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Joined: 06/03/2010

            There are some truly large and great swamps in the world. Swamps like the Okefenokee or the Everglades in the United States to name two are examples of large, dangerous swamps that deserve respect when being entered and traversed. In Upper Michigan we have marshes, bogs, and swamps. Bogs are usually ancient glacier lakes that have filled up with sediment over the years and now are covered with peat moss and sometimes lots of blueberries and reeds. As a rule swamps are good places to hunt and I grew up trekking through some for some of my more exciting hunting. Navigating these swamps, which are not nearly so grand or potentially dangerous, deserved some respect none the less.
             An Upper Michigan swamp is mostly a combination of hemlock, balsam, spruce, cedar and a smattering of other soft or hardwood trees and lots of brush thrown in for good measure. The various swamps or wet areas are mostly water seeps or stagnant flood plains from overflow where creeks or small streams flood during storms. Some have no permanent flowing water and they feature a lot of dead trees or blow downs and they tend to dry out in the summer. Other swamps have a creek or small stream flowing and they stay wet year round and provide a home for all kinds of wildlife.
             In some places the swamp is dry land and in other places the water can be over ‘boot top’ deep. Clumps of thick brush and trees clutter up any possible straight pathway through the swamp but the animals navigate quite easily in a kind of tortuous route in and around the thickest parts of the deep swamp. On top of all that the light that filters in through the trees is very dim even on a sunny day and as sunset approaches it can get downright dark in the swamp. A  U.P. swamp of any type can be a difficult place if a person doesn’t know what is ahead of him or her when they venture into a large multi-acre swamp like I used to hunt in.
            Swamps can be wet, cold, or rather a lot cooler than the regular forest, and sometimes so mucky and hard to get through that most people don’t want to even go into them. More than a few hunters have gotten turned around in a thick swamp. Over half of the places I hunted for the whitetail deer and small game in the “good old days” was “swampy” and I frequently had to find my way in and out of the deep dark swamp many times. Flashlights were a help but battery life was short and I tended to save mine for a really important reason rather than just getting to and from my hunting spots so I got rather good at trekking the swamps and woods in the dark of early morning or after sundown. The clutter of branches and entanglement of trees and brush made any walking a tricky task and in the dark it was doubly important to go slow and not get into a situation that you couldn’t get out of.
            I would spend a lot of my free time in the late summer and early fall tramping the woods and swamps mapping out pathways so I could find them when hunting season rolled around. One of my favorite hunting sites was a thick forty plus acre swamp that shielded a bunch of small hardwood ridges in its center. Those ridges were a haven for the deer and they had trails and bedding areas all over those small hills. I would roam those ridges and mark rubs and scrapes for the upcoming hunt. I usually had three or four good places to sit picked out and they often looked out on several trails or some prominent scrapes in a trail. The trick was getting in there in the predawn darkness and getting out again after dark at night.
            I always carried a small kit of items important to a trip in the swamp or any wild area for that matter. I had a good compass (and still do), a waterproof match case and some tinder, a small pocket knife (beside the belt knife I always wore), some band aids and a small length of cord or twine to tie things if needed. I added or removed more items as a hunt dictated. This kit was kept small enough to fit in my jacket or vest pocket and it did see use many times when I needed a fire to dry wet feet or warm cold hands or for some other emergency.
            My hunting afield was done by driving or walking to the place I would hunt or scout.  We didn’t have ATV’s or off road vehicles or fancy waterproof boots like those available today in my younger days so to even consider going in or through a swamp good boots were a must. Mostly I wore the “Maine” style 8 or 9 inch high top leather boots with a rubber bottom or high top all rubber boots depending on the weather and my mood.  If I figured on venturing in deep where it was wet all year around I wore the rubber boots but if I was just scouting I wore the leather ones and tried to stay out of deep water but sometimes that was impossible and I had many days with wet feet and wet boots after a hunt.
            Mosquitoes (along with wood ticks and flies) are a real problem most of the summer and early fall and I tried all kinds of repellant or dopes as they were sometimes called but nothing really worked a hundred per cent if you wanted to carry a gun or bow because most of those old repellents ruined finishes on gear or melted the plastic on some gear. I usually got so bit up that I didn’t even notice the bites after a few weeks and didn’t need any dope on my skin. If it was a dry fall then the bugs weren’t too bad but a wet year could be a bugs dream. During the bow season in October I would grin and bear the welts and itching to stay as still as possible to await a buck.
            Swamps are a sanctuary for loads of critters like deer, bear, coyotes and many smaller mammals as well as snakes, loads of birds (including ducks), frogs, small skinks, salamanders and newts which all exist in a state of almost total invisibility to most humans who venture into their domain. I always loved the sound of frogs singing in a swamp because it let you know that the swamp was alive and healthy. Some of the other residents were less welcome. Skunks are very nosy and they have little fear of anything including a silent hunter sitting under a tree while porcupines are slow and unconcerned about almost anything around them and they have no qualms about climbing down a tree right on top of a hunter perched below. Partridge are like the chicken of the forest or swamp walking around stealthily here and there pecking for food as they go but skittish at the least little noise which sends them sneaking away without you even seeing how they do it or they burst into the air with thundering wings scaring everything around. Squirrels are some of the noisiest animals scurrying back and forth on dry leaves making a heck of a racket or chattering up a storm when they get mad.
            Deer are a mixed lot as far as noise goes. Some, mostly the does and young ones, make all kinds of noise and often sniff out a hunter as they roam around. Bucks, however, tend to be a little quieter as they grow older. I have had large bucks walk right behind me and never make a sound. Sometimes they seem to just appear out of nowhere and they can disappear just as easily. The older bucks are masters of the wait and see technique also, often standing for many minutes without a twitch to betray their presence. It sometimes is unnerving to the hunter to wait for a big buck to move into range or move out of cover into an open spot where a shot can be attempted. Many deer are missed simply because the hunter can’t wait them out and moves before there is a shot.
            After the first frost the swamp changes as the animals that dislike winter leave or hibernate. The rest of the inhabitants brace for the hard cold that follows. Deer season runs from November 15th to the 30th and then it is rabbit season for the cottontails until the end of March and they seem to love the fringes of the swamp. We also have the snowshoe hare but they are not real good eating so I usually left them alone. In the winter most of the wet places are frozen over but the wise hunter still has to watch out for air pockets under the ice due to warm spells. Break through and a wet foot could be the result. After November it is usually safe to navigate without fear of any wet spots but good footwear is still a necessity because footing can still be treacherous.
            As March fades and May issues in spring the swamp is getting back to its summertime mode and the whole cycle of swamp life renews complete with a whole new batch of mosquitoes and wood ticks. There were a few  trout streams in the swamps I frequented and I used to fish in them but the mosquitoes and flies were really bad and the trout had to be biting really good to make it worthwhile. Springtime is when ducks like to nest in the wet areas of the swamps and raise a family before fall. Most of the animals like the deer move out into the fields and open woodlots to get away from the ticks and mosquitoes and they will avoid the swamps until the fall when hunting pressure picks up.  
            Upper Michigan has thousands and thousands of acres of wilderness and scenic areas like the State and National forests and even a mountain range called the Porcupine Mountains and those areas are well worth experiencing and enjoying outdoor activities in but if you are fortunate enough to enjoy Upper Michigan don’t forget the swamps, they have a beauty all their own.

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Joined: 05/25/2010
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