Deer Camp 2010 isn’t in the bag yet, but we have a lot to show for it already. The Rifle Opener came and went with nothing to show for it. It was too warm–at least that’s what everybody blamed it on. Angus was already tagged out. Moose was down with a cold and stayed in his rack on Saturday. It was just SuperCore and me that that took to the field Saturday morning. I saw some doe. So did SuperCore. At sundown Satuday, a nice little six-pointer walked past me about 50 yards out. I knew I could do better, and didn’t even pick up the rifle. I saw him later that evening running doe back and forth across the pasture. One big doe decided she had been through enough and savagely attacked him with her front hooves. He went running off, obviously feeling it.
The bucks were definitely seeking, and the doe were doing everything they could to stay out of the way. A doe came by mid-morning and pegged me. I just sat still and chattered at her like an angry chipmunk. After a bit, she decided I was harmless and wandered off, flicking her tail. She was around my stand quite a bit over the next few days. You will hear more about her.
The neighbors were busy; from my stand, I counted over 70 shots per hour for the first two hours on both Saturday and Sunday, and I’m leaving out all the ones where the guy emptied out his magazine. Sometimes there were as many 5 shots per minute. The radio was filled with traffic. Now, I ask y’all: How far can I hear? 70 shot X2 hours X 2 days . . . let me take off a sock . . . 140 deer. Now let’s just say I can hear 2 miles to either side: 4 square miles? That comes out to 70 deer /square mile getting shot at– that’s a lot of deer. Things were pretty active both days until 1000, so there were more deer than that. Some might question how many of those actually ended up with a dead deer? I don’t know. It’s still a lot of deer.
It was a lot of deer hunters too. James Beckett, the CO, dropped by and we talked for a while on. In his estimation, our little piece of the county was very dense with hunters– as dense as he had seen. It had been for the most part an orderly affair. I had no complaints.
SuperCore bagged a nice 120 lb doe Sunday morning with his Wetherby– first time with a scoped rifle. He digs scopes now. The doe came out on top of a saddle and he aired her out well, but she did not die quite soon enough. When he had covered most of the 100 yards to her, she came back to life and ran down into Dead Skunk Hollow. SuperCore tried to get a second ball into her, but it just grazed her back. We had to pull Moose out of the sack to come out with the truck and pull the carcass out of the bottom where Dead Skunk dumps out into Hootin’ Holler. I was occupied with several deer coming in and out of the cedars and chose not to come in. Moose got the doe out and SuperCore dressed her out on the meatpole, and they all took off for the processor. I’m proud of both of them– this is the first time either of them have had to do it without my help and they did a great job. They even threw a tape on her to get her weight. The one thing they missed is neither one thought to take pictures (sigh!) Oh well.
While all this was going on, I was still up a tree at Campground. The radio was all filled up with traffic, and we tried to get a clear channel by switching around. In the midst of all that bother with the walkie-talkie the doe came back and checked me out. She did not mind me in the least, and eventually I gave up trying to be sneaky and finished up my conversation with Moose and SuperCore. She got bored and wandered off.
Part of what kept me on the radio was a phone call I had gotten from the taxidermist: Angus’ buck from Youth Season was done, and the guys had to not only drop off SuperCore’s deer, but I figured that , since they were going over to that side of the county, they might as well pick up the head. We all got to surprise Angus with his finished buck. Off the Wall Taxidermy in Berlin had done a really superb job on it. You can see from the pictures of Angus’ reaction when we sprang it on him what he felt.
Deer were coming in and out of the cedars, and I was constantly having to put down either the radio or the binos and pick up the other. About the time everyone had it all figured out and I could get back down to hunting, a familiar pair of doe came out of Soggy Bottom and crossed the gully just downhill from me. The were in a serious hurry. A bit later, a reasonable buck came galumphing through from another direction and I got one heck of a show as he went about sniffing . He got to where I could see him, and he was trying to be an 8-pointer, but the rack was kind of misshapen on one side. I decided to pass, but he treated me with a show a little later that made me glad I did.
After sniffing the ground all about, the buck came over and mauled a cedar tree for me. I was at close range to him, and it was fun to watch. Between this guy, and all the doe coming by and saying hello, I had quite a bit of entertainment.
Monday morning dawned cold and biting. The temperature had dropped well below freezing and kept going. I got out to the stand and had some deer stomping around for quite a bit, long before I got settled. I think it was a doe I was later to see several times that day. When she first showed up, I had still had my flashlight on. After I got settled in, she came back around and continued stomping about. At one point, the duffle bag I had attached to the side of my blind that held all my outer-gear slipped a bit and made noise. This honked her off a bit, but she quickly settled back down. For the rest of the morning, she was in and out of sight.
I am not big on scents or calls. I hardly ever resort to the former, and I am very conservative with the latter. Instead, I use the best bait ever to attract bucks: does. If you can find a spot where doe are congregating, and just let them be, eventually I’ll get rutting bucks coming around to check them out. So it was with my stand at Campground. So far I have not shot a doe from there this year. As it was, I had several doe coming by. They know I’m there, but they don’t seem to care. At about sunrise +1 hour, I started getting more action around my stand. First, it was the pair of doe from the previous morning, moving through nervously looking back . Then it was one of the little eight-pointers I have seen moving about this side of the farm. He was on hot pursuit, but kept losing the doe and running about with his nose to the ground. You could tell that this guy was transitioning from the low-key seek to actively chasing; but the does were smart and giving him the slip. He came close several times, and I reached into my bag to have some fun.
