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Be Still My Heart…

November 4, 2016

Deer heart tacos… so I can eat you.

Iggy isn’t the only one to get treats when I kill a deer.  It’s been pretty good eats around here the last couple of evenings.  As usual, there are two parts of the deer that I like to celebrate with right after a kill, the heart and the tenderloins.

I cooked up a tenderloin Wednesday night, pan fried with butter and garlic.  With a reasonably decent Malbec, I have to admit I was feeling a little decadent.

I was going to hold off on the heart until this weekend, but as last night rolled around and I was craving Mexican food, I decided to whip up some heart tacos.  There they are in the photo, and they were much, much better than they look.  I’m no food photographer.

I can hear you saying, skeptically, “heart?”

Absolutely, and if you have never tried it, you’re missing out.  It’s not like liver (which I can’t stand) or other wobbly bits.  It has a texture more like a firm steak, and the flavor is concentrated, meaty goodness.  It’s also easy to deal with in the kitchen.  The only thing you should do differently than other cuts is wash the blood out of the big vessels.

Now, I’m no Hank Shaw, and I don’t really use recipes when I cook, but I generally do OK.  Not that it’s particularly difficult to do a good job with venison heart.  The trick, as with any game meat, is not to overcook it.  Personally, I like it cooked somewhere between rare and medium rare.  I also, personally, like to let the flavor of the meat take the main stage… so no bacon wrapping, or marinating in strong flavors like Italian salad dressing (yes, that’s a thing).

For the tacos, I trimmed the tough parts off of the heart first, and then cut it into cubes about 1/2″ or 3/4″.  What are these “tough parts”, you ask?  It’s hard to describe, specifically, but if you have ever handled a heart, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Nothing about processing wild game meat is rocket science.  Seriously, you can do most of it by feel.

Anyway…

I put the cubes in a bowl, and tossed them with a little olive oil.  Then I mixed up my own version of “taco spices”, including some salt, a liberal dash of black pepper, some cumin, some onion powder, and some garlic.  That may or may not have been everything.  A family friend brought me a bag of little hot peppers (not sure what kind, but they look like Thai chilis, and they’re hot as hell), so I finely diced three or four and tossed them in with the spice mix.  I like really spicy stuff, so if you’re jotting this down for future use, consider your own heat tolerance.

I squeezed a lime over the meat before tossing the whole mix into the iron skillet with a very light coating of bacon grease to saute for a few minutes.  I use my judgement on when things are done, which isn’t very scientific, but I’m reasonably good at it.  You can test doneness by pressing on the meat to see how much it gives.  It should be just firm.  Mushy means it’s less done, and hard means it’s over done.  Personally, I’d rather err on the side of underdone than risk overcooking.

For the topping, I just diced a tomato, an alligator pear (avocado), and a few more of those little peppers.  I added a half spoonful of chopped garlic and some cumin, then squeezed a lime over this as well.  I would have loved some diced onion in the mix, but I’m out of onions right now, so I lived without.

I love to fry my corn tortillas lightly in the skillet, but last night it was getting late, so I buttered them and stuck them under the broiler for a couple of minutes.  They weren’t perfect, but they still had that toasty corn deliciousness.

So that’s how I do it, and I was really happy with the results.  If this is too non-specific for you, and you’d prefer to use a recipe, I highly recommend taking a look at Hank Shaw’s latest book, Buck, Buck, Moose.  Hank’s recipes are generally easy to follow, and well-researched as well.

By the way, I like to eat the hearts of every type of game I hunt, from deer to wild hogs, to game birds.  They’re all wonderful on the table.

Iggy The Tracking Dog Has Deer Feet

November 2, 2016

It started in his first season, as we settled into our new lives in Texas.  I’d just killed a whitetail, and really without a thought, I tossed the feet on the ground as I cut them off.  Still a puppy, Iggy nevertheless recognized the boon, and quickly made off with one.  He chewed it, tossed it in the air, and pranced around proudly with the hunk of bone and fur for days afterward.

That single experience set an expectation, so that any time I killed a deer (or hog, or turkey, etc.), Iggy got the feet.  It didn’t take long for him to realize that he couldn’t play with all four at once, so he started carrying them off to “hide”.  The field and pastures around Hillside Manor were soon littered with deer feet in various stages of decomposition.  We’d be out walking, or working the horses, and he’d bolt into a little patch of agarita or persimmon and emerge with one of his treasures.

When it comes to a bounty of wildlife feet, Texas must have seemed a paradise to the growing dog.  I hunted year-round, so after whitetails, it was axis, auodad, and feral hogs.  When hunting got slow, my work processing game at the smokehouse kept a steady supply.

