Last year was a spectacular one for encountering wildlife. Generally, I fish off the beaten path in near-pristine environments on the Northeast Coast in NY state and so I see quite a bit of wildlife. I’ve rarely taken pictures, but will start too in 2012. Amazingly, most of my sitings have been very close to major cities or in some cases within city borders.
Perhaps the most remote area I spent time in was Western Maryland on the Savage River National Forest where I saw my first wild mountain lion. I was very luck, such events are incredibly rare.
The most urban location would have to be Orchard Beach in the Bronx.
I count every wild animal I see as precious, and most sitings were what you would expect from an angler spending time on a riparian corridor silently stalking trout. Here’s my list in no particular order.
Fox, Beaver, Mink, Muskrat, River Otter
Deer (including fawn)
Squirrel, Mice and Chipmunk
Ground Hog, Hedge Hog
Bald Eagle, Turkey, Vulture, Hawk, Osprey
Great Blue Heron, Pelican
Duck, Geese, Comorants, Mergansers
Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Humming Birds
Cottonmouth Snake, Water Moccasin, Rat Snake, Garter Snake
Hammerhead Shark, Blacktip and Nurse Shark (from my Biscayne Bay, FL trip)
I am looking forward to seeing more next year. If the Gods will it, I would like to catch sight of a bear, coyote, and owl, and my first bluefish. Though I hope I see my first bear from a considerable distance and perhaps when I’m with someone slower than me!
Yesterday I went to Elberton, GA on about 400 acres of private land in my in-laws family for my first hunt, during the post-rut. The winds were about 6mph out of the east, slightly overcast, about 39 in the morning, 50 in the afternoon. I went with my bro-in-law and we took up positions under a powerline, his firing lane aimed away from me on the other side of a hill, my firing lane aimed opposite direction on the other slope, basically back-to-back. I was using a Kimber 334M Classic .308 Winchester (bolt action). We got there before dawn, about 5am and I settled into a blind chair, my shooting sticks setup.
I tried my hardest not to shift about, and glassed the valley looking for deer. The first thing I heard as the early morning light rose was a big turkey goobling up a storm as he came down from his roost, followed by the chirping of some hens. Of course, it could have been a hunter, but as it lasted only a few minutes and didn’t repeat, I’m fairly certain it was a turkey. I learned later that turkeys had been seen in that area before too. A good excuse to visit the area again with a shotgun.
After a about 3 hours, I was a bit perplexed, no does, no bucks. The previous day we had a storm and so we both believed there’d be deer up and about, hungry after having to bed down all day. I could hear dozens of shots from every direction at varying distances, half a mile, many miles away. Clearly the early morning hunting was going well for others, but I kept wondering if I was being nosed out by the deer. I did my best to reduce my scent, but hey, a deer has about 100x better smell than humans. After a break for lunch we were back in the blind around 2pm and stayed til dark. Still no deer. My hunting partner did spot a doe, but due to a misfire, couldn’t harvest it. About an hour before dusk, there was a big crash in the woods a few hundred yards to the right of my blind. Several crows flew up out of the woods and I could hear yapping, coyotes! Figures, we’d seen tracks and scat. Perhaps there presence had put the deer off on my side of the hill? After a while, all was quiet again.
All in all, it was a day meant to reinforce one of the key rules of hunting, patience. I was lucky to have great weather and at dusk, with no deer, we set out to do a little target practice. I still have a minor flinch, but with the trigger pressure set to 2lbs on the Kimber, I was able to squeeze and not be aware when the shot would fire, and so my aim improved. The modified Winchester had a kick, but the recoil was very manageable.
Though I didn’t harvest a deer, and frankly I gave myself a 20% chance being a new hunter, I had a fantastic time out and was lucky to be able to hunt before the season ended. I’m looking forward to getting on the range in 2012, improving my skill with a rifle, taking some additional courses for my next hunt.
Happy Holidays! Here’s my picks for last-minute gifts for under $100 (mostly). They make perfect stocking stuffers for the outdoorsy type dude/tte in your life. Some can be purchased at your local outfitters, others online.
FOR THE DRINKER
Buffalo & Co Leather Koozies ($30)
FOR THE ANGLER
Vermont Fly Box ($65-90)
FOR THE FOODIE
Tonic No. 1 Maple Syrup ($20 but I’ve seen it for $80)
I recently posted that I would be taking a Deer Hunting for Food class over the Thanksgiving holiday. I did and had a blast, here is my report. WARNING**** This post will contain graphic images of a deer being dressed and butchered. You may want to skip it if you’re not “game.”
