•October 9, 2014 • 5 Comments
Most realistic deer decoy I've ever seen, and Scentblocker spray...we are ready for November!

Most realistic deer decoy I’ve ever seen, and ScentBlocker® spray…we are ready for November!

The Sons of October

•October 7, 2014 • 1 Comment

I was organizing some files this weekend and came across an old tattered folder marked “Hunting.” It was stuffed with maps of refuges and deer zones, pocket guides to shooting times, hunting regulations, hand-written notes about which duck blinds were good and how to hunt them, email addresses and phone numbers for past hunting partners, and other scraps of my early hunting days. I also found a crumpled old hunting license for my younger son, Griff.

Seeing it all brought back many memories, mostly fond ones of me and Griff and the gang of  waterfowlers that had kindly taken us under their wings. Some recollections made me shudder – like when I drove over a stump hidden in the mud and tore some vital piece off the family Volvo – or shake my head in embarrassment at how little I really knew back then. A  copy of the registration for my long-gone pop-up camper had me thinking of warm buggy nights in the Wister campground. Faces lit by bonfires, dogs pissing on decoys, the echoed clink of beer bottles joining others in the trash, midnight duck call practice sessions. Short hours of sleep, waking every now and then to the stillness and  spray of stars you can’t see in the city. The sound of my boots on gravel, making my way to the lone restroom in the moonlight.

Memories_pics

The volume of memories that came out of that one folder was amazing, as was how crystal clear every single one of them still is. Watching Griff build an arrow weed blind as I set out decoys. The guns of us fathers and our sons poking out of a blind on a different day, like cannons on a man o’ war, giving a lone snow goose a fatal broadside. Napping on the cool hard dirt on slow days, opening one eye every now and then to the sound of wings. Good days when straps held limits of ducks and geese. Reaching into a thicket on one hunt with Mike, and pulling out a snow with a collar. Pondering our options on the big Wister map at 3am, waiting for Ray to get to our number. The sting of salt cedar on my face, mosquitoes swimming in the rays of my headlamp. Giant goose spreads set out on a field with a #1 draw. Scotch doubles on a junior hunt. The smell of the sea along the 111 that always signaled we were getting close.

Those were six great seasons.

So much has changed in the seasons since. Griff is grown up and a once-a-year hunter. My refuges now are hundreds of miles away from that stinking muck I once loved so much, and I will never know them as well. The Dodge Ram that replaced the injured Volvo as my hunting vehicle still sits out the off-season beside my house, that much is the same. These days though the truck carries a lighter load; a dozen simple decoys instead of jerk-strings, wind-spinner, and the 36 I used to pack, no rolls of palm leaves for blind-making (face paint and a tule patch is good enough now), and only a morning’s worth of snacks where a full day’s food used to go.

Something else that hasn’t changed: awaiting that spin of the rezzie wheel. The results may be more polished and professional looking these days but the anxiousness, the hooting at a draw or groaning at a zero, and the mild distaste of gambling’s presence in an otherwise pure and noble sport are still there. And I don’t care if California and the HSUS want to call them wildlife. I still call those ducks and deer game.

This duck season will open without me, but that’s okay. My October is about getting ready for November and a bow tag that’s been years in the making, for Iowa on Mike’s property there. Still, I’m excited for the stories and pictures that will come out of the first weekend, especially the new hunters and the kids. I know the things I’ve seen and done will be experienced by others soon, and there’s great joy to be had in that. Other crews will conquer the ponds the way we once did. Because opening day draw or not, we’re sons of October and always will be.

To Accomplish Great Things

•August 30, 2014 • 2 Comments

Nice_buckx

Long ago, author and Nobel Prize winner Anatole France, said that to accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe. I can’t think of anything more true of a successful, memorable hunt than that. All of those elements are part of it; the things that make up the act of hunting – climbing into a tree stand, waiting and watching, deciding to take the shot, drawing the bow, releasing the arrow at the right moment – would be but the small moments they are by the clock’s count without the others. The planning, scouting and traveling; the fervent belief in ourselves, our abilities, the righteousness of our outdoors passion; and of course, the thing that was weaving them all together many months before the leaves began to change: Dreams.

