Get me to the woods!

To paraphrase Mr. Shakespeare, it had been the winter of my discontent.  Don’t get me wrong, I like winter.  In fact, I’m one of the first to complain when these weak, mild winters come along, lacking the good decency to put down any legitimate snow or in any way act like a proper winter should.  I am a big fan of the four seasons, all in balance.  Now that said, there are limits.  Remember I mentioned balance?  Well, this winter started out perfect.  We even got snow during deer season, which is a special treat here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.  But then it didn’t know when to quit.  I just got tired of being cold, which for that to happen to me means it stayed really cold for really long.  The early spring ventures I like to take to our lot up in the mountains to, you know, shake off the cabin fever had to keep being put off.  So the fever turned into a full on epidemic.

It got so bad, I basically became this guy:

Good grief, if my boots could talk, they’d basically be saying “You wuss.  Get your butt outside.  To the woods!”  And then, at the moment of truth, spring sprung.  And while I had about 687 different ideas for things I wanted to do, one easily vaulted to the top of the list.  You see, some 5 months ago, I had purchased a new gun and, to my utter embarrassment, still had not taken it out of the box.  I mean, “somebody get this guy to the range!”

“Oh man.  This thing shoots sweet!” so said my son.  Indeed, it was a great first impression for the most recent addition to our shooting arsenal.

When the thought first came to mind that our family could get some great fun and value out of a pistol in .22lr, I immediately started looking into one of the many fine quality and reasonably priced semi-autos out there.  The reviews and images were tantalizing, and it seemed just a matter of picking the one that I liked best among a strong group of options.  And then I decided to take a peek at what may be out there in the revolver market.  Oh.  Darn.  I managed to come across the Ruger Bearcat…..and there was no going back.  I mean, just look at it.

 

ruger bearcat pic

 

Well, there could have been some backpedalling on the newfound apple of my eye.  Compared to the aforementioned semis, there was some sticker shock to the little revolver.  Enough so that I started to run scenarios through my mind about how I would ‘sell’ the idea of this purchase to my wife.  After all, it did happen to be Christmas time, and I had been so good, too.  In the midst of this speculation, I made a visit to one of my local gun stores, and I think the good Lord intervened.  There in the gun case was a used Bearcat.  It was not only in excellent condition, but it had belonged to the owner’s father, and he proceeded to tell me all about its history and why he was selling it (basically just wanted one of the Ruger revolvers that came with both the .22lr and .22wmr cylinders).   An interesting anecdote he mentioned was that his dad had done a fair bit of dry firing of the gun not long after he got it, and he found that ‘pinged’ the cylinder.  He indicated that he sent it back to Ruger, and they refurbished it.  I was kind of intrigued about that because, later when I was reading the Owner’s Manual, it stated that it was safe to dry fire the gun.  I decided that I simply would not take the chance and skip any dry firing.  Another tip he provided was to not lower the hammer down directly from the half-cock position, but instead make sure to pull it all the way back to full cock, and then it could be safely lowered down by hand.  He indicated this was because there was an increased likelihood of causing the gun to get ‘out of time’, which basically involves the timing of the cylinder rotation with the hammer fall.  The clincher to all of this was the price, which managed to get down to a much more feasible number that wouldn’t make my wife turn into the Grinch.  Sold.

So back to my son’s enthusiasm.  I had hoped the little wheelgun would be fairly accurate, but I was surprised how well it did.   This day was more about shooting just for the sake of it, and while we didn’t take the time to do serious bench testing, we did some extensive off hand shooting at ranges from 10 to 35 yards.  It just kept hitting inside of a 4 inch circle at 10 yards, and a small pie plate at 35 yards.  Really we were just getting used to the sights and the feel of the trigger, and having fun with plinking.  We waged war on some little balloons at 30 yards, along with our swinging iron disc targets, which we relished the repeated pings.

Among the things I had envisioned as a benefit to having a .22lr handgun was that I wanted my daughter to experience the fun of shooting a handgun.  She has limited hand strength, and I didn’t feel like she could safely shoot any of my other guns.  I got the opportunity to teach her shooting stances, how to get a good sight picture, and the light squeeze needed for a single action trigger.  The little gun fit her small hands beautifully.  She really enjoyed the process, and her accuracy was splendid.  Mission accomplished.

