New Book

This post is out of the ordinary for this blog but I thought it worth passing along.

My cousin, Jim Cheskawich wrote this book about his service in Vietnam. It is a compelling book and talks about one man’s experience in the war in southeast Asia.

If you are expecting tales of firefights, battles, napalm and the like this book will not meet those expectations.


 The inside dust jacket describes the book better than I can. Whether you served during that time or whether you did not, this is a book you should read.

You can order directly from Jim, through on-line book purveyors, or if you don’t want to buy it, go to the local library and ask for it.

An Interesting Hunting Season In Pennsylvania

It has been an interesting hunting season in Pennsylvania for me. While I do not have to go to great expense to replenish my ammunition supply I had a lot of fun and it certainly did prove interesting.  This summer I began to notice that my right eye seemed a little out of focus. “New glasses,” I thought, “I have to get new glasses.” Nothing unusual there. It has happened every year or two for the past sixty years. Yeah, you read that right. I cannot ever remember not wearing glasses.  So I troop off to the local optometrist to get my head….uh… eyes examined. What she told me blew me away. I had cataracts in both eyes, the right eye being the worst. So it was off to see the ophthalmologist/surgeon.  I had a really interesting discussion with the young lady who was the first of many technicians I saw. She asked when I first noticed the problem. I told her that the year before when I looked through a rifle scope for too long things would get blurry. She asked if my right eye was dominant. I told her no, but that was the way I learned to shoot. She tested me for eye dominance and told me I should be shooting left handed. I told her shooting was one of the only things that I am ambidextrous at doing. We had a further discussion about shooting and other things and then I was hustled off to other technicians and the surgeon.  Long story short, I had the surgery in September, the right eye first and the left eye a week later. Then I heard Dr. Wagner tell me something I never expected to hear in this lifetime. My distance vision in both eyes is 20/20.  

So I head out to the rifle range. No blurriness in the scope and for the first time in ages I can see open sights. Bifocals were the reason I could not see open sights for the past decade and a half. I was elated. Dr. Wagner, you and your associates at Stoken Wagner Opthalmic Associates did a great job! 

So I headed into the woods as the season began to unfold. My first foray was for ducks and geese and, well the birds didn’t exactly cooperate, but it was fun. 

A couple of weeks later found me in the Big Woods of northcentral Pennsylvania searching for turkey. It wasn’t a great year for turkeys and the few hunters I talked with said numbers were down. The acorn crop in the area was one of the best I had ever seen. And I began to see deer, including a couple of racked bucks. 

Then came bear season. I saw a wallhanger of a buck below camp, and another larger buck across the mountain. I was excited. I was seeing big bucks and I could see them well. Things were looking up….well into the woods. 

Buck season arrived with the usual excitement. Even after more than 50 “first days” there is still something special about that first morning. We left the camp before daylight full of excitement and hope. The woods were quiet and it was 7:30 before I heard the first shot…..anywhere. You wouldn’t have known the season was on. It remained quiet throughout the day. There wasn’t much shooting and none that would be considered close to either of us.  

The second morning of the season rain began shortly after first light. It had rained off and on through the night but as daylight approached it began to rain steadily. There was a time when I would have put on my rain gear and went out in it all day long. Not anymore. My buddies had to leave that morning and so I helped them pack and get going. A shot rang out across the mountain, probably more than a mile away. I didn’t think much about it at the time. After the guys left I decided to go to town and call home. If I had Verizon I could have gone to the top of the hill and called, but AT&T still thinks all people live and only make calls in the cities. Well, I wouldn’t call Renovo a city but I can get cellphone service there.  So off I go. 

I got to the bottom of the mountain just as a hunter dragged a massive buck to the side of the road. I stopped and admired the buck. He might have been the one I saw in bear season, but maybe not. The hunter was local and said he had some friends hunting in the area and sooner or later one of them would drive by and help him get it to his truck. I wished him well and headed to town to call.

