Tag Archives: deer

More deer hunting success!

November 14, 2014

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This nice doe walked by the stand at 11 a.m. on a cold, crisp day.

This nice doe walked by the stand at 11 a.m. on a cold, crisp day.

I had an amazing day in the woods on Wednesday. I went bow hunting in the morning in Wisconsin, then gun hunting in Minnesota with my friend Bernie Schwab in the afternoon. It was COLD. When I got out there in the morning, it was 16 degrees.

I didn’t get up in my bow stand until after shooting light, but there was no way I was going to climb in earlier in that cold. I was planning to be there until at least 1 p.m. or until I got a deer, so I didn’t want to get there early and risk getting chilled. I ended up waiting in the stand for four hours, then caught movement through the brush at 11.

I stood up and grabbed my bow,  then a doe came out right on a trail 15 yards from me. It’s the same trail the small buck came through the week before that I had missed. She was walking nice and slow with her head down. As she approached the spot where I wanted to shoot, I drew back. She got there and stopped, just like I wanted her to. I anchored the pin right behind her shoulder and made sure it wasn’t too far back, which is the mistake I had made just two days earlier. I executed a nice, smooth release and the arrow hit right where I aimed.

With the lighted nock, I saw the arrow hit right behind her shoulder, and it passed through. I heard the thump, then she jumped and started running. I knew the hit was good. She went about 60 yards, then slowed down and wobbled. She darted a little more, and fell over and died. It took less than 10 seconds, and it was the first time I have ever seen a deer fall that I hit with an arrow.

Unfortunately, I was so focused on her that I didn’t notice the small buck following her right down the same trail. By the time I turned around and saw him, he was coming into the clearing. I tried to grab another arrow, but he saw me and veered off. Then, another small buck came from a different direction and the two bucks were milling around for a few minutes before walking off. Very cool.

Just for kicks, I went to the blood trail and tracked it to the deer. A 5-year-old could have followed it. When you get a shot in the right place, an arrow can kill a deer just as fast and effectively as a gun. I registered the deer, took it into a processor in Prescott called Ptacek’s, then went down to Red Wing to hunt with Bernie.

He had been out that morning with the landowner and they got a nice 10-point buck that the landowner took in to a butcher to get made into his favorite venison treat — jalapeno sticks. So, it was time to get a deer for Bernie.

I climbed into a stand that had been productive, and began the wait. I saw a doe out feeding about 200 yards away, and hoped it would come my way. Instead, she went back into the woods after about 15 minutes.

Things were quiet until about a half hour of shooting light remained. Then, I heard movement behind me to the right in the woods. In a matter of seconds, I spotted a deer walking in the woods behind me very close. It swung around to my left and turned to go into the field. I got a good look at its head and body, and saw no antlers. We had antlerless tags left, so I was good to go. When the deer stepped out into the field at about 15 yards, I fired. The shot hit low, which meant the deer didn’t die right away. I had to go after it and make a finishing shot, which I did.

Here’s the great part — the landowner came out with his truck to pick up the deer, then invited us in for soup and hot chocolate. Can’t beat that!

We have been very blessed to hunt this property. We have killed some nice deer there, including a pair of 10-pointers Bernie and I shot there two years ago. Bernie’s son Dan got his first deer there, too, and my son Andy shot his first Minnesota deer there last year. Andy got another doe there this year, and my brother Paul got a deer, too, on a different property on opening day.

All in all, a great deer season, and it’s not done for me. I still have two archery tags left for Wisconsin, including my buck tag. I think I will wait until the weather warms up later next week, then try again. I would like to get a deer for some friends who don’t have one yet. I was able to give a deer to Bernie last year that we got in Montana, and I would like to help someone out again this year. With the deer herd down in Minnesota, things have been tough for hunters overall.

I think part of the reason for our success is we’re hunting properties we’ve hunted before and have stands set up in good spots. From what I can tell, the area we hunt seems to have plenty of deer, and I’m hearing the same thing from other hunters there.

It will be interesting to see what the DNR does with the deer limits. All indications are that they will relax the restrictions at least somewhat. I’m optimistic the herd will bounce back. For now, I’m counting my blessings and thanking the Lord for another great deer season!

 

 

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Bow hunting success at last!

November 7, 2014

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I was extremely frustrated Wednesday night after missing my second chance at a buck in a span of five days. I made up my mind to try again yesterday. I needed to get back on the horse and see if I could get things to go right this time.

