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.

Departing Florida

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

This past week has been a busy one for Sweet Thing and me as we prepared for our departure from the sunny south.

It is always a sort of bittersweet time for us, for as we look forward to seeing family and old friends, we are at the same time saying goodbye to another set of friends down here, several so old that it is quite likely we will never see them again in this world.

Our Florida home now looks the best that it has since we arrived escaping winter’s grip, but it has been a struggle.

Opening up and shutting down our winter residence is fraught with cleaning, packing or unpacking, and getting everything up and running, or turned off.

It doesn’t seem like much on the face of it, but as they say, “the devil is in the details.” The way I grumble and moan, he must not be far away.

Arriving is always easier than leaving, because the arrival stuff gets spread out over a much longer time with the most essential items getting taken care of first, while the less important ones have a habit of hanging over my head while I put them off in favor of fishing and relaxing.

Down here, I have learned the importance of the Spanish word manana, but unfortunately for me, it doesn’t work as well on departures as it does on arrivals, and some of those things I put off until tomorrow come home to roost with a vengeance.

I won’t bore you with a rendition of the things I’ve been doing for the last week and a half, but things are looking pretty good around the old southern hacienda, both inside and outside.

At this writing, I still have to cut back our bougainvillea which looks like it is trying to engulf our home with its flowery branches, and power washing the entire outside of our place to banish any mildew is a must.

I’ll clean out the gutters along the eaves, and then I have to stow away the power washer and ladder. That’s what I’m down to outside.

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Legal fish

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

One of the frustrating things for visiting winter fishermen who like to fish on party boats here in Florida is the fact that most of what they catch they can’t keep.

I like fishing occasionally on a party boat, but I also like to have at least an outside chance of catching fish enough for a couple expensive meals.

So I decided it was a lot more cost effective to take part of the money I would have spent on a frustrating day on the water and go to the local fresh fish market.

Actually, catching a bunch of good eating ocean fish is a snap, but if they happen to be groupers or red snappers, they are off limits. If they happen to be black sea bass (the ocean bottom seems to be paved with them these days) they have to go back, because they are so heavily over fished that the season is closed.

It doesn’t matter that there are more of them than I have ever seen before. Vermillion snapper are off limits, and you can catch plenty of them too.

Now sometimes you get lucky and catch a trigger fish. They are still legal to keep, and even though years ago they were routinely tossed back, these days they are kept and with good reason; they are very tasty indeed.

Occasionally, a mutton or mangrove snapper may come over the rail, but they bite much better at night, so daytime fishermen catch very few of them.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News or subscribe today by calling 598-6397

Florida winter

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

We have had sort of a reverse winter in Florida and, as I write this column, we are only about 10 degrees colder than Fulton. December and January were beautiful, almost steamy at times, and February was just about perfect, but March has been a really cool month.

March brought some freezes and frosts, but mostly just north of Barefoot Bay. We had one frost that did a number on my tomatoes and beans, but that was it.

On the other hand, we have had 15 nights that the temperature dipped below 40 compared to less than half that number total for December through February.

So I guess I won’t have a problem adjusting to the Fulton temperatures.

Sweet Thing and I expect that we’ll be back in our old digs before the middle of April. As much as we love getting out of the New York State winters, we always look forward to getting back home in the spring. One thing I know, the fishing has to be better than it has been down here.

The poor fishing and cold days have forced me to look for things to do other than outdoor pursuits. I have been making Sweet Thing very happy, because our Barefoot Bay residence has been getting a bit of sheet rock work done that has been hanging fire for some time and painting of every room in the house.

I have enough other updating jobs to keep me busy until we leave, so I could care less right now what the weather does, providing we don’t have a tornado.

Next season, I may start fishing fresh water instead of salt. We have great bass and crappie fishing all around us, and plenty of catfish too.

Stick Marsh, which is just west of us, has a great reputation and many fishermen come from quite a distance to fish it. I only have to drive about eight miles.

Another big area is going to be added to Stick Marsh as nearby marginal land is allowed to flood. That should become a really hot piece of fishing water in a year or two.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News or subscribe today by calling 598-6397

Hunting in different life phases

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

I guess it’s high time for me to complete my ramblings about hunting.

This last installment is the hardest one for me to write, because it is much more personal than the others.

I have been a hunter from about the time I was eight and I still hunt, but it’s different these days.

For more than 55 years, I would be elated each time I killed a game animal, especially if it happened to be a deer, because my skills had been tested, and the animal would provide many good meals for me and my family.

I had no inkling during those years that my perspective and my feelings might one day change.

As strange as it may seem to people who have never hunted, I have always loved all kinds of animals, including the ones I have hunted, and to some extent, the same incongruence holds true for the fish I have pursued so avidly since the first day I wet a line.

