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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas with Elaine (Blog 274)

Today is Christmas Eve, and our kids and grandchildren are coming her for lunch.  Yesterday, Elaine spent much of the day cooking and preparing for the repast today.  As always, she wants to be the best possible mom and grandmother for them.

I met Elaine in June of 1974 at a summer camp, and I was definitely infatuated with her, if not in love with her, from the first time I saw her. For years I wanted to ask her out but did not do so until 1977 when we had all of five dates before I proposed. This is our 39th Christmas together.

She once told me that everyday she tries to make me laugh, something she excels at.  But what Elaine is spectacularly good at is making her so easy to love and adore. I knew when I met her that she was a superior woman, and my first impression was correct.

Merry Christmas, sweetheart.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Holiday Plans (Blog 273)

The first semester at school ended yesterday, and the fortnight-plus of days off lends itself to a realm of possibilities. Some of the things I would like to do are as follows.

Spend some time playing with my grandsons.

Do habitat improvement projects on the land behind our house.

Cut firewood

Go fishing with Britt Stoudenmire of the New River Outdoor Company on the New River. We often fish together on New Year's Day.

Not carry a gun, and take other people deer and turkey hunting.

Welcome Elaine's and my son Mark back from Alaska

Work on magazine article assignments and queries for the coming year

Spend time with my sweetheart Elaine, my favorite thing to do.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Down and Out on a West Virginia Muzzleloader Hunt (Blog 272)

A doe standing still and broadside at a distance of 25 yards would seem like an easy target on the last day of West Virginia's muzzleloader season.  But not when  the trigger is pulled and the only sound is a light "snick."

Over the years, I have committed many snafus during Virginia and West Virginia's muzzleloader seasons, and today was just my latest miscue.  There was the time when snow had somehow leaked into the barrel, the time the cap was slightly misshapen and caused the gun not to fire, and the time I had not seated the bullet properly.

Today, the problem, as I found out later, was that the powder had somehow become moist.  I cleaned out the gun, put in fresh powder, and test fired, and the results were satisfactory.  It's too late to do anything about my West Virginia misadventure, but I will be afield this evening in Virginia to try again.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

December Bowhunting (Blog 271)

I haven't hunted for the past several weeks as I have been busy taking other people afield. My biggest thrill was sitting beside a novice adult hunter who killed his first deer the day after Thanksgiving.

So I went back to bowhunting today.  I have always struggled  to kill a deer during the December bow and muzzleloader seasons.  And today was no exception.  I arose early, decided to hunt from a ground blind, and proceeded to not see a whitetail all morning.

At 10:00 A.M., shivering and hungry, I decided to call it a day.  Outdoor writers often write about the second rut that occurs in December and what a great opportunity it is for individuals after trophy bucks.  Personally, any day in December when I can spot a deer of either sex of any age is a good one for me.

I have long held the view that the second rut is mostly a creature of outdoor writers in need of selling a story.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Reading to My Grandson Eli (Blog 270)

A Thanksgiving tradition for Elaine and me is to have Wednesday dinner at our daughter Sarah and her husband David's house.  As usual, Elaine and Sarah prepared a delicious meal.

But the highlight for me came after dinner when my 1 1/2-year-old grandson Eli came over to me, crawled up onto the sofa and said, "Read."

Sarah and David have done an outstanding job in inculcating a love of reading in their two boys, Sam and Eli.  As a school teacher, I know how important this is as reading to a child is one of the nost developmentally important things a parent can do.

Afterwards, Elaine and I marvelled at how Eli's vocabulary is growing, as he seems to know many more words every time we visit with him.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mentoring New Hunters (Blog 269)

Saturday morning, I am taking two adult hunters afield on land that Elaine and I own in Craig County, Virginia.  One has only been hunting a few years, and the other just started this fall. I won't be carrying a gun, as I want to concentrate on them killing a deer.

I actually enjoy not toting a rifle and concentrating on putting others in a good spot to succeed.  One will be overlooking a feeding flat and the other a bedding area.  It has been fun to go over with them all the possible scenarios for the morning, and the possibilities that the game plans I have devised will be successful.

Who knows how tomorrow will turn out, hopefully we will be bringing two deer to my butcher's.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Opening Day of Virginia's General Firearms Season Blog (268)

My son-in-law David Reynolds and I went hunting on one of our family's three Craig County properties today, which was the first day of Virginia's General Firearms seasons for deer.  David and I were hoping to see a nice buck, but, realistically, both of our objectives were to kill a doe.

Although both of use saw some 16 deer between us, neither of us ever fired a shot.  The only deer that we could have shot were spikes and 2 and 4 pointers, which we both passed on.  In fact, I had one 2 pointer broadside and 20 yards away, and David probably could have shot several 1 1/2-year-old bucks.

The most interesting aspect of the hunt was the sea change that has occurred the last 10 to 15 years or so about hunters not shooting  1 1/2-year-old bucks, and many individuals not shooting 2 1/2-year-old ones, either.

When I started deer hunting in 1985, that attitude was not common, either.  Again, the metamorphosis of hunters in this area is fascinating.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Doe Day in Craig County (Blog 267)

Today was the only doe day for Craig County during Virginia's early muzzleloader season, so I went to our 140-acre tract there.  The forecast was for morning long rain, so I brought along a pop-up blind, so I could hunt without becoming wet.

I had been to our Craig land twice earlier this autumn, both times pursuing turkeys.  On those two occasions, the turkeys had never come close enough to shoot despite my scattering gangs both time.  I did see good numbers of deer both times, once, in fact, spotting 13.

This time, however, I saw a gang of eight turkeys ambling by at a distance of just 35 yards, and the only two deer I saw were 125 yards away, well out of my range, especially given the terrain and underbrush.  Random chance has not operated in my favor on my three visits to the property this year.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Success in the Virginia Fall Turkey Woods (Blog 266)

This morning, Virginia's early muzzleloading season began, and I relish my time using a smokepole to pursue deer.  But the fall turkey season was still in, and I had not killed a bird - so there was no doubt that I would be going turkey hunting.

