Tag Archives: tips

Deer hunting 2015: a bountiful harvest!

November 16, 2015


This nice doe was taken with a crossbow in Wisconsin.

This nice doe was taken with a crossbow in Wisconsin.

On the crisp afternoon of Nov. 13, I sat peacefully in a deer stand in Wisconsin with my hands tucked into a camo muff.

Some important items were inside the muff — chemical handwarmer bags and a blaze orange rosary.

Never heard of a blaze orange rosary? Well, you obviously have never been to St. Hubert in Chanhassen. I procured my set of beads there Nov. 8, the day after the firearms deer opener and the day the parish celebrated the feast of its namesake, who also happens to be the patron saint of hunters.

I was first introduced to my deer hunting patron in 2012 by my oldest son Joe, who encouraged me to pray to St. Hubert. I did and was rewarded with a 10-point buck in the final minutes of the 3A firearms season, the largest I have ever taken.

Father Bruno Nwachukwu of St. Hubert in Chanhassen dresses up as St. Hubert and passes out blaze orange rosaries the weekend of Nov. 7-8.

Father Bruno Nwachukwu of St. Hubert in Chanhassen dresses up as St. Hubert and passes out blaze orange rosaries the weekend of Nov. 7-8.

Thus, I was highly motivated to come to St. Hubert parish to claim a set of blaze orange rosary beads. I also was treated to the sight of Father Bruno Nwachukwu, the associate pastor who dressed up as St. Hubert and handed out the rosaries and posed for pictures with a blowup deer.

By then, my hunt was well underway, and I was celebrating the success of the previous day. My friend and hunting partner, Bernie Schwab, and I both had tagged button bucks on the opening day of the 3A firearms season Nov. 7. They were considered antlerless deer, and were legal in this zone under the Hunter’s Choice rule, which allows hunters to tag one deer during the entire fall season, buck or doe.

With that accomplished, I was now trying to fill one of my archery tags in Wisconsin. I sat for six hours in a stand on one piece of property I was hunting the morning of Nov. 13, then switched to another farm after seeing no deer.

When I climbed into my stand at 3 p.m. with a little more than two hours of shooting light left, the high winds were starting to calm. I was optimistic that a deer would step out near my stand. I was hunting with a crossbow, which I had decided to do for the first time this year. Crossbows are legal in Wisconsin, and I wanted to try one out. Thanks to the generosity of a friend, Gary Altendorf, I had one in my hands on this cool afternoon.

Throughout the first hour of my sit, I fingered the rosary beads and said a few prayers to Mary. I don’t know how much pull she has in terms of bringing a whitetail my way, but I thought a Hail Mary or two couldn’t hurt.

A little after 4 p.m., I heard some rustling in the thick brush to the north of my stand. I knew this was a bedding area, so I started to feel anticipation. The noise got louder and closer, and I sensed a deer was near.

Then, only about 20 yards in front of me, a nice doe emerged from the brush and walked right at me. This is a fine shot if you’re holding a gun, not so much if you have a bow in your hands, even a crossbow. There’s a lot of bone in the way of the vitals when a deer is coming straight toward you.

I wondered if this deer would walk right under my stand. Then, a few seconds after this doe popped out, another one emerged behind it. It followed the first, but then turned slightly away from me to nibble on a branch.

That exposed part of its front flank, and I saw my opportunity. I put the crosshairs of the scope on it and popped the trigger. The arrow (called a bolt) found its mark and hit the deer in the spine. It went down immediately, which meant there would be no tracking required.

Most bow hunters will say that tracking a deer after it’s hit is the hardest part of bow hunting. After having done it a few times, I would agree. So, I was very relieved to not have that chore ahead of me.

I did put a second shot into the deer to make sure it was down, then I went and told the landowner. She offered to drive her tractor up to the spot where my doe was. I quickly and eagerly accepted.

Within an hour, I was on my way back to St. Paul and Stasny’s Meat Market, where I get my deer processed. The guys there do a great job, including owner Jim Stasny, who almost always is there to check in my deer. Their summer sausage is legendary, and I always make sure to order some.

