Backwoods Adventure, Woodscraft and Skills, Muzzle Loading and Self-Sufficient Living Off The Land
I came back from a trip to Africa, which included whitewater rafting on the Nile River, and someone told me that I had been on the adventure of a lifetime. I thought of all the other trips I have done and realized, I have had a life of lifetime adventures.
Linzer Torte Cookies are somewhat similar to the famous German Linzer Torte. The dough is almond flavored and there is raspberry jelly in the middle. This cookie adds a twist with chocolate in the middle. It is not a difficult recipe to make, but it takes a a bit of time to make since there are multiple steps to completing the cookies and some rest times in between the steps. Give yourself plenty of time to make this cookie and enjoy the results.
2 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
¾ cup butter softened
½ teaspoons almond extract
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup seedless raspberry jelly
Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. In a separate mixer bowl, cream butter and then add sugar, after well blended add eggs and almond extract. Gradually add flour mixture until all is well blended. Divide dough in half, and shape as round disk. Wrap each half in plastic and chill in the fridge until firm.
On a floured board, roll one of of the dough disks to about 1/8th inch thickness. Cut with a round cookie cutter. Cut circle out of center of ½ of the dough cookies. A donut/cookie cutter makes this step easy. Re-flour board and re-roll left over dough and repeat cutting process, until both dough disks are gone. Cook on ungreased cookies sheets at 350° for 8-10 minutes. Place on rack and cool completely.
Melt chocolate over hot water, or in microwave. Spread on full cookies rounds. Allow to cool. Spread raspberry jelly on top of chocolate and place top on cookie. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top of each cookie. Pairs well with hot chocolate.
Add salt and pepper to flour and mix. Coat each piece of pheasant with the flour mix. Melt butter with garlic in a Dutch oven. When hot, brown the pheasant breasts on both sides. Remove the pheasant from the pan and add mushrooms. Lightly saute the mushrooms. Take Dutch oven off of heat. Remove the mushrooms and place the pheasant back in the Dutch oven. Put mushrooms on top of the pheasant and pour heavy cream on top of both. Put lid on dutch oven and bake at 350° for 60 minutes.
The Kickapoo is a fun river to canoe. It is narrow, winding and very scenic
I have made several trips to Vernon County in the last year and have found that the county offers many activities to fill a long weekend. I started my most recent trip, by canoeing on the Kickapoo River and ended it with some amazing trout fishing. Vernon county also has many places to stop on the highways and byways to eat and to shop. Also, if big water adventures are your forte, the Mississippi River forms the Western boundary of Vernon County.
The Kickapoo river is rightfully one of Wisconsin’s most famous canoeing rivers. The upstream beginning of the canoeable portion of the Kickapoo is the village of Ontario. I will admit when I first saw the river I thought, this is a famous canoeing river? The Kickapoo is a narrow muddy meandering stream coming out of Ontario. I wondered if there was enough water in the river to float a canoe. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by the river. I canoed the stretch between bridges 4 and 5 which meanders through Wildcat Mountain State Park, and it is a beautiful section of river. Being this is the driftless area, there are lots of rock out cropping’s and bluffs to enhance the scenic beauty of the trip. It is crooked enough to keep the canoeist busy guiding the canoe around the bends, the trees, and sand bars in the river. It is not a difficult river to paddle, but the river demands that you pay attention to it. It only took a few prys and draws to get around most of the obstacles in the river. Given the steep terrain that dominates the Kickapoo watershed, the river is vulnerable to flash floods so paying attention to the weather is important. Canoeing after the spring melt or heavy rains is not advised. Since the river is narrow and heavily wooded, many trees fall in or across the Kickapoo. There is a task force of riverine lumberjacks that cut up the trees that obstruct the river in the section that I floated. I would speculate that the canoe outfitters in Ontario are the organizing force for the river lumberjacks.
