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Author Archives: dan.schmidt
photo by Deer & Deer Hunting Editor Dan Schmidt
Not all of my whitetail racks are these clean and neat. In fact, my collection of deer antlers is strewn about several locations. I have some European mounts, like this one, on my desk at the office. I have some of my full shoulder mounts there as well. Of course, my favorite mounts are at home. As are many more skulls and racks mounted to oak boards. Then there’s the several dozen racks that are screwed to the walls of the garage.
Although some of the racks hold more prominent display areas, they are all equally appreciated. the way I look at it, I can always stop what I’m doing, look at a particular rack, and instantly relive the day I took that deer home. To me, the size of the antlers doesn’t matter; it’s all about the memory.
My favorite memories are hearing about deer hunts from other people as they show me their antler collections. I guess that stems from my upbringing, because my dad always used to relive his hunts for us when we’d gather in our garage. That’s where he kept all of his racks. He had each one nailed to the walls — everything from a spike he killed in the late 1950s to a huge 12-pointer he killed in 1967. We would just stand by the warm woodstove and listen intently to every detail of every hunt (even though we already knew the details). Every time we heard the stories, it was like we were right there in the woods with him as the hunt was unfolding.
So, this winter, my goal is to make sure I retrieve some of my misplaced antlers and make sure they all make it to a wall, a shelf or a bookcase. I also need to put the finishing touches on some of the European mounts. You can bet this is going to be a fun project. I can’t wait to relive those memories again. And again.
For the ultimate deer-camp celebration, immediately remove your deer’s inside tenderloins after getting the deer back to camp. The inside tenderloins are the most delectable cut of venison. They hug the rear portion of the deer’s spine on the inside of the stomach cavity. For an appetizer, wash the tenderloin in cold water and pat dry with toweling. Slice cross-grain into medallion-sized pieces and pan fry in butter and garlic. Serve with buttered toast and a cold beverage.
There was still some daylight left as Tracy and I gathered our gear and headed back to meet our friends at their base camp nestled in the rolling Wisconsin woodlands. It was a beautiful evening — little wind to speak of and just cool enough to see our breath. I flipped on my Petzl headlamp, as I always do, just to be sure that anyone within earshot would see us as soon as they heard us approaching on the two-track trail.
We were about 100 yards from camp when we saw a wheelchair-bound hunter abandoning his makeshift post.
"Hi, I’m Jason," he said. "I got here a little late tonight. Just thought I would post on the top of this hillside in case any deer moved through there. You never know."
We chatted with him for a while, then continued the conversation while enjoying a hearty dinner of our friend Kathy Krueger’s famous deer camp soup and homemade cornmeal bread.
I forget that working for the leading deer hunting magazine and TV show does attract some attention. After dinner, Jason and his buddies were eager to pick my mind on all things deer hunting. Jason asked one of the easier questions:
"Do you know Ted Nugent?"
When I explained that, yes, in fact, Nugent has been a D&DH contributor for many years and that we had the honor of visiting with him for a TV episode last year, Jason’s eyes lit up.
"I love Nugent! I saw him play three times this year already. He even inspired me to get a custom license plate!"
Tracy and I couldn’t wait to see it. As we were leaving camp, Jason took us over to his pickup and pointed proudly to his Wisconsin tag: "BKSTRPS."
That image — along with the smile on Jason’s face — is inspiration enough to keep my hunter’s heart warm for a long, long time.
Photo by Deer & Deer Hunting Editor Dan Schmidt
Let the big buck parade begin.
I was sitting down to lunch just 20 minutes ago when I received a phone call from Tracy. She was on her way home from the grocery store, and needed to stop at our local apple orchard to pick up the cider we ordered for the upcoming holidays.
"Stop everything and grab your camera," Tracy said. "A guy has an absolutely huge buck in his truck just down from the orchard."
"How big?" I asked, somewhat skeptical of her claim. "REALLY big," she said. "I’ve never seen one like this before."
Tracy has endured my whitetail obsession for more than a decade now. When she says a buck is big, she knows what she’s talking about.
