It's that time of year again, and even though hunting seasons haven't yet started, the DGIF is sending license renewal reminders, so here goes.

I have mentioned before the DGIF's policy of issuing "kill permits" for people whose gardens and other property are damaged by wildlife. My friend Betty has one of these: she's been complaining about deer ravaging her apple orchard and other plants, so for the past couple of years she's obtained a kill permit and put me on as the Designated Deer Assassin. Having recently returned from an extended trip to Scandinavia, I went out to her house to do the deed as opportunity presented. Only antlerless deer can be taken on kill permits, as the intent is to reduce the overall size of the herd, and the only practical way to do that is to kill does, thereby removing from the (future) population all their descendants.

I went out a couple of times and actually saw three does as I drove into her property one afternoon but never had a shot. She'd been telling me "They come into the apple orchard between 8 and 9, and there's a big doe with two young ones."  I went again in the afternoon of June 30th but nobody showed up; but after a quick dinner at home I went back out and arrived about 7:30 PM. Sure enough, as we sat chatting in her living room, about 8:30 two deer showed up. I quietly opened her patio door, took aim at the bigger one, and BAM! down she went. The range was perhaps 25 yards.

It was a youngish doe. Nevertheless she was old enough to be carrying twin fawns in utero. Based on her size I'd have guessed she was a yearling, but everything I've read indicates that for a first pregnancy a doe will have a single fawn, and will deliver twins in subsequent years. If she was a year or a year and a half, she seems to have defied the "rule" but nutrition is a factor; in southern Montgomery County food is unlimited. It may well be that even a yearling can have twins the first time around if she's well nourished, as this deer was. The fetuses were well along, too: I'd guess she'd have dropped them within a few days had she lived. Late June or early July seems late in the year for fawns to be born, but there was no doubt about their presence. I don't know how long it takes a fawn to become totally independent, and perhaps a very late birth would handicap the fawn in making it through the winter. Well, neither of them have to worry about it now.

Mama's live weight was less than 100 pounds, so she's probably not the "big one" Betty says she's seeing.  Believe it or not, as I was dressing out the doe, another one—probably her erstwhile companion—came back over the ridge and snorted at me! Then she vanished.  I'd put my rifle in the truck, but if I'd been thinking straight and had it at hand I might have got her, too. Betty called me the next day to say that the deer had come back to feed that night. A blood spot on the ground means nothing to them, obviously. (I once was dressing out a deer and had three more wander by within 15 feet of where I was doing the dirty! They are not the smartest animals God ever made, that's for sure.)

I used my little Husqvarna Mauser, a dedicated sporter built on non-military Model 1896 action in 1944. This was one of the last sporting guns made on the 1896 action: after the war ended Husqvarna bought Model 1898 actions from FN and used those for their sporting rifles. My Husky is chambered for the 8x57 Mauser round, a very fine all-around caliber for medium game. A couple of weeks before I'd taken it to a gunsmith to have the headspace checked and corrected if necessary because I was getting primer protrusion with Remington's factory ammo, though not with Norma's much hotter stuff. It would close on a NO GO gauge but not on a FIELD gauge, so it wasn't unsafe to shoot, but I had the smith set the barrel back and rechamber it, just to be sure. A little range time showed me it would still shoot 2 MOA or less, which is good enough for what I do with it.

American 8x57 is substantially less powerful than that made in Europe but it's good enough for our local whitetails. I used Remington's ammunition with 170 grain RNSP Core-Lokt bullets. Remington's ballistic tables rate this round at 2360 FPS. For purposes of comparison, their .30-30 load with the 170 grain bullet has a muzzle velocity of 2200 FPS. (Norma loads the 8x57 with a 196 grain bullet at 2526 FPS, putting it in the same power class as the .308 Winchester.)

This little Mauser is a "lucky" gun. I took it to Namibia in 2010, where using Norma ammunition I shot a zebra, a springbok, a jackal or two, a warthog, an impala and a huge eland. Prior to that it had taken a nice fat hog in Tennessee, and a big whitetail buck in Giles County.  Everything I've pointed it at has died.

