Out and About in North Carolina's Woods and Waters

“I’d rather have a moment of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special” – Steel Magnolias

That quote probably explains better than anything I’ve ever heard why hunters and fishermen take to the woods and water. What they’re after isn’t just food for the family; those days are long gone. Although it’s hard to beat venison tenderloin grilled over hot coals or a brace of wood ducks nestled on a bed of wild rice, few of us depend on wild game to keep body and soul together.

No, the reason most of us leave a warm bed in the dark of night to stumble through the woods or mortgage the family milk cow to pay for a new fishing boat has little to do with what we expect to bring home at the end of the day. It’s all about the pursuit of special moments – those instances when time seems to stop; experiences that are frozen in our memories long after other, more mundane, things have faded. Folks who don’t hunt or fish often have a hard time understanding. They equate success with a full game bag the same way some people define happiness as having a fat bank account. Don’t get me wrong, being rich is better than being poor; and a 30 lb. king mackerel certainly trumps a 6 oz. pinfish in the cooler. But, in the outdoor sports, it’s about a lot more than bagging a trophy.

Consider for example an early season bow hunt. I climbed into a tree stand one afternoon and watched the dusk begin to settle over a hardwood thicket I figured deer would traverse on their way from a cutover to some nearby bean fields. I was focused on a couple of gray squirrels cavorting on the forest floor when a slight movement caught my eye. I looked to my left and there stood two does – both definite shooters. One was occupied with some fallen acorns but the other one – a big-bodied, chestnut brown whitetail – was staring a hole in me. She knew there was something in the tree that didn’t belong there but she didn’t know exactly what it was or if it was a threat.

Outfitted in a “Leaf-a-Flage” suit complete with a head net and camouflage gloves, I figured I was part of the tree as far as the deer was concerned, at least as long as I didn’t move or she didn’t detect my scent. What followed was about five minutes of intense mental and visual warfare. The deer stomped her foot in an effort to get me to react, craned her neck and almost constantly tested the wind. I, on the other hand, remained rock-steady, even partially closing my eyes so she wouldn’t see the whites or catch movement.

Eventually, the deer relaxed, lowered her head and started picking at some white oak nuts. My instinct was to raise my arms and shout, “I won!” Instead I also relaxed a bit, only realizing then that I had been as tense as a bow string the whole time. I continued to watch the deer as they fed in a circle around the stand and gradually moved away from it.. Occasionally, the larger one would look back and I would freeze. Several times she moved behind foliage that gave me an opening to pull my bow but I was content to just watch the two of them feed. I told myself I was being selective, waiting for a larger deer – maybe a big buck – to appear. In reality, I didn’t care whether or not I filled a tag that afternoon. My hunt was already a success. I had been eye-to-eye with a crafty, mature deer and hadn’t been busted. During those brief moments I wasn’t even aware that I was breathing or my heart was beating. It was something that can’t be recreated anywhere but in my memory.

I recollect having similar feelings bass fishing on Virginia’s Back Bay years ago. The Eurasian Milfoil was so thick in most places that the only way to fish effectively was to cast a weedless lure and start reeling an instant before it touched down and sank in the thick foliage. I perfected the art of skimming a Johnson’s Silver Minnow spoon across the grass, watching intently as it approached small, clear pockets in the vegetation. One thing I never did master was my nerves when I would see a bulge in the water following my plug. It looked like a small submarine running just below the surface and it might be right behind the lure for ten feet or more. I knew when I saw it that, at any moment, there would be an explosion and the plug was going to be engulfed by a bass that might be a yearling or the trophy of a lifetime.

As in the case of the deer, the bass following my lure created a scenario that was incredibly intense and seemed to occur in slow motion. Such moments are like scenes in movies except, in real life, there are no fake special effects or stunt actors. The persons involved are the real deal and so is what’s happening around them.

