January 14, 2013
So, Kat has sort of been after me to let her shoot a deer this season. She’s never shot one before, despite several trips back in CA. I told her that if she’d go get a license, I’d set her up a stand and take her out there.
Well, just before Christmas, she came home from the store with a license. Of course there was holiday travel, and then the business of getting back into the swing of work after the holiday travel… and, well, the regular deer season ran out on us. But we can shoot does and spikes until the 20th, and since there’s a little room left in the freezer, we still had time.
This afternoon, while clearing some cedar up on the hill, I dragged a bunch of branches down the hill and made a little rifle blind. It offered pretty good coverage of the whole hillside, so at about 16:30, we rolled out (leaving behind a seriously pouting Iggy), and set up in the stand. It probably wasn’t more than an hour before a good-sized, mature doe stepped out into the open. Kat took a steady and patient aim with my .243 BLR, and when the doe offered the perfect angle, she made the perfect shot. The doe dropped on the spot, the top of her heart turned to jelly with the 95 grain Winchester XP3 bullet.
That makes four deer in our freezer this year. We’ll probably share some, but the remainder will pretty much alleviate any need to buy beef over the coming year.
Just wish the quail population was in better shape down here. We could use some white meat.
January 4, 2013
My left arm was starting to shake.
At full draw for almost a full minute, I started to wonder if the deer would ever take that one, final, fatal step. A cedar branch stuck out from the brush pile I was using as a ground blind, and was directly in front of my broadhead… a fact I’d been lucky to notice just before I touched the release. That would have been ugly.
The arthritis in my elbow, barely noticeable when I raised and drew the bow, was now sending distress signals to my brain. My right arm was locked in, palm against my cheek, as I struggled to keep my eye on the 20 yard pin, centered on the big doe’s chest. My breathing was becoming a little ragged, as my heart pounded so hard I felt it in my ears.
I just needed the deer to move a little more into the clear, but she was happily gnoshing on something right where she was. Another deer was just to the left, quartering away, and I considered changing my focus and trying that one. But I also knew there were at least two more deer in the thicket, less than 10 yards from my stand. A large movement on my part would ruin everything. As it was, I was lucky to have come to full draw without getting busted. I had to stick it out.
The sun had just set on a cloudy evening, and shooting light was fading quickly. Already, the trees in the bottom of the little hollow I’d named “the Murder Hole” were becoming dim and shadowy. If these deer had come fifteen minutes later, I’d probably have been packing up to go. As it was, I had a good, clear picture of the doe and one other deer. Another ghostly form was moving back in the cedars. It was the unseen deer in the brush to my right that worried me.
If she’d just take one more step.
I didn’t feel the cold breeze, heralding the coming winter weather.
The forecast called for snow and sleet, and the deer had been moving hard all evening as they fed up ahead of the storm. Prior to this little group, I’d counted 12 deer just on my little parcel of ranch. Had I been rifle hunting, I could probably have filled a season’s worth of tags in the two hours I’d been on stand. But with three deer already in the freezer, I was more interested in the quiet evening on stand than in stacking up carcasses.
I stopped noticing the pain in my elbow, or the spreading ache in my lower back, and forced myself to focus on the impending shot.
I could hear the deer to my right nosing through the oak leaves. The deer down in the bottom of the “hole” was coming more clearly into view. A yearling slipped under the fence at the edge of the hollow, and ambled across the clearing. But the doe in my sights just wouldn’t move. In rising desperation, I calculated the odds that my arrow would just go right through the cedar branch without deflecting, but common sense maintained control and I kept my finger away from the release and settled myself.
Without even raising her head, the doe took a step forward and stopped as perfectly positioned as a target. I swung slowly with her, keeping the pin behind the shoulder, aiming for the exit wound. Remembering the cedar branch, I lifted my head slightly to be sure the arrow was clear. As I did, from the right edge of my vision I saw a brown form, not two yards from where I was standing. A deer had walked right up from behind, practically stepping into the blind with me. When I moved my head, it exploded in panic, blowing and crashing back through the brush… and sending all of the other deer off in a frenzy of white tails and flying dirt.
It was a cold walk back to the house, but I was warm inside.
December 13, 2012
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”
“So? I changed my mind.”
So after all that noise in yesterday’s post about sticking to the bow and all that, I had to know this morning would turn my plans upside down. I wasn’t even going to hunt this morning, but instead I planned to leave things alone after missing that doe last night. I was going to sleep in until daylight, tend to the horses, and get to work.
That was the plan.
