Sunday, November 29, 2009

Do You Have The Patience Required?

If you read my immediately previous post straight through, then I suppose that maybe you do. Sorry but that was sure a boomer on my part, a long one at that. I just measured it, 8 pages in MS Word format! Hope, that if you read it, you enjoyed it too. If you didn't read it, well read it in parts - it may be easier to take that way and may help you develop one of the finest hunting skills of all - Patience.

All the best,

Still Hunting - A Lesson To Be Learned - Patience Required

The deer have won again...then again so did the squirrels. Yes I remembered to take along a .22 revolver this time, just in case I was stampeded by squirrels like the last time I went deer hunting a week ago. I don't know what it is about those little bushytailed nut thieves, maybe they can smell blued steel revolvers or maybe their eyesight is keen enough to discern certain looks of shiftiness on the faces of hunters. You know, the type of shifty eyed look that tries to convey being at one with nature, an animal lover, a nice guy bearing nuts-a-plenty but instead that is covering up the fact that I am a maniacal killer of forest friends who is on the prowl for the ingredients for a good sized pot of Brunswick Stew. Whatever it was - my not so nice and all too nefarious look -the smell of my blued steel Smith & Wesson Model 17, the good clip of the wind through the willows (yes it was whipping at a speed that would have made clipper ship seaman of your quite happy because with winds like that they probably would be home a week early) or just that they had me figured out because they listened to me muttering miserably at myself the week before for not having brought along a 22 - they were nowhere to be seen or heard!

On Friday, I started out kind of late. Now that may have had something to do with me not seeing anything that day but I doubt it. The fact that I was pretty hung over may have had more to do with it. I stayed in a hotel in Binghamton, NY that just happened to be about a block and a half from a busy little strip of bars in the downtown area. Being the curious type of adventurer that I am, I decided to check out most of them. Oh my aching head. Nothing that a good long snooze restful watch for critters while under a hickory (or was it a white oak) tree could not cure. After just a few seconds in the transcendental state of mind I rapidly achieved - little men bowling nine pins could not have disturbed me. While I was sleeping keeping my eyes peeled and pondering insightful thoughts about how to snare my next dinner, I was so engrossed in dreamland deep thought that maybe I missed a squirrel or three that came to visit because I was so intent on looking for deer. Of course, there were several times that I rolled over changed my point of view and looked for squirrels in the tree tops so maybe, just maybe, I missed a deer too. It is a tricky balance of ones powers of observation that must be maintained as one attempts to keep a sharp eyed lookout for denizens of the tree tops as well as for those of the forest floor. Just a glance in the wrong direction at the wrong moment, or the blink of an eye, let alone a relaxing slumber for a few seconds, and all hope of bagging supper can be lost. That is unless you have about $7 handy and there is a McDonald's nearby. Let me just say this: Rip Van Winkle had nothing on me - not even the dissatisfied wife. Well maybe he had the dog to bring along, my wife would not let me take one of ours.

Saturday was a different story. Where as I slept fine on Thursday night, late into Saturday morning for that matter, I suppose thanks to an overindulgence of fine spirits, it was the spirits that kept me awake on Friday night. On that fateful eve the winds began to howl and by the wee hours of the morning they were literally screeching or should I call it more akin to the whistling of the dead. Yeah that's it - the way whistling zombies would sound. At least that was how it sounded to me. Besides the howling and whistling giving me the heebie-jeebies keeping me awake for most of the night - I must also admit that when the window of my room was whipped open by the wind, then slammed shut, I jumped out of my bed about three feet straight up. When I landed - it was lucky for me - and for the hotel door and walls (and maybe for the guest in the next room) - that for some unknown reason I had left my pistol on the other side of the room instead of on the night stand as usual. I thought I was about to become the victim of a hotel room invasion. All in all, I was awakened on and off about twenty times, at least, by the howling of wind throughout the late night and early morning plus that one almost heart stopping slamming of the window. I can see now how it was that people who lived in drafty old houses were the best authors of ghost stories. It kept me awake almost all of the night, much like I suspect it would have kept you awake as your awaited the ghost of Bob Jacob Marley to announce the three ghosts of Christmas. After all, in the old days when awake at night what was there to do but make babies - or if by yourself then to light a candle and write. Of course, maybe you would have slept more soundly than me once you put your pistol under your pillow (I don't do that ever, and recommend against such - I only use this as a metaphor of security for a night full of howling, whistling wind and banging windows - otherwise you might shoot yourself). Must have been a night like that, in a cold and drafty house, without a gun nearby, and a lot of candles, a good quill with a deep inkpot, that inspired at least that part of Dickens' Christmas Carol. Let me tell you, I could have written a masterpiece that night by flashlight with a Bic. Next time, I am staying at Motel 6 where they leave a light on for you instead of at a place named after a Bing Crosby movie that is noisy and drafty!

