Tag Archives: Fishing and hunting

Turkey season features odd beginning

April 25, 2018

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I was all set to open the spring turkey season last week in southeastern Minnesota. I got drawn for the A Season, and planned to hunt a property with lots of birds on it.

I had taken birds from the property the last two years, both A Seasons. I knew right where I was going to set up my blind. I did so the week before the season, and the area was loaded with turkey tracks.

I was pumped. Then, it all changed with the weekend blizzard that threw a huge wrench into my plans. Unfortunately, my blind was out there in the elements, and I was worried that the snow and wind would destroy it.

I also became apprehensive about hunting the A Season at all. My time was limited, and there were other hunters on the property, including a guy who was going to hunt the weekend and wanted to set up his blind on Friday at the spot I was going to hunt.

What to do? I went down Tuesday afternoon and went to my blind. Fortunately, it was still intact. The only problem was snow on the roof that pushed it down. I didn’t see many tracks in the area, and I decided not to hunt the A Season. In Minnesota, you can buy a license over the counter for the last four seasons (E-F), and you are not required to hunt a season that you are picked in the lottery to hunt. If you want to change, you simply refrain from buying the license for the lottery season, then pick one of the last four seasons and buy a license over the counter.

I chose to do that, and asked the landowner on my way out if I could come back out for Season E. He said yes immediately, and I asked him if many hunters come out during that season. He said no, and that could give me the run of the property. Only problem is, the property gets hit pretty hard by hunters all spring, and the birds are pressured and educated by mid May.

After taking my blind down, I texted the other hunter and let him know I wasn’t hunting, so he could hunt my spot whenever he wanted. I just asked him to let me know how he did.

I got a text from him the afternoon of the second day. He had put up his blind exactly where mine had been, and decided to hunt a little Thursday afternoon. He made some hen sounds one time on a box call, and two toms came walking out into the field. With a few more soft calls from his slate call, the two birds came right in, and he shot one of them.

Too bad for me. Oh well. I really didn’t want to hunt in snow and cold anyway. That’s not turkey hunting to me. I like warm spring days when the grass is green and the leaves are out. So, I will hunt Season E.

I have a couple of friends who own property about an hour north of the Twin Cities. They both have seen birds on their property this fall, and one of them shot a bird on the opening day of Season B. I loaned him a jake decoy, and he took a video of three toms who walked around the jake decoy — after his shot!

I asked permission to hunt his land, and he is open to talking about it. His son may hunt, and he may want to take his son-in-law out and introduce him to the sport. He asked if I would be willing to help his son-in-law, and I said yes. I am hopeful for a chance to hunt there, but the other property sounds good, too. He has seen turkeys there in the fall while deer hunting, but hasn’t hunted there in the spring. In fact, I would be the first hunter on his property all spring.

There’s nothing like unpressured birds, especially late in the spring when hens are sitting on their nests incubating their eggs. They spend most of the day doing that, which means they disappear and the toms are suddenly lonely for the first time all spring.

I have had some quick hunts under these conditions. But, I will need to scout his property to find out if there are birds using it this spring. My friend who owns the land wants to try turkey hunting for the first time, and I said I would take him out.

So, that would be another chance to help a beginner. After more than three decades chasing these birds, I have built up skill and experience that I can share with others. Plus, I like the idea of guiding people and helping them get birds, especially their first one.

But first, I will hunt Season D in Wisconsin. With the late spring, the toms shouldn’t be fading in terms of their interest in breeding. In fact, I have found that late springs usually mean good hunting during the later seasons.

That’s what I am hoping for. Some of the properties have pressured birds, and I might start there to take on the challenge. But, if need be, I have other properties to hunt that have had less pressure.

So, I have lots of options, and spring is finally here!

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Deer season was exciting, rewarding

December 27, 2017

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My deer season might be over for the year. After exciting encounters with bucks and does over the last few weeks, I’m a little hesitant for it to end.

But, three deer is definitely enough. I got my third last night, in the last hour of shooting hours as the temperature was falling to below zero. Wisconsin is having a special holiday gun hunt this year, which started Dec. 24 and goes through Jan. 1. In certain counties, hunters can take antlerless deer with any weapon, provided they have the appropriate tag.

I bought both an archery and firearms license this year. Normally, I just get the archery tag, as the nonresident fee is $160. But, if a hunter has never purchased a specific license, or if it has been at least 10 years since that license has been purchased, he or she can get one for half price. I qualified, so I bought the firearms license this year. Unfortunately, I only ended up hunting opening morning of the firearms season, and did not see a deer.

So, as of yesterday afternoon, I had both gun and archery tags in my pocket. Even though it was supposed to be cold, I decided to go out there with my gun and give it a try.

Short sit

I was hunting  a property in a county that qualified for the holiday gun hunt. I had had deer sightings on the property, and had taken shots with my crossbow, but was not able to bring home a deer. There’s one area where the deer like to hang out, and I had hunted from a stand there before. In fact, I had taken a shot at a very nice 8-point buck from this stand, but I rushed the shot and didn’t get a good hit. There was so little blood that I think I only grazed the buck. At least I know he walked away just fine, though clearly spooked.

As I drove in, I spotted two deer on the hillside near the landowner’s house. My stand is located just over the hill, and I figured I could swing around the back side of the hill and slip into the stand without these deer noticing me. Yet, the wind would be blowing toward where I had spotted them. It was a risk I decided to take.

When I got to the stand, I noticed a lot of deer tracks in the snow in front of it. The stand overlooks a large field of tall grass, with an area of shorter grass near the edge where my stand is. I could see the deer were traveling this edge heavily. That was very encouraging.