Amazingly enough, I recovered the bullet from this animal: it was lodged under the skin on the off side.  In my experience, when light boned animals are shot at short range with a fairly powerful rifle, there's complete penetration, but not this time.  I shot her in the left shoulder more or less broadside. The bullet was lodged under the skin on the right side, visible as a "bump" under her fur.  The recovered bullet was perfectly mushroomed, and weighed 120.3 grains: 70.7% weight retention. One bullet, three animals and all their descendants removed from the herd. A properly placed bullet is the best deer contraceptive, no matter what the Greenies think. And at 60 cents per round, it's a whole lot cheaper than the way some places in New York are doing it!

Because I'd made the kill so late in the day, none of the local meat processors were open. It was pretty warm and we worried about spoilage, so we parked her in Betty's basement, cool and away from flies. First thing the next morning I took her in to a local processor.

July 5, 2017

I sent the following question to Matt Knox, the DGIF's Deer Coordinator:

On June 30, I killed a doe who had twin fawns in utero, very near term so far as I could tell. This doe appeared to be fairly young: had she not been pregnant with twins I'd have guessed not much more than a year.  I didn't get a look at her teeth and could only estimate her weight (not more than 100 pounds on the hoof).

I've read that does begin their reproductive lifetime at about 16 months, and it's possible that this deer was that old. However, everything I've read seems to indicate that first-time pregnancies are singletons, with twins in subsequent years. How valid is this observation?  How likely is it that a first-time mother will twin?  By my calculation the doe would have conceived in mid to late December 2016, using 205 days as a gestation period.  That would have been in the "second rut," I think.

Second question: had those twins been born in early July, (based on their size in the womb) what would be their odds of surviving?  I'm still seeing spotted fawns now and then on the roads, but it seems to me that July is very late for fawns to be dropped.  The doe didn't appear to be lactating yet.If they had been born by, say July 10th, I think their making it through the winter would have been chancy. The landowner was somewhat upset that the fawns were killed, but my thinking is that they'd have died anyway if the weather turned bad.  How likely is it that the doe would have been nursing them in, say, November or December?  What would be her odds of having enough nutritional support to do this?

Received this reply today:

The June 30 fawns would be considered "late". If you figure a 200 day gestation, this means the doe was bred on or about December 13th.

A few very general observations:

Older does breed first, on average a couple of days to a week earlier than yearling deer (1-1/2 years of age). If fawns breed (based on condition/weight) they breed weeks to months later. Older does typically have twins (triplets are possible), yearling does typically have a single fawn (but twins are possible) and fawns almost always (99%+) have a single fawn. Without a jaw, it is impossible to say how old this deer might have been. I would guess >=2 (current age). I can almost guarantee it was not a fawn last fall.

Lastly, yes, I think the fawns would have survived. If we had a mast failure and a hard winter next year, they would be at risk.

July 10, 2017: The Husqvarna Strikes Again

Mrs Outdoorsman is visiting her sister this week, so I am reverting to bachelor ways, which include sleeping and eating whenever I feel like it, and going out to do Manly Things involving firearms and innocent woodland creatures that never did me any harm. Well, it also means serving the Commonwealth by removing the surplus population of hoofed nuisances we call "deer."

I wrote a kill permit for a man on the same rural road on which my friend Betty lives, so I put the Husky in the truck and after doing that, I headed for her place, about 5:00 or so. About 6:30 I had gone out to the truck to get something and as I walked back to the house, lo, there was a pair of those V-shaped ears sticking up above the grass on the hill above Betty's orchard. I went into the house, got the rifle, and carefully went back out. Sure enough, the doe was still watching me, maybe 35 yards away.

I took an offhand shot. She was facing me so I aimed at the center of her chest. The bullet hit just to the left of her center line, and subsequent examination showed it removed the top of the heart and the great vessels there.

