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Some walleye for the frying pan

July 15, 2014

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As readers of The Catholic Spirit now know, I had a successful fishing trip to South Dakota’s Lake Oahe last month. I was invited to participate in the Bishop’s Charity Fishing Tournament, and I gladly accepted.

The walleyes I brought home have made for some nice fish dinners. I decided to deep fry some in beer batter for the guys in my men’s group. I have been experimenting with some recipes in the hopes of finding a real winner.

I decided to go back to a cookbook I had used the first time I tried deep frying fish. Lo and behold, I found a recipe I had handwritten on one of the pages. Years ago, I had tweaked the recipe in the book and came up with something good.

So glad I stumbled upon it! I went with it again, and the fish tasted great. In fact, my friend Mike Altendorf, an avid fisherman himself, said it was the best beer-battered walleye he had ever eaten. What a nice compliment to hear!

Over the Fourth of July, our family went up north about 20 miles inland of Lake Superior. We were invited to stay at the Franciscan Brothers of Peace new Spiritual Center, which features a beautiful main cabin, chapel and smaller cabin on a small lake that just happens to have walleyes.

We took out the brothers’ pontoon boat and went on a search for walleye. I had talked to someone from the local DNR office who knows about the lake and has fished it himself. He gave me a few tips, and we headed out on Sunday evening, July 6.

After raining off and on throughout the weekend, including during the afternoon that Sunday, the skies finally cleared in the evening. We anchored on a nice dropoff, with the wind blowing into it.

Just minutes after starting to fish, each of my oldest two boys got a bite but failed to hook a fish. Then, the bobber I had set up for my daughter Claire went down. I tried to set the hook, but didn’t connect. I reeled up to check my leech, then cast it out again. Seconds later, it went down again and I landed a plump walleye that was about 15 inches long.

Claire ended up catching two more walleyes of similar size, giving us three for the night. I pan fried them the next night shortly after getting back home. They were delicious. Too bad we didn’t catch more to save for later. But, that just means we’ll have to go back up to the brothers’ cabin someday!

In  the meantime, we are going to have venison fajitas tonight, which are always delicious. My oldest son Joe is going back to Dallas tomorrow so he can go to the Rome campus of the University of Dallas to work as a resident assistant.

Hopefully, this will be a nice sendoff meal for him. We’ll all be sad to see him leave, but excited that he can be in Rome for the upcoming school year.

Who knows? Maybe, I’ll figure out a way to go there and visit him!

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Time to go fishing!

June 6, 2014

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Now that the spring turkey hunting season is over, it’s time to think about fishing. I will have my first chance of the year to get in a boat this coming Monday.

I have been invited to Lake Oahe in South Dakota for the annual Bishop’s Charity Fishing Tournament. It’s a fundraiser for seminarians in the Diocese of Sioux Falls, several of whom are studying here at the St. Paul Seminary.

My research online revealed that Lake Oahe is an excellent fishery for walleyes. That’s good news. I actually will be a contestant in the tournament, as well as a guest of the diocese. I don’t care much about how well I do in the tournament. I’m just hoping to bring home some walleye for a fish fry and meet lots of people, including Bishop Paul Swain.

I leave Sunday afternoon and will stop at Blue Cloud Abbey on my way out. I will take a tour and hear the history of the abbey. If it works out, someday I would like to stay there overnight. Perhaps, I can come out again and do that. There is a Bishop’s pheasant hunting event in the fall, which is very enticing.

For now, I’m setting my sights on catching some walleyes. I filled the spools of my reels with fresh line, so I’m good to go. I will be assigned to a boat for the tournament. Not sure if I will find out Sunday night who I will fish with. Sounds like a serious tournament, so most likely every person bringing a boat is a skilled angler.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to make a contribution to the live well. I haven’t gone fishing since last summer, so I may be a bit rusty. But, I’ll try to catch on quickly. Stay tuned for the results of the tournament!

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Wild turkey hunt is awesome!

May 14, 2014

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Thousands of Minnesotans have had their minds on fishing in the last week.

Not me. Instead of a fishing rod, I was carrying a shotgun in the woods of Minnesota and Wisconsin enjoying one of my favorite activities — wild turkey hunting. My hunts in the two states went exactly seven days, and I was able to fill all three of my tags with nice longbeards.

It doesn’t get any better than that. The birds proved cooperative and willing to come in to my calls. I enjoyed some exciting action, with gobblers sounding off in response to my calls, then working their way toward my position, gobbling all along the way.

Three times, I witnessed the excitement of birds showing up within gun range and then pulling the trigger to complete the harvest. Here’s an account of each bird that got a ride home in my car:

Bird No. 1

This bird fell on May 6 in Minnesota on the first day of Season E.

This bird fell on May 6 in Minnesota on the first day of Season E.

My hunt began May 6 in Minnesota, which was the E Season. I started off on a familiar pair of properties near Cannon Falls, getting out of my car in the dark before dawn and walking along a long ridge. I didn’t hear much gobbling on the roost — only birds far off on neighboring properties.

But, I was not discouraged. I know birds go back and forth along the ridge, so I started at the far end and proceeded to work my way down.

About halfway down, I heard a gobble below me in the field. I got even with the bird on top, then started calling. About 75 to 100 yards ahead of me, a tom gobbled and started coming my way. He then dipped down to the bottom of the hill and started gobbling. A second bird did the same thing.

So, both birds were down the hill from me, and didn’t seem interested in coming up the hill. I figured I was in for a long wait, so I grabbed my water bottle and took a drink. As I turned back toward the ridge, I heard something run through the woods.

I knew instantly it was one of the birds, but I couldn’t see it. I figured he must have poked his head up over the hill when I had turned away, then saw me. As I pondered this, I heard as four-wheeler coming toward me at the bottom of the hill. It stopped right where the birds had been gobbling. Then I heard some banging, and eventually a chain saw started up.

Game over for this spot. I don’t know if I spooked the bird, or if it saw the four-wheeler coming. No matter. It was time to move. I walked the rest of the properties and didn’t hear a gobble, so I left and went to a different property where I had permission to hunt.

My brother normally hunts there, but he couldn’t go until the last season and told me to try it there. I pulled in about 10 a.m. and walked to a spot where he had some action last year.

It was windy, so I just started calling about every 15 minutes. About 10:45 or so, I saw a bird enter the far end of the field. A tom! I watched it work toward the edge of the woods. When he disappeared from view, I did some aggressive yelps to get his attention.

It worked. I eased up in my chair and looked over a little rise in the terrain. The tom’s head was up and he had moved in my direction. I lowered my head and decided to wait and see what happened.

It was quiet for a few minutes, then the bird gobbled. He had cut the distance by about a third and was working his way along the edge of the woods.

He continued to come my way and gobble, then he finally was just over the rise. I got my gun up and pointed in his direction, then took the safety off. Within a minute or two, I saw him come into view. He raised his head and neck, as they are known to do, and that was my chance. My Remington 11-87 sounded off, and my Minnesota hunt was over. The next day was the start of my D Season in Wisconsin, and I would be entering the woods with two tags to fill, one lottery tag and one bonus tag.

Bird No. 2

This bird was one of two that came in together.

This bird was one of two that came in together.

I got out to one of my favorite properties for opening day of my season, and heard lots of gobbling. There were lots of birds, and I was excited. But, the first bird I saw came out into a field and was not in range. He gobbled and strutted his way along the middle of the field and eventually disappeared. I then heard a second bird gobble in the woods, and thought it would do the same thing, so I turned toward the field and waited.

After a few minutes went by without a gobble, I turned my head back in the woods and looked at the opening of a food plot the landowner had planted. There was a turkey standing there only about 30 yards away. I think it was a tom, but it saw me and spooked.

Not a good feeling at all. That turned out to be the only tom that came in close. My friend, Steve Huettl, manager of Gamehide clothing, was hunting a property about 15 miles away. He had action, too, but didn’t get a bird in close. He ended up coming over to my property and hunted the far end of it.

He saw a bird about 125 yards away in the woods and worked it for an hour and a half before it finally came to about 45 yards. He took a shot and hit the bird, but it flew off after getting back on its feet. He never found the bird.

That was it for the action that day. We skipped Thursday because of the rain and came back out on Friday, May 9.

Steve found a good spot on the property he had started on opening day, and killed a nice bird at 7 a.m. He suggested I come over and try it there, as the birds were active. I had called in a jake (juvenile male), but decided to pass and wait for a mature tom. One came out into the field, but wouldn’t come in close enough for a shot.

