New Winter Activities and Waitin’ on Spring

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Nice Grand River Smallmouth

This winter was one to remember. Not because of the mounds of snow we got in mid-Michigan (I wish), but the very opposite. With limited snow and warmer spurts of heat, it gave great opportunity for quality winter fishing. Prior to the warm weather, coyote hunting was an every weekend ordeal.

 

 Over the last year and a half, coyotes have increased their population in the local area. After multiple deer and chickens were killed near my house, my neighbor and I began decided to do a little hunting. I took advantage of this with my Savage .223. I began to stalk the predators and learn their habits. After successful hunts, I began to get offers from farmers to help control their coyote problems. Coyote hunting has became one of my favorite pass-time activities. These opportunities allowed me to grow closer to nature and to see the wilderness from a new perspective.

 Along with great hunting came quality fishing. I live near the Grand River, a well-known waterway in Michigan. As all fisherman know, the spring is the best time to consistently catch big fish. In my area, this includes walleye, small and largemouth bass, pike and catfish. Although it is just peeping into the spring season, the weather seems as if we are supposed to be rolling into the summertime soon. The fishing this year has been an above average year. After multiple 19 and 20+ inch bass, I have begun able to lower my long lasted fishing-fever. 

 With turkey season on the door step, it’s time to buy new decoys, a license, and some shells. One of the best outdoor sensations is hearing the thunder birds gobbling back to your call in search of that hen. Harvesting a turkey is a wonderful experience, one that you will always remember. But the most beautiful part of it all is being able to sit in the woods and see Mother Nature in action. 

Graham Smith, Portland – YCC member

 

Ice Fishing with a Twist

marissa-photoI’m not the type of person to sit inside and watch the snow fall from the window. I’m the type of person to bundle up, go outside, and seize all that the great outdoors has to offer, regardless of how brutally cold it may be. Distance running in the snow, ice fishing, and snowmobiling are some of my favorite winter outdoor activities, but since I have been laid up with a stress fracture in my foot and hobbling around on crutches since early December, I have been stuck inside resting, all the while itching to go outside.

After sitting still inside and resting for a little over a month, I just couldn’t take it any longer. I missed fresh air and going on adventures. So, when my high school out-of-doors club was organizing an ice fishing trip for the beginning of February, I signed up right away without even thinking about how walking on the ice with crutches would work out. Luckily, we were just fishing on a pond, so I didn’t have to walk very far. I took it slow, slipped a little, laughed about it, and managed not to wipe out. I was quite a comical sight, but that’s okay. It was a beautiful, sunny day – the kind of day that allowed me to sit on a five-gallon bucket and fish out in the open rather than be bundled up in a shanty. I caught eight fish and had a great time with the group that went out.

An outdoor fix was just what I needed after being stuck inside for so long. Although I don’t recommend trying to walk on ice with a broken foot and crutches, it was a risk well worth taking to enjoy the great outdoors. I never knew how much I would miss simple things like the smell of fresh-fallen snow or sunlight filtering through the trees until I was stuck inside with a cast and crutches. My lesson learned: never take the joy of being outside for granted and take advantage of every opportunity there is to be out in the fresh air.

Marissa Trombley, Saginaw – YCC Member

Helping Ospreys Return

osprey-1Once found on wetlands and other water bodies across southern Michigan, the osprey population sharply declined during the mid-20th Century.  The primary culprit in this crash was the overuse of harmful pesticides. Over the last 30 years, The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and many other organizations have worked to re-establish the osprey population in Michigan. The number has risen from 81 pairs in 1975 to 166 by 1988 and has been on the rise ever since (Source:Huron River Watershed Council). In several places where Ospreys nest they provide a popular wildlife viewing opportunity.

My interest in ospreys was piqued when looking for an Eagle Scout project.  To achieve the highest rank in Boy Scouts of Eagle Scout, scouts need to lead a project that benefits an organization in their community. My Eagle Scout project beneficiary was the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC).  HRWC was interested in  building an observation deck in a local park.  The observation area was to compliment a recently installed osprey nesting platform–which would  hopefully attract, an osprey.  The HRWC revitalizes and monitors the Huron River watershed which covers seven counties and 900 miles in the Detroit Metropolitan area.  I have been a proud macroinvertebrate data collection team leader and volunteer for this organization since the eighth grade.

