O.D. and the Squeaky Toy

There are little white country stores up and down Route 10 all the way from the Ohio River to . . . well, frankly I have never been past Germantown on Route 10, however, I suspect there are stores like that all along the length of the road as it winds through the Trans-Bluegrass. I used to favor the one at Lennoxburg, but after Jake retired, I have been trying others. It is a lot like finding a new church; you visit around a while until you find a place that is comfortable.

Deer Hunter with Squeaky Toy

Deer Hunter with Squeaky Toy

All these stores are the same and yet quite different. They may look fairly modern on the inside until you look down and see floors that were laid during Grover Cleveland’s administration. Some serve franchised frozen pizza or broasted chicken. Most all have a little dust on their soup cans. They can all be counted on for a quick baloney sandwich. I look for one with a wood burning stove and a few metal lawn chairs, and at least a few deer heads hanging on the wall. You will know I do not mention establishment names. The reason is that I do business in all of them from time to time, and I want to stay on good terms with the proprietors.

The current one I favor is close to camp. We came to it after O.D. was thrown out of another one. You know already about O.D. and his brothers, so I will not go into the whole lineage. I was not there for the incident, but I know O.D. has a real knack for suckering people into stories. He will wait until a stranger’s back is turned and then say something outlandish to get them hooked and then rely on the help of his confederates to reel them in. In this case, he overheard a customer ask about the vegetable soup.

“I tell you I had a bowl of that soup last week.” said O.D. like he was talking to the other guys. “Back then, the green ones were the stronger swimmers.” The prospect changed his mind on the soup and left the store in a hurry. The owner tossed O.D. out. The rest left in sympathy. I showed up a few days later and commented on all the empty chairs. I got told off, and I am biding my time before I venture back. Well, at least I was.  I have heard since that the store is closing and they owner is looking for a buyer.  It took a while for the whole flock to settle on a new roost. This new one has a chair that favors my back.

I came by a while back and O.D. was already there with his poodle. Now you may wonder how a dog gets to sit in with us, and you may wonder why a guy like O.D. would own a poodle. However, the dog and the man are sort of a package deal. The poodle is a standard/toy mix and so comes in about 40 lbs. She’s sturdy and wickedly smart. O.D. acts like he ignores her, but you can tell the two dote on each other. O.D. swears she is the best squirrel dog he ever owned and does a fair job running down rabbits as well.  He also claims she calls deer for him.

The dog has her eccentricities. For instance, she keeps a squeaky toy with her at all times. She gently cradles the toy for months on end, and then one day she will get it in her head and tear it apart in minutes. Whoever has O.D. holding court in their store knows to keep a small supply of dog toys handy. The toys have varied over the years. One February, it was a paper valentine that O.D. gave his dog. Another time she favored a blue bandana, but usually it has to have a squeaker in it. The current one is a plastic Santa Claus.

It was getting on towards Noon, and a fellow drove up in a fancy 4-wheel drive truck with camo panels on the hood and sides. There was a $20K ATV in the back, and all sorts of white hunting decals filled the back window. O.D. motioned with his eyes as we all sat talking; we all scoped the guys out. You could tell O.D. was planning something.

The two men, in their knee-high lace up boots and Under Armour shirts and $300 Fart-lok suits, came in and started straight back for the deli case. The proprietor followed them and talked them into corned beef sandwiches. While the sandwiches were being made, the two hunters roamed the store, browsing. This store, like many has a small hunting and fishing section. You have to be careful in places like this. Some of the stuff does not turn over real fast, so the plastic worms you buy may crack and crumble when you try to put them on your hook. However, the ammo turns over pretty rapidly, as does the turkey calls. O.D. caught one of the guys thumbing through the deer calls.

“Now, you may not believe this,” said O.D. to his friends, ” but I have seen this dog call deer.  She takes her squeaky toy out when we’re hiking about, and while I’m resting she’ll get out away from me and hit that squeaky toy-”  O.D. paused and then added   ” Show the guys how you call deer.”  Babette is very jealous of her squeaky toys.  A man might draw back a bloody stump reaching for one. O.D. is the only human that can touch it, and Babette only lets him,because he carries it for her in his pocket when they are traveling.  O.D. reached down with his hand and Babette responded as she always does, growling and snapping and mouthing the toy so it would squeak.

