Stories in the Snow

Random factoids from the Northwoods

I’ve been a volunteer carnivore tracker for over 5 winters. Yep, I’m the one creeping along in my car on the side of the road with the hazards on, hanging my head out the window looking for animal tracks in the snow. I constantly watch the weather hoping for the conditions that will produce good tracks and that they then coincide with my schedule. There have been many seminars and classes I’ve attended to learn all about animals to help with better track identification because sometimes one has to rely on other information. Each tracking session is logged in detail, complete with photos, maps and GPS coordinates and then submitted for review and use in field research. Although my accuracy is improving every year, I continue to take classes and learn from the natural resources folks.

BUT you don’t need to be an official tracker to have fun seeing the…

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The key to warm feet all winter long – Steger Mukluks (TM)

Living in the great Northwoods of Wisconsin and loving to play outdoors, I have struggled for years with cold feet in the winter – which here can last up to 6 months! Cold feet have cut short many activities and/or made them miserable. Last year was a life-changing event for me when, on a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Ely, Minnesota, I tried on my first pair of Mukluks.

mukluk store

Steger Mukluk Retail Store, 33 E Sheridan St., Ely, MN

The Steger Mukluk store in Ely is the only retail outlet and though they have good customer service with their mail order, hey, it was an excuse for a road trip to the head of the BWCA. All of their Mukluks are made right in Ely too. I like to try on all my options which can get to be a little much via mail order…including various thickness of socks, etc. I later found out that many people make the Ely trek from even further reaches.

My first purchase was a pair of black short Queticos. The weather rating for these moosehide Mukluks is -20F for everyday wear – colder temperatures apply if you choose larger and wider sizes. Their Arctic and Yukon styles are for the more extremists, with the Yukons having a buckle style closure versus the traditional-style moosehide laces.

I wore the Queticos for the rest of the winter and had warm tootsies snowshoeing in pretty severe weather. They are very comfortable and light-weight as well. I never got a blister or sore feet as they are like wearing moccasins with a flexible sole and break in easily. They conform to your feet very quickly and you can add extra felt pads if needed.

While an advocate of gators, I also despise them. The snow depth was a little much at times for the short Queticos last year, and I suspect the same will be true for this year. So another road trip was in order. I purchased a pair of the 17″ tall Terra Mukluks with a weather rating to -10F. These are combination of moosehide and boiled wool. The boiled wool upper seemed to accommodate thicker calves more comfortably than some of the other styles I tried. I picked up a pair of chocolate Quetico Talls on request for a friend who will now be enjoying warm feet this winter. Neither of us will need gators this year!


Terra Mukluks, a combination of boiled wool uppers with moosehide.

While there are other good options out there, I haven’t found any that have the great combination of light-weight style, comfort, and supreme warmth!


P.S. I am in no way affiliated with the company.

Three Eagle Trail Now Open for Business

After many years of hard work, and lots of money raised and spent, the Eagle River portion of the Three Eagle Trail is now open!  It is a beautiful trail that runs south from Eagle River for three miles, connects up with the southern portion of the trail,and runs another eight miles to the city park in Three Lakes.  3E biker1

The majority of the trail was built in the fall of 2012.  A long boardwalk over a wetland was completed over the winter when the marsh was frozen.  Some final details were taken care of this spring, and the trail is now open to the public.  The trail is made from crushed limestone, which makes a very pleasant surface to ride on.

3E di spit

The trail is also open to pedestrians and dogs that are leashed.  Motor vehicles are not allowed.

The centerpiece of the trail is a long boardwalk that spans a large wetland and Mud Creek.

Boardwalk over Mud Creek

Boardwalk over Mud Creek

The trail can be accessed from several locations:

1.  The northern terminus is at the Dairy Queen store in Eagle River.  You can park on the edge of the gravel road that parallels the trail just south of Dairy Queen, or in the city lot on the north side of Hwy 70 adjacent to the Holiday gas station.  GPS coordinates for this trailhead:  45.91370  89.25181

2.  Bikers can park in the middle of the two sections by heading south from Eagle River on Sundstein Road (across from the fairgrounds).  After several miles you will come to a stop sign at the intersection of Sundstein and Sundstein (yes, this is what the road sign says).  At the stop sign, take the road that bears slightly to the left of straight ahead.  You will see the parking area and trailhead .4 miles up on the left.  The GPS coordinates for this spot are:  45.86150  89.25270

3.  The final parking option is at Don Burnside Park in the town of Three Lakes.

Grand Opening Celebration

There will be a grand opening ceremony on Saturday, June 29th at the new trailhead adjacent to the Dairy Queen in Eagle River.  The public is invited.

Connecting the two portions of the 3 Eagle Trail

It is a short ride on paved roads between the two main segments of the 3 Eagle Trail.  If you want to make this connection after riding south from Eagle River, do the following:

1.  The crushed limestone surface will end at a “T” intersection.  Take a right at this intersection onto Section 9 Road.  GPS coordinates for this spot are: 45.87897  89.24706

Turn right onto Section 9 Road at the south end of the Eagle River segment

Turn right onto Section 9 Road at the south end of the Eagle River segment

2. Travel .2 miles on Section 9 Road to the stop sign on Sundstein Road.  GPS coordinates for this spot are:  45.87873  89.25276

Go left at the intersection of Section 9 Road and Sundstein Road

Go left at the intersection of Section 9 Road and Sundstein Road

3.  Go left at the stop sign at Section 9 & Sundstein Road.

4.  Travel .6 miles on Sundstein Road to the stop sign at the Sundstein & Sundstein intersection.  The GPS coordinates for this spot are:  45.86873  89.25272

Bear slightly to the left of straight ahead at the Sundstein and Sundstein intersection stop sign

Bear slightly to the left of straight ahead at the Sundstein and Sundstein intersection stop sign

5.  Go slightly to the left of straight ahead at the Sundstein & Sundstein stop sign.

6.  Travel .4 miles on this road to the parking lot and trailhead of the next section of the trail.

Parking and trailhead to the southern section of the trail

Parking and trailhead to the southern section of the trail

Connecting the trail sections if you are heading north:

1.  From the parking and trailhead for the southern section of the trail, travel north .4 miles to the Sundstein and Sundstein stop sign.

2.  Bear slightly to the right and straight at the stop sign and travel .6 miles on Sundstein Road.

3.  Turn right at the intersection of Section 9 Road – look for the Section 9 sign on your right.

4.  Travel .2 miles down Section 9 Road.  You will see a gate marking the beginning of private property.  Make a left onto the crushed limestone of the 3 Eagle Trail, which will take you up to Eagle River.  Note:  This left turn is difficult to see until you are right on top of it.  You won’t see the crushed limestone trail on your left until you are almost at the private property gate.

Go left just in front of the private property gate onto the crushed limestone trail

Go left just in front of the private property gate onto the crushed limestone trail

Geocaching the Three Eagle Trail

The Geocaching team of Timberline Echoes put together a great set of geocaches on the new Eagle River segment of the trail.  There are 22 caches that can be bagged along the entire 3 Eagle Trail.  Click on this link to get the details (if you haven’t done so already, you will need to create an account for to get the coordinates, but sign up is free.)

The website for the 3 Eagle Trail is at:

Since the Eagle River segment of the trail is so new, the map on the web site does not include the segment.  Here is a jpeg of the new trail map:

Updated trail map, including the new Eagle River segment

Updated trail map, including the new Eagle River segment

The weather is great – so get out and do some riding on the new trail!

3E 2 bikers

The Drummers of Spring

Story and photos by Dan Anderson.  Layout and production by Diane G. Anderson.  Population graph by Keith McCaffery and Mike Worland

Everyone in the Northwoods has heard it, but not everyone knows what it is.  Some describe it as the sound a small motor makes when starting.  Others say it sounds like a far off bass drum.  Some can’t seem to hear it at all, since it is so subtle.  But that noise you hear coming from the woods is the sound of a male ruffed grouse standing on a log and beating his wings against the air to attract a mate.

(Click to hear the sound of a drumming grouse)

Starting in early April, and lasting as late as early June, ruffed grouse will be drumming.  It can be heard at all times of the day, but the best time to listen for it is in the first hour of daylight.  Windless conditions make it much easier to hear, and the ideal situation is a calm, overcast morning with seasonably warm temperatures.  The peak of drumming activity in the Vilas area is the last 10 days of April, although because of the late spring this year, they didn’t start until about May 1.

Grouse are famous for their boom and bust population cycle.  Generally speaking, it follows a 9 to 11 year pattern with peaks in years ending with a 9 or a 0.  The bottom of the cycle tends to be in the middle of the decade.  Despite massive amounts of research, the cause of the cycle remains a mystery.  It may be tied to an influx of avian predators from Canada, who head south when the snowshoe hare population crashes.  It may also be influenced by the changing nutritional value of aspen buds, the favorite grouse food.  It probably involves both of these factors, as well as several other variables such as weather and snow depth in the winter (deep snows help grouse by allowing them to roost under it to keep warm and avoid predators).  The only thing that is known for sure is that the 10 year cycle is real and well documented.

Drumming grouse offer wildlife managers an excellent way to track grouse populations.  Researchers count the number of drumming grouse they hear, using established  protocols  to ensure an “apples to apples” comparison.  Wisconsin hosts the longest running grouse population study in the country near Stone Lake, between Rhinelander and St. Germain.  I have been participating in this study the last two years.

I hit the woods no later than 5:15 AM.  Many of the drumming logs in my research compartment have been marked by GPS, but the essence of my job is to listen for current drummers and try to pin down their location.  So when I hear a drummer in the pre-dawn gloom, I quickly take a compass reading and head toward it.  But here’s the thing – following a straight line compass bearing through dense forest and swamp sucks!  It includes getting whipped in the face by alder branches, going over your boots in swamp water, and falling flat on your face after tripping on deadfall.  And the worst of it is that the grouse will often stop drumming before you get close enough to find his log.  The best outcome is to flush the bird off his drumming log, which then gets GPSed and measured.  Then I count the white poops.  Yes, poops.  A log with less than about 20 poops is considered a secondary log.  But the real prize is the log with 100 or more poops, which indicates the primary drumming log.

Grouse poops next to drumming log

Grouse poops next to drumming log

The goal of the work is to accurately establish the number of drumming males in my compartment.  This is added together with the number of drummers in several other research compartments. This in turn is compared to drumming counts from the past 45 years to establish the status of the grouse cycle and other population trends.

stone lake graph

Graph by Keith McCaffery and Mike Worland

When you hear a grouse drumming in the woods, I don’t recommend charging toward it in an effort to count his poops.  But I do recommend that you take a minute to enjoy this signature sound of the Northwoods.

Bears in the Front Yard

As I was relaxing before bedtime with a magazine one night last week, I heard a “clunk”.  I assumed it was the wind blowing a branch around, which is a pretty common occurrence in the northwoods.  But then the hair stood up on the back of my neck as I realized there was no wind this night.  I cautiously poked my head out the front door, but didn’t see anything.  Since it was May of 2013, there was of course fresh snow on the ground.  I pulled on my boots and headed outside with a flashlight, and immediately spotted fresh bear tracks.  A suet feeder we hang in front of the picture window was in the middle of the yard, all bent up.   At about this time, our two German shorthaired-pointers figured out that something was up.  They came racing out the dog door and started patrolling the perimeter, barking like crazy.  I followed the tracks down the driveway and saw them disappear into the night.  So that was the end of it, or so we thought.

The next morning as I was heading to work, I was stopped by the garbage can, which was tipped over in the driveway and surrounded by trash.  I guess he couldn’t pass up the smell of rotting food.

The black bears in our area love bird feeders – or more accurately they love the bird feed.  We are not the brightest bulbs on the tree, so we happily refilled the sunflower feeders and replaced the suet feeder.  Two nights later, the dogs went crazy in the middle of the night.  You guessed it – we are now short two sunflower feeders.  The large metal “s” hook holding them up was bent almost straight, and we found the mangled feeders in the front yard.  We didn’t get any sleep the rest of the night, as the dogs were on a hair trigger and went on a barking rampage every 15 minutes.

This time we were a bit smarter and we took down all the feeders, thinking this would remove any temptations for our friend the bear.  Well, last night when we got home from fish fry, the garbage was again blocking the driveway, and trash was spread around.  It appeared that his food of choice this time was some old kitty litter that our cat Clare had used up.

So what’s your next move Mr. Bear?  We will be waiting with our trusty bear dogs locked up inside and our camera at the ready.  See you soon!



Impatient Kayaks

Story as told by Scott Eschenbauch.  Photos by Bruce Drew. 

Our kayaks just couldn’t take it anymore.  They know it is springtime, and they never before waited this long to hit the water.  So when we finally got some decent weather, we brought our old friends out of the garage and went paddling.

The trail down to our put in spot was still knee deep in snow,but our tour guide Scott had snowshoed down it several times to pack it down.    The boats slid across the top nicely, and the snow was gone on the north bank of the river where we dropped the boats in the water.

Dragging  the boats to the river

Dragging the boats to the river

It is an annual event to paddle down the river when there is still snow in the woods.  But this year the water was the highest its ever been.  It is a small river and we normally have to hop out and drag the boats over some shallow spots, but this time we floated right over the top.

The water was high

The water was high

As usual, the wildlife put on a show.  Several pairs of waterfowl were flushed from the banks, including mallards, bufflehead ducks, and canada geese.

canada goos

Two eagles that rose up from the banks were clearly munching on something.  We stopped to check it out and were surprised to see the remains of a large muskie.  They had eaten everything except the head.  We also saw some smaller muskies spawning in the shallows.  There were sandhill cranes floating around and making a racket.

The weather was beautiful, and all we needed were t-shirts.  What a relief after the brutal spring weather we’ve had this year.

taking a break

Taking a break

The paddling season is just beginning.  Get out and enjoy the water – your kayaks will thank you.

loading up after a great day on the water


Into the Wild – Wisconsin State Natural Areas

The Wisconsin DNR has set aside 655 parcels of land in the state and designated them as State Natural Areas.  These areas have been chosen to “...protect outstanding examples of Wisconsin’s native landscape of natural communities, significant geological formations and archeological sites.”  If you are looking for some great wilderness to explore, this is your ticket.

Blackjack Springs State Natural Area

Blackjack Springs State Natural Area

Vilas County has 30 State Natural Areas,Oneida County has 22, and more are being added all the time.  The DNR website makes it easy to find sites in your area.  Go to

Nixon Lake State Natural Area

Nixon Lake State Natural Area

These areas are open to recreation, but since they were established to protect unique or rare natural features,  they generally have more restrictions than other public land.  The web description of each area will outline allowed activities, and also give you a topographic map and directions to the area you choose.

Alva Lake State Natural Area

Alva Lake State Natural Area

Some of our favorite Natural Areas in the Vilas area include:

Bittersweet Lakes:  This is a chain of four wilderness lakes between St. Germain and Woodruff.  It can be explored on skis or snowshoes in the winter, or by hiking and kayaking in the summer.

Johnson Lake Barrens:  This is a large and remote area in northern Vilas County.  Hiking is the best way to experience this one.

Nixon Lake:  This is a marshy lake and creek full of bird life.  It is northwest of Star Lake.

Pat Shay Lake:  This one can be snowshoed in the winter or paddled in the summer.  It is popular with wildlife, and lies east of Eagle River in the Nicolet National Forest.

Into the wild - Pat Shay Lake State Natural Area

Into the wild – Pat Shay Lake State Natural Area

Spruce Grouse Swamp:  This area is wild and remote.  Hit it with snowshoes.  Spruce grouse can be viewed here, although they are tough to find.  Wisconsin is at the very southern edge of their range.

Lake Alva:  This is a nice hike of about a mile through some old growth hemlock.  The lake is pristine. It is northwest of Star Lake.

Day Lake:  An excellent kayaking/canoeing lake.

The State Natural Area home page can be found at:

Enjoy these hidden gems, but respect them by “taking only pictures, and leaving only footprints”.

bruce at nixon winter



Since the end of winter seems nowhere in sight, we decided to try a new cold weather activity.  A friend lent us her skijoring equipment and we gave it a shot.

Skijoring is done by putting your dog in a harness, and then attaching him to your own harness with a rope.  The rope will generally have a length of bungee cord in the middle to absorb quick stops, starts and turns.  Quick release buckles are used to help escape tricky situations.

Gabby preparing to go skijoring

Gabby preparing to go skijoring

In Wisconsin, the DNR alllows skijoring on “non-designated” cross country ski trails.  If a trail is marked for cross country skiing with a trailhead sign or on a map, skijoring would not be allowed.  Winter Park in Minoqua has trails designated for the sport. Their skijoring information is at:

You might also consider following snowmobile paths on lakes.  But stay off designated snowmobile trails for obvious safety reasons.  Most cross country ski areas don’t allow dogs on the trails.

