As the sun illuminated the eastern horizon, we were out scouting, just pulled into Waterfowl Production Area north of Aberdeen, when the “who,-who-who” call of the Tundra Swan echoed across the water as a pair of Swans made their way over the water.
Tundra Swans originally called the Whistling Swan are huge birds, breeding on the high tundra at the northern edge of North America. They make their way south in large flocks every fall on their way to winter along the coasts.
Over the years, I had made several trips to north-central South Dakota to hunt in the thousands of acres of public hunting acres, which have always held good numbers of the swans, pheasants, ducks, and geese.
These big birds have eluded me, as my planning had not been the best. It seemed as if I would arrive too early, when the bird numbers were low or too late when the shallow waters where the birds rest and feed on the Sago pondweed would have frozen up.
We had hopes that this year, our third trip for swans would be better, as good friends Casey Weismantel, Aberdeen C.V.B., along with wildlife artist Mark Anderson, Sioux Falls and I planned to attempt a South Dakota grand slam, hunting pheasants, ducks, geese and swans in and around the Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
The weather change happening up north should help push more waterfowl and swans south, giving us excellent opportunities to film a combination pheasant, waterfowl and Tundra Swan show.
Reports coming from the Refuge indicated good numbers of ducks and geese had arrived with the swan numbers increasing each week.
Returning from our early morning scouting trip, we spotted a group of swans’ circling over a small pond, one that was posted. As we rounded the corner, it was easy to see why these birds wanted into the pond as it was loaded with swans, geese and ducks.
One of the reasons South Dakota is such a popular hunting state is not only the tremendous of public hunting ground but also the fact that hunters can legally hunt from the ditch outside the posted ground.
It looked to be a good place to try, so Casey found an area with cover in the south ditch while Mark and I would try the east ditch. We would wait patiently for the birds to fly out from the pond, hoping they come close enough or Mark to get a shot. Unfortunately, the birds coming off the pond would have to gain altitude as they came over the power lines, putting most of them well out of range. On this day, those, which were not too high, slid off to the side of both hunters.
We could not spend too much time trying to fill Casey and Mark swan tags as we had a pheasant-waterfowl hunt planned and would need to meet our other hunters.
The morning was not a total flop as if these birds continued to use the pond; we had an excellent opportunity in the days that followed to try it again.
We would start our morning pheasant hunt at 10:00 in a howling wind, in a CRP field, planted to native grass. Because it was a huge field, we would need to make several passes through the field.
With the dogs out in front, we began our push into the wind, it did not take long for the first bird to flush, only to come crashing down after several well-placed shots from the hunters to my right ended his escape. After making three passes though the field, it was time to head out and get set up for the waterfowl hunt.
The waterfowl hunt would begin late afternoon in a field near Groton, where several of Casey’s friends had been doing well on the new birds coming into a body of water just southwest of our spread.
Arriving at the picked cornfield, we quickly opened a landing zone for the birds, plenty of space for our decoys, laydown blinds and Mojos. [Read more…]
Reprinted from the Sious City Journal.
BEMIDJI, Minn. | Minnesota’s north woods can be a cold place on a November morning. It was pitch dark as I followed my host Jason Johnson through the timber to the deer stand. My headlamp illuminated our path in an eerie shade of red; a color, I’m told, which doesn’t spook deer.
The temperature was in the 20s and it felt like it as I sat in the stand waiting for daylight. Jason had left minutes earlier to sit in another stand on the other side of the 650-acre property we were hunting.
Our hunting partners, Chris Gronewold and Eric Wrede, were also tucked into stands on different parts of the property.
The deer hunting opener across northern Minnesota is a longstanding tradition. It brings to mind big bucks, wool-clad hunters clutching high-powered rifles, snow and of course, the deep woods which the deer call home. Nearly half a million Minnesota hunters invade the woods on opening day.
I was taking part in the Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener, with Gov. Mark Dayton as host. The 12th annual event is sponsored by the governor and the Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources, Explore Minnesota Tourism and the Bemidji community.
