Another Hunting Season Weekend in the Bag

It’s Sunday night, and I’m in the midst of washing all of the hunting clothing we use the most. We got out as much as possible this weekend in spite of the weather. It’s been chilly and rainy since last Sunday, pretty much.

We got out Saturday morning for duck, after Matt went out Friday night with his buddy. They’d seen quite a few birds (compared to so far this season), and shot a mallard pair- big ones. It  was a chill morning- my Weatherbug was telling me 36 at about 7AM, it would have been colder when we first got out around 5:45 or 6.  We didn’t see too many ducks all morning- most were small groups or pairs, out of range.

First light.

First light.

Dragging the decoy bag

Dragging the decoy bag

The big, fat, mallard drake.

The big, fat, mallard drake.

I'm on plucking duty.

I’m on plucking duty.

Late in the morning, however, there were finally geese. One single, probably young, goose came in low over the trees to our right, and landed in the spread in front of me. Forgetting momentarily that I had a 20 gauge, with only 4 shot, I tried to plug it. I hit him, but he barely even flinched before taking off.  Maybe 30 minutes later, Matt called a foursome of geese in. Two would land near our spread, but were extremely suspicious of our still decoys on the calm water- they didn’t wing in close enough to take a shot. The other two, unbeknownst to us, landed right behind us. They were scared out by a boater, taking the two in the spread with them. As we packed up, another group came over, and Matt managed to confuse the hell out of them by calling after our decoys were packed in. They couldn’t find the geese calling to them. We went home empty handed. At least his calling is getting better.

Saturday and Sunday night, we got out for deer. I was 100% totally skunked- my streak of not seeing deer continues, unabated. Matt, however. That lucky bastard had a shot on an 8 pointer Saturday night, but was busted drawing his bow- the deer was within 10 yards. He was pretty upset, but on the ground, I’m not too sure who wouldn’t get busted that close. Sunday, he packed in the ladder stand. And put it on a very small birch sapling.

His middle name may as well be danger.

His middle name may as well be Danger.

His view of the field.

His view of the field.

That left me with his pop up ground blind. Lucky for me, since it rained for the first two hours we were out. I was relatively dry, Matt was not. He thinks he saw the same 8 pointer come out of a different spot on the field- the deer here seem to not really have much of a pattern. We’re plotting to see when they hit up the nearby creek for water, and see if it’s far enough from the road to try to hunt.

So aside from everything being muddy and soaked, Matt is going on his annual big Deer Camp trip up in Buffalo County, on the Mississippi, an area known for large deer and good hunting. This camp happens on a college buddy’s private, managed land. He has yet to bring a deer home from it, but we’re crossing our fingers. He’s pulling out all the stops, and I’ll be helping him prepare for the trip during the week. It’s supposed to be gray and in the low 40s all week. I’m kicking around another hunt down in Illinois myself, but I have to work Sunday morning and Friday night, and there’s probably no way I’m getting out of either. So, I may just hunt by myself up here Saturday evening. I’ll be restricted to deer- I can’t duck hunt on my own.

Home made wine and duck decoys.

I have off Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Given how much I’ve been working this summer, I planned to get a ton of things done during this downtime. Duck season starts Saturday, and deer is ongoing. If I don’t do it now, it will never get done.

So. I spent my Wednesday chipping away at my (still growing) to-do list. I picked up around the back yard- dog poo, lawn furniture, sticks, dog toys, dying flowers, the works. I mowed, front and back. I treated the lawn for bugs and fleas, bathed the dogs, scrubbed the bath tub and bathroom. Plus, doing laundry, washing dishes, and making a short run to the grocery store. I have more to get done Thursday (organizing the hunting room, cleaning under the bed, going through my closet/dresser, running to Goodwill, cleaning Matt’s truck). By the time I was hungry, it was about 6pm. I was going to make myself a nice dinner, and enjoy a glass of wine.

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Yeah, that’s my homebrew. It’s good. This particular bottle didn’t really carbonate. There’s the tiniest suggestion of fizz to it, which isn’t all that bad, really. It reminds me of a nice pinot noir. I’m no sommelier, though, to be going on about tannins and floral notes, though. So, I made a pretty tame dinner of acorn squash and chicken, and had a very healthily poured glass of wine.

