Saturday, December 24, 2011

When Good Hunts Go Bad

I think that I've said this before about a fishing trip a few months back, but ever have one of those days?  This time, it was my last bow hunt.

I awoke to Metallica blasting from my Droid clock alarm app at 4:30 AM with plenty of time to shower and get ready for my hunt.  Metallica.  Jeez, I nearly jumped three feet out of bed!  My daughter changed my ring tone...her practical joke on me no doubt.  Still, I'm glad she's home from college for the holidays.  I really look forward to seeing her.  I laughed and proceeded to get ready to go hunting.

I'm meticulous in my preparation, making sure that everything is scent free, from my under clothing to my tooth paste, and even my towel washed in scent free laundry detergent.  My gear was checked and double checked, ready to go.  Everything was placed properly in my backpack that I needed for any situation on my hunt.  I stowed my Scent-Lok gloves and head cover, and my grunt call along with some tree climbing accessories neatly in the pockets of my Scent-Lok parka.  Even my Droid was fully charged in case I needed to video or take pictures to document my glorious hunt that would soon be.

My plan was to arrive at my buddy's house, dress in my scent free outer layers, spray my backpack with scent eliminator, don my boots, and load my tree stand on my back along with my backpack.  Then, I'd quietly work my way down to my destination, a fine climbing tree...the perfect size for my stand.  It has plenty of cover, a great backdrop to hide my silhouette, and a great view in all directions in a classic hardwoods deer funnel.  A point of woods leading from an adjoining field, leading into a draw that leads to another field.  It's been a great place to ambush unsuspecting deer. 

I left home ready to go, as ready as I've ever been, with plenty of time to set up for my hunt.  This is my routine, and routines should be routine.  And, with everything in place, and a great plan, what could go wrong?

I arrived at my buddy's suburban archery hunter paradise beaming with excitement and the anticipation of having the type of hunt that I've had many times before.  I quietly exited my vehicle to be greeted by my friend's cat, a male athletic feline, Cheese. Cheese had his own plan, affectionately rubbing my legs in an effort to claim me as his own, rubbing his scent glands along the base of my calves.  What could I do?  I like cats, and I couldn't shoo him away.  I couldn't yell or make noise as my tree is only about 100 yards away.

All I could do to Cheese was oblige him.  I scratched his back and petted him to the point that even my own cat would be bored, and time was ticking now, and Cheese wanted more.  I tried pushing him away with my tree stand.  The tactic didn't work, he loved it, and rubbed all over it too.  So much for the scent free preparation.

Finally, Cheese wandered off.  All is not lost.  I could spray my equipment down again with scent eliminator, and I still had my Scent-Lok parka and bibs to put on and remain scent free.  My boots were still in my vehicle too, protected from the Cheesy aroma.  For now.

As I completed dressing and just tied my last boot lace, Cheese came back for more, purring ever so loud, like a fleshy furry home generator, with his goal being to mark me as his territory once and for all.

OK, I had enough of this game.  Time was flying by and I had to get into the woods, and the last thing that I needed was a Cheesy trail.  Then, an idea hit me.  What a better way to get rid of cat scent than scent eliminator spray?  As Cheese approached, a purring menace, with that amorous look in his eye, I pointed and let him have it.  A shot of scent eliminator spray would do the trick.  Cheese took off like a shot!  It worked!  I felt slightly guilty, but he'd get over it and so would I.  Time to go to work.

I affixed my backpack on my tree stand and slung it over my back, grabbed my bow, and headed into the woods toward my stand.  I quickly found my tree and set my stand up.  All is good now.  I still had plenty of time. 

I set up my tree stand, first the base, then the seat section.  Then, I attached my pull up rope to my stand, and the other end to my backpack and bow.  I'm ready to climb.

Well, almost.

I realized that I left my safety harness in my vehicle.  Dirt!  Well, I had to return to my vehicle and put it on, risking another encounter with the Cheese cat, but safety is important to me, as it should be to anyone.  I won't climb without the harness.  I'd rather hunt off the ground otherwise.

Fortunately, Cheese took the hint and stayed away.  I was able to put on my harness and return to my tree.  I took my time moving back through the woods not to crack any sticks.  I made it to my tree and after all that, I still had plenty of time to climb and get ready.