I hope to do a magazine story on the outing, but the short version is that I called in and killed a jenny that weighed all of nine pounds.  Although I have had a satisfying deer season so far, nothing this entire hunting season brought me so much joy as
tagging that turkey.

Deer hunting is a complex, wonderful pastime that is richly satisfying, but I love nothing better than pursuing turkeys in the spring and fall.  Elaine and I cut off every bit of meat that we could from that turkey and will honor it by eating many meals from the bird.  What a thrilling day.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Lost Weekend of Fall Turkey Hunting Blog 265)

There is nothing I enjoy doing more in the fall than turkey hunting.  As much as I relish pursuing deer, when Virginia's fall turkey starts, I stop deer hunting for the weekend.  I will share the two low points.  On Saturday when I finally came across a flock, I began the charge to scatter the gang - and made it all of five running steps before I tripped and fell.  Needless to say, the bust was not a good one.

And after coming close to having a shot on Sunday, I was so tired that I left my Northeast Proucts Therm-A-Seat Wedge behind in the woods. I was so exhausted that I had to ask my long suffering wife Elaine if she would drive me back to the mountain where I had left it behind.

So the highlight of my weekend was my being able to find the tree where I had left my seat cushion behind.  Driving to and looking for the seat took about 2 1/2 hours - lost time on a lost weekend.  I will be back turkey hunting this coming weekend.  Things can't go any worse, I hope.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Death of our Buff Orpington hen, Ophelia (Blog 264)

It was not a good week in our Buff Orpington chicken run.  We only had two BOs left of the four that hatched last April, and now there is only one.  Ophelia had been a great layer since she started in September and produced an egg on Wednesday, behaved normally on Thursday, and was dead Friday morning.

Elaine and I are at a total loss to figure out what happened.  And poor Orville, now alone in the run, has spent Friday and Saturday looking for Ophelia and giving the food cluck.

Fortunately, our Rhode Island Red run is adjacent to the Buff one, so Orville will at least have the company of other chickens.  But we expect it will be a very lonely winter for him, as it will be spring before we order some new Buffs.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

In Praise of Virginia's Sunday Hunting (Blog 263)

Last Saturday was opening day of Virginia's early archery season, and most of the day I spent watching rain come down.  Therefore, it was both a joy and a relief to be able to go hunting on Sunday.  And even more of a joy when I killed a very nice mature doe that morning.

This Sunday afternoon, I am taking Robin Clark of Virginia's Wheelin' Sportsmen bowhunting as part of a suburban deer hunt.  We will be setting up in a blind in a backyard whose home owner has told me she is plagued by an overpopulation of deer.

Both Robin and I had other commitments on Saturday, and Sunday afternoon was the best time for us to go.  I hope he arrows a fat doe.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Deer Kidney Pot Pie, Anyone? (Blog 262)

While hunting behind our Botetourt County, Virginia home this morning, I was fortunate enough to kill a mature doe with my Parker Thunderhawk Crossbow.  After dragging the doe back to the house, I asked Elaine, as usual, to help a little with the field dressing chores.

Also, as usual, I cut out the heart and tongue (both delicacies as far as I am concerned) and Elaine took them to the kitchen to clean and freeze for later use.  As I was working on the bottom loins, I asked my sweetheart if she would mind making some kidney pot pie like the British do.

Elaine said she would make the entree, but I would have to eat it all myself the first time. We would appreciate any advice from folks who have prepared kidneys.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Rain on Opening Day of West Virginia's Bow Season (Blog 261)

For several months, I have looked foward to opening day of West Virginia's bow season, which is today, September 26.  But all week the forecast has been for rain today, and, unfortunately, the forecast was accurate.

Ten or so days ago, I had made a quick visit to our Gap Mills land in Monroe County to check out the acorn situation.  I had determined my stand site and made my game plan for the day, which was simple - stay on stand until noon, go back to the truck for lunch and a nap, and be back on stand by 2:30, and stay there until dark or until I arrowed a deer.

The rainy forecast was so ominous last night that I didn't even bother to set the alarm.  As I write this, it is now 10:47 A.M. and the forecast remains poor for the rest of the day.  I imagine my bow will remain where it is.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Locavore Weekend: Deer Butchering, Grape Jelly, and More (Blog 260)

Elaine and I experienced a very busy weekend last week.  On Friday evening, we gathered wild summer grapes.  On Saturday, she and I prepared the grapes so that our daughter Sarah and Elaine could make the actual jelly on Sunday.

Saturday morning, I killed a doe, and we spent part of Saturday and Sunday butchering it.  We saved the heart and tongue for lunches this week, froze the top and bottom loins, and canned the rest.

Our last task, food wise, was to pick crabapples from our Dolgo crabapple tree.  Elaine made crabapple/walnut muffins this week.

A busy weekend, but a productive one.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Buff Orpington Hen Lays First Egg (Blog 259)

Elaine and I were thrilled to discover this week that our heritage Buff Orpington hen, Ophelia, had laid her first egg.  In fact, Ophelia has laid an egg per day from Monday through Thursday.

Normally, from our experience, first time layers don't lay every day the first several weeks after they begin.  But Ophelia has not read the handbook on egg laying and her consistency has been amazing.

In the run adjacent to the Buff's, we have three heritage Rhode Island Red hens that are just a week younger than Ophelia.  Perhaps they will begin their egg laying careers next week.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Passing of a Pigeon (Blog 258)

I recently received a call from a neighbor that said she had a strange bird, which appeared to be sick, in her back field.  Always curious about wildlife and ready for a photo op, I came over after school.

What I found was a common pigeon that was unable to fly and looked to have suffered some sort of internal injury.  The neigbor, a very kind individual, wanted to know if she should contact the local animal control and have the folks there rescue the bird.

