Appalachian Safari: A Virginia Mountain Man's Wild Stories

Appalachian Safari: A Virginia Mountain Man's Wild Stories

by David Adam Atwell


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Join the author David Adam Atwell on his adventures high up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia as he hikes, camps, and learns to shoot, fish, and hunt. Laugh at his family's antics and hold your breath in anticipation of success or defeat. Visit a hunting cabin, get lost in the woods, go fishing up Cripple Creek, and learn to make moonshine.

Journey on a safari across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and back again while experiencing a field training exercise with the U.S. Army and hiking the German and Austrian Alps. Suffer through a blizzard in June and climb the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze!

Don't be afraid to get wet while canoeing down Bull Run through the Manassas Battlefield or sailing on the Potomac River. Set some crab pots to catch Blue Crabs from the Chesapeake Bay and take a trip out west with Lewis and Clark to learn about celestial and land navigation.

Appalachian Safari - A Virginia Mountain Man's Wild Stories has an adventure for everyone; whether you're interested in a simple summer hike along the New River, trout fishing, or a winter big game buffalo hunt in North Dakota.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781481713290
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 02/18/2013
Pages: 130
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.31(d)

Read an Excerpt

Appalachian Safari

A Virginia Mountain Man's Wild Stories
By David Adam Atwell


Copyright © 2013 David Adam Atwell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4817-1329-0

Chapter One

My First Deer

Running down the north ridge of the farm towards the milk barn with my heart pounding and only one thought in my head I slammed into the barn's cinder block wall and then ran around to the front. I had to find my dad! I yanked open the door and looked inside expecting to see him right there where we had camped the night before, but he was gone. I sort of remembered seeing a truck on top the hill on the west side of the farm as I crossed the valley; so I backed up, looked up the hill to my left, and confirmed the existence of the truck. I knew my dad liked that area because he could see the entire farm from an elevated position, giving himself an excellent opportunity at any deer that happened to leave the safety of the tree line. There's a corner fence post that makes a great gun rest and a natural contour in the ground that makes a good seat. Having a young body and strong heart of only 13 years I didn't even realize or care that I had just run about a half mile down the north ridge, across the valley (north to south), and was about to start another half mile run westward across the valley and uphill to my dad.

I arrived on top of the hill huffing and puffing to find my father excited and laughing. I guess the sight of his son running about a mile as fast as he could and taking the long way around to boot was more than he could bear that morning. I blurted out, "I got one!", and my dad grew more excited. I said, "He has antlers like this!" and placed both hands above my head with all my fingers spread apart. My father could no longer control himself and said, "Come on, let's go!" We joined our cousin Bronson at his truck, drove across the farm, and up the north ridge as far as we dared. On the way we realized that I had probably shot the deer Bronson had taken a shot at about an hour earlier when he and my dad had run the ridge for me. Running a ridge is when one group of hunters walk a ridge hoping to flush game towards another group of hunters.

We jumped out of the truck, ran up the rest of the ridge, and I showed them where the buck laid. They instantly started picking on me because I had lain my shotgun down across the body of the buck and then placed some brush over the deer so no one would steal it. They said, while smiling, "What happened? Did you shoot it while it's horns were hung up in that brush?" Quickly realizing that my story would not improve the situation, I didn't even try to explain that I had tried to hide the deer from potential thieves. Instead, I just started telling them everything that had happened that morning.

My fingers and toes hurt from the cold, it was about 9:30 AM and I usually gave up hunting by that time, choosing a warm fire and hot tea instead of battling the elements. However, on that sunny November morning in 1987, sitting in the pine tree my family had hunted from for years, I told myself to wait just a little longer. A few more minutes went by, and PAH-KOOOOOO, I heard a shot! I also heard a deer running through the woods just west of me, but couldn't see it. I stood up in the tree stand and held my shotgun ready; a Stevens single barrel hinge action 12 gauge that my Paw Paw had given me. I saw movement, about 75 yards out to the west. The deer ran up towards the top of the ridge and stopped at the crest about 100 yards west and uphill from me. I could see the sun glinting off his antlers and remember thinking, "A very nice rack, he might even be an 8 pointer!" while hoping he would run in my direction. The buck turned left, then right, and ran straight towards me! I cocked the hammer of my shotgun, raised it to my shoulder and waited. The deer had to run at least 80 yards before I could get a good shot. I picked a spot between two trees and decided that when the deer ran behind those trees I would shoot him in the gap between the trees. This placed the deer somewhere between 20 and 25 yards from me and perfectly broadside.

