Category Archives: The Sportsman’s World

Leon Archer, Outdoors Columnist - Leon has been writing “The Sportsman’s World” column since 1985. He is a five-time first place winner of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association’s Excellence In Craft Award in addition to numerous other writing awards. He is currently an active member and vice president of the New York State Writers Association. His column covers a wide range of outdoor topics far beyond just hunting and fishing.

A Sportsman’s World, by Leon Archer

For me, this is the time of year that memories are made, and over the years I have stored away a treasure trove of them.

Nowadays, I am warmed all over when I allow myself to wander down my own Autumn memory lane. The interesting thing is that much of what I remember has very little to do with killing.

Yes, the shooting of animals and birds certainly plays a part, but it is more of what one might call a supporting role. The things I remember most are my friends, the places we hunted, the situations we were in, the trips we took, the things that went wrong, and the plans that all came together.

Even remembering the coldest, wettest, most miserable day of terrible duck hunting I was ever involved in, brings a wonderful, comforting warmth to my body and soul as I relive it.

I can remember nights in a duck camp when my hunting buddies and I stayed up way later than we should have, playing cards and talking about past hunts. Getting up the next morning was a circus, but we were still in the marsh early enough to hear the mallards quacking as they awoke and the whistle of wings in the darkness overhead, as more unseen ducks swooped into the marsh around us.

I remember using a canoe to access one of the best marsh hunting sites I have ever had the pleasure of hunting with my best duck hunting buddies. I remember the deer camp I hunted from down in Deposit, NY, and the high school friends that hunted with me.

I remember many of the glorious fall days that I walked the fields and woods around Sandy Creek with my older brother while I was still too young to hunt myself. I remember each one of the few times that I had the chance to hunt with my father.

I am sure that every hunter that reads this column has their own Autumn memories tucked away in their own treasure chest. Those memories are what makes spending time in a hunting camp or even just a day in the field, something so much more than just a chance to shoot something.

I have listened to many stories being told over the years, some of which I had been a part of and some that had absolutely nothing to do with me. I loved all the stories even if some happened to be ones I had heard many times before over the years.

It is my desire to share with you, my readers, some of my memories over the next few weeks. I hope you will like reading them as much as I love telling them.

I apologize ahead of time if I should happen to enlarge on something I might have already written about at one time or another. I have learned after many pleasant evenings spent around a campfire or in front of the camp cook stove, that a good story is worth more than one retelling.

I will begin my series today with a short story that has a good ending and a good moral message.

One duck opener in the 1970s found Gary Narewski, Charlie Ottmann, and myself hunting after school on a marsh just a ways off the Smokey Hollow Road in Phoenix. We had some decent shooting and each of us had taken two or three ducks before the end of legal shooting hours began to close in on us.

There were still birds flying and there was still shooting in the marsh when we started out to the road, but it was well after the day’s shooting should have been over.

We were crossing an open field before reaching a large patch of brush we had to go through before we would be in the clear and in sight of the road. As we were walking, a big drake mallard came towards us just loafing along about 30 yards above the ground.

There was a great temptation to shoot, and unfortunately we still had shells in our guns, fortunately we resisted the perfect shot and held our fire, but back behind us the drake learned the error of his ways as he tumbled out of the sky, the result of a single shot.

We unloaded our guns just before entering the brush, and as we exited the side nearest the road, a voice said, “Hold it right there boys. You’re shooting a little late aren’t you?”

It was the area game warden, Tom Millbower. We told him it wasn’t us, but he said, “I heard plenty of shooting where you were and I saw that big mallard go down right where you just came from. Let me see your guns.” He grabbed each one by the barrel and after finding none of them were even warm, he told us to open the actions.

Of course the guns were all empty. He then asked to see our ducks and he felt of each one. Thankfully none of them were as warm as they would have been if it had just been shot.

Without any evidence that we were the miscreants, he was still unconvinced. “What did you do; leave it to pick up tomorrow or couldn’t you find it?, he asked.”

We insisted that we had seen the duck, but it hadn’t been us doing the shooting. We told him there was someone else that was shooting all the time we were coming out.

It was at that moment that providence came to the rescue as a veritable fusillade erupted back in the marsh and old Tom disappeared into the brush on the run.

