Tag Archives: Fishing and hunting

Finally! A close encounter with a deer

October 30, 2014

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Yesterday morning, I decided to spend a couple hours in a deer stand with my bow. It was my sixth time out, and I was hoping for my first close encounter with a deer. I had seen what I think was a deer far off on the opener, and nothing since.

As I walked through the woods to my stand, I was hopeful. It was almost the end of October, and the weather had finally turned cold. Those two things usually spell the start of the rut, when deer get much more active overall, and finally start moving regularly during daylight hours.

As I climbed into the stand and settled in, I didn’t have to wait long for action. About 60 yards or so back in the woods, I heard the unmistakable sound of leaves shuffling as what I know was a group of deer moved through. They never showed themselves, but I was happy to know there were whitetails in the woods nearby.

Unfortunately, things got quiet after that. I did some buck grunts on a call about  every 20 minutes or so, with my final series of the morning taking place about 9:10.

Just minutes later, I heard footsteps behind me to my left. I slowly turned and caught sight of a small buck walking right at me. He got within about 15 yards, then looked up at me. I froze, then he kept on walking. He veered directly behind me, finally turning somewhat broadside, although still quartering slightly to me. Would have been a reasonable shot to take, but I was not in position to draw and would have had to reach around the tree.

Instead, I chose to wait and see if he would come around the tree to my right and give me a shot. He didn’t. He walked out into some tall grass, and I never got the shot I was looking for. Oh well. It was nice to at least see something. And, his rack was very small, a forkhorn I think.

There will be more opportunities to come, especially as the rut kicks in. The weather is finally going to be seasonably cool, and that should get the deer moving within the next few days. When that happens, sightings increase and, hopefully, that will translate to shot opportunities.

Today, I got out into the woods with a fellow employee in the archdiocese, Bill Dill, who has taken up bow hunting with his oldest son, Christopher. Bill and I went to a piece of land he has permission to hunt, and found a nice-looking spot for him. It is the head of a small ravine with one spot at the top where the deer are crossing. That’s a great funnel, and something I always look for when setting up for the rut. Bill is excited, and I sure hope he gets some action there.

Tomorrow morning, I am going to be on Relevant Radio (1330 AM) for a full hour with Jeff Cavins. The topic will be the upcoming firearms deer opener, and we’re going to have three guests — Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary and an avid deer hunter, plus Jon and Kalley Yanta. Jon is a highly skilled bow hunter, and Kalley has said she would like to try it. It will be a fun show. Be sure to tune in at 9 tomorrow morning!

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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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Final prep for firearms deer season

October 13, 2014

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I slept like a rock last night, as I knew I would. Fitful slumber came as a result of a full day of hard work in the field.

Our deer hunting party spent the day making final preparations for the firearms deer season, which begins on Saturday, Nov. 8. Our stands that we have set up near Red Wing are now ready to go.

It’s a nice feeling to get the work done four weeks before the opener. I think that’s the earliest we have ever gotten things ready. Now, we can leave our stands alone and allow them to be undisturbed for almost a whole month.

But, that’s not the whole story. One thing I have learned is that human presence plays a HUGE role in what happens on opening day. On a few occasions, deer will act they way they do when they’re undisturbed, but come opening day, that often is the exception rather than the rule.

First, there’s activity before the gun season from other hunters in the areas we hunt, either bow hunting or doing work on their stands for the gun season. Second, and far more important, there’s the activity of other hunters in the field once the hunt begins.

We have been messed up by this so many times over the years. Things look all nice and quiet during our scouting trips, then the woods come alive with hunters once the firearms season opens.

In fact, it almost never fails. Thus, I am not misled by the peace and quiet we experienced yesterday. In just four weeks, the armada of deer slayers will descend upon the whitetail’s world and create lots of chaos.

Of course, it can get very frustrating when other hunters show up nearby, like last year, when my brother Paul had a guy walk along the edge of the woods, look up at him, then duck into the woods and set up just down the hill. Paul later heard a gunshot from that spot, and instantly recognized that this guy had set up very close to him.

But, it can work the other way, too, like the time my friend Bernie heard some shots over the hill on a neighboring property, then saw a beautiful 10-point buck bound over the hill and right to him. The two shots he took to bring down the buck likely wouldn’t have been possible if that deer hadn’t been bumped by the hunters on that property.

Bottom line — the behavior of other hunters is often the wild card that can make or break the hunt. We have been hunting these properties for about a dozen years, and we have seen other hunters come and go. We’ve had some good opening days, and some really slow ones. The one card I play during the firearms season that often works is hunting on weekdays. There are a ton of “weekend warriors” who stay out of the woods during the week, and that often provides some great opportunities. I have scored on deer often enough during the week to view weekday hunts as a great Plan B for filling my tags.

This year, things could be even quieter during the week thanks to a one-deer limit in the zone where we hunt. We are in Zone 341, which this year is called Hunter’s Choice, meaning only one deer can be harvested for the entire season, either buck or doe. That means if hunters get a deer with their bow, they won’t have a tag for the firearms season and can only party hunt for a doe. And, gun hunters who get a deer on opening weekend will have the same situation.

So, by the time the weekdays of the gun season arrive, a lot of hunters could be tagged out. And, more than likely, they’ll have a tough time finding someone with a tag to join them in the field during the week.

