Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Tough Love: Trail Runner Article, March 2016

Tough Love. The title says it all.  While this obviously pertains to Duluth's technical trail running opportunities I have to say it also points to what was for me a very, challenging photo assignment.

I have always been very straight in pointing out that I am a "pro-am" photographer, but jobs like this Trail Runner Article have certainly pushed my skills more towards the pro side of the equation.  First off the chance to shoot this came out of left field and I was extremely thankful for the opportunity.  It was great to meet the author Alex Kurt and to help him make his project fly.
However timing wise it landed in what could be the worst ending of fall, start of winter we have had here in Duluth in a while.

Its one thing to shoot in Duluth when its full summer, the colors vivid and verdant.  However it is a much different thing to shoot when its early December, raining, brown, foggy and dark.  It certainly came down to shooting locations and driving my camera and my personal skills (as well as the patience of my subjects) as far as I could.  I am happy it turned out.  I am not 100% happy with the look, certainly I wish I had this shot when it was August or September.  I did not have that chance though and perhaps the main take away from this post and this experience is that sometimes you just have to shoot, regardless of light, regardless of season and regardless of weather.   That I guess is what makes a pro a pro and a pro-am a pro-am.  I am not sure that I passed the test or not, but there is no doubt that I am more seasoned for the next time it comes around.  I really have to give a shout out to all the folks that got out in the cold and rain for me.  Adam Schwartz Lowe, Leslie Semler, Chris Rubesch and Eric Nordgren.  It would not have even been a shoot had you guys not shown up!

I should also note that I have a shot in this months Minnesota Monthly as well.  Its the back page shot and its the "Shot that won't die" of Casey on Park Point, but hey you take what you can get!

In addition to this, I have also been on two Photo Talk Panels.  One for the One River Many Stories initiative going on here in Duluth, I was on the spot with Ivy Vaino and Clint Austin.  It was a truly amazing night, and I learned a lot, and felt about as humble as you can!  Really inspiring.

Secondly I spoke on an Artists panel about art and cycling advocacy at the Winter Cycling Congress in Minneapolis.  It was super fun to be on the panel with several other great photographers, Bjorn Christianson, Ellie Kingsbury and then graphic artist Joel Biel.  In addition Ben Weaver did some poetry and music and lucky for me played during my presentation!  Then that night Ellie and I did a pop up showing of our photographs at the Weisman Art Museum.  Again a very humbling experience but it was super fun to talk about the pics and to meet all the people at the events.

The last big photo happening is that I am heading off to Finland with my good buddy Rich Narum to photograph the Lahti Nordic World Cuy and specifically the US Ski Team and our good friend and hero Jason Cork....so stand by for those results, I think its going to be big!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

All Hail the Hipster: My early life as an XC Skier

A typical Monday night at Lester Park, Duluth MN  

At this stage in my life I can honestly say I have forgotten more skiing than most people have done in their lifetimes. So I can be straight when I say I don't really recall my "first" days on skis.

I do though recall when skiing first clicked for me.  The time when I realized what nordic skiing really meant to me. It was in my 7th grade year.  I was on the classic wooden skis, rat trap three pin bindings and horrible leather, toe eating boots.  Putting the boots on was like forcing your feet into a vice and then crunching down the binding was like tightening it.

We lived in a rural setting, far outside of the small town of Winona, Minnesota.  Our home was ringed by bluffs and the fields surrounding the house were cut in the fall, so we could ski out the door.

Usually we would plod along in a line across the base of the hill, dad, mom and kids trailing behind like drunken ducklings.

The year skiing really resonated for me though, I vividly remember my brother and I just going outside to see what we could ski down.  Truthfully it was more along the lines of sledding then it was about skiing.

Turning was not involved.

It was a straight running, high ball, fall line game of chicken.  At first we would try and go the length of the field, which had a solid pitch of at least 30+ degrees.  The crashes were amazing, and how we did not break a leg with those 215cm solid wood skis on our feet is beyond me.  After each attempt though we would get the knack and go a bit longer.  Eventually we had to start higher and higher up in the woods above the field to get a good run in, but of course that also increased the danger factor a bit..........well maybe a lot.

So this is all a long lead in to the idea that at one point in my early life I was standing high on hill, in the woods looking down a huge hill, with a pair of toe crunching boots and 215cm wooden lever arms hanging off my spindly, 7th grade legs and absolutely engaged by it, intoxicated by it.

