Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sam Scores First

IMG_0787 copy We headed to the Platte River right after school yesterday.  Sam chose to sit in the “Road” Stand.  We hung this stand last week overlooking a trail the deer use just before entering the alfalfa field.  Several deer entered the field from the west but bypassed the stand.  Just after Sunset, the neighbor drove in and pushed the deer off the field.  A doe was headed right at Sam.  Already at full draw, Sam stopped her at five yards and squeezed the trigger on his release.  His arrow found its mark high and a little further back than he wished.  The doe ran off toward the west leaving Sam to wonder about the shot.  Time seems to nearly stop while waiting to take up the trail.  It is during this time that one’s mind begins to play tricks on you. A full range of emotions takes over.  Joy and excitement often give way to worry and apprehension.  Was it a good shot?  Will we find her?  How far will she go?

We took up the trail about a hour later.  About 20 yards down the trail we found a little blood. We followed her about 75 yards but after finding very little blood we decided to wait until morning.  As they say: “When In doubt, back out”.  We were a little nervous about the weather.  It had been 82 degrees yesterday.  It was supposed to dip down to 48 over night so I decided we would wait.

Sam had to go to school which left me to look for her on my own.  Would this be like his Muzzle Loader doe last fall? I had taken up the trail on that deer the next morning and found her while he was in school. He, of course, offered to skip school and help but the Dad in me thought that was a bad idea.   This morning was the annual See You At The Pole prayer at the School.  As the Fellowship Of Christian Athletes Sponsor I wanted to be there to support the students.  I finally got away at 8:30 and began the search.  I quickly found the spot we had marked and devised a plan.  I had gone a little further west last night and found nothing so I guessed she might have made a left turn.  I followed a trail to the south but after finding nothing I circled around to the west and headed back to where we had marked the last sign. I found the trail she had been on and worked back to the last point we had marked.  Almost immediately I found her lying on the same trail.  She was only 30 yards from where we had marked the last blood sign.  I most likely walked less than 15 feet from her in the darkness last night.  Sam had hit her high about mid-body.  The arrow sliced through the liver and into the abdominal cavity.  The lack of blood was caused by the high angle of the hit with no exit wound.  The doe had gone about 100 yards and had died within seconds.   Sam is still in school and hasn’t seen her.  I can’t wait to see his excitement when he arrives home this afternoon.   God has provided again.  I thank God daily for the opportunities I have as a dad to spend time with my kids enjoying His awesome creation.  Next week is our early antlerless firearm season.  I plan to spend some time in a blind on the same alfalfa field with my 12 year old daughter Mattie.   It will be awesome.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Public Land Challenges

Permission to hunt private land in my area of Nebraska is very difficult to come by.  Much of the land suitable for bowhunting whitetails has been leased by others.  Lease payments are not in my budget so I have to make due with the kindness of others or public ground.  I have a good friend who is extremely gracious and has given me permission to hunt his ground along the Platte River.  I love hunting there but have to be careful about over hunting the area.  The only access is from the south across an alfalfa field.  This results in bumping deer almost every time out. Very quickly the bucks have us patterned and disappear during daylight hours.  I am making a big effort this year to hunt this ground only a few times until early November when the bucks are on their feet seeking does.  About 35 miles south of us lies Harlan County Lake.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers IMG_0770maintains this area which includes 31,000 acres.  Over 15,000 of these acres are open to public hunting.  We have hunted several different areas of this land over the past few seasons.  This past summer we spent considerable time scouting a new area west of the lake.  This area is a mixture of  agricultural fields including Corn, Soybeans, Alfalfa and Winter Wheat along with wooded river bottom along the Republican River.  After studying satellite maps we settled on an area where a narrow strip of woods separates corn and bean fields.  We picked a spot on the map and headed out to survey the area.  We quickly found several well used deer trails being used to travel between a corn field and alfalfa.  We set out a camera  and gave it a week to see what was passing through the area.   While we have yet to photograph any shooter bucks, we have seen lots of does and small bucks on the pictures.  Our hope is that the big guys will show up once the corn is picked over the next couple of weeks. We hung several stands and anxiously awaited the season opener.  As I mentioned in Missing the Mark, on our first morning hunt we arrived late only to find that the ropes had been cut on Jesse’s ladder stand.  I retied them and left him  for the morning sit.  He did not see a deer but we still felt this stand was in a good place.  This past Saturday morning we once again headed for the ditch stand as we call it.  This time I checked the stand before allowing him to climb up.  Once again, I discovered that the ropes had been cut.  As I did a week ago, I retied the ropes and left him for the morning hunt.  This week he saw several deer and had three opportunities for a shot at does.  Unfortunately he got busted as he drew each time.  Jesse has taken several deer with a firearm but this is his first archery season.   He is enjoying the added challenge and trials of close range hunting.

