Happy New Year

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This is my favourite photo from the few days I spent deer hunting in Wisconsin last November, and although it looks like it could have been edited, it wasn’t. The weather was cold, but not desperately so. There was snow on the ground, but not too much. And it was fairly overcast for much of the week we were there, as you can see.

Although I went to Wisconsin with the plan of hunting from my climbing tree stand, that actually never happened. On the first morning, before Jason arrived from Minnesota, I elected to head out to one of the locations we had scouted a few months earlier. But when I got there, there was obvious evidence of previous hunter activity on the trail and I wasn’t particularly surprised when I was disturbed by hunters making their own way down the path. It was also apparent that these guys perceived this path as just an access route, so that was the end of that plan.

Jason arrived at lunch time, and since it was clear that we didn’t have a clue what to do, we decided to head out, find new areas, and hope for the best.

The area we headed for first was a place we had tried, and failed, to access on our scouting trip. However this time we approached it from a different direction, and hiked in from the main road. One of the interesting things about this area is that there is a small population of Elk (American Elk that is, not European Elk which Americans call Moose) that is part of a repopulation program. Which meant we frequently encountered very large tracks, and impressive piles of droppings that could only come from Elk, but very few tracks and dropping from animals we could legally hunt.

On that first day we decided to spend our time hiking around looking for likely hunting spots. This made a lot of sense, but I was wearing clothing intended to keep me warm while sitting still for hours on end, so after not very long at all I was a hot mess (as you can see below).

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The following day we decided to use Jason’s truck to drive back into the area, but we came in via a track that must have been intended for snowmobiles, because the truck barely fitted through, and we were very glad to have 4 wheel drive more than once. We made it to the spot, parked, and hiked our way in, but what had looked promising on a satellite photo turned out to be very far from that in reality. What we had interpreted as a grassy meadow with a gentle ridge running along one side, was in fact a bog, and the ridge was covered in such dense foliage that I couldn’t find a single spot that offered a view longer than about 20 yards. When I stepped off the ridge into the open bog I was immediately at risk of sinking into an icy sludge, meaning even if I saw a deer in the open and shot it, I would most likely be unable to retrieve it safely. That morning was probably the closest I came to seeing deer that week, because as I was stumbling through the dense brush, I heard a number of them running away.

After wasting a couple of hours on that fruitless exercise, we made our way back to the truck and decided to just drive around, stopping every now and again to explore the area beside the track. It was on one such exploration that I took the picture at the top of the page.

The most memorable moment of the week came as I was making my way slowly through a recently clear cut area. I was carefully stepping through the branches and debris that covered the ground, when I heard a noise and looked up and came face to face with some local wildlife. Crossing my path less than 20 yards away was a family of Bobcats. They didn’t seem to notice me at first, which was odd because I was standing out in the open and wearing bright orange, but when they did they froze, hissed at me, and then ran away. I have never seen a large cat in the wild, nor really expected to, so that was pretty amazing. And despite my otherwise lack of deer success, on the basis of wildlife encounters in general, I count that week a success.

We continued to hunt like that until Wednesday night, the day before thanksgiving, then Jason had to head home. That night the rest of my wife’s family arrived and so I switched from hunting mode to family holiday mode, and with the exception of a rifle propped in the corner of the cabin in case a deer walked past outside, that was the end of my 2016 hunting season.

 

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Phun with Pheasants

The team before the hunt

The team before the hunt January 10th 2013

In November while I was at the Compound zeroing my rifle (see here for that story) Jim Brey invited me to join him on a pheasant hunt at Milford Hills Hunt Club. When Amanda and I were planning our trip back to Wisconsin for Christmas I gave him a call and a field was booked for the Thursday after Christmas.

Christmas is a busy time for Milford Hills so the only slot that was available was for 7am, but this didn’t bother me as shooting events are one of the few things for which I can reliably get up for early in the morning.

