Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Duck hunting - mid season recap

This duck season for me has been a mixed bag in more ways than one. I had high hopes of bringing my dog out for her first hunt because she's shown herself to be more ideal at duck hunting than at grouse - the reality is still to be seen, but that's my hunch. She hasn't gotten out in the blind yet, but I've had one of the most fun seasons to date, if not the most in terms of bags limits and times out. I've spent two days on the water and maybe no more, but they were two great days. I would rather spend the day in a duck boat than in a deer stand (please don't take that as a slam on deer hunting as I am working on a new topic on deer that will likely help a lot of new hunters).
By code, I am not allowed to divulge exact whereabouts of hunts - if you are new, you will understand this in time. If you have been around the block you can respect this. With that said, my brother; Ryan, and my cousin and I spent the opener somewhere on its 575 miles in the state. After some engine troubles and a lackadaisical start, we ended up somewhere slightly off the "X" as we say. This meant for excellent shooting, but as the morning wore on, short lived. We set up on a main channel and as such had no real eddies for ducks to loaf in. First light saw a nice woodie, and a sawbill, but the location was fantastic and camaraderie equally memorable. We split the afternoon with an unproductive grouse hunt, but came out happy nonetheless.

Later in the month, Ryan, my dad and I hunted a new area in the vicinity of Leech Lake - through a guide and friend, we found a little spot that is overlooked by many. On our day, it ended up being less than perfect for the wind, but still yielded 4 woodies, two ringbills and a mallard, plus one hoodie (aka lawn dart) for the mix. My dad would have preferred geese, but Ryan - ever the planner - would prefer not to clean geese. Later that night, we grilled woodie and WOW. I can appreciate game when I think of the ways it could go well with other things, but this was pure simplicity - salt, pepper and fire.

In the picture on the right, you can see a wood duck in Ryan's arms. There are no claims laid to this particular bird officially, but the evidence could be compiled to prove a claim were it important. Still, in commemoration of this hunt and what will be the first ever occasion in a troop of meat hunters, this bird is being mounted. I will report when it returns in 4 months but I am super excited as the taxidermist said it was the best looking woodie they had seen.

Time will tell if the season has more ducks - I'm okay with hunting grouse from here on out. I am nursing a knee issue and in the end, its all about the days - not the number of days.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Life and hunting

To be fair, the act of writing a blog comes second to a lot of other things. I've learned to accept in life that technology is not my life wholly and that it takes effort to make a go at these things.
So it was with life this past year - If you look back a post you'll see a tribute to the men who led me down the path I'm on. One of those men; my grandfather, passed away this July - shortly after the post was written. Not much to do but move on, I guess.
The other big endeavor has been my first dog, Willow.

We've had a good year so far - spending time hiking, working on force retrieve and generally finding our stride together. She;s come a long way, and while I have no misgivings about her as a becoming a top hunter, I am happy to have a friend in the woods. She jumps off a dog like a champ and she fetches reliably though not with the drilled perfection of some dogs.

Still, at three years old, she has lived a lot - two weeks before Halloween, we put her on birds as well as I could have ever hoped, but still my shooting was not up to task. I was watching the dog and I couldn't connect well. With a bum knee, I walked 7 miles - Willow surely walked more. We left the woods that day with more than we came - nearly 40 deer ticks would be found from her fur that day and in days following. Let that be a lesson to everyone in the woods in the fall - the only ticks out in October are deer ticks so remove em quick from yourself.

That same week, Kim and I brought Willow in for a routine checkup at the vet. There we found she had chipped a tooth. Dumb labs - and I say this with all affection in the world - they keep plugging along in spite of any pain. Never would I have guessed how true that concept was to a lab than in the days following. The tooth needed to be removed. Without hesitation, we scheduled the appointment for the following Monday. Typical surgery, Willow came home and we pampered her by letting her relax and slacking off on our obedience a bit. She was a dopey sort of loveable though and this was fine. The following morning, we dosed her with the prescribed pain meds (Metacam) and went about our day. We returned home to find a wet piece of real estate in the house. No worries, the dog was doped up, so if she was tired and peed, this was not normal, but not unheard of. Waking up the next morning, we discovered another wet spot, odd, but not alarming, I looked into the issue and found some troubling information, but decided to be rational and call the vet. I didn't mean to be alarmed, and felt no need, but this kind of issue can happen, however rare in dogs.

