The Christmas Trail Buck

My friend Bill and I go way back to our child-hood days when my family had a cottage several doors down from his on Round Lake in Northern Minnesota. Years later we still gather at his cabin for our annual ‘Round Lake Bow-Camp’. We share many memories growing up together and it is a blessing to still have camp-fires on the same beach, fish on the same waters, and bow hunt in the same woods we grew up enjoying.

“The Christmas Trail Buck”

The forest floor was covered in the seasons first snowfall. I stepped over fresh running tracks as I followed Ruby’s Road out to my morning sit in muted light of the pre-dawn timber. Bill had dropped me off at the trail-head in his old, open-top Willy’s Jeep, before he headed up the Swamp Road to the Hundred Acre Slough and his favorite stand. The snow was soft and quiet. I felt like a shadow. It was the last weekend of October and the first day of the 2017 Round Lake Bow Camp.

The opening hours proved uneventful despite abundant deer sign. I was set up in a natural ground blind just beyond a stand of Norway Pines near Sucker Creek.

After sitting for several hours I poured myself a steaming cup of coffee. I followed my normal routine and readied myself for a still hunt. Back on the trail I moved slow, paused often, watched, listened. I was headed toward The Christmas Trail which Bill and his brother Mike named to honor a perfect young Conifer they had discovered while blazing the new path. The young sapling has since grown into a teenager… if you count in tree years.

I stopped behind cover on the edge of Ruby’s Slough and spied a Doe and Yearling along the far tree-line. Their dark silhouette popped against the snow. If I had my Remington semi-auto the Doe would have made a nice two-hundred-yard shot. I waited till the pair moved well out of sight before moving. I took in the beauty of the moment and soaked in the late morning Sun before traversing an old Beaver Dam which connected to the opposite bank. After crossing the dam I settled up against a dead-fall and kept a watchful eye. I always love coffee and a sandwich in the woods, it gives me time to plan the next part of my hunt, give thanks to God for the blessings in my life and take in the solitude of bow-hunting.

A still small voice suggested I sit on the East side of Ruby’s Slough. I have taken many nice deer over the years listening to the Fathers guidance! I gathered up my gear, made my way to a little knoll between two grassy out-cropping’s and set up on a log with a gentle West wind across my face. A thick wall of brush hedged me in from the back and my forward sight revealed an open draw and hardwoods dotting a large gradual hill to my left. I leaned into my bow which was set up-right on the ground, closed my eyes, became like a tree, and waited.

It was a bright quiet day. The forest floor reflected a fluorescent glow. A couple dreamy hours passed when I noticed movement to my right. A deer emerged like a ghost from out of the swamp about sixty yards away. Relaxed in its posture, the animal turned and plodded up the small incline. At first glance I thought it was a Doe, but soon noticed it to be a young buck. Now the visitor was ten yards directly in front of me. Broadside. My heart pounded. In that moment I rehearsed my options. It was a fine offering for the freezer, but I continued to watch. I did not have Buck-Fever but a deep admiration and awe at God’s creation. As the young warrior came to my boot tracks he stopped, flinched, turned his head, and looked directly at me. I felt like he would see me breathe or catch my eyes blink behind my sunglasses, but we simply stared at each other.

The Fork-Horn’s whiskers sprouted from a young face that had not turned gray from winters of eluding prey, eyes that searched, his brownish black hair a masterful blend of woodland camo glistened in the Sun and ivory antlers stretched up over attentive ears. Time halted.

After several long seconds the forest-dweller dipped his head and grabbed a mouthful of leaves. He glanced my way again and decided I was not a threat. I decided too. I decided to be an observer. Many great quartering shots were available as he continued, but for the next five minutes I had a front row seat to the way of a Whitetail grazing in the forest.

The buck meandered, stepped on the Christmas Trail and followed. I watched him angle up and disappear over the hill, leaving only silence, his tracks, and a life-long memory behind.



‘Christmas Tree’ Photo Credit: Bill Berquist




Grandpa’s Deer Camp


In this post I would like to depart from my bow-hunting experience and reflect on the family hunting heritage I have been blessed with here in Minnesota.

