Monday, October 31, 2011

Pheasant Hunting with the Pups

Molly Set for action

This past weekend offered up a chance for a couple pheasant hunts in north west Wisconsin with my good friend Dave, his chocolate lab Barley and my rookie black lab Molly. Since Molly is still learning the ropes of bird hunting and what she is expected to do, I thought a round of pheasant hunting may be easier than crawling through the thick tag alder swamps of the Blue Hills near Bruce, WI like we normally would do. I started researching areas to hunt and found the Tom Lawin Wildlife Area* near Jim Falls. The DNR stocks hens and roosters there and since it would be a week day hunt, maybe the pressure would be a little less (wrong). Besides, it was a chance to scout duck hunting as well since we had never been in this area.

The habitat here was perfect, tall grass prairie, mixed brush and cornfield edges with plenty of cattail swamps. Very similar to the terrain we hunt in north Dakota. The dogs seem to pick up scent from time to time, get birdy, then return to normal patrol mode. Nothing going after a solid two hours of hunting. We decided to try another section of the wildlife area, were fields were smaller and a good wet swamp running through it. Corn was being cut nearby so maybe we'd do better here. That proved to be the case as the dogs hit on fresh scent and put a covey of hens up (legal to shoot here with proper pheasant stickers). I managed to put one down and Molly did well on the retrieve. A rooster crowed nearby, but we failed to find him. We managed to get one more bird up when Molly dove into some tall grass cover, but I managed to just take a few branches off a tree as she flew off.

The amount of birds in the game pouch really didn't matter, we hunt to have a chance to shoot and sometimes the misses are far better stories later than hits. The labs had a great time and my young one seems to learn more and more every time out, which is just great to watch. Perhaps on a different day, closer to when birds are stocked, we'd had better shooting and more action, but again, one can still have a very successful hunt without a limit to clean. The best part, as always, is relaxing afterward next to the truck, chatting up the hunt and on this day, watching the snow clouds move in from the west and knowing we'll be back in the field soon.
Steve, Molly, Barley and Dave

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lovin The Tamaracks

The Slightest Curve
The Tamarack.  Our only conifer that changes color and sheds it's "leaves" (needles) each fall and when it does-it's showy and beautiful.  A scouting slash hunting trip down a forest road in western Clark County lead me past swamps I used to visit frequently.  The destination was a man made dyke from the 1960's where ducks have been hunted in the past.  It's tiny, barely enough water for a canoe and decoys, but years ago, it did produce from time to time.  It was also a chance to check out grouse spots during the bumpy ride out there.  No ducks when Molly and I arrived, but we did bust a pair of immature Bald Eagles perched out on the drainage ditch.  The place has potential for a future hunt in any regard.
That rough "road" is Abbot Ranch Lane, and I'll assume at one time, someone tried to run a farm out here, but the soils are poor and draining the swamps did little to help.  It's now all a part of the county forest and offers prime hunting and outdoor recreation instead.  Also a chance to see and photograph the most colorful of wetlands....which I love.  Something about that spicey swamp smell that is the best perfume any outdoorsman could ever want and which brings only the best memories back from hunting trips in the past.  Well worth slowing down, taking a breath and appreciating what's before us for a minute or two.
The Swamp Bouquet

Gold and Rain Approaching

Home of the Green and Gold

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nate and Ena

Earlier this fall I was asked to shoot a wedding for some friends of mine from the Sand Creek Brewery in Black River Falls.  I've gotten to know Nate and Ena over the past couple years during stops at the brewery or at brew fests across the state that Sand Creek is attending.  Nate is an assistant brewery there and whips up some pretty tasty homebrew as well (some of which he served up at the wedding reception).  They had seen some of my work and asked if I could shoot some casuals at their small, low key wedding.
The ceremony was held at Lake Wazee, an old iron mine site, now the deepest fresh water lake in the state.  They had selected a nice overlook above the lake to take their vows and I was excited to have such a great location to shoot.  The service was really short, so I did my best to fly around and get as many images as I could-no hour long sermon here!  The couple didn't want to do a ton of group shots (thank goodness) but I did scout out a couple nearby spots that still had good fall color where we could do at least a few photographs.
The reception was held at the brewery, and heading in I knew the lighting would be tough.  Cranking up the iso helps, but I'm always fearful of getting too noisy of pictures, and I don't have fancy strobes to help out.  Besides, I didn't want flash to intrude on the location and guests.  It was a fun shoot with good friends and family and I hope they like some of the images from this special day.
The Kiss and Smile
Nate said he really likes black and white, so in many of the shots I saved two versions for them-I really liked this moment with the couple.
The Bridesmaids
Nate and his Men
You may Kiss the Bride...Again.
Last Minute Details
 Genuine Smile
 Sand Creek Reception
 Wedding Homebrews and a Favorite
 Unity Candle