I explained that the pigeon is an invasive species, that farmers despise this bird, and that pigeons compete negatively with native birds.  I also said that animal control would be unlikely to respond to her request, although obviously I could not speak for that agency.

I followed up with what her options were.
She could easily capture the bird and attempt to nurse it back to health.
She could put the bird out of its misery, as it was likely to die before morning.
She could bring the pigeon to a vet, but that option was likely to be futile and expensive.
She could do nothing, and nature would decide the issue before morning.

The lady decided on the last option, and the next day she told me that the bird was gone.  I replied that what had happened to the pigeon was what eventually happens to all wild animals, it had become part of the food chain as no doubt some predator's proverbial ship had come in overnight.

I write this blog not out of cruelty toward pigeons or any animal, but such is the way of the wild world.  It is truly a jungle out there.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Fall Hunting and Berry Season Begins (Blog 257)

As much as I enjoy participating in Virginia's Urban Archery Season, which begins next Saturday in Roanoke County -one county over from Elaine's and my Botetourt County, Virginia home, I also enjoy another form of outdoor recreation that is just starting... wild fruit gathering.

Several days ago, Elaine and I picked some hackberries and wild cherries from trees growing along our rural road.  No such thing exists as hackberry cobbler or wild cherry pie (at least from our experience) because both fruits are smaller than peas and gathering many is time consuming.

But both cherries and hackberries are a nice snack, and good sprinkled over oatmeal, and are precursors to fall fruits that can provide substantial meals.  Summer grapes ripen in September and make outstanding jelly. Paw paws fall in late September and can be made into bread and cookies.

Then last to ripen, usually sometime in early November, are persimmons.  Persimmon/wild black walnut bread is, hands down, one of the best things I have ever eaten.  I killed several deer with my bow last fall that had come to feast on persimmons - it is understandable that whitetails relish persimmons as well.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Rome Apples and Dolgo Crabapples (Blog 256)

This week, Elaine and I are harvesting our backyard apples.  In our backyard, we have two North Star cherry trees, young Black Twig and Grimes Golden apple trees and bearing Dolgo crabapple and Rome apple trees. In the past week, Elaine has made two loaves of Rome Apple Bread, the last one with black walnuts, which is, by far, the best tasting one.  Black walnuts make just about everything taste better. I have some in my oatmeal every morning.

This evening we hope to pick some crabapples.  Some people ignore the fruit from their crabapple trees, leaving the berries to the birds and other creatures.  That is fine to do so, of course, but crabapple/walnut bread is a taste sensation, even better than the bread that Elaine makes from the Rome apples.

I hope we can have some for Sunday lunch.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cutting Our Ash Trees (Blog 255)

For the past several weeks, my son-in-law David Reynolds and I have been cutting timber on our Botetourt County land.  The standing trees that we have targetted are all ashes.

The reason we are doing so is the emerald ash borer which showed up in Michigan in 2002 and has spread relentlessly since then.  As far as I know, this Asian invasive has not yet been found in Botetourt County, Virginia where we live, but sightings have been documented several counties away.

The adult beetles eat the ash's foliage, but that is not the major problem.  It is the insidious larva that ravage the inner bark which eventually causes the deaths of larger trees.

I wish that David and I did not have to do this timbering, but at least we are both laying in a supply of firewood.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Rhode Island Reds Hard at Work in Garden (Blog 254)

Our garden was, at best, mediocre this growing season.  I thought I did a good job of mulching the tomaoto, squash, and zuke plants, but when the inevitable dry spell of July took place, the plants suffered no matter how much Elaine and I watered them.  Next year, I am resigned to have a deeper layer of mulch.

So, it's time to let the chickens into the garden and begin their process of fertilizing and scratching up weeds, insect larva, and the insects themselves.  Elaine and I had thought we might let our Buff Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds take turns at the garden; however, the truth is that the Reds are much better at their "job" than the Buffs.

This is the first time we have raised Buffs, and they are a delightful heritage breed: friendly, calm, and from what we understand great egg layers.  Our Buffs and Reds are only 18 weeks old, so it is not time for them to lay yet.

But I doubt that few chicken breeds can beat Reds for sheer diligence and joy at "working" a garden.  So what we have been doing is turning the Reds out into the garden and the Buffs into the tractor.  Both flocks have time out of their respective runs, but they spend time at different jobs.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cardinal Eggs Hatch (Blog 253)

For several weeks, Elaine and I have been watching a female cardinal sitting on her nest that is just a yard away from our chicken run.  This is a high traffic area for us, as it is not only next to our Rhode Island Red and Buff Orpington enclosures, but also next to the garden.

Yet, the mother cardinal never seems to mind, and this week the eggs finally hatched.  The most fascinating aspect, to date, of this entire affair is how big the baby cardinals have grown in less than a week (picture below).  Also of note is that this active nest is in our Rome apple tree, and an apple is growing just a few inches away from the nest.

Of course, we won't pick any apples until the young birds have flown away.  We also hope that no wild creature will disrupt the nest in its quest for apples.  A metal enclosure encircles the tree so that hopefully will keep any apple eaters away.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Don Versus Oscar - Rooster Stare Down (Blog 252)

Our Buff Orpingtons turned 16 weeks old on Wednesday of this week, and our Rhode Island Reds 15 weeks on Monday.  And the alpha cockerel of the former (Oscar) had a stare down with the alpha cockerel of the latter (Don) today.  And it was the older, bigger Oscar that "blinked."

Both cockerels have been crowing for a while, Oscar began almost a month ago and Don started last Monday.  They are both attempting to mate with their hens, and both have thorougly intimidated the other cockerels in their respective pens, which are adjacent to each other.

