September 30, 2015
Pope Gregory is said to have made this statement back in the 14th century, in reference to the crossbow.
Sadly, we know Pope Greg spoke a bit too soon. Anyone who’s paid attention to the discussions about crossbows in combat knows the legend that they met their comeuppance at the Battle of Agincourt, when English archers with long bows slaughtered the French crossbowmen. The truth of that battle, as usual, is a little more complicated… but it makes for a good story anyway.
With all of this in mind, I guess it’s no surprise that crossbows are still a fairly contentious topic. The debate rages today, although instead of warfare, it’s about hunting and sportsmanship. There’s a vocal and active group of hunters who think crossbows are an oozing sore on the sacred flesh of ethical bowhunting. Another group advocates these weapons as a panacea for hunter recruitment/retention. The back and forth is often emotional and intense, and the arguments range from practical to ridiculous.
And I’m not going to go there.
This is a gear review, not a debate. If you want to argue about crossbows, there are a lot of other places where you can do it. So let’s just stick a pin (or better yet, a 20-penny nail) in that and move along…
After years of procrastination, rationalization, and a simple, recurrent lack of funds, I finally broke down and got myself a crossbow. I saw a press release for Barnett’s new RAZR, and after a few emails, I was able to get one ordered directly from Barnett/Plano and shipped to the house. I’ve yet to put it to work, but thought an unboxing review would be an interesting departure.
The RAZR, as shipped, comes with everything you need to set up and shoot your bow. That’s huge for me, because like a lot of folks, I don’t want to wait around to order and receive parts piecemeal. I want it now.
Some patience is required, though, as assembly is required. I was a little concerned about this, having never put one of these things together. However, the instructions are clear and the actual procedure is really straightforward. The most complicated part was scope installation, which is no different than installing glass on a rifle.
When it comes to installing scopes, this is not my first rodeo, though, and in no time I had it put together and ready to go!
Unfortunately, there was a snag. I dug through the leftover packaging and parts several times, and even searched through the house in case I’d carried it to another room… but the rope cocking device appears to have been left out of the package. At a draw weight of 185 lbs., I’m not really interested in trying to cock it by hand.
I’m assuming this happened because I ordered the unit for review (at a discounted price), so it may have been re-packaged. I sent an email this morning, and hope to have the cocking device soon.
My initial impressions, after putting the RAZR together, are fairly positive. It’s a thoroughly modern-looking device, complete with the skeletal, tactical-styled stock. I’m not usually crazy about the Tacticool trend, but in this case, the styling is practical for a couple of reasons.
First of all, by skeletonizing the stock, a good bit of weight has been removed. The RAZR weighs in at about 6.5lbs. With the scope and quiver attached, that bumps it up another pound or so. This is in line with most of my deer rifles. A common complaint about crossbows is their weight, so I was pretty pleased by the way this one feels.
The way they’ve designed the foregrip is also pretty slick. A seldom-discussed, but serious issue with some older crossbows is that it’s easy to let your fingertips stick up in the path of the bow string. Considering how fast that heavy string is coming forward when the bow is fired, it’s easy to imagine some disastrous consequences if it catches your finger. By putting the foregrip completely below the track, the chances of such an accident are practically nil.
Best of all, the whole thing feels really nice in my hands. The balance is good, not quite the same as one of my rifles, but; it comes to shoulder smoothly, and the pistol grip and foregrip allow me to get a solid hold for shooting offhand. I can’t wait to point this thing downrange and let fly!
My particular package includes the 1.5-5 x 32 crossbow scope with illuminated reticles. One thing I like is that reticle is perfectly visible without being illuminated, so I don’t have to worry about batteries dying at an inconvenient moment. That’s a pretty big deal to me, since I have little trust in electronic sighting devices. But I have to admit that the illumination is pretty sweet.
More to come. Now that this thing is out of the box, I’m dying to shoot it. I just hope that cocking device gets here soon!
September 19, 2015
A dozen glaring, black eyes look everywhere at once.
A mosquito lights between my eyes, and I wrinkle my nose, and suddenly all 12 are locked on me. The wind is steady in my face, and the woods are noisy, but somehow they sense me up here. I steady myself, let my breathing slow, and adjust my gaze across the horizon instead of looking right at them.
