Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chillin' on the Red

Amid the miserable heat this summer keeps dumping on us many are still out there getting ready for the upcoming archery seasons. Some seasons start amazingly early while others seem in no hurry at all. I am finally beginning to feel the itch, it’s coming, soon we will be in the woods. As I watch the online talk about continuing heat I thought back on a trip that wasn’t quite so warm.

Here in the Volunteer State we are not known for bitter cold or long winters. Snow for us is something we see a few times a year at best and anything colder than 25 degrees has folks complaining. Years ago I started to amass gear for whatever Ma Nature decided to send my way. It took several seasons of saving and looking but I managed to fill a closet with things that would let me get out when staying in was much smarter.

Several years ago we were having a winter that was actually on the cold side, well for us anyway. We had snow early, below normal temps starting in late October that continued right through till spring. About mid December my brother gives me a call and asks if I want to head up to Robertson county near the Kentucky line on Saturday.
“Yep, what time?”
“Get here at 4:30 and we will head out. Oh, Stymie is going with us to see if we can get him one.”
This was his nickname his son-in-law, who just couldn’t seem to figure hunting out.

I got to my brother’s house, threw my gear into his truck then went inside. The temperature in Nashville was about 14, where we were headed it was 7, I had planned ahead. As I went inside there was Stymie, standing in the middle of the living room bundled up from head to toe, including insulated coveralls. He looked like a bad ad for one of those backwards blanket thingies.
“Buddy, you might want to take some of that off till we get there. If you wear all that in the truck you will freeze when you get out in the cold.” says I.
“No, I’ll be ok. I don’t want to be cold.”
Stupidity knows no bounds, I knew trying to explain the reasoning would be a waste of air. Lord knows you don’t want to listen to the guys that have been hunting their whole life.

We roll out arriving about an hour later at a nice 90 acre spot along the Red River. We had decided to hunt from our blinds because of the cold. I was the only one that used a climber there anyway. They dropped me off then went up the hill to buddy hunt the big blind facing the bedding area at the edge of our property. I was hunting with my back to the river looking at a spot we called the horse shoe. It is a U shaped field surrounded by woods. They deer used this spot and the woods around it heavily.

I settled in, all toasty in several layers of clothes nothing but eyes exposed. We had good chairs in all of the blinds so the worst thing for me was trying to stay awake. Shooting time came and less than an hour later the radio goes off,
“Hey are you freezing yet?” asks Stymie.
“No. I’m fine, why?”
“It’s too cold. I don’t see how you stand it.”
About an hour and he is ready to call it a day.
I laugh, settle back in and watch the wood line for movement. Everything still frosted white from the night before, my breath making clouds in the still air.

About 8 o’clock my coffee has run its course, I need to take care of this. I had watched the spots where deer cross without seeing a hair but knew as soon as I stood up one would be there, somehow they just know. I took a few minutes to scan everything I could before opening the door to step behind my blind. As soon as I did not one but eight does were standing there about 140 yards out where a second before none had been.

Saying unkind things under my breath I eased the door open to retrieve my smoke pole. I had gotten lucky, the corner of the blind kept me out of sight. I eased the door shut, kneeled down and braced against the corner. The big boss doe stopped broadside to check things out as the others milled around the hill sniffing out acorns. I got a good picture behind her shoulder, touched one off and started reloading. When I looked again all of the deer were still standing there. I picked another one, took a shot which sent them running for the river crossing. I noticed one wasn’t keeping up. Not good. I was hoping she had gone down right there.
I waited a few minutes before going to look, I thought I could see a white belly and was ready to go check when the radio beeps.
“Was that you.?”
“Did you get one?”
“I’m about to go check.”
“Ok, we will come down. We had to start the truck Stymie got too cold to sit in the blind.”

I walked to the fence to wait but looked and saw a white belly staring at me. Crawling under I headed into the woods to find a nice big doe there so I grabbed an ear and pulled her to the fence. I went back to look where the second one had been and found a trail leading back towards the river. I followed it only to see it go into the water. There was a small island at midstream but the river isn’t wide so I figured she had made it across. Just as I take a step she jumps up from a small dip, turns and dives in. I get the crosshairs on her, squeeze the trigger, squeeze the trigger.. What the… dang safety is on. I watch as she stumbles across a gravel bar and into the woods on the far bank. I go over to where my brother was pulling up to the fence, tell them what is going on and start back to find a way across the river.