Matt came home in the middle of it, and decided to start getting his decoys set up for the duck opener. So, my livingroom, my nice clean livingroom (albeit in need of a few passes of the vacuum), is populated with a flock of artificial waterfowl.

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At least they’re all nicely rigged now, and won’t tangle horribly like last year. I have to work Saturday and Sunday morning, but Matt’s plan is to take a couple of the other recruiters with him, to get out in the field for a day, shooting. They do spend entirely too much time cooped up in the office.

Up Nort’ Eh?

Late Friday night, we began the trek up north for a hunting trip. I got off work and home around 8:45, and we left the house by about 9:30. The drive to Matt’s grandfather’s hunting land takes about 4 hours. We got there and in bed by around 2.

Matt's grandad has a liter log cabin. It's cozy.

Matt’s grandad has a literal log cabin. It’s cozy.

Last Saturday was the duck opener in the northern zone of Wisconsin, and Matt’s brother had been scouting the creek on the land the night before. His quote was, I believe, 300 ducks. Shooting time on opening day is 9:00 am. We were up around 6:30, getting things in our canoe, when Matt’s brother and his friend showed up with a canoe of their own. They’re duck hunting newbies like us.

Looking out over the rice.

Looking out over the rice.

Our wind-operated Mojo ducks

Our wind-operated Mojo ducks

We got the canoes in, and followed Matt’s brother upstream. This particular creek had at one point been a Class A trout stream, until the DNR seeded it with wild rice, slowing down the current and forcing silt to settle. It’s now a swampy little creek. Sad for the trout fishing, but the ducks just love the wild rice. Paddling Dragging and shoving canoes though it wasn’t any fun, but eventually we found a spot. We got one little teal that day- luckily no more than that, because finding that one duck when it fell into the rice was incredibly difficult. We need to get a retriever.

We called it around 10:30, and began to paddle back. We marked a spot that we figured would be better hunting, as the water wasn’t choked with rice here. Any falling birds would be easier to go get, and we could walk to a spot on the bank from the cabin.

We returned to the cabin to warm up and have lunch. Temps the night before had been in the 30s, and it was chilly in the morning, the day’s high was maybe 49, and windy. Brother’s friend was heading out for the day, but Matt, Brother, and I were all hunting- Brother and I for deer, Matt for turkey. Matt helped me put up my ladder stand- literally behind the cabin, over a mineral lick and some apples. Then he headed off to his grandpa’s farm, about 40 minutes away.

The view from my tree stand.

The view from my tree stand.

I got into my stand way earlier than I needed to, with it so close to the cabin. I was up there by 2:30. So, I spent the next 3 and a half hours looking around at the woods, nervously counting the piles of bear shit (my bow is not powerful enough to kill a bear, I’d only piss it off) mere feet from the base of my ladder, and trying not to doze off. The first deer I saw that night appeared right around 6pm.  They were well out of range, but I still enjoyed watching them- a doe and a large fawn. They wandered around in front of me for a bit, and the doe stopped to stare towards my stand. I thought she saw me, but she probably just smelled the apples under me. They left for a while, and I saw another deer even farther away doing deer things. A skunk scurried by, and I listened to coyotes for a bit, nervous at first that they were wolves.

Much closer to dark, I was thinking about undoing my safety harness and going inside (I am not used to the cold yet- the week before, we’d had temps near 90, and all of a sudden it was 45 and windy). The doe and her fawn showed back up. They wanted apples. The fawn crunched on the mineral lick for a bit, but the doe went to town on the apples. She was picking them up and flinging them. Not to mention chewing, snorting, and gulping so loud I could barely keep from laughing. She was healthy- big, fat, and sleek. I had only brought my buck tag with me, thinking my doe tags were only good for our area in Madison- they say CWD/Herd Control, and my buck tag says “Statewide”. So, I thought I had to pass on her. Plus, she had a fawn with her. So, I could have gotten my first deer, but decided not to. She hung out under my stand for a good 20 minutes, clowning it up, until Brother pulled back up to the cabin from the back 40.  I headed in, and once Matt showed up, we grabbed burgers at a bar in town. Then we passed out hard. More hunting in the morning.

