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Hunting Big Woods Bucks:  Secrets of Tracking and Stalking Whitetails by Hal Blood

If you know anything about me, you understand I am an avid deer hunter.  If you’ve read any of my outdoor articles, you’ll know that I’m a stand hunter, meaning I find an area that I think a buck will come through and I sit and wait for him.  What you may not know is that I am having a flirtatious relationship with the art of tracking.  While I haven’t pulled the trigger on that yet (get what I did there?), I have been reading about and gathering information on the method.  Maine’s Hal Blood may be the best in the business, and his book, Hunting Big Woods Bucks:  Secrets of Tracking and Stalking Whitetails, is a must have for anyone interested in tracking.

This book and Hal’s teachings are more than relevant whether you are hunting the mountainous regions of New York’s Adirondacks, the never-ending green bluffs of Northern Maine, or even the remote forests of the Midwest.  Heck, even a food plot hunter in North Carolina will get plenty from the book.  Precisely, there is useful information for anyone who hunts where the big boys roam.  

Anyone can wake up and say they’re going to tracking.  To track a mature whitetail in the snow, however, one needs to find a track.  While Hal and his Big Woods Bucks team nowadays utilizes the OnX Hunt app, his knowledge and understanding of reading maps and topography go a long way towards locating an piece of wilderness that will hold deer, one in which he may find a track he deems worthy to follow.

Once deer sign is located, the hunter must understand what the sign is telling him.  For instance, the track must be fresh enough to potentially catch up to the deer.  Big bucks during the rut can cruise miles and miles searching for and checking on does.  It is imperative not to get on a track that is two days old.  Hal explains to the reader how to age tracks, as well as how to understand the behavior of the deer that is laying down the tracks.  Is he cruising endlessly?  Is he tired, something that happens in the late season?  Is he meandering and feeding?  If so, he may be able to catch up to.  We also learn what buck rubs and scrapes are telling us.

While tracking on bare ground is possible, it is much more challenging than with snow on the ground.  Since we cannot control the weather, Hal provides us with options in the event we cannot track.  There is always my method of stand hunting.  While this requires incredible patience and mental toughness, there are tricks to the trade that are important to understand so the hunter doesn’t blindly sit in a stand he has no shot in holy hell of seeing anything.  Not Hal’s preferred method of hunting at all, he is still extremely knowledgeable in what areas hold deer, information that will clue the stand hunter where to sit.  More than once, Hal has successfully guided a hunter into sitting on a stand every day for a week. 

Another way to hunt bare ground is to still hunt, a practice that requires the hunter to take a few steps, scan the entire area, and take another few steps.  It is easy to still hunt at an incorrect pace, one in which the hunter may miss a deer lying down on a bank well within shooting range or blowing every deer on the mountain out of there.  Hal provides the reader his expertise on this mobile method.

One of the features of the book is how Hal breaks down each week of the hunting season in his state of Maine.  While many states are quite different, it gives the reader an understanding of how deer behave from week to week.  For instance, a buck in early November is on the search for does.  He may travel miles and miles, sometimes taking a loop that will last a week or more, attempting to breed as many females as possible.  By the December muzzleloader season, however, that buck is most likely finished with his travels and may be exhausted.  How you hunt that buck in November differs dramatically in December.

Throughout the book, Hal provides stories and antidotes related to his personal hunting experiences or those in which he guided other hunters.  Each scenario is pertinent to the chapter or point he is making.  As someone who enjoys listening to or reading about deer hunting stories, this feature alone is worth obtaining the book.  Of course, we are also treated to stories about some of the legendary whitetail bucks he has taken, including The King.

Tracking may not be for everyone.  Some, like me, may be on the fence for one reason or another.  One thing is for certain.  Hal Blood is the master on the subject.  For anyone looking to gain more knowledge or understanding, it is imperative that they read Hunting Big Woods Bucks:  Secrets of Tracking and Stalking Whitetails.    

