September 6, 2014: Opening Day and I missed it!

I haven't missed an Opening Day of squirrel season in the entire time I've lived in Virginia, until today.  Months ago—quite without realizing it—I committed to doing medical school candidate interviews, and there was no way out.  So up at the crack of dawn not to perform The Sacred Oak Tree Ritual, but to sit in a hospital exam room and pose ethical puzzles to earnest young men and women who want to be Doctors. This went on all day, until about 3:30 PM, and then my wife wanted to go to her favorite Asian restaurant in Roanoke.  By the time we got home it was nearly 5:00 PM, so Opening Day was a total washout.

HOWEVER...tomorrow is the first Sunday on which one can hunt in Virginia, and I WILL be out there.  Complete with a nifty-neato old H&R "Gamester" bolt action shotgun and some 16 gauge shells loaded with #5 shot.  That is, if it isn't raining.  Right now there is thunder booming, my Border Collie is scared witless and sitting in my lap, and any second now, the skies look like they're ready to split open.

One the way home from Roanoke, as we were on the entrance ramp onto I-81, a nice fat doe walked in front of the car...with a still-spotted fawn close behind.  I'm starting to see road kills, too.  The deer are moving around, and it's only a month and three weeks until that season opens.

WOOF!  The rain just started.  Quiet walking in the woods tomorrow!

September 7, 2014: Sunday Squirrel!

I was more or less forced to miss Opening Day, but today made up for it. Today is the first Sunday in Virginia's history when it has been legal to go hunting. The law isn't what it might or should be, but it was a major breakthrough and I think in years to come the remaining restrictions will be lifted.  In any event, I have private land permission (written, as the law demands) to hunt on Sundays and I wasn't going to miss the first one.

I slept very poorly and very little last night: some weeks ago I injured the carpo-metacarpal joint on my right thumb and it has been hurting ever since.  Last night it was especially bad and kept me awake a long time despite drugs and a thumb splint.  But if I'd had to go out in a wheelchair or on a gurney, I was going out today: I've waited 30 years for this day.

Because I had little sleep I didn't get up until 8:00, about 2-1/2 hours later than I planned.  I suited up and went to Sunrise Farm. On the way out I spotted the carcass of a drop-dead gorgeous 8-point buck in the median strip of the US 460 Bypass! It looked very, very fresh...what a shame. He'll end up in the landfill.

The woods were very quiet, because it rained heavily last night.  The trees are still in full leaf, with water dripping from them a bit.  Now and then I'd hear an acorn drop.  This morning was totally windless, temperature in the low 70's, a perfect morning.

I plonked myself down in a likely spot where there are plenty of white oaks and a number of small hickories and awaited developments.  I did see a squirrel run along a log off to my left shortly after arriving, but he was out of shotgun range and was an adept at The Vanishing Squirrel Trick, so he lived.

I was using an elderly H&R Model 349 "Gamester Deluxe" bolt action shotgun in 16 gauge with an "H&R Vari-Choke." There's a  2-shot tube magazine concealed inside the forearm.  The Gamester is about as plain-vanilla a weapon as could be imagined; but as it was made some 60 years ago (production stopped in 1955) it has a stock made of straight-grained walnut with a good oil finish. 

It always amazes me how nice the wood is on these old "utility" grade guns.  Way better than the "walnut stained hardwood" of modern entry-level shotguns and rifles, and a far, far cry from the camo-painted plastic crap used on most of them. 

It also has an odd feature that apparently was the subject of an H&R patent.  This is a bridge over the bolt raceway with a rudimentary sighting groove.  The bridge is about half an inch high and the term for it is a "Mulno Sighting Dome."  (Lester Mulno was an arms designer for H&R for many years.)  H&R touted this feature in their ads for the Gamester as "guaranteeing absolute accuracy," but (I suppose in case it didn't) it was "dismountable."  According to the ad copy the Dome would "raise your sighting line above confusion," too.

At about 11:15 I heard a squirrel barking.  I think he was barking at me, because I was wearing a blaze orange cap, and I'm convinced that this color is visible to squirrels and has some attraction for them.  I turned and there he was, on a branch about 30 yards away, excoriating my ancestry and taste in clothing.  Normally I would have returned insults, but this time I didn't: instead I snicked off the safety and took a bead on him.

Now, I know a little bit about how guns work, and that Sighting Dome had me a bit concerned about exactly where the shot was going to go.  I had the Vari-Choke screwed down to Full.  I was in a bit of a quandary about using the groove in the Sighting Dome as a rear sight because it might make the pattern go high, but what the hell, it was "guaranteed" to be accurate, right?

The first shot—an ounce of #5's—did seem to go high, and the squirrel jumped, because it probably parted his hair.  Rather than scaring him off however, it made him even madder.  He came out in plain view, screaming Sciuridian insults at the top of his lungs, and the second shot did NOT go high, because I put the bead under his chin.  BOOM, and down he came, stone dead before he hit the ground.  As is almost always the case in the early season, it was a cocky young-of-the-year male, accounting for his behavior.  No squirrel who'd been shot at before would have given me another chance, but he was naive and aggressive enough to do so. That was it for the day.  I hung around for another hour but things were pretty dead.  I left about 12:30 to get some more Sunday permission slips signed, and headed home just as a torrential rain began to fall. 

Sunday hunting has added several days to the seasons, and is a welcome, long-overdue change in Virginia's last Blue Law.  At the moment it applies only on private land, but the precedent has been set and no doubt things will open up even more in the next few years.

September 10, 2014

I was out this morning slaughtering sheep at a colleague's farm.  As we were proceeding with the business I remarked that most people had no idea where meat comes from.

She then told me a story of how when she was once working at an agricultural fair, at a display of beef cattle, some woman asked her, "How do they get the meat off them without hurting them?"

Honestly, some people are too dumb to be alive.

