Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Word of Thanks to the Sporting Writer

For almost twenty years now, I have spent an inordinate amount of time plugging away at a keyboard trying to describing the sporting life. In this time, I have had to learn a great deal about the industry, and about writing. Much of which I am still learning. 

As someone who entered the world of outdoor writing very late in life - my early 40's. I have had to learn a lot about how the outdoor industry works. I still have a lot to learn. It is ever evolving and changing and in some areas, not a good direction. 

But through this journey, that I began with my first article that was published in the Ruffed Grouse Society journal. I have grown from one or two stories a year, to ten stories a year, to now over 120 annually and having published over a thousand stories in all. Including two books on the outdoors. 

Through this process, I continue to look up to and admire some sporting writers that I read my whole life and who shaped me as an outdoorsman and as a writer. 

Most of these names I will never be worthy to sharpen their pencil when it comes to their quality of work. I can only strive to capture the dust of their mistakes to make my writing shine. Still, it is with high regard that I recognize some of the writers, some of whom are no longer with us, and others who are still plying their trade. 

Great writers like, Gene Hill, Robert Ruork, Havilah Babcock, Nash Buckingham, Archibald Rutledge, and Jack O'Connor. 

But perhaps the ones I admire most are the ones I am honored now to call colleagues. Gentlemen of the sport, and masters of the craft of writing and writing well. Gentlemen whose stories captivate, inspire and move me to be a better sportsman and a better writer. Gentlemen who are not just great writers, but who are great woodsmen and outdoorsmen. Who motivate me with encouragement and who push me with much deserved observations of how I can improve. 

It is to these gentlemen that I owe a great deal of gratitude. I write this to say thank you to these gentlemen of sporting literature. If you have not read their works, you are missing some of the finest words ever to describe the outdoor lifestyle. 

Specifically, I want to say thank you to; Jim Casada, Terry Madewell and Pat Robertson. Certainly some of the finest gentlemen, outdoorsmen and writers of the past fifty years. I am honored to call them colleagues and friends. I always look forward to the time we spend together. Whether we are swapping stories, sharing some pats on the back, followed by good-natured ribbing or enjoying an after dinner libation. I am grateful and humbled for the wing they extended to me a decade ago. 

Outdoor writing is changing, we are seeing some of the greats retire, or pass on. There is a need for spirited younger people to share their experiences and their passion with good prose. As long as people read, there will be a need for good writing that captivates, inspires and promotes the outdoor lifestyle. 

Thankfully we still have some of the legends among us who can show us the way and encourage those of us who try to carry the torch into generations to come. 

Writing about the outdoors is an honorable profession, one that encourages, and motivates the soul of the individual into action. It stirs and fuels passion and leads generations into a sense of peace and wonder. 

So, I say "Thank You". To these gentlemen who have shown grace, and who have set the bar for us to aspire to achieve. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Hunting Club or Public Land?

Recently I have had a lot of conversations with people who are looking for clubs to join for deer and turkey hunting. (I am sure they will hunt other things also, but this is the primary focus). In these conversations, a lot of things have been discussed. We have discussed, the pro's and con's of hunting clubs along with the pro's and con's of hunting public land. It has been interesting to hear all of the different perspectives. In listening to these, it seems a common thread is emerging. People want a place of their own to hunt. A place no one else will mess with, a place they can scout, set up a stand, bait, plant etc and no one else will mess with it.

Having their own little slice of undisturbed land is the main reason people tell me they join clubs. This desire is getting people to pay large sums of money for that opportunity. Even with tens of thousands of acres of public land available, people are paying big bucks to join hunting clubs.

The dichotomy for me is this; I can use the public land that my license dollars are paying for and have access to tens of thousands of acres - albeit public land. Or I can pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars more for a very small piece of land that is shared - with less people, but still shared.

In querying different clubs and discussing their  bylaws rules and regulations the common thread is that all members of the club have access to all of the property. Meaning that if your club has X number of acres, by paying your dues, you have access to X number of acres - along with every other member. Making it more like semi-public land.

