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Sunday, December 25, 2016

The HighPoint of My Christmas: Going Walking with My Grandson Sam (Blog 326)

Christmas was very enjoyable this weekend.  Elaine and I had dinner at Sarah and David's house on Saturday evening with David's parents and our son Mark and his girlfriend Ashley.  And Sunday, we had Sarah and David over with their boys Sam and Eli, plus Mark came, too to open presents and eat brunch.

All of that was nice, but the highpoint for me was my grandson Sam wanting to go walking with me.  He could have stayed inside to play with his presents, but when I told everyone that I was going to walk up the road a little bit, Sam announced that he wanted to come, too.

It was a small thing, but to me it was really special.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Befuddled by Virginia's Fall Turkeys Again (Post 325)

The next time I hear someone saying that they don't hunt fall turkeys because they're too easy and/or they are saving their tags for the spring season, I may give them a lecture on the spot.  I have pursued autumn birds after school this week and this morning (Saturday) without hearing or seeing any.  The  cold weather, the poor hatch last spring, the heavy mast crop, and the supreme difficulty of going after mature gobblers or hens in the fall have combined to befuddle me.

I suppose I could try again somewhere this afternoon.  Instead, I've decided to go climb a tree and try to kill a doe with my Parker Thunderhawk crossbow.  It's going to be a warm, relatively speaking, evening so perhaps the deer will be moving.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Chasing Turkeys in the Cold (Blog 324)

I spent a glorious cold, December morning trying to call in three mature gobblers today.  I had gone to the top of a Botetourt County, Virginia mountain in an attempt to find a flock, but only encountered the trio of toms when I came back down the mountain.  Ironically, the lead gobbler was not far from where my car was parked.

The lead tom scudded into the woods and the other two went in a different direction.  But a short time later, the lead turkey began yelping and the other two birds began gobbling.  I promptly sat down in between them and engaged in some serious male talk.  But in the end, the lead tom circled around me and rejoined his small flock and they went off again - who knows where.  I'm going to try to find them again this afternoon, but am not optimistic.

I relish pursuing winter turkeys, though my success rate is poor when I'm after mature gobblers and hens.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Rhode Island Red Chickens Working Hard in Garden (Blog 323)

Friday and Saturday, Elaine and I let our two flocks of heritage Rhode Island Reds take turns working in the garden.  Actually, work is not the right word for our chickens, but what they accomplish for us is.  The Reds truly enjoy their time in the garden, turning over soil, scratching up insects and their larva, and depositing their poop throughout.

For us, we have a free hoeing and insecticide service, plus fertilizing on delivery.  It's a win-win for the chickens and us.  Our chickens will continue performing their yeoman work until February, when it will be time to let their waste fully decompose and us plan for the April planting of onions and spinach.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Enjoying Wild Game and Fruits for the Holidays (Blog 322)

A Thanksgiving and Christmas meal tradition at our house is to have family members over and enjoy various wild game and fruit dishes. Elaine and I have had David and Sarah and their sons Sam and Eli and  also Mark and Ashley over several times during the Thanksgiving Holidays.  We've had venison meatball soup, roast venison, and today Elaine is going to make wild turkey breast burgers. We will use eggs from our Rhode Island Reds to enhance the flavor of the burger.

For dessert, we've enjoyed blackberry cobbler, and I hope today to make one last trip to a persimmon tree to gather its fruits.  Elaine has already made persimmon bread, but I would like some persimmon cookies this weekend.

There's plenty of potentially great food in the outdoors.  All it takes is a willingness to pursue it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Success on Virginia's Opening Day of General Firearms Season (Blog 321)

This morning, for opening day of what many Virginia hunters call "rifle season," I drove to one of Elaine's and my properties in Craig County.  The goal was simple, try to kill a doe before the fierce winds in the forecast drove me off the mountain.

Fortunately, that was what happened.  Not long after dawn, a doe came by (at various times between 60 and 80 yards away), but did not offer a good shot.  But at just after 7:30 two more does came by.  When I first saw them they were over 100 yards away.  But they kept meandering along, and the potential shot became easier and easier.  Finally at 60 yards distant, the lead doe paused, and the shot rang true.  The drag was hard and took awhile, but I wasn't complaining.

Instead of being on a stand this evening, Elaine and I are preparing to play a rousing game of Scrabble; meanwhile the wind is howling. Perhaps I should start our wood stove in the morning for the first time this season.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

No Turkeys, but Persimmon Bread Instead (Blog 320)

Tuesday was election day, of course, so I didn't have to be at school until noon.  So I did what I usually do on that day, go hunting.  I spent the early morning in Franklin County, Virginia pursuing turkeys and the mid-morning in Botetourt doing the same...all to no avail.

But upon leaving the Botetourt farm, I visited a persimmon tree that has produced a cornucopia of fruits in the past.  And the tree was loaded with persimmons.  I gathered a bag full and the next night, Elaine and I made persimmon bread.

Few things in life are as tasty as persimmon bread.  Indeed, it is my favorite homemade bread and that includes breads made from wild and domesticated fruits.  I am going to pay another visit to the tree soon, as there are plenty of persimmons left.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Locavore Living (Blog 319)

Last week was a very good week for hunting and Elaine and me and our locavore lifestyle here in Botetourt County, Virginia.  On Thursday, I was able to kill my first turkey of the season, tagging a bird at fly down after roosting a flock the evening before. Wild turkey will now be on the menu for Thanksgiving.

