Well goodbye 2020. Here’s to the start of new and better year, 2021. After spending all spring and summer preparing food plots and getting the duck grounds ready for season, we were all excited about the 2020 season.
We have not had a particularly good deer season this year. As always, my goal for 2020 was to make sure that Ella was able to harvest a deer. The problem is with kids, you have to let them decide if they want to hunt or not. I do not want to be the dad that pushes their kid to the point they don’t enjoy going anymore. I have experienced this with others, and it doesn’t work out in the long run. If Ella decides she wants to sleep in, she sleeps in. If she gets cold in the stand, then we leave. She’s hungry? We will get her some food. Whatever it takes to make the hunting enjoyable and memorable. Ella and I spent many days in the stand trying to get the big boy to come out and play. Unfortunately, this year that didn’t even seem to ever happen. After several hunts of not seeing anything, it makes it hard to convince Ella there is a reason to go. If she just sees deer she will sit there for hours. However, if we don’t see anything in a few hours, I can see her anxiety and impatience rising steadily. That’s when I realize it’s time to head to the truck and go get some breakfast.
Having hunted several days during bow season I decided to give her a break for a weekend before shotgun season. I was so excited for shotgun weekend. With the orange army taking to the woods, it will surely get the deer on their feet. This is Ella’s first-time shotgun hunting. She has never been big on guns but now that seems to be dissipating with her growing age. She enjoys shooting the guns with myself and her mom. After watching Leah handle the guns, she realized she was being afraid for no reason. So, after a few shots with the shotgun, she decided it was time to try her hand at shotgun season. Since I was 14 years old, I have hunted this property and always had great success during shotgun. Until 4 years ago I didn’t have the time to bow hunt, so shotgun was all that I had. Luckily it never seemed to be an issue and for several years I tagged out on opening day or almost every year by Sunday. Back when I only shotgun hunted, I didn’t care about a trophy buck. I was there to put a little meat in the freezer and get some salami for family members.
One thing that has changed for me is trying to find the trophy buck. We plant the food plots and monitor everything with cameras to better help us pattern the deer and to learn their behaviors. Over the last four years I have watched numerous young bucks cross my path without ever thinking about pulling up to shoot. I have learned to enjoy watching the deer and learn their behavior rather than try to harvest the first deer I see.
The first shotgun season didn’t produce one deer on the land we hunt this year. It used to be there would be four or five deer hanging opening day. Granted, we don’t have the same amount of property we once had or the number of hunters, but to not have any deer harvested first weekend was quite the disappointment. I have been lucky the last couple of years and harvested mature bucks. This year I have not seen one mature deer during daylight hours. We have tried to manage our property to produce big deer, and everyone has been on board with this process. The one thing we don’t consider is all of the hours we put into these deer and you would like to have some reward during the season.
After first shotgun season it was time to take a break for a couple of weeks until next shotgun season. Usually between the two season I try to get a little duck hunting in before the freeze. After a few calls to friends to see who was interested, we were all set. Al, Craig, and I would give the duck hunting a go. Craig doesn’t deer hunt, so he is always spending time in the duck blind, and this year was no different. Last year Craig was able to harvest a few ducks each trip. I actually thought, considering how the last five to ten years has went at the club, that he had an outstanding year. We were hoping for the same this year, but we haven’t any good days up to this point.
As the morning sun began to make its way over the hill, Craig, Al, and I were telling stories, drinking coffee and just enjoying each other’s company. We really didn’t have any expectations. We just needed to get out of the deer stand and do something different. As the daylight continued to creep over the hill, we started to see a few birds. We could hear the woodies whistling and gadwalls talking over on the lake, so we thought we might get a few opportunities. Unfortunately, it was another day with absolutely no wind, but hey, it beats sitting around the house all day. As the first half hour past in came a small group of gadwall. As the fire shot out of our barrels the ducks began to fall. Over the next few hours, we were able to scratch out a few ducks. We had a couple of woodies and six or so gadwalls in the blind, in fairly short order. Now we got a little excited thinking if we just hung out until noon or so, then we should be able to put a few more on the water. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen but it was nice sharing a blind with two of my favorite people. It doesn’t always have to be about the harvest. Most of the time it is spending some quality time with friends that can bring true joy.
