Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The year the wildlife refuge felt more like a mall.

I remember opening the letter from the government notifying me (back in 2001) that I had been drawn on a quota hunt to take a doe with a muzzleloader on the Hiwassee Refuge. Just the word refuge makes you think of wilderness and protected unspoiled land. I immediately called Ron who had put in with me, we had hunted the water fowl sanctuary on an earlier bow hunt. It was a great trip, we had placed our stands so close together (due to the fact that most of the property was corn fields with only small stands of trees) that we could see each other. Most of the morning was filled by watching a drunk shoot arrows from his stand into the empty field that separated us until he climbed down and fell asleep on the trail. It wasn't long till TWRA's finest came and loaded him into the back of their truck like a sack of laundry. The first deer we saw was a fawn which I had missed with my Hoyt Raider compound bow not once but twice (I have since switched to a cross bow). Only an hour later we heard a crashing of limbs, then bursting from cover directly behind Ron bounded three does running full speed. By the time Ron got his bow up and let an arrow fly it was aimed at the last deer in line. I cannot explain how but the deer dropped only twenty yards out in the corn field this hunt ended successfully with a miracle shot. Needlessly to say we were excited about the upcoming hunt with a firearm. we began to plan immediately. We were to camp on the refuge and not leave the woods until we had harvested suitable table fare. The kind of hunt I like. As Ron and I rolled up on the area that the warden had told us to camp I was shocked. The camping area looked more like a shanty town must of appeared back in the gold rush days out west. We found a small patch of ground between a pop-up camper full of some pretty rough looking hombres and a tent occupied by a old school longbow naturalist. We spent the evening scouting and hanging tree stands. we bedded down that night to the sound of drunken campers raising hell and one gunshot! It rained that night and my father met up with us in the morning and took a spot close to the campsite. He was smart enough to know the only place that would not be crowded would be close to the front since most people believe you need to go deep to see deer. I had my stand on a tree only 100 yrds or so from dad and was surprised upon my arrival by someone sitting in a tree only 5 foot from the one my stand was hanging on. The joker kept shining his flashlight on me like I didn't see him, finally I said "hey pal I have to get my tree stand if I'm going somewhere else". I hiked for 20 minutes past hordes of flashlights all being shined at me. I felt like the guy no one wanted to sit next to in the lunch room. I had gotten to the end of a long finger of woods jutting out into a corn field before I lost sight of any flashlights. I had never seen a more crowded stand of trees. It reminded me of the claustrophobic feelings I get at the shopping malls when my wife talks me into subjecting myself to the rude and numerous masses. Just as the sun rose I was in the middle of wrapping my summit climbing stand around a tree when a fawn jumped from the corn about 15 feet from me. We stood frozen for what had to be a decade when I made my move for my side hammer frontiersman 50 cal muzzleloader. By the time I got the iron sighted gun up, the deer had ran 60 yards. Luckily for me curiosity got the best of her and she turned broad side to look back at me. After filling my tag and gutting the whitetail version of veal I started my drag back to camp by way of dad. Half way back our long bow shooting neighbor fell in beside me (couldn't even be alone dragging my deer). He congratulated me on my deer and followed me to where my father was sitting with the year and a half old doe he had shot, then had to track all the way off the reserve. I left this hunt with meat but also with the realization that hunting is best when people are not around. I would rather kill nothing in solitude than fill my freezer in a crowd. The reserve felt more like a mall that day and I hate malls.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cheating death at Big South Fork!

The Annual Heiskell boy camp out at Big South Fork is always an interesting event, however the 2006 rendezvous was unforgettable. The usual cast of characters showed up with a few extra invited guests. The core group of myself, Ron, Stacy, Billy, Ray, and Chris were joined on this expedition by a stoner and a hillbilly named Lamance. The core group of campers are a mix of divergent personalities with one commonality, the outdoors. The first night in the wilderness that covers a huge area surrounding the Big South Fork river was the usual, making camp building a fire and drinking ourselves silly. The night went off without major incident except for stacy deciding to get out the chainsaw and putt it to work close to camp. The tree that fell in camp luckily did not hit anyone but the jon boat (which Ron had brought to make a trip downstream) took it on the chin. Needless to say Ron was not happy but stacy promised to fix it upon our returned to civilization. In the morning we split into to two groups for hunting and gathering. One will mainly take shorts trips then move using the trucks on the dirt roads to cover more ground. Ron, Chris, Lamance, and myself decided to follow the drainage off the mountain down to the river which would lead us to a horse trail and back up to the dirt track our truck was parked on. We had hiked most of the day to make it down to the river (we had projected the trip to the river to be only six miles cross-country). We were running out of time and still had miles to go to the horse trail so the decision was made to scale the steep sides of the mountain straight above us to make a b-line back to the truck. There would be two cliffs in the way but I was not worried, I had scaled several rock faces in my day. What I had not considered was I was already exhausted had sixty pounds of gear on my back and a remington 700 adl 30-06 hunting rifle . We had made it to the second cliff, I was following Lamance up the face. he had stopped at a small tree so we could pass the guns and the packs up to the top which Ron and Chris had already ascended to. After Lamance had pulled himself up off the small tree I proceeded to get on it. I think everyone heard the branch break. Just before completing the back breaking fall then probably bouncing and rolling all the way back to the river, I threw my hand out and felt Lamance's hand. Where he found the strength I don't know, but he pulled me up to the next ledge. Granted I was glad to be on top of the mountain and not Laying prone at the bottom, but the hike down the dirt track back to the truck was brutal. the burst of adrenaline from nearly breaking my neck had caused my legs to cramp. Cramp for the entire mile walk back. The apple pie moonshine helped that night in camp but only a little.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkey Day