It wasn’t long after that we heard two more shots followed by a distant, “Hold it right there boys.” True story, you can ask Charlie. It always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling when I remember it.

I won’t claim that I have never shot a duck that winged in a minute or two after closing, but after that brush with being accused; albeit, only with circumstantial evidence, of shooting after hours, I have tried to err and the safe side.

The moral of the story is, “it’s better let the late ducks land and try to catch them on the way out in the morning, than to take a chance and pay a fine.”

I was never a dusker, but I observed hunters doing that up in St. Lawrence County one time; watching from the road as muzzle flames shot into the growing darkness, and the guys doing the shooting were looking for downed ducks with flashlights.

That’s an accurate account. Charlie Ottmann and I watched it in disbelief from our car. We had been hunting the same spot until the end of legal shooting had come and hadn’t seen a duck.

As we were going out a couple guys were walking in with their guns. They told us that the birds would start showing up in the next 10 or 15 minutes, and they were right. They came in large numbers, flock after flock, ignoring the roar and flames of numerous guns.

Charlie and I waited and watched for the game wardens or police that we were sure would show up and put an end to such a massacre, but instead it finally grew too dark for even the duskers to shoot, and soon they had all left unmolested.

I for one did not feel at all bad that I had not participated in such a travesty. It was just plain wrong.

A Sportsman’s World, by Leon Archer

Maybe it can be blamed on global warming or too little rain, or a colder than normal spring, but whatever the reason, the pheasant season in Eastern Washington has been a pretty poor one so far.

The hunters I’ve talked to found very few birds where they were used to seeing plenty in years past.

Ben wasn’t able to go, so I stayed in Sammamish with him and the family when members of his wife’s family headed out towards Spokane. It turned out to be a fortunate thing for me, because the six guys we would have gone with shot just four birds total between them.

I located a duck hunter who told me that he will keep track of when the Harlequin ducks show up and let me know. I suppose I should check with a taxidermist to see what a mount would cost just in case I come up with one of those beautiful drakes.

Sam told me there is an ocean flat where the harlequins really bunch up and that getting one should not be too difficult depending on the weather and his schedule.

I really don’t like shooting a bird that I am not interested in putting on the table, but this will be the rare exception if I get my drake.

Sam will be taking me hunting for puddle ducks later this week. I got just a little excited when he told me we would probably see quite a few gadwalls.

I have never taken one of them. If mounting costs are not excessive for the Harlequin, I might consider a nice drake Gadwall to go with it, but nothing certain there.

He also told me we could do some diver hunting a little later this fall. He has a spot that is good for golden eyes. That wouldn’t be a big deal to me except that these are the western species, Barrow’s Golden eyes.

That’s another duck that I have never taken, but I have no intention of getting it mounted, and yes, if I shoot one I will eat it if for no other reason than to know what they taste like. I can pretty much guarantee it won’t taste like chicken.

Sam also mentioned that they get quite a few scaup (bluebills) and some redheads, but they also get good flights of ring neck ducks, better known as ring bills. They are divers, but in my experience they are the best eating of all the diving clan. I am hoping to run into a few of them out here.

I envy the guys who can afford to travel around the different North American flyways to hunt ducks and geese in different states and legendary locations.

Some of them even travel to other countries and continents to pursue their passion for hunting waterfowl. I would not turn down the opportunity to hunt the pin oaks of Stuttgart, Ark. if it was ever offered to me, but it isn’t on my bucket list.

One thing I have come to enjoy in the last few years is reading anthologies of stories written about duck hunting many years ago by earlier outdoor writers. They hunted areas that I will probably never see let alone hunt.

Their exploits are replete with descriptions of arduous travel, rude accommodations, questionable boats, dangerous situations, decoys, guides, and almost as a side line, shooting.

Those writers were so good that I live the moments with them vicariously, crawling out of a warm bed at three in the morning, smelling the coffee and the bacon, feeling the biting cold of the blinds as the bottom drops out of the thermometer, wishing flights of distant ducks would turn our way for at least one pass.

It is almost as good as actually being there.

But here I am in the present in a new duck hunting location, about to make more memories of my own. Will they be as good or as vivid as the hunts of old?  Only time will tell, but I’ll try to fill you in when the time comes.