I climbed in around 3:30 and felt good about my chances of seeing a deer. After about half an hour, I saw two deer trotting across an open area to my right. They were about 200-300 yards away. I figured they were headed to the neighbor’s corn field. They disappeared at the tip of a narrow strip of woods that starts there and ends just to the right of my stand.

I didn’t see the deer go past the far tip and toward the corn. I thought maybe they had stopped to grazed near the tip of the section of woods, which is about the same size as a football field. After about 10 minutes, I began to think that maybe they had turned into the woods and might possibly come my way.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, I spotted a doe to my right. She was only about 20 yards away, but my gun was in my lap. She was super wary, walking very slowly and cautiously, and jerking her head up frequently to look around. I knew making a move with my gun now would only get me busted, and I would be left with trying to shoot at a deer running away.

I didn’t want that, so I froze. Eventually, the deer started walking on the path in front of me. She turned away, giving me my chance to shoot. I quickly put the crosshairs on her and fired. She jumped and ran, and so did a deer right behind her that I hadn’t spotted. I realized then that it was the two deer I had seen about 10 minutes earlier.

As the two deer ran into the woods to my left, I saw a few more deer in those woods run off. There were at least four deer total, and I wondered if the ones in the woods were the ones I had seen while driving in. I’m thinking if I hadn’t seen the two deer to my right, these others might have eventually come out.

It turned out to be a very large doe, and I was able to give it to my friend Bernie who did not get a deer this season. I know the landowner will be happy that I took a doe, as she feels that there are too many deer and that they eat food she is saving for her goats. This hunt was definitely well worth it. But, it wasn’t my best hunt of the year.

Minnesota gun hunt

The highlight of the season came on the Minnesota firearms opener Nov. 4. I was hunting near Red Wing in Zone 3. It has been managed for bigger bucks, with a rule requiring a buck to have at least four points on one side. The rule is definitely working, as my hunts will attest. Just a year or two in, I shot a nice 8-pointer. Then, in 2012, I shot a very big 10-pointer that scored 155. I had never even seen anything that big previously.

The nice thing is the people in my hunting party are the only ones the landowner allows to hunt his land. We stay away until the gun opener, so the deer are undisturbed. My friend Bernie wasn’t able to hunt opening weekend, so I decided to take the best stand we have on the property.

I went the afternoon before to trim some branches and brush to clear out shooting lanes, and that proved to be a worthwhile move. On my way to the stand, I saw lots of deer sign on the edge of the woods where the cornfield begins. The corn was still standing, but there were lots of deer tracks and droppings.

So, I was cautiously optimistic opening morning. I got into my stand before legal shooting hours, and was prepared to sit all day if need be. As dawn came and went, I did not spot any deer.

Then, around 9, I spotted a deer at the tip of a small point of woods that juts out into the field. This point seems to draw deer, and this deer was hanging around the point. I spotted antlers, then put my scope up for a better look. I knew the tip of woods was 100 yards away, so I thought about taking a shot if the deer was standing broadside. But, when I put the scope up, the deer had moved partially back into the corn, with only a small part of his body visible. I knew the rack was good sized, but I couldn’t see how many points it had. So, I held off.

I thought he might work the edge of the cornfield, and eventually come my way. I scanned beyond the stalks to the edge. No deer. Then, I shifted my eyes to the stalks right in front of me. To my surprise, there was a head of a deer popped up through the stalks and looking straight at me.

My friend Steve taught me years ago to freeze when this happens, and eventually the deer will look away and keep walking. It took just a matter of seconds for this to happen. He was to my right and then started walking to the left. I quickly put the crosshairs on the part of his chest that I could see and fired.

He dropped instantly and never got up. I started replaying the scene, then wondered if I had really seen enough points on the side of his rack facing me. It all happened so fast. What if I was wrong? I started getting nervous, then finally couldn’t stand it any longer.

I got down and went to the buck, which ended up being only 22 yards away. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was a very big body. Then, I turned to see the antlers. Holy cow! It was a big 10-pointer with a beautiful, symmetrical rack. The main beams were heavy, and the tines had nice height. Plus, there was one split brow tine, which adds to the score.

I was thrilled to get this buck. The landowner came with his Mule four-wheeler. It’s a good thing. That would have been a huge chore dragging this deer all the way to my SUV. We loaded it up and I took it to Greg’s Meats near Cannon Falls. It closed at 3 that day, and I got there about 2:20. By the time I was done with all the paperwork, it was nearly 3. The guy said it was the biggest buck he had taken in that day.

I am having Corcoran Taxidermy in Hampton do a head-and-shoulder mount of this deer. I don’t know yet, but this one could top my 2012 buck. And to think that both deer were shot from the exact same spot!

The fun continues

I picked up my venison less than two weeks later. I had some venison summer sausage made, and it is delicious. Greg’s is known for its sausages, and this stuff is amazing. I have a bunch in my freezer now, and have been able to give some away, including to landowners where I hunt. This particular landowner likes deer heart and liver, so I gave both to him. I rarely hit the heart of a deer, as I typically aim higher and farther back to hit the lungs. I prefer a double-lung shot, as the deer expires quickly when both lungs get hit.

My friend Bernie and I went out on the following Friday. That’s the only day he could hunt. I put him in the stand where I killed my buck, and I went to a different property. Wouldn’t you know it? I saw a beautiful buck at 30 yards broadside, but had to let it walk because you are only allowed one buck per year, and there is no party hunting for bucks in Zone 3. The nice thing is, I got to watch this buck for about a minute before he turned and walked back over the hill and into cover. Meanwhile, Bernie saw several deer that day, but wasn’t able to get a shot off. I was bummed, but we both had fun in the woods, not to mention some fellowship before and after the hunt.

On the last day of the 3A gun season, I decided to go back to the stand where I had shot my buck. The corn was down now, and I would have more visibility. Once again, I climbed into the stand before legal shooting hours. A light northwest wind was blowing in my face, which is the wind I like to have when hunting this stand.

