Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Secret weapon..

I was sitting on a small folding seat behind a friend's home early one November morning. It was chilly and the wind was in my face. I had hunted this small"honey hole" for a number of years and had taken deer with the bow and arrow. This spot is basically an archery only situation due to the proximity of a number of homes. No one really knows that I hunt in this spot except a couple of homeowners who welcome the reprieve of having their gardens ravaged.

I walked in the dark after donning my Ranch Safari ghillie suit to the spot. I carefully negotiated the woodlands and found my seat. The spot had me against the base of a large white pine overlooking some transitional woods bordering a large swamp. I had sat still with bow in hand overlooking a cut shooting lane and a trail that crossed in front of me. I knew deer would negotiate this trail but I did not know when. My Dad hunted off the ground in a spot nearby with his crossbow and witnessed a large buck walk by. I don't know why Dad did not shoot but I suspect that he let it go. This is my spot, so to speak and he would allow me to have the first crack at any deer. That is his nature. He is a very heart- filled and giving man.

I sat in the predawn darkness and felt the breeze from the west into my face. Soon I spotted something. It was about 6:20 AM when I saw a deer. It was a nice buck walking towards me. What was odd was his manner. He had his nose to the ground and walking down the path very methodically. His tail was wagging back and fourth like a dog. I suspected that he was on the trail of a doe in heat. I guess that is the downfall of all males on this earth. The weakness for the opposite sex. The buck went behind a tree at which I seized my opportunity to raise my bow and draw back. I was in full draw of my old Jennings Buckmaster with a carbon arrow and a Magnus broadhead recently sharpened.

The buck walked and was in the opening that I cleared. At that point I blew a kiss. The buck stopped . It was enough of a moment in time for me to place the sight pin on the deer's chest and release the arrow. The arrow sliced through the air and I saw sparks. It was the broadhead hitting some stones behind the deer.

The deer jumped a little but that instinct in a buck to mate is very powerful. He dropped his nose back to the ground and followed the trail. Again, his tail wagging back and fourth like a dog. He came to a log and tried to step over it. He stumbled and that was the signal that my arrow hit the vitals. The buck got up and again assumed the tail wagging gait.

He went over a small knoll and then I heard some thrashing. I was excited and praying that it was a clean kill. I called Dad on the FRS radio and told him what happened. I picked him up at his stand site and then we went to look. We found the blood trail where the deer stumbled and soon spotted the buck lying on the forest floor. He went about forty yards altogether. A nice clean kill and one that I said a prayer of thanks.

This deer was something special. It was the first deer I killed with the bow on the ground. As a rule I deer hunt exclusively from treestands . That includes rifle, shotgun , muzzleloader and handgun in some places. I believe the reason I did well was two fold. One was that the buck was in the rut and was completely preoccupied. The other was what I call my secret weapon.

About three years ago my fiance Mary and I went across country to the Dakotas for a short vacation. On the way back we stopped at Cabela's in Hamburg Pennsylvania and perused through this huge store. They had a sale on Rancho Safari ghillie suits and bought the hat, jacket, face mask and pants. I have read a great deal about these but this would be my first one.

In addition to deer hunting with the bow I also use it for hunting wild turkey. As you can see, it works well. The suit helps out with my run and gun style of turkey hunting. Generally I do a lot of scouting and try to locate various places where birds have been seen or known to have roosted. I like the fact that this suit acts as your own personal blind.

That turkey too fell for the greatest weakness of all males. I shot him on the last day of our season on some public land in Massachusetts. In a nutshell I basically walked up on him and we were both surprised. I walked around this abandoned barn and across this clearing. As I came up a small rise I looked up and spotted the gobbler in full strut facing to the side of me but totally oblivious to this blob walking quietly within thirty yards or so of him. There was a hen that was near him and that blurred his sense of caution. The hen spotted me and soon he looked in my direction. I raised my shotgun and placed the red dot on his head. My mind calculated that if the dot covers the head he is well within range. I cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger. The 12 gauge 3 1/2 inch magnum load of no 5 shot careened across the opening and anchored him securely.

