Winter is near. The leaves are gone, the swamps are freezing, and the snowbirds are already sipping on poolside piña coladas somewhere in Florida or Arizona while working on their tans.

This could be the coldest fall I can remember, and the few remaining summer residents are dealing with frozen water lines, cracked pumps, and a stinging reminder that Mother Nature is unpredictable at best.

Traditionally MEA weekend, the last unofficial holiday of the open-water season, has been a great time to get in one last visit to the cabin but this season turned faster than usual.

I was shocked to see Swamper Lake 90 percent ice-covered while driving up the Gunflint Trail last weekend, a testament to how fast these lakes will freeze this year. I remember ice fishing on four inches of ice Thanksgiving weekend on Devil Track Lake last year, and at this rate it could be even sooner this year.

Grouse hunting should get a little easier with the decaying cover making it harder for the little camouflaged birds to hide. This is the first year I have bought a small game license and have yet to have a good shot at one of those little roadrunners.

I take the Pine Mountain road to work up the Gunflint Trail and had been seeing multiple birds each day leading up to the hunting season, but now I just see an occasional bird that is running into the woods to hide. They get smart fast.

I jokingly told my wife that I would have a better shot getting a grouse with my truck than with a gun, and the next day it happened. A small ruffed grouse jumped out of the ditch and flew directly into the side of my truck. I only heard the “thud”, and then saw the bird flailing in the road from my rearview mirror, so I stopped and put the poor little guy out of his misery.

It tasted great, and no pesky bird shot BB’s to pick out of its flesh. Truck one…Gun none.