June 5, 2010

Virginia has a Spring squirrel season now, and this year I went up to Three Oaks Farm for the opening day of that, two days before I left for Namibia.  I spent a couple of hours tramping around Bill’s woods, seeing not a thing, but coming home with the finest collection of tick bites that could be imagined.  The ticks in Amherst County are nothing short of vicious, and they managed to find their way up into unmentionable locations.  As of this writing (October 10th) I am still carrying scars from some of them, and likely will forever.  I don’t have Lyme disease (I think) but God knows why not.

June 7-27, 2010

This was the period of my trip to Namibia for plains game, a fantastic experience that has confirmed my belief that the only reason NOT to hunt in Africa is that it spoils you for anywhere else.  One story from the hunt, “The Black Powder Warthog,” is on this site, and more will follow.

Late in September I received word that I now have two articles in the 2011 Gun Digest, one on Teddy Roosevelt’s H&H double rifle that he took to Africa in 1909; and a “report from the Field” piece on airguns displayed at the January SHOT Show.  I also received a very nice check, which is buying me an elephant rifle, because I am going back in 2014 (if not earlier) for the elephant that has my name on it.  The rifle is a Mark VII ordered from E.R. Shaw, in caliber .416 Remington.  Shaw’s production is running 14-16 months’ waiting time.

September 2, 2010

Today was the first day of squirrel season.  I went first to Sunrise Farm, spent a couple of hours there on a beautiful day with my BP shotgun across my knees and nary a squirrel in sight, though there are plenty out there to judge by the cuttings on the ground.  I did kick out a doe, not far from where I killed a button buck last year.  I left about 1:30, came home for lunch, and went back out to the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents in Giles County.

I sat down under my favorite beech tree and waited, and waited.  Nada, until I heard a small noise in the distance, I thought it might be a squirrel.  I peered through the, it's  No, too big for a cat...a medium sized dog?  No, not walking like a's coming closer, my it's MUCH too big for a moved into a clearing...holy smokes, it's a BEAR!

A youngish black bear, too big to be a "cub" but certainly not more than 100 pounds or so.  Sauntering along, 50 yards away, upwind of me, totally oblivious to my presence.  I watched it for a good ten minutes until it wandered out of sight behind the brush.  My only real concern was that if this was a cub, maybe Mama was around, but I'm reasonably certain this was a yearling looking for his own territory.  Very exciting.  In all the time I've spent in the woods here since 1987, I've never seen a bear, though I know we have quite a few.  Giles County has an annual kill of 45-60, and statewide we had a record kill of 1600 a year or two back.  So they're there but certainly not a common thing to see.

On the way out I kicked out another deer, and had one snort at me: and finally laid eyes on a squirrel moving at warp speed out of the territory.  So in one sense this was my usual Opening Day Bust, in another sense not.

Two days ago my wife came into the bedroom after letting the dogs out, practically fainting with hysterics...she'd seen a  skunk in the yard.  We figured out this evening, while doing yard work, that Pepe LePew has taken up residence under our shed.  So the Hav-A-Hart went out, baited with dog food.  I don't mind the odd groundhog, but a skunk is too much.  I have no doubt my Husky would kill him, if it came to that, but he'd know (and everyone within 20 miles would know) he'd been in a fight.

September 3, 2010

No joy on the skunk trap (thank Goodness!).  I was later told by a trapping expert I should have used cat food.  Well, I didn’t want to catch him anyway.

October 9, 2010

After a number of weekends wasted on “Honey-Do” projects and work, I finally got into the woods again at Sunrise Farm.  A beautiful day.  Saw four squirrels and missed one, at all of 10 yards, using the Benjamin Marauder .25!  I also saw a beautifully-proportioned spike buck who came within spitball distance.  I was looking over my right shoulder because I thought I’d heard a squirrel in the leaves.  Then I thought I heard one to my left, and turned.  It was the buck, who spotted my movement and off he went.  He was a resoundingly handsome guy, though not at all large.  I suspect if he makes it through a few seasons intact he’s going to be gorgeous, because he had all the right “lines” for a classic body.  Had he been twice the size he’d have been a shooter for sure.

The woods are full of acorns.  I haven’t seen a crop like this one in more than a decade.  As I sat under my trees acorns kept falling and there was no place on the ground where they couldn’t easily be seen.  Fat city for acorn-eating animals, that’s for sure.  If we have a mild winter, next year we’re going to be knee deep in squirrels.  DGIF is predicting a decline in deer kill this season, compared to the record-setting ones of the past few years.  We’ll see.  They may think there are fewer deer, but Harry, the landowner, told me they gave him 25 DMAP tags this year, compared to only 15 last year!

October 30, 2010

Today was the first day of the BP season, so I stuffed a bullet down the barrel of my flintlock .54 and hied myself out to Sunrise Farm at the ungodly hour of 5:15.  It's a 26 mile drive, which takes about half an hour; I stopped for a much-needed cup of coffee at the nearby Hardee's as I left.  Three other members of the local Brotherhood of Bambi Killers were there.  I hope they did better than I did.

Got to my chosen site, a place I call The Throne, at 6:19 and settled in.  This is a spot in front of a big tree with logs on either side, like armchair rests, and a perfect slope at the base of the tree for my invaluable little stool.  I have seen many deer in this location, and so it proved today.

About 6:30 I heard a snort to my left; then one to my right, then one to my front.  Then more snorts.  Snorts out the rannygazoo.  There were at least three deer, and they kept up the racket for at least half an hour, honking like geese and dancing around where I was sitting.  Unfortunately it was well before opening time.  Even had it been legal, it was so dark I couldn't see the sights; I did actually sort of spot one deer not more than 40 feet off, just a dim shadow a little blacker than the blackness around me, but I never had a shot.  After the display of displeasure at my presence was over—if that's what it was, I'm not entirely sure, actually, since they didn't high-tail it for the hinterlands, just stamped around and made a lot of noise—they calmly wandered off into the distance.

It was FREEZING out there.  I'm getting old, I regret to say: time was when I could sit on a rock in southeastern New York in late November for a week at a time, and in the snow, if need be; but now 3 hours or so at a couple of degrees of frost is enough to make me ache.  I CANNOT keep my feet warm on a deer stand, no matter what I do.  Electric socks, heat warmer packs, heavy insulation, nothing works.  I stuck it out until a little after 9:00 and then had to go home and tend to the two dogs, who'd been unceremoniously shoved out into the yard when I left.  I also badly needed something to eat.  I prefer not to eat before I go into the woods, but after a few hours the old tummy says, "FEED ME!" increasingly loudly.  As I got ready to leave, I spotted two more deer slipping through the brush perhaps 100 yards away.  That made at least 5 for a three-hour stint, not that unusual in my limited experience with the place.

After dealing with the mutts and eating (and a 52-mile round trip at 11 miles per gallon in my F-250!) I was back at about 12:15.  This time I moved to another spot overlooking a deep ravine the deer like to use as a travel corridor.  Last year I killed a fat button buck from this spot (and missed two other easy shots, finally accepting that my eyes aren't up to open sights any more...more evidence of age and deterioration) and had high hopes. 

Two weeks ago I'd been there hunting squirrels and hadn't seen any, but I'd had a cute little spike buck wander past.  Of course this time there were squirrels dripping from branches all afternoon long.  Dozens of them, ranging from tiny juvenile greys who couldn't have gone half a pound on the hoof to a couple of fox squirrels with white noses who were close to the size of raccoons.  A few barked at me, but none showed any fear.  I don't think anyone but me hunts squirrels out there, and obviously I haven't been educating any of them this year.  Mostly they romped in the leaves, making noises that sounded like deer, and when i turned to see what the commotion was, the squirrel would stand up, put a paw on his chest, stare directly at me, and say, "What?  What noise?  Who, me?  You must have mistaken me for someone else, sir."

(I don't think I'm going to kill any more fox squirrels.  They're simply too appealing, especially the white-nosed ones. In fact we have several distinct color morphs in this area, as we're right on the dividing line between the northern and southern fox squirrel populations. There must be some significant degree of crossbreeding because I see all kinds of coat color variations from deep charcoal grey to russet.  There was one bruiser today whose nose was easily visible from 100 yards away, and when he got closer I saw he had a white dot in the exact center of his forehead, as if he were a Hindu squirrel with a bindi.  Besides, I have three fox squirrel mounts in my office, no room for more.) So it went for the next 6-1/2 hours. Nary a deer did I see this afternoon.  When I'm hunting squirrels I see deer; when I'm hunting deer, I see squirrels.  The usual routine.

Well, Monday is another day.  I'll see what happens then.  I don't know this place very well yet, it's only my second season out there.  It's a fairly large property for this area, but I've only been hunting one small section.  It takes me a couple of seasons to get the patterns of a location worked out in my head.  After three or so years I'll know where and when to expect the deer, and will do better, but the landowner has 25 DMAP permits for antlerless animals this year, I ought really to be able to get something sooner or later.

November 1, 2010

Nothing doing at Sunrise Farm today at all. Went out and chose a different spot than The Throne, reasoning that I was poorly positioned with respect to the preferred travel route. A total bust, never laid eyes on a deer...except for the two juveniles in the middle of my street, the ones I nearly ran over as I was leaving the house; and the spike buck who tried to commit suicide by F-250 as I was driving up Childress Road. I swerved to avoid him, but maybe it would have been more productive to keep straight on.

November 6, 2010

Today was a "doe day" in Giles County (in Montgomery, where Sunrise Farm is located, it's either-sex all season long, not so in Giles) so I went to Terry's place. This is a pretty reliable spot and I've hunted there for several seasons, so I have it doped out reasonably well with respect to travel routes, cover, etc. It's also a much shorter drive than Sunrise Farm.

I started the day on Flintlock Hill, settling in about half an hour before dawn.  At 8:00 or so I got busted by a doe who came in from behind and to my left, who spent 10 minutes snorting at me. There may have been two. I actually got a good look at her, and had I been using my .308 she'd have been meat; but with a .54 flinter I let her walk, as she was too deep in the woods for me to trust a round ball.

A little after 9:00 I moved down into the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents, and took up my stand at the beech tree.  The Valley lived up to its name today: both grey and fox squirrels were cavorting around, holding some sort of convention. I saw a fox squirrel in a fight with two greys, over ownership of a tree. I was taught in my long-ago Ecology class that it's dogma that two species can't occupy the same niche: but here was the proof they can, if such proof is needed. These two species (Sciuris carolinensis and Sciuris niger) live in the same woods, den in the same trees, eat the same nuts, and fight over pre-eminence. So much for dogma.

The presence of fox squirrels is a new thing for the VOATR. Until this year I've only seen greys there.  But there were several other white-nosed fox squirrels present, so perhaps they're there to stay. It will be interesting to see whether they push the greys out. Fox squirrels are larger but seem to be less aggressive than greys, overall. But clearly their population in the VOATR is on the upswing. We had a spectacular acorn crop this year, which can't have hurt the respective populations; maybe with enough food to go around both groups can co-exist. I have to say that in general I see many more fox squirrels today than when I started hunting in this area 20+ years ago.

The VOATR is a place with a fair number of big deer. I've killed the two biggest I've ever taken out there, a 10- and an 8-point, both running almost 200 pounds live weight. About 11:15 a doe ran past me, not 30 feet away, completely oblivious to my presence.  I expected a buck to follow her, and so one did: a big 6-pointer came barreling along about 30 seconds later, his mind set on One Thing.  I clucked and whistled at him, hoping he'd stop for a second, with no luck. He flashed past so rapidly I had no shot: both of them ran up a hill to my left front about 100 yards off, headed for a flat area on top.

Ten minutes later the buck must have lost the trail or been driven off. He came down the hill, headed more or less towards me, still moving fairly rapidly.  I cocked the rifle as soon as I saw him, and was all ready to go: when he got into range, I fired...but thanks to pulling the shot and the very long lock time of a flinter, I had a clean miss, shooting behind him!  He shifted gears at the shot, picked up speed, and headed up a small rise to my right.  I never saw the doe again. Ten minutes after that, a deer—I think it was the same buck but I can't be sure—came out on my left and crossed up to the hill where the doe had gone.  If it was him, he'd circled around behind me.

That was it for the rest of the day.  I sat there until 6:30, and never laid eyes on another deer. Nor was there much shooting out there today, which surprised me a bit.  I heard one shot about 7:40, and that was about it.  I don't know if there are fewer hunters, or whether most of them connected on Opening Day (needless to say, I didn't) or what.  But it's been quiet.

Next Saturday rifle season starts: if I'd had my .308 today I could have killed at least two deer, so maybe, just maybe, next week will be The Day.

November 9, 2010

I AM getting old...yesterday I went to Sunrise Farm, arrived at about 6:45, and settled in.  Nothing happened at my original spot so I moved down into the ravine that's a travel corridor.  About 9:15, a deer—I think the same spike buck I saw when squirrel hunting—came trotting down the other side of the ravine, headed diagonally from my right to my left.  This was from a completely unexpected directiob and he caught me by surprise.  He was moving fairly rapidly, but as he went past I tried a shot, by which time he was perhaps 30 yards away.  ANOTHER #!#$@$#@# miss!  Damn and blast bad eyes, iron sights, and a half-second lock time on a flinter.  I shot behind him. AGAIN.

I'm beginning to think of that place as "the spot where I miss."  I missed two last year, and now this one.  So far for this season I'm 0-2.