May 7, 2015
It was a dark and stormy morning.
No, really, it was.
But that didn’t stop us as I drove on back into the heart of the southern Hill Country. My brother was here to help me pack, and I’d arranged a “quick” axis, meat hunt for us. We’d be meeting up with my friend, Blaise, up at Boiling Springs Ranch (you may remember from last spring’s hunt).
The plan was simple. We’d do a Texas-style safari across the 10,000 acre ranch, spot our deer, and make it done.
For a change, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. I had my doe within 15 minutes. It took a little longer to find one for Scott (we saw some nice bucks, though), but by 10:00 we had two animals with two shots and it was time to go skin, butcher, and pack the meat for the long haul to North Carolina.
But now that’s done, and while we’ve been seeing some axis here at the Hillside Manor; I’ve threatened my brother with grave, physical harm if he shoots another one today.
Too much to do! The plan is to roll out of here tomorrow, and we’ll be in NC by Saturday night (or Sunday, depending on travel conditions).
So good-bye, Texas.
At least for now. I’m pretty sure we’ll be back for an occasional hunt.
I’d add some poignant final note here, but I guess I’ve really said it all already. Sure do hate to go, though.
May 4, 2015
It’s hard to believe how much crap you can accumulate in a few years. When you add it to all the crap I’ve accumulated over my lifetime, even after the minor purge when I left California, it’s still a lot of crap. And packing all of this crap… well, it’s a crappy job. (Apologies and all due reverence to George Carlin.)
It’s even crappier when you put it off, procrastinate, get depressed and demotivated, and then, the weekend before you’re supposed to move, you say, “the hell with it,” and go hunting instead of packing and organizing. That just sounds like such a bad idea that it doesn’t surprise me at all that I did it.
Yeah, I know better.
I’ve got boxes stacked all over the house, and only about half of them are loaded. I’ve got logistics to figure out, a barn full of horse tack, hunting and fishing gear, tools, and miscellaneous odds and ends. I’m not even sure how it’s going to fit in the 26′ truck (plus the Dodge). I should have it all lined up in the barn, packed in labeled boxes and organized for storage.
But instead, I pulled together a hunt with my friend, John, and pretty much blew off any pretense of a productive weekend… although one might argue that adding a hog to the freezer is productive. Unless, of course, one is supposed to be in the process of clearing that freezer for travel.
So John rolled in Friday night and after an evening of catching up (or falling behind, thanks to Glenmorangie), the pre-dawn silence was shattered by cries of, “reveille, reveille!” We got a slow start, so I drove fast, powering over the caliche to meet our host/guide, Kirby Cooper, who would be taking us to a little piece of Hill Country paradise in the Edwards County canyons.
The moon was waxing, and game was feeding all night, and despite our highest hopes, the morning hunt did not pan out. We cruised back to town for lunch, and to tend to some business (a back-up contract for the sale of Hillside Manor, in case the initial buyers fail to meet the contingency), and then rolled back up to the top of the plateau at around 18:00. Kirby told us he’d been seeing a lot of hogs in the evening, and the sign I saw earlier suggested that he wasn’t exaggerating. There was a lot of sign. And that’s a good sign.
For my part, the evening started with a hike. The wind was wrong for hunting the blind and feeder, so I climbed the rocky hillside to a point about 150 yards from the feeder. In the elevated position, I could see a lot of country, but I was focused on the dry creek bed below the feeder. In this country, it’s been my experience that these dry creeks often become hog highways. Sure enough, about an hour later, a boar showed up and meandered around in the rocky opening. Unfortunately, from my position the only shot would be offhand and standing, and that’s not a shot I’m comfortable with at that range… particularly when I’m pretty sure that this is not going to be my only chance. Fortunately, hogs don’t pay much attention to the sound of a clumsy hunter tripping over rocks and stabbing limbs in his eyes as he scrambles for a better position.
Unfortunately, boar hogs do pay attention to threats from angry sows.
As I found a new position where I could sit down and use a stump for a rest, the boar stepped up out of the creek. I heard an authoritative grunt from the brush on the other side of the clearing, and the boar spun and trotted off down the creek bed. Kirby had told me that there is a big, spotted sow with some small babies in the area, and I figured she must have threatened ol’ Wilbur with something more severe than a spider bite if he came near her little ones. I couldn’t see her, but I could hear the familiar sounds of clacking jaws as something was cleaning up the corn from the ground. A moment later, I saw a little red piglet hop-running across the clearing, and then back into the brush. Soon, all was quiet except for the roar of the wind and the songs of birds.
