Monday, November 23, 2009

Deer Hunt Results: Us - Still Hunting, Deer - Still Laughing; My Advice: Bring a Squirrel Gun on a Deer Hunt

What could be better than a couple or three days of deer hunting in the woods with your son? Well, for me three days in the woods with my son could only have been made better had we at least seen a deer! Man - this hunting on state land ain't easy; it sure is a lot tougher than hunting on a farm or on any private property of which you know the lay of the land and to which you visit frequently. When my uncle owned his farm, not 2 miles from where we chose to hunt this year, I saw deer on almost every hunting trip I made there. Sure, sometimes I saw only does and fawns when I did not have a doe permit, and other times I saw deer to far away to get off a shot with my shotgun, and other times I just missed the shot, but I did see deer. This hunting on state land though baffles me. Of course I went on a few scouting trips to the spot at which we wound up. I did all the things the books and outdoor magazines say to do. I have been there before too, many times over the years, and I know where deer sign has been over the years, same place as it is now. Yet, we did not see even one white hair of a white-tailed's tail! Our trip was disappointing in that regard but it had other rewards.

Brendan and I got out in the woods together on Friday, the day before deer season. I do not like going to my stand that soon before the hunt, I would rather visit my stand a week before the hunt but Brendan had not been there yet this year. I wanted him to be able to get out there before the hunt to see where it was that we would be hiking to at zero dark 30 on opening day. Less chance of an accident that way. While we looked around we made sure that we had the Remington 870 with the 28 inch barrel attached to it. That way, should we stumble across some turkey or some squirrels we might wind up with dinner. Brendan spotted a gray squirrel about 25 to 30 yards away and pointed it out to me. He had a perfect shot but the thing was he did not take it. When I asked why he pointed it out to me instead of shooting it, he said he thought it was too far away. Granted 30 yards would be about the maximum range for effective hunting with that gun, but I think it was within that range. Oh well - one missed opportunity.

Come Saturday and opening morning of deer season we set out from our room at Motel 6 in Binghamton, NY toward Windsor at about 0330-0345. We got to the hunting area at about 0410. Not to cold but certainly not warm out at the time but we were ready for it. We grabbed what gear we needed and headed out into the woods with small LED headlamps for illumination. used to be illegal for deer hunters in New York to go afield with lights and deer rifles or slug guns, but thankfully times have changed and now I do not have to commit a criminal act to avoid falling over a deadfall or into a woodchuck hole as I walk through the dark forest with my hunting gun. We, as rote, walk the woods with unloaded guns in the dark for safety reasons; we only load at out stands. I imagine though some others trudge through the woods with loaded gun at that hour and without a light the footing can be treacherous. The combination of loaded gun and walking through darkened woods is one that adds up to the potential for disaster so it is a good thing lights are now okay. Of course, it would be better if everyone also kept their guns unloaded until they reached their spots but not everyone is as safety minded as are we when it comes to guns.

We both walked to Brendan's stand. I wanted to make sure he would not miss it. That would have been difficult what with all the orange tape and reflective tacks I had marking the trail but I am the ever watchful father and will be for life (I helped him make it this far and plan to help him keep going for as long as I can). So, even if he is 19 and about to be 20, I walked to his stand with him and gave him deer hunting advice along the way. Then I went off on my own back to where I planned to make my stand. We sat on stands about 1/6 to 1/4 of a mile apart (yeah, I know - if you don't deer hunt you are wondering why we 'sat' on a 'stand' - some other time for the explanation). As for the site we chose for Brendan it was in a natural funnel that had the deer coming into it from from a homeowners green grassy lawn and apple trees. There was a lot of deer sign. There were a few deer trails coming out of a swampy area (which was between his stand and the grassy area), one coming from along a stream (the stream that fed the swamp), and a few coming out of the woods. There was deer poop galore. His spot had at least 7 scrapes with 50 yards, most within 25 yards. Those scrapes were active too!

