Monday, December 16, 2013

Deer Hunting 2013

This year I was fortunate enough to fall in with a friend and his small deer camp; a very welcoming and helpful and warm setting; encouraging for someone like me who to date has just wandered around with a gun, leaning on trees here and there and looking down in ravines.  Even if I don't see any deer, a day in the woods is still great....    yes, that works to some degree.  But there was growing a great desire to take home some meat.  This family owns property on a ridge down by Meche Sebe, where one of God's best rivers joins the big water; full view provided here.  This particular sight line was between two of our party's stands.  Not a bad gig if you can get it.  

Listen to people who know what the hell they are talking about.  I've come to know that one.  This worked out well because while I was woven into the overall hunting plan, some decision making was left to me.  Specifically, I was designated a general area on the ridge top, and instructed to assess the deer sign, sight lines and tree quality and place my stand accordingly .  So after trademark toiling and indecision I chose this oak; quercus; a solid and supportive venerable wood.  It afforded views down the draw, and also up onto the shoulder of the ridge where there were pretty heavy deer trails.

View looking south/downhill.  On the first day of gun season I saw two does right away.  I had it in my mind to shoot one of them.  I waited and watched and they came up into the vicinity depicted in the middle-left of the photo.  But they just would not show a clean look.  I studied them for a good long time.  When I thought they had left, back downhill I figured, I slowly stood up...   and sure enough they saw me; had been hidden behind a copse of trees; they proceeded to prance up and away on the far side of the draw.  Nothing else seen until evening, when a six pointer (illegal buck in our area) offered up a broadside parade at about 30-40 yards for 1-2 minutes full.  Then as night fell, another illegal buck materialized at the bottom of my vision and started up the far side of the slope.  He was trailing a doe.  Could barely make them out.  No shots fired.  Back at camp, over 16 oz canned beer and chili, I lamented those early morning does and wondered if I'd missed out.  Maybe should have taken a marginal shot; punched through the brush, etc.  Plagued me a bit.  

Morning of day two I saw a deer way down at the curvature of the earth there right where my finger points.  I couldn't make out details, only patches of body made visible through trees.  I watched for a while, and then it disappeared from sight; I figured it was gone, back down.  Then holy hell right out of the blue it materialized again, this time 10-20 feet further up the slope, walking on the far side of the draw.  It was making its way toward the first of my trimmed lanes.  I resolved that when that deer intersected that lane I was going to shoot it.  Things looked good.  Gun up to shoulder, deer moving true.  Just as its head and neck came into the lane though, I saw what appeared to be antlers.  Then, surely, antlers.  It occurred to me that this was another illegal buck - six pointer.   I watched anyway, holding statue still, gun still up, thinking maybe another deer'd be with it.  Nothing though; it was alone.  What the hell else is a person going to do though, other than sit real still and be quiet; I did just that.  The deer came right up the draw, which was notable because the five yesterday had turned up the slope away, before reaching my latitude.  This one kept on.  Lord, the deer came across the draw and walked right toward my tree.  Sure enough walked right toward me.  I likened this to a carp fishing moment: I figured that this deer would swim right up to me, and then suddenly realize my position and turn to bolt.  Carp do that when you are standing on a flat.  But this deer did not, and I attribute this fact to elevation difference.  Dead, dead still; and I think very little scent; and I was up in a tree.  Fascinating to think about that all adding up to work.  And that it did; the deer came with 15 feet of my stand, turned upslope and at that exact moment the low light shined just right and I saw what had to be eight points; not six.  
If I were a veteran deer hunter and/or an aggressive gunsman, I'd have opened up right there at that moment.  But I am still intrigued by the notion of using a shotgun with open sights to shoot at large mammals.  As kids we shot rifles a lot; with scopes.  Safe to say there is a greater feeling of certainty associated with those tools.  A gun with a smooth barrel and open sights seems to radiate obtuseness to some degree.  Combine that fact with a strong vein of indecisiveness in my general character and you can understand why I did not start blazing away.  Instead I did my best to forecast the deer's path.  By all accounts it looked like it would walk right to my best lane.  When it was facing 180 degrees away from me, I slowly pivoted my gun into the right plane.  And at that point I resolved to pull the trigger if the intersection came to be.  It did: the deer stopped at the exact location marked by my hunting companion in the photo.  There was nothing more to add to the situation; it now required a point and shoot.  I pulled the trigger.  The deer jumped forward and paused.  Then jumped forward again, ran a bit and paused at the row of conifers on top of the ridge.  It disappeared into said conifers and I sat secong guessing myself at (1) eight points or not, and (2) hit deer or not.

I told my partners do not come if I shoot a deer; I don't want to spoil your hunts.  I'll figure it out, etc.  But they came anyway; good thing too.  I was somewhat dazed; wandering a bit, looking at the point of last sight.  I had lingered in the stand for maybe 15 minutes.  Thinking about the shot.  I did a good bit of target shooting with different ammo.  I knew there was no way in hell I could put out a wild miss.  Had to have hit it; simple as that.  All the trials I had on record supported that suggestion.  My error in tracking was that I made the assumption that the deer ran into the rows of conifers pictured here, and went straight through them, and then on down the other side of the slope.  I was searching the two-track road for blood when the veteran trackers showed up and took charge.   
After approximately one minute the host gave a bird whistle and motioned us over.  "You hit him good."  Won't forget that statement.  It prompted exhalation number one.  Here was blood and lung matter draped over pine fascicles.  You stand here; we do transects; now you stand here until I say; lots of quiet motioning; waving, watching, waiting. 

Fascination every time we found the next sign.  For the record I was not taking photographs during the initial tracking effort; did so later on, recounting things.

Turns out the deer did cross over the ridge and run down the other side, but did so after running 30-40 yards parallel with the pines, in between the rows.  This was hidden from my sight while in the stand.  So I was looking in the wrong place on the ridge top.  I believe that, given the time of day and conditions, I would have eventually found the deer.  But it would have taken a laggard like me quite a while.  These guys had us kneeling by the deer in maybe ten minutes.  

It ran to the sumac and laid down to die.

True this is a young buck; a small eight pointer.  All I will say on that matter is that I had complete understanding of the landowner's instructions and preferences regarding what deer to take; we took great care to be clear on all accounts.  And I was looking for food; not antlers.

I've thought about this hunt every day since it happened.  Mostly I'm grateful that my family and friends offer me advice and help in pursuits.  Listen to people who know what they are talking about.  Pay attention when a skilled tracker is making his way (after we all went back to our stands, I got down and retraced our steps, finding the same signs, trying to understand the steps and the progression).  Appreciate the woods and the fact that there is one specie of large mammal out there distilling energy; we are afforded opportunities to take them and essentially ressurect them at our family tables.  

Long way to go; much to learn.  But a nice chapter this year, in story of a carp fisherman making good on deer hunting.  Thanks again to my hosts and hunting mates; hope they'll have me again next year.