Category Archives: Fishing Ramblings – My Fishing Blog

Random thoughts and musings about fishing

Outdoors Winter Wonderland

There is something starkly beautiful about the woods and lakes in winter. Bare trees are not nearly as pretty as they are in the fall with colorful leaves or in spring with bright fresh green leaves, but they do have an allure all their own.

Even the wind sounds different. Rather than the dry rustling of fall leaves or the swooshing sound of green leaves blowing in the wind, this time of year the bare branches make a mournful howling sound. At night it can be even more spooky.

The sky looks different, too. The moon and stars are bright and hard in the cold air rather than the fuzzy twinkling light shining through layers of warm, moist air. And bare trees mean you can see them even better.

On the lake, the water seems to either be a steel gray cold or orange mud cloud. Neither are inviting as the warm hues of summer. No one wants to jump in the water in winter, unless you have a desire to join the Coney Island Polar Bear Club. Instead of the enjoyable cooling splashing of summer it is a dangerous hypothermia inducing cold.

It is still fun to be outdoors this time of year. There is time to roam the fields and hedgerows to find quail and rabbits before seasons end. Tree rats stand out as they scurry around in bare branches and are easier to spot, but harder to stalk since they can see you easily, too.

Some folks like to walk deer trails and bedding areas looking for antler sheds. Bucks around here usually start shedding their antlers in early January and continue until March, so now is a good time to find them.

Whitetail bucks are amazing. They start growing their antlers in the spring and they grow until late summer. As they grow they are covered with a layer of soft, blood rich material called “velvet” that supplies the antlers with nutrition to grow. In the last summer this material starts to die and the bucks rub it off to polish their antlers. The antlers stay hard and strong, firmly attached to the deer’s head, until the end of breeding season. They then fall off and the buck starts the cycle again in a few months.

You must be quick to find shed antlers. Squirrels and mice love to eat them for the nutrients they contain, so if you do not find then within a few days of being shed you are likely to find gnawed remains or nothing at all.

Fishing in the winter can be great, especially for big bass. Crappie feed well, too. You can catch large numbers of crappie suspended over deep water when you find a school of them, and bass also school up in deep water where you can catch a lot of them in a small area.

Big bass often roam the shallows looking for a meal. If you fish shallow water you may not get many bites but you may hook the biggest fish of your life. I caught my first eight pound bass in a January tournament at Jackson lake in the 1970s and a few years later caught my second one weighing over eight pounds, again in a January tournament there. My biggest bass every, a nine pound, seven ounce largemouth, came in a February tournament at Jackson.

All three of those fish were caught when the water was very cold, and in all three cases that one bite was the only one I got all day. Fishing eight hours or more for one bite is tiring and frustrating, especially since you may not get even one bite and that one bite could be a smaller fish, but it can be very rewarding if you stick with it.

Many folks catch and clean bass and crappie in the winter and are surprised the eggs look like they are ready to be laid. Fish go through annual cycles, too, and those cycles are based more on length of day than anything else, but water temperature does play a part.

Since fish are cold blooded their body functions slow way down. That is why they don’t eat much in cold water. So, their eggs need to start developing in the fall and slowly maturing over the winter. That is why fall fishing is so good, the fish are feeding up for the coming winter so their bodies can survive, and the females can develop eggs.

By the time the water is warm enough for spawning the eggs must be ready. Since water warms quickly to spawning temperatures, the eggs cannot grow that fast so they must be almost mature. That is why in the winter you may gut a crappie and it be full of eggs that look like they are ready to be laid. They are, they just need a few days of warm water to finish the final process.

Cycles of nature are amazing. We have developed the ability to change our environment and do not rely on natural cycles like wildlife and fish. In winter, we can build a fire or produce heat in many other ways. In the heat of summer, we have developed methods to keep our homes comfortable. Wild animals must adapt to the weather, they cannot adept their habitat to make themselves comfortable.

Get out and enjoy the outdoors in winter. Just be happy that you can go back inside your warm house when you want to, unlike the animals and fish you have been hunting or catching.

