Hunting Season Draws Inevitably Nearer

I wanted to put together a bit of news while we’re in a lull just before hunting season. Early goose and teal both open on the 1st of September, and this year is Wisconsin’s first teal season. You used to just have to wait until regular duck season. We’re planning on canoeing and kayaking up to the very northern end of Cherokee marsh for the first time in almost two years, as that’s the only place we’ve seen them. I’ve asked a coworker if we can goose hunt in her family’s corn fields, since they already have people bowhunting. She’s getting back to me on that.

Matt went and bought all his permits at once this weekend. The roll of tags was about 3 1/2 feet long.

GE GE

 

Wisconsin really changed around deer tags this year. They cut the number of tags dramatically. We knew the zone up north by his grandfather’s land was going to be buck only this year and probably next, but they are also only handing out two tags, and they’re now these “Farmland Zones”. This year is also the first for crossbow hunting. He has a tag for that, and plans to get a crossbow in the next few weeks.

I haven’t bought my tags yet, but I plan on getting my waterfowl stamps and archery deer. I was invited back down to Illinois to hunt, so I hope to make a 3 day weekend some time in October once their season starts, and Matt hopes to come with this time.

He also has his bear tag. His hunt is coming up fast- it’s the second week of September, the 10th to the 17th. I hadn’t originally planned on going, since my classes will be on by then. But I also need to work that week, and all the rest of September as much as possible.

The reason for my needing to work is an exciting one. Come mid-January, I’m going to Germany for ten weeks. Back in May, I applied for an internship with the State Department. I found out late Sunday night (Monday morning in Germany) that I got one of the open positions, after interviewing with Leipzig, Düsseldorf, and twice with the Embassy in Berlin (Public Affairs Section and the Economic Section). The pool of German speakers was fairly small. I’m going to be assigned to the US Consulate Leipzig, pending receiving my security clearance.

This means I’ll miss almost all of ice fishing season, and the first week or two of Spring turkey. In fact, I may be heading out to turkey hunting within days of getting back stateside. The internship is done April 15th, and as of now, I’m planning on sticking around at least 2 or 3 days to get my stuff packed. Last time I went to Germany, everything was too rushed, and I left stuff behind, never to be seen again. There’s a lot of planning to be done. I’m waiting to buy my airline ticket until my clearance comes through, just in case. I need to find a place to stay, and I won’t be able to do that until about month before I go. And then I have to pack.

I’ve been looking in to fishing and hunting both in Germany, and both look tricky. I plan to do my homework  little more closely now that I know for sure where I’m going. I think it would be an amazing experience to see how the outdoors gets done in a foreign country, and to do it not as a tourist so much as a visitor with a decent knowledge of the culture and language. To do that, though, it seems I will need to both make some connections and very likely travel to either Austria or Switzerland (I do not speak Schwyzerdütsch). It’s a good thing Europe has a good train system. At the very least, I hope to travel at least a little while I’m there, and do some hiking, hopefully in the Alps. We will see how it pans out, I suppose.

Closing Day

Time to hang up the blaze already. Until doe and holiday hunts, anyway.

Time to hang up the blaze already. Until doe and holiday hunts, anyway.

Since we came back from up north late on Saturday night, we were in Madison for the closing evening of gun season. Matt had to do a little work Sunday morning, but we made it out by about 3 that afternoon. And what a change was wrought by warmer weather. I mentioned how very cold opening weekend was. And how cold it was during the week. Sunday was in the mid-thirties. As we came around the bend at Sunny Slope, there were five cars in the small parking lot. Remember that this piece of land is just about 250 acres. Cramped, when everyone has a gun.

I won’t gloss over it- it pissed me off. I’m not sure exactly what it is that forms the basis of my hatred for fairweather people, but it’s there. Maybe it was growing up and being a fan of Chicago sports- I get grumpy when the Packers fans up here turn off their TVs when they start to lose. I don’t know. It’s definitely translated to disliking people who fairweather outdoor sports as well. Opening weekend, there were two people out there besides Matt and myself. And I didn’t even see them- Matt did, and they hunted, then left. Since the weather had warmed up- Saturday had hovered right around freezing- I had halfway expected there would be more people out. But it still astounds me how inconsiderate people are.

I saw two other hunters and Matt saw one or two himself. From what I saw, and from what Matt told me, they probably had never been out to this area, much less scouted it. Of the two I saw, one lollygagged around for about ten minutes, and the other set up after I did, and we got there a bit late. He didn’t have a blind- he just sat in some scraggly tall grass across the field from me. He was facing entirely the wrong way to see deer where they tend to come out in this field, and to top it off, he was rotating every so often. Taking his coat off, putting it back on. The cherry on the top of all this was he left at about 4:45- about 25 minutes before dark. With a flashlight, when there was still enough visible light to read easily. I hoped he’d spook a deer out to me, at the very least, but no such luck.

