THE 2015-2016 SEASON LOG

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I usually begin the Season Log on the first day of the squirrel season, as that is a Holy Day Of Obligation in the calendar. But it's 2-1/2 weeks till then, and this year I decided to start with the first fishing trip I made on the New River in well over a year.

August 16, 2015

It wasn't the best day of fishing I've ever had, especially considering the spot we went to, which is one of those places that's loaded with smallmouth bass. Oddly enough, not many people fish that stretch of water, not that I'm complaining. But if the catching was mediocre, the fishing was great and the weather couldn't have been better: a bright sunny day, water temperature "just right" for wading and clear enough to see fish from time to time.

This spot is about a mile down river from the most popular boat ramp in southwestern Virginia. I had spent a couple of days getting the boat and trailer ready. In the long, long time the boat had sat in the yard the wood panels on the transom had partially rotted; they had to be replaced. The @!~#$@%^@^^%!!!@##! yard rodents had gnawed the wiring harness on the trailer so that the lights no longer worked. So I spent most of the prep time on replacing the wood panels and figuring out how to repair the wiring until a new harness arrives from the manufacturer. Another priority item was to replace the front jack wheel. Last time I used the boat it was at the beach in North Carolina and salt water isn't conducive to long life of trailer jacks. The trailer itself is aluminum, but the interior of the jack was frozen solid with rust. I'd ordered a new jack from Cabela's a year ago and it sat in the shed at least that long. Rigging new wires wasn't too hard: Advance Auto Parts had everything I needed. I also needed to replace the receptacle on the truck itself as well as to replace chewed-up wires on the harness.

The transom on the boat has a piece of wood on either side of the stern because the plastic hull really isn't strong enough or thick enough to hold the motor securely. Cutting two appropriate-sized boards from scrap wood on hand and drilling holes for the bolts produced a sturdy motor mount that will probably last as long as I'm able to get the boat in and out of the water. The motor is a 2.5-HP Yamaha 4-stroke that despite its small size scoots the boat along quite handily. All was in readiness at 9:00 AM and we hitched up, drove to the river, and were on the water by 10:00.

The area we go to has about 2 miles of quiet water, with a good bit of under-surface structure and shallow areas. Normally I head downstream immediately but this trip we went up to a couple of islands above the ramp, with no luck at all. Slowly worked our way downstream until eventually we hit a fall line a mile below the ramp. There things picked up a bit. That part of the New has a "slot limit," which started at 11" to 14" but later was raised to 14" to 20" with a vast improvement in the quality and quantity of larger fish. Last year DGIF raised the slot again, to 14" to 22" and I expect that in coming years the fishing will get even better. The New is already a trophy-class stream and the new limits will increase the population (bigger fish breed faster and leave more offspring) as well as increase the average size of fish that get taken home.

Between us, my partner and I caught about 10 fish, most of which he took. Of them all, only one was "small enough to keep," i.e., was under 14", but it was close enough we decided not to take any chances of a mis-measurement. I caught a 14" and a couple that were close. Everything went back in the water. We saw a muskellunge about 3-4 feet long as well!

August isn't the best time of year to fish, but September is a great month, and we'll be back then.


August 24, 2015

A fishing day. I went to Sunrise Farm to get my season permission slip signed. The road to the farm runs over Stoneroller Creek, so I bought a dozen nightcrawlers on the way out. Stopped on my way home for an hour of worm-drowning.

I actually caught two smallmouth from the bank, including a 14" beauty:

Had this been the New River I'd have had to put him back, as he was "in the slot," but the Creek has a 12" minimum and no slot. So he came home to be given to my surrogate daughter, who loves fresh fish; and whose definition of "fresh" is "still flopping."

The other was a small one, too small to keep. Got a lot of bites, though, so things look promising. It's a smart idea to keep fishing tackle in the car!


September 5-6, 2015: Labor Day Weekend

Saturday the 5th was Opening Day of the squirrel season, so I went to Sunrise Farm. I was dilatory and didn't reach my stand on the level above the Ravine Of Death until about 10:15. This place is a big stand of white oaks and normally there are carpets of acorns, but not one did I see this trip. No fresh cuttings, either. I sat under a hickory tree, but no squirrels showed up.

Who did show up was a couple of leggy young doe deer. One snorted at me about 10:15, and then ambled past 40 yards away, watching me but not really concerned: her tail wasn't up. Half an hour or so later another doe sauntered past, totally oblivious to my presence, so close I could have hit her with a rock. Both were yearlings, I'm sure: one looked a little thin, as if the food supply were less than optimal, but other than that she seemed healthy enough.

Today, Sunday the 6th, I went to the New River with Rick. We fished the area below Claytor Dam, where I have been told there are walleyes. Maybe so, but you couldn't tell it by our results. We did catch a few smallmouth including one 13-1/2" beauty Rick got on a worm, in an area of fast water well below the dam.

The boat ramp at that point is very easy to negotiate even for a duffer at backing up a trailer as incompetent as I am, much easier than the one at Whitethorne. The "Sportsman" bait shop is nearby, and they sell minnows as well as worms, not that either of them were very productive today. But we did see some otters, and the water was wonderful when we waded. If I hadn't punched a hole in the sole of my left foot when I was wading barefoot—a dumb thing to do, yes, yes, I know, but I'd left my wading shoes behind, thinking they wouldn't be needed—it would have been a perfect outing. Still, it beat the hell out of a day at the office.

Tomorrow is The Big Game, Virginia Tech versus Ohio State. The traffic is going to be snarled, especially since there is some sort of concert going on tonight on the campus. No idea what I will do tomorrow but whatever it is I won't be doing it on US 460, that's for sure!

10:41 PM:

The puncture wound I got in the river is giving me bloody hell, despite pain killers. Tomorrow I go to the doctor about it. Not worried about tetanus, I'm up to date. But localized infection is a real possibility. Damn and blast.


September 10, 2015

That damned puncture did get infected, and I have spent the last four days on painkillers and antibiotics, part of it hobbling around with a cane because of being unable to put weight on the foot. The arch is swollen and red and hurts like blazes. It isn't going to keep me out of the woods on Saturday, though. I've been able to ditch the cane but I limp a lot. It's slowly healing and I caught it in time to prevent it from being more than a painful annoyance, but I've learned my lesson. Geezers whose immune systems are not what they were 40 years ago should not engage in barefoot wading.


September 13, 2015

Went to the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents, with the primary intention of getting my permission slip signed. On arrival my host told me the Mountain Valley Pipeline people had come and done surveying for one of their routes, and it was going to cross his land! We went into the woods and tramped around looking for survey stakes: and sure enough we found them. Luckily the route will not cut too close to his house or my hunting spots: it will more or less skirt the edge of his property. In any event the timeline is such that construction won't start for at least another year, perhaps two, depending on what the local residents do as a way to delay the construction.

