Tag Archives: 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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Wild turkey hunt is awesome!

May 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

Bird No. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird No. 2

This bird was one of two that came in together.

This bird was one of two that came in together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bird No. 3

The third and final bird was a beauty!

The third and final bird was a beauty!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In closing

These are the beards from three gobblers harvested this spring.

These are the beards from three gobblers harvested this spring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It’s turkey time!

May 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thinking ahead to spring

February 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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2013 Outdoors highlights

January 2, 2014

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

Snow bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buck for the fireplace

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

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

Claire’s first walleye

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

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

‘Tonka bass

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

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

Breakthrough with a bow

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

Sons come through

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

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

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

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