Saturday, December 22, 2012


I’m frugal. Okay, I’m cheap. The thought of shelling out hundreds of dollars for rainy day wear seemed excessive.

Whether or not it’s excessive, it is a lot of money. I could buy a very nice shotgun for the price of a quality rainsuit; several dozen coyote traps, a bunch of rod and reel combos - probably a one way ticket to Honolulu, if I shopped smart.

But when I turned “pro” and started taking people on Lake Michigan for hire, one of my first acquisitions was a Bass Pro XPS rain suit. What I then hoped would prove to be a worthy investment I now say is among my most important assets.  I love it and wear it on my boat everyday during the spring and fall, rain or shine. It’s the perfect top layer, warm and wind proof.

I would buy another one - probably.

But I might switch to a Frabill XFE Stormsuit. The folks at Frabill gave me one to try out.

Just my luck, it came during a drought year, one with record warmth. So it’s just been sitting there waiting for a suitable, rainy, dreary day.

Like yesterday!

By sunrise, the rain gauge showed over 1/2-inch and the drizzle was steady. Temperatures in the 40s. I had traps scattered over 4 farms and I’d need to attend to each one. Not just drive by and keep going if there was nothing caught. Each trapsite was water-logged. I planned to remove most of them.

The perfect test day.

My initial impression of the Frabill suit? It’s great. It fits great, it’s built for outdoor activities that require standing, kneeling, sitting down, climbing into and out of trucks, boats and onto ATVs. It features pockets inside and out, special spots for pocket cams, cell phones, extra protection at knees and elbows. There’s even a tiny towel on string inside for, ah, well, maybe to dry off your glasses?

The materials and workmanship look to be top of the line. At the end of the day, I was warm and completely dry. Will it hold up for the long run? Ask me in a few years, I’m betting it will and I’ll be putting that bet to the test.

Monday, November 26, 2012


A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. This photo is a complete detective novel if you give it a quick study.

For you non-trappers reading this, let me give a bit of background to make what you are seeing more understandable. The metal and wire you are seeing in the photo is properly called a body-gripper trap. They are often called Conibear traps because they were invented and first marketed by a man named Frank Conibear. Now, most trap manufacturers produce their own versions. Body-gripper traps come in sizes from very small models, used mostly for mink and muskrats, to very large ones used to capture beavers.

Here’s a photo of one set and ready. The trapper places the trap in a location, such as at the entrance of a burrow or on a trail used by the animal being sought. Hopefully, when the animal comes along, it will try to crawl through the trap, rather than go over or around and when it pushes on the trigger wire, the trap snaps shut.

These traps are killers and aren’t ever used if there is a chance any non-target animal is likely to encounter it. Once the trap fires, the end is near for the captured animal.

Usually, the trap strikes hard enough to render a knock-out blow and the animal becomes unconscious. The grip on it’s body or neck then prevents it from breathing and it quickly dies from asphyxiation. Picture how a common mousetrap works and you will understand the workings of a body-grip trap.

Weasels are the smallest fur bearing predator that is legal to trap in Indiana. Few trappers target them because they are relatively uncommon, usually require special traps and techniques and are of low value in Indiana because most weasels this far south don’t turn white in the winter. In northern states and Canada weasels do change color with the seasons and white weasels, called ermine, are much more valuable to furriers.

The body-grip trap in the top photo was set in a dry ditch in a trail being used mostly by raccoons. It’s a common set. Perhaps spots like this are “weasel highways,” as well. Weasels are so small and skinny, most can pass through a trap of this size repeatedly and never hit the trigger wire.

That’s the story of this picture. The trap set and ready. The weasel hunting for its next meal captures a deer mouse and is proudly carrying it down the trail. Perhaps the weasel has gone through the body-grip trap several other times unscathed, but this time, the mouse in it’s mouth strikes the trigger, the trap fires, weasel caught and the mouse becomes a clue to this mystery novel.

The epilogue to this tale is the mouse will become bait for a coyote. The weasel will go to a taxidermist to be turned into a nature display.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Daniel doesn't hunt but does
get a bit of supervised target practice. 

My barn turns into “deer camp” this time of year, usually populated by brothers, nephews and a few friends. I love it.

We've rigged up a pulley in the rafters to hoist up deer for skinning and I have a home made skinning winch I use to pelt out the fur bearers I catch on my trap line. There are bows and guns and camo clothes intermingled with tools, welders, ATVs and a smattering of fishing gear.

This past weekend was my nephew Daniel’s first visit to deer camp. At 8 years old, he’ll get to accompany hunters, but not carry a gun. In another couple years we’ll see. It’s fun to watch Daniel experience all the “new” things that go on at deer camp.

This is just setting the scene.

Brother John and nephew Noah are hoisting a deer on the rafter pulley. Daniel is dividing his time between helping pull the rope - he probably weighs about 52 pounds - and watching me remove the pelt from an opossum.

Deer hung, possum skinned, John asked what everyone wanted for lunch. I suggested possum.

“Can you eat possums,” asked Daniel?

“Sure,” I said.

“Have you ever eaten possum,” asked Noah?

“No, I never have, but I know people who have and know in some places eating possums is quite common,” I answered.

John said, “We have chicken or beef burritos.”

“Or possum,” I chimed in, jokingly.

At 8 years old and new to the game, Daniel didn’t realize I was being jocular. "I want possum."

So I went to the house, put a bit of Frying Magic seasoned coating mix in a plastic bag and returned with a skillet containing a bit of vegetable oil. I cut a few chicken nugget-sized chunks off the fresh possum carcass, dusted them liberally with Frying Magic and dropped them into the hot skillet, now on the stove.

Once they became, as Food Network star Alton Brown would say, “golden brown and delicious,” I pronounced them done.

The verdict?

“Possum does not taste like chicken,” I stated.

“It’s not gamey tasting,” John said.

Noah sampled his first bite and said, “I don’t know what it tastes like.”

Daniel nailed it as he reached for his second nugget, “It tastes like possum!”

Not only that, we all agreed, it was very tasty.

Will I be filling the freezer with possum meat this fall? “Possumly!”

Friday, November 2, 2012


Most guys like their trucks as much as cowboys like their horses. Trucks are hard-working, sometimes daring, usually dependable and for outdoorsmen, their ticket to adventure. As my love for trapping expanded, so did my need for a sturdy, dependable truck with 4-wheel drive.

There it was, sitting in a vacant lot in St. Anne, IL. A black, 4X4 Ford Ranger. It looked to be old enough to be affordable. It was a 1990 and this was in 1999. The owner and I cut a deal and I became the owner of the “Skunk Truck.”

I’ll admit to hauling more than a few skunks around in the truck along with plenty of other, equally foul smelling items. I never minded people calling my Ranger the Skunk Truck. I fitted the truck bed with a black fiberglass topper and I often thought about painting white stripes across the hood and up over the cab and topper. I never did get around to that project.

Now the Skunk Truck is 22 years old. It still runs and would likely serve me for another year and maybe another after that. Maybe not.

The Skunk Truck was my
Ticket to Adventure
So I bought a different truck. So far, it doesn’t have a name.

I looked up the “blue-book” price on the Internet and it pegged the private sale price at $750. So I put it out by the road with a sign $700 OBO. No takers after a week so I listed it on eBay with an opening bid of $500. To my surprise, someone bid on it. Then they were outbid and the price kept going up. It ended up going for $725.

So the Skunk Truck is heading back to Illinois tomorrow when the new owner drives over to pick it up. I’ll hate to see it go. It was my ticket to many adventures.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I well remember the first badger I ever caught in one of my coyote traps. The trap site was at the top of a sandy hillside and even when I was 50 yards away I knew something strange had occurred.

  Most trapped raccoons and coyotes spend some of the time from when they are caught until you get to them digging. A particularly industrious digger in light, sandy soil may shuffle around a half bushel of dirt that is fairly easy to level out once you remove the animal from the trap.

  At the top of the hill was more than a bushel or even two bushels of dug up dirt. It looked like a back hoe had been in operation. Or a bomb. When I got to the trap site, or should I say, excavation, it looked more like a bomb. The hole was easily 4 feet deep, the rim of dirt encircling the hole was about 2 feet high. The bomber was a badger.

  Though badgers aren’t uncommon in Indiana, they are protected. A few miles west of where I trap, in Illinois, they would be fair game. In most places badgers are considered to be pests because of the holes they dig when they prey upon gophers and ground squirrels.

  I carry a snare pole with me at all times to assist in releasing captured animals. Loop the snare around the animal’s neck like a collar on a dog. Except badgers have necks like linebackers. So there’s always an element of uncertainty!

 The one I caught yesterday was no exception. Bomb crater, snarls, teeth and claws. Eventually we parted company, both unscathed. Then the work. The dirt has to go back into the hole. And I don’t carry a backhoe with me on the trapline.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


 There’s no limit on the number of coyotes a trapper can catch, either on a daily basis or seasonally. Many trappers are happy if they only catch a few, others aren’t happy unless they catch hundreds each year. Me? During the first month of trapping season when only coyotes are legal, I have a goal of catching one and one half coyotes each day. 
  I realize it’s impossible to catch half a coyote so my actual threshold for success is to catch one or two each day. Why not more? Because of the work involved after the catch. 

 I’m a recreational trapper. If I have one or two coyotes in the truck at the end of my check, I haul them into my shed and open a beer while I remove the pelts, clean up the fur and slide the hide on the stretchers to dry. Depending on the mood, some tunes or talk radio makes for a pleasant end of the afternoon. Need be, I’ll crack open a second beer. More than that, the work takes precedence and time disallows any casual quaffing of beers. It’s drudgery!

 A few years ago my goal of one or two per day worked out almost perfectly. I had one day with zero catches, two days with 3 catches and all the rest were one or two. I’ve come close to perfection the last couple year and was on track this year, as well. Until today.

  After finding my bait dug up and coyote tracks all over my first set, but no coyote, then nothing in the next few places I’d placed traps, I caught number one in the corner of a corn field. Then I caught another on the next farm I checked. Then three traps later, at the end of a row of pine trees number 3 for the day was encountered. 

  “Oh Molly,” I told my dog who rides along with me as I check my traps, “We’ve over bagged.” 
The next spot had only been set 2 days ago and since it has a good history, I’d installed 2 traps there. Both of traps were clamped solidly to coyote feet. One was a youngster, the other a mature male. 
   With only one last field to check and two traps set, I thought the five in my truck was it. 
Wrong! The next to last trap had a small blonde coyote nailed down - probably a litter mate to the one I caught in the other set yesterday. Six in one day far exceeds my wants, expectations or the amount of work I wanted to do.  