There’s a good reason this part of Texas is a world-renowned birding destination. Excuse the aside, particularly since I’m not a birder, but it’s worth pointing out that from late February until June or July, the brush and trees are alive with a staggering variety of songbirds (and other birds too). A morning or evening in the blind at this time of year provides the most amazing concert you could ever want to hear. A little birdwatching becomes obligatory, and you spot any number of finches, flycatchers, warblers, orioles, and my very favorite, the painted bunting. It’s almost enough to distract you.
But I wasn’t too distracted to notice the big, red sow moving slowly along the tree line on the far side of the creek. At well over 300 yards, I wasn’t about to try a shot, and she was moving constantly away (once again, a feeder and bait are not a guarantee). I considered hopping up and going after her, and I’m fairly certain I would have been able to catch up and kill her, but it was still early. Instead of going after her, I decided to wait and see what might come to me.
On the far canyon wall, I spotted a dark creature moving along. I’d left my binoculars at the house, so I strained my eyes to figure it out. At first I thought it was a hog, but after a few moments, I could see that it was a sika deer. I knew there were some around, so I enjoyed the good fortune of seeing one. Then I saw another dark spot, this one much closer, moving through the brush along the edge of the creek bed. In a moment, I could see that it was the boar. I guess he figured the woman and children were gone now, and he could come up and have dinner in peace.
I waited until he was well out into the middle of the rocky creek, and then leveled the crosshairs on his neck. The stump was as good as a shooting bench, and I felt pretty good when I pulled the trigger. When the muzzle blast cleared, I saw the pig on his back with all four feet in the air. I sat tight for another half hour or so, waiting to see what else came in. The boar had rolled onto his side, and then his feet started scrabbling. I was fairly certain it was just reflex. He’d died so quickly, his body wasn’t aware of his demise. But after a moment I decided to go down and make sure he didn’t get back up. Just in case.
I was delighted, on arrival, to see a serious case of reverse ground-shrinkage. When I first spotted this guy, I’d guessed him at about 70-80 pounds. By the time I reached the bottom of the canyon and walked up to him in the rocks, he’d grown to a respectable boar and probably in the neighborhood of 150 or 160 pounds, with decent little teeth sticking out of his face.
Sadly, John’s evening did not pan out as well.
Nor did the next morning.
John mentioned, as he drove off to the airport Sunday afternoon, that he always finds a way to be the butt of the joke when I write up one of our hunts. That made me reflective, and gives me pause now as I reach the end of this little screed. I hate to make him feel bad, again. I mean, the poor guy spent two days in the blind out here back in November, without even seeing a whitetail deer (the Hill Country has the highest deer population in the United States). Then, this weekend he came back, gamely, to hunt Texas hogs and get skunked again. I’m sure he feels bad enough without me rubbing it in.
That would just be mean.
April 1, 2015
What a night!
Yesterday evening, my neighbor, Ron, pulled into my driveway like a scene out of Fast and Furious, tires spitting caliche rock as he slid up to the gate.
Ordinarily, I’d have been annoyed at this behavior, but you have to understand, Ron is an older guy… a retired, accounting type, not some young redneck… so seeing him drive like this was reason to be concerned. I was halfway across the yard by the time he slung his door open and started to get out. Bad thoughts were spinning through my head… had he injured himself? Had something happened to his wife?
“Do you have a big rifle,” he asked as I trotted up to the truck?
It brought me up short. “What?”
Ron knows I do a lot of my rifle hunting with the 30-06, and I know he’s got a .243 and a couple of ARs. “What do you mean, a big rifle,” I asked him?
“There’s a buffalo in my garden! It tore the whole fence down!”
One of the things about living out here in the Texas Hill Country is that you never know what’s going to show up at your feeder, in your pasture, or, in Ron’s case, in your little garden. The hills and canyons are full of exotic species, escaped or released from various high fence operations. As I’ve mentioned before, axis deer seem almost as prolific as whitetails. There are lots of hogs (except at my place). It’s not unusual to see a herd of blackbuck bounding across unfenced pastures. And, every deer season without fail, someone shows up at the Smokehouse with an elk or a red stag that just showed up at their feeder or food plot.
But I don’t think I’d ever heard of anyone shooting a feral buffalo. Not only that, but I don’t even know of an exotics ranch anywhere within 50 miles that has bison.
So I was a little skeptical, but I had to wonder. Ron’s not an avid outdoorsman, but he’s not an utter doofus. It’s pretty hard to mistake any other critter for a buffalo. I asked if he was sure, if he’d actually seen it, and with monk-like patience, he explained that, yes he was sure it was a damned buffalo… a big one. Not only that, but it had charged him when he went for his truck, and chased him halfway down the drive!
I keep the local game warden’s cell phone number on the fridge, so I told Ron to sit tight while I made a call. A buffalo running loose is not the kind of thing that goes without notice, and if some rancher had lost his animal, he’d probably be looking for it. That’s a significant investment. I figured the warden might know if any such thing had been reported.
