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!
I just got back home from bow hunting in Kansas. I like to hunt in either Kansas or Iowa during the Minnesota firearms season, usually after the first weekend when I hunt near home with the kids. This year on the first weekend in Minnesota I hunted with Hannah and also with Dave Ramirez, Heather’s boyfriend. On the first morning, Dave, who had never hunted deer before, had a shot at a nice buck, but missed. That evening Dave got his first deer, and Hannah got one also. Dave got another the next day. All three were antlerless. That’s three in the freezer, plus the better part of one left over from last year, so we are in good shape in the venison department. Still, I’ll take a couple more with the muzzleloader later this fall. With the kids increasingly embracing the healthy local source of meat that we have on the land, five or six deer are what we need.
So here is the summary of my Kansas deer hunt this year; in a word, it was frustrating. I stay and hunt on Bill Brannan’s property in NE Kansas. Bill is a good friend and a dedicated conservationist, and his land, though not big, has a long history of big bucks. Lots of them. Over the years I’ve seen them; I’ve seen their sheds, their trailcam photos, the big ones that Bill and his family and neighbors have taken, and the ones that are found dead occasionally. But not this year. This year I passed many small bucks, one- and two-year-olds, and a couple small threes. But I never did see any of the big mature bucks that Kansas is known for. Bill thinks that his older bucks are being poached–shot off the road but usually not recovered by outlaw “hunters” who fear being caught if they track a wounded deer. This area, because of its deer quality, has long suffered the poaching scourge, so Bill could very well be right. I tend to think it’s more likely EHD. They had a very serious outbreak in 2012 that greatly reduced deer numbers, and this summer was very dry again, but nobody really knows. I am posting a photo of the dead deer that were found on this property this year, mostly late last winter/early spring. Six nice bucks off 240 acres; it’s no wonder I’m not seeing any this fall.
Still, hunting here in Kansas is always a good time. The cabin where I stay overlooks a really nice small lake. Turkeys, bob white quail, waterfowl and lots of other kinds of wildlife are common, and even an occasional bobcat. Great flocks of snow geese call from the sky, some are high, others are quite low. Always fun to watch. But where are the older bucks…it’s frustrating. Almost like Minnesota!
I got my truck back this afternoon and headed out to Augie Williams’ to hunt the “2nd woods.” This has been my favorite place for many years and is where I hunted a couple evenings ago before my truck broke down. This place always has big buck potential, and it is from here that I put two fine bucks on the wall over the years. Unfortunately, when I got there my favorite hunting corner was already taken. As I mentioned earlier, the GSC is now public and there were several hunters who knew where I hunted and had been crowding me out for the last week. With my truck out of commission for a couple days I wasn’t there to defend my place and they took swift advantage of that. It was no doubt going to happen anyway, but I was surprised that it happened so fast. We’ve all been there and I’ll find another favorite for next year, but I guarantee that I won’t tell the bow hunters at the GSC where the heck it is!
This morning I set up my decoy again, and used my rattling horns, thinking that the time was right for this to work. I brought in a yearling but nothing more. On the way home, I had a bearing go out on my truck and so I took it into the repair shop in Houston to fix on Tuesday afternoon; it will be Wednesday afternoon before it gets fixed. I hunted from home until I got it back, with nothing interesting happening.