If you do not have a canoe or kayak and want to canoe the river, there are three outfitters in Ontario that cater to Kickapoo river travelers. They all have a very large livery of rental canoes and kayaks. Rumors are the outfitters can put up to 500 canoes on the river in a single day. Hence, it can get really crowded. My float occurred early on a Friday morning and there were only a few other canoeists out. But by late morning, when I loaded up the canoe, it was beginning to get busy. If canoeing without crowds is important, plan the trips for mornings during the week. Having the outfitters there also means, that if you do not have a canoe and want to canoe or kayak the river, it is simple to rent one. For information on canoeing the Kickapoo see this link
Wildcat Mountain State Park and the Kickapoo Reserve create a big block of public land for canoeing, hiking, and camping. The campground and picnic area at Wildcat Mountain are literally on top of a big ridge. (Calling it a mountain is a bit of a stretch). The road to the park entrance from Ontario is one of the crookedest roads I have traveled on. Wildcat has a nice, but small campground. Many of the campsites are cramped due to the limited space on top of the ridge. There is an extensive 21-mile trail system that can be used for hiking, horseback riding, skiing and snowshoeing.
The Kickapoo Reserve is an 8600, acre parcel of public land which is owned by the HoChunk Nation and the State of Wisconsin. It is governed by its own Board. It is a unique land in terms of management and ecology. The Kickapoo river runs through the middle of the Reserve and provides some very scenic canoeing. The reserve also has campsites near the river for the adventurous canoeist. But they are located a ways away from the river to reduce the danger from flash floods. meaning it is an uphill haul to get the gear and canoes from the river to the campsite. Additionally, there are hiking and carrying campsites along the trails of the Reserve.
Bringing a bicycle along with the canoe is important. The Kickapoo Reserve has an extensive trails system some of which is dedicated to mountain bikes and some of which is mixed use trails. Vernon county has lots of rural roads to ride on. The roads run through lots of hills and valleys, so the ride is steep and winding making for fun riding. The nature of the roads also creates some safety hazards so consulting the WI DOT bike map is a good idea when planning a route. Wilton, which is near the halfway point of the Elroy Sparta Bike trail, is only a 10-minute drive north of Ontario.
A small waterfall tucked away at the end of the Ice Cave Trail
If riding a horse is preferable to riding a bike, Wildcat Mountain and the Kickapoo Reserve a have a combined 55 miles of equestrian trails. Fifteen miles of the trails are in the park and forty miles in the Reserve. Horse Camp is located in Wildcat Mountain and is one of the nicer and most complete horse camps I have seen.
Some of the best trout fishing I have ever experience occurred on this trip. I fished a stream in the northern part of the county and caught many nice sized trout. One was a little too big as it busted my 4 lbs. line on my ultra-light spinning rod and made off with my favorite trout spinner while making a spectacular jump. I kept just enough trout to have a nice fish fry for supper. Many of the trout streams are Class 1 or 2 streams. Wisconsin classifies its trout streams as 1 (the best) 2 (really good) and 3 (OK). A quick glance at the trout stream maps shows that there are more miles of Class 1 and 2 streams than Class 3. There are numerous DNR fishing properties, easements, and other accesses points to the trout streams so accessing that secret trout fishing spot is relatively easy. The DNR, local conservations clubs and groups like Trout Unlimited have been working for decades to restore and improve the trout streams in the Driftless Region. As a result of all this hard work, the Driftless Area is now one of the premier trout fishing regions in the US.
A nice trout supper thanks to the efforts of many people and groups to improve the trout streams in the Driftless Area
A good night’s sleep and good food is vital to any great trip. Vernon County is a small rural place, so the lodging is small and rural. Wildcat Mountain is the biggest camping spot. Additionally, many of the small towns in the area have campgrounds and there are several private campgrounds scattered around the county. Small resorts with a few cabins and bed and breakfasts are scattered throughout the county. Local restaurants are abundant, and they usually feature a good Wisconsin fish fry on Friday nights.
