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Wild Side Column: Packing up for migration

Canned venison is delicious, according to columnist Dan Wilcox. Photo courtesy of Dan Wilcox

Noisy flocks of tundra and trumpeter swans have been flying over heading south as lakes and ponds up north freeze over. The swans have spent the last month or two feeding on aquatic plants fueling up for their flight south. Now there are thousands of swans, ducks and geese on the Mississippi River in Pools 8 and 9 downriver from La Crosse. There they take on more fuel for their migration, eating the tubers of water celery, Vallisneria americana.

The migrating birds pack in food before they leave their nesting areas up north and stop to feed along the way. They carry nothing with them on their flight south.

Carol and I are preparing to leave for our place in Cedar Key on the Gulf coast of Florida. By the time you read this column, we should be there. We have made trips south many times but this year we will stay until May. That entails quite a bit of packing and checking off chores to complete before we go tomorrow. This being our first year with a house in Florida, we still have quite a bit to take along. Our truck with a topper will be full.

The winter weather in Cedar Key on the Gulf coast is mild. It rarely freezes so we will leave behind most of our winter clothing. A winter storm is making its way across Iowa, Illinois and southern Wisconsin today (Sunday, Nov. 25). Hopefully, we will drive on cleared roads and into snow-free territory in southern Illinois tomorrow.

My deer hunting at home this year was enjoyable but I didn't fire a shot. I spent a number of mornings and evenings in a ladder stand watching the squirrels and passed on some fawns and yearling deer. A friend got a good-sized doe with a bow and then got a couple more deer with his gun. We processed the three deer last Friday. It only took us a little over three hours to skin, quarter, bone out and pack the deer in our shop.

On Saturday Carol and I canned venison. Canned venison looks rather strange in the jar but it's delicious and a good way to make a quick meal. We cut up the venison into chunks, browned them quickly in hot pans with olive oil (a very messy business), and packed the meat into jars with some onion, garlic and beef broth. After a lengthy time in the canner, a double set of pint jars of canned venison was ready for us to take south.

My last pheasant hunting foray with Jack along the Trimbelle River was successful. We will bring along a frozen pheasant, canned venison, frozen apple juice from our orchards, frozen vegetables, blueberries and strawberries from our garden, maple syrup, cheese and cheese curds from Ellsworth. These will be treats for our Florida friends.

After about 22 hours of driving and two or three overnight stops (I don't like marathon driving any more), we will drive through the piney woods toward the coast, through several miles of salt marsh, over a few bridges, and get to Cedar Key. We look forward to visiting our Cedar Key resident friends and other snowbirds, the feathered kind and our friends and relatives from up north.

I'll keep writing this column from Cedar Key this winter.