Tag Archives: tips

Finally, a deer with my bow!

November 7, 2013


After three seasons of challenges and heartaches, success finally comes on Nov. 7.

After three seasons of challenges and heartaches, success finally comes on Nov. 6

As I climbed into my deer stand for a day of bow hunting yesterday, Nov. 6, I was greeted with a spectacular sight – a fresh layer of snow on the ground.

It had snowed overnight, creating a winter wonderland. It was cold, quiet and beautiful, and I was very thankful to be enjoying God’s work of art on this crisp fall morning.

Of course, I was hoping the icing on the cake would be the sight of a deer walking past my stand and giving me an opportunity to harvest my first whitetail with a bow.

It didn’t take long for the landscape to come to life. Less than an hour into the hunt, I saw a doe racing into the field just to the south of me. She circled around, then dashed back into the woods. I knew what was going on – she was being chased by a buck.

A very good sign! The rut seemed to be taking longer to kick in this year, and this was an indication that things were finally happening. My optimism skyrocketed as I continued my vigil.

Only about 15 or 20 minutes later, another doe came dashing out into the field, this time with two fawns in tow. Then, a fourth deer came out behind her. This one was a small buck, and it was grunting as it tried to keep pace with the doe.

This was going to be a good day, I figured. Although I was planning to sit all day, I had a feeling I wouldn’t have to wait that long for a deer to come close enough for a shot.

A third sighting

Would I see something close enough for a shot? That’s the question I asked myself as I continued standing watch over the trail coming east from a thicket nearby. I just had a sense that something might come out of there.

As the clouds cleared around 8 a.m. and the sun made an appearance, the snow began to melt. The snow that had coated tree branches began sounding like rain as it let go and fell to the ground. It was a lot of noise, and I wondered if it might make the deer nervous.

I also knew it would make it harder to hear whitetails approach. So, I would have to be on my toes. As the minutes ticked by and it got close to 9, I thought I heard some noise coming from the thicket. It seemed like more than just the snow melting and landing on the ground like raindrops.

I decided to keep an eye on the thicket, and continued looking that way. Then, when I looked back there to my left once again, I was startled by the sight of a deer walking from the thicket toward me. Its head was down, so I didn’t know if it was a buck or doe at first. After a few seconds, it looked up and I saw antlers. A buck!

Close encounter

My heart raced momentarily, then my mind kicked in and started thinking about what to do next. With the buck’s head down as he continued to walk, I slowly reached over and grabbed my bow, which was sitting strategically in front of me on a holder. As soon as I put my left hand around the grip, the buck shot his head up and looked right at me – pretty unnerving at only about 15 yards!

Fortunately, I remembered what my friend and mentor Steve Huettl had told me to do when this happens – freeze and wait for the deer to lower its head and resume walking. I did so, and the buck eventually dropped its head and kept coming toward me. He looked up one more time, then worked his way to a perfect broadside position.

He stopped one last time just before getting even with me, and I knew I was just seconds away from a shot opportunity. I could have thought about all of the other shots I have taken at deer with my bow over these last three seasons – eight total, with five hitting the deer, but zero recoveries. Instead, I pushed all of the previous failures out of my mind and got ready to draw.

The moment of truth

After nibling on a small bush almost barren of leaves, the buck slowly took a couple of steps and drew even with me. I could have drawn and shot at this point, but I decided to let him walk a step or two past me. This does two important things: 1. Gets that pesky front shoulder out of the way, and 2. Puts me out of the deer’s field of view, allowing movement of drawing back without being seen.

This is a point that I think some bow hunters miss, but it causes such a tremendous advantage. The buck got past me and stopped. I drew back, anchored my 20-yard pin behind his front leg and released the arrow. Thanks to a lighted nock with my NuFletch system, I saw that the arrow had passed through the deer. It was sticking in the ground, clearly visible in the snow. Also, I happened to catch a spot of red on the deer’s body as it jumped and bounded off.

Everything looked and felt right. Would this be the time that I would finally recover a deer and put a tag on it?

Time for tracking

Experienced bow hunters will say it is after the shot that the hunt actually begins. I watched the buck run out of sight, then I sat still for a minute to contemplate what had just happened. Then, I called Steve and told him the news. He suggested that I take my binoculars out and look at the arrow to see if there was any blood.

I pulled them out of my backpack and locked the lenses onto the arrow. Sure enough, there were drops of blood under the fletching that were easily visible in the snow. This is a GREAT sign, and my hopes soared after seeing this.

I waited for about 45 minutes, then climbed down to start tracking. The first thing I did was go over to my arrow and take a look at it. I pulled it out of the ground and saw that it was soaked in blood from end to end. I also saw that the Rage two-blade mechanical broadhead was fully deployed. I had a very good feeling about this!