Of all these momentous events in the life of a young rooster, the stare down today was the most fascinating.  Oscar started the skirmish by walking briskly back and forth along the wire separating the pens.  Don rushed over, puffed himself up, and gave Oscar the evil eye.  Both males locked in their stares for  long seconds until Oscar retreated.

Size usually matters in the world of roosters, but Don, for now, is not only the cock of the heap in the pens but also lord of the backyard.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Elaine Names Our Rhode Island Red Chickens - After Mad Men Characters (Blog 251)

In our household, Elaine and I have different areas of responsibility where one of us is in charge.  One of my spouse's duties is to name our chickens.  Back in April, we received heritage Rhode Island Red chicks in the mail, and this week Elaine has decided that our birds' names will have a Mad Men theme.

Don...The name of our Alpha Rooster.  At 14 weeks, he started to crow and often has brief skirmishes with Roger, although they are good buddies.

Roger...Our Beta rooster. At least four times a day, Don and Roger have one-on-one battles, but all is usually forgiven by fly up time.

Pete... Scared of both Don and Roger as he is at the bottom of the cockerel pecking order.

Joan...Our Alpha hen.  Developed more quickly than the other hens. Always the first out of the hen house in the morning.

Peggy... Our beta hen...a real striver, defers to Joan but doesn't seem to like doing so.

Trudy... A real Gamma girl, the last one out of the hen house in the morning.  Is afraid to assert herself, a really cute hen though.  When food is tossed into the run, Trudy is the last one to move toward it.  The picture below shows Don, Joan, and Peggy.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Honey from St. Gall Farm (Blog 250)

Today, good friend Paul Hinlicky, who along with his wife Ellen operates St. Gall Farm in Roanoke County, Virginia, dropped off some honey that Elaine and I had purchased from him.  Paul has just recently begun raising honeybees and informed us that the first honey was ready for gathering.

Like us, Paul strives to be a locavore, and we were thrilled to support his efforts at that as well as purchasing honey for ourselves that came from "just up the road."  The price is very reasonable at $10.00 a pint, and Elaine said that the quart we bought would be used to sweeten a number of our foods in the coming months.  I can't wait to try it on some of Elaine's homemade sourdough bread... maybe tonight.

If readers would like to purchase some, here is Paul's e-mail address:

Friday, July 3, 2015

Picking Blueberries with Sam and Sarah (Blog 249)

For several years my daughter Sarah and I have been talking about going on a berry picking expedition to Woodall's Blueberries ( in Craig County, Virginia.  Today with her son Sam in tow, we finally were able to go.

Everything about the Woodall's is wonderful: mowed paths between the rows, healthy, vigorous plants, and reasonable prices ($12.00 per gallon).  Of course, going anywhere with my three-year-old grandson Sam can be an adventure.  A steady, light rain fell during the 85 minutes or so it took for Sarah and myself to each pick a gallon.  Sam after starting strong in the berry picking department soon became distracted by the nearby pond, bugs in the grass, the rows which were ideal for him to run up and down, and his penchant for eating as many berries as he picked.

But sopping wet, we finally finished our mission around 10:15 and headed for home.  Elaine immediately made a blueberry cobbler for lunch, a quart was held out for pancakes and toppings for oatmeal in the coming days, the rest was frozen for the winter.

We'll be back next summer.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Week as an Outdoor Writer (Blog 248)

I have truly enjoyed my 32-year career as an outdoor writer-photographer, but this week, though it went reasonably well, showed how stressful this job can be.  Monday, I went to Moncove Lake State Park and Greenbrier State Forest in West Virginia to do a story.  Tuesday, I float fished the Greenbrier River for a story, then headed for Roanoke County, Virginia to do a story on the comeback of the American chestnut. Wednesday, I headed back to West Virginia for another article, then home to Virginia to work on another one.

Thursday, I finished a story and started another one, and Friday I only worked for about an hour.  Then I surprised Elaine with taking her out to a movie, dinner, then to an ice cream parlor.  I felt like I had neglected her all week.

Today, Saturday, it is off to a book signing and seminars from 9 to 5.  Monday, I hopefully will interview someone to finish another story.  I am thankful for all the work, but things have been very hectic lately.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Raspberries are Ripe (Blog 247)

I relish my time outside whether it is fishing, hunting, or, this time of year, when the wild berry season begins.  This morning, I picked a quart of wild raspberries, stopping at five patches along a two-mile route of rural road in Botetourt County, Virginia.
There is a pleasing rhythm of the berry season, which starts with raspberries in June, blackberries, dewberries and wineberries in July, summer grapes in late August or early September, then with cherries and hackberries coming in later that month.

Paw paws are ripe in late September or early October, then persimmons are the last to ripen, doing so sometime in late October or early to mid November.  There have been years, like last year, when Elaine and I picked persimmons in December for bread and cookies. Tomorrow, I am going to see if I can prevail upon my wife to make raspberry muffins.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Celebrating Our 37th Anniversary: Babysitting the Grandkids (Blog 246)

Last night, Elaine and I babysat our two grandsons, Sam and Eli, at our daughter Sarah's and her husband David's house.  It was their ninth anniversary and our 37th one. After dinner, my evening was spent playing toy trains (three-year-old Sam is a fan of Thomas and his friends) and putting together a puzzle of a very happy chimp.  Elaine entertained one-year-old Eli who was crawling about.

Then it was time to brush Sam's teeth and prepare him for bed.  First it was designated "Sam Time," which he decided would be spent putting together Mr. Potato Head, then it was time for stories, which was another saga of Thomas and his train adventures.

When David and Sarah arrived home, I remarked that Elaine and I met 41 years ago this week at Camp Easter Seal where we were both employees at the summer camp, and here we were all these years later babysitting our grandchildren on our anniversary.  And David quipped, "That would not have been a great pickup line. 'Go out with me, and 41 years later we'll be babysitting our grandchildren on our anniversary.'"

