The dirty little secret to outdoors success

Outdoors success means different things to different people. For some, it’s catching the most fish. For others, it’s reeling-in the largest.

Many hunters define success as harvesting a buck worthy of a spot over the fire place or shooting a limit of ducks. While some are just happy to come home with anything at all.

Success is relative. That’s part of what keeps us coming back season after season. There is always a new way to classify what success is. We could always achieve more. It’s a constant, addicting pursuit.

But no matter how you define success in the outdoors or in life, every triumph seems to have a common ingredient: a healthy dose of failure.

Regardless of what some of your hunting or fishing partners may try to tell you, no one bats 1.000 in the outdoors game. We all love to share our stories with happy endings. But most of us have many, if not more, tales of disappointment.

At some level, I’d like to think I have always understood this. But this fact really hit home during a conversation with one of my buddies on a recent ice fishing trip.

On this particular day, we decided to try a spot no one in our group had fished before. We had no trouble locating fish, but plenty of issues putting them on the ice. After a handful of fruitless hours of chucking the tackle box at our unwilling adversaries, one of my friends, like a proper fishing buddy, decided to give me a hard time.

“I should take a video and post it to Facebook and show everyone what fishing with you is really like,” he said gesturing toward my orange “Nathan Woelfel Outdoors” hat.

I laughed and pointed out that no one in the group was out-fishing me. So who were they to talk?

The trip ended shortly after that with zero fish to show for it. I spent the 20-minute drive home reflecting on what we could have done differently. I was certainly a bit disappointed. It had been a couple weeks since I last caught a fish and my well of exciting stories to share with all of you was running dry.

But then it occurred to me. This is what fishing is “really like,” at least sometimes. So much of my success in the outdoors stems from my intimate relationship with failure. More specifically, meaningful failure.

I’m not implying you can blindly fail your way into catching more fish or shooting bigger deer. But, if you are willing to objectively assess your not-so-stellar trips, there can be a lot of value in learning what not to do.

Take my most recent fishing season for example. I caught over 500 fish across 132 trips in 2020. But I got skunked 50 times. That’s zero fish on nearly four out of every ten trips.

But those empty ventures were important. They were often the product of trying new spots, new techniques, or targeting a species I wanted to become more acquainted with.

I fished one particular spot on the Sheboygan River eight times before I caught my first fish. I spent hours playing with presentations, bait sizes, retrieval speed, anything I could think of. Every outing provided a new tidbit that placed me closer to catching fish. By the end of the open water season, on one of my last trips to that spot, I caught two-dozen bass in an hour.

Of course, the last part of that story is the one I tell. But I don’t give enough credit to all of the not-so-inspiring treks to that spot that paved the way for my ultimate success.

I have no issue coming home empty-handed. But I have a big problem with trips that don’t result in additional knowledge.

In fact, there were a few points last summer where I became worried I wasn’t getting skunked often enough. I was concerned that I was too comfortable and falling into a routine. I wasn’t pushing myself and, worst of all, there was a chance I wasn’t learning anything.

Shortly after that, I switched up baits, tried new locations, and targeted different species. I gained a lot of insight from hitting the re-set button.

All of this also applies to hunting. When I’m scouting a new deer spot, particularly on public land, I know up-front that most of the first couple of trips will be dedicated to finding deer and a suitable stand location.

There will be plenty of walking, examining sign, and time spent looking through my binoculars with very little time dedicating to actively hunting. I will often invest more than a couple trips before I even see a deer, much less end up in a position to shoot one.

At the end of the most recent deer season, I decided to spend time attempting to fill my public land doe tag. I hunted several hundred acres I had never explored before. On my first trip, I slowly walked the land looking for tracks and other deer sign. I had my rifle by my side, just in case. I was encouraged by what I found.

The next time out, I was planning to sit the entire afternoon. But another hunter beat me to my spot. So I drove to a different portion of the property and went back to step one. I didn’t see a deer until my fourth trip. By the end of the week, I had seen eight deer and could have shot one if I was more comfortable with property boundaries.

Next year, my doe hunt will start on step three instead of square one. And that’s why I view the time I invested positively. Hunting and fishing are usually about playing the long game. It’s not always pretty, but if you’re looking for sustained success, there is no way around it. You have to put in the time and effort in a deliberate way and you have to adapt accordingly.

These experiences are a mandatory part of gaining the knowledge needed to know when to stick it out or when to change things up.

So next time one of your hunting or fishing adventures (or anything in your life) doesn’t pan out the way you had hoped, embrace it. Take stock of what you learned and bring yourself that much closer to success.

How to think (and cook) like a venison scavenger

The chest freezer in my garage is chock-full of venison. But I didn’t harvest a single deer this season.

How is that possible? Well, it’s actually quite simple. In lean seasons, I’ve learned to replenish my yearly supply of deer meat meat by perfecting the art of cooking parts of the deer most of my hunting companions don’t want or have never considered cooking themselves.

While that may sound less than appetizing, I can promise you that some of the lesser-known portions of meat can be turned into downright delicious table fare.

Last year, during a Netflix binge, I got hooked on the show “MeatEater.” While the subject matter of the hunting adventures is enthralling, I was most taken with host’s desire to utilize every last piece of meat on the animals he harvested.

Taking a life is a big deal. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that getting the most out of each kill was simply the responsible thing to do. So I started scouring the internet for recipes in advance of the deer season.

Thankfully for me, many of my friends enjoyed a deer season that was much more successful than my own and they didn’t mind parting ways with the “extras.” Admittedly, I encountered very little competition when requesting some of these pieces of meat. But, with the success I found in the kitchen, I think that may be about to change. Here are a few of my go-tos and some ideas about how you can start using them too:

Ribs

Like, many hunters, I never invested the time to take the ribs out of my deer. While I have long been curious about what they would taste like, it seemed likely they would be tough. And, frankly, the amount of meat didn’t seem worth the effort.

This changed after I saw Steven Rinella prepare a rack of venison ribs on MeatEater. In fact, I even used his recipe during my first venture.

The key is cooking them low and slow. Braising is an ideal method for yielding the most tender results. If you give these ribs the time they deserve, you will be pleased with the outcome.

Though not the same as beef or pork, these venison ribs are surprisingly tender. The dry rub provides a classic barbecue taste.

Though you can eat them the traditional way, I suggest taking the meat off the bone to simplify things.

Leftovers can be covered in barbecue sauce and served on a quality bun with some coleslaw. It’s a cool play on a pulled venison sandwich.

