Monday, March 31, 2008

What a mess

I waded through a mess last Friday known as the Wisconsin DNR computer licensing system. At 10 a.m., surplus wild turkey licenses were supposed to go on sale. My two sons and I already had been picked in the regular turkey lottery and had our licenses. But, I was trying to help a young boy get his.

A week ago, a good friend of mine told me about his 13-year-old nephew who likes to hunt. But, his father died when he was 5 and he has had to rely on other adults to take him out. The boy's grandparents own a nice farm in Wisconsin that I hunted successfully last spring for turkeys, so I called his mother to try to help her buy him a surplus turkey license on-line.

Unfortunately, the computer system crashed and was down most of the day. Finally, in the evening, the system went up again and she called the DNR to buy the license. Sadly, she was told the licenses for the zone in which their farm is located had sold out. She called me with the news and I looked on the DNR website to see if that was true.

To my delight, it showed that there were, indeed, licenses left in that zone and I immediately called her back. We bought the license on-line while I was on the phone with her. Thus, our persistence paid off.

Because of my experience with the DNR computer system, I was able to stay on top of things and get accurate, up-to-date information. I don't know why the person on the phone said there were no licenses left. I guess all of the glitches confused even some of the people who work with the computer system. I'm just very grateful it all worked out for this young boy to go on his first turkey hunt.

The best part is I have a friend who's an expert turkey hunter and has agreed to serve as a guide for my friend's nephew. I'm excited to help make this happen for a boy who surely continues to feel the pain of the loss of his father. I can identify with this because my two oldest boys lost their mother in 1995 when they were 4 and 3. I pray God will bless the hunt and make it memorable for all of us.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I can see clearly

I just bought a new pair of binoculars after weeks of research. I settled on a pair made by Nikon called the Monarch. There is a staggering array of choices out there and a very wide price range, from about $50 all the way up to $1,900. Because I am a photographer, I appreciate quality optics, but my budget would not allow me to shop the high end of the price scale.

So, like many others, I tried to figure out a way to get the most bang for my buck. I went to three different stores and people at each store recommended the Nikon Monarch as a quality binocular at a reasonable price -- $270. It comes close to matching the high-priced ones in quality.

As I looked through my new binoculars at home, I couldn't help but think of Father Tom Margevicius. He is an avid bird watcher and he took me out last spring. He is passionate about this hobby and he owns several pairs of high-end binoculars. He is adamant about getting the best optics he can so that he can achieve the sharpest vision. This is critical when trying to see all of the fine details on the dozens and dozens of small birds that he observes on his many outings. When it comes to binoculars, he settles for nothing less than the best.

As I reflected on this, I began to wonder about spiritual vision. How much do I care about seeing spiritual things clearly? God doesn't offer us spiritual binoculars, but he does give us His Word, the Church, the sacraments and other brothers and sisters in Christ. If we use all of these things, our spiritual vision should be good. And, most of all, we should pray daily. Now that we are in the Easter season, this is a good time to commit to daily prayer. It's a good way to clear up any spiritual fog.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"I absolve you from your sins"

I never tire of hearing these words from a priest: "I absolve you from your sins."

I heard them again on Tuesday of this week during confession at my parish, Nativity of Our Lord in St. Paul. I went to a communal penance service, which our parish offers before Christmas and Easter. I like to take advantage of the opportunity to go to confession during Holy Week and right before the Triduum services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. The event was well attended and all of the folks there, including me, got a chance to go to private confession. There were nine priests there and I thank them all for taking the time to come and serve us in a very important way.

Later on that evening, I reflected on those words priests are trained to say to each person who comes to receive the sacrament. You could say that hearing those words means your confession was a success. I couldn't help but compare that to success in the outdoors. When it comes to catching fish or harvesting game, a host of factors determine whether one will be successful -- weather, skill in pursuing the quarry, mood of the fish or animal, etc.

But, in the confessional, all that is needed is a genuine act of contrition. Once you have made an honest confession, you are guaranteed to be forgiven. In fact, that is the point of the sacrament in the first place. God instructs us to go to a priest, not to bind us, but to remove any doubts about his forgiveness. That is something to celebrate during this Easter season. I plan on enjoying that gift now and God's gift of the outdoors in the weeks and months to come. Next week, turkey scouting begins!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Get ready

The warmup is finally starting. After a cold -- actually, normal -- winter, the mercury is climbing above freezing and the snowpack will soon turn to puddles. Actually, a year ago, we had 20 inches of snow on the ground, thanks to two big snowstorms in late February and early March.

So, despite all of the cold we've had this winter, we have less snow on the ground than we did on this date last year. Naturally, I'm looking ahead to spring turkey hunting and the fishing season. My imagination is coming alive with dreams of getting a big gobbler and a trophy bass, but I'm also engaged in the preparation for those experiences.

This is a great time of year to get ready for your outdoor adventures. I've done more work than normal to prepare. I've bought a fishing boat and am doing some tinkering to make sure it's fully operational come opening day. I also have been hard at work getting places to turkey hunt both in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I have talked to landowners in both states and gotten permission to hunt on some great farms that have lots of turkeys on them.

Once the snow is gone, I'll go out and do some scouting. In the meantime, I have been spending time on a great software program called Google Earth. It provides satellite photo imagery that you can manipulate in a variety of ways, including tilting to see changes in terrain.

This is important in turkey hunting because hilly terrain is generally more appealing to the birds. You also can find out where the woods are and where the open areas are, including crop fields. Turkeys roost at night in the woods and spend some of the daylight hours there, but also spend lots of time in the open, feeding and breeding.

I have found Google Earth to be an invaluable tool, especially for scouting new areas. I have used aerial photos and topographical maps, but I like Google Earth much better. Plus, it saves money that I previously have spent to buy aerial photos. This is one instance where technology has made hunting more fun. In just a couple of weeks, I'll begin exploring the places I have been viewing on Google Earth. Can't wait!