We were up by 5 the next morning. We wanted to squeeze in some more duck hunting before jetting back to Madison so Matt could brief some kids about to ship to boot camp. Plus, opening weekend is this coming Saturday in the southern zone, and we know how crowded things get down here- it was nice to only have one other pair of guys hunting. It was a gorgeous day, dawning sunny and chilly at 35. A fog did spring up just as the sun came up, keeping a lot of birds on the water. Eventually we were able to do some shooting.

Brother’s friend got himself a nice teal drake. Matt got a wood duck drake. Brother’s gun jammed pretty hard, and he wasn’t able to shoot anything. But. I got my first duck. A mallard hen. A group of about 4 birds buzzed over us while Matt was searching the trees on the opposite bank for a fallen duck. Dismayed that we couldn’t call them in, we watched them fly away. But they turned, and they came back to us. She was flying directly at me. I lined my shot up, squeezed, and watched her crumple into the weeds near the bank. A smaller version of that rush I got from my first deer bloomed in my chest. I walked down the bank to grab my duck. Matt promised to mount it for me, and it’s sitting in tanning solution right now.

Not too bad considering we got this many ducks all of last season.

Not too bad considering we got this many ducks all of last season.

My hen.

My hen.

 

Not a bad start to duck season, even if I have to work during our local opener.

Early Goose Opener

Sunday and Monday morning, we opted to go to a place we discovered last year. Upper Mud Lake, on Madison’s southern edge, is the only lake in the area with no houses on its shores. This makes it legal to hunt (regs= within 3 feet of vegetation rooted to the lakebed, keeping you near shore, and no shooting within 100 yards of buildings), even though part of it is in city limits. It’s connected to Monona by the Yahara River, which is widened at this point and has a couple small marinas, as well as lake houses with docks. This channel goes under our local traffic bottleneck, the Beltline, and on into the lake. All along the access channel, the requisite 50 yards from the road, are permanent blinds people have put up.

Late last season, we got sick of the low water up at Cherokee, and tried this place out. We always saw lots of other hunters, but there were always a decent number of birds here,  and it was only about 10 minutes from our house (a real bonus at 4:45 in the morning). Matt got his first goose here, and he also got a couple mallards.

We launched our boat around 5:30 on Sunday, with other fishermen. We got plenty of weird looks when we loaded guns and decoys into the boat instead of poles and tackle. In the access channel, there’s a long, narrow island/sandbar splitting it longwise. One side is dredged out for bigger boats, and the other is left shallower for kayaks, etc. We set our decoys on the shallow side, and hid the boat on the deep side. There were some geese out while we set up, before shooting light. But those were the only geese we saw all day. The weird looks from anglers continued, and a kayaker paddled directly through our spread (not the first time this has happened). No geese, and we headed home around 9.

The same thing happened this morning. Saw geese across the lake from us, and the place is lousy with ducks. But, duck season isn’t until mid-month, and these ducks seemed to know it. I got some alright pictures, though. We have a couple more weeks, and we plan to get a mud motor in the meantime, so we can hunt up in the shallows on Cherokee.

One Last Summer Fling Before Fall and Life Catch Us Up.

Normally, my new posts go out on Mondays. But we got back from this vacation on a Thursday. I’m also working all through the weekend- closing the dining room tonight, and closing the bar on Saturday and Sunday. Those two days I also arrive at work by 11 am. They’ll both be long days. I’m not too sure how much I’ll have to write about come Monday, but I had an idea. You see a lot of how-to for packing for camping. I took some pictures of my get home, get unpacked process.

Anyhow. Last Monday I wrote about the salmon fishing we did last week Saturday. We stayed that night in the Appleton area with Matt’s brother and his wife. Sunday morning we hooked the camper back up, packed up the pups, and headed further north. We stopped at a little grocery store in a town along the way to stock up on food. It was a very pleasant ride all along country roads on a sunny day.  Farmers were haying, and that far north, we were seeing the outermost leaves on the ash and maple trees beginning to change color- in spite of temps in the 80s and up.