Vernon has a plethora of actives for the outdoor enthusiasts. It is a good place to head for an activity filled weekend or for a longer vacation
The view from the boat landing at Miller Dam. Its a big, fairly shallow lake with lots of fish and emergent aquatic vegetation
I pulled my small 12 foot john boat over to Miller Dam Flowage the other day to do some fishing and to check out the wild rice beds. As I was pulling out of the driveway, I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw the gas tank for the motor still sitting in the driveway. Oops. So I pulled over, ran back, grabbed the gas tank and put it in the boat. Then I noticed that the drain plug was missing. That would be a big oops. I ambled back to the garage to find the missing plug and was unsuccessful. Well, I reasoned its good to have a spare, so I stopped at Farm and Fleet and bought a new drain plug on my way to the lake.
I got to the flowage, and began the process of getting ready to launch the boat. I did remember to install the drain plug. As I was putting the 5 hp Merc on the boat, the cord that attached to the emergency stop key, got caught up in the motor mount. Something I did not realize until much later. I did a quick check of the boat: 5 hp motor securely attached, fishing poles, PFDs, bait, net, lunch, tackle box all in the boat. Its time to launch. I removed the two tie down straps and attached a painter rope for launching. I was excited because this was the first time I was able to launch this new boat for a full day of fishing. I had taken it for a test drive once but that was it. I climbed in the Forester and began backing up to the boat launch. As the tires of the trailer began to slip into the water, the boat began to slide off the trailer. I thought, Oh NO! I hit the brakes, jammed the car in park, pulled up the emergency brake all while opening the door and jumping out of the car. I got to the trailer as the boat began to slide into the water. I hopped over the trailer and ran to the dock. At the end of the dock I reached out to grab the boat amidships, but could not reach it. I instantly knew that my only course of action was to jump in the lake and grab the boat. As I was a jumping, I wondered how deep was the coffee colored water at the end of the dock. It proved to be arm pit deep. I was impressed since the dock was only about 15 feet long and I am 6’5.” I waded the boat to shore and then tied it to the dock. I took some very soggy steps to the car and parked it and the trailer. I left a nice trail of wet steps in the parking lot as I made my way back to the boat. That “squeesh, squeesh” sound that soggy walking shoes make is annoying. I climbed in the boat, and started the motor. Or at least I tried to start the motor. But the motor had other ideas. No combination of choke and pulling the starter cord helped. I checked to make sure all the knobs and buttons were in the right spot. I pulled on the starter cord another 50 times and still the motor refused to start. After describing the motor with all the four letter words I could think of in that moment, I decided that the only thing to do was to load up the boat and make a wet soggy drive home. So I squeeshed my way back to the car and loaded up the boat. As I was taking the motor off the boat I realized the kill switch key was tangled up in the motor mount and not in its proper place. I took the motor off the boat, untangled the key and cord, put the motor back on the boat, put the key back in its proper place and pulled the starter cord. The motor fired right up. I immediately shut it down. I then tied the painter rope to the trailer, and relaunched the boat without incident. The motor fired right up so I headed out to the lake.
I even managed to catch some fish while on the lake. When I pulled the boat out of the water that evening I was almost totally dried off from my earlier plunge in the lake.
Lesson Learned: The boat ready to launch on its next big adventure. The mismatched boat and trailer were part of the problem. The trailer was designed to haul my 17 foot square stern canoe, and then I put a bed on it so I could haul camping gear and canoes. I now have a rope tied to the boat and trailer so it won’t try to escape again.
Water, planning, and rest are the keys to successful outdoor activities when the heat is high. The plan for extreme heat must include taking along enough water for the activity or having infallible means of procuring more water, planned cooling off time, and plans for keeping hydrated. Water can be carried in old fashioned canteens like my well worn one on the left, water bottles, or hydration packs. The most important aspect of the plan is following it.
