hunting. Once the leaves are down, if you can find the grouse, the shooting usually gets good. Unfortunately Mother Nature wasn't playing nice. My week up north started out with a bit of rain. Sure, grouse can be hunted in the rain. I just don't like hunting in the rain. Of course the rain did stop, but things got worse. Wind. Everyone knows a good wind makes grouse extremely spooky. I still hunted. Finally on Saturday we got some typical November weather. In the morning the thermometer in the car read 25 degrees, 28 degrees by the time I arrived at one of my favorite sunny, eastern facing hillsides. I made the right choice, and walked out with a heavy game bag. Despite the near perfect November weather, I was at a bit of a crossroad, and packed it in for the day at 11 am after just 2 hours of hunting. Why? Well, the Rugby World Cup finals were on TV at noon, and regular readers of this blog know I'm a rugby guy, too. I wasn't going to miss it.

     Sunday, even though the weather was a bit drizzly again I decided to head to one of my honey holes; The Trail of Tears. Sadly, 3 hours of really tough walking and hunting produced only 6 grouse flushes. After lunch I met up with my friend Gregor, of Braeval apparel, and his red setter Laddie. In the 2 hours we had left to hunt, Laddie put on a nice show, pointing 6 of the 7 grouse we saw. And that 7th, un-pointed grouse was a wild flush between me and Gregor while Laddie was hunting well out in front of us. More impressive than Laddies pointing prowess, was Gregor's shooting, knocking down 3 of the 6 pointed birds. 

     Yesterday was an outstanding day. We decided to hunt a spot that I'd not hunted in about 5 years, and one that Gregor had wondered about. Due to recent logging it took us quite a bit of hiking to get back into good cover, but once we did,....... Later we explored a bit, and hunted a hillside with good looking cover. Another good move. At the end of the day we'd had 22 grouse flushes, most handled by one dog or the other. Sadly, neither of us could put a shot string where it was needed. In fact, I never even fire my gun. But that's hunting.

     Today I made my last day push, and again I headed up the Trail Of Tears. Again the Trail was slow, with only 7 flushes in 3 hours. Another spot much closer to camp proved to be a bit more exciting, offering 4 good off the nose flushed in just 1 hour of hunting. And again, I failed to connect..

     All in all, it's been great to be up in the north woods, and to be hauling my butt through the woods. For the time I spent in the woods, and the number of birds flushed, I feel like things were a little slower than last year. Averaging everything out, we got a grouse flush about every 17 minutes. I think the weather might account for this slow down. With the exception of Saturday, it's been very warm here. On Saturday, when it was cold, I went looking for the birds in the type of cover I'd expect to find them in when it's cold. But what I found was that they weren't in their standard October spots on the warm days, nor were they in their standard November spots. Seems like they were somewhere else, and I couldn't figure out just where that was.

       Anyway, grouse hunting is always great, and a couple of good shooting days sealed the deal. I had the good fortune of carrying 3 woodcock and 3 grouse out of the woods. But more importantly, every aching joint, and sore muscle in evidence of week spent wisely.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

TBT, New Brunswick

     About 10 years ago I had the pleasure of spending a week bear hunting with Three Brooks Outfitters in New Brunswick. While I didn't end up with the monster, or even the 15 lb bear, I had a great time learning about bears and bear baiting. I recently found a few pics of some of the New Brunswick trophies hanging in the camp.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

No Ordinary Challenge; The MacNab

     Sportsmen and women around the globe take to the fields and streams for a variety of reasons. There is a lot of satisfaction in dedicating the time, and commitment needed to meeting the challenge, and bringing home a hard earned meal. In some corners of the world the challenge of taking game is not enough, and a select few of a particularly sporting nature venture out seeking ways to make their time in the outdoors demanding. For some this additional demand is only satisfied by achieving a MacNab.

     The MacNab is a sporting trifecta of sorts. In the UK there is the Highland MacNab, where a person bags a stag, a brace of grouse, and lands a salmon, all on the same day. I've also read accounts of  what is called a Summer MacNab, which involve bagging a Roe buck, a wood pigeon, and landing a sea-run rainbow trout. These sound like fine challenges, indeed. I'd be happy with just a brace of grouse, and doubt my system could handle completing a MacNab.

     Here in New England we too, have a MacNab, but few have heard of it, and even few have completed it. The New England MacNab is shooting a whitetail buck, a brace of ruffed grouse, and landing a brook trout. Unlike the UK where season greatly overlap each other, the chance of ever completing a MacNab in the US is slim; our season only slightly over lap. In most of New England Trout season closes shortly after grouse season opens, and the deer season during that time period usually restricts hunters to archery equipment, not fire arms. Even if you did manage to take your buck, early season grouse hunting is often challenging, grouse heard but not seen through the thick canopy of leaves. Of course some states make it impossible. In Connecticut, for example, there is a robust deer herd, and some fantastic trout waters. I have no doubt that a sportsman could take a buck in the morning, then land a brook trout by lunch, but the grouse would pose a problem. While grouse can be found in Ct the numbers are small enough that the state only allows hunters to take 1 a day. So much for the MacNab.

