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Done Right

Done RightThe classic adage reminds us, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”

Nowhere does this bell ring truer than the outdoors. With no one is this chime heard with greater clarity than my father-in-law Jim Harper. Harper’s passion projects cover all of the elemental bases – reloaded shotgun shells are born for the air, homemade longbows are grounded on earth, and handcrafted kayak are destined for water.

Be it tinkering in his reloading den or toiling in his vegetable garden, the man’s meticulous attention to detail and dogged work ethic lead to a job done right. This knack for doing things the right way the first time has trickled into his outdoor passions and pursuits. His noteworthy successes with reloading, archery, and boating are welcomed side effects of skilled labor and countless hours mastering his perspective craft.

Half of Jim’s basement is dedicated to reloading. You name it, Harper can reload it. Family and friends alike depend on Jim to feed shotguns, rifles, and handguns. Overlooking tables of dies and tumblers are shelves of brass, lead, and gunpowder. Like a symphony, the ingredients work a concerted harmony in the name of shooting sport. Harper’s generous spirit, there is not a caliber he won’t shy away from to help a friend.

Some celebrate the holidays and share talents with a plate of homemade cookies. Jim starts from scratch with a different medium. He cooks a perfect batch of six shot. Dozens fill the vests of his hunting buddies. This thoughtful Christmas present oft leads to a Christmas pheasant.

With respect to reloading, there have yet to be dies matching the caliber of Harper’s character.

The other half of Jim’s cellar is devoted to traditional archery. Adorning the walls better than any wallpaper ever could are frames of arrowheads, pottery, and other Native American artifacts. When efforts of a farmer’s plow were washed by spring rains, Jim and his father would be there to work the fields. Like the Native Americans before them, their preferred hunting grounds were along Wolf Creek. Jim’s greatest find was an authentic axe head, his father’s a ceremonious eagle shaped piece.

When Jim wasn’t discovering archery artifacts, he was creating his own archery equipment. My father-in-law diligently watched for stands of Osage orange. Their bright staves were step one in the lengthy process leading to Jim’s finest bows. Dried wood was painstakingly shaped with the same growth ring on the bow’s long surface. Perhaps the bows Harper finished shared a birthday with the shooter. Regardless, Jim’s sweat fell atop the whitetail deer sinew, which wrapped tightly along the bow to strengthen it. The man even fashioned his own arrows, straight as anything found in modern bow shops.

While basement has been consumed by hunting, Harper’s garage pays homage to the aquatic world angling and boating. Amongst antique tackle and wooden plugs handed down from his father, Jim has honed his skills in boat making.

Done RightWith craftsmanship second to none and strips of fine cedar, Jim assembled the most handsome kayak most have ever laid eyes on. From Lake Erie to local ponds, the perfect palindrome senses the pulse to any body of water. In fact, most times Jim slips into his kayak, many fellow sportsmen ask where he got it or, in a few cases, make Harper an offer on the spot.

Such sentimental things cannot be fetched with a price. Our family tree must be a cedar, for the 15 foot vessel will glide as one with the water’s surface for generations to come. Only when Jim works the paddle, thrusting into the cool waters, is it noticeable the kayak and its passenger are only visiting guest.

A job done right tends to positively influence others. I for one have been graced with Harper’s touch. When upland bird hunting with Jim’s reloads, I hunt a little harder and forget the pain associated with Pennsylvania’s peaks. A grouse hunt holds more meaning if reloads are tucked in the barrel, side by side like Jim and I on the trail.

In stand with one of Harper’s fine longbows in hand, I exhibit the most extreme caution to promote ethical shots. I want justice for not only Harper’s handy work, but also the fine animals we have come to love.

Nestled in Jim’s kayak, I truly delight in my surroundings. Each time I find myself seated within such beauty, I cannot help but feel it helps me observe and appreciate nature’s beauty to a greater degree. Climbed into the boughs of the cedar, each and every cast is treated like a perfect or final one.

I have now had the honor of having Jim Harper in my life for more than a decade. Harper is a wonderful father to my wife and delightful grandfather to my children. In my experience, I have come to find if you want something done right, ask Jim.

