Wednesday, April 24, 2019

It Really is Possible

Several years ago, I was like a lot of outdoorsmen I know and felt that some of the big adventures I had always dreamed of were out of reach.

Buck killed in Illinois 2018
Being a working class man with a modest job and even more modest writing career, I always felt that hunting big game and upland birds was something relegated for the rich and the well off.

That was until I made the decision years ago to "try" and go on at least one hunting trip or fishing trip every few years. My first real trip was to Pennsylvania to hunt whitetail deer. It was through the now defunct North American Hunting Club. They offered a unique to the time idea of "swap hunts". Where one hunter would offer hunting with him or her at their place in exchange for hunts at their your place. It was  great concept and it led to many awesome adventures.

Three trips to Pennsylvania for archery whitetail. A trip to Alaska for moose, and a trip to Texas for desert mule deer. All of these trips established friendships that opened even more opportunities to travel and hunt on a slim budget.

As an example, the Alaska moose hunt was the biggest and most expensive. But, I was able to save vacation days, and save money and the entire unguided three week moose hunt cost me - $1,400. You read that correctly. A $680 plane ticket and $400 license and the rest was food and misc expenses.

A 10 day trip to Idaho for mule deer a few years later cost all total - $1,100. Granted this is unguided on public land. But it was affordable and memorable.

On both of the hunts mentioned above, I was able to take an animal. I took my moose on the 9th day and the mule deer on the 6th day.

A trip to Texas for desert mule deer resulted in memories and friends made and a great experience. Same is true for elk in Colorado, three trips, no elk. But I have made great friends and learned a lot about hunting the Rockies.

This year, I have planned a pheasant hunt in South Dakota, a fly-in-fishing trip to Canada with Kashabowie Outposts, and if I get drawn for my Antelope tag- an antelope hunt in Wyoming.

I have come to learn that the biggest obstacle to taking big game or upland hunts is intimidation of the process. And it can be intimidating. But it doesn't have to be expensive or impossible. Here are some tips to making the trip of a lifetime come true.

1. Start with your budget. Set a budget and do not go over it. Surprisingly, in most cases your biggest expense is the hunting license and tag. Learn what those costs and then build your budget accordingly.
2. Select an animal and location.   This is especially true if the tags are lottery or over the counter. If you have to apply for a lottery tag, the process is daunting and can be difficult to manuver. We will do a full blog post on that shortly. I would recommend starting in places where over the counter tags are available.
3. Build a team of friends to share it with. It is amazing how sharing the expenses can help offset the burden of paying for a trip. Five of us driving to Colorado (30 hours in the truck!) is a lot less expensive than going alone and it adds to the experience. The fuel bill is split 5 ways, the food bill is split, and the work is shared.
4. Decide if you want to camp or stay in a hotel. This can really add to the expense, but also make it easier or more doable for some folks. I prefer to camp, it gets me closer to the hunting and the overall experience is enhanced by sleeping on a cot in the high country.
5. Plan for success. I have seen several hunters who take the trip and never expect to kill anything and then are overwhelmed when it happens and they don't know what to do to get the animal home. Plan for success. There are several options for success if driving. People haul freezers and generators to keep game fresh. You can have it processed and frozen for the return trip.
If flying, I have mailed my clothes home and checked the cooler with meat as luggage. I have also, done both. Mailed my clothes home and shipped meat home. But being prepared can save you a lot of money and headache.

The 7 day elk hunt in Colorado cost me $1,000. That was $618 for the tag and license and the rest in fuel and food.

It takes a lot of planning for sure, but many of these trips are very affordable and achievable if you plan it. Don't let your dream hunt or fishing trip pass you by because you feel you cannot afford it. Often it more possible than you realize.

Lastly, many years ago an elderly gentleman and I were discussing this topic and he instilled in me the premise - "don't let the fact that no one wants to go with you, stop you from going."
Granted it is cheaper and often more enjoyable if you have someone to share it with. But even when I cannot get someone to go with me, I do not let that stop me. Some of my best trips have been alone. And meeting the people along the way was the highlight of the experience.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Dreams Do Come True

As a young lad growing up in rural South Carolina, my adventures were, how do you say, small. Wandering through the cow pasture to the creek was about the extent of it. But when I got out of sight of our house, I "felt" like I was in the wilderness. My imagination could only take me so far.