And then they’re happily noshing in the soybean field, not 15 yards away. There are two good, mature does, a couple of yearlings, and a fawn that still shows traces of spots on his copper-red, summer coat. I can’t really tell which doe is “mama”, and it gives me pause… but only briefly. At one point, all six heads are down, and I could raise and draw the bow without consequence… but I don’t do it.
I generally consider myself a meat hunter. I hunt for the table, not for the wall. I’m as happy to shoot a healthy doe as I am to shoot a trophy buck. You can’t eat antlers. Feel free to add your own cliches and rationalizations as you see fit. The point is, there I was with at least two shooter does in easy range. A nice pile of meat on the hoof, and all it wanted was for me to raise the Mathews, line up the pins, and let it fly.
So let’s rewind the evening just a little bit.
I wasn’t even going to hunt, but with a frontal system moving across the area, I thought it might be an interesting opportunity to be in the stand. I wrapped up work for the evening, locked Iggy in the house (we can’t wait to get the fence up), and wandered out to the soybeans.
As I got settled into the stand, the thunderheads were ominous, and a strong wind was blowing across the field. I was starting to have second thoughts about sitting up in this pine tree, but after about a half hour the clouds moved off a little bit and the wind dropped out to a steady breeze while the shadows got longer and longer over the yellowing bean plants.
Along the edge of the trees, about 100 yards away, a deer head popped out into the field. It was a small buck, and he was followed by a little doe that could have been his twin. The two youngsters browsed and fed their way around the edge of the field until they were right in front of me. Neither was big enough to shoot, and I enjoyed their visit for a while, until they finally meandered back across the field to where they’d come from. They frolicked, chased, and kicked for a while, putting on an entertaining show.
I scanned the field while they played, and caught movement all the way across the beans. A deer head popped up like a periscope, watching the youngsters. Through the Leicas, I picked up a glint of antler, and after a little focus, I could see that this was the big eight-point I’d seen the other night.
At first he was just browsing, and I had no hope of him coming any closer. But then he locked in on the little deer, and started working across the field. It was interesting to watch, because even though the rut should be at least a month away, he was definitely working the angles to get closer to that little doe. When he got to them, he immediately got downwind of her and started curling his lip to taste her air. Finally, he realized she wasn’t anywhere near estrous, so he proceeded to work a licking branch and scrape the ground under the trees for a few minutes before he disappeared into the darkness of the thicket.
As I was watching this show, I heard the crunch of little hoofsteps to my right. I swiveled my head slowly, trying to see out of the corner of my eyes until I spotted the hooved feet coming through the branches.
One deer. Two deer. Three deer. Four deer. Five deer. Six.
The little herd came slinking out, testing the air and scanning for danger… all on high alert as they gave up the shelter of the thick woods. They really are amazing animals.
But even their combined senses did not give me away from my perch. I got a couple of intense stares, and I struggled to avoid eye contact until they finally relaxed and began to feed. Which brings us back to where I started this story…
So there I am… the meat hunter… with a whole pile of “meat” right there in front of me. I have about 20 minutes of shooting light left, which is plenty of light to make a clean shot. But it’s also plenty of time for that big boy to wander over to check out this new batch of does. If I hold off, maybe I’ll get a shot at him. And if I shoot one of these does, I risk blowing him out and educating him to my stand. He didn’t get that big by not learning life’s lessons.
In the midst of this mental struggle, the sun continued to sink and the shadows deepened. The does kept browsing, completely at ease now. My release was clipped to the string, but the bow remained resting between my feet. Finally, I looked down and couldn’t see the sight pins anymore. It was too late. The big boy never reappeared.
I made little noises until the does finally got nervous and hopped off across the field. This way, I could get down out of the tree without them identifying the source of the danger (I hope). All the way back to the house, I kept the little argument alive in my head.
What kind of meat hunter am I?
September 15, 2015
We haven’t come up with a catchy name for the new place yet. For now, we’re just calling it, “the farm.”
But I’m here now, and I’m four days into the whitetail archery season.
