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Darin
DARIN
DeNEAL

Stay on Target

1st Season Turkey Success

Sat, April 18, 2020

After a lengthy hiatus from blogging, I have snuck back into the portal to begin writing again.  (Right now, perhaps Jeff is kicking himself for not remembering to lock my password).  Whatever the case, my login still worked and I have some time on my hands (thanks coronavirus), so here I am.

Since it has been awhile, I’ll reintroduce myself.  I live in Thompsonville, IL (Southern IL) and I am an avid archer, hunter and I pretend to be an angler.  I also greatly enjoy hiking, birdwatching and photography.  Five years ago, I decided to change careers and revisit something I had done briefly, years before.  Once I had my teaching license renewed, I found myself staring down a classroom full of high school students who were signed up for one of my agriculture classes.  The first couple years back in the classroom found me going to a new school each year, trying to find a situation that I wanted to stay in long term.  Three years ago, I landed a position at Carrier Mills High School and I felt like I was finally at home. 

As far as my personal life goes, I have been married to my wife Marj for 12 years (13 this July) and I have a daughter named Ellie (age 6) and a son named Jasper (age 3).  They keep both Marj and I very busy, but since we are both teachers, life relaxes for us a bit in the summertime.

Speaking of summertime, this terrible pandemic known as coronavirus or COVID-19 has made summertime start a little early. That is not really the case as us teachers are in the midst of perfecting our E-learning methods.  Each day, I find myself adding lessons to my packets, updating my Google Classroom lessons or emailing students.  I also am still taking care of the school greenhouse that my horticulture class would normally handle.  And at this very moment, I have chickens living in the house (much to the dismay of my wife) that my ag science class was hatching when the pandemic sent us home from school. But, since I am no longer leaving the house at 7:00 am and returning sometime between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm, I decided to spend my mornings chasing gobblers.  I mean Google Classroom does not care in the slightest if I add lessons at 9:00 am or 10:00 pm, so turkeys I will chase.

This year I had gambled a bit and as luck would have it, it paid off.  I purchased a 2nd season Franklin County tag in the 1st lottery and when the 3rd lottery rolled around (in case you did not realize it, if you get a tag in the 1st lottery, you must wait until the 3rd to apply again) I noticed some 1st season Saline County tags available. I decided I would roll the dice and try for one of those as well.  When results were posted, I got both tags that I had hoped for. Here was my thinking: during 1st season, I would get Good Friday off and I could probably hunt before work for an hour or so on the other days.  During 2nd season, I would have the weekend, plus part of the next week off for our spring break.  As it turned out, I was on coronacation during both seasons and as long as I was willing to spend my E-learning hours later in the day, I could hunt pretty much every day of both seasons.

First season started off with a bang, it just was not from my gun.  With the help of my brother Travis, I roosted a bird the night before the opener.  I quietly popped up a blind and decided to try bowhunting in the morning.  Now the bird was on Shawnee National Forest ground, but I was on private land.  Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for another hunter, the bird was shot just after it flew down and before it ever made it to me.  For the next few hours, I wondered around both the private land and parts of the Shawnee, trying to lure an old gobbler in.  I never heard a gobble the rest of the day. 

I spent 5-6 hours on Tuesday and again on Wednesday in what turned out to be nothing more than a long hike each day.  I did manage to scoop up a couple shed antlers along the way, but I never heard a single gobble after that first bird was shot on opening day.  Needless to say, I was discouraged.

On Wednesday night, a cold-front was sweeping in and I figured that would not help my chances.  But before dark, my dad called me and told me that while he was out and about, he heard a couple birds gobbling.  Both were in places that I could hunt.  Maybe I could still put a first season tom in the freezer after all.

Legal shooting hours on Thursday was at 5:57 am.  No turkey would be likely to be on the ground before 6:10 am.  After talking to people that were hearing birds, most were starting to gobble around 5:50 or thereabouts.  When I parked the truck at 5:32, I instantly heard a bird gobbling.  I was surprised, but not worried as I still had plenty of time to get where I needed to be.  The bird I was actually setting up on begin his morning rituals at 5:44.  Dad had told me to set up near a tree that he and I had cut for firewood a month prior, and I was ready to go by 5:50.  The bird was on one side of a large hollow, and I was on the other.  To have a decent shot, I needed him to fly down on my side.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 6:00, he started gobbling one right after the next.  I’ve heard birds do this right before flying down, so even though it was still not very light, I decided to do a tree yelp.  Shortly after, I even added a fly down cackle.  To my surprise, seconds later I thought I heard something hit the leaves. 

My heart started racing.  Did I really hear the tom pitch within 30 yards of me? Surely it was too early for him to do this, but I heard what I heard.  Now I’ll just wait.  The next thing I heard was what almost sounded like drumming.  Ironically, a good friend of mine had just told me how every time he hears a bird drumming, he does not trust his ears, and it almost always is a bird drumming after all.  Now I found myself in the same scenario.  Is that what I heard?  Who knows? Moments later, my questions were answered when the bird I was after broke the silence with a loud and very close gobble just over the rise below me.  I had heard him land and I had heard him drumming.  I flipped my safety off and it was game on.

Seconds after he first gobbled, he appeared in sight.  Immediately I saw a long beard and knew he was an adult.  He was below me and to my left, moving toward my hen decoy.  I planned on shooting him before he got there.  He moved across and when he went behind a large oak, I raised my gun.  He popped out and quickly hit a shooting lane.  I sent the report of my Remington 1187 echoing out throughout the hollow.  I jumped up and took off like Usain Bolt (okay, maybe Fred Flintstone) to my bird.  He quickly expired and I placed my tag on him.  The hunt was over at 6:05.  Five full minutes before I had figured any bird would even leave his roost. 