I drove to meet Jim at the Compound and from there we went to Milford Hills together to meet Tom Wakeman (who officiated at our wedding in 2009) and John Neff, who is a vet and looks after the needs of the fifth member of the team, Beau, who would be retrieving for us.

We had coffee while the field was stocked, and then out we went. The weather was cold so I was wearing thermal underwear and two jumpers under my usual hunting clothing. I also wore some light gloves under a pair of knitted shooting gloves to keep my hands warm. A thin hat under a blaze orange hat finished my outfit along with a blaze orange vest lent to me by Jim to make me visible to other hunters in adjacent fields. I was using my Beretta 686 over & under with No. 5 shot.

The method was to line up and walk backwards and forwards across the field with Beau quartering in front of us and retrieving the birds we shot. Everything was very new to me as I have not hunted pheasants like this before, and it requires quick reactions to hit birds that launch away in front of you without warning. My early attempts were clumsy, but after a little while I started to get into my swing and I managed to contribute to the downing of a few birds and even got one on my own.

The ground had a fairly thick layer of snow which made the going hard for Beau, and it also prevented some birds from getting into cover and instead would run ahead of us over the ground and only fly when they were almost out of range and causing us to lose some.

When we had covered the full field we went back to the club house for lunch and a drink. I decided on the “Double Barrel Brat” which was two large bratwurst made with pheasant in a bun, which I washed down with a pint of Guinness. The club picks up the birds and dresses them for you, so after lunch we picked up two bags of wrapped meat and I was given one for myself as Tom and John didn’t want any.

Amanda was very excited about the pheasant meat and we have had two dinners with it since Christmas. First was Kung Pao pheasant (see picture below).

Kung Pao Pheasant

Kung Pao Pheasant

This recipe came from the website Honest-food.net, you can find it here, and was delicious. The second recipe was from www.epicurious.com and was meant for chicken but Amanda made it with pheasant and it was also delicious.

Aztec Style Pheasant

Aztec Style Pheasant

At the time of the hunt at Christmas Jim booked a few more dates and invited me to any that I was free for. This last Thursday was one of the dates and since we were planning to came back to Wisconsin this weekend anyway I was able to travel down a few days early and have a second day out. I had forgotten my camera for the first hunt, but remembered it for the second. The photo at the top of this post was taken before the hunt this week and includes myself on the left next to John Neff, with Jim Brey holding Beau, and finally Tom Wakeman on the right.

This day went much the same as the first time but I had more success accounting for at least three pheasants on my own. Since I was given a gift card for Christmas I was able to buy myself my own blaze orange vest and new electronic ear defenders in time for this hunt. The ear plugs I wore for the first hunt had valves to block the gunshots, but I found they hurt my ears after a while so I removed them. The electronic ear defenders worked great, they allowed me to hear everything that was going on while muffling the gunshots excellently. The weather wasn’t so cold so I didn’t need so many jumpers and my thin gloves were enough to keep my hands warm. The snow cover was less so Beau had an easier time of it running around.

The birds were still running ahead but this time we tried a new tactic. When a bird started to run Jim would call Beau back to give one or two of us time to work our way around the pheasant to prevent it getting to far away. This worked well and less birds were lost. On one occasion having worked my way forward, the bird I was after took off and I fired my first barrel at it only to have another bird take off  beside me and fly in the other direction. Since the first bird was flying towards John Neff I decided to switch my attention to the second bird which was flying away, but I rushed it and the shot from my second barrel missed which was disappointing. For this hunt I had purchased a box of No.4 shot to use in the second barrel with a tighter choke after the No.5 from the first barrel. The hope was that the No.4 would carry more energy and be more effective for second shots at departing birds, however I was unable to determine if this actually made any difference.

Below is a picture that Tom Wakeman took of John, myself, Jim, and Beau with some of the birds we shot early in the day on the second hunt.

Early success.

Early success January 10th 2013

I had a great time and Jim has invited me to any future hunts I am able to attend.