WARNING!!! If you expect to see photos of trophy bucks here, you are in the WRONG BLOG!
Turn back now or risk your sanity!! LOL!
Okay, now that I've got THAT out of the way... :-)
I wouldn't exactly call myself a "deer hunter". But I
have been out deer hunting for four seasons now. Emphasis on the word
"hunting". Notice I did not say "shooting". The truth is, I've gotten
one shot off in four seasons. If it weren't for sighting-in and
practice, I'd still be on my original box of 30-30. LOL, how sad is
I didn't learn to hunt when I was young - I wasn't
permitted to go to deer camp as a girl. I do understand now (but didn't
then) that the family camp was crowded with men, and there would have
been no privacy or "place" for a 12 year old girl, who would have put a
definite crimp in the atmosphere. It's just how things were back then.
And since dad didn't hunt the "house deer", I just didn't get to learn
to hunt at all.
So I started when I was 46 - the same year that I
bought my first handgun. There will be more to the story in another
post, but for now let's just say that I'm a latebloomer at hunting too.
to my late start, I only know how to hunt deer how my family hunts
deer, and even that is kind of fuzzy. I learned what I do know upon the
family property, so the style is related to the topography of the camp -
which is deep eastern creek valley and mountainside. My family doesn't
hunt from tree stands or ground blinds. There are no scent lures or any
other enticements either. It's just not what they do. My family does
what my dad always called "pussyfooting". I guess the proper term is
"stalk" hunting. At least in this family, this involves taking only a
step or two at a time - baby steps, and with a heel-to-toe roll to keep
the leaves and frosty ground as quiet as possible. Then you stand still,
and look and listen for a few minutes. Then you take another couple
slow quiet steps and look and listen again. It is a rather exhausting
style - especially if you do that for a mile or so out the old log road -
but it also keeps you from getting bored. There is a certain amount of
"standing" too - but there is no climbing involved. What passes for a
"stand" in this family is keeping a little three legged stool or a seat
pad in your vest back, and finding a temporary perch somewhere - like
behind the twin trees at the top of the fire lane, or near the path down
to the spring, or simply within the branches of a fallen tree along the
trailside - anything that breaks up your outline, where you can sit for
awhile and watch. I'm not saying this is better or worse than anything
else - this is just what I learned from my uncle, my dad's hunting
buddy, and my brother over the past few years. I don't know anything
This year was a new experience with new topography. The
cabin at the family camp is becoming nearly uninhabitable, and no one
was going to be able to make it up there anyway this year. Because I am
still a novice, and there is no cell service at the camp, it was
probably not a good idea for me to go up there alone, so my brother
invited me to come up and hunt with him and his son at the farm property
he bought a couple years ago. The farm is only 20 minutes from his
house. Wait, you mean I can hunt all day, and then come back and get a
hot shower, AND flush the toilet?? What a concept!! ( yes, the cabin is
THAT kind of cabin) I didn't know what to do with luxuries like that!
was fun just learning the lay of new land this year. Where the farm is located is
pretty flat territory, so not every field of view was going to provide a
safe shot from ground level. I might HAVE to learn to use a tree stand
at some point if I continue to go there, but for now there were enough
dips and swales and hemlock creek hollows that I still felt comfortable
taking a shot if I had the opportunity.
It's always hard getting
up in the dark on opening day of buck season. But there's some
anticipation too. The imagined possibilities are endless. Would this be
the year for me? Although it's fun to think about, I tried to squelch
that as much as possible and keep my shooting match mindset. "Just Be
Safe and Have Fun", I told myself. I was also realistic. Antler
restrictions have gotten tougher. The days are gone when you could shoot
a spikey or a "Y-buck" in this area (unless you are a junior shooter,
disabled or active military). My nephew could shoot pretty much
anything, being a junior, but these days, in this area, a legal buck
starts at "3-Up" and brow tines don't count. Since I didn't know until
the last minute that I'd be shooting in my brother's area, the doe tags
were all sold out before I even got organized. What that meant for the
bottom line was that I couldn't shoot at anything less than an 8-point. I
thought that was going to be a tall order. But I was there to enjoy the
couple days I had anyway.
My brother had printed me out an
aerial map of the property, so I knew where I was going, and the map was
sealed neatly in a ziplock bag and tucked into my coat in case I needed
it. We parked the truck in the pre-dawn and split up to our various
patrol areas on either end of the property.
The thing I really
enjoy about hunting (once I get past the dragging myself out of bed
thing, and the 40 layers of clothes thing) is that it forces me out of
my usual sensory routine.
The first thing I noticed was the
sharp frosty air that made my nose crinkle and turned my breath into
white fog. I have an attached garage at home, so I am admittedly
sheltered from the realities of being out in the cold for most days of
the winter. Being out hunting made me more acutely aware of temperature
fluctuations and how that might affect the movement or activity of the
animals in that environment.
