C.C. McCotter’s award-winning photo entitled “Flogging with Ship” that accompanied his Bucket List article on Fishing The St. Lawrence River in the August 2021 edition of W2.
The Virginia Outdoor Writers Association has recognized two of W2’s writers with Excellence In Craft award. Dr. Peter Brookes received a third place recognition in the Magazine Feature category for his piece entitled “Wranglin’ Chesapeake Rays” that appeared in the July 2021 edition of W2. C.C. McCotter received a second place recognition in the Column category for his piece “The Last Woodcock Hunt” that appeared in the March 2021 edition and a second place recognition for his photo “Flogging With Ship” that accompanied his Bucket List article on fishing the St. Lawrence/1,000 Islands region appearing in the August 2021 edition of W2.
Here is Dr. Brookes’ award-winning piece:
The arrow pierced the shallow, glistening, off-green water with a small splash, no doubt hitting the darting stingray right in the middle of its spine for a quick, clean kill.
But no, I missed uh-gen—for like the 50th time that day.
Unbelievable as I was sure I’d hit the mark this time.
But that’s the nature of bowfishing in saltwater, especially for the newbie, wannabe bowfisher: archery skills, a moving boat, an evading prey, the target’s perceived location due to light refraction, shooting into a liquid medium, among other vexing challenges.
I’d been invited to try bowfishing with the BoTime Bowfishing Team, a Virginia-based competitive freshwater and saltwater bowfishing group that also works with veterans and others to introduce them to this up-and-coming sport.
Team leader, Joe Powroznik, and I had been trying to crush our schedules together for about two years now, interrupted by work commitments and, of course, the pandemic. We finally settled on a date in May to get out on the water.
We’d been talking about doing some freshwater bowfishing at night on the James River below the fall line in search of carp, catfish and gar, but we had a couple of false starts due to some stormy weather.
When Joe suggested hitting the salt for stingrays instead of the fresh for fish, I was actually quite relieved, since I figured it’d be so much easier to hit a doormat-sized stingray during the day than a torpedo-shaped carp at night.
I was probably half right.
We decided to meet up on a weekend in the Gloucester area of Virginia and bowfish the flats off Gwynn’s Island. The weather that day turned out to be pretty darn perfect for seeing into the water with bright sunshine and light winds.
Good polarized sunglasses are a must, by the way.
We put in the BoTime “barge” and began hunting for rays, which is actually a crew-intensive operation. You need someone to pilot the boat, someone to climb aloft a tower to scout for rays, and a shooter—at a minimum.
It also helps to have another able-bodied sailor to land the quarry with a gaffing hook and remove the venomous barb on the tail. In this case, we were assisted by Joe’s wife, Susan, daughter and huntress, Meredith, and family friend, Conner.
In what seemed like no time, we were on cownose and southern rays, sometimes in singles and sometimes in groups known as “fevers.” (Talk about a great trivia question for your next get-together—you’re welcome.)
I positioned myself on the bow of the boat with a bow, waiting for a “Thar she blows!” from the crow’s nest.
I started with a light-pull compound bow, which had a fishing reel mounted on it. The reel was outfitted with 100-lb. test line attached to a barbed arrow, specifically designed for the sport. We also had a recurve on board, similarly equipped.
I really thought this was going to be a piece of cake—not.
Hey, I’m no William Tell with a bow, but I’m a decent archer. Despite this, I can’t tell you how many shots I missed before I finally connected—despite spending hours in the bathtub trying to figure out why my leg looked like it was here when it was really over there due to that refraction “thingee.”
OK, maybe I didn’t really do that, but maybe I should have—and paid more attention in my college physics classes: understanding the refraction of light in water may really have helped my shooting.
It’s also tough to hit a moving target while you’re motoring along in a boat. At least, I thought it was tough until Meredith stepped onto the shooting platform, nocked an arrow, and nailed one on her first shot.
After running a ray through with an arrow, the watery rodeo begins. Imagine wrangling an unhappy, snow saucer-sized, 40-lb. ray back to and into the boat using a small reel or handlining. Plan to get wet!
The big catch of the day was a 60-lb. southern ray. Meredith, of course, put the first arrow in, but I had an assist on that one. Two lines certainly help bring a big ray like that alongside the boat.
I ended up getting my share of stingrays that day and I really enjoyed the challenge of bowfishing, especially the fact that if you miss all you have to do is reel up your arrow and shoot again. Yup, I did a lot of that.
There’s a lot debate about what to do with your take of stingrays. While edible, a debate rages about how tasty they are. I’ve heard it both ways—from the same person in fact—that they were both good eating and terrible tasting.
Some folks like to use them as bait for cobia, since cobia and sharks are natural predators of the rays. Others think there are too many rays and they have become a nuisance, gobbling up prized wild oyster beds and clams when they migrate here.
You may have heard the slogan: “Save the (Chesapeake) Bay, Eat a Ray.” I’m not sure that ever really caught on with bowfishers and the restaurant crowd, considering talk about their taste and texture.
