The Happy Home Butcher, or I Can Explain Why There is a Laundry Basket Full of Meat on my Porch.

After shoveling the light, fluffy snow from Sunday off the driveway, sidewalk, back patio, and path to the garage on Monday afternoon, I was ready to sit down with a piping hot coffee- it was only about 10 degrees out. Preferably a sugar-laden something. But it was not to be. The venison from our two deer was exposed to the air. The cooler it was in was too full, and even in the cold, it was drying out. I had to butcher it.

Chest-o-meat.

Chest-o-meat.

So, I drag that thing around the house and in the front door (an added on doggie door panel makes our back door too narrow). I then set to prepping my kitchen and surfaces. I wiped everything down with some Soft Scrub containing bleach, got containers ready, labelled them, set out paper towels to absorb blood, and sharpened my knives.

Cutting boards in the foreground, packaging area on the far wall.

Cutting boards in the foreground, packaging area on the far wall.

Two chef's knives and my little whetstone. I prefer the 6 inch knife. The bigger one was if Matt showed up. I also had a boning knife and a cleaver handy.

Two chef’s knives and my little whetstone. I prefer the 6 inch knife. The bigger one was if Matt showed up. I also had a boning knife and a cleaver handy.

A good edge is a valuable thing.

A good edge is a valuable thing.

For the next 7 hours or so, I was elbow deep in meat. As a rule, I tend to separate everything into individual muscles or muscle groups. So, I de-bone the hind quarter above the shank, and cut out the big muscles there. That gives me the “football roast” (the deer’s quad), and then two other muscles (one very large, which I cut into steaks, and a small one I cook whole). The back straps from these deer got pretty mangled, so rather than the nice, neat medallion steaks like I’d prefer, they’re long, thin portions this year. I kept and cleaned up the ribs, and even on the younger deer there’s quite a lot of meat there, so those will be grilled come summer, I think. I really wish I had a clean bandsaw. It would have been nice to zip those in half down the middle to make the bones shorter on each cut.

I also saved half of the larger deer’s belly (brisket?), and a part of the smaller doe’s belly as well. They aren’t quite thick enough to cook like beef brisket, but they are quite fatty. Since Matt and I conferred and nixed the idea of venison ham until we buy a dedicated smoker (really worried about temp control in our grill/smoker), I decided I might try to salt these and smoke them into deer bacon. Bacon is smoked at a higher temp for a shorter time than a ham is, so there’s much less chance for error (and botulism!). I think bacon + maybe smoking some sausages will give me some good practice to work up to doing a ham some day. Plus, if I mess these up, the most we ever did with the thin, usually-mangled-from-the-gutting-process belly was to toss into the sausage pile or feed it to our dogs.

Last, but definitely not least, came the shoulders. The shoulder meat is pretty tough, given that deer spend their lives walking around constantly. Two years ago I tried grilling up a whole shoulder over low heat. It turned out OK, but there is a lot of connective tissue in there. Plus, this year I found Hank Shaw’s recipe for venison barbacoa. So, I demuscled the shoulders, too. The part I’m going to slow cook into barbacoa and shredded venison is the portion between the shoulder blade and elbow, which if my memory of anatomy serves, is the deer’s latissimus dorsi. The meat on the lower part of the front leg was sliced out to be jerky or sausage meat.

Here comes the part that was really exciting (for me). Once we got the deer home, we picked up a vacuum sealer.

I didn't think it was possible to love another small appliance after my Kitchenaid died.

I didn’t think it was possible to love another small appliance after my Kitchenaid died.

So. Once everything was butchered out, I didn’t have to mess with the hassle from years prior. I used to double-wrap everything in plastic wrap, and then foil, then label either the foil or a piece of masking tape on the foil with the cut and the date. And let me tell you, this thing works like a dream. Plus, it was pretty fun to watch it suck all the air out of each parcel. It’s also really easy to use a Sharpie and label each item, and you can tell what’s in there at a glance through the clear plastic.

So, by the time I got done with packaging and clean up last night, it was after ten. And already below zero outside. Our forecast low for the night was -15 before the windchill was applied. On top of that, our chest freezer is a mess. I need to reorganize it, and Matt has a bunch of taxidermy to-dos hanging around in there. It’s also in an odd, dark bonus space in our house, accessed only by a door from the outside. I didn’t want to mess with it in the dark and the cold. Plus, the air temperature was colder than my little freezer could hope to be.

Vacuum sealed items in this laundry basket.

Vacuum sealed items in this laundry basket.

I cleaned the cooler out, bagged the sausage met, jerky cuts, and random fat and tendon scraps. They went in there with the cleaned bones.

I cleaned the cooler out, bagged the sausage meat, jerky cuts, and random fat and tendon scraps. They went in there with the cleaned bones.

So that’s how I got a laundry basket full of meat on my front porch. It worked better than a flash freezer. It was solid within an hour, and this morning everything looked a good, fresh frozen.

As far as everything in that cooler goes: we haven’t purchased a vertical stuffer yet. It’s on the list for Friday. We’ll grind and mix the sausage and cure the jerky all in one day. With the considerable amount of tallow we have, I might attempt to render it. Matt wants to make candles (why? I don’t know), but his buddy’s fiance will be eating sausage from his deer, and she keeps Kosher. So, when we grind his deer, we won’t be able to cut it with pork like we normally do. She’s being pretty understanding of us using the equipment we have, and I just want to try not to put anything not-Kosher directly into her food. I might be pulling to grind up some of the tallow to cut their sausage with. We’ll also have to find non-hog casings.

My plan for our sausage is a couple summer sausage logs maybe, and then some breakfast links and bratwurst, or a kielbasa style sausage to smoke as a nod to Matt’s very Polish heritage. Or some bangers for my Irish ancestors. Anyhow, all that will be done Friday.

 

Wild Food: Salmon, Two Ways.

So, there’s some stuff you may not know about me.  Yeah, yeah, I’m a person from Illinois living in Wisconsin, which opens me to all sorts of general harassment (particularly relating to football teams). I grew up in the Land of Lincoln. I also went to college there, fresh out of high school. I then dropped out of said college in the middle of my junior year. And then I just kinda…stuck around. My dad in 2006, and then 2 years later my mom and sister left Illinois to move to Arizona, and then Oregon. I had only extended family in my hometown, so I stayed in my college town, worked as close to full time as I could, and sort of hung out.

That ended up being a lot of food service jobs. My friends and I made trips in to Chicago and its suburbs quite often- the closest Metra stop was only 15 miles away in Elburn, and it was only an hour drive to the Loop.  At some point a boyfriend at the time dragged me into a sushi restaurant for the first time. And that was pretty much it for me- I adore sushi. There was an all-you-can-eat, $17.99-deal sushi place off Dundee Road in Palatine where I ate sushi until I hurt more times than I care to count. The sushi place in Geneva off 64 wasn’t bad.  I went to Jurin on Randall Road in Elgin plenty of times, too. So, when a Japanese restaurant finally opened up out in DeKalb, and we didn’t have to drive 20 miles just to get it, that was really something.

I’d eaten there a handful of times already when I took a job at a specialty grocer. I worked in their deli kitchen, where they catered from. And it was three straight weeks of 12 hour days, with only two days off in the middle. When I asked the owner a question one day, he screamed see-you-next-Tuesday in my face. I walked out, and applied to be a delivery driver at the Japanese place. I started two days later.

I worked there for a year and a half, 45 hours a week, right up until I moved to Wisconsin in early 2011. I learned a lot working there. I learned that even in blind taste tests, I don’t like hog intestine soup. I also learned hibachi cooking and sushi making. I was no sushi chef, but the actual sushi chefs let me play around when it was slow, and I watched them enough to pick up quite a bit. So, when we caught those salmon on Lake Michigan back in August, I had an inkling of what I wanted to do.

Since we were at first undecided on whether to smoke them or grill them, they got frozen together in one bag. As a result, I made so much food tonight that I’m considering giving it away. I first followed this set of instructions  on making sushi rice. I don’t have a rice cooker, and after nearly three years, I was a little rusty on the process. So, while the rice cooked, I cleaned the salmon up- I cut the fillets off the sides, pulled the pin bones, and skinned the ones I was using for sushi.

GE GE

 

By then the rice was done, so I stirred and seasoned it according to the instructions. Then I made the teriyaki I was going to use on the cooked salmon. I’m especially proud of this one. It’s a maple-brown sugar teriyaki.

Giant jug of soy sauce from when we still belonged to Costco. Moscato subbed for Mirin.

Giant jug of soy sauce from when we still belonged to Costco. Moscato subbed for Mirin.

I would reserve some of the mixture, and add a couple extra tablespoons of maple syrup to it.

I prefer sashimi over nigiri any day of the week, but I’m a bit leery of just eating Lake Michigan salmon plain. So, I made a couple nigiri, and three rolls. One salmon, avocado, and cucumber, one salmon and spicy mayo avocado, and one with avocado laid over the top, all fancy.

The rice texture was spot on.

The rice texture was spot on.

GE

My first roll was a bit rough.

My first roll was a bit rough.

GE

But I still got it.

But I still got it.

Now, the raw salmon looked orange enough when it was still one piece, but after it was cut up, it was definitely paler. I’m going to guess that since these salmon never make it to the sea, their diet is different enough, and lacking in the krill with the red-orange pigment that they won’t be bright orange. Also, they aren’t fed artificial carotenoids like farmed salmon. Ah well. Sushi finished, I turned to cookery.

Before starting the sushi rolls, I had dipped the salmon I was cooking into the teriyaki mixture, and then refrigerated them to marinate for a bit. At this point, I took them out, placed them in well-oiled cast iron pans, brushed them with the reserved, sweetened teriyaki mix, and put them into a 300F oven.

While the salmon cooked in the oven, I added yet more syrup to the reserved teriyaki mix, and then I put that in a small sauce pan over medium heat to bubble away and reduce to a thicker sauce. I also heated up some oil in my wok, and fried some rice. The salmon was done quickly, and I plated up some for myself and for Matt.

GE GE

 

So, I ended up eating a plate of cooked salmon and fried rice, as well as half of the sushi rolls I made. I’m not really too full. I blame it on a hard lower body workout at the gym yesterday, as well as a tough upper body session today causing me to crave some serious food. Ever since I began lifting weights with seriousness, I’ve eaten way, way more. How did it taste? Good. The texture wasn’t as firm as you generally get from salmon you buy, but these fish were caught in late summer- perhaps that had something to do with it. They were also very lean- there wasn’t really any fat layered in the muscle.

I’ve got the other half of my rolls left, as well as a couple teriyaki fillets. And that’s in addition to all the salmon scraps from cleaning the salmon we’d only gutted at the marina. So I’m thinking that in addition to this dinner, I will probably get a fancy version of the canned-salmon patties my mom used to make. I’m also considering trying to use the salmon scraps to make stock- but I have yet to find a recipe.