Since the nesting platform is far from the shore, I suggested we include commercial binoculars (with a child step) and a child-friendly educational sign.  This project involved raising over $7660, developing and managing a budget, obtaining permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Ann Arbor Building Department, making several presentations to stakeholder groups, and organizing a team of volunteers to build the deck. The project involved 176.6 volunteer hours.

Thinking I would have to design the educational sign myself, I  completed a fair amount of research on the Ospreys  I was somewhat relieved when many local bird experts offered to be part of the sign design team.  I quickly realized the sign had become the unifying element for our community. The sign was symbolic of the passion so many people have for our rivers and the Ospreys. In the end, the sign will help to create awareness of HRWC and their revitalization initiatives. It will also inform the public how conservation efforts can impact the return and survival of interesting birds like the ospreys.  It is a very inspiring message. The project went well and the platform installed with the help of volunteers from my scout troop and other volunteers.

Last month it was great to watch 30 school kids line up to take a turn looking through the new binoculars. I have already seen several wildlife photographers use the deck to take pictures of the waterfowl in the area.   It has been rewarding to see our community so vested in being part of HRWC’s vision for our rivers.  I am looking for the day when a pair of ospreys decides that our nesting platform is perfect for their nesting site.  Maybe it will be this spring.  I will be waiting and watching.

If you are an Eagle Scout candidate or Boy Scout troop looking for a small or large project, please consider a conservation project.  Many opportunities exist for service projects like this.  Contact any one of your local outdoor or conservation groups or organizations.

Dale (Trip) J. Apley, III, YCC Member, Ann Arbor

 

State Forest Campgrounds – Finding A Hidden Treasure

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When one hears the word “camping” in this day and age, thoughts of RV’s, running water, showers, and electricity often come to mind. However, for me, I think of a remote lake or river with a few cleared out campsites, a vault toilet, and a hand pumped well. If this appeals to you, than I’d like to recommend camping at one of Michigan’s state forest campgrounds.

Located on state forest land in the northern Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula, Michigan’s 130 state forest campgrounds offer very few amenities and provide each camper with a way to reconnect with nature unlike modern campgrounds. Ranging from 3 sites to 50 sites, state forest campgrounds vary in size. Some have hiking trails, others have boat launches and beaches. What stays the same, however, is where they are located – off of the beaten path.

When I discovered these “hidden treasures” several years ago while camping with my family, I immediately fell in love. For $13 a night, you get peace, tranquility, and the ability to experience nature at its finest. No crowds, paved campsites, hotel-like amenities, or internet. This is what camping is all about.

Michigan is blessed with 3.9 million acres of state forest land. Take advantage of it, because each citizen in Michigan owns it. To find a state forest campground near you, visit http://www.michigan.gov/dnr or call your nearest DNR field office.

Jake Putala, YCC Member, Pelkie

 

The One That Almost Was

It was a typical late October evening. I had driven by houses decorated with pumpkins and ghosts on my way to the state park where I do the majority of my deer hunting. It was the first east wind after quite a few north wests, and I was pumped that it was finally the right wind to hunt one of the tree stands my dad and I had put up earlier this fall.

martin-chown-practiceThe beginning of my sit was uneventful, a few squirrels here and there, a couple of chickadees and blue jays flitting around. With about 20 minutes left of shooting light, I caught a glimpse of a gray hide slinking along the edge of a swamp 25 yards to my left. Peering through the thick pines with my grandpa’s binoculars, I could barely make out  the eight points sticking up from the buck’s old body. With my heart beginning to pound, I reached for my bow and started double checking the range I thought he would step out at. “Twenty yards, money, just like I practiced after school today,” I thought to myself. Thumbing my bow release nervously, I peered into the quickly darkening forest to check on his location. I peered and peered, not seeing anything through the thick pine and cedar mess. My heart rate started to drop as the seconds ticked by. After about five minutes, I couldn’t take it any longer. I stood up, fumbling with Papa’s binos. A wave of relief washed over me as I immediately saw specks of his old hide through the trees. He hadn’t disappeared into the swamp. The wave of relief turned into a tsunami of despair as I realized the buck was staring right back into my binoculars. Trembling, I put the binos down. Just in time to see a white tail bobbing gracefully off into the distance.