Heart

This one takes a little courage. But trust me, once you’ve had properly-prepared venison heart, you’ll never leave the ticker in your gut pile ever again.

On the suggestion of Rinella, I used this recipe for my initial voyage into deer heart territory.

Allowing ample time for the marinade to take effect is crucial. It’s well worth the wait.

The strips of meat chew more like beef than venison. In fact, I’d say it tastes more like a skirt steak than a venison product.

I decided to pan-fry the strips, rather than grilling them. In hindsight, I would also recommend using a meat tenderizer to get an even softer mouth feel.

Now, I’ll admit, it takes a minute to get over exactly what you are eating. But the flavors are wonderful.

You can serve as directed in the recipe or put them into warm tortillas with cheese and more vegetables to create some awesome fajitas.

Liver

This may be my European heritage showing itself, but I love liver pâté. But, for whatever reason, it never occurred to me to make a batch with deer liver.

Finding a good recipe was pretty easy.

My first batch had me instantly regretting every liver I have ever left in the woods. The full-bodied flavor provided by the onions, bourbon, and the natural taste of the venison makes for a powerful spread.

I strongly suggest letting your pâté sit in the fridge for at least a day before you dive-in.

While the end results aren’t much to look at, they are wonderful on crackers or toast.

If you want to go really old-school, there are plenty of awesome recipes for straight up venison liver and onions (like this one).

Neck

Venison neck roasts are a lot like the ribs.

For starters, many hunters don’t take the time to collect the meat. But that’s also because many hunters just don’t know how to prepare it.

Adding the neck meat to your scrap pile just doesn’t do it justice.

Instead, just go low and slow. With the proper time and preparation, venison neck roast can be fall-apart tender. You need to try it for yourself.

My 2020 outdoor adventures by the numbers

Though math isn’t my strong suit, I am very much a numbers person.

But, for whatever reason, I have struggled to keep a complete hunting and fishing journal over the course of a calendar year. In 2020, I finally accomplished that feat.

If you are passionate about the outdoors, I strongly recommend you make time for keeping a journal or log. I’ll even help you get started.

Before turning the page to 2021, I wanted to share some of the more interesting numbers that came out of my record keeping.

166 – Outdoors trips

In total, I spent 346 hours partaking in outdoor activities this year. Fishing was, more often than not, my activity of choice, encompassing 133 of my 166 trips. I ventured out on 26 hunting trips and seven dip netting outings.

502 – Fish caught

Averaging just under four fish per trip, I was able to catch more than half a thousand water-dwelling critters this year. I pulled in 17 different species from 12 different bodies of water across four counties here in Wisconsin.

Fish No. 500 came on Nov. 10. If you so wish, you can read the story behind that trip here.

Smallmouth bass made up the lion’s share of my total, 357 of my fish this year were smallies. Rock bass were the second-most popular fish to end up on my hook. I hauled in 37 during the open water season.

A complete breakdown of my 2020 catches, by species, is below.

SpeciesNo. Caught
Smallmouth Bass357
Rock Bass37
Bluegill31
Bullhead19
Northern Pike16
Carp11
Sucker6
Largemouth Bass5
Perch4
Rainbow Trout4
Creek Chub2
King Salmon2
Shiner2
Walleye2
Whitefish2
Lake Trout1
Sunfish1

24 – Ducks our group shot on my best hunt of the year

A four-person limit in just over two hours is, by far, the most productive waterfowl hunt I have ever been on. As I have mentioned many times and in many places, being able to share this adventure with two first-time duck hunters made it even more special.

10(th) – Highest finish in a bass fishing tournament

I tried my hand at tournament bass fishing for the first time in 2020. I fished my first online event through Lucky Go Fishing in mid-September.

During the one-day event, I landed 35 fish, including 26 smallmouth bass. I placed 10th out of 30 anglers in my region with the combined length of my top-5 bass measuring out at 51.25 inches.

15 – Suckers caught dip netting

With all of the craziness going on in the world, I was late to the dip netting game this season. The sucker run was nearly over when I went out for the first time in mid-to-late April, but I still managed to find a few fish well into May.

Fifteen is certainly not an impressive number. On your steady nights, you can manage that in a few pulls. But I’m just thrilled I was even able to go this year and I wanted something in this recap to reflect that.

67.5 – Best combined length, in inches, of my top-5 bass in a tournament

A couple of weeks after my first online bass tournament, I fished a weekend-long event with Lucky Go Fishing.

Over the course of the three days, I caught 216 fish (all from shore). My top-five bass scored out at 67.5 inches, 16.25 inches longer than my top-five from the first tournament. I finished 73rd out of 180 anglers in my region.

4 – Deer harvested in 24 hours of our group’s annual deer drive

The last weekend of each gun deer season is reserved for a series of deer drives with my friends that has since been named “The Big Push.”

We generally enjoy success during these outings but this year brought one of the best harvests I can recall. In roughly 24 hours, we put for does on the ground and everyone went home with some venison.

98.6 – Percent of fish I caught that were released

I’m certainly not here to shame anyone who wants to bring home their legal allotment of fish. But I am very proud of the fact that nearly 99 of every 100 fish I catch go right back into the waters they came from.

I kept seven fish for the table this year, three rainbow trout, king salmon, a lake trout, and two walleye.

19 – Length, in inches, of the biggest smallmouth bass I caught this year

This fish (pictured above) was one of the highlights of my year. In fact, there’s a complete chapter about it in my upcoming book (shameless self-promotion).

It was early September and I was fishing one of my most consistent spots on the Sheboygan River. I hooked into, what I thought was, a carp. It ended up being the longest smallmouth bass of my life.

I have caught hundreds of smallies in this spot throughout the years, but nothing that ever would have led me to believe something of this stature was swimming around.

How to make pepper nuts – the ultimate outdoor cookies

Pepper nuts (or pfeffernuesse) cookies are a fixture in my bag when I’m in the woods pursuing fur-bearing animals. These crunchy cookies are a German holiday specialty. For some notes and potential substitutions, scroll down to the bottom of the recipe.

Pepper nut recipe

  • 1/2 cup Molasses
  • 1/4 cup Honey
  • 1/4 cup Butter
  • 1/4 cup Shortening
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 tsps. Powdered star anise
  • 4 cups Flour
  • 3/4 cup White sugar
  • 1/2 cup Brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon Ginger
  • 1 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. Cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. White pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt

Step 1: Add molasses, honey, butter, and shortening to a small sauce pan or saucier over medium heat. Stir frequently until melted. Remove pan from burner and allow mixture to cool to room temperature. Then, add the eggs.