There is still the limitation on your little piece of heaven. When I asked about private stands or private areas, three of the clubs I had some rules for each member can designate ONE stand to be private. No other stand can be within 200 yards of that stand and no one can hunt that stand without your consent. (the details varied, but this is close to what other were). One club that allows baiting, allowed members to bait a stand and no one else could hunt it, but there were no restrictions on how close other stands could be. This seems like a fight waiting to happen.

Some clubs put limits on what you can shoot. Others are a free for all. Some have antler restrictions, age restrictions and and daily and season limits, others are "if its brown its down." Some allow your fees to include turkey season, others sub lease to rabbit hunters, hog hunters, duck hunters and turkey hunters. Some clubs do not allow any small game hunting at all, even after deer season. Others allow hunting of anything that is in season. All clubs asked that have any type of restrictions have strict punishment and fines for members that break these rules. Almost all clubs have a "NO GUEST" policy. In other words, you have to pay to play.

Rates varied widely based on location. Here in my home state of South Carolina, rates are based on a per acre fee scale. Some -albeit poor land goes for $5/acre while prime land will rent for as much as $30/acre. The average being around $15-$18/acre. Regardless of the size of the parcel. Clubs with as little as 200 acres are paying an average of $15/acre and clubs with 2500 acres are paying the same amount on average. Most clubs use the yearly dues to cover land rental and insurance only. Costs for food plots, bait, mowing, road maintenance, stands, clubhouse expenses, etc, are gathered on an as needed, or in a yearly assessment. For many these fees can add up to as much as or more than the yearly dues.

The average dues paid my the clubs I questioned was $1,250 annually. This did not include their portion for extra expenses, or stands they are required to purchase and install.

As you can see, there is a wide array of opportunities. There seems to be a style of club for most everyone. If you are willing to pay, and drive - and put up with the rules, you can find a club that will let you watch deer grow and hope you can kill one one day.

But one thing I have learned about the few clubs I have been in, you will not get along with everyone, and not everyone hunts the same way you do. There will be moments when you have been waiting to hunt a particular stand all season for the right wind, and you get there and there are candy wrappers, and cigarette butts on the stand. You will have members who are retired and will hunt four or five days a week, and others who work and only hunt Saturday's. You will find some clubs that only allow stand hunting, and others that allow stand, stalking and dog running. Some allow you to hunt all season, others allow only certain days of the week and never on Sunday. Some will limit your weapon, and others don't care - as long at it is a rifle and at least a .30 caliber. I have seen some clubs that have so many rules, it is hard to know if you are in compliance or not. And a few that only want you to close the gate when you go through it.

Personally, I do not see any difference in hunting in a club and public land. Both have rules we hate, both have property that is shared and will have a few misguided participants. Both will have some who will not follow the rules. But by choosing public land, I can save a ton of money.

It has been several years since I last paid to be a member of a hunting club. It cost me $800 dollars, I had to put up two stands and I could have one private spot. We had somewhere around 1000 acres. I do not remember the number of members, but it seems it was around 10-12. I was in this club for two years and never pulled the trigger on a deer. Why? Because I could only kill deer of a certain size. I saw deer, but never one that qualified. Then it dawned on me. I can pay $800 dollars and not kill a deer. Or I can not pay $800 and not kill a deer. I chose to save my money and go hunt public land.

Since then I have been able to acquire my own land and now I hunt there. With only a select few friends and my children. It's not a lot of land, but we enjoy it and have a good time hunting what ever we want when we want.

I still hunt some public land, because it is closer than the land I own. I seldom see any hunters in the woods. In fact, one piece of public land I have hunted for almost a decade, I have never seen another hunter while I was there, during deer season, or small game. I have almost 1,700 acres to myself - all public land. It seems so many people avoid public land that more and more of the public land is available to hunt undisturbed.

Public land or hunting club? It seems to me a hunting club is like a labor union. It had its place, but the longer it goes on the less effective it is. You get to pay dues so you can be restricted in what you can do, where you can hunt and what you can kill. You are paying for a small piece of land that you get to share with a few other people. All under the disguise of benefiting the membership.

For my money here in South Carolina,  stick to to public land, it is cheaper, and the hunting is just as good. If you want to spend thousands of dollars at a chance of killing a big deer - save your club money and go hunt Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or a host of any others and hunt their public land. The hunting is easier, the deer are plentiful much bigger than any deer you will find here.

