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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Another first

The weather has been uncharacteristically cold for our region recently.  Lows have been in the teens every night and daytime highs don’t exceed the freezing mark.  People and buildings in this region are not built for such weather.  It’s been a tough few weeks of winter lately.

Today though we had a break in the weather.  The daytime high jumped up to 41 degrees and we had clear skies with very little wind.  That was a nice change because today we’d be taking another new hunter on his first trip.  

My sons friend Sean would be joining us this afternoon.  He’s a super nice, super smart kid who plans to study mechanical engineering next year when he starts college.  He has a good bit of experience shooting pistols, but has never hunted. 

I took him through the usual process of ensuring he was familiar and competent with the rifle we’d be using.  We discussed deer behavior and anatomy, along with where to place a shot depending on the position of the deer.  

This would be an overnight trip, which would give us more opportunity to score.  I hadn’t hunted this farm in a while so I had no clue what the deer had been up to. I thought we might need the extra day to find success.

We had a short walk from the truck to an elevated two-man box stand.  The stand was situated in a corner that allowed us to look at a field that ran 150 yards to the west, and another that ran 250 yards to the south.  Both fields were planted in a mix of greens and were surrounded by thick bedding areas and rolling hills covered in mature hardwoods.  The area is as pretty as it is productive.

As we approached the fields I scanned to the west and found that field to be empty.  The stand was another 80 yards ahead and the field to the south was blocked by a low hill about 15 feet high.  We eased up the back of the hill and before we crested it I scanned through the grass with my bino’s.  A deer was already on the field.  It looked like a big old doe, but it was early, and it was by itself which made me skeptical.  

With Sean on my left I watched that deer feed as though it hadn’t a care in the world.  It was facing away from me so I couldn’t get a great view of it’s head.  Before I tried to stalk us into a position for a shot I wanted to make sure this wasn’t a button buck.  The timing and behavior screamed “young buck” and I had to be sure.  About a minute later the deer turned just enough to the left that I could see a long spike sticking up off his head.  It was indeed a young buck who had decided to raid the food pantry early.  

I let Sean look at the deer through the bino’s, then we walked to the stand, happy to run the buck out of the field.  I’d rather have him gone than have him hold us hostage until something worth shooting actually showed up and found us out of position.  

We climbed a wooden staircase to the box stand stashed our gear inside, then climbed in.  The stand is furnished with two padded office chairs and has narrow firing windows on all sides.  It’s made of black plastic, so even on a cold day, if its sunny the box will absorb heat and stay artificially warm until the sun gets low.

When we got in the box it was so warm we took off our jackets and hunted in tee shirts.  I had Sean practice getting the gun out the window in a quiet and stealthy fashion.  I gave him yardage markers based on prominent trees around the field, and generally helped him settle in to the hunt.  

He was in the chair on the left, which allowed him to shoot South.  I was in the chair on the right, which gave me a view to the West.  Between the two of us we could easily monitor everything.  However, if a deer came out on the West field, we’d have to switch chairs so he could shoot.  It was tight quarters and switching chairs would take some deft maneuvering but could be done.  With the plans set, we began to scan.  

We didn’t have to wait long before a small spike buck emerged on the West field.  It was obviously not a shooter, but I thought it would be a good exercise to have him get the scope on a real live deer, pick out where he would shoot it, and generally become comfortable behind the rifle with a deer in front of him.  This deer was 100 yards away, calmly feeding in a green field two hours before sunset.  It seemed to be shaping up to be an active hunt.  

The kid was a natural in the blind.  He paid attention to the details, moved slowly and positioned everything quietly.  If the hunt got busted it clearly wouldn’t be from him spooking a deer.   Sean looked at me to say something, then turned back to face the West field.  He immediately said “There’s another deer.”

I got the bino’s up and sure enough, a big bodied deer had entered the field about 100 yards away.  It was a buck, a much bigger buck than we’d seen so far.  I wasn’t huge, but it looked like it might have eight points, which is the minimum for this farm.  After a few more moments of study I could see it had nice brow tines, which made it an eight point.  “Kill that deer” I said as flatly and unemotionally as I could.  

“Really?”  Came the response..

“Yeah, he’s a good deer, kill him.”

