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Vandiver: Mother Nature made hunting hard in 2016
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From left to right: Russell Vandiver, his son Josh and grandson Jackson poses with an elk they shot during a fall hunt in New Mexico. - photo by For The Times

2016 has proven to be one of the toughest hunting seasons I can ever remember.

It started in the spring with a very difficult turkey season, then a drought affected dove season in late summer, followed by an exceptionally hot and dry fall deer season. 2016 has been one for the record books.

Seems like everything that had worked in the past did not work this year, and it all centered around one missing ingredient — rain. Sunflowers and millet for doves never matured, and deer food plots never grew an inch as a result of record heat and drought that kept the deer movement mainly at night, if at all.

We had a great acorn crop, which further slowed deer movement as they did not have to travel far from bedding areas to find food and water on creek beds. The result of all these hunting obstacles is a lot of room in my freezer usually reserved for deer venison.

We were blessed to have some good dove hunts in September in spite of limited food, and a great elk hunt in New Mexico, where my son Josh and grandson Jackson harvested two great bull elk. I also harvested my first deer with my Mission crossbow in November. The deer was a solid 10-point whitetail taken in Ohio. These hunts provided all of us with memories that will last a lifetime.

The good news is there is still a month of deer season left in Georgia, and the wonderful rain we have received this past week should help provide for improved hunting the rest of the season. We also have gun hunts in Ohio in December and January that will most likely be on snow-covered, cut corn fields, which is always exciting in spite of the freezing temperatures.

Dove season turned out to be better than I thought as we harvested more than 100 birds on each of the first two hunts and several limits of birds on subsequent hunts. The birds flew very early or late in the day as they were affected by the hot weather.

I plan to plant wheat this winter to leave standing for next year’s dove field, as well as planting sunflowers at two different times in order to assure that we have food for opening-day hunting.

My grandchildren also learned to reload shotgun shells this fall. My granddaughter, Taylor, mastered the art of loading 20-gauge shells, and grandson Jackson has become very proficient at loading 12-gauge shells. I am not sure how many rounds they have loaded but I don’t think we will need to buy any shells for next dove season.

Our New Mexico elk hunt was amazing.

Josh harvested his elk on the first morning of the hunt with a great shot from his 7mm/mag at 200 yards. Jackson took a majestic elk the next morning with a 50-caliber muzzleloader at 28 yards. We got two elk on two hunts and headed back to Georgia on the third day.

Josh had planned the hunt and made all the arrangements perfectly and, as he said, “I love it when a plan comes together.” They allowed me along as the non-hunting pack mule, as our guide Bud Womack described me. Witnessing my son and grandson take elk on back-to-back days at 8,000 feet elevation was an awesome adventure, especially for an old man. The memories made on that trip are etched in our minds forever.

Ohio is a great place to hunt, especially if you love to bow hunt. I decided last season that my best chance to harvest a great buck in Ohio was not with my bow-tech compound bow, since I am, as Josh describes me, “bow challenged.”

I decided to purchase a cross bow and see if I could improve my chances. Josh had worked with Patrick Wiley at Outdoor Depot, and they hooked me up with a Mission cross bow that had my two requirements: light and quiet. Turns out that it is perfect for what I wanted as I shot my 10-point buck at 15 yards chasing a doe and he dropped at 50 yards.

The only issue I have is that my grandkids are trying to take my bow for them to hunt with, as Jackson has harvested a doe with it already and Taylor has been practicing with it for her hunt later this year. Thanks to Patrick and Josh for putting me on a great bow.

The remainder of the hunting season should hopefully be much improved with the rain we have received recently. I actually saw some green sprouts on the food plots Friday, so I think we will finally get to hunt on some green food plots about the same time the second rut kicks in during mid-December.

Lessons learned this year include the fact that no matter how much seed, fertilizer and work you put into food plots, you are always at the mercy of Mother Nature. I also learned to be thankful for the opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, even when things don’t always work out as planned.

Find time to get out and enjoy the outdoors this holiday season, and take a kid hunting or fishing. Some of the greatest blessings are through the smiles and laughter of a child. “Every day is Saturday.”

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