Step 2: In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Once combined, slowly add the mixture from the pan you set aside and continue stirring.

Step 3: Cover the bowl and place in refrigerator for a minimum of two hours.

Step 4: When ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 325° F and grease your cookie sheets.

Step 5: Roll dough into thin logs and then cut into roughly one-inch pieces. Roll each piece into a small ball and place on cookie sheet.

Step 6: Bake for 13-15 minutes. Remove cookies from oven and transfer to cooling rack.

Background

I was first introduced to these cookies a few years ago during gun deer season. The landowner offered some up during lunch and explained that these bit-sized treats are a family recipe. He was kind enough to pass that recipe along to me.

Besides the subtle sweetness, what draws me to these cookies is how durable they are. I can put some in my pocket while out on a squirrel hunt or put a bag of them in my deer hunting backpack without having to worry about them breaking or crumbling. Food just tastes better when it’s enjoyed outdoors and these crunchy cookies are a perfect snack. When the weather gets colder, they pair perfectly with a thermos of coffee.

As I have researched these treats I’ve come to find there are countless ways of preparing them. Each family seems to have their own approach.

In that spirit, over time, my mom and I have both made our own versions of these cookies (mine is the one listed above).

Tips and substitutions

This recipe yields roughly 10 dozen cookies, making it ideal for sharing.

If you are flying solo on most of your hunts, halving the recipe is certainly an option. Though, we have found that these cookies will keep in the freezer if you have extras.

To make sure I get the crunch I’m looking for, I move the cookies to the top rack of my oven during the last two minutes of baking.

Due to the lack of moisture, these won’t get “stale,” per se. I even leave mine on the counter overnight to let the air get at them. This helps solidify the texture I desire.

Now, this brings us to the potential substitutions. Many pepper nut recipes I’ve seen include some form of dairy. The original version I was given included buttermilk. Some have a few splashes of cream. It’s all about what you’re after.

If you want something a little softer, I recommend the addition of dairy and shortening the baking time slightly.

While this recipe features a multitude of spices, you can simplify or expand on them. Cardamom can be a wonderful addition. Some recipes substitute black pepper for white pepper. Others forgo the molasses.

For added sweetness, you can dust the warm cookies with powdered sugar as soon as they come out of the oven.

Play around with it, that’s part of the fun.

Buffalo pheasant tater tots recipe

Spice up your upland bird arsenal with this buffalo pheasant tater tot recipe. If you’re interested in additional details or potential substitutions, scroll past the recipe for more.

Buffalo pheasant tater tot recipe

  • 1 cup Cooked pheasant, cubed or shredded
  • 1/2 bag of Frozen tater tots
  • 6 ounces Whipped cream cheese
  • 4 ounces Ranch dressing
  • 1/4 cup Hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Butter
  • 1/4 cup Shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/8 cup Blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 Scallion, chopped

Step 1: After cooking pheasant, place tater tots on a sheet pan and bake according to the instructions on the package.

Step 2: Place sauce pan or saucier on stove top over medium-low heat.

Step 3: Add cream cheese, ranch dressing, hot sauce, and butter to the pan, stirring occasionally until combined.

Step 4: Add pheasant to sauce mixture, continue stirring until the meat is fully-integrated.

Step 5: Remove tater tots from oven, move oven rack to top slot, increase heat to 475° F.

Step 6: Layer the sauce/meat mixture over the top of the tater tots.

Step 7: Top tots and sauce with cheese and place in oven for 2-3 minutes.

Step 8: Remove sheet pan for final time and garnish tater tots with chopped scallions

Tips and substitutions

In my book, pheasants are one of the easiest ways to introduce someone to wild game. I freely substitute pheasant into most chicken recipes, this one included.

This recipe is a play off a popular appetizer at my in-laws’ restaurant. It yields enough to be a solid side dish or appetizer for two people. If you’re headed to a party, double this at least.

I prefer to pan-fry my pheasant breasts after seasoning them with salt and pepper. Baking, grilling, or even smoking are also options, if you want to experiment with flavors that way.

For the crispiest tots, lay them out on a sheet tray lined with paper towel and let them sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before placing them in the oven. That way, they won’t be completely frozen when you place them in the oven. Just be sure to remove the paper towel before baking.

While you can get away with cream cheese from a block, I strongly prefer the whipped version. The added air and lower density promotes even and fast melting. If you don’t have whipped cream cheese available, you can simply use a hand or stand mixer to aerate the cream cheese.

Recently, I started mixing my own ranch dressing by utilizing Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets. I’ve found this to be much more flavorful. The end result tastes a bit less processed.

Feel free to adjust the amount of hot sauce to your taste. This recipe provides just the right amount of kick. It’s heat without destroying the flavor.

Sharp cheddar cheese is my go-to shredded cheddar. But whatever you have on hand will work just fine.

If blue cheese isn’t your thing, gorgonzola is a suitable substitute.

The Big Push

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s not so much about what it is, but when it is.

Fall is just a great time of year. Hunting, fishing, state championship high school football, the anticipation of Christmas and New Year’s, there’s a lot to be excited about.

Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season runs right across Thanksgiving. In the last few years, the weekend after the holiday has become, arguably, my favorite 48 hours of the hunting season.

None of us can recall exactly when it started but, a while back, a group of us started getting together in the waning days of Wisconsin’s most popular hunting season to conduct a series of deer drives on private lands our family and friends own.

I have jokingly referred to this outing as “The Great Sheboygan County Deer Drive.” But one of my friends has recently dubbed it “The Big Push.”

For those unfamiliar with the procedure, a deer drive consists of two groups of people: pushers and shooters. It’s a simple concept. The pushers walk through a plot of cover in hopes of moving any deer toward the shooters. When done safely, it can be a great way to make deer hunting more of a social activity, like waterfowl or pheasant hunting can be.

One of my favorite aspects of this hunt is the willingness of the group to look out for one another. Those who have yet to harvest a deer get priority as shooters. Any venison collected is thoughtfully divided up to make sure those who want some get it, even if they didn’t personally shoot it. For some of my friends, this is the only deer hunting experience they get.

We’ve enjoyed plenty of success over the years. I struggle to think of time we didn’t come home with at least one deer. In our better seasons, we manage to drop several.

This year, our small orange army rolled nine-deep. Around 8 a.m. on the last Saturday of the season, we assembled at our friend’s family farm. Justin and his dad Brian are a huge part of making this annual event a reality. They own several hundred acres throughout the county and are kind enough to let us hunt them.

