About me

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Live from the stand!

9:30am :Trying to have some fun and post from the stand live. The isolunar app said this was an excellent day. I spooked 4 does coming in. Two minutes ago, i saw 3 does runnning accross a ridge about 150 yards and moving! I think something bumped them. Shorty after I heard bursts of shotgun fire. prime time is 10:30-1:30 we' ll see! apologies for spelling now!

9:35 am. The old saying that is proving true: if it sounds like a deer its a squirrel! if it sounds like a squirrel its a deer!!!!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hunting Public Land Part 2 of 2: Treestand Selection.

So, let’s continue looking at the “challenges” of hunting public land a how this influences tree stand selection, factors to consider and some modifications I’ve made in response to experiences in the field.
Generally speaking, in North Carolina and Virginia screw in steps, lug bolts, nails or any other such “permanent” climbing aids are prohibited on public land.   Our regulations allow for the building of natural ground blinds or even leaving a tree stand attached to a tree.  Permanent structures remaining after the season are prohibited.  More importantly, you don’t want to leave something you really like in the woods too long or someone might like it better than you – hence my “carry in-carry out” rule.
The areas I hunt are spread over about 60,000 land acres of public “multi-use” land open to hiking, wildlife watching, camping, biking and fishing.  Some areas are within close proximity of residential dwelling and are limited to archery equipment.  Other areas are heavily wooded and open to deer hunting with muzzleloaders, rifles, shotguns even the use of dogs.  Highly pressured and/or mature bucks and does on public land survive by patterning hunters and making use of areas rendered ‘un-hunt able’ per human habitation, the unwillingness of hunters to take on the thick nasty stuff, or a lack of trees most hunters find suitable for many traditional tree stands.  
Given these conditions, the ideal public land set-up would be extremely portable to carry long distances over rugged terrain hunting game signs; adaptable to almost any tree, easily transitioned from area to area most of which may be unfamiliar and stealth to hide from people as much as game.  After all, if an area has ‘telephone pole’ trees and easy access it is likely to be highly pressured.   
So let’s look at the set up that I ultimately settled upon, the Gorilla Silverback Scout. 

This is an aluminum hang-on type stand that weighs in at a verified 10 pounds even (including all straps).  The stand is very light.  Light enough to hold in place with one hand as you attach the stand to the tree.   Unlike the comparable Lone Wolf or Muddy Hunter Pro stands which have adjustable seats and platforms, the Gorilla has only an adjustable seat.  The Lone Wolf is crafted from a solid one piece platform whereas the Gorilla and Muddy stands have the typical welded platforms.  In theory, the Lone Wolf’s platform should be quieter as welded platforms are known to creak in very cold weather.  I hunt in Virginia and North Carolina.  During deer season, temperatures will range between 80 and 32 degrees Faranheight with only occasional dips lower during mornings late in the season.  So, that not really a concern.  However, the Gorilla Silverback Scout costs about $100.00 less than the Lone Wolf Assault of comparable size and weight. 

To climb, I use Lone Wolf climbing sticks. 

They weigh in at about 2.5 pounds each, very quiet to climb, and solid.  They were engineered to stack and are adaptable to pretty much any tree you might encounter.  The sticks come in packs of three and most people will use 3 to 5 (I generally carry 5 sticks which weigh ~ 12.5 pounds).  I am 5’7” and 4 sticks will get me about 16’ high without any dangerous maneuvers and comfortable steps.  If you are closer to 6’ tall then you might make 18-20’.  The 5th step isn’t always needed but it does allow me to reach 20’ and step down on the stand for safety.  The single post design of the Gorilla Silverback Scout tree stand allows the Lone Wolf climbing sticks to stack lock on for portage as if they were engineered to do so.  
Regardless of the stand selected, I intended to make a few modification to “quiet the stand an enhance durability”.  Basically, I coated the stand with a rubber undercoating then sealed it with a coating of bed liner followed by a coating of camouflage paint and ACU camouflage.  In the dark things hit and bump. Metal on metal is an unnatural sound that will wake for the forest especially mid fall though winter.  As the humidity falls sounds travels better and the metal seems to attain a higher pitch. This process results in a stand that produces a light “thud” instead of a forest awakening tuning fork style “tiiiiinnnnggg!!!!!!!”.
If you are interested in quieting your stand down (highly recommended for Summit stands), here is an overview of the process:
Step 1:  Disassemble the stand, remove all, straps, cords, labels, tags and scuff up the existing paint or roughen up other  smooth surfaces with sandpaper.

