April 9, 2013
I was shooting the breeze with my friends, Carl, who owns the smokehouse, and Keith, who owns the local hardware store. As such conversations go, we spanned the gamut of topics from local news to weather, to the recent (brief) upturn in local business. And, of course, it came to hunting and bringing some meat in to be processed. Carl and co. make some awesome sausage!
So Keith mentioned that he started to shoot an axis the other morning, but it was drizzling rain and a little cool, so he held off. “I’ll get one later,” he said with a nonchalant confidence. “When the weather is nicer.”
It got me thinking.
For the past week or so, a pair of hens, a jake, and a tom turkey have been making the rounds in my barn pasture. I called a little on Saturday, and the tom fired right up, but since we were out there riding the horses, I put the call away and left him alone. They show up at almost the same time every morning, and work the same general route into the pasture, up past the barn, and then back down… feasting on the glut of grasshoppers, and picking through the leftover hay where I’d been feeding the horses. They’re almost like clockwork. I even slipped out the back door with the Benjamin Marauder the other morning, but decided not to try the 30 yard shot because… well, I don’t know why. I just didn’t feel the urge to kill the bird.
I figured it’ll be more fun later, maybe, to try to call him in and then kill him. Or maybe I’ll just let him be this year. I’ve got birds in the freezer already. And Kat doesn’t seem overly inclined to go after him. Let them breed and maybe next season there’ll be a bigger group. Or maybe later this season, I’ll get more motivated to go for him. Or Kat will decide she wants to try him. It’s hard to say.
If I look back at this past deer season, I had some similar thoughts. Sure, I killed a few deer, but I also let an awful lot of them walk. On a bunch of days, I didn’t even hunt… which is sort of a strange thing for me when I think about it. I kept the feeder running, and the cameras showed me a lot of deer. There were even a couple of decent bucks coming and going. But I just didn’t feel the need to get out there at every opportunity.
There’ll be more opportunities.
That was the “revelation”.
Folks who live out here start (fairly quickly) to take the wild bounty sort of for granted. Why freeze your ass off in a frosty stand, or sit miserable through a rainy morning, when you can go out almost any day and fill a tag? I always sort of wondered at how complacent folks are around here when they see a big herd of axis deer, or a flock of 40 or 50 turkeys loafing in a pasture. These are things that once got my blood boiling and my trigger finger twitching. But now the realization that they’re always right out there for the picking has sort of tempered that flame.
It’s not that I don’t still get excited about the hunt, because I do. And when I’m on the stand, even within sight of my own back door, I’m 100% in the game. But I’ve noticed the excitement is usually highest when it’s about hunting something I can’t get right here behind the house. When I spotted that hog on the game camera, I was stoked… at least until I realized he’d only been there once in almost two months. When Kat told me a group of axis had trotted down the road in front of the house, I got a little fired up. I’d like to put another axis in the freezer. Or when my brother and I were talking about doing another elk hunt, I could feel the pulse in my chest.
It’s not earth shattering or life changing or anything like that. It’s just an interesting realization.
April 1, 2013
Sometimes, if opportunity doesn’t come to you, you have to go to the opportunity. And other times, opportunity simply arises out of an apparently disparate series of events. It’s all about how you choose to manage it.
It’s no secret that I’ve sort of been bemoaning the absence of hogs on my property. With the exception of that one teaser this winter (I wasn’t even in the state when he showed up), there hasn’t been so much as a track. But seeing one reinforces my belief that there are hogs around… especially since I keep hearing some locals complaining about hogs rooting up their yards and pastures. So I’ve kept my eyes open.
Across the canyon, the far hillside is part of a 7000 acre, high-fence ranch. With the exception of whitetail season, the place doesn’t get hunted all that often. The ranch was once stocked fairly heavily with various exotics, but since the economy dropped out, the clients stopped showing up and the owners have decided to let the herds decline naturally. I’ve spent a lot of hours sitting on my front porch with binoculars, picking the place apart for wildlife. I keep hoping to spot some cool stuff, like maybe red stag, aoudad, or unusual African species. Until recently, all I’ve seen is turkeys and whitetail, mixed with a few goats and cattle.
