I got to spend nearly a week on a big ol ridge near the Buffalo National Scenic River.
Woosh-sploosh, Woosh-sploosh. Ducks in the decoys! A total of four ducks slipped in undetected and landed next to my decoy spread. I looked at my watch. Five minutes until shooting started- an eternity. I hoped the ducks would stay around until shooting started. I was tucked in between the woods and the slough, sitting under a small oak tree. As the seconds slowly ticked down to shooting time, I slowly and as quietly as possible leveraged myself to a standing position. When I was at a fully standing position, I silently cocked the right hammer on my side-by-side 12-gauge muzzle loading shot gun. The four woodies flushed, and I did a butt-beak-bang swing with the scattergun, and through the cloud of smoke, I saw one of the four woodies splash back into the slough.
Duck camp was located at Crex Meadows a 30,000-acre wildlife area in Northwest Wisconsin. There is a 2,500-acre refuge in the middle of the Crex area and the rest of wildlife area is open to the public. Crex Meadows is home to a wide variety of bird species. Some of the huntable waterfowl include Canada goose, wood duck, mallard, teal, bufflehead, and ring neck duck. Watchable wildlife includes swans, sandhill cranes, loons, eagles, harriers, Phoebes, Flycatchers, red-winged black birds, sharp-tailed grouse and numerous other birds. Crex Meadows was formed by the last ice age. A glacial outwash lake known as Glacial Lake Grantsburg covered the area. The lake bottom left deposits of sand and some gravel that still dominate the ecosystem today. The region is either marsh swamp like Crex or Sand Barrens which run all the way up to the Bayfield Peninsula. During the pioneer days, settlers attempted to drain and plow the Crex area but mostly failed at farming. The Crex Carpet Company harvested the wire grass that grew in the wetlands to make area rugs for homes. They were in business in the 1910s and 1930s. In the 1940s the DNR began to acquire land at Crex and began the process of restoring the former ecosystems. Crex Meadows has a complex system of dikes, dams and ditches that keeps the wetland wet. Crex contains the wire grass bogs, swamps, wild rice beds, and Sand Barrens uplands which are mostly a mix of scrub oak and jack pine.
Over 100,000 people visit Crex each year and only a quarter of that number are there to hunt. The rest are there to view the wildlife. The fall migration is a peak time for human and critter visitors. There is a rest area which is open to camping from September first to December first. That is where my duck camp was set up. To get hunters from the duck camp to the flowages, Crex has an extensive system of sandy roads, a few rough black top roads, and many deeply rutted narrow trails that lead to very primitive spots where a small boat or canoe can be launched into the waters. Driving to many of the launch points was an interesting adventure. The first day of the hunt, I was looking for small protected swamp to hunt as it was extremely windy. One of the roads, I drove on was, as I found out later, a mud bogging spot for the local kids. Fortunately, my Subaru Forester was up to the task of pulling the trailer with the square stern canoe on it through the mess.
After scouting out several locations, I walked into a swamp surrounded by woods. As I quickly discovered, it was full of wood ducks. I snuck through the woods as silently as possible in my waders and secreted myself among some trees and a few cattails. Soon a flight of woodies went by and I splashed a male. Now I was about to get an education on wire grass bogs. As I began wading out to retrieve the duck, I discovered that the wire grass floats is springy when walking on it. I also discovered it’s a big drop to the bottom of the water and muck when the wire grass ends. After 10 feet of wading, I decided I had a good chance of tipping over in this swamp. And figured I would be buried under the grass for at least a millennium. Not desiring to be a found bog man far into the future, I turned around and found a stout stick in the woods and returned to the swamp. The stick made a great wading staff and I was able to make progress towards the duck. As I reached the edge of the weeds and entered the open water where the duck was floating at the bottom dropout out of the muck and the water was only an inch or so from the top of the waders. I decided to look around and try to find a new route to the duck. After standing still for a few minutes I shook, shimmied, and shaked to break free of the muck so I could wade back to the shore and walk around the swamp to a different spot. In the next spot, I discovered several tree branches that were hidden under the floating wire grass that made excellent barriers to wading. With the help of the improved wading stick, I was able to stay upright while getting around these obstacles. Once again, the water got too close to the top of the waders for comfort, so I puzzled on the situation a while and decided on another strategic retreat. This time I went back to my boat and got the 10-foot-long push pole. I also replaced the wading stick with one of the oars from the square stern. This time, I was able to successfully retrieve the duck. The entire operation took about an hour. The sun was vanishing below the horizon as I waded out of the slough for the last time. I headed back to camp to cook a quart of home canned chili and plan the next morning’s hunt.
