"There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot." - Aldo Leopold

Thursday, July 29, 2010

YouTube Video of the Week - Gator Feeding Frenzy

I've long grown accustomed to browsing headlines that read "Gator Feeding Frenzy," but they are usually tagged with "Another Humiliating Defeat for the Georgia Bulldogs."

(I could have easily inserted FSU Seminoles, Tennessee Volunteers, or Auburn Tiger/War Eagles, but since this story takes place in the Peach State......and Dawgs fans are so much fun to mess with. Insecure group they are.)

So, OK, Gator Feeding Frenzy. Here's hoping gator hunting will be this easy in a couple weeks.

If you want to hear Fox News' take on it, click this link. SPOILER ALERT****It is Obama's fault.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

TWL Classics - Archery Aggravation

Originally Published September 2008

My first deer of the 2008-09 season I spied from the truck while bumping down a back ranch road in Sarasota County one early evening. She fed in a food plot, oblivious to the dual exhaust and hip-hop bass blaring from the Dodge. I parked the truck and slipped up a ditch bottom, using overgrown dog fennels and palmetto bushes to shield my approach. Broadside and 20 yards away when I drew back, this was the deadest deer I’d ever seen, and I’d started thinking of Venison Piccata when I got home.

Instead, the Grim Reaper-tipped Easton ST Epic skipped off a strand of barbed wire, up and out of the strike zone. Gone.

Would-be deer Number Two entered from the corner of a soy bean field in SW Georgia. An old, gray, nervous doe, she hung up in the tree line around the field watching her nearly full-grown, soon-to-be orphaned offspring eat the man’s crops. She finally paced into the field, broadside at maybe 15 yards and began feeding. She’d eat real nice, considering a summer’s diet of soy bean.

Instead, as I shifted my weight to draw down on the doe, the foot rest emitted an awful creak as any bolted metal would from being left ill-maintained in the elements for nine months. She whirled around back to cover, stopping suddenly and just long enough to sail an arrow over her back and into the Peach State clay. Gone.

My girlfriend, Carolyn, makes this guttural groaning noise whenever she’s frustrated, or I laugh at a fart joke. It goes like this (put your ear close to the computer and you can hear it!), “ugggggggghhhhhh." I hear it quite often, but quite often mimic it when discussing bowhunting.

So, my bow season is off to a poor start. Actually, I shouldn’t say that. I spent a week in Georgia hanging stands and seeing plenty of does and coyotes, and sandwiched that hunt between two trips to a private ranch in Sarasota County for an extended bachelor party for my good friend, Travis. And I popped a few pigs down south with my AR-15 on down times between stand hunting.

What’s kinda neat is how different each hunt was. In Georgia, the rut was still a few months away – late November, early December. The bucks are invisible this time of year to anything but trail cameras and headlights. I don’t even expect to see antlers until that time. Daylight shy, too much hunting pressure, who knows, but that’s the way it’s been since I took to leasing property there a few years back.

Now, down in Sarasota – in Florida’s South Zone – the bucks are nearly ready to Rock the Casbah. This last Friday morning I awoke from my pre-dawn stand snooze to see a beautiful chocolate-racked 6 point standing in the wide open of a sod field. After years of hunting the dense cover of the Southeast, catching this buck idly standing out for the world to see was a bit like when the scientists saw their first dinosaur in Jurassic Park – just something you don’t see every day.

He eased his nose to the ground and worked back to thick cover, never coming closer than 80 yards or so. Several minutes later, a small seven and a smaller five followed the same trail, noses desperately trying to sniff out some sign of early morning delight.

On this ranch, only mature deer may be harvested. This six seemed to fit the bill. His shoulders were broader than his followers; the rack had mass – for a South Florida buck – and was easily past the ears, with long G-2’s.

Dirty J, who’d also seen the bucks from a ground blind not too far from me, spent the remainder of the morning scheming with me on how to get the drop on that six. We could move the stand, set up another ground blind, use some doe urine and grunt calls and lure him in. It all sounded real good, but the weather got hotter, the wind began swirling, and everything quit cooperating. Been nice to get a shot. Hope someone does; he’s a nice deer.

I did have one last opportunity for some venison. That Friday evening I returned to where I’d seen that buck. As I parked my truck, two does stood, again, out in the open. Without spooking them, I’d hit the tree line and figured I could stalk through the dense cabbage palm island and out to a pine tree surrounded by tall palmettos, well within bow distance.

I worked my way through pig trails and banana spiders, popping out once in a while to check on their position. I got oh so close when I felt just the tiniest tickle of breeze on the back of my neck, and I knew it was over. The wind had shifted out of the East and blew my sweaty stink out into the field. Predictably, they high-white-tailed it.

