By Scott Bestul
Unless you’ve been sleeping under a pile of deerskins, you already know NFL legend Brett Favre has retired. So why is this beat-to-death news appearing in Buck Tracker? Because the man is a whitetail freak.
Oh, I loved Favre for the same reasons everyone else did. He was tough, he played with the zeal of a teenager, and he conducted himself like a gentleman. And, of course, he was a Packer. As a Wisconsin native who grew up in the Lombardi era, I didn’t so much choose to be a Packer fan as I had it bottle-fed to me. So Favre kept the fun in cheering for the Green & Gold…though I’ll have to admit I never missed a Sunday afternoon in the deer woods to do that.
And now Favre won’t have to, either. While most folks concentrate on Favre’s on-field stats, Wisconsin’s 700,000 deer hunters recognized something equally important - he was one of them. If there was time after a Sunday home game, or if the team had a Monday off, Brett was in a tree stand with a bow in his hands.
Coincidentally, the central Wisconsin farm Favre hunted lies not far from the Bestul family homestead. In fact, an area game warden was the guy who registered Favre’s deer when he was successful. It did my heart good to know that one of the NFL’s biggest guns loved deer hunting in the same woods that taught me to love the whitetail.
So No. 4 will now chase deer in the woods of his native Mississippi. We’re gonna miss him here up north next fall - though probably for different reasons than the rest of the nation. And though I’m sure Brett will have his share of Sundays when he misses his old job, I’m betting the deer woods will provide sufficient therapy. [ Read Full Post ]
By Kim Hiss
I guess it's no secret to our blog that I read The New York Times every day. Well, the other morning I was happy to see a great lead story on their home page: "Competing on Calls That Aren't Just Elk to Elk." Okay, so the title's a bit awkward, but it was nice to see such front and center coverage of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation World Elk Calling Championship in Reno, Nev.
The article talked about three finalists in the PeeWee Division of the contest, who are also members of their Reno elementary school's Elk Club. It's an after-school group started by a science teacher who wanted to connect learning to call with environmental education. I'm sure a lot of youngsters, hunters or not, wouldn't mind blowing off some after-school steam by making noise with funny tubes.
I'm also sure that a number of them could put my calling skills to shame. I haven't exactly been the fastest learner when it comes to that subject.
I started off with some helpful observations, though. I remember when I began to suspect on my first duck hunt, that part of calling is
knowing when to cork it. I was sharing three adjacent blinds
with 9 guys, and the minute an approaching spec appeared in the sky,
every one of them started blowing with a vengeance, assaulting the poor bird with
this wall of sound that undoubtedly warned it all was not well. Good to know.
I later tried a goose call for the first time on a hunt with some Amish friends in central Pennsylvania. They're the humblest, thriftiest, most non-materialistic people I know - but I swear between the two of them, they'd ordered every call Cabela's ever displayed in its catalog. The just love, LOVE to hunt and weren't shy about outfitting themselves with the best equipment they could find.
Anyway, one of them offered to teach me how to call my first time out with them. I was afraid of emptying the entire northeast of its goose population but I figured, what the hell, I'd played trumpet and French horn through college - I could certainly handle a piece of plastic.
Well, it was just embarrassing. After a few failed attempts with one call, they offered me another, suggesting it might be easier. No can do - that call just would not be tamed. If I did end up getting a decent sound, I couldn't figure out how to bend the tone. And apparently just blowing harder is not the answer.
So I may not be a crack goose caller (yet), but how do the rest of us hold up? Turkeys, ducks, geese, elk - what are your calling triumphs and turmoils? And have you been out with any obnoxious callers, or for that matter, any child prodigies? -K.H. [ Read Full Post ]
By Bill Heavey
The votes are in, the decision is final, and the winner of the shed hunting contest is Jack. He didn’t win because he came up with a good name, but because any guy who needs a Gerber folding knife bad enough to write poetry for it is embarrassingly desperate. (Also - and this is the painful part - it was actually a pretty good poem.) Jack, send your snail mail address to email@example.com and he'll forward to me. I’ll get you the knife - eventually.
Sore losers, repeat after me: "You get what you get and you don't get upset."
I have neglected every responsibility under the sun to go out four times this week. What I have to show for it is a single fresh shed, barely a 5-pointer, right side, that could belong to what will be a nice buck next fall.
In the same area, I came across a long-dead buck with antlers, four on one side and a single 10-inch spike on the other. This was significant because it indicated that either nobody was hunting antlers in the area or at least nobody was desperate enough to cut horns off a rotting carcass. The absence of competition made my heart soar.