On Wood Heat

A month ago, I didn’t have a pen or paper to hand, much less the will to sit up in the dark, fumble with the lantern, and wake up my boyfriend. I also haven’t taken the chance yet to sit down and write anything about it. But I started this October tenth, around 9:30 or 10 in the morning. I’ve cleaned it up about as much as a post this length could be. We also just had our first good freeze last night- it dipped into the 20s. This week won’t break out of the 40s. Our (gas) heat’s been on for over a week now. This seems appropriate.

It was late. We’d just arrived back at the cabin after eating at a bar in town, gotten a fire going, and blown out the Coleman lantern. I was lying in the bunk, inside my sleeping bag, waiting for sleep to come. The smell of dry firewood catching in the wood stove permeated the cabin as the fire crackled and popped into life.

Plenty to keep warm.

Plenty to keep warm.

 

It isn’t just campfires that spring to mind when I smell wood smoke. Or grilling, though both of those things are there in the background. The house I grew up in had central gas heat. But we never really used it. In fact, sleepovers at grandma’s, or at friend’s houses, my mom would warn us to pack sweatshirts and thick socks with our warm jammies. We wouldn’t be used to the 50-60 degree temps in houses warmed by electricity or gas. Our house was a steady 75+ degrees. And dry. We never had a problem with mold or mildew, especially in the basement.  That’s a problem I’m still slightly perplexed by it when it happens. The floors were always warm. The smoke stained the walls, though.

My grandfather lived in the hills in Kentucky in the warm months. It was the middle of nowhere. He had electricity that he used sparingly, and no plumbing. He loved it. But as he got to be an older man, he couldn’t get around as well in the winter. Never even mind that George had smoked Lucky Strikes like a chimney for 30 years after leaving the Army once World War Two was over. He had emphysema to boot. So, in winter, he would spend time at his daughters’ houses in Illinois. When he stayed with us, he didn’t mind taking the spare bedroom in our unfinished basement in the least. It was warm as could be down there.

Our house wasn’t big, fancy, or all that pretty. My hometown had been a coal mining town when it was founded in the 1800s. The mines had been just outside of town, though town would eventually grow up around the mine shafts when they closed. In fact, just down the road from us, one of my childhood friends grew up on Shaft Street, which had one of the only steep hills in town (Illinois, remember)- it was a boarded up, back-filled mine shaft entrance. It was fun to ride our bikes down. Our house had been a coal miner’s shack. Only the kitchen was original; it had had a basement dug underneath it, and the livingroom, bathroom, and two bedrooms added onto it.  It was sided in pebbledash stucco. The front porch was a concrete slab that was slowly collapsing.

My parents bought that little house when I was two, right before my younger sister was born. It was on a double lot- right around an acre of land, even though we were in town. The house came with a tree trimming and felling business. A big, yellow, aluminum Morton building at the back of our yard housed an old, white GMC boom truck; an ancient International dump truck and the industrial sized, yellow Eureka wood chipper it pulled parked in front of the shop. Dad would add to the collection of Stihl chainsaws and old dump trucks, eventually purchasing two smaller trucks: an old red Ford that ran like hell, when it wasn’t running entirely too rich, and an old red Dodge, which had a gas tank so rusted on the interior that my dad and his crew would take extra fuel filters with them on jobs outside of town, and swap them out on the side of the road.  He got the dump trucks from salvage, making them run again with trial and error and memories of high school auto shop. He also maintained the old GMC and the International. He could stand up inside their engine cavities to work on them. We joked that they were all Flintstone trucks- the floorpans of the cabs were rusted through in places, and when we begged my dad to accompany him when he dumped the wood chips and mulch, we could see the road passing underneath us as we drove down the road. He would let us control the hydraulics of the truck beds at the dump sites sometimes, too. I learned to steer sitting on his lap in those big old trucks.

The wood Dad hauled home from other peoples’ yards in those ratty old dump trucks was our heat. The tree trunks that were straight enough came back intact, and dad would sell them to a guy with a mobile saw mill. But the branches and other assorted chunks would be chopped to heat the house in cold weather and be grill wood in summer. Large branches and chunks were placed on the diesel log splitter, and once they were more manageable, Dad split them by hand with his maul.

I can remember playing outside in the Fall and Winter, out of sight of Mom in the house, behind the International and the yellow building. Dad keeping an eye on us while he chopped- set the piece upright, wood grain perpendicular to the ground, lift the maul overhead, pause, swing, chop, thunk. The two smaller pieces would fall to either side. Helping him to stack it into piles. Covering it with tarp. We would run after or alongside him in the afternoons and evenings to stack firewood into the beat up old steel wheel barrow, and try to keep up as he pushed it, bumping along, up to the house and carried the wood downstairs. I remember him building the fire up to burn through the night, and I remember hearing him waking up before dawn every morning, starting coffee and clumping downstairs to build the fire back up. Through the floor and register: the creak and groan of the stove door opening, the clunk of firewood being tossed onto the coals, and another creak and groan before the door banged shut. He remembered getting up as a child to go milk cows in the winter, without having a fire going yet. He hadn’t liked it.

We would come in from playing in the snow: snow suits, boots, mittens, socks all soaked. The wood stove was tucked into a corner behind the wooden staircase for the basement. We’d leave all our wet clothes on the steps in front of the furnace. They would be dry in an hour. Sometimes, we’d have weenie and marshmallow roasts in the middle of winter over the fire. At Christmas, my parents put our letters to Santa into the furnace, telling us they flew up the chimney and to the North Pole. We were gullible kids. Most winters, the snow within two feet of that corner of the house and the chimney melted away to bare ground.