It all started when something woke me up this morning at around 05:00. I think it was probably the cats, bouncing off the walls as they’re wont to do in the wee hours. Apparently they knocked something over, so I got up to make sure it wasn’t important. It took a bit of looking before I discovered they’d somehow climbed up on the washing machine and knocked my binoculars off onto the floor. Thank goodness for Leica’s shock-resistant sturdiness.
Well, once that happened, I was awake. I stumbled around and cursed a bit, made coffee, and sat down at the computer. I looked at the bow hanging in the laundry room, but just wasn’t that motivated to gear up and go sit in the tree. Visions of that arrow sailing over the doe’s back pretty much sapped my enthusiasm.
Once the sun had started to light up the canyon, I decided to go ahead and feed the horses a little early. As I started out, I noticed some movement down near the corner of the pasture, not too far from my tree stand. “Goofy deer,” I thought out loud, but I grabbed the Leicas anyway.
There were several deer, but the two that caught my interest were sort of circling one another, in and out of the cedars. The light was still dim, but I definitely saw antler on at least one of them. After a moment, I could see it was the wide, spindly six-point I’ve been seeing on my cameras. The other deer still wouldn’t give me a good look, but it looked like he had a smaller rack. The bucks weren’t exactly fighting, but they were definitely squared off.
I watched for a little bit. The does and yearlings weren’t particularly interested in the bucks, and they browsed under the oaks along the edge of the woods. The bucks would sort of follow one another around a tree, then stop and nonchalantly nibble some acorns or grass. Then they’d circle again. I kept watching that six-point, and it didn’t take long before I made a decision.
The Savage was in the back of the truck. I grabbed it, and slowly snuck toward the barn, closing the distance and making sure I wouldn’t be shooting into the pasture where the horses were. At about 120 yards, I took a rest against a power pole and found the deer in my scope. They moved in and out of the thicket. Every time I thought I had him dead to rights, he’d turn his butt to me, or move behind a cedar.
Finally, I had the shot I wanted. The angle wasn’t ideal, but at 120 yards with the 30-06, I knew I could make it work. With the pull of the trigger, I set a sequence of mildly regrettable events into motion.
First error… I either pulled the rifle, or the deer moved at precisely the moment of my shot. Either way, I heard the bullet thump but I could see that it was further back than I’d wanted. Had the angle been better, it would have been a perfect double-lung shot. But he was turned more than I thought, which meant that the bullet ended up quartering back through the paunch, exiting behind the ribs, and then entering the off-side ham (Damn!).
Still, there was no question it was a fatal shot. I watched him run into the thicket, and while all the other deer ran out, he didn’t.
So as I watched the other deer run, I realized that one of them was the spindly six. I’d gotten mixed up by their little shell game in the cedars, and shot the other deer. “Oh well,” I figured. “I hunt for the meat and not the horns anyway. No matter.”
I waited a few minutes and headed to the woods. I decided to bring Iggy along. I’ve wanted to work him on blood trails a little bit, but the last deer died so close to where I arrowed her, I didn’t even bother to go get him. He was pretty excited by the shooting, and practically jumping over the fence when I went back to the house. I put the rifle away (another mistake) and grabbed the .44 in case a coup de grace was necessary.
So the only work Iggy has done over the guns so far was when I worked him on doves a little, back in September. He definitely gets the idea that, when I shoot, he gets to chase something. I let him out of the gate and he led me toward the woods. At the site where the deer were gathered, he struck a scent. I wasn’t sure which deer he smelled, or if he was smelling all of them, so I held him back until I found a splatter of blood. I pointed it out, and he looked at me like I was an idiot. “Of course there’s blood, you fool,” he seemed to say. “Now let me do my job.”
I should have put him on a leash.
At first he worked the trail like a pro, staying just ahead of me as we entered the woods. But he started going faster, and suddenly disappeared with a leap. A moment later, the buck charged out of the woods, followed closely by the black blur that was Iggy. Even if I’d had the presence of mind to get the gun up, I couldn’t have taken the shot with him so close. I yelled to stop him, but by then they were halfway across the pasture and headed for the road. I yelled again, and then remembered that I’d at least had enough sense to put the electric collar on him. I hit the “nip” button, and that didn’t even slow him. Reluctantly, I hit the continuous button. That got his attention, and he finally pulled back.
My pasture lays on a downhill slope, and right before the fence there’s a low spot where the deer like to cross. I saw the deer go down there, but I didn’t see him come up. I hoped he’d run into a brush pile to die, but just in case, I held the pistol ready as I moved across the pasture toward the spot. Iggy was behaving well now, staying a couple of yards ahead of me with his nose to the ground.