Too Much Loss Of What I Consider Paradise

“You don’t know what you got till it’s gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” That is the refrain from a song that was popular when I was in college. In my 68 years, I have seen way too much loss of what I consider paradise.

Last summer I drove around Dearing, Georgia where I grew up. Much of it remained the same but it broke my heart to see places where the change was drastic. The worst was my old home place.

The beautiful split-level brick house my parents built in 1962 has a chain link fence in front of it, spoiling its look. Some of the pecan trees, including the one where I built my tree houses, had been cut down.

Worse was the field where I spent many happy hours building forts and roasting birds in a big rock pile. Those rocks had been pushed away to expand the field and are no longer available for a kid to enjoy. And the drain where I killed a snipe had been cleared of trees and ditched, removing the swampy area.

Dearing Branch on either side of our old farm has been dammed, making pretty ponds but covering the valleys where I hunted and played. I was happy to see the huge oak tree on the hillside where I sat and hunted squirrels was still there overlooking one of the ponds, but all around it were open fields.

Some of the old houses where my friends lived had been torn down and replaced with newer ones. Others were remodeled to the point of hardly being recognizable. Worse were the ones that were once the pride of families were so run-down none of folks that I once knew would want to live in them.

Dearing Elementary School, where daddy was principal and I attended first through eighth grades, had been closed and changed to a RESA. The lunch room where I loved the food, especially the vegetable soup, was a work shop with boarded up windows and stuff piled outside.

The front area looked much the same. The big pines, including the one where I kissed my first girlfriend when in the first grade, was there. But the old ball diamond beside it was now just a pretty lawn. The pine thicket where I almost lost an eye during a pinecone fight looked different without the Jungle Jim and seesaws.

The drive from Dearing to Thomson then to Raysville Boat Club, something I did hundreds of times, was also filled with changes. Many of the fields where cows and horses once grazed were filled with houses. Some were very pretty, others reminded me of another song “And they’re all made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.” The lack of trees around them made them look worse.

In Thomson, the old theater where I watched “Godzilla” on a Saturday afternoon and got nightmares for weeks when in elementary school and spent many Friday nights slyly trying to ease my arm around may date, was still open.

But a few doors down, the pool hall where I slipped to some afternoons, skipping last period band, was a shop of some kind. No kids would learn to play pool and vastly increase their cuss word vocabulary there any longer.

The boat club we joined in 1966 has undergone a lot of changes, too. It hurts to look at the small group of big pines near the water where our camper sat a few feet from the water that are still there. But a ruling by the Corps of Engineers meant removing any structures near the water.

I will ever sit on the small porch beside the camper and shoot a deer across the cove. Or just sit drinking coffee and watching the world. Memories of that camper are great but gone. Like the time the lake was three feet high and we pulled our ski boat within a few feet of the deck one afternoon, only to awake the next morning to find the lake at normal level and the boat sitting high and dry. That will never happen again.

One of my favorite memories is the Christmas Holidays when I spent at the lake the week from Christmas Day until New Years Day when I had to go back to work. For five days in a row I didn’t see another person. It was just me and my dog. I ate when hungry, slept when sleepy and fished the rest of the time. The lake is way too crowded now for that to ever happen again.

All the campers had to be moved further from the lake, and many new ones have been added. The area in front of the club house has campers side by side and the sign there says “Corner of Confusion’” a very appropriate name. And the road into the boat club is no longer wild, with may new campers lining it from the gate to my mobile home.

Much of the lake has changed, too. There are not many houses on the water due to Corps rules, but there are more docks. Many of the old stumps and brush piles where I could count on catching a bass have rotted away. But one cedar top I sank on an old road bed in the 1970s is still there and still produces fish.

I still love going there but the changes are sad. There is a sense of loss, maybe for my long-gone youth, but also for my dog Merlin, my constant companion from 1974 until 1988 when she had to be put down. And staying there by myself is depressing, remembering the times with my parents. There are just too many ghosts.