With a rifle, in theory, I could have the venison piled high already. But that’s the challenge, and eventual satisfaction of bow hunting. I have several more bow hunts this season before I gladly set aside the PSE for a long gun. Maybe I’ll eventually connect tag a buck or a doe with the stick and string.

Almost certainly I’ll be making this noise again soon.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dove Farming

I wouldn’t have made it as a farmer. Every food plot I’ve ever sowed withered and died from factors other than deer. The few times anyone has let me operate a tractor ended with the owner running up waving as I frantically pumped the clutch and Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Banged the disc through ditches, oaks, and stone. And I despise eating vegetables and can only assume they are conceived through evil design.

But I know mourning dove are big fans of farming, and if you love dove hunting, by extension, you love farming.

Mourning dove are probably this hemisphere’s favorite gamebird. They are hunted throughout the United States and down through Central and South America. Millions each year realize their destiny wrapped in bacon and slow-cooked over a wood fire. They flock and feed in agriculture fields throughout this great land, with hunters of all ages anticipating the Season Opener, usually the first hunt of the fall.

Florida is a little different. While our neighboring Southern Brethren kick off dove season Labor Day weekend, Sunshine Staters are forced to wait until the first weekend of October. By the time the northern birds cut their way through the peanut patches of Georgia, they’ve run the gauntlet through enough 7 ½ shot salvos to render them rather spooky. No bother, a dove field is a fun place once the work to get it growing is completed.

By federal law, if one plans to hunt dove over agricultural product, they must do so in a couple of ways. One, have access to property that is regularly farmed and harvested. Two, plan your own landscape of dove-friendly foods. Three, scatter corn and seed three days before season and way-lay them.

Ha! Gotcha on the last one – OK, probably not. Game officers and those running their budgets probably get as excited about dove season as hunters. Nary a season passes when I don’t hear of one group of hunters or another getting busted busting dove over scratch feed. It’s really not worth it, in my opinion.

Generally speaking, Florida is a little lax in the agricultural fields department than states north of our border. You can have a right good hunt around orange groves, for sure. The FWC plants fields throughout the state that offer lucky hunters a chance at the birds, but we just don't have as many open areas rife with corn, soybean, peanuts, and other crops. As popular as this gamebird is, hunting them here presents accessibility issues.

Ten years ago I was involved with planting dove fields for the first time. We had access to mining property in Manatee County and planted three or four locations of 4-5 acre plots. The work was hot and long and never paid off. That summer the state experienced a pretty severe drought, crippling the millet early. This was followed by a July and August deluge that flooded the fields and rotted the sensitive browntop millet. We ended up having a phenomenal shoot over ragweed that fall, though, which saved our spirits.

Over the next couple of years I was invited to a friend’s field, and we made the most of it – the whole dove hunting experience, in fact. Barbecues, a lot of shooting, and suds afterwards. It was a grand experience that I highly recommend, if you get the invite.

Then for some reason over the following few years, the birds just quit. The millet looked good and the hunters were willing, but the shoot just never amounted to much. One more year of that, and the enthusiasm of planting fields went with the dove. I heard reports of decent shoots here and there on other lands, but for me that October Opener was quickly replaced with bowhunting and livelier game.

And it’s a shame, because I truly enjoy a dove hunt. When we secured our Polk County lease this winter, dove hunting was one of the first things discussed. There was certainly room, but where to get a tractor and fencing and time to do so? As the summer advanced, PJ grabbed the reigns of these issues.

Before we get much farther, I’ll be honest. About the most I contributed to this project was money for seed and beer for the workers. Non-Leasemember, but Soon-To-Be-Dove-Hunting-This-Fall Harris brought his tractor and spent the better part of two days mowing and discing. By the time I arrived on Saturday, most of the fencing had be finished, with only a gap left to get the Kubota in and out. Don’t let me fool you, I sweated plenty, but only because it was about 120 degrees outside.

The plan was to plow about three acres and plant browntop and Japanese millet, with a couple rows apiece of sunflowers and corn. There was trouble with the borrowed disc not being heavy enough to sufficiently chew up the thick sod of the cow pasture. Several railroad ties strapped to the disc resolved this issue. In a couple of days, the area will be re-plowed and the seed distributed. Once this is done, the land will be leveled out, and we will pray for rain.

Doing the research later – why not before, I can’t tell you – I learned about the critical issues in planting a field (check the links after my rambling is concluded). One, it is suggested that planting days be staggered out to ensure hunts throughout the three phases of dove season. The browntop should be in high spots so water does not rot it (Japanese millet is more durable). The field needs to be fertilized then sprayed to prevent infestation from soldier or army worms, which, let me tell you the thought of creeps me out. I think that’s what they called those beasts in Tremors.