So what did he see - a woodpecker, a squirrel, some chickadees. The chickadees were right over his head pecking at the tree under which he sat and looking for whatever it is that peck at when flying from bush to tree to bush. I am always amused by their antics and get kind of a feeling of satisfaction knowing that wild birds come so close to me when I am out hunting. Brendan, on the other hand, was a bit put off and shooed them away because he was worried they would bomb him with bird droppings. I never quite thought of that before, I told him it would have brought him luck. He did get a kick out of watching them though. As for the squirrels, Brendan had our Marlin 336 in .35 Remington, ready for deer. As tempting as those squirrels must have been to shoot at, especially the one who gave him the squirrel finger (shaking of a curved tail), he restrained himself and kept up his hopes for a deer. I am happy he did because there would not have been much squirrel left had he hit one anyplace other than the head with a .35 Rem.

My spot was near where a buck had a veritable playground when it came to rubs and scrapes. There were a few scrapes and at least 6 rubs within 25 yards of my stand. There was a trail going north/south and one going east/west. It was not so much in a natural funnel as was Brendan's spot, but was a spot well traveled by a buck that meant business. The scrapes nearby looked to be pretty recent. I had two possible spots picked out in y area at which to make my stand but as it turned out I moved to yet another spot. Same area, just a better spot for my stand. As I sat there, for the hour and a half or so before first light, my hopes were high - not so much for me getting a deer but for Brendan. It would be his first if he got one. Just before sunrise, and legal shooting time, shots rang out from the other end of the state land and from somewhere down in that direction but across the road. As usual some hunters were at the right spot but were firing at the wrong time. I had instructed Brendan that if he saw a deer he was to wait until legal hunting time. He is pretty good in such regards and I am pretty certain he would have waited. I told him if he saw one in the faint early morning light, chances are it would not be too far off by legal shooting time and he could call it within range if need be. Thing is he did not see any.

As for me, I did not see any deer either. I had hoped that since most hunters hunted this piece of state land at the northern end, we would get any that were spooked by them and that came down toward the southern end. No such luck. Now when you sit out in the woods, virtually for two days, in one spot or another, you begin to wonder have you done something wrong when you do not see any deer. I have done some thinking about that and here is what I came up with:

*Our stands were in areas well traveled by deer.

*We were pretty much scent free if not totally so. I washed the clothing in a good detergent made for hunters and we sprayed down with scent blocker before the hunts each day (all good enough on my successful deer hunts and on Brendan's successful bear hunt).

*We moved slowly when we needed to move.

*We stayed quiet except when calling or rattling or when we too a break and jawboned a bit (and that was not much).

*We had a scent trail and scent markers set properly.

*Our outfits, though blaze orange, were of the camo variety. (Deer are colorblind and thus the camo in blaze orange is actually camo in their sight although it is a bright warning to other hunters that we are indeed hunters - not an animal to be hunted.)

*We had other animals approach within close proximity of us either not seeing us seeing us and just not being fearful of us.

Since we did not even see deer at a distance, let alone close to our stands, I figure it was either crappy luck or bad choice of a stand site. Yeah I know there was plenty of sign, but maybe it was all just from bucks. I read, not too long ago, that to find bucks during the rut you need to find the does. That makes sense, next year I have to remember that and scout out where the does are going. Bucks are sure to be there too.

Now as for my hunting experience, I was very disappointed that I did not hear Brendan take a shot. I was also disappointed he did not even see a deer - especially the one that I think walked right up to a scent pad he had placed on the trail near his stand on day two. Deer tracks clearly showed a deer had walked up the trail, and then turned in right where the scent pad hung from a branch as if the deer had sniffed it, then turned back to the trail and walked on. Brendan did not hear or see the deer and I figure he must have been asleep. He said he did not sleep that whole second day. I have to wonder because they sure looked like fresh tracks and Brendan did not have a scent pad on the first day (we did have others up around the area though). Since he readily admitted sleeping on and off on day one, I had to believe him that he at least thinks he did not fall asleep on day two. He also admitted that he fell right out of his chair when sleeping (we bring along those fold up chairs with nylon seats). Now with honesty like that - who could not believe him when he said he did not fall asleep on day two? Of course, since the leaves in that area were still wet, I suppose a deer could have crept up and gotten away without being heard or seen if Brendan's attention was on something else at that time, or if he was day dreaming. The scent pad was behind Brendan over his right shoulder so it is quite possible. Oh well!