The act, the dreaming, the planing and believing. They are what make hunting so much more than just the taking of game.

I think that’s why I find trail camera pictures so mesmerizing. They are – how do I say it? – so like the mysterious and ethereal form that dreams often take. They need no translation, no change in format. They are the images of dreams. Ghost-like, voyeuristic; a wild, secretive animal captured while I was indeed asleep.

And we do need to dream about our hunts, and about our prey, before we enter the field. I often wonder if “buck fever” isn’t just a matter of not having seen your trophy before, in a trail cam picture, in your mind, in a dream. Or of not having fully and completely pictured the moment. I watched the first big game animal I ever killed (a massively tusked Russian boar) for so long through my scope that those with me thought I wasn’t going to shoot. I did, finally, but only after I had come to know him. I think trail cams do that, let you meet your prey, so that when you see them through your peep sight it isn’t the first time.

Buck2xThe pictures Mike has sent from Iowa have become the stuff of dreams for me. The bucks I see when I’m drifting off to sleep at night look no different from the ones the trail cam has captured. Grainy, black and white, piercing eyes and glowing antlers. And I am stalking them, from above, drawing back, feeling the exhilaration as the fletching disappears in flesh. Over and over again. When November finally comes, and my back is pressed to the bark of my tree, it won’t be so startling to hear that crunch of a dry leaf or twig behind me. It will simply be a final chapter in a recurring dream, just déjà vu with a deer. I’m sure my heart rate and breathing will increase, at seeing my buck in color and in life, but when I take the bow from the hook, I think they will ease when I whisper to him: hello again.

Braggin’ Time

•August 23, 2014 • 1 Comment
Gray's Emmy nomination letter

Gray’s Emmy nomination letter

 

Fathers and mothers who hunt with their kids will agree: the only thing better than you making an amazing shot at some game is watching your son or daughter make one. And while my own successes have made me grin inwardly from time to time, I pretty much save my bragging for things my kids do.

Both my boys hunted when they were young, and Griffin still does, at least as much as work, school, and running his own business allow. But I think the lessons they learned in the field – the education, preparation, and hard work required to overcome adversity and find success, often against the odds – have carried over into their grown up professional lives.

So it was a great moment when Gray, 27, sent me a picture of the Emmy nomination letter he received last week for his work on a documentary. Griff, 22, started his own internet business a short time ago – selling “vapor” (e-smoking) supplies and accessories – and the orders are flooding in. But in all-too-typical government fashion these days, both the state legislature and local leaders where he lives want to shut these businesses down. Griffin made his case to the city council last week, and changed their minds. When I look at the photo of him doing that, I’m reminded of the determined little kid who was always thinking of ways to turn a bad hunt around. And who often did.

Yes, I’m a proud dad, and it’s time to brag.

 

Griff addressing the city council

Griff addressing the city council

The greenskeeper

•August 20, 2014 • 1 Comment

About the time that I was born, my father traded his deer hunting rifle for a set of used golf clubs. So I never knew my father the hunter, only my father the golfer. He was obsessed by the game; there was no telling when he would pop up from his easy chair and announce, “think I’ll go play 9 holes.”  He took me with him on the longer outings, trying unsuccessfully to interest me in golf. It just never made sense to me; there seemed no point to it, whacking a ball from place to place. I have missed quite a few shots at ducks, some easy ones, but I have never hurled my shotgun in the pond. That was the other thing I found unappealing; I can’t count how many golf clubs I’ve seen flung into the water or the weeds out of frustration.

I know my not getting into the game was deeply disappointing to my father, though he never said a word about it. But it wasn’t a betrayal of our heritage, like when you hear someone is fourth generation Navy or something like that. We didn’t come from a long line of golfers. We did however, come from a long line of hunters, so certainly one of us had broken from tradition.

A family friend and two of my father's aunts prepare to skin a deer in 1920.

A family friend and two of my father’s aunts prepare to skin a deer in 1920.

Photo courtesy of the Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum archives.