  But I did it. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get a day off - or at least time for enjoying a beer while I work. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012


The United States is often called a nation of emigrants. That is certainly true of the citizenry, but almost as much from the wildlife. Nowadays, many of them are called “invasive species” and devout environmentalists hate them.

More than a few of them have proven to be welcome additions to the native fauna of an area by most people (and even a few devout environmentalists).
No species has made a bigger impact than the ringneck pheasant.

First imported to the Willamette Valley in the Pacific Northwest, they’ve been transplanted to every state in the country. Most places the introductions failed. The birds are adaptive, but not that adaptive. In a few places they thrive, given ample habitat. There’s no place in the country they fare better than the State of South Dakota.

I have feathers in my future. Long feathers. Feathers plucked from the tails of wild, South Dakota ringnecks. Hopefully, probably, unless I fall in a badger hole and break a leg, one could say undoubtedly, there will be several sets of tale feathers sticking out of my game pouch for the next several days.

My grandparents immigrated to the United States as children. A few years earlier, ringneck pheasants immigrated to the U.S. As descendants of immigrants, both the pheasants and I have a date with destiny.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


  I posted a note on Facebook early yesterday making a statement and a rhetorical question. “Coyote trapping season opens today. Am I surprised it rained more than  2 inches over the weekend?”

  That’s just one of the challenges of trapping for Midwestern coyotes. Couple that with unharvested fields, harvested fields the farmer feels the need to disk or plow in the fall and fields freshly planted with winter wheat and access to my normal trapping locations is always a factor.
  Most of the other challenges are more Mother Nature oriented. Wind and wind direction certainly has an affect. Even a drizzle of rain that doesn’t turn fields into lakes can ruin the best-made set. 
     Then there’s the quirks of trapping a very intelligent and cautious animal. Coyotes are strong. The gear and technique used have to be top notch or the animal will find the weakness and exploit it.

  This morning I’ll be heading out towards what I’ve coined, “the pleasant uncertainty.” I first used it in conjunction with going fishing. The pleasant uncertainty exists until you make the first cast or get the first strike.

So what will I find when I get out on my trap line today?  I’m uncertain. But I’m looking forward to it.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012


On the way to our morning fishing trip, my fishing partner and I passed a country store advertising “BOILED PEANUTS.” That got me thinking.

Were it not so common, easy to find and even easier to use, peanut butter would rank above French truffles and Russian caviar as one of the world’s most flavorful food. Luckily, it’s something us commoners can afford and enjoy.

I love peanuts other ways, as well. Peanuts in the shell were a fall staple at the hunter check-in station where I used to work. A jar of dry roasted Planters is as good a snack as I can imagine. But boiled?  I couldn’t imagine. Neither could Bill so we vowed we’d stop at Whisker’s Country Corner on the way back from fishing to investigate.

What we found was the an eclectic mix of tourist stop, local corner store, antique boutique and just a fun place to be. You could tell it wasn’t built. It evolved. It probably started as a roadside stand selling fresh produce and perhaps boiled peanuts. Then it just grew and took over the sturdy but somewhat ramshackle buildings, nearby. You can even get a haircut there! But this is a story about peanuts.

Store owner and chief peanut “boiler,” Peggy Stevenson didn’t share the exact recipe, but it involved raw peanuts in-the-shell, plenty of water a pinch or two of salt and, no doubt, a few secret herbs. Put it in a large roasting pan and let it stew for several hours - or all day, I suppose.

“Some people eat shell and all,” said Peggy. “They cook, but are stringy like celery. Most people peel off the shell, just as you would with roasted peanuts.”
Peggy dispenses over 4 gallons of
boiled peanuts each day!

So with those instructions, Bill and I set off with our first sampling of this southern snack.

How were they?  I agree with most people. Peel off the shell. I didn’t on the first one I sampled and it was indeed stringy. More than stringy, actually. Don’t do it. The rest I peeled. I say “peeled” because the process is a bit harder than cracking open a roasted peanut - more like peeling a cooked shrimp.

Inside, the peanuts were done perfectly. But no peanut flavor! Their texture was more that of a navy or lima bean cooked “al dente.” (Peanuts are a legume.) The flavor was more bean-like than anything. If you like navy beans,  ham’n beans, black eyed peas and the like, you could easily become a boiled peanut fan. I do and I now am a fan. Unfortunately, until I get back to the Ozarks, I’ll have to make do with peanut butter.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


These "parasol" looking mushrooms are
grand looking, but poisonous. 

A week or so ago some mushrooms started sprouting in my yard. Previously, the very delicious Shaggy Mane, also known as Inky Cap mushroom, has grown in my yard and though never very numerous, we've eagerly gathered our small harvest. Inky Caps are one of the fool-proof four of edible wild mushrooms, making them hard to mistake for any other variety.

At first, I thought these were Shaggy Manes, but instead of dissolving into a gooey mess in a few hours, these kept on growing. When I returned home after a multi-day road trip, they’d gotten huge.

They were magnificent! Are they edible? There was more than enough for a meal. So I Googled!

