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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Aaron Braund
Fishing with friends is an enduring tradition. © Aaron Braund

October 2004

Outdoor traditions

What rituals make your days outdoors special and fun?

WNR readers

A little friendly competition | Deer stand nicknames
Waterfowl memories | Jack's goose
A 6 x 8 piece of hell | Wish for fish
The Order of the Red Fox | A pause on the river

When we asked you to share a bit about your outdoor traditions/superstitions, we thought we'd get a few funny stories about the quirky habits that develop whenever a few friends get together on a regular basis. We thought we'd hear stuff like my own habit of playing the computer chip version of "Anchors Aweigh" on my depth finder as we leave the dock at 4:30 in the morning.

But our readers never fail to surprise us, and the stories you forwarded are deeper and more meaningful than our initial idea. You reminded us that the joy of shared experiences is bigger and more significant than any "harvest." The features of outdoor experiences that we seek out and renew are friendship and togetherness – both savoring the good company at hand and remembering those whose spirit and actions flavored so many of the moments that form our fondest memories. To all of you who wrote us, thanks for that reminder.

A little friendly competition

When good buddies get together for some fishing, a little competitive nature is always in store.

Our tradition started when we discovered a secret lake. Our first competition was to discover who had the better truck: the 1986 F-150 or the 1998 F-150 4 by 4. The older truck got stuck trying to launch the boat in sandy conditions. We spent that day walking to town to get a tow truck instead of fishing. The second trip, we took the newer truck and we were humbled a bit as we nearly got it stuck too before we could launch.

The guys on their secret lake. © Aaron Braund
The guys on their secret lake.
© Aaron Braund
Once we were on the water, everyone started catching sunfish. We decided to make a competitive game of who could catch fish the fastest. The first person to catch a fish got to state a consequence of being the last person to catch a fish. We thought of making that person put a worm in his mouth, clean and cook all the fish, or write some choice words in sunscreen on his back while he was tanning. The tradition continues. We may not catch more fish but we sure do catch more laughs.

Aaron Braund
Prairie du Sac

Deer stand nicknames

Everywhere you go there are local nicknames for landmarks and land features like "The Bluff," "The Gravel Pit," "The Swimming Hole" and so on. Our deer hunting party has a nickname for every hill, knoll, swamp, ridge and hollow. We call one place "Plow Hill" because when they stopped using horses to plow the fields years ago, they left an old plow abandoned on the side of the hill. It's almost a secret language spoken by the few who have walked the trails.

In another part of the hunting area we have a series of huge pines that stand tall and majestic in flat woodland consisting mainly of aspen. The pines are spaced about a half-mile apart and are named First Pine, Second Pine and Third Pine. If someone talks of hunting Third Pine, you know they were dedicated to walk a mile-and-a-half in as the crow flies and even more dedicated to haul out a deer harvested from back there.

Some nicknames are bestowed and kept by families and small hunting crews of good friends who might send each other to post by Chuck's Deer Stand, Ann's Rock Pile, or Grandpappy's Log. The beginning young hunter has a lot to learn when given directions to follow Cut Finger Trail (don't ask!) or find their way to Baldy Hill, where a storm took down all of the trees years ago.

When we reflect back, the stories attached to naming these places are a way to quietly follow our memories to seasons past, along the little used trails.

John Humpal

Waterfowl memories

There's a rich lore and tradition of superstitions, rituals and whatnot in the world of hunting and fishing. Favorite hats and meals are all part of the game and may be even more important than the animal a person is pursuing. We Kellners are not very good deer hunters, but put me in the middle of a cattail swamp with a northeast wind howling with sleet and freezing rain pelting me in the back and you will have one happy camper.

On warm sunny bluebird days you'll find me chasing pheasant and grouse, but when the weather has most people huddled inside with a cup of hot chocolate warming their hands, I, my wife and two sons will probably be out somewhere waiting for a circling flock of mallards to set their wings and sail in to our decoys.

You might call our house a "camp" during waterfowl season. Waders, decoys and muddy dogs lie everywhere ready to be used at a moment's notice. What follows is my son's story from last year that brought back many memories of my own firsts in 40 years of hunting.

Jymn Kellner

Jack's goose

Jack worked hard for this moment. Since he was five, he'd been tagging along with his big brother, mother and me to the duck marshes. He was attentive and diligent at hunters' safety classes. He practiced on the duck calls and shots trap. If I were to ask him to restring all the decoys by morning, I know my many dozen decoys would have new string and would be set to go by sun up. So this moment, totally engulfed in fog, is his.

We were late. Thick fog on Highway 41 slowed traffic to a crawl. Because we were so late, all the good spots in the central marsh were taken. We chose to set up at a widening of the southern channel beneath a hill. By the time we dropped our last decoy into the water, it was well past the start of shooting time. To our back was a high hill with standing corn. In front and to either side was a sea of cattails, but all we could see was fog. Everything looked like the inside of a giant marshmallow. Our ears told us that honking geese and quacking hen mallards were all around us. The flutter of wings sounded overhead. We couldn't see a thing and no one in the marsh was shooting. Maybe we weren't late after all.

About 8:30 the fog lightened a bit. We could finally see the cattails on the other side of the channel and a teal raced by too quickly for us to shoulder our guns. Sonny, our three-year-old Chesapeake, had a puzzled look trying to figure out why I didn't shoot. Guns started thudding. Suddenly a resounding chorus of geese honked somewhere just inside the thick folds of fog. I answered back with a few toots on my call.

