Monday, November 29, 2010

Deer Camp 2010 - another equal opportunity hunt

It was another successful week of Wisconsin deer gun season in northern Wisconsin, although I don't recall a deer season that I'd call unsuccessful even if no deer were shot. This year we opened with the GurneyGranny taking a large 6 pointer at 8:30am opening day and the KingOfIronwoodIsland following up at 9am with a bigger 10 pointer. Podman took an equally large 9 pointer as daylight faded on Monday afternoon and RugerMatty took a pepperoni doe (his favorite venison product) about 1pm Friday. I finished things out with a medium sized 6 pointer about 2:30 that same afternoon. The weather was cold for the most part, which made for some cold tree stand sitting, and it also froze the viscous red clay. The wheelers got frozen solid a few times from crossing the creek, which resulted in pounding, cursing, jumping on the shocks, frenetic kicking, and and yanking them back and forth to try to free up the wheels. We also had snow, about 7" in two small storms, which let us know what creatures were out running around in the woods besides us. As I said it was a pretty good week.

I had a conversation with the owner, founder, and chief supervisor of the camp, HuntmasterSteve. We talked about the changes over the years since 1982 over some Black Bush Irish whiskey and Early Times bourbon, and how it might be fun to have a retro hunt. "I'd like to see no baiting, no wheelers, and no cameras" was the discussion topic. I could easily do without the baiting or the cameras but these days if you don't have something to hold the deer on the your land, the surrounding landowners will make sure the deer are on their land with massive feeding. Self defense baiting. I like the cameras and its a similar feeling to a kid on Christmas morning when the camera is checked to see who visited during the night, but I could certainly do without them. Regarding the four wheelers, I have unfavorable memories of dragging deer up to a couple miles, sweating profusely, heart pumping, clothing soaked, and having to cross to multiple creek ravines. I believe I'll vote on the side of the four wheelers for that job, especially for we greybeards. One thing that hasn't changed since the beginning is that we have welcomed women to camp since day one. None of our surrounding neighbors can say that and more than a few have looked askance at us but all of us look at it as completely normal.

MadCityMary, wife of HuntmasterSteve, has been hunting with us since day one. She is normally a first weekend/last weekend attendee and has shot a number of bucks. The GurneyGranny is a more recent addition and has hunted as hard if not harder than any of us and has the racks in the Eight or Better Lounge to prove it. Quarters can get a bit snug in a 20x24 foot building but the addition of the porch, the famous Eight or Better Lounge referred to above, and last year's Cutup Shack have spread things out a bit. Privacy can still be a bit scarce and walking around in underwear, slippers, and a hat is the normal uniform for happy hour. I personally find that I can't cook nearly as well with pants on and have avoided wearing them for decades now. Bodily functions can be an issue as well at times. At any time a person could walk out the door and find someone peeing off the north deck. However this too has become a gender equitable activity since the invention of the GoGirl. As you can see from the photo, there is potential for a back up at the outhouse, but people pretty much take things in stride. Everyone is comfortable, camp chores are accomplished equitably, and most everyone takes care of handling and processing their own deer. Gender lines have pretty much been erased and that's a good thing.

Once again most of us have hormone and antibiotic free, extremely low fat, tender, free range red meat in the freezer. KingIronwood and I dropped off our trim at Jim's Meat Market in Iron River, WI and will soon have roughly 120 pounds of wieners, bologna, pepper sticks, bratwurst, and venison bacon to get us through the year, not to mention the steaks and chops that we cut up in the warmth and comfort of the new Cutup Shack. I anticipate and savor my nine days in the 19th century every year and so does everyone else, male or female. While I may not have any lovely backlit photos of my grandma cleaning her Browning A-bolt, .257 Roberts caliber, I do believe its a fine thing and part of what makes our camp what it is.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bad news at a bad time

About the time I was going to hit 'publish' on this post/tirade, it was announced that the National Veterinary Services Labs in Ames, Iowa had retested the tissue samples and found no signs of CWD in the buck from Ashland Co. It was a false positive from the Madison lab and it would seem we have dodged a bullet. I thought I would still publish the post because I believe its only a matter of time before we are hit with the disease. It took 3 years of legal BS before a deer herd that had 82 confirmed cases of CWD in Portage County could be destroyed. The DNR asked the legislature for a law banning the import of deer from western CWD affected states and they couldn't even get that done. We got lucky this time but the next time we won't.

