Friday, November 18, 2011

Missed Opportunity and Lesson Learned

 A following year after I shot my biggest buck, I headed West with Bob again to his home town in Ohio.  Big bucks with massive multipointed racks filled my brain with mental images of my upcoming hunt during the entire drive.  In fact, they'd dominated my memory bank since I arrived home the previous year.  I relived that half hour so many times that the image of that buck in my neocortex seemed like a computer image burned into a monitor when a screen saver isn't used.  It was etched in my memory forever. 

The Weather Channel predicted weather conditions similar to the previous year.  The called for temperatures in the low 80s for the entire weekend.  It was a bit balmy for December in Southeast Ohio.  We left Friday night after work hoping to arrive at his family's place around midnight.  His brother Gary would surely be waiting up for us as he did the previous two years ready to give us a hunters welcome.  Once we arrived, we exchanged greetings, unpacked the truck, and headed off to bed to get some rest for our hunt the next morning.  I was so pumped that I had a hard time falling asleep as I mapped out my plan in my head for the next day.  After a couple hours I finally nodded off.

We awoke early in the morning to prepare for our hunt.  Once again, I began my ritual attempt at becoming scent free.  I showered with scent free soap and scent free shampoo.  After drying off with my towel that I washed with scent free shampoo, I brushed my teeth with baking soda.  Then, I applied a thin layer of scent free deodorant to help block scent creating bacteria from forming and ruining my hunt.  I dressed in Scent-Lok under garments and my other clothing that I washed along with my towel at home prior to the trip with scent free laundry detergent.  Yeah, I'm still anal about that.  I just don't want to be detected in the woods, and the nose Odocoileus virginianus is it's best defense. 

Whitetail deer have the ability to detect scents that humans can't from a hundred yards away or more.  I didn't want to take the chance of getting "busted".  After that, I took my clothes outside the house and dressed.  Finally, I sprayed my equipment and boots with Scent Killer scent eliminator spray.  I took every precaution even though I always to set my hunt up with the wind in my favor and the deer upwind of me.  My outer Scent-Lok layer was safely tucked away in a heavy duty plastic bag.  I had planned to fully dress after we arrived at our hunting spot.

Our plan was to head back to his Uncles land where I got my buck last year.  My personal plan was, you guessed it, to sit in the same exact tree.  It was a bit foggy and humid at about five o'clock in the morning with temperatures in the fifties.  The fog seemed to darken the morning sky even more.  I worried that finding my tree might be more difficult than my dreams of this return trip.  I guess I was a bit nervous!

We arrived at his Uncle's property about 15 minutes later.  The smell of coffee permeated Bob's truck.  After exiting the truck, I pulled out my scent lock parka and coveralls from the safety of the plastic bag, carefully dressed well away from any human smells that might find their way in my direction.  I loaded my backpack on my treestand and hoisted the combination over my shoulder and onto my back.  My backpack was heavier this year.  I had my shooting supplies, scent bombs, Scent Killer, various grunt calls, rattling antlers, hoist, safety harness, several water bottles and my lunch.  My plan was to stay in my stand all day long, similar to last years plan.  I let Bob and Gary know that I wasn't coming out until after sunset.  I picked up my gun and slung it over my shoulder.  After shaking hands and wishing the guys luck, I headed off to my special spot.

I climbed the hill passing Bob's Uncle's hunting stand.  Bob's Uncle carefully built that stand using 2X4's and plywood, then painting it with Army green.  It resembled a ranger lookout tower or some sort of observation stand.  He built it several years prior to my first trip, and it was still in great shape, looking super sturdy and near new condition.  The massive twenty foot stand stood at the junction of two logging roads and overlooked the pond below.  I remember my first trip to that location.  On the first day of that trip, I climbed that stand and sat in it for a little while.  It was roomy and comfortable at the top, but it seemed a bit open to me.  I almost felt like I was in plain view up there.  I prefer some background as to not show any silhouette that may give away even the slightest movement.

After a right turn I carefully walked up and down the hills of the leaf strewn logging road.  Fortunately, the fog was thick and the morning dew dampened the sound of my footsteps on the leaves.  A couple more rolling hills and I'd find the old rusty car.  I wasn't sure what the make of that car was, perhaps it was a '48 Chevy coupe?  I'm not an expert on old cars by any means, but it was too weathered and rusted for me to identify.  Maybe the moonshiners ditched the car here during a daring escape from the "revenuers".  I mentally slapped myself back into hunting mode.  My goal was my tree stand.  I didn't have time to study an old rusty car.  I wanted another trophy buck and I still had a lot to do.

