Monday, December 23, 2013

A Kayak Fishing Adventure

I haven't been doing much fishing or hunting recently. And because of that, I haven't had much to write about. But I haven't, however, been sitting around idly. I've actually been planning quite the kayak fishing adventure, and it less than three weeks, I'll set off on my journey to start the new year.

I will be paddling the Everglades Wilderness Waterway in it's entirety and fishing it the whole way. Based off of the path I have planned, the entire thing should take me 8 days to paddle in my kayak and about 110 miles to complete. I will also be paddling this alone.

I've mapped out my path and each stop as shown above. Some camp sites are ground sites while others are chickees. If you don't know what a chickee is, it's pretty much just a raised platform above the water with a roof and no walls. These are placed out in the 10,000 islands because there's little to no solid ground in the endless mangrove maze.

The planning process is still underway. I've been making/going through checklists and trying to get all my ducks in a row. Where I'll launch, where I'll finish, who will pick me up, etc. These are all things I've been trying to sort out in addition to just gear. But I will have a chance while on this trip to do quite a bit of gear testing. I've got a stove, and several other pieces of equipment that I plan on putting through the wringer over the 8 day paddle.

I'm a little nervous and very excited about taking this trip. I've never done anything quite like this before, so not only will it be an experience of a lifetime, but also a huge learning experience. With any luck, I'll learn quite a bit about fishing in the backcountry, and maybe even land some fish in the process.

But overall, I'm really looking forward to this trip. I may post my plan, in detail, prior to leaving as well as my checklists for gear and what not. After I return, I'm sure I'll have some things to change up about my planning process and might come out of it with a good "how-to". Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Deer, Pigs, and Shame

The dull blue-grey of early dawn had already begun to illuminate the surrounding woods. But there would be no sunshine on this morning . A thick, wet fog was beginning to settle in and everything was soon soaked by its subtle misting. Though the day was truly beginning, the woods seemed suspended in a dark twilight under the shadow of the fog. It took longer than usual for the birds to start chirping and squirrels to begin chattering. It was a peaceful morning under the fog, and even the wildlife seemed reluctant to wake. That was, at least, until a long, terrifying growl echoed through the twilight…

The rumbling in my stomach hadn’t been going on for very long. In fact, it felt fine as I was busy attaching the climber to the base of the tree. But now, three quarters of the way up the tree, it hit me:

I think I have to poop

Situations like these are all mental games. Most of the time you can overcome the urge by just ignoring it or even telling yourself “You do not have to poop”. So I climbed on, inch-worming my way in my tree stand, all the while muttering to myself that I didn’t need to climb back down and take care of business. 

It wasn’t long after I’d settled into my stand before my gut rumbling shifted gears to full blown emergency. Reluctantly, I admitted defeat and with a great amount of frustration, I got ready to descend the tree to answer mother nature’s call. But I was quickly reminded that when mother nature calls me, she actually screams. And I hadn’t made it six feet down the tree before I realized what was about to take place. 

Oh no

There’s a real “Come to Jesus” moment that occurs when we, as adults, realize we’re about to crap our pants. It’s a humbling experience when you’re forced to make a snap decision based solely off of your inability to control your bodily functions. How you react in a moment of crisis defines who you are, and I had almost no time to think beyond the quick thought: “How does this even happen?”
Three days prior to this emergency, I found myself sitting in a Southwest Georgia hospital patiently awaiting my meeting with an orthopedic surgeon. I’d spent the entire night before in the emergency room for a very different emergency from the one happening up the tree. After nearly cutting off my index finger (a story that I won’t get into yet), the nurse who stitched me up flatly told me “Oh yeah, you’re gonna have to have surgery. You went right through the tendon and artery. I’ll schedule you an appointment with the surgeon”

So when the surgeon finally came in, I was fully expecting the worst news and that I would indeed need surgery. But in a bizarre twist of good luck, he looked at my finger, made me move it around some, and said “You’ll be fine without surgery. Here’s a prescription for some meds”. He then sent me on my way. 

I was on a hunting trip after deer on some of the plantations that I used to work on. I’d already missed my first morning hunt thanks to the finger fiasco, so I was excited to finally get some hunting done. This year I put away the bow for the time being. I darted deer enough. I was ready to blast one with the rifle, and I quickly set about doing just that. 

Just a few minutes before sunset later that evening, I lined the crosshairs of my 30-06 on a fat doe’s chest as she stood broadside, and squeezed the trigger. I was, however, shocked to see her kick, stumble, and run off. I was using the same 175 grain VLD bullet that took down my monster boar earlier this summer. It was almost expected for her to just fall over. So I climbed down and immediately found blood, but as soon as I did, the overwhelming smell of guts hit me. Looking down, I also saw half digested corn.

