Monday, November 16, 2009


For deer hunters, one of the greatest highs is to see a big buck and take a perfect, broadside shot. And, one of the greatest lows is failing to recover a deer that you shot at and hit.

My son, Andy, experienced both on the same day Saturday. Hunting from the same stand where he had hunted on opening day, he saw a nice buck walk out into a pasture at 7:20 a.m. He made a grunt with his voice to get the buck to stop, then took careful aim and squeezed the trigger.

The deer hopped, then ran across the field, jumped a fence and went into the woods. Andy was so excited and confident that he had hit the deer in the vitals that he climbed down from the stand after only 10 minutes and went looking for the deer.

That proved to be a critical mistake. The deer was hit in the stomach and not the vital organs, so it jumped up and ran off when Andy entered the woods. It kept going and Andy never found it. A stomach wound requires a long waiting period -- up to several hours or even overnight -- before recovery can be made.

Andy was just not patient enough. So, he got to experience the greatest heartache of deer hunting. It's the second time this year and third time overall that he has not been able to recover a deer that he had hit.

As a father, I tried to figure out a way to help him deal with it. But, I was struggling with it myself. I really wanted to see him experience the exhilaration of downing a big buck. I was probably as disappointed as he was.

In the end, I just told him I felt bad for him and reminded him that he did the best he could. Sometimes, I said, things just don't work out. Fortunately, we have another hunt ahead of us, this time in Montana.

We should see plenty of animals there, so, hopefully, Andy will get another chance. And, Joe and I should finally see something. I think this year is the first time I have failed to see a deer the entire season. I'm sure the warm weather and standing corn had a lot to do with that. Hopefully, we'll have better results next year.

Who knows? Maybe enough good things will happen out west that we'll forget all about our deer hunting troubles in Minnesota.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Where are the deer?

When it comes to deer hunting, it's always hard to know what to expect when you sit in your stand opening day. I had a feeling this year might be tough, but I never imagined the kind of results that I and my two oldest sons have had.

Between the three of us, hunting on different properties near Red Wing, we saw just one deer all weekend. Andy got a shot at a small, antlerless deer Saturday morning. He hit it, but we were not able to recover the deer. That is always painful.

Meanwhile, my son, Joe, and I did not see a deer all day, or on Sunday. In both places, there was standing corn, and it's natural to conclude that most, if not all, of the deer were in the corn. In fact, when I talked to the landowner where I hunt last night, his comment was, "the deer are in the corn, laughing."

He might be right. We have taken a total of four deer off of his property during the last three seasons and have seen more than that. But, this year, nothing. I'm trying to figure out what's going on, but I don't have any answers. The season where we hunt, Zone 3, lasts until sundown on Sunday. I'm going to call the landowner Saturday to see if his corn is down. If so, I may try to get out Sunday evening. Spilled corn from a freshly harvested field is a magnet to deer.

That will be my last hope for tagging a deer in Minnesota. The good news is, next weekend our family leaves for Montana, where we will spend the entire week of Thanksgiving. I have two tags, one an either-sex license for either a whitetail or mule deer, and the other an antlerless whitetail license.

There are lots of deer in Montana and we saw quite a few last year, so I'm confident I'll have a good chance to fill both tags. And, Joe and Andy each have special youth licenses good for both an either-sex whitetail or mulie and an either-sex elk. Who knows? Maybe we'll be bringing home some elk meat.

One thing is almost certain -- this journey should be more fruitful than our Minnesota hunt.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hard work and walleyes

I generally don't think of fishing for walleyes as work. No. 1, I don't get paid; No. 2, it's fun!

Yet, on my journey earlier this week to Lake of the Woods on my annual fall walleye fishing adventure, it seemed as though a high level of exertion was necessary to catch fish.

Or, perhaps, more accurately, some persistence was required. Normally, by this time of year, walleyes are pouring into the Rainy River from the main lake in waves, chasing shiners that migrate there every fall. So, it's a matter of picking a spot in the river, anchoring and tossing a jig and minnow overboard. Often, the wait under optimal conditions is less than a minute for a bite -- and, a very aggressive, swallow-the-jig type of bite.

Not so on this trip. Even though the water temperature was 42 degrees, there weren't streams of walleyes invading the river. Rather, it was more of a trickle. The good news was, there were enough fish for my friend, Pete Wolney, and I to catch plenty for dinner and bring home a limit. The bad news was, we waited much longer than usual for bites, sometimes up to an hour.

But, I am not complaining. After all, I did land a nice, 23-inch walleye, plus we had one flurry on the trip in which we caught eight fish in an hour Tuesday morning. I caught five of those fish, which included back-to-back 18-inchers and a 19-incher, the biggest keeper of the trip. With a protected slot of 19 1/2 to 28 inches, the three nice fish I caught are some of the best eaters an angler could ask for.

Interestingly, during the time of that flurry, I had the unusual problem of ice buildup on my rod guides. That, more than anything, made me wonder if Pete and I were nuts for fishing under these conditions. That morning, the mercury dipped to 18 degrees and only got into the upper 30s. So, we spent much of the day fishing in sub-freezing weather.

Of course, cold doesn't bother me nearly as much when the fish are biting. Unfortunately, they weren't biting at all on the main lake, which is where we decided to try Tuesday morning due to a good report we got before the trip.

Last week, anglers were catching lots of fish out on the lake past a narrow opening in a long island called "the gap." But, strong northwest winds over several days churned up the water and made it dirty, shutting down the lake bite. We didn't get a bite in an hour and a half and heard similar reports from other anglers who also tried it.

Then, we came back into the river and anchored on one of our favorite spots. That's when we had the eight-fish flurry. That was worth the whole trip for me. But, we caught more fish the next morning to replace what we had eaten the night before. This is our sixth or seventh year of going up in the fall, and we have taken home our limit every time.

We worked harder for it this year than other years, but our persistence paid off. So did our previous years of experience on the river. We have several spots stored in our memories that rarely let us down. Plus, we have learned to put our time in when the conditions are tough. We especially target dawn and dusk, when nice flurries often occur. However, this year, our best flurry happened from 11 a.m. to noon.

Sometimes, that happens. I'm just glad we were in the right spot when a good wave of fish went through. Now, it's on to deer hunting, which opens on Saturday. We will face unusually mild temperatures and lots of standing corn. That could make the hunting tough.

But, I'm fresh off of a fishing trip where persistence made the difference. I plan to sit in my stand all day Saturday and I'm encouraging my two sons, Joe and Andy, to do the same. Last year, I got my deer at 12:30. Because the rut is in full swing, deer should move even if it's warm.

That's what I plan to keep telling myself on Saturday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Davern hill one more time

For the second time, I conquered the Davern hill near my home in St. Paul. I made the four-and-a-half-mile jog one week after I did it for the first time.

This time, I hit the pavement at 5 a.m. The early start time was needed because my friend, Pete Wolney, planned on picking me up at 7 to go on our annual fall fishing trip to Lake of the Woods. We normally go earlier than this, but the walleyes have been late in their annual migration from the main lake into the Rainy River.

In fact, the major run still hasn't happened, so many of the fish are still in the lake. Fortunately, they are biting well and anglers who make the trip out past the gap and into the main basin are being rewarded with limits of walleyes.

Hopefully, the winds won't be too strong and we'll be able to get out there, too. I will have a report from our trip later in the week. Then, after that, it's the deer hunting opener on Saturday!