I went to retrieve my prize . Again a prayer of thanks and the obligatory attachment of the turkey tag completed the process. I walked down the steep hill to where my Dad was waiting at my truck. He was tired and didn't want to climb up this steep hill. I am glad I walked up the hill. Soon he spotted me crossing the pasture and was surprised to see me with the gobbler. He was even more surprised when I told him how I walked up on the bird. Again, I think the secret weapon had something to do with it.

I have learned some tricks to using the suit. What I like to do is take the suit and keep it rolled up in a waterproof canoe bag. I keep a cleanly washed sock with hemlock tips in it as a scent mask. When I get to my stand site I will don the suit over a set of sweatpants and shirt if it is somewhat cool or a polar fleece outfit if it is cold. We can get some bitterly cold weather during our archery season in Massachusetts and find this system works the best. Another thing I do with the suit is I treat it with tick killer. Sawyer products makes a liquid treatment that lasts six weeks. Since I hunt Connecticut archery, which opens September 15Th, I will take the suit and prepare it a day or two before that opener. I keep the suit in the bag except when hunting and then when I am finished I take it off and put it in the bag . At home I will take the suit and allow it to hang up overnight after I spray it down with scent killing spray. I find this method works well .

The suit does have some limitations. The strips of cotton that are attached to the mesh sometimes get dislodged and you can shed some of the suit if you walk through some brushy areas. Since I hunt in stands or pre-scouted locations I generally am able to avoid some of that as an issue but I would not want to wear it going through anything thorny.

Soon, our turkey season will be starting. I have been preparing and getting my permission slips lined up. Hopefully this spring I'll be able to take the secret weapon out and score.

Spring Break

" You got him Hoss. Hit'em again." " Keep firin!" Those were the words of my guide Mike when I shot my first trophy wild boar in the state of Florida. The memories of this hunt go back to February of 1986. I was on a long camping trip with my family throughout the state of Florida and wanted to do some wild boar hunting. I had read much about hunting these animals but never had the experience of going out for them. Now would be the opportunity to do something that most of my fellow New England hunters have not accomplished.

At one time I belonged to a group called Handgun Hunters International. The organization published a newspaper every two months with stories by fellow members who have hunted various game animals around the US and overseas. There were many stories that titillated my hunting appetite and a number of them focused on hunting feral hogs. I had read some stories about hunting these animals in Florida and contacted one of the members. I wanted some good information regarding who I should use as a guide. One of the facts of life regarding Florida is that the best hunting is on private land and unless you own the land or are related to a landowner, you have to pay to hunt. It seems that all of the farms, ranches and orchards lease their properties to clubs, individuals or outfitters. That is a fact of life. What I liked about the articles in HHI's The Sixgunner was that the members were very candid about their hunts. If a guide or outfitter was doing a poor job you would read about it. So after a short phone call to Florida I arraigned to go on a hunt with Mike Acreman of Dixie Wildlife Safaris in Lake Wales Florida.

As a young man I sort of fell in love with that part of Florida. Lets play a game. We'll do some visualization. Close your eyes. When you think of Florida, what are some of the images that come to mind? For some it will be white sandy beaches. For others it will be one of the Disney theme parks. For some it will be bikinis. Sorry. I had to throw that in. For me, my image is taken from a scene of the Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Palmettos. Long leaf pines. Hammocks with Osceola turkeys going about their daily business. To me that is the real Florida and not something that resembles a strip mall.

We arrived at the entrance to the ranch and drove down to the lodge. I met Mike and he was a very amicable person. My mother and father took off to a campground on the other side of the lake that the ranch bordered. Then I unloaded my gear and we headed out in a swamp buggy. This ride was a unique treat. In south Florida a popular means of transportation on these big ranches is with a swamp buggy. I learned that they are made from an old pick up or jeep and generally have no brakes. You use engine compression to slow down. They don't go fast but they tend to plow through most anything. I had taken a 44 magnum revolver for the hunt. I bought a blued Ruger Super Blackhawk with a 7 1/2"barrel with black rubber Pachmayer grips. I had practiced with it incessantly and was a pretty good shot. I began handloading my own ammunition at the age of 15 thus I used some loads of my own creation on this hunt. I had loaded up some Speer 240 grain jacketed soft points over a maximum charge of 2400 powder. I had good groups and I felt confident of taking game with it.