Since coming back to NC, of course, that’s slowed a bit.  And this season, in particularly, has been off to a slow start.  Since settling into the new place, hunting has largely taken a back seat to all the other things that I’ve had to deal with.  And when I have gone hunting, opportunities have been limited.  The weather has been ridiculously warm, and deer activity on the farm was seriously disrupted by the construction work.

But that’s all starting to come around now.  Deer activity at the feeder and food plot has picked up and become pretty consistent.  I’m also seeing a lot of activity around my other stands, especially as the rut is starting to come on in our area.  That’s the motivation I needed, and after one last go with the crossbow (still un-blooded), I pulled out the Savage.

I passed a couple of shots recently, more out of silly sentiment than any good reason.  I think I’m getting a little soft-hearted.  I watched a doe for fifteen minutes or more the other night without taking any of a number of easy shots.  I raised and lowered the rifle indecisively, time and again, until finally Iggy barked at something back at the house and she scooted into the woods.  Another evening, I watched a doe walk out into the pasture and I never even picked up the gun.

The season seemed to be slipping away.  Kat hadn’t even had a shot opportunity yet.  I’d passed a few, and spent many fruitless hours on stand without seeing anything at all (only to check the cameras and find I’d missed the deer by minutes).  The freezer is hardly empty, due to past seasons’ successes, but I can almost see the bottom now.  Even worse, I’m pretty much out of steaks and good grilling meat.

Iggy loves his deer feet!

Iggy loves his deer feet!

So, last night, when the lone doe took a few mincing steps out into the open end of the pasture, I didn’t hesitate.  It was the shot I’d been waiting for, since she had no youngsters with her.  There was still plenty of shooting light, and I held off until she gave me the perfect angle.

And now, Iggy has deer feet.

 

News And Reviews – CA Lead Law, MO Hog Regs, Rapala Skinning Knives, Browning Headlamps

June 29, 2016

I suppose a lot of folks think it’s a little early for hunting news and gear reviews, but the truth is that we’re just a couple of days out of July, and while most of the country is still sweating it out in the summer doldrums, and most sportsmen are focused on finned quarry; deer season is just around the corner in California.  A zone deer hunters will start bowhunting the second week of July.  South Carolina and a couple of other states will open up in August.

So, first the news…

Lead Ban ChroncilesCA hunters are reminded that the second phase of the lead ammo ban will come into effect on July 1.

This phase adds upland birds to the list of species that must be taken with lead-free ammunition.  Also, lead free shotgun ammo is now required for taking resident small game mammals, furbearing mammals, nongame mammals, nongame birds, and any wildlife for depredation purposes.  (For some reason, if it’s any help, you are still permitted to use lead shot for Eurasian collared doves.)  Remember that the lead ammo ban has no effect on ammo used for target shooting.  It is only for hunting.  The final phase of the lead ban will kick in on July 1, 2019.  You can learn more about the lead ban on CA DFW’s website.

Feral hogsIn Missouri, the State has determined that, when it comes to feral hogs, sport hunting and eradication efforts are not compatible.  As a result, the state is shutting down sport hunting for feral hogs on any lands owned or managed by the Missouri Dept of Conservation.  This does not affect hog hunters on private land.  Since I’m not a resident of MO, nor do I hunt there, I can’t speak to the impact on the Show Me State’s hunters, but there is an unsurprising uproar from that population.  Personally (not that my opinion is crucial here), it’s probably the right call.  As I mentioned in a Facebook post earlier, feral hogs are either a destructive pest that needs to be eradicated, or they’re a game animal.  It really doesn’t work to try to have it both ways.

Rapala Drop-Point SkinnerNow, on to some gear reviews…

Fishermen have known about Rapala fishing knives for eighty years (since 1936).  I’m pretty sure my first fillet knife sported that recognizable, light, wood handle and leather sheath.  It made sense as a “first” fishing knife, since it was not only inexpensive, but it was extremely durable.  I don’t remember where or how I finally lost that thing, but it survived years of harsh use in the saltwater environment.

I’ve graduated to a “professional” knife at this point, with the white, “comfort-grip” handle and stainless blade, but it’s still a Rapala… and it’s still affordable.

I was intrigued to get an email a couple of weeks back, informing me that Rapala is now adding the Classic Birch line of hunting knives to their long list of quality products.  Even better, they offered to send me one to check out.

Rapala drop point in handThe new line includes several classic designs:

  • 3.75″ Drop point (MSRP $34.99)
  • 4.5″ Clip point (MSRP $34.99)
  • 3.75 Gut hook (MSRP $39.99)
  • 4.5″ Skinner (MSRP $34.99)
  • 3.5″ Caping knife (MSRP $34.99)
  • 3.5″ Bird knife (MSRP $29.99)

While I’d love to get my hands on all of these, I could only pick one, so I asked for the drop point.  That’s the design I personally prefer for all-around work, and the 3.75″ blade is a handy size for anything from squirrels to hogs.