Saturday on opening day of the early muzzleloading season, I killed a nice doe in Franklin County right before sundown.  I had found a place on a cattle farm where deer were likely to enter a pasture.

Our young Rhode Island Red hens are consistently laying eggs and our older Reds have already molted and are now laying, so the egg production is excellent.  And Sunday, now that leaves are falling, Elaine and I noticed that our Dolgo crabapple tree had enough fruits on it (a late frost had killed most of the blooms) to make a loaf of bread from.  Not a major event to be sure, given the tree's major production  last year, but one loaf of Elaine's homemade crabapple and walnut bread will be a delight this winter on a snowy day.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Opening Day of Virginia's Turkey Season (Blog 318)

As much as I enjoy deer hunting, nothing is more pleasurable for me to do in the fall than to pursue turkeys.  So when opening day began yesterday, I was on a Botetourt County mountain.  I heard birds on the roost and began an arduous climb to them.  Periodically they called back, but the terrain was so steep and the woods so dry, I had to take my time reaching the flock.

When I finally did make visual contact, I saw that there were four of them and they were 75 yards above me near the crest.  From the sounds/tones of their voices, they were old hens without their offpspring - more evidence, as shown from biologists' reports, that the hatch has been failure.

I called to the birds as they looped around the side of the mountaintop.  One paused briefly stared down below, then continued with the quartet.  I knew then that I was doomed to catch up with them and several more hours passed as I tried to relocate the flock - to no avail.

I then went to another farm that has always had birds in the past, but this year it does not.  I will try again at a different farm this morning.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Virginia Bears Are Abundant (Blog 317)

Next month, I have a story coming out in Virginia Game & Fish on bear hunting in the state.  One of the topics I cover is the state's burgeoning bear population, and yesterday I saw yet another example of that.

Friend Doak Harbison and I drove to a Botetourt County farm to bow hunt for deer after leaving our teaching jobs at Lord Botetourt High School. When we reached the gate where we would go our separate ways, Doak and I simultaneously spotted a bear near my tree stand.

The creature stood and watched me as I approached it, and, since I wanted to climb into my tree stand for the evening, I had to scare the bear away from my position.  This I did by clapping my hands and yelling at it.  After two attempts by yours truly, I finally convinced the bruin to depart.

Son-in-law David Reynolds and I have discussed trying to kill a bear on the Botetourt County land where our respective families live.  Given the large bear population, I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of us tags one this year.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Hunting Fall Turkeys in West Virginia's Mountains (Blog 316)

Come autumn, my favorite thing to do is pursue turkeys, so I was extremely disappointed when the heavy rains kept me from going afield opening day of West Virginia's season. But with the precipitation at an end, I was able to go afield the following week on a mountain in Monroe County just outside of the community of Pickaway.

I had heard the hatch was largely a failure not only in West Virginia but also in Virginia, and such certainly seemed the case on that Monroe mountaintop as I neither heard or saw turkeys or even found any sign.

Fortunately, I had had the foresight to put my crossbow in my vehicle, so I headed for my land in Gap Mills to deer hunt after striking out on turkeys.  Just 30 minutes after climbing into my ladder stand, I killed a deer, which was certainly a nice ending to the day.  But I surely wish I had had a turkey to take home.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Black-throated Blue Warbler while Bowhunting for Deer (Blog 315)

While bowhunting behind Elaine's and my Botetourt County, Virginia house Thursday after school, I saw a beautiful songbird, a black-throated blue warbler, migrating through our woodlot.

The warbler, on its way to the Carribean or perhaps Central America, flitted about for over five minutes, going from tree to tree searching for food.  Interestingly, there were two of the warblers, perhaps a mating pair that were on their migration together.

I didn't see a single deer that evening, but the warbler sighting made the outing worthwhile.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Opening Day of Virginia's Bow Season (Blog 314)

Last Saturday, I blew an opportunity at a nice doe on opening day of West Virginia's bow season, as I moved into position to shoot at the wrong time.  It was one of those times that a whitetail "appeared out of nowhere" it seemed. This morning on opening day of Virginia's season, I watched a deer slowly approach me for some 15 minutes.

So I had plenty of time to position myself and release a good shot.  I cut out the bottom loins for a future meal as well as the heart.  Larry Proffitt, Elaine's and my friend whose family runs the famous Ridgewood Restaurant in East Tennessee gave us some of their Ridgewood Bar-B-Que Sauce back in the spring when I hunted with him.

Elaine is going to barbecue the heart with Larry's sauce, and we look forward to trying it out.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Opening Day of West Virginia's Bow Season (Blog 313)

Opening day of West Virginia's bow season did not go well for me as I spent the morning hours without seeing a deer, and the evening ones without having any close enough to shoot with a bow.
But some days are like that.

By far the most interesting thing that happened was my watching a raccoon Saturday morning.  The animal came down the Monroe County mountain where I was hunting and walked right toward my stand.  When he reached a log where I had placed my bow in preparation for using a haul rope to lift it into my stand, the raccoon stopped, took a long sniff then turned and scudded quickly back up the mountain.