Step 2: Coat the stand with a layer of roll-on Herculiner bed liner (preferred for climbing stands) or spray on Duracoat bed liner and let it dry.  The key here is to ensure the final coat dries with a roughened surface to improve grip on rainy days. 

Step 3: Add a coat of rubberized auto under liner.  This is a rubber spray on substance that can be found at almost any car parts store.  I purchased a can of the Scotch Guard brand for about $6.  This is probably the longest step.  This stuff smells pretty strong so I leave it outdoors to “cure” and loose some the odor.  It won’t totally go away, but we’ll take care of the remaining odor in step 4.

Step 4: Coat the parts with a couple coats of flat camouflage paint.  Kryon is great and runs about $3 a can, but the $0.97 flat hunter green from Wal Mart works just as well.   The critical aspect of painting after the rubber liner has cured is that the paint will seal in the odor.  From here you have options:

allow the paint to cure, reassemble, and add your carry straps or.........

add a camouflage pattern using additional "camo" colors, stencils or add a layer of camouflage duct tape.  Below, I added some ACU digital camouflage to the stand and the sticks.  Note how the climbing sticks stack on the stand.   The stands attachment belt makes a great tool for cinching it all together for portage.  Absolutely silent and with the MOLLE shoulder straps and belt you barely feel it upon your back.  Great for long hikes.

Other popular choices for hunting public land are
Climbing stands:  The first stand I purchased was called the Summit Viper Xtreme. 

 It was nearly identical to the ever popular and Summit Viper with one exception.  The Summit Viper is aluminum and weighs in at 21 pounds ready to hunt.  The Viper Xtreme is a steel version that weighs in at about 28 pounds and about $70.00 less.   With a MOLLE kidney belt and shoulder straps to distribute weight along your waist, the viper Xtreme is a great value, mobile and highly efficient.  However, as noted above, quite often the best trees for a climber are often associated with easily accessible areas and high hunting pressure.  Typically, the best forage trees are not as amenable to climbing stands as say pines.

Ground blinds: Mobile, very adaptable and great for taking out children or new hunters as they are great at hiding movement.  Scent control is critical as is and finding a place to set up.  While I have used them as a carry in and out system on public land they are at their best when they can be left in the field.
Tree Saddle: The most mobile, stealth and adaptable set up I found involved a hang-on sling type seat called the Trophyline “Tree Saddle”. 

The design allows you to hug the tree and lower your profile by keeping the tree between you and the deer, much like a squirrel.  You can use device this on any tree big enough to hold your weight and the thinner, gnarlier and forked the better.   This was my number one choice.  Unfortunately, Trophyline appears to be either out of business, out of stock or somewhere in between.  The result has been a ridiculous rush on saddles via eBay and classifieds.  I purchased a neoprene “Real Tree” version last February (wanted a leather “Roads trips” edition) on EBay for $169.00.  I shot from it a few times and it wasn’t bad.  Overall, the set up was about 20.5 pounds (saddle/accessories – 8 pounds, 5 climbing sticks 12.5 pounds).  After several sits in the saddle and looking at some of the newer ultra portable lock-ons, I realized that many of these smaller platform stands were comparable to the saddle in adaptability, stealth and portability.  For example, the Lone Wolf Assault, Muddy Hunter Pro, and Gorilla Silverback Scout HX, all weigh in at about 10-11 pounds, have adjustable seats and with 5 Lone Wolf climbing sticks they are in the same 20-21 pound range as the saddle.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hunting Public Land - Part 1 of 2