I do find myself at a disadvantage, since I took possession of the place less than a month prior to deer season. At the Hillside Manor, in Texas, I had almost an entire year to scout, set stands, and work on the landscape before getting out to start hunting. That preparation paid off in spades, although there’s something to be said for the fact that I was hunting in one of the highest deer population densities in the country.
But I got two stands set up, and a little work done around them. On the plus side, I have the advantage of a field full of nearly mature soybeans, but that also presents a bit of disadvantage for bowhunting, since the deer can come out anywhere around the 11 acres of crops, and the beans are high enough in places to completely obscure an entire deer (or three entire deer, as I witnessed yesterday).
On Sunday evening, I watched as a big, mature doe fed out into the field. She was utterly oblivious to me, but she had no need to worry since she never came any closer than 95 yards. A chip shot, perhaps with the 30-06, but not even an option for the Mathews. I watched her for about 20 minutes, as another group of does and yearlings fed out on the far side of the field… 198 yards away.
It got particularly interesting when the big doe stopped and stared back at the trail where she came in. I followed her gaze to see a really nice, mature 8-point (4×4 including brow tines, for you western hunters) step out. It’s way too early for the rut, but he was definitely following her trail and pushing his nose into her backdraft.
They stayed in the field until dark, but never came closer than 95 yards.
A doe and a youngster fed out on Sunday night, well within range at 15 to 20 yards, but I couldn’t make myself shoot the mama deer with Jr. right there at her side. Blame Bambi, if you will. Or blame my interest in keeping that 8-point around. Either way, it would be my best opportunity at a mature deer this week.
Last night (Monday), several deer came out much earlier. A group of three does fed into the far side of the field 10 minutes after I got into the stand… probably 17:25 or so. They were still there when I climbed down at 19:45. In the meantime, Jr. came back out. In the full daylight, I could see that he still had a few spots on his shoulder and haunch. Mama never showed, but I could hear her in the brush, just off the edge of the field. Jr. hung around, doing his little deer thing and munching soybeans until it finally got too dark to see. I slipped quietly out of the stand, and figured I’d get away without spooking anyone, but as I stepped around a grape vine, I nearly stepped right on top of a deer. Not sure who jumped higher, but she (or he) kept jumping… bounding all the way to the far end of the field. I watched the white flag waving, and knew every deer in the field would be blown out.
Nevertheless, I was back at it tonight. Around 18:00, a single deer fed out on the far side of the field. She didn’t seem too concerned about anything, until a sudden ruckus caused us both to start. The neighbor apparently decided that last light was the perfect time to fire up a bulldozer and start working in his cow pasture. The doe swapped ends and bolted back into the woods. She was the only deer I saw all night. C’est la vie.
I expect that Iggy and I are gonna use tomorrow evening to go shoot doves in the cut corn across from the house. I’ll give the tree stand a break, and let things settle down for a little bit. I’d love to get a go at that big buck, but those mature does would do well to stay out of range.
That’s it for now. Stay tuned…
February 17, 2015
I just read a really good piece over on BowhuntingNet, by the founder of Bowhunting magazine, M.R. James. In the piece, James shares his thoughts about long-range bowhunting, and makes his arguments for why it’s a bad practice. He writes:
I’ll concede that a hunting arrow with a sharp broadhead can kill a game animal at any distance if it hits the vitals. But there’s the rub. Animals are not foam or paper targets. They can and do move. Taking 100-plus yard shots at a browsing buck or bull is not the same as shooting an unmoving 3-D replica of the same animal. No matter how good you are on the latter doesn’t mean you can consistently hit the kill area of live animals at great distances.
Personally, I couldn’t agree more, and I’ve made similar arguments, not only about bowhunting, but about long range shooting with firearms as well. Modern weaponry has come a long ways, and there’s no question that some of it enables the average hunter to perform feats that would have seemed virtually miraculous a few decades ago. There are new bows that sling high-tech arrows at remarkable speed. There are new broadheads that fly as true as field points, with blades that come out of the box as sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. And there are sight systems that make it easy to consistently place an arrow at ridiculously long distances, as well as electronic rangefinders to eliminate the guesswork and essentially tell you which sight pin to use.