To be honest, witnessing the often comical interactions between the father/son combo is as entertaining as the hunting, sometimes more so. Brian, a seasoned, hard-working farmer can be gruff, but also incredibly generous and endearing. Justin is amiable, but no less direct. Both men are straight shooters. They just go about it differently.

Justin’s uncle Dave joined myself and several of my closest hunting buddies to round out our group.

After selecting the first location, we assigned roles. The land, owned by one of my friend’s sisters, is a combination of marsh, tall grass, and woods. I was selected to be among the shooters, posting up on one of my friend’s ladder stands. We assumed our positions and the pushers began to do their thing.

A few minutes in, I heard a pair of shots ring out from the tree stand ahead of me. As I followed the ensuing thrashing, my eyes were drawn to a deer that had piled up in front of me and slightly to my right.

Ahead of the downed animal, however, another deer was speeding through the brush toward me. I lifted my rifle and began tracing the deer’s path. Knowing that I had to get ahead of it, I began picking out a shooting lane in front of the deer’s perceived route in anticipation of being able to cut it off. But that opportunity never occurred. The doe darted for the thickest cover it could find and tunneled its way to the neighbor’s land.

Still we were one-for-one. It’s nice to be on the board early.

We summoned Brian’s old pickup truck and loaded the deer up. As we finished, we decided on our next location. As it turned out, it was just up the road, only a few 40s over.

“I hope you brought enough bullets,” Brian quipped while tagging a drag of his cigarette.

Now, I wasn’t sure if that was a dig at our shooting abilities or an allusion to how many deer could be present at this new spot. Either way, I was excited.

This location was primarily a cut cornfield. The key part of the land was a small patch of cedar trees that separated the backyard of the homestead from the agriculture.

We were instructed to be especially quiet as we got out of our trucks. The deer were likely bedding close to the road and would spook easily, especially given the events of the previous seven days.

We needed just two pushers for this little plot. The shooters divided into two groups. The first group was instructed to walk the lane to the corner of the cedar patch. The second group, my group, was to advance through the field toward the fence line and post up on the opposite corner.

With both groups facing the field, we would all have clear, safe shots as the deer ran out from behind us.

At least, that’s how it was supposed to go.

As my squad neared its destination, a small parade of deer began pouring out of the cedars. The first crew got too close to the trees and the deer winded them before the pushers had even left their trucks. A barrage of shots rang out (Brian was right about the bullets). The kink in our plan left only the first team with feasible shooting opportunities. My club quickly became spectators.

To their credit, the first team managed to drop one deer (of the seven that emerged) — a large doe.

It was good meat. But Brian was not pleased. The way he saw it, had the first group listened to him, it was possible that all of the shooters could have been in on the action, thereby increasing our chances of success.

As my group approached the first group, we were treated to an expletive-laced lecture from Brian about what, exactly, constitutes a “corner.”

I felt like a basketball player sitting on the bench while the starters were turning in a lackluster performance. Even though I wasn’t actively participating, I was one of the few who got to hear all about it from the coach.

Knowing all this, we laughed a little. It was nothing personal. It was one of those situations where you could tell Brian was just giving us grief, though part of him was genuinely upset.

After we arrived at the location of the worthy recipients, we watched in delight as Brian continued his rant. Coach called timeout and let the starters have it. I laughed until I cried. We all did.

These drives quickly teach you the importance of being able to take heat (and the equally important skill of being able to give it back).

But, again, we had more venison for the table. It’s amazing how that cures all.

Our third spot yielded nothing. Not even a tail.

We arrived at the final location of the day just after noon. It was another plowed cornfield, this time on the other side of town. It was flanked on either side by a small woods.

Shortly after the drive began, I heard a shot come from my immediate right. I looked in that direction to see a pair of deer bounding toward me. I hurriedly tried to find them in my scope. I couldn’t do it. I peeked up and tried again. This time, I located them in the crosshairs. But they were quickly approaching a gap between me and the friend to my left in the shooting line. I had to pull up.

Thankfully, my friend was prepared. He dropped a doe just before she entered the woods. It was our third deer of the day.

After some time to recuperate, we were back at it again the following morning. We began by driving the small woods near the family farm. One small doe skirted us, but that was it.

We moved on to another portion of the family’s land in a neighboring town. I was again one of the shooters.

As things kicked off, I saw four deer scamper down the hill across the road. They made their way to our spot, but kept their distance. I caught brief glimpses of them as the trotted across the plowed field in front of me. I gave a whistle to the friend standing to my left, trying to focus his attention toward the group of deer I wasn’t sure he saw.

Eventually, the deer appeared in front of him. But they picked up on his location before he could crack off a round. Though it appeared to the rest of us as though the deer lingered for long enough. He caught some grief about that.

After returning to our trucks, we decided to go back to the property that played host to our first drive of the weekend. The way we saw it, our group’s poor shooting likely drove the majority of the pervious day’s deer processional toward this parcel of land. We deemed it worthy of another attempt.

This time, I chose to push.

We worked the first portion of thicket, probably 100 yards in length. Nothing.

A pair of us crossed into the next patch of tall grass before opting to halt. The other two pushers, dealing with thicker vegetation, had fallen a bit behind us. After they caught up, we resumed in a straight line.

About 30 yards into the second phase of the walk, I heard rustling to my right. I looked over to see a pair of does sprinting across my field of view. Recognizing my presence, they veered away from me and toward an open field where the shooters were waiting.

“Deer! Deer!,” I called out.

Eventually, the safe shots presented themselves and gunfire was heard. When the dust settled, another doe had hit the ground.

Though plenty of us had tags left, we decided to call an end to hunting portion of this year’s proceedings. In total, we had seven deer to process. Four from the previous 24 hours, and three more that group members had harvested earlier in the week.

We got back to the farm and went to work. This portion of the weekend has since been named “Butcher Bash.”

Tables were erected, knives sharpened, music turned up, and cold ones cracked.

It’s amazing how fast deer processing can go when you have a crew of people. It’s also amazing how fun it can be.

We got the banter going, talking stupid and sipping suds between cuts.

A few deer in, Brian grabbed a back strap and a grill and made us lunch. That is always some of the best-tasting venison I consume all year.

“You knew where I was going when I left didn’t you?,” Brian asked us, giving a nod to his yearly ritual of cooking for the group. “You’d be disappointed if I didn’t feed you.”

We smiled and nodded in agreement. This portion of the weekend had become as much a part of the tradition as anything.

Later on, Justin told us how much Brian looks forward to this weekend and detailed the enjoyment he takes in participating. It was a mutual feeling.