I went over to the last place I saw the deer and began looking at the ground for blood. I saw a few drops in the snow right away and started following them. There wasn’t a lot of blood, but it left a steady trail that I was able to follow without too much trouble. Then, I hit a large spot where the snow had melted, and my heart sank. Had I waited too long to track?

I called Steve and asked him what to do. He told me that it’s not uncommon for deer not to bleed too much initially, and said I just need to keep looking for more blood, and to take my time. So, I paused, took a deep breath, and walked past the bare spot to the snow beyond it.

Not this time

But, a question started to nag at me: Would this search for a deer turn up empty like all the others? It was hard to shake this doubt, even though there were plenty of encouraging signs. I decided to take Steve’s advice and work slowly and methodically, even if it meant getting down on my hands and knees to look for blood.

That maneuver proved unnecessary. I spotted blood quickly after that, and there seemed to be more of it. Then, I got to a thicker spot of woods, and looked at a couple of downed branches covered with snow. There was blood on the branches, and I started to develop a clear sense of anticipation. The buck couldn’t be far away, I thought.

I spotted more blood as I continued walking, and finally noticed it higher up on some shrubs. It was glistening against the snow, and I just felt I would find the buck soon. I plowed ahead, picking up the pace a bit as the blood trail started to get heavier.

Finally, I looked ahead and saw something brown laying on the ground. I stepped ahead quickly, still not fully committed to believing it was my buck. After all, I had been fooled by logs before.

This was no log. It was him! I knelt down and put my hands on him. Shortly after that came my prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord, which is my custom. In that joyful moment, three seasons of frustration melted away along with the shrinking snow pack on the ground. A beautiful morning just became perfect for this hunter!

Hardest task ever

I have always had a deep respect for bow hunters, especially those who are able to harvest a deer. I found out firsthand how difficult this can be. I was just hoping that on one magical occasion, things would all come together and I could have a successful bow hunt. This was the day.  Thanks be to God!

Of course, with the deer recovered, the real work began. I went back to my car and got my camera. I took some pictures, field dressed the deer, then began the journey back to the car. Fortunately, my good friend Bernie Schwab had loaned me his deer cart. Otherwise, I might still be dragging that buck out.

I got it back to car, then went home and exchanged the car for our van and hooked up the trailer. I picked up the deer, then headed to Stasny’s Food Market on Western Avenue in St. Paul for processing. The owner of the store, Jim Stasny, was there, and I gladly put in an order for some of his awesome venison summer sausage to make from my trimmings.

A happy ending to a wonderful day in the woods!


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Deer stand shortcut spells trouble

November 5, 2013


There I was, in the dark and getting ready to hunt last Friday morning. I had climbed into one of my ladder stands and was getting my bow and other gear ready. I dropped my bow hanger to the ground and tried to climb down quickly to retrieve it.

Then, trouble hit, in a big way. I felt a wobble as I started going down the steps, then a jolt as one ladder section gave way. One side of the section had popped loose, and I figured a fall was coming.

Fortunately, the other side of the section held together, and I was able to finish the climb down. What a relief!

The failure, however, was not due to a faulty stand, but rather a faulty installer. I decided not to use the safety pins that come with the stand to keep just this sort of thing from happening. A friend who helped me put it up said they are not necessary, as the weight of the hunter will push the sections tightly together.

He was wrong, and I relayed the story to him. Later that morning, I bought bolts at Fleet Farm and reinforced the stand. It is now rock solid, and I am ready to hunt the rut, which is later this year but should kick in with the cold weather that is coming in.

Interestingly, after the stand collapsed, I hustled about 150 yards to another one and climbed in for a two-hour hunt. A small buck came in to about 15 yards and was standing broadside at about 15 yards. I drew back and tried to put my 20-yard pin on the buck, but my glasses were slightly fogged and I couldn’t find the deer. A second or two later, he walked through the shooting lane and never presented another shot opportunity.

Oh well, that’s how it goes. I’m just glad I was able to discover the danger of my stand now – and didn’t get hurt! I then went down to Red Wing the next day to put bolts into another stand we put up, one that my son, Andy, will hunt in on the opening day of the 3A firearms season, which opens this Saturday.

The lesson in all of this is simple, and I pass it along to all deer hunters who will go out into the woods on Saturday – DO NOT TAKE ANY SHORTCUTS when it comes to putting up your stands. Assemble them properly and utilize all safety features, including body harness.

May all deer hunters have a safe and fun hunt this season!

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Boat winterizing is simple

October 29, 2013


I took advantage of the warm weather on Sunday to winterize my boat. It’s a simple task, but very important, especially if you want the boat to perform well next spring.

