It’s Going Down

https://www.foxnews.com/great-outdoors/missouri-hunter-9-shoots-17-point-buck

November 22, 1987:

The woods were silently still that morning.  A fresh snow of four inches had littered the landscape overnight, drastically altering the scenery from just one day before.  Gone was the obnoxious crunch that accompanied every footstep.  In its place was a wintry morning doing its best to act as a silent film.

I followed Dad down the trail through the timber, mainly open hardwoods, with patches of green ferns, more prevalent in some places than others.  Not much was going on, save for random squawk of a blue jay, a bold chipmunk protesting our presence on his land, or the unassuming trickle of the occasional brook.  Yes, the setting was quite peaceful regardless of the void of action. 

With every step, my mind began to wander more.  Homework, friends, girls.  The lack of anything suggesting that deer were indeed on this mountain at all afforded me the opportunity to daydream so.  Ah, but I was about to learn a lesson, one that Dad had attempted to teach before.

He stopped suddenly, cocking his head to get a look up the steep mountainside.  I turned my head sharply to the right to get a look.  What was he looking at?  I frantically scanned the ridge, at any moment expecting to see movement.  Nothing.  Must’ve been a branch blowing in the wind or a bird flying away.  These sorts of things happen frequently in the deer woods.

He pulled his rifle up, carefully adjusting the scope.  He sees something but what it is, I have no idea.  For what seemed like an hour, but in reality, lasted about a minute, he kept pulling the gun up, desperate for a more superior vantage point.  Apparently, it never came.  His shot woke up the sleepy forest and startled me out of my boots.

My eyes traveled in the direction of the bullet.  To my amazement, I still saw nothing.  Dad injected another shell, put on the safety, and took off up the hill.  Totally confused by this point, I followed, my teenage body struggling to keep up with a middle-aged man on a mission.  We reached a thin shelf on the ridge and Dad began to search for something.  I asked him what the heck he was shooting at, and he stopped, looked straight at me, and asked, “Are you serious?”

Fresh deer tracks blanketed the shelf we were standing on.  Of particular interest was the five running tracks scampering up the mountain.  Once we followed and determined that his shot was a clean miss, Dad brought me back to the shelf and showed me one deer track in particular, that which was made by a huge deer.  Dad was stuttering a little as he tried to justify in words the size of the rack this deer was carrying.  “It was frigging huge,” he kept saying over and over again, flabbergasted that such a beast would find its way into his scope.  Further study of all the tracks, including the path of travel each deer took to get to this spot, suggested that this brute was mingling with four does.

I turned and looked back down the mountain to where we were standing at the time of Dad’s shot.  A thick undergrowth forced me to take several steps to see the trail we were previously on.  We could determine that Dad shot at this deer through whippets and a small stand of thin trees from approximately 150 yards away.  Most surprisingly, I never saw any of the five deer before or after he shot.  The degree of difficulty that he faced proved to be too much.

I learned two valuable lessons that day.  The first one was the aforementioned theory that just when you think nothing is happening, it’s about to go down.  The second lesson was that even on a white landscape, deer have the uncanny ability to blend into their surroundings.  These lessons (and countless others) have helped me become a more patient and successful deer hunter.  Thanks, Dad.   

Storybook

https://www.kuhl.com/borninthemountains/wilderness-survival-blizzard/

November 29, 2014

It was the final weekend of the 2014 firearms season.  Dad and I afforded ourselves a little siesta in the truck rather than slog through the wilderness in the dark.  We already had venison in the freezer anyway, courtesy of the four-pointer I took eight days prior (see “Redemption”).

It was 7:30 AM before we decided to gather up our stuff and head in.  This late in the season makes it feel like there is too much gear, a little heavier, and a whole lot more cumbersome.  To be truthful, I don’t think either of us were feeling it, our sleepy eyes not yet agreeing with the frosty wind that was swirling in every which direction.

Begrudgingly, we headed up the mountain.  A fresh snow was glistening on the wood road, almost blinding in places.  Any tracks spotted today would be fairly fresh and would require our most undivided attention.  We detected a deer in the brushy power line to our right and determined it to be a doe.