He silently went through the motions again, got the gun in the window, put gun to shoulder, cheek weld, and then something new…shaking.  Five minutes ago he was fine looking at a spike through the scope, but once the kill order came down he was an absolute shaking mess.  What is it that causes this?  Why is a man perfectly calm looking at the deer when he’s not going to kill it, but the second that changes, he gets flooded with adrenaline?

I could sympathize with him, I’ve been there.  No matter how hard he tries to control it, he can’t.  It is a violent, uncontrollable shaking. In a perfectly warm box-stand his body was shivering like a hypothermia victim.  He was shaking so much that I could feel the box-stand vibrating. 

The buck stood broadside at 110 yards.  A whitetail buck, standing in a green field next to a hardwood forest at sunset is a majestic sight.  This buck stood there like he owned the world.  Head up, perfectly calm, in command.  110 yards away a young predator was shaking like a jackhammer running on adrenaline.  It was like we existed in two different universes.  How could two beings occupy the same space, with one placid, the other running like a rocket, and the first not be aware of the second?  Such is the nature of the hunt; one hides their presence and intentions until the moment is right.  Sean was trying to hide his but the longer he shook the less likely it was.

Still the buck stood, broadside at 110 yards.  He’d occasionally drop his head to the ground to eat, but he’d always come back to his statuesque pose with antlers held high and massive body standing like a sentinel.  

The gun was in the window but we had a problem, and a big one at that. The setting sun was now low enough that it was blinding the scope.  All Sean could see was a white glare when he peered through the lens.  From inside the shade of the blind you could see the deer perfectly, but to get a shot with the rifle you had to put the gun in the window, and then you were blinded.  This was a conundrum.  We had to take a shot before that deer ran off, but you couldn’t see through the scope to take a shot at all.  

Looking over his shoulder I could see a ton of glare coming off the rifle barrel.  I thought that if I covered the barrel it might cut down enough glare to see.  I had Sean pull the gun back in, and I put my fingerless gloves over the barrel.  I ran the barrel into the glove where my hand would go, and then out the pinky slot.  With both gloves now covering the barrel in a non-reflective cloth we gave it another look.  

Nope. The scope was still full of glare.  Ugh!  This was nuts.  You just don’t see a decent buck walk onto a field with two hours of light left, and then just hang out.  He was going to leave any second.  We couldn’t make the sun set any faster, so we desperately needed a plan to play the had we’d been dealt.  All I could think about was adding a sun-shade to that scope the minute I got home.  That gave me an idea. 

I took my ball cap off and put the bill out the shooting window just in front of the scope.  Maybe, just maybe I could find a position that would block enough light that Sean could find the target and release a shot.

He was sitting in a chair with the rifle out the window.  I was standing behind him, reaching over him and the rifle, and sticking my ball cap out the window just enough to block the light but not touch the scope.  From my position I could no longer see the deer, and I was leaning on one foot, which required that I support myself with the same hand that was holding the hat.  I put my right index finger up against the wall above the window, and the rest of my fingers held the hat in position.  There was a good deal of weight pressing on that one finger, and I couldn’t wait until this was over.

He said he had a good sight picture!  Yes, finally!  Standing over him, leaning with one finger on the wall in front of him I waited for the safety to be disengaged.  “Click”.  Yes!  The shot was almost here, and with it I’d get relief from this uncomfortable position.  I heard him breathe in deep “hhhffffff”, then he let half of it out, I could picture the deer standing there 110 yards away.  I watched from above him as Sean shook violently.  Suddenly the rest of the breath got let out in a sudden whoosh.  No shot came.  He was obviously trying to regroup, to gather himself and calm his nerves before releasing a bullet.  

“OK, it happens.  Surely the next time he’ll shoot.”  My finger was burning and my back was starting to ache from the awkward position.  Another deep breath, another image flashed through my mind of our target that was just a few yards away on the other side of this black plastic wall.  The exhale came next, then the shuttering vibration of a stand that held a very anxious hunter.  Again he passed; he blew out the last of his breath and tried to regroup, no shot came.

The deer was sill there, but now that we had a plan to deal with the sunlight, we had a hunter so excited that he couldn’t steady the gun.  I had to laugh a little bit because if he were to hand me the rifle to me the deer would be dead in literally two seconds.  One second to mount the gun, and one second to shoot.  To a seasoned hunter it’s just that easy, I don’t get nervous around deer any more.  