…I was expecting more blood. When we started to dress the fallow deer Jackson Landers had procured for our Deer Hunting Class, I was worried slightly about about my nerves. Would they hold up? Would I get all woozy when we used the gut knife to peel the skin back like a zipper? Would I barf when we pushed our hands under the skin to separate the hide from the skin? Nah, I was fine, in fact, there was a lot less blood than I expected and I was too excited for the heebie jeebies. I wanted to learn to hunt, harvest, dress and butcher my own food and here I was, experiencing what so few people do, understanding exactly how to procure my own food. Now, I won’t say there wasn’t a smell, but it was very much like a horse, and anyone who spent time on or near a farm would not be put off. But I’m jumping ahead…
Class began on Saturday morning with a lengthy lecture on deer behavior and anatomy. You’d be surprised at just how clever the beast is…apparently deer are quite the survivors having adapted more than twice in their evolution. At one time, deer had fangs! The lecture went on to focus on various types of ammunition and rifles, which were best in various hunting situations. In the afternoon we headed out to a range, about an hour or so drive to a George Washington National Forest. With some basic safety lessons, we set out to practice on a variety of weapons rimfire and centerfire, 270, 30-30, 30-08, 30-06 caliber rifles. The 30-08 was a bit too much of a kick for me so I settled on the 30-06. We fired at a range of 50, 80 and 150 yards. It was a first for me, firing a rifle, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. With some careful lessons on avoiding flinching I was able to group several shots on target. There’s really nothing quite like a bolt action.
The following day we continued the classroom lecture on various calibers and basic hunting techniques. I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say it was thorough. Jackson has an incredible memory and prolific understanding of deer and he often interspersed the lesson with his own experiences hunting in Virginia. Landers spoke passionately about how he came to be a subsistence hunter and the opportunities he’s had to hunt in his own backyard (literally), but the class was eager to move on to the butchering lessons.
Once again–I’ll warn you that the images below are graphic.
We took a drive outside of Charlottesville to a small home of a Jackson’s friend, a primitive hunter, Fergus Clare, who had bagged a deer from a nearby deer farm that morning. As we drove up, we could see the carcass on the ground with several bags of ice over the body to keep it cool. The musky scent was sweet but not overpowering. The head was removed as the killshot was a headshot that pretty much removed the majority of the brainpan.
Jackson and Fergus began to slowly break down the animal with a sharp buck knife and gutter. I won’t go into all the details, but they were methodical and practical, dressing the animal on its side and using the hide as a sterile blanket on the ground. They were careful to instruct us to avoid touching the tarsal glands and hair. The advice was straight-forward, to let the knife do the majority of work, avoid puncturing the innards, to follow the contour of the animal’s body. We were shown were to cut to bleed the animal out, how to sever the trachea, to remove the innards from the body cavity, crack the sternum and to cut along the ball joint of the pelvis. I took lots of notes, pictures and video. They even used the butt out tool to remove the anal track. Very thorough. The whole class participated at various stages, removing muscle/meat, fore and hindquarters. I spent time working on the backstraps AND realized my knife skills leave much to be desired. In fact, I’m thinking on taking a knife skills course soon.
Well, in less than an hour, we had pretty much stripped this animal down to its bones, not even leaving much for the vultures. We were able to harvest the vast majority of the deer, about 70% of its weight in meat. We took most of the edible organs, the kidneys, heart, and liver. We even took the meat from between the rib bones. Then we headed back to the city to do the remainder of butchering, pop open a few bottles of wine and start cooking.
We got to taste just about every cut of meat, the tenderloin was a bit gamy being so close to the innards, but the backstrap was reminescent of a porkloin in shape and made excellent steaks. We had some of the neck meat which we ground into patties for hamburgers (soooo good). There are 3 muscles in the leg worth eating, two rump roasts and a sirloin tip roast which can also be cut into sirloin tip steaks. Needless to say, I’ve got a long way to go on butchering, a few books to read and a class or two if I can find it, but its something I plan to master. I want to be able to harvest as much of my kill as possible for food. I’m certain that if I get the opportunity, I will donate or give-away some meats, but my brother has dibs because he’s become quite the sausage-maker these days.
