Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rail Bird Hunting

Last Friday I had the distinct pleasure and privilege of going Rail-Bird hunting. My hunting buddy Ranney called and advised that the tide was high at 11:00 a.m. and we had to be down on the Maurice River at 10:30. I cleared my desk and told my Secretary I would not be in on Friday.
Friday morning I snatched my Beretta Silver Pigeon over/under from the gun safe, grabbed 3 boxes of # 7 steel shot( Special ordered from Cabela's) and hit the road. Port Elizabeth, New Jersey is about a 2 hour drive from Philadelphia. However, when you arrive and go rail bird hunting it is rather like you have driven 2 hours to go back in time 100 years. The Camp family has been guiding these shoots for over 100 years. The cedar boats with sasafrass ribs are peculiar to this region and this purpose and crafted and maintained by generation of Camps. The Patriarch, Walt, arranges the hunts though he no longer poles. Ranney has a standing reservation with Walt, a special arrangement only afforded to a select level of Sportsmen.
Hunters have been chasing rail birds for over 200 years and the Camps have been involved for at least half of that. Teddy Roosevelt hunted here as did President Benjamin Harrison. Piainter Thomas Eakins was enamoured of rail bird shooting and the painting above is one of 6 he dedicated to this event.
Rail birds are actually a Sora which migrate when the weather shifts and Fall is in the air. They stop in the wild rice marshes along the Maurice River for nourishment for a few weeks. One can only hunt them on high tide and for the brief legal season and time they are around.
After arriving in Port Elizabeth, we drive down a long dirt road to the edge of the river where the boats and pushers are waiting. The boats are flat bottomed and have a deck fore and aft. The pusher/poler stand on the back deck using a 15 foot cedar pole to propel the boat thru the rice marsh. The shooter stand in front just behind the fore deck and you must wedge your left foot under the deck to stay balanced and hold against the forward motion.
When the tide is at it's peak, we shove off. Once you cross the river and get into the rice,you stand up, get steady,and load up. 4 boats in a line with 4 shooters and 4 polers. You hear the click of double guns being loaded to your left and right and you get ready.
Rails are about the size of Starlings. They jump up fast, fly fast and dive back down in the marsh in a flash. It is hard enough to hit them due to the speed and it is complicated by the movement of the boat. When you hit one your pusher "marks" the bird and moves up for the retrieve. It is astounding how good these men are at seeing just where a small bird went down 25 yards ahead in a marsh. Some of these guys are so good( many have been doing it 30 years or more) they stick the pole into the water, flip the bird up in the air and catch it. The legal limit is 25 and I shot 16 that day. I had my first double and was particularly pleased with that shot. This particular day there were lots of birds and we had a fantatsic hunt.
In all of North America there are on 2 or 3 rice marshes where rails congregate and where they are hunted in this traditional and timeless fashion. Unfortunately, with the advance of more Salt water from the Delaware Bay, the wild rice is retreating and this wonderful tradition may be in jeopardy.
After an hour and a half the tide is receding and it would soon become too hard to pole the boats over the rice. We then head back to the shore where cold beer and a recap of the shooting, good and bad, awaits. We also pitch in to clean the day's bag and divide them up among the shooters. Rails feed almost exclusively on wild rice so their breast meat has a unique nutty flavor that is simply delicious. I saute them in white wine with a few shallots and serve over pilaf and it is an amazing meal of a character and flavor so wild and distinctive that it impossible to describe.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fall Race Season

The Autumnal Equinox has passed and Sportsmen turn their attention from Summer fishing to Fall hunting. Attention is also directed towards the several excellent Steeplechase Races that comprise the Fall Schedule. The Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races are slated for November 7th and shortly before that is the Far Hill Race in New Jersey. The Jersey meet features a Grade I race with a huge purse. However, the majority of people who attend Far Hills are there for the party and do not even know that Racing is taking place. The Organizers set up the tailgate spaces about 6 or 7 deep from the rail so it is not a great Spectator course in the opinion of some.. If you get an invite to one of the Tents on the Hill the vantage point is fairly good.
The Shawan Downs Races were last Saturday and I was unable to get there.
This weekend the Virginia Fall Season gets in full swing with the races at Middleburg on Saturday and Sunday. The International Gold Cup is scheduled for October 16th. The Fall meet at the Gold Cup course in Plains, Virginia is less crowded than the Spring meet and affords the afficianado easier access and better seats.
Stay tuned for some prognosticating about possible best bets for these races. If you attend one of these Races...look around and you may see the lovely Maryland Belle who posts at "Let the Tide Pull Your Dreams Ashore" as she and her crew are big fans of Steeplechase racing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Urban Anchor

