Africa 2018

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!

Chesapeake Bay Duck Hunt

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.

Jim Goins with a drake black duck.














A painting of one of the duck blinds.  This painting is a thank-you gift to Jim Goins, our gracious host on this trip and a passionate and skilled waterfowl hunter as well.





A recently completed painting based on one of the places we hunted on Chesapeake Bay.  Title: Brackish Blacks-Black Ducks.


Tree Planting 2017

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!

Update – Spring 2015

Late winter and early spring found us doing several conservation art shows. SCI, the Minnesota chapter in Minneapolis, the Wisconsin chapter in Wisconsin Dells, and the Northwoods chapter in Hinckley, Minnesota were all fun and successful. I also showed at Pheasants Forever’s national convention in Des Moines, Iowa and attended a couple of local conservation banquets.

When winter gave way to spring I turned my attention to outdoor work. This spring I planted about 500 trees and shrubs: red and grey dogwoods, willow, red oak, white pine, and sugar maple. I’ll never see most of these trees mature but I know the farm will get more beautiful over time, even when I am no longer there.

Foodplots this spring included two corn plots, a clover patch, and two soybean plots. Hopefully the payback will be next November during deer season.

A week’s drive to New York City to move Heather home so she could start a new job in Minneapolis was a fun road trip. We took a few days to check out museums and art galleries in NYC as well as the Gettysburg battlefield on the way home.

IMG_7537Mike and Heather with Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Cristina’s World.” A long-time favorite artist and painting of mine, and a strong influence on my early work.




IMG_7546Mike and Heather at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).





IMG_7555Title of a very impressive painting at MOMA.





IMG_7558An impressive painting at MOMA.

There are two ways your art collection can look like this.
1) Listen to the New York art critics.
2) Give a 4-year-old a BB gun and then don’t supervise him.

Either way will work.



IMG_4951And finally this spring there was turkey hunting. So far this spring the guys who stayed in the cabin and/or hunted my land went 6 for 10 on turkeys.

I got a great old long-spurred tom on the far point of Norton’s ridge above the cabin. Hannah and I called and stalked two toms for three days there and almost closed the deal on them several times without success, but if you hunt hard and smart eventually your luck will turn, as it did.

I got the old tom at sunrise on a perfect spring day with clear skies and no wind when he and his buddy came gobbling over to meet a hot hen and were introduced to a load of hot #6 shot instead.

Two or three more hunters are due in yet this spring and then summer begins. Stay tuned . . .

2015 Deer Group Get-together

On Sunday, February 8, we hosted a get-together with a group of my hunting friends at the gallery. Dave Boland and Craig Pierce, both Boone and Crockett (B&C) measurers, were there to score recently harvested deer. We have been doing this for several years now, at first in Rushford at Jeff Bunke’s home and now in my gallery. There is more space here, and with all the big deer that came in, we needed it. There were about 40 hunters and guests here, and many heads came through the door, almost all from last fall and almost all local deer. Here are a few photos.

1 Bowhunter Craig Beckman took this great buck last November on the family farm just north of Houston. If you like non-typicals with great character, this fantastic buck is your kind of deer. Final score: 220 6/8 non-typical (NT).






2Bob Borowiak tells the story of Lefty. Bob hunted Lefty for three years until last fall when this super buck was taken by Pat (Petey) Holmstadt, a friend of the landowner whose land this buck lived on. This deer was taken by muzzleloader (ML) on November 30 and scored 211 gross and 203 net NT. This was Petey’s first buck ever. It’s going to be hard to beat that.




3Craig Pierce and Dave Boland score the great velvet buck taken near Ridgeway by Chris Warren. Final score is 229 4/8, a new Minnesota record and one of the top velvet bucks of all time. Chris had this buck under his stand and only a few feet away but couldn’t get the shot until the deer moved out a ways. Chris’ brother Josh helped recover this buck after a two-day search in the thick green cover of the opening weekend of bow season last September. These guys were persistent and did a good job of tracking. Congratulations on the new Minnesota state record velvet buck!



5Layton Kreidermacher tells the story of Stan Kreidermacher’s ML buck from last November. This monster was a local legend in the Whitewater area and was taken on public land on the last day of the 2014 Minnesota ML season. Stan was the lucky hunter who got this buck but lots of other guys were after him that day, including Layton and Landon Kreidermacher and Scott Bjornson who helped Dave Boland measure this deer. This magnificent buck is a potential new Minnesota state record ML buck but the final score has not yet been determined and announced. Stay tuned.




6Here I am holding the Kraig Garmaker buck. Kraig bought land a couple miles from my gallery last year and took this buck with bow and arrow on his new property the first time he hunted there. This great buck has a classic 10 point frame with long sweeping wrap-around main beams, great mass and height, and 5 extra points. After deductions he still makes the all-time B&C typical (T) record books.




7Peter Gauchel tells the story of his super buck from last fall. This deer lived on his friend Glenn Affeldt’s land near Caledonia. Peter is a handicapped hunter, and had quite an adventure in hunting and finally harvesting this deer with shotgun last fall. At the end of the day he was out of slugs but he had a B&C buck to be proud of.





8A group of big local bucks from 2014 with several hunters in the back, along with Craig Pierce and Dave Boland, B&C measurers. On the far right, Eric Rataczak holds a deer rack his grandpa shot in the Camp Ripley military base many years ago. I will predict that someday Eric Rataczak will be holding a big rack from a monster buck that he gets with his bow. Again, stay tuned.



9We also had the Loren Woalkens buck that was a B&C typical and the Steve Olson B&C 12-point typical from 2012. Steven Olson’s deer is very special to me. I spent most of my 2012 bow season trying to take that buck. He lived on my farm on Oak Ridge outside Houston. I knew him and passed him as a 135 inch 4×4 in 2009. In 2010 he was a 150 class 4×4 but I took my backyard buck early that fall and was unable to harvest a second buck. In 2011 he was a 165 class 5×5 but I never had a chance at him. And in 2012 Steven Olson got him as a mid 170s B&C 6×6 T. Here is Steve with his big 12. A painting of my backyard buck hangs in the background.




By the end of the day there were eight local B&C bucks in the gallery, six of them from 2014. Three of them were over 220 inches, two of them will probably be state records, and one of the three was taken on public land. We also had a lot of nice bucks that were taken last fall by other hunters. These bucks didn’t make B&C but are all special in their own way, especially to the hunters who took them. Three of them are special to me because the hunters are my neighbors. All took the best bucks of their lives last fall. This area has great potential and the hunters that came to this get-together proved it. It was a great day.

And finally, there were several big sheds picked up this winter from last fall’s survivor bucks. A couple of these sheds are from separate 10 point bucks of clear trophy age and size and were found on public land near my home. One of these two will be right at B&C size next fall. I’m not saying what public land parcel it is, but if you see my truck parked there, you’ll know what buck I’m after.

This area of the state is getting better every year and all the hunters in my gallery for this deer hunters’ party will be anxious and excited for next deer season.