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I was recently inspired by Katie Dog’s “letter to me” blog post. And as I’ll be graduating less than two weeks from now, I thought it would be fun to write my take on the subject as an outdoorsman. If I, as a senior leaving UW Madison, could write a letter and send it to myself as an incoming freshman, what would I say? What outdoors advice would I give myself? Well, here goes.

Rule #1: Stay up on your studies so that when you get that last push of mallards with that late November cold snap, you're in the marsh, not the lecture hall.

Dear Mitch,

I know you’re pretty nervous about moving to Madison. This will be your first time living in a city bigger than 5,000 people. You’ll have to hear sirens more than once a week and gone are the days of waking up to fresh meadow air and songbirds. But as daunting as it will be to move to the city where concrete, instead of ferns and jackpines, seems to grow at every turn, you’ll be just fine. Sure, you’ll miss the outdoors and nature, but if you figure out where to look, you’ll find there’s more to the the city than meets the eye. Here’s my advice to help ease your transition and fulfill your outdoors void. The sooner you figure this stuff out, the happier you’ll be:

  • You’re not alone! I know it seems like campus is full of Coasties, hippies, athletes, and trust-fund babies, but you’re not alone, here. There are plenty of kids on campus just like you. They grew up in the country, they’re down-to-earth, and some of them (wait for it) even like to hunt and fish (gasps!). Don’t be afraid to wear a camo hat to the football game. Don’t be afraid to chew on a toothpick as you walk down State Street. And on the first day of class, when you’re doing ice-breakers and introductions, be sure to say you enjoy the outdoors. By expressing the fact that you like hunting and fishing, even on a “liberal” campus like UW Madison, you will meet more people who feel the same way as you than you will people you’ll alienate. Be proud, don’t hide behind the fact that you’re an outdoorsman!

 

  • Be active in your student groups. This kind of goes with the first nugget of knowledge, but no matter what campus you’re on, there’ll be  students with similar interests as you. Check out the listing of student organizations or clubs; you’ll be surprised to find both an active  hunting and fishing club on campus! And even if there isn’t one, don’t be afraid to start one up. When you’re a senior you’ll realize how rewarding it was to be a founding member of UW’s Ducks Unlimited chapter that raised over $30,000 for wetland conservation.  So take full advantage of the clubs and organizations on campus. They’re great for socializing, networking, and sometimes, it’ll be nice to just talk with fellow outdoorsmen! In fact, you might be surprised, but four years down the road you’ll realize that most of your good friends from college were made through your participation in the Badger Hunting Club. You’ll look back and figure out that some of your best memories were from meeting new people, sharing a duck blind with them, and then racing back to campus to catch your 9:55 stats lecture. The people and experiences you’ll make in your student orgs will last a lifetime.

 

  • I sure won't remember all the classes I went to, but I'll always cherish the times I spent with friends in the duck blind.

    Skip more class. I can hear the collective groan from Mom and Dad from here. I know, I know, “you’re paying big bucks for that education.” I know, I know, “you’ve got the rest of your life to hunt; you’re at school to learn.” Trust me, I’ve heard ’em all, so please, spare me the time. But after I’ve been through the four-year gauntlet I like to consider the best college in the world,  I look at it this way: at the end of the day, you’re at school for an experience, not just an education. You’re here to learn AND enjoy yourself. To me, as long as you’re staying up on your studies, there’s no reason that when there’s that first stiff northwest wind, snow flurries, and slate skies that you should be cooped up, sitting in a packed lecture hall. So make sure you stay up on your homework so that when the opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to hit the marsh. Trust me, in ten years you won’t be able to tell me what the statistical variance of a binomial distribution means, but you’ll sure remember the time you and your three best friends were picking up decoys and had a flock of 50 mallards pitch in. After tripping and filling your waders in an attempt to get back to the blind, you manage to call and break off a part of the flock and watch as your buddy drop his first banded mallard drake. Now that’s something you won’t soon forget.

 

  • Introduce more people to hunting. I’m going to be brutally honest here, Mitch, when you first come to school, you’re kind of a selfish hunter. Your only concern is personally getting out hunting. That’s it. And, I guess I can’t really blame you, you’re still in the process of adapting to college life and use hunting as a crutch. But the sooner you realize there’s more to hunting than personally pulling a trigger, the happier you’ll be. Looking back, I’m proud that I eventually figured it out, I just wish you would have become a better advocate earlier. Don’t wait until your last two seasons to take that buddy out who’s never duck hunted before. Teach your room-mate how to go ice fishing during your freshman year–not your junior. And be a mentor in the Learn to Hunt program before you turn 22. It’s these things that will make you a more well-rounded  hunter, student, and person.

