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.