Raining in Philadelphia... dropping Mother in Law at Airport... at my Law Office fielding phone calls and e-mails and faxes....the artifical urgency of same...makes me wish I was one of the men pictured above.
How liberating and relaxing to be on horseback with good companions and trusty rifles and dogs... in the Wilderness discussing the stategy for the day's hunt...or maybe whether the horses can make it to the Ritz Carlton in the next town. Either scenario trumps being at my desk right now.

PS. Artist featured above is William Ranney. He is the Great Grandfather of one of my hunting Buddies...and another favorite painter of Sporting art.

Monday, September 20, 2010

For James: Osthaus Sporting Art.

The brush of dry sorghum branches against your Filson chaps,the familiar weight of your twelve gauge Ithaca resting on your arm, the rustle of leaves and corn stalks as your dog methodically quarters off and patrols the field ahead, the intake of breath when you notice he has gone on point, the slowed pace as you approach,the explosion of cackle and feather as the bird brakes cover and flies, the report of your gun and your dog's retrieve and bringing the bird to hand,these are the images and memories brought to mind when you look at an Osthaus painting.
Edmund Osthaus was born in Germany in 1858 and studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Dusseldorf. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1883.
As pictured above, Osthaus focused much of his work on bird dogs in the field. He traveled to Field Trials and various shoots to find his inspiration and translated these efforts into considerable sums. The Sportsmen among the Robber Baron clans began to buy his works for their mansions. The Vanderbilts and Morgans, Carnagies and Dukes bought his paintings to decorate their lodges and lobbies and dens.
Eventually, Osthaus became a Charter Member of the National Field Trial Association. This group thrives today and is very active all over the Country. They organize field competitons where Upland Game and Waterfowl dogs compete in various pursuits for medals and ribbons. Some hunters I know use these events for training and to learn better training techniques while others get caught up in the cliques and competitiveness of the contests. Lucky for us, Osthaus mainly wanted to paint.
Gentleman James over at Man of the 50's numbers Osthaus as one of his particular favorites. I am fond of Osthaus as well and have one of his reproductions framed in my office. If you have ever taken to the field with dogs and guns, these works stir your soul. You can almost hear the dogs yelping and smell the damp canvas, leather and cordite.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day. I am certain we all know someone who has a loved one in harm's way or is in harm's way themselves.Perhaps if we take a moment to have a good thought for those in our Armed Services who have been captured by our enemies or lost in a combat zone, it will give them some modicum of relief. Strangely, this day of tribute and remembrance does not get much play;it should.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sportsman's Footwear and Honorary Rednecks