Deer sign was difficult to come by for most of our journey up the mountain.  This was not terribly alarming given that it had snowed the day before and the fact that Dad and I both understood there were plenty more deer in the vicinity.  Our faith in the area was rewarded as we trekked closer to my deer stand, with tracks bounding here and there, tearing up the ground.  We knew this was the place to be.

Dad was to spend the day at my stand.  My objective was to meander over to his seat about 200 yards away.  I planned to catch my breath there for 15 minutes before scouting an area to the northwest for the upcoming muzzleloader season.  We said our well wishes and ten minutes later I was plopped against a stone wall with a manmade ground blind safeguarding me from the wind.  The perspiration that had long since formed on my forehead merited the swig of ice-cold water that I allowed myself.

I had extravagant plans for that day.  I had mapped out in my mind where I would be investigating, already looking forward to pulling out the muzzleloader the following weekend.  But alas, my ambitions would not be fulfilled, as approximately 11 minutes from the time I sat down, a shot rang out from my trusty seat, ushering my thought from the future back to the present.  My heart leapt into my throat. Five minutes later, my radio cracked.  “I got one.”

The best walk to take is to help a hunting partner with his quarry, in this case a six-point buck.  He had a gnarly rack, and immediately I knew this was the second buck I shot at and missed on opening day (see “A Most Dreadful Day”).  The direction the deer came from drove this point home, as it was the same way he came from two weeks before.  So, I had shot at and did not get two bucks on opening day and by the end of the season, Dad and I had taken both deer.  A storybook ending indeed.

Redemption

https://www.hunter-ed.com/pennsylvania/studyGuide/Shooting-a-Shotgun-vs.-a-Rifle/20103901_88489/

November 21, 2014

It was an overcast morning.  Kind of blah.  Dad and I got a late start, due to this being day seven of the November firearms season.  After a week of 3:30 AM wake-up calls, followed by the same monotonous trek to our deer stands, it is becoming easier to hit the snooze button a few times.

Six days earlier, I shot at and did not get two different bucks (see A Most Dreadful Day for reference).  The depression I felt because of this opening day fiasco had slowly faded, and I had spent the week hunting with my usual razor-sharp focus.  The sole barrier to my week was simply that the deer had seemed to dissipate, as other than a couple of does on the second morning, I had not seen one single deer.  My patience was wearing thin, and I brooded on the fact that I had missed my opportunity.

I trudged up to my stand, each step up the seemingly steeper by the day hill a serious challenge.  A thought crossed my mind as daybreak made its arrival.  I would give this spot one more day and then I was going elsewhere.

By 10 AM, I had seen a few squirrels, a smattering of sparrows, and one lone hen turkey.  In my mind, I was already plotting where I would be heading to in the morning.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement.  The patch of brown, combined with the unmistakable donkey walk told me it was a deer.  Two of them.  They were coming up the same trail that the first deer I shot at on opening day used.  Ugh, they are both does.

The two deer stumbled to within 50 yards straight out in front of me before slightly turning and coming up the hill to my right.  When I could tell they were oblivious to my presence, I carefully pulled out my cell phone and began to film them.  I know it’s a rookie mistake, but I had to prove to someone that I actually saw a friggin’ deer. 

The deer closed to within 30 yards or so and the second one kept looking back in the direction they had come from.  This caused me to take alert and put my phone away quickly.  I looked down and saw another flash of brown approximately 150 yards away.  In what seemed to take an excruciatingly long time, the shape of a third deer came into view, along the same trail, nose to the ground.  I saw horns, legal points on at least one side.  He was grunting!

The buck made his way directly in front of me at the same 50 yards and then seemed to panic as he lost the trail of his two lady friends.  After a few seconds of desperation, he found what he was looking for and hooked to the right, just like the does had done.  He made his way through the hardwoods until he got to within 30 yards on my right.  I put the crosshairs on him.  Boom!