She dropped, got up, and started to run to my right, making it about 40 yards before she dropped in a heap. I gave her an "insurance" shot with my little .380 pocket pistol, and then commenced the rest of the ceremonies. I didn't recover the bullet: it was somewhere in the mass of viscera. The entry wound was fairly small but there was no exit wound and I wasn't going to dig around in the gut pile in fading light!

This one was, by evidence of her teeth, perhaps 2-1/2 to 3 years old. She wasn't pregnant but she was lactating, so I expect she'd dropped her fawns in May or June. At the processor's, we weighed her at 86 pounds field dressed, which means live weight would have been in the range of 110 pounds. Betty's been talking about a "big doe," and this may have been her. Not the biggest doe I've seen around here, but larger than our local average.

The Husky is a "lucky" gun: I always seem to see game when I have it in hand, and everything I've fired it at has died. And I'll give those Remington Core-Lokt RNSP's their due: they may be slow but they do the job. Just about the perfect whitetail bullet, which they ought to be after seventy-plus years of development and refinement. People who are into the current "long range" fad can sniff at round nose bullets but in these local woods and fields they work just fine.

This business of shooting deer in shorts and a T-shirt has its good and bad points. Much cooler and easier to move in light clothing, but my lower legs are badly scratched up thanks to walking through brambles to reach where she fell! I just hope there was no poison ivy in that patch...

July 30, 2017

There was poison ivy in that patch, damn it, and I'm still feeling the effects of it. Phooey.

Today was a day not of hunting but of getting ready to hunt.

I probably kill more deer with a muzzle-loader than with a conventional rifle, and in the past decade or more I've used my beloved .54 caliber Thompson Center New Englander. But I've always felt that when it comes to making holes in deer, the bigger the hole, the better. Some years ago I had a Hawken-style .58, and managed to kill one deer with it; and to miss three more, because it had open sights. Briefly I tried scoping it but never got to use the scope on anything. I was disappointed in the rifle and eventually sold it. What I really wanted was a Thompson Center .58, what they sold briefly as the "Big Boar." This is essentially a larger-caliber New Englander with an octagonal barrel, a recoil pad, and factory-installed sling swivel mounts. The Big Boar wasn't a commercial winner, probably because T/C brought it out just as the craze for in-lines in .50 caliber took off. Not too many were made, and they're very hard to find, because anyone who has one really loves it and is very reluctant to part with it.

I looked for a Big Boar for years—that Hawken was my attempt to find an equivalent—and about 8 months ago I actually found one for sale. The owner had decided he wanted to shift to in-lines, and I was the beneficiary of his decision. I bought it for a very reasonable price, complete with several boxes of round balls and one of conicals.

My eyes are no longer up to open sights, but I did manage to hit a target at 50 yards using the ones on the rifle; still, I wanted to put a peep sight on the gun, like the one on my New Englander. Peep sights I can still use, and I'm not into scoped muzzle-loaders.

It seems that original T/C peep sights are even harder to find than Big Boar rifles. I ended up ordering a Lyman peep from Track of the Wolf, and when it finally came, took it to a gunsmith for installation. Next step was to sight the rifle in, which is what I did today.

T/C recommends a load for maximum accuracy: a patched round ball (278 grains) and 90 grains of FFg powder. For the latter I substituted the equivalent in Hodgdon 777, which is somewhat more energetic than real BP, so I loaded 70 grains (by weight, not volume). Ignition was with a musket cap. I always use an under-ball wool wad with plenty of Bore Butter on the wad and the fabric patch, and I was able to fire four shots in succession with no problems reloading, so it seems that Hodgdon's claim that 777 is cleaner than "real" black powder is true. I also got very little fouling out of the barrel when I cleaned it at home.

The first shot was low and the second was still low but dead on for windage. I brought the rear sight up, and lo, the next shot was exactly on the aiming point at 100 yards. A second confirmatory shot was in the same place. The rifle is now set to knock down any deer foolish enough to come within that range.

