Friday, September 26, 2008

Preparing for the hunt

A successful deer hunt starts in September. And, I'm not talking about the bowhunting season, which opened Sept. 13.

I'm talking about the firearms season, which begins Saturday, Nov. 8. Even though it is more than a month away and we haven't even had our first frost yet, now's the time to get ready.

That lesson was brought home last weekend when I went down to visit one of the farms we hunt near Red Wing. I went up the hill from the landowner's house to check on a tripod stand we used last year and had left set up. Turns out a large branch from a nearby tree had been dislodged by the storm that went through the area in July and was laying across the top of the stand. The impact of the fall, plus the weight of the branch, bent the shooting rail surrounding the swivel chair.

So, we had to make plans to come back and repair the damage. In addition, the landowner said he would like to hunt with us, so we are going to help him get started. We scouted his farm for a good place for him to hunt, plus I'm going to help him sight in his new shotgun. Then, on top of that, we need to sight in our own shotguns for slug hunting.

It's work, but I enjoy it. We got one of my son's shotguns sighted in earlier this week and I'm going to work on the landowner's one next. I belong to a local gun club, which makes this task much easier. With a rifle range that has targets set up at 25, 50, 100, 200 and 300 yards -- plus shooting benches -- we will be able to sight in our firearms with a high degree of confidence and accuracy. Plus, we can identify any problems that come up and will have time to resolve them.

Such preparation is huge. There's nothing worse than having a curve ball thrown at you on opening day and coming home empty handed because of it. I know. It's happened to me before and continues to happen despite my best efforts at preparation. One curve ball this year is the high number of downed trees from the July storm that brought a tornado through the area. My brother went to the farm he hunts and his stand was thrown so far away from the tree it was attached to that he never found it.

So, here's a gentle reminder to get ready for the upcoming firearms deer opener by doing two important things: 1. Check the land you'll be hunting, even if you hunt it every year, along with your stands, and 2. Be sure to sight in your firearms, even if you have left them alone since last season, and, especially, if you have left them alone since last year.

The sad truth in deer hunting is that you often don't get a second chance at a nice deer if you miss the first one.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bridge and bass

I took a little detour yesterday on my way to some bass fishing on the Minneapolis city lakes. The weather was beautiful and I relished the chance to do some late-summer fishing.

It so happened that this was also the day the new 35W bridge opened. I couldn't resist the chance to cross the bridge, so I altered my normal travel route to do so.

Over the course of my 47 years, I had crossed the old bridge many times. So, from that respect, another bridge crossing was nothing special. Yet, I couldn't help but wonder what it must have been like for the hundreds of folks who were on the bridge when it collapsed. When you're on the bridge, you don't get a sense of the vertical drop to the river. It's like when you are flying in a commercial jet, you don't get a sense of how high you're flying.

Thus, it was hard to have any fear about crossing. Actually, if anything, I was more confident than usual. After all, the bridge is brand new, built with the latest and greatest technology. Hopefully, this fact will put everyone's fears to rest, though I wonder if any of the collapse survivors will ever again feel comfortable crossing a bridge.

That is why it is important to keep them in our prayers. The effects of trauma can be long lasting. I know I still struggle with that in terms of my first wife's death from cancer. For a while, I had an inordinate fear of the disease, worrying that every ache or pain was a tumor.

That has abated, due, I think, to the grace of God over the passage of time. I believe God wants to heal everyone who has suffered some form of trauma. We just need to ask him and be willing to trust, not only his plan, but his timing. It may take a while -- longer than we would like -- but God is faithful and those who wait on him are never disappointed in the long run.

As for the bass, they were tight-lipped on this day. Every year, I hear how good fall bass fishing can be and every year I struggle to catch them in the fall. Someday, I hope to figure it out.

I don't walk away too disappointed, however. I've had the best summer of bass fishing in my entire life, so I am grateful for the great outings of July and August. I'll try for fall bass one more time before winterizing my boat. I promised my friend, Mark, I would take him out. Maybe I'll learn how to catch fall bass by then.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Rain forest bass?