In just about four hours, we had processed all seven deer. I sent my dad a text as we were finishing up and he asked if I picked up any tips.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Bring eight friends.”

Good hunts feature either success or camaraderie. But the best hunts have both.

Why it’s crucial hunters and anglers participate in citizen science

Participating in citizen science initiatives is one of the easiest ways those who enjoy the outdoors can help themselves. This is especially true of hunters and anglers.

As they saying goes, “we only protect that which we understand.” Those who hunt and fish have a unique grasp and perspective on how nature truly works. And there are some easy ways for us to share our point of view with the people actively seeking our assistance. Providing a helping hand in this regard can pay dividends for all involved and help others understand just why we value the outdoors so much.

Between recording measurements in my rain gauge for CoCoRaHS and entering observations in my eBird app, I try to participate in some level of citizen science every day.

These are, admittedly, small measures. But they are not the only ways to take part in helping the scientists who protect the resources we love through their work.

Reporting harvests, when required, in an accurate and timely fashion gives decision makers much-needed data that helps shape outdoors policy. So does participating in creel surveys or chronic wasting disease testing.

Catch a chinook salmon, rainbow trout, or lake trout with a clipped adipose fin? Bring the head to your local collection location and submit the requested information. Not only does this give those who oversee our fish populations a more complete picture of what is happening in Lake Michigan, you’ll receive some background information on your catch in return.

If you have a trail camera, you can apply to be a volunteer with Snapshot Wisconsin. This program, backed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, helps build a photo database of wildlife activity in designated regions of the state.

In fact, you don’t even need to host a trail camera to participate. The photos from Snapshot Wisconsin are sent to a platform called Zooniverse. This allows members of the public to classify the wildlife present in each photo. This, in turn, converts the photos into usable data that feeds into wildlife management decisions for many local species.

This year, I’ve taken to have my birding app open while out hunting. During a duck hunt on the Wisconsin River, our group encountered a couple flocks of snipe. When I recorded this in the app, I was prompted to provide additional detail because the number of the species I reported was unusually high for the area.

For some reason, this bothered me. It was like the app didn’t believe in my bird identification skills But, after giving it some thought, I realized something. This number may, indeed, be significantly higher than the typical amount of this species reported in a given log. But how many of those reports came from hunters?

Our location was accessed by boat, nestled between the main channel and the backwaters. No reasonable birding enthusiast is likely to put in this type of effort solely in the name of a birding excursion. That’s when it dawned on me: recording the birds I see during a hunt is particularly vital.

When you pair the spot with the time of day we were out, it is highly unlikely that anyone had ever submitted a file of their bird observations that reflected this unique combination of factors.

If you are simply glassing the big water through your binoculars on shore, seeing 12 snipe is, in all likelihood, a tall order. But from the concealment of a proper duck blind, your prospects increase substantially.

One of my local duck spots, a parcel of public land close to home, is frequented by birders. I often think of how much their experiences can vary from mine. It doesn’t make their input any less valuable, but it’s simply not possible for one demographic to provide scientists with the complete picture.

Consider the types of birds you see just before or after shooting hours or during the migration. If someone were to observe the same setting at a different time of day or year, they probably wouldn’t believe there were many coot, mergansers, or green herons around. But those who spend time actively pursuing other game know otherwise.

Think about your favorite deer stand or trout stream. Now take a brief tally of the number of hours you spend in those locations. Who else could possibly have a better idea of what is actually happening in these places? But this knowledge does little for the collective good if it isn’t shared in a constructive way.

As hunters and anglers, we have a truly unique viewpoint on how the natural world functions. This perspective needs to be shared so that we can help wildlife officials, scientists, hikers, birders, an other outdoor enthusiasts have a better grasp of these treasured places through our eyes.

In a world seemingly bent on industrial development, those who enjoy land in its more natural state need to team up to defend the locations we go to when we seek peace, balance, and a different perspective on the world than our regular day-to-day gives us.

Because our culture prioritizes revenue potential and profitability, nature lovers are under increasing pressure to justify the existence of the places they hold dear.

Though, for whatever reasons, it may not always seem like it, those who enjoy the outdoors, however they choose to do it, are on the same team in this regard. A place to continue unifying our standing comes through actively participating in citizen science.

So, next time your local department of natural resources or scientific group provides you the opportunity to participate in one of these initiatives, take advantage. We all stand to benefit.

Keeping tradition alive during an unordinary Wisconsin deer season

Gun deer hunting is the foremost outdoors tradition in Wisconsin.

Each year, over half a million licenses are sold. During the nine-day season, the state’s gun deer hunters temporarily become the eighth-largest active military in the world.

It would be pretty hard for you to know a handful of Wisconsinites and not find some connection to deer hunting. With nearly 10 percent of the state’s population participating in the sport each year, deer hunting is engrained in our culture and that makes me incredibly happy.

For my dad and I, the tradition involves a three-and-a-half-hour drive to a little town called Neillsville. Located in central Wisconsin, my mom and dad lived in the area when I was born. My dad was a music teacher at a local school district.

That’s where he met Jerry, the landowner who has been gracious enough to let members of our family join him on his 33-acre plot of land for nearly three decades.

Like many of our fellow hunters, we had to alter our plans due the COVID-19 pandemic. In the name of safety, we were not staying at Jerry’s house this year. We opted for a hotel room in Marshfield, the largest city in the immediate area. While this significantly cut down on our time to catch up and share meals together, we made the sacrifice in hopes of keeping everyone healthy.

We made the best of it. I was born in Marshfield, but my family moved back home shortly after that. This was the first opportunity I had to make memories in the place I was born. We enjoyed takeout from a pair of local restaurants and I was appreciative of the chance to experience a little bit of life in the place my life began.

Opening Day came and we began the 30-minute drive to the land where we were to meet up with Jerry and his brother-in-law. Along the way, my dad pointed out a few meaningful landmarks. It was nice to take in these sights firsthand, even if it was just as we were passing through.

Per usual, we settled into our stands a little less than an hour before sunrise. While I don’t disagree with the strategy, this is my least favorite part of the hunt. It’s generally cold and the pitch black of the early morning hours offers up nothing in terms of sightseeing. The adrenaline rush brought on by the anticipation of the new season was in full swing but, for a while, there was nothing to do but sit and wait.

