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Bowhunting Wisconsin Whitetails and Wyoming Elk

by Todd Graf 14. September 2011 14:32
Todd Graf

‘Tis the season, folks!  As I write this blog, I am washing my clothes, fine tuning my Mathews Monster, cleaning out my truck and doing anything bowhunting related to pass the time before the Wisconsin archery opener this Saturday!  Ah, bow season is finally here!  After a terribly long offseason, I can’t wait to get up a tree Saturday morning and enjoy the beautiful scenery that Central Wisconsin has to offer.

After a slow start to the offseason with my Camtrakkers, I was finally able to get some Wisconsin shooter bucks showing up on my cameras, just in time for the season!   Honestly, while getting pictures of big bucks on trail camera during the summer is fun, it does little to help me kill them come fall, because I know their patterns will change drastically.  However, knowing where mature bucks are spending their time on my property during late August and early September can really help me get a bead on those bucks heading into the hunting season.  

I am hoping that any of these nice Wisconsin whitetails will make the mistake of walking under my stand this fall!

With the bucks seemingly coming out of the wood works in the last couple weeks, I have decided to try and implement a new strategy this fall to better my chances of harvesting a mature buck: hunting out of a ground blind.  I recently set out a hay bale blind that will enable me to hunt (successfully, hopefully) off the ground this fall.  This is a new tactic for me and one I am excited about trying.  Normally, my hunting strategy consists of me hunting out of a Lone Wolf Hang-On and set of sticks and staying mobile to keep the deer from patterning me.  In fact, my 2010 Illinois buck was a result of moving my set to get closer to the action.  However, sometimes there simply isn’t a tree suitable for a treestand of any sort where the deer are congregating, and hunting out of a ground blind is the next best option.  One thing is for sure, I can’t wait to get up close and personal with the deer this fall!

Hopefully this hay bale blind will allow me to get up closer and personal with some monster bucks this season.  

It’s hard to believe, but in just a couple of days, I will be up a tree hunting whitetails.  Even harder to believe is that following my first couple hunts in Wisconsin, I will be making a trip out to Table Mountain Outfitters in Wyoming to hunt with longtime friends Scott and Angie Denny.  I am particularly excited for this trip, and am hoping to duplicate the success I had last year antelope hunting.  If you remember, Justin Zarr and I both shot good antelope bucks hunting with Scott and Angie.  I am hoping that Table Mountain Outfitters can turn into my little Western honey hole!  

My little man, Craig, standing next to some native grasses.  If I were a deer, I would definitely want to hide in there, then come out for an afternoon snack on some clover, wouldn't you?

Craig and his friend, Sammy, are looking forward to hunting together out of this comfortable condo.  In fact, when those brutally cold Midwest temperatures arrive late season, I may even sneak up there for a hunt or two.  

I genuinely wish each and every one of you the best of luck this fall, but more importantly, wish you safe travels and time afield.  I’ll be spending a lot of time in the woods between Illinois and Wisconsin, so if you see me out there keeping the roads hot, stop by and say hello!  I always have a little free time to talk hunting!  If you guys are hunting out of a tree, please be sure to wear your safety harness, and remember you have a family waiting for you at home.   No buck, regardless how big, is worth risking your life over!  Also, if you are fortunate enough to enjoy some success, we here at bowhunting.com want to share in your success!  Please send us your trophy photos to this link here!  Good luck this fall everyone, stay safe and happy hunting!

Early Spring Bowhunting Preparations

by Todd Graf 29. April 2011 08:55
Todd Graf

Springtime is upon us, fellow bowhunters!  With the snow and cold days behind us (I hope) here in Northern Illinois, it is time to really focus on preparing for the 2011 deer season, which will be here before you know it!  April was an especially very busy month for me (then again, what month isn’t) between trade shows, habitat management projects on my properties and a little turkey hunting adventure with my little man, Craig.

As many of your probably know, Bowhunting.com was well represented at the Illinois and Wisconsin Deer Classics over the past month.  I always enjoy those shows and it is a real blast to get out there and meet the genuine, down to earth bowhunters who love and enjoy the sport just as much as I do!  We had a great showing at both of these expos and I met a lot of great new people and saw some magnificent deer as well.

