Dan Koboldt

Sep 142016
 

Hunting deer and turkey in the Midwest generally involves a lot of waiting around. You set up in a tree stand or ground blind, and you try to stay as still as possible. As quiet as possible. For a long, long time. And so when I’m planning hunts, there’s always a temptation to bring something else that I need to get done, something I’m reading or supposed to be writing.

Others have suggested this to me too, because it does seem like I spend an awful lot of time out in the woods. But the thing is, I can’t bring anything else with me. Because I’m busy while I’m hunting. There’s actually a lot to do, and allow me to offer a partial list:

The Setup

deer eating while hunting

Credit: dwilliss on Flickr

When I’ve established my ambush site, most of the time I’ve spent a good half hour or hour sneaking into the location. Now there’s plenty to do:

  • Set up the blind. I have a pop-up blind that goes up in about two minutes. It’s the best thing ever, but getting just the right angle and position is critical. I want multiple clear shooting lanes, good visibility, and an angle that helps conceal the drawing of my bow.
  • Locate and lay out equipment. I was in the Boy Scouts as a kid, and it shows in the amount of gear I bring out. I’ll have my bow and arrows handy, of course, but I’ll also want calls, cover scent, a windicator, and most importantly my hunting binoculars within easy reach.
  • Find a comfortable sitting position. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s important, because I may need to sit absolutely still for hours while being ready to draw and shoot on a moment’s notice.
Busy while deer hunting

Credit: WDNR

Sunrise Surveillance

Most days I’m hunting mornings, which means I’ll set up in the darkness before sunrise. By the time I’m set up, the woods are in twilight, and shooting hours are approaching.

Sure, it’s light enough for me to read or something, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry:

  • Looking and listening for turkey fly-downs. I’ve rarely (if ever) been able to spot birds while still on the roost, but there’s no mistaking when one flies down. Or when you bump one, for that matter.
  • Visual scouting. If I’ve done my job well, there could still be game in the area. Those first few minutes of shooting light are the perfect opportunity to spot them.
  • Distance landmarks. As soon as it’s light enough, I start estimating distances in my shooting lanes. I choose landmarks for 20 and 30 yards. It’s much better to do this now, when things are calm and I can constantly re-evaluate.

Keeping Busy While Hunting

Turkey busy while hunting

This would keep me busy

So the hunt has begun, and the middle section is always the longest part. Often I’ll spend an hour sneaking in, half an hour setting up, and then at least two or three hours of, you know, waiting. Here’s how I pass the time:

  • Watching the woods. It may not be obvious, but with a 270-degree view, dense woods, and variable terrain, simply watching for game is a full-time endeavor. Any flicker of movement could be important. Constant vigilance!
  • Listening and locating sounds. The woods are rarely quiet, especially during daylight hours. Listening for animals walking on leaves, turkey scratching or clucking, or other signs of game keeps me busy. I also spend a lot of time wondering, what was that sound? I’ve heard some strange sounds while hunting. The ones that sound like a baby crying are just haunting.
  • Calling or rattling.  In Missouri, the archery permit is good for 2 deer and 2 turkeys. Between all of my deer calls for different situations, and various turkey calls, I have a lot of options. I may even try out my predator calls.
  • Playing it safe. Because I hunt on public land, I need to constantly be on the lookout for other hunters, especially during firearms season. I also try to check in with “home base” when I can, by radio or cell.

As you can see, there’s plenty to keep me busy while hunting. Not that I haven’t tried bringing out a notebook or a bit of reading before. It almost always ends up being dead weight. All things being equal, I’d rather just sit and enjoy being out in the woods.

Sep 132016
 

must-read books on huntingHunting, for many of us, can be a year-round and lifelong pursuit. Ideally, all of those devoted hours would be spent in the woods, but we know that’s not the case. Seasons, weather, work, and family often keep us out of the woods. There’s even a lot of hunting-related preparation that must be done before any outings.

One way that I try to improve as a hunter is to learn from others. There are good magazines out there — you probably already know my bias for Field & Stream — but I like a good book sometimes, too. Hundreds of books have been written, but I have a few favorite books about deer hunting, turkey hunting, or general outdoorsmanship.

