Big Lake (O) Bachelor Party

Bachelor Parties.  A time in a persons life where they celebrate the single lifestyle one last time before they take the plunge into marriage.  For many this means bars, strip clubs, drinking, maybe even gambling.  However recennt trends seem to be leaning towards trips that are somewhat more memorable.  Canoe trips into the wild, summiting a mountain, renting heavy equipment and going to town in a field for a weekend.  It seems sharing a mutually enjoyable and memorable experience is the new thing.

I recently found myself taking part in the planning of a bachelor party for a good friend, and felt the need to come up with an experience that was memorable, surprising and exciting all rolled into one.  The groom (Jamie) had recently discovered his love for fishing which naturally led me towards the idea of a fishing charter.  With the salmon and trout season still in full swing on Lake O, my choice was almost predetermined.  After convincing the other BP attendees that getting up at 3:00 am was a good idea, we booked the charter with Joe from Salmon Tracker Charters and set about thinking of a way to get the groom to the boat.

The day of party arrived, and the goom and I made our way towards Ajax under some pretty solid false pretenses and directed him towards Frenchman Bay Marina where he conveniently bumped into his father, brother, and two close friends.  All waiting in the parking lot with a tied look in their eyes and a cooler full of snacks.

We met on C Dock and boarded a beautiful boat that comfortably seated six plus the captain.  Joe as courteous and knowledgeable and quickly familiarized us with the boat and the days itinerary.  Joe came highly recommended by my Uncle, who guided on Lake O for salmon and trout for many years.  In my opinion, if my uncle recommends you, that means you have some serious street cred in the fishing community.

Joe’s boat was perfect for 6 blokes looking to score some big fish, and Joes prowess as a captain would live up to the luxury of his boat. Joe had two games plans, stick close for staging king salmon, or go deep for cohos and Rainbows.  After consulting with some other captains and learning that fishing was lean near shore, Joe chose option B and took us several kms out into the blue waters of Lake Ontario.

The first fish hit quick and was ceremoniously reeled in by the groom.  Not a big fish, but the little shaker made up for it by its sheer presence and determination on the line. Catching anything right off the bat, no matter the size will put a smile on your face.

We decided to take turns and chose a batting ordered that favoured those who had not fished in several years.  That said, Jamie’s Dad, Dennis, was next up to bat,  and what a swing he took!  The battle was on and it became clear early on that what ever was on the other end of Dennis’s line wasn’t tiny.  In fact, it ended up being a beautiful 18lb rainbow trout.  Quite the trophy for someone who hadn’t fished in over 10 years.

Next up was Jamie’s brother Mike who landed another respectable rainbow which led to another happy fisherman.

As much as we were bucking the normal customs of typical Bachelor Parties, we felt obligated to include a few traditions, such as the customary Cuban Cigar

The battle continued and action remained steady.  Time for old Davey T to step up and take a turn.

Next up was Justin.  At first, the fish didn’t want to play ball for Justin as several were lost at or close to the boat.  Finally however, a small King decided to commit and made Justin’s Day.  Unfortunately the little guy took some battle damage which made him a prime candidate for the cooler.  Perfect size for a meal.

The author even got to take a turn.  After loosing what we think was a monster to a broken line (no seriously, I promise it was huge!!!), I managed to boat a respectable rainbow trout.  Surprisingly enough, this guy was my biggest rainbow so far. Actually come to think of it, it was my only wild rainbow I have ever caught!

Overall we boated about 7 fish and lost another 10 or so.  Enough to keep us busy and quite the days work for a group of gents who got up at 3:30 to drive from Kingston.  The experience was memorable for everyone, Most of all for the groom.  He obviously had no idea what was in store for him which made the day that much more memorable.

The bachelor party continued with food and drink in downtown Toronto where great times were had by all.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage Jamie.  All the best to you and your bride for the future.

