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Listening to the Wild

The honking of tundra swans is one of nature’s most endearing sounds.

Many sportsmen realize there is a lot more to hunting and fishing than putting a bragging-size animal on the ground or in the boat. They understand that the outdoor experience is a cornucopia of sensations, including some auditory. That’s right – sound. Experienced hunters and anglers know that the sounds that accompany their favorite recreation help to make their time in the field or on the water special. Some, like the crunch of oak leaves underfoot on a fall afternoon or the hiss of the surf as it slides up a barrier island beach, are generic to any outdoor activity and can be recalled by anyone who ventures out of the house on occasion. Other sounds, though, are heard only by those who call themselves hunters or fishermen.

Outdoor sounds can be classified according to the effect they have on the person who hears them. Some are startling. They cause an involuntary crouch, a quickening of the pulse, a gasp. One example is the “woofing” sound made by a black bear when he’s surprised by a hunter on his way to a deer stand in the predawn darkness. Another is the roar of wings as a covey of bobwhite quail explodes from some thick cover unexpectedly. Both are what a friend of mine used to call a S.E..E. – Significant Emotional Experience. They are sounds that, once heard, live in a sportsman’s memory forever and are part of what makes the outdoors special.

Other sounds might be considered anticipatory and, to a certain extent, they are what keep a hunter or angler hanging in there day after day, year after year. Sitting in a deer stand, a hunter hears a steady, shuffling coming toward him though the dry woods. A ten-point buck, a 600-pound bear? It may be nothing more than an overweight possum out for an afternoon stroll but the impact is the same. The suspense is almost palatable. It’s something that a non-hunter might find hard to understand but, in some respects, it’s the epitome of what hunting is all about. The actual appearance of the animal is almost anticlimactic.

A comparable experience for waterfowl hunters is the quack of mallards or whistle of widgeon as they pass by overhead. The birds’ vocalizing suggests they are looking for company. The fact that the hunter can hear them means they are close enough to decoy – and might if the waterfowler can make a seductive sound of his own with a duck call. But, even if they don’t drop down and cup their wings, the plaintive sound of the birds is as much a part of the hunt as the chill wind and the heft of the shotgun. It’s the song of spring on the Canadian prairies, of moonlit nights over Chesapeake Bay and frosty mornings in a Pamlico Sound stake blind.

People don’t generally think of sounds as being part of the angling experience but offshore fishermen know better. The steady drone of the boat’s engines, the splash of waves against the bow, the whine of the wind around taut monofilament lines and, most dramatic, the scream of the reel as a rod bows and line goes ripping off. Those are the sounds bluewater sportsmen know so well and cherish so dearly.

There are other anticipatory sounds that make time in the outdoors special: the “slurp” that a big bluegill makes as it takes a bug off the surface in the shallows of a farm pond; the hurried scratching of a squirrel when it heads down the side of a white oak tree on a frosty winter morning; the “whirp-whirp-whirp” of doves’ wings as they sail over a cutover corn field. One, though, is a sound that probably represents a particular sport more than anything else. It’s the gobble of a tom turkey. Resonating through the spring woods, the mating call of a lonely gobbler is the very essence of turkey hunting for all who pursue those regal birds.

A third category of outdoor sounds are those that are simply part of the background. They’re sort of of like the music you hear in an elevator. The cawing of crows in the distance; the contented purr of a squirrel just before it crawls into it nest for the evening; the whistling of wood ducks as they begin to stir on a wooded mill pond at first light. These are some of the sounds that we tend to take for granted but also some that the world would be much poorer for it they didn’t exist.

When I was a kid, I would lie in bed at night and listen to the whistle of a train as it headed down tracks a mile or so from my house. To this day, whenever I hear a train whistle in the distance, I get a warm, safe feeling. I get the same feeling when I hear a coon dog baying in a distant creek bottom on a chilly, autumn night; or a flock of swans honking as they wing their way past a cabin on the Alligator River in the half-light of dawn. Those are sounds that are as ancient as the ages and as special as anything I’ll ever experience in the outdoors.


Eufaula, Alabama – Members, guests and supporters of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) gathered in Eufaula, Alabama Oct. 14-17, 2015 for the organization’s 51st annual fall conference. SEOPA’s membership includes many of the most talented, well-known and prolific outdoor communicators in the country, and the group is considered by many in the outdoor industry as the premier regional organization in the country. This talented group met for four days to hone their skills, learn more about the industry, and network with fellow communicators and industry representatives.

In addition to a wide variety of workshops, clinics and seminars, an important part of each SEOPA conference is the prestigious Excellence in Craft (EIC) Awards. These awards are presented each year to members whose work represents the “cream of the crop” in outdoor communications. EIC categories include newspaper, magazine, book, electronic publications, photography, video and audio programming, entrepreneurial projects and special recognitions.

At the 2015 SEOPA gathering, New Bern, NC outdoor writer, Ed Wall was presented with the first place Excellence in Craft Award for an Electronic Publication story. The award-winning article, titled “The Fishy Smell of Spring’s Arrival,” appeared in the New Bern “Sun Journal’s” online edition on Thursday, June 5, 2014. It described the art, science and magic of smelling bream beds in springtime ponds and other waterbodies.

Wall was also recognized by the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative as that organization’s “Outdoor Communicator of the Year.” That award was for a three-part series on the decline of bobwhite quail populations in North Carolina and efforts being made to bring those iconic game birds back in their native range. Those articles ran in the “Sun Journal” from 12/25/14 to 1/8/15.

SEOPA EIC award winnersDSC_5585

Ed Wall – front row, second from left

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, NC  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 has produced the weekly outdoor page for Freedom Press and Halifax Media newspapers in New Bern, Jacksonville and Kinston, NC since 1997. Other outdoor 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, most recently, “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 under the bow, grab something refreshing out of the cooler and let’s head downstream.

Ed Wall - 2014

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