It's true that such a line probably would not have impressed Elaine, but she has made my life wonderful.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Trout Fishing in Virginia's Mountains (Blog 245)

Saturday, I spent most of the morning fly fishing for wild trout on a Virginia mountain stream.  I caught one brown and a sole rainbow, but that was not the most interesting part of my morning in the outdoors.  Just being outside and knowing that I had the opportunity to go after a wild creature that is difficult to catch was, and always is, a fascinating adventure.

There's no question that float fishing smallmouth rivers is my favorite angling activity, but going after wild trout is a strong second.  The similarities between the two pastimes are noteworthy, as both demand that anglers understand how the two game fish relate to current and cover.

The only thing that could have been better is if Elaine had gone with me.  I  hope she will some summer day soon.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

A Day on Virginia's Maury River (Blog 244)

Friday, I went fishing on the Maury River with visiting friends from the Potomac River Smallmouth Club ( Jamie Gold and Bill Amshey.  Before going, I told Jamie and Bill that the water would likely be clear and low and that topwater patterns would likely be the key.  I also suggested that they forget about hard plastic minnow baits and bottom bumping worms, that topwater poppers or soft plastic jerkbaits would likely be the patterns.

We struggled to catch quality size smallmouths all day and by the end of our trip, no one had caught a bass of 12 or more inches.  The general consensus was that the bigger smallies had just not been biting.  That opinion was put to rest when a man and a woman arrived at the take-out just after we did.  The gentleman regaled us with stories of his wife's three 19-inch smallmouths caught on hard plastic minnow jerkbaits and plastic worms.  What a pattern he exclaimed - once again proving how wrong I can be while afield either fishing or hunting. One thing was true as is always the case (and as these pictures show) the Maury is a beautiful river.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Just Born Deer Fawn (Blog 243)

Sunday, I was on my way to go trout fishing in Rockbridge County, Virginia with guide Josh Williams ( when we saw a deer fawn standing next to the road.  Josh stopped his vehicle, and I bounded out of the vehicle and began taking photos.

I didn't want to leave the fawn next to the road and knew that the mother doe was likely nearby.  But Josh and I were also concerned that the fawn would blunder out into the road and be hit by a car.  Fascinatingly, while I was taking pictures, the fawn began following me, so I walked across the road and into some weeds and the fawn followed.  Josh and I directed a car around the whitetail, which appeared to have been just born.

And then we decided to leave the fawn to its fate.  The mother doe soon showed up and escorted her fawn away from the road and into a field.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring for the doe and her offspring.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Buff Orpington Chick: Recovering: (Blog 242)

About 10 days ago, the Buff Orpington chick Elaine has named Olivia began, every few minutes, falling over and tumbling then arising again.  Olivia, then age five weeks, also regularly kept her head tilted over and had a hunched stature.

Elaine and I tried various cures such as giving her electrolytes and apple vinegar in her water, as well as spraying her with something designed to kill mites and lice.  We also placed diatomaceous earth in her brooder, as we had separated her from her flockmates.  Nothing worked, and we expected her to die anyday because she was not eating or drinking well.

Then we read an article in Chickens Magazine ( where it talked about the benefits of adding probiotics to water to maintain digestive help.  Elaine did so one morning, but we had low expectations.

When I arrived home that afternoon after a day of teaching high school English, I checked in Olivia's brooder and found it empty - and immediately decided that she had died during the day.  Then I looked in the adjacent brooder where Olivia's three flockmates live and saw her there.  What's more, she was walking about reasonably well, though she still took the occasional "tumble."

When Elaine arrived home, I asked her why she had moved Olivia, and she said she had not done so.  The only thing we can figure is that our sick chick felt better, flew to the top of her brooder, then flew down among her flockmates.

We still don't know if Olivia is going to survive, but she is definitely better and is much more active than before. Below is a picture of Olivia in recovery mode.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Frustrating Morning in the West Virginia Turkey Woods (Blog 241)

This morning I arose at 3:00 A.M. to drive 75 miles to my favorite West Virginia turkey farm, which is in Monroe County.  I was overjoyed to hear three gobblers in the pre-dawn murk, and I was able to successfully set up within 100 yards or so to them.

My last decision was to set up to watch the right or left side of a hump, as one of them would be the likely path of the trio.  To be brief, I chose the right side of the hump and the turkeys came across the left side.

Around 6:10, I heard the sounds of putting and walking, both of which grew progressively lighter as the turkeys left the vicinity.  I tried resetting up on them and anticipating where they might have gone, plus changed calls.

But all my strategies went to no avail, and I came home empty-handed.  I am going to take a personal day from school one day this week and try again.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Hunting with Hanks Game Calls (Blog 240)

Saturday, I took Kimmy Hanks and Josh Gray of Hanks Game Calls ( to my Potts Mountain land, which lies in both Virginia and West Virginia.  Having tagged out in Virginia, I went to the West Virginia section and spent the morning shivering in the cold and not hearing or seeing a single turkey.  I could not even find any fresh sign.

When I reconnoitered with Kimmy and Josh around 11:00, I was fascinated to learn that they had doubled around 8:00 A.M., both killing longbeards.  What's more, they had heard five or maybe even six gobblers, heard them gobbling scores of times, and experienced a scintillating hunt.

Once again, I was amazed at the vagaries of spring gobbler hunting.  I could have sworn that the entire mountain was void of turkeys, yet in one portion of it, there were birds everywhere.  I am going to return to the mountain this week before I go to school, even though I will only have an hour to hunt.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Called in a Hunter Today (Blog 239)

This morning, friend Doak Harbison and I were turkey hunting in Botetourt County, Virginia.  Fortunately, I had tagged out and had the great joy of not carrying a gun and trying to help Doak take a tom.  At dawn, we heard seven gobblers sound off but they had hens with them so we knew we had little chance until that magic 10:00 to 11:00 hour when the hens often depart to their nests.