And, we’ll see how it shakes out. According to the literature, we are a little late in the game putting seed in the dirt, but it was still exciting admiring the freshly churned soil of Harris’ work. We envisioned decoys and Mojo dove doing their thing. A few Expert Voices cogitated on from where the dove will fly in to chow down. I’m enthused, but will sadly miss that Opening Day shoot. I’m sure I’ll get a chance in the following days and phases.

Hopefully the seed matures and dove will cover the field. If not, we’ll just spread some cracked corn around and be done with it.

Just joking.

Links from those more in the know than I.

FWC Dove Field Preparation

Dove Sportman's Society

South Carolina DNR - Attracting Dove Legally Excellent chart on what to plant and when

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TWL Classics - My Gator Hunting Journal IV

Originally Posted August 2009

Most folks with basic cable and even a passing interest in crocodiles and alligators have probably surfed onto the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet and learned what the “Death Roll” is. The lizard grabs its prey and spins furiously trying to tear apart the creature trapped in those jaws. The result is a thrashing, roiling dance of limbs, tails, and blood until the croc or gator submerges into the muck with its meal and the water calms to bubbles as the startled shore birds return to the water’s edge like nothing had happened.

FYI: They also perform this savage stroke when hooked to two snatch lines and a harpoon; it’s much more furious in person.

By Wednesday we’d spent three long nights pursuing these reptiles with very little to show for it besides frustration. We’d gone from a night of a dead battery and rain, to a couple evenings of failing to get within casting distance of some nice gators with the snatch hooks. I was openly wishing we’d done things different - scouted more, maybe rig up some rotten chicken to bait them in range, or something to improve our luck. I figured we could iron out these wrinkles during the down time between the 1st phase and when the general season resumes. Still, I thought, it’d be nice to knock out my tags before this opening week expired; deer season is coming too fast to worry about gators in the next few months.

The first gator we hooked came an hour or so after sundown. We’d been cat-and-mousing two gators near the boat ramp for forever. The first, a 7-8 footer dock gator that we’d spied while launching the boat, wouldn’t move very far, putting just enough distance between us each time he submerged. And despite our best efforts to pole and then anchor within range of where he’d sounded, the sharp winds from the remnants of Tropical Storm Ana that passed over retarded these plans. Every time we thought we’d be in position, he’d pop up too far away, or at an angle where throwing the snatch hook against the wind would limit the range. A few times the hooks plopped just shy of his head, adding to the tension on the boat.

After a while, the gator quit playing. Darkness had arrived early thanks to Ana and her clouds. By now, though, all thoughts of calling it an early night had been snuffed out by the rush of the hunt. We’d been keeping an eye on a slightly smaller gator in the distance making a run for it across the lake. We pursued at paddle or pole speed until he disappeared, and we were left shaking our heads. We had, however, wandered to a portion of the lake with a little back bay shielded, in large part, from the wind – and a half-dozen sets of red eyes staring back at the Q-Beam.

I’d like to tell you we snagged the largest one, but I’m not sure. By this point, legal was as important as size. The gator buzzed out across the lake bottom, not unlike hooking into a big red on some West Coast flat, difference being, of course, redfish aren’t equipped with claws and teeth or horny tails that will fray the line. We needed to put another hook in him, and then maybe the harpoon.

I think the first time I really appreciated the temper of any alligator was when this angry sucker snapped down on the side of the boat, unclenching it after a few moments. It didn’t harm the boat, but you would have lost a toe. He wasn’t any leviathan, but there’s no mistaking the hostility in that face: eyes red in the light, jaws half agape, flashing those sharp pearly whites at anything that got close. Though he was what one would call a “meat gator," this guy was nothing to be trifled with.

Tough as he was or acted, the harpoon and a knife behind the skull snuffed out his flame. We taped his jaws and hauled him aboard amid some high-fiving and handshaking. As the saying goes around hunting camps, putting that first deer or turkey of the season on the ground, “takes the pressure off." Though no trophy, we were in a celebratory mood as I affixed the white CITES tag and the boat pointed home.

Back at the ramp, we were preparing to unload and call it an evening. We had one tag left and could use it in any number of places to find a trophy. We also had a couple nights left before 1st phase ended. But we couldn’t help ourselves. Had to take one last flash back with the Q-Beam – and there was our nemesis from before, the dock gator, not having moved fifty yards from the last place we saw him. The boat was shoved back off. I’m certainly not going to be one to let opportunity slip by.

By now, the wind had died and few small ripples crossed the lake. Our confidence had been restored, win or lose this match. This time the gator played by the rules, staying surfaced in the glow of Harris’ headlamp as he flung the snatch hook perfectly across the reptile’s back, gripping in the side. Immediately we knew a different beast pulled on the other end. Again I stood by to insert the second hook and Cole maneuvered the boat around to keep us from being cut off.