That’s right. Good performance next fishing season hinges on what you do with your boat now. I do a few simple steps, and my boat runs well the next open-water season. This is my to-do list for winterizing:

1. Take care of your gas. I take the outboard motor tank and empty the gas into my car’s gas tank. Then, I put in fresh gas along with Sta-bil fuel stabilizer. The directions call for 1 ounce of Sta-bil for every 2 1/2 gallons of gas. I pump about a gallon into the tank, add the Sta-bil, then put another gallon-and-a-half of gas in. I shake it a little after that to be sure it’s mixed well.

2. Start your engine. Then, I hook up the tank with the fresh gas and start up the engine. You have to be sure to have water going into the engine, or you’ll burn up your engine. Simply take what’s called ear muffs and place them over the intake on the lower part of the motor. Attach them to a garden hose and turn the water on. Then, once you see that there’s a good seal on the ear muffs, start up your motor and let it run for 10 minutes. That uses up the old gas and puts the fresh gas in the carburetor and internal hoses. And, be sure to look and see that water is coming out of the engine.

3. Fog your engine. With your engine running, take off the cover and remove the plate that covers the carburetors. Spray fogging oil for about 5 seconds into each one. The engine will slow down and smoke will billow out of it. That’s what you want. After spraying the last one, shut off the engine.

4. Change oil in lower unit. Now comes the messiest part of the job – changing the lower unit gear lube. You can do it in the spring, but I do it in the fall while I’m working on everything else. On the lower unit are two screws, one higher up and one down low. Take both off, starting with the higher one, and drain the old gear lube into a pan. Often, it looks milky, which is a sign that it needs to be replaced. Some people think you can get away with changing it every other year, but it’s not very expensive, so I do it every year. After the old lube has drained, screw a pump into the lower hole and pump in the new lube until it runs out the top hole. Then, put the screw back into the top hole, and unscrew the pump from the bottom hole. As quickly as you can, put the bottom screw on. You may lose a little lube, but that won’t be a problem.

5. Charge batteries and store properly. Disconnect all wires from your marine batteries and charge each one. They store well with a full charge. Once charged, place them on a shelf. Do NOT put them on concrete. Doing so will drain them of the charge. And, store them outside. A battery expert I talked to said this is the best. It’s tempting to bring them inside, but he said this is wrong. So, I follow his advice. He says a marine battery lasts about three years, so you may need to replace it in the spring.

All of these steps shouldn’t take more than an hour. I wish I could have used my boat more this summer, but it just didn’t work out. The fact that my gear lube wasn’t milky tells me the boat got less use than previous years.

Hopefully, next year I will get out on the water more!

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Federal offers new shotgun slug

October 21, 2013

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I was surprised when I went to Mills Fleet Farm yesterday to buy shotgun slugs for the upcoming 3A firearms season. I was there to buy a few five-round boxes of Federal sabot slugs, called Barnes Xpander.

They have performed beautifully for me, taking down nice bucks the last two years and at least a dozen other deer over the last 10 years. In all honesty, I was planning on using them for the rest of my shotgun hunting days.

Alas, I was shocked to discover that they were nowhere to be found at Fleet Farm. When I got home, I checked the website for Federal and learned that the company no longer makes the Barnes Xpander. It has been replaced by a slug called Vital Shok Trophy Copper.

I was stunned. Why would Federal try to fix something that isn’t broke? I have had great results with this copper slug. It’s very accurate all the way out to 100 yards, and I was done experimenting with shotgun slugs after trying these.

Now, I have to start all over again. I decided to look up information on the slug on Federal’s website, and the news might not be as bad as I think.

Seems the company has done some tweaking and come up with a slug that is slightly lighter than the 3/4-ounce Barnes Xpander that I used previously (the Xpander was offered in 3/4-ounce and 1-ounce slug weights, with me choosing the former for flatter shooting). The new slug weighs 300 grains, which is slightly lighter than the 3/4-ounce Barnes (.69 ounces when you convert)

I ended up calling Federal today and was able to talk to a customer service rep. He said that the Barnes bullet company was bought out, and the new company ended its relationship with Federal. So, Federal had no choice but to come up with a new slug to replace the Xpander.

The guy I talked to said a new slug already was in the works, so the company moved the development of it to the front burner. The new Vital Shok round is now on the shelves, and he said extensive testing by Federal indicates it is every bit as accurate as the Barnes, if not slightly more so.

I hope that’s true. Shotguns are notoriously finicky when it comes to different brands of slugs. Some shoot great, others horrible, and often there is no discernible reason for the difference.

So, the bottom line is: You have to try the slugs and see how they work in your gun. I am sure hoping these new slugs perform like the Barnes Xpanders did in my gun, a Remington 11-87 with a rifled barrel. There’s nothing like seeing your slugs consistently hit the bullseye at 50 yards, and even 100.

That’s what I got with the Xpanders. I will go out and buy some of the new Vital Shok and see if I can duplicate the results I had with the Barnes.

Stay tuned for a review!