I had purchased six new carbon arrows and NAP Killzone mechanical broadheads from A1 Archery in Hudson, Wis. These guys have never steered me wrong, and their customer service is second to none. They are very high on these broadheads, and the guy I talked to said everyone on staff who bow hunts uses them.

That’s good enough for me. I got six new Beamon carbon arrows and Killzone broadheads, so I would have a full quiver to start the morning hunt.

I went out to one of my favorite spots yesterday morning, the stand where I took my first deer with a bow (Nov. 6, 2013). This would be exactly one year later. I knew the woods would be quiet and there wouldn’t be anyone else out there hunting on a weekday morning.

But, it was tough to get to my stand because there were a lot of fallen trees and brush, and it’s very hard to navigate through all that in the dark. I eventually got to my stand, and was sitting up in it ready to hunt about 15 minutes before shooting hours began.

Things were quiet until about 7 or so. I heard shuffling in the leaves behind me and I knew it was deer. It sounded like more than one. At first, I thought they would go out into the tall grass to my right, as I have seen them do before. But, when I turned right to look, I didn’t see anything.

Then, I thought maybe they would swing around to my left and come by my stand. So, I turned my head and started leaning to the left. I heard shuffling in the leaves and looked down and saw a doe only about 10 yards from me. She had two fawns behind her.

I reached for my bow, then she raised her head up, so I froze. But, she quickly lowered her head again and kept walking. I grabbed my bow and held it in front of me so I could be ready to draw. She then turned to her left, right in front of my stand. It was a pretty steep quartering away shot at that point, but I could still see her vital area. Her head turned to her left to look back at her fawns.

You have to process so much in just seconds in scenarios like this, all with the deer very close to you. What to do? Should I take the shot? If so, when?

She was standing exactly 15 yards away, which is well within my effective range. She was frozen looking back at her fawns, so I knew I had plenty of time to shoot if I wanted to attempt the quartering-away shot.

I felt it was worth at least trying to draw, which I did. I made sure to relax my bow arm and bend it slightly, then I tried to put my pin on the vitals to see if it would be a good shot to take.

I absolutely anchored the pin and I was extremely calm. So, I released the arrow. The lighted knock flew right at the deer and I heard it hit her, then saw the arrow sticking out of her. She jumped and ran off and I could clearly see the arrow sticking out of her body, a little more than halfway back. With a quartering-away shot, you have to aim pretty far back so that the arrow will go into the vitals at that steep angle.

I got a good look at my arrow position in the deer when she ran off, and the placement looked excellent. But, there was a fair amount of the arrow outside the deer. I figured about half to two thirds of it was sticking out, but I have a 29-inch arrow plus broadhead, so that means I had at least 12-14 inches of the arrow in the deer. That certainly would be enough. The question was: Given that it wasn’t a pass through, how much blood would there be?

Turns out, there was no blood at all, which is the downside to a hit like this. But, as my friend and mentor Steve Huettl and others have often said, a deer hit in the vitals won’t go far. So, I was hoping if I walked around enough, I would eventually spot her.

I was getting discouraged, and I called people to ask them to pray for me. One of them was my good friend Jim Grill, who also gave me a few tips, like paying attention to possibly bumping the fawns. He said if the mama doe is down, the fawns will still stay near her.

At one point, I gave up looking for blood and just started going in the direction she was heading when I lost sight of her. I walked back into the woods about 10-20 yards, then heard a crashing sound like a deer jumping up after getting spooked. I thought of Jim’s comments and wondered if it might be the fawns. So, I walked quickly to where I heard the sound and saw the doe lying dead with my arrow still in her. She had probably gone a total of about 70-80 yards.

Success at last! Previous heartaches melt away when you’re standing over a deer you have just found. That makes two bow kills for me in my short time as as bowhunter. I dropped off the doe at Stasny’s in St. Paul, my go-to deer processor. It was one of the bigger does I have shot, and there should be lots of good meat. Plus, it was nice and cool yesterday and I field dressed it as soon as I found it. The arrow came right out, so they won’t have to worry about finding it inside the deer.

Now, I can just relax and hunt the gun season tomorrow. It will be cold and windy, but that’s not all bad. That’s much better than warm and windy. I have definitely killed deer on cold and windy days, like my buck two years ago. If the deer are active, something will move.

I am going to a hunt a stand that I put up on a nice funnel spot that I found two years ago. Then, in the afternoon, I’ll go to a different spot to hunt a meadow where we have had success over the years.