It was announced late last week that a deer from a deer farm south of Ashland, WI tested positive for CWD, Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal disease that affects deer and elk. The last outbreak in the state resulted in the eradication of the entire wild deer herd in the Mount Horeb area just south of Madison. This recent case occurred about 40 miles from our camp. In a 'small world theory' coincidence, the owners of the deer farm have visited our camp a number of times and in fact are related to a few of the guys in our group. Needless to say there will be heated discussion at happy hour and probably most other spare moments as well.

If you want a synopsis of the story as it developed, just Google 'CWD Ashland Co'. You can choose between the Duluth News Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or dozens of other publications and bloggers that have commented. I always like Sam Cook. I joke to my fellow employees that I will be off until the Monday after Thanksgiving for 'Holy Week'. Its not far from the truth in northern Wisconsin. Virtually all of my friends in junior high hunted. If their dads didn't hunt guys like my old man would take them under their wing and introduce them to the activity. School was deserted the week of Thanksgiving and a number of schools simply closed for the week. I know guys that have a $300 car and a $900 deer rifle. Many folks, including me and my cohorts, have spent thousands of dollars on land, taxes, and equipment. It's about the deer on a certain level but its also about family, friends, nature, cameraderie, and escaping from the twittering, texting, cell phone connected, and yes, blogging world. It's my best mental vacation of the year where I return to the 19th century, with its outhouse, hand pump, wood fired sauna, and gas lights. Three generations at the same camp is the norm in Wisconsin and while Chronic Wasting Disease will most certainly not end this, it will have a chilling effect. The satisfaction of harvesting, processing, and eating your own hormone and antibiotic free, non feed lot raised, and lowfat meat will be seriously compromised. All pretty much because people want to make a few quick bucks. Like the Asian carp and other exotics in the Great Lakes, people simply need to follow the money.

I am going to admit right up front that I am a 'specieist'. The idea of going to a game farm to shoot pheasants is fine in my brain. Going to a game farm to shoot a large mammal because it has large, artificially grown antlers on its head is not. I also only hunt animals that I like to eat, my personal hunting ethic. Grouse are a target, geese are not. The problem with game farms is that they import breeding stock from far away to achieve those big racks that guys too lazy or incompetent to do scouting, too impatient to spend time in the woods, and too goal oriented to tolerate any lack of success, want to brag about having on their walls. The government is pretty much useless in situations like this. Its the Jurassic Park syndrome. As Dr.Ian Malcom said in the movie, "Life, uh....finds a way". No rules, inspectors, fines or suspensions will help. Diseases will spread if you help them by moving them great distances, floods will float the Asian carp out of the fish farm ponds and into the waterways, the same floods will transport them from the Chicago River (if they don't just swim through the locks) to Lake Michigan, and the Lampreys and Zebra Mussels will get in the ballast water in Hamburg and get a free ride to the Great Lakes. In a true ironic moment, a couple of friends volunteer with the Ashland office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service monitoring Zebra Mussels in Chequamagon Bay. One got a call last week from some guys in Washburn telling him that if he wanted to see a bunch of Zebra Mussels to come down. Apparently they put the LL Smith, the UW-Superior research vessel into dry dock and the hull had all sorts of Zebra Mussels attached to it. I get a fine if they find a couple strands of milfoil hanging from my skeg cord on my kayak but the government can pull into Washburn with a veritable Zebra Mussel breeding colony stuck on the bottom of their boat and its all cool. Maybe the Corp of Engineers should do a five year study on the impact Zebra Mussel attachment to boats. My guess is that the results will be very similar to those of the 5 year Asian carp study in the Great Lakes that just started.

