When I look back on, "my best years," they're the years where I accomplished the most, the years I learned, the years I grew, and the years I felt things that set my heart and soul on fire. At 21 years young, the only things I had really harvested were whitetail, turkeys, and a pronghorn, which is more than some people can say, but the year I turned twenty-two, would prove to be my golden year as a hunter.
April Tom - A Single Pellet.
My turkey season had not been successful. I had tried everything from sitting in a blind, using decoys, not using decoys, calling, not calling, and whenever Toms would start to come in, a hen would swoop in (figuratively), and take them away before I could get a shot off. It was the last day of my season, and my Dad and I had spent 3 hours on a Tom that was far off. I was desperate. The Tom was taking his sweet time coming our way, but regardless, he was coming towards us. My Dad did the calling for me and I was continuously telling him to keep calling, even though he would argue it was too much. Hours later, I finally spotted the Tom in the distance. This sit, I had decided to put decoys out and when he saw the decoys, he became curious, but kept his distance. He was watching them, as I kept getting on my Dad to keep calling to him. He would gobble and strut towards us, slowly inching for the decoys, but after what seemed like forever, I couldn't take it anymore. Since we didn't have a range finder back then, we gauged that he was sitting at about 60 yards. A poke for our Benelli Nova. I remember telling my Dad, "as soon as he hits that rise, I'm taking a shot." My gut was telling me everything was right. Sure enough, he hit the rise in the field, and I took the shot. The Tom took off running and my heart sank a little as I watched him go, reloading just in case. No sooner did he hit the Alfalfa and I saw him go down. "He's down! Oh my gosh, he's down!" My Dad didn't believe me but when he looked and could no longer see the bird, he through the blind up over our heads and took off running. I was quick to follow. This was interesting to watch considering he has only one good hamstring! He will never let me live it down that he beat me to my bird. Sure enough, there in the Alfalfa it laid, with my thickest and longest beard to date. Later on when we were cleaning my bird, all we could find was a single pellet in the neck from my shotgun shell, and ever since, we've referred to it as the magic bee-bee.
September Bear - Bear Down.
After a 10 year wait, I finally drew a Wisconsin Black Bear tag. The downfall of drawing then however, was that dogs would run first. I have always been the kind of hunter that likes a challenge, and had hoped to sit over bait. Waiting 10 years for a tag, I eventually decided I'd take advantage of the opportunity to run dogs. When you wait so long for something like that, something you've never done or harvested, I can't help but think you have to live everyday to the fullest and take advantage of opportunities like that. Even then, I wasn't confident I would get one. I'm fortunate to have a cousin in Northern Wisconsin that is a Veterinarian and has had to patch up a bear dog or two. Over the years, we had opportunities to get to know a group of guys that let us tag along on several runs, and they had taken my Grandpa and Dad out to several spots when they harvested their black bears, so it was a no brainer, I would join them. They were incredibly patient with my pickiness, and would help me gauge how big several bears were, and finally, the third time was the charm. I harvested my very first 250lb (field- dressed) Wisconsin Black Bear with my rifle. Although I was ecstatic I had harvested my most massive animal, I learned a lot about what I want to do in the future. I'm extremely grateful for the experience because it's an incredibly difficult animal to harvest, and it's something others may never experience. In the future, I plan to go with my bow and sit over bait. Side Note: Being the Packer fans we are, we made a habit of eating bear steaks whenever Green Bay would play Chicago. Bear Down!
October Ducks - Confidence and Comfort Zones.
Growing up I had never duck hunted. In fact, it was never really on my radar, but when I went off to college, I fell for a duck hunter. He wasn't as big of a bowhunter as I was, but we were willing to learn from each other. Eventually a dog came into the picture, and I was determined to go duck hunting to see her at work. The Wisconsin duck opener rolled around, and we were off to the marsh. I had practiced shooting leading up to our October hunt and had got my hands on my first pair of waders. Duck hunting was a brand new animal...literally. I felt so out of my element, walking through creek bottoms, through and across rivers, and through the marsh grass. I was excited to experience something where I would get to shoot more than one thing! Sure enough, after several missed shots, I got my first teal and the dog was retrieving the birds perfectly! It was a first for us both and we were having a blast. I felt so proud because I had branched out and tried something I had never done, and successfully harvested another new animal. It gave me the same feeling as going somewhere new, as if it was a vacation. It was also different because it was also the first hunt I had done without my Dad. Ultimately, I wished he had been there. We had sat separately before, but I had never been on a hunting trip without him. It raised my confidence and I realized that I was capable of having a successful hunt without having him there. November Buck - Swamp Buck
Prior to the Wisconsin gun opener, my Dad and I had decided to set a stand down in a swamp we hadn't really hunted much. I was used to hunting in the timber on the other side of the road and had never really ventured outside of my usual spots, let alone sat in a treestand for gun season. We typically sit on the ground because it gives us more opportunity to sneak up on deer since we hunt in the hills. This was the first gun season my Dad and I wouldn't sit together. This provided me with independence and a chance to build my confidence even more. However, I always prefer sitting together because there was usually some goofing off involved, but also a more immediate chance to celebrate a harvest together. On a cold, frosty November morning around 7:00A.M. I heard the crunching of leaves and could see a shadow of a body slowly making its way through the thick brush. My hopes weren't high because I had never seen a shooter during the gun season that wasn't running from something or someone. As he stepped out, everything around me fell quiet and soon, all I could hear was the obnoxious rattling of my stand from my legs shaking uncontrollably. I looked him over for awhile and as soon as he looked away from me, it was a no brainer that I wanted to make him my biggest Whitetail harvest. I got ready and made sure I had a perfectly solid shot, and slowly squeezed the trigger. My heart felt like it was pumping out of my chest as I watched him run 20 yards, lower his head to the ground, and collapse. I couldn't wait to get down and get my hands on that rack! I remember texting my Dad, "BBD! BBD!" I wanted him to get there so we could celebrate together. I waited for him to come on the walkie talkie and heard him say, " Was that you?!" When I gave him the summary, he told me him and my Grandpa would sit the rest of the morning, then would be down to help pull him out. I climbed down out of my stand, walking up to what would end up being my first wall mount, field dressed him, and snapped a billion pictures, sending them out to every hunting buddy I had ever made. As a hunter, I gained so much confidence in myself that year. I realized I was capable of doing things on my own, making key decisions on my own, and that I was capable of being successful on my own. I learned what kind of hunter I wanted to be, what my priorities are, and what I value. Some might say it was all luck, and they're probably right, but I think it's what you make of that luck. I harvested some of my best animals, including two new species, and opened myself up to new opportunities that helped me grow into the outdoorsman I am now.