Monday, November 30, 2009

Deer camp 2009 - the photo review

I'm back in the 21st century after spending 9 glorious days in the 19th, sans electricity, plumbing, and electronic noises of any kind, except for the oldies station during happy hour. I'm tired, my back is killing me, and I'm far too lazy to write. Frankly, the computer and its passwords, reminder windows, and other BS aggravates me after being away from it. I'm sure I'll get over it but for now I'll violate my personal policy of a maximum of three images per post and do a deer camp photo essay of sorts. The top image is from a stand known as Twin Towers as the sun sets. Red sky at night, sailors delight.

Opening night has twelve of us in the 20 x 24 camp. Cozy but perfectly manageable.

This image is of the frozen beaver pond, dead spruce trees and all, near Buckskin's Field. My primary stand, the Virgin Turkey, is about 100 yards away.

On Tuesday night as I sat in The Stand Formerly Known As Mary's, I saw a small buck come in late, just as darkness and the fog were conspiring to end my day of hunting. As I shot the image, I noticed the larger six pointer staring at me from behind the five pointer. Our hunting philosophy is to take the larger bucks, eight or better, and the antlerless deer. This method is called Quality Deer Management and has been proven to produce a more healthy deer herd.

We did have rain for a couple days. I just wore my wool and the outer layer was wet but I was toasty dry inside. Wool still retains it insulating propertieswhen wet but it just does not dry real fast.

I stumbled across this insect art on a deadfall maple tree. No idea what type of bug would provide this level of artistic work.

The moon over the camp.

The moon over the outhouse door.

We always make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, complete with squash, garlic mashed potatoes, cranberries, bread, and of course, the turkey. We did a free range turkey this year and brined it. It was excellent.

The traditional bonfire, ignited on Friday night rather than the usual second Saturday.

Oh yeah, we did harvest some deer. We heard wolves howling at least a half dozen times but there seems to be plenty of deer to feed everyone, contrary to some peoples beliefs.

And used the plush new cut up shack to turn them into tasty steaks and chops.

And finally the traditional 'cable beer' as we break camp for the 27th year in a row. The stalwarts in this photo have been at camp the whole nine days. I'm looking foward to next year already.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Signs of Winter

The Coast Guard buoy tender Alder is in the process of picking up the navigation buoys in the Apostles before the ice begins to form, shortly if past history is any indicator. Even more importantly, Wisconsin Deer Firearms season opens at 6:30am tomorrow morning. I will be in my blind in an area that has no cell phone towers and electricity is roughly 5 miles away. This is therefore, the last post for over a week. Enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, Black Friday, and anything else you so choose. I'll be back the very, very end of November. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Heirloom design

Last week as I feverishly prepared for my 4 day weekend of bowhunting bliss at camp, our electric range 'took the dirt nap' as they say. Repair costs were prohibitive and it was getting a bit cold for the Coleman stove on the patio while repairs were scheduled and completed, so we headed to the appliance store and purchased a new range. About the same time I read Sharon Bloyd Peshkin's article,"Built to Trash", and the very next morning the enamel coffee pot was simmering on the 1924 Detroit Jewel stove at deer camp as we prepared to head out to the blind. It really drove home the point of her article.

Many of you might know Sharon as an accomplished sea kayaker from the Chicago area. Others may know her as SecuriteSharon from her timely radio call that kept the Raspberry Island tour at this years Inland Sea Kayak Symposium from being run over by the Island Queen. The events of the prior week really made her article resonate with me, especially when I was cooking supper on the Jewel up at camp.

That stove has been in operation since my dad was born in 1924. Some repairs have been needed but they have been simple things like welding or cleaning out a gas jet rather than replacing an overpriced computer clock/timer/temperature module. Propane flows in, goes through the gas jets, and burns. Very simple and it still looks pretty damn elegant. The cookware at Reefer Creek has a pedigree as well. I have a couple pieces of my grandmothers Griswold cast iron cookware that has been used pretty regularly since the depression. The GurneyGranny donated her grandmothers cast aluminum pots, which grandma received a wedding gift in 1934, items that also have been in regular use for decades. There is nothing hanging from the ceiling storage area that ends in the suffix -lon. No Calphalon, Teflon, or any other trendy -lon is present. I don't think anyone that has dined up there would say that the quality of food has suffered much from using this 'antique' apparatus. We make soup with no crock pot, bread with no bread maker, salad without a salad shooter, and deep fry stuff with no Presto Fry Daddy.