I've been finding a disconcerting number of small buck skulls and sheds that are at least a year old: bleached white and porous by the sun, chewed ragged by rodents. It got me wondering if I simply can't see the new, darker antlers all around me or if better hunters are just leaving the old stuff.
On public land surrounding the Beltway in Maryland, I found three hang-on stands and a Moutltrie broadcast feeder (legal in Maryland). They must have been there for years, because the trees involved had all grown over the screw-in steps, effectively making them permanent. Talk about audacity.
Late yesterday afternoon, I was walking south-facing slopes and hilltops in a stream-valley park near mega-mansions in Potomac, Maryland. There were trails so highly used I expected to find "HOV Only" signs along the route. And there wasn't a shed to be found. As the afternoon wore on, I neared the crest of a rise and heard a sound like fast applause. Turned out to be dozens of hooves tearing through very dry leaves. I sprinted to the top and saw the host of white flags departing. Being unpressured suburban deer, the herd stopped after 60 yards. And there, real as an envelope from the IRS in your mailbox, was a big, fat buck. I could tell it was a buck because of his large body. The other giveaway was antlers firmly affixed to his skull. He was a tall-and-outside-the-ears 7-pointer. I watched him for five minutes before he ambled out of sight. This was at 5:32 P.M. on March 2.
At least now I've got an excuse for why I'm not finding more. [ Read Full Post ]
By Kim Hiss
Blog reader Holly Heyser (NorCal Cazadora to us), just forwarded a great piece she wrote for the Sacramento Bee about how and why she started hunting. I thought we'd appreciate (and largely relate to) the thoughtful, moral argument she puts forth with passages such as,
"I looked at the natural world around me and not only accepted my role as a member of an omnivorous predator species, but I embraced it by eliminating the middleman. For me, it's simple: If I want to eat meat, I should have the courage to take an animal's life myself."
Clearly, however, there are a few Bee readers who disagreed with her position. Be sure to check out the comments below the piece. While many are very supportive, there are the predictable few from quick-to-criticize anti's. Their objections are nothing we haven't heard before, but still, it's frustrating to see people stick to their old perceptions no matter what counter argument is put in front of them. - K.H. [ Read Full Post ]
By Scott Bestul
It is the last day of February in a long, hard winter here in the Midwest. Spring is supposedly coming soon. Still, the need for entertaining story-telling is critical for us light-deprived northern folk. So what better a tale to brighten the day than this one, which involves a kid, a giant buck, and a concrete statue.
According to legend, the kid is returning from a morning bowhunt on his grandfather's farm. He spots a monster buck, sparring with a deer statue in the yard. He shoots at the preoccupied buck, hitting it in the leg. The buck runs off, stops, and reconsiders his pain. Perhaps the statue got him, and not something else? The buck lowers his head, makes a full run at his rock-hard rival, and slams into it. The buck is cold-cocked by the statue, which falls over on him. Boy reloads bow and finishes off buck...which has a gross antler score over 200 inches.
If you want to spoil my day, please respond and tell me the verifiable origins of these photos. If all you have is hearsay or cheap criticism, keep a lid on it. This is a hunting tale as good as it gets...in a winter as long as they come! [ Read Full Post ]
By Scott Bestul
Deep snow and ice are causing serious problems for deer in a number of northern states, where some whitetails are facing their toughest winter in many years. As herds descend on remaining ag crops and fruit trees, landowners are looking for help from state agencies. Meanwhile, state agencies are asking pet owner to prevent dogs from running already run-down deer. Here’s the latest in:
Minnesota and Wisconsin
By Kim Hiss
Maryland Outdoorsmen caught a break Monday, when a Minimum Age Hunting License bill was withdrawn. If passed, the bill would have prohibited the Maryland DNR from issuing a license to anyone under the age of 13, according to a National Assembly of Sportsmen's Caucuses press release. But, as it stands now, licenses continue to be obtainable by any young Marylander who has successfully completed a Hunter Ed Course.
Of course, as this issue continues to come up from time to time and from state to state, a major argument against minimum age requirements is the concern that a youngster may already have developed a commitment to other activities before he or she is old enough to see what hunting is all about. They could very well be lost to the sport before even getting a chance to try it.
I don't find myself quoting Ted Nugent very often, but when looking for a strong opinion on a decisive hunting issue, he's not a bad guy to turn to. I interviewed him for F&S a few years back, and asked what he'd do for hunters as governor of Michigan (he was talking about a future run for office at the time). One of the first things he said was (now, imagine this coming at you very loud and very fast through the phone as part of a streaming rant on the state of hunting in America), "...no minimum age - mom and dad will determine who goes hunting, unless of course the rest of the nation is dumber than Texas and Kansas and Louisiana!! ... by the time they're 14 it's too late!!..."