August 15, 2017

I went to Betty's this afternoon. I didn't see any deer, but as I was chatting with her in the kitchen, she triumphantly handed me...the bullet that killed the second doe! She had recovered it from a steak she was eating. Once again, it was perfectly mushroomed, and retained weight was 130.7 grains, 76.8% of the initial 170 grains.

I'd shot that deer in the chest, and the steak in which it was embedded was from one of the hindquarters: it had gone through her all the way from end to end. I knew it hadn't exited. Had it been one of the Norma 196-grain bullets it would almost certainly have done. These Core-Lokt bullets perform just about perfectly in whitetails. They're soft enough to expand reliably and tough enough to retain most of their initial weight. I've had issues with the bullets in Federal's .308 ammunition, which hardly seem to expand at all. This season I'll be shooting Core-Lokts in my .308, and if they do as good a job as they do in the 8mm I'll be very satisfied.

September 13, 2017: A Renewal and a Lesson Learned

Today I happily went out to hunt at Spruce Run Farm, where I hunted for years until about a decade ago, when some !$@!$!@$%$^& offered the landowner a "lease fee" and I was closed out after 18 seasons. The owner has since died and his son now owns the farm; he isn't into leasing and cheerfully gave me permission to hunt a property that I always found to be a place of rest as well as a "deer factory" that reliably produced game.

I really went to check things out and do a little scouting; I use squirrel season as my opportunity to do that. Not too much has changed, though there are some differences in detail; but I think that I won't have much trouble figuring out what if any adjustments I have to make to hunt it this year.

The 4WD unit on my truck died last weekend, but I got it back yesterday and it's fine now. 4WD is a real necessity at Spruce Run Farm because most of it is on a slope of about 30 degrees (like the rest of Giles County) and it's a long, long way from the road to my hunting spots. One thing I've noticed is that in the years since I was last there, the parts of the slope I have to climb have become a lot steeper, and the distances a lot farther...when I first started hunting that place in the late '80's I used to walk all the way up: hard to imagine I once had the stamina to do that. Well, maybe I'm just getting old.  (Naaaahhh, can't be that! Must be Global warming shifting the landscape...)

There's an old logging road that runs along a ridge about a thousand yards from the road and a hundred yards above the spot shown in the image above. I like to sit on that road, and the deer like to use it as a travel corridor; so I went up and found a place to sit down.  I opened the season using a little 20-gauge Pedersoli muzzle-loading double shotgun that I bought last year from Kittery Trading Post in Maine. For this shotgun the basic load is 55 grains of Hodgdon 777 (2F) and an ounce of #6's.  The barrels are bored approximately CYL and IMP, and it hasn't got choke tubes.  It's a pretty little thing, and if there's a flaw in it, it's that it has no provision for a sling.

I parked myself in a shady spot about 10:00 AM, taking out my Kindle and waiting to see what would happen.  Not quite an hour later I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye, and sure enough, a small grey squirrel was mooching around at the base of a tree about 25 yards away. (I was glad it was a grey squirrel: I've decided not to shoot any more fox squirrels, even though they're legal. They're just too pretty and too comical to kill.)

I fired the right barrel at it.  Even with 777 there's enough smoke to obscure my vision for a few seconds, but when the smoke cleared I could see the squirrel doing a "death flop."  I walked closer and tried to finish things with the left barrel, but all I got was a POP! and a misfire!

Now, misfires aren't common with BP shotguns because the nipple screws directly into the breech, right over the charge.  I can't ever remember having a misfire with either of my percussion doubles, nor with my percussion double rifle. In a typical sidelock rifle, the flame has to make a right angle turn through a "snail" to reach the charge but that doesn't happen with shotguns.  Well, sometimes a nipple can get clogged, so out came the pin, I made sure the flash channel was clear, capped it again, and...POP! another misfire.

I didn't want to risk losing a wounded animal so I walked up and put an end to things with my little pocket .380. Whatever one thinks of the .380 as a self defense caliber, it works just fine on squirrels: a half-pound rodent may be the only animal on which a .380 is "overkill," actually. The entry wound can be seen in the picture at left.

