Monday, December 3, 2012

Ernie Belf the Elf-He is where the magic lives

Ernie came to live with us one day.  A product of the naturally curious and daydream afflicted, our Ernie showed up on the doorstep in a box, of all places.  He didn't seem lost or the least bit worried.  His directions simply stated that we were to give him a place in our home and that he would choose a different location every night.  No one is to touch or bother him in any way and he will be watching.  Oh yes, Ernie is always watching to see that you are being nice for his is the greatest purpose that exists:  Ernie Belf Nelson the Elf is one of Santa's personal assistants.  More specifically he is THE Behavior Investigator.  El BElfo, as he is known by his compadres in the polar region, has a keen eye for spotting misbehavior and mischief in general of any kind or sort known to mankind and most specifically to little boys and girls.  He can smell a temper tantrum boiling up inside an upset child before even the child themselves can tell it's coming like a thunderstorm over the bayou in Baton Rouge but that's in Louisiana and why, I'm forgetting the most important part!  Why, Ernie doesn't just sit there judgin ya'll day neither.  Shhoo oot!  Nah lawd firecracka nah!  Ernie can make you happy too Chile!  It's true Mon!  Like dem Jamaicans say in their island irie way, "No Problem!"  And if Ernie Belf is anything at heart, It's a true Jamaican.  So don't worry be happy now mon!  Dream likle dreams of dem fishes in da sea.  Jus lak dat der movie with the los chile fish.  He find him Daddy and they be real irie right?
And don't you forget chile!  Done go on lookin at Ernie too hard for e'll know yer worryin ya soul chile.  Just breathe peace and easy goin style and ya be jus all right son, jus alright!  Big smile now, off ya go to bed.
What?   You don't believe that Ernie Belf is one of Santa's Elves?  Well then, you'll have to see for yourself come Christmas time Son.  Ask him a question with your heart and then stay true to your promises and Ernie will stick to his.
The boy laid down but his bright eyes sparkled with the christmas lights.
Will Ernie answer all of my wishes Dad?  The boy asked hopefully.
Only if you have the courage to believe in your dreams son.  Ernie knows that if you're brave enough to face your fears and embrace every challenge attempted as a victory, you can do just about anything you put your mind to.  His Dad tucked the covers under his Boy's chin.  Good night
Good night Dad. 
The Boy wondered if Ernie really was magic.  He just looked like a doll to the boy but then again, that face.  Every time he walked into the room it was like he could feel the elf's presence before he saw him.  I know there is magic in that little guy and so what the heck?  It only works if you believe in it right?
The next morning when the boy awoke from a heavy slumber, he stumbled out of bed and immediately went to go look for Ernie Belf but he wasn't swinging from the picture frame any longer!  Ernie was sitting on top of the drapes!  He had actually moved!  The elf had moved and it was a miracle.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Like a ghost from thin air, the brown body of a buck appears to my right.  He's a nice "hard-horned" fork and he's prodding a young spike out in front of him.  My heart skips a beat and I'm immediately afflicted:  Buck Fever has set in once again and I'm helpless to control it.  This is the ninth day I've spent hunting X3B since the season began and the second to last day of the season.
