Monday, October 6, 2014

Goin' on a Bear Hunt: A Preposterous First Experience

The author and one of the hunt dogs

I sat shivering, feet and calves soaked from water with the rest of my body damp from sweat, in the early morning light on the side of a ridge.  Early in the walk, about one-third of the way to my destination, there had been one of three mountain streams to cross.  This stream in particular was noteworthy because it was the one responsible for my currently half-frozen state while bear hunting in the middle of the ruggedly beautiful Cherokee National Forest.

Rising at 4 a.m., we had left the semi-comfort of the ‘motel, lodge and trailer camping’ long before the first glimmers of sunrise could begin to hint at the sky.  Arriving at the trailhead in the pre-dawn hours, we had donned loads of gear and guns to begin our trek into the wild.  I had a headlamp – a light affixed to a strap that could go around my head – but the battery in mine was dead so it laid impotent back at the hotel.  One of my party had a spare hat-light and handed it to me as he grabbed a flashlight.  Not far into the trek, I hear my name called and turned to see why I was beckoned. “Don’t go too fast,” Daryl (“D”) says, holding up his flashlight which shone with the weak light of a firefly in the dark, battery dead.  From that point on, I steadfastly held my own small light shining behind me, giving D (who was the last in our party) any benefit of its glow.  I, on the other hand, decided to test my resolve and grace by carefully watching the silhouettes of Heather’s feet and tried to mirror any steps she took ahead of me.  In front of Heather was her dad and, at the lead of my group, Ed.  Most of the walk was relatively uneventful with only an occasional stutter-stepped stumble on the odd root or rock.  All, that is, save for the 2nd creek crossing.  Here, the water was about 9-inches deep.  My boots, on the other hand, were only water-proof up to around 6-inches deep.  Determined to not be “that girl” who forces others to look for a better crossing (after all, they slogged through just fine), I set my chin and simply slogged through as well.  Funny thing about waterproof boots… they hold water in just as well as they can hold water out. 

For the next 2 miles I squished up the side of the ridge as the sky slowly took on the glow of early morning light.  Here my party came to a split in the trail.  It was at this point that we were going to separate.  Ed, Robert (the dad), and Heather were going to bound up the right fork (with Ed splitting from them shortly thereafter) while D and I took the left fork to cross a waterfall and continue up the ridge a ways.  We keyed into our hand-helds, ensuring we all had contact with each other and with various others in our 75-man hunting and dog-handling party.  Satisfied, D and I continued on our way.  We trekked up the hill, no longer needing the light, and decided on a "finger" of the ridge that, once climbed, would provide a decent amount of visibility on the "finger" we were on and the 2 fingers to either side of ours, reaching from the ridge top down into the valley.  We ambled up the steep incline and finally selected the base of a large oak tree to settle in for the days’ hunt.  Within moments, I was shivering and D, noticing the depth of my bone-chill, volunteered to light a fire. 

A fire?  Well, that’s not very hunting-savvy.  But I admit I couldn’t resist and was deeply thankful that he ignored my protests that a fire would scare all of the game away.  After a small fire was built I slowly removed my sodden boots and equally drenched socks.  My left foot had taken the brunt of the soaking and we carefully draped the sock over a stick which I held above the fire while D took the boot and, hanging it upside-down by carefully tying and then balancing it with the laces, made an effort to dry it.  An hour later I replaced my steaming sock and boot, after having also thawed my foot and hands near the fire.  We diligently ensured the fire was out and opted to trek about 20 yards further up the mountainside.  We both knew we were the epitome of how not to hunt effectively because of the fire and the not-terribly quiet conversation we had bantered during the drying process. 

In the distance, we heard the baying of dogs coming from a ridge a distance away.  We had planned for the hunt with different firearms for different purposes.  I, carrying my scoped .30-06, was meant to be useful for game – bears today – that were seen at a distance.  D, with his 12-guage shotgun equipped with slugs, was meant for quarry that was far closer.  The dogs bayed again, closer.  We used our ears to mark distance and possible trajectory. They bayed again, already obviously closer.  Another set of baying and my eyes widened, my senses suddenly straining with alertness.

“They’re coming straight at us,” I said.  D keyed up the radio, asking Robert – who was more experienced at bear hunting – if we should travel towards the baying or stay put since it was obviously coming our way.  The advice was to stay put.

“I mean it,” I exclaimed excitedly, “they are coming right at us,” I said as we both turned and took a few steps closer to the ridgeline from behind which the sounds were emerging.  We stood there, the baying of the dogs feeling so close that there was a palpable sense of anticipation, knowing we were just on the verge of something happening but unsure of exactly what.  Our guns were off our shoulders and clasped in our hands but neither exactly at the ready.  Our eyes and ears were straining, desperately striving to provide more information to our minds.  The ridge of the finger across from us was about 40-yards away and clearly visible.  The ground cover wasn’t too thick and even less directly in along the path in front of us; we stood on an obviously well-used game trail, giving us a clear view of the next crest.  Being a finger like ours, reaching out from the top of the ridge and extending to the valley floor with us being near the top, there was a gentle slope down the adjacent ridge and then gently back up to our location.  My mind was blank, thinking nothing, as my senses were alight with the anxious tension of knowing I was about to have an experience I had never had.  The next events, which I will express in detail, took all of 5 seconds in reality.  To help you understand the event, which like all exciting events means that time loses all meaning, I will preface each with the second that marks the event. 

Second 5- A black head, heralded by ears immediately followed by face, chest, and front legs of a bear crests the top of the finger directly across from me on the game trail. My mind registers "bear!" and sees the path and trajectory of bear meeting up with where I currently stand... forty yards from me and coming towards me in a full-bore run.

Second 4- I raised my gun, scope to eye level, as the bear begins the downward decent.  In my scope, I catch just the hint of the bear’s body as it races down the gentle slope (though even now I have no idea what part of the bear glanced through my scope's view) and squeeze the trigger.  Nothing happens and instinctually I click the safety off.  In the sudden need of my gun, I had neglected this matter.  It wouldn’t have mattered though; as quickly as the bear was in my scope, it had vanished.  The bear is thirty yards from me. 