We went through some palmettos when Mike exclaimed," John. There is an armadillo there."I spotted the strange creature and had never seen one in real life. I took careful aim and let the hammer drop. The 240 grain soft point anchored the animal very quickly. From what I learned they are somewhat of a pest in south Florida digging up yards and gardens. Sort of like a woodchuck in many ways.

I retrieved my prize and then we headed back to the camp. After a meal that would scare most heart doctors we retired for the evening and the went to bed. I arose early and had another lumberjack style of breakfast with Mike. We soon headed out to the woodlands. We drove in the swamp buggy throughout the citrus orchards, pastures and woods. I was mesmerized by the natural beauty of Florida . Clear sandy streams. The palmettos and the great variety of bird life. To me this beat anything Mr.Disney could offer any day of the week. We saw deer and a wide variety of exotic game. The ranch is a working cattle and citrus ranch along with offering hunts for exotic game animals. The deer, feral hogs and turkey are very much wild. They would not sit there and let them look at you.

We then began a slow hunt through the palmettos. Soon we spotted two small wild boar. These boar are good for eating. When a wild boar gets above 100 to 150 lbs or so they mature and can become very tough. These meat hogs as they are known make fine table fare. There were two lined up and I we belly crawled within pistol range. I had cocked the hammer of my Ruger and had a clear sight picture on the chest of one black boar. I dropped the hammer and the shot went off. The boar fell in it's tracks.

I was elated at my first big game animal taken with a handgun. In the past I had taken small game such as raccoon,squirrel and opossum but never a large game animal. It was a happy feeling that is hard to put in print. I guess you have to be there , so to speak, to understand.

I was planning to take another boar when we met the ranch manager. He informed us that there was a huge wild boar that someone wounded and needed to be put down. He knew I had a large revolver that would end the suffering of this animal. This trophy sized boar had been difficult to find after being hit . One of the ranch hands spotted the animal in a small clearing and let the manager know about it. We then took off and crept as close as we could to the animal. I can see it in my mind now. The boar had been sleeping. His head facing to the left of me slightly turned with his chest exposed for a clear shot. I had cocked the hammer and had placed the sights on the vitals. I squeezed the trigger and soon the handload was on it's way to do the job.

" Youo got him Hoss.Hit'em again!" It was at that first shot that I realized when a boar gets to that size they aren't pushovers. I hit him in the shoulder and he got up , stood and then looked at me. I was flabbergasted at the scene. "Keep firing!" . I cocked the hammer and fired again. Then again. Yet again. I was amazed at the punishment this animal took to drop in it's tracks.

The boar expired and it's suffering was ended. What lay before me was a true record book wild boar and memories that still last clearly to this day.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

NH Handgun moose

" John. I have a big surprise for you when you get back from your trip." I asked what it was over my cell phone. I had been away for a week or so with Mary, my soon to be fiance, in the state of Maine on a weeklong camping trip. We had toured a good portion of the state and were headed back home. I found out what the surprise was when I met my parents. In the mail was a New Hampshire moose permit.

I could not believe my eyes. I had been applying for moose permits in the states of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire for quite some time. I never thought I would get lucky and they would pick my name for the hunt. I had been selected to take one moose in zone B1. This area is located in the region called the Great North Woods in Coos County New Hampshire. This is what you can call quintessential New Hampshire. Many of the small towns such as Columbia Falls, Stewartstown and Colebrook fall into images conjured up by the words of Robert Frost.

At the news of that event I began in earnest to prepare. Not only would I hunt moose but I would use a handgun. I have been enamored with handgun hunting since I was eighteen years old. I had been blessed with the opportunity to take many types of game with a handgun and this would be a crowning achievment in my eyes. Getting picked in the moose lottery is tough and many people have applied for years with no success. I was fortunate to be chosen.

I knew what gun I would be using. I have had a love affair with the Contender and my favorite barrel is a Super 16 chambered in the venerable 45-70 Gov't. This was one of the first Super 16 barrels made by Thompson Center in the mid to late eighties. I remember buying it at Kittery Trading Post on a day trip with some friends. The barrel is tapered and unported. I mounted a Redfield 2-6 x variable scope. I figured that I could use low power for any close shots and crank it up if the game was at the end of the effective range of the round. In the past I had JD Jones of SSK Industries mount a TSOB scope base and had them clean up the chamber. This barrel shoots very well and had up to that point taken deer, wild boar and black bear. Now moose would be added to the list of game .

