The Last Weekend

I started writing this at sunrise Sunday. At the time, I was all into watching just a hint of a sun try to make a showing in the east, The clouds had started to gather as SuperCore and I sat out at the Thoughtful Spot, When we had gone out there, the sky was clear.

“Nasty clouds.” said SuperCore as the first wisps came over and started blotting out the stars. For me, it was like someone had dropped the curtain. The show was over. I did not mind, really. It had been a good show.

So it was now Sunday morning, and I could kind of see where a sun might be coming up. About that time the Sons of Moto started sounding off in Hootin’ Holler. Until Moto showed up 5 years ago, turkeys never gobbled after June. Moto started gobbling in February and kept going until January, and now that he has undoubtedly passed on, his progeny keep up the tradition. Five gobblers were sounding off in the bottoms like it was April, and it felt like April too. The temperature had risen all night and was already in the mid-fifties. It would be a good day for breaking deer camp. We just had to be gone by about Noon if we wanted to miss the rain.

I am getting ahead of myself here. A lot happened over the last weekend of season. Let me back up and fill you in.


Saturday

I was tagged out. Angus and SuperCore both had tags left. SuperCore went back out to Die Jagende Hütte . Angus took off for Midway. There were showers on and off and a little bit of snow. Both were glad to have a roof over their head. I went back to bet and got up around 0800 and started to putter around camp. At 1000, I called everyone on the walkie-talkie and asked their intentions. Angus wanted to stay out. SuperCore did not answer, but within a minute, I heard a shot coming from his direction. He had a doe down.

I brought the deer wagon out and got the carcass loaded and brought it back to camp. Once the deer was hung up, I checked. It was 1100, time to go pick up Angus. I called out to him. He was in the middle of telling me he was packing up when he suddenly cut off. In a few seconds, he was back on.

“Sierra Tango Fox Uniform.” he whispered

That was our camp’s code for “Stay off the walkie-talkie, I’ve got a deer in sight.” I put down the radio and went back to helping SuperCore. A few minutes later. I heard the shot. My youngest son had successfully complete his first deer season as an adult. We left SuperCore’s doe hanging and loaded up the wagon for another run.

Angus had seen two doe come into the Garden of Stone. He had taken the lead doe. She had shuddered for a moment and then taken off for Left Leg Creek. Angus had lost the trail in the woods, but my guess was she had angled down the ravine. It was going to be tough, locating her by sight. There was still just enough snow on the ground from last week’s storm that a patch of white belly hair was not going to stand out.

I had brought Lily, the beagle along. Her formal training was as a squirrel dog, but she had shown aptitude in the past for locating downed deer. Sure enough, she got on a trail shortly after entering the woods, and it was not but a few minutes before I heard her give a little snort, similar to when her water dish is empty. I looked over and saw the doe, and Lily running back to tell me.

The doe had traveled about 200 yards from the point of impact, and was about 80 yards down the hill from the edge of the field. I brought up the deer wagon and started setting up the winch while Angus, Supercore, and Lily addressed the task of gutting. I ran the winch cable down as far as I could and then hooked rope onto the end of that, following the straightest path down the hill as a I could. Angus finished field dressing about the same time as I showed up with the end of the rope.

Angus used the back legs to steer and keep the doe on her back. We used a chain around her neck from which to pull. SuperCore got debris out of the way. I would pull about 40 feet at a time with the winch and then reset. After several iterations of this, we had the doe up to the barbed wire fence. I backed the deer wagon up a bit and reset once more. The next pull brought her into the field. I then turned around, backed up and we put down the ramps, and used the block and tackle to get her into the bed. She was a big one. I marked her down at 160 lbs life weight. She was one of the few mature doe we had seen all year.  That is odd.  We saw lots of deer, but they were mostly groupings of immature buck and doe mixed together.

The trip out to the processor was kind of loopy. We drove out and got out onto the main road before Angus discovered he had left his Telecheck confirmation number on the dining table. We went back. Once we arrived at the processor, there was a sign “Come back after 4.” We were all hungry, having missed lunch, so we went into Falmouth to grab a burger at Howard’s.

When we got back to B&B, there was no one in sight. We finally raised someone by calling the phone number. Soon the yard at B&B processors was filled with us, the whole B&B family, and a couple of other trucks with deer. There was some confusion. They could not find my doe from last week, and the spike buck had not been processed yet. They also could not find the head with the Monster Spike rack I had asked them to save for entry in the 24hourcampire Dinkathon. Andrew at B&B apologized profusely for the mix-up. The business was getting to be too much, and he doubted he would be in operation next year.

It took the better part of an hour to get things sorted out, and the sun had set before we got back to camp. SuperCore and I went out back to watch the stars, and Angus rested for a while. About 2000, I put the steaks on and we all went to bed early.

Back to Sunday

Shortly after listening to the Sons of Moto give me a serenade, I heard SuperCore rustling in the house. He and I went around front and sat, drinking our coffee until about 0930, before I banged Angus out of his rack and we got on to breaking camp. With warm, pleasant weather, I figured we could get a jump on things and get part of the list from next weekend accomplished. I drove Angus out to the Honey Hole, and then dropped out to Midway and Campground. The plan was to gather up all the chairs, die-cut blinds, etc. on that end of the property so we did not have to come back there next weekend. I went up into the stand at Campground and started cutting down the blind that was hanging from the shooting rail.

Guide Gear Treestand Blind

Guide Gear Treestand Blind

Just a quick product review here. I bought 3 of the Guide Gear Universal Treestand Blinds from Sportsmansguide.com back when they were on sale for $16. They turned out to be built like shower curtain. On the plus side, they did a good job of keeping off the cold wind. On the down side, they did not have nearly enough grommets for attachment to the rail, and for the most part having to zipper myself in and out of the blind was more of a hassle than a benefit. Still, at $16 they were okay. The material showed quite a bit of wear, but not enough to make me regret the purchase. At the regular price of $24, I do not think they would be worth it. Just saying.

So I’m up in my stand at Campground, clipping electrical ties with diagonal cutters and the shower curtain finally falls off. It is just me on a bare stand. Lily had caught the scent of something in front of the stand and was following up on it in the creek bottom. I heard her in the leaves, and looked up.

For the longest time, I could not figure out whether or not it was a deer. It was so big. Your eyes will play tricks on you– at least mine do. I could not decide if I was looking at the broadside of a massive deer or just a patch of oak leaves and I had resolved to walk over there and see what combination of leaves, sticks, and stumps had made the illusion when the tail twitched, and I realized that I was looking at the body of a massive deer, hiding his head behind a tree trunk. I think that is an incredible display of Theory of Mind.  Whitetail deer think they’re smart, but they put their head behind a tree and think the rest of their body is invisible.

His neck moved, and I could see he was probably munching acorns. Lily had gotten on a scent and from her path, I hypothesized that the buck had been eating acorns at the base of my ladder when I had pulled up in the field with the Silverado. Rather than run, he had moved down the ravine in back of the stand and then back up to a place where he felt he could watch me and not be seen. He was nearly correct. I placed him at about 80 yards or about halfway between my stand and the family campground. I had taken a doe last weekend, and she had fallen within about 10 yards of where he stood. I could not see the head, so I could not judge antlers. Lily had rounded the corner at the bottom of the ravine. The buck noticed her coming up behind him and turned to regard her, then me. For a brief moment, I saw a massive rack– serious headwear on the giant. He then flicked his tail and walked off.

“Have a good winter.” I said, calling from the stand. “Eat lots of acorns and try to stay warm. I’ll hope to see you next Fall!” By then, he was gone. I climbed down from the stand and called Lily. I am sure the buck was not far off, watching the truck pull out.

The End

On the way back, I picked up Angus with his stuff and we rode back in. SuperCore had done dishes, packed his gear and was waiting for us on the porch. (Thanks again for the dishes!). SuperCore I then popped the cork on the water and drained the house back into the cistern.

By Noon, we locked the house and rode out.

Andrew at B&B called while we were already on the road. He’d found the head of the Monster Dink. We turned around and went back towards Falmouth and picked it up.

I took the long way home, past Hibberd’s in Cleves. Angus’ Win 670 had the bolt go wonky as he was unloading it from shooting the doe.  It’s always something isn’t it?

 

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Tagging Out, 2014

In the past, tagging out seemed to be such a chore. By the time that last tag is on the line, I am usually thinking more about how much space there will be in the freezer than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I’m pissing off the poor deer hunters in Pakistan that never see a deer, but if you hunt deer, you know that after the buck tag is filled there is that period of time in the year where you stop having the same thrill up your leg. That was yesterday. The only thing was this was different. I had a lot more riding on this hunt.

For starters, I am not saying that I have retired the Whelenizer, my trusty freezer filler of 10 years. I took it out of the rotation this year for the simple fact that it had become too much of a sure thing. I had two rifles that needed to find first blood, the Hawkeye and O.T’s 25-06. There was just going to be too darn many rifles, and something had to go. Honestly, 35 Whelen on whitetails IS a bit much. Overkill is great, but the rounds were costing me about twice that of an ’06. The Hawkeye is stainless, so it can fill the roll of designated rain gun. The 25-06 was still a bit of a cypher. O.T. said it was a death ray on deer for 30 years. This is the first sub-30 caliber I’ve tried on deer. The Hawkeye did its job on the Monster Dink I shot Thursday. It was time to see what O.T.’s rifle had.

O.T. sold me this rifle last year. He had been talking it up for all the time I’d known him. It was a custom Mauser he had picked up in the early 80’s about the same time I was just getting into deer hunting. It had served him well through over 35 seasons. O.T.’s eyes went last year. He was just sitting in the chair, watching the T.V. and his good eye just went dark on him. The doc said the nerve had died from a clot or something– fluky thing, but it can’t be helped. There went his deer hunting. The remaining eye ain’t worth spit. I offered to buy his gun to help out. It took O.T. a while to warm up to the idea, but finally he mentioned it, and I dropped over with the cash.

Angus said that he wants a room like O.T’s some day. O.T. probably furnished it back in the mid 70’s when he was about half-way to where he was now. From there, he managed to fill it with every possible evidence of a life well led. The grouse were gone now. The quail he helped re-introduce to the county are rarely seen. Now he was being robbed of deer and turkey by a pair of bum eyes. It took him 20 minutes to get the safe open for me, although I suspect there was a lot more going on there.

The first thing I realized after working with the rifle for a bit was that the rifle needed some adjustment to fit me. I’m probably a head taller than O.T. I tried to get the first generation Red Dot scope to work for me. I replaced it with a Bushnell Trophy 4-12X40. After shooting it in the blind this year, I think I will take the recoil pad off. O.T probably didn’t like what I did with it, but I’m sure the Red Dot will find a home soon on one of my projects. Last year, I carried the rifle several times, but never got a shot at a deer.

