Breaking the Drought – Part 2

While I settled gently back into my chair, I checked my watch; it was eleven thirty.  I was now convinced of my failure in this morning’s hunt for a buck.  I figured that if there had been one nearby, he probably scented me, or heard me snoring, or saw me strip and re-dress.  I was fairly dispirited, but now my concern shifted to the possibility of losing one of my few opportunities to collect a doe for the freezer.  I listened for any movement, in order to take advantage of the next chance I got to carry the doe home.  I was in this frame of mind when I heard a slight rustling to my left.  I breathed a sigh of relief that the cover scent was again proving its worth, as the sound was coming from directly downwind.  I slowly turned and stood to be able to get a good look over the intervening black berry and privet.  I spotted the tannish gray head of a deer and gently brought my gun to the high skeet position in case the animal turned out to be the doe rather than the yearling.  The deer form took shape as it cleared the brush.  Instead of the doe or yearling, there stood a buck 17 yards away, its rut-swollen neck extended in the classic ‘sneak’ pose.  I had been observing basket eight pointers since opening day, but this deer’s body was half again the size of those youngsters.  He walked with the stiff-legged gate of the mature bucks shown on hunting programs.  I saw three long tines on his left side as I began to raise my 7mm Remington Magnum to my shoulder.  He continued to ease through, acting just like a buck would if he was investigating a hot doe.  I then realized he was probably being reeled in by the combination of the Tink’s urine scent and the living, doe decoy.  I had to aim high on his shoulder to shoot over the brush that now stood between us.

I have read of animals falling from under the shooter’s sights.  Usually the writer is referring to elephants.  However, no African big-game hunter has been more excited than I when this buck dropped at the report of my gun.  Upon later inspection, I found that the 175 grain Nosler Partition had caught him in the spine.  I chambered another round and waited, hardly noticing the doe and yearling now standing frozen 10 yards behind me, looking towards the spot where the buck had fallen.  I heard a gentle rustling and then no sound at all came from where the buck had stood.  I waited another minute, closed my rifle on an empty chamber, and carefully climbed down the ladder.  As I stepped from the lowest rung, I saw that the doe and yearling had not moved.  Now they were staring intently at me.  The doe lifted her right front leg and stomped it sharply on the ground.  I moved slowly along their front, but not until I was within feet of the yearling did they turn, raise their flags and spring into the brush.

I had to circle wide of the hedge that stood nearly as high as my head.  As I rounded the corner of the obstruction, I spotted the form of my first Whitetail buck with more than 2 points to a side.  He was “only” a seven pointer, but in my eyes he was magnificent.  When weighed later, he tipped the scales at approximately 160 pounds on the hoof.  I knelt down beside him and breathed a sigh and prayer of thanksgiving.  How can one not be in awe of such a creation.  I thought of the offerings given by Native Americans at the sight of their kills; offerings to their gods and to the slain animal, offerings that reflected their recognition that the taking of a life meant they would live.  This reflects a different belief system to mine, but one that echos a proper respect for the life taken in order for memories to be borne in the hunter.

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Breaking the Drought – Part 1

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My eyes popped open as the yearling’s bleat made its way through my sleep-deprived brain.  He let out another mewing cry as I slowly lifted my rifle from the arms of my camouflaged sling chair.  I was glad I no longer had to worry that I would fall asleep in my tree stand and wake up swinging to and fro from my harness strap.  Since joining the hunting club in Greene County Georgia, I had enjoyed the comfort of being cradled safely in my camouflaged chair in the large treestands.  Although not reflecting the best of hunting techniques, around 10:00 a.m. I would invariably drop off to sleep for 30 minutes or so.  This was the second time, on this particular stand, that a yearling’s bleat had startled me awake.  This time, however, I was hunting during “either sex” season.  The yearling was 15 yards in front of my stand, walking slowly in my direction.  While he continued to call, I slowly rotated my head to look behind me.  There she was.  A mature doe was standing 10 yards behind the tree, waiting for the yearling to catch up.  I must have been snoring quietly while she walked directly under me.  This was indeed poor hunting technique.

