Tag Archives: walk in the woods

Trying to be Spring Out There

It’s trying to be spring out there, but March has been going back and forth from normal to above normal and the above normal never sticks around long enough to get things sprouting faster. Hell, we had snow the other day and a number of mornings where I’m still scraping some pretty thick frost off the windshield.

Needed a walk out in the woods today. I’m horribly out of shape it seems.

If you look, a slight green is starting to show up. On some short plants, grasses poking out from beneath the leaf cover, skunk cabbage and if you look real hard you find the occasional tiny flowers.

Still not a lot and still no fungus amongus.

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The following gallery has nothing to do with spring, I just liked the way they looked.

By 3PM mostly cloudy skies had settled in. I wandered over to the edge of a wide heavily wooded ravine that has a tiny creek running through it and sat down on a log to finish a cigar.

Not far away I could hear the “wuk” of a pileated woodpecker, but never did spot it.

Directly in front of me a few small birds were going from tree to tree. They would start at the bottom of each tree and hop up the tree looking for bugs to eat.

And that was it. Nothing else was moving, no other sounds were heard. Dead silent.

I imagined having a house here on this high point overlooking the ravine. No neighbors, just quiet and woods and a small little creek.

Human interaction, whether one on one or one on many, is highly over rated. I imagine if I got to live in a place like this I would rarely seek it out.

The plan was to stay out till sunset, but the clouds weren’t cooperating and by 4PM I was back home.

The wife that had no plans for making dinner because she wasn’t feeling well made a nice little dinner and I was glad to be home. While washing the dishes in front of the west facing window I noticed the clouds were trying to break up. Of course the wife knew what this meant and at 6PM I headed out the door and made the one mile trip to the other side of the Fox River to a good sunset spot.

While walking down the shore I noticed four widely spread out fishermen. I could tell they were out catfishing by the long casts they were making to nearly the middle of the river. They each had three rods, big back packs full of fishing junk and chairs.

And no fish to be seen.

The furthest fisherman down the line was out with his girlfriend/wife and they shared a chair they brought along. I noticed he was casting as I approached. He was using a plastic bottle wrapped in line. I already knew he didn’t speak English, but I asked anyway if he had caught any fish. Everyone seems to know the word fish. He nodded and pointed to the carp on the ground. I showed him my camera and asked if I could take a picture. He grinned and nodded.

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Further down I sat on a log and waited out the sunset. The clouds had continued to break up and it was looking like the makings of a dramatic sunset.

But this spot is odd. There is an actual anomaly called the Fox Valley Effect and I won’t bore you with the details. Straight west there is almost like a bowl in the terrain. It does odd things to the weather patterns, but the primary thing it does is break up storms as they approach the Fox Valley.

As I waited out the sunset, as usual there were thick clouds to the north and south of me up and down the river, but directly in front of me the clouds were disappearing quickly. I’ve seen this happen here numerous times.

I waited it out anyway and even though the light show was a bit more subdued than what I had hoped for, it was still worth the wait.

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A Past Squirrel Hunt in Three Parts: Part Two, the Build Up

By the time December rolled around, I was beginning to believe that getting out again in 2007 just wasn’t going to happen. Finances had taken a nose dive once again. Round trip from my house to Marseilles State Fish and Wildlife Area used up the same amount of gas as one round trip to work. That’s how tight things got. I couldn’t justify using up that one trip of gas for the opportunity to hunt down a few squirrels. What if going hunting meant I couldn’t make it to work one day?

Mid December came and so did an unexpected chunk of change. Just enough to pay a couple of neglected bills, buy some little Christmas gifts for the kids and to give me an extra tank of gas. It’s much easier to wander around the woods in search of squirrel when you aren’t guilt tripping about the possibility of money wasted in the endeavor.

Got out to Marseilles before dawn. The weather conditions for this trip were perfect. There was a fresh layer of snow on the ground, the temperatures were in the low 30’s and a nice fog kept visibility down to a couple of hundred yards. The fog almost proved to be a horrible hazard. On the road in the dark on the way there, front end of car almost met ass end of deer. Why a deer would be standing ass facing the traffic on the edge of the road grazing is anyones guess. A lucky swerve to the left kept us both from becoming another deer/car accident statistic. I can’t believe that the only thing this deer could find to eat was growing out of the edge of the asphalt of the road.

But I could be wrong. Maybe it needed a little road salt for flavoring.