Cheers from the boat,

Albert

Collins Lake Bass Tournament (2017)

It’s a week after bass opener, and the annual Collins Lake bass tournament is finally here.  Its the day I look forward to all year, the day I can’t miss.  Is it because there is money on the line?  Because I get to compete with some like minded individuals? Because I get to spend 1 and a half days straight on the water with no distractions? Heck no, its because Fatima, our host, cooks up some unbelievably tasty Portuguese food, which, I get to stuff unceremoniously into my gullet.  Seriously, some of the magic she pulls off could kick some serious butt on master chef Canada, or other shows of the like.  Im talking as good as those tasty videos everyone seems to posts on their Facebook wall.

I could go on about the delectable Portuguese treats for paragraphs, but since this isn’t a cooking blog I’ll get down to the details of the tournament.

For those who haven’t read past posts the tournament is structured like so:

  • $100 entry per person
  • 4 fish limit: 2 weighed in the first morning (with an option to cull in the afternoon), and an additional 2 fish weighed in on Sunday morning.
  • Live bait is allowed

We had a total of 15 participants this year, from all across the province.  The weather seemed favourable, at least for a couple hours each morning, and we were a week after bass opener, which, we were hoping would lead to some calmer fish.  Hoping was the key word. Unfortunately, our hopes were in vain as the fishing was slow.   The fish seemed apprehensive and the bite was light.  Not to mention our afternoons were ruined by some pretty significant winds.  Ever try to cast a senko in 30 kph winds?  I don’t recommend it.

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The tournament progressed, and although weights were smaller than past years, we still had a good group of folks near the top after the first day.  there was a lot of room for anyone to run away with the tournament.

My personal weight was much lower than I was used to on Collins.  It seems my luck had run out a bit.  I wasn’t the only one with bum luck that day.  On the way into the launch we came across a boat having motor problems.  it seemed like something we couldn’t fix on the water so we tied the beast to the green machine and towed it back to port.  First time towing for me and the Green Machine.

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Weights on the last day were nothing to brag about.  most folks added another 2-4 pounds to their bag.

The winner (my uncle) finished with 9lbs for 4 fish followed by Jim at just over 8lbs, and Jody following close behind.

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Congrats to the winners.  Fishing conditions were tough and each of you earned it.

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

Early Season Bucketmouths

The blog has grown cold.  Cobwebs have gathered in the digital corners of the site leaving many, including myself, sad.  What the hell happened? After all I was on a role  with my outings… Well, life happened, as a matter of fact.  Project schedules at work, family time, etc.. Things seem to have piled up leaving little to no time for me to continue my explorations of the Wilds of Ontario.  I know, boo hoo, first world problems…

Thankfully there is always bass opener.  I’m pretty sure it would take a category 5 hurricane to keep me from participating in this, the holiest of holies, Bassmass!  With Schedules on hold, and a solid morning carved away from any commitment, I found myself and two others headed to Loughborough Lake for some greenback action.  My compadres were Dave, a regular here on WOO, and Jamie, a beginner fisherman who made his debut on the fishing scene with an 18lb rainbow trout.  Talk about beginners luck! Jamie had never caught a largemouth bass prior to our trip and was eager to explore what all the fuss was about.

Loughborough was an obvious choice for a first bass outing: no tournaments there to my knowledge, great habitat for both small and largemouth bass, lots of water to cover, and the right orientation to take advantage of the southwesterly wind we expected that day.

We fished the eastern basin heading from the centre east and immediately were met with action.  As luck would have it, Jamie’s Beggineer’s luck streak was still hot and he managed to catch the first fish: a healthy 1lber.  All three anglers were soon into many more bass with the odd pike to boot.  things had worked out exactly as I had hoped for Jamie’s first outing.  Considering the conversations we’ve had since, It seems we may have another convert!

 

 

Bass opener was great.  A little too great.  In fact I liked it so much I decided to extend the opening weekend into Monday.  Frank, another regular on WOO, was in town all the way from Pennsylvania, and was looking to target some of the local toothy critters.  His visits had become something of a yearly thing but as of late, they seemed to always conflict with bad weather or my busy work schedule.  The wind was up so our original plan to fish the St. Lawrence had to be revised.  Big water + big wind + my small boat is not a good combination, so after a quick scouting trip to some sketchy launches, we decided to head to an old standby: Newborough  lake.

After a tough start, we finally started to hook up with pike and bass.

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Frank has been talking (and dreaming) and talking of connecting with a 10+ lb pike for a while now.  This isn’t such a pipe dream for an outing on the St. Lawrence, but it is certainly a tall order on the back lakes around Kingston.  We hammered the bays and weed edges with all manner of spinner baits in a desperate search for Frank’s elusive prize.  All to no avail. However, on a long bomb cast into a weedy bay frank hooked up with what turned out to be a tank of a largemouth, weighing in at a whopping 5lbs, 1oz.  Respectable for sure, and quite the catch considering we were fishing immediately after the busiest bass fishing day of the year.

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This was Frank’s biggest largemouth to date, which left him happy.  It wasn’t what he wanted, but it certainly left him with a smile on his face.  I’m reminded of the classic rock lyric: “you can’t always get what you want, but sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need!”  Indeed he got what he needed, a big fish, just a bit less toothy than what he was looking for.

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

Early Season Crappie

Spring heralds a season of renewal.  The landscape begins to green and the cycle outdoor activities begins again.  One of the very first of these activities, that are non snow related, is chasing the unique fishing experience that crappies provide.

Crappies are well established in Southern Ontario, especially the Kingston area.  With lakes like The Rideaus, the Cataraqui River, and many others, Crappies are a firm fixture in the Kingston Wildscape.  In pursuit of these be-speckled beauties, we launched onto Loughborough Lake on an overcast Saturday, Mid April.  Armed with slip floats and small jigs, we fished 7-15 FOW and immediately hooked up with more panfish than we could count.

We ended the day with a couples crappies, tons of panfish, and a few overeager out of season bass (all of which were promptly released).  We didn’t get onto the schools of crappies we expected, but we suspect the cold weather and overcasts skies may have had something to do with it.

Enjoy the Pictures.

 

Ice, Ice, Rainbow

My focus this winter has been stocked trout.  Here in Southern Ontario there are numerous opportunities for stocked trout including speckled, lake, brown, splake and rainbow.  After success with splake and brook trout It seemed like a good time to chase after another trout species and there was a small local lake we had in mind.

Dave and I had tried the lake before with no real success but still remained optimistic for the lake.   After doing the math, based in the size of the lake, the location of the beaten path, and the number of stocked rainbows, there had to be catchable fish there.  So, with confidence from my recent trout trips, we decided to give the small lake another shot.

Aside from a bout of car sickness on the way to the lake, things went well, and after a nap, I was feeling up to actually fishing.  May be it was the nap on the ice, or maybe it was waking up to a set line flag that turned into a beautiful Raindbow caught by Dave. Either way I was suddenly well enough to fish and moments later I had a decent hit.  I fought the rainbow for a few minutes and it seemed like there was a real chance I was going to catch some chrome.  Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be and the fish got off.  Even still, a fish and a miss is way more success than we have ever had on the lake, and in my mind that counts as a win.  As a plus, this was Dave’s first Rainbow trout! Congrats Dave!

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Congrats Dave on your first Rainbow Trout.  I wonder what to target next, Lakers or browns?

Cheers from the ice,

Albert

 

Southern Ontario Brook Trout

Brook trout hold a place of reverence among many anglers for their colour, fighting ability, and taste.  For some anglers like my dad they have attained a place of reverence among the freshwater species of our province.  As a lad, I can recall growing up listening to him tell stories about fishing for these colourful creatures in the local streams around the outskirts of Bancroft.  By his account they were plentiful, sensitive, yet easy to catch (if you knew how), and a  source of a great number of fond memories.  Personally, I can recall some of our camping trips to Algonquin park where my dad would pull our station wagon over and disappear down the side of the embankment, only to return with a few of these little creatures.  Pan-fried brook trout over a campstove was my first real taste of wild food, and very likely one of the sparks that ignited my passion for fishing for these delicious fish.

Times change, populations grow, and land gets developed.  In turn our, impact to the environment (at least locally in Ontario) sent the population of brook trout into somewhat of a nose dive in many areas.  In the back of my mind I knew that development and things like agricultural run off can effect the water quality of small streams.  But this effect really didn’t hit me hard until my dad reported back after a return visit to some of those streams a few years ago.  I’m told he only caught a single trout for the whole trip.  Sadly I felt like the days of bountiful brook trout were lost.

My best days fishing brook trout have been in the middle of Algonquin park, and in Gaspésie, Quebec.  Fish were plentiful on both trips, however, in each case I had to work extremely hard, and sometimes travel for days, to find the places of historic abundance.  Anytime I tried to catch them locally, I always ended up with an empty basket. After these local trips, my view of brook trout fishing was fairly pessimistic.  My conclusion: good easy local brook trout fishing just didn’t exist any more in southern Ontario.

My pessimistic view changed during a grouse hunting/fishing trip this past fall, after having some unexpected success with the square tails in a not to distant location.  Our goal was grouse, but we ended up pulling several brook trout out of the lakes on the way.  Still uncertain about the fishing, I planned to return one day to fully explore the area.   I reported my success to my uncle who was intrigued and suggested we do a winter trip.  I got to work right away scouring the MNR fish online tool to scout the area, and contacted cottages in the area to secure accommodations.  When the dust settled we had planned a three day trip planned for the area that was not too far for any of us to drive.  I could tell you where we went, but in my experience, half the fun is finding these locations out for yourself.  Fish Online

Day 1 arrived on January 18th, and we met at our rental cottage and prepared the snow mobiles and gear for a days run into the woods.  Although we got off to a late morning start we were still hopefull.  Afterall, there were five of us, two snowmobiles, an array of fishing rods and tackle.  We could cover a lot of ground with that set up.

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We started the trip on the lake where I had some success the previous fall and spread out along the shoreline.  There was at least 12″ of ice wherever we drilled with a max of 14″ in some places.  Simple live bait rigs with gads were the ticket and within the first 30 minutes, I had 3 fish on the ice.  Another two were iced among the remaining members of our group and the fish kept biting.  We ended the day with a respectable 10 fish iced, about the same lost at the hole, and countless more missed hits.  Tired yet happy, we returned to our cottage for a celebratory beverage.

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Fresh fish on ice!

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We beat the sun up on the second day and started our trek back into some of the more remote lakes.  The ride in was several kilometers and things got pretty hairy with three dudes on the back of a snowmobile.  Half way in the three man machine was working a bit hard so we moved one of the guys to a towed sled.  We resumed our trek and made it to the lakes.  Thankfully I was the navigator on this trip which secured me a permanent position on one of the cushioned seats.

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One of the gents with his first brook trout ever through the ice.

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Fishing was tough on the second day, and we worked real hard moving around the lake to try and locate fish.  Our efforts paid off and we racked up another 6 fish on the day, with the majority of them being bigger than the previous day.  Shallow wood seemed to work well for us as well as rock points.  Just like that, another satisfying, albeit hard, day was behind us.

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Having satisfied ourselves on brookies over the first two days, we decided to switch things up on the third day and target a different lake that was stocked with splake.  For those who don’t know, these fish are hybrids between a lake trout and a brook trout.  This presents some added complexity to fishing for them as they have been known to behave like both species whenever the mood strikes them.  With this knowledge in our minds, we varied our presentations with a mix of setlines and a couple jigging presentations in deeper water.  As luck would have it, the splake were feeling brookish on the third day and while exploring the area with a depth finder, I looked back to see that my Gad had disappeared.  Not sure what to expect, I began pulling up my line and eventually pulled my gad right out of the hole.  Seconds later I felt a familiar tug and I set the hook on a beautiful 5lb splake.  I eased the tank up from bottom and attempted to remove the line from the gad so I could use my rod.   Murphy’s law kicked in and the line snapped.  I was left with a gad was in one hand and business end of the line n the other.  With no more time to be gentle, I hauled the fish up and grabbed the fluorocarbon leader.  The fish crested the hole and I took a breath.