Heart pounding, I waited, waited, and slapped the trigger! BOOM! The buck flipped over sideways, away from me, and never moved again. 00 Buckshot is lethal at 20 to 25 yards. I could barely contain myself, but knew I had to wait in the tree stand for at least 15 - 20 minutes to allow the deer to pass on in peace. The last thing we both needed was an adrenaline crazed romp through the brush. You already know what happened next; I had to find my dad!

The buck's atypical rack officially had 10 points, yep, my fist deer was a 10 pointer, but the last two points were questionable. At barely an inch long you could hang a ring off those last two points, as long as the rack did not move and gravity cooperated. Good or bad, this buck set the tone for deer hunting the rest of my life. On the good side, I thoroughly enjoy deer hunting and do not feel any pressure or need to harvest big bucks, hunt just for sport, or to compete with family and friends. However, on the bad side I had already taken a 10 point buck and had top notch bragging rights at age 13. Where do you go from there? For the real irony, just look at the following picture of the deer's antlers. Yes, I still have the rack, it's the only set of horns I ever mounted on a board, and I rarely show them off.

Chapter Two

The First Day of Trout Season

The most nostalgic memory from my youth involves a fishing tradition that disappeared as the unintended consequence of a very successful wildlife management and a productive fish hatchery program in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Current and future generations of anglers enjoy practically unrestricted fishing access to stocked trout waters year round in Virginia, but it wasn't always so. Trout fishing used to have a limited season. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) publishes a schedule of which creeks and ponds will be stocked with trout, continues to establish reasonable creel limits, sells a trout stamp authorizing licensed anglers to fish for trout any time of year, and the proceeds from the trout stamp goes towards the cost of hatching, raising, and stocking the trout. Never since European settlers first set foot in Virginia and fished for the native brookies has trout fishing been so readily accessible and easy to do. However, lost to us all is the anticipation, thrill, and excitement of the opening day of trout season.

Sitting on the ground near the water's edge of the "Big Pond" in Crawfish Valley I could feel the excitement in the air as about 100 men, women, and children busied themselves all around the pond preparing their fishing tackle and waiting for trout season to officially open. The forestry service, DGIF, and volunteers always kept the area around the pond well maintained, and on opening day we could always expect well cut grass, nice gravel trails, and a shoreline absent of any downed trees from the winter. Wherever stocked trout waters flowed through the commonwealth the same scene played out that morning, the opening day of trout season. People lined creek banks as far as the eye could see and sat or stood shoulder to shoulder around ponds. Some arrived before daylight to claim their favorite fishing spots, some camped out the night before, and others came running up at the last minute hoping to squeeze in wherever they could. My dad and I had claimed a great spot on the damn of the "Big Pond" near the water overflow; we fished on the dam every year. The "Big Pond" is one of two ponds located close to each other in the Wythe County section of the Jefferson National Forest. The other pond, obviously named the "Little Pond" due to its relative size, rested just a few hundred yards away down a hill and through the woods. My Uncle Mike preferred to fish the "Little Pond", but sometimes fished the shallow end of the "Big Pond" from the bed of creek rocks where the stream flowed into it.

A cool breeze blew across the pond rippling the glass surface and causing me to shiver, so I stuck my hands in the large front pocket of my red pull over hoodie to keep them warm, and waited. People around us debated who would catch their limit first and how long it would take. They debated the best bait to use this year; red wigglers, corn, pink salmon eggs, orange salmon eggs, or a rooster tail. However, no one got upset, raised their voice, or argued over a fishing spot. We were all happy to be there that early spring morning after a long winter of snowy and cold weather. Suddenly, the Game Warden, or a self-appointed time keeper, gave the signal and simultaneously about 100 fishing poles rose in the air casting bait, hook, line, and sinker towards the center of the pond. The entire scene resembled a well-choreographed show put on by a group of synchronized swimmers.

The hatchery raised trout didn't take long to start biting, after a few minutes you would start to see a few people jerking their fishing poles to set a hook. Watching closely and paying attention you could also start to see a pattern as a school of trout obviously swam around the pond causing a small ripple of pole jerking through the crowd, similar to a group of football fans doing the wave at a stadium. After a couple hours dad and I would have our limit, 6 trout each, or we would have had enough of fishing for the day and head home.