At 10:15, just like we had hoped, a gobbler cranked up in response to yelps from my box call.  And soon the bird was on its way through the woods, and we felt, into the field that borders the woodlot where we had set up.  Doak and I both became excited and felt that everything was working in our favor.

Then suddenly, we saw two hunters walk into the field at the exact spot where we had anticipated the gobbler would come.  A field where they were trespassing.  Of course, the gobbler became silent and we can only assume that he saw the two hunters.

It's just not safe to stay near people like the two individuals.  So we headed to our respective homes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Reading to the Grandkids (Blog 238)

The other day Elaine took a picture of our soon to be three-year-old grandson and me while I was reading to him.  I don't remember the particular story I was reading to him, but Sam knew most of the words.  So when I would pause, he would complete the rest of the sentence, no doubt having heard the tale many times from his parents and grandparents.

As a retired elementary school teacher, Elaine feels that Sam's vocabulary is very good for his age, and I agree.  As a high school English teacher, I see students who don't like reading, and when I talk with these young folks, I often learn that no one read to them when they were young.  That is a mistake that parents shouldn't make and an activity that is so easy to do.

Sam knows all the characters in his Thomas the Train books, and he can talk endlessly about their virtues and flaws.  Every night before bedtime, his parents read to him, just like my mom did for me when I was little.  A lifelong love for reading can begin at a very young age.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Buff Orpington Chicks Growing, Rhode Island Red Chicks Arrive (Blog 237)

Elaine and I have had our hands full this week, taking care of our baby chicks.  The heritage Buff Orpingtons from The Fancy Chick hatched on April 1 and 2 and a dozen heritage Rhode Island Red chicks arrived from Dick Horstman in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

Our four Buff Orpingtons are, obviously, more able to stand out as individuals than the dozen Reds.  There is a very clear pecking order with the former, while chaos constantly exists in the brooder with the Reds as the chicks constantly step, leap, and land on each other.

Next week a friend is supposed to come over and help us extend our chicken run and build a new henhouse.  Sometime in May, it will be time for our young charges to live outside.  And sometime in fall, we should hear some crowing and having eggs to gather.

Our goal is for next year, our hens to start brooding their own eggs.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Buff Orpingtons Hatch (Blog 236)

In early March, Elaine and I ordered some heritage Buff Orpington eggs from The Fancy Chick ( in California.  We have always raised Rhode Island Reds, but we wanted to try another breed as we had heard that Buff Orpingtons were very gentle and people-friendly.

The chicks started trying to break through Tuesday evening, and we were awoken shortly after midnight on April Fool's Day.  Actually, I should say that I awoke as I am a much lighter sleeper than Elaine is.  I heard the just hatched chick scurrying around in the incubator and had to wake up Elaine for her to come see.

She didn't mind at all the rude awakening, and a second chick came into the world around 6:00 A.M. that morning.  Right now, as I write, a third chick has poked a hole in its egg and is busily hammering away.  We received 14 eggs from California, so we don't yet know how many will hatch, but it is with great fun - and anticipation - that we are studying the incubator.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Babysitting the Grandchildren on a Saturday Night (Blog 235)

Married couples go through various stages in their lives together.  The Saturday date night when we are young, the Saturday night baths when the kids start coming, the Saturday night waiting for the kids to come home stage, and the empty nester period.  Now after nearly 38 years of marriage, Elaine and I had the Babysitting the Grandchildren on a Saturday Night experience last night.

The evening began around 4:00 when we arrived to babysit Sam, who will be three in June, and Eli, who will be one in April.  Elaine's game plan was for her to work mostly with Sam while my task was to take care of Eli.  Eli only began crawling a fortnight or so ago, but already he has metamorphosed from someone who seemingly had to think about putting one hand in front of another to someone who is aggressively scooting about.

Matters went reasonably well until it was time for us to put our respective grandsons to bed.  Elaine read and talked to Sam, who quickly and willingly settled down and went to sleep.  I was not as successful with Eli.  The bottle feeding went well as Eli drank almost an entire one.

Then it was time for the rocking and singing stage.  I have a terrible singing voice and really only know one tune, "You Are My Sunshine" which I used to sing to our kids Sarah and Mark when they were toddlers.

After about 30 renditions of "You Are My Sunshine," I deemed Eli ready to be placed in his bed.  He was not ready and let me know so with loud sobs.  This resulted in more rocking and more choruses of the tune and another trip to the bed, which led to more sobs, though they were not as loud this time.

Finally, Elaine entered the room and told me to let him "work it out on his own," so I left.  In about five minutes, as we could tell from the monitor, Eli was asleep.  So I guess I did okay after all.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Target Shooting on a Sunday Afternoon (Blog 234)

One of many reasons why I enjoy living out in the country was in evidence Sunday afternoon.  I had received a new Redhead Bi-Pod Shooting Stick in the mail and wanted to try it out.  So I asked my son Mark and son-in-law David to come over and test it.  
Once they arrived, we discussed where was the best place to set up and the result was the driveway, as our test gun was a .22 rimfire rifle. The driveway has a downward slope and a woodpile is at the end of it.
We each took turns and the consensus was that the shooting stick performed well and the rifle was on target.  Imagine doing what we did in suburbia.
This morning I awoke and while feeding the chickens, I heard both woodcocks and turkeys.  I hope one of those gobblers behind our house has my proverbial name on it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Woodcocks Return (Blog 233)

This week, the woodcocks returned to our 38 acres in Botetourt County, Virginia.  For the first 22 years that Elaine and I have lived here, we never heard or saw one of these game birds.  But in December of 2010, we conducted two small clearcuts, and these birds have responded.

I first heard those chirped, whistling sounds of a woodcock's aerial display on Tuesday, followed up by the diagnostic peents while the male is earthbound.  Within a few days, I heard what may have been as many as four males performing their mating dance.