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October lull, getting ready for rut, and NuFletch

October 18, 2013


I went out bow hunting yesterday morning on a metro property, hoping I might get a chance at a deer. I ended up seeing several wild turkeys, including a nice tom, but the deer didn’t show.

I have heard about something called the October lull, and my friend and mentor, Steve Huettl, believes it’s real. Hard to know why, but deer seem to move less in early to mid October.

Things could improve with the cold weather, however. Steve just emailed me today and wrote that two hunters he has talked to saw lots of deer movement today. It cooled off today, and temperatures are predicted to stay in the 40s all of next week. In fact, some light snow could even fall on Sunday.

Steve says cold increases deer movement during the rut, so this could be a good year if the cold sticks around the rest of the month and into November. I will say, I always do well in the cold. Last year, when I shot my big buck on the last day of the 3A firearms season Nov. 11, the temperature dropped throughout the day, from the low 40s all the way down into the 20s after dark.

About 12 years ago, I hunted an early doe season the third weekend in October over in Wisconsin. In fact, I hunted it two years in a row. I had two doe tags each year and filled three out of four. I should have filled the fourth, but missed several shots at group of does on the last day. That’s on me. Both years, it was cold during the antlerless hunts.

Hopefully, the cold will get the deer moving. I’ve got several stands set up, both here in the metro and down in Red Wing. I may get out at the end of next week, if things look promising. For sure, I’ll go out at the end of the month and the first part of November.

Prepare for the cold

Now’s a good time to start thinking about the cold and how to dress for it, particularly if you’re planning on being in a stand for any length of time. I’ve got a pretty good system that has worked well for me.

It starts with a good base layer. I have a set of Under Armour – leggings and long-sleeve top in its Cold Gear line. My wife bought it for me several years ago, and it really helps. Next, I put on wool pants and a wool sweater. I do like wool, and it works very well until the temperatures get really cold, like the teens or even single digits.

My top layer is an insulated set of bibs and jacket. I wear a hat, of course, but keeping my hands warm for bow hunting presents a unique challenge.

Steve says he does not like to shoot with gloves on, particularly on his release hand. So, he puts his hands inside a muff, the kind you see NFL  quarterbacks using in cold weather. I have done this and it works.

But, there is one key ingredient for keeping both your hands and feet warm – using chemical hand warmers (the small resin bags). I have used them for years and they really work. Now’s the time to stock up. I put them inside the muff and my hands stay warm. I also put the toe warmers inside my boots and that works very well. I have socks that are called Smartwool, and I use a pair of insulated rubber boots made by a company called Muck.

This setup usually keeps me warm. But, cold and a strong wind can make it tough. That was the case last fall on Nov. 11. Fortunately, I was able to hang on until the final minutes of legal shooting time to get my buck.

NuFletch test

I got NuFletch installed on my arrows on Monday at A1 Archery in Hudson. It didn’t take long, and one of the guys paper tuned my bow when he was done. He had to move my arrow rest a little, and I had to move my sight pin a bit as my arrows now were hitting low. But, I got that adjusted at A1’s indoor range, and I went home happy with my setup.

I did some more testing at home and found that my arrows now fly slightly flatter – and quieter. The flatter your arrows shoot, the less you have to think about where to put your sight pin on a deer. I can now use my 20-yard pin from 0-25 yards without having to move the pin up or down on a deer.

That’s huge. Before, I was hitting a few inches high at 10 and 15 yards, and a few inches low at 25. So, I always had to think about exactly what distance I was shooting at a deer, and compensate accordingly. I didn’t do that well enough on a doe I shot at four weeks ago, and I ended up hitting it in the shoulder.

I definitely don’t want that to happen again. I’m hoping that, with NuFletch, I will avoid this problem. We’ll see. Not sure when I’ll get out next, but I plan to be out there during the rut.

I think I’m ready for it.

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How does arrow fletching affect your bow hunt?

October 9, 2013


I must admit, I have given very little thought to arrow fletching as it relates to flight and, ultimately, what happens when an arrow hits a deer.

Another recent failure in the woods, plus an article in North American Hunter magazine turned my attention toward this topic recently. After hitting yet another deer three weeks ago and failing to recover it, I started asking myself questions. Although I figured out that it was a shoulder hit, which almost always results in little to no penetration into the vital area, I couldn’t help but wonder if the poor penetration had anything to do with my setup.

As I pondered that, I ran into an article in the October issue of North American Hunter (page 28). Managing editor Dave Maas tested a new product called NuFletch, and had very favorable comments about the results. Basically, it’s a short aluminum arrow shaft section that screws into the back end of your arrow, in which you can slide vanes in and out. That means you easily can replace damaged vanes in the field.

But, there’s more, according to Maas. The short piece of aluminum that now sits on the rear end of the arrow adds weight and stiffness to the arrow. That, in turn, increases penetration.