Change is often good, but some of it is also sad. But making memories like I have are invaluable. Don’t get so busy you miss making them.

Robins, Blue Jays, Crows and Snipe, Oh My

Robins have been all over my yard for the last few weeks. It must be spring.

In my youth I never understood how robins could be a harbinger of spring. My text books in elementary school as well as many stories I read talked about how robins showed spring had arrived. Here in middle Georgia, big flocks showed up in December and stayed until the spring.

After doing some research on robins and what they eat, it made sense. Robins eat earthworms, bugs and fruit. It is impossible for them to get to worms when the top of the ground is frozen, and bugs and fruit get very scarce. They must migrate south as the ground freezes.

Although they may arrive up north as spring arrives and the ground thaws, they arrive here in the fall and winter, seeking soft ground. Just like in my youth, robins are all us around right now.

I liked robins when young. They are pretty, but more important to me back then they were easy to stalk, get in range with my BB gun, and hit them. They were so easy that I seldom shot one unless I wanted to eat it.

On outings with my friends in the woods or when alone, we would often get hungry. It was easy to shoot and clean something, often birds that are protected now, and roast them on a fire. Robins had the same flavor of doves, but were tough and dry from our cooking method

Since I grew up on a farm and was taught to use everything for food we could, we even cooked the hearts, livers and gizzards on a flat rock heated in the fire. When frying them, mama used giblets from doves and quail for gravy. For some reason our dry, crunchy flat-rock giblets didn’t taste quite the same, but I liked the taste.

A bird I did not like was a blue jay. They ate our pecans and I hated their raucous cry. My parents paid me a bounty of five cents for each one I could kill. That kept me in .22 bullets to use on them.

We sometimes ate them, too, but they were much harder to kill on demand. They did taste about like robins, possibly because we usually did not have any water to wash the carcass or our hands after cleaning them, so there was a lot of blood.

They were wary, possible from me hunting them around the farm year-round. The easiest way to kill them was to sit still under one of our pecan trees so we seldom got one on our outings to eat.

I also shot as many crows as possible, but they were much harder to kill. I have read crows are one of the smartest birds in the wild, and they are difficult for a kid to get close enough to for a kill. I got 25 cents for every one of them I could kill.

We never ate a crow, probably because it was so rare to get one, and almost impossible to kill one on demand. And we knew they ate road kill, which was a turn-off even though we happily ate pork after slopping hogs. We might have tried them if we had lucked into one when hungry in the woods. I hear they taste good and will try them if I can kill one. I

A bird I saw occasionally in the swampy area between two of our fields was not as easy to get close to or to hit as robins. Sometimes when walking through the wet area in the fall and winter, a bird would take off with a loud whirr of wings, dart and dodge through the trees and be gone.

If I had my .410 with me, I would shoot at it if I could get my gun up in time, but never hit one. When a teenage I did kill one with a luck y shot. I had the 12 gauge with me and made a lucky shot.

The brown bird with lighter markings had a very long bill and long legs. I managed to find it in my encyclopedia. This was long before computers and Google. It was a snipe.

I had heard of going snipe hunting all my life, but that hunt involved night time, a sack and being left in the woods. I was surprised to find there really was such a bird as a snipe.

Later I saw a picture of a woodcock in one of my outdoor magazines and a little more research showed the two species are closely related. After realizing I was seeing a snipe fly, and finding they were related to woodcock, the nickname “timberdoodle” made a lot more sense. I also realized why hunters were so proud when they hit either.

I was used to shooting doves and quail, both of which pretty much fly in a straight line. With doves you usually see them coming in time to get ready. A dog on point on quail does the same. And woodcock hunters use dogs, too. But with snipe on our farm, no matter how careful I was to be ready, it was always a surprise to flush one.

Its been more than 50 years since I killed and ate a song bird, so the animal rights fanatics can calm down. I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out. I would not shoot one now, I obey the laws and they are pretty, but I was kid in a different world than we have now.