I could love deer, rabbits, ducks, squirrels, pheasants, and on and on, and yet at the same time I had no problem shooting them when the season was open.

For me, it was perfectly natural and acceptable, the way of my world, and I felt neither guilt nor pity when I pulled the trigger.

Hunting answers a primordial urge in many humans. It is neither good nor bad. Hunting is a valuable tool for managing some animal populations and it provides huge quantities of renewable organic protein every year.

To some extent, I agree with the person who said, “I believe there is a place for every animal – right next to the potatoes and gravy.”

But in a larger sense, I believe animals are much, much more than just meat on the table and trophies on the wall. They are beautiful examples of God’s handiwork and to treat them callously without proper respect is a sin; the American Indians recognized that.

You see, about 10 years ago, I began doing a lot less hunting, and if it were not for my son, Tim, and my grandsons, I might nearly have stopped altogether. The joy of being in the woods with them and seeing them shoot their own deer far outweighed any pleasure I found in shooting one myself.

I actually have become very ambivalent about shooting a deer, in spite of the fact that I do enjoy venison very much.

Two events caused me to re-evaluate almost everything I have ever believed and more importantly, felt, about hunting as it applied to me.

I am sharing those events with you, but it is a painful for me to do so; however, I don’t know any other way to explain where I’m at with hunting today.

The first took place about eight years ago. I was deer hunting with Tim and it had been a slow morning. By 8:30 a.m., I had begun to wonder if there were any deer at all in the woods we were hunting, when suddenly there was a deer standing 20 feet away from me. I slowly raised my shotgun and put the crosshairs on its head. At the shot, it immediately began running and because of trees and brush, I was not able to get another clear shot.

I checked the spot where the deer had been and where it had run, and there was blood on the leaves along its tracks. I couldn’t conceive how it could have run away if I had hit it, but I began following the trail.

In only a minute or so, I jumped the deer, and it was running strongly. I fired again and the deer veered to the right. I fired again and the deer veered back to the left, but continued moving about another hundred yards, finally stopping in some light brush.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News or subscribe today by calling 598-6397

Heading back north

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

It is hard to believe that Sweet Thing and I will be headed back north in less than four weeks.

The Kulle’s left just a couple days ago and we are now in the work mode as we do some upgrading on our Florida home.

We are putting down some new flooring in our Florida room and I’ve got some sheet rock to finish. We probably will get out another day or two with the pontoon boat before we leave, but there will be a lot more work than play between now and our trip home.

Tim and I bought a new trailer for the pontoon boat, because for the first time since I bought it, I will be bringing it back north with us.

I have always said how I thought it would make a great boat for fishing bullheads and now I am going to learn if that is true.

It will also get some use on Owasco Lake when the lake trout start hitting there in May. It is the perfect boat whenever the grandchildren want to go with me.

This will be the first year in a long, long time that I will be home to pick up a good bunch of night crawlers. I am usually home when the best picking is long over and the grass has gotten high.

I don’t know if Nathaniel will be very proficient at grabbing the big worms, but he is going to have to learn. I can only bend over for about an hour before my back rebels.

The pontoon boat will get a chance to do its stuff on Thirty Island Lake in Canada, too. We are going to take it up there for the summer, and again, it should make a great platform for the grandkids to fish from, and the lake is chock full of willing and tasty panfish.

Another thing that our earlier than normal departure will do  is give me a chance to actually check out a number of spots for turkey hunting.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News or subscribe today by calling 598-6397

Trophy hunting

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

Recently, I was invited to go on an African safari, and I had tentatively agreed to go, because it is one of those things on my bucket list, but after much thought and soul searching, I decided not to go.

My cost would have been very reasonable and even after factoring in the other things I had in the hopper, I still could have swung it (and Sweet Thing even said it was okay with her), but it was when I asked myself what I wanted to get out of the safari that I began back-peddling.

I love to travel and I’ve never been to Africa, but that’s not the purpose of a safari. Unless one is on a camera safari, the major object of the adventure is to shoot one or more animals whose heads would eventually grace the hunter’s walls.

I knew that any animals I might shoot would become welcome protein for hungry natives. But while the meat might not go to waste, Sweet Thing has never wanted animal heads hanging in our living room, so what would I do with their heads? The fact is I’m not much of what people think of as a trophy hunter anyway.

When I was in my teens, I used to keep the tails off grouse and pheasants. I kept the little spikes from the first deer I shot. I kept all kinds of souvenirs or trophies from the animals I shot or trapped, and I cured and mounted fish heads and tanned a few hides.

So I understand the allure of collecting trophies, but over the years, my own urge to shoot the biggest and the best and then display parts of them has greatly diminished. That’s why I could not persuade myself that I would be comfortable shooting animals I could not use, much less enjoy doing it.

