Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spring Gobbler: To Blind, or not to Blind...

I cut my teeth hunting Spring Gobblers at eye level.  A low seat, a vest with some back padding, and maybe a deke or two out there.  However, after a rained out muzzleloader season, I invested in a ground blind. Nothing fancy, just a simple pop up, but now that I have it, the blind just begs the question: Do I hunt spring gobblers from a blind now?

There are obvious advantages to having a blind.  If it's raining it will keep you dry and more comfortable.  I'm a huge advocate of comfort.  The more comfortable you are, the longer you stay in the field.  The longer you stay in the field, the greater your chance of success. The blind will conceal movement. This is great when drawing a bow, or a gun on a feeding deer, but absolutely critical when hunting turkeys.  There's nothing more paranoid then a turkey, especially one that has been hunted. As my boys get older the blind will also come in handy because anyone with kids knows well how poorly they sit still.  The blind will give us an extra layer of protection from all those little fidgets. 

There are some big disadvantage as well though. The blind is one more piece of equipment to carry in the field.  The blind above folds down into a round pack with a diameter right around 2 feet. At about 8 inches thick, and 12 pounds, it's not awkward to carry, but it is one more thing to carry. All my hunting ground is rolling, so no matter where I choose to go, I'm hefting that thing up hill at some point.  Also once I'm set up I'm more committed to that location, then I would be if I was just carrying my low seat.  I've either got to fold up the tent, and pack it to the next location, or leave it and remember to go back and retrieve it, before I leave the woods.  You'll also notice in the picture above, all blinds need to be "brushed in" so to speak. The blind by itself looks like a building.  Completely out of place in the woods.  If you stack brush around it that will help to blend the hard edges into the background.

Probably the biggest disadvantage is just the fact that I've had success without using the blind.  Whenever you have success, you really want to replicate that success.  Changing something major about your setup, puts you at risk of starting over, so to speak, and learning how to be successful with that new tool.

It's a toss up to be sure. 6 weeks from now, with the Spring Gobbler season starts in PA, will I find myself in a blind?  Probably not for the opener, I'm too superstitious for that.  However, since I own a blind now, I'm sure I'll test it out later in the season.  Experimenting later in the season has worked out well for me in the past, so maybe by the 3rd Saturday, I'll pack that blind into the woods and give it a test run.

Happy Hunting
Scott M

Monday, March 11, 2013

Local wilderness vacations: Shades Beach

For my 3rd installment, featuring wild places to explore locally I'd like to offer Shades Beach in Harborcreek Township.  While it doesn't offer the ranging trails and acres of trees that places like Asbury Woods has to offer, Shades beach is a wonderful place to play and explore.

The above map was taken directly from the Harborcreek Township website dedicated to Shades beach, and it outlines your options quite well.

If you've never been there, and would like to check it out, a warm Sunday is a tremendous option.  Especially if you've got a little guy with an abundance of energy, like in the first picture above. Just south of the main parking lot is a large picnic pavilion that is available to rent.  Immediately next to the pavilion are two nearly brand new playground sets.  Great options for a small picnic with kids, or even your next family reunion.

For the adventurous sorts there are a couple acres of woods that can be explored.  While the map does not outline any formal trails, I'm sure you will stumble upon several well used routes through the woods. These woods are bordered by a wonderful example of the natural cliffs, which surround the Great Lakes.  Unlike Presque Isle and its very typical sand and beach structures, most of the shoreline of the Great Lakes are actually rather steep cliffs.  These cliffs graphically display the geology of our region, with layers of shale topped by clay and topsoil.  Then just a narrow strip of beach separates the cliff and the water.

Even with the narrow strip of beach there is still room for the sun lovers among us if you're looking for a more out of the way area to work on your tan.  For the boaters, the ample parking lot and long boat ramp are a great access point to explore Lake Erie, east of the city.

Finally, one of the best reasons to visit Shades beach is the sunsets.  As a result of the angle of Lake Erie's shoreline it has been said that our summer sunsets rival some of the best sunsets in the world.  I'm not hardly a world traveller, but I was reminded by a friend last week of how beautiful the sunsets are at Shades beach when she posted a photo to Twitter.

It might be a small out of the way little park, but Shades beach truly has a lot to offer for all of us in northwest PA.

Happy Exploring
Scott M

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Signs of Spring

Despite the best the winter has thrown at us here in northwest PA, spring is blooming or at least my Crocuses think so.  This is the second year in a row where I've come home one day to these eager purple flowers plowing their way up through the snow.

I've written about the way nature reclaims what is hers (The beautiful thing about Nature) and with the spring thaw we can see how the cycle perpetuates itself.  Plants that have died back, and left almost no trace of themselves by September, reemerge and start their lifecycle all over again. 

And that's what draws me to the outdoors.  All of these temporary markers of our modern human life will go away.  Nature has been, and will be, endless.

The animals are at it too.  White-tailed deer breed in the late fall, so that they drop fawns in the spring when food sources are emerging, giving the fawn the best possible chance of success.  Birds, like wild turkeys breed and hatch in the spring, giving their poults access to a fresh supply of emerging grubs and tender greens.  Every species of animal have evolved so that the young have the maximum chance of surviving through the next winter season.

If you think about it humans are the really the same way too, just on a much longer scale.  We tend to reach our peak of breeding, and child rearing in our 20's and 30's when we are young enough to have the energy to complete the task.  Then correspondingly our offspring will reach their breeding peak while we are in our 40's to 50's.  For ancient humans, who had much shorter lifespans, this meant the older generation was dying off while the new generation replenished the tribe.  For modern humans, with double the life expectancy, we reach our earning potential and maximize various savings vehicles so that we don't have to work forever.

We're all animals, and we all adapt our behaviours to the cycle of nature.

In the next several weeks and months we will be able to shake off the cabin fever, get outside and explore the natural world.  Spring really is one of the best times to get outdoors.  You're motivated by the long weeks indoors, plus there is so much life re-emerging, there's always something to see.

It doesn't really matter what path you choose, just choose one, lace up your boots, and rediscover your place in nature.

Happy Exploring
Scott M

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Local Wilderness Vacations: Presque Isle

As the second installment of my occasional series highlighting local attractions with a wilderness theme, today I want to talk about Presque Isle.  To call it a gem in PA's state park system is quite a statement, but having visited many state parks in person, I'm not ashamed to make this claim.  Not to disparage any of the other state parks.  I've had many enjoyable trips in our lovely corner of the state. 

Presque Isle is a collection of some of the most unique and diverse habitats in the state. Being that the park is managed for tourism, the hiking and biking trails are exceptionally well maintained.  If you're not a beach person, and I'm not a beach person, I'd urge you to explore the hiking trails. has a wealth of information about the entire park, but their trails map is the best I've come across.  Many of these trails are easily accessible, and are an enjoyable way to spend several hours.  Better yet, the trails serve as a jumping off point for "off-road" exploration. After all the park is surrounded by water, and several roads, you're not going to get lost for long if you venture off the trails.

For the history buffs at the far end of Presque Isle is Perry's Monument erected to commemorate Oliver Hazard Perry's victory over the British during the war of 1812.  While the battle took place in the western end of Lake Erie, Perry's fleet was built right here in Erie.  The fleet even spend a winter harbored in Misery Bay, so named because of the miserable conditions the crew faced that winter.  Nearby to Misery Bay is Cemetery pond, again an area named for the horrible conditions and the sailors that were laid to rest in that pond.

Even on inclement days the park is fascinating to explore.  In the above picture the winds were incredibly strong, and blew parallel to the shoreline creating these amazing little sand devils swirling across the beach.

So much to explore, but for many of us who grew up nearby, we often take it for granted of what an awesome expanse of nature we have at our doorstep. 

Happy Exploring
Scott M