It was after the second hook was impaled when the Death Roll started. Hovering vertical in the water, the gator spun with fury beside the boat. Someone stuck him with the harpoon and all three lines wrapped around the gator, creating a gigantic mess, one that would probably end with all the lines breaking. He had to be dispatched in a hurry; however, at this angle and with the enraged action, Harris had no shot with the bangstick. I held both rods hoping to keep him surfaced. Finally, Cole reached out with the paddle.

With a sharp report, the gator chomped down on it as Cole lifted him horizontal and Harris touched off the first shot, instantly calming down the creature. A second insurance shot was added, the mouth was taped, and he was hauled aboard. A hair over 7, he wasn’t much longer than the first, but definitely sported more girth and a stink that few municipal dumpsters would match. My 2009 gator season was over, just like that.

Back at Cole’s, we celebrated with late evening drinks, took pictures, cleaned the suckers and the boat, and bagged up all that wonderful meat, a fitting end to this style of hunt. It’s a team sport, much like offshore tournament fishing. Gotta be able to communicate, know your role, and get out of the way when necessary.

As a game animal, alligators are worthy adversaries, something I very much doubted when this whole process began. One day, I’m looking forward to bagging an old scaly beast that’ll give you nightmares. They are out there. Would love to have a mounted head for my trophy room – nice to have goals!

A few of the guys assisting with my tags just got word to me they tagged an 11-footer Sunday night on a second phase tag. The bar has been raised, I have a season under my belt, and I’m ready to apply next spring. Hopefully I will be drawn again - may approach things a little different if I do. One way or another I’ll be back out there. Chasing gators will get that hunting instinct and passion alive in any sportsman.

Wish it hadn’t taken me so long to learn this!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

This Summer's Scallops

Sure, they are barely-sentient creatures that probably possess as much awareness of danger as a tall pine does in a wicked lightning storm, but I nevertheless contemplate if they can grasp the peril that is about to strike when I hover above them. With those dozens of blue eyes and that last one frantic swish to safety, you can’t help but believe they know something terrible is amiss.

Scallops. I love scalloping. Over the last two weekends I’ve been to Homosassa in snorkeled pursuit of these bivalves, and I have experienced the ying and yang of this sport.

Let’s begin two weekends ago. A strong incoming tide silted the water compromising visibility. The scallops were there, but you couldn’t see them. So we picked our way through the water column fighting the tide – it was exhausting. We still collected several gallons, but it was work.

Last weekend was the lunar opposite. The tide slowly trickled out, leaving the water clear as gin. In five feet of water, we hammered them, limiting out in about an hour.

Both weekends we hunted in the same spot. Just goes to show that certain variables dictate success. Sure, we could have hit our quota that first weekend, but that tide was too much and Publix too accessible if we really felt like making up the difference.

I did notice a large armada of boats settled off Chazzahowitzka, farther south than I typically run. The mouth of the Homosassa was largely vacant. We ran North to Ozello, and there we rejoined the fleet. The closer to Crystal River we got, the larger the clams seemed to be. I’ve not spoken to anyone who has dove off Chazz, but I’d be curious to see what their bag has been up that way.

And now some random thoughts.

- If you don’t know how to navigate your vessel on the correct side of the channel, you probably need to be beaten severely - nothing more frustrating in these narrow waterways than some clown clogging up the works by cruising down the middle at several knots slower than everyone crowded behind him. I see it every trip, and it is infuriating. The rocks and oyster bars of Homosassa are challenging enough without this interference.

- The first weekend we kept our catch in a five-gallon bucket then iced them down at the house. Well, the water in the bucket heated up and killed them before icing. This made the meat loosen from the shells, and we lost quite a few gorgeous white nuggets to the Shop-Vac before finally resorting to the tedious spoon treatment. The following weekend we kept them in a cooler with salt water that, well, kept them cooler. We transferred them to ice and lost very few. Moral of the story, bring an extra cooler on board to store your scallops.

- Whoever came up with the Shop-Vac method of cleaning scallops need some kind of Nobel prize. Makes the work so much easier. For the first-timers, purchase a small Shop-Vac. Cut the muscle away from one side of the shell and place the hose over the white meat. The goop is sucked away leaving the sweet meat ready to be scooped into ice water - that is if you followed my tip above.

- Speaking of working easier, when you’re back on the dock contemplating a libation as you clean the clams, consider a rum such as Mount Gay. Bourbon is too much in the heat.