It’s not a hard thing to test. All you have to do is see how deep into your target arrows with NuFletch penetrate versus standard arrows. When I went online to see if others had tested NuFletch, I read that some archers were getting 3-4 inches of deeper penetration into their targets.

I can’t help but think that this will make a difference in the field. One thing I am really hoping for is to get a pass-through on a deer this year (through the vitals, of course). The best blood trails always come from pass throughs. Not hard to understand why: two holes in the deer and no arrow in the deer to block blood flow.

I can’t say I completely understand what NuFletch does to arrow flight. What I can say is I sent an email to the company and got a response from the CEO, John Marshall. Very impressive!

How it works

I then followed up with a phone call, and we spent about 15-20 minutes talking about NuFletch. He said the NuFletch basically does two things: 1. Reduces oscillation in arrow flight (not detectable by the naked eye), thereby keeping the kinetic energy up, which results in a stronger hit on a deer, plus less loss in arrow speed down range; and, 2. Puts more mass at the back end of the arrow, which creates a hammer-and-nail effect when the arrow hits the deer. Simply put, the higher weight on the back end of the arrow drives the front end of the arrow harder when it hits something.

Some might say this all sounds good on paper, but Marshall also realizes that he needs proof. So, he told me that he has done testing with a chronograph, which measures arrow speed. He admits that there is a slight loss of speed right off the bow (about 8-10 feet per second). But, down range speeds don’t drop as much as standard arrows.

And, when the speed drops less, the arrow trajectory flattens. Any bow hunter will tell you that flat trajectories are huge because misses on deer tend to be more vertical than horizontal. I vividly recall missing a nice eight-point buck two years ago when the arrow sailed underneath the deer’s body. Maybe, just maybe NuFletch could have made the difference.

Hard to say on that one. But, what it could mean is that I might be able to aim the exact same way on a deer with my 20-yard pin all the way out to 25 yards. Right now, my 20-yard pin puts me 2 inches high at 10 yards, 3 inches high at 15, right on at 20 and about 4-5 inches low at 25.

That means I have to move my pin up a bit at 25 yards to put the arrow in the vitals. Not a big deal, you say? I agree, except that with everything that you have to think about when lining up a shot at a deer – not to mention the added factor of being super excited – moving your pin up a few inches at 25 yards is something you easily could forget.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have my arrows hit at 25 yards to close to where they hit at 20 that I don’t have to change my aiming point? I’ve said since I first started shooting a bow 2 1/2 years ago that the simpler I can make the process, the better.

Simple and better?

Hopefully, NuFletch will both simplify the process and give me better arrow performance. Oh, and here’s another thing that Maas pointed out: He saw less wind drift with NuFletch. At 40 yards, his NuFletch arrows drifted only 1-3 inches in a strong crosswind, as opposed to 6-8 inches with standard arrows.

What this hints at is increased accuracy. Marshall is convinced I will shoot tighter groups with NuFletch. I can’t wait to find out. Believe me, once I get NuFletch on my arrows, I am going to give this product a thorough test.

Speaking of installation, I am going to go to A1 Archery in Hudson for that. Marshall is going to ship the product there, and the guys at the shop have agreed to install it for me. They have not worked with NuFletch, and don’t currently have it on their shelves.

Paper tuning a must

So, I guess that makes me their guinea pig. That’s fine with me. But, Marshall did give me one VERY important tip – it is critical to paper tune my bow after installing NuFletch. A small adjustment to my arrow rest may be needed to get the arrows with NuFletch to fly straight. He said this is one big mistake made by many people who try his product. Then, when the arrows don’t fly the same as their standard ones, they complain and say the product is junk.

What I have learned over the years is you MUST use a product correctly in order to determine its effectiveness. Some small detail that seems insignificant can, in fact, be huge. Marshall is telling me that paper tuning your bow after installing NuFletch is one such detail. I will make sure to paper tune my bow at A1.

I’m not worried. It’s not a complicated product, and Marshall said I could install NuFletch myself. Several months ago, I might have tried. But, with the archery deer season underway, I would rather let experienced bow techs tackle the job, hence my planned visit to A1.

I will go there sometime in the next week or so. With the rut just around the corner, I hope to have NuFletch on my arrows when the bucks start cruising!


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Act now for a great deal on ladder stands

October 4, 2013


If you’re a deer hunter who uses ladder stands, you might want to shop at Menard’s this weekend. I was just there this morning and picked up two ladder stands that I intend to put up soon.

They went on sale just this morning. The original price is $65.99, and it went down to $54.99. But, there also is a $15 mail-in rebate, which brings the price down to $40.

I have been pricing and buying ladder stands for years, and it’s very hard to find one for $75 anymore, much less $40. I have even bought them used on Craig’s List, and I think $70 was the least I have ever paid for one.

