Thursday, March 22, 2018

Remembering your Adventure

One of the great things about life in the outdoors is the opportunity to relive those moments through tales and photographs. Hunters and anglers love sitting around the campfire telling stories of past moments when everything seemed right or when everything went wrong. We often follow this up with sharing photographs of our successes.

Some people call these photographs "hero-shots". I personally frown on this title because it feels like it diminishes the animal and the event. Others refer to these photographs as "Grip-and-grin" pictures. Which is closer to the event, but still not what it should be. I guess, I just prefer to call them pictures. Seeing no need to title them. But if I have to due to necessity, I opt for the latter over the former.

Having said that, I would offer some tips on taking great pictures of your moment, your trophy and your adventure that will be a pic you are proud to show. At the end of the post, I share ten pictures that demonstrate some of the tips I share.

First let me qualify that there are many photographers that are far better than I am at taking these shots. But I do publish over 400 pictures annually for different outlets, so I have learned a thing of two about taking pictures. Most of these tips can be done by anyone with a simple telephone camera.

1.  pay attention to where the sun is in relation to your subject the fish or animal. You want the best light on the animal. Never shoot a picture directly into the sun. A cross light or directly over your head is best.

2. The focus of the picture and the focus of your camera needs to be on the animal not the person. This can be done a lot of ways depending on the camera being used. Keeping the focus on the animal helps to make the animal shine.

3. Pay close attention to the background. Try and keep it as "real" as possible. Take the pictures in the field, woods or on the water. If it is a hunting picture, take the pictures where you recover your animal. The location is just as special as the animal. Avoid taking pictures in the back of trucks, on ATV's, or hanging up with blood dripping.

4. Change angles. This can be the most critical of all. Fish pictures should be taken with the fish facing both directions. Support the fish under his middle with the head to the left, and again with the head to the right. A good picture is also, from below looking up at the angler.
Take half of your pictures in landscape and half portrait.

Hunting pictures are the same. Avoid shooting pictures looking down at the animal and hunter. Get eye level with them. Squat on the ground, or lay down and take the picture looking directly at the hunter and animal. Get angles from the front, back and side. A good picture is one of the hunter approaching the deer or turkey.

Eye level angle is good for this pic. Shadow on hunters face is
not, try and keep shadows out of these pics. 
6. Turkey Picture tips: Get down on the level of the hunter and bird. Downward shots are not as appealing. Have hunter open tail fan and spread wings. Get shots of open fan with closed wings and then open wings. Make sure beard is visible. Get shots of hunter holding bird over their shoulder. From beside and below. Another good shot is one of the hunter walking away from camera down a logging road. Avoid any pics of hunter and bird with trucks, air conditioner units, houses etc in the background. Close up shots of the bird alone are good shots. Pics of the bird with the calls used to bring him in are good shots. Keep your focus on the turkey not the hunter. Make sure the hunter smiles!

7. Deer (and other big game) shots: Get pics of the animal alone where he lay. As you walk up to it, get pics so you can remember your recovery. Position the animal so it highlights the key characteristics of the animal. A clear background is best. Antlers get lost in the trees and foliage. Position so the antlers are against a clear sky. Sit behind the deer for size comparison. To make the deer look bigger sit two - three feet behind the deer. Exaggerate this too much and it diminishes the effect. Big antlers do not need a lot of enhancements, but they do need to be focused. Keep the focus of your camera on the deer not the hunter. Wipe excessive blood and keep his tongue in his mouth.

8. Fish Pictures: Fish can be the most challenging because most of the time we want to release them in a timely manner. Getting the pics fast and without harming the fish is essential. Some good pics of fish include, laying along the side of the boat and get the angler pulling the fish out of the water, and again when releasing the fish. Holding the fish by its bottom lip (If possible) with arm extended towards the photographer. Focus the camera on the fish, let the angler be blurry in the background. Keep a clear sky behind the angler. Do not take winter pics against an evergreen tree background.
Hold fish horizontal with head facing both directions. Take some with his head facing left, and some facing right.
Keep the sun at your back or at the worst to one side. Be cautious of too much shade on the anglers face. The focus is on the fish, but the angler needs to be recognizable and without shading.
Have angler remove head buff if he/she is wearing one. Keep the fish wet for any pictures. Their scales and coloration are always better when wet. Try and get at least one pic showing the background, location etc. And one with the rod and reel used to catch the fish. Make sure the angler is smiling!