We do our shooting on a makeshift range on the property we lease to hunt, but we also have a lot nearby that borders that George Washington National Forest.  It was on the lot that we camped for the night.  The next day, my son asked to do a little more shooting with the Bearcat.  As I sat by the campfire listen to him firing away up in the woods, my smile was hard to shake.  The early returns on the new gun purchase had been even more than hoped for, and the returns on this trip to the great outdoors had been resplendent.  The long winter vale had been rolled back, and the soul refreshed with a weekend to remember.

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Something wicked this way comes

Ah snakes.  Serpents always get a pretty bad rap.  I guess its the whole Adam and Eve, Garden of Eden thing.  And I’ll grant you, I haven’t seen too many that my first instinct wasn’t “kill it, kill it now!”  But you know what?  At the end of the day, there ends up being this grudging appreciation for what they do and that they have their place (well, mostly, anyway).  I get tired of the mice, you know?  The poisonous ones get an automatic heave ho, but all others at least get a little consideration.  And by that, I mean if they aren’t big enough to trouble my small dogs considerably, I at least give thought to just moving them along gently.

Now that leads us to our lead character of this piece.  Spiders.  I simply haven’t met one that I didn’t consider the incarnation of evil.  Yeah, I know they kill a fair amount of bugs that I would rather not have around.  But you know what, there’s bug spray.  I know some people occasionally will find a small snake in their house.  I’m fortunate not to be one of those people so far, but it happens rarely.  Still, spiders can and will get any and everywhere, places that snakes just don’t tend to make it to.  And it’s that idea that I think makes them more sinister than most other creatures that I can think of.  I have been bitten by a spider on my forearm before, a nasty bite that ended in a visit to the doctor, and I’m pretty sure it happened while I was sleeping.  Not in the jungle.  IN MY BED!  That’s just evil.

So sufficeth to say that all of this came to a head recently.  I was up late helping my daughter finish a big school project.  As I was slaving away over poster board, glue, magic markers, and the like I just happened to glance at my gun cabinet and noticed this little gem…..

big spider

 

I apologize for the marginal picture, as my camera phone in that light isn’t world class.  My son has the good camera, and the good sense to have been asleep that late on a school night, so this image will have to do.  I probably could have gotten a little better picture, but as I got closer and closer, the only thought that kept piercing my consciousness mostly went something like this….

A too close encounter

 

This is what I believe is a quite large version of a Wolf spider, and by quite large I mean with legs spread it was as big around as a softball.  And if my boots could talk, they’d be saying, “You mean we haven’t crushed that thing yet?”  Yeah, that happened in short order, although my initial thought was that I was going to need my shotgun.  It took me several seconds to digest the fact that the thing was…..in……my……house.  And not hidden under the bathroom sink in some dark corner, but wide out in the open in front of God and everybody.  How bold.  You’d swear he had access to steroids.

In my experience Wolf spiders are the most frequently encountered large spider in my neck of the woods in West Virginia, and in size and coloration this gave a strong indication of being a large specimen.  However, a little further research also showed that this could easily be a Fishing spider (I happen to live beside a pond), as they look nearly identical in size and coloration.  I might have been able to tell the difference with a close up of the shape and size of his eyes, but, you know, back to that whole issue about the close up.

I couldn’t manage to hide my trauma of spotting this creature-from-the-dark-side, so my wife and daughter got to get a good look.  Which then meant that no one managed to get the best sleep that night.  After all, as the old adage goes, if there’s one, there’s more, right?  I had been a little slow this spring to get my first treatment of bug killer around the edges and corners of the inside of my house, and of course that’s now been remedied.  Good grief, I probably burned up a few Google servers researching some more effective products than I’ve been using (I’m going to give a product called Talstar a try, at the advice of a co-worker).  In the meantime, my whole family now stays a little more alert.  I love nature, well, most of it.  I just like to keep all of it outside.

 

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Impossibly Incredible – One hunting day to rule them all

As a passionate hunter who loves the deer woods in ways hard to describe, it becomes equally hard to describe the thoughts that go through your mind when your young son shows that he shares in your love of hunting.  The explosion of emotion when he killed his first deer, a doe, at age 8, can never be duplicated for its uniqueness, but nor can this story of his first buck season.

