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Having fun hunting and scouting

December 15, 2014

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I have visited the property I bow hunt in Wisconsin twice over the last three days. I hunted there Friday morning, and did a little scouting yesterday afternoon.

I did not see a deer on Friday, but I did have the chance to take a brief walk in the woods before heading in to the office. I did some more walking on the property yesterday, after I was done doing some volunteer work at the Christmas tree farm owned by Charlie MacDonald.

The number of visitors went down later in the afternoon, so Charlie let me go with a good chunk of daylight left. Immediately, I headed to the ridge I had been hunting all fall. I checked the trail that goes by my stand and saw several piles of deer droppings, so I know deer are still using the area.

Then, I started walking along the ridge to do some scouting. I was looking for deer trails, funnels and good spots to put up stands. I walked around quite a bit, then picked a spot that I think looks good. Here’s what I liked:

1. It is a place where the terrain necks down (funnel)

2. It also contains the thickest cover I saw on the ridge

3. There is only one trail going through it

4. I found good trees on either side of the trail for putting up stands

5. With two stands up, I can hunt in any wind direction

The problem I have been having is finding a funnel area where deer have to come through. There just isn’t one on this property, as there is a bench down the hill from where the woods begin. Even on the spot I just described, there is a flat bench down below me that deer likely use. But, that bench is very open, and the cover is not nearly as thick as the spot I want to hunt.

That’s important, as deer really like to be in and around thick cover. And, once the leaves drop, the cover thins out everywhere. If you can find a spot where it’s still thick, that’s a spot worth hunting. If it’s in a funnel area where you can cover the width of a funnel with a bow shot (25 yards or less in my case), then you’ve really got something.

That’s exactly what I have here. Even though I won’t be able to cover the bench down below this spot, I know that deer will move through the heavy cover in this spot. There was a clearly defined deer trail through it, with some droppings to verify that deer were traveling there.

Another thing I like about hunting heavy cover is that I think you are less likely to spook deer as they come through. First — and very important —the deer can’t see you from a long ways away. Second, they feel more comfortable in cover and are less likely to be on high alert as they travel through it. And third, all the cover helps the hunter blend in more and avoid sticking out like a sore thumb.

Of course, I’ll have to be alert at all times because deer won’t be visible until they’re close. Plus, the heavy cover will restrict my shooting lanes even if I do a good amount of trimming.

But, that’s OK. The truth is, in bow hunting, there always are tradeoffs. So, what you need to do is take advantage of every asset, and do your best to limit the liabilities.

In other words, simplify the process. That’s what I’m doing here. I will set up two stands to hunt one trail. The nice thing is, I will set up each stand so that I will have a 15-yard shot to my left, which means I can take the shot while sitting down. That will keep my movements to a minimum, which is very important in bow hunting. I’ll just need to grab my bow, quietly lift it off the bow hanger, draw and shoot.

I plan on cutting two shooting lanes for each stand so that I can draw and shoot once the deer gets slightly past me, no matter which way it is coming down the trail. That gives me a slightly quartering away shot, which is ideal, plus it gets me out of the deer’s field of vision. I have killed all three of my archery deer with that type of shot, and none of them saw me draw.

I hope to get the two stands set up sometime between now and when the woods “green up.” Then, I can leave them alone for several months until archery season begins.

I never envisioned that bow hunting would be a year-round affair, but I am starting to realize the importance of doing stuff throughout the year. Already, I shoot year round to keep my arm and shoulder muscles in shape. So, doing a little work on stands doesn’t seem like a big deal.

Hopefully, putting up stands during the winter and early spring will help build anticipation for the upcoming bow season.

 

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Bow hunting lessons learned

December 3, 2014

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With the archery hunting season nearing the end, I thought now would be a good time to offer some of the important lessons I learned this season. Unfortunately, they come as a result of failures. I always say that bow hunting is a very tough sport that punishes even the smallest mistakes. Hopefully, these lessons will help you avoid the same mistakes I made.

1. Take your time when shooting. My friend Steve Huettl reminded me of this important lesson several times this fall, usually right after I rushed a shot and either missed a deer or hit it in the wrong spot. On the other hand, on two instances, I took the time to settle the pin on the right spot and execute a smooth release, which resulted in two does harvested. I have had a tendency to shoot quickly ever since I started bow hunting, so it’s a hard habit to break. But, it’s important that I do. The two times I was able to do it this fall will help me next year.

