THE 2016-17 SEASON LOG


July 1, 2016

I am starting this year's log very early, but it's been a good day and a head start on what I hope to be a long season.

I need to check sights on my guns for the upcoming season, so today I took the Kimber .308 and the Burgsmüller drilling. The latter had been through a stock refinish, and I was thinking that might have affected the point of impact, but it didn't, not by so much as a hair. An amazing gun, that Burgsmüller. The more I use it the more impressed I am with the skill of its long dead builders.

The Kimber needed a bit of tweaking but it's now printing where I wanted it to. So as soon as I check the sights on a couple of black powder rifles, I'm ready to go. I've been writing a lot of deer kill permits lately, and expect to get put onto one for a friend, so I needed to have these guns sighted in now.

Sinking Creek runs through Newport. Just outside the village is a very picturesque covered bridge over the creek, with some fast and pretty water. I stopped there for an hour to wet a line and drown some worms. I caught two very nice red-eye ("rock bass") and—amazingly—a 13" rainbow trout! Rainbows aren't native to Virginia, they're all stocked. But I don't think Sinking Creek is on the stocking list, so I was very surprised to catch one.

Addendum, July 5:

Sinking Creek isn't on the DGIF stocking list, according to my contacts there. However, there used to be a pay-to-fish place in Newport, which once held a stocking license: it's possible the fish I caught was a survivor from that place. If so, it's been around for a while, which is unusual for a rainbow trout in Virginia. There is a bare possibility of an illegal private stocking effort, too. But that fish wasn't a "government" fish.


July 8-10, 2016

It has been a not-so-good week, beginning on Friday. That night someone came down our street and entered several cars, including mine and my wife's.  Four addresses on this street were hit; and several others in Blacksburg and, we were told, at least 10 in the county outside the own limits.

I had an old .38 caliber Colt in mine, and that was taken, along with some loose change; my wife's change box was taken too.  Needless to say I called the police as soon as I saw what had happened. They dusted for fingerprints on both cars, and swabbed for DNA.  The crooks were apparently wearing gloves—one of the cops remarked that "Nowadays everybody knows to wear gloves," but he also explained that gloves are usually carried in a pocket and will have DNA on them.

My wife had got into her car to go to a hairdresser's appointment at 9:00 but called  me before she left the driveway, asking if I had been into her car last night, because her change box was gone and the glove compartment open.  I immediately checked my car, and sure enough the glove box was open, too, as well as the cubby where the gun was stored.  If the thief had had the sense to close the glove box it would likely have been days before we realized what happened, but I suppose these people are in a hurry and they don't much care about such things. The cars that were entered—including ours—were all unlocked.  Nobody locks their car here: we've been 29 years on this street without any sort of incident.  We'll be locking them now, though it's akin to the old saying about locking the barn door after the horse is stolen.

I was told that if the thief tries to pawn the gun it will show up on a database and recovered; and the local pawnbrokers always photograph people who sell them guns.  I do know of at least one incident in which a gun was stolen and returned to its owner several years later after it turned up at a crime scene.  The thief may in time be caught one way or another.

Of course the gun may be sold on the black market, especially if the thief was a druggie or part of a gang.  Thinking is that this was either teens looking for opportunity, or drug addicts looking for cash.  My only real concern is that the gun might be used to hurt someone.  Having a gun in the car is perfectly legal, and I have committed no crime except perhaps that of being careless; but it doesn't sit well to think that it may be used illegally.  If it is recovered I can positively identify it, but I don't hold out much hope that it will be found any time soon, if at all.


On the 10th (Sunday) I decided to go see what I could do in Sinking Creek in the way of fishing. I stopped at the Super Value convenience store and bought a tub of nightcrawlers, headed to the spot where I caught that trout last week, and settled in.

In just half an hour I caught six fish, including another trout!

This was done using "vintage" fishing gear. The rod is very nearly an antique: a "True-Temper" steel rod that I got when my father in law died 17 years ago; it probably dates from the early 1950's, though it may well be older: These steel rods were patented by American Fork & Hoe, and the company was bought out by True Temper in 1930, but I'm sure it's not that old.

The reel is a South Bend "Spincast 66," of early 1960's date. It cost me all of $5 on E-Bay, as a replacement for an identical much-treasured reel from my boyhood. This stuff works just as well as it did 50 years ago, and I take a good deal of satisfaction in using old gear. It reaffirms my belief that the hype in the hook-and-bullet magazines is just there to sell products that nobody needs to catch fish or shoot deer. I've used this rig on the New River with equally satisfactory results.


July 15-16, 2016

My friend Betty has received a kill permit for up to 10 deer, and asked me to come out and shoot some for her freezer. I went out on the 15th for the evening sit, and saw zilch. There was not a deer to be seen despite piles of apples. This morning (the 16th) I rolled out of the house at 5:25 AM and arrived in her driveway at 6:05...and two deer, a doe and a buck, were standing there staring at me from maybe 35 yards away.

I carefully loaded the .308 and quietly opened the truck door, as the deer watched, fascinated. I then proceeded to shoot at the doe (bucks aren't legal on kill permits), effecting a clean...miss. Not a trace of anything that would indicate a hit. How I could have missed a standing deer at that range is beyond me, but perhaps I rushed things, perhaps I anticipated recoil and shot under her, yada, yada, yada. All excuses. A clean miss. No blood, no hair, nothing, despite careful searching after the deer took off.

Back to the truck, where I sat and read a Lindsey Davis novel and dozed a bit: than at 7:00, I looked up and lo, the buck had come back! He was standing not 25 yards from the truck, staring curiously at me through the open driver's-side window. I could almost have hit him with a rock, but by virtue of having antlers he was inviolable. A pretty 6-pointer, still in velvet. It may not have been the same deer at the 6:00 buck but I suspect it was. Well, it indicates that they aren't yet too spooked.

I left about 10:00 AM. You can't shoot on a kill permit on Sunday, so I'll go back Monday night and try lighting them up in the field. That would get me arrested in the hunting season but culling isn't hunting and anything goes. Once one of them gets shot the rest will wise up pretty quickly, so I need to kill a couple fairly soon to fill her freezer.


July 17, 2016

I didn't miss that doe, after all.

Just before 11:00 AM today, Betty called, to ask if the deer I'd shot at was "...a young doe." It was. And then she said, "She's lying in the field on the other side of the fence [around the house]."

I drove out to make the pick-up and disposal. She was perhaps 40-50 yards from the place where she'd been when I fired, stone dead and the scavengers had been at her: after 30 hours there wasn't anything that could be salvaged and she was pretty ripe.

I didn't do a post-mortem: she was far too repellent for that. But my external examination indicated that the bullet had hit her on the right flank about midway up, and exited on her left side high, just behind the shoulder: not high enough, alas, to have broken her spine and anchored her, but I suspect it must have cut her aorta so that she bled internally. I have a mental image that seems to indicate she may have been turning away to flee when I fired: but that may be wishful thinking on my part to excuse what turned out to be a gut shot. Had I hit her father back I'd have broken her hip and anchored her, but what it ended up being was a pseudo-"Texas heart shot." I winched her into the truck and drove her to a secluded corner of the farm and left her for the crows.

Here's the kicker: there was absolutely no blood whatever in evidence, anywhere. Not where she'd been shot, not along the path she took to escape, and not where she lay. Not a single drop. Not even any on the carcass. She was in waist-high grass, invisible from more than 5 feet away, 15 or so feet from where she'd leaped the fence. I walked that fence line three times, and must have passed within 15 feet of her right after the shot. I suspect she died within 30-60 seconds after being hit, but I'm mad at myself for not having done a circular search, which might well have revealed her to me.