Gary Howey, Hartington, Neb., outdoor writer and outdoor television host, and I drove into Bemidji two days before. We checked into the Comfort Inn, a brand new facility on Lake Bemidji’s south shore. We attended the banquet that evening and met our hunter hosts.
The next day we would make our way to our respective deer camps.
Jason, Chris and Eric all work for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Longtime friends, as well as colleagues, they have opened the deer season at Jason’s cabin for many years. They have constructed a number of deer stands on the property and each year add a couple more.
The Clearwater River runs the length of the property. It’s a bright little stream about 50 feet across in most places. It’s full of redhorse suckers but each spring gets a good run of northern pike and walleye from nearby Clearwater Lake where the stream is born.
They keep good records of kills each year and can show the shooting history of each stand.
Jason works for the Department of Ecological and Water Resources. He is a plant ecologist whose job over the years has been to conduct plant surveys across the state and catalog and identify endangered plant species.
Eric works with the Division of State Parks and Trails and coordinates the state’s Water Trails System.
Chris works at Itasca State Park, just a few miles south of Bemidji, managing over 34,000 acres of old-growth forest.
Itasca State Park is the oldest state park in Minnesota and is the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
Shooting time is a half hour before sunrise, but with a cloud cover it wasn’t very light at that time. Yet, I heard a shot, probably miles away, right on the time.
The Minnesota deer opener had begun with a bang.
As time slipped on and the day began to brighten, I heard other shots from all around.
But no deer had shown in front of my stand.
A red squirrel was playing in the trees to the right of my stand, but he was a cautious fellow and wouldn’t sit still for a picture. He had good reason to be skittish. There are a lot of martens in this area and squirrels make a good meal. In fact, I noticed marten sign in the stand. One had explored there very recently. [Read more…]
It may not happen to everyone, but I believe sometime in a whitetail managers tenure, the satisfaction and enjoyment of growing bigger and healthier deer surpasses the actual hunt. I’m pretty sure I’ve reached that point. I guess now I’m as much a game keeper as I am a hunter. Make no mistake, I love to whack does with a bow and still hold a deep passion for trying to find an old mature buck making a wrong move, but I’m truly obsessed with growing deer…big ones. For ten years I managed a piece of property and we at BioLogic have used it as our Proving Grounds for five years. After years of very selective buck harvest, supplemental feeding, and an intense food plot program, I grew a true Southern Giant. While we have been growing and killing above average deer for the area for a long time, this particular buck was a man among men.
To say that the dirt that this buck grew up on is a little rough and rocky is a vast understatement. The majority of the food plots on the Proving Grounds were primarily wide places on the top of steep ridges that I cleared with a dozer and some were once logging decks from the 1980’s. Most of these fields have very shallow or no topsoil and some are almost pure chert gravel with low tilth and organic matter. Growing good crops on this ground was very challenging, but it could actually produce some excellent groceries for deer with hard work, patience, and plenty of lime and fertilizer. Looking back over old soil samples and records, I spread somewhere in the neighborhood of 350-400 tons of lime on these fields over a decade of working the dirt.
The first picture I got of this deer as a two year old was nothing special, he just caught my eye. He had a little better than average G-1’s for a young deer but overall just an average symmetrical 8-pt frame. Of the thousands of photos I go through every year, he was just unique enough to make me save a couple of trail cam photos of him. The pictures I got of him were on a protein feeder right off the edge of a heavily manicured Clover Plus field. This plot was on its 5th year after planting and was still producing some great tonnage and it looked like he visited it frequently. I ended up getting a couple more pictures of him that fall hanging out with what looked to be a couple of three year old bucks. The following spring most all of the food plots on the Proving Grounds were planted in BioMass and LabLab and I sprayed and mowed the perennial fields as usual.
