The Winger Buck

Around the turn of the Nineteenth Century, my Grandpa Johan Bakke settled a piece of farm land on a hill overlooking the Sandhill River near Winger, MN in the north-west region of the state. I remember walks along a tractor trail and exploring the river flats as a young boy when we would visit. Years later, I hunted this farmland with my Son Nate. On one outing we experienced the most exciting rifle shooting we’ve had together.

It was one of those clear, warm, fall days, that lent itself to dreamy afternoon hours watching painted clouds set against the bright sky and listening to songbirds prepare for their journey south. The morning had been quiet except for observing some families of doe’s walk by our stands. But this year all we had in our pockets were buck tags.

After lunch I decided to still hunt a section of the river along a tree line.

The wind was right, and I tried to spot a bedded deer soaking in the sun or catch a cruising buck. Meanwhile, Nate climbed a stand to watch a section of field and trees about fifty yards up from a well-used crossing by the river.

The walk took several hours to pull off. With no deer sighted I approached the section my son was watching and hunkered down out of sight behind a tall bank to rest in the soft grass while keeping an eye on the flats across the Sand Hill waterway… not long after, the stillness erupted into a volley of rifle shots and adrenaline.

The bark of my Son’s Marlin 30-30 jolted me out of my slumber and I wheeled around, scrambled up the bank, a saw a nice young buck wheeling full bore across the plowings towards a far wood-line. I heard Nate send another shot. The animal was racing from my right to left about a hundred yards out, I pulled up my Remington 30-06 semi-auto, joined the fray, and tried my best to lead the buck with three quick off-hand shots. Nate sounded off at least once or twice more with some long desperation shots, but the deer was unscathed and almost out of sight.

With one shot left in the magazine I leaned in as the buck made a sharp right and tried a quick escape into the brush. This move exposed the only option that remained for me. All I could hear was my old mentor saying a good butt-shot, is a good kill shot. I squeezed off my last round and the animal dropped in its tracks. I could not believe it! The blow shattered the deer’s tailbone, killing it instantly, and did not waste one ounce of meat.

With a shout I climbed onto the field and met Nate who was equally excited over the sudden burst of excitement and the reality we would have venison in the freezer after the slow-going bucks only season.

Even now, years later, there is debate as to which one of us finally dropped the buck. Though the youngster may not admit it, we all know it was the old-timer’s amazing two-hundred yard, straight away, off-hand shot that finished the day!

 

 

Peace

Suspense

forest moves like shadow

changes

vaporous

shifts

distant Hoot Owl signals

night

descends

wind

rustles

ghost appears through thicket

weary

guarded

alert

muscles tense heart races

 

Peace

Oil Painting: David Bakke

Still hunting Whitetail Deer

There are many ways to successfully pursue Ole Woolly. Over the years I have become a still hunter and found the challenge to be very rewarding and effective. In this brief article, I want to address three reasons still hunting should be a tactic in your tool-bag.

Flexibility:

The ability to be easily modified – Oxford Dictionary. I believe this may be the most important aspect of still-hunting. Being able to make decisions on your feet based on wind, terrain, weather conditions, deer sign, etc. This leaves you with multiple options to work a section of land. Flexibility allows you to move during the day if the situation calls for action. This mobility leads into the next point.

Variability:

Lack of consistency or fixed pattern; liability to vary or change – Oxford Dictionary. I firmly believe mature Whitetails learn hunter movement. That’s why they get old. Still-hunting allows the you to mix it up and change access routes. My philosophy in getting close to big animals is; be where the weary bucks do not expect you to be. Though a cousin to flexibility, variability speaks to the concept of hunting different areas on different days, versus the option of changing on the move. Keeping it light weight and unpredictable can give you an edge which sets up my last point.

Reachability:

Able to be reached; accessible or achievable – Oxford Dictionary. Many hunters do not stray very far from the trail. Still hunting allows you to get past the pressured areas and press into the un-hunted zones. When you are not devoted to a permanent stand, or favorite spot, the possibilities increase, along with your range. I harvested my last big buck across a maze of beaver sloughs in a remote section of hardwoods while still hunting. Deer sightings had been minimal closer to the road, but this buck was out chasing in the middle of the day without a worry in the world.

