Friday, December 15, 2017

Deer Hunting 2017 (thus far)

11/3/17.  Friday night before the MN deer hunting opener.  Season A in southeast Minnesota.  Picking arugula from the casket cold frame to bring to deer camp.  This patch of greens was running on its own timeline.  I scattered the seeds in spring and maybe 20% of them sprouted.  They sat all summer and then came on strong with full sprouting heading into fall.  Greg Brown said in explaining the song Spring Wind that he would always come up with a list of things to do in spring, including an elaborate garden plan.  Only to eventually (after procrastination) resort to scattering seeds about in the wind and letting them fall and sprout where they may.  Our gardens have kind of gone that direction which seems to be fine for now.  Given their apparent fall vigor though I figured I'd better cover them up and keep them for a while.  
11/4/17.  I spent some time studying opening weekend weather over the past five years.  2017 was set to be cold but not deathly so.  The main issue, we could see in advance, was going to be moisture: rain predicted for SE MN both days.  Opening morning it was raining, and had been for some hours and as such the vegetation was wet.  The night before I made a critical gear decision: I opted for my heavy pack boots (warmth) over my waterproof hunting boots (pretty warm) because I figured I'd be sitting in relative cold (low 30s or so).  The pack boots are waterproof from the ankles down.  I'd never used them for deer hunting but I bought them after 2014 when I sat the stand for hours in 15 F air temp.  I wanted some warmer boots.  Trouble with them is that they have a cordura-like upper, and my waterproof bibs terminate at the bottom of that upper, and not at the waterproof lower boot.  So while walking in I was collecting moisture from the vegetation, and concentrating it in a flow downward along the bibs into the cordura of he boot, and then into the insole and my socks.  When I climbed into the stand then, my feet were already soaked.  Kind of a bad deal that pissed me off.  

11/4/17.  The wet feet would have been forgotten had we (party of three adults) seen a single deer that morning.  Nothing seen; nothing heard.  We all got wet and cold.  And so for the first time since I've hunted with these guys I elected to leave the stand and go down to the house for a couple hours.  It was worth it.  Dried out and re-energized.  We still had a lot of time and we were generally positive.  In the end though, on day one, I took this photo at 6:10 PM (last day before "fall-back" daylight savings) to document the moisture in the air and mark a reminder that none of us saw a single deer all day; bit of an anomaly when considered in historical context.  It was a just a wet, cool, deerless feel all around.  
11/4/17.  Saturday evening meal.  Arugula salad.  Slow-cooked-then-shredded venison from 2016 seven pointer.  Risotto.  Chips and salsa.  Beer.

11/7/17.  No deer sighted on the second day. Three guys in stands that have logged quite a good story of success.  Zero deer; was difficult to take and seemed unbelievable for a while.  Hard to say just why.  There was a lot of standing corn.  The weather didn't feel like a condition that'd be conducive to animals moving around: it wasn't so cold that one would have to get up and move around; it was rainy and shitty enough that just maybe it'd make more sense to stay bedded and hang out for the day.  Who knows.  I don't.  Notably, a string of good venison harvest years brings a lot of happiness but it inevitably sets some expectations.  When I got home my kids were excited, asking after a successful deer hunt.  And so my report out was  a bit of a let down.  But the arugula still going strong; we could fall back on the greens.

11/8/17.  I went back to work Monday and Tuesday after opening weekend, and then back to the woods Wednesday 8 November.  I did this after studying the forecast.  This was a day of change in that a little warmth was coming; some sun.  I sat two different stands on this day.  At 15:30 I was in a stand at a gully head, and I made a deer coming down the far side of the draw.  First big mammal I'd seen thus far so I was a little excited and happy about it.  I got the earliest possible jump on him and slowly got the gun up.  Within just a few seconds I understood what I was seeing but I held statue anyway, with the gun in position watching the deer come in.  There is one good place to cross the gully and the stand is situated accordingly.  He crossed right on that path and basically walked right to me.  By that time I had known for maybe 1-2 minutes that he was not a legal buck.  Nice big body; probably 6-9 months worth of meat at my house.  But he didn't have four points on one antler.  He was a forky tending toward six pointer (the fifth and sixth points just coming on).  So this meant after all these hours in the woods I had to watch this big-bodied buck lick every shrub leaf under my stand and beg me to shoot him.  And let him walk on.  Which I did.  That gave me some hope that maybe another deer would show, but none came.  I studied the moon a bit and then walked out.  

11/10/17.  Still going but added some heat against the dropping temps.  