Deer camp has been a tradition across North America for many generations. From the small Shanties of yesteryear where hunters gathered to harvest meat for the winter, to our modern cabins of luxury and taking an animal of choice, the excitement of deer season has remained the same. My fondest memories of deer camp bring me back to Grandpa and Grandma’s cabin on Little Spirit Lake in Vergas Minnesota.

I wedge my cased Remington 30-06 semi-auto into the back of my pick-up with the other gear and make a quick mental check-list. Cooler with grub, hunting clothes, boots, ammo and buck tag. I am set! I hug and kiss my wife and roll out of the driveway with our Son for another hunting season.

Out on the road I witness the annual parade of campers, and 4×4’s with orange gloves and hats stuffed up on the dash-boards driving to their destinations. Some are stopped for gas and last-minute supplies while hunters, sporting their favorite blaze hunting caps, share the excitement of the annual pilgrimage with one another. 

Grandpa’s cabin is forty-five minutes East from my little town, which is situated on the transition zone of Prairie and Lake Country in West Central Minnesota. As I get closer, my pickup seems to anticipate our arrival like a team of horses heading back to the barn after a good run.

I turn into the cottage driveway and my headlamps scan the edge of the woods in search of deer activity. The gravel under my truck tires is a welcome sound as I roll to a stop next to Grandpa’s old tan Suburban, his hunting rig of choice. I step out of the heated truck and breathe in the clear cold air. As I grab my rifle and duffel from the pickup box I pause, and gaze up at the brilliant canopy of stars. Orion the Hunter watches over me. A hint of wood-smoke is in the air and my boots crunch the carpet of leaves as I make my way across the lawn. Deer Camp!

I lug my pack through the door and am instantly greeted by familiar voices, smiles and hugs. I work my way through the gathering of family and friends to set my rifle with the collection of hunting guns before getting settled in. The fireplace holds a crackling blaze and sandwiches are being made for tomorrows lunch on the stands. The cousin’s laughter, old hunting stories and boastful promises of this years biggest buck fill the room. Supper is announced and we gather around the table for Grandpa’s traditional giving of thanks. After jostling for the front of the line, we all settle in for a feast of Grandma’s homemade Chicken and Dumpling soup, another hunting camp tradition.

One by one we start pulling ourselves up from the couch and easy chairs to make last minute preparations for the hunt. Some stay up playing games and visiting, but I turn in, even though I can never find sleep before the quiet hours of the night.

I lay wrapped in the comfy cabin quilts. The wind plays at the windows and I hear an occasional pop from the ebbing coals under the fireplace grate as the murmur of voices and laughter drift up through the floor. I turn my thoughts to past deer seasons, old friends, my sweetie back home, and dreams of how tomorrows hunt might play out. Finally my anticipation gives way and allows me to capture a few hours of slumber.

The next sound I hear is Grandpa making coffee down in the kitchen.

Its daylight in the swamp at Deer camp!

Thank you Grandpa.






The Rattled Deer

I have always enjoyed trying to rattle in Whitetail bucks, but its been with limited success at best. In talking with my friend Bill we concluded that one reason it seems difficult in the Minnesota north-woods setting is due to Timber Wolf predation and public land hunting pressure, which places the deer population on higher alert compared to the farm land animals to the south and west of our region; but this could be a hunters excuse. Whether there is any truth to our conclusion or its just my line for bad rattling technique’s, it’s been a fun learning curve.

One avid bow hunter I swap stories with gave me a word of advice, “don’t give up on rattling for bucks”.  I think I will take those words to heart and keep on trying to lure in Ole Woolly with my antler clashing.

Here’s a rattling story from last season.

I faced a stiff west wind as I headed out for an afternoon hunt on the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge. The autumn sky was veiled. It had been a rainy week, the air was damp, but not cold. I wanted to get set up on the south edge of about four hundred acres of deer woods that bordered the east side of Tamarac Lake. Flanking this chunk of trees was an equal sized natural meadow, mixed willow cover, and sloughs. It was the type of afternoon and terrain that just felt like deer hunting.