9. Do not forget to take pictures of the adventure itself.  One of my most favorable trips was a fly-in fishing trip in northern Canada. The pics I look at most and share the most are not of the dozens of trophy fish we caught, but of the cabin, the landscape and the terrain where we stayed. Also, pics of loons, beavers and other animals we saw while there.
The same is true of my adventure hunts. I always take hundreds of pictures of the tents, cabins, ATV's, landscape and locations where I hunt. This is as much a part of the trip as the hunt or catch.

10. Take pictures of your companions. Remember the trip for who was with you. Your son, daughter or hunting/fishing buddy. Thirty years later when you relive that moment, you want to remember all of the details and these pictures will help.

I would add this one tip. If using a DSLR, or Point and shoot camera. Get a tripod. The options a tripod gives you is so superior to what you can do without it. Being able to set the camera rock still helps to make good high quality pictures. Secondly, if in doubt, use your flash. It is never wasted. I sue it 90% of the time, even on bluebird days. Flash enables you to erase shadows, it helps highlight details of fish and mammals. And is especially great with the plumage of birds.

Capturing the moment is easier today than it has ever been. Digital photography makes every picture free. And with the quality of cameras on our phones, there is not a huge investment in equipment. Take the time, to take good quality pictures.

Focus on the turkey fan not the hunter.
Low angle really enhances the picture. 

Don't forget the small game. This pic is more about the
old hammergun than the squirrel, but it captures both.

Get pictures of the animal without the hunter.
A good shot of a buck on an old logging road. 

Pose your buck for a quality pic. This is a self portrait
taken with a camera on a tripod using a delay shutter.

Waterfowl have some awesome coloration.
Capturing it afield is essential. This pic shows
a decoy in the background to enhance the
authenticity of the picture. 

Landscape pictures help to remember where you were
and what you endured while on your hunt. This
pic of the plains of Montana remind me just how
big the country is in this part of the world.

Action shots are great photos as well. Here is another self-portrait
fly-fishing in an autumn stream. Using a remote controlled
shutter. I could set the delay from the stream. 

A fish coming out of the water dripping shows
the beauty of the fish, and action at once. 
Typical bass picture. Holding the fish by its
lower lip arm extended and smiling
angler. Focus on the fish, not the angler.
Clear blue sky help to enhance the picture.

Angler with a big fish is captured from
the low angle. A large fish is difficult
to hold, this helps to see the size of the
fish as compared to the angler. 

Pictures of your tent/camp also help to remember
the trip and enjoyment. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Greatest Threat to the Sporting Lifestyle

For weeks I have struggled with this topic in my head. I have pondered it, and really fought with emotion of the whole idea of the story. The the school shooting in Florida compounded the issue. Let me pause here and say clearly, my prayers go out to all of those families involved in this senseless act of violence. I do not know how you handle this grief without the full love and grace of God being with you.

As I have struggled with the idea of "what is the greatest threat to the sporting lifestyle'? One word keeps coming to mind. That word is, Apathy. I sense there is a lot of apathy in the outdoor world. Apathy defined, is an "absence of passion, emotion or excitement." Another definition I found says Apathy is a  "lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern".

Mention this to certain sportsmen and women and they will argue aggressively they are passionate about their particular sport or activity. Bow hunters are passionate about bow hunting. Bass fishermen are passionate about bass fishing. There is little argument here, but when it comes to a bow hunter standing with and defending a bass fishermen, apathy emerges. When the opportunity arises for an upland hunter to defend the right of a big game hunter to pursue his passion, there is a real lack of enthusiasm or concern. If a fly angler is conversing with a traditional tackle angler, it becomes elusive. We are apathetic to the activities of others, preferring instead to protect our little nest, our activities at, often times the peril of other outdoor activities. We see it all the time that one segment of the outdoors rally's and lobbies to have their activity protected at the expense of others. Hikers want hunters banned from wilderness areas, and vice versa. Environmentalist want streams barred from angling. Forest service personnel close gates arbitrarily to prevent access to our public land.