Its depressing and it sucks. Lets not inconvenience the fish farm owners, deer and elk farm owners, or the Great Lakes shipping community. After all, they might lose some jobs or even some money! Nope, lets defraud the general public and screw up flora, fauna, the environment,and everything else we possibly screw up but lets not inhibit commerce. I hate to launch my week of solitude and bliss with a tirade but there are some things that more than deserve a good rant and this is sure as hell one of them. I wish I had an answer but I'm afraid that I don't, other than having some political leaders with the guts to make some hard choices. The chances of that are just about as good as the chances that there was no mingling of the game farm deer and the wild deer through that big hole in the fence.

Next post here: the Monday after Thanksgiving. Enjoy the holiday and please don't trample any mall security guards!

Monday, November 15, 2010

First snow

Sitting in a tree stand was tough this weekend with a combination of freezing rain and heavy, wet snow. Our camp is on the border line of the snow/rain this time of year because Lake Superior is still around 40F in the western end, and when the northwest wind blows over the warmer water we get more rain than snow. Check out the map at the bottom of the Observation Hill blog post for a good illustration. When I passed through the Twin Ports, the hills of Duluth, including Spirit Mountain ski area, had plenty of snow cover while Superior had virtually none. We did get snow however, and it changes both the dynamic of the woods and the creatures that are in it.

The obvious thing is that nothing can hide or disguise its passage in the snow. I took the long way back from my stand on Sunday morning and noticed that the Fisher was out, Porkie had been on the ground, several deer had passed where I thought they had no business being, and Moquah the bear was still up and moving about. Visibility is another thing. My camo works great up in the spruce tree but on the ground I stick out like a sore thumb. I felt like the poor snowshoe rabbit that turned white before the snowfall, yet still thought that if he froze and became motionless I wouldn't spot him. There was plenty of flowing water in the woods as well. Its been a wet year and water tends to pool in low areas of the predominantly red clay soil. It also illustrates why you can still fall through the ice in the swamp in the dead of winter; everything is flowing and little mini riffles and rivulets of water are everywhere, underscoring the Yooper comment that, "a guy needs a good pair of swampers in da woods during deer camp".

No arrows flew and once again the question of whether we are a hunting camp or a deer watching camp was posed. The hunting ethic that has evolved up there is either bucks, eight points of better, or anterless deer. Most of us wait for the single anterless deer once we've decided that meat trumps big racks late in the season, and that didn't happen for me last weekend. Its still fun playing hide and seek with the deer and watching them go about their business when they are undisturbed. I did get things ready for the start of 'Holy Week' next Saturday at 6am, the nine day Wisconsin deer gun season, and am confident that the freezer will be full by the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Several errands got me home at an early hour yesterday afternoon. After a quick computer check I noticed two invitations to go 'snow paddling' and a few spacebook posts with snow paddling pictures. Since I had a brand spankin' new seat in my Explorer, I decided to take a quick lap around Long Lake to check it out. More on that later, but it was nice to combine two of my favorite outdoor activities in the same day. Now I just need to put my head down, plow through the week,and head north early next Friday morning. Hope the snow stays. The first snowfall of the year always puts me in a euphoric and wonderful mood and this year is no exception.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Gales VI

Our annual Gales of November paddle happened to fall on the actual 35th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald on 10 November 1975. The weather on Wednesday was nothing like that legendary storm 35 years ago, but we had a small preview of things to come. Temperatures were a relatively balmy 60F at 2pm when we launched but we had a southeast wind of about 15mph, judging by the whitcaps and foam lines in the lake. Rain hit about dusk, when happy hour on Wild Goose Island was winding down, reminding us once again that 'an east wind blows no good' in these parts. We paddled back to the launch in the artificial dark, our path lit by our headlamps and the ring of lights around this decidedly urbanized body of water.