Later, after he'd calmed down some, he elaborated on the issue, "First of all, hunter safety must be maintained, and I do wanna salute all volunteers - I happen to be one ... There's gotta be entry-level parental determination for the introduction to the great outdoor shooting sports."
Granted, Nugent's comments are a little old, but the issue certainly isn't, so where do you stand on it? Do parents or state policymakers know best? -K.H. [ Read Full Post ]
By Scott Bestul
My friend Bill Heavey mentioned in his latest blog that a “no hunting” sign would not deter a shed hunter. And, since such a hunter was toting no weapon he could “pretty much go anywhere.” While I’m confident Bill was giving the whole thing the wink-and-nod for comic effect, I am deferring my planned post to deliver the following Public Service Announcement:
Make sure you know -- and obey -- your state’s trespass laws as you search for antlers. Mr. Heavey lives in Virginia where, I’m guessing, a “no hunting” sign restricts human access only if you’re carrying a bow or a firearm. Across virtually all of the Midwest, however, trespass laws apply to every activity. For example, here in Minnesota a landowner in an agricultural area doesn’t even have to post signage to convict a trespasser. It is up to you to know private property boundaries and to seek permission before entering. And if you think a landowner will cut you slack just because we’re on the backside of November, guess again.
And getting caught is getting easier. In a bad winter (like this one) most everyone knows where deer are hanging out, so they’re not hunting a buck’s sheds so much as waiting for them to drop. Try slipping in for early dessert and you are likely to meet a very upset deed holder…or at least a competitor who does have permission. I know at least two landowners who put out trail cams specifically to catch shed poachers, and another who updates his border signage after deer season, just to remind shed-freaks and turkey hunters to stay honest.
We live in an era of antler mania, so these days people know what you are up to; it is too early for mushrooming, maple sugaring, and even turkey scouting. You can walk your dog on the road, and it doesn’t matter all you’re toting is a multitool. You’re shagging horns, and if you're in a state where the law says you need the landowner’s blessing, shame on you. [ Read Full Post ]
By Kim Hiss
After two previous hog hunts that ended without meat for the freezer, blog reader Judy Black and her husband went on a mid-February hunt in Texas. She's thrilled to report that the third time was definitely the charm, with some nice harvests for both of them plus a friend who went along. -K.H.
We had a blast. From the first night hunting to the last night we were covered up in hogs. The biggest harvested was 240, taken by a friend of ours who went with us. I probably took the smallest, but that's OK.
Never let anyone tell you that taking a hog with a bow is an easy task. I shot at 5 and harvested one. I was really beating myself up over it as I know I shoot better than that, but they have to be hit in the right place and if you don't, they have enough fat to close off the wound and they get away. The thick brush really makes it tough to track them and the picker bushes will eat you alive.
We had a great time and already told the outfitter we would be back next February. Saw lots of wildlife. I had the chance to take a beautiful bobcat but let it walk. It wasn't 20 yards up the road and I regretted letting it go. Lots of javelina, cardinals and many other birds.
There is no better therapy than sitting in a tree or a blind listening to the world wake up -- and it's free. Wish more people took the time to appreciate what we have been given to enjoy. They are missing so much. [ Read Full Post ]
By Bill Heavey
To paraphrase from the movie “Fight Club,” the first rule of Shed Club is – you do not talk about Shed Club.
Shed hunters are even more secretive about their haunts than deer hunters. (Incidentally, I think we need to coin a noun by which shed hunters describe those who pursue the whole animal. Neither “live deer hunters," "whole deer hunters," or "regular hunters" quite cuts it. Let the competition begin. First prize, to be judged by an independent panel of me, wins a Gerber Freeman Folder knife in nearly new condition, my sole freebie from the recent SHOT Show.)
My shed hunting pal, Paula, has to be prodded to divulge even the name of the state where she has found her latest. The reason, of course, is that there is no upside to revealing your honey hole. In fact, it’s even less advantageous with sheds than “regular” hunting (see what I mean about the need for a better word?) because access is so much easier. A “No Hunting” sign will keep most deer hunters out. It will not deter a shed man, who, after all, is not hunting in the traditional sense. Since shed hunters usually carry no weapon more significant than a knife and/or a pruning shears, they can go pretty much anywhere. (Small pruning shears, incidentally, are much more effective for getting through briers than a machete).