2. Dress to stay warm in the stand. Despite a colder-than-normal November, I managed to stay warm in my stands this year. I have developed a system that seems to work very well. Important components are: 1. layering, starting with a base layer of Under Armour cold weather underwear; 2. a muff to keep my hands warm, which is a critical part of bow hunting; 3. hand warmer packets to put inside the muff — they really work; 4. a thin balaclava for my head and neck, and a really warm hat for colder days (I use one called a Mad Bomber, which uses real rabbit fur); 5. warm boots (I use Muck Arctic Pro boots, which are insulated rubber boots); and 6. insulated bibs underneath a heavy, insulated parka. I think I had the ultimate test this year, and held up well. So, I have no worries about keeping warm in November.

3. Be careful when attempting to call. Twice, I decided to use calling to try and lure in a buck. Both times, I did not have a deer in sight when I tried it, and both times, it worked — kind of. I had bucks come to within bow range, but did not take a shot either time. What happened on both occasions is that a small buck came walking in straight at me very cautiously and with its head up. That made it impossible to draw. What was happening, I believe, is that both bucks were looking for the source of the calling and were trying to see the deer that made the sound. In one case, I used a grunt call. In another, I used a doe bleat call. I think the most effective way to use calls is to have a deer decoy set up, so that when a buck comes in, there will be a decoy to draw him in. Plus, if you position the decoy in a certain way, it helps you be able to get the buck in the right position for a shot. That’s something I may try next year.

4. Nothing beats funnels. Steve has continually stressed the importance of this, and one of my does came as a result of setting up on a nice pinch point. Not only was I set up on a narrow strip of woods between two areas of tall, marshy grass, but there was a large fallen tree that funneled deer right past my stand. A doe walked past my stand at about 10 yards, then turned straight away from me just as I was getting ready to draw. Fortunately, that move caused her to be facing the downed tree. Therefore, I knew it was just a matter of time before she had to turn to the right to walk around the tree. That’s exactly what she did, offering a quartering away shot. I put the arrow right where it needed to go, and she went only about 80 to 100 yards before falling.

5. Do scouting when the leaves are down. I believe this is the key to knowing how the woods look in November during the rut. It tells you two things: 1. What kind of shooting lanes you really have; and 2. What are the remaining thicker areas where deer feel secure. In September, it’s thick everywhere because of the foliage, so deer can bed down and hang out just about anywhere and feel safe. Once the leaves are down, the woods are far more open and, sometimes, thicker areas are at a premium. If you can find them, it’s good to hunt them. I like to find trails leading from the thicker areas. The best scenario is that, because of a funnel, there is only one trail the deer are using. That is literally a gold mine. Does like to bed in thicker areas, and bucks like to hang out in them to wait for does or look for them. A friend hunted near an area like this and heard deer moving around in it for the first hour or two of a morning hunt. Then, a doe came busting out of the thicket with a nice 10-point buck trailing her. He shot the buck at almost point-blank range after the doe whisked by his stand.

6. Never be satisfied. Although I had success in the woods this year, I know I can do better next year. It’s that mindset that had me out in the woods scouting over the weekend, and resulted in finding a new spot for next year. I went to an area of the property I hadn’t spent much time in, and found a new spot that looks absolutely dynamite. It features a funnel that comes off of a corn field. The trail the deer were using was absolutely beaten down with tracks. In fact, it was the most deer sign I have ever seen on this property. In addition to tracks, there was fresh deer droppings all over, indicating the deer are spending lots of time here. I plan on being there next fall to greet them.

7. Get out in the woods in the spring. I plan on going back to this new spot in late March or early April, and getting a stand ready. I may even go sooner, especially if it warms up later this month like the weather experts are predicting. Then, I can not only put the stand up, but cut shooting lanes and put trail tacks up so I can find my way to the stand in the dark. Then, the stand will sit there for months, allowing the deer to get used to it. Hopefully, they’ll be relaxed when they walk past it next fall while I’m sitting in it.

I’ve heard some people call bow hunting a year-round endeavor. I always thought that was strange and a bit excessive, but I think I’m slowly becoming part of that crowd (my wife uses the term “obsession” more and more these days). I’m realizing that this kind of effort is what it takes to be consistently successful. I have come to one simple conclusion — bow hunting is VERY hard. For me, it’s huge to get any deer with a bow. My goal now is to be consistently successful. The good news is, I have done a lot of work already, so I’m merely doing a few more things, like setting up a new stand. I have gotten pretty good at stand setup, so this doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it’s fun, despite the hard work involved.