My hunt was not all disappointment. I was happy to have Brendan along, he makes a great hunting partner. He is nice to be around, he is a safe gun handler, he has good hunting ethics (just read above where he did not take a shot because he thought it was too far off), and he is my son. I have hunted by myself for years so it is always nice to have a partner and better yet when it is Brendan. Besides that I had some other fun while on my stand. It was while I was on my stand on day one that I realized, or is it that I remembered, that I should always bring a pistol or revolver in .22LR along on a deer hunt. Why? For squirrels - what else! The first gray ghost I saw was scampering along the branches about 8 feet off of the ground about 20 yards in front of me. He mad his way down to the ground, then onto a tree trunk only about 10 yards from me at most. That took him about half a minute what with frequent stops to look about for danger and to nose around in the branches looking for a meal. I followed his movements turning my head as I watched. I moved as if to pick up my shotgun and aim in for a shot. He did not notice me and if he did he was not afraid of me. He was a nice plump one ready for the long winter and I am sure he would have been good eating, that is had I had anything smaller than a once ounce shotgun slug with which to hit him. Later on, as I dozed meditated and pondered nature, under the tree where I made my stand, with tree trunk at my back, I heard a rustling sound in the leaves. I though - a buck cometh - but as I opened my eyes, which were pointing up because of the backward tilt of my head at that precise moment in mid snore, I saw a bushytail directly overhead. There was another fat little bastardsquirrel on a branch not 7 or 8 feet over my head - just sitting there chattering a bit. He then walked to the end of the branch, looked around sideways and up and down, then jumped to the branch of a nearby tree, just the next in a long line of branches that make up his woodland highway. He sat on the next branch for long moments, maybe as much as 45 seconds to a minute, before giving me the equivalent of the finger in squirrel language and with those quivers of his tail he turned and bounded to yet the next branch then onto a tree trunk about 20 feet from me where he made himself the perfect target for a 22 handgun shooter. Alas, the 22s were all home in the gin locker. I also saw a red squirrel in the same area. Later on, thinking maybe another point of view would be better from which to spot deer, I changed my vantage point by moving a bit further from the deer trail and to higher ground. It did not accomplish helping me to see any deer. What I did see though were two other squirrels easily with pistol distance at about 7 yards away. The next day I hunted further away from Brendan but on the same trail I had been on day one. This time I sat right near the scrapes and rubs. All I saw was one gray and one red squirrel. Had I brought along the 22 I could have had enough squirrels for a decent sized meal but as it turned out those squirrels just had their fun teasing me by coming so close that I almost could have jumped up and grabbed one or two of them. So folks, that was my long way of saying, as far as I can tell, it was not any movement on our part that had spooked the deer away. One other thing - you can bet I'll bring a .22LR handgun next time I hunt deer because I am more than willing to have a few squirrels cooking in the pot when there is no venison for the broiler.

A couple of other quick things about the hunt before closing: I also did a bit of still hunting (for you non-hunting types let me just say that 'still' hunting means you are moving, walking through the woods or stalking game - go figure wacky terminology). For my efforts I was rewarded with a find of a pile of bear poop. Too bad for me, and lucky for it, that I did not see the bear. I saw some deer sign but not as much, not anywhere near as much, as close to our stands (remember that is where we sat while hunting - wacky terminology again).

One of the best things about the trip was that Brendan did about 90% of the driving. It is nice to have a young hunting partner along. Had we gotten a deer or a bear, not only would he have done most of the driving, he would have done a lot of the dragging! I'd bet though after that, I would have at least done the driving on the way home. For now, I am doing the laundry, a good amount of it for just three days worth of clothes being that we had hunting clothes and regular clothes along. All in all the deer (and their buddies the squirrels and probably their spies the chickadees) are still laughing (I guess they are imagining me doing the laundry), we are still looking for a deer, and I am kicking myself in the head for not bringing a 22. There is always this coming weekend though, I'll be up there gun in hand and hope Brendan will be with me; I don't think not getting one has smashed his hopes just quite yet. Was that the end of cycle signal I just heard? You can bet it was! Gotta go and do more laundry to keep those deer and squirrels laughing.

All the best,
Glenn B

A New Shooting Sport

I can only wish that someday I could own, enjoy and afford the range set-up in the embedded video. It sure looks like fun.

All the best,