31 December 2013

Fox Fur Trim Anorak

A few years ago I purchased a couple of those Swedish Surplus Anoraks, when I got them I was a little disappointed at just how off white that off white was. I used one a couple times and then stored them away thinking I'd dye them and do something with them some day. Then I saw a post over at The Trying Woodsman about the very same subject. Newly inspired I started brainstorming.

Well I finally got most of it done. There are a few things left like replacing the buttons with antler toggles, trimming the cuffs out and the pocket flaps either in leather or beaver fur, not sure which yet.

The fox was taken a couple winters ago and I tanned it but couldn't find something I wanted to do with it until this anorak project. It was a deep winter fox so the fur is incredibly thick and super soft, the warmth around the face and head that this provides is just unbelievable. I have the bushy tail going under the chin and into the mouth of the fox, it can be loosened or tightened as needed.

I affixed the fox fur so that I could remove it if I want to, for fall or late spring once the deep cold is gone.

It's meant to be worn over a wool pull over and the fit over the two I have is superb.

The patches are a collection, some of which from BCUSA and vendors there. The Winter is Coming patch is for the 'Wolf in the North' fans among us.

Tomorrow will be its first run and I'll get more pictures then, should be a good test as the temperature is supposed to be -20F with a windchill near -40 below.

All in I'm rather pleased with the end result.

Thanks for looking!

Here's what tomorrow is supposed to bring...

29 December 2013

A-Snaring We Shall Go

What follows is a recap of the past three days beginning Friday, 27 December.

We had a dramatic weather change and are expecting another tomorrow and still another by Sunday. We saw a spike in temps today, shot way up to the high 20s low 30s even. I know that sounds weird but we've not been above 5 to 10 degrees for several weeks now. Low 30s today, supposed to be mid 20s and snow tomorrow, then a high of -10 on Sunday with lows of -30 to -40 accounting for windchill.

With weather like that on the way I expect the animals will be moving. So, I decided to strap up and head out to try some snaring. I didn't have much light left after work today so I had to walk back in the dark.

While the snow might not look deep in the video, that's packed snow from my shoes and the snomogo on the trail. Stepping off that trail even with snowshoes on took me to over the mid-calf depth, would be mid thigh without snowshoes.

The video is my lame attempt at a cliff hanger, if you watch to the end you get it.

I've not done a lot of snaring in the past so I'm still learning. Bound to make some mistakes but I'm hell bent on mastering it.

Day Two

Well I got skunked. Couple of the snares were closed but they were misses, the rest had no activity.

I decided to make the best of it and spent the rest of the day snowshoeing and setting new snares. I've got high hopes and will head back out in the AM to check them even though it's supposed to be -45 windchill with a high of -10 now. Going to be brutal cold but I'm going anyway!

Here's some shots from today's goofin off.

Kind of a gloomy start to the day. The unseasonable warm temps the day before caused a lot of fog and mist.

This is the snare kit with 2 snares left to deploy. Pretty handy and simple kit really. A Leatherman Wave does the work. Some black wire for securing the snares. These snares are 1/16 7 x 7 cable, Thompson style.

I cut some new trails where the snow was untouched. Man it's still powdery.

Even with shoes I was sinking six to eight inches, sometimes more.

Shot of the back trail.

I ended up circling around to one of my old hunting camps. Was good to see the frame and gear deck still in place three years later. The lashings have held well.

Gear for the day. Savage 24V rechambered from .222 to .223 because of ammo accessibility, over .20ga with 3" chamber. I love this gun. BisonGear pack, Lucky 1-2 Sutlery LRRP hat.

Since tomorrow is supposed to be so cold I'll switch to the pack basket and break out the heavy wool. Should be a fun day if I avoid frostbite!

We shall see what tomorrow brings...

Well the video speaks for itself, though I monkied it up and mixed the edits in reverse on the fire ignition versus the actual fire. Bleh. Nothing but brutal cold and I think part of my brain is still sluggish.