Our favorite wood to burn in the winter was dense, hard oak and hickory. I can still pick out oak and hickory smoke when I catch a whiff of it. Someone on our street here in Madison has a wood-fired stove, too, and sometimes they burn oak. That chilly October night up in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, 419 miles from where I grew up and lived most of my life so far, we were burning oak and hickory. The sharp, clean smell of the dry wood burning tripped old memories in that hazy space between wakefulness and sleep. I was warm, and my wet clothes were drying on the steps near the stove.

 

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.

Opening Day, 2012. My first deer.

Bow deer season opens this Saturday in Wisconsin. I’ve requested that day off, and gotten it. For the rest of the season, my weekends are scheduled around hunting. In some places, the season has already begun. I’m beyond ready. We didn’t do much this past weekend, so here is the story of my first Opening Day gun hunt, and my first deer.

It was a Saturday in November of last year. The 17th, to be exact. It was opening day of gun season. However, we hadn’t been out for deer at first light. Throughout bow season, we’d spent the mornings on the water for ducks and geese, and the evenings in the woods for deer, nearly every weekend.  Even though it was opening day, this Saturday had been no different. Luckily, we’d moved away from spending literally all day in the blind- bird activity slacked off around 9 or 10 am, and we’d headed in about then to come home and have brunch.

Fueled up and in a change of camo, we headed out to our public land parcel. Early for an evening hunt. We got there around 12:30 or 1 in the afternoon. In spite of the land being near town, and popular to boot, I don’t remember seeing any other hunters’ trucks there. We certainly didn’t see anyone hiking in. Praising our luck, we started the hike up the hill to the back field of this property.

As we neared our destination, we decided on where we would stake out. Matt had his climber with him, and took one of the only spots we’d found with trees straight enough- Just inside the treeline on a heavily used game trail. It was on the edge of the back of the hill, where it drops down fairly steeply into some thick, brushy woods before the property ends at Airport road.

I opted to go a few hundred yards counterclockwise around the edge of the field from his location. I only had a folding tripod stool and our little ground blind in my pack. It’s this style, which makes it very portable. I had my choice of game trails coming up out of the brush down the hill.  The land here sort of rolls, so I picked a spot where I could see two of the three. It was afternoon, and I was on the west edge of a field. The trees cast their shadows over my head. The wind was out of the north-northwest at about 5-10 miles per hour. I was settled in by a little after one.

Looking south east from my blind.

Looking to my right (southeast) from my blind. Matt would have been to my left by several hundred yards.

After our very hot, very dry summer last year, we had a very warm Fall. Now, Autumn has been getting warmer and warmer since I was a kid- I remember being in college, walking to class, and it being 80+ degrees one year. In October. But the warmth really stuck around last year. This particular mid-November day was a little over 50 and sunny. I was in a blaze orange coat, with a stocking cap on. I had just hiked a mile, uphill. I was warm, to say the least.

I’m also an epic fidgeter. It’s not that I’m bored, really. I love to just sit and watch Nature happen around me. But  I checked my gun across my knees. I unzipped my coat. I arranged my pack at my feet, adjusted the height of the blind. Made sure I was low enough behind it. I took off my gloves. I did it all fairly quietly, at least. I’m working on that.

Finally, I sat still for a bit. I could hear gunshots in the distance- other hunters’ opening days turning from good to great in just moments, just by the addition of a sharp eye some luck, and a bit of gunpowder. I watched a fox run along the top of a groundswell a few hundred yards from me. Then a turkey. Minutes passed, and I watched some turkey vultures lazily circling a few times before flying away. A few crows. I listened to farm dogs barking somewhere.

My ears were itching, so I rolled my hat away from them to take care of that. Suddenly, a flash of movement to my left. I turned, with my hands still on my head near my ears. My eyes found the source of the movement, frozen at the top of the swell in the ground, coming from the trail I’d chosen to not be able to see. My brain, new to all this, shorted out on me. It went “A dog?! Who the f*ck lets their dog run during gun seas… holy shit.” The deer wasn’t the only one frozen in place.

She was upwind of me, maybe 15 yards away, looking at me head-on. I was short and slouched enough behind my blind that she could only see my head. She stomped her front hoof, flicked her tail. My heart was thundering away, but time slowed, and my breath came slow and steady. As slow as slow could be, I lowered my hands to shoulder level, and then down to the 12 gauge lying loaded across my knees. The doe turned broadside, lowered her head, and took a few steps closer on a diagonal to figure out what this creature in the shadows was. Just as slowly as I lowered my hands to my gun, I raised it to my shoulder and cocked the hammer in one motion. I took three breaths as I traced her movement closer, found the area behind her front shoulder with the muzzle of my shotgun.

I remember squeezing with my right index finger. I remember a tremendous kick, harder than from the birdshot I’d been using in this gun.  It takes more to get a slug moving than pellets, I would think. I shook my head- shooting the 12 gauge always leaves me a little bit disoriented and shell shocked. In less than a second, the ringing stopped, and I looked to where the doe had been standing, knowing my newbie self had for sure missed, and yet hoping that I hadn’t.  At first, I didn’t see anything, but then my eyes found windmilling hooves. She’d dropped where she stood. A rush hit me then, and the joy of hunting clicked neatly into place in my head. I was hooked.

What happened next in my mind is clear as crystal. I stood and reached for my cellphone in my pocket- I had to tell my dad! But more movement caught my eye. A flash of gray and a white tail, out of range of my now empty shotgun. A buck, fleeing. He’d been just behind her. He ran a few hundred yards away, and turned to look at me. He watched me for two or three minutes as my shaky, adrenaline filled hands texted Matt (we don’t have walkie talkies) that there was a six pointer headed straight for him before he continued running away.  Next I texted my father in ALL CAPS. Judging by the deluge of text messages that came next, my father then jubilantly called my entire redneck family, and the not-redneck ones, that I had gotten my first deer. The only time I’ve heard him happier was when my nephew was born.