We hit the brush pile, and the deer staggered up about 50 yards away. Because he looked so unsteady, and because I’m not the greatest shot with the .44, I decided to get closer (if I’d brought the rifle instead, this story would have ended here). Finally, I closed to about 20 yards and had the deer clear and broadside. I leveled the pistol, but as I was cocking the hammer, a black blur ran into the scene again! Iggy couldn’t take the excitement of seeing his quarry this close and broke into my line of fire. I raised the muzzle into the air and waited for an opportunity.
The deer ran to the fence and weakly tried to jump it. His side and flank were covered in blood, and I could see he wouldn’t live long. But he managed enough strength to finally clamber over the fence to the road. In a couple of bounds he was across, and into the thicket on the neighboring property. I called Iggy back and watched through the branches as the deer staggered down into a draw and out of sight.
The tale does have a happy ending, though.
I brought Iggy back to the house, then went in and had breakfast, got some work email answered, and waited for about two hours. Given how hard the deer was bleeding when he hit the fence, I figured that would be more than enough time to let him bed down and die. When in doubt, back out… right?
When we got to where the deer had crossed the fence, the blood trail was pretty obvious. Iggy hit it and was almost gone again before I reined him back. This time I made him stay right with me as I crawled and stumbled through the cedars. Iggy followed the trail right to a clump of agarita bushes, and then started worrying something on the ground. I caught up and saw that it was a thick pool of gore. The ground was tracked up where the deer had gone down and dragged himself into the thicket. Iggy had blood-trailed his first deer.
Could I have tracked the deer without him? Yeah, although it would have been much slower… especially at first, as the blood sign was spread out and hard to see in the cedars. Of course, had I been tracking without the dog, I’d probably have found the deer where it laid down the first time, and been able to finish it there and then with the pistol.
It was definitely a learning experience for me, as well as for Iggy. The next time, I won’t set him on a real hot trail. If a shot is questionable, I’ll wait a couple of hours, and then go in with him on a leash so he doesn’t push the wounded animal. I also think that sort of tracking would have been better with a shotgun loaded with buckshot, instead of the .44. Of course, I went in thinking that the deer was probably already dead and if anything, I’d have to put a shot in its head at powderburn range. Obviously, it pays to plan for the worst case rather than being over-confident.
In which standards are lowered and lessons are learned…
December 12, 2012
I had a professor way back in my college days who really gave me a lot to think about in the years afterward. One day, when I was late to class, I promised I’d make it up. “You don’t get that time back,” he told me. “You can never make up lost time.”
It’s a simple concept because it made simple sense. Once time is gone, it’s gone. You don’t go backwards. Obviously the lesson stuck.
So hunting season here in Texas has been going strong since late September. I made it out and arrowed a doe earlier on, but really haven’t spent much time in the stand since then. Sure, I’ve made a run or two at getting in some time, but really haven’t done nearly as much hunting as I thought I would… given that I’m hunting a few minutes outside my back door. I’ve had so much work to do on the place, as well as work and travel for my day job, that hunting just hasn’t taken the forefront.
Last week, I was back up in Spokane for work. As the week wound down, I decided that I’d put some focus on hunting in the coming couple of weeks, leading up to Christmas. Maybe I couldn’t really make up time, but damned if I wasn’t going to put some time in to do some whitetail hunting this season. Hell, it’s one of the reasons I bought this place! All the other projects are just going to have to take a back seat for a few weeks.
Now, to be honest, I could shoot a deer every day right from my back door. I hung the feeder on the hill about 160 yards from the kitchen window, and almost every morning and evening I can watch the deer as they feed. A few times, I’ve even gone so far as to drag the rifle out the back door and lean up against the truck to settle the crosshairs on an unsuspecting doe. Some mornings, I’ve put a chair in the bed of the truck, and sat there at sunrise and sunset with the binos and rifle. The opportunities have been abundant to say the least. I’m not saying it’ll happen every time, but so far, I’ve resisted the itch in my trigger finger and let the deer feed in peace. Later in January, as the season runs down, I’ll probably put some meat in the freezer. With the exception of restaurant meals, I have no intention of buying red meat this year. But for now, I just don’t want to take the “gimme”.
That’s the same reason I’ve primarily stuck with the bow, even though rifle season has been underway for over a month. With the rifle, I’m pretty sure I’d have already used up my book of tags even without shooting over the feeder. There are a lot of deer here. I’ve strapped on the pistol a time or two, to hunt the cedar thickets where I can’t even draw a bow, but for the most part, I’m hunting the same tree stand with my bow.
