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Nothing’s easy in deer hunting

November 18, 2016

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What does a Jesuit priest have to do with deer hunting? Plenty, I think.

I recently started reading a book by Father Walter Ciszek called, “He Leadeth Me.” Starting at the end of World War II, he spent 23 years in Russian prisons and hard labor camps. It all started with a burning desire to do missionary work in Russia. But, the experience was far from the glory he had envisioned when he boarded a train and crossed the border into Russia.

I am at the part when he first realizes the horrible conditions that exist in the camps, and the extreme fear of persecution that leads the people there to not even want to mention God. Not encountering any openness, and not wanting to put anyone at risk — including himself — he starts off his time in the camps by going out into the woods after dark with another priest to celebrate Mass. The only person to hear each of their homilies was the other.

He writes about how disillusioned he was, and how he questioned his decision to go in the first place. He goes on to say that kind of questioning is what we all do — and that it’s a big mistake. God actually ordains such circumstances, and the best thing we can do is work to find God in them rather than wishing they were different.

I pondered this as I reflected back on a few recent unsuccessful deer hunts. Three times in the last couple of weeks, I had deer in range of my crossbow, and ended up spooking the deer all three times. Then, I had two chances with my shotgun during the gun season and missed both. In fact, I found no evidence that I even hit either deer.

I have felt bummed and humbled by my failures, and wish I could have done things differently to achieve success. But, that would change the learning process that deer hunting is. After reading the most recent few pages in the book, I realize that I shouldn’t be cursing my failures, but embracing them, enjoying them and learning from them.

For one thing, all of the failures make the successes all the sweeter. For another, they give me an important chance to grow in humility. If we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that this kind of lesson is not something we really want to learn. In other words, we want to be humble without being humbled.

It doesn’t work that way. That is why it is important for me to say, after yet another failure: “I blew it.” Or, as my dad likes to say, it’s another case of what he calls “pilot error.”

The good news is, there are always more opportunities ahead. A friend of mine, who is an elite bow hunter and made a critical mistake just the other day that cost him a big buck, likes to say that bow hunting is mostly about avoiding mistakes.

Bottom line: I’ve got plenty of mistakes I need to avoid. And, more pages in the book I need to read.

 

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Nice buck down in Wisconsin

November 7, 2016

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img_0793I really like it when the calendar flips to November. That means it’s time for the annual whitetail rut.

I was filled with optimism and excitement when I took to the woods last week. I had heard reports of good deer movement, and I was going to find out firsthand on a trip to one of my hunting spots in Wisconsin. Crossbows are legal in this state, and I was heading out with my Parker Bushwacker.

My bolts were tipped with a broadhead I was trying for the first time, the Spitfire Maxx. It’s a wicked three-blade broadhead with a cutting diameter of 1 3/4 inches, and made by New Archery Products (NAP). I was hoping to get a chance to see how these broadheads would do in the field.

Though it has been unseasonably warm throughout the fall, last Wednesday morning was supposed to be cool. If temps are 45 degrees or below, deer movement usually is good. Warmer weather, however, hampers activity level.

It was supposed to be in the low 40s for about the first two hours of shooting light, so I figured I might see some action right away in the morning. I decided to hunt a small piece of property near Prescott that I first hunted two years ago. I tagged a doe that year, and then last year was slow due to warmer weather. I saw fewer deer, and none of them presented a shot.

I was hoping to get back on the board on this property. The wind was very light, almost nonexistent, when I climbed up into my stand. I had a very good feeling about the morning.

The chase is on

It was confirmed right around the start of legal shooting hours when I heard commotion about 50-60 yards away, following by the unmistakable sound of a buck grunting. I knew that meant a buck was chasing does.

I was hoping the deer would come my way, but the noise died down and faded. Soon, all was quiet again.

No matter. The deer were moving, and I figured something would come my way eventually. I was sitting on a nice spot, which was a funnel along the bluff overlooking the St. Croix River. Three plateaus stairstep from the top, and I had put up my ladder stand where the first one drops down to the second. If a deer traveled on either one, it would give me a shot.

