Tuesday, November 29, 2011
2011 PA Opener
I have to admit that I prefer to be sitting in my deer stand around the time that Tidball chooses to roll out of the house on opening day. It comes down to aesthetics, more than anything else. Leave early and you are less apt to run across many of the deer hunters who descend upon Fye Forest on opening day. Building upon last year’s experience, Tidball had strong logic for the day's plan. I was happy to follow, with few delusions of my own deer hunting acumen.
The new plan, cemented the night before over 8-year-old bourbon (Tidball), delectable Canoga Farms venison sausage and turkey mousse, and 4-day-old gout (yours truly), had us parking a mile from the forest where we would hunt.
At 6:30 we were finally working our way into woods, dodging the mob of hunters who were readily identified by their 1,000,0000 candle power lamps and pungent cigarette smoke. Admittedly, the “mob” was not large (5 or so members), but their presence was disconcerting. I had preferred a different entry point through “the Valley of Death” precisely because we could avoid encountering members of mob. "Nonsense! Pure delusion," insisted Tidball. That approach ran directly through bedding areas and escape cover. Contaminate this refuge with our own scent and our quarry would flee elsewhere. So ran the logic of Tidball.
As dawn arrived we were revising his new plan (new plan 1.1) in light of the location of individual mob members, forecast of prevailing winds and scent cones(there were none at that point), and who knows what else. My skepticism was rising. Of Tidball’s many decision making variables, I accepted only his observation that mob rules require members to remain within 100 yards of the forest edge. We stumbled through the dark, arriving at a point that Tidball confidently proclaimed was one he had identified last year: “Ambush Alley.” This seemed unlikely given Tidball’s poor night vision and the large number of blackberry glades that looked EXACTLY like the one we were in.
We agreed that I would sit in so-called “Ambush Alley” (uncomfortably close to the mob) and Tidball would move another 100 yards along the contour. It was time to put the new plan 1.1 to the test.
No sooner did I sit down than a member of the mob stumbled by, not 45 yards distant, headed straight for the Valley of Death. I re-relocated, expectations reduced to zero (new plan 1.11). Finally it was quiet.
Within five minutes I heard the snapping of a twig. Too late to move again, I hunched behind a massive hemlock, waiting for this latest mob interloper to move on.
Footsteps. No, hoof-steps! In the din I could see, 10 feet distant, a small doe. She winded me. Snorted. Jumped back. Peered at the gouty blob at the base of the hemlock. What was that? She stepped forward, tentatively, then snorted and ran away. I took the opportunity to pull out cell phone and film, aware that by this act I was changing this elemental experience from a primitive aesthetic to a modern, made-for-the-blogosphere production.
Thankfully I felt no compulsion to tweet.
What a morning! Soon I could hear turkeys near Tidball’s location. What an absolute joy! With a clear view of my surroundings I settled in to one of the most active hunts in recent memory. Good on you new plan 1.11!
Spirits fully restored and senses at their apex for the day, I peered around, getting familiar with Ambush Alley. And there he was. 100 yards distant, down hill and walking steadily toward me was a deer. A buck. I looked at him through the scope. A six point. Perfect.
Calm, surprisingly so, I picked an opening in the trees but quickly decided there was too much underbrush to make a good shot. The little buck was unaware of my presence and there was time. I picked a different opening, dialed my scope to roughly 5x power, and waited a moment. He was there. I checked again to be sure that he had the required three tines on one beam, then lowered the gun to his shoulder and shot.
The report was massive. The first to break the morning silence. The deer toppled to his side. A few kicks and he was still. I fought the urge to run to him and waited, adrenalin finally coursing through my system. Gout cured, at least temporarily.
Over the next 10 minutes I suffered, fighting every natural urge to run to the downed animal, whooping and hollering my achievement. Compelled to wait by the admonitions of friends with whom I had long-hunted (you know who you are). After a few minutes I sought diversion. First I checked the time on my cell phone. 7:30. Then, well, I texted. Mind you this is something that I have only been introduced to in the past 6 months. Sitting in the middle of the forest, finally content that I had escaped the presence of the mob, I sought distraction (and connection) by texting. First Tidball, then Stedman, then wife, then father. As a distraction it worked. At 10.00000001 minutes I walked, as calmly as possible, to the downed animal.
Barely legal (3x2), but my trophy!
What followed that day can only be seen as pure irony, or poetry. I could not contact Tidball as his phone had no signal and quickly lost power. So I dragged the deer alone. Slowly. Gouty toe a factor. 44 years also a factor (see Stedman’s recent opening day post).
By 11:00 I had dropped off the deer at the local butcher.
I was back in the woods by noon. With no ability to contact Tidball I walked, and walked. Toward gunfire. Is that Tidball’s drilling? Toward blaze orange. What was Tidball wearing this morning? At one point, back in Ambush Alley, I flushed a turkey, 10 yards off. Apparently Tidball was 30 yards beyond the bird, gutting his own buck. This modern, cell-phone texting hunter walked right by. I sat for awhile, had an opportunity at another small buck, but my season was over.
A great hunt of complex aesthetics. A complete experience.