Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Deer season results - 2012

Preliminary Wisconsin deer season results are in and it would appear that both the number of hunters and the deer harvest are up.  So much for the massive wolf over population decimating the deer herd it would appear.  The state sold roughly 650,000 licenses, including some $5 bargain licenses for first time buyers.  The KingOfIronwoodIsland and I got the 'bargain' $160 non-resident licenses but that's beside the point.  Hunters took about 115,000 bucks and 130,000 antlerless deer, roughly 8% more than last year.  That's a success rate of around 35%.  Our hunting crew up in western Bayfield County fared better, with a 60% success rate.  I suspect that one of the reasons is that most of us spent the better part of the week in the woods.  Not many deer walk past the camp or bar stools

One of the deer theories that has gained popularity in recent years is Quality Deer Management.  The theory is that if you take the larger bucks and anterless deer, and leave the younger bucks that not only will hunters start seeing larger bucks but the herd will be healthier.  Instead of one dominant buck breeding multiple does, more younger bucks have the opportunity to breed which tends to prevent the deer family tree from becoming circular due to inbreeding.  This was a concept that many of us embraced intellectually but we still saw horns and shot.  The real breakthrough came when Pod declared our new porch/barroom to be the "Eight or Better Lounge".  In order to have a rack put up on the porch it needed to have 8 points or better.  Suddenly most of the camp was enthusiastically behind the QDM concept.  Plus there is competition at camp in everything from who stokes the sauna, pumps water, or does the dishes so the big buck competition is a logical outcome.  The other reason to wait for the larger buck is because many of us don't want the hunt to be over.

In our area there are usually more anterless permits available than there are purchasers.  It used to be that the old timers told us, 'when you shoot a doe you kill lots of deer'.  These were the same characters that had the 'camp meat' doe hanging on their pole the Friday night before the season but it was still a pervasive idea up north.  In our area we see perhaps a dozen antlerless deer for every buck. If you fill your tag on opening day with a smaller deer the hunt is pretty much over.  For those of us that only hunt opening weekend and then dutifully head into work Monday that's what needs to be done.  The majority of us that are at camp for the duration of the nine day season can be more selective.  In my case this year, too selective.  By the time I had decided on the last Saturday to shoot the first deer that came by, all I saw were two little bucks and I couldn't bring myself to do it.  Still, it was a good week of hunting.  We name our stands and I spent quality time in the Buckhole, Wounded Knee, White Pine, Ian's Blind, Twin Towers, and Buckskins NW.  I saw lots of deer and a number of other creatures over the week.  We got our 15" snow dump on Thanksgiving evening but until then it was relatively bluebird weather and it made being up in a tree a very pleasant experience.

Our final total was six deer, four bucks and two does.  RawhidePhil got on the board first with an 8pt on opening afternoon and the GurneyGranny followed around 4pm with a near identical 8 pointer.  Earlier in the day MattyA had harvested his traditional 'pepperoni doe' that would be made into pepperoni at the legendary Trinko's meat market.  MadCityMary took a fork the next day before leaving for Boston, and the BearWhisperer shot another 8 point Black Friday buck the day after Thanksgiving.  We had fun field dressing and dragging that boy out of the woods in the dark. The KingOfIronwood promptly climbed up in his stand, an all too familiar event, and filled his pricey non resident tag with a doe the next day.  By this time in the season all the older and larger bucks seem to have gone nocturnal.  The only time they are seen is on the game camera.  All of the bucks except the small one were seen chasing does.  We males tend to get single minded in our pursuit of female companionship and these guys paid for that and wound up in the freezer.

All is not lost for me however.  Muzzleloading season continues through 5 December for my continued pursuit of that hormone and antibiotic free, natural diet, lean Wisconsin venison.  No feedlots, no water pollution, no disease, just clean red meat for the year.  Congratulations to all my fellow hunters that filled their tags.  I hope to join you before the year is over.

