I don’t know anything about Ernest Hemingway

I have been thinking about Ernest Hemingway recently, because I think I would probably enjoy reading his books. I don’t know that I will, but since, as I understand it, he often writes about his hunting adventures, there ought to be a good chance. I have even looked up a few of his books on Amazon, but I always get a bit confused and never buy anything. One of his most famous books is about an old guy in Cuba chasing a tuna fish (or some other sort of sport fish)—”The old man and the sea” I think it’s called—sounds a bit like Moby-Dick with better weather. And although I quite enjoyed Moby Dick when I read it, I’m not sure I’m into fishing enough to risk my first Hemingway on it. Another book I thought might be a promising place to start was called Hemingway on hunting (probably), but according to the reviews it’s a compilation of passages from a bunch of different books, padded out with commentary from people who knew him, or at least thought they did. I think I want my first Hemingway to be an authentic Hemingway, not a sort of literary clip show.

The first time Hemingway appears in my memory is one of the times I hung out with a guy called Mike. He was married to a friend of my wife at the time, and we got together during one of our trips to the US (we were living in Scotland at the time) to shoot some guns and catch up. It might even have been the first time I met mike, maybe. Mike is into duck hunting in a big way, and I think Hemingway was also, which might explain some of Mike’s interest in the man. Mike had a sort of study-slash-man-cave in the condo they lived in that I think he referred to as his Hemingway study, and that stuck in my mind. I think I only put the duck hunting thing together later, or maybe even just a few weeks ago…or possibly even just now. I have been meaning to try and get back in touch with mike since I moved to the states, partly because he was a pretty great guy to hang out with, and I like people like that, but also because he was seriously into duck hunting, and I think I’d like to try and get seriously into duck hunting as well. I even had his number in my phone for a while, but the idea of calling people out of the blue makes me want to hide under a table in a dark room, so it hasn’t happened and since I have now lost his number it probably never will. The reasoning behind my decision that Mike is seriously into duck hunting came from several observations: he owned a dog that was a trained retriever (no small thing), when shooting clay pigeons he made sure to try a few that approached from behind and over his head (a duck style manoeuvre I believe), but mostly I decided he was serious about ducks because he owned a 10 gauge shotgun just for shooting at duck. 10 gauge shotguns are serious shotguns, if someone buys a 10 gauge shotgun specially for something, they have to be serious. If I ever go after ducks it will be with a 12 gauge, and I might even use 3 inch shells, but I wouldn’t use a 10 gauge. This either makes me a wimp (entirely possible), or maybe just not that serious about ducks. That might change if I ever get a chance to go. The serious part, not the wimp part. That probably won’t change.

I was listening to an episode of the Meateater podcast recently. I don’t much go for podcasts if I’m honest, they mostly just irritate me unless they’re about science and I’m driving a long way. I think it’s something about the pacing and the sound effects or something. But I can listen to the Meateater podcast since it’s mostly just Steve Rinella talking: and if hunting can be called a religion, then he is it’s prophet, and I listen when he speaks. He wrote an especially good book on Buffalo, called “American Buffalo”, that made me very interested in Buffalo but not in a hunting way, because he wrote about that in his book and it seemed like something that was probably more fun to read about than do. I saw buffalo, or Bison I suppose, when Amanda and I camped out in the Badlands national park in South Dakota. We were driving down the unpaved road to the campsite and a Bison-alo was standing in the middle of the road. We stopped the car to wait for it to move, then a local came by in his pickup truck and just careered straight past us and the Bison-alo in a cloud of dust and gravel like it happened every day, which I suppose it did. It also convinced the Bison to leave the road so we could continue on our way, which was convenient. We got even closer to a Bison the next time we camped in the Badlands. We took some Scottish friends there for something to do, and when we woke in the morning there were two just outside the campsite. I observed from a distance of about 75 yards, standing behind our car. Others didn’t, but the Bison didn’t seem to care. Steve Rinella has this TV show about hunting and fishing called Meateater, and he does a podcast too where he invites friends and experts to sit and chat about hunting and conservation and things, and they are generally very interesting, especially when I’m at work and all I have to do all day is paint and sand things in a gallery with a lot of white walls and no windows. On this one episode the conversation wandered onto the subject of Hemingway because it was being recorded in the town of Ketchum, Idaho, which according to Rinella was where Hemingway lived when he killed himself. The shotgun he did it with was rumoured to have been cut up by a local man at the behest of the family, and then buried in a nearby field. There was some discussion as to the true identity of the gun he used: discovered in the end to be one of Hemingway’s favourites that he had used all over the world: and so it was probably a shame that it was destroyed. Better to fill the barrels with lead and put it under glass for posterity. There aren’t many guns come with a story like that, but perhaps an old gun with a story isn’t as good and a missing gun with a legend.

