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Rare and awesome bow hunting advice

July 14, 2015

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I first met Jim Hill back in the early 1990s. I was working as a sports editor at the Bloomington Sun-Current chain of weekly newspapers, and a reader suggested I do a story on Hill, who lives in the western suburbs and works in Eden Prairie.

I was told Hill had shot not one giant whitetail buck, but two, in the same season, one in Minnesota and one in a neighboring state. Thought it was worth looking into, so I called Jim and went to pay him a visit.

He showed me photos of the two bruisers he took with his bow, and I published one of them, the Minnesota buck. I also got some valuable hunting lessons that day, plus a Scent-Lok suit from Jim, who was a rep for the company (I think he still is).

I stored those lessons, and have met up with Jim a few times since. He even went scouting with me a while back on a property near Red Wing where I hunt.

I caught up with him last week and told him I had taken up bow hunting five years ago and managed to take three deer with a bow over the last two seasons.

I was itching for more knowledge and asked Jim if we could sit down and talk. He gladly agreed, and we had a very productive conversation at a local Perkins restaurant in Bloomington.

It’s rare to meet a bow hunter of Jim’s caliber, rarer still to sit down and get some tips. Not only that, he agreed to go out with me to a new property I’ll be hunting this fall near Red Wing.

How cool is that? This is a guy who routinely shoots bucks bigger than anything I may ever see. Last fall, for example, he shot a giant buck in Kansas that he says had a gross antler score of 200-plus inches. Wow! He showed me a picture on his phone, and I don’t think he was exaggerating one bit.

I made it clear to him that I am not looking for something like that. Rather, I want to have close encounters with deer and, hopefully, get a nice-sized buck this fall. In the area where I hunt, a buck has to have at least four antler points on one side to be legal. So, I will be passing on the smaller bucks.

But, if any legal buck passes by and offers a good shot, I likely will take it. Jim was not judgmental in the least, and fully supported my goal. After all, I’m still relatively new to archery hunting, and I want to have more practice at taking shots at deer. Thus, I don’t think passing up legal deer is a good idea for me.

I’m hoping Jim can help me have success. I believe he can, especially if he comes down to scout with me. In return, I will try to help him find a place to hunt down there. Because of the antler restriction, I know there are big bucks running around — and lots of them.

Are there the huge bucks Jim goes after? Hard to say. These giants are rare no matter where you hunt, and it takes a hunter with special skill — and patience — to take them.

Jim definitely is that kind of hunter. I am very, very grateful that he has offered to help me. If he can identify the right stand locations, and give me tips on how to set up and hunt, I should have a fun fall!

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Finally. . . let the fishing begin

July 7, 2015

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On the first fishing trip of the year in Minnesota, this nice bass provided a fun fight.

On the first fishing trip of the year in Minnesota, this nice bass provided a fun fight.

I usually don’t wait until July to buy my Minnesota fishing license. So, making the purchase on July 3 this year is out of character for me. In fact, I bought a fishing license for Montana before I got one for my home state.

Who would have thought? In a normal year, I would start my fishing season in late May or early June. This year, I just didn’t get around to it. Plus, the weather had some wild mood swings last month, which can throw fish patterns out of whack and make catching them tough.

I decided simply not to mess with these unstable conditions and just wait. As I have learned over the years, timing is everything.

Finally, a good stretch of warm, stable weather settled in last week, so I turned my thoughts to getting out in my boat for the first time this season. Plus, my brother Paul and his two sons Matthew and Michael had the itch pretty bad.

I happily obliged, and we went to the southwest metro to fish a small bass lake called O’Dowd. It’s pretty shallow, which makes it easier to find fish. Simply cruise weed edges and toss plastic worms or a jig-and-pig, and usually you’ll connect with bass at some point.

Unfortunately, a number of pleasure boaters joined us on the lake. That isn’t always a problem, but on a small, shallow lake, it’s definitely more of a challenge.

What’s more, some of these folks think nothing of buzzing past very close at high speeds. I am continually amazed at such rudeness.

I think that was our biggest challenge on this day. Finding quiet water was tough, and boats zipped over some of my favorite spots repeatedly.

In the midst of all that activity, a few bass chose to respond to our offerings. I caught a chunky, feisty fighter that measured 17 1/2 inches. Very respectable. I know the lake holds bigger, as I landed a 19-incher several years ago. Lots of metro lakes contain bass this size, which is good news for avid bass anglers like me.