I’m hoping it will pay dividends next fall. I still don’t consider myself a trophy hunter, but I’m starting to like the idea of trying for at least a nice buck. I shot a buck last fall with a very small 8-point rack, and I would sure like to get something bigger next fall. I think that’s a realistic goal. Who knows? Maybe something really nice will come walking by.

I’ll be waiting.

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A time for waiting . . . and thanksgiving

December 1, 2014

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Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, poses for a picture with his 10-point buck.

Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul, poses for a picture with his 10-point buck.

As we make the transition from Thanksgiving season to Advent, I offer a story that combines both — offering thanks to God and waiting for his blessing. It comes from Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul and avid deer hunter. In his own words:

“The first weekend of deer hunting opener, I was stationed in a stand one hour west of Bemidji. I saw a total of 10 small 1-year-old deer at different moments in the morning and late afternoon.  The party I hunt with abides by the rule that one never shoots a buck with less than eight points on a full rack, so that the young bucks can grow, and one never shoots a yearling unless you want to be made fun of.

About fifteen minutes after sunset, I decided that I would get on my knees and thank God for the beauty of his creation — the sun, the moon and the stars, the vegetation, the snow on the ground, and all these 1-year old small deer frolicking around the tree line.

It was not but thirty seconds after I knelt down and offered my thanks to God that a larger 2-year-old fork buck trotted past my stand. I saw it head toward the woods 40 yards to my east, and watched it elegantly scope out the territory before heading into the woods.

As I am a guest on Jerry and Bitsy Dehmer’s land, I abide by the same rules they follow, which is again not to shoot any bucks with less than full racks, but to let them grow to full stature. Suddenly, the fork buck took off running at high speed away from the woods. I thought, ‘Wow, there must be a bigger buck in that woods claiming the territory and chasing him away.’

So, I lifted my rifle and got in place, ready to shoot. The next sight was stunning. I watched a 200-pound black bear climb a tree on the edge of the forest like a monkey. I was in awe at how fast it ascended and descended, and realized, ‘One trying to escape a black bear by climbing a tree would never make it.’

Then, it climbed a second tree. I’m not sure what it was looking for, as the trees were barren, but the sight left me in awe. I continued to thank God for his small and great gifts of love.

The second day followed a cold storm, which lifted about midnight, leaving a very bright moon to shine on the landscape. As a result, most deer were out feeding in the night, and no one saw deer in the morning’s hunt. At dusk Sunday evening — and, mind you, I had celebrated Mass the evening before with the whole Dehmer clan — we all went out to our stands, and I took the stand on what is called, ‘Machinery Hill,’ as a few old combining pieces rest on the 15-foot hill overlooking a patch of corn and beans.

Jerry Dehmer, the grandfather and owner of the land, instructed me to go to Machinery Hill because there was more food left in that area for the deer to graze. Internally I wondered, ‘Maybe I should go to another stand in which no one has yet sat,’ but this little interior voice told me, ‘Trust Jerry’s advice.’

You see, Jerry has been hunting and trapping since he was 8 years old. For much of his youth he trapped fox and skunk, selling the hides for money. He is an expert huntsman, who has shot many whitetail deer, elk, antelope, etc. So, I trusted Jerry and went to his recommended stand. One other thing about Jerry and his family: No matter how good the hunt, one always gets out of his stand on Sunday to go to church!

Now sunset was judged to be 4:46 p.m. that evening; thus the final minute to shoot would be 5:16 p.m., which is one half hour after sunset. As in the first day, I saw only small yearlings, but this time 13 of them in different packs. They were cute and playful.

About the last 10 minutes of my hunt, because I could not go out on the second weekend, I decided again to simply thank God for all his gifts of love, in creation, in prayer, in the Sacraments, in the Scriptures, in my family and in friends like the Dehmers, in my vocation as a Catholic priest, and in these 13 small deer who scampered around 20 yards from my stand.

As soon as I completed my prayer of thanksgiving, sure enough, this large buck comes strutting out of the woods. It chased some of the yearlings, only to discover they were not ready for mating, then left a large scrape on the ground under a twig, into which it pressed its facial gland, leaving notice to any does in heat.

Sighting the buck in my scope, I recognized the antlers widened beyond the ears, revealing it to be a fully mature male whitetail deer. My first shot was over the buck, highly unusual for me, but the sound the bullet made in the woods behind him confused his judgment, and thus he stood for another second trying to get his bearings. This gave me the opportunity to lower the rifle and put a bullet through the heart. Upon retrieval, I found that it was a 10-point buck with a beautiful, full body. God is good to the grateful man!”

Congratulations go to Father Becker! I’m sure that made quite a story for dozens of seminarians at SJV. We’ll have to see if that buck makes it to the wall of his office. If it does, it will join two other handsome buck mounts already there.

I think my strategy for next year should include asking Father Becker to bless all of my deer hunting gear, especially my bow and my gun!

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Wisconsin farm is home to both deer and Christmas trees

November 24, 2014

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I went out yesterday to a property I have been bow hunting in Wisconsin. It’s where I got a nice doe on Nov. 12.

When I arrived around 11 a.m. to do some scouting, the property was abuzz with activity. No, it wasn’t hunters dressed in blaze orange out for the firearms deer opener in Wisconsin, which was the day before. Rather, it was people hunting for something different — Christmas trees.

The place I hunt is actually a Christmas tree farm called Mr. Snowman’s Christmas Tree Farm, located a few miles north of Prescott (address is N 7619 1250th St., River Falls, Wis. 54022; 715-262-3999). It’s owned by a charming and friendly older gentleman named Dr. Charlie MacDonald, a retired physician and father of Kathy Schneeman, former respect life coordinator for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and mother of nine. I met Kathy years ago and always enjoy the chance to cross paths with her.

She put me in touch with her dad several years ago and he invited me to bow hunt for deer on his property, which I finally decided to do this year. He does not allow gun hunting, as the opening of the Wisconsin firearms season coincides with the start of his annual tree sale.

Fine with me. I really enjoy bow hunting, and I greatly looked forward to hunting his property this year. There is another hunter on the property named Al, who is in his 70s and has been hunting the property for about the last 10 years. He talked glowingly about the good deer hunting on this property.

Turns out, Al was right on. He helped me set up a stand that was right between two major deer trails. Starting in early November, I sat there six times in a row and not only saw deer each time, but had at least one within bow range (less than 30 yards for me) all six times. On the seventh try, I did not see a deer. But, I went out again Friday afternoon and saw a deer in the last 15 minutes.

It was a small buck, and his antlers looked a lot like the ones on a buck I had missed earlier. I rushed a shot I didn’t need to rush, and I think the string hit my jacket because my arrow went about 3 feet left of where I was aiming and missed the deer entirely. That’s the way bow hunting goes sometimes, and that is part of the appeal, as I am learning. This time around, the buck stopped at 20 yards and was facing me while partially obstructed by a tree. He never offered a shot and eventually trotted off.

I hope to get out and hunt this week, then I will be out at the farm this Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to work there. That’s part of Charlie’s agreement with those who hunt on his farm. I am happy to oblige.

And, I sincerely hope those reading this will pay a visit to Charlie’s farm to pick out their tree. It’s a beautiful piece of property, and it’s very close to the Twin Cities. It takes me only about 35 minutes to get there from my home in St. Paul. If you come on Sunday, I’ll be the one helping you load up your tree. There are lots of trees left, and the experience to go to a tree farm to pick out your own tree is priceless. And, if you go, be sure to take a walk around his gift shop for more Christmas decorations, including wreaths.

See you Sunday!

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Deer opener report, plus bow hunting update

November 11, 2014

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The firearms opener for deer took place on Saturday, and I was in a stand I had never hunted during previous gun seasons. I wanted to see how it would produce when I was holding as gun in my hand.

Turns out, it’s a pretty good spot. I had a doe walk in around 7, and I thought I would have an easy shot. But, she saw me as I was getting my gun ready and turn and ran before I was on her. I fired as she ran off, but missed. That’s OK. I would much rather miss completely than wound it.

Having gotten a deer with my bow already, I wanted to get a deer for other members of my hunting party. Fortunately, two of the others, my brother Paul and son Andy, came through with deer. Paul got his first deer in four years, and Andy got one for the second year in a row. Around 11 a.m. Saturday, I saw a very big buck cross the corner of a soybean field near where I was sitting. He moved quickly and there was no chance for a shot. Actually, I wish I could have taken his picture with my camera. He had a very nice set of antlers.