I now have two deer at Stasny’s. Both were young, which will make for some good eating.

The good news is I have more tags left to fill in Wisconsin. I still have my buck tag, plus a county doe tag. I can buy more bonus doe tags if I want, which is a nice option to have.

But, I have not been seeing nearly as many deer as last year, so I’m not sure how many more shot opportunities I will get. I think the warm weather in October and November severely curtailed deer movement overall, especially during the daytime.

That’s why the cooler days are so important. A chill is in the forecast for later this week, and I will take Friday off to hunt. It’s the day before Wisconsin’s firearms deer opener, so it will be the last day of quiet before guns start blazing in the badger state.

After shooting my compound bow year round, it sure would be nice to draw back on a deer. Maybe, Friday it will happen!

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Turkey talk proves fun

October 12, 2015


I decided to buy a fall turkey tag this year. Part of the reason was to gain more woodsmanship and knowledge of the birds, which will hopefully bear fruit next spring when I chase gobblers.

Another reason is for food. Wild turkey is excellent to eat, and I don’t have any left in my freezer. I got just one bird this spring, so I want to get another one for the freezer.

I should be writing about doing just that, but the truth is, I blew two golden opportunities. It showed that I’m rustier than I thought. Despite getting a late start, I had a shot opportunity minutes in to my hunt at Spot No. 2. I was walking along a narrow cow pasture, then spotted movement just on the edge of the woods. I saw two hens walking into the woods, but thought they were out of range.

Looking back, I don’t think they were. I could have raised my shotgun and fired, and more than likely would have dropped one of the birds, but instead I pulled back and tried to circle around and stalk in on them. But, when I got there, they were gone. Fall turkeys move almost continuously in the fall, so you’d better take a shot when you get the chance.

I moved to another area of the property, and set up at the top of the ridge. The landowner said there were birds in the area, so I sat down and did some yelps and lost calls (called the kee kee run). To my delight and surprise, a hen yelped back. She was either at the bottom of the valley or up on the other side. I couldn’t tell.

We went back and forth for probably about 10-15 minutes, but she didn’t seem to get any closer. Then, she shut up. I figured she wasn’t willing to come that far, and that I would have to go to her.

That’s exactly what I did. I hoofed it around to the other side of the valley. Just as I got there, I heard a yelp. To my utter frustration, it came from right where I had just been sitting and calling. She came after all.

It was not a happy moment for me. I sure learned my lesson. From now on, I’m going to stay put. The flocking instinct is strong in the fall, and turkeys just seem to want to gather up with other turkeys, even if they take their sweet time. Now I know.

Hopefully, I will be a better hunter next time. I definitely want to get after fall turkeys again this season. I have until Nov. 1 to hunt. But, I want to save those last few days in October for bow hunting. That’s when the real fun begins!

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Don’t forget about turkeys this fall

October 2, 2015


Hunting seasons are open in Minnesota, and I have been focusing my efforts on bow hunting for whitetail deer. But, a package that arrived in the mail yesterday pulled my attention toward another game animal — the wild turkey.

The fall season for turkeys opens tomorrow, and will stay open until Nov. 1. With a new call in my hand, I want to go after these birds. It’s a simple mouth diaphragm call, but it’s wickedly good at producing the full range of hen calls, including the kee-kee run they use in the fall.

I have tried and tried to do this call over the years, which is a series of short, high-pitched whistles, but have failed miserably. That is, until I tried a mouth call from a company called Tom Teasers in Georgia. The company makes one called Cracked Corn, which I got several years ago and hadn’t gotten around to trying yet. I picked it up earlier this summer and decided to try it out. I gave the kee-kee one more try, and to my surprise, I did it beautifully on this call!

What’s more, I was able to do all kinds of other hen sounds really well, too. Just like that, I found my new go-to call. I decided to call the company to say how much I like this call. I ended up on the phone with Tommy Walton, the owner and founder. We talked for a while, then he generously offered to send me some more Cracked Corn calls, plus several other mouth calls. He even threw in two beautiful box calls!

