Category Archives: On Wisconsin Outdoors

On Wisconsin Outdoors: Snow Scraping Buck

Just a Coincidence or a New Tactic?
Snow Scraping Buck on Opening Day

By: Jim Servi

Every fall, big bucks visit scrapes throughout my hunting area, but almost always at night. Daytime visits most likely consist of a quick scent check and then on to the next, without triggering the trail camera. There is one exception. Immediately after a snowfall, bucks tend to visit scrapes during the day. Thinking it was just a coincidence, I didn’t make the connection until the 2016 Gun Deer Season.

Walking into my stand on Opening Day, a light snow covered the ground. Fresh wolf tracks, made just hours before, sent a shiver through my body. After climbing into the sanctuary of my tree stand, darkness was just beginning to give way to the morning light. Gusts of wind were already forecasting the high winds to come. This stand is a special place for me and I generally only hunt it this one time of year. Like many young hunters, I went through my share of struggles in my early years, missing bucks that still haunt my memories. This stand was different though. Hunting it since 2009, I didn’t see a lot of deer, but the ones I did were often bucks, and my aim was always true.

Light now filled the entire woods and I found familiarity in the landscape. A gradual, downward slope leading to a thick swamp was my facing view, mostly hardwoods, but sprinkled with hemlocks. On the sugar maple ridge behind me, I saw a flash. Two does had come out of the swamp and disappeared. Suddenly, three more does appeared in front of me, uneasy from the wind. They lingered. I had already seen more does this morning, than the previous two years hunting this location. Trying to stir something up, I hit my grunt call. Suddenly, there was another deer at the base of my tree. A little nub buck was trying to figure out where that noise came from. All morning they came and went, but no bucks. Finally, in the early afternoon, they departed and so did I. My wife’s delicious Opening Day chili was waiting.

Warm and full, I made my way back out to the stand, taking a different approach, making sure to stay clear of the bedding area to the south. That unknowingly turned out to be a good decision. Settled back in, the wind was still swirling, but the deer activity had slowed. It was now mid-afternoon. Suddenly, I heard a noise behind me. I slowly turned. Cleaning the snow out of a scrape, all I could see of the buck was his long tines protruding into the hemlock branches above. I got ready, hoping he would continue towards me. Satisfied that his scrape was refreshed, he stepped out from behind the tree, a perfect shot.

Rushing to the spot, I could see it was a good hit. A short tracking job and there he was. The largest buck I had ever seen hunting was now the largest buck I had ever harvested.

Always curious, I backtracked his tracks in the snow. The scrape near me was the last of a half dozen scrapes he cleared out that afternoon, leading back to his bed in the area I avoid, just south of my stand. Little things matter when you are hunting and the route to my stand made all the difference that day. What about the snow? Was it just a coincidence that it had snowed the night before, covering the scrape? Or had he come to clear them out because of the snow? Days later, there was another hot scrape cleared out during the middle of the day after another snowfall. Trail cam pictures from past years confirmed the same. Maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe there was something to it. Either way, I know where I’ll be sitting after the first fresh snow this year.

To read the latest copy of On Wisconsin Outdoors, please visit  the On Wisconsin Outdoors website.

First Published in On Wisconsin Outdoors on November 1, 2017.

On Wisconsin Outdoors: May/June 2017 Product 6-Pack

Product 6-Pack
Fishing in full swing, trying to tag a late season turkey, or just taking it easy

Turkey on a Stick
You may have seen the video and if you haven’t – take a look. A big gobbler is slowly trailing some hens, that are clearly not interested, through a field. Calling doesn’t get his attention. Finally, the hunter emerges behind a Jake decoy and the gobbler goes crazy. Defending his territory, the big Tom runs to chase the competition away. But the hunter is waiting and they are in for some close, quick action. I was skeptical at first but this product really works and brings a whole new excitement level to turkey hunting. ($48.45)
primos.com

Crazy Creek Comfort Chair
This one comes from a friend who spends every waking minute in the outdoors. “What took me years to figure out was how awesome a sitting pad is,” was his advice. Perfect for making all your outdoor activities more comfortable, plus you can use it for taking in a ball game this summer. Easy to carry handles, light at 783 grams, and foam padding to insulate you and make hard surfaces more comfortable. Quick release buckets for multiple back angles. Available in multiple sizes and configurations. ($29.50)
crazycreek.com