On a completely different note. I don’t plan on doing any deer hunting in Washington; it’s just too doggone expensive, but I did enjoy seeing a beautiful 8-point buck last Sunday.

There are lots of black tailed deer around the area where Ben lives, and I’ve seen quite a few does and a spike horn buck within a mile of his home.

I don’t know if there are any white tails around here, but I think they are mostly east of the mountains. I have to admit that I have been very disappointed by the cost of all the Washington non-resident licenses.

New York state non-resident tags are a bargain by comparison. I wouldn’t pay the price for a Washington deer license even if I knew I could bag the biggest buck in the state.

And that’s the way it is here in Sammamish, WA.

Northwest a hunter’s dream

By Leon Archer

For those of you who have never been to the Pacific Northwest, you have missed a beautiful section of our country, complete with 3,026 miles of tidal shoreline, snow-capped mountains, more than 5 million acres of state owned lands with seemingly unending forests, and a plethora of streams and rivers.

It is a spectacular area because of the abundance of fish and wildlife as well, and so it is a mecca for hunters and fishermen.

Big-game hunters have a wide variety of species to choose from. Some of them only have a limited number of permits each year, but hunters are able to find lots of deer in the state.

Actually there are mule deer, black tailed deer and Whitetails. In addition, Washington big game includes black bear, elk, cougars, mountain goat, moose and bighorn sheep.

Small-game hunters have an even wider variety available to them. Think about our choices in New York state and then check out this list of Washington small game: wild turkey, pheasant, chukar partridge, grey partridge, blue grouse, ruffed grouse, spruce grouse, California Quail, mountain quail, northern bob white quail, band tailed pigeons, mourning doves, raccoon, cotton tail rabbit, snowshoe hare, jack rabbits and California grey ground squirrels.

All of that plus a wide range of waterfowl. With all the game birds with open seasons in Washington, it seems to me that a hunter would be wise to own a well-trained bird dog.

I must say I was surprised to learn that squirrel hunting, other than hunting the ground squirrels, is closed out here. They don’t do as well here as they do back in New York apparently. As a matter of fact, I haven’t seen a single squirrel since I got here.

Many of the housing subdivisions here east of Seattle are surrounded by trees and undergrowth with plenty of undeveloped property that is unsuited for building.

There are also plenty of trees and shrubs on and around each individual housing unit in the various communities. Wildlife abounds pretty much unmolested in such areas, so it is not all that unusual to see deer munching one’s roses or hosta.

Black bears are a nuisance that homeowners have to deal with by keeping their garbage secure and out of reach of the foraging bruins.

Just a few nights ago we had a black bear in the front yard that had been cruising the neighborhood looking for a free meal. It was a mature black bear that I estimated to be about 350 pounds; not huge but not small either.

We had just arrived at the house in our car and the bear headed out for the woods. We could hear his claws clicking on the pavement even after he went out of sight around the corner.

Raccoons and foxes are a little more common than bears and just as interested in any loose garbage. I have heard a pack of coyotes a couple times as Sweet Thing and I were in bed trying to get a little shuteye.

Ben told me that not too long before we came out, a cougar had caused a stir by moving through the area. It was apparently a young animal looking for a territory it could call its own. Thankfully he didn’t like this area as much as I do, because he hasn’t been seen since.

That’s fine with us.

Archer talks duck hunting — The Sportsman’s World

Having hunted ducks for more than 55 years, I have seen my share of ducks that didn’t look quite right to me.

By that I mean that they didn’t look like the identification pictures and photographs of other ducks. As waterfowl hunters hit the marshes, ponds, and lakes this year, some of them will no doubt take a duck or two that is a bit hard to identify.

The early season is the time when most of the mystery ducks show up in hunters’ bags. Birds which are still going through the molting process and have not yet gotten their winter plumage can often leave the hunter scratching his head trying to discern the species and sex of his prey. Hybrids are another story.

The first such birds I encountered was when I was 16, but my experience was so limited at that time that I thought two of the four mallards I had shot were just a natural variation in the species. Interestingly, that opening day there was a team of professors and students from Cornell University doing a survey on Sandy Pond. They asked if they could examine my ducks, and of course I was very proud of my harvest and more than willing to let them look the birds over.