The results were obvious.  Not only did my brother and I ski that run we loved it.  We realized we were naturals at it, but most importantly I realized that there was something in my life that I loved, that I was good at, that gave me confidence, that I could own, that I could succeed at.  Something my parents allowed me to do any time I wanted.

My adolescence could have gone a few different ways.  I grew up in a rural setting.  I am most likely wrong in describing Winona, MN in the early 1980's as a farm town, but the fact of the matter is that it was, or at the very least the town that supported the agriculture around it.  There were not a lot of choices for a 7th grade kid, you could get into traditional athletics ( of which I sucked at), you could go the 4H route, or you could hang with kids who liked to party.  Arts and music were a choice but again, I was not engaged by it enough to swallow me like skiing did, like most 13 years old males my attention span was short to say the least.

XC Skiing pulled me out of all of that, once I had that feeling of success it was a beacon for me, it was grounding.  When I found out a short time later that I could actually join the ski team, it all became extremely clear to me what I wanted to focus on and what I wanted to do, not only in high school sports, but in my life.

As I grew older I realized that it was not just skiing that I sought, it was outside time.  It could be on a bike, it could be on skis, it could be in a canoe, but it had to be outdoors.

I recall all this nearly 30 years later for a lot of reasons.  First, because here I am, 45 and I am still bending over and putting on a pair skis every chance I get.  When life gets crazy, when stress builds up in me like a pressure cooker, when work drives me nuts, I know that I can reach for my skis, or any other outdoor tool and go to another world, another place that allows me personal sanctuary.  I would bet my life on it there are a huge amount of people out there that could tell this similar story, its not unique to me at all.

Now I advocate for this everyday, its my job, my avocation I guess.  I have not only seen what being outside has done for me, I have seen what it has done for others who had truly challenging youths.  I have also seen what it has done for communities, how it has improved the lives of people who live in them.  I passionately believe that sports like XC skiing, mountain biking, hiking, climbing, paddling and otherwise can truly make people and the places they live happier and healthier (mentally and physically).

Lately though I have heard some signals over the airwaves, small but high pitched, that sports like XC skiing or off road cycling are "elitist" or the groups that promote them are "Special Interest" groups, that these are not things that the average Duluth citizen engages in, that its for "hipsters."

With that in mind I pull out the image of me in 7th grade, my first "Booster" picture for the Winona Winhawk Ski Team..........

All hail the hipster!

It still blows me away that my first full season of racing was on wax-skis, three pin boots, jeans and a wool jacket, and nobody batten an eye, until I started placing high enough to make the varsity team.

Being outdoors is not about being cool, its not about being special, its about being engaged, its about enjoying nature, its about being yourself and about building confidence in who you are as person.  Its not limited to any one type of person, any one type of gender, race or economic status.

But if we as a community don't invest in it, make it available to everybody then we lose a very important opportunity to help make the world a better place for those of us that are spending our lives in Duluth or in Minnesota as a whole.

My first MN State Meet (classic boots in a Skate race)

A long way from Wood Skis and rat traps.  Awesome that its my little brother and his buddy watching the carnage.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Where is the Fat burning........?

Alex Rhode showing us the straight line and Evan Simula reading it for the first time

I started really shooting winter riding about 7 years ago.  It started on snowmobile trails.  Then it went to wandering on icy rivers, and just this week I watched it go to lift served DH.  Its an interesting progression and after seeing the work that Spirit Mountain has done to tweak and dial in winter Fat Bike access has been really inspiring.  I have to admit I was a bit skeptical heading to the hill, but after seeing the conditions and watching the guys ride it, I was pretty interested.  Coupled with skier access many of the lines normally skied in winter are hard as a rock, smooth and super fun.  Skidding and sliding on the Cord was super fun as well.

Who knows where this is going to go, but man its been fun to see the ride....

Monday, January 11, 2016

Learning the Dark Arts: Spearing Pike winter 2016

Thin ice means human powered

The darkness



Ice Games 


The work has just begun 

Thanks to a couple of buddies, I was able to try Spearing for the first time since I was a kid.  What a blast, a great way to spend a -15 degree day that is for sure.  It was interesting being in a fishing situation that more resembled hunting than fishing.....no catch and release here!  When the time comes to toss that spear, your already thinking about baked pike, or pickled pike, or batter fried pike......