Scallop season will run through September. This is a silver medal year off the Nature Coast, in my opinion. I’m hearing Steinhatchee doesn’t have the numbers it did last year, but surely some are there. Get on out and enjoy yourself.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

TWL Classics - My Gator Hunting Journal III

First Posted August 2009

By 10 p.m. August 15th, the first day of gator season, our crew was huddled under an expansive oak branch in a Banana Lake canal trying to stay dry, waiting for rescue. A bad battery stranded us in this mosquito-infested misery, surrounded by thunderstorms, and dreaming of hot food and strong drink.

It’d been a long day.

Let’s make this short and sweet since I don’t want to re-live all the pain. We hadn’t done a great job at due diligence in any aspect of this day, and it was chomping us in the butts. My permit is valid for any public access body of water outside of city limits. There are hundreds of such lakes in Polk County, yet we had difficulty getting into any of them. Lake Lowery and Lake Van east of Lakeland – private ramps. Vociferously so, too. Some ramp punk chased us away from the former, a loud sign from the latter. The lakes looked promising from Google Earth. Guess a phone call would have helped.

We tried Lake Buffum between Ft. Meade and Frostproof. Family friends live on this lake; I know there are some dinosaurs out there. The ramp was closed due to low water levels. Naturally we tried anyway. For gosh sake, we’re not dropping a pontoon boat into this slime; the shallow draft duck boat powered by a Gator-Tail surface drive mud motor should have no trouble scooting towards open water. Wrong! After jumping the dead battery, we unloaded the boat, but with four people aboard it wasn’t going anywhere in 5 inches of water.

We shoved the boat back on the trailer and shot over to Lake Hendry, quite literally a sinkhole amidst orange groves and a house with one large rottweiler. The ramp was superb, and the lake looked reptilian. Heck, the motor even cranked up first try. But, a storm blew up, the lake got choppy, and we didn’t see a thing. And if the dog had all four legs, what we were looking for didn’t live here anyhow.

So, we shot back to Lakeland and Banana Lake, our fall-back plan. There have always been a ton of gators here, and there is an awesome ramp facility. But we just weren’t seeing any reptiles.

That first night ended poorly, no doubt. We entered the canal on the north side of the lake and spotted one set of eyes which sank fairly quickly. We shut the motor down to wait him out, but the Q-Beam grew suspiciously dim. And that brings us back to the start of my story.

It was arrogant and ignorant to suggest alligator hunting would be some walk in the park. They are much sharper than I gave them credit for, that’s certain. Spending the last several days chasing them around various lakes trying to put a snatch hook over one’s back, I’m reminded of similar hunting frustrations. Having a buck linger just out of bow range. Watching field gobblers strut in the open, paying no mind to decoys, and everything about ducks that doesn’t end with them floating in your spread. Honestly, I’ve been hunting far too long to make such an amateur assumption; I don’t know why I thought it would be so easy.

There would be no hunting on Sunday. At dinner that night I related this story of woe, and added, “And you know what’s really stupid? I’m going back out tomorrow night,” to which most present agreed was stupid.

Monday night we skipped the running around Polk and just hit Banana Lake. Back in our Lost Canal, a decent gator pushed a surf-able wake into a No Motor Zone. As Q-Beam time came we slipped through the two pits on the west side of the lake. Immediately we found those glowing red eyes, but couldn’t find a way to pitch a rig over its back without the gator sounding. As I understood it from Harris, the trick was to race over to where they had submerged and look for bubbles from as they kicked along the bottom stirring up the rank mud as is a common tactic on Lake Hancock, a popular gator lake for which my tag is not eligible. But nothing. Maybe the substrate is sandier at Banana Lake, who knows, but not once did this work.

We attempted a half-dozen different tactics to get within range of some sizeable lizards. Race up on the gator keeping the light on their eyes. Wait for them to sink, pitch to that spot and hope for the best. I even offered SCUBA and a Hawaiian sling. All I know is they were on their game. They seemed like pressured animals. Never hard to tell when a population of any game animal is influenced by hunting. Our shenanigans certainly weren’t helping the situation.

On that note, until my typed words are financially compensated, and I’m therefore compelled by professional integrity to divulge the locations of certain successes, I’m going to pull the ol’ hush-hush move on Tuesday’s lake destination. Sorry. This place had the ramp and plenty o’gators. Again, we gave it our all. We tried to set drifts with the wind when we spotted a target. The Q-Beam was ditched for a headlamp, and we came oh so close on a couple of tries.

My morale was at an all-time low heading back in Tuesday night. We’d found gators, but just couldn’t close the deal. These nights get late scanning the waters, swatting skeeters and mayflies. One time while manning the Q-Beam on Banana Lake, I dropped a defensive maneuver on a bat that screamed in too close chasing bugs in the light.

For me, it’s been a unique experience. The summer nights on the lakes are wild. Gar, Plecostomus catfish and baitfish would rise into the lights and birds screamed on the bank. Love it all, but I wanted a gator.

