Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.
Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.
I first became acquainted with my pal Lawyer more than two and a half decades ago when we were neighbors on 71st Street. He's an OK guy for a lawyer. And not a middling lawyer either. I was issued a speeding citation a few years ago and...Voilà! He turned it into a faulty right turn signal.
My motor vehicle record remains unblemished.
Even better than that magic he introduced me to Jill. Resulting in some real magic. So I guess I owe Lawyer a lot. If you ever need a tough, smart lawyer - or a matchmaker - drop me an email and I'll personally make an introduction.
In any event, Lawyer and I have a long, rich history of fishing, hunting and yucking-it-up. So last winter when he floated the notion of going to Canada to hunt black bear there was no hemming or hawing or waffling over it. With my new hip I was all-in. Same for Lawyer's Bro.
Since I just got back home - and while the details remain fresh in my mind - this is the start of the story. Instead of publishing one giant rambling post about our adventure I'm going to break it up into digestible pieces. So stop by each morning this week and catch the latest installment.
And find out how the story ends.
See you tomorrow.
8/27/12 - A Premonition of Things to Come
A great deal of preparation went into this trip. Beginning in December of last year there were emails back and forth to the outfitter. Emails back and forth to prior clients. Emails back and forth between me, Lawyer and Lawyer’s Bro. This was followed by a giant lull in planning until about the end of July. In the final weeks leading-up to our departure the standing joke between the three of us was – Where’s the daily email exchange pertaining to the trip?
We prepared a list of what to bring.
Guns, ammo, bow and arrows and duffels of camouflage clothing and cammo GORE-TEX® raingear were packed. Safety harnesses for climbing tree stands too. Radios, batteries, chargers, cameras, tablets, a laptop, smart phones, flashlights, headlamps, ThermaCELLs, sun block, fishing tackle, the large first aid kit with back country prescriptions, passports, checkbooks and Canadian currency. Something on the order of a dozen coolers were gathered for returning home with our anticipated take of game and fish. Finally, a U-Haul trailer was reserved to haul the whole enchilada.
In anticipation of long days we drilled-down to prepared dinners that could be thrown-together when time and daylight ran short. Lawyer’s Bro brought homemade ravioli. Lawyer packed canned venison for stroganoff and a giant slab of his home-smoked bacon for hearty camp breakfasts. I brought a pheasant pot pie and garden tomato juice along with Bloody Mary fixn’s. We figured we could compile a list of miscellaneous groceries and fulfill it on the two day drive to our destination.
We were locked, loaded and ready. No expedition was better organized.
On the appointed departure date Lawyer and I left home to rendezvous with Bro and the trailer. Arriving at our jumping-off point I encountered Lawyer.
And the trailer.
Has your brother gone to fetch the trailer?
No, he took the trailer back because one of the tires was going flat. It wouldn’t hold any air.
Bro returned before too long with another trailer in tow. A larger model with tandem wheels. Same price. We caught a lucky break when Bro detected the soft tire. That first trailer wouldn’t have gotten us to Green Bay before it failed. Dodged a bullet we did.
Traveling to Superior we stopped for the evening. A long pull at the wheel tomorrow would take us to our destination in northwest Ontario.
That bad tire was a premonition of things to come.
Our second day of travel took us across the border into Canada and ultimately to our destination.
I’m not speaking for myself (because my traveling brethren would also agree) Canadian immigration is top notch. The lovely lass at the window greeted us with a smile, checked our passports and directed us to a parking space so we could come-in and complete our firearms registration paperwork. There were more
lovely lasses drop-dead, beautiful lasses inside.
Wall-to-wall beautiful women – every last one of them attired in blue BDUs, ballistic armor and sidearms. Yowza! I think this is a calculated strategy to confuse and disarm those who would attempt to cross their border and commit mayhem.
In the face of such distraction we completed our paperwork and continued our journey. Nary a peek at the contents of truck or trailer.
It was at this point that my technology began to self-destruct.
Prior to leaving home I engaged in several long discussions with the international communication division of Verizon Wireless to make sure that I had uninterrupted voice and data service. I pre-paid a slug of minutes for the Verizon Canada-Plus voice plan. And I purchased a chunk of bandwidth for data. No sooner than crossing the border the data stopped in its entirety (and stayed that way for the duration of the trip) and the voice service became patchy and spotty.