Second 3- “Shoot the bear, Steph!” I hear from my right and just behind me.  Keeping my gun snuggly against my shoulder I lower the barrel.  I already know I can’t get a shot at the bear, running straight at me at full speed going down a slope.  Not with this gun... not with my scope zoomed in for long range shooting. Even in this last passing second, the bear was now at the gentle curve marking the bottom and about to start up my slope.  The path of the beast hadn’t changed; it was still coming straight at me, now closing to 20 yards and not slowing. Time was so slow that I drank in every detail of the bear.  Its muzzle was light but not brown and I wasn't sure if this was from tint or thinness of hair.  Its ears were forward and eyes gleaming like dark marbles set just behind the lighter area of its muzzle.  Not large but not small, it ran in lumbering up-and-down strides.  I felt no danger from attack, the bear didn’t care about or even notice me as its instinct merely relayed one message to it: “Run”. Twenty Yards.

Second 2- “Shoot the bear!” now yelled from the same area behind and to my right.  “Can’t” is all I reply.  The barrel of my gun now pointed in the direction the bear will travel, placed purposefully because I already know I have to wait until it's right in front of me. Only then - when the bear is literally about to run me down - will I have the ability to shoot my long-range rifle with any sense of accuracy.  The upward slope the bear runs up hasn’t slowed its progress at all.  The bear is staring both at me and through me.  I am nothing more than something in the way.  I have no sense of fear, no sense of panic.  The situation is what it is; I know that the bear will be to me in another second and, only then, will I have any hope of hitting it with my bullet.  Ten Yards.

Second 1- In some other world I hear the click-clack of a shotgun shell being chambered followed by the deafening report of a shotgun fired around 18-inches from my right ear.  It doesn’t even startle me.  An intense high-pitch trill fills my ear before the second immediate shot is fired, which I barely hear.  The bear, mere feet in front of me now on its near-collision course (I think it was actually going to run between the two of us) and 4 feet from where my own gun would have been effective veers slightly to its right, my left. It swerves, suddenly aware from the gun report that it needs to change course.  Because of that change in course, my barrel is no longer facing it and I won't get a shot after all.  As it veers course, I turn simultaneously with the bear as it passes to my left, six feet from me.   

I can’t hear anything but the head-splitting whine in my ear.  I take two ardent strides back up my ridge in the direction the bear was headed, trying to figure out which way it went but unable to hear any indicators. My eyes catch a glimpse of movement from low shrubs and brush settling back into place.  “It went that way!” I likely yelled (not meaning to but unable to hear very well) and desperately scan the hillside for some indicator of the bear.  It’s no use.  The bear’s course had taken it directly towards a rhododendron thicket and it had disappeared.  A moment later I turn to see the first of the dogs, 2 blacks ones, as they bounded up the hill and began baying up the tree we had been standing by. 

The Scene Captured!

We start yelling (not angrily but in amusement) to the dogs that we hadn’t treed the bear and that, being obvious amateurs, they should continue their pursuit.  After a moment, they gave us a blatant yet thoughtful look of "Ah, I see! You idiots missed it!" and realized their (or perhaps our?) error and did just that.  A few moments later 4 or 5 more hounds followed, baying.  At this point we were able to rationally start laughing about the odds of being nearly run-over by a bear at a full run that just so happened to be on the exact game trail we had chosen to stand on.  Two more dogs, the stragglers, arrived and carried on past us, almost without noticing us. 

From this point the bear had run back down the hill and into the valley, crossed over the creek near the waterfall area and then headed back the way it had started.  Not too long a distance from where the chase possibly began, the bear was taken by a man named Curtis, another hunter in our party.  D and I had already started down the trail at this point, eager to tell those in our immediate group of the preposterousness of the event after D had fielded questions about our luck via hand-held when others heard 2 gunshots.  We regaled the story over and over throughout the remainder of the day, laughing at the absurdity of the bear being on a literal collision course with us, my resolute (and probably daft) decision to not fire until the bear was directly in front of me, and D’s 2-shot miss… divulging that the first “click-clack” I heard was him unthinkingly ejecting an already-chambered shell and reducing his possibility of shooting the bear by one-third.  In reality, hitting the bear would have been a grand ending to the tale but his primary intent was for the bear to not run us over (which I ardently argued would have been the perfect end to the tale).

We all decided that it would have simply been too much if either he or I had shot and hit the bear in such close proximity.  Regardless of the ending of our absolutely amazing tale, we would be hard-pressed to ever find a hunter with such a ridiculously exciting and yet laughable tale of their first-ever bear hunt. 

"THE" Bear.

Author’s note:  Curtis, knowing the immediate history of his bear, gave me a chunk of the tenderloin so that I could share in the spoils of the bear that almost ran me down.  For that small courtesy, I will forever be grateful to him. OH - as a PS: the bear weighed 115 lbs.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Virgin Falls

Virgin Falls; Scott’s Gulf adjacent to the Bridgestone/Firestone Wilderness Management Area on the Cumberland Plateau dividing East- and Middle-Tennessee.
Virgin Falls has a knack for making you question your hiking skills before you even manage to get on the trail.  The moment you leave the trailhead parking, you’re assaulted with signage everywhere with various warnings ranging from:

    “Stay on the trail; hikers have gotten lost here and there is no cell phone coverage so help is not going to be here quickly!” to
    “Backpackers, sign this log so we know you’re here and how many are in your party!” to, finally,
    “This is a very strenuous 9-mile round trip hike with a water crossings and heavy, steady ascents on exit; this trail is not recommended for non-experienced hikers and make sure you allow yourself enough time to complete the trail!”. 

When you start down the trail, you’re curious just how daunting it will become.  After all, the immediate terrain is flat and unremarkable.  Bandit McKaye and I struck out on the trail around 8 a.m. with the promise of mild temperatures and a cloudless sky.  Simply stated, it was the perfect day for a hike.  Because we have never been to this area, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but there were only a couple of cars at the trailhead and the above-mentioned signs made me think it would be a peaceful, quiet hike.  We followed the flat terrain across the top of a ridge for about ½ a mile when the trail met up with, and followed, a slow, quiet mountain creek.  We followed the creek for awhile as it slowly but steadily increased in size.  Before long it grew from a creek to a stream to a babbling brook.  At this point, the terrain went from straight and simple to a steady decent.  The footing was still easy and, in the distance, we could hear the brook growing into rapids.  It was here that we found something we have never really done before: a cabled creek crossing.  The water wasn’t very high so I grabbed onto the cable only as a gesture and we trekked across the tops of the rocks.  The trail continued downward at a steady pace and the babbling rapids soon gave way to the thunder of an upcoming waterfall.  I knew it was far too soon to be the Virgin Falls the trail was named after, so I was quite pleased to think we were going to have multiple falls to view.  With the sound of the falls calling to us, we came to a split in the trail, one sign pointing to “The Overlook 0.5” and the other to Virgin Falls… we had plenty of time and – because it was early – energy, so we decided to take the spur to the top of the ridge. 

