Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I think that many of you can relate to my desire for the Digest to become more of a forum than a soapbox. Its the middle of the whitetail season and I'm switching focus and putting up a fish post. This is the first correspondence from Clay McInnis, a friend and hunting partner. Clay gave me a fishing report from the Andes mountains in Argentina, which is good, because if I'm ever in the area in the next fifteen years, I'll have an idea on fly pattern and size.

Patagonia, Argentina

Juan, our fly fishing guide, was going 152 km/h through the winding roads of the Andes Mountains, which was the last thing I needed after 26 hours of travel the day before.  The scenery was gorgeous, with lakes and rivers slicing through the mountain ranges and plateaus that separate Patagonia and Chile.  On our drive to San Huberto we saw wild boar, red black tail deer, bald eagles, Ted Turner’s 37,000-acre ranch and fishing lodge on the Carzancuda River, Condor’s nests, and active volcanoes including the dormant Lanin.  Once we reached the San Huberto Lodge, a picturesque fishing lodge south of Junin de los andes run by a family from Norway, Juan showed us to our room while the cook prepared us a VLT (venison lettuce tomato) sandwich with a pitcher of their very own San Huberto spring water.  Delicious doesn’t do this meal justice. 

After traveling over 30 hours I was struggling to keep my eyes open, but Juan wanted us to take full advantage of the sun being out at 9pm.  We put on our waders and eased into Rio Maelleo.  The water was cold and I couldn’t feel my feet, but it was the first time in my life I hooked onto a rainbow after 9:30pm.  My blood started to flow.  The topography and view of San Huberto was unbelievable, and harked a time when dinosaurs roamed the land.  It was the most primitive and preserved place I have ever visited, and if you closed your eyes and tried to hear anything but nature you couldn’t.  The sound of rushing water and nature at its purist was the only thing I could decipher.

During the next three and a half days we caught several rainbows over 22 and 23 and a handful of browns over 18 or so.  Patagonia creek fishing is challenging because you have to play the wind, and the trout are nit picky on the mayflies.  They were hitting the nymphs during the early morning and hitting the mayflies during midday right before our picnic, and during the afternoon they really started hitting the streamers---especially the browns. 

On our final day Juan took us to the lake in the Lanin national park, and while the roads where in bad shape the water wasn’t.  The Lanin volcano was broken up by a mountain range that separated us from Chile.  Waterfalls soaked the sides of rock crashing into the lake that was as clear as the Caribbean.   We fist hit the brush on the mountainsides and had luck there with a mayfly and a nymph dropper.  I caught beautiful silver brown that was a 19 or 20, and a few healthy silver rainbows.  As the day progressed we started to tie on streamers and hit the currents in the lake broken up by the waterfalls.  On my fifth cast I got a strike and it hit real hard.  It took a dive towards the broken water and debris coverage, and stole my slack while my reel started to drag.  I was on a 6 weight and my reel was screaming.   I knew this fish was big and healthy.  It took a few minutes to get it to surface and when it did I saw that it was a real healthy brown.  I continued to fight it, and was only hoping that I set the hook.  I held my tip towards the sky because I’ll be damned if this fish is breaking off.  We got him into the net and on the boat and he was worn out.  He was a healthy 25 brown trout that put up a hell of a fight, one that I respected. 

The trip that dad and I took to Patagonia is one that I will cherish, and the fact the we were on the water together landing fish of a lifetime brought us closer together, something that you can’t experience going out for pizza and a beer.

-Clay McInnis: December 6, 2009

Not that there is anything wrong with beer or pizza.

Happy hunting. 


Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Usually the end of november I find myself in a bit of a rut (and not the exciting kind). Thanksgiving for me is spent in the suburbs of Atlanta, away from the field. The last few years I have come back with an anxiety about the next two months. Whitetail season in both Mississippi and Alabama ends January 31, so there is still plenty of time remaining to fill the freezer and hopefully take that special buck. However, the proverbial half-way point of December 1 does little except aid in remembering missed shots and blown opportunities. The cool part of the hunt is growing and learning, with an ever increasing respect for both the game and success. This is hard stuff (The road is supposed to represent something...can't really figure out what).

Most of those that I hunt with and around have already accomplished their season goals by now, whether that is that first whitetail bow-kill or that yearly buck. That is very nice to see, but it sure doesn't help in decreasing my own frustration. Luckily, there is some venison in the freezer from the roommate that I have access to, so that can hold me over until the arrow connects. Not that I haven't been in a good position. I have recorded seeing 31 deer in fifteen hunts, which is a rate just over 2 deer seen per hunt. At least I'm in the ballpark, even if its the nosebleeds. 