When daylight graciously breaks, the forced patience of waiting for its arrival quickly pays dividends. There’s something truly special about witnessing the woods come alive. The drawn out calls of owls transition to the sounds of the clucks of turkeys as they descend from their roosts. Woodpeckers begin their long day’s work by tapping on their timber of choice. Crows shout out to their buddies as the morning flight begins. Squirrels begin their romp about the dead leaves in search of nourishment before winter sets in.

Like clockwork, the landscape draws into focus and the memories come rushing back. I’ve been hunting out of the same ladder stand, wedged between a pair of old oaks and a pine tree, for 14 seasons now. To be honest, I’ve lost count of the number of deer I’ve harvested in this spot, but it’s been all of the deer I’ve ever taken with a rifle sans my very first.

An abundance of memories have been made here. I often catch myself reminiscing as though I’m going through a checklist as I scan the terrain from left-to-right, with an eye on the past and another, more hopeful one, toward the future.

“The first deer I shot here stopped right there.”

“There’s where my first buck came from.”

“Both deer from my first double landed on that path.”

This little refresher exercise is as much about cementing the fuel that powers tradition as it is a crash course on what may be to come.

Generally, there’s plenty of time for this process on opening morning. The four-legged fur-bearing critters on this land are notoriously late risers. Or, at least, that’s the illusion given by the pass-through nature of the land. Deer find it as a nice place to take a stroll to and from bedding or food. But few of them actually call this place home. On this opening morning, I didn’t see my first deer until nearly 1 p.m. But it was finally time to start creating some new memories.

It was almost lunch as I heard feet stomping on the semi-frozen forest floor. I turned to my right and caught a glimpse of some trotting brown legs, while a pair of white tails flickered gently. The deer appeared to be on the smaller side and on high-alert.

The smaller of the two began edging up the mild hill in front of me, from right-to-left. The other seemed content on lower ground, beginning to let its guard down, it slowed and began to graze.

This was the first time I was able to get a proper look at the second deer, I could see the pair of spiked antlers that protruded from his head. They ended just above his ears.

As the doe fawn he was with began to disappear out of sight, the spike buck became nervous. He promptly quit eating and began galloping across the flat ground at the base of the hill until he caught up with his traveling companion.

Whether they are shooters or not, the first deer of the season always brings its own combination of relief and excitement. That tandem has a way of fueling the kind of hope that keeps these long sits fun.

After a quick lunch, we were back in our respective stands. Afternoons had typically been quite good to me at this spot, even when mornings are slow. I remained optimistic as I settled back in for the relatively brief afternoon sit.

It didn’t take long to hear the steady beat of footsteps. The hollow thud of hooves originated from the neighbor’s land and was increasing in volume as a pair deer approached from behind me and to my right.

I am familiar with this route. When deer come from the west in this stand location, as they often do in the afternoon, this is about the only place they come from. A patch of medium underbrush connects begins at approximately the property line and eventually transitions to the hard woods. You often hear deer coming from this direction before you see them.

Just last year, at almost exactly this time of day, I was lucky enough to harvest a pair of deer from a group of five that came in along this pathway. As the two does came closer, my confidence began to rise.

Both animals behaved as though they were not here by choice. Deer can be pretty skeptical creatures, but this duo seemed to be bordering on paranoid. As the first doe slowly made her way to my side of the walking path that divides the undergrowth and the more mature forest, the other refused to follow.

I decided to focus my attention on the doe that committed. She stood at about 70 yards, roughly 110 degrees off my right side and was partially obstructed by a handful of trees.

I selected a desired shooting lane and fixed my crosshairs on the spot in anticipation. The doe carefully advanced a few more yards, head on swivel, constantly assessing her surroundings. She began to look behind her and I could tell she was leaning toward the route the other doe had chosen. It became pretty clear she wasn’t going to make it to the spot I had picked out, so I adjusted.

She was at about 65 yards, still at more than a 90-degree angle from the front of my stand. Being a right-hander, this was a less than ideal shot from a sitting position. But it was still a makable one. I half-stood and braced my gun against the pine tree in attempt to steady myself as much as possible. She quartered slightly toward me as I lined up my cross hairs. I flipped the safety to the fire position and let my rifle speak its piece.

The shot didn’t feel great. The doe took off sprinting back the way she came, tail up as she scampered frantically through the brush. She paused briefly in the young pines and I momentarily lost sight of her. “Maybe she’ll go down right there,” I thought to myself.

A few seconds passed and the deer came back into view. She had joined the other doe and they were quickly making their escape. This wasn’t good.

After some time had passed, I quietly descended from my stand and evaluated the scene of the shot. The verdict was clear: a complete miss. There wasn’t a drop of blood or a single hair to be found.

Now every missed shot is a blow to a hunters pride. This one certainly annoyed me. I made a handful of mistakes that would generally come from an inexperienced hunter. It happens to all of us, at some point. But that didn’t take much of the sting away. I was peeved.

To me, this sport is like a timed pop quiz. Once you become proficient in basic outdoors skills such as marksmanship, hunting is little more than evaluation of how quickly and accurately you can tick the boxes off your checklist in a given situation. I failed a few portions of this test.

For one, I rushed the shot. Never good when striving for accuracy with a single-projectile weapon that is often unforgiving. But when I saw how nervous the deer was, I too became nervous fearing I would miss my opportunity. So I fired off a round almost as soon as I had the deer in the crosshairs. I didn’t take time to control my breathing and double-check the steadiness of my base. Far from textbook.

The other major sin I committed was lifting my head after the shot. It’s human nature to want to see the animal fall. All hunters are looking for that instant gratification. But lifting your head before the exchange is complete can lead to inaccuracy as your head actually begins moving upward before the bullet has completed its rapid journey out of the barrel.

To overcome this, I try to remind myself, “if you’re going to watch the deer fall, watch it through the scope. Once that deer is down, it is down forever. You’ll have plenty of time to look at it after.”

In this instance, I didn’t heed my own advice. And I paid dearly.

It’s a crappy feeling, letting a shot go and instantly having a handful of things you would have done differently. I tucked my tail between my legs and climbed back into my stand with just under two hours remaining in our day.

I stewed for awhile, firing off a few venting text messages to a handful of friends and family. But I quickly regained perspective. Sure, I was frustrated by how I handled the course of events. But given all the craziness and real problems in our world today, it’s hard to be terribly upset about missing a deer for too long. At the very least, I missed her entirely. I didn’t cause the animal any harm outside of being scared out of her mind for a few moments. If things were going to go badly, at least they went badly in the best way possible. I took solace in that.

Day 2 had a different feel to it. The woods awoke in a much more muted fashion. Hardly any turkeys making noise, the crows were notably quite. It was cool and still.