I did hear and just barely see one deer Sunday evening, but with how many people were kicking around, I doubt I’d have ever gotten a shot- it was crunching around on the steep backside of the hill I sit on. And I only saw its neck at a distance between some trees. Our gun season definitely went out with a fizzle. Someone got a deer out there- we saw bloody drag marks in the snow and dirt.

I didn’t end up hunting Monday evening. Many fewer people use black powder rifles, given how difficult they are to load, and the extra cleaning required. I figured at the very least, I’d give the deer some peace and quiet. The DNR’s gun season numbers are in- statewide, the harvest appears to be down about 30%. After just opening weekend, it was down 18%. They’re blaming it on the intense cold and fewer people being out, but given how many tags are purchased each year, I don’t see why it couldn’t be a both/and between cold weather and a smaller deer herd over all.

One upside, however, is that we are finally, finally seeing migrating geese. I counted upwards of 100 overhead on Sunday, and have since seen more, as well. Hopefully, we’ll make it out for our first geese for the year soon. The season ends the 21st. Duck is done already. Many of the lakes and rivers up north are actually frozen. The Wisconsin river just north of us had decent ice when we crossed it headed north. We’re getting plenty of skim ice up here. Or we were, when it was still cold. When it dips again, it will restrict landing spots for geese. Our hunting spot has a current strong enough to slow skim ice, so they will hopefully be forced to land near us.

The Problem With Public Land is the Public.

This past weekend, we only got out on Sunday. Matt was out Friday night, and was only able to drag himself to the pool function, and then home to nap. His brother, sister-in-law and their newborn stopped by in the afternoon. His brother announced that their grandfather had given him permission to plant 12 apple trees and some food plots on the land up north. We’ll be putting that in with them and the skidsteer next Spring, which is exciting.

Setting up the decoys.

Setting up the decoys.

Dumping out his glove after tripping on a submerged log.

Dumping out his glove after tripping on a submerged log.

A whole mess o' coots.

A whole mess o’ coots.

It cleared up and became gorgeous.

It cleared up and became gorgeous.

GEWe did a double today. The morning was for ducks and geese. Or it would have been, if we’d seen any. The closest any ducks were to us was maybe a quarter mile away. No geese flying, whatsoever. The only birds we got were some coots, which have a daily bag limit of 15. They’re plentiful little critters, even if they’re only really good for sausage making. The skins will be good taxidermy practice for Matt, and I’ll grind them up with some pork fat or something and smoke the sausage.

GE

We got home around 10:30, after some gasoline-related mishaps at the launch (the truck was completely out and I had to walk a few blocks to the gas station). We showered, had coffee and brunch, and hung out for about two hours before heading out for deer in the afternoon and evening.

My view to the west.

My view to the west.

To the north-northwest

To the north-northwest

There was one truck in the parking area when we arrived around 1:30. Matt took his normal spot, and I opted to hike all the way to the back of the land.  I haven’t hunted here since the last day of last season- which would have been early January, on a day that was about 10F. In nearly three feet of snow. But this is the field I harvested my first deer in.

On the way back, I finally saw some sign around a puddle in an old tire rut. There’s a couple puddles like this that never really fully evaporate, even in summer. The deer drink out of them all the time, since the nearest water source next to them is the creek all the way up by the road. There were all sizes of hoof prints with those from does and fawns/yearlings dominating. But there were a couple big ones, too.

SAMSUNG

In spite of this, I saw only a turkey hen, two bird hunters, and two people lollygagging around, walking the field edge right at 4pm. About 45 minutes before the sun set. They stopped at the entrance of every game trail, and stopped to wave at me, oblivious to my growing frustration.

Seriously? Go home.

Seriously? Go home.

The turkey and hunters at least came and went early in the afternoon. I sat in an old stand in the middle of the field- Monday hopefully I’ll get brave enough to use the climbing stand and get inside the tree line of this back field. Even if it’s a mile hike, uphill most of the way. I have to find the deer here at some point.

Daily Prompt: Golden Hour

6AM. I was up at 6 this morning. In fact, many week end mornings, I’m up at 5.  Unfortunately, I was not up early to hunt today. I had to be at work a little before 8, and we were wearing Halloween costumes in today, so I had to put on my makeup for that. Today was our last public golf scramble, and the course was full for the day with 150 people. I made 50+ bloody maries this morning. And I make a mean Bloody Mary.

First light.

First light.