I’d love to tell you I put it to work right away, but the truth is that there’s nothing around here for me to skin right now.  Still, I did play with it around the kitchen for a bit.  The edge on the sample they sent me is wicked-sharp, which is no surprise for the Rapala knives (made in the same J Marttini factory in Finland that produces their classic fishing knives).  The wooden handle is rough, and almost feels unfinished.  However, after messing with it for a few minutes, I realized it gives me a really sure grip, even under water (in the sink).  I can’t wait to get this thing bloody, but that probably won’t happen until September or so.  You can bet I’ll report back on how it performs in the field as soon as I get the chance.

Browning Blackout 6VI’ve also been holding onto a new headlamp, the Browning Blackout 6v.  This particular light is part of Browning’s Black Label Tactical line, and it’s definitely built to take a beating. Instead of the plastic body that most of the consumer headlamps offer, the Blackout comes in a waterproof (to a meter) aluminum body.

If you’ve followed the Hog Blog for very long, you know I’ve got a soft spot for quality headlamps, and I’m always looking for the best thing I can get my hands on.  I’ve tried out a bunch of lights over the years, and while most of them were pretty good, I had yet to test one that I thought was suitable for blood trailing.  That’s sort of my grail, when it comes to this sort of thing, and I’d sort of decided that my bar might be set a little high.  I have seen a couple that would probably work, but those exist on a higher plane than I do as a simple blogger, so getting a test unit has been an exercise in frustration.  Even if I could test them, I think that the $250 – $300 price tag would dampen the enthusiasm of most hunters.

The Browning, though, at an MSRP of around $99, advertises a 730 lumen output and the pure, white light definitely looks bright enough to show blood on the ground.  Again, since nothing is currently in season, I haven’t been able to really put this to the test, but walking around the yard at night, this thing cuts right through the dark to show incredible detail.  The Blackout is a spot beam, and not adjustable, but that suits me fine.  It also offers two lower settings to conserve batteries, as well as a green mode to preserve night vision… which can be really nice when going into the stand in the wee early darkness.  I also think it’s going to be great in the canoe or kayak when duck season rolls around.

Are there downsides?  Sure, a couple…

The light is a little bulkier than I’d prefer for a headlamp.  It extends about 2.5″, and weighs almost six ounces.  That’s not really a lot, until you’ve worn it for a couple of hours.  Maybe I’m sensitive, but it starts to make my head hurt.  It does fit nicely over my Stetson, though, and is a lot more comfortable worn that way.

The lithium, CR123A batteries are a little pricier than AA or AAA, but this light does need the extra power to achieve that bright beam.  According to the literature, I should see about 3 hours of use at full power, though, and that’s pretty good.  A comparably bright, high-end ($275) headlamp runs down in about half that time.  On the lowest setting, it’s supposed to give me 48 hours of continuous use.

Like many of the high-powered LED lamps, the Browning gets really hot after a short time.  I mean really hot!  I didn’t really notice the heat while I was wearing it around the house for about an hour, until I reached up to turn it off.  I learned real quick to be cautious, and make sure I avoided touching the lens or the front cap.  It will get your attention.

Overall, though, I think this light is a winner.  At $99 it’s not cheap, but compared to the cheaper headlamps I’ve tested, I think the Browning will last as long as you can keep up with it.  That’s the catch with all of these small pieces of equipment, though… they’re easy to lose.  Other than that, as far as I can tell, the only thing you can do to hurt it is to leave the batteries in too long and let them start to leak.

As always, I’ll follow up on both of these items as they get more time in the field.  I can say that I like both of these products enough to plan on using them this coming season.

Pay Dirt… After A Fashion

October 18, 2015

Apologies if you would like photos.  I didn’t take any.  Just imagine a couple of whitetail does, dead, and my smiling mug.

I’m sitting here, typing this as I pick a little, grilled venison heart out of my teeth.  The heart was beating wildly at 08:20 yesterday morning, as a little beagle dog yelped on her trail… maybe a quarter mile behind.  She bounded across the soybean field, and then bailed out of the field, directly under my stand.

I wasn’t going to shoot her at first, but the realization set in that, if I didn’t, the dog would continue to run her all over the property.  Besides, it was opening day of rifle season and I had not killed a deer yet this year.  So I turned around in my seat, settled the crosshairs in the blurry clump of fur that was her head (at 15 feet, more or less), and dropped her.  She was a decent sized nanny, not a huge old thing, but fat and mature.