Whether we are discussing stream preservation in the Catskills, or CRP land along the great prairie's, sportsmen and women should stick together and stand in one unified voice. Divided we will never be able to protect what we love. Just because it may not be your "thing" does not mean it is not a valuable activity and one that enhances the opportunities afield.

Sure there are differences between styles of outdoor pursuits. There are differences in methods, approaches and there are differences in levels of passion. A traditional bow hunter does not understand why someone would want to use a crossbow to hunt with, and they tend to ridicule their choice in using the crossbow. A fly angler scoffs at someone using spinning tackle for trout instead of a #22 caddis. None of us are immune to this trap. It is happening right now in the world we live in. As one seasoned outdoorsman once said, "I am glad I don't have to understand it to still support it." Certainly I agree. Personally, I find bass fishing one of the least exciting types of fishing. But I support others rights and excitement in doing it. I may choose to chase salt water species, and they chase bass. We all win, if we support one another's activities.

After the terrible shooting in the school in Florida, Dick's Sporting Goods announced wholesale changes to their policy of selling guns legally to anyone under the age of 21. The removed certain styles of guns from their shelves because of how they "look". And next week the Bassmaster Classic "Presented by Dick's Sporting Goods" will take place near my home town. A classic example of Apathy by the leaders of BASS are allowing this to occur.

If there were unity by sportsmen and women, BASS would have immediately severed ties with Dick's Sporting Goods and refused to allow them to advertise, promote or otherwise support their biggest event of the year.

As an outdoor writer, I am saddened by the lack of support one side of the industry offers to the other. Fishing and hunting are intertwined as much as jasmine in the trees and yet there is no communication between the groups. There is no support from one group to another, there is nothing.

I realize I am hoping and wishing for something that will probably never happen. However, if we can start with groups within a segment of the sports. If the NWTF and QDMA, or Trout Unlimited and BASS could coordinate then there could possibly be an opportunity for all of us to unite and be heard and make effective change. Perhaps hunters could help with stream restoration, and anglers could assist with habitat improvements. Or better yet, we throw apathy aside and develop a real passion for all things outdoors. We control most of the threats to our lifestyle. If we begin ourselves setting aside feelings for the greater good, everyone wins.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Truth about Assault Rifles

In the wake of the most recent school shooting, there has been a big discussion on "Assault Rifles".

As a hunter and defender of the 2nd Amendment. I support the constitutional right of the people to keep and bear arms. I also am appalled at the ignorance of the media and their attempt to isolate specific deaths as worse than others. I feel that the liberal media's agenda to disarm American's is blatant and ill advised.

First is the use of the term "Assault Rifle". The use of this term is inaccurate and misleading. By definition an "Assault rifle" is a FULLY automatic rifle (Also known as a machine gun) and these have been severely restricted by the federal government since 1934.

AR -15 rifles are NOT assault rifles or Automatic Rifles as the media would have you believe. AR-15's are some of the most popular rifles being sold today. The AR-15 platform is a design platform that was created in the 1950's by ArmaLite. The term "AR-15" stands for; "ArmaLite Rifle" after the company that designed the rifle . The "15" is the fifteenth design of this specific chambering. To be more specific, the AR-15 is a platform for a semi-automatic rifle chambered in .223/5.56 which other manufacturers are copying.

For clarity, a Fully automatic rifle works by pulling the trigger once, the action is driven by the recoil of the previous bullet and the action continues to fire as long as the trigger is held. The trigger need only be pulled once for the gun to have continuous fire until the gun is empty.  As stated above, these are severely restricted for civilians to own since 1934.

A semi-automatic gun only fires each time the trigger is pulled. In other words, for a semi-automatic rifle to fire, the trigger must be pulled each time.
 AR-15 rifles are semi-automatic rifles. The trigger must be pulled every time a round is fired. Holding the trigger does not fire the a new round. The trigger must be released and pulled again. It will fire as fast as you can pull the trigger until the gun is empty. 

It continues to puzzle me that so many people are on a bandwagon of banning a specific platform of gun because they kill people. When we all know that guns do not kill people, people kill people. The gun is just the mode.