The warden picked up on the first ring. After telling him what Ron had told me, he let me know that he was already aware of the situation, and on the way to my area. A high fence operator up the canyon from me had brought in a small herd of bison, and they’d run crazy when he let them out of the trailer. They ran right through the eight-foot fence. The rancher and one of his hands had managed to round up the cows and calves on horseback, but the big bull was rank. It killed one of the horses, and broke the ranch hand’s leg. Word was that the rancher didn’t care who killed the damn buffalo… he just wanted it dead.
The warden told me that he was still about an hour and a half away, but if I’d rather, we could wait for him to come put the animal down. Of course I told him that wasn’t a problem, and I’d give him a call as soon as I had it done. With a caution to be careful, he told me he’d be waiting for my call.
As you can probably imagine, my head was spinning. Not only had I just been given the green light to kill a buffalo, but it was apparently a pretty bad one. I hoped it would be as easy as slipping back over to Ron’s place and whacking the beast while it grazed on the garden greenery. I’d worry later about what to do with all the meat. I told Ron to hang tight, and went to the gun safe to fetch the .325wsm.
On a whim, I thought to grab my new GoPro and strap it on. Of course it wouldn’t be much of a hunt, but it would be cool to capture it on video. I’m glad I did, too. I think it came out pretty good.
So here, I’ll let the video tell the rest of the story. I need to go find a bigger freezer.
March 23, 2015
So, I’ve reviewed a lot of hunting gear over the years. I’ve also been asked to write about things I’ve never put my hands on, and my general rule is to leave it be. I’m not going to read a press release or promo and then try to tell you I think it’s a great product. I want to know if it’s good or not, and then give you the pros and cons based on my personal experience.
With this in mind, I’m proud to introduce this next product. I’ve had almost three years (and change) to get a good feel for this offering, and I can say without hesitation that it’s a pretty sweet deal.
If you want to kill whitetail deer, this product will get you as close as you could ever want to get. You still have to shoot, but this product pretty much does everything for you… including putting them right in front of your gun or bow.
If you’re looking for a “country” experience, this product will put you there. Fresh air and birdsong for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Yeah, it’s that good.
So, here it is. In the interest of shameless, self-promotion, I offer the real estate listing for the Hillside Manor. Not only is it a great deal on a wonderful place, it’s the only property in the Texas Hill Country that was occupied by none other than that Hog Blog guy. How can you resist?
February 14, 2015
I know that, a little while back, I mentioned that the Hog Blog would be running a little sporadically over the coming days (weeks, months, hard to say). Nevertheless, when I look at the site and realize that I’ve let the better part of the week pass without so much as a quick note, it sort of bothers me and I want to apologize to the two or three folks who actually keep up with this little exercise in ego and vanity. But there is a lot going on lately, and so much of it has nothing to do with hogs or hunting or anything else folks want to read about.
That said, I do have one semi-relevant update.
It wasn’t done without emotion, and as much as I’d like to say it was cathartic to actually pull the trigger, I’m not sure that’s quite true. Looking around at the other properties for sale in the area, this is likely to be a long, drawn-out endeavor… which means I’m probably going to be here for a while. So every sunset on the porch, watching the colors in the sky over the glowing ridgetops… every scotch out on the patio, watching the deer come down to the feeder… every time I look out the office window at the oak trees in the yard… it will be a reminder that this is all about to end. I put a lot into this place. I invested much more than money and sweat. Giving it up is not easy, and I’m afraid that drawing it out is only going to make it harder.
But it’s done. It’s time to focus on the next thing.
So if you know anyone who is looking for a little piece of paradise… around 24 acres or so, to be precise… with a comfy little home, a big barn, and a couple of pastures already fenced, and arguably the prettiest, brightest night sky I’ve seen… more whitetail deer than a person can eat, and the occasional axis… I’ve got just the thing. And it can be yours for well under $200K.
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why it is that I’m so drawn to this place, and why it’s so painful to leave… besides the natural beauty, of course. There’s something here that I can’t quite put my finger on, but I know part of it is in the people.
The people here are pretty awesome. They’re country folks, which brings a curious mix of hospitality and standoffishness. On the one hand, you’re welcome to join the community, but no matter how long you stay, they’re not likely to let you forget that “you ain’t from here.” They’ll do about anything for you if you need help, but you probably want to have an invite before you ride up past their gate.
Folks here tend to look at things simply, without many shades of grey. That can be intellectually frustrating, but at least you always know where they stand. And you’re more than welcome to think differently, as long as you’re willing to accept that you’d be wrong. But don’t you dare jump to conclusions thinking they’re ignorant (some are, some aren’t) or simple. A simple life doesn’t necessarily indicate a simple mind.