We discontinued meds, not quite sure what the connection was. The wetting continued - only in her sleep though. She drank tons of water, and went out frequently; but if she was left alone or slept at night, she wet. Two days elapsed and we were concerned, so we made an appointment with our vet. That following morning, Willow was given some tests. The look on the face of the vet is etched in my brain when they let us know she needed to be hospitalized - concerned and unsure about where this would end up, they wanted us to take the steps to improve our pup's condition. With no hesitation, we were given our marching orders for the next portion of the day. She would stay until 530 PM getting fluids, at which time we would transfer her for care at an emergency hospital for overnight care. I was floored. I am no parent. I have never owned a pet, but this [without being overly dramatic] shit was getting REAL, really quick. No one said the diagnosis - perhaps the words sounded to serious, but we would later call this Acute Renal Failure. In simple terms, her Kidneys stopped working: now.

The next 24 hours were tense. We would be given a glimmer of hope, but our own minds would race and find a way to guard against false hope. In my case, this meant a nasty spiral mentally that resulted in a tightness in my core and frustration I have never known. For Kim and I, this meant trying our best to support each other, though I fear at some points, I was not as supportive as I needed supporting.

That was Thursday - Friday resulted in an improvement at the vet. We administered subcutaneous fluids and went home with our patient. It was good to have her home, even if she was not herself. She drank a lot of fluids, she peed a lot. She continued to wet in her sleep. Saturday morning another vet visit. By this time, Willow knew the drill, and the inevitable location of the thermometer was no surprise, even if it wasn't comfortable. Her results this time, however were less than ideal - a backslide, however small, is nothing we wanted to hear. We spent the day in worry. I clammed up, and was rather a pain in the ass. I am a fool for my dog - and at 3, I wasn't ready to face the inevitability of losing her. We gave fluids one more time, my dog looking like a camel with 1 liter of fluid in her back, and I went to work.

Sunday we thought about what to do next. Tried to pretend everything was alright and had some crappy conversations about our next steps. See, Kim's a thinker; I shoot from the hip. This is fine if you want to decide where to have dinner, but does not bode well for life and death situations. Where do we go from here? We didn't really know. Only Monday's tests could show the path.

Monday, we worked. Thank God. I should also note that we have the most gracious neighbors in the world (Seriously, I wish everybody could have friends like these). One person in particular, Rick, offered to let Willow out every couple hours. Rick walks Willow daily usually, and it is so appreciated with our sometimes hectic schedules. He often lets Willow out to play with her buddy Callahan and burn some energy off... Still, I could have cried when I pulled up on Halloween afternoon to see Rick sitting in a lawn chair in his driveway, and as I backed into the garage, my dog comes ripping up. I was a little ticked she couldn't sit away from the truck: after all, we had worked on this before, BUT, there was my girl in decent spirits, and a good friend watching out for my family. Shortly thereafter, we took Willow to the vet for another round of tests, scales, thermometers and waiting. This time however, the news was good. She was back within normal range. The next few days were touch and go - she was not perfect nor her normal self, though we lacked the worry of the past 7 days. I can now confidently say that she's nearing normal again and we will continue our fall and hunting season, but without any urgency. We've got today and that's all that matters.

This weekend I missed deer hunting. Work, life and other things transpired - I've got a new skill to work on for hunting that I will detail in the coming months: it seems I am a beginner again. Despite all this, it's another day. Ultimately, hunting is what grounds me, and many others. A connection to the world around us, and that's all that matters.

Gun. Dog. Woods or Waters.