So I loaded the camera and told our daughter Taylor to get her coat on and come with me.
We made the 2 mile drive in less than 2 minutes. And we weren’t disappointed.
When we pulled into the driveway, a young man, Tad Velte, was just getting his gear loaded into his truck to leave. His family and friends were all nearby, still buzzing from the excitement.
"I got him yesterday," Tad said. "We did a really rough score on him, but he’s about 185 (B&C)."
Tad said he shot the buck while hunting a small 21-acre property yesterday.
"The neighbors had pictures of him and were chasing him. Well, I guess everyone in a 2-mile radius was chasing him."
The incredible 14-pointer is a mainframe 8-pointer with several split tines and kickers. The main feature, of course, is that 7-1/2-inch dagger of a drop tine that comes off the buck’s left beam.
What could have made this deer even more amazing?
"He had a matching drop tine on the other side that was just recently broken off," Tad said while showing me the base where that tine had broken off.
From the entire staff here at Deer & Deer Hunting, congratulations, Tad, on your incredible trophy!
The rock song kept playing in my head yesterday afternoon as Tracy and I sat watching one of the most beautiful hardwood-covered moraines I’ve ever seen.
This was the first deer stand sit we’ve shared in a while. Our two girls have kept us that busy that we haven’t been able to spend much time in the woods together these past couple of seasons.
Today we were the honored guests of our friends Kurt and Kathy Krueger, their sons Kris and Kim, and their gang of diehard Wisconsin gun-hunters. The plan was to sit in Kurt’s favorite spot, by Kurt’s insistence, and see if one of his campmates could push a deer past us. Both Tracy and I felt truly honored to be waiting and watching for a whitetail to come ambling by.
The rock band Semisonic’s song was ringing in my head, but I tuned it out temporarily to think back on the past 29 Wisconsin gun-deer seasons. There are so many memories, and almost all of them good. Although I’ve since hunted across North America and spent camps with legions of diehard whitetail hunters, I can’t think of a place I’d rather be at the moment. This annual rite of passage is unique. It only spans nine days, and you can set your clock by them. Steeped in tradition that sees boys become men; men become senior citizens; and seniors become beloved souls; these sacred days transcend the hunt itself. These are the days that make us ponder our very existence and celebrate God’s true blessings.
Today is Day 8 of the nine-day hunt, and although there’s one day left, tomorrow’s forecast calls for pouring rain and high winds. In essence, this is will be the last day of this year’s tradition.
"Closing time. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here."
We’re almost a half-hour into our vigil when I turn slowly to check on Tracy. She’s sitting at the ready, eyes darting left and right, scanning the wooded hillside and bottom for any hint of a deer. She senses my gaze and casts her blue eyes upon me. We both smile in unison — her twinkling smile is exactly how I remember it from the first time we met. It instantly melts my heart.
"I think the deer will probably come from atop that hill," I whisper. "This is an awesome spot. Kurt sure knew what he was doing when he put his blind here."
This vigil reminds me of one I had more than 20 years ago with my dad and brothers when we hunted the far northern part of the state one year. Just like today, we didn’t need to exchange many words then. We were serious about seeing deer, but we were equally serious about spending quality family time in the woods.
Then it happens.
"That had to be a deer," I whisper to Tracy. "Get your gun rea…"
I look over my shoulder toward Tracy, and she’s already conceded the deer to me. She has rested her slug gun in the corner of the blind and has crouched low next to me, awaiting my next move.
There’s a flicker on the trail, and a young doe appears. It take two bounds and is suddenly on a main thoroughfare of a deer trail that leads past our blind. Ten yards beyond the deer is another doe. This one is big. Really big.
The two deer, obviously pushed our way by the Camp Krueger crew, immediately relax when they’re on the trail. They’re smart, though. Instead of heading our way, they slink low to the ground and skirt through a patch of thick briars in an attempt to circle back into the drive. I brace my Remington 7mm Mag on the blind’s ledge and lean forward while watching the big doe in my Nikon scope. I had taken my gloves off just minutes ago, and one of them slides off of my knee and drops to the floor. That very slight sound stops both deer in their tracks. It’s now or never.