Just that little whiff of human scent was enough to send the raccoon on its way...absolutely fascinating.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Perfect Wife (Blog 312)

Wednesday afternoon, a landowner on whose property I hunted on contacted me and told me that the deer were streaming onto her property the past few evenings and that I ought to come over and bowhunt. The day before, Elaine and I had gathered wild summer grapes, and I had planned to help her remove the grapes from the stems Wednesday after I finished teaching school for the day.

But the temptation of bowhunting for deer consumed me, so as soon I arrived home I took off to a treestand.  Earlier I had told Elaine that I "might" go deer hunting but that I probably wouldn't.

The landowner's description of the deer movement was accurate and about 45 minutes after I climbed into my stand, I arrowed a whitetail.  The blood trail was short, and soon I was on the way home where I found that Elaine had already done the grape work, and now I was presenting her with another task... our butchering a deer.

We have our butchering routine fairly well set.  Basically, I quarter the animal while upstairs, Elaine does the "fine" work and wraps the bottom and top loins to freeze and cleans the heart and tongue to freeze. The four quarters are put on ice for us to labor on the next day as Elaine feels that that meat works up better after it is chilled.

Through all the butchering Wednesday evening, Elaine never complained even though she had already worked quite long
on the grapes, which today she will turn into jelly... when she has finished working on the quarters.

Yet another reason why Elaine is the perfect wife. The picture above shows her during our summer grape foray.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Coyotes in Suburbia (Blog 311)

Friday evening after school, I went bowhunting in a Virginia neighborhood.  While aloft around 6:35, I saw something trotting south to north and noted it was a coyote. When the animal was just 12 yards distant and running horizontally to my position, I made some doe bleats in hope that I could stop the coyote and attempt a shot.

But, fascinatingly, the coyote never broke stride, looked directly at me high in a tree, then swapped ends and began running in the opposite direction.  It is no wonder that these predators are so difficult to hunt.  This animal zeroed in on the source of the sound, instantaenously realized that it was fake, and simply ran away.

A very impressive performance by a wild animal, indeed.

Monday, September 5, 2016

(Week Four of Bowhunting with Kill Permits (Blog 310)

Weekend four of bowhunting with kill permits had the rare occurrence of the deer doing the same thing on Saturday morning as they did on Monday morning, Labor Day.  Both times deer milled about under my stand in the dark then left before shooting light.  Another group of deer, both mornings, fed to within about 50 or so yards of my stand, then walked the other way.

These maddening circumstances have made me decide to hunt next Saturday from a ground blind.  For some reason, the deer are feeding for about a half hour in a little patch of grass under some pines and two mockernut hickories.  After climbing down from my stand this morning, I checked to see what they are eating and simply can not figure it out.  No oaks are nearby, no clover is in the grassy patch, no important forbs that I can  find.

But the deer are  very fond of that spot.  I will have my blind set up there next Saturday.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Week Three of Bow Hunting with Kill Permits (Blog 309)

Weekend Three of my August bow hunting with kill permits proved to be another challenging Saturday. The first deer showed up not long after sunrise, materializing directly behind me about 20 minutes after shooting light began.

The deer was broadside and standing still, but it also sported a tiny pair of antlers, which made him off limits as I am only pursuing does.  Frankly, the young four pointer will not be a shooter until another two years at least will have passed, and never, of course, with kill permits.  The young buck hung around my stand for 10 more minutes before he moved on.

Twenty minutes later, two does and two fawns pranced by, but they were 35 yards away and walking steadily.  I was amazed that they did not wander over to feed on the scarlet oak acorns that have fallen near my stand.

So after three weekends of having kill permits, I have only killed one doe, the only one I have shot at.  I am not doing much to help the landowner with his deer overpopulation problem, but will try again this coming Saturday.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

When the Turkey Vultures Start to Circle (Blog 308)

Today was the second Saturday for me to bow hunt while using the kill permits that a local Botetourt County farmer and conservation police officer had arranged for me to have.  It is very interesting hunting in August, but some things are the same no matter the season.

I was tethered in my tree stand an hour before shooting light, and was fortunate to hear two dueling great horned owls battling over territory or a female owl no doubt.  Right before dawn, a cardinal started singing and soon after dawn some tufted titmice, Carolina chickadees, and Carolina wrens found a strange form (yours truly) in a tree and began to mob it.

Although normally, the patch of woods I was aloft in is a deer hot spot, this morning not a single deer came by.  The temperature was 69 degrees at dawn, which wasn't overly warm for the season, but there was no wind.  I am convinced that any deer that came by likely smelled me before I even knew they were nearby.  At 10:00 A.M, two turkey vultures started to circle above me, which I took as my cue that it was time to go home.

I'll try again next Saturday.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Acorns are Falling (Blog 307)

I didn't bowhunt with my kill permits this weekend, it was just too hot with temperatures approaching 90 degrees, humidity-wise, by 9:00 A.M. But I did go to my tree stand site in mid-afternoon and put my stand up another 20 inches or so.  The doe I killed last Saturday saw me up in the stand, even though I was fully camouflaged and had on a face mask.

The most interesting thing about my little sojourn afield was that scarlet oak acorns were already on the ground.  The last two years, it has been interesting to observe how early acorns fall.  The deer are certainly aware of this as are the gray squirrels.  Last week, I saw squirrels cutting acorns.

Next Saturday morning, I am hoping for cooler weather.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Deer Hunting with Kill Permits (Blog 306)

For the second straight year, I had deer kill permits from the Virginia Game Department in order to help out a farmer who was having severe deer damage to a cornfield.  It felt strange arising at 4:24 on August 6 to go deer hunting, but I was in tree stand about 75 minutes later, waiting for dawn to break.

I didn't see my first deer until 7:24 but that one was a  young doe and only 12 yards away when I did view it.  I sent an arrow from my crossbow through both lungs (as I would find out later) and after the blood trail, I found that I had killed my first deer of the season.

Elaine and I butchered most of the doe in about 90 minutes, froze the top and bottom loins, and put the front and back legs on ice for the meat to firm up.  Tomorrow, we will turn it into burger.  It's nice to have the first deer of the season refrigerated and it was nice to help out a landowner.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Revitalizing a Former Trout Stream (Blog 305)

Today, I went over to my Gap Mills, West Virginia land with John Loope of the Roanoke Trout Unlimited chapter.  Our mission was to check on the survival of the 10 sycamores and 10 silky dogwoods that I planted this past March, check on the stability of in-stream structures constructed last summer with Roanoake TU members Morgan Wilson and Barry Witt, create three more in-stream structures to deepen the creek, and, finally, seine some minnows and other creatures to check on the productivity of the creek.

Every thing went extremely well.  The vast majority of the planted trees are growing well, last year's stream structures look to be aging well, and John and I positioned three more in the creek.  Aquatic life looked good in the creek, and we even found a rock bass in the stream.

John believes that brook trout may be ready to be stocked in the stream next spring.  That would be a wonderful thing if possible.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Benefit Book Signing for Virginia Outdoors Foundation (Blog 304)

Saturday, Elaine and I traveled to Shenandoah River State Park to do a benefit book signing for the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. It always makes us feel good to contribute something to the cause of land conservation.  Over the years, we have been able to put 412 acres under easement; land that will be permanently protected from being developed.

Groups like the VOF on the state level and groups like the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy and New River Land Trust on the local level are well worth supporting by those who are interested in protecting rural Virginia from development. It is a cause worth championing.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Virginia Turkey Gobbling on July 16 (Blog 303)

Yesterday morning I was taking a walk around 6:40 down our rural Botetourt County, Virginia road when I heard a wild turkey hen yelp, immediately followed by another hen answering her yelp. As a hardcore turkey hunting fanatic, I couldn't let that outburst go unchallenged, so I yelped back with my mouth. The two hens yelped in return, and then a tom sent out a thundering gobble.

Well, now, that was interesting I thought.  So I yelped again, the two hens yelped back, and the gobbler thundered again. I have heard mature toms gobbling in July before, so that event wasn't new, but still it is always fascinating to hear the males sounding off this time of year.

As I walked farther and farther away, the hens continued to yelp at each other, but I heard no more eruptions from the gobbler.  Apparently, he had said all he was going to say... at least for this time of year.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Joys of a Two-Year-Old Eating Ice Cream (Blog 302)

This weekend, Elaine and I babysat our two grandsons, four-year-old Sam and two-year-old Eli. It was a hot weekend, and the power was out most of it because of a servere thunderstorm. When the weather turns muggy, what better to eat than vanilla ice cream cones, which Elaine and the boys did on several occasions.

Sam, with the wisdom and deterity of an older child, did a commendable job, by and large, of consuming his treat.  There were a minimum of spills and stickiness.

Eli, however, was not concerned about dexterity and neatness and social conventions.  It was ice cream, it was hot, and here was a young man who was not in any hurry.  Eli patiently savored every drop and dab of vanilla, revelling in it running down his chin, dribbling down his arms, and making his entire wardrobe a sweet, sticky mess. This boy knows how to enjoy an ice cream cone, as I hope these pictures indicate.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Blackberry Season Begins and a Weird Creature (Blog 301)

Today began Blackberry Season here in Botetourt County, Virginia.  The wild raspberry crop had fizzled out a few days ago, and there's always a few days between when the raspberry plants finish bearing and the blackberries begin. I wandered over our 38 acres visiting old patches and looking for new ones and found both kinds. I ended up picking  1 1/2 quarts.
Elaine and I froze them for winter pies and cobblers.  We picked three quarts of raspberries during the two weeks they were in, which doesn't sound like a lot and it isn't.  Wild raspberries are never abundant on our property as blackberries and wineberries predominate.  Any year when we can gather three or four quarts of raspberries is above average.

As always, time outdoors is filled with fascinating sights and sounds.  I heard a white-eyed vireo at one blackberry patch, both favor young forest/edge habitat.  But the most interesting thing I came across was a type of caterpillar which I could not identify.  It was working its way along a blackberry vine.  If someone can tell me what it is, I would be appreciative.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Locavore Dinner at Home (Blog 300)

Yesterday evening for dinner, Elaine fixed a wonderful locavore meal of scrambled eggs (courtesy of our Rhode Island Reds) and cheese (courtesy of the local farmer's market). For lunch we had venison burgers from a deer I killed last year.

Earlier yesterday, I gathered raspberries and checked on the progress of the blackberries and wineberries, both of which are ripening but aren't quite ready to pick. During the morning and afternoon hours, I worked on several magazine articles.  And after dinner last night, we played a scintillating game of Scrabble.

Nothing epic happened yesterday, but all days spent with Elaine are good ones.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Anniversary Night Spent Babysitting (Blog 299)

This past Friday, June 10 was Elaine's and my 38th anniversary.  It was also the anniversary of our daughter Sarah and her husband David, so we volunteered to babysit their boys, four-year-old Sam and two-year-old Eli.

The night started off well with Sam and Eli being very enthusiastic about dinner - their stuffed cheeks in the picture below indicate thusly.

Next on the agenda was a rousing game of hide-and-go-seek.  Neither boy has all the basics of the game yet as Sam always hides in his room and always shouts out where he is.  On the other hand, Eli just hides, no matter if he is supposed to be looking for me or actually hiding. The pictures below show the boys counting, they are good at that skill and hiding, both, strangely enough, hiding in the same box in the middle of the floor in, of course, Sam's room.

We then finished the evening with baths (my pants were sopping wet when this activity was finished) and story time, Elaine reading to Eli and I reading to Sam, then putting our respective young men to bed.

Although Elaine and I did not have a romantic night out, we wouldn't have changed places with anyone.  It was a wonderful anniversary.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Running a Rapid Wrong on the New River (Blog 298)

Yesterday, friends Doak Harbison and Tim Wimer took the Peppers Ferry to Whitethorne float on Virginia's New River. As the author of a book on the waterway, The New River Guide, I should not have trouble negotiating Class I and II rapids. Tim and Doak, when we go on river excursions, trust me to make the plans on how much time to allot, which trips to take, and which rapids to be careful of.

However, I confess that I let Doak down yesterday. Just above the Class III Arsenal Rapid is another rapid that is considered part of the general whitewater in the area. There is a  slot down the river right side; and with me in the bow, I missed the slot which resulted in us crashing into a large rock at the end of the upper rapid.

This led to the boat overturning and Doak and me tumbling into the water.  Fortunately, we were not hurt and no gear was lost. But still my snafu was very frustrating, and I couldn't apologize to Doak enough.  By the way, we had no trouble going through the heart of Arsenal Rapid, as we took the large slot on the far right as my book says to do.

On the New or any river, you never know when something could go wrong. The picture below shows Tim fishing below the Arsenal rapid.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Simple Summer Joys (Blog 297)

I have worked hard on the writing front, finishing two magazine stories and writing a third, plus having a book signing this first full one after the end of the school year. I think I just may take the rest of the day off except for a few chores around the yard.

After finishing my writing work and with school out for the summer, I like to stop being so goal oriented for a while and enjoy the summer.  This afternoon, I plan on picking the last of the North Star sour cherries and weeding the garden.

Elaine has already make cherry bread (see below)
 with the fruit from our tree, and I think we have enough cherries left for her to make either cookies or muffins.  Cookies or muffins...that is the big decision for this afternoon - a nice situation after a hard week of  writing.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Black Rat Snake in the Henhouse (Blog 296)

Yesterday evening, Elaine and I received a phone call from our daughter Sarah, who lives across the hollow from us with her husband David and their two boys. Sarah said that a huge snake was in the main nesting box of the henhouse, and that David was out walking.

Elaine and I hurried over, and Sarah's depiction of the snake was not hyperbole.  The black rat snake was  over six feet long (David later held it up for measuring purposes) and the reptile had stuffed itself with eggs, which were slowly making their way down the snake's body.

When David returned from his walk, he and I experienced an "interesting" time extracting the snake from the henhouse, using a combination of hoes, rakes, and shovels to do so.

It's been an interesting time the last 10 days or so out in our rural Virginia hollow.  Last week, we watched as a copperhead consumed a chipmunk while in our driveway and now the henhouse episode.  Soon to come, no doubt, will be the annual visitation of skinks slinking into our house, and, maybe, like one summer, a flying squirrel coming down the chimney.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Strawberry Season (Blog 295)

Strawberry season lasts a glorious ten days or so in our Botetourt County, Virginia garden, and we are coming to the end of it.  Elaine has made strawberry jam (see picture below) as well as strawberry pie and we have enjoyed these red berries with our oatmeal and yogurt.  As good as the strawberry pie can be, I have to say that the jam is my favorite.  We will save these jars for the winter when we can enjoy this spring harvest once again.

It's not only the strawberry plants that are producing right now, so are the chives, onions, and spinach.  Few meals are as good as a venison burger with onions and spinach, chives on a baked potato, plus any sort of vegetable dish and strawberries in some form of dessert.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

West Virginia Turkey Season Ends (Blog 294)

This morning, I drove to our Monroe County, West Virginia land to hunt on the final day of spring gobbler season.  On my first visit to the land, I heard five different gobblers, so I had hopes that this outing would prove fruitful.

I was able to call in two turkeys over the course of the morning, but they were both hens.  In fact, on the last two Saturdays of the season, I called in a total of four hens, but no gobblers.