I’ve been fortunate to enjoy special moments in a number of outdoor venues. A tom turkey blasting the air with his baritone gobble right behind where I was sitting in the early morning woods is definitely an experience that will outlast any game I might have bagged. So is a trolling rod doubling over and the reel’s drag starting to scream as line disappeared in cobalt blue ocean swells.

A duck setting its wings above a spread of decoys is a special moment for a waterfowl hunter whether he bags the bird or not.

Special moments don’t have to be enjoyed by just the hunter or fisherman. A bird dog locked up on point at the edge of a thicket, trembling with anticipation as the mesmerizing aroma of bobwhite quail fills her nose, waiting for the eruption of feathers and the explosion of a shotgun certainly experiences something that makes an indelible mark on her mind and in her heart. I know it does on the hunter who eases up behind her and then pauses for a moment to take it all in. It’s one of the “moments of wonderful” that make a “lifetime of nothing special” worthwhile.

Outdoor Notes

Decoy Weekend Still on Tap

The first weekend of December has been Decoy Weekend on Harkers Island for 33 years. With a few adaptions, it will be this year as well. Even though COVID-19 has caused the festival at Harkers Island School to be cancelled, festivities will continue all over the island on Dec. 4-6. The Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center (at the end of the road on the island) will feature decoy carvers, collectors, artists, music and crafters on the grounds on Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday. In addition, there will be food trucks serving delicious Downeast seafood, a beautiful and unique Gallery of Trees, and visitors allowed in the Heritage Center in limited numbers. Social distancing and masks will, of course, be part of the scene but the same Core Sound Christmas Spirit will be there as always

Hunting Seasons

Deer (NE & SE zones): through Jan. 1

Raccoon, opossum, rabbit, grouse, bobcat, gray squirrel: through Feb. 28

Fox squirrel: through Jan. 31

Common snipe: through Feb. 27

Ducks: Dec. 19 – Jan. 30

Tundra Swan (by permit only): through Jan. 30

Light Geese (incl. Snow Geese & Ross’s Geese): through Feb. 13

Sea ducks: check the NCWRC Regulations Digest

Bear (Coastal Management Unit, Zone 3): Dec. 12-27. Check NCWRC Regulations Digest for other zones.

Woodcock: Dec. 10 – Jan. 30

Quail: through Feb. 28

Grouse: through Feb. 28

Dove: Dec. 12 – Jan. 30

Getting Started cover - 1

Hunting with a retriever, whether for mourning doves, ducks, geese or any other game bird, is not a competition between hunters or dogs. It’s quiet moments spent scratching a close friend’s ears while he rests his head on your leg and you both scan the horizon for approaching birds. It’s the sudden, intense thrill when a flock of doves appears as if by magic, dipping and swerving as they sail over a picked corn field. It’s the involuntary crouch you assume when the “twee-twee” of widgeon sounds directly over your duck blind and your dog peers upward to locate the source of the noise. It’s the incredible sense of satisfaction and love you feel when a dog you trained plows through a river’s chop to retrieve a wing-tipped mallard that fell beyond the farthest decoys, or returns after a long search carrying a dove you feared might be lost in thick cover.

The competition in hunting is between hunters and the game they pursue, and well-trained retrievers are their staunchest allies. Many hunters would no more think of going hunting without their Chesapeake, Golden Retriever, Lab, Boykin or other fetching dog than they would without their favorite shotgun. The role those dogs play in the process depends to a great extent on how they’ve been trained and that is the purpose of “Getting Started.” It’s designed to facilitate a hunter in preparing a young retriever for the field or, if he wishes, for formal hunt tests such as those sanctioned by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The latter are not competitions per se but rather measurements of a dog’s ability at various points and an indication of where he and his master are in their training.

“Getting Started” is dedicated to those retrievers – Beau, Duke, Murphy, Kipper, Moses and scores of others – and to the men and women who love them. It was based on notes made by John Weller, one of the nation’s top retriever trainers, over decades of producing quality retrievers, including national champions. It utilizes a format that takes a trainer through hypothetical but realistic scenarios and explains how to train for different behaviors in various situations. It is, in its essence, a work book that will help a hunter and his favorite hunting partner get the most out of their days in the field.

