Friday, March 29, 2013

A trip down (snow goose) memory lane

For a guy who hasn’t done a ton of hunting in the spring, Easter always gets me thinking about the trips I have taken. (And, yes, I know around this holiday I should be thinking of more important things.)

In 2006, I spent Easter morning turkey hunting in the Black Hills. To this day, I maintain that sitting there and watching the sun come up and listening to turkeys gobble is as spiritual a moment as you’ll ever get.

The next year, I planned a work outing to North Dakota to hunt snow geese. You can hunt those geese in the spring because there are so darn many of them the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service begs you to shoot them. It’s a weather and migration game, so we postponed the trip on several occasions.
And then I got the call that things were falling into place. I’d be gone until the day before Easter, but so be it.

Snow geese flying from a North Dakota field.
A bit of backstory here: At this point, Kim (who’s now my wife, obviously) was just a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. We’d planned to hang out the Saturday night before Easter. I didn’t want to reschedule. But I wasn’t missing my North Dakota trip, either.

I knew the timing would be tight, but I also knew it could be done.

So that Friday, I drove to Oakes, which is in southeastern North Dakota, just shy of 300 miles from Minneapolis. I arrived and met the guys with whom I’d hunt. We climbed in the truck and spent the next few hours driving around the countryside, watching where these huge flocks – thousands of birds – of snow geese went. The idea was to find the fields they were using and then hunt one in the morning.

About 8 p.m., we finished scouting and went back to the hotel. Five minutes later, we were at the local watering hole. There were burgers and beer, country music and – late in the night – a limbo contest that didn’t go well.

We closed the place down and walked back to the hotel (the beauty of small towns). Two hours later, the alarm clock went off.

Not long later, we were in the truck, driving under a dazzling, star-studded sky. We stopped at a gas station and I, thinking we’d have a chance to grab something else later on, grabbed two energy drinks and a granola bar. Nobody paid any attention to what anyone else bought.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived to our hunting spot. We then spent the next two hours putting up hundreds of snow goose decoys. Other guys set up an electric caller. Then we climbed into our layout blinds and waited for the sun to rise and the birds to fly. I remember eating my granola bar and drinking one of the energy drinks.

It was probably 6 a.m. I remember a short nap.

Finally, the birds started to fly. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced, hearing all these geese honking, watching them come in over our decoys, and then hearing the words “Take ‘em!”
We killed a lot of birds that day, but there came a point I got really hungry. That was about 10 a.m. I sucked down another energy drink. Then I got tired. Then weak. Then I just wanted the damn birds to quit coming. But they never did.

Finally, about 4:30 p.m., there was a break in the action. I climbed out of my blind. Said I had to go. The guys were nice enough, but wanted me to get the heck out of there before more geese came. So I did.

I found my way back to my truck, changed out of my hunting gear, and wondered how to get where I needed to go. This was back before I had an iPhone, and I’d arrived at the spot in a daze more than 12 hours before. Armed with the knowledge that we were south of town, and then the sun sets in the west, I made my way along gravel roads, keeping the sun in the proper position.

Finally, I made it back to town.

I stopped at a gas station to fill the tank and grab some food. And to use the pay phone. Mine was out of juice and I needed to call Kim, let her know we were still on for the night and that I was on my way. I slipped some quarters in the pay phone and dialed her number. Thankfully, she answered (I think, anyway). We made plans to meet about 10.

At that point, it was nothing but me and about 5 hours of open road.

I finally made it back, met Kim and others, and headed to a bar. I was excessively tired, but also a little jazzed. The night was a good one, though it went a little late and, again, I missed church on Easter morning.

But I’m proud to report I haven’t missed an Easter service since.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The right place at the right time

There was a time in my life when I looked forward to the end of March/early April all year long. Not because I enjoy winter’s last gasps, or watching the snow melt. No, I looked forward to it because it meant it was time for the Northwest Sportshow.

All year long, I’d save my money and formulate grand plans to spend it on fishing tackle at the sportshow. Every few weeks, I’d drop all the coins on my bed, stack ‘em up, and figure out what I could buy.

Back then, the sportshow lasted 10 days. This was back before I had wheels, so I’d have to find a ride. But I always did, and always went to the show at least twice.