Finding the doe’s inverted triangluar-shaped scapula in the scope, I center the cross-hairs and squeeze the trigger.
After the drive is completed, Tracy and I walk up to our prize and marvel at her size and health.
"I think we owe Kurt some summer sausage and snack sticks," Tracy smiles.
I smile back. "And a few more jars of your homemade sauerkraut," I add.
"Closing time. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end."
Note: Deer & Deer Hunting Editor Dan Schmidt has just returned from a weeklong hunt near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. This is the final installment of a five-part blog series on his adventure. Check back each day this week for updates.
My decision to change stands today could have been a major mistake. On North Woods hunts like this one to Garden River Outfitters near Christopher Lake, Saskatchewan, it’s usually best to stick it out the entire trip on one stand. I don’t know how many guys I’ve hunted with over the years who have reported killing monster bucks on the final day of a 5-day, dark-to-dark adventure. After sitting in the same blind for three days and seeing lots of younger bucks, I decided to move. The main reason why I chose to switch spots, however, was due to the fact that we saw a lot of wolf tracks near my blind on the third day. The deer that came to the bait on that day were ultra-alert. Heisler told me this is not a good sign, as deer often vacate a bait site for several days after wolves move in.
This morning’s stand is a dandy. It is a homemade ladder stand that sits about 20 feet in the air with an Ameristep Outhouse blind perched atop it. Don’t let the "homemade" part fool you. This baby is bombproof. Heisler welded it together out of scaffolding frames and plate steel. It would take a bulldozer to knock this thing over. But the beauty of it is that Heisler made it portable (an axle and wheel assembly is attached to the bottom). In Saskatchewan, it is illegal to leave stands in throughout the year. They must be removed after the hunting season.
Daylight broke and the sun appeared for the first time in four days. It’s still very cold. Minus 4 this morning, in fact, as we made the 19-mile drive on the ATV to get to this spot. That’s not a typo. From the time we left the truck, loaded all of my gear on the ATV, and landed at the base of this stand, an hour and 10 minutes had gone by. Never before have I hunted this deep into a woods. Again, it’s freaky, but downright cool, all at the same time.
A doe fawn appeared at the bait at first light. Soon after, a small 6-pointer approached and ran off the fawn. Promising. The morning unfolded with a lot of the same action — young deer and small bucks making appearances every half-hour or so. Then, as the sun started slightly warming the landscape, all heck broke loose.
A cow of a doe approached the bait. She was very cautious, and kept stopping and looking over her shoulder. I knew what that meant. She had to be close to estrus, and there had to be some bigger bucks around. I was correct.
As the doe settled in to eat a few bites of alfalfa and barely grain, I heard a deep, guttural "braaaap" to the east. Within moments, I caught movement. Buck!
With his head low to the ground, the buck bird-dogged his way toward the stationary doe. I instinctively shouldered my binoculars and focused on his head. His rack was dark and wide, but not beyond his ears. A quick tally counted eight medium-sized points. Unfortunately for me, he wasn’t a shooter. I was going to be content to see what happened next.
The doe stood still while the buck approached, but then darted to the west just when he put his nose to her tarsal gland. For the next 15 minutes, the buck chased the doe in circles around my stand. At one point, he cuffed a small yearling buck that tried to get between him and his object of desire. Although this doe was close to estrus, she wasn’t quite there yet. She eventually ambled off, and the buck — knowing his efforts were in vain — stayed nearby to grab a quick bite to eat. When he was done, the buck walked within 5 yards of my stand, stood on his hind legs and snapped off a white spruce branch. The branch now hung about 4 feet off the ground. He proceeded to chew it and rub his preorbital glands on the tip of the limb. He then pawed the ground furiously, sending dirt flying atop the newfallen snow. With the bare ground showing, he hovered over the scrape and emptied his bladder.
My heart was hammering so hard that I had to look away to gain my composure. I have never been this close to a mature whitetail buck as it was making a scrape.