We did not get to this place in America where people walk into schools with guns shooting over night. We got here by a slow eroding of values and morals. This erosion began thirty plus years ago. And we will not recover from this overnight. It will take a generation of people who are tired of the disregard of human life and the devaluation of one another to decide to bring an end to the violence.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

New Book Release

So You Want to Hunt Turkeys

My new book describing the excitement of hunting turkeys will be available for purchase in April.

The book is currently going through final layout and should be ready for my final review in a few weeks. Publication will take place in early March with a release date of April 1, 2018.

This book is the culmination and combination of many factors. First it is a collection of stories I have written over the years about the pursuit of turkeys and how to kill them. It collects the majesty of the bird, and the frustration he causes as we mere mortals attempt to lure him into range of a shotgun or bow.

The book does have a few 'how-to' chapters, but the majority is more about the 'why' we hunt turkeys. This hardback Limited edition will be available for sale through this website, and at retailers. Currently I have a few book signings scheduled and will announce their dates and times when it is finalized.

The dust jacket cover of the book will feature an Osceola turkey I photographed while hunting with Osceola Outfitters in St. Cloud Florida. Special thanks to Hoppy Kempfer for allowing me the opportunity to photograph such beautiful birds.

I want to thank my wife, without whose support and encouragement this and many other projects would remain hidden on my computer. I also want to thank my editor, Lisa Greenway for her diligence and steadfastness. She is a God send and I am thankful to have her assisting me on this project.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Best Custom Grip for AR Rifles

Every once in a while, one runs across a product that is, well very well done. At this years SHOT show, I wandered into a booth by Unique-ARs. Personally, I have never heard of this company before this year at SHOT, but as I wandered into their booth, their beautiful hand guards caught my eye.

Grip before customized
Unique-ARs makes custom hand guards for AR shooters. You design it, they make it and send it to you. While this is a great product, this is not what caught my attention. Rather it is their new Unique-Grip. Introduced at this year's SHOT show Industry Day on the Range. The Unique-Grip is a simple design that completely customizes to each individuals hand.

Grip after Customized 
By removing the bolt in the pistol grip of your AR rifle, one simply slides the new Unique-Grip over the frame, and secure the screw that is provided. (CAUTION - be careful when removing the old grip that you do not lose the safety spring) reinstall the new Unique-Grip. Just before securing the provided bolt completely. Grab the grip with your shooting hand and squeeze. While holding the grip firmly, tighten the bolt completely. Now the grip is customized to fit your hand. It is that simple. If you don't like it, just loosen the bolt and try again.

There are many "custom" grips out there, but none are as simple to use or as adjustable as the one by Unique-ARs. For only $65 dollars you can have a great comfortable and custom grip for your AR platform gun.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Pushing into 2018 with Excitement

Each new year opens with a lot of optimism, a little trepidation and a lot of excitement. This year for me is no different. 2017 was my best yet as an outdoor writer. I published more stories, in more outlets than ever before. 2018 is looking better than 2017 did from the onset. I am very optimistic that more doors will open and better work will come from it.

If there is one thing I have leaned in this outdoor writing lifestyle I embarked on almost 20 years ago is that the work never stops. Doors still need to be knocked on, introductions need to be made and hands need shaking. The outdoor writing arena is a tight knit group with competition from some of the greatest scribes to ever string together words are plying their trade. My attempt to join those ranks is meek at best. I never expected to be considered among them, only to partake. To find some niche that my words can nestle into and find a home. I am thankful some of these words have indeed found a home. I am humbled each time someone takes a few minutes to sit and read something I wrote. I hope it in someway entertains, inspires and comforts. I pray some of my words motivates some, comforts others and places a smile on your face as you read.

2018 will be a time for me to get off my literary butt and to finish some projects I began far too long ago. I plan to publish 10-12 stories a month for different outlets. And to finally get some of my E-books out there. I have fifteen started and none finished. I would like to get at least five completed this year. In addition I hope to finish a novel I began in 2017 and get a great start on a big project I am doing in collaboration with some dear friends in the outdoor industry with the hopes to getting it into your hands by the beginning of 2019!