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hits, misses and general chaos....Fat Bike Pheasants in Nebraska

Tony Shoberg getting the CB Jeebies

The reality is that I won't have enough time to write a post that does this trip justice.  The bio's of the cast of characters alone are enough to warrant a couple hours.  However it being the Xmas season, and it also being that I have YET to start Xmas shopping dictates that this is a quick post.

That all mentioned however suffice to say that myself, the two Shobergs (Tony and Jim) and our buddy Dave "Swede" Johnson of the Ruffed Grouse Society, had a really fun trip.  All in all I have learned over the years that its not the "taking" on trips that truly make them, but its the people.  That does not mean we did not find some birds, but there is no doubt we worked for them.

Get used to it
This trip stemmed from a request I had from a client that wanted a story on Hunting by Bike.  Those who know me and those who have done some of my photo trips know that they are generally rolling chaos and this was no exception.  For me these trips are on top of my already busy life.  Its a bit like jumping from a moving train, then jumping back on again.  However I have found a few folks that can deal with this, and the Shobergs are some of them, and now perhaps Swede as well.  To give you an idea, three days out, all we knew was that we were going to be gone for four days, we were going to camp and we would be hunting somewhere in Nebraska.  Case closed.  We were not even sure what we would be hunting in Nebraska, we just knew that bikes would be involved.  Now that is not to say that I did not do my research, it was more about conditions and those were changing by the day.   Eventually, once we left the snow cover map pushed us toward Beatrice, NE.

Dinner time, Camp Beatrice 

Late season, deep cover blues 
It all worked out.  We found Quail, we found pheasants and we found cool people and fun places to eat and drink.  We walked a lot, rode a bit and we told stories and laughed, laughed a lot.  Some booze was imbibed and some great food was made and some stumbling created.

Pocket full of fun

Dogs know

All geared up 

Picked clean 
I am not a die hard bird hunter, or even hunter these days.  Life is much too hectic, but I have had my share of walking down feather bombs and I was really enjoying the drama of the hunt.  We all had our hero shots and our epic misses (mostly epic misses).  The dogs were a hoot, they sometimes fooled us and other times shamed us, but they always tried their best.

Nebraska as a whole was a visual feast for me, which may surprise some people.  The towns were authentic and I loved to see both the businesses that were thriving and the lost forgotten places that were declining.  All in all the people were welcoming and fantastic, low key and non-plussed.

The Dog House, Blue Springs NE

Gas station Santa 
I was disturbed by the lack of habitat.  The corn cob has reigned supreme in this part of the world and it was stunning to see how little grass, trees and cover there was.  Public land was patch work and we had to work hard to find CPR to hunt.  All the public land was obviously hit hard as well.  The bikes though played a great role in this exploration and in many ways I had not previously thought of.  The bike is truly an interesting machine and it finds is place in so many facets of my life and hunting is one more of them and this trip only opened up my imagination further on how I could use the bike to hunt harder.  I will save these themes for my article however.

Swedish Chef

Jim Shoberg getting up that hill 

The Swede in his natural habitat 
This trip bookends a fairly stout flurry of photo gigs for me.  I just recently shot a piece for Trail Runner and then headed off to make this shoot happen.  I am happy for the opportunities that is for sure and thankful to the folks that have been helping me make these gigs happen.  Again its the people that make these things happen and in that realm I am blessed for the cool people around me.


Monday, December 14, 2015

33 Degrees F. is the most worthless temperature ever...........

Back in my college days there was this great song by Siouxsie & The Banshees called "92 Degrees."  The whole theme of the song was that at 92 Degrees, people go irritable and went off the hook crazy.

It was like a magic temp. Not 91, not 93, but 92 Degrees.....

Well the Duluth version of that is 33 Degrees during the winters.  This is the Northlands version of a bad heat wave. It does not happen in the summer, it actually happens in the winter!  33 Degrees. How worthless is that?  Its cold enough to be uncomfortable, yet not cold enough to freeze the ground, or the lakes and rivers, or snow etc.  Its totally worthless!  Not 31, not 34 but 33!!

Over the years in the work I have done in promoting Duluth and the upper Midwest, plenty of times I have been chided because this area and this town are "To Cold."  When we won the Outside Magazine contest the editor of the Magazine apologized for our win since we were "To Cold."  The same came out of the mouth of the Outdoor Industry Association Rep when Mayor Don Ness did a presentation to the OIA gathering this fall.  Never mind that the industry was nearly founded on Winter activities such as skiing and alpine climbing!  We have always been painted as too cold.