About two weeks ago, I saw black dots running in and out of the brush line, near the top of the ridge. At first I thought it was just the goats, but something about the way they were moving looked familiar. I keep a pair of binoculars in the window by my chair, so I fetched them and started scanning the edges of the brush. Sure enough, the black dots were hogs.
I watched them with a sort of mixed elation. It was cool to see pigs, but they were on the wrong side of a high fence. All I could do was watch, and daydream about hunting them. I saw them in the same place the next evening, and again the following morning. Before long, the novelty sort of wore off, but I kept an eye out in the evenings and usually spotted one or two.
Last week I noticed the horses were running a little low on hay, so I called my regular guy to see if he had any to sell. With this drought, hay is in fairly short supply (and not cheap, either), and sure enough, he didn’t have any bales to spare. He gave me another number and suggested I call this guy. I asked about where he was located, and he laughed. Turns out, he grows hay on the other side of that ridge I’d been watching, and manages the property that’s behind the high fence.
I called the number, and sure enough he had plenty of hay. We worked out a deal, so I hooked up the trailer and headed over to his place. While one of his ranch hands was loading the hay, we started talking about hunting. He told me he doesn’t hunt much anymore, and his only clients are the guys who have the whitetail lease. He said that with the exception of a small group of axis, the exotics were all gone from the place. The only reason he even maintained the fence was to keep the cattle in. Then he mentioned that the hogs had found a way in, and they were making themselves right at home. I couldn’t help myself, so I asked if he had anyone hunting them. He seemed a little surprised that anyone was even interested in hunting a bunch of damned pigs. “If you want to shoot these things, I sure don’t care. Just don’t shoot my cattle or my axis deer.”
I drove home on a cloud! I’d just scored a hog hunting spot that would practically be all mine for eight months out of the year (deer season is about four months long). After I got home and fed the horses, I parked my butt on the porch with the Leicas and started glassing. Sure enough, just before dark the black spots started popping in and out of the brush line. I hit the rangefinder, just for kicks, and ranged the closest group at about 885 yards. The brushline itself was about 1100 yards.
I had too much work over the next couple of days to think about making a break for it, but I relaxed with the knowledge that no one else would be pushing the pigs around. They’d be there when I was ready.
On Thursday, I had Levi, my well guy come over to talk about my new water conditioner. Levi is sort of a “gun nut”, and we usually end up chatting about guns and hunting. I grabbed us a couple of Shiner Bocks, and we kicked back on the porch. As we were chatting, the hogs came out and I pointed them out. Levi thought it would be cool just to be able to shoot them from the porch if I had something that would reach out that far. At that range, hitting the hogs would be one thing. Killing them cleanly and then recovering them would be something else altogether. 800 to 1100 yards would much too long a poke, even for my .325wsm, so I just sort of nodded. “What you’d need for something like that would be a .50BMG,” I told him.
“What about a .416 Barrett?” he replied. ”That would probably do it.”
“Yeah, a Barrett would probably do the trick,” I agreed. “But I don’t have five or six grand to drop on a special-purpose rifle like that.”
You have to be careful what you say around Levi. He’s a deal-making machine, and I think he must know everyone in the county! So I was only partially surprised when he lit up and turned to me. “I know somebody who’s got one for sale. I don’t even think he’s fired it yet.”
“I can’t justfiy spending money on something like that,” I answered. “What the hell am I going do with a .416 Barrett?”
“This guy really needs to get rid of it,” he replied. “And I know he also needs some tin roofing.”
Levi knows I’ve got a huge stack of tin roofing out behind my barn. I guess it was from some previous buildings on the property before I moved in, and it was scattered all over the place when I first bought it. When I finally got it all stacked up, I figured there were probably 150, 8-foot sections out there. At $12 each, I figured it was worthwhile to hold onto them for upcoming projects. But so far, I haven’t touched them. Every time we have a wind storm in the canyon, I have to go back out and gather the pieces back up again.