I was now walking through the woods past the car, trying to walk silently with the goal of not cracking sticks.  We left earlier this morning than last year, so I had plenty of time to get to my tree quietly.  After cracking a stick, I'd stand motionless for about 15 seconds before moving on.  The temptation to just say "Heck with it" and barrel through the woods is always looming.  Even after cracking a stick or twig, you're better off taking even more time than to storm through the woods to your spot.  After a few minutes I easily found my tree.  I still had plenty of time.  I found some spots to hang my home made scent bombs, small camera film bottles with safety pins bent into hooks, stuffed with cotton laced with the mighty Tinks #69 Doe in Rut Buck Lure placed strategically around my tree at eye level.  The goal with these was two fold, to attract bucks and if they did show up, to get them to stop for a shot.  I wasn't bow hunting but I treat all my hunts like I am. It's just my way.  It's fun for me.

I quietly set up my Old Man tree stand, organized my gear for the climb, donned my safety harness, and climbed my tree.  I climbed up about 20 feet or so, adjusted my seat, and braced my stand against the tree.  I sat down for a quick breather to not only relax a little bit, but also to keep as cool as possible.  It was warm and muggy for a December afternoon, but since I was working my way to my spot and didn't have to hurry, I didn't feel all that sweaty.  I hauled up my backpack, pulled out my accessory hook, attached it to the tree and hung my back pack.  It would be out of my way over my right shoulder.  I quickly took a drink of water and placed the bottle back in my pack. 

After that, I pulled up my Remington black powder rifle, with my pull rope hooking it as to keep the muzzle pointed down, unloaded of course.  After raising my trusty true rifle, I relaxed in my tree waiting for first light, and took my nipple pick and cleared the nipple.  I dropped two black powder pellets down the bore of my gun, followed by a patch and sabot.  I carefully seated the charge with my ramrod, placed a percussion cap on the nipple, removed the lens caps from my scope, and patiently awaited first light.

First light seemed late as the morning fog filled the gullies in the bowl shaped ridge below me.  Over and over I visualized another buck following a doe up the gullies toward my stand as had happened the previous year.  What are the chances it would happen again?  I had my doubts.  Maybe I was just lucky last year.  Yet, I had that feeling that this spot was special.  This time, the morning dew kept the squirrels silent.  Every now and then I'd catch some movement off to one side through the corner of my eye and notice the squirrels, doing their thing, quietly this time hoarding acorns for the winter. 

Around nine o'clock in the morning, I saw a critter prancing through the fog, stopping at a couple fallen trees seemingly to check for food.  The critter, a red fox, trotted out of the fog and headed down the path that my buck followed last year, made a sharp left turn, and headed right under my stand.  It stopped at the base of my tree to sniff around as if detecting my activity from setting up my stand and placing my scent bombs.  I didn't worry too much about that because I believe that is one mammal nose that nobody can fool.  Or, maybe they're just plain smart.  Just then, it looked up in my direction without actually seeing me, turned, and trotted off through the thicket to my right up the hill.

Another hour went by.  Ten o'clock in the morning now.  Another five minutes and last year would be repeated.  Fifteen minutes went by and nothing.  Nothing was moving now.  My hopes for a repeat performance seemed dashed.  Yet, I was committed to spend the entire day in my stand.  I rose and turned to get a drink out of my backpack to replenish valuable fluids.  After a nice drink, I returned the bottle to my pack, adjusted my seat, and eased back down to continue my hunt.  I thought about taking a quick cat nap and closed my eyes.  My hearing seemed to be more acute after a few minutes with my eyes closed as I could hear squirrels rustling in the leaves behind me.  My mind started to wander into a dream when the squawk of a crow startled me into an alert state.  I seemed refreshed even though I probably only had my eyes closed for a few minutes.

I sat for awhile while hardly moving.  It was now eleven o'clock.  The fog had lifted now and the sun was shining bright above me.  I felt warm and began to sweat.   I was just about ready to break for lunch when I caught some movement down below in the main gully at the bottom of the bowl, probably about 200 yards away.  I saw what looked like sappling branches waving from left to right when I realized that my eyes were playing tricks on me.  It wasn't sapplings that I saw, it was a rack.  A big, big, massive, "holy crap" type of rack!  My jaw dropped when I noticed that the rack of this buck looked like the bigger twin of the one that I shot the year prior!  As the deer moved up the hill toward me, I could see the mass of the antler base of this buck being much thicker than my buck.  The deer didn't follow the trail that last year's buck and doe took, rather, it headed up the ravine straight toward my tree and slightly to the left.  If it stopped near me I'd have a clean shot.  I had hoped that my scent bombs would do the job.

The deer moved quickly up the hill as I readied my rifle and picked up his massive body in my shotgun scope.  I trained the scope on his torso as he stopped and gave me a 25 yard broadside. Through the scope I could see a 5" drop tine drooping from the main beam of his left antler.  Wow, he was beautiful.  My heart raced but my arms remained steady as I placed the scope on what should be a perfect heart shot.  I kept me breathing slow and steady as I eased the trigger with my finger and fired.  There was a short loud snapping sound, then nothing.  Oh no!  The cap fired but my main charge did not!  What a time for a misfire!  That had never happened to me before with this gun.  I sighted it in a month earlier and thoroughly cleaned it.  The deer just stood there searching entirely the other direction in search of the strange sound.  It still didn't know that I was there behind him even though he was far enough up the hill to be at eye level with me. 

My shooting supplies were in my backpack, sabots, percussion caps, nipple pick, cap applicator, powder, and patch. I had to reach completely around me to get my gear, clear the nipple place another cap on the nipple before the buck could notice me if I had a chance.  It still stood there as I slowly and carefully reached around and unzipped the main compartment of my backpack.  All the shooting stuff that I needed was in my "possibles" bag in my pack.  I felt for the possibles bag and easily found it, then lifted it out carefully and turned back around.  The deer was beginning to move slowly up the hill away from me looking for the source of the strange sound that it heard only moments before, scanning the top of the ridge away from me.  I quietly and slowly unzipped the possibles bag and pulled out the supplies.  I pulled out the nipple pick and cleared the way for the fire of a percussion cap.  The deer had moved again and now was about 100 yards away from me but again cautiously stopped looking for danger ahead.  I was almost ready. 

All I had left to do was to simply place a new percussion cap on the nipple.  But, I made a critical mistake.  I dropped my percussion cap applicator out of the tree and there it sat 20' below me.  My possibles bag was now on my seat behind me, still unzipped, so I reached in and pulled out a little can that contained my percussion caps and found one while at the same time dropping a few out of the tree.  I had one in my fingers and placed it awkwardly over the nipple and finally, after flailing for about two minutes, seated the cap on the nipple with my index finger.  I was ready.  I turned to look for the deer and it was still standing there about 120 yards away and I raised my gun.  Just then it trotted off over the ridge.  I needed about two more seconds.  I was heart broken.  I couldn't believe what just happened.

What did happen?  I don't know to this day.  Maybe it was the moist humid air.  Maybe there was just a little corrosion in the nipple.  I sat in my stand shaking my head.  Then, a few minutes later I couldn't believe my eyes but another buck, this time a nice eight pointer, was heading up the same trail.  It wasn't the monster that I just missed, but I thought that it was a nice consolation deer.  But, it stopped behind some huge oak trees and then turned around and went back down the gully from whence it came just hidden enough from me so I couldn't squeeze off a shot.  That was the last deer that I saw that weekend.  I was dejected.  But, looking back, that was one of the most memorable hunts that I ever had.  I had a chance at a real monster of a buck.  Maybe it's luck, like my bad luck, that was the reason he was the monster buck that he was.  Maybe I'll see him next time.  I'll never forget him.  Wow.

After my day was over, I cleared my gun by firing it and everything seemed OK as I shot and a big cloud of black smoke trailed a long flame from the bore of my rifle.  After returning to the truck to meet my buddies they said they heard me shoot and wondered where my deer was.  I reminded them that I shot to clear my gun, not to shoot at a deer after legal daylight ended and then proceeded to tell them my tale of woe.  They consoled me in my state of hunting grief.  I needed that.  They chastised me for not using a shotgun.  I just took it.

Oh yeah, lesson learned?  I since always make sure to have my possibles bag within easy reach at all times.  More importantly, I tossed away the nipple and percussion caps, and replaced them with a nipple that accepts #209 shotgun primers.  Since then I've been shooting with the shot gun primers and, MAN, what a difference they make!  Never again when using my in-line blackpowder would I have a misfire like that, humidity or not.  I couldn't wait until the next season.  I want revenge on that buck.

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