I am struck however that if I have to live in a place that is 33 degrees during the winter for very long I am going to flee, due not to the fact that its becoming more comfortable, but because its NOT COLD ENOUGH.........

I will say though that the lack of winter activities has brought me back somewhat to my old love of running.  I am not going to say I am back being a runner but I have had the chance to get on a lot more trail that I would normally not see from my bike.  Its been spotty due to lack of frozen ground but the areas where its rocky and rooty have ben doable.

Also these are some B-roll shots of a shoot I did with some of the regions faster trail runners for Trail Runner Mag this weekend.........

Monday, December 07, 2015

Duluth's Outdoor Groups threw a bunch of killer parties this weekend....and I survived them all!

COGGS Annual Party 2015

This weekend was a great example of the positive momentum that Outdoor Rec is gaining in the City of Duluth.

There were multiple outdoor oriented events.  First on Thursday was the second "Adventurers Club" meeting at Vikre.  I did not make it to that event, but the report was that the presentation was outstanding, attendance high and the Vikre booze awesome as well.

Friday night was the kick off of the local tour stop of Banff,  organized by DXC (Duluth Cross Country Ski Club).  This year was a big risk for DXC.  For a long time they had used Marshall Highschool as the venue for the event.  A solid place, but much smaller than the DECC where it was located this season.  In the idea of seating however it nearly doubled the space.  Of course that was the risk, you increase your costs, but also open the door to more capacity, that being the risk, that capacity increases but not enough.

Well that gamble paid off big time, with showings both on Friday and Saturday, Duluth's Outdoor community came out in droves.  Attendance had to be pushing the 3,000 mark over the two day stand.  The great thing is that its not just XC skiers, its Duluth's outdoor community as a whole and the way folks turned out was an obvious call to a lot of the work that the outdoor groups have been busting their backs on.

I was given a very quick chance to talk and I have to say that it was super humbling to get up in front of all those people.  It was not lost on me that the earliest Duluth,  Banff showings, all those years ago were in a tiny venue and you knew just about everybody in the room.  There I was standing in front of over a 1,000 folks who were energized, excited and seemingly vast.

Saturday I had to hop in the car and jet down to Minneapolis for a Torske Klubben meeting.  I have posted on this in the past so I won't bore you with the details but TK is a gathering for lunch to celebrate Norwegian heritage and to hob knob with other club members.  This months event was really cool as Don Ness came on down as a guest and I had a role in introducing him, not an easy task.  From there I headed back to Duluth and arrived just in time for the second night of Banff which was way busier than Friday night.  Again, awesome to see the numbers and to see the energy.

Solo Canoe Paddle on December 6th 2015

By Sunday I have to say I was wrung out and the thing I needed most was to get outside.  First though I was beseeched by emails and Texts speaking about the fact that the Star and Tribune had done a great article on the new Quarry Park and the climbing that will someday occur there (if winter returns).

Finally, I put my brain around going outdoors.

I ended up taking advantage of the horribly warm fall and went for a solo canoe paddle on the Res.  Such a strange and surreal experience to be paddling along, no ice on the water checking out the river when by now it would usually be frozen solid.  My though for that adventure was that while Duluth and Minnesota as a whole gets painted with the "Its too cold" label, the reality is that if it stayed this warm for multiple years and we lost winter, I would take off for a new place to live immediately, the fear is not that its too cold, the fear is that its too warm.......

After a great respite, Margaret and Tae and I went for a hike and hauled home a fun Xmas tree and decorated it.  We finished just in time to attend the COGGS Annual meeting.  What a great event and thanks to Thirsty Steve for hosting it.  He quite literally shut down his business to allows to hold the meeting and to drink his beer and eat his Pizza.  The meeting was well run, super well attended and an absolute blast.  Now I could have done without the last minute stop at the Hammond afterwards, but then again it was fun too, I am just paying for it now though........

The epiphany for the weekend though was that the theory of the Three P's is holding true.  People, Place, Partnerships.  All those things are crucial to the success of the venture of turning Duluth into a place that attracts the "Outdoorists" who want to live and work here.  To do so all those legs of the stool have to be healthy and vibrant.  People are core component of that and you need passionate, folks to step up and to be a part of a community, to show support to help create and maintain these experiences and to just plain enjoy being with.