I was using my Kimber .308 and Federal's ""Power Shock"" ammunition, 150 grain pointed soft points. I've used this stuff on several other kills over the past few years (this one was #6 for that rifle and ammunition) and I've had some suspicions that the bullet is a bit too tough for our local whitetails, which rarely run as much as 110 pounds. The bullets kill all right, but they don't leave much of an exit wound. Thinking back on last year's kill with it, and the two in 2014, none of those lost much blood; though in all cases they dropped in their tracks and it didn't matter.

I'm going to see if I can't find something with slightly "softer" bullets: Remington's Core-Lokt stuff has worked perfectly in my .30-06 and I'm sure they make 150-grain Core-Lockts for the .308. I'd like to find a round nose design. People sniff at round nose bullets but they're the "Old Reliables" on deer. The S&B 8x57JR ammunition I shoot in my drilling has a 196-grain RNSP that does what needs to be done, and I'll go back to that combination for the time being.

Well, the "mission" was to cull deer, so I guess I can say "Mission partly accomplished," but I wish I'd been able to get that doe into a freezer.


July 18, 2016

Wasn't able to go out yesterday—although we can now hunt on Sundays we can't cull on Sunday, for some bizarre bureaucratic reason—so instead I "pulled an all-nighter" as we used to say in college: at 1:30 AM on Monday morning (i.e., today) I drove out to see if any other deer were hanging around.

There were deer out there, all right: I lit them up with my "tactical" flashlight. But none of them were closer than 100+ yards. It was impossible to tell if they were does or bucks, and I certainly wasn't going to try to shoot one that far away at night. I sat in my truck for the next 4-1/2 hours, and left about 5:45.

This spotlighting business really is a two-person job. Given the sort of rifles I use, which lack the hideous "Picatinny rail" setup, I can't simultaneously hold the light and shoot. Hence unless my friend is up and about I'll confine my efforts to periods when it's light.


July 19, 2016

Not much going on. I went to Betty's to drop off some stuff, and thence to a convenience store to buy some bait. Drowned a dozen worms in Stoneroller Creek, where I caught one stoneroller, and 3-4 very small redeye. Nothing worth keeping. That was it.


July 21, 2016

Another fruitless wait at Betty's. Arrived about 5:30 and sat until 7:00. I was able to light up some deer in her neighbor's field, and upon leaving, two does nearly ran in front of the truck on the road, but that was it. I may have to change strategies: I think I'll sit in a different spot, halfway across her hayfield, watching the corner where I've been able to spotlight them. As hot as it's been and with the moon as it is, they seem to be moving around 6:30-7:00 AM, so I'll try to get there not earlier than 6:00 and see what happens.


July 23, 2016

Went to Betty's again, arriving just before 6:00 AM. Stayed till 8:00. I saw that nice buck again, but besides being exempt from a kill permit, he was easily 500 yards away on another property. Oh, well, you can't win them all.


July 31, 2016

I set out a couple of trail cameras at Betty's today, to time the movements of the deer through her yard. After having done that I drove down to where I'd left the carcass of the doe I shot and lost on the 16th and retrieved on the 17th.

The scavengers had been remarkably effective in the two weeks she'd been dead: the only bit I found was the left half of the pelvic girdle. There was absolutely nothing else left. No hair, not another bone of any kind. There's no question this was the deer I shot: a couple of buzzard feathers were lying in the same spot. It's remarkable how quickly a carcass can vanish when left in the open, but the really unusual aspect is that no other bones, not even the skull, were in the vicinity. Something dragged them away, no doubt.

Some Tibetan religious sects practice "sky burial," in which a (human) corpse is left in the open to be eaten by scavengers, especially birds. The dead body is an empty vessel because the soul has left it; it's considered a generous act to return the no-longer-needed flesh to the natural world by sustaining the life of other beings. My lost doe is now, I suppose, part of the flesh of vultures and crows and other scavenging creatures: in nature nothing is really wasted in a sense.


August 6, 2016: Where have all the deer gone?

I have been out to Betty's a couple of times in the past week or so, though the @##$@%$#@^@ rain has interfered with most days. The game cameras are seeing nothing but cars going in and out of her driveway and waving grass. Nor have I seen any deer.

Today I went down to the spot where I ditched the doe, in the far back corner of her property. I was told, "That's where they come through, to bed down," and in truth this seemed very reasonable. It's quite an isolated location, there's cover and water nearby, and if I were a deer I'd find it an attractive place to spend the day.

I got on my stand about 5:40 AM, and stayed until almost 8:00. Nothing, barring Betty's horse and his two companion sheep. The place was as empty of deer as a Wal-Mart parking lot (well, come to think of it, in this area it's not unheard of to see one in a Wal-Mart parking lot...). I pulled the cameras again, and there was nothing on either of them.

I'm beginning to wonder if maybe they are, after all, smart enough to know what happened on July 16th and are avoiding the place as a result.


August 4, 2016: Lucy the Serial Killer

It's been raining for the past week, and today it has been coming down intermittently.  My Border Collie Lucy has been very unhappy at being confined inside most of the time. I did throw the Frisbee for her earlier, the very first "Rain Frisbee" game I can recall.

When I sit at my desk in the basement on days like this, periodically I get up and let her out to blow off steam. She likes to watch through the patio door in case a squirrel—squirrels being The Enemy—makes a raid on the bird feeder.  The sight of one of The Enemy sends her into a high state of alert: she sits up and stares intently at the feeder.   I usually let her out and she then chases the Hated Rodent up a tree or onto the deck.

So it was today. Although I didn't see anything in the bird feeder, she was on "alert," so I opened the door.  Usually after chasing off a squirrel she returns to her guard post within a minute but this time she was dilatory, so I went and looked.  She was in the yard, nosing "something" in the grass.

Sure enough, she'd nailed a squirrel.  I went and took it from her—Tycho would NEVER have let me do that, he'd have defended his kill to my last breath—and found it was a youngish female, one I'd seen around for a while (after seeing the same squirrels day after day you get to the point where you can tell them apart individually).

I brought the still-warm body inside, and cleaned it in the laundry sink.  It's her kill, so I'll cook it for her, and she can have it for dinner.  That's only fair, I think. It was externally in good shape but inside...well, she didn't use the classic neck-snap method.  She crushed its rib cage and the internal organs of the chest.  Quite a mess, actually.  I had the dickens of a time skinning it, just about tearing it in two.  Squirrels are a bitch to skin anyway, and the cracked ribs and other bits of bone didn't help.

This is the third squirrel we know she's killed, and perhaps there are some she's got when we weren't here. She'll eat them if she can; I once found her with half a squirrel in the yard, flipping it around like a rope toy. In addition to the squirrels in recent months she's killed two groundhogs, a youngster and a mature one, and both on the same day!  I don't know if she's ever got a rabbit, though Tehya the Lab has done of those.  Later in the afternoon the dogs had two more Rain Frisbee games, so Lucy had a strenuous day.

She's bidding fair to pass Tycho's record on groundhogs (3) and already has beaten him on squirrels.  Poor old Tucker, who died in 2000, had a lifelong ambition to kill a squirrel but he never managed it. Now that Lucy has obviously figured out how it needs to be done, our local birdseed pirates are in big trouble.

Addendum: August 7, 2016

The squirrel was cooked, and she had half the meat for dinner last night. Smacked her lips in appreciation and no doubt she has a sense of accomplishment.


Saturday, September 3, 2016: Opening Day, at last!

I went out at Oh-Dark-Thirty to take advantage of my friend Betty's kill permit, hoping to pop a doe for her freezer, then later went for squirrels at two spots, the Ravine of Death and the Valley of a Thousand Rodents.  I had my usual Opening Day luck—that is to say, none at all—but it was a good start to the season anyway.

