My parents have a place in Florida that they retreat to for the winter. Mostly my mother, however my father has been staying a little longer as the years progress. This year, my mother had asked two of my daughters to drive her car down and she was going to fly in. Somehow, that turned into a mini family get away for most of us.
My daughters drove their grandmother to the airport and continued their journey to Florida, three days later. my wife, Deanna, flew down to Florida to visit her parents. A couple of weeks later I drove down with my father to “help him drive”. I didn’t drive one inch of the trip! I got in the truck at 5:20 AM, we stopped once for gas and a couple other times for restroom breaks and arrived 15 hrs later!
Dad sticks around for that extra 2 weeks because we still have deer hunters coming in for muzzle loader season. During those two weeks he closes down his house and we winterize the hunting camp after the last hunters leave. We also load the truck with about 400 board feet of lumber. Dad places ads in the Florida papers for lumber and takes orders to be delivered, he says it pays for his trip to Florida.
My daughters flew back from their trip a few days before dad & I took off. It worked out perfect! They were able to get my moms car to Florida and visit with her for a few days, visit with their other grandparents, spend a little time running around Disney World, and make it back home to take care of chickens, rabbits, cats, dogs and be here for their brother, Sawyer.
After arriving in Florida, I spent a few days with my parents and then met Deanna and headed down to her parents to spend a few days. Deanna’s mother, Betty, has been going gangbusters canning and dehydrating! She bought us a 9 tray Excalibur dehydrator for Christmas and I can’t wait to get started!
Betty has been canning chicken, ground beef, meatloaf, hamburger patties, beans, pie fillings, jams, and jellies. She usually had a water bath canner, two pressure canners and two dehydrators going at once.
She also had this cool old utensil to pry off the lids from canning jars. It’s called a “pry-a-lid” and I believe she bought a few from ebay.
When Betty is dehydrating, she stores all of her dried fruits and veggies in quart and half gallon mason jars. She uses a FoodSaver machine with a jar sealer accessory to take the air out of the jars and secure the lid. What’s nice about that versus the bags is that you can reseal & reuse the jars over and over again.
Deanna and I helped out a little and learned a lot. I think Deanna is excited about getting started on the canning and dehydrating.
I also helped my father-in-law, Terry, rebuild the gate going into their back yard. The old gate was very heavy and mounted with hinges that were too small, so it had sagged over the years. The new gate uses the type of hinge and pin we use on the farm, lag bolt style gate pins. We also used an Adjust-A-Gate gate frame that Terry had purchased. I have to admit, I was a little leery of it, but it worked great and looked good too!
All in all we had a great time visiting family in Florida, but now its back to the grindstone. I have a lot to do around the farm this winter!
I just wanted to do a quick post and remind everyone to check out the Save Our Skills YouTube Channel. We have been busy producing content and want to maintain a regular video posting schedule, every 3-4 weeks to start out. Unfortunately, out here in the sticks, our internet service is sketchy at best and I had major issues posting to YouTube. However, my wife has been all over the service provider and I think I should be able to post videos now from home. We have recently posted 2 videos:
As a teenager I can remember the anticipation leading up to the opening day of buck season, it was almost as exciting as Christmas when I was even younger.
Here, in Pennsylvania, opening day is the Monday following Thanksgiving. When I was growing up it was an unofficial holiday. Very few students actually went to school on opening day and after a while I guess the school district figured they would just add it to the school calendar and make it an official school closing.
Usually, during the week of Thanksgiving we sight in our rifles and ensure they are in good working order. We built a shooting table and a 100 yard target across the street that we use quite often during the fall season. We also like to make a trip into the woods to the deer stands to make any repairs and to clear brush from the shooting lanes.
The days leading up to opening day are filled with preparation, ensuring that we have all our gear packed neatly in a backpack or set out and ready to go:
Hand Warner’s? Check
Blaze orange vest? Check
Snacks & drinks? Check
Field dressing kit? Check
Depending on the weather, this list could get quite extensive in order to keep warm and dry. I’m always hopeful for that perfect day: 1-2 inches of snowfall Sunday afternoon/evening and a light snowfall Monday morning that ends by 10:00 AM with clear cool skies throughout the day. Unfortunately, here in southwestern Pennsylvania, this perfect day has only occurred a handful of times that I can recall.
Regardless of the weather we make our annual trek into the woods bright and early opening day. This year we had a light rain and temps in the 40’s as my son, Sawyer, & I headed down the road in the side by side. We were awake by 5:30 AM, ate a fresh egg breakfast, on the road by 6:15 AM, and in the stand by 6:40AM. Sunrise was at 7:23 AM, so we were settling into our positions just as we were able to start making out shapes in the distance. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that we got the side by side stuck in the swamp, below the beaver dam, where we cross the creek by 6:25 AM!
As the morning wore on the light rain would come and go and by noon we had yet to see a single deer. Typically, the deer population in our area is quite high. In years past I have joked with friends that come to hunt that the deer around here are like rats in the NYC sewer system, they’re everywhere! But it seems that this year, that is not the case. The hills around us were unusually quiet this year.
We decided to head back to the house (walking) to grab a bite to eat for lunch. Deanna, had made Turkey and dumplings for lunch, you gotta love Thanksgiving leftovers. After we ate, rested, and warmed up a bit we headed back to the stand hopeful for the afternoon. My brother, Dirk, gave us a ride back to the side by side on his four wheeler. We chained the rear of his four wheeler to a tree and used the winch on the front of his four wheeler to get our side by side out of the muck.
As Sawyer & I were walking up the hill to our stand we startled a deer and it went bounding past our stand into the woods. We couldn’t tell if it was a buck or a doe, but it gave us hope none the less. Shortly after getting settled in the stand, around 2:00 PM, we saw a small doe running up the hill behind the stand, things were looking up.
Then the rain started. Off and on, all afternoon, the rain was flowing and the temperature slowly dropping. By the time we were ready to leave we had a slushy freezing rain pouring on the metal roof of our stand.
So, opening day was not a success in the sense of harvesting a deer, however, I feel that the day is more than that. It is a day to bond with family & friends and of making memories, while passing along the skills of hunting to the next generation! In that sense, the day was a huge success!
It is Thanksgiving day and there is a light covering of snow on the ground, time to stoke the fireplace and wood stove.
Last year, about this time, I was in full panic mode! We had moved back to the farm just a few short months earlier and had a lot going on, getting into our new routines and just trying to fit into our new “homesteader” lifestyle. One of those routines that had totally slipped my mind was cutting firewood. So, when my wife, Deanna, had said she wanted to start a fire one chilly evening, I had a complete Homer Simpson moment …… D’oh! …..
Now I was in complete scramble mode. I couldn’t just go out back and chop down a few trees, the wood wouldn’t be seasoned (dried) properly, and I was NOT about to buy firewood when I live on a farm with access to tons of firewood. Then, my father had mentioned that there were slabs left over from when the portable saw mill was here a couple of years ago. Whew, I was safe! These slabs are the first cut that the mill makes on a log, which is usually discarded, and they have been drying for a couple of years. So, I headed off to the old mill site with the chainsaw and a can of fuel, a few hours later I was stacking a truckload of firewood on the porch and feeling pretty good about myself.
That didn’t last long. Did I forget to mention that Deanna is from Florida and loves the heat from the wood stove. It was about a month later that I was back at the old mill site, digging through the snow, to scrape up the last of the slabs. I also found a few logs that weren’t cut into lumber, so I cut them into firewood as well. This time, I think I hauled 2 truckloads, and again I was feeling pretty good.
About the middle of January or February we were out of wood AGAIN! I was so frustrated with the whole ordeal I broke down and bought a cord of wood from a neighbor for $225!
That was a hard lesson for me to learn. As soon as the snow was gone and the ground was no longer frozen, I started cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood for this season. My son and I have worked hard all year to ensure that history does not repeat itself, I believe we have 8-10 cords of wood stacked neatly near the house. We have also been diligently saving the scraps from the wood shop to use as kindling.
We do not heat our home with wood, however we have 2 open fireplaces and 1 wood burning stove, so we could do a pretty good job at heating the house if we needed to do so. I have considered an outdoor wood burning furnace/boiler, but having to go outside to stoke the fire is my biggest complaint. One of our neighbors has an indoor wood burning furnace, but I really don’t know much about them.
So, how do we process firewood? This year, we cleaned up an old pasture that had been reverting back to forest. It had quite a few cherry and ash trees that we used for firewood. Once the tree has been felled we limb the tree, cutting all branches from the main trunk. Then we start at the base and cut logs 16-20 inches in length, then we start at the base of each branch and do the same. We cut anything that is 3-4 inches in diameter into firewood.
When all the trees have been cut in this fashion we haul the logs to one location with the bucket on the tractor and dump them in a huge pile, this is our working pile. Now it’s time to split the firewood.
From the working pile we split the large logs into manageable size, I like to split everything that is 5 inches in diameter and larger. Some logs that are larger I’ll save for use in the open fireplace, but for the most part I like using smaller logs in the wood burner. Once a log is split, and anything from the working pile smaller than 5 inches in diameter, it is stacked in rows 4 feet high two rows deep onto pallets or runners to keep the wood off of the ground. The rows are then covered with tarps or metal sheeting to keep the rain and snow off the stack. The cover should not extend far down the sides of your stack, you want the air to be able to circulate around the logs to dry them out. A fresh cut stack of firewood should be allowed to dry, or season, for about a year.
At the beginning of each winter my son, Sawyer, hauls wood from the seasoned stacks near the house and loads the porch and two indoor bins with firewood. As the inside bins are burned, he refills them from the porch and refills the porch from the seasoned stack near the house. Next spring we will replenish the seasoned stack near the house from seasoned stacks around the farm.
The first batch of firewood we processed this year was mostly cheery and I split most of it by hand with a splitting maul and a double bit ax. It was then loaded into the bed of a pick-up truck, hauled, and unloaded (not stacked) into a working pile near the house. Some of the logs were split again and there were a few oak trees that I used a hydraulic log splitter on. All the logs were then stacked as described above.
In the pictures above, you see we bulldozed trees over, collecting firewood was a by product of the larger pasture reclamation project. Typically we are in the woods felling trees with a chainsaw, limbing & cutting into logs, hauling the firewood with the tractor to a working pile nearby, then splitting & stacking the firewood so it can season. This whole process could be done with a couple of different axes, a hand saw, and a splitting maul. It just depends on how much sweat equity you are willing to invest.
However the job gets done, its worth every ounce of effort, for the comfort of sitting next to the fireplace or wood stove, sipping a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter night.
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Hunting is one of the most basic skills of humanity and one that I feel everyone should learn. From the dawn of time, man has had to hunt in order to survive.
In todays fast-paced lifestyles of drive-thru burgers and supermarket prepackaged meals, hunting is also one of the skills that is least used by many today.
I’m a country boy and grew up hunting from an early age, but for many years I was trapped in the rat race and could never find the time to hone my hunting skills. Last year I was able to leave the rat race behind and have once again taken up hunting. I was a basic hunter many years ago, rifle hunting deer and small game hunting with a shotgun. There are many types of hunting that I hope to learn and participate in this coming year.
Currently, in Southwestern Pennsylvania, archery and small game are in season. Archery is one of those skills I plan on picking up and learning as much as possible. Small game hunting, on the other hand, I had been doing since I was old enough to hunt. However, when I was growing up we used shotguns, this year, my son and I started using .22 rifles to hunt squirrel. Using a .22 is definitely more challenging, especially when you consider we decided to use open sites, not a scope.
Rifle season for deer is right around the corner and we will be sighting in our guns in the next few weeks. This will be the second year that my son, Sawyer, has gone deer hunting and we are both getting quite anxious and excited.
Check out Save Our Skills YouTube channel, we recently posted a video on Skinning a deer. A neighbor of ours, R.T., harvested an 8 point buck last week and we were fortunate enough to video the processing of it. You will notice in the video that the deer was not field dressed. We skinned the deer first, then dressed it, and finally butchered it. That process is a little out of sync, we would normally field dress the deer prior to skinning.
If your going to hunt deer or small game, your going to need a few “tools”.
The first of course being a rifle and/or a shotgun. For deer I use a bolt action Tikka 25-06 and my son, Sawyer, uses a bolt action Ruger 30-06. For squirrel I use a single shot Rossi combo rifle with a 12 gauge or a .22 long rifle barrel and Sawyer uses a Henry model H001T lever action .22LR. These tools will help you get your prey, but there are a few more items you’ll need to get it on the table.
Next you’ll need a good knife to gut, skin, and butcher your game. For deer, a good knife would be a Mora knife from Sweden. Mora of Sweden was formed in 2005 through the merger of Frosts Knivfabrik and KJ Eriksson. A Morakniv® (Mora knife) is always a knife from Mora of Sweden.The company is still family-owned and develops and manufactures knives which are delivered to all parts of the world. All Mora knives are made in Sweden. When it comes to squirrel, all that is needed for the job is a Gerber EAB (exchange a blade). Make sure you check the Save Our Skills YouTube site for an upcoming video on processing squirrel.