Tag Archives: Fishing and hunting

October lull, getting ready for rut, and NuFletch

October 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prepare for the cold

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

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

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

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

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

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

NuFletch test

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

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

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

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

I think I’m ready for it.

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How does arrow fletching affect your bow hunt?

October 9, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How it works

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple and better?

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

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

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

Paper tuning a must

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

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

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

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

 

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Act now for a great deal on ladder stands

October 4, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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All the ‘little things’ add up in bow hunting

October 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find funnels

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

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

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

Wait them out

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

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

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

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

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

Pay attention to scent

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

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

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

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

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

Stay calm

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

Sight in your weapon

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

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

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

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Bow hunting highs and lows

September 25, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to be there when that happens!

 

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What a bass means to a boy

August 21, 2013

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Proud anglers hoist the biggest bass of the day.

Proud anglers hoist the biggest bass of the day.

I’ve never been so excited about a 16 1/2-inch largemouth bass as I was last Friday.

And, it wasn’t even my fish. The lucky angler was my nephew, Michael. I think I was as joyful as he was when we hoisted his prize over the gunwale.

The chunky fish was the largest he had ever caught. And, the look on his face made that point clear. It matched a fish I had landed about an hour earlier, providing an excellent start to a meal for my brother and his family.

Times like this create summer memories that last well into adulthood. But, I had started wondering if a moment like this was going to happen for Michael or his older brother Matthew. I had spent the early afternoon trying to teach them how to catch bass on plastic baits, but with little success. There definitely is a steep learning curve for this endeavor, and early attempts can be filled with frustration and futility.

This occasion was no different. There were bites, hooksets that weren’t nearly stout enough, and numerous escapes by the bass.

The good news was, the fish were there and plenty willing to grab onto the baits. I was hoping, in time, one of the boys’ hooks would work its way into a largemouth’s jaw.

Sure enough, in the last hour, Michael pierced the mouth of a bass with a worm hook I had let him use. The battle was on! Usually, if the hook gets through the fish’s bony jaw, it’s curtains for the bass, unless the line gives way.

Michael played his fish well, and the fish eventually came belly up to the side of my boat. A quick swoop of the landing net, and the young lad tasted success at last.

I did my best to applaud his skills and acknowledge his success, hoping this would hook him on bass fishing – and plastics – for life. Meanwhile, another task just as important tugged for my attention.

Matthew never did land a fish that day, and he struggled with tangled line on top of that. This is an opportunity for gentle teaching and encouragement, and I took some time after we got off the water to have a little talk with him. My brother felt bad for his oldest son, but I told him that experiences like this can create a hunger that can make a person hungry and determined to conquer the learning curve.

I reminded him that I have been bow hunting for two years, and have yet to tag a deer. Guess what? I am more eager than ever to get out there and try to shoot and recover a whitetail. So, I noted, Matthew’s unsuccessful try at catching a bass on a plastic worm is not necessarily going to sour him on fishing.

Hopefully, it will keep him coming back for more. I have a feeling he is going to want to top his brother’s bass.

Now’s the time to turn to the next page of his young fishing career. Largemouth class will be in session next summer!

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First a turkey, then a ring

July 23, 2013

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Most turkey hunters I know are single-minded when it comes to chasing gobblers.

Lee Zeman is cut from that zealous cloth. But, he got very distracted during a turkey hunt this past spring. On his birthday, April 17, he took his girlfriend Ali out to try and get her a bird. He captured the hunt on video, which ended with her pulling the trigger on a nice 1-year-old bird, called a jake.

But, it’s what came after the gun shot that caught my eye – and captured my heart. As the two were admiring her bird, he turned to her and got serious. Very serious. He pulled a box out of his pocket and popped the question.

How’s a woman going to say no to the man who helped her get a bird? She freaked out more than a little, but finally gave Lee the answer he was hoping for. The wedding is set for June 21 of 2014.

I found the whole story heartwarming. I met Lee while at the headquarters of Zeman construction. Lee works there as a project manager, and I was there to photograph his uncle, Chris Zeman, who is one of this year’s Leading With Faith winners. Shortly after I got there, Chris said I had to meet his nephew Lee.

I’m glad I did. Turns out, he is every bit as passionate about the outdoors as I am. He is also enormously talented and highly energetic. At this time of year, he is chasing muskies, which he does up north on Lake Vermillion. Turns out, it’s a fabulous muskie lake. He has caught fish longer than 50 inches, including a giant that he caught several years ago that measured 56 inches.

Like most muskie maniacs, he puts in hours on the water in search of these giant predators. He admitted that Ali doesn’t join him on the water. Most likely, she would just fall asleep in the boat, he said.

I wouldn’t be surprised if their honeymoon involved some fishing. Congratulations Lee and Ali. May God give you both many happy years together!

Note: to see more about Lee’s hunting and fishing exploits, visit his website at True Calling Outdoors

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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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Walleye bite is on at Upper Red Lake!

June 18, 2013

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Tyler Brasel of Bear Paw Guides on Upper Red Lake holds a nice walleye he caught while fishing with his son and his two other children.

Tyler Brasel of Bear Paw Guides on Upper Red Lake holds a nice walleye he caught while fishing with his son and his two other children.

I had June 15 on my mind recently. That’s the day the Minnesota DNR changed the protected slot on Upper Red Lake.

From the walleye opener through June 14, it was 17 to 26 inches. On June 15, it changed to 20-26 inches, creating a large number of fish now legal to harvest.

I cashed in on this phenomenon several years ago, when I took my wife Julie and our four children up to a resort on the lake called Bear Paw Guides. We went for several days and brought home our six-person limit of 24 walleyes, which kept our freezer stocked for the summer. Getting a limit was not a problem.

I’m going back up later this week to fish with owner Steve Brasel’s son Tyler. I have been on the phone several times with Steve, and learned that the fishing has been fantastic all spring. In fact, he says the fishing may be the best it has been since the lake re-opened to walleye fishing in 2006.

Here’s the amazing part: Very few people are taking advantage of the red-hot action. Steve told me that the cold and wet spring, which kept ice on the lake until after the opener, combined with higher gas prices have kept people away.

Too bad, I say. People don’t know what they’re missing. Steve told me stories of folks catching 100 walleyes in just a few hours. And, right now the crappies are shallow and biting well. Tyler took his three kids out one evening last week and they landed 39 crappies. Some of them were the big 15-inchers the lake is known for.

My schedule is tight, and my wife and I will have just one evening and the next morning to fish. But, that should be plenty of time, as we will be fishing with Tyler. He’s got dozens of spots plugged into his GPS and can take us anywhere we need to go.

But, I highly doubt we will get to many of those locations. We may be able to catch everything we want on just one spot. The good news is that he is fishing all this week, so by the time we get there Thursday evening, he should know what the hot spots are.

Not only that, but the weather looks pretty good. There may be a little rain, but most importantly, the winds are supposed to be light. That is key on this large, oval-shaped body of water that is unprotected from strong winds coming from the south, southwest, north and northwest. I looked at the weather forecast, and it says the winds will be light and from the southeast on Thursday.

Perfect! I can’t wait to get up there.

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Final thoughts on 2013 turkey season

June 4, 2013

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My wild turkey hunting season ended last Thursday, May 30. Normally, I hunt Season E in Minnesota, which usually takes place the first week in May. Due to the bad weather and the huge snowstorm at the beginning of the month, I switched to Season H, which ran from May 24-30.

I thought it would be a great time to hunt, hopefully with hens sitting on nests incubating eggs, and the toms out cruising for the few hens that were left.

I was dead wrong. There were hens everywhere, and they were very vocal. Didn’t seem to me like very many were sitting, and the toms appeared to find them readily once down from the roost. They shut up not long after flydown at dawn, and kept silent after that.

Frustrated turkey hunters like me can thank the snow for that. My theory is that the 13-plus inches that fell in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin destroyed all of the eggs the hens had laid, and many of the hens did not re-breed and lay more eggs. I don’t know how else to explain the high number of hens roaming the woods in late May.

Two of my sons, my brother and his son, and another brother and my dad hunted the last two time periods. Only my brother Joe was able to take a bird. The rest of us had chances, but very, very few. Toms would gobble, but were very reluctant to come in. With so many hens running around, they probably figured one would show up sooner or later without them having to go looking.

I heard gobbling on the roost, and I had some toms close by on a couple of occasions, but didn’t lure one into shotgun range in Minnesota. Based on reports I heard, mid-May was a much better time to be out chasing walleyes and searching for morel mushrooms. In fact, I read that this year was one of the best on record for morels.

Sure would have been nice to find a few of those, like I did last year when I shot a tom in Minnesota in the morning, then went over to Wisconsin, where I also had a turkey tag, and found a vest full of morels while trying to cover ground in search of a gobbler.

No such success this year, at least not during the mid-May period when morels were popping. Perhaps, if I had diverted my attention from the gobblers, I might have uncovered a batch of mushrooms.

Alas, I will never know if I ever walked by a cluster of the cone-shaped treasures. It’s a little hard to think about that, especially after a friend texted me a photo of several bags full that he picked. He’s in the woods a lot more than I am, so I’m not surprised he found some.

Walking away from this year’s spring turkey hunting season, I can be satisfied that I reached my two annual goals: 1. Kill a mature tom, which I did on May 5 in Wisconsin, in the snow no less, and 2. Learn something I can use next year. With all the time I spent in the woods, I got to know the properties I hunt much better, which should pay dividends next year.

One thing is already getting me excited about Spring 2014 – the number of 1-year-old toms, called jakes. These birds are easy to identify – short, stubby beards, smaller body size and a tail fan in which the feathers in the center are longer.

I encountered a group of six to eight jakes on one of my properties in Wisconsin. On the first day, I had one of them in range, but passed on the shot to wait for a mature bird. Then, I had them just out of shotgun range a few more times. I shot at them twice, but missed. Turns out they were farther away than I thought. I should never have taken the shots.

The good news is, the birds ran off unscathed, which means there will be lots of 2-year-olds running around next year. Plus, I read reports of other hunters seeing lots of jakes, too. Next year will be fun!

One thing I have learned is that, in fishing and hunting, timing is everything. Last spring, I hit it right for both turkeys and morels. And, last fall, I hit it right during the firearms season in Minnesota, taking the largest buck of my life in the final minutes of the 3A season.

Fish and hunt long enough and you’ll hit both the highs and the lows. As I put my turkey gear away, I expressed gratitude to the Lord for the time spent afield. I saw plenty of birds this year – and probably the most deer I have ever seen while turkey hunting. That tells me the whitetails came through in good shape, although they did look skinny in early May.

I’m not worried. They will feed voraciously this summer, and should be plenty plump by fall. In the meantime, I will continue to practice with my bow, and I plan to be ready when the archery deer season starts in September.

With three-plus months to hunt, the timing is sure to be right at some point in the season!

 

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