Monday, November 28, 2011

Everybody Loves a Happy Ending

My friend, Ed, and I were miserable, disappointed, frustrated and sick at our stomachs on the night of Nov. 13. Shortly before dark, both of us arrowed magnificent, Pope and Young-class bucks on Ed’s small, 45-acre farm in Knox County, Ill. And both of us, no matter our excuses, made horrible shots.

Luckily, my wounded deer headed through the woods toward Ed’s tree stand location after my poor shot. From his stand, Ed watched him walk across a cut cornfield onto the neighboring property – giving us a 500-yard headstart on the tracking job – a small miracle if you ask me. Minutes later, Ed also made a poor hit on a bruising, wide-horned six pointer he hoped would qualify for the record book.

After dark, we headed to back to camp to recount the stories and seek advice from Ed’s dad, Dave, who is the most seasoned and experienced archer I’ve ever met. Dave has harvested big game all over the world with his recurve bow and has truly forgotten more about archery than most of us will ever know.

On Dave’s advice, we decided to begin tracking the wounded bucks the next morning at 10 a.m. Needless to say, I got a miserable night’s sleep.

Ed had another buck tag and with the rut being in full swing, decided to hunt again before we tracked the bucks from the night before. At 7:30 a.m., Ed shot another big Illinois buck – 400 yards from where he shot the big six-pointer the night before! This time, Ed made a great shot and the big, tall-racked buck went a short distance and expired.

The stars continued to align, as against the odds (and my gut feeling), we were able to also recover both bucks from the night before. The end result was three bucks that each qualify for the Pope and Young record book, harvested in a span of 15 hours, on Ed’s 45-acre hot spot. It was an incredible rollercoaster ride for those few hours and I’m so blessed, lucky and thankful for the happy ending. Enjoy the photos!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Deer Hunting in Minnesota

Last weekend I left the warmth and comfort of the Chevalier PR office and flew home to Minnesota for a four-day deer hunt. I hadn’t been home for ten months and the opportunity to visit the family farm was a welcomed one.

On opening morning, I snuck down to my stand (which we call “The Hotdog Stand” because of its shape) with high hopes. Because the leaves on the ground were wet, I made it to stand about as quietly as it is possible. As morning light made its presence known, so did a six-point buck about 25 yards away from me. It came out of the woods to my right, alert and head held high. It stepped out into the corn field and began eating. This buck was not in full rut. I pulled my gun up and eyed him through the scope. It was a small six-point "hat rack" buck. I had to make a choice because he wouldn’t be in front of me for long. I thought about how much more time I had to hunt, about how many small bucks like this one I’ve shot in the past, about how many bigger bucks are probably in proximity to my stand….and he was gone. About an hour later, I saw a fork-horned buck approximately 200 yards away. This took less deliberation to let go.

Weather: The first two days of hunting were plagued by 30 mph winds coming from the South. I think it was because of this that the deer weren’t really moving. The wind certainly made the stand sessions seem longer than they were. Monday afternoon, the wind stopped. While on stand that evening, there was no sound. There were no deer either. Tuesday morning displayed an impressive frost but the temperature and wind during the day were ideal.

My dad is a hunter (in it for the food) and I suspect that my failure to down that buck opening morning raised concerns in his mind that his son has become a sportsman (in it for the trophies). On Sunday morning, my dad was sneaking around in our pasture and spotted two fawns on a knob quite a distance away. He worked his way closer, then crawled on his hands and knees to get close enough for a shot. Instead of shooting one of the fawns, he called out on his deer grunt. A small six-pointer immediately came out of the woods behind the fawns. My dad dropped it where it stood.

For me, the most treasured aspect of the hunt was doing small drives with my dad and my uncle on Monday and Tuesday afternoon. My dad always does everything in his power to put me in a position to kill a deer. We’ve done little drives together since I was just starting out and he is usually able to chase me a deer. For this hunt, I thought it was kind of neat that my dad, my uncle and I were doing drives together. We didn’t see one deer while doing them but in this case, the act is more important than the outcome.

Tuesday evening was my last change to get a deer. Before going out on stand that night, I pledged to my dad and my uncle that I would shoot any deer that stepped out in front of me. They were in agreement. Instead of going out on my stand, which I’d hunted religiously all season, I chose a different stand for a change of scenery. Within 45 minutes of being on stand, I had a tiny fawn on the field in front of me. He walked around the field, eating, for well over an hour. Eyeing him closely the entire time, he refused to grow any bigger. I let him be.

All total, here’s what I saw for wildlife during the hunt: 32 wild turkeys, 3 ruffed grouse, 1 red fox, 2 bucks and at least six or seven fawns.

In summation, I probably should have shot the six-pointer I saw on opening morning. Hopefully I see him next year as an eight or a ten-pointer. That said, deer hunting to me is more than just shooting a deer. It’s a time to be with family and enjoy the land I grew up on. It’s also a time I use to reflect on where I’ve been, amuse at where I am, and wonder where I’m going. These thoughts pile on top of one another until ultimately, I reach one of man’s most satisfying realizations: life is good!

Friday, November 4, 2011

South Dakota – The Waterfowl Sleeper State

A few years ago, on a Winchester Ammunition ladies hunt, I met Heather Reddemann. Heather is a prostaffer for Winchester Ammunition and SHE Outdoor Apparel. She is a person I instantly clicked with and stayed in contact with over the years. She is a dog trainer at Oak Tree Farm in South Dakota, as well as a full-time pharmacy PhD student. She has been hounding me to get out to South Dakota for not only pheasants, but ducks as well. This year I was fortunate enough to draw a limited tag for waterfowl.

I have always known South Dakota is notorious for pheasants, but what about ducks? Our first adventure out was started with an argo ride (which is now on my must-have list). We found a nice waterhole and hid in the cattails. We saw and heard so many ducks that morning. It became clear to me that South Dakota is a sleeper state for waterfowl.

I could tell it was my first duck hunt of the season, my shot was lousy, but I still had a lot of fun and managed to shoot a nice bufflehead, something I haven’t shot before. That afternoon we got in some pheasant hunting at Oak Tree. I was thrilled to finally say that I had hunted pheasants in South Dakota!

I have always hunted behind German Shorthair Pointers; this was my first time behind flushers. I always thought I liked pointers, but Heather’s labs changed my perspective; I think I am a flusher kind of girl! Her dogs can go from a duck blind in the morning to a pheasant field in the afternoon and perform like rockstars.

The next morning we got back into the waterfowl frame of mind and hunted a little waterhole right behind Heather’s house. We had action all morning! We had pintails, teal and every duck imaginable come into our little spread.

My favorite moment was when I heard a WHOOSH…a small group of green winged teal came firing in like a bunch of fighter jets. I couldn’t believe how quick they were. I was able to drop one of them. I was super excited! The thrill of hearing those quick birds and being able to bring one down picked up my shooting confidence.

I was bummed my trip was so short, but I am glad I got to experience South Dakota. Working with Heather’s retrievers was a treat. They are such versatile and smart hunting dogs. The hunting was great. I can now finally say that I have pheasant hunted in South Dakota, as well as waterfowl. I am also glad I got to share that time in the field with a dear friend.