28 September 2010

I saw him before he saw me...

Maybe I'm just not lucky enough to see these guys regularly. I've seen a handful over the past couple years, but they've been few and far between. But this one, this one I spotted first. Look very close in the center of the photo, see the owl?

Burr under my saddle

I just finished reading an article in Minnesota Sportsman magazine titled "Hunting Rainy Day Whitetails" by Stephen D. Carpenteri in which he is making the argument for getting out after whitetails in the rain, something I completely agree with. I do get out in the rain as it is a special time in the deep woods when movement is quiet, scent is not blown about near as much in clear sunny weather, and if you know your ground you know where the deer take cover.

What I take umbrage with, in his advice, is the following statement:

"Before I tell you what you should bring with you on rainy day hunts, I'll explain what should be left behind. Don't bring electronic gear (unless you are willing to risk losing it to moisture). Forget your wallet,keys, pocket knives, extra flashlight and GPS unit. Leave your pack behind. Don't bring cameras, cooking gear, tripods, range finders, space blankets, survival gear or anything else that rain will ruin."

First, I would say he carries too much shite in sunny weather if he is carrying all that.

Second, ever hear of hypothermia? When does deer hunting take place, that's right, fall and winter. When wet you loose body heat about 40% faster than in dry conditions, at a slight breeze and below 40 degree temps and you have the perfect recipe for hypothermia. We won't get into the what ifs, like getting turned around or getting so far out you need to spend the night as making your way back in the dark through rough country could spell disaster via broken ankles and nasty falls.

Third, if your "survival gear" can be ruined by rain, you don't have "survival gear" you've got some mamby-pamby hucksters version of survival gear.

I enjoyed the rest of the article, but advice to potential green horn backwoods hunters to leave their survival kit behind when hunting in the rain in the fall/winter is just plain stupid and reckless.

A survival kit needn't be heavy nor adversely impacted by wet weather, hell that's when you are more likely to have need of it!

27 September 2010

Wind Direction ~ Natural Indicators

If you hunt you know you have to hunt the wind. Wolves do it, all natural predators hunt the wind. You also know that to an animal, a human stinks. One whiff and they take off to the next county. Some folks use bic lighters, flame blows in the direction the wind is blowing, problem is it's only good for the wind right where you are and it doesn't help you see what the thermals are doing. Others pack small bottles of talc and a little squirt and you can watch the powder drift, though it isn't very visible past a few feet, and it smells. Lots of folks recommend Milkweed seeds but I find them to be a bit messy to carry about.

For me Cattails work so much better. I just cut a bit off the top, not much. Pick it a bit and the pieces will begin to float out. It's easy to do, also they tend to hold their shape real well. I carry mine in my pocket, pull it out when I want to check the wind/thermals. You can watch them float for a long long way. I once watched them float on thermals as the sun was setting for 10 maybe 15 minutes.

In the first picture below you can see them slightly to the left floating down that old logging road, some of those are a good 40 yards away and still visible, they also ride thermals so you can tell where your scent is flowing even if there is no breeze.

Keep the wind in your face.

24 September 2010

Youngest Son Practicing Bushcraft

These are old pictures but I really enjoyed teaching him and watching him work through this. Though he had a knife he didn't use it at all, I wanted him to be able to do this without one, as that is a fine skill to have in a chips are down situation.

We started in the pine barrens, a section of woods on my property of thick pines with pretty much no undergrowth. We found this downed tree and he set to work.

He started by simply "walking up the tree", breaking limbs with his foot as he went. It is fairly easy to do.

Once done he gathered what he had broken off and some extra limbs that he will use in the walls.

Next he was bounced on the downed tree in a couple sections till it broke, he supported the section to break with a smaller log, this gave him the positioning he needed to get the tree to break. The he took the broken pieces and made a tripod for the ridge pole. I did check his work here for stability.

At this point he starts on the rearward wall, using the broken limbs from earlier to set in the first layer.

Still laying in the rear wall.

Working the front now and layering in the needles and leaves and other insulation.

 More insulation and coverage.

Here is a view of the interior.

His fire is a little big here, partly because he'd just gotten it started and added too much fuel. The shelter is further back than it appears in the image.

Finished product with one proud nine year old, Dad was pretty proud too.

22 September 2010

The trees are on fire...

Words can not do them justice, pictures only meagerly bring the richness to screen. They are positively on fire here in the North Woods.

21 September 2010

Stump-Fire, Wetterlings & Lunch?

Odd combination? Not really.

I enjoy a decent lunch when I'm bummin' around the backwoods and I really like my Wetterlings pocket axe, I'm not a fan of cooking over a campfire on the ground. It's not really hard to do or challenging I just prefer cooking off the ground, so I decided to combine my favorite lunch fire, which I call a "stump-fire", my pocket axe and lunch!

