It ends, and it begins.

This weekend is the last weekend of the Minnesota deer season (rifles), but it is also the opening weekend of the Wisconsin deer season.

As you may have guessed by the lack of pictures of dead deer, my 2016 Minnesota deer hunt went about as well as my 2015, and 2014 seasons. In terms of deer shot on the property I was hunting on, it was a great season. Four deer were shot this year, but they were taken solely by Larry and Amber, who accounted for two each. I should get a decent amount of meat out of it though, and that’s half the reason I do it.

This weekend I had been planning to drive up to the Minnesota cabin on Friday evening, but a big snow storm hit northern Minnesota on Friday and so I delayed my departure until Saturday morning. I got there in time for the evening hunt, and I had just got myself into an appropriate tree with my climbing tree stand when I heard Amber shoot her second deer of the season. I climbed out of my stand at 6:30, having seen nothing.

I had decided to use my climbing stand this weekend in order to get practice with it ahead of my Wisconsin adventures. And by doing that I learned that it is heavy, noisy, frustrating, slightly terrifying, and if there is more than a few inches of snow for me to hike through, I will be drenched in sweat by the time I finally get up in the tree. Also, because I didn’t have a chance to scout out decent trees in advance, the trees I found myself in offered less than optimal shooting positions.

But that’s okay (This is rapidly becoming my hunting motto).

On the plus side, these are all useful lessons. And Wisconsin didn’t get 15 inches of snow, so I don’t have to worry so much about the sweat.

However, whilst I am currently sitting in the cabin in Wisconsin, starting my second movie and my fourth (or maybe fifth) beer. My hunting partner for the week, Jason, is still in Minnesota and won’t get here until late tomorrow morning at the earliest. So I won’t be using the climbing stand in the morning.

Other lessons I learned this weekend are that I should get scope covers to keep the lenses of my sight clean, and I should put tape over the muzzle to stop snow and debris getting in there. I bought tape at fleet farm on my way to Wisconsin, but the scope covers will have to wait.

In the morning, since there will be no one around to save me if I get into trouble, I will leave my stand behind and hunt from the ground. Assuming I don’t get a deer, it will give me a chance to select a good tree to hunt from for the rest of the week.

I find it easy to get frustrated by my continuing lack of success in Minnesota, and one of the sources of that frustration is the lack of control I have over my hunting situation. I feel powerless to affect my chances of getting a deer. I know it will happen; Amber waited longer than three years to get her first, and I feel like I’m being ungrateful to feel so frustrated about it. I do enjoy hunting there though, and I want to keep going because I like being part of that group.

However I also relish the chance offered by hunting public land in Wisconsin. There are no tree stands ready for me to climb into, and I don’t know anyone with knowledge of deer movements in the area, so in truth my chances are probably even lower than they are in Minnesota. But that also means there is a lot of room for me to learn. I have dreams of hunting even further off the beaten track than northern Wisconsin, and I won’t get there until I first get comfortable walking beside the beaten track.

So tomorrow I will step out into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory, alone (if only briefly), and ready to learn from my inevitable mistakes.

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The ups and downs of hunting

I am now home from deer camp and enjoying a beer and a good book with my feet up. I decided to head home after the morning hunt instead of in the evening, since I am pretty tired and I have to work tomorrow.

This morning was for the most part representative of the rest of the weekend, except that I actually saw deer. Unfortunately they were either too far off, or moving too fast, or both, and I never came close to taking a shot. After they disappeared from my view, they reportedly passed by another member of the group who decided they were too small to shoot anyway.

I climbed out of the stand at 10am at the insistence of my bladder, and after taking care of that, I proceeded to get to grips with my new climbing stand.

I have been moved to remark recently, that, for a person who likes to keep things simple and in their place, I have a lot of hobbies that don’t let me do that. The shooting I do invariably requires bag after bag of clothes and equipment and stuff that all needs to be remembered, and then not forgotten again later, and this climbing stand is the icing on the cake.

It is comprised of two steel structures that individually attach to whichever straight tree I set my sights upon. I then stand with my feet attached to one, and my backside resting on the other, and alternately sit and lift my feet, then stand and lift the other part. I need to wear a safety harness while I’m doing this, and there are a bunch of bungees, ropes, straps, and cushions, that have to be tied up, down, and around, and invariably moved again a few moments later, that makes the whole affair rather frustrating, not to mention a bit scary.

It is awkward to carry, and noisy, and pretty heavy as well (because I didn’t buy the aluminium version), but when I sat down after climbing not very far up the first tree I could find, it turns out it’s actually quite comfortable. I think there might be hope.

Here is a picture of me in the stand after my first exploratory climb:

Next weekend at the cabin my plan is to do all my hunting from this stand, in the hope that I’m thoroughly versed in its operation before I venture out into the wilds of Wisconsin, where help will be a lot further away if I get into a spot of bother.

