Sunday, October 24, 2021

Oh, Deer!

After returning from our 8 week sabbatical we were excited for two things; getting back to working on the house and deer hunting. Archery season opened September 1st so we were well behind the curve on getting out there trying to fill the freezer for the winter. One of the first things we did when we got home was check out trail cameras to see what kind of activity we had while we were gone. 

I scrolled through the pictures eagerly looking to see a picture of a monster buck. There were hundreds of pictures but not a single picture of a buck! How can that be? There were two pictures I thought were blogworthy however.....

A fawn jumped in the water tank getting the last of the water we left them

Then there was this guy, (well a gal actually) who snuck up on the camera, jumped up and spread her wings trying to scare me!

Although the bucks were scarce, there were plenty of does and where the girls are the boys will show up eventually, Especially since their rutting season begins in late October, so I set up our deer blinds and hit the woods to soak in some of the nature that we have been missing. 

It was so nice to get back out in the blind and see our local creatures. There were lots of deer, mostly does doing their antics. 

I spend a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the afternoon in the blind reading a book, taking pictures and just enjoying the outdoors. One of the coolest things that happened I did not get a picture of. A tiny little nuthatch flew up and perched on the window of my blind staring in at me. Then it jump up and flew onto the arrow of my bow about a foot in front of me! I just sat there silently and watched it as it looked around the blind. After a minute or so, it flew out the window and was gone. 

Of course there are the turkeys. We usually see them everyday. A flock of 20-30 frequent the area and are always roaming around. 

But one day we had some surprise visitors at the house when these random guinea hens showed up to see what was going on at the Nelson's. They belong to a neighbor about a 1/4 mile away. 

Then one morning I was sitting there reading and looked up and saw a buck! Not only one but two walked into the area to check out the local does. 

A couple of nice bucks but not ones I would harvest, I am hoping to get something a little bigger. Then one morning I come home and Barb shows me a couple of pictures that she took with her phone out the  living room window! Now this one is a shooter!

Maybe he will stick around the area and walk by me sometime when I am out hunting!

On the house front we have been busy working on the porch. We had ordered the steel for the porch roof before we left for Pasha a couple of months ago and it was ready for delivery when we returned. Kevin came over to help us get started. 

We had 4 pieces of 18' steel left over from the roof of the house so Kevin suggested that we use them to create a covered wood storage area on the side of the house so we put up a couple of posts and started there!
12' done, 137' to go!
Once Kevin got me started I carried on the next few days and worked my way north towards the driveway. 

 Another couple of days and we should have the whole east side done! One thing you might not notice is that the concrete is dry under the new steel and way down on the end it is wet. Every morning dew and condensation drips off the house roof onto the sidewalk, now we have a dry sidewalk!

As cool as that is the coolest transition accomplishment took place inside and we did not have anything to do with it. While we were gone Kevin tiled our shower!

He sent us pictures of the progress over the 4 days he worked on it. 
Working his way up the walls!

He used sticks to hold up the ceiling tiles

We could have a party in that shower!

How cool is that?!?! We still need to order the glass panel and I need to finish the taping, mudding and sanding of the sheetrock but then that room will be done!

Over the next few weeks we are going to continue on with the porch roof. I expect that to take a week or so of us working 4-5 hours a day as I still need to make time to get out in the deer stand!

I thought I was done with the blog, had Barb proof read it and she said that I needed to include a couple of pictures of the dogs for Pam. It just so happens that we did take a couple of pictures of them this week so Pam these are for you....

A picture of Dakota enjoying our first fire of the fall....

And a picture of Zoey with a treasure she found on one of her walks....

There, now I am done, time to get to work!

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Age Experienced

For the first time in my life, I felt it this year. After 40 years of hunting, age is catching up with me. The less than ½ mile hike on my first day to the duck blind seemed like 2 miles. Granted I am carrying a 20 pound pack, wearing waders and have 5lbs of mud on each boot but as I trudge across the farm field I see the flashlights of my younger and longer legged hunting companions getting dimmer and dimmer ahead of me.

I finally make it to the edge of the marsh where they are already busy setting up decoys. Wanting to pull my weight (no jokes necessary), I grab an armful myself and head to the edge of the water. As I near the edge I feel the grip of mud around the boots of my waders. “No worries” I think, “I have done this for years”. I continue out into the water struggling to pull my foot out of the mud with each step. Once I reach my desired depth and location I stand in place and start tossing the decoys around me. Satisfied with the set up I turn to head back to shore…. but my feet do not come with me. I almost fall, but regain my balance. To fall while mired in the mud would be the ultimate humiliation with a group and deadly if I were alone. Once you fall, there is no way to right yourself in the mud if you fell face first or even sideways.

Luckily, it is still dark so the others cannot see my dilemma. I stand there in the darkness trying to will my foot out of the mud. My foot cooperated but the boot of my wader does not. Finally, after 30 seconds I manage to pull my foot with my boot out of the mud and take a step. But I have two feet and now the other one is stuck securely in the mud. 30 seconds later I get that boot out and take another step but by now the other foot has encased itself again. I repeat the process over the next 5 minutes making it back to the blind with my companions clueless to my struggles.  