I also have a list of 30 new videos I need to do for my YouTube channel and I am considering starting a Podcast in 2018. There is so much to do...

God has been so good, and with each obstacle I see his hand at work. I will push forward and continue to seek his guidance and know that each day is a gift. As I tell my children, "There are no bad days, only good days or great days. You decide what today will be. Choose wisely."

2018 will be a Great year. I hope yours will be also. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Christmas Eve Angel

This past Christmas eve my wife and I headed out to get one last gift and stop by the grocery store. The last minute gift wasn't due to lack of planning. My middle daughter has been asking for a fish. For months she has bombarded us with the need for a fish.  We decided to surprise her for Christmas and I didn't want to kill the thing before Christmas, so I waited until Christmas eve to buy the fish.

After we got the fish and accessories, we drove to the grocery store. While pulling into the grocery store we saw a young man who was obviously down on his luck. As he walked across the parking lot, I noticed his shoes. The tongue on one was flopping, and as he walked past, I said to my wife, Susan, "his shoes don't have any soles." and we drove by.

I dropped Susan off at the door, and as I did, my heart was breaking for this young man who was walking around with no soles on his shoes. I circled the parking lot looking for him. As I neared the end of the lot, he was crossing the street - I was too late.

I circled back to wait for my Susan. It was during this time, that the picture of this young man pierced my heart. I could not get his image out of my mind. Living in an urban area, we see a lot of destitute people. Begging for money or food on a daily basis. Most of them, seldom catch my eye. For some reason this young man did not only catch my eye, but he caught my heart. I prayed for guidance.

Susan emerged from the store and I drove to pick her up. As she got into the truck I said to her, "bear with me, I need to do something."
"OK" she said. "What are you going to do?"
"I have to see if I can find that man we saw with the bare shoes." I replied.
"OK, What are you going to do when you find him?"
"I have shoes, I am going to give him my shoes if they will fit." I said.

So we drove in the direction I last saw him. As we neared a stop light I saw him walking on the opposite sidewalk. Driving past I pulled into a church parking lot in front of him, parked and got out of the truck.

"Hello," I said as I approached.
He looked directly at me, but never spoke or slowed down. It is not uncommon for people in his situation to be skeptical of everyone who approaches.
"Looks like you have had a hard time lately." I said walking towards him.
He stopped and I asked him a question. "I wonder if you would do me a favor?"
His skepticism increased, and he just looked at me puzzled and alert. I guess he seldom gets asked for favors.
"Will you swap shoes with me?" I asked.
He looked at me - questioning.
"What size shoes do you wear?" I asked.
"Perfect, they will fit me." I said as I slid mine off of my socked feet.
"What is your name?" he asked.
"Pete, what is yours?" I replied.
"Derek." he said as we shook hands.
Derek then kicked off his shoes and revealed dirty bare feet inside the worn shoes. As he slid his feet into my shoes, I asked again, "Can I have these shoes?"
"There is no sole left on them." He said.
"Perfect! Already broken in." I said smiling at him.
I gave him some cash, shook his hand again and wished him a Merry Christmas and we left.

Derek has been on my mind and heart ever since. I am not sure why this one young man caught my attention. I am not sure what made me do what I did. But as I think about it, I want to be clear that I tell you this story for one reason.

I do not tell this story to bring attention to myself, but to bring attention to the fact that the world is full of "Derek's". It saddens me how many I choose to "not see". It pains me to think of how many other young men and women are out there with no soles on their shoes, no home or family, no hope. It breaks my heart to think of them. And it reminds me how blessed I am.

I know that many of us are simply products of decisions we make. But I also know that so many people are just one paycheck away from Derek.

As I sat in the truck praying I was reminded of a verse in  Mark 9:41 where Jesus tells us "anyone who gives a cup of water in my name will not lose their reward."

I knew I needed to offer a "cup of water" to Derek.

I also believe that Derek has helped me far more than I helped him. Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it."

Is Derek an angel? I don't know, but I do know that he has blessed me, this brief encounter has changed me in a profound way. His shoes are in my office resting on my hearth where I can see then everyday and be reminded that there are many "Derek's" out there that need assistance. And that I need to be more aware of their plight.

God's speed Derek.