Can’t We All Just Get Along?

As the 2004 hunting season gets into full swing I’m reminded about the many instances in my past when there have been conflicts between different sporting interests. This fall let’s all strive to better recognize that others may be enjoying the outdoors and that we may have to modify our actions so as not to cause disruptions to everyone’s fun.

A prime example of what I’m talking about occurred roughly 15 years ago while I was firearms deer hunting on my farm. In Minnesota, the deer season I choose only allows hunting with a shotgun for two days (one whole weekend). That means that if you want to take fond memories from a hunt it is compressed into about 20 hours (daylight) of deer hunting opportunity. Well, on this particular occasion I was sitting in my deer stand when a trespassing hunter with a dog pushed through the area hunting pheasants. Needless to say, a hunter walking with a dog leaving scent can literally disrupt deer activity patterns for several days afterwards. That year I did not get a deer and obviously I blamed my misfortune on this irresponsible hunter.

I can also think of at least three times when I have been deer hunting and found someone else sitting in my deer stand. Now I realize hunting on public land this is a risk you take, but each of these occurrences were on my property. Imagine my surprise on one particular morning when the hunter saw me coming toward the deer stand and decided to quickly vacate the area. A chase ensued and although I never caught the hunter…I did retrieve several items of his hunting gear that he dropped along the way. This newly acquired property helped to temper the frustration I was feeling that morning thanks to this trespasser.

On two other occasions when I have found hunters sitting in my deer stand they have refused to vacate the stand. One even threatened to call the sheriff…which I promptly encouraged him to do. Again, the problem was trespassing and both of these hunters plead ignorant of just whose property they were actually hunting.

Another of my big frustrations used to be with coonhunters. Theirs is a sport that takes place during the nighttime hours and often their dogs travel up and down the river valley covering several miles during the hunt. Again, I can understand that controlling dogs that are hot on the ’coon trail can be almost impossible, and incidents of trespassing will occur. But is it necessary for coonhunters to participate in their sport on the eve of firearms deer season? I’m a firm believer that deer can scatter from a small woodlot and it only takes this minor little disruption to break deer from their normal daily patterns. When you have two days to hunt you want things to be as routine as possible out in the deer woods, especially if you’ve been trying to pattern the deer movement..

Not everything who frustrates me involves trespass. I’ve had other conflicting encounters with fishermen who buzz their boats next to where you are fishing, possibly spooking fish. I’ve had trappers remove critters from my traps and keep the fruits of my labors. I’ve had duck hunters who overslept arriving at the marsh late and then try to place their decoy spread out during the prime shooting time of daybreak. I’ve had turkey hunters stalk (a very unsafe technique) the sounds of my calling. I’ve even had other hunters who could not control their dogs attack my young hunting pup who was out on her very first pheasant hunt.

The point I’m trying to make with all of this is strive to be more considerate with your outdoor activities. I realize to some extent conflicts will occur thanks to no fault of the parties involved. But often times simply realizing that others may be adversely effected by your actions can help increase the satisfaction for everyone. Indeed, the outdoors has become a more competitive place as the places we recreate on seem to be more limited with each passing year. But we can all get along provided each of us puts a little more effort into making it happen.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Hunting With Nothing but a Shovel

What would you say if I told you it was possible to go out into the woods hunting with nothing more than a shovel and a game bag…yet you could still be successful? What would you say if I told you that if you were successful it could also mean lots of money in your pocket? Sound intriguing?

What I’m talking about is going out in the woods ginseng hunting. Ginseng is a woodland plant that carries with it a rich tradition in our American heritage. This once abundant plant was so popular and profitable that many stories were told of early settlers in Minnesota actually paying off their farm mortgages by digging this plant’s root and selling it. Unfortunately, the boon years of ginseng hunting are long ago behind us, yet it’s still possible to occasionally find this woodland root with a little luck and knowledge of its habitat requirements.

Ginseng’s popularity stems from the root that many folks believe to have certain medicinal properties. In fact, it is the root of the plant that is harvested and then air-dried by the ‘seng hunter. Native Americans used it for treating various ailments, but records show there was trade for the root going on with markets in the Orient dating back at least a couple of centuries. The Chinese have long believed the root to be an aphrodisiac and to aid one’s longevity. Most modern medicine authorities, however, have been skeptical about ginseng’s true benefit to the medical world.

