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Friend’s first spring turkey hunt: three birds, two shots

April 24, 2015

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I was excited when I climbed out of bed at 4 a.m. today. The plan was to take my friend Mike out for a wild turkey hunt. We had set up the blind a few days ago, on the first day of Minnesota’s B Season, later in the afternoon. We hunted and did some calling, but Mike had to go after only about half an hour.

This time, we were going there at dawn to try and hear some toms gobbling on the roost. We got there nice and early, just as it was starting to get light. I had set up my blind on the edge of a picked corn field, where turkeys, deer and other wildlife like to hang out and feed.

We heard nary a gobble, but deer started filtering out into the corn field shortly after sunrise. A group of five got to within about 25 yards. Mike used his cell phone to shoot some video, which was fun.

But, no gobbles and no turkeys. Some different birds — geese — landed in the corn field and were making quite a racket with their honking.

That went on for at least an hour or so, with me doing some hen calls about every 15 minutes to try and lure in some gobblers. We were going to stay in the blind until 8, then get out and do some walking around and calling.

Before we reached the deadline, Mike spotted some movement about 100 yards away in some tall grass. Eventually, several turkey heads came into view. Three birds walked out into the field, but I couldn’t tell if they were males (legal in the spring) or females (not legal until fall).

I was kicking myself for not remembering to bring my binoculars. Just in case any of them were toms, I started doing some soft calling to lure them to our decoys.

It worked. The birds slowly started moving in our direction. Eventually, they got close enough to where I knew they were jakes. I could clearly see their red heads, and I saw a small beard on one of them. I pointed it out to Mike, and said he could shoot anytime.

He did, but the bird didn’t go down. He shot again, and the three birds went into the woods. He thought the bird he shot laid down, but we’re not sure. We got out of the blind and went over to check it out, but the birds ran off. We found blood, but the bird was gone.

We looked around for at least a half hour, but never found the bird. I was disappointed, but Mike got over it very quickly. He reminded me of all the wildlife we had seen that morning, and thus he considered the hunt a success.

I simply told him that if he enjoyed the outing and felt it was worthwhile, that was good enough for me.

It’s not always about tagging an animal, I have to remind myself. Mike takes joy in the simple pleasure of being in the outdoors. And, the best part is, he was able to bring his 8-year-old son along.

Little James got to witness some cool things, and I think we have a hunter in the making. After all, he got up at 4 to come with us. Mike said James barely slept that night.

Yes, indeed, I think James has a future in hunting. And, I hope his dad gets another chance at a tom next year!

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My daughter’s first turkey hunt

April 17, 2015

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I have always said shooting a turkey is like hitting a knuckleball. A gobbler’s head dances around like the specialty pitch of Major League Baseball’s famous Niekro brothers.

How can a youth hit such a target? That was the question weighing heavily on my mind as I prepared to take my daughter Claire on her first wild turkey hunt. Opening day was Wednesday, and we hit the woods well before dawn on this beautiful spring morning. The hunt came one day after Claire’s 13th birthday.

I had done some scouting, and put up a blind in a good area. It was at the top of a ridge where a picked corn field and cow pasture meet, right on the edge of the woods. Back in the woods were some good trees for roosting.

I was hoping a lonesome tom or two would be there come Wednesday morning. I had taken Claire out to shoot the 20-gauge shotgun she would be using, and she hit the paper turkey target just like she was supposed to.

But, a real bird is a far cry from a stationary one. That was my biggest concern going into the hunt. I had a feeling she might get a shot opportunity. The question was: Would she connect?

I was about to find out. We got there extremely early, like about 5:15 a.m. because I thought birds might roost close by and I wanted to get there in the dark to avoid spooking them.

Turns out I was right on. Two gobblers were roosted no more than 50 yards away, maybe closer. They started gobbling hard, then I made some calls. They flew down pretty quickly and only had to go about 20 yards to be visible. I saw them through the trees to the left of the blind. They were going in and out of strut. I think they were between 25 ad 35 yards away. If I had been hunting, I would have dropped one of them easily.