I felt like I was in heaven. When I got ready for bed last night at 11:30, I couldn’t resist trying out the new box calls. I worked them softly, then decided I would really fire them up this morning.

In a word, they’re awesome, too. So, thanks to Tommy for getting all of these great calls in my hands. We talked about turkey and deer hunting over the phone, and I told him he should come up here to hunt sometime. It’s a long way from Georgia, but we have some good opportunities up here.

Maybe he’ll take me up on that sometime. If he does, I know what calls I’ll be using on our turkey hunts!

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Archery season finally underway

September 28, 2015


I finally got out into the woods with my bow over the weekend. With my wife on retreat and my two kids living at home having plans for the evening, I went to one of my hunting properties in Wisconsin to sit in a stand.

I am excited about this stand, which is set up along a trail that runs parallel to a ridge along the St. Croix River. Early season is always a crapshoot, but I fully expect this spot to be good once the rut kicks into high gear and the deer start moving more during the day.

It was a gorgeous evening, and I was all smiles as I climbed into a stand for the first time this season. I settled in and leaned back against the tree where my ladder stand was positioned. There was lots of squirrel activity, and a couple of them chattered at me for a while. They will often do that when they spot a hunter in a tree. I find it annoying, but they usually quit making a racket after a while.

With about an hour of shooting light left, I heard some noise below me about 25-30 yards away. I looked down and saw a deer walking through. It was out of range, and I could only see part of it. But, I did make out the legs. It walked and stopped a couple of times, then continued on. I pulled out my grunt call and gave a few grunts in case the deer was a buck.

Whatever it was, I was not able to steer the deer my way. That ended up being the only one I saw. I’m not disappointed at all. I enjoyed a beautiful evening, and at least saw a deer. Last year, I didn’t see a deer from my stands until Nov. 1.

I can’t wait for the rut to get going. In about a month, things should start cranking up. I hope to spend plenty of time in my stands. The good news is, when the timing is right, sometimes the sits are short, meaning a deer comes by early and I get a shot off. Two of the three deer I have taken with a bow have come before 7 a.m. The third came at 11 a.m.

When it comes to deer hunting, timing is everything. That’s why I plan to be in the woods as much as I can in early November.


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Beautiful weather makes putting up deer stands fun

August 6, 2015


Success in bow hunting is all about preparation. One of the key elements is putting up stands well in advance so that the deer get used to them.

It’s also important to place them in such a way that you can hunt in as many different wind directions as possible without spooking deer. That’s the hard part.

I am hunting a new piece of property down near Red Wing, and I had put up two stands earlier in the year. But, I needed at least one more, according to a whitetail bow hunting expert, Jim Hill, who has shot dozens of trophy bucks in his lifetime.

Heeding his advice, I went down on Tuesday with a friend to put up a third stand along a ridge that looks promising for deer movement. We got the job done without a lot of sweat, which is surprising for this time of year. The humidity was low and it was nice and cool, with a northwest breeze making it even more comfortable.

I may be set with my three stands, but I’m contemplating a fourth. Have to think about that. One thing’s for sure: The crops look healthy and robust. I am hunting near the edge of a soybean field, and the plants look green and vibrant. If the September archery opener happens while the leaves are still green, I should have good deer movement into the field. But, the leaves often turn yellow by that time, and the deer shy away from them until after the beans are harvested.

I’ll be sure to check a day or two before the opener to see if the soybean leaves are still green. If so, I’m in business. Otherwise, I’ll probably wait until after they’re harvested. Not a big deal, as the law allows me to tag just one deer in this area, Zone 3. More than likely, I’ll hold out for a buck, which has to have at least four antler points on one side. I’m hoping I will get a shot at one this year.

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Rare and awesome bow hunting advice

July 14, 2015


I first met Jim Hill back in the early 1990s. I was working as a sports editor at the Bloomington Sun-Current chain of weekly newspapers, and a reader suggested I do a story on Hill, who lives in the western suburbs and works in Eden Prairie.

