Sunday, October 30, 2005

The shot

After a 2 1/2-year shooting drought in the deer archery woods where I've been everything from extra patient to restricted by law, I finally let an arrow go at hoofed brute.

It happened at 7:15 p.m. Friday in Ingham County, Mich., at my friend Walt's spot once again.

The calling technique was one adopted from watching a young buck attempt to mount a doe a mere 10 yards from me on a West Virginia ridge a few years back during its gun season.

There were grunts and bleats, but most notably, was the sound of a buck wheezing.

Now on this cool and crisp fall Michigan evening at the edge of a half-cut cornfield, I incorporated those same sounds in my calling Friday. Doing a set series that started with a few buck grunts, followed by doe bleats and then a wheeze. Afterward, I would make a bleat as if the doe was saying, "Oooooooo, hurts so good."

Well, at the witching hour -- so appropos with it being so close to Halloween -- out came a couple of does. Looking right in my direction but under my treestand, obviously wondering where or what was responsible for that racket.

I blew it. I moved just a hair behind what I thought was a decent cover -- a leafy oak branch. But the deer saw me and it was a good thing because I was going to send her one of my broadheads through her vitals had she stepped out in my shooting lane.

And away she pranced, bringing along with her the fawn that followed her out of the standing corn.

I was mystified at being caught by a deer 15-feet up in a tree. Hasn't happened in some time.

While I was sulking at committing such a rookie error, I heard more steps in the corn stubble out in front of me again. As the darkness lay in wait, over close to where the other does had been, was the big-bodied buck I'd been looking for since the season started four weeks ago.

The rack wasn't tremendous, but the ivory was well beyond his ears. Enough to send my heart pumping and legs into a quiver. But as with the doe, he was staring right at me. He didn't seem alarmed only curious so I figured once he put his head down -- I would draw and shoot when he hit the clearing I had through the leafy oak branch aforementioned.

It happened in a snap like it always does. Sometimes so fast I can hardly remember where I aimed and how I released the shot. Last thing I do remember was attempting to line up my peep sight with the orange sight pin. Nothing but black. I knew I was finished at that point but felt confident enough from making shots on rabbits in the backyard in near dark conditions without the aid of the peep that I let go a hail mary. I put the pin at the top of his back behind his neck. Whithtthttttttt!!!

I heard a thud from his back hooves and away he went along the corn, acting queerly, then making a 90-angle into the stalks after about 50 yards.

I didn't feel too confident about the shot, but I rarely do unless I can actually see the arrow sticking out the deer's side or spewing blood.

Once I told Walt over our cell phones that I had made a shot, I could hardly keep him out the area where the antlered one was standing. It seemed like forever before I got down out of the tree with my climber.

"Did it have horns?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said, "They stood up this high (I showed him with my hands a foot over my head)."

He looked at me wide-eyed. Then said, "F--- you." And turned on his heels into the direction where I told him I had seen the buck standing when I shot.

After a short search where I started "feeling it" because I couldn't find my arrow, Walt calmly called out, "There's your arrow."

In the beam from the flashlight I could see it was bone dry. Just a little dust around the broadhead. A confirmed miss. No hair, nor blood.

As I told the boys at the archery shop the next day, there went my season. Not in the sense that I'm going to quit now, but that buck would have put some water on the fire somewhat. Which actually makes me a better hunter.

Anyway, once foiled by the peep, I decided it had to go and it is done.

Now, about those BSA red dot scopes I was looking at ...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Young and Old

The last few hunts have been uneventful over the past week or so since I last posted. Mostly the hunts have been of the turkey nature behind my house where I've seen them come through to pick at the corn I put out. (Now I know what you're thinking, but I don't hunt them over the corn, er, not usually.)

One exception to my recent slow hunts would have to be the first pheasant hunt of the year at my friend Walt's spot in Ingham County, Mich.

Usually a tough hunt anyway, this year was even tougher as the cover there, a mixture of weeds and burr tangles to go along with the standing corn and soy beans, was just insane. Most spots well over even Walt's head, who stands 6-foot-4.

The gig started off on the wrong foot when we made the awful decision to jump right into a section of standing corn. Bad idea. Real bad. Lost the new dog, Hank, for at least an hour.

I would zap him with the electronic collar, tellin' him to come, but I could only hear him go "yipe"! Which is one way to locate his whereabouts but probably not the best use of the shocker as a training aid. Bells and beepers are better method but useless for hunting the wiley rooster, who will just run away from the jingle on the dog. Then, again, with me yelling at them the whole time, I often wonder, what's the difference?

But I got to see how the newbie would do on a big league hunt, and for the most part, he was in the game. Staying at a decent range and showing an eagerness to find birds or whatever we were out there for. (See, I'm not sure if he's down with that quite yet. Hopefully, in time, that will come. And he did flush a woodcock during the evening part of the hunt.)

Then there was his second disappearence when Hank crossed a neighbor's electric fence and wouldn't come back through it. I would zap away, hear a faint yelp. This went on for an hour or so until I figured out where he was.

Meanwhile, the 12-year-old springer looked good and stayed in the game for the duration. I was very pleased and surprised with Henry's performance. Temperature seemed to be right for him -- in the mid- to upper 40s. Colder the better for Henry. And as I've told others who have counted him out lately, when I was in thick cover chasing around a woodcock in the viney woods that juts out into swale we hunt, it was Henry I was depending on to come in and hunt down the timberdoodle.

Of course, with a venerable dog such as Henry, he sometimes hunts the way he sees fit, not always in unison with the hunt at hand, which was he did in this case. Off he went on old scent while I was in the prickers getting tore up trying to get a last shot as darkness came calling.

Damn dogs. Like women, can't live with them, can't live without them.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Email meanderings

I'm taking the easy way out tonight. Sorry. Tired and have to get up early tomorrow and rein in the little tykes, who are always on the hunt for trouble.

I was corresponding with my arrow-flinging friend Mike of Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Oct. 11. He had written on how he was gettin' a hankerin' for some tasty medallions.
Here was my response:

"That's what I've been thinking, especially since I have fresh-cut basil. One of my favorite recipes for frying backstrap: butter, soy and basil. Fry til pink juices come out. Oh, baby. I'm in need.

"Well, ... I'm coming back from a bad experience. Went out today. In the dark. Neighbor comes down road, and I just got up the tree. Noticed how close I was, and since I'm not entirely kosher there, decide to move. End up in new tree after 8 a.m., sweating profusely, of course. Did TITW (known to us Time In The Woods). Didn't see anything. No surprise there. Got down at 11. While leaving, went back to where I was originally -- had three deer come in the day the before while turkey hunting (shotgun). It's a gold mine. I always see deer there and not at the other spot. Why? Because there's oaks dropping acorns all over there. So, I just have to take the chance and stay there next time because it's a magnet. And if it's deer magnet for does, it'll be for bucks come ruttin' time. My original spot in back is only about 60 yards from there. It could be all right considering I could catch a buck trying to intercept the does going to feed.

"The 'real' problem came later when I went to set up a stand at the new place (northside of Port Huron) I got permission to hunt. Just a thick field -- suburbia -- on edge of woods. I was going to go just inside the woods and hang the stand looking into field. Technically, not the guy's property but he tells me 'it should be OK.' So I'm going with that presumption. I have the steps in -- 10 of them. Just struggling with stand. Here comes three dudes. I'm thinking ... This can't be good. We introduce each other. They're his sons. I can tell by their expressions they're not crazy about me being there. I tell them I was going to call their dad later that night. We talk about hunting and so forth. Ends fine. I go back to the task at hand. Here comes an old dude. Again, I'm doomed this time, I bet, I say to myself. Sho e'nuf, it's Big Joe. The landowner. Complete with a hat adorned with large print NRA. (Like he's the man and shit -- gimme a f'ing break.) Turns out he doesn't want me there. Has some bitch about my guy posting some fence on the line, which I never saw. So I'm agreeable and bring it down with a parting shot: "OK, I'll just hunt the field's edge like a banshee." It'll have to be during gun season though. That way I can shoot them in the head and neck and drop 'em in the field. The scenario goes like this: I pop some giant 8 or 10 cruising for does and then shout, 'Heeeeey, Joe, I got your deer out here.' Then, loudly, drive the truck out into the field to pick it up, drop the tailgate without catching it. Boom! Slam it back when done. Roar out of there. I realize I didn't do everything by the book on this stand thing, but as the typical alkie, just didn't want to hear the answer no. That's OK. So Big Joe's a king for a day. Kicked me off his land. A real hero. He'll go back into his house tonight. And in the quiet of the bathroom. Look down and take a leak and realize he's only holding 2 inches. He'll again be faced with the truth once more.

"I was out there, the 11th (Mike had mentioned how he killed a 10-point same day last year). Was a deer killing day. Overcast. Cool. Light breeze. Thing is, with my climber, I need a good 5 mph to 15 mph wind to disguise Mac the Klunker in the woods. I do feel all I need is for one hunt to come together. You know, where you do everything: play the wind right, wind at temps I noted, got in early enough to stand and was quiet. Those sorts of things. I think I spooked Mr. Big the other day when I was turkey hunting. Came in behind me, of course. He clomped off. Blowing. Flag was all I saw. Funny. Lately, the last couple of seasons, it's been coming all together during gun season. I'm already strickened with some burn-out because of the bear hunt. Need to chill, which I will -- planning on bird hunting one day and turkey another end of this week. Will evening hunt for bucks Sunday and Monday. Probably on state land somewhere. ..."

I did bird hunt Thursday, Oct. 14, with the English pointer, who again showed some decent desire and handling, but was little lacking in finding birds. Day ended fairly uneventful with only one flush -- grouse -- which I never saw because I was in typical thick grouse cover. That's why having wingmen is so vital.

Must say the woodcock are down this year. They have yet to make their migration or already have and I missed it -- which would be no surprise. Woods seems bare of them this year. At least around my spots in St. Clair County.

Looks like a trip to one of my favorite bird hunting spots in Arenac-Gladwin Cos., northern Michigan, may be in order. In the last few years, it hasn't been uncommon to have 20 to 25 flushes there. A trip there could give a better indication of what's going on.

Still planning on making the Sunday/Monday evening deer gigs. Beginning to get fired up as the rut approaches. Yet, today, Friday, Oct. 14, was entirely content on a short turkey hunt behind the house. Nuthin' happened but one of those mellow Indian summer days where the breeze gently nudges the red and yellow leaves down off of the forest canopy maples and oaks. A kind of crossroad for summer's leaving and fall's arrival. I've snoozed away many an midafternoon day slumped beneath an oak on just a day. But an hour was all I had, so I saddled back homeward.

It was a very relaxing sit before coming to what is known to me as the daily newspaper nightmare on the sports copy desk, called football Fridays, where all the scores and copy comes crashing in during the last hour. And then I crazily try to manage it all, cram it onto the pages and beat the deadline. We'll have another go at it tomorrow.

There has just got to be a better way to make a living.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Folly hunts

Laughter, please.

Lately my hunts, whether it be for bear or woodcock, have been those of humor rather than skill or luck.

Over the weekend of Oct. 2, I went bowhunting for deer in Ingham County at my friend Walt's hot spot. Entirely too hot. Muggy. Seemed like the temperature would never cool, even as the sun dropped below the horizon.

Let me set the scene: Primetime, boys and girls. When the light seems to be squeezed out of the dark. There's an eerie silence. The birds have stopped chirping.

Suddenly ... a whizzing sound ... Craaaaaaaaaaaack!!!! And a dry brushing noise. I jump up in my treestand, thinking hoo-boy! the deer are approaching. I grab for my bow on the hook. Then silence again. My phone vibrates in my pocket.

"I shot a doe," Walt whispers with nervous anticipation.

"Stay cool," I answer back. "We'll get down at dark."

Until then, I'm hoping I can score, so we can get a double. A few minutes later, I see a deer spook out of the corn. Way too far for a shot with little light left. I surrender to good sense. We decide we better get down and get on with the tracking.

Later, we tracked what I would call a more than an accommodating deer. She went straight down a single row in the corn. Usually, they scatter every which way making it tough to stay on the blood trail.

This deer obviously was hit good. The arrow was covered in deep, red blood from tip to end. Walt made a good shot and his recently purchased Montec broadheads did their job.

One odd thing to report: The doe on further inspection had a fresh hole through the base of her skull at the ear. The only thing we could figure was she turned her head just as Walt shot. Impressive results for the Montec. The arrow went through that hole, the shoulder and out the other side.

We then took in the benefit of having my Suzuki 400 quad by loading the doe up and driving around the corn field, something that would have taken hours by foot. This enabled us to get back at a somewhat decent hour and begin cutting her up. The fresh backstrap burrito made the wait worth it.

Over the next two days, Monday, Oct. 3, and Tuesday, Oct. 4 -- my birthday -- I won't say what one, I went on an uneventful evening bowhunt on state land near my house in St. Clair County and then much of the same on a late afternoon to evening woodcock hunt, again on state land in St. Clair County.

The heat again made both hunts more work than fun. And when it gets like that, why bother? For some reason I can't stay away. I guess the dog needed his work to be ready for the pheasant opener Oct. 20. My shirt was soaked like a car wash rag. The one flush I did get with Henry -- my ace springer spaniel bird dogger -- we had to work our balls off for, that's for sure. And, of course, Mr. Grouse went out the back door of the thornapple-brier scrub woods. We did a couple of loops, but he flew on to safer roosting.

But what typifies how the season is going, is the hunting of the past two days.

Wednesday, while sitting within the comfort of my own property confines, I had 11 turkeys -- all hens -- walk under my stand. Armed with a bow, I imagined how I would get a shot if it was indeed turkey season. I was confident the season came in Oct. 8 or 9 here in Michigan. And today was only the 6th.

At least one turk had her eye on me at every moment. Woulda been tough to get up from a sitting position, let alone grab my bow and draw -- excuses? Maybe ...

I get down and check the tag ... WHAT??? Season opens Oct. 3? Get out! Doh.

I recover and for Thursday's (Oct. 6) hunt, I set out with a shotgun instead of a bow. Anyway, as you can probably guess, I jumped three deer going out to my setup. And the turkeys never did show.

Will the folly continue? Tune in next time as I will stick with my bow for tomorrow's hunt on my property, as well as another weekend trip to the U.P. for a last chance at a bruin.