Little did I know how close I would come to three deer. I turned and leaned hard to my left to get a better look at the plateau below me, then sat back straight again. No sooner did I turn slightly to my right than a doe whizzed past me at only 10 yards.

At first, I thought she was running because I had spooked her. But she never turned her head toward me and never flagged her tail.

It was then that I realized she was being chased by a buck. I waited for him to show, but nothing happened. Then, about 25-30 yards at the field edge, I saw a doe being chased by a buck. Again, I heard the grunting sound, and I figured it was the same deer I had heard earlier.

Then, not even a minute later, the doe and buck ran by my stand, also at 10 yards. That was three deer in one minute, and I did not fire a shot. I don’t believe in taking shots at running deer with archery equipment, whether it be a bow or a crossbow. Plus, it happened so fast that I didn’t have time to raise my crossbow.

I was a little bummed to not get off a shot, but felt confident that a deer would walk past my stand at some point and give me a good shot. It was still early, and the deer obviously were moving.

Shot opportunity comes

Around 9 a.m., I heard a twig snap down along the lower plateau. Instantly, I concluded it was a deer. Sure enough, not long after, I caught movement through the tree branches. A deer! My heart started pumping, and I got my crossbow ready.

The deer was walking slowly and stopping intermittently. It was headed right down the trail I had found when I put up the stand. The nice thing is there is a big fallen tree that the deer have to go around. And, when they do, they have to quarter slightly away, which gives me the shot I want as the angle takes the front shoulder out of play.

This deer was moving according to the script. I had ranged a tree at 20 yards, and this deer was walking like he was going to brush up against it. His head was down and he looked completely relaxed. He never even looked up in my direction. As he strolled along, I caught sight of antlers.

As he came fully into view, I raised the crossbow and put him in my scope. I slipped off the safety and got ready to shoot. I made a grunting noise and he stopped. I hit the trigger and released the bolt, hitting him right above his front legs. The lungs actually go forward of the leg, so when I saw and heard it smack right above the front leg, I was sure I had hit the lungs.

He jumped and ran in the direction he was going, then circled back and eventually disappeared as he began to go downhill. He was noticeably hobbling as he went, and his head was down. I felt good about the shot, although the bolt was sticking out of his body, indicating that it had not passed all the way through.

I heard some shuffling, and I wanted to climb down and look for him right away. But, I waited an hour. Just as I was going to climb down, the other hunter on the property came up to my stand. I had called the landowner, and the landowner called him.

I was grateful to have his help. Turns out we didn’t have to go very far. I walked down to where I had last seen him, and he was laying at the bottom of the next plateau down, the third one. There was a massive blood trail, and a gaping hole on each side of the deer. Turns out the bolt did punch through the opposite side of the deer, it just didn’t make a complete exit. The Spitfire Maxx had done its job!

img_0722The real work begins

But, the bad news was the job ahead.. Getting him up the steep hills going up from each plateau would not be fun. In the end, we couldn’t pull him out. Fortunately, the landowner recalled that one of his neighbors owns a tractor and some long cables.

That ended up being the ticket. He connected two sections of cable, then I ran one of them down to the deer. I wrapped it around his hind end twice, and the neighbor drove his tractor away from the edge of the woods, pulling the deer up in the process.

The deer came all the way up with ease. I was thrilled. Then, I had to get him to the meat market right away. It had gotten warm, so we loaded it into the truck and took him into Prescott to a place called Ptacek’s.

I have had deer processed there before, and we got there within minutes. It was almost 6:30, nearly nine hours after I had shot the buck. When I told the guy at Ptacek’s how long the deer had been dead, he offered to skin and quarter it right there, and then put the pieces right into the refrigerator.

That was the greatest ending to this hunt I could have asked for. That’s two deer I have at Ptacek’s, which is more than enough for me and my family. My hunts going forward are strictly to try and get deer for other hunters I know. I tried and failed on the opening day of the firearms season, taking a shot through thick brush at a doe about 30-40 yards away. It ran off unscathed, but the season goes through this weekend.

With two gun tags left, plus archery tags for Wisconsin and Minnesota, I’ll be back out in the woods again this week. I just hope it gets cold!