Deer Hunting Books

The whitetail deer is the most popular game animal in North America, a fact reflected by the slew of books and articles written about it.

Bill Vaznis hunting books

500 Deer Hunting Tips: Strategies, Techniques & Methods

by Bill Vaznis

I read this book on my Kindle, because by the end of the sample chapter I was hooked. Bill Vaznis is an accomplished but humble deer hunter, and he offers a lot of good advice covering many aspects of deer hunting, from scouting and strategy to accurate shooting and after the harvest. Will every one of his 500 tips be completely new and applicable to you? Probably not. But many of them will be, and it’s a quick, easy-to-read format.

Chris Eberhart and John Eberhart hunting books

Bowhunting Whitetails the Eberhart Way

by Chris Eberhart and John Eberhart
This father-son team made a name for themselves in their year-round approach to hunting pressured whitetails in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New England, Ohio, and other heavily-hunted states. This book covers their approaches to quality deer management, suburban and exurban hunting strategies, utilizing new hunting technology and gear, etc.

John Eberhart and Chris Eberhart hunting books

Precision Bowhunting: A Year-Round Approach to Taking Mature Whitetails Paperback

by John Eberhart and Chris Eberhart
This book, published two years later, lays out a year-long program for locating, scouting, and eventually hunting whitetails. The emphasis is on scouting and preparation to go after the most elusive of whitetail quarry: mature bucks that have survived for years on public land. They’re out there, and the Eberharts map out a twelve-month plan for taking one during the rut next year.

Scott Leysath hunting books

The Sporting Chef’s Better Venison Cookbook Paperback

by Scott Leysath
Harvesting a deer is only the beginning of the hunter’s experience. If you were successful, you’ll end up with a lot of venison to get through winter. I’ve shared my favorite venison recipes already, but author and Sporting Chef celebrity Scott Leysath has a hundred in this cookbook, from appetizers and soups to stews and grilled venison.

Turkey Hunting Books

Turkey hunting is another favorite pastime of mine, particularly because you can hunt them in both the spring and the fall in Missouri. One of my favorite books, In the Turkey Woods, is no longer in print. However, there’s another good recommendation I can make.

Ray Eye hunting books

Practical Turkey Hunting Strategies

by Ray Eye
Here’s of the most popular turkey hunting books written in the last decade. Ray Eye is one of the foremost turkey hunting experts in the world, and here’s a bonus: he lives in Missouri, about an hour south of me. His book tells you how to effectively hunt wild turkey under any conditions: with gun or bow, alone or with a partner, in the spring or in the fall. He covers the entire hunt, from locating the turkeys, finding the best set up, calling, and making the shot. Definitely worth a read before this spring!

General Hunting and Outdoors Books

A hunter benefits from being a well-rounded woodsman. Here are a couple of books to help with that.

T. Edward Nickens hunting books

Field & Stream Total Outdoorsman Manual

by T. Edward Nickens
In this manual, T. Edward Nickens is joined by Field & Stream experts to cover 374 essential outdoor skills. It’s got hunting, including the pursuit, taking, and preparation of wild game. It’s got fly-fishing and spin-fishing, boating/kayaking, and other skills for the water. It even goes into camping and survival skills. It’s like all of the F&S skills articles wrapped into a single book.

Theodore Roosevelt hunting books

Hunting Trips of a Ranchman & The Wilderness Hunter

by Theodore Roosevelt
Last but not least is a book written more than a century ago by Teddy Roosevelt — the father of conservation, who founded the U.S. Forestry Service — and well before he became president. It’s basically the story of his pursuit of a 1200 pound grizzly through the Dakota badlands.

The second part of the book is an essay about Roosevelt’s love for the outdoors (and man’s place among them). It’s not hard to imagine why he went on to play such a pivotal role in nature & conservation as president of the U.S.