Sharon's article pretty much has it covered and President Obama's comment to the Chinese that we can't continue to be the worlds consumer dumping ground of last resort is a great riff on the theme that she explains so well. If our economy continues to be dependent on the holiday shopping season with its Calphalon pans, salad shooters, Tickle Me Elmo dolls, and (my favorite) the singing fish mount, we are in some deep shit. Not everyone can afford to buy the good stuff, but my Filson hat, Pendleton shirts, and Irish Setter boots have lasted me literally for decades and are a huge bargain in the long run. Some of my friendly fashionista friends say that it all should be sent to the Goodwill or burned, but its all functional, in excellent repair, and still very stylish after some fairly abusive usage. Kind of like our beloved Detroit Jewel stove. Do what you need to do over the holiday season but keep the idea of heirloom design in the back of your mind. Everyone will be better off for it in the long run. No1 son heisted the Venn diagram, below, from CETMA in Portland and I heisted it from him. Heirloom design in a simple and elegant nutshell.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Culture of Deer Camp 101

Last Thursday was a bit out of the ordinary at the Reefer Creek deer camp. The day started out the same, with people in their stands early and heading back to camp for the customary 9am breakfast, but at about 9:30 or so, 19 visitors showed up for a tour. Sixteen students and three profs from Northland College in Ashland, WI came out to learn, question, and soak up the unique deer camp ambiance.

The group and the course were unique as well. The course was part the Superior Connections curriculum and deals with a wide range of issues in the Lake Superior watershed. Thursdays field trip was to designed to give students an idea of life at a typical northern Wisconsin/Minnesota/Michigan deer camp and the issues involved, including logging, the forest and deer habitat, DNR policies, and predators like the timber wolf. The students were from all over the place, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, and many from Wisconsin. Some had never even thought much about hunting and others had been hunting since they were little kids. There were a couple of vegetarians and some definite urbanites. In other words, an excellent mix. One of the more interesting parts was trying to see the camp through the eyes of people who hadn't been going there for 27 years.

The event began with a tour of the camp and its unique decor. I would guess its rare to find a Somoza for Presidente' election poster, a lithograph of Abraham Lincoln, former Chicago mayor Harold Washington's anti rat flyer, and a 'young Republican's in Lust' poster in the same camp but we're eclectic if nothing else. There are also mounts and horns all over the place which is as is should be at a proper camp. We then hiked around the property and examined some deer sign like scrapes and rubs, plentiful bear crap (it's bed time boys and girls, you can hibernate now!), a select timber cut, some other flora and fauna, and Reefer Creek itself. There were a few wet feet crossing the Reefer and a couple of folks decided against that particular form of Russian Roulette for the feet and headed back to camp with the GurneyGranny. We have a couple of abandoned cars from the 1940's and a few students found those to be more interesting than some of the tree fungus and understory plants, but that's to be expected. One of the cars belonged to the Tichener brothers, who logged the area when they returned from WW II. One of our neighbors was a boy in the area and told us the story. We found a horse corral and a cooking area but no camp. When we asked where they lived, our neighbor looked surprised. "Why, they lived in the car". I guess folks were a bit tougher back then.

It seemed like the group had a good time and maybe learned a thing or two. There was some (justified) trepidation about using the outhouse and the pump handle was tried a few times. I forgot about mentioning the Pumping World Record. Usually that gets us a few buckets of water pumped by strong youth trying to beat it but I felt I should be kind. The best question was asked of the GurneyGranny. " As the only woman here, do you have to do all the cooking?" Since I do most of the cooking she could truthfully answer no. The best statement heard was in reference to the Tichener's logging camp, "Its really cool how you guys preserved this spot so people could check it out". That's sloth son, the trait that 'preserves' lots of what eventually becomes historical sites.

It was a fine event and we hope that it becomes an annual. I hope everyone learned just a little bit, a near certaintly given the breadth of topics covered. For any of the students with more anthropomorphic tendencies, no deer were harmed for the rest of the weekend. We're looking forward to next years event!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Yesterday was the 5th Annual Gales of November paddle for me and a group of cronies. It was the normal mix of 'the usual suspects' with a couple new folks, and we paddled to a spot that we had visited briefly once before, Big Island on Lake Minnetonka. We were greeted by a small sign that said, "No camping, no campfires, no alcohol, no glass". We didn't have a tent but we had the wherewithal to violate three of the four rules. In the end we only violated two (had to bring the firewood home) and, since were the only humans in the area, we felt responsible enough to handle living on the edge in that manner. It was the perfect afternoon. The weather was unseasonably warm, the sun was out, and none of us were at work. In past years the weather has not been quite so nice, horizontal snowflakes a couple years back, but we go anyway on November 10th because this event, in addition to being a great time and the last 'official' paddle before the surface of the lakes turn solid, is a commemoration of sorts.

