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September 7: Opening Day
My niece, a recent graduate from the film school at the Rochester Institute of Technology came for a visit with her boyfriend for the weekend. I had to work Friday but today was the first day of squirrel season, and Jerry is a hunter, so of course, we went...fishing.
Went out to my favorite spot in the New in the morning, on a beautiful day with perfect water. We had a very nice few hours wading and drowning night crawlers. We hit the spot about 10:00 AM and left about 1:30 PM. It was enough for them, though I'd have stayed until dark. We even caught a few bass, which I gave to my Egyptian surrogate daughter; she's from Alexandria and bemoans the lack of truly fresh fish in Blacksburg, so she gets all my catches. I used a "True-Temper" steel spinning rod my late father in law bought in the late '40s or possibly earlier: the ad at left from 1936 shows and describes my rod perfectly. It was fitted with an early-60's vintage South Bend "Spincast 66" reel. It is part of the "Leo W. Wolfe Memorial Fishing Tackle Collection," a virtual museum piece old enough to make most of the other people on the river laugh, but by God, it still catches fish just the way it did 60-70 years ago.
When my niece graduated we went to the ceremonies, but because New York is so $#!$#!%$#@ unreasonable, I couldn't then give her the graduation present I'd bought for her: a Heritage Rough Rider .22 revolver. It's a combination .22 LR/.22 WMR sixgun, a sort of entry-level Ruger Single Six. Now that she lives in Virginia and is free from fear of arrest by the NY Storm Troopers, I was able to convey it. Naturally, after fishing we went out to my club's range to try it out. She is officially hooked, a confirmed pistolera. I view this gift as an investment in my Second Amendment rights. It's a decent "entry-level" revolver that she'll have a lot of fun with over the years, and when the Forces Of Darkness start their chant of "Only evil people own guns," she'll be immune to their lies.
From the range we went to the Valley of a Thousand Rodents to try to pop a squirrel. I had my usual Opening Day luck: although they were out there, and we could see one move occasionally or see cuttings fall, they were waaaaay up in the fully leafed trees, we never had a shot. We'd all foolishly worn shorts; fairly soon the bugs were eating us alive so we came home my wife's pasta and meatballs. That put the capstone on a good day, and we all slept soundly.
I played hooky this afternoon and went to the Valley of a Thousand Rodents for the evening rise.
Today I told my department head that I am retiring as of midnight, 31 December 2014; it's an extraordinarily liberating feeling to know that I'm no longer chained to my desk. As an academician I've always had pretty much complete freedom to set my schedule; but as a Catholic school survivor, I always felt guilty when I goofed off. That's done with. I will take a day whenever I damned well please, now.
So about 2:00 PM I downed tools and headed home, there to change into hunting clothes and head for the VOATR. The past two Saturdays have seen me compelled to honor various social obligations, so today was my first real hunting day. Besides, it was such a beautiful afternoon it would have been a crime to waste it staring at a computer screen. It was clear, windless, and temperate, exactly the sort of afternoon I like. I brought my Kindle and was had loaded up Richard Harding Davis' account of "The Rulers of the Mediterranean" (1894) for the slow times.
I arrived at The Beech Tree about 3:30. That's about when the squirrels start feeding, and the beech nuts and hickory nuts are ripening. I brought The Lightning Death, my little Savage .22/20 combination gun. It hadn't been for an outing in a couple of seasons and it's turn in the rotation was up this time.
The rats were out there: as soon as I arrived I could hear them cutting nuts and hear the pitter-pitter-pitter of cuttings falling. But I couldn't see them: the trees are in leaf and while I could occasionally see leaves moving, 90% of the time the rodents were invisible. On the other hand, they couldn't see me, either, which is a good thing.
The Valley is now The Valley Of Nine Hundred And Ninety-Eight Rodents, though it took me five shots to do it. Almost as soon as I'd settled in to read Davis' account of Tangier in the mid 1890's, I spotted movement in the trees, and essayed a shot with the 20 gauge barrel. This was a miss, because I violated one of my own rules: "Never shoot when you can't see the head." I should have known better, but to my eternal shame I did it twice more. The Lightning Death is just that when I can get a clear view of the beastie, but it's simply amazing how much of a 1-ounce shot charge of #6's is absorbed by foliage. This time of year the squirrels are WAAAAAY up in the tops of the trees. The gun has the reach to get them but I have to be able to see them clearly. Shooting where I think the squirrel is never works. I knew that, but after a year of waiting for early squirrel season I was impatient and the result was three—count 'em, three—misses.