But I like 0600. Granted, it’s far easier to go out and hunt in the evening. You’re already awake, you don’t have to leave a warm bed. It’s light out already. But when I do manage to drag my ass out from under the covers, stuff my feet into boots, and pull on my camouflage? I go out, I usually spend a couple hours chilly, and then I come back and have the rest of the day. There’s something about being able to get up, go hunt for 3 or 4 hours, and then come back before it’s even lunch time. Most early morning hunts, I even beat my caffeine headache home.

Probably taken around 6.

Probably taken around 6.

wpid-2013-08-17-06.05.53.jpg

Salmon fishing Sunrise. In August, this was probably a bit closer to 5am.

wpid-2013-08-17-06.26.02.jpg

If I’m up that early, we’re typically after some waterfowl. We’ll hunt deer that early if we’re already up north, and it’s rifle season. Then it’s a short jaunt to the stand, no big deal. But down in Madison, it’s a 30-35 minute ride to the public land we hunt. So a person would need to be up around 4AM to be dressed and out the door by 4:30, to make it over there a little after 5, so that you’re there an hour before dawn at this time of year. It’d be pointless to go to that trouble only to be late and scare out deer. Hence, the quick drive down to duck hunt. Most bird movement happens for us within 45 minutes of first light. Sometimes there’s a bump in activity around 9, but it’s hit or miss.

SAMSUNGSo, on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I’m usually already bundled up, sitting outside, gun (or bow) in hand by 6AM. Sometimes, early in the season, I’ve already taken a couple shots by then. I like 6AM. I like 6AM especially if I made it to bed around 9 the night before.

 

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.

Awesome Dinner, Great Book, Friendly Author.

I picked up the cookbook at the restaurant.

I picked up the cookbook at the restaurant.

I mentioned about a month ago that I had made reservations for the Duck, Duck, Goose book tour. That was this past Sunday night.  I got back from Illinois early enough in the afternoon to get cleaned up and ready. The last time we’d been out anywhere fancy for dinner had been in June to the local Brazilian steakhouse with a bunch of Marines from Matt’s first deployment in Iraq.

Anyhow. Our reservations were for 6:30, at the bar at Forequarter, 708 East Johnson Street in Madison. Matt grumbled that the dinner was making him miss deer hunting, and it had better be good. The place didn’t have much of a sign, but I’d found it on Google Street View. We parked about a block away, and walked on over. It was already pretty busy, and the relatively small space was pretty full. We sat at the bar, and ordered drinks.

dranks

Matt got a brandy old fashioned, sweet, and I got an apple-pear cider. Matt didn’t care for his old fashioned- he makes his without any pulp, and this place is uber-crafty- it had a leaf in it that I couldn’t identify, in addition to what looked like preserved black cherries (instead of maraschino) and the standard orange. Mint maybe? My cider was tart-sweet, and fizzy. I liked it.  Then we got down to the ordering. Everything was a la carte.

I got three items- the pear and frisee salad with smoked duck liver vinaigrette, a watercress and shaved carrot salad with jalapeno salt and duck jerky, and then the duck steak- done rare on a bed of broccoli rabe, garnished with a deep fried chicken foot. Matt had the fermented duck sausage served with radishes and green onion. He even ate the vegetables (he’s a corn-and-potatoes-only sort of person). It was excellent. The duck liver vinaigrette was probably the best salad dressing I’ve ever tried, hands down. The duck jerky was good- I would like to try and make duck or goose jerky at home. The duck steak was best part though. Good, meaty flavor, with the cap of skin and fat on it to add richness. It was an awesome meal, no question.

Mr. Shaw was also making the rounds that night- he wanted a chance to talk to everybody, and he made his was around the bar to us. He grabbed me a copy of the book, and talked to us about the menu a little bit. Then we got to brass tacks- we were of the handful of hunters-and-eaters in the establishment. We talked for a bit about duck hunting and the varieties found here in the Midwest, and on the California coast. We even talked about burgoo stew and squirrel hunting for a little while. He let us work on the duck steak when it arrived. After we finished up, I decided to get the book right then, and asked him to sign it for me as I told him that his video on dry plucking waterfowl was how I learned to do it myself. He obliged.

To Amber- A fellow duck chaser and lover of burgoo and other awesome, if mysterious, foods. Hope you get years of fun cooking from these pages. Enjoy!- Hank Shaw

To Amber- A fellow duck chaser and lover of burgoo and other awesome, if mysterious, foods. Hope you get years of fun cooking from these pages. Enjoy!- Hank Shaw

As to the book itself- I’ve read through the first 25 pages or so- the Basics section on handling your birds in the field, domestic breeds, wine and beer pairings, plucking, gutting, the whole nine yards. I haven’t quite gotten to the recipes section yet, though. But I plan to make a few of the recipes with the ducks we currently have. We had our first frost Sunday evening- maybe the more seasonable cool weather will get the birds up and moving, and we can shoot some more. Or I can check Madison’s Farmer’s Market for ducks.