So yesterday I was out at Midway. That is where I envisioned this rifle all along– a long sit overlooking The Garden of Stone. Besides the rifle, I had been worried about letting the new guy doing my hay touch The Garden. It seems that The Garden of Stone is really touchy on when you mow it. There is a mystery forb in that pasture, some little weed that only flourishes after the others die off. That is what draws the deer. I have not yet figured out what it is. The new hay guy mowed The Garden just before November 1. I’d hoped the mystery forb had time to recover. I suspect that was what brought the Monster Dink, my 5-inch spike to The Garden on Thursday.
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I went out to Midway an hour early. Friday night, I’d done a bit of stalking over in that general area and seen deer moving in mid-afternoon. That was, by the way, a wonderful hunt. I totally mis-judged the wind, but stalking the pasture between Newstand and the Honey Hole was a real treat. The sun played on the remaining oak leaves and seemed to set them on fire. I left for Midway around 3 so I would not miss anything.

I ate my lunch in the blind, a Braunschweiger and Pepper Jack on a sesame hamburger bun washed down with leftover coffee mixed with Swiss Miss. Don’t laugh. At 30F that is good stuff! I really had not seriously started hunting before a doe came out from the Campground and started to munch mystery forb in the Garden of Stone. It was 4:15.

After Monster Dink on Thursday, I had to be on my guard. Kentucky only allows one buck per year. Even an inch of antler would have me in the soup with the CO. I cranked the scope all the way to 12X and studied that head for a good long time, gunning down the last of the coffee as I went. Finally satisfied, I slipped the safety off and went for it.

If you want a final pronouncement on how 25-06 worked, I’d say it seemed to create a bigger blast radius than a Turdy-cal. This was a high-shoulder shot. It had a reasonable entrance and exit through the chest cavity. However, besides doing in the lungs, it also must have created enough pressure to breach the diaphragm and involve the stomach. This was with the Hornady 117 grain SPBT. You’d thing from all that there would be a toes-up DRT right there in the field. Actually, she ran in a wide loop and crashed at the fence at the margin of the field, trying to go back the way she came. Was this better than the 30-06? No. It wasn’t worse either. Of course this is just my first shot on game with a 25 Cal.

I found her piled up at the fence, in the margin of cedars between the field and the logging road that runs beside. She was in sight of the picnic table at the campground, and 25 feet from where tents had been pitched just a month before. Angus and SuperCore were still out hunting, so I cached my gear and walked back to the house and got the S-10 Hirschewagen.

After I got the Silverado, the question was what to do with my old S-10. The one thing I really needed was a way to retrieve deer, preferably as a one-man operation. I took off the cap, rigged ramps and borrowed the block and tackle from the meat pole. I also put a serious winch on the front in case we ever had to pull a deer or the truck out of ravine. This doe had run towards the road and died within a few feet of it. I told the crew to stay put and hunt while I got the deer wagon. You’ll see from the photos that this ended up a quick 15 minute job. I was out of the woods before the end of legal hunting.
Doe 2014

B&B took the doe in even though we got there late. If you are hunting in the Falmouth KY area, I can now recommend Ming Moon for Chinese and El Paso for good Mexican food. We got Chinese after the Monster Dink on Thursday and I went in for Mexican last night.

I have been roaming back and forth from my desk next to the wood stove and the shooting bench. I keep being torn between wanting to watch the sunrise and my painfully cold hands. Occasionally I’ve seen SuperCore’s orange hat in the window at Die Jagende Hütte . The sky is leaden. Snow is expected any time today. We had flurries here and there overnight.

Right now, my plan is, once the Ibuprofen has kicked in, to raise my lazy butt off the bench and start fixing breakfast for the crew. Beyond that, I am going to start breaking down camp, at least my end of it. Beyond that, I am going to experiment with hard-cast lead over the next year. My hope is to bring back the Whelenizer with 200 grain lead running at 35 Rem speeds.

And beyond that? I wish you all many happy deer camps. May your boots be forever stained with deer gore. May your boughs hang low with fuzzy wind chimes. May your freezers bulge with venison.

I just got a call from SuperCore. He’s cold and coming in. I’ll call Angus and see if he wants to be picked up.

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Report from Deer Camp 2014

Deer Camp changes you. Every day I climb into the stand and think up a way to start this article, and every day I have tried to start it differently. Saturday, I would have been talking all about SuperCore’s big 8-pointer that he got at 0700. Sunday, I would have probably talked about dropping off Angus with his mom after hunting on his own for two days. The rest of the week, I would have written about jonesing on the pending blast of cold air, or the rain before, or all the encounters I had with deer I really did not want to shoot. Later in the week, I would have talked about all the deer I wanted to shoot, but couldn’t. As I said, deer camp changes you. At least it makes you think differently about things. Maybe I should start at the beginning and just let you see what I mean.

Saturday
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It was a warm Opener. SuperCore went to Die Jagende Hütte . Angus went to Lazy Boy. I went to Campground. The moon was so bright I left the flashlight in my pocket. When I stopped to in the field to take off my hat and bleed off some heat, Orion was completely blotted out by the moon. I tried my best not to think of it as an omen. The amount of shooting was unimpressive. I counted 1 1/2 shots per minute. At 0800, I switched on my walkie talkie and immediately got a call from SuperCore. He had seen the 8-pointer I had warned him about, and managed to nail him on the way out of Skunk Hollow. Angus had come in to help. I was needed immediately to organize the recovery. The truck was by to pick me up before I was down out of the stand. When we got back to camp, you could see this big patch of white out out in the pasture below Gobbler’s Knob. That was the buck.