Last weekend, I missed a bruiser almost directly beneath my stand.  If you read my previous article, you can count and that makes two beautiful bucks with some degree of injury still hiding out in the area.  The beautiful typical 4x4 was still in velvet and he never meandered or gave me a broadside look until I came to full draw.  Struggling with the angle and at leveling my bow, I put the 20 yard pin in front of his rib cage and let loose.  Devastated, I watched my arrow thump him in the rump, missing his spine and leaving the trophy buck indignant.  He shuddered but didn't take a step!  I grabbed for another arrow and promptly removed my entire quiver.  As I fumbled to extract one more piece of precious ammo, the 175 plus monarch took a few steps and disappeared from the last of my shooting lane.  I watched helplessly as he and his six teammates, a sea of velvet antlers, melted into the junipers and buckbrush.  Moments later they climbed out of the steep canyon to my right, their leader ominous as he stared back at me from mid hill, my arrow jutting skyward from his generous rear, glaring at the little wasp who'd dared to sting him.  I felt more like an ant at that moment.  He teased me with a glimmer of hope as he balked at jumping the fence with the rest of the herd, instead opting to circle back down into the canyon.  I heard a crash as he skidded down the hill and then a loud "twang" as he somehow made contact with the fence.  Hoping to find him tangled up with some barbed wire, I snuck into the spot where I'd last heard commotion and found my arrow neatly pointing towards his escape route.  There was blood on my two blade rage but it only traveled about three inches up the shaft.  A glob of blood roughly the size of a quarter lay on the other side of the fence.  I spent the rest of the day trying to track him across the shale and rock to no avail.  The next day, I headed up to where I knew they liked to bed, only to glass the other six bucks traveling right past my previous stand location!  Dumbfounded, I set up ambush at the top of the ridge where they had escaped the day before, only to have them cross out of range as the youngest "scout spike" had me pinned from about 10 yards away.  Unable to move without spooking the scout, I had to watch my bow hunting dreams again elude me and I suppose it was at that exact moment that I started to conjure up my plan to return for the last weekend, stubbornly refusing to admit defeat.
Perseverance pays off for the author on a nice high-desert muley
So hear I am in the tree again.  My eleventh stand of the season.  I am calling my wife and kids again.  Exhausted from a day of trying to track "Grey Ghosts" over rocky terrain and scouting out ambush spots along the most recent travel routes from the alfalfa fields to rimrock bedding areas, I am second-guessing everything I've worked so hard to accomplish over the past year.  "Should I continue to pursue yet another deer when I've already wounded two?  Is it fair to ask my wife to stay home with the kids for a third weekend?  My tenth day in the field?  And shouldn't I be putting all of my full attention on hunting right now since I'm gone anyway and I can't teleport back and I'm not really paying attention to them anyway, whispering, "Oh Great." And, "that must've been fun" as I scan the terrain for movement, knowing that any potential targets will be spooked by my conversations anyway.  Damn cell phones.  I ring off and immediately notice the deer to my right.  Great.  I blew it.  I drove 600 miles just to get homesick and blow my shot yet again.  My eyes lock on the spot where I'd last seen the Grand Muleys but they never reappear and hope springs eternal.  I wait with renewed enthusiasm for nearly an hour before I hear the magic sounds of hooves on gravel.  I glance a nice forky behind me and I know he will follow the trail past my stand.  Preparing to shoot, I hear more magical hoof scratches.  In the dusk just before legal shooting light wanes, another forky, this one wider and with some extra "stickers" crosses beneath me.  I breath slowly, trying to lasso the shakes and then come to full draw on the nicer fork who I can see now actually has "lobster claws" on each fork and could be called a 4x4.  But wait!  There's the sound again.  They keep getting bigger so I let down slowly and wait.  I'm not disappointed as a bigger buck ensues.  When I hear a fourth buck, I figure he might just be the monarch I missed earlier.  I showed a picture of him that I captured on my truth cam to my buddy and he nicknamed him:  That f(^*^%er has a swing set on his head.  But "Mr. Swing Set" is a no show, it's just the scout spike and he's nervous.  The three shooter bucks begin to feed on a very popular stand of buck brush which had attracted me as well.  Tracks led me here earlier in the day.  Why this buckbrush was any more attractive to these bucks than any of the myriad millions of others in the area I'll never know but it's popularity was validated without a doubt as I took a bead on the biggest buck.  The pressure to make a good shot here was tripled.  I didn't let my mind wonder:  "what if?"  What if I wound and lose a third buck?  What if I used up the last of my "Honey DO" credit and returned empty handed?  Buck fever was now just a familiar heart beat and I settled into instinct mode.  I became the arrow and left the string in slow motion, someone else's trigger finger setting me free with a gently squeeze.  The Montec G5 sizzled through the air and I watched my red lumenok stick and then disappear into the side of my target, right behind the ribcage.  The desert ghost came alive and whipped around, giving me a perfect look at the exit wound in his shoulder, the arrow whipping around, delicately trapped by the fletchings.  A perfect hit.  The buck did just that, taking out a few branches from an innocent juniper and then bolting across the open space below my stand.  He did another spinning "buckin' bronco" kick and I watched the lumenok dance through the air like I used to twirl "sparklers" on the fourth.  I stared intently as he raced off and then heard a resounding crash.  Celebration-shy from my last two failures, I didn't allow myself to give into a grin when I found copious blood sign or my arrow covered to the nock with dried blood.  When my flashlight illuminated his rump and stiff legs, I allowed a little fist pump and then paid my respects to the spirit that moves in all things silently.