The next morning, I put out a small spread of mallard and wood duck decoys. And for good luck I placed a couple of Canada honker decoys a little ways away. I had picked out a narrow spot in the same slough as I hunted the previous night. This is when the ducks splashed into the decoys before shooting hours. The morning fly around was very short. I think due to the 30 to 40 mph winds that were blowing so I got only the one wood duck this morning. In the afternoon, I went to one of the bigger lakes and set up on a somewhat wind sheltered spot. Several flights of ducks went by, but my decoy spread and quaking on the call only seemed to make the birds fly faster into the distance.
The next morning, I went back to the same spot as the previous morning. I decided to only set out 3 wood duck decoys. I stationed myself out in the swamp under an overhanging oak tree branch and in some of the half dozen cattails in the area. Shortly after shooting opened, I splashed one Woodie. I decided to let it float until the morning fly around was done. Most of the ducks were flying over the tops of the trees this morning rather than over the water so shooting opportunities were limited. When the action slowed down, I retrieved the first duck. After about an hour of zero ducks flying around, some woodies began to call from the far end of the slough. I answered them with my wood duck call. And after a bit, a flight of Woodies came whistling down the slough and through the narrows. Splash another Woodie. I decided to let it float for a bit and soon enough more woodies began to call so I answered them . And again, another flight whooshed through the narrows. Splash another duck. The limit of woodies is 3 in one day, so I set the scattergun aside and went for another wading adventure amongst the wire grass and muck. After much effort and a bit of colorful language, the ducks were retrieved. It was time to travel back to camp and pack up. It was a great trip. I had 5 woodies, had hit more ducks than missed and got to enjoy the morning songs of swans and sandhill cranes.
Hunting at Crex is definitely hard work and an adventure. Fortunately, the hunting is good, and the place is amazing.
This is another pickled egg recipe that I like to take to deer camp or rendezvous for a quick breakfast or a good evening snack. Pickled eggs are really easy to make, and once the brine is made, it can be restocked with eggs more than once.
12 eggs hard boiled and peeled
1 medium onion coarsely diced
1 teaspoon diced garlic
2 cups vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pickling spices
Mix all ingredients except eggs in a sauce pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Place eggs in sterile jar. Pour brine over the eggs. Place in refrigerator for 48 hours and serve.
I attended a rendezvous recently and I made a couple of batches of pickled eggs. I like to take pickled eggs to events like this or to hunting camp because they make a quick, tasty breakfast. Ya just grab a couple of eggs from the jar and eat them will getting ready for the day’s activities.
12 eggs hard boiled
2 medium beets peeled and sliced
1 cup white vinegar
½ cup water
½ cup sugar ½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
Hard boil and peel eggs. If the eggs have aged in the fridge for at least a week, they are much easier to peel. Mix all other ingredient in sauce pan and simmer for 15 minutes or until beets are softened. Cool brine in fridge. Place peeled eggs in sterile jar. Layer beets in with eggs. Pour liquid over top of eggs. Wait at least 48 hours before serving. Store eggs in refrigerator.
I was honored to be an invited reenacator at the Northwoods Rendezvous and Wild Rice Festival on the Mole Lake Reservation. I was able to teach many kids a bit of muzzle loader history and how to load and shoot a caplock and flintlock muzzle loader. I also ran a rifle match and a smooth bore match.
The first question everyone has when they get their first muzzle loader is “What is a good load to use?” The simple answer to that question is, “Whatever the gun shoots well.” Obviously, that is not really a simple answer to the question.
The best method for answering this question is to “Shoot it out.” This will require many trips to the shooting range so developing a good load is a lot of fun.
A gun being shot is a practical application of the science of ballistics. Which means that when a load is being developed for a muzzle loader, or any gun, it is a scientific experiment. As we all learned in high school science, only one component of the experiment, the variable, should be changed at a time. So when developing a load for a muzzle loader, only one component of the load chain should be changed with each three shot group. I.e. powder or ball or patch. If more than one component is changed, what caused something to happen is not known. If the results are bad, it is much more difficult to fix the problem when dealing with multiple variable changes. Finally, the experiment needs to be repeated to ensure the results are valid; i.e. compensate for human error. Hence, shooting three shot groups with each change is a good idea. The process for developing a load is meticulous but having an accurate target load or balanced effective hunting load makes the work worth the effort.
Before developing a load, it is important to determine what kind of load is being worked up. If it is a target load, maximum accuracy is important. If it is a hunting load, a balance between power and accuracy must be achieved. It is possible and even desirable to have multiple loads for a gun. Most of the rifles I regularly shoot have both a hunting load and target load.