Hemingway was also something of a drinker I understand. That might be an understatement, but I don’t really know. All I know is people bring alcoholic tributes to his tomb in Ketchum (also learned from the Meateater podcast), which also happens to Jim Morrison in Paris I think, so calling him something of a drinker is probably a safe statement. In the abstract I think there is something kind of romantic in the idea of an alcoholic artist, which probably gets less romantic in direct proportion to your proximity to the artist in question. Being something of an artist myself I will admit to having the occasional bout of envy for those of my peers who can cultivate an honest drug dependency. It adds a certain legitimacy to the lifestyle of the struggling artist everyone likes to imagine when they meet you, and struggling with alcoholism is definitely more romantic than struggling with the gas bill. But since alcoholism and gas bills are not mutually exclusive life experiences, I think I would just as well stick to the gas bill and leave the alcoholism to someone else. I don’t know what was going on in Hemingway’s life to make him drink and ultimately end it, but it was there, and it did, and that’s that.

I heard something said once, it was probably a quote, that a person isn’t dead until the things he started on this earth come to an end. In another way of thinking, you’re alive as long as you’re remembered, and that makes a kind of sense to me. Each of our lives are lived from the perspective of the Plato’s cave that is our grey thinking sponge, and since memories are just another kind of shadow cast on the wall of the cave, a memory of someone is probably a lot more alive than it isn’t. Of course most people alive now don’t have any direct memory of Hemingway, but stories are almost as good, and legends are possibly even better since they are usually a lot more exciting. And since Hemingway, being a celebrated writer, was in a position to create his own legend, it ought to be a pretty good one. And of all the arguments I’ve heard in favour of reading Hemingway, that might be the best one yet.

 

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Happy New Year

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This is my favourite photo from the few days I spent deer hunting in Wisconsin last November, and although it looks like it could have been edited, it wasn’t. The weather was cold, but not desperately so. There was snow on the ground, but not too much. And it was fairly overcast for much of the week we were there, as you can see.

Although I went to Wisconsin with the plan of hunting from my climbing tree stand, that actually never happened. On the first morning, before Jason arrived from Minnesota, I elected to head out to one of the locations we had scouted a few months earlier. But when I got there, there was obvious evidence of previous hunter activity on the trail and I wasn’t particularly surprised when I was disturbed by hunters making their own way down the path. It was also apparent that these guys perceived this path as just an access route, so that was the end of that plan.

Jason arrived at lunch time, and since it was clear that we didn’t have a clue what to do, we decided to head out, find new areas, and hope for the best.

The area we headed for first was a place we had tried, and failed, to access on our scouting trip. However this time we approached it from a different direction, and hiked in from the main road. One of the interesting things about this area is that there is a small population of Elk (American Elk that is, not European Elk which Americans call Moose) that is part of a repopulation program. Which meant we frequently encountered very large tracks, and impressive piles of droppings that could only come from Elk, but very few tracks and dropping from animals we could legally hunt.

On that first day we decided to spend our time hiking around looking for likely hunting spots. This made a lot of sense, but I was wearing clothing intended to keep me warm while sitting still for hours on end, so after not very long at all I was a hot mess (as you can see below).

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The following day we decided to use Jason’s truck to drive back into the area, but we came in via a track that must have been intended for snowmobiles, because the truck barely fitted through, and we were very glad to have 4 wheel drive more than once. We made it to the spot, parked, and hiked our way in, but what had looked promising on a satellite photo turned out to be very far from that in reality. What we had interpreted as a grassy meadow with a gentle ridge running along one side, was in fact a bog, and the ridge was covered in such dense foliage that I couldn’t find a single spot that offered a view longer than about 20 yards. When I stepped off the ridge into the open bog I was immediately at risk of sinking into an icy sludge, meaning even if I saw a deer in the open and shot it, I would most likely be unable to retrieve it safely. That morning was probably the closest I came to seeing deer that week, because as I was stumbling through the dense brush, I heard a number of them running away.