So I remained his caddy for many years, but never a golfing partner. I enjoyed caddying. Carrying that big bag of “tools,” advising on which club to use and giving pep talks when he fell behind in local tournaments. Most of the courses he played were flat and unremarkable, but some were hilly and lush, edged by woodlands, in places like Santa Cruz. I used to marvel at the grass, every blade in all those acres of fairways cut to within millimeters of the same height. And the emerald ovals at the end of every one – the “green” – ah, like a carpet, like the felt on a billiard table. Perfection. I used to imagine greenskeepers out there in the evenings after the course had closed, cheek pressed against the grass, checking for imperfections in the level and scissoring out any they found.

My father passed away before I started hunting, so I have no idea what he would’ve thought of MY obsession. I too have been known to suddenly announce things, such as “think I’ll go hunt some ducks,” or “that’s it, I’m booking a deer hunt!” I often took my kids hunting with me when they were growing up and Griff, my youngest, would carry a big bag and counsel me on the game as I had with my father. But it was filled with decoys and we were playing the geese. I appreciate that my father wanted me with him in his sport, but I like to think that hunting together is the better adventure for fathers and sons, or even fathers and daughters as some of my friends have experienced.

I can justify my passion in so many ways, especially versus golf, from the spiritual to the practical (you can’t actually eat a birdie). I come back from every hunt changed in some way, great or small. The successes and the failures in the field are so rich and complex, you can ponder them for years. Every outing nourishes the soul, amazes your eyes. And sometimes, there are greens to admire.

Mike's expanse of new clover in Iowa

Mike’s expanse of new clover in Iowa

Like the ones in photos my hunting partner Mike sent me this week. I thought of those long golf course fairways I used to walk and putting greens I used to admire when I gazed upon his newly emerging food plots.

Mike the greenskeeper, on his Iowa property.

Mike the greenskeeper, on his Iowa property.

His hours and hours of preparation were paying off, most especially in lush clover fields planted with Frigid Forage. Our treestands – all 11 of them – are already hung along the edges of these green fairways, and Iowa whitetails, does and young 8 points so far, are already showing that if you build it, they will come just like in Field of Dreams. When the rut begins, more and bigger bucks are sure to come.

I know when I’m in one of those stands this November, bow hanging from a hook, I will marvel at Mike’s newly minted green thumb (these are his first attempts at planting food plots, having just moved back to Iowa permanently), and in my mind will hear the mutter of his ATV towing disks and making furrows, spreading seeds and taking all the necessary steps to grow and nurture the fall food source of our prey. Because I know those fields, like the fairways at Pasatiempo and DeLaveaga golf courses, didn’t make themselves.

Frigid Forage, what Mike used in his clover food plots

Frigid Forage, what Mike used in his clover food plots.

I also hope at some point to be standing in one of those fields, examining an arrow and finding signs of a good, lethal shot, until crimson traces on those greens catch my eye and lead me to what I’ve dreamed about all year. And once again renew that deep bond with the generations of hunters that came before me, and my father.

Democats and Repuplicans

•August 8, 2014 • 3 Comments

The three amigas The humans in our household, and virtually all who visit, have a similar political viewpoint – Conservative. For the non-humans, however, the two-party system is alive and well.

The “big dog” Schatzie works for a living, and has since she was 5 months old. Three months out of the year she’s up before dawn, diving into frigid pond water, making long swims out and back to retrieve downed ducks, dealing with the mud and blood without complaint because that’s her job. In the off-season she guards us all, the house and the property with a courage twice her size. She does as she’s commanded to do, never a whine or a gripe, because she’s a giver and she knows if a lab ever said “no, that’s too hard” the world would descend into chaos.

Even the “little dog” Abigail, the 4 month old Maltese/Shih-Tzu, contributes what she can. She hasn’t yet learned to discern a true threat, so she barks at anything and anyone, whether it’s the mail lady or an acorn hitting the deck out back. If the big dog thinks something is bark-worthy, she’ll provide back up, but if Schatzie’s tone changes to a more serious, menacing one, Abby takes the cue and gets behind her. Still, she’s doing a job.

And that’s why I refer to them as RePUPlicans. Neither expects something for nothing. They’re always on the clock. You want to take out the trash, fix a sprinkler, wash the car, they will HELP.