At about 7, I saw a deer trotting to the point of woods to my right. I figured it would come around the point and offer me a shot, which is what most deer do in this area.

Sure enough, it came around and started walking toward me. It was a doe, which I still had a tag for. She kept coming and finally stopped facing me at about 60 yards or so. It looked like she had been pushed, so I wasn’t sure she would stop again. Sometimes, deer that walk briskly can keep on going, and even start running. I felt like I could make the shot, so I fired. She turned and appeared to be hunched a little bit as she walked into the woods.

I knew I had hit her, but wasn’t sure how good the hit was. I decided to give her time. As I waited, not one but two bucks came in and crossed in front of my stand. The first one was larger and definitely legal. He walked in front of me at about 30 yards, then went into the woods to my right. He circled behind me and ended up coming to about 15 yards. I was turning to look at him, not caring about staying still. He saw me move and bolted. If I had wanted to shoot him, I’m sure I could have gotten a shot off.

Then, a few minutes later, another buck came, this time from my left. He crossed in front of me at about 40 yards, again offering an easy shot. I was able to take a few pictures of him, plus a short video. That was fun. I know I saw three points on his main beam. If he had a brow tine, he was legal, too. These are two bucks I will be watching out for next year. This second buck ended up milling around in the field for a while before walking over the hill and out of sight.

Then, I climbed down and walked to where the doe I had shot went into the woods. I got there and went in. It was the tip of a ravine, with cover on both sides. As I moved to the center, a deer jumped up and ran out of the woods and into the field. I was bummed. Its tail was up and it ran like it wasn’t hurt at all.

I couldn’t believe I had missed the doe altogether. Turns out, I didn’t. I walked farther into the woods, and the doe I shot stood up and started walking away. It only went about 20 yards, then stood with its tail flicking constantly. There was thick brush between the deer and I, plus it was facing directly away. So, I didn’t shoot. Instead, I circled around ahead of it to go for a finishing shot.

The deer went no further, dropping down where it stood. I did take a finishing shot, but probably didn’t need to. The landowner came with his Mule again, and now he had his deer. He took the heart and liver, and ended up cooking the heart for dinner that night. He later told me it was fantastic, and he wishes I would have stopped in to eat dinner with him.

Next time, I will. I had a lot of encounters with deer this year, and learned some important lessons. One is that bucks often will go into an area where does bed in the morning and wait for them to come. I think the deer that spooked and ran when I went into the woods looking for my doe was a buck that was doing just that. This means that the point of woods to the right of my stand is an important area. I may take a different approach to my stand next year, as I walked right by this point on my way to the stand both times I hunted there this year. If I come from a different direction, I won’t alert a buck that may be waiting in that section of woods.

I also learned that freezing when a deer looks at you really works. I had it happen four times this year, and only once did a deer spook. It was in Wisconsin, when a doe and fawn came out to my left. She looked up at me and didn’t like what she saw, so turned and walked away. If I had been holding a gun, this wouldn’t have been a problem. I would have had time to take a shot at this angle. But I had a crossbow on his occasion and didn’t want to take a shot at a deer going straight away.

The final lesson is the importance of back cover. On my stand in Wisconsin, there is good cover behind me in the form of a thick trunk and branches if a deer comes from the right. If it comes from the left, I am more exposed. That’s why I think the doe spooked. One thing I will do is hang some fabric or something on the branches to break up my form. That should work.

This has been a very fun season that I have enjoyed very much. I do still have a buck tag for Wisconsin, and a doe tag for Minnesota. Plus I can buy additional doe tags for the county I hunt in Wisconsin. I probably won’t because I don’t want to take too many deer. I  want there to be plenty for next year, though there always seems to be deer on this property. With extreme cold coming, I may just hang it up for the year.

Soon, my thoughts will turn to turkey hunting. I already have big plans for this spring, and have applied in both the Minnesota and Wisconsin lotteries. The anticipation will keep me warm during the next couple of months when the temperature dips below zero.

April will be here before you know it!

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Deer escape on archery opener

September 18, 2017

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I felt very good about my first foray into the woods for the 2017 archery opener. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin opened the same day, Sept. 16. The weather was rainy Saturday, so I opted to sleep in and wait for Sunday.

My destination was Wisconsin, where crossbows are legal for all hunters. I wanted meat for my freezer, so I figured the crossbow would give me the best chance to harvest a deer.

Not only that, but my scouting trip Labor Day weekend revealed a white oak tree dropping lots of acorns. I saw evidence that the deer were hitting them, so I put up a stand downhill from the white oak about 25-30 yards.

All I needed was a west to northwest wind to blow my scent away from where I thought the deer would come to feed. That’s exactly the wind we got Sunday.

So, I was optimistic as I climbed into my stand about 4:30 p.m. It was about three hours before the end of legal shooting hours, but I wanted the be there nice and early so that the woods would be quiet when the deer chose to move.

It happened right around 6:30. I heard shuffling noises at the top of the hill, then saw the body of a deer. Then, a second deer came in behind the first. My heart started pounding as I cradled my crossbow in my lap. Very slowly, the two deer worked their way down hill and to my right. I was hoping they would cut left and hit my shooting lane.

But, they kept coming downhill to my right. Eventually, the fawn got to the bottom of the hill and still was to my right. It slowly started moving to the left, and I thought it might just make it into my shooting lane.

I’m not picky about what I shoot, so I would have taken the fawn if the doe stayed out of my shooting lane. For most of the time, the doe stayed out of view, and eventually popped up about 5-10 yards behind the fawn. I spotted movement as I was looking at the fawn, then turned my head toward the doe.