In the waning moments of darkness, I heard a series of repetitive foot steps to my left. Most likely a small group of deer quietly progressing through forest en route to their daytime destination. The soft crunches of leaves continued on a cadence with procession in full swing until the sources of the noise disappeared in the distance. The animals either took respite on top of the hill in front of my stand or proceeded to the next chunk of land to the east. Still, I took it as an encouraging sign.

Light came, and there wasn’t much of anything to look at. Nothing was moving. Occasionally, gunfire rang out in the distance, each shot with its own story. A series of stories that will forever be unknown to me.

Shortly before 8:30, a pair of shots bellowed from the property directly to the south. I was struck with a jolt of excitement. I’ve seen this movie before and it normally ends well for our hunting party.

It seems, more often than not, if our group harvests deer on the second day of the gun season it is almost aways the bi-product of action on this particular neighbor’s land. In fact, the last buck I shot from my stand came hauling down the walking path from next door after a series of shots.

This season, it played out similarly. Mere moments after the initial shots, a loud boom echoed from my dad’s stand followed by a series of frantic footsteps. Not knowing if my dad’s deer was down, I hurriedly began scanning the land for the source of the steps. A snow white tail flashed over the ridge. Hopefully that wasn’t my father’s target.

Yards away from the escaping deer, I saw a patch of brown quickly making its way between me and my dad. I hurriedly shifted my sights in that direction, in case my support was needed. But the brown patch never emerged from the trees separating our stands.

I reached into my pocket and grabbed my phone. There was a text from my dad on the lock screen that simply read, “Done.”

Our group was on the board and our family had venison in the freezer for another year. My dad climbed down and quickly and silently field dressed the animal before retreating to his tree once again.

The remainder of the hunt was uneventful as occasional showers of graupel began to make its way to earth.

We met at the trucks and said our goodbyes, but not before we spent some much-needed time trading stories of previous hunts, including memories of my late-grandpa’s most notable deer. We laughed, remembered, and enjoyed each other’s company safely. This year was different, but the sentiments of an enduring friendship between our group remained.

Eventually, we went our separate ways. Jerry began the walk back to his stand for and afternoon hunt and my dad and I got in the truck and headed home.

We chatted about the weekend’s events over the familiar tones of the Statler Brothers while celebrating our collective success.

That, after all, has become tradition too.

Tips for keeping a hunting and/or fishing journal

Keeping a hunting and fishing journal is something that has been on my list for a long time.

I’ve been trying to keep a journal, with varying degrees of success, for the better part of the last four hunting seasons.

This year was the first time I committed to making a proper outdoor journal a reality. As of this writing, I’ve been on 126 fishing trips, 17 hunting trips and enjoyed seven dip netting sessions so far this year.

Throughout the years of trial and error, I’ve discovered a few tips that have helped me stick with it. I’m hoping these will help you as well.

Recognize the importance

Keeping an outdoors log is a great way to preserve memories. But it also provides you the chance to step back and look at the big picture and make decisions accordingly.

Maybe you are fishing or hunting the same spot a little too often. Perhaps a certain bait works well in the morning, but doesn’t seem to produce in the afternoon. Spot A is more of a sunrise spot, while Spot B is better just before dusk. The last time a front came through, the action was best before the rain, not after it.

You’ll be surprised at the trends that come flying off the page when you revisit your journal. These can help set you up for future success.

Make it easy

The simpler it is to access your log, the more likely you are to continue using it.

Pick a medium that works for you. It could be hand-written entries in a notebook or full-blown spreadsheet.

I keep my journal in a Google Sheet. This allows me to access it wherever I go by phone or laptop.

Start early 

I’ll admit, this year’s journal did not start with the first fishing excursion of the season. However, it began to come together after my second trip. 

Beginning to record as early in the season not only helps ensure accuracy and the ideal level of detail for your entries, it also begins to form the habits necessary to keep up with your log throughout the season. 

If you get too far down the road without forming these habits, catching up can be tough, if not impossible. 

Be consistent

While any data or observations can be useful (we’ll get to that in a moment), consistency is key.

Before you begin logging, identify the types of information that are most important to you. Then do your best to record that information on each and every trip.

For instance, my fishing log entries consist of: the date, time I was fishing, body of water, target species, number of fish caught, baits I was using, weather conditions, and a section for relevant notes and observations that may be helpful in the future.

This will make comparisons easier and will help the trends become more apparent.

Get detailed

The more detailed you can get with your entries, the better.

Don’t assume that future you will remember a key piece of information. If you’re anything like me, that tidbit will probably get lost in the shuffle after a few more trips and disappear forever. Jot it down while it’s fresh and save yourself the trouble.

Details bring the story to life and can help spark additional memories that may be useful or simply enjoyable.

On the first day of the open water season, I saw a handful of deer across the bank. This was an unusual sight, so I noted it in my log. This little note, while not relevant to fishing directly, helps bring forth a more vivid recollection of the location, weather, time of day, etc.

But not too detailed

While details are crucial, don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of you completing a journal entry.

Any info you can give your future self could prove to be valuable, even if it’s not complete.

Don’t get discouraged and work with what you have. You’ll thank yourself later.

Thanks dad, for everything

Nathan’s note: This article originally appeared in Badger Sportsman Magazine my senior year of college. This was my Father’s Day gift to him in 2013. It was the first outdoors article of mine that was ever formally published.

Though there are some things I would change about it structurally in hindsight, I didn’t make those tweaks. I feel this is an accurate representation of where I was in my life and career at the time.

Everyone who hunts seems to have a father and son story, if only just one. I have been blessed with many.

I feel like there is a time in every man’s life where he becomes grown up enough to realize exactly how much he means to his father. With this realization comes the natural pondering of what a struggle it must have been to raise a son. This is typically followed by an appreciation for undertaking such a thankless task.

My first realization came when I was 16-years-old. My dad wrote a letter to me while I was on confirmation retreat. Truthfully, I don’t remember a lot of it, but a certain passage is still burned in my mind to this day.

My dad wrote that, when he found out that he and my mom were having a son, he was hopeful that he would have a hunting and fishing partner for life.

Naturally, I didn’t realize it at the time, but my dad did everything in his power to make sure that I fell in love with the outdoors. Whether it was letting me tag along hunting long before I could legally handle a gun or taking me fishing at the park for bluegill on summer evenings, he made experiencing the outdoors with his son a priority.

Though it was incredibly important to him, he never shoved it down my throat. To this day he opens my bedroom door and utters the following question: “Hey, wanna go hunting(/fishing)? ”

You see, it was always my choice. It still is.