After wasting a couple of hours on that fruitless exercise, we made our way back to the truck and decided to just drive around, stopping every now and again to explore the area beside the track. It was on one such exploration that I took the picture at the top of the page.

The most memorable moment of the week came as I was making my way slowly through a recently clear cut area. I was carefully stepping through the branches and debris that covered the ground, when I heard a noise and looked up and came face to face with some local wildlife. Crossing my path less than 20 yards away was a family of Bobcats. They didn’t seem to notice me at first, which was odd because I was standing out in the open and wearing bright orange, but when they did they froze, hissed at me, and then ran away. I have never seen a large cat in the wild, nor really expected to, so that was pretty amazing. And despite my otherwise lack of deer success, on the basis of wildlife encounters in general, I count that week a success.

We continued to hunt like that until Wednesday night, the day before thanksgiving, then Jason had to head home. That night the rest of my wife’s family arrived and so I switched from hunting mode to family holiday mode, and with the exception of a rifle propped in the corner of the cabin in case a deer walked past outside, that was the end of my 2016 hunting season.

 

It ends, and it begins.

This weekend is the last weekend of the Minnesota deer season (rifles), but it is also the opening weekend of the Wisconsin deer season.

As you may have guessed by the lack of pictures of dead deer, my 2016 Minnesota deer hunt went about as well as my 2015, and 2014 seasons. In terms of deer shot on the property I was hunting on, it was a great season. Four deer were shot this year, but they were taken solely by Larry and Amber, who accounted for two each. I should get a decent amount of meat out of it though, and that’s half the reason I do it.

This weekend I had been planning to drive up to the Minnesota cabin on Friday evening, but a big snow storm hit northern Minnesota on Friday and so I delayed my departure until Saturday morning. I got there in time for the evening hunt, and I had just got myself into an appropriate tree with my climbing tree stand when I heard Amber shoot her second deer of the season. I climbed out of my stand at 6:30, having seen nothing.

I had decided to use my climbing stand this weekend in order to get practice with it ahead of my Wisconsin adventures. And by doing that I learned that it is heavy, noisy, frustrating, slightly terrifying, and if there is more than a few inches of snow for me to hike through, I will be drenched in sweat by the time I finally get up in the tree. Also, because I didn’t have a chance to scout out decent trees in advance, the trees I found myself in offered less than optimal shooting positions.

But that’s okay (This is rapidly becoming my hunting motto).

On the plus side, these are all useful lessons. And Wisconsin didn’t get 15 inches of snow, so I don’t have to worry so much about the sweat.

However, whilst I am currently sitting in the cabin in Wisconsin, starting my second movie and my fourth (or maybe fifth) beer. My hunting partner for the week, Jason, is still in Minnesota and won’t get here until late tomorrow morning at the earliest. So I won’t be using the climbing stand in the morning.

Other lessons I learned this weekend are that I should get scope covers to keep the lenses of my sight clean, and I should put tape over the muzzle to stop snow and debris getting in there. I bought tape at fleet farm on my way to Wisconsin, but the scope covers will have to wait.

In the morning, since there will be no one around to save me if I get into trouble, I will leave my stand behind and hunt from the ground. Assuming I don’t get a deer, it will give me a chance to select a good tree to hunt from for the rest of the week.

I find it easy to get frustrated by my continuing lack of success in Minnesota, and one of the sources of that frustration is the lack of control I have over my hunting situation. I feel powerless to affect my chances of getting a deer. I know it will happen; Amber waited longer than three years to get her first, and I feel like I’m being ungrateful to feel so frustrated about it. I do enjoy hunting there though, and I want to keep going because I like being part of that group.

However I also relish the chance offered by hunting public land in Wisconsin. There are no tree stands ready for me to climb into, and I don’t know anyone with knowledge of deer movements in the area, so in truth my chances are probably even lower than they are in Minnesota. But that also means there is a lot of room for me to learn. I have dreams of hunting even further off the beaten track than northern Wisconsin, and I won’t get there until I first get comfortable walking beside the beaten track.