I returned about an hour later. The hunter was still sitting by the road. I asked where his truck was and he told me on top of the mountain, parked on an access road. I said I could get him to the access road but I hadn’t been up the road in a while and I wasn’t sure I could get up it, with the slippery leaves, ruts and all. He said getting to the access road would be good enough. The two of us loaded the deer into the Jeep and up the mountain we went. As we drove up the mountain, the hunter told me this was not the buck he was looking for. He said he had seen a larger one the day before but couldn’t get a shot at it. Interesting. 

I waited along the road while he retrieved his truck. Another local group of guys came by and they stopped to see the buck. It was pretty obvious they were hunting this buck as well. Soon the hunter returned and we struggled to load the buck into his truck. In my hunting career I have handled a lot of deer but this was definitely one of if not the largest. The eight point weighed 200 pounds field dressed if it weighed an ounce. Getting it into the back of the Cherokee wasn’t that difficult but getting him onto the bed of his truck required some effort. It was a monster of a deer. After the deer was loaded he wished me well and was on his way. I felt good about being able to help a lucky hunter.

I hunted some that afternoon and the next day. The rain persisted. It was quiet walking in the woods but it was to no avail. Talking with the guys in the other camps, nobody had fired had fired a shot. Collectively we maybe saw altogether 20 deer. We know of only one other deer, a small eight point that had been taken in the area. Thursday morning in the cold drizzle I closed the camp and headed home. 

The rest of the week and the first few days of the second week of deer season were taken up with various tasks of domestic , birthdays and Yuletide importance. My friend and his son and I agreed early in July to get antlerless tags and hunt Indiana County at the end of the second week. I planned to go out Thursday. That morning while walking down my smooth level driveway to get the newspaper I twisted my knee. It hurt and I hobbled a bit, but it was deer season and I was determined. Off I went. 

That afternoon I arrived at the State Game Lands and hunted myself, as the other two were otherwise occupied. It was quiet and I hunted an old Christmas tree plantation. I saw sign but no deer. I moved across the road and saw less sign but I heard some shooting back where I had been. 

The next morning the three of us headed back to the SGL. We hunted one area where we had some past success but it proved fruitless. Then we moved back to the old plantation. Some light snow had fallen during the night and I saw where I moved some deer. 

As I was waiting for my friend to come through on the second push two does came out of the brush. Ol’ Brother Blue Steel spoke and my antlerless tag was filled. 

After lunch we decided to hunt another section where we had seen deer in years gone by. I hiked up the road about three quarters of a mile, to where I would start the push, while my friends got in position.  Remember my knee? Level and easy walking? Well the knee was starting to hurt again. I was determined though to make the push and find some deer. 

When I got to my starting point I was surprised to find two women waiting for three guys to push the opposite direction to them; the direction I intended to go. It happens on public land. I learned a long time ago to not get bothered by things like that. I said I could wait. In a few minutes the drivers came through. They said they moved nothing. 

I decided to push through the lower edge of the field. Somehow, once I got into the field of waist high goldenrod with an occasional pine tree, my knee stopped hurting. I began a methodical push through the field, slow and easy. One never knows where deer will lay up. As I approached a slight hump in the ground I looked ahead. “That branch looks like an antler,” I said to myself. I took another step. It was an antler, still attached to a deer!  I was startled by the sudden appearance of the deer. It was obviously dead. I kicked it and it was stiff. I felt it and it was cold. But no snow lay on it and no scavengers had gotten to it. I surmised it died the day before. As I was standing there looking at the recently deceased, I saw a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. Two does jumped out of the goldenrod twenty yards away and bounced down across the field and across the road. I took the photo you see here of the magnificent nine point.

 I don’t know the story of how the deer came to be there. I was in the middle of a large, relatively open field a hundred or so yards from the road. I didn’t move the deer to see where it had been shot. My guess is somebody took a poor shot and when the deer didn’t fall they assumed they missed it. Why they didn’t follow up their shot mystifies me, and really pisses me off! If the buck had been found on private posted land one could easily make the assumption that whoever shot it gave it up when it crossed into the posted land. That is not the case here. The deer was in the center of a large chunk of SGL. The scenario that keeps playing in my mind is that a “hunter” who had not been in the woods since last deer season, saw the buck, possibly running, and took a wild shot when the deer came into the crosshairs. When it didn’t immediately fall he assumed he missed. He either did not follow up or does not possess the skills, stamina, determination and ethics to make a successful find. The slob who left the deer go will probably be one of the first to buy a semi-automatic should they be allowed for deer. (I hope not!) 