So this week, I’ve been pretty solid in my resolve to hunt every single day. I haven’t missed a morning or evening hunt since Sunday, and have every intention of being out there first thing tomorrow too. And every day, I drag the rifle out and leave it by the kitchen door in favor of the bow. This evening, for example, I wanted to drag the .243 up on the stand. I took it out of the safe, cleaned it up, and even shouldered it a few times. But when it came time to head out, I reached for the Mathews instead.
Just before dark, I heard a ruckus in the woods above my stand. Below me, something was slowly creeping along the edge of the cedars toward the horse pasture. My heart was pounding and my head was swiveling like a weathervane in the eye of a hurricane. A big doe stepped out of the cedars into the pasture, about 35 yards from my stand. At the same time, four deer stepped into the spot I’ve dubbed “the Murder Hole”, just below my stand at a laser-ranged 32 yards.
With all those eyes, I moved at the speed of an oak tree growing, and finally managed to get the bow up. A big, mature doe in the Murder Hole stood broadside, looking away. I decided to take her, instead of the longer shot in the pasture. My heart thudded so hard it actually moved the sights of the bow with each beat. I took a deep breath, but not deep enough, and settled the 20 yard pin high on the doe’s shoulder, with the 3o yard pin just barely on her chest.
In retrospect, given the downward angle, I should have just gone with the 20 yard pin and put it on the doe’s chest. As it was, on my release the woods exploded with motion. The doe I was aiming at dropped almost to her knees before bolting headlong down the trail. I watched the red and white fletching slip just across her back and thump into the duff under the oak trees.
It was a simple error, and one I’ve made before… and will probably make again. At a steep, downward angle, the shot is always shorter than the rangefinder suggests. Of course, I could get a rangefinder with the angle compensation mode (like the Nikon Archer’s Choice), but I don’t have that now. Besides, I know the range and where I should hold. This deer was within a few yards of where I shot the doe earlier this year, and I used the 20 yard pin to kill her very cleanly. But with all the deer around me, I was simply too excited.
We’ll see what tomorrow brings…
November 6, 2012
A couple of weeks back, I was talking to Carl, who runs the Nueces Country Smokehouse, a local butcher shop, grill, grocery, and game processing facility that I frequent (he makes awesome bacon, and his wife’s home-baked bread is the only bread we eat around here). He just opened up back in February or so, and this will be his first deer season in business. This is also my first deer season here. As such, we were talking about what we might expect when the rifle season opened up on November 3.
He’d had a slow, but steady stream of deer coming in from bowhunters since late September, and anticipated a big upsurge when the rifle hunters showed up. I don’t know exactly why, but I told him that if he was interested, I’d be happy to come in and help with dressing and skinning so his regular guys could focus on cutting and processing meat. The next thing I know, I’m scheduled to come in on opening morning and start skinning.
My little place is smack dab in the middle of a canyon that is dotted with hunting camps. In fact, I’m bordered on three sides (north, south, and east) by hunting cabins with shooting houses and feeders. I can sit on my porch and glass across the canyon to see no less than five distinct deer blinds and three or four feeders. I’m used to hunting heavily used public lands, but even so, the proximity of all these blinds gave me pause. I imagined an epic fusillade at first light of opening day. Yet, when I went out to feed the horses just after sunrise, I didn’t hear a single shot.
Carl opens the shop at 09:00, so I figured I’d get there at 08:00 or so and get a closer look at the facility. Since he also processes domestic meat, I knew there would be some procedures and rules I’d have to learn in order to meet USDA regulations. An hour should be plenty of time to go over these things before the doors opened for business.
Best laid plans…
I pulled into the driveway and noticed a pickup backing up to the receiving bay. Carl laughed as I walked in. “Hope you brought your knives,” he quipped. “Time to get started!”
The first deer of the day was a little four-point buck, taken by a young man I guessed to be around 10 years old. He was pretty excited as we went through the process of filling out paperwork and checking in the deer. His dad was just as stoked, I think. I was pretty happy for both of them, and the joy was fairly contagious… until I took a close look at the animal and saw the two bullet holes, dead-centered in the buck’s paunch.
The shop charges extra for field dressing (skinning is free with processing). The idea is that the additional fee discourages the hunters from bringing their deer in whole. No matter how careful you are, gutting an animal is messy and in a meat processing shop, cleanliness is paramount. On top of that, since the shop includes the grill and grocery areas, you don’t really want the smell of blood and guts to permeate the air. It’s not very appetizing.
