Monday, November 22, 2010

Deer Hunting 2010

Four straight years now of waiting on whitetail deer, only to fire zero (0) shots over that span of effort. This is mildly disappointing to me, mainly because I’m very much fascinated by the idea of taking a large mammal into my household for consumption. Using the hide, hair, bucktail, etc. too. Really wanted to get it done this year. So I ramped up from casual-hunter to semi-casual-hunter. Here are some things I did to get myself on the road to betterness:
(1) Planned the hunt fairly well, in my estimation. I scoped some public land generally, and then did some more detailed scouting. Took a half day to do it: walked around for 3.5 hours, following deer trails, making notes and taking photos. Listing in order my preferred stands (in this case only natural stands), and noting visual cues that I could pick up on for direction in the dark AM hours. I recited my plan a few times in anticipation of the hunt.
(2) Shot 20 slugs from my borrowed 12 gauge smooth barrel. Three different kinds of ammo. After each box, I walked out and noted the slug type on each hole. This was important, as some ammo was clearly superior to other ammo.
(3) Broke down and bought some stuff. Hated doing it. But my plan was to defeat the deer by sheer persistence: get there first and stay there for every single possible second, waiting for a deer to walk by… So given that, I needed to be warm. I bought some decent bibs and gloves. Couldn’t bring myself to buy another jacket though – too many of those. So I put an orange vest over my warm/waterproof fishing coat.
(4) Got excited. The night before much-anticipated fishing trips I rarely sleep for more than an hour or so at a time. Wake up, look at clock, roll over. I was thinking of this hunt a lot, and I really figured I’d find some success… and so I was amped up a bit.

Here is a general description of the area I chose to hunt: large block of public land on a trout stream. Nice valley, walled by towering bluffs. Heavily wooded flood plain. Some adjacent cornfields. The corn came off 5-6 days before I got out. During past trips to this land (for fishing and for work) I’d noted a really heavy deer trail crossing the stream at the foot of a bluff. Really heavy. Like a highway in my estimation. My approach was to simply stake out that trail: be up above it (so I climbed half way up the bluff and sat on a log that was put there in perfect position to act as a bench) and look down on it. Stare at it all day. The high location was a natural deer stand. It afforded good views upstream, downstream and into the floodplain.

To get to this location I had to cross the stream twice. And being a non-buyer, I refused to spend $100 on yet another set of footwear. So I wore my calf boots and carried insulated (not waterproof) hunting boots in my pack. I did this while scouting too… and successfully crossed the stream at two noted locations.

So that’s the set up. Here is the report:
(1) Got up at 3 AM; left the house at 3:30 AM. Parked my car just after 4:00. It’s ~7 minutes to walk from the car to the first stream crossing, then another 15 or so picking along the floodplain back to this corner. At ~4:15 AM I filled my right boot with stream water. Good thing it wasn’t cold. And good thing I had spare socks in my pack. It’s quite an experience walking alone, encumbered, through deep wildnerness at 4:00 AM. Something good about it for sure. Anyway, I was seated on a mossy log with a wet foot and a loaded shotgun at 4:40 AM. I watched the grayness turn to light.
(2) Somewhere around 5:30 a squirrel climbed an oak right near me. I looked up at the crown and saw no other branches near it… so I was thinking to myself: you’re stuck dude – nowhere to go. And then I watched that squirrel jump off the tree and free fall toward the ground, only to pull up just short and glide away into the darkness. Wondering about hallucination there but I confirmed that no odd substances were in play. The squirrel simply flew away. I’ve asked a few people about this: we are in the flying squirrel range but from what I can gather they are somewhat rare.
(3) 9:45 AM I picked up two coyotes on the very fringe of my vision through the trees. Just passing in and out of sight in dead silence. A single coyote followed around 10:00.
(4) From the second I sat down, I heard splashes. As light came on it became apparent that the brown trout in the riffle 30 feet below me were both taking naturals and fanning their redds. In complete fascination, I could look in on these fish at will, at maybe a 30-45 angle. I occasionally pulled out binocs for close up observations. Tried to take a few pics but they didn’t work too well. Their behavior was the same all day.
(5) Sat on that log until 14:00 hours. Never saw or heard one whitetail deer, as far as I could tell. I wasn’t upset but I was extremely disappointed. Didn’t even get a chance to shoot and miss. I really figured that if I beat everyone there, and staked out that trail, I’d at least see some deer.
(6) Got up and took the “walk and stop” approach until dark. I hid behind trees with good lines of sight, etc. for 20-30 minutes a pop. Ended the night watching the cornfield go gray.
(7) Never saw another human being all day.
(8) The next day I was out half an hour later. Sat on the mossy log again until ~8:00 at which point it began to rain. Waited out the rain. Then it started coming down a little harder, so taking advice from various folks I picked up and walked around a bit. “Stalk them” is what I had in my mind but after bumbling around the woods for a while I quickly realized that (a) there are no conifers (supposedly the best cover) around there at all, and (b) I didn’t know what the hell I was doing – I had no strategy. A day in the woods with no strategy can be good, but not always the case when it’s raining fairly hard and your kids are at home. So I cut my losses and got the bleep out of there.

