Sunday, February 16, 2020

Changes

The entire valley floor was flooded.

      For better or worse, it is early February. The winter has gone through her usual assortment of moods. There has been cold, wet, warmish, and snow, sometimes all within a day or two’s time. At one point the streams were up out of their banks after a day or two of steady light rain. Then a day or two later the temperatures dove to well below zero. The weather has been full surprises.
The stream chewed away the bank
beaver;s home.
      The weather has caused changes in the landscape that would have been difficult to imagine. Along the stream below our home a handful of trees fell, the soil around their roots eroded away when the stream swelled up out of her banks. The newly uprooted trees created great caverns, some making craters in a path along the water’s edge that we have used for years.
      During the previous two winters a dozen or more trees from our property tumbled across the stream. The recent high water stole a couple of them away and moved others into big knots. It is hard to imagine how some of the trees, which are actually quite large, can disappear downstream without a trace. Chunks of ice have beaten the bark off of others that still lay in the current.
The  fallen trees bridge the stream.
      In a couple of places jammed logs and ice have forced the stream to seek entirely new routes. Water rushes across where last summer a gravel bar forced the stream into a huge U turn. A bank beaver had his den underneath a streamside fir tree that was whisked away creating a cove. A deep hole that always held trout is filled with logs and stumps. An undercut bank, where a big trout loved to hide, has caved in. Next spring it will be an entirely different stream to fish.
      Up the hill from the house an early winter storm blew a handful of fir trees across a long abandoned logging road. Every year or two one comes down, but this time a whole cluster fell. That tote road used to make for easy walking and I would often walk it in bird hunting season. Deer, moose, and bears follow it more than humans and now their footprints detour around the fallen trees. If nobody goes up there with a chainsaw to cut those trunks out of the road the new path will be the game trail.
Woodcock cover going past its prime.
      It is not only weather that changes things. Time does too. Forty years ago a friend shared a favorite woodcock hunting spot with me. To get to it we would walk across a field then hike down railroad tracks before dropping to a flat beside a river. Twenty years ago I went looking for that spot and I could not find that field. After an hour of looking I realized a stand of softwood trees covered what I remembered as an open pasture. There had been a few scattered spruce or fir trees in that field, but now it is a forest. The railroad tracks looked the same and so did the mammoth silver maples along the river.
      About twenty miles to the east is a huge alder patch where I have bird hunted for forty-five years. It has always been thick cover and wet underfoot. Seven or ten years ago I noticed wrist sized poplars popping up in clusters, but mostly I followed my dogs and hoped for woodcock and noticed little else. Now there are poplars thirty or forty feet tall in there. I don’t know when they snuck in, but they are shading out the alders. I still refer to the place as the alder patch, but the name isn’t apt anymore.
The ancient apple tree is being
crowded out by the forest around it.
      Up the hill from our home is an old apple tree in a stand of young hardwoods. A few fir trees are nearby on a small knoll, enough to give the ruffed grouse some shelter, but mostly it is hardwoods about as big around as a bowling ball. There isn’t another apple tree within a mile in any direction, so this lone apple has become something of a landmark. Any observant hunter or hiker is likely to notice and remember it. Competition with the hardwoods trees for sunlight has caused the apple tree to grow quite tall. Its branches really reach for the sky.
      This year that apple tree had only two or three apples and the leaves on the branches were few. The taller hardwood trees now steal the sunlight and in a few years that apple tree will die and the landmark will disappear.
      The natural world keeps changing even without the hand of man. The forces of nature move streams and blow over trees. Plants and animals compete for resources to live. Nature is restless.
      Life goes on.











Planning an Adventure


     Planning an adventure can be as much fun as the adventure itself. Now by planning an adventure I don’t mean traveling to some lodge and hiring a guide to take you fishing, hunting, hiking, or whatever. Planning an adventure is when you are doing it on your own, preferably into country that you have never trekked before, using maps and maybe books to figure out where you are heading.
Logging roads show up well
in Google Earth images.
     Everybody’s definition of adventure is probably different and may be different now from what it was years ago or will be tomorrow. Today I like my adventures to end with a hot shower and ice cubes in my scotch. So starting early in the morning and returning to Camp Grouse late in the day works. Forty or fifty years ago the hard ground felt fine and cleaning up in an icy stream was regarded as refreshing.
     Right now I’m planning an adventure into a fishing spot that is more than a mile from where a vehicle can drive to and that spot is many miles into the woods on logging roads. The plan is to start early and make a day of it.
     We did the same thing last summer, in some of the hottest weather of the year, trying to find a remote stream’s headwaters where trout might seek cooler temperatures. Mostly we cooled off in the water and listened to nearby coyotes serenading us. No trout were found, but we will go back there someday.
     It used to be topographical maps were where dreams of adventures started. Now I think Google Earth is a better choice, then use a topo map to get an idea of topography. Books may help, but most are too generalized.
     If you hunt ruffed grouse in logging country Google Earth will show you where the cuts are. Grouse love a young forest and a regenerating clearcut can be a goldmine. It is possible to find some that aren’t noticeable from roads and you may find a hotspot that is virtually untouched. Deer hunting can be done the same way. A few years ago I discovered a huge hidden cutting more than a dozen miles from the asphalt and every trip into that place is an adventure.
     So be an adventurer. You will learn some things, discover places of your own, and probably end up feeling pretty good about yourself. Oh, and don’t get lost.




