Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hunting only for a Christmas tree today

     The hunting season didn't go quite as planned this fall, meaning that I was willing, but the deer didn't cooperate.  Today, with the family members who still live at home, we'll go out hunting for a Christmas tree.  Rather than buy one pre-cut, our family normally heads out to an area tree farm to cut our own.  Sometimes we have fun stomping through the snow, looking for just the right tree, the search suspended now and then so we can engage in a snowball fight or because we have to retreive our dog, who obviously embarassed by us, tries to go home with another family and their tree.  On other occasions we get into a lively debate over which tree to cut.
     "That is a nice tree, Dawn, I agree, but you're misjudging its size.  They don't seem as big out here.  It must be 20 feet tall.  It would never fit in our house."
     "It's better than the one you like," she'll counter, "with the twisted trunk and not much to speak of on the back side."
     "Not much to speak of on the back side?  Look who's talking."
     No, you're right, I might think that, but I wouldn't dare say it.  I have learned a few things in 29 years of marriage.  Instead, I usually say something such as, "Well, let's look at a few others.  We've got to keep moving anyway, because we're all freezing out here."
     After we choose our tree and bring it home, I'm always reminded of when the kids were small.  One year in particular, I had brought two deer in through the back door where I butchered them myself to save some money.  Later, I dragged our Christmas tree in through the same door.  As usual, it was bigger than we had estimated when we were outdoors picking it out.  So I had to saw a few inches off the trunk.  As I did this, my son Brian, then about three years old, just watched, very concerned.
     Finally he said, "Why are you cutting it up like that, Dad?  So we can eat it?"
     Now the kids are old enough that I let them do most of the cutting and dragging.  Still, the best part of the holidays for me remains remembering those years past while trying to create happy moments for the kids to remember years from now.  Merry Christmas.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ready at Last

     My new book, "I'd Rather Get Blisters," is ready at last.  Go to my website, http://www.briarhillbooks.com/ to order your copy. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Defeated in Colorado

     My recent backpacking trip in Colorado where we were suppposed to be bow-hunting for elk turned out to be a disappoint- ment.  We scrambled our internal organs over 38 miles of 4-wheel-drive, boulder-strewn dirt roads to access the Flat Tops Wilderness Area in the White River National Forest.  Then we tortured ourselves by strapping 70-pound packs to our backs to forge rivers and climb another 4 1/2 miles on foot.  We flat-landers decided to camp at about 10,500 feet of elevation.  Our reward included gasping for breath, headaches, nausea and bloody noses.  The consolation was that we saw some of the most beautiful country in the world.  The biggest problem after overcoming the physical challenges was that we weren't seeing any elk.  We had done our research, drawn a good unit, but the elk weren't cooperating.  We saw lots of sign -- old elk poop and tracks -- but not the elk themselves.  On day two, while still exploring the area, I did spook an elk out of its bed.  But that area was so thick that even though I was only about 30 yards away from him when he stomped away, I never caught even a glimpse of him.  After a few days of trying to hunt through an endless obstacle course of downed trees, we decided to head down the mountain to avoid the two days of driving rain and high winds that were next on the agenda.  When the weather improved and we returned to our mountain, the elk were absent still.  My hunting companions, all young enough to keep trying for the next 30 years or so, just chalked it up to experience.  I took things a little harder, perhaps, knowing that as the "grandpa" on the trip, I might not have the chance again. 

Now taking orders for new book

     We are now taking orders for my new book, "I'd Rather Get Blisters," at http://www.briarhillbooks.com/.  This is another collection of my hopefully humorous magazine columns that appeared over the years in Game & Fish Publications, such as New York Game & Fish, Pennsylvania Game & Fish, etc.  The book is scheduled to be shipped in early November, in time for holiday gift giving.  It includes 54 stories about trying to juggle my passion for hunting and fishing with family life.  Again I was able to coax artistic phenom Dave Harshberger to illustrate the book.  Unlike my first book, this one is initially offered in a more economical soft-cover edition.  Click on the link above to learn how you can save money on it by ordering it pre-production.  Order both of my books together and you'll save even more.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mountain Lion Seen Prowling Neighborhood