There they were! A solid block of geese emerged from the fog and hung over the decoys. I opened fire and a single goose folded in the air and fell. Jack had fired too, but no geese fell. I was preparing to send Sonny after my goose when I noticed Jack reshouldering his gun. He'd just managed to slip a shell into the chamber and had two more shells in his hand when another flock of geese emerged from the fog. With only a single shell in his gun, Jack slapped the 20-gauge to his shoulder and fired.

"I got it!"

Everybody hunting Theresa Marsh that day heard that Jack had just dropped his first goose. His bird fell into the cattails across the channel and we went after it. "I see it! I see it!" he said as we slowly rowed to the spot. The goose was trying to hide underneath a big circle of flattened cattails. I sent Sonny in, and after a few hand signals, she picked up the scent and went right for the goose.

The goose jumped out of its hiding place, ran across the flattened cattails and Sonny gave chase. She was nowhere near as aggressive as my last two Chessies and I've seen many a big dog backpedal refusing to pick up a wounded goose. When Sonny reached the bird, it turned to fight, but Sonny hit that bird with authority. Moments later she handed the bird over to me, and Jack was getting his tag ready to strap around the bird's neck.

In our household the big gray birds hold the same place of reverence that a 14-point buck with a 22-inch spread or a tom turkey with a 10-inch beard hold in others. I watched Jack standing there in the jon boat holding his goose and realized he'd just taken another step away from the Legoes and toy army men. If I'd smiled as hard as he did that moment, I'm sure my face would still be hurting. This was his moment and his alone.

Jymn Kellmer

A 6 x 8 piece of hell

In 1993 we harvested cedars, sawed them into lumber and built a camp sauna. A small cast-iron stove stoked with split hardwood now provides the heat. Our sauna is best described as a 6 x 8 piece of hell. The candy thermometer in the corner attests to this. The top is melted down the sides and hardened like icing on a warm cake. It gets real hot in there! It's reminiscent of a rendering plant, smell and all.

After wetting down the bench to prevent frying human flesh, each hunter enters and remains until the proper sweat quotient is met.

"I got two-hunert, and I'm outta here!" groans one hunter. But that's only the beginning of the self-abuse. If it's cold enough, there will be melted hiney prints on the icy bench outside the door. If there's snow, there will be anatomically correct snow angels. If it's a little warmer, there will be a boots-only run to the creek and back.

The ritual sauna improves our hunt by eliminating any trace of human aroma. It all goes down the drain as we soap up in our sweat and rinse off with clean water. Does it help our hunt? We'll let the photo do the talking.

John Sanders

Editor's note: Mr. Sanders has a hunting party of nine, three of whom have been hunting together for 35 consecutive years.

Wish for fish

We started a new annual event to introduce skills and appreciation for fishing into the lives of young people in our community. The event honors the memory of my fiancÚ, Dave Schulenburg, who died in July 2003. Dave was an avid angler who shared his love for the sport through patiently teaching many young people to fish. We worked with the Marshall school social workers, Dane County Joining Family Forces, Marshall Community Center and Sun Prairie YMCA Youth Center to identify kids who might not otherwise have the resources or support to learn to fish.

Local adult volunteers connected as "big buddies" one-on-one with each child. Skill-related games gave each child the opportunity to have fun learning knot tying, fish identification, fishing safety and casting techniques. We enjoyed a big picnic lunch complete with grilled hot dogs before the fishing began. Each child received a fishing rod, stocked tackle box, bait and other goodies. The DNR's Aquatic Resources Education Program and the Future Fisherman Association of America provided teaching materials.

The program even included a presentation on fishing and boating safety from a Wisconsin DNR warden.

With phenomenal support from wonderful sponsors and 75 volunteers, we fed and served 35 children age 8-12. Dave smiled on us that June day. The weather was perfect and the kids enjoyed fishing the stocked ponds on Wilburn Road in Sun Prairie where Dave and I had gone so many times. I look forward to the continued growth and success of this new event and tradition.

Missy Schulenberg
Sun Prairie

The Order of the Red Fox

On November 23rd, 1963, the day after President Kennedy's assassination, I was deer hunting on my Uncle Norm Whitford's hobby farm between Poysippi and Pine River.

Uncle Norm was on stand and Joe Putsch and I were on a deer drive. We heard a shot but saw no game. We came to a clearing to take a breather when I saw a buck laying down with its antlered head up and looking at me. I took aim and fired. It was a nice six-pointer.

We later learned that Uncle Norm had fired the earlier shot and had gotten a red fox. That fox skin was tanned and hangs in the bunkhouse of our deer camp.

Some years later we undertook the tradition of initiating hunters who get their first deer into the Order of the Red Fox with all due pomp and ceremony.

Ronald David Whitford

A pause on the river

About 20 years ago, my husband Dan and I invited some friends to join us on an overnight canoe trip down the Chippewa River from Caryville to Durand. It was the first of many enjoyable, aimless drifting adventures that were later peopled by many others looking for some quality time with nature.

One trip tradition is a pause for fishing at Sevastopol Pool, a long, deep pool just downstream from a curving rapid a couple of miles from the launch point. We never really know what we'll catch (which is part of the fascination with this place), but we always anchor for a while to see what's hungry. Catching fish to add to the weekend species count (13 is our highest) is only part of the pool's intriguing charm. While anchored in the swirling water (in places over 25 feet deep), we often see leaping paddlefish, perching bald eagles and feeding shorebirds. Sometimes it's hard to leave the pool – it lures and holds one's imagination and wonder – but we know we'll return next summer and there are miles to go and more favorite fishing spots ahead.

Carol Wilcox
River Falls WI