Unfortunately, because of the high demand ginseng is a perfect example of a resource exploited almost to the point of becoming endangered. Someday soon, probably within our lifetimes, the wild strain of ginseng will likely be protected from any future harvest or trade.

I mention the wild strain of ginseng because today most ginseng in trade is cultivated thanks to large commercial farming operations. But the ginseng that is wild is truly the most sought after and good quality wild root this year will bring the hunter on average $250 to $300 per pound (dried). So, you can see that spending a few hours out in the woods can be profitable, if you know where to look.

The problem is most folks who hunt ginseng, and there are fewer and fewer people each year, will not disclose their locations. In fact, expecting someone to share their hotspots with you is quite unlikely. You see…when a ginseng hunter harvests the root with a trowel by law in Minnesota he is required to plant the red tell-tale seeds (berries) in the same general area. What this means is over the course of the years an area that has held ginseng in the past will likely continue to have it into the future. For much more in-depth information about the history and the harvesting requirements in Minnesota, click here.

I’ll be honest with you that since the mid-70s I have gone ginseng hunting but never been very successful at it. Only once have I been walking in the woods and found a nice patch that could have been harvested. The problem was that particular day I was squirrel hunting and I didn’t get permission from the landowner to do anything else but squirrel hunt…so I left it. Still, it was a very interesting sight…and it proved to be an educational moment for the others in my hunting party who would have walked right past the plant not knowing the significance of the find.

There are many good books that explain the necessary habitat for ginseng as well as showing the tell-tale saw-tooth edges of the leaves. Find a good book and make sure you know what it is you’re looking to discover. In the fall the best distinguishing characteristic is the bright red berries usually visible on the plant. But don’t mistake the Jack-in-the-pulpit plant for ginseng, as this plant will also have bright red berries during this time of the year. More importantly, ginseng will usually have prongs of three leaves that could potentially be mistaken with poison ivy to the unsuspecting novice. Use caution and consult a good guidebook.

Perhaps in the history of Minnesota there has been no other native plant that has been so profitable and intriguing to the person who invested the time to learn about it and search for it. The next time you are deep in the woods – where it typically only gets a couple hours of sunlight each day because of the mature trees filtering the light – be careful where you step.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

They’re Back!!! Those Damn Asian Beetles

They’re creepy…they’re crawly…but most of all they are a pain in the @$$. What else could it be other than those pesky Asian beetles (not to be mistaken with common lady bugs—which they look quite similar to).

It must have been about four years ago that life in southern Minnesota has forever changed. Suddenly, when the warmer temps of summer start giving way to the cooler nights of fall…they begin to appear in large numbers crawling all over the outside of the house. And it doesn’t matter where you live – the country or the city. The infestation can be severe and last ALL winter long. Eventually those bugs crawling on the outside of the house will find a way INSIDE the structure to spend the entire winter with you.

So how exactly did these beetles get here? Good question. It seems that back in the late ‘70s the U.S. government introduced them to help with the growing soybean aphid problem. You see, the Asian beetle is a voracious forager of aphids eating thousands daily. Aphids themselves are destructive pests as they suck the life-blood right out of the soybean plant eventually lowering crop yields. In fact, the farm community has growing concerns that out-of-control aphids could eventually disrupt the U.S. soybean growing region. Certainly, this is a serious problem with definite economic impact to the agricultural community. Learn more by clicking here.

So, there are too many aphids…and now, the primary predator of the aphids (the Asian beetle) can hardly keep up with this population explosion. Is there any wonder why one problem in nature somehow usually begets other problems?

The past two years I have dealt with the infestation by hiring a professional exterminator. In early September he spends about an hour spraying inside and outside of the house leaving a killing agent that has been quite effective. It’s not something I want to do…but it does allow for a much more pleasant winter life indoors.

Recently, however, I’ve been intrigued by the ingenuity of a fellow Minnesotan who claims to have all the answers to our Asian beetle problems. In fact, he’s written a book and has a web site promoting that book. Check it out by clicking here.

So, how are things so far this year? Well, signs have been promising that maybe this year we will have a natural reprieve from this perennial nuisance. You see, due to cooler than normal weather the soybean aphids have been greatly reduced this summer. Could it be that the Asian beetle population will also be self-limiting due to a limited food source? This homeowner sure hopes so.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.