Decoy Carving

I’m not the most creative guy. I’m not a great drawer. I don’t sing, dance (well), or act. I have a terrible eye for design and aesthetics. But there is one medium that I really enjoy working with – so much so that I am able to look past my lack of artistic ability and create something that I am proud of. I like to carve wooden duck decoys. Continue reading “Decoy Carving”

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Diamond Point Park

This evening I decided to take a little walk down to Diamond Point Park to see the sights and sounds of spring. Unfortunately, my phone died shortly after starting my walk and I was unable to take pictures. But if you’ve ever visited the park before, you’ll almost certainly understand what I saw.

After spending a few minutes scanning the lake, it’s clear that it won’t be long at all before ice-out happens and I can finally close the chapter on winter in Bemidji. The strong winds and warmer temperatures we’ve experienced in the last few days have really done a number on the remaining ice, leaving probably 75% of the lake with open water. The wind pushes the remaining ice all over the lake – when I walked to class the morning a large ice sheet butted up against the south shore of the lake; as I walked Diamond Point this evening, the east wind had pushed most of the ice next to the park’s shoreline. There are still some large ice heaves along shore (most noticeably right on the tip of the point), but they have gone down considerably since my last visit to the Lake Bemidji shore. My predicition: Lake Bemidji will no longer have any ice after this coming Friday.

Hundreds of ducks are enjoying the large expanse of open water on the lake as well, flying in tight flocks near the surface of the water. While some of these ducks will stay and breed on the lakes near Bemidji, most are simply enjoying the Bemidji area as they continue north following open water. Species included mostly buffleheads, ringnecks, and bluebills. Pairs of mallards were also scattered around the lake, and I even managed to sneak up on a drake and a hen that were resting on the green grass next to a telephone pole near Oak Hall. It amazes me how adaptable wildlife can be – they simply stood up and meandered a few feet away from me before plopping back down on their bellies.

Another interesting sight — two bald eagles fighting (?) each other in mid-air as I walked underneath the oaks and pines of the park. I watched in amazement as I saw just how agile these massive birds can be and they took turns chasing each other overhead. Eventually, one flew off while the other perched itself neatly on a large limb near the top of a tree. What surprised me most were the calls they were making as they flew after each other…it was definitely not what I expected out national bird to sound like. If you’ve never heard a bald eagle call, you’ll be a bit surprised, just as I was tonight.

 

Things began to die down as the sun set, except for the the crackling of the ice sheet as waves crashed into it sending shards floating off into the open water. The ducks disappeared into the darkness as they bobbed in the gentle waves just off shore and the eagle spread its huge wings as it took off to another nearby tree. It was time for me to go as well. As I walked back to my house I couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of the nature almost literally in my backyard.

Weekly Reflection (4/11/16)

Another week has come and gone, which means another week of riveting, inspirational, funny, and entertaining posts have been published on Blog 218. My attempt at humor.

Anyway, here’s a recap of what I did this week. It was a little difficult for me this week, but a conversation with my girlfriend turned me onto an idea that became two of my three posts this week. While those posts stray a little bit from what I’ve written about in the past, I think it is still relevant to my overall goal of the project. They are also a kind of “field trip” that one of my readers suggested a try to write about. Besides that, I just really enjoyed recounting the story of two recent hunting trips I had with her.

My first post revisited a hot-button issue for Minnesota’s fishermen who frequent Lake Mille Lacs. Update: Lake Mille Lacs is about the backlash that occurred after DNR officials passed regulations on an extremely popular Minnesota fishing lake that left anglers, resorts, and business owners upset. The DNR responded to these pressures by reconsidering their previous ban on the use of live bait by walleye anglers, allowing anglers to use their favorite minnows, leeches, and worms come fishing opener. Hooking mortality rates that go alone with the use of live bait will likely be a factor that contributes at least some percentage to the success or failure of the state’s overall Lake Mille Lacs walleye management plan.

My next two posts are closely related and tell the story of my girlfriend’s first two hunting excursions with me – one taking place on a Bemidji area duck lake and the other overlooking southern Minnesota corn and bean fields during the 2015 deer opener. I tried to write these posts in a somewhat humorous way that shows the lighter side of hunting, and more specifically, the joys of introducing someone new to the outdoors. Abby, a relatively inexperienced hunter, has always been the type to try almost anything at least once. Sharing a duck boat and tree stand with me is no exception. I really enjoyed writing these posts because they brought back the great memories that are associated with those hunts. In the end, I think that is what blogging is all about in some aspects. Using blogs as a kind of diary helps the writer remember the moments in their lives that made an important impact.