So as it turned out, on Friday night/Saturday morning, I was pretty much wide eyed and awake when my alarm went off at 0345. Note I said wide eyed, not wide awake! As it turned out though, I was out in the woods before dawn. I can tell you this, on a cloud covered night, with the winds howling and screeching and the treetops snapping cracking and rustling as they are whipped into an angry frenzy because the wind is making so much noise - you have to be one brave son of a gun (there I go with guns again) to even step foot into the not so enchanting forest. Me, I was already to head out to my deer stand at about 0515 - about 10 minutes after I had parked my car on the roadside of the state forest. I had been thinking of waiting in the car and staying nice and toasty as I enjoyed my cup of Java from Mickey D's (not much else was open at that hour on the way to my hunting spot) but I decided if I wanted to really do my best to get a deer I had best be on my stand well before first light. So I was out of my car, with my trusty little head lamp strapped to my noggin (using the red light so as not to scare any of the forest beasties), and had just taken my very first step into the woods, having planted my left foot on terra-firma, when I heard large gust of wind, akin to a hurricane force gale going through a subway tunnel, go through the woods in front of me. That was followed by a loud cacophony of tortured sounds - the rustling, and slapping together of the treetops, the grinding together of tree against tree, an almost creaking moaning of the trees as if in protest, a vibration of the ground under my feet (I swear it so), and then a loud cracking noise followed by a crashing the din of which I have not heard even at construction sites in New York City. At least it sounded like that to an ardent observer like me - who at that precise moment had stopped in mid-second step with right foot in air so as to be able to take in every minute aspect of it though someone might have thought I looked like a deer frozen with fear in the headlights of an oncoming truck - almost as if the forest had just given me a warning - pass this way at your own peril!

All of a sudden, that have drunk coffee in the cup holder between the front seat of the Corolla was singing a sweet Siren's song of promised delights to me. I opted for the warmth of my heated car, a semi warm cup of Joe, and a Johnny Cash to keep me company either until the wind died down a bit or until I could see where I was going and not wind up directly in the path of a tree that looked as if it were about to be blown over. I could tell you precisely when first light came, that is if I had paid attention to the clock on my dashboard. For some reason, I was just checking to make sure my door was locked (about the 20th time or so since I got back in my car to stay safe toasty and comfortable, as the light turned on. It was ever so dim at first, almost imperceptible but when I looked up after checking the locks, I could see that the eastern sky was a bit grey where it had been dark, very dark, just moments ago. When I did look at the clock it was 0600 precisely, so maybe it was light just a minute or less before that. Still though, the forest was dark. It was not until about 0615 that I felt brave it was light enough for me to safely venture into the woods and head to my selected slumber hunting spot.

The walk to my stand was uneventful. The wind had died down some, but was still blowing at a pretty good clip. I don't know if it was because the wind had died down slightly, because dawn was well upon the forests in those parts, or because this time I took my first step with my right instead of left foot (not that I am superstitious mind you but because I am the curious type who always wonders about how one thing may effect another even if seemingly unrelated) but this time there was no angry din, the forest remained noisy but relatively calm as compared to its earlier state and nothing - like an old rotted tree trunk or a huge branch, that could have just as easily landed on me - crashed to the ground this time. I was about 10 paces down the old abandoned logging road toward my goal when I was suddenly illuminated by light much as if lightning had struck at my feet. Someone in a pickup truck had just turned in on the road and came darned close to hitting me. You would have thunk that the knucklehead driving had just seen me enter the woods as he drove up on my car parked at roadside but apparently he had not or maybe just wanted to give me a scare. If the latter was the case, little did he realize that I, the intrepid hunter and adventurer, had been given a run for the money by good old Mother Nature herself and there was nothing that was going to deter me from reaching completing my quest. About 10 minutes latter I was seated, in relative comfort under a tree. Was it an oak, a hickory, an ash, I know not, but it was to be my back rest for the next few hours. As it turned out, it really was a good hunting spot. No I did not bag a deer while there, but you certainly remember those other hunters in the pickup truck. Well they apparently spooked a deer and it came by me on the very trail off of which I was sitting awaiting just such an opportunity. The thing was it was still too dark to see, what with all the cloud cover it was a gray dawn indeed. I heard it go by though, and though perhaps I caught the glimpse of a ghoulish shade shadowy deer like figure pass me by. Then again, in that light, for all I know it could have been one of the other hunters trying to creep and crouch by me through the woods - that light, with the wind still moving around the bushes a bit - can play tricks on a guy.