At one point I had to rest my hand.  I pulled the hat back in and gave him a short, calm pep talk on the fundamentals.  I whispered “It’s no different than at the range.  Focus on your sight picture, breathing, and trigger pull.  If you do those things well, everything else will fall in place.”  Looking me directly in the eyes, he nodded in acknowledgment and we both went back to our previous positions.  He on the gun, and me on the hat.  

The deer was still there.  Unbelievable.  This just does not happen.  The only thing this deer could do to further hasten his demise would be to climb the ladder, knock on the door, and beg us to kill him.  


This time I used TWO fingers to support myself while on “hat duty”.  Again I watched from above  as he drew a deep breath, let it halfway out, and failed to fire.  I could tell he was trying his best but his body was shaking really hard.  Sometimes no matter how hard you command it to be still, your body just has other ideas.  I bet we went through the motions another five times.  Five more false alarms that ended with no shot against a ticking clock.  That buck would not stay forever.  He’d get tired of being there, a predator might spook him off, or something as fickle as the wind could change and carry our scent to him.  Time is not your friend in situations like this.

Finally Sean told me he was ready.  He was getting calm enough that he thought he could get a shot off, but now the deer had moved!  A buck that had stood broadside for near an eternity, now decided to face us head on, taking away our preferred shot.  Oh the humanity!!!

I took a seat and just marveled at our situation.  It was both great and absurd at the same time.  We had the worlds calmest whitetail buck 110 yards away, perfectly still and broadside for several minutes, but couldn’t see him through the scope due to the setting sun.  Now that we had a solution for the sunset, he turned and took away our shot.  I had to laugh.

Soon he turned broadside gain.  Sean and I went through our “routine” maneuvers to get set up.  On perhaps our fifteenth run through our shooting cycle it all paid off.  I had the hat held perfectly to shade the scope, in came a deep breath, he let it halfway out, the shaking was noticeably less, and then BOOM!  The .30-06 shattered the calm, peaceful vibe in this little valley and relieved me of my duty to balance on two fingers while holding a hat out a window.

As soon as I knew the shot was away and my moving wouldn’t interfere with it, I dropped down to look out the window.  I was not prepared for what I saw.  The floor of the box stand was lined with a decade of debris; leaves, dirt, dust, wasp nests…all kinds of stuff.  When that rifle barked, it shocked up a cloud of dust like I couldn’t believe.  I was actually swatting with both hands trying to clear the view a little. It looked like I was viewing the world through a brown lens from all the dirt in the air.  

What I saw made me happy though.  That buck took off running with his tail tucked, and his body hunched up a little bit.  He ran a large semi-circle, away from us and to the left, taking him through the field and then back into the woods.  That deer was hit solid.  I smiled broadly and told Sean we’d wait a few minutes, then start tracking him.  

The first thing I had him do was cycle the bolt and make the gun safe.  We were happy and wanted to talk 100 mph about how that hunt went down, but safety was paramount.  The gun would be secured before we even shook hands.

He pulled the gun in, made it safe, then I shook his very shaky hand.  I handed him the empty ..30-06 shell and told him it was his to keep.  It’s the brass casing the from the very first shot he ever took at an animal. It’s a small keepsake of an adventure he’ll never forget and 
I imagine he’ll keep that in a desk drawer somewhere until he is an old man. 

In the interim we sat in the blind and discussed everything that had just happened.  It was a crazy set of events for anyone, let alone for someone on their first ever hunt.  It was beyond my wildest hopes that he’d get a shot on a buck his first time out.  As it is, this is one he is going to have mounted to put on his wall.  

A few minutes later we got down from the stand and hiked over to the scene of the crime.  We found the spot where the buck was shot, then began looking for blood.   I looked around on the ground for a moment and then scanned the woodline.  I expected he’d be dead just a few yards in, and was hopeful I could see him from the spot where he was shot.  Sure enough, about 70 yards down the field I saw a white belly a few yards into the woods.  I told Sean to keep the gun at the ready in case it jumped up, and made certain he had the scope dialed down to it’s lowest power.  If he still had it on 9X and a wounded deer jumped up 20 yards away he’d have a mighty hard time finding it in the scope to get a follow up shot. We then made our way to him with a quick pace.  I had Sean approach the deer and poke it in the eye with the barrel just to make sure it was dead, and it was.

I shook his hand again then we looked the beast over.  There was a .30 caliber hole directly behind the shoulder, exactly halfway down from the backbone, with a matching one on the far side.

“Is that a good shot?” he asked.