Eventually though, I had success. A squirrel started barking at me, and wonder of wonders, answered my efforts to bark back. We started a fine slanging match in Sciuridian, which I speak pretty fluently, though I have an accent that makes me sound like a groundhog. He called me a lily-livered son of a chipmunk; I told him he was a flea-infested, mangy-tailed rat not fit to be in the trees. I stalked within about 20-25 yards—that's where the foliage is in my favor—and as we traded insults, he got madder and madder, eventually becoming enraged enough to show himself, the better to condemn my ancestry and personal habits. Incautiously, he peeped around the tree, exposing his head, and BANG! that was that.
Twenty minutes or so later, as the light was fading, another one came out, and ran down a tree trunk. In my experience squirrels eat a tree from the top down, but this one may have decided it was safe to come down and scavenge among the numerous acorns and beech nuts on the ground. Big mistake: he got halfway down the trunk and he, too, went to The Great Nut Cache In The Sky. Both of them were cocky and naive young-of-the-year males whose stupid genes won't get passed on. We call those "fryers."
Early squirrel season is without doubt my favorite time of year. The weather is good, and even though the trees are in leaf, patience and woodcraft are rewarded. Later in the year it's almost too easy: squirrels have to come down to the ground to forage and with the trees so bare they're very vulnerable even when they're up in them.
I had put a red dot sight on the Lightning Death and took it to the range last Sunday to sight in the .22 barrel. Results were very frustrating and I found out why today: the tip-off mount on the sight isn't quite tight enough for the very narrow grooves and it would wobble if I pushed it. Back to the 4X scope tomorrow, which has always proved infallible. The red dot is good enough using the shotgun barrel but not the rifle barrel, which is very, very accurate unless the sight is loose.
We'll see what happens tomorrow: I may or may not get out again, but even if I have to go into the office, I had a good afternoon today.
Fishing again Saturday, not hunting. My cousin whose son is a sophomore at Tech was here. His wife and mine went off shopping and he and I went fishing at my favorite spot, with dismal results.
It was grey and overcast and threatening rain. We hit the water by 10:00 AM or perhaps a bit earlier, and by noon it was raining for real, so we packed up and went home. We didn't get skunked, but Steve lost a nice bass who slipped the hook as he was leading it back to the boat. I had a decent 11" on the stringer but by the time we hit the boat ramp...well, a man can't come home with just one fish, so he was freed. The rain kept pelting down all afternoon and we had an event to attend at 6:00 so no time in the woods. And of course, thanks to Virginia's thoroughly idiot prohibition on Sunday hunting, I couldn't get out today, which is beautiful and sunny.
Instead I spent the late morning and early afternoon cleaning up and storing my boat for the winter. This involves draining the motor fuel and running the tank dry (otherwise the remaining gas will eat the seals in the carburetor to pieces, thanks to the #$!!$%!!! ethanol in the gas) and then schlepping the boat and trailer down a fairly steep hill. The boat is stored upside down to prevent it becoming a mosquito breeding facility, and you can take it from me that turning over a 16-foot ABS boat and putting it on a trailer single-handed, at my age, is not a trivial exercise. Two people can do it easily enough, but one person has to do it inch by inch. By the time it was done I felt the guys who had managed to right the Costa Concordia.
But it's all done, the fishing gear is cleaned and packed away, line stripped off the spools, and the tackle box cleaned and organized. The surviving nightcrawlers from the past two expeditions have been liberated into the garden, and it's time to get ready for the muzzle-loading deer season.
Didn't get to hunt this weekend either, thanks to a visit from an old graduate school buddy I hadn't seen in 36 years: his daughter is a freshman at Tech, it's Parent's Weekend, and we invited him, his wife, and his daughter to dinner. A nice evening and a lot of good reminiscences.
Black powder deer season opens November 2nd so it was time to check sights on my guns. My "go-to" muzzle-loader is the T/C New Englander .54. I shoot a round ball in this, with an over-powder wool wad and 80 grains of GOEX FFg. This combination has taken many deer and I see no need to change to a higher charge.
The rifle is dead on where I want it to be, about 1" high at 50 yards. With my new shooting glasses that have a correction so I can see the front sight, I'm very pleased with the results. So far so good.
Then it was time to shoot the Pedersoli .72 double rifle. I had ordered a (very expensive) conical bullet mold from Pedersoli, and had someone cast me some 655-grain solids with it. I'd like to use this gun on a hippo some time, but it isn't going to be any time soon.