Oh well, the rest of the morning, up until about 0930 was uneventful. I had wisely set the alarm on my cell phone to go off at 0930 and had put it on vibrate just in case a deer was about to get shot by me at that precise moment. I would not want to have ruined my concentration what with my alarm going off sending the deer into a leaping and bound run through the woods toward safer haven nor would I have wanted to be awakened my an unnatural sound after all the commotion of the night before. That is of course, had I been sleeping. I can tell you, and this is no lie, a tree of proper width against your back at proper angle with head propped and held in place by a folded sweater can be a comfortable and sleep alluring trap. Not for me though, I stayed wide awake - and I saw nothing. After that I tried rattling up a buck. Then I waited about another half an hour to see if a deer would actually show up after I made more commotion than had the forest with all the wind just hours before. Truth be told the wind was still giving a good blow now and again so I am none to sure the sound of the rattling carried all that far over the noise of the treetops whipping about.

Once I had waited that ever so long 30 minutes, I decided to get up and go with my plan. My plan was to get up and get going. No, I was not going home. I was going to do some Still Hunting. It is kind of funny, the vernacular of the hunt. You "sit" on a "stand" (yes you can stand to, but most sit sooner of later, some, but not me, even lay down and sleep) and you walk while you "still" hunt. 'Still Hunting' amounts to stalking game animals. It is not easy, it takes patience, skill and luck. I have the patience usually, and I have the skill; no bragging but I have walked to within 15 of deer, 30 to 40 feet of a bear, and about 20 feet of a bobcat before because, most of all, I was patient. That is most of the skill in still hunting - being and remaining patient. In other words you move slowly; it has sometimes taken me 3 hours to walk a mile while still hunting. The trick is to walk and make any movements slowly, to stop often, to wait from about 10 seconds to 2 minutes (or more) before walking on again, and to observe what is around you and to remain patient and let the deer move. I have had deer stand there looking at me, and actually had a young buck (button horn) walk right up to me and sniff me from only inches away, it took patience not too move. It was a thrilling experience. Patience would prove to be the ticket I needed to see deer on this hunt.

While out and about, I headed from south to north walking upstream against the course of a forest stream. No I was not in the water, but on a deer trail that ran along the stream. I passed on hunter in the woods who I saw had looked around and seen me (otherwise I would have spoken in a loud voice letting him know I was there but he waived acknowledgement of me - something I do not recommend when you do not know the other hunter and his hunting skills - people have been accidentally shot when they moved by other overzealous and less than safe other hunters). I waived back, but only because I was sure by his waive that he had seen me, and I continued on. All in all I probably walked 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile and the break neck pace which allowed me to do so in about an hour and a half. As I got to the point where the stream turned toward the west, I kept headed north. I was in a mixed forest of pines, hemlocks and hardwoods and the going was crunchy. There were an awful lot of branches on the ground (having been cut previously and what with the wind last night - the dead, dry, branches were in abundance in my path in this particular stretch of my path). Best as I could, I tried to avoid snapping branches, but at about 215 pounds with a 25 pound backpack and a 7 pound rifle, and some heavy clothing and boots, I weighed in easily at about 250. It is virtually impossible not to snap branches, but that really does not matter all that much if you do the rest of the Still Hunting thing right. It seems I was doing it right. I had made sure to eliminate my scent with proper washing before the hunt (using a scent eliminator soap), I had some deer scent on a drag (deer urine on a pad dragged behind me on a cord). I try to keep it off of me to avoid having a buck attack me either in a buck on buck rage or in a mating frenzy depending on which type of male or female deer pee I use. Either way, it would hurt and hunters have been attacked and hurt by bucks before.

Back to the hunt. As I said - this time I had again gotten it right despite the cracking of branches underfoot. Well part of it right anyhow. The stream bed was about ten feet lower than foot level for me down a gentle slope at that point. There was a fairly large down fall about 15 to 20 yards in front of me and to my left about 15 yards. I had stopped and just started walking again, I had taken one or two steps both of the rather crunchy variety when I saw two dashed of gray ghost like swaths moving toward me from behind the downfallen tree branches. All I could tell was that it was a large animal or animals, I was uncertain if it was a deer or a bear. I stopped and out stepped two does. One an average sized doe and the other one was pretty huge looking sort of like a large wooden barrel around her belly. I had to give a second look to make sure it was indeed a doe and not a buck but there were no antlers anywhere to be seen. My heart was immediately in overdrive, I suppose due to the quart of high test adrenalin that had just been flooded into my system. I froze, one deer just stopped directly in front of me - only 15 yards away at most, maybe even half that distance, but I'll say 15 yard because I know that tunnel vision during times like this makes things seem closer. I glanced to the left, moving just my eyes, and the other deer - yes there were two - was still behind the down fall though close to the end of it nearest me.

At that precise moment, a lot of things were coursing through my head like Santa's reindeer course through the nighttime skies on Christmas Eve - at the speed of impossible x 20: Should I move, should I stay frozen, should I try to take a shot - no don't shoot all you can see of the deer right in front of you is about 8 inches of its right hindquarter, there is a wide tree between you and it, did the deer stop like that on purpose, are deer that smart, my back is killing me, my hips are killing me, arthritis sucks, this is it, the big chance I have worked so long for is here, this is the moment, this is it, look at that huge doe right in front of me, damn that tree and whomever planted it there, her head is behind the tree she cannot see me, when the deer leaves it will present a shot, don't move, wait for the deer to move, as the deer walks away it will present it self from behind the tree, wait, don't move, why are you lifting up the rifle, she cannot see you - lift it get it ready , sight in on where she will come out from behind the tree, do it slowly, move very slowly, no don't move, why not, do it now, she cannot see you, okay I am doing it remember to quietly take it off of half cock, heck I already did that a second ago, finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, okay it's where it belongs, move slowly, you jerk too late there they go, oh ^%&*$%##@....." Yes I had lots of thoughts and the last one was a discordant symphony of me cursing myself for not being patient enough to let the deer make the next move and for not just standing still no matter how much I was ready to run a marathon with all that adrenalin coursing through my arteries.

Of course, she did not see me raise my rifle for a shot. Chances are, even if she had, had I waited and let the deer move first, she would not have been alarmed enough to run. They were not all that afraid of me, that is evidenced by them stopping. They were uncertain of what I presented to them. Was I a threat or a harmless forest beast? They almost assuredly had thought a buck was approaching, they come on none to cautiously when they think they are walking up on a ready to mate doe or on another buck itching for a fight. Does react to buck snapping branches and rustling the leaves in stride - as part of their lives - and they are attracted to it. I also had been using a buck call and a doe bleat. They may have thought it was a buck and doe approaching. They came right over toward me and were in no big hurry - that is until I raised my rifle. Once I moved like that, they made me out most assuredly as an upright threat, not as a four footed deer. Had they moved first, they may have trotted or walked of a little bit then stopped again. That is the way of deer, even ones slightly frightened and unsure of a possible threat. The one I had wanted to shoot could not see me, no way she could have, her view of me was blocked by the tree that blocked me from seeing most of her. For the life of me though, I have no idea how it is that I just completely disregarded the other deer that still could me.

I forgot all about that one in the matter of mere seconds. So when I raised my rifle, ever so slowly, that one was watching from about 17 to 20 yards away to my left from behind the deadfall. It took of like a bat out of hell, may have been shot at before, but certainly has encountered humans that scared it. Why had they not run outright. Well deer cannot see all that well, certainly they cannot distinguish a hunter from the background of trees with all that much ease, not even a hunter in blaze orange as was I. First of all, they are color blind. Secondly they have trouble distinguishing one thing from another. What they do not have though is trouble scenting things nor seeing movement. Their hearing is also good, but as I pointed out they can be deceived. They did not scent me, even though the wind was blowing from right to left carrying any scent from me right to them. They would have bolted right away or hidden behind the downfall had they scented me as human. Instead they came to me likely expecting another deer or two. It was only when I moved that it keyed in on me not being another deer. Both of them bolted, maybe more like Santa’s coursers is a better analogy that like a bat out of hell - but they were gone in almost no time. I did have a good opportunity for a running deer shot. The one I wanted presented a spine shot. I could have hit it, of that I am pretty certain, I am a fair shot. The thing is that they were within 50 yards of a road to the left, from when they came. Should they have veered that way and I followed with them in my sights, well then I may have shot and should I have missed there were cars of hunters along the road, and a house in that direction. They ran straight then right - further into the forest. I figured a shot at a running deer even toward the woods was a bad chance to take with all the other hunters out and about on state land. I waited about 10 minutes then tried to stalk them, but they had gone much further once spooked than they would have had I put into practice the most important hunting skill of all - patience.