I was told Hill had shot not one giant whitetail buck, but two, in the same season, one in Minnesota and one in a neighboring state. Thought it was worth looking into, so I called Jim and went to pay him a visit.

He showed me photos of the two bruisers he took with his bow, and I published one of them, the Minnesota buck. I also got some valuable hunting lessons that day, plus a Scent-Lok suit from Jim, who was a rep for the company (I think he still is).

I stored those lessons, and have met up with Jim a few times since. He even went scouting with me a while back on a property near Red Wing where I hunt.

I caught up with him last week and told him I had taken up bow hunting five years ago and managed to take three deer with a bow over the last two seasons.

I was itching for more knowledge and asked Jim if we could sit down and talk. He gladly agreed, and we had a very productive conversation at a local Perkins restaurant in Bloomington.

It’s rare to meet a bow hunter of Jim’s caliber, rarer still to sit down and get some tips. Not only that, he agreed to go out with me to a new property I’ll be hunting this fall near Red Wing.

How cool is that? This is a guy who routinely shoots bucks bigger than anything I may ever see. Last fall, for example, he shot a giant buck in Kansas that he says had a gross antler score of 200-plus inches. Wow! He showed me a picture on his phone, and I don’t think he was exaggerating one bit.

I made it clear to him that I am not looking for something like that. Rather, I want to have close encounters with deer and, hopefully, get a nice-sized buck this fall. In the area where I hunt, a buck has to have at least four antler points on one side to be legal. So, I will be passing on the smaller bucks.

But, if any legal buck passes by and offers a good shot, I likely will take it. Jim was not judgmental in the least, and fully supported my goal. After all, I’m still relatively new to archery hunting, and I want to have more practice at taking shots at deer. Thus, I don’t think passing up legal deer is a good idea for me.

I’m hoping Jim can help me have success. I believe he can, especially if he comes down to scout with me. In return, I will try to help him find a place to hunt down there. Because of the antler restriction, I know there are big bucks running around — and lots of them.

Are there the huge bucks Jim goes after? Hard to say. These giants are rare no matter where you hunt, and it takes a hunter with special skill — and patience — to take them.

Jim definitely is that kind of hunter. I am very, very grateful that he has offered to help me. If he can identify the right stand locations, and give me tips on how to set up and hunt, I should have a fun fall!

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Finally. . . let the fishing begin

July 7, 2015


On the first fishing trip of the year in Minnesota, this nice bass provided a fun fight.

On the first fishing trip of the year in Minnesota, this nice bass provided a fun fight.

I usually don’t wait until July to buy my Minnesota fishing license. So, making the purchase on July 3 this year is out of character for me. In fact, I bought a fishing license for Montana before I got one for my home state.

Who would have thought? In a normal year, I would start my fishing season in late May or early June. This year, I just didn’t get around to it. Plus, the weather had some wild mood swings last month, which can throw fish patterns out of whack and make catching them tough.

I decided simply not to mess with these unstable conditions and just wait. As I have learned over the years, timing is everything.

Finally, a good stretch of warm, stable weather settled in last week, so I turned my thoughts to getting out in my boat for the first time this season. Plus, my brother Paul and his two sons Matthew and Michael had the itch pretty bad.

I happily obliged, and we went to the southwest metro to fish a small bass lake called O’Dowd. It’s pretty shallow, which makes it easier to find fish. Simply cruise weed edges and toss plastic worms or a jig-and-pig, and usually you’ll connect with bass at some point.

Unfortunately, a number of pleasure boaters joined us on the lake. That isn’t always a problem, but on a small, shallow lake, it’s definitely more of a challenge.

What’s more, some of these folks think nothing of buzzing past very close at high speeds. I am continually amazed at such rudeness.

I think that was our biggest challenge on this day. Finding quiet water was tough, and boats zipped over some of my favorite spots repeatedly.

In the midst of all that activity, a few bass chose to respond to our offerings. I caught a chunky, feisty fighter that measured 17 1/2 inches. Very respectable. I know the lake holds bigger, as I landed a 19-incher several years ago. Lots of metro lakes contain bass this size, which is good news for avid bass anglers like me.

I hope to get out on the water again soon. For me, mid to late July and August are prime time. That’s when the deep weedline pattern I like so much begins to heat up. So, the best is yet to come!

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Turkey hunt brings unexpected challenges

May 15, 2015


Turkey hunting is hard. That is the beginning and the end of a sport that is more obsession than recreation.

We hunters think we have the birds figured out as we stroll into the woods all pumped up and cocky.

Then, the birds humble us. We sometimes leave the woods thinking we know nothing at all about how to kill a bird with a brain the size of a pea.

That’s how I ended seven days of hunting on Tuesday afternoon. Yes, I did manage to kill one bird— a young tom known as a jake. But, I exited the beautiful rolling hills of Wisconsin feeling like a failure.

Why? I had matched wits with an old, mature gobbler for four days, and lost.

Oh, I came close to giving him a ride out of the woods in my worn, torn turkey vest.

But, this crafty bird managed to stay out of shotgun range, and out of view. I heard his lusty gobbles, but never laid eyes on him.

These are the kinds of birds you think about — and are haunted by — for 12 months before you get another chance at them. Last year ended quite differently. I took three longbeards and did not have much trouble doing so. They gobbled enthusiastically to my calls, then paraded in fast and hard into gun range.

I got spoiled by that experience. The easy birds of last year were nowhere to be found either in Minnesota or Wisconsin. I got blanked in Minnesota, and got only the one jake in Wisconsin. My turkey expert friend, Steve Huettl, blames the very early spring we had for the toms’ lack of interest in early May. In a normal year, hens are nesting in early May, and the gobblers have plenty of zeal left for finding new girlfriends.

Not this year. Some hunters, myself and Steve included, found ourselves on properties that seemed devoid of lovestruck toms. Gobbling was way down on some properties, though still strong on others.

The bird I went after for four days on a farm near Ellsworth, Wisconsin, seemed to have plenty of energy. He would come in gobbling hard after he responded to the first series of calls I sent out, then he would eventually hang up. Sometimes, he was only about 40 or 50 yards away, but through some thick brush so I couldn’t see him. There were several times I was sure he would keep coming and eventually absorb a load of pellets.

But, alas, he stopped short of that every time. In the end, I must pay tribute to this tough old bird. He got the better of me, though he was merely trying to survive and not trying to outwit a hunter determined to put him in the cooler for the trip home.

This year, I made the same mistake many turkey hunters make — thinking it would be easy.

It never is. A hunt can be fast, but it is never easy. With a turkey’s sharp eyesight and hearing, and its wary, skittish nature, bringing down a bird is a great accomplishment, especially a long-spurred old tom.

One of the challenges of hunting in May is that the birds have seen and heard other hunters. And, believe me, they get educated fast. I think that’s what happened with this bird. When I talked to the landowner later, he told me that there was another hunter out on his land before me. Sometimes, it only takes one hunter walking around bumping birds to make them even more wary.

But, I’m not going to make excuses. I had chances at this bird, but I didn’t quite seal the deal. I think it’s like what happened to the NHL’s Washington Capitals in their recent playoff series with the New York Rangers. Up three games to one, the Capitals managed to lose the next three, the last one in overtime, 2-1. They thought they would win the series, but came up against a very resilient opponent that wouldn’t lay down in defeat.

So it was with this bird. He played the game, but got the upper hand in the end. I guess you could say this was a home game for him, and the advantage of being in familiar territory proved beneficial to him and bad for me.

I walk away vowing to be better next year. My friend Steve says these are the kinds of years that can teach you much and make you a better hunter. It remains to be seen if that will happen for me. What I do know is my desire will be fueled next year, and I will take to the woods loaded with new strategies, fresh zeal and an expanded base of turkey hunting knowledge.

I can’t wait!

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

April 24, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A girl’s first turkey hunt

March 31, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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