If its camaraderie you're after, by all means, join that club and have a great time sharing your hunting with your friends and family.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Controlling your Nuisance Plants

In the midlands of South Carolina where I do the majority of my hunting, there is a species of tree that is, I believe one of the most prolific plants ever devised by the creator. It invades every nook and cranny of your property. It creeps in silently, and before you know what happened your entire land is enveloped in this species that has little to no value at all to wildlife, or to your management plan.

Liquidambar styraciflua, American Sweetgum, also known as; American storax, hazel pine, bilsted, redgum, satin-walnut, star-leaved gum, alligatorwood, or just sweetgum.

This tree is so prolific that it seems to take over any open area within days. It is one of the most valued trees in the lumber industry due to its tight grain and coloring. It is used for a variety of purposes including plywood and veneers. It is also a valuable product in pulp for paper.

The seeds of the sweetgum can lay dormant for decades. Waiting for just the right conditions to emerge and spread like the a biblical plague across the landscape consuming everything in its path.

 For hunters trying to manage a mixed landscape of forest, open spaces, natural vegetation areas and food plots, the sweetgum is anathema.  The prolific ability to spread and to grow at alarming rates makes the sweetgum one of the most expensive and labor intensive trees to control.

Sweetgum trees are colony trees. Meaning that the root system runs along the surface of the ground and at suitable locations will sprout additional trunks/trees. One seed can produce dozens of trees. If you make the mistake of cutting down one of the trees, the stump will sprout into a bush throwing out dozens of sprouts that will quickly take over.

In an effort to control the sweetgum plague I have occurring on my property I have resorted to heavy chemicals and expensive spraying. One method is to hire a commercial spraying operator. Licensed by the state to disperse chemicals to kill the sweetgum. For larger areas this seems to be the most economical method of controlling the spread. Cost varies, but my last expense was around $120/acre for spraying. The sprayer recommended a concoction of chemicals to spray that would kill the sweetgums, along with other undesirable vegetation. The sprayer used big machinery to disperse the chemical bath across the landscape and within two weeks the trees were all dead. The joy I felt seeing all of those dead sweetgums was indescribable.

For smaller applications, I have learned there are two methods of controlling the nuisance tree. One is a tank sprayer on my ATV and the other is a backpack sprayer. The ATV works well along easily traveled corridors. Using the ATV sprayer I have developed a boom spray applicator and a wand applicator. Both have their distinct advantages. The boom covers a lot of area when trying to control not only sweetgum but also thistle, blackberry briers and other undesirable vegetation. While the wand is for more spot spraying.

The backpack sprayer is a four gallon sprayer that allows you to cover rough terrain and spot spray the areas you want sprayed. The use of the backpack sprayer is very labor intensive but it can get to locations other machines would not be able to go. Especially steep terrain, and rough terrain such as right after a clear-cut when only large equipment can get in there.

Check with your local extension service for approved chemicals that will kill the sweetgum and other vegetation that you do not want while protecting the ones you do want. Also consider including in the mixture some kind of preemergant  to prevent any dormant seeds from germinating.

For larger trees, ones that are standing and you want removed. The "hack and squirt" method is best used. This method involves using a hatchet or machete and a strong chemical such as Arsenol, Garlon 4, crossbow and others that are designed for heavy woody vegetation. Using the hatchet - hack the tree at waist height, cutting past the inner bark and into the hard wood and using a squirt bottle give one to two squirts into the cut mark. For trees larger than 5-6 inches do this in two places on the same tree. Smaller trees will not need additional marks. This method will kill the tree standing and allow it to fall naturally. The trees will usually be dead within a few weeks and the foliage will drop. The tendency is to over squirt but this is just wasting expensive chemicals. It doesn't take long to cover a large area with this process and in a few weeks your results will show.

Controlling undesirable vegetation is an ongoing process. The eradication cannot occur since seeds are transferred through the wind, animal droppings and other methods. Getting it under control is your first step. After this is done, a regular maintenance program can help you keep your land in the condition you desire.