As part of my informal studio tours, I poked around Hannah’s Blog and commented on her recent country music post. I plan on going back in the coming days to discover new music..she really has done a great job of exploring different genres.

Play Ball by Micah Friez made me remember how important baseball was to me growing up. I never missed a Twins game on TV. Now life seems busier and there is less time for baseball, but he did a great job at capturing the excitement behind Opening Day. Great trip down memory lane for me.

My good friend Emma is doing really interesting things on her blog. As I bundle up and walk to class in 30 degree weather, it is refreshing to read about the incredible things she is seeing and doing in England. Awesome pictures and descriptions of the places and people’s she’s seeing every day.

Well, I think that’s about it for this week. Thanks for reading!

Abby’s Second Hunt

This is the second installment of my “Abby Hunts” series, which chronicles the hunting experiences I’ve had with my wonderful girlfriend, Abby. To read our first hunting experience on a cold, windy, rainy duck lake in mid-October, click here.

So after a fun, albeit relatively uneventful, duck hunt, Abby had dipped her wader boots into the world of duck hunting. Now, as October came to a close and crept into November, my thoughts shifted towards my second favorite season – deer season. It was time to trade the mallard decoys and ducks calls for blaze orange and tree stands, at least for the weekend.

I’ve often told Abby about our family’s little deer camp that we all make the pilgrimage to every November. And by pilgrimage, I mean the five miles from my parents’ house to my uncle’s crop farm in Southern Minnesota. But still, it’s a pilgrimage. With some pretty decent deer habitat and a nice heated machine shop complete with a bathroom, kitchenette, and plenty of comfortable seating, my uncle’s got a pretty decent set-up. Abby was excited for the change of pace from the duck boat. As for me, I always enjoy deer season back home. It’s where my hunting roots began – sitting on a fallen log next to my dad shooting at (and missing) squirrels with my BB gun. Great memories.

Opening morning of the 2015 Minnesota firearms season started at 4:30am with a blaring alarm clock. I jumped out of bed and began to throw on some warm base layers for the morning hunt. Abby groaned and mumbled something that sounded a lot like “15 more minutes” and she buried her head in her pillow. I chuckled as I put on my wool socks…she always has a way of making me smile.

After a short drive to the ravine that I had our tree stand placed in, we set off into the darkness with our headlamps bouncing as we walked through the uneven field. Abby is not a huge fan of walking in the dark, so she stayed close on my heels as I led the way to the tree. This was another trust exercise that I passed with flying colors! Soon, the sun rose and our hunt officially began.

 

I had purchased a two-person tree stand a week or so earlier so we could hunt in the same tree and keep each other company. An unintended side effect of this was that I became a perfect pillow for a mid-morning nap. But I was okay with that.

 

When the tree stand spot didn’t produce, Abby and I made the decision to try a new spot. Hunting was slow, but we made up for it with whisper-jokes and quite a few deer season selfies. I’m sure that every deer within three hundred yards heard us joking around and laughing, but for us it didn’t matter. We still joke about the events of that opening weekend, such as when I cruelly denied Abby a Snickers bar because the cellophane wrapper would make too much noise, or when we both burst out laughing seconds after starting a game of Little Red Schoolhouse during “prime time”, obviously reducing the chances of us getting a deer.

Not pictured: Deer (for obvious reasons)

Neither Abby or I filled our deer tag this year. But she did promise me that she would try deer hunting again, especially if I considered putting up an enclosed guard-tower style blind with a heater and a comfy chair.

I said I’d work on it, so does anyone have a nice chair they don’t want any more?

Abby’s First Hunt

One of the best things a hunter or fisherman can do is introduce someone new to the outdoors. When that person is their significant other, the effects are magnified.

One of my favorite things to do is hunt, especially duck hunt. Abby found this out early in our relationship when I would say goodnight at about 9:00pm every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and sometimes Sunday night during duck season for my 4:00am wake-up call.  On days when I had class, I would drift into the Oak Hall parking lot, duck boat and decoys bouncing around in the bed of my trick, smelling like a combination of sweat, swamp water, and gunpowder. I would often use a bottle of water to wash black and brown face paint off my face the best I could while cruising back to Bemidji. Unbelievably, I never was never late for class; I always was there either right on time or a minute or two early. In short, I fit right in with many of my those who sat next to me in class.