There is a reason to be thankful on thanksgiving and it is turkey. We have these wonderful birds just roaming free, available to anyone willing to brave the outdoors and out smart these big breasted birds. I don't think enough people appreciate the fact that everything needed to survive is just outside. This is why conservation is so important and I believe that the best way to save the natural world is to convince people that land is more valuable (even monetarily) as a stand of woods than as condos. I think the best example of it working is in S. Africa where elephants were on the brink of extinction. Africans killed them because they were in competition with cattle which the Africans perceived as more valuable. When in fact sport hunting of elephant has brought far more money to the locals. Since then hunting preserves were set up so people could spend insane amounts of money to shoot one elephant. The potential profits have motivated people to preserve the habitat and work to increase the numbers of elephant so they can sell more permits to would be hunters. There are more elephants in Africa now than anytime in recent history. Whatever people place value on will be protected. More people simply need to value the outdoors the way I do. I paid the state of Tennessee $1200 for a hunting license because I value it. Now the state of Tennessee has bought additional land finishing the Cumberland wildlife corridor. Money makes the world go around, we just need to value nature more than concrete.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Broke down

The radiator on my truck busted today leaving me with no transportation or money until after the holiday. This means no hunting this weekend most likely. I saw a flock of 20 plus turkey in a big cow pasture at the end of Farmall rd. in maynardville today but was unable to secure any hunting privileges. It reminds me of the success TWRA has had with wild turkey in Tennessee. I have disagreed with a lot of things that the agency has done but I cannot argue with the shear numbers of turkey roaming around East Tennessee now. It used to be a special thing to see some turkeys just 10 years ago, now I see them almost everyday. being outside all the time is something I love about doing environmental work. I left work early today because of the truck breaking down but don't worry I was able to make the best of it by raking leaves and playing in the pile with the kids. They Know how to have fun.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

day dreaming

I have not gotton to go afield much recently. my wife has had to work evenings and weekends while I work during the day so that one of us are always with our children. I am not a big believer in daycare. I still day dream about hunting and hopefully over the holiday I will be able to steal a couple of hours to sit over my favorite trail in Jacksboro. It will take more than one deer to feed my family this year. I am still looking forward to the annual camping trip I take with the guys to big south fork usually at the end of January. We do a lot of hiking and hunting(usually hogs are in season plus what ever small game we can find)but mainly we camp. in the middle of nowhere as far away from civilization as possible. The group of guys I go with have been my friends most of my life. They are a rough bunch but some of the best woodsmen you will ever meet. We enjoy acting like pioneers. I can't wait to blog about whatever happens this year. In the past mother nature always has something for us from the wildlife to snow storms and of course there was the year that a drunken member of the party decided to chainsaw a tree down in the middle of the night. In the middle of camp of course. It should be exciting as ever and I can't wait.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Zoo Day

Today the kids and I went to the zoo. It was nice, Maybe a little cold but we had a good time. The odd thing was that the star of the day for my children was not an elephant or red panda. In the parking lot there was a gray squirrel on top of some trash cans. he sat nervously as my children made squirrel sounds at him (or at least what they believe are squirrel sounds). Then as quick as a shot he disappeared into the trash can and returned with a cracker which he preceded to eat. My kids talked about it for hours. I then took them to my meat processor (Crawford's Farm meats) which is the best in East Tennessee if you ask me. The amount of burger they got out of that little spike buck was amazing. I have already laid out some tenderloin for tomorrow night. I think it is important that children know where food comes from. That's right little johnny that hamburger is a cow or at my house a deer. As the family gets ready for bed all I can think about is going to the woods to find the next batch of meat to feed my family.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Backyard Safari

I took off work early to watch my kids (2 yr old girl and 4 year old boy) while my wife took care of other obligations. I decided to take time to clean my truck and let the kids play outside since outside is the best place for kids to be. It only took me about an hour or so to get the job done however that was plenty of time for my son to discover slugs hid under his miniature basketball goal (even though it is only 50 degrees today). They also discovered the scat of a large dog and being the trackers in training they are it took them no time to decide the origin of the animal that left it (my neighbors dog). I would like to take them to a state park or any forest or lake everyday but sadly I can't. This harsh truth of working for a living does not stop us from enjoying the outdoors on a cold November day even if we are in our back yard. Tomorrow We go to pick up a deer from the processor, can anyone say tenderloin. I'll Probably just get some squirrels out of the freezer tonight.