She thought I was dead. I was on the second day of a bike ride from Menomonie to Madeline Island. The temperatures were in the upper 70s when I began riding, and quickly climbed into the mid 90s. I could not drink water fast enough. I decided to stop every 45 minutes to an hour to cool down. I stopped on a gravel road with a shady spot. I parked my bike and lay down on the road to chill for a few minutes. Then the bike tipped over in the soft gravel. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to leave the bike on the ground until I was done resting. Suddenly, a pickup truck come around a bend in the road, made a sudden stop, and the woman driver jumped out and yells, Are you alive? I immediately sat up and told her yes, I was fine and explained that I was taking a cool down break and that my bike had fallen over in the soft gravel.
Because I had been taking precautions on my ride, I was not suffering from one of the several heat related problems that can arise when the temps rise. Physical problems related to heat include dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. The underlying causes of heat related illness is lack of fluids in the body and loss of electrolytes from the fluid loss. With out these two items, the body cannot function properly and over heats leading to a variety of problems that can be painful and even fatal.
Dehydration can occur in any temperature, but high heat causes excessive sweating and without a conscious effort to replace lost fluid, one can become dehydrated. One can become dehydrated and not initially be thirsty so thirst is not a good indicator of dehydration. One way to check your fluid level is by keeping track of your urine. When a person gets dehydrated they urinate less often and the urine turns a darker color. Dark yellow or even reddish colored urine can be a sign of serious dehydration. Other signs of dehydration include fatigue, dizziness and confusion, and eventually extreme thirst. Drinking water in smaller amounts very frequently is the best way to prevent dehydration.
Heat cramps often occur after one stops strenuous activity in the heat. The muscles have painful and rapid spasms. The cramps usually take place in the limbs or abdomen or can affect any part of the body. Treatment for heat cramps includes resting and cooling down in a shady place; drinking lightly salted drinking water, clear juices, or sports drinks with electrolytes. Light stretching, and massage of the cramping muscles can help, but do not over do as too much stretching or massage can worsen the problem. After the cramps end, wait several hours to a full day before resuming activities.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body heats up faster than it cools to the point of being over heated. Signs of heat exhaustion include dizziness, fatigue, weak rapid pulse, low blood pressure when standing, faintness, heavy sweating, nausea, thirst and headache. The skin of a person will be pale or dull colored.
To treat heat exhaustion, get the person to a cool shady place. Remove any heavy or tight clothing, and have the person lay down with feet slightly elevated. Give water to the person in small quantities since drinking large amounts of water may trigger nausea. Use damp clothes or misted water to help cool the victim. The victim should begin to show signs of recovery within an hour, but full recovery can take up to 24 hours so its best to pitch up your camp right where the person is diagnosed with heat stroke. Also, a person who has suffered heat exhaustion is more vulnerable to a relapse, so they should be watched carefully for the rest of the trip. Heat exhaustion can develop into life threatening heat stroke, so it must be dealt with immediately.
Heat stroke is a life threatening condition that can occur in two forms: classic heat stroke and exertional heat stroke. Classic heat stroke most frequently effects people indoors who are in a room that is too hot for too long. The signs of classic heat stroke are skin that is red, hot and dry.
Victims of exertional heat stroke will act irritably or irrationally. Their skin may be cold with heavy sweat. Victims of both types of heat stroke can have rapid pulse, nausea and or vomiting, and headache. Fainting can be a sign of heat stroke. Because heat stroke is life threatening a call to 911 is in order. Emergency treatment includes getting the person into the shade remove excess clothing, cooling with water, ice in the arm pits or groin, covering with damp cloths. Have the person drink water in small quantities. If in a wilderness setting and EMT personal can’t be contacted, the victim must be transported out of the woods via stretcher.
Prevention is the best way to avoid all the heat related illnesses. When heading to the woods in hot weather have a plan to stay cool and hydrated. Plan for frequent breaks in the shade and drink frequently. Wear appropriate clothing. I prefer lose fitting breathable clothing. Pay attention to the humidity level also, as very dry conditions in the desert require lots of water, and very humid conditions make evaporation difficult, so evaporation cannot help keep the body cool. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Both substances make it harder for the body to regulate internal temperature. With wise planning, heat does not need to keep one out of the wilds.
