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