Tag Archives: tips

A girl’s first turkey hunt

March 31, 2015

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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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Sportshow time!

March 27, 2015

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Hopefully, a turkey like this will come into range when it comes time to hunt this spring.

Hopefully, a turkey like this will come into range when it comes time to hunt this spring.

Later today, I will be heading to the Minneapolis Convention Center for the annual Progressive Northwest Sportshow. It’s on my don’t-miss list, and it runs through Sunday.

For hunting and fishing enthusiasts like me, it has a little bit of everything. I always look for booths and products related to my two greatest outdoor passions — bow hunting and turkey hunting. It’s nice to get a nice “fix” of the outdoors as we make the transition from winter to spring. Today being the first official day of spring, it’s the perfect time to go!

There’s lots to cover, and one nice thing is the exercise I get walking from one end of the exhibition hall to the other. Hopefully, that will help get me in shape for the time when I will chase down gobblers this spring. I am hunting in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, plus I will be taking out three other hunters and trying to help them get birds.

One of them is my daughter Claire. We are going to shoot the 20-gauge shotgun she will be using Sunday afternoon, and I am going to buy sights to put on it before we go. She is worried about the recoil, but I hope she won’t be too bothered by it. I’ll be sure to bring some padding for her shoulder. I have taken her three older brothers turkey hunting, and I’m thrilled her time has come. This should be a fun weekend!

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Winter: A time for preparation

January 14, 2015

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Unless you like to go ice fishing or coyote hunting, winter is the off season for outdoor pursuits. But, that doesn’t mean your only option is to sit idle and dream about the big fish you’ll catch once the ice thaws, or the big tom you’ll harvest after the snow melts.

Far from it. This can be an important time for getting ready for upcoming fishing and hunting seasons. Just today, I took an important step toward what I hope will be a productive bow hunting season in the fall. I went to A1 Archery in Hudson, Wis. to have the guys there do some work on my bow. I am having a new string put on, plus a new sight.

This is a great time of year for that. First, most shops aren’t so busy, and thus have the time to help you and get the work done right. Second, it gives you plenty of time after getting the bow back to make sure it’s functioning properly. With archery, so many little things can go wrong, and almost any of them can cost you a deer in the fall. Now’s the time to get on top of equipment issues.

This is also a time to do research on new gear you’re interested in trying. Thankfully, I did my research two years ago on strings, and settled on Vapor Trail. Actually, the guys at A1 highly recommended this string, and the research I did online confirmed that this is a great product. I had one put on my bow at A1 two years ago and it has worked great for me. I have harvested three deer with this string, and I am very happy with the results.

One good thing about an archery shop like A1 is that they know good products and feel confident recommending them. The guys who work there are bow hunters, plus they talk to many bow hunters who come through the doors. If a product isn’t good, they’ll find out about it and will not recommend it to people like me.

That’s why I quickly took their advice in November and got Beaman arrows and NAP Killzone broadheads. I didn’t regret it. The very next day, I shot a doe with one of them, taking a steep quartering away shot that hit the mark and caused the doe to fall at less than 100 yards. A week later, I took another doe with a perfect double-lung pass through at 15 yards. She went only about 60 yards, and I saw her fall. I’m sold on them and plan to use them next year.

With all of these great experiences under my belt, I was confident when the guys at A1 recommended a one-pin sight by HHA Sports. After using a four-pin sight since buying my bow, I decided a one-pin was the way to go, primarily because almost all of the shots I take are less than 30 yards. My friend and bow hunting mentor, Steve Huettl, has shot several trophy bucks, all of them at 30 yards or less. He says he likes to keep his shots short because lots of things can go wrong on longer shots. The way I figure, if a guy like him who’s a much better shot than me doesn’t take long shots, I shouldn’t, either.

Thus, only one sight pin would be needed if I decide to keep my shots under 30 yards. There’s very little difference in point of impact from 5 to 25 yards, no more an 2 inches. So, only one pin is needed to shoot in that distance range. Having this sight will keep my sight picture uncluttered and simplify the process — I will never accidentally use the wrong pin.