Sunday afternoon, I was back in my bow stand in Wisconsin. I had a nice doe come in to 15 yards, but when I drew back, she saw me and jerked her head up. I rushed the shot and ended up hitting her farther back than I wanted to. When I checked my arrow, I was sickened to see that I had hit her in the stomach. It’s a long dying process for deer hit in this part of their body, and I didn’t wait nearly long enough before I started tracking.

I jumped her only about 50 yards away, and she ran toward the edge of the woods. I backed out and came back the next morning. I found her, but I was too late. Coyotes had gotten there first, and there was no meat left.

I got in my stand and endured cold and wind from 1 to 5 p.m. I had two small bucks come in during the last hour of shooting light. One of them came in close enough for a shot, but when I drew back, my arrow made a scraping sound against my arrow rest. Some ice had frozen on the arrow, and I didn’t realize it. Instantly, the buck jumped and ran off. Game over.

It wasn’t meant to be. Oh well. I have had plenty of action and close encounters. This has been a great learning year for me. I think I will walk away a much better bow hunt than when the season started. That is huge in this sport, where even one small mistake can cost you a deer.

But, the season is far from over. In fact, the best may be yet to come. Once the does start coming into estrous, look out. There will be a frenzy of activity for at least several days as bucks start chasing does all over. I have not witnessed that on the farm where I hunt in Wisconsin. Should happen any time.

I decided to stay out of the woods today, and I’m glad I did because target shooting caused me to discover a problem with my release. It wasn’t working properly, and my arrows were flying all over the place. I took it in to A1 Archery in Hudson, and the guy I worked with did some testing, then put some lube inside. Then, I went to the practice range and took some shots. It’s working fine now. So, I don’t have to worry about that. My Scott release, which is the only one I have owned, has been great, and I am so glad I can keep using it. I hope I can stop by A1 in the next few days and give them a deer success story.

I just have to figure out how to stay warm!

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Bow hunting success at last!

November 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the hunt begin!

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More bow hunting heartache

November 5, 2014

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Just when I thought I had my lowest moment in the woods, it got worse. After failing to get a buck on Saturday, I went out again this morning hoping for redemption.

What I got instead was more misery. Things were looking good when I climbed into my stand well before dawn under cloudy skies. I settled in and watched the landscape lighten with the coming of sunrise. It’s a more gradual process under cloud cover, and less dramatic.

Not long after shooting hours began, a doe walked by about 40-50 yards away. She circled around and I thought she might come in, but no dice. She stayed out of bow range, then eventually ran off. Don’t know what spooked her.

Always nice when there are does in the area. That means bucks will be around, too. Sure enough, less than an hour later, I spotted movement in the brush to my north. I saw a deer moving through and headed toward me. Just a few seconds later, I spotted antlers. Not a big buck, but definitely something I wanted to shoot.

He paused behind a tree, then I quickly stood up and grabbed my bow. The buck kept moving toward an open area, completely oblivious to my presence. As he got into the clearing, I turned and held my bow in front of me, ready to draw. He took a few steps, then I grunted to stop him and drew back. He was 15 yards away, standing broadside. I quickly put the pin on his chest and released.

What I saw next can only be described as sickening — completely sickening. The arrow flew toward the back end of the deer and hit the ground behind him. Somehow, the shot went left about 3 feet from where I aimed. It never touched the deer.

I was stunned. The buck jumped and turned away from me. He walked a little ways, then turned to go back the way he came.

How could this be? I don’t ever miss like that in practice. In fact, in all the years I have shot a bow, both in practice and while hunting, I have never been this far off the mark — ever.

For goodness sake, the buck was only 15 yards away! I kept going over and over the whole shot sequence as I sat in the stand. I think what happened is the arm holding the bow was straighter than normal, and the string probably hit my jacket. That will deflect an arrow every time.

I had several conversations with other hunters, and that seems to be the best explanation. But, the problem was not my jacket, it was bad form. I should have taken my time to anchor the pin and make sure my form was good before letting the arrow fly.

Instead, I rushed everything and had a very quick release. That is exactly how bad things happen. Hopefully, I’ll get another chance. I’m going out again tomorrow, this time to a different piece of property. I will try to learn from my mistakes and do it right the next time.

Please, God, let there be a next time!

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A buck comes in. . . heartache follows

November 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord Jesus and St. Hubert, please help me!

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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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