I took Steve up on his offer and went to the property he was hunting at about 9:30 or 10. We set up my blind at the spot where he took his bird, then went walking to try and strike up a bird. We heard gobbles on neighboring properties, but none on the two we had permission to hunt.

So, about noon, we went back to the blind and I climbed in for the afternoon, while Steve went back home with his tag filled. He assured me birds would come through, and that I should just sit and wait.

Turned out to be a relatively short wait. It was very windy, so I called more often than normal so that birds could hear me. At about 1:20, I thought I heard a gobble but wasn’t sure because of the wind. A minute or two later, I heard the sound again, this time more distinct and closer.

Definitely, a gobble. The bird sounded off again, even closer this time. Then, a second bird gobbled right after this one did. Two birds!

What I often do when this happens is give them some soft calls, like clucks and purrs. I did these on a Tom Teaser mouth call, and the birds lit up after hearing that. No more calling. Shutting up is the way I get the birds to come all the way in.

I was set up in a blind only about 10 yards into the woods along a flat spot on the ridge with brush piles behind me and to my left on the edge of the field. I saw a dark shape come along the field edge in some brush right before the big brush pile.

A second bird was right behind it. They walked and gobbled as they reached the brush pile. At this point, they were only about 20 yards away, but I didn’t want to shoot through the brush pile. So, I waited.

The first bird made it to the other side of the brush pile and stepped into the clear. As I put the bead on him, he gobbled one more time, which was very cool. That was the last gobble of his life.

The second bird didn’t know what to make of it, and he nervously paced back and forth behind my bird. I did have a second tag, and I debated whether to take this bird. I got out of the blind and crawled toward the spot where my bird lay. I had the brush pile as cover, so I was able to get closer. In the end, the other bird saw me and spooked. But, I was not disappointed. I had a nice longbeard to take home, and I would simply come back and hunt another day for my last tag.

Bird No. 3

The third and final bird was a beauty!

The third and final bird was a beauty!

I was not able to hunt on Saturday or Sunday because my nephew got confirmed on Saturday and I was his sponsor, and Sunday was Mother’s Day, which I made off limits to hunting. After a wonderful weekend celebrating the sacrament on Saturday and motherhood on Sunday, I made plans to get back in the woods on Monday morning. Wisconsin has seven-day seasons, and so I had two more days to hunt.

I went back out to the property I started on opening day. I had a slightly different setup, hoping I would be close to roosted birds. I was, with one tom no more than 75 yards away. But, he only gobbled once and then shut up.

Once again, a bird came out into the field, but he came out of the woods behind me and was out of range by the time I turned around and looked into the field. He went to a little point of woods, then strutted and gobbled at about 75 or 80 yards. I tried to entice him to come over, but he wouldn’t budge.

He eventually rounded the corner and continued on down the edge of the woods. Birds were gobbling not too far away, but nothing would come in. So, I got up and followed the first bird.

I set up on a flat bench running perpendicular to the woods and way out into a valley. This is where Steve worked the bird he shot at opening day. Birds were gobbling in the area, but once again they would not come in.

That’s when I decided it was time to move, as in go to another property. It was a 30-minute drive to the small farm I planned to hunt, but I figured a change of scenery was in order. I had shot a nice bird on this property in 2011, so I was hoping for some action this time around. The landowner said she hadn’t seen or heard birds this spring until about a week or so ago, when she heard a tom gobble and saw a group of hens walking in her meadow.

This is a great piece of property, and I pulled in about 10:30 hoping to strike up a tom. I hiked across the meadow to a tree line that sits on the property line. There was a meadow on one side and a harvested crop field on the other. Birds seem to like spots like this, so I was optimistic.

Before I even reached my spot near the corner of the meadow on the highest part of the property, I heard a tom gobbling on the neighbor’s field. The bird was probably about 250 to 300 yards away, but it was gobbling hard and I decided to try and call this bird.

I also knew that there might be birds closer that could fire up at the sound of my hen calls. That’s exactly what happened. One bird gobbled less than 100 yards away, then sounded off again a minute or two later. He was coming!

As I shifted my attention to this bird, another bird gobbled in the meadow. I felt this second bird was a little farther off, so I continued to focus on the first one.