Abby had never really hunted before, but had completed her hunter’s safety class in high school, so she wasn’t totally foreign to the concept. She was either really curious about what I actually did when I woke up at 4:00am and threw on my waders and camouflage jacket and speed-walked to my truck in the dark, duck calls jingling around my neck, or sick of me constantly asking her to come with me the next weekend. Either way, she finally agreed to tag along with me to one of my favorite duck lake one chilly October morning.

We left early in the morning, a couple hours before sunrise. We hooked up the boat, loaded the truck with waders, decoys, jackets, and all types other gear, and headed to the lake. Abby was surprisingly giddy the entire thirty minute drive, singing along to the radio and asking questions about where we were going, how far away we were, and if we would shoot any ducks.

Finally, we arrived. I began to back the boat down the narrow dirt boat launch in the dark, checking both side view mirrors as I centered the boat in the lane. Abby, standing near the water’s edge with a headlamp fastened around her forehead, did a great job of giving me directions. “Left, left, straighten out, right, right some more. Straight back. Stop!”

After putting on our waders and jackets and loading the boat with all the necessary gear, we began the slow boat ride to the spot we were going to hunt. Using an electric trolling motor to slowly push us along, it took about a half hour to get where we needed to go. Abby was not a huge fan of not being able to see much further than twenty or thirty yards into the darkness with our headlamps (or maybe it was just that I was steering the boat, I don’t know. I considered it a trust exercise.), but I assured her that we were almost to our hunting spot.

I hid the boat in a stand of cattails, pitched out the decoys into the predawn darkness, and settled in with Abby sitting by my side. There was little more do than wait for the sun to rise and swarms of ducks to fly within range. Or not.

Abby and I saw a few ducks, but none were interested in our decoy spread and quickly flew to the other end of the lake. Also, someone got tired and fell asleep. This is a common theme.

The weather began to deteriorate by 10am with steady wind and rain and we were both getting a little bit antsy for warmth and food, so we decided to call it quits early and head back to Bemidji for breakfast.

When I asked Abby if she would ever consider duck hunting again, she made it clear that she did not like the dark boat ride, or sitting in the dark, or the rain, or the cold wind. But other than that, she had an alright time. She was a good sport all morning, and I really appreciated it.

“I’ll chalk that up as a success,” I told myself, happy that I was able to introduce Abby to something that I’m passionate about. The laughs we shared that first hunt will always be some of my favorite memories.

 

Thanks for reading!

Update: Lake Mille Lacs

It’s been a little over a couple weeks since I wrote a bit about Lake Mille Lacs and the regulation changes that left a sour taste in some of the mouths of fishermen and local businesses that rely on tourism through much of the year. Public opinion varies greatly on the appropriateness of the DNR’s plan. Some see it as a necessary step in ensuring the walleye population can stabilize and continue to grow into the future. On the other hand, reports from fishermen, guides, and resorts around the lake claim that this past ice season was one of the in recent memory, and that the walleye population is not nearly in a dire condition as the DNR would have everyone believe.

As included in my previous post, here were a few of the changes included in the DNR’s original decision.

  • Beginning on May 14th and running through December 1st, all walleyes must be immediately released
  • All anglers targeting walleye must use artificial bait or lures
    • Muskie and northern pike fisherman may use live or dead sucker minnows 8 inches or longer
  • Night restrictions put in place for walleye anglers. No walleye angling between 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. from Monday, May 16 through through December 1
    • Muskie anglers may fish at night

Lake Mille Lacs is a very important lake for thousands of people, so it was just a matter of time before the DNR’s ruling was challenged by those with vested interests in the lake, including Minnesota lawmakers. While the DNR remained relatively firm on decision, it did make one succession that will likely quell some of the frustration that has arisen recently: live bait will be allowed by anglers targeting walleyes.

In my opinion, the main consideration behind this decision had to do more with the interests of fishermen in mind than the ultimate management goals of Lake Mille Lacs. By allowing live bait to be used, fishermen will have greater success and, in turn, more fun on the lake, even if they must throw every walleye they catch back. On the other hand, however, live bait is likely to result in a certain percentage of hooking mortality, or the percentage of fish that die from being caught, even if they are released. Fish are much more likely to fatally swallow a live night crawler or minnow versus an artificial lure. In this way, fish that would normally have survived under the previous “no live bait” regulation will likely die, negatively affecting the walleye population the DNR is trying to protect.