There’s an old fellow down the way from me. I couldn’t tell you how old, but he’s seen a few winters come and go. The first time we met, I stood out in his yard while he told me about his family’s deep, Texas history, which included a mix of outlaws (apparently something of a gang down in Corpus Christi) and lawmen (one of the early Texas Rangers). As hard as I tried to redirect the conversation, he went on to politics with exactly the perspective and opinion you might expect from a lifelong Texan (some stereotypes are real). He also warned me all about these newfangled, wireless electric meters that transmit microwaves and “give you brain cancer.”
By the time I wandered back up to the Manor, I’d formed an impression of him as a generally good, and very likeable person, but a little narrow-minded. I didn’t consider him ignorant so much as I just figured he didn’t have the benefit of a formal education or of exposure to life outside of his small sphere. From the work he’d done to his place, I could see that he was handy and practical, as well as industrious, even in his advanced years (there’s a lot of that out here, and that sense of self-sufficiency is definitely something I value highly). In all, I had him pegged as pretty much a classic example of the type of people I’ve met out here.
But, here lies the danger of generalizations and stereotypes. I was in the Family Dollar store the other morning (our shopping options are limited), picking up some distilled water when I ran into him in the aisle. He had two gallon jugs of drinking water in his hands. He looked in my cart, smiled, and proceeded to rattle off Coleridge (“Water, water, everywhere… etc.” from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in case you didn’t guess). I expressed my appreciation for his poetic alacrity, so he regaled me with a couple more as we made our way to the checkout counter… a snippet of Shakespeare, a little Longfellow, and finally, some cowboy poet that I’d never heard of.
Sometimes, it’s what’s beneath the surface that really makes the difference.
Beneath the surface in this rough country, there’s a cruel beauty. The field of bluebonnets may look inviting, but think twice before strolling out there barefoot because cactus and rattlesnakes mingle with the lupines and sideoats grama. Spread your blanket along the banks of the crystalline river, but have a care because the scorpion doesn’t think much of being sat upon. And always overhead, the vultures and caracara wait patiently… but seldom long.
There is a very real sense of frontier. A little over a century ago, it was still untamed, dangerous land… the land of the Comanche, Kickapoo, and Apache (among others). You can find their traces everywhere in the Hill Country. The rocky ground is littered with arrowheads and stone tools. The stories are still living, passed along by the grandchildren of old settlers… tales of indian raids and white reprisal. In the immediate area are the ruins of at least two Spanish missions, established to “civilize” the indigenous people and abandoned in failure. It was a hard place then. It is still a hard place now.
It’s border country. It is not entirely unusual to see the ragged groups of illegal immigrants, sneaking through the canyon. Late at night, along the empty highway, I’ve spotted them in the edges of my headlights, ducking into the cedars and mesquite. In town, whispered rumors point out certain citizens as members of the “Mexican Mafia”, while others hint of smugglers and meth-heads. From bank to barbershop, Spanish is as common as English… or at least Spanglish. It’s not hard to think you’re in another country, not America at all.
It’s outlaw country. For decades, it has been a place where people have come to disappear… fade into the hills, or slip across the border. And the people here appear to know it. Folks seem to be less interested in who you were someplace else, than who you are here and now. It’s a place where you can come to reinvent yourself, or to rediscover the self you thought you’d already invented.
It creates a state of mind, I think, that I have never really experienced anywhere else. To borrow from Charles Kuralt, North Carolina is my home. It will always be my home. But North Carolina has been tamed. I will be happy enough to return… to be back home… but I know I’ll never again feel what I feel living here, in the rocky canyons of the Texas Hill Country.
November 21, 2014
Well, it’s been pointed out to me a couple of times now, that while I’ve shared a couple of hunting tales of woe from the current season, I haven’t really said anything about my successes. And there have been a couple.
Here’s the thing, though, and tell me if I’m wrong… sometimes, when it’s really easy, I don’t feel like it’s all that much to write about. And hunting here at Hillside Manor is often pretty easy.
It’s certainly no bragging point to tell about sitting in a blind with the rifle, and shooting deer at the feeder from 100 yards. Sure, it’s one of the ways we hunt down here and it’s effective. If I wanted to, I could probably sit out at my shooting bench and kill a deer every other evening. But what kind of story is that? It doesn’t necessarily demonstrate my skills as a hunter. There’s very little educational value there (although successfully hunting a feeder takes a little more know-how than most people may realize). And, in most cases, there’s barely even time for a good yarn. Those times when I do choose to take the rifle and kill a deer, the entire hunt generally takes place in under an hour.