The afternoon flew by quickly. I kept looking at that scrape and scanning the woods. I guess I was just hoping this buck’s older brother, father or uncle would come calling. It didn’t happen. I saw 10 more deer, including six bucks, but nothing that would cause me to even lift my gun’s scope into position.
However, the day was certainly memorable. As was the trip. When we all returned to camp that night, we learned that another one of our campmates had scored on a chunky North Woods deer. We celebrated with high-fives, handshakes and bawdy laughter. These are the days and the moments that make deer camp a special annual affair.
So, I came home empty-handed in my quest for some Saskatchewan antlers. Was the trip worth it? Absolutely. I think we all-too-often get caught up in the "gotta kill something to make it worthwhile" mantra that we forget what free-ranging deer hunting is all about: Reconnecting with the wild and testing your mettle as a hunter, individual and human being. And that’s why we look back on such hunts with such fondness as the years tick by.
Earlier posts from this series:
Part 1: Big Bucks North of the Border
Part 2: Welcome to the Whitetail Jungle
Part 3: "That Has Got to Be the Biggest Buck I’ve Ever Seen!"
Part 4: All-Day Hunts Can Really Test Your Mettle
Note: Deer & Deer Hunting Editor Dan Schmidt has just returned from a weeklong hunt near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. This is the fourth installment of a five-part blog series on his adventure. Check back each day this week for updates.
It has to be something with the aging process, because the older I get, the more I absolutely dread hunting in really cold weather.
Here I sit, watching the minutes tick down on my third-straight dark-to-dark sit, and I’m really feeling the effects all over. These types of hunts aren’t for everyone. We’re talking solid 11-hour days on stand. My back hurts; my knees ache; my neck is strained. At least I’ve seen some deer.
I’ve been on hunts like this in the past where I’ve seen nothing. A Deer & Deer Hunting sweepstakes hunt in northern Maine in 1995 comes immediately to mind. On that trip, I logged six consecutive dark-to-dark hunts in single-digit temperatures and over 2-feet of fresh snowfall. I didn’t see a single deer on that trip. In fact, I didn’t see a living creature. I heard a raven on the third day. That is going to be the title of my memoirs whenever I get the time to write them.
Despite this cold and so-far unproductive hunt, Saskatchewan is beautiful … everything that everyone has made it out to be. I truly believe this is one of North America’s last true wilderness areas to hunt whitetails. There are deer, wolves and not much else. Earlier today, I had a pine marten or a fisher try to crawl in the blind with me. It kind of freaked me out, honestly, because I thought I was the only one scanning the woods at that moment. When its muzzle pushed against my pop-up blind’s wall, I did the only thing a grown man could do — shriek like a little girl and swat at the intruder with my woolen mitten. Yeah, I’m not too proud to admit that I’m not half the bushman that my outfitter Mo Heisler seems to be. The dudes that grow up hunting and trapping in these woods are real men. Nothing scares them. Well, at least I don’t think anything does. Or maybe they’re just really good poker players.
So, what’s a guy to do when he’s logged 33 hours in the woods and has yet to cock the hammer on his CVA Accura muzzleloader? Be patient. He needs to keep open the continual self-help desk in his head. It will happen. Just got to be patient. Put in your time.
And ask for a new stand site tomorrow. That might not be the best move, but I think I’m going to literally go insane if I have to watch this same patch of woods for another 11 hours.
TOMORROW: Deer Appear, and the Rut Explodes in Saskatchewan
Note: Deer & Deer Hunting Editor Dan Schmidt has just returned from a weeklong hunt near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. This is the third installment of a five-part blog series on his adventure. Check back each day this week for updates.
When you’re hunting a big-woods environment, this is how it happens. Hour after mind-numbing hour ticks by as you stare into a sea of nothingness. Then, out of nowhere, a deer is standing there in front of you.
That’s exactly how it happened on this trip. Thankfully, it only took two hours for me to see my first deer. And, oh my goodness, was he a giant. Not in the rack … in the body.
With my air-activated hand-warmers working overtime, I sat encased in my Heater Body Suit, fending off what was going to be a bone-chilling day in Saskatchewan. There was no place to look, really, other than straight forward. I couldn’t see but 40 yards, maybe, to the left or right of my blind. I think it was probably 9 a.m. (I was too cold to fish my cellphone out of my coat pocket) when I noticed a flicker of brown. And then … there he was.