I’d like to divide this discussion into two parts.  In part one I’ll talk about what is in my pack, objectives and how my strategy evolves over the course of the season.  Part two will look look at what I’m hunting from, and modifications.
I am a 100% public land hunter.  Fortunately, North Carolina offers plenty of open, accessible and productive public land to hunt.  Most of these are large tracts open to varied forms of deer, bear, turkey, fowl and boar hunting: muzzle loader, rifle, shot gun (with and without dogs), pistols and archery.  Hunting public land is challenging and yet rewarding.  The challenge comes not from avoiding crowds of people.   I can count on one hand and one finger the number of instances in which a hunt was infringed upon by another. The challenge lies in the inherent challenges of public land hunting which in my opinion actually adds to the hunt.  These challenges include:
1.       Highly pressured game (extremely wary)
2.       Prohibitions regarding baiting, mineral blocks, food plots and/or attractants
3.       No permanent blinds or structures (everything must leave with you at the end of the season)
4.       No spikes, screw in steps, nails, lag bolts or “2x4 ladders” in trees
To be successful on public land a hunter must use stealth,be observant, adaptable, persistent and extremely mobile.  He or She must learn to identify and hunt: signs, travel corridors and be cognizant of how deer movements vary with the season.
*** Tick borne disease (e.g. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease) is nothing to scoff at especially in the warmer months.  I consider the use of permethrin a must given that insects are repelled by it and ticks are repelled or killed on contact.  I use either a permethrin spray or soaking solution found in most outdoors shops (REI) or military surplus stores.  Spray or soak your clothes in these solutions and allow them to fully dry before wearing.  This will keep insects off for about 6 weeks, stand up to a couple of washings and is scent free.  Insect repellent devices have become the rage of late and while they do a great job at repelling biting flies and mosquitoes, I am not necessarily enamored with their potential against what I perceive to be the most dangerous animals in the deer woods for most of the early season - ticks.
With that in mind I would like to share some tips regarding how I adapt what’s in my pack to the movement of deer throughout the season. 
Early season (Sept-Oct) I generally pack extremely light for three reasons:
1.       September in Virginia and the Carolinas is pretty much an extension of late August.  While the temperatures generally drop a bit into the mid-low 80’s, it is not unheard of for them remain in the 90’s throughout the early part of the month.  This is also Hurricane season and any tropical disturbance will push warm humid air ahead of it resulting in mid-summer humidity and heat.   The 2009 and 2010 ’opening days’ presented temps in the upper 80’s low 90’s for the first week.  The 2011 may not be as hot, but the recent tropical air masses have really pushed the humidity. 
2.       Fall is the perfect time of year for outdoor activities.  A typical September or October weekend is totally booked with little league football, dance recitals, practice and/or yard work.  Not to mention the gradual creep towards later sunrises and earlier sunsets. Thus early season hunting (or fishing) trips are generally last minute opportunities lasting a few hours before sunset or before sunrise.
3.       September-October is essentially doe seasonfor me.  This is when I’m hunting for some good “tail gating meat”, back straps and an opportunity to donate at least one deer to the NC Food Pantry before the season turns to gun/antlered deer only in mid-October (non-archery zones).
Given the factors above, my early season hunts are frequently short (less than 3 hours) and are often un-planned opportunities.   My typical early season pack would contain:
·         Range Finder
·         Sock filled with baking soda: every so often I pat it against my body, gear, inner shoes and base layer (great scent tamer when dealing with early season heat/perspiration/foot odor).
·         Field dressing cutlery
·         White pillow case to pack out meat.
·         Multi-use tool (Leatherman)
·         Scent - Away spay
·         Water
·         Headlight: snakes are on the move late summer-early fall (especially at sun rise/sunlight). More than once, I’ve almost stepped on a copperhead in the leaf litter (perfect camouflage).  Generally, they will feel you coming and flee or rustle the leaves to let you know they are there.
·         Whistle - a scream may not be good enough and/or your cell phone may not have coverage.
·         In mid-late October I might carry a small ‘bleet call’.  If things are really hot or I feel really “stinky” I’ll try to cover my scent with a little doe urine.  Otherwise, I hunt travel corridors, water and funnels for does (meat).  If a buck comes by, so be it. 