Then on day, I grabbed an outdoor magazine from the local country store. I am not sure the title, but I remember reading story after story of men climbing mountains for sheep. Wading streams for steelhead, and flying into remote lakes to catch limitless fish on every cast.

I still have not climbed a mountain for sheep, and at my age, I am not sure I ever will. But I have waded for steelhead in the Lewis river in Washington. And I have flown into remote lakes in Ontario to fish for giant northern pike and trophy walleye.

I remember reading, of paddling boats through glacial lakes as crystal clear as the air itself. Watching as pike the size of your leg tearing towards your large top water lure and nearly ripping the rod from your hands. Of casting curly tail jigs and walleye pushing 30 inches being the norm on almost every cast.

When the day arrived for me to finally travel to northern Ontario to fulfill this dream, the excitement had been building for months. All I had dreamed about and imagined was finally coming to fruition. And the best part is it wasn't nearly as impossible as I had thought.

Like so many other sportsmen and women, we dream of hunts and fishing trips and just assume they are out of our reach. When in fact they are not. With careful planning, some research, most of the hunts and fishing trips we dream of are within reach of all working class people and above. It just takes some planning.

For my dream fly-in-fishing adventure, I chose Kashabowie Outposts from Atikokan, Ontario. Their sea hanger is a mere 2 hours from International Falls, MN a short 1,000 mile drive for me. My first trip to Kashabowie was with some friends we strung together at last minute. But by sharing the expenses, it was very affordable. They tailor trips to your desires and budget. With 10 cabins to choose from, there are several available for most of your group sizes.

When we boarded the Havalon Beaver float plane the reality was setting in. We would be off into the boreal forest of the great north and left there for four days in total isolation. As the plane took off (at a mere 50 mph) we flew for forty minutes into the wilderness. Nothing but lakes and forest below us the entire time. It was surreal. The Pilot did a fly by of our cabin so we could get a look at the lake from above and then turning south, he pointed the nose of the plane into the breeze and with the gentleness of a mother hen and her chicks, he set the plane on the calm water as smooth as a new jar of peanut butter.

Idling to the floating dock, we moored the plane and unloaded our gear. A short instruction on how to use the 2 way radio and he was off.

Standing there on the dock watching as the plane taxied down the lake was a feeling like I've not experienced. As the engine roared and he began his stretch down the lake to take off, I marveled at the ability of the pilot to maneuver this ancient plane into the air. Barely clearing the water, he tipped his wing at me as he went by and soared over the trees. I stood watching and listening until the stillness and silence overcame the surroundings.

For the next four days, we would not see another soul. The amenities at Grew Lake are superior, especially for a cabin so far from anything. 14' Lowe semi-V boats. Each with a 9.9-hp four-stroke Yamaha engine and all the gas we need. There was one boat for every two people. Since this cabin slept 8, there were four boats and engines available for us to use along with a canoe.

Over the next four days we fished about 8 hours a day and caught over 50 fish per person per day. We explored the lake. 6 miles long and about a half mile wide at its widest point. Beaver were everywhere. Loons, bald eagles, gulls, all were abundant.

During the evenings, after a meal of walleye and some extras, we sat around a campfire and listened as the loons cried. There is something unique and special about the cry of the loon in the boreal forest of the north. The echo of her cry carries for what seems like miles. Her cry causes the mind to wander, to be perplexed by the nothingness. All stress is released, all worries of life are faded, if for only a few days as the soul is refreshed.

This summer, I am taking my two sons to Kashabowie Outposts for a father-son week of serenity and fishing. This time at Piche Lake. My eldest son is getting married in September, and my youngest is heading off to college in August. So for four days, it will be just us. Driving for over 1,000 miles to spend some time in the wilderness.

My dream was to fly into adventure and fish pristine waters. Now, it is to pause and capture, if only briefly a few days with my sons before life gets in the way. I know the folks at Kashabowie Outposts will do all they can to make this a trip they will remember forever. I am hopeful, in years to come we will tell stories of this trip, and hopefully, one day find a way to repeat it.

Until then, remember that dreams can come true. In fact, I have come to believe that our dreams are God's way of showing us our true potential. Dream big, chase them and they can come true.