The key will be to dress warm, as it’s supposed to be cold and windy tomorrow. I have hunted on days like this, and it’s important to do the right things to stay warm. Here are some tips:

  • Cover as much exposed skin as possible. Wear a warm hat, even if it impacts your hearing. With the leaves down, you’ll see deer and have plenty of time to get your gun ready. Another good item to have is a neck gaiter, so that the wind doesn’t penetrate.
  • Use the handwarmer resin bags to put inside your gloves and boots. Better yet, get a hand muff that straps around your waist. I use it for bow hunting and it keeps my hands nice and warm. The handwarmers only cost $1 for a package of two, and they’re worth every penny!
  • If you need to climb down to warm up, wait until 1 or 2 if you can. Good deer activity happens between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., especially when it’s cold. And, a lot of hunters climb down from their stands for lunch, and they bump deer in the process. That could get them moving to you. On a cold and windy day like tomorrow, you can bet hunters will be taking a break between 10 and noon to get out of the cold. If you stay in your stand, you could be rewarded. I’ve read that deer notice when hunters leave and start moving after they have left, knowing the coast is clear. On opening day, I ALWAYS stay in my stand until at least noon. One year, I decided to stay put until 3, then killed a nice 8-pointer at 2:50. If you’re in a good spot, especially a funnel area in the woods, deer can move all day long.
  • If you can turn away from the wind and put it at your back, do it. You’ll stay warm far longer than if it’s blowing in your face. If you have to face the wind, pull your hat down and your neck gaiter up as much as possible. And, you can at least look down from time to time to keep it out of your face.

Tomorrow won’t feature bone-chilling cold, but if you haven’t sat in a stand when temps are in the 30s, it can be a rude awakening. I’ve been out when it’s colder, but haven’t dealt with high winds yet. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be ready.

Let the hunt begin!

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A buck comes in. . . heartache follows

November 3, 2014

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I’m sure every bow hunter knows the feeling of heartache when they have a chance at a deer but go home empty-handed.

Try as we might, failure rears its ugly head just when we think we’re on the verge of success. Such was the case on Saturday, when I hit the woods to take advantage of a cold morning that I was sure would have deer moving.

Interestingly, the first sign of life I saw was about 20 turkeys roosted just down hill from me. They started yelping and sounding off, then flew down shortly after it got light. They were scratching around nearby, and it was cool to watch.

Then, about 8 a.m. or so, I heard some rustling in the leaves a short distance to my east and slightly uphill. I turned just in time to see two does trotting behind me about 30 or 35 yards away. They were acting skittish, which can mean that there’s a buck behind them.

Sure enough, as they went downhill behind me, I caught sight of a buck coming in behind them with his nose to the ground. I’m sure he was sniffing to see if either doe was coming into estrous. He looked like an 8-pointer.

The buck was about 30-40 yards away, too, which is out of my range. The does swung around and then caught sight of me as I stood up so that I would be able to turn around for a shot if any of the deer came into range.

One of the does saw me and turned its head right at me. She bobbed and weaved and looked up trying to figure out what I was. Meanwhile, the buck slowly started working his way toward them. He angled toward them and closer to me. I was hoping he would eventually come around and go past my stand. Instead, he stopped between two trees and just stood there. I then realized he might be in range and his vitals were exposed. So, I drew on him and put the pin where it needed to be. I held steady, then hit my release.

The nock lit up and I saw the arrow sailing toward the deer. It went perfectly between the trees, and then I saw it hit the ground on the other side of the deer. I could see the nock, then the buck jumped, and I turned my attention toward him. He started walking slowly away with his head down and eventually went over a hill.

I pondered what to do next, while the does kept trying to figure me out. Eventually, a third doe appeared and, after about 20 or 30 minutes, all three of the does left.

I knew I needed to find my arrow and see if it went through the deer. Alas, after climbing down and looking, I could not find it. I looked four different times and never found it. I then headed in the direction of the deer and tried to see if I could find it. No luck. I uttered many fervent prayers to the Lord, but I didn’t find anything — no arrow, no blood, no deer.

So, I walked away puzzled. I still don’t know if I hit the deer or not. I know my left/right line was good, but not sure about the vertical path. I used my 20-yard pin and aimed about a third of the way up from the bottom of the deer’s belly. I think I would be fine up to about 25 yards. But, if the deer was farther away than that, more than likely I shot under him.

I should have tried to use my range finder. What can happen is, on a bigger deer like a buck, you can be fooled into thinking it’s closer than it really is. If your estimate is short by 5 or 10 yards, that can spell a miss.