I am really fond of Wetterlings whole line of axes but particularly their Hunters Axe and their small axe. Wetterlings is actually owned by Gransfors Bruks, from what I understand they bought Wetterlings a few years back. The Gransfors axes as well as Wetterlings are made in Sweden, hand forged in the old way. While these axes are similar they are not identical, the Gransfors come with a little more polish and fine finishing while the Wetterlings is slightly less so it is still fully functional and a fine piece. At roughly half the cost of a Gransfors they are also a great bargain.

My Small axe and Small Hunters axe:

The small axe, I also call it a pocket axe, is 10 1/4" overall with a 5 1/4" axe head and a 2 3/4" cutting edge it weighs 1.2 pounds. It is a very nice small and handy package.

The small hunters axe is 15 1/4" overall with a 5 7/8" axe head and a 2 7/8" cutting edge, it weighs two pounds four ounces.

Both are nice in the hand, both arrived shaving sharp though having hand axes that sharp is certainly not necessary.

From Wetterlings:
The history of Wetterlings started over 100 years ago. On a spring day in 1882 the engineer Otto Wetterling disembarked from a train in Storvik Sweden. For several years he had studied the production of axes in the USA. His brother, Sven Axel Wetterling had earlier started producing axes on a small scale in a forge in Storvik. His company was named S. A. Wetterlings Manufacturer, or, in short, S. A. W.

Otto Wetterling immediately became supervisor. Using ideas gained from the new country, and craftsmanship and experience from the old, the brothers created a piece of legendary industrial history. Since then the forge has been in uninterrupted use for almost 125 years.

Today, 10 people proudly continue the tradition of producing world class axes. The forge is in Storvik twenty kilometers west of Sandviken. An area in Sweden where people since time for the vikings have worked with iron.

Wetterling Axes are hand forged from quality Swedish steel alloyed from iron, carbon, silicon, manganese and vanadium. Hand forging uses presses that deliver many blows, making the axe edges stronger than if they were drop forged. The special axe steel alloy makes high quality hardening possible. After grinding, hardening and tempering, the Wetterling axes keep a Rockwell hardness of 57-58. These are the main reasons the Wetterling axes hold a keen edge with good "string" longer than most axes.

The handles are lathed from American hickory. The best stress capacity and resistance to blows make hickory the wood of choice for good axe handles.

An axe from Wetterlings is made to last. With a little care, your axe could last forever.
I prefer stump-fires for quick backwoods lunches, I find them easier to build, nicer to work from, require less maintenance and are easier to cook over. Pretty simple concept really, and if you live near old logging country you'll find plenty of stumps. In my case when coursing my own backwoods I've got several lunch and campsites where I have easy access to stumps.

Using my small axe I cut, chop, and carve out the center into the rough shape of a bowl, including a channel cut on one side that allows good air access as well as a good spot to use the firesteel, more on that in a moment. Here is what the stump with the axe work done looks like:

Once I have the rough bowl shape I put in a layer of Birch bark, doesn't take much and where I live it is quite abundant. On this I lay in my tender, more small slivers of Birch bark, ground leaves, and in this case some cuts of cattail as seen here:

Using the axe I just trim about a 1/4" to a 1/2" off the cattail, it'll expand if it is dry and look like this:

Once you have this you lay it in with the rest of the tender, all in place it looks like this:

Using the small axe and my firesteel, couple strokes is usually all it takes, get the coal, blow it a bit and shebang, fire!

Feed this with twigs, more Birch bark and so on till it's running good. Add a few larger pieces and let it burn down into the bowl.

This will burn down into the bowl making a nice bed of coals, the edges of the stump are still good and solid, this makes a nice cooking platform.

Now, those lovely treasure boxes provided by my chickens just this morning, on my way out.

All down hill from here, the small Wetterlings axe is approved for Backwoods Kitchen USE!

Like I said, nothing quite like a good backwoods lunch, something to be said for enjoying it having made it with tools that have become close friends. The Wetterling Small Axe is a joy to carry and use, something that is always on my side when I go backwoods bummin'.

P.S. The leather blade cover for the axe also doubles as a handy pot holder seen here.

13 September 2010

Bummin' About the Backwoods

Was a great day to be out, wind a little high out of the south but was an outstanding day. I decided to check out the old beaver pond a pretty good piece into the back country behind me. Believe there is still a young beaver in there though there was a lot of pretty old beaver sign. The pond has shrunk over the years. Still, it was good to see fresh sign.

After moving across the old beaver dam I headed north and deeper into the backwoods. Found some really nice fresh buck rubs, followed the line to a bedding area I didn't know was there. Will make for some nice midday stalking.

Archery season for deer opens on the 18th of September. Really got the fever now, leaves are turning, weather is changing, fall is rolling in with winter right behind. I love this time of year.

08 September 2010

Cedar & Longbows

So long as the new moon returns in heaven a bent, beautiful bow, so long will the fascination of archery keep hold of the hearts of men.
– The Witchery of Archery Maurice Thompson 1878

While I enjoy my longbows and their simple majesty, the warmth of the wood and the beauty of the extravagant grain patterns, it is the mystical flight of the feathered arrow that truly mesmerizes me.