Based on my trip out here at the beginning of November, I knew not to waste my time going to the spot where I knew I would do well. It was still closed to hunting. I’ve heard that somewhere back there a mock Iraqi town has been built. The military uses it for training. I find it odd that they would close this area during the fall and winter hunting season. How much of Iraq resembles northeastern Illinois from October to March? From the film footage I’ve seen of Iraq, and the guys I know that spent time there, I don’t see or hear about too many deciduous forests, or snow. A big flat farm in central Illinois that was covered in sand would be a better training ground. I guess that describes Texas doesn’t it? So why not Texas?

This forced me to rethink where I’ve been on this large piece of land. Marseilles is almost 4 square miles and over 4 years, I barely covered a square mile of it. Almost down the middle of it runs a creek that flows and meanders north to the Illinois River. Except for the area that is now off limits, I’ve concentrated most of my hunting on the west side of this creek. By maps, I’ve estimated I’ve walked almost three quarters of a mile north of the gravel road that runs east/west from the check in parking lot. But these were more like probes inland. Walk north until meeting an impassable situation, or in my case a situation where you stand looking down into a steep ravine and say to yourself “there is no way in hell I’m going down there.” Then turn around and go back.

This day I decided to go directly to the east side of the creek. Up a hill and out into a large open field. Across the field to the edge of the heavily wooded ravine that slopes down somewhere along the east side of the creek. I had crossed this creek in the past and I kept an eye on it looking for one of its many shallow spots. There weren’t any. I was looking down into water that was easily 3 feet deep. Not good when all you have on are waterproof, calf high boots. This deep water couldn’t last that long, I thought. I was far enough along that I now had no choice but to commit to finding a crossing. I dropped down into the ravine, sitting and standing every now and then in anticipation of the bounty of squirrel that I imagined to be there.

The description is correct except for the bounty of squirrels. And the slope of the ravine. At the far edge of the ravine, the slope and the snow had me sliding down much faster than I thought would happen. Luckily there were plenty of saplings to grab onto. I’d say it all went smoothly, but then how would I account for the loud thud that was let out when I hit the bottom. It took a bit to regain my composure.

It seems that just about all state parks and forest preserves are no more than former farm land. I’ve proven this to myself while lost in the woods on numerous occasions. Buried deep within what seems like impenetrably dense woods will be remnants of buildings. Sometimes no more than the overgrown outline of a foundation. Rotting out cars are sitting miles from roads with mature trees growing through their floor boards. Remnants of fence posts line up through the woods and if you look, lines of barbed wire along the ground follow the paths of the posts.

After abruptly coming to the bottom of the ravine I looked around and at the bottom of a steep slope was a bathtub. It was half buried into the slope and green with algae. I could see that it was one of those old cast iron enamel coated tubs. I looked up the slope, knowing that’s where it came from. Mature trees grew all along the slope. I also knew that at the top of this slope was nothing but woods. I was just up there and there was no sign of a road or anything resembling civilization. Amazing how nature quickly reclaims all that is man made leaving almost nothing to be found.

The sound of running water woke me from my day dream. There was a way across the creek. I was still along side the pool of the creek and followed the sound down stream. I could see in the distance the flowing water over rock. The creek again was just inches deep. As I followed the creek I came across the cause of the pool. Beavers had constructed a densely packed, 3 foot tall dam spanning from one shore to the other. With just sticks and mud it was holding back a good quarter mile of 3 foot deep water. Imagine the pressure of that much water.

How do they do that.

On the other side of the creek I stopped and leaned against a tree to smoke a leisurely cigar. Below me was a tangle of woods with a series of narrow ravines. A big doe tip toed down the far slope of the ravine in front of me, got to the bottom and had to stop to figure out how to get up this side of the ravine. Again, if I had a bow, a perfect shot was presented to me. No more than 80 feet away and standing perfectly still side ways to me. Next year for sure I’m getting my deer permits. I wonder if they allow you to go both deer and squirrel hunting. I could sling a bow over my shoulder and carry my 20 gauge pump for squirrels. The deer gave up trying to figure out how to get up the steep slope, turned around and went back the way it came. It never did see me.

Up one slope and across a point and I was back in an area I hunted 3 years earlier. On cue, off in the distance, 3 squirrels took off heading away from me. They jumped up into a big poplar and came back down on the other side of the creek. They were heading off to a nest I could see high in a tall maple. With the leaves now all gone and a layer of snow on the ground, their rust colored fur was easy to spot as they moved. But when they stopped, usually on the side of a tree facing away from me, they may as well have vanished into thin air.

I headed in the direction of the nest . . .

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.