By 13:00, she was cut up, vacuum packed, and mostly in my seriously overflowing freezer.  The big, chest freezer is at Kat’s townhouse in Raleigh (and the meat is all happily ensconced there now).  We ran some errands and took a nap before heading back out for the evening.

I put Kat in my treestand, overlooking the soybeans for this hunt, and took the new 20ga SxS with some buckshot back into the thickets in hopes that the big buck might be sneaking around.  About a half hour before dark, a single shot startled me.  The .243 had spoken once, and that usually means one thing.

I headed back out and checked in with Kat, who, to her credit, was still in the stand.  She’d taken the shot at about 110 yards, and she was pretty confident that it was good.  But the doe had turned and run back into the woods, and Kat wasn’t sure that she could see any obvious injury.

I asked her to direct me to the spot where the deer had been standing, and I found a set of tracks that spun and dug into the sandy soil.  However, I could not find any blood at all, even in the thick brush where she’d gone back into the woods.  I thought it over, though, and decided to go get Iggy the Wonder Dog and come back to the spot.  Kat’s a damned good shot, and that little Browning .243 is a wicked accurate rifle.  I would have bet money that the deer hadn’t gone far, but without some obvious blood, I figured the added benefit Iggy’s blood-trailing skills would be useful.

And it was.

The doe hadn’t run far, but the first drops of blood didn’t appear for 15 or 20 yards.  Iggy, though, didn’t need to see blood.  I’m not sure how he knows, but he hit that trail like an old pro.  Once we found blood, it was easy to follow.  The doe had run straight back into the woods, and dove into some ridiculously thick brush.  The total trail was less than 50 yards, but honestly, without the dog I probably would have spent the whole night out there.

So the new place has paid out twice this season.  I’m giving them a short break before heading back out to hunt for that big 8-point now.  The other does are safe for a little while, although I have promised my neighbor some venison.  I figure we’ll want to put at least one or two more away, but I’ve got until New Year’s to do it.

And so it goes…

Deer Season (Firearms) Eve

October 15, 2015

Well, actually, that’s tomorrow (Friday), but since tomorrow promises to be pretty busy, I figured I’d better write this now.

I had, honestly, expected to be writing about my success with the bow, or at least with the new Barnett RAZR at this point, but it just hasn’t panned out.  It’s my own fault for passing up some “sure things” in favor of waiting on that big buck, but in my defense, I’ve still got a freezer full of meat and the season runs until New Year’s Day, so there’s no real urgency on my part.  I’m just enjoying sitting the stand and watching the critters.

Saturday morning will bring the firearm opener in this area, and I’m a bit anxious as to what that’s really going to mean around here.  As I’ve alluded a time or two, running deer with dogs is still a big tradition down in this area.  I don’t have a general issue with the practice, and truth-be-told, it’s how I started out as a deer hunter.  I made some pretty great memories listening to the hounds run

Still, the tradition has lost some of its discipline over the years and there’s an apparent (is perception reality?) uptick in the number of houndsmen who tend to disregard courtesy and respect for their neighbors.  Trespassing is far too frequent, and it’s often conducted under the guise of, “well, I’m just collecting my dogs.”

What really happens, at least in some cases, is that less scrupulous houndsmen will drop their dogs at the edge of a private parcel, in hopes that the dogs will run through (they can’t read the signs) and push the deer to standers on legal property.  Some of the more brazen of these guys will go onto the private land, and if uncontested, will shoot the deer there.  If they’re caught, they claim to be chasing dogs.

They used to have the law on their side, technically.  Under the antiquated livestock laws, you couldn’t stop someone from coming on your property to claim their animals.  Although they couldn’t legally hunt in the process, it was always a grey area and a lot of deer were killed on private land this way.  The law has changed now, though, and it favors the landowner.  Still, it’s an unwelcome conflict with a lot of the onus on the landowner.  It’s also potentially dangerous, as any conflict with armed individuals can go bad.  There have been several shootings over the years.

Not that I’m trying to make this out to be more than it is, but I am waiting for Saturday with a little trepidation.  Outweighing that, however, is the excitement that maybe I’ll get my shot on that big 8-point!  Sure, I’d prefer to take him with archery tackle, but it will be pretty awesome to put the crosshairs on him too.

And who knows?  Maybe I’ll watch him for a minute, and let the gun back down.  There’s still plenty of time to get him into bow range.

Yeah… that’s unlikely.

 

The Meat Hunter’s Dilemma

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.

It works.

Eventually.

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?

