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!
July 2, 2013
So here’s the thing…
I’m not in CA anymore, and my deer season down here in TX won’t get going until the end of September. I need a vicarious fix! So any of you CA hunters, let me know what’s going on. Share your stories. Send your pictures. I know it’s hot right now in the A-zone, but I know you guys can hack it.
Meanwhile, I’m just going to kick back and daydream about the smells of the CA hills in summer… that yellow-gold color that glows in the rising sun… and the chill that flees so suddenly from the morning air. I never killed a deer with a bow in CA (which is why I had to use a picture of my Texas whitetail), but I had some incredible hunts.
October 15, 2012
The long day finally wound down. As the clock rolled past 5:00, I decided I’d had enough work for one day and set the laptop aside. Kat was on a conference call, so I stood and stared out the window. The clouds had set in early, and the evening was calm and grey and relatively cool. I knew what I was going to do.
15 minutes later, I’d fed the horses and was headed up the hill to my stand.
Here’s the thing about my tree stand. When I first started building it, I thought I had it pegged. On one side, it looks down on the pasture fence. The deer have been beating a trail along the fenceline since I first had it put in. On the other side, I had cut a clearing among the junipers (cedar – I’ve really got to start calling it by the local name). What I hadn’t counted on was the hillside that put the clearing right at eye-level with the stand. At 20 yards, any deer entering the opening would be right across from me, and the stand offered little cover.
And sure enough, the first evening I hunted the stand, the first deer that came down the trail blew out immediately. I hung some camo netting along the edges of the stand, but when I hunted the spot again last week, I got busted again. It was simply too close to the main deer trail. I’d need to make some adjustments with the chainsaw and clippers… open up the clearing another 20 yards or so, and maybe cut a shooting lane down into the ravine. Until then, the stand wasn’t likely to produce much more than frustration.
So as I climbed into the stand tonight, I really didn’t have much hope of success. I just needed some “tree time”. The other night when I was up here, I had the chance to watch a couple of young raccoons playing in the open. Later, a little barn owl lit on a branch just a few feet from my head, and we sort of stared at each other for a few minutes before he floated off to another branch. And then a thunderhead formed over the distant ridgeline, and I watched a mind-bending light show as lightning flared and flashed through the pink fluffs of cloud. I couldn’t hope for quite so much every night, but there’s something special about spending the waning hours of daylight perched in an oak tree as life goes on around you.
After about an hour in the stand, I was relaxing into the groove and just sort of letting the day go on. The horses were munching their hay. A flock of doves rocketed overhead like a flight of tiny F-15s. A squirrel leapt from limb to limb in a nearby oak, scrounging scarce acorns. A couple of little brown birds flitted through the understory beneath my perch. The last thing I really expected at this point was to see a deer.
Which is why the thin, brown legs moving through the thick cedars didn’t register in my mind at first. A doe was picking her way up the trail that would bring her out less than 15 yards from my stand… too close, really, for me to get into position and draw the bow. My daydreaming was my downfall, and even as my focus sharpened, the deer froze. I could see her white snout and the glint of setting sun in her eyes as she tried to define that man-shaped blob up in the oak tree. She stomped her foot, and I knew I was done. She had me pegged, and I just waited for the tell-tale “whoof” as she blew out and flew into the thick brush.
But she didn’t. She bobbed her head, trying to catch me moving. She craned her neck. My bow hung, useless, at my side. I couldn’t move to raise it, much less get to full draw. All I could do was await the inevitable. And finally, she turned and walked away with mincing steps. She never blew, or ran, but I had no doubt that encounter was final.
I settled back into the evening. There was a little disappointment, but it really didn’t ruin my night. I hadn’t expected success anyway. I counted the sighting as a bonus.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed the horses all staring at something across the pasture. A doe was standing out in the open, drinking from the horse trough. The trough was over 150 yards from the stand, so there wasn’t much to get excited about. Still, I watched, and after the deer finished her drink she started moving in my direction. Now my heartbeat accelerated… briefly. Still 100 yards away, the doe turned and wandered across the barn pasture toward the feeder.
I settled down again, and was about to take a seat when something caught my attention. The brown legs were back, on the same trail, and stopped in the same spot. Apparently the doe had decided that the funky shape in the tree wasn’t too much of a threat. But she was still very cautious. I stood as still as I could while she scoped me out. Finally, she took one more step, and her head went behind a thick branch. I eased the bow up, coming to full draw as I did. The pin centered in the peep, and I leveled it on the deer. I had a small hole to shoot through, but that hole showed me the perfect look at the crease of the deer’s shoulder.
I struggled. With the exception of this tiny window, the rest of the deer was well covered. If the deer continued on its path, it would step into the open for a perfect broadside… but that opening was a good ten yards from where she stood. Could I hold out that long? Would she go that far before her caution got the better of her?
At 20 yards with this Mathews bow, I’m extremely confident. I don’t even like to shoot targets with it at that range, because I tend to cut my fletchings and break arrows. As I thought it through, I couldn’t see any reason not to take the shot… and no sooner had that thought entered my mind than I touched the release and let the arrow fly.
Even though the deer wasn’t looking right at me, she was tense. As quiet as this bow is, she heard something and spun, just as the arrow arrived. I winced, dreading the worst, but as best I could tell the arrow plunged just behind her shoulder, angling down and back. She sprinted off into the thick junipers, crashing through branches at a dead run for a few seconds, until the noise stopped. I heard another deer blow, and bound off through the woods, circling with the wind until it passed only 30 or 40 yards from my stand.