Individual Freedoms

Our country was founded on individual freedoms. Citizens were free to go about their business as long as their freedom did not interfere with others’ freedoms. An old saying “your rights end at my nose” was widely accepted.

Our Bill of Rights were added to the constitution to guarantee individual freedom from the government. Read it, each one of the articles protect the individual from the powers of government. Unfortunately, we have gotten away from the idea of individual freedom and it seems to get worse every day. Instead of individual freedom, too many seem to want to enforce another old saying “my way or the highway.”

And far too many people seem to think they are guaranteed an easy life, doing whatever they want with no consequences. They seem to think other folks owe them a living and they don’t have to give anything in return.

In the past, my freedoms were not controlled by your likes and dislikes. Don’t like guns? Don’t buy one. Don’t like eating meat? Don’t eat it. Don’t like what I say? Tell me why or walk away. Don’t like hunting or fishing? Stay at home and watch TV.

Now if you don’t like what I like, many try to use the government or mob violence to control me. Nowhere is it more obvious than with guns, but it permeates all our life.

Bill Nye, the pseudoscience guy, now wants folks like me that disagree with his true belief in global warming to be arrested for pointing out the silliness of his claims. Paid protestors try to stop folks from going to rallies of politicians they don’t like. They try to shout down anyone saying anything against their beliefs.

And law after law is passed to try to control individual freedoms. Now, if you don’t like big soft drinks, pass a law against selling them. Don’t like my opinion on guns? Condemn me as a baby killer and ban guns. Don’t like my hunting? Go out and make noise and fly drones where I am hunting to disrupt my day and ban hunting.

That is not democracy, or even representative government. People get offended by almost anything and think that gives them the right to stop me from doing anything they don’t like. But at the same time they expect me to work and share the wealth with them.

Robert Heinlein is one of my all-time favorite science fiction writers. He said something that many have said over the years in slightly different words.

“For when the people discover that they can vote themselves bread and circuses without limit and that the productive members of the body politic cannot stop them, they will do so, until the state bleeds to death, or in its weakened condition the state succumbs to an invader.”

We are at that point.

Ice Fishing

Outdoor Life, Sports Afield and Field and Stream magazines were staples of my reading while growing up. I could not wait for new issues every month and read each from cover to cover.

Every winter, articles and pictures about ice fishing fascinated me. I dreamed of drilling holes through the ice and sitting in a nice warm shanty while catching everything from perch to pike.

In middle Georgia, ice fishing does not happen. I knew there was little chance of me ever going up north to try it, but I wanted to. In the winter when Dearing Branch froze over, something that didn’t happen every year, I tried to ice fish, but the ice was never strong enough to hold me.

I did manage to stand on the bank over deeper holes and punch a hole in the ice with a stick, no drilling needed for the ice that was seldom an inch thick. And I never caught a fish, I guess most of our southern fish don’t eat much when it is that cold.

I have fished in Wisconsin ten times, but in the fall just after Labor Day. Although I experienced snow and sleet on those early September trips, there was no ice, I was a couple months too early.

Signs of the coming ice were everywhere. All docks there are removal, they can be rolled up onto the bank to keep the ice from crushing them. And I was amazed by trees and brush around the bank. There was a clear line about five feet above the water line where no leaves or needles grew.

I thought it might be a browse line where deer ate the foliage, but the local fisherman that hosted our group on those trips told me it was the snow line.
Snow around Rhinelander, Wisconsin covered the ground and lake ice about that deep for several months each winter, killing the tender parts of the plants.

A few years ago, I did catch a fish though the ice. My pond froze over about an inch thick, way too little to support me, but I took an idea from my past. Out on the end of my dock where I fed the fish all summer, I punched a hole in the ice with a pipe, baited up with a piece of floating fish food, and landed a two-inch bream.

That will probably be the only ice fish I ever catch.

Dogs In My Life

Dogs have always been an important part of my life. Although I don’t remember my first dog, my parents told me stories of a feist we had when I was two or three years old. That dog would go out in the yard when pecans were falling, bring one to me and crack it with its teeth so I could pick out the meat, according to my parents.