Several years ago, I encountered a woodcock in our front yard during the day.  He did not fly when I came near, apparently secure in his camouflage.  I quickly went inside and returned with my camera and was able to squeeze off one photo before the bird decided that this odd nearby creature might be a threat, which, of course, I wasn't.  Perhaps, I will have another opportunity to photograph another one this coming week.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

First Gobble of the Season, First Egg (Blog 232)

Tuesday, March 3 while walking at dawn, I heard my first gobble of the season.  Later that day, our Rhode Island reds resumed laying eggs for the first time since late November.  Coincidence? I don't think so.

Both turkeys and chickens have a pineal gland, that remarkable gland that has to do with photo period functions.  As the days grow longer and the nights shorter, toms begin to gobble and hens resume laying eggs, which they had stopped laying when they began to molt in late fall/early winter.  All of this regarding the life cycles of turkeys and chickens, the pineal gland has a great deal to do with.

It hasn't happened yet, but in a few days to a week, one morning behind our house, some roosted hens will break out in some serious yelping.  Toms on our land and upstream and downstream from us will break out into a paroxysm of gobbling in response.  The entire scenario makes me want opening day of spring gobbler season to come soon.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Towhee, Hermit Thrush, and a Diminishing Woodpile (Blog 231)

It is two hours before sundown on the last day of February, and the forecast is for freezing rain/ice for Sunday morning.  I sigh and head for the woodpile, as Elaine and I both feel a few more split logs in the garage might come in handy for the next morning.

As I am splitting a white oak, I hear some chirping in the woods and look up to see a hermit thrush - a bird that often over winters here in Botetourt County, Virginia.  It is the third time today that I have seen this thrush - or one of his brethren - and I stop to watch him as he hunts for food.

The thrush flies under our sundeck and roots around in the leafy debris, the only place in the area that is not covered with eight inches or more of snow.  Earlier in the week, I had watched a towhee head for the same snow free zone.

I don't resume splitting wood until the hermit thrush has left the deck area.  I don't want to do anything to disrupt his search of  food, as the woodpile is quite close to the deck.  The little tidbits that the thrush has found there might be just enough for him to survive another cold, winter night.  Survival of wildlife
is such a tenuous thing here in the mountains and valleys of Southwest Virginia, especially during the last two weeks when three different snowfalls have taken place.

I finish splitting wood, putting some in the garage and some near the hearth of our wood stove.  Elaine and I will be warm tonight, and I hope to see the hermit thrush and towhee tomorrow.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Snow, Shoveling, Squirrels, Sourdough, and Strawberry Jam (Blog 230)

Except for one trek to the grocery store, I have been at home since last Friday as winter has gripped Botetourt County and Southwest Virginia.  Elaine returned home from quilt camp (yes, there is such a thing and Elaine enjoys her time there immensely) on Sunday evening.  The snow and intense cold (the temperature is below 0 this Thursday morning) here in the hollow has resulted in very little snow melt.

So my days have fallen into a routine of writing in the morning, tending the chickens (they rarely leave the hen house and whine when I come by), shoveling snow, and occasionally squirrel hunting for an hour or so.  I have yet to see a squirrel though, as the bushytails, like the chickens, seem disinclined to leave their shelters.

Tuesday, however, I asked Elaine to make some sourdough bread.  Our starter comes from nationally known sourdough expert Soc Clay of Kentucky.  Not long after Elaine and I married in 1978, we obtained some sourdough starter from Soc, and a little container of it has resided in our refrigerator ever since.

Even after all these years, it is fascinating to watch Elaine kneed the doe, and when the bread comes out of the oven, it is a taste and smell sensation.  To brighten up a dark night one evening, we opened up a jar of strawberry jam (made from berries from our garden last May) and slathered it upon the bread.  Life is good, and so is wintertime - no matter how cold.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Passing of My Role Model: Dean Smith (Blog 229)

The person I admired most and who was and is my role model, former North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, passed away last Saturday.  Elaine and I were at home Sunday when I read about Dean's passing.  At first to Elaine, I expressed relief that he had died because the stress his illness had likely placed on his family.

But then grief overcame me, and I sobbed hard for several minutes.  I became a Carolina fan in 1966 when I was 14, and over the years Coach Smith shaped me as man and as a high school English teacher.  I read Dean's books and followed his philosophy on life.  Meaning in part, that I should treat my students with respect, that I should set high expectations for them and that they should meet those expectations, and that I should be honest and forthright in my dealings with them and others.

Over the years, I was able to meet and talk with three of the men who played for Coach Smith: Dave Colescott, Eric Montross, and Travis Stephenson.  Colescott visited my high school English class and told my students about the importance of education and striving to be the best possible person one could be; these were things that Coach Smith emphasized to him.  Colescott also told the students about the importance of even little life skills, such as being punctual.  The former Carolina guard said that he had once been late for practice and that Coach Smith said that his tardiness showed a lack of respect for his teammates. Coach Smith further said that Dave would have the "honor" of practicing with his teammates the next day.  That story is one of the reasons I am so insistent about my students being on a way to show respect for their classmates.

Eric Montross was a big star in college and played in the NBA.  Travis Stephenson was a sub at UNC and played sparingly.  But both individuals, who played with each other at Carolina, told me that Dean treated all players the same, no matter what their reputation or skill levels were.  That he cared about each and every player as individuals.

I never met Coach Smith and never wrote a letter to him thanking him for his positive effect on my life.  But he will always be a part of who I am as a teacher, husband, and person.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Outdoors with Sam (Blog 228)

My grandson Sam is now about a little past  2 1/2, and I am thinking more and more about the outdoors fun that I will have with him in the future.  This past weekend, I introduced him to how to bring wood in from the woodpile to stoke Elaine's and my wood stove.

Sam was very enthusiastic about the prospect, announcing that he was going to "heat e-mama's house," his word for Elaine.  I often tell him that it is e-daddy's house, too, but Sam always says no that it is e-mama's house, but does allow that I live there, too.  Of course, this delights Elaine to no end.