Sep 122016
 

The rut is winding down, the weather’s cold, and there’s a whole heap of venison in the freezer. If you had a successful hunt this year, or simply got your hands on some fresh venison, you’re in for some hearty (but healthy) meals this winter. Venison is a lean meat and requires a bit of special treatment while being prepared, but done right it’s just as good as anything you can buy at the grocery store. Probably better. It’s fresh, it’s organic, and for most hunters, it’s hard-won.

Inspired by some of the delicious venison meals my wife and I have prepared — after my successful bowhunt this October — I’ve compiled my six favorite recipes.

grilling venison steak

Venison Steak on the Grill

1. Grilled Venison Steak

Depending on how it’s processed, a deer might yield a dozen or more thick but lean steaks. There are numerous ways to prepare these, but my favorite has to be a slow marination followed by quick grilling at high heat.

Because of the low fat content, venison grills well and usually won’t cause flare-ups. If it’s frozen, defrost in the refrigerator for about 24 hours.

A good marinade goes a long way to lock in the juices and give the meat a good flavor.

Easy Venison Marinade Recipe

Here’s an easy marinade to try first. These measurements are for a venison steak in the 1.5 pound range, so adjust accordingly:

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoons minced/chopped onion or 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Preparation:

  1. Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly in a small bowl or cup that pours well.
  2. Place the venison steak in a 1-gallon ziploc bag, then put the bag in a casserole dish or jar.
  3. Pour in the marinade, coating the steak as well as you can.
  4. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 4 hours. Overnight (12 hours) is even better. Flip the steak halfway through.
  5. Remove and put on an already-hot grill. No need to baste or anything else.
  6. Grill over high heat, 4-6 minutes per side, depending on your doneness preference. It’s a good idea to have a meat thermometer on hand to monitor the temperature. Venison has a reddish color, so it’s harder to tell than beef when it’s done.

2. Ground Venison Lasagna

Venison Lasagna Recipe

Lasagna with Ground Venison

The processor gave me more ground venison than any other cut, and this is to be expected. Ground venison freezes hard and keeps well; you can use it for nearly any recipe where you might otherwise have ground beef or ground turkey.

When browning ground venison, you should provide some vegetable oil or butter (1-2 teaspoons per pound) since the lean meat produces very little oil on its own.

Lasagna is a good option for introducing ground venison to the family, especially if they love lasagna made with ground beef. By the time you have the noodles, the sauce, the ricotta cheese, and some melted cheese on top, it’s hard to truly see or taste the  meat anyway. We made a full tray lasagna with classic (boiled) noodles, but this would also work with no-bake noodles.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of ground venison, browned in pan
  • 1 (9 ounce) box of no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 1 jar pasta sauce

 Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat the eggs in a medium-sized bowl. Blend in ALL of the ricotta cheese, and half (2 cups) of the mozzarella. Set this aside, and get out the 9×13″ pan. Here are the layers you’ll build (bottom to top).

  1. Spread about 1/3 of the pasta sauce (1 cup) on the bottom. Lay 4 uncooked noodles on top.
  2. Pile on 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, half of the meat, 1 cup mozzarella, and 1 cup of sauce.
  3. Next layer, 4 uncooked lasagna noodles, 1/3 part of the ricotta cheese mixture, and 1 1/2 cups sauce.
  4. Next layer, 4 uncooked lasagna noodles, remaining ricotta mixture and remained meat, 1 cup of sauce.
  5. For top layer, 4 uncooked lasagna noodles, remaining sauce, and remaining 1 cup mozzarella.

Cover with foil and bake for about an hour (60 minutes). Uncover and leave in the oven for 5 minutes until the cheese on top is nice and brown. Then you pull out the lasagna and let stand for at least 10 minutes. Cut, serve, and enjoy. Share some with a neighbor, as we did. Everybody loves lasagna, right?

3. Hearty Venison Stew

Venison stew recipe

Venison Stew in the Crockpot

The roast and tenderloin cuts of venison are ideal for cooking in the crockpot. These meals are best on a cold day when you can let them stew for several hours.

