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The Back 40

Tomorrow it begins

Wed, September 30, 2015

Just a quick note before we all hit the timber and fields tomorrow.

Good luck.  Be safe,  Have fun out there.



Blood Trailing Tips

Fri, September 25, 2015

Blood trailing revisited.  I wrote this a few years ago and have been asked to repost it every year…so here goes.

You’ve just arrowed your deer.  What you do immediately following the shot may decide whether you find your deer or not.  Now is the time to keep your head in the game.  Pay attention.  Watch and listen.  Your hunt is far from over.  Here are some trailing trips that may help you find that trophy of a lifetime.  First we must talk about shot placement.  For archers, the only shots to take, in my opinion, are either broadside or quartering away.  They offer the best kill shot opportunities.  Your arrow will have a clear, and virtually unobstructed, path to the vitals.  Yes, you can take a slightly quartering to shot, but remember, you’ll probably be going through shoulder before you ever reach the vitals.  I shot my heaviest buck to date with a slightly quartering to shot.  The shot was only at 11 yards and I was able to blow through the shoulder and still have complete penetration through both lungs.  Head on or straight away shots should never be taken, especially from an elevated position.  I did hunt with one guy years ago in Kentucky who gave his buck a “Texas Heart Shot”.  Let’s just say that you could have looked for the arrow’s entrance hole for hours without ever finding it.  Bullseye.  The entire arrow disappeared and the deer dropped in 30 yards.  Though this was a quick kill, there is very little room for error.  How many people are needed to track a hit deer?  Two or three is my number.  Any more creates too much noise and activity.  My eyes aren’t what they used to be, so I like to take one of my kids, particularly my son, Jake, who has eagle eyes.  This boy can find the smallest of drops 20 feet ahead of him with a flashlight.  So it’s good to bring someone along with tracking experience and better eyes than you have.  While on a blood trail, there are a few obvious yet important things to point out.