In other news, although I didn’t get a chance to fire it, I am fairly happy with the rifle I have been carrying this weekend. The Marlin 336 is fairly light, and easy to point and carry. The operation is slightly more complicated than the bolt actions I’m used to, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. With any luck, next weekend, I’ll get to see how it works on deer.

With me luck.

Still nothing

My first day of the 2016 Minnesota deer season is done, and the only deer I’ve seen were shot by other people.

This afternoon I struggled to stay awake, since I had a full belly and the sun was shining on me. After about two hours of power naps I pulled myself together and managed to stay conscious until the sun went down, but it clearly didn’t do me any good as I still have no deer that I can claim as my own.

Tomorrow I’m going to make an effort to hide my silhouette, since the stand I’m in is quite tall and I don’t think my human statue impersonation looks enough like a tree. 

In the afternoon I will take my new climbing tree stand for a spin. I bought it because I’m going to be hunting on public land in Wisconsin in about a week, and I think it will be to my advantage (both for hunting and safety) to be off the ground. I have never used a climbing tree stand before so I hope to figure out all the quirks tomorrow afternoon, so I don’t have to do it at dawn in Wisconsin.

Tonight I plan to drink beer, eat steak, and do my best impression of an American deer hunter. I’m already wearing a flannel shirt so I’m part of the way there, but I’m drinking craft beer instead of light beer, which when combined with my accent, may undermine my efforts.

Fortunately the deer don’t discriminate…I think.

Good morning from deer camp.

I have just returned to the cabin after hunting this morning. I was in the stand by 6:45am, and I stayed there until 11am. 

Here is a picture of me just before I called it quits:

I’m squinting because the sun was bright.

The morning started out cool, 35F (1.5C), but I was wearing enough clothes to avoid discomfort. There were no deer to be seen, but the sky was clear and the sunrise was beautiful, and apart from a bit of a chilly breeze that kicked up mid morning, I had nothing to complain about.

After a quick lunch I will head back out for the evening to try my luck once more.

Cold turkey, warm deer?

Fall turkey season ended like it began, with no turkeys. I only spent a few hours in the woods on my last day, but I heard and saw nothing that could even be mistaken for potential sandwich filling-but that’s okay. Fall turkeys were always going to be a challenge.

I ended my turkey efforts a week before the season was done, because I was going on holiday to visit family, and attend a friends wedding. Unfortunately my friend had chosen the 5th November as his wedding day, which is not only Guy Fawkes night, but also Minnesota deer season opening day. Which means instead of being in a tree stand looking for deer, I was in an English country hotel looking for beer…that was last weekend. 

This weekend finds me back in Minnesota, and back at my friend’s uncle’s cabin, laying in a sleeping bag ready to go to sleep ahead of my personal opening day. I am hoping that the remnants of jet lag from my return trip from the UK will help me get up tomorrow morning at 5:30, like it has every other day this week. 

Unlike previous years there has been a lot of deer activity already, and several have been shot, so I’m feeling quietly confident. I am going to use my Marlin 336 lever action in .35 Remington, because it feels right. 

Now I must go to sleep, because in just under 7 hours I will be hunting. 

Wish me luck.

Turkey hunting: day three

So it’s just after 9am on the 16th of October, and I’m back in the woods. It’s been a long week, but now I’m sat down in my blind with nothing but a shotgun and a day of quiet watching ahead of me, and I think that’s just what I need.

I’m set up on a different part of the property this morning and I only brought my hen decoy with me. I’m thinking that a gobbler in full spring colours, in the company of a hen, doesn’t look quite right for the season.

I’ve just had my first visitor of the day. A nice whitetail buck just ran past me looking on edge. I’d happy to see him again in a few weeks time.

Time to start calling for turkeys.

2pm update:

This morning was pretty uneventful; after the deer passed through the most interesting thing to happen was my lunch.

I thought my position was fairly good, and I was comfortable for the most part, but of turkeys there was no sign – so I decided to move positions.

The morning had its non turkey related pleasures though. The leaves are currently in the process of changing colour and falling, and when the sun was shining through the trees and the wind got up enough to gently move the branches, there was a beautiful shower of golden leaves floating through sunlight and pattering around me. It was quite lovely. If it wasn’t for my determination to eat wild turkey, I’d very likely have missed it on account of usually still being in bed at that time on a Sunday morning.

Here’s is a photo that doesn’t do it justice.

Despite the ultimate goal of my actions being the death of an animal, that is only one part of this experience. The effort and time involved in the pursuit of that final moment is rewarded with countless pleasures and new experiences that are easily reward enough on their own, and are no small part of what gets me out of bed and into the woods time after time.

The spot I am now in has more evidence of animal movements, but I fear it will mostly be deer. We shall just have to wait and see.

Final update:

Unfortunately there was no sign of turkeys this afternoon. I’m hoping that’s because there were simply no turkeys in the area, but it’s hard to shake the suspicion that I’m doing something¬†fundamentally wrong. So I’m feeling a little dejected. However I have uploaded a video that I made when the leaves were falling this morning, so I’ll leave you with that.

Turkey hunting: day two

Day one ended as expected, with no turkey having been seen. But I’m not bothered. I saw a lot more deer, and apart from getting a little cold towards the end it was a very nice way to spend a few hours.

I am back in the woods again this morning, although not as early as I had planned. Last night, just as I was thinking about going to bed, I realised the qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix was happening at 1am. And since I’m kind of addicted to formula one, I couldn’t not stay up and watch it. Which means I wasn’t here until almost 9am. 

That’s okay though, because the land owner (Ron) said the turkey are most active in the afternoon, and I’m not sure I have the stamina to hunt from dawn to dusk without a break anyway. That said, even with my late start it will still be a pretty long day.

My plan today is to hunt in the same stand I spent most of yesterday in, then move to the other stand around lunch time. The other stand overlooks a small pasture that should get some sun later today, and I’m hoping the turkeys will head there to warm up. This might be wishful thinking, because it’s not really that cold today, but you never know.

I’ll update as things happen…

11am update:

My plan to stay still till lunch has been scuppered by the extra cup of tea I had this morning. So I went for a short stroll and didn’t see anything to report. I don’t think there is much point trying to sneak around in search of birds today since the ground is covered in dry leaves and twigs, so I’m falling short of the requisite ninja level stealth necessary for that option to pay off. I’ll just sit still and hope for the best.

We just had a brief rain shower, but luckily I’m sheltered enough where I’m sitting that I’m still dry. The forecast says the rain will pass quickly, and the sun is due to make an appearance around 1pm, so I’ll plan to be set up in the other blind by then.

1pm update:

I have moved.

This is the view from my new position. I have set up my decoys just inside the pasture in front of me. I am fairly well concealed, but there is more wind here and I’m worried I will get too cold to last the afternoon. Have to see how it goes.

A couple of thoughts on my experiences so far: one- sitting on the ground is painful, seemingly no matter how many cushions you have (currently 2). It makes it hard to stay still, and since I’m not very good at that to begin with, its a problem. Two- squirrels are dicks. I had one squirrel yesterday that sat on the trunk of a tree nearby, and yelled at me. I didn’t know they yelled at people. The same squirrel (I’m fairly certain) was staring at me today and making weird noises, at least it wasn’t yelling. I’m pretty sure turkeys are smart enough to know what a grouchy squirrel sounds like, so I’m glad I moved.

The sun has come out as I had hoped, and if I can just stay mostly still, and make relatively convincing turkey noises for the rest of the afternoon, I will consider the day a success. A dead turkey will just be a bonus at this point I think. Modest goals.

3.30pm update:

My decoys are finally getting some action, unfortunately it’s a horse and he doesn’t seem convinced.

I have also seen a tractor, and a model aircraft being flown in a nearby field. I thought I heard a turkey at one point, but I think it was just a bird that sort of sounded like a turkey. 

I think it might be time for a cup of tea and a short stroll.

Day two final update:

After my stroll I rearranged my decoys, adjusted my cushions, and settled in again. The air temperature had come up slightly when the sun came out, and with that and a rare lack of pain in my backside, I promptly fell asleep. It was lovely. Napping under a tree on a warm autumn day feels pretty decadent, and if I thought there was a remote possibility that a turkey had come by while I slept, I might have felt guilty about it. But hunting is often difficult, and usually uncomfortable, and so any time I only have to deal with one of those things I’m going to treasure it.

I stayed in that blind until around 5pm and the only thing I saw was a local farmer who drove past me. He was briefly interested in my decoys, and when he realised they weren’t real he joined the dots and looked around for their owner, so I gave him a wave.

By 5pm the sun had sunk enough that it was shining right on me, and whatever concealment I had been enjoying to that point was rendered null by the solar spotlight. If a turkey had shown up then, I wouldn’t have been able to get my gun up without being spotted, so I called time on that setup.

I took down the blind, and went to collect the one I’d left in the other location. On my way I does spooked a couple of deer that I hadn’t seen, once again reminding me that it’s either not possible to walk quietly on ground covered in dead leaves and twigs, or that I’m just not trying hard enough. 

After dropping the blind and decoys off at my truck, I decided to explore a part of the property I hadn’t been to yet. I wandered around a bit, occasionally sitting against a tree and calling, and then gave up and called it a day. I think I will concentrate on that part of the place when I go back next weekend.

Final weekend tally:

  • Days hunting – 2
  • Turkeys seen – 3 (1 while driving, and 2 decoys)
  • Shots taken – 0
  • Shots I thought about taking – 6, mostly squirrels, and 2 turkey decoys.
  • Deer seen – probably more than I’ll see in November
  • Birds seen – mostly songbirds with the occasional woodpecker. Might have seen an owl in the distance. 

Despite the lack of dead turkeys in my freezer, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m a better turkey hunter after this weekend than I was before it. And to top it off, I can now actually call myself a turkey hunter.