The Beginning of Something New Pt.2

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After our first bird was down, our new mission was to get more quality shots at these birds before the season ended. Zeus and I decided we better kick off the New Year right and attempt to bring home some pheasants on the last day of the season (January 1st).  We packed up the truck with our gear after church and headed out.  I decided I would try a change of pace this last day, and try to get permission on some private land next to the Waterfowl Production Area I had been hunting.  I watched numerous birds fly into several sloughs that were on this parcel.  After tracking the owner down (via creeping the web), I gained permission to venture out on this haven.

I walked out onto the edge of the cornfield with Zeus and we began our trek into the cattails.  Zeus was acting like a seasoned guide dog now, running up in front of me into the wind fighting his way through the mangled mess.  20 yards into our walk we kick up our first bird.  A gorgeous rooster not more than 10 yards away, jumps into the sky and immediately falls back to the earth. The knock down power of 1500 fps steel had little mercy, as it sent shot ripping through its body.  Zeus watched the bird fall and handled the dying bird like a veteran with a beautiful retrieve.  “This is going to be a quick day” I thought to myself as we had our first bird in hand within 10 minutes of leaving the truck.  We continued pushing through the cluttered cattails, as this area was crawling with birds not more than a few days previous.  This proved to be a waste as not another bird emerged from this section.

We moved on to a fresh slough that also looked promising but was just a tease, as no birds came from this acreage either. As we started walking to the furthest slough, birds started rising from it like locust heading in every direction.  I watched a beautiful long tailed rooster head into the slough Zeus and I had just walked.  I mentally marked this bird to return to later.  We continued chasing the other birds into the WPA until we decided it was no longer worth it.  These birds were toying with us and they were winning.

Our next move was to go after the single rooster I had mentally marked from earlier.  No other bird had gone in that direction, and no bird had gotten up from that spot.  Zeus and I slowly reentered the same area we had just gone through not more than an hour or so before.  Slowly working through the cattails, I would often pause as this used to get nervous grouse to take flight in the North Woods of Aitkin. Sure enough it works for pheasants too.  As Zeus labored to my left, I heard the eruption of wings hitting cattails coming from his direction.  I swung over my Franchi and put the bead on the long tailed rooster and bang! Down goes our second bird of the day.  Another perfect retrieve from Zeus gave me all the more confidence that the light bulb had turned on for him, and that he had grasped his inherit purpose in life.  He had turned from a puppy to a bird-dog, and I was so ecstatic to be in that moment with him.

With time no longer on our side, I decided to make a big move and try an area I had not scouted.  We jumped in the truck, and made it there with an hour or so of shooting left for our season.  We hustled towards the cattails and started working the area. As I was walking towards the edge of the cattails I felt the dreaded plummet of my foot into ice cold water.  This time it was not just up to my knee.  After emerging out of the water, I was wet from the waist down, and unable to put weight on my other leg as I twisted my knee in an unfavorable direction.  This lasted a few minutes until I started to limp along. We pressed on and scant sign was found until the end of the push when 3 hens busted out of their nooks.  With shooting time fading we jumped back on the dirt road heading to the truck.  Figuring we were going home with 2 pheasants I was pleased, but in the back of my mind was really hoping we could wrap the season up with a limit.  That was when I saw it.  Like a beacon of light shining towards us.  A WPA sign across the road with a gorgeous slough in the middle, agriculture fields surrounding it.  Zeus and I hustled up and jumped into the cattails.

We immediately started seeing tracks all over the place.  Not more than 20 yards in the slough, the first hen jumped up 15 yards in front.  Two more steps another hen, before I could take another step, four more hens blew up in front of us all within 20 yards.  I looked at Zeus and he looked at me, both of us were in amazement.  This was the honey hole we had been looking for.  This was the place we were going to find the last rooster of the season.  We continued pushing on and hen after hen kept rising in front of us.  We hooked back around to head back into the slough and that’s when the prodigal rooster we had been waiting for got up in front of us.  Not wasting any time to allow the bird to get further away from us I fired.  The bird took a nose dive into the cattails, but appeared that it could still be alive when it hit the ground.  I started hustling towards the area it went down and continued calling for Zeus to find it.  As I continued forward, Zeus headed off to my right and behind me.  He disappeared into the cattails and I heard wings flapping.  A black head popped back up with a gorgeous rooster protruding from his mouth.  I yelled “Good boy!” as he proudly jogged back to my side and released the bird into my hand.  It was fitting that Zeus would surprise me further and find a blind retrieve to end the season on.

We were able to put a limit in the vest on the last day of the season. Something I thought may not be possible after our first day of hunting.  The idea of pheasant hunters being rich, stogie smoking, scotch drinking, uppity ups may be true in some cases, but not the case in real life- normal hunting.  I now have a new found respect and love for pheasants and the art of hunting these birds.

 

The Beginning of Something New pt. 1

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When I started researching the area my wife and I were moving to in rural mid-western Minnesota, I kept hearing that I was moving to an area that was good pheasant country. This slightly frightened me, as I know pheasants and how to hunt them about as well as I know how the female brain works. Throughout my childhood and young adult life I conjured up this idea that pheasant hunters are rich millionaires who smoke large stogies and drink scotch in their “log cabins” after a “long days hunt”. Granted this only took place after their hired out guides and dogs found the birds for them out on the thousands of acres of prime managed land they paid to hunt. This is something I am not, and refused to even think about pheasant hunting. I continued doing what I know and duck hunted and deer hunted until December.

After Christmas I started getting the itch to hunt some upland birds and I really wanted to get my 9 1/2 month old pup Zeus out into the field to get some exposure to live birds. Although Zeus has been along on some grouse hunts, he was still a novice with authentic bird-hunting.  I also needed to get some exercise after the Christmas feasts in which I had recently partook. Having my old grouse hunting stomping grounds more than 2 1/2 hours away, I only had one other bird to hunt.  Knowing absolutely nothing about these seemingly mystical birds that people had been raving about, I bought a pheasant stamp and a box of Federal Steel Waterfowl 4 shot (I was too cheap to purchase the 20 dollar pheasant loads). I loaded up the old grouse vest and gear into the truck along with the mildly lethargic Zeus and headed to an area where I had observed two pheasants fly into a waterfowl production area. I figured I might as well work with what I’ve got in my locale and try something new.

Only having a few hours to hunt the first day I decided to keep an open mind and start working cattails, as this was what I was told by a good friend Ryan Wahlund.  Ryan is a very knowledgeable well rounded hunter but is a specialist when it comes to pheasants and loves to hunt these birds.  I got a quick rundown on their behavior during late season and I was ready. With a nice crust on the snow, I was lucky enough to break through on every step I took, which made for some fun tramping.  I started heading to the area I saw the birds fly to a few days prior, and took my first step onto the slough that the cattails surrounded.  My foot immediately plummeted into the icy water below up to the knee.  “This is so much fun”, I thought to myself as Zeus stared at me like I was an idiot for bringing him out into this snowy wasteland.  I decided I would skirt the outside of the cattails so I would not fall through again as I tend to learn quickly.  I trekked 20 feet further, and that is when I heard the first bird flush.  It was behind some heavy brush that was between me and the cattails where I should have been, and then all hell broke loose.  Bird after bird got up out of the same area and I kept looking for that glint of color through the brush but it was just too thick.

When I arrived at the next section of WPA, pheasants started flying more than 200 yards away. This is what Ryan warned me about with late season pheasants.  Although easier to find with less cover, they have been bombarded for months and will fly at the sound of a mouse-fart.  Not forgetting about the cold plummet my foot took not more than an hour ago, I slowly crept out onto a new slough, and checked ice thickness the whole way around.  Continuing to creep forward, something blew up not more than three feet in front of me.  Two hen pheasants that were nestled in the cattails (before I disturbed them) ascended towards the skies.  Zeus looked at me, then back to the birds as I pulled up and identified my target. I could almost hear him ask me why I wasn’t shooting.  I told him they were hens and we headed to a new area to explore before dark.  This new section looked favorable, as pheasant tracks coursed all along a row of Cedars next to the road and on the other side were two large sloughs with cattails all around.  This would be my spot to start on tomorrow.

After waking up the next morning, I quickly realized that pheasant hunting may be a little more exhausting than I imagined, as my calves ached from the constant breaking through the crust of the snow.  With coffee in hand and a renewed energy, Zeus and I headed to our hopeful honey hole.  Zeus seemed to be more ambitious today, and was whimpering to get going as I loaded my Franchi Semi Auto.  After only taking a few steps into the crusty prairie I began to see birds lifting from the cattails, flying every direction just like the day before.   I picked out where most of the birds were landing and began traversing downwind of their terminus.  As Zeus and I started getting closer to the area they had landed in a beautiful sound took over, the sound of nothing. No birds were flying out of my range. As we continued our assault on the slough a hen emerged from the cattails around 20 yards out. I took another step through the cattails, and that’s when I saw what we had been after the past two days. Not more than 15 yards out a gorgeous rooster arose from the undergrowth into my sight.  I rose up on the cock and fired. I watched the bird fold and skip across the ice. I yelled with excitement “dead bird!” and called for Zeus to find it.  Zeus found the shell wad and continued to follow the scent of the bird and that’s when I was most proud of him.  Zeus hurdled into the cattails and popped back out with a gorgeous rooster in his mouth. He carried the bird to me and released to my hand.  Our first bird was down and in the bag.

I sat and admired the bird. Amazed at the colors, I couldn’t stop staring at it.  “So this is what all the fuss is about”, I thought to myself as Zeus stared at the bird with equal passion wanting so badly to take it from me. Luckily, he managed to contain his temperament.  I gave him a thorough praise and was able to get a few pictures with him and the rooster. This moment will forever live in my memory as our first rooster together and the start of a new passion.  There is no better feeling then seeing your pup work with you to find the game you’re after and then have a successful retrieve.

Pre Season Scouting Tips

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Its that time of the year when the nights start to cool and early bow season starts to swim in our minds.  In honor of the upcoming season I decided to give a few tips for scouting pre season and early season whitetails.

  1. Find the pattern

The great part of pre season and early season whitetails is they are predictable. You can usually find the older, more mature whitetails feeding during the low light hours in the fields so take advantage of it. Spend some evenings after work glassing fields and figure out the pattern that the deer are using coming out on the field. This will help you narrow down the areas to hang game cameras. Pre season glassing is also a great way to learn see some of the deer in your area that aren’t even on your land.  This will help you get an idea of what you may have traveling over to your land during the rut when you have a hot doe run by.

  1. Hang some cameras

Once you have gotten an idea of the trails the deer are using to enter and exit the fields its time to slip in the area and hang some cameras.  Try and put a few cameras on the main trails that look heavily used and one or two on some trails that appear to have lighter deer traffic. Without getting coverage of these lighter areas you may never know a certain deer exists if they are loners and nocturnal. Remember big deer are old and big for a reason and every deer has its own personality.  Also keep an eye out for possible staging areas.  These areas are often overlooked and can be optimal places to harvest mature deer hanging back until dark before entering the field. . This portion is one of my favorite parts of scouting. Its like you turn into a kid on Christmas morning and you cant wait to open your present when you go to retrieve your SD card. Its like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

  1. Hang a stand

After getting an idea where the deer trails are that you will possibly want to hunt Its time to hang a stand.  Stand placement is often not thought of carefully enough when it comes to branches for cover and wind direction.  Its nice to be able to look back in kept journals or past weather history to see what direction the prevailing winds have been out of during the first two weeks of season and determine your set by these findings. I like to find a tree where I will be within shooting distance of a heavily used trail and this tree should give me a clear view of the field I am hunting for the first few days of season.  This will give you the ability to see what you may have missed during pre season glassing and further your patterning of a possible shooter.

  1.  Be ready for change

Although pre season is a great time to pattern a deer you’re after there is always the chance he will change patterns before season arrives.  Make sure to scout hard close to opening day to make sure you don’t miss something. If or when the deer of your dreams tries to throw you for a loop be ready with your own game plan. I recommend having a game plan in mind for likely scenarios and have my equipment ready for it. The Lone Wolf Assault tree stand and Lone Wolf climbing sticks are my go to set up for this.  I am able to get everything set up and be ready to hunt in 10 minutes and am able to do so quietly.  If there are no decent trees around don’t be afraid to try ground hunting. When giving ground hunting a shot make sure to pick a well concealed area that gives you the ability to get an arrow through without a deflection. Finding this ideal area is often harder than it sounds but will be worth the effort when the one you’re after comes by and you are undetected.

  1. Not a lot of deer sign? Give it a shot

There are times when you may be hunting a piece of property that is new to you for the first time and you might not have enough time to glass the fields.  Heck maybe there aren’t any fields to glass and you have to rely on your cameras.  In these situations it can sometimes be hard to find active deer sign. Don’t lose hope just yet. Certain areas in the woods may have a lack of telling grasses or weeds that show the deer trails that we are used to seeing.  Use your noggin and look for natural deer funnels and likely deer usage areas and hang your cameras. You will often be surprised by the number of deer using these areas and the quality of the animals. If you are struggling to find decent areas look for some standing barbed wire. Some of my favorite hunting areas have old barbed wire fencing that is still hanging.  Follow the line of barbed wire until you find a low spot or an area that is all the way to the ground.  This will be almost a guaranteed funnel that will give you the perfect pinch point.

Hopefully a few of these tips will be useful for you in the upcoming scouting and early season.  Remember to have fun while you’re out there even if the mosquitos are about to carry you away.

Public Land Whitetails

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No private land? No problem!

As soon as I heard the words Kansas City come out of my wife’s mouth I started to think about the upcoming hunting season which was only four months away. Knowing we would be living in a large metro area I felt as if the world was collapsing around me.  How was I going to hunt in the city? How was I going to find private land in 4 months where thousands of other hunters had already asked? After pouting for a few days I realized that if I was to hunt the area I would have to do what I promised myself I would never do, and that was hunt public land.  I had conjured up this idea of public land being a dangerous baron wasteland full of moronic hunters and lack of game.  “Why waste your time and risk your safety!” I thought to myself as I started digging into the state of Missouri’s website reviewing the options of public land near me.  I began seeing that the Show Me States’s Conservation Department was on to something.  They appeared to have certain pieces of land dedicated to bow hunting only methods.  I found a public tract of land approximately 6000 acres in size not more than 45 minutes from Kansas City with this same restriction.  I figured land that close to the big city will be absolutely pounded with weekend warriors.  I decided to try and get permission to hunt private land with little success.  It was now mid October and I still didn’t have a game plan on what I was going to do.

Keeping an open mind

After doing some research on Google Maps I found a decent funnel on the dreaded public land.  I spoke with a hunting buddy of mine from work who stated that he had been down on this tract of land for waterfowl before and said it was worth a try.  I finally was pushed over the edge.  What did I have to lose other than a weekend?  I headed down to the land with a heavy heart.  How many people would be at the landings? How many guys will I have to deal with out here? I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived.  I found myself alone with my thoughts.  After a short walk I found that all my worries and doubts would be washed away.  I found a soy bean field around 100 acres in size surrounded by woods with deer tracks all over the road that I was walking.  “Did I walk into an outfitters land?” I thought as I continued the long walk through this deer mecca.  I found a small strip of trees that separated a thin strip of corn from the larger part of the field that looked like a perfect funnel so I hung a stand. In the mile and a half of walking to this location, I saw one other deer stand that appeared to have been there for quite some time.  “How was this possible?” I thought to myself. I started wondering if I would have just kept an open mind earlier in the year what opportunities I could have had on more patternable deer.

Spotting and stocking works

One day in early November I decided to take a walk to where my deer stand was located  on this same public land to check for scrapes before making the 9 1/2 hour drive back to MN for the rifle opener.  I decided I better grab my bow because there were turkeys in the area and figured I may get lucky and find the group.  I headed off in my blue jeans and camo shirt to check out the area.  After finding some scrapes on the edge of the field where my stand was, I decided I would do some exploring.  I saw a trail that crossed a creek and decided I better go and see where the trail led.  I felt the wind in my face and figured I better knock an arrow in case I get lucky and surprise a deer.  I continued up the trail until I reached another landing area for hunters to park.  I put my arrow back in the quiver and continued down the trail back from where I came.  I just happened to see a small sapling off of the trail that appeared to have just been torn to shreds as it was still green and wet.  I decided I better continue down the deer trail and see what I find.  “It was like follow bread crumbs” I thought as I looked down the trail and saw rub after rub, fresher than the next.  I continued following the trail with the wind in my face.  I saw something brown in some brush off of the trail which appeared to be some old farm equipment left by the previous owners of the property.  I took one more step and that piece of equipment picked its head up and looked right at me.  It was a mature 10 point that was responsible for the destruction of the many young saplings I had followed and it was no more than 40 yards from me. I was toast. I was caught with my legs crossed over each other and no arrow knocked, wearing blue jeans and a camo shirt.  I figured I would be busted in a matter of seconds but the deer continued staring.  I agonizingly reached for my arrow in the quiver and was somehow able to knock the arrow with this monarch staring at me.  I could see him moving his head up and down and licking his nose trying to wind me and figure out what I was.  He was unsuccessful as I felt that breeze right in my face.  The staring competition lasted around 5 minutes and when I thought I couldn’t hold the position I was in any longer he twitched his tail and started walking forward.  I was able to draw and found an opening through some saplings that separated him and I from each other.  That was my only shot.  He entered the foot gap and I let the arrow fly.  I watched the fletchings disappear behind his shoulder and watched him run off.

Easy dragging

I figured there was no way that what just happened was real.  I raised my hands up and looked around to see if anyone else just saw what took place.  I just took the biggest buck of my life by stocking.  I looked to see where I was in relation to the landing area and looked up the hill to see it less than 70 yards away. I found my arrow and looked into the brush where the deer ran. He was dead no more than 20 yards away.   Use your head and play the wind and you will be successful.