Oh no

I’d never gut shot a deer before. Ever. And I couldn’t believe I’d done it to this doe. My rifle was sighted in earlier that afternoon. So how had I shot so far back? And why was there SO much blood on the ground. Seriously, it looked like someone had dumped buckets of red paint on the ground.
Once my buddies showed up to pick me up, we began tracking her. Luckily, the blood trail was heavy, and we found her piled up about 100 yards from where she was shot. The entire time we were trailing her I was nervous and honestly kind of embarrassed to have gut shot a deer. When I shined my light down on her, it was obvious that the bullet exited the guts. But what about the entry wound? We flipped her over to discover a hole right in the shoulder. Exactly where I was aiming. 

So how did I manage to shoot a deer, perfectly broadside, in the shoulder and the exit wound come out mid rib cage? The only thing I can imagine is the bullet. The VLD is highly frangible and honestly not made for hunting. The bullet must’ve hit the shoulder blade, fragmented, and simultaneously ricocheted through the animal. Regardless, it got the job done, but I’ve stopped using VLD’s for deer hunting. Attempting to clean a gut shot deer one handed was enough to make me switch rounds. 

With meat in the freezer, I set about looking to shoot my first nice buck. Unfortunately, nothing aside from a spike and a little 6 point made an appearance the rest of the weekend. But my final day was anything but dull. 

Years prior to this day, me and my buddies had a long, drawn out conversation about peeing out of a tree stand. Some of us did it regularly, others (like myself), considered it a mortal sin. I know there’s tons of data explaining that deer can’t tell/don’t care, but it’s still a rule of mine. One of my friends, however, admitted that he’d had to poop from the stand before; a statement that we regularly ridiculed him about afterwards. I don’t know of a hunter who likes to poop in the same zip code as their tree stand, much less OUT of it. So we all gave him hell for years afterward about being the one guy we know who’s done it…

At least, until, my emergency 30 feet up a pine tree. I won’t go into detail as to how I managed to take care of business out of a climber. All that matters is that disaster was averted. I shamefully climbed the six feet back to the top, and sat down feeling extremely thankful that such a terrible outdoor experience was over. I’d made it 13 solid years of hunting without that ever happening, and I prayed that was the first and last time I’d ever have to do something like that again. 

Until 10 minutes later when round two kicked in…

Later that afternoon, I felt infinitely better and with a freshly restocked toilet paper supply in my bag, I deemed it safe to return to the tree stand. While walking down to a creek bottom with a lock-on stand, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see what looked like a small possum. Suddenly another one appeared. And another. I wanted a closer look so I walked within just a few yards of them. It was then that I realized what I was looking at. They weren’t possums. They were tiny little piglets. And that only meant one thing: Momma was nearby. 

It took me a second to figure out exactly what I was looking at. The stump that was only 4 yards from me suddenly moved and I realized momma pig was staring right at me. Now I’m still not entirely sure why she didn’t run, or charge, or anything. But I had time to take my rifle off of my shoulder, flip the scope covers off, turn the power from 9x to 3x, flip the safety, find the pig’s head, and pull the trigger without her moving. And as if that wasn’t enough, I heard a snort and looked to see a second sow just 10 yards away. Also not moving. I chambered a new round, found the pig’s head, and squeezed the trigger. Almost immediately I heard more snorting through the brush as a THIRD sow moved in close. This one, however, never stepped out, and just grunted at the piglets as they ran to her through the brush. 

I left the pigs on my path to grab them on the way out and went ahead to climb my stand. I was hunting over a scrape line and there was a nice looking scrape just 30 yards in front of my stand. The evening was pretty uneventful. I saw a bunch of turkeys, and a bobcat carrying a dead squirrel walked directly underneath my tree. It wasn’t until about 45 minutes before sunset that I saw brush moving just beyond the scrape. 

I raised my rifle and waited. The entire time I was envisioning what this buck was going to look like. Would this be it? My opportunity to –finally- kill a noteworthy buck? I’m generally very slow to excite, but I began to get a little excited with anticipation. 

All I need is for him to step out

But to my EXTREME disappointment, what stepped out was not a buck. Rather, a giant boar. Frustrated that my hunt was over without a buck, I flipped off the safety just as the boar stopped to sniff the air, and I put a round right behind the eye. The boar did a front flip, and as if to really prove to me that my chances of killing a buck were gone, he flopped down DIRECTLY on the scrape. 

As I was busy dragging bacon back to the road, I couldn’t help but reflect on the whole weekend. I was grateful to still have my finger, it was amazing getting to spend time with some of my best friends, and I was lucky enough to not only take a deer, but also pigs. It was my first and only chance to hunt this year, and with the exception of a few hiccups, the weekend couldn’t have been more fun. I got to spend some much needed time in the woods, and even did something out of the tree stand that I’ve never done before. 

That’s right. I’ve never actually shot a pig from a tree stand before. 

What? Did you think I was talking about a different tree stand experience? 

The question “what in God’s name did I eat?” actually did bother me for a while. And it wasn’t until a week later that I solved the mystery. Out of sheer boredom, I flipped over my prescription bottle to read the back. 

That explains a lot.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tree Duty: An Inward Look

Every person should spend some time alone in nature. It’s remarkable how quickly you learn to appreciate things previously overlooked, and how everything’s suddenly put into perspective when you’re forced to face yourself with no distractions. 