The Gales event began six years ago with the trio in the image deciding that it was a rare nice day in early November and that we should play hookey and go paddle. Given the 'customer golf outings' at my company and many others, I think that a 'customer paddle outing' once a year is a perfectly acceptable activity. I actually have a couple customers and potential customers that I paddle with, although I suspect that the same amount of business conversation takes place at these events as takes place at golf events; little to none. I don't think the majority of us know what the other person does for a living and I like that just fine. One of the more interesting observations is the weather from year to year on roughly the same day. Year one was 70F and balmy, and year 3 had horizontal sleet and 33F temperatures. This weather does not seem to faze the core group, and in fact a few people hope for miserable conditions just so they can haul out their heavy duty paddle gear. We always bring out campfire wood so we can pretend we're on a more remote island and to take the edge off on cold years. This year was a kind of in between year with some wind and rain but balmy temps but there is just something about a nice wood fire.

The evening ended at the Narrows Saloon which has an excellent dirty pork stew, a posole like concoction without the hominy, and a fine tap selection. As in past years, a blues band showed up and began playing at a decent hour, inspiring the BessemerConvivialist and I to dance to a couple of completely unrelated covers, Dave Dudley's "Six Days on the Road" and Zep's "Black Dog".

I plan on paddling a bit more, even though I've already seen ice on some ponds and there is venison to be packed in the freezer. Open water is all we need and it seems like that can be found most of the year if a person looks hard enough. Pool sessions have started and I suspect I may be talked into one when GalwayGuy returns from St Louis, although my anti-chlorite sentiments are well known. For the next month or so I will need to pick my paddling spots when opportunity arises and that's OK. Its been a great season.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Apostle Islands study - University of Vermont

The first time I visited what is now the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was on a UWEC geology field trip in 1975. Later that year I returned with the FrugalFisherman and we backpacked from the Presque Isle dock on Stockton out to Trout Point, bushwhacking because there was no trail at the time. My first kayak adventure on the lake was in 1997. Coincidentally, both of those years were surveyed in the University of Vermont's Apostle Islands Longitudinal Research project.

I encountered the Research Project for the first time on a bar stool in Morty's Pub in Bayfield. I had arranged to meet Walt Kuentzel from the University of Vermont, who was spending the summer in Bayfield working on the project, to talk about the kayaking component of the study over a pint of South Shore Nut Brown ale. The conversation did move to the water when Walt, Pod, the BearWhisperer, and I paddled from south of Bayfield down past Washburn and back. It's a pretty interesting and extensive survey and it was only in 1997 that the kayaking component was added. Up until then the main focus was boaters and sailors. Its interesting to see peoples perceptions of the park and how they have changed over the roughly 35 years of the study. There is an incredible amount of data in there and its well worth studying, as are the numerous attachments and related materials. If you spend some time clicking around and thinking about the answers and distribution, it gives a concerete snapshot of how people view the park and the differences between boaters and kayakers views. The wilderness and crowding related questions are interesting and its instructive to see how little they seem to have changed over the years. As a guy who managed to dodge every statistics class offered by any and all university departments, I can only go by pure dumb instinct but I guess I'd summarize the report with one long run on sentence: visitors seem to be getting older, include fewer children in trips, are more likely to be retired, are twice as experienced with the area and take shorter stays with smaller parties, are not really sure if its a wilderness area or not, and are pretty satisfied with the lack of crowding and environmental quality (take a breath here...). The most hilarious result was the absolute self righteousness of the kayakers, a trait I've always noticed when power boaters pull up to an island dock. According to kayakers perceptions, absolutely no kayakers are loud or arrogant and a miniscule number are reckless or unsafe. They also think that kayakers are by far the most friendly of the three groups. The power boaters on the other hand, are the loudest, most arrogant, reckless, and unfriendly of the groups, far more so than sailors or kayakers. In my humble opinion this perception is a complete crock of shit and we kayakers can step up on to the podium, listen to the playing of the kayaking national anthem, and have the gold medal in the Smugness event placed around our collective necks. Come on people! It's going to take me awhile to thoroughly look at this survey, a great project and a great tool for understanding the park. The NPS data summary is included as well in the link.

