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An Outdoorsman’s Journal – 1-20-2016

by Mark Walters

January Survival Test

Hello friends,

To keep myself in the game of being an “outdoor adventures writer” as in camping, hunting, fishing and living on the edge. I came up with an idea when I heard the well below zero forecast for the days, that I would be traveling this week.

How about I head over to the southwest section of Trempealeau County and do an ice trek on the backwaters of the Mississippi River. I would not use a tent and, to add to the challenge, I would have a 12-gauge a 30:06 and a coyote call and maybe do some coyote hunting.

Tuesday, January 12th
High 1, low minus 17-wind chill minus 30

So here is the plan. I would be pulling an Otter Sled that would have two sleeping bags, a tarp, a few extra clothes, both guns and my food. To sustain myself I had granola bars, chocolate covered raisins and nuts, and some pre-sliced cheese. To drink, I had five “Equate” nutrition drinks which I kept near my body so they would not freeze (they froze).

My load was about 50-pounds and from minute one, the other story besides the cold was the worst ice conditions that I have ever seen on the backwaters of the Mississippi River.

Remember the flooding three weeks ago? Water was running two-feet over the top of all the islands. That water froze about 4-inches down on its surface. When it receded it left every piece of land that I would see, covered with an ice field and I am sure will last the entire winter.

That situation was manageable, what made my afternoon extremely challenging is that the ice, due to high water that is still receding, is sketchy at best. What is happening is that there is a lot of current under the ice and because the water level is still dropping, and by the looks of things has dropped at least 3-feet. The ice is caving in and causing cracks, holes and thin spots.

I traveled five-miles today and immersed myself in a world of islands, wild rice beds and small stream after small river and had it not been for the fact that I was carrying a five-foot Mille lacs ice chopper, would have gone under several times. In other words by walking and letting the chopper hit the ice with each step, I had eyes on the ice and it was literally insane when the chopper would go through the ice 24-inches in front of me.

Coyote hunting! The deeper I put myself away from the real world the more sign I saw.

I had a dying rabbit mouth call and would conceal myself and call and wait for 15-minutes and then move on. No crows came to my call today and that in my past experience usually means no coyotes as well.

Dark, my bedroll would have to be on ice as my entire world is frozen from the moon to the water. Two sleeping bags and a tarp, with a fleece jacket over my head, worked just fine.

The entire night I could here the ice settling as Old Man River sent its excess down to the Gulf of Mexico

Wednesday, January 13th
High 17, low minus 16

The biggest mental challenge other than bad ice was getting out of my sleeping bags this morning. A good-sized challenge in itself was putting as many of my clothes on while in the sleeping bags.

I had a premonition that I would see a coyote while I was doing this and as strange as this sounds, it happened. A large coyote came out of nowhere and was 40-yards away. Both of my guns were in cloth cases in the sled 8-feet away, both were loaded.

I was in marsh grass; I crawled over to the sled and grabbed the 12 gauge which was the closest. I aimed, fired and hit my quarry. I was sure that I had just whacked my first coyote of the winter.

Long story short I tracked that coyote for over two hours and it was an incredible experience on crazy bad ice. Something that I learned from a coyote that never laid down, which tells me he was not hurt too bad was that it had an incredible instinct on which ice to cross. Whenever there was a question, its tracks told me it backtracked to a safer situation.

I hunted the entire day and never caught a chill, nor did I ever have any pain from plenty of old injuries.

The coyote will live but yes it does bother me that I did not have a clean kill or miss! Sunset

THIS WEEK’S COLUMN IS SPONSORED BY: Cedar Country Cooperative.