The group leader showed the students the birds, indicating how to determine sex and whether the duck was an adult or young of the year. Then he asked them if they noticed anything different about the four drake mallards. One of the students noted that the white strip above and below the speculum was missing on one of the birds, and barely visible as a thin strip on the other, and in addition, those two drakes did not seem to have completed molting into winter feathering.

I hadn’t noticed the white speculum border was missing, but I had noticed that the head was not uniformly dark green, but had brown intermixed, and the body sides were sort of patchy colored. The leader then made the pronouncement that these birds might well have been nest mates and that they were black-mallard hybrids. One of the things they were specifically looking for was hybrid ducks, so they were all rather excited.

They asked if they could take a wing from each of the four birds, and although I sort of hated to have my birds mutilated that way, I told them to go ahead. They took my name and address, and later on I received a thank-you letter from the team and information about the birds. They were definitely hybrids and they were both young of the year. Since then, I always look for possible hybrids, but I have never shot another as far as I know.

Actually, hybrids are not all that uncommon in the world of ducks, with mallard drakes probably being the greatest culprit in siring such young, but many other species cross breed at times. It is seldom the result of some beautiful duck falling madly in love with a handsome drake from across the tracks.

More often, the hybrids are the result of forced copulation, and drake mallards are great womanizers, not above forcing their attentions on an unwilling pintail duck, black duck, gadwall, or other available hen.

There are still people who study these hybrid birds. At the University of Washington Burke Museum, there is an ongoing study, and if you should shoot a really unusual duck, you might want to stick it in the freezer whole and contact them to see if they would be interested in it. I checked them out on the internet, and there was quite a bit of information about what they are doing. You could reach them at, < puffinus@u.washington.edu > If they would like to see the duck, they will give you instructions on how to get it to them.

This column was inspired by a short article about the Burke Museum and hybrid ducks in the Fall issue of Delta Waterfowl Magazine, which by the way, if you are a duck hunter or a duck lover, you really should get a subscription to it. It is one magazine I read cover to cover. You can find information about them on the internet as well.

I hope your duck hunting is going well.

Leon Archer’s A Sportsman’s World

When I was just a little duffer, I used to go looking under rocks in Little Sandy creek for what I called crabs.

They were actually crayfish, but everyone called them crabs, not just me.

Back in those days, bass fishermen would pay 5 cents apiece for them without blinking an eye, and I picked them up from the creek in droves for free. I sold them from our family home on Route 11, right along with my night crawlers which only brought 2 cents apiece.

A couple guys headed to the lake for bass would usually shell out two or three bucks for bait enough for a day’s fishing, and for a boy not yet a teenager that wasn’t a bad deal in the early 1950s.

It wasn’t until a long time after, when most of my own children were grown and out on their own, that I began making the acquaintance of real crabs. The first were blue crabs that I caught fishing with my father-in-law on the Indian River in Florida. They were true crabs and they needed to be treated with a little more respect than I ever gave fresh water crayfish. If a blue crab pinches you, it hurts and you will very likely be bleeding.

Blue crabs are a really beautiful creature with their blue, white and bright orange legs and claws. Their body can be blue as well, but it is more often a green color.

The really great thing about blue crabs is they are wonderful fare fresh cooked on the table. They have a distinctive, yet mild flavor that can only be described as, well yes, crab. They are not really large so picking them is a bit tedious, but it is well worth the effort.

I also got to know the stone crab while running the crab trap line in the Indian River. We never caught a lot of them, but they had massive claws, and that was the only part of the crab that was legal to keep. It was especially unwise to let one’s fingers come within reach of those big crushers.

They wouldn’t cut like the smaller claws of the blues, but they could leave a person with a horribly bruised and painful finger in a hurry.

Flavor-wise they were very good, but not as good as the blue crabs. The really good part was there was not much picking to get out the good stuff at meal time.

The crab I like best; however, I met out here in Washington. It’s the Dungeness crab that I have mentioned before in my column.

The Dungeness has to be at least six and a quarter inches across the carapace to be legal and it must also be a male. Females and undersize crabs must be returned immediately to the ocean.