If you doubt I would have gotten a shot had I been patient, let me just say you probably are very wrong. I once walked dup on three deer, two does and a fawn on my uncles farm. I was on an old overgrown logging road, they were coming across it, at least headed to et, feeding on acorns (or whatever) on the forest floor. I had stopped and was looking around slowly and there they were about 15 to 25 feet (not yards but feet) away from me just having come over a small rise. I had no human scent, I used deer scent, I was moving at a snail's pace and stopping frequently, and when I saw them I did not move. I stood there looking at them, only turning very slowly a few inches so I faced them straight on, and I watched them for at least 5 maybe 10 minutes. They had absolutely no clue that I was there, or if they did they ignored me totally as they got closer and closer while foraging in the leaf litter on the forest floor. I was hunting - not practicing as I had done often before. I had my shotgun, even if they ran I could have snap shot at least one of them. The thing was I had no doe permit, so I watched. After awhile my back started to ache badly. I also had on a small but fairly heavy pack then (I almost always have one when hunting). I squirmed a bit they did not notice. The big doe close, I probably could have jumped a bit and touched her before she took off - that close. I figured oh well, I'll take a shot doe permit or not. I fired a single shot into a safe backstop and the three deer took off for the life of them. I figured I would make them a bit more cautious and more fun to hunt the following year if I got a doe permit. I stayed put after the shot because while the two does ran over the rise in the direction from which they had come, the fawn hid in some pines and a down fall. It bleated and guess what. With about 5 minutes, the two does were back, the fawn had come to their sides, and they were feeding again right there in front of me. This time though I was moving a bit more because I was uncomfortable from the pack and from holding my shotgun all the while pretty much without moving except to fire the shot. The older doe came very close to me but this time realized something was afoot. She sniffed a few times in my direction, snorted, stomped her front hooves but I did not move. Then she came even closer sniffed, snorted loudly and took off for parts unknown followed by the other two. Why - probably smelled the burnt gunpowder residue - enough of a foreign smell to spook her.

The whole point is, had I been patient with the two deer on this recent hunting trip - I likely would have scored some venison for the table. There is no way to know how you will react and then continue to act in any given circumstance. Other deer have fallen to my guns before because I remained patient. This time though, I don't know what it was - was it the hangover of the day before, combined with a lousy night's sleep caused by the howling wind that had me thinking Jacob Marley's ghost was about to introduce me to those other three specters in my hotel room, or just my buddy Arthur I. Tis who always accompanies me nowadays (and is a pain in the neck and back and joints) and who was especially bothersome with that backpack on my back, or if it was just the excitement of seeing a shot present itself like that after my not having bagged a deer in a few years now - but patient I was not. In fact, I was so impatient as to have completely disregarded, in fact forgotten, all about the other deer that was watching me as I raised my rifle. While I can blame a lot of things for my impatience it all comes down to it being me who is still hunting and that is what happens to most hunters who try to Still Hunt!

Mind you, I did have one more opportunity to hunt coming up. That would have been today. Truth be told tough, while I faced lots of perils in my life, especially during my 30 year career as a federal agent, I can say without a doubt I was not brave enough to go at it again. Maybe it was just the prospect of spending another night facing the unknown - I mean who knowingly plans on getting hangover, or trying to sleep in noisy, drafty hotel on a windblown night, or to walk through the woods in the dark as huge limbs crash to the earth after being broken by a gale. So I decided to take the safer course and to head for home last night, besides that I was just not patient enough to give it another day and as I have said somewhere before - patience is required. Funny, I am not a patient guy at home but I can be while out hunting. Anyway, I would rather face the prospects of an accident with one of the many crazed and raging impatient motorists on the New York highways, even the part of it through sections of New York City, than to face the prospect of hoping another day would do the trick. That would mean that I would have had to have remained patient enough and have all else go right enough again other than having my hopes come crashing down as did that tree limb in the windstorm - or those deer go crashing through the woods - both scenes not witnessed and unthought-of by any but one impatient man.

I decided to be patient and wait until next weekend or the one after that because until the season ends, tere is always next weekend, or the one after that, if I can get one of our cars. Who knows, maybe by then I will have gone over this failed hunt enough times in my mind to really learn the lesson that I should have already known about patience and Still Hunting. If not, then maybe I will, at least, embarrass myself into getting it right the next time I have a dream shot like that with a deer only 15 yards away presenting itself broadside to me. And no, no matter what you may be thinking by now, I do not mean to infer that I was dreaming when it happened.

All the best,
Glenn B