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Spring is a time to explore

Wood Lake’s Mike Schaffran and 2-year-old yellow lab, Ole, check out some sign on the bank of the Yellow Medicine River. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)1 / 5
A ground scrape from fall was still evident near some bedding cover.2 / 5
A tree rub left behind by a buck last fall still stands out just off a trail.3 / 5
Turkey and deer tracks sit side-by-side in the mud on a trail.4 / 5
The remains of a young eight pointer are left behind.5 / 5

It’s amazing how great the first really nice day of spring makes a person feel after being cooped up inside for much of the winter. 

Temperatures reached almost 70 degrees back near my hometown of Cottonwood on the first Sunday in April. For many this means a chance to enjoy some nice weather on the deck. For hunters, it’s an opportunity to get out to the land they hunt and explore.

That’s exactly where my father-in-law, Mike, and I were that morning as we went down to the 400-plus acres of land he leases on the Yellow Medicine River. The land is a mixture of water, bluffs, tree cover and crop fields that make for some of the best wildlife habitat that I’ve seen in southwestern Minnesota.

Mike plans on bow hunting for the first time in years this fall, so I was excited to search for some good stand locations.

I don’t like to disturb the woods in the fall by moving stands and searching for sign. I prefer using the spring to gauge what areas the deer are using as bedding habit and possible staging areas. Their patterns can change from spring to fall, but a lot of the key areas remain the same from year to year.

We slipped down the muddy entrance road in Mike’s truck to the shack that sits just off the bank of the river. Ole, my two-year-old yellow lab, burst out of his crate and didn’t waste much time in finding the open water. He’s been waiting for this all winter, too.

Right when we stepped out of the truck there was deer and turkey tracks side-by-side in the mud. We skirted between the edge of a corn field and the river bank that got higher and higher as we went.

A beaten down deer trail led the way through the trees once the river met the woods. It wasn’t long before we came to a spot where this trail met up with another deer highway.

My first thought was to scan the trees in the area. Where would be a good place to hang a stand?

Three big elms that were tightly grouped made for the perfect location. They were about 15 yards off each trail with a great background and plenty of shooting lanes. With the rolling water of the river not far away, it would be easy to sneak in and out quietly.

None of these would work to hang a portable stand on, but together they were a perfect opportunity to build something permanent. I laid out the plans for Mike, and I think I was more excited than he was.

This is all part of the fun of hunting for me – scouting, planning, preparing. Then imagining it all come together with a nice deer in the fall. When it does, the preparation put into the hunt makes it that much more rewarding.

We continued down the path through the trees and came into a bedding area near the bank of the river. A couple of big tree rubs from last fall still stood out, and the forest floor was covered in droppings. It was obvious that deer were frequenting this area during the winter months.

Finding this was the final piece of the puzzle that I was looking for. We came from the field they like to feed in and had followed their primary trail. Now we had an idea of where they like to bed and know not to set up too close.

The previous location I had marked in my mind seems to be about the perfect distance. It should be a great opportunity to see plenty of deer moving from their bedding cover to their food source.

From here, we set out to another part of the land to try and find similar cover. There is always something to see along the way. We watched plenty of deer as they foraged their way through the trees on the other side of the river.

We found a couple sheds and the remains of three different deer, one being a small eight pointer. I think of all the possible ways they could have died. Shot during last season’s hunt and never recovered? Too weak to survive a tough winter?

It’s not uncommon to find the remains of deer, but on this trip, signs of life were much more abundant. It reminded me again how amazing these animals are in their ability to survive everything that nature throws at them.

We continued to walk along a heavily used trail that followed the river on the edge of a steep bank. Up and up we went until we reached a grassy meadow that overlooked the property.

Mike often says he would lease the land even if they couldn’t hunt it. It’s worth the price just to walk on it, to explore. He used to frequent this same piece of land with friends as a child, and I imagine being back here makes him feel like a kid again.

It does that for me. The inherent longing for adventure never leaves. We just ignore it far too often.

Too busy at work, too many entertainment options on TV – there are all sorts of reasons. Excuses, really. Seldom do any of those make for a better morning than a few hours spent in the wild.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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