How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life by Larry Benoit with Peter Miller

How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life by Larry Benoit (with Peter Miller)-Originally Published 1974

Tracking whitetail bucks is a method of deer hunting like no other.  The idea is to locate a track and determine the sex of the deer, the size of the deer, and the age of the track.  Once the track has been deemed appropriate to follow, the hunter must match wits, will, and engage in a battle of endurance against the beast on his home turf.  Vermont’s Larry Benoit, patriarch of the famous Benoit hunting family, is often credited with revolutionizing the art of buck tracking, and his book, How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life, originally published in 1974, is considered the classic read of the genre.

Becoming a successful buck tracker, like anything else, not only requires extreme practice and preparation, but also a keen understanding of the animal itself.  Benoit leads the book off with an extensive tutorial on the trophy buck, his mannerisms, his personality, and how the deer has mastered pure day to day survival.  Furthermore, Benoit provides a convincing reason as to why hunters should pursue these giants and not settle for smaller deer.

Much of the outcome of a hunt or a season is determined well before opening day.  For instance, you most certainly cannot track a buck all day for days on end if you aren’t able to walk across the street without huffing and puffing.  Benoit lectures the reader to not smoke, drink too much, or become overweight.  He explains the importance of being in shape for the woods, able to maneuver stealthily around blowdowns and other obstacles without making a sound.

Benoit dedicates time to outline important equipment, such as proper firearms and ammunition.  While he used a peep sight, he relents to say that hunters can use a scope, provided it is light.  More importantly, Benoit warns against bringing too much stuff into the woods, weighing the hunter down, which acts as a hindrance to the objective of traveling miles for that one specific buck.

Preparation is key, however, there is plenty to know once the hunter sets foot into the woods.  The hunter must be able to read tracks to avoid following a deer that was there three days prior.  He/she must know when to go quickly on a track, as to not lose ground, and when to slow down and sneak, as to not bump the deer.  In addition, there is a skill to shooting at a buck that most likely will see you and bolt before you ever lay eyes on him.  Benoit gives us his expert opinion as well as a taste of his personal experiences that dealt directly with these make-or-break matters.  The most fascinating aspect of the book is how he recaps the hunt that took 13 days to close the deal.

I know a lot of deer hunters.  Most, like myself, are sitters, who may still hunt a little.  Many, like myself, have a fascination with tracking and may not have the courage or the knowledge to take the method up.  How to Bag the Biggest Buck of Your Life, although written nearly 50 years ago, is certainly not outdated, and can give those hunters on the fence the one necessary boost to give it a go.

The Glorious Cause by Jeff Shaara

The Glorious Cause by Jeff Shaara-Published 2003

In continuing my most recent kick on the American Revolutionary War, I look at New York Times bestselling author Jeff Shaara’s, The Glorious Cause.  Piggybacking off his own, Rise to Rebellion, Shaara’s second and final novel of the two-part series begins about a month after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  Although a robust 680 pages, The Glorious Cause is an addicting page turner that, despite my hectic lifestyle, only took me a couple of weeks to finish.

Shaara tells the story in chronological order from the point of view of several key players in the cause for American independence, with the four headliners consisting of George Washington, Nathaniel Greene, Benjamin Franklin, and even British General Charles Cornwallis.  He brings life to these characters, depicting their strategies, frustrations, and fears.  That the author can make a sympathetic figure out of Cornwallis speaks to Shaara’s ability to assist the reader in understanding that while the British general was in fact fighting for the “other side,” Cornwallis was simply a human being with the same feelings and problems in his personal life who was doing what his king wished for him to do.

Of course, the reader is enlightened on Washington’s feelings of despair and anguish, reeling from the losses at Long Island and New York City, as well his first-hand account of the defeat at Fort Washington.  We ride along with the American general on his tour of redemption at Trenton and Princeton, victories that were crucial to building some sort of American morale.  Shaara, in a stroke of finesse, weaves in Martha Washington, who’s tough, but motherly disposition perfectly complements the general and drastically brightens up the culture during a tough winter at Valley Forge.

Shaara brings us across the Atlantic with Benjamin Franklin to persuade the French to align with the colonies.  We get to see inside Franklin’s brain, the methods he utilized to interact with King Louis’ right-hand men.  Franklin’s ability to play the part of the elder spokesman of a startup (hopefully) nation with a ragtag army, despite his lofty status, as well as his zany sense of humor are in full display, as well.