So tomorrow I will step out into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory, alone (if only briefly), and ready to learn from my inevitable mistakes.

Still nothing

My first day of the 2016 Minnesota deer season is done, and the only deer I’ve seen were shot by other people.

This afternoon I struggled to stay awake, since I had a full belly and the sun was shining on me. After about two hours of power naps I pulled myself together and managed to stay conscious until the sun went down, but it clearly didn’t do me any good as I still have no deer that I can claim as my own.

Tomorrow I’m going to make an effort to hide my silhouette, since the stand I’m in is quite tall and I don’t think my human statue impersonation looks enough like a tree. 

In the afternoon I will take my new climbing tree stand for a spin. I bought it because I’m going to be hunting on public land in Wisconsin in about a week, and I think it will be to my advantage (both for hunting and safety) to be off the ground. I have never used a climbing tree stand before so I hope to figure out all the quirks tomorrow afternoon, so I don’t have to do it at dawn in Wisconsin.

Tonight I plan to drink beer, eat steak, and do my best impression of an American deer hunter. I’m already wearing a flannel shirt so I’m part of the way there, but I’m drinking craft beer instead of light beer, which when combined with my accent, may undermine my efforts.

Fortunately the deer don’t discriminate…I think.

Good morning from deer camp.

I have just returned to the cabin after hunting this morning. I was in the stand by 6:45am, and I stayed there until 11am. 

Here is a picture of me just before I called it quits:

I’m squinting because the sun was bright.

The morning started out cool, 35F (1.5C), but I was wearing enough clothes to avoid discomfort. There were no deer to be seen, but the sky was clear and the sunrise was beautiful, and apart from a bit of a chilly breeze that kicked up mid morning, I had nothing to complain about.

After a quick lunch I will head back out for the evening to try my luck once more.

Turkey hunting: day three

So it’s just after 9am on the 16th of October, and I’m back in the woods. It’s been a long week, but now I’m sat down in my blind with nothing but a shotgun and a day of quiet watching ahead of me, and I think that’s just what I need.

I’m set up on a different part of the property this morning and I only brought my hen decoy with me. I’m thinking that a gobbler in full spring colours, in the company of a hen, doesn’t look quite right for the season.

I’ve just had my first visitor of the day. A nice whitetail buck just ran past me looking on edge. I’d happy to see him again in a few weeks time.

Time to start calling for turkeys.

2pm update:

This morning was pretty uneventful; after the deer passed through the most interesting thing to happen was my lunch.

I thought my position was fairly good, and I was comfortable for the most part, but of turkeys there was no sign – so I decided to move positions.

The morning had its non turkey related pleasures though. The leaves are currently in the process of changing colour and falling, and when the sun was shining through the trees and the wind got up enough to gently move the branches, there was a beautiful shower of golden leaves floating through sunlight and pattering around me. It was quite lovely. If it wasn’t for my determination to eat wild turkey, I’d very likely have missed it on account of usually still being in bed at that time on a Sunday morning.

Here’s is a photo that doesn’t do it justice.

Despite the ultimate goal of my actions being the death of an animal, that is only one part of this experience. The effort and time involved in the pursuit of that final moment is rewarded with countless pleasures and new experiences that are easily reward enough on their own, and are no small part of what gets me out of bed and into the woods time after time.

The spot I am now in has more evidence of animal movements, but I fear it will mostly be deer. We shall just have to wait and see.

Final update:

Unfortunately there was no sign of turkeys this afternoon. I’m hoping that’s because there were simply no turkeys in the area, but it’s hard to shake the suspicion that I’m doing something fundamentally wrong. So I’m feeling a little dejected. However I have uploaded a video that I made when the leaves were falling this morning, so I’ll leave you with that.

Turkey hunting: day two

Day one ended as expected, with no turkey having been seen. But I’m not bothered. I saw a lot more deer, and apart from getting a little cold towards the end it was a very nice way to spend a few hours.

I am back in the woods again this morning, although not as early as I had planned. Last night, just as I was thinking about going to bed, I realised the qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix was happening at 1am. And since I’m kind of addicted to formula one, I couldn’t not stay up and watch it. Which means I wasn’t here until almost 9am. 

That’s okay though, because the land owner (Ron) said the turkey are most active in the afternoon, and I’m not sure I have the stamina to hunt from dawn to dusk without a break anyway. That said, even with my late start it will still be a pretty long day.