I'm going to try again next weekend but instead of six I'm going to deploy eighteen as well as some fox and bobcat sets, we'll wait and see how it goes.

16 December 2013

A Waterman's Wood Guest Post

The author of A Waterman's Woods who is a member of the BushCraft USA forums where I also posted the wolf hunt, chronicled it and turned it into a poem. Not a poet myself so I was rather amazed at what he was able to do with it.

Well done friend!

The Wolf Hunt

The boreal has its own ways
Beauty that can break a man
Or help one to find himself
Among the wilds unchained and alive

It is depths of green unseen
Almost singing in the sunlight and breezes
Summertime scents of Labrador tea
Brewing in the warm air of splendor

Of damp leaves upon the earth
Among beds of luxurious sphagnum
Soft as a bed of pillows in every direction
Spring back resilient with every silent step

For the mosses are the friends of trackers
Quiet when in the tension of pursuit
Senses heightened in the brilliance
That the boreal autumn delivers with pride

Rust reds and flames so bright
They blind the eyes with fiery spectrums
Leaving all who pass through
Unable to wonder of a grander time

When the summer rains wash away
And the autumnal ruins are chilled throughout
And the snow bound flurries blow once again
A silence falls upon the land

The forest scents escape the wilds
No pungence of understory
No piney wafts of spruce
Just the crispness of cold clean air

And of the woodsmoke of the hunter's camp
A warm sanctuary of slow cooked meals
Wafting along with anticipation on the air
As the wolfs howl among the ridge tops

Singing more like it
Haunting songs for communal pack gatherings
Lamenting in the grayness of the wild
Roaming woods ghosts of the north

Where one ghost will fall
If the hunter finds his way
For among the snow and ice
Even apparitions leave a trail

Some signs faint as wisps through the trees
Some prints deep in the ice
Some vanish into nothing
Leaving the hunter to his wits

Wits that sometimes fray at the edges
As he is constantly reminded
That the boreal has its own ways
And that man is not often one with nature

Quickened pace footsteps are heard
Plodding through the light snow
Footsteps not from afar
But muffled by the hunter's deepening breaths

Legs once numbed from the frigid waters
Of falling through the beaver pond's icy roof
Now churning their way back to camp
Bearing the hunter's capacity to withstand

To withstand the frozen north
To withstand sighted prey out of range
To withstand the waves and tremors
Of anticipations gone wrong

Thoughts of rifle fire amidst the treeline
Fade now to woodstove warmth
Relishing hot brewed coffee and comfort
In the heated canvas tent of old

For the second day is done
And the hunter's trove contains no fur
But a treasure of stories to be told
And the morning will bring another try

Another attempt in the gray light
That has lingered long above the trees
Casting the flatness that forbids shadow
And hides much in the mist

The morning of the third day brought these familiar
Ominous gray clouds descending upon the woods
Strange beaver sign of hasty retreats
And ever increasing tracks of wolves

Cold, dreary trails in the ice
Paths heading into deep woods snarings
Brambles in the tangling thickets
And trees that seem to enclose at will

Another uneasy feeling sets in
Have the wolves now set their trap
Has the hunter become the hunted
In this unforgiving gray of the timber lands

With these woods tokens held close
The hunter heads back to the noontime camp
Passing under the watchful eyes
Of phantoms perched in the mists

Back at camp he gathers his thoughts
Over smoked ham and eggs
Fried up right along with coffee
Black as looking down the rifle's barrel

Then back out into the fray
Of dropping temps and darkening skies
To the stillness of the beaver valley
Where the hunter's callings are emptied windward

For time alone in the bush
Brings thoughts of old and folded
Tucked away and kept safe from ruin
But laying just beneath the surface

Reasonings and ramblings
Of backwoods trampings long told
Bearings and pitfalls along the paths
Aged grooves upon the stones

Forms and function flowing together
Senses and sinews connecting eternal
Utterings felt deep in the marrow
Below currents coursing heavily throughout

Thoughts laid upon the rough hewn table
Play across the hunter's mind
Like waters finding their way
With patience they will overcome

