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:
I have a lot of friends who are way into all-things hunting gear and I'm a bit of a gear-freak myself. When it comes to deer season I have a product (or many products) for all aspects of my hunt. Laundry detergent, toothpaste, bowsights, camo everything, coolers, ladders, cameras, saws....I'm hunting with my son this weekend in Wisconsin and it's a little embarrassing how much gear we'll bring for two days of hunting.
Although I'm geared up for this season, I just picked up a pair of must-have boots for anyone who's ever gone to the bar after a deer hunt (that's pretty much everyone!).... Minnesota manufacturer Red Wing/Irish Setter recently introduced the Bar Boot!
These are a stylish and comfortable after-hunt boot with a gum-rubber sole. No slipping for me as I make my way to the bar this season! And with 1" of rubber I can walk in most Wisconsin bars without getting beer on the leather!
Click here for more details on the Bar Boot.
I still remember my first experience with morels....working for Ron Schara we had a steady supply of generous mushroom hunters who would share their spoils.
At RSP we ran the occaisional story which taught me to look for dead elms...so last weekend after a failed attempt to get my wife her first turkey, I turned to mushroom hunting and found my first one. I've been told if you find one you'll find more and that proved to be true...we didn't hunt hard, turkey or morels, and found a total of four.
Flash forwardt to today when I had to return to the same location of our turkey hunt to recover my ground blind. I brought intern extraordinarie, Seth Bartodziej, who had never found his own morels before. I was pretty confident we'd put him on his first morel which happened pretty quickly. We recovered the blind and were on our way out of the woods when I saw a shroom out of the corner of my eye. Seth went in to recover it and found another, and another, and another...and says "you may want to see this...." We discovered the motherload....at least 60 morels and most great sized.
Seth finds Minnesota Gold!
Safe to say, the morel season has created at least two hunting addicts!
The end of August is generally a trying time for me and my wife as parents of three energetic boys. To battle the ennui we packed up the family and headed about 10 miles west of our home and set up camp in Baker Park Campground on Lake Independence. You may have read today's article about the challenges of the water quality on the lake but let me tell you, Baker Park is a first class facility and Lake Independence is a metro body of water worthy of our protection.
I won't bore you with the details of our fantastic weekend...all I can say is if you're considering camping at Baker Park you should call and reserve. They also have a Halloween event called Baker-Boo the weekend of Oct 20-21 which is awesome for the kids.
I want to share one highlight because I'm interested in your stories.... I brought with me my 12" Camp Chef Cast-Iron Skillet that I've had for a couple of years but never used. I recently attended an event where Camp Chef sponsored a cook-off which inspired me to have my own little competition. I cooked up some pheasant sausage over the open fire and made scrambled eggs in my new skillet. I didn't have to season the grill or any of the food...the skillet comes pre-seasoned. I can honestly say I've never enjoyed cooking more than I did making this meal and I don't think I've ever tasted sausage and eggs that were this perfect. I made enough food for our group of five plus the group of four at the site next to ours....they provided the eggs.
Here's a shot of my breakfast masterpiece:
So, what do I need to do to take my outdoor cooking to the next level? I'm interested in hearing about your experiences and suggestions. Please post comments below!