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!
Today I hand over the reins of my blog to Edina Senior/Intern Extraordinare, Seth Bartodziej….
At the end of May, Edina seniors have the opportunity to do a two week project or internship on a topic of interest. I wanted to do an internship with a company in the outdoor industry. I met Mitch Petrie, owner of Muddy Boot Outdoors, through a friend of my father. I enjoy watching fishing and hunting shows on TV and wanted to have a behind the scenes look at the outdoor-recreation industry. Two months after laying out my plan I started my May-Term Project as intern for Muddy Boot Outdoors.
One of my projects was to write a blog post on an outdoor experience. Mitch suggested I try out bowfishing and relate the experience in the blog. I know the sport is growing in popularity and have seen videos but have never tried it before. I was up for the adventure.
Carp are an invasive species that reproduce rapidly and if not taken care of will take over a body of water. They cause damage to our native fish species including our state fish, the walleye. Carp eat walleye eggs and cause a huge decrease in population in native game fish. When they forage they disturb sediment at the bottom of the lake that contains pollutants like phosphorous and nitrogen. Once disturbed these pollutants fertilize algae and weeds that negatively affect water quality. We also targeted bowfin (dogfish), though not invasive, they're classifed as a rough fish and can reek havic of fish beds as well. As a bonus, the sport is fun, enjoyed by people of all ages, and easily accessible in Minnesota’s many lakes and streams. How often is it you can have fun while helping the ecosystem of our local lakes, streams, and pond? Some may ask why are you killing them for no reason…it’s clear to me there’s a strong conservation argument to remove carp for lakes and enlisting sportsmen who volunteer for the task makes sense.
Our adventure started at Lake Independence MN, which coincidently is infested with carp and struggles with severe algae blooms each open-water season. When we arrived the conditions were not in our favor. Mitch got a shot off at a monster carp, probably 25 lbs; unfortunately he missed him and by the time I had a shot the carp was long gone. We perched on top of a bridge and scoped out the water for a while. After several unproductive minutes we decided to try a calmer and shallower spot. On our way it started to rain heavier but it didn’t matter as our spirits were high in anticipation of success.
Mitch led the charge down a rain-slicked embankment and through the woods to a creek he had told me about. As we walked Mitch told me the plan and what to expect. I took the lead along the creek in hopes of seeing a trophy swimming in the water. We got about 30 feet down the trail when Mitch spotted the first one. We stopped and tried to get a clear shot at him but never did. The fish spooked and swam upstream and we quickly made chase. We came up to a clearing and Mitch had a plan, there was a bridge about 50 yards up and I was to sneak ahead and post on the bridge. Mitch would walk on the bank and throw rocks and branches to push them towards me. The plan was perfect but unfortunately no carp swam past. Apparently the fish were able to sneak by in a deep channel in the creek.
We decided we should try one last spot a few hundred yards down the creek. As we approached the spot I had the bow in hand and crept down hoping spook any fish that might be near. I spotted a huge carp lying in a grass bed no more than 3 feet away from me. I drew back, but the fish saw me draw and swam away. At this point I was wondering how we were ever going to get one.
We continued to creep downstream where 50 yards later we found the mother lode of carp. There were so many, maybe 50, that I thought if I shot into them I couldn’t miss. Sure enough when I draw back the bow and shot, I missed! Needless to say I was disappointed. We saw a fish off to our left and Mitch took a shot and scored a huge dog fish; it weighed around 10 pounds. We pulled it up on to the shore and snapped this quick picture:
Mitch Petrie with a 10 pound bowfin (dog fish)
I was so excited watching it flop in the grass and when I remembered Mitch was still behind me shooting… As I turned around he had our first carp of the day hooked up. A few seconds later we had two on the shore! Seconds later, I see a big bull headed straight at me and draw back and release…it’s a hit! I couldn’t believe that I finally had one on but didn’t know what to do next. Mitch helped me pull the big boy in and congratulated me on my first carp.
Seth holds up his first carp taken with bow and arrow.
We wasted no time getting back to the shooting spree. At this point we realized the carp were stuck between a dam of trees and a big drain pipe feeding into the creek. As we moved upstream I saw a dogfish. I pulled back and wham, fish on! It was my first dogfish with the bow only seconds after my first carp. But the day wasn’t over… Mitch headed down stream to the dam and I started up top and walked in the water down towards him, hoping to spook a few him. It worked; he shot two before my drive was complete. I waded across the water to a little grass patch that had a back water cove where they were really loaded up. Sure enough I put a shot on a nice one, right in the back and brought on shore. After another half hour, we wrapped up our experience with a total of eight fish; four carp, four dogfish.
Author Seth Bartodziej and his mess of carp & bowfin (dogfish)
An experience like this has me hooked on bowfishing; I can’t wait for my next chance to go again!
For more information on bowfishing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.