But, the second one close the gap faster. It created a dilemma — two birds coming hot from different directions. Doesn’t happen often, but it requires some quick decision making.

The bird in the meadow gobbled again even closer, and I looked out of the corner of my eye to see if I could see him in the meadow. I was fully expecting to spot him, then I would have to figure out a way to turn toward him and get a shot off.

Surprisingly, the bird was not in view. He was just beyond a little dip that kept him from view. Quickly, I turned my body and gun toward him, knowing I had very little time to readjust my position.

I don’t think it was even a minute later that I saw a red head and neck pop up. It was him! I knew he was a little far, but I also knew my gun was good out to 50 yards. He definitely was not that far. I lined up my Hi-Viz fiber optic sights and pulled the trigger.

The bird disappeared behind the rise, but I knew I got him. I got out of my chair and scrambled over the dip. The bird was flapping, and I saw a full tail fan, meaning it was a mature tom.

In closing

These are the beards from three gobblers harvested this spring.

These are the beards from three gobblers harvested this spring.

With this bird, my 2014 spring turkey hunting season came to an end. I felt a little sad as I loaded this final gobbler into my vest and walked back to my car. I ended this hunt the way I end every successful hunt — I kneel down beside my bird, put a hand on it, and say a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

I got to do that three times this season, and that part NEVER gets old. It was a fantastic year, and I have not only some nice breast meat from the three birds, but a trio of beards as souvenirs. Things came together nicely this year, and I’m grateful for the exciting hunts I had.

Lastly, I want to extend sincere thanks to all of the landowners who let me hunt on their land. None of this would have been possible without them and their great generosity. May God richly bless them and their families.

And, may God grant me the privilege of a return visit next spring!

Note: I can’t end this post without tipping my cap to Gamehide and its Elimitick line of camo clothing. Steve first got me a set of Elimitick pants and shirt in 2010, and it’s still going strong. I did not pick up a single tick this season, which proves once again how effective this clothing is. Exactly once in five seasons have I picked up a tick while wearing this clothing. Who knows how many were successfully repelled? Hundreds? Thousands?

I absolutely HATE ticks, so I plan on wearing Elimitick every spring for turkey hunting. And, special thanks to Steve for putting Elimitick in my hands — and for many, many turkey hunting tips that have helped me improve dramatically as a turkey hunter!

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It’s turkey time!

May 2, 2014

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Strutting gobblers like these are what every turkey hunter longs to see.

Strutting gobblers like these are what every turkey hunter longs to see.

My turkey hunting seasons are just around the corner, and I can’t wait! I am super pumped, as it looks like the weather will improve next week. My Minnesota season begins on Tuesday, May 6, and it looks like we will be in the 60s, even 70s for all five days of it.

The next day, Wednesday, May 7, my Wisconsin seasons begins. There’s an overlap between the two seasons, but I plan on driving back and forth, if need be, to fill my tags.

Obviously, the best scenario would be to get my bird in Minnesota on the first day, then just concentrate on Wisconsin after that. But, with the cold, wet weather we’ve had, I don’t know what the birds will be doing next week. The good weather should get them active.

There’s no doubt that weather plays a key role in turkey hunting. Nicer weather does seem to correlate to increased activity by birds, but that doesn’t guarantee a bird will come in. Conversely, bad weather doesn’t shut down breeding activity entirely. Yet, the 15-inch snowfall last May 2 did, in fact, keep the birds roosted for almost two days.

Thank the Lord there is no snow in the forecast for next week. I do think we’ve turned the corner on that. Now, it’s just a matter of figuring out where the birds are and what they’re doing. I’m hunting properties I have been on for the last six or eight years, so I have some idea where the turkeys might be.

What I’m really hoping is that they’ll be vocal, both in the roost at dawn and, especially, when they’re on the ground. I’m hoping to be able to slip in close to some loud-mouth toms and convince them I’m their next girlfriend.

Stay tuned for a full report on my week in the woods!

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Spring is coming!

March 12, 2014

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Reaching 50 degrees for the first time was simply glorious. I was hoping Monday morning that we would hit the mark that day. Based on the bitter cold temps of recent weeks, this was not something to take for granted.

Such a surge in the mercury got me to thinking ahead to warmer days and green leaves. In just two months, I will be toting a shotgun into the woods in southeastern Minnesota for the start of my spring turkey season. The action begins on May 6 in Minnesota, with my Wisconsin season starting the very next day.

I absolutely hope there will not be a repeat of last year, when 15 inches of snow fell on the second day of my Wisconsin season. I waited until three days after the storm to resume hunting. Fortunately, I was able to get a bird early that morning, but it was weird sitting in snow in May. In the nearly 30 years I have turkey hunted, I never have sat in snow while hunting. I have faced cold temperatures, but never snow, even though I have hunted as early as mid-April. Who would have thought I would have snow on the ground in May?

I’m hopeful that spring will be close to normal this year. For the time being, temperatures are near average, with no cold snap or polar vortex in the forecast. I definitely would like to see this huge snowpack disappear!

Beside the warm temps, another sign of spring is the annual Northwest Sportshow, which will take place 26-30 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I like to take in this event every year, and hope to make it again this year.

Walking the aisles and seeing all the booths and gear really get me revved up for spring and summer. A few fishing pros I know come out every year, and it’s always nice to say hello to them.

I’m pretty excited about a trip I have planned for the end of May. There is a fishing tournament on Big Stone Lake on the border of Minnesota and South Dakota that happens in June, which is sponsored by the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D. I have been invited to come out beforehand to taste the fishing and talk with the organizers. I’m happy to promote their event, called the Bishop’s Charity Fishing Tournament.

It won’t work for me to come to the tournament, but I will get a taste of it when I come out there in May. And, hopefully, I’ll get a taste of walleye while I’m  there.

The fishing is good not only on Big Stone, but on another border lake, Traverse, plus several other lakes nearby in South Dakota. I hope to offer a full report on the fishing when I return.

I’m hopeful that we won’t have May snowstorms two years in a row. I did look up some weather history and found out that there was a big May blizzard in 1938 in southern Minnesota. Let’s hope it’s at least another 75 years before we see something like that again!

 

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Thinking ahead to spring

February 10, 2014

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Only minutes into taking my dog for a walk yesterday, I knew it was a mistake. It was really cold, and the winds started biting into my face right away. I went ahead with the full 3 miles, but the last mile was brutal.

I needed a dose of spring after that, and I simply turned my thoughts to the upcoming turkey season. No doubt there are people who are worried about turkeys freezing to death in these sub-zero temperatures, but 30-plus years of turkey hunting have shown me that these birds are tough!

I have hunted after some of the worst winters we’ve had, and the birds always seem to be present in good numbers come spring. I once talked a wild turkey biologist, and he assured me the birds can withstand the coldest weather we face, as long as they can find food.

In the areas where I hunt, it’s not a problem. There’s always spilled corn and soybeans left over from the fall harvest, plus at least one landowner I know feeds the birds in the form of spreading manure on his fields. What I learned years ago is that there’s a lot of undigested corn in the manure, and the turkeys know it. In fact, one farmer I know says the birds always come running out of the woods when they see him spreading manure.

I think bird numbers will be just fine this spring. In fact, I expect a high number of mature gobblers when I get out in the field in May. The early and mild spring of 2012 put a lot of jakes in the woods last year. Those birds will be mature this year. And, the poor weather throughout the spring cut down on the hunting and resulted in fewer birds taken, which means more survivors.

So, I think it could be a very good year. Of course, it all depends on weather. I do NOT want another spring like last year, when there was cold and snow during just about every time period in Minnesota and Wisconsin. That made the hunting unbelievably tough. I managed to get a bird in Wisconsin, but struck out in Minnesota.

As long as we don’t have a nasty snowstorm in April or May, I think I’ll be fine. I have been working on securing permission to hunt my usual properties in both states, and am close to being all set. One more “yes” in Minnesota and I’m ready to go there. In Wisconsin, I’m good to go.

Sometimes, staying on good terms with landowners and getting permission year after year is a challenge. One guy I talked with brought up some bad experiences he’s had with hunters. A hunter one year asked for permission to hunt, then brought others with him to hunt. This landowner didn’t like it, and let me know that such a tactic will not work with him.

I’m grateful that he was honest in telling me about it — and was still willing to let me hunt. He’s got an excellent piece of land to hunt, and it is adjacent to another property I have permission to hunt. One of the best spots is right near the property line, so it’s good to have permission on both properties. Plus, this landowner has a great roosting area on his land. The birds roost there regularly, and now I can move in on them.

I have done a little practicing with my calls, but not much. Some years, I have practiced very intensely, which can drive my wife crazy. I’m going to back off on the practicing this year. I certainly don’t want to be rusty when I hit the woods, but I also have learned that there are many factors that determine success, and there are things every bit as important as being a good caller. In fact, if you focus too much on calling, you can end up neglecting other important factors.

My seasons in Minnesota and Wisconsin are almost exactly three months away. I cant’ wait!

 

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2013 Outdoors highlights

January 2, 2014

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As I look ahead to outdoor adventures in 2014, I think it’s worthwhile to take a look back on 2013 and recall the blessings of the year. There were many highlights, and I offer this list of the best ones:

Snow bird

It might seem tough to name turkey hunting in the snow – in May! – as a highlight, but May 5 will go down as both a unique and awesome day in the turkey woods. Just days earlier, the area I hunt in Wisconsin was blanketed by 15 inches of snow. It was very strange driving out to my hunting spot and seeing snow everywhere. It looked more like December than May.

I must admit, I had to fight off feelings of despair during my hour-long drive to Ellsworth the morning of my hunt. Would the turkeys be radically affected by the snow? Would they still be interested in breeding? Would they gobble?

Turns out, the birds were quite active indeed. In fact, I had a nice 2-year-old tom on the ground in less than an hour. He gobbled very eagerly on the roost, and I coaxed him in with some aggressive hen calling followed by some soft calling at the end. The bird was standing in the snow when I shot him, and I was sitting in the snow against a tree. It was the first time in almost 30 years of turkey hunting that I had hunted in snow that actually was accumulated on the ground.

It was a very unusual hunt, and a very cool experience overall. But, I NEVER want to hunt in snow again in May. Let’s hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

I did continue to hunt after that because I had bonus tags that the state offers. The hunting was extremely difficult and the toms had lots of hens around. I believe this was caused by the fact that the snow destroyed eggs the hens had laid, so they went out to breed again. Thus, I had very little success calling another bird in. I had some jakes (young toms) come in fairly close, but they ended up not being in gun range. I fired, thinking they were, but they were too far and merely ran off at the shot.

The good news is I spent a lot of time in the woods and learned the properties well. So, i should be in fine shape this year. I look for it to be a good spring season. Two years ago, the early and warm spring caused a very good hatch, and there were lots of jakes running around during the 2013 season. That means lots of mature 2-year-olds this year. I can’t wait!

Buck for the fireplace

Just weeks after finishing my turkey hunting season, I got a call from Lee’s Taxidermy in Prescott, Wis. to let me know that my whitetail buck mount was done. It was the largest buck I had ever taken and I’m not sure if I will ever top it, or even match it. I took Joe, my oldest son, to the taxidermy shop to pick it up. Then, when I got home, I put it up on the fireplace.

Joe has a nice buck mount, too, and we discussed whose was better. Lee Schommer, the taxidermist, said his scored 151, and mine about 153. He did not take exact measurements of mine, but says whenever he tries to estimate the score of a buck, he’s usually within 2 inches of the exact score. So, bottom line is that our bucks are very even. The rack on Joe’s is thicker, but my rack is wider and has taller tines. Honestly, Joe and I are not competitive when it comes to trying to get the biggest rack. It was just fun to compare our buck mounts.

Claire’s first walleye

My 11-year-old daughter Claire caught her first walleye in June on Upper Red Lake. Due to a very busy schedule, we were able to run up to Upper Red for an evening of fishing. We contacted Bear Paw Guides and hired Tyler Brasel to guide Claire, my wife Julie and I for the evening. Just days earlier, the protected slot loosened to allow the taking of fish up to 20 inches, versus 17 prior to that. So, we were very optimistic about being able to catch fish to take home.

The trip did not disappoint. We had our four-fish limit for the three of us (12 fish total) in an hour, and Claire caught lots of fish, starting with her first-ever walleye. Tyler set her up with a bobber rig and it worked beautifully for Claire. Tyler has young kids of his own, so he is very good at helping children catch fish. He did an awesome job with Claire, and it’s a trip we will never forget. Hopefully, we can get back up there again this summer.

‘Tonka bass

I went out to Lake Minnetonka on the Fourth of July with my son Joe to try for some largemouth bass. He was home for the summer and wanted to do some fishing. I wasn’t sure how it would go, as I hadn’t been on the lake in years. However, I did very well on the lake when I did fish it regularly, and wanted to hit my old spots to see if they produced.

Turns out, one spot in particular was as good as it used to be. We caught several nice bass on it, including a feisty 18-incher, and I went home very satisfied. Joe got some action, too, although he was a bit rusty at fishing with plastic worms. Near the end, he started to get the hang of it, and pulling a bass over the gunwale put a smile on his face. I would definitely like to do some bass fishing in 2014!

Breakthrough with a bow

Of course, my top highlight of the year has to be getting my first deer with a bow. Everything came together on the morning of Nov. 6. A young buck with a small eight-point rack came walking by my stand at just 10 yards, giving me a perfect broadside shot. I drew back as he stepped past me and I quickly found his vital area with my 20-yard pin. All of my practice and preparation paid off with a perfect pass-through shot. Tracking was easy in the snow and I found my buck about 100 yards from where I took the shot. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of finding my deer after the shot. I had hit about a half dozen deer previously, but didn’t find a single one, including a small doe that I hit in late September. Ask any bow hunter, and they’ll tell you that failure to find a deer that’s hit is a very sick feeling. Hopefully, I’ll be able to duplicate my success next year.

Sons come through

It was also a good deer hunting year for my two oldest sons, Joe and Andy. Joe got a small whitetail doe on the last day of our hunt in Montana over Thanksgiving week, and Andy ended up taking a doe in Montana plus a doe in Minnesota. So, our freezer is full, plus we were able to give venison away. Our family has been feasting on venison in the last few weeks, and I’m sure our supply of meat will last into the spring and summer. There’s nothing like venison steaks on the grill!

One intriguing possibility for 2014 would be taking Claire turkey hunting. She has expressed interest, and I have said I will take her if she wants to go. She turns 12 in April, and that would be very fun to chase gobblers with her. She’s not sure if she actually could pull the trigger on an animal. But if we go out and call a bird in, and she decides not to shoot, that’s fine with me. I like going out into the woods, especially in the spring, so she won’t disappoint me if she decides to hold off on the shot. We’ll see what she says as we get closer to the turkey season.

The next thing I’ll do is contact landowners after the Wisconsin turkey lottery. I have been blessed to have several landowners who continue to let me hunt, and I can’t wait to get after those birds in 2014!

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Shotgun problem solved… probably

December 19, 2013

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I picked up my shotgun today from Joe’s Sporting Goods in Roseville. I missed a shot at a deer at 15 yards during the firearms season and I wanted the store’s gunsmith to check it out. I suspected maybe it was my scope, as my brother had experienced a similar problem several years ago.

But, the gunsmith did not find a problem with the scope. He fired three test rounds at 25 yards and got a very tight group, with the holes touching each other. He even gave me the target he used for the test shots, along with the box of ammo he used, which had two rounds left in it.

In talking things over with someone in the gun department, it looks like the problem most likely is the new ammo that I tried this fall. I used to use Federal shotgun slugs, called Barnes Expanders. But, the company quit making them earlier this year after Barnes was bought out by another company and terminated its contract with Federal to supply the sabot slugs used in this round.

So, I tried a new offering by Federal, and it appears that it doesn’t work well in my gun. I had trouble sighting in these slugs two weeks before the season, but finally seemed to get them dialed in.

But, I didn’t hit the deer with them when I used them in the field. I fired four times at the doe and never touched her. That’s enough to convince me to try another slug.

I plan on going with the slugs the gunsmith used, also made by Federal. The company has made these for a long time, the guy in Joe’s gun department told me, and it’s very likely they won’t be discontinued any time soon.

And, the best part is they are very modestly priced – $6.99 for a box of five. That’s several dollars less than I paid for a box of Barnes Expanders. Even though I was happy to pay more for the Barnes Expanders, I’m tickled that these slugs cost less.

Hopefully, they will work just as well when next firearms deer season rolls around!

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Not too cold for grilled venison!