I have to mention one other study that I heard about on Minnesota Public Radio yesterday. The army Corp of Engineers announced a study to see how they could prevent the Asian carp, a subject of more than one post on this space, from reaching the Great Lakes. The study is expected to be completed and a recommendation made by 2015. This study was authorized in 2007 and funded last year, but it sounds like they haven't done a damn thing with it yet. Meanwhile that's five years of spring flooding, Chicago barge movement, and god knows what other attracitve routes to the lake for these hundred pound environmental disasters. I'm sure they will just be biding their time in their little carp family rooms while this study crawls along. It kind of sounds like a Jurassic Park situation to me. More smugness combined with a dash of denial, this time on an institutional level.

Finally, today is the 35th anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, an event that serves to remind us that the lake is indeed always the boss. Every November 10th the light at the Split Rock lighthouse is lit and the names of the 29 crewmen are read. Several of those crewmen were from the northern Wisconsin area and they should be remembered whenever we are making our risk assessment as to whether or not to paddle in a particular situation.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The end of an era

This weekend was weekend two of five straight weekends at the hunting camp on Reefer Creek. The weather was superb and we had nine folks in camp including the GreenThumbChef, RangerMark, YewMasterJim, and BirdWomanJoan, with the latter being first time visitors. Bucks were seen from the stands and on the camera but no arrows flew. A long hike across the creek to visit the new park bench on Buckskins Lake, an impoundment created by the local beaver community, was undertaken and the usual excellent food and beverage were enjoyed by the crew. All was not 'beer and skittles' however because a camp icon, the trusty couch known as The Rack, was preemptively and unceremoniously dumped out in the yard and replaced by a more modern piece of furniture.

The Rack, named for its unusually firm sleeping surface which reminded some of the medieval torture implement, has been my bed since at least the Reagan administration. It has provided me with sound and solid sleep, comforted me when I had been aggressively overserved by my companions, and acted as a stylish plaid closet for my crap when I wasn't prone on it. I will admit it had some faults. There were some mice living in and on it, it does act as a repository for dead cluster flies, and the word 'lumpy' might be an understatement. I'll admit that it's also true that it was the one piece of furniture in camp that the dogs wouldn't even climb up on, and that humans rarely sat upon it, and then only for a couple minutes. But it was my little corner, my nook amongst the chaos that can ensue when 12 people are living in a 20 x 24 foot building during deer gun season. Once my head hit the rack after a day in the woods, I was out. I even slept through the legendary Pie Tin Incident where 2 or 3 guys were sitting at the table sometime after midnight, keeping a bottle of Early Times company. One of the guys glanced at an empty pie tin, picked it up, inspected it, and then smacked his companion in the forehead with it. The sound was so distinctive that a study ensued to determine which skull/pie tin combination had the best tone and resonance. Needless to say this aggravated the sleepers and a near fist fight ensued. I heard none of it in my little corner of the building.

I suppose change is inevitable. The new couch looks like it came from the rec room of some suburban home in a cul de sac, probably owned by the deputy chair of some county Republican party. It's sloppy soft, baby vomit green in color, and has all the character of a scratched up aluminum teflon frying pan. I hope this doesn't signal the onset of a modernization mindset. I'd hate to see the 1924 Detroit Jewel propane stove replaced by some '60s vintage Maytag unit, or our Somoza for Presidente poster on the wall replaced by some more progressive dictator like Daniel Ortega or Rafael Trujillo. I must admit I'm more than a little worried. We did have a NPS representative out at camp this weekend and I thought about getting Cultural Resource Management going but I fear its too late. If the usual form follows, the couch will be sat upon in the yard by drunken louts and then burned like an innocent Salem witch on the evening of November 27 at the traditional end of deer camp bonfire.