We broke to the trail on the right and veered onto a steep switchback that meandered up the side of the ridge.  While the sign told us it was only a half-mile to the overlook, as with any steep trail, you start to question the validity of the distance marker about ¾ of the way up.  Breathing heavy, we came to something else we’ve never encountered before: a ladder going up a ledge next to a muddy trickling slope.  Well, McKaye, being a quadruped, isn’t exactly equipped to handle a ladder… so we opted to go off-trail for a moment and put it in 4-wheel-drive.  We slipped and slopped our way through the trickle-fed mud slope and then carried on. It was the last major hurdle, it seems, and within just a few hundred yards we found ourselves at Martha’s Pretty Point where 2 separate camping sites were set up with overnight backpackers.  It was relatively early and McKaye has a knack for making people feel intimidated, so I beckoned a hello and “gorgeous morning” to those who were awake and meandering around.  McKaye and I strode over to the bluff and sat for a moment, taking in the view of the valley gorge and the ridgeline on the far side.  Worried we were disturbing those who were asleep, we quickly departed and headed back down trail for a nearby, uninhabited rock that provided a scenic vantage.  We again admired the view (well, I admired while McKaye laid on the cool rock bluff) for a moment before heading back down the spur, making a mental note that it would be a great place to have an overnight visit as long as you had plenty of water in tow. 

At the bottom of the ridge (which felt true to it’s 0.5 mile distance on the way down) we continued on toward the first of the thundering waterfalls.  It wasn’t much further, though the terrain became distinctly more steep and the footing more rocky.  Within a mile, we spotted Big Laurel Falls, the first of the falls on our hike.  I was immediately enamored by the falls, which had gathered quite a bit of volume by this point, but the cool factor surrounded that the gorge immediately after the falls was completely barren of water.  Where was it going?  I was lookin at the falls going over the edge yet the immediate view after the falls was as dry as the top of the ridge!  We walked further down the trail and then crossed down to Big Laurel Campsite and Falls to marvel that the water came rushing over a ledge that carved itself deeply backward into the rock… the water that fell from the top ran backwards to the ledge and then disappeared under the ground.  Needing a closer inspection, we traversed over rocks and boulders to the other side of the falls – the side that is actually nearer the trail – and the cold that was emanating from the area behind the falls was almost tangible.  Even though the temperature was still very mild – maybe 55-degree – the temperature at the base of the falls’ cave was barely above freezing.  Steam rolled off of my heated body in waves and McKaye’s breath steamed the air with each huff. 

Knowing we still had quite a bit of hike to go  (and already seeing how steep the trip out would be) we didn’t linger long.  Back on the trail I continued to marvel for the next half mile on how the gorge, which was carved and lush, so perfectly hid the raging river under the surface.  I wondered for quite some time as I marveled at this on if that was the water that fed Virgin Falls. 
About a mile further ahead I heard the unmistakable sound of more water in the distance, the sound often feeling as if it just “appeared” because it’s akin to wind bustling through trees.  I strained my ears and then my eyes and, off in the distance through the bare trees I saw the refraction of sunlight from the broken surface of the river.  I wondered where it had emerged and if I was going to see that place.  I thought the trail would lead me there but, a little further, I came to another sign that read Virgin Falls to the left (0.5 mi) or Virgin Falls via Sheep Cave to the right (0.8 mi). Well, how could I pass up two sights instead of one?!  We veered to the right and before long we passed a tiny cave opening, perhaps large enough for one person and not something that I thought warranted my 0.3 mile side-trek.  But just around the bend after the cave we came to a very cool waterfall and I wondered at first it if was Virgin Falls.  While we didn’t trek to the top of the falls, it fell dozens of feet from the top of the ridge, through a crevasse, hidden for a moment where the rocks had not yet given up their grip holding the crevasse together, and then visible again for just a moment as it plunged deep into the ground.  How amazing!  Not one waterfall that disappeared immediately into the earth, but TWO!  I followed the trail for a moment, enamored by the falls when we came into view of a sign: “Virgin Falls, Left”.  Well… this wasn’t even Virgin Falls yet! 

Excitement renewed, we didn’t bother to trek to the top of Sheep Cave Falls, deciding instead to see the trails’ namesake.  We trekked just a bit further and were almost immediately rewarded with a glimpse of the falls.  Honestly, my first thought was “well, these aren’t as cool as the others we passed to get here!” but, thankfully, the closer and closer we got, the more impressive the falls became.  While at first you can only see the top 1/3 of the falls (thereby wondering how big they are and coming up short) they steadily revealed themselves as larger than Sheep Cave Falls (the ones we had just passed) and more voluminous than Big Laurel Falls (the first one that had enamored us).  Finally we had arrived and settled onto a moss-covered rock to simply stare in wonder.  The falls were about 25-feet wide with a steady volume of water cascading over the edge of the bluff and falling over 100 feet to the rock below.  The most amazing part was the lack of water at the bottom of the falls.  There wasn’t a river raging onward.  There wasn’t a pool.  There wasn’t even a puddle.  The water immediately disappeared (likely, again, going immediately into an underground cave river system).  The surrealism of seeing that water – that much water  - and it not being in evidence at the bottom of the falls was… well, just odd.  After a few minutes of marveling I simply had to see what was at the top of the falls, so we headed up the spur.  The top was almost as amazing as the bottom… at the top of the ridge we could easily spy the water coming from the mouth of a cave and, after about 10 feet of exposure, crossing under a natural bridge for 10 feet before traveling another 25 feet to immediately cascade over the bluff.  I found myself looking from the cave on my immediately right to the earthen bridge I was standing atop to where the falls occurred on my immediate left.  It was enthralling and mystifying at the amazing features of the area.  McKaye, on the other hand, was not caring nearly as much about the view and more about the water he wanted a sip of.  We carefully walked over some large rocks (he took coercion) to where the water was emerging from the cave.  He lapped up some of the coldest and clearest water I have ever seen (I admit I took a few handfuls myself to splash on my sweat-sticky face). 

