Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sloggin' bloggin'

Not sure if the early Michigan doe hunt constitutes an opening of the deer season or not.

Last year I would've have been torn between going grouse hunting or trying to put venison steaks on the grill.

With the recent passing of Henry, my 14-year-old springer spaniel, there was no debate.

I wouldn't be ducking briars this late September, instead I would be sloggin' through soybeans. (OK, not really, maybe just a little, Bill, if you're reading this. Bill is the Sanilac County farmer who lets me hunt his fields but is particular about his beans being left alone and rightfully so -- whether it be by man or beast.)

As usual, this past Thursday, Sept. 18, I had a plan of being in the ladder stand and waiting til dusk for the bean munchers to come out and fill up on Bill's beans, but my grand ideas were waylaid by the hooved ruminants.

Three to be exact, who were lying comfortably 30 yards behind my stand in a field I don't have permission to hunt.

After a 15-minute staredown, I decided to push the issue. And that part of the plan worked as they sprang out into the bean field I can hunt. I ripped off two shots, and watched what I thought was a deer struggling to escape.

Later, while searching the area where I marked the last sight of the deer in question, I discovered why it was struggling through the chest-high vines.

It was difficult for even a human to venture through, and after an hour and a half, I called the game because of darkness, no sign and a growling stomach that missed dinner.

Upon leaving, a deer crossed the road in front of the truck unscathed and without damage. Hmmmmm. I wonder ...

The next morning -- Friday, Sept. 19 -- I again pursued backstrap and with hopes dear doe was still piled up in the beans.

On the way to my temporary sit where I would wait until it was late enough in the morning so I wouldn't stir things up too much to botch any future bow hunts, I jumped two deer.

Let's see, two and one make three, but I still needed to comb the field and that I did but found nothing after two and a half hours.

Talk about a workout.

I feel confident I did my best in searching for a potential downed deer but everything came up empty: no hair, no blood, no tracks with a noticeable limp.

There was some uneasiness but if two days into the deer season I'm already discouraged, it's gonna be a long one. So I put it behind me and hope I didn't mess things up too much for the Oct. 1 bow opener.


Read about the great Henry at www.macshuntingmag.com.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Change is the thing

Change. It will catch up with us every time if we let it.

Then we are challenged to either adapt or succumb to its cold, hard grip.

Many of us in the hunting community are often faced with some type of new obstacle, whether it be the loss of a longtime canine companion or the sale of a favorite deer and pheasant property.

Both of the above are what will challenge me this season.

I will tell you I've got them both on the run but it's easier said than done.

Especially when I lose Henry, my faithful partner in the grouse and woodcock woods and pheasant fields of nearly 15 years.

The wife accuses me of "wishing him dead" because I'm watching his every move these days.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I'm not sure if it's the heat or his age, but he now struggles to get in and out of his pen and no longer wants to go for our midnight walks.

For almost 15 years, I would come home after the afternoon shifts at two different newspapers and four different homesites and curse him for being a spastic mongrel because he would twirl and whimper at me to take him on his walk, and all I wanted to do is sit in the easy chair and channel surf.

Now he barely manages to make it to the pen's fence after the truck rattles to a stop.

No, I'm not necessarily "wishing him dead" in the sense she thinks. But I question whether this is truly humane for him to just hang on.

I definitely love to bird hunt and every year we hit the woods with a vengence. The expectations for this upcoming season were no different. But I don't think Henry will make it out, unless it's only for a ceremonial hunt.

It won't be the same without him.

Even once I eventually get another wing dog.

As a two-man team, we worked like well-honed machinery. I can't even recall how many times I would get into a thick tangle and start getting worked into a lather because Henry was nowhere to be found only to be put down moments later when he appeared right where I wanted him.

There's only one word for that type of teamwork: magical.

* * *

Hunting spots come and go. That's just the way the song plays.

But it also becomes an opportunity to find an even better spot.

I've hunted with Walt at the two large parcels in Dansville, Mich., recently sold by our farmer friend for about as long as Henry has been alive.

Many excellent memories were made in these two fields.

There was the time nearly 10 years ago when Walt slammed a giant-bodied 8-pointer on Devil's Night.

The shot, let's just say it wasn't the best ... a way's back from where you would want it.

Didn't matter.

In the cool, crisp fall chill under a full moon we stalked the brute into the endless rows of corn stalks. As we got closer and closer, we shook with anxiety wondering if we would be charged. Finally, we peaked around another row and saw the snorting giant's eyes staring right back at us. Then the reality hit us when Walt said, "I've only got a knife" and neither of us had our bows.

Luckily by the time I raced back with his bow, the buck had expired.

It was also where Henry and I bagged our first pheasant.

And lastly, it was where Walt and I collaborated on downing a nice 8 with a 19-1/2 inch spread that I shot on the opening morning of the muzzleloader season last year.

After receiving the news of the sale, I noted how taking a big buck usually brings ruin to a spot.

Once again, this theory was proven right.

But each time denied at a spot, I've picked up and made new memories somewhere else. I'm sure it'll be no different this time.

It won't be as easy though without the dog. He's always been a constant that stayed the same as we've moved on.

Change finally got one of us.

* * *

Regardless of how Henry's condition turns out, look for pictures of him and his top five all-time hunts in the fall edition of Mac's Online Hunting Mag at www.macshuntingmag.com.