I will tell you this - I have a new-found appreciation for this sport. Heading out on Friday I figured we’d tag out in a couple hours and could select a trophy and a meat gator. Hubris. Instead, it ended in a pouring rain trying to push a dead boat onto a trailer, gator-less and with a pulled groin from slipping on the slimy algae on the ramp. Wonder if I made any bubbles?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer Archery Practice Tips

Believe it or not, bow season starts July 31st in Florida’s South Zone. I have a hunt scheduled in that area for the weekend of August 7th. I am nowhere near ready – practice-wise – for this trip.

Admittedly, practicing in the summer is not all that fun. One can get in a hurry to ditch the humidity. Bugs wreck concentration. Dehydration cramps muscles. Combine this with the typical offseason rust and the situation can get frustrating in a hot second. I’ve never found shooting a bow to be all that difficult given half-way decent tackle, but poor form from lack of attention and rush is usually the difference between bulls-eye shots and those that bury in the muck.

It took me a few seasons to figure out a trick to evade all of this – slow down. These days when I start this annual ritual, I'll pick a distance - usually the 20 yard mark - and loose three deliberate shots spaced with 30 seconds or more in between. This permits me to concentrate on relocating proper stance and anchor point. Again, when rushed, these little aspects of shooting a bow are lost.

After six shots, I’ll back up to thirty yards and wait a minute between shots. Forty yards about the same. Then, I’m done for the day after 12 arrows. As the days progress, I’ll up my quota, but still allow the patience to take calm shots. Shooting with others is a fine way to balance this time.

Shooting in the heat leads to off-accuracy consequences. I used to zip through my duties just to get it over with and return to the A/C. I sweat like a field laborer just getting out of bed and loathe myself for it. The oppressive Sunshine State heat really bothers me – but I will not go afield unprepared, so I compromised with myself. Clean the guilt by shooting fast and not shooting often. No Bueno!

A few years back, this design ruined my left shoulder trying to fit what should have been a several week regimen into a few days. Granted that bow did not have the let-off my current one does, but the results on the Block target were tragic. Lost a couple arrows. A few reminded me of the fighter planes King Kong batted down in the movies, spiraling and looping out of control as I torqued the various muscles used in bow shooting to compensate for the pain.

Irritated and not fully aware of my situation, this all led to one thing – Allen wrenches. Sights and rests were adjusted, and by the end of it, I had one big rat’s nest of a problem that took a start-from-scratch approach to correct. The shoulder pain lasted through November, but I slowed way down to get back to where I started.

Next, your muscles – well, at least mine – can tire easily in the heat. Another reason to slow down the tempo and not work into a sweaty mess. I take a water bottle or two and have a sip between sequences and wrap a bandana around my forehead to keep sweat out of my eyes. So I look strange, but I typically keep the broadhead in the bull. In Florida, shooting in the late evening helps, assuming it’s not raining buckets.

The act of bowhunting is a precision game and often conducted in less than ideal temperature and weather. It makes sense to me to practice in these conditions and adjust. The first step after unleashing that bow from the case from whence it’s spent the last nine months is to steady yourself for this knowledge. From there, work patiently through the sweat and tears. The success of your season may well depend on it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

2010 Southern Trophy Hunters Big Buck Expo

Lakeland. Not sure how we got picked to host this event, but God bless us, we did! This weekend is the return of the Big Buck Expo at the Lakeland Center. Here is all the information about this year's show, lifted straight from their website...I'm nothing but a filthy plagiarizer.

Muzzy Hunting Camp Backwoods Adventures

For the very first time, the hosts of the Pursuit Channel's Backwoods Life television show and the Backwoods Life Radio Show, Michael Lee, Kevin Knighton, and Trey Wetherington will be joining the Muzzy Hunting Camp at this year's Big Buck Expo's. In their seventh year in outdoor television these good 'ol Southern boys are sure to bring a backwoods spin to the already popular and entertaining Muzzy Hunting Camp sessions. Michael, Kevin, and Trey have hunted all over the united states and beyond for anything from whitetail to alligators to antelope with their southern roots and backwoods ways of getting the job done. As award winning tv hosts and radio personalities, these guys are sure to liven things up at this year's expos!" Check the guys out at www.BackwoodsLife.com

Flint Knapping & Primitive Archery with Billy Berger

Whether we hunt with a .270 Remington or the lastest Mathews Bow, as hunters most all of us are fascinated by our hunting ancestors who truly did things "the hard way". Billy Berger has spent the last 20 years perfecting his primitive weapon skills. Billy not only Builds bows, Arrows and Knaps Arrowheads, he hunts with them! If your asking, the answer is yes! He does put meat in the freezer each year. Make sure you stop by the Midwest Land Company booth and see Billy at his trade; it's amazing! Check the em out at here!

Equip 2 Conceal Firearms Courses

Equip 2 Conceal Firearms Group offers educational courses in firearms training taught by NRA Certified Instructors. Our courses will meet and exceed the Training requirements necessary to receive your Florida Concealed Carry License which is also valid in over 30 states. Our company and our course has been featured on ABC, CBS, & FOX NEWS! Our staff of 26 instructors includes prior Military and current Law Enforcement. The cost is $90 class includes your CWP packet with application, passport photo, notary service, Range fee, firearm rental, ammo, and target. After completion of the class you get your Certificate to apply to the state for your Concealed Weapons License. You can pre-register for any of our upcoming classes by visiting www.equip2conceal.com or toll free 866-371-6111.

Don't Miss Hunt Church with Randall Myers

Sunday Morning, Muzzy Hunting Camp room ~ Don’t miss Randal Myers at our pre-show Sunday morning service. Randy is an avid outdoorsman and a true follower of Christ. Randal is a good ‘ol Southern boy. Born and raised in the Deep South and serving in ministry most of his adult life. Currently he and his family are living in Lakeland and he is the preaching minister of Highlands Church of Christ in Lakeland. I have personally had the pleasure of hearing Randal speak; you will not regret spending time with him. The show opens at 10 a.m., however the Sunday Morning Service is open to both exhibitors and the public at 9 a.m. Hope to see you there!

Gun Store: New This Year!

We'll have a special gun Section this year hosted by Shoot Straight. All the top brand names in rifles, pistols and optics will be available for sale at show only prices.

Deer Scoring

Bring your buck and have find out just how big he really is, OFFICIALLY. Official scorers will be on hand all weekend.

Friday July 9, 2010 - 3pm-8:30pm

3:00 pm Show Opens
5:00 pm DNR-Public Land Hunting/Law Changes Q&A
6:00 pm Primitive Archery - Billy Berger
7:00 pm Muzzy Hunting Camp
8:30 pm Show Closes

Saturday July 10, 2010 - 9am-6pm

9:00 am Show Opens
10:00 am DNR-Public Land Hunting/Law Changes Q&A
11:00 pm Muzzy Hunting Camp
12:30 pm Equip to Conceal - Weapons Training
1:30 pm Primitive Archery - Billy Berger
3:00 pm Muzzy Hunting Camp
6:00 pm Show Closes

Sunday July 11, 2010 - 10am-5:00pm

9:00 am Church Service
10:00 am Show Opens
11:00 am Muzzy Hunting Camp
12:30 pm Equip to Conceal - Weapons Training
1:00 pm Primitive Archery - Billy Berger
2:30 pm Muzzy Hunting Camp
5:00 pm Show Closes

Basic ticket prices are $10....and whatever the Lakeland Center charges for parking. I enjoy this event every year as a chance to look through new hunting gear, get a feel for hunting trends, and catch a seminar or two. This Friday I will be handing out swag with fellow Mossy Oak ProStaffers. Hope to see you then.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Honeymooning Beach Bums

The shiny gold band on my left hand aroused an until-then foreign concern of losing my ring digit to a toothy, marauding mackerel, barracuda, or bluefish. It wobbled and glimmered like a Johnson spoon. If these fish knew what gold cost these days, it would have been gone for sure. Friends told me I could count on sacrificing the uniquely male parts of my body; didn’t take into consideration what marriage could do to my index of fingers. Luckily, my finger survived – too early to tell about the rest of the anatomy, though.

Carolyn and I were hitched June 26th. On the 28th, we repaired to Longboat Key for a week of honeymooning. Longboat Key is a wonderful Florida destination of white sandy, mostly private, beaches. The condos and beach homes of the millionaires dot the shoreline. We stayed at the Silver Sands resort, a surprisingly clean set-up settled a few miles south of the Longboat Key Bridge.

We love the beach. It is engendered as a Floridian. The saltwater and surf is alluring each summer and pretty much the single reason I won’t bail out of Florida.

If you’re a beach newbie, allow me to rear back into my extensive coastal knowledge and experience and clear up some “facts” you may have heard from less reliable sources. Don’t be alarmed.

1. The Stingray Shuffle is a myth. If they want you, they’ll get you.

2. There is no way to make Shell Hunting sound masculine – even if you add “hunting” to the term. Actual example from the weekend: “Ian, you need to find more shells so we can make a picture frame.”

3. I worry about the decline of sportsmanship in this country. In the good old days, one had to stay up all night and actually search for egg-laying sea turtles. It was work, man. Now, biologists rope off nests with orange flagging tape. It’s akin to shooting a tethered deer. Then, they have their Texas ranch-style price list tacked right onto a stake. $500 daily rate – they call it a “fine.” $25,000 if you actually take eggs.