 

Irish Setter 2870 Vaprtrek Waterproof Boots
Perfect combination of UltraDry waterproof lining and synthetic material over leather for waterproof, yet breathable boots. That means you can practically use them year-round for all your outdoor adventures. Even utilizes ScentBan scent control and Realtree Camouflage. Ankle-high at 8-inches weighing 1.3 pounds. ArmaTac Toe Protection saves you the pain of stubbed toes. Rubber soles. Great reviews on price/value, comfort, and fit. ($106.35-$149.99)
irishsetterboots.com

Mepps Musky Flashabou
Musky fishermen are always looking for the edge and this just might be it to hook your trophy this year. Increase hook-ups and decrease thrown hooks with a holographic flashabou tail tied around two solid treble hooks on a split-ring assembly. Spinners designed to cast a larger profile to attract fish from long distances. Single and double blade configurations available. Both blade and tail come in 10 different color combination to match any fishing situation. ($25.20)
mepps.com

Live Target Swimbait series
Newly designed, the level of innovation in these lures is impressive. Seven freshwater species from yellow perch to gizzard shad are designed to replicate the movement of that particular species with precise internal weight systems and customized tails. Extremely detailed coloring. Dorsal fins are positioned to acts as a weed guard. The realism is unbelievable. This lure is a solid addition to any tackle box. ($9.99-$18.99)
livetargetlures.com

Siberian Cooler’s Alpha series
Started only recently, this company is dedicated to creating coolers that meet the needs of outdoorsmen. It looks like they accomplished that with this series. Cooler walls are made with up to 2.75 inches of insulation to keep your food and beverages chilled or preserve your hard-earned game. Latches were carefully designed with anodized aluminum to withstand harsh environments, yet open and close with ease. Four sizes – 22, 45, 65, and 85 quarts. Lifetime warranty. ($159.99-$349.99)
siberiancoolers.com

First published in On Wisconsin Outdoors on May 1, 2017

On Wisconsin Outdoors: Birding Continues Growing in Popularity

Birding Continues Growing in Popularity
Searching for Wisconsin’s Most Unique Birds

Birding continues to grow in popularity around the United States with an estimated 85 million Americans taking advantage of the popular outdoor activity. Interest ranges from keeping a life list of birds and travelling to find new species to those that like to feed wild birds in their yards. Wisconsinites are lucky with over 400 different species recorded and an abundance of viewing opportunities in every corner of the state. We also host some very unique birds.

Photo Credit: International Crane Foundation

Birding is a natural outdoor hobby for those that hunt, fish, and camp throughout Wisconsin because you are already near the best locations. My interest was sparked by my uncle Mark, who teaches in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, and just notched his 500th bird. Started in 2002, my list of 269 birds, spanning 11 countries and 17 states, has many more adventures to go to match that lofty feat.

For anyone interested in great birding opportunities Mark had this to say, “I’d mention Wyalusing State Park as a place to visit. I also saw a Western Tanager and Harris’s Sparrow at the same time in Gay Mills in Crawford County, along with both cuckoos. Willets and Avocets were two rare sightings for me at Wyalusing beach. Thayer’s and Iceland Gulls in Milwaukee County were biggies for me as well.” Definitely some great places to explore and near the top of my list. To find the most unique Wisconsin birds, it will take some work, but like anything that requires hard work, the reward is also greater.

Standing nearly five feet tall, Whooping Cranes instantly come to mind as a unique Wisconsin bird. At one time, there were only 15 Whooping Cranes remaining. Thanks to Operation Migration, a program using ultralight aircraft to help the cranes to their migration grounds in Florida that recently ended, and other volunteers the population is now over 600, including those in captivity. Still endangered, and one of the rarest birds in the United States, a flock that hovers around 100 lives in Wisconsin each spring and summer before returning to Florida. They make their Wisconsin home where Mark discovered his first years ago, “I was able to add the Whooping Crane at the Necedah Wildlife Refuge,” he said happily recalling the memory as all birders do when asked about a personal discovery.