On this our first attempt to bring in wood, Sam was unable to grasp the concept of carrying wood in a bundle, instead picking up two or three small sticks and carrying them in a haphazardly way.  It was no matter, of course.  To him, he was doing the gentlemanly thing of keeping his grandmother warm, and that man that lives there with her.

I hope Sam and I can go fishing this summer, but Elaine thinks he may be too young this year.  Of course, the decision is up to his parents, David and Sarah.  If Sam does go fishing and if he does catch any, I am sure that he will want to bring them home to feed e-mama, who hopefully will share the bounty with e-daddy, too.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Saturday at Home (Blog 227)

Since deer season ended  four weeks ago, Elaine and I have spent our weekends at home, except for the one at the annual Richmond fishing show.  After hunting or scouting every weekend from mid August through early January, I have really enjoyed a leisurely pace.

Today, I worked on a story for two hours, walked three miles, and cleaned the hen house before lunch. Then after lunch, I cut wood and did Timber Stand Improvement behind the house for several hours.  It is a real joy puttering behind the house, doing nothing of great consequence, but still gaining great satisfaction by building up our supply of firewood and freeing up some hardwoods so that they produce more mast.

After dinner and after a very disappointing North Carolina basketball loss, Elaine and I played Scrabble and listened to Prairie Home Companion.  Elaine soundly defeated me in Scrabble, winning by over 100 points.  I conceded defeat when there were still some 20 tiles left.

Not an epic day, but a relaxing one.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Turkey Hunting Goals for the Spring (Blog 226)

Last week, I wrote about my river smallmouth fishing goals for the year.  This week, my mind has turned to what I would like to accomplish this spring in the turkey woods.
1. Call in a gobbler for my son Mark.  I have taken Mark turkey hunting a number of times, but I have rarely put him in a position to kill a bird.  This year I want to.
2. Learn how to use a wingbone call.  I have gone turkey hunting every spring for the past 10 years-plus with my mentor Larry Proffitt of Elizabethton, Tennessee.  With his trumpet calls, Larry has called in a number of birds for me.  I've witnessed first hand how effective this call can be.
3. Learn how to make better and more consistent gobbler yelps.  I can do this in a satisfactory manner with many slate pot and pegs.  But I need to be more consistent with my efforts.  And I also need to learn how to make this sound with something other than a slate.
4. Learn how to more effectively use a pileated woodpecker call.  This is an offbeat locator call that has more potential than many people realize.  On several occasions, I have had hens respond to this call but never a gobbler.
5. Learn how to make better purrs with a box call.  Mine are just too loud.  It's strange that I can make much better purrs with a diaphragm than a box.

Month after next, I hope to be hunting in Tennessee for that state's opening day.  I can hardly wait.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Thinking about Where I Want to River Smallmouth Fish This Year (Blog 225)

It's winter, and the water temperature on Virginia and West Virginia's upland rivers is likely hovering in the upper 30s and lower 40s this morning.  I have already been fishing on the New River once this year, with no success, but that was more because I am a mediocre at best, probably, in reality much less than mediocre, wintertime angler than because the fish weren't there.

This year, I would like to do the following concerning angling for river smallmouths.

1. Finally become competent with the jig and pig in cold water conditions.
2. Spend more time on the Maury River, a fine underrated smallmouth river near my Botetourt County, Virginia home.
3. Not become so consumed with spring gobbler hunting in Virginia and West Virginia that I don't go fishing for river smallies as much as I should.  This will be the hardest objective for sure.
4. Return to the upper Rappahannock for the first time in several years.
5. Go on more late afternoon smallie excursions on the James in Botetourt County.
6. Go fly fishing for smallies at night on the New River with guide Britt Stoudenmire of the New River Outdoor Company.

Readers may note that there's no mention of my goals for catching 20-inch smallmouths.  I've always felt "they will come when they will come." If I am reading the water correctly and making good decisions, I will catch fish in the 14-to 18-inch size range and eventually a 20-incher will be mixed in.  If I am making poor decisions, then I will not catch big fish.

We will see how things work out.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Thinking about Spring Gobbler Season (Blog 224)

I know that several months must pass before I can even anticipate the beginning of the spring gobbler season in Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia...the three states that I hunt in every spring.  But Saturday morning I took my first tentative steps toward preparing for the event.

My  2 1/2-year-old grandson Sam and I hauled the Christmas trees from his house and Elaine's and mine into the woods to a white oak that lies at the left turn of a seeded logging road that runs across much of our Botetourt County, Virginia's 38 acres. I positioned the two evergreens around the white oak, telling Sam that we were building a fort.

Of course, Sam may end up playing there this summer, but this spring I hope the little citadel may be a place where I can call in a gobbler.  The two downed trees should offer some concealment, and I will add some other cut cedars and pines in the weeks to come.  At that same tree, I called in and killed two fall turkeys in December, so I already know the place is a favored locale.

Catawba Creek lies just over the ridge, and turkeys have long roosted there.  Anyway, the fort building was something to do on a bitterly cold January morning.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Enjoying Foods from Hunting, Gathering, and Growing (Blog 223)

One of the articles I wrote during the holidays just came out on the Quality Deer Management Association's website...  As the link indicates, the article is about my cooking and eating deer tongue.  Some folks may find it incredulous that I would eat such a thing, but I really enjoy experimenting and eating what nature has to offer.

The deer tongue was especially good on a salad I had Christmas week, and also in December Elaine and I dined on persimmon/walnut cookies, wild turkey leg soup, all kinds of venison dishes, and, of course, egg dishes courtesy of our chickens as well as Rome apple bread from our backyard tree.

We have ordered from various seed catalogs, and the freezer is full with deer and turkey meat, plus quart bags of wild berries.  I look forward to more experimenting in the coming year.