19 June 2011

A Day Deep in the North Woods...

Behind the house there are over 9,000 acres of unbroken wilderness, not a road crosses it, no town mars it, few men other than myself walk it. There are seventeen beaver colonies that I know of and I've tramped across most of that ground, slogged the marsh and wallowed the moose bogs. I've had more of my blood taken by the mosquito and biting flies than I've lost or donated in my entire life I think. 

There was until today, a beaver pond I'd not ventured to, not for lack of trying mind you. I've made a stab at getting to that pond several times, between the marsh, the bugs, the terrain, the thickets and seemingly impenetrable understory I've always been turned away or wondered astray of the course. Well today I set my mind to the task, and ventured forth, even in the face of a terrible forecast and after three days of rain.

Knowing full well the bugs would be out for blood, the water would be deep and flowing I wore my hip boots, I decided to try out a gortex German surplus parka as well, more on that later. I also sprayed myself up with some plant based Lemon & Eucalyptus insect repellent, usually I use DEET but I've gotten to where I hate the stuff. This was the second time I've used this particular spray and I'm completely sold on the product. It isn't oily, doesn't stink, isn't a chemical and IT WORKS! While it says six hours of protection I've found I generally need to reapply in about four to four and half hours. It works better than DEET ever has for me. I can't say enough good stuff about this Lemon & Eucalyptus repellent.

I can also say that for a piece of surplus the GorTex jacket I wore did indeed work. I remained bone dry under it's coverage area. Very light weight and built tough, climbing, clawing, and crawling my way through the thick stuff had no effect on it. It's made the grade for Backwoods Bum Gear.

Incidentally, the hand held GPS unit seen above is a DeLorme Earthmate PN-40. In the bottoms, the thick marshes and moose bogs where the overhead cover is complete it's challenging to navigate. It's like night flying in a storm with virtually zero visibility, you run by instruments alone as you rarely if ever see the open sky. I loaded the PN-40 up with all the maps available for my neck of the woods. What is interesting about the PN line is you can use layered maps. Not only do I use the typical USGS Quads, I also have color and black and white aerials, satellite imagery as well. Four layers, each providing a different view. I was amazed at what I could see compared to just using a USGS Quad topo. The unit is damn rugged, I had it fully immersed on several occasions, there wasn't a moment that it was dry. If I were to have something to complain about I guess it would be battery life, though it's tolerable.

There was no trail. It always amazes me, the size of a moose, and how little of a trail they leave. I think it's related to the fact that unless it's their bedding area they tend to not use the same trails repeatedly. Whitetails will often use the same travel corridors, all the time for that matter, while moose wander a bit. Still, I picked their sign up on the way towards the pond.

As I bushwacked my way in, at times the path would break open a bit to reveal that hidden beauty of a forest not oft traveled. Places that just have a feeling of isolated pristine uniqueness.

I was getting closer, starting to see beaver sign, chewings and runways. The cover broke as well, revealing a tall grass bog clearing, broken with beaver runs.

Then as I was picking my way closer to the open water and the beaver lodge I saw a blur, a big blur across the area and into the edge of the tree line. My lens was foggy and covered in water but I snapped these pictures, and then began a two hour cat and mouse game. Tough to make out at first huh? Momma moose is standing in that tree line with her calf. Her legs are to the left of the pine, her head is low, as she browses, is on the right of the tree. In the second image she is bedded down. I decided to circle the area and see if I could get closer.

Coming in now from the north, I was slipping through the edge of the transition between the pines and the marsh. Couple of occasions had me waist deep in it, I had to stop at one point on a bit of dry ground in a pine thicket to shed the hip boots. I'd gotten too deep and the left one dipped below the water line and filled with about two gallons of bog water rather quickly. Making it to the other side I crossed from the marsh to good solid dry land. I found these beds, the size of Volkswagen just inside the tree line.

Some pictures of the beaver pond that had thwarted my efforts. You can see the lodge to the left of center.

Once I rounded the bend I got a surprise, my heart leaped into my throat as it accelerated to what must have been one hundred fifty beats a minute. In front of me, barely twenty to twenty five yards momma moose and calf were coming into the opening. The most dangerous animal in the North Woods isn't the bear or the wolf, it is the Moose.

I also managed to shoot some video as well.

I spent about twenty to twenty five minutes watching them, on several occasions they'd both throw their heads up to test the wind. I'm pretty sure she saw me but couldn't make out what I was or if I was a threat. The wind was in my face so I had that in my favor. I finally slipped out, circling back the way I'd came before venturing further north.

I was quite pleased with the encounter. I've always had an affinity for Moose and Bears, for as long as I can remember, both have fascinated me. Living where both are prolific is an absolute joy. As I passed from the pond and marsh and deeper into the interior I stumbled upon a tragedy.

I'm not sure what brought him down, I did notice a leg bone busted in half, it was the only one, all the other leg bones appeared whole. Perhaps he broke a leg and died there in the deep forest. His bones were scattered about now though, and bear sign was everywhere. Judging from  the condition I figure he made it through winter and died sometime in early to mid spring. Such is the cycle of life though, from spending time watching the young moose and mother together, to finding the final resting place of an adult male moose.


  1. Moose, Mosquitoes, and Beaver ponds... a wonderful Minnesota adventure. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Great pictures and video. What a day! Looks like the woods around you are about as tough as the woods here. I enjoy your blog.
    Jenny in Alaska

  3. Thanks Jenny, I'm rather partial to your blog as well. Thanks for stopping by!