No Such Thing as a “Sure” Thing.

Hunting on an amazing property in Georgia with a longbow on my lap.My southern luck has never been the kind I want.

I’ve always been somewhat of a homebody. I’ve often favored the familiar and embraced a routine. I’ve never had big bowhunting aspirations. Hunting throughout the state or in exotic places overseas has had little appeal to me. While seeing other hunters doing fantastic things in fantastic places has created moments of envy or jealousy, I’ve always viewed the adventure itself with a “wouldn’t it be nice” attitude.

Hunting out-of-state wasn’t a consideration early on. I could hardly navigate a small piece of local public land, let alone piece together an adventure in an unfamiliar area hundreds (or even thousands) of miles from my home.

Meeting my friend, podcast partner, and Georgia native Steve Angell changed all that. He invited me down to hunt with him in 2012 and we’ve been rotating ever since. Visiting Steve is like hunting with an outfitter. He scouts the locations and stays clear of them until I arrive to increase my chances. He makes ground blinds, hangs treestands, and does everything within his power to increase my odds at a hog or whitetail. Yet, despite all of his efforts, nothing has worked out.

My first trip included rain, hours of uneventful staring, and chiggers. My second trip was a hog hunt with frigid temperatures, cramps, and clustered pigs with little desire to move. The third trip, while much better, resulted in an arrow in a sapling and two flustered does I am certain are still sounding their alarm on their respective properties.

The worst of the worst was a special hunt on Cumberland Island — a historic and fairly remote place “spilling over” with deer and wild hogs. At least, that is how it was advertised to me. The island, while very interesting from a historical standpoint, provided the worst hunting experience of my life. It rained constantly, the bugs were terrible (ask me about my dung beetle incident some time), and I didn’t see anything save for the occasional wild horse and an armada of armadillos.

The hunting was so awful, Steve and I had all but given up the third day and decided to hike the four miles across the island and see the Atlantic Ocean. I can assure you this wasn’t nearly as glamorous as described. Our clothes were damp, we were exhausted, and my feet were blistered from heel-to-toe, as the result of an ill-fated decision to break in new boots without bringing spares. By the time we traversed the sandy trail and reached the beach, my feet were screaming.

“I cannot take another step in these damn boots, Steve!” I proclaimed, collapsing against the side of a dune.

“Well take ’em off then!” He laughed. “The beach might feel good on your feet. Do what you’ve gotta do, because we have another four miles back to camp!”

“Thanks for the reminder.” I quipped, stripping off my socks and working my toes into the sand. “At any rate, I’m sure this will all be worth it. I haven’t seen the ocean in several…YEEEOOOOOWWWW!”

My blistered feet exploded with pain. It was as if I’d just stuck them in a box of rusty treble hooks.

“What the hell is that!?” I exclaimed, falling back into the dune. “I feel like I have barbed wire in my feet!”

“Uh oh.” Steve said. “Sand spurs. Shoot. I should have told you about those.”

“Ya think?”

I picked up my foot and found several marble-sized burrs stuck to the bottom. Only, they were nothing like the burrs I was used to. The Michigan burr was little more than an annoyance with its velcro exterior. These were a completely different contraption — sinister and defiant — with long criss-crossing barbs that dug into your flesh with the intention of staying there indefinitely.

“Is there a trick to removing these damn things?” I spat.

“Nope. Afraid not.” Steve laughed. “You just have to give ’em hell and get through it.”

His words stuck with me the remainder of the trip. You know a hunting trip was terrible when the highlight was watching the place you were hunting fade from the deck of the boat leaving it. And I didn’t even mention the fact that my flight was delayed due to the aftermath of an actual hurricane.

I couldn’t wait to get home.

Another rainy experience bowhunting in Georgia.

While not nearly as bad as Cumberland, my most recent trip was equally uneventful. Steve had access to prime hunting property on leases near his home and two hours South. He had abstained from hunting both (for the most part) and was confident they would at least grant me an opportunity based on his scouting, the sign, and lack of human interference. I was ecstatic the moment I got off the plane. I had several days of hard hunting in front of me and intended to make the most of every minute.

And I did. I logged over 40 hours on stand and saw a total of three deer — all at once with no shots. The weather was good, save for a little bit of rain at the beginning and end, the locations were fantastic, and the sits were enjoyable. Everything was in place with the exception of the deer.

