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Bow Journal- Hunt #10- Answers and Questions

October 3, 2010

After my 10th hunt this morning, I have a few tallies to share:

1) I’ve seen 10 deer in 10 trips, including 2 bucks. Two of these deer I saw walking to my hunting spot.

2) On 5 hunts, I have not seen a single deer.

3) I have hunted 3 different spots, and have seen 6 of my 10 deer in “The Hole.”

4) I have had the opportunity to take shots at 2 deer, 1 of which I did shoot. The other was the small basket-rack I passed up.

Now, questions:

1) I don’t feel like I’m seeing a lot of deer. On your hunts, either public or private, are you typically seeing more deer during this part of the year? How about this year?

2) Have you noticed that you see more or less deer before, during, or after harvest?

3) Are you seeing more deer hunting near beans or corn?

4) Do you typically see more deer in the morning, in the afternoons, or in the mid-day?

5) How long are your hunts typically?

6) How much does the moon phase affect your bowhunts this time of year?

Those are my questions for now. Hopefully some of you out there are curious about others’ hunts as well. I know I am – especially on those ‘perfect’ mornings, like today, when I’m not seeing any deer.

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Bow Journal- Hunt #9- Not-so Quiet Time

October 2, 2010

It’s been a long week. After having a friend try to commit suicide, a cousin being found on his kitchen floor after drinking himself to death, and hearing that another close friend’s newborn daughter may be developing severe neurological problems, I needed some time alone. So I chose Joshua Tree to spend this time, kicking up my feet as I overlooked a cut corn field, not always paying attention to what I was looking at. Needless to say, my thoughts were elsewhere.

There is a passage in an essay that I recently wrote entitled “Demons” that talks about these mornings. It reads: Sweat gets a hunter from 6:30 AM until he climbs into the deer stand until 6:45. Adrenaline as he watches a cut bean field lasts until a 7:15 sunrise. The warmth through his body, resonating to his toes, gets him until 7:30. And a steadily lighting field gets him to 8:00. By that time, the body has cooled, then warmed again, and it is settling in for the rest of the morning. If he has confidence in his location, the type of spot found in the deciduous forest bottoms along the Wolf River in Ashland, Mississippi, or the upland terraces of Louisville, Nebraska, he feels as if a buck will walk out at any moment and time marches fast. Yet if his confidence is low then his thoughts keep him in the stand. The more he thinks, the longer he can wait for a shot, despite the harm that can be caused to the soul if the hunt lasts much past sunrise.

Shortly after sunrise today, however, the day was mentally warmer than the past several days have been. And despite only seeing two deer nearly 300 yards away, three coyotes, and the same very curious and social squirrel, it was a new day. The demons, if ever so briefly, had subsided.

Yet the longer I hunted, the more I thought about the little girl, the more times I heard my mother call my cousin “a weak person” for not being able to control his drinking, and the more times I wondered how our friend was ever going to take care of herself when no one was there to hold her up.

So I opened John Grisham’s Theodore Boone, a kid’s book about an Encyclopedia Brown-type character who will inevitably save the day by page 260, just in time to give Grisham a few more pages to wrap up this case and set readers up for a future Boone story.

Yes, I was reading a kid’s book in the deer stand today. Yet I needed a few minutes to feel like a kid before the long, re-acclimating walk back to the truck forced me to be an adult again.

And that was my deer hunt today.

Bow Journal- Hunt #8- The Ground Blind

September 29, 2010

The Ground Blind

The ground blind was built out of necessity. When gaining permission to hunt on a farmer’s land, you take what you can get. Tuesday and Thursday mornings before 10 AM- I’ll take it. Only if you drive up and no one else’s truck is parked at the land- I’ll take it. And ¼ of 1 acre of woods without a tree adequate enough to hang a stand- I’ll take it.

The last place is where my nephew Jonathan and I built the ground blind out of wire mesh, cattail look-alike, an assortment of twigs and corn stalks, and spray paint. It overlooks either a bean or cornfield, a regular scrape spot less than 10 yards away, and a game path easily seen in the dead of night.

From this spot, I have killed a nice buck with my rifle less than 10 yards away, missed 2 does with my bow, lost 1 small buck with my bow after failing to get a pass through after hitting a front shoulder, and drawing back but being unable to get a shot off at 2 other does. Needless to say, in a very short time period over the last season of hunting, I have seen my fair share of deer from the ground. As well as squirrels, possums, and a very curious number of raccoons who I believe one day will walk right into my blind with me, leaving parts of Mr. Jeff all over the corner of these woods.