My first guess was they were parasol mushrooms and the first few pictures I saw made me believe I was correct and headed for a great mushroom dinner. But one of the authors who created one of the mushroom ID sites I visited warned there were a couple of close look-a-likes so be careful.

Shaggy Manes are good to eat
and common in my yard. 
One of them was called the  Chlorophyllum molybdites, more commonly, the Green Gilled Parasol. It’s not deadly, but will make most people violently ill, apparently from both ends. In the write-up, the author noted the green-gilled version was the most common cause of mushroom poisoning in the United States.

That was enough for me to check and recheck, before venturing farther down this culinary track. One of the specimens I picked showed a bit of mint green tinge to it’s gills. The definitive test is to put the cap on a white paper and wait an hour or more. If it sheds spores that are green, it’s proof positive you don’t want to eat it.

Green they were!  Into the dumper they went. We had homemade fries with our burgers for dinner.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Summer time is “hummer-time” at my house.  Hummingbirds, that is. Those scrappy little moth-sized birds are one my favorite things about summer.

We don’t get lots of hummers here.  Most years just a couple of pairs take up residency in our vicinity. A good year is when we host 3 couplets of the tiny birds. That is until early August.

That’s when the kids join mom and dad sucking free sweets from my plastic flowers. Since hummers only raise 2 babies each year, once the juvies join the party, the flock doubles. Maybe there are some cousins, uncles or aunts showing up as well. Maybe just having twice as many makes it seem as though the feeder is 10 times as busy.

Hot weather certainly boosts their metabolism and causes them to drink more. I love it.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


I’m trying not to start off on a morbid note, but one of the realities of life is that everything is destined to die. Humans spend millions to fight off death. Animals instinctively know how to avoid being killed. Even plants have defense mechanisms that kick into gear under adverse growing conditions. But in the end, it’s the end.

There's a story to every caught fish. 
Some things die hard. Ever had a weed in your garden that just kept resprouting? Some things seem to tempt their fate daily. Human daredevils can get rich or famous (or dead) from their exploits.

Some things just seem bent on destruction.

I encountered a steelhead yesterday that filled that bill to a T and gave a couple of fishermen some thrills along the way. One could argue it was the fish’s fate. Others might call it destiny.

After all, the reason one of Indiana’s fish hatcheries made the effort to capture it’s parents, care for them until the eggs were ripe and fertile, then nurtured the hatchling from fry to fingerling to big enough to stock in Lake Michigan was with the hope some fisherman would eventually hook up with it.

The last fish my group of anglers hooked Saturday morning came with a surprise. I extended the net and scooped the struggling fish out of the lake, ending the tussle. As I lifted the fish into the boat, I noticed a strand of monofilament line in the net along with the fish.

“Odd,” thinks me. I try to keep stray strands of mono picked up, and hoped one of my lures wasn’t attached to (or detached from) the extra fishing line.  As I removed the lure that had caught the steelhead from the fish, some of the wayward line was tangled in the treble at the end of the spoon.

“Doubly odd,” thinks me. I noticed the line wasn’t my line at all. Too thin. Probably 4 or 6 pound test. My first postulation was that the hook had snagged onto a length of discarded line, however, I’d think more than a few inches of it would have disturbed the action of the lure pulling through the water and the fish wouldn’t have bitten it.

Then it dawned on me to look again inside the mouth of the fish. Sure enough! Embedded inside was a bright red perch-sized hook.

The extra hook in this fish suggests it was part of
someone else's fish story from an earlier day. 
Some perch fishermen in the recent past went home with a “fish story” that went something like, “I felt a tap and set the hook and instantly knew it wasn’t a perch.”  Or perhaps, “The rod pulled down like I’d hooked a nuclear submarine....” The end of what ever story he told had the same end. “The line broke.”

So this steelhead, destined from birth to die and nurtured from it’s conception to be caught by a happy angler, became a “well-storied” fish.  When it bit the perch fisherman’s minnow, it gave him or her a story to tell and a lasting memory. When it bit the spoon trolling behind my boat it gave a tale to the angler who fought and won the battle. In addition, it gave me a story to tell to you, as well. All fish should meet such a well-storied end.

Monday, May 14, 2012


My Lake Ontario coho.
So what does a fishing guide do when he doesn’t have to go fishing for a few days? He goes fishing!

At least that’s what I do and it’s not so much that I go fish for panfish, since I so often fish for Great Lakes salmon and trout. Nothing against panfish, or walleye, or bass or most any other kind of fish.

I love Great Lakes salmon and trout and I love to fish for them. So when I showed up in Niagara Falls for the annual Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writer’s "Cast and Blast" and got the chance to hop on Capt. Bob Cinelli’s boat for a morning of Lake Ontario salmon fishing, I went.

Fellow AGLOWers, Berdette Zastrow and P.J. Perea came along and plenty of fish showed up for the morning fun, as well.

Did I learn anything? Probably.

Did I care much? Not really.

Capt. Bob helps Berdette pose her first salmon.
I just enjoyed not being in charge. Let Capt. Bob and mate Roy handle setting the lines, net the fish, swab the deck and all the other details. I took my turn at the rail. Caught a couple, whiffed on one, tossed back a little one and caught some nice fish.