Steve was flabbergasted. He was certain I would have an opportunity with all of the preparation he had put in. He was still droning on about it on the way to the airport.

“I’m sorry Nick.” I did all I could, Brother. There was sign everywhere, the acorns were dropping, the wind was fine for the most part. I don’t get it.”

“Well, that’s hunting I guess. These are still wild animals we are talking about.”

“Yeah, I know, but I’m still irritated. I hate to see you go home empty-handed again.”

“There’s no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to bowhunting. That’s why I love it.”

“Well, I’m starting to think you’re just bad luck.”

“Could be.”

“Or that you smell bad. Real bad.”

“That is probably true.”

“Well, I can tell you one thing…we are never hunting in Georgia again. If you visit, you’re coming down to fish. We can hunt some other damn place.”

“Fishing it is.”

Luck is a funny thing — especially when it comes to hunting. Some people believe in it to the point of superstition and adopt rituals to preserve it. Others think it is rubbish. Then there are those who blame it when bad things happen but scoff at being “lucky” when it swings in their favor. I have spent time in every camp and am still not sure where I belong.

I’ve had good and bad experiences afield. I’ve been blessed and I’ve been cursed. I’ve been lucky and I’ve been unlucky. But I’ve always been fortunate. And I’ll never stop trying.

I’d like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and pray that you find GOOD luck the remainder of this hunting season. In the meantime, tune in to the Traditional Outdoors podcast. Also, with Christmas around the corner, please consider purchasing a signed copy of my book Life and Longbows. You can find it here or on Amazon in both print and on Kindle. Good Bless You!

 

 

 

 

 

Tied to a Moment

FlyTying2

Watching an obsession form can be enjoyable and often humorous — especially when looking into the mirror.

I quickly realized the benefits of maintaining my own arrows early in my bowhunting journey. It made good fiscal sense. I was shooting a lot; I was missing a lot; and the costs were mounting. I could either bring my arrows to a shop and have them re-wrapped and fletched, or I could do it myself for a fraction of the time and cost. I saved up, bought a plastic jig, some generic wraps, and a few packs of feathers. I fletched my very first set of aluminums with that setup and killed a deer soon after.

Learning to fletch was a no-brainer but I discovered more than I signed up for. I knew I’d save money by learning to fletch but didn’t expect the activity to be so enjoyable. I fed the addiction by spending money, on shafting and fletching materials, yet my appetite grew. I wanted more out of the archery experience and was ready to move to the next level — wood arrows.

I started buying discounted cedar shafts whenever I could find them and scoured classifieds and online auction sites for bulk nocks, points, and fletching. Going to the hardware store in search of wipe-on urethanes and cements became routine, as did weathering the unnatural lacquer stench that wafted through our home and soaked into our clothes. I realized my reasons for the effort were no longer monetary when I graduated to feather choppers and burners. I wasn’t saving money and I didn’t care. I had further immersed myself into the archery experience and didn’t intend on going back. I was ready to kick it up another notch, in fact and vowed to kill a deer with a wooden arrow.

It happened that very season. On a crisp, October, evening a doe passed in front of my brush blind and back to nature courtesy of one of my crudely-decorated cedars. I felt invincible. The high was indescribable. I learned that an experience, no matter how good, can be amplified through added difficulty.

Fast-forward to 2018 and my next addiction. I loved fly fishing the moment I picked up a rod and knew it was only a matter of time before catching fish with purchased flies wouldn’t be enough. I would have to tie a fly and catch a fish with it. Period. It was an inevitability.

My fishing friend’s were interested in helping me get started whenever I’d mention it, but stitched in the following disclaimer:

“You won’t save money.”

I considered it a challenge and began tying much faster than anticipated with the help of a my dear friend Thom (Jorgensen) and the lifetime’s worth of accumulated tools and material he handed over. I was a babe in the woods — we both knew it — yet he gave me very little instruction, save for a “have at it” grin and this nugget:

“Your flies are going to be sloppy and look terrible at first. Know that going in.”

