Unforgetable moments hunting--- Prickly Ash
Just sitting here staring at the monitor in a daze and got to thinking about the things I miss about hunting, hell it's already been about a week since season ended!! First damn thing that pops into my head... "Prickly Ash"! Don't know if many of you folks are familiar with it but those that hunt parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota have probably had a little run in with the stuff.
At some point I'll get to talking about it and what to expect from an encounter.
Just this last fall I was up in the Eau Claire, Wisconsin area hunting with my lifelong friend, Randy Hoover. He's a little chunkier that when we were young but he's still a hoot to hunt with and has about the best success record for getting "eating deer" as anyone I know. This last year's opening morning started as normal, utter chaos and confusion, folks calling with lame excuses about why they'll be late, "forgot to get gas for the truck", "can't find my hunting boots", "realized I brought the wrong gun", etc, etc, and all from the same fella. Of course I've been ready for about an hour before the alarm starts going off (military training) and Randy rolls (yup, rolls) out of bed. He heads to the kitchen for a quick little snack to hold him through his morning cleanup ritual (imagine a Buddha statue shuffling along eating a handful of powdered donuts). About an hour into the morning ritual Gary shows up "Mr. I Forgot" and we get into our last little bit of hunting clothes, our Hunter Orange "pumpkin suits". I'm never quite sure where we'll hunt but this last little portion of the ritual gives the definite indication of the ultimate destination... if the pumpkin suit Randy selects has the legs frayed off just below the knees we're headed for the Prickly Ash... his favorite hunting spots. And on they go, faded, insulation and threads dangling, blaze orange hunting knickers. I now know we're off to hunt the islands on the Chippewa River, prickly ash territory.
Now those of you that haven't had the opportunity to hunt this stuff are probably thinking “what’s the big deal??” Well, it’s unexplainable I guess, perhaps a bit like falling into a prickly pear cactus patch on purpose, several times! One thing certain about hunting this stuff is that we won’t see many other hunters, not sane hunters anyway. The islands are a unique place, surrounded by farm country and crops of corn and soy beans they are safe havens for the deer, if they make it! We hook up the air boat and head down toward Meridean to put in at the boat landing and motor onto the far side of the island. Gary and I are not far from Randy, I have the GPS coordinates for the spot Randy has scouted as a likely crossing for the deer and Gary and Randy are in their pre-scouted places perhaps 300 yards from me. It’s a chilly morning and I stand for several long hours hearing a constant barrage of shots to the North-East, a corn field on the other side of the river. About 9 A.M. I hear what I figure to be a shot from Randy’s location, a muffled “boom-whump” followed by silence… a single shot from his area is a good sign, two or more shots means he’ll need help dragging the deer! About 10 A.M. I get the urge to take a poke into the thick cover and discover where the deer are hiding, so far I’ve resisted the urge and am casually parked on the edge of the thickets just 50 yards from the river. I check the GPS to ensure I have some method to get back to this same spot as I’ve traveled in the thickets before and had extended intervals of not knowing exactly where I was and didn’t want a repeat experience. I elect to head directly across the island as if I were heading back to the boat ramp knowing that I can then split the island in two and head or push deer toward Randy or Gary depending on conditions and deer sign. Into the brush I go, all is well initially and it brings back many memories of hunting these same areas as a kid (young, stupid kid), I expected to see a deer or two at any moment as I was very certain there were no other hunters anywhere near me, why would there be anyone here, they know better?? On I go, thicker and thicker it gets, I’m spending a good deal of time trying to keep from putting an eye out and nearly all the rest of the time reaching down or back for my hat, gloves, hood draw string or whatever else has been caught on a thorn. It’s easy to go slow in this stuff and it’s also easy to get a look around from the low-crawl position, what is not too easy is to back up or stop the bleeding. After about an hour of wandering around I decide I’ve had too much fun for one day and decide to get back to my original stand as I don’t want folks to know I've wandered off and left my “hand picked” hunting spot unattended. About 5 minutes into the return trip I notice I kept snagging my right boot on my left pant leg, I thought I was just a little tired from all the prickly ash wrestling and trudged on. It’s getting close to noon now and I’m sure I’m nearing my original location so I do a quick inventory to make sure I haven’t lost too much gear to the briars. What I also find during my inventory is that there were a few telltale signs that I have been “wandering about”. My new fleece hunting gloves are covered in burdock as is my stocking cap and brown meanies are also clinging to every place the prickly ash has ripped into my pumpkin suit…and that nagging snag I felt when I brought my right foot forward… I had ripped the seam out of the left leg on my coveralls and there was a good sized nest of burdock there too! Hurrying now, I get back and frantically sew up the leg of the coveralls (yup, I always carry needle and thread, surgical blade, flashlight, etc, etc), did a pretty good job of it too but it’s not “like new”. My hands are pretty cold at this point so I don the gloves and try picking burrdock off with the gloves on… bad idea as I’m just rearranging the burrdock and not getting any off… I opt for the animal version of burrdock removal, growling and biting but this isn’t much better than the previous method although I’m getting warmer!! About this time I hear the air boat start up and really panic, I gotta get to the river and be somewhat presentable when I arrive or have a damn good story. Hopping, growling, chewing and looking for deer along the way I make it to the river and see the boat in the distance. Randy is perched on the pedestal seat in the middle of the boat and looks like a candied apple on a short stick and he’s getting closer fast. Resigned to my fate I decide to casually stroll to the sand bar and await pickup knowing for certain I’d get a little “third degree” about the hunting spot and my appearance. As with most things the anticipation is worse than the actual event and when Randy pulled up he said nothing about my appearance, we chatted a while about the doe he’d shot earlier, had a sandwich and motored off to get Gary. Gary of course didn’t notice anything, he has the observational prowess of a ceramic toad, likeable but different. We hunted the rest of the season without returning to the opening day spot, spent some time “Up North” and hunted the prickly ash in several other places. I managed to kill two doe, one of which I gave to “Grumpy” (another story by itself) and Randy also killed another doe for a total of four for us, not a record season but better than many this year. As I was packing up to come home to Maryland Randy mentioned his “perpetual yard sale” (a normal thing in that area) and thought that my now badly scarred hunting coveralls would probably sell for a few bucks but wouldn’t be able to make it another hunting year on me. He also said he felt a bit sorry about opening day… said he was pretty sure he had marked my stand well enough so that I could have found it without getting turned around and ending up in the prickly ash in the dark…. Made me feel kinda bad but I was off the hook on that fiasco!!! What to do next year??
[ 01-19-2004: Message edited by: Dave King ]