November is the time for chasing mature bucks on public lands.  These animals did not get to be “mature” on highly pressured tracts by luck.  They have patterned hunters via their early season mistakes as well aggressive attempts at rattling, grunting, bleets and over use of out of season”cover scents”.  These deer know how avoid hunters and mask signs of their presence.   Generally, the pre-rut will occur in late-October through early-November and the full rut in Mid-late November.  This is when those wily old bucks get a little bold and sloppy.  This is the best opportunity to bag a mature deer on public land.  Temperatures vary this time of year.   In mid-November 2008 and 2009, we had a dusting of snow on the ground.  Mid-November 2010, temperatures were above normal with daytime highs in the mid –upper 70’s.  Typically, temps are in the mid-low 60’s and dropping into the 40’s-30’s at night.    I generally have more opportunities to hunt this time of year.  Little league football is over,  the lawn has gone dormant, and I can do longer hunts of 3-6 hours.   
 As such, my November “rut pack” pack generally will contain a little more gear:
·         Range Finder
·         A sock filled with baking soda-every so often pat it against your body, gear, inner shoes and base layer
·         Field dressing cutlery
·         Pillow case for carrying out venison
·         Multi-use tool (Leatherman)
·         Scent-Away spray
·         Water
·         Snacks: Generally something high in protein or carbs and perhaps a little sugar.  You will need that energy to quarter, debone or drag out a mature big bodied buck.  Water, builder bars, nuts and perhaps a warm beverage.
·         Headlight (especially at sun rise/sunlight) snakes are no longer an issue but now coyotes are on the move.  Generally, they keep their distance, but if they smell meat at dark, who knows what might happen.  I had three follow me out one evening.  They say they don’t pack up and stalk, so I guess they were just escorting me to my truck.
·         Whistle
·          ‘bleet call’, a rattle bag and tarsal juice as a drag bag.  Now I am I hunting scrapes, rubs and mature buck travel corridors identified last season.
December is the next best time for chasing mature bucks on public lands.  They have absolutely patterned hunters by this time of year.  Now the woods are experiencing heavy weekend pressure from still hunters, and dog hunters.  Their mistakes as well aggressive rattling, grunting, and over use of out of ”cover scents” have pushed mature bucks and does near nocturnal.  Often there is a “second rut”. Or so it’s called, when does in esterus but unbred are being chased again.  This is a second opportunity at those wily old bucks as they get a little bolder and sloppier than usual for a second time.  This is the next best opportunity to bag a mature deer on public land.  In December, we probably have had a dusting of snow on the ground and temperatures in the mid-low 50’s and dropping into the 30’s-upper 20’s at night.    The cooler weather also has deer up and moving about during daytime hours as well.  Summer time patterns are generally abandoned as the growing season is over and there is little to browsein the under story.  Acorns, nuts and any remaining ground cover are major attractants.  Mobility, stealth and patience are essential this time of year..  
 As such, my December “rut pack” pack generally will contain a little more gear:
·         Range Finder
·         A sock filled with baking soda-every so often pat it against your body, gear, inner shoes and base layer
·         Field dressing cutlery
·         Pillow case for carrying out venison
·         Multi-use tool (Leatherman)
·         Scent-Away spray
·         Water
·         Snacks: Generally something high in protein or carbs and perhaps a little sugar.  You will need that energy to quarter, debone or drag out a mature big bodied buck.  Water, builder bars, nuts and perhaps a warm beverage.
·         Headlight (especially at sun rise/sunlight) snakes are no longer an issue but now coyotes are on the move.  Generally, they keep their distance, but if they smell meat at dark, who knows what might happen.  I had three follow me out one evening.  They say they don’t pack up and stalk, so I guess they were just escorting me to my truck.
·         Whistle
·          A rattle bag and tarsal juice as a drag bag.  Now I am I hunting scrapes, rubs and mature buck travel corridors identified last season.  I am also looking for signs of browsing.  As food sources dwindle and most does have been bred, these areas receive a lot of pressure.
Well, those lists were developed per my experience over the last few years.  In part two we’ll discuss hunting set ups (tree stands) and explain why mobility stealth and adaptability are essential when hunting public land as well as modifications I have made to enhance those attributes of my set up.