This soup is a great late spring/early summer food for folks that like to gather their eats in the wilds.
Combining two relatively abundant wild foods in one dish is a great way to jazz up a meal. This recipe comes from Germany. Being a fan of both wild food and German Food I absolutely had to try this soup. Gathering the nettles is the most challenging aspect of putting this soup together. I was able to pick the nettles sting free by using the scissors on my Swiss army knife, a pack basket and gravity. When making the soup, I did not have any spinach in the garden so I substituted Swiss Chard as the two have a similar taste. Plus, the Swiss and the Germans get along, so I figured the ingredients would compliment each other in the soup. My wife highly recommends the soup.
1 ½ cup baby spinach or Swiss Chard
½ cup stinging nettles leaves
¾ cup watercress
1 medium onion
3 small potatoes
4 cups vegetable stock
1 strip unwaxed lemon zest
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon cold butter
Wash and drain the spinach or Swiss chard. Blanch the spinach or chard and the nettles separately for about 1 minute. Then plunge into ice water. Drain well, squeezing leaves and then finely chop.
Wash drain and finely chop the watercress. Since water cress comes from creeks, I spray the watercress with vinegar before washing to hopefully remove any gut flushing bacteria.
Peel the onion and potato. Finely chop and add to vegetable broth. Simmer for 20 or minutes or until the onion and potatoes are soft and tender. Add cream and blend with immersion blender. Add lemon zest. Let zest infuse for a few minutes and then remove it.
Peel and finely chop the garlic. Shortly before serving, add the spinach or chard, nettles, watercress, garlic, and butter. Again, blend with immersion blender. Let stand for 3 minutes. Then season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Serve immediately.
I don’t have an immersion blender so I strained the onion and potatoes out of the broth after it was done and then ran the potatoes, onion, garlic, nettles, chard and watercress with a bit of broth through my blender. After blending, it all went back in the kettle for three minutes before serving. Also, to save time, I started the broth, potatoes and onions cooking and then blanched the chard and nettles.
When driving on a back road, I met this fawn standing in the road. It attempted to run away, but could not climb the steep bank next to the road so it lay down in the shadows to hide. I took a quick photo and drove past. When I was a ways away, mom came of of the brush and lead the fawn to safety.
As I was driving home last week, two Canadian geese with a bunch of goslings attempted to cross the road twixt my car and an on-coming pick up truck. Both drivers saw the geese scramble out of the ditch and head across the road, so we stopped and gave the geese plenty of room. That didn’t stop the adults from excitedly honking and flapping their wings while herding the goslings across the road. One gosling slipped on the edge of the black top and flipped head over webbed feet. The fuzzy yellow bird which was nearly the size of a crow ended up on its back. Both the goslings’ webbed feet and undersized wings were flailing madly in the air as it righted itself and then proceeded in a hurried waddle across the road.
This comical incident is a reminder that many species have recently given birth. Creatures from deer to rabbits to possums to birds to bears have young ones that need to be protected, raised and taught the ways of survival. Each species has a repertoire of tricks to ensure the survival of enough newborns to ensure the survival of the species.
Camouflage is one method adult animals protect their young. I tend to despise yard work and lawn mowing in particular so I delay mowing as long a possible in the spring. Hence the grass gets a bit long sometimes. One spring day, I noticed our dog Izzy running back and forth from her dog house to a single spot in the long grass. I investigated and discovered that Izzy had found a nest of baby bunnies and that she was carrying them in her mouth, unharmed, to her dog house. The nest was within five feet of where we park the car and was invisible until one had knelt down and parted the grass. We distracted Izzy long enough to put her back on her chain and then place the bunnies back in their nest. By the next morning, the mother had moved the bunnies to a safer location.