In fact, I may be in that situation myself. If I tag a deer with my bow before the gun season opens, my only option will be party hunting for a doe. The good news is, with five of us in the party plus one of the landowners with a license, we should have plenty of tags available. We have never filled out yet, so I’m sure we’ll have tags for whoever needs them.

With the rut most likely peaking in early November, I’m hoping for some good hunts ahead!

 

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Enjoying the weather!

September 29, 2014

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I was able to get out and enjoy the gorgeous weather we had over the weekend. It started with trap shooting Saturday afternoon at the home of a high school classmate and friend, Tim Kiminski. I had organized the event as a fundraiser for Trinity School at River Ridge, where my two youngest kids, Claire and William, go to school.

We had a fabulous time, then went to a wild game dinner at the home of Al and Anne Nicklaus in Burnsville. We had lots of good food, including two of my specialties — venison cheeseburger on a stick, and wild turkey/wild rice casserole. Anne added her famous venison pot pie, and Al offered a pheasant appetizer. By the end of the night, I was stuffed!

Of course, we talked hunting quite a bit during evening. Al showed me his new bow, and I drew it back to check it out. To my surprise, the draw length was perfect, and the peep sight on his string aligned perfectly with my eyes. Amazing! I could hunt with that bow. At the very least, I plan on taking some practice shots with it.

Yesterday, I took my son Andy down to Red Wing to work on deer stands. We moved two of them to what I hope will be better spots. The weather was a little warmer than I would have liked, and the mosquitoes were absolutely terrible. They swarmed us from beginning to end, and it felt like I had 100 bites on my body by the time we were done. Thankfully, one of the landowners had some repellent on hand, or I might have needed a blood transfusion.

The good news is, we got the two stands set up. Now, all we need to do is cut some shooting lanes. I will go back and do that in the next few weeks. I may wait until the leaves fall. Sometimes, with the leaves gone, visibility is much improved, and I see that I don’t have to do a lot of trimming. It’s not as critical for gun hunting as for bow hunting. Shotgun slugs go through small twigs and branches with no trouble, whereas even the smallest obstacles can deflect an arrow enough to miss the deer.

I’d like to get out and bow hunt soon, but I’m more interested in sitting in the stand in late October and early November. That’s when the rut really picks up steam, and that’s when I want to be out there.

Give me a day in the 30s or low 40s in early November, and I’m confident that the deer will be moving. Can’t wait!

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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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Lunker muskie on board!

August 25, 2014

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Father Paul Shovelain helps a young angler pose for a picture with his catch.

Father Paul Shovelain helps a young angler pose for a picture with his catch.

I was enjoying the celebration of my nephew’s baptism yesterday when my phone alerted me to an incoming text message. It was from Father Paul Shovelain, and there was a photo attached.

I know this newly-ordained priest well enough to know that a text message and photo during the summer could only mean one thing — a fish story!

And, sure enough, it was. I asked him to email me more details of the story, plus the photo. I was happy to see his message in my in box this morning. Father Paul is now assigned at St. Peter in Forest Lake, and the story involves a young boy in the parish. Here’s what Father Paul had to say:

“Matthew and I were out fishing for bass on Saturday, August 23. I have gotten to know Matthew’s family quite well during my first two months at St. Peter’s and they let me keep my fishing boat at their dock.

Matthew and I went out fishing for bass and did have much action for the first hour. Matthew mentioned that he wanted to try his dad’s favorite spot, so we drove over to it and put the anchor down.

There were a couple other boats around, but they were fishing for panfish. On two of his first three casts, something was hitting Matthew’s topwater bass jig. He thought it was a northern and I was fishing on the other side of the boat, so I didn’t pay two close attention.

On his fourth cast, a massive 44-inch muskie hit it and Matthew was able to set the hook. He thought it was a northern at first and I exclaimed, “No, that’s a Muskie!”

I just wanted to get the fish in the boat, but I only had a small walleye/bass fishing net. After a few minutes, he got it close to the boat and I was able to net the fish, and it curled around in the net.

We got it in the boat and we were just thrilled! I had never handled a muskie before, so we drove over to another boat, and he jumped in with us and showed me how to handle it.

Meanwhile, Matthew was yelling, “I got my first muskie!” His dad, about 100 yards away on their dock, heard him and took the pontoon out to meet us. We got pictures, and then the fishermen that showed me how to hold it gently coaxed it back into the water.

I didn’t have a tape measure or a scale, but based on the pictures, Matthew’s dad thinks it was about 44 inches and 20-25 pounds! That was one memorable fish!”

Congratulations to Matthew. No doubt, he’s hooked for life. My first muskie was a 45-incher I caught on my very first evening of muskie fishing. Like Matthew, I, too, caught it on a topwater lure. I haven’t done much fishing for muskies since then, but Matthew’s story makes me want to try again.

I’m sure this will be a summer Matthew will never forget. As for me, I’m hopeful that one day I will be able to get out fishing with Father Paul. We’ve talked about it for years. Maybe, we can do it this fall.

Who knows? Maybe Father Paul will take me to the spot where Matthew caught his muskie.

Or, he might adapt the seal of the confessional principle to what goes on in a fishing boat and, thus, not divulge the location of the muskie strike.

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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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