But, this is a very short window of opportunity. The sale only lasts through Sunday, or until the stands sell out. There were plenty left this morning, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were gone by tomorrow afternoon. I’m not sure if the sale has been advertised. Yet, I have no doubt thrifty hunters will find out about it and act swiftly.

I do need to make an important point about this stand – it is a bare bones model, meaning there is just a mesh seat and small standing platform, with no armrests or shooting rail.

That might make some people hesitate, but I have hunted out of similar stands without much trouble. The key actually is finding the right tree. If the tree is nice and straight, you should be fine. A small cushion is all you need, and the trunk will make a fine backrest.

But, beware of a tree that slants in the least, especially forward. A forward-slanting tree is the worst. It’s very tough to sit for very long because you feel like you’re always leaning forward. I like to lean back when I can, or at least stay straight. Thus, I think the straightness of the tree matters more than the type of ladder stand you set up.

The brand of this ladder stand is Sky Raider. I’m not familiar with it, but a friend of mine has used them before and says they work fine. I also have gone online to look up reviews (you can find reviews for just about anything on the internet). I have read more positives than negatives about this stand, and I’m not worried about it.

One nice tip I did pick up has to do with the pins used to keep the ladder sections together. Seems like the loose-fitting pins can rattle when you move in the stand. I have noticed this on other stands with these type of pins, but didn’t know where the noise came from.

Someone on a hunting forum said the noise is caused by the pins, which fit loosely in the holes and can make noise when the stand moves. The guy writing the post says he simply replaces the pins with bolts and the problem goes away.

Makes sense to me. I definitely will try that tip. It’s a quick and easy fix. Here’s hoping I can harvest a whitetail from one of my new stands this fall!


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All the ‘little things’ add up in bow hunting

October 1, 2013


I went to a metro area property I have permission to bow hunt on Sunday, and was hoping to make preparations for the rut, which should start near the end of October.

I took my No. 2 son, Andrew, and we set out to find a spot where the bucks would be cruising as their bodies continue to fill with testosterone in the next few weeks. We found a classic “funnel” spot and I looked around for a good tree to put up a stand.

Problem was, there already was a stand there. It was a metal ladder stand, and my guess is that it had been there for a while. A large tree had fallen right next to it, and I had trouble believing any hunter – even the most inexperienced – would put a stand up right where a fallen tree lay.

I knew I was close to the property line, but I also knew this stand was within the boundary on the property I had permission to hunt, though only by about 15 or 20 yards. I took my concern to a local police officer who has helped me with these kinds of issues before. A bow hunter himself, he advised me to take the stand down, lay it on the ground, and attach a note to the tree for the owner of the stand to contact me.

He also advised me to post the land so that anyone coming out into the woods will know where the boundaries are. I was appointed guardian of the land, so I am authorized to post it. I put a few signs up on Sunday, and will add more. The police officer told me how to do it according to the law, and it shouldn’t take much time to do it. Plus, signs are cheap, so there’s no reason not to do it.

Stuff like this is an important part of preparation. The last thing I want to see when I’m in a stand during the rut is another hunter. Hopefully, that won’t happen this fall. As far as how to hunt the rut, I offer these tips:

Find funnels

As mentioned above, funnels are where deer travel is restricted to a small opening. When bow hunting, it’s nice to have funnels 50 yards wide or less. Water, steep terrain or terrain changes (tall grass to woods) all can create funnels. Or, if there’s a fence going across a stretch of woods and there is one spot where the top wire or two is cut, that can be a funnel, too. Another good one is fallen trees. Generally, if the tree is big enough, deer will travel around the tree. Another funnel occurs in hill country like southeastern Minnesota – the head of a large gully.

The thing to remember is that deer move a lot more during the rut – in fact, more than they do at any other time of year. Does move searching for the dwindling amount of food and because they are being chased by bucks. Bucks move because they’re searching for does. And, deer like the paths of least resistance, provided they are in or near protective cover as opposed to being in the wide open.

Now’s the time to be scouting for funnels. And, don’t worry if there’s not a lot of deer sign. Deer will travel through funnels year round, but far more during the rut. You may find some well-worn trails now, but if they don’t go through a funnel area, they might not be so good during the rut. I recommend studying up on funnels (there are lots of good articles on the internet), then getting out in the woods and trying to find a funnel or two. When you’re sitting in a stand you put up near a funnel, you’ll be glad you did the work to find it.

Wait them out

One thing you can count on in early November is lots of deer movement. Because of the high levels of testosterone coursing through their bodies, bucks just can’t sit still for more than a few hours. In fact, some bucks are on the move almost constantly, especially if does have started coming into estrous. The bucks about go crazy.