The deer kicked up his hind legs and bolted down over the bank to my right.  Remembering the two misses from opening day, a cold, sick feeling came to my stomach.  I wasn’t sure I could take another disappointment.

I climbed out of my stand and headed to where the buck was when I shot.  There was a smattering of blood, but not as much as I had hoped.  I called Dad on the radio and asked him to come down and assist.  He met me within ten minutes.

Not wanting to push off a wounded deer, I had waited for Dad to get to me before going any further.  However, if I had gone 15 yards or so, I would have seen a significant amount of blood, the bright red countering the orange and yellow of the fallen leaves.  Dad and I both looked at each other and understood that this deer was not going far.

We crept up to a stone wall within 35 yards of the point of impact and saw a rock soaked with blood.  I scanned down over the bank in the direction the deer ran and saw him laying there.  He was a nice four-pointer and ended up weighing 155 pounds dressed.  He had gone no more than 50 yards.  A huge weight of relief lifted off me as I recalled the mishaps from opening day.

Dad and I dragged the buck back to the truck.  It took a few hours, and my back and legs were toast by the end of the drag, but it is the best hard work I can think of.  After reporting the deer and getting him home, we began processing him.  It was there that I noticed a slight bullet wound on its front left leg.  I am certain this is the first deer I nicked on opening day.  I call him, Redemption.    

A Most Dreadful Day

https://www.grandviewoutdoors.com/big-game-hunting/are-you-missing-shots-at-deer-heres-why

November 15, 2014

I climb over my carefully constructed ground blind and settle in.  My watch reads 5:24 AM.  A quick gulp from my water bottle temporarily quenches my thirst created by the ambitious journey to this point from the truck.  In ten minutes or so, Dad will be perched in his spot just 200 yards over my right shoulder.

This is the pinnacle of the deer season for me.  It won’t be daylight for another 40 minutes or so.  That it is opening day only heightens the fire in my belly for another season to commence.  I counter the added adrenaline by quietly taking in the tranquility that is the pitch-black wilderness.

The darkness slowly begins to lift, giving me some semblance of a landscape to look over.  The rawness of the early morning air knocks away any façade of sleepiness I may have carried in with me.  The local songbirds warm up their voices, with the curtain to drop at any moment.  The day’s first critter peeks out from its natural place of shelter; a red squirrel about to launch into today’s obligatory gathering of its winter bounty.

Down below, and slightly to the right, I catch movement.  It’s a deer and it’s coming this way, right up the customary deer trail that has been used for years.  I squint to get a better look through the timber, mainly hardwoods with a mix of impenetrable underbrush.  It has horns!  He has his nose to the ground, undoubtedly seeking someone to spend the day with.  He cocks his head and displays a couple of points on his left side.  He’s a legal buck!  He stops just behind a sizeable beech tree.  C’mon buddy, take one more step!  Boom!

The old 35 Remington has a thunderous roar.  The deer kicks its back legs and runs back the way he came.  It’s a good sign.  He must be hit.  I look at my watch.  It’s 6:31 AM.  I wait a few excruciating moments and climb down the hill, heading for the exact point of impact.  I’m not sure if my boots hit the ground.

To my surprise, there’s a scantling of deer hair and a drop of blood nearby and not much else.  I call Dad on the handheld and ask him to give me another sets of eyes.  We follow the known path that the buck took and locate a couple of more drops of blood, maybe the size of a nickel.  This is not encouraging.

As is our custom, Dad and I follow the deer’s trajectory of travel for several hundred yards, finding where he crossed a small brook and scampered up the steep gully on the other side.  He passes over a wood road and into another thicket of hardwoods.  A few tiny drops of blood, painstakingly searched for and located, the only confirmation as to where he went.  The telltale sign that he is not mortally wounded is when he crests a steep bank and out of my life.

Crestfallen, I plod back up to my stand, while Dad heads to his, leaving me alone to wallow in my self-pity.  Of course, over the next nine and a half hours, I will replay that shot in my mind, bemoaning how I had a chip shot right in front of me and came away empty handed.  The enthusiasm I exhibited just two hours ago has suddenly gone truant.