But as we overcome the mechanical challenges, we still have to face the variables of nature, not the least of which is the simple reality that live animals move. Consider that an arrow from a top-end bow begins its flight at about 300 fps. At 50 yards, (a distance that many modern bowhunters don’t consider “long range”), it takes a full half second for the arrow to arrive on target. Knowing that the arrow is shedding speed as it travels, it takes over a second to reach a target 100 yards away. An animal can do a lot of things in one second. It can take a couple of steps. It can lie down. It can turn 90 degrees or more. With this in mind, no matter how skilled the archer, or how technologically advanced the gear, there is a point at which a successful shot hinges on nothing more than luck.
So as with Mr. James, when I hear about a bowhunter shooting big game at distances of 80, 90, or 100 yards, I cringe inside. It’s such a huge risk, not simply of failure… of missing… but a risk of a crippling shot. And I recognize that, truly, whenever we attempt to cleanly kill an animal with a bow and arrow, we’re already stacking the odds against ourselves. But, at some point, I believe it’s simply bad practice to intentionally amplify that risk. And when I talk about why I don’t like long-range shooting on game, this is my primary rationale.
Of course, I have personal ideas about bowhunting that drive my own actions. Mr. James does as well, and he articulates some of them pretty clearly in the article. I find that I agree with everything he says, and expect that a lot of other bowhunters do too. We share an appreciation for the idea that the thrill of bowhunting is about getting close to game. To me, and I think to James, that’s the whole point of bowhunting… the challenge of getting close, drawing, and making a clean shot.
Mr. James writes:
Equally important to me is the satisfaction that I derive from being a hunter and not just a shooter. I prefer looking back on a successful hunt and crediting my hunting skills as much or more as mostly relying on luck and the bow I’m holding to put the animal on the ground.
And, as far as it goes, that’s awesome. I read and enjoyed James’s column as someone of similar mind.
But what if I didn’t think that way?
What if I bowhunted for the sole reason that it gave me an extra four to six weeks of hunting season? What if the only reason I picked up a bow was so that I could access places where I’m not allowed to use my rifle? What if the single most important measure of success, for me, was dead meat on the ground… as much as I can get?
I think that we too often forget that every hunter is not wired to the same frequency as those of us who have made a spiritual (for lack of a better word) connection to the hunt… and especially bowhunting. For a lot of people, the hunt is merely the means to an end. More challenge does not always equal more fun… the value of the prize is not necessarily elevated by the difficulty of attaining it. I know, from experience, that there are hunters out there who barely notice anything beyond the absence or presence of the game they seek.
How do you sell that person on the idea of what bowhunting should be about?
Even more importantly, how do you sell that person a set of ethics based on that point of view?
To be blunt, you can’t.
I think that’s the key weakness in most discussions (or arguments) about hunting ethics. You’re not starting from the same philosophical foundations. For a person who doesn’t make that deep, spiritual connection to the hunt, you’re never going to be able to play on that connection to convince them… because the connection isn’t there.
It seems simplistic when I write it here, but then I watch some very intelligent people bashing their heads against this basic, brick wall. It’s not selling ice to eskimos. It’s selling ice to someone who has no concept of hot or cold. Or… and I’ve made this analogy before… it’s selling religious fundamentalism to an agnostic. You can’t force these ends to meld, no matter how deeply you may believe.
So when you tell someone, “the reason long range bowhunting is bad, is because it goes against everything that bowhunting is about,” you have to consider that maybe it’s not at all what bowhunting is about to that person. It’s like telling someone who’s been hunting a certain way his whole life that the way he hunts “isn’t hunting.” That’s just ridiculous. It doesn’t compute. And it challenges the credibility of anything else you may have to say.
What do you do? How do you convince the person that you’re right… that you are only trying to show them the one, true way? How do you convert them?
You don’t. You shouldn’t. And that’s the point I’ve tried to make over and over again.
