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Friday, December 28, 2012

Wrapped, Strapped & Packin' Heat

One of my favorite aspects of hunting is that when done successfully, it results in a meal, or many meals depending on the game pursued. In the case of a whitetail deer, we have a freezer full of delicious, nutritious, organic venison to be enjoyed throughout the year. So with all of that meat I get to play around with different ways to prepare it. Tonight's dish was one so simple & delicious that I had to share. It's a little on the spicy side, so if you're not into that then don't use the Red Rooster sauce.

I marinaded 4 cuts of backstrap cut into butterfly chops in the following concoction:

  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Creole Seasoning
  • 1 Teaspoon Montreal Steak Seasoning
  • 1 Teaspoon Sriracha Sauce 

After about 4 hours in the fridge, I removed the chops, pressed them into a circular shape, and wrapped then with a slice of bacon secured with a toothpick.

Grill to medium so that you still have a nice warm red center, fix some side dishes, and enjoy.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ohio Gun Season - Opening Day 2012

I went out for the opening day of Ohio's gun season for the first time in about 5 years. Deciding to take the muzzleloader over the battle tested 870 just in case I needed the extra reach on a deer cruising through the open woods, or slipping along the field edge. Not having a crystal ball at the time, I probably should have just stuck with my preferred weapon of choice, my bow. As I passed the time counting gun shots in the distance, my overly high anticipations of a successful morning hunt were starting to drift away by 9:00 AM. However, just shortly thereafter my ears caught the distinguished sound of over turning leaves behind me, and this time I was certain that the cadence didn't quite match that of the fox squirrels who had fooled me earlier.

Quickly looking over my shoulder I could see the group of deer heading my way in a single file fashion. The occasional pause by the lead deer seemed to catch the followers off guard as they would nearly bump into one another before proceeding. Before I knew it I had 6 does filtering past me at about 10 yards. I wanted to test my long range marksmanship with the muzzleloader so I let them slip off into the distance... and at about 18 yards the gun's stock met up with my shoulder. The group paused once again, just as they had while I watched them work through the woods moments earlier. I quickly scanned the group to isolate the biggest doe, placed the scope's cross hairs on her quartering away chest, applied a little pressure to the trigger, and in fractions of a second my ears were ringing from the BOOM!!!

With only a subtle breeze blowing through the tree tops at the moment, the black power smoke lingered in the air like a misplaced cloud, making it tough to see where my deer had dashed off to. Six had come in, I could make out two scampering off to the south, three still stood in their tracks just mere yards from the spot they held as the shot sounded off, and I thought I could hear the crashing of the sixth unaccounted for deer on the other side of a small thicket.

After letting the three (now partially deaf) deer walk away, I climbed down out of my stand and packed up up gear. Walking over to the point of impact it didn't take too long to find some of this...

Following the blood trail along the edge of the thicket for about 20 yards I looked around the corner into the more open woods, and saw this...

After saying my "thanks" for being blessed with the experience this morning I took a few more pictures before getting back to work (literally, I only took a half day's vacation so I had to get to work!)...

I'm grateful to put a nice big doe in the freezer after so many close, and frustrating calls during the first part of the bow season. Now I can just relax, chase some birds around, and maybe still fill my buck tag later in the season. Oh, and the kids are already asking for jerky.

Friday, October 19, 2012

NoDak 10/04/12 Afternoon Jump Shoot

After drying out and warming up a bit, we headed out to explore some more territory in order to add some more ducks to the bag by jump shooting the ponds and potholes that dotted the landscape. It's a fun and exciting way to kill some time, and some birds. Plus, if you're not on the spot & stalk mission at the time you get to sit back in the distance, eat Cheetos, Doritos, cookies and watch the spectacle unfold. It's usually good for a some entertainment.

The first attempt didn't turn up anything other than a few laughs, but the second go at it turned out better with Rob and Kent creeping up on some unsuspecting birds. Soon they were waving Mike and I over to bring the dogs and fetch up some birds.