The distance of last year's buck from the ground blind

This morning, however, I survived the raccoons, as they remained on tree limbs the entire time. I also dodged deer, having seen none during my short hunt that had me back at the truck by 8:00 AM.

Yet during this limited time I did have a chance to set up my remote camera, which I have experimented with before in an effort to capture a still shot of me drawing down on a deer. With a camera and remote device behind me and the receiver in a small wooden contraption at my feet, the plan is to trigger the shutter with a step of the foot while the camera photographs from behind me at an approaching deer.

I’ve gotten my angle right, and I’ve gotten my focal point correct. All I need now is a deer. Which failed to provide itself for my very short hunt this morning.

Lunch Time

September 28, 2010

They say you should never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach. That’s logical. But, no one ever warns you about food blogs. These websites, collected at places like Foodgawker and Tastespotting, are dangerous combinations of delicious recipes and beautiful photography. A quick browse can easily turn into two hours gone and an expensive grocery list. I blame it on the turning of the seasons as well. There’s something about the cooling temperatures and changing colors that makes my brain think “Let’s fatten up for the winter months.” Fine by me, brain.

Besides how I can resist when I see recipes for things like ‘Pumpkin Scones with Maple Frosting’ or ‘Easy Kimchi’ (a traditional Korean fermented cabbage side dish that’s addictive to those of us who regularly crave spicy food). Who could blame my stomach for growling when I read the words ‘Chile Cheese Upside Down Cornbread’? The Internet is a great resource for recipes. It’s proven especially helpful in my search for new variations on game meat and Nebraska-harvested vegetables.

In fact, it’s a great way to scout locations and connect with people who can provide or sell you those wonderful things. Omaha’s year-round indoor farmer’s market, Tomáto-Tomäto’s website frequently updates its inventory. The Pick Your Own.org’s website has a list, by county, of farms and markets complete with directions, contact information and a little history about each place.

And of course, there’s the Deer Exchange Program, which you can access through Nebraska Game and Parks website. I’m signed up and am eager to hear from area hunters with full fridges. If you would like to know more or sign up to take part in this awesome program, head to the website.

Now, if you’ll excuse me…it’s time for lunch.

Bow Journal- Hunts #6 & #7- To Pass the Time

September 27, 2010

What does one do to pass the time while sitting in a deer stand? It is a question that must be answered by anyone spending any significant amount of time living in a tree. For there will be days when nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, is happening.

For the past two hunts, I saw two turkeys and one squirrel in nearly eight hours in the stand. The area was so barren of life that my heart skipped when I saw the squirrel, a bit of nervousness reminding me I wasn’t the only living soul in the woods.

So I had plenty of time to think while I watched corn to my left, green space in front, beans to my right, and woods behind me. Plenty of time. Here are a few thoughts that passed through my mind, probably very similar to what some of you are pondering while up a tree (unless you’re much more concentrated than me).

I counted deer from past hunts; wondered how many ears of corn are in this field I was watching; thought about The Hole, The Blind, The 10-acre Field, Joshua Tree, Wanza’s, The Widowmaker, and all the names of all the other stands I have hunted through the years; questioned when I could start taking Madeline with me turkey hunting, when she would be ready; hoped Madeline and her mom were safe during their Sunday morning travels; pondered if the Yankees have enough good bats in their lineup to get through the Phillies if they get to the Series; cried about Notre Dame’s game versus Stanford; recounted deer from past hunts; estimated how many steps it takes for me to walk from the truck to Joshua Tree; prayed that my wife will be to help a friend of hers out with some of her serious, personal problems; evaluated if my nose is larger than most, for I can close one of my eyes and still see a significant amount of it; wondered how long our high school lunch periods were when I was going to school; hoped Rob was seeing deer over the ridge; and tried to figure out how I have become a Nebraska Cornhusker fan after despising them for so many years.

Well, the last thought I had a definite answer to: Pelini.

All the others, I’m never sure I came up with the right answers to satisfy me. So I continued to think, peering to my left and my right the entire time, mainly wondering where in the hell all the deer went.

And when I met Rob back at the truck, looking at my friend who I’ve known since birth, I couldn’t help but know what was coming. “Hey, Jeff,” he started, “maybe later this year I can take you hunting so we can see some deer.”

An obscene gesture later, we were riding down gravel roads laughing about the morning, comparing notes on all that we had figured out while we were up a tree.

Bow Journal- Hunt #5- An Old Friend, Basket-racks, and Something to Think About

September 24, 2010

Deer hunting in Nebraska is a very big deal for those who didn’t grow up here. So when I asked lifelong friend Rob Gaia to spend a few days with me chasing Nebraska bucks, he had no problem with the idea. “You just tell me how many vacation days I need to take,” he said. Shortly after, we were booking his flight.