The trip home always involved a few stops; one to check in with Uncle Mike and brag about our catch, another to see my Paw Paw to do the same, and a stop at a country store to get a Dr. Pepper and a Reese's Cup. Once we arrived at home my dad wasted no time, he fired up the grill or warmed up the oven. We cleaned the trout, placed butter and cajun spices inside them, and wrapped them in tin foil. The trout baked until the skin could be easily peeled back with a fork and the meat lifted lightly off the bones in chunks. I don't eat a lot of fish, but to this day very few foods are better than fresh cajun spiced trout caught and cooked the same day.

A few years ago my wife and I went camping down Crawfish Valley near the ponds with my Uncle Mike's family. I decided to take my wife fishing up at the "Big Pond" and felt a great sense of sadness when we arrived. Fallen trees blocked most of the parking area, the trails leading up to the pond were overgrown, and downed trees made most of the shoreline hard to fish. Obviously, no large crowds of hundreds of people had fished the "Big Pond" in years. Year round trout fishing and government budget cuts had taken their toll. The DGIF does offer a couple programs that provide a similar experience to the opening day of trout season, but they just aren't the same. The urban trout fishing program stocks ponds and creeks near urban and suburban areas and the first fishing day after stocking usually draws a small crowd. The free fishing days in June also draw small crowds to ponds and lakes in established parks all over the Commonwealth.

Chapter Three

Aim Small Miss Small

People usually look at me strange when I tell them I learned to shoot at age 5. I assume they do not believe me or do not think it's possible or appropriate for a 5 year old child to learn to shot. The truth is that I really learned to shot at age 3, but I quit telling people that years ago because the conversations never went well. My family considers marksmanship an important skill to learn and an American tradition; unlike some families my sisters even learned to shoot.

My first shooting lessons involved a plastic double barrel toy shotgun that shot suction cup darts. It came with a wind up plastic rabbit that would "run" across the floor so you could try to shoot it. I think my dad enjoyed that gun more than I did; however, I have to honestly admit that I have fuzzy memories about the gun but remember the rabbit quite vividly. My son's first shooting lessons have involved a Daisy "Buck" BB gun shooting at an 8.5"x11" piece of paper at 5 yards and a Nerf double-barrel shotgun that shoots suction cup foam darts. We usually shoot the BB gun over at the Fairfax Rod & Gun Club from a bench rest position and the Nerf shotgun at home standing or sitting in the family room. Sometimes I even roll a ball across the floor for him to shoot at with the shotgun. The BB gun and the Nerf shotgun have already allowed Wyatt, at age 3, to learn these fundamentals.

1. Always keep the muzzle, the part of the gun that barks and bites, pointed away from people (and the dogs).

2. Always keep your finger off the trigger.

3. Basic Positions and Grip for a long gun.

4. Hand and Eye Coordination necessary to instinctively hit a reasonably sized target, such as a sheet of paper or 9" ball at 5 yards.

5. How to safely load and unload a hinge action firearm (good thing I keep all my guns and ammo locked up).

My father claims he had me shooting nickels with a daisy BB gun at age 5, but I seem to remember dimes instead of nickels. He would flip a coin in the air and I would take a shot with my BB gun, but mostly I just remember thinking it's impossible. He would tell me to just raise the gun the same way every time and look at the coin. Evidently, I would hit a few of them, but most importantly I can remember the excitement of my dad hitting more than he missed whenever he demonstrated how to do it. Shooting at very small targets became a theme with us. While my cousins, friends, and their fathers were shooting at old plastic milk jugs and 2-liter soda bottles my dad had us shooting at milk jug lids and soda bottle caps. I even remember my dad setting up an indoor BB gun range for me one winter and having me shoot at very small bullseyes. Aim small miss small was our mantra.

My dad made it clear that I always needed to concentrate when shooting, shoot at small targets, keep the sites aligned, minimize movement of the rifle, hold my breath when I shoot, squeeze the trigger, and follow through. Aiming at a very small target actually made all of these things easier to accomplish, and if I aimed at a small target and missed it, I found that I would only miss by a small distance. This meant that when shooting with my friends I could aim at an imaginary dot in the center of the milk jugs and 2-liter soda bottles, and actually hit many more targets than my friends. This also worked out really well in the long run too because when hunting, or shooting in the Army, the targets don't have bullseyes to help you aim.