If the best argument you have against a practice is esoteric or aesthetic, then it really isn’t a good argument… no matter how deeply you believe. You aren’t going to convince someone that your beliefs are right and theirs are wrong on the simple basis that their actions conflict with your interpretation of, “the hunt.” If someone hunts over bait, or high fence, or long range, then in their mind they have “hunted.” You can’t argue that away. Why would you even think you could?
After saying all of this, I want to point out that I think Mr. James did a great job of articulating his position without really appearing to “preach” his “gospel”. I think it’s the right approach. He challenged some opposing viewpoints (the folks who argued in favor of long range shooting), but he didn’t challenge their validity as hunters. He started his discussion with a tangible truth… shooting at long range reduces your odds of a clean, humane kill. And the desire for a clean kill is fairly universal… whether you’re deeply committed to the ethics of the clean kill, you’re deeply opposed to missing, or if you hate the idea of following a tough blood trail for hours through rugged country.
But there are folks who are going to do it anyway, because when the moment comes, they are in that moment. They’re not thinking as much about failure as they are about success. It’s something deeply ingrained in our psyche, I think… that momentary lapse of reason where we push aside doubt and go forward with blind certainty, even when we should (and do) know better. Few hunters have the self-awareness to recognize it when it comes, and fewer still have the discipline to restrain themselves if they do.
So we get those 120 yard bow shots, or the 900 yard hail, Mary with the rifle… and there’s really nothing M.R. James or I can do about it but cringe. And maybe use it as fodder for a column or a blog post.
October 29, 2014
It seems like there would come a point, after a lifetime of hunting, where you’d pretty much have it down. You’d know the habits of your quarry, and the idiosyncrasies wouldn’t be quite as mysterious. You’d understand why they do the things they do, and when you set out to hunt them, it would just be a matter of piecing the puzzle together.
That time would come where every step of preparation, planning, and the setup would be practically automatic. Whether a ground blind or a tree stand, or even still hunting through the timber, you would know every step to take, and when to freeze, draw, and aim. Mistakes would become things of the past… memories of silly oversights, missteps, and bonehead moves.
Well, I’m not there yet. I probably never will be.
Despite the almost completely nocturnal activity going on right now, and the fact that most of the deer are happily fattening up on acorns, I decided to go sit my stand for the last couple of hours of shooting light tonight. I practically ran out there, as the sun sets earlier and earlier this time of year, but I managed to get in and set up without incident. I fired up the Thermacell and waited to see what would happen… expecting very little.
Near sunset, but much earlier than I expected, I caught the sound of a footstep on the loose rock. A body brushed against a cedar branch. A limb cracked. Something was coming.
I eased around in my chair, thrilled to feel the barely moving breeze right in my face. A shadow appeared through the cedars. The white glow of antlers crowned a dark head. The eight point I’ve been watching since August pushed through into the clearing, 19 yards from where I sat… rapt and surprised.
In person, he was a lot bigger than he looked on the game camera. I slowly lifted my bow, moving in millimeters. He was looking away, surveying the trail ahead. My shoulders tensed as I started to draw. And then he whipped his head around, his eyes locked right on me! How the hell did he spot me?
I froze, willing my eyes to look away… to avoid contact with his stare. His ears pricked forward. His nostrils flared. He couldn’t hear me. He couldn’t smell me. But he saw me. Somehow, despite the hours of work… the gallons of sweat… the pints of blood I shed to build this blind… he saw me.
He turned, not spinning, but fast enough to keep me from getting to full draw. And then he high stepped away, fading back into the cedars with that marching cadence that tells you he’s not quite sure what you are… but he’s not going to wait and find out.
I let out the breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding, and I sat there sort of shocked. Sure, 19 yards is pretty close. But how in the world could he have seen me?
I turned to examine the blind, and then I realized… a section of brush had apparently settled, or fallen in on the back wall, and I was perfectly backlit by the setting sun. A blind deer could have seen me turn and draw. I probably looked like an actor on a giant movie screen to that buck. I guess, in my rush to get into the blind and set up before dark, I didn’t really bother to take a quick look around. What a bonehead move!
I’ll go out and fix it tomorrow, of course. But tonight, I’m pretty sure my dreams are going to be haunted by that buck.
September 27, 2014
Well, I’m back.
