Friday, December 28, 2012

Another first.

He killed his first deer on December 24, 2012. He made a perfect shot on the doe and it expired less than a minute later. I made a quick calculation and determined that his current hunting efficiency is 1 deer per 16 hours hunted, or .0625 DPH. Pictured below is the bag that contained disposable Buck Bagger(tm) gloves I purchased in 1993 at Fay’s Drugs in Ithaca before my first deer hunt.  I dutifully carried this package along with me on every deer hunt since then, knowing that one day I would excitedly tear it open to field dress my first deer. Nearly twenty years later I handed the bag to my son, and he broke the seal.
Still usable after two decades in the bag.

Christmas Eve 2012 was his third trip to a beautiful hundred acre private property where we have permission to hunt. It’s a one hour drive from D.C., and sits on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge within Fauquier County, Virginia.  It's a very rugged, boulder-strewn parcel. Monster oak and cherry trees attest to an absence of timbering for close to a century. But there are patches of thick cover and a goodly amount of wild grape.

A location I scouted last season has cover and food, and ample bed, rub, and scrape sign. Before the season started Anna - a FWS colleague and hunter - said that she purchased a double-wide ladder stand, and we should find a good spot for it take turns in it.  She knew that Richard (another colleague and hunter) and I were planning on taking our kids out, so correctly guessed that the double stand would be greatly appreciated. The spot I had scouted made sense for the stand, and as part of our pre-season scouting trip we carted the stand to the spot and spent much of the day setting it up.

Assembling the stand.
Anna hunted with us for opening day and the second day we hunted. She saw deer from the stand on the second day, so my excitement about hunting there was increasing. On the previous two hunts, my son had demonstrated a patience and care in still-hunting that was quite impressive, but I looked forward to being in the stand on Christmas Eve to set him up with some better odds.

He has been excited about hunting, setting his own alarm clock for 4:40am on hunt mornings and had, without complaint, gotten out of bed and geared up with nary a reminder or word of “encouragement” needed from me. Considering what it typically takes to get him out of bed on other weekend mornings, this is impressive. Early morning Christmas Eve, we loaded up the car and rolled down the street to pick up Richard, then moved outward to the Beltway, then west on Route 66. Just about one hour later, we pulled onto the property.
We pulled the rest of our clothing and gear together at the car then we and I took off straight to the stand. Richard took another path and would hunt some separate, but also promising, cover. We walked part way around the ridge topped by the stand, then angled up. It was a cool morning with no wind and a clear sky, but we anticipated a storm moving in later in the day, possibly bringing in snow. We arrived at the stand without incident and I started pulling our safety harnesses on. I talked about how I felt the morning would go. His feelings were much more on point as he froze, looked past me, and whispered, “Deer.” I looked up saw a doe 50 yards distant moving along our ridge. She hadn’t seen or scented us but I think she had heard something, just not enough to really alarm her. He slowly took a knee, chambered a round, and brought the rifle up (Weatherby Vanguard Compact chambered in .243 loaded with Barnes TTSX copper rounds). Her path curled around from our left to right, getting slightly more distant as she moved along the arc. She was far enough into the trees that no clear shot was offered and she eventually walked downslope and out of sight, he was following her in the scope the entire way. It was his first decent view of a deer while hunting, and we were both very excited.
I told him we should get into the stand quickly in case she came back. I finished getting our harnesses on, climbed up, strapped in, and turned around to pull up the rifle. Only then did I realize that I had neglected to grab the loose end of the pull rope I had attached to the rifle he was holding, waiting for me to pull it up. I unstrapped, took two steps back down when I heard him whisper, again, “Deer.” Once more I follow his gaze and I see the doe right back where we first saw her (she had circled right back), but this time moving directly towards us, behind the stand. Still on the ground, he had taken a knee, rechambered a round and shouldered the rifle. Keeping my eyes on the doe, I slowly stepped back up the stand and positioned my body behind the trunk. At 30 yards the doe made a left turn, offering a perfect broadside shot. She moved slowly, without any awareness of us. I heard him whisper up to me, “Can I take the shot?” I whispered back, “If you’re comfortable, take it.” He whispered his question again, I whispered back the same response. My eyes were on the doe and I thought that the shot opportunity seemed perfect. I glanced down and wondered why he hadn’t taken the shot. He was still in his kneeling position, rifle up, looking through the scope. I look back towards the doe, and he fires.
I know immediately his shot placement was perfect. The doe rocked back at the shot, hobbled less than 15 yards, collapses and is quiet and still within a minute. I called down to that the deer was down for good, but to be ready with a follow-up shot if needed. I also let him know that we would be staying put for 10 minutes, just to be sure. We spent the next minutes talking about the events, and I find out that he never heard me respond to his questions on whether to take the shot. The decision to shoot was truly and exclusively his own.  He looked around at his feet, bent down and picked up a small object he held up to me with a smile on his face. He put the spent brass into his zippered pocket and closed it up.
We walked over to the deer and saw that the entry point was exactly where we had talked about over the past weeks, just behind the shoulder, just short of halfway up the body. Richard joined us a few minutes later, having heard the shot and wanting to find out if the son had accomplished what the father had not. We dressed out the deer together, with my son pulling on the Buck Baggers to remove the entrails. He asked me if he could have the hide tanned for a blanket. I told him of course, and after we finished field-dressing I carried the deer over my shoulders and out of the woods.