What more do you need? If at the end of your day, there's some meat to share with family, that's all you can ask for.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

To Fathers, and Grandfathers.

There's a picture of my grandfather - rather, there are multiple pictures of both of my grandfathers; some are photographs, and some are just memories held by me alone. Still, there is one in particular that holds a deeper meaning for me. In it, my grandpa Joe holds a stringer of fish proudly above his shoulder - hoisted like a prize trophy given at the end of a great race. He was well dressed and neat - a condition my dad would later teach me as "strack" - military slang for well turned-out or neat. Proud and clean, he claimed his trophy that day. There were other trophies too; the walleye mount on the wall of their single-wide in Garrison, or the buckshot that resides in his leg to this day. In his working years he was an HVAC man. Hard and ready for work, but he has been and still is a gentle soul who gardens and knows how to care for a rose.
My grandpa John has been gone for a few years now - the actual date softened in my young mind by time, but the stories I have heard of hunting grouse at the family cabin near Remer, MN are strong in my mind. The many miles my grandfather walked with my dad and uncles, with police-auction guns, heavy with a days worth of beating the brush, and the memories savored of a crisp autumn day. My Grandpa John was a singer, and a more beautiful voice in a man I cannot think of. He sang with the Apollo Club of Minneapolis. Slight through all the years I knew him, he was a man of the strongest character, if not the most prominent physique.
My forefathers - my idols growing up - have included my grandfathers: well-rounded men who have embodied far more than pure machismo, they are men who are diverse in their interest, abilities and knowledge. I'd be remiss if I didn't include my own father, too; and while I find it more difficult to pay tribute to people who had to spend more time disciplining me than others, my own dad has come to embody the same things I revere in my grandfathers. Well into my own adult years, the times I truly cherish most with my father are the ones that are the most simple. A day beating the underbrush for grouse, a day of empty skies on the Upper Mississippi, or hauling in fish after fish of pan-sized sunfish beats any other day out there.
I think that's the thing that has become more apparent the older I get - that the concerns of our youth give way to the respect and understanding of adulthood. My grandfathers have always stood as a symbol of what a man should be to me; strong and kind, with a capability for things far greater than their own self. My idols live for their families and treat others with a powerful kindness. Still, they would want no place on a pedestal - my grandpa Joe still gets a twinkle in his eye when he sneakily give you a punchline, and one of my favorite memories of my father is him telling me as we traversed a rough section of hill with some sort of trailer that the reason I was along was to be the voice of reason (The older I get, the less likely I am to be the voice of reason oddly enough).
I'm not yet a father - but I hope daily that I can live up to the examples given by my grandfathers and my own father when I am. These men have taught me a respect for the outdoors, and in an ever-changing world, that there is a place for time in the woods. So, on this Fathers' Day, I pay respect to my Fathers.

*This is a tough time of year time-wise for me if you wish to be a part of sharing your hunting experiences or add, please contact me. Until later, please bear with me until things slow down a bit.

Monday, April 18, 2011

What it's about.

I started hunting - really hunting - the week my grandfather died. It was never really part of my life in a meaningful way until that time. I shot guns, I fished, I spent a hell of a lot of time outdoors. While many kids grew up in the confines of a city, I split my time: able to reference one from the other.
This is a tough time of year for me - far too many hours spent indoors, THINKING about what it's like outside. Recent weather in MN has been unseasonable, and that is disappointing; but being IN it, is still better than being OUT of it. I work in an indutry that value outdoors, but I think the adage of the quickest way to get off a bike is get into the biking industry is close to the truth.
I am selling my truck. Currently not actively, but this summer, I will be without a vehicle. It's economical, it's prudent, but it's not me. This decision has forced a lot of questions: what do I NEED? What can i live with? WHEN do I need something different? WHAT sort of impact am I making for my future, and one day, my children? I'm a pragmatist - I know that climate change is inevitable, but I do not know what causes it. I am aware of my potential role and will move to change it, but am not convinced that it is completely man-made. Still, I want to lessen the impact in the short-term.
I recently completed "Let My People go Surfing" By Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, and I also watched 180ยบ South on an unrelated spree. I think the questions posed about our effects on the earth are worth asking. How do we impact our world, either positively and negatively? Further, how do we minimize or mitigate this?
I want more of this. I want this to be a spring board for experiencing our natural world; raw and uncut. I wish for others to experience the world in unedited splendor, as I have. Life, Death, Sorrow, Joy and conservation. The only way to experience the way this world was meant to be is to EXPERIENCE it. As a community, we can do it. What role do you play?
My time is tight this time of year: but not so tight that I cannot make time for people wanting to experience the outdoors. Do you want to hunt or fish? Do you want to share your knowledge? Let's talk, it's time we created more stewards for the land.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Name that fly!