Monday, November 26, 2012


What you are looking at in the image above is, "A wintry mix with a chance of 1 to 3 inches of snow accumulation".  I'm sure there is some after the fact explanation involving jet streams and el nino as to why it turned into 15" of nice fluffy powder but we really didn't care.  Once the harrowing Thanksgiving drive back from turkey in Mora was complete and the VOR, sister LeatherMargie, and I settled in  at camp with large glasses of Black Bush to watch the snow fall rather than battle it in the car, all was well with the world.  Next mornings hunt would mark the change from sound based to visual.  The thick blanket of snow would turn the listening game into a visual exercise.

The fall woods in Superior country is far from quiet.  Once a person is settled into their stand and the rhythms of the woods get back to normal there is nothing but sounds. Wind in the balsams, black spruce, and white pine is constant background but everything from mice and voles to the big mammals are making noise as well.  A mouse or vole scurrying across the leaves can be heard perfectly from 15' up in the tree.  Red squirrels are noisy, both in their movements and the scolding we hunters receive when they come face to face with us in 'their' tree.  The sound of bark and wood hitting the ground usually means looking up and seeing porky, a bundle of quills, gnawing on some tree thirty feet off the ground. I wish I could speak crow because they have an amazing vocabulary.  Check out the Gifts of the Crow, an wonderful book on crow behavior.  The only crow language I know is the raucous, maniacally excited, "Hey, we found an owl, get over here and help harass it!!" scream/call.  The barred owl on the other hand is as quiet as a woodland creature can get.  Other than it's, 'who, who, who cooks for you' call, it is entirely silent and makes zero sound as it flies through the forest.  The coyotes howl from time to time and I heard one lone wolf howl, but the sound we really listen for is the crunch, crunch, crunch of the deer coming through the woods.  They are almost impossible to see in the fall woods if they aren't moving and sounds like crunching leaves and breaking sticks are what we key on.  Until we get 15" of snow that is, with another three added Saturday for good measure.

 Now it's all sight and keeping the eyes peeled.  Nothing stands out like a brown deer on white snow.  They can be spotted easily before they spot you and the game is changed in the favor of the hunter.  The crows and ravens are still talking, and the chickadees that land on the stand seem to kick up their 6 note call when the snow hits, but most of the noise and sound is dampened.  So I'm sure you're wondering......did you guys get any deer?  Broken out by gender, our women hunters scored a perfect 100% for bucks on the pole.  The guys weighed in at a respectable 50% success.  Four bucks, two does, and more to follow on that in another post.  It seems funny to be working on a computer after nine days in the 19th century and this is invariably the worst and most jarring Monday work return of the year after being thrust into a completely different sights and sounds scenario to what I've been used to, but I guess it is  what it is.  Another Wisconsin deer gun season is in the books, our 30th year up on Reefer Creek, and we have snow on the ground.  All is right with the world in my book.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I woke up at roughly 4am this morning.  That's not uncommon and I usually fall right back to sleep after glancing at the clock and hitting the mental 'two hour snooze' alarm.  This morning my brain refused to be put back into sleep mode however.  It kept running over the check list of stuff I had to pack, stops I'd have to make, and loose ends I still have to tie up before I can leave for deer camp after work today.  So I got up, poured a cup of coffee, and had at it.  This blog post will just be one more thing I can check off in my single minded drive to get the hell out of the city and back up to Reefer Creek.

Like a lot of folks, I have that love/hate relationship with getting ready to set off on a major trip.  Perhaps if I was a  bit more organized the hate thing might be mitigated but I'm not, and most likely never will be any more organized.  Trips where you actually need to be self sufficient and that require specific interrelated gear are usually the most stressful.  If a person has a kayak and no spray skirt, a cook stove but no propane, or a rifle but no ammo, then they are pretty much screwed.  I have a sort of half assed check list but my main method of remembering stuff is to mentally walk myself through the process of getting ready to perform the activity, whether it be kayaking, deer hunting, or skiing.  I imagine myself getting dressed, gathering my gear, and literally getting into my boat or climbing up into my tree stand.  It's worked pretty well and I've rarely forgotten anything crucial.  Yeah, I should make a list and as my mental acuity plummets in my later years I most likely will have to.  But for now I mentally pull on my woolies, pants, sweater, swampers, and orange wool coat, take out my rifle, load the correct shells, put on my safety harness and fanny pack with knife, rope, and latex gloves, and climb up into my tree.  I would just rather run this check list at 6am than at 4am.