Overall my experience with class was very enjoyable, and I came away with a tremendous amount of respect for both the animal and the hunter. I realized this would be a lifelong pursuit of knowledge in front of me, but one that could be very rewarding to me and my family, both for our health and beliefs. I also met some very good people who I hope to get out and hunt with in the near future. Meanwhile, I’m planning my first hunt in the last week of December with my brother-in-law. The family has about 400 acres down in Georgia and he’s harvested plenty of deer from there before. Whether we get on the deer or not, I’m really looking forward to going out with an experienced hunter for the first time, and doing a lot of watching and listening and keeping the momentum going.
Got out to one of my favorite spots for schoolie striped bass on the last day of the striped bass season in NY waters. The conditions were perfect–about 10mph winds out of they were breaking onshore during a rising tide under very overcast skies. Several times I thought I could see rain across the sound towards Port Washington. I could see that on one side of the jetty the water was deep blue and clear, the other, stained with sand. It was one of those amazing views looking back toward the beach where you could see the water was higher on one side than another due to wave action and tide, despite being connected to the Sound. Water is an incredible element.
I worked both sides of the jetty methodically with a white and red clouser minnow on a sink tip. I would let the clouser sink for 3 – 4 sec about 8 – 10 ft and then strip it back in with long and short pauses. I had hits immediately, but I knew there would be big bass coming in close to feed on disoriented baitfish. I could also see several waves rolling (over sandbars) within casting distance, and knew there’d be bass lurking in the ditches waiting to ambush.
My first fish was a chunk, about 17″ and a fat belly.
Later on I was fishing on a particular little flat rock I like because I know there’s a nice hole in the bottom about 5 yards out. I was stripping back in when I hit a ton of bricks. My rod bent double and I saw one flash. I knew this would be the biggest striper I every caught if I could land it. There was a flash and then it ran…line stripped off and held the rod high. Then disaster struck. While I was pulling in the slack line I could feel the fish seize the moment to turn around and run back at me. I knew I had made a critical mistake. A moment later the fly “popped” out of the water. The cow bass was gone… Thank god I was on a jetty by myself, because the expletives were flying fast and furious. I even jumped up and down a few times.
I regained my patience and started fishing the stained water and was surprised to catch another 15″ bass on the tip of the jetty–probably prowling the outside edges.
I made my way back down the jetty and noticed the tide was high now and decided to make my way back down the jetty. I realized that waiting for the big waves to come in produced a better bite. Sure enough, out on the sound, a tug was pulling a barge and about 10 min. later the waves came in and hit the jetty. That’s when I connected with a really good fish. I kept mumbling to myself, keep the line taut, don’t give it any slack, play the fish, wear him out, don’t rush. I even game him an extra set just to make sure he wasn’t going anywhere. Finally, I landed my biggest striper so far this season.
In taking several 15 – 20″ bass, I keep wondering to myself…what’s it going to feel like to have a keeper striper on the end of the line, a 28″+ fish on an 8wt flyrod? I can’t wait to find out…time to make the visit to CT waters. I hear there are even a few blues still around!
I can’t tell you who made it. I can’t tell you why. I can’t tell you where you can score some. All I can say is moonshining is alive and well in Brooklyn. A guest at the 6th annual Festivus party I throw about this time of year shared some of his homemade grappa. Honestly, after one sip, I felt like a mule had kicked me in the chest.
Other lovely bottles included Canadian Club Whisky 6-year, Michters Single Barrel Rye and a new one for me, Spicebox Canadian Whisky. Spicebox was excellent on the rocks straight-up. Vanilla, cardamon and other spices, pepper too, come through after a couple of sips. Its sweet but not cloying like Drambuie. Its small batch so probably safe to say it’ll beat out any of the large flavored whisky concoctions hitting the market these days. We also had a mystery whisky. A friend of ours scored some whisky from her old office which had several major distilleries as clients, but she never determined what kind of whisky it was because she copped an unlabeled sample bottle. The boozehounds at the party figured it was a blended reserve, probably Canadian, at least 6, but probably closer to 10 years old since she hadn’t opened the bottle in at least four years!
If you’re in NY and looking for something interesting to do, check out the Warby Parker Holiday Spectacle Bazaar in Soho on Thursday Dec. 15th, and take the Foraged Cocktails workshop with Best Made Co. food blogger Laura Silverman. She’s planning on showing how you can add foraged items to enhance your holiday cocktail, including pine and black walnut! Look for the garage and yurts (yes yurts) at 45 Grand Street.