Big mistake. When I locked my eyes onto the doe, it had its head up and was looking right at me. It stared for a few seconds, then turned and took a few hops back up the hill. A few seconds after that, it snorted once and took off with the fawn behind it.

Game over. I had forgotten how wary mama does can be. They go through the woods always looking around for danger. I should have kept my head still and just looked out of the corner of my eye.

There’s nothing like consequences such as this to reinforce the importance of staying still. The lesson is painful, but I’m glad to learn it now while the season is still young. There will be more chances ahead. I have three more stands on the property to hunt, and I may move the one I sat in Sunday to a different spot. I think once a deer like this doe busts you in a stand, it’s time to move it.

I have one other early season spot to try. The landowner has seen them coming out of the woods and into her alfalfa field. I set up a stand overlooking an alley of tall grass that the deer go through on their way to the alfalfa. She said they were coming through almost daily during the summer.

If that pattern holds, I may get a chance there. One thing’s for sure — there are plenty of deer on the property. There are a good number of does around, and that will mean bucks before too long.

One thing I will be hoping for this fall is more cold. The last two Novembers have been ridiculously warm, with highs in the 60s and 70s, and lows in the 40s and even 50s. That’s just too warm for deer movement.

In the fall of 2014, we had a very cold November, and the deer movement was excellent. I won’t tell many people this, but I’ll be praying for a chilly November this year!

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Turkeys play hard to get in Wisconsin

May 17, 2017

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It has been a while since I’ve had a really good turkey hunt in Wisconsin — 2014 to be exact. That was the year I bagged two longbeards in the Badger State, and didn’t have to work very hard to do it. In both instances, toms gobbled lustily on their way in to the hen they thought they were hearing. In one instance, I pulled to trigger just after he bellowed a nice gobble.

That was a far cry from what I faced this past week during Season D. Normally, by that time, hens have finished laying eggs and are sitting on their nests, making the toms lonely and willing to come to any hen sound they hear.

Not so this year. There were hens everywhere throughout the season, and I saw toms with hens more than usual. In fact, one time I was set up on two birds gobbling hard on the roost, then heard two hens yelping and making their way to the gobblers. The birds flew down and shut up, leaving me perplexed and frustrated.

Another problem was hunting pressure. At two properties where I hunt, there were hunters on the neighboring properties. In one instance, I listened to a hunter work a bird for more than an hour. I never heard a gunshot, so I knew the person was not successful.

I did get one chance, however. It came on a property where I have shot birds three years in a row, a longbeard in 2014 and a jake each in 2015 and ’16. It should have been four in a row this year. But, I executed what baseball announcers call “a swing and a miss.”

After setting up around 10 a.m. and calling for two hours, I did not hear any toms sound off either close by or far away. The only sounds I heard were squirrels chattering and running along the ground. Around noon, I made some soft calls on a slate, then did a light yelp at the end. Minutes later, I heard something walking. I thought it was squirrels.

I was wrong. I was facing straight ahead and turned slowly to my left and saw two longbeards standing in the open. My gun was in my lap, and I tried to figure out what to do next.

I decided to quickly swing my gun on the birds and try for a shot. I got the barrel on the bird in the back, and put the bead on his neck. Thinking the bird might spook  at my movement, I shot fast.

I clean missed. Both birds ran off, and I was left frustrated at myself for not settling the bead on the bird’s head like I always do. I have no one to blame but myself for this, and I hope to learn from this mistake.

That took place on Day 2 of my seven-day season. I never got another chance after that. I saw birds, and I managed to get close to one that was gobbling in the woods. But, he did not come one step closer once I called after setting up on him within 100 yards. That’s the way it went.

I think what happened is the frost we had a couple weeks ago destroyed a lot of eggs, and hens had to breed all over again. It happened in 2013 when the area I hunt got 15 inches of snow. The birds this year were acting just like the birds did in 2013.

But, as tough and disappointing as this season was, I spent a lot of time in the woods and learned plenty. I always say that my ultimate goal when I hunt is to advance my knowledge and make myself a better hunter. Doing so helped me down a nice longbeard in Minnesota this year, and I hope to do the same in Wisconsin next year.

May 2018 can’t come soon enough!

 

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Nothing’s easy in deer hunting

November 18, 2016

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What does a Jesuit priest have to do with deer hunting? Plenty, I think.

I recently started reading a book by Father Walter Ciszek called, “He Leadeth Me.” Starting at the end of World War II, he spent 23 years in Russian prisons and hard labor camps. It all started with a burning desire to do missionary work in Russia. But, the experience was far from the glory he had envisioned when he boarded a train and crossed the border into Russia.

I am at the part when he first realizes the horrible conditions that exist in the camps, and the extreme fear of persecution that leads the people there to not even want to mention God. Not encountering any openness, and not wanting to put anyone at risk — including himself — he starts off his time in the camps by going out into the woods after dark with another priest to celebrate Mass. The only person to hear each of their homilies was the other.

He writes about how disillusioned he was, and how he questioned his decision to go in the first place. He goes on to say that kind of questioning is what we all do — and that it’s a big mistake. God actually ordains such circumstances, and the best thing we can do is work to find God in them rather than wishing they were different.

I pondered this as I reflected back on a few recent unsuccessful deer hunts. Three times in the last couple of weeks, I had deer in range of my crossbow, and ended up spooking the deer all three times. Then, I had two chances with my shotgun during the gun season and missed both. In fact, I found no evidence that I even hit either deer.

I have felt bummed and humbled by my failures, and wish I could have done things differently to achieve success. But, that would change the learning process that deer hunting is. After reading the most recent few pages in the book, I realize that I shouldn’t be cursing my failures, but embracing them, enjoying them and learning from them.