Matt’s frantic text came through once I had sent off the one to my dad. “DID YOU GET ONE?!”. I responded that yes, I had, but a buck was still headed to him.  A couple seconds later, I heard his gun’s bark. He texted me that he’d hit it, but it kept running. He was headed my way. Only a couple minutes had passed, and I was still standing, shaking. First things first. I opened the breach of my shotgun, expelling the spent shell. I set it down on my pack, and walked over to my deer. I was turning her over as Matt walked up.

He asked me how far she had run. I said ” She didn’t”. He saw she was shot through. At this point, it was only 2pm. He congratulated me on my shot and hugged me. We decided there was plenty of shooting time left, and no other hunters out. We dragged it to the shade of a thicket of trees in the middle of the field, so as not to throw off any other deer that might come through. We returned to our stands, but didn’t see anything else the rest of the day.

At dark, we tried to follow the blood trail of Matt’s buck, but we lost it in the brush on the back of the hill. It hadn’t been a very strong trail. We returned to the doe carcass, and cleaned it. Then we dragged it the mile back to the truck.

We would come out again the next day. Matt took the old tree stand in the hackberry thicket where we’d stashed the doe the day before. A previous owner had found it an equally good hunting spot, and put up a stand in the tallest tree. It was grown over, but it would serve. I chose a different field, almost a quarter of a mile away. I wouldn’t see anything but other hunters that day. But late that afternoon, I would hear Matt’s gun. Then a second time. And a third, and a fourth. And a fifth. All spread over about 20 minutes. After the third time, I texted “did you get it that time?”. He responded “I don’t know”. After the fifth shot, I waited until dark to pack up and head to him. Apparently, the buck he was shooting at had just been running between Matt’s stand and the treeline, in spite of being shot multiple times. After the fifth shot, it had stayed in the woods. We prepared to track it. No need. It was only 10 yards inside the treeline. Matt took the front and I took the back, we hauled it out. As he was cleaning it, we noticed a dried but recent wound on its foreleg. This was the sixpointer from the day before. He had grazed its leg, and it came back to the same field. Matt was thrilled. It was his biggest buck to date.

A low-quality picture from Matt's iPad of me and the doe once we got it home.

A low-quality picture from Matt’s iPad of me and the doe once we got it home.

I've uploaded a photo of his buck before. This is the DIY European Mount.

I’ve uploaded a photo of his buck before. This is the DIY European Mount.

What came next, I’ve covered already. That Monday was warm- 70 degrees, so we skinned and quartered the deer, then froze them. This became a problem later, when I finally began to process them. You can read about that here, here, here, and here, if you haven’t already.

I’m ready for Saturday. I want to get a deer with my bow this year. It would be another first.

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.

Wild Food: Gone Pickin’

When I was a kid, my parents bought a small parcel of land about 3 miles outside of the town I grew up in. It was 7 acres, situated between some farmland, an old, disused gravel pit/pond (the site of much youthful trespassing, fishing, and swimming), and some rural residential areas. The back portion, away from the road, was low woodland, with a small creek flowing through it. We camped back there, fished, and dad hunted. The front half of the land was a bit higher, out of the flood area of the creek. The previous owner had done some demolition, and used it to dump construction refuse- old concrete, rebar, and lots of the red Barr bricks manufactured in my home town. So this part of the property was sort of a weedy, concrete-strewn meadow. My dad used it to dump wood chips from his tree cutting company there, but it was also chock full of wild blackberry brambles and black raspberry bushes.

Every summer, we would suit up in old jeans, tall socks, boots, long sleeves, and all the mosquito repellant we could get our hands on, and go out berry pickin’. I don’t really remember how much we would pick. It was enough for a couple pies or cobblers. But from then on, I was spoiled for store-bought blackberries. To this day, I don’t care for them- too big, and they only taste like water. They don’t bake up right, either. My eye was also trained. Out running on the trail at college, I could pick out blackberry canes, and I made more than one berry-eating pitstop, returning to my dorm or apartment with purple fingers. They grow along the bike path near our house in Madison.

Naturally, I also noticed the sheer abundance of berry brambles on the public land we hunt. Even in Fall, I knew I was sitting behind the canes of blackberry bushes while I waited for deer, and not just because I sat on their thorns. I resolved to get berries for the first time since my early teens.

Fast forward to this past weekend. Matt’s gone, and I can’t back up a trailer to save my life. Fishing’s out. However, factoring in the difference in agricultural zone between my home area in north-central Illinois and where I am now in southern Wisconsin, I had a feeling we were in about the right time for blackberries. My walk last Wednesday confirmed it- enough berries were ripe to justify going picking.

Saturday afternoon, I dressed in jeans, tall socks, my Chucks, a long sleeve, and a ball cap. I took two cans of bug spray with me, an old pillow case, and drove over to Sunny Slope.

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Pillow case turned berry sack.

Pillow case turned berry sack.

It was a lovely, warm day. I found berries before I even got to the fields.

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Dismayed at first to only find unripened berries, I wondered how much longer I’d have to wait. A few feet further along brought me to the glistening black beauties you see in the second photo. Pleased to have found any berries, period, I kept moving. However, the county had someone out mowing the clover. He was in the field where I scared out that turkey tom back in May. It was a great big hay mower, and I had no intention of getting in his way. I picked a different field. He would eventually catch up to me, though. He got out of the cab of the machine, and nervously asked what my plans were. He didn’t want to mow me down with the clover. Agreeing with him that such an outcome would suck for me, I also agreed to stick to the one he’d finished already. I’d already finished the field he was moving to. In spite of the heat and the skeeters, I had a pretty good time. I got a decent number of berries. But my day out berry pickin’ was cut short by the mower and an emergency call in from work. I cut out to head home after only two hours.