CA Hunters Gearing Up

July 7, 2015

Early Blacktail seasonUnless things have changed since I moved away, the 4th of July fireworks are still popping and whistling around CA.  Summer is getting into full swing for most folks, and (depending on where you are) the temps are bouncing around the upper 80s and low 90s, burning off the morning haze to create those bright, sunny days that represent California to most people.

In other words, it hardly seems like hunting season.

But it is.  Saturday morning brings the first hours of the 2015 deer season for the hearty, A-zone bowhunters.  While most US deer hunters are only dreaming of the first morning back in the field, folks all through the central part of CA are tuning up and gearing up for the opener.

I’m only vaguely jealous, although if I were still living there, there’s no question that I’d be honing my accuracy and double-checking my pack in preparation to hit the field.  Some people think we’re nuts to hunt that early season, when it’s not unusual to broil under 100+ degree temps, but most of those people have never experienced a hunt in that country.  It’s beautiful out there, and while the heat can be a challenge (but the mornings and evenings can be downright chilly), there’s something special about taking to the field in mid-summer.

So, to all of my CA friends heading out this weekend, good luck!  Hunt hard, have fun, and be safe!

One More For The Road

December 12, 2014

Son of Funkhorn?

Son of Funkhorn?

I put one last deer in the freezer today.

I’ve been watching this buck all season, and last year as well.  I was calling him “Funkhorn,” but after reviewing some of the original photos of that odd-antlered buck from 2011 and 2012, I’m fairly certain this isn’t him unless he’s devolved significantly… and I don’t think this buck is that old.

And that sort of makes me happy, because I have very mixed feelings about killing the real Funkhorn… one of the first bucks I ever caught on camera during my very first year here at Hillside Manor.   To be honest, I’m a little sad about killing this guy.  I think that comes with watching them grow over the seasons.  But I’ve had the crosshairs and the bowsight on this one all year.  He squeaked by a time or two  earlier in the season, and on Wednesday night, I’m pretty sure I had him in the scope but I didn’t shoot (uncertainty or sentiment?).

Click to enlarge and compare...

Click to enlarge and compare…

This morning though, it was pretty much all on the line.  It’s the last opportunity of the season.  The rut’s coming on strong and sudden.  And I plan to take a pile of meat to Kat, which means I’d have a low spot in the freezer (not that low, since I’ll still be looking for hogs and axis when I get back from NC, but still… ).

Truthfully, I wasn’t even really “hunting”.  With early meetings scheduled this morning, I only had about 45 minutes to sit and watch.  I figured it would just be a nice way to spend the sunrise.

He’s not as big as the eight point I’ve been watching, but I think he’s a Boss.  I watched him chase that eight point out of the woods and clean across the pasture the other evening.  When he came back, he was definitely strutting a victorious strut.  This morning, he had five does all to himself.  And while I realize that I’ll have limited success managing the bucks around here, I think his odd conformation makes him a good choice for removal.  I’ve already seen a young four-point wandering around that has similar structure in his beams.

So yeah, there’s sort of an empty feeling when I look up at the feeder now.  I’m not sure who’s going to take his place as the rut kicks into full swing, but between the big eight, the tall six, and that new eight pointer that just showed up, I don’t think any of the does are going to be missing out.  And with at least two spikes and a couple of young fork-horns, the next crop is already growing into their place in the hierarchy.

My brother has promised some shooting opportunity when I get to NC around Christmas, but with this one packed away, I’ll probably be a little more motivated to chase ducks than deer.  Not too much duck hunting here in this part of the Texas Hill Country, so that should be a welcome relief.

By the way, just an FYI for anyone who actually cares to follow this closely… I’ll probably be posting sporadically for the next several weeks as I’m on the road and in NC.  There’s some stuff I want to write about, and I hope to get to it, but there are a lot of things going on that may supersede blogging time. 

Also, next week, look for my annual (more or less) Christmas Gift Guide as I take a look at a handful of nifty ideas for the hunter who’s managed to stay off the Naughty List this year.

 

 

End Of Season Indecision

December 10, 2014

Last night, I wrapped up my last bowhunt of the season.

I spent the last two hours of daylight in my blind, sitting patiently as the sun set.  There’s always a sense of melancholy at the last sit in a particular stand, so my mind drifted with it as the evening wore on.  A couple of does happened down the only downwind trail, slipping up behind the blind.  They bounced off, about 40 or 50 yards, blowing and stomping, and pretty much making sure no other deer would happen along the general area.  Every 20 minutes or so, it was like they’d remember I was there and start blowing again.  I couldn’t see them, and probably couldn’t have shot them if I did.

They kept it up until it was too dark to see my pins.

I didn’t care.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I could have shot deer from my shooting bench on Sunday night.  I could have shot deer from my porch on Monday evening.  But I wanted to make one last hurrah with the bow… and so last night, I did exactly that.  It was good.

