Friday, November 18, 2011

Sometimes It Pays to be Lucky!

Again, this story takes place in Ohio.  The timing was several years after my missed opportunity.  I had dreams about that buck, that spot, that hunt.  On this particular trip, the logistics didn't fare well for us.  We had three days to hunt, and we had a late start heading out from Maryland to Ohio.  It was kind of a last second affair.  A couple weeks prior, I prodded my buddy Bob about heading West to "hump the hills" again.  My persistance paid off, and he agreed to go albeit at the last minute.  But, we both couldn't get off work early as we had in the past, and I hadn't yet purchased a license.  With a multi-hour road trip ahead of us, and a late eleven o'clock PM start, we were looking at an arrival of about 4 AM in his home town. 

My best hope to obtain a license for the morning hunt the next day was to stop at the local Wally World, and if traffic was OK, maybe...just maybe...get a couple hours of shut eye before climbing the hills behind his house.  With the late start, heading back to the "bowl" wasn't an option.  I'd be the only one up, so I was on my own.  The best spot for me to bag a nice buck was to head behind his house and scamper up and down a couple steep hills to get away from everyone in a world where big antlered whitetails felt more comfortable.  That was my plan, anyway.

After purching my license, we arrived at his Mom's house at nearly five AM.  I was dog tired to say the least, but at that time, I still had the plan to climb the next morning.  We unpacked his truck and I organized my gear for the next morning.  I double checked and triple checked my backpack and my possibles bag to make sure that everything that I needed for modern muzzleloading was in order.  My gun was clean and oiled, and I had a new upgrade to prevent the problem that I had a few years prior.  I replaced the nipple to accept shotgun primers.  No longer would I have to worry about having enough fire reaching my charge as long as I kept my gun clean, and clean it was. 

My treestand was in order, with all of the straps in place, fitted, and checked for strengh and safety.  My safety harness was laid out in a way that all I had to do was to slip it on and buckle up without trying to figure out how to put it on.  My Scent-Lok outerwear clothing was outside in a plastic bag, cleaned with scent free laundry detergent while back in Maryland days before the trip.  My scent free toiletries were at the ready.  And my backpack had everything that I needed for an all day hunt.  My plan, to sit again all day in a tree. 

Now I was ready for bed.  Gary's new puppie dog wouldn't leave me alone, and I was sleeping on the couch downstairs in the rec-room.  I wasn't sure if it would let me sleep.  I set my alarm, laid back with the dog licking my face for what seemed an eternity (probably less than five minutes), and tried to dream about what might happen the next day.

I dreamt about getting ready.  What was my to do list?  I'd have to make sure to not forget anything.  I only had about an hour to get some shut eye, and I'm stressing about getting ready after waking up.  I dreamt about climbing that tall hill, stopping every so often to keep from sweating too much.  The weather forecast was for warmer temperatures over the weekend, maybe reaching eighty degrees Fahrenheit.  I had to carry my outerwear parka with me up the hill, hoist it up with my stuff into my tree stand, and dress in the stand.  That was the plan anyway. 

I stressed a bit about finding a good tree to climb.  I'd been up there a few times and hunted off the ground.  I seemed to remember some nice trees, but when you're short on time, those may be hard to find in the dark.  After all, how many times have you found what you thought to be a good tree, climbed up, only to find too many branches from neighboring trees blocking your view, or while trying to reach your ideal climbing height, only to find a branch that you didn't see blocking your stand.  I carry a saw for such times, but still, it makes noise and wastes time.  Ideally, I'd prefer to arrive the evening before, get into the woods and set my stand for the next day, but, on this trip, the timing wasn't right.  I had a hard time falling asleep.  Worries about being ready, about being organized, about forgetting something, and about anything else you could worry about seemed to collide with pre-REM patterned visions about those massive bucks of the past walking right up to me.  Talk about luck!  Would I have that again?

Just as it seemed that I reached REM sleep mode, my alarm went off.  I struggled to find the off switch, hoping to not wake anyone in the house.  Bob had planned to play golf later that morning and hunt the afternoon.  Gary wasn't into waking that early, so it was just me...and the puppy!  That little dog just wouldn't leave me alone.  At 5:30 AM, it wanted to play, of course!  I took my shower and became as scent free as possible, but that puppy did everything it could do to prevent that from happening short of marking me as his territory!  I couldn't wait to get outside to at least get a scent free outlayer over me!

After getting ready and gathering my gear, I looked down at the stand, thought of humping the hill with daylight fast approaching, and wondered just how late I'd be getting up in a tree in a good spot.  I had a forty minute trek ahead of me, with just about that amount of time before first light.  I had to adapt my plan.  I was really tired, so the thought of climbing those hills didn't appeal to me, and neither did climbing a tree or hauling that stand up the hill either.  I was just too tired...dog tired, if you will!

So, I had a backup plan.  I had permission to hunt the neighbor's land just across the road.  It was an old logging road just across the creek, that ran parallel to the creek, with steep cliffs on one side creating an awesome funnel.  The only drawback is that a lot of folks hunt there, and they all walk that road.  After all, it's level and easy.  A few years prior, I shot a doe there while walking back from a morning hunt.  That's a future intersesting story to be told later, but forgive me if I don't follow chronologically.  I figured I'd bag me another doe.  That was my back up plan, and as tired as I was, it was a good one. 

So, I set off to hunt off the ground this time, and I was going to settle for putting some meat in the freezer, which is actually always the goal.  To me, there's nothing better than some grilled venison tenderloins or back straps, seasoned with a little Montreal Steak Seasoning along side some onions and green peppers.  And let me tell you, venison sausage, bologna, ground venison, and roasts for my chili are simply delicious.  Over the years, I've found some great recipes shared by other hunters, found on the internet, of just plain made up on the fly.  My friend Perry from Alabama taught me the merits of lime juice on venison, seasoned lightly with salt, pepper, and fresh garlic, especially when smoked over some hickory.  Talk about tasty!  It's not about the rack, it's about food, pleasing my palate, and pleasing the palates of others.  After I have my meat, it's about the rack, and more meat!  I'm a carnivore to the nth degree, no doubt, and venison tops the list to occupy space on my grill or in my crock pot.

Daylight was approaching as walked over the old green steel bridge that crossed the wide meandering deep creek that eventually would find its way into the mighty Ohio River.  I turned left on the logging road.  Tracks and ruts from ATVs and four wheel drive trucks were full of water from recent rains.  I had to step around them and muddy areas about every twenty feet or so to avoid having muddy slippery boots and also that slurping sound while walking through mud and muck.  While approaching a hunting spot, being quiet is as important as being scent free.  The spot where the does moved through a couple years prior was a small break in the cliff, a door to the low land along the creek, where they could escape hunters moving through the crop fields above the cliff.  It was a funnel along a funnel.  I found that spot about three hundred yards down the road, turned right away from the creek, and quietly found a place against the cliffs that seemed like a comfortable place to sit.  I had reasonable shooting lanes for being on the ground, and was out of sight from the logging road.  All I had to do was sit and wait, and hopefully not fall asleep.

Daylight was upon me quickly.  My senses were keen, honing in on the squirrels frolicking around me, tormenting me with their chatter as they chased each other for territorial rights to the acorns littering the woodland ground.  A pileated woodpecker landed along a deadfall and presumably fed on grubs, beetles, and other insects.  What a beautiful bird, reminding me of the cartoon character that I watched as a kid on TV, Woody Woodpecker.  At about eight in the morning, the sun was a bit brighter, and not much was happening as I fought the urge to close my eyes.  Just ten minutes sleep, I thought, but I resisted.  A fox trotted by but spotted me instantly even though I was extremely still.  That wasn't good for my confidence.

Two more hours went by and the temperatures were climbing.  The sun bore down through a hole in the canopy of trees above and shone down on my like a spotlight on a stage comedian.  With my outer Scent-Lok layer, I was downright hot.  I began to sweat and I wasn't even doing anything.  I watched some cows moving through the brushy creek shoreline on the other side, thinking about a good breakfast at Bob's house.  Gary probably was cooking up some bacon and I could almost smell it from there.  I closed my eyes briefly to enjoy my imaginary bacon.  Just then, I heard a snap.

My eyes popped open so fast I could swear that I startled a bright red cardinal from the brushy cover next to me.  Off to my left, I heard something coming, heading my way, following the path that I took.  I might get my doe after all!  But no, through the brush I could see what looked like a decent rack bobbing back and forth.  It was a buck!  I had never seen a buck in this area, but they had to be there.  Just about every sapling around me was stripped of bark where one or more bucks may have marked their territory with glands at the base of their antlers as they rubbed the trees.  I didn't know it in the morning darkness, but there was a line of buck rubs leading right to me!  And this buck was following them.  I raised my gun in anticipation of where he'd show himself.

He appeared from the brush about twenty yards away and I was sure that he'd see me just like that fox did earlier.  But, he didn't.  He actually turned toward the cliff, maybe to feed on the briars around me, giving me a nice broad side shot.  I squeezed the trigger and the gun went off.  Fire shot out of my Remington blackpowder rifle and a thick cloud of smoke filled the air.  I saw the buck drop right there.  I couldn't believe it!  A back up plan, my plan to bag a doe, resulted in a very nice buck!  I was so happy!  And, I didn't have to drag it very far.  In fact, I could drag him all the way to Bob's house! 

Another nice Ohio buck, shot at my back up "bag me a doe" spot!

It took me a while, but just as I arrived with my buck, Bob was returning from his round of golf!  Gary gave me a hard time, saying that I shot his buck.  Later, he bragged about driving the buck to me earlier in the morning.  He cracks me up.  Regardless, the buck was mine!

This buck was a pleasant surprise, totally unexpected, and I didn't have to climb multiple Southeast Ohio type hills to find a decent buck!

Lesson Learned?  Solve equipment problems during the off season for future success.  In this case, my gun was much more reliable after I upgraded to using shotgun primers.  Another lesson?  No matter how tired you are, sleeping in and not being in the woods won't bag a buck.  You have to be in the woods, but do it safely.


Here's my buck after being mounted.  Tim and Christy Martin do
 some of the best work that I've ever seen.  I highly recommend them.
Not only are they professionals, and they're good, but they are also
some of the nicest people that you'd ever want to meet.  Visit their
website at http://martinstaxidermy.homestead.com/Index.html
and make sure that you check out their beautiful photo galleries!



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