How’s The Hunting Been?
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.