September 21, 2014

Went to the VOATR today to check on the game camera. On the morning of the 19th a doe had come by, and a day or two before something tripped it but all I got was a picture of some leaf litter. A squirrel, perhaps? In any event, it's working. I got there about 10:30 and after checking the camera, sat down under the Beech Tree for an hour and a half, but none of those Thousand Rodents was home.

I upped stakes and drove to Sunrise Farm, spent another dozy hour with no results, and came back.

I'm seeing more and more roadkill these past few days. They're beginning to move around. And it was fairly raining acorns in the woods: we will have a bumper crop this year, after a couple of sorry mast crops.

October 2, 2014

Went to the VOATR to check the game camera. Things out there are dead, dead, dead....on the 18th of September a small doe wandered by and after that, nothing whatever showed up. I have killed several deer out there, including two very nice bucks; and I've seen bears twice. I have no idea why there's no activity.

I pulled the camera and took it to Sunrise Farm. Will leave it there for a week or two. After setting it up I sat down under a tree to see if any squirrels came by. Sat down about 3:00 PM. By 4:34 I heard a squirrel barking, and answered him. He seemed interested in a conversation, and I figured if I could keep him interested I'd have a chance. I did try a stalk, and actually spotted him: but he shut up and did the Vanishing Squirrel Trick while still out of shotgun range. Hung around until 5:30 and went home.

Harry's woods are full of acorns, and they're still dropping. A bumper crop this year, they're all over the ground.

October 9, 2014

Here it is, hunting season and here I am talking about fishing...but fishing is what I do when I can't go hunting; and I'm sure that from the fishes' point of view there isn't much of a distinction between the two activities.

I have had my eye on a spot in the Little River for some time now and had a chance to try it a couple of days ago. On the way to Sunrise Farm the road passes over the Little River where there used to be an ancient truss bridge. That bridge was replaced two years ago with a nice low-sided concrete one. I noticed that there is now what appears to be an access point next to the new bridge.  I stopped and checked, and sure enough, now you can drive a few feet off the road, right down to the edge of the water.  There's rip-rap on the banks but it's an easy spot to get in with a canoe or even to wade fish. Most of the time I fish from my boat, but this place is ideal for a "quickie" that requires nothing I can't carry in my hands.

The water in that stretch is shallow, perhaps 2-3 feet deep, running over nice clean gravel, with a bunch of riffles and rapids.  The bridge piers stand partly in the water and partly on a small island.  It's perfect smallmouth bass territory.

Last time I had I thought to bring along some fishing tackle and stopped for some nightcrawlers on the way out. On my return from Sunrise Farm I spent a pleasant hour sitting on the bank. Mostly what I caught were smallish stonerollers (locally called "hornyheads") but I did get a couple of bass.  Had I been equipped to wade out into the river—about 60 yards wide at that point—and move up and downstream, I'd have done very well and probably caught more bass than anything else.

I went to the county GIS site to check ownership of the properties on either side of the river, and of the little island in it.  Since in Virginia, almost all rivers are public property, if you can get into one without trespass you can move around in the river bed as you like.  I was surprised to see that no owner was listed for the island, so I called the county map office and asked.  Sure enough, the island is public land!  Because it's in the "floodway," i.e., from time to time it's covered by high water, it can't be privately held, and anyone can use it.  That's a real plus as it gives me access to both sides of the river and to the downstream structure features.  Right now the water is a bit too cold for bare-butt wading, but come Spring...and even now, with a set of waders I can probably handle it.

I've never eaten a stoneroller.  But my surrogate daughter from Egypt will eat any fish I bring her, so she got the whole catch.  She reports that the stonerollers were outstanding: and I found a reference in a scholarly book on "Freshwater Fishes of Virginia" that remarks that there are places where people will keep stonerollers and throw trout back!  A big one is 6-7 inches long, so I suppose most people don't bother with them.

One more thing to do when I'm retired.

October 11, 2014

Back to the fishing spot described above, henceforth to be called "Stoneroller Creek," because of the dozen or so fish I caught there today, at least 10 were stonerollers. I did pretty well fishing from the bank and even better fishing from the bridge itself. I didn't quite want to enter into the water, this time of year. Two kayakers came and took out at the spot where I was, and they said they'd had a slow day but caught a few small bass. I caught one or two redeyes, no smallmouth. Then on to Sunrise Farm to check the game camera. Nothing, despite my seeing deer almost every time I go there, and having killed a couple on the exact spot the camera was monitoring. I did see a fat doe road kill coming home. They're moving around but the really active period seems not yet to have started.

October 18, 2014: A Brace of Fox Squirrels

It's been a pretty good day.  This morning I got shanghaied into doing some housework,  but at noon I announced that I was going off to do Manly Things involving firearms and inoffensive furry creatures that never did me any harm.  I also had an errand to run at Dick's Sporting Goods, where I bought a pair of waders so I can exploit my new fishing spot when my friend Dave comes through in a week and a half: he's a fanatical fisherman and the thought of wading into ice-cold water to catch 10" smallmouth inflamed him beyond telling.

After visiting Dick's and shelling out $150+ I went to the VOATR, bringing with me my Kindle and my little Stevens 94Y 20 gauge single shot (below). This gun was the subject of my essay "The Quest," on this web site.  It's identical to the first gun I ever owned, and with which I started my hunting career, half a century and more ago.  I had taken it to the field several times this season but had never been offered a shot until today.

I sat down under The Beech Tree, pulled out my Kindle, and started to read a pretty dull anthology of sci-fi stories from the 1940s.  This was about 1:30 PM, and I figured I would be there when the squirrels started to become active near dusk.  The weather was cool (high 50's) and overcast, and there was some wind, but on the whole it was pretty pleasant, especially since the plague of gnats seems to have ceased for the season.

