No Squirrels Harmed

Archers

In my social circle of “avid” traditionalists, the phrase “small game hunting” should be amended to “small game trying”. Though many would question the accuracy of that statement, as well.

Every year, as the sun sets on deer season, empty promises are belched over the roar of the campfire and into the woods beyond for every squirrel, hare, and partridge to hear, remember, and immediately forget.

“Well I’ll tell you what I’m going to do more of…squirrel hunting. I was covered up in them this year!”

“Me too. Portly blacks and noisy reds mostly. I even had a wirey old gray rummaging through my daypack yesterday. Tried to eat my damn Snickers bar!”

“Had several opportunities, myself! Squirrels the size of house cats no further apart than you and I. Too lazy to shoot.”

“You’ve gotta shoot those! Squirrel cacciatore!”

“Catch them? Why would I want to do that?”

I’ve heard statements like this repeated year-after-year with very little follow up. Michigan tends to go dark from late December to early April. Archers are too busy joining indoor leagues, tying flies, ice fishing, tuning turkey calls, or dodging potholes to brave the elements for a bagful of rodents. The one exception, as far as my band of stick-flinging cronies is concerned, is the annual small game competition at Whitneyville Bible Church in early February.

This particular gathering has been a blessing in disguise for the longbow-toting, winter weary Michigander. While the bulk of its contestants are parishioners with beagles and .22 caliber rifles, a handful of foolhardy outsiders have made it a point to brave the elements with blunted arrows and the hopes that we’ll run over several with the truck on the way there.

That never happens (in case you’re wondering). If it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all and the closest thing to a success was convincing an old, stressed out gray to leap to his death from atop a maple by pestering him with our arrows. Even then, he survived the endeavor, and cursed us all to a lifetime of poor shooting afield.

We’ve had few encounters since and would love nothing more than to blame our lack of opportunities on squirrel sorcery. But I am a realist and positive our ineptitude has more to do with bad hunting than luck. The following outline of a typical Whitneyville hunt should illustrate my point.

Disclaimer: This timeline probably isn’t historically accurate but I can assure you that all of the events are 100% factual.

7 a.m. – We meet at a pre-determined place and the hunt officially starts.

7:30 a.m. – We examine each other’s new gear acquisitions.

8 a.m. – We finish our coffee, string our bows, and toss movie quotes at each other while laughing like idiots.

8:30 a.m. – We don our orange and start walking.

9 a.m. – We take a break to talk about things that irritate us — and bourbon.

10 a.m. – We get back to “hunting”.

10:30 a.m. – We take another break to complain about the weather, the rising coyote population, and why we aren’t seeing anything to shoot at.

11:00 a.m. – We get bored and decide to shoot stumps.

Noon – We run out of stumps but empty our quivers into an open field “just to see how far the arrows go”.

1 p.m. – We collect our arrows and argue about Michigan hunting regulations — and beer.

2 p.m. – We get back to the truck and realize the hunt is over, which is fine because we are hungry anyway and know the church provides chili dogs at the weigh-in.

2:30 p.m. – We fill our faces and hope to win the door prize, while everyone everyone else gives thanks for the woodland bounty adorning their truck beds.

Now, I should clarify a thing or two, less you judge us too harshly. If subjected to heavy questioning, every bowmen in the party would confess this is not the way you harvest a snowshoe hare or Michigan squirrel. However, those same folks would testify to it being the perfect formula for a good time.

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.

I would personally like to thank MLA members Sheri and Matt Stoutjesdyk for inviting us to this event every year and the fantastic folks at Whitneyville Bible Church for having us. We’ll keep coming as long as we are tolerated!

 

 

 

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!