The cat, Daisy, is not that way.

She will not lift a paw to help with anything. In fact, I can’t think of a single contribution that she makes. Her chief activity is sleeping, of course. She does look kinda cute all curled up, if that counts. When she’s not sleeping she’s usually crying for food (an hour before it’s feeding time), hawking up hairballs (not really balls, more like long green slimy caterpillars), throwing up other puddles of food and bile, claw-ripping the furniture and carpet, and sending cat hairs wafting up to my allergic nose. If it takes a village to raise a child – or a cat – doesn’t the village have a right to expect something in return?

This cat doesn’t think so. So she’s a DemoCAT.

I know from doing the demolition on the shower stall that we have at least one mouse living with us. He’s apparently quite safe with Daisy around; she’s never caught anything. Being a hunter, I know you aren’t always successful, but I’m pretty sure she’s never even tried. Isn’t that whole clawing-the-furniture thing meant to sharpen them? For what, Daisy, for what?!

As in human society, I guess we’ve brought this situation upon ourselves. She gets treats when the working dogs get treats. She gets the same expensive vet care the working dogs get. Same warm place to sleep, gourmet food as well. We even call her “baby kitty.” She’s 16 for Heaven’s sake!

The Repuplicans don’t mind that Daisy doesn’t do anything. They go on protecting her, giving her her space (puppy is still working on that concept), and letting her do as she pleases. They don’t complain when she gets fed first. In true Dem fashion, however, the Democat has a LOT to say about what the Repuplicans do. Lots of hissing and yowling and scratching if they pass too close, meows of protest if they get one more treat than she does, and a general continual look of disgust at their very existence.

Hmm, that’s sounds so familiar.

I wear a suit to work

•August 7, 2014 • 4 Comments

Back in the day, we all wore suits to work. I had eight, some of them custom made by a diminutive Middle Eastern tailor who fitted all the execs right there in our offices with a tape measure around his neck and pins in his teeth. Ah, those were heady days, big corporate expense accounts, company cars (mine was a red corvette), and cocktails at lunch. We put corporate awards on our walls and hunted big deals and bonuses. I can’t imagine now what I found satisfying about those days.

That was in the 90s, and looking back on it now, what passed for excitement and triumphs then is nothing compared to hunting big deer. I can’t say I ever daydreamed about making a big sale.

Nowadays I have no use for sports cars or 2-drink lunches with raucous colleagues. I need 4 wheel drive. And a place to throw that strap of dead ducks, that fat wild pig, or the venison that’s destined for the grill. I prefer a cocktail in the evening with Danielle and the dogs on our deck, talking about the day or quietly enjoying the whisper of wind in the oaks and pines that surround us.

The 90s may have been heady days, but the 2010s are days of the heart, and the soul.

One difference is that I left the corporate world behind 10 years ago and started my own business creating branding, packaging, and marketing graphics. Now I wear shorts and a t-shirt to work, which is conveniently located down the hall. The bedroom-to-office commute is a matter of seconds – no LA traffic jams, no screeching brakes, no fuel bills. The other luxury of being my own boss is that, when I’ve worked enough 10 hour days and 7 day weeks to permit it, I can take a little time off without a special request to Human Resources.

The other difference is that 10 years ago I started hunting, and that’s when days off began to change. They used to be spent at some resort, doing whatever was prescribed, planned activities and excursions for the tourists. Being poolside has been replaced by being in a snowy barley field in Canada, following hoof tracks in the Arizona desert, or up in a tree in Iowa in the fall.

When you hunt, you never know what will happen, nothing is scripted. There’s no tour departing promptly at 9am, just the fervent hope that sometime between dawn and dusk, some wild and wary animal will bestow upon you an experience that will teach you, a challenge to be met, something to laugh at or cry over, the chance to venture deep inside yourself to see what you’re made of, and maybe, just maybe a memory that will last a lifetime. If you hunt with a son or daughter, the gifts are even more abundant and surprising. Watching my son get his first duck was like watching him score a goal, times a thousand. The years we’ve hunted together are filled with those moments.