I climbed into my stand and proceeded to climb the tree, a few feet at a time in my stand up-sit down climbing Lone Wolf tree stand.  Stand up, lift the seat section, sit down, place your feet under the bar, and lift the platform section, push down, and seat the platform against the tree.  Then, stand up again and repeat the process up the tree, a few feet at a time. 

I was nearly eight feet from my goal of climbing thirty feet up when all of a sudden, I couldn't raise the stand any more.  Something was preventing me from climbing any further!  I glanced down and my pull up rope was tighter than my bow string.  Dang, it was wrapped around a log on the ground. 

I climbed down a few feet to give me some slack, and tried to snap the rope free from the log, without success.  After snapping the string back and forth several times, I realized that it wasn't going to come free, and the only option was to climb down again and free it.

I made it down relatively quietly and quickly, about six feet from the forest floor, and decided to once again shake the rope free.  After flipping the rope a few times, it finally came free.  I climbed up the tree quickly and quietly, but now I've worked up a sweat.

I'm sure that my Scent-Lok would keep my presence known from the keen nose of the whitetail deer, yet the pessimistic side of me played on my mind, making me wonder about the sweat that I've worked up giving the deer an advantage over me.

While finally up in the tree, I geared up and nocked an arrow just in the nick of time as deer moved in from my right.  It was still too dark to see them, but I could hear them moving through the woods, feeding.  I was filled with excitement and enthusiasm.  This could be a really good hunt after all that I've been through so far, like previous hunts, with deer all around me.  The sun couldn't rise fast enough.

After a little while, the woods became brighter and brighter to the point where I could see somewhat, but things became quiet.  The deer moved on.  My neighbor was probably taking Charlie for a walk, his beagle/basset hound mix.  Shortly after that, I could hear him fire up his van and head off for work.  Things were quiet in the woods now.

I still had plenty of optimism at this point.  My fears of being winded were calmed, as the deer that fed behind me earlier were down wind of me, and they didn't run, nor did they snort.  My confidence was high as I glassed the woods with my binoculars.  I couldn't see any deer.  Where did they go?  I wondered if they returned to the field from whence they came, the most likely scenario.

The sun rose, casting strong shadows across the wooded lot, creating images that kept my mind entertained.  Is that a deer?  I'd glass what I'd seen only to see a stump and shadow combination resembling a deer in shape...a deer mirage.  We always see them when nothings moving.  Is it hopeful optimism?  Sometimes, they turn out to be a bedded deer, but more often than not, just an object laying in a different direction than you'd expect. 

Basically, anything that you can visualize that places a horizontal figure through the trees could be a deer.  The woods is basically vertical in nature.  When combing the woods with your eyes, look for horizontal breaks in the vertical tree shapes, and check them, they could be deer.  Combine that strategy with looking for movement, and more times than not you'll see deer before they see you.

It was about 8:15 in the morning now, still the magic hour, but as time elapses without seeing anything, confidence wanes.  Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye to my left, I catch movement about eighty yards away.  It wasn't a deer, it was blaze orange, a hunter, walking along the property line down the edge of the field.  My heart sunk.  I couldn't tell if he was carrying a blackpowder rifle or not, but he worked his way down toward a tree stand that I found a few weeks ago along the property line.  I had yet to see anyone using it.

The hunter was moving faster than I would, given the time of morning when deer are moving.  He wasn't sneaking, but seemed to be a little careful to not make noise.  When I sneak, I take a few steps slowly and quietly, the pause, wait and observe.  He wasn't doing that, almost if he was trying to jump a deer.  Or, did he see me, and resent me being near "his" hunting spot, and attempt to ruin my hunt?  I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, but what the heck was he doing?

He moved into the woods but avoided Bob's property, moving away from me straight ahead where I've seen deer bed repeatedly throughout the season.  I lost sight of the orange as the trees in the distance blocked his view.

About ten minutes later, I could see the hunter returning the way that he came, this time moving much more quickly and not so quietly.  I could hear him cracking sticks and branches as he moved briskly through the woods toward the field.  Once in the field, from the other side of the field along a point of woods emerged another hunter, carrying a bow.  I glassed both of them and they both were carrying bows.  Who bow hunts like that?  Was the first hunter trying to kick deer out to his buddy?  It was 8:15 AM for Pete's sake!

I wondered if he returned so quickly because he successfully kicked the deer out perhaps not in the direction that he intended.  He met up with his buddy and they left.  I've never seen anything like that before, at least so early in the morning.  My hunt was ruined, rare on private land.
I just shook my head and cursed under my breath in
disbelief of what happened.  Why me? 

I sat in the tree until about ten o'clock in the morning, and climbed down.  I think that just about every cursing adjective ran through my mind in disbelief of what happened this morning.  How could a carefully planned hunt turn out so friggin' bad?  I climbed down, gathered up my gear, took down my stand and left.  I was planning on leaving my stand in the woods, but not knowing those other hunters I didn't want to risk it being stolen.

After climbing up a tree, I expect solitude, the quiet of the woods.  Hunting small plots of land, multiple properties with multiple owners, in a suburban environment often doesn't provide that solitude that we're used to.  Just remember that deer are used to human activity in these areas.  Do everything correctly, and you'll still have a chance.
I went home to run some errands with the intent of hunting that afternoon, and now my confidence was way down.  But, I wasn't about to give up.

After cooking and chowing down on some venison kielbasa, I decided to return to the same tree, having had good afternoons there.  Perhaps the woods would quiet down, the other hunters would stay away, and the deer would return?

I arrived at about two in the afternoon back to my buddy's house.  Things seemed quiet, partly because it's a weekday and the many suburban noises like leaf blowers, power tools, and such weren't dominating the area.  The only real noises now were from the occasional train traveling a nearby railroad, and the many airplanes that fly over and annoy hunters everywhere.

Being a weekday, I figured that everyone was at work and the kids all at school.  I arrived this time, and without Cheese there to harass me, I was able to gear up quietly and quickly.  I made it to my tree with out cracking any sticks and snuck through the crunchy leaves deliberately and slowly.  After setting up my tree stand, I climbed, donned my gloves, release and head cover, then nocked an arrow, and waited. 

It was about 2:30 in the afternoon.  All was quiet.  I glassed the woods for deer or movement, nothing.  Still, it was early.  A pileated woodpecker moved and called from tree to tree, entertaining me for a few minutes.  A red headed woodpecker followed, landing on the same trees and vocalized his calls seemingly to mock the pileated woodpecker.  About ten minutes later, the silence would change.

You can control almost everything on your hunt, from your preparation to your actions in the woods.  You can't control other people, their actions, or their sounds.  Realize that deer are used to them in suburbia.  They react differently than big woods deer.  Stay confident, do things right, and you stand a good chance.
At 2:45, the neighbors kids and their friends, four little girls, came outside to play.  They came out to jump on their trampoline, playing some sort of game, laughing, screaming, and yelling.  How long would this last?  Kids are like energizer bunnies.  I rationalized that maybe they'd tire soon, and the woods would once again quiet down.  It was a beautiful day, and remembering when I was a lad, how I'd play tirelessly until the last possible hint of daylight.  Kids are kids, I thought, and I can't blame them.  If I was their age living in this neighborhood too, I'd do the same thing, or maybe worse.  I'd be all over those woods, turning over logs looking for salamanders, toads and snakes, climbing trees, throwing rocks, doing what boys do with any kind of space outside.

I called the property owners wife, to make sure that the neighbors wouldn't worry about me being there.  She assured me that they know that I'm there, and all was well.  You never know how people would feel if someone was up in a tree watching the woods in the direction that your kids are playing, using binoculars.  I didn't want to creep them out, even though I was a good hundred fifty yards away.

At 3:30, all of the kids went inside the neighbor's house.  Things got quiet in a hurry.  When hunting large plots of land, I'm used to blending in, having things as quiet as possible, and let nature happen.  I'm not used to this suburban hunting environment.  It's difficult for me to reconcile hunting in such noise, and more difficult for me to believe that the deer are use to all of this human activity. Still, I've seen that before, deer not worried about kids, people woking in their yards, or walking through neighborhood streets.  Those same deer seem to know a hunter though.  How is that possible?  Smart little buggers I thought.

Things became really quiet now save for the occasional airplane noise.  Subconciously, I worried that those other hunters would return just in time to ruin the afternoon magic hour, and I kept looking over my shoulder for them.  I glassed the woods again, nothing in view.  Jeez, those hunters couldn't have messed things up that bad, could they?  Or the kids?  I was wondering if I was wasting my time sitting thirty feet up a tree, watching kids on a trampoline?

I heard my buddy Bob return home from work.  I knew that he'd soon be taking Charlie for a walk again.  We have a code of sorts, if I'm parked on one side of his house, that's the side that I'm hunting.  However, someone was parked in my space, their cleaning lady.  I had to park on the other side.  When I called his wife, I asked that she'd let him know that I'm at the same spot that I was in the morning.  I hoped that she had told him so that he and Charlie wouldn't be heading down my way into the woods.

A short time later, two does scampered into the woods near his house, heading my way.  They stopped and watched the road and the field.  I knew then that it was Charlie that had kicked them out from their bedding area, and Bob was probably following.  They moved into the woods further, about 50 yards from me.  If they'd move a bit closer, I'd have a decent shooting lane and a thirty yard shot.  I drew back.  Just after that, I saw Charlie, sure enough!  The deer saw him too, and bolted away from me and behind the house.  Then, I saw Bob appear in the field, and he called Charlie and they headed back to the house, from the front.  Maybe they'd kick them out again back to me.

Deer are notorious for doubling back when being driven or chased, so I was ready.  I watched behind me, in Bob's back yard, for any sign of those does.  About ten minutes later, I heard Charlie barking again.  Perhaps he was chasing them again?  Another ten minutes, and nothing.  I sat down.

Five minutes later, I heard something coming my way from that direction, from behind the house. It was the two does.  Sure enough, Charlie had kicked them out again, or they doubled back.  They returned almost exactly the way that they came the first time, in reverse.  They stopped in almost the exact same place, strutting and on high alert, seeking Charlie.  Maybe they'd come down a bit closer and give me a shot.  Right now, they were still 50 yards away.  That's out of my range, plus, my shooting lanes weren't clear that far out.

Then, as soon as they came, they hopped away from me out into the field leaving me without a shot.  I sat back down, turned and started glassing the woods with my binoculars again.  The woods became quiet again, and I didn't see any more deer. 

Looking back, I can remember many hunts on public land where other hunters tramped through my location in the woods, or when I made mistakes kicking deer out, moving when I shouldn't, standing up in a tree stand with deer behind me amongst other problems.

I can remember one hunt where I glassed some deer bedded down in the late afternoon.  They didn't see me climb the tree, or didn't care.  But, after being perched in the tree for over an hour, some saliva went down my wind pipe when swallowing, and I couldn't dry it and had to cough.  All it took was two coughs and those deer rose up and took off, waving their white tails at me in defiance.

I had another hunt on the ground, sitting on a stool in a makeshift blind that I threw together in a dead fall.  I sat nearly motionless for over three hours watching and waiting in ambush.  I kept thinking that I was off the trail a bit, and that spot, "over there", looked better.  Maybe if I got up and moved quietly, just twenty yards away, I'd have a better hunt.  I made the decision to move, and after two steps, I kicked out at least six deer that I didn't know where there not thirty yards away.  Lesson learned there...don't move, trust your initial instincts.

All that aside, hunting in suburbia is quite different than hunting a remote location.  In the woods where deer aren't used to human activity, you have to blend in, not sound or smell human.  In suburbia, you can get away with some noise, like metal on metal, as long as the deer don't see you or it sounds like everyday human activity that they encounter.  I experienced this on this last trip, actually.  When those two does doubled back, I accidentally banged my bow on the seat section of my tree stand, clank!  The two does didn't even flinch, didn't look back at me.  They were focused entirely on Charlie!  In a remote woods, those deer would have bolted on the sound for sure.

Looking back at this hunt, it wasn't what I'd call the classic good hunt.  In fact, a lot went wrong.  It was a stressful hunt, where I was unsure and not confident.  Still, I saw deer and nearly had a chance at a good shot.  Normally, I say that was a successful hunt, wouldn't you?  I've got to get used to this suburban's quite different. 

My next trip will be to a more remote spot.  I'll have to be on my game as the deer there are hunted fairly heavily.  Pressure makes them wary.  Those deer seem to search the trees for hunters in treestands.  And they seem to know what tree you picked, somehow, like a sixth sense.  I'm used to that though as I prepare for that.  No mistakes next time...maybe I'll have some more venison in the freezer, with a little luck.

I'd like to say one final thing, that all hunts are good hunts.  I'm out in the woods, blending in, observing nature at it's best, with a chance to take some of the good Lord's bounty.  What more could one ask for?

1 comment:

dadTB said...

Good Read, FB!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thanks for all the good material this past year. I enjoy the visits...