Die Jagende Hutte

 

We all went back out in the afternoon. I went to Midway. Angus and SuperCore went to Lazy Boy. Angus grunted in a spike buck with 5 inch antlers that would neither give him a clear shot, nor fully leave him alone. I had a couple of doe come out at last light to graze out in the Garden of Stone.

Sunday

On Sunday, SuperCore went back out to Die Jagende Hütte. Angus took up a new post on HeartBreak Ridge among a clump of cedars. This looks to be a good new ground blind opportunity. He got winded by a doe early in the morning, and she stayed with him for 2 hours playing “You Stink!” from behind every available tree. I must say she was a hoot. I was clear over at the stand at Virginia, and could here her from on the next ridge. Saturday, I had just started seeing deer when the call had come in. It was obvious the Chase part of the rut was in full gear. I had seen doe running about with a small buck trailing behind. Sunday was no different. Doe kept coming by my stand, always paying more attention to what was behind them than what was up the nearby tree. I had four visits, mostly nervous doe trying to get a quick snack of acorns down before having to move on. A buck finally did show after all that hysteria. He had inch-and-a-half antlers and was no bigger than an average boxer. I saw in him how my season was going.

I had to drop Angus off Sunday afternoon. KYHillChick met me halfway. I’ve got to say that there was a lot rolling around in my head on the hour’s drive out and the long hour back. I suppose it is all crystalized in the statement “It gets no better than this!” I’ve been saying that to my sons since they were little, and I suppose the easiest way to read it is to say it is an expression of gusto and fulfillment. That is the way I understood it from my father as we’d be out raking leaves in the fall, or putting up shelves in the basement. He loved work. He loved getting a good job done. However, as I’ve learned it meant and means so much more. I don’t think I said it to Angus on the way into town. I am not sure it I was even thinking it in quite those terms. I do remember that we recently discussed the idea of “Embrace the Suck.” I suppose that is part of this discussion. I can remember my father getting moody and pensive while I was in high school. He was starting to contemplate selling out his business. I was mired in those days in all those mental quagmires that high schoolers seem to get into. “It gets no better than this!” Was my dad telling me to get my head out of my ass and start enjoying life, because it all to soon starts being something you didn’t sign up for and something you didn’t plan, and what you thought you wanted was not what you thought it was at all. Dad did sell out when I was in college and turned around with the cash and made himself a millionaire many times over, so I always thought it was good advice– then and now. Then there is that straight-to-the-bone chill you get an hour after you crawl into your stand and realize you probably are a layer or two shy and should have brought better gloves and you keep telling yourself that the sun will come up and you will get warm, only the sun comes up at Seven and it gets a lot colder until Nine, and in the meanwhile the deer can see you shiver. Yeah, it really does not get better than this, does it? Deer? It feels so good to get one in your sights and see it go down, but there is a good 3 hours work ahead of you, and that’s if you don’t have to chase it down and schlep it out of a ravine.

Angus went home without scoring on his first Opening Weekend as an adult. I never said “It doesn’t get any better than this!” to my son as we were driving out Sunday. I probably should have. I usually do, driving home from camp. Instead, we talked   about the stuff we always talk about.

Sunday evening I went to Garbage Pit for a long sit. I had a 5-inch spike show up. He showed a lot of interest in me and the stand, but hung around and ate acorns until it was nearly dark and then wandered off the way he came.

Monday

More of the same. SuperCore went to   Die Jagende Hütte. I went back to Campground. The same deer showed up in pretty much the same ways. In one instance, a doe came in and spied me. She was not particularly put off by my appearance, but she was curious. As I watched, she circled the stand, and came around my downwind side. All the while she was stopping to munch acorns as she found them. Then, about 20 minutes into her appearance, a forker showed up from another direction. For the longest time they carried on a conversation in that inscrutable deer language of looks and subtle gestures that amounted to a lot of lust and desire coming from one and a whole lot of indifference from the other. After quite some time doing this dance, the doe seemed to break the fourth wall and looked straight up at me. “Do you see what I have to put up with?” she seemed to be saying with her eyes. It was a look of utter exasperation and I gestured back to her with a knowing shrug. She took that as a sign and took a single leap that got her away from both me and the buck. She then kicked her back heels once at both of us and then walked off slowly indicating to the buck that she did not want to be followed. The buck looked up at me; I do not know if he was looking for advice or what, and then he put his head down and started eating acorns.

Is this the way deer see God? Is He an Omnipresent and Omniscient being up the tree in Hunter Orange and most of the time the rifle barrel is pointed away, and when it isn’t, you generally don’t live long enough to know?  Do deer pray to that Hairy Thunderer in Orange asking for acorns, or to be rid of a nuisance boyfriend? And what do they make of it when the Hunter/God just shrugs the kind of shrug I used to see the Camp Survivors shrug.  What do I make of it– that little cherubic kid now gone to seed some 50 years?  What can you do but shrug and say “This, today, is as good as it gets!”

Tuesday morning I tried Midway again. SuperCore went to Die Jagende Hütte.. I just wanted to see if the deer might come out wandering in the field if I was not at Campground pestering them. They did not. Instead, I got a chance to read about Waterloo from a book I snatched off Gutenburg.org. I dozed a little here and there– not exactly what you would call a thrill-packed hunt. I kept nodding off, but I kept waking up when my nose got too close to the front of my jacket, and I would hear myself snoring. It sounded like it was coming from down a long corridor with a tight echo.