As the rivulets form through time
And trickles become strong flowing streams
Springs well up in the rocks
To form new points of new beginnings

Creekbeds gathering in the valleys
Their courses altered and spread
Across the lands dammed by beaver
And push the forest to the water's edge

These edges call the wolves
With summons of migrations
And of hunting circuits spiraling outward
Like rings upon the pond

Now the hunter summons in the cold night air
Conjuring spirits above the firelight
Shamans in the sparks rising beneath the clouds
With ancient spells for wolves again

And as those spells mingled above
The darkening clouds took hold of them
Swirled them about inside and around
Until they could travel on the wind no more

Instead they gathered energy within
And released their fury upon the land
With great joy they called the hard blowing wind
And snowfall of great abundance

A storm to hinder the hunter's quest
Though his heart is good and strong
For he laughed at what was brought upon
And ventured deeper amongst the wilds

When at last the tracks were covered
No sign of wolf nor bird upon its perch
The hunter turns towards home at last
But not without some other quarries first

For it is not the end result that matters
But the journey along the way
Sights, sounds, and stories to tell
Go home with the hunter to stay

15 December 2013

Day Five - Fight to Survive

I did not wake up hours before dawn, in fact I didn't wake until nearly seven, and then I did not want to move. Between the chest pain and the stiffness it took real effort to roll out of that warm bag. Took longer than usual to get into my wool and boots as well.

When I opened the tent I was shocked at the amount of snow and how heavy it was falling and that put a sense of urgency in my step. My original plan was hunt all day, come back break camp and ride out. The extra snow now put us well over twelve inches and falling fast. While my wheeler is good to about eighteen to twenty inches I didn't know how well it would do with all the weight I had on it. I was torn on what to do, the hunter in me said 'fresh tracking snow let's go', while the prudent side said 'you better think about this'.

I decided to compromise. I would break camp and load up, haul it back to the truck and then hunt from there back towards the lake. The truck can handle snow better as I've got it set up for that but there was also the consideration of about a thousand pounds being towed behind it between gear, wheeler, and trailer. Still I couldn't bring myself to just leave right then.

This was very nearly the worst mistake I've made in the woods.

I was in a hurry so didn't bother with pics of breaking camp, the wheeler did okay on the six mile ride but I did have to use the winch several times. This should have been a warning sign but I didn't heed it.

As soon as I got to the truck and hitched up I pulled the snowshoes, strapped up and started walking towards the lake hoping perhaps that I'd catch a wolf crossing and get a shot.

Visibility was virtually zero and that was when the wind wasn't blowing frozen projectiles into my eyes. Going was hard, it's been a year since I was on a set of shoes and I'd just had four hard days of walking and running and sloshing through snow not to mention how my chest felt. Breathing hard on icy wind with smoke damaged lungs isn't easy, in fact as I reflect on it, it was really a pretty stupid thing to be doing.

I fought my way into the spruce and firs for cover, here the wind was far less of a hindrance and after a while it seemed the snow slack off.

Back trail looking at my snowshoe tracks.

My favorite snowshoes are the of the Huron style, sometimes called Michigan or Algonquin, these are Faber's Sport model though I've forgone the traditional leather bindings. I installed a custom set of modern bindings because I find them infinitely better and easier to use. They also provide a 'claw' on the bottom for hillsides, inclines and descents. I do think there is much to be found in traditional style snowshoes, they're the only style that can keep my two hundred and twenty pound frame from sinking overly deep into the snow. Modern shoes simply do not have enough flotation for me.

Some time ago I came up with what I think is a damn nifty clothing system for heavy snow traveling on foot. I'm a big fan of wool clothing, my base layers are all lightweight fine merino wool. I use a mix of both Kuiu and First Lite and can't decide which I like more, both have served me for a couple years now and they've become the best base layering system I have used.