After seeing the way Duluthians showed up this weekend, to a myriad of events, yet in force to all of them was amazing and its obvious that the idea of "Engagement" has been achieved..........

Intermission at Duluth Banff Showing

Friday, December 04, 2015

The cold hard face of a lack luster winter

Skiing Man Made at Spirit Mountain in Duluth.  A proposed 3.5KM loop with snowmaking is gaining traction in town as the winters continue to fail.

When I look back on some of the experiences I have had in my life that were the most challenging and the most character building, one stands out clearly in my mind.

It was the first year I had decided to strike out on my own as a commissioned ski rep in New England.  I was living in Burlington, VT and working for a variety of companies, nearly all of them start ups.  It was the area of the mid 1990's or there about.

My lines were the newly formed Garmont, the stalwart and always fun Tua Ski, Rainy Bindings and a myriad of small add on items as well.  Despite having such a small eclectic line up, I was doing very well in the work I was doing.  I was not making a huge amount of money, but then I did not need much. All I needed was a fistful of ripping ski buddies, a six pack every so often and snow.

My first season, thankfully was very successful.  The snow came when it was supposed to and the winter hung around like a faithful friend.  The second season though was not apocolyptic.  Due to the great first season I had invested more in my business, had made bigger bets with my dealers and generally had strung myself out  financially.  What a rookie, even better, what a rookie in the NE where winters have long had a history of wide swings.

That season started out very much like the current winter is.  Super mild.  Almost no freezing temps into early December.  Every time a system came through it started as snow, but finished as rain.  The ski hills could barely get their snowmaking systems rolling.  The Winter just sort of coughed and sputtered, never really gaining any strength.

Despite that though, early on I kept a positive spin on things, I did not panic and I worked hard to help my dealers move through their inventory.  Eventually though the dealers started to worry and then suffer and of course that stress came my way.

Finally around Christmas time, there was a long awaited and well reported system working its way across the country.  The skiers of New England watched patiently as the storm covered the Rockies and then the Midwest with a layer of frozen white gold.  The weather forecasters started to predict epic amounts of precip (most likely snow).  One week out my dealers even reported some sales due to customers seeing the possible return of winter.

The night the storm was predicted to hit I was living on Shelburne Farms on the shore of Lake Champlain, a dream spot, but low elevation in Champlain valley compared to where the skiing took place.  I went to bed with flurries dusting the car and felt elated to think that my challenges might be over and that hell I was looking at financially might be alleviated.

Sometime around 3am I woke up to a noise I could not quite place, a gentle drumming, almost a thrumming.  I crawled out of bed and stumbled to the window and peered out into the gloom, expecting to see a blanket of white.  However what I saw was a massive amount of ice and the thrumming I heard was the sheeting of rain,  a pouring of water that was freezing as it hit.  My heart almost stopped.  I could not go back to bed.  I called a buddy who lived at Stowe at the time, also a ski rep for a competing brand, to see if it was snowing up high.  Not surprisingly he answered the phone, unable to sleep himself.

"Nope" he lamented, "Its pouring rain up here too"

I was so emotionally torn up that I was speechless for a second.

My friend sensing my sorrow, not only as a skier but also as a boom and bust NE ski rep, said something I have never forgotten since.  He said, "Hansi, never, ever worry about anything you can't control"  " Work hard, do what you can, but know that its out of your hands.... and oh yeah, start working on getting some better summer lines............"

Monday, November 23, 2015

A winter night in a summer cabin

The reading room 

I had the occasion to head north last weekend.  I needed a place to crash so I headed to the family cabin in Bigfork, MN.  Its a simple place and made for summer.  I had put it to bed earlier this fall by turning off the power, draining the pipes and otherwise shutting it down.  That said, there I was no water, no bathroom etc.

That means a trip to the infamous Outhouse!  A visit that in a nice brisk winter morning is sure to "wake you up". However sitting there, coffee in hand, listening to the wind in the trees, I have to admit it waxed nostalgic.  It made me think of the times early in my childhood when we would go to this cabin over holidays.  There would be tons of us.  How we all fit in there I have no idea. It was total chaos, the Outhouse was always the bathroom that you were most likely going to end up at because somebody else would be using the "real" bathroom.

Those times have changed.  People have died, people have moved and yet there I was in the Outhouse, thinking of them all while I unburdened myself of other things............