Since this was the first time we tried this, we cannot be considered experts -but we had a ball.  Check out the video we made:

Special thanks goes out to Chris B., who lent us her gear.

When Eagles Dine at the Roadkill Cafe

Every spring a grisly phenomenon plays itself out in the Northwoods.  Lots of deer are killed by cars each winter and then get buried in the snow on the roadside.  As the snow begins to melt, the reappearance of these deer is eagerly awaited by the eagles.  Eagles, like all wildlife, are looking for the most food for the least amount of energy expenditure.  So the winter’s roadkill is just what they are looking for.

Eagle dining on a road kill deer

Eagle dining on a road kill deer

Despite the unappealing elements of this situation, it does give us a chance to see eagles up close.  But there is also a significant downside.  The Wisconsin DNR reports that the leading cause of eagle deaths in the state are from collisions with vehicles.  And most vehicle collisions occur when eagles are scavenging dead deer along the roadways.

If you see an eagle near the roadside, the most important thing is to SLOW DOWN and be aware that the eagle may fly at any time.  If you are up to the task, drag the deer carcass several yards away from the road.  If the eagle is still hungry, he’ll be back –  but at a safer distance from the traffic.

eagle flying final

I spoke with Jake at the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, WI.  He says if you see an injured eagle call them immediately at 715-623-4015.  They have been very successful at rehabilitating eagles and other raptors that have been hurt.  If you find a dead eagle, you should also call them. It is illegal to possess eagle feathers or other body parts.  The Raptor Education Group will arrange to have the body sent to the National Eagle Depository in Colorado, where they will give the carcass to qualified Native Americans for use in religious ceremonies.  The website for the Raptor Education Group is at

The eagles are just now arriving in the Vilas area.  Keep an eye out for them and enjoy these amazing birds, even if they are dining at the Roadkill Cafe.


Grooming for Success

The Northwoods has received a significant amount of snow in the last week, which means the cross- country skiing is the best of the season.  After the latest 7 inch snowfall, I took a ride with Bruce Drew while he groomed the ski trails at Razorback Ridges, just west of Sayner.

Bruce and his groomer

Bruce and his groomer

It takes a lot of work to keep the trails in good condition.  After a good snowfall, Bruce and his partner Will need to groom at least a couple of times a week.  This takes between 2 and 4 hours each time, and these guys are volunteers. They do it just because they love to ski.

Razorback Ridges has about 20 miles of ski trails.  Bruce likes to skate ski, so he grooms these trails.  Will is more of a classic (two track) skier, so he takes care of this type of trail.  When the snow is deep, Bruce makes two or three passes on all the trails to get it right.  He usually does it at night, as this gives the groomed snow a chance to set up and harden – which is how he likes it.

Trail before grooming

Trail before grooming

The boys from Sayner started grooming and maintaining the trails in 1984.  Their first groomer was a snowmobile towing a bed spring.

Trail after the groomer has passed

Trail after the groomer has passed

Even though volunteers donate their time, it still takes money to maintain the equipment, buy fuel, take care of the warming hut, and deal with numerous other details.  So please leave a donation at the warming hut if you use the trails.  The Sayner Star Lake Lions Club pays for the groomer, equipment repairs and other maintenance – please consider attending one of their fundraisers.  Bruce used to organize a bike race that raised quite a bit of money for some of the initial investments.  The ski trails are used for mountain biking in the summer.

Razorback Ridges warming hut

Razorback Ridges warming hut

Since the trails are in the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest, the Lions Club has an agreement with the DNR to operate the trails.

Ski trail maintenance is not just a winter activity.  Brush that has fallen onto the trails has to be cleared in the off season. A four wheeler towing a brush mower keeps the vegetation down.  Overhanging branches need to be trimmed every few years.  Bruce also carries a chainsaw in the groomer to deal with any trees or branches blocking the way.

View from the groomer

View from the groomer

Although the number of skiers always drops off in March, the skiing is still excellent.  Not all the trails are groomed right now, but Bruce and Will are making sure the open trails are in excellent shape.

Razorback Ridges trail map

Razorback Ridges trail map

Razorback Ridges can be reached by driving west from Sayner on County N.  After just a couple miles, you will see a small store on the right, and the warming hut and parking area are on the north side of the store.