A lucky trifecta
MANTORVILLE — We all know people like Mike Whitcome.
He thought his luck was lousy. The Mantorville man loves to hunt and supports conservation groups, but he finally quit going to fundraisers. "Never won a thing, ever," he said.
He's the kind of guy who bought more than his share of raffle tickets, but his name or number never come up in a drawing. You always feel so sorry for those kind of guys.
You know where is going with this, don't you?
Yup, he had an incredible fall hunting season last year, thanks largely to luck of the draw. Fortune didn't just smile on Whitcome — it deluged him. His wife, Teresa, said he had three "hunts of a lifetime" within a few months. When it was over, he had bear, elk and moose meat in his freezer.
The hunts tumbled on top of each other and Whitcome needs a calendar to remember when he went and an atlas to recall where.
So here's his story.
He's always wanted to hunt black bear in the Chequamegon forest of northern Wisconsin but was never drawn. Last year, he had enough preference points and his name finally came up. He hired a guide and even went out baiting the bears with old cookies. Then they started looking for tracks from a bear big enough to shoot.
They finally found tracks that passed muster and let the dogs loose. They traipsed through the woods and found a treed boar. Whitcome shot it Sept. 18; it weighted about 220 pounds.
Then he his neighbor and hunting buddy, Tom Rasmussen, were informed they were one of 213 parties chosen for a Minnesota moose hunt. If you're drawn, you're out for the rest of your life. Chances of getting a party permit tends to be under 10 percent, and about half the parties shoot a bull.
They went to the Tower area of far northern Minnesota and scouted for anything that looked "moosey," Whitcome said. "We did our share of scouting" going down logging roads, mapping them with GPS and looking for swamps or clear cuts.
On the first day of the hunt, they walked around, calling like a cow by pinching their nostrils and sort of mooing.
The second day, they found a clear cut and Whitcome climbed a tree to get a better look. What he looked at was a bull with "two huge paddles" for antlers. His buddy didn't shoot — he said he couldn't get a clear look.
The third day, they went to a place where three hills came together, and they saw a big bull at about 275 yards. "We both shot at the same time, I knew we hit him," he said. He was more than hit — he was dead. "Then the fun began," he said.
That was just about dusk, and they spent the night caping, skinning, getting meat ready to move and taking blood, the liver and some skin with hair for a Department of Natural Resources study. Twelve hours later, around sunrise, they were done and registered the bull that had a 49-inch wide rack.
Before that, he, a neighbor Jamie Heidt and two of his friends, Howard Fullhart of Fergus Falls and Robert Fullhart of Spencer, Iowa, applied for the first-ever elk hunt in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. It was to cull the herd that is getting too large.
You guessed it, Whitcome was there; in all, 220 hunters were chosen.
The park is rugged, "it was like a mini-Grand Canyon," Whitcome said. Elk hadn't been hunted before, so they thought it would be easy.
The elk were spooky, it was below zero and 6 inches of snow were on the ground.
To hunt them, they had to go with a guide who took two hunters with him. One would have a round chambered and the guide would point out which cow to shoot. The other hunter would have a rifle, but no round in the chamber.
Heidt shot one, and then the guide told Whitcome to take one, too. Click. He'd forgotten to chamber a round. But he eventually got off a shot and got his cow.
The next day, they packed out two elk in minus-20 wind chill. The day after, they packed out two more.
But Whitcome had his third big-game animal in a third "hunt of a lifetime."
It was a great experience, he said. He talked of seeing the moon over the clear cut, the beauty of the national park. He'd do it again, gladly.
By winter, he had maybe 600 pounds of prime bear, moose and elk.
He had done it all.
Then it happened, fortune struck again. He got a call from the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, which had donated an in-line muzzleloader to the DNR. It was the prize for moose hunters who turned in their testing kits.
Whitcome, the guy who said he never wins anything, won that drawing, too.
For the record, he declined to say who's going to win the Final Four.