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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day Tarpon Photos

Species: Tarpon
Where: Anna Maria, FL
When: Memorial Day Weekend 2011
Method: Tossing live whitebaits at pods of rolling fish in the clear waters off the beach.

Success! We hooked up with two. The first, a 150-lb fish, was lost thanks to the efforts of a local bozo guide. Despite the fact the beach literally swarmed with fish, he zoomed up in his tricked-out Pathfinder complete with twin Power Poles and trolling motor to fish the pod of tarpon we had been fishing and insisted we turn off our motor, lest we spook them. Never mind the Silver King we were much more worried about at the time.

There are probably profanities still floating over the Gulf but he wouldn't back off and give us space. What a loser. Travis’ tarpon went under his boat and pulled off. That put us in orbit.

Strangely, he didn’t engage in the war of words but wouldn't leave us or these tarpon be. This glutton for punishment, after we hooked up again shortly after, approached us once more. Couldn’t believe it!

We swore him back off, and he gripped his wheel and wept over it. I’d identify him online here, but I’m sure the client he had with him – who was absolutely silent through the whole ordeal – will do enough to damage his business.

Either way, he was seriously in the wrong. I'd never seen so many tarpon. He was poaching us – all he had to do was drive another 200 yards down the beach and find more. Makes me angry all over again.

Which it shouldn’t. Forget that dude. Glorious morning of fishing. This time Nick was able to land the fish. We decided Travis’ should count, too. Plenty of folks around us - who we didn't bother - hooked up that Saturday morning as well. A fine start to the weekend.

I’ll let pictures tell the rest.

Salt Spray breaks up the Sunrise behind the Skyway Bridge

The 1st Hook-Up

He was a Macho Man fan.

Another Hook-Up. Holla if you hear me!

A 70-80 pound tarpon.

Grabbed the leader. Caught fish! He swam away for another day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Using Pop-Up Blinds

I grew up deer hunting on the ground. What stands we used were usually 2X4’s and plywood nailed in the crotch of a tree. Not on public land where they’d throw you in the irons for a sin like that but on private properties before we knew or cared any better. I didn’t own a manufactured tree stand until I was 23 or 24. Now I have so many – ladders, climbers, and lock-ons – I can’t keep track of them all.

And what a pain they can be! Climbers are portable, but they stink – or rather you’ll stink – using one if the temperature is over 70 degrees. Lock-ons are portable as well, and you can hang them on virtually any tree, but this often requires near death-defying acts of acrobatics to properly secure one to said tree, and once it’s there, it’s a hassle to relocate. Which brings us to the downfall of ladder stands – they are not portable without helping hands and a four-wheeler.

The sick part is, now that I’ve accumulated this wealth of stands, the pop-up style of ground blind is making a surge in popularity. I noticed this back in July during the Big Buck Expo at the Lakeland Center; vendors peddled blinds harder than stands. Next, I’ve noted it on outdoor TV – more shows have hunters hunting from them, and there’s an increase in ground blind ads. It started with the turkey hunting film crews and has worked to the deer hunters, probably because it’s easier to conceal cameras, and less nerve-wracking to have all that equipment dangling from ropes as they ascend a tree. Finally, a guy I hunted with in Georgia, a gentleman whose fixation with buying and hanging stands tilts on the margins of a neurosis, finally conceded that ground blinds may be the way to hunt the cut downs and road ways on the timber property.

From all three of these sources, I’d usually be concerned about buying what they want to sell me, but in this instance, I see the advantages because I have spent so much time successfully hunting with my rear on terra firma.

One, a pop-up blind is simply more versatile than a stand. Take oaks hammocks. If you hang a stand any higher than ten feet in an oak hammock you will seriously limit your visibility in the sweeping, low canopied arms of branches. What about clearings surrounded by palmettos and dog fennels, or even cow pastures and food plots that don’t have an accommodating tree nearby? Deer, especially early in the season, are gonna come here to eat. The archery and muzzleloader crowds should take advantage. Scrub oaks, and younger blocks of planted pine that won’t support a stand? The deer bed in here, and if you place a blind and a corn feeder, you’ll almost certainly get some action. The point is, you do not always have to rely on Mother Nature to provide you with the perfect tree; pop open the blind and place it with a favorable breeze.