 

Still hunting will stretch your abilities,  but can be very rewarding work. As you keep these three principles in mind, flexibility, variability, and reachability, while applying your skills to the ground, you will become a better hunter. Getting close to a dominant buck at eye-level is an unrivaled Whitetail experience.

 

Peace

Caught With My Pants Down

Have you ever felt like a deer in the headlights?

I was out with my buddy Matt for an early season archery deer hunt on the Tamarac Refuge in north central Minnesota. Like any good hunter, I was prepared to outsmart the big bucks with my superb scent elimination tactics. I suggested to Matt we pack our hunting clothes in plastic bags after the odor-less wash process… he thought that was a great idea!

It was still pitch black when I pulled my old jeep unto the Blackbird Trail which connected several small lakes and passed our morning stand. I slammed the truck into first gear and came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the road. There were no other hunters… right?!?

Excited to get to our spot before the cover of night gave way to sunlight, we jumped out, grabbed our de-scented clothes from the pick-up box, and proceeded to strip down.

Did I say there were no other hunters?

Much to my surprise I saw lights flash through the trees ahead. With my pants wrapped around my ankles like my two kids tying to tackle me, I tried to recover my vulnerable position from the side of the vehicle. It all happened so fast, I am sure the operators of the on-coming truck were speeding. In mere seconds, a set of Halogen head-lamps beamed from an F-250 and fully cast their revealing light on me. Their big v-eight idled impatiently. Being the conscientious sportsman that I am, my driving thought was to clear the road for these fine folks. I looked at Matt for some consolation as I waddled forward trying to pull myself together, but he was engrossed in hysterical laughter safe from detection on the other side of our rig. Time slowed. My movements became leaden. I managed to get my trousers over my knees as I fell into the Jeep, swung the door shut, and inched out of the way so these fellow outdoor enthusiasts could pass.

My one mistake… I had forgotten it was also goose season, and the normally vacant back-roads were filled with anxious water-fowler’s.

To this day, I imagine my story being recited from the observer’s perspective for years to come around hunting camps, and coffee tables, by what I am certain were a truck load of highly entertained lady hunters en-route to their blinds.

 

Peace

The River Hills

One of my fondest recollections, among many in the Dakota’s, was my first afternoon in the river hills of Oacoma, South Dakota, helping my rancher friend Travis fill a doe tag.  We bounced down a twisty gravel road for many miles in his old pick-up and finally rolled to a stop in front of a weather worn cattle gate. After getting my bearings, he pointed out the way for me to make a push. I watched him jump into his truck with a smile and rumble down the trail to his post on the other side of a long valley. I waited, listening to the prairie wind. When the time was right, I weaved my way through many small ravines in the foreign country, bumped some big does, hoped I would not make a wrong turn, and found a massive antler shed as I ducked under a low-hanging pine bough. Finally, I trudged up a steep hill and came out on a bluff which over-looked the convergence of the Missouri and White Rivers… The view opened up for miles as I stood in awe and watched two waterways become one, an ancient trail which reflected the days last light as it meandered into a darkened horizon.

Along the way I heard a rifle shot echo through the draws. My buddy Travis had filled his tag!

Peace

Moments

I recently watched a video titled, Who We Are by Donnie Vincent, one of my favorite outdoor film-makers. He was articulating the reason, or even the essence of hunting. It is a very difficult concept to explain or even grasp at times.

There are so many aspects of hunting that I completely enjoy. The friendship with my buddies, the scouting process, becoming one with my weapon, the chase, the excitement of tagging an animal, and playing a small part in the sacred, time honored tradition of hunting are all vital components of my experience. But if I had to place these qualities into one phrase, I would say that hunting comes down to many singular moments.

These moments become seared into my memory. They are the embers which smolder deep in my soul, they guide me, they teach me the ways of God. The moments I find become treasures I carry for a lifetime.