I followed on through the field and no other deer were seen. A group of guys was by their truck when I finished and I asked them if they had been hunting in the area during the past couple of days. They said they had not. I showed them the photo. One of the older “hunters” said I should go cut the antlers off of the deer. Why would I – or anyone – want the antlers from a buck I didn’t tag? That idiot’s logic escapes me. Yeah I could hang them on the wall and have them piss me off every time I looked at them. I need a set of antlers I did not collect like I need a toothache! I had to walk away. 

The next day found us pushing out the old Christmas tree plantation again. On the way to my starting point I met a hunter who told me he had hunted in the area for the past 40 years. He had taken a buck on the first day of archery. Now they were looking for a 6, 7 and 9 point they thought were still around. I showed him the photo. He didn’t say it but I could tell by his expression the buck in the field was the nine point they were still looking for. 

Later in the day as we made the last push, Jason was on stand when he spotted brown lying beneath a bush below him. When I got to him he pointed out the deer. It was a doe, shot a day or two before. The coyotes and crows hadn’t got to her either.  Again this deer was well inside public land and shouldn’t have been that hard to find. 

Is this what hunting on public land in Pennsylvania has become? In more than 50 seasons of hunting I can recall finding only one other buck. That deer had been shot near the end of buck season and the gang looked for it with some diligence. I found it in a stream under a log in doe season.  Until this year I had never seen two in a season. Someone suggested I call the Game Commission. For what? The buck was more than 25 yards off the road; too far for them to walk. Actually they could drive to it, but they would probably stick their 4WD. A few years ago I found a wounded buck that did not have the points required. I called the PGC and then waited for most of the day for them. They showed up the next day while I was away, and gave my buddies grief because I wasn’t there. Calling them would be about as helpful as teats on a boar.   

So it has been an interesting deer season. Venison is in the freezer. The rifle and all the gear is cleaned and stored. Geese on Maryland’s Eastern Shore are next up…..or hopefully down.

Preparedness In The Suburban – Wildland Interface

What has happened in the southeastern Appalachian Mountains this fall has been devastating. Thousands upon thousands of acres have gone up in flames and hundreds of homes have been destroyed and damaged. Lives have been lost. It is sometimes easy to forget that despite all our modern technology we are still at the mercy of nature.

That’s why it makes the news. People ensconced in their snug homes with air conditioning and heat that comes from that device in the basement, water that comes when a handle above the sink is turned, and entertainment and information (correct or not) comes to us on portable devices 24/7, tend to lose sight of the fact that just outside that vinyl-clad insulated wall is the real world.

We will see on the nightly news of fires “raging in California” or “floods devastating Louisiana” or “a wintry blast striking the upper Midwest” and we cluck our tongues and say, “Too bad,” not realizing that one small failure in our protective cocoons we call our houses can be tragic.

Even in a suburban development with tree-lined streets and regular trash pickup we are just one system failure away from confronting nature at its worst. Fire – especially wildfire – is something rarely thought about by the modern homeowner. We periodically check our smoke detectors and complain about them when cooking on the stove goes awry. But when was the last time you walked around your house and asked yourself, “Is this space defensible in a wildfire?” Take some time and take a walk on your perfectly manicured lawn (You can walk on grass and not hurt it!) and look at your yard. Is firewood for the fireplace piled against the house? Or worse yet, under the deck? Have leaves accumulated against the side of the house? Are there leaves in the gutters? Are dead trees or branches providing standing fuel that can be ignited? Is the propane grill safely stored or is it on the wooden deck? Ask yourself if the trees that keep you from being seen by your neighbors are a help or a hindrance if a wildfire breaks out? And when the Christmas season is over will you properly discard your dead dried out tree or just throw it over the deck rail until you can deal with it on a warmer day?

Living “in the woods” can have its advantages but to fully enjoy that lifestyle does require some work and some caution. A few minutes raking up the leaves or some judicious pruning of the trees can make the difference between inconvenience and catastrophe. You know what Smokey says. Listen to him.