Two, improvements in scent-less technology should limit some fears about hunting the ground. Of course, scent-protected or no, a bad wind is still going to ruin your hunt, but with the ground blind you can easily, and quietly, swap positions and work the wind to the best of your capabilities. No need to hang multiple stands to accommodate passing fronts and switching gusts - also nice to have a roof over one’s head when hunting in the rain!

And that brings us to the last point - you just can’t top the portability, and not just in the woods. Put a few climbers in the back of a truck and see how much room you’ll have for coolers, luggage, and other gear, especially if you’ve got more than a couple hunters riding with you. More than likely you’ll have to pull a trailer. Ever try to bring a ladder stand in the woods on an ATV and bounce the legs off every tree you pass? Pop-up blinds are just easy to deal with.

I’m not saying stands are useless by any means just blinds may be handier in the right situations. Thinking back over the last couple of years, there’s not been a deer I’ve killed that I couldn’t have taken from a blind - and several have been - provided I do the same things I did from the stand – play the wind, keep still and be quiet.

They are not without downsides. The wire frame of one collapsible model I own is warped. I got angry trying to fold the thing one night as mosquitoes were de-fleshing me and slapped it into a pine tree out of frustration. My Dad has an identical model that is much easier to fold. Guess I got a lemon.

Ground blinds also require concealment as the shiny new canvas sticks out like a sore thumb if not shadowed somewhat. I also strongly, strongly urge you to air it out and spray with scent killer before putting it in your favorite haunt. If you can detect thet "new car smell," so can a buck, even in a favorable wind. I’ll leave mine erect in the yard away from dogs and exhaust and other game-breaking smells for at least a couple of weeks.

But give them a try. Hunting at ground level is exciting, and I can almost guarantee there is some place on your property that has been neglected or improperly hunted because you’ve not been on the ground.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Colonel Roosevelt

“You never said a truer thing that he has no spilt milk in his life. He was just as much interested in the next thing as if the last one had never existed.” – William Bigelow to Henry Cabot Lodge referring to Theodore Roosevelt.

Just finished reading Colonel Roosevelt, the final installment of a Theodore Roosevelt trilogy penned by Edmund Morris. It was a Christmas present. So, I finished it in record time.

Excellent script - I had read the other two books in the saga and expected as much. The first novel charts his rise to power. The second covers his presidency. This one covers the good stuff – the African safari and his Amazonian adventure that left him infirm.

Of course, Teddy Roosevelt is a hero to the hunting clan. He is responsible for the Boone & Crockett club and worked with other like-minded individuals to set legal and ethical guidelines and principles for the management of natural resources and wild game. He was a skilled naturalist and writer composing volumes of literature on North American, South American, and African game animals and other species. His contributions cannot be overstated, and I am not going to try here.

As a book, Colonel Roosevelt is a fantastic narrative. Believe it or not, I’ve read a long list of biographies. Too many try to reconstruct history to please the academic posturing of the author. This is not the case here. The narrative is just that - a story and timeline of Roosevelt’s final years, good, bad, or ugly. And that’s fine with me. I’m not seeking any advanced sense of truth or someone’s depiction of it.

The tome starts in Africa on his safari. Roosevelt spent a year collecting trophies and chronicling his experiences at the height of his fame before a European trip where he was regaled, dined, and courted as the most famous American of the time.

He returned home, disillusioned by the machinations of current politics and the weaknesses of his protégé and successor, William Taft. Roosevelt, riding the wave of support from followers, became the presidential candidate for the progressive Bull Moose Party. After an assassination attempt – one that was truly remarkable he survived - Teddy easily defeated the incumbent Republican Taft, but lost to the Democrat Wilson. The Colonel battled with Wilson on his soft stance on the First World War and his desire to form a battle regiment for deployment overseas.

The story ends, as these things tend to, with his eventual physical collapse, worn down by his South American journey, the bullet lodged in his chest, the grief over his son killed in battle, and his realization that politics had largely moved on without him, even as he planned for another run at the White House. Roosevelt is a much-debated president, but there’s no denying his force of personality throughout his life.