It could be even easier. The photo shown on the left is not a rare occurrence. All I have to do is bring Iggy in the house for a few hours, and the deer are over the fence and after the acorns. They’re hardly tame, of course. I can’t just walk up and grab them, but it wouldn’t take much to slip out the back door and snipe them from the corner of the house. Or, for that matter, I could just keep the window open and whack them from my desk chair. But, for the most part, I’ve refrained. It just doesn’t seem right.
So, I try to make it a little more challenging. I’ve gone up into the tangle of cedars, persimmons, mountain laurel, and oaks that cover the hillside behind the ranch and scouted out the trails and travel routes. I’ve wielded the machete and the chain saw to clear some trails so that I can actually walk upright, and used them to manipulate the deer traffic (like most critters, deer prefer the path of least resistance). I’ve cut little parks here and there, and built a couple of brush blinds and stands in high traffic areas.
I’ve also restricted the bulk of my hunting to archery (with the recent exception of the muzzleloader… to try out the bismuth balls). This has definitely added a level of complexity, and provided a lot more satisfaction in my hunts. Even with a pretty well-constructed brush blind, getting to full draw on a deer inside of 20 yards is no mean feat. When that deer is a mature buck, it’s even harder. I’ve had several close encounters with a couple of the big boys around here, including the one we’ve named Funkhorn, but so far they’ve managed to catch me trying to draw, or snuck up undetected and caught me moving in the blind.
But I’ve had my successes. On Wednesday evening, I arrowed my second doe for the season. With two deer in the freezer, I’m pretty well set for this year’s meat (especially considering that I’ll probably have opportunities for axis deer during the off-season), and that’s fortunate. My whitetail season will be curtailed this year, as I’ve got to drive out to North Carolina in mid-December, and won’t be back here before the deer season is over. I’ll still probably hunt a time or two more before I leave, but at this point I won’t shoot anything except a good buck (or, of course, a hog).
Someone asked me if I had any interesting anecdotes or stories about these hunts, and I’ve had to think about it kind of hard.
For me, as the guy in the blind with the bow, it’s always sort of an intense experience. Just drawing the bow and lining up those pins on a deer’s vitals is pretty exciting stuff. Then there’s the release of the arrow and the brief moment of uncertainty between the release and the smack of impact (a very distinct sound, similar to the kugelschlag following a rifle shot, but much more… intimate?). There is always the fear of a miss, and then when the arrow strikes, there’s the fear of a bad hit.
On my first deer this season, there was no question after impact. I watched the arrow disappear into the doe’s side and pass completely through. It was a shade higher than I’d intended, but definitely through both lungs. She ran out of sight, but I heard her crash into the brush less than 30 yards away, which is right where I found her. She was probably dead by the time she fell.
Wednesday’s deer, however, wasn’t so definite. I had to lean forward from my seat, and twist my body a bit to get the shot. The release didn’t feel perfect, and I lost sight of the arrow. I thought I heard it hit her, but then I heard the arrow clipping through the branches behind her. Had I missed, or did the shot pass through? I couldn’t be sure as she ran off, and in the noise of several other deer taking flight, I couldn’t even be sure which way she ran.
I sat tight for the remaining hour of daylight, having learned the hard way last year, that even going to check my arrow too soon can scotch the deal. In the last grey light, though, I slipped out of the blind and started the search for my arrow. It was nowhere to be found. I scanned the ground for blood, but there was nothing. I replayed the shot in my head, but every time I ran it through, I was sure the arrow had hit that deer. Finally, as daylight completely gave out, I decided to go back to the house, wait a few hours, and then come back with Iggy, the .44, and a couple of good tracking lights (and I’m just gonna make another plug for the Olympus RG850, rechargeable flashlight… it’s awesome for tracking!).
I went home, cooked dinner (but it was impossible to eat much), and even called to chat with Kat, in Raleigh. I tried to fool around a little with the Internet, but my focus was shot. Somehow, I managed to wait three hours before the dog and I went back to try to pick up the trail. Back at the blind, I still couldn’t find my arrow, even with the brilliant flashlight. I also couldn’t seem to make out any blood, but I found the tracks where the doe had bolted at the shot, and then about ten yards away, a stumble. That was enough to make me stick to the track.
It was at this point that Iggy changed gears from playful, excited pup on a romp in the woods, to working dog. It’s a distinct change, and most of my hunting dog-owning friends have probably seen it in their own animals. His nose went to the ground, and then to the air. His focus went from, “everything is so awesome,” to “I’ve got a job to do.” Where he’d been sort of meandering around, smelling every bush and branch, he locked into a dim trail through the cedars. I had to scold him several times for leaving me behind (a black dog becomes completely invisible, even with his reflective collar on), and he’d trot back, glance at me quite severely, and then barrel back into the brush.