One of the birds was belly up and drifting toward the reeds along the opposite shoreline. The other was crippled and required another slow approach to try and throw some more steel it's way. When it popped up after a brief dive under the surface the final shot was fired, or at least that's what we thought. The steel shot's pattern covered up the area, causing the water around the bird to look like it was briefly boiling. With the duck surely about flip it's belly skyward, I sent Timber out for the retrieve. As the dog was taking the line towards the bird, somehow it's head once again went upright, and just as quickly the bird again dove beneath the surface confusing Timber as to it's whereabouts. Seconds later the duck resurfaced right in front of Timber. "Gotcha" is what I'm guessing Timber thought as he lunged again towards the diving duck. Empty mouthed, my dog was looking around, wondering "what the heck is going on here." Then just as before, the duck came up for air only inches in front of Timber.

The duck tried to make yet another plunge disappearing with a small splash, that was followed by a bigger splash with Timber now diving down after the duck! They both broke back up through the choppy waters, only this time the crippled bird was grasped securely in Timber's mouth as he paddled proudly  back towards shore.

Next up was Storm. He'd hunted hard all week, and the young pup was finally going to get in on some of the action. With another dead duck that had drifted somewhere into the reeds we searched the shoreline looking for that white belly against the dark blue water. A few moments later, Storm was on the bird, bringing it back in. His first water retrieve...

Another first was had later that afternoon on one of the most legendary spot and stalk displays ever witnessed, at least that's what we were told. It was an exhibit in stealthfulness (if that's even a word). If there was a textbook written on subjects like this, it would've been the center piece of that text book. Mike and I were able to use our ninja like stalking skills to slip within yards of the unsuspecting ducks with very minimal, and certainly marginal cover between us and the bobbing birds. With a pair of Teal spotted, a last minute call was made to switch positions, allowing Mike to be able to take the shot and adding Teal to his hit list of ducks taken. Like well trained Navy Seals, we maneuvered into position, made the call, and let the steel fly. And wouldn't you know it, Mike ends up shooting a banded Teal. You're welcome buddy!

That was about it for the hunting. I think we may have hit a few more water holes up along our way back to town, but we decided to call it a week. Electing to go have a nice dinner and sleep in the next morning, rather than grind ourselves to repeating the evening scouting / early morning wake up routine we had been following. Everybody was able to head back to Ohio satisfied and fulfilled with the time we had, and yet at the same time looking forward to the next time out. I know I'll be counting the days...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

SnowDak 10/04/12 Morning Hunt

The good news this morning was that we were finally going to be getting some colder weather that should help out with the hunting a bit. The bad news was that it was now coming at the tail end of the trip. Oh well, you can't plan for what Mother Nature is going to deal out, you can only play with the cards she gives you. We certainly worked hard to do the best we could with those cards. Thursday morning's hunt looked like we were going to be using those snow covers that we decided to pack, and what a good decision that turned out to be.

The field that we decided to hunt had been holding geese all week, and on occasion the surrounding fields did as well. This particular field however seemed to be the only one that was consistent, so we made the call to hunt here on Thursday morning. The other neat thing about this spot was that is was enlisted into North Dakota's PLOTS program, which stands for Private Land Open To Sportsmen. Essentially anybody could walk right in and hunt here, which leads me to the toughest part about this hunt. We couldn't drive the truck & trailer out into the field to set up. With that in mind, we packed in as light as possible, carrying only 2 dozen Hard Core full body geese and 3 dozen Big Al's goose silhouettes to help hide our layout blinds.

After working up a good sweat from the trek into the field, we hunkered down out of the howling wind behind some pines in the distant fence row. That break didn't last too long because as legal shooting light was drawing near we could hear wing beats over head. Mallards were already circling the spread. A quick dash was made to seek shelter in the snow covered blinds as we watched birds drop down and just about land on  top of us. Moments later our watches signaled we were legal, the mojos were flipped on, and whistling wings were once again circling above. Soon the white blanket covering the ground around us was turning red.

After the initial flurry of ducks came through we figured it would be a while before the geese decided to get up and eat. Typically that's the case. Wrong again. From the moment the shooting started it didn't really stop until our four man goose limit was filled, with the intermittent mallards also falling down around us, in short order the immediate area resembled a battle field. This time out, we won.

I recorded this short clip after we were wrapped up and ready to pack out for the morning. This was truly one of those hunts that you don't experience all that often. The amount of geese that showed up, and wanted to feed in this exact field was just simply awesome to watch. It was nearly an endless stream of geese just kept popping up on the horizon and filtering through to the field. The clip doesn't do it justice...

