Friday, September 30, 2011

Traditions In Orange and Tweed

      The last pick up crept by us on the icy gravel road, as we donned our blaze hats and vests over faded camo, and prepped our firearms. The woods had been blanketed in snow several times since the muzzleloader season had opened two weeks prior. That same snow which had provided so many clues for our tracking attempts would now muffle the foot falls of our last -day- desperation- drive to root out a big buck. And despite our efforts being down to the wire a little excitement seemed to build. Adding to the excitement might have been the inclusion of English Jack to our days festivities. Jack was a Londoner who played rugby with us here in the states. Jack had returned to England, but was back amongst us on a little vacation. As Jack is shooting man, he was keen to see what our deer driving was all about. So arrangements were made and here English Jack stood before us, ready to experience some American style deer stalking. And English Jack was looking real English.

     In his tweed breaks with matching cap, fancy French wellies, v-neck sweater and dress shirt, Jack looked quite well heeled. Juxtaposed among us, he surely looked like the adult supervision we probably should have had. But more importantly Jack managed to do something that may have never, ever, happened before. He got us all, a bunch of over- the- hill- never-growing- up rugby forwards to shut up. And then, after a brief pause, at a barely audible volume so as to hide the identity of the speaker.
     "That actually looks pretty good." could be heard, barely a mumble.
But moments like these never last too long, and there were deer to frighten, so Jack was explained the nature of our laws, his cap swapped for a blaze Orange hat, his jumper (that's sweater in English) for a blaze vest, and we were off into the woods.
Later that evening, after returning home empty handed again, I found myself thinking about Jack's outfit, our camo, the traditions of both countries, and how they merged that day.

     In both the US, and the UK the sport of chasing deer with the intent of shooting and consuming them have a long history, and tradition. In the US we hunt deer, while our brethren in the UK stalk deer; "hunting" being the sport of following hounds from horseback. But verbiage aside, the two pursuits are pretty much the same. To get a better understanding of the sporting world in Britain, I reached out to Sten, The Suburban Bushwacker, who is an outdoors blogger from suburban London. Sten explained that tweed shooting outfits are worn almost exclusively by only a small segment of deer stalking enthusiasts, Real Tree being the choice among the majority. So while tweed may be the benchmark most American recognize, it seems our camo tradition has extended to the woods and fields across the pond. Conversely, it was explained that blaze orange is seldom seen in the countryside, with England, Scotland and Wales having excellent firearms safety records.

     With the absence of blaze orange in the English landscape, I was quick to assume that land use laws played a part in it being unnecessary. Unlike in the US, all the land belongs to somebody, and as such, permission is required to legally pursue any type of game. With this, land owners, and others using the land have a good idea who is using the land, and when; contributing factors to the excellent safety record. While much of the land in the US is privately held, many states have open land use laws which allow hunters legal trespass for the purpose of taking game. Couple this with our tradition of having public lands open to hunting, something unheard of in Britain, and it's easy to see why so many states require the use of blaze orange. The two situations however, may be unrelated. While our land use laws most certainly led to our blaze orange tradition, theirs may have nothing to do with the lack of.

     Similar to many US state, particularly in the western part of the country, permission to gain access to land is usually just a matter of knocking on a land owners door. Unlike here in the US, landowners hold more responsibility for the herd on their land, and strive to maintain a balance between the health of the herd, and the carrying capacity of the land; a task left to state game managers here. Of course some traditions are sown more deeply in both countries, and a portion of any bag is always offered to the land owner; A practice I adhere to, as do most people I know. Sten tells me of one farmer he is familiar with who has had to buy an additional freezer for all the venison his successful stalkers are bringing him. Sounds like a good arrangement to me. Sten did point out that relationships between farmer and shooter vary, and that when one is in with a farmer, then they are in. This leads me to believe that in Britain, one courts farmers and land owners in the same way my father and I do in Connecticut, where permission is needed to shoot deer; with offerings. Warm loaves of bread, and freshly baked pies accompanied us on our trips, and after fostering a relationship, lobsters were often delivered as well. Naturally, the UK isn't without their commercial operations, either. Like many of the big ranches in Texas, big estates in Scotland also offer pay to play access. Unlike Texas, where hunters pay by the antler size, these estates charge for the venison the stalker wishes to keep in addition to a trophy fee.

     Land access laws in the UK affect how one pursues small game and waterfowl too. Most American sportsmen have seen images of the tweed clad shooting parties firing hundreds of shells at pheasant driven high over them. For the right price you, too, could join them for a shoot, but throughout the countryside smaller, D-I-Y shoots gather for days with less impressive bags, but no less enjoyable outings. Along the same line, rabbits, and pigeons are considered pests which harm crops and pasture land, while an abundance of fox wreak havoc on live stock. Farmers want, and need them controlled. Many times permission to shoot these species is happily granted. In contrast to small game hunting here in the US, these species are seldom seen in the same light. Fox are usually shot by predator hunting specialists, or trapped, while rabbits are shot while being pursued by beagles, though I've taken my share as part of a mixed bag while ruffed grouse and woodcock hunting. Driven pheasant, while it occurs in small circles here is rare. The pheasant, however, has cast a spell over many American shooters, and is probably Americas favorite game bird. The shooting of them is most likely to take place behind a gun dog, the retriever quickly growing among the pheasant hunter ranks, or in an organized drive of shooters walking a field in a line.