Between making a living being creative, and hunting whenever I can – and having two fine sons and the love of a wonderful woman – I am indeed blessed. Yes, life has changed a lot, gotten a lot richer and more rewarding in unexpected ways.

But sometimes, I still need to wear a suit. And a tie.

No, not that kind of suit, not for a job but one that has a job to do. At least I’m hoping it will, this November in Iowa. You see, the three Scentblocker® suits I bought on eBay arrived this week. Along with the safety harness that will “tie” me to the tree.

I’ve always made an effort at scent control, since deer have a very keen sense of smell. Depending on who’s talking, you’ll hear it’s 20 to 100 times greater than humans. I’ve also heard that deer have about 300 million olfactory receptors, dogs 200 million, while we only have about 5 million. I think Larry the Cable Guy has a couple million more though. We saw him live a couple of weeks ago in Sacramento – he spent a lot of time talking about smells. But back to deer, to make matters worse, it appears they have a second “nose,” in the roof of their mouth, though that one is mostly for mating-related odors.

The Matrix Series, along with the Outfitter and ProtecXT, will be going into my suitcase this fall.

The Matrix Series, along with the Outfitter and ProtecXT, are going into my suitcase this fall.

 

Mostly I’ve concentrated on wind direction – blowing from them to me, rather than me to them – and an occasional spritzing with some scent killer or scent masking spray. But my Iowa hunting partner, Mike, has been wearing Scentblocker clothes since they first came out. And his wall of bucks is pretty impressive. So I decided to finally get serious and get some Scentblocker for myself.

Of course the true test will happen in Iowa. But I’m already amazed with these new “suits.” The quality seems great, everything snaps or zips with solid authority (wimpy zippers is why I’ll never buy a fleece jacket from Columbia® again) and they feel really substantial when you have one on. The material is pretty quiet, and we’ll see if they are indeed wind- and water-resistant, come November. There are a lot of cool hunting details, too  – plenty of pockets, and some with rings to clip things to and non-slip shoulder patches for carrying a pack or sling.

I know it’s up to me to close the deal, but I’m sure hoping these suits work and help me get that buck into bow range. One thing is sure, I’ve never gone into a hunt better dressed.

 

 

 

 

Hunting eBay

•July 25, 2014 • 3 Comments
Target bags and 3D deer have suddenly appeared in our yard.

Target bags and 3D deer have suddenly appeared in our yard.

Danielle and I were on the deck last week, sipping cocktails, when I got a text from my hunting partner in Iowa. The texts went back and forth – strategies for our bow hunt in November, talk of food plots and treestand safety harnesses, pictures of deer in the backyard of the house he’d just bought on 20-some acres in Zone 5. When my attention returned to our time on the deck, a welcome evening breeze dropping the July temps a few degrees, she gave me a studied look.

“You guys,” she said with a slight shake of her head. “You’ve already started hunting.”

I thought about that for a moment. She was right.

Iowa’s DNR had published its draw results and, elated, I was checking the mail daily for the arrival of my out-of-state license and buck and doe tags. The bow had been brought down from the rafters and given a tune up. The 4-year-old lab Schatzie paid it no mind, but our new puppy Abigail had several times tried to scare off the foam deer target that now stood in the middle of the yard below the oaks. In the midst of a summer heat wave, in my mind I was 20 feet up in a tree in Iowa, shivering against the cold. And loving it.

Which brings me to eBay.

Most of my clothes and gear are for waterfowl, or warm weather hikes for Mule Deer. And I’m a few pounds lighter than the last time I bow hunted Whitetails, which would be good news if it weren’t also bad news. All my cold weather clothes are XL.

So I decided to put a stalk on some deals on eBay. Warm fleece, water- and wind-proof jackets and pants, and what the hell, I thought, why not finally give the Scentblocker® stuff a try? Maybe even grab some compression thermals for that achy right shoulder.

I’ve bought a few things before on eBay. A couple of DVDs of old TV shows like Perry Mason and Sea Hunt. The missing pieces in my collection of miniature duck decoys that Ducks Unlimited sometimes gives for joining. Not much. Nothing that worked up a feeding frenzy of buyers.