   I went fishing with a friend one evening after work last week. On the way he had to hit the brakes hard as a large black bear crossed the road in front of us. We got a good close look at it as it ambled away in no particular hurry. It was great to see as a bear sighting in our part of New York State is not an everyday event.
   As we moved off road to get to the backwoods pond we intended to fish, we saw several deer, including a couple of bucks with their antlers in velvet.
   Meanwhile, back at home my wife and son were spotting wildlife too.
   “We saw a mountain lion in the next door neighbor’s back yard,” Dawn told me when I got home later that night.
   “Okay, I said I saw a bear, so you had to one-up me by saying you saw a mountain lion,” I said. “Obviously you’re sore that I got back so late from fishing. Now it’s my turn again. I forgot to tell you that we saw Bigfoot fishing next to us and he was reeling in the Loch Ness Monster.”
   “I knew it. I knew you wouldn’t believe us.” She glared at me with those laser eyes of hers narrowed and focused on me as if she was preparing to burn a hole through my brain with her superhuman powers. If those superhuman powers didn’t work I knew from experience that soon she’d resort to throwing things at me.
   “We really did see a mountain lion Dad,” my son Sean said. “It was close. It wasn’t a house cat, it wasn’t a coyote, it wasn’t a dog and it wasn’t one of the alpacas from the farm around the corner.”
   “It had a long tail and it walked like a cat, except it was huge,” Dawn added.
   Soon the story spread throughout the neighborhood. I did a little Internet research and learned that while there had been numerous mountain lion sightings in the state over the years, some were disproved, some were discounted and most of the others were disbelieved.
   The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation maintained the official stance that there is no breeding population of mountain lions in New York, although they admitted the possibility that one could have escaped from captivity.
   My next door neighbor who owns the property where the creature was seen told us he was told “unofficially” by a DEC acquaintance that some mountain lions had been released in the state to keep the deer population reduced.
   That didn’t make sense to me, so knowing how the state works, it’s probably true. There’s already an unchecked coyote population feeding on too many of our deer. If the state wants to further reduce the deer population, why not reduce the cost of a hunting license or raise the season limit on the number of deer a hunter can shoot?
   In any case, after hearing stories of mountain lions mauling joggers and mountain bikers in California, I suppose I'll have the big cats in the back of my mind the next time I hit the trail.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Alcohol Stoves, My Personal Quest

There's nothing like a hot lunch when you're out hiking or hunting. I've used several camping stoves, but some had delicate parts and most were too heavy or bulky to take along when I was traveling light or when I was out for just the day. Then one day I was in a camping supply store and found a rather expensive alcohol stove that was simple in design and operation and burned denatured alcohol, which is used as paint thinner and can be found in most hardware stores. But the price was too high. I began to research alcohol stoves on the internet and found there were thousands of articles on how to build your own quickly and cheaply. I took the best ideas from several articles and built my first stove from the bottoms of two soda cans. I built another open-topped design from a tuna can. They worked great, had no moving parts to break, were lightweight, portable and inexpensive. Everyone I showed the stoves to wanted one. But no one wanted to take the time to make one. And so I began to make stoves for some of my friends who were interested. I experimented for weeks on my front steps, lighting my stoves and timing how long it took to boil a pint of water. My neighbors must have thought I was operating a homemade drug lab. I found a place to order small metal canisters for the burners and plastic bottles to use as fuel containers. I still used tuna cans -- not for the burners, but as supports for the cooking pots. It wasn't easy. I mean, how much tuna can you eat? And I had to experiment to get the right number and size of ventilation holes -- too few and the stove would burn too slowly, too many and the stove would burn empty too quickly. Finally I had a design that would boil a pint of water in about seven minutes. That's not as fast as some of the more expensive pressurized canister stoves and you can't regulate the heat unless you move your cook pot further from the burner. But if you want an easy way to boil some water for soup, tea or hot cocoa, this works great. And it costs a lot less. You fill the canister with denatured alcohol. DON'T USE ANY OTHER KIND OF FUEL OR YOU MIGHT BLOW UP! You put the top on the canister and place it in the cooking pot support. Now squirt some fuel onto the top of the burner lid. Light it and you're ready to cook. Now I'm building these simple stoves for anyone who wants one. You can check them out at http://www.briarhillbooks.com/.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Horseback Adventure for a Wannabe Cowboy

  This is Flynn.  You'll notice right away that he is a horse.  You can anticipate what's ahead, call me stupid right now and skip the rest of the story if you want.  My daughter Stephanie, 14, started taking riding lessons a couple of years ago.  What started out as an innocent enough hobby has now escalated into a major lifestyle change for the whole family.  That's because somehow along the way we ended up acquiring two horses of our own.  Now every free hour during the week and the vast majority of the hours during the weekends are spent at the riding stables.  Why didn't we get her something more economical, say like a guinea pig?  We have two of those too.  They smell just as bad, but we don't have to spend the equivalent of a second mortgage to board them like we do with the horses.  Anyway, I thought, if we're going to own horses, it only makes sense that maybe someone in the family other than Stephanie should know how to ride them.  I was the likely candidate.  It made sense.  I enjoy hiking.  With a horse, I could go trail riding.  Eventually, we might even be able to go camping on horseback.  I could sit in the saddle enjoying the scenery while the horse carried the heavy stuff and did all of the work, right?  Little did I know how much work was involved.  Forget about all of the grooming and feeding and watering and stable work.  Just learning to ride is like enrolling in college all over again and I didn't do so well the first time around.  It wasn't anything like all the Westerns I watched as a kid.
     "Keep your toes up, your heels down, your legs in," my instructor implored.  "Sit up, look straight ahead, relax, relax, relax."  Apparently there is subtle communication that is supposed to take place between a rider and his horse, accomplished by the slightest changes in posture or leg pressure or the tiniest twitches of the reins.  There was nothing subtle about my communications with Flynn.  In my first lesson, I looked as if I was trying to direct traffic at a busy intersection during rush hour.  Flynn went left when I pleaded right.  He stopped when I said "go" and he wouldn't stop at all when I said, "Whoa."
       At the end of the lesson my legs were a bit sore, but I had gotten through it uninjured.  That made it a success because I think is the biggest fear for a middle-aged man learning to ride is not that he will get hurt, but that he will get hurt in an ungraceful, humiliating manner and have to explain the injury over the next several weeks.
     "How did I break my arm you ask?"  You would like to say that you did it rescuing a hiker stranded on a cliff or fighting off a grizzly bear that challenged you for the trophy elk you just shot.  You never want to say, "The saddle slipped off the horse because I didn't put it on properly and I broke my arm as I fell face-first into a pile of manure in front of a bunch of snickering 10-year-olds who all ride better than I do."  Stay tuned, because with my luck, my time is coming soon.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Snow news is good news?

I was snowshoeing recently and as I stopped to cross this stream, I thought about how enjoyable it was to experience this area during the winter -- no crowds, no bugs, no dry place to sit and rest.  I wondered why so many people complain about winter or travel south to avoid it altogether.  A week after this outing, the chilly reality set in.  A snowstorm accompanied by high winds deposited three feet of snow across my driveway.  I had to shovel to get into my driveway when I got home from work, then had to shovel to get out of my driveway the next day to go to work again.  Of course you could point out that the real problem was the going to work part.  Had I retired as originally planned, I could have stayed indoors and watched from the warmth and comfort of my house as the snow fell outside, with no nagging sense of having to be somewhere else.  It has always been good advice that when you enjoy something, you should enjoy it best in moderation.  This holds true for winter weather.  I enjoyed my time snowshoeing, but enough is enough.  Three feet of snow drifting in faster than I can shovel it out is not moderation.  Soon it will be spring and I will turn my attention to fishing and turkey hunting.  I'm only guessing, mind you, but I think I'll be able to tolerate much more fishing and turkey hunting before I reach a saturation point beyond moderation.  

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"I'd Rather Get Blisters" Coming Soon

     Well, I'm at it again.  I've gotten together with my illustrator Dave Harshberger (see his blog at davesfridge.blogspot.com) and we're busy working on a second collection of my outdoor humor stories originally published as Parting Line columns in Game & Fish magazines.  This book is tentatively titled, "I'd Rather Get Blisters" and should be available through my website, http://www.briarhillbooks.com/ sometime late this summer or early this fall.  This book will be about the same size as my first book, "My Brushes With Death and Other Outdoor Blunders," but this one will most likely be in a more economical softcover form.   

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Guns, Knives and Incendiary Devices

Yes, I have a profound interest in guns, knives and incendiary devices. But before you proclaim my mental state to be beyond the accepted normal parameters of polite, civilized society, let me explain.
Anyone with any experience in pursuing outdoor adventure will tell you that it's much more enjoyable, much more attainable when you approach it with a certain boldness. By boldness, I don't mean recklessness, but more of an assuredness, a confidence that comes from being prepared with the knowledge and means of procuring the basics.
The basic needs for survival include food, water, shelter and warmth. To these let me add two more essentials: protection -- the ability to defend yourself – and health maintenance. Once you have attained the essentials, anything else can be filed under the heading of “minor details.” Once you have the essentials secured, you can venture forth with that boldness, that confidence. Anything else you face by comparison will require only minor adjustments.
With a gun, I have a way to procure food and to defend my life against all types of aggressors intent on doing me harm.
Knives and other edged tools allow me to improvise or fabricate other things I need that will in turn help me to acquire other survival basics. They can also be a secondary means of defense.
The ability to make fire gives me a way to stay warm, to cook my food and to purify my water. Fire lights my way. With fire, I can burn things too large to cut, chop or saw. With fire I can establish a feeling of security in knowing that long after dark, it can help me to fend off evil both real and imagined.
So it is that at almost any moment you will find me with at least a pocket knife and a way to make fire. Most of the time I am armed. Sometimes when I shower, I admit that the nearest firearm is a few steps away. That is only because of concerns about shampoo build-up in the firing mechanism. I don't ever want to wear the label of victim.
I'll admit too that carrying a pocket knife and a Zippo lighter or magnesium stick sometimes is more symbolic than anything else. After all, when I step outside, it's not always into a wilderness area or other hostile environment where I'll have to fight for my survival. And if I needed to, it would be difficult to kill a deer, build a cabin and whittle a dinette set with just my pocket knife, especially if I couldn't touch up the blade once or twice.
No, the knife and the lighter I carry every day sometimes serve only as talismans against the stressors of modern life. They are reminders that no matter how bad my day is going, I'm still taking care of the basics. The rest requires just minor adjustments.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I'm Back Again

I know, I know. I've been absent from this site for months. Okay, so a few things took priority -- like trying to earn a living and the corresponding mundane, time-consuming chores that go along with that. But I've decided to revisit this whole blog idea. Now, hopefully, I'll be more consistent in posting my rants on all things outdoors and the goal is to do so with greater frequency. I'm hoping to add some reviews of outdoor gear that I will put through my own unique trial and error process with heavy emphasis on the error. If I can use something without it breaking, then you're sure to find it foolproof. If you feel there's something out there you'd like me to comment on, please add your remarks and I'll put it on my list.