First sight of the mower

First sight of the mower

Half and half.

Half and half.

More than slightly grumpy about the whole work thing, and with only two pounds of berries, I decided to head back out on Sunday and hit the back fields. I arrived, and the gate was shut- at least there wasn’t a mower or a baler out today. I began the mile hike to the back of the property. It was a pretty slow process, because the number of berry bushes along the mostly shaded back half of the tractor access surprised me. I picked probably a pound or so before I even got to the back fields. 

I walked around the field counter clockwise from where I entered it. At first, I saw only red raspberry canes, which had few berries on them, if any. But as I walked up the hill a bit, there were more blackberries. More here were ripe than on the front of the property. Luckily, there was more wind Sunday as well, because I was standing in place a lot more to strip bushes, and it kept the mosquitoes at bay. The best bush I came across, though, was behind some wild beebalm. It was huge, and I would say about two pounds of berries and a lot of my scratches came from this bush.

Beebalm and blackberries.

Beebalm and blackberries.

In this part of the field, I didn’t end up stripping as many of the bushes of ripe berries. There were a lot I just couldn’t reach. The field margins here are a lot deeper for whatever reason, but I’m ok with leaving a couple berries for the birds and deer (or so I tell myself).

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Anyhow, I moved through this field much more slowly, as it’s both larger than any of the other fields, and it had an astonishing number of berry bushes. Before I knew it, I’d been out in near-90-degree weather picking for three hours. I was mighty thirsty, and the hand holding my berry sack was getting tired. I finished up this field, and did a quick buzz around the fourth field. There weren’t as many bushes there, so I headed home. I picked almost five pounds of berries.

Five pounds of berries.

Five pounds of berries.

As you can see from the photos, not all of the berries were ripe. I’m thinking that I may go back out next weekend to check out whether they’ve ripened or been eaten by then. And I’ll do it with a second set of hands, because Matt will be home. He doesn’t even like fruit, but he volunteered to help.

With now seven pounds of assorted berries (blackberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries), I plan to do some research to see how much juice I can get from them. If it’s a gallon, I’m going to make a trip to our local homebrew store to pick up some yeast, corks, and a few other things. We have glass carboys and other basics from previous forays into homebrewing. I want to make some wine, and possibly carbonate it, but I won’t rule out home-brewed blackberry soda. If I have enough leftover, or if we get some next weekend, I’ll make pie and cobbler. That’s if I don’t eat them all fresh before then.

Caught purple-handed.

Caught purple-handed.

There’s Always Next Weekend.

Let me tell you about my weekend. It was a doozy.

First off- I had all last week off, as I had met my monthly max of hours at the golf course I work at. And even though Matt was home till Tuesday, those last three days wore on me. See, I like working. It gives me something to do. And even with a mountain of chores around the house, I’d rather be making money. So, I made it to the gym plenty, got the rest of my garden in, cooked dinner a few nights, got the registration on the car renewed, mega-cleaned the house, and grocery shopped. But except to go to the gym or to the store, I barely left the house. When I wasn’t doing chores, I was twiddling my thumbs, waiting for Matt to get home. A lot of my time is spent that way. I had some serious cabin fever, and I really wanted to go fishing and maybe have a couple beers.

 So, when Matt remembered last minute that he had a radio station event on Saturday, and that it was the yearly golf outing, I just groaned. Let’s just say that my only basis for expecting what would happen when he finally made it home was last year’s outing, and that was absolutely nothing good. So, I was already dreading his arrival. He had to be there at 6:30 in the morning as well, so I was on my own all day. Well, I decided I was going fishing, boat or no. 

I decided to try three parks in the area- Lottes Park, Babcock County Park, and Yahara River Park. It was a lovely, warm day. Sunny. I stopped to pick up some minnows, just in case live bait would work better.

You don't buckle your minnows in? Safety first.

You don’t buckle your minnows in? Safety first.

I was working my way south from Madison into McFarland, and Lottes was my first stop. I got there, and it was packed. 

There were double as many truck/trailers on the other side of the lot

There were double as many truck/trailers on the other side of the lot

Lottes’ boat launch is the only direct access to Upper Mud Lake. There were boats coming and going from the dock every 4 minutes or so, and there was a back up of boats in the waterway. I had just a couple sunfish nibbles at my hook here. It was shallow flats by the fishing dock, and windy to boot. I was pretty hungry, so I packed up and headed to Babcock, stopping to pick up a sandwich.

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Babcock Park was three times as crowded as Lottes. The launch is bigger, and the building here has restrooms as well as a public fish cleaning room. People coming off their boats had buckets of crappie. There’s a really shallow lagoon at the park, with a small lock and dam at the opposite end of the launch. There’s an island separating it from Waubesa. Lots of people out bank fishing. Not another bite, even though I walked a couple hundred yards up and down the lagoon, and tried about 10 different little lures as well at live bait. Families had all their kids on the fishing platform by the dam, so I didn’t bother. By now it was almost 4, and I knew the dogs would need to go out. I had been out for almost 5 hours. There wouldn’t be much of an evening bite in such shallow water, separated from the lake. I packed up and headed home. Walking back to my car, I had to threaten an angry goose with my fishing pole to get it out of my way and off the sidewalk. I never did find Yahara River Park.