The first thing I got my hand around was one of those bleat cans. I turned it over a few time and then followed it up with a moaning from my own voice that sounded like an estrous bleat. That cranked up the bucks voltage and he went running and thrashing about for quite some time, looking for the doe that made the noise. When he wasn’t looking I threw a grunt at him. That made him even wilder. Eventually he caught a scent and ran off.
With all that action, I just knew something else was going to happen. A few minutes later, a respectable 8-pointer came running down one edge of the field in front of me, nearly tripping over his nose. He ran across the treeline and disappeared for a while only to re-emerge out into the field with his lip curled and his head bobbing like he was trying to shake a weasel out of his rack. This one was seemed to be a bit more buck than the rest, and when I put my binos on him, I fell in love. What impressed me was how perfect he looked, and how the tines nearly met . A well-shaped 8 was all I ever aspired to in the old days, but they always eluded me. I’ve taken bigger since, but I realized that I was looking at the deer I’d longed for more than a decade.
Before I could get the scope on him, he was gone. I repeated the estrus bleat that had turned the other guy inside out. It worked. He came roaring around the field, back in my direction. At one point, he stood directly downwind of me, and then ran off. He ran back through the fenceline and out into the field. A minute later he was back out in the middle and presented me with the perfect shot.
It’s funny, but I started putting stones out in that pasture, whenever I take a deer. Over the past 3 seasons there has been a growing number of those stones– 5 in all. They are all clumped between 155 and 175 yards from the shooting house at Midway. I was in the stand at campground, looking back the other way, and he was standing amid the stones, about 100 yard out. Off came the safety on the Savage 99. He moved a little and then stood again. I lit him up.
At first, nothing happened. I saw him buck a little, and then he walked forward to the fence line seemingly unaffected. There is a lip there and then an embankment before a 3-strand barbed wire fence, and a deer has to be a little careful negotiating these obstacles. He stopped to gauge how he was going to clear the fence. I had already cycled a second round in and had his chest in my sights when he paused. I lit him up again. The big deer jumped and was gone.
About that time, the doe that had been around me all morning came out on a dead run. She too, ran up to the lip and peered over the fence and then nearly did a back-flip, before turning on the after-burners and beating it out of there. Whatever she saw past the fence had scared her silly. I got the duffle bag down to the ground, shed my insulated layers at the base of the stand and went out to the pasture to see what had happened.
I expected to find a dead deer. I went to the spot where I had seen him disappear and peered over the fence. Nothing. I went down the little embankment, crossed the fence and scoured the side of the ravine. Nothing. Not a drop of blood. It is mornings like this that make you wonder if it’s time to hang it up. I’d had a similar situation last year– the Savage 99 had gotten a knock on the scope, and I ended up grazing another 8 pointer on Opening Day– 80 yards of clear trail with not a drop of blood and I found the fencepost where the buck had jumped onto the neighbor’s property without a sign. The neighbor had seen him later that day, favoring a leg, but decided not to shoot. He said the leg seemed to be fine, just a little sore. This was all piling back in on me, and it was making me feel like I was falling into a black hole. Eventually I found a track– just a line of disturbed leaves and it led off into the bowels of Soggy Bottom. I knew it was hopeless and turned around to start another pass at the hillside and see if I could pick up another track.
I came back out into the pasture after an half-hour of searching. I was doubting myself, doubting my gun, doubting what the heck I had done wrong in my life to get me to where I was. I went back to where I had crossed the fence the first time to start over. There was a tall stand of grass, obscuring the next few yards of fence line, and I took a few steps more this time to see what was on the other side.
As best as I can tell, the buck had missed his leap and gone head-first into the barbed wire. The top two strands had caught his rack and had thrown him into a cartwheel, and left him to expire thoroughly snared. There was no disturbance in the leaves, so he may have been dead as he hit the fence. The point was there was no blood trail, because there was no run. I had just missed the carcass due to some tall grass.
SuperCore came with the truck, but it took nearly a half an hour to get the deer unstuck from the fence and the 188 lbs of dead weight hauled up the embankment. I tried a bunch of ways and finally settle on laying on the hillside with my feet dug in, grabbing the antlers and pulling the massive head up and onto my chest. It took ten iterations of that to get him up the embankment, and I’d just thrown myself over the lip when the truck arrived. We took a few pictures and then got him loaded on. By coincidence, the truck gate lined up nicely with the top of the embankment, so after all the other troubles, getting him into the truck was not hard at all. He weighed in at 188 lbs on the hoof.
One last little coda in all this: when I went to retrieve the rest of my gear back at the stand, the doe that had been hanging out all weekend had bedded only about 10 yards away from the ladder. She rose up and started to run.
“Don’t worry.” I said. “You’re fine. I’ve got my business to do, and you have yours. I’ll get on to mine, and you go have a nice day.” I guess she had decided to figure out exactly what had been chattering at her from the stand all weekend, and camped out there determined to have an answer. Fully satisfied, she took my admonition to heart and walked off.
After gutting the buck at the meat pole, SuperCore and I took the deer to the processor and proceeded back to camp. Along the road, we saw all the cows bedding, and I remarked to SuperCore that we were probably due for some sincere rain. Checking the forecast when we got back, we found this to be true. Additionally, like the cattle, the deer must have holed up. Monday night was a zilch, and we saw nary a deer until the rain hit Tuesday morning. There was a big one welling up from the East, and so we both came back home to regroup. We had tornado watches all over last night, and the front must have dumped an inch or two of rain as it was passing.
We’ll all be hitting the woods again later in the week. Moose and I still both need a doe. SuperCore is now inspired– the antler bug has hit him, and he now has visions of the Turdy Point Buck keeping him up at night. The rut should be peaking soon; for me, it will be great to just be out there watching the floor show.