Over the next several hours, my dark mood lifts somewhat, at least to where I can feel some resemblance of my earlier gusto.  After lunch, I begin to appreciate my surroundings again and understand how fortunate I am to be able to do something I love.  Finally, I can accept what had happened and relish the thought of another opportunity.  I won’t have to wait long.

He appears to my left, sloping the hill that I am situated on.  He is walking at a steady pace downhill, quartering away from me.  He has a strange basket rack on his head.  Not the prettiest set of antlers in the woods, but good enough for me.  This shot is much more difficult than the first at an approximate distance of 100 yards.  Given his brisk pace, I need to act now or watch him slink away.  I fire.  He stops, most of him hidden perfectly now behind a clump of trees.  Only his backside appears.  Not an inviting or ethical target.

He whirls and bolts back the way he came.  I take another crack at him, realizing the situation is in need of substantial fortune from the hunting gods.  In a flash, he is gone. 

I climb down for the second time this day.  Unlike in the morning, I am less than encouraged by what I will find.  It doesn’t take long for me to comprehend that I am about to be disappointed once again.  The cold sickness I felt earlier is now doubly grievous.  This time I don’t bother to ask for Dad’s help, instead call him.  “Don’t bother.”

Thankfully, it is already 2:45 PM.  Only a couple of hours of misery separate me from a hot meal, refreshing shower, and my beautiful pillow.  I can certainly feel sorry for myself another two hours.  I’ve done so for most of the day.

I can make out Dad’s headlamp at 125 yards.  It is dark.  Mercifully, it is time to go.  A rotating sense of emotions come over me.  On one hand, I did see two legal bucks that are still in my area.  That’s an adventurous day for these parts of the country.  On the other hand, however, I shot at and did not get either deer.  I know as I trudge out of the woods this evening that my dreams will be dominated by these two scenarios.

With any luck, I can reverse my fortunes tomorrow………         

Youth Weekend

October 24, 2021

It was a brisk 25 degrees as my boy and I trudged through the front door and to the trusty Jeep.  It was Youth Hunting Weekend, and we were on the prowl for his first ever whitetail.  A mere 45-minute drive and we would be heading up into the sweet mountains of peace and serenity.

My son is 12 years old.  He passed his hunter safety requirements during the Covid jail sentence that was the summer of 2020.  This would be his second youth weekend.  We were interested in a buck only, as we do not shoot does in my family (just a family thing).

I chose this mountain for several reasons.  First, the temperature was to get up to 60 degrees later in the day, severely cutting down on deer movement.  This meant that our best chance at seeing anything was to wander through the woods and try to bump something.  This leads into the second reason why I chose here, and that is the fact that the mountain is huge and doesn’t receive any hunting pressure, reducing the possibility that we would push a deer onto someone else.  The final reason was that by being on the move, my boy would not get bored.

The plan was to walk along an old trail, stopping to sit when we got tired.  As I have hunted this mountain on and off for more than 30 years, I was aware that we could go for miles and hunt this way.  The plan also allowed us to dress lightly, which is much more conducive to this style of hunting.

We started up an old wood road that tested our cardiovascular limits right away.  Sweat quickly began to form on our foreheads and even through our light attire.  Each rise was met with a forgiving shelf which we utilized to catch our breath.  I cursed myself for the pepperoni pizza that I indulged in the prior evening.

Thankfully, we cut into the woods and perpendicularly sideswiped the growing incline for a while.  We reached a spot where my dad had shot several bucks over the years.  I took the time to show my boy, careful to explain the key details of deer hunts from years gone by.  The woods had grown a little thicker over time, limiting the range of vision we used to enjoy.

We meandered past Dad’s spot and into a flat that was thick with green ferns.  This was a nice place to sit down.  The boy and I grabbed a seat up against a yellow birch and dug in.  My grandfather’s old 35 Remington was nestled across his lap.  The squirrels and blue jays kept us occupied for approximately a half an hour.  Before setting off, we pulled our water bottles out of the back of my hunting vest and each of us took a swig.  My bottle was blue, his red.