By far my favorite mount at the Illinois Deer and Turkey Expo was this 197" monster harvested by Mason Paul.  I love how the mount sits on top of the collection of antlers!

I also enjoyed meeting some of our loyal Facebook friends at the show as well.  If you haven't done so, check out Bowhunting.com on Facebook here!

I was excited to get my 2010 buck from officially being scored by the Pope and Young Club.  This monster Illinois whitetail buck officially netted 140 3/8”!  This was my third straight season of harvest a buck over 140 inches with my bow.  I understand that hunting mature, trophy bucks isn’t for everyone, but man, I can’t get enough of it!

From the field...

... to the record book!

Despite the dreary weather we have been experiencing in the Upper Midwest, I have been able to get out on my hunting property and begin work on some of my offseason habitat improvement projects.  Don’t let the cold and wet conditions keep you from bettering your hunting property, now is the perfect time!  I was fortunate enough to get a lot of work done recently.  On one of my 60 acre farms I just finished a TSI (Timber Stand Improvement) project on 10 acres that will increase the health and longevity of the forested area on this farm.  I know a lot of talk these days are about food plots being the secret to killing big deer, and they certainly help, TSI is also a great way to improve the overall habitat on your property as well.  I also mowed down the standing corn stalks from last year, fertilized several food plots and performed some controlled burns to get the soil ready for food plot and native grass plantings.

Conrolled burns will greatly improve the soil for my summer food plot and native grass plantings.  

Finding sheds is always exciting!  This one looks like it may be a couple years old.

I was also able to plant some hardwood and softwood trees, as well as some soft mast bearing trees as well to create added diversity for the deer that visit my farm,  All in all, I planted and caged (have to keep the deer away from them for now!) 50 oaks, 6 pears, 30 pines and 30 more apple trees.  The oaks and apple trees won’t bear fruit for several years down the road, but it will be an enjoyable experience watching them grow and mature through the years.  However, what I take pride in is the thought that my little man Craig will have the opportunity to hunt from those same trees in the future!  A big part of Quality Deer Management is protecting this sport we enjoy so much, and ensuring that younger generations can enjoy it just the same as we did!     

These trees may be small now, but one day my son, Craig, will hopefully be hanging a tree stand from them!

Speaking of Craig, he and I were able to get out together to do a little turkey hunting a couple weeks ago.  We didn’t see any, but their thunderous gobbles rang throughout the woods and got Craig and I both pretty excited!  

Our turkey hunting set-up; Craig and didn't see any but we sure heard them gobbling!

Unfortunately, the onset of Spring also means it is tick season, and man, do I hate these things!   These pesky pests used to find their way on me every time I went outside this time of year.  However, this year I have been wearing Elimitck Clothing from Gamehide Gear and haven’t found a single tick on me.  Elimitick Clothing is my clothing of choice this time of year that is for sure!

ElimiTick Clothing from Gamehide Gear is my clothing of choice this time of year. 

I’d like to close out this blog by show an example of just how random my life can be.  My wife talked me into buying a goat!  My wife loves all animals and, even though I enjoy nothing more than harvesting mature animals during the fall, I have a soft spot in my heart for all animals as well. Maybe, buying this goat will earn me some brownie points this fall and a little extra time in the treestand? We’ll see! 

Yes, somehow I got talked into buying a goat!

Maintaining Your Native Prairie Planting

by Todd Graf 29. March 2011 15:13
Todd Graf

As of late we have been seeing a lot more attention being put on creating more bedding areas for deer - whether that is creating clear cuts in your woodlots to create additional cover, or planting native prairies they both will need attention to make sure you get the results you want. This will be my second year now with my prairie planting and I came across this informational piece that was created by Habitat Forever. I originally hired them to put in a prairie and this is some documentation they had provided me on how to maintain the native prairie. Remember this does not cover burnings, as most people recommend waiting until your prairie is 3 years old before you burn it off, otherwise this is a great read, especially if you're just getting started. Enjoy!

Maintaining Your New Native Prairie Planting

You’ve done all the right prep work, better yet; you’ve had your local Habitat Specialist do your prep work…so you know it was done right.  The seeds are in the ground and things are starting to green up.  This is not the time to sit back and let nature take its’ course.  Not just yet.  A new prairie planting must be vigilantly maintained in the first and second seasons of its long life.

