Although it still dark, it in a little while it will be light enough to hunt. I still have a tag. The end of season is over ten hours away. Why am I back in town? Why are the rifles already back on the rack? Why has the shaman stopped hunting?
Look, guys, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but if you spend your life driven by the great ineffables of Life, eventually one of them is going to say “Ineff is Ineff’ing Ineff,” and leave you in the rain watching a 60 lb button buck munch ryegrass. That is not to say that was the whole story either. The real story goes back to about 0930 on the Opener, two weeks ago.
The bucks were definitely up and moving on the Opener. Angus got his buck. Supercore got his monster. I got a sawed off pair of bucks, a cervid version of Spike and Chester circling my stand, completely aware of my presence, and completely unafraid. Spike kept batting Chester away, but Chester kept coming, and all the while there they were eyeing that thing in the tree in the orange clown suit that was staring at them. It would have just been fun to watch, but I could not help feeling that the larger of the two, a robust young 6 pointer was breaking the hunter’s version of the 4th wall, as if he was begging for me to shoot the pestering 4-pointer. I saw them a couple of times this season, and it was always the same act– the little guy bugging the bigger guy until the big one lowered his head and charged.
I have to say I was proud when Angus called and said his buck was down, and that he was going to get the S-10 to haul him out. As the patriarch of the clan and camp, it felt good to have another son able to pull his own deer out by himself. The disappointment came a half hour later when the block and tackle jammed up and he had to call back for me for an assist. It was not his fault. The rope was too small for the new sheaves. However, from that point on my season seemed to be blighted. It was a minor problem. Da Hirschwagen performed perfectly from there on out. In fact, we set new camp records, getting the deer to the processor on Thursday of Opening Week and on this last Friday night, as both deer were dropped off at the processor in Lenoxburg before the 8 PM closing with fairly wide margins.
I thought I would have redemption on that afternoon. I sighted well over 15 deer on the way out to the blind, but they were surrounding the blind, and there were just too many eyes to get any closer, and no bucks in the lot. In retrospect, more than half of those 15 were refugees from the neighboring farms. They filtered back out over the next couple of days, and I was left with a recurring cast of about 8 regulars that I had been seeing since June. In one case, the fat doe had become the skinny doe with two fawns over the course of a couple days in the TrailCam. They appeared last on Friday night, and the two fawns had become two robust button bucks over the intervening months.
Before I go on, I want to stop and relate something I saw in my binoculars midway through Opening Week. That triad, the doe and two buttons had come out to graze in the pocket of the pasture closest to my stand at Campground. Just around sundown, an older doe came out from the opposite side of the pasture, and the triad shot their heads up and ran over to this more mature doe. The two buttons quickly went back to eating, but the young doe approached the older and licked the her muzzle with great intensity and then moved back in a motion that resembled the beginning of suckling. The older doe’s body was then thrown sideways as the younger threw herself in what must have been a gesture of greeting. I can only imagine this to be a grateful reunion. Perhaps the group had become separated during the early parts of the Opener. The younger doe certainly seemed to be welcoming the older one back. They stayed inseparable throughout the week.
The acorn crop was a bust this year. All of my stands in the oak groves were groaning failures. All the action was out in the fields, and you could tell these deer were hungry and eating as much of the poorer stuff as they could. I was buoyed by the number of deer I saw, and I kept figuring it was only a matter of time before a nice shootable buck ventured out among them. I had seen this scenario play out several times before season. In one instance three big racks had come within 150 yards of the house to chow down. Another time two were out in the field with their heads down at Skunk Hollow. However, two of these bucks were now on our meatpole.
There were three new hunting venues this year. Fountain Square, the new treestand just 150 yards from the house produced a nice doe on Friday evening. With all the bugs worked out, Angus was able to make the retrieval with the S-10, and we got the deer to the processor with 30 minutes to spare despite running it out of gas in the field in the rain. That 120-pound-ish doe meant a lot. He nailed it at 180 yards with a perfect boileroom hit with his Winchester 670 in 30-06. That beats my longest shot by a wide margin. That was also the first sitting on that stand. I think it has a bright future. Angus said he took the shot, because he did not want to hunt in the approaching 3-day rain. It started to drizzle as we drove out of the field.