As I slowly raised my rifle and placed the crosshairs on the doe, the yearling complained again to his (presumed) Mom.  I hesitated.  This couldn’t be happening.  I know I was raised on Bambi, but surely I could look past that and take some venison home.  In the midst of my misgivings I had a more important thought.  I really wanted a buck.  However, not just any buck would do.  I was hunting a QDM (Quality Deer Management Area).  The rule was that we could only take one buck a year (except for a limited number of spikes), and then only a buck worthy of mounting.  I slowly lowered my rifle again and thought about the Tink’s hot doe urine that I had carefully smeared on the three trees in front of my stand.  If I didn’t fire at the doe, maybe I still had a chance of seeing a big buck.  Then I thought about the time.  It was 11 a.m. and I had rarely seen a deer wander in at this time of day.  Since I also had never shot a buck larger than a forkhorn, and that taken when I was 10 years old in Texas, I did not hold out much hope that my buck drought would be broken this morning.  Maybe if I went ahead and dropped the doe and pulled her out, I would still have time to get back to the stand for the afternoon hunt.  I raised my rifle again, but now the doe had gone behind a screen of brush.  I held the crosshairs where she was standing and willed her to take a step forward into an open area.  Instead, I watched her partially-hidden legs fold underneath her as she bedded down.  Although somewhat disappointed on being foiled in my halfhearted attempt to take the doe, I was also delighted to have fooled these wary creatures into feeling safe not more than 20 yards from my stand.

I was still turned halfway around in my chair, watching the flicker of the white hairs on the now dozing female, when a loud snort erupted from somewhere to the doe’s left.  She levitated to an almost standing posture, but then slowly lowered her body back down as the hidden yearling continued to sneeze, but more quietly.  I wondered if the doe was thinking, “You dumb kid! You scared me half to death.”  As I settled comfortably into my chair, I recognized another dilemma.  I was going to need to start removing clothes since the sun was now shining on me and I was beginning to roast.  I thought about this for a moment and worried about accomplishing my partial striptease without being seen by the bedded deer.  I slowly stood up, all the while watching the doe’s ears.  She did not appear nervous while I slowly pulled off my orange vest, camouflaged shirt and the down vest underneath.  I kept looking at her as I replaced my shirt and orange vest.  I pulled out the Tink’s cover scent and once again misted myself.  Through this whole exercise, the doe nibbled unconcernedly on some tasty plant material near her bed…

 

Burnt Pine Plantation – Bring on the Whitetails!

Burnt Pine Sign

My address for the next three nights will be Burnt Pine Plantation near Newborn, Georgia. Brian Mask, General Manager for over a decade at Burnt Pine, and everyone of his wonderful staff have already made me feel like family — a well-fed member of the family!

Front of Lodge

I’ll be sharing many more experiences from this beautiful property, but if you want to hunt whitetails, turkeys, Mourning doves or any upland game – in a comfortable, beautiful and friendly atmosphere – you need to head out to Burnt Pine.

By the way, I’m not greedy about the type of whitetail I want to harvest – one like either of these will suffice…

Two Deer Mounts

Treestand Affection – A Miracle Happens

Young Buck

The low point of my thoughts coincided with 1) an elevated wind strength and 2) the appearance of the young buck. On previous hunts, I had only brought does back to our house at Elmdale. This had been fine with my Mom and Dad because, to quote my Father, “They eat better.”  However, I really wanted to accomplish what my older brother had. I wanted to take a buck. I wanted to be able to feel the bone-like antlers and to keep them as a trophy. I never expected to be able to shoot a deer like the one my Dad had hanging in the back room of our house. My Dad’s deer had been taken the year before. It possessed a beautiful seven-point rack complete with the graceful antlers characteristic of the Texas Hill Country. The rack carried by the deer in front of me was not that size.