Growing up I never had an inside dog. They were yard dogs or hunting dogs, or both. Daddy’s two English setters were not pets, they were hunting dogs and lived in an old chicken house about a mile from our house. Other dogs lived under the porch and lived on table scraps. They had no real job other than sleeping and getting petted every once in a while.

Since Linda and I got married we have had six dogs, half of that number now live in our house. All have been “rescue dogs,” one from a shelter, one from the ditch in front of my house, one wandered up at a rental house and one showed up at my farm. One even showed up at a gun club meeting and went home with me. The last one I rescued from a trip to the shelter from a renter that could no longer take care of it.

The first three were sources of great joy but also great sadness. Merlin, our first dog rescued from a city pound in Maryland, slept under our bed for 14 years. She went everywhere we went from Canada to Clarks Hill and spent most of the days I went fishing in my boat with me. She was mostly border collie and extremely smart, constantly amazing me with her abilities.

Squirt was in the pipe in front of my house one morning when I went out to get the paper. He was so tiny I could hold him in a cupped hand but grew into a 115-pound cross of two breeds, Labrador and big. He was lovable and affectionate but gave lie to the claim all labs are smart.

Rip showed up at my farm one day. I tried to run him off but for two weeks he greeted me every time I drove up to the barn with wagging tail and smiling face. Like most labs, he was the happiest dog in the world and everyone seemed to know it. He loved to ride in the back of my truck and went most everywhere around town with me. I seldom came out of the grocery store that someone was not petting him. He just oozed friendliness and happiness.

Those three are gone now. Merlin at 14 and Squirt at 13 years old got hip problems and I had to put have them put down when they could no longer stand up. Rip managed to dig out from under the fence around the back yard and got hit by a car when he was ten and had injuries so severe he had to be put down.

All three are buried under the pear tree in the back yard. I softened the ground with tears as I dug the graves.

Ginger, a pit bull, showed up at a rental house. She had a broken choke collar around her neck and was skin and bones, covered in fleas, and very weak. But she was friendly and wanted affection. I took her home and washed her with flea shampoo then took her to Memorial Drive Vet Clinic where they found she had heart worms. The treatment was expensive but now, five years later, she is healthy and happy. And she proves Pit Bulls are not vicious, even though she had a hard life before I found her.

Cinnamon, the other Spice Girl, showed up at a gun club meeting the Monday after I had to have Rip put down. It was almost like fate sent her there. She was young and very friendly and happy. She is some kind of hound with a good nose but all she gets to use it for is finding tennis balls in the leaves. She loves to fetch.

Mika is a full blooded, registered border collie. One of my renters had to get rid of him and I agreed to take him. He lives to chase a tennis ball and will jump high in the air to catch it. I think he would run after a ball until he turned into butter!

I have had many kinds of pets, from hamsters and flying squirrels to cats and raccoons, but dogs are special. No other animal so closely identifies with people. They seem to adopt our habits and characteristic and some even seem to look like their masters.

Dogs are also useful, helping us hunting, working and playing. It is very difficult to hunt quail and raccoons without dogs and they make rabbit and hog hunting much easier. But they are also important for playing, sharing in our fun in many ways.

The only problem with dogs is their relatively short life. We almost always outlive our dogs and have to see them age and weaken much faster than we do. But they seem to get a lot out of their relationship with us other than food and shelter.

There are many stories of dogs traveling long distances to get back home after being lost. And there are examples of dogs going to their owners graves every day, refusing to accept the fact their human companion is gone. And the videos of dogs re-united with their owners when separated, even for years, are common. There is great joy on both sides when a soldier comes home and sees his dog for the first time after his tour of duty.

My three are not old in human years yet, but I still expect to outlive all three, even at my age. I dread the day I again have to dig graves under the pear tree but know it will happen three times.

That makes me even more determined to enjoy the time we have together.

What Is A Whippoorwill?

