Archive | April, 2008

A chance to give back

April 29, 2008

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As is my custom, I started contacting landowners after my turkey hunt to thank them for letting me hunt on their land. I wrote a couple of letters and made a phone call to one gentleman in Minnesota who let me come down and hunt on his farm. We have hunted deer successfully on his land and I was trying it for turkeys for the first time.

I didn’t get a bird there, although I spooked two on my way back down to my car. When I called him two days later, he said he had seen turkeys just that morning not far from the house. Too bad, I thought. I plan on coming back to his farm another time to try for turkeys.

Certainly, I will be back in the fall for deer hunting, which I talked about with the landowner. And, to my surprise, he asked if he could hunt with us. “Of course,” I replied. This is a rare chance to give back to a landowner who has been generous in granting permission to hunt on his land. He went on to say that he did some small-game hunting as a kid and would love to try hunting again. It has been a while since he has gone out into the field with a gun, but he seems genuinely interested in getting back into the sport.

And, I am happy to oblige him. In fact, I told someone I work with about it and he has agreed to make a deer stand for this landowner. I can’t wait to come down in the fall to show him the deer stand and put it up for him. He’s getting older and has had some health problems, so we’ll need to wait and see how he’s doing come November.

But, I pray God will give him the chance to experience a sport I have enjoyed and have shared with my children. My No. 2 son, Andy, has yet to kill his first deer and he may do it on this man’s land in November. I would be thrilled if both Andy and the landowner could shoot a deer on this farm in the fall.

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Success in Minnesota

April 23, 2008

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After trying but failing to help my two sons, Joe and Andy, get a turkey during Minnesota’s first season last week, my turn came on Monday. After witnessing a tough hunt for the boys, I knew it wouldn’t be easy during my season. A lot of birds were still grouped up in large flocks and that always makes it tough. Usually, they have broken into smaller groups and spread out by now.

Sure enough, my hunt was tough, too. I started on one farm in Red Wing where I previously had good hunting and heard only one bird gobbling in the distance. I went to the neighboring farm and ended up calling in four nice gobblers to about 100 yards. But, they wouldn’t come any closer, so I moved on to two more farms without hearing a gobble at either one.

The next day, I went back to one of those farms because my brother, Paul, and his brother-in-law each had shot a bird there. Sure enough, there were toms gobbling at dawn, but I couldn’t get any of them to come in.

So, I went back to the farm where I had called in the four toms the day before. I spent about three hours there and heard nothing. I was packing up to leave when I looked up and saw a turkey approaching my decoy. I looked to see if it had a beard, which is required by state law. Beards, tufts of black hair protruding from the chest, are mostly, but not always, found on males.

I saw the beard, aimed and fired, dropping the bird. When I went up to retrieve it, I discovered it was a female — a rare, bearded hen. The bird was perfectly legal, but very unexpected. In more than 20 years of turkey hunting, I had never even seen a bearded hen, although my Dad got one several years ago. I was relieved that the bird, in fact, was legal, but I had been hoping to shoot a big tom, especially after seeing four of them the previous day.

But, I have learned to take what the Lord gives me and be thankful. As is my custom, I said a prayer of thanks for my bird, then visited the landowners and shared my success story with them. The good news is I have a Wisconsin hunt coming up in mid May and the birds will be spread out by then, plus most, if not all, of the hens should be laying eggs and sitting on their nests, which makes the toms lonely for love and more willing to come to a call.

It’s hard to be disappointed with a hunt like this in light of the tragic death of 8-year-old Hunter Klaseus, who died over the weekend when his father, Anthony, mistook him for a turkey and shot him at a farm near Belle Plaine. After hearing about this, I’m glad just to have a safe hunt.

Yet, a tragedy like this is easily preventable. As a firearms safety instructor, I know that one of the three laws of firearms safety could have kept this from happening if it had been followed: Be sure of your target and what lies beyond. In the spring, only a turkey with a visible beard can be shot, so there’s no reason to shoot at movement.

But, however poor Anthony Klaseus’ judgment may have been, I think the best thing we can do is pray for him and his family. It’s going to be very hard on all of them and they are going to need God’s love and mercy to get them through. I hope and pray they all will call upon the Lord for support and guidance during this time.

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Sharing the good news

April 17, 2008

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I made an important phone call today. After a successful turkey hunt with my son, Andy, over the weekend, I decided to let the Wisconsin DNR know how happy I was with the hunt and with the way the department is managing the state’s wild turkey population and its hunting seasons.

When I was transfered to the feedback line, I got on the phone with a woman who said she would make sure someone called back to hear my complaint. I replied that I wasn’t calling to complain, but to compliment the department for managing the birds well and doing things like offering the youth hunt.

She seemed genuinely surprised that someone would call to say something positive. When I asked how often that happens, she responded, “hardly ever.”

How sad. I think it’s important in life to let people know when they’ve done a good job. I believe it’s part of our calling as Christians. The longer I talked to this woman, the more cheerful her demeanor became. That alone was worth the time it took to make the call.

I know people like her have taken a beating for problems that occurred last month when their computer system crashed the day they were supposed to start selling surplus wild turkey hunting permits for this spring. I know it cost people an opportunity for a permit when they weren’t able to get through on the computer and eventually gave up, only to try again later and find that the permits had been sold out for the zone they wanted to hunt.

This happened to Andy’s friend from school, who had planned to hunt with us. He ended up getting a permit for a different zone and wasn’t able to hunt with us. Had he gotten a permit for the zone he wanted, he would have been able to hunt on his own property. I hope he’ll get that chance next year.

I told the woman I did not wish to complain about the computer problem. I said I was sure she had gotten plenty of complaints already and didn’t need any more. True, she replied.

I felt it was time to give a beleaguered DNR employee like her a little boost. I hope it made her day a little better. As for me, I’ll continue smiling about my son’s hunt and look forward to my Minnesota hunt next week and Wisconsin hunt in mid May.

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Starting with a bang

April 15, 2008

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The turkey season started over the weekend with the Wisconsin youth season Saturday and Sunday. I took my son Andy over to a farm we hunted for the first time. I met someone through a work assignment who lives in the zone where Andy had a tag to hunt and she said her neighbor has lots of turkeys, so I called him and got permission to hunt.

Boy, she was right. This property was loaded with birds! Even though the weather had been especially nasty last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we went out late Saturday afternoon to set up the blind and do some calling to see if there were birds in the area. I heard a gobble in the distance, then called and he came closer and gobbled again. It was getting late, so I decided to leave him alone and come back the next morning and try for him.

With sunrise at 6:30 and legal shooting hours at 6, we got back to the blind at 5:30. It was still plenty dark, but we heard a gobble before we even got into the blind. Then, just minutes after we got in, the birds went absolutely nuts! I’ve never heard so much gobbling in my life and it kept on going after the birds flew down from their roosts. There were at least 10 or 12 birds gobbling around us and they were gobbling so often I couldn’t even tell if they were gobbling to my calls. They gobbled to just about every sound they heard.

There were several birds that were working their way toward us, but we had to wait a while until one finally showed. He gobbled just up the hill from us, so I was confident he would come all the way in. I had Andy position himself facing where the bird gobbled from and we just waited.

About 10 minutes later, I looked down the picked corn field to the left and there he was in full strut. He put on quit a show as he strutted all the way in. The decoys were to our right and he was to our left, so the setup was perfect. He worked his way from left to right and crossed Andy’s line of fire.

At 20 yards, I did a call to get him to lift his head and Andy made a great shot. It was an awesome hunt and an awesome bird. The beard was 9 1/2 inches and he had a spur length of just under an inch with a nice point at the end — probably a three-year-old bird. His other spur was broken off, so he obviously was doing some fighting.

Tomorrow, I take Andy and his brother Joe on their Minnesota hunt, then I go in Minnesota next week, with a Wisconsin hunt ahead in mid May. The only thing that went wrong on this hunt was I forgot my camera. So, I had to take this picture with my cell phone. It felt funny being a professional photographer and relying on a cell phone to take an important picture. I’ll try not to let that happen again!

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A fabulous day in the woods

April 8, 2008

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It was back to the 60s weekend in Minnesota. No, not the 1960s, but 60-degree temperatures. We’ve all been waiting for spring warmth to bathe our frozen land and it finally arrived last week.

I took advantage of the heat wave to do some wild turkey scouting for upcoming hunts in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I took my Dad and two oldest boys out into the woods to scout some properties we had gained permission to hunt.

We had the privilege of spending a good chunk of time with one of the landowners, Leonard Beskar, who worked as a dairy farmer near Prescott, Wis. and is now retired. He has been plagued by numerous health problems over the years, including cancer and heart disease. In recent months, he finally has started feeling better.

When I called him last week, he said he wasn’t feeling so good and wasn’t sure he’d be able to go out to the woods with us and show us around his property. I prayed fervently for his health to improve because I wanted my Dad and boys to meet this good Christian and Catholic man.

I have been praying for him for years, feeling a special calling from God to do so. I mention him at the dinner table daily when we say grace. I also intercede for him every Tuesday during my hour of Eucharistic adoration. He has suffered much over the years and I believe he needs to have people praying for him continually.

I was thrilled that he felt good enough to go with us on Saturday. It was a beautiful day and the warmest in ’08 so far. He looked good as he walked the edge of his property with us and all of us were able to enjoy some good conversation with him. He knew a lot of the history of the area — and was part of that history.

He passed along lots of interesting tidbits about rural life and dairy farming in Wisconsin. I thank the Lord for the time we had with Leonard and he seemed to be doing better at the end of the day than he was at the beginning.

Here’s hoping and praying that Leonard will have many more days like this ahead!

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An annual tradition

April 4, 2008

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Yesterday, I made my annual trip to the Northwest Sportshow at the Minneapolis Convention Center. For lots of avid hunters and anglers, this is a sacred pilgrimage not to be missed.

My tradition is taking my Dad, who is now 86 and walks with a cane. I remember him taking me when I was a boy and the show was held at the Minneapolis Armory. One of my favorite sights was a lure maker who called himself the “Rat Man.” He had a small pool set up where he would cast and retrieve his lures hour after hour as he tried to entice people to buy them. I did one year when I was older, but I don’t think I ever caught a fish on it.

No matter. It’s the joyful anticipation of the upcoming fishing season — and now, turkey hunting season — that keeps me coming back to the Sportshow every April. Plus, I cherish the time that I can walk the spacious floor of the Convention Center with my Dad. This year, I had to coax him a little bit. He was busy getting his tax return ready and his legs were bothering him.

I told him he needed a break from the tax work and he finally agreed. This is as much persuasion as I’ve ever had to use on him. It has become an unspoken tradition that we both acknowledge and share every year.

I wasn’t sure how the show was going to work into my schedule this year, but I saw an opening yesterday afternoon and called him. When he finally agreed to go, he asked me how soon I was going to come and I told him I’d be over in 20 or 30 minutes. I wanted to spend a couple hours or so at the show and leave before dark.

A few years ago, we stayed until late in the evening and walked back to our cars to discover that his truck had been broken into. The thief should have known better than to break into my Dad’s truck. It was filled with lots of clutter and little of value. My Dad had to drive home with a broken window and that is about the only bad memory in several decades of going to the show.

I hope to make one more trip to the show this weekend. A local hunting and fishing expert named Gary Clancy is giving seminars on Saturday (3 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.) on turkey hunting. He has written a book on the subject, which I have. He also has written several books on deer hunting and has written freelance articles for many local and national hunting and fishing publications.

He also writes a weekly column for a local newspaper called Outdoor News. In this week’s edition, there is a lengthy feature story on his life. I read every word and enjoyed it all. I have never met Gary in person and I hope to do so this weekend.

And, of course, get some quality advice that I hope to use in the woods this spring!

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