My plan today is to hunt in the same stand I spent most of yesterday in, then move to the other stand around lunch time. The other stand overlooks a small pasture that should get some sun later today, and I’m hoping the turkeys will head there to warm up. This might be wishful thinking, because it’s not really that cold today, but you never know.

I’ll update as things happen…

11am update:

My plan to stay still till lunch has been scuppered by the extra cup of tea I had this morning. So I went for a short stroll and didn’t see anything to report. I don’t think there is much point trying to sneak around in search of birds today since the ground is covered in dry leaves and twigs, so I’m falling short of the requisite ninja level stealth necessary for that option to pay off. I’ll just sit still and hope for the best.

We just had a brief rain shower, but luckily I’m sheltered enough where I’m sitting that I’m still dry. The forecast says the rain will pass quickly, and the sun is due to make an appearance around 1pm, so I’ll plan to be set up in the other blind by then.

1pm update:

I have moved.

This is the view from my new position. I have set up my decoys just inside the pasture in front of me. I am fairly well concealed, but there is more wind here and I’m worried I will get too cold to last the afternoon. Have to see how it goes.

A couple of thoughts on my experiences so far: one- sitting on the ground is painful, seemingly no matter how many cushions you have (currently 2). It makes it hard to stay still, and since I’m not very good at that to begin with, its a problem. Two- squirrels are dicks. I had one squirrel yesterday that sat on the trunk of a tree nearby, and yelled at me. I didn’t know they yelled at people. The same squirrel (I’m fairly certain) was staring at me today and making weird noises, at least it wasn’t yelling. I’m pretty sure turkeys are smart enough to know what a grouchy squirrel sounds like, so I’m glad I moved.

The sun has come out as I had hoped, and if I can just stay mostly still, and make relatively convincing turkey noises for the rest of the afternoon, I will consider the day a success. A dead turkey will just be a bonus at this point I think. Modest goals.

3.30pm update:

My decoys are finally getting some action, unfortunately it’s a horse and he doesn’t seem convinced.

I have also seen a tractor, and a model aircraft being flown in a nearby field. I thought I heard a turkey at one point, but I think it was just a bird that sort of sounded like a turkey. 

I think it might be time for a cup of tea and a short stroll.

Day two final update:

After my stroll I rearranged my decoys, adjusted my cushions, and settled in again. The air temperature had come up slightly when the sun came out, and with that and a rare lack of pain in my backside, I promptly fell asleep. It was lovely. Napping under a tree on a warm autumn day feels pretty decadent, and if I thought there was a remote possibility that a turkey had come by while I slept, I might have felt guilty about it. But hunting is often difficult, and usually uncomfortable, and so any time I only have to deal with one of those things I’m going to treasure it.

I stayed in that blind until around 5pm and the only thing I saw was a local farmer who drove past me. He was briefly interested in my decoys, and when he realised they weren’t real he joined the dots and looked around for their owner, so I gave him a wave.

By 5pm the sun had sunk enough that it was shining right on me, and whatever concealment I had been enjoying to that point was rendered null by the solar spotlight. If a turkey had shown up then, I wouldn’t have been able to get my gun up without being spotted, so I called time on that setup.

I took down the blind, and went to collect the one I’d left in the other location. On my way I does spooked a couple of deer that I hadn’t seen, once again reminding me that it’s either not possible to walk quietly on ground covered in dead leaves and twigs, or that I’m just not trying hard enough. 

After dropping the blind and decoys off at my truck, I decided to explore a part of the property I hadn’t been to yet. I wandered around a bit, occasionally sitting against a tree and calling, and then gave up and called it a day. I think I will concentrate on that part of the place when I go back next weekend.

Final weekend tally:

  • Days hunting – 2
  • Turkeys seen – 3 (1 while driving, and 2 decoys)
  • Shots taken – 0
  • Shots I thought about taking – 6, mostly squirrels, and 2 turkey decoys.
  • Deer seen – probably more than I’ll see in November
  • Birds seen – mostly songbirds with the occasional woodpecker. Might have seen an owl in the distance. 

Despite the lack of dead turkeys in my freezer, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m a better turkey hunter after this weekend than I was before it. And to top it off, I can now actually call myself a turkey hunter.