Friday, September 2, 2011

September 10, 2011: Opening weekend for the North Carolina's Archery Deer Season!!!!!

Life has conspired to keep me from posting and enjoying the outdoors!  My fishing expeditions have been severely curtailed and lmited to a few (successful) short but sweet outings.  Nature walks have been limited to the backyard for the most part with some success. 

However, in one week from today, September 10, 2011, we will celebrate: kick-off for the 2011 NFL season and opening weekend for the North Carolina archery Deer Season opener!  As I prepare this post I have a follow up coming immediately that you hunters will like.  It details some of my gear and a really nice little something for the season.  While I wrap up those, I’d like to share a little about how and/or why I started bow hunting and what I’ve learned over the years.

I am probably an anomaly (in more ways than one) when it comes to bow hunting, but folks like me are quickly becoming the norm…. I’ll explain.  Yes, it is rare for someone to pick up hunting later in life, as I did.  There is where the caveat comes in.  However, whereas participation in hunting and fishing overall has been experiencing a steady decrease, participation in big game hunting (deer, elk, turkey, and bear) via archery and black powder has been steadily increasing.  ESPN did a great show on this about a year ago.  A great number of those new bow hunters are: over 30 when they take up the sport, suburban/urban residents and most of whom did not grow up in a house with hunters.  I had relatives who hunted deer but they used traditional “Southern” methods: shotguns and deer-dogs.  No tree stands, food plots, corn piles or bows.   As a youth, I had an interest in hunting (deer, rabbits), but without access to guns, rifles, dogs, land or mentors I was pretty content watching the Southern Sportsman on Sunday mornings.  Later, (2001-2007) I moved to New Jersey where (of all places) I met as true an outdoors man as ever existed.  He introduced me to the concept of bow hunting and tree stands.  I took the NJ Hunters’ Education and Safety course and examination in anticipation of going out with him, but never got around to buying a shotgun (too restrictive up there) or bow. 
One evening, early spring 2008, I was stuck in traffic and kind of thinking about all the things I wanted to try and/or experiences I wanted to share with my children. Would bow hunting deer become another one of those ‘things’ I wanted to try and never got around too?!?  I looked over to the side of the road and saw a sign that read “North Carolina Game Lands-Archery Zone”.   Was this a message?   If not now when?  A typical Gen Xer, I took the ‘DIY’ route, researched, and found a website that calculated my draw length, estimate the optimal draw weight, and help select the proper equipment.   My research left me well versed in the jargon, equipment and laws and however, it was not until I actually placed boots in the woods with bow in hand that I really learned the important lessons.

Lesson 1:  A compound bow is not a toy. 

I finally purchased a really sweet bow called the Whisper Creek Stealth LX in a ready to hunt set up.  Admittedly, the days of bench pressing 305 pounds for show are long over, but I am still capable of reps in the 250-260 range and rowing in the 150 pound range without shoulder pain!   However, pulling back on a 70 pound draw for the first time and trying to hold it while aiming left me breathless and after a dozen shots I could not help but think “what have I gotten myself in to?”  I missed from 30 yards and hit a tree.  To my astonishment, the arrow was so deep in a pine tree that the tip remains in it today.  Respect earned.  I practiced religiously from late March until August.  By September 2007, I was shooting 3” groups from 20 yards and 9” groups from 30 yards.  Just before the season started I robin hooded an arrow from 20 yards………….

I was ready!

Lesson 2: Hunting is challenging, exciting and dangerous.  A guided hunt with an expert is worth every dime in terms of safety and education.

Given my lack of experience, I felt the best decision would be to invest in a guided hunt to “learn the ropes” before going out on my own.  I booked a day hunt, locally, for the second weekend in December.  I could not wait!  I used a vacation day and went out on my own as a “birthday” gift to me the weekend before……  I selected an “Archery Zone”, on some public land that I was familiar with from fishing.  I found a nice game trail with fresh sign.  This was early December post-rut with temperatures in the low 50’s.  About 15-20 yards off the trail; I set up a stool beneath an overhang, camouflaged in, and readied to hunt from the ground.  Suddenly, I see this little piece of dead vine waving in the wind in front of me.   I don’t want any movement to draw attention to me or obstructions throwing off the shot.  So I pull out my knife and cut it.  Unfortunately, as I put the knife back in my sheath, I touched the string of my bow and it literally blew up in my lap….. 70 pound bow and a rage broad head!  After being stunned, I realized my hand was cut between my left index and middle finger and the first three fingers of my left hand numb!  A few stitches and I was out in time to pick up my daughter (my fingers were tingling for weeks after).  Pride shattered and shaken by how close I came to disaster I was obsessed with getting my bow fixed and ready for the guided hunt next weekend……..  The local shop replaced my string and the next weekend I was on a guided hunt in Caswell County.  Didn’t harvest a deer but learned a lifetime of information. 

Lesson 3: Seasons change.  The habits of people and animals change with the seasons.  Know the way and lay of the land now and as it will be. 

For the 2009-2010 season, I decided the best way to hunt public was via tree stand.  Considering the mix of tall straight pines available I selected a climbing tree stand.  I also found time to scout a few weeks before the season and identified some great places off the beaten trail and fairly absent of human activity.  I’d found some really good looking public land deer less than 5 minutes from my house.  ‘My’ season didn’t start until after Pop Warner football ended, but I was fine with that.  I hunted hard for two weeks and never saw a thing!  Thanksgiving weekend I was in my stand, sitting amidst oaks down-wind of a creek bed heading to the lake.  I sat 20 feet up watching the sun rise and enjoying the sounds of the woods awakening. Two hours after sun-rise: nothing.  Three hours and I see …. No, can’t be.  Yes it was so, there were 4 dogs running under my stand followed at a distance by two men with shotguns and a radio.  They never saw me, but I watched them on the 2-way working the dogs.  I decided it was a lost cause and climbed down.  Nice guys, offered a shotgun and chance to run with them.  I told them maybe next time, I’d been out for while and needed to head out.  Later in the season I took the advice of an older hunter I met, “if they running dogs, go late”.  I went out one more time about two hours before dark and sure enough, I saw two bucks cross the creek about 60 yards away at last light.   Season over.
Lesson 4: Be patient, learn your game. 