As I started down the lane, my eyes
had to adjust to new fields of focus. I think computer distance makes my
eyes "lazy" - it's kind of one field
of focus all the time. But out in the fields and the woods, my eyes were
forced to do some actual work. Depth perception gets a workout when I am
focusing on one layer of
trees, and then scanning the next layer in, and then the layer after
that - with some dappled sunlight and overcast shadow thrown in for good
measure - then, zooming back out to focus on the frost crystals that
had formed on the Queen Anne's lace and fallow wheat heads at my feet.
On top of that, add visual motion detection. When I was really quiet and
still enough to pay attention to detail, then I was tuned in enough to
notice the squirrel zipping up that tree out of the corner of my eye,
and the songbirds hopping from branch to twig and back. These aren't
usually things I notice from the comfort of my car on the Interstate!
And the tracks! There were tracks everywhere in the week-old
snow. Some of the tracks were obviously turkey, some were obviously
deer, and some obviously rabbit, but then there were some other
interesting 5-toed tracks that I had no idea about and I'm going to have
to try looking up. Possum? Raccoon? Squirrel? So many interesting
things to see, if only I used my eyes properly and prodded them out of
their usual routine.
My ears got a similar workout. The first
step was letting the hum of the distant interstate highway fade into the
auditory background. When that happened, then I could tune into the
sounds of the snow crunching under my boots (and mud making sucking
noises after the sun came out and warmed things up a bit), the sounds of
the creek water running, and twigs snapping as a squirrel hopped around
on his squirrely errands. Then there were the blobs of snow dropping
off the hemlock boughs with a plop as the temperature rose, and the
rustle of the breeze stirring the leaves of the dried corn crop still
standing in the field. It was really quite the outdoor symphony once I
allowed myself to listen. No iPod earbuds could duplicate that.
I got settled onto my little stool amongst some hemlocks, then came the
bird calls. I wish I had paid more attention when I was young, but my
dad taught me to recognize several bird calls. There was the "Pee-weee"
and "Chicka-bzzbzzbzz" of the Black-capped chickadees, the "Jay!" of the
Bluejay, and several others that I recognized from my childhood, but I
couldn't quite conjure the right names from my foggy memories. Besides the
songbirds, I heard the "honk..honk-honk" of some Canada Geese flying by
in V-formation, and a red-tailed hawk screaming several times overhead.
Some of the smaller songbirds got closer - even 5 feet away - as they
figured out that the big orange "thing" sitting there on the dollar
store 3-legged stool didn't seem to be a threat. (Can songbirds see
color? I know turkeys can - I'll have to look that one up). There was
also a Red squirrel who was very put out by my presence. He (she?) sat
about 12 feet up a nearby tree and gave me the absolute dickens -
chirping and chattering at me for several minutes.
It wasn't just
my ears and eyes that got a work-out. My muscles told me that I wasn't
used to carrying the weight of gear and gun. My 30-30 lever gun and
scope weigh about 9 pounds total, which isn't a lot - until you do it
for hours at a stretch, for several days in a row. I also had on heavy
insulated waterproof boots, and several layers of clothing, to include
the orange vest, which also held a water bottle, a clif bar, a space
blanket, a knife, a dragline and gutting gloves etc. in case I got
lucky, and the previously mentioned dollar store 3-legged stool. I
probably had 15 or 18 extra pounds of gear to drag around, which is not
part of my normal routine. Maybe I need to work-out more and lose 15 or
18 extra pounds of "me", and then imagine how good I'd feel! LOL! I
wasn't climbing up and down the side of the mountain like at the camp
either, but all that pussyfooting made my knees start reminding me that I
wasn't 20 anymore.
I did see three deer in two days. But that's
all I did - "see" them. Two were nothing but tails disappearing into
the brush. It might have even been the "same" tail, as it was in the
same general location on the walk out and then back. I'm not obviously a
champion stalker, and the first time, I had my eyes downcast, watching
my footing as I stepped over a log. I heard a snort, and looked up to
see the tail, and that was the end of that. The third deer was a mere
shadowy wraith disappearing between tree trunks when I had my eyes on
the fallow wheat and apple trees instead. But I had two interesting days
outdoors - got the briar scratches to prove it - and got the "good
tired" feeling that being afield always gives me in the bargain.
I haven't been what you'd call a
"successful" hunter so far ... but I guess that depends upon how you
define success. I still didn't bring home a deer for the freezer, but I
did get to spend some time truly "alone" - with myself, with my
thoughts, and with the natural world. I got to mentally switch gears,
retrain my eyes and ears, and pay attention to the very smallest of
details that normally go unnoticed in the rush. I found a little temporary peace in the hubbub of my life, and
that sure seems like success to me.