I'm searching for some profound thoughts for the digest, but sometimes they just don't come. The season makes you tired, as it should. There are no secret for success, just hard work, knowledge, and skill. By now, you all should be tired, especially if your rut is coming to a close. We're just getting into it down south, so I can imagine that I won't be doing much of anything else in the coming weeks, which is sure to take a toll on mind and body. 

When I started to hunt four seasons ago, I remember driving home in the truck after a weekend in the woods and realizing that my shoulders were as relaxed as I could ever remember them. It was as if all of that physical anxiety from living day to day had just left my body. That was the day that I decided that this would be something that I would do, something that I would become. Well, now I sit four years later and I have mixed emotions. The more I learn, the worse I feel at this, even though I am finally putting myself on deer that I have scouted by myself for the first time in my life.  I think I will just be relieved when success finally does come. I really am ready to have that anxious spirit lifted from my shoulders. 

So, whether or not you have filled the tag and the freezer, just be encouraged to stick with it.  Its a long season (for some), and it isn't supposed to be easy. Upcoming at the digest we will have a few guest posts from hunters far more successful and experienced than me, including a report from the South Dakota pheasant opener (the photos here are taken by Clay McInnis and are a look forward into that post) and the Mississippi duck opener. Carson will be weighing in on the fishing front, and hopefully I will have some good news to report in the coming weeks. 

Happy hunting.


Monday, November 9, 2009

cold hands.

When the hunting is slow...it makes you miss fishing. Here is an essay published in the spring 2009 edition of the Belmont Literary Journal. For a campus publication, I was very impressed with the quality of work that was chosen. I was no where near the creme de la class, but it was an honor to be recognized for good writing at a place where there is a ton of great writing. My friend Carson is going to write a guest post coming in the next few weeks on some of his adventures with the rod and reel. He has far more than I do, coupled with a much more experienced perspective on the matter (in case you haven' t noticed, I like the concept of perspective). In the meantime, I hope this suits your fancy.

Cold Hands

The best part about cold hands is how much the hooks hurt when they snag your fingers. My woolen gloves are cut at the second knuckle to expose the ends of my fingers, to make convenient my pathetic attempts at orvis and clinch knots. When the air is this cold on the river, the only way to warm your hands is to remove the gloves, undo the suspenders on your waders, and dive your hands into the front of your pants, all the while attempting to retain any semblance of dignity as a group of seasoned fishermen pass in a drift boat making successful casts to the same exact water that you have been working for the past ten minutes.  However, if I were here for dignity, I would have quit months ago. Also, if I were here to catch fish, I would have quit months ago.  I read fly fishing magazines during the week, explaining the difference between a stack mend and a roll cast, the appropriate situation for woolly buggers, and the importance of quality knot tying. I am still working to keep the same hook tied to the same damn piece of string for more than four casts before it unexplainably disappears into the forest of seaweed, rocks, and mud that is the river bed.

            Today is especially brutal, as the high water levels and mid-day start do nothing to coax the trout from their shoreline caverns for a one-course meal of barbed steel, elk-hair, and copper wire. The truth is, I don’t need to catch a fish, I just need a fish to swim up to me, tap me on the leg, and say “Hey, we see you, and we hate to make a fool out of you, but we really are not going to bite that, it’s silly.  Why don’t you just take a break to enjoy the scenery and let some guy who thinks he knows what he is doing wave his stick around so we can make a fool out of him instead.” Then I wouldn’t be wasting my time getting my hopes up thinking “THIS IS THE CAST!” The reality is, I will continue to fish, continue to learn, and continue to make an ass of myself on the river because this sport is so insanely difficult.

            I mentioned the thing about the cold hands. I love that part. I love the part where I accidentally stick myself with my 22 zebra midge right on the tip of my middle finger (which in turn I can conveniently wave at my friend Sam, who is fifty yards downstream, in an effort to convey my thoughts concerning my luck and skill at both tying knots and catching fish). I love it because it makes things even. The thing about sport fishing is that it really is not a sport at all. Maybe it is, but it is not like if I don’t hook the fish first, that he (excuse the gendered pronoun) is going to somehow cast a hook baited with a cheeseburger onto the shore in hopes of catching and eating me. I think “sport” may be too generous. Perhaps it can be justified by the exorbitant prices that we pay for gear just to fool a ten-inch rainbow. Hell, if I release him, he’s out a sore lip and an inconvenient trip to the surface, while I’ve paid $200 for my rod, $100 for my reel, $50 for line, $6 for leader, another $6 for tippet, $50 total for flies, and a shitload for waders, vest and boots amounting to another $300. I think I might rather go for the lip piercing and a bottle of scotch and call it even with the fish. Instead, I hold the fish for a few seconds, amazed at the monetary price I pay to anger something that could live in my aquarium.  Back to the point about the hands, the part about making things even. The odds are completely in the fish’s favor, but what does he gain from my presence at the river? The fish gets no satisfaction from winning (not that it should, I am a terrible fisherman), no trophy, not even recognition. The only time a  fish is recognized is when it loses. Cold hands make it hurt, and I think that I deserve to hurt, even just a little, if this is to be called sport.

            Like I said, I do not come here for the dignity or the fish. I need this more than anything. I need to feel the river’s steady, uninterrupted rhythm rushing around my feet as I wade carefully in the shallows. I need to move slowly through the silt and stones as I listen to the sound of my legs carefully navigating the current, like the steps of a nervous doe as she steps into the open at dusk. I need the river because it makes me alive. I feel as though I belong here. There is a place for me at the river, and I think it needs me here just as much as I need it. Let me clarify that it does not need me here on my terms, but rather on its own. Nature does not need me to govern, regulate, exploit, capitalize, or intervene on the delicate system of balance. Rather, it needs me to take part in it. The river needs me to cleanse my nervous soul with its peace, because at the river, peace is every step. It needs me to come alive, because as a part of nature, when I am truly alive, then I can truly participate in and appreciate the natural dialogue.

            This is what I have learned. In order not to be truly dead before the actual biological event occurs, I must engage in this discourse with nature, I must once again become a part of it. In his commencement speech at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace gives this amusing yet profound anecdote:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning boys, how’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’ 

No one thinks about breathing until the first time they cannot. Imagine the first time your brother held you underwater longer than you expected. As he let go of your head, your lips touched air once again and the urgency of your lungs burst into the most violent, beautiful gasp until the deepest and most fulfilling breath of your life moved you back to a state of normalcy.

This is fishing in human terms. The hook pierces, the air suffocates, but now the fish knows what the water actually is. Maybe the fish sat under one rock for its entire life, with nothing else on its mind except that one rock and whatever crustacean meals floated by. It had no idea that there was an entire river to be explored, that there was an entire world of which it is a part. The fish is the same as me. In the same way that the river on my legs and the hook in my finger remind me that I am alive, perhaps the air on its gills and the hook in its lip say the same thing to a fish. There is a part of me that wants to believe that fish do not jump out of the water until a person catches them. After all, you never know that you are dead until you realize what it is like to be truly alive.

Fish on.


Friday, October 30, 2009

dream season lost.

I was in the stand last night. It was eighty four degrees as I set out on the two hundred and fifty yard trek from truck to tree. I arrived with sweat pouring down my face, trudging noisily to the edge of a well utilized funnel.  I should have turned around, and I knew it, but my stubborn mind always pictures Mr. Big quartering away at fifteen yards every morning and afternoon that I hunt the bed-stand.  Having a chance at least eases my mind. 

The hunt turned about how you would think: wrong spot and none-deer. However, and as always, a lack of action allows for contemplation, and they are equally necessary to the success of a season. Sometimes the woods make do not make sense until you see them from the top of a tree. I thought initially that I was on the edge of a prime bedding area for deer. I found that I had ventured between the sheets and was resting my head on the pillow, essentially trying to kill while announcing my intentions. Being in the middle of the cane sure allows you to understand what is happening with deer. It also is a surefire sign that you will remain with no food in the freezer.  The bugs were bad and even if I had been in the right tree, the shots that would be presented would have to be quick and decisive, which is not the remedy for my early season habit of rushing the release. 

At this point of the thought process, my mind wandered back to opening weekend (last post). I suppose that I imagined this season to be the year it all came together with me and the bow. More time on the stand, thorough scouting, more mastery of the bow, and weather that seemed like it was cooperating at just the right time. The dream season. 

I was discouraged thinking about my expectations and then thinking about what has actually transpired. I have rushed two shots that cost me two deer (one miss, one unrecovered), which has been followed by ungodly october heat and zero deer movement. I sat disappointed for some time, watching a spider gracefully wrap a fly caught in a well placed web. The spider would climb up to anchor herself, only to float back down to knit the casket for the unsuspecting prey. 

The hunt is only successful for those that deserve it. It takes a dedication to finding the game, to mastery of the stick and string, to planting the crop, and it takes time. Thinking about two weeks ago, if the arrows had connected, I would be looking at a season to remember, with meat in the freezer and a rack headed to the wall. Instead, I sat thinking about a dream season lost. Its easy to think about it that way when the woods are still. Off-target arrows tend to take permanent residence in the inside of the mind, and those memories make it more difficult to remember the taste of success. 

Part of deserving it is having patience. Nature rewards those who put in their time, who know the woods like the spider and who approach the hunt with respect and that "floating grace." It also should shed light on the true nature of success.  Success is the end result, but I would say that any hunter who harvests an animal without understanding the consequences, or even worse, who is apathetic or calloused to the death inflicted, is an utter failure. Not to be a downer, but this is a matter or life and death and it should not be taken lightly. Deserving it is more than just connecting with the shot, it is also about mastering the contemplation that Izaak Walton describes so eloquently.

I used to have discussions on fishing with my friend Carson, and I would always harken back to The Compleat Angler and Izaak Walton, and I think they spoke to the nature of success. Fly fishing, I would say, is not about catching fish. Reluctanly he would agree, until one day he looks back and says "It may not be about catching fish, but it sure as hell isn't about NOT catching fish." And he was right. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

at the rack.

The first week of Alabama bow season has come and gone, capped off by a evening hunt that produced this tall, massive seven point buck-deer for Sam. Sam introduced me to bowhunting three seasons ago, and it is only fitting that I missed this buck only two nights before at twelve yards. Sam's thirty yard shot just before the end of legal shooting hours was well placed and resulted in the kind of swift and respectful kill that we all strive for.  This was Sam's first buck taken with the bow, and has been aptly named "Stan-Buck."

Our friend Clay also took his first whitetail with the bow over the weekend, arrowing his first on his own farm, then finally filling the freezer on Sunday night with a beautiful twenty five yard shot and a forty yard blood trail. Quite the exciting  weekend. Between the five in our party, there were other shots taken and some deer that went sadly unrecovered, but there is little more that can be asked of the early season. Temperatures were constantly in the forties, the moon was dark and the deer were moving. 

For me, it takes some time to get back into the rhythm of the hunt, and the more that I contemplate it I find that it is more like getting into the the rhythm of the season. It should be slower, it should be a shift in perspective. Autumn is a time where, conceptually, we move from taking the yields of the soils to participating in the harvest of the game. It is less methodical, more still, colder, quieter...and it is good.  It almost seems like a time of cleansing. Cleansing not only of your thoughts, of the mechanical routine of the modern adult routine, but a reaping the surplus of what your fields and labor have sustained. 

Back to rhythm. My first hunt of the year I sat a small archery plot that I had planted in late august. It is near an opening in a long fence-line between bedding areas, a consistent funnel for deer. I climbed into the tree late, reached the top, and then realized that my face mask was on the ground. First of all, a damn face mask is worthless, I don't know why I use it. The only camouflage I truly believe in is cover scent and being still, the rest is a marketing scheme that has us all hypnotized. I took it as a sign and stayed in the tree. Soon, though, I heard a thud, bent over the edge of my stand, and saw my bow sight lying on the ground. Hard to shoot a deer without a sight, so I climbed down and then back up. The next morning I forgot my stabilizer at camp. 

I ended up missing two deer at very close range this weekend, both because I rushed the shot. The second missed shot flew over the buck pictured above that was killed by Sam only two evenings later. It all comes back to rhythm. Rhythm is such a valuable and beautiful human sense, and the closer our we can match the rhythm of our selves with the rhythm of the nature with whom we participate, the more closely we will know and celebrate it.

One book that I am reading right now is Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel.  Lets start by saying that I am in no way a mystic and I really do not practice Zen in the least. I was 
really just hoping for some shooting tips. Turns out this book gives zero shooting tips. I just want to leave a few quotes that I think are relevant to anyone, not just a theologian, philosopher, or mystic. 

"Unless we enter into...experiences by direct participation, we remain outside, turn and twist as we may. This law, which all genuine mysticism obeys, allows no exceptions."

Consequently, by the "art" of archery he does not mean the ability of the sportsman, which can be controlled, more or less, by bodily exercises, but an ability whose origin is to be sought in spiritual exercises and who aim consists in hitting a spiritual goal, so that fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself...In this contest of the archer with himself is revealed the secret essence of this art, and instruction in it does not suppress anything essential by waiving the utilitarian ends to which the practice of knightly contests was put.

Certainly a mouthful. If I could change one part of that, I would say that the the art of archery is the ability of the sportsman to realize the rhythm of the nature with whom (s)he participates. Sam and Clay found it this weekend. 

And it is a beautiful thing. 


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

pete fromm.

I would like to commend Pete Fromm for winning the 2009 Robert Traver Award from Fly Rod and Reel magazine. I just finished reading his story The Land Beyond Maps and was captizated. Also, I think that the magazine deserves some credit as well for choosing a story that truly has nothing to do with fly fishing, outside of its use in setting. Mr. Fromm’s writing is both creative and wise. It celebrates youth and love. Its one of those pieces that causes writers (mostly me) to shake my head in awe and jealousy. I enter the Traver contest most years, but I think that this year Mr. Fromm has set himself apart from past winners in both craft and content. I am sure that the judges had no problem quickly singling out his work as the deserving winner.  It is quite an amazing short story.  I highly recommend picking up the October/November 2009 edition of Fly Rod and Reel to read both the winner and runner-up in this years Traver Award competition. 

Monday, October 12, 2009


The American bison was once the most plentiful game in North America. Its population once thrived from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New York to Georgia, from Carolina to California. They were sacred animals, providing sustenance and economy to the pre-euro Americans. Today, the buffalo is somewhat foreign to the American identity, something akin to a myth or tourist destination. I would imagine that their place in the American character was similar or greater than the whitetail deer today, but they have quite simply disappeared.

 There is perhaps no chapter of the American narrative more tragic than the destruction of the buffalo.  The slaughter of the buffalo began with the introduction of the repeating rifle to native tribes. History books have looked at this singular event as simply the progress of rationalization and the thrust of innovation gifted upon the natives, resulting in the unintended consequences of relocation and mismanagement (I think that is as tactful as I can be).  While both traders and soldiers provided firearms to natives, the truth behind the disappearance of the buffalo is purely political. The post-war federal government of the 1870’s and 80’s was focused on reconstruction and expansion; reconstruction to rebuild the nation that they had destroyed, expansion to erase painful memories of the previous decade.  The rifle had immediate effects, making the buffalo harvest fast and easy, allowing the natives to harvest more than they needed, creating a market for buffalo meat and leather as a commodity back east (most of which was spoiled due to a lack of refrigeration on railcars), and thus depleting the buffalo population and forcing the natives to move or adopt an agrarian lifestyle. The American Bison, along with the culture of native America, ultimately succumbed to Western ideals of rationalization and conquest.

 Delegate R.C. McCormick of the Arizona territory is the buffalo’s Mr. Smith. In 1870, he lobbied the House of Representatives for protection of the buffalo on public lands. His efforts failed when he pleaded with congress to examine the effects that the buffalo destruction was ravaging upon the native populations in the western territories. Congress favored a “hard-line Indian stance” and saw this as a positive step for native conquest.  Others also proposed legislation in the coming years, resulting in the a relatively strong bill outlawing the destruction of the buffalo on public land. This bill was pocket vetoed by President Ulysses S. Grant, who is quoted as saying that the quick destruction of the buffalo will force the natives to adopt a “more agrarian lifestyle” and thus become more easily relocated.  With the destruction of the native economy (way of life), the federal government marched westward, forging the frontier on the shoulders of Columbus, Cortez, Coronado, and De Soto.

 The point of it all, I suppose, is that greed and power contributed heavily to the destruction of the American bison, and in turn, the destruction of Native American culture and economy, and it is sad. It is sad because of what we lost in natural understanding and resource. It is sad because of the state of native America at present. It is sad, mostly, because of all the death and pain that was inflicted for the sake of acreage and settlement. To me, this is the greatest tragedy of America, a nation of immigrants and champions, a nation with shallow roots.

 So this is The Buffalo Digest. It is a celebration of the harvest, an exploration of natural understanding, and an attempt to more deeply connect to the land and to natives old and new. My hope is that we never again allow the political extension of the people’s will cause such destruction and mismanagement, but more importantly my hope is that our roots grow deep and that our marriage to the fields and game fosters respect and honor. This is the place to explore those relationships and to share what it means to be a hunter, fisher, grower, and American.

 It’s the best week of the year, and I can’t wait for it to start. Happy Hunting.



For more information on the disappearance of the buffalo, read William Hornaday’s account of the buffalo legislation of the 1870’s and 80’s, along with Robert C. Kennedy’s 2001 The Last Buffalo cartoon essay.



Tuesday, October 6, 2009


welcome to the buffalo digest, a celebration of the harvest.