Finding the things I wanted now on eBay was easy.  The first thing I set my sights on was a mid-weight  Scentblocker jacket and pants set in Realtree Xtra® camo pattern, size L. Some quick online comparison shopping told me each set retailed for anything from $300-400, depending on if you bought it from the Nordstrom’s of the hunting world – Cabelas – or from a lesser known retailer. So the current bid of $71, with three days left to go in the auction, was mouth-watering. I placed a bid of $75, and was rewarded with a banner that announced I was the high bidder!

I checked back daily, then hourly on the last day. Still $75, still the winning bidder. Visions of a garage full of brand new top-of-the-line, high-tech garments danced in my head, bought for a fraction of regular price!

When it got down to the last half hour  – alerted by the several alarms I’d set to warn me – I pulled up to the Mac and waited to collect my bounty. The minutes ticked down slowly, and I watched the counter like a hunter watching a nice buck slowly grazing its way into bow range. But then at 3 minutes to go, just like a buck that suddenly stops, sniffs the wind and takes a step away, making your pounding heart stop, the price suddenly changed. Not by much, just $5. The buck was only hesitating, no cause for alarm yet. Then came another small step away, another $5. Then a flurry of odd increments until the price reached $119.52. With 1 minute to go, I snapped out of my stare down with the shrinking counter and rising dollars and made a move: a “max bid’ of $125! $50 more than the clothing coup I had planned, but less than a third of the price of the same goods elsewhere. I was high bidder again, the prize was in my sights, my finger on the trigger release, about to apply the feather weight of pressure that would send the arrow flying and claim that trophy. 5 seconds. 4…3… another higher bid registered! …2… I typed a new figure quick – $130 – and clicked the button …1… my bid was the last one. The counter hit zero.

And then my trophy and my elation evaporated, replaced by a banner that said Sorry, you were outbid.

What?! How could that be? I had the highest bid, time had run out on the other bidders! It was mine!

Apparently not.

It said zero time left on my screen, but it seemed that a fraction of a second before it said zero on eBay’s system, someone squeezed in between me and my new Scentblocker fleece. It was as if another hunter’s arrow had smacked into my deer right before my own arrow did. The auction details told the story. My bid: 18:00:04 PDT. The winning bid: 18:00:12 PDT. So I guess on eBay, a 6:00pm auction isn’t really over until 6:o1.

Lesson learned, I had a few more experiences “hunting” eBay before I finally scored on the three sets of Scentblocker hunting clothes I was after. They were all won pressing the Submit Bid button as the counter hit zero. If you plan on acquiring any hunting gear on eBay, be prepared to hunt it like you hunt Whitetails. Aggressive. Sneaky. Smart. You have to scout, and put the time in. And if you miss one, shake it off.  Another trophy will come along soon enough.

 

A Date with the Happy Hooker

•June 5, 2014 • 6 Comments

happyhooker[w]Usually when my alarm goes off on a Sunday at 2:30 am, somewhere there’s a duck or goose, deer or pig that’s about to become part of my food chain. This time was a little different. With a little luck, seafood would be added to the menu at our house.

The light was already on in the bathroom when I got up, another way this particular morning was different. Usually it’s just me and the dog padding around the dark and silent house. This trip, my fiancée Danielle was joining me, with a sad-eyed pup being told she’d be staying behind. An hour later, makeup and mascara applied, Danielle was ready to leave on her first ever fishing trip and – having run a wet comb through my hair – so was I. Another two hours and we were at the Berkeley Marina for our adventure with Capt. Jim Smith and the Happy Hooker Sport Fishing crew.

Pass_under_goldengate[w]

I’m a hunter, not a fisherman. I went fly fishing once. I’ve gone ocean fishing twice. So I don’t really know the drill. On one of the deep sea trips, rain and spray had soaked my brother and I in the only clothes we’d brought, and neither of us will ever forget how frozen-cold and miserable we were on the four hour ride back to land. So I did know to get Danielle and I a couple of slickers (matching yellow ones, no comments please), waterproof pants, and plenty of warm layers. What I hadn’t considered however, was what the boat’s motion might do to her, since I don’t get seasick. I had assumed we’d just be cruising around the bay, but when we headed out toward the foggy Golden Gate bridge, and then under it and out into the ocean, I thought uh-oh. Next time, our gear will include a Scopolamine patch for Danielle, though in her case I don’t think there will be a next time.