O - H.....   I - O!!!!!

NoDak 10/03/12 - The Ohio Hunt

I called this hunt the Ohio hunt because it was a reminder of what we face from time to time hunting in the highly pressured areas back home. It seems at times like no matter how early you wake up, how diligent you try to be getting to the spot first, how hard you try to do everything the right way, somebody is still gonna pull up and hunt right next to you.

That's pretty much exactly what happened to us on our Wednesday morning hunt. After scouting the field the night before and seeing good numbers of birds feeding in the corn, then dropping back down into the roost pond a few hundred yards away, we left for the night feeling like we'd have another solid hunt the next morning.

The alarm rings, and the routine begins again. With our field set up methods working like a well oiled machine we were out in the cool morning air putting the plan in place to kill some more mallards. Then it happened... A truck carrying two other hunters pulls right into the same field we're in. Now there's no way they didn't see us. We had a truck & trailer with parking lights glowing, then the four of us turn on the head lamps and start flashing the guys. Still they proceed to drive straight at the roost pond! Choosing to set up there for their morning hunt. Are you kidding me!?!?

Now, these guys had just as much right to hunt that spot as we did to hunt where we were. Nothing was done that morning illegally. However, it was certainly an instance that questions the "sportsmanship" of the other hunters. They way our group approaches those situations, is that if somebody beats us to a spot, we then move to plan B, rather than screw their hunt up. Why? Because we wouldn't want somebody coming in and screwing our hunt up either. Simple as that. Too bad not everybody looks at it that way. We would all have more success in the field.

The birds were obviously bumped off the roost in the early morning darkness, and while we did see birds as the sun rose, not a shot was sent skyward. Even the roost hunters had marginal shooting, only dropping a few birds from what we saw. At least we had a nice sunrise, and after a while, a good sense of humor about the whole ordeal.

Oh yeah.... we ate pretty good too.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

NoDak 10/02/12

This time it's 4:00 AM boys... gotta get up a bit earlier to make sure we're set up and completely ready when   the birds get off the roost. Pulling the truck into the field in the early morning darkness we all got to work. You could see a system starting to emerge with Kent taking blind placement & brushing duties. He made sure that we disappeared into the corn stubble, leaving our layout blinds looking like guille suits. Mike and I took to setting out the full body ducks and geese, making sure to replicate what we had observed from the feeding birds the prior night. Rob runs the electronics department of the crew, setting up and trouble shooting all the mojo ducks that were intermixed into the set up. By day 3 we're turning into a well oiled machine.

Our hard work finally started to pay off, as we hunkered down in our blinds watching the birds that took to the air about 10 minutes before we could click off our safeties. One of my absolute favorite things about waterfowling is knowing that you've done everything right, and fooled the birds. When they see your decoys from the air, decide to hook in for a closer look, and then actually land in the spot you want them to you know you've just won the game. As the clock ticked ever closer to toward shooting time, we watched as birds practically landed on top of our blinds. The dogs laying in wait, the look in their eyes practically saying "when the hell  are you guys gonna shoot!?!?"

Soaking in those moments is an awesome feeling because they don't just come along everyday. You put in a lot of work for those moments like that. Minutes later it was time. Game on. With calls pressed to our lips it only took a few quacks and feeder chuckles to turn the first group of birds our direction. "KILL 'EM!!"

And we did. It was a great morning with the birds working in small groups right into the hole, giving everybody shooting opportunities as mallards dropped to the ground and feathers floated off in the morning's strong breeze. With everybody shooting well this morning we had a four man limit of mallards in short order. Even mixing in a few geese for good measure. The long afternoons driving around just searching for the hunt finally paid off.

The only bad thing that happened was my camera taking a dump. It was set up on a tripod when the wind gusted up and knocked it down, damaging one of the lenses in the process. Luckily the camera body itself was still functioning, and the lens can be replaced. I was about sick.

NoDak 10/01/12

We decided to give the water a shot since it seemed that the warm weather didn't really have the birds concentrated, or feeding on any consistent patterns. They were content hopping puddle to puddle and venturing out occasionally for a bite to eat. Plus the pond we planned to hunt had a good concentration of diver ducks to try and choose from.

