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Switching Gears As The Seasons Change

December 12, 2017

It’s a pretty good feeling.

It’s less than a week until the solstice, which means, among other things, that there are only a couple of weeks left in this deer season.  I’ll be travelling all of next week, and then it’s Christmas.  Opportunities to get out and hunt will be tightly punctuated between now and January 1.

And I’m not sweating it.

I just put my third deer in the freezer, which means that I’ll be able to go another year without buying beef.  While I may still slip out a time or two before the season closes, the pressure to put meat on the ground is pretty much off.  I can just enjoy the time in the woods when I get it.

I can also switch my priorities to waterfowl, as the last split opens Saturday.

Iggy, the forlorn duck dawg will be pretty happy about that.  It’s not that he doesn’t dig blood trailing for me, but this season I didn’t really make it particularly challenging for him.  I’d take him close to where I’d shot, and we’d sort of pretend that he was “tracking”.  He was still proud when he “found” my deer, but it wasn’t quite as fulfilling as a long, tricky, blood trail.

Besides, waterfowl hunting is his favorite thing.

He’s only had one retrieve during the earlier, split season.  Our other outings have been frustratingly short on ducks, and when the birds did come through, the shooting was maybe not as good as it should have been.  But the hunting here always improves with cold weather, and we’ve had a good batch of that this year.  The last split is prime time… or at least, as prime as it gets down here these days.

So, it’s a pretty good feeling.

The freezer is full, I’m swapping the rifle for the shotgun, and my dog is going to get to do what he does best.  Oh, and it’s almost Christmas!  That’s pretty cool too.

 

Head Shots – Once More for the Cheap Seats

December 6, 2017

WARNING! Stop now and do not read further if you are offended or affected by graphic depictions of animal death or injury.

Head shots.

It’s a fairly hot topic in any hunting discussion, whether live or on social media (but especially on social media).  There are hunters who swear by the head shot, and others, like myself, who swear at them.  I’ve written about it before, and I’m sure it’ll come up again, if I keep on writing this stuff.

Advocates of the head shot rave about how it’s always either a drop-dead kill, or a clean miss.  They’ll talk about how it wastes no meat.  Frequently, they will make the case that any hunter worth his salt can successfully and consistently make a clean head shot… along with the implication that, if you can’t shoot well enough to make head shots, you probably shouldn’t be toting a gun in the first place.

As I’ve pointed out before, though, the head shot is definitely not fail-safe.  In fact, a slight misstep can be catastrophic, but not fatal, to the quarry.  It can result in a wicked wound that barely bleeds and results in a slow, miserable death.

So, let’s get to the impetus for this post.

I shot this buck tonight.  The knife point is at the entry wound.  The exit… well, that’s pretty obvious. (Click the image to see a larger version.)  This is a head shot gone terribly wrong.

In fact, everything about this shot was absolutely wrong.  The deer was moving away rapidly, and I had a brief moment to make the shot between some trees.  His head and the top of his neck was all I could really see through the gap.  I put the crosshairs on the back of his skull and let it fly.  The result was that the shot entered the side of the buck’s head, below the eye, and exited through the sinus cavity.

A head shot like that should have dropped him on the spot, right?  It didn’t.  In fact, he barely flinched at the hit.  As soon as he gained open ground, he bolted across and into the thick stuff.  I was pretty sure I had completely missed him.

This whole thing perfectly illustrates something I’ve called out for years.  That facial wound would likely have taken days to kill that deer, and would have provided a nearly impossible blood trail.  It’s a damned good example of what happens when a head shot is less than perfect, which happens more than some folks might like to admit.

But he’s dead, right?  It must have worked?

Well, the rest of the story is that this shot was actually a follow-up to a previous shot.  When I saw him still on his feet, moving through the trees, I felt like I needed to try to put him down… which is why I was willing to attempt such a low-percentage shot.  Fortunately, as it turns out, he really didn’t make another 30 yards, since my first bullet blew through both lungs, and that deer was already dead on his feet when I shot him in the face.

This is why I generally push back against people who recommend the head shot.  It’s not as infallible as some folks would have us believe, and there’s simply no need for relying on the head as a primary target.  Use a sufficient caliber and a good bullet to shoot them in the chest, or in the neck, where you have much higher odds of a clean kill, and less likelihood of causing a slow, painful death.

Pondering It All From 16′ In A Tree

December 5, 2017

From 16 feet up in a lock-on stand, the evening chill sets in from all directions. It sneaks up through my boots, and blows down my collar. It even finds a loose spot under my shirt tail. I scrunch my shoulders and adjust myself on the seat as quietly as I can. My thumb fidgets with the safety on the old Savage, running gently over the familiar, ridged hump.

The final half-hour of daylight is waning fast. Squirrels run rampant through the brush and leaf litter, keeping me at full alert. A cardinal flutters onto a branch above my head. A thrasher (the most perfectly named bird, ever) is digging at a pile of dry oak leaves somewhere just below the stand. I tighten my grip on the rifle. If the deer are going to move, this feels like the time for it.

These are the sounds of evening in the woods, and they’re all as familiar to me as the sound of my own breathing… and just as much a part of my life.  And the thing that crosses my mind, as I’m reveling in it all, is, “how can I write about this in a way I haven’t already done to death?”

I’ve been going hunting for about as long as I can remember.  I have been writing about it for about half that long, on one level or another.  I’ve used up most of the conceits, from the purple to the poetic.  I’ve leveraged assonance and alliteration.  I’ve tried to make it artsy, and I’ve tried to be bluntly practical.  I’ve even tried to sneak in a little moral lesson here and there, and at some points or other, I turned it into a politically tinged essay.

Where has it taken me?

Honestly, back in the day, when the Hog Blog was running strong, I had a glimpse of opportunity.  I got interviewed by CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.  I was even quoted in the draft of a Wildlife Management text book (no idea where that one ended up, and I can’t even remember what it was that I said).

I got to go on a couple of cool hunting trips, and got to play with a bit of cool gear.  I’ve met some really cool people, including a few of my outdoors writing idols, and I’ve made some great friends (and that’s probably the best thing of all).

But I still work for a living, writing training documents and programs for a medical software company.  I haven’t written the book of world-shaking essays, or published my own version of the Great American Novel.  I’m not travelling to read at colleges, or signing books at little, hippie book stores. Reporters from major media outlets aren’t trekking through the woods to my secluded little hermitage to score a sound byte or two.

I’m not really sure that’s what I want out of life anyway, but I guess part of me thought that might be a possible future, you know?  It’s a fun fantasy, like the teenage quarterback dreams of playing in the NFL, or the argumentative little girl dreams of growing up to be a Supreme Court Justice.  I could be the great novelist… the reclusive, slightly eccentric writer who they’ll all talk about after I’m dead.

But when it comes to it, I realize (I think) that I write for the same reason that I hunt.  It feels good.  It’s my nature.  There’s a sort of grounding liberation to it.  At any minute, maybe that monarch of the woods will walk in front of my bow, or just the right set of words will flow into my head that makes the music play.  But the joy comes from the search… from the hunt.  It’s not the meat in the freezer or the words on the page that drive me.  It’s the feeling that comes with trying to put it there.

A tree stand is a great place for contemplation, but it’s a little tricky to write up here.

 

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