“No, that’s a perfect shot.”

From there it was just phone calls and pictures as modern technology allowed us to share his success and happiness with friends and family far away.  


The temps dropped well below freezing after dark.  We stopped in town for a hot dinner then started the hour-and-a-half drive home.  As soon as we hit the highway the boys fell victim to a full belly and a day full of adventure; and they fell fast asleep.  I drove through the cold, dark, windy night satisfied with the days events and wondered if they were dreaming of the hunt.  I know I would be.






Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The first time

When you have kids, you get to know their friends.  Some of these kids have been coming to the house for so many years that they’re almost like family.  Along the way, they all saw my son going hunting with me.  My son asked if they’d like to go sometime and a few of them said yes.  So this year my goal has been to take as many of those kids as I can.

The plan is to take them to the rifle range first to get them familiar, safe, and competent with the rifle.  I’m not taking someone to the woods without seeing they can actually hit the target reliably at expected distances.  To do otherwise would be setting them up for failure, and would would be grossly unfair to the animal.

With that as the plan, we got started.  The first man up was his friend John, a senior in high school.  He’s a smart kid, super nice, and a great sense of humor.  He has no shooting or hunting experience at all.  

I provided some familiarization training at the house to avoid having to do it over the sound of gunfire and potential pressure at the range.  It was a quiet place where no miscommunication was possible.  He listened intently and followed all instructions.

At the range he was the perfect student.  He did everything he was told to do, was conscious of being safe, and shot perfectly.  He had never fired a gun prior to that point.  With a target 100 yards distant, I instructed him on sight picture, breathing and trigger control.  “Once you’ve established a good sight picture, breathe in deep, let it halfway out, then during that respiratory pause…ease that trigger back until the gun goes off.”  He was shooting a .30-06 with a bipod off a shooting bench, and every shot he took was great.  He printed an inch and a half group right where I’d zeroed the gun.  After a little more familiarization fire, we called it a day and went home.  

The day after Christmas we went to the woods.  There were two other kids hunting that afternoon, but John and I were hunting together in a two man stand.  This allowed me to show him the ropes from start to finish.  Sitting in a two-man ladder stand I could help spot deer, provide advice on the hunt, and insure he learned how to do the whole thing safely.

We spooked three deer on the way in, then got set up in a two-man ladder stand on a wooded hillside overlooking a pair of roughly rectangular fields that were connected by a low creek crossing.  The creek provided a thin veil of trees that separated them, but allowed some limited visibility into the second field on the far side.

It was 122 yards to the gap between the fields, and 252 yards to the far side of the second field.  The gun was zeroed in a manner that allowed all of that distance to be shot without making any adjustments.  I didn’t anticipate we’d be shooting anything longer than 150 yards.

After a short hike, we climbed a 15 foot ladder, then settled in for the wait.
He had never been in the woods before so it was neat to hear his reactions to things.  After the woods “settled down” following our arrival, groups of small birds began to sing and stir all around us.  Noises would drift through the timber to us, leaving us discussing their potential sources.  Some are easy to pick out, a distant train, a squirrel in the woods, the usual stuff.  I’d tell a few stories in hushed whispers just to pass the time and maybe pass a little knowledge.  

I could barely hear some turkey clucking way back in the woods to the left of the first field.  I didn’t mention it because it was faint and infrequent.  Soon enough though I heard some loud, intermittent clucking from a bird in the woods to the right of the second field.  

“Turkey.” I whispered.

“Really?”  Came the answer.

I can see how he may have thought I was kidding.  It’s not a normal sound, just a single, loud cluck.  It’s hard to imagine it would be a bird, let alone a turkey.  I told him that most people don’t know that turkey can fly.  He said he didn’t know that either.  I told him I can remember the exact moment when I learned it.  I was stalking quietly through the woods when I spooked a few of them.  They took off with the loudest raucous you could imagine.  I know I went home and asked someone “Did you know that turkeys can fly?!?”

A few minutes later there was a terrible racket from the woods to the right of the second field.  It kind of sounded like a Bigfoot ripping all the branches off a tree.

“They just flew to their roost” I whispered.  A turkey is a big bird with a wide wing span, and when they fly to roost in a tree the hit all kinds of things.  A group of turkey taking to the roost can be heard a long ways away.

Not ten minutes later I saw some black dots entering the first field from the left.  110 yards away, three turkey were sneaking on to the field.  This was the first group I’d heard earlier.  They were quiet, cautious, and slow.  