Tuesday evening, SuperCore went home to do a load of laundry and re-group. He was back after sundown. The rain started around 3 PM. I went out to Hammond North. This is not a blind or a stand, just an old dead tree that took over a decade to fall over. I sat out in the worst of it– driving rain and 35 mph gusts, but mostly just a hard drizzle. You can ask me why I did it. I usually stay out of the rain when I can, because it really mucks with your gear. I suppose I wanted to kick it up old-school for a change. I suppose I just wanted to go out in it all to say I’d been out.

Wednesday 

I went back to Campground. SuperCore went to Die Jagende Hütte. I was determined that, if nothing else showed I would give up on the idea of another large buck in the neighborhood. I was visited by half a dozen deer, mostly all doe. The big thrill was watching the spike with 5 inch antlers worrying the heck out of a sapling, trying to show off to two doe that treated him like somebody’s kid brother. I had a disturbing thing happen Wednesday. Partly to do a shift a wind and partly to the wear and tear of hunting, my clothes had started to stink. I don’t mean like a bum-on-the-bus kind of stink or even men’s locker room kind of stink. No, I mean the imperceptible scent level that we can only begin to imagine. I can’t smell it. I doubt you can, but when the Shamanic Baking Soda method starts to wear thin, the deer can surely see the difference. Most of Wednesday was spent with the deer getting within about 80 yards of my stand and then throwing on the brakes and snorting. I had doe playing “You Stink!” for 3 hours.

I responded by pulling out a plunger and a wash tub and a bag of baking soda and re-doing all my underwear and bibs– wash and rinse and then hung out to dry. The outer layers– bibs, parka, gloves, hat, got the dry treatment of a serious dusting with baking and then sealed up overnight. The underwear froze overnight, and did not thaw out until this afternoon.

In the evening, I went out to the Blackberry Patch. It is a new stand I put up for Angus. I just wanted to have at least one good sit out there this season. It overlooks all of the big pasture to the west. This is the place where, in 2001 before the deal closed, I was planning to build my cabin. There was about a month there, back then, where I was pulling together years of dreaming and scheming and trying to get sketches together for a project that would run 5 years at minimum. Back then, the plan was to put up a cabin tent, then a picnic shelter, then a stone fireplace, then wall in the shelter and build a cabin, and lastly put up a 2-story bedroom addition for myself and the kids. It would have been a major undertaking for Angie and me and the kids, but I had it broken down into do-able steps that could be accomplished on weekends. It all went up in smoke when Dad came out in late August and decided he liked the new property so much , he was buying the plot next door with the promise I would help him re-hab the existing house for a getaway for Mom and Dad. The place I had picked stayed a grove of scrubby locust trees and a patch of blackberries. Mom and Dad liked what I did with the place, but age was catching up with them. Dad was having trouble driving at night. They were just coming out for the day. Finally they had a bad wreck back in 2003 and in caused them to think twice before driving long distances for the heck of it.

I remember him coming back from a trip out with the current owner. They were both old muleskinners and they went out in Orey’s truck to talk mules and have Dad see what he had just bought.

“Orey takes me out,” said Dad, “And we’re on this high spot and I asked him to show me how much I was buying.  He pointed to a ridge, and said it wasn’t that ridge or the next one, but way out in the distance– I owned to the bottoms between those ridges. I couldn’t believe I had that much land!”

Dad, it really never got any better than that, did it?  It’s been 3 years now since he past.

Thursday

The Polar Vortex had finally set in at deer camp. Low temperatures had been in the mid-thirties. Now they were in the mid-twenties. I went to Virginia. Things were just as before. Doe kept coming by. I had six show up at once and mull about around the base of the ladder munching acorns. It was fun eye candy, but I could not get the rifle up without them running. The good news is the reworking of the baking soda regimen had returned my kit to complete scent invisibility. I had given up on the idea of bagging a big buck– they just were not on the property. However, I was to find even shooting a doe was not going to be all that easy. Around 0900 two doe came in and camped out near the stand. I got the rifle up, but the lead doe walked through a hole in the cedars a little before I could get the sights on her. The second doe was right behind. She walked into the opening and. . .

BLAM!

. . . I expected a quick run and a quick finish. I had the Savage 99 out. I had a new scope on it. I really wanted to see how it worked. Ooops. The deer ran 20 yards and then stopped at 40. I expected it to fall with the blind staggers. It did not. She looked back at me in disgust and she and her buddy left making a long arc from my front all the way around my right side. I never got another shot. Once I was down I could see what happened. I could see the deer well with my scope, but standing where the deer was, I could spot all sorts of small branches nearer to her than to the stand. At 60 yards, the bullet must have snapped a twig and gone careening. I was able to follow their trail for a couple hundred yards and that brought me to a view of all of the mouth of left leg creek. No blood. No deer. It was a complete miss. The Savage 99 completed its season with an unbroken record of only taking big bucks. For some reason it just won’t shoot a doe.