You can’t really see it in this photo, but this buck was huge, trust me. The moment my Konus binoculars focused on the deer, I knew he was the biggest-bodied whitetail I had ever seen in the wild. His neck was swollen and his hindquarters were thick and long. His chest cavity seemed as big as an oil drum. He was "only" an 8-pointer. His rack was dark and wider than his ears, but his tines were short. It would be stretch to say that his rack gross-scored more than a 120 Boone and Crockett inches. I would have done backflips to get a chance at a buck like this at home or almost anywhere else. But here in Saskatchewan, he was a buck that needed to be passed.
The day wore on with several more similar encounters. Two more 8-pointers appeared just before I retrieved my frozen ham sandwich out of my daypack at noon. Then, at 3:30 p.m., a big-bodied 6-pointer made a visit to the alfalfa bale. When darkness finally settled across the woods, I had passed up eight different bucks. Not a bad day, I’d say.
Back at camp, we all gathered in outfitter Mo Heisler’s heated machine shop to admire the first buck brought into camp for the week. It was a dandy 10-pointer, probably 140 inches, with a body almost identical to the 8-pointer I had watched that morning. Imagine our gasps when we learned how that 10-pointer broke the meat scale after topping out at 300 pounds even (on the hoof). I guess there is a lot of truth to Bergmann’s Rule.
After hearing the happy hunter’s story told and retold, we all headed back to the camphouse for a hearty, hot dinner of roast venison, mashed potatoes, buttered rolls and homemade apple sauce.
The combination of the meal and an 11-hour sit in a cold ground blind made for a whole camp full of tired hunters.
TOMORROW: Part 4: "How Dark-to-Dark Deer Hunts Test Your Mettle"
Note: Deer & Deer Hunting Editor Dan Schmidt has just returned from a weeklong hunt near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. This is the second installment of a five-part blog series on his adventure. Check back each day this week for updates.
Over the past two decades, I’ve been chasing trophy whitetails across 18 states and now four Canadian provinces. Some of these big buck hunts have found me pursuing whitetails in the far-reaching forests of Maine, Montana, Wisconsin, Ontario, Alberta and even Quebec’s enchanted Anticosti Island. Without question, last week’s trip to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan ranks at the top of the list for "most wild." Never in my life have I hunted whitetails on such a virgin landscape.
Day 1 of the hunt started uncerimoniously, as I chose to stay back at camp and make sure my CVA Accura’s Konus scope was still "on," while 80 percent of the other hunters headed on their 2-hour excursions toward their stands. We were staying at Garden River Outfitters just outside of the Prince Albert National Forest. This is ground owned by the Canadian government ("Crown" land) that is leased to outfitter Mo Heisler. He has been guiding big-buck fanatics up here since the 1980s. His reputation is unmatched, as is evidenced by photo after photo of smiling hunters kneeling beside B&C-class bucks.
Heisler’s approach is simple. A born trapper, he uses his keen woods knowledge to pinpoint prime deer areas across his 200,000-acre range. Canadians call it "the bush." I call it one endless sea of forest.
"How far does this woods go?" I asked innocently while sitting down at the shooting range to shoot my muzleloader. "I don’t know," Heisler said. "Never really thought about that. Probably all the way to the North Pole," he added I think half-jokingly.
Nestling my cheek into the gunstock, I held a steady grip while centering the cross-hair on the target. KABOOM! Smoke belched out of the fluted Bergara barrel and hung in the 18-degree morning air. My eyes strained to view the paper target through the scope.
"Was there a mark in that bull’s-eye beforehand?" I asked.
"Nope," said Heisler. "Someone will meet you up by the camp house. You’re ready to hunt."
I soon loaded all of my gear into a warm, waiting truck and was headed north with Cal, Mo’s head guide and right-hand man. We drove on snow-packed road that I assumed were paved underneath. And drove. And drove. More than an hour later, we pulled off the road and onto a path that wound through vast expanses of fallow ground. Thirty minutes after that, we approached an endless wall of woodlands.