The book provides firsthand accounts of some of those on the undercard, so to speak, those no less important to the outcome of the war.  Some of these people include, the Marquis de Lafayette, Nathan Hale, Prussian General Frederich von Steuben, and even the traitor, Benedict Arnold.  We are given a sense of understanding of how these and other characters play key supporting roles in how it all shaped out.

Shaara escorts us to all the key battles along the way:  Trenton, Brandywine, Yorktown, as well as many lesser-known clashes.  Battle scenes are vividly captured, the reader entrenched side by side with the combatants.  We’re in both camps and tents, drinking their rum and writing letters home.  All in all, The Glorious Cause checks off all the boxes a reader of the Revolutionary War could ask for, and then some.

Ethan Allen Frontier Rebel

Ethan Allen Frontier Rebel by Charles A. Jellison; Published 1983

Ethan Allen did not have a self esteem issue.  Regardless of his escapades, whether it be starting a bar brawl or leading his militia, Allen was always quite sure of himself and made sure he commanded the spotlight and was received in a positive light.  Yet, it was this behemoth of a man, in stature and voice, who supposedly played a leading character in the birth of a state and a nation.

In his book, Ethan Allen Frontier Rebel, Charles A. Jellison takes us through Allen’s adventures, such as the personal fight to protect his land, at the front of his guerilla group, the Green Mountain Boys.  In this case, land that the locals assumed was theirs, in what is now Vermont, was the subject of a dispute between established states New Hampshire and New York.  Allen and his boys pestered their neighbors from the east and west to defend what they felt belonged to them.

Jellison brings us through the rugged wilderness to a standoff between Allen and American commander Benedict Arnold during the early portion of the American Revolutionary War.  Their paths crossed while both were on a mission to capture the lightly guarded Fort Ticonderoga (New York) from the British.  Allen’s men refused to follow Arnold’s lead, forcing the commander to take Allen along with him.  When the mission was successfully completed, Allen ensured he received the credit.

We learn of Allen’s faults, as well, in an attempt to generate big headlines.  For example, in a plan that was not properly planned for, he attached Montreal and was captured.  We go with Allen as he spends several years on a British prisoners of war ship.

Allen’s time with the British allows him to foster relationships with people behind enemy lines.  This potentially played a role in his further dealings the governor of Quebec regarding the establishment of Vermont as a British province.  Allen made a few enemies once these negotiations were public, with many considering him treasonous.

Jellison takes the story to the end of Allen’s life, including his role in promoting an independent Vermont, as well as day to day life on his farm.   In addition, Allen publishes a writing that attacked the method of Christianity, while offering an alternative naturalistic view of religion.  We finally are brought to Allen’s untimely death at the relatively young age of 52 years old.

George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved The American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring Than Saved The American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger; Published 2013

1776 was a difficult year in the American cause for independence.  Crushing battlefield defeats, declining morale, and scores of defections threatened to halt the objective not terribly long after the first shots rang out at Lexington and Concord were just part of the issues.  Undoubtedly, the most disturbing event was the loss of New York City to the British.  No one felt the burden more than General George Washington.

With the British showing its might, Washington was fully aware that his army was incapable of beating the king’s army head-to-head.  Rather, the general realized his only hope was to outsmart his opponent.  Truly believing that his hopes of turning the tides of the war depended on taking back New York, Washington recruited a major in the Continental Army, Benjamin Tallmadge.

In George Washington’s Secret Six:  The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, authors Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger take us on a journey from the formation of what became the Culper Spy Ring through the war that ended with the ragtag Patriot army somehow emerging victorious.  In contrast to the secretive nature of the ring, the identity of its members, and its role in helping the American cause, the reader obtains concrete knowledge of each member, prior to, during, and after the war.  We are informed of duties carried out under dangerous circumstances that played a deciding factor in the outcome of the war.

The first half of the book primarily provides the setting and introduces to us the main players, its fears, near misses during the ring’s infancy stages, and takes us through a period of fits and starts where the knowledge gained, perhaps does not warrant the dangerous nature of the work. It is here where it is said that key members went almost completely silent, fearing their lives were threatened. Up to this point, the book meanders along a rigid timeline, almost setting us up for the thrilling climax.

