The Back 40

Click here to edit subtitle

The Back 40

view:  full / summary

The Real King Of The Forest By John A. Hallock

Posted on July 1, 2015 at 12:30 PM Comments comments (35)

   That’s the one thing about being a woodsman; you spend a lot of time in the woods. You observe plants, animals, clouds, and experience odors, usually coming from you, But there is also crisp air mixed with the scent of pine or sweet fern. All these observations and experiences are what form your educated opinion.

   For instance, I’ve surely learned big bucks are one of the cleverest forest creatures, and sadly, man is one of the dumbest (see empty beer cans along roads, bullet holes in road signs, and group ATVing on hot, dusty back roads. Those people have to be washing dirt out of their ears until Christmas).

   I’ve also learned Blue Jays have a huge vocabulary of voice sounds and can imitate the songs of other birds. They are also fierce fighters when it comes to protecting their nests from larger birds (crows, hawks) or raiding other bird’s nests themselves.

   And then there’s the baddest guy in the woods, who is also king of the squirrels, even though he’s a little guy. And yes, he does have a little guy complex. I’ve never seen a red squirrel back down from a fight, especially from the much bigger gray squirrel. In fact, I watch in wonder as red squirrels chase the grays relentlessly. Up and down the tree trunks as fast as they can go. In fact, it’s like the grays are literally running for their lives. Turns out it’s worse.

   When in the woods where does one go for reliable advice on almost anything? Our own resident old-timer know-it-alls and dump attendant Andy Andrews himself. I asked him if he knew why it seems the much larger gray squirrels were so terrified of the reds as to run as fast as they can to get away from them.

   “That’s easy,” he said through a smile. “The grays know if the red gets close enough it will bite his nads clean off. You’d run too I expect.”

   Yikes! I expect I would. And if that doesn’t prove the red squirrel is the baddest guy in the woods I don’t know who it could be.

   “Of course then,” the old timer continued, “there’s the owl hatchling who will eat its own nest mates if it gets too hungry.”

   We have a winner.

The Ironic Sportsman By John A. Hallock

Posted on June 22, 2015 at 8:15 PM Comments comments (0)

   “They’ say love makes the world go around. I don’t agree, not if ‘they’ are a sportsman like me. It’s irony. That’s right irony makes the world go around.

   Here’s a perfect example if ‘they’ are both fishermen and hunters. Who isn’t? It goes like this; June is all but over which means in this neck of the woods there are only 3 ½ or 4 months of open water fishing left until freeze up. The time will fly by. At the same time there is 3 ½ to 4 months left until really, really good deer hunting, first with bow and then with rifle and black powder. That time will barely drag. It means days will tick off fast and slow at the same time. Irony.

   But that’s surely not the only irony in my life. It is also ironic that in our house deer season also happens to be chore season. Deer season means bringing home meat for winter but chore season means insulating the attic for winter. That means food or heat, together, at the same time. Ironic.

   The real dilemma for a bow hunter comes when his wife has other ideas for his time than hunting on a cold November morning. He can stay home in a warm bed with her, or go bow hunting in a cold stand for a big buck. What it boils down to is dear hunting or deer hunting, either way he both wins and loses. Now that’s what I call, the ironic sportsman.

Diving For Trout By John A. Hallock

Posted on June 22, 2015 at 8:10 PM Comments comments (0)

    It happened a long time ago, right after we got married and moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin. That would be about 33 years ago, give or take. I was already an avid trout fisherman. The La Crosse area has many beautiful trout streams crisscrossing what they call the Coulee Region and most with public access.

   I was going to a stream I had discovered the week before in a place called Timber Coulee. It is know for the clear water, high banks, and big fish. My wife Lori was coming along. I could hardly wait … really. I thought it was great she wanted to learn how to trout fish … really. I could teach her a technique or two. I explained a few, the Squat Trot Technique and the Bow and Arrow Technique and others.

   We drove the road along the stream until we found a designated fence crossing. We parked the car and crossed over 100 yards of cow pasture and neared the edge of an 8 foot sand bank along the stream. It was a beautiful day out in the countryside. There was chirping birds, blue sky, a few fluffy white clouds, and a high sun. And best of all, there were no other fishermen in sight. This was a wonderful place to fish.

   At first we were careful not to get too close and let our shadows cross over the water and spook the fish. It was lesson number one. We spoke in hushed tones, even whispers and when we were finally rigged we began to move ever so carefully, step by step, toward the edge. There are no sudden moves in trout fishing. This was important and something I should tell her before she busted some kind of fast move and spooked the fish. To a real trout fisherman there is NO excuse for fast moves.

