Tag Archives: weather

Thinking ahead to spring

February 10, 2014

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Only minutes into taking my dog for a walk yesterday, I knew it was a mistake. It was really cold, and the winds started biting into my face right away. I went ahead with the full 3 miles, but the last mile was brutal.

I needed a dose of spring after that, and I simply turned my thoughts to the upcoming turkey season. No doubt there are people who are worried about turkeys freezing to death in these sub-zero temperatures, but 30-plus years of turkey hunting have shown me that these birds are tough!

I have hunted after some of the worst winters we’ve had, and the birds always seem to be present in good numbers come spring. I once talked a wild turkey biologist, and he assured me the birds can withstand the coldest weather we face, as long as they can find food.

In the areas where I hunt, it’s not a problem. There’s always spilled corn and soybeans left over from the fall harvest, plus at least one landowner I know feeds the birds in the form of spreading manure on his fields. What I learned years ago is that there’s a lot of undigested corn in the manure, and the turkeys know it. In fact, one farmer I know says the birds always come running out of the woods when they see him spreading manure.

I think bird numbers will be just fine this spring. In fact, I expect a high number of mature gobblers when I get out in the field in May. The early and mild spring of 2012 put a lot of jakes in the woods last year. Those birds will be mature this year. And, the poor weather throughout the spring cut down on the hunting and resulted in fewer birds taken, which means more survivors.

So, I think it could be a very good year. Of course, it all depends on weather. I do NOT want another spring like last year, when there was cold and snow during just about every time period in Minnesota and Wisconsin. That made the hunting unbelievably tough. I managed to get a bird in Wisconsin, but struck out in Minnesota.

As long as we don’t have a nasty snowstorm in April or May, I think I’ll be fine. I have been working on securing permission to hunt my usual properties in both states, and am close to being all set. One more “yes” in Minnesota and I’m ready to go there. In Wisconsin, I’m good to go.

Sometimes, staying on good terms with landowners and getting permission year after year is a challenge. One guy I talked with brought up some bad experiences he’s had with hunters. A hunter one year asked for permission to hunt, then brought others with him to hunt. This landowner didn’t like it, and let me know that such a tactic will not work with him.

I’m grateful that he was honest in telling me about it — and was still willing to let me hunt. He’s got an excellent piece of land to hunt, and it is adjacent to another property I have permission to hunt. One of the best spots is right near the property line, so it’s good to have permission on both properties. Plus, this landowner has a great roosting area on his land. The birds roost there regularly, and now I can move in on them.

I have done a little practicing with my calls, but not much. Some years, I have practiced very intensely, which can drive my wife crazy. I’m going to back off on the practicing this year. I certainly don’t want to be rusty when I hit the woods, but I also have learned that there are many factors that determine success, and there are things every bit as important as being a good caller. In fact, if you focus too much on calling, you can end up neglecting other important factors.

My seasons in Minnesota and Wisconsin are almost exactly three months away. I cant’ wait!

 

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2013 Outdoors highlights

January 2, 2014

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As I look ahead to outdoor adventures in 2014, I think it’s worthwhile to take a look back on 2013 and recall the blessings of the year. There were many highlights, and I offer this list of the best ones:

Snow bird

It might seem tough to name turkey hunting in the snow – in May! – as a highlight, but May 5 will go down as both a unique and awesome day in the turkey woods. Just days earlier, the area I hunt in Wisconsin was blanketed by 15 inches of snow. It was very strange driving out to my hunting spot and seeing snow everywhere. It looked more like December than May.

I must admit, I had to fight off feelings of despair during my hour-long drive to Ellsworth the morning of my hunt. Would the turkeys be radically affected by the snow? Would they still be interested in breeding? Would they gobble?

Turns out, the birds were quite active indeed. In fact, I had a nice 2-year-old tom on the ground in less than an hour. He gobbled very eagerly on the roost, and I coaxed him in with some aggressive hen calling followed by some soft calling at the end. The bird was standing in the snow when I shot him, and I was sitting in the snow against a tree. It was the first time in almost 30 years of turkey hunting that I had hunted in snow that actually was accumulated on the ground.

It was a very unusual hunt, and a very cool experience overall. But, I NEVER want to hunt in snow again in May. Let’s hope this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

I did continue to hunt after that because I had bonus tags that the state offers. The hunting was extremely difficult and the toms had lots of hens around. I believe this was caused by the fact that the snow destroyed eggs the hens had laid, so they went out to breed again. Thus, I had very little success calling another bird in. I had some jakes (young toms) come in fairly close, but they ended up not being in gun range. I fired, thinking they were, but they were too far and merely ran off at the shot.