Tred Barta loves to say that he learns more from failure than he ever would from success and I think it is true.  Losing two bucks taught me a ton.  I love to practice with all kinds of different set ups and even tried to simulate shooting from a tree stand.  But I never practiced shooting straight down and it cost me a 175 inch class buck.  Upon experimenting with this angle, I realized that there is only a small window where you can make an accurate shot.  Trying to shoot straight down and to either side will leave you "out of bubble"; a risky shot at best.  I've also learned how to "range" any possible obstructions with my pins to avoid deflection.  Even though In hindsight, I probably should've passed on both of the earlier shots I had taken and probably will if presented with the same looks in the future.  Nevertheless, my misses and painstakingly bloodless tracking sessions made me question the effectiveness of an expandle broadhead and for my last hunt, I switched to a cut on contact and was ecstatic with it's performance.  One trick is to use a rubber O ring between the tip and the shaft that allows the broadhead blades to be lined up with the fletching.  Set up this way, my point of impact was nearly identical to a field point which was what sold me on expandables in the first place.  I didn't like that they could open in the quiver or field at the moment of truth or that, after shooting them once, they are basically useless.  The Montec G5 is simple and bulletproof.  I could've picked up my bloody arrow and shot it again if necessary.  Re-sharpening is simple and the extra five bucks will pay off after your first shot.
Driving home after dropping the body off at Enoch Wood's (seriously?) butcher shop, I felt a huge sense of relief at having sealed the deal on my last trip.  I wondered briefly how I would've felt if I hadn't filled my tag but I already knew that I couldn't have stayed home regardless.  Yes, I feel a twinge of remorse at having two nice bucks slip between my fingers but I find solace in the fact that they are tough as hell, they are and always will be part of the food chain and I came to realize one simple fact:  you can't kill em if you don't shoot.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Opening Day for Archery

With "plan A" foiled by a fallen log, we beat up my truck for a few miles down a rancher's boulder strewn road.  I tell my buddy not to worry about it until the sickening crunch of undercarriage on Modoc Counties infamous "rubber-grating lava rock" forces us into another U turn.  Plan C?
Your vehicle can be a great tool when hunting, allowing the prospecting hunter access to mountaintops and providing a tool for covering lots of ground.  At that moment though, it felt like a jail cell.  I'd spent months studying topos to get me AWAY from the roads and I wanted to start burning leather pronto.
Suddenly I spotted movement to my right and called out "buck"!  Then, "Bucks"!  A bachelor herd was hightailing it across the low rise to our right, obviously spooked  by something.  I spotted two or three large shooters and told my partner, Kelly, to slow way down.  We hatched a plan to try and intercept them and then have me slip out of the truck behind a tree or other suitable cover and then stalk them from there.  As we closed in on our targets though, we noticed two hunters walking towards each other across the road. One had just left his treestand and the other left vacant a groundblind next to a cattle trough.  The oldest was visibly agitated.  I figured we had blown his setup and felt a little guilty pursuing the herd right under their noses so we conspired to play dumb.
"Was that guy with you?"  he asked us.
