October Deer Hunting

Went down to Craig soon after I returned from Ecuador.  Charlie was supposed to join me soon after I arrived.  Then he slipped on his deck when drinking coffee and smoking a heater, I’m sure, as that’s why he was out there – and he fell on his hand and sprained his wrist.   So no Charlie this year.
The weather was back to regular October weather.  Pouring rain and blowing the rain sideways.  The rain without the wind is tolerable as it allows travel by boat to hunting spots.  But the wind makes the travel and safe anchoring marginal, plus worrying about your boat dragging anchor all day if you do get there.  
The first day was in middle October, when the bucks are not moving all that much.  But I hoped there would still be some salal berries out as I was getting low on jam I’d made a couple years earlier, so I went to a berry hotspot where Charlie and I have taken several deer.  My hip has been bugging the crap out  of me ever since I returned with Kurt on the tug from Ketchikan, and I’ve been getting worried about my hiking abilities.  But the hike in went well.  I got a couple big Costco nut jars full of berries, and called in a few deer but no bucks.  A real nice day.
Ellen mentioned a friend’s advice to freeze the salal berries whole, on the stem, before picking them off the stem.  The salal berries grow more like grapes than they do blue berries.  And the berries don’t pick off their stem that easy.  Her friend was right.  The berries separated from the stem much easier, and there was very little chafe in the berries like there was the last time I made jam.  Nice.  
The weather was crappy the next few days, so I made jam.  I put about 1/2 the volume of sugar as the volume of berries and when the berries were good and cooked, I used an immersion blender I got at Vera’s garage sale to pulverize everything, then canned the jams.  I think I got half a dozen half pints.  I gave one to Barb when she brought by a dozen of her hen’s eggs.
I didn’t get back out for several more days due to weather.  I returned to berry patch site as I knew it would be a safe anchorage compared to some others in the weather.  I hiked in further than I did on the first day to spots we’d taken deer.  I saw some doe but no bucks.  I picked some berries on the way out, as I found some really honey holes near the beach. Then it started pouring again and I thought: are you really going to keep picking berries in this downpour?  I hiked out to the beach, swapped my cork boots for regular Xtra Tuffs, pulled in the boat, then pulled on the punt, and headed towards home.  I cranked up the heater today, and it felt good to be warm.
After a few more days of sideways rain, I got out one more day.  I tried a new island I’d not hunted on the advice of my brother in law.  I found a nice muskeg on OnX.  As I entered the bay, there was a deer on the beach.  Or so I thought.  When I looked through the binoculars, I thought it wasn’t a deer now, as it looked like rocks.  Then the rocks moved, and I saw it was a deer.  From the way it moved, I thought for sure it was a buck.  But I needed to be sure sure.  I idled in and it wasn’t all that nervous, and then I saw it was a buck.  A medium fork horn.
The beach wasn’t very long and I didn’t think I could run to the end of the beach to get off and shoot and think the deer wouldn’t go back in the woods.  I thought I’d try to idle around the point out of sight of the deer, and then come back through the woods to the beach behind him.  But just as I got to the point, he’d had enough and walked back into the woods.  Oh well.  As I headed further into the bay to get to the muskeg, here comes a doe and yearling down the same beach to the water’s edge.   
I went in the bay a little further and when I got across from the muskeg I wanted to go to, the anchorage wasn’t good, so I kept going til it was.  I’d side hill it to the muskeg.  
As I got into the woods, it looked alot steeper than I expected it to be, but I started side hilling it up the hill.   Once I got going, my hip actually feels better when I get it going.  Probably took me 30 to 45 min to get up to the muskeg.  It was a perfect setting, with me perched above and where I could call and not be seen too easily and be in a spot where deer could come from lots of directions without me seeing them till they were close.
I called for an hour or two.  I called a couple of doe in, but no bucks.  It was a beautiful day in the sun and I didn’t want to leave.  I figured I’d take a short cut and go straight down to the beach, then follow the beach back to the boat.   The going down was nice and easy for the first little while.  Right down through some muskeg grass.  Then I came to the edge.  It wasn’t sheer, but almost.  I picked my way down slowly and carefully.  I eventually got to the beach fringe, and started back to the boat.  Across some creek bottoms and around deadfalls.  I got to a spot I could make it easily to the beach, and I took the bait.   I got down to the water’s edge, and followed it back towards the boat.  Then I ran out of beach and into rocks that fell right off to 4 to 6 feet of water.  So I had to scramble up the rock with tightly knit brush until I got back up the to the beach fringe, then finally made my way back to the boat.   I’ve never been happier I didn’t get a deer!  It would have been a serious chore getting it out of that place.  I doubt I’ll go back there.
Made my way home, and decided when I got back and looked at the forecast I better get back to Juneau.  With another volunteer consulting trip coming up, it looked like I’d have a one or two day window where I could fly and then it might be shut down again for another week, and I didn’t want to risk not getting back to get ready.    
I started to button things up, and by the next day was ready to head home with no deer.  Approaching 60, getting deer isn’t as big of importance as it used to be.  Hopefully when I get back in early December I’ll still have time to take a trip on the tug closer to home.

Today’s Short History

I finally made it to Baranof Warm Springs.  I was working on the new boat when Larry called at about noon and asked if I could go with him to BWS, as a group of people were weathered out with their scheduled sea plane service and hoping to get there by boat. A couple hours later, off we go.
It’s a 90 mile run to BWS.  Seas were up to 4 feet going down Chatham, so it was a long slog.  The group was a hearty bunch and nobody got sick.  They were heading for Baranof Wilderness Lodge, where most or all of them, it seemed, had spent many weeks over the years.  You could tell they were anticipating returning to a familiar, favorite place.
We arrived near sunset.  Before we left, Larry warned me we might have to spend the night, so I wasn’t surprised when we decided to do so.  The decision was not difficult. We were greeted at the dock by a thankful lodge crew, relieved their guests had arrived for the week.  The kitchen staff handed us bags of cookies before we had the boat tied up.  Soon, the owner, Mike Trotter, greeted us like long lost friends, invited us to dinner and to spend the night in one of his spare cabins.  We eagerly agreed.
We mingled with the staff and newly arrived guests.  Lots of beer on ice in the cooler.  We felt right at home. Mike was busy taking people’s orders for steaks, and then tended the grill of fresh salmon and a load of steaks.   Turns out Mike had guided out in Bristol Bay on the Nushagak River, just as I had.  We talked of the tremendous king salmon runs to the river back in those days.
As I talked to the age 20 something guides and asked them where they were from, I smiled thinking of my own guiding years in my 20’s and the home states – Minnesota, Montana, Idaho and northern California – were the same home states as guides and staff I worked with then then as these kids now.  All of them to a person seemed happy and content- a sign they worked for a good lodge owner, especially this far into a long, rainy summer season.
Dinner was fantastic.  Perfect steaks, perfect salmon, salad, mashed potatoes, rolls – then ice cream with triple chocolate brownies for dessert.  We ate our fill and more.  
Well after dark, one of the guides ran Larry and I and Jon, the other boat’s captain, up to the little town proper, where we were let in to Mike’s spare cabin.  It was right next to the falls that drain the lake above.   After a long day on the water, we were soon asleep in comfortable beds, with the rushing water from the waterfalls to put us to sleep.
The bay is like a cathedral, with steep treeless mountain tops and a commanding water fall of sorts that cascades down a steep rock face into the head of the bay.  I bet it’s dark and cold here in the winter.  The place is also somewhat magical for me since it was the home for Wayne Short and his family growing up.  He’s the author of several of my favorite books, including The Cheechakoes and This Raw Land, about coming to Southeast Alaska in the 1950s and coming of age in a new land.  The family bought the store and property in Baranof Warm Springs, including the main lodge house compound we were dining in.  I’ve read the books so many times I felt like I’d already been here before many times.
We awoke at 6 and a guide came back for us right on time.  As we walked across the docks on our way to the boardwalk up to the lodge, I studied the fishing gear the lodge used.  The halibut set ups had spin and glos on one side of a three way swivel, with a circle hook on a stout leader on the other, and a snap hanging down to clip on a weight.  The hootchies were white with red in the head – a similar pattern to those I’d had success with further up Chatham this year.
When we got up to the lodge, we were greeted by kitchen staff with plates full of breakfast before we could even sit down.  We ate our fill with the guides as they talked about the day to come.  The cook rang the bell to call the guests to breakfast, and we said our goodbyes and headed down to our boats.  Soon, we were on our way back to Juneau at full speed and fair seas, and tied up in Auke Bay before noon.  I didn’t get a hot soak in the hot springs on this run, and look forward to doing that on the next trip.

February Trip to Tenakee

After postponing due to seas on Tuesday, Larry and I tried again to make it to Tenakee.  We had loads going down and back.  We were delayed about an hour at Auke Bay as passengers were doing last minute shopping, and it was probably a good thing.  A squall came through spitting snow that looks like the insides of a bean bag.
We headed out out about 9 am, and seas were 1 to 2 feet with no white caps.  With our load we were making 14 knots.  I snoozed from Auke Bay to North Chatham, then woke up cold.  I moved up to the captain’s chair and took the helm from Larry to get near the heat.  Seas continued to be fair as we headed south across the mouth of Icy Strait.  We seemed to have caught a weather system change just right.
We arrived in Tenakee between 1 and 2 pm.  I took the opportunity with the light winds to practice steering the jets in tight spots, after watching Larry do it for all the trips till now.  I made it fine into the small boat offloading dock, and our passengers disembarked.  We moved over to the tight spot under the crane along the big dock, and after several tries, I handed it over to Larry, who nestled us in.
Lots of people were up on the dock, including an excellent crane operator, who made the offloading and reloading quick.  We were headed back to Juneau shortly after 3, with just Larry and I on board.
We had a lighter load and made over 22 knots on the way home.  We were back to Auke Bay by 530, and this time I was able to maneuver the boat into a fairly tight spot.  I’m starting to get a feel for it, and Larry’s a patient coach.
Seems like this was the first trip where nothing happened.  No alarms or water where we didn’t want it.  The lack of heat was as expected, and I’d worn my red union suit long underwear in defense.  Hopefully this will be the norm now!

January Boating with Barry

I had a session with Ketchikan scouts as a snow sports merit badge counselor all lined up for Saturday evening.   Then Barry called.  Can you crew with my son and I to take a load of drinking water to Angoon.   
We were to leave at 530 am and be back about 7 pm.  That would work for me to keep my appointment with the scouts.  There were 180 cases of bottled water to offload in Angoon, where their drinking water supply was on the fritz due to problems with their public water system.  Sure I said.
Normally, he might not ask for another crew on such a trip.  But it’s the middle of winter, the load would be near the maximum for his  boat, the cases of bottled water had to be offloaded by hand on the beach, and an extra deckhand would be an added safety measure when there might not be any other boats on the water for the ~ 100 mile trip to Angoon.   Plus, it would be an adventure in an otherwise somewhat idle time here in the archipelago
I knew, and Barry likely knew, full well, based on just about every prior trip, that things would not go as planned.  We would never be back by 7 pm.  But we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
We left right on time from downtown Juneau.  That was the first flaw in the plan.  If the boat was first sailed to Auke Bay and loaded their instead, we could save 4 or 5 hours.  But, here we were.
The trip was relatively uneventful at the beginning.  Yes, the boat was loaded to about it’s maximum capacity.  But, the seas were fair and the temperature was above freezing.  We noticed about 5 hours into the trip that we were shipping water through the front drop bow seam, and the water was collecting forward.  The water was not casually exiting the scuppers aft of the bow as it should have, and the bow would not raise further with the trim tabs to get the leaky seam out of the water.
When we started bucking some choppy seas from a southeast wind, things seemed to get a little worse.  We tried turning with the wind to get the water holding on deck to escape out the scuppers.  We tried some turns, as well, to shed more water from the deck.  When the deck was dry and the water shipping through the bow got to be in equilibrium with the water exiting the scuppers, we continued on to Angoon.
We arrive near dusk, having not seen a single boat on the water all day.  I handed over the helm to Barry, and he easily navigated the entrance to Mitchell Bay.  I’d fished the area in the Dutch Master years ago, and never had the courage to transit through this entrance, with its mighty current.
Once inside, a crew of lads from Angoon met us on the beach near a dock, and we began unloading the 180 cases of water.   Barry’s son Matt and I helped the Angoon crew while Barry stayed at the helm, and soon we had the pair of pick up trucks loaded.   We offloaded the rest of the water on the beach.  Barry had to stop us from offloading a couple times so he could back the boat off the beach and reposition so as not to get beached on the outgoing tide.
When all the drinking water was offloaded, we tied up to the nearby dock to inspect the bilges before returning home.  By now it was getting on to 4 pm, but I still thought maybe I could make it back by 8 to help the scouts.
When he popped the deck hatch that was directly under the load of water, the hold chamber was full of sea water.  The water shipping on board was going in this bulkhead below decks, and that was what was weighing the bow down further, and why the bow could not be raised with the trim tabs enroute.
Barry got to work checking wires and bilge pumps.  By now, I knew I wasn’t getting back to Juneau in time, so I texted the scout leaders and rescheduled tomorrow.  As they, too, are from an isolated community in this country, the reschedule was not unexpected.
I pulled up the Buffalo Bills home announcer broadcast on the XM radio app on my phone to joyfully listen to the Bills beating the snot out of the Patriots.   I sent and received texts to old college friends who are a successful business family in Buffalo and help one of the Bills players with his charity.  So surreal to be in the middle of nowhere with some invisible signal that allows me to pull in a game out of the ether and correspond with friends 5000 miles away.
As Barry continued with purging the bilges of seawater and the Bills continued running the Patriots, the afternoon turned to evening and darkness.  We had planned returning to Juneau when Larry finished, as the weather was fair.  I then overheard Barry’s son talking to his mom.  His son said “yes mom, I know what your vote is going to be.  The same as it’s always been after dark”.  That gave me a good laugh.  Barry’s wife was voting we stay put in Angoon and come back in the morning. Which made perfect sense, of course.   Why return in the dark when we could return in the morning.
We found a room, the driveway to which was located not 50 yards from the top of the dock ramp.  The place was a fishing lodge in the summer, and the owner had the caretaker warm up our room.  By the time we got there 10 minutes later, it was already toasty warm.  Matt and Larry took the queen bed, and I slept on the floor in a sleeping bag.   Larry returned to the boat to finish wiring the bilge pumps, and Matt and I were soon settled in and asleep.
We awoke at 6 am.  Barry went down to start the boat while I made coffee.  We were underway about 630.  It was past “nautical twilight”, which is a term Barry had introduced me the day before.  It’s the time before sunrise, but when you can see the horizon.  You can see alot on the water several hours before sunrise, even when it’s cloudy.   
We made our way out to Chatham Strait and headed north and home.  It was flat calm.  Barry’s wife was right.  We got a good night’s sleep, light was only going to increase, and seas were flatter than they were the night before.  And we saw no boats on our trip til we were near Juneau several hours later.
Barry calculated we should be able to make the Auke Bay fuel dock with about 25 gallons to spare.  That was kind of cutting it close, but not too bad.  Our options were few as fuel docks in Angoon and other small towns are generally closed on Sundays.  Especially in the winter.   
We made it to Auke Bay in about 3 hours.  We’d polished off the dozen doughnuts I brought for the trip yesterday, and that was all the food I’d brought.   Luckily, Barry had brought a package of dried salami and wedge of cheese, and I put those on stale triscuts for breakfast to go with our coffee.  
As we neared Auke Bay, we saw a few folks out trolling for king salmon near town.  We took on fuel, and  then made the rest of the hour plus trip around Douglas Island and back to Harris Harbor.    I arrived home grateful for another Alaskan adventure, especially in the dead of winter, with Barry and Son.