The good news is I spent a lot of time in the woods and learned the properties well. So, i should be in fine shape this year. I look for it to be a good spring season. Two years ago, the early and warm spring caused a very good hatch, and there were lots of jakes running around during the 2013 season. That means lots of mature 2-year-olds this year. I can’t wait!

Buck for the fireplace

Just weeks after finishing my turkey hunting season, I got a call from Lee’s Taxidermy in Prescott, Wis. to let me know that my whitetail buck mount was done. It was the largest buck I had ever taken and I’m not sure if I will ever top it, or even match it. I took Joe, my oldest son, to the taxidermy shop to pick it up. Then, when I got home, I put it up on the fireplace.

Joe has a nice buck mount, too, and we discussed whose was better. Lee Schommer, the taxidermist, said his scored 151, and mine about 153. He did not take exact measurements of mine, but says whenever he tries to estimate the score of a buck, he’s usually within 2 inches of the exact score. So, bottom line is that our bucks are very even. The rack on Joe’s is thicker, but my rack is wider and has taller tines. Honestly, Joe and I are not competitive when it comes to trying to get the biggest rack. It was just fun to compare our buck mounts.

Claire’s first walleye

My 11-year-old daughter Claire caught her first walleye in June on Upper Red Lake. Due to a very busy schedule, we were able to run up to Upper Red for an evening of fishing. We contacted Bear Paw Guides and hired Tyler Brasel to guide Claire, my wife Julie and I for the evening. Just days earlier, the protected slot loosened to allow the taking of fish up to 20 inches, versus 17 prior to that. So, we were very optimistic about being able to catch fish to take home.

The trip did not disappoint. We had our four-fish limit for the three of us (12 fish total) in an hour, and Claire caught lots of fish, starting with her first-ever walleye. Tyler set her up with a bobber rig and it worked beautifully for Claire. Tyler has young kids of his own, so he is very good at helping children catch fish. He did an awesome job with Claire, and it’s a trip we will never forget. Hopefully, we can get back up there again this summer.

‘Tonka bass

I went out to Lake Minnetonka on the Fourth of July with my son Joe to try for some largemouth bass. He was home for the summer and wanted to do some fishing. I wasn’t sure how it would go, as I hadn’t been on the lake in years. However, I did very well on the lake when I did fish it regularly, and wanted to hit my old spots to see if they produced.

Turns out, one spot in particular was as good as it used to be. We caught several nice bass on it, including a feisty 18-incher, and I went home very satisfied. Joe got some action, too, although he was a bit rusty at fishing with plastic worms. Near the end, he started to get the hang of it, and pulling a bass over the gunwale put a smile on his face. I would definitely like to do some bass fishing in 2014!

Breakthrough with a bow

Of course, my top highlight of the year has to be getting my first deer with a bow. Everything came together on the morning of Nov. 6. A young buck with a small eight-point rack came walking by my stand at just 10 yards, giving me a perfect broadside shot. I drew back as he stepped past me and I quickly found his vital area with my 20-yard pin. All of my practice and preparation paid off with a perfect pass-through shot. Tracking was easy in the snow and I found my buck about 100 yards from where I took the shot. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of finding my deer after the shot. I had hit about a half dozen deer previously, but didn’t find a single one, including a small doe that I hit in late September. Ask any bow hunter, and they’ll tell you that failure to find a deer that’s hit is a very sick feeling. Hopefully, I’ll be able to duplicate my success next year.

Sons come through

It was also a good deer hunting year for my two oldest sons, Joe and Andy. Joe got a small whitetail doe on the last day of our hunt in Montana over Thanksgiving week, and Andy ended up taking a doe in Montana plus a doe in Minnesota. So, our freezer is full, plus we were able to give venison away. Our family has been feasting on venison in the last few weeks, and I’m sure our supply of meat will last into the spring and summer. There’s nothing like venison steaks on the grill!

One intriguing possibility for 2014 would be taking Claire turkey hunting. She has expressed interest, and I have said I will take her if she wants to go. She turns 12 in April, and that would be very fun to chase gobblers with her. She’s not sure if she actually could pull the trigger on an animal. But if we go out and call a bird in, and she decides not to shoot, that’s fine with me. I like going out into the woods, especially in the spring, so she won’t disappoint me if she decides to hold off on the shot. We’ll see what she says as we get closer to the turkey season.