“Call the deer!” said O.D.  “See that?  That’s just what she does, and I borrowed it from her last week of season last year and I tried it out.  It worked for me too. ”  He then snatched the toy up from the dog and started hitting on hit like it was a fawn in distress.  “Big buck came trotting up behind me, and caught me on my blind side.  I put the toy back down, and this buck came in and  stole the damn thing!   I look up and see this buck with a squeaky toy in his mouth and there he goes ‘SQWEEEEEKEEEEE !   SQUWEEEEEEEEEKEEEEE!    ‘  Running through the woods like a Jack Russell Terrier.   I could not believe my eyes.”

“What happened?” I asked.  O.D. almost had me sucked in now.

“Well, ” said O.D.  ” I could not get a shot at first, but eventually he started to tire, and he stopped and laid the toy down to catch his breath.  I put the B.A.R. on him and nailed him– didn’t go more than 10 yards before piling up.  That was that 6 pointer y’all saw.  He looked bigger when he was on the hoof; that rack was a fooler– only six points.  I would have thought it was eight.”  He dropped the squeaky Santa back to the floor and the dog growled menacingly and began guarding her toy again lovingly.

We all started talking about the buck, and managed a glance at the two guys waiting on their sandwiches.  Sure enough, the one went over to the other and pointed our way.  They went over to the little rack of stuff next to the dog food and found a squeaky pork chop an a big-eyed squeaky frog  and put them on the counter next to their sandwiches.  They made sure they didn’t look over at us until they were just leaving.  One finally did acknowledge us and mumble something about having a nice day before walking out.

O.D. waited until the door shut before saying, “And that Gentlemen is my work for today! I think Charlotte’s cooking something good for lunch. ”   He reached down and grabbed the dog’s toy, shoved it in his pocket and got up to leave.  The dog followed in perfect rhythm so that it would not appear O.D. was holding the door for her.  They hopped into the truck and left.


Hornets in the Garden of Stone.

The Garden of Stone is a place at deer camp where we’ve been killing deer like crazy since 2008. It is a 200 X80 yard long pasture. My big luxury box, Midway sits at one end and my favorite treestand, Campground sits at the other. Deer come out into the middle to feed. The name, Garden of Stone, comes from the fact that I started putting a small rock next to where I’d shoot a deer so that I could pace it off later. Pretty soon, there were stones all over the mid-section of that pasture.

The Garden of Stone

The Garden of Stone in 2009

The guy who hays our fields has been a little remiss the past couple of years and let blackberries grow in a couple of spots. They sprouted from all the deer poop. This past Saturday, Angus and I went out to mow down the worst of it and set up some shooting lanes.

I was out on the Cub Cadet. Angus was armed with a 21″ Snapper self-propelled. I had him on the blackberries at the other end of the field. All of a sudden I saw Angus come past me at a dead run. He was running about as fast as I have ever seen him.

It turns out Angus had run over a hornet’s nest in the blackberries. He said he knew he was in trouble when the mower ran over something that nearly stalled it out and a huge plume of wasps came shooting out the discharge. He dropped the mower and ran. I went back to check. These were what appeared to be bald-faced wasps, beefy black suckers with yellow markings. There was a cluster of them the size of a softball swarming on the throttle control, and stinging the heck out of everything else on that mower. The nest was cut in two and sticking out the front of the mower. Miraculously the boogers had not touched Angus. I’m sure if he’d tripped or stopped to swat them, he’d have been dead.

We just left it there until evening. I came back with the truck. I used a grapnel on a 25 foot cord to snag the handle of the mower, then tied the cord to 50 feet of rope and the other end of the rope to the back bumper. Angus then put the truck in gear and gently towed the mower to safety. At first the hornets got mad and attacked the mower, but we left it alone about 30 yards from the nest and came back after dark and got the mower.

After separating the mower from the nest, I made sure the windows were all rolled up and proceeded to run over the nest repeatedly with the truck. That caused a cloud of hornets. Some of them stung the windshield and windows, filling them with globs of yellow goo. We then drove a half-mile back to camp and left the truck parked away from the house. A few hornets followed the truck and buzzed the house, but left us alone. When we went back, the cloud of insects was gone.



Deer Intelligence and the 4-way Stop

I have tried to answer the question “How Smart are Deer?”  for most of my hunting career.   I know they can’t be THAT smart.  However, the thought has been rolling around in my head since I did that last piece about Ken Nordberg.    I was on my way to work this morning, and I saw something that provided me some insight. I wish I had been aware enough at the time to have taken a video, but I was well down the road before I realized the significance of what I had seen.