But, Claire had trouble picking them up through the trees, and she couldn’t get a good sight picture. I thought they would keep coming our way and work toward the decoys we had set up in the corn field in front of us. Instead, they veered off and walked just inside the woods to our left. Claire got a better look, but the birds were now out of range, and they kept going away from us.

Eventually, they crossed the cow pasture and came into the corn field. They started working toward us, and then I heard a hen. She would whistle and then yelp. It was an odd sound. Then we saw more hens. I mimicked this hen, which I think was the boss, and she started coming toward me. Eventually, six more hens appeared and they all came into the decoys, which were only about 10 yards in front of us.

Perfect! The toms hung back, but eventually worked closer. I thought they were about 20-25 yards away, so I got Claire set up for the shot. One of the birds stopped and ran his head up. I asked Claire if she had a good sight picture and she said yes. So, I told her to shoot, and she did.

But, she missed and the birds took off. Later, we got out of the blind and I went to where I thought the birds were standing. I think it was more like 30 yards. That’s makable with the 20-gauge, but not an easy shot. I think the real problem was Claire was nervous and wasn’t holding the gun steady, even with the shooting sticks she was using. She said she felt pressure and was struggling with the shot. I told her it’s no big deal that she missed. At first, she thought I was disappointed with her, but I said I wasn’t at all.

We went over to an adjoining property after that and set up in a spot I thought would be good. Just after we set the decoys up, we heard gobbling close, and hustled to sit down. It went quiet for a while, then I yelped on my box call about 10 a.m. A bird gobbled right away farther away than the first ones.

Then, I heard what I’m pretty sure was a jake (young tom) yelping. It got closer, then we saw two birds step into the field. We had some brush in front of us, so I had trouble identifying them. One was a hen and I think the other was a jake. I also think there may have been more birds in the woods that didn’t come out. These birds milled around for about 20-30 minutes and never came close enough for a shot. Then, they went back into the woods. Claire wanted to be done at that point. She didn’t want to sit any more.

All in all, it was a great morning as far as action goes. I’m hoping I can talk Claire into going out one more time, but as of right now, she doesn’t think she wants to. She wanted to try it, but doesn’t seem to have interest in continuing to go out. We’ll see.

Of course, I wanted Claire to be able to get a bird, but in the end, I know turkey hunting is very hard and it’s common for young hunters to miss their first shot at a bird. I sure hope she’ll try again. I think if she sticks with it, she can hit a bird eventually. The nice thing is Minnesota changed the rules for youth, and now kids under 18 can hunt the entire season across the entire state. They no longer have to pick a five-day season and specific zone to hunt.

That opens up a lot more opportunities. I support this because it’s important to be able to have good opportunities to introduce youth to hunting. Stats suggest fewer kids are doing it, so we need to do what we can to get them out there.

It’s a tougher sell, as hunting competes with things like sports and video games. And, it’s much harder than things like that. My knuckleball theory was proved true once again on Wednesday.

And, that’s what keeps me coming back for more!

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A girl’s first turkey hunt

March 31, 2015

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Part of the commitment to going on a hunt is taking concrete steps to prepare. For my 12-year-old daughter Claire, that meant shooting the gun she will hunt with — for the first time.

Pulling out the 20-gauge shotgun on Sunday afternoon and holding it in her hands was a big deal to her. Even more so was putting her finger on the trigger and pulling it.

That’s why I was slow and deliberate about getting her ready for the shot. We talked about recoil, and I explained how to hold the gun to minimize the impact from the shot. She understood, but still was reluctant to ignite the gunpowder with her finger stroke.

The obvious question any child her age would ask is: Is this going to hurt?

Thankfully, the recoil from a 20-gauge is considerably less than a 12, so I was able to tell her truthfully that the recoil is not a big deal.