Of course, I’d preferred more detail on his African safari – I suppose I’ll have to peruse African Game Trails for that. And after reading about his South American excursion it’s impossible to conceive any former president since him undertaking such a death-defying journey.

My harshest criticism of the book comes on page 440. The photo caption reads, "A flight of pelicans winging their way homeward." The picture was taken during the Colonel's trip to Breton Island, LA. The problem? The birds in the picture are sea skimmers. So, I'm being pretty ticky-tacky.

There are far more competent literary critics than I, and these are just the crib notes. I do strongly suggest checking out Colonel Roosevelt to learn more about the man whose legacy to conservation means so much to hunters and outdoorsmen today.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Lost Hog Lease

The neighbor who owns the cattle lease is trapping hogs?

I just didn’t buy it from Mike. The claim was pure conjecture. He had no real evidence. But something had caused the hogs to disappear. I chalked it up to the usual culprits – you know, if you hear hoof beats, don’t think “zebra,” think “horse.”

Over the previous nine months the 100-acre lease had become an all-purpose outdoor club. Shooting ranges, duck blinds, feeders, stands, dove fields, ATV’s, blackberry gathering, predator hunting, turkey hunting, butterfly collecting...the varying pursuits of the six members appeared infinite. It was well-trodden by the time Mike pushed his theory.

When we signed the lease agreement in February of 2010, the hogs were thick as flies. You could not walk around the property and not see at least one or two. Corn feeders were hung, and hunters reported sizeable herds arriving near dark, including a couple real beasts. The place had no deer and only a few turkeys, but it was fairly cheap and within 15 minutes of the house. There may be Midwestern hunters reading this wondering what the big deal was, but private land this close to home in Central Florida was a luxury, even if only for piggies.

Of course, a few people killed hogs late last spring and into the summer. I bowhunted in June and a herd of black hogs ran back and forth by my ladder stand through the palmettos until dark, never presenting a shot. After that, the buzzing flocks of mosquitoes and humid heat largely kept me away until September.

By then, the hogs were no strangers to the pain. The only swine photos on the trail camera were at night. Then, suddenly, there ceased to be any porcine pictures.

As one who likes to analyze and explain events, this was pretty simple. The pressure was just too much. Hogs are sensitive to human influence. Sure, they’ll accommodate vehicle traffic and cowboys and other regular influences, but once the shooting starts and human scent is dusted up and down their trails, they either go totally nocturnal or evacuate the property. Since our lease backed up to a state park, I assumed the swine abandoned our slice of Heaven.

But still, the hogs should be on the corn feeders. From late October thru February not a single hog was photographed.


In Florida this past fall, we had a magnificent acorn crop. It was like nothing I can remember. Acorns were still ploinking out of oaks into March. Once the acorns start falling, hogs will leave the corn be. This high-grade protein is too much for them to pass by.

The only thing that really bugged me – more so than the lack of photographic evidence – was the lack of spoor. No rooting, no tracks, no crap, nothing - which led me back to the pressure/state park theory.

Well, April arrived and we had to decide whether to stay on the lease or not. Of the original six, three bailed. We survivors figured we’d find two more guys, pay a little more and develop a plan to bring the hogs back.

PJ knew a couple guys from work who enjoyed bowhunting and videoing hunts. We held a Captain’s Meeting the next Monday and shared our thoughts on what to do to manage the land for strictly hunting. We’d cut out the extra-curricular activities like hiking and target shooting and barbecuing. Food plots were planned, with a dove field to plant in the summer. Guest limitations were set. Stand locations and feeders were discussed, and I left figuring by fall, with this group, the healthy population of swine would return.

The next evening, the two members were sitting along the eastern fenceline, newly erected by the cowboy neighbor, turkey hunting. Lo and behold, he drove up on the guys and had a conversation with them.

It seemed the guy was none too keen on our turkey hunting aspirations and let the newbies know it. His house was on the northeast border of the lease and near the thick cypress swamp that shared both properties. He had been feeding the turkeys for years and thought of them as pets. Apparently, the notion of number 5’s whacking his beloveds did little to endear us to him, though they were wild birds.

