Monthly Archives: August 2011

A Past Squirrel Hunt in Three Parts: Part One, the Setup

I think I got out hunting twice in 2007, both to Marseilles State Fish and Wildlife Area. Twice is a far cry from the 25 or more trips per year just a few years ago. But things change for better and worse and you hope every day the worse parts are over with. Every morning you wake up breathing and the chance to get rid of the worse parts are there in front of you again. This time it’s taken almost 2 years, but the good parts have kept me going.

The two hunting trips in 2007 were a couple of the good parts. Well, kind of.

You can have a good hunting trip and not have any success on the hunt. The opposite also holds true. These two trips were a little of both. Since I knew my time in the woods chasing squirrels was going to be limited, its easy to make the best of what you have.

Even though squirrel season opens on August 1st in Illinois, I don’t bother going till some time in October. Maybe November. Everything depends on the first frost and the dropping of all the leaves.

I can’t imagine wandering the woods in temperatures above 40 degrees. It’s not like you can be out bush whacking in shorts, sandals and a t-shirt. Poison ivy comes to mind. Ticks, chiggers, fleas and spiders love the warmer weather. Not to mention the loss of blood due to ripped flesh on thorny brush. Now throw in walking for miles with a 6 pound piece of metal and wood. It’s 80 degrees, you’re out of water and you could have sworn that way was your car.

After the first hard frost or two much of this discomfort goes away. Now when you shoot a squirrel and carry it around for a few hours, when you get back to your car and take it out of your game bag, fleas won’t be jumping off it like rats off a sinking ship. The cold kills off or puts down quite a bit. And hiking with 6 pounds of metal and wood becomes much more tolerable. You still swear your car was that way, but now you don’t mind looking as much.

The extra added benefit of squirrel hunting late in the season is that you actually have a chance of seeing a squirrel, maybe. They’re hard enough to spot and keep in sight in the middle of January when there’s snow on the ground and not a leaf on a tree. I’ve tried it in September in the past and not only was spotting them next to impossible, shooting through leaves can really screw up your shot.

The first time I got out in 2007 was the first week in November. I thought for sure that the conditions would be perfect and up to a point, they were. The temperatures were going to be just under 40, partly cloudy skies, not much wind. About as good as it gets. Only this was an odd fall. The trees were taking forever to shed their leaves and I’ll bet there was a good 35 percent coverage left on the trees in the woods. Not a good thing for spotting squirrels.

Shooting time is a half hour before sunrise and before that time I was heading east on the dirt and gravel road near the check station. About a mile down the road was an area I hunted in the past that had the highest concentration of squirrels. I took my time on this morning hike in, stopping frequently to see if anything was moving nearby. The weather was just cold enough to not break out in a sweat. Stopping and sitting or standing resulted in nothing being seen. Seeing through the trees for more than a couple of hundred feet was impossible, a squirrel would have to walk right up and introduce itself. In the areas where the deer had cleared the forest floor of all things edible, you could see much further. But there wasn’t enough areas like that.

My age, the cold, too much coffee and the hike all require me to stop for too many piss breaks. You get used to it, but it’s still annoying. I stopped and leaned my gun against a tree next to the road. A few feet further the woods stopped and opened to a small field filled with waist high grasses. As I gathered up my gun and stepped back into the middle of the road, movement coming into the clearing from the left caught the corner of my eye. I knew it was a deer and I stopped dead still in the middle of the road.

I’ve come across hundreds of deer over the years while out fishing and hunting. From fawns barely a couple of days old, to lame deer wandering off to die. From deer wandering around by themselves to a herd of over 20 I walked up on while wading Salt Creek through a forest preserve in Cook County. I’ve found antlers of all sizes, from button bucks to some pretty nice sized racks.

This was easily the biggest buck I have ever seen. And it still hadn’t seen me.

It was about 75 feet away and slowly making its way into the field. It wasn’t acting skittish, like it was cautious of its surroundings and what might be around, but simply looking down for something to eat and glancing left and right for more of the same. Though it was deer hunting season, once again I had failed to get permits for them. I also don’t have a bow and it was bow season. I now regretted it. I was being handed the perfect shot. Perfectly broad side with nothing in the way to block a shot. But all I had in my hands was a 20 gauge pump loaded with three rounds of small game shot.

It still didn’t even know I was there.

Suddenly it stopped and looked right in my direction. I had been standing perfectly still and we stared at each other for awhile. Then it went back to its slow walk across the field. After walking about 50 feet it stopped and looked at me again. The size of this deer was impressive. A wide antler spread, big solid body and its head looked to be the same height as mine. It knew I was there, snorted and stomped its leg. I’ve had deer do this to me before. It was trying to make me move, trying to feel out whether or not I was a threat.