But if the customer will pay, we’ll gut the deer. And these guys had no desire to gut this little guy themselves, considering the shot placement. So I hoisted him up, flipped open my Buck, and started cutting. As usual with this kind of damage, the moment I slit the abdominal muscle, the stinking gore came pouring out, splashing over my t-shirt, jeans, and boots. It was a heck of a way to start my new side job.
When I’d finished and washed down the processing room, Carl came back to check on me. He took a quick look at my blood spattered clothes and pointed to a rack against the wall. A rubberized apron was hanging there. “You could use that if you want,” he said, stifling a grin.
After that beginning, I was ready for anything. What I didn’t expect, however, was nothing. I decided to run home and get a clean shirt. When I returned, one of Carl’s employees told me that I had another deer. “You’ll be glad to know, they ran back to the ranch to gut it,” he told me.
After dealing with that first buck, simply skinning this second one was pretty easy. I stripped the skin off, cut off the head for a euro-mount (a nice little 10-point), and put the carcass in the cooler. After touching up my knife, I was ready for more.
There were no more.
I’d brought a book (Lonesome Dove… good stuff!) to read between animals, although I didn’t think I’d get much chance to do any reading. I kicked back in the picnic area and knocked out a couple of long chapters until, around lunch time, Carl told me I could go home if I wanted, and he’d call if more deer came in. I think we both expected a line of trucks right after dark, but no call came. I did some clearing around my tree stand, had a beer, and waited for the phone to ring.
Sunday morning, I decided to go sit in my stand. I wasn’t really anxious to kill another deer, but sometimes it’s just nice to be out there when the sun comes up. I grabbed the Mathews and headed up the hill. As I started to climb into the big oak, I heard a deer blow and run a few yards away.
At sunrise, the hills around me started to light up with gunfire. This was more like what I’d expected on the opener. I doubt there was a lull of more than five minutes between shots for the first hour of shooting light. When it was light enough, I glassed the distant ridges, and could see deer moving everywhere… some running in panic while others fed quietly in open pastures. With all the shooting, I was pretty sure I could expect a busy morning at the shop, so I didn’t plan to stay in the tree very long.
I got down out of the tree around 08:00 (the time change…remember?), had a quick breakfast, and was just sitting down in front of the TV when the phone rang. It was Carl. Time for work.
This time I was prepared. I packed a spare knife, my sharpening stone, my book (for breaks), and a spare t-shirt. I got to the shop to find a truck already backed up to the door with a nice little buck. We ran through the paperwork, and then left the hunter to go through his processing order (steaks, sausage, etc.) with the meat cutter while I skinned his deer.
As I was finishing up, someone came back and told me there was another one coming in. We put the first deer in the cooler, and I got ready for #2. However, it turns out that these guys had already skinned and quartered their animal, so all I had to do was paperwork and put it in the cooler. Another deer came in already cut up, and we slid that one through as well. Since my arrangement with Carl was that I’d get paid for each deer that I skinned, this wasn’t shaping up to be a very profitable day.
Finally, another little buck came in. As I was cutting off the skull cap for the customer, a third deer was brought in (a really nice, six point buck). Suddenly I had two deer hanging, and only one hook left. I was sort of excited, hoping that I’d be a little swamped and really earn my keep around the shop. I worked through the two animals, though, and nothing else arrived. I had a brisket sandwich, hung out a bit longer hoping for more business, and then rolled on home.
I spent the last hours of sunset sitting out behind the house in a lounge chair with the Savage across my knees and the binoculars around my neck. A doe and spike were under my feeder for about an hour, but I really wasn’t all that crazy to shoot anything so I just enjoyed watching them. I think the rifle was just along for atmosphere.
October 30, 2012
Something Jean wrote in a recent comment comparing this Texas-style hunting to “deer gardening” rang true… and even more true as I’ve been reviewing game camera photos. It’s almost like I’m deciding which deer I want to pick for dinner….
Of course, the truth is that nothing is a guarantee. These are wild animals, and while they certainly do establish schedules, bringing the deer and the hunter together simultaneously is no mean feat. Notice that all of these buck sightings are in the dark… they don’t grow antlers around here by being stupid. Honestly, with meat in the freezer, I’m not in a hurry to kill again. But I will, and when I do, it probably won’t have anything to do with antler size or age.
Nevertheless, I can’t help wondering… who’s next?
October 9, 2012
Browsing around on Facebook this morning, I saw a link to this post on the Outdoor Life Big Buck Zone blog. Apparently this 13 year-old kid, hunting during a special youth hunt in Kansas, shot a 22 point buck.