A short post, but here's some of the results of this weekend's fly tying. It feels good to get back at the vise after taking last winter off. Sad to say my tying cement has nearly dried up. With more in hand though, I should be able to get a few more attempts in this winter before the call of the water is to great to resist.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The off-season

This time of year is a hard one. It's what people in the North some times refer to as "soft weather" - too cold to paddle, but too warm to travel safely over ice. Obviously this is less true the further you go north, but for now we're all staring down the barrel of soft weather in the next few weeks and months. For me, it's the hardest time of year - I wish I could remember who to attribute the quote to, but someone said that they pitied the person who didn't paddle a wooden canoe in the winter (or at the very least a own a wooden paddle) because they had nothing to do.
This time of year, you are likely to find me tying flies for fishing season, refinishing the odd paddle, or tending to the season's gear that needs tending. Sometimes I will create a project, like the one in the works for the past two years to create a GPS pocket on my bird vest so I can track my distances.
Tonight I sat down with some of the things that make the off season great. The fly tying vise, a cocktail and my dog. The few flies I tied were serviceable but nothing special - my company was quiet, keyed in on her treat of pig's ear from the butcher. But, come spring, a trout or a panfish will rise to my ugly flies and may become dinner.
In the meantime, pull up a chair, have a drink - this is the time when most are ready to get out the house, but if you;ve been active all winter, a break is a good thing.
Still, I need a wooden boat to work on.

Monday, January 24, 2011

So, you want to hunt?

Now's about the time to get to the meat of this all. We NEED to get other people hunting, and at the very least, we need to get more participants in fishing. Why? For starters, we are raising a generation who are unaware of the natural world around them. minds occupied only by technology and heading towards a society that is incapable of experiencing the natural world.
It shouldn't be this way - and it doesn't have to be. First off, I would like to extend an invitation to take anyone hunting that has done their proper learning and gotten their licenses - I will take you hunting in a safe way, I will teach you any tricks I can, and I will show you what I love about getting out in the woods, marsh or prairie.
All I ask is that you bring a license, a desire to learn, and a willingness to work. If you're over 18, you have a lot of resources available to you to learn to hunt - all in the comfort of your own home. Each state is different for requirements, but it is safe to say if you're under the age of 35 you will likely need some hunter education. I haven't checked on every state, but huntinfo looks a good place to start if you're not familiar with your state's governing agencies.
There is so much to be learned afield - values that are scarce in much of our world: patience, honor, hard work and more. This is not a lament on the state of our society but a call to reclaim what gives us pride. To know that we are a part of this world, more than just a parasite. If nothing else, it is a call to return to something I think is well summed up by Robert Service in the poem "The Call of the Wild":

They have cradled you in custom,
They have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention
Through and through;
They have put you in a showcase;
You're a credit to their teaching —
But can't you hear the Wild?
— It's calling you.
Let us probe the silent places,
Let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There's a whisper on the night-wind,
There's a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling,
Calling . . . let us go.

It starts with you wanting to see more, to do more. I'm more than willing to take people into the woods, wetlands and prairies. The future relies on conservationists and sportsmen.