After finishing off the squirrel I tried to make the gun go off with a third cap, again getting a misfire.  I was beginning to think that somehow I had "dry balled" the gun, i.e., forgotten to put a charge in the left barrel.  I'm pretty careful about that sort of thing, but hey, it can happen to anyone.  I put the squirrel in my game vest and headed home to see what had happened, and to clean the gun and the game.

Once home I drew the load with a screw (something nearly impossible to do with a rifle, but easy with a shotgun) and blew out the powder charge.  That's when I found out what was wrong: along with the charge came a small piece of a fiber wad!  That piece was left over from the last time the gun was fired and cleaned, a year ago!  Somehow it had broken off from the wad and stayed in the barrel, blocking the flash channel.  I once had something similar happen with a flintlock rifle, but I've never heard of it happening with a shotgun.  Nevertheless, there was the irrefutable evidence that the misfire wasn't the fault of the cap or the nipple being clogged, still less a dry-loaded barrel.

I'm glad I got that sorted out.  I had begun to think that perhaps 777 (like Pyrodex) is somewhat insensitive and hard to ignite, and that maybe for the upcoming seasons I'd go back to "real" black.  I've been using 777 because it's more energetic than real BP and also because it cleans up much more easily. I would have been reluctant to abandon it completely. I'm scratching my head about how to make sure this doesn't happen again. The breech plug is not one that I can remove. Seeing a small obstruction—even with a little drop-in bore light—is pretty difficult.  Had I popped a couple of caps before leaving I might have avoided this incident. 

So now the squirrel is in the freezer, the gun is back in the rack, and Spruce Run farm is once again mine to hunt.  Things worked out after all, and I've learned something about some of the unexpected problems our ancestors must have had to deal with. Luckily I wasn't dealing with an angry bear!

September 20, 2017

Mrs NRVO was having a hen party today, and I was told I was not to be in evidence, no way, while this shindig was in progress. It started at 9:00 AM, so I dragged my ass out of bed at 4:30 AM, put on my killin' clothes, and went to Betty's to see if any deer were so foolish as to show up. It was cool (low 60's) and foggy, and I thought there might be one or two, but nope, they were all either in bed or gone to Florida to help out with hurricane relief. I packed it up there at 8:00 AM and headed for the Ravine of Death.

I'd brought the drilling, because while I needed the rifle barrel for Bambi's Mom, squirrels at the ROD would require a shotgun. I got to the ROD about 8:30 and sat down on the Three Trees Stand, well down in the ravine, and began to...ahem...meditate.

I did see squirrels, one of whom I could easily have killed, but for some reason I forbore doing so. I'm not sure why, but it seemed, at that moment, to be something I just didn't want to do. The others were out of range and I wasn't ambitious enough to try a stalk. This must be due to advancing age.

Various European nations (Britain, Russia, France, Germany, and Austria-Hungary) tried to keep a lid on the Balkans and avoid a general European conflict. They succeeded in 1912, but failed in 1914.

I was reading a book on my Kindle, 1913: The Eve of War, which postulates that WW One was not, as some think a headlong rush over an unseen precipice into Hell. Rather the author argues that all of the nations were primed and ready, and that statesmen at the highest levels wanted a war, for various reasons related to their national ambitions and goals. Germany is usually tagged as the culprit and the initiator of aggression, but he makes a good case that France and most especially Russia bear a lot of the blame; and that Britain wasn't entirely innocent. I suppose that if the leaders of these countries had any idea of what kind of war they would get if their wishes were granted they might have changed their minds; but 100+ years after the fact it's hard to get into their heads and understand what they were thinking in the world they knew. He also makes the case that it was the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 that set the stage for World War One, by aligning various nations with and against each other in the alliances they fought with from 1914-18. We today are living with the consequences of the Balkan Wars, and in reality with those of the 30 Years' War, when you think about it.