Turkey hunting is often a perplexing pastime, but these last two Saturdays have been overly so.  Where did all the gobblers on the mountain go? I heard not a single one the last three visits.  Why didn't any of those hens have a tom in tow?

Anyway, though my Virginia and Tennessee seasons went well, I blanked in West Virginia and don't really understand why.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Living off the Land (Blog 293)

This week has been a wonderful one for Elaine and me living off what the land has to offer us and others.  We've had various venison themed meals for our entrees, egg dishes from our chickens, a blackberry pie from the wild berries we picked last summer, and early season onions, spinach, chives, and asparagus from our garden.

The strawberry plants are setting fruit, as are our crabapple and cherry trees. Our Rome apple tree will hopefully do the same soon. I've planted 18 tomato plants and hopefully this weekend, if no more rain falls, I can at long last plant zuke and squash seeds.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be turkey hunting in West Virginia, hoping to add to our freezer supply of venison and wild turkey.  The hens should be on the nest by now, and I hope the toms will come when called.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

West Virginia Gobbling in the Flog (Blog 292)

This morning I went to a mountaintop in West Virginia's Monroe County to turkey hunt.  The air was heavy with moisture and a dense fog shrouded the mountain, so I was worried that the toms would not be gobbling.

Instead, well before dawn, a tom sounded off to my barred owl call and then three more longbeards chimed in.  The gobbling went on for quite some time, but eventually stopped but not the fog.  The murk continued until well after 9 and even then did not entirely lift. I never saw a turkey.

That is until I walked back to my vehicle where a gobbler was feeding nearby.  Of course, I spooked him.  I am thinking of taking  a half day personal day from school on the next clear morning.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

West Virginia Turkey Hunting (Blog 291)

This morning I drove to a mountain in Monroe County, West Virginia to turkey hunt, and, unfortunately, as I feared would be the case at this stage of the season, the gobblers were all henned up. I used to bemoan the fact that I couldn't convince gobblers to answer me after they flew down from the roost, but, now, I understand why this is typically the case in this part of April.

The three toms I heard at sunrise never gobbled on the ground.  Later in the morning, I was hoping that they would start up again, but the wind was howling on the mountain, and I probably would not have heard them if they had gobbled after 10:00.

Still, it was an interesting day afield.  I heard my first scarlet tanagers, worm-eating warblers, and yellow-throated vireos of the spring.  In a few days, I expect to hear my first yellow-billed cuckoo.

And in about a week when more of the hens have gone to the nest, I expect a gobbler will come charging in one morning.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Saturday Morning in the Virginia Turkey Woods (Blog 290)

After tagging out in Virginia last Sunday, I looked forward all week to not toting a shotgun and taking friend Doak Harbison back to the same Franklin County farm - and woodlot - where I found three gobblers sounding off, one of which ended up riding home with me.

I promised Doak that we would at least have two toms rumbling in the pre-dawn, instead we heard nine separate toms gobbling.  For over an hour, the toms entertained us, as did numerous hens.  We estimated that were over 20 turkeys within 200 yards of us.

With all that cacophony, I opted to stay put until 8:30, but it was evident at that time that the turkeys had deserted us.  We moved deeper into the forest and heard two more gobblers, both of which came partially in over the course of the next 80 minutes or so but would not fully commit.

Although we never actually saw a turkey, the morning was still an interesting one as I heard my first prairie warbler and ovenbird of the year.  Now, I am looking forward to heading for West Virginia next Saturday.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Virginia's Opening Weekend of Spring Gobbler Season (Blog 289)

Saturday, opening day of Virginia's spring gobbler season, found me in a woodlot bordering an alfalfa field in Franklin County.  The up to 40-mph winds buffeted my decoy and me about, and the only turkey seen all morning was a lonesome jake.

Sunday found me back at the same farm but I opted to hunt a different section of the farm where I had seen lots of sign during pre-season scouting.  It was the right call because I called in and killed a nice two-year-old tom.

With my two turkeys back in the fall, I am now tagged out in Virginia and look forward to taking other people in Virginia and hunting in West Virginia.  The older I become, the more I enjoy not bringing a gun and trying to help other people be successful. In fact, friend Doak Harbison and I have already planned a trip to the Franklin County farm next Saturday.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spring Gobbler Scouting in Virginia (Blog 288)

Yesterday, friend Doak Harbison and I spent a marvelous morning scouting for turkeys in Franklin County, Virginia.  We heard at least a dozen different gobblers, probably closer to 15, as well as numerous hens.  Of course, all that cacophony of sound may not translate into success on April 9, but still the turkey talk was impressive.

What was also a thrill for me was hearing numerous species of songbirds.  I heard my first pine warblers, Louisiana waterthrush, chipping sparrows, and hooded warblers of the season. But the best bird of the day is what Doak and I thought might have been a rough-legged hawk, though we were not totally convinced.

We will be hunting at this Franklin County farm on opening day.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Working to Renew a Former Trout Stream (Blog 287)

Last weekend, I continued working to reinvigorate a former trout stream that flows through my 94-acre parcel in Monroe County, West Virginia. After school let out for the day, I drove the 56 miles to the land and planted 20 trees, 10 each of sycamores and silky dogwoods.