The good news is, after firing the gun, she agreed with me.

What’s more, she also drilled the turkey target in the head and neck, just like she was supposed to. There’s nothing like success to bring a smile to the face of a youngster. I think I was more pumped about her good shot than she was.

Yet, I fully understand that hitting a target and hitting a live turkey are two very different things. However, confidence plays a huge role in being able to execute a shot at a real bird. Succeeding in practice, especially right away, really helps once they go out into the field.

The truth is, hitting a real turkey can be easy. I say CAN be because it can also be tremendously difficult and nearly impossible at times. I like to say shooting a turkey can be like hitting a knuckleball with a baseball bat. The unpredictable nature of the bird, especially a tom, can really put a lot of stress on a hunter.

But, there is a way to help combat that — use decoys. Another is to hunt from a blind, as turkeys seem oblivious to movement inside a blind.

Finally, the last piece is to hunt unpressured birds. You can do that one of two ways: 1. Hunt property that hasn’t had other hunters on it, or 2. Hunt the very first season, before other hunters can pressure the birds.

I’m opting for No. 2. Fortunately, the DNR has structured the hunt to allow youth hunters to pick any season they wish without having to enter the lottery. Naturally, I chose the first season, which is April 15-19. I got landowner permission for two of my favorite properties, which are near Red Wing. So, we’re good to go.

What I’m hoping for is to draw a bird into the decoys, then have it stick around and display in front of them, as gobblers often will do. Sometimes, they shy away from decoys and don’t come in. But, usually, if they do, they’ll stick around for a while. And, with us being in the blind, Claire will be able to move all she wants inside of it to prepare for the shot. Plus, I’ll be able to whisper to her and help her prepare to shoot.

Once she’s ready, I’ll simply do some excited calls from within the blind, which generally freezes the bird and gets it to lift its head up. Hopefully, she then will do exactly what she did in practice.

One other thing I will do is have her watch some turkey videos on TV and practice aiming the gun at them. Someone suggested this to me years ago. This will give her practice at acquiring the sight picture and picking the right moment to shoot.

This is fun stuff, and I can’t wait to take Claire out. The weather is looking good, and if it stays warm, the birds will break up their winter flocks and spread out more. That is very helpful for hunting. I have hunted early seasons before, and always seem to get more action when it’s a warmer and earlier spring versus a colder and later one.

This one looks a bit warmer and earlier, but probably closer to normal, which we haven’t had in a while. I’m optimistic about the hunt, but hoping we have some nice, warm weather during Claire’s season. If we get that, I think we’re in business.

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Sportshow time!

March 27, 2015

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Hopefully, a turkey like this will come into range when it comes time to hunt this spring.

Hopefully, a turkey like this will come into range when it comes time to hunt this spring.

Later today, I will be heading to the Minneapolis Convention Center for the annual Progressive Northwest Sportshow. It’s on my don’t-miss list, and it runs through Sunday.

For hunting and fishing enthusiasts like me, it has a little bit of everything. I always look for booths and products related to my two greatest outdoor passions — bow hunting and turkey hunting. It’s nice to get a nice “fix” of the outdoors as we make the transition from winter to spring. Today being the first official day of spring, it’s the perfect time to go!

There’s lots to cover, and one nice thing is the exercise I get walking from one end of the exhibition hall to the other. Hopefully, that will help get me in shape for the time when I will chase down gobblers this spring. I am hunting in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, plus I will be taking out three other hunters and trying to help them get birds.

One of them is my daughter Claire. We are going to shoot the 20-gauge shotgun she will be using Sunday afternoon, and I am going to buy sights to put on it before we go. She is worried about the recoil, but I hope she won’t be too bothered by it. I’ll be sure to bring some padding for her shoulder. I have taken her three older brothers turkey hunting, and I’m thrilled her time has come. This should be a fun weekend!