I got a bunch of yardwork done. I mowed the grass, treated the yard for ticks, fleas, ants, and mosquitoes.  I cleaned out the filters in our little pond and dumped the minnows in there. We use it as sort of a live well. I made myself dinner, and wondered when Matt would get home. He finally stumbled in a little before midnight, and promptly told me he was sober as could be, but would prefer to sleep with the dogs. He laid down on the floor with them, and demanded a blanket and pillow. I brought him one, and gave up on the day. I went to bed.

He eventually made it to the human bed some time early in the morning, demanding to know why I made him sleep with the dogs. I answered and rolled over, sleeping a bit longer before I got up.  He had some actual work to do that day, so he dragged himself out long enough to head to the office. He came back to nap. Matt’s hangovers last until about 6PM every time, so I just waited it out. 

On Saturday, I figured that with fishing a bust, and the weekend being blown, I could at least make a Wild Food post. I set out ground venison for deer burgers. Once Matt was feeling a bit more human and messing around in the garage, I put together some patties and lit the grill.

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The coals were getting ready pretty quickly, so I took the patties outside to put on the grill. I set them on that old little stove, as you can see, then  I turned around to take this picture, thinking I could make a blurb about progress on the gas tank.

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I turned back, and the patties were gone. Just gone. The younger of our two dogs, Loki, had snuck up and inhaled two pounds of raw venison patties from right next to me. In the year that we’ve had this pup, I can say he has more than lived up to his name, the little shit. Minutes later, he barfed half the burger up all over the patio. Disappointed with the entire weekend, I trudged over to Hy-Vee for the third time that day, picked up clearly inferior ground chuck patties from the meat counter, and just made those. 

At least the gas tank is looking better and we got the boat hosed out. We got the garage cleaned up, too.

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The Worst Gondola Ride Ever, and Bad News Fireworks.

It’s been a very long weekend. I forgot momentarily that it was Memorial Day, and that that meant Matt would have a 4 day weekend. So often, he’ll have a 3 or 4 day weekend lined up and work will just veto it. So when he actually gets one anymore, I’m always surprised.

Friday evening I was at work, and on track to get done pretty early around 8pm. I stepped into the office in the midst of closing my last tables and doing side work to text Matt that I was getting done earlier than expected. He replied to get my butt home ASAP. I wrapped everything up at work as quickly as possible, and hurried home.

I found Matt’s buddy was there. We hadn’t seen him since we still had to drill through 18 inches of ice to reach the fish. Turns out, the three of us were headed out to bowfish that night. Matt had even gotten my gear out for me. His buddy (M) was telling us about going out on Waubesa a night or two before, how incredibly clear the water was, and how many fish they’d seen.

We arrived at the launch, and got up to where M had seen lots of fish. Last summer, we’d always seen lots of carp in this same area. For most of the ride over to the spot, I was steering the front trolling motor and trying to think how I would write this very post. Would I describe the familiar weight of my bow in my hand? How long it had been since I’d nocked the heavy bowfishing arrow? Maybe my camera would cooperate and I would get a decent shot of some of the underwater critters we always see.

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It soon became apparent that not only was my camera not working with me, but neither were the fish. We saw maybe 5 carp. Most of them in 8-10 feet of water. When we normally see about 10-20 carp in less than four feet. Part of the challenge of bowfishing is correcting for refraction. You aim below the fish because of the way the water bends the light. Once you get deeper than about 4 feet of water, it becomes extremely difficult to make a successful shot, due to refraction as well as drag on the arrow and line traveling through the water.

We saw 5 other bowfishing boats out on the water that night. A new high from usually seeing one or two besides ourselves. But it was getting chilly. It had been relatively warm during the day on Friday, but a slow front was moving through, ready to cast steely clouds, chilly temps, and steady rain over the entire weekend. The temperature was dropping, and we were getting pretty cold, in addition to not even seeing anything to really shoot at. But that was just the beginning of our troubles.

As we turned back for the launch, the trolling motors were losing power noticeably quickly. Matt began trying to start the gas motor. The trolling motors were soon providing absolutely zero thrust. Luckily, we were close to shore and there were plenty of deadfalls in the water. M and I each broke off a long branch and began to push the boat along, all while Matt stubbornly tried to start the motor. The motor never did start; the sparkplugs were probably a bit gummy from our last boat outing, when we mixed the fuel too rich. We gradually made our way to the launch, and laughed at this bit of silly bad luck. It could have been worse, we figured. M quipped about the element of surprise Matt always brings, considering he flies by the seat of his pants. I joked that it was the crummiest gondola ride I’d ever experienced. We got the boat back on the trailer and headed home.

When we were about 4 miles from the house, though, I heard an odd sound. I pointed it out to the guys. It was coming from the driver’s side trailer tire. The one we’d had issues with, and which we’d recently replaced. They shrugged it off. We’d gotten it fixed really well this time. They barely finished saying “We’ll just try and get it home, then look at it”, when all of a sudden, our clunky little boat trailer was emitting a literal rooster tail of fiery yellow sparks taller than the Durango pulling it. A police officer going in the opposite direction didn’t even stop to pull a U-turn. Luckily, it was roughly 1am, and there were no other vehicles on the road. In astonished disbelief, we pulled over and clambered out of the truck to see what the hell had happened.

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There are still flecks of previously-melted rubber stuck to that side of the boat.

It had blown out so quickly, Matt never even felt it pull. The rubber had wrapped around the suspension so tightly that it locked up the rim, grinding one side flat on the asphalt. I joked about the crappy gondola ride being followed by bad-news fireworks. We threw our hands up in total resignation, and went home. We called a flatbed the next morning.