Monday, October 17, 2011

First Bird

I'd waited for this day for way too long-a year and a half to be exact.   I've owned Golden Retrievers and Black Labs through out much of my adult life and some have been okay hunters, some just along for a walk in the woods.  Both are fine, but since taking up hunting in North Dakota the past six years and watching a friends lab work both ducks and pheasant, I knew my next dog was one I wanted as a hunting companion-trained to the best of my ability.  As luck would have it I found a kennel in Chippewa Falls that was ending their business and the owners retiring and they had several dogs looking for a home.  I had all intentions of getting a Chocolate Lab they had,  but as sometimes happens, a young Black Lab named Molly choose me.  "Dakota Labs" had an excellent reputation of raising champion labs, in fact,  Molly would be related to my friends dog we had had so much luck with in the Dakotas.  If Molly was anywhere close in ability and instinct to that dog, I'd be happy.

Fast forward a year, and Molly ended up starting her training with me, then unfortunately had a couple surgeries and almost 6 months off from any kind of hard work.  She missed last falls' hunt completely, but gradually started improving health wise.  I was determined to get her out finally this fall.  A friend who trains Griffins helped with tips and a few pigeons and we started to work again this spring and summer.  She loves retrieving of course, and I gradually introduced the gun.  The loud report of a shot didn't bother her at all thank goodness and she seems to have a super nose and tons of enthusiasm.  

Our North Dakota trip didn't work out this year, but I reserved a hunt at a game farm up near Sand Creek to give her a lot of birds to smell.  Hoping she does well there in a few weeks, I just had to get out beforehand to see how she'd do and this weekend I found a spot where the DNR owns land and stocks pheasant from time to time.  So I loaded the truck and drove over in the morning.   There was a DNR Warden parked there so we visited for a bit-very nice officer from the Eau Claire Region, who told me where to try and thought this would be a good place for the young dog.  We headed out,  20ga. double in hand and started working the really this hilly mixed habitat.  Molly seemed to bound with joy, never getting too far out.  Windy on this day, so we tried to work into it where we could and soon she got "birdy"  I quickened my pace to keep up with her and soon had a rooster in the air cackling-I shot twice and missed.  Another rooster crowed below in a swamp, so we worked our way down.    I had seen another rooster bumped by a hunter and sail up and over some trees, so I figured there must be a field there-yup.  We worked our way around that one and again,  Molly had the nose nailed down on something.  She worked the edge of the field for a minute and then a flush of color and another rooster got up-this time I connected and down he went.  Molly saw the pheasant, went in and got him-first bird she's picked up.  She brought it back to me and I just felt like a proud father or something!
Limit was one bird this weekend there, so we walked out in the sun and wind and I was just so pleased with her first time out ever!  Drove back home happy as a clam, dressed the bird and then started preparing a slow cooker recipe for it.  The rest of the day I was just giddy knowing all the training, and patience paid off and look forward to our next trip afield.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Fall Sampler

The Back Yard
There are so many pictures to be made in the fall, yet sometimes it can be very frustrating because it's all been done before you know?  Not by me maybe, but by someone and when looking at others' photos I start to wonder why I should even press the shutter.  Because........ sometimes you just have to, just have to get those photos out of the way.  But to be fair to myself, I also have to because no matter how many fall photos others have made, I still love it, love the colors and smells so most likely, every year, I'll be out there clicking away just for myself.

In any regard, here are some I liked during a couple hikes lately-a week later, most of those colors are on the ground-wind and rain made sure of that quickly-sad, but it's the way of the seasons.
Molly at Attention

Red Oak Complementary Colors

Red Oak Depth of Field

Molly after the Storm

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Salmon Fishing-Remembering a Friend

“Eventually, all things merge into one…..and a river runs through it.”
- A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean

I would never claim to be a salmon fisherman. That term is reserved in my mind for those out on the big water, spooling down hundreds of feet of line in search of those silvery monsters. All I know of salmon fishing is from the shore of a harbor or bank of a river during the fall run. A fishing style that suits me just fine, by the way.