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Gorgeous weather triggers big ideas

March 16, 2015

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Something happens when the thermometer rises into the 50s in March. My entire outlook seems to improve. In short, it puts a smile on my face.

And, a few ideas in my head. I acted on one of them last week. For several years, I have been wanting to do some deer scouting and stand placement in the spring. I have read about it, thought about it, dreamed about it. Finally, this year, I did something about it.

I went to the property I bow hunt in Wisconsin and set up two ladder stands, one on either side of a major trail that goes along a ridge and through some thick cover. It is the narrowest funnel on the property, and there is only one trail going through it. So, putting a stand on either side means I can hunt it in any wind. In bow hunting, that’s huge. I did some trimming of shooting lanes, too. I am not quite finished, but will go back in the next few weeks to complete the job. Then, I will be ready to bow hunt this fall.

I have more work to do, and hope to get out again this week. The job was made more difficult by the fact that I lost permission to hunt on a great metro property after two guys with a lot of money leased it for the year. I may get back on again someday, but for now, I am required to go out and remove my three stands. I did that, and put two of those stands up in Wisconsin.

I also have been thinking and planning for turkey hunting this spring. I will be taking my daughter Claire during the first season, and I am very excited about that. It will be her very first hunt. She told me a few weeks ago she wants to go, but still isn’t sure she will be able to pull the trigger on a bird. That’s fine with me. I just look forward to the opportunity to take her out into the woods.

I will hunt Season E in Minnesota (May 5-9), then the D Season in Wisconsin, which begins May 6. That has been a great time period to hunt, and I hope it will be again this year.

Sure would be nice to do some fishing, too. I met someone who lives on Big Stone Lake, which lies on the border of Minnesota and South Dakota. That lake is open year round, so I could go out there any time after the ice melts. I may get in touch with him to see if that will work. I also know that the Bishop’s Charity Fishing Tournament for the Diocese of Sioux Falls will be in June, so I could go out there for that event. I’m sure I could both fish the tournament and cover it. That would be fun, plus I could take home some walleyes for a fish fry.

The biggest challenge, as always, is time. Life gets very busy in May, so it could get tough to squeeze in some outdoor outings. But, June is looking pretty good right now. I would like to get out on the water at some point. Big Stone is about a 3-hour drive, which isn’t too bad. If there is a boat waiting for me there to go out in, it will be hard to pass up.

For now, I’ll work on the deer stands and start looking for strutting toms as I drive around. The mild winter should mean plenty of birds this spring. Even after our harsh winter last year, I still saw quite a few, and was able to harvest three mature gobblers. I plan to have three tags again this year, maybe four. Plus, I may try to get a bird with my bow this year. I’m going back and forth on that one. I will do some more checking into that. Sure would be fun to take a tom with my bow.

What’s fun right now is letting the warm weather fuel my dreams!

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Best archer in the world?

January 26, 2015

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My son Joe sent me a video that is absolutely amazing. It features archer Lars Andersen from Denmark and the amazing things he can do with a bow. I have watched it twice now, and it is nothing short of astounding.

In the video, he was able to fire three arrows in .6 second. And, he can hit moving objects, and hit objects while he’s moving. I kept looking for some evidence that the video is fake or doctored, but couldn’t find any. I also did a brief Google search on Andersen. Seems like he’s been around for a few years and established a reputation as a skilled archer. I think his new video has 4 million hits!

I know I won’t ever come close to being as good as he is. That is part of what makes me have so much respect for him. Even with a compound bow, archery is hard, at least for me. But, even when my arrows are a little off target during practice, I simply remind myself that my goal is to put an arrow through the vitals of a deer — about the size of a paper plate.

If I can do that when a deer I want to shoot walks by, it’s all good!

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Winter: A time for preparation

January 14, 2015

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Unless you like to go ice fishing or coyote hunting, winter is the off season for outdoor pursuits. But, that doesn’t mean your only option is to sit idle and dream about the big fish you’ll catch once the ice thaws, or the big tom you’ll harvest after the snow melts.

