Saturday, August 25, 2012


In the autumn of 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I embarked on a two-week whitetail safari in the Southeast. My hunts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia went smoothly thanks to the help and generosity of people we hadn’t met before this trip.
Here’s the story of a rainy morning in South Carolina:

Sunday, August 19, 2012


In the autumn of 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I embarked on a two-week whitetail safari in the Southeast. My hunts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia went smoothly thanks to the help and generosity of people we hadn’t met before this trip.
Here’s the story of my second-chance doe in Georgia:
Luck of the Draw
            On the morning of November 2, 2006, Ligia and I left Wilmington and headed south to the home of Spud and Chris Woodward in Brunswick, Georgia. I knew Chris because we both worked on the edit staff of Sport Fishing magazine. Although we emailed back and forth nearly every day, we rarely saw each other. I had never met her husband, Spud.
We paused at the Woodwards’ house just long enough to stash our North Carolina venison in their freezer, transfer luggage to Chris’ SUV and get on the road to their hunting camp. Spud followed us in his pickup.
            Chris and Spud don’t get excited about deer season but they are avid turkey hunters. The hunting camp—actually a comfortable, two-story cabin surrounded by several hundred acres of overgrown pine plantation near Baxley—belongs to their friend, Glenn. When Spud asked, Glenn graciously agreed to let us use the cabin and hunt deer on his property.
Early morning view of the pond behind the cabin

Spud had gone out to the property the week before to anchor several pop-up blinds in likely spots and give the deer time to get used to them. He took care to place them in locations accessible by pickup, so I’d only have to shuffle about 10 yards after getting out of the truck. With help from my walker, I could crouch through the blind’s door and sit on a folding stool. The walker then stayed in front of me as a gun rest. For this hunt I’d be using Chris’ Ithaca.243, powered by 95-grain Nosler handloads from Spud’s dad.
The first day I hunted over a “beanfield” at the head of a draw just a quarter-mile from the cabin. The field measured about 80 by 35 yards, but the area obviously wasn’t a bean-friendly environment. The few, widely spaced plants that managed to survive in the sandy soil were only 6 inches tall. Judging from the tracks, however, deer visited on a regular basis.
The blind sat 5 yards inside the pines on the beanfield’s east side, giving me a good view of the field and the pines on the other side. The draw sloped downhill to my right, where it grew thicker with mixed hardwoods. We hunted morning and evening, taking a midday break for lunch and a siesta. I saw nothing larger than bluejays the first day.
Spud hunted a different spot, but I could tell where his mind really was. When he came to pick me up, his first question was, “See any turkeys?”
The next morning I saw only songbirds while keeping vigil near the intersection of two deer trails in a large stand of pines. I should have stayed closer to camp—on the front porch, perhaps. Spud and I saw a deer as we drove back for lunch, and Ligia told us she had seen four deer just 50 yards from the cabin when she went for a morning walk.
I returned to the beanfield blind that afternoon. As the sun dipped out of sight and the evening began to get chilly, I noticed movement about 120 yards out front and to my right. A fox was walking through the woods, headed up the draw toward me. Wait, that’s not a fox, it’s a deer! Two deer!
The pair of does stopped at the opposite edge of the beanfield, about 60 yards away, and looked around. I shifted my position so I could shoot in that direction more comfortably. Before I could take aim, the deer stepped into the open field and started walking to my left. Within seconds, one doe was crossing in front of me, broadside at a scant 30 yards.
I flicked off the safety, moved the rifle to my left to get slightly ahead of the moving deer and…

Oh s**t!
I bumped the trigger while repositioning the .243 and sent a wild warning shot over the deer’s bow.
I cycled the bolt and kept my eye on the deer as they sprinted directly away from me. To my amazement, they stopped as soon as they reached the pines on the other side of the beanfield. One doe stood broadside at 65 yards, her hindquarters hidden by a tree. But I had a clear view of her front half, so I held the crosshairs behind the leg and squeezed. I figured the deer dropped instantly because I saw only one white flag bound away.
Spud walked up soon after my second shot. I told him the story in the gathering darkness and pointed toward the spot where I expected him to find my deer. He radioed Chris—who, back at the cabin with Ligia, had heard the shots—and asked her to bring the truck and a strong flashlight.
When the ladies arrived, Ligia and I waited by the truck while Spud and Chris went to retrieve the deer. Imagine my surprise when I saw the flashlights bobbing in expanding circles, and a 20-minute search failed to produce a body. I felt sure of a hit because the sight picture looked perfect and my walker provided a steady rest. And it had happened so quickly that I didn’t have time to get the shakes.
 “I’ll come out tomorrow to look in daylight,” Spud said, and we all agreed that was the best plan. I wasn’t worried because I’ve seen heart-shot whitetails run 100 yards while dead on their feet.
I slept in while Spud took his .25-06 for an early morning walk. Chris, Ligia and I were finishing breakfast when Spud poked his head in the door and said, “I found Andy’s deer. I’m gonna take the truck and get it now.”
The ladies cheered and I said, “I knew it!”
Spud said the deer apparently ran 70 yards after I shot it. Our autopsy of the deer revealed that my bullet had hit high in the ribs and passed through without expanding much. The small, high exit wound left no blood trail. It also damaged no meat, so the quarters and backstraps were in excellent condition.

Chris and I pose with my doe.

“We have fresh venison,” Ligia says with a smile.