Whip Poor Will! That is the sound I heard when I opened my back door just before dark one night last April. It had been a while since I had heard that haunting sound, and it made me remember some past experiences with whippoorwills.

Every spring the sound of whippoorwills calling, looking for mates from sundown to full dark, drifts through our woods. I usually heard them at lakes since I spend many spring evenings around them. I always wondered about the birds that made them.

One night I got a strong spotlight and went hunting. I was able to follow the sound to a pine tree near my camper at Clark’s Hill and spotted a big brown bird sitting on a limb about half-way up the tree. It was a soft, fuzzy looking bird about the size of a crow, with a short, wide beak. It reminded me of a big quail.

When the bird flew, it reminded me of an owl, looking like it silently drifted through the trees as far as I could see it in the almost dark. Although I heard them many times after that, I did not see another one until many years later. While camping at West Point during a spring Spalding County Sportsman Club tournament, a whippoorwill started calling from a pine tree right beside my camp site. The sun had just set and I got a real good look at it.

I looked up whippoorwills in my North American Wildlife book when I got home and got a few surprised. It says the bird is 9 to 10 inches long and eats moths and other night flying insects. Its wide mouth helps them catch flying bugs, much like a swallow does.

The surprise came when I read the whippoorwills spends daylight hours sleeping in dried leaves on the ground. I always thought it roosted in trees. Now I wonder if I have ever spooked one while walking in the woods, but don’t remember seeing such a bird fly up from the ground.

whippoorwills also nest on the ground, laying two eggs in the leaves without making a nest. That reminds me of the way chickens lay eggs. Their range covers the U.S. from the Mississippi River east to the coast and the southern U.S. all the way to California, and also northern Mexico.

There is a first cousin, called the Chuck-wills-widow, that also covers most of that southern range. My book says it is very similar to the whippoorwills but its call is slower. That makes sense if it is a southern bird!

Listen for whip-poor-wills after the sun sets this spring. Try to track one down if you can. They are very interesting birds, and a part of the evening around here.

Christmas Holidays

Christmas Holidays were always a special time during my school years in the 1950s and 60s. Two weeks out of school meant many happy, free days, most involving hunting, family and church.

The first week after school was out usually meant a trip to Aunt Alice and Uncle Charlie’s house in Ocala. Daddy’s mother lived with them and we almost always left on the long trip as soon as possible to have a few days there and be home before Christmas. The drive was exciting, looking at Christmas decorations and seeing new territory.

My brother and I passed time “counting cows,” a standing chimney doubles your count, and arguing and fighting in the back seat. But we always concentrated so not to miss mama’s dream house down near Dublin. It was a nice brick ranch, similar to what we would eventually build. But what made it special to mama was the little pond in the front yard.

I know mama imagined herself, probably with her mother and maybe me, sitting on the edge of the pond fishing. We all three loved fishing, I guess that is where I got it.

Although mama got her dream house there was no pond in front. But daddy dug one a few hundred yards behind the house. She spent many happy hours there, catching anything that would bite.

On one trip, mama and Billy were asleep. I was old enough to just be learning fractions and daddy taught math at my elementary school, as well as being principal. It was a small school.

As the car rumbled along the road, I asked him about fractions. He patiently kept answering my question “What is 1/1” with “one,” but I never did understand it. (I kept saying “one-onth,” but I don’t think that is a word) But it was nice to talk with him like that.

In Ocala my brother and I loved to dig holes in the soft, sandy soil so different from the hard clay and rocks at home. We always planned on digging to China, but never made it. We picked oranges in their back yard and enjoyed the warm weather. We also went to Silver Springs where I imagined catching the huge catfish that played “football” with dough balls below the glass bottomed boats.

On the drive home we would stop in south Georgia and get a 50 pound bag of peanuts. Mama used them cooking, but there were plenty for us to roast in the oven. On nights we didn’t have ice cream before bed we sat watching TV and shelling peanuts to go with our Coke.

