Living Off the Land: Day 2

The second day of the Living Off the Land challenge is peppered with wet conditions, weak thunder and snow.

Living Off the Land: Day 2

A mid-October cold front brings snow and swirling winds.

This article is part of a mini-series. If you missed the first installment, you can catch up here.

When I woke up Saturday morning, the digital indoor/outdoor thermometer in the cabin read 32 degrees. It felt like fall. The mashed turnips the night before did little to ease my hunger, but my hopes were still high there would be protein on the menu before the day was over. The plan for the day was to set traps in the morning, hunt grouse and squirrels midday, and stand guard over the smaller turnip plot in the afternoon hoping the doe or another deer would stop in for a turnip dinner. Though having eaten my own turnip dinner the night before, I would understand if they passed. 

I loaded the ATV with most of my trapping supplies, pocketed a handful of No. 7.5 shot 12-gauge shells and laid my 870 across my lap. When I got to the first location I had in mind to set a trap, I realized I had forgotten my sifter at the cabin. For those of you who don’t trap, a sifter is used to cover the trap with dirt after it’s set to hide it from sight and blend the set into the surroundings. I made the decision to ditch the trapping supplies right there and forge ahead in search of a more immediate source of protein.  

Our 80 acres is surrounded by county forest land on which we maintain two main road systems. One we refer to as Raspberry Bush Road, the other is the Loop Road. I hunted Raspberry Bush Road first, driving slowly on the ATV hoping I would see a grouse in the road or a squirrel in the treetops. No luck. As I got to the north end of the Loop Road, I got off the ATV and walked a section of trail that has gone relatively unmaintained since we no longer keep a deer stand in that area. 

That road, aptly named The Point, terminates at a narrow strip of higher ground that juts into a large bog. The years of neglect have tightened the road to such a degree that shots on grouse are unlikely and difficult unless they flush across or down the road. Or, as it happened in this case, the thick cover can prove beneficial to a keen-eyed hunter. Nearing the end of the road, I heard the signature flushing of a grouse, albeit a little... unimpressive. The ruffed grouse, or partridge, normally produces a thunderous explosion as it takes flight, both startling the hunter and alerting them to its whereabouts. 

This time, the thunder was weak, as if very distant, but the shifting spruce branches alongside the road indicated otherwise. After the feeble flush, I peered through the undergrowth hoping to spot another grouse that hadn’t flushed yet. There, under a small tree 10 yards into the woods, I saw what I thought was a grouse. The memory of shooting a fern was still fresh, but my hunger got the better of me as I shouldered my 870 again, settled my bead on what looked like the head and pulled the trigger. Success. A few flops and I had fresh grouse for lunch. Just then the clouds parted briefly, and the sun came out. I remember thinking to myself, "I might just survive this." 

I’ve eaten many different grouse recipes over the years, none of which I could replicate with nothing more than salt and water. I boiled the breasts whole, while frying the legs and heart in a small cast iron pan. Thanks to the non-stick nature of a well-seasoned cast iron pan, the legs cooked quickly and had a lightly seared crust, so as I munched on those, I cut each breast off the bone and pan fried those pieces as well. Believe it or not, grouse tastes better and is more filling than mashed turnips. I ate the remaining boiled grouse off the bone, savoring every morsel. With a belly full of grouse, I headed out to set a few traps. By now, it had started to snow. 

The author's hand-me-down Remington 870 loaded with No. 7.5 shot put meat back on the menu.
The author's hand-me-down Remington 870 loaded with No. 7.5 shot put meat back on the menu.

Thanks to modern meteorology, I wasn’t surprised by the snow. I was, however, surprised it was sticking. I didn’t have the luxury of hanging out in the cabin, if I wasn’t out there hunting, I likely wouldn’t have anything to eat. Or I would have to eat turnips again. Neither sounded like good options. With the snow falling, I wasn’t confident in trying to fish or jump any ducks on the river. So, I headed out in hopes of filling a deer tag. 

The previous day’s photos of a deer in the smaller food plot and lack of action at the larger food plot made it an easy decision as to where to hunt that afternoon. Rather than cause more disturbance in the woods by moving the ladder stand back to its original position, I opted to stand on the ground at the base of the tree that previously supported the stand. 

At around 5:05 p.m. my phone buzzed. I checked the notification and saw it was from my Moultrie Mobile app, indicating my Moultrie XA-7000i cellular trail camera had taken a photo. I had moved that camera from an inactive scrape line to the larger food plot the day before, pointed directly at my ladder stand from the other side of the plot in hopes of catching an action shot of an arrow in flight. In the seconds it took the photo to load, I was dreading having made the wrong decision on which plot to hunt, again. But, in my weakened mental state, I forgot that I had set the camera to Time-Lapse mode starting at 5 p.m. I was relieved I hadn't chosen poorly again.

The tree I stood by is fairly old and wide, big enough to hide behind, and I hoped it would offer enough cover to be able to draw my bow, step to the side and shoot. After three hours of standing in the blowing snow, I didn’t get the chance to test that theory. Again, the wind was swirling and the doe that had been there 24 hours earlier was nowhere to be found. Like the doe, I decided against another dinner of turnips and returned to camp empty-handed. 

Tomorrow is a new day. Confidence is waning, but there's food out there. Somewhere.

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