Woods won it again in 2010. I will not give up. Can't do that.

One note is that I really appreciate talking to my family about hunting, and bouncing ideas around at the Rochester Outdoor Forum. Both of those conversations are very helpful to a guy trying to learn this art/method/technique/etc.

Below is the general area: who could complain about spending a day there... ?? Blessed is the landscape I'd say.

This is the trail as it comes up the bank at the foot of the bluff...

I was sitting approx at the top right corner of this photot... up the slope, looking down. Subsequent pics are various images of sight lines, etc. from this vantage point (except that one taken at water level, looking downstream).

Nathless I have a been a tree among the wood
And many a new thing understood

-E. Pound, The Tree


Blogger nt moore said...

I didn't grow up hunting and this year had interest similar to what you've described.

I got a deer this year during the early antlerless season (oct 25) and it was mostly by accident. Some friends showed me a good spot and a young doe surprised me about 30 minutes before sunset.

I again hunted the same place for most of the A season and only saw a deer once more (in the 8 or so times I went out). Lots of tracks of course, but no deer.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the season! For me at least, the deer-less days were a chance to be outside, which was nice.

Next time, shoot the coyote. There's no shortage or season on them and the hide would probably of utility equal to a deer hide.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Trout Caviar said...

Great report, Wendy, I really enjoyed reading it. The clarity in your writing is always compelling--as is the lack of b.s. I've never had much interst in deer hunting, but I'm starting to get some, mainly drawn by the idea, as you say, of having a large amount of excellent wild meat. Through our Wisconsin land pass quite a number of apple-fed deer, it would seem. Maybe next year.

All best~ Brett

4:06 PM  
Blogger Wendy Berrell said...

Good to hear from both of you guys - thanks. I'm still mulling over this deer season. I know that a guy should put in time and study and learn. Thing is though, there are a lot of arts/interests/demands/etc. that draw time. In the genre of outdoor adventure is fishing - which gets a lot of time around here. I'll stop there because you know what I'm saying.

And I still have mixed feelings of failure, enjoyment, experiential learning, etc. On one hand: all my family members got deer as far as I can tell, and I did not. But geez - I sat on a trout stream for a couple days thinking things over and watching the world lay out before me.

One of the things that really occupied my mind was just getting a deer home: hanging it in my garage and slowly and carefully cutting it up. With the kids around watching and learning.

Another time. For now I'll start to think about some fall and winter fishing...

And as for the coyote: doubtful that I'd shoot one (not sure though) - regardless - there was no chance for that here, given range and obscurity of view.

9:12 PM  
Blogger darklake said...

You realize, of course, that you may be the only deer hunter in the land who posted photos of a trout stream, but no deer, in his hunting report. Not too hard to figure out your priorities. I had one question about your strategy -- had you been successful in harvesting a deer, what was your plan for getting it out of there? It sounds like you'd have had a long, difficult drag. Were you planning to quarter it and pack it out that way? Or are you a former NFL linebacker?
Reading your post about the joy of spending a full day deer hunting and not seeing another person (amazing feat in SE Minn, I'd say) brought to mind the philosophy of the Back Country Hunters and Anglers. If you aren't familiar with them, you may enjoy checking them out. Thank God (and probably Teddy Roosevelt) for time spent in wild places, which, as it turns out, has a more lasting significance than does a venison steak.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous winonaflyfactory said...

I read this last night from beginning to end hoping that if I didn't skip straight to the photos that you'd have a deer waiting at the end for me. I'm bummed to read this story, hard work, good preparation with nothing to show. Like your dissapointment was passed through to those who read this. I hope it happens for you, I'll take part in that joyous post when it gets here.

On second read I hope dissapointment is the correct word to use here.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your post. If you came to our farm in Virginia you'd be hard pressed to avoid seeing a deer (although I've set through plenty of mornings like the one you describe).

8:43 PM  
Blogger Wendy Berrell said...

Thanks for the notes. Appreciate your thoughts and comments.

On the dragging out: it was kind of akin to hook the fish and figure out landing later on. I always tell myself this: good problem to have. I'm not particularly hulking but I am persistent. I have carried two five gallon buckets full of stream sediment from this location. A deer would be tougher, but really it wasn't that far. I could have dragged the deer part way and forced my little car down a rough road to eliminate approx half the pull.

And disappointment is a fair word - yes. It was a let down. It would have been fairly negative had it not been for the setting and the good conditions for watching and listening. However, some might say those good conditions kept the deer from moving and thus contributed to failure to harvest.

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