11/11/17.  Adult hunting days now over.  A big deal for my oldest boy (13 years of age).  He is a very enthusiastic hunter.  He asks many questions regarding ballistics, hunting tactics and deer habits.  We spent the morning of 11 November in a two-person ladder stand I had set up a couple months back in another place (in fact another major watershed of SE MN; we went south instead of east).  The stand is situated at the intersection of two heavily used deer trails.  It's a friend's property and it's pretty special.  There is a remarkable spring flow that confluences with a trout stream.  A wooded knoll transitioning down into cedar meadow mix.  And some floodplain forest; that's where we sit here in picture.  Saw no deer that first morning but we worked out the logistics of getting two guys in a stand, and securing the weapons, pack, etc.  And being still and quiet for approximately four hours. 

11/11/17.  Landowner needed to do some gardening and apiary duty in the afternoon so we were understandably outed.  We left, scouting on our way out.  This rub is right close to the stand.  

11/11/17.  We explored some new public property; not really hunting in traditional sense.  Just looking around in the woods.  Supposing we could have lucked into a deer.  

11/12/17.  Next day though we were back, ready to spend most of the day on the property.  No problem getting this kid out of bed or into his gear or into the stand.  In fact he may have driven me a bit, which was good.  We hunted the morning, and then went into small town to watch first half of Vikings at Redskins.  Then back to stand; sat to nightfall.  No deer seen.  We heard gun shots on the neighboring property; kid wanted to know why they saw deer and we didn't.  

11/18/17.  Following weekend we flipped back over to the east: where one great river joins another.  Can see the confluence from the deerstands.  Good Country is what I call it.  We walked into stands (approx 1.5 miles one way) mid-day on Saturday because we had some basketball in the AM.
11/18/17.  Unique setup here in that the landowner has replaced an old rickety wood stand with a nice new ladder stand.  The new stand is approx 15 feet from the old one.  So I saw this as an opportunity to take a half-step from the two-person bench to individual stands: the kid could be in his own stand, but within eyesight of me just feet away in the old rickety bugger.   I studied pretty closely and understood that because I had a gun tag in season A, I could not party hunt with him in season B.  In fact the definition of "taking deer" indicates that in the most technical sense, I could not be out there with him helping him spot deer, strategize, etc.  My guess is if it came to it, I'd get a break in that regard.  But I went ahead and bought an archery tag to be legal, but also because I was thinking through how a deer might come by my stand such that the kid might not get a shot.  Unlikely but possible.  That would have potential to haunt: "remember that big buck that walked by the east side of my stand and you didn't have a shot and I didn't have a weapon?"  Not good so I at least wanted to have the Bear recurve along for those short shots should they come available.  Overall though, I wanted him to see deer and get shots.  

11/18/17.  The new stand as seen from the old stand.  Later on this day, he saw a deer well down the gully (he's positioned looking downslope).  He tried to use sign language to ask me if he should shoot at it.  Having no data at hand and no observation for my own self and no clear understanding of just what he was trying to communicate, I wasn't much help to him.  He decided to not shoot.  Later he told me he could only see the deer's back half, and it was at the edge of his vision probably 60-70 yards away (he practices and is a very good shot with 12 gauge slugs at 25 yards; the average bluff country shot is probably 20-30 yards).  So he showed some restraint and good judgment.  

11/19/17.  Sunday of the same weekend.  We were up, walked in, and seated in stands by 6:15 am.  This was an indication to me that the kid was into it.  He was often asking me to call with the buck grunt.  There are varying opinions as to "cold grunting."  I don't have an opinion on it because I am not qualified nor do I have sufficient experience to hold a particular opinion on such a detailed matter.  But in this case around 7:15 AM I executed two short grunts (literature says that is code for a deer saying "I am here") and way down the slope at the edge of our viewscape a deer got up and definitively but not hurriedly walked away.  I think it was probably bedded down and it didn't like that grunt call.  For whatever reason.  Possibly an indication that one should not cold grunt; or maybe, as one suggested to me: a doe that didn't want anything to do with a buck on November 19th.  We sat the rest of the day and didn't see another deer.  The good thing is that on both days of this weekend, he saw one deer.  So he knows by his own evidence that there are deer in the woods.  And therefore he has a chance to shoot one and bring home some meat.  I was impressed by his interest and drive.  He never complained once.  He wanted to hunt every day.  Makes me pretty happy even while being humbled and reminded that I/we won't take a deer every year.  First time since 2012 that we have not freezered at least one deer.  Only note is that the season is not entirely over.   Archery still going, and the January firearm hunt looms; we'll see what happens.  Going forward I may set a limit on hours in the woods.  It's kind of taxing to be away so long and come home empty handed.  A sort of antithesis to trout fishing which is the greatest guarantee out there.  Hunting in a stand one is plagued by the constant thought that getting down at any given time could be just a few minutes too early.  The whole deal can go from zero to 100 in about two minutes.  Failure to success in a blink.  But the hours add up.  They never seem long while in the stand; indeed I could sit day after day and just watch.  But I suppose at home they add up.  And there is a hollow ring to it when no meat is won.  Another in the list of duties and endeavors one must properly gauge relative to a greater context.