This is precisely why hunters should do what the bucks can’t – sit still. I can’t emphasize this enough. An all-day sit in the right spot dramatically increases your odds of seeing a deer. I did this two years ago down near Red Wing and was rewarded with a beautiful eight-pointer that was chasing a doe. It was about 2:50 in the afternoon, and I had been sitting in my stand for about eight hours. The doe in front of that buck was the first deer I had seen all day.

I’m amazed at the number of hunters who leave the woods between 10 and noon. All I have to do is take food and water into my stand, and I’m good to go all day long. It may seem incredibly boring, but what keeps me going is knowing that I can see a deer at any time.

I just have to make sure they don’t catch me napping, like the nice six-pointer that came within 20 yards of my stand about seven years ago when I was sitting in our two-man permanent stand with Andy. I was sound asleep with my forehead resting on the shooting rail when Andy poked me on the shoulder, then leaned in to tell me a buck was coming. I ended up trying to turn the swivel chair so I could get a shot off. But, the chair squeaked and the buck spooked. He turned and ran a short distance, then stopped and turned broadside. I was able to take a shot before he ran down the hill. Unfortunately, we never recovered the buck. We went down the hill and looked, but never found blood or the deer.

But, it was a lesson learned for me. I sure hope that never happens again.

Pay attention to scent

The hardest thing to fool is a whitetail’s nose. If a deer sees you or hears you, it will stop to try and figure out what you are. But, if it smells you, it usually will turn and hightail it out of there, leaving behind a shocked and frustrated hunter.

I’ve had that happen too many times, and it’s never fun. Now, I practice a scent control regimen that includes washing clothes in no-scent soap, then putting them in a charcoal-infused bag that is designed to eliminate scent.

Then, I shower with no scent soap and put on my clothes. One important piece of my outfit is rubber boots, which do not hold any human scent. I have a pair of Muck boots that I really like. They are insulated and comfortable. When you consider that your footwear touches the ground almost constantly when you’re walking in the woods, it makes sense to keep the odor off of your feet.

The reward for managing this important detail is seeing a deer nearby that is undisturbed by your presence in the woods.

And, of course, along with scent control is playing the wind. That, in fact, is the best way to keep your scent away from a deer’s nose. The ideal scenario is to have the wind in your face when you’re in the stand, and to have your smell blowing away from the trail(s) you are watching. If you hear guys talk about smoking cigarettes while up in the stand and still seeing deer, I can almost guarantee that the wind was in their face. You could never get away with that if a deer is downwind.

Stay calm

This is much easier said than done. In fact, even though I have hunted a long time, I still get revved up when I see a deer. That’s why it’s important to play through scenarios in your head long before you shoot. That way, when an animal appears, you will have rehearsed what you are going to do. By the way, this is a lot more important in bow hunting than gun hunting.

Sight in your weapon

I marvel at the number of hunters who don’t take the time to do sighting in before the season. Then, they’re surprised when they miss a deer and don’t know what went wrong. Just two years ago, I rushed myself sighting in my 7mm rifle for our trip to Montana. The first time I fired at a deer, I missed. It was only about a 100-yard shot, so I didn’t know what went wrong. I went to the range and found out it was shooting way high. I corrected the problem and took a nice whitetail doe the next day with one shot.

If you spend hours, even days, preparing for your hunt, it only makes sense to have your weapon dialed in. With archery, I assume most hunters will shoot their bows multiple times and have their sight pins adjusted properly. The key thing here is to practice often enough that hitting the bullseye is almost automatic. I like to take it one step farther by shooting at a cardboard deer cutout target with the vital area marked. That gets you used to shooting at a deer.

Here’s hoping we all will find a deer in our sights this fall and make a successful shot!

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Bow hunting highs and lows

September 25, 2013


This morning, I did my fourth sit in a treestand trying to harvest a deer with my bow. And, for the third time, I did not see a deer.

Yet, I was not disappointed. It was a beautiful morning, crisp and cool with only a whisper of wind. As I looked to the east out into a marshy area, there was a layer of fog hovering over the cattails.

I imagined a deer suddenly appearing in the tall grass on the edge of the marsh, much like last Friday morning, when I saw not one, but four deer materialize in the brush behind me.

A little before 8 a.m. that day, I got my closest shot at a whitetail with a bow – only 8 or 9 yards. One of the two does milling around swing around behind me, then came out into the grass to my left.

It gave me a broadside shot, which I took. Unfortunately, my placement was a little off, and I ended up hitting the shoulder. The deer ran off with most of the arrow outside its body. It is about impossible to get arrow penetration through the shoulder, and my 6-hour tracking effort revealed that this deer had suffered nothing more than a flesh wound.

As it turned out, I still needed to learn more about proper shot placement. As my friend and mentor, Steve Huettl, explained, “I ALWAYS am aware of the shoulder and will ALWAYS tell myself to aim a little farther back from the shoulder than I think I am.  You need to avoid that shoulder at all costs.”