During the 2009-2010 season and immediately after, I took note of every sign and fleeting glimpse of deer (doe or buck); where signs were strongest opening day mid-season and after; where they ran when pushed, where they came from; weather.  I studied them hard and formulated a plan for 2010-2011.  The land I hunt is open to “either-sex” harvest by bow and /or muzzle loader (no dogs) from the second Saturday in October through the second weekend in October.  After that, only “antlered deer” may be harvested by any legal means until the last week of the season which is either sex any legal weapon.   Knowing that, I decided to avoid any where I found evidence of rutting bucks after the 2009-2010 season until November.   I wasn’t so concerned that I would run off the bucks.  This is public land these deer are accustomed to hikers, fishermen and campers.  My concern was alerting other hunters to hot spots and creating lots of traffic - putting the older bucks on alert!  
20 November 2010, I headed out to an area where I’d seen good signs and rubs in mid January 2010 about 2 weeks after the season closed.  I trusted my instincts, notes, scouting reports and set up on faith.  I climbed about 15-18 feet up into a low canopy, set my bow in the holder and checked the wind, perfect.  I let things settle down and had a phone in hand taking notes of the set up.  Suddenly, less than 10 minutes in the stand, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  Tines moving through the bushes….. I thought, “Finally, after 3 years, it’s on!!!!”  Buck fever set in: I could feel my heart, hear my breath and taste the adrenaline.  He looked up in the trees, sniffing not overly alert but checking things out.   Had he winded me?!?!!?  He’s looking dead at me, if I reach for my bow he’s gone!   I sit fighting the urge to blink. He walks behind a tree, head down and I take advantage with a fast smooth movement to full draw.  When he came to the other side about 25-30 yards out, I had my sights locked in ready to go.  When he dropped his head again, broadside, I let her fly and that Rage 3-blade found the spot.   The arrow was true and I got my first buck:

An 8 pointer with one break off that would have put him at 9.  I took this buck on public land in the midst of regular gun season. 

So that is my experience.  I hope you enjoyed and learned from my mistakes.  In the next couple of posts (soon!), I’ll discuss my new tree stand the set up/modifications, gear selection, strategy and goals for 2011.  A lot to cover in 10 days. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Catching up from Father's Day 2011 and an exciting herp observation to finish

I only have 2 followers (Thanks guys) but I am flattered by the number of emails I have gotten to nudge me back to posting.  Well I hope the wait is worth it, I'll have a few back to back because I had a lot ideas and pics to share. Plus deer season is coming, so lots to post. I'll start with one I intended to post a long time ago, Father's Day 2011.  The plan was to meet my Dad on my uncle Gilbert's farm in Chesapeake, Va and go fishing with my sons on the Ocean View pier in Norfolk. It turned into a lot more in my opinion and I cannot wait until 2012.

The ride through the back roads of Eastern North Carolina and Southern Virginia is one of my favorites for some odd reason.  From forest to rolling hills, then swamps, tobacco fields, peanuts corn, even a little cotton.  Eventually we got to Chesapeake.  As soon as I pulled into the drive way, I had to take this picture.  It is just a tractor, but the picture just had some hallmark quality about it to me.

So we get in (OK, we got lost and my Dad and Uncle had to come get us.  Long story no need to share.) and the gang is there ready to go fishing and uh oh!  I just noticed the cast on Uncle Gilbert's leg.  It appears that he had some minor surgery the day before and should have been resting........... not him.  We (Grandma, Aunt Ruth, my Dad and Uncle Gilbert) are in the kitchen talking when Uncle Gilbert invites the boys to see what he's working on in the barn.  Let me start by saying, my Dad and Uncle can build anything and this time he proves me right again....... You see, Uncle Gilbert builds horse buggies. 

Yes, horse Buggies!  These pictures really don;t capture the detail and quality of the work.  You could see the pride in his face as he showed us a nearly finished buggy and one in progress. 

Here is one that he's almost finished:

This one is in process

Walking around the barn and looking at the work and craftsmanship gave me a real appreciation for his art.  The only disappointments were those little spike cow horn antlers from a a deer harvested years ago............ Get a real buck, Buck (family joke).