For one thing, all of the failures make the successes all the sweeter. For another, they give me an important chance to grow in humility. If we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that this kind of lesson is not something we really want to learn. In other words, we want to be humble without being humbled.

It doesn’t work that way. That is why it is important for me to say, after yet another failure: “I blew it.” Or, as my dad likes to say, it’s another case of what he calls “pilot error.”

The good news is, there are always more opportunities ahead. A friend of mine, who is an elite bow hunter and made a critical mistake just the other day that cost him a big buck, likes to say that bow hunting is mostly about avoiding mistakes.

Bottom line: I’ve got plenty of mistakes I need to avoid. And, more pages in the book I need to read.

 

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Nice buck down in Wisconsin

November 7, 2016

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img_0793I really like it when the calendar flips to November. That means it’s time for the annual whitetail rut.

I was filled with optimism and excitement when I took to the woods last week. I had heard reports of good deer movement, and I was going to find out firsthand on a trip to one of my hunting spots in Wisconsin. Crossbows are legal in this state, and I was heading out with my Parker Bushwacker.

My bolts were tipped with a broadhead I was trying for the first time, the Spitfire Maxx. It’s a wicked three-blade broadhead with a cutting diameter of 1 3/4 inches, and made by New Archery Products (NAP). I was hoping to get a chance to see how these broadheads would do in the field.

Though it has been unseasonably warm throughout the fall, last Wednesday morning was supposed to be cool. If temps are 45 degrees or below, deer movement usually is good. Warmer weather, however, hampers activity level.

It was supposed to be in the low 40s for about the first two hours of shooting light, so I figured I might see some action right away in the morning. I decided to hunt a small piece of property near Prescott that I first hunted two years ago. I tagged a doe that year, and then last year was slow due to warmer weather. I saw fewer deer, and none of them presented a shot.

I was hoping to get back on the board on this property. The wind was very light, almost nonexistent, when I climbed up into my stand. I had a very good feeling about the morning.

The chase is on

It was confirmed right around the start of legal shooting hours when I heard commotion about 50-60 yards away, following by the unmistakable sound of a buck grunting. I knew that meant a buck was chasing does.

I was hoping the deer would come my way, but the noise died down and faded. Soon, all was quiet again.

No matter. The deer were moving, and I figured something would come my way eventually. I was sitting on a nice spot, which was a funnel along the bluff overlooking the St. Croix River. Three plateaus stairstep from the top, and I had put up my ladder stand where the first one drops down to the second. If a deer traveled on either one, it would give me a shot.

Little did I know how close I would come to three deer. I turned and leaned hard to my left to get a better look at the plateau below me, then sat back straight again. No sooner did I turn slightly to my right than a doe whizzed past me at only 10 yards.

At first, I thought she was running because I had spooked her. But she never turned her head toward me and never flagged her tail.

It was then that I realized she was being chased by a buck. I waited for him to show, but nothing happened. Then, about 25-30 yards at the field edge, I saw a doe being chased by a buck. Again, I heard the grunting sound, and I figured it was the same deer I had heard earlier.

Then, not even a minute later, the doe and buck ran by my stand, also at 10 yards. That was three deer in one minute, and I did not fire a shot. I don’t believe in taking shots at running deer with archery equipment, whether it be a bow or a crossbow. Plus, it happened so fast that I didn’t have time to raise my crossbow.

I was a little bummed to not get off a shot, but felt confident that a deer would walk past my stand at some point and give me a good shot. It was still early, and the deer obviously were moving.

Shot opportunity comes

Around 9 a.m., I heard a twig snap down along the lower plateau. Instantly, I concluded it was a deer. Sure enough, not long after, I caught movement through the tree branches. A deer! My heart started pumping, and I got my crossbow ready.

The deer was walking slowly and stopping intermittently. It was headed right down the trail I had found when I put up the stand. The nice thing is there is a big fallen tree that the deer have to go around. And, when they do, they have to quarter slightly away, which gives me the shot I want as the angle takes the front shoulder out of play.

This deer was moving according to the script. I had ranged a tree at 20 yards, and this deer was walking like he was going to brush up against it. His head was down and he looked completely relaxed. He never even looked up in my direction. As he strolled along, I caught sight of antlers.

As he came fully into view, I raised the crossbow and put him in my scope. I slipped off the safety and got ready to shoot. I made a grunting noise and he stopped. I hit the trigger and released the bolt, hitting him right above his front legs. The lungs actually go forward of the leg, so when I saw and heard it smack right above the front leg, I was sure I had hit the lungs.

He jumped and ran in the direction he was going, then circled back and eventually disappeared as he began to go downhill. He was noticeably hobbling as he went, and his head was down. I felt good about the shot, although the bolt was sticking out of his body, indicating that it had not passed all the way through.

I heard some shuffling, and I wanted to climb down and look for him right away. But, I waited an hour. Just as I was going to climb down, the other hunter on the property came up to my stand. I had called the landowner, and the landowner called him.

I was grateful to have his help. Turns out we didn’t have to go very far. I walked down to where I had last seen him, and he was laying at the bottom of the next plateau down, the third one. There was a massive blood trail, and a gaping hole on each side of the deer. Turns out the bolt did punch through the opposite side of the deer, it just didn’t make a complete exit. The Spitfire Maxx had done its job!

img_0722The real work begins

But, the bad news was the job ahead.. Getting him up the steep hills going up from each plateau would not be fun. In the end, we couldn’t pull him out. Fortunately, the landowner recalled that one of his neighbors owns a tractor and some long cables.

That ended up being the ticket. He connected two sections of cable, then I ran one of them down to the deer. I wrapped it around his hind end twice, and the neighbor drove his tractor away from the edge of the woods, pulling the deer up in the process.

The deer came all the way up with ease. I was thrilled. Then, I had to get him to the meat market right away. It had gotten warm, so we loaded it into the truck and took him into Prescott to a place called Ptacek’s.