As a third-hand story, I never figured out if he did it out of reprisal or just for the sake of doing so, but he admitted to trapping hogs off his place for the last six months, catching several each time the trap was sprung. What he did with them I never ascertained, but it was evident he wasn't releasing them nearby.

Mike’s fears were founded. With this small property and the numbers of hogs he supposedly captured, no wonder we'd not seen any pigs in half a year. By Florida law, he was well within his rights. Feral hogs are considered the property of whoever’s land they inhabit.

But this did nothing for us. PJ called the landowner with apologies, but we’d have to bail on the lease. It would be too expensive to justify only a dove field.


Again, this has all come to me through the filters of several different mouths, but even if the truth is a better tale, I still enjoy this one.

Apparently, the landowner was awfully upset with the neighbor. The owner knew he had a pretty penny in the hunting lease. Anyway, he ordered the neighbor to get his cattle off the property. That’s a fairly swift and stiff payback.

Furthermore, the land, from what I was told, went on to be leased by a group of AR-15enthusiasts. I’m sure if he had it to do over, the neighbor would sacrifice the occasional gobbler rather than listen to that racket every weekend morning.

We still have not found a new lease.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bowfishing Re-Rig

Last we checked on my bowfishing exploits, I had pinned my first gar before losing the arrow to the muck of a central Florida lake thanks to the shoddy line and reel set-up. I vowed to correct this error, and correct this error I did.

Well, my wife did. In fact, she bought me the AMS Retriever Pro for Easter. The AMS is a slick deal. It holds the 200# Braided Dacron in a bottle. When you shoot, the line flies unimpeded. When you want to reel it in, you pull back on a lever-like trigger and the line dumps back into the bottle. Easy as can be. Love it, in fact. Much better that the spool system that came with the PSE set.

From there, I installed a Whisker Biscuit. This may be replaced in the near future. The arrow is too heavy for the bristles to support. And the rest obstructs the field of view. A drop-away rest would be cool, but that’ll have to wait. Finally, I screwed in a generic stabilizer that was lying around.

Sights may be my next objective, but I haven’t figured that out yet. One, how to sight it in? If I were shooting flat-footed on a level field, it’d be no big deal adjusting the pins. But, I’m shooting off a dock or boat at a fish of varying distances and depths, each factor adjusting how you aim at the target. It's like the exaggerated form of shooting at a target from a deer stand.

The water distorts the target. The deeper the fish, the farther below it you must aim. Likewise, if a fish is a little farther out, but higher in the water column, you still have to aim significantly below it so the arrow won’t plane. Unless I am observing this all wrong. Either way, I don’t have the time to perform the calculus necessary for setting pins to compensate depth and distance though I have a neat idea for a targeting system involving anchors, balloons, and my in-laws’ pool.

Still, the rig is a major upgrade from March. My only other experience with longbows or recurves came a few turkey seasons ago. A group of South Carolina turkey guys arrived to an Osceola camp with their longbows. They always said, the trick is to focus on the target; not so much trying to aim. I’ve kept that in mind through these trials.

And, let’s just say if I needed to stick a gar with one shot to save my life, or to fend off a deranged clown with fanged teeth with this set-up, I’m not sure which next of kin I’d pass the bow along to. Bowfishing is the single most challenging thing I have done in my life that doesn’t involve counting with both hands. Without exaggeration.

Besides the challenge of gauging depth and distance, a lot of it has to do with the fish I’m attempting to spear. I watch these YouTube videos where guys are slogging across flooded cut corn fields whacking broadsided carp and whatnot. These little Florida gars are not that. They are a skinny target and armor plated to boot. Mullet lack the protection, but possess the same profile. You have to hit them just right or the arrow will skip off their backs. It'll take a lot of practice to become proficient.

Luckily, there's been plenty of that.

I whiffed on – let’s say – two dozen gar last Thursday. Some shot were wildly off. A couple missed by a scale. And a couple more caromed off the toothy beasts.