And it wanted me to leave.

We stood looking at each other and I suddenly started thinking of the videos I’ve seen. Of big bucks charging and tossing someone over their shoulders after they had grabbed onto them with their antlers. Of big bucks getting someone on the ground and stomping on them. I was painfully aware that all I had in my hands was a 20 gauge pump loaded with three rounds of small game shot. If it decided to come at me, getting a clean head shot was my only option. I was trying to picture how to do that while fighting the urge to run like hell. My body doesn’t let me run anymore, so a clean shot was it.

I felt very screwed.

Luckily it turned and started walking again. A few steps and it did an about face and gracefully ran off. Nothing fast, not like it was scared, just a nice easy run on a beautiful morning. I couldn’t be more grateful.

I continued on down the road looking forward to hunkering down into the woods and waiting for squirrels. But some new signs were up. No hunting or trespassing beyond this point, military personnel only. There on the other side of the sign was where I wanted to be. In what leaf bare trees I could see were numerous squirrel nests. When did this happen.

Not wanting to push my luck, I turned and headed back. I did know one other area where I’ve done well. I no longer had any other options.

In the next area, the deer had cleared out the brush and walking through the woods was a breeze. I was already a couple of hours out and had not seen or heard a single squirrel. I resigned myself to exploring and enjoying a leisurely walk in the woods. While leaning against a tree enjoying a smoke of a cheap cigar, a squirrel appeared on the forest floor about 150 feet away. I started tracking it and I knew it was aware of me, but in no hurry to get away. Always staying just out of range.

Twice I lined up behind a tree so it couldn’t see me and quickened my pace. Twice I got within shooting range, but I was enjoying the game of cat and mouse too much to bring it to an end. Eventually it got tired of running, scooted up a tree and blended right in with the fall colored leaves.

I wandered around for a couple more hours sizing up areas for my next trip back. I tried to memorize where I saw the nests high up in the trees. I sat at times waiting for any kind of movement. Other than birds, never saw another creature. It had been almost two years since the last time I had been out hunting. It suddenly seemed appropriate to pass on my one chance of shooting something. You can’t always go out and take, sometimes you have to go out and do nothing. Don’t shoot. By that, you give back.

It’s Lunch Time my Friend 8.24.11

Why, look at that, it is almost lunch time.

The summer doldrums seem to be coming to an end. In the past week all the writers have come back to life and have been typing away like crazy. Others have been out taking picture of damn near everything.

This is a tough one.

We’ll start with Dale Bowman from the Sun Times wondering about how an outdoor writer winds up with only 1 out of 4 kids taking to the outdoors naturally.

6-year-old is a Natural

Bob Maciulis, publisher of Outdoor Notebook, also writes for Aurora’s Beacon News. He recently did a nice write up on our local waterways.

Rivers are the Lifeblood of Illinois

Bob Long, Jr.’s photos and words continue to be intriguing.

bossbob50’s photostream

This is where all writing and photographing hell broke loose. I think the best I can do is make it a little easier on you. You won’t have to go over to my sidebar and start clicking on things. Just go down this list.

The links will take you to the sites, then just start reading, looking and scrolling down. Some real gems here. Reading, looking, fishing, hunting and wandering around are all pretty well covered.

There’s a good chance you won’t get through them all today, so hang onto this for the next couple of days. Will give you something to do on those lunch breaks.

The River Zen

Unaccomplished Angler

Eat More Brook Trout

Mike’s Gone Fishin’… Again

Mysteries Internal

River Mud

The View from Fish in a Barrel Pond

Walkin’ With the Wild Woman

Mouthful of Feathers

A Rural Journal

I know, I know, I dumped a lot on you this week.

Don’t blame me, I’m not the one doing all the writing and photo’s. Okay, maybe some of it.

Doesn’t mean you have to go read them all in one hour. You know you can’t go surfing all afternoon, the IT guys do monitor your keystrokes you know. So just save it for the next few days, take your time and savor what’s here.

Will be worth it in the long run.

A Walk in the Park a Source of Revenue for the IDNR

My wife and I went for our usual walk around Silver Springs State Park on Sunday. Living only a 5 minute drive away, we find ourselves there 2 to 5 times a week.

Sunday the parking lot on the east end was full, we got the last spot. What a change from our weekday walks here when we have the whole place to ourselves. People have become weekenders when it comes to getting out, they should consider changing that.

A number of families were hanging out having picnics. A half dozen boats were out on the lake being paddled or rowed. A few fishermen were hanging out dunking worms.

We ran into one family and compared notes with them on how many monarch caterpillars were being found. We suddenly didn’t feel so odd walking up to milkweed plants and checking the underside of leaves. We’re not the only ones out here doing it.