Now I come to Thursday Afternoon, and the reason I am sitting here on Friday trying to get caught up on my writing. As I set out Thursday Evening, I was now in a brown-n-down kind of mood. I have been that way in other years. At some point you have to surmise that all the big antlers you have seen to date are all you are probably going to see and start working on filling the freezer the best way you can. By Wednesday all the players had been on the court, and all we had seen so far was the big 8 that SuperCore had taken, a dozen or so young doe, and less than six males ranging from buttons to a small forker that showed up on Wednesday. Yes, I could see myself holding out for a buck, but it was time to take a doe. I went back out to Midway. Temperatures had not budged over freezing all day. I was walking in a cloud of fresh baking soda. I felt ready. I settled in at Midway shortly before 4 PM. I was reading a 19th century account of Jackson’s defense of New Orleans. It is funny, but time has muddied the waters. Nowadays you hear more about how greedy American businessmen had brought on the war in order to exploit Eastern Canada. From the perspective of 110 years ago, you can still sense the anger over what was deliberate goading by the English, trying to wrest control of the continent from their former colonists. Normally I read a paragraph or two and then go back to scanning the woods. It keeps me quiet and I am scanning with my ears even when I am not scanning with my eyes. At 5, I had an hour or so left of hunting. I put the book down and picked up the rifle. 18 minutes later, what appeared to be doe came out at 120 yards on the near side of the Garden of Stone.

 

My season had gone poorly so far. It got worse when the deer immediately turned away and started grazing, back to me in the gathering gloom. I had my new Hawkeye out. 30-06 was more than enough to get out there. It was Thursday. I was now just trying to get something in the freezer, but I was not going to inaugurate my brand new deer rifle with a Texas Heart Shot. After 50 yards and 10 minutes of grazing, the deer turned broadside. The head went down and the lower part of the deer began to mix with the taller tufts of grass left by the recent mowing. I have to admit I was not looking really close for any headgear.

BLAM!

The deer ran 20 yards, obviously hit, and disappeared at the treeline. I left the blind and walked out across the field. I was beginning to scan the woods and wondering if I was going to have to chase the deer into the ravine when I spied the carcass, toes up in the small margin of tall grass in front of the barbed wire fence. That is when I discovered the 5 inches of spike. My search for The Big One this year was definitely over, and I had killed one of the spikes that had been deviling the doe around my stand all season. At the time, I could not remember exactly if it was Ohio or Kentucky that used to have a 4-inch minimum. This was beyond either. I went and checked later as I was telechecking the deer: only buttons are exempt in Kentucky. I had killed my buck for the year.

The shaman and the 5-inch Spike

Look don’t get me wrong. He’ll eat as good as any doe. He’ll always be one I remember. He will be mounted on the spike wall with the rest, and I will point to him each Opener as I recite “He that outlives this day and comes safe home will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d. And point a finger at his mounted antlers saying ‘These wounds! These wounds, I gave on Opening Day'”

It’s kind of like my Dad leaning back on his shovel, wiping the sweat off his head and with a wry grin saying “Son, it does not get any better than this, does it?”

It’s now past sundown. I went out for a bit, not expecting much. I got busted on the way out to Hammond North, but managed to see a couple of deer cavorting out in the Garden of Stone just before I headed in. It is bitter cold and the temperature is supposed to go to 18F tonight. I came in early to wait for a call. KYHillChick is coming out with Angus. I’ll meet them halfway on the AA Highway and then bring him back to camp.

More later. Deer Camp ain’t over yet.

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Walking Vine Street in my Mind

I forget now which gooey Portuguese writer once opined that, when visiting a place, one leaves a part of oneself there. When returning, therefore, we are not just revisiting a location, but rediscovering a bit of ourselves as well. If that is true, I wonder what to make out of these 200 acres and the pieces of myself I have left strewn about like dirty sweat socks sticking to a bedroom wall.

SAM_0013.JPG

My mind goes ever back to Vine Street (or is it Walnut?). We’ve never been real tight on the name. Is Vine Street to the left of the tree line as you go to the campground or to the right? Oh well, (sigh) as I was saying my mind always drifts to the center road running through the property and all the odd bits of my being I have left along that three quarters of a mile.

There is the leaner at Hammond North, north of the Honey Hole. I remember on one of my first hikes on the farm getting my brain a little cooked in the heat and getting turned around and walking up the wrong creek bed. That old oak bleached out in a decade or more of sun was there like a beacon when I finally emerged from a dense cedar thicket. It was one of the first places I fully remembered. The old tree is finally fallen over, but I cannot help but look up there every time I go past. I remember that tree, walking out to Midway in 2008 with a stiff North wind blowing and one of the deepest blue skies I had ever seen. I have seen that old trunk against an angry sky during turkey season as a thunderstorm blew across north of the farm.

The Last 100 Yards

The Last 100 Yards — On the way to the house with a thunderstorm on the way

There are the little bits as well, like the bare spot south of Midway where nothing has ever grown and in the dark I try to miss it, so I will not get my feet muddy and on the way out, I always check for tracks. There is the rut coming down to Fountain Square that never quite fills back in and the long last bit going up to the house. I felt like I was going to die a hundred times over that spring where I caught pneumonia in the middle of turkey season. I felt reborn when, a year later, I could take that last hundred yards of the hike without stopping to rest. It took until this year for me to walk that stretch without remarking to myself how well I was doing.

If that Portuguese was telling truth and not just trying to write something to impress the chicks, then there are dark places along that road I nearly never travel. There is the last little bit, past the turnaround where the path runs on to the neighbors. There is the short bit of creepy claustrophobic cedar thicket after the outhouse where Hurricane Ike snapped all the trees and then it all falls off into a steep gully where nobody ever wants to go. I’ve been through there, but I invariably take the turnoff to the campground to avoid it as if it were a dark memory from my past.