Many newly born animals are scent free, which makes it easier for them to hide from predators. Fawns are one of the critters that are scent free for at least a few days. Fawns rely on being scent free and on hiding to survive. The spots on a fawn serve as camouflage and the fawn instinctively knows from birth to remain motionless for long periods of time. The fawns remain in one location for several weeks while the doe wanders off to eat and ruminate. The doe only approaches the fawn when it is feeding time for the fawn. If the doe has multiple fawns, she will hide each fawn in a different location. This strategy increases the odds that a least one of the fawns will survive – even if the others become dinner for a hungry bobcat or coyote. As deer have become more prevalent in urban and suburban areas, hiding fawns are found more frequently by well intentioned but biologically misinformed people. They see the “cute little Bambi” all by itself and assume the deer has been abandoned by its parent. Then they scoop up the deer and head to the DNR office or to a wildlife rehabilitator. Since the fawn and parent are pursuing a time proven survival strategy, the best course of action is to take a picture or two, from a long distance, and leave the fawn in its spot.
Producing prodigious numbers of offspring is another survival strategy. Rabbits, squirrels and many birds have adopted this strategy. The idea is simple: produce more offspring than will die before they reproduce. Robins are the masters of producing multiple broods of young in a year. Robins pull off at least two broods every summer and maybe another one in the winter. I can observe the prolific nature of robins every spring because a robin always builds a nest on the front porch light. So many nests have been built there over the years the siding on the house is permanently stained. Yet, it is highly doubtful that the same robin builds the nest from year after year since robins have an 80 percent mortality rate. That the robin population remains so large while 8 out of 10 robins die annually makes it apparent just how many robins must be born each year. Distraction is how birds like killdeer and waterfowl protect their young. When I lived in Southeastern Ohio, I walked home everyday across a park. A killdeer had a nest in the corner of the park and like clockwork, the killdeer presented me with the “broken wing” pose at the same spot every day. The killdeer would trill loudly and flap its ‘broken wing” all the while leading me away from the nest. After leading me for about 50 yards the bird would fly away. Most hen ducks will also exhibit this behavior on the water. Many times I have surprised a hen and her ducklings while canoeing; the ducklings will beat a hasty retreat to the nearest cover, while the mother begins to quack loudly and beat her wings against the water while swimming away. The duck will lead the canoe around two or three bends in the river before taking flight back to her offspring.
Aggressive behavior towards threats is another means of ensuring the survival of young. The old adage of never getting between a mother bear and her cubs has been proven statically true. Most bear attacks on humans do involve a mother with cubs. Other animals with young can also become aggressive. One spring, I was hiking and camping in the Jones Spring wilderness area in the Nicolet National Forest. Suddenly an animal burst out of the weeds along side the trail and headlined towards me. I had a brief thought of a bear attacking as I stumbled back. Then I realized the whir of motion and sound of furry was actually a mother grouse. I also saw her poults scampering off in the opposite direction. My brother and I once attempted to fish a small remote lake in Northern Minnesota, but found it impossible because a pair of loons were using the lake to raise their little loonie (not sure what you call a baby loon). The two adult loons repeatedly dive bombed the canoe. Sometimes they swooped as low as our heads when they passed over the canoe. We decided there were other lakes in the area that had better fishing and left.
Critters with young become less mobile during the rearing season. Thus animals like bears, foxes and coyotes, which normally roam a large territory, hunker down near the den or limit travel to a small area until the offspring can travel large distances. The dilemma the animals face is eating while remaining in one place. Hence any good food source will be utilized repeatedly. This causes issues in populated areas as bears and other large critters raid feeders, garbage cans, fledgling gardens, and any other food source. The best method of dealing with feeding animals in the spring is to remove easy food sources like feeders. If an animal like a fox is suddenly present repeatedly in a yard or area, be aware that there is most likely a den nearby. Give the den as much space as possible and use the opportunity for some wildlife photography.
Wild critters, both feathered and furred, have many means of ensuring the survival of their young and the species. We humans can best help the animals pursue raising their offspring by doing no more than observing the process.