As much as I loved those trips, I could not wait to get home, grab my .22 or .410 and head to my little piece of heaven. There were three special places along Dearing Branch, one on our property, and two on either side of it. I spent many wonderful hours in them hunting squirrels and hoping to see a rabbit.

A few days every holiday daddy would take some hours off the never-ending work on our chicken farm and take me quail hunting. Those were especially good times that I will never forget.

The one thing I hated when we got home was choir practice. My parents insisted I be in the youth choir, but I did not like singing, or the wasted hours of practice when I could have been hunting. That lasted until I was 14 and got up the courage to just stand in the choir loft with my mouth shut. After a few weeks of that they gave up and I never went to another practice. And I still do not sing, even in the shower!

Christmas Eve was spent with great anticipation. We didn’t get a lot compared to now, and there was always underwear and sox. But there were special gifts, too, like the year I got my first outfit of Duckbax pants and jacket. They were briar proof and made a huge difference quail hunting with daddy and later rabbit hunting with my friend when wading through briar patches.

My stocking always had oranges in it, strangely just like the ones we picked in Ocala. We also had some pecans, just like the ones we picked up that year in our yard. There were apples and oranges, but candy, too. And bullets and shells for my guns. Those were my favorite.

I always had time for an afternoon in my rock fort, either alone or with Harold or Hal. There was a pile of big boulders in a small patch of trees about 50 feet from our fence line at the edge of the pasture. We made a circle of rocks that used one side of a big one to make an enclosed space.

There was no roof, but little nooks were perfect for hiding our valuables. And we had a fire place with a spit for roasting robins we shot in the field, and a big can where we boiled eggs poached from the chicken house.

I never did understand why the bird that is a “sign of spring” showed up in huge numbers on our farm in late November. Now I know they can not get worms out of frozen ground up north so come south to live where the ground doesn’t freeze, then head back north as it thaws there in the spring. Stills seems backwards to me, though.

It’s hard to believe the holidays lasted only two weeks, but I guess back then two weeks were a much longer part of my life than they are now. And I did a lot of living during those two weeks at Christmas each year.

I have what seem like unlimited memories of those times, and they are some of my favorites. I wish
I could go back and refresh them in person, but just remembering them always makes me smile.

Sitting In the Woods

Have you ever gone out into the woods and just sat, watched and thought? Deer hunters spend many hours doing exactly that every year, but I am afraid that is changing. Seeing pictures, and even worse, videos, posted while hunters are sitting on a deer stand makes me think they are missing one of the most important parts of hunting.

What do they miss? That little flash of movement that would reveal a huge buck if they were not staring at their phone? How about a beautiful cardinal eating matching red dogwood berries? Do they notice the golden yellow sweetgum leaf gliding through the air, pausing briefly when it hangs on an undergrowth limb, then falling to the forest floor to start the never-ending nutrient cycle over?

There is something magical if you actually observe nature. A squirrel waking up to start its morning commute to work, stretching and scratching on a limb near a hollow tree trunk, then scurrying carefully down the tree to search for breakfast. Did it bury the acorn if finds, stashing it away for today?

Do you miss the gurgle of the water over a tree trunk in the creek and think about where it has been and where it is going? How many times has it fallen on a hillside much like the one you watch and trickled into a creek? It then flows to a bigger creek following it to a river.

That river dumps into the ocean, where the water evaporates into the air. Wind currents move the clouds it forms back to a hillside, where it falls to start its timeless journey again.

The ancient white oak on the top of the hill has seen many changes. It now overlooks you sitting in a red oak a little way down the hill. Your perch grows up through the rocks on an old terrace, so the white oak watched it grow. Was it there while a dirt farmer struggled to flatten a small place for his crop, tediously moving shovels of dirt, then the rocks, to the terrace?

The rocks at the base of your tree had sat on the hill for thousands of years, slowly being exposed by eroding soil, then moved to their current position by the farmer. What has passed over time on their hillside? What will pass before gravity and erosion rolls them down the hill to the creek, where water will wear them away.