For this trip I elected to use heavy twenty six ounce wool trousers over which I wear a set of Filson Single Tin Husky Chaps. These are their tin cloth waxed canvas chaps and they shed snow incredibly well. This translates to the wool not getting heavier from being wet with snow and helps protect the wool. They don't add much in the way of weight and for the protection and versatility they provide they are very much worth it. In essence the way I use them you could say they're serving the same purpose as a set of gaiters, only mine are better than mid thigh in height. This set up is still whisper-wool quiet while making a water proof exterior.

Had I had this set up in place on day two I doubt I'd have been affected by the fall through the ice at all. The snow then wasn't deep though and I was using a pair of Kuiu Yukon gaiters which I cannot say enough good things about.

I know there are modern clothing equivalents to wool but none have given me all aspects that wool does. Some are better in some categories but they always seem to come up short as a total package.

The Lucky 1-2 Sutlery hat did a fine job of heaping snow off my head and shoulders and out of my face unless I was walking right into the wind. I wear a 274g/m weight Kuiu beanie under this that provides most of the warmth and covers my ears, the hat provides the rest of the protection. On less cold and less windy days a 185 gram merino wool beanie suffices. While the fur and wool bomber hat still has a place I've found the LRRP hat and beanie combo to be superior for most of my hunting.

More of the scenery from inside the spruce and fir cover. It is what I call a Siren's Snow,  there is such beauty in it that I sometimes get caught up in the surreal nature of it, but the beauty hides a a deadly dangerous side. Everything is harder to do in the cold and even more so in heavy snow. Travel is more arduous and time consuming, it hides hazards one should avoid.

I broke out of the cover and made a little head way but the snow was returning with a vengeance.

I was getting rather concerned. If this stuff didn't let up there was a chance I could get snowed in, stuck in the back country about fourteen miles from the nearest winter maintained road.

I'd hunted hard, pushed my body to the wall and now I stood in the maw of what was an intensifying storm. I didn't agonize over the decision, I just made it, discretion being the better part of valor. I started for the truck thinking about how I felt physically and emotionally. I wasn't beaten but I was battered. I was frustrated yet uplifted, I'd seen wondrous things and fed a wilderness buffet to my soul, while tired I felt energized.

In the five days I'd not seen any sign of a wolf kill, found no remains or any sign that they'd found food. This doesn't mean they hadn't eaten, I did not cover all of their ground obviously but I did cover a good bit of it and I'd found no sign that they'd eaten.

I had hunted the wolf on his ground, his terms, I'd put everything I had into it. I'd used my experience and got myself close on the second day but that was the last I'd seen of them. I'd pushed as hard as I could and yet I had come up short,  in the world of fur and fang and hunting for your dinner there is no trophy for just showing up, there is no reward for mere participation, there are no guarantees. You throw down and go all in, you don't let up or give in regardless of pain and exhaustion or discomfort, and even then there is no promise of success. For all of man's prowess in technological advancements, in gear and weapons, here a man is still de-elevated and at best only slightly less than equal to his quarry, in most cases much more than only slightly less.

The howl of a wolf which is often glamorized, usually translated as majestic, free, the sound of the wilderness and so on. While these terms are used most commonly in the description I'll give you a hunter's interpretation of a howling wolf. While I know wolves howl to find one another, to signal one another, as a reaction to certain events and to trigger certain behavior, these are the reasons they do it, but I think there is something else in there.

When I heard the wolves early on I only heard 'hear I am'. As I walked out I thought about this  and now I do not just hear, 'here I am'. Now I hear the hunter and the lament for prey not found, for foul winds and deep snow, for lonely night trails and frigid temperatures. I hear a hunter hunting and in that howl it can be found why we as well as they hunt.

I have not changed my mind on the hunting of wolves and I will continue to hunt them should I be able to do so. I have learned from  them and I'm sure they've learned from me. In the end we are in fact two predators in a food chain, I've chosen to live within that chain and not separate from it.

I suppose this is somewhat anticlimactic for there is no wolf. There is no fine fur to cement the memory of my effort and this wild place. Yet there is more than that, there is still a fire in my chest and wonder, wonder of the hunt and the wild and the adventure. 