For the most part, we spent the week fishing. This was another National Forest campground- Richardson Lake. We camped here once last year in June, before I ever started this blog thing up. It was rainy and chilly the entire time, and we were stuck in a tent. At the time, the jon boat had only one trolling motor on a too-small battery, and the old Merc didn’t work. We also didn’t catch any fish.  Not so this time. We had the camper and the canoe. It was nice and warm most of the week. And were the fish ever biting. I didn’t get as many pictures as I would have liked, as my phone and only camera blew through its battery fairly quickly. I need to remember to turn off mobile data that far in the stix so it isn’t constantly searching for a signal.

We fished mostly there on Richardson, but one day we did go to a different lake, where Matt’s grandparents live. That’s where we caught the big pumpkinseed and the big bass. When we weren’t fishing, we were visiting Matt’s family and tooling around the area.

An Adventure in Wet Pants and Smashed Toes…

One thing I wish I’d gotten pictures of, but wisely did not take my phone/camera for was a trout fishing attempt. The Oconto river near Matt’s hometown is cold and rocky. It holds brook and brown trout. One of his old high school buddies took us down there for trout. It was rugged and beautiful. When we picked his buddy up, we should have known we were in for trouble. On the phone, he specifically requested Mike’s Hard Black Raspberry Lemonade and jalapeno beef sticks. He said without those, there would be no trout. He was waiting in his driveway in a pair of chest waders. Matt and I were in shorts and sandals. We went offroad in the Durango for a couple miles, and then bushwhacked our way down to the water. When I said rocky, I meant bouldery. And loggy. When logging was still a big thing in northern Wisconsin, they’d floated logs down the river, and you can still see some of the bigger ones. The rest are all deadfalls. We spent two or three hours scrambling over rocks, under trees, and through icy water. Matt dunked himself repeatedly. I didn’t go in over my knees until the last minute, soaking my right side. No trout, only chubs and smashed, tender feet.

Besides Fishing…

Other than fishing, we did some shooting. I got in some practice with my bow and got it sighted in. We also did some trap shooting, and I got more practice with my shotgun. Based on my practice, the ducks and geese have quite the upper hand this year.

We also went coyote hunting on his grandfather’s farm. The first morning we didn’t see anything. But we went our last night there (Wednesday). It turned into a bit of scouting. We saw at least 5 deer. We also saw a flock of turkeys. Three toms, three jakes. We didn’t see any coyotes, but they did answer our calls in the distance.

Blurry turkey blobs. I need a new camera.

Blurry turkey blobs. I need a new camera.

However, we started to hear thunder rumbling. On the way over, we’d caught some weather advisories out of Marquette, Michigan and Marinette. We hoped it would pass north of us, but then the thunder got louder and this happened.

Not good.

Not good.

It poured. We got soaked. The deer got soaked. The turkeys got soaked. We were mighty grateful for the camper when we got back to the site. Our firepit was full of water, and there were a couple inches of water standing on the ground over most of the site. If we’d had a tent, we’d have been screwed. We changed into dry clothes, and waited it out.

It stopped raining, and Matt decided to throw a line in the lake. Earlier in the trip the dogs had knocked my sandals into the fire, leaving me with only my hunting boots or my leather boots. I opted not to go. After about 20 minutes, Matt shut off the generator on me and said “I’m vetoing you. Come down here”. He’d had a pretty decent bite. We pushed the canoe out for some post-storm fishing. I caught a tiny blue gill, which we used for bait. And Matt finally caught a pike. But the best thing was the light at sunset.

Thursday morning, we headed out one more time to fish. In the pictures above, we kept 32 of the fish we caught. We tossed at least that many back, and used some of the really small ‘gills for bait (only in the lakes we caught them in). Once the morning bite stopped around 8:30, we packed everything in, and headed back home.

A Return to Normal.

Three hours later, we re entered civilization and our normal lives. I work all weekend. Matt works all of today (Friday). Next month he takes over the Madison recruiting office (for the next couple years), and I have the rest of the season to finish out at the golf course (who knows how long the weather will hold). By January, I hope to be back in college classes so I can maybe get this godforsaken degree of mine an inch closer to done.

This vacation was, I think, just a pause or a breath before we both enter a bit of a new chapter. Dealing with recruiting duty with Matt just a canvassing recruiter for the last three years was incredibly hard. The first several months of him running the office will be tough as well, particularly since he’s starting right when school does. It will be a different kind of hard. I’ll be paying down the last of what I owe UW-Madison from two years ago (yuck, I know), and saving up to pay for next spring. Our one touchstone through all of this mess will be our outdoors hobbies. Hunting, fishing, all of it. It keeps us grounded, and it keeps us together.