I think I spent most of my prepaid voice service talking to Verizon people in an attempt to restore my data feed on the Smart Phone. All to no avail. For any of you Verizon customers – when your conversation with the service people is interrupted by a loss of signal they won’t call you back. You have to call them and wait on hold and listen to a recording extolling the virtues of their international calling and data plans and then start all over explaining the problem to a different call center individual.
Very, very bad form. And not at all customer-focused.
Lawyer and Bro got a genuine charge out of this as their devices were serviced by AT&T. And functioning. In one of life’s great ironies I used an AT&T Blackberry to speak with Verizon in a fruitless effort to stay connected.
And this was only Canada. Imagine if it was something complicated like a European country, eh? So much for Verizon’s vaunted international service.
A grocery run was made in Thunder Bay and off we went. Further on down the Trans-Canada Highway (Route Transcanadienne) we stopped at an LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) for a case of Labatt Blue ($40+ Canadian) and one additional stop at a bait shop to purchase our Temporary Outdoor Card, Fishing license and Black Bear License and Seal.
Arriving at camp that afternoon we unpacked our gear and supplies and met with the outfitter who showed us around and explained the protocol for hunting bear.
We were pumped.
But like that quirky trailer tire and the melt-down with Verizon Wireless there were rumblings on the horizon…
8/28/12 - Camp Routine
A few words about camp life. Our quarters were Spartan but comfortable. We each got our own bedroom and I scored the room that had four twin beds. And the water heater. Lots of space for my stuff...
...including all of those coolers I mentioned earlier.
Our only amenities were hot and cold running water...
...a fridge, coffeemaker, range (with a busted oven) and a microwave. There was a gas grill on the front porch and an oversize truck rim and firewood for the campfire setting that we never got around to doing.
No phone, no cable, no television, no cellular signal (not that it mattered to the lone Verizon customer), no internet, no email, no texting, no tweeting, no newspaper, no nothing. I was blissfully cut-off from the assault of information that normally accompanies me as I go about my day.
Our only source of amusement and entertainment was each other.
A nice change of pace.
Even though our cabin sported peeling paint it was right on the water. We beached our boat directly at the water’s edge and just beyond our front door. This come to think of it was the only door. The view was spectacular.
The nearest town was a bit distant so every trip counted. We made a single run to town each day for something. Groceries, bait or making a call to the day job or our spouses. Like the trip we had to make to get our hands on a sunrise/sunset table so that none of us would be pinched by the warden for having an uncased bow or firearm after the appointed time.
There was a Ministry of Natural Resources office adjacent to the local Health Services Centre. To nobody’s surprise the Ministry office was populated by charming and attractive women. I am not making this up. Lawyer thought that the influence of early French explorer genes played a role in this phenomenon of feminine pulchritude. Bro discounted that idea astutely noting the absence of hairy legs and armpits. In the final analysis the warden was out checking on bear hunters but staff conjured-up the tables for us. I suggested that someone should tell the Ministry to include the tables in the hunting regulations pamphlet like we do in Wisconsin. My polite suggestion was met with a stare that was ambiguously winsome but stern.
So much for charm.
I’m not entirely sure how this happened but it seemed like we always ended-up eating dinner close to 10 PM. My hypothesis is a combination of factors contributed to this variation on a diurnal cycle. Longer daylight hours = longer time spent on stand hunting or on the water fishing. Not that any of this mattered for much since nobody was in a hurry to get out of bed at the crack of dawn. Unlike deer camp where you have to stumble your way through the dark to climb into a stand – we learned that the bear move at all hours and the fish generally bite all day long – but better during the last few hours of daylight.
The only people at camp were fishermen from Minnesota and another bear hunter from Wisconsin.
And bears were known to visit a vehicle from time-to-time.
Jon, our outfitter, hosted a fish fry for everyone one evening. The only requirement was to contribute fish for the feast or a dish to pass. There was socializing over adult beverages and mountains of food.
Life at camp was rather blissful. Including the part about sleeping-in in the morning.
From our cabin’s porch that’s Bro and Lawyer at the water’s edge - exactly where we would beach our boat.
Look carefully at the surrounding shoreline in the distance.
What’s different about it?
8/29/12 - Hunting Stooges Style
The morning of our first day hunting found us seemingly prepared. I had checked and double checked my gear. I had even packed lunches for everyone. Everything was organized and under control. What could possibly go wrong?
In a premonition of things to come you might pose that question of the Three Stooges.
Jon the outfitter stopped by with his pick-up full of portable stands and announced that we were to saddle-up and follow him out to the bush to set-up. We loaded our gear into our truck and as I was piling the last of my stuff into the rear seat Lawyer shifted from park to drive. Skrunch!