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Aside from the interesting fight, I also noted the deep gold colour of the belly of this fish.  Most of the splake I have caught in the past were distinctly silvery, however this one seemded to lean towards its brook trout genes.  I’m guessing the lake may have something to do with the colour.

This splake happened to be my largest of the species to date.

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We visited one more small lake and added a few more brookies to our tally.  All said and done, we caught about 22 brookies and one big splake between 5 of us over the course of 2 and a half days.

Its not the big numbers I used to hear my dad talk about, but its definitely respectable for the size of the lakes we were on and for where we were fishing.  Catching that splake also made the trip real special.

Stocked lakes.  They are out there and are stocked for a reason, so go fish them!  There are so many reasons to target these lakes like the more you target stocked lakes, the less your focussing on natural strains of fish, which preserves the genetic diversity of our province.  Also, part of your license fees go to stocking these lakes so why not reap some of the rewards from a program you help fund.

Cheers from the ice,

Albert

 

 

 

Deer Season 2016

(Trigger Warning: I hunt, this blog includes posts on hunting, as such this post contains pictures of harvested deer.  Please avoid if this is unsettling to you.) 

Sometimes things just work out.  I mean there are lots of times where life throws you curveballs and nothing works (cough, last years deer season), but then there are the times where things just click and all feels right with the world.

I had a feeling that the 2016 deer season was just such a time.  It was a new  year ripe with possibilities, and despite a poor success rate in 2015, I remained more optimistic than ever.  With a warm winter at our backs, a good recruitment of fawns expected, and an unheard-of three doe tags in our collective pockets, visions of many tagged deer danced in my mind.  This was a pretty great way to feel hiking out to a deer stand at the beginning of the season.

Some hunters talk about conjuring deer from an internal sense of desire, other people talk about positivity bearing fruit.  Heck maybe it all comes down to the great Ju-Ju, and how many times you rub the rack of antlers over the camps fireplace before you start the day.  Call it what you want, but what ever it was I had it on the first day.  About 10 minutes after sitting down, a good sized doe cantered out from the corner of a nearby field right into my field of vision and the sights of my Tikka .270.  I whistled to stop her as she ran, took my shot, and just like that, our group had our first deer down for the year.  Sometimes things just work out!

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Having harvested a deer on the first day, left me with a strange feeling.  All my past experiences with deer season usually involved several days of little to no action right off the bat.  This inactivity equates to build up in anxiety, and anticipation.  One that is gradual and goes unnoticed but usually culminates with a rush of adrenaline once a deer is actually harvested late in the season.  This is not the case for the punctual deer shot right off the bat.  This deer comes with a strange lack of excitement, and a sense of relief.  Knowing that the first deer is down and that the group will have venison for the winter is as relieving as it gets.  Although not as exciting, harvesting the first deer so quickly sure makes it easier to sit in the stand for the rest of the week.  Maybe its not so complicated, maybe its just the ramblings of a successful hunter who has spent too much time in a back up stand.

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But enough rambling, lets talk about the season.  Generally, as deer seasons go, this one sits firmly in my top 5.  Heck, my top 2 for that matter.  Its takes second place for the number of deer I personally harvested, and first place for the level of success we as a group had.  With an average of one deer per day, and six in total, the season was action packed an hard to beat.  Not to mention the quality of the deer just seemed to get better and better as the week carried on.

dsc_0794-iidsc_0789-iiThe first three deer were does, filling our coveted doe tags and forcing us to take amore buck centric mind set.  This was tough to do with the number of does that just kept presenting themselves to us.  Luckily Jordan managed a shot at a tricky buck who was trying to sneak by in a marshy area.  Buck one was down and day three was over.