I was both happy and sad for a multitude of reasons when the truck came into view about an hour before dark.


The Battle Begins.

With fourteen miles to go in this I didn't waste any time getting going.

As feared the trailer and the weight added a problem. The wind wasn't helping as it was causing snow to drift to un-drivable depths across the road periodically. When I hit these I had to break out the shovel and remove the snow from the beginning to the end of the drift otherwise the trailer would get hung up and then the truck.

The snow was really coming down now and night had fallen, I'd gotten about half way to the service road and that had taken nearly three hours. I was soaked from the sweat and the snow, I couldn't stop coughing, I was really sucking wind at this point and I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't very concerned.

There was nothing to do really but just do it and do it I did. I finally made it to the service road around midnight and started the slow drive from there back to the lodge. I pulled into my drive way at in the wee hours of the morning.

The storm would continue for another three days and the final tally was over three feet of snow with drifts in excess of seven and eight feet.

As of today, 15 December, the Minnesota DNR Wolf harvest update shows the following;

There are still ten harvests available in my region, and over forty remaining in the Northwest. There's still the late season deer archery season, small game running well into next year, not to mention trapping and ice fishing. I've still got some good winter in front of me,

I know I will wonder on the days that I will spend hunting, fishing, trapping, what the wolves are doing in the Valley of the Beaver...

P.S Thank You(s)

I really appreciate all of the kind words and encouragement that I have received from everyone. It means a lot when I get to realize that there are still like minded and kind individuals in the world that take the time to say so, and that understand some of the peculiar ways I think.

14 December 2013

Day Four - The Beginning of the End

I woke stiff and sore, the miles and terrain and cold temperatures were beginning to take their toll. I was very tired even after sleeping, pain in my knees was intensifying. I rolled out and decided once again to forgo a full breakfast instead I downed some cold smoked ham and had some oatmeal. Today I wanted to head towards another highland area that I had not been to yet, where the trees were more deciduous than spruce in nature. I figured I'd hunted the lowlands hard enough and probably should shift to a new area.

I preemptively put the fixings for a fire in both the wood stove and the fire pit, it was definitely colder today than any of the previous days and the wind was up, there was a change coming in the weather. I was kicking myself for forgetting to bring my emergency radio. I had gotten it out with the intent to take it with me but I left it behind on the gear bench. The last forecast I had seen was now four days old and virtually worthless. I had not seen the sun since Friday and then only briefly at sunset. The endless grey was all I'd known and with no clouds to read I had no idea what was coming.

The trail I was on leads through some moss and firs on the way to the high country.

More of their scent marking.

As I was passing through this section of the forest all was stillness, here in the firs the wind was low to nonexistent, there is a reason wildlife takes cover in areas like this. I was creeping along in still hunting mode, a few steps and then stand for a while and observe. About a half hour into this I had my heart jump into my throat at an explosion of sound and fury.

There are two things on this earth that have the ability to startle me this way, one I haven't heard in over twenty five years and hope I never do again, the other is the flushing of a bird underfoot completely unexpected. Grouse was the last thing on my mind when this one busted cover and flew about twenty odd yards from where he'd been holding.

I peered through the understory to where I thought he'd gone to ground. I slipped my pistol from the HPG kit bag while slinging the rifle on my off shoulder. There he was, standing still and looking at me at nearly thirty yards. I had an opportunity at a fresh meat lunch so I took it. I don't practice a lot with a pistol these days but it's good to know I'm still at least a fair shot. The .40 caliber round was just above the shoulders but below his head.

I cleaned him on the spot, laid the meat in the snow for moment, cooling it quickly and then into the pack, going to be a good lunch.

Good sized chaga horn, I marked its location on my map, I may return for this one someday, it's a good one.

Deer bed.

I sulked along the forest trails until early mid afternoon without seeing any sign of wolf. No tracks here, some deer activity and flushed some more grouse whom I left alone, but no wolf sign, old or new was to be found. Figured it was time for lunch.