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Two-year bow hunting drought finally ends

October 21, 2016

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The last time I drew my compound bow on a deer was November 2014. I did it several times, and was able to tag two does, one in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin. I also killed a third doe in Wisconsin, but the coyotes got to it before I found it the next morning.

Last year, my only archery kill was in Wisconsin with a crossbow. I never even got an opportunity to draw my compound bow back on a deer. I saw deer on a few occasions, but a shot never presented itself.

I had a feeling the drought would end last night. A friend offered me the chance to hunt on a metro property where he has permission. Eagerly, I jumped at the chance.

He had the stand all set up, and hadn’t hunted out of it yet this year. But, he said the deer move through the area regularly, and he felt I would get an opportunity in the last hour or so of shooting light.

Turns out, he was right. About 10 minutes before 6, I heard some noise out in front of me in the brush, then I heard a twig snap. I always know that sound is made by a deer, so I put my senses on full alert. My heart started pounding, so I took some deep breaths to calm myself.

A few minutes later, I heard more rustling in the woods, this time closer. I knew a deer was coming at this point. Not long after that, I saw movement — a deer!

It was slowly walking toward me, feeding as it went. It was heading straight for the shooting lane to my left. Perfect! It only lifted its head to look once, then flicked its tail and kept walking.

Finally, it reached my shooting lane. It was walking very slowly, and I knew I would have time to draw my bow and take a shot. Magically, it stopped in the shooting lane and turned slightly away from me to nibble on some branches. That, in my opinion, is the perfect shot — slightly quartering away with its head turned away from me. That gives me a good angle on the vitals, plus pulls the front shoulder blade away.

In that moment, I became very calm as I drew back and put my pin on the deer. I settled it behind the shoulder and released. It was a much quicker shot than I normally take in practice sessions, but the good habits I have learned from shooting year round kicked in.

I released the arrow, then watched it fly toward the deer. I have lighted nocks so I can follow the arrow. It hit right where I aimed, and the deer jumped and ran. I didn’t see antlers, and it seemed like a nice doe. I heard it run for just a bit, then things went quiet.

I texted my friend, who came over about 15 minutes later. I knew I had made a good hit, plus he’s an expert tracker.

I wasn’t too worried. He reached the stand, then went over and stood where the deer was when I shot. He looked around for a bit, then motioned for me to climb down and come over to where he was.

Turns out, he told me later, he found the deer before my feet hit the ground. It only went about 50 yards and fell. The arrow did not pass through the deer. It went into the vitals, then hit bone on the other side. That made the blood trail smaller, but there was steady blood all the way to the deer.

I was super excited to put my hands on this deer. Two years is a long time to wait. It ended up being an antlerless buck, but decent in body size. I took it to the processer right away, and it got put into a cooler right away.

The meat should be in fine shape. I field dressed it only about an hour after it died, and it was in a cooler about an hour after that.

This should be some fine eating. I hunt strictly for the meat, and nothing is better than a young deer. Of course, everyone likes to shoot a big buck, but I was not about to pass on this deer. My friend thinks another deer would have come through eventually, but this deer offered the perfect shot. Plus, it was to my left, which meant I could shoot while sitting, which is always good.

All in all, it was a fabulous hunt. It more than makes up for the heartache I had two weeks ago, when I shot a buck with my crossbow in Wisconsin in the last few minutes of shooting light and never found it. That is so disappointing, but I was hoping I would get another chance at a deer.

Actually, I was hoping to take a deer with my compound bow this year, so last night’s success is especially sweet. The good news is, I have more tags to fill in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including a fall turkey tag in Minnesota. I plan on going after a bird this weekend. I can’t wait!

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Turkey hunt goes smoothly

April 22, 2016

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I always say that turkey hunting is NEVER easy. Sure, I have had hunts where the birds did what I was hoping they would do. And, hunts that ended quickly, like less than an hour.

But, so much work goes into making a hunt successful that I refuse to ever use the word easy to describe any of my hunts — even the best ones.

That is why a hunt like I had last week in Minnesota will be described as going smoothly rather than easily. I did my homework prior to opening day of Season A, which was April 13. I talked to the landowner of a farm near Red Wing, and he noted that he had been seeing a large flock of birds using a picked corn field regularly.