It was cold enough to freeze the juice out of the weed stalks. Note the white stuff.

Now for the bad part. Looking back over my shoulder I motion for Stymie to come along to help track her. This was a mistake. He sounds much like a train wreck in the woods. Sure enough we no sooner get across than he bumps her then won’t stop crashing through the brush. She runs, stops, looks back, runs again. The whole time I am trying to get him to be quiet. This requires me almost screaming at him. I finally give up as she crosses onto property we can’t go on. He looks at me trying to figure out why I’m pissed.

We cross back over to where my brother has the first doe dressed, ready to load. We get her in the truck and decide to call it a day since the cold is too much for son-in-law. He is going to make some kind of deer hunter, between his wife calling every 10 minutes asking when he is coming home to not liking the heat or the cold I don’t hold out much hope.

As this blistering summer rolls along I can think back and laugh about that one. Yes it was cold. Yes poor Stymie learned some lessons. Yes I lost a deer but that spot is full of coyotes and they have to eat, too. I actually like to hunt in the cold a few times a year even if our deer don’t normally move much in it. Remembering hunts like this one help me pass the time and maybe forget the heat for a bit. I can still see the frost covered grass, deer slipping through the trees, hear the Red River flowing just behind me singing softly across rocks as I sit warm and snug.

Opening day will probably be hot here but that’s ok, I can wait a bit for the cold. Soon I will be thinking almost nonstop about getting back in a tree or blind, hopefully with some good luck you will be, too.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Slinging in the Rain

With all the talk going back and forth about the Deer Tour I have almost stopped thinking of fishing. Deer season will be along before we know it, Sept 24th here, and I still have things to do before then. With a heat index of way over 100 about all I am doing is thinking about cutting shooting lanes or checking properties. What I can do is tell you how I started last year. Not a long story but shows that after almost nine months of waiting to hit the deer woods we will put up with a lot of rough conditions to chase a deer.

I had spent some time getting stands checked, cutting shooting lanes and keeping mineral licks going. I’m lucky, except for trimming trees or a lane through head high weeds I don’t have much to do to get ready for opening day. September was creeping by like it does for all hunters as I shot everyday to be ready. The last few days before our opener I did my ritual of checking and rechecking my gear, making sure things were where I could find them in the dark. Like all folks headed outside I was watching the weather and wasn’t really happy about what they were saying, rain, not showers but rain for the weekend with heavier expected where I planned to hunt. I added rain gear to my pack the night before then headed to bed hoping the forecast was just wrong enough but had that feeling it wasn’t going to be pretty when I got up.

It is an hour and fifteen minute drive to the mountain so I was up at 4 to head out. As soon as I woke up I could hear the water coming from the downspouts, rain was hitting the bedroom window but at least there was no wind. With barely open eyes I fumbled around trying to focus as I got dressed, a cup of coffee then out the door. Rain is coming straight down, looks like I’m in for a long miserable day. I am not a fan of bow hunting in the rain, we need that blood trail most times which isn’t going to last with this kind of weather. But I rarely miss opening day even if the smartest thing I could do is get more sleep and wait till tomorrow.

This is the view I was hoping for but didn't get. Doe stopped right where my limb and riser meet.

I drove through rain that got heavier as I went up in elevation along with a fog/mist making things hard to see even on the road. I could just imagine how bad it was going to be in the stand. I pulled up to the house, geared up and walked back to my ladder stand. Rain gear isn’t the coolest stuff to wear in 100% humidity with temps already in the upper 70s, I was happy my walk in was fairly short but I was still sweating when I got to my tree. After getting things up the ladder I brushed wet leaves from the seat, sat down and nocked an arrow with my head hung down as rain ran off my hood. Daylight was still a few minutes away so I sat in the dark listening to rain on leaves trying to stay awake with the best sleeping sounds playing around me.

Finally daylight began to work through the mist but the rain was coming down steadily without letting up plus the mist was getting heavier by the minute. I swear it is getting darker not lighter as shooting time finally arrives. I pushed my hood back enough to see, checking the woods for movement, watching the trails coming off the hill from the property to my right and the good one over my left shoulder. I scanned the woods then hid under my hood for a couple of minutes then repeated. About 15 minutes after shooting time I looked to my right to see a deer butt going behind a big oak tree just on the other side of a tiny creek that marks the property line. I can shoot across to the other property but it was headed my way so I eased my hand into my wrist sling, clipped on the release, stood to face the deer and waited.

A drier days' view of where the deer cross the creek.

Turns out it is a good doe, she steps over the creek walks a few more steps then stops to scratch an itch just 20 yards from me. It couldn’t be better, she is broadside with nothing between us but air and rain. She turns her head so she can scratch her ear with a back foot never looking in my direction. While she is moving I get drawn, settle into position and look through my peep to find the 20 yard pin. Ummm, where is my peep? Why can’t I see my pin? It is so dim under the canopy and with the mist/rain I can’t find my peep, my glasses being half fogged up isn‘t helping. I start moving the string around but can’t get a sight picture, finally I had to take the string away from my face to find the back sight. I was still at full draw as I eased the string straight back to my eye so I could keep lined up and finally had my pin in view.

Doe critter is still standing there doing a great imitation of a backyard target as I settle the pin behind her shoulder. I touch the trigger as I see the spot I want hearing the arrow hit home. She drops her knees, takes off angling uphill to my left, crossing the old stagecoach road to disappear into the laurels. As soon as she is out of sight I hear her go down, I think, between noise from rain along with wet ground I hope that is what I heard. Now I have to decide, wait 20-30 minutes like we are told or go look now. I go for option B, climbing down to find my arrow to be sure of my shot since it is raining so hard.

It only takes a minute to recover the arrow, it is covered in good blood so I know it isn’t a bad shot. I find where she was standing and look for blood, nothing. I walk a little way uphill following where her feet dug in, no blood. I keep going, just walking her trail of thrown up leaves with no blood for another 30 yards then hear something scuffling on the ground. Getting lower to see under the last bit of laurels I see brown and white, only about 40 yards from where she had been standing when I shot. I know that getting down this fast isn’t smart, in fact, she isn’t dead yet, so I just sit down to wait rather than take a chance of jumping her. After a couple of minutes it is over so I can go up to check her out and tell her thanks.

Here she is. That is the exit. A nice average doe for these parts.

She is a good doe for here, probably a 3 year old in great shape. The shot had been a double lung with a Grim Reaper which had done a good job of putting her down fast. I went back to my stand and decided to stay for awhile longer since I hadn’t made much noise and the rain made sure sound didn’t travel far. I sat in the stand for another 30 minutes or so but the rain just got worse so I packed up, walked out and brought my truck back to get her loaded. What a great start to a season.

That spot has given up about 8-9 deer so far. No huge bucks like everyone else seems to take but plenty of venison for the freezer. I only took two deer last year both came from that stand with my bow. The 20 yard shot opening day and an 18 yard shot a week later on the other side of the stand. Both deer were recovered in less than 50 yards of where they were shot, at least #2 was on a dry day and fell less than 10 yards from a logging road for ease of pick up.

Opening day is coming, it will be here before we know it and I hope everyone has a great one. Rain or shine you can bet, barring sickness or accident, I will be sitting in that same spot doing the same thing hoping luck is on my side again.

Sorry for the bad pics, these are all cell phone shots.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Double Down

With all the talk going on about our Social Media Deer Tour this year I have been thinking more about hunts, past and future. As we talked on Twitter the other night I told someone about one of the fastest hunts I have ever been on, if you can even call this one a hunt. No stand, no hours of waiting, just pure dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time. Thought I would pass it along just to show that sometimes you just get lucky even when you aren’t particularly smart. When staying home would have been the better choice considering how I felt.

A few years ago I was having a good start to my season, I had taken a couple of deer with my bow and was really looking forward to our muzzleloader season which was only a week long. I had a small food plot out, a new tower stand overlooking it, deer were coming in plus the weather was great. All I needed was the last few days of archery to pass then on to smoke poles.

This is a view from my tower stand before the food plot was in. Deer were between the stand and cedars on left.

I spent the last few days of work just waiting for Saturday to roll around. We had one weekend to hunt with muzzleloaders only since the next Saturday gun opened. You can use any weapon during gun but I wanted to get one with my .50 first. Then along comes Thursday, I don’t feel so good. Is that a fever? Why am I hurting all over? Chills and shakes, you have got to be kidding me!! Yep I got the flu 36 hours before the opener.

Now I am down sicker than sick getting calls from my brother and friends that are going asking if I am. All I am hoping for is to make it to the next day. Turns out this strain was one of the bad ones. Oh joy, just what I wanted. I spend the next 4 days miserable, missing hunting and work till finally I managed to go back to work on Tuesday. I wasn’t much good since I was still weak, but at least I was out of bed.

As I was driving home I kept looking at the clock thinking if I get to my house by a certain time, grabbed my gear, drove 15 minutes, walked/ran for close to half a mile to the food plot I might have 5-10 minutes to see if a deer was out. I got home right on time, ran in grabbed what I needed and took off for Marshall county, wheezing and coughing with every step. I was going hunting.

About 5 minutes into my drive my phone goes off, its’ my brother telling me he is headed to the check in station with a big 6 pointer he had taken in Cheatham county coming into a grunt call. The time is now 4:40 shooting ends around 5:15.
“I’m headed over to hunt the food plot in Marshall county.”
“You’ll never make it, look at the time.”
“They will be there or they won’t. I just need to get in sight of the food plot. Can’t kill ‘em on the couch and I missed the weekend.”
“Call me when you leave the field, let me know if you saw anything.”
“Will do.”

I pulled up to the barn, parked and started throwing on vest, hat and pack. I grabbed my Winchester and headed toward my food plot which was at the back corner of the 75 acre farm. This property was narrow and long, I could have driven closer but didn’t want to spook anything driving in. I was huffing, wheezing and coughing as I tried to go as fast as I could. Amazingly I made it to the back field without my lungs or head exploding or blacking out from lack of air.

I slowed down to catch my breath as I eased up the last couple of hundred yards. The plot was on a small hill and I had to drop down into a dip before going up a final rise. This put me in our farm road with no cover in full view of any deer. I slipped up to get about 100 yards from the edge of the plot and sure enough there are deer feeding about 20 yards out in the food.

Now for the fun part. I have no way to rest against a tree, no trees, no shooting sticks, grass is too high to sit down, what to do? I fall back on something my brother always thought was amazing, for some reason when hunting I can shoot offhand. Not at the range punching paper, then I can’t hit a barn, but under hunting conditions it comes together. I picked out a big doe that was just at 120 yards cranked the scope up to 10 and settled in. As the crosshairs settled behind her shoulder I touched one off.

Huge cloud of smoke, recoil throwing the scope off target and that great BOOM of black powder, I love it. As soon as I could I was reaching for a reload even before I could see past the smoke. As I seated another round I looked to see a deer standing at the right edge of the field looking back to where the one I had shot at had been standing. It took a step back that way never looking at me then walked back out and stood staring at the ground.
“Oh shit! I killed that first one.” I say out loud as I realize it is looking at the first deer.
I get the gun up quickly settle the crosshairs on number 2 and touch the trigger. Again that wonderful push, cloud and boom then I’m reloading a third round just in case. As the smoke clears I don’t see anything in the field. I head up to check things out, as I get near the field edge I see a white belly then another one. Both deer are down within 6 yards of each other, neither one took a step. Not bad, two 120 yard offhand shots in under a minute. Yes I am very proud of those shots.

First deer is in distance. Closer one was the curious one.

By now it is getting dark so I take a couple of pictures, walk back to get my truck then come back to get them loaded. By the time I get back with the truck I am getting sick again after the adrenaline has worn off but I have two nice deer down along with a great story. I get them loaded and point the truck towards home all before 6:00.

Loaded up and headed to the house.

As I get out on the main road I call my brother.
“Tell me a story.” he says.
“Headed to the check in station.”
“So you got one.”
“Nope two. Got a double.”
“Congrats, bro!!”
We swap stories for a few minutes about another 3 deer day for us, I miss those. His good 6 point and my 2 does are now logged into our hunting journals to read, remember and pass along to friends.

Moral of the story, if you get a few minutes, go, you never know what might be standing there waiting for you.
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Born and raised in middle Tennessee.I'm a working wildlife and landscape artist specializing in watercolors. Now making cedar lures and custom turkey calls.



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