I have had deer processed there before, and we got there within minutes. It was almost 6:30, nearly nine hours after I had shot the buck. When I told the guy at Ptacek’s how long the deer had been dead, he offered to skin and quarter it right there, and then put the pieces right into the refrigerator.

That was the greatest ending to this hunt I could have asked for. That’s two deer I have at Ptacek’s, which is more than enough for me and my family. My hunts going forward are strictly to try and get deer for other hunters I know. I tried and failed on the opening day of the firearms season, taking a shot through thick brush at a doe about 30-40 yards away. It ran off unscathed, but the season goes through this weekend.

With two gun tags left, plus archery tags for Wisconsin and Minnesota, I’ll be back out in the woods again this week. I just hope it gets cold!

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Two-year bow hunting drought finally ends

October 21, 2016

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The last time I drew my compound bow on a deer was November 2014. I did it several times, and was able to tag two does, one in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin. I also killed a third doe in Wisconsin, but the coyotes got to it before I found it the next morning.

Last year, my only archery kill was in Wisconsin with a crossbow. I never even got an opportunity to draw my compound bow back on a deer. I saw deer on a few occasions, but a shot never presented itself.

I had a feeling the drought would end last night. A friend offered me the chance to hunt on a metro property where he has permission. Eagerly, I jumped at the chance.

He had the stand all set up, and hadn’t hunted out of it yet this year. But, he said the deer move through the area regularly, and he felt I would get an opportunity in the last hour or so of shooting light.

Turns out, he was right. About 10 minutes before 6, I heard some noise out in front of me in the brush, then I heard a twig snap. I always know that sound is made by a deer, so I put my senses on full alert. My heart started pounding, so I took some deep breaths to calm myself.

A few minutes later, I heard more rustling in the woods, this time closer. I knew a deer was coming at this point. Not long after that, I saw movement — a deer!

It was slowly walking toward me, feeding as it went. It was heading straight for the shooting lane to my left. Perfect! It only lifted its head to look once, then flicked its tail and kept walking.

Finally, it reached my shooting lane. It was walking very slowly, and I knew I would have time to draw my bow and take a shot. Magically, it stopped in the shooting lane and turned slightly away from me to nibble on some branches. That, in my opinion, is the perfect shot — slightly quartering away with its head turned away from me. That gives me a good angle on the vitals, plus pulls the front shoulder blade away.

In that moment, I became very calm as I drew back and put my pin on the deer. I settled it behind the shoulder and released. It was a much quicker shot than I normally take in practice sessions, but the good habits I have learned from shooting year round kicked in.

I released the arrow, then watched it fly toward the deer. I have lighted nocks so I can follow the arrow. It hit right where I aimed, and the deer jumped and ran. I didn’t see antlers, and it seemed like a nice doe. I heard it run for just a bit, then things went quiet.

I texted my friend, who came over about 15 minutes later. I knew I had made a good hit, plus he’s an expert tracker.

I wasn’t too worried. He reached the stand, then went over and stood where the deer was when I shot. He looked around for a bit, then motioned for me to climb down and come over to where he was.

Turns out, he told me later, he found the deer before my feet hit the ground. It only went about 50 yards and fell. The arrow did not pass through the deer. It went into the vitals, then hit bone on the other side. That made the blood trail smaller, but there was steady blood all the way to the deer.

I was super excited to put my hands on this deer. Two years is a long time to wait. It ended up being an antlerless buck, but decent in body size. I took it to the processer right away, and it got put into a cooler right away.

The meat should be in fine shape. I field dressed it only about an hour after it died, and it was in a cooler about an hour after that.

This should be some fine eating. I hunt strictly for the meat, and nothing is better than a young deer. Of course, everyone likes to shoot a big buck, but I was not about to pass on this deer. My friend thinks another deer would have come through eventually, but this deer offered the perfect shot. Plus, it was to my left, which meant I could shoot while sitting, which is always good.

All in all, it was a fabulous hunt. It more than makes up for the heartache I had two weeks ago, when I shot a buck with my crossbow in Wisconsin in the last few minutes of shooting light and never found it. That is so disappointing, but I was hoping I would get another chance at a deer.

Actually, I was hoping to take a deer with my compound bow this year, so last night’s success is especially sweet. The good news is, I have more tags to fill in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including a fall turkey tag in Minnesota. I plan on going after a bird this weekend. I can’t wait!

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Wisconsin turkey season ends with a chorus of gobbling

May 26, 2016

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There I was on the edge of the woods along a ridge in Wisconsin Tuesday, the last day of the spring turkey season.

It had been a very tough spring. I did manage to shoot a young tom, called a jake, during Season D, but my other bonus tags went unfilled. The gobbling was way down this year, but I decided to try one last time on the last day of Season F.

I had gone to one property and called a hen in to my decoy, but no toms showed. So, I decided to pack up my gear and my shotgun to head to another property.

Actually, I went there to work on trimming shooting lanes for one of my deer stands. It was about 2 in the afternoon and getting hot and humid. Not exactly prime conditions for getting turkeys active, not to mention that the peak of breeding was long past and most toms were losing interest in trying to find a hen to breed.

So, I was quite shocked to hear a gobble right as I got out of the car. A nice little surprise, but I figured it was a fluke. Plenty of times in prior outings, I would hear a bird gobble once, maybe twice, then shut up and never gobble again.

I thought this was going to happen yet again.

I was wrong. He gobbled a few more times, then a hen started clucking and cutting (fast and louder clucking) in response. I was between the gobbler and the hen, which is the perfect scenario.

There was only one problem. I was on land where gun hunting was not allowed by the landowner, and I did not have either my compound bow nor my crossbow, both of which are legal in Wisconsin.