Moments are brief periods when time stops, the preparation of a year’s work which comes together in a perfect series of events. They are pauses when all our senses are fixated on one purpose and we become one with the environment. Moments are brief heartbeats in which we are no longer entering the wilderness as intruders, but crossover, and become part of the ancient sequence of life and death.

Moments are experienced in the shrouded light of an early morning forest, the relentless wind pushing through tall pines, the silent stalk on a rain-drenched trail, a first snowfall that blankets the mountain terrain. Moments are engraved upon our lives as we remain motionless in the cover of a blow-down, peering into the eyes of a cautious bull just yards away. Moments are captured in the hushed breath of a release, as an arrow flies to find its mark.

Moments push us to limits we did not think were possible. Moments become seared into our minds and hearts. Moments define us.

A lifetime of hunting moments have shaped me into a bow hunter.

How have the moments of your life sculpted you?

 

Peace

Photo Credits: Joas Miller; Bob Marshall Wilderness

Rainy Day Bass Fishing

I pulled a hoodie over my cap as a shield against the spring air while the outboard pushed us over gray waters. The motors drone was a welcome and familiar sound. Rain threatened, but my buddy Bill and I jumped at a chance to scuttle across the lake after hopes of an early morning outing were canceled by heavy clouds releasing their moisture. The Johnson sputtered to a stop. Bill set up the electric trolling motor and maneuvered us through patches of reeds in search of our quarry.

Tucked out of the wind on the west side of Round Lake the weather was overcast but pleasant. I grabbed my set-up and began to cast. We were trying for bass. Intermittent chatter kept us busy until the fish were located… old stories we have heard a hundred times… but never grow weary of repeating.

My rod bent like a willow branch clutched in the hand of a little boy. We found our hole. The offerings were not huge but respectable, and the action kept us engaged for an hour with bursts of success followed by moments of anticipation. Bill worked the bass beds back and forth. A pair of Loons watched our efforts at a safe distance.

We held on as long as we could, but the promise of sun was squelched, and the menace of rain forced us to abandon our spot and race back to the cabin. Rigs secure, the trustworthy boat motor fired up and took off with an eager jolt. The aluminum hull bounced off the chop with a sharp slap as the vessel pulled away from the calm side of the lake and into open waters.

Drops of an imminent deluge hit our faces as we scurried for the shore.  We glided to the dock-lift and silently, each did our part, and secured the craft. The heavens cut loose. We hustled up to the cabin in time to escape a solid drenching. Once safe from the down-pour, I grabbed a cup, some snacks, and we kicked back on easy chairs to watch some fishing and hunting shows… and tell more well-worn lake tales!

Anytime on the water is a good time, and anytime with an old friend is time well spent. Minnesota lakes offer a wide range of experiences, temperatures, and adventures to enjoy their beauty. I hope you can get out with a good buddy and take advantage of the water access in your area. Happy fishing!

 

Peace

Taekwondo For Bow Hunting

How do you stay in shape for hunting? When I was in my twenties and thirties this question did not enter my thinking. But now that I have breached the half century mark I understand the need to be intentional about my health. I recently read an article in the winter 2018 issue of Backcountry Journal by Dr. Erika Putnam outlining Yoga exercise titled, Yoga for Hunters. In this excellent read Dr. Putnam cited five qualities that Yoga can transfer to hunting; flexibility, strength, balance, breath control, and focused intention. These are qualities I gain from Taekwondo training as well, and inspired me to write a piece about my own habits for staying fit in the field. Taekwondo is the conditioning style that helps me become a better hunter and offers a wide range of health benefits.

Taekwondo is a Korean based martial art that has become very popular throughout the world. It is a vigorous training style, but can be tailored to fit your age or circumstance. In other words, you do not have to punish your body with full contact techniques if you’ve passed the durable years of youth. The older Taekwondo practitioner can focus on footwork, balance, and smooth body mechanics. Most towns and cities have qualified Taekwondo instructors, or other martial arts schools to join, but with today’s access you can also find great on-line training options for rural areas. You can supplement your workouts with brisk walking, light weight lifting repetitions, or other activities, like bicycling, or swimming, that suit your lifestyle. The balance, focus, endurance, and strength you will gain from Taekwondo, or other martial arts are priceless, and will supply a valuable edge when pursuing ole woolly!