So, I set up my blind in the far corner of that field, with help from the landowner’s cousin. When we got to the spot, we looked out the window of his pickup truck and saw a flock of 25-30 birds feeding in the picked corn field. There were several adult toms strutting for more than a dozen hens. Needless to say, I was excited.

At the far end of the field where I set up was a finger of woods that went back in quite a ways. I saw some large oak trees that looked good for roosting, so I was optimistic about opening day.

I climbed into my blind well before dawn, and let things quiet down. Then, as it started getting light, birds began to sound off. There were hens yelping and toms gobbling. There also was the sound of juvenile toms trying to gobble. More than 30 years of turkey hunting have helped me learn and identify the range of sounds made by turkeys. There was at least one first-year tom, called a jake, roosted within about 50 yards of my blind.

The trick to getting close to roosted birds is to come in well before sunrise — like an hour before — to take advantage of their poor night vision. I got there plenty early and was hopeful birds would show up in the field in front of my blind.

It didn’t take long. Two hens sauntered out of the woods to my left and began feeding in the field. I knew more birds, including toms, would soon follow. Actually, it took longer than I expected.

Finally, about a half hour after the hens came out, I heard a gobble in the field to my right just over a small rise in the terrain. I gave some soft calls — clucks and purrs — and got my gun ready.

Eventually, I saw a red head pop up over the rise. A gobbler was coming in! I waited for him to come over the rise so I could see his full body. When he did, I realized he was a jake. In a matter of seconds, three more jakes joined him.

It was a very cool sight, but I wanted to wait for a mature tom with a long beard to come in. So, I passed on the jakes. The hung around for a bit, then turned and went back the way they had come. They continued to gobble, and proved to me that sometimes jakes can gobble like mature toms.

A little while later, a longbeard came out into the field and walked across, but he was too far away. My calls got him to stop, but he did not alter his travel route. Eventually, he got to the other side and disappeared into the woods.

Maybe a half hour later, a fifth jake appeared and walked out into the field and toward my decoy spread. I could have shot him, but I let him walk. With this much bird activity, I figured it was just a matter of time before a longbeard came within range.

Things got quiet for a while, then my phone buzzed. It was my brother Pat from Colorado, and I decided to take the call. He could hear me whisper, so we talked for about 10 minutes.

As I was hanging up, I heard a loud racket to right of my blind and behind me slightly. I recognized a sound I don’t hear very often — fighting purrs. Males does this throughout the breeding season when they are fighting for dominance in the flock — and breeding rights.

I grabbed my gun quickly and peeked out the right side of the blind. A longbeard stepped into a small shooting lane I had made in the brush and stood there looking toward my decoys. I had a jake decoy with a real tail fan, plus two hens.

The longbeard seemed hesitant, then turned to his right and headed back into some brush. I got nervous about missing my chance, but then another bird stepped into the same shooting lane. I saw a red head and knew he was a male, and I assumed he was a longbeard like the first one.

I lined up my fiber optic sights on the bird and fired. He dropped where he stood, and the other birds scattered.

When I walked up to the bird, I was surprised to discover that he was a jake. The telltale short, stumpy beard greeted me when I turned the bird over.

I was a tad disappointed, as I like to shoot a longbeard when I can. But, that’s the way it goes. I have shot plenty of birds over the years, both adult toms and jakes, so I’m happy with whatever I am able to get. I always make sure to thank the Lord for whatever I am able to harvest.

One benefit of a young bird is the meat is more tender. Older birds can be tough, which won’t be a problem in this case.

And, I have big plans for this bird. I am going to make wild turkey/wild rice casserole for a group of college students tomorrow night, along with venison cheeseburger on a stick. We are gathering for a special Saturday night tradition called Lord’s Day. It features praise and worship, special prayers and dinner.

Some of the students have had wild game. In fact, two of them have shot wild turkeys. For some, this will be their first meal of wild game.

I am super excited to prepare this feast!

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Will turkey scouting pay off?

April 11, 2016

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We all hear about the importance of scouting in preparing for a hunt. I learned firsthand during a trip down to two adjoining properties I will turkey hunt near Red Wing when Season A opens on Wednesday.