As promised, it is the second half where things rapidly pick up.  Here, we find out how the ring was able to thwart Benedict Arnold’s plan to turn over West Point to the enemy. Furthermore, intelligence from the ring garnered that the British were going to attack the incoming French navy, who had recently agreed to align with the Americans. This led to Washington planting false evidence that he was going to assault New York, forcing the British to call off their plans with France and return to fight a fictitious battle against Washington. We also learn how the Culper’s intelligence played a key role in the American victory of the decisive battle of Yorktown.  The ring’s efforts were so paramount, it led to Washington winning the war without achieving his main goal of taking back New York.

Secret Six is a spy thriller in the deepest sense.  Upon reading, this reviewer finished the last 150 plus pages in an afternoon, unable to put the book down.  This book is recommended for any lover of history who wishes to discover a network of American heroes that textbooks were unaware of for more than two centuries.

1776 by David McCullough

1776 by David McCullough-Published 2005

George Washington has long been hailed the hero of the American Revolution, and with valid reason.  His patience, perseverance, and ability to push past major disappointment and crushing defeats to see his undermanned army to the end provide the blueprint for all of us who face substantial obstacles in our daily lives.  Washington, despite personal doubts of his own ability, never let his men see his insecurities.

In his novel, 1776, Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough takes us directly into the mind of Washington.  We see his indecision and, at times, crippling lack of confidence, things that could have easily led to the demise of American independence.  We begin to understand that heroes, including iconic figures such as Washington, are straddled with faults and warts just like the rest of us.

The reader learns of several trusted confidants in Washington’s inner circle that eventually, in one way or another, through incompetence or treason, let the general down.  That said, the story makes superstars out of Henry Knox and Nathaniel Greene, who stuck by Washington from beginning to end.  The mutual admiration and respect between these three men are as big a reason for the outcome of the war as any.

We find out about the British side, as well.  We begin to correlate specific decisions made by British generals that allowed a ragtag outfit, the so-called, “Rabble in Arms,” to hang around when it could have been annihilated several times over.  Despite boasting a plethora of seasoned generals and leaders, the fact that British leaders were rarely on the same page or could hardly work together somewhat levelled a playing field that was overwhelmingly stacked in favor of the redcoats.

Finally, it is worth noting that McCullough, for the most part, keeps the story within the specific parameters of its title.  While the reader has the advantage of knowing how everything played out, it is important to understand how intimidating it must have seemed to be a soldier in the American army at that time.  1776 handed the Patriots several lopsided losses and subjected them to embarrassing retreats of supposed strongholds.  Morale was extremely low, and people were deserting the army in droves.  Washington’s leadership ability itself was very much in question, and despite a nice rally at the end of the year, especially the defeat of the Hessians at Trenton, he was hardly thought of as a hero.  Seeing the situation as those in the army at that time allows the reader to better understand the how perilous things were.

Coolidge by Amity Shlaes

Coolidge by Amity Shlaes; Published February 2013

Calvin Coolidge is widely recognized as a cool cat, someone with a dry wit who delivered some of the greatest one-liners in presidential history.  Thrust into action when President Harding unexpectedly passed away, Coolidge quickly became America’s laid-back answer to a fast and furious decade of excess.  A man of modest means who walked the walk in the way he carried himself and lived his life, Coolidge is rarely discussed among the greatest presidents in US history.  However, with the publishing of her book “Coolidge” in 2013, noted author Amity Shlaes brings the 30th president back into the limelight.     

Shlaes delivers a point-by-point timeline of Coolidge’s life from his upbringing in miniscule Plymouth Notch, Vermont, through his years at Amherst College, and during his stint as governor of Massachusetts.  We are there when he experiences the trials and tribulations of being in the White House, some personal, such as the unexpected death of his son Calvin Jr, as well as leading the nation through an extended period of growth.  He was the last US president to leave the national deficit lower than the one he inherited.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the year after Coolidge decided not to run for another term, kicking off the Great Depression, Americans began looking back and flung some criticism Coolidge’s way for what was deemed a laissez faire approach to politics.  Shlaes, very pro Coolidge in her book, will certainly spark a debate among historians who wish to place at least some of the blame on the 30th president.