Kirtland’s Warbler’s are another extremely rare bird that can be found in Wisconsin. Placed on the endangered species list in 1967, they were thought to only breed in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Now they nest in the Upper Peninsula, Canada, and Wisconsin. From only two successful nesting pairs found in Adams County during monitoring in 2008, the monitoring census has grown to observations of 30 singing males last spring in Bayfield, Vilas, Marinette, and Adams Counties. Adams County reached a high of 12 successful nesting pairs in 2015 and is still the best location to find the elusive Kirtland’s Warbler. Habitat is vital when searching. They generally only live and breed in relatively large, dense stands of jack pines that are 5 to 20 feet tall (6-22 years old).

Piping Plovers are a small, endangered shorebird that live along the shores of the Great Lakes. Only a handful of breeding pairs have thrived in Wisconsin in recent years, but 2016 saw a big announcement for the Piping Plovers. For the first time in 75 years, Piping Plovers nested at the newly restored Cat Island Chain in the Lower Green Bay area. Prior to that, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore was the only regular nesting sites. Several other areas have been established as critical habitat in Marinette, Manitowoc, Douglas, and Ashland County to continue that momentum.

All of these locations are great places to begin or continue your journey. The great thing about birding is you only need a backyard or local park to begin and Wisconsin has a lifetime of destinations to explore.

Published in On Wisconsin Outdoors on May 1, 2017

On Wisconsin Outdoors: Disappear into the Middle of Nowhere

Disappear into the Middle of Nowhere
Backcountry Camping, Hunting and Fishing

Stars shine so bright that it nearly hurts your eyes, despite the fact that it is pitch black outside. With no one around for miles, the only sound you hear is the trickle of a nearby stream and the occasional owl call echoing through the trees. Images like this often conjure up thoughts of an Out-West or Alaskan adventure. However, there are plenty of opportunities right here in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to disappear into the woods for some backcountry camping, hunting, and fishing.

There is no better location here in Wisconsin than the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin. Over one million acres of wild forest make up the Chequamegon with lakes and streams around every corner. Dispersed camping is what it’s referred to here in Wisconsin and you don’t even need a permit. Recent easing of regulations for deer transportation and registration including quartering in the field and phone/online registration, have created a perfect opportunity for backwoods hunters here in Wisconsin. For those adventurous souls, what better opportunity to take advantage.

Hilary Markin, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Public Affairs Officer, recommends that “people that want to participate in dispersed camping call the local offices before proceeding because they can point you in the right direction. Plus, they can update you on storm closures, especially this year, and make sure the area is open.” She added, “it’s best to narrow down what experience you’re after since there are so many opportunities out there.” Trout fishing, mountain bike riding, fishing remote lakes, hiking, grouse hunting, deer hunting, snow-shoeing, the list goes on and on and there are certain places that are better than others. The local offices can provide you the best places based on the experience you are seeking.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest Headquarters: (715) 362-1300
Lakewood/Laona Ranger District: (715) 276-6333
Park Falls/Medford Ranger District: (715) 762-2461
Eagle River/Florence Ranger District: (715) 479-2827
Washburn Ranger District: (715) 373-2667
Great Divide Ranger District – Hayward/Glidden: (715) 634-4821

Markin stressed the importance of, “Leave No Trace.” Quite simply, when you leave the area, it should look like you were never there. According to the Dispersed Camping manual, it’s not just for hikers and campers, recreation vehicle (RV) enthusiasts can take advantage of this program as well. They are able to park their RVs at pull off areas on Forest Service roads. This is a perfect opportunity to set up a hunting camp this fall or plan an adventure next summer.

The Chequamegon may be the natural place to start given the size, but it is certainly not the only opportunity to disappear into the woods. County and State Forests as well as State Parks have been expanding opportunities in recent years. “Our members are exploring all over the state,” says Jeff Guerard, Chapter Chair for The Wisconsin Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “I’m actually going after ducks in the Chequamegon this weekend.” Formed in March 2016, this group is new to Wisconsin but one that many people passionate about the outdoors can relate to. “Our focus is on preserving public lands,” Guerard explained. “Our goal is to stop the transfer of federal land to state control, where the state sells it to private ownership. We’ve seen this a lot out west already and now with the bill in 2013 here in Wisconsin to sell state land, our plan is to lobby the Natural Resources Board not to sell.” To do that, they are currently trying to expand their membership to give their organization more clout with state politicians and ultimately protect the great places that so many of us hold dear.