Long ago I started building my own arrows. I've tried about every shaft material known, from aluminum, carbon, fiberglass, and several types of wood I keep coming back to cedar. Certainly the modern mass produced with incredible tolerances shafts are perfectly straight, perfectly round and perfectly well perfect. The reality is for me, I cannot shoot better than cedar shafts can be shot. That is to say, I can shoot as well with cedar arrows I've built as I can with more modern materials. I love the smell and warmth of cedar, I like working with it and I love the way they fly. To be sure, modern materials fly every bit as well, they just lack a certain something for me and since I shoot just as well with all materials, I shoot what I like the most.

I'm not an artisan, first to admit it.
I do make a serviceable arrow that I am not afraid to put down range.
I know there are folks who build nicer arrows and I am sure there are other ways to do it. What follows is how I do it, it's what works for me and how I like to do it.


I like tapered cedar. Why a tapered shaft? A shaft tapered on the nock end allows the arrow to pass through paradox with less lateral movement of the point end. This allows the arrow to recover more quickly. The tapered nock end also moves the center of gravity forward yielding a better flight characteristic. The taper also reduces pressure on the bow from the nock end of the arrow greatly reducing feather wear and tear. The rear taper also helps getting weight forward of center which also helps with flight.

In my case all of my bows draw the same weight, so all of my arrows are shafts/arrows are matched to that, spine weight of 60-65 pounds. I'm not going to explain spine, FOC and numerous other terms in this segment. If you are unfamiliar with the terms, GOOGLE is your friend.

Start with staining. In this case I'm using Cabot Redoak. I don't cut my arrows to length until after they are finished and read for point or broad head mounting. This gives me several inches on the end of the shaft that I can use to handle the shaft, by hand while dipping or staining, and when hanging to dry.

Hang to dry, in my case I hang 'em close to the wood stove in my shop, speeds the drying time up dramatically. Just some bowstring stretched tight and some quick-clips or clothespins do the trick.

Once the stain is dry, I dip them in a water based acrylic sealer. This stuff is great as it has no flash point, no odor, dries extremely fast and is very easy to work with. I've only found this particular type at www.3riversarchery.com and I highly recommend it. I use it in conjunction with a large dipping tube. After dipping hang to dry again, just like after staining.

While the first coat of acrylic is drying I'll usually go ahead and get my nocks, feathers, points and so on together and ready. I cut my own feathers so I put the drying time to good use.

In this case I'll be cutting feathers in the low profile banana fletch pattern. I have severa little chopper feather cutters in different patterns but I've really fallen for the banana fletch. Seems the industry is all about smaller and smaller feathers or vanes, I just really like the banana fletch.

Pretty simple to use. Load the full size feather into the cutter, align the points and square up the whole thing. Whack it with a mallet and out pops a perfectly cut feather every time.

-At this point the first dipped arrow is dry, usually hit it with some steel wool and re-dip it if it needs a second coat. If not I'll go ahead and put the nock on.
When I do put the nocks on I usually put on the cap.I used to go to the trouble of cap dipping, the practice of dipping the final 8 to 10" of the arrow into a colored paint. Time consuming and messy for me. These cap wraps are adhesive backed vinyl type material. Very easy to apply, quick, no mess, catching visually and last a long long time. In the five years of using them I've never had one peel off or fade. I have arrows five years old that still look new. Another great product.

Once I've cut the feathers I go to the Bitzenburger fletching jig, a tried and true jig that's been around for a very long time. I've had mine for close to twenty years and it still functions flawlessly. Pretty basic to use, once you have it set up. Place the cut fletch into the clamp, apply your adhesive or fletching tape, make sure the nock adapter is set correctly. Place the arrow in the jig, mount the clamp magnet and boom, perfectly placed fletch.

At this point I want to talk about adhesives. When I got started I used Bohning fletching glue and while it worked and I used it for years it wasn't ideal. Couple years ago I decided to try Bohning Fletching Tape, basically a very thin two sided tape with a thin filament backing. You strip the filament off with a sharp knife after you have applied it to the feather. I was skeptical in the beginning, but after building upwards of twelve dozen arrows and using them in all kinds of weather I must say I am thoroughly impressed with this product. Use is a breeze, no drying time, holds like you wouldn't believe. GREAT PRODUCT!

Finished fletching:

Time to cut to length and taper for the head.

I like the Tru-Center taper tool. I don't remember when I got mine exactly, or how many dozens of arrows I've used it on. Suffice it to say, it's a good tool that will last for a lifetime of arrows.

I used Kimsha Quick-Stick for the point adhesive. I like it better than normal hotmelt or fereltite because it does not get brittle in extreme cold. Other hotmelts I've tried tend to get very brittle when it's super cold. I live in Northern Minnesota, it get's a wee bit cold here. The Kimsha stick remains somehwhat flexible in any temperature.

Final set in the quiver.

First group with the new set, about 24 yards was the shot distance. As you can see the group wasn't bad with 2 that were slightly out. In the second image you can see the Woodsman broad heads where they exited the worn out bear target. All of them wreaking havoc through the hear/lungs area. Can't ask for much more than that.