 

  • Enjoy the time you have here, it goes by quickly. This is probably the most important one of them all. These four years will fly by, Mitch, so don’t sit on the sidelines. Get out there, get your hands dirty, and enjoy the precious few years you have here. Make friends, teach your buddy something new about turkey hunting, and skip a few classes chasing mallards. Write papers on the history of bow hunting and wear your camo proudly to class. At the end of this four-year ride that real world will still be waiting for you but the opportunities to schedule all of your senior year classes so that you can duck hunt every morning will not. In a few years your hunting buddies will be scattered across the country working in political offices, selling life insurance, or being a doctor, so take the time to invite everyone over and throw some venison on the grill. Mitch, in four years you’ll realize this, but college is a lot like duck season: for as fun as it is, it’s over in the blink of an eye. So don’t miss out on it.

Sincerely,

Mitch

Well guys, I got a little bored today. I recorded a couple tracks of myself using Wayne Betts’ Treehugger acrylic duck call and layed them on top of each other. After I added a track of some splashing water to the background, the result sounds (to me, at least) like a flooded refuge full of mallards. I put together a little slide show with some hunting and duck calling pictures and videos from the past couple years to go with it, too. Let me know what you think!

Mitch Larson

 
Ted Nugent–one of the great musicians and hunting advocates of our time.

We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s our fifth day in a row of waking up at 3:30am to go hunting. We’re tired, we’re beat, and we have to drag ourselves out of bed. And despite how much we love hunting, we’re tempted to just throw in the towel and say, “screw it, I’m going back to bed.” But, at the end of the day, we’re crazy and even though we’re sleep deprived and sore, we put on our pot of coffee and will ourselves into out truck and drive to our favorite hunting grounds or boat launch.

Sometimes though, even though we willed our way into going hunting, our heart may not be completely in it. It’s times like these we need a little pick-me-up. So I’ve put together a list of my top ten songs to listen to on the drive out there to re-light my fire and get me amped to be back in the wild.

10) Backwoods Boy–Josh Turner Just a good ol’ song about 11 inch tines and the simple pleasures that hunters are lucky enough to experience every day. The deep, smooth voice of Turner singing about the backwoods just seems right to me, as well.

9) Country Boy–Aaron Lewis 

Need help remembering who you are? Need a song to help put everything into perspective? Country Boy by Aaron Lewis fits that bill for me. Lewis, the lead singer of the band Staind sings this awesome acoustic song about being true to your roots and realizing that being a country boy and hunting aint that bad, afterall. And who can’t agree with the following line from the song? “My idea of heaven is chasing whitetail bucks.” Yeah, that’s what I thought.

8 ) Simple Man–Lynyrd Skynyrd 

There’s no real need for words with this iconic song by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Just follow the advice that Momma told you when you were young. There’s no shame in being a simple man and enjoying the simple things in life–hunting included.

7) Mossy Oak–Tracy Byrd 

A good country song about hunting and “loving this land and passing it on.” These are words we should all live by when hunting and spending time in the outdoors. Take someone new with you into the field and pass on this tradition that we love.

6) The Band Hunters–Walt Gabbard

 Maybe not the best set of vocals on this list, but its message and riff definitely make up for it. This song is an example of everything that duck hunters are: gritty, honest, true to tradition, and dedicated. If you’re a duck hunter, you owe it to yourself to listen to this song.  For me, this song really hits close to home: “there’s really no explanation why we are the way we are. All I can say is this is what I love.” Amen to that, Walt. Amen.

5) I Want it All–Queen 

Doesn’t inherently have anything to do with hunting, but there’s no better cure when you’re tired and groggy than blasting some Queen at 4:30 in the morning as you drive down that old dirt road. And besides, when you draw your bow on that heavy 12 pointer at 30 yards, you better be thinking that you “want it all.”

4) For Those About to Rock–AC/DC 

I literally could have picked almost any AC/DC song to include on this list. If throwing in a cd of AC/DC doesn’t get your blood pumping in the morning, you might now not have a pulse. And I like to think of hunting as my “rocking” out. When I leave the boat launch in the morning for a duck hunt, I like to think of myself as “rocking at dawn on the front line” as AC/DC would say. So here’s to you my fellow hunters: I salute you!