The next thing I’ll do is contact landowners after the Wisconsin turkey lottery. I have been blessed to have several landowners who continue to let me hunt, and I can’t wait to get after those birds in 2014!

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Wisconsin turkey lottery deadline is today!

December 10, 2013

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For those thinking ahead to spring, it’s time to act if you want to hunt gobblers in Wisconsin. Today is the deadline for applying in the Wisconsin wild turkey lottery. Those who go to the wild turkey page on the Wisconsin DNR can apply online as well as learn all of important details about the spring turkey season.

I have gone every year since 2007 and have failed to tag a tom just once. Six out of seven years isn’t bad! Even last year, when a monster storm hit right during my season in early May, I managed to take a nice mature tom. It was a very unusual hunt – in the snow in May. But, I happened to set up near where a very eager gobbler was roosted. I started walking toward the woods at about 5:15 a.m. and had my bird just a little before 6. It was my fastest hunt ever.

I firmly believe this year will be excellent. There were lots of birds around last year where I hunted, but very few got shot. I think the cold spring turned many hunters away. And, with good reason. The birds were not very cooperative overall, and lots of hunters went home empty handed.

That just leaves more turkeys for this year. Not only that, the hatch was very good the year before, which should mean lots of 2-year-old toms gobbling in the woods. Last year, I saw a group of seven or eight jakes (young toms) on one of the properties I hunt, and none of them were taken, even though I shot at them several times.

So, those birds should be back this year – and I can’t wait!

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Finally, a deer with my bow!

November 7, 2013

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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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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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Finally, flowers bloom!

May 16, 2013

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FlowersSeems like we have waited forever for spring to arrive this year. Less than two weeks ago, snow covered portions of southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin. And, on May 5, I walked through a snow-covered field to turkey hunt near Ellsworth, Wis.

Now, things are finally greening up, and I’m seeing the first flower blooms of the year. It’s a very welcome sight! As I was walking past the Cathedral on my way back to the office the other day, I spotted some flowers in the Cathedral courtyard.

Naturally, I pulled out my camera and zoomed in on the splashes of pink in front of me. Taking in the scene definitely put a smile on my face.

With the heat we’ve had this week, leaves on the trees have popped fast. Just a week ago, the trees were bare. Now, we’re near full foliage. With green as my favorite color, this is a beautiful display, indeed.

It also will be very helpful next week when I go turkey hunting during Minnesota’s final season. The H Season starts on Friday, May 24. The foliage will help conceal me so that I can move in closer on birds. That always helps.

And, hopefully, the hens will be done laying their clutches of eggs and will be sitting on their nests. They lay one egg a day up to about 15 or 16, then sit on their nests to incubate their eggs almost round the clock. The first few days this happens, the toms are actively cruising for hens and can be very eager to come to a call.

That’s what I’m hoping for. Eventually, their excitement will fade, but I’m hoping it will last into the H Season. In a normal year, the toms are more subdued by this time, but still have some interest in breeding. This year, they may be far more active, making Season H perhaps the best season of the entire spring!

Originally, I was going to hunt Season E down near Cannon Falls. But, that didn’t work out. So, I called the landowners of the two adjoining properties I was planning to hunt, and asked them if I could switch to Season H. Thankfully, both of them said yes.

Although you can buy the tags over the counter for Seasons E through H, and there is no limit to the amount of tags the DNR will offer, I think there will be fewer hunters in the woods, especially for Season H.

Generally, once fishing season opens, people put away their shotguns and bows, and pick up their fishing rods. I understand that, as I used to do the same thing. But, I have discovered in recent years that turkey hunting can be good in May. And, the fishing season goes a long time, so there is plenty of time to wet a line after my hunt is done.

So, starting next Friday, I will take to the woods in search of a nice gobbler. To me, there’s no better way to enjoy spring!

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Snow bird

May 8, 2013

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A snowy landscape made for an interesting backdrop for this Wisconsin turkey hunt.

A snowy landscape made for an interesting backdrop for this Wisconsin turkey hunt.

As I arrived to my hunting spot near Ellsworth, Wis. on Sunday morning for a “spring” turkey hunt, the landscape was radically different from previous years.

I just finished my Wisconsin season, which ran for seven days. On the first evening, snow started to fall where I hunt. When it was finished the next morning, there was 13 inches on the ground. So, I did not hunt for the next three days.

I went back out on Sunday morning. Some snow had melted, but there was still lots on the ground. I hunted a very nice piece of property where my sons and I have killed birds over the last six years.