During the week, I stay in town on the north side of Cincinnati. I grew up there. The place is inundated with deer. They are starting to allow a limited amount of bow hunting, but the boogers keep breeding at a rate far beyond the rate that the cars and the hunters can stem. Most days I have at least one close encounter with one or more deer.  They may be in a neighbor’s yard, crossing the road in front of me, or standing in my own yard staring at me.  I have been here nearly a half-century, and I can remember when finding a deer track in the woods was rare treat.  Now they are about as numerous as the dang squirrels and rabbits.

One place I frequently see deer is where my little Cul-de-Sac crosses the main road.  It is a simple 2-laner running through a margin of farm-turned-to-suburb on the edge of town. .  Speed limit is 35 MPH. There are a few stop signs to break up the flow. Traffic is brisk during morning and evening rush, stacking up 2-3 cars at the signs. The deer have always been using a corridor about 100 yards to either side of my road to cross the main road.  What I realized is that the path they are using has become increasingly compressed.  For the past couple years, they have  been concentrating their crossings closer to the corner.  This morning I finally figured it out:  they are using the crosswalks!

I came up to the 4-way stop in my truck.  The matriarch of the 4-deer herd was already across, standing at the  left hand corner on the far side. Two daughters and a fawn were on the near side, next to me. They crossed the main road in the crosswalk to my left and then waited to see what I was going to do before crossing in front of me on the other side, following the lead doe.  I realized as I was watching this that I had seen nearly the same thing happen last night as I was coming home, but I had pulled through the intersection before seeing the matriarch cross the second time.  KYHillChick sees them doing this.  Angus sees them crossing there going to and from school.  It is not just this herd either.  We have seen others and we have also seen solitary bucks.

The crosswalks have been there probably 50 years, but it was only about 3 years ago that they finally put up stop signs.  Before that, it was kind of a free-for-all.  One old guy had volunteered as a crossing guard back when we first moved into the neighborhood some 40 years ago, but he died during Reagan’s first term.  The traffic has gotten progressively thicker over the years.  The city finally broke down and threw up a 4-way stop.  The deer have adjusted.  I’m sure they do not read signs, but they are pretty car savvy. What is really remarkable is that they never cross diagonally.  It is always within a few-feet of the crosswalk, and they always stop and look both ways. They also treat the crossing as a two-step operation.  You would think these beasts would just scamper to the other side in one swell foop.  Nope. The crossings are fairly meticulous.  I’ve seen parts of several.  This was just the first time I saw it all happen in one session.

I think part of what kept me from seeing the profundity I was witnessing was the matter-of-fact way they went about it.  These deer have recognized some benefit inherent in crossing at the crosswalk.  Mind you, everywhere else, the deer in our neighborhood are notorious jay-walkers.  They could care less about where they cross the pavement, or whose yard they trespass.  They do not seem to give a wit about anything. Dogs do not bother them. Pedestrians do not faze them.  I watched a lady with a yappy dog try to shoo some out of the way the other day and the deer were not budging.  Something got them focused on this particular intersection. What is even more odd about all this is there is another 3-way stop with a flashing light 300 yards down the way.  That one has been around longer than 40 years, and the deer have never shown the slightest interest in that crossing.

Deer are not like people. I do not for an instant mean to anthropomorphize them.  However, I find it interesting that these deer have empirically witnessed the effect on the cars’ behavior at the new stop signs in this location, and they have exploited the crosswalks as a result.  I report this to give you an idea of what we are encountering in the woods.





The Doctor, the Shaman, and the Elephant

Before I go any further in this endeavor, I want to commend Doctor Ken Nordberg and his son John. Their efforts in the field of deer hunting are exemplary– Ken for his body of work and John for his effort to make Ken’s work available online. The only “gentle nudge” I can make to John is to hurry up and make all  the out-of-print almanacs available again in .pdf format.

The Blind Monks and the Elephant

The Blind Monks and the Elephant

Back a long time ago when your shaman was at shaman school, the teacher gave us a book that contained the story of the blind monks and the elephant. The monks stumbled on the elephant and began to examine it.  The result was one monk finds the tail and says the animal resembles a rope.  Another grabs the trunk and says it is a powerful snake. Another starts feeling a leg and says it is a tree trunk.

I look at Ken and myself as two of the monks. He has spent the bulk of his time up in Minnesota tracking big bucks in the North Woods. I have spent most of my hunting career in the Ohio Valley, and for the last 13 seasons a single 200 acre plot in the Trans-Bluegrass of Kentucky. Deer Hunting is a vast subject, and I have grown to respect Ken’s body of work. I was reading him early on in my career, and I stumbled on his website a while back. I can look back now and see influences. I can also see where we have touched the same part of the elephant at times.

Dr Ken Nordberg's The Whitetail Hunter's Almanac 1st Edition Front Cover

Dr Ken Nordberg’s The Whitetail Hunter’s Almanac 1st Edition Front Cover

The Internet has really opened things up for deer hunters. In the past, we had to rely on a few limited and biased sources for information:

  •  Our peers and mentors– If Uncle Fred was listening to a football game when the big buck came out in 1956, it might be that you would be hunting with an AM radio turned down low in the 1980′s. Don’t laugh. I read that suggestion back in the early 80′s.  Ditto for smoking flavored pipe tobacco, hunting over a small campfire and other superstitions.
  • Magazines –  Frankly, magazines are there to sell magazines and sell what their advertisers are hawking.
  • Books — Don’t get me started on the hooey I have read about deer hunting in hardcover books.

My point is that the Internet has given us a chance to compare notes.  I see something. I write about it in an online forum.  Somebody tells me they have seen the same thing. Somebody else says we are full of beans. . . this is terrific for deer hunters. Finally the blind monks are starting to talk to one another.  In Doctor Ken Nordberg’s case, I am attempting to stand on his shoulders.

Why Adult Deer Easily Spot You– check out this article!

Why Adult Deer Easily Spot You, from October 2006 is a great example of all the things I want to explore in Doctor Nordberg’s work. Some of the piece is dead-on in my view. Some of it is colored by Ken’s bias. Some of it is probably dead wrong. However, even at his worst, Ken is giving a cogent view worth reading.

Let me tear down the fallacies first, and get the nit-picking out of the way. Orange is not black to a deer, nor is it white, gray, or invisible. If you go by the latest actual research on deer, deer are what is known as Red-Blind/Protanopic– they have a deficiency of red receptors in their eye in comparison to the human eye. As a result, they see hunter orange as something akin to the yellow of a freshly turned sugar maple. Compare this doctored pic to the pic of Katy on Ken’s site.

Ken's Katy at her stump

Ken’s Katy at her stump

Is Ken wrong?  Ken bases his assertions about deer learning about hunter orange from hunting in a northern wilderness with low deer density.   I would not toss out what Ken is saying.

Is hunter orange a dead giveaway? No.  I switched from the minimum hunter orange Kentucky allows (solid vest and hat) to a full orange clown suit a few years ago, and I did not see  a decrease in sightings. Do I wear a full face mask? No, I did, but I found that with my eye glasses that fogging was a problem. I switched to a solid green wool balaclava over a decade ago. It exposes my eyes nose and mouth, but that is it.  I was wearing one for every one of my big bucks. Are deer getting smarter? No, but individuals do learn, and the longer they live the more they learn.  Old doe and old bucks are very savvy critters. However, there are things that keep them huntable:

1) They have no culture. Deer do not gather around the campfire and listen to the old ones. I have seen younger deer disobey a matriarch that was snorting wildly and go check out what was up in the tree. I have also seen deer completely ignore a snorting matriarch and nibble acorns in apparent bliss. In both cases, the snorting matriarch had seen me kill her mother and her son in previous years. She knew me. I knew her.

2) Deer get stupid.  All my big bucks were shot during either the Rut or the False Rut in October. I have had a buck with a nice  rack approach me on the trail like he had romance on his mind. I have also been bald-faced busted by a mature buck and gotten him to go back to feeding by barking at him like a squirrel. Deer have their moments, but they are not geniuses.

3) I believe we anthropomorphize deer waaaaay to much.  I am convinced deer have a totally alien view of life and death, their own mortality, and what it is to be predator and prey. As a result they do not act as we do. If you follow me on the D&DH forum, you know this is a pet subject.

Now that I have torn down everything Ken wrote, let me build it back up and start to agree with him.

Hunter Orange is not an impediment, at least not in my experience.  Mind you, I hunt in a portion of Bracken County, Kentucky that is radically different from Ken’s Minnesota woods. Mine is a mix of field and woods– mostly fallow farms.   On the opener, we can average 3 shot-strings per minute in the first 4 hours of hunting.  I’m going to take a wild stab and say there might be a hunter every 4 acres of  19 square miles worth of earshot in the first half-day of the Opener. There are also a lot of deer– maybe 45 per square mile, but I’ve heard higher numbers cited.  We also never have snow of any significant amount in the Ohio Valley in November, so there is a lot less contrast in the woods. Suffice it to say that Ken and I hunt in very different places. Even though deer get shot at from every quarter in rifle season, I have seen them look through a 2X4′ solid orange curtain at close range like it was not there. It was up a tree and it was not moving.  I have also seen them get into a frenzy at 200 yards when a gust of wind blew a corner of a camo blind. It is more about movement than color.

The most important thing is this, and on this Ken and I agree:  at our camp we pack our outer layers in, we get in the woods early, we try not to be obvious in our ingress. We sit instead of stand. We prefer to sit in trees, and we try not to be obviously silhouetted against the sky or the ground behind. We try to break up our human form.  I use ponchos on my own body , camo skirts around my treestands and burlap or die-cut camo in front of my ground blinds.

The deer? They are different too.  My deer are used to constant contact with humans.  Ken’s deer might run at the sight of a human. Around my ridge, the deer are constantly exposed to humans, dogs, farm machinery and automobiles.  I prefer to accentuate that rather than try to fight it.  I make myself available to the deer every chance I get through scouting.  If one confronts me, I talk to her like a neighbor or a tenant. Deer will often stand and listen. There is only a few weeks a year when that relationship changes, and it is too late for the deer to notice the difference. On the way back from Roosters one night, I was picked up by a sheriff’s deputy who thought he had a potential DUI.  I don’t think he ever bought the story that I had stopped to converse with a herd of doe, but I blew  totally clean on the Breathalyzer, so he let me go.  I’m sure the headdress and turtle-shell rattle assured him I was an upstanding citizen.

About the same time, (October, 2006) that Ken published his article on how deer spot you, I was setting up NewStand, a 15 foot buddy stand overlooking Heartbreak Ridge.  KYHillchick, Angus, and the dogs were all out helping. Mid-afternoon, when we were at our sweatiest, two nice bookend bucks came by to watch.  I have a picture of them taken with a trail camera that same year.


These bucks stood around like a couple of kids at a construction site for about 10 minutes.  The dogs were quizzical, but did nothing.  We stopped work and watched.  The deer watched us for a bit and then sauntered off.

Now, did I get a shot at them in November?  No.   200 acres is a big plot, but it is small for two bucks.  We never saw them again.  Ken has an article on hunting big bucks. I do not want to get in Ken’s face. Ken is writing about his direct experience, and I figure it is dead-on as he sees it.

However, my guess is those two bucks left the property within a couple of weeks of our last sighting. By November, they might have been anywhere in the county or over in the next county.  With a lot of deer, there are a lot of mouths competing for food.  Bucks have a tremendous appetite. They roam.  I have heard 25 square mi. I have heard more. Our county is 41 square miles.  If you run some numbers assuming about a million deer in Kentucky, it means there is about 62,500 2.5 year-old or older bucks in the whole state or about 1.5 per square mile.  In earshot of my rifle on the Opener, there might be 30 and perhaps 63 in the whole  county.   How many 7.5 year old monster bucks? In our county, where deer outnumber people by a hefty margin there are probably 2.  That number assumes even distribution of deer across the whole state of Kentucky. In reality, along the Ohio River that number goes way up. So take a guess– 5? 10?  The problem is there are not all that many, and the chances of one showing up on my plot are small. At the same time there are probably 3000 or more rifle hunters that heard my shot.

Yes, we have had mature bucks take up residence for an extended time. The biggest we have had was The Chandelier. Back in 2008, everyone in camp saw it except me, until I was coming back from a scouting session at Midway in early November.  We bumped into each other  as I came around the corner going to Virginia about a half-hour after sunset.  We had a brief look at each other before he galumphed off into the gloom.  That year, all my neighbors were squawking about the monster buck, but no one ever shot him.  He put in a couple more appearances in our part of the county after that, but then he was gone.

Does my experience make Ken wrong? Does it invalidate his work?  No.  What I am saying is that there are times when the pursuit of an individual buck may make sense, but in a place like mine you are probably better off keeping the doe happy, giving them a nice place to raise their young, and then turning around and using them for bait come fall. Did that strategy nail the Chandelier in 2008? No.  Did I end up with a nice buck?

Shot For Just Being Ugly

Shot For Just Being Ugly

The whole story about that buck is here:  Shot for Just Being Ugly.

The fact that this guy was out there breeding doe and that I had another buck by my stand on the Opener tells me The Chandelier was long gone. We heard reports over the walkie-talkie about a monster cruising through. Under the circumstances, I thought the Mortimer Snerd Buck was a reasonable conciliation prize.  The day after, I got a photo of a nice 6 pointer going through, but after that  the bucks dried up. The best I can say is that I did the best I could.  For all I know that big one was hiding out in somebody’s flower bed in Milford when the shooting stopped that fall.

Does this make the elephant any clearer to you?  The point of all this is not to say Ken’s wrong and I am right. The point is to say that Ken is petting one end. I am petting the another.





Write it down

I was talking to Moose the other day. He’s now in his late Twenties. He has a family and a job. We were trying to reminisce about the early days of hunting together. We realized how much of it was gone.

We remember all the big things. We both remember the first buck I took at the farm like it was yesterday. We remember some of the lesser known events, like the zombie doe that fell over at the shot and then got up and ran. The rest of it is all gone now, and it was not that long ago.

Mooseboy on his way back from his first hunt

Mooseboy on his way back from his first hunt

For instance, I vividly remember taking little Mooseboy out for the afternoon hunt on the Yute Opener in 2002. However, I remember nothing of the morning hunt. I know where we went. I took pictures on the way back. However, the hunt itself is lost. Not much happened, but still! I have one spark. There is a piece of orange twine on the rifle sling. I saw it there last weekend. On the way back, the rivet attaching the sling to the swivel came off. I had that twine in my pocket and I used it to repair the rig. However, the rest of that morning is lost.

That afternoon hunt is forever riveted in our minds. We went out to an island of trees near Garbage Pit. We put up a burlap blind between a couple of trees. It was warm, and I took a nap. Mooseboy was supposed to keep guard and wake me an hour before sunset. I remember waking up with the sun in my eyes. Mooseboy was fuming. He felt I had taken him to a no-where spot and we were wasting our time. I knew the deer had been coming out to feed at the corner of the pasture about 50 yards in front of us, and I kept telling him to be patient. The deer would arrive shortly after sunset. Mooseboy was getting mad and finally made a big stink of it about just as the sun was touching the horizon.

“There are no deer coming.” He said. “This is all a waste. I don’t know why you brought me here.”

“MMMMMMPPHHHHHHHH!” came a voice from about 20 yards away at the closest edge of the treeline.

“What’s that?” He asked, breathlessly as the sound of hoof beats and further snorting filled the woods to our south.

“That, my son, is one of the deer you said weren’t coming.” I chuckled. “Don’t worry. We all have to learn patience.” We headed in.

There is a major confluence of several paths about 150 yards south of the house. We call it Fountain Square, and to leave the pasture we were in caused us to head that way. The view coming that way is near that of the background in the picture of Mooseboy taken earlier that day. We were just coming to Fountain Square when a herd of 5 deer rocketed out of a treeline and began running towards the barn. I turned to tell Mooseboy to be careful, but he already had the safety off and started blazing away at my side. The deer were over 200 yards away when they saw us, and a 30-30 shot offhand is not exactly the best tool for the job. The deer were up the slope and gone. It was then I decided that a 3 round limit was appropriate for all yute rifles. However, John got a chance to shoot at deer that weekend, and he felt he had accomplished something.

From 2002 to 2004 is somewhat of a blur to both of us. I know that we went out twice in the rain and huddled under a treestand umbrella. I suspect one time was the Yute Opener in 2003, but the other is lost. The one memory we both share is sitting up in the buddy stand together, and Mooseboy saw a doe, somewhere off to his left, but I could not see it and told him he was making it up.

The Zombie Doe?  That story comes from a trip out to the Jagende Hutte one afternoon. Mooseboy had the Marlin with him. It was Yute Season. I just cannot remember which one, but guessing I would say 2003.  Along about sunset a doe came out of Skunk Hollow and Moose had a perfect 80 yard broadside shot.  He was aiming out the front of the blind . I was looking out the side, and I was just about to tell him to be careful aiming when the shot went off– just before I could pull back a bit and put my fingers in my ears. Being close to the business end of a 30-30 is a memorable moment. Being stuck in a packing crate turned deer blind with nothing but  3/8″ plywood for protection makes you feel like your brain is bleeding.  I recovered my senses to see the deer down. I shook my head and the deer was up again  and then it was gone. We looked until dark and did not see it.

The next morning I went out before sunrise and started combing Dead Skunk and Hootin Holler for the doe.  The doe never did turn up, but it was one of the nicest hikes I ever had.

Starting about 2001, I started writing email to myself about what was going on in deer camp, but I changed ISP, and I got a new PC a few years later and then. . . who knows. It might still be there if I could find it, but I doubt a day out with one of the kids registered enough back then. The point is that it is now gone. Starting 10 years ago this month, I started a weblog on Blogspot, which ended up becoming Blogger. From that point on, I’ve been making posts about what I was doing at camp. Earlier this Spring, I wrote a piece about Angus and me and included a pictures gleaned from blog entries. It really touched him. However, all I have to give Moose from his first few seasons is this post.


That Winning Edge

The catalogs are out. The sales flyers are mailed. The new equipment issues of all the magazines are starting to arrive. The Fall stuff is on its way to the stores. Everyone will be out looking for the winning edge. Don’t.

I don’t mean that if you really need a new bow, or a new rifle or a new jacket don’t go out and buy one. What I mean is stop thinking that spending money will improve your game or give you a winning edge or make you a better hunter or make the deer more dead. I have been there. It does not work.

There is nothing on a store shelf that will make you a better hunter. I can remember a time when I would say: “I cannot get out all that much to hunt, so I am leveraging technology.” That was how I was thinking 20 years ago. That is not how I think now. Even earlier in my career, I was dumping a lot of bucks on magazine subscriptions and books with the idea that I could learn my way to successful deer hunting. That did not work either.

If you want to know what works, if you really want the shamanic method of deer hunting success, I will give it to you and I will give it to you for free. It comes in one simple word: scout.

The biggest lesson I learned in the first 10 years of deer hunting was that you cannot kill deer where there are no deer. Beyond just being inexperienced and not knowing what I was seeing or doing, the biggest impediment I had in that first decade was that I frequently found myself hunting property that did not have deer on it. It may have had deer on it in July and August when I had time to go out and scout, but by October and November they were gone. Usually it had something to do with crops being harvested or that sort of thing. Sometimes it was hunting pressure from poachers. In some cases it took years for me to figure out there were just not enough deer around or that something was causing them to leave the property when there was an open season. It took scouting to figure it out.

So on top of scouting your property, you also have to scout FOR property. That search should be constant unless you are like me and own your own plot. You should always be looking for new spots. You should always have something in the pipeline. Every year I see grown men whining about how their favorite place got sold. Do not be complacent.

The overriding strategy in deer hunting is very simple: Find the food. Find the beds. Draw a line between the two. Hunt somewhere along that line. Until you can simplify your hunting situation down to that, you have not scouted enough. There is nothing you can buy that will tell you that.

Trail cams? They make nice eye candy. However, unless you are putting them next to a feeder, you are not going to see much. If you put them over a known trail, you have already scouted enough to find that trail.

Feeders? Food plots? Look habitat improvement is great. Don’t get me wrong. However, there are two issues here. First, only you are going to be able to decide to what degree you want to change your environment to swing the odds in your way. That is an ethics thing. I put out salt every spring, but I have seldom seen deer come to a lick in the fall. Food plots are always welcome, but deer do not magically appear out of thin air. Before you go improving the habitat, you need to (you guessed it) scout.

What about faster bows? Better arrows? A new rifle? I spent 12 years with a used Martin Cougar Magnum and Bear Razorheads. I killed most of my bow-kill bucks with that rig. Of course it was slow and I needed six pins to shoot out to fifty yards, but it got the job done. Most of my deer were taken inside 15 yards, and that was due to . . .yep, scouting. Yes, I did buy a new scope for my Savage 99 last year, but the scope it replaced was 30 years old and I have taken over a dozen deer with it, including my first doe and two of my three largest bucks. My problem is not the equipment so much as my aging eyes. I bought a new 30-06 this year, but that was because I was giving my old one to #3 son. We shoot the same ammo, and all of it is slightly downloaded and they all have plain-Jane Corelokts or Hornady Interlocks on them.

If I am going to suggest spending money on anything, it would be for my own comfort. My other big mistake starting out was not understanding that I could not hunt when I was cold and I was not going to see many deer when I was sweating. I try every year to have a new pair of warm socks. I keep myself well shod and I am over-subscribed on poly-pro underwear.

Along with chasing the “Winning Edge” fantasy, the past few decades have been filled with folks telling you about invisible, unknowable forces at work that kill your chances. Beware. There is far less at work here than meets the eye, or the nose. If you find yourself thinking that invisible rays are influencing your deer hunting success, you have read far too many magazines. The truth is that UV suppression is a scam. So is this so-called scent reduction thing. Read the past ten years of posts on this weblog. You will catch on. Most of what gets passed off as science is anything but.

So what DO I recommend for purchase this fall? I have not given many recommendations over the years, but I guess I should. For now, put down the Cabelas catalog and think about making a trip out to the property, or going out driving to look for a new one, or (if nothing else) stopping out to the county park and watching the deer feed.

It is going to sound like a David Allen Coe tune, but I sprang my Mom from re-hab this week. She had been in all through July due to a wicked case of pneumonia back in June. As a result, my trips to camp have been few this summer. I finally had to go down Friday night, picking up an outboard motor I’d had in repair on the way. Saturday morning, I took my own advise and went out and scouted– only the second time since deer season ended. What did I find??

1) There is a doe hanging out around Midway. She busts me every time I go back that way.
2) The Garden of Stone is now a bedding area. Blackberry seeds from all the deer poop sprouted and the blackberries are taking over.
3) There are no fawns hitting the salt licks. There are also no big bucks
4) There is a small herd using Left Leg Hollow, and they are coming out of the head of that hollow and crossing Vine Street between Virginia and The Honey Hole
5) It will be an excellent year for acorns.

. . . all this for the investment of an hour. A lot can change from July to the Opener in Mid November, but overall this is what it means:

1) The deer are bouncing back from whatever went wrong in 2012. I think it was poaching and I think the neighbor doing it moved out.
2) Both Angus and Moose will have good luck staying where they are.
3) Although not a slam-dunk, deer hunting prospects are good for 2014.


A Farewell to Lorelei

Last year, Lorelei never showed up. I guess this is as good a time to write her farewell. This all started back in 2010, and lasted until 2012. I’m still a little hazy on the start of it. I do remember spooking a doe early in 2010 on my way to my stand. She came back after sunrise and searched for me. That might have been my first meeting with her.

Over time, Lorelei got to patterning me. When I would get into my ladder stand at Campground, she would show up and play a hide-and-seek game with me. She would appear from a variety of directions, and stand behind a tree with her butt and her head sticking out and snort at me and then take off. Later, this evolved into coming right to my stand.

Then the really freaky stuff started. On one occasion, she came by my stand at a pretty fast clip. She stopped. Looked back, and then took off again. A short time later an 8-pointer showed up. I shot him. She came back, saw the dead buck and looked back at me and snorted wildly while hopping back and forth in . . . I’m not sure now if it was fear, glee, or what.

After she cleared out, I came down from the stand. The buck had piled up in some weeds and I missed him the first time through. I spent a half-hour combing the woods for him only to find him piled up in the fence line, right where I shot him. I called for the truck, dragged him out, and then went back for my gear at the stand. The doe was bedded next to my duffel bag and gear.

By the next season, I had her named. ‘Lorelei’ comes from a German drinking song, Der alte Dessauer

And when we spy a Lorelei with captivating ways
Let us drink to life all our live-long days.

This was one of the tunes I had for getting folks up in the morning at deer camp that year.

She kept visiting me through 2012. The last time I saw her, Angus and I were hunting the Midway ground blind on the last weekend of rifle season. She led a small 6-point buck to us. As I remember, she came to visit me at Campground, and I saw her checking for me in the binos. She then disappeared and showed up at Midway, crossed in front of Angus who was hunting the North side. Then she came round the south side where I was sitting and stuck her head in the window. The 6-pointer was a few feet behind. After making nearly a complete circle around the blind she wandered out into the field with the buck in tow.

Angus and I discussed taking the buck, but figured it was better to go in empty handed and let him grow up a bit. That was the last time we saw deer that year, and we both ate tag soup.