Hank Williams Jr's Country Boy can survive is one of the most iconic songs on my Top Hunting Songs list.

3) A Country Boy Can Survive–Hank Williams Jr

Like Simple Man, this song needs no explaining. If you can skin a buck or run a trot line (or even if you know what those things are) this song should resonate with you. And there’s nothing like starting your day by listening to ol’ Hank Jr tell it the way it is. This song is a classic that I always listen to on the way to the hunt.

2) Echo Theme Song–Theron Woods 

This song is personally my favorite hunting song of all time. Hands down. The riff is perfect for a duck hunting song, the lyrics are awesome, and Theron’s voice is a perfect match to the song. But to me,  it’s the lyrics that make it so good. Everything that is duck hunting is encompassed into this song. “True to tradition like the ones who came before me,” what a great tribute to those who introduced us to such an amazing sport. When I’m missing duck season, I constantly find myself returning to this video. Watch it, you won’t be disappointed.

1) Fred Bear–Ted Nugent 

And there you have it, folks. My number one hunting song is none other than Fred Bear by Uncle Teddy. It was a close call between this and Theron Wood’s, but ultimately, the Nug came out on top. This song captures the essence and spirituality of the hunt while paying respect to one of the great fathers of hunting traditions. No matter how I’m feeling on my way to the hunt, the song aways comes up on my playlist.

And that concludes my top ten hunting songs of all time. I hope you enjoyed the list. If you have any other favorites, comment below and let me know. I want to hear what you think; I’m always in the mood to listen to new hunting songs!

Mitch Larson

The savy waterfowler knows that, even as turkeys are gobbling and walleyes biting, spring is an important time to start training your retriever.

As much as I hate to concede it, the duck season is still a long five months away. Ouch. That hurt to say. It’s been five months since I’ve swung my Beretta on its final mallard of the season and it’s been five long months since I’ve heard the tell-tale hiss of wings against a late-season gale.

But while you focus on how long it’s been since you’ve enjoyed the duck blind, remember that it’s been that long for one of your favorite hunting buddies, too.

Yes. I’m talking about your dog.

It’s easy to forget about training as the snow piles up in the winter and duck season seems a light-years away, but now, once spring returns, it’s the perfect time to begin your dog’s training regiment again. I don’t care how naturally talented your dog is, nobody can expect to “train” their dog for a week before the duck season and have them at 100%. Training and working with your dog should be a 365 day a year activity. Not only does it help your dog grow as a retriever, but it helps you to grow closer with your dog, establishing the trust between each other that is pivotal in the marsh.

I’ve put together a list of tips to remember as you and your retriever brush off the dust and begin your spring training.

Continue Reading »

 
After a long hiatus from talking about waterfowl, I think it’s time for a little revisit. We are now in the midst of the great northward migration and the time is perfect to go out and do some waterfowl bird-watching. True, people associate the return of spring more with the arrival of robins than they do mallards, but for the outdoorsman who truly appreciates the beauty of waterfowl, now is the time to hit the marshes.

Spring is often the only chance midwesterners have to see blue-winged teal in their beautiful breeding plumage.

Duck hunters north of the Mason Dixon Line rarely get the opportunity to see ducks in their complete breeding regalia. Often, when waterfowl pass through in the fall they have yet to assume their entire breeding colorations. Waterfowl of all species molt their feathers away in summer and begin growing new ones right afterword. Their goal is to have their brightly–and often beautiful–features complete by the beginning of courting and breeding season which falls in late winter and early spring. Unfortunately, this means by the time these ducks gain all their colors and unique patterns, they’re often in the southern parts of the US, Mexico, or Central America.

What this means for Midwestern duck hunters is that the spring is usually their only opportunity to see fully plumed-out waterfowl as they return north to nest. This rings especially true for early migrating species like blue wing teal and northern shovelers. Besides seeing these species in the spring, Midwestern duck hunters rarely get the opportunity during the hunting season to experience their brilliant colorations and patterns.

So now that you’ve decided to go out and do some bird watching, take the same approach as you would to hunting. Scout out places with a lot of bird activity, wear your camouflage, and arm yourself–with a camera that is. And, if I can, I even like to set up a blind to help me get as close to these beautiful ducks as possible.