While it has been thankfully rare for us to run into significant rainfall during the first few days of buck season, this happened to be one of those seasons.  Nicholas and I sat in steady rain that ranged from light to heavy for the first 2 days.  And to make matters worse, even though my Dad, brother Tim, and sister Cassie were seeing plenty of deer (and getting some), we hadn’t seen anything.  It’s hard enough trying to sit still for hours when you’re 11 years old, but a lack of deer action and steady rain was making for a really tough time.  As the second day wound down, he was talking about heading home that night–he had reached his limit.  However, that all changed in an instant at about 4:00 in the afternoon.

As we sat in the drizzle up on the bench looking over one of the big draws on our property, I was contemplating the crazy amount of driving I was likely going to have to do shortly to get him home, and then get me back for day 3.  As usual we were sitting on nearly opposite sides of a big tree.  Our eyes were working overtime, looking for the slightest movement, as a couple of days of heavy rain had rendered our ears fairly useless.  All of a sudden, he turned to me and with wild eyes said he had just seen a big buck that had come around the point on his side, but it had seen him move his head and turned around and ran away.  He said it was at least an 8 point.  A couple of minutes later, we heard a shot not far away, in the direction the deer had run.  Our heart sunk a little, but we had hoped that someone in the family got it.  Turned out that Tim had been still-hunting down in the bottom by the creek, and saw the buck jogging from us spooking it.  He couldn’t get it to stop and took a shot between some trees.  He checked for blood, but felt confident that he missed.  Well, now all of a sudden Nicholas was raring to go for the next day, and he wanted to go right back to the scene of the crime.

So the next morning, we headed back to the big draw.  The rain had let up, and a little morning fog was lingering as the sun was coming up.  We were able to walk quietly on our way to the stand, so we still-hunted our way in slowly, watching as we went.  As we neared the point where we would start the climb up onto the bench, I spotted a deer, likely a doe, up ahead of us moving slowly into the draw.  It had not seen us, but we couldn’t get a shot at that point (we had tags to take does or bucks and our seasons overlap).  I realized that we could quietly walk up onto the bench, out of sight of the deer, and get above and possibly ahead of it.  So we got up towards the edge of the top of the bench, and I’m straining my eyes into the fog to see where the deer went.  I had gotten down on one knee and had Nicholas set the gun on my shoulder, as we scanned, but we couldn’t see anything.  All of a sudden, a deer popped over the edge of the bench about 20 yards away, looking right at us.  I could see the one large spike sticking out of its head.  Without moving a muscle, I told him in a tense whisper, “Do you see that deer?  SHOOT that deer!”  The deer didn’t know what to make of us, but gave a nervous leg stomp.  A couple of seconds went by, which of course felt like a million years, and the deer started to give a second stomp of his leg.  My heart and experience told me the deer was milliseconds from running into the next county, and that galactic heart break was about to ensue at this oh so close missed opportunity.  And then, the shot rang out into my ear drum, and the deer dropped out of sight.

We got over to it, and it was a perfect shot to the center of the chest. The little Ruger had done its job well. The one-sided spike might as well have been a wall hanger. Come to think of it, my first buck was looked just about the same. And we jumped around like crazy people.  His first buck, and he did it the hard way, paying his dues in days of rain.  Feelings of joy and relief flooded over as he put his hands on it.  Everything you read and hear people say about the incredible feelings when you’re there with your child as they take their first buck, well I can confirm it is all true.  I was trembling as we went about field dressing it.  This seemed a storybook ending to a magical hunt.  And it would have been, but the day wasn’t over just yet….

 

It might as well have been a 10 point.

It might as well have been a 10 point.

 

You see, in our neck of the woods (Hardy County, WV), you can take a second buck in a day as long as you check the first one in.  So after gutting and dragging the deer to the road, we decided that the family celebrating could wait till the end of the day, and ran into the check station and took care of business.