Too bad. Out of desperation, I called the landowner to see if he might be willing to make an exception and let me use a shotgun just this one time.

No dice. He was concerned about his neighbors and the risk that they would get upset if a gun went off. I certainly understand and respect his desire to be sensitive to his neighbors. Actually, I think that’s a noble thing on his part.

So, I decided to slip into the woods and try to call the tom in. I thought if I got lucky, maybe I could get some footage of him with my iPhone.

I also realized it would be a good exercise in trying to work a bird into shooting range. I was all for that, as it had been all too rare this spring for me.

Because I had become so familiar with the property, I knew the bird was on a flat bench downhill from the top of the ridge. I also knew where there was an open spot in the thick cover that I could go to and see down to the bench.

I toyed with the bird and did some calling on the edge of the woods. He gobbled feverishly, then a second tom joined in. They gobbled to every soft cluck and purr I did, and would even double, triple and quadruple.

This was the most fired up bird I had heard the entire spring, in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Who’d have thought I would encounter such a gobbler on the last day of the season, when most toms supposedly were losing interest in breeding, and during the heat of the day, when toms often shut down and hang out in the shade?

These birds apparently didn’t read the script about what they were “supposed to do.” In fact, they proved a statement made many times by my turkey hunting mentor, Steve Huettl, who helps run Gamehide clothing. He says that the only thing that you can predict about turkeys is that they are unpredictable.

That is precisely why I didn’t thing to pack my crossbow for possible use. I thought there was no way I would find active birds in the afternoon this late in the season.

Well, not only were these birds active, but they also were quite eager to come over and investigate the hen calls they were hearing. They gobbled often as they worked their way down the ridge toward me. I had a perfect vantage point in some bushes overlooking the bench.

Sure enough, one of the toms showed. I didn’t have my facemask on, so he saw my face and spooked. But, had I been hunting this bird, I would have been well concealed. He was about 25 yards away, which was a very makable shot with my crossbow. In fact, less than a week earlier, I had sighted it in and hit the bullseye at 40 yards.

Oh well. I know that if I had been able to use my shotgun, I would have taken this bird. That is consolation enough. I have killed about 25 turkeys over the years, including two this year, one in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin (both jakes). So, it wasn’t a huge disappointment not to get this one.

The important thing is, I learned a valuable lesson for next year. I definitely plan to hunt this property with my crossbow. The birds tend to move along the ridge, and I know how to set up on them now. That bodes well for next spring. Plus, there is very little hunting pressure in this area. There is one guy who came out to bow hunt earlier in the spring, but that’s it.

I can’t wait to go after them. I also am excited about the other properties I hunt in Wisconsin. I spent lots of time to try and learn where and how the birds move, plus I gained access to some new properties. So, I will have plenty of places to go next year.

As I get ready to put my gear into storage, I have a few observations about items that I used. I would like to name and comment on some of the best products I used this year:

  1. Dave Smith Decoy. My brother Joe has been using them for three years and swears by them. He has been bugging me to get one. But, they’re spendy, costing $120 each. After seeing his, I decided to buy one when I found a sale price of $107 online at Scheels. I set it up Tuesday morning and called a hen right to the decoy. She circled it for several minutes and eventually started pecking at it. I think the realism of the decoy is what caused her to do this. Can’t wait until a tom sees it next year! My brother has taken several toms with this decoy, and says it holds up very well to multiple uses.
  2. Tom Teaser Dominant Hen box call. This short, compact box call is a real beauty, and I used it many times this year. It produces such great sounds, the best of any box call I have ever owned. I get great high and low tones that you like to produce on yelps, which is how real hens sound. I have two of them, and I probably will not buy another box call as long as I have these.
  3. Dead End Game Calls double-reed Batwing 2 mouth diaphragm call. This call is designed primarily for soft calls, like clucks and purrs. I used this call to lure the tom in Wisconsin into view. If I had had my crossbow, I think it would have been lights out for this bird. The company also makes a Ghost Cut call that works for soft calls and also the kee kee run that turkeys do in the fall.
  4. Woodhaven Custom Calls Red Wasp mouth call and Cluck ‘n Purr pot friction call. The Red Wasp makes raspy yelps and cuts, and the pot call makes the softest clucks and purrs you will ever hear. These two calls cover both ends of the spectrum, and I know I will be using them for years.
  5. Quaker Boy push button calls. I have used one of them for years and finished off many birds with soft clucks and purrs. They recently came up with a newer version, called the Turkey THUGS Trigger Box. The main difference is that the rod on which the striker plate is mounted does not extend beyond the call box. This means it will never accidentally get bumped in your vest and make a squeak when you don’t want it to. It makes beautiful soft calls and I had it in my vest this spring. I will use it next year, but I can’t get myself to stop using my older one, as it has called in many birds and given me great confidence in it.
  6. Winchester Long Beard ammo. This stuff is phenomenal. It produces the tightest patterns of any ammo I have ever tried, and made 60-yard shots possible. That could come in handy in certain situations, so I will be sure to have it with me next year.
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Wild turkey feast feeds 16

April 25, 2016

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The payoff of my turkey hunt April 13 came on Saturday, when I prepared my favorite recipe: wild turkey/wild rice casserole.

This would be the largest group I would feed with this dish — 16 people, including my wife Julie and daughter Claire. The other 13 guests were college students or recent college grads.

Some of them had never tasted wild turkey before, while three of them actually had gone turkey hunting before and taken birds. To make sure I had enough for everyone to eat, I added some venison cheeseburger on a stick to the feast.

I needn’t have worried about food quantity. Not only was there enough casserole to feed everyone, but there was plenty left over. That meant I was able to take some in my lunch today.