Colorado was as beautiful as always, with the aspens and oaks turning, even as the week progressed. The temps were a good bit higher than normal this year, and that definitely impacted the way the elk were behaving… which, in turn, impacted our hunting.
The hunt was five days, beginning on Saturday, 9/20, and running through Wednesday, 09/24. On the hunt with me were two of my friends from California… both named Dave, which made it pretty easy for the guides to keep up. Just call, “Dave!”
The outfitter, and my guide for the week, was Rick Webb of Dark Timber Outfitting, out of Montrose, CO. His helper, Bobby, took responsibility for The Daves.
This would be my fourth hunt in this place, and my third since Rick took it over. My first two hunts, both with the rifle, were successful. I tagged out on the first and second days, respectively.
On my third trip, I chose to go with archery tackle and chase the bulls in rut. While I wasn’t able to close the deal, I had a couple of close encounters… including the one that left me chronically infected by the elk hunting bug. Having a bull called to within nine yards of you, and bugle right there in your face, well… that’ll do it for most hunters. If you can come away from that without recurrent dreams and an overwhelming urge to head for the high country every September, then you probably shouldn’t be hunting.
It took seven years to get back up there, between economic trials and trying to balance hunting with other things in my life (like moving to Texas). But I decided last year that I’d be going to Colorado this season, come hell or high water. After a lot of consideration, I decided to do it again with the bow… chasing the dragon, I suppose… hoping to recreate that last experience.
The following videos pretty much tell the rest of the story. While my skills as a videographer and video editor obviously leave a lot to be desired, I managed to capture the general essence of the trip in these four epsiodes. I hope you enjoy them…
April 3, 2014
That title is a fancy way of saying, “whoops! I missed my annual April Fool’s Day post.”
It’s not that I had anything particularly solid to work with this year, due to varying factors (day job) and limited inspiration. But it’s tradition, dammit.
My brother and I were off hunting Tuesday and Wednesday, and while the lodge advertised wifi, the mere wisp of a signal I found when I logged in Tuesday evening would hardly have carried a full post with images. What’s worse, the signal was security-protected, and since it was approaching midnight and the guide had gone home to bed, I didn’t dare go knock on the door and ask for a password. So I guess the April Fool’s joke was on me.
Well, that was fun. It’s an archery-only hunting ranch about an hour from here, called Crystal Creek Bowhunting. The plan was to hunt for axis and hogs, and while the package offered the option of shooting sheep (ramboulet, mouflon, aoudad, and some hybrids) and turkeys, I was pretty much narrow-mindedly fixed on axis. Thus, I passed up a couple of opportunities in return for… well, I did see some axis yesterday afternoon. From the truck. On the way to the stand. But I never even had one come past my stand, much less pose for a shot.
I did get a shot at a hog during the hog-a-palooza on Tuesday night. The damned things came out of everywhere, and all six hunters had shot opportunities. At the end of it all, six hogs were dead. Unfortunately, most of the pigs were of the football-size. One of the hunters managed to skewer three with one arrow. A few bigger (50-60lbs) showed up as well, but the real heavies held up in the thick stuff until after dark. One of the other hunters took two of these meat hogs, including a really cool looking blond boar. My own shot went a shade high over a little boar at 22 yards. I’d been holding out for an orange and black spotted boar, probably about 60 pounds or so, but it just wouldn’t come into my shooting lane long enough. As it was almost too dark to really see my pins (time for a new sight), I switched over to the black boar and promptly jerked my shot.
My only redemption was that my brother, typically an absolute dead-eye with the bow, missed his pig too.
As dusk settled into night yesterday, I had one more close call. A good-sized, 125 or 140lb pig was coming right to my stand. Unfortunately, he stopped to snack in the thicket as full darkness fell. I heard Mr. Scrofa rooting rocks out of the way, and then after a sudden grunt, he was tearing and chomping at something. I’m pretty sure he was eating the 5′ buzz worm I’d seen earlier, which had disappeared in that same general vicinity.
Whatever it was, it occupied him for the final moments of shooting light. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I hit the Surefire and tried to light him up, but he was screened by a thicket of persimmon and mesquite. I heard him grunt and bolt, but only a few yards. Then he stood there and popped his teeth at the intrusion.