Close by Fountain Square, we set up a make-shift venue for SuperCore at The Hand. He had several shooting opportunities there. One doe came up within 15 yards with SuperCore sitting out in the open in a folding chair. Angus and I put out a pop-up blind so he could hunt from it in the upcoming rain, but never had a chance to use it. It is now drying out in the attic.
Of course, the big producer this year was S-10, overlooking Dead Skunk Hollow. SuperCore got his two on the Opener from there. I had a couple of sits out there during the first week. SuperCore finished his season yesterday taking a third doe from that vantage.
Which brings back the question of why I am still not out there, this morning, in 41 F and occasional light rain. It comes down to a lot of things, some of which you cannot fully appreciate until you are the patriarch of your own camp. For starters, there is the issue of the deer that you are harvesting. I know “harvest” is a bad word to some of you, and I agree. I won’t “harvest” an individual deer. However, once you pull back and start looking at it in the aggregate, it does make sense. In this case, we started off with probably over the 15 deer we normally can sustain on our 200 acres. We can take as many as we want in Zone 1, but taking more than a third or so of what nature has allotted is probably not a good idea. Our count for the season stands at 2 bucks, three doe, and a button buck. If another buck had shown up in my sights, I would have taken him, but I did not think that was going to happen. I did not want to take buttons. I did not want to take the dominant does. That is why I am here at home this morning.
There is the question of freezer space. I have two freezers and I can take 5 deer comfortably. However, I am trying to move in the next year and the more venison I have to move, the harder it is going to be to free up one freezer at a time. If The Big One had shown up yesterday morning, that would not have been a problem. However, Angus’ buck had a pretty awesome yield. The grind alone filled more than a 5 gallon bucket. We have enough venison for the winter.
There was only so much of Lil Buttons I could take. My guess is that Mom either died or threw him out when he was weened. He was not particularly needy. In fact he seemed quite self-sufficient. It was just his curiosity and his naivety that started to grate on me. He took to bedding beside the blind at Midway, probably because the walls afforded him a windbreak. On a few occasions, he was the only deer I saw. I had been sizing him up for the meatpole when I saw the buttons. He was joined on the last weekend by a doe with a slight bullet track on her back. It was just a graze, and it matched SuperCore’s description of a miss on a doe during the first week. I had not seen her before. Both she and Lil Buttons had a nasty habit of coming up to graze on the blind side of the blind. I could hear them chanking and chawing through the wall. They could have cared less about me. That just made it all the more insufferable.
SuperCore and Angus had already returned to the processor with SuperCore’s doe. Angus had driven out to pick me up at Midway to save me the walk back in the rain. Angus was not going back out SuperCore was done for the year. We sat mostly quietly listening to the rain, since we had run through most of the good stories we had heard since Turkey Camp closed, and we were beginning to repeat ourselves. There were three nice steaks waiting, but it was looking like another pour down around supper time, so they might have to be broiled instead of grilled. You could tell these guys would have gladly spent the next 24 hours playing Gin Rummy, waiting for me to run out of dry clothes. That was not going to happen. Neither was the The Big One going to bump Lil Buttons out of his nest beside Midway and stick his head in the blind. It was time for the patriarch of deer camp to act.
“I was thinking of the possibility of hauling out of here early,” I said. The vote was unanimous. They had returned from the processor at 1000. The vote occurred before Noon. I popped the cork on the water at 1222, and a half hour later we were able to lock the door and leave. SuperCore treated us to dead fried chicken and a 3-Way at the Marathon and were back home with the freezer loaded before 4.
KYHillChick just came in to remind me that the ballcock in the master bathroom is not working. I’ll now go and eat breakfast and get to the hardware store before getting this posted.