     Waterfowling in the US shares some similarities, but the differences are apparent. Land use laws being what they are, much of the geese shot in both countries are shot over privately held fields. In some cases they are decoyed, while in others they are taken by pass-shooting. The differences, again come down to land use. In the UK, waterfowl clubs lease the sporting rights to much of the coastline for their members to use, while here in the US much of the coastline, and adjacent marsh land are public, allowing waterfowlers access to lots of shooting opportunities.

     Though there are both differences, and similarities, one thing that cannot be denied is the dedication of sportsmen and women on both sides of the Atlantic. And with Real Tree growing in popularity over there, I've also seen an increase in the use of some very proper shooting gear here. Organizations like The Vintagers work to bridge the gap with their enthusiasm for double guns and tweed. Cartridge bags, and tweed shooting vests are making their way onto the sporting clays course, and ardent grouse and woodcock hunters have learned the value of a pair of Wellingtons, too. And while it might seem that only their shooting culture is flowing this way, it should be pointed out that in a land know for building world class double guns, that Browning is very popular brand in Britain.

     If you'd like to Learn a bit more about the shooting culture in Britain, and maybe even help draw our two shooting worlds a little closer, there are a few places I'd recommend starting. Sten has a wonderful blog called The Suburban Bushwacker, full of hunting and fishing stories, as well as gear reviews. His blog can be found at: Also, Shootinguk is a great resource, providing a glimpse of Britain’s various field sports. The companion website to four of Britain’s sporting magazines: Shooting Times, Shooting Gazette, The Field, and Sporting Gun, this website is full of articles, shooting advice, recipes, and more. It can be found at:
Lastly, Fieldsports Britain is a weekly web based TV show highlighting all aspects of outdoor recreation. Fieldsports Britain can be viewed at their website:
or on YouTube by searching for Fieldsports Channel.

     This is a piece I'd written during the summer. I had hoped to get it published somewhere, but had no luck, so here it is now.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Upland Tradition; Changing or Fading?

The upland season in nearly upon us here in New England, and I'm ready to go. Recent changes in the form of a puppy rather than a ready to go dog assure me that this season will be different, and is sure to be educational. Not a day goes by when I don't think about stepping out onto the frost covered porch of the cabin, morning coffee in hand, brimming with anticipation of what the coverts will show us that day, while dogs stretch their legs, and turn their noses into the cool northern breeze. Oh yeah. I'm ready to go. But I've got to admit that I feel that something has been lost in the off season. In my efforts to prepare my gear, and ready myself on the clay course, I seem to have lost track of my upland tradition.

While inventorying my toy box I picked up on a trend I hadn't noticed growing, and now fear I've haunted the spirit of the hunt. Mind you, when I speak of upland tradition, and the hunt, I very specifically mean Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock hunting. Grand specimens, genetically predisposed to draw tradition respecting gentlemen of the highest caliber into the wildest of setting. This is why the absence of upland tradition troubles me so. If these birds, the kings of the upland have carried on their tradition why should I abandon mine. Where has it gone?

My inventory has forced me to do a head to toe check, searching, and clinging to what tradition I have left. Hopefully some remains. Some might only be misplaced. But some is gone for good. Had I worn my upland tradition out, and needed to replace it I wouldn't feel so bad, but I'm afraid that might not be the case. So let's take a look.

Starting at the top I am pleased to still be in possession of a well broken in blaze orange LL Bean ball cap. You know, the type with the duck brown bill. So I'm okay there. I feel pretty good in my vest too. Simple and comfortable, I get good use out of a duck brown strap vest. Strap vests are nothing new, so I'm still doing okay.

Things get tricky when it comes time to get dressed, though. Flannel shirts, and sharp looking tattersalls have given way to synthetic, technical shirts that breath, dry quickly, and probably have the shelf life of a cockroach. I'm not feeling much tradition in synthetics. To make matters worse, I've acquired a number of synthetic undergarments to be assured my shirts perform as advertised. What will it be like, not experiencing the tradition of soaking cotton with sweat, and suffering the chill of the northern wind as said sweat evaporates from my back?

Gore Tex brush pants? Yup. They've made their way into the toy box, too. I don't care for hunting grouse in the rain, but the morning dew or a bit of snow clinging to the cover have allowed me the pleasure of soaking my jeans, or trousers, even when protected in a pair of bullet proof chaps. I fear a week at camp will not be the same if I don't get to hang a dripping pair of pants over a railing to dry.

Boots have become less of a problem in my mind, but I'm sure there are still a few uplanders who truly believe the only proper footwear that should be worn in a proper covert is a pair of light weight, moc-toe lace ups. I've switched to rubber Wellies. The switch did not happen over night, as I've been wearing Wellies exclusively for some years now. Faced with the loss of other valuable-to-the-experience "traditions" I fear that I might need wet socks to fill the gap. We'll see?

Gun selection has not changed. I still prefer guns with two barrels. If they've got a straight stock I like them even better. My 20 gauge double will no double be my first choice of accessory, and will no doubt raise the reading on the tradition meter. My sleak little 28 won't be too far away either. The thing is, I've got a 12 gauge stack barrel with a pistol grip that I've been shooting rather effectively at skeet. The idea was to warm up the gun a little for it's intended purpose of waterfowling. I fear it may make it's way into the grouse woods. Compounding the matter, as I work on plans which should see me hunting pheasant in Kansas, where the 12 would fit right in, I keep being pestered with the thought of bringing my 12 gauge pump. It's a nice 12, which I shoot well, and have done some damage to waterfowl with. It was a gift from my father, which though I rarely shoot it these days, I cherish. A trip to Kansa with this gun, to shoot big, corn fed, wild Ringnecks might make a fitting tribute. But now I've gotten off track; which gun I shoot in Kansas won't matter, as everyone knows pheasant hunters don't have any upland tradition.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Apologies, and Here's What's In Store

It's been a slow, tough month for the All Seasons Outdoors Team, which consists of basically just me. Real life, ie work, has kept me pretty busy, as has lots of puppy time/training. This hasn't given me much to write about, and thus, I've not posted here in nearly two weeks. And for that I apologize.

But, just because I've not had anything to post, doesn't mean I've not been working on stuff. Hopefully, stuff that wil, translate into good, amusing, and helpful articles I can share with you all. Anyway, here is a preview of a few of the things I've been working on.

*Right now my good friend George is way up north on a fall trout fishing adventure. George recently provided me with a little info, and a picture from his uncles spring bear hunt in Canada. Should George not get eaten by a hungry bruin on his adventure I'm hoping to recount tales of his angling skills, and maybe a picture or two in the near future.

*Grouse season is nearly upon us, too, and I've got both an October, and a November grouse camp planned. The pup will not be ready, but I expect camp to offer a few unique training opportunities in addition to great hunting.

*Deer season is looking like it'll shape up to be special. It looks like I'll be both rifle, and muzzleloader hunting on an old farm in connecticut again this year. It's been a few years since I hunted down there, and it's always enjoyable.

*Massachusetts deer season should be interesting, too. The wood lot I hunt was quite heavily affected by the recent weather events we've had, and the deer have changed their patterns. In many places it looks like these changes will benefit me, though I've got to move/fine tune a few treestand locations.

*And the big event. It looks like I may be spending a few days just before Thanksgiving pheasant hunting in Kansas. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Of course there will be other events tossed in, too. I expect I'll be doing a bit of grouse hunting at some of my regular spots here in Mass, as well as a few renegade waterfowling canoe voyages. And when these things happen, you'll be the first to hear about them.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Spring Bear Success

     This past spring Mike Wood, of Summerfield, NC had the good fortune to arrow this awesome 500+lbs Black Bear in Saskatchewan, Canada. The bear is expected to score at least 21" and qualify for entry in Pope & Young. Mike. who is the uncle of my good friend George, reports that the Pike fishing was "GREAT!!", too. I look forward to seeing pictures of Mike's bear when it comes back from the taxidermist, and future hunting reports. Congrats, Mike. That's a fine bear.

**Special thanks to trout bum George Wood for getting me this info, and pic.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Land Owner Relations; Advanced Studies

The new edition of Northwoods Sporting Journal found it's way to my mailbox yesterday, so today as I ate breakfast I cruised through it and found an interesting article, the subject of which needs to shared. Columnist Peter St. James wrote about a lawsuit in New Hampshire revolving around land use, and land owner relationships. The result of the lawsuit could have a terrible effect on outdoorsmen, and access to public land. Here are the main points of the article.

The set up.

A land owner grants permission to a couple of hunters to use his land.

*Permission is contingent on the hunters shooting as many coyotes as possible.

The Issue

One of the hunters falls out of a treestand on the property, and sues.

The Laws

New Hampshire does not hold land owners liable for others lawfully using their land, provided a) the land owner warns others of dangerous condition on the land, and b) the land owner receives no compensation.

The Rub

The injured party is claiming the treestand was unsafe, while the land owner claims no knowledge of said treestand.

*The injured party is claiming the contingency of shooting as many coyotes as possible is compensation.

*The injury was never reported to the Fish and Game, which means there is no record of it ever happening.

*There has also been allegations that the injured party had consumed alcohol before hunting, and may not have had a hunting license at the time of the accident.

The way I see it there are lessons to be learned here. Aside from the possible ethical violation of hunting without a license, basic safety conventions were ignored. One can not fall from a treestand if wearing a safety belt. One should also thoroughly inspect any stand they will be using. I won't even get started on the alcohol allegation. Land owners need to pay attention, too. How things are worded, as we may find out, could make a difference. An enthusiastic "shoot as many as possible" could be misconstrued, and received as "if you shoot as many as possible". Hopefully this litigation will not end up being the motivator in posted signs going up across the state; a state that traditionally has allowed access to lots of fantastic privately held lands.