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 pickup 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 and listened 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 and hoped I would not make a wrong turn. As I ducked under a low hanging pine bough I spotted a hunters treasure, a massive antler shed half buried in the loose soil. I pulled the find out of it’s resting place and tucked into my belt. 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. 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!
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 aloness, 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?
Photo Credits: Joas Miller; Bob Marshall Wilderness
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!
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.
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.
Rake of canoe on glacial rock
Slap of canoe on glacial lake
Photo Credit: Schornack Studios Photography
Still Waters: David Bakke
I’ve been frozen out on a deer stand before, but never like this. It was the final seven days of the 2017 bow calendar and I had looked forward to some late season action. But with daytime highs at -15 to -10 degrees, and evening temps plunging down to -30 degrees below zero, I began to question the logic of my stubborn perseverance.
During the late October hunt with my buddy Bill, I decided not to draw on a beautiful Fork-Horn that meandered ten yards in front of me while I sat motionless on an old log. I can still remember the elegant animal as it moved with grace and disappeared silently over a hill. In that moment, something on the inside of me registered that I would put in some cold weather hunting.
I navigated my old Jeep down the quiet cabin road in the minus twenty-degree blackness. The engine turned off with reluctance. This was it, I had arrived, and prepared to enter the bitter cold world of my wilderness landscape. I carried in every piece of warm clothing I could possibly wear, along with an old comforter, and trudged to my stand through the dark forest, situated a mile back on a small ridge surrounded by slough structure. Spring scouting had revealed a fair amount of deer traffic in this corridor. My hopes were high. I decided to approach my spot over the iced-up swamp instead of busting through the wooded cover. The gray twilight of morning illuminated the surroundings as I slipped into my outer shell. I pulled myself up into the desolate stand and settled in for the morning hunt.
I sat in silence. The ritual of the waking woodland captured my boy-like wonder. Winter snowbirds began their daily routine, flirting from branch to branch, with the occasional pop of a tree limb exploding under the intense cold. Over the next several hours my body heat dissipated. I held on for as long as I could before my layers gave way to the extreme temperatures and I climbed down from my look-out. The beginning stages of Hypothermia gripped me and I forced heat into my body with a steamy cup of coffee.
With stiff limbs and feet like rocks, I fought off the shivers, and surveyed the surrounding area as my Pack Boots kicked up fine clouds of snow. I noticed the deer had changed their winter routes to the swamp edge and well out of bow range. My heart sunk. The stand proved useless for a late-season chance. It was time for an executive decision. After pouring another cup, I started to feel somewhat normal again, and decided to pull my stand down. Careful not to over exert myself and burn my lungs with the raw air, I tied my gear together, flung the load over my back, and headed out.
As I began my trek, loaded down like a mountain man packing out his winter pelts, I noticed fresh tracks leading to a watering hole by the beaver dam. I thought this would make a good ambush along the far bank tucked up against a pine and hoped to return later that week. Heat came back into my body as I plodded around the brush and downfalls which eventually lead back up to the navigable section of the forest.
The morning Sun seemed powerless over the grip of winter in this magical icy wonderland. An eerie haze hung over the Spruce thickets. Frosted lonesome branches, encrusted in thin atmosphere, watched my solitude… studied my labored efforts.
The cold was my companion.
Winter rain transformed the snow pack into a large ice skating rink and warm temperatures collided with the frozen Terra creating a thick blanket of fog. My footing was treacherous. I maneuvered out to my buddy’s portable ice-fishing house on a wilderness lake in the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge. A heavy cloud enveloped me as the shoreline disappeared in a veil of mist.
I slid over the smooth surface trusting I would not over-shoot the destination. A steady breeze pushed the thick air in circles around me and portrayed an eerie, remote, northern feel to the morning. Small openings began to appear like large gopher holes from previous ice fishing excursions as Kurt’s red shanty materialized out of the soupy mix. The buffeted canvas shell flapped like a loose sail in open water.
I stepped through the zippered entrance and was greeted with a smile. A tripod hunting chair I carried served for my personal angling view. The jig opening plunged downward and turned from a whitish green hue to the gray cold below. I hooked a minnow, dropped a line, and waited for that first strike.
We chatted and laughed in between the nibbling Perch. The sudden tug of Crappie and Small-mouth Bass, which fully committed to the offerings, broke up our banter with flurries of excitement. Fishing was good, but not great. Apparently, I missed the prime-time, which Kurt had bragged up from the day before, when fish jumped out of the holes and flopped into his bucket. But still, the setting was unbelievable. A Minnesota moment that becomes sheared into memory.
The walk back with a meal of Crappie was just as adventurous as the trek out. I headed directly for the tree-line which loomed out of the fog like sentries that watch their keep in silence. The bank was turned up from years of violent upheaval as stiff winds guide ice-flows off the water in their annual migration. Crusted drifts of snow lingered as a reminder of winters waning strength. I followed a well-worn deer trail through the oaks. The spongy ground was a stark contrast to the hard, icy surface. The haze dissipated through leafless branches and the wet forest was ripe with expectation of a new season.
As I left the parking lot, the access trail was a muddy mess of tire tracks and melted snow that my old Jeep plodded over with confidence. I hit the blacktop and a spray of mud thumped onto the wheel-wells while I worked the gears and gained momentum down the deserted county two-lane.
Back home I cleaned up the catch for supper. It was a great day of hard water fishing with a good friend.