Chilly Sunday Morning Turkey Report

Well, we’re finally seeing and hearing turkeys. Which is a step up, I suppose. Saturday afternoon we went out after Matt got done with a work fuction. I sat in the front field out at Sunny Slope, and Matt headed back to sit in the spot I’d used the last two times I was out.

My decoys

My decoys

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It was a nice enough day. The high was about 53, and we had winds gusting to about 25 miles per hour. Once I got settled inside the treeline, one of my hens, a foam decoy, blew off across the field. I sprinted to go get it, only to watch my jake decoy get blown over in the wind. Once I got everything settled again, I started calling with my box call. About an hour and fifteen minutes after I dug in, I saw the flock, about 5 birds. They were waaaaay over near the road, eating in the field.

They will probably not be visible in this picture.

They will probably not be visible in this picture.

Too far away to shoot, and I can’t shoot at the road anyhow, I attempted to call them over. They stopped and looked at my decoys, and one of them ambled over. It was a hen, and she ended up flying off to another field.

I stayed put for a while longer, and another turkey peeked out of the treeline at me, but didn’t come close enough to tell if it was a male. Once it got on toward dark, the temperature dropped like a stone. The low forecast was about 33. I texted Matt that I was good to go when he was. A little closer to dark he told me to head his way on foot, to see if there was anything to flush on down.

I followed the ATV track up the hill, and as I came to where it enters the cloverfields, I saw three deer. They stopped when they saw me, but I was able to set down my decoys, stand back up, take a picture, pick up my decoys, and walk closer to them before they bolted. I got maybe 10 yards away. They were all good sized. They hopped the fence into the neighboring Christmas tree farm.

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As I walked closer to Matt, I saw more of those monster hoof prints I’d seen when we scouted for turkey a few months ago. Once I got to him, we walked up toward where we’d seen signs of turkey roosts, and we scared out another big deer. He hadn’t seen or heard a single turkey. Skunked again, we decided to come out for a morning hunt for once.

Dragging myself out of bed a little before 4 am today was the worst part of it. Once I was up and moving I was OK. We drove back out to Sunny Slope, and set up on the same front field. Just before the sun rose, we heard an actual gobbler somewhere behind us, up on the hills. So, I was wrong. There is a tom in these woods. But those early gobbles were all we heard of them. Once the sun was good and up, we looked around a bit to see where they went. Not in the field across the road, but on the western side of the public parcel, on a private hayfield. A tiny wedge was still public, so Matt parked the truck and we snuck a decoy out and tried to call them. Matt even waded across the tiny beginnings of Black Earth Creek to get closer. No dice. But we are getting closer. Matt’s napping right now, and I’m having a coffee. We’re trekking up to the land recommended to us near Cambria and Wyocena, just to tromp around a bit and see what’s there.

First Time Out: Turkey

I’m currently preparing to head out for turkey this evening. I don’t really know what I’ll see. Matt was out this morning by himself, and he didn’t see anything come close. I’ve got all my camo in my pack, as I just came in from putting in my garden. Plus it’s about 80 degrees outside- too warm to be wearing long pants and long sleeves with boots when I don’t need to. Got a knife, shells, my leaf poncho, water, and a butt-pad for sitting, too (otherwise my legs go numb). Matt has the decoys and calls with him, and I’m meeting him at his office on the way to the woods. I’ll take my camera just in case. Wish me luck!

Re-Visiting Last Year’s Hunting Grounds

We spent another weekend out looking for turkeys. Since we hunt on public land, and neither of us really knows the good spots (yet), doing the legwork to find the animals is essential.

We didn’t go fly fishing on Saturday as hoped- I ended up closing at work (I tend bar), which is just whenever the last patrons leave. I got done around 10:30. Matt had gone to the Deer and Turkey expo with some of his coworkers that afternoon. I had a text on my phone stating “Never let me into the expo alone again”. We have a lot of new toys. Anyhow, he was out with friends by the time I got home. I went and got him, and we went to bed. He wasn’t feeling great the next day.