Buying Land Is Looking Better and Better.

There isn’t very much to report from the weekend. Not from me, anyhow. I had to work both Saturday and Sunday morning, missing the duck opener for the southern zone of Wisconsin. Matt got out, though. He only ended up taking one other recruiter with him, so he didn’t even need to take the canoe out. At least it’s fixed for next weekend- we’re headed back north, and this time Matt doesn’t have shippers on Sunday, so we won’t have to cut out early and zoom back to town.

I believe this is a taunting duck.

I believe this is a taunting duck.

I digress, though. Matt got two birds on Saturday. He woke up at 3:00 in the morning to go do it- with how crowded the duck hunting spots here get, you have to get out early and stake out. Even on opening morning, when shooting time is 9 am. He said they had plenty of time, and ended up napping a bit on the little island they were on. Apparently, there were ducks teasing them from 10 yards away all the way until shooting time. He told me there were also 9 or 10 boats that passed him, with 2-3 hunters each. That’s a lot of people. But, they had to bail earlier than planned- this spot also happens to be a bit of a party cove. The warm Fall has meant they’ve still been going out on the weekends, in spite of the gunshots.

So, I came home on Saturday afternoon to Matt and his buddy sitting in the front yard, smoking some cigars someone had dropped off at the office and drinking Mickeys. We were all pretty low on sleep- when Matt had woken up, he’d left lights on that woke me up, and I didn’t really get back to sleep before about 5, when I had to be up for work anyhow. Plus, we’d never really caught up from last weekend, and hadn’t slept much during the week.

His buddy left, and Matt and I tried to nap around 4:30. We ended up sleeping for 14 hours. He missed Sunday morning’s duck hunt.  I went to work at 6:30, got home around two. We went to Gander to see if they had any of the nice neoprene/Thinsulate chest waders Matt had gotten himself in anything close to my size. One pair of women’s, in size 10. My shoe size is about 7. And then a plethora of large men’s sizes- 9-13s, when I wear about a 5 in men’s. We went home empty handed, and got ready for an evening deer hunt.

Even this hunt would prove to be uneventful, though. Around about 6 o’clock, we began hearing gunshots, behind Matt. A little while later, two guys with rifles walked into my field. I waved at them, but they didn’t see me until they were right on top of me. By then I was not impressed at all, but they just sort of stared at me until I said hi, and told them to get on their way. I don’t think they spoke much English. They moved off, but I could hear them shooting the rest of the evening. I was sitting much closer to where that buck came out of the trees, but I couldn’t watch the rest of the field from here. I didn’t see any deer.

I won’t be able to make it out any of the evenings this week, sadly. I really want to check out the part of the property that’s oak forest, to see if I could set up over some acorns. If I don’t get to it this week, I might get a chance next week.

Our Ugly Old Canoe.

I’m not sure how much I’ve ever talked about it. Our canoe. It’s old. It’s ugly. And it leaks. I know I’ve uploaded a couple pictures of fish in the bottom of it, in pools of water.

Matt's little pike.

You can see the water under him.

You can see the water under him.

Last weekend, Brother’s friend observed that not only was paddling it like steering a semi truck, but “we also appear to be taking on water?”. We assured him that yeah, that was perfectly normal. Nights up north where we left it partially beached, we’d return to it and have to dump it out before me pushed off. Matt did buy it for $60 from a guy on Craigslist. That guy had repaired the hull with a piece of aluminum and some Bondo (not kidding). Watching Brother’s Friend paddle it around trying to pick up fallen ducks, I realized why we got all those funny looks. Thing is ugly.

Our ugly old canoe in the shelter we put up for Ditch Boat.

Our ugly old canoe in the shelter we put up for Ditch Boat.

Well, Matt’s planning on taking 3-5 people with him tomorrow for the duck opener. At least two guys from his office, and at least two I know of from the Janesville office. Our jon boat can hold 3 grown men, max, if we’re also hauling guns and decoys. So, the canoe is going with. But we both felt bad about sticking some poor fools in our leaky, tippy canoe for their first time duck hunting. Matt’s been meaning to fix the leak all summer, but doing it from the outside would mean sanding off all the paint, scraping off all the Bondo, removing that piece of aluminum, and starting fresh. He slapped on a BandAid for the time being. For permanent if it works out.

SAMSUNGHe laid fiberglass all down the middle, where the cracks were. It’s been drying under Ditch Boat’s shelter for the last few days. It’s been dry and relatively warm, with very low humidity. So, hopefully we now have a more watertight canoe for the newbs to use, and for us to have. It’s still pretty ugly, though.