I had hunted the north side of this plot before but always noticed a mature stand of Norway Pines guarding the southern tree-line. They drew me like a leaf to the ground. Before long I stood in front of the giants as though I was waiting permission to enter under their watchful eye. Not yet willing to commit an entrance into the forest, I still-hunted my way along the edge, peering into the shadows in hopes of spotting a bedded deer as the steady wind covered my movement.

I came to a finger of grass which pointed into the woods. Two converging deer trails emerged from the thicker cover and emptied into the meadow. This was my evening ambush.

Several downfalls provided good  cover. I decided on one and set up my carry-in stool. The dead fall offered good back cover and an excellent view of the denser foliage and clearing.  I was in a transition zone where the trees relented their hold and conceded to the meadow grass. After settling in, I sat motionless for quite some time before attempting my first rattle.

My approach has always been to mimic two smaller bucks sparring in hopes of attracting a dominant animal to come and stake his claim. After working my cherished antlers I had taken many years before, I waited.

The tree-tops tossed in the wind but I was bedded down and protected on the forest floor. The woods were expectant, waiting on the nocturnal creatures that inhabit the night. I sat in expectation as well.

There was just under an hour of hunting light left and fifteen minutes had passed since my last rattle. I tried again. I slowly lifted my antlers, secured at their base by a small rope, and touched the tines.

Instantly, a deer signaled its warning and disapproval of my presence. It was about thirty yards into the canopy and just out of my sight. The alarmed animal worked its way around me announcing my location about every thirty seconds for several long minutes before  moving on.  Except for the haunting wind, the Whitetail’s agitation left the forest quiet and alert to my intrusion. I had been completely busted. After the deer was gone I fought the urge to get up and make my way down the line of Norway Pines to another spot. I realized that was pointless, and sat tight, with one last hope that a cruising buck from some distance away would still come through, unaware of the recent drama. That buck never materialized and I witnessed the forest change to darkness before my thoughtful walk back to the truck.

Was that deer making its way toward me in response to my first antler call? Did it see my movement when I rattled? Was it just bad timing, and happened to be walking toward the field at that time? Was it a trophy buck or a cautious doe? These are the questions I have to live with.

I did learn a great lesson. Even tough I had decent cover for a ground sit, when I added the rattling technique, I needed to have a downed tree or some sort of cover to protect the sequence of movement. Having never attempted using a rattle call on the ground before, it was a good tutoring session.

As I look back on this hunt, I have a feeling the animal in this story is the dominant buck I walked up on in the ‘Close Encounter’ post as it was in the same area. I will be back after him next season.

Regardless of this hunts outcome, it was a successful outing for me because I was there, and I can add this story to my other ‘Trophy’ memories I have collected over the years. I hope you can take a few moments and record your own hunting experiences. It is a great way to etch them into your story-telling catalog.


Rattling from the Ground

I want to address the most important aspect of rattling and hunting from the ground with your bow. Movement. When I was a rookie hunter, one of my mentors, Pastor Fred Soyring (RIP), always preached that if you want to see deer from your stand, movement was critical, or I should say, the lack of movement. This never left me, well, at least I know its value, but to be honest, I don’t always follow through!

There are many great videos on YouTube, and articles for learning the finer points of rattling in Whitetail bucks that I encourage you to find. They have been very helpful to me, but this hunting tip has one specific focus, concealing your movement while rattling and hunting on the ground.

The obvious approach to concealment is a ground blind. I have not used one myself, as I like to travel light, and be mobile, but I am thinking about buying a light-weight, carry-in model. The other option for ground hunters like myself, is locating good cover. I will discuss a few factors of using the terrain to your advantage.

Background foliage such as a downfall, or heavy brush is imperative, regardless of whether you are rattling or not. This breaks up your silhouette. But for rattling, you need to be sitting behind a fallen tree or some thick brush as well. Another option is to find a small ravine, or hole to drop down in to conceal your movement. Another good idea is to get tucked up next to a waterway, or set up on a steep hillside. This keeps deer traffic in front of you, and decreases the odds of getting busted from behind, but you should still try to have cover concealing your forward position for rattling motion. Also, when you are doing your winter and spring scouting, you can locate great ambush spots, and build some natural cover blinds to slip into when the season opens. Its just another great excuse to get in the woods! Think of it as scouting good tree stand locations, just on the ground.