After a few minutes, I climbed down out of the stand and went out to wait for the guide to swing by and pick me up. As I stood in the darkness, I heard the pig return to his feast, less than 40 yards from where I stood.
Bowhunting is hard.
October 25, 2013
I really thought it was going to happen this evening.
I don’t know why, but I just had a feeling that I needed to get up in the stand after work and I would get my shot… put my first deer in the freezer for this season.
Didn’t happen, of course. You don’t see a new grip-n-grin, “hero shot” in the left margin of this post because I didn’t get anything. I saw deer. I see deer almost every time I go out. Can’t really help it, there are so bloody many of them around here. But, with the exception of a teeny-tiny, yearling doe, nothing came within bow range… at least not before dark.
I sat tight in the stand as the light dimmed, partly holding out hope for that last light deer, and partly just because I like being there so much. At some point, I realized that I could no longer see the pins on my sight. If a deer came out at that point, all I would be able to do is watch it. But still, I sat tight.
My stand sits at edge of the woods just at the top of my big pasture. I built it about 10′ up, into the triple trunk of a spanish oak using cedar poles I cut while clearing thickets. On the downhill side, the ground slopes steadily downward for about 200 yards, until it hits the flats at the bottom of the canyon, and then the road. From this perch, I can look out across the canyon for close to 1000 yards. I can watch the horses grazing at the hay feeder, and jackrabbits picking at my recently planted winter rye grass. I can also look over onto the neighbors’ places, and watch deer and turkeys working between the open meadows and pastures.
On the uphill side, I have about 15 yards of clear sight before the cedar thicket obscures everything. At 15 yards, the ground is pretty much at my eye level. The ridge rises pretty hard right here, and stays steep all the way to the top. Nevertheless, the woods on the other side of that thick wall of brush are laced with game trails. White-winged doves roost here at this time of year, swooping in at sunset with a rush and clatter of wings just over my head. The sudden noise is almost always good for a start when I’m not paying attention.
And just below the north end of the stand, the focal point really, is the spot I call the “Murder Hole.” When I was clearing the cedar from this hillside, I made a swath about 30 yards wide by 30 yards deep that drops down into a draw. When I got to the bottom of the draw, I realized there was a major intersection of deer trails. An old fenceline runs sidehill along the ridge here, and in this spot it had been pushed up by the passage of game. Deer tend to take paths of least resistance, so being able to walk under the fence instead of jumping over is a significant attraction. It is like the spout of a funnel for deer passing up or down the ridge… and it is a classic spot for ambush. I left enough brush here to provide a sense of security, but I have a perfectly clear, 30-yard shot right into the intersection as it comes out from under the fence.
It’s not a perfect stand. Concerned about the health of the tree during the drought, I wanted to minimize the number of screws or nails I used… so the platform is designed to rest in the crown of the three trunks. I thought it was kind of clever, and it reminds me of the funeral platforms utilized by some native American tribes. But really, it sits at sort of a downward angle, and the lack of uniformity in the cedar poles I used for the decking makes for uncomfortable footing. It’s not very comfortable for sitting either. It’s hard to stay up there for more than three hours at a time.
One of the three trunks is pretty much dead and has shed most of its branches, stressed by the intense drought we’ve seen down here. As the branches have fallen away, much of the cover they provided is gone, leaving me pretty well exposed… especially in the late season when the leaves have gone. I’ve tried to compensate by placing some tank netting around the stand, but when the wind blows, the whole thing flaps. That’s not good when you’ve got skittish deer… but sometimes the deer don’t seem to care.
The position of the stand also leaves me backlit at sunset. I didn’t realize how badly I stood out up there until the game camera mounted in the bottom of the Murder Hole snapped a shot of a doe, and I could see myself in the background. No wonder so many deer have busted me before I could come to full draw.
Not all, though. I’ve killed from this stand, and I’ve missed a couple as well. For all its flaws, the stand works. There’s a reason I call it the Murder Hole.
“One day,” I keep saying, “I’m going to do some modifications… maybe bring up some plywood for a floor and walls, and maybe even a roof. Just go ahead and build a shooting house up here.”
