Monday, November 30, 2015

My 2015 Family Whitetail Hunt in New York

My doe taken during the 2015 NY archery season. Please excuse the terrible pose.

Filling my freezer was always on my mind, but that wasn't the reason I went to NY to hunt. While most would just want to fill a tag, I wanted to see my family and hunt with them. My NY trip was full of laughter, awesome hunting, crazy weather, and a filled cooler for the flight home. The most important part of the trip was spending quality family time with those I love.

Getting into a treestand on day one was nothing. The decisions I would have to make once in the stand were some of the most difficult hunting decisions I have had to make. I sat in the stand, not 70 yards from my brother in his stand, for about two and a half hours before I hear that distinctive crunch of leaves. This was unmistakable as there had been plenty of black, red, and grey squirrels running around all afternoon. I turned toward the sound and saw a head poking through the brush. The button buck slowly came right up the trail I had walked in on, stopped 20 yards away, and waited. The second button buck followed and stood right next to his brother. I wanted to see what was following them and sure enough, a very large doe walked out and stopped perfectly broadside. I made the decision that she was going to fill my tag. She was downwind of me, but she didn't show signs of agitation. As I readied my bow, something set her off and she blew a snort and took off back the way she came. The two brothers took off the opposite way, toward my brother and stopped. Then they slowly walked back toward me and fed for 10-15 minutes along the way. One of the button bucks had a large body and I seriously contemplated shooting him. You see, I am all about filling my freezer. After traveling 3,000 miles, I was ready for some venison. Instead of drawing back though, I observed. I watched the bucks walk around my stand, upwind and down, back and forth, and stop to look around. The biggest walked directly under my stand and fed on lush wild green something. It was such a great sight to see. As they walked away, I thought about passing on them and how they may have been the only opportunities I would have, but it didn't bother me. I hoped that they would grow to be bigger bucks next year.

Hunting the following day near my Uncle David's house brought back some great memories. I was able to sit inside some incredible hardwoods and enjoy the sights, smells, and irritating squirrels I hadn't missed since moving to California. Ha! It was great to be back. The day was fairly uneventful until the evening watch. I sat in a large hickory tree where you could literally see for miles. About an hour before dark, my instincts told me to turn around and look behind the tree. I watched for two or three seconds when a doe appeared. Right behind her was the biggest buck I had ever seen while hunting. His 11-point rack was nothing compared to his massive rut-ridden body. He bounded right after her and gave me no shot, but it was a thrill to see. Almost immediately, a smaller buck appeared where they had taken off from and began threading his way through a grove of saplings. He ventured away from me as darkness fell. What a great day!

The next days were filled with laughter, stories, crazy weather, and all around a great time. We saw few or no deer within shooting distance. My brother saw more deer than all of us in one particular area. Unfortunately, they were near a different stand that was out of shooting range. The next day, my dad was able to fill one of his antlerless deer permits. It felt great to have a deer down and ready to hang. We knew the rut was heating up, so our plan for my last day of hunting was to utilize the stands we were in when my dad got his deer.

The final morning of my hunt was beautiful. A brisk morning greeted us as we all got set before sunrise. Once the sun hit the forest floor, it came to life! I watched a large mink tear through the woods and the squirrels scattered faster than I've ever seen them move. Much more happened over the next couple hours, but the best part was when I caught a glimpse of some deer near my brother's stand. I heard an arrow 'crack' and the deer take off toward the edge of the woods. The deer I could see was not hurt, so I figured my brother either had one down or he had missed. The doe I could see walked into an overgrown field of goldenrod and surprisingly, she turned around and walked right back into the woods. She took a deer trail that would lead right to my shooting lane! As I got ready for her to step out, I saw the second doe behind her. I hadn't seen her before, but now I had to be cautious with my movement. Another set of eyes could screw up everything! She stepped out to a spot that I had ranged earlier and started feeding on acorns. I drew, anchored, and let the arrow fly. She jumped the string, but the speed behind my arrow allowed my broadhead to catch the top of her back. She ran back into the woods about 40 yards and stopped with the other deer. I was incredibly upset that I had injured a deer and had missed at chip shot range. To my sheer surprise, once again, the deer turned around and took another trail behind my stand. She walked out and sniffed the air. I figured this time she would bolt, but she stomped, snorted, and kept inching forward. I moved my bow to the opposite side of the tree where I figured she would give me a shot. I drew my bow and waited. This time my arrow would not miss. She bounded away about 50 yards, stopped, and toppled over.  It wouldn't matter if I filled one tag or ten tags, taking this particular doe felt perfect. My brother watched the whole thing unfold from his stand and we now had a great story to tell. 

It seems that my claim to fame is to wait until the last day of each hunting trip to fill my tags. When I think back on it, it is true on many of my hunts over the years. My first elk, my first California deer, and my deer this year come to mind right away. I have to stop doing that!

The best parts of the entire trip for me were how well we work together and have a great time. We got the deer back to the house and began the process of breaking it down and packaging it up for my trip home. We worked quickly and efficiently, all while listening to the football game and sharing the stories of the week. I am going to think about those stories often.

My family put in a ton of hard work before I got there and I want to thank them for it. The amount of time they spent driving to locations, setting up countless trail cameras, setting up a small city of tree stands, and then making the meals and coffee allowed me more time to spend with them and to hunt. Thank you, Dad. Thank you, BJ. You guys made this feel like a guided trip to NY! I think the only thing I made on this trip was a cup of coffee in the morning. I also want to thank the companies and the people behind the brands that sponsor me each year; HHA Sports, Badlands, MINOX Optics, TightSpot, and Piranha Bowstrings. Thank you all for making the best products for hunting and for taking care of me. I also must thank my wife for putting up with my increased desire to be in the woods to hunt. She is a very strong woman and I owe her big time. No, she did not hack my post. I just know when I have it good!

Now that I am back in Cali, I have a freezer full of whitetail and a head full of great memories. I am always thankful for the time I get to spend with my family. The trip made me think about how much I truly love whitetail hunting and how I am already looking forward to hunting with my family again. Life is great and I am a blessed man. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Time of Thanks

As hunting season is in full swing, we sometimes forget to sit back and think about everything else around us. You all have probably noticed to reduced frequency of my posts lately. While I would love to attribute it to hunting all the time, it has little to do with hunting. In fact, it is mainly about my family and spending time with them. Life is great and I am not only thankful for what I have, I am grateful for the life I live. This year I am thankful for many things and I wanted to share some of them with you.

I am thankful for God's word, provision and guidance. I do struggle and sometimes do not agree with all of what the Bible has to say. It isn't easy, but I trust in God and have faith. If it was easy everyone would do it, right? The point is that I move forward, not backward. Keep moving forward.

I am thankful that I have a loving, awesome, kind, compassionate, and understanding family. This applies to my family here in California and throughout the eastern half of the USA. I wouldn't be the man I am today without the love and kindness we share. I am thankful I get to come home every night. To a home where I have a wife and daughter that mean everything to me. I am thankful I get to travel back to NY and hunt with my family whenever I want. I cherish my family time. It is truly a blessed life. 

I am thankful for my job that provides with the funds to live the life I live. The company that believes in me and allows me to be a provider. Working hard all my life has taught me to appreciate things like a job, good co-workers, and even health insurance. I used to take much for granted in these areas and as I grow older and wiser, I appreciate them each and every day.

I am thankful for great friends who I can get out and hunt with. The ones that work hard, hunt hard, and share ideas. While hunting solo can be fun at times, I love hunting with others as I like to share the experiences and hear the stories. We all chip in with helping the others out and I appreciate that.

I am thankful to have this blog as an outlet to share my adventures, opinions, and reviews. Even more than that, I am thankful for you. YOU! I am thankful that you take the time to read, comment on, agree or disagree, and share my blog. Without you guys this blog wouldn't exist and I am humbled and grateful that you take the time to read. Thank you.

I could go on and on for what I am thankful for, but one thing you will see missing from this post is 'stuff'. While I am thankful for the tools that allow us to get through each day, I am even more thankful for the experiences, adventures, and shared moments that fill my mind and heart. I hope that never changes.

What are you thankful for? Please share what you are thankful for and inspire someone today!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. May your day be fulfilled with love, happiness, and yes, a full belly.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Gear Review: DeLorme InReach Explorer Two-Way Satellite Communicator

Being stranded in the wilderness is not my idea of a good time, so I have a backup system in place for each time I head into the forest. After hearing about many hunters switching to the DeLorme InReach Explorer Two-Way Satellite Communicator, I contacted an industry friend who had much more insight into how it works. After discussing it with him and getting an introduction to the staff at DeLorme, I was sent a demo unit to test out for a month. It was right at the start of deer season, so I figured it was a great time for the full test. 

First off, want to thank Josh Moremen and Dan McFetridge for all of their guidance and assistance with information and getting me a unit to field test. You guys were awesome to work with and I appreciate you guys taking the time to answer each and every question I had. Thank you!

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, due to time constraints of my hunt, the demo unit was sent out quickly to get it to me before I left for my hunt and it wasn't cleared of the settings from the people who had used it prior. The staff at DeLorme said they would go over the setup with me to be sure I understood it, but I wanted to field test it as a typical user. (I am sure DeLorme doesn't walk each customer through the entire setup process over the phone and I wanted the review to be authentic.)