Having fished in eastern Nebraska before and ridden from Omaha to Nebraska City via highways 50 and 2, Rob has always marveled at how much space there is here. “Is it hard to scout,” he said, “When most of the patches of woods are so small?”

Back home, Rob is used to hunting massive tracts of woods with Rob-planted food plots on open grass fields, essentially the norm for a lot of Southern hunters. So when I told him that he’d be hunting over my 50-acre corn food plots, he laughed, cursed me under his breath, and readied his equipment.

Cast in shadows, Rob Gaia sit in the Joshua Tree stand waiting for his first shot at a Nebraska deer.

Arriving last night into Omaha, we quickly discussed plans, told a few lies, and parted until this morning. The plan was for him to hunt the Joshua Tree stand, where Dad got his shot the other day, and I would be back at my same spot as my doe on Wednesday.

While his morning was uneventful, I saw three deer shortly after 8 AM, two basket-racks and one doe. The doe closed to about 45 yards, giving me a broadside shot, yet I wanted her closer. Both of the bucks were smaller than I wanted to shoot today, despite one being a small 8-pointer (4×4 for you Northerners) that was less than 30 yards away from me.

However, I was given something to think about this morning as I readied for the doe to move closer. When sitting in my climber, my view was perfect, with only one small limb to my left blocking my view yet actually providing me a little cover if a deer approached from that direction (i.e. the Deet Deer).

Yet when I stood up to shoot, my open windows closed dramatically. Which leads me to this question for you bowhunters: is it better to hide yourself completely and only shoot through very small windows, or is it better to cut a couple more limbs down around you and give yourself the ability to take longer shots?

My view from "The Hole" while sitting down

My view from "The Hole" while standing up for a shot

I am curious of your thoughts, for I know this issue will arise again.

I Like Elk

September 23, 2010

  

A North Platte River Bull

People often ask me what my favorite story subject is. Until recently, I always hemmed and hawed around and said I didn’t really have a favorite, that I just liked being out, and bla bla bla, yada yada yada. I was serious. I have enjoyed all of the subjects I’ve covered during my 10 years with NEBRASKAland, either for the people or critters involved, the places they took me, or the cause they supported. 

Now my answer is a short, three letter word – elk – and the subject of the cover story in this month’s magazine titled “Return to the Plains: Elk Comeback Not Yet Finished.” 

My fascination with elk began when I was in my teens, likely due to the intrigue of hunting in the mountains. An elk hunt was on my mind when I bought my second rifle, a 7mm Remington Magnum when I was 20 or so. A poor college student at the time, I had no idea when I might be able to afford an elk hunt, but I wanted to be properly armed when the time came, just in case I couldn’t afford to put another rifle in the closet. 

It would be 17 years before that day came and I swung a late-season cow hunt in northwestern Colorado. I still had only one rifle, not the same one, but a 7 mag just the same. That successful hunt reignited a desire to get serious about hunting elk. My next hunt added a heaping load of fuel to that fire. 

The Author and his 2007 Nebraska Bull

In 2007, after 12 years of finding nothing but rejection letters in my mailbox, I finally found an envelope that contained my coveted, once-in-a-lifetime Nebraska bull permit. On the fifth day of the season, I harvested a beautiful 6×6 bull. On the first day, I lost an equally impressive bull. Between that heartbreak and the elation that came with success, I saw elk every day, called in my first bull on my first attempt with my pack bugle, and generally became hooked on elk hunting. 

When I returned to Lincoln, I promptly added “Elk in Nebraska” to the list of stories I was working on. I began making contacts with landowners I knew had elk on their property, and tracking down others I didn’t yet know, and told the boss what we often do here at the magazine: “When I get the photos, you can schedule it.” 

My elk photo safari began in December of 2008 on the one place I truly wanted to photograph them: the North Platte River Valley near Lewellen. Not once in the countless times I’d driven across the river on Highway 26, either on my way to hunt geese or to college in Chadron from my home in Ogallala, did I ever imagine there would be elk in that country. But in two of three trips to John Orr’s, I left with elk photos. On a winter shoot in 2008, I followed fresh elk tracks in the snow into the canyons to find a pair of bulls one day, and on the next froze in the teeth of a north wind on a single-digit day while laying on a hillside across a draw from a herd I’d followed off the alfalfa. That evening, after I bumped the herd moving in for more photos, I watched one of those one of those odd animal behaviors anyone who spends lots of time in the outdoors is sometimes lucky enough to see. As two mature bulls sparred playfully, a spike walked up and presented his antlers as if to say, “Can I play?” Two days later, I watched that same spike pace back and forth in front of a fence separating the alfalfa and the canyon, refusing to jump it and follow the rest of the herd. Kids. 