I had planned to hunt a spot where I had called in two toms for my daughter Claire last spring, also on the opening day of the A Season. Without hesitation, I parked my car and headed to a back corner to set up the blind. It’s a spot where a narrow strip of pasture and a picked soybean field meet. Last year, the crop field was picked corn, and the birds were using it before the season. I got that report from the landowner, which is the most valuable source of information there is.

This year, I set up the blind without talking to the landowner first. I couldn’t find him, so I just relied on last year’s results. Then, after I set up the blind and walked back to my car, I spotted him in a field working. Another guy was with him. Turned out to be his cousin.

I approached him and asked where he had been seeing birds. He pointed to a field to the south and said he had just seen a flock of 30 or more birds the previous evening. He had seen them on other days, too.

Thinking this to be a sign from the Lord, I asked his cousin if he would be willing to drive his pickup back to where I had set up the blind, pick it up and give me a ride to the field where the birds have been hanging out.

He quickly agreed, and off we went. After picking up the blind, we drove a long way back to the far end of the picked corn field, and when we stopped the truck, we looked and saw a large flock of turkeys feeding. There were several toms strutting for a large group of hens.

X marks the spot. I set up the blind, and that’s where I will hunt on Wednesday. The nice thing was, the birds didn’t spook at the sight of the truck. I think they’re used to vehicles driving in the fields. They paid us no mind and went about their business while we set up the blind.

I went back yesterday morning to listen for gobbling. I did not, however, walk back to where the blind was, as I didn’t want to spook any birds.

I plan to be in the blind well before daylight on Wednesday. The weather looks good, which will make it comfortable inside the blind. I plan to be there as long as it takes, all day if necessary. Lots of hunters leave the woods later in the morning to take a break and/or eat lunch.

Not me. I stay in the woods. I have killed plenty of birds between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., including a bird I shot last year. Even if things are quiet,  toms can fire up at anytime. Sometimes, the hens leave to attend to their nests, or the toms just get tired of strutting for hens that aren’t ready to breed yet. So, they go l0oking for different hens.

I want to be the one that a lonely longbeard finds!

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Archery season ends quietly

February 3, 2016

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It’s finally over. I went on my last archery hunt of the season Sunday, Jan. 31. In Wisconsin, one piece of property I hunt is located in the Hudson Metro Subunit, with an extended season that goes through Jan. 31.

I hadn’t hunted there since November, so I went on Saturday morning and did some scouting. There was deer sign aplenty throughout the property, including fresh droppings. I found a promising spot and threw down some corn, as baiting is legal in Wisconsin.

I went back to the spot Sunday afternoon for one final sit, with my friend’s crossbow in hand. When I got there, I checked the corn pile and did not see any fresh deer tracks indicating that deer had found the corn.

So, I went to a different spot where I had seen a good amount of tracks on Saturday. I set up in a cluster of pines and waited.

Nothing showed, and I spent the last 10 minutes of shooting light walking around to see if any deer were moving. None were, which resulted in a quiet ending to the archery season.

It was a season of peaks and valleys in terms of deer movement, with mostly valleys. There were many hours in a stand in both Minnesota and Wisconsin when I didn’t see a single deer. I blame the unusually warm fall, which may have been the culprit again last night, with temperatures near 40 degrees in the afternoon.

No matter when it is during the archery season, the colder the weather, the more deer move during daylight hours. I am hoping next year won’t be this warm. I talked to a lot of hunters during the season, including some who spent many days in the field, and they all reported drastically reduced deer sightings.

I know some people think the problem is lower deer numbers, but I hunt in areas with healthy deer populations. In fact, the deer sign on the property I hunted yesterday was very good. The deer are there, they just haven’t moved much during the day.

Well, I can’t complain. I had a good season overall, and was able to take two antlerless deer, one in Wisconsin with a crossbow and one in Minnesota with a shotgun. There’s plenty of venison in the freezer and my family is enjoying it. We had venison meatloaf just last week, and I will be making venison stew later this month.

So, I give thanks to the Lord for the blessings of this archery season!