There is the spot there, where in the first couple of years I got trailed by a buck as I was coming out from a long day of working on my stands. Hearing footsteps behind me, I stopped and turned. He was a small six-pointer, and he had me confused with either a rival or a mate. He was coming at me in that stiff-legged way that tells you an animal is listening to that deep part of his underlying lizard brain. Our eyes met, and I could tell nothing from his– no fear, no intent, no curiosity– and that dull mayhem shook me, and I responded by throwing up my arms and telling him to shoo. That seem to rouse him, and he went back to being a normal deer with normal cervid sensibilities and he leaped off the road and bounded down the dark gully.

And last, there is the place, always somewhere past the Honey Hole, where in the dark pre-dawn I stop and cool off on my way to my Opening Day stand at Campground. I have come about two thirds of the way from the house and I want to dump the accumulated heat out of my clothes before making the final part of the trek. I take my hat off and look up at the sky and take my time observing Orion, Canis Major, The Pleiades, and Taurus the Bull. It is not so much a given location, but rather a time and bit of ritual.

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Happy Saint Hubert’s Day

It’s the Third of November, the Feast of Saint Hubert! I’d like to wish you all many happy returns of the day.

Wilhelm_Räuber_Hubertus

According to legend, Hubertus went hunting on Good Friday and saw a stag with a cross between its antlers. The deer gave Hubertus the riot act and lectured him on Fair Chase. A talking deer was too much for Humbertus, who fell to his knees and prayed to God, promising to give up drinking Jaeger Bombs. When he got back to town, he renounced everything and became a holy man.

Moral: Jagermeister is bad for you.

Around our house, we celebrate The Feast of Saint Hubert the way other folks celebrate Christmas. It makes sense. This way y’all get to play with your presents during Deer Season instead of having to wait a whole year.

After the presents are unwrapped, Angus and I put on our Lederhosen and parade up and down the driveway. KYHillChick puts on her Dirndl and throws rose petals in front of us while we march with our boar spears. Angus plays the Dudelsak. You’re supposed to then get really drunk and go out shooting at this point, but that’s a little silly for us.

Anyhow. Happy Saint Hubert’s Day y’all.

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Random Thoughts on the Opener

Lil Goober inspects the doe, 2002

Lil Goober inspects the doe, 2002

Now that I have been writing this weblog for a decade, it is easy for me to go back and see what I was thinking and doing in the run-up to the Rifle Openerin previous years. Even before that, I have been dealing with getting ready for Deer Camp since that included diapers for little Angus (we called him Goober back then) and making sure there were toys for Mooseboy. I’ve got most of the chores done for the year.

This year will be the first time since 2010 that I will be trying to hunt all of Opening Week. Last time I did this, I was unemployed. Money was getting tight. I was close to selling my deer rifles before I finally got a call to come up to Scumsuck, Ohio for a consulting gig. The only happy memory I have of that job was the night I got snowed in and couldn’t commute home. I watched Escanaba in Da Moonlight at a nearby motel. Yeppers! This year, finds me employed and prosperous enough to afford my first new deer rifle in many years. Angus may come for the week if his high school schedule allows. I doubt I’ll see Moose. He is busy with his new family. SuperCore can’t wait. Nowbody can stomach Leinenkugel, but we are laying in a supply of pasties and some of da sweet sap.

Deer Camp 2004

Deer Camp 2004

Give a man a little luck and anything will do for brains.
–Albert Soady

As patriarch of Deer Camp, the important thing for me is to buy myself enough slack ahead of time so as to make it workable when it all starts happening. Ammo, licenses, everything down to socks and gloves, are already down at camp. I sharpened the knives last week. I try and have a backup for everything and a backup to the backup. Years ago had to lay the law down with my sons: you can’t just roll into camp on Friday night and start playing. There is about an hour’s worth of chores that have to be done before you can relax. It includes getting all your gear ready for the hunt. I still find Angus walking out to the blind forgetting his bibs, but it is a start. I’m just as guilty. I spent last Eve of Opener looking for missing thermal drawers.

I had to throw out the hay dude and replace him with another. Hay Dude 2.0 had been doing hay in exchange for food plots since 2007, but the food plots stopped in 2009. Hay Dude 3.0 says he can do clover and such. He was in this week getting out the last of the hay. We’ll see how such a late cutting effects the deer.

Is it just me, or do y’all find yourself, as the Opener draws near, going to the gun cabinet and giving in to the irresistible urge to pull out your rifle and look through the sights? I’m just asking.

Handy hints:

  • Use garbage bags to pack your clothes. They are compressible and squish to fit tight spaces
  • Use a big plastic bin for all the small stuff
  • Pack your cooler with the drain spigot pointed towards the back of the truck. You’ll thank me when it starts leaking.
  • Save an old rain suit for gutting deer. When you’re done, just walk into the shower and hose yourself off.
  • The way I got my sons organized is I gave them each a nylon duffle with shoulder straps.  After coming back in the evening, they were responsible for packing all their gear including outer layers for the next day before knocking off for the night. I do the same.  It saves a lot of hassle come morning. It also saves space. Come morning, we shoulder the pack, grab the rifle and go.
  • Make coffee outrageously strong coffee and then have folks water it down to taste. It saves time making multiple pots. A couple sips of the straight stuff and I’m wired. If it’s cold I suggest coffee doctored with hot chocolate.
  • Speaking of cold, those chemical handwarmer packets work best if you stick it in a inside pocket as close to your heart so you’re warming the blood in your chest.  It will reduce the need for gloves, and make you feel warmer overall.
  • By the time I get situated in my stand, I’m usually sweating.  That’s a bad thing, because sweat equals stink.  I find that grabbing the metal rails of my stand cool me off as quick as a cold drink on a hot day.
  • Everyone likes to wear a headlight.  I don’t.  I take a AA flashlight and hold it close to the ground. The light travels next to nowhere, but I can still see where I’m walking. This way it spooks less game.  I’ve walked right up on a bedded buck.
  • Although I sleep on the property I hunt, it is still 3/4 mile back to my Opening Day Stand. If I walked it all in one stint, I would be a sweaty mess by the time I got there.  I take time along the way to stop, cool down and open my clothes to the wind.  It is okay to get a little cold; you’ll warm up when you start hiking again. The trick is to go slow.
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The Shamanic Portable Stump