Captain’s holiday! Tomorrow is more salmon and then some smallmouth in the afternoon. Wednesday is, well, who cares? I’m going fishing.

Monday, April 30, 2012


I’m a seafood lover. When I have a choice of fish, fowl, red meat, veggies or even ice cream and cookies, I’ll be ordering up something that lived in the water. That goes double when I head on one of my adventure trips to fish in far away places.

Dining companions showing fine form with a box of crab claws!
Head to Iowa, plan on eating beef or pork. Head to Arkansas, order up some Tyson chicken. It’s called “eating local.” Greenies tout the practice because it makes sense, environmentally. I tout it because fresh food tastes better than old or frozen food.

So how, with all my trips to the East Coast, Florida and the Gulf Coast, how did I ever miss out on “crab claws.”  I’ve had meat from lobster claws and crabs like stone crabs with huge pinchers plenty of times, but always in conjunction with a whole lobster or a plate full of whole crabs. When a plate full of deep-fried blue crab claws showed up as an appetizer at “Flippers,” the host restaurant our first night in Orange Beach on a recent trip.

The concept is simple. The last leg segment which contains the powerful muscles that operate the crab’s pincher claws is removed and peeled of its shell. The resulting chunk is breaded, quickly deep fried in a spicy batter and served with a variety of dipping sauces.

Eating them is equally simple. Grasp by the pincher, bite gingerly until you get to the plastic-like tendon in the middle of the detached crab-limb, then pull the crab leg from your mouth sliding the meat off in your mouth. Wonderful!

An alternate preparation showed up on the appetizer platter the next night at King Neptune’s. These claws were sauteed, then dusted liberally with cajun spices. Equally wonderful.

I’m going to keep an eye out for crab claws on menus from now on. Maybe I’ve just overlooked them. If I don’t find any, I’ll just schedule another trip to Orange Beach. They are a staple, there!

Friday, March 30, 2012


I remember the first time I saw a person drinking “bottled” water. She was one of the “cool girls” in my daughter’s class in high school, so obviously, drinking bottled water was a cool thing to do.

Cool or not, it seemed weird. She was 10 feet from a concession stand where Coke or other soda pop was being sold and less than 10 feet from a drinking fountain where she could have gulped down as much water as she wanted - for free.

I’ll admit to having taken a drink from “water cooler” bottled water dispensaries a time or two in my past; but doing so was a novelty, having as much to do with using those little cone-shaped cups as really being thirsty. I’d never given thought to why the water coolers were there, other than poor plumbing planning.

When it came to drinking water, I was never picky. The few times I was somewhere with really bad tasting water, I just manned up and downed it - foul flavor or not. Secondly, I was never a “recreational” water drinker. I drank water when I was parched, taking a pill or brushing my teeth. Otherwise, I drank Kool-Aid, soda-pop, beer, coffee, iced tea, milk - whatever. I was also enough of a pragmatist (or so cheap) that the idea of paying for water in a bottle when it flowed freely from taps and drinking fountains was unthinkable.

I just read a news story about a new water controversy. It seems several colleges and universities are now banning bottled water. Drinking bottled water has gone from being the “organic” thing to do - “who knows what’s in the liquid that flows from the tap” - to a very environmentally “insensitive” thing to do.

Not because the water is better or worse. Most places it’s because of the bottles, which are (pick one or more): plastic, made from oil, ends up in landfills, or on beaches or not the best plastic to recycle, causes cancer, chokes billy goats - or pick your own version of horrible.

In other places it’s because water bottling companies are parts of giant, evil corporations. (Like Pepsi Cola Company - which also sells non-banned products in plastic bottles.) In a few places, such as northern Michigan, bottled water is in disfavor because the giant, evil corporations bottle northern Michigan water and send it to “other” places with no access to northern Michigan water.

These universities are now installing extra drinking fountains (better plumbing planning) with special spigots to make filling reusable water bottles easier. Go figure.

We did that when I was a kid in Boy Scouts. We called them canteens. But they weren’t cool.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Technically, I grew up in town, but our house was on the very edge of town. In fact, our lot had cornfields to the west and north and when dad bought the property, the northeast side was a cow pasture and the house came with a barn and barnyard.

Let’s talk about the town. No one ever counted the residents to the last person. We called it 1000. When the highway put up a new city limits sign they pegged the population at 900, give or take a barnyard, so in the eyes of most people, I grew up in a rural area.

I considered it rural, myself. Because I had “city-boy” cousins.

Dr. Stephen Easley
Cousin Steve was the closest to my age and he spent more time at my house in Brook than I did at his house in Indianapolis. I liked it that way. When I was at his house in Indy, we did, ah, well, I don’t remember doing much since there wasn’t much to do. It was city.

When Steve was at my house, not only was there plenty to do, I now had a friend almost my age to do it with and to teach new things.  Things like fishing at the bayou and shooting BB guns. In a recent email I got from Steve, he mentioned hunting snakes.

Steve and I were at Purdue at the same time and once he graduated he went on to grad school, eventually getting a PhD and becoming a college professor in New Mexico.

A part of his doctoral work took him to the jungles of South America living with native tribes. I like to think our snake hunting and camping out along the Iroquois helped him in the rain forest.