Sunday, January 26, 2020

Looking for the MotherLode…


The end of October had arrived and the gang had left. It was prospecting time, which means searching for new grouse cover. It’s done every year, usually after all the friends have left. There’s no use dragging them around the wilds to places that may or may not hold birds. Sometimes the terrain gets mighty rough in our rugged neck of the woods and exploring what might be birdless cover isn’t always appreciated. Good grouse cover can go from prime to thin-pickens in about ten years, so it is always necessary to be prospecting for new coverts.
      The clear cut showed up on Google Earth and was back in a section of country that’s been full of grouse the last few years. The cut covered probably two hundred acres, but hid behind a stand of thick softwood trees, so it wasn’t readily visible from the logging road. All that, and fourteen miles from the nearest asphalt in some mighty rugged terrain made it seem promising and maybe even un-hunted.
      It would be one of the last hunts of the year, so I let all three dogs out for the hunt. Pandemonium can be fun. From where we parked a skid trail turned into snowmobile road, wide as a thruway, that seemed to run upward forever. It passed softwoods to the left while a stream gurgled in a gully filled with hardwoods to the right. When the softwoods gave way the cutting looked enormous. We trekked to the top and an old road continued into the shade of mature hardwoods.  The view back across the forested valley was stunning.
The nearest paved road is over those hills.
      The cutting probably was two years old with relatively easy walking between the poplar and maple sprouts. The loggers had taken away all of the tree tops, leaving the ground relatively clean. Wet spots were covered with grass and moose tracks. Sprouts crowned the hardwood stumps, but most weren’t shoulder height. Wild raspberries grew everywhere. It really wasn’t good grouse cover yet.
      The dogs and I hunted along the top of the cutting and then down the west side.  It didn’t look too encouraging, with no softwoods to offer shelter for the birds, but ahead and about halfway down the slope I could see softwoods left behind by the logging operation.
      Approaching, I noticed a small knoll covered with softwoods.
      Now I love knolls, because grouse love knolls. What better place to sit and collect morning sunshine and survey the surroundings. No matter which way danger approaches, the grouse has a downhill escape route that leaves them out of sight in the blink of an eye.
 
Chara on a bird.
    About then I wished my friends hadn’t all left for those flat lands to the south. Approaching the hump the dogs’ bells eagerly rang. And then I could hear the birds accelerating off the far side. There were at least four. If only someone could have been standing on the far side, it would have been like one of those European driven hunts.
      On the other side of that little hill the cutting opened up again with scattered softwood clumps further down the slope. Stopping for a moment, I tried to guess where I would go if I were a grouse and picked an open alley that led downhill into a softwood swamp.
      At the edge of the spruce and fir thicket my oldest German wirehair, Chara, locked up on point, almost completely hidden by young waist-high fir trees.
      A bird busted out wild.  Missed. Opening the gun to reload, a second bird rocketed after the first.
      Encouraging the dogs on, Colby, my youngest wirehair, pointed a grouse sitting about twelve feet off the ground in a yellow birch.  It flew on my approach, sailing away ahead of a swarm of shot…those birds coming out of trees are devilishly hard to hit.
      The woods got thicker, with blown down fir trees and nearly impenetrable clusters of young ones. Pushing through, it was impossible to see my feet. All three dogs became birdy, pressing under the tangles that I was forced to climb over.  Each dog wanted to find the birds first.
Colby coming out of the
thicket with the bird
Georgia pointed.
      I couldn’t locate Georgia, the young German shorthair, but then spotted her frozen about eight feet in front of Colby, who was honoring. The thick green fir boughs almost buried both of them. Before I could get within twenty yards of the dogs the grouse rumbled upward and a reflex made my gun fire. It was a prayer shot, but I saw a bird’s wing flutter…maybe. With the softwoods so thick a dead bird might get caught up in a branch and never hit the grouse. The dogs had disappeared.
      And then Colby came pushing through the brush with the bird in her mouth. What a great sight.
Georgia checking out the
grouse she pointed.
      We hunted down the hill, moving three more grouse, but killing none. Coming out of the swamp into the more open clearcut Chara pointed and a woodcock flew up on my approach. Twisting among the branches of two fir trees, it quickly escaped.
      We went back the next year and I brought my friends. I wish all my prospecting trips turned out that successful.


The gang, Georgia, Colby, and Chara, taking a break
beside a logging road.