One Florida gar did finally swim in front of my arrow. It was my last shot for the day. Just enough to keep me thirsty for more. As it happened, I was leaving for Homosassa the next day.

The mullet were in thick schools around the dock when I arrived. Of course, I hurriedly and impatiently started plunking arrows at them. A little tidal creek near the house also had a fair number. I skipped an arrow off the back of a beaut – mullet will frustrate you, too. When you shoot, they have a habit of circling the arrow and hanging around just until you get the arrow back on the rest, then they vanish.

Missing the sheepshead Sunday was the most damning. A fine food fish, I was salivating at this shot. He was one of those dock fish that had long grown tired of hooked shrimps and weights. This guy was probably in the 5-8 pound range, pretty large for a sheepster.

He was swimming towards me at an angle. I drew back, and at that moment, he turned head-first at me. The arrow streamed bubbles past his left pectoral fin as he motored to deeper waters.

I stomped around searching for a stingray to shoot. They had been all over this weekend. I’d tagged one on Friday. I was reeling in another errant shot at a mullet as the ray slowly scooted along the seawall. I re-loaded and fired the shot as he was about to gain depth. I hauled him to the deck, his barbed tail wildly thrashing about. I ran upstairs to pull Carolyn out of the shower so she could take my picture – any goodwill she had about giving me that reel has long since dissipated.

I was proud, but a ray isn’t much challenge. Over the weekend I watched dozens more without shooting. But after the sheepshead debacle, they offered no comfort.

For those keeping track, I have now shot two gar, one mullet, and one stingray in five months of owning this bow. I’ve shot several hundred times.

By the way, I’ve named the bow “Sweet Jesus.” My mother-in-law bought the original kit for me for Christmas. Carolyn purchased the reel for Easter.

And it’s a miracle if I hit anything with it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mt. Rushmore of America's Most Popular Big Game Animals

ESPN’s Bill Simmons writes a fun bit in his columns where he attempts to decide who or what belongs on the Mt. Rushmore of varying topics. Basically, what four things should be chiseled in stone as the best in their category?

He’s done the Mt. Rushmore of Rappers. The Mt. Rushmore of Professional Wrestlers. The Mt. Rushmore of Most Well-Adjusted Child Stars. It’s good stuff. In each case, there tends to be 1 or 2 clear-cut entries. The third is up for debate and the fourth usually a little controversial, grand enough to be entered into the discussion but fails on one or two key points.

I thought about this the other day on the way home from work. What four big game animals would be the Mt. Rushmore of America’s Most Popular Big Game Animals? It was simple – whitetail, wild turkey, ummm...black bear...wild hog...

Then I thought, how about the most iconic North American Big Game animals. Whitetail, elk, moose, grizzly bear. Right? What about the bison? It’s not as hunted as the others, but who can argue its unique American heritage and place in history? And moose live in Scandinavia. Grizzly bear around the globe. Replace with the pronghorn or mulie? Where does the wild turkey belong? It’s big game in my book and surely steeped in Americana.

So then I thought about most challenging to hunt and that led me through whitetail to stone sheep and mountain goats. But again, to be etched in stone for eternity? The stone sheep a rare few of us will ever pursue?

Let’s not even get started talking about waterfowl and upland birds.

Well, OK, let’s dip our toe in the water with that, because if we did a Mt. Rushmore of game steeped in tradition, I’d have to say whitetail, mallard, probably bobwhite, then dove...eh...maybe grouse or woodcock? And that would look all weird to tourists visiting the park.

But I’ll go ahead and give it a crack and argue my choices.

First, let’s set criteria. One, let’s assume money is not an issue. Cost of tags, travel, guides, leases, whatever. We really want to focus on accessibility, and I realize cash limits accessibility for most folks. But if you wanted to spend your money to hunt once a year on a guided trip for a particular species or do it yourself over the span of days or weeks on public lands, the options will still be available. A bighorn would look great on the mantle of stone, but I forget they are even a huntable animal I hear so little of them. If you have to wait 16 years for a permit, it’s out. Sorry.