Sat under the Beech Tree for a couple of hours, reading Arthur Fremantle's 1863 account of his time as an observer of the Confederate forces. Fremantle was a Coldstream Guardsman, and a hopeless romantic, who was smitten by the Southern Cause. Although as a trained soldier he should certainly have realized the South could never have won, that the war was lost before it started, he was convinced they would beat the Union. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

I only spent 2 hours in place: the agony of my left foot drove me out about 3:30 PM, it was hurting so much I couldn't sit there any longer. Then I found that the brakes on my truck had failed, more or less. I did get home, though by the time I arrived I had to pretty much stand on the pedal to get the truck to stop. It was a blown brake hose on the left front, spewing fluid under pressure. Between this, the pipeline, and my $!$%$@###$!~~~!!! foot, it was NOT a good day.


October 6, 2015

What with the weather being two weeks of near-Noachian deluges, I haven’t been getting out into the woods at all.  But still, someone in the home has done some hunting.

Our yard is very bird-friendly: we have half a dozen feeders (not counting the four just for hummingbirds) and we go through about 1100 pounds of birdseed every year (that is not an exaggeration). Of course the local rodent population includes some of our biggest “customers.”  There's a feeder on the top of the deck and another one on the ground below, right outside the patio door to my office.


Our three dogs include an elderly Siberian Husky, Tycho (age 15) who in his youth was The Fanged White Death Incarnate when it came to groundhogs and rabbits.  He could even catch mourning doves: in those days he could jump nearly 5 feet in the air, knocking them down with his paw as they took flight.  To my knowledge he killed at least three groundhogs and half a dozen rabbits, thus qualifying as an Ace.  He would eat his kills, beginning at the butt end and working forward, leaving the head attached to a strip of skin.  Everything else—guts, bones, skin, fur, and all—he’d eat.  He had a digestion like a blast furnace, and why he never got sick doing this I will never know.

But Tycho is now very old, unsteady on his feet, weak in the hindquarters, and though he still has wicked teeth and jaws that can take a chunk out of a two-by-four, I doubt very seriously if he can still move fast enough or remains agile enough to do much more predation on small animals.  A really fast and acrobatic beast like a squirrel would be beyond his powers. The Lab, Tehya is fat, dumb, and slow.  She did once manage to kill what must have been the stupidest rabbit in Westover Hills, after backing it into the corner of the fence before doing the Death Lunge.

Four years ago we got our second Border Collie: “Wampler's Lucretia of Westover,” a/k/a Lucy.  She was a year and a half old, cocky and spirited.  She immediately appointed herself Alpha Dog and The Guardian Of The Bird Feeders.  For her, squirrels are The Enemy. It's her ambition to drive them all away; to this end she lies on the floor of my office, watching the feeder in the back yard, hoping to dash out and grab a birdseed pirate.

Now, when you see the same squirrels every day, often they become individually identifiable.  For the past couple of years we've had a regular visitor, a grey squirrel we named "Half Tail," because of his shortened caudal appendage.  Half Tail had become very accustomed to us, and decided we were harmless.  Didn’t we feed him every day?  He got to the point where we could walk out on the deck and he would remain in the feeder, calmly scarfing down sunflower seed kernels.  He was wary around the dogs, but canny enough to know how to stay out of their reach.

A couple of months back we’d gone for a short shopping trip and upon return I went down to throw the Frisbee for Lucy, who’s a fanatic for that game.  Walking into the yard I saw something grey-brown in the grass...it was a half grown groundhog, not a mark on him, but stone dead, from the classic neck-snap method.

Who then was the culprit?  I immediately eliminated Tycho from the suspect list, because of age and infirmity.  Tehya, who will eat anything that doesn't eat her first, would at least have gnawed on it just to see if it was edible.  But this carcass had not been chewed.

After bagging and disposing of the Dear Departed, I noticed that Lucy had some blood on her right foreleg, though she obviously had not sustained any sort of bite wound.  I didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to solve the case.  My neighbor said she'd seen the groundhog about 1:30, and the  carcass was still warm and limp, so the events had occurred not long before we got home.  Time of death would have been about 2:00 PM.  My wife refused to believe that a Border Collie could do the deed on a groundhog, despite the physical evidence.

A couple of hours later I went out to throw the Frisbee again, and damned if there wasn't a SECOND groundhog, again stone dead.  This one was a full grown adult, weighing maybe 8 pounds or so. It had been dead long enough to stiffen up a bit: as an experienced Marmot Medical Examiner I put the time of death about the same as the first one. The two had likely come in to eat windfall apples, a very bad error of judgment on their part.

So all the evidence indicated that Lucy had written killing groundhogs into her job description, secondary to guarding the feeders.  As reluctant as my wife was to believe it, there weren't really any other possibilities.  And even in his heyday, Tycho never managed two marmots in a single afternoon.

Despite the double kill on groundhogs, squirrels are still The Enemy, as far as she is concerned.  Over time she came to develop a passionate personal hatred of Half Tail.  To be fair, he did tease her a bit: he’d get up in the feeder and when she came running out he’d thumb his nose, laugh merrily, and scoot into the nearby rosebushes and up the dogwood tree, safe from harm.  Then...two days ago my wife had trimmed back the rosebushes, greatly reducing the available cover around the feeder. 

This afternoon I was working at my desk and heard CRUNCH-CRUNCH-CRUNCH coming from the doorway.  I looked up to find Lucy lying on the doorstep, and lo, she had achieved her ambition: she was eating poor Half Tail, starting with his head.  I removed the headless carcass from her—Tycho would have bitten me had I tried that with him—wrapping the remains in three plastic bags to dispose of in the garbage bin.  Half Tail's spirit has gone to The Great Bird Feeder In The Sky.

We seem to be harboring a serial killer. It took Lucy some time to develop the tactics needed to deal with squirrels, who usually are too swift for her.  She would chase them off, but never to my knowledge had she managed to kill one.  Now that she seems to have the basic tactics of sciuricide down, we can expect more kills.

Half Tail, ave atqua vale!


October 8, 2015

After approximately two solid weeks of rain, and a number of teaching commitments, I finally got out for a brief period in the woods today. It would have been better if I'd stayed home.

I went to Sunrise Farm: the road to the bridge over the Little River was washed out last week by the rain, but I called the Montgomery County DOT and they said the road was open. I decided to see for myself; there was a crew still doing some road patching but the bridge was indeed open, and I was able to drive over it. This bridge is about 2 years old, a replacement for a 1920's-era truss bridge that would certainly have been washed away by the torrents of water, but the replacement is concrete and solid. I got to the farm without trouble, sitting down on my stand in a grove of mixed oaks and hickories about 2:00 PM.