It’s a trophy of a lifetime, at least for free-range deer hunters, and something the boy will probably remember for the rest of his life. I expect his dad is as proud as the boy… if not moreso. The celebrity will follow him around for at least a few months, with occasional resurgences as he makes appearances with a replica mount at various sportsman’s shows.
But this thing also gives me pause, and makes me wonder a little about youth hunts.
I understand the idea, and generally agree with it. Let’s let the kids get out there early, before the grown-ups start shooting and game gets scarce. Let them have a good chance for a taste of success under the controlled environment of a youth-only season. Not only are they not competing with adult hunters, but there are less people in the field so that safety topics can be addressed and reinforced. It’s a great way to get a positive start in the sport. It all makes sense.
At the same time, I also feel like too much success isn’t a good thing. It builds a false expectation, and maybe it even emphasizes the wrong aspects of the hunt. We’re not just going out there to kill animals. There’s a lot to be learned from coming home empty-handed. While I realize the youth hunts aren’t all guaranteed success, in many cases the odds are stacked in the favor of the youngsters.
Along those same lines, youth hunts in special hunting zones with high trophy potential seem to be doubly troublesome. I don’t necessarily have a problem with these neophytes killing great animals, especially under normal conditions. For example, as best I can tell, the Kansas buck in the OL story was killed under free-range conditions. Sure, it was scouted pre-season and followed with game cameras until the season began, but that’s how it would have been for any adult hunter in that family as well. Just turns out that the kid got first shot at it, and made good.
But in other cases, it’s not always so clear-cut. California, for example, has several youth hunts that allow the kids to capitalize on post-migration herds of big mule deer in zones that most adult hunters would never be able to draw in the regular lottery. A kid can kill the biggest buck of his entire life during the first hunt of his life, effectively setting the bar at a level he’ll never be able to reach again. I’m just not sure that’s a good thing for the long run.
First of all, there’s the apparent emphasis on antlers over the hunt itself. Several of my friends guide these hunts, and the stories I hear about overbearing dads (always the father, never the mom) with trophy envy are downright disgusting. Then the kids, who should be having one of the prime hunting experiences of their lives, end up driven to distraction with parental pressure to find that 30″ monster instead of just having fun on a great hunt and taking a good shot on a good buck.
One story in particular has always bugged me, and sort of epitomizes my whole attitude. There was a kid on the hunt in a zone where the big bucks from Yosemite migrate in winter. There are some true giants there, but it’s all about timing. The regular season for this zone falls at the cusp, and if there’s no serious snow in the high country, the hunt can be a total bust. But the youth season falls well after the snow has fallen, and the valley is full of big bucks.
This one father-son pair signed up with an acquaintance of mine to hit the field on this hunt. The kid was stoked, and having the time of his life. Things were looking good, and they were soon into the deer. They glassed several decent bucks, but the kid was fine with holding out a bit, looking for something a little better. Soon, they started to find better, including some really respectable 26″ to 28″ 4x4s. It was a couple of days into the hunt. It was cold, and it appeared that the kid’s attention was starting to wane. He was ready to shoot, but his father refused to allow it. At one point, they had a nice 4×4 broadside at less than 100 yards and the kid was set. The guide told him it was a nice deer, but the father vehemently refused to let him shoot. It wasn’t “big enough.”
This happened several more times, and the guide could see the kid was visibly upset. But each time the kid lined up the crosshairs, the father decided they had to wait for a bigger trophy. Finally, as the week was winding down, they came up on a really good 4×5 buck. It was easily over 28″ wide, and according to my source, one of the nicest bucks he’d seen for conformation and size… even in this zone. The catch was, it was close to 250 yards out in a canyon, with no good opportunity to close the gap. The kid wasn’t sure he could handle the shot, but his dad was over his shoulder… not so much in a supportive way as chiding. By the time the deer stopped with its head down, the perfect opportunity, the boy was so shaken he sent three shots off into the landscape. Crying and shaken, he took the rifle back to the truck and insisting that he just wanted to go home.
I’m sure that’s an exceptional story, and I know for a fact that many father-son (or daughter, or mother) stories end on much happier notes than this one. But it illustrates something that has always bugged me about the whole youth hunt idea. How many times does it become an opportunity for the father (or mentor) to capitalize on the hunt for his own goals, and forget the real purpose of the experience? How often is the kid simply relegated to the role of shooter, even when it comes to picking out the target itself? In that case, what are they really learning?
Of course, I’m just postulating here.