Gertrude’s starving horses look happy.

Beating a Dead Horse Articale by Marshall NychI am confident to declare the most incorrect stereotype about hunters and fishermen is the assumption they are inhumane and care not for the welfare animals. In all seriousness, I must stress this is simply not true. On the contrary, sportsmen love animals so much, they spend ridiculous amounts of time, effort, and money trying to eat them.

I grew up in an area of Pennsylvania where work was a last resort. In fact, one afternoon while eavesdropping on a conversation about me, I heard my mother ask my father, “Is he crazy?”

“Marshall? Course not…he’s much too lazy to be crazy!” replied Dad.

Father was right. Crazy entails senseless action, much building, and much doing. In my relaxed neck of the Pennsylvania, we celebrate our laziness and will go to great lengths to secure it. For example, Pennsylvania is home to many deer. PA also has many drivers. It is nothing to see a deer alongside the road. In the battle between vehicles versus deer, the vehicle wins just about every time.

Traveling my routine route, one just pleasantly paved, I recently swerved around one particular case where somebody didn’t do their job and pick up the cervidae. No big deal. Laziness, in its purest form, is the degree to which people will do work to get around work. Upon my return, I observed a road crew painting the lines, taking measurements, and standing around in large chatty groups. As I approached where the deer and family sedan had battled, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, right where I had seen it in the morning, lay a deer with two fresh yellow lines. I knew not to pass.

Let us lazily drift back to the family farm. My grandfather, one of the only hard-working men I have ever known, has diversified the farm. Unable to keep up with the high demands of a dairy farm, Grandpa began raising livestock and grain farming. In recent years, Grandpa began renting out small portions of land. One such renter was a lady who “rescued” old horses. Gertrude, a short, fat woman with more money than brains, was a bit of a hag herself. Gertrude started by stacking five or ten horses into the barn like sardines with manes. It wasn’t until she achieved piles of twenty that she began referring to herself as a selfless humanitarian.

Being a yuppie from the New England area, Gertrude cleverly named her horses after her favorite drinks. Guess what? Coffee, iced tea, or fruit punch did not make the list.

At the peak of Gertrude’s heroism, my family noticed one of the older horses, Kahlua, was constantly losing his balance. The entire neighborhood sadly watched Kahlua with a watchful eye…twitching, but watchful nonetheless. A concerned friend saw the old horse fall in the pasture just below my house. The Good Samaritan immediately attempted to contact Gertrude. Thankfully, I was not party to this conversation. I am confident it went something like this:

Phone: Ring…Ring…

Gertrude: Hello Darling!

Neighbor: Uhh…hi.

Gertrude: What is the meaning of this intrusion? I am enjoying the second half of a dry martini!

Neighbor: The glass?

Gertrude: No, the bottle.

Neighbor: Sorry, I just wanted to let you know that…

Gertrude: What a great name for my next horse – Martini!

Neighbor: …your Kahlua is not doing so well.

Gertrude: Drank that last night. Thanks Darling. Tata!

A couple of days later, just past the point when Gertrude figured her self-righteous prizes might be in need of water and food, Kahlua was discovered dead. One might think when dealing with the average horse whisperer, the sad event would be a peacefully silent and respectful tribute to remember the loss. Gertrude was not average. She was more of a horse shouter.

Gertrude failed to acknowledge the horse likely died of old age, rapidly progressed by the unsavory conditions she had created. Gertrude’s next step must have been to snack on some mushrooms in her horse pasture. Grand delusions immediately followed.

Gertrude dreamt up some crazy story. Her edition accused several local juvenile delinquents of tying up Kahlua. Once bound, she claimed they attached her horse to an all-terrain vehicle and inhumanely drug her through the fields. Hence, these hoodlums were responsible for his untimely demise.

There were more holes in Gertrude’s theory than in the entire field. The only juvenile delinquents around were my two brothers and me. Not only would we never do such a thing, we never owned such toys as an ATV.