I am too exhausted to assist with the concealing of the duck blind so I just stand by and idly watch the others do what I used to do without breaking a sweat. That’s when I notice my much older friend Bob (a whole 19 days older) is doing the same thing I am. Just watching the younger lads go about their routine. Except he has his jacket open to cool off in the 40 degree morning. Apparently I am not alone in my struggles. We give each other knowing looks as the boys continue with the set up. At least they are none the wiser.

View from our blind

Once all the chores are done, we are ready to get into the blind and wait for sunrise. “Age Experienced guys on the ends”, one of them says. Well, so much for them being none the wiser. The ends of the blinds are the prime spots as you usually get the first crack at the ducks are they come in. Maybe being aged experienced has it benefits after all!

Our blinds are on the right

Slowly, they skies went from black to gray and eventually light. The ducks started flying, and the shooting began. Singles, doubles and larger flocks would come in and we were dropping ducks on almost every opportunity. We were taking turns letting the dogs retrieve. Dakota was doing great and having fun. Bob was working a young 14 month old lab who was doing great as well. 

Dakota retrieving a duck
Bob and Ember
Both Chris and Brian’s older dogs were working like the old pro’s they were.

Brian and Kimber
I was starting to feel better about myself. My shooting was on for the most part, both Bob and I were matching the young’ins shot for shot. Then Mother Nature played a cruel trick on me. We had dropped a duck maybe 60 yards from shore and Dakota did not see it fall. No problem I thought I will just throw a rock near it, Dakota will see the splash and know where to swim. I have done it dozens if not hundreds of times in the past. I pick up the perfect sized rock, get Dakota’s attention, wind up my throw and release the rock. In my mind it was going to be a perfectly arcing throw with the rock splashing within feet of the dead duck. What actual happened was me throwing a rock about 10 feet in front of me and well to the left, not even to the water! Dakota looks at me like “What the hell?” and I hear a chorus of laughter behind me. Humiliated I grab another rock and throw it, again, nowhere near the duck but luckily close enough that Dakota sees the downed bird floating in the water and promptly retrieves it.

Even Dakota was struggling with the mud
We went out every day chasing birds. Ducks in the morning, pheasants in the afternoon. Despite the drought, the ducks were plentiful in the potholes that still did contain water.  The pheasants were plentiful as well but a kink in my right knee prevented me from going out as much as I would have liked to and made for a painful experience with each step I took when I did go out. Luckily Farmer Bob had a knee brace he borrowed me and that helped. 
Bob and Ember pheasant hunting
The strangest thing that week happened when Bob had shot a duck that landed on shore. Then Ember was running to get it but a hawk in a near by tree saw it as well and the race was on! Bob and I sat there and watch this hawk gliding towards the duck arriving about 5’ in front of Ember. The hawk grabbed the duck and attempted to fly away but could not get off the ground quick enough and had to drop the bird in order to get away from Ember! Very cool sight.  

3 Hungarian Partridge, a pheasant and 4 ducks  
My favorite day duck hunting was also the most miserable. For those of you who are duck hunters out there, you know what I mean. The nastier the weather, the better the duck hunting. While all the young’ins stayed at home tucked into their warm beds. Bob and I ventured out into weather forecasted for 2+” of rain and sustained winds from the Northeast at 20-25mph. We were cold and wet but not miserable. After 2 hours of hunting, “5 more minutes” was the phrase of the day but the birds kept coming in. The dogs teeth were chattering, our fingers were getting numb but we kept said “5 more minutes” 5 or 6 times until we could not feel our fingers at all and we had to take our aching, age experienced bodies back to the truck. It was a hunt I will remember for the rest of my life….or at least until I start really losing my memory….

Wet and rainy day!

Everyone was cold and wet!

That's a pile of birds!
When we were not hunting we managed to get out to eats a couple of times with Farmer Bob and DeAnne. Plus she made us her infamous fleischkuechle one night and no trip to the farm is complete without Barb making a couple of apple crisps either.  The crops were all in, one of the poorest harvests they have had in years, maybe decades, due to the drought. So for for the first time in several years I did not work while up there. That did not stop Barb from working as I was out hunting, she was busy cleaning the outside of the camper. What a difference that made!

The least fun event of the week was when Zoey went into heat. Let me tell you right now, having a dog go into heat is no fun, having a dog going into heat in a 100sf camper is even less fun! Holly was nice enough to donate a Onesie so she could wear a diaper for the week we were there. She was so miserable, the poor girl would just sit there, stare at you and whine.

Poor Zoey
That pretty much sums up my week of duck and pheasant hunting on the North Dakota prairie. Lots of birds, both pheasants and ducks. Lots of laughs, lots of memories, lots of aches and pains ….many reminders that I am not 20, 30 or even 40 anymore. 

So now after 8 weeks, 4,780 miles, 5 states and one province, it was time to head home. South Dakota is calling us and we have a lot of work to do! 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Autumn in the U.P.!

