Early one misty October morning in an Alaskan spruce forest I watched a lynx as he was hunting. After he passed out of sight I tried to call him back by imitating an injured mouse squeak. I stood quietly watching for a long time and eventually turned to leave only to discover that the lynx had approached me from behind and was quietly watching me from only a couple feet away. After my initial surprise I was impressed by the rich wet colors and textures of the woods, a perfect complement to the soft grey of the lynx. I added the chickadees to tell more of a story with this painting.
Here is one of the paintings that I am working on for the book, from my bucket list.
It had been a long hot day hunting elephants in Botswana and we were heading back to camp. The dusty road that we were on was like a tunnel through the dense low bush. No one was expecting anything interesting to happen with only a couple miles to go, but when we went past the spot where a bull elephant had just crossed the road everything changed. We didn’t see his tracks in the fading light, but we sure smelled him. The scent of a musth bull was overwhelming. Instantly everyone piled out and the chase was on. There were five of us and we were moving fast with a bushman tracker named Tee in the lead and me with my camera bringing up the rear. When Tee nearly reared ended the bull, he made a quick U-turn and came back past us with the elephant close behind. From my vantage point I looked up just in time to see the bull stop a bit over ten yards away! He towered over us with his trunk raised against a glorious African sky. Yeah, I know–the mammoth, the snow, the boreal forest, the Stone Age hunters are all made up, but how could I not paint that experience?
Last January I met with Chuck Wechsler and he asked me if I would like to work with him and publish a book about my art. I immediately and enthusiastically agreed! Chuck is the editor of Sporting Classics magazine and asked me the same question over 10 years ago. I turned him down then, thinking that I was not ready to do a book. I felt like I was too young and still had too many “bucket list” paintings that I wanted to do before I did a book. A book like we are planning will be the capstone of my painting career, and I wanted to do it at the right time and with the highest quality possible. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am taking it very seriously. It will dominate my life for the next year or more.
My friendship with Chuck Wechsler goes back more than 40 years, when he was the editor of the Minnesota Volunteer magazine published by the MN DNR. Chuck also ran the Minnesota Wildlife Heritage Foundation Art Show back in the day. Nowadays with Sporting Classics, he publishes a high-quality hunting and fishing magazine. They also publish a lot of great books about hunting and fishing and many more about artists, both living and dead. At this point we are planning to publish the book in a little over a year and plan to have it hit the market just before Christmas 2021. Chuck has been through this process many times before, but it is all new to me. In the weeks and months ahead, I will be posting on my website where we are in the process. I will also be posting new images and the storylines of the paintings that will be in the book. If you want to receive updates, please click the Follow button and enter your email address.
Here are some of the Sporting Classics books that I have in my library at this time. I have also given quite a few away as gifts to friends in the past. To see more of what Sporting Classics has to offer, go to www.sportingclassics.com
Today is the last day of my 2018 Kansas deer hunt. It’s been a good year here, I’ve seen lots of deer and have had a few adrenaline surge highs but have not been able to put it all together on a big one. I try to keep track of what I see, and here are the results. I have hunted 10 days here in Kansas and have recorded seeing a total of 87 deer. I saw 38 bucks and 49 does. Of the 38 bucks I have seen, I estimate that 27 were either yearlings or of unidentifiable age. 8 were two or three year olds and 3 were four years old or older by my estimation. Of all the deer I saw about a third were in bow range for me. I usually carried a good camera and photographed many of them, but I always reached for my bow first on any deer that might be of the size or age that I was looking for. Two days ago I drew back on one, a very nice mature buck standing broadside at 25 yards, but there was a small tree in the way that made the shot too risky. When he left he walked straight away, no shot there either.
But my best chance came early on. A monster buck came past me from a totally unexpected place. He was a massive heavy body buck with a great rack on what looked like too small of a head and a neck that looked as big as his chest. Clearly a mature buck. I missed a standing 15 yard broadside shot at him when my lower bow limb hit a close branch in the tree that I was in. It was the best chance I’ve ever had at a big buck. The arrow landed at his feet and he didn’t seem to even care. That one will haunt me for a long time. I didn’t get him but the rush was well worth it. Am I disappointed? Of course, but less than you might expect. My real disappointment continues to be with the way the deer herd is managed in my home state of Minnesota.