Many would think that his strain would pay off by the time I could hunt, but the growing pains didn’t stop when I turned 12. In fact, they had just begun. I took hunter’s safety online and my dad scheduled a field day for me at a location that was good hour and a half drive from our house.

Even once I was certified, I was dreadfully inaccurate with a shotgun (still am). My dad took me to shoot trap at the local sportsman’s club in hopes that I would gain a little marksmanship with my new weapon.

Clay pigeons were missed, my shoulder was bruised, and tears were shed. Still, he remained patient with me. We downgraded to a youth-model 20-gauge for the upcoming bird seasons.

So, mourning dove hunting became the initial objective. Hunting doves had recently become legal in Wisconsin and besides, what better way for a youngster to learn how to use a firearm?

Well, doves are quick. Frankly, initially, they seemed more like F-16’s with their innate ability to stop on a dime and continue flying in a new direction at a high speed.

After a few hunts, I finally managed to knock one down (to this day, I am still convinced my dad shot it first, but whatever) and we celebrated.

However, waterfowl hunting was a different story altogether.

Countless Saturdays my dad got up at ungodly hours of the morning to go duck hunting and always allowed me to come along. All so I could hopelessly miss a few streaking teal on the Milwaukee River that I never stood a chance at.

Things eventually began to look up.

My dad, one of his friends, and I did a special youth duck hunt on some public land not too far from my hometown.

I don’t really recall many specifics about that day, but I do remember the first flock of ducks coming over about an hour after sunrise. I took aim and dropped a bird out of the flock. It folded in mid-air and my dad was hugging me before it even hit the ground. To this day, I am fairly certain that the safety on my gun wasn’t even on.

Much of the early afternoon was spent riding our old Ford Ranger around Sheboygan Falls showcasing the bird to my entire family.

A few weeks later, regular season goose hunting opened. My dad and grandpa traditionally hunted the Collins Marsh Zone, so I did too.

It seemed to good to be true. Many a morning, I tagged along with dad and grandpa to Collins on an early October morning and watched them down their limits of geese. Finally, it was my turn to join them.

As it turned out, it took a few humbling trips to realize what, exactly, I was in for.

I quickly learned that, geese are flying tanks, hitting one does not ensure a successful harvest.

Eventually, I put a load of pellets right where they needed to be and dropped my first goose. My dad took off running after the downed bird as if someone was going to take it from us. It landed in some pretty thick brush, but he was able to locate it and bring it back to me. Many hive-fives and hugs were exchanged between my dad, my grandpa and I. It is a moment I will never forget.

While waterfowling success such as that eventually came, there still remained one big issue: I had yet to kill a deer.

This was a problem because there is something special about deer hunting in the state of Wisconsin. Harvesting a deer is sort of an unofficial rite of passage into manhood.

I wasn’t expecting to be able to go gun deer hunting during the first season I could legally hunt, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the lengths my dad was willing to go to get me ready to hit the woods at the ripe old age of 12.

Big D scoured the newspapers looking for a place to go shoot rifles. He was willing to haul me as fair as Menomonee Falls (over an hour away) just for the chance to feel out the big gun.

Despite numerous family-wide efforts, I was unable to down a deer in my first few seasons of hunting.

On one faithful fall afternoon, my dad and I were sitting, huddled in a ground blind near a retention pond on some private land we had permission on. We hadn’t seen anything more than a tail all day until, lo and behold, I noticed a deer standing broadside at less than 30-yards.

I nudged my old man, who hadn’t taken notice because he was facing a different direction and said, ” Dad, there is a deer, what do I do?”

He looked up, saw the animal, and with a sudden spurt of excitement said,” F***ing shoot it!.”

I put it in the cross hairs and slowly squeezed the trigger. The deer ran off into some nearby cover. Minutes (though it felt like hours) later we left the blind in search of the animal. After a few anxious moments of searching, my dad found the deer lying yards from where the bullet had made contact. Finally, my first deer.

As I have grown older, I have been fortunate enough to continue to share special moments like this with my father.

Three years ago, I dropped a nub-buck at a considerable distance on opening morning of gun-deer season. I was a little disappointed due to the small stature of the animal, but my dad congratulated me on a nice, ethical shot and was happy for me none-the-less.

Left with only a buck tag, I climbed back into my tree stand, planning on taking a nice nap, knowing full well that deer donning antlers were in short supply where we hunted.

Wouldn’t you know it? After dozing off for awhile, I awoke to the sound of twigs snapping and brush rustling behind me. As I regained consciousness, I frantically looked around for the source of the commotion.

I eventually locked-in on a deer running at full-tilt toward me. It stopped directly to my right, a marginal distance from my stand. Sure enough, it had horns, only the third buck I had seen, in person, in my life.

I grunted, the deer stopped, I raised my sights and let ‘er rip. The deer dropped like a ton of bricks without taking another step.

The first thing I did was call my dad. To this day, I remember my exact words to him, “Your son just shot his first buck.”

I climbed down my tree and walked toward my trophy. My dad soon joined me over near where the deer was laying. I immediately jumped into his arms in excitement.

I was proud of myself and I knew he was proud of me too.

Hunting continues to provide some of the best memories in my young life and I try my best to appreciate how lucky I am to have created moments such as those.

I don’t have as much time to hunt as I used to, as any real adult will tell you, that is part of growing up. However, I still cherish the moments I get to share with my dad in the outdoors. So much so, that when I found out that a project would keep me from joining my old man on his annual duck hunting trip to the Mississippi River last fall, I cried.

I know, it’s immature for a 20-year-old man to be shedding tears over such a trivial matter, but it really bothered me. I was genuinely upset. Hunting opportunities with my dad were few and far between and I missed out on one of the most unique chances of the year.

During this past archery season, as my dad and I were working at getting my bow dialed in from various distances, I realized how much I missed this precious time. The chance to just be guys and talk about manly stuff like consistent release points and tight arrow groupings.

That is why this season mattered so much to me. It presented the first chance I have had to bow hunt with my dad in over two years. We have a load of deer on the property he rents and there was a decent chance that I would be able to draw back on a nice one.

As it turns out, I didn’t bag a trophy of a lifetime. But I am still thankful.

Thankful that my father took the time to teach me how to hunt the right way.

Thankful that the knowledge he has instilled in me has allowed me to share my passion for hunting with others.

Thankful for the chance to spend time in the woods with the man who has spent so much of his own time sharing one of his greatest loves with me.

After all, none of this will last forever.

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