I’ve found a grand total of zip antlers in the past week. I take some comfort in the fact that bucks still wearing their antlers have been seen within the past few days. Meanwhile, Paula has found several singles and two sets in the same time. “Good ones but not trophies. Jeez, I’m startin’ to feel sorry for you,” she said. I asked where she’d found hers. She erupted into her smoker’s hacking laugh, finally managing to croak, “Not that sorry, honey,” and hung up on me. [ Read Full Post ]
By Kim Hiss
To get right to the point, where do you stand on the Bush administration's announcement to end federal protection for gray wolves in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho? According to a New York Times article on the decision, the deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior told reporters, "Gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains are thriving and no longer need protection."
Of course, wildlife and environmental groups have something to say about such a confident statement. According to the same story, a senior wildlife advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is participating in a planned lawsuit to fight the government's decision, said of the removal of protections, "The numbers are inadequate and the state programs are too."
The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission, for its part, has wasted no time in taking advantage of the development. Even before the federal government made its decision public Thursday, the FWP planned for a 2008 wolf hunting season for Oct. 26 - Dec. 31 contingent on the the anticipated announcement. According to this story from the Missoulian, hunters will not be able to use dogs, bait, or artificial scents or lures, and no quotas have yet been set. And of course, any litigation could push that first season way back.
So, where do you stand on wolves? Is it too soon to hunt them, or is there no time like the present? -K.H. [ Read Full Post ]
By Scott Bestul
Researchers To Study Sterile Blacktails
More Snow, More Emergency Feeding
Poacher’s Rack Becomes Reminder
http://www.hutchinsonleader.com/news/outdoors/poacher-pays-his-actions-6... [ Read Full Post ]
By Kim Hiss
Interesting that I find myself going from Hillary Clinton to a drooling, staggering deer disorder, but anyway...
I've been wanting to do a post for a little while on Chronic Wasting Disease. Though, I guess talking about it is kinda like eating your Brussels sprouts - not particularly exciting, but something you really should do.
Of course, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy that occurs
in deer, elk, and moose. It's believed to be caused by nonliving proteins called prions, which accumulate in lymphatic and nerve tissue and literally create holes in the victim's brain (hence the "sponge" of "spongiform"). Symptoms include weight loss, staggering, shaking, and excessive salivation, ending in death.
The disease first showed up in captivity in Colorado in the 1960s, then in the wild in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1981, and then east of the Mississippi in 2002. And of course, the million dollar question has long been -- is it a health threat to humans?
As the tentative answer remains, 'no,' a number of hunters remain largely unconcerned about CWD. For example, after that spooky 2005 New York incident in which 350 people at a sportsman's dinner ate chili and steak from a deer that tested positive for CWD, health officials set up a hotline for those who had attended the banquet. They expected a ton of calls from worried individuals -- they got two. And just casual conversations with any number of hunters will likely turn up people who think concern about the disease is overblown. I once hunted with a guide, who believed CWD didn't exist at all, that it was a tall tale spun by government conspirators trying to destroy the tradition of hunting in America.
While I'm not exactly fearing for my life, I'd rather be safe than sorry, and take at least some precautions. How careful are you about CWD? Would you knowingly eat meat from a CWD infected animal? Of course, this has a lot to do with the area of the country in which you live, but do you go to great lengths to guard against CWD? Or do you not think about it much? Sure, there's also a high fence hunting component to this discussion (that ugly industry contributes to the disease's spread), but I think that's a whole other topic by itself. -K.H. [ Read Full Post ]
By Bill Heavey
If you look closely at the expression of my child, you may find yourself asking the same question I did, namely: Does she look crazy all by herself or because her Daddy is making her that way with his deer and shed obsessions ?
I knew I was in trouble this year when I got lucky shed hunting in the first two hours of my first day. I was walking an old fence line – dating from the days that cows grazed inside the Beltway - in a steep area of a public park along the river. I looked down and there it was: just a three-pointer, but heavy (18 ounces on my office postal scale) and palmated. It was right where it was supposed to be, at a place where jumping the fence had dislodged it. A feeling of elation swept over me, quickly followed by an intuition of bad juju to come. I’ve never felt comfortable when I got lucky right off the bat, whether it was in hunting, fishing, athletics, or with women of the opposite sex. In my experience, easy initial success is an indicator that disaster is in the immediate area and will descend just as soon as it finds a place to park.
And so it has been. I have been out at least part of each of the last six days, from two to four hours a day. I’ve walked public land and private, seen deer that would bolt at the first shuffle of my feet in the leaves and others that approached so boldly it was clear that somebody has been hand feeding them. I have seen sticks on the ground that initially stopped my heart, Pope & Young-caliber sticks. Sticks that looked so much like antlers I nearly kept them with the intention of posting photos of them here and starting a contest devoted entirely to antler-like sticks. That’s when I decided my preoccupation was getting a little out of hand.
My plan is to stay out of the woods today. It’s now 9:11 a.m. So far, so good. [ Read Full Post ]