As I wrote in a previous missive, I really appreciate the writings of Dr. Ken Nordberg. He, through his yearly almanacs, was very inspirational to me early on in my deer hunting career. I cannot say Ken got me started using a portable stump. I  was using my version clear back in the early 80’s. However, when I saw Ken’s description of his method, it made me feel affirmed.

First off, I want you all to study Ken Nordberg’s method of Portable Stump hunting

and this one, on how to build a portable stump for yourself

Then I want to give you my variation on it.



The Shamanic Variation

The Nordberg method is pretty much the same as mine. However, the hardware is a little different. I use a 5 gallon bucket that I carry with a shoulder strap. I bought one for Angus for his first year of solo hunting. Into that bucket, I add a 12 foot length of camo blind material, a dozen spring-type clothes pins and 50 foot of camo camper’s cord.

The idea is this: still hunt until you get where you have a good set-up. The pre-requisites are

a) A place where you can see and not be seen
b) A flat spot big enough for the bucket
c) An appropriate configuration of trees.

I will not go into the first pre-req. If you stillhunt, you should already be savvy in picking this out. The point is that there are a LOT of places in the woods to put a bucket or a stool, but most of them are bad. With a stool, you have soft ground sucking the legs in. With a bucket, you have bad slants on hillsides. The bucket works better for me, primarily because I do not have to worry about individual legs getting buried. I still have to work a bit to find a spot where the bucket is level and I can sit with both feet comfortably planted.

The configuration of trees is also important. Normally, I try for 3 trees. I make a ‘V’ with the line, and this ‘V’ can be many feet longer than the blind. It does not have to be even. It can point towards the game or away. Sometimes I just use two trees as long as one tree is big enough to hide me from the back. I use clothespins to hang the blind material up so I can be in the middle or along the edge. The point here is to be fast and efficient and quiet. I want to throw up a blind in 5 minutes or less without a lot of fuss so that the deer don’t know I’m there. Sometimes I reverse the ‘V’ so that the deer cannot see me until they are right in front.

Back when I got started, my rig was a bit different. I didn’t carry a 12 foot piece of camo blind. I had just a 4’X6′ die-cut blind, with a cord afixed around the edge. I could hang this across a bush or between two saplings or just drap it over my head or over my lap. I still have it. It’s the oldest piece of hunting gear I still use.

Advanced Tricks

1) Barbed wire fences are great, hanging the blind material off the top strand, but be careful. Barbed wire eats blinds. It may be better to use your campers cord and hang the blind from that in front or behind the barbed wire.
2) Pre-positioning buckets is a variation of this. I’ll put several black plastic buckets out before season and move from one to the next. I carry a camo boat cushion and use that for my butt. I can also hide blind material, cord, and pins under the overturned bucket
3) I will frequently leave my bucket somewhere and go in for lunch and then pick it up on the way out to my afternoon hunt. Nobody ever has stolen mine. I doubt you can see if if it’s in a bush or against a tree.
4) With a blind up, it is hard to see you even if it is one strand between 2 6-inch saplings. Deer are not used to seeing a third of a human, and you can hide most of your body in a situation like this and hunt right along length of the blind. I have taken a buck with a bow at less than 10 yards in this manner and the lead doe was standing less than a yard from the blind, look through it and could not figure out what I was.
5) Remember where the sun is going to be as you are setting up. If the sun comes up and you are back-lit, the deer will respond as if there is no camo blind there. the deer see it bright sun on the front of the blind, you will be invisible.
6) Wind will be your undoing. If the blind starts flapping, deer will notice the movement and vacate that end of the county. I’ve seen bucks at 200 yards catch sight a flapping blind corner and kick on the afterburners.
7) Either figure out a way to steady your shots against one of the tree trunks or use shooting sticks or make sure you can fire offhand at the distances required. Remember that string will not hold the firearm and the deer do not like a jack-in-the-box presentation where you suddenly pop up with your rifle.

Die-Cut vs. Burlap.

Burlap is heavy. Die-cut synthetic felt is light. In a long slog, the synthetics are best. If there is a wind, Burlap is the winner.
You see more through the die-cut. You see movement more for sure.
Folks think Burlap is smelly, but I’ve never seen a deer think so. Don’t worry that smell is natural jute.

Knots for Portable Stump Hunting

There are two knots I use. You need to be able to make a knot and remove a knot quickly. You also need one knot that stays tight, and another that you can adjust.
I use a tautline hitch for my first knot when I’m tying the ‘V’. I leave it somewhat loose on the tree. I then go out and around the apex tree and then back to the third. I terminate the ‘V’ with a double-improved clinch knot. If you go fishing, this is just an clinch knot done with a double line and then finished with an overhand knot. When the knots are both done, I go back and use the tautline hitch to tighten the whole thing up. The campers cord is great. I’ve probably done these knots dozens of times on each length of campers cord I own and the cord looks brand new even after decades of use.

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