I sat tight as long as I could stand, trying to at least wait 30 minutes before going to check for blood. The blood would tell me what to do next. I remember checking my phone after the shot to see that it was 6:28. After an interminable period, I checked it again. It was 6:40. I sat for a few more minutes, and couldn’t stand it anymore. I climbed down and crept over to the opening where the doe had been standing.
My first feeling was disappointment. The tracks were easy to find where they spun and threw dirt across the trail. But there wasn’t a speck of blood. Not a droplet. The other thing missing, however, was my arrow. If I’d missed, it should have been sticking in the dirt under the junipers. On the other hand, at 20 yards, a good, clean hit should have passed clean through. The arrow should have been right there.
I had a decision to make. The smart thing, probably, was to pull out. I should go back to the house, have dinner or something, and come back in a couple of hours. But without any blood, I was a little concerned about trying find the trail after dark. This was my first deer on the new place. I’d hate to lose it. So I could follow now, and risk blowing it out for good… or I could wait, and risk missing the trail in the dark and losing the deer.
I played the shot over and over in my mind. Every time I saw it, the arrow hit right where it needed to be. I heard the hollow thump of impact that told me it should have been right in the chest cavity. A shoulder bone would have been a crack, or a paunch shot tends to have a sort of zipper sound. The other audible clue was the crashing charge through the limbs, followed by silence. This wasn’t the sound of a healthy deer bounding off down a trail.
I compromised and decided to follow the tracks until I found blood, and make the decision to continue or not afterward. If the blood looked good, I’d keep going. If it looked like muscle or gut, I’d back off and come back later.
About 25 yards from the first tracks, I found a drop of blood. Not a splash, or a dribble, but a drop… about the size of a pencil eraser. About five yards from that spot, I found another one. Just past that, I saw a funny shaped limb, sticking up amidst the juniper branches. On closer inspection, the “limb” was the lower half of my arrow, and it was covered in thick blood. One sniff of the blood told me this was good stuff… not guts, and not the mild scent of muscle blood. My confidence soared, despite the fact that the blood spoor was still sparse.
About 10 yards from the arrow, the ground was torn up where the deer had obviously stumbled. I crawled to that spot (this is pretty thick stuff) and found another spot of blood. The area was a little more open, and I stood up and looked around the area. There were only two possible trails, and the blood seemed to point pretty clearly to the one to my left. I gathered my breath and looked for more blood. Then it hit me. A few yards away, there was my deer… stone dead. I’d probably looked right at her five times without realizing that the tan clump on the ground was made of fur and flesh.
So there it is. My first deer from the new place. She’s on ice now, and I’ll do the butchering tomorrow. It’s too warm to let her hang, so I’ll cut her up and get the meat in the freezer… except the tenderloins. Those are going on the grill tomorrow night.
September 25, 2012
Archery season opens here in my part of the Texas Hill Country this weekend. The wait has seemed interminable. Only the fact that I’ve had so much work to do around this place has kept me from going nuts, especially since I know my California friends have been deer hunting since the second half of July. Several of them have already tagged out!
So I’ve had the Mathews out, and it’s driving tacks as usual… a far more accurate bow than I am an archer, but I’m very happy out to 40 yards. I had a 60 yard target set up out back, and the bow is certainly capable, but with the rocky ground out here it was just too hard on arrows when I clanked a shot.
According to my game cameras, I’ve got at least two “shooter” bucks coming onto the property regularly, and a pile of does. I’m not counting eggs yet, but my plan is to put meat in the freezer first, and then worry about getting an arrow in a buck later. First mature deer to walk under my stand this weekend gets a 100gr Slick-Trick.
Looks like rain for the weekend too, which will dampen my plans (insert rimshot and rolled eyes here). I’m not crazy about bowhunting in the rain (hard to follow a blood trail), but hopefully it’ll hold off enough so I can get some time in the stand. I have to head back to Spokane next week, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get my deer on the ground and in the freezer before my flight on Monday.
Of course, I’ve got until the middle of January to fill my freezer. I think I have five tags for whitetail, and two for mule deer. That’s more than enough venison to hold me for a bit.
So cooler weather, a little rain, and the high, holy days (as my old friend, Reverend Roy Steward used to say) are upon us!
February 29, 2012
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about Jim Shockey hunting hogs with the new Rogue air rifle. It got some good discussion, and a lot of you folks were sort of down on the idea. Personally, I can see a place for it, but there are an awful lot of qualifiers that go into that. The common thread, though, was that, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
There’s a lot of wisdom in that aphorism.
Well, I just got a note from the PR company that represents Barnett crossbows. Crossbow hunting is something that’s interested me for quite some time, and something I intend to try (sooner or later). Mostly, I just think they’re pretty cool weapons with a really interesting history. The ones I’ve shot were accurate and powerful… impressively so. As a hunting tool under the right conditions, they’re deadly as can be. I’ve seen, up close and personal, what they’ll do to hogs and whitetail deer.
I know there’s a ton of politics behind their use as “archery tackle”, and don’t really want to go down that road right now. I’m more interested in their application as hunting tools, and whether you want to classify them as archery or gun or something else doesn’t much concern me.
But like all hunting weapons, they have their limitations. The question we often ask is, how far should those limitations be pushed. For example, the following clip:
Please share your thoughts. Mine will follow.