First, prepare beef gravy by dissolving 2 bouillon cubes in 2 cups of boiling water. In a separate bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of corn starch into 1/4 cup of cold water. Add this to the boiling water to thicken it.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of venison roast or tenderloin
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
  • Seasoning of choice (garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper)
  • Beef gravy from above
  • Vegetables of choice (carrots, potatoes, celery)

Preparation:

  1. Thaw the venison roast or tenderloin for 24 hours in the refrigerator
  2. Dump all ingredients into the crockpot, cover, and cook on HIGH for at least 4 hours.

4. Venison Chili

Here’s another great use of ground venison: substitute it for ground beef in your favorite chili recipe. It’s another thing you can do in the crock pot, if you allow a few hours for stewing. Here’s ours.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of ground venison, browned
  • 2 cans of dark red kidney beans
  • 2 cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 onion, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1.5 tablespoons of chili seasoning

Preparation:

  1. Brown the venison in a frying pan. Rinse with cool water.
  2. Return meat to pan, add a bit of water and the chili seasoning.
  3. Simmer for a few minutes
  4. Add the meat and the other ingredients to the crock pot.
  5. Cook in the crock pot on low for at least 3-4 hours.

 

Aug 302016
 

Realities of deer huntingOctober has always been my favorite month for a variety of reasons. It’s got the seasonal change, my birthday, Halloween, and (in Missouri) the first full month of bowhunting season. In the Midwest and many places, the so-called October lull has challenged deer hunters because it’s a transition period. But my success at taking a deer with my bow earlier this month proves that there are no certainties when it comes to deer hunting.

It inspired this list of 10 things every deer hunter might want to stop and think about.

1. No need to obsess on scent control

Since deer live by their sense of smell, we hunters focus a lot on defeating it as best we can. We spray neutralizers and cover scents on everything, we avoid strong unnatural odors like smoke and gasoline. This seems reasonable; there’s no need to do the smell-equivalent of shouting as we walk into the woods. Beyond that, though, I’ve questioned how much of it is necessary. At close range, say 50 yards or less, a deer that wanders downwind is probably going to smell you.

This happened on my hunt earlier this month; a pair of deer came down the ridge directly downwind and by the time I heard them, they were already bugging out.

2. The wind giveth, the wind taketh away

Hunting the wind is generally a good idea when pursuing whitetails. In my experience, however, the wind is highly unpredictable. I love Accuweather’s hourly forecast, and I use it before every hunt, but I still trust my own senses when I’m out in the field. On the morning of my successful hunt, they’d predicted wind out of the west/southwest, but it was more out of the southeast.

The wind was also gusty that day, which I really hate. I’ve read and heard from multiple sources that on blustery days, deer tend to bed down because they have trouble using their sense of smell. You know what, though? I saw more deer that morning than any of my other outings the month prior.

Also, the wind changes. Even mid-hunt. You can’t even rely on constancy.

3. Scouting is good. Hunting is better.

whitetail deer hunting realitiesMany of the prolific hunter-writers (like the Eberharts) put a huge emphasis on scouting, especially during the pre- and off-season. I agree that it can provide valuable information, especially when done systematically. Whether or not extensive scouting actually delivers a more successful hunt is a matter of some debate. For one thing, the habits of game animals tend to change (both naturally and because of the presence of hunters) around hunting season.

I have the opinion, especially after my experiences this month, that no amount of scouting is a substitute for actual hunting time. This is especially true for me, because I am not quite willing to get up two hours before sunrise just for a scouting mission. When you’re hunting (as opposed to scouting), with so much on the line, I try to do it all right: getting up early, slipping quietly through the woods, and waiting in complete stillness for long periods of time.

With all of the personal, marital, and financial investment it takes to to actually get out into the woods, I make every moment of hunting count. I’m working my calls, or ranging the distance to landmarks, or scanning that distant ridge with my binoculars. Because of this constant vigilance, I’m far more likely to see something interesting. In the case of my most recent hunt, I set my blind up on the middle of a ridge — a place I might not normally choose, if I hadn’t seen several deer descending the ridge at a diagonal across that spot.

I like this rule because it means that fruitless hunts become scouting expeditions, opportunities to study up and plan a more successful hunt next time.