In fact, “my” buck carried only a forkhorn on one side and a short spike on the other. My Dad pressed his arm against me as a signal to raise my rifle. The buck had his nose in one of the bushes that made up a hedge in front of the stand. As he nibbled unconcernedly at some of the remaining fresh growth, I placed the crosshairs of my .243 Winchester behind his shoulder. Just then the West Texas equivalent to a gentle breeze hit like a sledgehammer. My sights swung wildly past the tail of the deer. I swiveled my scope back to the aiming point for a lung shot just as the wind let up and the tree righted itself. The unbending of the tree caused my gun sight to pivot past the shoulder, neck and then jaw of my intended target. “Oh, Hell!”, I would have thought, if I had been allowed to swear. Again I corrected and again the wind hit. Again and again, I watched my crosshairs skim from one end of the deer to the other. I knew I was running out of time.

At last, the buck tired of the browse 20 yards in front of our hide and started meandering down the well-worn deer trail. For the final time I pulled my gun from the rear end of the buck to his shoulder. As the gust began to subside, I tried to keep the gun sights from sliding forward while simultaneously squeezing the trigger. At the report and kick of my gun, the buck disappeared from my view. I had hardly brought my gun down from its slight recoil induced elevation when my Dad began congratulating me on a great shot. He said, “You must have hit him in the spine to drop him so quickly”. I couldn’t believe my skill, but then what should I have expected from one of the greatest eight-year-old deer hunters in the country?  My brother would never hear the end of this exploit. I had not only collected my first buck, but I had done so under the most trying of conditions. I had placed the shot almost exactly where I was aiming, in spite of the gale-force wind. As I stepped down from the bottom rung of the ladder, I was already imagining and savoring the sight of the neat hole, a bit higher than intended maybe, but still just behind the shoulder. In fact, I was staring at the exact spot where my bullet must have hit as I drew near the buck. I was puzzled as I slowly knelt by the deer’s side. Where was the wound?  My Dad’s voice cut through my musings, “Michael, where were you aiming?”  “Just behind his shoulder”, was my reply. “Hmm, well you hit him in the head.”  My eyes slid up the buck’s neck to his head and it was then that I saw the evidence of the .243’s work. No wonder he had dropped like a rock.

To say that my brother was unmerciful, is the understatement of the past century. He glibly pointed out that I had only missed my target area by about three feet and from a distance of 20 yards. He also correctly surmised that I might just as easily have shot my buck in the butt. I think my response was that I would rather shoot him in the butt. I really didn’t mind the ribbing too much. I think my Dad summed it up pretty well when he said “Son, you will never lose the enjoyment of taking your first buck”. He was right. The memory of that gusty morning is as sweet 53 years later as it was the moment I carefully stepped from the last rung of my first treestand.

Taking the Vortex Fury® HD 5000 for a Test Drive

I have upcoming hunts for whitetail deer as well as a Tactical Course at the Government Training Institute (a.k.a. GTI). For each of these outings I will need to know the range of targets. For the whitetail hunts I will be using two different Doug Turnbull rifles. These rifles are not only spectacularly beautiful, they are also very accurate. However, they are only equipped with iron sights. This means that, before taking any shots, I really must know the distance from my blind to my next series of venison meals.

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For the GTI training, I will be required to hit targets out to 900 yards. Of course, I will NOT be using the Turnbull Restoration firearms for the Tactical Training. Instead, I have been provided a pair of Kerry and Carol O’Day’s MG Arms‘ incredibly-accurate rifles designed for longrange work; the two rifles are chambered to .300 Winchester Magnum and 7mm 08. Once again, I will need to possess the tools to measure yardage. In this case, the yardage will be extreme. I will thus need to know exact distances in order to make the necessary adjustments to the Swarovski riflescopes that Kerry and Carol are mounting on their two rifles.

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With my upcoming hunts and GTI training in mind, and being as uninformed as possible concerning rangefinders, I started my research into various products. That research led me to Vortex Optics. Included in the Vortex lineup are riflescopes, Red Dots, spotting scopes, binoculars and, most importantly for my current needs, some of the highest-rated rangefinders available on today’s market.

I am always amazed at the generosity shown when a random freelancer calls and asks for a product to use for a review. Such generosity was forthcoming from Mark Boardman (Director of Marketing) and Sawyer Briel (Marketing Communications Manager) at Vortex. Through discussions with Mark and Sawyer, it was decided that I should be sent the Vortex Fury® HD 5000 model – a combination binocular-rangefinder with the capability to range deer-sized targets at distances of 5-1600 yards.

Fury HD 5000

So, I am now well-equipped with the excellent Vortex Optics to head into the Northeast Georgia whitetail woods, and then on to GTI and targets out to 900 yards!

Rifle, Harness Without Cabela's and Fury

Keep checking back, because I’ll be providing links to a number of reviews and hunting articles that highlight the Vortex Fury® HD 5000.

Treestand Affection – Settling In

Old Treestand

Though NOT the treestand from the Author’s childhood hunt, this reflects the architecture of his first ‘Aerie’ (15 Photos That Display the Mystery Behind Old Treestands)

As we rolled to a stop, my Dad carefully opened the door on his 1963 Chevy pickup. I slid across the smooth vinyl seat, under the steering wheel, and stepped through his door and into the darkness of the Texas Hill Country. My excitement this morning reflected three facts. First, I was hunting. Second, I was hunting Whitetail deer. Third, my Dad was taking me into a treestand for the very first time. I felt a thrill as I pondered this new adventure. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would come to love treestands.

There are a number of reasons for my feelings of affection for treestands. First and foremost, I love to hunt by ambush. And there is no better way to ambush than from above. It is often said that people who hunt well from stands have more patience than those who use stalking to pursue game. I don’t think this is correct. I am a poor still-hunter because it drives me crazy to walk slowly and stop often. In other words, I don’t possess the specific type of patience necessary for this form of hunting. Yet, I can sit relatively still in a treestand for 14 hours. I love to wait for and watch animals, both quarry and non-quarry. There is something incredibly fulfilling about overcoming the sharp senses of a wild animal so that they browse or bed almost under my stand. It takes skill and patience to be able to move like a wraith through the wild and thus sneak up on game. It takes the same qualities to discern where, when and why game have passed through an area, choose the ideal ambush point, and then wait for long hours.

On this particular December morning in Texas, I did not realize it, but this would begin my career as a stand hunter. I would sometimes use ground blinds, but I would always prefer an aerie. In retrospect, I suppose this morning’s effort could have put me off hunting from trees for life. That it actually wetted my desire to climb into trees again and again is a good indication of my inborn preference for this type of hunt. I cannot actually remember how tall the tree was that housed our stand. The fact that it was located near San Saba, Texas means that it was unlikely to be much over nine feet from earth, given the short stature of what passes for trees there. However, my eight-year old eyes turned it into a battlement that hovered at least three stories above the ground.

As we settled into the stand, I realized that there was one major problem that might become very evident if I had a chance to shoot at a deer. You see, if God had intended for hunters to sit in treestands in West Texas, He would have made the place a bit less windy. My Dad and I eased into the two folding chairs placed in the stand just as the tree shuddered from a fresh northerly gust. My panicked thought was something like “How am I going to hit anything the size of a deer’s lungs while swinging back-and-forth?”  Unfortunately, I had a while to ponder this as we waited for shooting light. As the horizon lightened ever so slowly, I became more and more concerned. I was not the greatest marksman anyway, but the thought of trying to score from the equivalent of a flight simulator that is programmed for “severe thunderstorm”, had me shaking. I could visualize having to explain to my older brother how I had once again missed a deer from short range. I shuddered, but this time not because of the air movement.

Next Week: Treestand Affection – A Miracle Happens

A Hunter’s Rite – Part 2

The last day of the hunt began just like the previous six.  Brittle-dry, frost-covered grass crunched under my boots as I followed my Dad to a new area, and a new ground blind.  Including the first doe, I had shot at – and cleanly missed – four deer.  My brother was nearly beside himself, since he had not seen any deer while hunting alone – the only deer being seen when his bane (I) was present.  This morning’s plan was significantly different from all the previous in one crucial aspect.

The other hunters in the camp were keenly aware of the youngest member’s deerlessness.  In an example of what I see as the ultimate in hunter kindness, they had banded together and planned a drive, with me as the only person to be allowed to take shots at the driven deer. As my Dad positioned me in the ground blind constructed of locally collected brush, stacked haphazardly around another juniper, I thought of the men who were amassed at the starting point, one half mile and two rises away.  I now realize that these were men who knew what a first deer would mean to this skinny five-year old.  That it would mean more and more to him as he grew older.  That it would be the type for every fulfilled dream in the realm of hunting and beyond.  That it, and other fulfilled dreams, would furnish the fire for pursuing more difficult achievements.  This five-year old child would be challenged by his own child one day to explain why he pursued seemingly unreachable goals.  These men were helping him construct his answer, “Because I have seen other goals achieved that I didn’t think could be reached”.

My Dad and I sat in our blind and watched the country turn gray, blue, purple, pink and then a different color of gray.  We watched the hill opposite from us and hoped for movement.  The sun had been up an hour when the first gray/tan form sneaked through the brush in front of us.  It was a doe, and she was followed by two more does and a yearling.  They weren’t running, but moving steadily down the distant slope. My Dad readied the gun and I loosely gripped it as I knelt behind him once again.  When we first spotted them, the deer were 500 yards away, mere dots unless looked at through binoculars.

My Dad’s instructions, given as we sat in the predawn chill, were to wait until the animals moved over the rise immediately in the foreground.  This would place them at a maximum of 75 yards.  We had, however, misjudged where the deer might come out and they actually appeared in a gap a mere 40 yards away.  First a yearling, then an almost fully-grown doe, and finally a mature doe came out.  In my mind’s eye I still see her broad nose, her ears moving as she periscoped her neck looking straight at us.  I froze until she looked away and then slipped my cheek onto the comb of the stock.  The crosshairs settled behind her shoulder, this time remaining steady.  The trigger crept slightly and the gun cracked.  There was a moment when I saw the doe rear and then start a crouching run so low that it appeared she was on her knees.  I watched and wondered if this time I had missed as well.  Before that thought was complete in my head she stumbled and went down.

My Dad grabbed me and pounded my back.  I jogged toward the doe, hardly believing what had happened.  I knelt and placed my finger to the small hole in her side and then stroked her skin.  I was thus engaged when the other hunters arrived. They gathered around as my Dad bent over and began the field dressing.  After he made the incision, he placed his knife on the doe and stood up.  I saw that his right hand was covered with blood.  With all of the hunters smiling and quietly cheering, he spread the blood from his hand onto both of my cheeks.  As he did this he said to me, “You’re now a deer hunter, son”.  His eyes were shining and he gave me one of his infrequent smiles. I know this ritual, now considered too bloodthirsty and dangerous by our comfortably-sanitized culture, marked my entrance into more than just deer hunting.  It also marked my joining a society of men and women who truly know the wonder of the taking of wild animals – not merely killing, but hunting.  No animal dies in vain if it brings such moments to fruition.

A Hunter’s Rite – Part 1

I tried to lean closer to my Dad and the juniper as the Texas Hill Country began to take on that purple haze that Western authors love to use as a backdrop.  I felt very small as I alternately attempted to peer over and then around my Dad’s broad shoulders.  As he felt me squirm he made a soft hissing sound that meant “Sit Still!!”.  There were two reasons that my squirming was inevitable, 1) I was five years old and on my first Whitetail hunt and 2) I was freezing in the near dawn of central Texas.  It wasn’t that I lacked clothing – long underwear with the button flap, flannel shirt, heavy coat, corduroy pants, wool socks, gloves, hunting boots and a Barney Fife cap complete with ear flaps.  It’s just that the clothes didn’t seem to insulate my skinny body.  As I sat and inhaled the fragrance of the tree, I wanted to crawl inside my pockets where the discount store handwarmer gave off its feeble heat generated from a load of lighter fluid and a wick.  I wonder if the inventor of those handwarmers ever made a profit?  I really hope not.  Actually, I hope they used their invention and were time-and-time again disappointed while they waited for their fingers to thaw.  Obeying my Dad’s quiet command, I settled my left shoulder into the tree and the side of my face into his back.

While we were driving from our home in Elmdale, Texas to the hunting club near San Saba, my Dad had explained to my older brother and me the plan for my first ever morning of deer hunting.  We would get up at 5:00, eat a quick breakfast, pile into his Chevy pickup, drop my brother off in one group of ‘cedar’ trees, drive about a half mile more, and then he and I would walk a final quarter mile to a second stand of trees.  My Dad’s plan also included me using his shoulder as a gun rest.  That’s why I was located behind him in our ground blind.

As I rested my face on the rough fabric of my Dad’s coat, I thought back to my first night in the hunting club’s bunkhouse, Nirvana for a five-year-old. There was a hardwood floor covered with a fine coating of dust and deer mice droppings, the rustic kitchen/dining room area complete with picnic table and benches for seats, the numerous bunk beds that assured my finally getting a bottom bunk – and the Outhouse.  This made my year.  It might seem odd that primitive toilet accommodations would be a highlight of my first Whitetail expedition, but at five years of age I was an unreconstructed Cowboy, and Cowboys used Outhouses. Of course, I didn’t really appreciate the potential for an up close and personal encounter with the ever-lurking Black Widows.  Nowadays I am a typical soft adult, preferring the indoor, non-splintering version, but then I sat in resplendent glory as I contemplated the capture of my first Whitetail trophy.

In the middle of my daydreaming, I felt my Dad tense and then gently elbow me.  This was our signal.  I started to jerk, but caught myself and instead slowly swiveled my head to peer around my Dad’s shoulder.  There they were.  I had seen deer from varying distances.  The previous evening we had watched deer not more than 20 yards from our truck as they disappeared into the brush.  What is it about Whitetails that fascinate and excite hunters and non-hunters alike?  Whatever it was, it had me in its grip as I watched the two does pick their way down the trail that ran not more than 10 yards in front of our blind.  My Dad lifted the .243 Winchester bolt action from his lap and laid it across his right shoulder.  I slowly drew my knees under my body and raised myself until I was peering through the scope.

To fire my rifle I had to clamp the stock under my arm. By the time I got the crosshairs on the lead doe, she was already directly in front of us.  Unfortunately, the short distance and the minimal light conspired to make the doe into an indistinct blob.  Try as I might, I could not tell her shoulder from her tail. Finally, after what seemed like an hour, I aimed at what I thought was the forward portion of the doe and jerked the trigger.  It was immediately apparent that I had not squeezed the trigger because a divot of grass flew up directly from under the doe’s belly.  My heart sank as I looked up just in time to see the white flags disappear into the brush near the trail’s edge.

My Dad slowly drew the gun across his shoulder, pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and asked me what I thought had gone wrong.  I explained that I couldn’t tell head from tail of the doe in my scope.  He nodded and said he understood that, but had there been anything else.  I hesitated and then said “I guess I yanked the trigger because I was excited to take my first shot at a deer”.  I was surprised by his response.  I sort of expected him to be angry with me over the blown opportunity.  Instead, he told me about the several times he had gotten buck fever, even when shooting at does.  He said that I would have this happen again if I kept hunting, and learning to enjoy and control the excitement was one of the pleasures of pursuing big game. I said I would try and remember for next time.  Though at that moment, I wondered if there would be a next time. We sat in our blind until lunchtime, but saw no more deer.  My brother was disappointed when we met up.  My brother has generally been understanding and kind toward me, but this time his disappointment was not all on my behalf.  You see my Dad’s rule for this hunt was, until I got a deer, neither he nor my brother Randy would shoot when we were hunting together.  Randy could see that this might take awhile.  Unfortunately, he was correct.

Next Week: Chapter 2 of A Hunter’s Rite