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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Tom Fegely's A Guide to Hunting Pennsylvania's Turkeys — A Review

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., June 25, 2005.)
Few turkey hunters are too good to be helped by this book.
A month after the close of a spring gobbler season, hunters who finished with an unfilled tag might ask, "What can I do to make next season better." That question has lots of answers: more and better scouting, mastering a new call, or getting permission to hunt more land. Another way is to grab some good instructional materials. One that is tailor-made for Keystone State hunters is Tom Fegely's new book, A Guide to Hunting Pennsylvania Turkeys.

Fegely was, for 25 years, outdoor editor of the Allentown Morning Call and has published widely in the outdoor press. Well respected across the country, he is one of the most effective outdoor communicators in the state, and uniquely positioned to write this book. It follows his successful Guide to Hunting Pennsylvania Whitetails.

A Guide to Hunting Pennsylvania Turkeys fills a clear niche in the growing bibliography on America's wild turkey. Serious students of wild turkeys are devouring everything they can get their hands on about this prime target of the springtime sportsman. Some of the best books are getting hard to find, and many are pricey after moving into the out-of-print category. Fegely's encyclopedic book is one of the few (perhaps the only one) devoted to a single state's hunting tradition.

The author's own personal experience is broad, but he isn't too proud to include the viewpoints of many others in his book. Scattered like a fall flock throughout the 300 pages and dozens of photos are perspectives of a veritable "Who's Who" of turkey biologists, equipment manufacturers, writers and other outdoor professionals -- most of whom are Pennsylvania residents.

A few of the manufacturers are Eric Miller of Tru-Woods camouflage, Bob Walker of Walker's Game Ear, and Greg Neumann of Penn's Woods. Other well known names are Don Heckman, whose involvement in the PA Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation is legendary, and Denny Gulvas, a video maker from DuBois and perhaps the number one name in Pennsylvania turkey hunting circles. More than 50 others, including Pennsylvania native Rob Keck, Chief Executive Officer of the National Wild Turkey Federation, and Warren's own Mike Bleech, all offer their specialized points of view.

Fegely notes that one of the big benefits of hunting Pennsylvania is an extensive network of public hunting lands in addition to the many State Game Lands. Several state forests are available, plus the Allegheny National Forest covering parts of Warren, McKean, Forest, and Elk counties. Hunting lands are covered region by region.

He details the history of wild turkeys in Pennsylvania -- especially the broadly successful trap and transfer program that supplanted earlier failed efforts at stocking farm-raised turkeys. One chapter (indispensable in a state with so many hunters) covers important safety principles. Don't believe you can't be a victim of a hunting accident. Everyone it has happened to thought it wouldn't happen.

Space allows mentioning only a few of Fegely's insights. He tells some new ideas on shotgun patterning that I had not heard before, sound information on all types of calls (including the little-used tube call), and the advantage windy days give to the hunter. Also, why it's wise to stay 10-15 yards from your hunting partner, three methods of double-teaming gobblers, when to hunt fields, when to use the fall tactic of breaking the flock in spring hunting, and how to savor the moment after the shot.

The 41 short chapters are well organized and comprehensive. The writing is easy reading and sprinkled with humor. For example, he says he is annoyed by his wife's habit of crunching on pretzels and notes that when turkeys eat acorns, they "stretch their elastic necks upward and swallow. I wish my wife could do that."

Because Pennsylvania might be the most difficult place to harvest a turkey, Tom Fegely has given Pennsylvania hunters something to appreciate. Few turkey hunters are too good to be helped by this book -- available from the author's website, www.FegelyOutdoors.com, or by writing Tom at Fegely Outdoors, P.O. Box 986, Cherryville, PA 18035.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Reg Darling's Coyote Soul, Raven Heart — A Review

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., June 11, 2005.)
"I knew, long before I could articulate it,
that what happened in the woods was healing."
It's the reading season, time for the everyday hunter to sit back and examine what fellow hunters write. It's worth doing for the sake of improving our skills and for refining our philosophy of the hunt. That's why this space will review two or three books worth reading during the summer months.

The first is Coyote Soul, Raven Heart: Meditations of a Hunter-Wanderer, by Warren, PA philosopher and traditional archer Reg Darling. This assembly of essays and journal entries is part autobiography, part nature philosophy and part social analysis.

Some readers will be disappointed. If you're uncomfortable with controversy, you'll be antagonized. If your worldview is pro-business or exclusively Western, you'll find yourself in principle disagreement. If you are an animal rightist -- or not -- you'll be frustrated. If you find his occasional profanities gratuitous or stumble over his references to the joys of certain human behaviors, you'll miss the value in this book. Darling is a maverick and he prides himself as such. In the tradition of mavericks, he is a combination of humility and arrogance, and he'd like to challenge you.

Let none of that stop you from reading this book because Reg Darling is an uncommonly good writer. If he ever becomes widely known (and he deserves to be), some of his meditations will be classics -- on par with the best of outdoor writing. He releases sentence after sentence like arrows into the heart of the target. His piece entitled "A Fletcher's Meditation" is one example. "That the perfect flight of an arrow loosed with courage, confidence and concentration can bring us sustenance from the land is a great wonder."

"Camo" is another essay that repeatedly hits the mark. He views brightly colored noisy nylon clothing as disrespectful and irreverent toward the land, and goes on to say "Camouflage is simply the visual component of quietness." Clear, direct, substantial, and poetic. If you're fishing for quality sentences in quality essays, here is deep water loaded with lunkers.

While most of his views are understandable, occasionally he offers something mystifying, such as this journal entry relating to his teenage son: "Coffee is an adult treat Oren is allowed only on cold hunting days." It strikes me as oddly patronizing and controlling, especially given Darling's resistance to cultural norms and the confession of some of his own personal propensities.

A few of his descriptions seem unlikely, almost unbelievable, such as his account of hearing a coyote breathing as it paralleled him in the dark. But he admits later, "I look for meaning in things. I am probably excessive in that habit, and sometimes stretch desire-driven speculation pretty thin…."

Reg Darling is part child of the 60's, part Pleistocene man who shuns mechanical weaponry. Non-conformist blood runs in his veins. Hunting is a spiritual matter for him, but he is a little pessimistic about where it is headed. Not every hunter will identify with him and you don't need to agree with him in order to appreciate his writing -- but he might just change your mind about a thing or two.

You won't be able to pigeonhole Darling even after you have read his book, but you'll probably respect him and his philosophy. Perhaps the topic sentence of the entire book is on page 3: "I knew, long before I could articulate it, that what happened in the woods was healing." If you believe that, you'll get along with Reg Darling.

Coyote Soul, Raven Heart ends with a 7-page bibliography. The references it lists are not overtly cited in the book's 180-plus pages, so a paragraph on why it is included would be helpful. It seems to be a listing of the most formative works that brought Darling to his worldview, and offers an exceptionally good reading list for the thinking hunter.

I can't resist one more line from the quotable Reg Darling: "The meat matters. It is the umbilical cord that connects the hunter to Mother Earth." I like that. Coyote Soul, Raven Heart is available online at www.Amazon.com.