Next, the challenge aspect should be in play. Now, we aren’t seeking record book animals, just representatives of the species. Moose, pronghorn, mulies, and wild hogs are accessible given the above rule and symbolic of the States, but none really jump out as too strenuous, all things considered. Individual hunts are tough, for sure, but success rates are usually fairly reasonable.

Finally, you must consider the impact the animals have on the hunting industry. No one, to my knowledge, is making caribou calls. It’s the same story with mountain lions. There are plenty of them and the hunts are grueling, but if I think hard about it, I only know one person who has hunted them and only a few more who have considered it. It’s largely a one-and-done thing that doesn't strike up much passion amongst the general hunting public.

So, let’s get started.

1. Whitetails. They are the George Washington of our game species, without question in my mind. They stretch almost from sea to shining sea, and a mature buck is the pre-eminent trophy in the dens of most hunters. The hunting industry, game departments, and science of big game hunting are driven by whitetails. I would venture to say that without the popularity of deer hunting, we would not have all the camouflage, advancement in weaponry, or technological innovations over the last 50 years. Big game hunting in general owes much of its existence to the popularity and availability of whitetails. They are the fuel that flames the passion for exploring and hunting other species. Clear cut choice, no and’s, if’s, or but’s.

2. Wild Turkey. A strutting tom may appear misplaced on the mountain, but there is little question of its worthiness in the ranks. The wild turkey is found in all 48, Canada, and Hawaii. From Thanksgiving to the debate whether is should be the national bird, a gobbler is as American as the flag itself. A strutting tom wherever he is found will ignite an obsession in those who witness it for the first or hundredth time. Expert turkey killers I hold in the highest esteem. Our armories now include specialized shotguns and rounds, our closets filled with vests and leafy suits and a mind-boggling array of calls. If you want to start filming hunts, turkey hunting is likely the venue to begin this pursuit. You may question whether it truly is “big game.” I don’t think you can question the impact it has had on the hunting lifestyle.

3. Elk. I killed a cow elk when I was 17 with a boy who took a satellite bull on a mountain hunt in Colorado. To this day, that was the most physically exhausting hunt I’ve ever been on. A week of traipsing the mountains, we finally cut fresh tracks and slipped up on the herd. We shot at 8 am. We packed out the two elk and arrived back to the car at 2 pm. This was on public land. As long as the wolves don’t eat them all, elk remain stable. Each October, folks head West to elk camps. The .338’s basically owe their existence to the wapiti. It’s a symbol of the frontier, and while I’ve never heard one bugle, I have to believe it to be one of the most exciting experiences in hunting. Those who dream of hunting out West most likely dream of elk.

4. Black Bear. It’s no coincidence that Teddy’s bear is number four because, much like Roosevelt, the bear’s membership in this club is the most debatable. While populations are stable and rising in certain areas across the nation, this species is the most likely to draw red flags and howls of derision from hunters and non-hunters alike. The black bear is the least understood amongst general hunters – some don’t appreciate the thought of running them with dogs or whopping one over bait, whether or not they’ve given it a try. Those who do hunt in these manners are amongst the most ardent sportsmen I’ve run across. The few black bears I’ve seen led to the hairs standing on the back of my neck. But the opportunities are plentiful across the nation with spring and fall seasons, the game animal is a worthy quarry – their sense of smell is unmatched – and no one can argue its American citizenship.

So there we go. It’s not a perfect list, for sure, and if you’d like to posit your own monument, I encourage you to leave a few ideas. Or congratulate me on my list.

Above all, though, God Bless America for the opportunity to even have this debate. When you start pondering all the possibilities, there’s little question how well sportsmen have it in the USA.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

2011 Tag Season - Florida's Limited Entry Hunts

The NFL Draft was last weekend. Presumptively, the Bucs chose well, addressing their glaring needs on defense. Hopefully their picks will lead to a successful season – if there’s no lockout, of course.

What fun it must be to take part in an NFL Draft war room! Sadly, my pro football aspirations died soon after I discovered beer and the realization I ran like Pfc. Santiago. Plus, to play organized football requires giving up Friday nights, then Saturday nights, not to mention Sundays, and darn if that doesn’t interfere with Deer Season.