Our destination being reached, it was time to trek back.  I checked my watch and it was 10:30.  It had taken us about 2.5 hours to trek to the falls.  I knew the trip out would be more cumbersome and it was time to get moving.  We opted, on the trip out, to take the route that was previously advertised as the shorter leg of the loop, bypassing a second view of Sheep Cave Falls.  Shorter, in this case, merely meant steeper.  We huffed and puffed as we trudged up the exceedingly steep ridge, part of it being more akin to rock climbing/scrambling than hiking.  Within a quarter of a mile, we were both winded and Bandit McKaye, being the more out-of-shape of the two of us, made it to the top of the ridge and immediately threw up most of the water he had just drank.  I decided he (and I) needed a break and we were in a great snacking spot.  I set him out a small bit of water and I snacked on some trail mix.  The wind rustled from every angle and the cry of a red-tailed hawk sang to us on the breeze.  Before long a sound drew my attention (not McKaye’s… he was busy napping) and I watched three very healthy-sized white-tailed deer perusing the mountainside.  I finished my snack and watched the deer until they were near the bottom of the ridge and out of sight before coercing McKaye to get up and get going.  The trek back was, as originally advertised, a very steady incline after that which seemed to go on for eons.  The trail out brought far more people who, like us, decided it was a perfect day for a hike.  My guess is that most of the people I saw weren’t going to make it to the falls… well, not the namesake falls.  They were coming in well after noon and many of them were toting small children and, in one case, a man had a baby strapped into a backpack and was literally carrying a small dog crate… which admittedly gave me pause.  We also encountered a woman after my own heart on the way out; she had a huge backpack strapped on and was leashed to two boxers (each carrying a pack as well).  We didn’t want to pass them (Bandit has a tendency to be a little overprotective around other dogs) so we crossed the creek at a spot I knew prior to the cable crossing (where I knew she would be slow at best trying to get two dogs and that huge pack across).  The last mile of the hike was the most tiresome, not from the terrain but from McKaye wanting to lie down in the creek and relax every couple hundred feet.  Finally, at 1:30, we made it back to the trailhead where we both piled up in the Rover and, gleefully, headed for some fast food. 

In all I would recommend Virgin Falls to anyone who has the time and physical endurance for the trip.  If you’re afraid of making the 9 mile trek round trip in a single visit, take provisions to overnight.  All of the campsites – Virgin Falls, Big Laurel Falls, or Martha’s Pretty Overlook – are amazing.  The trip itself is strenuous, so be prepared for that and hit the trail at a good time.  The fact that you see multiple unique waterfalls makes the trip (which is worthwhile for any one of the falls, much less all 3!) worth every bit of soreness you’ll earn from it. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

BOW... Extreme?

BOWX: Becoming an Outdoorswoman – Extreme Style by Stephanne

Until recently, if I said “BOW” it was a 100-percent guarantee that I was referring to a tension release-propelled projectile weapon.  However, there’s a program called “BOW”, which stands for “Becoming an Outdoorswoman”, that many state wildlife agencies support and provide sanctioned events for.  Normal BOW programs surround education on things like learning ATV basics, muzzleloader and other firearm basics, basic archery, reading the woods, nature photography and so on.  These classes help to educate women who want to learn more about the nature around us, it increases their knowledge base and provides exposure that they may not otherwise have.  I’ve heard that one class was “how to back up a trailer”… this is something I can do, but not do WELL; I promise I’d rather a state agency representative teach me than try to hone my skill with instruction from anyone in my immediate resource base (somehow it’s less stressful when it’s someone I don’t know).  So, for someone like me, BOW didn’t really sound like it was something I would be interested in.  But, before I digress, let’s move on!

I received an email from my friend Julie about something called BOWX… i.e. BOW Extreme style!  I asked her what it was about and she dropped me a brochure and it was actually right up my alley, so I committed myself to the engagement.

I will say that it was with no small amount of trepidation that I drove the almost 3 hours to the Big South Fork area where our weekend’s events would occur.  There was no sense of trepidation about the activities; I’m an experienced horseman, fisherman, archer, and a die-hard backpacker – all events that we were participating in.  My sense of innate fear came from the fact that, as a solo-recreationist, I was about to spend the weekend with not one, not two, not three… but thirty women I didn’t know.  Well, 29, seeing that I did know Julie.  But, I set my fear of other things aside and this was not going to be any different.  So, let me tell you about the epic BOWX weekend. 

First and foremost, make sure you take a moment to read about the amazing venue where the event was held.  While the Big South Fork NRRA has stand-alone appeal, the venue where we actually stayed was nothing short of perfect for a BOWX event: a little bit of roughing it with the edge taken off by adding unexpected amenities.  The weekend started with a mile hike to the lodge – a hike made much easier by the fact that the TWRA staff trailered our bags to the lodge.  It was my first leisure trip to the BSF, so I was “bobble-headed-Stephanne” looking around at nature as we took the easy hike down.  When we got there we selected our bunks, retrieved our bags, and before long the dinner bell – an old-fashioned triangle bell – was tolling.  We all piled into the dinner hall and enjoyed a home-cooked meal.  After the meal, I was casually lingering by the kitchen and offered help to the management staff.  Before long we were friends and, as the other ladies took a few hours for a meet-n-greet and local history retelling around the campfire, the staff and I were at the stables feeding and watering the horses.  I heard the story-telling was informative and deeply entertaining.   The night ended with signing by a fire as a TWRA employee strummed along on his guitar.  Finally tired, I wandered to my bunk and slept. 

At 5 a.m. my alarm managed to go off, but luckily I silenced it before anyone else was disturbed from slumber.  Granted, that only helped somewhat because, soon after I wandered to make myself some instant coffee and enjoy my “quiet on the porch” time, the loudest whippoorwill I’ve ever heard started singing – nonstop for at least 30 minutes.  It was enough to wake everyone in my bunkhouse (one of three) up.  After a delicious home-cooked breakfast for all of us, we began to split into groups; one  for canoeing and horseback riding (which would swap roles for the afternoon) and one for Dutch-oven cooking and hiking.  Knowing how often I hike and wanting to do things I don’t have as much opportunity to do, I was with the canoeing and horseback riding group.  Now, here’s where BOWX and BOW (most likely) differ:

The canoeing wasn’t a quick or leisurely jaunt across a river or up an easy stream; it was an hour-paddle upstream against a headwind to a shoal where, if you made it in decent time, you had a few moments to fish.  There were no guides or men in the canoes with us and experience definitely played into the efficiency and enjoyment of the trip.  My canoeing partner – who I knew right away would be much fun because she said “I enjoy being stern” – and I made decent time and were able to spend about 30 minutes fishing.  After everyone arrived and had a moment to rest, it was back downstream (and, of course, that wind died down!) to where our lunches were waiting.  We hastily ravaged our lunches and then ferried (via canoe) across the river to where our horses lay in wait. 

The horseback ride we participated in is not some touristy version of the “hour long, single file follow the leader” that most people are used to.  Again, experience in riding horses really provided a benefit and added to the enjoyment.  I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to ride one of the “experienced riders only” horses and I had a BLAST.  For hours we rode, across creeks and up ridges, through mud and dusty-hard pack.  After the long ride, knees screaming and tush complaining, some of us even had an opportunity to extend our ride by helping get the horses up another ridge to a trailer.  It was nothing short of the most fun I’ve had in a long time!

Opportunities to enjoy these types of events don’t come along as often as I’d like and I really surprised myself by loving the weekend.  I have never seen a group of people so dedicated to helping women learn – gently – how to adapt to nature.  Sometimes it’s hard for a person like me to remember that – even if it was eons ago – there were times when I was a first-time canoeist or a first-time horseman.  When I was growing up there weren’t a lot of events like this – sometimes you could get exposure through the Girl Scouts or summer camps – but the opportunity to learn more and get out there as an adult wasn’t ever present.  The BOW and BOWX provide opportunities for women to enjoy events and the outdoors in a safe, comfortable environment that is conducive to learning and honing skills under the leadership of a group of very helpful, very polite, and exceedingly patient men. 

So, that being said, if you know a woman who you think would like these events, share the news.  Tell her about it.  If she doesn’t want to go alone, recommend she take a friend.  In the end, the important part is that we share our love for nature and the outdoors and promote that ever-strong sense of independence, self-sufficiency, and eco-responsibility with people we know!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

BOWX Weekend: Charit Creek Lodge

by Stephanne
I had the amazing opportunity this past weekend to participate in the BOWX ("Becoming an Outdoors Woman Extreme") event that took place in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (NRRA) at The Charit Creek Lodge.  This amazing place is steeped in history and provides a delightfully sensory experience.  There's so much to tell, it's hard to figure out where to start!  I guess from the beginning (history)?!

Charit Creek Lodge
While the trip itself will spur a few blog posts, the first thing I have to tell you about is the VENUE:

The Charit Creek Lodge is peacefully nestled in a very appealing valley bordered by the Hatfield Ridge and the confluence of both Charit and Station Camp Creeks. The lodge is ripe with history that you can't help but want to know more about even before you get there.  For example, the creek that the lodge is named for (Charit Creek) is named for a young girl named Charity who drowned in the creek during a flash flood.  On the road in (which is only used by horses and by the lodge manager or park staff for specific purposes) you pass an old chimney, now the last visible remnants of a homestead from an age past.  I asked one of the staff I was riding with about the chimney and she provided an abbreviated history... while I trusted her story, it was so fantastic that I had to verify the event and her details were very close to accurate! So, apparently the Tacketts lived (and died) here.  During the civil war, when both sides were looking for "new recruits" that were close enough to whatever age was deemed worthy to fight, the Tackett brothers - who were being cared for by an elderly relative - were told to hide under a feather mattress during a rushed decision when soldiers were seen headed their direction.  The elderly woman then laid upon the bed and feigned a horrible illness that wouldn't allow her to get up.  When the soldiers were gone, convinced it was just her and not wanting to catch whatever ailment had her bedridden, she rose, lifted back the mattress, and found that both boys had been smothered by the mattress.  Their graves - headstones hand carved - are still in the park today, located near the Cherit Creek Lodge.

The lodge itself is nestled in the valley mentioned above which was used as a shelter to travelers even in the Native American days. By 1850 there were just over 125 residents in the valley, but by  1930 it was down to just a few remaining homesteaders.  Currently Charit Creek Lodge is the only remaining building from the community.  The oldest part of the lodge was built in 1816 (the one-room portion with a chimney which makes up the western side of the lodge).  Other additions were added later by pulling in rough-hewn logs from other local cabins.  It's rumored that the lodge (or another area slightly further) were the homesite of Jonathan Blevins, one of the earliest settlers in the region.  While the barn, corn crib, and a few other structures around the lodge were built in the 1920-1930's, they were all done in a similar style which was no longer used in other areas of the country because they had been replaced by more "current" styles.   The lodge and some of the outbuildings - including the bathhouse which was a smokehouse before being converted to its current use - are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In the 1960's a man named Joe Simpson purchased the property from the last homesteading owners (Phillipses) and used the lodge as a hunting lodge for imported Russian Wild Boar (which - along with feral hogs - are still an invasive nuisance species within the park).  During that period the lodge was known as the Parch Corn Hunting Lodge (or "Hog Farm") until the park renamed it the Charit Creek Lodge when it purchase the property in 1982.  From that time on it has been a sometimes operational, sometimes not respite for hikers, backpackers, horse riders, and people just looking for a way to escape from the world and embed themselves in nature.

Southeast Pack Trips
Currently the lodge is managed by Larry McMillian, owner of Southeast Pack Trips.  He and his staff are great people who - in a matter of 3 days - I grew to really enjoy.  Christy, Keisha and Larry made this trip even more enjoyable than it otherwise was! They really went above and beyond to make the trip enjoyable for our very large group of attendees.  Home cooked meals were served twice a day and utterly delicious - including amazing tasty tid-bits like fresh scrambled eggs, bacon, biscuits, pancakes, and sausage for breakfast topped only by the ribs and bar-b-que with all the sides and desserts for dinner.  I have never 'had it so rough' when roughing it... if only the rest of life could be such a sweet lie.  Between the food, the company, the area, and the expertise... well, the trip was amazing.

The only thing I don't like about the Charit Creek Lodge is the fact that I didn't know about it before! 

The Park Service doesn't do nearly enough to publicize the place... a place which inherently appeals to so many different personalities (history buffs, civil war buffs, nature buffs, equestrian buffs... should I keep going?!).  I hadn't heard of the lodge before now though I had heard of a few others "in the same region" (which I add quotes to because they really aren't - one is in the Smoky's while the other is down in northern Georgia).  This place could really be a success with just the smallest push as long as the service that I experienced remained a solid component.  I'll gladly sacrifice a "in my own bed type of comfort" sleep to experience what I enjoyed during this trip and plan on returning soon and sharing the experience with friends and family.