“Turkey” I announced again.

“Where?”

I pointed them out on the left side of the field and handed him my bino’s.  He watched them intently for maybe five minutes; remarking on how spindly their legs looked, differences in their demeanor, and that they were quite ugly.  First day in the woods and he’s already learning stuff!  I was happy to have the entertainment for him.  The last thing I wanted was a long, cold, boring sit in the woods as his intro to hunting.

As it turned out, it was a perfect afternoon to be in the woods.  The temperature was in the low 40’s and there was no wind.  We’d been sitting in the stand for around an hour and a half and weren’t even very cold.

Just then I saw a deer through the trees on the second field.  There was no way to weave a shot through there, but I could see them and we still had plenty of light left.  

“Deer!” I whispered.

John craned his neck slowly trying to get a visual. 

“Second field, just to the right of the gap.”

“I don’t see them.”

I can’t blame him.  The untrained eye would have a difficult time picking them out amongst the clutter, but they were clear as day to a hunter.  I’d have to walk him onto their position.

“Do you see the skinny tree 15 yards in front of us?”

“Yeah.”

“Go up that tree until you see a big branch from the tree behind it crossing at a 90 degree angle.  The deer are in the bottom right corner of that intersection, on the second field.”

“OK, I see it.”

Those two branches formed a very crude but effective reference point to get him dialed in.

The deer were moving to the left, on a path that would have them well screened by the trees until they got to the gap between the fields.  We had plenty of light left and I was confident we’d get a shot.

I told him to get the deer in the scope, make sure it was adjusted to the right power, and that he had a clear shot to the gap between the fields, as I expected thats where we’d take them.

He had to slouch down and lean toward me to get the deer in the scope.

“Wow, there’s three of them.” I announced.  

“It doesn’t look like I’ll have a shot” he said.  “Three are lined up with each other and I don’t want to hit two.” 

He had been learning from our earlier conversations, and was now applying it in the field, on his own.  He knew to be aware of what was beyond his target, and he identified a situation he didn’t like.  A very astute observation for his first hunt, and a very disciplined call on his part. 

“Great call.  Just keep the scope on them, I think they’ll spread out by the time they hit that gap.”

He had been calm all day, but now that he was on the gun, in the field, and had deer in the scope things were changing.  He had to lean my way to get them in the scope and though I was squished as far left as I could go, he was still pushing into my right side a bit.  I could feel him breathing heavy as he watched through the scope.  His heart was clearly racing.  

The deer took a few minutes to clear the last large cedar tree and come into plain view.  They had indeed spread out.  I was looking through my bino’s and he through the scope.  We talked about which doe looked the biggest and decided he would shoot the doe furthest on the left; which happened to be the first in the line.

“Should I shoot now?” Came the rushed inquiry.  

“If you have a clear target, take the shot.”

The safety clicked off, heavy breathing continued for just one or two more breaths, then there was a long, deliberate inhale, a relaxed exhale that stopped at the halfway point, and “BOOOOOM!”  The .30-06 barked from the wooded hillside.

I watched through the binoculars as the doe dropped flat as a pancake on the spot where it stood.  Perhaps half a second after the shot, the rest of the deer ran.  I was shocked at how many deer came out of that corner.  I thought there were only three to begin with, but there may have been eight that ran out.  In singles and pairs they’d fly across that gap, darting and bounding as whitetail do.

“Where did she go?!”  He asked.  

“She’s flat as a pancake right where you shot her.”

After the shot he rode the recoil, and when the gun came down all he saw was deer running everywhere in that gap.  Logic made him assume that the last deer in the group must be the one he shot.  He figured it was wounded and it couldn’t keep up with the others.  In fact he had dropped it on the spot.  It was a great outcome.

I looked at John and asked “How do you feel?”

The response made me laugh.

“Man, that was way less recoil than at the range.”

His face bore the type of huge smile that only adventure and adrenaline can deliver.  We sat there for a minute talking about the hunt.  He said that on the drive out to the farm, he sat in the truck quietly questioning whether he’d be able to pull the trigger when the time came.  

“In the moment though, there was no hesitation, I just did it.”

He felt good that the deer died a quick and humane death.  I was happy for him, and proud of his efforts and his outlook. 