Last week, during the traditional time of year for the salmon run, I loaded the truck and hit the road by 3:00 am to make the 190 mile trip from Neillsville to Algoma. By daybreak I had my lines soaking along the banks of the Ahnapee River in “my” favorite spot. It's early October and a few other fishermen were staked out, but it was pretty quiet. I didn’t mind. Watching a few small flocks of cranes and geese overhead, some distant shotgun blasts and hearing an occasional whoop of a “fish on!” and splashing wasn’t a bad way to spend a morning. The “torpedo” wakes of fish moving upstream though the shallow waters were few and far between and I could only claim a couple bumps.

This cold morning I was reminded that a sound, a smell, and seeing a specific object, can sometimes bring back vivid memories. As I sat in my chair sipping steaming coffee from my thermos, I looked across the river to the opposite bank at piles of boulders strewn near the bridge. I thought about Randy…. that was “his” spot. Every fisherman knows that sometimes one has the “hot spot,” and that jumble of rock was Randy's hot spot.

Randy Stanley and his sons, Chad and Jack, were the guys who introduced me to this sport. One fall afternoon years ago, they invited me over to Lake Michigan for a fall run fishing trip. I jumped at the chance. My last experience with salmon were the early years of snagging when I was just a kid, so an opportunity to fish again for these Kings was something I didn’t want to miss. Over the years we did well with a cooler full of filets, other times we went home with only a bottle or two of Von Stiehl wine. Regardless, all trips were successful and fun and I was hooked on the sport. (Pun intended)
Jack and Randy

The outdoor life could not be more ingrained into a family than what the Stanleys live. Randy and his sons were a tight group, and seemed to spend every free moment in the field or on the water, and if not, they were planning their next trip. Luckily for me, I befriended them and was able to join in from time to time. In remembering this particular fishing spot on the rocks, it seemed Randy would pull in three or four fish to our every one. “Fish ON!” and I’d reel my own line in, sprint up the bank with the net, cross the hiway bridge and scramble down over the boulders to scoop up another fish for his stringer. I never tired of it. After a day of fishing we’d crash in a van or back of a truck to catch a few hours of sleep and then maybe grab breakfast at Dairy Deans. I remember on our last trip together Randy hadn’t felt that great at our meal and later that fall we knew why.  He would be diagnosed with cancer. His treatments started and he fought well, but later that year we lost him. For his friends, his family, his sons in particular, there will always be a void left that Randy filled with laughter and wit while we were outdoors with gun or rod in hand.

On this Fall day, looking across at “his spot” on the banks of the river, hands warming around a cup of coffee, it didn’t matter that the stringer would be empty.  It only mattered that his life had enriched mine and brought me memories and friendships I’ll never forget.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Black and Gold

I love getting the pup, or in the past- pups, out in the winter for a hike.  The spring is kinda sloppy and the summer can get a bit buggy.  But doubt my favorite time of year and as always, it goes by too quickly.  It's like the first sounds of a crow or blue jay call in August, the first color of leaves start in some swamp and that spicy smell is in the air, and soon the trees are bare and more than a nice chill is in the air.  Fall is over, the gun season here and after that marches in winter and snow...not that that is a bad thing either.

But for right now, for a few brief weeks, it is autumn and I try to spend every minute I can out there doing something.  I've always said fall should be twice as long to get everything done- hunting, mountain biking, photography, Harley rides, fishing and sometimes, just out hiking with the pup.  The "pup" in this case is Molly, who has made a few appearances in this blog.  This is the first "real" fall to enjoy with me.  Last year she was recovering from a broken pelvis and eye surgery and missed any good kind of lab-in-the outdoors time.  Hopefully she'll do well in her first hunting season.
Black and Gold

For starters anyway, we ventured out into the county forest on some game trails, it was early morning, sun just hitting the tops of the trees and the camera was in hand.  I tried to make some photos along the way and it can be a lesson in frustration, because what you see with the eyes and what you smell don't show up on the sensor.  Fall can be hard to make good pictures, and we think it should be easy.  As I looked thru them, it started to be clear that on this day I was most interested not in shooting color (I thought I was) but rather Molly in the color, smelling only dog smells, running here and there and returning to heal along side me.  These images made me happy and I enjoyed them again and thought I'd share.  Maybe as the peak of color slides into place this week, some real fall photographs will find their way into my camera, but for now, I'll take these.
Molly on Old Fiber Optic Line