New native grass and wildflower seedlings always grow down before they grow up.  That means they are establishing a root system before they put on top growth.  Even under ideal conditions, a native seedling will only grow a few inches high in the first season.  The first season is a critical time for a new prairie planting.  Regardless of how much herbicide prep was done, dormant weed seeds will germinate in your prairie in the first and sometimes into the second season.  These undesirable weeds can out-compete the slower growing native perennials for light and nutrients.  If left unchecked, these weeds will continue to produce seed and continue to proliferate in your new prairie planting.

How do you keep this from happening? MOW!

Maintenance Mowing During The First Season:

The rule of thumb in the first season is to mow the new prairie to a height of SIX INCHES (no lower) each time the average height of the planting reaches 12 INCHES.  If you wait too long to mow, you can actually do more harm than good because the cut thatch will shade out the new seedlings and stunt their growth.  Depending on rainfall, you may have to mow once a month from June to September in the first season.  If you are not able to do this mowing until late in the season, it’s better to wait and start mowing next year unless you have a way of removing the cut thatch.

Maintenance Mowing During The Second Season:

The rule of thumb in the second season is to mow the new prairie to a heights of 10-12 INCHES (no lower) each time the average heights reaches 24 INCHES.  If you don’t have a mower that can be set this high, beg, borrow or rent one that can! Mowing too low in the second season can set establishment time back by a full season.  The second season of mowing is not as critical as the first, but it will ensure good survival of your new native plants. If you don’t do this mowing, you MAY still get establishment of your prairie in patchy areas.  Ignoring the importance of this early mowing maintenance is the second leading cause of failed prairie plantings…second only to improper site prep.


Here is one shot of a native stand that was planted 1 year ago, after we had over 24 inches of snow! Several sheds were found right around the edges where bucks were laying down while enjoying some southern exposure.


Buring is recommended after the 3rd year from planting.

Is anyone planning on establishing a native prairie this year?

A Bowhunting Offseason Begins- Food Plots and Shed Hunting!

by Todd Graf 22. February 2011 04:43
Todd Graf

  The offseason has officially begun for this Illinois bowhunter, but that doesn’t mean that I am kicking back and taking it easy.  In fact, I am as busy now as I am during the fall chasing mature bucks!  But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  A lot of exciting times are ahead for bowhunting.com and our entire Hunting Network, and I can wait to see how 2011 unfolds!

My little man, Craig, and our dog, Drake doing a little February shed hunting.  They each found sheds and I wasn't able to find a single one!  Hopefully my luck will change sooner rather than later.

In the midst of preparing for the Illinois and Wisconsin Deer Classics, I am particularly anxious waiting for the arrival of my new Mathews bow.  I am counting down the days until my Mathews Monster shows up at the bowhunting.com office, and I can’t wait to get it setup and start shooting.  I haven’t gotten a new bow for several years, so I am like a little kid on Christmas Eve waiting for my new Monster.  The Monster is one of Mathew’s fastest bows, and if you are a speed guy like I am, I encourage you to look up the Monster on Mathew’s website.  While you are at it, be sure to look at their new Z Series family of bows as well!

Not a single kernel of corn left!

Now is the perfect time to start planning for your 2011 hunting season, and I am in the process of looking for new acreage to hunt.  I am a firm believer in having multiple properties to hunt throughout the course of the season.  This allows you to keep your properties fresh for an entire season and prevents you from educating the deer too badly thus making the deer “easier” to hunt.  My search for new land is in its infant stages and there are several resources available to the hunter who is willing to dig deep enough for the right information, however, I have had TREMENDOUS success already with nationalhuntingleases.com.  If you are looking for new hunting ground for the 2011 hunting season, check them out on their website!

A shot of one my turnip plots that backs right up against one of my corn plots.  The deer are really hitting these plots hard!