My plan was to bury the treasure chest within the bowels of my workshop until winter. There was plenty of hunting and fishing to do and I didn’t need another activity. However, curiosity got the better of me. Within a week, my impulses sent me rummaging through box and Web in search of simple fly patterns. The variety of hooks, thread, furs, and feathers were overwhelming at first. I relied on my limited time on the water to help me sort out my needs and pick a pattern that would catch fish no matter how badly I botched them. Caddis fly imitations seemed like the best bet. I’d been fishing with various forms of caddis for months, understood their lifecycle, and felt them rudimentary enough to cut my teeth on.

I began with their larva form in a size #14, which was a bit bigger than what I was currently finding beneath the rocks of the Rogue, but I wasn’t ready to tie anything smaller. The results were to be expected. I struggled with every element of fly tying from threading a bobbin to mashing a barb. I stabbed myself often. I had little idea as to which hand to tie with. And I broke thread every fourth pass around the shank. The latter resulted in a grub sized olive abomination.

The setback made me try harder. I tied well into the early morning hours and had half-a-dozen olive disasters on the kitchen table before calling it quits. They ranged from too fat to too thin but I was proud of the progression. It meant I was improving. I kept tying the following morning, throughout the day, and into the evening, getting more confident with the materials and tools. When I grew tired of nymphs, I moved to dries, testing myself with an olive, deer-hair, caddis.

Tying a dry, even a basic one, was more difficult than expected. I made the wings too long, didn’t use enough fibers, used too many fibers, and kept covering the hook eye to the point I couldn’t thread it. I also found out I was trimming the wrong end of the fibers, allowing water to penetrate and sink the fly. My tying improved with those realizations and I was able make a handful of serviceable flies to test the following Friday.

I hit the river at 5 p.m., wet-waded in, tied on a small Hare’s Ear, and followed the current to my favorite bend. It was a warm, overcast day with random showers. The fishing was slow but I didn’t mind. It felt good to shoot line again. I fished for several hours, changing flies often with little luck save for a few 4-6″ brown trout.

As it began to get dark, I moved further downstream in search of greener pastures. There was a wide, shallow stretch of water there that was perfect for swinging a wet fly. I tied on an unweighted purplish prince with a yellow collar, found a seam, and tossed it into the drift where it was immediately hit by a decent 10-11″ chub. It wasn’t a trout, but it was something, and I was grateful for the action.

A nice 11" chub I caught on a wet fly.

Everything changed from that point on. The sun went down, the bugs came out, and the fish began to rise. And when they rose they did it ravenously, leaving the water like breeching humpback whales for anything resembling a bug. Everything winged was on the menu, from mosquitoes to white/tan colored moths and dragonflies. If it landed on the water, it disappeared.

I knew these were small fish and probably planted but didn’t care. I hadn’t experienced anything like this for months and wanted to catch fish. I cut off the prince, thumbed through the sparse but coveted “my flies” portion of the box, and retrieved “the best” of my olive caddis. I tied it with shaking hands and eyes distracted by the chaos around me. Then, as I wetted the knot, the water rolled on the downstream side of a large rock in front of me. I reacted with a quick roll-cast before my brain had a chance to foul it all up. The line splashed just upstream of my target. The caddis fluttered down after and I gave it a quick skate as it crossed the threshold of the rock.

The reaction was violent and immediate. My line went tight and the caddis disappeared, as if swallowed by the river itself. The moments that followed were not nearly long enough. I kept the rod up, let the fish pull the slack from my fingers, jumped to the reel, and fought a beautiful 11-12″ brown to the water at my knees. What happened next was heartbreaking. I tossed my rod into the shallows, wrapped a wet, shaking hand around the trout, removed the hook, and reached for my only means of evidence collection. But the camera was not easily retrieved and trout aren’t fond of being captured. Right there, beneath the light of the moon, I fumbled my achievement into the murky water and traded a dramatic conclusion for a tragic comedy.

But that is fly fishing. That is what keeps you coming back to the water. I may not have a photo, but I’ll always have that moment where it matters most.

Author’s note: I don’t have the fly either. I lost it in a tree on the next cast and was unable to retrieve it. That, in itself, is a longer story I plan on including in my next book, which will be a collection of bowhunting and fly fishing short stories. Until then, there are still copies of my current book “Life and Longbows” for sale on this site. You can get a personalized copy right here or you can order an unsigned copy on Amazon. A Kindle version will be available next Friday.