There were other deer killed that afternoon, and John got introduced to tracking, gutting, and a number of other things that just go along with the hunt. It was a great day, and I’m happy to say that the number of American hunters just grew by one more!


Friday we are taking the next kid.  Same plan, and hopefully the same result.















Tuesday, December 5, 2017

All of the fishing reports have indicated that Pickwick has been very slow lately.  I had the day off so I went anyway.  It was a wet, windy, rainy, cold day and I searched every point and creek I knew of.  I never did find any bait.  It's crazy.

Just after 3 PM I looked to the south and saw huge flocks of Black Headed Gulls pounding the water.  It was windy and they were darting downwind, floating stacked up on each other, and flying in all directions.  Every few seconds one would crash down to the lake and grab a fish.  Then, eight other gulls would come down and fight to take it from him.  It was mayhem over there.  I thought I'd better go take  a look.  

The gulls were over a huge patch of open water.  It was hundreds of yards from anything.  When I got there I split my time between watching the birds and watching the graph.  Gulls were splashing down, loons were popping up left and right from the runs they were making on the bait, and it felt a bit like the animal version of a WWII naval battle.  Chaos and violence surrounded me.  

The graph lit up and showed me the answer to my question about where the bait was.  Bait was scattered EVERYWHERE out here.  Most of it was on a gigantically wide "shelf" in 13 feet of water.  It seemed like every fish in the entire lake was right here.  I knew for a fact all the places they weren't because I'd just spent 4 hours trying to find them.  Now I had my answer.  

It was late in the day and I wasn't able to take advantage of it, but I certainly learned something new about my lake.

Below is a shot of some of the action.  The bottom gull actually has a fish in his mouth, and another bird is fighting him for it.




Thursday, November 16, 2017

Rainy days and Wednesdays

I took off mid-week for a much needed day on the lake.  As I pulled into the state park, a whitetail fawn bounded across the road ahead of me.  “A good sign” I thought to myself.  A few minutes later as I readied the boat for launch I heard a roar approaching from somewhere, it seemed to be everywhere and nowhere all at once.  The only thing I was sure of was that the parking lot was getting much, much louder; then there was a great ripping sound as something tore the air.  I looked up and a Navy jet trainer streaked across the sky just a few hundred feet over my head.  He was banked hard to the right, standing it on it’s wingtip, and slipping sideways through the air as he pulled a hard turn.  In a flash and a roar he was gone, blasting up the river.  Another good sign, if the fish get too ornery I’ve got air support, no way this day ends well for the fish.

I launched the boat, got my sonars and camera dialed in, then headed south to see what I could see.  It was a gray day, with dark, dull colors muting the hillsides.  Most of the leaves had fallen already, exposing the forest floor and the ridge lines.  The wind was out of the south but it was cool enough to need a jacket, rain was in the forecast. 

There were a few coves I’d hit just off the main river channel to start the day.  These coves are surrounded by steep, tall hills.  From a distance these hills look like huge loaves of bread, lined up one after another.  The steep, forested hills roll along the bank like that as far as you can see.  In between many of those hills are coves that hold all manner of wildlife.  Some of the coves are a few hundred yards wide and are big enough to hold a marina.  Others are narrow affairs that lead you on a tight, twisty, watery path to the junction where the cove meets the creek that feeds it.

My first stop was a cove in which I sometimes camp.  There’s a steep rocky cliff on the left side of the entrance, and a wide gravelly bar on the right with steep hills all around.  The mouth of the cove this time of year is only a few yards wide.  Once you pass through that gap you enter a very protected cove perhaps 60 yards wide that doglegs to the left after about 150 yards.  

It was just after noon and I didn't expect the fishing to pick up until after 3 PM so just then  I was focused on running the camera.  Perhaps there would be something interesting to photograph in the cove.  As soon I killed the throttle to idle through the mouth of the cove I saw movement.  There, in the back-right side of the cove...coyotes!  In the middle of the day I just bumped into a small pack of coyotes hunting along the riverbank.

There’s no telling what type of lunch a coyote might luck into here.  A dead fish?  A slow moving snake in the cool weather?  Squirrel?  Chipmunk?  I’ve seen them all here, and clearly the coyotes have too. They don’t seem alarmed by my presence but they leave in a bouncing trot, following each other then splitting up and coming back together as they make their way around the cove.  I got a few pictures but between the weather and the distance I didn’t get any GREAT shots.