I chose a spot near some downed trees, gathered some dry twig wood and laid up a quick teepee fire, with some birch bark for tinder. While setting this up I once more marveled at the gift to the woodsman that the birch tree is. There isn't a part of this tree that I do not use and I use it more than any other tree in the north country. I grew up in the halls of oak and hickory but little to no birch at all, here I have firs and birches and a fair bit of maples. While I miss my oaks I do not think I could live again where the birch is not common. Here it's two out of six trees at a minimum.

It was a quick but exquisite lunch though not as filling as I wanted, merely whetted the appetite. Grouse are good eating like this but without something with them they don't go that far. I was already thinking about dinner which is breakfast for most, I'm a freak for bacon and eggs any time of the day and that's what I was planning for dinner.

Packed up and ready to hit the trail again.

Other than early in the morning I had not seen any other wolf sign, place was devoid of it and I knew I'd come to the wrong place. While a costly mistake in that it cost me a day, I did learn something. The wolves seemed to like the lowlands much more than I had figured.I think they've evolved to like the proximity to deep cover and I also think there are probably better den opportunities there than in the highlands. I have no idea if this would hold true outside of this area though.

On the hike back towards camp I took a side trail and ended up in some fairly big woods that I was unfamiliar with.

These fellas were working the trees in this area and seemed to move with me for a while. They are either Downy or Hairy woodpeckers, they both have the same markings and are hard to tell apart at least for me. The Downy has a smaller beak and small black marks on white tail feathers.

In wandering this part of the forest I never found any sign and soon even sign of deer disappeared. It's a fairly deep wood and o more than one occasion I had to take a compass heading to make sure I was on course.

I ended up back on the trail earlier than usual, I was exhausted and dragging my feet along with my right leg, happens when I get really tired. I was quite happy to stumble back into camp with some light left in the day.

Time for some hot bacon and thick over easy eggs campfire style.

After supper I spent some time getting a final night's worth of wood together and tidying up camp. tomorrow would be the fifth and final day of my hunt. I got a fire going in the wood stove with no light left and snow beginning to fall. I was going to try to keep a fire through the night in the hopes that I wouldn't find the morning as rough as the past couple.

With the stove glowing I slipped off to sleep.

I woke up coughing.

For several seconds I couldn't comprehend what was happening or where I was. My eyes were burning and breathing was difficult, woodsmoke was overwhelming, I could hear the wind howling and I struggled to get out of the sleeping bag. I grabbed my headlamp and lit it up, nothing but smoke in the tent. Hacking and wheezing I got out of the tent throwing the front doors wide open and was smacked hard with how cold the wind was and how much snow was falling. The wind was incredible and sliced through my thermals like they weren't even there.

There were several inches of fresh snow on everything, the wind was blowing hard enough that the stove simply wasn't drawing at all now but instead was just coming out in the tent. I hacked and gagged and coughed some more. Smoke was rolling out of the tent and I was fast approaching popsicle status. I went back in the smokey tent and grabbed my mitts and a coat and ran back out. Donning both I pulled the flu pipe off the stove and shoved it hard through the jack launching it past the tent. I grabbed the handles on the fold up of the stove and carried it out of the tent.

The wind was already blowing all of the smoke clear from the tent, I gathered the stove pipe and put it with the smoking stove. The snow was coming on with a vengeance so I left it and got back in the tent closing one of the doors behind me.

I pulled the window ropes opening the back window of the tent and held tight while the last of the smoke flushed from the tent. My chest was burning from the smoke, my eyes were watering. I broke open a couple ITW Warrior wipes and washed my face and cleaned up. The tent didn't appear to be any the worse for the smoke bath, I on the other hand was a coughing wreck and freezing. I put on another base layer and a fresh pair of wool socks and burrowed up in the sleeping bags. For the first time since I'd woken I checked the time, it was only slightly after two am. I coughed again and pulled the Mountain Serape over my head and hunkered down listening to the wind scream through the trees.