Spring is in the air and the top item on my hunting Bucket List is scoring my first bow and arrow turkey. I'm a turkey addicted and have chased them with my bow a few times...even managed to miss a couple hard shots and a few easy ones. This year I'm pulling out all the stops. I didn't really need a new bow but my old Bowtech was full of misses. After much deliberation, testing and trial, I picked up a new bow, a Martin Alien Nitro. This bow had the perfect fit, feel and performance for my deer, turkey and bear needs. For accessories I opted to keep it local; I went with an IQ Bowsight from Superior Wisconsin's Field Logic. For the arrow rest, string and VIP setup, I headed north to Ham Lake manufacturer Vapor Trail Archery.
Mitch Petrie Tests His New Martin Alien Bow in his Office!
Vapor Trail is the brain child of Minnesota archery Jarrod Fondie. Jarrod and brother Steve have built a small but high-powered team of archery fanatics who spin strings and assemble arrow rests almost as fast and the sales team can sell them. "The business is really growing nicely" Says Vice President Steve Fondie.
To hang out in their shop for a couple hours is a little like going to happy hour, without the beer. Plenty of conversation, banter and trash talk to go around but it's all in good fun. "Personally, I enjoy meeting the people in the industry and interacting with our customers who all share our passion for archery." Continued Fondie.
The 90 minutes I was there I was taken care of by graphic designer and bow specialist Rick Brule. Rick has been working with bows for the better part of the decade and is one of the most skilled bow technicians in the state. He set up and got me dialed in for my turkey season so no excuses for me. In fact, the the company motto is "Quit Your Crying"; a reference to the folks who would blame their equipment on misses. I no longer have an excuse in my equipment so any misses from here on out will be my own fault!
Spring is in the air and most of my friends have escaped our record-setting Minnesota winter for warmer climates. Our family tradition has been to go north for spring and when we head north, our favorite destination is Walker, MN and Chase on the Lake.
Walker is a quick 3.5 hour drive and Chase on the Lake is a gem on the south shore of Leech Lake. Within 10 minutes of our arrival the kids were in the pool and my wife Kristin and I made happy hour in the 502 Bar to plan our weekend. Kristin prefers to explore Walker and its shops while my boys and I explore the lake.
Hard core Minnesotans know spring is a relative term. At Leech Lake spring means you can swap out your 20" auger extension for a 12" extension!
Aaron Petrie Holds on the our Strikemaster Auger
Ice conditions on Leech are very good. 36" to 42" inches on most areas means your extension is a must. We fished today in 6'-8' of water on Sand Point. My boy Aaron was first on the board with a short but sweet perch.
Aaron is the leader in the clubhouse with first, biggest and most fish of the day!
We sorted through a lot of small ones and fought off a couple northern to land a couple keeper perch this morning. But with 40 degrees and sun, it was ideal spring fishing conditions.
Theo Petrie holds two Leech Lake Jumbo Perch
We're back to the Chase for lunch and a nap, then back to Sand Point for the evening bite. Evening will consist of an epic bowling match at Chase followed by some NCAA basketball. Who needs beaches and heat when the accommodations are luxurious and the fishing is hot! Not bad for a last minute weekend getaway!
My last post Monarch Valley Whitetail Adventure told the story of my son Theo's quest for his first deer. That adventure and lack of harvest fueled Theo's passion for this weekend's MN firearms opener.
Our weekend embodied all that is good with a traditional MN deer camp. Our hosts, Charlie, Steve and Fred Ehlen once again were kind enough to share their family property near Randall, MN. We were greeted by some old friends from years past and made a few new ones. There were hits and misses, good food, fun and lots of laughs. And success; our group took 9 deer including a bruiser of a 10 pt buck.
I won't bore you with the details of Theo's hunt. While every moment was priceless for me and him, the same story played out statewide for thousands of others...anticipation, excitement, the shot, the tracking (ugg), the follow-up shot and finally the recovery. It's the first of what I'm sure will be many deer for Theo. This photo and the memory of this weekend will stay with me & Theo for a long time...
When my non-hunting friends inquire about getting their kids into hunting I share with them the experiences we had this past weekend. Is there anything better than spending time in the field with your kids? Henry David Thoreau said it best,
“When some of my friends have asked me anxiously about their boys, whether they should let them hunt, I have answered yes-- remembering that it was one of the best parts of my education-- make them hunters.”
My son Theo, a freshman at Orono High School, has hunted hard with his stick and string for the past two seasons but is still looking for his first deer. Last archery season we never saw a deer in the stand which is frustrating for anyone but especially a newcomer to the sport. To keep kids engaged I think it’s important to balance work with success; Theo had put in his practice time and now it was my job to find him a better place to hunt.
Last summer I attended the Birmingham Deer Classic and met an outfitter, Steve Hedberg, Sales and Marketing Director from Monarch Valley Whitetails (MVW) in Blair, WI. Steve was giving away a youth hunt as a promotion and I was lucky enough to claim the prize. A few emails, phone calls and two months, later and Theo and I were on our way to MVW in Trempealeau County.
We left Orono on a Friday after school and zipped down Interstate 94. Who knew only two and a half hours from our home in Plymouth is a deer paradise? Excitement grew as we got closer to our destination…passing through Buffalo County, into Trempealeau County you crisscross ideal deer habitat; crops, hard woods, rivers/creeks and the occasional small town. It’s also Wisconsin Amish country so seeing the occasional horse and buggy on the road was a cool experience for an impressionable 14 year old.