Part of the excitement is the excitement of the new season.  Whether it's loading up the kayak gear for the first open water trip to Lake Superior in April, tuning up the ski equipment for that first run of the year, or hauling out the hunting gear, the joy and discovery and of starting a new season never gets old.  I fondled the old LL Bean '40's vintage hunting knife that my grandpa gave me, took a nice big nose hit of my Bemidji woolen orange mackinac with the woodsy smell and the blood on the cuffs, and checked the pockets of my orange Duluth Pack for forgotten treasures, both cool and disgusting.  Tomorrow night I will be at camp, listening to the old stories, drinking beer and eating the traditional burritos (we all hope, anyway).  Saturday morning a touch before dawn, I will be climbing my tree in hopes of venison in the freezer.  I am going to have to say that deer camp feeling trumps the first kayak trip, opening fishing, or the first time I click the bindings on the cross country skis.  It's as good as it gets and I'm outta here, destination northern Wisconsin and the 19th century, in about ten hours.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a calm, sane, relatively non commercia lBlack Friday. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

When the gales of November come early

Actually the gales did not come early this year for our 8th annual Gales of November paddle.  The event has found a home on Goose Island on Lake Minnetonka and has kind of settled on the Thursday closest to the anniversary of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on 10 November. Weather has been a crap shoot over the years, with everything from 65F, sunny and flat calm, to horizontal snow being driven by a 20 knot northwest wind. It's a testimonial to the paddlers that have regularly attended that said attendance has not varied too much due to weather conditions.  What has impacted attendance is that pesky activity called work, the main thing that limits and inhibits all types of paddling.

As we sat around the fire in relatively balmy conditions after a nice paddle of an hour and a half or so, methods of disengagement from our vocational activities was discussed. I was a bit disappointed to hear that pretty much everyone just said, "I"m outta here this afternoon".  Heck,  I even threw up a photo of a car, suspiciously similar to my car, with a Valley Aquanaut on the roof and the teaser, "it  would appear to me that hooky is in the afternoon plan". It's just a bit more delicious to sneak out but I guess that the eight of us all possessed the flexibility to just head out for the rare afternoon work week paddle. As the rare sales guy who disdains golf, even in scrambles events which allow a second shot from the fairway rather than some guys back yard, another tee box, or the creek, I look at the rare afternoon of kayaking as a make up for the time I could have wasted on the golf course.  Heck, if you want to use the argument that lots of business takes place on the golf course, I could tell you about the roll ling student up at the GLSKS that turned out to be in management at a company we were looking to do business with. Given my intense work focus, even when out playing, I didn't even realize it until a couple weeks later but that's OK. I did approach one of my cohorts with a work question at our post paddle event at The Narrows Saloon, but I doubt that he has a solid memory of the conversation. I don't think I'll attempt to write off my beer and Dirty Stew on such a slender business connection. What I really need to do is interview those who didn't make it, those for whom work loomed more importantly than the tradition, camaraderie, and mental health benefits of an afternoon on the water.  A couple folks showed up that couldn't paddle but enjoyed the happy hour with the crew, a plan that's perfectly acceptable.

This is pretty much the end of the open water paddling season around here.  Gitchee Gumee will remain open until well into January and this year I've vowed to get out on the water if the snow refuses to cooperate, as it did last winter.  Pool sessions have already begun and at least a couple warm water paddle trips are being organized. At our place in Washburn the view of Gitchee Gumee was restored with one wind storm and we can now see the lake and the city lights of Ashland across the bay.  With any luck we will be skiing across that bay in three short months.  Once again the change of seasons in the Great Lakes region give we individuals with painfully short attention spans a reason to continue.  Embrace the change and enjoy the next season that's in the on deck circle.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Wolf Killing Begins