The tough part is I may never know what happened. That’s just how bow hunting goes. I have Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week off, plus I’ll be hunting the firearms opener on Saturday. So, I’ve got some chances left. My goal right now is simple — one deer, any deer.

Lord Jesus and St. Hubert, please help me!

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Prime time for bow hunting starts soon!

October 24, 2014

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We are fast approaching what is the best time for deer activity in the fall — the last few days of October and the first two weeks of November. As each day goes by, I’m getting more excited about climbing into a stand to try for a deer with my bow.

I have gone out a total of five times this season and have yet to see a deer. As discouraging as that is, I know things will change for the better starting in about a week. The deer, which move mostly at night throughout the year, will start moving during daylight hours as the rut kicks in.

Interestingly, although most deer hunters know that the rut takes place, many don’t know what exactly happens and how you can use that information to help you get a deer. I have studied it extensively through material in magazines and online. The good news is, there is no shortage of things to read on this topic!

Based on what I have read, this is what happens: Throughout the month of October, the testosterone level in bucks continues to increase, which gets them moving more and more. They begin to travel more and do things like make tree rubs and ground scrapes. Meanwhile, the estrogen level in does also increases. That is the key to rutting activity.

As that level increases in does, a few begin to go into estrous in October, triggering bucks to start pursuing them. But, the vast majority of does don’t go into estrous until sometime in November. And, it’s that event that really gets things going as far as the rut is concerned.

As that time approaches, triggered both by decreasing length of days and the full moon phase, bucks get more and more antsy. Think ADHD. Just like a child with ADHD can’t sit still, a buck can’t bed down for very long come late October and early November. He can go three or four hours and that’s about it. Then, he gets up and starts cruising for does.

This is what hunters are waiting for. By Halloween, testosterone levels are at or near peak and bucks are on the move. They cruise through the woods and check doe bedding areas both day and night. They can easily go one or two miles on their cruising routes. They follow their noses to try and sniff out the does. As they hit a doe bedding area, they root around in it and sometimes bump the does and get them moving, too.

About two days before a doe goes into estrous, she will emit a certain smell in her urine that tells bucks she is getting ready to ovulate. And, when a bunch of does start emitting this smell, the woods come alive, with bucks running all over the place trying to track down the does. They call this the chase phase. That phase picks up even more when the does actually go into estrous and start emitting an even more distinctive smell in their urine.

It’s a great time to be on stand, but it can be tricky because the deer often are moving too fast for a bow hunter to take a shot. Thus, deer sightings go up, but shot opportunities can still be limited.

That’s why the experts recommend being in the woods just before the chase phase starts. This is called the seeking phase, and the last few days of the seeking phase are now understood to be a prime time for hunting.

Troubel is, it’s tricky to know when this starts because the does will not be emitting their pre-estrous smell yet. And, it marks a dramatic transition from what is known as the October lull. For some reason, deer often decrease their activity in October for several weeks before the end of the seeking phase starts and deer get moving again.

All I can say is, pick several days in late October and go sit in a stand. You will know in just a couple hours or so if the bucks are actively seeking does. What I recommend is sitting in your stand at dawn until about 9 a.m. If you don’t see anything, climb down and come back again in a few days. Every day that passes in late October brings us closer to prime time.

Another thing to pay attention to is weather. That is a HUGE part of the equation and I can’t stress this enough. Research has shown that, while deer activity is always strong at night, it varies during the daytime in direct relation to the temperature. When the daytime temperature is 45 degrees or less, deer will be active. When it gets above 45, daytime deer activity decreases significantly.

So, when you’re planning your hunts, look at the forecast. If it is below 45 for at least a little while in the morning, get out there and hunt. If not, wait for a colder day.

Keep in mind, if the high for the day is 50 0r 55, the hunting can still be good if the temperature stays below 45 for a while in the morning. That’s why I prefer to hunt mornings at this time of year. If you look at daily temperature readings, it is always coldest in the mornings, usually right before dawn and for a bit after the sun rises.

Deer know this, too, which is why they often are active in the mornings. As each year goes by in my young bow hunting career, I gravitate more toward morning hunts.

Surprisingly, many hunters do just the opposite. Research has shown deer hunting activity is much higher in the afternoons and evenings. The weather’s warmer, hunters can simply leave work a little early, and they can walk to their stands in broad daylight.

In contrast, mornings require getting up early — often earlier than on a typical workday — and walking to the stand in the pitch dark. And, as mentioned above, it’s colder in the morning.

These factors have proved unpleasant for deer hunters, which I think explains why more people hunt afternoons than mornings.