I have fond memories as a child of grouse hunting in the woods of northwest Wisconsin. Thinking back it was…. probably 45 years ago when I was 12, 13 or 14. I recall walking through the dense aspen growth in search of the “chicken of the woods”, the ruffed grouse. Sometimes I would go with my younger brother, sometimes it was just by myself. Wandering through the woods for hours, shotgun in hand hoping just to see one or two birds. Funny how at times I cannot remember what I did yesterday but can vividly remember a single grouse that flushed in front of me 45 years ago.

It was on some farmland across the road from my dad’s place on Shell Lake in Wisconsin. The farmer, Ernie, had 30-40 head of dairy cows that he milked twice a day, every day 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. My brother Rod and I used to help him milk, hay, shovel cow manure, feed the calves, whatever a 12-14 year old can do. I shot my first grouse, my first rifle deer and my first bow deer on his property. Ernie died on a September day in 1981. He fell from one of his silos when a rung on a ladder broke. I remember that like it was yesterday too.

We all have our own memories like this, of some sort or another. Memories that take us back in time 30, 40, 50 years ago, remembering them like they were yesterday. It was these memories that made me want to grouse hunt our way across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to see if I could relive some of my childhood memories.

The U.P. of Michigan is known for a lot of things, grouse hunting being one of them. I did some research months before our trip to see where I would even be able to find grouse up there. I emailed the game warden in the area where we were going to see if he could lead me in the right direction. He suggested that I try the GEM’s units scattered throughout the U.P.

Over the course of the last week we hit 6 G.E.M. units across the U.P. I wish I could tell you that the grouse were plentiful, Dakota did awesome and I did not miss a single shot. Sadly, that is not the case. Throughout the week I saw probably a dozen grouse. Dakota did….okay and well, I can say that I did not miss a shot as I only shot at one grouse and I got it!

Going to find some birds!
Tired girl

Even with the limited success I was successful in reliving some of my childhood memories as I was hoping to. Just walking the logging road, taking in the fall colors and the smell of autumn in the air.

Zoey on the hunt for grouse!

I was also able to create new memories that I hope to carry for years like hearing nothing but the panting of Dakota as she searched for grouse, or the one grouse that I did get and how she dutifully retrieved it and brought it to my side. She is a good dog and I was happy to be able to spend some time with her without you know who tagging along. The bonus of visiting each of these management areas is that we were able to boondock for free at each one of them saving us 4 nights in campground fees!

Wet and dirty dog!
Dakota with her very first grouse!
Zoey wanted to pose with the grouse as well

When we weren’t grouse hunting we were exploring other sights in each of the areas we visited. The top of our list was probably Tahquamenon Falls outside of Paradise Michigan. This is a very pretty pet friendly park where we were able to take Zoey and Dakota on the trails to the overlooks.

Upper Falls
Lower Falls

Poor Dakota, I was walking her and Barb was walking Zoey. The entire time we were walking people passing would look at us and say “Awe, cute” “Darling” “Aren’t you a pretty girl”. Dakota would raise her head a little higher accepting all this well-deserved praise. One time someone says “Adorable, can I pet her?”. Then they bend down and pet Zoey! Dakota was like “What?”! If I could read Dakota’s mind I know she would be saying something like….”How could you say that dog is cute?” “Her face is so flat it looks like she smashed it into a window a few times too many” “And you call that a tail? How can you tell if she is even happy, that thing does not wag!”

But no matter where we go people are always commenting on how cute Zoey is while giving Dakota a consolatory pat on top of the head saying something like “Oh, your cute too.” Zoey was eating up all the attention while Dakota….. not so much.

We also stopped at Munising to see the Pictured Rocks but when we saw how they were packing people into those tour boats like sardines we opted not to go. Covid or not, we don’t like crowds like that. We did go see Munising Falls but they were a little underwhelming compared to others we have seen.

Munising Falls

As we continued west we followed the coast of Lake Superior stopping once in a while to walk the dogs on the beach,

Double Barb panoramic!

Overall, we loved our drive west in the U.P. We took a lot of side roads, gravel roads and even a few trails on our way to and from grouse management areas. 

We eventually crossed over into Wisconsin stopping at Wacona Lake National Forest Campground outside of Ashland. At $7.50 a night with the National Parks Pass discount that is hard to beat! The next day we stopped by to see Chad and Michelle (owners of Pasha Lake Cabins). Although we just saw Chad the week before, we had not seen Michelle and the kids in way too long! We spent the afternoon/evening catching up but we did not take one picture!

After camping in their driveway for the night we drove 5 hours to Fergus Falls where we spent the night in Dino and Lisa's driveway. We went for Pizza at a local brewery and then back to their place for a nice night at the fire.

Dino, Lisa and me with our sore fingers

The next was another 5 hour drive to our friend Dan and Jeannie's outside of McClusky North Dakota at their waterfowl hunting property. We toured the property, had an awesome steak dinner and caught up with them. The last few days of this part of our trip were fast and filled with visiting. Next stop, The Farm where we can slow down, relax and do some pheasant hunting!