I clearly remember one specific shooting lesson back at the farm in the northwest corner by one of the springs. I was 14 years old and shooting at a target on a fence post about 25 yards away with my new .30-30 rifle using iron sights. I wasn't allowed to have a scope unless I earned enough money to pay for it myself. I started to develop a flinch because of the recoil and remember closing my eyes, jerking the trigger, and just hoping it didn't hurt too bad each time I fired. Unfortunately, all my father saw was me missing the target and the rifle muzzle moving significantly off target just before each shot. He explained, numerous times, that I needed to quit jerking the trigger and shouldn't move the rifle just before I shoot because an inch of movement at the muzzle of the barrel would cause me to miss the target by a foot or more. The more I shot the more frustrated he became and my shooting just got worse.

Looking back I believe we had reached the limit of both my shooting ability at the time and my dad's ability to teach me about shooting. You have to keep in mind that my dad, like most fathers, was not a trained, certified, or licensed firearms or marksmanship instructor. He was just a man, teaching his son to shoot the same way he had been taught to shoot. Unfortunately, shortly after that event my interest in shooting waned, but it probably had as much to do with puberty, girls, and high school as with that specific day of shooting.

Living in the mostly suburban region of Northern Virginia at age 22 and shortly after my discharge from the Army in 1996 I started missing the fun of shooting and hunting and decided to take it up again. By 2001 and age 27, I had become a National Rifle Association (NRA) Certified Firearms Instructor and a Virginia Hunter Education Instructor. I also quickly formed my own training company, BBSG Academy, to respond to the demand for firearms training after the 9/11 attacks. The "BBSG" stood for "Becoming Better and Safer with Guns". I also started volunteering my time as a 4-H Shooting Coach. Working with certified and experienced instructors and mentoring thousands of new shooters improved my marksmanship and taught me a few things about teaching new shooters.

  •   Make sure the gun size, weight, and caliber match the abilities of the shooter, and use light loads to reduce recoil.

  •   Use a target large enough and/or close enough for the shooter to be successful.

  •   Provide positive reinforcement after missed shots by pointing out something the shooter did well.

  •   Instead of telling the shooter what they did wrong, such as jerking the trigger; tell them what they need to do right, such as gently pressing the trigger.

  •   Watch the shooter instead of the target, because you should be identifying and correcting bad technique. You can look at the target after the shot is fired.

  •   At the end of each training session, stop shooting on a positive note before the shooter has exceeded his/her ability and starts to become exhausted and/or frustrated.


    Excerpted from Appalachian Safari by David Adam Atwell Copyright © 2013 by David Adam Atwell. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

  • Table of Contents


    Table of Photographs....................ix
    1. My First Deer....................1
    2. The First Day of Trout Season....................5
    3. Aim Small Miss Small....................9
    4. Instinct Shooting My First Turkey....................15
    5. Getting Shot by a Friend....................17
    6. Rabbits are Easier to Hit than Deer....................19
    7. Hiking and Camping in the U.S. Army....................21
    8. Unbelievable Skill with a Muzzleloader....................27
    9. Goin' Up Cripple Creek....................31
    10. Screaming Eagle....................33
    11. Everyone Eventually Gets Turned Around in the Woods....................37
    12. Canoeing Bull Run in Manassas....................41
    13. Hiking and Climbing the German Alps....................45
    14. Hunting Cabins....................53
    15. Which is more important, the shooter or the rifle?....................59
    16. Army Marksmanship....................61
    17. Oh Crappie!....................67
    18. My First Spring Gobbler....................69
    19. Catfishing....................71
    20. My Best Friend....................75
    21. Hunting the Great American Buffalo....................80
    22. Staying Warm in a Hunting Blind....................87
    23. Trekkin' and Pickin' with the Old Grey Owl....................91
    24. When Deer Attack!....................93
    25. Sailing on the Potomac River....................95
    26. Naming My Son Wyatt....................99
    27. Where are the Bear Hunting Stories?....................101
    28. GPS, Land, & Celestial Navigation....................103
    29. Makin' Moonshine....................109
    30. The Family Truck Tradition....................111

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    Appalachian Safari: A Virginia Mountain Man's Wild Stories 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I just enjoyed writing it! - David Adam Atwell
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Gramatically well written, but choppy. Not exactly a Gene Hill read, but as it is written by a younger man will likely be enjoyed by the younger audience.