Season to season

The dust from an autumn’s worth of traveled gravel roads coated the inside of the bed of my F-150, despite the topper with the loose passenger-side screen providing ample coverage for the mix of dog gear, field kits, gallon jugs of water and an assortment of bungee cords and ratchet straps. As I unlocked the latter from the side of the well-worn beige and brown kennel and slid the unit out, I took stock of the seven remaining plastic hasps that held it together and figured a scavenger hunt was in order to help fill the five open spaces that would secure the top and bottom. Sweeping out the lined bed, I found one and clipped it into place after freeing it from the dirt, feathers and grime that piled up at the back end of the truck with each pull of the broom.

With the folding knife on the pheasant cleaning tool given to me by a buddy several seasons ago, I went after the loops of plastic bag that remained on the support cable attaching the tailgate to the truck bed. Reminders of the season’s successful hunts and the makeshift disposal system for each evening’s cleaning duties following a trip where I bagged a bird, the white and gray wrappings totaled seven. Though the I figured the real total was more like 10 or 12, counting the first few hunts of the season out on the farm. I collected the scraps of plastic and tossed them in the garbage before bagging the plastic bowl with Ole’s gear and emptying out the water jugs and setting them in the recycler, knowing my two boys would probably drain 200 more gallons of milk before the next upland season sets in.

Going through the cab of the truck, I collected loose shotgun shells from cup holders and door cubbies, mostly the burnt yellow three-inch 20-gauge Prairie Storm I now prefer to shoot, but there were a few canary-colored Winchester target loads rolling around as well. Finding each a home in a respective box in my upland bag, I wrote the number of remaining rounds on top of each cardboard container and stowed them for the off season with the chokes for my preferred field guns and my dog’s electronic collar and set my worn leather boots on top of the bag. With that, the upland season was over.

Heading back upstairs, I went to the far side of the garage and tilted my portable two-man sled shack away from the wall, angling and methodically dragging it through the alley between my wife’s car and the truck. I tilted the back end up against the tailgate and with a quick squat lifted it into the back of the F-150 and slid it between the wheel wells until it bumped the back of the cab. Heading back to the far corner of the garage, I hoisted the red-and-black auger from its hanging post and steered it out of the open door. Dumping a small shot of Seafoam followed by gasoline-and-two-cycle mix, I primed the unit and pulled twice on the cord.

The auger fired up, pumping white exhaust on the first few rotations before running clear and humming as it had back in mid-November when it looked like the rapidly-building ice formed by a chilly start to the month would cut into the hunting season before a warm Thanksgiving put those ideas on hold. I leaned it up against the garage door and secured it with a dusty orange bungee cord and let it go for a few minutes as I hauled the balance of my gear up from the basement.

In circus style, I made my best effort to bring everything up at once. Re-strung rods for everything from panfish to pike were packed tightly in the briefcase-style carrier that required the most room for wide turns. A five-gallon bucket stuffed with round thermal tip-ups and covered with a camo fabric seat was wedged at an angle against the rod case and scraped against the wall on the way out of my office. In my other hand, the beat-up buddy heater and water-stained fabric tackle box clanged and rattled respectively with each step up the stairwell. I opted to leave the new Vexilar behind for a second trip, as it was probably the most valuable piece of equipment and the one that was least buffered or experienced with a catastrophic drop down the steps; besides, it would rest comfortably inside the cab until I arrived at the lake for the evening. I set the bucket, tackle box, heater and rod case alongside the flipover shack before I turned off the auger and used it to fill the last bit of room between the house and the tailgate before I closed it, securing everything in place.

Preparing to head to the convenience store for a scoop of minnows and some spikes, I pulled out of the garage before stopping short. Running back into the house, I rummaged through my upland bag and found the one item that was shared between the two activities: my GPS. Starting it up, I set a course for the waypoint of sunken trees marked on the panfish lake where I had so much fun last summer. With that carry-over item locked into place on the dash, my ice season could finally begin…in our outdoors.

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