A limited number of copies of “Getting Started” are available from the author for $9.95 (incl. shipping and handling). Send a check or money order to 3045 Red Fox Rd., New Bern, NC  28562. The author can also be contacted by email at edwall@embarqmail.com or by phone at 252-671-3207.

Book Cover - 1

Cane poles and coffee cans full of red worms; early morning in a hunting camp with gentle rain drumming on the tin roof; a bird dog, floating ghost-like through a stand of long leaf pines; tales and saddle sores, missteps and milestones you love to recall. Those and other topics comprise “When the Bobber Jiggles,” a new collection of tales and reflections of life in the outdoors by award-winning author, Ed Wall.

Reading “When the Bobber Jiggles” is akin to sitting by a campfire with an old friend recollecting how things used to be and ought to be. And, on occasion, stretching the veracity of a story to the breaking point. “Hunting With Henry,” “Bear Hunting’s ‘Other’ Challenges,” “Old Fishermen May Be an Endangered Species” – these are a few of the chapters that make up the 142-page, soft-bound book. They will take the reader back to places close to his heart in some instances and tickle his funny bone in others. Whether he is a hunter, fisherman, boater, camper, or just someone who enjoys messing around in the back forty or on a secluded waterway, there are situations to which he can relate.

Published by River City Publishers, “When the Bobber Jiggles” is written in a format that allows the reader to enjoy a chapter or two, put it aside, then pick it back up and not miss a beat. He will undoubtedly want to go back and revisit some short stories and reflections. Copies (personalized if requested) are available for $12.95 (plus $3 shipping and handling if mailed) from the author at 3045 Red Fox Rd., New Bern, NCĀ  28562. Ed Wall can be contacted for more information or special orders at 252-671-3207 or by email at edwall@embarqmail.com.

 

Ed Wall has a Master of Arts degree from East Carolina University with a specialty in Recreational Geography. His Master’s thesis was a study of licensed, commercial shooting preserves in eastern North Carolina. That topic was selected because it would satisfy the university’s requirements and also allow the author to spend a lot of time messing around with bird dogs and quail hunters, two groups for which he has great affection.

For thirty years, Ed taught Science while coaching football, track and cross country at the high school level. During that same time, he was writing for various outdoor publications, beginning as a gun dog columnist with the Carolina Adventure magazine. Ed is a member of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) and produced the weekly outdoor page for Freedom Press, Halifax Media and Gatehouse newspapers in eastern North Carolina for 23 years. Other periodical credits include Wildlife in North Carolina, Southern Sporting Journal, Fur-Fish-Game, Field Trial Magazine, Fly Fisherman, North Carolina Sportsman, American Field and Ducks Unlimited Quarterly. He is the author of “Getting Started: A Workbook for Started Retrievers,” published by Atlantic Publishing Co. in 1998 and “When the Bobber Jiggles – Tales and Reflections of Life in the Outdoors.” Recognitions include SEOPA Excellence in Craft awards in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Married with two children (one a Wildlife Commission technician, the other a dolphin/sea lion trainer), Ed is a native of Johnston County, NC and a long-time resident of New Bern, NC. He is a product of eastern North Carolina’s tobacco fields, back roads, black water streams and pork barbecue. When not writing or playing golf (very poorly), he can generally be found hunting, fishing, boating or romping with his dogs. Visitors to this site are invited to come along as Ed explores the backwoods and byways of the southeast and occasionally other areas. The express purpose of many trips will be to bag a whitetail deer, trick a tom turkey, catch a mess of bluegills or do battle with a bragging-size red drum. In some cases, though, it will simply be to consider the merits of a really neat sunset, remember an old friend who shared his love of the outdoors, or maybe spin a tale or two. Come on aboard. Stow your gear, grab something refreshing out of the cooler and let’s head downstream.

Ed Wall - 2014

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