4. Calling for Deer is a Gamble

As hunters seeking mostly prey animals, we very much like the idea of proactively luring otherwise cautious game into shooting range. At least, I like that idea. The reality is that calling deer is very different from calling turkeys or predators. Those last two types of game rely on hearing to communicate throughout life. Turkeys routinely call back and forth to one another to meet up in the woods. Coyotes and foxes home in on the sounds of animals in distress. That’s part of why calling them works so well.

Primos doe bleat can

The Can by Primos

With deer it’s a unique situation: they use their hearing mostly to detect and avoid danger. Most deer communication is done using their fantastic sense of smell. The pros will tell you that the buck roar or a plaintive doe bleat will draw in a dominant buck during the rut. That may be true, but the success rate is probably much, much lower. Many times I’ve used a variety of calling techniques on deer that were in view, and they almost always ignored me.

There is one unique situation when deer calling has worked for me, and that’s the simple grunt call to stop a moving deer. Whether the grunt reassures or simply confuses them to buy the hunter that extra moment, I can’t say, but it’s incredibly valuable. When I took my deer earlier this month, I had trouble drawing the bow at first. Not sure why. The doe saw me struggling and was about to bolt, but I hit my grunt call. She held long enough for me to draw and make a good shot.

I’m not saying that using deer calls like The Original Can is a bad idea. It almost certainly can’t hurt, but most likely your efforts will be ignored.

5. Expect the Unexpected While Hunting

I went out earlier this month thinking I’d see more turkeys than deer. Instead I didn’t see or hear a turkey — which is very unusual, given that they roosted right in that area — but I saw more deer than ever. Many, if not most of my hunts don’t seem to go as expected. It’s a different animal, coming from a different direction, at a different time, than I could have predicted. They seem to ignore every game trail I’ve marked and create their own.

When I head into the woods, I feel like I take a lot of gear. Calls, decoys, a knife, binoculars, the ever essential GPS, another knife… and yet, I’m always thinking of something I forgot. Something I wasn’t ready for. That’s another thing I plan for the next hunt: something else to bring along.

6. Patience and Persistence Matter

I’ve been hunting the same piece of public land in north-central Missouri for several years. I’ve come to know it well, and had several close calls with turkeys or deer there. I withstood the occasional ribbing from neighbors when I came back empty-handed. On that fateful morning I did everything just right. An hour before sunrise, I was set up in the woods, after slipping in quietly under cover of darkness. I knew the terrain, the animals, the travel routes. Still, my opportunity to take a deer was a bit of a surprise. Five minutes earlier, when the other deer had blown out, I might have given up.

I stuck it out, though, and when that big doe walked into shooting range, I was ready. I’d put in the time at the range, gotten all the equipment just right. Even when I couldn’t draw, I had my grunt call handy and used it to good effect. Then I made an accurate shot. A clean kill. Found the deer, dragged it out, field dressed it, got it to the processor all within a couple of hours. Now I’ve got a freezer full of fresh venison, and that’s a good feeling.

7. Deer Are Heavy

Seriously. You only begin to appreciate this when you have to drag one for any distance at all. If my deer had run downhill instead of uphill, I might still be out there, lugging it slowly through the woods.

Aug 252016
 

shouldn't be out huntingI shouldn’t be out hunting,
I’m an hour late for work,
I think I had an important meeting,
So I probably shouldn’t be hunting.

I shouldn’t be out hunting,
My wife thinks I’m at work,
She’s had it up to here already,
So I shouldn’t be out hunting.

I shouldn’t be out hunting,
It’s twenty fricking degrees,
My face is numb, my toes are freezing,
So I really shouldn’t be hunting

I shouldn’t be out hunting,
My freezer’s already full,
The kids think I’m a total stranger,
So I guess I shouldn’t be hunting.

I shouldn’t be out hunting,
There’s nothing moving out here,
I haven’t seen a deer in weeks,
So maybe I shouldn’t be hunting.

I shouldn’t be out hunting,
For a hundred different reasons,
But I still came out, I always do,
There’s nothing better than hunting.