Arriving at the spot, Rob & I pulled up the waders and began setting up an assortment of decoys. Mostly diver species like canvasbacks, blue bills, and buffleheads but we also worked in a few puddlers to the mix with pairs of mallards scattered throughout the spread. With everything set and a few minutes to spare before legal shooting light the four of us spread apart along the shoreline, tucking ourselves snugly into the reeds in order to break up out outlines and blend into the surroundings. Watching the sky start to lighten up, hearing the wing beats of miscellaneous ducks cruising overhead, and having the occasional group even splash down into the decoys was enough to make Timber go nuts. He was tucked in tightly on my left side, peering through the cattails at the nearby ripples on the water, literally shaking with anticipation on each breath exhaled.

Before too long it was "game time" and the first group of birds cut across the front of the spread catching the far end of the longline we put out, before following it right into the hole. "Kill 'em!" Boom, boom, splash, splash. Two teal were down in the water, giving Timber a couple water retrieves right off the bat. And then that was it... at least initially. The remaining birds on the water took to the air, just trading spaces here and there, but not really wanting to commit to the spread or our calls. As the sun got higher, the temperatures got warmer, and my eyes got heavier. Why fight it... then 30 seconds into my power nap, Mike calls out, "Hey Curran! You gonna shoot that bird or what?!" Timber was snoozing too, but quickly awoke when I sat up, called out to jump the bird, then shot it. At the command of "Fetch 'em up!!" He was off like a rocket to bring back the third and final bird of the morning. 3 Teal in total was all we scratched out. Our luck seemed to have gotten left back at one of the gas stations somewhere along the way.

Time to pick up, take some pictures, eat lunch, take a nap, then head out to do some more scouting for the following day.

Hitting the road in the late afternoon we ventured out into some new areas that we hadn't yet explored. The plan was to check on some of the larger probable roost ponds, scope them out for big numbers of birds, then wait until the fly out to feed and follow along to find the field they're using.

Trying to put a greater distance between our probable hunting grounds and town, and away from the number of posted properties, proved productive. We finally came into a decent amount of birds to watch for the following morning. Again, it wasn't the huge numbers of mallards that we were hoping to find, but there were still a few hundred birds working the freshly cut field, so we knew it had potential. Plus we now seemed to have some options, with another field just down the road starting to stack up with geese.

With the third morning of our hunt looking like it should hold some promise we put the birds to bed and started to make the long drive back to town. Stopping along the way to take in more of the sights from the wide open country.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

NoDak 09/30/12

4:30 AM... up at at 'em boys. We're loading up the guns, dogs, and heading out for the first hunt of the trip. With the promise of hunting in North Dakota I think the hopes are automatically a bit higher than normal. But keep in mind that it's still hunting. Anything can, and likely will, change from what you had pictured in your mind. No matter. We're not working, and we're hunting, so therefore life is good...

As the watches chimed legal light's arrival, the sun was busy bursting over the opposite horizon from where we last left it. Only minutes later the birds were trading places in the air, with a single duck following the script we wrote. Right up the center, making a death charge at our stubbled in ground blinds, the call of "shoot that bird" rang out and immediately following came the shot, then a folded up mallard falling from the sky.

Only problem was that mallard was the only one who stayed up late and read the script! The ducks couldn't make up their mind what they wanted to do, flying sporadically here and there. The geese came from a few different directions, but the first flock wasn't interested in our spread and decided to light in an a neighboring field. Just far enough away that we were able to watch every other group of birds dump in, or circle the feeding geese.

Maybe it was the hotter than normal weather we had to contend with, or it could have been the Harvest Moon. We weren't certain, but something had to change. We decided to abandon the field set up, and take up posts on those loafing ponds near by. A short while later while scratching out a couple birds, we decided to pick up our toys and head back for lunch. Still a fun morning in the field either way.

Scouting later on that afternoon was productive in the fact that we found a field holding a ton of birds. Both ducks and geese. It would've been a slammer of a hunt except that we needed to track down the land owner and get permission since the property was posted. That task proved to be impossible despite having a friend in town making call after call to an unanswered phone that week. The birds in this field went unhunted to our knowledge, and the size of the flocks only grew throughout the week. It was big tease to say the least. We continued to keep tabs on it just in case we were able to get through to the land owner, but it turned out that it just wasn't meant to be.