This part of the creek formerly suffered damage from livestock-caused erosion, and the banks have been worn down in a number of places.  It is at those places where I planted the trees.

One learns something about a particular piece of land almost everytime the property is visited.  On this occasion, I found where a small spring dribbled into my creek - a fount that I have never noticed before.  Hopefully that spring, and the improvements I've done and will do, will one day result in trout being restored there.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Smallmouth Fishing on the New River (Blog 286)

This past Saturday as part of Britt Stoudenmire and his New River Outdoor Company's annual March "Guides' Tournament" I had the chance to fish with guides Steve Journell and Boo Garber.  The goal is to catch, measure, and release your best five smallmouth bass per boat, and the three of us had a quintet of smallmouths that measured, as I recall, around 92 inches.

March action, or action really just about anytime on the New, can be that good.  Our total was good enough for a tie for first place.  To be truthful, my losing a 21-inch or so smallmouth was the reason my team failed to win, but such is life and such, sometimes, are my fishing skills.

In any event, Britt and his guides are always a pleasure to fish with.  For more information:  The picture below shows Steve playing a trophy smallmouth while Boo readies the net.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Living the Locavore Lifestyle Book Comes Out (Blog 285)

Elaine's and my new book, Living the Locavore Lifestyle, has just come out.  It's about how by hunting and fishing for food, as well as gathering wild berries, mushrooms, and nuts, planting a garden, raising chickens and fruit trees, and buying locally grown produce and meats, people can lead a more sustainable and healthy lifestyle.

For the book, Elaine wrote most of the recipes while I interviewed folks from the Quality Deer Management Association, National Wild Turkey Federation, and guides and fishermen like Britt Stoudenmire, Herschel Finch, and Richard Furman, well-
known outdoors people such as Jim and Sherry Crumley, as well as expert small game hunters such as Jay Honse and Jerry Paitsel.

If folks are interested in signed, dedicated copies, they can send a check for $17.50 to us at 1009 Brunswick Forge Road, Troutville, VA 24175.  That amount covers taxes and shipping.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Rhode Island Red Chicks Arrive (Post 284)

Wednesday our heritage Rhode Island Red chicks arrived from Dick Horstman, a well-known breeder of birds from Pennsylvania.  We also ordered chicks for two friends, Bryce Clingenpeel and Zach Kyle who will be raising heritage birds for the first time.

The plan is for us to periodically exchange hens so as to inject new genes into the mix.  It is always exciting to greet two-day-old chicks, but this is especially true when the birds are heritage ones.

Elaine has done a superlative job helping our young charges feel at home, assiduously setting up their brooder and making sure that clean water and food are always present.  Many times every day we go downstairs to the brooder and talk to our birds so that they can become accustomed to us.

All in all, it has been a good week on the chicken front.  Our three heritage Rhode Island Red pullets, that arrived from Horstman last year, had a fantastic week of egg production - their best yet by far.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tomorrow is Virginia's Last Day of Squirrel Season (Blog 283)

Monday when I arrive home from school, I am going out my backdoor and hunt for squirrels as it is the final day of the bushytail season.  The ending of the season will be little noticed by many state hunters, but I really enjoy walking through the woods on a winter day and pursuing squirrels.

I really don't care if I kill one or not, it is just being out in the woods with a shotgun that is pleasurable to me.  A hollow sycamore is where I plan to take a stand as the creatures should be emerging from the hardwood about 5:00.  Then the action should be really good until dark.

But, then again, I may not see any, as it won't be the last time that I have guessed wrong about squirrels and their peculiarities.  We'll see how things go and whether Elaine will be making a squirrel casserole this week.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Wildlife Sign in Snow (Block 282)

Just enough snow blanketed our Botetourt County, Virginia land this Saturday morning for me to go on a wildlife sign expedition before higher temperatures melted what was left of the five inches that fell on Monday. I had only walked a few steps into the woods when I found racoon tracks and only a few more steps showed where several deer had passed by.

When I arrived at the seeded logging road that runs the perimeter of most of our place, I found even more tracks.  An entire flock of turkeys had ambled down the pathway as had numerous whitetails.  I also located coyote scat, squirrel tracks, and where an opossum had been.

It's true that nothing usual had come by, but I still immensely enjoyed the experience.  I can only hope the turkeys will still be here when spring gobbler season arrives.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Elaine Returns Home from Her Cruise (Blog 281)

Elaine came home yesterday evening from her week-long cruise to the Virgin Islands, and I was thrilled to see her again.  Given that we couldn't even talk to each other because of the distance, it was the longest we have been apart in our nearly 38 years of marriage.

Elaine regaled me with stories of seeing Broadway shows and eating lobster tail for dinner, and the sheer majesty of her cruise ship.  I told her how many eggs the chickens had laid while she was gone, how the pot holes on our rural road were finally filled, and how I had cut firewood in advance of a snow.

She once told me that as a girl growing up, she always thought that she would marry some professional man, like a lawyer, doctor, or businessman, and live in the suburbs.  "Instead," she said, "I'm living out in the woods with nature boy."  There was a long pause, and she added, "And I'm very glad that I am."