From there, we loaded my backpack, Heater Body Suit and cased gun onto a waiting ATV.
"Put your facemask on," Cal said. "This ride can get a little cold."
He wasn’t kidding. Seated behind my guide on a one-man Honda Foreman ATV, I held on to the back cargo rack like a bronco rider as we drove countless miles into the gut of a incredibly gorgeous old-growth forest. I’m a tree man by hobby, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint the species I was seeing whiz by us as we drove. However, Cal later told me these woods are populated by mostly white spruce and black poplar. Forty minutes later, the ATV came to an abrupt stop.
"Here we are," Cal whispered while pointing to an Ameristep Outhouse one-man blind buried behind some well-placed spruce bows. "I’ll refresh the bait on the way out. Good luck. See you at dark."
After unloading all of my gear inside the blind and climbing into my Heater Body Suit, I ripped open six extra-large air-activated hand-warmers and stuck them in my pac boots, pant pockets and chest pockets. I then zipped up the blind’s windows, leaving one open just enough to see down the 15-foot wide path to the bait station. That’s all I could see. This woods was so thick that a deer could have walked within 30 yards of the blind in any other direction, and I wouldn’t have seen it.
Although it did seem a bit odd that I had traveled all of these miles to sit in a woods watching a bait pile, I knew full well that this is really the only way to hunt deer in this type of environment and expect to see something. The week’s temperatures called for single-digits. Tracking or still-hunting these whitetails is an admirable fantasy, it would be downright dangerous. Heisler warned us the previous night to not even think about blood-trailing a deer in these woods.
"It’s very easy to get lost out here," Heisler said. "Oh, we’ll find you. But I can’t guarantee that we’ll find you alive."
With those pleasant thoughts dancing in my head, I was more than happy to cast my gaze toward the alfalfa haybale resting in the snow 89 yards in front of my blind in this North Woods jungle.
Earlier posts from this series:
Part 1: Big Bucks North of the Border
Note: Deer & Deer Hunting Editor Dan Schmidt has just returned from a weeklong hunt near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. This is the first installment of a five-part blog series on his adventure. Check back each day this week for updates.
I don’t know who originally penned the phrase "Go Big or Go Home," but it was certainly a diehard buck hunter. Translation: If you’re going to travel 1,144 miles to hunt whitetails, you best hone your mental edge before stepping foot on that plane.
I’ve spent the past eight months doing just that. If you know me — and know me well — you know that I love releasing the bowstring and squeezing the trigger. I just love deer hunting (and venison) that much. But when CVA’s Chad Schearer invited me to leave Wisconsin last week and hunt the wilds of Saskatchewan with him, I knew that this was a "big or nothing" proposition. I also knew that — despite the fact that we’d be hunting deep-woods bucks over bait — this would be anything but a slam dunk.
It certainly wasn’t. And I learned that months before the trip happened. This was my first trip out of the country since the early 2000s. Yeah, a lot has changed since then.
Although I traveled just last week, the paperwork began four months ago when I had to apply for my first U.S. Passport. In August, I spent a good part of two days shuttling between work, our county courthouse, my safety deposit box (to retrieve my birth certificate) and the U.S. Post Office. I was lucky I started the process months in advance, because the passport showed up at my home just a few weeks ago.
From there, it was more paperwork. From copies of my firearms declarations (for entry into Canada) to the names, phone numbers and addresses of everyone I would come in contact with while visiting (every form printed off in triplicate) … I stepped into the airport feeling more like an income tax auditor than a wide-eyed deer hunter.
It’s a good thing I had all of that paperwork with me, because the lines and additional paperwork at the Canadian customs took nearly as long as my connecting flight from Minneapolis to Saskatoon. But all’s well that ends well, right? I began my journey to the airport at 4 a.m. last Saturday. By 7 p.m., I was standing in Mo Heisler’s Garden River Outfitters camp with eight other diehard whitetail hunters admiring some of those massive, dark-chocolate-colored racks that has made Saskatchewan famous.