“I bet he’d make a deal with you for that tin,” Levi said. “You want me to ask him?”
I don’t know why I agreed, but I didn’t think it over too hard either. This guy wasn’t going to trade me a Barrett rifle for a bunch of used roofing tin. I didn’t take into account the rural economy. On Saturday morning, Levi called me. “He said for the tin and a thousand dollars, you can have the gun.”
Thus came the quandary… what the hell would I do with this kind of gun? But how could I turn down this deal? A thousand dollars and some scrap metal for a practically new Barrett .416 is not the kind of deal you see every day. Hell, I could sell if for at least twice that on Gun Broker. “Tell him it’s a deal,” I answered. “When does he want to do this?”
Levi told me he wanted to do it as soon as possible, so by the end of the day on Saturday, I was the proud owner of a Barrett .416 and that stack of tin was gone from my property.
Of course there are a couple of catches. First of all, the rifle is not scoped. I figure a good Nightforce scope is the right match for the rifle and that’s’ going to set me back a couple of grand. And I’ll have to handload if I want to shoot for less than $6 a shot. Fortunately, Oasis Outback, the local shop over in Uvalde has a Nightforce on consignment, and they’ve also got the components for reloading. I made a call, and everything is ready for me to pick up this afternoon.
I never thought I’d own something like this, but it’s opened up some brand new horizons for me.
Like those hogs across the canyon.
The way I see it, instead of driving 25 miles around the end of the canyon to access my new hog hunting spot, I can hunt from right here on the porch. From this range, I bet I can shoot two or three before they even realize what’s going on. Then I can drive around and pick them up later.
I will be shooting over the top of my neighbor’s house and barn (you can see them in the photo above), but I don’t think that’s too big of an issue. Kat doesn’t think it’s a great idea, but I figure they probably won’t even notice, as long as I don’t start spraying the whole hillside. And with the cost of this ammo I don’t see that being much of a likelihood. I’ll have to pick my shots carefully.
It’s a heck of a way to kick off my second April in Texas.
February 19, 2013
So this weekend, I realized I haven’t checked the game cams since 2012 ended. Shocking, right? But seriously, the primary visitors have been the same groups of does and yearlings, along with this twisted-horn buck that I’ve started calling Funkhorn Jr.
But that’s not all. Turns out I’ve been missing a bit…
I’d seen these smoke phase turkeys a time or two, but I didn’t realize that they had become regular visitors to my feeder.
This guy pushed through one dark evening back in January. This is what I’ve been waiting to see!
February 7, 2013
I had such a blast at this event last year, I’m really looking forward to seeing the Sabinal Wild Hog Festival roll around again at the end of March.
I know, Sabinal, TX is way out of the way for most of you folks who read this blog, but if you happened to be planning an exotics and/or a hog hunt this spring, March is a great time to be in the Hill Country and this would be an excellent diversion during a hunting trip. And if you’re really feeling froggy, you can sign up for the hog catching contest.
January 1, 2013
Of course, the biggest event of 2012, in my life anyway, was settling into Hillside Manor, way down here in the southwestern tip of the Texas Hill Country. It’s something like the culmination of a dream. The place isn’t quite everything I’d planned on, but it’s a very realistic start after several trips to look at properties, compare prices, and get a feel for what it would take to live down here in reasonable comfort (not luxury…just comfort).
The hunting this year has had its ups and downs. Due to the monthly travel back and forth from CA to TX, as well as a busy year with my day job, I had to set aside most of my regular outings. Of course, Tejon Ranch closed to hunting from January until August, so that hunt couldn’t happen. I barely had time for turkeys, although when I did get a chance to hunt them at my new place, they disappeared altogether. The Texas drought has worked a number on local hogs, driving them out of the canyons and down to the river beds and farmlands. On the upside, the work I put in here at Hillside manor has paid off, and I’ve managed to put three deer in the freezer so far.