Kelly and I gave each other a stupified look and I said, "It's just the two of us.  We've been in the truck this whole time."  We are literally watching our quarry galloping off in the distance behind us but stay the course.  "All we've seen are does and fawns.  Do you mind if we head on up that way?"
"Shoot go ahead.  I don't own it."  he replies.  We deduce that they are father and son as the younger one asks who or what it was that his Father saw.  Kelly and I decide to give them the slip as they argue and it's game on.  I can't figure who it was they saw unless they just heard the deer running behind their stands or bigfoot is protecting his stock of venison.  They were the only other hunters we had seen that morning and we were returning from where we had come.  In either case it was game on and we motored ahead, anxiously scanning the landscape for the escaping prey.  Just around the bend, we spotted one of the smaller forks running across the road and then another three higher up the hill, still moving but with less urgency.  I decided to leave my pack in the truck and slipped out the door as we passed a boulder and skinny juniper.  I shut the door gingerly as I stepped off the floorboard and ducked behind my cover, hoping they would focus on the passing truck.
I waited for a few minutes until the trucks' exhaust echoes and faded into the distance.  My goal was to locate them before they spotted me if I was to have a snowball's chance in the desert, but nothing going.  Shedding my boots, I crept at a millipede's pace, alternating between scanning each bush with my binoculars and then creeping along silently.  The terrain is littered with dry skunk cabbage of which the leaves rattle like crepe paper and the stalks snap like an alarm so each step has to be precisely placed.  I slack my jaw, trying to stay relaxed and focused.  I scan the willows where I'd last seen the bucks and try to stay patient.  I know they were hear just minutes ago so I keep telling myself not to give up on the situation.  They must be here but my gut tells me they're not.  Somehow they gave me the slip I'm thinking.  I start to glance up the hill and suddenly spot antler tips in the mahogany brush above me!  I recognize the rack as the biggest of the three bucks, a nice three pointer with eye guards.  I remember where my heart is at this moment.
Thankfully he can't see me but the wind is all wrong.  I figure if they haven't spooked on my scent yet I might as well give it a go.  I'm not wearing any expensive scent control garments but I do take care to keep my camo as uncontaminated as possible and the fact that this buck is casually browsing 50 yards upwind from me proves that all of my crazy (to my wife at least) "scent free products" are paying off.  Changing direction from a crouch, I ease up the rise towards the thick mahogany maze.  I spot a grouse perched atop a snag, surveying the surroundings and then two more not 15 feet away.  Careful not to spook them, I keep on creeping at a painstaking pace.  The turtle would be smoking me right now in a race.  I know the key is to become a stump.  Just become part of the landscape and let the bucks go about their normal routine.  Flushing a covey of grouse right now would send the bucks into another mad dash.  I don't make eye contact with the grouse and they must wonder what this camo giant is doing on their turf but they go about their business and I go about mine.
As I crest the ridge, I spot them feeding out in the open now and my enthusiasm dwindles.  Nothing between me and them but a field of crunchy skunk cabbage and an old burned out yellow pine, bleached white as a skeleton.  The bucks keep glancing in my direction.  They know something isn't quite right but they're not sure what exactly.