This morning, as I was making my second cup of coffee, I looked out the back window and saw three deer under the feeder.  I picked up the Leicas and slipped out the back door for a closer look.  There were two spikes (one was pretty big for a spike) and a little four-pointer.  I looked at the rifle in the corner and left it there.  I watched for a few moments, then went and got my coffee and returned to work.

Tonight, I wrapped up my work day and started into the bedroom to get my camo.  The motivation wasn’t really there.  Instead, I sat out on the patio with the binoculars and the Savage.  At about 5:30, two big does fed out.  One, in particular, would have been a good deer to kill… swaybacked and a little grey in the face.  I kept telling myself I was holding out for one last chance at Funkhorn, or at the big eight.  I’ve got one more evening to hunt, I figured, so I could afford to be picky.

I watched the does for about a half hour.  Eventually, the larger of the two drove the smaller one off of the corn, and she sulked away, stiff-legged into the pasture.  As it started to get darker, the old doe started looking into the woods.  I put the glasses on her, and suddenly wished I were in the stand, 80 yards away, instead of sitting here at 170 yards.  I wanted to see what she was looking at, but I couldn’t see from here.  It could be a coon, or the other doe could be coming back.  Or, it could be a buck.

We’re past due for some rut activity.  It looked like, with the cold snap around Thanksgiving, that things were starting up.  A couple of the bucks I skinned at the Smokehouse were pretty musky.  But then it warmed back up and stayed warm.  But they’ve got to start sooner or later.  As I watched the doe on full alert, I hoped that’s what was happening.  I didn’t need full-blown rut… just enough to make one of those good bucks a little stupid.

As I scanned the hillside, my pocket buzzed.  I’d promised to Skype with my daughter, and it was my reminder.  I answered the phone, and as I did, I caught a flash of movement from the edge of the trees.  Like two racehorses, a pair of bucks chased one another down the hill, across my line of sight, and out toward the pasture.  The glimpse was fleeting, but it was enough to see visible antlers on both deer, even in the dimming light from 170 yards away.  I tried to raise the glasses, but the one downside of these Leicas is that their weight and balance make one-handed use a challenge.  I gave up, as the deer had already disappeared, and finished my call.

I hung up the phone, and shooting light was nearly gone.  From the edge of the pasture, I caught a movement.  With the binos, I was able to make out a deer’s body.  He stepped into a clearing, briefly, and I saw that it was Funkhorn!  I reached for the rifle, but he stepped up, into the trees, and was gone.  As the last glimmers of usable light dropped their glow on the caliche rocks, I saw a deer walk out under the feeder.  I glassed him hard, and for a moment, I was pretty sure I saw antlers.  Had Funkhorn come back to feed a bit, his rival vanquished?

I put the rifle on him, but even with the Leupold cranked to 9 power, I couldn’t be sure it was him.  In the fading light, it was difficult to tell.  I slipped the safety, and my finger danced around the edges of the trigger guard.  The deer turned to offer a perfect quartering away opportunity…

But I couldn’t.  Or I wouldn’t.  I don’t know.  But I didn’t.

I’m supposed to be at a party tomorrow evening, and if conscience is any sort of guide, I shouldn’t go hunting.  But one more deer would give me plenty of meat to take to Kat this weekend.  I could probably have it killed and skinned with time to spare for the party.  But there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip, and things do come up.  I could end up tracking a wounded deer into the night.  I could not see anything until right at dark, which would push me right up to party time.  I wonder how they’d feel if I showed up at the Camp Wood Bookworm Society (our book club) Christmas party with blood from elbow to fingertip?

And if I did hunt tomorrow, would I shoot?

I guess I won’t know until tomorrow gets here.  There are probably worse quandaries to have.

Of Hexes, Jinxes, And Other Serious Maladies

December 8, 2014

The Jinx is Broke(n)In days past, I’ve mentioned a couple of jinxes that I’ve struggled to overcome.

I’ve got a BAR in .308, passed down from my grandfather several years ago.  I can take this rifle to the range and shoot lights out.  People will tell you that a semi-auto isn’t accurate, but this one easily shoots MOA or damned close to it, and it doesn’t seem to care what kind of ammo I load in it.  But in the 16 years I’ve owned this rifle, I have missed every single animal I’ve aimed it at.  And lest anyone begin to think differently, I am a reasonably good rifle shot.  I’m convinced it’s jinxed. (As I write this, I realize that maybe I need to park the Savage for the rest of the season and focus on breaking that jinx here at the Hillside Manor.)