Don’t trample all over the sign left by the deer.  Mark the blood trail every so often so you can look back and clearly see the path being taken.  Always mark or have your tracking partner stay at the point of last blood.  Be quiet and move slowly.  If you jump the deer, pay attention to its path and see if it beds down again.  Mark that spot and back out quietly.  Give the animal time to expire or stiffen up.  If you’re tracking at night, use a normal flashlight such as a MagLight.  Forget about those red and green blood lights.  In my opinion, they’re worthless.  After the shot, take note if the deer left with your arrow or did you get a complete pass through?  If he left with your arrow, was there an exit hole?  If you’ve had a complete pass through, inspect the arrow.  What color is the blood?  How much blood is on the arrow?  A bloody arrow does not mean a dead deer, and a relatively clean arrow does not mean you won’t find your deer.  Some hits leave an arrow caked in blood with very little damage done to the deer.  A high muscle hit may leave a bloodier arrow than any other shot, but your recovery chances are very slim.  A muscle hit like this will leave very bright red blood for the first 100 yards or so, but will then end abruptly.  Human blood clots quickly, but a Whitetail’s blood clots up to four times faster, putting an end to a blood trail quickly at times.  If you have a high muscle hit, it’s best to wait it out for several hours, possibly till the next day (weather permitting).  Hopefully your deer will stiffen up and die or at least allow for a follow-up shot.  Deer react differently to different shots.  Though not all deer will react the same way to the same shot, patterns have certainly developed.  A good solid double lung shot will usually make the deer mule kick and run hard.  Heart shots will usually make a deer run faster than you ever thought a deer could run…usually tail tucked and low to the ground.  Gut shots will almost always hump a deer up.  They may mule kick like a double lung shot, but they’ll leave the area with a noticeable hump in their back.  Though a gut shot deer can travel long distances, they’ll usually stop within the first 100 yards and may even bed down right there.  Leg and ham shots will also make a deer stop after a relatively short distance.  Liver shots are tricky.  Most liver shot deer will either lie down and die within 150 yards, or take you into the next zip code.  So what do you do after each shot?  Here’s how I handle each shot.  By no means am I an expert tracker, I am just a guy who has tracked well over 150 deer…sometimes doing something right and sometimes screwing up royally and hopefully learning something from it.  I take each mistake and file it into my mental Rolodex.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned.  Bright red blood.  For some strange reason it always gets me all excited…followed by a feeling of “Oh, oh.”  Bright red blood usually means a muscle hit.  Not to be too negative here, but good luck finding your deer, you’re going to need it.  Muscle hits may leave tons of blood on the ground or none at all, depending on the location of the hit.  If you have tons of blood on the ground, don’t get overly excited.  Continue to track slowly.  Muscles blood will usually come to a fairly abrupt end.  Tons of blood, then a few drops, then nothing.  As I stated above, deer have clotting agents that will clot their blood four times faster than our blood.  Muscle only hits rarely result in death.  Though your deer may have bled a lot, it has to actually lose 45% of its blood to begin the death process.  That’s a lot of blood considering a Whitetail deer has 1 ounce of blood per pound of body weight.  That means your 200 pound (on the hoof) buck will have 6.25 quarts of blood in it.  He will have to lose about 3 full quarts before death can occur.  You know how big of a blood trail I could make with 3 quarts of bright red blood?  That’s why big blood trails can be deceiving, making us wonder how that deer can still be alive.  My rule on muscle hits?  Leave the deer alone.  Go after him the next day.  One of three things will probably happen by the next day.  Either you’ll find your deer dead within a couple hundred yards, or your deer may stiffen up and hold tight allowing for a second shot, or he’ll heal up to be hunted another day.  Leg shots are tough.  Leg shots can actually kill a deer quickly, especially a rear leg shot.  The femoral artery runs along the back and down through each of the hind legs.  Cut this artery and you’ll open a faucet on the deer.  If you know you have a leg hit, don’t wait.  Keep the deer moving.  Pushing him will keep the wound bleeding.  Letting him lay up will definitely cause the blood trail to end.  Keep him moving till you either get a second shot or he gives up the ghost.  Leg shots will usually produce bright red blood much like a muscle hit.  Gut shots.  Every hunter’s worst nightmare.  More times than not you’ll get a complete pass through.  Your arrow will have some blood on it, but not much.  It’ll be covered in watery fluids and gut material and smell like….well….like a gut shot deer.  Do not push a gut shot deer.  If you shot him in the morning, wait till mid afternoon to track.  If you shot him in the afternoon, wait till the next morning.  More deer have been lost due to gut shot deer being pushed than anything else.  If you have a coyote problem like I do, you may find an eaten deer the next day, but pushing it will not help.  Just take your chances with the coyotes and wait it out.  Even with a 24 hour wait, your deer may still be alive, so track slowly and be prepared for a second shot.  Liver shots.  These can be tricky.  Shoot a deer through the liver, and he’s dead.  Nick the liver with one blade, and he’s dead.  The only questions are how much of a blood trail will he leave and how far will he go before expiring?  I haven’t shot that many deer through the liver, maybe 4 or 5, but I’ve learned something from those few occasions.  I even helped a family member track a liver shot deer once.  With a liver shot, you will more than likely get a complete pass through.  Not much to stop an arrow behind the shoulder.  Your arrow will more than likely be sticking in the ground, covered in blood….dark red blood.  Liver shots always produce that darkest blood.  Don’t look for liver blood to be dark purple, just darker than normal blood.  The liver is a good bleeder and should kill your animal quickly.  Though I have read many times that you should wait at least two hours before picking up the trail of a liver shot deer, I have never seen them live anywhere near that long.  On the side of caution though, wait the two hours.  Don’t push your deer.  A liver-shot deer usually won’t go that far and will have a happy ending.  If your exit hole is low on the body, you should have a fairly easy blood trail to follow, even at night with flashlights.  With a mid body height liver shot, you should still have a decent enough blood trail to follow.  In my experience, all of my liver hit deer have expired in 10 minutes or less and have been pretty good bleeders.  Like I said though, wait the two hours to make sure you end up with your deer.  Lung shots….ah yes, lung shots.  Love ‘em.  That’s what we all aim for.  They’re the biggest vital organ, there’s one on each side, and they bleed like crazy and kill a deer quickly.  Cut just one lung though and you may have a problem.  I’ve been a victim of the one-lung hit more than once.  Deer can actually live for hours, several hours, with only one lung.  They can even travel great distances on a single lung hit, even if not pushed.  I’ve seen single lung hit deer bed within 50 yards of the hit, get up and walk 20 yards, bed down again….do this several more times, then get up and walk 150 yards or more and bed again.  Make no mistake, a single lung hit makes for a dead deer.  But it can also make for a very long tracking job and phone calls to your neighbors for permission to cross fences.  The double lung is what we all want.  Rarely will a double lung hit deer go farther tan 150 yards.  Sure, some may go 400 yards (I had one of those two years ago), but most will be dead in 20 seconds and cover only 75 yards.  When you lung punch a Whitetail, expect to see the deer mule kick.  Sometimes almost to the point of flipping themselves over vertically.  These deer will run hard and fast.  Once they stop to figure out what just happened, that’s usually their final resting place.  Not always, but usually.  A good double lung shot will cause tremendous blood loss quickly and the deer will be dizzy from a loss of oxygen rich blood to the brain within seconds.  If the deer stops, watch as he will probably spread his legs out to keep his balance….usually a sure sign that he is about to go down.  Keep an eye on him anyway.  Lunge blood is lighter in color than blood from other parts.  Almost pinkish.  It will also have tiny bubbles of air in it.  Don’t look for big frothy bubbles, just tiny ones.  Sometimes lung blood is almost frothy and can spill out almost with the consistency of a thin shaving cream.  Though not every time, far more times than not a lung hit deer will blow this light colored blood out of its nose as its lungs fill up.  Sprayed blood is a good sign of a dead deer.  Sometimes you can even hear a lunged deer coughing as it tries to clear its lungs.  The deadly double lung shot.  Go for it every time.  The heart shot.  We usually don’t aim for the heart, it’s just a bonus that occasionally comes with a good lung shot.  Talk about a bleeder.  To hit the heart, you’re guaranteed a low exit hole.  A low exit hole along with a hole in the heart,…Ray Charles could find that deer.  When shot through the heart (and you’re to blame….sorry….80’s reference), deer usually run low and hard with a huge blood trail.  It can look like you opened up a faucet on both sides of the deer.  Plus, unless you somehow shot straight down or at some weird straight on ground angle, you probably also got at least one lung.  You can start climbing out of your stand before he even hits the ground.  But don’t.  Calm your nerves, then climb down.  Don’t ever climb down until you’re completely calmed down.  You just killed a deer.  It’s a good day.  Don’t ruin it.  Like I said, I’m not an expert, but I have learned a few things over the years.  To most of you, this stuff is obvious and goes without saying.  But hopefully someone gets something out of it.
If you have some of your own tips, please feel free to share them here.
Everyone have a great season.  Stay safe and kill the buck of your dreams. 
John Soehn