Rain was a little below average that summer and the Alabama heat was oppressive as usual, but getting the summer annuals in early to take advantage of the spring rains proved to be a good choice. Most all the fields held on well and produced some great forage. A camera I had set up at the same feeder mentioned earlier started catching photos of quite a few bucks using the field and feeder, one looked very familiar. He was a beautiful, symmetrical 8-pt with good tine length and mass. After looking the deer over closely, I was positive this was one of the bucks I had saved pictures of the year before and he was showing some great potential. During the fall and winter of 2008 I got pictures of him in quite a few different places on the farm. As with all our three year olds, I told everyone he was definitely on the do not shoot list. In late February of 2009 I was doing some predator trapping and took a ride to the big Clover Plus field and I couldn’t believe it. I found his sheds laying one on top of the other right beside a utilization cage in the plot. Can you say lucky? Going back and looking at his photos, I gave him a conservative 15-inch spread credit and the sheds grossed 127″. I was really excited he made it through the season and I couldn’t wait to see him next year.
In the late summer of 2009 the buck showed up at the same feeder and also in a BioMass Legume plot a couple of ridges to the south, there was no mistaking him. As expected, this buck really put on some serious growth from a three to a four year old. After looking at all the pictures I was getting of him, I was pretty sure he would be in the 150″-155″ range pretty easily. As a four year old his body was really filling out and his rack was now a mainframe 10-pt with great tine length and mass and those same unique brow tines that caught my eye as a two year old, his right side even had a good bump started where a G-5 would be. I was so pumped to see the growth of this deer and I knew he would be a trophy for any bow hunter that year. The big clover field he seemed to be so fond of the previous years was showing some bare spots here and there from a very hot and dry summer and I decided to rotate an annual in there for a while. I felt like with all the nitrogen in the ground from years in clover it should grow some really good brassicas. I gambled on the weather and planted the four acre field the last week of August in our Maximum blend and prayed for a good rain. I was fortunate to catch some timely rains and the brassicas were up and going. At planting time I had lightly disked in a custom blend of 34-28-28 at about 250 lbs. per acre. By the time this field caught its third rain I think you could hear it growing. The 2009 season was in full swing but no one had seen any sign of the big ten.
By late November the Maximum field was shin to knee deep in lush, leafy brassicas and from the looks of it was really getting pounded. I decided to put a camera on a couple of scrapes on the back side of the field and right around Thanksgiving had a buck walk by and trigger the camera. Way in the background I was pretty sure I could see the rack of the big ten. As of mid December that year, only one person had seen the buck. He was running and chased a doe right past a lock-on I had hung down the ridge from that big plot, the guy never had time to pull his bow back before he was out of sight. With the 2009 season starting to wind down, we made the decision that if anyone saw him to let him walk. I know what you are thinking, “let a 4 year old 150 class buck walk in Alabama, you must be crazy”. In mid January, two guys did just that, passed up an incredible buck because they shared the passion I have for growing big deer and we all said “if he survives the winter, just think what he might be next year”. After all, dead deer don’t grow. I just had the feeling that if this buck could make it to five, he could really be a giant.
With the season over, I raced to get my feeders filled up and cameras hung to see what deer had survived. During February and even on into March I got ReconyX photos of the buck using a feeder on the far South side of the farm and knew he had made it through. I’ve never looked for a set of sheds as hard as I did his, I walked every hill, hollow, and thicket around trying to find them. I found quite a few in the process just not his. [Read more…]
Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal.
CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. | When I learned we were headed to Fate Dam to go perch fishing, my heart fell.
I had a whole fly-tying desk weighted down with 1/16-ounce perch jigs in anticipation of a trip to the Iowa Great Lakes in pursuit of perch and yellow bass. Now, it appears I might not get there. But, in the words of one of my favorite baseball players, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And for perch fishing, it ain’t over till the lake freezes over. So, there’s still hope.
But here I was, a couple hundred miles west of Iowa’s famous lakes, driving down a gravel road headed to a 200-acre lake where Jim Klages said the perch bite was on. Jim made the turn into the wildlife area within which the lake lay. [Read more…]