"If I could pay the fee on my SW WI lease and be able to hunt on my own, I would.
Looking back as my father, son and I prepare for WI's Rifle Season opener tomorrow, how sad of a statement that truly was. It wasnt that I didnt like hunting with my family and friends, it was just that I loved hunting mature bucks so much as a one on one test of skill, experience, and patience I didnt want the hassle of worrying about anyone else. In 2005 I put in 110 sits in 4 states stretching from mid-Sept. to mid-Jan., including at least a dozen all-day sits. I don't believe I was gone for more than 5 days at a time, skipping primarily from my property behind the house in the UP of MI, to my SW WI lease.
To say that my relationships at home were a little strained might have been an understatement. Believe it or not my (ex) wife was actually fairly supportive. She mostly understood my passion and desire to be the best. And, that's what it was I didn't want to just harvest mature bucks, plant food plots, work on my property, create travel corridors, all while doing it on my ownI wanted to be the best at it even though I wasnt even getting paid to do it! My pursuits have been an obsession since the mid-80s and considering the past, present, and future of that obsession has it really been worth it? Did I have my deer season priorities in check?
You've heard hunting pursuits described as an obsession, well, that about sums it up. I wanted to start a branch of the QDMA in MIs Upper Peninsula so in 1999 I became a member and organized an event. But, that wasnt enough. I organized many more events and became a speaker/activist at over 30 events during a couple of years throughout the UP and lower MI, primarily all at my own expense. I even had people grow to hate me for my positions on QDM, people that didnt know me, didnt understand QDM, or in many cases didnt understand a deer-funnel from a funnel-cake at the circus. I had to turn the radio off one day as the host of the radio in Escanaba MI used profanity towards me over the airwaves while my small children were in the car. Fun. What kept me going? At many of the meetings we took a survey. Guys came to yell, challenge, and basically be pretty belligerent. But the surveys were consistent50% support on the way in, over 80% on the way out. What that told me is that people just were not getting accurate information.
In 2002 I become very active on the Michigan Sportsmans forums. Im proud to say that in many thousands of posts since, Ive never been warned for my words or actions within the forums. However, was that a good thing? Most of my posts in the past were explanations that included many, many words. I cant even imagine how many hours I spent on those forums, and the MS forum wasnt the only one. Ive been consistently stubborn in what I have to say, and although I have changed my deer season priorities throughout the years, I havent changed my actual "deer beliefs" during the past few decades.
No one in my family hunted, and I actually think that was a good thing! Imagine at the age of 16, my brother and I getting dropped off by my dad to basically play with real bows and arrows throughout the woods. We had to learn it all virtually on our own. I remember field dressing my first deer in 1986 while my 14 year old brother was dry-heaving nearby (he gets that from his dad). I pulled out my Field and Streams 8 or 10 easy steps to field dressing a deer and proceeded to make a terrible mess Im sure. The Heart? The liver? The lungs? Huh. And, what are intestines? Anyways
By learning on my own, I found I liked learning anything I could about deer and deer hunting. I quickly learned if you shot small bucks, you couldnt have big bucks, so in 1987 at the age of 17 I passed up my first buck, a yearling 4 point-even though I had never shot a buck! I wanted to make sure I had a tag until January 1st, the last day of the season as well. I rarely missed a weekend from that point on until eventually buying property in the same section I had been hunting in, during 1995.