   I stopped short to say something but she didn’t, stop I mean, and ran right into me. And since I was walking so carefully I may have been a little off balance as she knocked me ahead two full steps. Unfortunately the bank edge was only one step away and I plunged “ass over tea kettle” down into the stream, rod, reel, creel, new boots, and special fishing hat with hand tied flies stuck into it for good luck.

   One second I’m high and dry showing off my adept sports agility, and the next I’m sitting in a cold stream sputtering, splashing, and swearing. When I looked up at her I figured she’d be concerned. But she was laughing, and laughing, and laughing.

   “Hey,” she hollered down at me. “How is that not spooking the fish? Or is that what you call, ‘The Diving For Trout’ Technique?”

   Really …

The Price Is Right Buck By John A Hallock

Posted on June 15, 2015 at 6:40 PM Comments comments (0)

   For a hunter or fisherman rain should mean, “get out there!” It doesn’t matter if you’re a deer hunter sitting in a cold November downpour or a bass fisherman casting to spawn beds through a misty June shower. Rain signals movement to game. ‘Up and at ‘em.’

   Rain signals movement to sportsmen too. Unfortunately, it is movement in the wrong direction. They always head indoors. It could be a warm woodstove, or an empty bar stool, or even a tent with a floor and a cot. They’ll add food, drink, and a cribbage board and usually be done for the day.

   While they’re counting 15s the big buck they’ve been seeing in night photos on trail cameras is finally out during the day and standing 15 yards from their stand.

   In fact, true story, it happened to my brother Bill. It was a chilly day, a little rainy and November. The rut! He’d gotten to his stand before dawn. But by around 10:00 he was cold, wet, and hungry.

   He decided to take an hour break. He’d get something to eat and some warm, dry clothes. He walked the short distance from his stand to home. He dried out and ate a sandwich from his couch while he watched The Price Is Right on TV.

   Right after the last Show Down he was out and on his way back to his stand. Hours later when the uneventful day was over he picked up the card from his trail camera and went home. When he looked at his photos he saw the only deer that passed his stand all day was a big 10-point buck while he was home watching The Price Is Right.

   This, of course, is proof positive the old saying, “You can’t shoot a deer from your couch,” is true. But then, it also disproves another old saying. If you’re a hunter or fisherman have enough sense to go out INTO the rain, because The Price Is Right Buck is waiting for you, too.

Doing The Jitter Bug By John A. Hallock

Posted on June 14, 2015 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (0)

I know a man, a neighbor, and friend who once caught a hellacious large mouth bass on our little wilderness lake. It measured at least 26 or 27 inches long in laymen’s terms. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, he caught it on the surface, over a weed bed. 

His was the only boat on the backwoods lake at the time he made the long arcing cast and began a slow retrieve. The swimming bait, a black Jitter Bug, cut a perfect V in the flat lake surface. He would stop his retrieve every few feet and twitch the lure slightly, then let it sit quiet for a count or two. It wasn’t but a few seconds after the second or third twitch when the big brute hit the sitting lure like a pig in a splash, and then leaped straight into the air trying to pick up slack in the line. But the old fisherman was ready and so very experienced at fighting big bass. He set up hard. It pulled all the slack out of the line and sank the hook into the hard cartilage of the fish’s mouth.

This beast, with gaping jaws, black stripes, and the girth of a linebacker walked on its tail across the lily pads before it dropped back into the water and dove deep into the weeds. The fight of a lifetime was at hand for both the fish and the fisherman.

It took him until almost dark, fighting with a bucking rod, to get the tangle of weeds at the end of his line all the way back to the boat. When he pulled away the last piece of cabbage, he reached down into the dark water, grabbed that big bucket mouth by the jaw and hoisted it into his boat.

He held the dripping bass up in front of him. Oh what a fish it was, long and fat. He took a good long look, then lowered the fish over the side of the boat and released it. He never took a photo and never talked about that big bass. The only reason I know about it is I saw it all happen. I had just pulled my boat off the lake and into the brush along the shore to get out and pee in the woods. When he showed up out in the bay I stayed quiet and watched. When the fight was over I got back into my boat I followed him back to the dock. I was tired, thirsty, and bug bitten. I tied up my boat, grabbed my tackle, and ran down the dock to shore.

“What’s your hurry?” he shouted at me from the next dock over.

“I gotta’ get to the bait shop,” I yelled. “I’m clean out of Jitter Bugs.”