As for the fishing trip, Uncle Gilbert could not make it, but my Dad, sons and I made it out.  A few croakers made the trip worth it for the boys and a night on pier with my Dad brought back memories from when I was their age.  It was great to see the smile on his face and to watch the boys run around.  Better yet, one of my dad's child hood friends joined us and I got to hear about all of their adventures.  Too good to miss.  By the way, Ocean View Pier and Norfolk in general looked really good, nice restaurant, pier and the palm trees were a nice touch for the beach.

Of course no trip is complete without the little man going for a ride.

The following Monday, I was met by my boys and the kid across the street.  All they could get out was, "you have to  come see, this is a picture for the blog...." So, I grab the black berry and follow them off across our back yard.  What I saw surprised me, a female fence lizard laying eggs under an old pine tree:

Had to finish with a strong herp pic!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lunch time pick me up part 2

Shhhhh… Don’t tell anyone, but Kev2380 and I snuck in another fishing excursion during the lunch hour and landed this one…..   

Not as big as the day before, but a couple of pounds, probabaly good eating size.  Larger than this and they start to get that muddy flavor.  FYI, he's still swimming

No bass, but I’m sure they are there.  I have tried this spot twice and I am convinced there are some nice fish in there. Next time I’ll try some fly fishing.  The weeds are high and the body of water is large enough to assume that the breeze will be a constant.  That can make things tricky on the back cast (good form, keep the line high, double hauls).   I’ll be tossing lines with wind cutting power like a saltwater 6 or 8 weights.  Looking forward to it.  I can’t leave without my nightly ‘herp’ observation …. This guy greeted me at the garage last night.

He has to be fattest toad around and he had the audacity to eat as I took the picture!!!!!!!!  Obviously, this millipede was not bitter enough to save it’s self……

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A little lunch time pick me up....

In case you haven’t noticed, I have zero fishing posts.  None.  Zip.  Zero! That is very odd.  Fishing is how I usually start each Saturday or Sunday morning.   Out at sunrise, on the water until about 9 or 10am and then it’s off to do whatever chores, or responsibilities await.  It doesn’t matter what kind of fishing, where or when.  My preference is small stream bassin’ with a saltwater 6 weight flyrod or a medium – medium light baitcaster.  A very close second would be a med-fast action 4 weight rod or 7’ ultralight spinning rod for bream.
Today, I was to meet a fellow RTP fly angler for some lunch time bass buggin on a rather large chain of office park ponds.   Unfortunately, he was unable to break away for lunch.   So, I decided to go solo for a few minutes before returning to the office.   We’ll get together again, perhaps tomorrow (look out for the next post….. can I get two fishing posts in one week?!?!?!).  Looking at the geography and fauna of these ponds, I’d argue that the majority are natural and/or of natural origin and altered to comply with environmental or wetland conservation standards.
After the weekend’s storms you could track a ‘possum across some parts of the water and given I was only going to be there a few minutes, I opted for my favorite baitcasting set up instead of the fly.   I saw some activity in the far corner of the pond where two streams came together, forming a point, before entering the main body.  This area was loaded with structure and the banks overgrown with weeds well above my waist.  After three casts in the direction of a swirl I got a hit, on a ¼ oz chartreuse spinner with chrome and gold tandem willow blades. 
I just knew I had a nice bass on the line until it jumped…….. I couldn’t believe my eyes, couldn’t be, really?!?!?  No time to think about it.  My reel was singing to me, line peeling off and the drag working.  I felt like Larry Dahlberg fighting a giant aimara for a minute.  This fish was strong; I had to reset the drag three times to bring him under control and away from the structure.   After about a 5 minute fight…………… I landed this nice white catfish!

Measuring the distance between markers on my rod, I could accurately measure him at 23.5” long which according to the catfish weight estimator means he has just over 8.5 pounds…. I believe it! 

It was a thrill! I cannot believe how he fought, jumped and dogged it like a largemouth bass.  I’ve caught cats on crankbaits and Clouser flies in the past, but never had one fight like this.  Usually, they just bulldog it to bottom. Before this catch, I'd never seen one jump.
NOTE:  I just found out that this fish qualifies for NCARP (citation size for you VA folks).  Minimum length is 21 inches, I can verify 23.5 for this one!  I'll get my application in this week!!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A funny story

I stumbled across these pictures and thought about the funny story behind them.  Last summer, I was working in my yard while my then 2 year old daughter  was playing on the steps.  Suddenly, I heard her yelling, “Not nice, not nice”.  I looked and she was no longer on the steps but standing in the drive way looking into the neighbor’s yard.  She pointed to a pair of mocking birds and again said, “Not nice”.  Suddenly one of the birds dove down and the other followed.  They swooped on to a small black racer, picked him up about a foot off the ground and dropped him twice as I watched.  They would alternately swoop and peck him, each time drawing a rebuke from the three old about playing nicely.  I laughed and picked this little fella up.