Monday, November 16, 2015

Wherever you are, thats where you will be

It was an interesting weekend.  Margaret was enrolled in a class most of the weekend so I was in Dad mode.

We are guilty of literally running all over the place.  Often times when I describe my schedule to a family member or friend, I get this sort of shocked look.  Truthfully our month is a lot of people year. That is not a bragging thing, that is reality and I tell you this because when I get a chance to stay home and lounge, its a grand thing.

So while I wish I could list off all the insane, amazing things Tae and I did over the weekend, the reality is that we really just stayed home!  We did boy things.  We boiled my deer antlers and cleaned them off so we can hang them on the Sauna wall.  We fired up a Rock Tumbler my uncle Bob gave us, we went to the Peanuts Movie in 3D, as well as hooking up with Margaret after he class to see the 10 November play about the Edmund Fitzgerald.

That however is not the gist of this post.  The last couple of weeks have been weeks of general retrospective.  Syd the cat passed on so there was that.  Also I had to do some deep cleaning in the barn and old memories were dug up in that mess.  One aspect of that was a giant box of old Mini DV tapes.  I managed to find my old Mini DV camera as well and because of that I have started to go through them to see what is what.

One of those tapes held our trip to Korea to adopt Tae.  We watched it with him and man it was like a time warp.  On the screen a pudgy little Korean dumpling, sitting next to me an energetic, raw boned boy...........Add to that experience the tragedy of Paris, of all of the wars in the world, the pain the suffering the refugees fleeing the Middle East.  Also add to that the fact that I am reading a really interesting book about Thomas Cromwell called Wolf Hall.  In that book Cromwell loses his wife and two daughters to the plague in the span of six months.

Needless to say I found myself picking Tae up a lot this weekend.  Picking him up, hugging him and ruffling his hair.  Listening to him, giving him time and just plain giving him my attention.  Perhaps I am too dramatic, but I am starting to feel like this time is the best time I may have in my life and I intend to make sure my son and my wife are not taken for granted.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

My life as a low level bone collector: Homer Deer Hunt 2015

Little Bro rocking the Cogburn CB4 to his stand

So I have been deer hunting pretty much my whole adult life.  It was a gift given to me by my grandfather and by my father.

To me not only is deer hunting about the hunt, its also about family and friends, if not more so for me personally.  Yeah sure its great to talk big bucks and huge horns but when the numbers get too technical and the B&C stats to boring, its backslaps and bear hugs that win the day.

I have had the fun of hunting in a lot of cool places but by far my most beloved is where I grew up in Southern, Minnesota. Land of the "Cow Deer".  Corn fed, unhampered by major predators, there are a ton of them and they tend to have big racks.  As a kid I would jump out the back door, hop two or three fences and hit my stand.  The farmers around my family home would welcome us to hunt there.  We had hundreds of acres of prime SouthE hunting land to hunt.  Streams, ponds, thick brush cornfields, you name it.  We had the food source, the water source and the cover as well as the stands.  My grandfather and my uncle would come south every season and we would have a really fun and classic SE MN deer hunt.  Most folks shot deer, mainly bucks and if they did not they at least saw deer.

That all changed when I was in College.  Our friendly farmers died and passed on the farms or sold them, then the folks who bought into them got into deer management.  No Trespassing signs went up over night and certainly our past hunting heritage had no value in the new world of whitetail hunting.

Look close, what do you see??

I turned to hunting in the North with my uncle.  We had some great hunts, but man was it hard.  Pushed onto public land I quickly realized that work was the best way to distance myself from the other hunters.  Typically I would paddle up to an hour on small rivers to gain distance into the forest. Many seasons I went without actually seeing a deer, let alone shooting one and especially a buck.

Nearly a decade later my father happened to be invited by a family friend on their family deer hunt in the Winona area.  He called me the year after and told me how amazing it was, just like old times, only way better.  Better land, more cool folks and for sure a lot more deer.  Eventually my brother and I were invited to hunt as well and the rest is history.

This is the third year I have the extreme pleasure of hunting this particular place.  Finally this fall I was able to breakaway from both family and work to get down to Homer to place my own stand and find my own area to hunt.  It was not a huge scout but it was enough to find a great place for a ladder stand.  My father and I also placed stands for him and for my brother who flies in from Durango, CO every season for this experience.

