Tag Archives: hunting


Hey Birdwell, what’s the can of dog food for?

I have not owned or operated a hound for some time now, upwards of 20 years. So it strikes some folks as odd that I would pull a can of dog food out of my pre-excursion grocery bag.

I understand. Dog food purchased usually equates to a dog that needs to be fed. And in case anyone is not familiar with how I feel about feeding dogs, see this blog post –

But that is not the case. (you expected otherwise?). You see, canned dog food stinks. I mean it smells, bad, unappetizing, gross. However, those same adjectives are exactly what makes it appealing to lesser animals – dogs, cats, or, for the sake of this blog entry – foxes, racoons, opossums and skunks. In other words VARMINTS.

Split open a can of Mighty Dog (beef liver with savory herbs in cream sauce), fling it around at the edge of camp, load up the rifle and sit back. It might take an hour or two, but rest assured, something will smell that crap and come running, bib on, drooling and hungry.

Screw the Road Runner. Something smells…


Not only is it good for land animals, catfish seem to like it, too. Drop a perforated can of Ken L Ration (turkey parts with giblet gravy and autumn vegetables) on the end of a string into the river a few days prior to showing up with your fishing gear. Fish smell the dog food and congregate around the area, nibbling on the small chunks that leak out. When it’s time to fish, pull out the can and drop in a chicken liver impaled on a #6 hook.


Charlie the Tuna – displeased, as usual.


It is cost effective. I can get a couple of cans for less than a buck. I might even do better at the dollar store, but I never think that far ahead.

Let me tell you, nothing livens up an evening around camp like having some critter foraging around the outskirts within firing range. Of course, there is always the chance that a skunk will be the varmint du jour, but that isn’t a big deal so long as you are more than 25 feet away and up wind. Then again, the wind tends to change time to time and distances can be distorted due to mitigating factors, like alcohol.

Yeah, once in a while one of the neighborhood hounds shows up and eats it all, then marks the area (bastard).

No, I don’t shoot at it with the gun, that is someone’s pet, after all.

I use the slingshot.

A place of our own (in the Pines)

The night we conceived of and initiated our search for a new camp was not a regular, weekend long camping trip. Dollar and I were back at Camp Wheel Rut on a Friday night just hanging out, having a few beers around an open fire (12 pack of Guinness, 12 pack of Bass Ale, I remember it specifically).

We had been talking about finding a new location for camp. We wanted it to be off of any established trail, especially any that were frequented by dirt bikers. Someplace we could stock with firewood and not have to worry about other folks finding and abusing it. We also wanted to be left alone. We had been developing this xenophobic thing ever since our first weekends were interrupted by dirt bike racket way back at The Rock.  And wouldn’t it be great if we could build a shelter, so we could leave the tent behind?

It wasn’t like we couldn’t see the forest for the trees (a good fitting analogy, don’t you think?), we were in the middle of the largest wilderness area in NJ. Down the fire road a few hundred yards the pine trees came in real tight on the left. A low, swampy area ran along the road off to the right, then the heavy pines started again. We traversed the 10 yards of wetlands, then the land began to rise slightly. And a slight rise – even if only a few inches – means the difference between wet and dry out there. We began looking for a place to put a camp. After a while of bushwhacking we found an area where the pine trees were a little higher, offering much desired overhead cover. As fate would have it, there were three trees almost 8 feet apart. There was a small clearing, no more than 10 feet across in front of that. We decided that would be the place. The significance of 8 feet? A sheet of plywood is 4 x 8. Two sheets along side each other is 8 foot square. Plenty of room for two, or even three people to sleep comfortably. Any guests would have to bunk in the woodshed.

Not long after that nigh time ‘Black and Tan’ tromp we made a trail in a long, lazy ‘S’ pattern. The lean-to was around the last bend and you could not see it through the scrub until you were less than 20 feet away. Anyone coming down the fire road was heard long before they began walking down our trail, that is, if they could find it in the first place. Between the switchbacks and false ending we engineered, you could find yourself lost before ever seeing our lean-to. Meanwhile, we could listen to your every step.

This is a view of the lean-to as you approach on the trail we made.  As you can see, it was well hidden.

That is my girlfriend at the time, posing to show height. (She was about 5 ft.).  To the left of  her is the ‘bar’.



This is a front view into the lean-to, from the fire pit. Notice how neat and tidy everything is.

(It must have been taken just prior to leaving).