History verified via "Exploring Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area"  By Todd S. Campbell, Kym Rouse Campbell. The Globe Pequot Press. 2002. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why I Write - by Stephanne

Untitled Document

I was asked why I like to blog... why I don't write something more "substantial". It was a good question... a valid question that deserves an honest answer. After I emailed the answer back to the inquiring mind, I opted to post my response here. After all, it's not a bad thing to let everyone know why I feel drawn to blog.... So, below is my (only mildly altered to remove personal tid-bits) response:

Let's see… usually when I write – as much as you don't like blogging – it's a blog. Blogging provides an option to write small, random stuff that rattles around in my head until I have a chance to get it out (then it doesn't seem to consume my mind anymore). It's an outlet. To write something more meaningful [length] I'd have to have ideas that I currently lack – things that are full stories built in my head. I do 2 blogs now… one is a personal blog where I just blather on about whatever I feel like doing while the other is primarily for the TWRA/TWRF. That's the one they have the ability utilize at their discretion where I write about things they are involved in (in one fashion or another). For example, this Friday I'm leaving for a weekend-long "BOW (Outdoors Woman) Extreme" event that is hosted by the TWRA… I'll show up at a trailhead and then take a horse a mile or so in to a rustic lodge and the weekend is full of hiking, horses, kayaking, fishing, and archery. I bring my notebook and a pen and write about the enjoyment and comraderie that surrounds sharing my weekend with a bunch of fellow outdoors-loving women in the woods.

As far as why I write: On good days I get to write about things like… how the Apps don't get their due credit because they were once the most colossal mountains on our planet and how they turned from a prize heavy weight champ to a little old man in a wheelchair. I speak about how, if you give him [the Apps] some time, he has some of the best stories to tell. I get to write about leaning against a tree that was present when settlers were first taming the land that became the State of Tennessee and how easy it is to dream of the years that tree witnessed. I get to write about how, if you sit still enough in a tree stand, the Northern Flickers will harass you in an effort to make you reveal that you're not part of a tree. I get to write about the serenity that you experience when you sit next to a mountain stream on a moss-covered rock and listen to the stream whisper with murmured trickles and the hushed secrets the wind shares with the trees. These are the moments I live for, everything in between those moments is just mundane ol' life. I dream... to be the Joyce Kilmer or Aldo Leopold of our age… to write words that would make a city-girl ache to know this world, to make a poet cry while I simply retell the wonders that my eyes behold, that my body takes respite in, and that my soul longs to be part of.…

Yes... that is why I blog. To share those moments I often spend alone with people who may not get to be there; to get them to see, in their minds' eye, and spur in them a desire to go and be a part of our world.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nature beckons company...

Mother Nature is perfect in every way. She is the epitome of extremes. Her grand design allows her to be peaceful and serene, lying disguised as a motionless pond awaiting the first ripple of life as a new day dawns. Yet in a blink, she can also be violent and eruptive, uprooting a majestic oak from its staunch and steadfast earthen hold. She can be compassionately harsh, beautifully grotesque, piercingly quiet, and inconsequentially grand. She sometimes offers everything but reveals nothing. She is a canvas awaiting paint, allowing each and every person to make whatever masterpiece their imaginations and dreams desire.

Is it any wonder why she calls outs to so many?

I am drawn to her.

I listen to her invitations.

She calls to me daily but like her gamut of extremes, her solicitations appeal to me in various ways.

Sometimes she invites just me and me alone, yet sometimes I can’t help but show her off to the masses.

Don’t get me wrong, Mother Nature has bestowed upon me many wonderfully lonesome memories that I alone will cherish. As a young boy, no one else can even begin to understand the significance of seeing that snowy owl perched on a snag in the midst of a desolate swamp and watching in wonderment as she flew off in graceful yet stunning silence. And yes, snowy owls are ALWAYS female! Something so beautiful can only be realized by that gender (in my mind at least). That single experience helped shape who I am today. I wanted… no… I needed to learn more about this “nature”.

As rewarding as those solitary moments are, when it comes to Mother Nature, more often than not, I want to share her. There are not enough fingers and toes of my closest kin to count how many times I have seen or experienced something wonderful from her and thought to myself, “If only _________ could see this now.”

To me, it seems as if my humble soul is not worthy enough to be the sole benefactor of Nature’s beauty. Why is it that I should be the only one blessed by her glory? This is why, if I have the option to share her gifts, I plan on taking those closest to me so I can bestow upon them those same favors.

Such was the case a few days ago.

Though my outdoor exploits predominantly don’t involve the report of a gun to conclude my experience, I had the opportunity to introduce our newest employee to his first ever Tennessee-style turkey hunt. Did I have a good farm where I knew there were birds. Yep. Could I have gone there alone to improve my odds of coaxing in the potentially call-wary gobblers? Probably. Did I make the right choice by bringing “Joe” along to feel the hallowed reverberations as the two long-beards strutted and announced their dominance to my decoys? Absolutely.

To say I enjoy experiencing Mother Nature with someone else is an understatement. There is something magical about sharing her splendor with another soul. It’s akin to writing a book where the reader can not only empathize with the words, but they can be washed away in that experience with the simple closing of their eyes.

I hope to continue to share those experiences, whether or not it’s on a hunt or after summiting a tall lonely mountain that’s been on my “to do” list. Oh well, after a long day on the trail in the heat and sweat, I often times find myself aromatically putrid. Hey, you know what? ….I guess I sometimes have a lot in common with that girl I love.