Chugging along up the rocky Pacific coastline, we finally came to a stop. Baited up and lines out, it wasn’t long before guys started reeling in fish. Danielle quickly got the hang of letting line out until the weight hit bottom, and probably could’ve mastered baiting her own hook, too. But since she’d forgotten to leave her engagement ring at home, the thought of slippery bait fish getting near a ring finger dangling over the side of boat in the ocean had me saying here honey, let me bait your hook every time.

Dani_fishing_rocks[w]

Then we started to catch fish, too. Danielle reeled in a nice little Black Rock Cod, the first of many she caught that morning. We even simultaneously reeled in twin Ling Cod – normally huge fish, these two were babies and we dropped them back in the green swells. We stayed in that spot a little while, then moved to several others until everyone on the Happy Hooker had their limit of 10 cod. I was glad when the captain steered the boat back in through the mouth of the bay, partly for calmer waters for Danielle, but also because that’s where the Striped Bass and Halibut would be – my real targets of the trip.

neil_striper[w]

The Striper fishing wasn’t quite as game on as the cod catch, but I managed to reel in two. Both were sizable fish, though no threat to the 78-lb striped bass sold at a San Francisco fish market in 1910 or the official California record holder, a 67 1/2 lb striper caught in O’Neill Forebay in ’92. I can also say I did catch a halibut, though it didn’t make the size limit and went the way of the baby Ling Cod, back into the bay. I’ll have to put my halibut recipes back in the folder, for now, but I am looking forward to doing something special and delicious with the bass.

I know that elusive halibut will make me venture out again with the Happy Hooker. So put some pounds on, little halibut. I’m coming back for you.

 

 

Big Jake

•April 18, 2014 • 2 Comments
My first turkey — taken in the beautiful foothills of Sonoma, California.

My first turkey — taken in the beautiful foothills of Sonoma, California.

 

 

I killed an oxymoron this morning.

The young male turkey, or “Jake” as he’s known in turkey parlance, was at the head of a gang of five, walking cautiously along a fence line as he craned his neck to eyeball our decoys. At 36 yards I pulled the trigger, and the borrowed 870, tricked out for just such a bird and moment, dropped him with finality. It was only around 10:30am but we’d been at it since dawn. He felt heavy when I hoisted him up, about 16 pounds. More accustomed to holding a duck in my hand, he was huge by comparison. So I decided to call him Big Jake.

Of course, veteran turkey hunters will laugh and say there’s no such thing as a big Jake; that only a fully mature male – known as a gobbler or Tom – can be deemed big.  But if a TV show can call itself the Walking Dead, I feel just fine about his moniker.

I mean, there are Jumbo Shrimp, aren’t there?

I hadn’t intended to take an immature bird. Leading up to the hunt, the daydreams had featured a real monster, red waddled, beard dragging. We certainly heard several around dawn, hefty gobbles in response to guide Greg Smith’s enticing calls, far off and in different directions. We even had an exciting and agonizing few minutes of watching one come on, seemingly eager for a hot date with our hen decoy as he plumped his feathers and strutted a zig-zag path toward our hiding spot. But he hung up about 50 or so yards out. I tensed it out for many more minutes, gun still at the ready, thinking he might circle back around after he had disappeared. But he was gone, for good.

And that wasn’t the first time a prize gobbler had given me false hope. Over the years, some have crossed fields towards me, only to change their pea-sized mind at the last moment and veer off. Others weren’t at all enticed by my decoys, not with a harem already in tow. I’ve even passed on Jakes before, thinking a bigger, better bird would show up at any minute. And of course, they never did.

Yes, hunting is about the experience. It’s not about trophies, or bragging rights. But then again, there’s nothing zen about an empty cooking pot.

Anyway, that’s where Big Jake is headed. My first turkey. And he’s going to be delicious.

 

 

 
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