I’ve made a few friends down here, and it’s starting to look like I might have some new hunting opportunities opening up over the coming year. Working at the local smokehouse and game processing shop has helped me meet a few folks, and some other contacts are talking about hogs, turkeys, and axis. Of course, nothing is likely to happen before whitetail season is over, but we’ll see what shakes out then.
An awful lot of 2012 was a blur, because there was so much going on. Working around the ranch is a never-ending process. It seems like the list of stuff I want to do, combined with the stuff that has to be done gets longer instead of shorter. But it’s a labor I love, and all the work to get myself here and get established has been worth it.
I’m here now. There’s work still to do, but the rewards of that work are already showing and 2013 is looking really promising. My New Year’s wish for all of you is that your 2013 is equally bright, and that your dreams and hard work pay off for you too.
Happy New Year, everyone.
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 15, 2012
The long day finally wound down. As the clock rolled past 5:00, I decided I’d had enough work for one day and set the laptop aside. Kat was on a conference call, so I stood and stared out the window. The clouds had set in early, and the evening was calm and grey and relatively cool. I knew what I was going to do.
15 minutes later, I’d fed the horses and was headed up the hill to my stand.
Here’s the thing about my tree stand. When I first started building it, I thought I had it pegged. On one side, it looks down on the pasture fence. The deer have been beating a trail along the fenceline since I first had it put in. On the other side, I had cut a clearing among the junipers (cedar – I’ve really got to start calling it by the local name). What I hadn’t counted on was the hillside that put the clearing right at eye-level with the stand. At 20 yards, any deer entering the opening would be right across from me, and the stand offered little cover.
And sure enough, the first evening I hunted the stand, the first deer that came down the trail blew out immediately. I hung some camo netting along the edges of the stand, but when I hunted the spot again last week, I got busted again. It was simply too close to the main deer trail. I’d need to make some adjustments with the chainsaw and clippers… open up the clearing another 20 yards or so, and maybe cut a shooting lane down into the ravine. Until then, the stand wasn’t likely to produce much more than frustration.
So as I climbed into the stand tonight, I really didn’t have much hope of success. I just needed some “tree time”. The other night when I was up here, I had the chance to watch a couple of young raccoons playing in the open. Later, a little barn owl lit on a branch just a few feet from my head, and we sort of stared at each other for a few minutes before he floated off to another branch. And then a thunderhead formed over the distant ridgeline, and I watched a mind-bending light show as lightning flared and flashed through the pink fluffs of cloud. I couldn’t hope for quite so much every night, but there’s something special about spending the waning hours of daylight perched in an oak tree as life goes on around you.
After about an hour in the stand, I was relaxing into the groove and just sort of letting the day go on. The horses were munching their hay. A flock of doves rocketed overhead like a flight of tiny F-15s. A squirrel leapt from limb to limb in a nearby oak, scrounging scarce acorns. A couple of little brown birds flitted through the understory beneath my perch. The last thing I really expected at this point was to see a deer.
Which is why the thin, brown legs moving through the thick cedars didn’t register in my mind at first. A doe was picking her way up the trail that would bring her out less than 15 yards from my stand… too close, really, for me to get into position and draw the bow. My daydreaming was my downfall, and even as my focus sharpened, the deer froze. I could see her white snout and the glint of setting sun in her eyes as she tried to define that man-shaped blob up in the oak tree. She stomped her foot, and I knew I was done. She had me pegged, and I just waited for the tell-tale “whoof” as she blew out and flew into the thick brush.
But she didn’t. She bobbed her head, trying to catch me moving. She craned her neck. My bow hung, useless, at my side. I couldn’t move to raise it, much less get to full draw. All I could do was await the inevitable. And finally, she turned and walked away with mincing steps. She never blew, or ran, but I had no doubt that encounter was final.