Welcome home, sweetheart.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Grouse Hunting in the Virginia and West Virginia Mountains (Blog 280)

Today, I went grouse hunting in the Virginia and West Virginia mountains with friends Paul Hinlicky and Andy Rosenberger.  My reflexes and wingshooting skills are terrible and anyone who has ever gone bird hunting with me can attest to that condition.

Which is one of the reasons I enjoy going grouse hunting in January and February after the deer and turkey seasons have closed.  We experienced
a number of flushes today and on one of them the ruff flew very close to my position.  Paul and Andy both asked why I didn't shoot, and I explained that the bird was only visible for two seconds, and, for me, the first second and a half was taken up with my being surprised and the the next half second with my fumbling with my shotgun.

Later, I told Paul how I needed for a bird to act when it flushed.

"A grouse would need to rise up and fly directly away from me in a straight line at an even height for about four seconds, then I might have a chance."

Of course, ruffs don't fly like that, but, nevertheless, I had a great time in the mountains today.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Squirrel Hunting on a Saturday afternoon Blog 279)

One of the most pleasurable activities possible on a January or February Saturday afternoon is to walk out our backdoor and squirrel hunt for a few hours on our 38-acre Southwest Virginia land. The snow that fell a week ago was so deep and it has been cold for so long, that I have not been able to hunt bushytails until today.

I had been outside for about 45 minutes without seeing or hearing any gray squirrels, so I decided to make some squirrel barks with my mouth.  A squirrel about 75 yards away answered, so I tried to still hunt toward it through the still, deep snow.

Despite my best efforts, I made too much noise, and the animal spotted me, as did the next squirrel, I tried the barking gambit on.

Meanwhile, my son-in-law David was also afield, and he was able to kill a silvertail.  Tomorrow afternoon, we are going again.  The goal...kill four squirrels between us and have Elaine and Sarah fix us a squirrel casserole.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Happy Birthday, Elaine (Blog 278)

Today is Elaine's birthday, the snow is falling heavily here in Botetourt County, Virginia, and accumulations could be several feet.  Snowed in with my sweetheart is not a bad thing to contemplate.

When Elaine woke up, I had a series of Youtube birthday songs cued for her, leading off with "Happy, Happy Birthday Baby," followed by "Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen," and others.

Yesterday our grandson Sam and I made the birthday dessert (wineberry cobbler) for today, and this morning Elaine and I put the makings for her birthday lunch (venison roast) in our cast iron pot to simmer throughout the morning hours.  The recipe comes courtesy of friend Doak Harbison.

This evening, we'll have homemade strawberry jam on bread and perhaps some lunch leftovers, then play Scrabble for the evening entertainment.  All in all, not a bad day.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Wintertime Turkey Hunting or Snowed in? (Blog 277)

This coming Saturday, I am supposed to take two friends turkey hunting.  One of the friends has never gone afield for turkeys, so I am very much looking forward to taking him. Virginia's two-week winter turkey season in January is a great time to introduce people to the wonders of turkey hunting.

But the forecast for Friday is for five inches or more of snow, so I spent part of my time today bringing firewood from our outdoor woodpile to our garage where we store wood.

 I have to confess I will be quite content if there is snow or not.  If the snowfall does not happen, I will have a great time trying to find and call in birds for my friends.  If I am snowed in for the weekend, I will start the wood stove on Friday and be content to sit by the fire, work on stories, and play Scrabble with Elaine.  I think she is planning to bake a blackberry pie for the weekend and prepare some kind of wild turkey dish.  It's a win-win situation for me.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

First Saturday after Deer Season (Blog 276)

The first Saturday after Virginia's deer season, Elaine and I fall into a comfortable groove, which is one of the reasons I enjoy the winter season so much.  I spend Saturdays behind the house either cutting wood, doing wildlife habitat improvement projects, or squirrel hunting.

Then on Saturday evenings, we have a locavore themed dinner, play Scrabble, and listen to Prairie Home Companion. Elaine almost always cooks dinner, but as a way of saying thank you for her being so understandable about all my deer and turkey hunting, I was the cook last night.

My two major efforts were baked venison burgers with sharp cheddar cheese and wineberry cobbler, the former from a deer I had killed on our land, the latter from berries picked during our rambles.  We then had a rousing game of Scrabble (our Scrabble tournament is over 25 years old and we have had 64 best of 11 matches) and listened to the radio.  All in all, it was a wonderful evening with my wife.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Downton Abbey Comes to Botetourt County, Virginia (Blog 275)

It is the launch weekend for the final season of Downton Abbey, and as part of the preshow hoopla, I was given an afternoon of royal English treatment.  Bruce had told me to vacate to the upstairs around 3:00.  Shortly afterwards, I heard the clomp, clomp, clomp of footsteps in the hall, and there, making an appearance, were two black-clad footmen presenting tea and a muffin.  The taller of the two was Bruce, and the mystery of the clomping became clear when I looked down and saw his leather wingtips, worn at our wedding 37 1/2 years ago and sporting almost that large a layer of dust. 

The shorter footman was our grandson Sam, carefully carrying the muffin plate. 
I dressed for dinner in all my jewels, some of which Sam had to alternately wear or place on the  toy train track for crashes and other excitement.  After an appropriate time of puzzle play and trains, dinner was served informally in the kitchen with all household members eating together.  The dowager would be shocked, but after all, times are changing.