November 23, 2015
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Like a line from a Charles Dickens' novel, for deer hunters across the nation this fall, it has been the best of times and also the worst of times too.
It's been the best of times because there is nothing like the pre-rut of late October and the full-blown rutting madness of November, a time when woodlots and uplands all across the land can be red hot with big white-tailed buck activity.
But in this particular year, with a record-setting El Nino, flooding Pacific Ocean warmth across much of the country, it has also been the worst of times too for the nation's deer hunting army.
Especially with mild weather conspiring to keep deer heavy with their winter coats from doing much of their rutting behavior during daylight hours as hunters wait and watch.
Instead, much of this autumn's rut has been under the cool cover of darkness with only Nimrod, the silent hunter in the stars above, observing the annual show of rutting behavior.
Warm weather or not, all has not been lost as a number of good deer hunting reports and big buck photos have shown in recent weeks.
Because for those hunters who have persevered through the less than ideal fall hunting conditions this year, venison for the freezer and antlers for the wall have still been available to hard working hunters, rewards that have proven to be sweet indeed.
And that includes Outdoor Channel’s Hunt Masters host Gregg Ritz and his 11-year-old daughter, Sienna Ritz, two hunters who have recently enjoyed the hard earned fruits of their deer hunting labor in the American Midwest.
In fact, on her first whitetail hunt ever in the Show Me State of Missouri, Sienna's dad, Gregg, helped her to remain vigilant on stand, eventually finding her way to deer hunting success.
"After four days of being a trooper on stand – and not seeing much due to warm temperatures and rain – she got it done in the last few minutes," indicated Ritz.
"A few does stepped out and she asked if she could shoot one before (we) packed up (to go). And that's when we saw the oldest buck on the farm, an 11-point (bruiser) chasing behind the (does)."
With the green light to shoot given by her dad, Sienna carefully steadied her aim with a Thompson Center Encore rifle, then carefully squeezing the trigger and sending a lethal Hornady Ammo bullet down range where the buck was felled with a single killing shot.
"It fell instantly," reported Ritz.
Warren Hodgdon (left), Sienna’s grandfather, shows off his recent big buck success with family members Sienna and Gregg Ritz. (Photo courtesy of Gregg Ritz)
But Sienna's big buck harvest wasn't the only whitetail hunting success in the family since her grandfather, Warren Hodgdon, a Hunt Master Pro Staff member himself, tagged another good whitetail for the family freezer.
Both Sienna's success and that of her grandfather, Warren, made for quite an effort to dress and get a couple of big whitetails out of the hilly and muddy farmland terrain that Missouri is famous for.
That's where Ritz had to rely on his Yamaha ATV to help him move a mountain of Midwestern venison out of the woods.
While some hunters believe that the use of such machinery can alert wise old whitetails to the presence and activities of hunters, Gregg Ritz hasn't found that to be the case.
"We regularly use our ATV and UTVs throughout the year to work (on) the farm, running our trail cams, working on foot plots and even shed hunting," said Ritz.
"So when it comes time for deer season, the animals are accustomed to hearing the sound of the engines in our machines and it does not phase them too much," he added.
"And using the machines (is) critical to getting the deer out of the field. Our deer (in that part of the country) will dress over 200 pounds and trying to drag a big buck any distance (at all) can be very difficult."
What was not very difficult for Ritz to enjoy was a trio of big smiles that were produced by the trip's deer hunting success.
"(Hunts like that are) a memory you cherish forever and that you can relive with your kids throughout their lives," said Ritz.
Because of that, he is adamant that hunting is a tremendous way for any father to spend some great quality time with their children.
"I would say to other dads (to) be patient, (to) have fun and (to) take every opportunity to spend the time (together)," said Ritz.
"The reward is much greater than if you pull the trigger yourself!"
Speaking of pulling the trigger, Ritz had some good advice on how a father can help their child succeed in the field and beat the dreaded shakes brought on by a case of "buck fever," a malady that hunters know all too well when a big whitetail suddenly appears downrange.
"You want to help your child focus on the shot," he said. "Teach them to pick a spot on the animal and then to breathe.
"A lot of their confidence in the shot will come from hours spent on the range during the preseason months and that will all work to give them the confidence (they need) to make the shot when the time comes."
And that includes the time that comes during a mild autumn when El Nino is doing its dead level best to make the whitetail hunting a tough road for hunters to plow.
But it's a road that can still be conquered by simple hunting perseverance and time spent together as a family out in the whitetail woods.
Because at the end of the day, that's really what the pastime of hunting is all about, now isn't it?
Take one look at the smiles in the Ritz family's deer hunting photograph from their recent hunt in Missouri and the guess here is that you'll heartily agree.