I practiced incessantly with the gun. I sighted in off the bench at 100 yards but then conducted all of my practice with a Storey Point mono pod. I would shoot twenty rounds in what I called field shooting positions. I'd stand outside the shooting house and using the monopod take a shot at the target. I would shoot five shots and then switch the barrel to a Super 16 in 22 lr. I'd shoot twenty rounds or so and then switch the barrel back for five rounds of the 45-70 . Now as you can tell from my image I am a bit stout but the unported 45-70 in a single shot handgun will test the mettle of anyone. I find five shots is my limit for any extended shooting. After that I need to rest my hand and wrist for a while. The 22 lr helped out quite a bit in my shooting practice.

During that summer I made a number of camping trips with Mary throughout the region to find some good moose hunting grounds. We would see moose and take some pictures but Dad and I talked and we chose to hire a guide. I know some will state that it was foolish but you need to remember that we don't live in the area and there are some places that may not be accessable to us. Then there is the care of the game issue. A moose is a very large animal and you need someone to help bring it out of the woods.

This has happened to me in the past but of all times I had an equipment malfunction. The Redfield scope that served me so well, died. This was three days before the hunt. Talk about having a coronary. I quickly switched scopes to a Burris 4x and sighted in. I was ready.

Dad and I drove north from Massachusetts to the Granite State and across the White Mountains. For some reason the ride up seemed to take an inordinate amount of time. We arrived at the guide's camp and unloaded our gear. The plan was for us to be dropped off at a prescouted area and wait for a moose to show up. This was my first time hunting moose . My father hunted moose before I was born in Newfoundland. In fact while hunting my mother shot one large cow on that trip. What was special about that trip was that she dropped the moose with one shot behind the ear at a good three hundred yards away. Open sigts at that. The guide they had was so flabergasted that he got drunk and was out of commission for a few days.

Back to New Hampshire. That first opening day offered a shot at a huge bull. We were sitting on the edge of a large clear cut when we spotted a small moose cross in front of us and climbed up this mountain like you would negotiate a set of stairs. After about a half hour a huge bull crossed. I wanted to take him but he was too far out. I had tried to crawl into range and I might have been able to take him but chose not to. I didn't want to take a chancey shot. My Dad was with me as a subpermittee and was pushing his 30-06 rifle to me. I declined. I worked too hard to shoot one with the rifle. I wanted to take a bull with the handgun. Soon the big bull was gone.

After that we didn't see anything except one cow moose. In fact while sitting on that hillside we watched a cow and calf go up to my pick up truck and poke their heads into the bed of the truck. I wished I had been able to take a picture of that . We did spot a large bull but we could not figure out how to get within range. We worried that this was the only spot that we could hunt moose. If we burn it here we may go empty handed.

The next day we went out in the morning . It was somewhat foggy and there was a drizzle. The guide had spotted three moose. One cow, a calf and a large fork horn for a lack of a better term. We had walked up the logging road and then stalked to about 100 yards of an opening in the older clear cut.

Off to the north was the bull. The guide let out some throat vocalizations and he stopped. At that point my eyeglasses were fogged over and I had to wipe a lens to see the game. The moose was broadside to me when I rested the cross hairs on it's chest. I squeezed the trigger and the hammer fell. I felt the gun move but could not discerne the recoil. When hunting that seems to be the case. You don't feel the kick, so to speak. The moose turned and ran up the hill. He stopped and then I shot again. The bullet struck the heart area. Soon the mighty bull was begining to stumble. After two or three steps, he fell forward and expired.

I had a sense of elation and accomplishment. One factor that was missing was my father. He was at the bottom of the hill . I had wished he was at my side but he knew I connected with the shots. The moose was hit at 125 yards with two shots to the lungs. The guide was somewhat surprised. He never knew someone could shoot a handgun so well. He found the two bullet holes. They were a measured 1 1/2" apart from each other.