On our walk we ran into a Cub Scout Den going for a hike, almost 50 kids and parents. More people were walking the shore along the Fox River. From our vantage point we could see a few parking lots on the west end that also looked full.

Off in the distance the sound of shotguns could be heard at the shooting range. Based on the shooting, there were quite a few up there. I have no doubt there were a few taking advantage of the archery range, there usually is.

We didn’t see any horses out here this time, but there are times when a couple of parking lots off the main road are full of horse trailers.

Did I mention the few fishermen? Couldn’t have been more than 10.

And yet, they were probably the only ones that paid something in order to take advantage of all the different things available at this state park.

You have to have a fishing license.

I think it’s time to change this.

Over the past 10 years the general revenue portion of DNR’s budget has fallen over 50% – from $100M to $48M – and this is the portion of the budget that funds state parks, law enforcement, museums and regulatory functions. I think the average user of the states parks doesn’t know or notice this. It’s only a matter of time till that changes with the cutting of services or the closing of some facilities.

I remember reading not too long ago that Illinois was considering charging entrance fees to state parks much like what is done in Wisconsin. If you’ve never looked, they’re not unreasonable.

Wisconsin DNR Park Fees

I already buy over $50 worth of fishing and hunting licenses every year. If Illinois implemented a fee structure like that in Wisconsin, I would gladly pay another $25 for a sticker that would allow me into any of the state parks for the year. Based on how often I go to fish and hunt, and how often my wife and I go just for a walk, it comes out to less then 50 cents per visit.

I’m sure it would take a few years to implement a program like this, a lot of work would need to be done building check in gates at each of the parks alone. I’m sure there are some park properties where this simply won’t work, but over the long haul, revenue would be coming in from people using the state parks that goes above and beyond just anglers and hunters.

To me it’s a very simple question that needs to be put to those that don’t fish or hunt, but like to visit the state parks.

What is Illinois’ natural resources worth to you?

If you’re like my wife and I and it comes out to less than 50 cents per visit over the course of a year, I would say that’s money well spent.

A Walk in the Park

I guess I do spend a lot of time there.

A Rare Morning of Fishing

There’s a good chance that on any given day at four in the morning, I’m awake. This started when I was a kid and around 5 decades later, I don’t give it much thought anymore.

This used to be the time I would crawl out of bed and go fishing. Why lay there staring at the ceiling. When my kids were around it was also perfect timing. A morning of fishing and an afternoon with the kids. With the kids gone, there’s no rush to get out running around so early in the morning, even if it is for fishing. Besides, I was always partial to sunsets on the river.

I thought I would give a morning fish a try again recently. Wanted to spend the afternoon with my wife, so perfect timing. The usual fishing routine is to decide on where to go as I’m backing out of my driveway. Each intersection I come to there’s a decision to make on where to go. As I drive along the river there are more decisions being made on where to finally stop.

For those few that have wanted to get together with me to do some fishing, this is why I hesitate, procrastinate and generally blow things off. Even if I made plans with someone there’s a chance I’d change my mind at the last minute. Sorry about that, it is what it is.

This time I finally stopped at an old favorite spot between Batavia and North Aurora. Though it’s right in the middle of an urban area, Kane County and the Fox Valley Park District were smart enough to set aside long stretches of both shores as public property. Once you get near the river, you would never know how close you are to so many people. As close to wild as you can get without having to travel very far.

At 6:30 the gates were open and I had the whole place to myself. At least for fishing. The pleasant morning had quite a few people out already walking, running and biking, but no other anglers around.

In order to get to the section of river where I wanted to fish, I had to cross a backwater area where it begins. The water was just high enough to bring a little bit of current through. If the river was down 2 more inches, there would be no current.

As I crossed through ankle deep water, I cast to a spot on a whim. Got a dink smallie.

For the next 45 minutes I stood in one place and caught 18 smallies, missed many more than that. They were annihilating the jig and twister. Slow, fast, as a topwater, on the bottom… didn’t matter how I fished it they would tear it apart. The biggest three were all 12 inches, the rest were all smaller, but they didn’t know it. Fought like hell.

When the bite finally died I walked through the hole. I already knew how deep it was, just wanted to make sure. It was a pool about 40 feet long by 20 feet wide and barely went over my knees at the deepest spot. I wandered down the backwater a bit to see if the bite would continue, but in a hundred yards not a hit was had. From past experience I knew that the further I went the bottom was made up mostly of silt and was devoid of fish.

I headed for the main river.

When I stepped out into the river there was another angler on the opposite side, out fly fishing. He would be the only other angler seen for the next 4 hours. This was a stretch that on a Saturday morning in the past would be crawling with guys wading. Was nice to share it with only one other.