The coyotes drifted off through the trees in the back of the cove, and I thought I might be able to intercept them at the waters edge one cove to the south.  I eased the boat out of the cove and hit the throttle.  The boat jumped up onto plane and I was cruising fast at the base of a series of small cliffs that drop from the hills above.  I looked up at the ridge line that was slipping past me and wondered if I could climb up there and cut those dogs off in the woods for a picture.  I quickly realized the futility of that plan.  There were almost no leaves left on the trees, which meant every one of them was lying on the ground. There was absolutely no way to "sneak" across dried leaves.  It would be like trying to "sneak" across a floor covered in Rice Krispies.  If it had been raining the past few days I'd have had a chance because wet leaves are quiet leaves, but as it was, my only option was a water approach.

A minute or two later I turned right and into the large mouth of the next cove.  This was perhaps 100 yards wide and 300 deep.  Way in the back I thought I saw bass busting baitfish.  Water was splashing everywhere in a classic sign of aquatic carnage.  Then I noticed something small on top of the water.  It wasn't bass, it was ducks.  These birds were jumpy and it wasn't even duck season yet.  I was several hundred yards away and they spooked.  I was in the middle of the cove which meant they'd have to pass within 50 yards of me to get out.  They were slow climbers and all of them passed on the left...Mergansers. I grabbed a few pics then got back to fishing.





While I waited on the coyotes I made a few sonar runs looking for balls of baitfish.  That's the key this time of year, find the bait and you find the bass.  It's not unusual on Pickwick to find clouds of baitfish that are hundreds of yards long and fill the water column from top to bottom.  So far though I was only seeing small pockets of fish on the graph.  I could tell there were larger fish feeding on the bait, but it didn't look like largemouth.  I made a few casts in the middle of the cove just to be sure and pulled out a yellow bass.  Not what I was looking for but it confirmed my suspicions.  A few casts later I gave up on seeing the coyotes, they had a lot of options and it didn't seem like they were making a bee line for my location.

I left that cove and pushed further south and east, toward the mouth of Bear Creek.  Along the way I bumped a pair of bald eagles from a tall pine on the waters edge.  They were perched high, and when they left they stayed high.  I had nowhere near enough lens to get a good picture of them at that distance but it was cool to see.  If I'd had a 600mm lens I may have had a shot, but a Canon 600mm lens runs around $11,000 and a picture of those birds isn't worth near that much to me.  I shrugged and let them be.   

I continued south and east.  I knew the wind was out of the south, and Bear Creek runs more or less north/south.  I knew I'd hit some wind when I turned the corner into that creek.  I was not wrong.  As I rounded the point and entered the creek the water was rough.  I was not going to make good speed in this water.  When I fully rounded the corner all I could see was an angry gray sky and white-capped rollers that looked to get higher as you gazed deeper into the creek.  It actually looked like the water was "taller" in the distance.  The wind had whipped the water into a long series of increasingly tall waves.  I could literally see the future and it was going to be rough and wet.  

I had about four miles of this before I found shelter in a cove.  The bow was beating down on the waves and water was flying everywhere.  Without a rain jacket you'd be soaked to the core.  I passed a huge flock of Coot who looked as though they'd given up.  They were all floating in a huge group up against the rocks where the wind had blown them.  They were bobbing up and down as the waves passed under them.  Half were visible at any given time because the other half disappeared into the trough of a wave. If they were smart they'd have gotten out and walked to a better place.  

A short time later i found shelter in a wide cove that starts with 30 foot cliffs, but gives way to a wide gravelly bay, and then to mud as the lake meets the woods in the back of the cove.  There were signs of life, but despite a disciplined approach I didn't manage to catch anything.  I got back on the gas and pushed down to the next cove.  

Now a light, cold rain was falling.  The water and air temps were both in the mid 50's, and with a cold wind blowing you could get uncomfortable in a hurry if you weren't dressed properly.  Anyone can enjoy a blue sky, sunshiney day at the lake, but it takes a special type of person to stand alone in a cold, driving rain, on a gray, windy day and still be having fun.  One might call that type of person an idiot, I call him an outdoorsman.  