Published in On Wisconsin Outdoors on November 1, 2016

Dispersed Camping Information

On Wisconsin Outdoors: March/April 2017 Product 6-Pack

Product 6-Pack
Warmer Weather Ahead Means Maple Syrup, Turkeys, and Open-Water Fishing
By: Jim Servi

Maple Syrup Bags and Holders Starter Kit
Making maple syrup is becoming a popular spring hobby for outdoor lovers across Wisconsin. Whether your operation is big or you are starting small, it doesn’t matter because the syrup tastes delicious! If you are interested in getting started, this kit has what you need. Includes 12 blue sap bags, 12 galvanized sap bag holders, 12 aluminum 7/16” spouts, and one titanium 7/16” tapping bit that can be used with any cordless drill. Enjoy! ($80.95)
rothsugarbush.com
maple-syrup-starter-kit

Lake X Lures Cannonball Jr
Every musky fisherman I talk to says these lures are extremely difficult to find, but they are worth the search. Since Lake X Lures is working on a new website, I went to blueribbonbait.com and found this message, “due to an extremely limited supply, there is a 2-lure max per customer on all Lake X Lures.” This topwater lure makes a unique, deep popping sound that catches the attention of big fish. Available in 14 varieties. Take advantage when you find them. ($41.99)
lakexlures.com
 lake-x-lures

Inshore Automatic/Manual Inflatable Life Jacket
Great for outdoor adventures, fishing, boating, and safely exploring that late season ice. This life jacket is designed to automatically inflate when immersed in water, but can be manually inflated as well. Designed for mobility and comfort with wide neckline and lightweight design. Chest size of 30-52 inches. Buoyancy of 25.5 pounds is higher than most life jackets. Reviews say it is lightweight, comfortable, easily adjustable, durable, and has good ventilation. ($109.99)
westmarine.com
inflatable-life-jacket

Fire-Ball Jig
This short-shank gumball jig has been boasted as the “#1 all-time money winning jig on the PWT & FLW Pro Walleye Tours.” With that alone, it might be worth adding to your tackle box as you chase spring walleyes. If you look closely it also has a place to attach a stringer hook to catch those short strike fish. Comes in weights from 1/16 to 1/2-ounce jig head and 12 different color varieties. ($3.29)
northlandtackle.com
fire-ball-jig

TZ TP14 Turkey Pack With Chair
Getting ready for your big turkey hunt, but can’t find room for all your gear? Sick of carrying a chair only to have it bang against trees and brush? Or worse yet, sick of sitting on the ground? This turkey pack will solve all your problems with an abundance of well-placed pockets perfect for all your gear. Two of the pockets are designed to warm your hands as you patiently wait. Best of all, is that this pack has spring loaded legs that transform into a padded, hunting chair. With this pack, you’ll be turkey hunting in style. ($319.99)
tenzingoutdoors.com
turkey-pack-with-chair

T-BONE’S Turkey Magnet call
Gobbling on the edge of your range, it’s the biggest gobbler you’ve ever seen, but you can’t move. He’s watching your every movement and your call is an arm’s length away. You’re stuck. That’s where this call comes in handy. It’s made with magnets so the push button style call sits safely against the non-action side of your shotgun. With a simple reach of your thumb, it creates realistic yelps, clucks, and purrs to bring that gobbler in the last few steps. ($39.99)
knightandhale.com
turkey-magnet

Published in On Wisconsin Outdoors March 1, 2017.

On Wisconsin Outdoors: Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup is a Delicious Spring Time Hobby
Celebrate the End of Winter with a Tasty Treat
By: Jim Servi

As the days get longer and the temperature begins to push above freezing, an amazing (and delicious!) process is taking place throughout the maple forests of Wisconsin. This time of change means maple syrup season has arrived. More and more people are starting maple syrup operations right in their own backyard as a great springtime hobby.

It’s relatively easy to get started, but timing is everything. Although the first tapping of the year varies a little, it is generally around the middle of March. Maple trees run the best when the nights drop below freezing and the days are above freezing. This causes the tree to become pressurized and the sap begins moving from the roots up the tree. As the temperature drops, the reverse happens and suction is created. When you tap the tree with a small hole, and insert a spout, you are taking advantage of this natural process. The sap will begin to drip. You can then use buckets, bags, or plastic tubing to capture the maple sap.

After you collect your maple sap, you filter the sap, and begin cooking. Amazingly, it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup, depending on the sugar content. A good old-fashioned cooking pan is the easiest way to get started. These pans can be found at any maple syrup specialty store or by shopping Craigslist for a used option in maple syrup country. Many operations have evolved into using reverse osmosis systems, evaporators, and other modern technology, but all that is truly needed for delicious maple syrup is an open flame.

Your maple syrup is ready when it reaches 219 degrees. although you should take it off a little bit earlier. Evaporation will continue at a fast pace as you filter in one more time. Hydrometers, which measures the percent of sugar by density, also work well and are among the special tools you can buy to test when the syrup is ready. Once it’s filtered and cooled just a bit, you’re ready for the best part – tasting! Try it warm from the pan over cold vanilla ice cream for a delicious treat. Sealed properly in a glass jar, maple syrup will last for years.

If you’re not ready to start your own operation, you’re in luck, because there are locations throughout the state to learn more about, and taste, this unique process. After visiting many maple syrup operations over the years, I’ve also learned that you can stop by nearly any sugar shack in the spring. Most are more than willing to show their setup and are always happy to have the company. Just drive down a country road until you see steam pouring out of a side-building or a pan set up in the yard, and you’ve found your place. Of course, you always have an open-ended invitation to visit our maple syrup operation as well.

For those that don’t like stopping by random strangers, there is a better option. MacKenzie Center, near Poynette, offers a fun-filled day of maple syrup festivities on April 1, 2017 from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm. First, they discuss the progression of making maple syrup from the Native Americans to modern day. They have a horse-drawn wagon ride and other activities as well. Best of all, you get to try fresh maple syrup during their pancake breakfast. Our little red country school house, Maple Grove Elementary School, has their annual First Tapping pancake breakfast at the end of March. Many other communities have something similar. From the Sugarin’ Off Pancake Breakfast every Sunday in March at the River Bend Nature Center in Racine to the Maple Sugarin’ Open House in Newburg, and the Taylor County Lions Maple Fest in Medford, there are opportunities to see, learn, and taste for yourself in every corner of Wisconsin. But be careful, it gets in your blood. Taste too much maple syrup and before long you’ll have a new springtime hobby.

To read the latest copy of On Wisconsin Outdoors, please visit  the On Wisconsin Outdoors website.

Product 6-Pack: Products to enjoy our winter wonderland

Last year, I was lucky enough to get my first official column – the Product 6-Pack for On Wisconsin Outdoors magazine. Each issue, I get a chance to research, discuss, and sometimes (and best of all) try out different seasonal products. Some are new products, others are tried and true products. The bad thing is that I want them all!

Now, I need your help. This week I’m preparing the March/April edition and could use any ideas that you have for great products. Tried a new product that you really liked? Or have one waiting that you’re excited to use? Then, let me know and I’ll promote it in the upcoming Product 6-Pack column. My focus will likely be turkey hunting, spring fishing, and getting ready for camping and exploring. If your product doesn’t work out for that timeframe, please send it anyways and I’ll save it for a future issue.

To read the Product 6-Pack column from the most recent January/February issue, please click here:

Jan/Feb 2017 – Product 6-Pack: Products to enjoy our winter wonderland

For the previous November/December issue, please click here:

Nov/Dec 2016 – Product 6-Pack: All Wisconsin products for your outdoor adventures

Remember to pre-order Forever Changed today and join the 30 supporters that have already ordered. It’s simple, just send an email to me at jimservi10@gmail.com. To those that have already pre-ordered, thanks for your support!