The footage is not great quality, but I did manage to self-film my hunt.  You hear a turkey and you see a dark blob move through the trees.  Then, it appears he gets struck by lightning before reaching my decoy that you really cannot see either.  But the video is worth watching just to see the fire escape my gun.  This was one of the most exciting hunts I have ever been on.  The fact that my dad (who alongside my mom, has been instrumental in my hunting success since I was just a youngster) gave me a huge assist on this bird by telling me where he was roosting and even telling me where to set up.  In my younger years I might have ignored his help, but this time I doubt I would have tipped over this old broken tailed tom without the information.  I have been on more rewarding overall hunts, but this was action packed from the beginning and ended successful and that made it beyond exciting. 

The bird sported a broken feathered fan, a 9” beard and had one spur just over an inch and one just under an inch.  I forgot to weigh him as I was eager to get him butchered up.

1st Season Turkey

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The Great Outdoors in Illinois

Mon, March 28, 2016

I have not written much on Heartland Outdoors the past few months.  Last November, I changed careers, opting back into the public education sector as a high school agriculture teacher.  The job opened up during the school year, and I have been hard at it just to keep my head above water.  As you probably are aware, one of the perks to being a teacher is spring break.  I am off of school this week and I chose to spend my Monday in the great outdoors.

I started off the day by going shed hunting.  Right off the bat, I noticed a small 3 point side laying around a sapling.  When I approached it, I discovered that it was a shed from last year.  Nevertheless, I was happy.  It was in decent shape, and I have not found very many antlers the past couple years.  About an hour later, I popped up over a hill and there in the wide open was a big antler.  I snapped a quick phone photo, then I admired it for a moment before approaching.  It turned out to also be a shed from last year.  The woods I was in is thick and I was very deep in the heart of it.  Not a single human soul had been in this small valley since last year, as this antler was pretty much in the wide open and nobody would have missed seeing it. Once I got to it and started examining, I quickly recognized it as a deer I had been after during the 2014 season.  I never saw any sign of it in 2015, but this shed indicates it was probably alive.  I am hopeful that it is still out there somewhere and that maybe I will have an encounter with it this fall.

If you look toward the middle of the picture, you can see the antler laying there.

This one is easy enough to see!

Here is the two of them.


After an eventful morning, my brother and I loaded up and went to Kinkaid Lake in Murphysboro after the elusive musky.  I have been trying to catch one for the past several years and I still have not put one in the boat.  I had a close call in Wisconsin in 2013, but that is about it.  I only go a couple times a year, and I am hopeful that 2016 will by my musky year. 

Travis and I ended up arriving on the water around 3:30.  On my 3rd cast I had a fish.  It was a small bass that went after my 1 oz. rattle trap.  Just before 5 pm, Travis hooked into a fish, and there was no doubt it was a nice musky.  A few tense moments later, and his musky was in the net.  It taped out around 41 inches.  We were both very happy.  Travis has caught quite a few musky, but he still was very elated with his latest fish.  He took hold of her long enough to get a couple photos and she was back in the water in no time.  We watched her swim back into the depths of the lake.  That was the only two fish we put in the boat today, but it was enough.



As the light got lower, we noticed a loon swimming around the lake.  I see one or two every spring on various lakes in the area, but I never get tired of the view.  They truly are a beautiful bird.  Luckily, I had grabbed my long lens for just such an occasion, and I got a few photos.


A couple coots

A pied-billed grebe

All in a day’s work

We are lucky here in Illinois to be offered so many opportunities in the woods and the water. You do not have to try hard to find yourself knee deep in outdoor fun.  This was a special day to blend successes in two different hobbies all in one day.  Next time, maybe I will be the one holding the musky!

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Semi-Live Hunt Firearm Opener

Fri, November 20, 2015

Okay, so I will try to do this semi live hunt this morning. Every 30-45 minutes I will provide an update (if possible). The players this morning are me, my wife Marj, my brother Travis, my mom Cathy and my dad Gerald. I won’t necessarily give you updates from each of them, but I might mention them in my updates.

6:40 am-The woods are very calm with a slight west breeze. To this point I have heard 4-5 shots. I can hear both owls and turkeys in the distance and the turkeys have attempted some broken gobbles. Travis has seen a spike so far.

7:25 am-I have basically nothing to report. I’ve heard approximately 22 shots (there is a large piece of public land nearby). I haven’t heard from my parents, my wife hasn’t seen any and Travis has seen the one spike. Phone service is sketchy, so these updates might be sporadic.

8:10 am-So far, it has been remarkably slow. Last I heard, out of my immediate family, one early spike from my brother is still the only deer. My wife saw a coyote. I’ve counted 40 shots, but only one was halfway close. This is all surprising, based on sightings while my dad was checking on his cattle and the trail cameras we have been using. I expected a very good morning. Shots have picked up significantly in the last 15-20 minutes.

9:00 am-We have added a couple to our tally. Travis added a 3 point, and dad saw a doe. Shots were much better this hour. I’ve now heard 68 shots, and I’ll surpass last year’s opening number soon. The surprising thing is, only one was anything resembling close. There are hunters in every wood lot around, and no nearby shots to speak of. I cannot say where all the deer from our cameras or our own sightings are, but I can tell you where they are not. As I was typing I did hear a relatively close shot.

9:45 am-I have heard 87 shots. That’s possibly the most I’ve ever heard opening morning to this point. The only updated sighting is my mom saw a “smallish buck”. I have to get down around 10:00 am, so this will be my last report unless something good happens soon. We are hunting large woods here in southern IL, so getting skunked is not all that uncommon, but I sure didn’t expect it today. I apologize for the boring updates that involved few deer, but that’s hunting sometimes. Signing off.

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