As I said, I do think there’s a lot of good that can come from these youth hunts. But I think it’s important to remember why they exist in the first place. For those parents or mentors who plan to take a child on a special hunt, you really need to keep in mind that this experience is really for the kid… not for you. While it’s great to shape their thinking about the hunt, and instill your values… even your trophy values… into their minds, let’s not forget that the intent is to help them develop a love of the hunt and to gain experience that will serve them later. When it all comes down to it, the only person who will really be able to define the success of such a hunt is the youngster… whether he kills a 22 point whitetail, a button buck, a doe, or nothing at all.
October 1, 2012
The dawn never really broke through the heavy clouds and spatters of rain. The impending sunrise had no color but grey. I looked at the pins on my bow sight, but even fifteen minutes before sunrise, there was barely enough ambient light to make them glow. An erratic wind pushed through the trees to the south one minute, then pushed back to the northeast the next, and then dropped to near stillness.
When it was finally light enough to see, I spotted a rabbit nibbling in the clearing I’d made through the cedar trees. Small birds flitted low through the branches around the edges. As I watched, a squirrel scampered down the trunk of a live oak, and began to dig around in the duff. In the near distance, I could hear my neighbor’s goats bleating as feeding time approached.
It’s sort of magical to watch the morning come from the concealment of a treestand. You’re right in the middle of everything, but as long as you sit still you’re invisible to the creatures of daybreak. The magic is made even more special by the fact that this is the opening morning of deer season, and despite the inability to sleep the night before, and the extra-early alarm, I’m wide awake and drinking it all in. This is what I’ve been waiting for… been working for… the first day of the first deer hunt of my new life in Texas.
The wind comes up again, this time bringing a driving rain squall. I lean my bow against the tree, and adjust my rain jacket. The tree sways in the wind. The bow slips. I reach to grab it, not quickly enough, and it clatters against the cedar poles. From the shadows of a thicket, less than 20 yards away, I hear the huff of a whitetail deer blowing in alarm. The deer bounds away through the thicket, never showing itself, blowing at every leap, until it stops far away up the ridge. I silently curse my stupidity and clumsiness.
The mishap is the harbinger of my opening weekend. Back on stand for the evening hunt, the wind is blowing hard on the backtrail of a cold front. It’s coming from the wrong direction, sending my scent right back across the clearing and into the woods. I can only hope that the deer are accustomed to my scent after all the hours I’ve spent working in these woods. My hope is in vain. With the high winds making them skittish, they don’t need much excuse to blow out. An hour after I climb into the stand, I hear the all too familiar snort and huff as a deer winds me and breaks away from the trail.
Shortly afterward, I’m contemplating climbing down and calling the hunt. I hear a sound. It’s sort of a cluck, like a chicken or… turkeys! I swivel my head slowly, until I catch the jerky motion of a turkey stretching its neck to grab a grasshopper. As I watch, the irridescent sheen of feathers glimmers through the cedar branches. In seconds, there are five turkeys moving into the open. Three are youngsters from this year’s hatch… still really small for shooting. But the two hens look good. Either would make a welcome addition to my menu. I ease the bow up. An arrow is already nocked. I’m twisted at a tough angle, and it takes all my upper body to work the bow into full draw and align the pin on the body of the lead hen. The birds don’t notice.
The pin settles on the butt of the hen’s wing. At this angle, the arrow should run right through the small area of vitals and into the ground. My finger brushes the release, tenses, and the arrow is away. The arrow makes a promising “thump”, but the hen merely takes a couple of steps to the side and looks around. I shot over her! At this close range, and shooting at a fairly steep angle, I should have held lower. I ease another arrow from the quiver, but by the time I get it nocked and drawn, they’ve had enough. The whole group lines back into the thicket of cedar and oaks.
I ease back, and collect my breath. My heartbeat changes from the pre-shot pounding to the aggravated thump of frustration.
The evening moves along. I’m tempted to shoot a rabbit or squirrel… partly for the pot, but also partly just to see if I can actually hit them. I only have two arrows left though, and don’t want to waste them on small game. There’s still a chance.
I’m shocked when I hear the turkeys again. They’ve circled around, and are entering the clearing just below me. I mentally prepare myself for the shot, and draw as the big, lead hen steps into the open. I won’t make the same mistake twice. Except I do. Even as I watch the arrow pass just across the top of her back, I realize I was aiming dead on instead of holding low.