I guess Mom’s a fisherman after all…

Wed, June 24, 2015

After last year’s unbelievably successful father-son Canadian fishing trip, my son Jake and I decided to make this a tradition.  As soon as school ends and the ice is out, we’re heading north.  Monster pike, fierce smallmouths, and tasty walleyes…not to mention the beautiful scenery and the chance to see a bear or moose.  The bonus this year was that my wife, Carole, was also coming along. 

It seems as though we began planning this year’s trip the day we got home from last year’s adventure.  In reality, we actually booked our cabin after Christmas.

This year I made it my goal to talk my mom and dad into coming with us.  My dad’s first answer to most things is “No.”  He’ll admit that he requires a little coaxing…and a coaxer I am if nothing else.  We invited my mom and dad to our house for Thanksgiving.  I planned to use this as my in-person opportunity to get my mom and dad to come to Canada with us.  For the record, Mom doesn’t fish, but Dad sure does.  I tried and tried that Thanksgiving to get my parents to come with us but failed miserably.  Not to worry though, opportunity #2 was right around the corner.  Christmas in Chicago with my family and the entire Soehn clan.

Long story short, I failed once again.  Mom and Dad would be staying home.  Jake, Carole, and I still looked forward to our fishing trip though.

Then life changed for us all.  Right after Christmas my mom went to the doctor to get blood tests done and to look into some stomach pains she was having.  A short time later, the test results revealed cancer.  Pancreatic cancer.  The two words you never want to hear.  After many more tests, my mom had surgery on February 25th.  Literally minutes into the procedure the surgeon came out to tell us the cancer had spread.  Surgery would just make things worse.  My dad asked the dreaded question, “How long do we have with her?”  The answer floored us.  Two months to two years, with an average of eleven months.  I wish we had gotten that average.  We lost her just 2 weeks and 3 days later.  I still can’t believe it happened.  I can’t believe she’s gone.  She left her husband and three boys too soon. 

A month or so later, I looked into cancelling our June trip.  Fishing just wasn’t important anymore.  Then I thought, maybe this would help Dad.  After some more coaxing, I actually talked him into going with us.  The trip was on.  There was a very dark cloud over us, but I think it was something we all needed.  So on June 13th, we jumped in my truck and headed north. 

My dad had been to Canada a few times in the past, mostly with his four brothers, so the pressure was on.  I wanted this to be the best Canadian trip he was ever on. 

Day one we just fished the lake we stayed on.  We caught some nice pike and smallies, including a couple 3 pound bass and a 9 pound pike.  It was our ice breaker day.  Day two we killed it!  In our boat alone, my dad and I caught about 100 pike.  We couldn’t keep them off our lines.  Of course most were small, but we did manage to catch a few decent ones with an 11 pounder topping the day…plus a short stringer of walleyes.  And to top it off, day two ended with us watching the Hawks win the Stanley Cup.  No phone service, but we did get the Hawks on TV in our cabin.  I still can’t figure that one out.  Canada does love its hockey. 

In the seven days we were there, we fished six different lakes.  Each one had something good to offer.  We even used a guide one day and Dad enjoyed his first shore lunch…on his birthday no less.  We all caught lots of fish including some good ones.  But most of all, we all had a great time.  We fished a lot but we laughed even more.  It’s been quite a while since Dad and I laughed.  I think Mom watched over us to keep us safe and to make sure we laughed…and to keep the fish biting.  I guess Mom’s a fisherman afterall.  I think she’d be proud of how we handled this trip.

On our long drive home Dad was already talking about next year.  I guess he found his new favorite place to fish.  It’s funny how fishing isn’t just about fishing. 

We miss you like crazy, Mom. Thanks for all the bites.



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