We looked him over and the set him loose into a briar and blackberry patch.    Would you believe those birds followed us and sat until they realized he was not coming back out? 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Accidental Herpetologist has an Audubon Day

I took a long overdue trip up to Maryland to visit family, friends and celebrate a niece’s first birthday.  I returned home about 1 AM the following Sunday, to find the torsion spring on the garage door was broken …….. Friday the 13thHuh!?!?!  Even more pressing were the lawn, garden and patio being in serious need of maintenance.  The weather has been nearly perfect for the lawn which seems capable of doubling in length every week!  My garden is in trouble, but that is another post (hint: moles, voles, rabbits and deer!!!!!).
After almost 3 hours of struggling with the garage door: putting it on track, aligning the cables, setting the wheels and watching it fall apart I accepted that I needed professional help on this one.  The job proved well beyond my skill level…….. 
So, with that I went to what I could do……… the yard!

Through the tears welling in my eyes, as I mulled over the prospects of having to invest in a new garage door and opener, something caught my eye.  From beneath the refrigerator, I could see the head of large skink.  The boys call him Michael Angelo.  He’s been around for at least 3 years and seems to get bigger every year.  This year he is pushing a legitimate 10 inches with a huge triangular shaped head.  Initially I figured him to be a 5-lined skink, but I've come to realize that he is in fact a broadheaded skink. (Broadheaded Skink).  As soon as I started the mower, a fat American toad hopped or rather stumbled from the grass line (American Toad)……… Okay, two observations in 3 minutes, time to get the camera!  With grass this thick, rain the night before, over cast skies and cool temperatures this day had “herping” potential.
Camera in pocket, I ran into a moth about 2.5-3 inches long and fat.  It appeared as if he had just emerged and was in the process of pumping up his wings.  I took him up and put him on the window ledge.  Not a herp finding, but interesting. 

As I am leaving I look to my right and I see a huge green tree frog.  She is another regular who has lived around the house for at least 3 seasons.  I refer the frog as “she” because I have never seen a green tree frog this large and females tend to be larger.  Tree frogs are like ghosts that disappear during the day, so to find her “day spot” was quite exciting.  Her colors are so brilliant that she is easily distinguishable: lime green body with a solid and distinct cream band along each side with red eyes.  The colors are so strong and the markings distinct that she appears almost tropical.

Before moving to the backyard, I decided to see how the moth was doing.  His body was no longer as thick or long, and his wings were probably 3 or 4 times their length an hour earlier.  Dashing from the shutter across the bricks to the drain pipe is a juvenile fence lizard.  He’s only about 3-4 inches and thin for a fence lizard which hints at his age.

Two years ago there were few fence lizards around the house.   In fact, I recall only one.  A huge old male that ruled the front porch and looked at you with disdain if you interrupted him to ring the bell!  Recently, lots of juvenile swifts have been seen all over the patio.  Last year most were 1-2 inches long and I suspect this one is from that class.  As the number of swifts increased, the number of skinks seemed to go down.  If you look very closely there is the tail of a juvenile skink beneath the drain pipe.  Both were too active and wary.
The final front yard count was one toad, two skinks, one fence swift, a moth and one spectacular green tree frog.  I was hoping to round out with a salamander, turtle or snake.  I went over to check the garden and move some sticks and caught a glimpse of something moving around the branch.  I sat still and it came back……….. A green anole (chameleon)!!!!!!!!
I have never seen one here!   My assumption was that we were just outside of their range! I must have irritated him, because he was bright green when I saw him and brown when I snapped the picture. Ironically, a few hours before leaving for Maryland, I ran into a friend who works for the North Carolina Museum of Natural History.  We were discussing the extension of alligators into the extreme Northeast corner of NC and Southeast VA around the Dismal Swamp/Back Bay area (Alligators in Virginia...) and I asked him if he’d ever seen anoles this far up.  He said no, but they were probably there.  He was right. 
I hoped to see a turtle and I got my wish, a box turtle in the far corner of the yard beneath a Magnolia.  Unfortunately, as you can see he was either dead or well on his way.  The flies were doing their part.

Oh well, Next time I’ll keep the camera on me!  While the anole was a find, Michael Angelo is impressive!  About the garage........