On subsequent visits, we cleaned up the area a little and began moving in construction materials. We built our lean-to with longevity in mind. We worked out some drawings and obtained supplies from wherever we could, mostly dump sites and abandoned homesteads we came across in our exploration trips. 9 Pallets, 3 sheets of plywood and 6 aluminum poles made the structure on top of which everything else was built. Eventually we found some corrugated steel for the roof and once that was in place it leaked no more.

If any of our parent’s ever wondered what good could possibly come out of all those ‘forts’ we built in our backyards when we were younger, well, there you go. That place kept us dry and sheltered for years. Last I heard (which was a few months ago) it was still standing.

At first we didn’t have a table, as such. We had a bar. It was a 2×6 lashed between two trees (lashed with rope, we tried to keep as many trees alive and untouched as possible) with another 2×6 nailed flat on top of it. We liked it. We were comfortable hanging at a bar and it served us well.

We picked up a few fire bricks on one of our excursions that served as the walls for our fire pit. We needed to be careful about fire – more so than usual – because this place was a friggin’ tinder box. You can understand why this place has so many devastating fires; the forest floor is covered in dry pine needles. We certainly did not want to be responsible for an inadvertent conflagration.

We found a 10′ length of aluminum gutter on one of our scavenger hunts. Initially we intended it for the back of the lean-to, but we found a much better use for it.

Relieving one’s self was not as easy as usual. Anyplace other than the small area in front of the lean-to was dense scrub and getting far enough away to keep unwanted odor from wafting through camp was tough. Then, having to do it sixty or seventy times a night (the beer, you know?) was an issue.

We shoved the gutter out into the scrub and angled it down into a small hole. It was genius, pure genius (from a guy’s perspective, at least). It also served quite well for carrying waste water out of camp – you know, like left over wash water, pasta water and the such.

We stored almost all of our supplies in plastic 5 gallon buckets. When you snapped a good, tight fitting lid on those things they are water and animal proof. And it was a convenient way to unload/load the lean-to. They made convenient places to sit your ass, or prop up your dogs after a hard day. They were good for holding and dispensing water. Plus we got to inventory all of our shit each time we visited. It was a pleasurable past time, as we danced around the fire, drank copiously and ate equally copiously (eating, drinking and dancing like fools).

This is a shot of the infamous Dollar, cooking, taken from the woodshed.  You can see that things were a little tight in camp.




Dollar salvaged a couple of old kerosene lanterns. After a year or two, we had enough supplies stored that when we wanted to go camping, we only needed to bring minimal gear and food.

It really was cool. There were times that we entertained friends and family by bringing them out there with nothing more than a canteen of water. You can imagine the looks of disdain and moans of disbelief when we would offer hot beverages –  then proceed to build a fire, boil water, pull out packets of hot chocolate and instant coffee, serve and sit back and gloat as everyone sat there wide-eyed and dumb-struck with a steaming mug in their hands.
Talk about a cup of s.t.f.u
Silly flat-landers. We weren’t farking around.

It probably won’t appeal to most folks, but some of the greatest times I have had camping were out at that place. There was something about being camped out deep in the Pines, at a lean-to of our own construction, so secluded that it wasn’t on anyone’s map.

We had everything we needed for an enjoyable weekend. (pretty sure this shot was taken when we first rolled into camp and ‘inventoried’.)

Thanks-giv-o-fest2 The Pines

We decided that The Rock and surrounding area were not sufficient to retain us.

One issue was that we could see, as well as hear a whole lot of human activity. From our vantage point on the side of the mountain we could see Green Pond Road, the main road through the area.  Also, there was Hewlett Packard and their constant comings and goings.  On top of that, there were the dirt bikers ripping up the old field at the base of the mountain.  I think that was really the issue; that constant dirt bike motor whine.  It spoiled the sanctity of the woods, the quiet and solitude.  It pissed us off.

Dollar’s older brother lived in South Jersey on the outskirts of the vast Pine Barrens.  Dollar reported that he had found an area far out in the Pines where we could do our thing without interruption.

Our first trip there was on a rainy Wednesday evening, the day before Thanksgiving.  I remember speeding down what was called the Red Road (it was mostly red clay), in an area known as the West Plains, in Walt’s Mazda pickup. Radio blasting, chasing deer (it really is fun), skidding, hydroplaning, but not caring much about any of it.  We crashed into the trees when it came time to turn, but that wasn’t as bad as it sounds, because the trees were only about 10 feet tall, pitch pines, and we pretty much plowed right through them. Plus they cushioned the impact.  No, we weren’t wearing seat belts, no one did back then. If we got stuck, we would push the truck back onto firm footing and carry on.