Like I said before, Gertrude wasn’t much for whispering and saw this tragedy as a perfect opportunity to have her gracious, private acts of kindness be a little more public. Soon thereafter, Kahlua’s death made the front page of the local paper six times in just two weeks. I understand there isn’t very much to report in a small town, but Gertrude changed this one-horse-town into a thirty-horse town.

Either the reporter was talking about the wrong horse or stirred the facts up a bit. Bold headlines read, “The Friendliest Horse Ever. Loved Children.” I just remember Kahlua chasing me around the pasture, biting one sister’s hand as she offered a carrot, and kicking my other sister when she tried to ride.

With the unexpected media blitz, the Nych Family was lucky enough to see our place on the news. How many people can share such boasts? Fortunately, it was the first time we mowed the grass all year. I recall putting my back out when I shoved all the odds and ends (mostly odds) into the confines of the garage. It’s true about the camera adding ten pounds, for the crew did a good job making Gertrude’s starving horses look happy.

Regardless, animal rights activists were outraged and set forth relentless efforts to locate and execute the perpetrator. Public support and the Humane Society raised a $6,000 reward for the person with information leading to the arrest. Although I had nothing to do with it, for this kind of money I was ready to turn myself in and enjoy the reward.

Tourists would pull in our dirt driveway, dusting up their shiny luxury cars. The travelers would instantly inquire as to where Kahlua once roamed wild and free. I pointed towards the small, crumby barbed wire fencing job, completed by Gertrude’s unfortunate son. The likes of which were only slightly larger than Gertrude’s closet. I shared, “There.”

“Oh…” was a typical response.

Dust around the Nych Farm eventually settled. Following the rural Pennsylvania version of the Crucible, many began to suspect Gertrude’s television speeches were a bit contrived and came not from her heart, but her derrière. I believe she requested all checks to be made payable to Gertrude and was so kind, she provided a home address.

Dad was the last to see the news crew and harvest the fame, which is an uncommon crop on our farm. As my father was bailing hay one afternoon, months since the last time Kahlua tragically stumbled into a groundhog hole, a white news van pulled alongside the barn. Mind you, when my dad is bailing hay, he is not exactly dressed to be on the big screen. The shirt and tie reporter hesitantly approached the sweaty, flannelled man.

“Sir, are you familiar with Gertrude and her story of Kahlua?” spouted the reporter.

“Yep.” Dad nodded.

Excited, the reporter continued, “It has been a very long time since the mysterious death and nothing has been uncovered.”


Startled a man could be of so few words, the reporter prompted, “Any comments I can share with our viewers at home?”

“Slow day?” asked Dad.

Letting out a deep breath, the reporter sighed, “Yep.”

Everyone had felt so bad for Kahlua and, even more so, for Gertrude. The Humane Society used a fraction of the reward money to replace Kahlua. Now I’ve got a new old horse running around behind my house. You can come over and ride Martini anytime.

Marshall Nych’s habitat is a family farm in New Wilmington, PA. When Marshall isn’t writing outdoor humor, he is an elementary teacher misguiding the youth of Mercer County. Although Nych has fished 15 states and 4 countries, his best catches remain his wife and daughter.

Obscure Scout Badges

Obscure Scout BadgesCub Scouts, a wonderful organization, is the cotton swab opening our youth’s ears to the call of the wild.  Too often, the call is dropped at some point in a young man’s life.  Cub Scouts teaches valuable outdoor skills and instills character.  As boy turns to man, he may find these to be advantageous for this adventure that is life.

As a boy, I too was a proud Cub Scout.  My only problem was the badge system, mainly the lack thereof I had earned.  To me, the scout badges were much too tame and mainstream.  I have developed a list of the more obscure scout badges I would have rightfully earned and proudly displayed.

There exist many badges dealing with starting fires.  However, few are concerned with the importance of extinguishing the fire from your fellow scout or scoutmaster.  Badge name: Personal Fire Extinguisher.  If this unrecognized badge had been adopted, I’d have earned the starting and stopping flames badge simultaneously. Crispy Kurt, although he has been known to speak about me, to this day will not speak to me.  I think he was jealous of my badges.