We pulled in to the farm and were greeted by MVW owner Dan Gallagher. Dan is a Wisconsin native who spent many years in Texas in the hospitality business. He returned to Wisconsin with his wife Lorraine and kids to fulfill a dream; create a hunting destination where he could share his passion for whitetail deer. When you enter the barn converted into a hunting lodge, you benefit from Dan’s years of experience working in hotels. The place is immaculate and nicely appointed. As far as hunting lodges go it’s about as good as it gets.
A view of the Cook’s Quarters, Great Room and Guest Bedroom
Dan and Lorraine went the extra mile to make sure we were comfortable; from the homemade pizza and other home-cooked meals down to the flannel sheets on the bed. The lodging alone was worth the trip! Working with Dan as outfitter and guide is Tim Johnson. Tim is a deer enthusiast and spent a lot of time on the phone with us in advance of our trip to maximize our chances for success. I knew this year if I wanted Theo to have a great experience I needed to surround him with people who are excited to share their knowledge and passion for deer and deer hunting. With Dan and Tim we found two of the best.
After a tour of the property we were off to bed for an early wake up and our first sit. Dan put us in a ground blind near a water hole, adjacent to a corn field. He explained the lay of the land, the typical deer patterns, locations of nearby buck scrapes and rubs. As the sun came up we soon had three doe approaching from our left. The deer stopped at about 70 yards and I glassed them. They turned about face and quietly walked back up the hill. Sorry Theo, I think they saw your dad! We saw a few more deer in the distance that never came in so we went back to camp for lunch. After a great meal and quick nap, it was back to the stand around 3 PM.
For the evening we moved into a double ladder stand on the opposite end of the field from the morning hunt. In their scouting, Dan and Tim saw the deer were generally on their feet by 4 PM. Like clock-work, we were pinned in our stand by three deer at 3:50 PM! I had a doe about 20 yards to my right; Theo had a fawn about 10 yards to his left and a third deer was directly below our stand. The big doe caught our wind and ran off before Theo could draw back. The encounter was awesome for Theo who, after two long seasons, finally had a close encounter with the cervidae kind! About 30 minutes before sun down Theo would get another chance. I was looking off to my right thinking I heard a squirrel. A doe had jumped through the brush and stopped on the grass trail, broadside, 22 yards from our stand. Theo was in perfect position and the doe was in no hurry to go anywhere. Theo drew back and let the arrow fly. The doe ran off and Theo looked at me and said “I missed!”. We got down and found his arrow to verify a clean miss. I asked him what happened and he said he couldn’t keep his hand from shaking. After three years of shooting at inanimate targets, Theo felt the rush of having a live target in front of him and experienced his first “buck fever”.
We had a great night at the lodge with good food, good friends and great discussion about all things deer. Theo asked Dan if it was ok to shoot a smaller buck. At MVW the goal is to harvest mature deer but Dan was very kind telling Theo “any deer that you’d be proud of, MVW would be proud of”. They proved that the week before we arrived when they hosted two youth hunters who each shot their first deer.
Aspen Johnson, Tim Johnson-Guide (no relation to Tim) and Bradlee Ewert show off their MVW trophies!
We woke up Sunday morning and made our way back to the same stand where Theo missed the previous night. About an hour after sunrise we were busted by a deer that we never saw…with two people in a stand and swirling winds in the valley conditions were difficult but we weren’t too concerned. We returned to camp and came up with a new plan for our last sit of the weekend.
Theo and Mitch Petrie Head out of their last stand of the weekend
MVW has over 600 acres and 40 + stands set up within a 10 minute walk of the lodge. There’s always a great place to hunt regardless of the wind direction. We opted for a double ladder stand on the edge of a field about 70 yards above a watering hole which proved to be a good decision. Within an hour of our arrival we had several deer filtering down the hill towards the water. Theo picked up some movement behind him and saw a small 6 point buck heading our way. The deer spooked and ran off but about 10 minutes later a doe followed his path but came straight in to 15 yards. As Theo tried to draw back, his muscles wouldn’t cooperate. Might have been buck fever or just an awkward position in the stand but it was a great encounter than ended in the doe walking off down-wind. A few minutes later we heard a deer blowing and what sounded like a herd of 20 deer leaving the valley having been alerted of our presence. Theo was pretty bummed that this would be how our hunt ended. Amazingly, the doe who had just walked off, walked back in! Clearly she had a death wish and Theo was more than willing to grant it! I ranged her at 32 yards which was within Theo’s range. He drew back and let the arrow fly; I watched the arrow fly in what seemed to be slow motion didn’t see or hear it hit the deer. We went down just before dusk and couldn’t find the arrow and didn’t see any signs he hit the deer. The next day Tim and Dan returned to the site to do their own search and confirmed a clean miss.
So we left MVW with Theo’s tag in hand but by all accounts having experienced a successful hunt. Theo had encounters every time we went out and let a few arrows fly. I told him our goal was to learn and improve each stand and we most definitely did. Theo is well on his way to being a great bowhunter and his experience at MVW will always be regarded as a key building block to his success. While I don’t take pleasure in his misses I do think, in this day and age of instant gratification, when he does finally have success, he’ll appreciate it more having worked for nearly three seasons to connect.
For more information on MVW or to book your own hunt, visit: