Friday, December 15, 2017

Deer Hunting 2017 (thus far)


11/3/17.  Friday night before the MN deer hunting opener.  Season A in southeast Minnesota.  Picking arugula from the casket cold frame to bring to deer camp.  This patch of greens was running on its own timeline.  I scattered the seeds in spring and maybe 20% of them sprouted.  They sat all summer and then came on strong with full sprouting heading into fall.  Greg Brown said in explaining the song Spring Wind that he would always come up with a list of things to do in spring, including an elaborate garden plan.  Only to eventually (after procrastination) resort to scattering seeds about in the wind and letting them fall and sprout where they may.  Our gardens have kind of gone that direction which seems to be fine for now.  Given their apparent fall vigor though I figured I'd better cover them up and keep them for a while.  
11/4/17.  I spent some time studying opening weekend weather over the past five years.  2017 was set to be cold but not deathly so.  The main issue, we could see in advance, was going to be moisture: rain predicted for SE MN both days.  Opening morning it was raining, and had been for some hours and as such the vegetation was wet.  The night before I made a critical gear decision: I opted for my heavy pack boots (warmth) over my waterproof hunting boots (pretty warm) because I figured I'd be sitting in relative cold (low 30s or so).  The pack boots are waterproof from the ankles down.  I'd never used them for deer hunting but I bought them after 2014 when I sat the stand for hours in 15 F air temp.  I wanted some warmer boots.  Trouble with them is that they have a cordura-like upper, and my waterproof bibs terminate at the bottom of that upper, and not at the waterproof lower boot.  So while walking in I was collecting moisture from the vegetation, and concentrating it in a flow downward along the bibs into the cordura of he boot, and then into the insole and my socks.  When I climbed into the stand then, my feet were already soaked.  Kind of a bad deal that pissed me off.  

11/4/17.  The wet feet would have been forgotten had we (party of three adults) seen a single deer that morning.  Nothing seen; nothing heard.  We all got wet and cold.  And so for the first time since I've hunted with these guys I elected to leave the stand and go down to the house for a couple hours.  It was worth it.  Dried out and re-energized.  We still had a lot of time and we were generally positive.  In the end though, on day one, I took this photo at 6:10 PM (last day before "fall-back" daylight savings) to document the moisture in the air and mark a reminder that none of us saw a single deer all day; bit of an anomaly when considered in historical context.  It was a just a wet, cool, deerless feel all around.  
 
11/4/17.  Saturday evening meal.  Arugula salad.  Slow-cooked-then-shredded venison from 2016 seven pointer.  Risotto.  Chips and salsa.  Beer.


11/7/17.  No deer sighted on the second day. Three guys in stands that have logged quite a good story of success.  Zero deer; was difficult to take and seemed unbelievable for a while.  Hard to say just why.  There was a lot of standing corn.  The weather didn't feel like a condition that'd be conducive to animals moving around: it wasn't so cold that one would have to get up and move around; it was rainy and shitty enough that just maybe it'd make more sense to stay bedded and hang out for the day.  Who knows.  I don't.  Notably, a string of good venison harvest years brings a lot of happiness but it inevitably sets some expectations.  When I got home my kids were excited, asking after a successful deer hunt.  And so my report out was  a bit of a let down.  But the arugula still going strong; we could fall back on the greens.


11/8/17.  I went back to work Monday and Tuesday after opening weekend, and then back to the woods Wednesday 8 November.  I did this after studying the forecast.  This was a day of change in that a little warmth was coming; some sun.  I sat two different stands on this day.  At 15:30 I was in a stand at a gully head, and I made a deer coming down the far side of the draw.  First big mammal I'd seen thus far so I was a little excited and happy about it.  I got the earliest possible jump on him and slowly got the gun up.  Within just a few seconds I understood what I was seeing but I held statue anyway, with the gun in position watching the deer come in.  There is one good place to cross the gully and the stand is situated accordingly.  He crossed right on that path and basically walked right to me.  By that time I had known for maybe 1-2 minutes that he was not a legal buck.  Nice big body; probably 6-9 months worth of meat at my house.  But he didn't have four points on one antler.  He was a forky tending toward six pointer (the fifth and sixth points just coming on).  So this meant after all these hours in the woods I had to watch this big-bodied buck lick every shrub leaf under my stand and beg me to shoot him.  And let him walk on.  Which I did.  That gave me some hope that maybe another deer would show, but none came.  I studied the moon a bit and then walked out.  

11/10/17.  Still going but added some heat against the dropping temps.  

11/11/17.  Adult hunting days now over.  A big deal for my oldest boy (13 years of age).  He is a very enthusiastic hunter.  He asks many questions regarding ballistics, hunting tactics and deer habits.  We spent the morning of 11 November in a two-person ladder stand I had set up a couple months back in another place (in fact another major watershed of SE MN; we went south instead of east).  The stand is situated at the intersection of two heavily used deer trails.  It's a friend's property and it's pretty special.  There is a remarkable spring flow that confluences with a trout stream.  A wooded knoll transitioning down into cedar meadow mix.  And some floodplain forest; that's where we sit here in picture.  Saw no deer that first morning but we worked out the logistics of getting two guys in a stand, and securing the weapons, pack, etc.  And being still and quiet for approximately four hours. 

11/11/17.  Landowner needed to do some gardening and apiary duty in the afternoon so we were understandably outed.  We left, scouting on our way out.  This rub is right close to the stand.  

11/11/17.  We explored some new public property; not really hunting in traditional sense.  Just looking around in the woods.  Supposing we could have lucked into a deer.  

11/12/17.  Next day though we were back, ready to spend most of the day on the property.  No problem getting this kid out of bed or into his gear or into the stand.  In fact he may have driven me a bit, which was good.  We hunted the morning, and then went into small town to watch first half of Vikings at Redskins.  Then back to stand; sat to nightfall.  No deer seen.  We heard gun shots on the neighboring property; kid wanted to know why they saw deer and we didn't.  

11/18/17.  Following weekend we flipped back over to the east: where one great river joins another.  Can see the confluence from the deerstands.  Good Country is what I call it.  We walked into stands (approx 1.5 miles one way) mid-day on Saturday because we had some basketball in the AM.
11/18/17.  Unique setup here in that the landowner has replaced an old rickety wood stand with a nice new ladder stand.  The new stand is approx 15 feet from the old one.  So I saw this as an opportunity to take a half-step from the two-person bench to individual stands: the kid could be in his own stand, but within eyesight of me just feet away in the old rickety bugger.   I studied pretty closely and understood that because I had a gun tag in season A, I could not party hunt with him in season B.  In fact the definition of "taking deer" indicates that in the most technical sense, I could not be out there with him helping him spot deer, strategize, etc.  My guess is if it came to it, I'd get a break in that regard.  But I went ahead and bought an archery tag to be legal, but also because I was thinking through how a deer might come by my stand such that the kid might not get a shot.  Unlikely but possible.  That would have potential to haunt: "remember that big buck that walked by the east side of my stand and you didn't have a shot and I didn't have a weapon?"  Not good so I at least wanted to have the Bear recurve along for those short shots should they come available.  Overall though, I wanted him to see deer and get shots.  


11/18/17.  The new stand as seen from the old stand.  Later on this day, he saw a deer well down the gully (he's positioned looking downslope).  He tried to use sign language to ask me if he should shoot at it.  Having no data at hand and no observation for my own self and no clear understanding of just what he was trying to communicate, I wasn't much help to him.  He decided to not shoot.  Later he told me he could only see the deer's back half, and it was at the edge of his vision probably 60-70 yards away (he practices and is a very good shot with 12 gauge slugs at 25 yards; the average bluff country shot is probably 20-30 yards).  So he showed some restraint and good judgment.  

11/19/17.  Sunday of the same weekend.  We were up, walked in, and seated in stands by 6:15 am.  This was an indication to me that the kid was into it.  He was often asking me to call with the buck grunt.  There are varying opinions as to "cold grunting."  I don't have an opinion on it because I am not qualified nor do I have sufficient experience to hold a particular opinion on such a detailed matter.  But in this case around 7:15 AM I executed two short grunts (literature says that is code for a deer saying "I am here") and way down the slope at the edge of our viewscape a deer got up and definitively but not hurriedly walked away.  I think it was probably bedded down and it didn't like that grunt call.  For whatever reason.  Possibly an indication that one should not cold grunt; or maybe, as one suggested to me: a doe that didn't want anything to do with a buck on November 19th.  We sat the rest of the day and didn't see another deer.  The good thing is that on both days of this weekend, he saw one deer.  So he knows by his own evidence that there are deer in the woods.  And therefore he has a chance to shoot one and bring home some meat.  I was impressed by his interest and drive.  He never complained once.  He wanted to hunt every day.  Makes me pretty happy even while being humbled and reminded that I/we won't take a deer every year.  First time since 2012 that we have not freezered at least one deer.  Only note is that the season is not entirely over.   Archery still going, and the January firearm hunt looms; we'll see what happens.  Going forward I may set a limit on hours in the woods.  It's kind of taxing to be away so long and come home empty handed.  A sort of antithesis to trout fishing which is the greatest guarantee out there.  Hunting in a stand one is plagued by the constant thought that getting down at any given time could be just a few minutes too early.  The whole deal can go from zero to 100 in about two minutes.  Failure to success in a blink.  But the hours add up.  They never seem long while in the stand; indeed I could sit day after day and just watch.  But I suppose at home they add up.  And there is a hollow ring to it when no meat is won.  Another in the list of duties and endeavors one must properly gauge relative to a greater context.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Exceptional use and last of the trout harvest 2017

As has been stated I don't typically drive great distances to trout fish.  I like to keep my outer bound around 45 minutes.  And 25 minutes is preferable.  I don't like driving over/by good water to get to water.  And further, I don't characterize trout fishing as "vacation" or "sporting" travel because I consider such fishing to be generally part of the life fabric here (I acknowledge that fishing travel does occur and I partake; it's not "home trout fishing" but rather pursuit of other species and/or special destinations with friends/family).  As such for trout I try to keep to habits and places that fit into life schedule/travel/etc.  Now and then it is adventurous, interesting and educational to check out new water maybe at the edge of the celestial sphere.  I typically keep an eye out for efficiencies and when they come up, I pivot on them.  That was the case here: meeting in Decorah, IA.  So the path was set.  There are trout streams on the way, most of which I don't frequent and some of which I'd not fished.  Date was 091317.  Trout harvest closed on 091417.


Minnesota is setting up a tiered system for fish and bug goals in stream and rivers.  This particular stream is (thus far) the only "exceptional use" candidate in SE MN.  That means that it is really good, and the proposal is to raise the bar in terms of water quality goals, and "lock in" that higher bar, such that going forward assessments will be made with those goals in mind. 

Started out banging around with a streamer and got only one eat; landed that fish.  The obligatory bridge hole fish.  Good vertical fall in this stretch of water.  My anecdotal dataset has over time suggested to me a relationship between total vertical fall and quality of fish/bugs.  Generally speaking.  I felt pretty good about putting that streamer through tails like this one but it didn't bring much.  This stream is somewhat renowned as being "difficult" in some ways.

Wider stretch.  Skippable.  But clean substrate; guessing could be good in hatch situation.  Over course of entire walk did not see any exposed banks.

Number of aquarium reaches.  Normally skip those; ratio of work to takes is high.  But the streamer result told me I'd better focus in on what fish I could find.  Using a compradun I proceeded to fish those aquariums.  Any cast over the main pod of fish resulted in skittering and settling.  The deal was to apply a carping approach in this respect: look for the right mood.  For the fish on the edges, marauding about.  Semi-pissed looking foragers.  I got some nice fish in this way, using a long leader, setting the hairwing where those gamers could see it.  Watching in crystal clear water the slow rise, inspection and eat.  It was a worthwhile deal. 

Finding this broken water after the aquariums was an exhalation for sure.  Those fish were caught before any cast was made.  The first two setting-downs of the compradun were destroyed by brown trout.

This one just barely hanging on.  Approx 13 inch female BNT and her stomach contents are in the following pics. 

Belostomatidae - giant water bugs. 

I'm intrigued by the events that led to a trout eating a dozen big water bugs.  Just how did that happen.  You don't see them swimming around freely.  Literature suggests that they hang in streamside vegetation; can also be in slackwater settings.  It's possible that along a bank with good veg, this trout could have been "rooting them out" and snapping them up as they dislodged.  Cool to think about.  A catalog of stomach contents over time and place here in SE MN would quickly dispel the notion that trout are romantic eaters of only mayflies, caddis and stones.  More like opportunistic badasses that can survive on scuds, bugs, inch worms, fish, rocks and sticks (in the case of pellet heads) and whatever else swims by including mice, hoppers, etc.

Both fish ate right there.  I think you could see it coming.  Money water.



Due to other obligations both fishing-related and not, there were not many creels filled this season.  We did eat these five though, the following day, with a mix of produce from our neglected garden.  I don't take things for granted and certainly not the fact that we live in a special place - one in which a guy can just walk a stream and find instruction from nature, scenic beauty, and worthy engagement with many trout, some of which are very fit for human consumption. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

BWCA 2017

Make up of paddling crew (stated relative to my position in family): father, father-in-law, brother, son, two nephews, first cousin.  Three generations for second year in a row now.  This BWCA week has changed over the years: some good friends and paddlers are no longer attending; we've started to explore a couple more lakes (two that are not the "main" lake since 2011), and we now have the youth along to remind us of the goodness that is discovery and growth.  Son got to be in camp with both of his grandfathers.  Last couple years we've gone to a lake that is pretty silly with aggressive fish in easy settings; generally speaking kids prefer this to walleye lakes and/or lakes with high ratio of work to fish caught.

Our paddle-in date was August 27th; paddle out was September 3rd.  Per the school calendar, we are now going earlier than historical average (which was more like Sept 7-14).  We noted that this year the water felt a little warm; need some data to examine but that was the feeling.  Supporting this suggestion was fact that fishing was down just a shade from last year's.

I fished with my son for the first day and a half; he then pronounced that he wanted to fish with his cousin, which I thought was cool.  They were allowed to man their own canoe provided they kept life vests on at all times.  Also sunglasses (my belief is that many injuries can be addressed in the wild, but not eye injuries; no interest in dealing with hooks in eyes so I see glasses as an absolute must).

Even with fishing "down" a bit it was very good overall.  The number of bass in the 15-18 inch range was notable.  Some larger SMB were boated, including three 20s.  Some big LMB too.  Many northerns, most of which were probably 20-24 inch small specimens.  More detail best conveyed via captions below. 
Tradition has always been up at 4 AM; leave 500 or 530 AM. 

Stumbled into his first "owned" paddle; it was used, for sale at outfitter (we check in there re permit).

If the fishing would have been ridiculous, I would have realized a plan to have the kid try fly rod poppers.  But it was short of ridiculous and as noted he was with his cousin most of the time, so we left it to the spinning gear.

First night out got a couple nice bass.  Next day, he actually got seven SMB on surface plugs.  So it felt good to start; from there though, it tapered a bit to something more like 2-3 good bass per day (fishing couple hours in each of morning and evening) with pike mixed in all along.



One of kid's fish. I helped land a good number of them.  Didn't notice that reflection at the time but I like it.

They don't run but they are strong; they bull. Also note the spartan canoe.  Don't like too much gear jumbling things up.

Well built, typical fish on the bigger end of the size distribution we observed. 


Kid's best lure was the skitter pop. 

Working on camp meat.

Plague of these smaller pike.  If I had regular access to them I would kill an abundance and become an expert pickler of the solid white fish flesh.


Kids set up a chair that we had along courtesy of Winona Fly Factory.  Bring in the folded material and the cord; find the required wood frame onsite. 

I fished a lot more than I did last year.  Overall it was a fair showing via poppers and clousers.  There were enough fish that I generally stuck to poppers because it's more fun.  More anticipation and visual reward.  This double-barrel popper was tied by FlyFeesh; thanks man.  It crossed out of the Miss watershed to where rivers run north.  Still worked.




Can't take good fish pics in a canoe while on the water.  But we taped this pike at 37 inches.  That puts weight around 14 lbs, which felt about right.  Dad and cousin each got fish in the 31-34 inch range too.  This one was early morning in a shallow weedy bay.  It ate a deer hair bass popper tied on a light wire hook.  I watched its head come up underneath the fly; very shark/monster like image.  Not particularly violent, just a rising up of  large head; pushing up right through the fly.  My compromise on the leaders is to use a length of heavy mono at the terminus when fishing bass poppers.  That way you don't kill the action with steel, but you get a fighting chance should a pike eat.  It worked well in this case.  I'd say the 17 lb mono was 30-40% frayed after fish was landed.  I will note that subsequently two northerns did cut right through the 17 lb.  So still plenty of risk. But a decent compromise.


Pike and musky are terrible C&R fish.  In my opinion.  They exhaust easily and are difficult to handle; fragile heads and mouths.  This one wasn't beat to hell by treble hooks; just that single light wire that came out easily.  But it still required ten minutes of attention to revive and right itself in the world.  In the end it swam away with notable vigor.  We came back in a couple hours and didn't find any white belly floating the surface.  My feeling is that she lives on now.

Shortly after releasing the pike, the same popper lit into a couple nice SMB.  That fly is still up there; taken by a northern on the second to last day; came completely out of the water, horizontal, and claimed it.  Pretty cool.


The built chair.  It can be adjusted to allow various shoulder fits. 


Guys in camp. 


Camp Director with SMB.  We fished together a lot.  We didn't take too many fish pics.  I don't have photos of other campers because I didn't paddle with them.  I think that others do have some sweet pics out there somewhere.

Right at sundown.  One of the few clouser eats.




Brought just one fly box this year; it was more than enough.  Poppers and clousers mainly; all proven.



Mouse popper.  Back to back big SMB and LMB.  We taped this LMB at 18". 

Camp meat.  We kept a lot of northerns and small SMB (12-14 inches).  When gear guys aren't catching walleyes, this is the deal.

Years of working on footwear approach.  Sounds funny but IMO footwear more important than clothing details.  I like neoprene socks paired with sandals or boots that can fit over.  This allows use of sandals or boots when paddling in and portaging. Then add the socks when fishing to keep flies off your ankles.  Then in camp just use a pair of your dumpiest old tennis shoes as "camp slippers" meaning slippers for walking around camp; full coverage to keep bugs off and protect toes from stubbing on rocks.  May change but I am pretty happy with this approach.


Live trapping chipmunks.  All released unharmed. 

One walleye caught.  Kids trolling in at end of evening session.  His choice (challenged by some) was to release the fish.  Our policy at home has always been that adults can give advice on the matter but fish caught by a kid can be kept or released as seen fit by kid.  I took another photo with the flash but I like the gray and blues and obscurity of this photo better.  The sternsman looking on. 

Mid-days we just hung out.  Reading, talking, etc.  Important part of camp. 



One day we got some rain.  One day we were windbound into the late afternoon.  Not bad at all.




Didn't target pike much with fly rod; got a number on poppers while bass fishing.  But this one ate the big streamer while kid and I trolled across a bay; mainly just blowing in the wind with lines out.






Thanks for a great paddling group and another solid chapter in BWCA.  Work of Camp Director is much appreciated; also grateful for the fleet of canoes assembled by cousin. 

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)