When it comes down to it, I think the DNR is making the right choice in allowing live bait to be used on Lake Mille Lacs. Yes, some fish will be fatally hooked and die shortly after being released, but the increased fishing success that goes along with using live bait may entice anglers who may have been on the fence about fishing on the lake. After all, catching fish is just as much fun as eating them. When fish are easier to catch, more people fish for them, and those people spend money at local resorts, restaurants, bait shops, and gas stations – all businesses that rely on tourism to survive.

 

Weekly Reflection (4/4/16)

So another week is in the rear-view mirror and we move closer to the end of the semester and for some, like me, graduation. The realization that one chapter of my life is coming to a close is starting to hit me. The promise of bigger and brighter things in the future, however, makes me really excited and wanting time to go faster.  I think this week was probably the most enjoyable week I’ve had so far posting to this blog. I was able to get outside and enjoy the decent spring weather, collect my thoughts, and share them with all of you. A brief summary of my posts this week are below:

In terms of my project, I am really thankful for the suggestion from one of my readers that I worry less about finding articles in popular hunting, fishing, and camping publications and try writing about my own experiences in the outdoors. East Side details the little jaunt I went on this weekend on the Lake Bemidji bike trail. I found myself fascinated by the ice heaves that were pushed up on shore and the abundant wildlife that I encountered on my walk. I really appreciate the fact that such beauty exists in the Bemidji area, and those looking to get out of the winter doldrums can get outdoors and experience that beauty right in their own backyard.

Next, I chose to talk a little bit about wolves and the controversy surrounding them, pass along some tidbits about wildlife management and its role in ensuring biodiversity, and share a story written by famous conservationist Aldo Leopold. In A Brief Post About Wolves, I talk about one of the more interesting stories I have read regarding wildlife conservation. Thinking Like A Mountain, written by Aldo Leopold, recounts the author’s experience and observations regarding the importance of wolves in a balanced ecosystem. He also makes a point to say that humans might benefit from learning patience and understanding from the mountains around them, for they have the experience to understand that all living things have their place in the world and that shortsighted decisions are often harmful to the environment. I go on explore a little about about the different perspectives on wolf management and include some of my own personal views towards wolves.

Lastly, I make another trip to Lake Bemidji to help clean up the garbage along the lake shore in Lakeshore Cleanup. As part of a requirement for a class that I’m taking this spring, I needed to take part in a service learning project that would help me to better understand global pollution and how humans impact the earth through their actions. My classmates and I were able to clean up a very large stretch of shoreline by simply dividing and conquering and in the process picking up plastic bottles, food wrappers, plastic bags, and even an old TV. The experience made me more aware of the impact that I have on the earth and made me want to do more to make the areas that I enjoy free of garbage and other waste. Big changes often starts from small actions: pick up your trash when out enjoying the outdoors.

Thank you for reading my blog!

Eric

 

Lakeshore Cleanup

My adventures on Lake Bemidji continue. This afternoon I had the opportunity to pick up trash from the along the shoreline as part of the service learning component of an environmental class that I’m currently taking. The weather was pretty nice, albeit a bit cold, but the sun did its job in warming me up as I walked along the steep banks on the west side of the lake.

Before today I had never had really had the opportunity to help with any sort of shoreline cleanup project, and I was amazed at just how much stuff was littered all over the place! I would estimate that around forty students came out to help, splitting up to cover the entire perimeter of the lake. Working in teams of 5-6 people per group, we scoured the shoreline picking up pop bottles, beer cans, plastic bags, and all kinds of food wrappers. We even picked up a broken TV to be properly disposed of.

All in all, the lake shore cleanup was a great experience. On one hand it was sad the disregard that those who choose to leave their trash anywhere other than a garbage or recycling can, let alone on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in the area. On the other hand, I felt a sense of pride that I was doing my best to help clean that trash up and make the lake look good once again. The weather was nice, the people I worked with were friendly, and I got a pretty good workout out of the deal.

I wish I would have been able to snap some pictures of what I saw but I didn’t quite have a chance to. But what I saw reinforced how important it is for all of us to take responsibility for our actions. It is not acceptable to throw your trash on the ground and just assume that the litter is not a big deal, or that someone else will be along to pick it up for you. If we want to keep the natural beauty of our area, it is important that we all do our part to reduce the amount of garbage we create, recycle when appropriate, and not be too proud to pick up trash when we see it in the areas we enjoy most – our lakes, parks, and trails.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you all have a wonderful week!