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Recent entries


The Back 40

I just shot a giant!

Thu, June 19, 2014

It’s the day that most of us deer hunters live for.  The day we shoot our first real monster buck.  Not just your personal best…but a real monster.  Legendary.  Magazine covers.  What a great day!  Or is it?

With all the recent controversy regarding a few hunters and a few monster bucks, is it even worth it to target a monster buck?  It seems to me that whether you shoot your monster legitimately or not, drama will soon surround you. 

There are two enemies in trophy hunting.  The first is the cheat who gives the legitimate trophy hunter a bad name.  The second is the jealous person who is suspicious of any deer deemed to be a giant.  So what’s a hunter to do? 

Fortunately or unfortunately, this is not a problem I have had to deal with.  Still no Booner for this guy.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot though.  What would I do if I shot a real monster?  What should I do?  Certainly there will be someone who thought it was shot at night, or high-fenced, or…  Take lots of pictures and maybe even some recovery video I guess.  Call a few friends to help with the drag.  Lots of witnesses.  It all seems ridiculous to me.  The notion that you have to prove your innocence is something that would spoil the awesomeness of a successful hunt. 

So is it even worth the trouble to shoot a giant?  I think so.  It has always been a dream of mine and I won’t change my dreams and goals because of someone else.  It’s just a darn shame what antlers and antler-envy have done to such a pure sport.  In my opinion, the shame does not lie solely at the feet of the cheaters, but also at the feet of the jealous. 

So you just shot a giant.  What would you do?


Fishing For Memories

Wed, June 11, 2014

I’m not sure how this happened so quickly, but I recently became old.  I turned 50.  There’s something about 50 that changes how a man thinks.  You start to appreciate the little things more.  The older I get the more I realize what I do is not for the moment.  It’s for the future and for the memories.  That’s something that comes with age I guess…and it becomes more and more obvious as I watch loved ones pass, which seems to occur more often when you hit 50.

I used to do things because that’s what I wanted to do at the moment.  Now it seems I do things specifically for the memories.  Any instant gratification is just bonus.  With the making of memories in mind, I booked a week-long Canadian fishing trip for just my son and I.  No wife, no daughter, no friends.  Just he and I.  For six months we looked forward to our father-son trip.  Whenever my son, Jake, would come home for the weekend from college, we’d hit Bass Pro Shops and buy more lures than two guys could make use of in a lifetime.  It wasn’t just about buying lures though, it was more about the conversations in the truck and just walking through the aisles.  I think we learned more about each other and appreciated each other more in those little outings than I ever thought possible. 

Guilt trip?  Maybe.  You see, we are a horse family.  I use the term horse “family” loosely, since most of the riding is done by my daughter, Stefani, and I.  Over the years, Stef and I have spent many hours in the saddle just road riding, timber riding, checking treestands on horseback, harassing neighbors’ cattle, roosting turkeys on horseback…just about anything that would be easier on an ATV we did on our horses.  I always felt a little guilty because it seemed like I spent more one-on-one time with Stef.  So was my father-son fishing trip really just a guilt trip?  Not at all.  I just wanted to get some of that same time with my son before he graduates, gets married, and moves on with life.

So on the road we went.  Just us guys.  No pee–stops every hour.  No eating in restaurants along the way.  Just two guys making good time which means more boat time.  Check-in time at the resort was 2:00pm.  I made arrangements for us to arrive early at 10:00am.  Actual arrival time?  9:00am.  We’re late for everything, but not fishing.  By 10:00am, we had our vehicle unloaded and were in the boat headed to our first spot.

Day 1 could not have gone any better.  The first fish in the boat was a 5 lb. 1 oz. Northern Pike caught by yours truly.  Not a trophy, but a darn good start.  Plus, he was right at the legal keeper limit.  We had our first food in the boat.  Several Pike and Smallmouths later it happened.  Jake was hooked into something good.  He caught a 16lb. slob of a Pike.  His biggest by far and caught on day ONE!  How on Earth were we going to keep up this pace?  Easy.  Jake’s next cast landed him a 12.54lb. Pike.  Talk about coming out of the gates strong.

The next few days were much of the same.  No real trophies in the Pike department, but I did manage to get lucky with the Smallies.  In one small area, near rapids, I managed to catch and release about 20 Bass that were all over 4.5 pounds.  Most were actually over 5 pounds.  The biggest was my biggest ever at 6lbs. 4 oz.  Had I not had a camera and a witness, I would have thought it was all a dream. 

Mid-week we used a guide specifically for trophy Pike.  I’ve never caught one over 15 pounds and I had a goal of 20 pounds on this trip.  Though I didn’t hit my goal, I did beat my personal best with a 17lb. 2oz. slob.

All week Jake and I were at it hard.  We spent about 13 hours on the water each day.  Rain or shine, we were out there.  What an unbelievable and memorable time we had.  We had such a great time that we are now used boat shopping so we can’t hit all the local lakes…and maybe take the girls with us.

I’ve always known this, but the older I get, the more I know it.  I’m a pretty lucky guy.  I do exactly what I’ve always wanted to do for a living, I have an awesome wife that’s been by my side since high school, my daughter is the best and happiest kid you could ever meet, and my son will kick your butt at fishing.  I truly am very lucky.

“We’re just going fishing/hunting.”  I’ll never say those words again.  It’s so much more than just fishing and hunting.


Here’s a link (or two) to a video I made of our Canadian memories.  Hopefully one of them works.