Humans have been keeping trophies from their hunts ever since they began killing animals and eating meat. Trophies have served as visual testaments to the skills of the hunter as long as there have been hunters.

Pictures drawn on cave walls with charcoal by cave dwellers might be more of the same. After all, hunters today probably take more photos of the animals they have shot than they do of their family.

Trophy hunting is the poster child for the anti-hunters. They have vilified hunters who pass up animal after animal, waiting for that special one. Somehow they see that as worse than just shooting the first animal that comes by.

They imply that the trophy is shot merely for its horns or whatever, not recognizing that for the hunter the outstanding rack or whatever is merely the icing on the cake.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News or subscribe today by calling 598-6397

Florida visitors

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

The best thing about being in Florida this winter is the weather.

I usually cannot get out on the river fishing enough, but as I have noted, the fishing is tough and shows no signs of improving.

I have located several oyster beds that are so chock full of large shellfish that very little time is required to get all I can use, and no matter how much you like them, you really can only use so many of them. I don’t want to overdose on fried oysters and oyster stew.

The third part of my series on hunting will be in next week’s column. I need a week in between to get my thoughts in reasonable order.

In the meantime, I am still staying as close to my New Year’s resolutions as I can. I am finally writing on a fairly regular schedule on a couple of projects that have been languishing for a long time.

I am also working on four different decoys. The green wing teal that I am completing for the auction at the National Wild Turkey Federation banquet is in the last stages, while two swans are getting some attention and I have just started a loon.

Last week, Tim, Alicia, Nathaniel and Annaliese were here with us last week and we did the beach and cruised on the river. Of course, we tried the fishing with the usual results.

They went to Universal Studios one day and the time just flew by.

It’s always fun to have company. Jack and Donna Kulle are going to be here next week.

That means the oyster beds will be plundered once or twice and we will try to figure out how to catch at least enough fish for a meal.

I was reminded that turkey season in New York is only a couple months away when I saw a big tom cross the road in front of my truck. He had about a ten inch beard and he was in no hurry to get out of sight.

Down here, this is the time of year we usually see toms showing off to groups of hens, but so far I haven’t seen any hens.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News or subscribe today by calling 598-6397

Views on hunting

Leon Archer
Leon Archer

by Leon Archer

Two weeks ago, I wrote the first of what will be several articles exploring my thoughts or views on hunting.

It may already have appeared to some that I am in the process of writing a defense of hunting. While that might be an understandable translation of the last hunting column, let me assure you it was not my purpose, nor will it be in the following columns, because I do not believe hunting needs any defense, but if it does, there are better men than myself to write it.

One of the terms that hunters, as well as fish and game departments, use to describe hunting (and fishing) is “sport,” and this has innocently spawned immeasurable damage and ongoing controversy due to the application and interpretation of that word.

The folks who oppose hunting in all its forms have focused in on that one word because it creates a mental picture conducive to their cause; they have accused hunters of making a sport out of killing. Sport hunting and fishing could more properly be labeled as “non-commercial hunting and fishing” for that was its original meaning.

Hunting and fishing to put fish or game on the family table is a non-commercial venture; enjoying the pursuit is as old as man himself, but unfortunately that is where it morphs into “sport” for the person who hates it.  The fact that a person takes a certain amount of pleasure in the non-commercial taking of fish and game should not make it suddenly reprehensible, any more than enjoying one’s job suddenly makes it playtime.

Then this must be further broken down, because sport hunting requires the adherents to follow a host of mandatory legal regulations put in place for the successful continuation of each species, while in addition, there are a few nonbinding voluntary codes of hunting morality.

Those voluntary codes can be lumped together under the term, “fair chase.” Actually, many laws regarding sport hunting and fishing started as fair chase code items. I have to say here that it has been my observation that in a high percentage of cases, the longer a hunter and fisherman lives, the stronger his adherence to the codes of fair chase becomes.

For the non-hunter, I will list a few items that illustrate what fair chase means. Obeying all fish and game laws is part of fair chase in spite of the fact that it is required by law. Fish and animals should be treated with respect and not made to suffer any more than is necessary when they are killed. A hunter should not take a poor shot at a big game animal. It is better to let the animal escape when a poor shot is presented than to take the chance of just wounding the animal. Ducks should not be shot sitting on the water nor game birds on the ground or on their roost.

All animals should have a reasonable chance to escape. And the list goes on. Sometimes miniscule rules of conduct crop up that find favor in a small group of hunters and fishermen, but for the most part, the basic codes are widespread and well recognized. If an action is not sporting, then it is not part of sport hunting and fishing. Breaking the laws governing hunting and fishing definitely takes one out of the realm of sport; flouting the precepts of fair chase can do the same.

To read the rest of the column, pick up a copy of The Valley News or subscribe today by calling 598-6397