The COVID-19 outbreak hasn't, for the most part, changed the daily ongoing of life here on the homestead. Yes, we do put on a mask when we go into a store to get groceries or lumber or whatever is needed. Toby and I continued the summer rituals of cutting and splitting firewood without any impact. It's not like we see someone out on the back 40 and need to engage in social distancing. I continued to do RC plane flying with other club members at the flying field. It is an outdoor "thing" and we can easily keep a reasonable distance from each other. Donna hasn't been able to enjoy the company of her quilting friends which is probably the biggest change we've seen all year.
As for hunting and COVID-19, well, that is pretty much like cutting firewood. Typically it is a me, myself, and I event until I shoot something. This fall, I bought a small game license so I could try grouse hunting. I'd seen a few during my firewood and trail maintenance outings and thought it might be worthwhile to give it a try. I'd not hunted grouse since I lived here as a kid. Toby came with me on the hunts but alas, there was no grouse to be found once I had a shotgun in hand. We did manage, on multiple occasions, to find the local flock of wild turkeys but I gave them a pass since I didn't spend the $$ for a turkey tag. It's not that I don't like turkey hunting....I do. It's just that Minnesota charges too much for a turkey tag when you consider what goes into the freezer. And you can only get one of them, unlike ducks or grouse or pheasants.
My nephew, Jason, and his sister own property across the road from us and I help care for it as neither live nearby. This was one thing that the virus really impacted....his coming up for weekend visits to help clear existing trails of blown down trees, fertilize and plant the food plot, and cut new trails for accessing more of the property. It's not that I can't do it by myself. Simply put, I enjoy the time we get to hangout together and for Jason, it is a very welcomed break from his job. We hope this coming summer will be more accommodating as we have ambitious plans.
All summer long, I kept trail cams on or near the food plots. Wolves, bears, bobcats, coyotes, fox, raccoons, skunks, and of course deer were all captured on memory cards. Here is a sow bear and her two yearling cubs. This photo was taken mid-May. I thought about putting in for a bear license for the fall hunt. After discussing it with Donna, we decided neither of us really had a desire for bear meat so that was as far as the idea went. Killing something just because you can isn't ethical.
I got skunked on the opening weekend for deer hunting. What I later discovered on one of my game cameras is a wolf visiting the area. This happened a few days before opening day. Where I always averaged 10 to 25 photos per day on that particular camera, there was a 5 day span where no photos were taken immediately after the wolf showed up. After the 5th day, I started getting a few photos of deer. This isn't the first time I've seen the local deer population all but vanish when a wolf comes into the area. Having them visit at the beginning of deer season is the worst timing possible. It is one of several reasons that they are so hated in this part of the country.
Another day of hunting on the back 40 hay field showed a couple more deer but no bucks other than a yearling spike. I could take a doe with my license but would rather see them raising fawns next spring. Shooting a yearling is like shooting half a deer as far as the freezer goes so I avoid that too unless it is the last option. At this point, with only a couple days into the season, it wasn't an option.
I decided a change of location was needed and opted to spend an afternoon in Jason's stand. He had helped his wife fill her tag on opening weekend but had to go back to work so the stand was sitting empty. He wasn't planning to return until the upcoming weekend.
I took the Polaris down the main trail and left it a good 100 yds from the point where the trail joins the edge of the field. From there, the stand is about 25 yds up the edge of the field. It makes for a pretty good ingress/egress path. It was around 2:00 PM as I approached the end of the trail on foot, only to find two deer not 25 yds from the stand eating in the hay field. We pretty much discovered each other at the same time. With no antlers showing, I didn't feel too bad as they ran off into the woods and I climbed the ladder to get into the stand. I settled into a comfortable chair and got out my e-book. It's a nice way to pass the hours as one waits for the 30 seconds of excitement that might hopefully come.
After about 90 minutes of reading, a little forkhorn came out onto the food plot and started to slowly eat his way towards the stand. Really? Shoo! Go away! The last thing I needed was him busting me and alerting anything else in the area. A doe and fawn had also come out onto the field south of the stand. They were at least 150 yds away and didn't pose a problem as long as they stayed where they were (which they did). The field is about 500 yds long and game trails provide access in dozens of places.
About 30 minutes before sunset, another deer walked out onto the plot. I could see horns with my binoculars but couldn't clearly count the points. I carefully placed the rife on the window ledge and took at look him through the Vortex optic on my 6.5 Grendel AR rifle. 8 points....and certainly fat enough too....perfect for the freezer. I'd watched a nice buck on the nearby game cameras during the summer and this one was smaller. Perfect.....I would leave the bigger one for my nephew and take this one. Late edit: Two days after getting this one, I saw the larger buck on the game camera so he was still out there when I shot this one.
The buck continued eating his way toward my nephew's stand and had closed the distance to 80 yds, putting him very close to the forkhorn. He had came from 150 yds out and never once gave me anything but a straight on shot. I've taken deer shooting straight on but I'm not fond of doing so. When he turned his head to look into the woods, I decided it was time to stop watching. I broke my rule about making head shots and pulled the trigger. The 6.5 Grendel did its job just as it always does. He literally dropped where he was standing. I picked up my cell phone and called Donna. I needed her help to get him into the back of the Polaris for his trip to the homestead.
Here is Jason skinning their 8 point buck shot from his stand on opening weekend. He took it at the far end of the plot which puts it nearly 200 yds from the stand. The layers of fat were proof positive that the food plot was doing its job. We are still experimenting with what to plant. We've had this plot going for a couple of years now and we are consistently seeing the deer feed on it throughout the summer and all the way into firearm season.
Did I mention there are turkey around here? I pulled this photo from one of the food plot cameras. It was taken on deer season opening day several hours before the Jason put the tag on the buck. The flock averages around two dozen birds. I went turkey hunting the first season we were on the homestead. We've had them march through our yard on several occasions, walking single file in a grand display of follow the leader. They certainly enjoy the food plot as much as the deer.
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