Thursday, October 10, 2013

Scouting season

The lay of the land

Time to get out the guns. Time to take out the bolt, clean the action, polish the barrel, the bore, treat the wood stock. Time to sight in the scope, track down some extra ammunition, and remember this or that rifle has always shot a little high and to the left.

Time to get out and walk some county land. Time to take out the Platbook, the Gazetteer, the compass, the GPS. Let’s talk to some landowners, farmers, guides; take a drive down the forest roads, check the creeks, see who's already up at their cabins.

A trip to the store for some new boot laces, load up on hand warmers, get the licenses required by the state, maybe even pick out a new Stormy Kromer hat - all part of preparing, part of gearing up...

Game season is upon us; the time of year when hunting, fishing, and trapping are in full swing. The woodlands and the waterways become alive with activity as sportsmen prep for the harvest of the land's bounty. The wild supplies another yield.

However, in order to plan a successful hunt, or trap line, or decide where to put the ice fishing shanty in a few months, it's important to scout. Luck favors the prepared, so before we jump into game season it's best if we spend some time preparing for success.

Walking county trails and state forestland with a shotgun while looking for grouse or squirrels is a good way to scout for deer. Not only are you actively hunting, but finding deer beds, scrapes, and converging trails in the woods provides a better idea of deer patterns in a specific area. Add to that the fact whitetails love acorns, and you've got a squirrel hunt in the making.

On the grouse side of the equation, whitetails benefit from the protection of thick patches of young aspen that grouse love so much. Both animals feed on buds and tops in winter months, making them companionable species to find in the same habitat.

Fall fishing trips can lead to the exploration of land areas accessible only via watercraft which might otherwise be missed. Trips like this can be extra productive should they provide a new hunting spot since seclusion reduces the number of people who are likely to know about a fertile hunting land. That is to say, the more difficult it is to get to a place, fewer are the number of folks who will try, or even know, to go there.

In addition to these direct results, a more indirect advantage also takes shape while scouting - the lay of the land. What better way to know a place than to walk the land? A person could spend countless hours looking over maps and reading about wildlife, but if a person never truly spends time in that place, out between the trees, all the study and speculation in the world will not advance one’s intimate understanding of the habitat he or she wishes so desperately to know.

Truly, that is what drew me back here. To be a part of this land - see it, hear it, smell it, and know it like the back of my hand. I wanted to belong somewhere, and that place was right in front of my nose all along.

I have this sense that no matter how much time I spend in northern Wisconsin, there will always be more to learn, more places to explore, and new perspectives of life to discover and experience. Not everyone thinks this way, and that's fine. I suspect, though, they haven't taken the time to scout things out very well.

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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