Spud begins the task of skinning the deer.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


In the autumn of 2006, shortly after I was diagnosed with ALS, my wife and I embarked on a two-week whitetail safari in the Southeast. My hunts in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia went smoothly thanks to the help and generosity of people we hadn’t met before this trip.

Here’s the story of my Halloween hunt near Wilmington, NC:
Spooky Squirrels
            Some folks say they only hunt squirrels because it hones their stalking and shooting skills, making them better big-game hunters. I need no such excuses. I go squirrel hunting because I love to hunt squirrels.
As a teenager in Pennsylvania I used to rush home from school, grab my single-shot 20 gauge and orange vest, and head for nearby woodlots in search of bushytails. When I was in my mid-20s, I lived in Philadelphia. Every Saturday in October and November I’d wake up at 3:30, drive to State Game Lands in south central Pennsylvania and greet the dawn on a hardwood ridge overlooking the Susquehanna River, squirrel gun in hand. My pulse always started racing at the glimpse of a tail flicking among the branches or the sound of a small critter shuffling through fallen leaves—and it still does!
            While we were finalizing plans for the North Carolina trip, I learned that my host, Mike Marsh, shares my passion for squirrel hunting. Although deer would be my priority, Mike also put squirrels on the hit list.
            The day after I shot the two does, Ligia and I slept in and relaxed all morning while Mike (a freelance outdoor writer) worked in his home office. After lunch Mike and I drove about 30 miles to meet his friend Basil, who had “the perfect squirrel spot.”
            Basil emerged from his tool shed when he heard us pull into the driveway, and we held a brief meeting to map out our strategy. We’d be hunting about a mile from the house; Mike drove the pickup along a double-rut road and Basil followed us on his four-wheeler. When we stopped, Mike helped me onto the four-wheeler behind Basil and then followed on foot while we motored 200 yards through creekbottom hardwoods.
            We reached a small opening among some oak trees where Basil had set up a corn feeder to attract deer and hogs (baiting is legal in North Carolina). The corn, dosed out by the feeder in timed intervals, also draws other critters such as songbirds, raccoons and squirrels.
            It took my friends several minutes to find a firm place where the legs of the plastic patio chair didn’t sink in the soft ground. I settled into the chair—wiggling around to make sure it wouldn’t shift or sink—while Basil opened my four-legged walker in front of me and draped my camo coat over it. Situated 15 yards from the feeder, this setup doubled as a gun rest and mini-blind. Mike handed me his 20 gauge Remington autoloader and a box of #6 high-brass shells, and wished me luck.
            “We’ll be about 400 yards over this way,” Mike said, pointing to my right. He carried a .410, Basil toted a .22.
Today + These Woods = Not a good time and place to be a squirrel.
            I relaxed, inhaled deeply and relished the earthy, leaf-loam scent of the autumn woods. My heart began beating wildly a half-hour later when I heard the sound of claws on tree bark somewhere behind me. I audibly tracked the squirrel’s progress as it scampered from branch to branch and passed overhead, taking the high road toward the feeder. I finally saw the rodent descending a tree trunk 10 yards in front of me, slightly to the left. It paused 10 feet from the ground and struck a classic squirrel pose: facing downward, body flattened against the tree, head held out.
I mustered enough strength to lift the shotgun from the walker and raise the barrel high enough to draw a bead on the squirrel’s head. The gun wasn’t rock steady, but I punched the trigger and dropped the afternoon’s first bushytail. The earthy, leaf-loam scent of autumn woods smells infinitely better when mixed with the pungent aroma of burnt gunpowder.
By nightfall I had tallied four squirrels. Then I heard a sound that told me I wasn’t the only hunter in the area. A barred owl hooted loudly from a nearby tree, and another owl answered off in the distance. They called back and forth for a few minutes, and their spooky conversation reminded me what day it was.
When Mike and Basil returned, I greeted them with “Happy Halloween!”

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


This week Ligia and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.
Of course I believe she’s the most wonderful woman in the world (sorry, Mom!). I became an outdoor writer because Ligia always encouraged me to pursue my dreams, but maybe that’s because she knows she is my Number One dream. My sunshine daydream.

Here are two stories about our relationship worth publishing in an outdoors blog:

            October 1986—we’d been dating for a year, Ligia lived in Philadelphia, I lived in Pittsburgh, we decided to meet for a weekend in Harrisburg (the halfway point). That Saturday was the opener of Pennsylvania’s small game season, and I knew things were getting serious if I was willing to give up a day of hunting to spend time with her.
            On Saturday evening we were on our way out to dinner when a rabbit bounced across the hotel driveway. I stopped the car so we could watch the bunny, which had paused on the lawn.
            “What a cute rabbit,” Ligia said in her charming Brazilian accent. “I bet it would taste good!”
            I knew right then she was the girl for me.

            August 1995—we took a trip to the Florida Keys so I could work on several assignments for Brazilian fishing magazines.
            Ligia and I spent an afternoon dodging rain squalls and chasing bonefish near Islamorada with Richard Stanczyk, owner of Bud ’N Mary’s Marina. Of course the little lady outfished me; I was thrilled, however, because the fish she caught provided fantastic photo ops.
            As the sun sank into Florida Bay and we stowed the rods, Richard said, “I’ve only known you two for a few hours, but I noticed something. You’re more than husband and wife. You’re best friends.”
            That trip made Ligia a cover girl, posing with Richard and an Islamorada bonefish she caught. And we stayed in touch with Richard, who became a true friend over the years.

            Ligia certainly honors the “in sickness and in health” part of the vows we took 25 years ago. She encourages me to go hunting as much as possible.
Enjoy the slide show.