Jim will be happy to know that the tragic pleasures of the hunt were experienced on that day. My son is looking forward to cooking up venison for family and friends, and keeping warm under his deer hide.

He looks forward to getting out again, and I look forward to joining him.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Mo's first deer

Last year Mo hunted with me.  We had a great time sitting in the double stand together mornings. On opening day I shot a deer that was originally setting up to be hers, but then bolted.  The following day Mo got a shot, but was using a Savage Camper .22LR over 20 Ga.  The gun is nice for a small game-getter, and I thought would suffice as a slug hunter at close range, but that proved to be naive optimism, as the gun sent slugs hither dither with no pattern to be found. Prior to the hunt, I got three out of four slugs into a pie plate  at 20 yards.  I thought it was good to go.  It was not.  Mo missed...just barely missed.  Gave a brisket trim --- little bit of white hair, no blood.  I watched it through the range finder.  It was 43 yards.  She was bummed.  I felt stupid, after later trying the gun at 40 yards at the range and realizing that despite the three in the plate at 20 yards, it could take me all day to get lucky enough to get one in at 40.  That gun was basically retired as a deer gun that day.

Under the tree for Christmas last year, nestled in with lingerie, perfume, chocolates and other sundries, was a new shotgun.  It was a single shot H&R 20 gauge Ultra Slug Hunter Compact, rifled barrel.  I had the barrel tapped and a nice scope mounted. I spent a few hours testing various loads at the range.  I settled on the Hornady SST sabot and dug in for a few hours of getting that gun perfect. It is a tack driver at 150, with nice clover leaf patterns consistently from a bench rest. Definitely good for a 40 yard deer. I'd actually like to shoot it myself.

So this past opening day (2012) found us back in the same stand at dawn together. The weather was uncooperative and we saw no deer.  After a cold rain, Mo was ready for hot coffee and a fire, so we packed it up around 10:30 am  ( I went back out at 11:30 and stalked a 7 point buck to < 20 yards-- that buck is in the freezer and the antlers are handles for my gun cabinet... but that's a different story).  At 2:30 Pm she was ready to go for the evening sit. We went to the double stand down by the lake, and enjoyed a nice evening.  As dusk descended  we saw deer at the end of the field near the state land, a buck and two does and two fawns.  They came 1/4 of the way towards us and I began to imagine a nice conclusion to opening day, and then suddenly they stopped, tails up.  I had been winded in this scenario in archery season, so I felt the deflation of it going wrong begin to rise in me, until I noticed that the deer were not looking in our direction, but instead were focused on the marsh.  I got the binocs up, and quickly picked out the coyote, sitting on the marsh edge, staring in the direction of the deer.  I ranged it at 143, in range for both of us.  Mo wanted nothing to do with a coyote, and  I hoped the deer would skirt around and continue coming our way.  But they spooked,and ran for the woods of the state land.  The coyote remained for quite sometime, but with fading light and the prospect of a success with deer in the morning, no shots were taken.

The next morning dawned a classic November Autumn deer hunting morning- crisp and clear.  We were in the stand in plenty of time, and our only worry was fogging glasses and scope lenses.  We sat taking in a beautiful Finger Lakes Fall morning, when I caught motion at the far end of the ridge we were hunting. A quick look through the scope confirmed an approaching doe.  I searched her back trail hard for a buck, but saw no additional movement. The deer approached to within 100 yards and I suggested that Mo get her gun up and get comfortable; the deer was ambling through without any awareness of our presence, but not stopping much. Mo was up, and I looked over to see her breathing a bit hard.  I said "check you scope."  We had practiced defogging quickly the day before, and she frowned and defogged.  The deer was moving down a draw, potentially offering a right to left quartering towards shot. I suggested Mo wait til the deer got broad side, asked her to check her scope, and she defogged again.  Then, at about 70 yards, the deer abruptly turned to its left, briefly giving Mo a left to right broadside, which evaporated quickly as the deer browsed behind trees. Mo was hyped up, even agitated, letting cusses fall about regarding uncomfortable rest, fogged scope, rest height, etc. I ranged the deer, who's head was perfectly hidden by a tree at 65 and said to Mo "find vitals and shoot when ready."

We had spent a few evenings doing vitals drills using hunting magazine photos.  I was confident that she knew the boiler room at most angles. I watched through the range finder and the shot rang out. The deer dropped low, laid back its ears and tail, and sprinted hard at the shot.  I thought it all looked good.  But then, Mo, who was hoping for an instant flop-over, was cussing up a storm.  I shared with her how heart shot deer often do what hers just did, and that it looked like a good shot. She asked how long we should wait.  I said, normally, at least 30 minutes, but after a shot like that. I'd say we can at least go look at the point of impact in 15 minutes and decide from there.  Fifteen minutes dragged on, Mo bemoaning her shot, me trying to encourage her not to write it off, that it looked good.  She was suffering from last year's miss. Finally 15 minutes had expired, and I got down to have a look.  Walked over to the tree that was hiding the deer's head, and was pleased to see major sign. This was an extremely well hit deer, by the looks of the leaves and the path out. Catastrophic blood loss at the point of impact and continuing for as far as the eye could see. I felt confident, and waved Mo down from the stand and to me.

When she arrived I pointed out the various sign, the way the hooves had churned up leaves, the serious blood splash on both sides of the prints indicating solid pass-through. As a matter of training, I had her mark the spot of impact with orange survey tape, and suggested she follow the blood trail.  She followed it head down a mere 20 yards, until she reached the deer. which was still.  It was heart shot,and moved no more.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New covert

I'm reading deer hunting posts and receiving photos of cervid prizes from grousers in New York with envy. Wish I were there with you folks. Here in Pennsyltucky, the woods are just getting good for grouse and woodcock and gun season for deer doesn't start for eight days. Bobby, my neighbor, introduced me to a new covert, just down the road from Lion Country Supply, that yielded both bird species. We came home with two woodcock, but should have had a few more.

Lilly, locked up along the railroad track that borders the new covert.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Another 30-minute epic

Had a good deer opener today.  Got out into the crow's nest at oh-dark-thirty this morning, and I was treated to a fawn parade for the first couple of hours.  First a single, then a pair, then another single, all going in different directions.  Finally at 9:30 I caught another glimpse of movement in the undergrowth, and before I knew it a good-sized buck was skipping through my window of opportunity . . .  but alas, he was moving too quickly and I didn't have the gun ready (I was glassing him with binoculars).  Sat there for a while and was kind of bummed out--I didn't see a buck all last season, so he was the first in two years.  Anyway.  One more fawn rounded out the action at 10 or so, and by 11am I was in the kitchen eating breakfast.

Because it's opening day, and because I saw that decent buck in the a.m., I figured I'd better go out into the swamp in the hopes of seeing Mr. Buck again.  I'd poked around the back nine a couple of days ago, and there was plenty of buck sign, so I'm guessing he's the local boy.

I put on my gear, turkey vest, blaze orange, and safari sling for the gun, and at noon it's down hill I go.

One minute later: I get to the mowed area below our sheds and barn, and . . .  DAMN, there he is.  Bedded down on the far side of the pond!

I duck into a crouch, and fortunately I'm screened behind some goldenrod I hadn't gotten around to mowing. Good thing I'm lazy. I am as out-in-the-great-wide-open as it is humanly possible to be--I'm in a mowed field, so there's no belly crawling off to a more covered spot, if I move, he's going to see me.  I then proceed to crouch there for the next twenty minutes, alternately eyeing him in the scope, figuring out whether I can take an offhand neck shot, and then getting the shakes and having to put the gun down.  I'm kneeling, shifting position, eyeing him through the scope again.  I'd not brought my shooting sticks, and he's so low and the goldenrod so high I can't shoot at him from a sitting position.  It's kneeling offhand or nothing.  I can't quite make his neck out enough for a really clear neck shot, either.

Time passes.  I start to get hot, so slowly I strip out of my orange vest, my turkey vest, and my coat.  Might as well be comfortable if and when I shoot.  He never moves, his head is facing east into the wind and I'm basically south of him.

I had just gotten my jacket off when suddenly a squirrel busts me and starts squawking. Mr. Buck takes notice, I see his antlers starting to swivel, and all of a sudden he slowly gets up and stretches.

That's my cue.  From a kneeling position I aim at him broadside and shoot at him, offhand.  He goes down, staggers a bit, gets up, and just stands there looking around. I stand up and take a second shot, and he staggers off into the brush.

I reload and start following him.  I'm prepared to have him get up again and try to take off.  As I get to the edge of the pond and look into the woods, I make out his antlers--and he's down for good. He'd only gone about 20 yards. With a sigh of relief, I make my way over to him, give him a nudge, and it's over.

Go up to the house to get some help for the drag, and my daughter Julia does the honors.  She also sticks around and watches me field dress the deer--that's a first.  Not squeamish at all. Showed her the heart--one of the two shots took it out, hopefully the first one (the other/second shot hit the hind leg, so maybe he started moving when I stood up to take the second shot, apparently I'm not much on shooting at moving targets I guess. Although it could have happened the other way, it was all a bit of a blur.) At any rate, we then pull it uphill and hoist it into the truck for the trip to the butcher.

Anyway.  Haven't written a true writeup in a while, this one just felt like it needed it.  I was pretty damn nervous about having to take that offhand shot, but it worked out well. 

Julia photo credit

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

30-minute epic

Sunday afternoon, misty, foggy, Sandy on the way. Nolan's been plugged into the d!@#$% I Pad.
Must... Get... Kid... OUTSIDE! 

I offer a walk in the woods to check on our deer stands --- naaah. I offer to take away the Ipad until further notice if he doesn't get his boots on and meet me at the door --- whi-i-i-i-i-ining. How about we get Brody and look for a bird? -- Okay. (... ev-er-y-one's a win-nah!)

Okay then.  A bell & beeper, vest and shotgun, and a bit o' orange, and out the door.

Up past the barn to the red maples where we've found woodcock in prior seasons. Brody finds old scent - stop and go, searching.  Stopping long enough to activate the beeper, but no woodcock this time.  

He hunts farther down the maple stand, and bumps into a woodcock and gives chase to the edge of the big woods.  I give him a little "what-for" and we resume the hunt down the hill along the edge of the old field, to the other old field edge below the house.  Nolan and I scoot along, keeping pace while Brody works in and out of the woods, making bell music as he rolls along.  

Pretty soon he stops in the woods near the trail where Richie Feller and Angela dragged a deer out last fall.  Nolan and I follow this other music, SportDOG's bobwhite electronica, to the source -- Brody on point.

Nolan stays tight behind me as I walk wide around the dog and come in for the flush.  A timberdoodle whistles high for the sky, my gun barks, and the red gods smile. The bird plummets while feathers float softly to the ground as we walk toward Brody and the retrieve. The off-season retrieve training has been paying off, as last year he would've more likely mouthed the bird whereas now he's retrieving to hand.  Woodcock, at least -- still more work to do for consistency on grouse. I take the bird from Brody, and Nolan takes it from me to inspect and carry. Nolan is impressed with the shot, and I disguise my relief. With any luck, we won't find another bird.

But we do.  Brody works farther along the woods/field interface and into a little popple peninsula that juts into the field. This spot has held both woodcock and grouse in the past.  Into the aspen goes the dog, and out runs a deer -- a good-size one, but I couldn't tell whether it sported antlers or not. Ahead, bobwhite beeps are interspersed with tinkerbells, and Nolan and I follow Brody into the aspens. We approach Brody on point, and a woodcock lifts off out ahead, and glides across the field and down into the woods from which we just came. No shot. 

We continue on as before, working into the north breeze, and after we take just a few steps Brody's on point again. This time he's in the edge of the field pointing down into the woods to our left.  As we walk over a little knoll, Nolan get's a good look at the dog and we stop to admire the scene and discuss strategy. And the plan is a simple one -- I walk just inside the woods as Nolan trails along at the field edge. 

Our plan works to a tee, as the woodcock flushes away north down the field edge, with Nolan getting the perfect view.  My first shot misses behind to the right, but the 2nd barrel centers the bird and it falls. We wait as Brody goes for the retrieve, finds the bird, and brings it with speed right back to hand. Nolan, of course, is all proud of his dog, and full of questions about shooting -- were the shots hard? which one was harder? why'd you miss? 

We agree that two woodcock are enough today, no need to hunt further. We walk up the field to the house to get into dry clothes and warm up by the woodstove.  Our little hunt couldn't have turned out better, and I bet Nolan will remember it long after he's forgotten whatever game he was playing on the Ipad. The hunt will be re-lived at Thanksgiving when we eat these birds (prepared according to Pete's interpretation of March Woodcock). Oh, and Nolan's been jonesing to go turkey hunting next spring down in PA (thankyou PGC for the Under 12 Mentored Hunt Program!).  Time to look into youth sized shotguns... but that's another story.

Brody, Nolan, and two timberdoodles

Sunday, October 21, 2012

UP Odyssey

Quite a thing, the Odyssey: constant motion, movement.  A kaleidoscope of images: Spike's Keg o Nails in Grayling, the Sugar Bowl in Gaylord, the road bird in the Pigeon River, the Jolly Roger, the Trout River Tavern, innumerable mom 'n pop motels, lovely Sam in Munising, the Seney Plains and Mr. Clark, the Veneer Dome in Marquette--and the 70 mile loop road nearby where we drove 8 hrs and were never out of sight of popple--Bergland's Bar near Lake Gogebic, and their annual grouse tournament ('bonus to the FIRST team that brings in their 10 bird limit').  Indian Jail and the bird at dusk.  And more and more.

What a great place, the UP.  long lonely roads, small towns still limping along, and more grouse cover than a dedicated grouser could thrash in a lifetime.  And plenty of birds.

Affixing the pirate flag in the snow near Bergland, Lake Gogebic.  Proudly it flew, and a a covert name--Jolly Roger--near Kenneth MI, born.

A contemplative moment on Kate's Mountain.  Precise location unknown, unrevealed.  Jim and a Lab...who'd a thunk it.

A hot and tired--but very happy--pal in "Sweaty Dog" near the Lost Woodcock Highway.  Josh's gun strikes again!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Grouse Odyssey 2012

Rich promises a write-up (as in "Right . . . yup"), so here's a couple of pics from last week's Odyssey.

Here's Phoebe with her sire Bandit on the left and littermate Daisy in the middle.
That's littermate Daisy, not illiterate Daisy

Here's our pirate flag.  Rich will explain.
Long may she wave

Here's Rich still working and not following through on his God-given right to relax on his God-given right to enjoy a weekend/vacation.  We cured him of that with good old-fashioned ridicule. 
Rich not relaxing

Here's Rich in Munising, MI.  After he relaxed.
Rich relaxing.  Feel better now Dude?

I think that's about it for photos right now.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Miles and miles of grassland!

Successful South Dakota chicken hunt.
Been looking at Josh's mug for long enough.  Time for some killin pics!

Was recently invited to give a seminar in the Department of Natural Resource Management at South Dakota State University.  The invitation also include 2 days of field sampling in the national grasslands.

After my seminar, we loaded up the dogs and the rest of the hunting party and headed for Pierre.  My guide was Dr. Brian Graeb (pictured above), SDSU Fisheries Ecologist, as well as Llewellyn Setter nut.  Brian runs Setters Slough Kennel and has 10+ setters.  He brought 5 setters with him for our trip to Fort Pierre National Grasslands.  Good thing, since temps were warm for our 2 days of hunting.  First day I nearly went down with heat exhaustion.  Temp at noon was nearly 85.  Saw a few birds, mostly sharptails, at a distance.  Had a couple long pokes, but nothing fell.

Second day we found birds on the edge of a couple standing sunflower fields.  Dr. KC Jensen was the first to put birds on the ground, bagging 2 young Prairie Chickens.  Then I was able to add a Prairie Chicken and a Sharptail to my game pouch.  My first PC in hand.  As you can see from the above, there is A LOT of ground to cover!  Spectacular country.  Even with the hot weather, Brian's dogs did a real nice job covering the prairie.

We definitely need to find a way to arrange a Grouse Camp in central South Dakota one of these years.  I know I'll get back there sometime soon!

Look forward to seeing pics from those of you gathering in Maine for Grouse Camp.  I'll be in Portland for the TWS conference.  Definitely going to have a chat with TWS execs about the timing of this conference.  I think its mid Oct the next couple years as well.  Ridiculous.

Anyway...Happy Hunting!!


Monday, August 13, 2012

Quebec trip report

Pics will have to suffice for now---

Briefly, walleye and pike fishing superb once again.

Bruin hunting option paid off for the team.  More on that later.