September 6, 2008, Opening Day
For once, Opening Day for squirrel season wasn't a bust! Last year I'd bought a little Stevens Favorite .32 and killed a squirrel with it at the very end of the season, so this year I decided to use that rifle to start this one.
By that time it was about 9:00, and I went back to the beech tree. Waited another couple of hours, missed another squirrel, and called it a day. I can't remember the last time I wasn't skunked on a squirrel opener. If I'd had a shotgun I'd have limited out. Maybe this will be a banner year!
November 4, 2008
My mother used to say that,"Good things come to those who wait," and if Opening Day of the black powder season was anything to go by, she was right. I went up to Amherst to hunt Three Oaks Farm, and
since my regular hunting partner Rick wasn't coming I decided I wouldn't impose on his parents' hospitality too much. Rather that go up Friday afternoon and spend the night, I hit the road at 3:15 AM Saturday morning for the two-and-a-quarter hour drive. I was in the woods by 6:30, not much the worse for wear.
I went first to The Ravine, a place where Huff Creek runs along in a deep cleft on the edge of Bill's property. There's a crossing point where the grade is level on both sides of the creek; deer coming down off the road as they return from feeding in from the fields cross the creek there as they head for their daytime cover. Last year I shot a doe there very early in the morning and it's a very "deery"-looking spot.
I sat on my stand until 9:00, but never laid eyes on a thing except two squirrels. By then I was a shade tired so I went back in to doze for an hour and a half; then went back out to The Rock, a spot where I've killed several deer. It's about 200 yards from The Ravine, at the confluence of several trails leading to and from staging areas and feed plots. No luck there, either. I stayed put until 2:00, by which time I was running out of steam and needed something to eat. I went in again, scarfed down some cold corned beef hash, and snoozed for another hour.
At 3:30 or thereabouts, I decide to make one more try at The Ravine. I went back to the same spot, reasoning was that it was late in the day; the deer hadn't been moving much if at all, and the moon had risen about 11:30 AM, so they ought to be thinking about getting up and searching for food and poontang.
Perched on my portable stool, I went into my hunting trance. This is something like being in that half-way state between awake and asleep; I can't describe it any better than that. My eyes are closed, but I'm aware of the surroundings and my ears are "on alert" when I do this. I almost always hear a deer before seeing it. The woods I hunt are so dense I can't usually see anything much over 30-40 yards away, and vision is of no use to me when a deer stops moving. Furthermore, I believe that the neural mechanism that keeps sleepers from falling out of bed is in operation: in the trance I remain completely immobile, which greatly improves concealment, because deer are very alert to movement. Whatever it is I'm doing, it works and it has worked for me for years.
At a little after 5:00 I heard a noise, but couldn't see anything moving. I always wear a face veil, which helps a lot in being invisible—a pasty-white face stands out as a blob in the dark background, and is easily spotted since you can hardly help moving your head—but it also interferes with vision a bit. I lifted the veil and lo, there was a deer sneaking through the ravine some 60 yards to my right. At first glance it was hard to tell if it was a doe or a buck—not that it mattered, either sex is legal in Amherst County, and my policy has always been "the first legal deer to come by gets it"—but as it came closer I could see it had horns.
I put the veil back down and sat stone-still. Sure enough, it was a buck, nose to the ground, and completely oblivious to his surroundings. When he was 30 or so yards off I could see through the brush that he wasn't a spike, and was at least a 4-pointer. He passed behind a bush while I slowly brought up the rifle, and when he stepped clear put the bead on his left side just behind the shoulder and fired.
Surprisingly, he didn't drop on the spot. At first I thought I must have missed, because he immediately turned and started up the hill moving to my right, seemingly unconcerned. That isn't supposed to happen: deer shot with my New Englander .54 usually drop in their tracks. Not this guy, though. He casually sauntered up the hill as if he were unaware of a shot being fired and he had not a care in the world. I watched, open-mouthed with amazement that he was so calm...then I saw him wag his tail.
When a dog wags his tail in a rapid rhythm, it means "I'm happy," but when a deer does it, it means, "I'm dying." I knew at that moment he was hit; but how hard I didn't yet know. Not being sure of what was going to happen I had to reload; he was facing away from me, behind a tree, so I did so...and let me say right here that it's not easy to reload a muzzle-loader stealthily while you're squatting on your haunches, especially if encroaching senility has caused you to leave your ball starter in the day pack instead of putting it in your pocket. I managed it, though, but while I was doing so, I knew I wasn't going to need that second shot.
I had started to hear a "schloop-schloop-schloop" noise coming from where he was standing still, no longer moving uphill. As I watched he started to wobble and stagger, quite obviously hit very hard. A minute later he toppled over. When I went up to him, there was blood all over the leaves: it had been a double lung hit. The noise I'd heard was a sucking chest wound where the ball had exited. Interestingly, I backtracked the blood trail to where he'd been standing when I fired, and there was no blood whatever at that spot, nor for about 10-15 yards; then just a few drops. The massive spray started halfway up the hill. I'd have had no trouble tracking him if I'd had to, but with that hit there was no way he was going very far. I'm a little surprised he got as far as he did.
He'd been moving right to left when I shot him: I put the sights just behind the shoulder but I hit him a few inches farther back than I intended. I think my rifle may be shooting a bit to the right and need to check my sights, but at 30 yards it wasn't enough off to make a difference. The ball passed through both sides, leaving an exit wound only slightly larger than the entry wound. It entered about the sixth rib, and exited two ribs farther back on his right, because he'd been at a slight angle to the shot.
He was a lovely fat little 6-pointer, with a couple of nice brow tines. Had he lived another two years I think he'd have been a bruiser, but it was not to be. I had to expend some effort getting him out even though it wasn't far; it was, however uphill about 100 yards, and he was a lot heavier than he looked standing. Once I had him out of the brush I availed myself of my host's lawn tractor to get him the next hundred yards to the truck. He wasn't the rangy type of buck: his legs were fairly short but the body quite massive. His dressed carcass was at least 100 pounds.
That New Englander now has nine one-shot kills to its credit (not including one fox squirrel that was not so much killed as obliterated), all of them with round balls, too. If you believe Cabela's catalog ad copy you'd think a deer couldn't be killed with anything less than 150 grains of Triple Seven and a 400-grain conical, but not so, not so. Those balls have astonishing penetration, and hit like Thor's Hammer.
After I'd got cleaned up and was on my way over to the main house for dinner, there were two more deer on the front lawn! They were twin Spring fawns perhaps half the size of the buck, and totally naive; they stood there while I watched them from 20 yards away, curious about this strange apparition. They're used to seeing Bill around the place and not yet "educated" about people, but I expect at least one of them will be soon. I had the rifle to hand and ready, and actually picked it up, but decided to let them go. The limit in Amherst is two per day, but I wasn't up for cleaning a second animal at that point.
This year has gone pretty well, both for small game and deer. Starting the season with a bang!
November 11, 2008
One minor hitch occurred: my hostess has a white mare who is absolutely the stupidest horse in Latin Christendom. When I opened the gate to drive in she wandered out through it. This nag is 20-25 years old, and ready for the dog food plant, but I didn't fancy having to explain to the landowner that her kid's pet horse had wandered out and been killed on the road. I had to get her back into the paddock before I did anything else. Luckily, this beast isn't wild, and she's seen me before. At first she shied off when I got too close, but after half an hour of cooing and schmoozing I managed after some effort to get a loop of rope around her neck. I was able to sweet-talk her into the paddock again. She was a little recalcitrant to move at first, but I did the Horse Whisperer stunt, and damned if it didn't work! Robert Redford had it right in the movie. Once she got the idea of what I wanted her to do (and since she was too stupid to realize she was much stronger and could have pulled the lead out of my hand or killed me any time she wanted to) she walked along very nicely and I got her back behind the gate, much to my relief.
That slope was even steeper than I thought as I found out when I drove up. Rocks barred a straight-up run, so I had to shift into 4WD and switchback up to the deer. This entailed putting the truck lengthwise along a slope so steep that several times I came close to tipping over; coming down was even worse.
Once up there, I commenced the struggle to get the buck into the truck bed. I'm not so young as I like to think I am, I guess: it wasn't a very big buck (a yearling 3-pointer) and 20 years ago I'd have just lifted him bodily and put him on the tailgate. Not this time. Even with a plywood ramp it was a struggle to load him without help. I'd put one end on the ramp, get him halfway up, then when I'd try to put the second half on, the first would flop off. There's nothing in this world floppier than a newly-dead deer. I took off the tailgate, and somehow managed to get him in, but I'm going to put a winch in next year.