Far from it. This can be an important time for getting ready for upcoming fishing and hunting seasons. Just today, I took an important step toward what I hope will be a productive bow hunting season in the fall. I went to A1 Archery in Hudson, Wis. to have the guys there do some work on my bow. I am having a new string put on, plus a new sight.

This is a great time of year for that. First, most shops aren’t so busy, and thus have the time to help you and get the work done right. Second, it gives you plenty of time after getting the bow back to make sure it’s functioning properly. With archery, so many little things can go wrong, and almost any of them can cost you a deer in the fall. Now’s the time to get on top of equipment issues.

This is also a time to do research on new gear you’re interested in trying. Thankfully, I did my research two years ago on strings, and settled on Vapor Trail. Actually, the guys at A1 highly recommended this string, and the research I did online confirmed that this is a great product. I had one put on my bow at A1 two years ago and it has worked great for me. I have harvested three deer with this string, and I am very happy with the results.

One good thing about an archery shop like A1 is that they know good products and feel confident recommending them. The guys who work there are bow hunters, plus they talk to many bow hunters who come through the doors. If a product isn’t good, they’ll find out about it and will not recommend it to people like me.

That’s why I quickly took their advice in November and got Beaman arrows and NAP Killzone broadheads. I didn’t regret it. The very next day, I shot a doe with one of them, taking a steep quartering away shot that hit the mark and caused the doe to fall at less than 100 yards. A week later, I took another doe with a perfect double-lung pass through at 15 yards. She went only about 60 yards, and I saw her fall. I’m sold on them and plan to use them next year.

With all of these great experiences under my belt, I was confident when the guys at A1 recommended a one-pin sight by HHA Sports. After using a four-pin sight since buying my bow, I decided a one-pin was the way to go, primarily because almost all of the shots I take are less than 30 yards. My friend and bow hunting mentor, Steve Huettl, has shot several trophy bucks, all of them at 30 yards or less. He says he likes to keep his shots short because lots of things can go wrong on longer shots. The way I figure, if a guy like him who’s a much better shot than me doesn’t take long shots, I shouldn’t, either.

Thus, only one sight pin would be needed if I decide to keep my shots under 30 yards. There’s very little difference in point of impact from 5 to 25 yards, no more an 2 inches. So, only one pin is needed to shoot in that distance range. Having this sight will keep my sight picture uncluttered and simplify the process — I will never accidentally use the wrong pin.

The nice thing about A1 is the guys in the shop will install the new string and cables, mount the new sight and paper tune my bow. All I’ll have to do is sight it in, which I will be able to do in their indoor range. Then, I’ll have several months of shooting until the next hunting opportunity — spring turkey season. I have an opportunity to bow hunt a property in Wisconsin where I bow hunted for deer this fall. Not sure if I’ll do it, as a turkey is a much smaller target than a deer. But, I might give it a try. These will be unpressured birds, so I may have a better chance at luring them in close. I would want a bird to be no farther than 20 yards away, with 10 being much prefered. I’ll admit, it sure would be a great achivement to get a gobbler with a bow. We’ll see what I think come May.

More tips

Speaking of turkey hunting, here’s another thing you can do this winter — get landowner permission to hunt. In some cases, it’s merely a matter of picking up the phone and calling people who have let you hunt in past years. In other cases, it may be calling someone for the first time. In that case, I like to get on the phone as early as possible. Waiting runs the risk of somebody beating you to it. Plus, landowners may well be friendlier during one of the first calls they get from a hunter. Some landowners get lots of calls every year, and I wonder if they get tired of them after a while. Right about now is when I get on the phone, and the results have been great over the years.

It’s looking like I may be taking my 12-year-old daughter Claire out turkey hunting for the first time. She has expressed interest, and insists that she will go if I offer to take her. However, she is reluctant to miss school, and reluctant to get up early. Rising well before dawn is a fact of life for turkey hunters, as the most gobbling of the day starts right before sunrise. It’s a nice treat for any turkey hunter, but especially beginners. Maybe I can talk Claire into getting up early just once. But, like her mother, she is NOT a morning person. So, we’ll see.