Last year I thought I had FINALLY figured the gun out, after altering the stock, having a peep sight installed, playing with loads, etc. I had the round balls hitting dead on at 100 yards, an inch apart. Very encouraging.
However, today I started with the conicals, lubed with SPG, and an under-bullet wad. My first load was 65 grains FFg. I didn't even hit the target board at 50 yards. I assumed the bullets went low, so I jacked up the charge to 80 grains. That put it on the paper, out of the right barrel; the left barrel was WAY off from where the right one hit. I tried some more shots, swabbing between firings and also some without the wool wad. I couldn't get the damned thing to group less than 8" at 50 yards. Worse, round balls shot no better: the same load that worked last year was all over the map this time.
The conicals load very easily, which means they're too loose. They measure 0.7215" and should be snug in a clean barrel, but they aren't. There's a skirt that is supposed to expand and it seems not to. The alloy is 1:50 tin:lead and they're quite soft enough to expand but they don't shoot worth a damn. I'd be hesitant to fire at a deer even 25 yards away, the way this thing is shooting. I've had it suggested that I might try a paper patch to increase the diameter and allow the bullet to grip the rifling better.
This rifle is gorgeous and is immensely frustrating. If I can't get it to behave I'm going to sell it. Phooey.
Another thing I did was to chronograph some pistol ammunition from two guns: a S&W "Lemon Squeezer," aka the "New Departure Safety Hammerless" revolver, in .38 S&W; the second my constant companion, a Kel-Tec P3AT in .380 ACP.
The factory .38 S&W (Winchester brand) is wimpy stuff indeed. Out of the 3" barrel of the Squeezer, it averaged 562 FPS. The bullet weighs 145 grains and has a nominal muzzle energy of 102 F-P. You wouldn't want to get shot with it, but it's no earth-shaking, fire breathing cannon.
Nor is the Kel-Tec. It has a 95 grain bullet moving right at 750 FPS. Out of the 2" barrel that's a respectable velocity, with a muzzle energy of 119 F-P.
I had reloaded some of the .38 S&W with a 165-grain RN bullet with a hollow base. This bullet is intended for the .38 Long Colt, and is a "heavy" for the .38 S&W. It was over 2.5 grains of Red Dot powder, and hit 675 FPS. But the heavier bullet has 168 F-P of energy at the muzzle.
The "standard" load in a .38 Special, pretty much the yardstick by which most self-defense rounds are measured, is a 158 grain RN which develops 199 F-P of energy. I assume that's from a 4" barrel, but of course the manufacturers never tell you what length the test barrel is.
I have a mold that will case a 200-grain bullet for this cartridge. I have to give it a try: 700 FPS would put it at 218 F-P, actually better than the standard .38 Special. That load of Red Dot wasn't apparently pushing any pressure envelope, either, and I suspect I could get the 165 grain bullet up to 700 FPS pretty easily. That would rate it at 180 F-P; 725 would get it up to 193 F-P. I have some British-military-issue ".380/200" ammunition with a 178 grain FMJ that would be worth trying as a comparison to the reloads. Hot-rodding the .38 S&W for use in a 100+ year old top-break revolver isn't something I'd try with an Iver Johnson, but the New Departure is in a whole different class and I believe it would be safe enough if approached with caution. (Most factory loads in the .38 S&W round are weak precisely because so many old H&R's, IJ's, and the like are still in existence. The "9mm Federal," which was in essence a souped-up .38 S&W used in a solid-frame revolver, failed because it could be fired in these guns, to their everlasting detriment.)
Bottom line is that my 1903-vintage pocket gun is in fact a reasonably credible threat to life and limb, at least at the distances found inside a parking garage elevator. That figure of 168 F-P is 84% of the energy developed by the ammunition the NY City Police Department used for decades; the New Departure is much smaller and more easily concealed than the S&W Model 10 they used it in.
The only thing I have to worry about is actually hitting the Bad Guy. At 7 yards I kept all my shots on an 8x10 sheet of paper, but the gun has about a 16-pound DA trigger pull and no capacity for single action at all. It's pretty much the prototypical Belly Gun: put it against the Bad Guy's belly and fire away. That's called the "Jack Ruby Stance."
I went to Sunrise Farm this afternoon. I saw no squirrels but I did see that some !#$!@%$@%@%$ has put a ladder stand on exactly the spot where I've sat and killed two deer in the past couple of seasons. Phooey.
I paper-patched a couple of the .72 bullets and will see how they work. When the patch is dry they measure 0.733" and ought to engage the rifling better. We'll see.