At 2:15 two squirrels came roaring through the leaf litter to my right, not 15 feet away, and paying no attention to me whatever.  They were playing that "chase" game they do.  The one in the lead stopped on a log about 15 yards off, a fatal error: 7/8 ounce of #6's did for it instantly.  The chasing squirrel turned and went back, but made two even stupider mistakes: giving me time to reload, and stopping to watch me do it.  It stopped behind a fern, no more than 10 yards (if that) from me, and I knew exactly where it was: BANG, and #2 was on the ground. The whole affair was over in 15 seconds.

To my intense surprise, both of them were fox squirrels!  They were big ones, too: one was a black phase morph with a white nose like a searchlight.  The other, even bigger, was a henna-colored variety. I have never taken a fox squirrel in the VOATR in 20 years, but of late I've been seeing more and more of them. Another shock was that they were both females.  Early season squirrels are almost always young, stupid, cocky males, but these ladies were clearly...ahem...experienced, to judge by the prominence of their mammary glands.  Both of them had littered at least once.  To get two females in one outing is a real rarity for me, I normally get three males for every female, at least among grey squirrels.  I'm happy to say that neither of them were lactating, so they didn't have young in the nest.

The black one was in the lead, the henna chasing it.  Now I have always assumed that this chasing business was related to mating: this is the squirrel rutting season, more or less, and if I hadn't killed both of them I'd have assumed it was a male chasing a female, intent on One Thing.  I'm now re-evaluating my assumption.  Perhaps it was a bit of territoriality, or maybe they were LGBT squirrels?  Who knows?  They aren't talking, that's for sure.

The black one weighed 1-1/2 pounds and dressed out at a full pound.   The henna was larger: she weighed a full 2 pounds, but curiously also dressed out at 1 pound.  Her right front leg was badly shot up, that may account for it.

They're both in the fridge awaiting the day when they will be main ingredients in a pie for my medical students!

October 23, 2014: Black Powder Squirrel

We are graced with a football game on campus this evening, and so that we may be a University which the team can be proud of, we were ordered by the Tech Parking Nazis to be out of our parking lots not later than 4:10 PM, on pain of death or, worse, towing.  The game starts at 8:00 PM.  I, a public-spirited and faithful employee, decided not to inconvenience the no-neck monsters on the team, and decided to play hooky today.  The Commonwealth thus paid me a full day's salary for my support of tradition, so I went to the Beech Tree in the VOATR, where last Saturday I whacked two fat fox squirrels.

Today I hunted with my little .32 caliber muzzle-loading squirrel gun: a Traditions "Crockett" rifle that I bought at a fire-sale price perhaps 6-7 years ago when the local Sportsman's Warehouse was going out of business.  I really needed this rifle like I needed a third leg, but I'm into muzzle-loading guns and have several big-bore ones; a small bore seemed to make least in the context of what passes for "sense" in gun collecting.  In any event I have it and have used it in the past but never made a kill with it.  It was time it got blooded.

Accordingly I found myself under The Beech Tree at about 1:40 PM on a glorious Fall day.  The temperatures were moderate, the air was dry, the bugs were non-existent, and the breezes mild.  The leaves are coming off the trees with a vengeance and most of the nuts have fallen, so that squirrels are foraging in the leaf litter.  Interestingly this place hasn't got the ankle-deep acorns of Sunrise Farm.  Reports of the acorn crop are spotty and in some places they're thick on the ground, but not in the Valley.

At about 2:20 I heard a squirrel barking at me from behind me.  Now, I speak fluent Sciuridian, and he was making very uncomplimentary remarks about my blaze orange cap.  He called it an eyesore, an offense to the Spirits of the Woodlands, and something only a flea-infested, mangy son of a low-class trailer-trash groundhog would wear; I ought to have been banned for my execrable taste in clothing.

He was in a tree perhaps 50 feet behind me to the right.  I forbore to answer him verbally.  Instead I put a nice 0.310" round ball behind his left ear, which removed that side of his head.  He hung up for a moment and then dropped to the ground.  As I expected, it was a cocky young male.  When I say "cocky" I am not speaking metaphorically: he "full breeding readiness," and whatever else can be said about grey squirrels, they are, no question, well endowed considering their size.  This guy was the Harry Reems of squirrel-dom.  I'm sure many lady squirrels will mourn his passing.


I sat back down and awaited developments.  About 3:15 I spotted a fox squirrel loping along in the leaves. I waited until he was in the clear and took a shot as he ascended a tree perhaps 30 yards away: a clean miss.  Forty minutes later, another fox squirrel (may actually have been the same one) came cruising along a downed tree 30 yards to my right.  Another miss.  I am getting to the point where I can't really use open sights with any degree of effectiveness at ranges like that.  The Crockett has decent sights for what it is, but my eyes just aren't up to it any more.  However, there will never be any sort of optical sight on that rifle!

So all in all it was a very good afternoon.  I packed up at 5:00 PM.  I plan to give the Valley a miss until the rifle season opens in a couple of weeks, to give it time to settle down.  Deer sightings are way down, and I'm getting a little concerned about that, but so far "small venison" has done pretty well.

God, I can't wait until I'm officially retired.  I've been sort of rehearsing for retirement for several months, and I can already see how much more hunting and fishing I'm going to be able to do.

September 24, 2014

Went to Stoneroller Creek to try out my new waders. These are "Field & Stream" brand lightweight stocking-foot chest waders I bought at Dick's Sporting Goods last week. The water in the river was really moving, and it was a good thing I had thought to bring along a stout wading staff, or I'd have gone sprawling into the current. The bottom is very rocky and uneven at the entry point, because much of it is rip-rap that was put there when the new bridge was built a couple of years ago.

So I loaded up the waders, a new creel, a couple of rods, and headed out, stopping at the nearest convenience store to buy some of the sorriest-looking nightcrawlers I've ever seen. Arrived at the creek about 1:45, and managed to get the waders on and my feet into my wading shoes without too much trouble.

I'll say this for them: they kept me dry. I'd originally thought about getting waist-high ones, but I'm glad I didn't. There are places I had to cross that were deeper than my waist (which isn't that far off the ground, actually) but not up to my armpits. It was very rough going and I took it easy. But the waders did what they were supposed to do.

