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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canvasbacks

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

CVWA 2017 Christmas Open House

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.

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!

Kansas Hunt 2017

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!

November 1, 2017

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!

October 31, 2017

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.

October 30, 2017

When I hunt Augie Williams I only hunt one small group of trees that borders the Girl Scout Camp. It’s only about 5 acres but deer pass through it a lot. Since it is so small I hunt it very carefully, the stands are put up months or years ago, the entry and exit paths are carefully followed, and I let it rest at least a day between hunts. Two or three days’ rest is even better. Because the GSC became public this year it was very difficult to hunt it as carefully as I have in the past. But it’s still my favorite hunting spot so I went there this evening. I saw about ten deer on that hunt, three were bucks, all too young to shoot. One chased a doe close under my tree, with her two fawns following and probably wondering what was going on. There is no doubt, the rut is on.

October Whitetail Hunt

So far this year the deer hunting has been poor, for bucks anyway.  This is not surprising, typically Halloween is the first day that I consistently see daytime rut activity. Before that day almost all the lead up to the rut takes place at night, and almost none of the does are interested anyway.  But everything changes on Halloween. The 30th of October was a day before Halloween, but close enough for me to get excited.  On that morning I put out a buck and a doe decoy on the east end of a long CRP field. The wind was howling from the west, coming down the length of the field and delivering bursts of rain, then sleet, then snow. It didn’t take long for me to be cold.  After an hour or so the decoy blew over; considering the wind I was surprised that it lasted that long. Actually, I was surprised that I had lasted that long in a tree stand as well. So I unbuckled my safety belt and started to climb down to fix it. When I was about halfway down the tree, from out of the woods in back of me a doe charged past and headed out across the open field.  Close behind her were three bucks, all trying hard to keep up and grunting like a bunch of hogs as they passed by.  I never heard a thing until they almost ran me over. One stopped to stare at the decoys for a few moments then turned to catch up with the party, and by then the others were almost out of sight.

So I got the decoy set up again and got back up onto my stand with a new sense of optimism.  I was still cold but now optimistic as well.  After about a half hour more the doe raced crossways across the open field again, only this time instead of three bucks chasing her, now there were five.  Four of them were one, two, or three year olds, but the fifth was much bigger, clearly the kind of buck that I was looking for. They all chased around in circles for a while and then she stopped and laid down. Meanwhile I’m starting to wonder what this old gal might be willing to do for five bucks!  I know it’s an old joke, but hey, what better time to use it.  Besides I can’t help myself anyway.

Back to the story. After stalling for a little while buck number six showed up. This one is much bigger than any of the others and I don’t have to look him over twice to know that I would try for him if I had a chance.  He is a high, wide and very white racked 8 or 9 pointer, with the heavy neck and body of a fully mature buck.  So then the doe gets up and leads the chase again, around in a few circles but staying in sight in the field this time.  Then she stopped and stood to let the new big boy mount her.  All five of the others just stood there, less than twenty yards away with no attempt to challenge or interfere with what was going on. It was interesting also in that he stayed mounted for a long time, perhaps a minute or so, not the few seconds or so that is usual. Was he staying to intimidate or torture the overeager onlookers, or was he just enjoying the moment?  Clearly, I’m starting to overthink this stuff.  But to appreciate this you have to know how rare it is to see wild deer breeding.  Many hunters never see it, and with all my time in the woods I’ve only seen it a few times.  Anyway, after he dismounted she took off again, this time angling towards me with the whole bunch of bucks once again in hot pursuit.  As they raced by, still out of range, two of them peeled off to check out my decoys.  One was a yearling that kept his distance.  The other got close, about ten yards away and right between the decoy and me. Then he got nervous and circled downwind and presented an easy 15 yard shot.  I passed.  He is almost certainly a two or three year old with a fairly heavy, dark 8 point rack with short tines. I hope he makes it a few more years.

The rest of the morning was uneventful, but Chris Knutson was hunting a few hundred yards away and thinks the big buck and doe went sneaking by him a bit later. I think he’s right, they went his way when they left me and the buck he saw had a big white rack.

2017 Pheasant Hunt

Here are a couple of photos of our pheasant hunting this year.

The first photo is from opening weekend. My daughter Hannah and I, my nephew Evan, and family friend Dennis Johnson hunted the Saturday opener and Sunday morning. We walked many miles, missed a few birds, and ended up with seven roosters and an unlucky Canada goose. The dog in the second photo is my yellow lab Bella. She hunts slow and close and we never lost a bird. Everyone got at least one pheasant. They were all good looking, early hatch birds from this year.

We were hunting near Wilmont where I grew up and where our family still has land. We camped on an old school ground that we call the “two acres.” The campground is surrounded by good pheasant country and the birds we got were taken on public WMA (Wildlife Management Area) lands. I was the hired hand on this land a half a century ago when it was still farmed, and so I know the land well. It is beautiful upland rolling prairie, now well-managed for wildlife. The weather was perfect, the country looked great, and the birds were there if you were willing to hunt hard. The company, along with other family and friends, was great as well.

A week later Hannah and I hunted the same area along with her boss Dr. Charles (Charlie) McCann. On Friday we hunted hard in winds that hit 35-40 miles per hour. The birds were wild and tough to hit, and Bella had a hard time tracking them in the wildly blowing grass. Saturday was a bit less windy, but the rain set in by noon. Another difficult day. On this weekend we also hunted on the Fenmont WMA north of Wilmont on the county line. We saw a fair number of birds and finished the weekend with a rooster for each of us and a mallard as a bonus. We had no easy shots, the birds were wild again and the wind made their flight unpredictable at best. Despite the challenging shooting opportunities Hannah made a great shot on a long-range broadside rooster in the strong winds on Friday. Charlie kicked the rooster out of a shelterbelt, it passed by me and I declined to shoot, it continued on past Hannah, and she folded him dead. I was amazed to see him fall. Despite the weather we had a great weekend and all left very impressed with the quality pheasant habitat that is returning to that part of the state.

The next few weeks I’ll be turning my attention to bowhunting whitetails near home. We still have a lot of venison in the freezer after last year’s hunt, and so I don’t feel a lot of pressure to shoot does early. I’ll take a couple later for sure but not right away. I’ll keep you updated on my annual quest to take a mature buck–always a challenge.

Also, mark your calendars for our gallery holiday open house on December 2-3. We’ll say more about that later.