ADG over at Maximinimus gets worked up about his Belgians, as do KS Legionaire,Laguna Beach Trad and a host of other shoe fetishists. Here in the jurisdiction of Sportsmen, we also get all aquiver over footwear;the divergence appears in the nature of said footwear. While no Belgians grace my cedar-doweled on-deck-circle, I certainly have my share of shoes that might show up in one of ADG's trademark down-leg style shots....the requisite monk straps, Alden tassels and such. There are dirty bucks and white bucks and a few varieties of loafers, a few pairs of cowboy boots and even a pair of slip-on UGGS with a shearling lining and Vibram sole that permits one to tread sockless in the depths of Winter.
Then there is the hunting related inventory. In particular, waterfowl specific shoddery is crucial for the comfort of the wearer given the extreme cold one faces in a Blind or standing hip deep in 40 degree water placing decoys or at 5:00 a.m. in the boat going 30 mph down a river to a blind. That is the kind of cold when the Labs hide behind the hunters to get out of the wind.The hunting footwear truly deserves a post of it's own so I will defer and demur on that topic for now.
However, the kicks pictured above really needed a blast. These neoprene lovelies are warm,comfortable and uniquely styled in a Hunting Club context. The slip on access makes them easy and the water and mud-proof composition makes them practical as Hell for wearing around a deer camp or duck hunting club and going out to the kennels to feed the dogs or attending to other pre or post hunt who does not want to wear camo shoes!!??. Yeah, most of you guys I'm sure. Neverthless, I grabbed a pair of these from Cabela's: Bogs Valley Walker in Mossy Oak Break-Up Camo.These are simply fantastic shoes in nearly all categories. Now, you would not wear these to The Cricket Club or even to a restaurant in town. However, as my Southern Buddy Donnie F. says, I am an Honorary Redneck and specifically warranted to wear Camo footwear. He realizes I am a Yankee and from some foreign( to him) realm called the Main Line, but he bestowed this rarified credential on me after an incident at Cedar Swamp in Delaware a few years back.
We were out duck hunting on snotty day of rain and cold wind. Our boat ran over a Crab Pot line in the dark and the prop was hopelessly fouled and we could have been quite thoroughly screwed. I promptly reached into the bellows shell pocket of my 3/4 length Max HD Camo Duck Hunting Parka, whipped out a Switch-Blade, leaned over the stern, plunged my hands into the glacially cold brackish Bay water and cut our prop free. I could hear Donnie laughing over the sound of the wind and the motor when we got under way. Back at the Boat Ramp he remarked that seeing me pull a Switch blade from my coat was the last thing he would have expected. That, combined with a few nice 35 yard shots I made on some Black Ducks that morning, as well as my willingness to sit and drink beer with him all night and enjoy all manner of tobacco products both smoked and chewed, and my abilities with fiery coal and meat,and my F-150, complelled him to bestow the title of Honorary Redneck upon me. I think I was as proud of that moniker as I was the first time a black-robed Judge called me Counselor.
So, in the words of the oft quoted and fabled Assistant Greenskeeper, Carl: "I got that going for me, which is nice."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Teal Tuesday

Reports from Delaware were that Teal had flown in one the front. The early Teal season can be a real treat...hunting a fast flying,hard shooting,good eating duck...and it's about 65 degrees when you hit the Blind just before Sunrise...a stark contrast to the frigid, finger- numbing temps we encounter on a harsh January morning when we are chasing Mallards and Black Ducks.
Based on this report, I cleared the decks( ie. told my Associate to cover my morning Court appearance) and headed to the hunting Club Monday night.
6:12 A.M. found me and my hunting buddy Ned in the Point Blind with an early season appropriate spread of just about 7 decoys. At first light we were buzzed by every Wood Duck in Kent County..they were pitching in and swimming around our decoys all morning...of course Woodies are not legal during the Teal Season.
Meanwhile, down river at Murray's Point Blind...Charlie and his pal from Chicago, got some shooting and harvested a few tasty Teal.
At the mid-morning bell we picked up the decoys, threw a few dummies for Ned's new dog...Drum... a delightful 14 month old Black Lab with a sweet disposition and a ton of potential as a Waterfowl Dog.
We then headed north to Helen's Famous Sausage House. I had heard of Helen's from a few First State Bloggers: Lucky Dog Life and the Silent- Since-May Brian of De. Blue Blazer. I also think it was mentioned during some Food Network the manager of the Auto Shop down the road from the Club got teary eyed and salivated when I asked about Helen's.
Helen's is a gem of a joint; a little shack on Rt. 13 north of Smyrna. The "dining area" is peppered with cheap Elvis prints and some of his 45's tacked to the wall. The real magic is what they sling over the tiny counter. They make their own sausage in house and serve it on a soft long roll with cheese and a fried egg. I scored the "Hunter's Special" which includes the above, plus an oval Hash Brown Patty to compliment the spiced ground swineflesh and pre-fetal chicken. As the duck hunter's gobbled and grunted over these cylindrical breakfast sandwiches, each made a mental note that this joint was now written in ink on the pre-hunt or post hunt gastro-line-up. Helen's even opens at 4 A.M. to accomodate the hunters. If you find yourself in Kent County pull the truck in the lot and order up a delight.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Working for Waterfowl