Along the shore I got 3 fish on in just about as many casts. All ran upstream so fast that I couldn’t reel in fast enough to get a good hookset. Lost all 3 as they went flying by me upstream. I have no doubt there was swearing out loud involved, that happens.

A few minutes later I hear an epithet spewed from the opposite side of the river. I looked over in time to see a fly come launching straight out of the water and back over the anglers head. I suddenly didn’t feel so bad.

As I wandered down the shore, a doe and 2 fawns walked off the island and out into the river.

The only predators left in the area are coyotes so all up and down the river there are deer that bed down on the islands. Coyote must not like getting their feet wet. I knew how deep the water was where these deer wanted to cross the river. The fawns would never make it, the water would be over their heads. The doe must have sensed this, she stuck her neck far out and surveyed the river. Then turned and headed back to the island with the two others close behind.

I saw them again a few minutes later navigating a knee deep stretch of river. Much smarter move on their part.

For the next couple of hours I only had 3 more fish willing to hit a lure. None of these were landed either.

The river is already starting to get it’s fall look. The green of the trees were already starting to fade and there was one that must have thought it was already mid September.

Lots of geese were moving around. I noticed this the other day when fishing downstream of Oswego. There are blinds down that way and September 1st is the beginning of the early goose season. I haven’t done it in a few years and my goose recipes need a dusting off. The only shotgun I have that can take down a goose is a single shot. I’d settle for one goose.

Near this stretch of the river lives a bald eagle. From around a bend it comes floating down the river below tree top level, no more than 50 feet from me. Down where I live in Yorkville, we see them floating around the river all the time. I’ve seen them in Oswego, Montgomery and now Batavia. I never thought that in my life time I would ever see eagles so close to Chicago.

As I rounded another bend to get to a spot I call 5 Fish Tree, my heart sank. 5 Fish Tree was no more.

I had noticed over the last few years that it was gradually deteriorating. It was just a matter of time till it collapsed into the river. I thought of fishing around it’s remains to see if it still held 5 fish, even after death, but me and downed trees in the water don’t seem to get along. They want to keep sucking me under them. Best to leave well enough alone.

As I was getting off the river I heard a racket overhead. A red tail hawk was going by, being pecked at by a peregrine falcon, which was being chased by yet another smaller bird that I couldn’t identify. You would think the chain of command would have been the other way around.

I decided to try one more spot on the way home, a spot I rarely fish anymore. I could hear thunder far off in the distance as I stepped out into the water, but I assumed I had a good half hour before I had to worry.

In two casts I had landed two smallies, but then the lightning started arching over my head. Not good.

It figures that would happen and I didn’t even get to the good spot yet. I made a couple of more casts, but I swear I heard the air over my head sizzling from the lightning. I was over 50 feet from shore with a lightning rod in my hand. I dropped the tip into the river and moved as fast as possible for the shore, which in waist deep water isn’t very fast. Another bolt of lightning sizzled over head. I heard someone saying out loud, not now, not now.

I guess that was me.

I moved the car under a bridge to change out of my waders and to watch the light show. I have no clue whether or not lightning can reach under a bridge, but at least I had a perfect seat to watch the show.

Part of me wished that the initial bite that started the day would have gone on another hour or two. I’ll take a dink fest like that any day over one or two big fish.

Apparently, my thumb liked it too.

At Least the Riverbanks are Cleaner

Was out Saturday morning on the Fox River and fished for about 4 hours.

Saw one other angler in those few hours and he was on the other side of the river, fly fishing.

I heard the obligatory epithets from him when he missed a hook up.

That was it, one angler, on a day that in the past would have the river and it’s shores crawling with fishermen.

For me, that’s a good thing. I like my solitude. I need that time in my head with no distractions.

I first noticed the dwindling numbers of fishermen about 4 years ago. Things haven’t improved. Paths to once popular shoreline spots are practically gone.

What I have noticed is that with the absence of anglers, the riverbanks are much cleaner. I see far less garbage now than in years past.

I mentioned this to my wife this morning while we were out sipping our first cups of coffee.

“Fishermen are pigs,” she said, “that will never change.”

This from a woman that comes from a fishing and hunting family, but does neither herself. She’s also hung out around the Fox River her whole life, that’s where she grew up. She may be right.

It’s disheartening to have to admit that in order to reduce the amount of garbage on the riverbanks, the fishermen have to go away.

Twelve years ago I had the head of a Park District along the Fox River tell me that fishermen were part of the problem when it came to river issues. I set out to prove him wrong. I had the opportunity to talk to him last year about all things Fox River and reminded him of that conversation. He no longer feels that way. He had the opportunity to meet and work with a couple of fishing groups that I sent his way and he completely changed his opinion.

I didn’t mention my change of opinion. Maybe someone will someday prove me wrong.