About 10:30 I had to go to the Old Lodge Armory, a gunsmith's shop in Willis to pick up a Webley revolver I'd left for work—talk about long-range consequences, this gun was made in 1915 and the gunsmith made a cool $120 tightening up its 102-year-old mechanism—so on the way out I bought some nightcrawlers and upon return I stopped at Stoneroller Creek. Fishing wasn't bad: I caught several stonerollers, but also three smallmouth bass, one of them at least 12" long. That last fish came from a spot that I looked at and said to myself, "I bet there's a fish right there," lobbing a worm right where I wanted it to go. Sure enough, bang, the fish hit it and qualified for The Catch Of The Day. Everyone went back in the water. There is no God but Live Bait, and Nightcrawler is His Prophet.

About then it was 3:00 PM and it was safe to come home again. All in all, not a bad way to end a rather long day afield.

October 1, 2017: A Disappointing Range Day

Black powder season opens on November 4th.  I have a friend who's a a 3rd-year vet student; I helped him buy a rifle for the main season, and hope to be able to take him out for BP, despite his not having a muzzle-loader.  Not a problem, I have one he can use.

About a year ago I bought a CVA "Eclipse" in-line, in .54 caliber.  A .54 in-line is a rare beast: these days the .50 rules the roost and if anyone is making a .54 any more I'd be very surprised.  This gun was made in the early 2000's and was essentially brand new when I bought it from the original owner at a very good price. I have subsequently "upgraded" it to use 209 primers because I wanted to use Hodgdon 777 powder: I've had hangfires and misfires with other "replica" black powder (not 777) so I opted to do this.

The Eclipse is designed to use the "Power Belt" bullets CVA peddles, but those things cost about $1.50 EACH and there's no way I would pay that much for them.  I do have plenty of lead conicals in .54, though. Those are T/C "Maxi-Ball" bullets. I took them out to try.  They didn't shoot well at all, despite the Eclipse's 1:32" rifling twist that should have stabilized them. I got "groups" at 50 yards that looked like buckshot holes.

I'm pretty persistent. I ordered some .54 Minié projectiles from Track of the Wolf.  The T/C bullets were a very loose fit, and I reasoned that the Miniés, which have a "skirt" that's designed to flare out under gas pressure and seal the bore should do better. Miniés are intended to be easy to seat but to grip the rifling when the gun is fired.  These were very easy to load, even easier than the T/C's.

The next day I took the gun to the range again, to try the Miniés.  To shorten the story, I was able to get four shots into a 3" square: basically 6 MOA!  That's better than the minute-of-station-wagon "groups" from the T/C bullets, but not very good. If I can get this rifle to shoot worth a damn I'll give it to my friend, but I can't saddle him with a gun that's as disappointing as this one is right now. Nevertheless I'm not buying any damned Power Belt bullets: some people have suggested sabots would work, and I've had an offer to send me some. If those fail, I may try a paper patched Minié and if that doesn't work I'll just sell the damned thing.

The other goal I had that day was to shoot a Pietta-reproduction Starr double action percussion revolver and get some basic data on velocity and accuracy because I want to write an article for Magnum about this goofy handgun.  I've had it for a while, probably close to 10 years, but never used it much.  Unfortunately it's a massive disappointment: it consistently misfires and it jams when I try to use it in double-action mode.  If one chamber in six went off I counted myself lucky.  To top it off my chronograph was malfunctioning. It started giving me readings of 4000+ FPS!! I thought that might be due to the clouds of BP smoke despite being well away from the muzzle, but a subsequent check showed the chronograph has just died. It's been pitched in the trash.

I am so honked that I've contacted several places to ask if they could beat it into submission.  I suspect the nipples are too short and the hammer spring is weak.  It's also possible the "hand" that turns the cylinder is broken. I've ordered a new hand, but I think the gun is a "lemon" from the factory and may never work at all.