For my part, I still hadn’t seen so much as a droplet of blood. I also knew that there had been at least seven different deer in the area when I shot the doe. I honestly wondered if he was just following generic deer tracks (he’d done this to me on the first deer of the season… a real wild goose chase), but he seemed so bloody intent that I felt like I had to trust him. And, finally, after about thirty yards of hard going, including a lot of crawling through some wicked thick brush, I saw the first splash of red on the ground. I called Iggy back and pointed to it, and the look he gave me… indescribable. There are a lot of experts out there who’d tell you that the “lower” animals don’t have the capacity for higher thought processes, such as sarcasm or derision… but those experts have apparently never looked into the eyes of a “lower” animal like Iggy.
In the end, the trail was only about 100 yards, which isn’t that extensive for a bowhunt. I knew Iggy had found her when he started running back up to me, and then diving into the bush again. I stood still, and could hear him licking the blood from the exit wound. Following the sound into the darkness, there she was. Something, probably raccoons, had already been at the carcass, so she had probably been laying here dead the whole time. It just goes to show you never know, when you set out on a blood trail.
The recovery was an adventure in itself. The deer had fallen in an area that I have not touched with saw or machete, and the branches and brush form a pretty tough screen. Sometimes, the dried out, lower branches of the cedars will snap right off and you can push right through. And sometimes, they push back… with vengeance and vigor. In many places, the only way through is on hands and knees, or even belly crawling a time or two. Add to this the steepness of the rocky hillside, and the drag down left me completely winded, a little bloody, and very sore.
So, yeah, for me, I guess it wasn’t an unremarkable hunt. But this is the nature of many of my hunts here at the Hillside Manor, and I feel like it gets a bit redundant in the telling. Then again, since I really didn’t have anything else to write about today, I should thank Ian, John, and Kat for spurring me to write this lengthy screed.
I’m done now.
November 15, 2014
I slept in a little this morning, so it was full daylight when I got up and started my day. As usual, I went to take a look out the back door. Sure enough, three or four deer were milling around up at the feeder. I couldn’t put horns on any of them, but that’s OK. It got the heart pumping better than my morning cup of coffee.
I killed a doe last weekend with the bow, but I’ve got a new challenge. A friend of mine sent me some .50 caliber round balls, cast from bismuth, and I’ve been itching to load up the Hawken and see what they’d do. Getting the Hawken up and running again after all these years has been a bit of a challenge, since apparently nobody in this part of the Hill Country still hunts with traditional muzzleloaders. Among other things, I couldn’t find powder anywhere. I finally sucked up the “hazardous material” charge to have a pound of Pyrodex RS shipped from Cabelas. The shipping cost more than the powder… but that’s how eager I was to shoot the smokepole again.
I got out on the bench, and charged up the rifle with 80 grains of Pyrodex. I had to double patch the ball to get the fit I wanted, and rammed it home. I set up my targets at 50 yards, which is a reasonable shot with this rifle. It’s definitely not one of the modern tack drivers (and I don’t feel like I need to shoot 200 yards with a muzzleloader anyway… I’ve got modern rifles that do that more effectively). The spot I’ll be hunting is set up for archery anyway, so 50 yards will be the longest poke I’ll have.
The first shot was way off to the right. I vaguely remember that problem from the last time I used the rifle, so I tapped the front sight over a bit. The next shot was right where I wanted it. I pulled the one after that, but then settled down and managed to eke out a 2″ group. That’s not bad for a cheap Hawken. I decided to compare the results to what I’d get with a regular, lead round ball. The point of impact was almost identical. Not too shabby!
I only had 10 of the bismuth balls, so I saved the last three for hunting. I felt like I should run through a few more of the lead projectiles, though. Shooting a cap and ball rifle is a bit different from a centerfire due to the slight delay between the cap and powder ignition. You really have to be conscious of your form and follow through, or you’ll pull the shots… not to mention that the trigger on my rifle is not the finest example of precision machining. I needed to build up a little bit of muscle memory before I was comfortable hunting with this rifle.
I wrapped up the shooting, satisfied that I could probably hit what I wanted to hit… at least at 50 yards or so. I ran a brush down the bore to clear the worst of the fouling, but decided that a thorough cleaning could wait. I hope that doesn’t come back to haunt me, but the Pyrodex shoots pretty clean. I stowed the rifle, and then took Iggy and the tablet up the hill to check the cameras. When I pulled in last night, a mid-sized eight pointer was in my front yard with a group of does. They appeared to be eating acorns, not chasing, but it’s a hopeful sign that maybe some pre-rut activity might be cranking up. This was the first time since mid-summer that I’d seen one of the bigger bucks hanging out with the does.