We made the call to hunt that diver pond we scouted the night before in hopes of putting some canvasbacks and redheads belly up in the water.

Friday, October 12, 2012

NoDak Road Trip 2012 - 09/28/12

With the goose caboose already filled to the roof with everything we needed to start a full scale guide service of our own, we threw in our last minute items, guns, shells, and dogs. By approximately 7:30 PM on Friday September 29th Rob, Kent, Mike, and myself were headed north west. North Dakota bound for the start of the non-resident duck and goose season. The mileage on Rob's Ford F-150 read 11,568 as we started to put space between us and Ohio. The plan was to keep a fresh rotation of drivers going so that we could truck on through the night and make it to our base camp (Days Inn) by Saturday afternoon. Thanks to ample amounts of junk food, candy bars, energy drinks, and some good conversation we accomplished our first objective of the trip, arriving in the promise land around 3:30 PM on Saturday afternoon.

After getting the hook up on the "pet rate" from the lovely lady working the front desk (even running on fumes, Kent & I still had some swagger), we settled into the rooms, unhitched the goose caboose, and headed out to let the dogs run off some pent up energy. Looking up some likely upland spots to stretch our legs, we picked out some PLOTS land to pull up to and roam around for a bit.

After a few laps through meandering fence rows the dogs all had tongues hanging and were signaling for some water. The weather when we arrived was in the mid 80's. Not exactly ideal for any kind of hunting, but it was time to get back into the truck and get some scouting done for Sunday morning's hunt.

The last thing you feel like doing after driving somewhere around 18 hours is getting back in the truck to drive around for another 3 hours. But, if you want to get some quality hunts lined up, you've got to put in the time and put on the miles.

We scoured the maps and checked out a few spots that have held successful hunts in year's past. As we were doing so, we ran into another pair of hunters from Ohio who had already located the birds in the first quality field that we also discovered. Scratch that spot off the list for Sunday. We moved along and covered more miles, pulling off the side of the road at another big roost pond holding a decent amount of birds. It wasn't long before we were back in the truck, hectically following small flights of birds across the rolling plains and watching them light into a cut bean field a few miles away.

It wasn't a huge wad of birds that we were watching, but with the sun setting in the not too distant future, it looked to be the best option that we had for a field hunt. With some rolls in the terrain, and a few brushy fence rows in between, I was able to slip in close enough to get some shots of where the birds were feeding in the field. A few hundred yards off, and surrounding the feeding spot in the field were a few loafing ponds, so with any luck the birds should be bouncing around and dumping into our laps.

With the sun losing the battle to the horizon, we hung out way off in the distance, letting the birds finish up with their evening meal before they returned to their roost for the night. As the moon rose higher we also decided to do the same.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Making the Most of Your Pictures from the Field

Over the years I've grown to appreciate that one of the most enjoyable aspects of a successful day afield is being able to look back upon the pictures taken from that particular hunt. Maybe it's because we spend many hours in duck blinds watching empty blue bird skies when the forecast called for much duckier weather just yesterday. Or maybe it's because we've all shared the frustration of days spent on the stand where the deer seem to just tip toe on the outer limits of our range. So, when the moment finally does happen with the stars, moons, planets, and Hunting Gods all aligning simultaneously, our successes always taste oh so sweet. In those moments of success take a few extra seconds to soak it all in by pulling your camera out of your pack to capture some memories to share. Whether you're shooting pictures with your cell phone, a point and shoot, or a digital SLR camera, here are some basic thoughts to keep in mind when you're taking pictures in the field.

Photography (no matter what kind of camera you have) is all about light and how to use what is available. If you're using a point & shoot with auto settings the camera will do most of the thinking for you by adjusting ISO (a measure of the camera's sensitivity to light), Aperture (the size of the hole in the lens controlling the amount of light let in), and Shutter Speed (how long that hole is left open for the light) to the amount of light detected at the time you're focusing the camera in for the picture. Shooting with an SLR camera, and out of the auto settings can allow you to get a bit more creative with the particular settings, even though the camera can still do some of the thinking depending on the mode you're shooting in.