But between growing up in the city, life in academia, eventually becoming the head “computer wizard” for the State of New Mexico under the Bill Richardson administration, he became a Democrat. Obviously, though his youthful trips to Newton County foster fond memories, they didn’t help him forge his political philosophy. (Though I suspect a New Mexican dem is probably more conservative than a New Englander GOP supporter.)

Cousin Steve recently announced his candidacy for the New Mexico congress. Go for it cuz! I told him there’s no cheaper political advertising than to be mentioned in the pages of the newspaper so I’d write up his campaign for office in my weekly outdoor column in the Brook Reporter.

There aren’t many voters in Steve’s district that read the Brook newspaper - probably none - but the world wide web is accessible even in Santa Fe. So here’s my bi-partisan plug for my cousin Steve.  Vote for Easley. He may be a democrat, but he’s a great snake hunter.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I’ll be the first to admit I’ve purposely avoided ice fishing for probably the last 3 decades or so. Other than an ill-fated trip to Marquette, MI last winter and a day of jigging for lake trout in Thunder Bay, Ontario in the mid-90s, me’n ice fishing have kept our separate ways.

Perhaps it’s a failing memory of frozen cheeks, fingers and toes. Maybe my life thrills have dwindled to the point the pure boredom of staring at a small, round hole in the ice now sounds exciting. Maybe I’m so caught up with the things I need to do that a few days of ice fishing made it to the top of the list. Regardless of why, there I was, sitting on a bucket, on a foot of Green Bay, Wisconsin ice, bundled against the cold with a miniature spinning outfit in hand. I was ice fishing!

Day One guide, Dale Stroschein (Wacky Walleye Guide Service) told me that between the stretch in the 4-pound line we were using and the flex in the tiny fishing rod, you have to almost “imagine” the bite of a whitefish, rather than feel the strike.

Dale “imagined” two of them from a hole not 15 feet away before something felt slightly different on my own outfit. Soon I had the first ice-caught fish in years coming through my hole. Then I let my imagination run wild!

The next day, fishing with J.J. Malvitz, (JJ’s Guide Service) we didn’t need much imagination. JJ provided ice shelters (so did Dale, but it was not cold enough to require being inside). With the shelter blocking the wind and the reflection of the sky blocked by the ceiling, we could peer into the ice holes and see the bottom, our jigging spoons and the whitefish looking at our baits.
Watching the fish bite added to the fun and success!

No imagination needed! When you saw the fish bite, set the hook! The experience was a “hole” lot of fun. Plenty of fish and no cold toes. That’s about as good as it gets for winter fishing.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012


I’d like to say my recent trip to Florida left me with a bit of sunburn, some great memories and some new appreciation for America’s Sunshine State. On one hand, it did. On the other, it was a sad snapshot of what America has become and where it’s likely heading.

What started with a trip to Allegiant Airlines website checking on prices to Mesa, AZ ended up with $49 tickets to Sanford, Florida from Gary, Indiana. I couldn’t pass up the deal.

Sanford is just north of Orlando and if you follow the shortest route from there to the east, you run out of road on Florida’s “Space Coast.” From the backyard of the cottage we rented you could look across the Indian River Lagoon and see the space shuttle buildings at the Kennedy Space Center.

Peggy and I passed on a visit to the Space Center’s Visitor’s Center at 38 bucks a ticket so we detoured to the other side of the place and toured the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The “wildlife drive” cost only  five bucks a car (and is free to visitors with a duck stamp) and we probably saw as much neat stuff - though different - than what we’d have seen at the space center.

We got some sun. Saw some alligators. And more.

The more, sadly, is the almost third world look to Titusville and nearby communities on the Space Coast. The area has been dealt a triple blow.

There’s plenty of evidence that the insanity that created the “housing bubble” was in full bloom in the area a few years ago. There are condos, developments and “planned” communities as well as bridges and roads to nowhere. Now that’s evolved to half-filled condos, developments going back to nature and roads growing weeds in the cracks.

All of Florida is tourism driven and a haven for snow-birds from northern states who choose to winter where it’s warm. The down economy has changed that. Why else would all the hotels and R.V. parks be half (or more) empty at what should be the high season?

The third whammy is the end of America’s space program. The empty homes, closed businesses and abandoned strip malls show what happens when the major employer in an area closes.

Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the trip around Merritt Island. The ducks, shorebirds and ‘gators don’t much care what’s happening on the mainland.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I dispose of most of the pelts from the animals I capture on my trap line each season either by selling them directly to the itinerant fur buyer who runs a route several times each year through my area; or, I take them to a drop off point where a representative from North American Fur Auctions stops to pick up pelts which will eventually be sold at auction.

Could you guess what is in these bundles?
At the end of the season there always seems to be a small pile of pelts which, for one reason or another, didn’t make it into the normal distribution stream. Those I bundle up and mail to a NAFA depot.

There are regulations in effect by the U.S. Postal Service detailing items which are not permitted to be sent through the mail. No doubt some of these are reasonable, others, somewhat dubious; and no doubt, a few that are obscure to most postal customers.

I’ve never been a good “guesser” of what’s inside a wrapped package. Christmas is always a source of surprise for me. Perhaps one of the qualifications to be a Postmaster is a requirement to be a good guesser. At least the Postmasters in the two Post Offices nearest me are that way.