I contemplate backing out and changing tactics when the spirit gives me a sign.  Rain drops begin pelting the cabbage leaves and the silence is broken with a symphony of drumming skunk cabbage.  Oh blessed raindrops!  As soon as the bucks go back to feeding, I position myself to use the tree to block their vision.  As soon as I have all of their heads behind the trunk, I make up ground quickly.  When I peek around the tree with my rangefinder, they are still a good 80 yards but they seem to be frolicking now in the rain.  I ease around the tree to try and keep my back dry when the three point locks on me.  I slowly shift my gaze to my now sodden socks and play the waiting game.  After what seems like eons, the bucks finally bed down next to an old snag and I go back to work.  One foot goes in front of the other, feeling first with my toes and then along the outside edge of my foot to my heel, testing for any give that might betray my presence and then slowly shifting my weight.  Unbelievably I'm within range and I try and get a read on the big buck.  He shakes his head from side to side and I put the cross-hairs on his head through the fallen bare branches.  39 yards.  I practice a lot at 35 and so I try and get closer, focused intently on the three pointers position, I notice that there are other sets of ears and slightly to the right, the small fork suddenly turns and gives me the look like, "Hey.  What are you doing here?  You weren't there before!"  I come to full draw as the forky stands at attention, poised for me to make the next move and itching to go first.  I know the others will be right  behind him so I put my 40 yard pin on the big buck as he levitates from his bed.  There is a curved branch in my shooting lane but it's arching perfectly over the bucks shoulder.  I can see a clear path to the vitals so I lower the pin just below this arch and aim 35 yards at his heart.  I wait for the circles to steady and remind myself to squeeze smoothly.  It feels good on the release but then I see the arrow jump and hit the buck square in the neck!  He stands there like nothing happened so I grab for another arrow.  Then he spins away and to my right, directly behind the forky who is still trying to figure out who I am and what I'm selling.  My instincts tell me that my hit wasn't solid and I see that my first target is covered.  I instantly think of taking the fork instead but thankfully talked myself out of it.  By the time I have a clear lane at the big buck, he's 60 yards and all I see is his white rump bouncing away with the fork in tow.
I let down and fall to my knees in dismay, cursing myself for not aiming at 30.  In hindsight, the buck was 31 yards.  If my arrow was two inches lower, I would be eating venison tonight but instead, I have to chalk it up as a learning experience.  I shouldn't have taken the shot with that branch in the way.  Upon closer inspection, the "arching branch" was missing a chunk of bark.  And I recalled the "tink" sound my arrow made just before it glanced up into the bucks neck.  Also, not wanting to spook a wounded animal, I didn't pursue the bucks over the rise to get a look at where they were headed;  A fact that kicked my ass for the next hour as Kelly and I, and then Kelly and I and his Father Roy and his dog Mack, hiked all over the hillside trying to find tracks.  To make matters worse, when I got back to the truck after the shot, rain started to fall and fall heavy for about half an hour.  When the average rainfall there is under 10 inches, a 30 minute downpour makes for some tough tracking.
In the end, we never saw a drop of blood and the bucks left behind few traces to follow.  Judging by his reaction to the hit, that buck has probably shaken out the arrow and will have to let someone or something else taste his delicious meat.  Bittersweet defeat I call it though.  I had made a perfect stalk on three beautiful bucks on public ground, right under the noses of unsuspecting rivals and though the final outcome was tainted by my horn envy, I'm a wiser man from the experience.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Defiant Husband

"Both of you get your teeth brushed and get to bed right now" my wife boomed as the bedtime clock tick tocked.  "It's late and you both have to get up tomorrow."  My youngest had tears running down his face and his whine meter turned up to 7 or 8.  Just then Tanner emerged from his bedroom, camouflaged from head to tow with Bow and Arrows in hand.  "Can I go out in the greenbelt and shoot my bow mom?"
"Absolutely not, it's bedtime!  You need to get your pajamas on!"
For a sportsman dad like myself who has been trying to get his kid hooked on hunting since he was old enough to stand and fall on his face, the sight before me was like... I don't know what but I did know that I was soon going to be the defiant husband.  "Get your boots on and get out the door Tanner.  Go! Now!"
"Oh hell no!  What do you think you are doing?  He's got to get to bed!"
"Just five minutes babe."  I pleaded
"Your five minutes is half an hour!"
"Yes.  I know"
"This may be my proudest moment as a father and I'm going to run with it."  I may have even lifted my chin and stuck my chest out as I wiggled through the slider.  I think her face may have softened slightly.  It could've been a trick of the fading afternoon light.  In either case, Tanner and I found ourselves trompsing down the fire break in the open space towards our range.