I never seem to quite get to it, though. Probably it’s just me and my goofy aesthetic, I realize, but a shooting house feels like taking away some of the wildness. There’s something about being exposed…about trying to fool these animals’ eyes with stillness. Something about trying to time every movement with the movement of the prey, from raising the bow to coming to full draw without being seen.
It’s intense. It’s difficult. It’s often frustrating.
What does the mountain lion feel, perched over the trail, hidden only by elevation and a few clumps of grass? He waits for the deer to take one more step… and then another. Closer. Almost. How often does that perfect ambush fall apart in the snort and clatter of panicked hooves just before the pounce?
I like my tree stand. It suits me.
September 27, 2013
You probably thought I was gonna get all poet-y and recreate the beloved Christmas rhyme to celebrate the impending deer season opener (tomorrow!) … but it’s been done so many times that I fought back the temptation to do it over.
But the camo is all hung by the backdoor with care, and the broadheads are sharpened to fly through the air…
So, depending on if this rain actually comes in like they’re saying, I’ll be up on my hill at first light tomorrow with bow in hand. I’m still seeing that six pointer every day, as well as plenty of does. The turkeys also popped in a couple of times, and since the fall season opens with the deer season, I’ll be happy to add one of them to the freezer as well.
There’s a lot of real world stuff going on around here that’s kept me from getting too amped up about the opener, but I imagine that by the time I go to bed tonight, there will be visions of whitetail dancing in my head.
September 9, 2013
That’s right… 19 days and counting until the whitetail archery season opens. Despite a couple of outings for exotics, it’s been a long off-season.
Just had the Mathews restrung, and I’ve been slinging arrows at the target out back almost every day. I’ve been checking the cameras too. As of now, I’m still thinking I’ll be primarily hunting does this year.
There’s a pretty good buck coming in regularly, but he’s sort of young. If he survives all the other hunting camps in this canyon, maybe we’ll be able to make ourselves let him walk. We don’t get a lot of big bucks in this country, and he looks like he has great potential.
The cameras are loaded with does again this season, and pretty much have been loaded constantly since last year. You’d hardly notice that we took four deer off the place last season. They’re just that thick out here.
Of course the search goes on for other critters. I haven’t seen any sign of hogs since that one old boar came cruising through last February, but hope springs eternal. We’ve had a relatively wet season the last few weeks… not enough to change the drought status, yet, but definitely enough to keep my pond wet and green up the trees. The persimmons are busting out all over, and I know that’s got to be an inviting treat for sus scrofa.
The axis, all through the canyon, have been a little scarce all summer. Turns out that our neighbor down the road was trapping them behind his house. They pull in a pretty penny right now, and you can see nets all over the canyon as folks are trying to make a little cash off of a fairly abundant resource. It’s definitely had an effect on the numbers, but it also appears to have another effect… scattering the animals out of their normal hangouts. I have to admit a little selfish pleasure at seeing their spotted bodies through the cedars and pastures close to my house.
On Saturday, from my chair at the living room window, I spotted movement in the barn pasture. A group of whitetail does and yearlings was making their way across the open and heading back to their beds. There’s nothing new about that, as they tend to drift across the pasture after chowing down at my feeder. Still, I enjoy watching them.
The last doe hopped the fence, and I was about to turn my attention to other things when I spotted something else… an axis buck, not a trophy but a real good buck, came strolling along my fenceline. He was apparently following the whitetail does. I went for the rifle, as this looked like a good opportunity to restock the freezer, but I knew he’d be across the fence before I could get after him… and I really wasn’t sure I wanted to shoot him like that anyway.
Of course, I haven’t seen him since. I checked the cameras, and sure enough I had a glimpes of spotted coats… no photos of the buck, and this blurry picture doesn’t offer much in the way of quality photography, but it sure was enough to get me excited.
According to the camera, they were only here once… so far. But just the fact that they are passing through is enough to make me pretty happy. As much as I do like eating whitetail, it’s hard to compare anything to axis venison.
Time to go shoot the bow a little more… gotta be in practice when the 28th rolls around!