Much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving

It was an icy cold day. My toes were numb and I could barely keep my eyes open because the 30mph wind was blasting my eyeballs with little ice pellets. I hadn’t been sitting terribly long, but I was suffering just enough. And then I spotted this buck walking directly at me, downwind of course. It seemed I was having the worst luck. At about 30 yards he stopped and looked slightly terrified, backpedaling and turning around. I was going to lose my chance. He winded me. I vocalized a grunt quick as I came to full draw. Unbelievable, he stopped and turned so he was now quartering away. Finding my open window between the trees I let an arrow fly. I connected and the hit looked right on target.

After climbing down and searching, I could not find my arrow and I could not find blood. So I began walking the line I last saw him take. After about a hundred yards I found some small blots of blood here and there. Then I spotted my arrow. This didn’t look good – hardly any blood and only blood on part of the arrow shaft. I’m not sure what happened? Looking on ahead I spotted deer bodies through the trees, several of them. One was the buck and he didn’t even look phased. Lowering his head down it looked like he was eating some vegetation and just milling around with a couple of does as if nothing happened.

Fast forward about a week later and here I am sitting in the same tree, only this time it is quite pleasant outside and I have brought a couple of friends with me. I had shown them on a map a chunk of woods I wanted them to push deer out of and try to maneuver them towards the pinch point I was sitting in. Sure enough after about an hour of sitting I could see the deer start rolling in. A doe and a fawn – followed by a buck, then a larger buck which looked remarkably like the one I had hit previously. They were sticking to heavy cover and were not going to give me any easy shots. I only had a second to make a shot and a small window to make one so I lined up and waited for him to pass through behind everyone else. I let fly my arrow. The shot was not good, hitting a deer on the move is very difficult with a bow – though they were not moving fast, but moving nonetheless and somewhat frantically and unpredictable. Always I am hesitant to stop them because sometimes they will just take off, especially if they are already spooked.

Watching the impact, I could see my arrow hit much too far back. Frustration hit me hard. Luckily I had my friends Mitch and Joe with me to help out, along with Jordan who joined up with us later. But my frustration with myself had already taken hold, and I did not think we had any chance at all in finding this deer. I was ready to be done and put the bow away for the rest of the season. But as long as I had friends there to help – I wasn’t ready to give up. Neither were Mitch or Joe. We were able to track little blots of blood down to little specks of blood until it got too dark to see. After returning the next day we could not pickup on the blood trail and spent most of the afternoon combing the woods looking for a lump of brown on the ground. We covered a lot of ground and I was becoming pretty depressed about the whole situation and wondering if I would even hunt again this year.

As I was walking back up the hill to the truck I noticed a spot of blood on the trail where we had not found any before. Joe then found another spot on the other side of the trail. We were back on it and every ten or twenty feet we found a spot of blood – sometimes the size of a pinhead on a little blade of grass. After following as far as we could, again, we could not find anymore blood. But we had made it a considerable ways and this buck had kept a very straight line the entire time so I walked on ahead scanning the ground as at this point we were losing light. After arriving at the bottom of the hill I found nothing. Turning around I started making my way back up the hill towards Mitch and Joe covering more ground I did not cover on my way down. I met up with them only to find out they had no luck either. It was getting dark and we were going to call it.

We started walking up the hill, about 50 yards apart from each other. I crossed a creek and came up over the hill, scanning down below as I traversed my way up. That’s when I spotted a big brown body lying in the brush. I couldn’t believe my eyes but it was there. Mitch had walked right past it previously. It was the best feeling I had all season finding that deer. Better yet, it was in fact the same deer I hit the previous week.  Looking at the gaping hole in his side – you would have thought he would have dropped dead quick with a double lung shot. Upon further inspection the only thing I could figure out is that he was quartering away just enough that my broadhead caught the angle right on the back of the shoulder blade, and rather than penetrating into the chest cavity it slipped right up along the shoulder blade, falling out after the deer ran about a hundred yards.

Without Mitch and Joe I never would have found this deer. In fact, without Mitch and Joe, I never would have had the opportunity for a second shot at this deer. I have to thank Jordan for his help too. It ended up being about a half mile we recovered this deer from the point of impact. We all stayed persistent and it paid off. My only regret now is that I didn’t get a picture with all of us together. Thanks a lot guys.

Bowhunting in Minnesota

Deer on Trail Camera

I had several encounters with this deer before ever having a shot opportunity. He showed up on this trail camera a day after my first meeting with him in the woods. I had watched him 10 yards in front of my treestand as he stood on his hind legs and worked a scrape – but never had a shot because he did not step out from behind the thick brush. I had watched him cruising through in the distance later on in a different location, and then finally had two different opportunities to finish it. This was a tough deer, and like all deer he was very resilient. I am so thankful to have recovered this deer. I would have felt bad for a long time had we not found him.

Successful Doe Hunt, Bucks are getting Frisky

With my treestand strapped on my back and bow in hand, I headed into my hunting area in search of some fresh deer sign and looking for someplace new to sit. I have been trying a different strategy this year by sitting in a different tree each time I go out. By doing so, I have been able to learn the geography much quicker – with a different perspective every time. I keep finding my same landmarks from different angles and am really able to see how the land slopes in different directions, where the heavy cover is, where the feeding and bedding areas are, and where the deer funnel through. What surprises me the most is how close everything is. While walking on the ground and navigating the undergrowth, it feels like these different areas are far apart, but once I climb up into a tree and get a birds-eye view, I can see I am not far at all from other places I have sat or walked through.

After traversing the hillside, I found an appealing funnel area with fresh deer sign and a food source nearby. Strapping my climbing sticks on a gnarly poplar tree, I climbed up and got situate in my stand. The view was awesome, as it always is when you get to hunt along the shores of Great Lake Superior.

Bowhunting Deer Minnesota

After some time I heard some twigs snapping and noticed movement across the way. The trees were swaying and I thought at first I had another hunter hiking in and setting up – making all kinds of noise. But then I saw tines and could make out the profile of a buck rubbing his antlers up and down the trees. It was difficult to see as he was a solid hundred yards away. Gradually, he vanished – but reappeared later. At least I assume it was the same buck as I spotted him working back down the hill. It looked like a big-bodied fork buck, neck swollen and all rutted up.

Scanning further down the hill, I noticed a large doe feeding. So did the buck. He immediately went down to her grunting away and she took off running directly to me, stopping broadside. I was ready, drew back for a shot, and released. My 125 grain Montec G5 broadhead hit hard in the shoulder and stuck. I panicked. Not a pass-through. She was closer than I had thought. Yet it looked like it penetrated deep. I watched her run back down the hill and could visualize about how far she went. After a moment, I could hear her a couple more times and it sounded like she was struggling – a good sign and not too far away.

After climbing down I proceeded to pack up my stand. That buck was still nearby and could hear me. I could hear him and he was tearing up some more saplings. I made my way over to the point of impact. It was dark now and I shone my light around on the ground. Nothing. Walking another 10 yards down the hill and scanning the grass and leaves with my light, I spotted a blood trail. There was a lot of blood. Immediately I was relieved as I could see from the amount of blood that it was a done deal.

Suddenly I could hear something coming up alongside me to my right. I turned with my light and there was that buck about 10 yards from me. A big-bodied 4 point buck with a swollen neck and hormone levels on the rise. This guy showed no fear of me, even with my light shining around. At this point I could have just as well been another deer because I think his judgement was clouded and he couldn’t tell the difference.

Ignoring him, I continued following the blood trail, with every few steps I could hear a few steps following behind me. I found my arrow, the entire shaft covered in bright red blood. It must have pushed the rest of the way through as the doe made her way down the hill. There was more blood now. Not much further and I came upon my deer. Footsteps still following behind me, but at least he kept his distance.

bow hunting minnesota whitetail deer

The rest of my night involved a tough drag out pulling that deer through heavy brush and rugged terrain. Mr. Buck left me alone but I suspect I will be seeing him again. It was a lot of work but I am thankful for it. After finishing with processing, I ended with about 32 pounds of meat. What a great score.

First Bear

WARNING: This video contains images that may be offensive to some people. Watch at your own discretion. On another note, someone has already mistaken the motorcycle revving in the background as the bear moaning but this is not so. He expired almost immediately and there is no audible sounds coming from the bear. It was a very quick and humane kill.

You might think that bear hunting is easy or a guaranteed thing here in Minnesota because the DNR allows baiting for bear hunters. Baiting for bear can start two weeks prior to the season so by the time the season begins, you should have your bears coming in and everything lined up to take your bear opening day right? In a perfect world, maybe so. Or if it were that easy, baiting probably would not be allowed.

I have tried baiting bear several different odd years now without ever getting one bear to come in for the bait. Mostly, I just gave up and didn’t bother applying for bear tags because it was a lot of work, time, and money for nothing and I spent most of my time chasing after whitetails with my bow anyway. Once deer season started, I pretty much abandoned the bear thing.

Well this year I drew a permit so I went ahead and bought my tag. After making up my mind, I was more determined to make it happen and wasn’t giving up so easily this time around. I kept baiting well into deer season and am glad I did.

After five weeks had gone by, I had tried baiting in 4 different areas without so much as a sniff from a bear. And then I received a call from someone who had been having a bear damaging their apple trees. I quickly got in and setup a bait station on this property of over 200 acres. After scouting it out, I decided on setting up about 800 feet to the West of the apple trees, on the other side of a pond set back in the woods near some denser cover. There was an old metal wash bin sitting back in the woods right near by so I grabbed it and figured it would work well to flip over the top of the bait to keep smaller critters and rain out.

Right away I returned the second day to check the bait and put more bait down. The wind was gusting hard that day as I was walking down the hill to my bait station, buckets in hand and looking ahead to see if any logs had been moved or the wash bin flipped – but no. Then I noticed something and looked up a bit and just past the bait pile was a bear standing there, quartering away from me and licking his lips. I was a bit surprised because it was only about 2:00 in the afternoon. He still didn’t know I was there and I quickly set my buckets down waiting for him to notice me. Turning, he looked and saw me there and then quickly trotted off into the woods. I put out more bait and left.

The following day I brought a treestand with me, set it up and sat in it right away. Figuring he might show again early, I arrived earlier and sat a long sit. Just as it was getting dark with only a few minutes of shooting light left is when he showed up. By the time he was out in front of me where I could make a shot, it was too dark. He would not leave either. I could only see shapes at this point. Once in a while it sounded like he was sweeping at the ground. I sat and listened to his generally heavy breathing and sighing. Finally, I had a couple of friends show up to help. They were able to walk in and push him out so that I could climb down from my tree without revealing my location or having him know that I was there. Not to mention it was just creepy sitting in the pitch black with a bear right under me.

I continued baiting daily and sat again a day or two later. He never showed up, yet it was obvious he was coming in to the bait every day. I feared he was only showing late at night now due to our previous encounters. I decided to skip a day of baiting and sit the next to see if that would reset his clock. The temperature was dropping and the nights were just starting to really get cold, dropping down into the 30’s F.

Sure enough, he showed up well before dark this time, first coming from the North and then hooking in from the East downwind. He had a very noticeable limp in his step, favoring his back right leg. As he arrived at the bait, it was apparent he had no idea I was there. Only once did he lift his head for a second and give a quick sniff but got right back to the food.

As he quartered away nicely I really took my time and lined up a shot tight behind that front leg. Holding the pin on his vitals, I wanted to make sure I was on spot. Squeezing the release I watched the light from my arrow fly right into the bear in just a perfect way. Taking off, he didn’t make it more than 15 yards and was expired within seconds.

Bowhunting Bear in Minnesota

This bear dressed out at 145 lbs.

Upon closer inspection, it appeared he had some kind of wound that was infected in his back leg. Perhaps it was good for him that he crossed my path. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and look forward to having my first taste of bear!

Minnesota Deer Archery Opener

This is a new area I’m hunting this year so I’m not familiar with the deer movements and hideouts, but I have found some very good-looking spots to hunt. After sitting all morning and seeing nothing, my confidence level was low. Returning in the evening, I went to a different location to setup. The tree I had chosen from a previous scouting trip was very crooked – more crooked than I remembered – and took way too much time to set myself up in without feeling like I was going to spin around and get tossed out of my treestand. I will not sit in it again, though I still like the location and there’s not really a better tree to sit in.

I have made some modifications to my climbing sticks by adding foot stirrups so I can gain additional height and start my first stick high off the ground. (Check out DIY Sportsman on YouTube. He has lots of great ideas and solutions for hunting-related stuff). After using this new setup a couple of times now, I have found myself getting much higher than what I mean to. I can easily get 20 feet with just two sticks. I think I was about 25 feet up here, but probably only needed to be 15.

Bowhunting Minnesota

With all of the rain we have had late in the summer, plant life is doing well and weeds/grass are really high. Once the sun dipped below the hillside and everything was cast in its shadow, I figured now would be a good time for deer to start moving around. As I surveyed my surroundings over and over again, I turned to look back forward and noticed something was different right away.

There it was, a white vertical line in the grass outlined by brown about 30 yards away. I was looking at the side of a deer butt. The rest of the deer was hidden in all of the tall grass, and then it raised its head and started walking up hill. By the time everything registered, this deer was already almost out of range and behind cover, never to give me an opportunity. Quickly I grabbed my bow off the hanger and spotted my opening for a shot. While grabbing the bow and preparing to draw back, I vocalized a quick bleat, soft but just loud enough for it to hear me. It stopped broadside just before I lost it behind the bushes. I drew back and was half-crouched so I could slip my arrow through an opening in the branches. Steadying my fiber-optic pin inline with the vital area of the deer, I released and watched my arrow zip right through.

Deer Archery Hunting in Minnesota

You can see a small opening in the branches (red circle) where I was able to slip an arrow through to connect with the deer.

I was overwhelmed with relief after seeing the shot go right where I expected. The deer trotted up the hill a little ways, jumped a creek and then I lost sight and sound. After a few moments I got out of that stupid tree and began searching for my arrow. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Wondering if it sailed into the creek bottom in all of that snarled up bunch of thick brush, I was losing hope at finding it. Then after returning to the original spot where I suspected the deer was standing, I  finally saw it there down in the grass stuck in the dirt and covered in blood. That arrow shaft and vanes covered in blood really blended in well. It’s almost impossible finding an arrow in all of that tall weed and grass. I feel luck I spotted it.

bloody arrow bowhunting whitetail deer

A good sign.

There were a couple of good splashes of blood, and then it was difficult to follow, again because of how tall the weeds were growing. Not wasting too much time looking for more blood, I walked to where I last saw it jump the little creek and found a couple of spots of blood on some of the tall grass blades a couple of feet off the ground. My impatience was getting to me as I was losing daylight. After seeing no obvious splashes of blood, I headed straight downhill to where the heavy cover was. I made it about 20 yards and there it lay perfectly under the low crown of an apple tree. In total, it probably traveled another 40 or 50 yards from where I shot it.

Bowhuning Minnesota

It was a button buck. Born this year but still of decent size compared to the doe fawns. I was able to retain about 21 lbs of meat from this deer which seems to be about average for other buck fawns I have taken in the past. The first one of the season is often times the hardest to get for me so I’m glad to have that one out of the way and ready for whatever comes next.

Good luck out there and stay safe – don’t go climbing those silly crooked trees.

In Search of the King

Over the weekend, we headed up the North Shore of Lake Superior camping and geared up for king salmon (and anything else we might have the opportunity to catch). We were determined and even brought the boats with for fishing in the big rivers.

Camping on Lake Superior's North Shore

At our campsite, there was a stream running right next to our tent that was loaded with tons of little wild brook trout.

The first couple of days were rough. There was much rain and learning on how to find and target these fish. After hooking up twice and losing both fish in the deep fast water, it was a frustrating end to a day. Changing out lures, adding weight, taking off weight, using divers to take our lines down – we tried everything. The next day we tried a different section of river and Phil went back to his jet diver/spoon combo. We were pulling through some really fast water and the rods were bent over so hard it made it difficult to hang on. That’s when Phil hooked up with his first fish. Looking up I saw his rod was flying back and forth as the fish went tearing down river. I was able to slide the boat back into an eddy where we could swing the fish over and land it. Phil had just caught his first ever king salmon and a nice bright one at that.

Lake Superior King Salmon

On the following day, the rain was back and it was pouring. We decided to not put the boats in but to do some casting from shore instead. Digging through my spoon box, I found the heaviest spoon I could and tied it on my line. Casting and bombing it out into the river I let the current take it down stream and began to wind in, letting it swing through the seam where the fast water met some not-so-fast water. After making several casts I noticed a fish roll right near my line as it was swinging down stream. I began retrieving the spoon and felt a whack. Nothing. I pumped it a couple times slowing down and then something slammed the spoon and it was on. This fish was ripping line off my reel and making runs back and forth through the current. Once I was able to swing it out of the fastest water, I could make some progress pumping it towards shore where I was able to beach it. A dandy king salmon. I finally got what I came for and it was thrilling.

Lake Superior King Salmon

Joel joined me a short while later and began chucking one of his big spoons into the seam. After much casting he hooked into something big. It fought a little different and was more like dead weight in the current with big slow head shakes.

Fishing Lake Superior Tributaries

Joel putting the cork to whatever big fish is on the end of his line.

Finally he managed to get it into the slower water where it surfaced and came near shore. He had a big pike, quite possibly the biggest he has ever had. It was thick like an alligator coming up onto the beach. It was exciting but I know he would have much preferred a salmon. This pike measured around 38 or 39″.

Northern Pike

Fishing was slower for us than what we had hoped, but it was a good trip and we learned a lot. We are all looking forward to doing it all again, next time with more wisdom and experience to put more fish in the boat.