The water was COLD. Cold enough that I was concerned maybe there were leaks, though there weren't. But it's an odd feeling to have your "pants" pressing against your legs, colder than Hillary Clinton's heart; even odder when the water deepened to where I thought maybe I'd float away.

My experience with waders is very limited. Back when I was still hunting ducks I bought a pair of 5mm neoprene boot foot ones that took me 15 minutes to get on and half an hour to get off, the latter maneuver requiring me to lie on my back. These lightweight ones are nowhere near so difficult to don and doff. The neoprenes were warm enough for winter waterfowling: in fact they were so damned warm I was grateful for the ice-cold water of the New River. Hip boots are of no use to me: my legs are so short that they get filled up.

Things I like about the waders include the D-rings that I can clip gear to, and the little zippered pockets here and there for small stuff. One thing I DON'T like is that the inseam is way too long, but I have that problem with any kind of gear like this. My legs are short, my waist and chest are reasonably large, and inevitably the legs of the waders bunch up. With the boot foot type or hip boots, this is a real PITA but the stocking foot makes it tolerable because I'm wearing wading shoes, so that the "surplus" just sort of hangs there.

Another drawback to waders I hadn't thought about before today: no fly! I'm used to wading in warm weather and a bathing suit.

The fish were not cooperative. Whether it was the increased current, the decreased temperature, or the wretched annelids I used for bait, I don't know. But nary a fish did I catch. I packed it in after about 3 hours and went home.

November 1, 2014: BP Opener

Today was Opening Day for the black powder season.  Last night a cold front arrived and brought with it copious rain: when I got up at 4:00 AM (groan) it was coming down hard so I decided to wait and see what would happen later in the day.  Susan dragged me off to Lowe's to buy a dehumidifier, and by the time that was done, the rain let up and I was able to get to the woods. It was 12:30 when I got to my stand at Sunrise Farm.

Shortly after arriving I heard a shot to my right.  "Great," I thought. "Someone near here has shot at a deer.  Phooey."  Then, seven minutes later, another shot.  "OK. He winged it for the first shot, then tracked it down and finshed it off.  A kill.  Good for him.  Now it's my turn."

Five minutes after that I heard ANOTHER shot.  All were clearly coming form the same rifle and the same location; they came far enough apart to be from a muzzle-loader.  But the shots kept coming: I lost count after 10-12.  They kept up for an hour, at least.  I finally decided that some clown was sighting in his rifle—on Opening Day!—and that he wasn't doing anything to deplete the deer population after all.  Later the landowner told me that his neighbor "Likes to shoot a lot," and that what I heard was a pretty typical performance.

It was damned cold, somewhere in the middle 30's.  The woods were totally dead. Nothing moving, not a squirrel, not even a bird. Had it not been for a pileated woodpecker thatcame laughing through the trees around 3:00 there would have been no evidence that any other living creature was present.

The wind was brisk even though the rain had stopped, and blowing the trees around, making a lot of noise.  I stuck it out on the first stand for 2-1/2 hours and then retreated to the truck to warm up.  I stayed in it until about 4:00, then shifted to a different stand, on the south side of the Ravine of Death, a place where I've killed a couple of deer in the past seasons.

I stayed put for the next 3-1/2 hours.  About 2 minutes before 6:00 PM a doe ran past me, not 40 feet away: but between the wet leaves and the noise of the wind I never heard her coming. Nor did I even hear her as she ran past, and had my first realization of her presence when she shot past me. She wasn't running flat out, and she didn't have her tail up, but she was moving considerably faster than a trot. I watched her cross the ravine, and stop on the other side, in a clump of trees and not really offering me much of a shot.  Had I been more alert I might have tried it when she went past but even had I seen her coming, she was moving pretty quickly and I don't like to shoot at running deer.  When she stopped, she was perhaps 60 yards away, so I waited with the gun up until she stepped forward so that I could see the front third of her body.

By then the light was going fast. Quite honestly, my eyes aren't really up to iron sights in dim light any more.  I did try the shot, but it was a clean miss, and off she ran, unscathed.  I hung on for another hour and a half, hoping that a buck might have been following her, but no dice.  At 6:45 I could hardly see the gun, let alone the sights, and called it quits.

We can hunt on Sunday now, so tomorrow, if I can drag my aging ass out of bed again early enough, I'll be on site before sun-up, and hope to have a better opportunity.  At least I did see a deer and at least I did get a shot even if I blew it.  After half a day there I was beginning to wonder if my past successes in that location were pure luck, but I guess I do have some smarts about deer movement.  Nevertheless, I have to say that the numbers seem to be down.  That spot should have had far more deer on it: it's pretty much ankle-deep in white oak acorns, it's getting very cold, and the deer have to eat.  I heard very few shots around me other than the sighting-in guy, so no one else was getting much action, either.

November 2, 2014

I did manage to wake up at 4:00 AM, and wonder of wonders, there was no rain. I perked the coffee, and hit the road at 5:00, as it's a 40-minute drive to Sunrise Farm and I wanted to be there well before dawn.

I got into my stand about 6:20 AM, the same spot where I was yesterday. On this property there's a place I call The Ravine Of Death, a pretty reliable spot for seeing deer in the morning. It runs east to west. The sides are fairly steep, with the north side rising to a hump in the middle; the south side is flanked by a flatter area of woods. The western end is a dense tangle of brush that I'm sure is used as a bedding area. On the north side the Ravine is paralleled by the road about 50-60 yards away. Across the road are open fields.

In the morning the deer come from the fields on the adjacent farm where they've been feeding and enter the Ravine at the northeast corner, coming down the fairly steep northern side. I've killed three doing that in the past 4 seasons. It's about 100 yards across at the east end, narrowing a bit (and getting more steep sided) at the western end. Left to their own devices, they will cross the Ravine at an angle, come up the southern slope about midway, and bed down at the western end or in the thick brush behind the flatter area.

I usually sit on the southern side, about halfway up the slope. I used to sit on the edge of the drop off but last year some #!$#!%$#@%$ put up a ladder stand EXACTLY where I like to sit, so I moved down the hill a bit. The stand is still there, though I've never seen anyone use it. (On Opening Day I found a lovely little Maglite flashlight when I stepped out of my truck, though; so someone else is hunting in that wood lot.)

About 7:15, a deer came into the Ravine at the northeastern corner, as usual, mooching along the northern slope, nibbling acorns in the leaf litter. It was a smallish doe, and I watched her for a good 15 minutes, as she crossed the area where I'd missed one the day before, hoping she would come down a bit and into a clear space. She never did: instead she walked behind a clump of oaks and never came out of it. I think she must have dematerialized and teleported herself to another dimension. I'm certain she had no clue I was there: one of the nice things about that spot is that the wind almost always blows predictably west to east and she wouldn't ever have been downwind of me.

The temperature had moderated a bit and by the middle of the day it rose into the low 40's: much better than yesterday. Unfortunately the wind was blowing to beat the band, waving the trees around. The noise level was such that I couldn't even heard the whistling of my ever-present tinnitus, so I'm sure she didn't hear me either. Anyone foolish enough to use a tree stand in that wind would have felt like a bug on a windshield wiper blade.

That damned wind kept up all day, occasionally gusting to at least 25-30 MPH. I was getting concerned that a tree would fall on me if it got any brisker. Sometimes it would drop to a gentle breeze and I'd heave a sigh of relief; the next minute it was howling again.

I knocked off temporarily at mid-day to get some lunch and make a pit stop, then returned and set up on the flat area near the ladder stand, where I could watch the Ravine and the flats as well. My thinking was that in the evening, the deer seem to cross the Ravine in the opposite direction: I've seen them do it.

At 2:15 I spotted a doe to my left, on far edge of the flats. She was running along and may have detected me, but I don't think so. She didn't have her flag up and she didn't snort. Nevertheless neither did she come close enough nor stop long enough for me to risk a shot.

At least I'm seeing deer, and they're moving, though local received wisdom is that the rut hasn't yet started in earnest and won't until two more weeks. By then it will be rifle season, and we'll see what happens.

November 4, 2014: Election Day

No hunting today. My fanatical fishing buddy Dave was here and after I'd done what I could to save the Republic from Obama at the polls, he and I loaded the truck with fishing gear and set out for Stoneroller Creek.

We caught nothing there, despite a couple of hours of killing worms and casting to some of the nicest-looking bass water you could ever hope to see. We packed up and went to another spot on the New River, just below Claytor Lake dam. There's a DGIF boat ramp there and the water is wide, smooth, and deep. But again the fish refused to cooperate.

The next spot we tried was the area immediately below the small dam on the Little River, just above where it comes into the New. This dam was built by the Rural Electrification Administration in the 1930's, and the area below it has a rocky bottom with lots of ledges. The current is fast, and getting to the shore to fish requires a climb down a steep cliff. I once took my little boat up the river into this spot and there I caught a medium sized snapping turtle, one of the toughest fights I've ever had on a fishing line. No fish there, either!

In desperation we went to a quiet pond in the National Forest, a day-use area where people bring their dogs and kids to have a picnic and to catch some sunfish. Even there we caught nothing. So, it being near sundown, we hit the road and went home.

My theory is that the fish were all at the polls because it was Election Day. If so, it seems most of them voted Republican. After dinner we watched the election returns until I couldn't stand it any more, and went off to bed.

November 7-8, 2014: Two Disappointing Days

Spent the last two days in the woods, more or less, with zip to show for the effort but a sore tailbone.

Friday I had no classes so I played hooky and went to Sunrise Farm.  The wind was blowing a small gale, all day long.  And it was COLD.  I sat in one spot next to a large wood pile at the east end of the ROD, that at least gave me some shelter; and it was in a place where, had any deer come by at all I'd have had a shot.  Nobody showed up.  Later that afternoon I went to another location, overlooking the ROD that also enabled me to watch a flat area on its south side.  I have killed several deer in these locations and seen many more, but again nobody volunteered.

On the 8th at 4:00 AM the weather was even colder: in the mid-20's.  I put things off until 11:00, when Mrs Outdoorsman left for a lunch date and I headed out to The VOATR, because it's a doe day in Giles County.

It had warmed up considerably, and for a wonder, the wind had died down to a very gentle breeze.  Quite pleasant, but it would have been better had some deer been in evidence.  I have killed two very large bucks in the VOATR in past three seasons, but this time it was devoid of anything resembling deer.  I did see some squirrels, two greys and two fox squirrels, and watched their antics, and those of a few chipmunks.  Stayed in that location until dark, a matter of 6 hours, and then headed home.

They say the peak of the rut is in a week: we'll see if conventional wisdom is correct, and whether things improve.  Rifle season opens on the 15th.

November 9th, 2014: Contact!

Well, yesterday was a bust, but I made up for it today.

I again went to the Ravine of Death, where I had gone on Friday and seen nothing.  I took up my stand about 12:15, as I was unable to drag my lazy, aging, butt out of bed at 4:00 more than once in three days; so I rationalized that it was "too cold," which it wasn't, even early in the morning. By the time I did leave it was quite nice: I didn't even need to wear my oh-so-warm insulated coveralls.

The last time I sat more or less inside the woodpile at the eastern end of the ROD, but this time I braced myself against a tree near it, within arm's reach of the edge of the pile.  It was a gorgeous day: almost no wind and temperatures in the high 50's, not a cloud in the sky.  The wind has been a real PITA the past week but it has at least had the advantage of drying out the leaf litter.

For an hour and a half or so I sat there watching the north slope and occasionally glancing down the length of the ROD, or over my shoulder at the south slope.  I watched several squirrels, a couple of Carolina wrens and two chipmunks cavorting in the leaves and the wood pile. I thought about how interesting it would be if I could make myself 6 inches tall, and thus be able to explore the pile myself (though I suppose I'd get eaten by a snake if I did that). I alternated dozy meditation, chipmunk-watching, and one of Lindsey Davis' "Marcus Didius Falco" novels.

At 2:00 I thought I heard a noise behind me: looking carefully over my shoulder I saw a deer standing on the edge of the dropoff of the south slope. 

With a tree behind me and one to my right, even looking at my location he couldn't be sure what I was—and I was of course sitting, which further confused the issue for him. I'm firmly convinced that wild animals are pre-programmed to avoid men based on the "aspect ratio" (i.e., height:width proportions) of a standing human. If you sit down you change this aspect ratio so much they simply don't know what to make of you.  The wind was right, too, blowing from my left. He couldn't scent me at all, or of course he would have been long gone.

As I slowly turned, he craned his neck a bit to see me better: big mistake, because he got a .54 round ball right through it when he did that.  He hit the ground with a thud, clearly in extremis: I walked up to him and gave him a finisher, though he was already more than halfway across the River Styx at that point.

A nice fat six-pointer. The rifle is my beloved T/C New Englander, which has never failed me when I've done my part. I paced off the distance: 30 yards, which is pretty typical for the woods in this area.

The landowner has a management agreement with the DGIF and removes a jawbone from deer shot on his place so that it can be aged. When I brought the buck in he estimated him to be 2 years old, based on his tooth wear. Harry also raises sheep and the teeth are very similar in how they wear. 

Some people might have passed on him, on the ground that "You should let little bucks grow up to be big ones," which is the mantra of the "Quality Deer Management" people. I have some real issues with this, because my definition of what is a "quality" deer isn't—as their seems to be—primarily based on the size of the antlers. As far as I was concerned, this was a "quality deer," and while he might have, in time, grown more antler what? QDMA might have chided me for shooting him, but tough poots. He was legal, and that's what mattered to me. I'd spent four days in the woods up to that point and there was no way this fellow was going to walk away.

I had a hell of a time getting him into the truck.  I drove as close as I could (4 wheel drive: don't leave home without it) and dragged him uphill to it.  Then the fun began: I took off the tailgate and tried to haul him up my ramp, but no dice. There are very few things floppier than a freshly-killed deer, and as soon as I'd get his head half way up the ramp, the butt had to be moved onto it. When I tried to do that, the head fell back down. 

I rigged up a block and tackle, which was not anchored solidly until I wised up and sat on the tool box to which it was fixed.  That got him far enough up that I could drag him by the horns the rest of the way.  Damn and blast: 20 years ago I'd have lifted him bodily into the bed.

I managed to re-attach the tailgate without losing a finger in the process and brought him for Harry to measure and check in.  Antlerless deer on a DMAP property don't count against the daily limit and don't have to be called in, the landowner issues the tag. But bucks have to be called into the DGIF check system and a check number obtained. I actually did that before moving him, which is when I discovered I didn't have my hunting wallet with my license in it!  Luckily I always print out a spare copy of my license: thank goodness for the on-line license issuance system! I keep the copy in my wallet, so I was good to go.  DGIF's phone robot gave me my check number.

I took him to a local processor (Harvey's, on Route 114) for hamburgerization. When I dropped him off I asked if the new Sunday hunting law had helped their business, and was told, "It sure did!  We're busier than ever!"  I was shown a tractor trailer which I was told was full of carcasses; and a second one rented to handle the overflow.  My deer was tagged as "#478," but I was told, "We're re-using numbers.  We have at least a thousand deer to do."  And the rifle season hasn't opened yet!

So: home again, home again, jiggety-jig: seven weeks to retirement, and as a celebration, I will go to Tennessee and shoot a fat pig.  Maybe two.

November 13, 2014

A wasted day at the ROD. When I got to the spot before dawn, I heard a Great Horned Owl hooting in the distance; and just at sunrise the quavering wail of a screech owl. That sort of thing is one of the rewards of being in the woods when it wakes up. Sat in the same spot where I'd shot the buck all morning; returned to the flats in the afternoon.

Nary a deer did I see. I did look at the spot where I left the gut pile from the deer I'd shot 4 days earlier, and it was totally, completely gone: no evidence at all except one blood-spattered leaf. Plenty of squirrel activity, though, between 2:00 and 4:00 PM. A lots of fox and grey squirrels hopping around, and not a few chipmunks. The fox squirrels were mainly the color phase with a black head and a big white nose spot. I did see one henna squirrel. One chipmunk ran UNDER my stool as I sat there. When I'm being invisble, I can't even see myself...

The day I shot the buck I'd left the sling from my rifle behind: I use QD swivels because I hate to have the sling in place when I shoot. I knew exactly where it was and picked it up without trouble.

Saturday is Opening Day for the rifle season. I'll use my pretty Kimber 84M in .308. I won it in a Friends of the NRA raffle a couple of years ago: a lovely rifle, almost too pretty to take into the woods! But it has taken two deer so far, and it will come along to Tennessee in January as back-up to the drilling.

November 15, 2014: Opening Day of Rifle Season: When the Kimber Speaks, Bambi Listens

Went to the VOATR today for Opening Day of the rifle season.  It was all of 19 degrees Fahrenheit when I left, and colder than that in Giles County when I arrived. But I was bundled up to the teeth in my long woolies and insulated coveralls, with heater packs in my boots. They actually worked for a change, normally they don't. I was ready for anything and resigned to a long, boring day.

I got to my chosen stand at 6:15, after a long trudge up a hill and over the crest down into the Valley.  I set up about 100 yards away from and opposite the Beech Tree. I parked myself halfway up the slope on one side, watching a bowl-shaped depression in which I often see deer. This place marks the confluence of three trails.  I killed a big 10-point in this spot in 2003 and an equally large 8-point two years ago. I've seen many more deer than that, and at least two bears in the immediate vicinity. This farm, which belongs to a colleague, has a lot of bucks wandering around: thinking back, I've never killed anything but a buck on that property. I've lost track of how many deer it has been, but it has to be 10 or more, for certain. I do see antlerless animals but when killing time comes, it seems it's always a buck that has wandered by. The 10- and 8-pointers mentioned above both went 200 pounds live weight, which are very big deer for this part of the world.

Within 45 minutes of my arrival, just a bit before 7:00, I spotted movement in the trees about 100 yards away on the opposite slope. It was a deer creeping along a trail that runs just below the crest. It must be primarily a doe trail; I've often seen does use it and last year (before the season opened) a doe came along the trail with a buck in tow. When deer come that way it's always in the morning, and they're always moving from my right to my left. I had the very faint wind in my face, and there was no way he would have scented me.

I could see it was a buck, on the hunt for One Thing. Today is supposed to be the peak of the rut, and since the moon phase is waning, I had expected something to be moving around at daybreak. It was 6:58 AM. The brush was thick enough and the light still low enough that while I could tell he had antlers, I couldn't count points. No matter, either sex is legal in Giles County during the rifle season! He was legal and he was going to get shot.

He had his nose to the ground and he wasn't paying a lot of attention to anything other than the trail he was following.  He moved along slowly until he got to a spot where I could see him clearly,  directly across the bowl from me, facing to my left, and presenting a nice broadside shot. He was surely wondering where that damned doe went when I shot him in the left side just behind the shoulder. At the shot he started trotting forward: I worked the bolt for a followup.  He went all of 50 feet and stopped, standing stock still and in plain view. I fired again. He toppled over onto his left side, stone dead.

He was a nice big 7-pointer.  When I dressed him out, I saw that both shots had hit him in exactly the same place, making a pretty large entrance wound, about an inch in diameter. The exit wound(s) were so small I could hardly see them, and they weren't obvious on the surface at all.

I was using Federal's "Power Shok" ammunition, the stuff in the blue box. In .308 Winchester caliber with 150 grain bullets. I had killed two deer with this stuff last year and I think the bullet is perhaps a bit too tough, as expansion seems to be minimal. Well, as the saying goes, "At what point in the animal's death did you decide the bullet was inadequate?" He was as dead as he could get.

Actually, the second shot wasn't necessary, as it turned out. When I opened him up he had a nice neat hole drilled through his heart, and his lungs were totally deflated; there was a gallon of blood in the chest cavity. He was, in fact, dead on his feet when the first shot hit him. But the rule is simple: keep shooting till the animal is down.

I walked back along the distance he'd come after being shot the first time. He'd left a very nice blood trail from the first shot, in fact more than I would have predicted just from seeing him walk.  If I'd had to track him, it would not have been difficult.  But I use a rifle so I don't have to track them!

After gutting him, I had to get him out.  Getting the last deer I shot into the truck bed was a Herculean task for an elderly, out-of-shape, academician; but I got smart after that.

Yesterday I rigged up a "bridge" across the front of the truck bed, using two short lengths of 3"x3" and a piece of deck flooring. On this I mounted a 12 volt ATV winch.  The leads are long enough that I can connect them to the truck battery.  I'd actually bought the winch for this purpose years ago, but never got a chance to use it that way. Instead I'd installed it in my home abattoir to hoist carcasses. Well, the truck was back at the owner's house, a quarter mile away. I hoofed it back, put it in 4WD and drove up the hill, and into the woods. 

There was a medium sized tree across the trail into the VOATR, hung up at one end so that it formed an obstacle that I couldn't get under.  I had meant to bring a chain saw specifically to deal with this, but senility—an increasing affliction—had caused me to forget it.

No problem!  I tied a stout rope around the tree, tied the other end to the tow points on the front of the truck,  put the truck in reverse, et voila, the tree was yanked free of the one holding it, and snaked out of the way.  After that it was clear sailing down into the bowl where I'd left the buck with a jaunty blaze orange cap on his antlers so I could spot him again.


I put the ramp in place, ran the winch cable out, hooked it around the base of his antlers, and he came up the ramp slicker than snot.

At that time I did something I should have done last week: I set up my game camera to watch the gut pile.  The gut pile from the deer I shot in the Ravine of Death vanished completely in a couple of days.  I'll go back out to pull the camera card later this week.  I know there are bears in the vicinity and I wonder if one will show up, or if it will all be small scavengers.

So at this point I have filled both my buck tags for the area west of the Blue Ridge: the season limit here is five, of which three must be antlerless. But east of the Ridge the limit is six, three and three. So long as I stay here I can only shoot antlerless animals. 

My wife, who is no hunter and who is absolutely certain I'm crazy, had told me she didn't want another deer in the freezer.  To tell the truth, neither do I.  I've scheduled a pig shoot in January as a retirement present to myself, so there really isn't that much room for more meat. Additionally we have quite a bit of hamburger from the Spring culling I did.  So this deer got donated to the Virginia chapter of Hunters for the Hungry.  I got back home about 8:45.  Cleaned up, washed my hunting clothes, and will hose the blood out of the truck bed later today.

Here's the best part. We were supposed to attend a Chinese ballet tonight at the Moss Arts Center. The Moss Center is a brand new building on the Tech campus, designed by someone who must have been trained by a master of Soviet-era public building architecture. It's a huge concrete box, with nothing much in the way of eye appeal, but Tech is immensely proud of it.

They've been getting in top-flight acts, and the Beijing Ballet is presumably the ne plus ultra of Chinese dance. However, my interest in Chinese dance is, well, minimal. Knowing that today was a Holy Day of Obligation, I had flatly refused to attend the performance. I had no way to know how long I'd be in the woods, and there was no way in the world I was going to come home early to attend a Chinese ballet performance. So the extra ticket went to my wife's best friend, who for inexplicable reasons has some sort of interest in this kind of thing. I got home about 8:45 AM, but I'm still not going to the ballet!

November 19, 2014: Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

I went out to the VOATR to retrieve my game camera and to see who had come to the gut pile. Some of it surprised me:  a bunch of crows, of course. And a hawk. But a turkey?  A FLOCK of turkeys?  Were they pecking at undigested acorns in the paunch?

Several deer.  A spike, a forkhorn and what may have been a doe or a button buck.

The deer may have just been passing through, but the others were having a meal.

I was most suprised to find that not all of it was gone.  The liver was there, obviously pecked at, but frozen solid, which may explain why it hadn't been completely eaten. The guts from the black powder buck were completely gone in four days.

I sat under the Beech Tree for a few hours thinking that perhaps a doe would come in, but nobody showed up, not even a squirrel.

It was cold but not too bad. I think perhaps my deer season is over, unless I get a specific invitation to go out somewhere. In early January it's off to Tennessee for a pig.

November 29, 2014: The End of the Beginning

I had to spend the Thanksgiving holiday in Northern Virginia at my cousin's home, so we left Blacksburg on Thanksgiving Day and returned on the Saturday, well after dark. I had spent a fruitless afternoon in the woods a day or two before, but by the time I got out all the stupid and unlucky deer had been killed, so that was to be expected.

Given the two-week interval between the end of rifle season and the start of the late black powder season, some of them will have forgotten a lot of the lessons learned; but of course there will also be 20-25% fewer deer out there.

Nevertheless, I will be in the woods when the late BP season opens December 13th. It's a tough time to hunt: the deer have been thinned out and shot at heavily, so that only the "survivors" have made it through; and it's usually colder than Hillary Clinton's heart. But they're out there and I have made a kill now and then in late BP.

I can't shoot another buck west of the Blue Ridge, but I may run up to Three Oaks Farm in Amherst, where I can if one wanders by. I would have no issues in shooting a nice fat doe, however!

By the time I get back from Tennessee the season will be completelty ended, and it will be far too cold to fish. Live will be bleak and meaningless, hardly worth living, for months. On the other hand, I will be retired, as in R-E-T-I-R-E-D. That counts for a lot!

December 13-14, 2014

Saturday the 13th was the re-opening of the BP season. I went to the ROD that morning, and saw nothing but a lot of squirrels, most of them the big boomer type of fox squirrel with a white nose. Ditto the afternoon of the 14th. On that day a fox squirrel the size of a raccoon loped past me. I should have brought my .32 Crockett. The only deer I saw was the doe who wandered into the road as I was driving home.

I have had a peep sight fitted to the Crockett .32, see above. Took it to the range last week and it's sighted in to be dead on at 25 yards. Any squirrel within that distance had better be sure his life insurance is paid up.

I also received back a little Belgian clunker shotgun I'd sent off to Dave Thomas to have case colored. He had just started this service and as I didn't have much in the gun to begin with, I thought I'd let him do it for me. The results were very good:

December 20, 2014: A Blunder and a Wasted Afternoon

I have been having some "issues" with the set trigger on my Crockett squirrel gun. Normally I don't like a set trigger but I do use it on this little rifle because the targets are so small.

Recently the trigger had started to do something odd: it would CLICK when I pulled the set lever; then CLICK again, more loudly, and require a very heavy second pull to fire. This is most decidedly not how it's supposed to work. Pulling the set lever should put the gun in a position to go off if a butterfly breathes on the trigger. Previously that's exactly what it did.

Seeking to determine what might be wrong, I removed the trigger group, which in a gun of this type is held in place by a long bolt that passes through the tang and into the top of the trigger plate. Once I had it out, it seemed to be working properly. I reassembled the gun and it still malfunctioned.

Then it hit me: perhaps the problem was of my own making. I like to tighten screws to their maximum amount, and so I slacked off the long bolt just a wee tad, and hey, presto! the set trigger worked again. Presumably over tightening it had distorted the trigger plate just enough to interfere with the operation.

Unfortunately, in removing the top bolt, I inadvertently mistook the screw holding the new rear sight in place...and buggered up the carefully adjusted sight setting for the peep sight. Now I have to go do it all over again. Oh, well, at least the elevation isn't off. But that sight is very sensitive to windage and it will take me some time at the range to get it zeroed again, damn it.

This presented an issue. I had intended to go to the Valley of a Thousand Rodents to pop some squirrels with the newly-peep-sighted rifle. Couldn't do that now, so I decided to go out for deer instead. Regrettably, does aren't legal in the VOATR just at the moment: and I am limited out on bucks, so it was off to the Ravine of Death instead, toting a .58 H&R in-line rifle.

The ROD was totally dead. I arrived at 2:15 and sat for 3-1/4 hours until dark, never seeing so much as a spider. After bungling the sight (though at least I figured out the trigger issue) it was a really frustrating afternoon to be sure. Today (Sunday) I can't go out because Mrs Outdoorsman has me doing household chores preparatory to having house guests on Christmas Day and dinner guests day after tomorrow. Well, a retiree has plenty of time on his hands, and there's a lot of season left.

Tomorrow I start my stint with the DGIF's Complementary Workforce Program, a volunteer group that helps with various things DGIF needs to do. We are stocking trout in Giles County, so I will (literally) get my feet wet in the service of the Commonwealth.

January 2-5, 2015: The End of the Season

The hunting seasons are over, and it's too cold to fish. This is the time of the year when everything is bleak and dead, and life seems hardly worth living.

However, I ended the year on an up note of sorts. Went to Wilderness Hunting Lodge in Monterey, Tennessee and shot a pig with my drilling. It was a worthwhile trip, but it wasn't a "hunt" in the same sense as deer hunting. The account is available on this site in the essay "Pigs In The Rain".

I'll close off the season log now, and wait till things warm up and the Spring Squirrel season has begun!