Day four started off with a low key run on a property that was divided into two sections.  We ran the first area with no sightings of live deer but plenty of deer sign for the seeing.  Following the unsuccessful initial run, we moved to the second adjacent property, thinking that perhaps the buck whose sign we were seeing could be present.  As luck would have it, he was, and as I trucked on into the farthest stand I heard the sound off a rifle from one of our group.  Eric had been laying in wait at a pinch point within the property in anticipation that something may be pushed as we travelled to our stands.  This would be our second buck and the biggest I had yet to see in my relatively short time as a deer hunter.

(Eric hadn’t harvested a buck in a while, so it was nice to see him have success with such a beast of an animal) 

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This deer was healthy, and Eric was beaming.  According to the group, It had been a few years since something this big had come out of the woods.  Big, but not the end of the story.

Day five arrived, and it was my turn to dog the bush.  My previous dogging experience had been limited to a small section of woods as a way to ease me into the game.  Having already harvested a deer, and having fresh young legs made me a prime candidate to run the dogs a couple times.  So the group set me up on a larger stretch of bush, followed by a smaller tighter bush.  At the time, I wasn’t too impressed with the prickly ash present on the first property.  Who would be.  But contemplating the whole experience I’ve realized this is a part of deer hunting and you have to put the work in to reap the rewards.  Apparently I put a whole lot of work in, because the reward on the second run was pretty epic.   I was quick to note that due to my success, I may actually be the best dogger to ever enter those woods.  That claim was short lived as the group started mulling over the concept of having me dog on a full time basis.  Back to being average!

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A few minutes into the run I dogged a small section of swampy woods located next to the roadway.  Apparently the deer had been using this as a throughway to get across the street to the adjacent cornfields.  I must have some innate knack for dogging as I inadvertently managed to send a bruiser of a buck back towards the other hunters in their stands.  This big boy was the last and biggest of the week.  Bigger than Eric’s the day before, and bigger than anything I had ever seen in person.  A true southern Ontario giant.

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(There was no way we were carrying this guy out of the bush.  As is, it took a few of the lads to lift this beast onto the four wheeler.)

 

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The veterans in the group immediately started into a conversation about whether or not this was the biggest ever deer taken on the property.   The veterans measured the buck with there aged discerning eyes and mentally compared this trophy against the bucks of old.  To my surprise and amazement, this buck didn’t even break the top 5.  As unbelievable as it sounds, bigger bucks had been taken on the properties we hunted.  And in the groups opinion, bigger bucks would be had in the future.  Regardless of this, the one thing the whole group agreed upon was that the past years had been very tough and this year had been a return to past glories.  I was left confounded, feeling like as much as I had seen in my past 5-6 years of deer hunting, I had yet to even scratch the surface…

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(The reality of the situation became very apparent when the three bucks were stacked up side by side.)

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(the author with the larger than life buck harvested by the youngest of our group)

We did a last run Saturday morning, albeit half heartedly.  With the success we had it was unlikely that the group would actually shoot another deer.  I think deep down we all know when its time to call it a day.  Besides, with six deer hanging, we had a long day of work ahead of us.

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This was a year for the history books, and a year to fill freezers with prized venison.  I’m left with a sense of satisfaction that comes with having a full freezer.  This can often be accompanied by a sense of loss, or depletion, a feeling that we had ransacked the woods and left things in shambles.  This was not the case this year.  My view remained positive as the number of predators seen was way down, the number of deer seen was way up, and better still, the number of deer seen that we didn’t harvest far outweighed the number we shot.  It seems we are in an upswing of the deer cycle in this part of 67.  The sentimental part of me feels like I’m living the soon to be good old days.  And when I’m old and grey, sitting on my porch telling stories of my life gone by to semi interested relatives, this week will likely be one of those stories.