On November 10, 1975, thirty four years ago, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank with all hands in a legendary Lake Superior nor'easter. Our little paddle on the anniversary is a way of remembering that the lake is indeed the boss and can be a deadly place if a person doesn't respect it. That was brought home again in the past couple weeks with the loss of kayaker Doug W. in yet another deadly nor'easter on the big lake. Today, November 11, is another commemoration, the 91st anniversary of the end of World War I, the optimistically named 'war to end all wars', and the start of the tradition of Veteran's Day. I hold very little hope that humanity will ever figure out how to settle disputes without stupid wars, but Veteran's Day is a time to remember those who served, honor their service, and maybe attempt to figure out how we can get to a time where we actually run out of war veterans due to lack of wars. In Minnesota we have one World War I veteran left, a fellow born in 1901, but plenty of new Iraq and Afghanistan veterans being created to take their place. The cycle must end at some point.

In another minute and insignificant commemoration, this is my 400th post. I didn't realize it until I hit 'new post' this morning but I guess it must be true. The world is full of commemoration, as we saw yesterday at Fort Hood, some much more important and universal than others, but all significant to those close to the event. Have a good Veteran's Day and never forget. As an old history major, I can tell with absolute certainty that those who ignore history are indeed condemned to repeat it. Read a little bit about the First Afghan War in 1842 and see if anything sounds familiar.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Scavenging Gitchee Gumee

One of the stereotypes of the male/female role is that of men being the hunters and women being the gatherers. I know from personal experience that isn't case since the GurneyGranny is a noted killer of bucks and our friend Brian is the berry gathering master of northern Minnesota. When it comes to collecting beach glass from the shores of Gitchee Gumee though, the Voice of Reason is an undisputed master. The only guy I know that can spot the elusive beach glass as well as the VOR is the KingOfIronwood, and I suspect its because he's closer to the ground than most of us.

Lunch stops on obscure beaches and islands seem to be the best time for collecting. Areas where there has been human habitation for centuries, like the Apostles (one of the reasons why the 'wilderness' designation kind of irritates me) seem to have more beach glass that areas that have been true wilderness. Its kind of funny how garbage can transform into a collectible with the passage of time but I guess that's how it works. I will admit that my normal behavior on a lunch stop is to find a comfortable place to sit, break out venison beer sticks, cheese, crackers, a beer, and actually have a lunch break. The VOR, GurneyGranny, and others often graze on their pita bread, hummus, and celery sticks as they scavenge the beach, multitasking with excellent results. I did manage to find one of the more interesting pieces however, mainly because I nearly stepped on it while strolling up to the vegetation line to increase the salinity of a small area of real estate. It was a large brown piece which was part a gallon bottle. We could just make out the 'Clorox' on it (click to enlarge). You can read the rest of the story on the VOR (and sisters) blog.

The VOR and her sisters all do creative stuff with natural materials like rocks, gems, beach glass, wool, wood, leather,and yes, even deer antlers. You can check out all the stuff and the comments on the SistersHandmade blog site and their various etsy sites. I personally own a pebbled leather planner, complete with cherry wood spine and a deer antler closure. Its the envy of my deer hunting buddies. Note the Rook viewing/sniffing said planner. Shed antler hunting is another gathering activity that we all participate in but that season is in March when the snow is just about melted and the bears are coming out of their dens. It always amazes me to see what can be created with stuff that's found laying around on the beach or in the woods. I'm not creative enough to pull it off but am happy to support the folks that are.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Body found near Flood Bay; may be missing kayaker

The Duluth paper reported this morning that a body found near the Flood Bay wayside could be that of missing kayaker Doug W. from Milwaukee. The location of the body would be consistent with the wind and waves over the past couple weeks based on his departure from Cove Point and also on the locations where much of his gear was found.

We won't know for sure until the coroner completes their investigation. In the interim, condolences and best wishes to Dougs family and his paddle companions down in Milwaukee

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Keeping folks safe from themselves

Having lived in Minnesota since that cold weekend in 1978 when the Happy Warrior, Hubert H. Humphrey, was laid to rest, I am more than familiar with the tendencies of the state to zealously protect me from myself. In the latest head scratcher, the State of Minnesota is going to protect folks who visit food shelves from the lurking danger of invisible lead fragments in donated venison. When a deer is shot apparently very small, too small to be seen, particles of lead are sometimes found in the meat. Even though there is no evidence or research that indicates that this small amount of lead would be a problem, Minnesota government has leapt into action to keep this non problem at bay.