I keep one camera running at the feeder, and that’s the easiest one to access. I knew, of course, that I’d been getting pretty good activity at the feeder recently. Tracks and scat were all over the place, coming and going. Maybe they’ve just about finished off the acorns already. Or maybe they’re just eating corn for dessert. I don’t know. They’re wild deer. They do wild deer stuff. The minute you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll change the whole game. But whatever the reason, they’ve started coming to the feeder again… in droves.
At any rate, the card was loaded with pictures. The bulk of them were the same deer I’ve been watching all along. I was happy to see that Funkhorn and the big eight point are still around, as is that young six pointer that’s looking so good. Whatever my neighbors were shooting the other morning, they didn’t kill any of “my” bucks. There were also several newcomers, like this really tall, spindly eight pointer. I don’t think I’ve seen him before, but he’s been showing up every night for the last week or so. He’s not particularly old, but I’d probably shoot him, given the opportunity.
I had set my other camera up the hill a ways, in a spot where I’m thinking of setting up a stand. There are some trails there that are really torn up. When I first saw the amount of traffic, I was certain that there were hogs up there, but I couldn’t find any solid evidence (scat, good tracks, rubs, etc.). I decided it must just be a really busy highway for the deer.
Anyway, it’s kind of a hump to get up there due to the steepness of the hill and the fact that the ground is all loose limestone. I decided this would be a good day to break a sweat and check the pictures. The camera didn’t show much, but on closer inspection, I realized it was aimed sort of high. Still, as we see here, it wasn’t entirely fruitless.
Now I just have to figure out how to hunt those suckers in the daylight.
November 5, 2014
It’s been a little dry down here in the Hill Country lately. How dry?
So dry that the whitetails have come out to play in the puddles!
October 28, 2014
Saturday, 11/01, will herald the beginning of the rifle deer season out here. It’s sort of a high holiday, as it is in many other parts of the country, and I expect the little camps in my canyon to start getting busy sometime on Thursday. Friday, the hills will echo with rifle shots, as hopeful nimrods are sighting in (there’s already been a fair amount of that, scattered around), and beginning at first light on Saturday, I anticipate a scattered peppering of gunfire as deer that have been largely unmolested since mid-January are caught unaware.
The bulk of the properties out here are less than 40 acres, and for most of these guys, after driving all the way from Houston, Corpus Christi, or wherever else, have a fairly limited concept of “trophy management”. As a result, you seldom see bucks living more than two or three years in the canyon… and when you do, they’re some pretty wily animals.
Ordinarily, I don’t really put too much thought into trophy management. I’m about the eats, and you can’t eat antlers. If you shoot a young buck, odds are pretty good another one will take his place. If they never grow into, “wall hangers,” so what?
But I guess I’ve fallen victim to some odd sense of proprietorship over the last couple of seasons, as I’ve been watching a few bucks grow up on my place. A couple of them are really showing good potential for development, like the eight pointer in this picture. Honestly, I’ll probably shoot him now, if he comes into bow range. But if he can survive another season or two, he’s likely to be a real bruiser, and that will pretty cool to see. So, on some levels, I begrudge the arrival of the weekend warriors and the likelihood that one of them might take this fellow out of the herd.
There’s also a really pretty, young six point that I’ve already passed on twice. I know… I passed on a legal deer. Not something I’m likely to have done when hunting public land in CA, or even back in NC. But there’s something that changes when you know you have plenty of other options… particularly does. I don’t “need” to shoot this one. I can get a doe, or maybe that funky-horned buck. If I can’t close the deal with the bow, I can certainly knock a couple down with the rifle.
Suddenly, I want to see this guy reach his potential… or at least come a little closer.
So this year, as rifle season enters from the wings, I’m feeling a little different sense of suspense. It’s not so much about the possibilities of what I will shoot (I’ve already been bowhunting since Sept. 27), but about what the other guys in the local camps might shoot. Will “my” six point make it through the gauntlet? What about that nice eight?
Of course, it may be reasonably moot this weekend. The deer have all gone nocturnal, despite the fingernail moon. The live oaks are dumping acorns all through the canyon, and the deer are living pretty good in the thickets right now. There are a lot of deer in the canyon (the anthrax outbreak didn’t make it here), but they’re hard to spot right now. If this holds out through the weekend, the opener might be a little slower than some folks would hope.
But we’ll see.
August 28, 2014
It can be a little tough to get psyched about deer season when it’s over 100 degrees outside, and humidity is in the upper three quarters as well. It’s one thing to walk up the hill and check cameras, fill the feeder every month, and watch the deer from the porch. It’s another, altogether, to climb that hill with chainsaw and machete in hand (and a backpack full of water) to work on stands and clearing out the cedar (juniper) so that both the deer and I can actually move through the tangle.
