Great Outdoors: Looking down for fun, and looking up
(Editor's note: Outdoor Writer John Weiss has taken the Department of Natural Resources' 125-mile challenge. The DNR wants people to celebrate the 125th anniversary of state parks by going 125 miles by boot, boat or bike in state parks, state forest, state trails or state water trail. Weiss will use the challenge to highlight all the public land, and what it has, in the region.)
KELLOGG — On Saturday, I was looking down on a hunting trip to the Snake Creek unitof the Richard J. Dorer State Forest near Kellogg.
A few weeks before, I was looking up at Isinours unit of the forest north of Preston.
The forest, with several major units and many smaller ones scattered across the region's blufflands, is one of my go-to places when I want to hunt or bushwhack. Unlike state parks or trails, hunting is allowed on most of that land, and I can walk, camp or goof offjust about anywhere on the about 45,000 acres of land.
In state parks, it's not really illegal to go off the trail, but going cross country is discouraged because it might open new trails or mess up biologically sensitive areas. State trails often have little public land along them.
But the Dorer forest is pretty much wide open, and I love that.
Dorer was a conservation giant in Minnesota and across the country who came up with the idea for the forest to conserve woods and give people a place to recreate. I have camped, hiked, hunted and bushwhackedoff trails of dozens of the units, and I have a lot more to explore.
Last Saturday, I went to the Snake Creek unitthat is about 3,000 acres along a trout stream and up to blufftops. I was going hunting but only for antlers that deer have shed. It's a growing sport, and I decided to try it as a way to finally walk in the woods with little or no snow.
Looking down for antlers is hard for me because I usually look up for game or photos. I began following a trail but saw no sheds, so I took a hard left and followed a deer trail uphill, hoping a monster buck had dropped both antlers along it. The trail zigged, the trail zagged, and I just went along, slowing moving up the bluffside.
The trail soon took me into prickly ash, nature's answer to barbed wire, and cedars. They're nasty stuff for humans to walk through but deer tend to bed down there, so there I went. I saw nothing, except a long streak of blood on a finger and scratches on the other hand.
But I also made it to a great view of the Mississippi River lowlandsand the rest of Snake. Sometimes, you have to put in sweat, time, and blood for a great view.
On the way down, I wandered down deer trails until I came to the main trail. I ended with no antlers but I added three milesto my total.
The week before, I went to the Isinours unitto try to hunt squirrelson one of the last days of the hunting season; in that case, I was looking up into trees. It's a small parcel, by Dorer standards, and had more pines and fewer oaks that I would have liked. I saw one squirrel and didn't bother trying to get a shot. I was really out to walk in some of the last snow of the year.
The mile walk was part walking, part stopping to listen or look for squirrels. Walking in wet snow is really hard, even with good boots. The mile I put in was probably the hardest I'll have in the 125-mile challenge, outside of a walk up the side of Latsch State Park. In wet snow, my boot slipped a few inches back with nearly each step forward; that make my hips hurt.
I was happy to end that mile, then hiked two miles on the adjacent Root River Trail. Again, walking was a challenge as I slipped around.
The best thing that happened was I added three more milesto the my total that, after Snake Creek, is nine miles.