Friday, November 24, 2017
A week before deer season I went to the range to sight in my rifle. I like the range, they have all the equipment and I know many of the guys there. Every year I sit at their bench-rest and fire a couple of rounds at 100 yards while one of the members watches through his spotting scope. I never adjust my rifle scope much 'cause it doesn't change much from year to year. But it's comforting to know the rifle will shoot where you aim it. And there's always time for some stories in the comfortable club house. After that the only thing left is to find the deer.
It's surprising how the slightest hint of a breeze can rattle the loose bark on a birch tree and sound just like a deer's footsteps. That is, until you actually hear a deer. There was a noise muffling carpet of snow when deer season opened, which could be good or bad, depending on your point of view but if it weren't for the chickadees and ravens sounding off I might have thought I was losing my hearing.The squirrels were running around but other than their chattering they made no noise on the snow.
The third day of the season I explored a little cutting my setter, Gabby, and I found in October. We'd spotted some buck sign then, and with the snow I found many places where deer entered the cut to feed. Best of all, there was no sign of other hunters near, and it was close to home. The fourth morning of deer season I carried a ladder stand in and propped it against a popple. While I was setting it up a deer snorted behind me and I turned to see a disappearing tail. Buck or doe I can't say, but it was encouraging.
Over the next days I saw plenty of does and fawns, and a couple of small bucks, but not a buck I wanted to shoot. I caught sight of one small spike buck coming slowly, brousing along the way, but he was so quiet I couldn't hear his footfall until he was 10 yards away. I knew then I would have to see them long before I'd hear them. I let him go to grow up some.
Each night at home I'd renew my enthusiasm reading tales of big-antlered bucks written by well-known writers from all over the country. It would be all or nothing for me.
I gave up the stand one morning and eased my way around the outside of the cutting. I was crossing a swampy little opening stepping in water under the snow when I was busted by a doe. We were eye to eye maybe 40 yards apart. Then she turned and in two or three jumps was gone. What really got me was the second deer behind her that jumped after her. This is thick country of jack pine and balsams, alders, aspen, maple, and birch. If you can see the antlers of a disappearing buck in these woods it's probably a good one. I followed him the rest of that day and picked up the track the next day. I never found where he bedded or learned much else about him, though the tracks of all sorts of critters from weasels to wolves were interesting to come across. I never saw the buck again and when his track led into the big swamp bordering the lake I just wasn't willing to follow any longer. I'll look for him next year.
As I write this I'm sitting inside munching leftover turkey – no venison for me this year, and I'm watching the steady rain coming down. It won't be enough to melt the snow but it's enough to keep me indoors. Weird weather. Fly fishing is done, at least locally. Some folks are ice-fishing already, though today could change that. Gabby is ready for some more bird hunting and I am, too. Maybe tomorrow.
Thursday, November 2, 2017
There's a time for everything, and around here it's about time for deer hunting. As much as I hate to see October bird hunting and fishing end, it happens every year, and every year I say the same thing. This year the weather helped push out our favorite month. It started snowing the last days of October and hasn't really stopped yet. One day I was fishing and the next came 6 inches of heavy, wet snow. I thought it would melt and Gabby and I could go find some grouse, but more snow came. Sure, the ground is still warm and trying to melt the snow, but I plowed eight inches out of my driveway this morning. Heavy wet snow bending the trees and brush makes for some tough hiking so we stayed close to home wondering if winter is settling in.
A few days ago I drove up to my deer hunting territory to check a little ladder stand I hauled into the woods years ago. My stand is not quite a half mile from the road, but it took me an hour to get to it. I expected some trail trimming would be needed and I brought a pair of long handled nippers and camp saw, but I wasn't ready for what I found. I couldn't find my old trail and ended up cutting and marking in a new route for the first half of the way. Things opened up along the rock faces and scrub oak near the top of the hill and I soon found my trail and was looking at my cold and lonely deer stand.
We all know people who are good at everything they do. It all seems just too easy for them. They stand next to you and catch the biggest fish effortlessly while you cast over and over with the exact same fly before you finally break it off on the one piece of brush within a hundred yards. They never practice shooting but they drop thick cover grouse and lightning fast ducks with fluid swings and wonder why you have a pocket full of shells when the limit is only a few birds. Come opening deer season they tell how they passed on a couple of eight-point bucks waiting for something bigger – which they kill the next morning.
I'm pretty much the opposite of those folks. I like doing all that stuff but it almost never works out the way I'd hoped, and when it does it's mostly a matter of luck. I've considered a lifestyle of reading and playing checkers, but that's still on the back burner. Deer hunting is the worst. I've killed a few deer in my day, but there's no rhyme or reason why they wandered into my sight. I didn't track them down. I didn't knowingly intercept them going to a feeding or bedding area. I just happened to be there when their luck ran out. The only skill I can claim is that I held the rifle steady – but they weren't very far away. I hunt big wilderness country. That's my criteria – if there's a chance of seeing someone else out there, I stay away. There is better deer habitat than where I hunt but good cover is easy to spot and it draws other hopeful hunters. I once topped a hill and looked down at a recent cutting and saw orange-clad hunters every hundred yards or so surrounding the place. That's not for me.
I found my stand location by accident. Years ago I was still-hunting when I took a break to lean on a pine tree and eat a sandwich and ponder what to do when a buck walked by. It was thick cover and I only saw legs and antlers and had no shot. A bit later another buck came from behind, snorted and crashed off giving me only a glimpse. The next year I hauled that little stand up there and tied it to the tree I was leaning against. I've killed a number of bucks from that stand. Apparently it's a good spot. I don't know why.
I'm hoping to set up camp tomorrow. It's snowed 6 or 8 inches more since I was up there and I'm not sure if I can get to my camp clearing. I'll find out tomorrow. Shoot straight.