A deer hunter and photographers dream spot

As you can tell I was pretty damn excited when we loaded up our hunting bikes, early on Saturday morning.  Stoke was high to say the least.  My bro and I rode in at a quick clip.  I had to ride him down to his stand to make sure he found it, then head back a half mile or so to mine.  It went quick and easy but I had not actually had to find my stand in the dark, so I bumbled a bit in getting up in my tree.  By then it was nearly shooting time and I was a bit frustrated.

The "Devil" Tree has become our favorite photo spot 

Back at home as I was reeling out the door I happened to spot a pair of Rattling Horns in a box of antlers my dad had.  What the hell I thought, might work and I had never given that aspect of deer hunting a go.  By all accounts, the rut was happening and I could use anything to my advantage.

About 10 minutes or so after setting down, I had deer under my stand.  First a doe, then of course a small buck.  Both were downwind and catching my scent, but were still reluctant to move out of the bowl I was in.  Finally they did, but as the small buck left I chanced a rattle of the horns.  Sure enough, he stopped dead in his tracks and came trotting back.  Hmm, I thought that does work!

Soon after the two of them left I caught site of more deer.  Only about a 1/4 mile away in an open field.  Not in my range but certainly in the realm of possibility if they were to walk my way.  I watched and waited.  Eventually a really nice 9 point walked in to chase the doe feeding in the field.  Way to far away to shoot but certainly in ear shot of the rattling horns I decided to try em again.  I bashed and rattled those horns as loud as I could, really making up in my head what I thought two giant deer would should like kicking each other butts!

Amazingly, this beautiful deer turned and started running straight toward the noise.  It was so sudden and abrupt I could not believe it was happening.  Indeed I had to remind myself to set the horns down and grab my gun.  Eventually the deer came within 50 yards of me and I was able to shoot it.  Stunning.

As I found him

To say I was shocked is an understatement.  Like I have said, I have hunted my whole life but have not had that experience, but man I will take it!

Rolling home for some good eats!
Our party is about 10 folks.  So later that evening when everybody went back out I was still able to get on a stand.  I was not expecting much as my site was compromised and that was what happened.  Things were super exciting back out our staging spot though.  Matt G had shot what he thought was one of his biggest deer ever.  An amazing 12 pointer, thick in the rack and really an amazing old deer.  It was a super cool moment and Matt was really happy as he should be.  I had a hard time imagining that there could be a bigger deer in the area.

Matt G earning his spot at the Devil Tree 

Ross, though had already done something to help me visualize it.  Almost as soon as Matt had shown us his great big deer, Ross came stumbling up sweating and excited.  He exclaimed he had shot a monster as well, but it was way down in a ravine and he needed help pulling it out.  A posse was pulled together and with beers in hand we loaded a truck and started off into the dark.


Deep down in the darkest of ravines 

Ross and his big buck 

After a long bouncy drive in the back of the pick up and a steep hike into a ravine we indeed saw Ross's monster and a monster it was.  This deer is by far the biggest deer shot in recent memory if ever on the property, however it was becoming obvious that most likely there were more deer of this size to be found in the future.

Another hunter, Chad had also shot a really nice 8 point that morning.  So now seeing Ross and his true "Monster" my nice deer had amazingly become the smallest of four.

Sunday was a really windy and tough day to stand hunt.  There was very little activity and not one nice buck was spotted.  A bunch of folks in our party, were more concerned with filing the freezer than trophies (my usual story as well) and so we decided to do a small drive to those folks.  Feeling already successful I took what I thought was a general blocking spot. More about funneling deer towards the others than shooting.  On the way to my spot I stopped and spoke with my buddy Dusty on strategy.  We spoke loudly and without worry about spooking deer.  I mean we were the end of the drive.  Finally Dusty told me about where to stand and I shoved off.  Nonchalantly I left the field we were in and entered the woods.  Two steps in I looked to my right and saw three doe.  A fourth was also there, only it was having a conjugal visit with a very large buck.  My jaw dropped.  All four doe, ran for the hills.  The buck obviously savoring the moment did not run.  In fact he just sat there looking at me.  It was long enough where it was sort of that feeling of the grouse that won't fly or the duck that lands in your decoys but just swims around.  Eventually however both the deer and my reaction time came to a point and I shot him.  Not the biggest deer I have shot, but certainly an amazing animal.

So boom.  Two days, two shots, two big bucks.  Suffice to say, that may never happen in my lifetime again.....

A- Rod, rattling horns and all 

Pile O' Bones