Turns out there was a fired up tom roosted just a few hundred yards from where I parked the car. The snow didn’t seem to keep the toms from doing what they like to do in the spring – court the ladies.

Making my move

It was tricky to slip in close because there were no leaves on the trees, and the blanket of snow added more light. I couldn’t get in as close as I would have liked, but I got into the section of woods where this gobbler was roosted. I ended up sitting down against a tree in a blanket of snow, which I had never done before.

The tom was gobbling hard on his own, then I heard a hen yelping. I mimicked her a couple of times, then she shut up. I was hoping he would fly down before she did, which is exactly what happened.

He was hot to trot and flew down into the field and continued to gobble. I called softly, then quit. He kept working toward me in the field, and I was convinced I would see him in an opening in the brush on the edge where he was walking. I wanted to sit right along the edge, but felt it would be too risky in terms of him seeing me from the roost. So, I tucked in around the corner, about 30 yards from the edge.

The moment of truth?

Had he walked right along the edge, I would have had a nice 30-yard shot. But, as it turned out, he walked about 20-30 yards out into the field. That put him at about 50 yards or so. Had he stopped in the opening and ran his head up, I would have taken the shot. Instead, he walked right through it and continued toward the corner. I did not shoot because I wasn’t sure I could knock him down.

He reached the corner, but there was a lot of thick brush between me and the bird. I turned to the right hoping he would round the corner and come on in. He only needed to go another 25-30 yards and I would see him again.

What did he do? He stayed right at the corner and continued to gobble. I waited, then did a little more soft calling. Over the years, I have used soft calling to lure the bird the final steps into range and into a clear spot for a shot. He gobbled right away, but stayed put. More than likely, he wanted that hen to come out and show herself.

Time to wait

I’ve played this game before, and knew it was time to shut up. A lot of guys can’t stand it when a bird hangs up, so they keep calling. I have learned that staying quiet usually causes a bird to get curious and come in looking.

I knew he didn’t have any hens with him, and he already had come this far. Plus, there was absolutely no obstruction between him and I, so there was no reason for him to hang up.

Then, he went quiet for a bit, and that’s usually when the bird is moving. So, I got my gun up and ready, then took the safety off. He gobbled again, and seemed a bit closer, but still had a little ways to come. I kept my gun up, and finally took the safety off.

The final steps

Only about a minute later, I caught movement to my left. He walked out into the field about 20 yards and finally cleared the brush and reached an opening. I should have done what my friend suggests and made a call to get him to stop and raise his head.

But, in my excitement, I put the bead on him while he was walking and fired. With his head pulled in toward his body and not raised up, I ended up putting more pellets into the body than I would have liked. In fact, I broke his wing. But, the end result was good – the bird went down! My shot was about 30 to 35 yards, which was well within the range of my shotgun.

I was worried that that the breast on the side facing me would be riddled with pellets. That happened last year on a similar shot. Amazingly, when I breasted out the bird, I didn’t find any pellets on either side.

The two breast halves are now in the freezer. The only tough part was I sliced my thumb when I was breasting out the bird. I had just sharpened the fillet knife, so it went right into my thumb. I went to the Urgency Room and they actually used some type of glue. Oh well, a small price to pay.

Another bird in the snow

Steve Huettl sits in the snow with the bird he took in Wisconsin last week.

Steve Huettl sits in the snow with the bird he took in Wisconsin last week.

My friend, Steve Huettl, hunted the same season and went out into the snow like I did. However, he did not wait until Sunday. He went out Friday afternoon and actually stalked in on a nice gobbler that had hens with him. He snuck in close and shot the bird.

That’s not the way the game is usually played, but you have to adapt to varying conditions. Last year at this time, the trees had leafed out, and the hens were sitting on their nests incubating eggs. With the ladies absent, the toms were left lonely in the woods.

This year, Steve says the birds are “henned up” right now in the areas hit hard by the snow. He believes the snowstorm wiped out all the eggs the hens had laid, meaning they had to start breeding all over again.

That makes for very tough hunting. So, he told me to count my blessings that I was able to get a bird to come in, and come in without any hens around.

I say “Amen” to that. God is good, and I give credit to him for helping me get my Wisconsin “snow bird.”

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Winter photography can be beautiful

December 20, 2012

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CathedralWhen the first major snowfall happened more than a week ago, I got a great photo opp the next day without having to go much farther than the door of my office.

Fortunately, I work right next door to the Cathedral, and late in the day I happened to go outside to give someone a CD with photos.