I settled back into the evening. There was a little disappointment, but it really didn’t ruin my night. I hadn’t expected success anyway. I counted the sighting as a bonus.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed the horses all staring at something across the pasture. A doe was standing out in the open, drinking from the horse trough. The trough was over 150 yards from the stand, so there wasn’t much to get excited about. Still, I watched, and after the deer finished her drink she started moving in my direction. Now my heartbeat accelerated… briefly. Still 100 yards away, the doe turned and wandered across the barn pasture toward the feeder.
I settled down again, and was about to take a seat when something caught my attention. The brown legs were back, on the same trail, and stopped in the same spot. Apparently the doe had decided that the funky shape in the tree wasn’t too much of a threat. But she was still very cautious. I stood as still as I could while she scoped me out. Finally, she took one more step, and her head went behind a thick branch. I eased the bow up, coming to full draw as I did. The pin centered in the peep, and I leveled it on the deer. I had a small hole to shoot through, but that hole showed me the perfect look at the crease of the deer’s shoulder.
I struggled. With the exception of this tiny window, the rest of the deer was well covered. If the deer continued on its path, it would step into the open for a perfect broadside… but that opening was a good ten yards from where she stood. Could I hold out that long? Would she go that far before her caution got the better of her?
At 20 yards with this Mathews bow, I’m extremely confident. I don’t even like to shoot targets with it at that range, because I tend to cut my fletchings and break arrows. As I thought it through, I couldn’t see any reason not to take the shot… and no sooner had that thought entered my mind than I touched the release and let the arrow fly.
Even though the deer wasn’t looking right at me, she was tense. As quiet as this bow is, she heard something and spun, just as the arrow arrived. I winced, dreading the worst, but as best I could tell the arrow plunged just behind her shoulder, angling down and back. She sprinted off into the thick junipers, crashing through branches at a dead run for a few seconds, until the noise stopped. I heard another deer blow, and bound off through the woods, circling with the wind until it passed only 30 or 40 yards from my stand.
I sat tight as long as I could stand, trying to at least wait 30 minutes before going to check for blood. The blood would tell me what to do next. I remember checking my phone after the shot to see that it was 6:28. After an interminable period, I checked it again. It was 6:40. I sat for a few more minutes, and couldn’t stand it anymore. I climbed down and crept over to the opening where the doe had been standing.
My first feeling was disappointment. The tracks were easy to find where they spun and threw dirt across the trail. But there wasn’t a speck of blood. Not a droplet. The other thing missing, however, was my arrow. If I’d missed, it should have been sticking in the dirt under the junipers. On the other hand, at 20 yards, a good, clean hit should have passed clean through. The arrow should have been right there.
I had a decision to make. The smart thing, probably, was to pull out. I should go back to the house, have dinner or something, and come back in a couple of hours. But without any blood, I was a little concerned about trying find the trail after dark. This was my first deer on the new place. I’d hate to lose it. So I could follow now, and risk blowing it out for good… or I could wait, and risk missing the trail in the dark and losing the deer.
I played the shot over and over in my mind. Every time I saw it, the arrow hit right where it needed to be. I heard the hollow thump of impact that told me it should have been right in the chest cavity. A shoulder bone would have been a crack, or a paunch shot tends to have a sort of zipper sound. The other audible clue was the crashing charge through the limbs, followed by silence. This wasn’t the sound of a healthy deer bounding off down a trail.
I compromised and decided to follow the tracks until I found blood, and make the decision to continue or not afterward. If the blood looked good, I’d keep going. If it looked like muscle or gut, I’d back off and come back later.
About 25 yards from the first tracks, I found a drop of blood. Not a splash, or a dribble, but a drop… about the size of a pencil eraser. About five yards from that spot, I found another one. Just past that, I saw a funny shaped limb, sticking up amidst the juniper branches. On closer inspection, the “limb” was the lower half of my arrow, and it was covered in thick blood. One sniff of the blood told me this was good stuff… not guts, and not the mild scent of muscle blood. My confidence soared, despite the fact that the blood spoor was still sparse.