We were free.  We were wild.  He shot arrows like a young man into a haystack and each hit or miss was a new discussion.  A new equation where values balanced and life meant living right now.  All that exists is the arrow.  It's flight suspends time and catches us from floating off.  Willing witnesses to gravities truth.
"Bullseye!" and indeed his premier shot was a centerpiece in a vast ocean of hay.  I couldn't have placed it any closer with a point blank jab.  And every shot after that fell away but we kept the bullseye arrow in.  A tangible goal:  he wants to split it in half like Robin Hood. 
Each arrow is a new discussion, a gateway connecting our worlds:  so far apart yet running in parallel circles.
We pull them out and start fresh but the bullseye arrow remains.  Each arrow is a new conversation another leap of faith, another bond between us hammered home.  That bullseye will always remain.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The giftcard was a Christmas gift from my sister four years ago. Presumed lost in the Christmas packing (see my blog about Trashic) the card lay dormant for years, lurking inside the pristine but empty flip mino packaging box. Politely acknowledged, filed in a likely safe spot, and then promptly forgotten. The Card as it shall now be known, escaped certain annihilation that day and yet it's fate so much worse. Like the evil "prospector" from toy story who betrays "Woody" the card smoldered for years. Obsessed with extracting a most satisfying revenge on those who had imprisoned and neglected him.
Oh if only the card had any idea as to the pain and suffering his grieving owners had expired in securing his value. The calls they made to gift card employees from India, sitting in a room infested with cubicles, ringing phones and ceaseless chattering in foreign accents. If only the card knew the embarrassment and shame the family knew as they stalked ClaimJumpers, harassing managers, pleading with them to know if anyone knew the identity of this card and could replace it's 50 dollar value?
Please? Isn't there anyone who can confirm the card's existence and replace his value? Why I assessed a Male gender to the card I will never now as he possesses the stubborn, hard to get attitude of a hot female just as much as the evasive aloufness of a dude but I digress. We were given a code that didn't work and numbers that led nowhere. We had given up on the card after exhaustive spousal arguments. The card was dead to us and then one day we found it!
Oh the joy! The card lives! We skipped to ClaimJumpers, our feet merely brushing the pavement as the entire family floated across the Carquinez bridge, along the freeway and into the Willows shopping center where ClaimJumpers sat triumphantly awaiting our royal arrival.
The Euphoria as we entered was tempered by the familiar sights and smells of a run of the mill diner with cool Moose Antlers: "seasoned" waitresses, dank carpets and generic wooden booths. I thought of the prospector. Locked in that box, he'd gone batshit crazy. Defying all logic to betray his newest friend.
The meal was so so. Maya and i chatted as the waitress brought us the check.
This giftcard doesn't seem to work. It's already been charged twice for 50 dollars.
What? That's impossible. They wouldn't even let us cancel it!
I'll Get the manager. Said the seasoned waitress. She knows how much he makes and she's going to let him earn it.
The Manager approaches. He couldn't be more than25 and he's polite and to the point and I appreciate that.
I'm very sorry but there's nothing on this card. Not a red cent. There's nothing I can do.
I don't appreciate this. Something like a wave walls up inside of me and a storm from regions I haven't explored in a long time is summoned with breathtaking speed and urgency. I know that my wife and two young boys are watching and yet I cannot control myself.
I hurl the card like I'm turning two and hits a bald guy square in his forhead and I'm sorry but I'm still pissed and I find myself shouting
This card is fucking cursed!
Sit down sir or I'll have to call the police.
Call them! Somebody stole 50 bucks off this card and I want them arrested! I want my money! Where is it? Who has it? My sister paid good money for that and she deserves to have it count. And I kick the stuffed Moose in the gut and then I shoot down for his leg like one of those MMA guys going for the ground and pound. I've got it in a bear hug and I start to pull it.
Just like I'm pulling your leg right now!
Happy Birthday to me. Every bit of this is true up until I write "I hurl the card". Well, that part is true too, it just happened in my mind.