Goodby old buddy, you will be missed. It may be only by the mice, the cluster flies, and me but you had a good run. I will give the new couch a shot but I fear it will be like when Vince Lombardi was replaced by Phil Bengston after the 1968 Super Bowl. Hopes will be high but in our hearts we know we had better prepare for disappointment, failure, and inadequacy.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The amazing game camera

I read an article in the Star Tribune yesterday on trail cameras and "the don't count on them to help you land a deer". Up on Reefer Creek we don't count on them to do anything except let us know what kinds of animals are hanging out in the woods and also to let us know if we have our stands in a good place or if we are just wasting our time. Plus, its just plain fun.

One of the manufacturers of these cameras is Predator Trailcams in suburban Saxon, WI. Perry got the business going a few years back and it took off quite nicely. As luck would have it, he is also a neighbor of Pod and GurneyGranny and a good guy to boot. The cameras don't use a flash or have any blinking or beeping that could startle an animal. Night photos are invariably black and white. They won't startle a person either, and a number have been used by cabin and seasonal homeowners to see who might be lurking around their property when they are not there.
I never cease to be amazed by what shows up on the cameras. After a day of sitting in a stand and seeing only red squirrels, chickadees, does, and fawns, its a bit humbling to come back the next day and see what wandered by the night before. The fact is that most animals are a lot smarter than we are and can avoid us very easily. Its kinda like Christmas morning when I head out and check the camera. Its always a surprise, especially when I see a really big buck or we have a virtual herd of black bears in the area.

This weekend will be another one spent in the blind. Friends are coming out to the camp and the kayak will stay in the garage this weekend. It will be broken out for the 6th Annual Gales of November paddle on Wednesday, a hookey friendly event that commemorates the 35th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This weekend will be spent in contemplation and observation, fifteen feet off the ground. The real asset of the trail camera is to affirm visually what we can see from scat, tracks, and kill sites. Its reassuring to know that there really is some wild nature left and gratifying to know that we are right in the middle of it.

PS One of the comments on the post asked if that was a wolf in the upper canine image. It is indeed and I added this coyote and his buddy so readers can compare the difference.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Contemplation from fifteen feet up in a tree

This weekend was the first weekend of getting some serious butt time in my bowstand, an activity that will consume most of the next four weekends. Non hunters and people in general are puzzled about why a sane person would voluntarily climb up into a tree in sub freezing weather and sit for hours in the hopes that a suitable deer would saunter by and wind up in the freezer. Its actually pretty simple. Peace and quiet.

This is an interesting time of year in Lake Superior country for the weather. Pretty much anything can happen with the weather, as we saw with the big storm last week. Normally it gets warm during the day and then cools off significantly at night and this weekend fit the pattern. It was 45F and sunny during the day and the big thermometer nailed to the wall of the camp said 24F when we got up at 6am on Sunday. The swamps and pods were covered with skim ice and everything had a frosty layer until the sun hit it. As my friend in Cumbria England points our, there is no such thing as bad weather only crappy gear, and its pretty easy to dress for the weather. Once up in the tree the attraction becomes doing nothing, just sitting, thinking, and observing. Senses are sharpened and the flick of a chickadees tail can be seen fifty yards away. A deer can be heard munching on an acorn at twice that distance. In fact acorns can be heard hitting the ground as they fall off the oak trees. No multitasking here; no cell phone reception, hand held electronic nerd gear, and unlike one member of the camp, no reading material is brought to the stand. Activity consists of scanning the woods from time to time with the binoculars, shifting from cheek to cheek as the tree time goes on, watching natures daily activity, and thinking about anything you want to think about. Silbs had an excellent post on sitting last week and I'll admit to thinking about it and its numerous comments as I watched the sun rise in the east. Tree stand sitting is nothing like sitting in a kayak because in a kayak there is activity, concentration on paddle strokes, map reading, destination, and also banter with your fellow paddlers.

It takes a couple times to get your mind back in the tree sitting mode after not doing it for a season. Things slow down, focus returns, and the mindset that nothing really needs to be done other than blend into the woods and keep the senses active. Heck, you never know, you might even be rewarded with a nice sunrise!