I never tire of eating the casserole. It tastes great every time and is very hard to screw up, which is one thing I like about it. For those who are interested, here is the recipe. Note that you can use store-bought turkey or chicken as a substitute for wild turkey.

Wild turkey/wild rice casserole

Ingredients

6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound wild turkey breast, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 medium carrot, sliced (1/2 cup)
1 medium stalk celery, sliced (1/2 cup)
2 cans (14 ounces each) ready-to-serve chicken broth
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) cream of chicken soup
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 1/4 cup uncooked wild rice, rinsed and drained

1. Cook bacon in skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Stir in turkey. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until turkey is brown. Stir in onion, carrots and celery. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally; drain (Note: I don’t drain because I like to have the bacon grease go into the casserole to give it more flavor).

2. Beat 1 can of the broth and the soup in crockpot, using wire whisk, until smooth. Stir in remaining can of broth, the marjoram and pepper. Stir in turkey mixture and wild rice.

3. Cover and cook on high heat setting 30 minutes.

4. Reduce heat to low setting. Cook 6 to 7 hours or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed (Note: In my crockpot, it only takes 2 or 3 hours to get it fully cooked, so you’ll have to experiment).

5. After everything is cooked, add cream for extra flavor, about 1/2 or 1 cup, and cook for another 1/2 hour or so.

Enjoy!

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Turkey hunt goes smoothly

April 22, 2016

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I always say that turkey hunting is NEVER easy. Sure, I have had hunts where the birds did what I was hoping they would do. And, hunts that ended quickly, like less than an hour.

But, so much work goes into making a hunt successful that I refuse to ever use the word easy to describe any of my hunts — even the best ones.

That is why a hunt like I had last week in Minnesota will be described as going smoothly rather than easily. I did my homework prior to opening day of Season A, which was April 13. I talked to the landowner of a farm near Red Wing, and he noted that he had been seeing a large flock of birds using a picked corn field regularly.

So, I set up my blind in the far corner of that field, with help from the landowner’s cousin. When we got to the spot, we looked out the window of his pickup truck and saw a flock of 25-30 birds feeding in the picked corn field. There were several adult toms strutting for more than a dozen hens. Needless to say, I was excited.

At the far end of the field where I set up was a finger of woods that went back in quite a ways. I saw some large oak trees that looked good for roosting, so I was optimistic about opening day.

I climbed into my blind well before dawn, and let things quiet down. Then, as it started getting light, birds began to sound off. There were hens yelping and toms gobbling. There also was the sound of juvenile toms trying to gobble. More than 30 years of turkey hunting have helped me learn and identify the range of sounds made by turkeys. There was at least one first-year tom, called a jake, roosted within about 50 yards of my blind.

The trick to getting close to roosted birds is to come in well before sunrise — like an hour before — to take advantage of their poor night vision. I got there plenty early and was hopeful birds would show up in the field in front of my blind.

It didn’t take long. Two hens sauntered out of the woods to my left and began feeding in the field. I knew more birds, including toms, would soon follow. Actually, it took longer than I expected.

Finally, about a half hour after the hens came out, I heard a gobble in the field to my right just over a small rise in the terrain. I gave some soft calls — clucks and purrs — and got my gun ready.

Eventually, I saw a red head pop up over the rise. A gobbler was coming in! I waited for him to come over the rise so I could see his full body. When he did, I realized he was a jake. In a matter of seconds, three more jakes joined him.

It was a very cool sight, but I wanted to wait for a mature tom with a long beard to come in. So, I passed on the jakes. The hung around for a bit, then turned and went back the way they had come. They continued to gobble, and proved to me that sometimes jakes can gobble like mature toms.

A little while later, a longbeard came out into the field and walked across, but he was too far away. My calls got him to stop, but he did not alter his travel route. Eventually, he got to the other side and disappeared into the woods.

Maybe a half hour later, a fifth jake appeared and walked out into the field and toward my decoy spread. I could have shot him, but I let him walk. With this much bird activity, I figured it was just a matter of time before a longbeard came within range.

Things got quiet for a while, then my phone buzzed. It was my brother Pat from Colorado, and I decided to take the call. He could hear me whisper, so we talked for about 10 minutes.

As I was hanging up, I heard a loud racket to right of my blind and behind me slightly. I recognized a sound I don’t hear very often — fighting purrs. Males does this throughout the breeding season when they are fighting for dominance in the flock — and breeding rights.

I grabbed my gun quickly and peeked out the right side of the blind. A longbeard stepped into a small shooting lane I had made in the brush and stood there looking toward my decoys. I had a jake decoy with a real tail fan, plus two hens.

The longbeard seemed hesitant, then turned to his right and headed back into some brush. I got nervous about missing my chance, but then another bird stepped into the same shooting lane. I saw a red head and knew he was a male, and I assumed he was a longbeard like the first one.

I lined up my fiber optic sights on the bird and fired. He dropped where he stood, and the other birds scattered.

When I walked up to the bird, I was surprised to discover that he was a jake. The telltale short, stumpy beard greeted me when I turned the bird over.

I was a tad disappointed, as I like to shoot a longbeard when I can. But, that’s the way it goes. I have shot plenty of birds over the years, both adult toms and jakes, so I’m happy with whatever I am able to get. I always make sure to thank the Lord for whatever I am able to harvest.

One benefit of a young bird is the meat is more tender. Older birds can be tough, which won’t be a problem in this case.

And, I have big plans for this bird. I am going to make wild turkey/wild rice casserole for a group of college students tomorrow night, along with venison cheeseburger on a stick. We are gathering for a special Saturday night tradition called Lord’s Day. It features praise and worship, special prayers and dinner.

Some of the students have had wild game. In fact, two of them have shot wild turkeys. For some, this will be their first meal of wild game.

I am super excited to prepare this feast!

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