I slowly eased deeper into the cove.  A hundred yards away it dead ends into a draw between the hills that surround me.  Above and to my right I saw movement.  A hawk was silently gliding over the hillside looking for a victim.  He pulled up sharply, slowed, and landed on a branch high up the hill.  Patiently, he waits.  I cast again into the cold drizzle.  As I slowly retrieve my lure I hear a pair of squirrels on the hill to my left.  They bark and chatter as they run, making all kinds of noise on that hill.  Apparently I’m not the only one who hears the commotion.  The hawk pitched out of his tree and soared across the cove, taking up a perch near the squirrel fracas.  I smiled and went back to fishing.  

I don’t think the hawk ever got ahold of the squirrels because I never heard any screaming.   As you might imagine, if you get attacked by a flying predator 20 times bigger than you, there’s going to be some screaming going on.  Anyone who’s seen Lord of the Rings knows that much.  

Under trolling motor power I pointed the boat toward the tan gravelly bank that meandered along the foot of the hills all the way to the mouth of the cove.  It was quiet.  I had only seen one other person in the past few hours.  I stood there alone, surrounded by the muted colors of a wet fall day.  Dark leaves covered dark hills under a dark gray sky that was spitting rain.  The temperature was falling and I noticed the visibility was getting lower due to the rain.  It was like the entire world was brown and gray, but in a beautiful, deeply saturated way.  Somewhere behind me a Loon called.  The Loon has an almost prehistoric sounding call.  I've heard it described as "haunting" and it's a fitting description. It could easily be a sound effect from a Jurasic Park movie.  

About this time a Loon popped up from under the water right next to my boat.  I'm talking maybe 10 yards from me.  Loons are a diving bird, they float around in loose groups and they dive for fish.  This one had been working the bank and just popped up beside me.  As slowly as I could, I put my pole down and eased toward the camera bag.  I couldn't imagine that bird would sit still while I was walking around right next to him, but he did.  I made it to the camera and snapped a few pics.  Then he dove, and popped up on the other side of the boat where I got a few more pics.  He dove once more and I started counting to see how long he would stay down.  At the 30 second mark I started looking behind me, I figured he had to have popped up somewhere but here was nowhere in sight.  "How long can that thing hold it's breath?"  Still I counted.  Just past the one minute mark I saw him pop up about 100 yards down the bank!  He stayed under far longer than I thought he would have, and he covered a lot of ground along the way.  

If you look close in the picture below you can still see water beaded up on his head from diving.


  


Sadly I caught nothing in that cove.  I motored down to the next one and tried again.  The wind had died down by that point and the water was getting calm.  Another eagle swooped by and perched in a tree at the back of the cove.  Even from a distance you can see their hulking frames in the tree.  It cuts a menacing figure in the woods.  Always sitting, always waiting, ready to strike.  I made a note of his location and planned to beach the boat and stalk close with the camera if I didn't find some fish soon.

I was moving toward the back of the cove at perhaps half a mile an hour, just a really slow pace.  I was casting in all directions trying to find some action when I saw more activity at the back of the cove.  A flock of turkeys had come out of the hills and was pecking around by the waters edge.  Unbeknownst to them they were also just about under the tree I'd seen the eagle land in earlier.  I got the camera ready.  It would be astounding to witness an eagle pouncing on a large turkey.  I was ready with the camera but the eagle had apparently already left, ain't that the way it goes?  As soon as you leave your spot and your quarry comes trotting by.  

I came up empty handed again.  I had one more trick up my sleeve.  It was about 4 PM and I was on my way to my favorite spot.  If I couldn't catch fish there then they just weren't catchable. I learned in short order that it just wasn't meant to be.  On my best, most productive spot I got skunked.  There was no bait in the area, the sonar made the place look like a ghost town.  

I stood alone on the bow, surveying my surroundings.  The rain was coming harder now, and at a slight angle driven by the wind.  The world was quiet.  The only sounds I could hear were the rain falling on my jacket, and the lonesome sound of a distant train horn.  The solitude and the rain were washing away the stress, and peace was sinking into my soul like rainwater into the ground.  A pelican flew by.  

At that point I decided to start making my way back to the truck.  I'd check a few more places, just to see what I could see, but the writing was on the wall.  This was not going to be a memorable day of fishing. 



By the end of the day I’d seen deer, a dozen turkey, five bald eagles, a pack of coyotes, a huge flock of coot, herons, loons, flocks of ducks, and pelicans.

I caught only a single fish that day, but I consider it a success.  As Thoreau once said "Some men fish their whole lives without knowing it is not really the fish they are after."  It's about peace, solitude, connection.  It's about so much more than the fish.