It’s still sitting in our driveway on a jack. The tire and rim I ordered from Discount Tire doesn’t fit it. The circumference of our lug studs is too small for the holes in the rim. The trailer is apparently a really old one. As of now, the plan is to completely replace the hubs on the trailer with a more common pattern, and then get tires for it.  We’ll be ordering the parts for it later on this afternoon.

We Really Did It This Time.

Interested in the saga of this big, old boat? See parts One, Two, and Three to catch up! This is part Four.

Yesterday was quite possibly one of the most stressful days I’ve ever had. I waited around for Matt to get done with work, then he, his buddy Bill, and I all packed on up to head out to Arena.

First, I should cover Matt’s plan (he even made sketches and a Power Point presentation on his iPad). This was the boat trailer.

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Now, absent a crane or a boom of any kind to provide lift from above (that would be too easy),  and since attempting to pull to boat forward and up onto the last trailer bent it very badly, we had to work with jacks and blocks from beneath the boat. You can see the beams of the trailer are nice and widely spaced. Matt’s idea was to get the boat high enough off the ground to just clear the trailer and bunks. Then, once jacked high enough, we would scootch the trailer under the boat, alternately moving blocks and jacks from behind the beams of the trailer to between or in front of the beams, as we backed the trailer underneath the boat.

We arrived in Arena and immediately went to work. Bill had to leave to make an appointment by 6, so while he was there, I made sure they were keeping the boat level as they jacked it up. It had to be about 18 inches off the ground.

Rear of the boat on blocks.

Rear of the boat on blocks.

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Don't do this. We only had  small bottle jack.

Don’t do this. We only had small bottle jack.

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Making sure the boat was being lifted evenly was tough. The ground wasn’t level here, and we only had the farm jacks. After Bill left, it was on me and Matt to get the thing up. We had a number of scares where the jacks weren’t straight up and down, and the boat shifted. We made sure the tires of the trailer were blocked off, that we kept building up the blocks on the stern, and just did everything we could, safety-wise. The whole process wreaked havoc on my nerves. My heart rate was elevated for the entire three and a half hours we worked on this. Eventually, we got it high enough to begin scootching the trailer under the boat. Click to enlarge the photos.

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This wasn’t without mishaps, though. At one point, tired, wet, and cold, we pushed the trailer back and forgot to let it off the farm jacks and onto blocks. The bunks rubbed on the bottom of the boat and shifted it just enough to knock down the jacks, causing the entire apparatus to shift. A farm jack was sandwiched between the boat and the blocks, making a small bite in the hull (luckily not a full puncture). It all took longer than expected, but overall, this plan worked much better than anything we had tried so far. Getting the trailer all the way under the boat was maybe a third of the job.

When we bought this trailer, the previous owner was very proud of how heavy-duty it was. And it looks like a good, strong trailer. The beams are solid, the welds are good. He said it was rated for 3800 pounds, and that he’d hauled a 23 foot boat on it. Sweet, we thought. This one will stand up way better than the first one we brought up from Illinois.

As we got the boat onto the trailer, everything looked fine. Sure, a lot of boat hung off the end, but this is a heavy-duty trailer, right? It can totally handle it. Well, we knocked out the last block supporting the boat’s weight. The suspension just sagged. At this point, I developed a deep, cold pit in my stomach.

Not what we call good.

Not what we call good.

The fenders were nearly resting on the tires. The tires were riding as if the air pressure was at about half. The back end of the boat was maybe 7 inches off the ground. To top it off, the boat was on there just crooked. At this point, I was too stressed out about our new predicament to take many pictures. We resolved to first take it to the nearby launch on the Wisconsin river, intending to float her while still connected to the trailer, straighten her out, and get on our way home. It was basically dark, and we’d knocked the tail lights and turn signal lights off the trailer getting the boat on. Mercifully, the marker lights still work.

We get to the launch. The river is flooded, and the current is up. Nothing for it, so we put her in anyway. The current started to sweep the boat away, and when Matt put the truck in park to help me grab it, the truck rolled back slightly, putting the exhaust just below the water level. The engine started to sputter. We had to back it in two more times to finish straightening it. It also was so heavy it was pulling out the winch. We got out some extra ratchet straps, and strapped the nose ring of the boat to the winch tower. On top of that, it had no bung. We found out because it took on water, and the trailer was groaning as we pulled it out of the water. We let it drain, and began to trundle home.

From Arena, Wisconsin to our house on the east end of Madison, it’s about 37 miles, give or take. We did maybe 45 miles per hour the whole way. We had to pass through 4 towns. In Mazomanie, Black Earth, and Cross Plains, we saw county sheriffs sitting, speed gunning people. Miraculously, not a single one of them pulled out after us. There were some gnarly potholes on the way, and every passing vehicle caused the badly unbalanced trailer to sway. We had a parade of cars a mile long behind us, even at 9pm. We also had to go through Middleton, the town immediately to the west of Madison. Incredibly, still no police.

No one was willing to pass us. They just turned off and took different routes. My contacts dried out, as my eyes were glued to the passenger side rear view. We got out of Middleton with no mishaps, despite taking the two main roads in town. We headed out of Middleton to cut around the north end of Madison and Lake Mendota. It’s hilly. Somehow, we still haven’t had a blow out. We enter town again in one of the rougher areas, where there are usually a lot of cop cars. We see one sitting at an intersection. Still, no lights or sirens. At this point, we’re only a mile or two from the house. We forge ahead. The pothole that broke the axle of our first boat trailer is approaching. We slow down to a crawl, and get around the block to our house. Matt’s buddy Bill is waiting with his Silverado. We play Musical Vehicles with the car and the camper, and get the boat pushed all the way back next to the house. It’s a close fit, to say the least.

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Now, the work begins on the boat itself. This project is going to be a long haul.