Daryl Ratajczak is the Chief of Wildlife and Forestry for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. He is an avid outdoorsman enjoying all forms of outdoor recreation from hiking and kayaking to hunting and fishing. He is dedicated to protecting and managing all of Tennessee's wildlife resources and bringing the outdoors to all citizens of Tennessee.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How Animal Attacks Widened My Horizons

This week…
“The dark blanket of night still shrouded the world as I lay peacefully in my tent. I had slept well, physically exhausted from the long hike in and mentally satisfied by the serenity of the wilderness that surrounded me. There was nothing more peaceful than seeing a marmot lazily peruse the grasses for food, watching an elk and her calf meander along the edge of a lake, feel the warmth of the sun, smell the crisp clean air. I’m not sure, even now why I woke… only that something must have stirred near me, barely pulling me from my slumber. I closed my eyes, thinking rest would find me again… yet my ears – ears keen from thousands of years of being an active member in (and not above) the food chain – acutely listened to find the source for the late-night disturbance. There was a sound… a hushed whisper from a padded foot stepping in the soft earth. What was it? I couldn’t see. My eyes – far weaker at night than so many other animal species – were useless. My nose picked up the faintest of smells but lacked the experience to relate the smell to anything I knew. It was my ears that I relied upon now. My ears straining and searching the dark area around me to apply an explanation to the muted sound I had heard. A huff of air on the other side of my uselessly thin tent wall and my eyes flew open, body instantly rigid, mind suddenly a useless whir of motion analyzing every last miniscule bit of sensory data and cross –referencing with cause and reaction in less time than a single beat of a hummingbird wing. I was just reaching the conclusion, the conclusion that simply said “DEFEND!” when the tent wall shook and shifted as a clamping vice seized my head. Adrenaine raged into my system and I didn’t feel anything – pressure, really – but in that fraction of an instant, I knew what was happening, what this could mean, and the single natural force of fight or flight suddenly took over.“

That event didn’t happen to me or to anyone I know, but I understand that every time I go into the wilderness, it could… or a thousand variations of essentially the same story. I don’t tell you that story to scare you… I simply tell you that story to drive home that, regardless of the likelihood, dangers are real and must be considered.

There are certain things that – by some colossal evolutionary trait – seem to get our attention. The ‘certain thing’ I’m referring to is ensconced in the physiologic fact that we, as humans and without the tools that allow us to dominate our planet, are relatively defenseless against the wild animals of our world. When I say wild animals, sure I mean the predators of our planet… but in reality we are far less suited to be in the wild than a woodchuck. Without our massively developed frontal lobe coming to play, we lack fur (for the most part), claws, canines, the natural ability to camouflage or burrow or fly or strength or speed or… yah, for the most part, we’re pretty lame. Our only success is due to our ability to adapt and overcome with technology (including massive leaps in technology like… oh… fireweaponry… and, of course, ice cream). While we are surrounded daily by the scariest of scary things (other people), that doesn’t change that fact that things like animal attacks always take headlines and strike us with an almost paralytic fear when we transfer the emotions of the event to ourselves. Our ancient instinct harbors this fear. 

My respect for that reality really helped me to appreciate the events surrounding an event I had the pleasure of attending in late March, 2014. The event was the Bear Attack Response Training, a training seminar conducted for the 15 states that comprise the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Facilitated by some Western specialists (Brian Sommers and Mark Bruscino as well as Jim LaCour from LA), everyone came away with new and useful knowledge. The biologists and wildlife officers of the group were privy to information and instruction that will help to guide their agency in the event of a wildlife attack on a human. The attendees learned about securing scenes, collecting and analyzing evidence, lessons learned, and numerous other topics. These topics will help to ensure that our wildlife staff has the knowledge and the equipment to handle an event accurately, efficiently, and effectively if and when one happens.

For me, there were other lessons to learn. 

I am no stranger to concepts of wildlife biology or management but would never pretend or claim to know what those surrounding me do. I don’t have the same volume of specialized education and even the ‘greenhorns’ of the wildlife management world likely have more experience than I. But it is that perspective that allows me to see things in, maybe not a different light, but definitely a filtered light. I paid close attention to their training, sure… I’m the one who'll get the materials together for later reference… but I also had the opportunity to broaden my own horizons by simply listening.

As a ‘bunny hugger’ (never to a perverse extreme, but nonetheless) I have slowly and steadily come to understand things that I couldn’t know before. It was always easy to assume my opinion was the ‘right one’ because I was sheltered from a lot of the reality of “the world” and, quite honestly, sometimes when we're so certain we're "right" about our opinion, we disengage from the learning process by not listening to views that don't mirror or bolster our own. When something happens in relation to the human-animal interactions, there are usually two clear extreme sides to the public perception:

  1. Animals that ‘act up’ should be dealt with 
  2. Animals act like animals and it is arrogance when we seek retribution 

Let me warn you now… this is already a lengthy blog and it has the potential to turn into a novella because I feel the need to “explain” both sides from experiences within my slowly evolving understandings. Don’t get angry at me here, I’m in a unique position where I can try to explain both sides of the same extreme coin so just maybe something can be learned from all of this.. Plus, there are many people who fall into realms between the two extremes. First, let’s start with the 2nd number above: Animals are just being animals.

 There are a lot of people who will openly cite that human-animal conflicts are unfairly reacted to because animals are being just that: animals. In the entire animal kingdom we – humans – are the only animal species that can kill other species with impunity yet, if a species harms or kills a human, we exact vengeance. If I’m hiking in the woods and am eaten by an animal, every effort is made to find the offending animal and put it down. If I am attacked by a bear that comes into my neighborhood because my neighbors don’t practice responsible trash containment, that bear is likely put down. If I’m hunting in cougar country and attacked as prey by a cougar, it’s put down. Essentially, I’m just reiterating the initial statement: people kill animals with impunity forgetting that we are still simply a part of nature and not above it… yet we exact revenge on an animal for taking a human life. Unlike other species, we place a higher value on our own species than others and more than other species place on their own. That being said, there are many advocates that rally in support of an animal because it was being just what it is. (…for the record, that is easy for anyone to say when you’re not the victim or close to a victim.)

Now let’s look at the next view: animals are scary and should be dealt with.

There are plenty of individuals that think animals should stay on their land and not bother humans ever – maybe even not even look in our direction – and if they do, we should put them down. (This section could likely also include those who place little or no value on animal life – the root meaning simply that humans are above or not part of the animal kingdom.) That theory could have a little more heft if people weren’t always ever- expanding into wild areas (many times to get away from the congestion of people-filled cities). We expand to live, we expand to recreate... we expand.  The onus of understanding that we are expanding into the turf of the animal is on us... yet we pay it zero mind.  On top of that, in our fringe areas that border wild lands, many people don’t even take personal responsibility to do their tiny part in keeping either themselves, their neighbors, or the animals safe (much less learning about the animal behaviors) because we won’t clean up trash, put up pet foods, etc. Then, if a bear comes in to snack on the garbage buffet we simply want to holler for someone else to take care of the bear… yet we aren’t willing to take care of ourselves or pressure our neighbors to actually fix the problem. 

The people from number one are literally almost always at odds with people in number two. But then you have the wildlife management professionals who firmly reside somewhere in the middle of those extremes.