Skating Rink Day

Well, we got a foot or more of snow yesterday, and now we’ve got raining coming daily for a week, at least.  The whole town is a skating rink.  Glad I shoveled off the roof a few days ago when the snow was like sugar, just to be safe.
I was supposed to be on my way to Minnesota ice fishing today, but cancelled the trip when I was exposed to Covid at last week’s scout meeting.   After spreading Covid around myself less than a month ago to about 12 others, I wasn’t taking any chances.  I was in self quarantine through today – the recommended 5 day period.
After looking at the weather forecast, I thought this is a good time to grind up the venison burger.  I ground everything up yesterday.  My 1950’s monster Kleen Kut meat grinder gave up soon after I started.  The end of the auger that holds the cutting knife has rounded off again.  My friend Bob should be able to weld me up a repair as he did last time, but as I was already started, I switched to old faithful – the kitchen aid with the meat grinder attachment.  
I had microwaved the frozen blocks of deer meat until I could just cut through them with all my might.  I cut the blocks into chunks that I could feed into the big grinder.  When I had to switch to the kitchen aid, I had to start cutting all the chunks I’d already cut into smaller pieces so I could feed them into the throat of the grinder hopper.  No big deal.  It’s snowing like crazy, and I’m not going anywhere, and not in a hurry.
It took me a good part of the mid day to grind everything.  I’m guessing it was about 40 lbs of meat or so.  I plowed the driveway a few times to take a break from grinding.
After everything was ground, I wasn’t too enthused to get cracking on processing the burger further.  So, I covered the bowls of meat with plastic wrap and put the bowls in the truck.  It was right at freezing, so just right for overnight chilling.
Today, I decided I’d process two full canner loads – 30 wide mouth pint jars – and then make sausage out of the rest.  I filled the big roasting pan with meat, and put it in the oven and heated the oven to about 430 degrees.  As the meat was browning in the oven, I got out the jars and the pressure cookers.  
I pulled out the roasting pan every so often to stir the meat, turning the browned meat on the outside to the middle and the raw meat on the inside to the outside.  
As I got the jars together, I realized I didn’t have any canning lids, so I ran to the store.  Big surprise.  A dozen wide mouth lids are now $7!  I know that’s a big increase from the last time I bought some.  I wouldn’t know if almost any other commodity in the grocery store had increased alot, but somehow I do for canning lids.  But what do I care?  I’m gonna can.  So gotta have the lids.  I grabbed 4 dozen, and a package of licorice for the short ride home.  The store is just over a mile from home.  I would not have wanted to drive further on the roads.
I rinsed about a dozen jars, and put a tsp each of salt and pepper in the bottom of each jar.
When the meat in the roasting pan was sufficiently browned, I started packing the jars.  I filled each jar with browned burger, and then used the tamper from Sara’s espresso machine to pack the meat tight about an inch below the top.  I decided to add a bit of water this year, as the last batch I did, the meat is dry at the top of the jar.  Not that it detracts much from the end product, but I thought I’d see how adding a little water works.
After I filled a dozen jars, I put about 4 inches of water in the bottom of the canner, and started loading jars.  I found I could put 14 in the canner, so I got a few more jars to fill up the Mirro canner.
I was so satisfied with filling the canner, I decided I might as well double the fun.  I filled up the roasting pan again with deer burger, and got more jars and the second canner from the garage.  The other canner is an All American canner of almost identical size to the Mirro, but somehow it holds 16 jars.  I kept browning meat and filling jars til I had the second canner full, and now I had two full canners on the stove, heating up.  
I sat down by the wood stove and had a couple cups of coffee while the canners were heating up.    One canner finally started steaming, and I started the 10 minute count down.  I put the canning weight on after 10 minutes, and some time later, the second canner was ready, too.  When both weights were rocking, I got to work on sausage.
I had just shy of 20 lbs of burger left.  I went to the freezer and retrieved a 5 lb package of pork back fat Sara had bought at a farmer’s market last time she was down at Gail and Mark’s in Seattle.  I also grabbed packages of devils club buds, beach asparagus, and ground bull kelp stipe.
The fat can be cut right out of the freezer, so I got to work grinding that.  When I had it all ground, I hand mixed it with the deer burger for a good long while until the fat was uniformly mixed with the meat.
I weighed out the meat mixture into four, 5 lbs portions.  I looked up my past sausage recipes, and decided I’d make kelp, maple, Polish, and African spice batches.   About this time, the national championship football game was starting.  So, I measured out spices and mixed the different batches during commercials of the football game.  I was rooting for whoever was playing Alabama, and this year, it was Georgia.
I thoroughly mixed each sausage batch, and when I was done with one, I let it sit in it’s bowl as I moved on to the next.  By halftime, I had mixed all four batches.   The game was a good one, with both defenses holding the other’s offense to field goals.
As the second half started, I began filling 1 lb chub bags with the sausage mixtures.  I used a yogurt container with the bottom cut off and a slit up the side that I rolled up and slid into the chub bag.  Then I dropped sausage mixture through the yogurt container and into the bag.  I packed the bags tight by twisting the top from time to time.   I worked during commercials, and by the fourth quarter, I had filled all the bags and taken them to the freezer.  Once the tubes of sausage freeze, I’ll vacuum pack them in another larger bag.  By freezing them first, they hold their shape and allow me to cut off silver dollars of breakfast sausage.
By now it was getting on past 6 pm, and luckily Sara was still at her office.  The kitchen was a disaster.  Stainless steel bowls with pork fat and deer burger remnants everywhere.  Several cutting boards covered with the same, as well as remnants of kelp, devils club buds, and beach asparagus.  Just about every ingredient covered the floor.  30 jars of deer meat were cooling near the stove.  The kitchen aid grinder was caked with pork fat.  Time to get to work.
I started at one side of the kitchen, and moved items either to the dishwasher or the sink.   I washed bowls, knives, and grinder parts during commercials in the 4th quarter, as the game was coming down to the wire, and Georgia clung to a 1 point lead.  Little by little, the kitchen got cleaner.  And little by little, Georgia pulled away.  First a long pass for a touchdown to go up by 7.  Then an interception returned for a touchdown to go up by 15.  Game over.  And the kitchen was almost to clean when Sara walked in the door.  
I’d pulled back a little bit of each back of sausage for us to taste test.  Sara made 4 patties and fried them up, and made salad from the local hydroponics farm we just joined as a CSA member.  I was happy that each of the sausages were pretty good, as I forgot to taste test each to see if a batch needed anything more before I packaged them.    
2+ cases of deer canned, 20 lbs of sausage done, and Alabama loses the football game.  The end to a perfect day.

Life just above zero

It’s been hanging around zero degrees here.   If you don’t live on the coast, that might not seem that cold.  But trust me.  RIght on the ocean, it’s cold.  Especially with gusty winds in some places.  It’s even colder – below zero – out in the valley north of town.
I continue to be impressed and amazed at the miracle of a heat pump.  Even at zero degrees, the unit is still putting out warm air.  I still don’t know how it can take zero degree air and make it warm.  We’re fairing fine in our little house with the heat pump going full blast and the wood stove helping keep things warm.  
Been hard to get my butt away from the recliner right next to the toasty wood stove.   Today, I finally got my act together and went skiing.  It wasn’t bad at all.  I only got in a couple miles and the snow is squeaky and doesn’t give much glide but beautiful in the sun lit woods.  
I should have been skiing more since I got out of covid isolation, but procrastinated and did some projects on my 2nd generation Dodge Ram 3500.  You Tube is man (and woman’s) best friend. First, I replaced the solenoid that powers the engine preheater.  I then repaired the 4wd that wasn’t working by bypassing the vacuum system and permanently locking in the front axle.  The solenoid job took about 45 minutes and the front axle job about 30 minutes, so I didn’t get cold before I got them done and could scramble back to my chair by the wood stove.   The two jobs took not much more time that it took me to watch the you tubes on them.
Before these two jobs, I was looking at putting in a plug-in engine heater, and when I you tubed that, I found out my truck had one already installed as a stock item.  Which I didn’t know.  I popped the hood and sure enough, there was the plug.  The truck starts up at 2 degrees in an instant when it’s plugged in.
Only one little vacuum item left to make the brake light go off, and will probably have to find the part in a junk yard.   Sure is nice having the 4wd back and knowing it shouldn’t be a problem again.
I conducted further procrastination last evening to avoid skiing by finally getting the brown bananas out of the freezer and making a bunch of small loaves of  banana bread.
So, with only one other job left – to shovel off the roof before rain comes later in the week – I went skiing to avoid that today.  After the 2 measly miles, I got back and started in on the roof.  I finished half today and will finish the other tomorrow.  The last part will entail throwing snow in the driveway, but now that I have a plow on the truck that I installed during isolation, I won’t have to move it by hand twice.