Cub Scouts should recognize the Most Lost Badge.  The leaders of the scout world need to consider the survival skills, perseverance, and luck it took to achieve such a level of lost.  If the higher ups ever went higher up themselves, for a remote mountain is an ideal place to get lost, this badge would certainly make its way to the top of the list for badge proposals.

Do not forget about the Running Badge.  Everybody knows you don’t have to be faster than the bear, lion, or raccoon. You need only be faster than the scout or den mother beside you…or in my case, the one who was underneath me when the bump in the night lit my fuse and caused me to hurdle the entire troop.

There should also be a badge celebrating the one who eats the most s’mores.  Although the commercials and manuals want you to believe otherwise, Cub Scout campfires are rare.  Cub Scout cookouts are a nearly extinct creature. I had to take full advantage of this deep woods buffet while it was there.  S’mores from my microwave lacked the charm and char versus the ones I made over those Cub Scout campfires.  My single night caloric intake rivaled the number of stars we fluffy, sticky campers marveled at all night.

What about the Most Persistent Badge?  Often my troop would simply whittle soap or twiddle thumbs.  Someone, namely me, always had to keep the scoutmaster on his toes by begging for activities involving hunting, fishing, camping, or starting fires.  Ironically, the very scout who initiated these endeavors was the very lad to somehow miss them due to punishment or scout probation.

Personally, I feel our culture has done an injustice to our youth by de-emphasizing healthy competition.  A badge should honor those individuals who strive to be the best.  I am referring to the scouts who use a Swiss army knife to think and/or cut outside the box in order to annihilate the competition.  Since I was a boy in Cub Scouts, I was left to assume our opponents were the Girl Scouts.  This is a logical, natural assumption.  To loosen the grip our rival Girl Scouts had around the snack market, I decided to sell some tasty treats of my own.  I sold bag after bag of my father’s jerky to raise funds and increase Cub Scout revenue.  Apparently the Cub Scouts, unlike me, didn’t officially classify the Girl Scouts as our arch nemesis.  Things got even worse when Dad noticed his stash dwindling.  Hence, at the ripe age of nine, I discovered the hard way it is illegal to sell venison and other wild game (even for a non-profit organization).

Another scout badge should reward the most dedicated of Cub Scouts.  I gave up homework, mother’s homemade meals, and farm chores to completely devote my efforts and energies to the scouts. After having some of those home cooked meals, some of my fellow scouts thought I was homeless.  My teachers didn’t buy the “great sacrifice” speech pertaining to their homework either.

Each year the Cub Scouts would gather in the den mother’s garage or basement to make bird boxes.  My contribution to this task was not fully appreciated.  While all of the other scouts measured board and hammered nails to create what they argued was a birdhouse, I went out in search of actual birds to inhabit them.  Never mind the small detail I was armed with my reliable Daisy BB gun. I still think most boxes resembled a coffin more than a house.

Much like the military, Cub Scouts should offer badges and incentives for recruitment. I enlisted many “characters” to the Cub Scouts.  For some reason unknown to me, these questionable friends of mine became misfit, rogue scouts.  I was not to be blamed.  Plus, hearing I had been officially asked to leave the organization, many more really good kids signed up on the spot.  Directly or indirectly, I must have introduced dozens of young men to the Scouts.

Looking back now, I am proud to have been a Cub Scout.  Although we did more shouting and pouting than actual scouting, my experiences helped shape the man I have become.  I would hope today’s Cub Scouts have the opportunity to earn some of the more obscure badges I have suggested.  Perhaps, if they lift the permanent ban, my children can someday participate too. I am confident you can think of a couple badge ideas of your own.  Let us hope Cub Scouts of the future continue appreciating nature and doing good…or at least start selling some of those tasty cookies like the Girl Scouts.

Marshall Nych’s habitat is a family farm in New Wilmington, PA. When Marshall isn’t writing outdoor humor, he is an elementary teacher misguiding the youth of Mercer County. Although Nych has fished 15 states and 4 countries, his best catches remain his wife and daughter.