Chris Niskanen wrote about the issue in the St Paul paper today. I can't put it any more succinctly so here's Chris's take on the situation: "One state will account for more than 300,000 pounds of donated venison to food shelves, with no reported illnesses in a decade of operation. In the other state, only about 18,000 pounds will go to food shelves; no one has reported becoming ill there either. One state's donation program manager says, "People have been eating venison for hundreds of years, and we haven't had anybody with any lead issues." The other state's manager says, "We consider this a potentially serious problem."

Can you guess which state is which".

I'll bet you can. Wisconsin hunters donate 300,000 pound of some of the finest meat available to folks who need it. As many of you know, the culling of deer on Sand and York Islands in the Apostles is going on, quite successfully given the recent weather, and virtually all of those deer have been donated to area food shelves. That would not be the case here in the State Where Nothing is Allowed (thanks to J. Soucheray for that phrase). Venison is super lean, healthy, and environmentally sound. Its 'grass fed' (with a bit of corn and soybeans from time to time), the animals aren't fed antibiotics or growth hormones, and have virtually no fat. They are also not raised in a feedlot with serious groundwater runoff and even more serious odor and solid waste issues.

We hunters at Reefer Creek butcher our own deer and I've mentioned the construction of the new 'cut up shack' which some say is resembling a honeymoon cottage due to extravagant upgrades. We feel that doing it ourselves insures that hair, fat, and damaged meat are removed from the venison before it goes into the freezer or to the butcher to produce the savory sausage that the young man in the image above is devouring. I hesitate to mention more careful processing here in Minnesota because it easily could result in the Safe Venison Processing Act, passed by both bloated houses in the state legislature and signed by the governor using the tried and true 'what about the children?' justification. The State would then form the Venison Inspection Division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services to monitor butchers and folks like us. The Venison Tax would be instituted to pay for it and x ray inspection stations would be set up which would sell us a 'passed stamp' if our venison was lead free. We could then expand the program to ducks and small game that might have a pellet present in the meat. Or we could examine the ridiculous, "We consider this to be a potentially serious problem" mind set, ask that research and evidence be produced, or just be like Wisconsin and let the venison flow to the food shelves.

It seems to me that the benefit far outweighs the advantage. I fear that argument does not carry much weight with the bureaucrats that are protecting us from ourselves. Things like Olestra with its 'minor' side effect of 'anal leakage' (!!??) can slide.... sorry, couldn't resist... on to the market but a food that we've been harvesting and eating for centuries is questioned? I worry about the next hazard I'll be protected from.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Kayak Review

The Docksha IV Double by CampO Kayaks

Length: about 8 feet long
Width: about 5 feet wide
Weight: seems like a ton


MFSL: 6'1" 170# extremely white male.

POD: 6'2" 185# (plus Leinenkugels) very hirsute male

The Review: The Docksha IV is made of untreated wood and large 30 gallon drums wired underneath. Initial stability is phenomenal. Cockpit is amazingly roomy and laybacks, laydowns, and even the occasional nap works perfectly fine. Unfortunately, it doesn't track worth a damn and even those whitewater boats that closely resemble a clown shoe go straighter than this thing. Acceleration is sluggish at best. Paddle float and bilge pump are not needed to reenter this craft. Gear capacity is absolutely unlimited. No rolls were attempted although the comment was made that even Dubside couldn't roll this thing. Due to the similar size of the initial reviewers, the KingOfIronwoodIsland, 4'11", 155#, also paddled the craft. He commented that he couldn't afford it anyway due to catastrophic losses at the poker table much, much earlier that same morning. He also liked the wooden grab lines and felt they were a classy touch. The downside of this boat is that it takes 8 guys and a tractor to land. Weather was also a factor in this review, with 2" of new snow and 32F (oC) temps making the trials a bit uncomfortable.

Manufacturers Response: "I was just happy to get the reviewers out of the bar and down to the lake for the trial. Since this particular craft only moves about 50 yards, two times a year, we are more than happy with this less than stellar review. Although there was some cold water rolling of those skinny British boats by three idiots amid the snow flurries, most of us were very content watching from the top of the hill with an adult beverage in hand".

Idiot's Response: "Water temp was 42F (5C) which caused an instant ice cream headache. Lake Superior was actually 6F degrees warmer. The sauna however, was 175F (80C), a crucial element of the cold water rolling experience".