If you have hunted this land long enough, you may remember the fall day when you sat near the big white oak and killed a limit of squirrels with your .22. Or the summer day when you tried to catch tiny bream in the creek, on flies you had tied in a not so successful effort. But the bluegill still tried to eat it.

If you are old enough, you remember the days before whitetail deer here, and watched as the herd grew. The first deer you shot, with an old Marlin 30-30, was a small basket eight-point buck. You know now it was no trophy, but it still remains one of the most exciting days in your life.

That patch of privet was the hiding place for your biggest deer, a true trophy. You still don’t know how you made a killing shot, your arms were trembling from holding your gun on the spot where you knew the buck would expose itself as it moved out of the privet as it fed along the trail, eating acorns.

Your whole body was shaking from excitement, and you remember trying to order yourself to calm down. The movement of the buck ruins all those efforts, but you remember making yourself breath out, then in and squeeze, not pull, the trigger when the crosshairs lined up. And you almost jumped the 20 feet to the ground to go get a close-up look at him. He did not disappoint.

You may remember the days before 4 wheelers, too. Even though your property covers over 50 acres, you would never use one until you have a deer on the ground. But you hear their irritating whine and growl on nearby property at daylight as late hunters lazily ride to their stand, spooking the deer they would have seen if in the woods and quiet early enough.

Strangely enough, you hear their noise again an hour later, just when you expect to see deer moving back to bedding areas. At least they are scaring the deer they might have seen with a little patience. And they might spook them toward your stand.

Shots from other properties make you wonder if that trophy buck you have been patterning for weeks just went down. You hope that if he did, he was killed by a hunter that put out as much effort as you, and not by a deer shooter that made no effort other than to put out corn.

If you kill a deer, you take a minute at the kill to think about the deer and thank it for its sacrifice, so you will have meat. You have respect for your quarry and take pleasure in a trophy or just a meat doe, but you respect both for the wildness in it, and in you.

If you don’t make a kill you still rejoice in the total experience of being part of a tradition and way of life that is changing all too much.

Merry Christmas

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving Day is all about tradition and giving thanks for what we have. In my family while I was growing up that tradition revolved around hunting and eating until I got the fishing bug bad. After college, for me it became a day to fish, and eat.

Before I went to college daddy had two pointers and we always hunted quail in the mornings while mama slaved in the kitchen, preparing delicious meals. We usually ate so much that daddy didn’t want to go back hunting that afternoon, but in my youth and energy I usually grabbed my .22 or .410 and went to the woods, looking for squirrels and rabbits.

After I got married and finished my undergraduate degree daddy had stopped hunting since quail had become so hard to find, and no longer had dogs. So I would go to our place at Clarks Hill and fish in the mornings, then get to town in time for a late lunch. That night I would head back to the lake by myself and fish the next three days before heading back to Griffin and work Monday morning.

One year mama decided to have our big Thanksgiving meal at the lake so I could fish more. She loved to fish as much as I did and understood my addiction.
When I got to the lake Wednesday afternoon after work mama was already preparing food for the next day. She told me several family members, my brother’s family and a couple of aunts and uncles, were coming to have dinner with us.

The next morning when I got up she warned me to be in for dinner. I told her I would even come in early enough to get cleaned up before eating. I caught a seven-pound bass on a Shadrap from a tree I had cut down into the water the year before.

After weighing it and releasing it, I looked at my watch. It was 12:01 and I thought how thankful I was that mama was having our big meal at dinner, not lunch. I went in about 4:00 to get cleaned up and could tell something was wrong. Mama, daddy and Linda were mad. All the family had been there for lunch, not dinner as I understood. They had all gone home by the time I came in.

The only thing colder than the looks from mama and Linda that afternoon and night was the cold turkey sandwich I had for Thanksgiving dinner. But they got over it soon and I had something more to be thankful for that year, they didn’t stay mad.

I am very tankful for the way I was raised by two loving, strong parents that were strict but forgiving. I wish everyone could have those memories and be raising their children that way.

If you have Thanksgiving memories and traditions, keep them going. If not, start them this year before its too late.