Stuart and Dollar were in Studogg’s Mom’s full sized pickup (with cap).  We turned down one unmarked road, then another and before we knew it, we were as far away from civilization as you can get.

Or so it seemed. On a map (we didn’t have the luxury of Google Earth back then) we were only a couple of miles from Route 72, as the crow files (if said crow didn’t get blasted out of the sky) but certainly in the middle of one of the most desolate stretches of forest that road goes through.

The New Jersey Pine Barrens are a unique ecological area, comprised of mostly Black oak and Pitch pine, those being the only trees able to adapt to the poor, sandy soil and frequent wildfires.  Where there is water, you will find Atlantic white cedar.

Another unique feature of the Jersey Pine Barrens is that they are prone to sweeping forest fires that turn a verdant ecosystem into a scorched, blackened wasteland suitable for filming post-apocalyptic nightmare movies.  It is these fires that keep the trees stunted and short, hence the term ‘scrub pines’.  (I always like when a opportunity to use ‘hence’ comes up).  In the Plains (West and East) trees don’t top much over12 feet.

But, true to the mystique of the area, the scrub pine and oak have adapted to the more-than-occasional burn.  In fact, the forest is dependant on it.  It is the very thing that destroys invasive plants and trees.  Both the scrub pine and oak can regenerate from their rootstock, which has survived the heat beneath the sand. Within days of a fire you can see pine seedlings sprouting.  A couple weeks later the blackened trees have leaves.

And that is all pretty cool, except when you are on a long hike in the blazing summer sun and there is nothing overhead to shade it.  Or when a frigid, steady wind is blowing unimpeded across miles of scrub, cutting right through your outerwear straight to your bones.

Or when it’s raining.

The first Thanks-giv-o-fest in the Pines was a soaker:  four days of showers, downpours and drizzle. I remember going hunting and having to turn the barrel of my shotgun downwards to drain water out.  Not that we cared much, though.  Thinking back, I am impressed with our tolerance of the crappy weather.  We were having a good old time camping, hunting, drinking and enjoying our freedom.

We did manage to bag something that weekend, though.  A pheasant flew across our path as we went on one of our food excursions.  We ate it that night. Talk about a Thanksgiving like our forefathers enjoyed.

We strung up a huge canvas tarp between the pickup trucks. We built a fire and promptly burned through all of our available wood.  However, there was a series of half buried pallets in a low area off to the side of the road.  This was a little used (at that time, at least) motorcycle trail.  Occasionally that area would be wet, during wet years and the bikers must have dropped pallets to aid them in traversing this low point.  You would not have known it by the continuous rain we were encountering, but it was a dry year.  And that was fortunate, because we excavated nearly every pallet and burned them.

Pallets burn hot, if used properly.  These were slightly wet, it was raining for a couple of days, but they only needed to be dried around the fire for a half hour before they were ready to burn.  Then we would kick them into the flames.  How hot? We melted beer bottles into little globs of green glass.

We had not planned this trip as thoroughly as our previous excursions and needed to make daily excursions out of the woods seeking food.  We visited everyone that Dollar knew in the area – his brother, sister and their most gullible friends.  We would gratefully take whatever was given – a loaf of white bread, can of beans, packets of instant oatmeal – then drive back into the woods.

One night, vittles were in short supply.  The rain was coming down hard and we were holed up beneath the tarp.  Beer was plentiful, though, so we were good.

We cooked up the last of our food – instant oatmeal.  I’d like to say it was one of the flavored varieties, but I’m pretty sure it was unflavored.  It makes sense. Those usually are the last to go.  Again, we hadn’t planned well for this trip, so we were short on a few utensils.  We all had a spoon, but there were only 3 coffee mugs to mix in.  So the drill went like this:

You would take two spoonfuls of oatmeal, and pass the mug to the right.  In short order a mug would be handed to you from the left.  If you tried to sneak a third spoonful you got kicked in the ankle or shoved off of the cooler.  It worked for us.

Eventually everything we had was soaked and we ran out of pallets to burn. We left for home, but knew we had established a new area of operation. Our next trip there heralded a new era for the Birdcrew.

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