We were both too exhausted to climb up to the top of the mountain for the afternoon, and so we picked a little pine thicket to hunt that was nestled close to an old logging road.  We finally sat, and let the day sink in. It had been a heck of a 3 days, and Nicholas was tired. He talked about me taking the shot if we saw another buck, but I knew there wasn’t a chance in the world I wasn’t letting him shoot.  He nodded off on my shoulder as the afternoon eased on. At about 4:30, I spotted a doe coming down the side of the mountain in front of us, to the right. I woke Nicholas and told him to watch to see if something might follow her, since our group had seen so much rut activity. Sure enough, I picked up the rack on the buck behind her clearly at over 100 yards. So we hustled the gun onto my shoulder again, and amazingly both of the deer came right toward us. I told him to be ready and I would try and stop the deer when they were in an opening. As they crossed the old logging road in front of us, I let out a grunt. Sure enough, they paused just briefly. And the gun cracked. As soon as the buck started to run, we could see the limp immediately. He went 25 yards or so, and fell in a heap. We moved up on him carefully, making sure he was dead, and saw the perfect shot on the shoulder. And then for the second time of the day we jumped around like a couple of crazy people. It was almost too much to handle. I thought I was going to have a stroke. He grabbed the perfect 8 point rack, which was wide with long tines, and it seemed bigger than him.  Of course we can’t be sure, but from my son’s recollection and my brother’s memory, we felt relatively sure that this was the buck that Nicholas had spooked the afternoon before, and he had shot him not more than a hundred yards from the spot of that sighting.  You know, If my boots could talk, they’d just be speechless.

Not many days, even moments, in his life or mine, will be better than this one. Sometimes when God smiles, he smiles big.

Not bad for a second buck.  Still feels like a dream.

Not bad for a second buck. Still feels like a dream.

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A life lived (and remembered)

The outdoors.  The woods.  The lakes.  A fishing pole.  A trusty deer rifle.  Watching your daughter catch the biggest crappie you’ve ever seen, when you didn’t even know there were any in that tiny lake.  Sitting beside you’re young son as he kills a big buck, during his first buck season, as your heart pounds in ways that just about scare you.   Oh man, God is good.

Life is a collection of many things.  A collage of things good and bad, lovely and sad.  There are no blinders big enough to block out the unhappy things, they will come and at times have your undivided attention.  But there will be other times, so sweet, so beautiful, that when they come my way, I have taken to giving a nod to heaven and silently spoken the words ‘my cup overfloweth’.  While it might seem cliche to talk about stopping to smell the roses, the old moral is more true than ever in these times of high blood pressure, higher stress, and enough everyday angst to keep the antacid makers living large.  Maybe it’s a matter of tweaking the well-worn wording.  How about, stop and smell the woods.  Stop and feel the warm breeze as it comes across the lake.  Maybe, stop and watch the sun set over the mountain close to your home.  Even better, stop and watch the wonder of your kids the first time they learn that they can catch lightening bugs.  These are the things that make life worth living.  They warm your soul when the days turn dark, cold, unyielding.

I’m a big proponent of taking time to record some permanent artifacts of special moments, particularly those involving the great outdoors.  Heck, there’s no better proof of that than the companion website to this blog, OldLoggingRoad.com, where you can store photos, videos, and written logs of such moments.  But I’ll now say that it’s even more important to make sure that you live in the moment.  Don’t miss it.  Take a mental snapshot, and let it burn in.  Soak up the joy of the moment.  Photos are nice, but mostly what they do is serve to bring back to present thought the joy you felt in a particular place in time.  If you didn’t take the time to smell those roses, you’ll have cheated yourself of much of that warm and fuzzy feeling.

These are the thoughts of a guy who’s been listening to his little girl talk about the applications she’s been filling out for scholarships and colleges.  What?  Where did the time go?  Weren’t we just catching lightening bugs?

It seemed right for the inaugural post of this blog to wind its way through family, the outdoors, and cherishing the moments that intertwine them.  If my boots could talk, they’d tell me to get outside and help my son sight in his pellet gun.  They’d say go help your daughter set up her fish tank.  They’d sternly warn to not miss putting the mulch down in your wife’s flower bed before the tulips come up.  And I’m pretty sure they’d be making it perfectly clear that putting off till tomorrow is a fool’s errand, since we’re only given today

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