It was time to move again.  We crossed a small brook that cascaded down the mountain, inspiring us to delay our march just long enough to take in the beauty.  Immediately after cresting the gulley, we came across a scrape that was made by a buck, the first telltale sign that the rut was approaching.  I showed my son the licking branch and did my best to explain why male deer behave a certain way this time of year.

A short hike through some hardwoods revealed what I was already aware of but pleased to see some confirmation.  A huge buck rub on a tree.  As this is the big woods in my state, I was cognizant of the fact that large, mature bucks roam this mountain.  We studied the main rub and noticed the pieces of bark that were torn off by the secondary antlers a little higher on the tree.  The slight coloration told me this was probably made a few weeks ago in an utmost effort to eliminate the velvet from the horns.

Our juices flowing a little, we made our way toward the walking trail.  Here, we would creep along, with the trail providing us ample opportunity to sneak above a downward valley to our right, with a significant flat area on the left.  This would give us the rest of the day to hunt just the way we wanted to.

Unfortunately, given the unseasonably warm temperatures for late October, the leaves had barely detached themselves from its trees.  Once on the trail, the woods choked with the blinding of green and yellow leaves, rendering any sneak and peek attack useless.  After walking about a quarter mile, all hope for this trail was lost and we turned around.

Tired, we found a flat spot with some visibility and sat down.  It was getting quite toasty now, way too warm for chasing an immobile and unwilling opponent.  This sit lasted about 15 minutes before we decided to move again.  My son asked for his water bottle and was wide-eyed when he couldn’t produce it out of my vest.  I removed the vest and laid it flat on the ground.  Reaching around, I pulled out my water bottle, along with irrelevant gloves and scarves.  No red water bottle. 

This little setback determined our way back to the truck.  We sauntered past the big buck rub, through the hardwoods, around the scrape, and across the brook, back to the ferns just above Dad’s old stand.  Amazingly, poking out of the leaves right where we first sat was the bottom of a bright red water bottle.  We laughed at our experience and decided that was enough for one day.  There was little excitement or anything in the way of an adrenaline rush on this day, however, none of that really matters.  I got to spend a quiet half day in the woods with my best friend.  

Deer Hunting Forecast 2021: A State-by-State Guide | Outdoor Life — Is it Conspiracy, Fact, or both?

Here’s what to expect from deer season in your state. John Hafner Instability seems to be everywhere nowadays, whether it involves politics, weather, or the dreaded pandemic. But one annual constant offers the hope of brighter days: deer season… Within a few weeks, hunters across the country will welcome the promise of crisp autumn mornings […]

Deer Hunting Forecast 2021: A State-by-State Guide | Outdoor Life — Is it Conspiracy, Fact, or both?

Came across the state by state forecast. Regular season opens for me in a couple of weeks! Look forward to experimenting with a venison recipe or two!

Opening Day

The bitter air violates my skin as I step out of the truck and start up the old military road

The white mist of my own breath visible in spots where a break in the canopy allows the moon to shine

Dad and I traverse in silence, our headlamps lead the way

But make no mistake, we’ve made this same walk hundreds of times

The lamps are simply a means to portray to others a human figure

We stop at the split spruces

This is where we’ll part and where we will meet up after the sun sinks to the west

A short but strenuous climb makes up the last leg of the journey

And this will be made alone

I settle into my office for the day, a large maple nestled four-fifths of the way up a bank

Sweat has formed on my forehead and has temporarily stained my back and legs

Daylight is still 40 minutes away

A brook with a respectable current roars just out of sight, providing what will be the lone constant soundtrack of the day

The darkness comforts me and allows my mind to clear itself of any of its problems and await the impending daylight with eager anticipation

As the start of another season draws near, I can begin to make out the outlines of the neighboring trees

Chickadees, sparrows, and finches rise out their quarters and begin their day by serenading each other while I act as an unexpected, but appreciative audience member

It’s opening day

I have yet to be bored with long and fruitless sits or disappointing scenarios

I have not yet frozen to death while wondering why I was out here

I have only been greeted by the hope and excitement of another deer season

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