I finally dragged him out of the house around 3pm. We decided to take a look at the public land we used for deer season  (SunnySlope), as well as sight in his most recent rifle purchase and attempt a coyote hunt. After I shot my doe there last Fall, I had seen a turkey walk across the field in front of me.

Here be turkeys. Or Dinosaurs.

Here be turkeys. Or Dinosaurs.

It’s all old cornfields-turned-clover, and not far along the old tractor access, we saw these. As we continued along the road to the back field at the top of the hill, we saw plenty more turkey tracks of all sizes. We also saw plenty of deer tracks. This was good, as after gun season, and late season bow, we’d barely seen any deer sign.

For reference, my hand is about 5 3/4" from the tip of my middle finger to the heel of my hand.

For reference, my hand is about 5 3/4″ from the tip of my middle finger to the heel of my hand.

We saw these monster tracks all the way back as well. This bodes well for deer season. This particular unit was pretty heavy on the deer sign last year as well. The problem is, it’s only about 7 miles outside of Madison, and it gets incredible hunting pressure. One of the last days we went out for the first gun season last year, we saw 5 other hunters. The very last day we went out for bow season, the high of the day was only 15 degrees, and we still saw two other people out there. Did I mention it’s only 240 acres? None of them really seem to attempt to move in and out quickly or quietly, and sometimes they’ll get up and leave right during the near-sunset time when the most deer are out. Very discourteous.

Anyway. We saw plenty of very encouraging sign. We didn’t see any coyotes though. On the way back to the car, we ran into a group of three hunters. This was the first weekend of  the first turkey season, and they were attempting to stalk a group of gobblers. We politely waited for them to move down the road, and away from our path so we wouldn’t mess up their hunt.

The view while we sat down and waited.

The view while we sat down and waited.

Matt played with his spotting scope, and we saw a herd of about 7 or 8 deer in the field opposite us.

You definitely can't see them here, but it's the field in the center of this photo

You definitely can’t see them here, but it’s the far field in the center of this photo

Sunday we got up early and trekked on over to Goose Lake again. We listened for turkeys, but didn’t hear anything. We hunkered down and tried to call in some coyotes. We saw plenty more ducks and geese. We could probably even hunt from the grassy field opposite the lake, since the geese fly in so low as they hop from lake to pothole to lake. Even the ducks come in low. This is a plus, since we don’t have a retriever and have to gather our birds from the water ourselves.

Cloudy sunrise

Cloudy sunrise

We didn’t see any coyote out. We also experienced one of the foibles of public land hunting, especially in an area as populated as the area around Madison is. Around 6:30 or 7, someone walked their dogs past us. We were laying on the lee side of a small hill, and he probably didn’t see us. Plus, since coyote are always in season as pest animals, it’s not a defined season, like deer, when many people avoid land used for hunting. Kind of the way it works though, as it’s there for everybody to use. We packed up and headed out.

Walking back to the car

Walking back to the car

We decided to drive around the country “block” Goose Lake occupies, as Matt had found a few other entrances/parking areas that would more easily access the far eastern end of this property. On the way over, we saw a decent sized flock of turkeys! I was a total flake and forgot to take pictures of them. We even pulled over to get a look at them feeding in a tilled field. There were 3 toms in the group and about 4 hens. Hopefully, they nest or spend some time in more of the woods on that eastern side where we can get at them. We also saw a few more groups, a bit farther off the road as we drove back towards home.

Next weekend, we may go and take a look out at some land in Mazomanie. With the high hunting pressure at Sunny Slope and the moderate traffic at Goose Lake from hikers and dog owners, having a third option would be a really good idea.

Tomorrow’s post will cover the progress we’ve made on the boat trailer.

 

 

 

 

Learning to Call Turkeys

This is a video from back in February. Matt and I had just gotten some turkey diaphragm calls, and we were learning how to use them. Rather, we were trying to. We were mainly perplexed at how to even use the things to make sound without choking on them. We definitely both almost choked on them a number of times before we got it.

 

I wanted to leave this video here for tonight. Tomorrow I’ll post what I made for dinner today. It’s been a while since I made a Wild Food post. And I should have up some photos of the flies we bought yesterday.