The nice thing about A1 is the guys in the shop will install the new string and cables, mount the new sight and paper tune my bow. All I’ll have to do is sight it in, which I will be able to do in their indoor range. Then, I’ll have several months of shooting until the next hunting opportunity — spring turkey season. I have an opportunity to bow hunt a property in Wisconsin where I bow hunted for deer this fall. Not sure if I’ll do it, as a turkey is a much smaller target than a deer. But, I might give it a try. These will be unpressured birds, so I may have a better chance at luring them in close. I would want a bird to be no farther than 20 yards away, with 10 being much prefered. I’ll admit, it sure would be a great achivement to get a gobbler with a bow. We’ll see what I think come May.

More tips

Speaking of turkey hunting, here’s another thing you can do this winter — get landowner permission to hunt. In some cases, it’s merely a matter of picking up the phone and calling people who have let you hunt in past years. In other cases, it may be calling someone for the first time. In that case, I like to get on the phone as early as possible. Waiting runs the risk of somebody beating you to it. Plus, landowners may well be friendlier during one of the first calls they get from a hunter. Some landowners get lots of calls every year, and I wonder if they get tired of them after a while. Right about now is when I get on the phone, and the results have been great over the years.

It’s looking like I may be taking my 12-year-old daughter Claire out turkey hunting for the first time. She has expressed interest, and insists that she will go if I offer to take her. However, she is reluctant to miss school, and reluctant to get up early. Rising well before dawn is a fact of life for turkey hunters, as the most gobbling of the day starts right before sunrise. It’s a nice treat for any turkey hunter, but especially beginners. Maybe I can talk Claire into getting up early just once. But, like her mother, she is NOT a morning person. So, we’ll see.

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Beer-batter walleye: Great way to start the new year!

January 5, 2015

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With my oldest son Joe nearing the end of his stay with us, I wanted him to have some memorable meals while he is home. So, last night, I decided to do one of my specialties: beer-batter walleye. Along with that, I tried something new: beer-batter cheese curds. These were none other than the authentic cheese curds made at the Ellsworth Creamery in Wisconsin. I had made a special trip there before Christmas just to get some.

Years ago, I experimented with batter recipes and finally got it right. It’s tasty and very easy to make. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Bisquick

1/2 cup Shore Lunch

3 TBSP corn starch

1/2 TSP salt

dash of nutmeg

1 cup beer (about 3/4 bottle, cook gets the rest)

Directions:

Mix dry ingredients, then add beer. For thicker batter, add less beer. For thinner batter, add more. Cut fish into small pieces, roll in corn starch, then submerge in batter. Allow some excess batter to drip off, and deep fry at 375 degrees. Fry until pieces are golden brown.

For the fish fry, I used the last of the walleye I brought home from South Dakota on my trip there to Lake Oahe for the Bishop’s Fishing Tournament back in June. I have had some splendid meals of fish, and now I will have to go back out and get more walleye. I’m not much of an ice fisherman, so I’ll have to wait until May or June.

One thing to note is that the fish I used yesterday came from a large walleye — 25 inches, to be exact. Would love to say I caught it, but I didn’t. People often say that bigger fish don’t taste good, but I beg to differ. This fish was fantastic. The problem with bigger fish is the fillets often are so thick that they’re hard to cook. They can be cooked on the edges, but raw in the middle. Cutting them into small pieces solves this problem. I have done this for years and never had a problem with big fillets.

That said, I generally release bigger fish so as to practice good conversation. In this case, I just wanted to bring the lunker home and figured one big fish in a lake the size of Oahe wouldn’t be a problem.

Not sure if I’ll get back to Oahe for next year’s tournament. There’s also one on Big Stone, which is right on the Minnesota/South Dakota border. I would like to go there next year. It’s a shorter drive, and people who have fished in both tournaments say Big Stone is a better lake for walleye.

I would like the chance to find out for myself.

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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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