I hope to get out on the water again soon. For me, mid to late July and August are prime time. That’s when the deep weedline pattern I like so much begins to heat up. So, the best is yet to come!

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Friend’s first spring turkey hunt: three birds, two shots

April 24, 2015

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I was excited when I climbed out of bed at 4 a.m. today. The plan was to take my friend Mike out for a wild turkey hunt. We had set up the blind a few days ago, on the first day of Minnesota’s B Season, later in the afternoon. We hunted and did some calling, but Mike had to go after only about half an hour.

This time, we were going there at dawn to try and hear some toms gobbling on the roost. We got there nice and early, just as it was starting to get light. I had set up my blind on the edge of a picked corn field, where turkeys, deer and other wildlife like to hang out and feed.

We heard nary a gobble, but deer started filtering out into the corn field shortly after sunrise. A group of five got to within about 25 yards. Mike used his cell phone to shoot some video, which was fun.

But, no gobbles and no turkeys. Some different birds — geese — landed in the corn field and were making quite a racket with their honking.

That went on for at least an hour or so, with me doing some hen calls about every 15 minutes to try and lure in some gobblers. We were going to stay in the blind until 8, then get out and do some walking around and calling.

Before we reached the deadline, Mike spotted some movement about 100 yards away in some tall grass. Eventually, several turkey heads came into view. Three birds walked out into the field, but I couldn’t tell if they were males (legal in the spring) or females (not legal until fall).

I was kicking myself for not remembering to bring my binoculars. Just in case any of them were toms, I started doing some soft calling to lure them to our decoys.

It worked. The birds slowly started moving in our direction. Eventually, they got close enough to where I knew they were jakes. I could clearly see their red heads, and I saw a small beard on one of them. I pointed it out to Mike, and said he could shoot anytime.

He did, but the bird didn’t go down. He shot again, and the three birds went into the woods. He thought the bird he shot laid down, but we’re not sure. We got out of the blind and went over to check it out, but the birds ran off. We found blood, but the bird was gone.

We looked around for at least a half hour, but never found the bird. I was disappointed, but Mike got over it very quickly. He reminded me of all the wildlife we had seen that morning, and thus he considered the hunt a success.

I simply told him that if he enjoyed the outing and felt it was worthwhile, that was good enough for me.

It’s not always about tagging an animal, I have to remind myself. Mike takes joy in the simple pleasure of being in the outdoors. And, the best part is, he was able to bring his 8-year-old son along.

Little James got to witness some cool things, and I think we have a hunter in the making. After all, he got up at 4 to come with us. Mike said James barely slept that night.

Yes, indeed, I think James has a future in hunting. And, I hope his dad gets another chance at a tom next year!

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A girl’s first turkey hunt

March 31, 2015

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Part of the commitment to going on a hunt is taking concrete steps to prepare. For my 12-year-old daughter Claire, that meant shooting the gun she will hunt with — for the first time.

Pulling out the 20-gauge shotgun on Sunday afternoon and holding it in her hands was a big deal to her. Even more so was putting her finger on the trigger and pulling it.

That’s why I was slow and deliberate about getting her ready for the shot. We talked about recoil, and I explained how to hold the gun to minimize the impact from the shot. She understood, but still was reluctant to ignite the gunpowder with her finger stroke.

The obvious question any child her age would ask is: Is this going to hurt?

Thankfully, the recoil from a 20-gauge is considerably less than a 12, so I was able to tell her truthfully that the recoil is not a big deal.

The good news is, after firing the gun, she agreed with me.

What’s more, she also drilled the turkey target in the head and neck, just like she was supposed to. There’s nothing like success to bring a smile to the face of a youngster. I think I was more pumped about her good shot than she was.

Yet, I fully understand that hitting a target and hitting a live turkey are two very different things. However, confidence plays a huge role in being able to execute a shot at a real bird. Succeeding in practice, especially right away, really helps once they go out into the field.

The truth is, hitting a real turkey can be easy. I say CAN be because it can also be tremendously difficult and nearly impossible at times. I like to say shooting a turkey can be like hitting a knuckleball with a baseball bat. The unpredictable nature of the bird, especially a tom, can really put a lot of stress on a hunter.

But, there is a way to help combat that — use decoys. Another is to hunt from a blind, as turkeys seem oblivious to movement inside a blind.

Finally, the last piece is to hunt unpressured birds. You can do that one of two ways: 1. Hunt property that hasn’t had other hunters on it, or 2. Hunt the very first season, before other hunters can pressure the birds.

I’m opting for No. 2. Fortunately, the DNR has structured the hunt to allow youth hunters to pick any season they wish without having to enter the lottery. Naturally, I chose the first season, which is April 15-19. I got landowner permission for two of my favorite properties, which are near Red Wing. So, we’re good to go.

What I’m hoping for is to draw a bird into the decoys, then have it stick around and display in front of them, as gobblers often will do. Sometimes, they shy away from decoys and don’t come in. But, usually, if they do, they’ll stick around for a while. And, with us being in the blind, Claire will be able to move all she wants inside of it to prepare for the shot. Plus, I’ll be able to whisper to her and help her prepare to shoot.

Once she’s ready, I’ll simply do some excited calls from within the blind, which generally freezes the bird and gets it to lift its head up. Hopefully, she then will do exactly what she did in practice.

One other thing I will do is have her watch some turkey videos on TV and practice aiming the gun at them. Someone suggested this to me years ago. This will give her practice at acquiring the sight picture and picking the right moment to shoot.

This is fun stuff, and I can’t wait to take Claire out. The weather is looking good, and if it stays warm, the birds will break up their winter flocks and spread out more. That is very helpful for hunting. I have hunted early seasons before, and always seem to get more action when it’s a warmer and earlier spring versus a colder and later one.

This one looks a bit warmer and earlier, but probably closer to normal, which we haven’t had in a while. I’m optimistic about the hunt, but hoping we have some nice, warm weather during Claire’s season. If we get that, I think we’re in business.

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Gorgeous weather triggers big ideas

March 16, 2015

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Something happens when the thermometer rises into the 50s in March. My entire outlook seems to improve. In short, it puts a smile on my face.

And, a few ideas in my head. I acted on one of them last week. For several years, I have been wanting to do some deer scouting and stand placement in the spring. I have read about it, thought about it, dreamed about it. Finally, this year, I did something about it.

I went to the property I bow hunt in Wisconsin and set up two ladder stands, one on either side of a major trail that goes along a ridge and through some thick cover. It is the narrowest funnel on the property, and there is only one trail going through it. So, putting a stand on either side means I can hunt it in any wind. In bow hunting, that’s huge. I did some trimming of shooting lanes, too. I am not quite finished, but will go back in the next few weeks to complete the job. Then, I will be ready to bow hunt this fall.

I have more work to do, and hope to get out again this week. The job was made more difficult by the fact that I lost permission to hunt on a great metro property after two guys with a lot of money leased it for the year. I may get back on again someday, but for now, I am required to go out and remove my three stands. I did that, and put two of those stands up in Wisconsin.

I also have been thinking and planning for turkey hunting this spring. I will be taking my daughter Claire during the first season, and I am very excited about that. It will be her very first hunt. She told me a few weeks ago she wants to go, but still isn’t sure she will be able to pull the trigger on a bird. That’s fine with me. I just look forward to the opportunity to take her out into the woods.

I will hunt Season E in Minnesota (May 5-9), then the D Season in Wisconsin, which begins May 6. That has been a great time period to hunt, and I hope it will be again this year.

Sure would be nice to do some fishing, too. I met someone who lives on Big Stone Lake, which lies on the border of Minnesota and South Dakota. That lake is open year round, so I could go out there any time after the ice melts. I may get in touch with him to see if that will work. I also know that the Bishop’s Charity Fishing Tournament for the Diocese of Sioux Falls will be in June, so I could go out there for that event. I’m sure I could both fish the tournament and cover it. That would be fun, plus I could take home some walleyes for a fish fry.

The biggest challenge, as always, is time. Life gets very busy in May, so it could get tough to squeeze in some outdoor outings. But, June is looking pretty good right now. I would like to get out on the water at some point. Big Stone is about a 3-hour drive, which isn’t too bad. If there is a boat waiting for me there to go out in, it will be hard to pass up.

For now, I’ll work on the deer stands and start looking for strutting toms as I drive around. The mild winter should mean plenty of birds this spring. Even after our harsh winter last year, I still saw quite a few, and was able to harvest three mature gobblers. I plan to have three tags again this year, maybe four. Plus, I may try to get a bird with my bow this year. I’m going back and forth on that one. I will do some more checking into that. Sure would be fun to take a tom with my bow.

What’s fun right now is letting the warm weather fuel my dreams!

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Winter: A time for preparation

January 14, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More tips

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

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

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Bow hunting lessons learned

December 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll be waiting.

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More deer hunting success!

November 14, 2014

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This nice doe walked by the stand at 11 a.m. on a cold, crisp day.

This nice doe walked by the stand at 11 a.m. on a cold, crisp day.

I had an amazing day in the woods on Wednesday. I went bow hunting in the morning in Wisconsin, then gun hunting in Minnesota with my friend Bernie Schwab in the afternoon. It was COLD. When I got out there in the morning, it was 16 degrees.

I didn’t get up in my bow stand until after shooting light, but there was no way I was going to climb in earlier in that cold. I was planning to be there until at least 1 p.m. or until I got a deer, so I didn’t want to get there early and risk getting chilled. I ended up waiting in the stand for four hours, then caught movement through the brush at 11.

I stood up and grabbed my bow,  then a doe came out right on a trail 15 yards from me. It’s the same trail the small buck came through the week before that I had missed. She was walking nice and slow with her head down. As she approached the spot where I wanted to shoot, I drew back. She got there and stopped, just like I wanted her to. I anchored the pin right behind her shoulder and made sure it wasn’t too far back, which is the mistake I had made just two days earlier. I executed a nice, smooth release and the arrow hit right where I aimed.

With the lighted nock, I saw the arrow hit right behind her shoulder, and it passed through. I heard the thump, then she jumped and started running. I knew the hit was good. She went about 60 yards, then slowed down and wobbled. She darted a little more, and fell over and died. It took less than 10 seconds, and it was the first time I have ever seen a deer fall that I hit with an arrow.

Unfortunately, I was so focused on her that I didn’t notice the small buck following her right down the same trail. By the time I turned around and saw him, he was coming into the clearing. I tried to grab another arrow, but he saw me and veered off. Then, another small buck came from a different direction and the two bucks were milling around for a few minutes before walking off. Very cool.

Just for kicks, I went to the blood trail and tracked it to the deer. A 5-year-old could have followed it. When you get a shot in the right place, an arrow can kill a deer just as fast and effectively as a gun. I registered the deer, took it into a processor in Prescott called Ptacek’s, then went down to Red Wing to hunt with Bernie.

He had been out that morning with the landowner and they got a nice 10-point buck that the landowner took in to a butcher to get made into his favorite venison treat — jalapeno sticks. So, it was time to get a deer for Bernie.

I climbed into a stand that had been productive, and began the wait. I saw a doe out feeding about 200 yards away, and hoped it would come my way. Instead, she went back into the woods after about 15 minutes.

Things were quiet until about a half hour of shooting light remained. Then, I heard movement behind me to the right in the woods. In a matter of seconds, I spotted a deer walking in the woods behind me very close. It swung around to my left and turned to go into the field. I got a good look at its head and body, and saw no antlers. We had antlerless tags left, so I was good to go. When the deer stepped out into the field at about 15 yards, I fired. The shot hit low, which meant the deer didn’t die right away. I had to go after it and make a finishing shot, which I did.

Here’s the great part — the landowner came out with his truck to pick up the deer, then invited us in for soup and hot chocolate. Can’t beat that!

We have been very blessed to hunt this property. We have killed some nice deer there, including a pair of 10-pointers Bernie and I shot there two years ago. Bernie’s son Dan got his first deer there, too, and my son Andy shot his first Minnesota deer there last year. Andy got another doe there this year, and my brother Paul got a deer, too, on a different property on opening day.

All in all, a great deer season, and it’s not done for me. I still have two archery tags left for Wisconsin, including my buck tag. I think I will wait until the weather warms up later next week, then try again. I would like to get a deer for some friends who don’t have one yet. I was able to give a deer to Bernie last year that we got in Montana, and I would like to help someone out again this year. With the deer herd down in Minnesota, things have been tough for hunters overall.

I think part of the reason for our success is we’re hunting properties we’ve hunted before and have stands set up in good spots. From what I can tell, the area we hunt seems to have plenty of deer, and I’m hearing the same thing from other hunters there.

It will be interesting to see what the DNR does with the deer limits. All indications are that they will relax the restrictions at least somewhat. I’m optimistic the herd will bounce back. For now, I’m counting my blessings and thanking the Lord for another great deer season!

 

 

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Deer opener report, plus bow hunting update

November 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just have to figure out how to stay warm!

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Bow hunting success at last!

November 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the hunt begin!

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