The five tenets of Taekwondo are: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and an indomitable spirit. These tenets transfer to every aspect of daily living. When you train consistently, the physical and mental disciplines of Taekwondo become intertwined with your spiritual make-up and will sharpen every area of life making you a better hunter.

The work you put in during the off season will pay off when you hike beyond the average hunters reach to non-pressured zones, sit motionless for hours while hidden in natural ground cover, traverse beaver dams in the dark of night, maneuver difficult grades, execute a good still-hunt, or steady your bow shot during the moment of truth.

There are many great options for maintaining your stamina for hunting season. Taekwondo, with the added benefits of walking, and light weight lifting, are my preferred methods of training for the chase.

Find what works for you; just remember to consult your family pyhsician before embarking on a rigourous regimine such as Taekwondo.

Life is a gift; treasure it, take care of it, enjoy it, share it.

 

Peace

Ice Out

This story is from my youth. It was an early spring day at our cottage on Round Lake in Northern Minnesota. I was exploring… as I often did.

Remnants of snow hid under sprawling pine branches at our cabin on Second Bay. The air was filled with the warmth of spring. The forest had awakened after its annual slumber and receding lake ice opened a channel for my first paddle of the year.

We had an old two-man Folbot Kayak. It was turned over for the winter, waiting by the beach for its summer friends. The Kayak was heavy, indestructible, but sleek and fast. It consisted of a wood frame wrapped in red Mahogany with thick padded seats and flip-up back rests for top-side cruising.

As I pushed the craft into the frigid water, Blondie, a mix of Cocker Spaniel, poodle, and I think sheepdog, eagerly joined me, leaping into her front seat look-out. It was late afternoon and a cool wind skipped off the ice. A slight ripple danced on the breezy side of the lake. The double-sided paddles propelled the stream-lined craft as I pointed the boat towards Third Bay, an undeveloped section of shoreline that  held a sense of mystery.

A thirty-yard corridor allowed water-access to my retreat, Round Lake’s watery sanctuary. I maneuvered the Folbot through a network of reeds and observed several Geese paired up for the mating season. Their chatter filled the cloudless air. A Muskrat with cautious eyes swam for cover and a solitary Loon dove deep when I floated to close. I navigated across the bay as the distant shore of Many Point Scout Camp beckoned. Water ran down the oars with each graceful stroke, diverted by rubber gaskets, and trickled into the tranquil bay.

The sandy lakefront stretched on for about a mile, cluttered with dried reeds and drift-wood, the banks pushed up from years of ice erosion. The needle covered trails were soft from the snow melt. Blondie raced ahead, shaggy fur wet up to her belly and occasionally paused to look back and make sure I followed. I gradually circled back to the lake and gazed out over the icy blue water as daylight began to slip away. Shadows reached out from the western shore.

Darkness descended upon the lake as I glided to the opposite shore. Temperatures dropped. The crisp air pressed against my jacket as a flock of Mallards flew over-head, their flutter of wings disappeared in the springtime chorus. I hugged the shore as the lane narrowed. A deceitful wind had pushed the ice-flow eastward and cut off my route. I stood and pushed the Kayak through thick, tall, lake grass in several inches of water. At one point I nudged the boat forward as I ducked under low-hanging oak branches while the Kayak scrapped the rocky bottom. I debated ditching the boat in the trees and making the mile-long hike, but I pressed on. Finally, the suffocating ice jam gave way to deeper water and I skimmed over the black waters with a sense of relief.

The Kayak pushed onto our beach with a soft muffled thud. Blondie sprang out as I stepped up and heaved the lake wanderer onto the wet sand. Cabin lights glowed under the watchful Minnesota forest as I tipped the Folbot against a tree. I took a last look over my shoulder, and like a silent conspirator, the ice crept closer to the shoreline. Mom had supper ready so I left my imagination at water’s edge and headed toward the cabin. Blondie found her favorite spot and we were both happy to be back after another Round Lake adventure.

 

Peace