I don’t know exactly what I’d “guess” was inside the bundle I hauled into the post office, if I’d not packed it myself. I stack the pelts tightly in a large, “plastic-burlap” sack, then roll up the bundle, securing it with bands of duct tape. They could be crafts, an old army cot, a couple of those pop-open canvas lawn chairs or probably a hundred other things.

So I was completely caught off guard when I stepped up to the window and the Postmaster points at my bundle and says, “You don’t have any dead animals in there, do you?”

Not knowing the regulations, I quickly surmised that being completely truthful could lead to problems. So I was evasive. “You’ve got my number, don’t you Marty!” That was 2011.

Yesterday, I went to a different post office. Postmaster (don’t call me Post-mistress) Amy was at the counter. She sized up my bundles and said, “Do I really want to know what’s in those packages?”

Busted two years in a row!  How do they know?

Friday, February 10, 2012



I received a News Release from the Indiana DNR this morning and also saw a posting on Facebook, that a Hooded Crane (native to Asia) has been spotted at Indiana’s Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. Despite the DNR’s seeming acceptance of this, if not downright joy, this can’t be good news.

What the DNR calls a “wayward visitor,” I recognize as something more insidious. At best it’s another invasive species; at worst, it’s the latest ploy by anti-hunting groups to eliminate or curb legal hunting activities by American Sportsmen.

Let’s examine some facts. The hooded crane is native to Asia. Most of Asia is owned or under the control of China. Nothing good ever came from Asia. Asian carp, Asian honeysuckle, Asian elm trees, Asian lady-bug-beetles, tofu, bird flu - it’s a long list - many of them listed on noxious invasive species lists, others that should be listed. How can this Asian crane be any better? What havoc to native crane populations and wild ecosystems will this newest “alien” wreak?

The DNR release speculates the crane will migrate back to its Asian home in the spring. Want to make any bets that it will be back next winter and bring along some of its hooded crane buddies?

Right now the crane is hanging with flocks of sandhill cranes. The number of sandhill cranes in North America is huge. So huge, that there’s an effort afoot to re-establish long banned hunting seasons for sandhill cranes in more than the few western states where they are currently legal.

Who is the major opponent of legalizing crane hunting? Anti-hunters and bird watchers (who are often one and the same.)

Why is the DNR celebrating the Asian crane at Goose Pond? Because it attracts birders! News of the crane’s arrival is hardly out and already more than 100 bird enthusiasts have visited the property from as far away as Minnesota, West Virginia and Nebraska - thousands more are expected.

Sandhill crane hunting is legal in some states. 
Do you suppose intermingling “rare” Asian cranes into flocks of sandhill cranes is going to help or hinder efforts to legalize crane hunting in Indiana?

Since Indiana was first explored over 200 years ago, a total of zero Asian cranes have been noted in the state. Which is more likely? A) One Asian crane has boldly flown to where no other Asian crane has ever flown before; or B), the HSUS (with an annual budget larger than any state’s DNR) smuggled some hooded cranes to the US and stocked them in states considering sandhill crane seasons?

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Although there are outdoor opportunities galore for those who opt to participate during the winter months, few are done without a lot of effort. Often times, the effort to participate is a part of the experience and though peripheral, is as good a measure of success as any.

For instance, last winter I traveled to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the dead of winter to ice fish on a snowy, wind-blown lake. The goal may have been to catch enough perch to provide protein for dinner that evening, but comfort and survival were just as important.

But that doesn’t mean I truly love winter. I endure it.
That being the case, why is February one of my favorite months? Both of my children, my mom, George Washington and Abe Lincoln were all born in February. Does that make it a favorite?

Ground Hog Day and Valentines Day fall in February. Am I all in for these holidays?  No, and it’s not Superbowl Sunday or the quadrennial celebration of Leap Year day.

It’s because February holds promise.

There’s no promise to December. It’s as likely to be cold and snowy on December first as it is on New Year’s Eve. January is worse. Regardless of what the weather is like when you get up on January first, you know there’s every chance the weather will be worse on January thirty-first.

Jump ahead to March. It’s no better. The adage of coming in like a lamb, out like a lion or vice versa is true. Weather reports for March first and thirty-first are often similar or it’s just as likely to be more inclement at the end of the month than at the beginning. For warm weather fans, March holds no promise.

But February is full of promise! It’s the beginning of the end of winter. If it’s below zero on the last day of January, it’s just as likely to be as cold on the first day of February. But it’s not likely to be that cold at the end of the month.

Sure February weather will produce winter doses of bone-chilling cold, wind-chills, sleet and snow. But it will also feature increasing numbers of days with bright sun and thawing temperatures. Most important, the trend is upward. As the month progresses, winter wanes and summer gains.

Don’t hang up your winter parka. Don’t bother getting out your flyrod. But each February morning, face the day knowing the end of winter approaches.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The beginning of this story is a footnote to the story below. When Molly is in the house, her favorite daytime spot is on a throw rug by the sliding door leading out to the patio/deck area. South facing, she stays warm there on sunny days; but more importantly, it gives her a view of the bird feeder so she can keep an eye out for rogue squirrels infiltrating. 