But, I have made the adjustment to mornings. It hasn’t been easy, but doing it repeatedly has made me much more comfortable with it. One of my tricks is marking the path to my stand with trail tacks. These reflective pins cost just a few dollars per package, and they work very effectively in the dark. I have a flashlight with a red beam, which is dimmer than the regular white light but is plenty bright enough to see the tacks.

Make no mistake, it’s challenging to walk to your stand in the dark even with a flashlight and trail tacks — not to mention being a tad bit spooky. But, I have repeated the task enough times to feel very comfortable and confident in doing it. Plus, the action I’ve had on morning hunts does wonders for my motivation to turn off the alarm clock at 5 a.m. and head out into the cold. The other thing I like is that I know I will be able to track deer during the day, which I prefer over night-time tracking.

So far, things have been unseasonably warm this month, but a change is in the forecast for next week. Looks like things will start to cool off on Tuesday, and last throughout the rest of the week. I’m circling Wednesday and Thursday as possible days to hunt. On Friday, I will be on Relevant Radio in the morning doing a special show on the upcoming firearms deer opener. I will have as my guests Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary and an avid deer hunter, along with Jon and Kalley Yanta. Jon is a passionate bow hunter, and Kalley has decided to try it. Will be fun to hear how that’s going for them.

It might be awkward for Jon and I, as we may be sitting there wishing we were in a deer stand instead of a radio studio. But, there will be lots of good hunting days ahead after that, so I’m not worried. I don’t think he is, either.

I’ve got stands set up in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and have archery tags for both states. All I can say now is: Bring on the rut!

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Deer hunting in Europe

September 25, 2014

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I got a very intriguing email from my son Joe this morning. At the moment, he is in Rome working for the University of Dallas as a Rome Assistant. It’s a great job, and he is having the time of his life. He got the news he had been selected shortly before his graduation from the school in May. He got an English degree and was magna cum laude.

He is just a bit sad that his time in Rome means he will miss deer hunting this season. I have been trying help fill some of the gap with updates on my fall bow hunting experiences. Plus, he has been surfing YouTube and has found some videos, including on one hunting fallow deer in Hungary. I found it fascinating, and I think any deer hunting enthusiast will, too.

One of the practical benefits covered by the expert hunter in the video, Max Hunt (how’s that for an appropriate name?) has to do with arrow flight. Some slow motion video footage shows his arrows traveling in a clear spiral pattern closer to the release point, then stabilizing farther away. He notes that his groups aren’t as tight at 20 meters as they are at 25. I haven’t done as much testing at those ranges as he has, but I have noticed that I seem to shoot very well at 25 and 30 yards, sometimes better than at 20.

I was always puzzled by this. Now, based on the video footage, I have a little more insight on this. That alone was worth seeing the video, but there was some fun hunt footage, too, as he goes after a trophy buck. For those who want to see more of Max, they can go to his website. I plan on surfing it real soon.

Sure would be fun to try hunting in Europe. Joe holds out some small hope that he might get to do it during his year in Italy. I sincerely want him to get that opportunity!

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Archery season underway!

September 18, 2014

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I was pumped up for the archery opener on Saturday. Sept. 13 was the opener for both Minnesota and Wisconsin. This year, I decided to buy an archery tag for Wisconsin, which I got for half price because I am buying that license for the first time. Wisconsin started this policy a few years ago, and I decided to cash in this year.

That decision is rooted in the severe restrictions in place for Minnesota this year. Most areas of the state have a one-deer limit for the entire season, which means if I harvest a deer with my bow — any deer — I cannot tag another deer in any zone with a one-deer limit. I could, however, party hunt or hunt the few zones with higher limits.

I wanted the opportunity to harvest more than one deer, so I decided to buy the Wisconsin license. And, I crossed the St. Croix River to hunt in Wisconsin on the opener, and again yesterday afternoon.

The opener was very unusual, in that I was dressing for November rather than for mid-September. I got invited to hunt near Baldwin by Deacon Jake Anderson, who is on the path for ordination to the priesthood in May. He and I had talked about bow hunting together on his family’s land, and he was kind enough to give me the opportunity to hunt with him on opening day.

We had worked on putting several stands up two weeks beforehand, so we had some options for the opener. Deacon Jake took a stand where he had been successful in previous years, and I took a new one he just put up this summer.

Turns out, he had the hot stand. He saw six deer on opening morning and five or six more that evening. He had several small bucks come into bow range, but they weren’t big enough. A nice doe and her two fawns came in close, but not close enough. He uses a recurve, and his maximum distance is 20 yards. These deer were at 25.