About 10 yards from the arrow, the ground was torn up where the deer had obviously stumbled. I crawled to that spot (this is pretty thick stuff) and found another spot of blood. The area was a little more open, and I stood up and looked around the area. There were only two possible trails, and the blood seemed to point pretty clearly to the one to my left. I gathered my breath and looked for more blood. Then it hit me. A few yards away, there was my deer… stone dead. I’d probably looked right at her five times without realizing that the tan clump on the ground was made of fur and flesh.
So there it is. My first deer from the new place. She’s on ice now, and I’ll do the butchering tomorrow. It’s too warm to let her hang, so I’ll cut her up and get the meat in the freezer… except the tenderloins. Those are going on the grill tomorrow night.
October 8, 2012
Another trip to Spokane, with a very short stop-over in the Bay Area, and it’s so good to be back home again. On the drive in from San Antonio last night, there were herds upon herds of deer along the road, as well as lots of other critters. I don’t know if it’s all the rain, or maybe just the cool, fall weather that’s got everything so active, but I was certainly encouraged and looking forward to grabbing the bow and getting back in the stand.
Even better is the fact that my horses are finally here. The shipper brought them in last Sunday, but since I had to fly out on this trip the very next morning, I didn’t get much chance to enjoy them. I’ll be saddling up soon, and burning some saddle leather around the hills and canyons this week.
Overall, it’s shaping up to be a great fall!
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!
September 10, 2012
So, I could have spent some more time dove hunting this weekend. Instead, though, I decided to put in a little more time on infrastructure… namely, getting water out to the pasture.
The pasture fence is about 150 feet from the barn, which is where my water supply lines end. I didn’t want to run a hose and depend on that, especially in the winter. Instead I wanted to run pipe underground out to the fence, then stub up a pipe and an automatic water system. I also needed to run the line to the far side of the barn where I’m going to put an outdoor sink for my game processing and a shower for post-work clean-up on really dirty days. Finally, I have a plan to put gutters on the barn and pipe the runoff down to the pond. I needed to get that pipeline underground as well, since it would run right across the middle of the barn pasture. In short, there was lots of digging to be done.
After doing serious damage to my lower back in early August, while trying to dig this line with shovel and pickaxe, I knew that I’d never get the water lines dug by hand. I could hire a couple of laborers for a few days, but that would add up pretty quickly at the going hourly rate. I opted not to put the backhoe attachment on my tractor (at $8K), and haven’t made friends yet with anyone who owns a backhoe. I considered renting a backhoe, but that’s sort of pricey too.
And then, driving through Uvalde the other evening, I spotted the answer…
Outside in the rental yard sat a pair of mini-excavators. Small enough to trailer on my little flatbed, they looked like they offered enough oomph to do most of the digging. Best of all, rental for a day would be about the same as one day laborer, and I knew that with this equipment, I could accomplish what it would take a man two or three days to do.
Saturday morning, I rode in and picked up my excavator, and then came back and got to work. It took a little getting used to, but once I got the feel for the controls, I made really good time… even digging across the rocky, dense caliche. In a couple of hours, I had the line dug to the trough. A couple of hours more on Sunday, and I had the lines run for the sink and shower.
Unfortunately, there’s a solid outcrop of rock that rims the pond and extends out to about 30 or 40 feet. The excavator is pretty bad ass, but not that tough. They make a rock saw, which is exactly what it sounds like… a giant saw blade that runs on the back of a tractor. The rental rate for this is a good bit higher, and I’d have to rent a heavier trailer as well. The rainwater collection plan will have to wait a while.
I should have the lines plumbed in the next day or two, and there will then be water in my pasture. While it’s primarily for the horses, I’m curious about what other activity it will attract. When my pond has water in it, there are all sorts of tracks in the mud, from deer to foxes, coons, and rabbits.
The story continues. Let’s see what develops.