Today being Saturday, I sternly informed my wife that I was going hunting. Right after I completed my "honey-do" assignments.
Got to the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents just about 1:00, and settled in under the beech tree. The leaves are still mostly up, but they're beginning to fall with increasing rapidity: a good wind or a hard rain will strip the trees bare, and in two weeks the "fall" will be over. However there was still a good bit of leaf cover today.
It was a beautiful day, though a bit warm for my taste: perhaps 80 degrees, but there was almost no wind, so any movement in the trees was due to critters. Some of those critters were birds, but the squirrels were up and about, too. I saw a couple of greys on the way in; and a fox squirrel. Fox squirrels are showing up in the VOATR more and more often these days. I never used to see them out there but in the past two seasons I have.
The trees are dropping nuts, especially the beech tree. There was a more or less constant drop-drop-drop of beechnuts, acorns, and perhaps hickory nuts, so things looked pretty promising. I did see a few rodents while on my stand, but as I was using my black powder shotgun, I deliberately limited my range to about 25 yards, tops: and they were all outside that self-imposed limit.
About 2:45 another squirrel came along from behind me to my left, and being a naive waif, he was unable to resist goggling at the strange apparition at the base of the beech tree. I was of course sitting down, and had a face veil in place and he couldn't figure out what in the heck I was...until it was too late for him. He was peering at me from a tree trunk perhaps 15 yards off, and an ounce of 6's over 62 grains (2-1/2 drams) of FFg ended his curiosity permanently.
Things went slack after that for a while, though I spent some time amusing myself watching a pileated woodpecker. This fellow swanned around me, oblivious to my existence, for quite a while, and provided some essential comic relief, as I'd forgotten my Kindle this time.
Eventually I saw another squirrel, way up in a tree some 40 yards off, and went over to try to shoot him, but he was smart enough to do The Vanishing Squirrel Trick. I laid on the ground for 20 minutes hoping he'd come out, but no dice. By then it was 4:00.
At 4:30 I packed it in to go home. Since I had fired one barrel of my gun, I had to clean it when I got home, so on the way out I stopped at the edge of the woods and popped off both barrels, as the fastest and easiest way to unload a muzzle loader is to fire it into soft ground. Then I started hoofing it down the hill.
As I went down the hill, halfway along...two more squirrels showed up! And there I was with an empty gun that takes 10 minutes to load. I had my little 2-1/2" barreled H&R revolver in my pocket, loaded with .22 Shorts (I carry it in case I need to administer a coup de grace) and so I decided what the hell, I'll try that.
One of them disappeared, but the second, who has to be the stupidest and luckiest fox squirrel in Giles County, hopped around and looked at me. I drew the gun, fired, took deliberate aim, and missed. Then he hopped again, and STAYED there, looking at me, until I missed him, again...and again, and again...in all, 8 misses, though some of them did raise dust next to his head. I'm a terrible shot with a pistol, and this little gun has awful sights entirely unsuited to my aging eyes, but 8 misses at less than 50 feet...well, that rat simply led a charmed life, that's all I have to say. Eventually he got bored and sauntered away. I went home. As I have said before, when I want to kill squirrels, I use a shotgun; when I want to scare them, I use a rifle; and when I want to make them laugh, I use a pistol.
Deer season opens November 2nd. The mast crop has been so-so, but in the VOATR it seems pretty good, at least for beech nuts. We'll see.
I am READY for the muzzle loader season, opening November 2nd. Went out today to check the sights on my little .58 Enfield Musketoon. With 70 grains of 777, a wool wad, and a Minie bullet, it's spang on at 100 yards.
It will serve as my back-up, the .54 New Englander (above) always does the honors on Opening Day. Bring it on!
October 23Got out today very briefly, to the VOATR. I hit my stand not far from the beech tree at 3:00 and by 3:03, Mr Squirrel lost an argument with my Churchill 20 gauge. I sat down again, but a cold front was moving in, it was blowing wind to beat the band, and by 4:00 I called it quits. No point in freezing to death before deer season. I'll leave the place alone until the BP season starts, and go out Opening Day for the morning festivities.
This weekend I'm scheduled to hawk hunts at the Roanoke Gun Show for my friend and PH, Cornie Coetzee: he runs CEC Safaris and I've agreed to try to help with his marketing. Any NRVO readers in Roanoke for the show, look me up and book the hunt of a lifetime!
November 2, Opening Day of Black Powder Season
I went to the Valley of a Thousand Rodents way before dawn today; got onto my stand at about 5:45, on the downwind side of the travel route that cuts through it. Sat down and made myself comfortable.
At 6:15, I got busted: or at least I though I did. I suddenly heard the pounding of hooves to my right and a few snorts. "That's funny," I thought; there's no way that deer could have seen me, it's way too dark; no way he/she/it heard me, I was totally silent; and no way to have smelled me with the wind like it is, from him to me." Still, these things happen, so I forgot about it.
I sat there for several hours; at 10:00 I clocked out and went back to the truck about 500 yards away, to warm up, have some coffee, and get a few Z's. I duly headed back up the hill to the stand at 12:45 and settled down for the afternoon rise.
Nothing. Nada. Hardly even a squirrel, certainly no deer. The weather was good, not too warm and not too cold; but there was a constant breeze. Not enough to make the trees move, but enough to make some noise in the remaining leaves, and pretty steady. Deer, in my experience, don't like to move around much when there's a moderate wind, it seems to disorient them.
Then..about 5:00 PM I spotted some movement, in a field on the next property. It was a blaze-orange ATV, one I'd seen before. The last time I'd seen it, during the last season, it was being driven by two guys who claimed to work on the neighboring farm, and who told ME I was trespassing! I knew damned good and well I was on property where I had permission, but I verified this with the landowner later, and thought no more about it. Here was that damned ATV again, and I figured the encounter would be repeated, but no: it was in some ways worse.
The guy driving the ATV climbed up into a tree stand, not 100 yards from me, and stood there, watching the field! I don't know if he could see me, but I could see him quite well, and internally I was seething. I've hunted that place for 15+ years without any interference, but clearly things are changing. I'm not exactly sure whether he was on "his" side of the line, but I'm sure going to find out.
This semi-stalemate lasted until nearly 7:00 when there was no light left. Not wanting to be shot by the clown in the treestand, I switched on a flashlight to be sure he knew I wasn't a deer, and hoofed out again.
Thinking back on it, if that guy was in the same stand in the morning—which I might easily not have noticed—he'd have been in exactly the right position for his scent to drift down to the deer who snorted...not at me, but at him.
Things were very slow. I don't think I heard as many as four shots, a very small number for any Opening Day. I saw perhaps 6 squirrels in the course of the day, but the only deer I saw was in the ditch on the highway home: a bewildered fawn perhaps the size of my Border Collie. The DGIF is predicting a reduced kill, maybe they're right.
In the past few years I've lost several prime hunting spots: one to a sale, and one to some !$@#!$%#@!%$$!! who came in and leased the place I'd hunted for 18 seasons. The owner of that property died recently and I'm not going to ask his son to let me hunt there again: I know he'll demand a "lease" fee, and that's not going to happen. Now two properties that have been productive in recent years have been infringed upon: one by some son of a diseased hooker who put a tree stand up at EXACTLY the spot where I've been sitting at Sunrise farm; and now this misbegotten ATV-driving character.
It's enough to make me tear out what little hair I have remaining.
I was out this morning at Sunrise Farm: nothing doing deer-wise, but a very handsome fox squirrel with white ears and a white nose, mooched around me ten feet away before he realized I wasn't a stump. At that point he gave a YIPE! and leaped onto a tree to check me out more thoroughly, and spent 5-6 minutes squeaking at me. Then he decided I was harmless and went on about his business.
I have to say that fox squirrels seem to be a LOT dumber than grey squirrels. This fellow was in full view the entire time he was denigrating my ancestry and personal habits, something no wild grey squirrel would ever do. He was close enough to hit with a rock the whole time. Had I been hunting squirrels he'd have been the main ingredient in a squirrel pie. But I have long since stopped shooting fox squirrels: they're just too appealing and attractive, so I let him off with a warning to be more careful, not everyone is as tolerant as I am.
Another totally fruitless day in the VOATR and environs. Never laid eyes on a deer. About 9:00 I knocked off to get warm and my host and I settled the issue of where his property line is: I am and always was totally legal, and the Kubota Klowns can go stuff it.
I heard a few shots, not nearly as many as I thought there would be. Just before 5:00 PM, I heard BANG! and three seconds later--far too short an interval to reload a muzzle-loader--BANG! again. Shortly thereafter the Kubota rolled into view on the adjacent property, presumably with a deer in the back.
I couldn't tell if there were two people in the vehicle: I think not but can't be sure. Which means that those two shots were either a) fired from two muzzle-loaders and he had a spare (which is legal but unlikely) or b) he was using something else that wasn't legal in this season.
I haven't seen a deer since the season opened. In theory the rut is starting, but I think all the deer went to Puerto Rico for a few weeks.
I did find a scrape, near the entrance to the trail leading to the VOATR. Scrapes aren't common here, don't ask me why. Near it—within 30 feet—was the oddest looking rub I have ever seen. A series of narrow vertical grooves in the bark of a beech tree about 6" in diameter. Parallel to each other, perhaps 1/4" deep but distinctly separated. Consensus among people more knowledgeable than I is that a deer did it, but I have wondered if may not be a small bear.
November 16 Opening Day of Rifle Season
I can't win for losing: if it weren't for my bad luck I wouldn't have any at all. Saturday was Opening Day of the rifle season, so I hied myself out to my friend Terry's place, where I have seen a total of zero deer this year; but hey, you never know, and either sex is legal.
I decided to watch a hillside where I killed a buck with a flintlock a couple of years ago, and where I have often seen deer. I sat on the opposite (downwind) slope, and watched the hill, not more than 200 yards away. With my .308 I knew I could hit anything I saw.
I got on stand about 5:30, half an hour before legal shooting time, and waited, doing my invisible act, leaning against a large tree stump. The boundary fence with the neighboring property was perhaps 15-20 feet behind me. Nothing happened for a while, and then about 7:30 I heard a VERY slight noise; the leaves were wet (it had rained the previous night) but it sounded suspicious; so I slowly reached around for my rifle, leaning against the stump...and WOOF! a nice fat buck panicked about 3 feet BEHIND me.
The damned deer had sneaked in along the fence line, and was literally within touching distance when he realized that the "stump" wasn't entirely inanimate. Had the real stump not been between us, he would probably have stepped on me. When I'm being invisible, I am really invisible: I can't even see myself. I suppose I should congratulate myself on the skill with which I disappear, but damn it all, that was the only deer I saw all day. They seem to have come 100% nocturnal, this year. A full moon last night didn't help.
I have to hand it to whitetails, their reflexes are phenomenally fast. By the time I had the rifle up and the safety off, he was over the fence and bouncing away. He never was in the slightest danger; it's debatable which of us was the more surprised.
It wasn't much of a deer...but it counts. Shot a small doe this morning, at 7:30. It was one of three who came tearing over the hill into the ravine at Sunrise Farm. I dropped her with a lung shot; the other two immediately started to scamper back the way they came, and I tried for but missed a second one. (Sunrise Farm is a Deer Management program property, so antlerless deer don't count against the daily limit or the basic tag.)
I used my Kimber .308. I won this beauty in a Friends of the NRA raffle in 2010. It's the "Classic Select" grade, with stunning wood: it's almost (but not quite) too pretty to hunt with. It's topped with a Leupold FX fixed 4-power scope (I dislike variable power scopes).
This deer was the Kimber's second kill, taken in exactly the same location as last year. It was also the third deer I've killed in that spot in the past 4 seasons I've been hunting it.
Range was 80-90 yards. She dropped to the shot and when I got to her she had only seconds left. My wife wants hamburger, so the doe went to the local processor I sometimes use (Steve Garman, on Newport Road in Catawba) for the treatment. She couldn't have weighed much over 75 pounds live: normally I'd have cut a deer that small myself, but time, time, time always is a consideration. Work gets in the way of more important things, damn it.
Saturday will find me out again, hoping to increase my stock of Bambi burger. Watch this space.
November 22: A Mercy Killing
As I was leaving the house this morning to go to (ugh) work, I had a call from a colleague.
"I have a doe in my front yard who's injured; I can't get too close, but there's something wrong with the front leg; do you think we could bring her into the clinic for the students to try to save?"
Well, injured deer rarely do well, and if this one was so badly hurt she couldn't get up and run, I thought it unlikely. I advised that the kindest thing to do would be to put her down, but I'd come out and take a look. I grabbed my coveralls and gum boots, and my Kimber .308. The rest of my hunting gear lives in the truck during the season. Heading out there was a traffic accident on the US 460 Bypass, so I had to take a roundabout route, but I got there eventually. The deer was still alive and obviously badly hurt; so I loaded the rifle and shot it, and then we went up to it.
It was, in fact, a fawn smaller than the deer I'd shot on Wednesday morning. Total live weight couldn't have been more than 60 pounds. When I rolled it over, that's when we discovered it wasn't a doe, but a tiny button buck. No matter, antlerless deer are legal in Montgomery County, and that includes button bucks.
It would have died of its injuries but it would have been a plaguey long time doing so. Frank had told me he'd heard someone shoot a distance away and supposed that was where the deer was wounded. The front legs were blown to pieces below the knees, both of them dangling by shreds of skin and shard of broken bone. God alone knows how the poor thing had managed to drag itself into Frank's yard. There was a decent blood trail showing he'd come along in front of the house and doubled back, presumably dragging himself by the bloody stumps of his forelegs. No way he could have been saved, my only regret is that I didn't get there sooner than I did. I tagged him on my license, so as not to have deal with the Animal Control paperwork: there would have been a couple more hours of delay had I done that, and there was no reason not to claim it as a hunting kill.
I had a class and had to get into the office; so I had my wife lock up the dogs, drove home with the deer in the back of the truck, and put it in my lower garage to deal with later. This animal is so small that there's no way I'd pay a processor to grind it up for me, as I did with the last one. I'll skin and cut him tonight, and he'll become stew meat and jerky.
I haven't examined the carcass closely yet, but I felt some grinding of the pelvic bones when I reached in to remove the large intestine. It's possible this deer wasn't shot, but rather hit by a car. If the pelvis is shattered that is far more likely than being shot: the broken legs could easily have been caused by a car strike as well. Tonight I'll know.
I went to Terry's place and sat on the opposite side of the draw where the buck sneaked up to me. Never saw a thing except the other guy who hunts the place, who rolled in at 6:15. He left at 9:30—accompanied by two more guys I hadn't noticed get out of the truck!—and sent me a text that he'd seen one small buck and let him walk. I hope to get back out next week and see if the buck is still home.
The deer I put down was hit by a car. When I cut the carcass the pelvis was cracked in several places and there were significant bruises under the skin on the right side. He must have been crossing the road left to right, in front of Frank's house; was hit, and rolled under the car. One of the tires would have then mangled his front legs: the image above shows what they looked like. The lower right leg is entirely gone, with shattered bone sticking out from under a flap of skin. The left leg was also badly torn up, the knee joint completely smashed and the leg turned 180 degrees from the normal position. It too was held on only by a strip of skin.
Until I saw the broken pelvis I had been thinking a bullet has smashed both legs, from a shot that went low, but that wasn't the case. I also had noticed some blood around the anus; that would have been due to internal injuries and hemorrhage.
We don't know how long he was in the yard, but a couple of hours is a fair guess. God knows how this poor animal even managed to drag himself off the road by his stumps, and with his back legs out of commission that's what he'd have had to do. He would certainly have died from the injuries but it would have taken a long time for him to reach the end of his journey. I'm glad I was able to end the agony, but wish I could have done it faster.
Went to Sunrise Farm to see if anyone was willing to get killed yesterday afternoon. I sat in The Ravine Of Death for several hours, no dice, and headed home about 5:40. On the way out...the truck made a screeeeeeecccchhhh! noise and the battery light came on.
Whoopee, just what I needed. There I was in the boonies in Southern Montgomery County with a truck that was momentarily still running but obviously very, very, unhappy. In addition to the battery light I had no power steering. It was pretty obviously a broken serpentine belt.
I decided to try to get to Interstate 81, where I could call a tow truck. Shortly the stink of antifreeze was strong, I could see clouds of steam spewing behind me, and the battery was run dead flat, because the headlights were on, of course. I pulled off the road and called a tow from my garage. When we got to the garage, there was the serpentine belt, coiled up like a snake, lying on the side of the engine, snapped clean across. I left the truck there and dropped a key in the after-hours box. By then it was about 7:15.
Today I learned the diagnosis: the A/C compressor had frozen up (I have had my suspicions about it for a long time) and that's why the belt broke. The radiator core blew, so that has to be replaced. Several vacuum lines need to be replaced (also something I suspected). I had asked them to adjust the clutch travel, and that will involve a flush and bleed on the hydraulics; the brake system will get a similar treatment "just because." The radiator is a total loss, and that will require replacement. I told them to ditch the A/C system, I never use it any more since we don't take the truck to the beach and I only drive it in cool weather. Total bill will be just shy of a grand.
I can't gripe too much. I've had this truck for nearly 17 years and this is the first time it's been towed. The pig of a GMC 1500 it replaced needed towing about every five months in the years I owned it.
I suppose it's just as well I didn't get a deer, I'd have had to call my wife to come so I could haul it home in her van. She's going to be mad enough about the truck, and THAT would have been pushing her buttons way too hard.
ADDENDUM: The engine is a Ford-rebuilt replacement that was put in in August of 2011; it had a 3-year warranty. After spending $780 on repairs at my mechanic's shop, it still wasn't running right. Since the warranty was good for another seven months, I had it towed to Duncan Ford in Christiansburg and asked them to fix it. To make a long story short, they are flatly refusing to do so, and will not honor the warranty, claiming that "non-Ford parts" were used in the installation, and the warranty was voided because of it. I consider them to be acting in bad faith and am filing a lawsuit in Small Claims Court to recover the price of the engine they won't fix. Watch this space for the outcome.
January 5, 2014
Virginia bans Sunday hunting, with a couple of exceptions: one of them is gamebird shooting on a licensed preserve. So three of us went to Holland's preserve today: my colleagues Phil and Art, both of whom have hunted there with me before.
The weather forecast was iffy, and in fact on the 2-hour drive we encountered some serious rain and a couple of slick spots in the road, where it had iced. But when we arrived at 9:00 the weather cooperated: everything was wet but it wasn't actively raining after we started.
It was a great day. We'd paid for 8 pheasants apiece, and of the 24 we got 22. One member of the party of three, aged 72, got pretty fatigued at the end so we called it quits or we'd have eventually chased down the two escapees. Everything was over by 12:30.
John's two turbo-charged Brittanies, Tex and Annie, continue to amaze me with their ability to find and retrieve birds. One of the wounded pheasants—believe this or not—went down a GROUNDHOG HOLE, and damned if Tex didn't sniff him out! He started to dig. We were all very skeptical that the dog could be right, but he was so persistent that we had to give some credence to him, especially as Annie was backing him up. Tex managed to get half his body into the hole, when Phil (who's 6'5" and has arms longer than my legs) yanked him out, reached into the hole, bringing forth the somewhat bedraggled bird, vindicating the dogs' judgment. I will never doubt them again. I asked if John had ever had that happen before, and he said he'd never heard of a bird diving down a groundhog hole. Perhaps this pheasant was unjustly executed: he might have been the progenitor of a new line of subterranean pheasants all by himself.
I took my little Churchill 20 gauge, which I like more each time I use it. Last time I hunted pheasants I'd used 6's and had some reservations about their effectiveness on these big birds, so I switched this time to 1-ounce loads of high brass 4's. I was definitely on my game, too: my shooting accounted for at least 8 and probably 10, birds of the total kill. 4's are the way to go: they really reach out. While most of the shots weren't too far away, I knocked one rooster ass over teakettle at well over 40 yards on a going-away shot. That double is one sweet gun!
February 9: The Last Hurrah
It's pretty much the end of the hunting season. I spent yesterday tearing out a bathroom, back to the bare walls, preparatory to an extensive remodel. The only thing left is the 600-pound cast iron bathtub; no way I was going to knock it apart and carry it away. Tomorrow's job is to cart the ripped up floor and wall tiles and the fragments of the old vanity and the perfectly-functional toilet that I have been compelled to remove in favor of one that won't flush nearly so well, to the dump. My reward for this was to be permitted to have a half-day at Holland's Shooting Preserve, for quail and chukar.
I had intended to bring my black powder shotgun but didn't have any #8 shot, nor enough time to make up loads of 6's; so I brought my little Churchill and some 7-1/2's and 8's. Many of these were Sears "Sportload" in paper hulls, and the boxes were marked with the price: $1.79, that tells you how old they were. Paper hulls and less-than-$2-a-box went out around 1963. They still worked, though!
I also had a couple of boxes of the original Winchester "Mark V" in plastic, vintage about 1966, perhaps a bit earlier. These don't use a shot cup. Instead there's a thin plastic collar around the shot column, and conventional fiber wads. By the way, those Mark V shells were RED, not the yellow of modern 20 gauge hulls.
Some of those shells—certainly the paper ones—were at least 50 years old. John Holland was so intrigued he insisted on swapping me a couple of boxes of newer ones, as he wanted them for his collection.
There were three of us, and we all shot well. We collected 36 quail and 4 out of 6 chukar, plus a "bonus" ringneck rooster left over from someone else's hunt. Tramped around for about 3-4 hours and had a good time. I made a few good shots including one long-range dump; but those itty-bitty quail are a good bit harder to hit than John's pheasants!
More good news is that a close friend has been issued 5 "de-population" permits for the deer that are ravaging her fruit trees. She put me on the permit and sometime we plan to go out and commit Bambicide. On de-pop tags anything goes and she plans to spotlight them. I'm not sure how I feel about that but it's legal and I'll try it once.
But the worst part of the year has come: can't hunt and it's too cold to fish. I am temporarily truck-free, and have to go back to work. Ugh. Retirement can't come too soon!