Once I got up there, of course, I found that the deer really didn’t have much problem. In fact, the hillside looks like a deer highway with little tunnels anywhere the branches are too thick. Picking a spot for a stand isn’t so much a question of figuring out where the deer will pass, but figuring out where I can put it so that I’m not right in the middle of a trail. I need them to walk past me, not over me. What’s more, is I need a place where I can actually slip an arrow through the brush. The only way to do that is start cutting.
I’ve been meaning, ever since last fall, to get out there and clear some new hunting spots. I’ve planned, and reconsidered, and planned some more, but it just seemed like there was always some reason not to do it. The barn needed work. The pasture needed to be mowed. I needed to build a back porch because the old stairs were a death trap. And so on and so on until, suddenly, summer was here. And with summer comes heat.
The thing about working in this terrain during the Texas summer is that it’s not only uncomfortable, it’s potentially dangerous. It’s easy to become dehydrated, and it happens fast. Heat prostration can sneak right up, and if you’re not careful, you’ll face full heat exhaustion… and working solo, up in this thick stuff, that’s a very bad place to be. Of course, it can be done. There are guys out there every day, building fence, herding livestock, clearing land… but it’s not something that a 50 year-old, computer jockey should take lightly. I’m not a kid anymore, and as much as I love working with my hands on this ranch, I’m not a lifelong rancher either.
But all that aside, the other real reason for delay is that it’s just damned hard to get motivated to get out there and suffer that heat when I’ve got a nice, air conditioned house with Internet and TV and Kat to keep company. Besides, I have a stand for Kat already, when either of us wants to shoot deer with the rifle. And, until fairly recently, I already had a great stand, the Murder Hole, for all my bowhunting needs. But back in May, while checking the pasture fences, I saw that a huge piece of the oak tree that contains the Murder Hole stand had broken off. The stand is still intact, but it’s now completely exposed. I can still put some cover up there and use the stand, but it’s going to make a tough hunt even tougher.
The Murder Hole was not as well planned as I’d like. I mean, it’s in the perfect location for deer traffic, both morning and evening. But I made a couple of miscalculations. The prevailing winds in the canyon when I built the stand were generally south to north, so I set the stand with an optimal northerly view. Behind the stand (to the south), I left the thick cedars alone to provide a screen, and to funnel the deer to either side of the stand. What I didn’t realize was that this changes during the fall, and that there’s more of a northerly flow… especially in the late evening, when the deer are moving down from the south-facing slopes. I can’t count the number of times the deer walked right up behind me, and then blew out when they caught my scent. And trust me, I don’t care what kind of scent control you use… at five or ten yards downwind, especially on a warm day, the deer are going to smell you.
So setting up a new stand isn’t just an option anymore. I had to do something. I could try to fix up the Murder Hole, or get to work on a better location.
Back in June, I went at it and cleared a really pretty little park amongst the cedars up on the hillside about 200 yards behind the house. There’s a huge, old oak tree in the middle that would be a great spot for a platform stand. I also used the slash to create a couple of brush piles where it would be pretty easy to hide a pop-up blind. Within a week, the native bunch grasses started coming up in the new clearing (thanks to some very timely rain), and the place looked perfect. I set a camera out, looking forward to a ton of photos. What I got, so far, is a couple of shots of the same two does, and a bunch of raccoons. This wasn’t what I’d hoped to see. I needed to put something up closer to the old stand, but better planned.
The summer came, and nearly went. Deer season is less than a month away. So, this past weekend, I went at it.
I found a good location up on the hillside where there’s a reasonably flat(tish) spot. Several trails converge around it, but there’s one spot where it’s too thick for the deer to move. I could clear a hole out there to build my stand, and with all of the cedar brush I would cut, I could build a blind with natural material. When I finish, it should look like any of the other brush piles I’ve created around the property (it’s too dry to burn, and they make great habitat for birds and small game).
I still have a lot of work to do. These cedars are hell on a chainsaw, and it was already a little dull from the previous projects. I was soon reduced to using the machete. Even after drinking three liters of water, I started getting chills and cramps… and that’s a pretty good indication that it’s time to call it a day in this heat.
The final plan is to have the site completely brushed in, including a “roof”. As you can see in this photo, I’ve also still got a lot of clearing to do for shooting lanes. I got both chains good and sharp now, so consider this the “before” picture. I’ll update soon, I hope, with the finished product. Then I just need to leave it alone until the deer get used to it. By September 27 (archery opener), it should become my new, go-to spot.
Then I can focus on some of the other locations I’ve scouted. Who knows? Maybe by the time next summer rolls around, I’ll actually have some of them cleared and ready for use.