May 30, 2013
We are exactly one day away from the 2013 Minnesota musky opener. I've never caught one. I've never even hooked one. Yet I find myself filled with the same pre-season excitement I get from the whitetail archery opener, well, not quite, but close!
I have never really been much of a fisherman. A few years back, a friend offered a fly fishing exchange for some bowhunting tutoring. I obliged, thinking it wouldn't last more than a weekend. Prior to fly fishing, my experiences were the bobber and worm sort. You know the type, troll the boat out to a random location, drop the anchor, throw a line in for fifteen minutes. Occasionally a small panfish or northern found it's way on to my hook. That style of fishing was largely boring, so I avoided it most of my life. Through trout fishing I found the dead serious sport that I was missing. It wasn't fishing, it was hunting.
My first musky outing came on a hot muggy morning, thanks to my friend Dutch. We hit a metro lake that he said was chalk full of trophy musky. I was already addicted to trout fishing at this point, so I was approaching fishing with more of a serious attitude. He had a musky follow his lure about 3 casts into our morning. I had no idea what a "follow" even meant, just that he was so excited I thought he had already caught a fish. I would soon find out what that excitement was all about.
Later that summer another friend, Marc, invited me up to Lake Vermillion for some musky fishing. We weren't going to hit it that hard, but decided to try some evenings and a few random day parts. At this point I had only partially seen the one musky follow on that muggy morning in the metro lake. Still, casting the huge lures was strangely addicting, and I could already see the elements relating to my whitetail experience. We studied lake topography and hunted structure, the sort of stuff I do every fall in the woods.
I ended up in his brother in-laws boat for a middle of the day run. It was probably noon or one in the afternoon when it happened. Luke and I were out in the middle of a bay, fishing these humps that came up to a shallow 6 to 10 feet. We were using these bulldog lures, they look ridiculous but the action under water is pretty amazing. Anyways, I was lulled into casting by this point. I won't even repeat that age old casting adage regarding muskies, but it's true. I think it was my first cast on one of the humps, and I was jerking in the lure just as Luke had explained. At first I thought there was a huge piece of drift wood coming up to the surface, but then I snapped out of it and the eyes and face jumped out... MUSKY! Luke dropped his rod and grabbed the net, he was just as excited as me. I started into a figure eight motion with the lure but the giant faded away into the deep, it was ghost-like. He later explained that it was a fish near the 50" mark from what he saw, a trophy.
That was it, that was all. A little nudging from a few friends, but in the end, a single fish following my lure fueled my addiction. I've had nearly a dozen exciting follows since that day on several lakes. It's a day before the opener and I am dreaming of giants.
December 10, 2012
Here we are in December and it's been well over a month since my last update. I guess this season I learned that once the rut gets into full swing I have a hard time doing much outside of work and hunting let alone keeping a blog up to date. Since my last update here I have had a dynamite season with a lot of whitetail action between Minnesota and Wisconsin. I'll give a brief overview here and followup with detailed stories on each exciting hunt. Some big stories went down and I'd like to give each one as much deserved attention as possible.
Just 4 days after my last post I knocked down phenomenal buck in Wisconsin on Friday, October 26. We have a little history with this buck from 2011 and I killed him in a spot that has a few memories from a couple of years ago.
Just 2 days later on Sunday morning my good friend Mike killed his best buck to date just a few hundred yards from my Friday night buck.
Then it was back to Minnesota to prepare for my son's first deer season. We had not intended on it being his first but I wasn't clear on the rules and it turned out he could still hunt even though he turns twelve in December! I couldn't have scripted a better first season for him as he ended up taking a fine buck with my muzzleloader to boot.
Finally I was back in Wisconsin for my family traditional firearm hunt with my dad. Expectations were low on harvesting a trophy buck as I was there to have fun. I would have never guessed that I would end up taking my best buck to date off the family farm!
As the sun sets on my 2012 Whitetail season I have a lot to be thankful for. It was a lot of antler in 2012 so check back soon for the full stories on all of these hunts.
October 22, 2012
Over the past week there was a dramatic shift in the woods. As I walked out of my morning sit on Saturday, I was greeted by a large collection of new buck scrapes and rubs. As the peak of the breeding season approaches, bucks increase their communication and territory through rubs and scrapes. While a lot is written on rubs and scrapes and surrounded by hunting strategies, experts seem to still agree that not everything is fully understood. One thing I do understand is that the bucks will soon break lose and it will be the most exciting time in the woods all year! I can't wait.
October 14, 2012
I made it out twice this weekend to Wisconsin. Both sits were in the evening and very quiet. The deer do not seem to be moving until right at dark. Tonight I bumped a buck walking in who was bedding in a weird spot (right under an old deer stand). I got a pretty good look at him and think he's a buck we saw two years ago and affectionately named "Old Cow Horn". He has a huge body, but odd smallish rack with lots of mass. I dropped off a trail camera in his general area, so hopefully I'll be able to confirm if it was him or not.
Still had a great time in the woods, the weather was perfect. I think things will be picking up by next weekend. Starting to see more buck sign in the woods.
October 9, 2012
It seemed like just as I filled my tag in Minnesota, the “October lull” kicked into full effect. As I began to refocus my attention to Wisconsin, we received a cold front followed by a few days of strong winds. The soft wood trees have been mostly stripped of their leaves, which made for a very open forest. Factor in the combination of extra dry conditions and crops being harvested early and our deer are suddenly losing cover and feeling less secure in the woods. I believe these conditions have pushed the deer into an earlier than normal nocturnal pattern.
A lot of hunters were calling the conditions, an early "feeding front" which should have deer on their feet more hours of the day feeding. My observations back this, however it seemed like I was seeing more deer in my truck headlights than from the stand. Talking the other night with one of the farmers on property I hunt, I asked him when the last time he recalled having crops out by mid-October. His answer - never in his lifetime!
I’ve been trying setup in low-pressure stands with favorable winds in an attempt to get a bead on a mature buck. As I hunt these stand locations I have been dropping off my trail cameras in hopes of getting an inventory on the bucks on the farms. So far, I only have one 10 point in velvet from August that I might consider shooting. I am not familiar with him from previous years. He looks wide with good mass, but I’ll need photos of him out of velvet or better yet, a good look from the treestand before I know if he’s shooter material this year or not. Once we have some history with a buck, we usually give them a nickname. (I know, cliché hunter thing to do) No name for this guy yet. I hope a few of our regulars show up soon. Speaking of nicknamed bucks, maybe I’ll do a few posts on some of the bucks we have come to know over the years here.
October 1, 2012
The 2012 archery season has been quite a roller coaster, but last Friday night, September 28th, I punched my tag. The evening before, I had rushed to my stand to see if I could get another glimpse of the big framed 8 that I had been obsessing over and missed a week earlier. I had figured that with all of my activity in the area, he must have been pressured out by now. I was wrong. I watched as he got up in his usual bedding location. There was another 10 point buck a hundred yards away sparring with a smaller buck. Confirming the bucks were still in a killable pattern, I would be on them the next night.
On Friday night I arrived to my stand a little after 6pm. The traffic from work was terrible and I didn't think I would get out early enough. To make matters worse I busted 2 doe walking in and they ran right into the buck bedding area. It wasn't long after I hung my stand that I spotted the first buck of the evening. The nice 10 frame from the evening before was already up and watering. Pretty soon the big framed 8 was on his feet along with a couple smaller bucks. They seemed to spend most of the evening a few hundred yards west of me and I thought I would never get an opportunity at them.
Shortly after 7pm I heard antlers tickling together in the willows south of my stand. I grabbed my bow, and got ready. I could hear them walking through the tall grass, but it seemed like forever before one of them emerged. With only minutes left in legal shooting light I needed the buck to close the distance fast. I never had a great opportunity to ID his rack as his head was always behind a branch or shrub. As he walked under my stand I could see the width of his rack. It was now or never. He was just starting to get a little of my scent when he stepped into my shooting lane at 22 yards. I released my arrow and heard a solid connection. He roared, lost his balance, and then took off on a crazy death run. A few seconds later I heard the buck crash.
Tracking him proved easy as I had made a perfect heart shot; he only made it about 50 yards. Walking up on him, his head was buried in the grass, so I had a little anxiety on exactly which buck he was. As soon as I had his rack in my hands I knew that it was the 10 that we had been seeing and one I photographed and posted in an earlier entry here. Part of me was a little bummed that I had not gotten the big 8, but hopefully he'll make it this year and I'll get another crack at him in 2013.
He certainly wasn't my highest scoring buck but I was pleasantly surprised that his bases measured 4" when I finally put the tape to him. This was a public land, completely DIY hunt. I put in a lot of hard work scouting these buck beds in the off season and a lot of work pursuing them in the season. It feels great when it all pays off. Tagged out in Minnesota, I'll be focusing on my Wisconsin farms.
September 24, 2012
My 2012 archery season has started off at an exciting pace. The night before opening day I convinced my good friend Greg to come with me to glass a bedding area that has produced year after year. More than anything I just wanted to verify that the grass wasn't greener since I was on to a buck from the spring in a different place. Within 30 minutes of setting up we had deer movement with a small heavy racked 6 stepping out. A few minutes later I spotted two bucks, likely 2-year-olds sparring with each other. Both would make tempting deer under the treestand, especially for public land.
We thought it couldn't get any better when I spotted what would become two weeks of constant obsession. This buck was clearly mature, taking a much more cautious approach with every step. He clearly showed dominance over the smaller bucks. Knowing this buck was bedding here, our game plans changed and we knew where we would be opening day.
Greg and I decided we would sit together and film for each other in the event one of the 3 bucks showed up. We saw a couple young bucks opening evening but nothing eventful. We split up to cover two different bedding areas the following evening but again the bucks did not show. Fast forward a week and I was once again sitting over the buck's bedding area. It was a slow night without any movement until a quarter to seven when a young yearling buck made his way out of his bed. I thought the evening would end again without sight of the big 8 point. At about 10 minutes to closing I heard a deer start moving in the willows. As it emerged I almost couldn't believe it. It was the big 8 that Greg and I had spotted a week earlier. I grabbed my bow and prayed that he would come in close enough for a shot. The clock was working against me but with about a minute to spare he stepped into a shooting lane I had ranged at 33 yards earlier that evening. The shot felt great however I didn't hear an impact. I missed low.
I followed up the next day by locating my arrow and confirmed my miss. I sat the stand just to be sure he would not hold his same pattern. He did not and the sun set on my weekend. He's now my obsession buck for 2012. I know his core area like the back of my hand. I have a few hunches where his backup beds may be. I'll hold off on this spot for a few weeks as I am sure my scent and presence have put him on high alert. Stay tuned for some updates on this guy.
September 11, 2012
As archery season approaches this weekend, there is always one final item on my preparation list - sharpening my broadheads.
Sharpening any edged tool is a skill I feel is essential for any hunter or woodsman. In addition to the woods, it is a skill that comes in handy around the kitchen and shop. I learned most of what I know from my father, but like anything, I learned and improved by trying and failing. I keep a sharpening kit in my kitchen that is filled with all sorts of sharpening devices. I essentially stick to the same components for all of my sharpening including my broadheads.
I begin sharpening my broadheads by first checking the edge to assess what work needs to be done. First, I test the edge by pressing it against my fingernail to see if it "catches". If it slides off without catching, we have some work to be done. If both edges catch, I can usually go to the ceramic sticks to touch things up and then the strop. While writing this, the first broadhead I tested was ok against my fingernail, however I noticed it has a slightly rolled edge. For those not in the know, a rolled edge is where the edge is actually rolled to one side. This can usually be identified by the edge "catching" on one side but not the other. It may shave hair on your arm in one direction and do nothing in the other.
By the time I am done sharpening broadheads for the upcoming season I always have awkward bald patches all over my arms. But this is how we test an effective edge!
Since I had a rolled edge on this broadhead I needed to take it off. Sometimes it can be straightened out but it's best to go straight to the stones. Angles are everything when sharpening. The key is to stick to the angle of the edge grind. It's difficult to explain and this is where your trial and failures will come in. Eventually you will be able to hold the angle consistently. There are some manufacturers that advertise clamps or jigs to get the angles right. These may work, although I probably won't always have that jig and I can always find a sharpening stone or diamond sharpening card in a pinch. This is a skill to master, there are no shortcuts. Speaking of shorcuts, forget those "V" shaped sharpening devices. Why? Because they are typically made of ceramic and only offer a couple millimeters of surface area at best. Ceramic loads up with metal quickly. These "V" shaped devices are difficult if not impossible to clean. So they may work for the first few times and reduce effectiveness quickly after. Additionally they will never be quite the right angle.
Once the edge is true from the stone I can move on to cleaning it up. My stones usually leave a gritty and somewhat jagged edge, sometimes this is ok for some things, but not my broadheads. Some guys may increase the grain of stone they use at this point and achieve the same effect but this is how I do it. Next, I move on to the ceramic sticks, first the coarse and then the fine. Always keeping the same angle that I started with on the stones. The final step is to hit the broadhead with my leather strop. This polishes the edge and typically leaves a wicked cut. I am never happy with my broadheads unless they pop hair off my arms in every direction and edge that I try.
Maintaining surgically sharp broadheads throughout your archery season is an ethical responsibility. Archery hunting kills by inflicting hemorrhaging cuts in the blood vessels of the animal. For these reasons and more, I can only recommend fixed broadheads that are sharpen-able. I'll leave the details of that debate to the countless archery forum threads. Finally, and please keep in mind that broadheads become dull without being shot. Just like old razor blades left in your toolbox do not cut like the new ones in the store. Sharpen them at least every season and certainly after every shot!
May 25, 2012
There are three outdoor events that I look forward to every spring: trout opener, turkey season and morel mushroom hunting. This season was my personal best for morels. With a lack of a real winter here in Minnesota and abnormally high temps in March, the season kicked off to a weird start. I had read early reports of grays but I did not get serious about looking until April 25. My son and I hit one of my hot spots after work one night and low and behold a few grays had popped up.
I made a few more trips back to this location and picked a small meal's worth each time. We had some wet weather the week after my gray morel hunts and I became distracted with other things, but figured the giant yellows should not be too far away. On May 6, I headed to a private farm that I had scouted for bowhunting in the spring of 2010. I had recalled walking past a few half decomposed morels and made a mental note of where they were growing.
My daughter and I set out for the farm early in the morning, and she was excited to be hunting a real hot spot. After a good soaking the day before, it was an incredibly wet morning. The morels I had spotted in 2010 were growing on a south facing slope along a fence-line in the woods under some dead elms. Yup, that's the recipe for a perfect morel spot. I had only hoped we were not too late. We checked a few dead elms on our way to the back fence, but found nothing. It was a long hike, so my hopes were a little down as I figured we should have hit a few morels on our way there. As we reached the back fence and after crossing a small creek I didn't see anything at first, I thought they would be there... then, there they were! Lots of them! This spot would end up being my best cache ever.
As we walked along the fence harvesting the morels our small bags were quickly overflowing. Satisfied that we had found them all, we started our hike back to the truck. We took a different route back and ended up stuck on a flooded road that was too deep to cross. Thinking there might be a spot further up to cross we entered back into the woods and kept hiking the creek bank. I almost stepped on the next batch of giant yellows, and right under another dead elm tree. Our bags were completely full, so I fashioned a hobo bag out of my flannel shirt and filled it up. This proved out to be an epic hunt.
I spent a good portion of the afternoon cleaning and bagging morels for friends and family. We'll certainly be headed back to that farm in 2013, and I hope it produces like it did this year. I checked one of my spots tonight, and indeed it appears that the 2012 season has come to a close. I'll put this one in the books as my best ever.
May 20, 2012
After starting this blog, I immediately had a larger gap in postings than I had originally planned. As mentioned in my about profile, I am writing this blog engine from scratch. My first iteration lacked quite a few features, but namely a syndication feed (RSS). I was hesitant to write more posts until a RSS feed was available for everyone. With things always busy at work, it was difficult to find the time to refactor the code and get it to a point where I was happy with the feature set. I am happy to announce that I now have an RSS feed. But I digress.
I've been trying to get out fishing most weekends and have been fairly successful at doing so. Last weekend I took a break to chase gobblers with my son, which I'll write about soon. Hay Creek is one of the newer streams for me and I have been frequenting it the past few weekends. I had only fished it once, two years ago, when Trout Unlimited was overhauling things.
I hit the stream with friends very early Saturday morning. Weather called for storms later in the day and incredibly high temps, so we knew the early morning and shaded corners were going to be the ticket. I need to get myself a fish counter as I lost track, but I would guess I ended the morning by 8:00am with over a dozen fish to hand. Everyone else had great success. The trout were hitting on most everything, but pink squirrels were highly productive early and a small prince nymph fly was still hitting as the morning progressed on. I suppose the hatch picked up in the afternoon and evening, but we stuck to sub surface varieties for the morning.
We encountered a lot of wildlife along the stream on this Saturday morning. A bald eagle found a meal in the stream, whitetails out and about, and plenty of turkeys still drumming and gobbling early on. I had just been discussing when the fawns were going to drop with my friend Mike on Friday. We predicted another week yet, but then we stumbled across this young girl right on the stream. Mom was up near the woods waiting to return for nursing