Lesson learned. I kept his advice in mind when I was sitting in my stand this morning. Wouldn’t you know? I didn’t get a chance to put it into practice. But, there is lots of season left, and I am confident I will get another opportunity.

What I like about the spot where I saw the four deer is that there are lots of acorns falling out of the oak trees around me. Both Friday and today, I could hear them falling constantly. I’m sure the deer hear them, too. I’ll bet that sound is what drew them on in Friday, though I can’t explain why none showed today.

Oh well. That’s deer hunting. Every day is different, and just because you saw them on a previous day doesn’t mean you’ll see them the next time.

Strange as it may sound, I’m kind of glad I missed the deer the way I did on Friday. It got me thinking much more about shot placement, and I believe I will get it right eventually – hopefully, on the next shot.

The nice part is: the best is yet to come. As we get into October, the bucks will get more interested in breeding. They will start cruising more. Then, when the first does start coming into estrous, things will really break loose.

I want to be there when that happens!


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Walleye heaven!

June 24, 2013

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Julie and Claire Hrbacek display part of their catch on Upper Red Lake

Julie and Claire Hrbacek display part of their catch on Upper Red Lake

I had the narrowest of windows to try and pop a few walleyes for the frying pan last week – about three hours, to be exact.

Where can an angler go to have any hope for success in such a tiny time frame?

Upper Red Lake, that’s where! Just two weeks ago, it looked like I might be able to get away for two or three days at the end of last week. I was primed to hit this phenomenal walleye fishery to cash in on a walleye bonanza fueled by the shrinking of the lake’s protected slot – from 17-26 inches to 20-26 inches on June 15.

I was dreaming of two days of fast fishing, with a fish fry at the cabin and a limit of walleyes to bring home. Alas, the calendar got full, and I was left with just one evening to get out on the water.

I cajoled my wife Julie and daughter Claire into joining me, and we left the house at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, June 20. We arrived in Waskish on the lake’s eastern shore at 5:30 p.m. and eagerly pulled in to Bear Paw Guides, where our guide for the evening, Tyler Brasel, awaited.

It had rained during the drive up north, but the skies brightened near Grand Rapids. Unfortunately, the weather looked troublesome on the western horizon, where Tyler’s dad Steve said a storm was positioned.

Would it come straight across the lake and end our outing? Or, would it steer southward and pass us by?

I said a short prayer, with the intensity only a fisherman yearning to get on the water can muster. With that, we hurried to the boat landing, located on the outlet of the Tamarac River.

A bobber and hope

We only had to go a short distance from the mouth of the river to one of Tyler’s favorite spots. It’s a small rock pile the size of a living room located on the eastern shore. He’s got it plugged in to his GPS, which was the size of a small TV. He actually has two GPS units, which enabled us to park almost right on top of the rock pile.

Tyler handed Julie and I rods with jigs tied on. We promptly attached frozen minnows to the jigs and heaved them overboard. Julie caught the first walleye of the evening – and the second, and the third. This all happened in a manner of minutes, while Tyler was getting Claire set up with a slip bobber rig.

Throughout the drive up north, Claire had said she wasn’t sure she wanted to fish. I hoped she would at least try it. When Tyler suggested the bobber setup, Claire quickly agreed.

Good thing, too. The walleyes jumped all over her jig-and-leech presentation. In fact, she ended up catching the most fish in our group. Even Tyler marveled at her success.

As for me, I caught my fair share, and contributed to the limit of 12 walleyes we brought back to the docks. Turns out, we needed far less than the three hours of daylight to pull in our legal limit. And, we caught several bonus perch, and Julie even landed a northern pike that we were able to keep.

Attitude change

In terms of Claire’s attitude about fishing, she had this to say shortly after landing yet another walleye:

“This is a game changer for me. I like fishing now.”

Why shouldn’t she? With fishing like this, just about anyone would fall in love with it. Fortunately, the storm held off and didn’t bother us during our time on the water. The wind did pick up during about the last half hour, so we decided to head in. Tyler and Steve cleaned our fish back at the resort, and we took home a nice bag of walleye fillets.

Tyler said he is able to catch walleyes all summer long, though he has to go farther out from shore and cover more water. He said he never fails to catch fish when he tries his hardest. Sometimes, he does some experimenting and will come up empty.

The good news is, there is lots of summer left and Tyler has plenty of openings on his calendar, especially during weekdays. And, there are lots of walleyes left in the lake. We caught plenty of various lengths, from about 8-10 inches all the way up to one just more than 20 inches. The fishery looks to be in fine shape.

Perhaps, the best news of that wonderful night is that Claire definitely wants to go fishing again. In fact, she was disappointed to leave the next morning.

Who knows? Maybe there’s hope I can get her into a deer stand.


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