The Ups & Downs of a 2013 Deer Hunter

Mon, January 20, 2014

The Ups and Downs of a 2013 Illinois Deer Hunter

What a season this has been.  A real roller coaster ride.  Late summer began great.  After placing only one trail camera, I immediately began getting pictures of some real nice bucks…and plenty of them…for my place anyway.  I had four nice bucks that seemed to be very camera friendly.  I almost named them the Kardashian bucks because of the amount of photo ops they appeared in.  And just that quick, the lows set in.  While switching out SD cards in the camera one day, about a dozen turkey vultures busted out of my timber.  My heart sank.  I didn’t even want to enter the timber to look, so I didn’t.  About that same time, my two biggest bucks disappeared from the camera, including one I called the High Brow 8.  Two weeks later, I went back to switch cards again and safety check some stands, and that same group of vultures busted again.  This time I had to look.  Sure enough, one of my bucks was dead in the creek.  EHD I’m sure.  The only good news was that it wasn’t one of the two big guys I had feared it was.  Still, the loss of a real nice 2-1/2 year-old up and comer.  Upon checking the SD card that day, my two big boys were still missing.  Could it be that they had also become victims of EHD?  Down in the dumps went my spirits again.

Early September brought back the highs.  The biggest of the bucks, the High Bow 8, was back again.  He wasn’t just back, he seemed to live and bed very near the camera.  On a couple occasions, he appeared on camera a very short time after I switched SD cards.  I know he heard me, I used my tractor as my means of travel to check the camera.  Now if only he would stay in the area and on his same travel patterns till opening day. 

If you read my post in early October about this buck, I won’t bore you with it again.  Suffice it to say that I was able to connect with the High Brow 8 on October 2nd after being in the stand for ten short minutes.  After my early kill, I turned my full attention to helping my daughter get the buck she wanted.  A wide 8 with a small crab claw. 

Late October found me hunting with my daughter.  As always, I let her choose where she wanted to hunt before choosing my own stand for the afternoon.  I wish we would have switched stands that afternoon.  I wasn’t in my stand more than 30 minutes when I heard a deer behind me.  Not wanting to turn around, I sat quietly and waited.  Minutes later the deer was under me, and I mean under me.  Three feet from the base of my tree stood a wide 8 with a small crab claw.  I reached for my phone and took several pictures and videos of the buck.  The first picture was sent to my daughter with the text, “Your buck under me right now.”  Her buck spent almost 45 minutes within 15 yards of me.  Oh, how I wished we would have reversed our stand selections that afternoon.  That’s hunting I guess.  Her buck got a pass that night. 

Much to my surprise, my son was able to get in more hunts than I thought he would this season.  He’s away at school, but really had the heart of a bowhunter this year.  So much that he traveled back and forth quite a bit in order to hunt with me.  Talk about putting a smile on a Dad’s face.  November 9th was a hunt with my boy that I will not soon forget.  It was a morning hunt.  He chose the stand he wanted to hunt, and I chose a location that wouldn’t interfere with his hunt.  Just before our predetermined time to quit hunting and meet up, my phone rang.  It was Jake, telling me that he just shot a tight 8 and the buck was already down just 25 yards behind his stand.  I love the excitement in a kid’s voice when they score on a deer.  I told him to stay in his stand and that I would go get the truck and drive to his area.  Just before reaching my truck, I got another call from Jake.  “I just jumped him, Dad!”  Me…”How did you jump him?  I thought you were still in the stand?”  Jake…”I thought he was dead.  I got to within a few feet of him and he just took off.  He’s still right here and he’s down again.  He’s dying right now.  There he goes.  He’s dead.  This time I’m sure.  He’s dead, Dad.”  Me…”Don’t move this time.  Stay right where you are.  Don’t meet me in the field.  I’ll meet you in the woods.  Don’t move.”  I started the truck and drove to his area.  Much to my surprise, there was Jake, standing in the field waiting for me.  I guess you just can’t stop excitement.  We high-fived, hugged, and laughed our butts off.

I know this sounds typical of a hunting parent, but I really do have the best two hunting partners a Dad could ask for.  With all the ups and downs that come with a deer season, it’s my kids that make me smile the most. 

Ups and downs.  That’s what this year has been.  I shot the one deer that I wanted to shoot and I got it done early while hunting with my daughter, Stefani.  I got to hunt with my daughter and see her buck up close.  I was with my son on his successful rut hunt.  I found my first EHD buck and fear the same fate for other missing bucks.

Next year will certainly be interesting.  It is undeniable that the Illinois deer herd is severely down in numbers.  That’s why I only killed one deer this year.  I don’t dare shoot a doe until things change.  I urge all deer hunters to take this into your own hands.  Depend on no one for help.  If your deer numbers are down, hold off on your shots.  Do what you know is the right thing to do.  Hunting with my kids makes me want to improve our deer herd as soon as possible.  It doesn’t seem fair that I hunted the good old days while my kids pick up scraps left in our wake.  I want them to have the same opportunities I had.  The fix is simple, we just have to get enough of us on the same page. 

I hope you had at least half the fun I did this season.  No matter what happens, I look forward to many more deer seasons with my kids…even if they aren’t really “kids” any more. 

In my fanny pack remains…

-one antlerless landowner tag.
-one antlerless over-the-counter tag.
-one either sex over-the-counter tag.
-one antlerless landowner firearm tag.
-one either sex landowner firearm tag.
-fall turkey permit.

John Soehn


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