The books piled atop my dresser fight silent battles for my attention, with some struggling for years to deliver my bedtime education and entertainment.
That might explain why my holiday book-buying suggestions often include more aging titles than new releases. Authors shouldn’t take that personally. At least I recognize their names, and eventually read their excellent books.
If they were musicians, they’d remain as nameless to me as Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, aka Bad Bunny. He’s the rapper-singer who was Spotify’s most streamed artist annually from 2020 to 2023. Even so, I’d never heard of Mr. Bunny until news broke last week that Taylor Swift stripped him of this year’s "most-streamed" title.
In contrast, I’ve been reading Gordon MacQuarrie since the early 1980s, long after the Milwaukee Journal’s legendary outdoors editor died in 1956. Thanks to editor Dave Evenson and the Barnes Area Historical Association (bahamuseum.org), we now have even more of those great stories. You can read them in Evenson’s latest book, “Found Stories of the Old Duck Hunters and Other MacQuarrie Adventures.”
You’ll also like “Wrong Tree,” an entertaining book by Mercer’s Jeff Wilson, who shares a career’s worth of fun tales from his decades (wrongtreebook.com) with the Department of Natural Resources. Whether this retired wildlife technician was getting stuck atop a tree, learning how to fool loons for science, or moving troublesome bears from harm’s way, Wilson’s stories entertain without embellishing.
Another good read is “Water Protectors: The HELP Campaign to Save the Penokees,” a first-person account about tribal citizens, environmentalists and Northwoods neighbors who mobilized to stop politicians and mining interests from tearing apart the hills and public lands near Mellen. Author Nick Vander Puy (Amazon.com) tells this story through interviews and personal observations, including from HELP Camp vigils during the brutal winter of 2013-14.
Fans of the sprawling Turtle-Flambeau Flowage in northcentral Wisconsin should read “An Accidental Jewel” by Michael Hittle (littlecreekpress.com). This well-researched, detail-rich book helps readers better appreciate the unique circumstances that created these remote, scenic waters and islands 100 years ago. One thing seems certain: Such man-made wonders won’t happen again.
Likewise, Joe Hovel of Conover shares his 50-year “journey of land conservation” in his book, “From Barbells to Spruce Grouse” (firstname.lastname@example.org). Hovel’s insights and memories come from decades of grassroots advocacy for better management of Wisconsin’s land and water resources. His work varied from fun, happy weekends with friendly allies to tense, prolonged confrontations with foes that required police escorts.
Deer hunters who enjoy well-told stories will like “Buck Tales: Stories from the Deer Stand,” by Joe Shead (goshedhunting.com), formerly of Berlin in Green Lake County. Shead grew up deer hunting in central Wisconsin’s farm country, and continues to hunt the Northwoods bordering Lake Superior.
And if you’re looking for a great book to entertain preschoolers, check out Jenny Anderson’s “123 Ice Fishing” (123icefishing.com). This kid-friendly book sold out its first printing in 2021, but is again available to help you teach little kids how to identify Wisconsin’s most popular fish.
Speaking of icefishing, if you’re looking for some hot panfish baits, check out the latest plastics from Freedom Baitz (freedombaitz.com), including the Apache, Trident and Frogman.
If you struggle to organize and carry all your gear onto frozen waters, you need the Lakewood Ice Pak (lakewoodproducts.com). It handles all your gear, including the largest tip-ups and up to five rods. It also has adjustable shoulder straps, several mesh pockets and two large, zippered side pockets for extra storage.
And speaking of tip-ups, check out this year’s custom-painted Beaver Dams, which feature the “Firetiger Pike” by artist David Burgess, winner of the 2023 Beaver Dam Tip-Up Design Facebook contest. Firetiger Pike tip-ups are sold by Scheels, Cabela’s, Fleet Farm and other stores, online or walk-in.
Outrdoors-women seeking to keep their feet warm should check out 5V heated socks from DSG (Doing Something Great). This Madison-based company (dsgouterwear.com) specializes in high-performance outdoors gear that fits women. These machine-washable socks last up to five hours on one charge, heat up to 150 degrees, and easily adjust with touch-button temperature controls.
If you need go-to mittens for kids, check out Chopper Mills Mittens (ChopperMill.com) of Stillwater, Minnesota. The company replaces lost mittens, and labels them with your kids' names to keep track of them at school, events or friends’ homes. These mittens are waterproof, windproof, easily worn and rated “so cute” by moms.
If you want a solid, comfortable boot for hunting Rocky Mountain elk, check out Irish Setter’s Elk Tracker XD (irishsetterboots.com/hunting-boots). These full-leather, waterproof boots come in 8- and 10-inch-tall models for ankle support, and a wraparound rubber rand that resists cuts from rocks and pointy sticks. TempsSens technology wicks moisture during hot weather while pulling moisture into a thermal barrier in cold weather to keep your feet comfortable.
The Relentless titanium fillet knife can’t rust, and maintains its sharp edge by functioning like a beaver tooth. That is, it sharpens as it cuts so you won’t need to stop and resharpen it while you work. It also has a no-slip handle and comes in five lengths from 6 to 10 inches (relentlessknivesusa.com).
The GoBoat (goboat.com) is an inflatable “disc-boat” with an electric motor, making it a great alternative to kayaks for solo anglers. It can be deflated and slid into a car’s trunk or stored in a closet. It takes only minutes to inflate and assemble for easy transport. Its round shape makes it more stable than a kayak, and even lets you stand to fish.
The FREQ Ultrasonic Game call (freqcalls.com) plays a full spectrum of ultrasonic sounds that sound more realistic to animals. FREQ features two speakers, one in the range humans can hear, and a second in ultrasonic sounds that animals hear.
Underdog Attach-To-Your-Hat eyewear (underdogglasses.com) are premium sunglasses/shooting glasses that attach to the bill of your cap. They can't bother your ears or nose no matter how long you wear them. They also flip up out of the way when you don’t need them, and work well for those wearing hearing protection.
If you need quality airtight and watertight duffels or luggage bags, check out the RGD lineup (https://rugidgear.com). RGD bags are made of durable 500D PVC material, and have padded shoulder straps and several loops, straps and hardware for securing and carrying options. All RGD bags carry one-year no-hassle replacement warranties.
Birdwatchers, check this out: By donating $45 to Save Our Songbirds you can receive or send a friend an SOS coffee mug and a bag of bird-friendly coffee. The coffee is certified by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center to have been grown organically in Central or South America. To learn more, visit https://sossaveoursongbirds.org/holiday-giving.
Bowhunters can support the work of the National Bowhunter Education Foundation by buying books, belt buckles, branded gear or shot-placement manuals. Visit https://shop.nbef.org/collections/books-cards-manuals-guides to explore NBEF’s gift-buying options.
Do you need a place to conveniently store gun cases after locking firearms into your safe? Check out the Steelhead Case Keeper (https://steelheadoutdoors.com/product/casekeeper/), which attaches magnetically to the upper corner of gun vaults. Its stainless rod with eight adjustable hooks and endcaps hold 30 pounds of gear.
Whether you’re buying a gift for someone who intends to hit the trail, the couch or a frozen lake in the weeks and months ahead, here’s some ideas that should make them smile. — Patrick Durkin photo