Finally, I’d been wondering if bowfishing was hunting–or fishing. It’s actually both: You’re hunting a quarry beneath the waves with a bow and arrow and a fishing line. That’s a pretty cool hybrid outdoor sport.
But most importantly it’s fun—even if you miss an awful lot.
Here is McCotter’s award-winning column:
The Last Woodcock Hunt
On a relatively warm, sunny January afternoon I hunted an overgrown field near my Louisa County home for the final day of the woodcock season. I had been wondering if the 20-acre forgotten mass of fabric-piercing briars, stinky swamp water, close-set saplings and foot-grabbing vines held birds for several years, so when I received permission to hunt it this year I dove in enthusiastically with our six-month old Britanny pup starting in late November.
The exploratory efforts were rewarded, though they came with a significant cost measured in red and irritated thorn pricks that tattooed my thighs even through my briar pants.
In 11 prior visits Rhodie and I had put up over 50 birds and I’m embarrassed to say how few I dropped. The hunting was intense with birds often flushing at my feet or within five yards from within briar patches so tight even Br’er Rabbit wouldn’t want in.
The dog rarely refused a chance to sniff such tangles, but she was so torn up we had to take her to our local vet and get her on antibiotics and prednisone to stop an infection she developed from so many thorn sticks. Rhodie would sit this last hunt out.
Today I started out solo, busting brush and hoping my 18-year-old son would be able to join me after work. As I walked through the now drying woods, listening to the various sparrows, woodpeckers, robins and turkeys also enjoying the afternoon, I thought of Mitchell.
He heads to Virginia Tech for the spring semester after his first freshman semester attending online classes in his bedroom – talk about a disappointment. I know he’s looking forward to getting out of our house and living with friends in Blacksburg to enjoy the college experience. Mercifully, he still likes to hunt and fish with me, but with our daughter now a teacher, my blood fishing and hunting buddies are moving on.
Mitch has been more than a fishing and hunting partner, though. He’s been a project assistant, business associate, yard maintenance tech, furniture-moving associate, confidante, sometimes even a rapt listener of advice of all sorts. He’ll be difficult if not impossible to replace.
I don’t like to think of the days when he won’t be here and I need him on some level. Something strange happens to my eyes and my vision blurs when I do.
Today, though, it was mostly about the last woodcock hunt of the year with little nostalgia permitted.
Mitchell called me after I made it to the middle of the cutover and flushed two birds, going 0-2 shooting. I told him to walk the perimeter path, and I would meet him on the edge.
In a few minutes I saw him, all 5-11, 156 pounds of muscle and teeth and youthful bravado walking toward me wearing his Carhartt jacket and blaze orange Woods & Waters cap. My heart leapt.
The bond of a good father and son relationship is truly a gift from God as well as something that must be worked on and honored, and I am blessed.
As we caught up on the day’s events, he told me one of the birds I flushed got up again in front of him along the edge of the trail. He wasn’t ready so no shot was taken.
He’s really grown out of the youth model Tristar 20 ga. semi-auto I bought him six years ago. I keep saying I’m going to order an adult stock but I haven’t yet done so. I guess I just don’t want to admit he’s on the verge of manhood.
We hunted together for another 45 minutes as the sun set and the light faded among the briar patches and young trees, putting up another five or six new birds.
We both shot but only punched holes in the air. All but one of the birds got up right in front of me.
“You have got to be the luckiest person ever,” my son quipped.
“Have you seen my success rate? I can sense ‘em and I know something is coming out of my barrel, but I can’t shoot ‘em this year,” I replied. “If you want, walk in front of me; I guarantee I won’t shoot you or a bird.”
Once the light had faded and colors began to mute we made our way back to the path and to the trucks where I poured us each one finger of bourbon and cut off a slice of Christmas fruitcake per our woodcock hunting tradition. The fruitcake actually pairs well with bourbon.
I downed mine in one gulp, feeling it burn my 52-year-old throat and breathing out of my mouth. Mitchell watched me and said, “I thought we were sipping.”
“You are welcome to do so, son,” I said, “If you do gulp it, be sure and breath out of our mouth, not your nose.”
He downed the rest and following suit breathing out, coughing slightly like most young men do when trying to be manly when drinking.
We said on the tailgate of my Chevy talking until darkness began to creep over the field and we heard the “Peeeeeett” of a woodock calling back in the swampy woods.
“Hear that, son? That is a woodcock serenading us,” I said.
“That’s not a woodcock, Dad,” he said disbelievingly as he often is when I say something laced with knowledge.
Ten seconds later his phone went, “Peeeeett” and one again I had imparted knowledge to my son, something that happens less now that it did just a few years ago.
Move-in day is going to be rough on my wife. I know during a quiet moment when I think of that hunt with my boy and that calling woodcock I might have a circumspect moment.
I’m thinking if stay patient, though, this just might not have been the last woodcock hunt.