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Beer-batter walleye: Great way to start the new year!

January 5, 2015

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With my oldest son Joe nearing the end of his stay with us, I wanted him to have some memorable meals while he is home. So, last night, I decided to do one of my specialties: beer-batter walleye. Along with that, I tried something new: beer-batter cheese curds. These were none other than the authentic cheese curds made at the Ellsworth Creamery in Wisconsin. I had made a special trip there before Christmas just to get some.

Years ago, I experimented with batter recipes and finally got it right. It’s tasty and very easy to make. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Bisquick

1/2 cup Shore Lunch

3 TBSP corn starch

1/2 TSP salt

dash of nutmeg

1 cup beer (about 3/4 bottle, cook gets the rest)

Directions:

Mix dry ingredients, then add beer. For thicker batter, add less beer. For thinner batter, add more. Cut fish into small pieces, roll in corn starch, then submerge in batter. Allow some excess batter to drip off, and deep fry at 375 degrees. Fry until pieces are golden brown.

For the fish fry, I used the last of the walleye I brought home from South Dakota on my trip there to Lake Oahe for the Bishop’s Fishing Tournament back in June. I have had some splendid meals of fish, and now I will have to go back out and get more walleye. I’m not much of an ice fisherman, so I’ll have to wait until May or June.

One thing to note is that the fish I used yesterday came from a large walleye — 25 inches, to be exact. Would love to say I caught it, but I didn’t. People often say that bigger fish don’t taste good, but I beg to differ. This fish was fantastic. The problem with bigger fish is the fillets often are so thick that they’re hard to cook. They can be cooked on the edges, but raw in the middle. Cutting them into small pieces solves this problem. I have done this for years and never had a problem with big fillets.

That said, I generally release bigger fish so as to practice good conversation. In this case, I just wanted to bring the lunker home and figured one big fish in a lake the size of Oahe wouldn’t be a problem.

Not sure if I’ll get back to Oahe for next year’s tournament. There’s also one on Big Stone, which is right on the Minnesota/South Dakota border. I would like to go there next year. It’s a shorter drive, and people who have fished in both tournaments say Big Stone is a better lake for walleye.

I would like the chance to find out for myself.

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Having fun hunting and scouting

December 15, 2014

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I have visited the property I bow hunt in Wisconsin twice over the last three days. I hunted there Friday morning, and did a little scouting yesterday afternoon.

I did not see a deer on Friday, but I did have the chance to take a brief walk in the woods before heading in to the office. I did some more walking on the property yesterday, after I was done doing some volunteer work at the Christmas tree farm owned by Charlie MacDonald.

The number of visitors went down later in the afternoon, so Charlie let me go with a good chunk of daylight left. Immediately, I headed to the ridge I had been hunting all fall. I checked the trail that goes by my stand and saw several piles of deer droppings, so I know deer are still using the area.

Then, I started walking along the ridge to do some scouting. I was looking for deer trails, funnels and good spots to put up stands. I walked around quite a bit, then picked a spot that I think looks good. Here’s what I liked:

1. It is a place where the terrain necks down (funnel)

2. It also contains the thickest cover I saw on the ridge

3. There is only one trail going through it

4. I found good trees on either side of the trail for putting up stands

5. With two stands up, I can hunt in any wind direction

The problem I have been having is finding a funnel area where deer have to come through. There just isn’t one on this property, as there is a bench down the hill from where the woods begin. Even on the spot I just described, there is a flat bench down below me that deer likely use. But, that bench is very open, and the cover is not nearly as thick as the spot I want to hunt.