Usually, when she heads out from that door, it’s a beeline to the base of the feeder or to the bottom of whatever tree she believes is most likely to harbor a squirrel. Recently, however, she’s made a stop by a large, decorative rock positioned adjacent to the steps leading down from the deck. I’d never seen anything there, but perhaps a squirrel had sat there, taunting her sometime earlier. 
Late afternoon, on January 28, I learned what had captured her interest. Perched on the rock was a Tamias striatus, an Eastern Chipmunk. 

“Go figure,” I thought to myself. “I thought chipmunks were true hibernators in that they stored up fat reserves in the fall, burrowed deep below the frost line and spent the winter months snoozing."

I’ve never lived where chipmunks were an abundant yard animal, and even here, though I’d spotted a chippy or two around the fringe of our yard, the population isn’t large. Maybe people who have healthy populations of chipmunks aren’t be surprised to see them out foraging in winter.

A quick check on the Internet proved to me I’m only partly right. Some animals such as bats or woodchucks truly hibernate. Their metabolic functions slow to near death and they live off of stored fat reserves all winter long. If you were to find one, you’d think them dead or at least unconscious. 

Other animals “almost hibernate” such as bears. These animals hunker down for the winter, their metabolism slows modestly, but they don’t often stir, feed or leave their burrow. 

Chipmunks have evolved in another direction. They don’t bulk up with fat reserves for the winter; rather, they store seeds and other foodstuffs in their underground burrows and then wake from their winter torpor when they get hungry. 

Now that’s the way to spend winter. Stay in a warm nest with plenty of food and wait for spring. 

I don’t know if the little chipmunk ran out of its stored food and is resorting to winter forays to glean the spilled seeds from the bird feeder or just likes to come out for a breath of fresh air on warm, sunny days. 

If nothing else, it’s just one more creature for Molly to monitor. This, while she sits in the warm sun waiting for spring, as well. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Molly, trapping dog, ready to roll. 
Trapping is usually not a group sport. I’ve heard of a few teams of trappers who would ride together and work together, but those are in the minority. Often, even when two or more  people trap together, they more or less go their separate way and only occasionally touch base with one another during the day. So day in, day out, it’s just the trapper and his own thoughts - and maybe the radio or stereo system in the trapper-truck.

That’s why many trappers adopt a Trapping Dog. Proving once again a dog can be a man’s best friend, a trapping dog can help keep a trapper focused and happy during the daily rounds.

Watching for squirrels
Molly is my trapping dog. She looks forward to each day as much or more than I do. Ever alert, she looks at captured raccoons, possums or coyotes as mundane. She’s watching for squirrels!

When not out on the trapline with me, she’s content to spend her  day protecting the bird feeder from marauding bushy-tails. Her goal in life is to actually catch one!

Alas, backyard trees afford a convenient escape for the raiders. They know it and continue to steal food from our resident flocks. I’m not sure Molly knows they are uncatchable. She shows no signs of relenting.

But on the trapline, Molly stays focused. She knows one day, she’ll encounter a squirrel just far enough from a tree to make good. If not, when the day’s trapping is over, it’s a quick sniff of the animals caught, then back to her post near the bird feeder. Tomorrow’s another day.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


 How many times have you heard comments that though it's cold outside and often tough going in winter garb, at least the bugs aren't bad? So far this winter, we've had only glimpses of normal temperatures. Last week we hit a single digit  overnight temperature once, but a few days later it was almost 60 degrees.

But at least the bugs aren't bad!

Or are they?

I caught a coyote yesterday that might have told a different story. As I was cleaning and brushing the pelt to preserve it until the next time the fur-truck shows up, I felt a familiar lump, up by the animal's ear.
Sure enough, the coyote was wearing a January tick!

A quick check of the literature available set the air temperature at which ticks are active (at any time of year) at 4 degrees celcius, which is 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Evidently the tick climbed aboard mister coyote one of those warm days we had recently.

Remember, however, there are always micro-climates in the outdoors. South facing slopes and other areas warm up to appreciably higher temperatures on sunny winter days. Such areas are favorite resting areas for many species of wildlife, including game and predators. That makes them good places for hunters, nature photographers and birders.

If that includes you, enjoy the winter, but be a skeptical  about any claims of winter being free of bugs. The sneaky little boogers are still there!  

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Everyone knows beavers cut down trees to build their dams, lodges and to make submerged food piles on which the beavers can feed in the winter when ice covers their ponds.

I found a spot recently where a gang of the tree-cutters had been very active and in unusual ways.

In one area a determined beav had gnawed down a tree twice and it still hadn’t tipped over.

The tree that wouldn’t fall was a wide-limbed mulberry which had branches so intertwined with nearby trees that once the beaver bit completely through the trunk, all it did was slide off the stump and stand straight, held upright by the surrounding trees. The enterprising (if not overly smart) beaver wanted that tree.

So he cut it down a second time. The mulberry tilted a little, but still didn’t fall. I’m monitoring the situation. Maybe today there will be another little log made!  Once he’s done, I’ll gather all the chunks for firewood.

Nearby, a beaver had better luck.  A different mulberry tree had been toppled, most of the upper branches had been hauled off, then the beaver, or I like to think the team of beavers, decided to have some fun. And if you are a beaver, what’s more fun than a tree gnawing contest?

Check out the photo and imagine three  beavers lined up, shoulder to shoulder, teeth bared. When the signal is given they dig in like Boy Scouts at a pie-eating contest.  I can’t tell which one won the award, but I bet the chips were flying!