A hunt like I’ve had this week here in Kansas is virtually unheard of back home unless you are lucky enough to manage hundreds of acres or more of land and are willing to rigidly control access in order to protect the younger bucks. I call it the ‘Wisconsin Plan”. The place I’m hunting here in Kansas is 240 acres. I share it with two other bowhunters. The lands around it are heavily hunted as well. And the deer hunting is great.
But the opening day of their gun season doesn’t start for a few weeks yet, unlike Minnesota’s peak-of-the-rut gun hunt that started November 3rd this year. Our two shotgun seasons and our muzzleloader seasons will continue until mid-December. This monumentally stupid Minnesota plan annually overshoots the bucks and undershoots the does. That is not an accident…it was designed to do exactly that! Farmers in my area suffer from an overpopulation of deer, mostly does, and hunters see too few mature bucks. Both of these things are a direct result of the way the Minnesota deer managers manage the deer in Minnesota and especially in the SE part of my state. Because of this, many hunters are losing access to hunting lands as those who own or control those lands try to protect “their bucks .” This method of private management, the Wisconsin Plan, has become very popular and common in our state. This is why so many hunters like myself take our Minnesota dollars and spend them in Kansas, Iowa or elsewhere. But enough of that for now. If you want to see a few of the deer I saw and photographed in Kansas check back in a couple days and I’ll post a few of them. And sorry about my rant about Minnesota’s deer management structure. Every time I hunt Kansas or Iowa I come back home mad as hell that deer hunting in Minnesota can’t reach its full potential, or even be better than it is. It’s called tradition.
Enjoy the photos.
November 18, 2018
This last weekend, Juli and I flew out to Las Vegas to watch the Federal Duck Stamp judging. I entered a painting of landing pintails and thought that it was a better design than I entered last year. Although I made it to the final round and finished in the top ten, I really didn’t do any better than last year. The competition and the quality of the paintings was far higher this year than last (in my opinion), but the judging was crazy. Lots of drama and controversy surrounding that. Nevertheless, somehow when all was said and done, the winning design deserved to win. Scot Storm from Minnesota won with a swimming drake wood duck. All of the top three entries were friends of mine, as were several more of the top ten and other artists as well. It made for another fun and exciting event for both of us.
We also went to Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio and saw “O.” It was an incredible spectacle and well worth it.
Now it’s back to the studio to get after that 50-year-old bucket list item—winning the Federal Duck Stamp. More about that next year. . .
About a month ago I went on a photo trip to South Africa. This was a do-it-yourself trip, in many ways similar to my first trip over there in 1988, except there were four of us on that trip. This time I went alone.
On this trip I flew into Cape Town, rented a car (Nissan SUV, 4WD), and headed for the parks and private preserves where I hoped to get the photo reference and have the kind of experiences that will help me do the kind of paintings in the future that I hope to do.
The first park I visited was Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, and also a couple of private preserves nearby. Addo is best known for its elephants, and it certainly lived up to its reputation. There are many other species (both large and small) in surprising densities there as well, and I left that place with lots of ideas and good reference material.
After leaving the Eastern Cape I drove northeast along the coast through the coastal homelands to Durban and on to Richards Bay. This was a long challenging drive, and definitely not for everyone. I’m glad I did it, but I would never do it again or even recommend it to anyone else.
My next stop was Zeekopan, a private area in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Zeekopan is a former cattle ranch that is now converted into hunting lands and is connected to several other large properties. There are many areas like this in South Africa, areas that are no longer home to cattle, sheep, and goats and are now home to kudu, elephant, and lion as well as many other kinds of birds and animals. The variety and abundance is very impressive.
My hosts at Zeekopan were Willem and Amanda Basson and my personal safari guide was Christian Schmidt. Christian was infinitely patient as I photographed as many birds and animals as well as trees and even rocks and scenes as possible. With Zeekoepan as our base camp, Christian and I traveled to several adjacent private preserves and also to Ithala National Park and Tembe National Elephant Park.