4. Drink responsibly on the beach. If you open a beer, finish it. No matter how quick you think your dip into the surf may be, when you come back, the coldie will be warm and wasted.

5. Some folks are afraid of sharks. Let me calm your nerves. There are thousands of sharks near any given beach. I did find a way, however, to guarantee you never get the chomp. I procured a shark tattoo from Mote Marine and sealed it onto my left bicep. Originally, I wanted it to scare away stingrays, mackerel, barracuda, and/or bluefish. Not only did it do that, but not a single shark bit me while I sported this tat. That’s 100% success. The numbers don’t lie. Always wear a shark tattoo in the water.

6. Body surfing is the world’s most dangerous beach-based threat, more so than rogue sea life, skin cancer, or swimming within fifteen minutes after eating. This was especially true last week. With Hurricane Alex churning in the Gulf, Longboat was treated to waves as high as 2 ½ - 3 feet. It was like the Mavericks out there.

When I was a younger I did a lot of boogie-boarding. I tried surfing a few times back then, but a rude gang of surfers called the Ex-Presidents kept chasing me out of their break since I couldn’t actually stand on a board and didn’t quarterback for Ohio State.

So, I boogie-boarded. After you turn about 22 or hit 200 pounds – whichever comes first – boogie-boarding ceases to be “cool.” You languish for a few years until one day you quit caring what’s cool and join the other lost causes body surfing in the break, the foam pushing you onto the sand, and alternately, the sand into your pants. When you stand up to dust yourself off and retrieve your bathing suit lining from your crack, you realize you’re surrounded by a dozen eight-year old on Mickey Mouse rafts that had also caught the same “wave.”

The thing about those eight-year olds is they will never remember the injuries. I don’t remember any specifics, but recall getting cut up and busted from time to time when riding waves in my younger years. After that magical 22 or 200lbs. mark, your memory for such things sharpens as does your preparation to avoid hospital trips.

It’s amazing how fast your brain can process all these details on that 1.3 second ride.

“Do I stick my arms straight out and hope I don’t break an arm? No, that leaves my head and neck exposed to concussions and possible paralysis. At best, I will get a whelk shell in an eye.”

Quick historical note – a whelk shell to the eye was the leading cause of eye-patches for all those pirates you see in the cinema.

You cycle through the potential severity and preference for shoulder, leg, and groin injuries. It’s an ordeal. I choose to go the fetal position route, hunkering into a ball like they drilled into you in elementary school in case of tornado, fire, or nuclear attack.

So to put this all into a fantastic flip book for you, I would stand there scouting through these monster waves. Let the kids have those one-footers. When the trophy wave appears, I’d kick off the bottom and paddle like crazy, my baggy board shorts holding me back like a parachute. If I was successful catching the ride, I’d stretch my arms out briefly, then tuck my head into my chests and roll onto the beach like(NOTE: I have two analogies here appropriate for two different senses of sensitivity and humor.)

a) Sonic the Hedgehog.
b) A Tar Ball.

OK, so that last one was a tasteless joke. My self-defense manuevers did nothing to impress the ladies, but what the hell? It doesn't matter any more.

Carolyn loves to eat out. I’m hit or miss depending on how badly I think I am about to be screwed. Hemingway’s in St. Armand’s Circle had a June special for Maine lobster that was excellent and a great value at $17, though our waitress hummed like she was holding back her anger for tourists. The Chart House had superb wait staff and fine shrimp scampi. My favorite meal was at the Euphemia Haye. Tell me this doesn’t sound good!

Three medallions of beef tenderloin, pan-seared medium-rare to medium, kissed with a brandy green peppercorn and meat glaze enhanced cream sauce, accompanied by truffle oil infused mashed potatoes

Their Caesar Salad was top-shelf. The Columbia in St. Armands was excellent as always, and our waitress, Zoe, tolerated the Sangria Chugging Competition.

We visited Mote Marine Laboratory and the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. Mote is near synonymous with Gulf Coast conservation and marine research. I overheard one portly gentleman say, with much confidence, that the blue marlin mount hanging over the entrance door was a fine swordfish. The Ringling Museum is a fascinating history of the old big top circus displays. Florida State University runs the operation - fitting for that school of clowns and freak shows.

By the Fourth, we became clowns of our own. The Silver Sands packed with Independence-celebrating revelers, and we invited children onto the back patio to visit our pet hermit crabs we plucked out of the sea and re-introduced into a glass brownie pan.

If I could remember more, I would share more, but by the end of a week of surf and sun, I'm pretty well shot. And by Monday it was time to pack and head home and prepare for our next adventure together.