The components in a traditional muzzle loader load are powder: charge, granulation, brand; patching: material, thickness; ball: diameter, weight, and design; cap, or priming. If a shooter wants to use saboted or conical bullets, the process is the same. Sabots and cloth patches do the same job. With conicals, various weights and designs will perform differently so several types of conicals should be tried to optimize performance.
Since only one variable can be changed at a time, the shooter must decide which variable to work on first. The most common starting point is the powder charge. When I got my first muzzle loading rifle, a Traditions .50 Cal Woodsman’s Hawkins, I started with a 30-grain load, measured by volume, and worked my way up by 10 grain increments. A 30-grain load of 2fg Goex powder was measured out and paired with a .015 patch and a .490 round ball. Three shots were fired using a bench rest at a bull target posted twenty fire yards away, and the barrel was swabbed in between each shot. After the target was shot, load data was written on the target and a fresh target was again posted at 25 yards. The powder charge was increased to 40 grains and the three shots were again fired. This procedure was followed until loads of 100 grains of 2 fg powder were being shot. Then the entire process was repeated on two subsequent trips to the range. A 60-grain load was most accurate, and groups started to open up above the 90-grain mark.
The next step in the process was to reshoot the loads with pillow ticking rather than cotton patches. During this testing phase, only the most promising powder charges were tested, the 90-grain load tightened up considerably, and the groups for both the 50 and 60 grain loads were nearly identical. The 50-grain load became my target/match shooting load and the 90-grain load became my hunting load.
The target load soon proved its worth in shooting matches at rendezvous and club shoots. The hunting load enabled me to harvest a buck and a doe before 9:00 AM on a hunt in southeastern Minnesota.
After working up a load for one rifle, I figured I had it all figured out when I began to work up a load on a Lyman’s Great Plains Rifle in .54 caliber. I started with loads using pillow ticking since that’s what the Traditions shot the best. But the Lyman didn’t like that tight patching. After many frustrating rounds of shooting, I switched to .015 cotton and when the smoke cleared there were some one hole-three shot groups.
When my oldest daughter took up hunting, I wanted to develop a load with a lighter recoil than the 90-grain load in the Traditions Hawkins rifle. I started with a 70-grain charge of 2fg Goex and then tried several patch thicknesses until the gun produced good groups. That load ended up being 70 grains 2fg Goex, a .015 patch and a .490 round ball. Using Pillow ticking produced a slightly tighter group, but it was hard to load so we went with the cotton patch. Good thing we used the easy to load patch. My daughter missed a shot at a deer, but fortunately, the deer got confused and didn’t run away, so she quickly reloaded and made a nice double lung shot for her first deer.
I have used both round commercially cut patches, square home cut patches, and muzzle cut patches when working up loads. I have found that generally the round and square patches perform equally well in guns that are .45 caliber and larger. Smaller bore guns seem to prefer round patches or even better yet like cut at the muzzle patches. That is particularly true of my .36 Pedersoli Frontier Rifle. Its favorite load is .20 gr 3gf, cut at the muzzle pillow ticking patch, and a .350 round ball.
The key to working up a load is to be meticulous in the process. Never change more than one component in the load change at a time. Keep very thorough records of the shooting sessions and the results. Having a shooting notebook is a must. Yes, even in the day and age of the computer and cell phone. Notebooks are much handier at the range. Don’t be afraid to try new loads, just put the results up against other experiments and loads. Developing a custom load for a muzzle loader is worth all the effort because there will be more trophies won at shooting matches and more meat made with the smoke pole.
Normally, we grill, fry or broil pork chops. And once in a while I will toss them in a Dutch oven with some kraut and other fixings and bake it. I wanted to do something different with the chops so I came up with the a recipe for making stuffed pork chops. The stuffed chops proved to be pretty simple to make and were super yummy.
Two extra thick pork chops butterfly sliced to the bone
1 small onion finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon celery seed
1 small apple cored and chopped
½ teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon oregano
3/4 cup chicken bullion
1/4 cup white wine.
Brown both sides of pork chop in butter in a cast iron skillet. Remove from pan. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent. In medium bowl, mix bread crumbs, celery seed, apple, basil, and oregano. Stir in onions and garlic. Slightly beat egg and stir into stuffing mix. Place pork chops back into cast iron skillet and put stuffing in pocket made in chops pork. Add bouillon/wine mix. Cover and bake at 350° for about 45 minutes. Remove chops from pan and serve