Friday, December 13, 2013

Deer Camp 2013 - Ten Days in Hell

 Every year when I head for what I refer to as my week in the 19th century at the deer camp, people marvel that we can survive without electricity, plumbing, or central heat.  These are just the minor items of depravation however, there are a number of other things that we do without for this hellish week on the cusp of winter. 

At one point we did have a generator but the smell and the noise just didn't seem worth it.  Since we have no hair dryers, Fry Daddys, or small appliances of any sort it's just not much of an issue.  We can still make toast without a toaster and excellent waffles with the cast iron waffle maker.  It operates on the 1924 Detroit Jewel propane stove, and propane Humphrey lights provide indoor light as well.  Plumbing consists of the hand pump outside the camp and the outhouse. While the seat is very, very cold on a 10F morning, careful timing can result in a prewarmed seat.  A sauna takes care of the other aspect of no plumbing, a shower.  Finally the vintage pot belly wood stove takes care of the central heat issue.  We just throw another log in if its cools down and damp the stove down and open a window if it's too hot.  No, these basics are not the problem, it's those other subtle reminders of civilization that we really miss.

I personally find electronic background noise to be very soothing.  A TV or radio on in the background, beeps and alerts from electronic devices, the whirring of various motors and drives firing up. Soothing for sure, but we are deprived of such enjoyment due to that pesky electricity being gone.  We do have a battery powered Montgomery Wards Airline model radio, dual cassettes and all, that was a circa 1977 wedding gift and we will have the oldies station on from time to time so I guess that offsets the lack of electronic buzz. The one reliable source of electronic noise was eliminated when I stabbed Rudolph during a psychotic episode, but that's already been discussed on these pages.  We have discovered that if one climbs up into the Wounded Knee blind that two bars of Verizon service can be achieved.  This has been used for birthday calls to the VOR as well as emergency calls to Woody to bring another buck tag in particularly good years.  Having to work to make a call, hiking a half mile and climbing a tree stand, puts a whole new light on prioritizing which calls are important and which are not. 

Thanksgiving dinner is another depravation.  How can you make a large turkey with gravy, stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, squash, and three desserts in such a primitive and tiny space?  Every year we manage to battle adversity and get it handled with the Weber grill, the above mentioned Detroit Jewel, and some creative juggling.  This year we managed to pull off dinner for seven of us with a four course wine flight to accompany the above courses, in the face of this adversity. 

The other thing that we go without for the week of deer camp is angst and expectations.  The only thing scheduled permanently is happy hour.  Stroll in after hunting, eject shells, place gun in rack, and pour beverage of choice.  There is total freedom on whether to go out and hunt or drink coffee, read a book, BS with the crew, or hit the sack at 8pm or midnight.  There is some whining about pumping water, filling the wood box, and stoking the sauna stove, but minor bitching is part of camp as well as the smart assed and predictable comebacks to said whining.  After going without schedules and expectations, coming back to the world, especially that first morning at work, is unusually invigorating.

The other thing we go without is decorum. Casual visitors might find that people walking around, drinking beer, and cooking in their underwear is a bit disconcerting.  It is said that I do my best cooking in my underwear and this is yet another cross that we bear during deer camp.
The ultimate lack of expectations is sitting up in the blind.  Thought uninterrupted by background noise or other people is a powerful thing.  Being deprived of  the distractions can steer your mind to all sorts of interesting spots and time tends to slow to  it's slowest passage of the year, especially when the temperature is in single digits and a northwest wind is coming off Gitchee Gumee.  Oh for the warm office, with the comforting glow of the computer screen, emails and co-workers stimulating your mind, and the prospect of a productive meeting looming in exactly 18 minutes.  Being deprived of that is certainly one of the most disturbing things about those ten days at camp.

This year three 8 pt bucks were shot, one each by Pod, GurneyGranny, and the KingOfIronwoodIsland.  The very late spring had reduced the herd in our area and even though we had doe permits aplenty, it was decided to pass on the smaller deer this fall. Every year I hear morons bitching about the wolves but our DNR has effectively reduced the population with their ill conceived, non science based hunting seaon so I find it difficult to figure out how there were more deer and more wolves last year and fewer of both this year.  Maybe the fact that we had snow and tip ups out on a foot of ice on opening fishing in May had something to do with deer mortality?  Nah, sorry I blew up there.  It is the latest that deer season can be in Wisconsin and it was cold and especially windy for most of the week. My guess is that part ot the 26% reduction in the deer kill in our area is not just the late spring but the attractiveness of the bar stool blind in the rough weather.  Poor weather, fewer deer, and the depravation described above made it a particularly hellish year at camp.  And we would do it all over next week if we could.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Unarmed hiking

Sorry readers, I'm waaaay behind on posts due to ten days of deer hunting among other things.  Here is one on hiking up on the Bayfield Peninsula.  Annual deer hunting post to follow shortly......
To the best of my recollection, this is the first hiking post that I've ever written.  It's not that I never hike but the whole concept of a hike is something I just don't spend that much time thinking about.  It's more like a walk in the woods, usually with some other purpose in mind rather than just a hike.  I hiked several miles yesterday, but with a shotgun in my hand as we hunted pheasants and chukar in a lovely little snow flurry.  Last weekend though, two true 'hikes' were completed. 

Both sisters and spouses were in town and the one thing that we all knew how to do was walk.  Kayaking, skiing, or biking would not have fit the skill set and motivations of this diverse group at all.  So we hiked, Saturday along the mainland sea caves and Sunday in the new Houghton Falls area.  We were led by Monk the puppy in all cases.  He's the only male dog I've ever had that doesn't immediately head for the hills when let off the leash.  For a lab/boxer, he is water shy, although he eventually splashed across the creeks, perhaps from peer group pressure if nothing else.  It was a bit of a drab, misty, sometimes rainy weekend in the low 40's F, but that was almost perfect for hiking.

In all my years up in the Bayfield Peninsula I had never hiked out to the mainland caves, although the VOR had with some women friends.  It was a bit of a sloppy slog with all the wet red clay and one had to be careful not to go on one's ass as the wet clay is 'slipperier than snot on a doorknob' as the old saying goes.  It's about two miles out to the lake view and the giant crack that we've all paddled up into.  It's an interesting perspective from above looking down rather than on the water gazing upwards.  The whole area appears to have suffered a major windstorm with lots of downed popple and balsam as well as the occasional large cedar tree.  The wind must have been accompanied by heavy rain as a couple bridges were washed out and laying on the bank downstream.  We could have continued on to the one mainland campsite but the rain was beginning and the siren call of the Snug was a powerful lure back to Washburn.

Sunday we did the short hike along the Houghton Falls trail out to the overlook of Chequamagon Bay.  This gem just became a public nature area a couple years back though the combined efforts of the township, state, and environmental groups including the Bayfield Regional Conservancy.  Its a short hike on an excellent trail and both the geology and the trees are spectacular.  Hemlocks pretty much end here, the western end of their zone, and there are some monsters interspersed with equally majestic white  and red pine.  Your reward when hitting the big lake is worth the short stroll as well. 
While I enjoyed the hike in this cusp season between kayaking, hunting, and skiing, I must admit to looking at the nice inviting lake and thinking about a last Lake Superior paddle.  I will be 'hiking' starting tomorrow, deer rifle in hand for nine straight days up at the deer camp.  A couple ski areas have opened and the rumor is that ABR in Ironwood has been tracking trails a bit already.  Hello winter, I hope you provide some outdoor fun for us this season and don't wait until March like you did last year.