The next hour is spent in second-guessing. I should have waited before the first shot. I should have known to hold low. I should have practiced more from a ladder, or from the roof of the house. I’m down to one arrow, should I go retrieve the other two? I shouldn’t be shooting at turkeys right now anyway. I should be sitting still for deer.
At that last thought, I hear the snap of a branch and the familiar huff from directly downwind. My heart sinks as I listen to noise of the fleeing deer diminish in the distance.
At night, the clouds clear and the near-full moon lights up the canyon. I know the deer are moving and feeding all night long. When I wake in the morning darkness, I can hear the wind is still wailing through the trees. I should stay in bed, but I decide to go for it anyway. I’ve got to travel next week, and won’t be able to hunt again for at least eight days.
I should have stayed in bed.
While I could see deer and turkeys moving in the distance, on other properties, nothing came close to my stand. As the sun faded, I was briefly tempted to try to stalk over to my feeder, and see if I could catch something there. But, at least for now, I don’t want to shoot the deer under my feeder. Let that remain a sort of refuge. We’ll see how that attitude holds up as the season progresses, though. I’ve got until January, after all.
September 27, 2012
A little while back, my friend Dan Goad wrote to tell me he’d be trying out a new, lead-free shotgun slug. The DDupleks slugs are made of solid steel, and come out of Latvia. I had actually spoken with one of the representatives from the company at SHOT, but wasn’t able to arrange to get any of the ammo for testing. I had some pertinent questions regarding the expansion of a steel sabot (there’s basically none), and its effectiveness in putting down thinner-skinned game, like deer. The representative reassured me that European hunters have been using these slugs for years with great success on wild boar, moose, and reindeer. But I believe what I see, and before I decide to either promote or dismiss a product, I need to see it at work… or at least get first hand reports from a reliable source.
Dan is pretty reliable, and he tested the DDupleks ammo the old-fashioned way… he purchased his own ammo and went hunting. Here’s his report:
Well, I’ve just finished my deer season at Vandenburg Air Force Base and I successfully filled both deer tags and one pig tag using the DDuplek Mono32’s.
As you recall, these were the Latvian solid steel slugs I found to be so accurate in my Remington 11-87. In fact, my two partners, Chuck and Jim raved about how accurate these were in their shotguns. Chuck managed several keyhole groups at 100 yds.
I promised you a review on they performed on game and so here it is.
As with most slugs, it has a parabolic arc like a mortar. The difference between 50 and 100 yds is 8-12 inches. We believe we overshot quite a few deer at close range. The first few deer we shot at, we weren’t sure if they were hard hit or not. They jumped or moved like they might be hit but took off rapidly enough that we felt it might have been a grazing shot. Very little blood (if any) on the ground. Could have been a function of that parabolic arc.
The pig I shot was at close range, about 25 yds and the slug went in just below the spine and it rolled it over. The hog promptly got back to its feet and took off. I followed it into the heavy brush and eventually cornered it at about 5 feet where it made its stand. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve confronted a wounded hog at that distance. It’s cleansing for the soul! Then I remembered I had a gun and put another into the shoulder, and then another into the skull.
Post mortem indicates pass thru on the spine shot, and the slugs remained inside on both the shoulder and skull shot. Amazingly little meat damage and absolutely no deformation of the slug.
The first buck I shot in the chest, slightly off center, at around 40 yards. That animal ran about 60 yards and I lost sight of him in the brush. Fortunately I was able to locate him without the benefit of a blood trail, because there wasn’t one. The bullet had transited the body and exited just before the hind quarter. All the blood remained in the body cavity.
The second buck was a very similar scenario. Chest shot at about 50 yards. The slug entered the right shoulder and transited the body, lodging in the left hindquarter. The deer ran about the same distance, 60 yards, but I was able to see him fall. When I walked up to him, there wasn’t a blood trail or any blood coming from the entrance wound. Once again, there was very little meat damage.
Now Chuck was pretty upset on the performance and went back to the Federal Barnes Tipped TSX (now discontinued) and shot a doe that went down like it was pole axed. Jim swore he wouldn’t use the Dupleks again after he lost the blood trail on a buck he shot and he eventually went home empty handed.
In short, the accuracy is great, it does kill deer but don’t expect DRT performance or a blood trail. Expect to watch the animal run and eventually die from internal blood loss. If you can live with that, it’s good ammo. If not, you’ve got ammo that’ll punch through trees, bushes, engine blocks and the next wave of zombies.
I’ll leave it at that. Thanks, Dan, for an excellent and detailed report. If any of you other readers has experience with other lead-free ammo, especially new offerings on the market, sing out! Would love to hear how it worked for you.
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!