The Dungeness is sort of a dark brown color on the top and beige to off-white on the legs and underside. He is not much to look at, but after he has been turned a bright orange by steaming or boiling, almost everyone finds him attractive. That is his downfall.

Dungeness can be taken with crab traps and with crab rings. The traps are only legal during part of the season, while the rings are always legal during any open season.

The rings are just netting fastened over two weighted plastic or metal rings, one about 12 inches in diameter and the other about the size of a hula hoop. A bait is fastened in the center of the smaller ring and the apparatus is lowered to the bottom 30 to 40 feet below.

It doesn’t take long for Dungeness crabs to find the bait and climb onto the rings. After about 20 minutes, the trap is pulled rapidly back to the surface hopefully with the crabs inside the basket of netting.

Sometimes as many as two dozen crabs may come to the surface on a good pull, and two or three of them will probably be legal sized males. On a good day, it doesn’t take long to get the limit of 5 keepers.

They are a very meaty crab and a limit may yield three and a half pounds of delicious crab when they are picked. I believe they are second only to real king crab when it comes to flavor. They are best when caught, cooked and eaten on the same day, but they will retain their flavor for several days in the refrigerator, and they freeze fairly well.

I wrote earlier that I wasn’t going to buy a crabbing license, because the season closed two days after I arrived in Washington; however, it has opened back up for the fall/winter sport crab season and I’m going crabbing. Catching a couple limits will more than pay the cost of the license.

Ben just asked me this evening if I wanted to go pheasant hunting. Is that a dumb question or what? Season opens in a couple weeks. And that’s the way things are in the Seattle area.

The Sportsman’s World

By Leon Archer

The fishermen in Washington have been tearing up the pink salmon on the sound, and it’s no wonder — the fish and game folks estimate the run at about six and a half million fish.

That’s enough for a couple on every fisherman’s stringer with plenty left over to produce the next crop in 2015.

Fishermen have been getting excited by the number of coho salmon (silvers) that have been showing up in steadily increasing numbers along with the ever present pinks.

Silver salmon traditionally start running after the pink run is well under way, so getting one mixed in on occasion is not all that unusual, but the early numbers might be predicting a strong run of silvers to start on the tail end of the humpy run. That would be welcome news to the fishing fraternity here.

For the rest of this story, pick up the print version of The Valley News. Call 598-6397 to subscribe.

The Sportsman’s World

By Leon Archer

The first night of our trip out west had found us staying in Munising, Mich., right on the shores of Lake Superior. It was a beautiful evening. The temperatures were a little warmer than I like when I’m camping, and the lake was nearly flat since there wasn’t a hint of a breeze, but we slept well that night before heading for Two Harbors.

The five days we spent in Two Harbors were full of activity, and we were sad to leave, but Medora, N.D., was beckoning, so we left early on a Friday morning in order to make the 600-mile journey in time to take in the Medora Musical in the famous outdoor amphitheater.

We camped in the Medora Campground and rode a shuttle to the musical that evening. It was a great show, and Sweet Thing had been looking forward to it ever since we started our trip.

Medora is right in the North Dakota Badlands, on the edge of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The area was probably President Roosevelt’s favorite place in the whole world; he loved it with a great passion for the wild beauty of the area.

For the rest of this column, pick up the Sept. 5 edition of The Valley News. Call 598-6397 to subscribe.

The Sportsman’s World

 By Leon Archer

Two Harbors, Minn., is an important iron ore port on the north shore of Lake Superior about 30 miles east of Duluth. The majority of the iron from the mines situated about 65 miles northeast of town is processed up on the iron range before being brought to Two Harbors by train and shipped out as taconite ready to go into the blast furnaces in places like Detroit Mich., Toledo, Ohio, and Conneaut and Gary, Ind.

It often leaves port 70,000 tons at a rip inside huge 1,000 foot lakers like the Edwin H. Gott  and  Edgar B. Speer  heading for the down lakeports to offload. It was this same trade that found the Edmund Fitzgerald leaving Superior, Wis., on Nov. 9, 1975, loaded with 26,535 tons of taconite, about to sail sadly into history as the largest ship ever to sink on the Great Lakes.

For the rest of this story, pick up the print version of The Valley News. Call 598-6397 to subscribe.