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.

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!

A Brief Post About Wolves

I recently read an interesting piece written by Aldo Leopold, one of the founding fathers of the modern conservation movement, that helped to describe my own beliefs towards wildlife conservation and our role as humans in protecting the living things on Earth. Thinking Like A Mountain is an essay included in one of Leopold’s most famous and influential books, A Sand County Almanac.

After reading the essay, I understood what the author is driving at – that we as humans often fail appreciate our wildlife for the role they instinctively play as predator and prey in our ecosystems. Leopold talks in-depth about the relationships that humans have had with Earth’s animals and how people often affect the natural order because of a lack of understanding of the roles that every member of an ecosystem plays. If only humans had the patience and experience that a mountain has accrued after thousands of years of witnessing nature take its course, he says, would they understand the value of wildness in ultimate survival for all species.

In his story, Leopold retells a story from his youth in which he and some friends came across a pack of wolves one day. The group opened fire on the animals and ended up injuring one young wolf and mortally wounding an old, worn wolf. As Leopold approached the dying wolf he witnessed a “green fire” dying in her eyes as she slipped away. This experience had a profound effect on the man, and he uses it to springboard into the predator/prey relationship that exists between wolves, deer, and livestock, even to this day.

https://animalcorner.co.uk/animals/wolves/

The story is a classic in the study of ecology. Both wolves and humans are natural predators to deer and livestock, and both rely on the same deer and livestock in a given area for survival (and sometimes recreation, in the case of humans). However, humans are more advanced and are able to kill off the wolves who they feel are hurting the deer and livestock populations. With fewer predators to keep prey species in check, the livestock and deer must begin to browse further and further away from their home ranges until eventually there is not enough grass, leaves, and crops to eat and the populations crash spectacularly.

Wolves and their impact on deer and livestock is an important issue facing Minnesota. Actually, it is a hot button issue that occasionally flares up into heated debates and demonstrations. Some believe that wolves have such a negative impact on those resources that they should be eliminated completely, while others feel wolves should be protected from hunting and trapping. Others feel there should be some middle ground in which regulated, managed hunting should be offered in the hope that wolf and deer populations will remain at appropriate levels.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/

http://missoulian.com/

I tend to reside in this middle ground. For me, wolves are beautiful, graceful animals that have a certain mystique to them. The way a wolf pack is organized into a family hierarchies is fascinating and should be researched more. But while they are amazing animals, they should be managed just like any other game animal. I think a balance exists among the interest of wolves, deer, livestock, and humans, and this point is easily reachable simply by educating those involved in hunting, animal protection, and agriculture the importance of maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Wolves play an important role in the food chain by being a top predator. Yes, wolves will kill a certain percentage of deer each year. They will also kill livestock here and there. But they are important none the less.

I think the best way to look at wolves is to think of them as being on our side as wildlife managers. Without them, deer populations would likely rise resulting in all kinds of negative effects for both humans and deer (deer/vehicle collisions, disease, starvation, nuisance problems).

Thinking Like a Mountain was written as a way of expressing Leopold’s interest in showing others why conservation is important. I think we can all learn from Aldo Leopold and try to understand that just because we have the ability to alter landscapes, purposefully kill off species, and only consider own own well-being instead of the well-being of the planet in general, it doesn’t mean we should.

Thank you for reading!

 

 

The Chippewa: One of Minnesota’s Wonders

Minnesota is a state as ecologically diverse as its 5.4 million people. Nearly every imaginable terrain can be found within its borders, from corn fields to native prairie grasslands, steep bluffs to low valleys, and wide and deep lakes and rivers to small creeks and swamps. For Minnesota’s outdoorsmen and women, it is about as perfect of a state as you will find anywhere.

One of the features that I am always in most awe of, however, is the millions of acres of pure, unadulterated timber that can be found through much of northern Minnesota. I enjoy driving forest roads that are only just wide enough for a ATV or truck. Camping is also an important activity for me, and living in Northern Minnesota, one particular area always amazes me in terms of its size, wildlife, and history.

The Chippewa National Forest has the distinction of being one of the largest and well-known public forest lands not only in Minnesota, but the United States as well. Originally established as the Minnesota Forest Reserve in 1902, today’s Chippewa National forest covers nearly 1.6 million acres of land and water.

Visitors to the forest will find no shortage of things to do, see, and explore.

Camping is a mainstay for visitors, and the Chippewa offers campsites of nearly every kind imaginable. Both developed and primitive campsites are available throughout the forest. Fishing, hunting, and hiking are also maintains in this area.

To read more about the Chippewa National Forest, click here.

Tick Tock for Tick Season

They say there are two things that are unavoidable in life, and those things are death and taxes. I feel that there is a third thing that should be added to this list, and that is that anyone who ventures into the woods this spring, summer, and fall will almost certainly pick up one of the dirty bloodsuckers in the picture below somewhere on their bodies or clothes.

The Deer Tick. Why, god, why?

For the uninitiated, ticks are small arachnids that often live in wooded or grassy areas. They live by attaching themselves to all types of unsuspecting animal life as they simply go about their their normal, everyday animal business and then proceed to gorge themselves on the blood of the host until they are so fat and happy from the host’s blood that they fall off.

There are quite a few different species of ticks. In Midwestern states, the most common species are the wood tick and deer tick. Wood ticks, also commonly called dog ticks, are usually larger than deer ticks, which are small and depend largely on populations of whitetail deer to serve as hosts. Wood ticks are usually harmless – they feed and then they fall off. Deer ticks, on the other hand, carry Lyme disease which causes a wide range of various ailments.

Image of state of Minnesota with areas of high risk for tick-borne diseases highlighted.

As shown above, much of Minnesota is prime breeding grounds for ticks and tick-borne illnesses, especially in heavily wooded areas in northern and central parts of the state. May through July is often considered peak time for transmission of tick-borne illnesses.

“Yeah, yeah. We get it,” you may be telling yourself, “Some deer ticks carry Lyme disease, which is bad.” You may also be wondering why ticks are such a big deal, or why you should you take precautions to prevent picking up a tick when camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, or just generally enjoying the outdoors.

As stated earlier, deer ticks are of main concern in Minnesota because they carry Lyme disease. The first sign of possible Lyme disease is a red bullseye mark on the skin of the host, followed by pain in joints and muscles, fever and fatigue, and general body stiffness. In most cases, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics with no lingering health effects. Hospitalization is rarely required, except with extreme untreated cases.

So how can you avoid being a tick’s snack this spring and summer? The best method is to simply avoid the woody and brushy places where ticks frequent, especially in peak times of the year (May through July). Needless to say, if you truly enjoy spending time out in the woods in the summer you won’t let a few ticks stop you from being outside. Apart from giving up the outdoor pastimes you most enjoy like camping and hunting, the next best course of action is to wear light colored clothes that cover exposed skin and spray yourself down liberally with tick repellent.

So now that you know a few ways to prevent ticks latching on, what should you do if you find one on your skin? (hint: panic is not the right answer.)

 

 

Self Portrait, Pt. 1

As part of this week’s assignment, we are asked to write 2-3 posts detailing a bit of who we are and explore how our identities shape our online presence. Reading more about the assignment and what is expected, I became more and more excited. I have a wide variety of interests and ideas and am excited to demonstrate how three distinct self-portraits can give my readers a unique perspective on who I am.

So, starting off. Continue reading “Self Portrait, Pt. 1”