The wolf hunt has begun in Wisconsin and begins Saturday in Minnesota.  Minnesota seems to be a bit more conservative and cautious but then it would appear that their wildlife biologists and wolf experts actually had some say in the setup of the season, unlike my home state.  In Minnesota the 'harvest quota', a polite and inoffensive euphemism for how many wolves they plan on killing, is roughly 13%, 400 out of 3,000 total.  In my Wisconsin, where the regulations were pretty much written by a guy from a bear hunters advocacy group, it's damn near a quarter, 24%. As of Halloween Day, 44 wolves have been killed, 27 by trapping, 17 by rifle.  In addition, 74 more had been killed outside the wolf hunting season by federal wildlife services employees and landowners. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, in Wisconsin you can pretty much use any method you can think of to kill a wolf.  Bait, electronic calls, trap, hunt at night, and even run them with dogs if a lawsuit gets thrown out.  More on the dog aspect a bit later.  Trapping is by far the most effective method.  One grouse hunters dog has already been caught in a wolf trap and the story is here.  All kosher, according to the law, and the dog was unharmed (according to the owner, not the dog).  As a guy who has trapped both gophers and some beaver over the years, I can't get all holier than thou on the trapping thing. My opinion is that there is no long standing tradition of wolf trapping in the state, other than by the wildlife pros, and with all the other trapping possibilities I guess I fail to see how adding wolf trapping will enhance the outdoor experience.  The same point could be made about running wolves with dogs, an activity where the down side outweighs the upside considerably.
There is currently a lawsuit pending against the use of dogs, a suit which I believe will be heard on 20 December.  Hunting wolves with dogs stinks on a number of malodorous levels.  We are the only state, including Alaska and the western states, which is even thinking about allowing it.  When the bear dog guys train dogs, basically letting a pack of hounds run wild over the countryside, regularly disturbing certain people's relaxing happy hour reverie, they tree the bear, the owner says 'good dogs', drags them back to their pickup truck kennels, and then wait for the season to open so they can shoot the hapless bear out of the tree. Training dogs to hunt wolves would seem to inevitably result in a pitched battle between two groups of canines, an event that might please and excite Michael Vick, but not most people, especially the groups that filed the lawsuit, the Northwoods Alliance, National Wolf Watchers, and state animal welfare organizations.  Also, if I'm out for a relaxing afternoon of grouse hunting with my dog, and the pack of wolf dogs comes barreling through, what's to say that a dog fight won't break out between these unfamiliar canines?  If I'm standing there with a shotgun, watching a pack of dogs attack my dog, my only decision would be whether I had enough shotgun shells with the right size pellets to quickly and decisively rectify the situation.  That of course, would be bad news for all dogs and humans concerned.  Right now there do not seem to be any rules on when they can train, how many dogs can be used, or where they can be trained. Apparently soon a person can even run their dogs and hunt in the state parks in Wisconsin.  That should be great for skiers, hikers, and other state park users.  From a completely selfish standpoint, I don't want packs of dogs running through the woods where I am deer hunting, grouse hunting, or even making firewood.  Once again, Wisconsin seems to be the only state where this is even considered, not surprising given the way the wolf hunting regulations were formulated.

I think the classic hunting tradition in Wisconsin is being hijacked by some sort of redneck, whack job- type lobby coalition.  I love to hunt, my son loves to hunt, and my dad, grandfathers, uncles, etc. loved to hunt.  I used to trap and likely would again if I found a couple dozen of my lumber sized aspen lying on the ground with just the tops gone as I did a few years back.  I don't even mind 'new' species being opened up to hunting, especially large bearded birds that gobble.  But lets have the wildlife professionals recommend and set the seasons and rules.  And for God's sake, lets not turn this into another bleeding heart liberal nut case vs. Teabagger maniac political issue.  I am very near having my head explode with that crap and may need to go to the titanium stocking cap to prevent it. I hope I can make it through the next week.  We might want to look west to Minnesota, a state which retained it's wolf population when the rest of the lower 48 exterminated theirs, and see how their limited gun hunt goes.  Unless the agenda is to eliminate all the wolves once again, a goal that many of the gutless comment posters, afraid to use their real names on various pro wolf hunt websites, advocate.   Take the political bullshit out, let the pros do their job, and give us concerned grouse and deer hunters some hope that our tradition, the tradition of crisp fall afternoons in the grouse woods, rainy mornings in the duck blind, and cozy snowy days at the deer camp, will survive and flourish into the future.