I started planting my own food plots at that time the incredibly inefficient and hard waywith a roto-tiller! Wow, so much time was wasted for such poor results, but thats why they call it learning. In 1996 I was introduced to Ed Spinnazola, I talked with him on the phone, and the rest is history. Mr. Spinnazola shaped the way I plant food plots today not by doing necessarily exactly what he taught, but by shaping it to how it works best for myself and now my clients who are in similar situations. In 1999 I planted my first no-till plot by spraying 3xs, once in May, once in June, and the last in July, as well as applying a ton of lime by hand to a acre, followed by a seeding of a grain mixture, rape, and various clovers. I sold the property in 2009, but after applying Eds chemical maintenance practices a couple of times along the way as well as a mowing here or therethat clover was as good last year as it was in its first year. Ed recommended frost seeding, but Ive always figured why carry exposed soil through the months of hunting season on purpose. I found the most important spraying is in the spring to eliminate future weed debris, and that late summer plantings are highly predictable, efficient, and effective. The 6 acres I began planting on my old WI lease took me approximately 12 hours of total time to spray, fertilize, and plant spread out over 4 separate visits. Now if I could just have eliminated the 56 hours in total driving to "plant" for 12 hours!
For my efforts on my own parcel of land in the 90s and early 2000s, I was the recipient of the QDMA's Al Brothers Deer Manager of Year award. After that extreme honor I received some national attention, late night phone calls at home, email requests, and realized the opportunity for a business. Fast-forward to today and my whitetail business has occupied 100% of my career-life since 2010. Boy, my wife couldnt stand those calls from XYZ person living in WV, PA, OH, or lower MIwherever! Looking back to the mid-80s I had no idea how my actions, for good or bad, would lead me to where I am at today. Oh, and where am I at today? Im typically sitting somewhere in a local SW WI bar and grill, diner or restaurant, truck seat or treestand while writing, scheduling clients, visiting clients and hunting full-time. Im having fun, but looking back it would have been hard to get to this point if it hadnt been such an obsession.
Ive learned to adjust my deer season priorities. I typically need a few less sits to shoot a mature buck but I rarely waste my time. I expect to shoot a mature buck out of certain stands at certain times of the year under certain conditions and literally I just dont go if those certainties arent in place. I also have learned to scatter my clients efficiently so I can maximize their time, while more effectively managing my own. In 2008 I sandwiched 54 clients in just over 4 months in 4 states and that was very hard on myself but more importantly on my family.
And speaking of hunting, during the last few years hunting with family and friends has become the ultimate priority. In 2005 I arrowed my largest buck at the time, and the experience wasnt complete until I waited for my hunting partner Karl to come racing down the hollow, falling, huffing, puffing, and giving me an honest hug of congratulations, even after he had just missed that same buck an hour ago. I didnt even walk up to the buck that was laying dead only 10 yards away until Karl got to me. Ive enjoyed opening days while sitting in the blind with my father, my kids, and close friends but that experience of deer season priorities in 2005 was a stark contrast to my statement in 2002. Ive learned that while hunting on my own may increase my overall success, success is not simply measured by heads on the wall.
If I could pay the fee on my SW WI lease and be able to hunt on my own, I would.
That statement has changed the last few years to something like, I hope I continue to be blessed enough to experience many more hunting seasons with friends and family, at as high a level of success as possible. But really, what defines success? I believe it has to do with your own deer season priorities.
Looking back, to actually plan to get to where I am today would have been an incredibly daunting task! Im not sure I could have tackled this as a potential career if I set out to do this in my 20s. This is a career based on decades of experience fueled by passion and I admittingly didnt have my priorities in check at times along the way. Although not because of my hunting endeavors, Im a divorced father of three who thoroughly enjoys my children as much as often as I can! My life is pretty simple now and when I have my kids, I reduce my workload to spend time with them. Pretty simple. My Whitetail business is my sole career, I enjoy my kids, my friends, my hunting, my family, and I struggle every day to keep God as the center of it all. At this point I am truly blessed at the opportunities I have had, and to be able to include my loved ones within the world I am a part of is incredible. When the day breaks tomorrow I will be hunting with my dad and son, and when the next day comes my stepson will join us. We have a local wild game feed to attend, a bonfire...and memories to make that will last a lifetime! I have a lot to look forward to in the world of whitetails, but mostly what I will look forward to the most is sharing it all with those who are closest to me, no matter what the cost. "Deer Season Priorities"-what are yours?