I am continually amazed at the number of priests I meet who enjoy the outdoors. I encountered yet another one yesterday after the ordination and installation Mass of Bishop John LeVoir in New Ulm.

As I was leaving, I saw Father Greg Schaffer, who serves as a missionary for our archdiocese in Venezuela. To my surprise, he said he reads and enjoys my monthly outdoors column in The Catholic Spirit.

We got to talking about the outdoors and he offered a unique opportunity. Not far from the Venezuelan mission is a fishing lodge that has become a hit with outdoors enthusiasts around the country and the world, including those who live in this archdiocese. The featured sport fish is called the peacock bass and it is said to rival the largemouth bass in fighting energy, plus it grows substantially bigger.

Father Schaffer said he would love to have me come down, visit the mission and fish for peacock bass. It's very tempting. I think I'll put that on my wish list. For now, I'll fish for largemouths closer to home.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

On the air

I got a unique opportunity on Friday to talk about faith and the outdoors on the air. I was invited by host Paul Sadek to appear on Relevant Radio for his weekly program called City Winds.

The invitation came earlier this summer and I jumped at the chance. First of all, I like Paul and think he does an excellent job on the air. Second, the outdoors is one of my passions and I enjoy talking about it whenever I can.

It ended up being a fun time and I would love the chance to do it again. Paul thinks that may happen. I told him it would be even better if we could do it from a fishing boat. But, then again, I generally don't talk while I fish, which my wife will tell you.

Here's the link to my interview with Paul Sadek.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Greed gone wild

I was excited on Saturday morning as I prepared to make the trip to Rogers and the Cabela's retail store located there. I had received a flier the week before and there was a spotting scope by a company named Barska that was going to be on sale for $39.99 for four hours only on Saturday. It normally sells for $99.99.

I called two days before the sale and talked to someone in the optics department. He said they had about 60 in stock, but I should try to come early if I could. Sometimes, he said, items on sale can sellout in half an hour. Originally, I was going to try to get there when the store opened at 8. Instead, I got there at 8:40.

I rushed back to the optics department and looked for the spotting scopes. They were gone. Long gone, said one of the men behind the counter. In fact, they sold out in five minutes. Needless to say, I was disappointed.

That disappointment turned to anger when I found out what had happened. Some guys showed up as early as 7:15 and there was a mad rush to the optics department when the doors opened at 8. Guys were loading up on the spotting scopes, with some filling shopping carts with them. A checkout clerk said she saw one guy with 10.

I speculated on what a person would do with 10 spotting scopes. Sell them in the parking lot for a higher price to those who didn't get there fast enough? No, the clerk said. The buyers would go home and sell them on e-Bay.

To me, that is not only unethical, it's downright disgusting. I call it a classic case of greed. Unfortunately, Cabela's could have prevented such a thing from happening by following the warning it printed on the flier I received in the mail. On the last page was a note that said Cabela's reserves the right to restrict quantities. In this case, that didn't happen and lots of people, including me, walked away disappointed.

To make matters worse, Cabela's was selling a spotting scope almost identical to the one on sale, but this one sold for $119.99. In fact, I picked one up and went to the optics counter, thinking I had found one of the scopes on sale. That's when he informed me of the higher-priced near copy.

I want to think well of Cabela's and not accuse the store of bait and switch. But, it wouldn't be hard to have that suspicion, based on what I saw. I made complaints to several people in the store and was offered a $30 discount on another spotting scope of my choice. That's only half of the discount offered on the sale item, but at least it was something.

What bothers me more is the greed. Sure, it's legal to buy down the inventory of a sale item, but I think it violates the spirit of the sale. Cabela's, I'm sure, intended for lots more folks to be able to take advantage of the sale price. And, I suspect store managers will be much more inclined to exercise their quantity limits in the future.

For now, I merely say to those who grabbed as many spotting scopes as they could on Saturday and then tried to resell them -- lighten up on the greed.