AH. AH. AH. AH. STOP! OW! OW! BACK-UP! ARHHHHHG! YOU’RE DRIVING OVER MY FOOT!
Slamming the truck in reverse the tire spun and spit my boot from under it. I commenced to hopping about the yard hollering some rather choice expletives. This was no tip-toe through the tulips. This was the foot that was attached to the leg I just spent a big pile of money on. Jon materialized to see what the commotion was all about. Seating me on the picnic table the guys gingerly removed my boot to ascertain the damage. Remarkably, nothing was broken. Sure, they hurt and stung but I was able to wiggle all my toes. After the application of a bag of ice and a fistful of ibuprofen we got the boot back on and I limped back to the truck.
A tough boot and soft sandy soil saved my bacon.
In retrospect the entire episode would have done Larry, Moe and Curly proud. But lest you think this was the end of the discombobulation it gets better.
We pounded down a washboard road following Jon. Trying to stay out of the huge cloud of dust in his wake it was 30 kilometers to my location, 10 more klicks to Bro’s and 2 more to Lawyer’s set-up. Way back in the bush where cell phones didn't work (not that this matters if you are a Verizon customer) and where we were too far apart for radios.
This is my set-up. My trusty Bowtech Diamond Liberty compact bow with a Rip-Cord arrow rest and a single fiber-optic sight pin.
Carbon Express Maxima arrows tipped with a 100 grain Rage two blade expandable broadhead.
The razor blades of the arrowhead deploy on impact to more than two inches in diameter leaving a deadly wound channel. Until now I’ve always been a three-blade fixed broadhead hunter. I had it on good authority from the guys at West Town Archery that this was what I should use to bring down a bear. Fingers crossed all I wanted was a shot opportunity. I was dialed-in.
My previously throbbing foot now was tingling. So I settled down and scanned the dense, boreal woods for movement. My visitors were red squirrels, Canadian gray jays (who wouldn’t hold still for a picture) and a large bat that I disturbed climbing into my stand.
In the mean time (and unbeknownst to me) Lawyer got settled into his lonely perch on a tree and discovered his bullets were missing. Climbing down he figured he’d drive the two klicks back to his Bro and beg some ammo from him. The trouble with this plan was he couldn’t find exactly where Bro entered the woods. Technically he wasn’t lost since he knew exactly where he was. He just had no clue where his brother was. Way back in the bush Lawyer was literally up a tree with no ammo.
Meanwhile (and unbeknownst to him) bears where hitting his bait.
I told you it would get better didn’t I?
Fortunately for Lawyer Jon the outfitter came barreling back down the road in a cloud of dust and skidded to a stop.
What’re you doing on the road, eh? You get a bear already?
Nope. I forgot my shells. And I was going to borrow some bullets from Bro but I can’t find him. These mossy trees all look alike.
I wonder what outfitters talk about when outfitters get together over beers and talk shop. Now I think I know.
Jon knew exactly where Bro entered the woods and for future reference marked the location with some flagging tape. Lawyer begged some shells off his brother and returned to his stand only to find that probably an entire clan of trophy bears had cleaned him out and eaten his offering of greasy bagels and popcorn. A bear even left a paw print on his truck in a gesture of gratitude.
Remember that lunch I packed for Lawyer? Pastrami, smoked turkey and spicy mustard on rye. Chips too?
The stooges would be proud.
The only bear I saw that day was a small one. I put the bow down and took pictures of him instead.
Lawyer and Bro saw nothing.
Later that evening while back at camp Lawyer found his shells. Exactly where he put them. In a pocket he failed to check. In keeping with the stooges he had them with him all along. Bro and I laughed so hard we were close to tears.
The discombobulation was manifest however when Bro discovered I left the pastrami and turkey on the kitchen counter all day to fester in the sun.
Bear bait for tomorrow.
I teased Lawyer that night over a medicinal dose of his Maker's Mark and informed him that if my toes turned blue and my toenails fell off I was going to be disfigured. I’d probably even suffer from a loss of income. Even worse - consortium. As a consequence of this my delicate sensibilities would suffer.
My feelings would be hurt.
This would mean I would have to call a tough, smart lawyer. The potential damages would be astronomical. No fee unless I won! To which he deadpanned…
One call. That’s all.
Check back tomorrow. It gets better yet.
Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk…
8/30/12 - Cheeseheads in Paradise
Back on stand by 10:30 AM for a second day of hunting. With water, Gatorade and lunch I was committed to hunting until dark. Since we had no way of communicating with one another the plan was for Lawyer to collect Bro and rendezvous with me halfway through our day – roughly 3 PM. We had a feeling all the troubles were behind us. No more stooges. No further discombobulation. My foot was OK.
45 minutes into my day a bear approached from behind and walked directly under my stand. I never heard him coming and was caught completely by surprise. With his back to me I drew my bow and willed him to turn and present me with a shot. Nothing doing. Within seconds the animal glanced to the right and took-off at a run. He vanished into the woods.
I’m thinking – That was one spooked bear. It certainly wasn’t me that scared him off. Was it another animal? Maybe a bigger bear?
At 11:30 some movement in the periphery of my right eye caught my attention. Another bear had approached from behind me and was circling wide to the right. He might have winded me and was giving me a big detour. Nevertheless, his circle might bring him closer as he closed up-wind of me.
I thought – If this plays-out he’ll pass directly through my shooting lane.
As the bear crossed behind a clump of firs I went to full draw for the second time in 15 minutes and tried to settle my nerves. Bear fever had set in and the last thing I needed was target panic. Stepping into my shooting lane the animal was broadside to me but still moving.
Whoa there fella.
Slowing, the bear stopped and turned slightly. Stepping forward on his left forearm I was presented with a quartering-away shot situation. Perfect. Concentrate. Breathe in. Breathe out. Hold. Squeezing the trigger on my release the arrow rocketed and found its mark. The animal ran 20 paces and fell dead.
A rush of adrenaline shivers followed.
An hour into my day I had my bear. And Lawyer and Bro weren’t scheduled to show for another four hours. It’s getting warmer by the minute and I needed to get my bear out of the woods and into the cooler back at camp.
I walked back to the road and wishfully held my Smart Phone in the air hoping for a signal. Nothing.
I knew it was a hike of 9 klicks one direction to Cell Phone Hill. My phone might work there but I hadn’t tested it before. It was 19 klicks the other direction to the main highway. I knew I could grab a signal there and call for assistance. Grabbing extra water I set-off on foot for the main road figuring I might score a lift from a logging truck or a someone else.
Within minutes a red F-150 approached from behind. Waving it down I asked if I could hitch a ride to the main road. Sure. Hop-in. Things were definitely looking-up for me.
Nathan and Colton – grandfather and grandson from Rice Lake. Cheeseheads on a fishing trip heading into town for bait and gas. We talked hunting, fishing and Packers as Nate rumbled the Ford down the washboard track. Dropping me at the main road they bade me farewell. I called Jon and left him a voicemail with my location and situation. No sooner than making that call a Jeep passed me then slowed to a stop. Turning around the driver pulled alongside.
You one of the hunters from Jon’s camp?
Yup. I have a bear down too.
Cripes, you didn’t walk all that way to here did you?
No, I hitched a ride.
Well climb in. Jon’s in town. We’ll go find him and go fetch your bear.
This was Barry. A CPA from Wisconsin Rapids and the fourth bear hunter at camp. I haven’t hitchhiked since I was in high school. Forty years later I thumb for some rides in the remote reaches of Canada and score a lift from Cheeseheads. Go figure.
With my animal in Jon’s big walk-in freezer I walked back to the cabin and swapped my sweaty hunting clothes for gym shorts and a t-shirt. I popped an icy-cold Labatt Blue. Since Barry was heading out to hunt I gave him the following note to stick on Lawyer’s windshield.
As I was contemplating a second celebratory beverage Jon's truck rolled to a stop outside.
Get your boots and cammo back on. We’re heading back in the bush. Bro has a bear down, eh!
For the third time that day I found myself tearing and sliding down the back road. This time with Jon chain smoking and dust and gravel spitting everywhere.
Even though it was shot with a .50 caliber muzzle loader Bro’s bear required some tracking. No sooner had we recovered it Lawyer showed-up with the announcement that he shot one too.
And couldn’t find it.
This was an even bigger tracking job and Jon and I found ourselves crawling on all fours looking for a blood trail. Exceedingly small spots like this-
Here’s a friendly hunting tip: Shot with a firearm the fat in a bear’s anatomy will frequently plug the small wound channel left by a slug. Even though it might be mortally wounded the animal may travel further before expiring and leave a very sparse blood trail. All of which argues for an archery kill.
Cheeseheads in paradise.
Time to hit the lake!