I write about the sportshow because, well, it opened a couple days ago and runs through this weekend. And even though I won’t be able to attend this year, it’s really the one show I think about every year. That’s because so many cool stories have come from it. Here’s one of my favorites:

I don’t recall the exact year, but in the early 1990s my family took a trip to Alaska. The plan was to fish for salmon, do some sight-seeing, and visit family. Also, my dad, mom, and sister would fly, while my brother, uncle, and I would drive and do some fishing along the way.

Our one specific fishing plan was the result of the sportshow. That year, several of us were walking around the booths, checking out the various destinations. We stopped at a booth and spoke with a couple guys who operated a fly-in fishing deal in British Columbia, and flew fishermen into a lake called Maxhamish. As a 6th- or 7th-grader, I wasn’t much involved in the planning, but looking at their colorful flyers and pictures of walleyes got me all jazzed.

Then that summer rolled around, and John, Tom, and I hit the road. The details are fuzzy, but we arrived in the town where these outfitters were based. I’m not sure if we couldn’t find them, or the trip never had been set up, but we ended up on a public dock, casting for whatever would bite. The thought was we would camp near there, but that we ultimately wouldn’t get to Lake Maxhamish – accessible only by plane – because we couldn’t find the outfitter.

So we stood there and casted, and then heard a plane. It soon came over the trees and landed on the
lake in front of us.

I wouldn’t have recognized the guys, but Uncle Tom did. Turned out it was the same guys he spoke with at the sportshow. So purely by chance, they’d literally dropped from the sky and appeared in front of us.

It wasn’t long later that we were packed into the plane, in the sky, and heading for Maxhamish.

It wound up being an awesome fly-in trip, and we spent a couple of days catching walleyes by what seemed like the hundred. Just goes to show it pays to be in the right place at the right time.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The power of reviews

So we're at the 10 month anniversary of the release of my fiction novel, TWO SHOTS.

We've covered a lot of ground since then. There have been radio interviews, press coverage and free promotions (during which it was downloaded nearly 17,000 times). Missed out on the free days? Well, it's only $2.99 on Amazon, which is, in my opinion, still a steal of a deal. But one of the coolest parts of this entire process has been to read the reviews at Amazon. To date, there are 52 reviews. The average is 4.3 out of 5 stars. Here is a quick sample:

 -- "Two Shots was a terrific journey, full of suspense and action. I couldn't put it down once I started it. I felt like I knew Officer Tony Leach and that I was right along side of him. I highly recommend this book and can't wait for the next one!"

-- "Still, this was a very good book revolving around the primary character, Tony Leach, a game warden for the state of Minnesota. Much like the Joe Pickett character in the exquisite C.J. Box novels that take place in Wyoming, Leach is a bit of a bumbling law enforcement officer with a bulldog determination to solve a brutal crime. … Overall, a great start to a literary career by Joe Albert. I look forward to the next (hopefully) Tony Leach saga later in 2012!"

-- "I read an average of 2-3 novels a week. This book has truly captured my interest. Very fast paced and reminiscent of Stephen Hunter's "Point of Impact" (later retitled Shooter). Great book, would recommend it to anyone. I cannot wait to reread it in a couple of months sitting in my bow-hunting stand!"

-- "Loved it! Wish more books of fiction were written about our outdoor law enforcement professionals. Would definitely read another book by this author."

-- "Joe Albert has a style that reminds me a little of John Sandford, and that's a good thing. I love John Sandford."

Of course, nothing ever is all roses. Here's a 1-star review:

--"I am an avid reader, my favorites are authors like Lee Child, and Vince Flynn.This author is neither, has potential, yet his character " Leech " leaves a lot to be desired." (AUTHOR NOTE: His name is Leach, not Leech.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

An easy exercise in democracy

Among the many beauties of living in the United States is our ability to participate in government. Many people think of that in terms of the elections we hold in November.

But it’s important to stay engaged throughout the year. I’ll admit: I don’t let my state representative and senator, or my members of Congress, know what I’m thinking as often as I should.

This week, though, I did. Specifically, I wrote letters to my state representative – Paul Rosenthal – and my state senator – Melisa Franzen. There are two wildlife-related bills before the state Legislature that I’m concerned about. To date, neither Rosenthal nor Franzen has signed onto the bills, and I’d like to keep it that way.

The Internet makes it very easy to let your elected representatives know what you’re thinking. And they give most weight to letters and emails they receive from people in their districts. The easiest way to start? If you live in Minnesota, click here. To learn who your Congressional representatives are, click here. And if you don’t live in Minnesota and want to know who represents you at the state level, click here to find your state Legislature’s website.