Of Hexes, Jinxes, And Other Serious Maladies
December 8, 2014
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?”
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.