I was hexed when it came to bowhunting too, although I finally broke that one in 2009, after several years of effort.  I felt like I was also jinxed on CA deer, after five years of close calls and missed opportunities, but I eventually broke that one too.

But this weekend, I think I saw the concept of jinx elevated to a whole, new level, when my friend, John, popped in for a weekend visit.

I’ve been living here for the better part of three years now, and in that time, I see deer on my property pretty much daily.  I usually see them several times a day.  In addition to the fact that I live in a heavily populated (by deer, not people) area, and my property is a core, transit area, I also run a feeder year-round.  I can (and have, a couple of times) walk out on the back porch in the evening after the feeder has gone off, and shoot a deer.  While I prefer to set my stands back in the woods, along travel corridors, I have a couple of spots set up specifically to shoot at the feeder… mostly for those times when I just want to put some meat in the freezer.

Point is, I have always considered killing a whitetail deer at my place a “gimme”.  I can add a little challenge by bowhunting and staying away from the feeder, but the bottom line is, if I want to kill one I can… any time (as long as the season is open, of course).

So, back to John’s visit.

The last time I hunted my place was November 18, when I arrowed that last doe.   The neighboring camps have been empty since Thanksgiving weekend, and most of them have been empty all year.  Since then, there has been no hunting pressure on the deer around me.  I’ve checked my cameras, and I’ll often sit out back with the binos and watch the deer at the feeder, or in the pasture.  During the day, while I’m working, I’ll watch deer from my office window… some of them even hopping the fence and munching acorns right in my yard.  I jump deer when I go out to check the pasture fences after a big wind.

The place is lousy with deer.

So when John and I started talking about his trip, I had the highest level of confidence that we’d be skinning the first night, and we could probably even get him a second deer before the weekend was out.  Seriously, the Wednesday before he arrived, he sent me an email saying something along the lines of, “well now we just need to get something in front of the gun.”  I literally read his email, looked out my office window, and snapped a photo of a deer in the yard.  I then sent the picture in my response, saying, “you mean something like this?”

Confidence.

John rolled in a little later than we’d hoped on Friday evening.  Just before he reached my place, he had to stop to let a doe cross the road in front of him. I heard the feeder going off, literally at the same time as I was opening the gate for him to drive in.  We got his stuff unpacked, and he decided that, since it was so late, not to get in a hurry to get out to the blind.  We’d just catch up.  I thought we should do our catching up on the back patio, with the binoculars and the rifle close at hand.  Sure enough, as we walked out the back door, a big doe was strolling up to the feeder.  Unfortunately, we were making a bit of a racket (Iggy is always very excited to entertain our guests), and she skittered into the woods.  Oh well, there’s plenty more where she came from.

Morning came really, really early on Saturday.  It was painfully early, in fact, but I rolled out at 06:00 and woke John.  I’d been watching pretty closely, and most of the morning activity was taking place at the very civilized period between 08:00 and 09:30.  After a cup of coffee, I walked him out to the pop-up blind, pointed out the likely approaches, and went back to the house.  Originally, I’d planned to set up in the blind with him and shoot video, but I was afraid that we’d probably be too noisy, especially since the deer had been using a trail that crossed just a few yards away from the blind.  I cleaned up the kitchen and, as 08:00 rolled around, I waited to hear the sound of his 7mm-08 crack through the canyon.

At about 09:00, I went out and sat on the front porch with the binos.  I figured I’d kind of watch from the sidelines.  Way down at the end of the pasture, well out of sight of John in the blind, I saw a deer-shape move across the open.  The white glow from its legs and lower body told me it was an axis!  As I watched, five axis deer meandered along the pasture, coming closer and closer all the way.  I hoped they’d head up to the feeder, and it looked like that might be their plan as they started to angle up the hill.  Then one intrepid doe got out in front of the little herd.  At about 10 or 20 yards behind the blind, she locked up the brakes, whirled around, and sprinted back to the others.

The herd mingled around a bit, and I think they were going to get a drink from what’s left of my pond, but the proximity to the blind was too much for them.  I slipped back into the house, grabbed the Savage, and set up against the porch rail.  I don’t get many opportunities at axis deer on my place, and it didn’t look like these were going to go where John would have an opportunity.  A truck came down the road, and the lead doe jumped my fence and crossed to the neighbor’s place.  The rest would follow soon.  I leveled the crosshairs on the biggest doe, and touched my fingertip to the trigger.

But I didn’t shoot.  I didn’t want to take a chance at spooking any whitetails that might be coming out of the woods where John was looking.  Sure enough, the rest of the deer crossed my fence and headed into the DMZ.

At about 10:30, I went to fetch John in for breakfast.  He’d seen nothing… axis, whitetail… nothing.