Martin Chown – YCC Member, Traverse City

More Than Just an Experience

deer-patchLike many avid outdoorsmen, November 15th is a national holiday worth celebrating. This year was no different. Unlike most mornings, getting up at the crack of dawn was no issue for me today.  It was long awaited.  I was eager to get in the woods before daylight to hear the raccoons, rabbits, and squirrels, but more importantly, the see the deer scurrying along the fence rows.  I sat for five long hours and not a deer in sight.  Was this going to be a fruitless day?  As my mind began to drift, I suddenly heard movement in the distance –12 turkeys.  Now, anyone who understands deer hunting knows that turkeys are very weary birds — and deer use them to their advantage. Not long after, a group of six does and one buck were approaching.  Now being from central lower Michigan, there are many farm fields packed with hunters, essentially World War III.  My cousin was in a tree stand a couple hundred yards ahead of me. The deer began to cautiously trot closer and closer.  Shortly thereafter, I heard a single gun shot.  And within seconds the group came charging near my vicinity.  Letting out a couple grunts, I was hoping to lure in the big eight point buck I saw a few days prior during bow season — but no such luck. However, there was a large doe which stopped dead in its tracks.  I quickly pulled up my 12-gauge and took a 60 yard shot. Down goes the doe!  My heart was racing — this was my first successful kill of the year.  I waited 15 minutes before climbing out of my stand to check on the deer.  Forty yards from where my doe laid was the big buck I was initially out to get.  My cousin dropped it instead. After dragging then both out of the woods and dressing them, we proudly showed our harvested deer to our grandpa.  It was indeed a good day!

 Understanding wildlife diseases is also an important concept for all hunters to grasp.  Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is no different. This disease attacks the lymph nods and brain of deer, which in turn slowly kills the deer.  Well, I live in the region where this is a serious problem. So after we were done taking pictures, we headed over to the nearest DNR check station in Eagle Township. To test deer for CWD, they cut off the head and send it to a lab for further testing. When the DNR biologists test the head, they take the lymph nods from behind the ears, as well as brain matter, and check for unwanted bacteria. With CWD, it is recommended that you not eat the meat.  Also at the check station, the DNR will provide you two things: 1) a patch that shows you had your deer tested, and 2) an orange slip that identifies the specimen number which allows you to track the test results online. Luckily, my doe tested negative.  However, if your deer does test positive, the DNR will provide you another deer tag to fill. 

This entire process was a good learning experience for me.  First, there are only a handful of counties in Michigan of which CWD has been documented — and I happen to hunt in one of those counties (Clinton County). Second, it allowed me to talk with other hunters who were getting their deer tested, and hear some of their interesting outdoor experiences (although I’m sure the turdy point buck is still on the prowl!). And finally, it showed me the true dedication that the Department of Natural Resources has to Michigan’s great outdoors. Their enthusiasm and willingness to share their knowledge to our youth is nothing short of exceptional. Last fall, I was privileged to job shadow a DNR wildlife biologist (Chad Fedewa) at one of these check stations.  Mr. Fedewa taught me how to cut the heads off, how to determine the age of the deer, and much more.  Needless to say, the day flew by and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience.  

 Graham Smith – YCC member, Lyonsautumn-day

 

A Family Affair

duck-huntingHunting isn’t always about harvesting animals; it is about getting outdoors and doing what you love with who you love. This past duck season I had the opportunity to get back to the way it all started for me.  My grandpa was the first on to introduce my dad to the sport.  Once my dad got hooked on duck hunting, he started to take me.  When I was about two years old, my dad took me out duck hunting for the first time.  From then on I have been hooked on the fast paced action that the sport brings.  My dad and I would always drive to my grandma and grandpa’s house the day before the opening day of duck season so we could head out on the water bright and early the next morning with my grandpa.  I loved going out with both my dad and my grandpa and still do.  The places we used to hunt have “slowed down” over the past few years so my grandpa and I haven’t had the opportunity to hunt together lately, but I wanted to change that.  So this year we made a plan for my grandpa to come over and hunt with us.   We had a blast and we also harvested a few ducks along the way.  I had a great time and loved to get back to the way it all started for me.  So if you have the opportunity, make sure you also get some time in doing what you love with who you love.

Justin Cobb – YCC Member, Bark River