I looked up and saw a crisp blue sky and some striking clouds over the dome of the Cathedral. I quickly went inside and grabbed my camera. I stepped out onto the sidewalk of our building on Dayton Avenue and started snapping away. It didn’t take long – only about 10 minutes. I was able to capture some beautiful images of the Cathedral, which once again confirmed that winter has a unique beauty worth recording.

IMG_0329Another bonus was a thick blanket of snow on some tree branches in the Cathedral courtyard. I got a few photos of that, too. I’m sure we can use those photos. Don’t be surprised if you see one or two published in the coming months.

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Here’s a way to make ticks go away

April 3, 2012

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This year’s early and warm spring is mostly good. But, there is a downside, which I encountered about two weeks ago.

As I was walking around on a property where I got permission to hunt turkey and deer, I picked off a tick. These little buggers came early this year, and I was not pleased to find one so soon. With the Wisconsin youth turkey hunt coming this weekend, it’s time to find a solution.

Fortunately, that part is easy. I merely will put on my ElimTick clothing and not have a worry in the world. The product was developed by a company called Insect Shield, which owns the patent and manufactures clothing that repels ticks and other insects. Gamehide is a brand partner and incorporates the fabric developed by Insect Shield into its camouflage clothing. That makes it perfect for spring turkey hunting, which is when ticks are the worst.

I became aware of ElimiTick two years ago because my friend, Steve Huettl, is Gamehide’s general manager. The company has been selling it for three years, and Steve has been using it himself for four. The first time he tried it, he went out into the woods with another Gamehide employee who also was wearing ElimiTick, plus several others who weren’t. One was a youth who counted 58 ticks he pulled off that day.

I have used it for two full seasons, and only once did a tick get under the clothing and attach itself to my leg. I have been in the  worst places for ticks at the worst times, so I estimate the success rate is well above 90 percent, and actually pretty close to 100. I’ll take that any time. Steve said he has never had a tick bite him while wearing the clothing.

But, there are a few key points to know:

  1. Ticks may crawl onto the surface of the garment at times, but they eventually drop off without biting. Somehow, the tick I discovered last year had crawled underneath the pants and up my leg.
  2. The pants, especially the bottom, are critical. Buying them a little long can be helpful, and be careful whenever you sit down, as the pants can ride up your leg and expose your skin. That’s probably what happened to me, and made me vulnerable to ticks.
  3. You can wash them as often as you want. They are said to be good through 70 washings, but Steve told me the tick repellent will last the life of the garment. In his words, “the garment will fall apart” before the repellent quits working.
  4. It also repels mosquitos.

The good news for turkey hunters is the clothing is easy to find. You can buy it online directing from Gamehide, or check out these local retailers that carry it – Mills Fleet Farm, Joe’s Sporting Goods (St. Paul), Capra’s Sporting Goods (Blaine), Cabin Fever (Victoria) and All Seasons Sports (Delan0).

I just ordered a set for my son, William, who is going out turkey hunting this weekend. I want to know that both of us are protected. Ticks that get attached to your skin are bad enough, but what’s worse is the threat of Lyme Disease. I have talked to a few people recently who have had it, and it’s not something I ever want to get.

That’s why I’ll be wearing ElimiTick on my turkey hunts this spring. Then, instead of being distracted by ticks crawling all over me and trying to pick them off while staying still, I can focus on working a gobbler into shotgun range.

Lord knows, that’s hard enough!

Q: How much of a problem have ticks been for you?

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Enjoying stars, then fresh snow

February 21, 2012

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Within the last week, I have been treated to starry skies on my regular 3-mile walk. On one night, in particular, the sky was so clear near my home in St. Paul that I could make out several constellations, not to mention the Big Dipper.

It was a beautiful sight, and one that touched me deeply as I made my way around Highland Golf Course two hours after sunset. I caught a glimpse of God’s infinite creative power, which inspired a biblical writer to proclaim: “The heavens declare the glory of God!”

Then, last night, a different scene unfolded. I walked through freshly falling snow — a rarity this winter. Because of the warm temperatures, the snow stuck to branches and pine needles on my walking route. The glow from the street lights illuminated the snow, and I paused several times to take in the beauty of the wet, sparkling snow.

I came back with my camera this morning to take a few pictures. The snow was melting fast, and I was just in time to catch some clumps hanging on to some pine tree branches.

Light snowfalls that provide a soft, beautiful blanket that melts quickly and doesn’t need to be shoveled away — now that’s my kind of winter!

 

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