My only failure at Orr’s was two summers ago, when I went west hoping to photograph cows and calves. I glassed six crossing a meadow from a distant hilltop the first morning, but never saw elk again, and left only with blisters, mosquito bites and a new appreciation for my Thermacell after spending the beginning and end of two days in that wet meadow. 

Last September, I was back at Orr’s, parked on the road, lying on the hood of the truck staring at the stars and listening to a half-dozen or more bulls bugle incessantly. The next morning, I used a cow call and bugle to draw the bull you see on the cover of the issue into camera range. Paint the cottonwoods white and you’d think you were in a mountain aspen stand. Had I known he was going to circle me when he left my frame, I might have gotten a photo of him bugling 30 yards or so behind, but instead was forced to listen from the cattail slough I was hiding in. Had I packed a diaphragm call, I might’ve been able to get him to do that while he was still in front of me. I sure wasn’t going to move and grab the one around my neck. 

Busted at 40 yards, give or take

The next morning, I spent several hours working my way through the maze of willows and sloughs to get close to the only bull that bugling in the entire bottom. One call sequence brought that young bull in at a run. 

With more than enough North Platte River elk photos in hand, I headed to the Pine Ridge. My first evening was a bust, as I only spotted a lone cow elk from a distance. That was more than I saw the entire second day, however. Finally, on the third day, I found a herd on an alfalfa field southeast of Chadron, a photo of which leads the story. As always, an elk herd visible from the road tends to draw a crowd, and a half-dozen of us watched as a herd bull kept a satellite at bay. 

The next morning on Jody Stumpf’s near Bordeaux Creek, I attempted get behind a herd feeding on another alfalfa well before dawn. But while skulking through the woods, listening to the sounds of antlers clashing and bulls bugling, I spotted the shadowy outline of a massive bull in the woods ahead of me. I didn’t spook him, but didn’t try to get closer either. That same bull was headed down a trail toward the post I took, but did an about face when cows began talking behind him. But I was happy one bull, the mud-caked one in the story, decided to walk past. With all of the talking going on that morning, I’m betting I could’ve called one of the bulls in the herd closer, but Jody’s wife, Judy, had a landowner permit to fill, and with the season just a week away, they didn’t want me pushing the elk, which I completely understood. 

My safari also included two trips to Mark Johnson’s near Nenzel. The first was a bust, made in February 2008 when I’d hoped snow in the forecast would bring elk out of the Niobrara River canyons to Johnson’s pivots. It didn’t snow, they didn’t come out of the canyons and I couldn’t find them when I went in after them, but I did have a nice hike. I’ve already told you about my second trip in an earlier blog., Hunting with A Camera. Elk in the Sandhills? I like the idea. 

I used no blinds or stands to capture the photos in the story, only a binoculars, a ghillie suit, boot leather, and occasionally calls. When all was said and done, I was successful on more days that I tried to photograph elk than not. I don’t know if that makes me lucky, good, or both, but I’ll take it. I do know that I couldn’t have done it without the help of the landowners who granted me access to their property, and even served as my scouts. Whether you’re hunting with a gun or a camera, effort spent scouting is usually directly proportional to success. 

I know I’m glad elk decided to return to our fine state. I just wish I didn’t live so far them. But that could be a good thing. I could see myself spending way more time than I should hunting them with a camera. I’m hooked to the point that I’m going elk hunting this weekend and I don’t even have a permit. Long-time friend Gregg Sweley does, though, and since he kept me company on most of my Nebraska hunt, so I’m returning the favor, hoping I can help find him a cow (like me, he already punched his Nebraska bull tag). That will get me my fix until I can draw my own cow tag, the Nebraska Super Tag or add five more preference points for the hunt I’m planning in Colorado. 

I’ll have camera in tow this weekend, of course. Maybe I’ll get that photo of a bull bugling in my face that I really wanted for the story. I tried to talk the bosses here into pushing the publication date back further so I could keep trying for that shot. But they’re no fun. Not nearly as much fun as elk, anyway. 

You can read my story and see more photos and information that we didn’t have room for in the print edition at http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/nebland/articles/hunting/elk_return.asp

See you out there. 

A Bugling Bull in the Pine Ridge (aka: Right time, wrong ridge. -or- They don't make lenses that big)