So what about light? How do we need to use it? Well fortunately for us, most of the time we're out hunting it's either dawn or dusk, which coincidentally is also referred to in photography as the "golden hour". By definition, the golden hour is the first hour after sunrise, or the last hour before sunset. You've probably had those evenings on stand in the fall when the colors of the leaves in the last hour of shooting light is just amazing. Especially in mid to late October with the sun setting against a bold blue backdrop makes the reds, oranges, and yellows of the leaves just pop out in contrast. That's why it's called the golden hour. The sun is low in the sky, so it's impact on light is much softer, and subtle than it is at high noon when the sun is directly overhead. The shadows are subdued and the amount of light is lessened, making the general view easy on the eyes. So if you kill that big buck at last light, and don't find him until well after dark, just wait until the next morning if at all possible to take your trophy pictures during the golden hour.

This also leads into some other points. If you're going to wait until the next morning to take the pictures, then take some extra time to clean up the appearance of the deer. Use a damp cloth to wipe away any blood from the mouth, nose, and hide of the deer while it's still wet and easy to remove. When you're posing the deer, if you're taking pictures after it's been field dressed, try to either position the open cavity away from the lens or place your bow over the opening to help disguise the area. Make sure the deer's tongue is tucked back in it's mouth too. It just makes for a better overall picture, especially if you plan on sharing the picture with those that fall into a non-hunting audience, or if you're going to have it set up as your screen saver at work.

If time is of the essence, and waiting for optimal lighting isn't an option because you have to work tomorrow morning, then take a look at the light around you. Is the brim of your hat going to cast a shadow over your face because the sun is high in the sky? Look for some shade to set up in for picture time to try and eliminate those harsh shadows. If there's no shade to work with then try changing the camera's flash settings so that the flash goes off to help lighten up those otherwise dark areas.

This picture was around high noon, taken where the buck fell. I should have either cleared out the foreground, and used fill flash to get rid of the shadows, or drug the deer 20 yards and into the woods for some shade. 
Clear away the area around the animal so that the distractions are minimized. Pull out the tall grasses or corn stalks that are laying in front of the pile birds you're taking a picture of. Pull your deer into an area free from saplings that your camera may want to auto focus on. Get the fallen branches out of the way so your camera has a clear view of the animal and the hunter.

Try to take your pictures in a natural setting. Not that tailgates are unnatural, believe me I have my fair share of tailgate pictures, and still take some like that every season, but mix it up a bit. Try to see what around you could work in replacement of the tailgate. A picture of a pile of geese draped over an old log laying alongside the riverbank with the water as a backdrop tells more of the story from the hunt.

We probably shot 20+ pictures of this setting to try and get the dogs looking, the birds stationary, and the sun not too harsh. There's still some things I'd like to have different, but just like in hunting, I'm always learning something more when it comes to field photography.
Did you ride that deer into submission, or shoot it with your shotgun? Again, this is a picture pose I've done before, as have millions of other hunters, but try your best to refrain from sitting on the back of that buck and pulling up on his antlers like the reigns on a horse.

I didn't ride him like a rodeo bull, but I wish I had pictures of this buck in the field when he was killed in mid October. The fall setting would've been much better than the truck bed in the fast food parking lot. 

Dig into the details. Take a few minutes and look around at the details of nature. Take pictures of the spiderwebs still dripping with dew as the morning sun is breaking into the horizon. Before you pull that blood covered arrow out of the dirt, take a couple close up pictures of the fletching, or the drops of blood still pooling up on the oak leaves. Look out on to the water where your shell casings are floating along side the feathers from the ducks you just dropped out of the sky. Take pictures of the details, the little things that just look cool!

Try taking pictures from a different perspective. Get down low, with your belly on the ground and shoot upward. Stand on the roof of your truck and shoot downward, giving an aerial perspective. Take a knee, shoot sideways, set the self timer to shoot in multi-shot mode so that a series of shots are taken, just try doing something different. That's the beauty of digital cameras as well! You get instant feedback to know if you were able to get "the shot" or if something needs to be changed or altered. You never know what might turn out to make for a memorable picture to look back on someday down the road, so shoot away and have fun.