Getting close and studying these birds in a setup where you’re not hunting them is a very rewarding experience. Not only does it give you a unique perspective and appreciation for these birds, but it’s a great opportunity to study the behaviors and tendencies of relaxing birds. Study how they react to other birds, focus on the sounds they make and the cadences they call, pay attention to how their body language changes based on what other ducks are using. Not only is it just fun to watch these beautiful ducks in their natural, relaxed state, but it’s advantageous to the duck hunter to better understand how ducks behave in order to hunt them more effectively in the fall.

So this weekend take the time to dust off that old duck camo, find your old binoculars and camera, and head out to your local marsh. Trust me; you won’t be sorry you did.

Just a brief report, here. I haven’t been to the Wolf in a week, so this is all information that I’ve gathered from other reliable people and sources.

It appears that the Wolf’s flood waters are finally beginning to recede. While still above flood stage, the discharge levels being being reported in New London have dropped down from 9220 (from last Saturday) to 7320 cubic feet per second, today. Gage levels have fallen, as well, and are now only a few inches above the flood stage levels. Still, the water is high compared to previous years and boaters should excercise caution while on the water.

And as the water levels continue to drop, water temperatures continue to plummet, as well. Cold temperatures, freezing rain, and up to eight inches of recent snow accumulation in the Wolf River watershed have helped push water temps down. According to data by the USGS in New London, as of noon today, water temps for the Wolf were only about 40 degrees. As snow in the area melts off and drains, combined with colder than average temperatures, I wouldn’t be surprised if it dips a little lower before warming up this weekend with more pleasant temperatures.

For anyone that’s interested in watching the sturgeon spawn, this cold water is definitely going to put a halt on any spawning activity for at least a week, and maybe longer. But when the water does start hitting that magic temperature range of 52-55 degrees,  watching the sturgeon spawn at Bamboo Bend in Shiocton or on the Sturgeon River Trail near New London is an awesome experience.

As far as walleye fishing goes, reports are out that the females are done spawning and are making their way back down stream. Logical sense would predict that within the next few days males will be easier to come by as they begin moving en mass down stream, as well.

Plastics like this Ringworm can be a valuable tool for Wolf River walleyes.

As fish continue to get swept downstream in the strong currents, look for walleyes in the fifteen foot depth range. Drifting helps locate active fish and guys are catching fish on both live bait and plastics, as well. If plastics is the route you’re looking to take, consider Gulp! Minnows, ringworms, or twister tails. As always, I tend to suggest brighter colored baits in the turbid waters of the Wolf.

I would imagine fish will continue to head back downstream for the next week or so, but as more walleyes continue to ride the current back into Poygan and the Butte, that good fishing will start following them downstream, too. Even then, there will still be plenty of walleyes that are either local to the up-river portions of the Wolf or that are just a little tardy coming out of the marshes for fisherman to catch north of Freemont. And as water temps (hopefully) rise in the upcoming weeks, fisherman can begin looking forward to the annual white bass spawning run up the Wolf as well.

Good fishing,

Mitch Larson

Well, it’s now Tuesday and that means Wisconsin’s turkeys are entering the second of  their two-day reprieve from hunting pressure.

First things first, as many of you who were out this past week probably realize, the weather played a huge role in the success (or not-success) of this first season. From what I could tell by my personal observations and through talking with fellow hunters from across the state, turkey activity right now is probably about 10-14 days behind where is usually is this time of the year.

The weather has been extremely volatile with superb conditions for the Learn to Hunt program and youth season the past two weeks followed by a return to winter-ish weather patterns. I’m no rocket scientist but it’s safe to say that these dramatic weather shifts have had significant impacts on how birds are responding.

With Wisconsin’s second season to start tomorrow, I expect more of the same. Today much of the state once again saw freezing rain, wind, and in many places, snow accumulation. Wednesday is expected to bring little in the arena of improvement with a high in the upper 30’s. Hunters, though, should catch a break as temperatures begin to rise into the upper 50’s and lower 60’s over the weekend.

I’m going to predict that Wisconsin’s second season will present, in the same manner as the first season, some difficult challenges for Wisconsin turkey hunters. This may be the year that missing out on the first or second season in Wisconsin’s turkey draw was actually a blessing in disguise. As weather begins heading towards more normal conditions, expect breeding activities to be on the rise and for toms to be more visible. With this, ultimately, should come better hunting results.

Mitch Larson