After the decent duck hunt, we thought we would try it a few more times before it freezes. We were never able to repeat that day. As a matter of fact, I think we had four or five hunts since that we have only seen a couple of ducks. I have talked to several people at different duck clubs, and this seems to be a worse year than last year. It seems that the duck migration has changed. There have been so many things changed over the last 10 – 15 years that it is hard to tell what the main factor is. I hear people talk about the birds don’t come as far east as they once did. I have talked to several people who believe that today’s technology within combines just doesn’t allow much feed to be left in the field to attract the bird. It does make sense. I remember when I was young, we hunted fields exclusively and there was always seed in the fields. Some had more than others but today if you walk in a field picked by a new machine you won’t find much left behind. Now that several heated lakes have closed, I wonder if that will influence the waterfowl migration. Here in central Illinois, 15 years ago, you could hardly walk out your door without seeing a group of geese. Now you may drive miles and not see one flock in the air. I am sure there is a multitude of reasons for why the waterfowl hunting isn’t what it used to be. I just wish we could figure it out and attempt to right ship. When I was a kid you would see hundreds sometimes thousands of birds a day. Now you just hope to see some to make it worthwhile. For the first time I think it maybe time for a split season here in Illinois. You can harvest some woodies and early ducks during the first couple weeks of season and then it might be another month before we get a new flight of ducks, if we ever do. My opinion is, we hunt the last three weeks in October. Then take three weeks off until Thanksgiving weekend. This would allow our season to go into the first or second week of January. I think most would be surprised on how many ducks we see in January even with the freeze. So hopefully there will be changes to our season because right now I imagine there is several duck hunters calling it quits every year. You put a lot of time and effort into hunting and when many get no results it’s hard to continue for some.
There is one last thing that I have to get off my chest. As second shotgun season rolled around, I didn’t have much confidence. For the first time since I started bow hunting, I never saw one deer on my cameras during daylight hours. Of course I asked Ella if she was ready to miss some school to spend the day deer hunting and her response was, “Dad, school is more important and I don’t want to get backed up on school work, so I am going to pass.” Well that is where we are vastly different. If my parents told me I could take a day off to hunt you can guarantee the same answer every time. I was finishing my work on the December magazine, so I actually didn’t make it out on Thursday. As Friday rolled around, I set out to the box blind. After talking with the guys, the day before, it wasn’t sounding good. Two of them sat from daybreak to sunset and didn’t even see one deer. I thought well, I will hunt this weekend, but it may be time for me to hang up the bow and shotgun for the season and start preparing for next year. As the morning progressed, I looked up and here came a small four pointer being followed by a couple of other deer. I didn’t react because I could tell that the forks were year and half old, and then I notice a little 8 pointer with them. They walked past my blind and were heading away from the trail and away from me. All of the sudden the eight-pointer jumped into the lane and turned broadside. Not sure why, but at this point I pulled up the gun and placed in the 10 ring. I sat there for a few seconds and then my finger got twitchy. As I pulled the trigger he hunched up and began heading back the way he came. He went about 40 yards and I saw him fall. As I sat there waiting for a while, I noticed a bunch of crows show up and start eating on my deer. I mean, it didn’t take them five minutes to find it. So, after a half an hour I got down and walked over to my harvest.
Here is where things took a turn. I was mad at myself for the first time ever for shooting a deer. I looked at the deer and said, man I should have let him go and grow. It’s hard when you need some burger for the freezer and nothing mature has presented itself all year. As my buddy Tim came over, I knew I was going to hear something negative.
He looks and says, “pretty small, isn’t it?” At first, I wanted to smack upside his head, and this only made me more ticked. It took me two days to stop thinking about it. What finally did it was I was thinking for most of my life I didn’t care if it had antlers or not. Now I am one of these guys who thinks you should shoot mature deer, but in reality, who cares? If you need meat, shoot what you want. Too many people out there today are about the trophy. I understand we all want to kill a monster, but the chances are very slim. If we wait all year for a trophy you may need to plan on a few more years before you harvest. I know it’s nice to harvest a large deer, but let’s face it. It is about the experience and the time spend with family and friends. I am not saying shoot everything that walks, but there comes a time during the season if you want deer meat for winter you better not be too picky.
I see guys on Facebook and other forums who actually degrade people for the size of the deer they shoot. That is not right. We are lucky to live in an area that can produce large bucks, but don’t think that is the only way to be a successful hunter. I hope that all hunters will just congratulate others on their harvest, and not try to make them feel bad for shooting something that doesn’t go on the wall.
May your sunrises and sunsets be magical!