Meanwhile, I had very little action at my stand. I saw something move across the clearing to the west, but couldn’t positively identify what it was. I think it was a deer, but saw it through some trees and didn’t get a good look at the body.

Yesterday, I went to another spot that is near Prescott. I had set up a stand the week before with another guy who hunts the land. He had shot a nice deer in this area, so he suggested I try setting up there.

We found one nice deer trail running along the ridge, and we threw up a ladder stand that I had brought. I think deer will move along this ridge, especially during the rut.

This time, all was quiet except for a handful of squirrels and two nice tom turkeys that walked through. I think they were about 20 yards away, and it would have been fun trying to take the shot. But, the nonresident turkey license is another $70, and I decided not to spend the extra money. I will definitely keep this property in mind for the spring, though. The landowner said there are lots of turkeys on the property, so it would be worth checking out.

Would have been nice to see a deer come walking past my stand, but I’m not discouraged. The early season can be challenging, as the deer mostly feed and bed down during this time. Once the rut kicks in, most of the deer, especially bucks, are on their feet a lot more. So, sightings usually go up, as do shot opportunities.

I look at early season hunting as mostly a tuneup for the rut. In fact, I got some valuable information while in my stand last night that will help me on later hunts. Seems the strap I use for my safety system was too short to go all the way around the oak tree where I had positioned my stand. I have a longer strap at home, but didn’t bring it. This morning, I put that longer strap in my backpack so it will be there the next time I sit in this stand.

I also was able to screw a metal post into the tree for my bow hanger. I don’t like doing it in the dark when I come out for a morning hunt. Now, it’s all set for the next time I hunt. I also have trail tacks put in so I can find the stand in the dark.

As I drove home, I imagined what it will be like hunting this property during the rut.

I’m sure looking forward to November!

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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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Trying to solve a tricky shotgun problem

December 6, 2013

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I bought my Remington 11-87 shotgun in 1995 from Joe’s Sporting Goods in St. Paul, which now is located on County Road B near Rice Street just off of Interstate 694.

Within a year or two, I bought a Leupold Shotgun scope, at the recommendation of Jim Rauscher, one of the owners of Joe’s. I have not been sorry for that decision, having killed at least a dozen deer with that scope and gun combination.

In fact, last year with that shotgun, I killed the biggest buck I have ever taken. Thus, I was brimming with confidence again this year when I went out into the field with my trusty 11-87 on opening day of the firearms season Nov. 9.

Alas, the gun failed me for the first time. On the second day of the season, a small doe came around behind my stand and stepped out into the picked corn field in front of me. I had a perfect 15-yard broadside shot to my left. Amazingly, after I pulled the trigger, the deer ran out into the field and stood there. I shot again, then it took off. I fired two more times, and the deer crossed the field without a scratch.

Meanwhile, I was left scratching my head trying to figure out how that could happen. I thought back to when I had sighted in the gun two weeks earlier. I had some trouble getting it zeroed in, with a few shots unexplainably missing the mark. I finally got it dialed in – or so I thought – and figured I was good to go.

I was wrong. I ended up getting only that one shot opportunity, so I walked away from the firearms season a bit frustrated. Today, I decided to take action. I took the gun to Joe’s and handed it over to the store’s trusty gunsmith, Bob Everson, to take a look at it.

I also plan on sending the scope in to Leupold for a thorough examination if need be. The guy I talked to at Joe’s said the people in the Leupold repair shop strip down the scope and go over it in fine detail. If something is wrong with the scope, he assured me, they will find it and fix it.

The good news is that Leupold has a lifetime warranty for all of its scopes. So, in all likelihood, whatever may be wrong with my scope will be covered under the lifetime warranty.

That’s why it pays to buy a product like Leupold. These scopes cost a little more than some others, but the quality plus lifetime warranty are more than worth it. I’ve had the scope about 17 years and this is the first problem I’ve had with it. Other cheaper brands sometimes don’t even last this long. So, the $220 I spent on this scope has proved to be a worthwhile investment.

To others who have had equipment problems this year, I say now’s the time to do something about it. The frustration and disappointment are still fresh, and there’s plenty of time to resolve the issue before next season. If you put away a faulty gun or bow into storage, you may not pull it out and take it in for repairs until it’s too late to have it ready to go before the next season.

Don’t wait. Trust me, the disappointment of seeing a deer run off unharmed after taking what should be a sure kill shot is a bad feeling. I hope it never happens again.

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