After the ATV was used to drag the bull down we went to the check station in Pittsburg for the metal tag. I was happy and proud of this event. Some people may laugh at a moose and think of it being a buffoon but the truth is, when they are hunted they are anything but the Bullwinkle of animation fame. They become very wary and can use those huge legs to transport themselves out of an area very quickly.

After that moose I got lucky again. My mother obtained a permit for moose and I was the subpermittee. I again shot another handgun moose in 2005 but that is another story and there are some things that are difficult for me to talk about. Some things went wrong on that hunt and created some issues that now have been resolved.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dad and the Grouse..

I have been blessed in my life with a great father. He has provided well for the family and has instilled a great passion for the outdoors. He is well liked by many people who have met him and enjoys the outdoors as much as he can.

This story is somewhat funny but has a bit of a sad ending. We have permission to hunt deer with the rifle on some private land in Connecticut. As a rule, this honey hole fills up our freezer each season and we have some wonderful hunts together.This spot is a crossroads for deer and other wildlife. One time I had a bobcat walk under my treestand and it appeared to want to climb up into the tree, but I will save that for another posting.

Dad and I parked in the farmer's yard and walked down through the pasture to the edge of the woodlot. The woodlot is a large patch of mountain laurel with oak interspersed through the area. Deer naturally funnel down from the hills into this refuge. While we were going to our stand we noticed something. Dad has trouble hearing due to working with sheet metal all his life. The incessant hammering in the days when no one wore any sort of auditory protection took a toll on his ability to hear. I've been lucky in this regard as my career may involve some yelling from time to time but that is about it. So I have a pretty good sense of hearing.

I heard something walking through the leaves. It was early but I could not discern what it was. I knew it wasn't a deer but something else. Soon I spotted the source of the noise. It was a ruffed grouse. This grouse was not what you could call a normal grouse. This grouse would follow my father to his stand and basically harass him for the whole length of his hunt. The little grouse would follow my Dad to his ladder stand and back. But that is not the end of it. This bird would then walk around the base of his stand and for a lack of a better term, make purring sounds. It was very chicken like and rather interesting to see. After a short period of time,Mr. Grouse would then hop from branch to branch and sit near Dad's head. The grouse would basically purr in his ear to no end. It was rather comical but I think it got on his nerves after a while. For some reason the grouse did not allow me to get as close as Dad. A few times Mr. Grouse would land on Dad's shoulder or head. It really startled him and Dad worried about Mr. Grouse poking him in the eye. I know this story sounds almost unbelievable but see for yourself.

Here is Mr. Grouse walking back with Dad from a morning's hunt. I would laugh quite a bit watching the little grouse escorting Dad out of the patch making little grouse noises. Each time we went out he would tell me basically the same story. Mr. Grouse would follow him in to the stand and he'd have about fifteen minutes of peace. Then Mr. Grouse would fly up and sit on hsi arm , shoulder or head like a parrot. Mr. Grouse would come close to me but he never got within three feet of me. I took a number of photos and to prove how close he got here is one of the grouse on a branch next to Dad's head.

That season was very good to us. I was able to fill my firearm deer tags and add much needed venison to our freezers. Unfortunately Dad had some difficulty. It seemed that nothing went by Dad's stands with the exception of Mr. Grouse.

Sadly, Mr. Grouse did not make it past Christmas of that year. Each Holiday season we approach the farmer who graciously lets us hunt on his land and we offer gifts to the family. Usually a bottle of cheer for him and a homemade gift for his wife. We told them about Mr. Grouse. He said that he knew of the bird because his grandchildren saw it. They would watch the bird follow them and his grandson would actually hold it like it was a pet of some kind. Unfortunately, the family dog finished off Mr. Grouse.

In a strange way I was a little heartbroken. I grew fond of the bird and that is ironic since I have hunted these birds for many years but I have never seen one in that acted this way. I suppose that with this bird's behavior, survival was very limited at best. It did not seem to have a sense of danger that most ruffed grouse have. It seemed to be a flaw of some type that was eventually it's downfall. Still, I did feel sorry for Mr. Grouse.

Since then I have not seen any more grouse nor have I had experiences like that. Maybe one day I will have another experience such as we had with Mr. Grouse. As I sit here, I'll raise a glass to Mr.Grouse. You will be missed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Memories of the ruffed grouse.