I saw two does on the road out to Betty's.  I have found that when I see deer driving out, the day is going to be a bust, and so it proved.  I did see deer at her place, a Mama doe and her fawn: both entirely legal, except for the minor issue of them being on her neighbor's lawn and not on her property, damn it.

The two were browsing along and looked like were going to come down the hill and over the fence, to get at her water point.  Betty has sheep on her property, the flock being commanded by an imperious llama.  The llama led his troops up to the water point just as the two deer were contemplating a hop over the fence.  They changed their mind—nobody would mess with that llama, who looks like Pope Leo XIII and has roughly the same regard for his position as head of The Flock—and wandered off into the woods.  I moved to another spot where if they crossed the driveway, I'd have a shot at them but it was no dice, they never showed up.

By then it was about 7:45 and the rodents were waiting, so I cased the .308, and headed for the Ravine of Death about 5 miles away.  When I got there I was a bit distressed to see someone else in possession of my favorite parking spot at the edge of the ROD.  This hasn't happened before, but I do know I'm not the only person to hunt that property.

It was one of Harry's neighbors, who had with him his two sons, aged 10 and 12.  They were of course hunting squirrels.  The guy was very genial and I have to say he was doing everything (with one exception) the way I'd have done it.  His kids were old enough to be responsible, and they both had 20 gauge shotguns, NOT the execrable .410's that people foist on too many kids.  I chatted with them a while, then moved down into the ROD to await developments.

I was using a Pedersoli 20-gauge muzzle-loading double that I'd bought last year after a friend tipped me off to it being on sale at the Kittery Trading Post.  It's a lovely gun, about 7/8 the size of my 12 gauge Pedersoli; very light, well balanced, and nice to handle.  I had some 20 gauge components at home, stuff I'd had in the cabinet since the days when I reloaded shotshells with paper hulls, which gives some idea of how old they were.  I found to my distress that the nitro card over-powder wads and the cushion wads were a shade too small, and I was able to seat them with the ramrod with no real effort, but the over shot cards were fine. I persevered, nothing to be done at that point. I've since ordered proper wads from a company that supplies muzzle-loading hunters' needs.

Eventually a squirrel showed up and I tried a shot with the right barrel: but I heard CLONK! not BANG! when I pulled the trigger. The right nipple, I found out later, was sized to fit a #10 cap, not the #11's I had; oddly enough the left barrel nipple was OK with a #11.  I suppose at some time in the gun's history a previous owner had replaced the nipples.  Nipple and cap sizes are notoriously inconsistent in muzzle-loading guns, too.  In any event, when I leaned the gun against my sitting tree, the cap fell off the right nipple.  After realizing what had happened, I tried the left barrel, but missed. Alas, a miss isn't unusual in the early season: leaves can soak up an amazing proportion of a one-ounce charge of #6's.

In the meantime, I'd heard shots from up the hill.  Turned out the two kids had killed three grey squirrels between them.  As I left I got to talking with Dad again.  He was justifiably proud of the boys' kills, but in the course of the conversation he revealed that both of them, in addition to their 870 Youth Model shotguns, had their own deer rifles, and they were...(shudder)...in .243.  I forbore to expound of the inadvisability of the .243 as a beginner's gun.

They then left to go shoot doves (I wish I had a place to do that) and I left to go to the VOATR:  I needed to get a permission slip signed for Sunday hunting and to blood that Pedersoli if I could. It turned out I couldn't.  I did see a couple of squirrels, always well out of range.  And after having dragged my aging carcass out of bed at 4:00 AM, I needed to get home.

On the way out, I almost got a deer after all.  A huge buck, I think  an 8-pointer, ran right out in front of my truck.  That was deer sighting #5 for the day, but if I'd hit him it would not have been a pleasant experience for either of us.

However, it was a perfect day to be in the woods.  The temperature was very mild, in the mid 70's; no real wind except the occasional light zephyr now and then, a lot of sunshine, and no insects.  Couldn't have asked for a better start to the 2016 season.

September 6, 2016

Went to the ROD today: nothing happening. I brought the Roux underlever drilling and sat under various trees for a few hours. Saw two squirrels playing the chase game, well out of range, and they did the vanishing Squirrel Trick when I tried to get closer. They were fox squirrels, and I have decided not to shoot any more of those, anyway.

A beautiful day, very comfortable and with only light breezes. About 1:30 the wind started picking up and I went home.


September 18, 2016

Another beautiful but nothing-doing half day at the VOATR. I went out to check the trail camera I'd left there last week. Something had tripped it, but God alone knows what. Maybe waving grass, because there was nothing to see in most of the images. One image showed what might have been a deer, but might equally have been a dog: it was so close all I saw was the wisp of something that could with a little imagination have been a tail. I repositioned it and am hoping for more information next week. After a couple of hours I punted and came back, because I had a social commitment that evening.


October 2, 2016

No hunting this weekend, but some range time. My cousin Steven came down, with his wife; and their son matt who graduated from VT last year came up from his job in NC to meet them. On saturday Steven, Matt and I went to the range to do some plinking. I brought along my .54 T/C flintlock, as it had had some work done and I wanted to check the sights.

Matt knows zilch about guns but he's an engineer and naturally interested in machinery of any kind. I showed him how the rifle was loaded, and encouraged him to take a shot with it, which he did with alacrity. You can see it happen by clicking here.

Muzzle loader season begins on November 5th. The rifle is dead on, the load was 83 grains of FFg and a patched round ball. Bambi has good reason to be worried.


October 9, 2016: Lana Goes Fishing

I have an 8-year-old quasi-hemi-demi granddaughter, who is the child of one of my former graduate students. She once asked me to take her fishing, and I promised to do so.  Today I did.

I'd bought her a, but a "real" one, not one of the kid's toys with a cartoon character. It's a very short rod (under 3') designed for close confines on a stream. It has a nice little Zebco closed-face spinning reel; the price was the same as a "character" outfit and I think she'll use this one for as long as she fishes. She might in time outgrow a cartoon one, but this rod (I hope) will serve her for years to come. I bought a small tackle box and put in some #10 hooks, a few weights, and a swivel or two and we were ready. I took her to the covered bridge in Newport. This is a lovely spot about 10 miles from here, where the bridge spans Sinking Creek.  I've caught fish there, mostly red-eyes, but also several rainbow trout.

There is no God but Live Bait, and Nightcrawler is His Prophet: we used worms, needless to say.  Lana wouldn't touch a worm, but some day she'll get used to the idea. Sure enough, almost on the first cast, we caught a 12" rainbow!

It happened to be the day of a centennial celebration of the bridge, which was built in 1916, and there was a small festival in progress when we arrived.  That was an unexpected bonus.  A lovely little girl about 10 years old immediately struck up a conversation with Lana, and the two of them had a grand time taking turns with the short rod.  In addition to the trout, a tiny creek chub was hooked, but he went back in the water.

She needs to practice her casting, but once she gets that down, she's good to go.  Next time I'll take her to a local pond where she can fish with a bobber.  Couldn't use one today, the water was too fast. All in all, a very good afternoon, and I hope she retains her interest.


October 11, 2016: First Kill with the Pedersoli 20 Gauge Double

A few months ago, a friend alerted me to the presence of a 20-gauge Pedersoli BP shotgun on sale at the Kittery Trading Post.  Now, I'm normally Mr Sales Resistance, but like any man, I have my weaknesses.  Among these are tiny brunettes and 20-gauge shotguns.  I have to eschew pursuing the former, but that dainty little Pedersoli spoke to me...and I bought it, at a very reasonable price. Since it is legally an "antique" under the never-sufficiently-to-be-cursed Gun Control Act of 1968, KTP sent it straight to me, no dealer involvement at all.