So while I can’t draft bruising linebackers and swift wide receivers, I still create my own little war room each year when the time comes to apply for Florida’s Limited Entry Hunts. The charts of players are replaced with sheets of printer paper with WMA names and numbers and dates scribbled across them. Instead of an assembly of crack experts likes scouts and general managers, I have Louise the Black Lab to aid with my picks.

Louise, my wife’s dog, despite having an IQ that hovers just above the Common Dust Bunny’s, is wise counsel. I toss an idea by her and she thumps her tail against the hardwood floor, obviously pleased with my reasoning and general wisdom.

I may be taking liberties with Louise’s vocabulary – not to mention sentence structure and prose – but judging by her level of excitement, this is the sense of how our conversations unfold:

Me: “I’m thinking about applying for a late season archery hunt timed with the rut in Polk County so it won’t be so hot. What do you think?”

Louise (tail thumping): “Brilliant! You, sir, have no peer.”

Me: “How about sambar deer in the panhandle. I know the success rates are low, but…”

Louise (tail thumping): “Say no more! You will become a sambar slayer, and the myth of your deeds will spread throughout the pages of hunting literature for generations.”

Me: “I’m not sure this lake is going to have many big gators. Before I apply, would you mind swimming a few laps across it so we can find out for sure?”

Louise (tail thumping excitedly): “Bloody fine idea, Old Boy!”

She is a pal.

Anyhow, below is a list from myfwc.com of dates for the upcoming Tag Season in Florida. Special Opportunity Hunts applications are accepted starting today, and gator apps become available tomorrow.

Please visit myfwc.com for a full list of hunts in the coming months, including chances to hunt deer, hog, and sambar on National Wildlife Refuges throughout the state.

Good luck and hope you get the tags I didn’t apply for.

Statewide Alligator

Phase I: 5/4/11 – 5/17/11
Permit Pickup: 5/26/11 – 6/6/11

Archery, General Gun, Muzzleloader Quota

Phase I: 6/1/11 – 6/30/11
Permit Pickup: 7/12/11 – end of hunt

Special Opportunity Hunts

Phase I: 5/3/11 – 6/9/11
Permit Pickup: 6/20/11 – 8/2/11

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Stowing the Turkey Gear

Carolyn is eyeballing my hunting equipment with the evil glare she typically reserves for slugs and people who write checks at the grocery. Gear has been strewn across the house, mixed with her laundry, and engaged with her nice threads in a fierce battle for closet-space dominance since September. I half-expect to come home one day to find it aflame in the front yard like a Nazi book-burning conflagration.

Turkey decoys melting on top.

She probably thought in February, after I put the deer gear away, that she’d earned a reprieve. Then Cabelas brought me a new leafy suit. That will probably serve as the kindling.

But, alas, the time has come to stow away the gobbler gear. If that leafy suit survives, it’ll be my primary hog hunting outfit for the summer. The rest will be vacuum-sealed and put “away.”

Before then, though, I thought I’d pass on some friendly reminders for your turkey gear.

1. Toss your mouth calls in the fridge. I left a few in my truck last season - I’d just as soon put chewed gum back in my mouth after a year than those diaphragms that disintegrated in the heat of the cab.

2. Clean the shotgun. My shotty gets rather grimy by the end of turkey season. I’m sure to disassemble the gun, clean the barrel, brush out sand and dirt and dust from the action, and apply a thin layer of oil to the metal for storage over the next ten months.

3. Patch up decoys. My flock of collapsible foam dekes is rather ragged. They are torn easily. You can see where I’ve tried to staple, glue, and tape them together over the years, God forbid I buy new ones. Now, I use wire garbage bag ties that work well for holding the decoys in one piece.

4. Reassemble your turkey vest. When season starts, each of the nearly two hundred pockets in my vest is designated for a call, clippers, flashlight, car keys, harmonica, and Snickers bar. By Week Two, it’s all piled into one of the main cargo pockets. I like to correct this anarchy before it’s all shoved in the closet.

I hate putting away my gear. It’s a heartrending finale to the season.

Still, it is preferable to having it fuel a bonfire.