IMG_0767Now I have decision to make.  Should we persevere or give up the spot.  Clearly, someone wants us to leave the area. I don’t know who is cutting the ropes.  We have only hunted this area twice and have yet to see anyone while hunting.  It is possible that we have moved into an area that has been hunted by this individual for years.  No one has exclusive rights on public land.  Sharing the woods is just a fact of life with public ground hunting.  I am more than a little concerned that an individual who would cut the ropes could cause us even more trouble.  I plan to hunt the Platte River this week and will have to make some decisions regarding the Corps ground before we head south again. I don’t know if we will persevere with this stand.  It might not be worth the effort. 

Perseverance is vitally important in all areas of life as well as in the Christian life .  James tells us in chapter 1 that we should consider it pure joy when we face trials because these trials produce perseverance in us which in turn produces maturity in our faith.  In other words, trials strengthen our faith as we persevere through them.   Archery hunting is the same way.  Each and every miss make us a better shot as we are forced to go back to the range.  Every time we get busted while drawing we learn something about the animal and determine to do it better next time.  No one enjoys these trials but they are things that make us better.   The next time we are tempted to complain about a hardship, remember that God will use it to strengthen our faith and develop perseverance in us.  And that is a difficult yet great Harvest Lesson.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Across The River

Platte River 092211Over there, across the Platte River is where the big ones like to hang out.  Over the last several years the river has been less than knee deep in this area and could be crossed relatively easily.  Because of the huge snowpack in the Rockies last winter, the river continues to have well above normal flows.  This might keep us from hunting the Island this year.  My dad is coming out to hunt the rut during the second week of November and is counting on hunting across the river.  Last year he broke his whisker biscuit while crossing the river and then later that afternoon missed a real giant while hunting the Island.  It will be a big disappointment if he can’t cross the river. 

While there was too much water in our area this year many of our neighbors to the south continue with severe drought.  Crops have failed and pasture ground has burned up.  Farms and livelihoods have been destroyed.  On the other end of the spectrum many have lost homes and businesses to flooding from the Midwest to the Mid Atlantic.  My home state of New Jersey has been especially hard hit with flooding after Hurricane Irene.    As many struggle with flooding and others with drought we recognize that God is sovereign over all creation.  Our hope is in the Lord alone. He is the rock of our salvation.  So we pray for those who are hurting due to each extreme and trust God in any and every situation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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IMG_0577Sam and I headed to the Platte River after school yesterday for our fourth hunt of the season.  He chose to sit in the dry channel stand.  He had missed a shooter buck at the edge of dark from this stand on Saturday evening and was anxious to get another chance.  He knew there was a good chance that the buck would steer clear but felt it was worth a shot.  As it turned out he saw no deer at all on this sit.  I chose a stand closer to the river.  Jesse had seen several deer and passed up a spike from this stand on Saturday.   Around 6:00 I saw movement one hundred yards to the west.  A deer was walking away.  I gasped as he turned toward the north.  This was a definite shooter.  His bright white rack was glistening in the late afternoon sun.  All I could do however, was watch him walk away.  He was headed for the river rather than the alfalfa field.   A few minutes later I saw a doe east of me.  She was feeding in an open section and appeared to be headed my way.  As my heart raced anticipating the shot, I watched her closing the distance.  And then without warning she turned north and disappeared into the Cedars.  I thought she might pass by to the north so I readied for a possible shot.  Just then a buck bounded out of the cedars twenty yards away.  He put the brakes on and came to a stop at five yards.  He was downwind and had his nose in the air.  He knew danger was lurking.  In spite of my Scent-lock base layers and my scent free spray, this buck knew he smelled danger.  For the next five minutes he stood there inspecting the air trying to figure out where the danger was.  All the while I stood motionless above him.  His dark brown eyes scanned far and wide but never up.  So there we each stood in a show down.  He trying to find me and me trying to remain undetected.  As he stood there I surveyed his antlers.  His left main beam had 4 points.  Each point was about four inches in length.  On the right he carried three points of about the same length.  At a year and half old he was a decent seven point buck.  But in 3 or 4 years he will be a great buck.  In spite of all his efforts this buck just couldn’t find the source of the odor he knewIMG_0574 meant danger.  Eventually he decided to trust his nose and bounded off into the thick cover of the cedars.  I remember a day when I wouldn’t have thought twice about shooting this buck.  I would have gladly sent my arrow on its way and proudly placed my tag on his antlers.   In recent years I have learned the art of patience in bow hunting.  If as archers our goal is to shoot a mature buck, then we must allow young bucks to walk by.  My hope is that one day a few years from now this same buck will bound out of the cedars and fall to my arrow.  This reminds me of the Christian life.  Patience is in fact included in Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5.  In Christ we are changed by the Spirit working in and through us.  As we mature in Christ we are called to display more and more patience.  This patience allows us to walk humbly and obediently with God looking forward to eternal life.  Hebrews 12:2 says “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Jesus displayed great patience as he endured the pain and humiliation of the cross in order that he would cleanse us from all sin.  Patience in bow hunting can pay off when we place our tag on a mature buck.  Patience in life allows us to fix our eyes on Jesus rather than the daily circumstances we might face.    And that is a great harvest lesson. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Missing The Mark