I first picked up a bow and began hunting whitetail when I was twelve years old. I’m still not entirely sure why my dad decided to start me off bow hunting on Florida public land but I can only assume it was one of two things: 

1. To make me a better hunter. After all, killing a Florida public land deer with a bow is sort of like seeing a unicorn. Or…

2. To break my will to hunt at an early age in order to save my time, money, and mental health. 

I like to think it was the first reason. 

Fast forward thirteen years and I still find myself up a tree every fall. But I often ask myself “Why?”

Why do any of us, as people who love the outdoors, do the things we do? Why do we hike up mountains, paddle absurd distances, or sit in a tree all day? Different people must have different reasons. Perhaps it’s an excuse to just get out of the house, go exploring, continue a tradition, put some meat in the freezer, or even spend some time alone for self reflection. Whatever the reason may be, people continue to flock to the outdoors every day. And though I’ve ventured outside for almost every reason imaginable, I’ve lately noticed much of my time spent outside is in self reflection. So I’ve recently been having to ask myself “why?”

As a twelve year old, I can vividly remember bowhunting on Eglin Air Force Base over a game trail so ancient that the last living creature to walk it must’ve just recently sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. What I can’t tell you, however, is what on earth I was thinking about. Was it video games? Dinner? Maybe it actually was just as simple as ‘I really hope a deer steps out’. I can certainly tell you that I wasn’t caught up thinking about jobs, finances, relationships, school work, etc. What was on my mind then, and what’s on my mind today are definitely different. And perhaps some of my reasoning for stepping outside today is different too. 

While darting deer out in the woods, we usually sat up in a tree stand, alone, in the dark, for about 6-8 hours. Every day. For months. We all took turns doing this to help keep our sanity, and it wasn’t long before we affectionately dubbed our turns as “tree duty”. Tree duty honestly wasn’t bad at first. We had a competition going where the person who darted the most does got a steak dinner. And it wasn’t so much the prize we were after as it was simply the bragging rights. So during the first few weeks, we practically fought over the chance to sit in the stand. But as the weeks went on, the willingness to sit in the stand began to die, and soon we were all just looking forward to –not- having to sit. 

During the first darting season, I probably got sick of sitting in the stand sooner than everyone else. I had just gone through a terrible break up and had suddenly found myself every other night sitting alone, up a tree, in the dark, and with no distractions. At the time, it was the last place in the world I wanted to be. I wanted to be around friends, family, anything. I just wanted to be doing something and get my mind off of my personal problems. I’d also recently graduated college and was finally having my “what am I going to do with my life now?” – freak out. But without even the ability to use a cell phone, I had no choice but to sit there and think about things. With no distractions, it’s easy to over think or over-analyze something.  To go over what-if’s, would’ves, could’ves, should’ves. Distractions like television, cell phones, friends, family, or social life are all great and extremely helpful to get your mind off of things. But when those things are taken away and you’re forced to face yourself, you learn to solve your problems. And quickly. For a while, I thought maybe I was just going crazy. It can’t be –that- hard to sit around in a tree at night, right?. After all, none of the other technicians had any complaints other than “it’s boring” or “I’m dying of blood loss from mosquitoes”. That was, at least, until this year. I knew one of my coworkers was going through some personal stuff and while riding around in the truck discussing tree duty, he turned to me and said “Dude, I don’t know how you did it last year”. 

Looking back, I’m –extremely- glad I was essentially forced to seriously think about my issues. I now feel as though spending time alone in nature, with no distractions, is something everyone should do. I’m not saying to go climb a tree in the dark for hours on end (unless of course you want to just drive yourself insane). But go on a hike alone. Go fishing, or kayaking, or mountain biking. Allow yourself to face your issues without distractions. Chances are you’ll solve your problems and by the end of it all, you cannot help but have a new found appreciation for almost everything in your life. Things that might otherwise be overlooked; those friends and family that are always there for you, the pleasant waitress at the restaurant, or the funny sitcom on TV. I have a true appreciation for those things because I know, at one point, I would’ve killed to have them around as a distraction. 

All of this is, however, only one way of looking at getting outdoors. I realized this as begin packing for an upcoming hunting trip. Though I’m excited, I thought of sitting in a tree stand and this bizarre, involuntary shudder ran through me. Why am I going to do this again? 

The answer comes from the other side of the spectrum. There are those of us who turn to the outdoors as a way to “get away from it all”. The outdoors acts as an escape from the busyness and responsibility of every day life. It’s a chance to rewind, relax, and –not- think about things. What’s odd is that I’m now trying to distance myself from those distractions I once prayed for. Internet, bars, television , restaurants, etc. Maybe there really can be too much of a good thing, but I find myself now looking forward to sitting in the stand rather than dreading it. 

Perhaps the outdoors serves as the best of both worlds. Time alone in nature can serve not only as a means of self reflection, but also a distraction in itself. It can help solve your problems, or help you take a step back from them. It all depends on your current perspective. What I do know is that no one has ever spent some time alone in the outdoors and come back a worse person. Whatever your preferred outdoor activity is, it can only help make you a better person. All you have to do is step outside.