That’s important, as deer really like to be in and around thick cover. And, once the leaves drop, the cover thins out everywhere. If you can find a spot where it’s still thick, that’s a spot worth hunting. If it’s in a funnel area where you can cover the width of a funnel with a bow shot (25 yards or less in my case), then you’ve really got something.

That’s exactly what I have here. Even though I won’t be able to cover the bench down below this spot, I know that deer will move through the heavy cover in this spot. There was a clearly defined deer trail through it, with some droppings to verify that deer were traveling there.

Another thing I like about hunting heavy cover is that I think you are less likely to spook deer as they come through. First — and very important —the deer can’t see you from a long ways away. Second, they feel more comfortable in cover and are less likely to be on high alert as they travel through it. And third, all the cover helps the hunter blend in more and avoid sticking out like a sore thumb.

Of course, I’ll have to be alert at all times because deer won’t be visible until they’re close. Plus, the heavy cover will restrict my shooting lanes even if I do a good amount of trimming.

But, that’s OK. The truth is, in bow hunting, there always are tradeoffs. So, what you need to do is take advantage of every asset, and do your best to limit the liabilities.

In other words, simplify the process. That’s what I’m doing here. I will set up two stands to hunt one trail. The nice thing is, I will set up each stand so that I will have a 15-yard shot to my left, which means I can take the shot while sitting down. That will keep my movements to a minimum, which is very important in bow hunting. I’ll just need to grab my bow, quietly lift it off the bow hanger, draw and shoot.

I plan on cutting two shooting lanes for each stand so that I can draw and shoot once the deer gets slightly past me, no matter which way it is coming down the trail. That gives me a slightly quartering away shot, which is ideal, plus it gets me out of the deer’s field of vision. I have killed all three of my archery deer with that type of shot, and none of them saw me draw.

I hope to get the two stands set up sometime between now and when the woods “green up.” Then, I can leave them alone for several months until archery season begins.

I never envisioned that bow hunting would be a year-round affair, but I am starting to realize the importance of doing stuff throughout the year. Already, I shoot year round to keep my arm and shoulder muscles in shape. So, doing a little work on stands doesn’t seem like a big deal.

Hopefully, putting up stands during the winter and early spring will help build anticipation for the upcoming bow season.

 

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Bow hunting lessons learned

December 3, 2014

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With the archery hunting season nearing the end, I thought now would be a good time to offer some of the important lessons I learned this season. Unfortunately, they come as a result of failures. I always say that bow hunting is a very tough sport that punishes even the smallest mistakes. Hopefully, these lessons will help you avoid the same mistakes I made.

1. Take your time when shooting. My friend Steve Huettl reminded me of this important lesson several times this fall, usually right after I rushed a shot and either missed a deer or hit it in the wrong spot. On the other hand, on two instances, I took the time to settle the pin on the right spot and execute a smooth release, which resulted in two does harvested. I have had a tendency to shoot quickly ever since I started bow hunting, so it’s a hard habit to break. But, it’s important that I do. The two times I was able to do it this fall will help me next year.

2. Dress to stay warm in the stand. Despite a colder-than-normal November, I managed to stay warm in my stands this year. I have developed a system that seems to work very well. Important components are: 1. layering, starting with a base layer of Under Armour cold weather underwear; 2. a muff to keep my hands warm, which is a critical part of bow hunting; 3. hand warmer packets to put inside the muff — they really work; 4. a thin balaclava for my head and neck, and a really warm hat for colder days (I use one called a Mad Bomber, which uses real rabbit fur); 5. warm boots (I use Muck Arctic Pro boots, which are insulated rubber boots); and 6. insulated bibs underneath a heavy, insulated parka. I think I had the ultimate test this year, and held up well. So, I have no worries about keeping warm in November.

3. Be careful when attempting to call. Twice, I decided to use calling to try and lure in a buck. Both times, I did not have a deer in sight when I tried it, and both times, it worked — kind of. I had bucks come to within bow range, but did not take a shot either time. What happened on both occasions is that a small buck came walking in straight at me very cautiously and with its head up. That made it impossible to draw. What was happening, I believe, is that both bucks were looking for the source of the calling and were trying to see the deer that made the sound. In one case, I used a grunt call. In another, I used a doe bleat call. I think the most effective way to use calls is to have a deer decoy set up, so that when a buck comes in, there will be a decoy to draw him in. Plus, if you position the decoy in a certain way, it helps you be able to get the buck in the right position for a shot. That’s something I may try next year.

4. Nothing beats funnels. Steve has continually stressed the importance of this, and one of my does came as a result of setting up on a nice pinch point. Not only was I set up on a narrow strip of woods between two areas of tall, marshy grass, but there was a large fallen tree that funneled deer right past my stand. A doe walked past my stand at about 10 yards, then turned straight away from me just as I was getting ready to draw. Fortunately, that move caused her to be facing the downed tree. Therefore, I knew it was just a matter of time before she had to turn to the right to walk around the tree. That’s exactly what she did, offering a quartering away shot. I put the arrow right where it needed to go, and she went only about 80 to 100 yards before falling.

5. Do scouting when the leaves are down. I believe this is the key to knowing how the woods look in November during the rut. It tells you two things: 1. What kind of shooting lanes you really have; and 2. What are the remaining thicker areas where deer feel secure. In September, it’s thick everywhere because of the foliage, so deer can bed down and hang out just about anywhere and feel safe. Once the leaves are down, the woods are far more open and, sometimes, thicker areas are at a premium. If you can find them, it’s good to hunt them. I like to find trails leading from the thicker areas. The best scenario is that, because of a funnel, there is only one trail the deer are using. That is literally a gold mine. Does like to bed in thicker areas, and bucks like to hang out in them to wait for does or look for them. A friend hunted near an area like this and heard deer moving around in it for the first hour or two of a morning hunt. Then, a doe came busting out of the thicket with a nice 10-point buck trailing her. He shot the buck at almost point-blank range after the doe whisked by his stand.

6. Never be satisfied. Although I had success in the woods this year, I know I can do better next year. It’s that mindset that had me out in the woods scouting over the weekend, and resulted in finding a new spot for next year. I went to an area of the property I hadn’t spent much time in, and found a new spot that looks absolutely dynamite. It features a funnel that comes off of a corn field. The trail the deer were using was absolutely beaten down with tracks. In fact, it was the most deer sign I have ever seen on this property. In addition to tracks, there was fresh deer droppings all over, indicating the deer are spending lots of time here. I plan on being there next fall to greet them.

7. Get out in the woods in the spring. I plan on going back to this new spot in late March or early April, and getting a stand ready. I may even go sooner, especially if it warms up later this month like the weather experts are predicting. Then, I can not only put the stand up, but cut shooting lanes and put trail tacks up so I can find my way to the stand in the dark. Then, the stand will sit there for months, allowing the deer to get used to it. Hopefully, they’ll be relaxed when they walk past it next fall while I’m sitting in it.

I’ve heard some people call bow hunting a year-round endeavor. I always thought that was strange and a bit excessive, but I think I’m slowly becoming part of that crowd (my wife uses the term “obsession” more and more these days). I’m realizing that this kind of effort is what it takes to be consistently successful. I have come to one simple conclusion — bow hunting is VERY hard. For me, it’s huge to get any deer with a bow. My goal now is to be consistently successful. The good news is, I have done a lot of work already, so I’m merely doing a few more things, like setting up a new stand. I have gotten pretty good at stand setup, so this doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it’s fun, despite the hard work involved.

I’m hoping it will pay dividends next fall. I still don’t consider myself a trophy hunter, but I’m starting to like the idea of trying for at least a nice buck. I shot a buck last fall with a very small 8-point rack, and I would sure like to get something bigger next fall. I think that’s a realistic goal. Who knows? Maybe something really nice will come walking by.

I’ll be waiting.

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