Late, I hate to be late  I was brought up to be 10 minutes early for everything.   This was our first morning hunt of the season and we were late.  After leaving the house 10 minutes late we discovered fog so thick I couldn't see the gravel road  This of course would slow us down even more.   About 4 miles later I remembered I had left my harness at home and then Sam remembered we had left our tree steps in the other pickup and Toby would not be able to climb into his stand.  I knew I had to go back   Now about 25 minutes later I chose to take the pavement .  The trip is slightly longer but at least I could follow the white line through the fog   We finally arrived at our new spot on public ground near Orleans, Ne.  First light was only 15 minutes away   Sam headed for his spot and Toby found the stand we had hung for him while he was away at college. My youngest son Jesse is 14 and his stand is harder to find so I took him in.   As he began to ascend the ladder I noticed the stabilizer bars flopping   Someone had cut the ropes.  Yes, it is always interesting when hunting public land.   So I dug in my pack for the rope I always carry and tied them to the tree again.   Then I headed for my stand.   By now it was nearly sunrise as I climbed the ladder. I quickly got settled and sat down to take a breath when I heard it.   It has been 9 months since I last heard this sound but there was no mistake   A deer was coming.  5 minutes into my first morning hunt of the season a year and a half old 3x3 buck stepped out at 25 yards.  Normally I wouldn't have even consider shooting but this buck appeared to have a significant front leg injury.   Had one of the boys shot this buck?   I didn't know what to do.   Permits are 30 dollars and I would need a new buck tag.   Nebraska only allows two bucks a year.  The buck was clearly in pain.   My mind raced through the options   Finally I decided I would have to take this deer if he gave me a shot.   I couldn't let him limp past without an attempt   I grunted at him at 25 yards but he stopped a half step early with no shot available.  Then he took a step.  There it was, a 27 yard quartering away shot  But he was alert and ready to go.   I drew, set the pin behind his injured shoulder, and shot low and way left.   What!!!!    IMG_0561 After all the practice how could I miss him that badly?   I had simply missed the mark.   After he walked away I sat down and thought about it.   I don't think I ever set my anchor point. And I aimed generally behind the shoulder but I had not picked an exact spot.   Both are elementary mistakes I should not make at this point in my hunting career.  Yet, this little buck limped off and left me with the "what ifs".  I will come up with lots of excuses as I explain it to my boys and my dad but in the end I simply missed the mark.  And that got me to thinking.   Our English word "sin" comes from the world of Archery.   In old English when an archer would miss the target they would say he sinned or missed the mark.   Every day I miss the mark of God's holiness.   The penalty for missing this mark is death.   I miss the mark and Jesus dies for me.   That’s not a fair trade, yet Jesus offers each of us salvation through this trade.  And that is a great harvest lesson.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Opening Day


Opening day 11As I wiped the sweat from my brow on a hot 90 degree mid September afternoon it was hard to believe that the Nebraska Archery Opener was just three days away.  I had a little bit of free time on Monday and was able to get in some solid practice on the back yard archery range.  This Spring I was able to purchase a slightly used Hoyt Turbo Hawk  from a friend.  I had the awesome privilege of taking a Turkey with it in April. Turkey 11 But this is my first deer season with the new bow.  Previously I had been using a Browning Mag Reflex that I had purchased with college graduation money in 1990.  As I practiced on that hot late summer day I was pleased to shoot solid groups at 40 yards.  I even took a few shots at 50 yards and did ok, though I can’t imagine shooting at a deer that far.  With my old bow 30 yards was my max and even that was not certain.   As the opener dawned we were met with temperatures in the low 40s and rain.  I had to work most of the day so I was left to day dream about the bucks walking past our stands.  Finally the time had come.  Sam was home from school and we headed out for our first hunt of the new season.  The wind was completely wrong and the rain persisted so we decided to set up a ground blind on an alfalfa field 20 yards downwind of a trail the deer use to enter the field.   As I set up, I noticed a scrape along the fence line.   Scrapes, this early?  I have never seen scrapes in mid September before.   Not long after setting up, deer began entering the field a couple hundred yards north of us.  We knew most deer entered there but there was no way we could set up in that location because of the wind direction.  We saw several does and two small bucks, a spike and a fork.  All we could do was enjoy the show and hope deer would enter the field closer to us.  Both Sam and I had spent a great deal of time on the range honing our shooting skills.  We each had modern equipment more than adequate for deer hunting.  But on this opener we had no deer closer than 200 yards.  40 Yards is what I can do, any animal beyond that is safe in spite of all my practice.  This got me to thinking.   No amount of striving, practice, or expensive equipment could change our circumstances.  On this night we were in the wrong location.  Nothing we could do would change that.   So the deer fed peacefully never knowing that we were 200 yards south.  This reminds me of the great message of the Gospel.  On my own, no amount of striving or religious work can ever earn God’s love.  I am a sinner without hope so long as I keep trying to earn God’s favor.  Yet, God himself came to earth and endured the cross in order that he would put me in the right spot.  He nailed my sin to the cross and I am forever saved by his grace.   And that is a great Harvest Lesson.