     There are other challenges, too. In Maine you are recognized if you bag a deer, bear, moose, and a turkey (maybe coyote is included, too) in one season. That is a feat, and requires dedication. As a grouse hunter I enjoy shooting a mixed bag. While I've enjoyed a few heavy game bags in my time I've never had the pleasure of taking grouse, woodcock, and hares all in the same outing. I've had plenty of grouse/woodcock, woodcock/hare, and hare/grouse days, but never the trifecta. And while I always carry a separate supply of non-toxic ammo in the car, ready to switch our if I see ducks sitting in the rivers when driving around, I've yet to have the chance to mix fowl with upland species. Perhaps this will be the year I add an additional species to the game bag. No. Not the same wow factor as the MacNab, but not a bad goal, either.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Slow It Down, People. Slow It Down.

     No doubt about it; hunting season is just around the corner. For some it's just days away, while for others we're just happy that we are closer to the next season than we are from the last. Social media is full of preseason hype, and new hunting catalogs are in my mail box daily.

     I'm looking forward to the season, too. But truth be told, I'm in no hurry for the summer to end. It's still August, but try buying a six pack of a summer ale. They're scarce now. However, Oktoberfest beers are already in stores. Really? We still have 4 more weeks of summer, 6 weeks til October. What's the hurry? At training yesterday, friend and fellow spaniel club member, Brice, asked  the question; When did we start deciding the seasons based on the children's vacations? It's a valid question. My school days are long behind me. My summer runs until mid-September. I intend to enjoy all of it, too. And guess what kids? You go to school in the summer time. What you call "summer" is really just a summer vacation. Summer has already started when your vacation starts, and it continues after you're back in school. It's time for us adults to reclaim summer. Sure, it's a little tougher for those who must juggle leisure time and school aged children, but that doesn't mean one should abandon finding time to enjoy a gin n tonic in the yard with a good book. Or a swim in the local lake. Or a day at the beach.

     As for Oktoberfest beers? Well, I'll be sure to enjoy them at grouse camp after a long day afield, but for now, it's still summer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lets Clear this up; Trophy Hunting

     Moral, ethical, and legal issues pop up in our lives from time to time. Sometimes things are quite clear, and at other times rather murky. The issue du jour of late has been the killing of Cecil the lion. Justified, or not hunting has been given a black eye in the press. What happened? I don't know. I haven't seen enough of the evidence to make a decision. But what I did learn from listening to the public feed back is that the general public knows almost nothing about hunting, and managing sustainable resources. One issue in particular stuck in my craw, and I'd like to address it (though I'm pretty sure most of my audience knows it already); trophy hunting.

     What is trophy hunting, and more importantly, what isn't trophy hunting. As it sounds, trophy hunting is the pursuit of an exceptional example of whatever species you've decided to hunt. Most people quickly think of African safaris, but trophy hunting of big game in the US and Canada is not uncommon. In fact there are TV stations airing programs dedicated to trophy hunting.  Anyone with an interest in deer hunting has heard of QDM, quality deer management, a program of managing deer herds to allow them to grow bigger bucks. In the US and Canada QDM is in place to facilitate better trophies, and one of the key elements of QDM is to only shoot trophy bucks, not the little ones which are viewed as future trophies. The science behind QDM is pretty sound, and areas practicing QDM generally have bigger bucks, and healthier deer herds. But don't be misled, it is driven bu the fact that lots of deer hunters want to shoot bigger bucks, and only bigger bucks, and that's trophy hunting.

     There are basically 3 kinds of trophy hunting. First there is the "Trophy" hunter. This is the sportsman who gets a thrill out of pursuing, and shooting exceptional animals. This is the African Game seeker, the 200+" buck seeker, the sportsman driven by record books such as Boone & Crockett. These sportsmen often employ a guide/professional hunter to take them out and put them into a position to kill a trophy. Sometimes these sportsmen are accompanied into the field, as is the standard practice in Africa, sometimes these sportsmen rely on the scouting, intelligence, and prep work of their guide who tells them where they are most likely to see an animal they'd deem worthy.

     The next type of trophy hunters are those who prefer to trophy hunt on their own, who spend their time in the woods scouting and prepping, and doing everything a guide would do for a client. These are the sportsmen who hunt just like everyone else, but with one big difference; they're determined to only shoot at a trophy animal. Both this type of trophy hunter, and the kind outlined above have to be very disciplined, as they watch animals, often very nice animals, that other hunters would be more than happy to take home, walk away.

     The last type of trophy hunter is the sportsman who ends up a "dream" hunt. These are often the sportsman who routinely fills his freezer, and often dreams about one day taking a nice trophy. They are seldom obsessed with trophies, and are often "meat" hunters who are presented an opportunity to hunt somewhere with bigger bucks, or bears, and they take advantage of the opportunity. Quite often this type of sportsman's trophy barely shows up as a blip of a true trophy hunters radar.

     Now that we've got that out of our way, lets wade into another area of trophy hunting that is also quite frequently misunderstood. None of these type of trophy hunters I've outlined waste meat from the animals they kill. Trophy hunting is not shooting an animal, cutting off its head, and leaving the rest to the vultures. In all cases, the animal is processed and consumed. In the case of an African safari the meat often goes towards feeding a lot of people in the surrounding communities. But in no case is the meat wasted. In fact it is illegal to wantonly waste meat in all 50 states, and all Canadian provinces. It just doesn't happen, and I think the fact that this is not generally understood by the non-hunting public is what drives a lot of the bad feelings towards trophy hunting. I think that when the subject of trophy hunting comes up, we as sportsmen have a responsibility to set the record straight on this issue.