The InReach is an electronic GPS unit that you use in conjunction with your smart phone. You have to download the Earthmate app to your phone. Be sure to download the higher profile maps or you will find it difficult to find anything. On the low profile maps, you cannot see the elevation for each line until you zoom all the way in. 

Here the Technical Specifications and Important Information (as provided on the website):
  • Includes digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer
  • Includes an odometer and displays useful trip statistics while in the field, such as trip time, max speed, moving average, trip distance
  • 100 hours of battery life in 10-minute tracking mode with a clear view to the sky. Extended tracking mode can extend battery life even more for long-haul trips.
  • Color screen and virtual keyboard with predictive text for standalone two-way messaging
  • GPS accuracy to +/- 5 meters
  • Water rating: IP67 (withstands incidental water exposure; tested for submersion at one meter for 30 minutes).
  • Rugged, dustproof and impact-resistant (Mil-STD-810G for shock; IP67 for dust). 
  • Impact-resistant (Mil-STD-810G for shock)
  • Internal lithium polymer battery (2,450 mAh capacity at 3.7 V)
  • SOS messages are received by GEOS, a worldwide emergency response coordination center with 24/7/365 staffing
  • Weight: 6.7 ounces
  • Email, SOS and tracking functions work anywhere in the world; SMS availability may vary by country.
  • 100% global coverage via the Iridium satellite network, which is the world's furthest-reaching satellite communications network.
  • Maintains a satellite signal lock even in difficult GPS environments and embeds precise location coordinates in sent messages.
  • Pairs via Bluetooth with Apple iOS, Android, or Kindle Fire with bluetooth (smartphones and tablets)
  • A contract-free (minimum 30-day commitment) or annual satellite subscription plan is required for use; plans start at $11.95 per month. See plan details.) 
I tested this system out on multiple occasions. I tested it in high elevation, low elevation, and sitting inside a house.

The Cons:

Error Messages: Unit not connecting. In the parking lot, before our steep hike in, I confirmed the unit and my phone were paired via Bluetooth. After hiking in a couple miles, I saw a message saying they were not pairing. I tried to reconnect a few times and on the third try it seemingly connected. A half hour later, I went to look up a map and it wasn't connected again. I was sitting on a wide open hillside. When I got home, I connected the unit to my phone via Bluetooth at my house. More than a few times, I had error messages from the Explorer stating it could not locate my phone. The funny thing is, they were less than one foot apart each time. I am not sure what was going on there, but the DeLorme staff thinks I had a bug in the unit. No matter what, I wasn't thrilled with the result. My hunting partner was a witness to all of this, too and will back up my frustration.

Texting Issues: When texting, the messages come from a generated number, not your own. More than half the people I sent messages to didn't answer me because they had no idea who it was. You either have to set the unit up at home and test the feature (thus expiring one of your allotted messages) or you have to add a signature to each message.

Public/Private Land Boundaries: As a hunter in SoCal, I need to know where the public land stop and the private land begins, and vice versa. The InReach maps don't show public/private land boundaries like my current GPS added software. I put a lot of value on maps that show the boundaries.

Screen Size: In my opinion, the screen is too small for viewing. I am used to a larger screen where it is easier for a guy with glasses to see the screen and not have to hold it close to see everything. Like I stated, it's my own issue with the small screen.

The Pros: 

Service Options: You can set up a month-to-month plan or pay for an annual plan for service. This is really great for those of use who may only use the unit 4-5 months a year. You can suspend service without any extra fees or issues. I loved this feature!

Battery Life: The battery life was excellent on the Explorer. I was impressed with the internal battery and the ease of charging it.

Coordinates When Texting: You can text someone what is going on and it will attach your current GPS location with the message. That's a pretty cool feature, unless you don't want them knowing exactly where you are (i.e. giving up your secret spot). Something to consider before sending that text.

As you can probably figure out, I wasn't too thrilled with the DeLorme InReach Explorer. I also know I am one of the few who don't care for it. I did show the unit and my findings in the field with my hunting partners. They were witness to the issues I experienced. We all agreed that if two of us each had an InReach Explorer, we could probably locate one another very quickly. We did not have the opportunity ti test that out. At $379.00 for the unit and then having to pay for the service, I want something that will not only function as a standalone unit, but also is easier to use and update. I don't want to have to use and charge my phone and worry about a GPS unit, too. Personally, the current DeLorme InReach Explorer is not for me, but don't just take my word for it. There are plenty of other reviews that go deeper into the functionality and usage. Until I see an improved benefit and connectivity, I will not be buying one.