That was a little disappointing, but I really wasn’t too concerned.  After breakfast, he went back out to sit the blind for a couple more hours.  Seeing nothing, he came back in.  I decided we’d hike up the ridge and see what’s up there.  I wanted to check my cameras anyway.  Usually, when I top the ridge I bounce a couple of deer from their beds.  I figured, even if we didn’t get a shot, at least there’d be some excitement and John would be seeing deer.

At least it was a lovely hike.

I sent John back to the blind at around 16:30.  At this point, even knowing it would be his last evening sit, I wasn’t feeling much pressure.  The deer would be there.  The deer are ALWAYS there.  I figured he’d probably not see much until right before sunset, but it would be best if he were in place early.  Turns out, he would have done just as well to sit in the house and shoot the breeze with me.  No deer.

At this point, I was getting pretty worried.  It was almost inconceivable that he’d spent the better part of the entire day in the blind, including prime time in morning and evening, and had not seen a single deer.  Not only that, but I sat out on the patio with the binos to watch, and I didn’t see anything either.  The deer had simply disappeared.

Sunday morning, we were both a little better rested, so we were in pretty good spirits when I sent him out to the blind.  The full moon lit the path, so it’s not like he needed my guidance or any kind of artificial light to find his way.  I piddled around with some work I had to do, and as the morning wore on, I waited for the gunshot that never came.  At about 10:15, I heard the clomp of boots on the back porch and I knew he was done.  His flight would be leaving San Antonio around 18:00, and that’s a two hour drive from my place, so there’d be no chance at an evening hunt.

We ate a big brunch, and as we were sitting at the table, I caught movement on my neighbor’s drive.  A big, grey doe was sauntering across.  Of course there was nothing we could do but watch.

John hit the road around noon, and I spent the next few hours messing around the house.  Finally, as evening came a little closer, curiosity got the better of me.  I camo-ed up, grabbed the Leicas and the Savage, and strolled on out to my shooting bench (about 15 yards from the blind where John had been sitting).  There’s a clear, 60 yard shot to the feeder, as well as a clear area under the trees where I know they like to stage up.  I settled in, pulled my hood up over my head, sort of laid my upper body across the shooting table, and tried to blend in.  Truthfully, I wasn’t particularly well hidden, but there’s a lot to be said for being still.  And really, I just wanted to see if any deer would show up.

About 15 minutes after the feeder went off, I caught movement to my right.  A mature doe stepped into the clearing, about 20 yards away.  She glanced at me once, flicked her tail, and continued along the path.   A youngster, probably this year’s fawn, followed close behind.   A minute or so behind them, a slightly grizzled matriarch brought up the rear.  She was a little more curious about the odd lump that had appeared on the shooting table, but after a few tense moments, she trotted off and caught up with the other two.

I do intend to kill one more deer this season, so I can bring a cooler full of meat to Kat, in NC.  Either of the big does would have been good choices, and at that range, the shots would have been pretty sure.  But I’ve got a few days left to hunt, and I wanted to see if I could get an opportunity at one of the bucks I’ve been watching all year.  So I kept still and let them go up and start feeding.

About another quarter hour passed, and I noticed the little trio staring intently into the high grass to my left.  I slowly turned my head to see a yearling spike sneaking up the hill.  The does apparently didn’t want anything to do with him, so they moved off into the woods and mingled around there while he gnoshed on corn under the feeder.  After a bit, something spooked him (it may have been Iggy, 100 yards away, pacing the gate), and he flagged and ran up into the woods.  The trio of does took off also, but a few minutes later, they slowly worked their way back down.   After browsing a bit under the oak trees, they meandered back in the direction they’d come in from.

As shooting time ran down, I caught movement coming out of the woods above the feeder.  A big, mature doe strolled down to feed with barely a glance around her.  I eased the rifle up and settled the crosshairs, but chose to hold off.  I watched until it was too dim for safe shooting, and stood to go.  As I started walking, a deer I hadn’t seen blew and snorted at me from the pasture.

Walking back to the house, I couldn’t help thinking that I should thank John for taking his hex with him when he left.

Just a really quick update this morning.  As the sun came up this morning, I looked out my office window to see three deer browsing in the yard.  Two more were outside the fence, working around the perimeter.  At about 07:30, when I went to get a second cup of coffee, I looked out the back to see three more deer working busily under the feeder.  I walked out on the porch to get a better look with the binos, and even in my white shirt, with Iggy bouncing around at my feet, they barely even stopped to look at me.  It’s like a whole different place.  John, my friend, you have a special kind of magic and the only cure is some immersion therapy.  We need to get you back after it as soon as possible, as often as possible, until we break this hex.

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