I often just sit in the woods, alternating between reading a paperback and...ahem..."meditating" in a place where I don't have to hear traffic noise or some other distraction. There seems to be an idea in the US that silence is a bad thing: I like it. I have what I call my "hunting trance," when I simply sit, and listen. I don't really sleep. My ears are listening all the time and I do pick up on the slightest noise. If my eyes are open, I have pretty good peripheral vision: about 3:00 I caught some movement off to my right. It was a large white-nosed fox squirrel on a tree about 25-30 yards off.  I fired and missed him, cleanly. 

I was using my little .32 muzzle-loader squirrel gun. This rifle has a set trigger, a feature about which I have mixed feelings. It does improve accuracy, but it's so sensitive once it's been set that I have to be careful because the merest touch will fire the gun. In this instance it cost me a kill. As I brought the rifle up and took a sight picture, I must have touched the trigger before I was really ready. I missed him, but it was by no more than a millimeter or two. There was no evidence whatever of a hit.

Back to the stand. At 5:00, I decided it was time to quit, so I got up and hoofed it to the truck.  That's when things really went wrong. As I came out of the woods I spotted a second fox squirrel. He was on the trunk of a tree that had fallen on top of a huge pile of wood and random bits of timber.  My landowner runs a custom wood working operation and uses this place as a dumping ground for wood scraps and limbs he removes from trees. The pile is a good ten feet high, no sort of order to it at all: just brush, logs, scraps, and construction debris in a random heap. He recently rebuilt his deck, and had thrown the lumber from the old deck on it as well. An incredible tangle of junk.

The squirrel was on a stout limb of the downed tree, providing a safe backstop. He was no more than 20 yards off, and I stalked him up to within ten yards, then I fired.  It was a safe shot, and I felt good about it.

I hit him, all right.  He staggered but didn't fall off the trunk stone dead, which I had expected him to do: a .32 caliber ball through the back usually anchors one permanently. Instead he started to run, and headed for the main part of the wood pile.  I ran down and tried to end things with a little .22 revolver I carry for a coup de grace if needed.

He was too quick for me. I saw him hiding among the limbs and bits of lumber and I fired at him twice, at ranges of ten FEET or less. I'm pretty sure I hit him again, but he got deeper and deeper into the pile.  I moved every piece of wood I could get my hands on that wasn't jammed solidly into place or too big to budge. He went deeper and deeper, and despite scrabbling at the pile I never did find him.  I'd have needed a front end loader to move the rest of that stuff, and he was under all of it.

I hope he died fairly quickly.  I dislike the thought that he might still be there with a couple of wounds, dying slowly.  I spent some time trying to get a glimpse of him, to no avail. I've lost cripples before, usually birds.  I once shot at a deer who fell down, then got up and ran. I never found him.  I KNOW I hit that squirrel, and it will bother me for a long time that I wasn't able to get at him, if only to make sure he was dead.

There is no hunter who hasn't wounded and lost an animal, if he has done any amount of hunting at all. It's a terrible feeling. I still replay in my mind a few of the shots I've muffed over the years and wish I could have called back the bullets on those.

I can think of several technical reasons why I might not have put that bullet where I thought it was going, but those would be mere excuses. In the end it was my own fault. It was a shot I should have made, and unfortunately he paid the penalty of his life. I hate it when things like this happen.


October 17-18, 2015

I went to the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents last Saturday. I was still ticked off by my miserable performance with my .32 muzzle-loading rifle the previous week, and determined to do a better job; so I brought my little Savage 24-S combination gun, the "Lightning Death," which is a pretty specialized squirrel-killing machine. It's .22 Long Rifle over 20 gauge; the barrels have been nose-jobbed to 20", and the shotgun barrel fitted with choke tubes. I usually keep a very tight FULL tube in it. In general if I point it at a squirrel and pull the trigger, the squirrel dies. Standard load for me is an ounce of #6 shot in a 2-3/4" shell. It will take 3" shells but it beats the heck out of me when I use those.

It's scoped: a cheap TASCO that has always been suitable to the task at hand, namely putting a .22 bullet where I want it to be. I don't use the rifle barrel all that much, preferring to rely on the shotshells.

I hit the woods at the VOATR at about 12:30 PM, and parked myself under the Beech Tree. This has usually been a very productive place for small and large game, one of my favorite locations. It was a beautiful day, temperatures in the low 50's and a slight breeze blowing now and then. Not enough to make the trees sway, though.

I had decided to try an experiment this time: squirrels hate cats (for obvious reasons) and a friend had lent me a very realistic fake cat. I put this "decoy" out in hopes that the squirrels would see it and start to bark at it, but no joy. They ignored it completely. I can see the idea needs more work.

About 15 minutes after I arrived a squirrel came mooching down the trunk of a tree perhaps 50 feet away. I waited for it to expose itself, then decided to try the rifle barrel on it, since he was very close. It was a clean miss! I suppose it was a matter of a few millimeters, but honest to God, I am getting old, to miss a squirrel's head at that range, with a scope! I later tried a shot at a sapling and found the bullet struck to the right of where I'd aimed, so I claim innocence of bad shooting. Ho, for the range, to check sights, ASAP!

The squirrel seemed not to be too upset by a bullet spanging off the trunk close to his head, and calmly continued its descent. Baffled by the miss, after it disappeared I walked over and searched, but there was nothing doing: I had blown it. Well, better that than last week's fiasco of wounding one that got away. I went back to the Beech Tree.

Half an hour later I got another shot. A squirrel was scurrying though the leaves on my left, and I watched him go until he was in the clear. I used the shot barrel, and...MISSED! Well, I must have dusted him, at least, but he was able to run, and I fired again, with no more result. Perhaps I exceeded the effective range of the gun: and perhaps I had a shell with less than an ounce of shot in it. Excuses, excuses.

About 3:00 I was getting bored. I called my wife to tell her when I'd be home; as soon as I hung up, lo, there was a squirrel on the same tree as the first one I'd missed. This may have been the same animal. It came down, peeked at me, and then went around the tree; but curiosity overcame it and it peeked its head out. This time, using the shot barrel, I did NOT miss, and the squirrel came pitching off the trunk, stone dead before it hit the ground with that satisfying THUMP! noise that has no equivalent.

It was a mature female fox squirrel; her mammae showed she'd had one litter at least, though of course this time of year there would have been no young in the nest and she wasn't lactating. Her tail was at least a foot long, a mixture of black, henna, and gold hairs; quite a lovely "brush," really.

I like fox squirrels, and would far rather kill the more numerous grey squirrels. But in recent years, for reasons I don't understand, the VOATR has gained a large population of fox squirrels and seems to have lost most of its grey squirrel population. This may have to do with the maturation of the trees: I've been hunting that spot for nearly 20 years now, and although I can't see a difference, there must be some. I always associate fox squirrels with water: I used to get them on the Little River quite often. They're animals of "the edge," as well. Neither of these criteria apply in the VOATR, which isn't near a creek and is well back into the woods. But there it is. I will always take a grey squirrel if one shows up, but in the last two seasons none has come by.


The following day, Sunday the 18th, I was shanghaied into doing a Hunter Education class again. We do 3 of these each year in Montgomery County: this was the last one of the season. There are good reasons for mandating Hunter Education, but the classes are 2/3 full of 9 to 11-year old kids who have already been in the woods since they were old enough to walk; and some of whom have taken several deer already. The rest of the class is Dads, who always know better than the Instructors, and some of who enjoy starting wrangles over "What's better, a .30-06 or a .270?" and similar questions of religious dogma. I have noticed that there are more of what are called "Adult Onset Hunters," people who are getting into the sport for the first time, well into their 20's and even later. One man in this class was an Air Force officer assigned to the ROTC unit at Virginia Tech, who was close to 40, but had never been hunting. This sort of person is the kind of student I like best. The kids and their know-it-all attitudes (and fathers) get wearying at times. I'm a Master Hunter Ed Instructor, have done it for 20+ years, and I suppose I'll go on doing it until I am unable. It's (pardon the expression) a way of "paying back" the Commonwealth for the opportunity to hunt that I have here.


October 22, 2015

Today was a range day. A couple of years ago I'd bought an H&R "Huntsman" Model 146, and an early in-line BP rifle, whose action is based on the break-action guns H&R made for decades. It resembles the current production "Topper" guns pretty closely but I don't think the Topper barrels will fit the Huntsman frame.  

I'd seen one of these guns in my college days in Ohio in the mid 1960's and thought they were pretty neat.  Very slim and well-balanced, but at the time I didn't have the money to buy one. So when I saw a Huntsman going at a fire-sale price on Gun Auction I jumped on it.  It was in very good condition, with a decent bore, and it uses #209 shotgun primers.  Very sure fire and it had also been fitted with a Williams peep sight. Better yet, it was the largest caliber they made, a .58. I like bullets that make big holes going in and coming out.  The date code "AL" indicates this rifle was made in 1973.


The Huntsman was a commercial flop. This was largely due to the nature of the breech plug in the early rifles. It was a "push-in" type held in place by an O-ring.  While this made for convenience in cleaning—you just push it out with the clever little collapsing ramrod—it led to concerns about opening the gun after a hang fire.  There arose a belief that if the gun did fire with the breech open, the plug would be expelled with force enough to injure or kill someone.  In point of fact I doubt if this ever really happened, but the rumors persisted. The design did in fact take into account the issue of the breech plug: you couldn't open the breech far enough for it to clear the recoil shield and it would be stopped by that.  Nevertheless, the wild tales of disastrous injuries or deaths led to the rapid demise of the Huntsman, despite the fact that H&R shifted to a thread breech plug late in its production.

Mine sat on the rack for a long, long time.  A few years ago I had taken it to the range and fired it one time, but I thought it was time it got its day in the field. This 2015 BP season is thundering down upon us, opening on Halloween: so I snatched a half-day and went out to the range today to check sights.

I'd glad I did, and sorry I did.  I found out that I can't hit squat with the damned thing.  I used 70 grains of 777 under a .58 Minié bullet, with a wool wad under the bullet and over the charge. 

The first shot I fired went low and left.  I adjusted the sights a bit and the next shot went very high, but was reasonably well centered.  Alas, subsequent shots went any which way they liked.  I was unable to put a bullet onto an 8-1/2" x 11" sheet of paper at 50 yards! 

The impact point was totally unpredictable.  I tried reducing the charge: and eliminating the wool wad, with no change. It simply wouldn't group at all.   I'm not the world's greatest marksman but I'm reasonably certain that if I can't hit an 8-1/2" x 11" target even once in 11 shots, at 50 yards, the issue is with the gun, not with me. If I hadn't gone to the range today, and gone hunting with it as I'd planned, I might have killed a deer—if it were very close—but I might equally easily have gut-shot it. Subsequent "research" on the Internet revealed that this gun is rifled 1:66" and therefore is suited only to shooting patched round balls. The twist is too slow for the conical Minié bullets. I shoot those in a reproduction Enfield Model 1861 Civil War musketoon, also in .58.

So The Huntsman got cleaned and is back in the cabinet, taking up a spot that might perhaps be better used for a different rifle. I don't doubt that someone who is willing to devote the time to making it behave can get it to shoot reasonably well: I suspect the bullet I was using were undersized (they loaded very easily) and that the skirt didn't expand to grip the rifling properly. Someone with the "right" bullet could make it shoot, but that isn't me. But I have a lot of those .58 Minié bullets and just don't have time to futz with the Huntsman. 

My faithful T/C New Englander will do the honors on Opening Day, as it has in the past.  I'll write off the money I have in the Huntsman as a cheap lesson and be done with it.  It is now listed in the "For Sale" section of this web site. Anyone interested in it is welcome to send me a note.


October 31, 2015: Bambi's Halloween Trick or Treat

The Ravine of Death, seen from the top of the south shoulder. My stand is indicated by the arrow.

Halloween was Opening Day for the muzzle-loading season. I can't ever remember such an early opening but I'm not complaining! I charged my .54 New Englander the night before, and stowed it and the rest of my gear in the truck, as I anticipated a very early departure: it's 25 miles to Sunrise Farm and I wanted to be there well in advance of shooting time.

As a back-up, which in the end I didn't use, I brought along another T/C .54, this one my Renegade flintlock. I'd fiddled with it and had it sparking quite satisfactorily, My thinking was that as Sunrise Farm is a DMAP venue, I could take more than one deer, and if a second opportunity presented itself, that's what I'd use.

I got there about 6:05 AM and was on the "Three Tree" stand next to the brush pile at the eastern end of The Ravine Of Death. I'd killed a lovely 6-pointer last year from this spot. I settled in about 6:15. I was perhaps 100 yards from my truck, something very convenient for a doddering geezer who needs to get inside and warm up now and then. The weather was clear, but chilly, about in the low 30's; nowhere near so cold as it will be in a month or so. I plonked myself down and waited.

About 6:30 I heard a deer snort, presumably at me. There was very little wind, and what there was, was blowing very gently into my face from the left: it was probably following the curve up the slope behind me, which is where the deer seemed to be. Well, everywhere is upwind of some other place, nothing to be done. Another deer, also on the flats above me to my left, snorted about 7:15. This one was considerably more agitated, though it may well have been the same animal. I turned to see if I could spot the beast, and sure enough, there was a tail flashing as it bounded away. That deer had been standing within a few feet of where last year's buck was: that ridgeline seems to be a regular trail for them.

Though things were pretty quiet, I did hear a few shots, beginning about 7:30, several of them apparently coming from the farm next door. Some were quite far off. But it was not the steady fusillade I've come to associate with Opening Days. The deer were definitely moving—I'd seen one on the road driving out, and the one above me on the ridge—but I don't think the running-around-like-crazy period has quite begun.

At 9:00 I was getting cold, especially my feet (a perennial issue for me) so I went to the truck to warm up. Twenty minutes later, I glanced into the rear view mirror, and a deer was walking past the truck! He ambled down the lane leading to Harry's house, and I quietly opened the door, and stole out after him.

This deer was pretty unconcerned about being followed by a human in blaze orange. He kept going down the lane, where I had no shot because of what was in the background (some farm buildings) and then he turned to his left and entered into the east end of the woodlot. I followed him in. He was obviously very naive, because he'd let me get within 35-50 yards each time, then he'd keep moving, though he never put his tail up and he wasn't running flat out. I've never tried to stalk a deer before, and I suspect that had this one not been a total innocent, I'd not have had a prayer of doing so. But he led me deeper into the woods, stopping two or three times to look back at me. I could tell he was thinking, "What the hell is that?" and that it was beginning to dawn on him that maybe things were not quite the way he would have wished. Eventually he stopped and stood broadside to me, facing to my left, and watched me warily from about 50 yards.

I assumed he was going to wise up and bolt, so I took the chance: he was in the clear, I could see nothing between me and him, and up came the rifle. I fired, at about 50 yards, from the offhand position. He fell instantly.

My Trophy Fawn. The entry wound is marked. No exit wound was visible externally.

He was stone dead when I got to him, and turned out to be a button buck, i.e., a buck fawn, certainly born last Spring. No spots, of course, and his coat was the grey-brown of a winter deer. The bumps on his head where his antlers would have grown were covered with hair, so legally he was "antlerless," but antlerless deer are legal in that county in the BP season. He wasn't big, maybe 75 pounds live weight, but still, a deer. In the old days of physically checking them in at a local store, he'd have elicited laughs from the assembled Bubbas and the classic remark, "Well, it ain't much of a deer, but he'll be a good eater, hyuk, hyuk." That's all I was after, since I don't eat antlers.

I am quite pleased with that shot. The bullet hit him on the upper left side of his chest, exactly where I aimed. The entry wound was visible, but there was no obvious exit wound. Now, that .54 will put a bullet through a deer completely every time, and I was confident I'd find the exit wound eventually, but there was nothing overtly visible on his right side. I dragged him a short way onto a level spot, then drove the truck up to him. Rolled him over and unzipped him, to see what I could see.

The bullet had clipped his aorta and spine, and gone through and sliced open the tops of both lungs. In the picture at right I've marked the deep cleft carved by the bullet as it plowed through. There was a massive amount of blood in the chest cavity, as might be expected. But pretty much zero meat damage, also typical of the .54.

This kill once again confirmed my opinion that heavy solid bullets are the way to go. A .54 round ball weighs 224 grains, quite a bit heavier than most center-fire rifle bullets. It wasn't moving fast: I use a very moderate load of 80 grains of GOEX FFg powder, so perhaps it was loping along at 1200-1300 feet per second. If you depended on Cabela's ad copy and the stories in Field & Stream you might think this was a wimp's load, but whitetails aren't covered in armor plate, and you don't need a 6" naval gun to kill one at woodland ranges. I've made 14 one-shot kills on whitetails and one very large African warthog using that combination and never have I recovered a bullet. They go all the way through, every single time. Fifty yards is a long, long shot for me: fifty feet is a more typical range around here.

I loaded my flintlock and went to another stand on the flats above the Ravine, hoping that perhaps Mama would show up, but nothing happened. By 4:00 I was tired. My wife and I always enjoy watching the Trick-or-Treat kids, so I wanted to be back in time for that. The wind was starting to pick up, and leaves were coming down faster and faster—the trees will be totally bare next week—so I folded my tent and headed home. My landowner wasn't there, and couldn't issue a DMAP tag, so I just checked the deer in on my own license. Just as well I didn't shoot a second deer, I'd have had some 'splainin' to do had a cop stopped me!


November 1, 2015

I cut that deer today, and examined the carcass more closely. I did find the exit wound, on the right side, well concealed by the fur. In the composite image above, the first picture shows the entry wound after removal of the hide. The bullet actually carried some hair in with it, which is indicated by the arrow. The middle picture shows the exit wound on the right. A very small hole in the hide, which was quite invisible from the exterior, is where the bullet emerged. The severing of the spine shown in the third picture explains his complete collapse. The bullet also took out his aorta on this pass. He was more or less dead when he hit the ground.


November 3, 2015: Election Day

Not much doing in the Ravine of Death today. After arriving at the polls to do my bit to save Virginia from the horrors of rule by the Democrats, I went home, suited up, and was on my stand on the flats above the Ravine by about 7:05. Sat there until 10:00 and the retired to the truck for a nap, sorely needed after rising at 4:30 AM.

Not a deer did I see. I did see several squirrels, and heard a few more: last time there were none in evidence, none at all. Part of the explanation must be the total failure of the acorn crop. Harry's place is normally ankle-deep in acorns, being covered with white and red oaks. But there were none at all, zero, zip, nada, this year. It will be tough going this winter for animals that eat acorns, for sure.

I did see an odd critter: a house cat, about 3:15, who was striped around the body. He looked like the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland. His feet were white, the the body vertically striped. I didn't see a grin, though.

I have never seen such a cat; in fact I have never seen any form of cat in the woods before. He was most certainly a domestic, not a wild cat: a feral, no doubt. He spotted me and took off like a shot.

I heard a few birds whose calls I couldn't identify, and saw a hawk slipping through the trees. But that was it for wildlife. Nothing was moving at all. Very, very few shots, all of them far away. I left at 5:15.


November 5, 2015

A wasted half day in the ROD. Got out there about 1:30, and spent 4 hours on stand, not a deer in sight. I did see some squirrels, both grey and fox species; that's encouraging. Not an acorn to be found. I heard a few shots, far away, about 4:30.

This weekend I will be in Amherst, if it doesn't rain!


November 7-8, 2015

I was invited to Three Oaks Farm in Amherst to help thin out their deer population during the black powder season. I had hoped to use my flintlock, but the weather report was for rain, so I relied on my trusty .54 New Englander again. It's possible to "weatherproof" this gun.

First, I have a brass "Kap Kover" (sorry for the spelling, that's the way the maker does it), a little brass bell-shaped dingus that slips on over the nipple. The special nipple has a rubber O-ring around it. The Kover not only is watertight, it's a safety device that prevents the hammer from striking the cap at all when it's in place. It attaches to the trigger guard using a leather thong.

Because I'm a suspenders-and-belt type when it comes to BP guns in rainy weather, I added a small "cap guard" that is in effect a short length of fish tank air line tubing: it slips over the cap and seals its edge. With both these precautions in use, I think I could have turned a garden hose onto the gun and it would still have gone off. It was raining Saturday, though very lightly; Sunday was beautiful and clear.

My wife had dragged me to a concert on Friday night: the Shanghai Quartet, with Wu Man, a lady who plays an instrument called a "pipa" as a soloist. Normally I like string quartets, but this one plays "modern" music: the kind of thing you'd get if Phillip Glass and Arnold Schoenburg collaborated. Very, very dissonant, very "fierce" and totally incomprehensible to the ear of someone who's not into 12-tone scales. The pipa is that twangy thing you hear in Chinese music. So if you can imagine Schoenburg and Glass collaborating on an album of "The Chinese Restaurants' Greatest Hits," that's what it was like.

This tedious scraping and banging and twanging went on for two hours of my life that I'll never get back again: much worse, it precluded me from leaving for Amherst on Friday night, as any sensible person would have done. Instead, I snatched a couple of hours of sleep once my ears stopped ringing, and left at 3:30 AM on Saturday. It's a 2-hour drive and I needed to be in the woods by 6:00 AM.

I have a couple of places in Amherst that over the years have proven to be good ones for deer. The first is The Ravine, just below the road on which Three Oaks Farm sits. Deer come down into it in the morning, so that was my first spot for the day. I have killed several deer in here, including a decent buck and the Turkey Feather Doe; but nary a deer showed up on Saturday morning.

The second stand is The Rock (above) a place where a large flat rock sticks up out of the ground above a trail. It affords a comfortable spot and provides a wind shadow to hide my scent. I have killed at least 5 deer from The Rock. After the bust at The Ravine, I spent the afternoon at The Rock. I did see two deer, neither of which offered me a shot. Thus ended Saturday: with me exhausted and deer-free.

Sunday (thanks to former Governor McDonnell and the Republicans in the legislature we can now hunt on Sunday in Virginia) I started at The Rock. Nothing happened. In the afternoon I went to a "new" stand.

Three Oaks Farm sits on a flat-topped hill, with Huff Creek along one side and an un-named creek on the other. I chose to sit at the intersection of the two, a place I call the Bucket Stand, because there's an old rusted bucket on the ground at that point. Again, nothing happened. I ended up walking around the hill widdershins, and finally coming back to The Rock, where—you guessed it—nothing happened. I finished the afternoon sit with a new stand: under the roots of an overturned tree. A nice blind, but the damned thing dripped grit down my neck every time I moved. I gave up on that spot after half an hour.

In the morning my partner Rick had shot a 4-point buck, his third deer of this season. It was an odd looking beast with antlers that were almost palmate in shape. But he was in fine condition, and the field dressed carcass weighed 100 pounds: quite a respectable animal. I spent the late morning helping Rick skin him. He'd been killed on a neighboring farm and we took Rick's latest toy, a brand-spanking-new John Deere tractor, to get it. Put him in the bucket and took him back. I even got to drive the tractor, something I never would have imagined doing during my years in Da Bronx.

By 3:30 on Sunday my tailbone was sore and I was pretty disgusted with the no-shows, so I packed up and headed home. As I was turning into my street, Rick sent me a message that "Deer are in the field behind the house." Honestly, you can't make this stuff up.


November 14, 2015: Opening Day of Rifle Season

Today was Opening Day for the Virginia rifle season, therefore a High Holy Day. I went out to celebrate the Oak Tree Ritual.  Not that there are many oaks under which to celebrate: there is a complete acorn crop failure this year.

I started at the Valley of a Thousand Rodents, arriving on my stand about 5:45 AM.  This (groan) necessitated a 4:00 AM wake-up, but one must make sacrifices for the True Faith, so I managed to drag my elderly butt out and was where I needed to be when I needed to be there. It was COLD out there and I needed my heavy coveralls to survive.

I needn't have bothered.  The VOATR was deader than Disco.  I didn't even see a squirrel, let alone a deer. The only animals I saw were two wandering dogs who came trotting through the woods about 7:30. Big shaggy mutts, obvously farm dogs. One of them, a bruiser who looked to be a Border Collie/Bernese mix, stopped and barked at me. When I failed to bark back he left with his pal. Many people would have shot these dogs, but not me: they had as much right to be hunting as I do, and there's no way I would shoot a dog unless it was gnawing on my leg. 

Along about 10:00 AM I decided nothing was going to happen, that I really, really needed to get to a bathroom, and that there were better options.  So I packed up and headed home.  She Who Must Be Obeyed had not yet left—She was going to a theatrical performance with a friend—so with her help I got the coveralls off, and in 20 minutes or so headed back out.  This time to the Ravine of Death on Sunrise Farm in southern Montgomery County.

Sunrise Farm has been a pretty reliable place over the past few years: I usually at least see deer there, and after last week's disappointment at Three Oaks Farm in Amherst, I was hoping for better things.  I got onto my stand at about 11:00 AM...and nothing.  Nada, zip, not a deer did I see from the Three Tree Stand.

Along about 1:30 I decided to move, so I went up to the flats on the west side of the ROD, and sat there for an hour or so with no results. At 3:30 I shifted position again, this time to where I could over watch the ROD and the flats, and plonked myself down.

Around about 4:00 I heard a very, very slight noise behind me.  The leaves are pretty dry but deer don't make much noise unless the leaves are REALLY dry.  Nevertheless, I heard something and looked over my left shoulder.  Lo, a nice fat doe was walking past, totally oblivious to my presence.  When I'm being invisible—even in blaze orange—I can't even see myself, and this doe had no clue whatever that I was there. It helped that the wind was in my favor, too!

I knew I had just enough time to pop off a snap shot with my Kimber .308 before she wised up. I put the cross hairs on her shoulder and fired. (I paced off the distance of that shot at 35 feet this morning. Eleven yards! That's close, even for me!)  She immediately high-tailed it directly away, hopping over a ridge and out of sight, but I knew I couldn't have missed at that range.

Nor did I. She went less than 50 feet from where I'd shot her and dropped dead.  I have seen deer do this bolt-and-run bit before, and in my experience they don't really leave a blood trail until they start running. This doe was no exception.  The blood started maybe 25 feet from the place where she was shot, but there was a lot of it. The bullet had smashed her left shoulder (and a fragment of bone had been forced out the top of it) and exited behind the right shoulder. In the picture above the entry wound is just below the wrist of the rifle stock; the mark above the gun is where the bone fragment came out. The bullet's exit point can't be seen.

When I eviscerated her I found that her heart was literally shredded, churned into hamburger.  The arrow shows what was left of it! Not only was there total destruction of the heart and lungs, what blood she didn't spray on the leaves was pooled in the chest cavity.

I was using Federal's 150-grain "Power Shok" ammunition, the cheap stuff from Wal-Mart.  It shoots well in my Kimber, though at that range anything would have worked.  I doubt she ever realized what had happened: she was dead within 10 seconds. 

I'd cut up the black powder deer I shot on Halloween myself, but I was not about to push an entire deer through a meat grinder. The doe went to the processor for hamburgerization.  She was about 100 pounds dressed: I expect to get 40 pounds of hamburger out of her.  I saved the tenderloins but the rest gets ground up. I paid Harvey's on Route 114 a ridiculous price to do it for me.

On the way home I realized I'd left my favorite rifle sling at the base of the tree. I bought that sling in 1972 and have used it ever since on all my guns, and hated the thought of losing it. So the next morning (today, the 15th) I drove back out in my Corolla to retrieve it. On the way into the woods I kicked up another deer at almost exactly the same spot; and driving home a 4-point buck ran out in front of my car, forcing me to stomp on the brake lest I "tag" another one.

It's been a heck of a season so far and there is more to come.  Now, if I could just stop working I'd have more time to hunt. Every season I start convinced I won't get a deer, but in the end I usually do.  This is the second.  I have a "customer" for #3 (if I get one), an Associate Dean at the medical school who's a Good Ole Boy from Kentucky and asked me to save him one.


November 16, 2015

Nothing doing in the ROD today. After kicking out that deer yesterday when I retrieved my sling, I thought I'd give it another go. Nad, nothing. Saw one grey squirrel. The weather has warmed up since yesterday, that may play a role.


November 17-27, 2015: End of the Rifle Season

I had intended to spend much of the past 10 days in the woods, but my wife had other ideas. We had some people coming for dinner one Sunday night; and my brother and his family arrived for the Thanksgiving holiday a couple of days later. So the few days when I wasn't wrapped up in teaching my class were spent in an orgy of house cleaning and preparing for visits. It would have been as much as my life was worth to play hooky. I did manage one day in the VOATR and one afternoon in the ROD, but without result. The deer simply weren't moving. I saw one or two at great distances, and that was it. Never had a shot.

Today, the day after Thanksgiving, I did something completely different. My brother is a fanatical golfer and we have a more or less brand new course near Blacksburg, owned by Virginia Tech and designed by someone named Pete Dye. Apparently designing golf courses is a full time trade, and probably very well rewarded. Pete Dye seems to be sufficiently famous that his name is on the sign, and it's "The Pete Dye River Course." I know next to nothing about golf courses but even to me it seemed to be a very nice place: it lies along the bank of the New River, has a clubhouse with a restaurant, and the greens fees are (by my standards, anyway) high. My brother had seen it on his last trip so I told him to bring his clubs and we'd go out.

I didn't play, of course; but I got to drive the electric golf cart (something I have never done before) and to stand around and watch. He would examine the hole, mutter some remarks about what club he wanted to use, and then get to playing. It's pretty amazing how far he can hit that little ball, but he assures me a professional at the top level can hit it twice as far. Along the way he kept up a running commentary on the finer points of playing golf, golf etiquette, golf club design, the comparative virtues of modern day equipment over older gear, etc., etc. He wasn't satisfied with his game, but one of the things I now realize is usually the case is that no golfer is ever quite satisfied with how he plays.

We did the 18 holes in about 3 hours, which seemed to be pretty fast: we "played through" two other groups. My brother lost three balls in water hazards and high grass, and had to take some sort of penalty each time: he explained the (to me, needlessly complicated) rules on what to do in such situations, and on we went to the next place. I now know more than I did about the arcana of the game, but I can't say it makes much sense to me. Golf is most emphatically not my game. I have to accept Mark Twain's statement that golf is "...a good walk spoiled." Still, it was a learning experience.

There were deer tracks in some of the sand traps; fresh ones, too. I guess they're still out there. Tomorrow if time permits I hope to get out for the afternoon session. As of Sunday, bow season starts up again, but I don't bowhunt. Two weeks from now, the second BP season begins and I'll be back in the woods then, I hope.


December 11, 2015: Lucy Does It Again

In her eternal fight against The Hated Enemy Sciurus carolinensis, Lucy has again triumphed. I let the dogs out about 6:30 every morning. Today I went down to feed them about 8:00 and saw her flipping something around in the yard. It was the rear half of a squirrel, the front half having already been eaten.

Since she nailed Half Tail, she seems to have figured out the strategy. I have to wonder how many she's caught during the day when nobody is here. Maybe we ought to use her to train people to fight ISIS. Talk about "Fast and Furious"!

Tomorrow the second black powder season opens; I'll be going to Sunrise Farm. Does are legal the entire season there and Harry still has unfilled DMAP tags. I'll take the .54 Renegade flintlock, as it's supposed to be a clear, dry day. Unfortunately it is supposed to be very warm: a high of 71 degrees, in mid-December!

The rut is over. I'm hoping deer will be wandering about seeking food. The moon is new tonight, always a good thing. Bright moonlight has the deer moving all night and bedding up very early, long before I get to my stand.


December 12, 2015

Went out for Opening Day of the second black powder season, first to Sunrise Farm and the Ravine of Death, arriving on my stand at 6:40 AM.

At 7:40, four does came running past, maybe 40-50 yards away, from right to left.  They were moving fast, but the last in line spotted me, and stopped.  She looked straight at me, and I took the chance to fire.

I missed.

Had I been using a centerfire or even a percussion rifle, I'd have killed her: but I was using my flintlock.  Now, I haven't shot that gun in a while, and when it went off, the flash and smoke right in front of my eye distracted me.  I flinched, and missed her, completely!  She hit her afterburners and took off.  I walked over to check the spot where she was, and followed the very obvious trail the four had left in the leaves. In my experience a deer may not begin to bleed heavily for 20-30 yards with a chest hit, so I walked the trail.

I found nothing, not a sign of any kind of hit.  I think that thanks to the flinch I must have shot underneath her: probably I lunged forward, anticipating the recoil, which I never felt; but the image of the flash and smoke is burned into my visual cortex. Well, a clean miss is better than a shot where I had to trail her, but it still honked me off. I then went back to my truck to warm up, after which I headed for the Valley of a Thousand Rodents, where I saw zilch in the way of deer.

I found something very odd when de-charging the gun at home, and cleaning it.

I had reloaded after missing the doe. When I drew the load using a CO2 ball discharger I had to warm the gun up—that's typical of this time of year because the lubricant gets hard and makes it difficult to blow the ball out. But first I decided to get the powder out, as a matter of safety.

T/C uses a removable stainless steel screw-in touch hole liner threaded 1/4"x28TPI, the same thread as the nipples on their percussion guns.  This makes blowing the load out with CO2 easy: I just unscrew the liner, put in a spare nipple, press the spigot of the discharger onto it and POP! out comes the ball and charge.

I always use a wool wad under the ball in my rifles, to effect a better gas seal.  One of those T/C "Wonder Wads," liberally lubricated with Bore Butter, over the charge and below the patched ball. This time when I unscrewed the liner, I saw something that was fibrous in the bore!  It was clearly a wool wad. 

My first thought was that I'd dry-balled the gun, which would put the wad deep into the barrel, i.e., in the breech. But once I got the barrel warmed up and the ball came out, there was quite obviously a powder charge in place...AND the wool wad I'd put under the ball I used when reloading. So the one I was seeing through the touch hole was obviously from the previous shot, the one that missed.

I had a devil of a time getting that stuck wad out: a standard wad puller didn't work at all.  I managed to get it moving a bit using the touch hole pick and finally (after using up two CO2 cartridges) it came out that way, and it was folded in half!  Whether that happened in the reload or not I don't know, but when it finally popped out onto the floor it looked like a little black bean.

I'm now questioning whether I should use these wool under-ball wads or not.  I always have and never had any sort of an issue before. Of course in a percussion gun I likely wouldn't know if there was a stuck wad, since I wouldn't see it through the flash channel.

I think what MAY have happened is that when I charged the rifle on Friday night, the wad got cocked in the bore and that it got folded in half when I rammed the load home: that's the only way I can explain it.  It's quite likely that had I tried a second shot, either at a deer or to clear the charge "in the field," I'd have had a misfire, I now realize. The wad was blocking the touch hole and the priming charge could never have set the main charge off.

I like to use a "4-in-1 Quick Shot" device, a widget that holds the wad, patch, and ball together and aligns them. My New Englander has a "Quick Load Accurizer" feature, a recessed muzzle of slightly enlraged diameter. This allows the projectile(s) to be aligned and started accurately. The Renegade flintlock lacks this, as it's an older rifle; and T/C won't modify the gun, because a) they don't make sidelocks any more; and b) T/C now belongs to S&W, who are only in the business of in-lines. T/C made very nice sidelock guns, but these days you can hardly give a sidelock away except to a weirdo like me. So I'm going to take the New Englander out next time. It has never failed me when I do my part.

This Opening Day was very frustrating, but the late BP season often is.  20% of the deer we had to begin with a month ago are dead, and the stupid or unlucky ones die first.  I can't bitch too hard, with two in the freezer; but that miss really annoys me.  A flinter requires different timing and follow through than a "real" rifle, and I definitely blew it. There's two weeks of the season left.  If She Who Must Be Obeyed permits, after the 18th I'll have some time to try again.


December 18-19, 2015

I administered my last veterinary school exam on the 16th, and by virtue of a capital teaching assistant and some "overtime," I got all my grades calculated, sent to the class by e-mail, and entered into the Registrar's records. To celebrate I went into the woods on the 18th and again on the 19th.

I went to Sunrise Farm and the Ravine of Death, but sat on the opposite side from my usual spot. In the mornings the deer usually pass through the northeast corner on the way to wherever it is they go during the day.

The group of does, including the doe I missed on Opening Day, had come through that way, running along the top of a ridge. So I hied myself over to the ridge to find a spot from which I could see them come—if they did come—to get a shot. I took the New Englander: my flintlock having disgraced itself, I returned to the old standby, for all the good it did.

The ridge top is about 50-60 yards from the Three Tree stand. While I moved about a bit on the ridge, in the end I came to plonk myself down next to a tree that has an ancient and thoroughly wrecked climbing tree stand at its base. That thing has been there for years: so many that the tree has started the process of growing around it. I had seen it some years ago, actually. This spot is on the crest of the ridge on the north side of the ROD; below it is the road that leads to the farm lane. I sat facing east, with the road on my left. I expected the deer to come from the eastern end, as I've seen them do many times.

I got there well in advance of daylight. On the 18th I saw nothing, but at one point heard a THUMP that might have been a deer jumping, but might equally have been a falling tree branch. I managed to lose the aperture disk from the peep sight on my rifle, damn it: dropped it in the leaf litter. I take this thing out in low light and use the sight as a "ghost ring," and just a second before I dropped it, I said to myself, I sure hope I don't drop this, I'd never find it again," and damned if I never found it again.

On the 19th I returned, again, before light, and waited. It was COLD both days, but especially on the 19th, when the temperature couldn't have been much above 20 degrees. I wore my heavy quilted coveralls, but by 9:00 I was chilled to the bone and returned to the truck, having seen nothing at all.

While I was standing at the truck, I saw something move down the opposite slope of the ROD, not 10 yards from where I'd been sitting all morning! I can't swear it was a deer: it was rather smaller than a deer, and darker, and I certainly didn't see a white tail, or in fact any white at all. It may have been a dog. That and a few squirrels comprised all the animal activity for the entire two days.

There is still some season left and Mrs Outdoorsman is being remarkably tolerant of my going out. We have a couple of obligatory things for this week, but I may be able to hit the woods again, and certainly before New Year's Day, at least once, perhaps twice more.


December 20-29, 2015: Probably The End of the Season

I have been out once or twice since the last entry, but between the Christmas Juggernaut hitting me in the head, and a week of lousy weather, I haven't had much opportunity, and have had worse luck. Not a deer to be seen, let alone shot.

I could be going out for squirrels but nearly all of the ones I see are fox squirrels, and I don't want to shoot those. Besides, the population seems to be way down, probably due to the constricted food supplies.

It's threatening to rain today: actually spitting a bit. There are two days left in the year and theoretically four in the deer season: but the weather forecasts for now through the 2nd of January are for rain, rain, and more rain.

I sent my flintlock off to have the lockwork polished and honed within an inch of its life to improve lock time. I'm assured this will eliminate the two-step HISSS!-BOOM! ignition of a flinter, but we'll see if it does. There is always next year.

The opportunity to do some culling should come in the Spring, as kill permits aren't issued during hunting seasons. My friend Betty is expecting to get a permit, and I hope to tag deer #3 at her place, probably in March or April. Now it's time to clean gear, re-organize the piles of stuff that have developed higgledy-piggledy over the past few months, load some ammunition, and stop getting up at 4:30 AM.


December 30, 2015: The Last Hurrah

Went out to a friend's farm I haven't hunted before, and spent an hour and a half watching a hillside wher "..we see them all the time..." That phrase is the Kiss of Death. Anytime someone says that, you KNOW you won't see a deer. Sure enough, I didn't.

It started raining in earnest at 4:30, I stuck it out for another hour and ahalf, then that was the end of the season for me.

Back home I unloaded my rifle and damned if I didn't have the same issue with a stuck wool under-bullet wad in this gun! This was my percussion Pedersoli, not the flintlock. It too had a wad that was folded in half, stuck in the breech. I ended up having to fabricate a hook on a piece of coat hanger to get it out.

No more wool wads for me!


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