I had a lot of 20 gauge components on hand, dating back 50 years or so, to the days when I used a Lee Loader to load shotshells with paper hulls. When the gun came I tried to use these up, but I had some problems. They didn't fit. They were far too loose in the bore to give a decent gas seal. Some phone time with Track of the Wolf turned up the information that "early" Pedersoli muzzle-loading shotguns are, like the originals, only nominally a specific gauge. What I had was not truly a 20 gauge, it was a 19 gauge gun!

My old wads were useless in it because they were designed to fit into a shotshell, not an oversized shotgun bore. I then ordered some Circle Fly wads allegedly for 20 gauge BP shotguns. Circle Fly's stuff is very high quality, but when these came...they wouldn't fit either! Like the old wads, they were too loose for a decent gas seal.  There was only one thing to do: I bit the bullet (ha, ha) and bought some 19 gauge Circle Fly wads.

So I was left with several hundred too-small wads. What do do? Simple: since these were really intended for use in self-contained shotshells, I ordered some new Cheddite primed 20 gauge hulls from Ballistic Products. I'd not have bothered had they been conventional plastic shells, but those Cheddite hulls are made of paper. I much prefer paper hulls, mostly out of nostalgia. I'll load them with black powder (actually Hodgdon 777) and use my undersized wads in them. You know you're nuts when you justify buying new components to fit the old components you already have, but I don't need much justification for doing things like that. 

But I digress.

Now that I had wads that would work in my gun I hied myself out to the Ravine of Death.  Our local outdoors writer, Saint Bill Cochran, had predicted in a recent column that thanks to an abundant acorn crop this year, squirrels would be "active between 1 and 4 PM," and Saint Bill knows whereof he speaks.  I arrived at the ROD around 3:00 PM and not 5 minutes later a nice fat fox squirrel stepped up, volunteering to be shot.

He was mooching around in some leaf litter about 40 yards from where I'd parked my truck.  He didn't seem to be alarmed at my appearance, so I walked over towards him very quietly, not really "stalking," just ambling through the woods with a don't-mind-me-I'm-just-out-to-enjoy-the-beautiful-day look on my face and the gun under my arm.

I momentarily lost sight of him, but for once I wasn't the victim of The Vanishing Squirrel Trick. As I approached he scampered up onto a log, where he stopped and looked me straight in the eye. He must have been very naive: I doubt he'd seen many humans and no doubt was wondering what I was. As I got within 10 yards I gave him the left barrel, and that was that: he was dead when he hit the ground 2 feet below. It was simple murder, but it happened so fast he still doesn't know he's dead. He was a fat and sassy male in "full breeding readiness," if you know what I mean.  A veritable Ron Jeremy of squirrels, and I'm sure many lady squirrels will mourn his passing.

I was using 55 grains of 777 FFg, and an ounce of #6 shot.  That's basically a 2 Dram-Equivalent load. I'm always amazed at how few shot actually hit an animal, even at short range: there are roughly 225 pellets in an ounce of #6's, but maybe 12-15 actually hit him, even at the 10 yard distance of this kill.

An explanation a friend provided on this question was that the shot string isn't a flat disk, it's an elongated "cloud": as the first few shot in the string hit, their impact caused the squirrel to turn away to is left. The result was that some dozen or so of them became lodged under the skin on his back, and his right foreleg was pretty well shattered. Milliseconds later, he was well into the turn so the rest of the cloud simply went right past or over him. He was already knocked off his perch and headed for the ground by the time the last of the shot string reached him.

He died from a few pellets in his head, actually. I saw a couple of drops of blood there. This confirms an observation I've made many times, and have (almost) always applied when I'm deciding when to shoot. If you can't see the head, don't fire: pellets in the brain do the actual killing.  

He was stone dead when I got to the log 15 seconds after firing. He was lying on the ground, a beautiful henna-colored beast with a white nose and tail better than a foot long. It was almost a shame to kill him.  If I didn't already have three fox squirrels in my taxidermy collection I'd have had him mounted for display.

I took him home whole so I could weigh him: he checked in at 2 pounds!  I had a devil of a time skinning him, in part because by then he'd been dead a couple of hours.  As is true of cats, there's more than one way to skin a squirrel, but my usual procedure is to cut off the tail, head, and feet, then slit the hide across the back, and pull in two directions. 

I have never been able to master the trick of making cuts under the tail, and down the hind legs, then standing on the tail and yanking on the feet.  I know people who can do this, and would love to master the method, because it's very fast, but I always rip the squirrel in half when I try it. By the time I started to skin him at home, the skin was so hard to pull off I ended up having to use Vise-Grips to grab it tightly enough. There's a lesson in here somewhere, I suppose, but I don't like the idea of skinning in the woods.

I would much rather have killed a grey squirrel, but lately all I see in the woods are fox squirrels.  I'm not really sure why this is the case, but it's true in all the places I hunt.  The greys seem to prefer the VT campus and my bird feeder.  I used to see and kill mostly greys in the woods but over the past few years the ratio of fox squirrels to greys has been increasing noticeably. I wrote to the DGIF small game coordinator to ask his opinion on this phenomenon but have yet to hear back.

It was a perfect Autumn day, and I was pleased to see that there's a beautiful acorn crop this year.  I saw any number on the ground, and lots of cuttings.  Last year we had virtually no acorns at all, but we're getting a bumper crop this time.  White oaks and red oaks, and the ROD has some hickory nuts as well.  Going to be a good season to be in the woods come deer time, which starts November 5th.


October 15, 2016

A slow day but a worthwhile one. I first went to my friend Betty's house to borrow her range: the club range I usually use is temporarily cut off from the world by a bridge rebuilding project. I needed to sight in a Remington Nylon 66, equipped with a period-correct Weaver B-4 scope sight. That done, I hied myself to a bait shop about 4 miles away, and bought some worms, as I thought I might go fishing. On the way out I saw a couple of cute twin fawns in her driveway, deer so small that even I would pass them up in the season. They weighed perhaps 75 pounds each. They had no spots, and probably dropped early this Spring.

But instead of going fishing I called someone I'd been dealing with on Armslist.com. That's not what I would call the best gun-sale website in the world, but occasionally they have listings of interest to me. This guy had listed a never-fired CVA in-line rifle in .54 caliber. These days, .54's are thin on the ground and so far as I know, nobody makes them in .54 any more, certainly not an in-line. Everything is a .50.

I already have a .50 CVA in-line , which I bought dirt cheap and have never fired, and for which I have mostly mild disdain. But a .54 is another kettle of fish: I have several T/C sidelock .54's and I'm committed to that caliber, which hits like Thor's Hammer and is suited to much larger animals than out local whitetails.

So instead I drove to Salem where I met the seller. Sure enough, the gun was in like new condition, it had open sights and a set of scope rings, and the price was ridiculously low. We did the deal in a parking lot next to a La Quinta hotel: there was nothing the least bit illegal, but it's just as well these days not to be handling rifles in "public," as there are many, many ignorant people who'll call the police if they see you.

This rifle uses #11 caps, but lo and behold, the .50 caliber rifle contains all the necessary parts to convert it to #209 primer ignition, which I'll certainly do. I put a little Bushnell scope on it, and once I get the special tool I need to get the nipple and the breech plug out, it will go to the range for sighting in. Likely won't get used this year, as my T/C guns are ready, but maybe next year.

I never did get to fish. I came home and Mrs NRVO set me to work cleaning windows.


October 17, 2016: Of Fox Squirrels

I've mentioned from time to time that over the past few years I'm seeing (and killing) far more fox squirrels than I used to.  In years past a fox squirrel was a bit of a rarity, and the grey squirrels were my usual bag.  I write the following note to Marc Puckett, who is the Small Game Coordinator for the DGIF:

********************

I've hunted in the NRV for nearly 30 years.  Until the past 5-6 years, when I took a squirrel it was almost invariably a grey squirrel; but in recent seasons I've noticed a much greater proportion of fox squirrels, not only in my game bag but in the woods in general.

My experience has shown me that the fox squirrels prefer to be near water (I have killed many of them on the Little River from a boat) and that the run-of-the-upland-woodlot beast is a grey squirrel.  I hunt in southern Montgomery and in Giles Counties, and in both locations, however, the past few years I've seen and killed far more fox squirrels.

What accounts for this?  Are the two populations undergoing some sort of cyclic variation, or is there something else at work?  Even road kills seem to be increasingly of fox squirrels these days.  Back in the dim past when I took ecology as an undergraduate I was taught that two competing species can't occupy the same "niche" but given that I'm now seeing and killing fox squirrels where I used to see and kill grey squirrels exclusively, I'm wondering is this truism is, in fact, true.

Any guidance and enlightenment you can provide will be very welcomed, and thanks in advance.

Here's the reply I got today:

I grew up in Giles County, and my folks still live there, I also hunted a great deal in Montgomery and Pulaski Counties - all three had good numbers of fox squirrels. I copied Jay Howell who coordinates our rural mail carrier survey where we differentiate between fox and grey squirrels. He may be able to share some real numbers with us. My take is that of an observing biologist. I know the habits of fox squirrels differ somewhat from greys - fox squirrels prefer open woods near agricultural areas - in fact they are often found around farm fields, especially on dairy farms, but they do use river corridors often.

I used to hunt squirrels a great deal, and the further back into remote forests you hunted the fewer fox squirrels you'd see. I occasionally hunted wilderness areas for deer to hike in and get away from crowds and I never saw fox squirrels back in those remote forests, but greys were numerous. Fox squirrels spend more time on the ground than greys, seem to like walnut better than greys, and often use grazed woodlands. I think the soils are richer in river bottoms and tend to produce the foods the fox squirrels like best. So I think what you are seeing is just habitat use differences over time and where you are hunting the fox squirrels have become more numerous as the habitat changes to favor them. I think as the New River Valley over time has gotten "tamer"  so to speak, the habitat favors fox squirrels more. It is nice to hear they are still doing so well there.

With reference to the niche - you are correct - two species cannot occupy the exact niche very long, but I think the niche of the grey and fox squirrel differs enough to allow them to co-exist - when habitat conditions favor one species over another, you start to see more of that species, but habitat changes over time, so it can swing back the other way. And in the transition zones you see both species.

K. Marc Puckett
VDGIF Small Game Project Leader
Certified Wildlife Biologist 

********************

I haven't noticed any real changes in the environment where I hunt, but then, I'm not a squirrel and probably not picking up the cues.


October 21-26, 2016

We have some old friends who now live in Nashville come through on their way to Washington, and spend a couple of nights with us. Dave is a fanatical fisherman, who never goes anywhere without his tackle; but I think I pushed the limits of his "fishing envelope" last weekend.

Saturday the 22nd, the four of us went to Floyd for the day, and after returning to Blacksburg I suggested dave and I go to the covered bridge site in Giles County to do some fishing. It was cold on Saturday but we went anyway. We managed about an hour or so, and in that period dave caught a nice rainbow trout, but I think he was glad to get out of the wind! First time in nearly 50 years of fishing with him that I've known him to suggest that maybe it was time to go home. Well, at least he wasn't skunked.

On the Sunday they left (the 23rd) I went to the ROD and had no interaction with furry denizens of the woodlands at all, but the weather had improved to the point where it was pleasant to sit in the woods.

Yesterday, the 25th, I went to the ROD again. This time I brought a nifty Nylon 66 autoloader, topped with a vintage Weaver B-4 scope. I timed my arrival to get there about 2:00 PM, again relying on the predictions of Saint Bill Cochran. Sure enough, about 2:30 the squirrels began to appear, and this time they were grey squirrels.

One was and remained out of my comfortable range, so I left him alone. About 3:00 I moved from my original stand at the Three Trees to a spot I call The Throne. Not long after another squirrel showed up, again a grey.

He was hopping around and eventually sat on a log about 25 yards away. I fired, and he came off the log, apparently flopping around in the leaves; but then after a few seconds he got up and started pell-mell for the woods. He was moving as fast as he could, and didn't appear to have been hit, but that bullet must have parted his hair. I think he was so startled by it he just fell off the log and thrashed around in surprise. But he clearly was running as fast as he could, and while I tried to follow him up, he never gave me a second chance.

I am not satisfied with the shooting I did with that Nylon 66. My eyes are such that I need more magnification than 4x; and the scope (which is easily 50+ years old) is getting foggy. Couple that with the very fine cross hair and I can make excuses for the miss on that squirrel. I have ordered a new scope, a Weaver K6 Classic, and we'll see if that helps. It's got to be clearer than the old B-4, and it has the "duplex" cross hair typically used today. I used to think the duplex cross hair was a solution in search of a problem, but now I'm not so sure. It may well be a better system; certainly it's easier to make out than the older style. The new scope will go on the Nylon 66; if I'd been using it last weekend I might have had a better view of that squirrel, and made the shot.

The day wasn't wasted. I did see a chipmunk, a little rascal who popped up out of the woodpile in front of the Three Trees and cheeped at me. That's the first chipmunk I've seen in those woods in several seasons, actually. I think perhaps the population has been in decline due to the bad acorn crops of the past couple of years, but whatever the reason for the dearth of these little guys, I was pleased to see one again. Chipmunks are astonishingly cute, totally harmless, and intensely amusing animals. Then, about 3:40 a big red-tailed hawk came through the woods, squealing and sputtering; seeing a hawk is always a positive thing. The only thing better than a hawk is an owl.

On the way home I stopped at Stoneroller Creek to wet a line. It was a good decision. I'd had some worms left over from the abortive trip to the covered bridge, and in an hour's time I caught two very decent red-eye (rock bass), one 8" and one 9" long. After that, a third and very small red-eye and a creek chub. Everyone went back into the water, to be caught again someday. I fished until I was out of bait and then headed home.


November 1, 2016

A pleasant and productive couple of hours at the VOATR today.

I had some academic duties to fulfill, and after spending the morning at that, amazingly enough, Mrs NRVO made no objection to my doing Stupid Man Stuff involving firearms and inoffensive woodland creatures that never did me any harm; so I took my little Remington Nylon 66 rifle out to the VOATR, arriving on my chosen stand at The Beech Tree about 1:50 PM.

The squirrels have been active around mid-day recently, and I confidently awaited the arrival of one, reading a so-so mystery novel of the 1930's (one of the "Inspector Richardson" series by Sir Basil Thomson, more or less the founder of the genre of police procedurals).

It was very dry today and I knew I'd hear a squirrel before seeing it, and lo, about 3:40, a noise behind me and to my left alerted me that one was mooching around. I had made a vow not to kill any more fox squirrels, but this was a grey squirrel, so fair game.

He ran up a tree and I steadied the crosshairs on him. The scope is an elderly Weaver B-4, "period correct" for that rifle, and I'm not entirely satisfied with it. Last week's miss (I think it was a miss) had shaken my confidence. But it was worth a try. A couple of test shots had shown me the bullets were striking high at 35 yards. This critter was closer than that so I held under him and fired.

Sure enough, he came off the tree and hit the ground, flopped a bit, and lay still. I got up to retrieve him and give him a finishing shot if needed; but damned if he didn't get up and run!

He ran to my left and I popped a Hail-Mary round at him as he streaked along the ground, which was of course a total miss. He disappeared behind a smallish tree. I'd have thought he would keep going, but no: he did The Vanishing Squirrel Trick, or so he thought. It was obvious he was hard hit and I was determined not to lose him if I could avoid doing so.

The tree behind which he'd disappeared had a long, narrow cavity in the trunk; and sure enough, I could see the very tip of his tail, maybe an inch of bushyness, at the top of the crevice. Had he gone a couple of inches higher I'd have been unable to spot him; but probably he had reached the top of the hollow part and so he couldn't.

It was his undoing. I stuck the barrel of the rifle into the crevice, pointed it vertically, and fired. That shot couldn't possibly have missed him, but he required yet another bullet to dislodge him. He fell to the bottom of the crevice, and that was that.

When I skinned him, it was clear what had happened. The first shot had broken his left hind leg, and knocked him off his perch, stunned. Even with a broken leg he was able to run, so well that I didn't realize he had an injury.

The second bullet was a "Texas Heart Shot," or perhaps that was the third; no way to tell. But one of the two shots in the tree cavity hit him in the brain and put him out. In any event, he is now in the refrigerator waiting to become the main ingredient in a squirrel pie.

I left about 4:30. My dogs are accustomed to a 5:00 PM dinner time and I didn't want to be too late. Lucy the Border Collie, to whom squirrels are The Enemy, often gets a bit to nibble on when I'm cleaning one, but I'd gutted this boy in the woods, so I gave her the tail instead. She ate it, with considerable satisfaction.


November 5, 2016: A Disappointing Opening Day

Well, today was Opening Day of the black powder season, so I observed the High Holy Day in my usual fashion, by not killing a deer.

Last night we had a power failure that lasted 7 hours. A utility pole on the street had somehow caught fire (God alone knows how that can happen) and power was out when I came home from Roanoke.  The outage lasted till 9:07 PM, by which time I was in bed, because I got up at 4:00 AM today: it's a 45 minute drive to Sunrise Farm and I needed to be there well in advance of shooting light.  So I prepped my stuff by flashlight, which is somewhat sub-optimal when you're juggling explosives, even in small quantities.

I arose (with a groan) at 4:00, let the dogs out to annoy the neighbors, perked the coffee, and hit the road by 5:00.  Stopped at Bojangles' for a highly illicit pair of their excellent country ham biscuits, and headed for the woods.

I arrived a few minutes before 6:00, and sat down.  I was at the eastern end of the Ravine of Death, though this time I opted to sit on the north side, rather than down in the ROD.  I will henceforth refer to this location as "Squirrel Ridge," because it appeared that the entire membership of the Montgomery County Arboreal Rodent Association had arrived for their annual convention. 

There were dozens of grey and fox squirrels, far too many to count, present beginning at daybreak and lasting until dusk.  They were everywhere, in the trees, hopping along the ground, popping in and out of the pile of wood scraps Harry has built, and playing grab-ass in the leaf litter.  It went on all day without a break.  There must be a change in the weather coming, and somehow they know it: they were digging up and burying stuff and so forth.  The fox squirrels were beefy bruisers, and as is true of this species in this area, there were several color variants.  Mostly deep brown with buff undersides, some with a blackish cast to their fur, a number of henna-colored beasts, and one or two with white noses so bright a literate squirrel could read a book by the light they gave off.  I really like fox squirrels and have resolved not to kill any more.

The grey squirrels were just grey squirrels, like you see in the parks and on my bird feeders.  I got the impression the majority of these were young-of-the year, because most of them were fairly small.  We've had a decent acorn crop and in the past year greys have been somewhat scarce in those woods, but perhaps now the mast is better they're re-populating.

I sat on Squirrel Ridge until about 10:30, and then went to the truck to warm up and get in a nap.  It wasn't that cold: maybe high 30's when I arrived, and well into the low 50's by 10:30, but in the first part of the season I seem to be much more sensitive to cold than later, when I've become acclimated.  I started hearing a few desultory shots around me beginning at 8:00 and ending by 8:30; after that, nothing till near dusk.

At noon I went to another spot on the south rim of the ROD and sat there until I left at 6:00.  By then the rodents were having a celebratory parade of some kind, and I watched the festivities.  At 6:03 I heard a noise to my left and looked..and a big, plump, red fox was running through the leaves towards me.  He swerved away, and that was the last bit of excitement for the day. 

I like foxes.  They are black-hearted scoundrels, chicken thieves, and sly, deceptive creatures who would fit in very well in the corporate culture of the Clinton Foundation; but they're beautiful. Very dainty and elegant. Enough so that I overlook their character flaws.

As I said, it wasn't that cold, but I'd bought and brought along a pair of those fancy electric insoles.  My feet are ALWAYS cold on a stand, and nothing has helped me with this issue.  I decided to give these electric things a try (I learned the hard way that electric socks are worthless).  The good side is that they fit into my boots perfectly.  The bad side is that they didn't heat the boots worth a damn.  If there was any heat at all emanating from them, it was so little that I couldn't detect it.  $125 thrown away.  I'm accustomed to the idea that nothing lives up to its hype, but I am more than ordinarily disappointed in these things.

I didn't see a single deer.  In the past three years or so I have killed five in this location (last year I killed two) and have missed at least as many; and I see them almost every time I go out.  They're certainly moving around: I've been seeing road kills.  But not a one came by today.  The peak of the rut hasn't hit yet (it's usually mid November) but they're supposed to be in "seeking" mode now.  Maybe so, but they were seeking somewhere where I wasn't.


November 12, 2016: A Two-Fer

It has been one hell of a day. Things started at 4:00 AM, when I dragged my aging carcass out of bed. Today was an "either sex" day in Giles County for the early black powder season. In Giles County, does are legal only on the second Saturday of the black powder season, and I decided I'd hunt the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents in the morning, and if there was nothing doing, move to the Ravine Of Death at Sunrise farm (35 miles away, in southern Montgomery County) for the afternoon sit. After last week's skunking I was determined to avoid having it happen again. I left the house at 5:15 and was on my stand by 6:00. Legal shooting time began at 6:40 or so.

Not much happened, which is something I've come to expect (and accept). Well, I did actually see two deer, but they were well beyond 80 yards from me, and in thick cover. I had no shot.  I had a flock of about 8 turkeys wander through, with the determined look of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, a patriarchal old tom in the lead.  No chance there, either.

At 11:00 I quit, and drove to the ROD, where any deer is legal all season long. As a matter of policy I refuse to hunt in places or at times when I can't shoot the first legal deer that comes by.

I got to the ROD at noon, had a quick bite to eat, and settled into a stand on the north flat at the eastern end, a spot I call "The Throne." It's a commanding position that allows me to watch a fair bit of ground.  I was on the stand about 1:00 and at 3:30, I spied a deer walking towards me.  It looked like a small buck, but no matter: he was legal, so he was—or so I thought—toast.

I let him get within 35 yards and then I fired, and missed him.  He was facing me, and I think the bullet passed over him, but I'm not sure exactly what happened.  I definitely rushed the shot; normally I'm not prone to buck fever but this time I was getting a little edgy, which perhaps contributed to the bad marksmanship.  In any event, he scampered away, apparently unhurt.  I found no sign whatever of a hit: no hair, no blood, nothing. My feelings were hurt but the deer wasn't.

So I moved again.  At the west end of the ROD, several hundred yards from the Throne, there's a thick brushy area that I'm sure is a bedding ground.  In the mornings the deer drift into the ROD from the eastern end, and in the afternoon they seem to come in from the west, leaving the brush and headed to feeding sites in farm fields across the road.

Then at 4:20 I heard a very, very slight noise to my left, and sure enough, there was a deer standing broadside, looking at me from no more than 25 yards away. He was standing facing left to right. 

I fired and this time I didn't miss, though at first I wondered if perhaps I had. That deer had run off, too.  But even I'm not a bad enough shot to miss a standing deer at that range, so I went in search of evidence of a hit. I walked over to where he'd been and started a circling search pattern. Sure enough, I found some blood, 10-15 yards away.  I followed the trail, and eventually found him: he'd run about 100 yards and dropped. 

That really surprised me: nobody survives a hit from my T/C .54, in my experience, period. Of all the deer I've shot with it (about 15 to date) none has ever moved more than maybe 10 feet. Mostly they just drop in their tracks. But this one had had enough stamina to run, and damned if he didn't run down a steep hill, into even thicker cover, over ground strewn with fallen trees and branches. 

As I discovered when I gutted him, it was a double lung shot: the heart was intact and the hit low enough to have missed the spine. With such a shot external bleeding doesn't start until the chest cavity is filled up to the level of the holes, so the blood trail didn't start for 10-15 yards or so. There are always two holes with the .54, because the ball goes through all the way, every time. As Elmer Keith remarked, "One hole lets the air in, the other lets the blood out." In this case, both holes were letting the blood out, once the chest had filled up. 

He was a spike buck, with barely two inches of antler showing above the hair.  But he was the heaviest spike buck I've ever encountered, to judge by the effort it took to get him up the hill.  After gutting him, and finally getting him up, it was well into dusk, and I hoofed back to the truck to drive in for the recovery.


The picture above shows the exit wound and the blood on his fur. His teensy little antlers are barely visible, but the left one, all 2" of it, can be made out. The rifle is my T/C New Englander, always the Leading Lady of the early BP season. I think this is the 15th deer that rifle has taken, every one of them a one-shot kill. The blood trail was very easy to follow, because once he started bleeding out, he was spraying it with each breath and each step he took. I'll give him his due: he was dead on his feet from the moment the ball hit him, but he died gamely.

I should perhaps have dragged him a bit farther once I had him on level ground, but it was a long way to the truck, and I didn't fancy getting a heart attack doing so. I opted to drive as close as I could get.  In doing this I dinged up the truck pretty badly, but hell, that's what a truck is for.  Finally, after at least an hour of effort, I got him winched into the bed and started to fight my way out in the dark.

A couple of local guys who'd heard the shot and who'd seen my headlights, came and assisted by helping me thread the truck through the messy thicket I'd managed to penetrate, doing even more damage on the extraction. 

I now need TWO power wing mirrors: both of them got torn off by trees, one on the way in and the second on the way out.  It's a situation in which an ATV would have been useful, but I can repair all the damage for far less than one of those costs!

Finally, about 6:30, I was on my way home, with the two outside mirrors tossed into the bed.  As I was driving along Graysontown Road, I had a car approaching me; as it came abreast, WHAM! there was an impact. 

"Oh, shit," I thought, "I must have clipped that guy.  I'd better find out how bad the damage is and how good my collision coverage is."  I stopped, hit the flashers, and walked back to where the oncoming car had stopped, to exchange names and insurance information.

There had been another truck following me, and he'd stopped too. As I walked past it, the driver (who'd got out and was standing in the road) said, "You sure hit that deer hard!" Deer?  What deer?  I never saw any deer. 

But there in the road was a stone-dead deer, and that was what I'd hit, not the oncoming car, thank goodness.  That had been untouched by both me and the deer, so the driver went her merry way.  Neither she nor the man behind me wanted the deer: he said he already had three in his freezer. The road kill could have been the twin brother of the one I'd shot, yea unto the inch-and-a-half long spikes. 

Now, in Virginia the law allows you to keep a deer you've killed with your car, but you have to report it.  Not wanting to be stopped with two deer in the truck when the daily limit is one, I duly called the Sheriff's office and told them where I was. While waiting for the cruiser to arrive, I called my friend Betty, who lives about a mile from the spot where the deer was hit, and offered it to her.  She was happy to get it (though she may not be so happy when she sees the bill from the processor) and I told her I'd take it to the local abattoir to be dealt with.

The cop arrived, and when I asked for a check card, told me he didn't have any, nor did they issue them.  "Nobody's going to worry about it," he said, "Anyone gives you a hard time just tell them to call Deputy L— and ask me.  You reported it, you're OK."

So off to the processor I went.  The second deer was intact: I wasn't about to gut him on the side of the road by flashlight, so I decided to let the processor do it. They were willing but they added $35 to the charge for that job, which took about a minute! Well, I'm not paying it, Betty is, but she can't do it herself so she really has no choice.

I got my dead critter home and hung him in the garage, and then I realized I'd lost one of my favorite knives, a Helle "Tor" pukko I've had for years.  I think I know where it may be and I'll try to find it, but the odds are against that.  Damn and blast.

So this little jaunt cost me a very nice knife, $110 worth of mirrors, and shrieks from my wife when she sees the state of the truck.  But I did NOT get skunked this time.  And a week from today is the opening day of rifle season.


November 15, 2016: Aftermath

Normally, the slow-moving heavy (215 grain) round balls fired from a .54 don't do a lot of meat damage. Upon skinning the deer I found to my surprise that quite a bit of blood had managed to find its way into the spaces between the muscles on the entry side. I don't think this was "bloodshot meat" as that term applies to the effect of a high-speed rifle bullet; it wasn't the gelatinous mush an expanding bullet creates. I believe it to be blood that was pushed into the interstices of the flank and chest muscles as they contracted when the deer ran. He was bleeding copiously, and exerting the muscles of his rib cage excessively.

This composite image shows the entry and exit wounds, and the area of suffused blood on the right side of the deer, where the ball hit him.


November 19th, 2016: Timing Is Everything

Today was Opening Day of the rifle season. So, groaning, I arose at (ugh) 4:00, in order to be on my stand at the Ravine of Death at Sunrise Farm (a 40-minute drive from here) not later than 6:00.  Legal time started about 6:40.

I sat on the south-facing slope of the ROD's north side, until about 9:00.  At 9:00 I I made a half-hearted attempt to find the knife I lost last week, but with no luck. I never really did expect to find it: I suppose some archaeologist will turn it up in 5000 years, but by then I won't care.

It wasn't that cold, but after hunting for the knife I went back to the truck to warm up. Afterwards I moved to The Throne figuring I'd stay there the rest of the morning; then pack up about 11:00 or so and head to Giles County to the VOATR.

Before leaving the truck I took the opportunity to remove from my boots the Thermacell "heated" insoles I bought a few weeks ago. I had thought they would solve my problem with perennially cold feet, but the things are utterly worthless.  Not only do they not "heat" anything, they're so thick that I have to force my feet into the boots, jamming my instep up against the top of the boot.  The fit is so tight it's impossible to wiggle my toes, and very uncomfortable.  Additionally the insoles are very stiff and make walking more difficult because of the lack of flex.  I'm sorry I bought the damned things (and they weren't cheap).  Henceforth I'll make do with the chemical packs. They aren't perfect but they're better than the Thermacell product.

The weather was decent: not too cold, and at first the wind was very, very gentle.  But around 10:00 a cold front moved in, the wind picked up, blowing harder and becoming gusty and irregular in direction; and there was a spit of rain.  The temperature started to drop, too.  I held to my schedule, but about 11:15 I decided it was time to quit and drive to the VOATR. I had seen nothing at all except a couple of squirrels.

As I prepared to leave The Throne I had actually fitted one end of the sling back onto my rifle. Then I glanced up and lo, there was a deer loping along at half-speed, maybe 40 yards to my left.  He was heading downwind, too: that is, the wind was at his back (and in my face) which is something I don't see very often. He was running from right to left, clearly unaware of my presence.

I don't like to shoot at running deer but this guy was close (under 35 yards) and wasn't moving too fast, so I fired, and I hit him, too: but he didn't stop running.  I worked the bolt (my Kimber has a very short bolt throw, slick and easy to manipulate) and fired again.  The second shot stopped him, but since he was still standing, I shot again and at that he flopped down, kicked once, and that was the end.


It was a nice fat spike buck with antlers about 10" long, a bit bigger than the one I killed last week.  In the picture above you can see the entry wound, which externally is very inconspicuous. The inside aspect of the rib cage showed a wound at least 2" wide, but a small hole is all there was to see on the outside.  The exit wound on the right side was no bigger, internally or externally, than the one in the picture. When I unzipped him, there was a massive amount of blood sloshing around in the chest cavity, presumably from a double lung shot.  That explains why he kept moving after the first shot: had he been hit in the spine or the heart he'd have dropped. 

The second bullet hit him in the lower left foreleg, which is probably why he stopped running.  I haven't decided whether the third bullet went into the same spot as the first (which would account for the very large inner entry wound) or if the first shot was a miss.  That seems very unlikely.

Once again, as has happened before, there was no significant amount of blood, and had it been necessary to track him, I'm doubtful there would have been enough of a blood trail to follow:  all his bleed-out seems to have been internal.  I'm going to stop using those Federal "Power Shock" rounds (the blue box stuff).  I've had my doubts before and have long thought they're simply too tough a bullet for the local whitetails, which aren't very large (field dressed, this guy went 86 pounds, translating to a live weight of perhaps 118).  The bullets go through, all right, but they don't expand much, if at all.  Last week's deer was shot with a big .54 round ball and bled copiously, but this one didn't.

I've killed seven deer with that rifle and load, and none of them have left any significant amount of blood on the ground.  One (a doe I shot in July on a cull permit) left zero blood behind: when I found her the next day there was not only no blood trail, there was no blood where she lay.  I didn't have time to re-sight the rifle with a "softer" bullet—I have a couple of boxes of Remington Core-Lokts, my go-to ammunition for the .30-06—so I went with the Federals again this year, but no more.

Sunrise Farm is a DMAP property so I have to leave a jawbone with the owner for aging purposes.  I'm no deer aging maven, but I attach a picture of the bone and perhaps someone here is.  My guess is that this was a yearling deer, i.e., born in the Spring of 2015.


He was absolutely silent as he ran, so indeed, timing is everything: had I not glanced up at exactly the time I did when he was running by, I'd have missed the opportunity.


December 3, 2016: An Asshole's Asshole

I mentioned above that on November 12th I shot a deer with my black powder rifle, and hit another one on the road as I was driving home. That road kill was deposited with a local meat processor, for a friend of mine, Betty S--. It was #476. A week later (the 19th) I'd left another deer, one I shot with a rifle, at the same place. That one was #558.

Yesterday I was hunting the Ravine of Death (which is near Betty's house) and since there was nothing doing, I called the processor (NRV Meat Processing on Route 114) to ask about both deer, especially the road kill. I was told, "She picked it up already." I called Betty and asked if she'd got it, and was told no, she hadn't. So I drove to her house and the two of us went to the processor to find out what was going on.

There we were again told, "You picked it up," which she insisted she had NOT done. The guy in charge kept repeating that she'd already claimed it, and said it was taken by "Betty S--" He was essentially calling us liars, because Betty was there and had he been willing to listen to reason could have proven she was who she said she was. I asked for a description of the woman who got the deer, and was told "There are 1700 deer come though here, I can't remember everybody!"

I suppose he'd mislaid the deer, or given it to someone else for his own reasons, and didn't want to admit it. He claimed that, "In 11 years we've never, ever, lost a deer!" to which I replied that there was a first time for everything, and this seemed to be it.

Things got a bit heated, Betty not being someone who appreciates being called a liar to her face. As we were leaving the processor stormed out of the building and threw a deer carcass (#558) in the back of my truck. "There's your deer! Don't come back!" he said.

Never fear, I won't come back, and I will discourage anyone I know from using the place. I urge all my readers to boycott NRV Meat Processors: the manager, a short swarthy guy with curly black hair, is called "Mike," and he is a consummate asshole.

Quite aside from Mike being a guy who really badly needs instruction in customer relations, the place was filthy: there was one slicer that was covered in half an inch (easily) of grease and old meat scraps; the cutting tables were dirty, and on the whole I wouldn't want to have to eat anything that went through there. As it happens I know the local USDA Meat Compliance Inspector, and called him to report the place and request that it be inspected. They're going to get landed on, good and hard.

We took the carcass he threw in the truck to a second nearby processor, and it will in time be returned to me as deerburger. Some people are just stubborn assholes, but Mike takes the cake.


December 20, 2016: Quail

Went to Holland Shooting Preserve with Phil and his son Matthew for a bit of a quail shoot. I really prefer pheasant (they're big enough that I can actually hit one) but they like quail, so I brought my little Churchill 20 gauge and some 7-1/2's for the outing. I had planned to shoot a muzzle-loading 20 but when I went to find my small shot, I discovered I have gazillions of #6's, a bag of #4's, and a bag of...#3! I have no idea where I got the #3's, nor what on earth they're good for. In the old pre-lead-ban days these would have been just the ticket for ducks, but they're pretty useless now. Too big for squirrels and even too big for pheasants. I have no use for them but it's an entire 25 pounds that I can't bear to throw away. They'd make good decoy ballast, I suppose.

I didn't shoot too badly, after all. My average on those lttle bitty birds is about 40%. Out of the 36 birds we bought we brought home 26. I left 4 of mine in feather, and plucked them myself, as I wanted to make a quail based version of an Egyptian dish, hamam mashy (stuffed dove). It turned out pretty well, and plucking a quail isn't a big deal. Here they are, plucked, stuffed with rice, and trussed ready for simmering.

Now a goose...I've done a few of those, and God alone knows how many feathers a goose has. Millions, literally. No wonder they make pillows out of them. But quail are small and it only takes a few minutes to get one cleaned up. Piece of cake!


December 27, 2016: Last Hunt of the Year

A pleasant but basically fruitless half-day in the ROD. Sat there from 11:00 to 4:30, and while I saw a big flock of turkeys 100 yards away, never ladi eyes on a deer. I was using my flintlock. Because using the CO2 discharger on this gun is a bit of a PITA, I decided to fire it as I left. A friend had done some lock tune-up, and the lock time was amazingly shortened thereby: instead of the CLICK-BOOM! it used to make it just went BOOM! and startled me a bit.

The season runs till January 7th, and I hope to get in one last day, but since 20-25% of the local deer are dead by now, it probably won't be much of a hunt. Late BP season is a tough time to make a kill, just for "statistical" reasons.


March 12: The Last Hurrah of the Season

Left to Right: Phil, David, and The Outdoorsman

On Sunday March 12th my colleague Phil and I, accompanied by a 4th year vet student, went to Holland's Preserve for a bird shoot.  I chose pheasants, Phil and David opted for quail and a a few extra pheasants. 

We had a good morning; I brought my 12 gauge Pedersoli muzzle-loading double, and my only real issue was the slow reload.  The dogs were working the birds so quickly once or twice I was unable to get a shot off.  The first  pheasant flushed and was in the next county before I was ready.  The dog handler said next time he'd put the dog on a lead to give me time to reload!

I was using an ounce of #6's, and 70 grains (by weight) of Hodgdon 777, 2F granulation.  This combination seems to work well in my gun, and with it I made one or two dead-in-the-air hits, so long as I wasn't thinking about what I was doing.  Everyone else did well, too.  Phil had his old reliable Browning Auto-5 corn-sheller, and David a brand new Mossberg 500.

David is from California, and will graduate from the vet school in May. He's going to return there to practice for a couple of years but says he plans to leave as soon as he can, thanks to CA's draconian gun laws and the lack of hunting opportunities he can afford.  Phil and I split the cost of his birds, and we both agreed it was a wise investment in the future of the sport: David will be a hunter for life.  I wish I could take him out for deer, but he'll be gone when that season begins.

I'm now back in harness 3 days per week at the medical school, the Spring has come, and hunting is on hold for a few months.  Time to go fishing!