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Bow hunt yields surprise sighting

November 24, 2015

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A surprise encounter with Donnie Vincent led to a photo opp with this hunting video producer.

A surprise encounter with Donnie Vincent, right, led to a photo opp with this hunting video producer.

The best thing that happened on my bow hunt Sunday morning took place after I climbed down from my stand at 11:15 at Mr. Snowman’s Christmas Tree Farm near Prescott, Wisconsin. I had seen five deer but failed to get a shot opportunity.

Would have been nice to draw my bow, which I haven’t done this fall. But, three of the deer were running (a small buck chasing two does) and out of range, and the other two were behind the stand and did not walk down the trail and past me.

That’s OK. I have two deer at Stasny’s Meat Market in St. Paul for processing (one taken with a gun, the other with a crossbow), so I don’t need venison. I was planning on donating any deer I shot to friends who need the meat. In the end, I was happy with the morning, and with seeing the five deer.

But, the best was yet to come.

I was coming back to my car, and happened to strike up a conversation with someone who was there with his wife and three dogs to cut down a tree. Turned out to be Donnie Vincent. He produces what I believe are the best bow hunting videos on the planet. My son Joe got me started watching them last year. His wife shot a photo of Donnie and I with my iPhone. It was very cool. I texted the photo to my son Joe, who thought it was awesome. He replied that he felt a little jealous.

What’s even better is Donnie agreed to go into the woods with me and check out my stands and the ridge I have been hunting for two seasons. Turns out he found a tree that was rubbed multiple times by what he believes to be a big buck. The trail goes right past my stand. He also found a spot where I could set up my ladder stand and get shots at the trail the buck was using, plus a flat area down the hill from my stand that the deer also use. Both would be about 20 yards.

How cool is that, having Donnie Vincent scout my area and tell me the exact tree to set up my stand? I feel like I can’t go wrong. I will move one of my stands to that spot very soon, and I will be ready to go for next year.

In the meantime, I am thinking ahead to Dec. 25. Donnie said he is going to release another video right before Christmas. You can bet it will be on my wish list. His videos are unlike anything I have ever seen. They are about way more than just the kill, featuring spectacular cinematography. The landscapes of the places he hunts are absolutely stunning, and are well worth getting the videos for.

I also like how Donnie captures the entire hunting experience, including failures and disappointments. He is not afraid to include missed shots in the videos, in addition to his personal thoughts about those failures and about hunting in general. It is clear he is a highly reflective person when it comes to hunting, which is a big reason why I like his videos so much.

I also like the fact that he is very humble. He comes across that way in the videos, and in person. I had no idea who he was when I saw him on Sunday, and I just walked up and started talking to him. He showed no trace of pride or arrogance, and eagerly agreed to take a picture with me and take a brief walk in the woods to look over my hunting area. And, his wife was very gracious in not only taking the photo of Donnie and I, but letting him step away from their Christmas tree search to do a little scouting with me.

As a person, as a hunter and as a video producer, I give Donnie Vincent five out of five stars. He’s a class act! And, I hope all  serious hunters —especially bow hunters — will take the time to watch his videos.

If you have a hunter in your family, I believe you can’t go wrong in buying him or her one of Donnie’s videos. They are a nice thing to watch during the long winter months.

And, for those who are interested in buying a Christmas tree, Mr. Snowman’s is a great place to go. It’s just a little more than 30 miles from downtown St. Paul, so it’s not far. The owner, Charles MacDonald, a retired physician, said this year was a great growing year and his trees are robust and healthy.

So, for those who maybe have had artificial trees up to this point and are thinking about getting a real tree, this year is an excellent time to make the leap. Mr. Snowman’s features the opportunity to cut down your own tree, or get a tree on display that already has been cut.

Looks like the weather will cooperate over Thanksgiving weekend. Just be sure not to wander into the woods beyond where the trees are, in case I am sitting in my stand.

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Deer hunting 2015: a bountiful harvest!

November 16, 2015

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This nice doe was taken with a crossbow in Wisconsin.

This nice doe was taken with a crossbow in Wisconsin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Archery season finally underway

September 28, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Beautiful weather makes putting up deer stands fun

August 6, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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