Despite the craziness of trying to find a new hunting lease, patiently (or more like Impatiently) waiting for my new bow, and preparing for the upcoming Illinois and Wisconsin Deer Classics, I managed to sneak out to my property with my son, Craig, to do a little scouting and shed hunting.  The hard work I put in during the late summer on my turnip plots is definitely paying off because the deer are really hitting these particular plots hard!  Spring is just around the corner, and now is the perfect time to start planning for this year’s food plots and giving your deer some added nutrition!  I also learned something about food plots; you can’t plant too much corn!  I made an assertive effort to establish and maintain quality corn plots to give the deer a food source rich in carbohydrates for the rough Northern Illinois winters, but I couldn’t find a single kernel left.  They really cleaned up my corn this year!

The deer are pawing through the snow to get to my turnip plots.  It feels good to know that I have a sustainable food source on my property this late in the winter.

I was, however, pleased with how well my native grasses were doing even after heavy snowfall and bitter cold temperatures.  Even in late February they are still providing excellent cover, and I even found several beds on the South facing slopes just like I thought I would!  It feels good when all the hard work and planning in land management comes together and it feels even better when you can see the deer are benefitting from your work.

My Native Grasses are doing especially well despite the heavy snow fall.  In this particular stand, I found several fresh beds that tell me the deer are still bedding in the grasses, which is a great sign.  I can't wait to see how these grasses take off this Spring and Summer!

After investigating my food plots and admiring the work of my Native Grasses, my little man Craig and I tried our luck at a little shed hunting.  When it was all said and done Craig had found two sheds, my dog Drake had found one, and yours truly had found zero.  That’s right; this dedicated bowhunter got skunked by a dog and a first grader when looking for antlers.  Hopefully, I’ll have a little better luck at finding antlers this fall than I’ve had this winter!  Nevertheless, it was fun to get and enjoy the outdoors with my son and no matter how busy I am, I will always make time for that.

I hope you guys are as excited about this year as I am, I can hardly sit still I am so anxious about the opportunities and changes that are going to be happening in the coming months!  With the snow melting, it’s time to continue looking for sheds and start thinking food plots.  Turkey hunters, it is almost time for you to get out there and starting chasing those Toms!  Bring on the warmer weather!

 

Velvet Whitetails & Native Grasses - Late Summer Bowhunting Update

by Todd Graf 24. August 2010 10:52
Todd Graf

With September looming just around the corner my mind is really starting to wonder off to thoughts of treestands, falling leaves, and hard antlered whitetails!  The bowhunting season can't come quick enough for this deer hunter, that's for sure!

As part of the habitat management program on my Illinois hunting land I've been planting a lot of trees and other native plants.  The 3 acre native grass field I planted this spring is really starting to look great!  Despite the fact that its only the first year for this planting the  warm temperatures and consistant rain has given it a huge kick start. I've had to mow the field  twice to help control unwanted species and I also sprayed it once with a product called Banvel to control unwanted broadleaf plants. I can only imagine how this is going to increase the security cover on the property when it reaches maturity at 5 feet tall. I will most likely be complaining then I am not seeing any deer because they are all hiding in it!


Jim Carlson, thanks again for helping me out and doing such a great job planting!

I have attached some close-up photos for those of you who are interested in seeing the various types of grasses that I've planted and how they are coming along.


The head of some Indian Grass.


Sideoats Grama


Indian Grass stems


Little Blue Stem

It seems the area that I am hunting in Wisconsin does not have Earn-a-Buck regulations this year, which must mean that the DNR is happy with the overall population. I hope that some of the management practices that we have been doing such as letting the smaller bucks walk, taking does for meat & not shooting button bucks will hopefully make a difference in the long haul.  So far it seems to be showing some positive results.


Good looking buck from Wisconsin, I just might have to release an arrow on if he gets too close!


.
Non-typical Buck – wow will this buck look cool if he makes it a few more years.

Back home in Illinois I haven't had a sighting of Flyer the buck that I am after.  Hopefully he shows up once the velvet starts peeling off and the bucks begin roamin a little more.  In the meantime, I have a few other nice bucks that have showed up my trail cameras.

I want to give a bit congrats to Justin Hillman who looked like he has a great time in Africa. From the looks of these photos he had one heck of a bowhunting adventure.

Two more days until Justin and I are off to Wyoming for an Antelope hunt with our friends at Table Mountain Outfitters.  Wish us luck, we're pretty excited!




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