December 18, 2013

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I’m sure my next-door neighbor was giving me a funny look when I went outside the other night to fire up my charcoal grill.

He was shoveling his driveway. Usually, shoveling and grilling don’t happen at the same time. For most folks, the grilling season ends by Thanksgiving and doesn’t start up again until the snow melts and the birds start singing.

I’m a little different. My grilling season never ends. That does not mean I have no limits. When temperatures plunged down into the single digits recently, my grill stood idle on my back deck.

But, the mercury pushed up to a balmy mark near 30 degrees on Monday, so I decided it was time for grilled venison steaks. The cold didn’t bother me as I poured charcoal into my metal cylinder and stuffed two pages of newspaper underneath. It did take a couple tries, but the coals eventually heated up to a beautiful red glow.

This meal was going to be special, featuring the first meal of steaks from the buck I killed with my bow in early November. Because I was trying for my first deer with a bow, I chose to take a smaller buck. The decision was made easy by the fact that this deer presented a perfect broadside shot at 10 yards, which is every bowhunter’s hope while sitting in a stand.

Now was going to be the payoff, I said to myself as I pulled the marinated steaks out of the refrigerator. Every deer hunter likes to take a big buck, which I did a year ago. But, true meat lovers like me know that the best tasting deer are the younger ones. And, a young buck is the best of all because it has a larger, adult body, but is young enough for the meat to be tender.

So, taking this deer was a no-brainer. The good news is, the area I hunt in the metro seems to have lots of small bucks. I have seen eight so far this archery season, and I’m sure there are even more roaming the woods. Interestingly, I have read recently that metro areas, particularly those off limits to hunting or open only to archery hunting, can have more bucks than areas that allow gun hunting.

I think a major reason for this is that the younger bucks are often very active in the fall, roaming the woods looking for does and often getting run off by bigger bucks. Plus, they are less wary and educated than older bucks, which are highly adept at avoiding hunters.

Thus, I am optimistic that I will continue to see small bucks on this property, though sighting a bigger one would be just fine, too! On the other hand, it’s very hard to argue against harvesting a young buck once the meat ends up on your plate.

And, I have to say, the grilled venison steaks from this young buck did NOT disappoint. They were delicious. I cooked them medium to medium rare, and I used a marinade created by some friends of mine, Bob and Christine Brickweg. Christine would not call herself a gourmet chef, but she definitely knows how to prepare venison!

Her marinade, which I simply call the “Brickweg marinade,” is very simple to make. You buy packets of Italian dressing and make it according to the directions on the back of the packet. But, you need to make two key substitutions. Instead of regular vegetable oil, use olive oil. And, instead of vinegar, use balsamic vinegar.

I usually make a double recipe with two packets. Then, you pour over the meat and marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours, flipping the meat over halfway through the process to make sure the marinade soaks into both sides. I usually do the marinade right before I go to bed, then flip the meat the next morning. But the time the coals are hot, I’m good to go!

If you were fortunate to get a deer this fall, give this recipe a try. I am convinced that you will not be disappointed!

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Wisconsin turkey lottery deadline is today!

December 10, 2013

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For those thinking ahead to spring, it’s time to act if you want to hunt gobblers in Wisconsin. Today is the deadline for applying in the Wisconsin wild turkey lottery. Those who go to the wild turkey page on the Wisconsin DNR can apply online as well as learn all of important details about the spring turkey season.

I have gone every year since 2007 and have failed to tag a tom just once. Six out of seven years isn’t bad! Even last year, when a monster storm hit right during my season in early May, I managed to take a nice mature tom. It was a very unusual hunt – in the snow in May. But, I happened to set up near where a very eager gobbler was roosted. I started walking toward the woods at about 5:15 a.m. and had my bird just a little before 6. It was my fastest hunt ever.

I firmly believe this year will be excellent. There were lots of birds around last year where I hunted, but very few got shot. I think the cold spring turned many hunters away. And, with good reason. The birds were not very cooperative overall, and lots of hunters went home empty handed.

That just leaves more turkeys for this year. Not only that, the hatch was very good the year before, which should mean lots of 2-year-old toms gobbling in the woods. Last year, I saw a group of seven or eight jakes (young toms) on one of the properties I hunt, and none of them were taken, even though I shot at them several times.

So, those birds should be back this year – and I can’t wait!

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