Well here it is Monday and we’ve “endured” another spring weekend of snice (snow ‘n ice)! As we sat peering through an 8” hole on top of 30” of ice fishing for little red lines in late February soft water was already lookin’ pretty good. The same thing happened when the DNR post card came congratulating us on being drawn in the most recent turkey lottery. That little 3x5 card brought thoughts and memories of warm moist woodland mornings, gobbling toms, squirrels scurrying through dry leaves, the peeping of a hen woodie winding her way with a reckless abandon through a tree maze locked onto the opening of the wooden box intended to be her spring home and the cries from paired up honkers gliding past. A legitimate daydream or so I thought. Now here we are mid-April and the forecast is calling for a winter storm warning with a possible 7-10 inches to the north adding to the 20+ already on the ground. The word out of the Dakotas is that snow geese are flying south again. Bet you didn’t see that comin’ a month ago and nor did they. Do ya think they feel some sense of urgency to head north? Also the upcoming fishing opener is less than 30 days away with 32 inches of solid ice locking in the Governor’s opening day lake.
Sitting here my thoughts wander a bit. The wood stoves’ still aflame consuming oak
logs. Let’s see that would mean it’s been working hard for six and a half months.
The cabin’s still snowed in and impassable with Culligan soft water scheduled to be delivered in a week. Actually in a sick sort of way it’s kinda funny. But again wandering thoughts ask if there’s something wrong here? Are we beginning to experience a new normal or is this simply a very late spring? I recall listening to a DNR researcher speaking to Roundtable attendees a few years ago on the effects of global climate change. The predictions included weather events that would be more extreme on both ends- dry and wet. He cautioned that cold water fish species like tullibe, white fish and walleye would see their survival range moving north due to warming water replaced by fish able to survive warmer water temps like bass and sunfish. We’ve already seen some changes in animal and bird species. As a kid possum were critters never seen in central Minnesota and in fact I had never seen one. They were found in Missouri and south. Then typical Minnesota winters would actually freeze their ears keeping them well south. Not so any more! The new normal for them has a welcome sign out adding another egg eater to our existing predators of ground nesting birds. Southern Minnesota was the northern edge of the cardinal range but now the bright red males along with their more reddish partners are a common sight in central MN and beyond. A year ago we met 80 degrees in March and lakes were full of soft water for a few weeks already. The 2013 MN turkey season will kick off Wednesday with lots of snow in places. Our season will be about 10 days later but once again it doesn’t look like what I was expecting. I’ll probably wait a bit longer to begin packing my turkey huntin’ stuff but no doubt it’ll include long jons, warm gloves and stocking hats.
So once again here’s the question - is this going to become
the new “typical” spring or simply a year that causes my extreme case of spring
fever to be treated with 2 aspirin and lots of rest waiting and waiting and
waiting? However the reality is plain – We have very few choices so I
guess I’ll just wait!
Sometimes in this day with television pros, the instantaneous immediacy of the internet, the various electronic gizmos, the perception we afford our kids of “everyone’s a winner” or an expectation of success resulting from those little league years too many folks walk into the outdoor world with similar demands. It can be seen when all deer must be big bucks and anything less is unacceptable or on a fishing outing if a limit of walleyes are required or fishing was poor and must be able to find fault or caused by a poorly a managed resource. Too often in trying to keep current with the times this becomes all too obvious forcing me to simply stop, head outside and just sit down and reflect back on times past.
Deer hunting, tournament fishing and turkey hunting immediately pop up like turning the crank on a jack in the box playing Pop Goes the Weasel. Deer hunting was something I began while in college. Dad had never hunted Whitetails having no interest so the opportunity wasn’t there as a kid. My aunt, Ivy had earlier purchased 2 tax forfeit properties just outside Gemmel in northern Minnesota. One had an old house on it. It seemed obvious there must be deer there so after reading Outdoor Life and Sports Afield articles on the sport my assumption was that I was ready to go build a stand or two and thus become a deer hunter. Years earlier Ivy had part of that 80 logged with 10,000 pine seedlings planted along with a dynamite created wildlife watering pond. In the center was a clearing so on that first trip walking in on the field road in search of a stand location the obvious became oh so apparent – I knew absolutely nothing about anything related to hunting deer. Even so after a number of 360 degree turns armed with a small saw, hammer and nails the site selection was made. Four trees close together would serve as the legs, small logs cut to length the bottom and another nailed a bit higher as a seat. All this overlooking the clearing because surely deer would be milling around in the opening throughout the day. I couldn’t have been more wrong from every direction. First, the stand was difficult to climb into when dressed for a fall deer hunt, the bottom too small to move on, the so-called seat was an absolute but-killer sitting longer than 15 minutes not to mention all day long. Oh yea all the deer tracks left in the clearing weren’t made during the day but under the cloak of night but as you now know I was oblivious. That first year I tried to hunt never even glimpsing a deer and on the second year too. It wasn’t until the third season in that same location but in a rebuilt and more functional stand I sat suddenly hearing leaves crunching behind me exactly like a man walking. Crunch, crunch, crunch the rhythm was more of human steps than what a deer must sound like, or so I thought. Never a pause just the sound shielded from sight but coming closer and around the pond. Getting ready just in case I stood leaned against the tree and raised the semi-auto 30 cal carbine borrowed from my Uncle Curly and waited. I remember my heart pounding so hard and sounded so loud inside my head that the left hand slid inside the red coat to hopefully shield the sound and then in an instant it happened. About 15 yards to my right a buck, a huge buck stepped into the clearing and stopped. Just as suddenly the shakes were gone, the pounding sounds from within were silent and then it was just the two of us the buck, the first deer I’d ever seen while hunting and me. Quietly I pressed the safety, lined up the iron sights behind the front shoulder and squeezed. The shot was deafening and in the next instant the buck dropped where he had just silently stood. A few minutes later with the deer motionless I emptied the rife and climbed down. Then as quiet and quickly as possible 3 shells back in that old 30 cal I walked looking at that magnificent animal feeling a huge amount of excitement and a bit of regret for the animal. Staring at him would require another first – field dressing the buck. Again thinking I was prepared I took out the Outdoor Life page carried for now the third year that diagrammed how to gut a deer. What followed wasn’t near as easy as the pictures on the page made it look like and although done my return to the old house left no doubt in dad’s mind (not hunting but the camp cook or so he called himself) that I had shot a deer because from head to toe blood could be seen leaving that blood sweet odor to be smelled too. Looking more like a self-sacrifice than deer hunter he smiled.
I tell you this story because there is really no substitute for actual personal experiences in the outdoors. If you require the biggest, the most or always require successes to validate your outdoor trips you’ve totally “missed the boat!”
Do you remember your first deer? How about the most recent hunt? What can you recall to make it very personal? Go ahead use the memories to relive that special moment. It’s priceless don’t you agree?
P.S. The first bass tournament is worthy of telling too but another time!
Sometime a number of years ago I think it was my younger brother Dick who, at the end of a pheasant hunting day made up of long walks stuffed some toilet paper into the toes of dad’s leather boots as a bit of a joke. We all laughed as dad complained the next morning of his uncomfortable fitting boots. So began a long-running family laugh. Not only in leather boots but paper stuffed toes were, from time to time found in hip boots, rubber waders, tennis shoes and dad’s leather Wellington work shoes. Needless to say when my boys, Erik and Chad began to hunt the soft paper found its way into their footwear too. The laughs were always more funny for the prankster and frustrating for the recipient when boots were already laced up or wiggled into. Once I even wore the boot for most of the day before the uncomfortable fit caused me to check it out.
So began some of the small funnies around home. That is until not so many years ago when lunch sandwich-making duties came my way for the next days’ hunt. Somehow I decided, in the spirit of the tissue toes to make one lunch item much less desirable than all the rest. Not inedible or truly nasty but different to say the least. Outwardly it would have exactly the same appearance as all the others but with just one bite taste buds would give it away with absolutely no doubt that you’d been had. Items like horseradish, large amounts of mustard (none of us really like the yellow stuff), garlic or combinations that included jelly with garlic, sweet pickles (preferred about as much as mustard in our group) with horseradish would be included between the bread slices. One of us, usually not me became the obvious winner around lunch time. With laughs ‘n chuckles it soon became a bit of a tradition now looked forward to, sometimes unknowingly by one of our group.
The "Special Sandwich" has also made its way from time to time into the boat during days on the water. In one instance I waited 3 days to eat a sandwich. Chad and I had spent 2 practice days together not finding it and if the truth be known he wasn’t even aware there was a special one until tournament day. It was around 11 when hungry he reached into the cooler. After the first bite he gagged a bit, wrinkled up his face with tongue hanging out suddenly digging for a Coke. "uuggggg" was all he said before expressing his extreme surprise and displeasure as I laughed my way into a remaining sandwich I now knew was safe, finally!
So as melting snow drips from the roof and a reluctant spring still seems far away my thoughts are of days afield with the dogs, fishing trips, the sweet smell of outboard exhaust, a spring rain, the squeeking calls of a hen woodie, gobbling toms and lunches complete with "Special Sandwiches!"