When the opening day of Dove Season has come and gone, it means that Duck Season is coming up. This requires a significant amount of work around our Waterfowl Hunting Club.
The Club maintains 5 blinds on the water and 3 underground goose pits. Before the season begins, the blinds need to be cleaned out,and re-camoflauged. All the members pitch in and we cut local grass to conceal the blinds. We also repair any damage that the long off season and harsh weather inflicts on the Blinds. This weekend found us so engaged and some pictures above show the guys at work.
Likewise, we have to clean out the Goose Pits and get them ready. We also clean the decoys and get the boats,oars and life jackets squared away.
Then we turn our efforts to the Clubhouse and perform a thorough cleaning. This includes cleaning out the 2 fridges, scrubbing the floors and walls and bleaching all the cutlery and crockery.Next is serious vacuuming and cleaning all the sheets and blankets.
It is a considerable amount of work. However, as the Amish say: "Many hands make small work." So when we get a crew of 6 or 7 members all hitting the chores, the list gets checked off rather quickly. After the work is done we usually shoot some clay pigeons and then have dinner, drinks and finish at the poker table.
Early Teal season is already here and I plan to dodge the office tomorrow morning to join Charlie and his Chicago pal in a Teal hunt before sunrise and then be back at my desk by 1 p.m.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Selling Beer and Booze

I am always on the look-out for hunting related themes in old beer and liquor advertising. One can find a good print ad in decent shape at a Flea Market or on E-Bay.With an inexpensive framing job you have a nice piece to hang at the Hunting Club or your bar. I have scored many fine prints and hung them in the Bar room of my Hunting Club and the guys love them.
At home, I have an office/bar/poker room on the second floor of our Barn.( I will have to do a post with pix on this soon...I was ahead of the curveon the Man-Cave thing I think...and it is a refuge that is the envy of my buddies and many Main Line poker junkies alike. I keep the best examples of these finds on these walls.I have some vintage back-lighted beer signs featuring pheasants and pheasant hunters and the Budweiser duck hunting plaque pictured above. I also have some brewery issued mirrors with hunting themes that are becoming more rare. Some of the stuff really does capture the relaxation and satisfaction of a stiff whiskey or ice cold beer enjoyed after a day in the field or on the marsh. Some of this genre is a bit campy and overly sentimental but nostalgic even so.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Football in Philadelphia

Football arrives this weekend here in the Quaker City. Yeah, a city founded on Quaker principles, you know non-violence and self introspective religious services and religious tolerance. However,that Quaker tradition has eroded and we are currently known as a Sports city of fans that pelt Santa with snowballs, riot in the stands as often as the worst U.K. hooligans, cheer serious injury to opposing players,vomit in the seats and God save the poor bastard who shows up on game day sporting the other teams jersey. Likely you have heard myriad tales of abuse meted out by beer swilling cretins in Eagles Green...the type of louts that show up for a 4 p.m. game at 7 a.m. to start "tailgating" and are completely shit-hammered drunk by kick off. The same clowns who believe a $225.00 Eagles Jersey is proper clothing for a 50 year old man on a 20 dgeree December Sunday....despite the fact that they do not have $ 30.00 for new shoes for their kid.
Well, my ranting is not the point of this post. What we Eagles fans are facing...knuckle- walkers and refined Sportsmen alike, is the X factor of a new quarterback at the helm of the offense. Our new QB, Kevin Kolb is pictured above. Can he lead an offense in the much harder NFC East to anything like a play-off season? Or are we destined for a 8-8 Season of mediocrity and A.M. radio call in show whining? Furthermore, the 400lb blockhead pictured above is the Coach of our team. This egotistical wanker cannot coach his own sons...let alone a group of spoiled over-payed prima donna animals. His 2 oldest boys have nice prison and arrest records and one even has a penchant for secreting his illicit pills up his bum. Real heir apparent princes in the making. I never liked Reid....I know.....he has a great record and all. But his record was largely compiled in a period when the rest of the NFC East really sucked. The guy cannot manage a clock and cannot coach the game in font of him...he is slavishly fixated on coaching a game from that laminated Denny's menu he keeps parked in front of his mouth- breathing and slobbery pie hole.He bungled the Superbowl and I think we should have shipped him out with McNabb..that is another story.
So, I'll be cheering for the Birds as will the football fandom of the Delaware Valley...but I am not very confident.
I did sneak in a picture above of a Lehigh Football player. Lehigh is playing Villanova this weekend and I will be at the game with the wife and kids. My daughter is a Senior in High School this year and Lehigh hosts a "legacy" recruiting day in the Fall.This Saturday is that recruiting day. My daughter will get a speech and a tour and some inside dope on Lehigh admissions and then we all go to the game. She has already been to Campus and to Lehigh v. Lafayette Football games since she was an infant. She would like to go to her old man's Alma Mater but is worried about getting in....Lehigh is pretty big on Alumni and legacies...but we'll see. I told her get into the best school she can that she wants to attend and let me worry about the rest. This whole College application thing is a subject for another post entirely.
Lastly, the pictures feature a Fellowes print of a well dressed spectator at the grid-iron stadium...suffice it to say you'll not see an Eagles philistine so attired...and only facsimiles thereof at the Lehigh game.
In closing, for those into the 1AA college football know, the schools that actually field scholar-athletes...(well many of 'em anyway)...Villanova is highly ranked nationally and won the FCS National Championship last year. If my beloved Engineers(M-Hawks) of Lehigh can beat them it would be huge!! I also loath Villanova as I grew up about 3 miles from their campus and learned to despise their Jesuit manner and "Gowny" attitude toward "Townies" that were generally their socioeconomic and intellectual superiors.....and they always pissed in the parking lot outside our favorite pizza joint on Lancaster ave. so you got a whiff of their stale undergrad urine when you picked up a pie.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Professional Sportsman- The Duck Commander.

Down in Louisianna they know duck hunting. As "The Duck Commander" says: "Little Boys growing up near the Mississippi Floodplain naturally tend to pursue ducks."
Phil Roberston, a.k.a. "The Duck Commander" was one of those boys.
Robertson grew up poor in rural Louisana with 7 siblings and hunting helped feed the crew.
Roberston was an All-State Football player and played at Louisianna Tech on a Scholarship. He became a teacher. Eventually, he concluded that his talents for hunting ducks would be better for his personality and for his growing family.
He began crafting duck calls. ...calls that worked...not calls that won competitions. Robertson said: No duck would even place in a calling contest." This is a sentiment I really embrace and find funny as Hell. In my experience, when using a duck call, what matters in getting the birds into your spread...not worrying about whether some Judge in Easton Maryland or Stuttgart Arkansas thinks you are good.
Robertson began making and selling duck calls from his home and with the help of his family. He is now a major player in the duck hunting game both in calls and other gear.
As you can see from the pictures above, he is a fairly scary looking bloke. If you saw him coming at you across a misty Marsh, you may take off back to the truck and bug out of there...
However, he is a gentle soul who is serious about his Faith and speaks all over the Country to many types of groups and organizations about his zeal for his Religion and how it helped him.
Now, I am not about the prosthelytizing, but I love this guy for his prowess hunting ducks and for his calls. I would love to have the chance to sit in a Blind with him some morning and learn some finer points about hunting ducks. Indeed, I never fail to be impressed by a guy who can take his passion for such an endeavour and turn it into a lucrative job.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Inspiring Sportsman: Overcoming Adversity

Tred Barta is a famous contemporary sportsman. Perhaps you have seen his TV program: "The Best and Worst of Tred Barta." Barta holds numerous world Records in Sport Fishing and has hunted big game all over the U.S. His T.V. show features astounding accomplishments such as shooting a flying Mallard with a bow and arrow and hunting wild hogs with only a knife. Suffice it to say he is a Sportsman's Sportsman.
Tragically, in May 2009 he suffered a paralyzing "spinal stroke" and has been confined to a wheechair ever since. Apparently Tred had a rare but treatable blood disorder that accelerated clogging of arteries supplying blood to the spinal cord.
Despite these adversities, Tred has started hunting again and has even been skiing in Vail. He returns to TV on the Versus network and will recount his illness and rehabilitation as well as his continued fishing and hunting while confined to a wheelchair. The new episodes will offer Turkey Hunting in Michigan and a sequence on the bear he shot in Oregon using an "off-road wheelchair."
Furthermore, Barta has been a great proponent of "giving back." He has raised over $1,800,000.00 for children's charities with fishing tounaments and contributions from his endorsements. One must commend such genrosity and commitment.
In discussing his paralysis and its effect on his life, Barta has exclaimed: "Don't take a single second of your life for granted." These are words we should all tape to our computer monitors and the dashboards of our cars or other places which we see on a daily basis. A reminder such as these words from a man such as this certainly should cause us all to treasure our time with our family and friends doing the things we enjoy during the short time we have in this dimension.
Tred, you truly are an inspiring Sportsman!