Growing up in southern Worcester County there were many places that I could go hunt for this wild gallinaciouc fowl. The ruffed grouse is considered by mant upland bird hunters as one of the greatest game birds to be hunted. For some reason one cannot raise ruffed grouse in captivity like ring necked pheasants and stock them. So these birds are truly wild at heart. As a teenager it was common for a small group of us to hunt after school. We'd take our shotguns and leave them in our vehicles. ( Try that in this day and age) and head off to some of the mixed woodlands to hunt small game. Often we'd take squirrels and if lucky one or two ruffed grouse. Many times, while walking through the brush I'd flush up one of these birds and it would be a great surprise. A sudden shuddering of wings through the leaves and branches. Back then, Massachusetts allowed ruffed grouse hunting from the Columbus Day weekend to somewhere around the middle of January. There was a daily limit of two birds as I recall. What was nice was that the opportunity to hunt these birds gave you something to do in January. Deer season was long over at that time as well as the stocked pheasants that were available on various wildlife managementa areas, but you still had ruffed grouse.

I'd creep through with my grandfather's old double barreled 16 guage in hand and see what would happen. Most of the time I went home empty handed but once in a while I would be rewarded with a nice bird or two.

Over the years many changes occured that affected the ruffed grouse in a negative manner. Habitat loss was the greatest impact. I have an aquintence who studied wildlife biology at the University of Maine. He was working on a project regarding small game such as the ruffed grouse and he told me that small game is affected more by habitat loss and change than any other animal. Whitetailed deer have learned to thrive in the suburban environment as well as the wild turkey, but ruffed grouse need a lot of unbroken habitat. What I mean by that is they can't live between houses like deer and turkey are able to do. With this loss of critical habitat the numbers of this wonderful bird have dropped in places like southern New England. In Massachusetts , the season now is from the third Saturday in October to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Again there is a two bird daily limit. I know that a large portion of Arcadia wildlife management area in southern Rhode Island is off limits to hunting of ruffed grouse. It is hard to imagine but then again I can understand it.

Is there a bright spot? Well, there is if you want to head north. I have hunted ruffed grouse in northern Maine a number of times and had a good time doing so. The standard method of grouse hunting may shock some people but it is legal and culturally accepted in the wilder parts. You basically drive the miles of paper company roads and look for ruffed grouse . You stop when they are spotted and try your luck. Don't laugh but one of my favorite ways to hunt ruffed grouse is not with the classic double barreled shotgun as often portrayed in some sporting magazines but with a handgun. One of my favorites is the Thompson Center Contender with a 45 Colt/410 bore barrel. Thompson Center chambers a 45 Colt barrel with a long chamber that will also allow a 410 shotshell to be chambered. In addition, there is shallow groove rifling and a straight rifled choke tube to straighten out the shot column as it exits the muzzle. I have taken a number of grouse using this gun in my excursions in Maine. I like but it does have it's limitations. The gun is really a 25 yard weapon at best. The other issue to think about is that you have a narrow shot column with the 410. Either you completely miss or you hit square on.

Many years ago I was befriended by a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe in Maine. I met the man while on a guided black bear hunt. He was quiet and sort of kept his own counsel but for some reason we hit it off. He invited me to go to his cabin and we'd hunt ruffed grouse. While there I met his wife and son . We would drive the back roads of Maine looking for grouse and if spotted, stop and get out of the vehicle. You load your firearm and see if you can stalk within range of the bird. It isn't as easy as it sounds. Many times the bird takes off at the sight of the vehicle. Once in the thick black growth of Maine you will find it very difficult to pursue.

It has been many years since I have specifically hunted for ruffed grouse. Changes in career as well as lifestyle has precluded me from taking a small game vacation to Maine. Now and then while bowhunting I will flush up a bird in southern Massachusets or northeastern Connecticut but for some reason I am not inclined to go out after them. You can say it is nothing to get worked up over but I am not sure if I want to hunt such a small population that seems to be hanging on. I figure with the predation from birds of prey, feral cats as well as the introduction of the fisher coupled with the invasion of yuppies into the "country" the bird has enough troubles without someone like me going after them with a shotgun.