I would venture a guess that anyone who gets involved in a career of wildlife management does so for a love and passion for nature, wildlife, and animals. It has to be for the passion because animals aren’t exactly the best paying customers… so it’s not a high-revenue career field. So what happens when you have a sincere and passionate love of nature and wildlife but you have to also consider that you literally work for (via licensure and other income sources) for people. On top of that, you have this entire sociopolitical arena that exists in the media, social media, and everything else with constant verbalization on how everyone thinks these folks should do their job. It’s a balancing act… first protect the resources but also consider the human elements and a billion other people you answer to and things you answer for. I don’t envy these folks. No matter what they do, there is essentially no pleasing people because they always have two extreme sides (and everyone in-between) that exist.

In the end, I have broadened my horizons. In regard to my personal stance, I have landed somewhere in the middle where I have deep rooted “animal is just being an animal” tendencies followed by understanding that agencies do what they must do to satisfy a need for resource conservation and management coupled with human safety factors. It’s a tight-rope that I am glad they – and not I – walk. I respect the pressure they feel – from every single side – and the stress that goes into every decision that they make. For that, I thank them… for making the decisions I don’t have to make and holding firm regardless of the repercussions. Don’t misunderstand… that doesn’t mean that I’m not still an animal girl… but don’t ever think they aren’t animal people, too.

Just some food for thought.

Now go outside and enjoy nature (responsibly!).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Muse - by Stephanne

Today I had to think of something to put on a new bracelet a friend is having made for me... I kicked around many sayings, funny ones that I had coined, inspirational ones from historical figures... but in the end I wanted something I wrote. Its no secret to people in my life that my two favorite blogs I've ever written are Sanctuary (Dec 2013) and Old Man Appalachia (Jan 2014). In the end, I wrote a quote that some may see as... blasphemous? But I don't intend it to be offensive to anyone, I simply hope to relay that museful spirit of Sanctuary...

So to that end, my own quote for my own bracelet:

"Nature is my cathedral; the mountain, my altar; the raging river, my baptismal."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Flavor of Seasons

Seasons flavor hikes.

Something wonderful happens when you go to an oft-visited spot and the scenery morphs - completely changing in every facet - based on the time of year you visit.  Let's take my Snow Pocket.  In spring and fall its raging waters beckon to kayaks (and hikes).  In summer, the cool, deep pools call to casual swimmers, whisper of picnics, and sooth hike-weary feet.  In the winter, the shades of water capture blues meant for far-off seas and the landscape transforms again into a stark and crisp reflection of itself.

It was fitting that the sky was spitting snow as we traversed the Snow Pocket.  This hike - my longtime favorite - never fails to enchant me with childlike wonder.  Its hard to not feel small and inconsequential when walking among the fallen titans of rock that still stand like great monolithic scars of bygone eras.  This area is magical... an outdoor cathedral of

contrast. The scars of man-made walls, black coal-dusted soil, concrete foundations for long rotted bridges and open arches of mine shafts forcibly nudge reminders of an industrial area not long ago.  But nature perseveres.  She has taken back the land and slowly... methodically... she unmakes our "progress" and deconstructs our obsession for dominance.

The freezing temperatures provide new sights.  The innocuous, normally unnoticed seeping trickles transform into spires that catch and hold the imagination as efficiently as they do the water.  The far-flung spiked seeds of a sweetgum beg to tempt agony from less-protected feet.  How can the same place - a place I know better than any single stretch of wilderness - have so many facets?  How can her personality shift so eloquently?

My point - yes, I do have one! - is that you can't (or shouldn't) simply check places off of some proverbial "to do" list.  Nature abounds with surprises... a good rain on a summer day can alter an entire landscape.  Yes: Seasons add distinct flavors. Life isn't always about a "been there, done that" mentality.  If you limit your experiences in nature to a single visit, you limit your scope of understanding and appreciation.  Nature is like a dear friend... one that must be seen in different light, under varied circumstances, and having different temperaments to truly know her, to see her, and to allow her to share the depths of her splendor.

See more imagery from this trip:

Stephanne Dennis is an outdoor enthusiast extraordinaire. A highly skilled backpacker and apex predator specialist, she shares her love of the outdoors with her unrivaled writing skills and her faithful companion, Bandit McKaye, her Anatolian Shepherd. She is currently studying Wildlife Biology at Oregon State University and dedicates her time and skills to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

So Much Opportunity

Cherokee National Forest (C) SD
January.   A month of new beginnings, new commitments and new plans.  For many people it’s also a month of cold and dreary winter doldrums, but it doesn’t need to be.  January, for me, is a month when the days are becoming noticeably longer, the weather is hinting at a promise of spring, and the sweet kiss of nature taunts me.  January is a month of planning, all right; planning what big hikes are in the works for the upcoming season.
Being an outdoorsman (which, for the record, is what I see as the correct term for women as well as men) who uses “The Nature” for multiple reasons means that sometimes we have to plan.  Some local hikes are always easy to slip in to the agenda, but the more distant or longer duration hikes take a bit of planning.  With so much nature to explore and such a limited amount of time I have on our planet means that I can’t just run willy-nilly through hiking season.  Well, I mean I can… and it may even be entertaining… but let’s pretend I have more wherewithal than that, shall we?  Now, what were we talking about? 

Nantahala/Cherokee National (C) SD
So this year, where do we want to GO?  What do we want to SEE? Who should go?  WHEN should we go?  These are all important stage 1 questions.  Stage 2 questions (‘what types of flora and fauna do we need to learn about, what type of terrain do we need to prepare for, etc’) will follow.   For example, if I decide to hike in the Sundquist/Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, there’s elk to consider.   Yes, ELK.  Did you know there are elk in Tennessee?  Yeah, that’s a fun little fact that I didn’t know for a couple of years (38 years to be precise) either.   Another WMA in the same neck of the woods that interests me is Cove Creek.  I looks like it’s surrounded by water and could have some epic views.  

Are WMA’s used to hunt?  Sure.  But there’s so many uses for a WMA and I can’t wait to explore new areas, see new sights, and learn more about the land that I love so much.  The hardest part?  …where to go?! (Hey, that's your queue to leave comments below if you know somewhere I should visit and blog about!)

Stephanne Dennis is an outdoor enthusiast extraordinaire. A highly skilled backpacker and apex predator specialist, she shares her love of the outdoors with her unrivaled writing skills and her faithful companion, Bandit McKaye, her Anatolian Shepherd. She is currently studying Wildlife Biology at Oregon State University and dedicates her time and skills to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation.