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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I’m thankful for a 150yd zero.

Back in August I wrote about how the scope on my deer rifle was damaged in transit from the UK (see here for that story), the insurance bought me a new Redfield Revolution 3-9×40 that compared to the original weighs half as much, is much higher quality, and is lacking a lot of useless gimmicks like illuminated reticles and parallax adjustments (not that those things are useless all the time, but for the conditions in which I hunt deer they are not needed).

The deer seasons in the Midwest are usually in October/November time, and although I was keen I was unable to go. I was however invited to shoot at The Compound over Thanksgiving and I decided to use the opportunity to zero the new scope on my deer rifle.

I had already mounted the scope and bore sighted it, but I needed ammunition. I was short of time and so it was tempting to run out and buy some generic factory loads, however I have always shot my own reloads through that rifle and I was unwilling to change that. So in the week before Thanksgiving I rushed around to make it happen.

I was already in possession of powder and primers which I had ordered on the internet. I didn’t want to use my match Lapua cases for hunting in case I lost one, and target bullet heads are inappropriate for hunting, so I had ordered some cheaper Winchester cases and Hornady bullet heads on-line to be delivered to a store. Despite having ordered them more than a month previously they weren’t available for pick-up until the Monday before Thanksgiving and we were leaving Minneapolis to visit Amanda’s family on the Wednesday.

Tuesday afternoon found me driving north out of Minneapolis for the 45 minute drive to Cabela’s in Rodgers Minnesota where my stuff had been delivered. Unfortunately in my distraction I went the wrong way and 45 minutes became a hour and 15, but I made it there and got back okay. After a break for dinner I dug my reloading bench and equipment out of the pile of boxes and packages that contain many of our worldly possessions, and settled down to assemble 50 rounds before bedtime.

*The load I use for hunting is not a scorcher, but it is accurate and has accounted for every one of the seven deer I have taken since I began hunting. I use 40 grains of Vihtavouri N-140 in a full-length sized .308 Win case with a CCI benchrest primer and a 150 grain Hornady BTSP Interlock seated to 2.800 inches. I have used this load on every size of deer from full grown Fallow to the naturally diminutive Muntjac, and in every case the deer was on the ground within a short distance with no unnecessary meat damage.*

At 1.30am I had all my rounds assembled and my kit packed away.

The drive into Wisconsin was unremarkable and Thanksgiving was a relaxing break from my first semester back at school, I did a lot of napping as well as the obligatory eating and drinking.

On Friday Amanda and I drove over to The Compound where we met up with Jim Brey as well as Leslie and Ryan who were also down for the holiday. Ryan had never shot a gun before so Jim was going to give him a go as well.

We set up at my preferred zero distance of 150 yards, this allows me to aim dead on out to 200 yards and thus minimises errors caused by misjudging range. Ryan had a go first and got a credible 4 inch group with a 30-06 rifle, then it was my turn. Jim has a very nice shooting bench with a gun rest that made the whole process very simple.

The author zeroing his .308 rifle at 150 yards

The author zeroing his .308 rifle at 150 yards

My first shots were almost off the bottom of the target and about six inches right, but a few clicks got me towards the middle. I couldn’t quite see the point of impact through the scope so Jim ran me down to the target on the back of his four wheeler (quad bike for my UK readers) and I was able to get it into the middle. We had a short break for me to warm my fingers and Ryan took the opportunity to make some noise with a 9mm. When my fingers were back to operating temperature I shot a final group to see what could be done. I fired one shot into the corner of the target to warm the barrel then I fired three for the group.

The author with his zero target

The author with his zero target

I achieved a 5/8 inch group centre to centre (see pic below), which I thought wasn’t bad for 150 yards. The target was the same one we had been using all day and patching with tape, so it was a bit ratty, but I decided to keep it anyway.

three round group at 150yds

three round group at 150yds