It's Never Enough By John A. Hallock

Posted on June 13, 2015 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

  Years ago while our girls were growing up my wife and I enrolled them into a Karate self defense class. We figured just a little info would teach them the basics of self-defense and give them a little confidence. Wow! It worked. I’d strongly suggest everyone do this for any child. These shy, bashful girls ended up getting brown belts. I asked one of them what she learned and how she would take out an attacker? When I reached to put my hands around her neck she moved quickly, grabbed hold of the front of my shirt, stuck out a hip, and threw me to the ground in front of her like I was a big bass on the end of her stringer. Then she looked down at me and said, “I can break a man’s thumb if I have too. Do you want to see that?”

   One of the things we told our girls before they left home in the woods and went to school in the Twin Cities is if they ever find themselves in a situation where they wondered if it was time to use their Karate, it was time to use their Karate.

   It’s the same with a fisherman who may confide in a fishing buddy, “I really wonder if I have enough fishing equipment to be successful?” The answer is easy, if you have to ask, you don’t have near enough fishing equipment. Start with rods, a half dozen or more of them, and several of the new lures. At least it’s a start.

   I pity the bow hunter who asks, “Do I have enough arrows?” NO! I mean would a hunter ask if he had to many hunting knives? The answer being, of course, again, NO!

   Hey guys, this outdoor sports is important stuff. You need all the equipment you can get your hands on. I remember reading a story by the great writer, Patrick McManus. Where he observed, to the effect, that a hunter was home free to purchase more guns when he asked his wife if he can buy a new rifle and she answered, “Are you kidding me? Just how many rifles do you already have?”

   Remember, if you have ask, you don’t have enough. Now pass me a couple more of those new Jitter Bugs. And watch your thumbs when you’re around bashful, innocent looking coeds.

Wag The Tail By John A. Hallock

Posted on June 13, 2015 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

   Of all the great Wisconsin campfire tales one of the best is about the young woman wearing red nail polish who dangled her toes in the water at the end of the dock. Of course, the story goes, the red polish attracted a fish. A big fish. It was a musky with long, sharp teeth and a bad attitude about the color red. Sort of like a bull. I myself have caught many a northern pike, large and toothy. I have never caught a musky. And such was the case of a guy I know in a bar.

  “That story is hog wash,” he’d tell anyone who ever brought it up. “I ain’t ever caught a musky either. If I thought for a minute all I had to do to get one is paint my toe nails red I’d be painting them.”

  Now, when he said this, we were in a place called the Lone Pine Bar, Grill, and Organic Garden Supple Center out on Coon Dog Road. They have a catchy slogan too. Cold Beer, Juicy Burgers, and Hoes.

  Anyway, you could see the light bulbs going on over the heads of several fishermen in the crowd.

  Well Sir the next day several of those same guys decided they could afford to sacrifice a couple of toes for a big musky and were seen down at the lake sitting at the end of the docks painting their toe nails red.

  Well Sir, again, none of them caught a fish which prompted the local game warden to smile and observe, “I’m sure glad those boys never heard the old campfire tale about the skinny dipping pike fisherman they called, ‘Squeaky. ‘”

Plenty of Time By John A. Hallock

Posted on June 13, 2015 at 5:05 PM Comments comments (0)

  With the dusk came a silence that covered the deep forest like a blanket. Not a warm comfortable cover but one that brought dark shadows and cold. By this time of day the hunter was chilled to the bone and he squirmed in his place. Oh how he was cold. Just ten more minutes of shooting light left, or less if he left now. No! A buck hunter never leaves the stand early no matter how cold he is. Ten minutes. He could do it, though his fingers ached and his toes were numb. His nose was running and his teeth chattered. Ten more minutes. Yes he could make that he told himself again and again. Ten more minutes. Plenty of time. For this was it, the witching hour for a cold bow hunters. Light was fading. Dusk was growing. The time was nearing. Ten more minutes. He could make it … he hoped.

  That’s when he heard the snap of a twig and the sound of heavy foot falls moving through the leaves on the ground. Something was coming along the trail 30 yards down hill of his blind. Something big. Ten more minutes. His finger wrapped around the bowstring. He licked his lips when he spotted the tall, wide rack of antlers moving above the underbrush. The bowstring came back. His muscles bulged. The buck stepped into clear view. He took a breath and let go.

  The arrow sliced through the dusky light and hit the big buck with a “thwack” just a few inches behind the shoulder. It was a killing shot. The buck lurched forward and crashed into the underbrush. Ten more minutes he thought. Ten minutes to gut and drag it back to his camp. Ten more minutes. Plenty of time.