This will give you some ideas to think about if you choose to become a ground hunter. It really ramps up the challenge of hunting, and those face to face encounters are intense.

So for a quick review, remember these key points in trying to rattle in bucks, and hunt from the ground. (1) Back ground brush or trees to break up your silhouette. (2) A downed tree, stump etc. in front of you works to hide your rattling sequence, and hunting movement. (3) Using terrain such as waterways and hillsides for taking advantage of natural deer funnels decreases your chances of being discovered.

God bless ya, and have fun hunting from the ground. There’s nothing like it!


Nubbin Buck

Safe by Momma’s side


I watch you

from my autumn perch



Epic battles await you



Monster Buck

Boone & Crockett





Swamp Buck

Ole Wooly


Faded picture

Grandpa’s Deer Camp

Hangs above

Old Outdoor Life magazines


Fireplace stories

Invite dreams for boys and men







Become legend


Young Woodland Prince

I see royalty in you



Nubbin Buck By:  David Bakke

Photo Credit: Bill Berquist




Pine Lake: Tamarac Wildlife Refuge

I love bow hunting the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge of North-East Becker County here in Minnesota. As a boy and teen, I spent many hours tromping these roads and wood-lands while spending summers at our lake cabin on Round Lake which borders this Preserve. For me it is home. I am so thankful for those adventurous summers, and equally thankful to be hunting this area with my friends and enjoying the lands of my youth.

Today I saw a fantastic film on you-tube produced by Gritty Bowman titled, ‘Trophy Places’. It is all about being connected to your hunting area in a way that puts the land you hunt on, at an equal value as the animal you are hunting, and so the title ‘Trophy Places’. My friend Bill calls it the, ‘Aesthetic Value’, of your hunting spot. That’s how I feel about Tamarac Refuge and Round Lake, they are my ‘Trophy Places’.

The land surrounding the pristine Pine Lake on the Tamarac Refuge offers a beautiful variety of deep woods, open natural meadows, and the always present Minnesota sloughs and Tamarac Bogs. These forests and grass lands are connected by several X-C Skiing trails, and the North Country Hiking Trail which provides quick access to deep Whitetail cover. If you are ever in my neck of the woods, try and get out to Pine Lake for a hike, X-C ski outing, or possibly even a bow hunting excursion. You will be glad you did.

I hope you can find your ‘Trophy Places’ to hunt, I hope you can learn to enjoy the ‘Aesthetic Value’ of your hunting spot like I have. When you do, every hunt is a trophy experience.



Watch Your Back

The normally active Aspen leaves were motionless in the still air. Tall prairie grass pressed against the tree-line and waited patiently for a breeze to dance with. Cool air descended from the clear sky, it covered me like a thin blanket. I was bow hunting. I sat tucked up against a down-fall where the grass gave way to the forest. I anticipated the unmistakable sound of an approaching Whitetail. Near sun-down, my heart skipped as I heard a cautious deer working toward me from the darkened wood.

Anchored like a statue, I waited, listened and watched, straining my peripheral view in hopes of seeing a buck stepping out into the lighted meadow. Tense minutes passed between each cautious movement of the deer, but the animal did not make an appearance. Instead of offering me a clear view in reward for my effort, it came out behind me! It was so close. I heard the animal sniffing, trying to determine what I was. I could hear tiny twigs break each time it took a guarded step through the young stand of Poplar trees. For a moment, I thought the visitor was going to walk out on top of me. Still holding expectations the deer would make a grand entry onto the field, within range of my eager bow, I waited,  trying to hold my breathing in check, but it turned, and melted into the shadows.

Well past dark, I finally stood up, flung my hunting stool over my shoulder, fought off a chill, and found the trail back to my truck. Maybe next time!