At Tembe I saw and photographed several of the biggest elephants I’ve ever seen. Bulls with tusks out to six or seven feet. These are impressive and potentially very dangerous animals, and all went well until we ran into a ‘musth’ bull on a narrow sandy road with very dense and brushy sides. When he challenged us, we got out of there as fast as possible and had no desire to go back for another look at that bull!
My next stop after Zeekoepan was Golden Gate National Park, known for its great sandstone cliff faces. Very impressive scenery but only marginally good for wildlife. A side trip to a private rescue sanctuary called ‘Lions Rock’ proved to be little more than a zoo, complete with caged overweight lions and tigers that were unimpressive compared to the wild lions that I saw in Addo or Zeekoepan. I felt sorry for them as they led their pampered and uneventful lives without ever knowing what it is to be a LION!
After Golden Gate I drove southwest towards the Karoo and Karoo National Park. Karoo is arid and rugged and is home to great gemsbok, eland, hartebeest, zebra, lion, and more. Kudu are high on my list of favorite African animals and I was delighted to discover that big kudu bulls are common there, some over 60 inches even.
And then it was on towards Cape Town where I made a short visit to Cape of Good Hope National Park where the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans meet. And then it’s on to the long flight home and back to the real world.
In the end I think I would rate this trip as my best research trip yet. Having a smart phone with maps made navigation easy even while traveling alone. Digital cameras and quality long lenses as well as a great abundance and variety of wildlife made my research very productive. And finally, the people that I met and spent time with, especially the good folks at Zeekoepan, allowed me to gather more information and research than on any trip from the past.
All in all it was a fun and productive trip and I am already planning a return visit to Africa in 2019. And of course, my head is full of ideas to paint, more than I’ll ever have time for. A good problem to have.
And finally, I will be putting together and showing a ‘slide show’ from this trip at our annual Christmas Open House next December. Details to follow next fall on my website or on Facebook. Stay tuned!
In January I traveled to Chesapeake Bay to hunt ducks. There were three of us from Minnesota: Greg Schrantz, Tom Martineau, and myself. Our hosts/ guides were Rob Denny and Jim Goins. The weather conspired against us but we did get a few ducks anyway, and they looked great in their late winter/spring plumage. I even took a pair of beautiful canvasbacks home to have mounted. We had a great time and hope to return next year.
On the first weekend in December we had our annual Chisholm Valley Wildlife Art open house and Christmas sale. The weather, unlike last year’s snowstorm on both days, was perfect. The crowds were excellent and our sales reflected that. Hannah came down to help and it was a fun but exhausting couple of days for all of us. It’s always exciting to have friends from near and far stop in. We sold more than 40 prints and one original. The original “Party Time – Wood Ducks” was purchased by a nice couple from Winona. That painting was a personal favorite of mine and I always hate to see favorites go out the door. The gallery will not look as good without it, but that’s part of my work as an artist, and so I must just accept it. It went to a good home, and placing an original in an appreciative home is always extremely gratifying. Thanks to everyone who attended. In the years ahead we will continue to have our Christmas open house on the first full weekend in December, and we hope to see you then.
Every year I like to plant trees and 2017 is no different. Last May I planted 200 nursery trees as well as untold numbers of willow cuttings along the trout stream. In the last few days I planted 200 more from the Iowa DNR nursery: 75 red oak, 75 swamp white oak, 25 black cherry, and 25 hackberry. It’s an ongoing project to bring up the quality of habitat here on the Chisholm Valley farm and also on the Oak Ridge farm. There is a tremendous amount of satisfaction in watching theses trees grow, especially over time. When I walk quietly along the paths or along the stream my heart soars as the trees grow. I’ll never see some of them mature, but it’s neat to see anyway.
The trees come from the Iowa DNR nursery. They cost 90 cents and are 20 to 30 inches tall and healthy. The phone number for the IDNR nursery is 515-233-1161. Call for a catalog; they are very helpful.
Also, we have our annual Christmas Open House this weekend on Saturday, December 2, and Sunday, December 3, from noon to 6 p.m. I would be happy to talk to you about tree planting at that time if you are interested.
Let me leave you with three sayings that those of us who plant trees appreciate.
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
“It’s better to plant a $5 tree in a $100 hole than it is to plant a $100 tree in a $5 hole.”
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Enough for now. Hope to see you this weekend at Chisholm Valley Wildlife Art!