All I can say is that if I had been issued one of these in the Civil War, I'd have bayoneted someone else to get his M1860 Colt or M1858 Remington.  The originals may not have been as unreliable as my reproduction, but the literature on the Starr suggests it wasn't entirely satisfactory in military service: the Army demanded that Starr develop a single-action version to replace the double-action one, and there had to be a reason for that. If the originals were as unreliable as my replica, a lot of men died trying to defend themselves with a Starr.

October 10, 2017

Update on the execrable CVA Eclipse. I had it out to the range last Saturday (the 7th) to try it with some sabots. It was a bust. The sabot maker says they "need no lubrication" and like a fool I took him at his word. The third time I tried to load it the sabot got stuck in the moderately fouled barrel and would NOT go past the muzzle. I had to take the rifle home and disassemble it, driving out the stuck bullet with a cleaning rod. To hell with it. This rifle goes on the sale block tomorrow.

Update on the Starr: I didn't get to shoot it, but in the past week I bought some lovely little washers: 8mm across with a 6mm opening and a thickness of 0.025". These seat under the nipples and push them out far enough that the hammer face makes full contact, with no gap. I think this will fix the misfire problem. As to the jamming issue, I believe it to be related to the hardness (or lack thereof) of the cylinder rotating star and the hand. Assiduous dry firing has helped a lot. The gun will now cycle properly 100 times in a row in double action, more or less. It seems to have been a "break in" issue; in truth the gun had been fired very little in the years I've owned it. If this works, and if the misfire issue is resolved, I'll be very satisfied.

October 21, 2017: Fishing Day

My old friend and fishing companion Dave came for the weekend and we spent Saturday attempting to catch dinner. I did in fact catch three fish, the largest of which was a 5" creek chub.

We started at the covered bridge in Newport. I almost immediately caught my first creek chub. After some time I caught a second. That was it. Dave caught nothing.

There were some girls out there, obviously VT students, who seemed to be doing some sort of fashion shoot. One of them would pose against the stone bridge abutments or some other attractive background, and a second took her picture. At one point the "model" was lying in the grass and the photographer was doing close-ups. I have no idea what the third girl was there for because she seemed to have no role, but perhaps she was making notes. After about an hour of this they went away.

Then on to Stoneroller Creek, where the fishing was more or less non-existent. Well, the fishing was fine, but there were no fish for either of us, this in a place where I have caught fish more than once and more than twice.

Next stop was the lake formed above the Little River Dam. Nada, zilch, zero. From thence we hit the large open stretch of water below Claytor Dam; and I actually caught a third fish. This was a 2" chub, who actually was foul-hooked, but it counts.

Thus ended the day. It was however a gorgeous afternoon, well worth being out for its own sake. "A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work," goes the old cliché, and it's true even when I don't work anymore.

November 4, 2017: A Soggy and Disappointing Opening Day

Rain was predicted, but I went anyway: I've never had a wet Opening Day before, in 30 seasons here.  Snow once or twice, rain, never. It's a 4-minute drive, and after a stop at Bojangle's for a ham biscuit I got to the Ravine of Death in a medium drizzle at about 6:00. I took my stand about 40 minutes later, in the southeast side of the Ravine: in the morning deer come in at that end, headed for a bedding area at the west end.

Light came up about 7:15.  Shortly thereafter a deer started snorting very loudly on the other side of the Ravine.  But the wind was in my face and it was still fairly dark; whatever she was snorting at, it wasn't me. As the light was coming up, however, and after I'd been sitting there a while, something leaped up from in front of me and bounded away.  I don't know what it was, but it wasn't a deer;  might have been a fox or even a biggish cat, I never got a good look. If it was there when I arrived, though, I feel good about the stealth of my approach. Wet leaves make for quiet walking, that's about all i can say in their favor.

By 8:00 everything was sopping wet and nothing seemed to be happening.  I knew that if deer came by I'd see them before hearing them thanks to the damp leaves and so it proved. At 8:11 I happened to glance up and a deer was walking from my right to my left—in total silence—about 25 yards away.  It was antlerless, but no matter: antlerless deer are legal on that ground, which is a DMAP property.  I very, very slowly brought up the rifle and waited for the deer to clear a tree trunk...then I noticed a second deer behind it.  Probably unwisely I shifted targets, took a hasty sight, fired...and missed clean, at a later-measured TWENTY SEVEN YARDS.

I'm still at a loss and pissed about that miss, and yes, it was emphatically a miss.  Both deer bounded away of course. There was no indication whatever of a hit, not where they had been nor along the route they took, at top speed, waving their tails. I should have killed that animal but didn't, that's all there is to it. I was using my T/C "Big Boar" .58, it's first outing in my hands. It is dead on at 100 yards and should have been within an inch or two of dead on at that range. Maybe it is. The only way I can account for the miss is my decision to shift targets, a poor sight picture, and possibly anticipating the recoil.  That last would have caused the bullet to be in front of the second deer by a few inches. I also was getting a bit wound up, which is very unusual for me: I'm not prone to "buck fever," didn't experience it even when I shot an elephant. These are of course all excuses for poor marksmanship, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I stuck it out on that stand until 10:00 and then returned to the truck to warm up and take a doze.  I'm always more sensitive to cold early in the season, before I get "hardened." It wasn't really all that cold, perhaps the low 50's.  But it was so drippy and wet (the rain kept coming off and on) and so clammy I felt the temperature more than I might have on a dry day.

After my nap I moved to another spot, "The Throne," on the flats above the south side of the Ravine.  From this spot I can see the place where they come out of the bedding area in the evening. I managed to stick it out for the next couple of hours but went back to the truck about 2:00. While I was there the rain started coming down in earnest again. The rain finally stopped about 3:00 PM, so I shifted stand again to a place a little closer to the bedding area. I'd shot a deer there last year in the evening, and also one from the Throne, both late in the day.  I saw nothing whatever from this stand and packed up and left at 6:30.

There were many grey squirrels leaping around after about 4:00 PM.  Also a lot of chipmunks: I haven't seen cheepers out there for a few seasons, and I'm glad they're back.  They're much smaller than the chipmunks that raid our bird feeders, so maybe they're young-of-the-year, or maybe it's just that our birdseed pirates eat a lot more than the ones in the woods do.  The grey squirrels were all pretty good sized, very nice looking examples.  Didn't see any fox squirrels, which is a bit unusual.

So all in all a disappointment.  I'll be back out in a few days, and on the 18th the rifle season opens.  There is time.

November 8, 2017

Some of that time is eroding...went out today to the ROD, more or less to the same spot where I disgraced myself on Opening Day. It was, again, cold and wet. The only difference was that I didn't see any deer and I didn't miss any.

Well, I did see deer..three road kills, one of them a yearling buck. And I spotted a very nice 8 point wandering around on Graysontown Road, perhaps planning to become road kill himself. That was it.

Things were so wet and unpleasant I packed it up at 8:45 and headed for home, shivering until the truck heater warmed up. Phooey.

November 9-12, 2017

I have been coaching a third-year veterinary student in the arcana of muzzle-loaders, with which he had little experience. On the 9th we went to my club's range for "familiarization fire" with my .54 T/C New Englander, a rifle that has served me very well over the years. He practiced loading and firing, and did what needed to be done with respect to hitting the target we set up at 50 yards. In the spot he was going to be there would never be a shot beyond that range, and his bullets were a bit high so in the unlikely event that he was presented with an opportunity farther out he'd be OK.

There was another shooter out there, who was using a Savage 110 ML muzzle-loader: this rifle is designed to use smokeless powder and is only a "muzzle-loader" by courtesy, really. For all intents and purposes it's a modern rifle that is essentially indistinguishable in performance from any other, it just happens to be "caseless" so it's legal in the muzzle-loading season. I don't have a problem with in-lines, but things like that Savage are another example of gearheads pushing the boundaries. The concept of "The Spirit of the Game" is meaningless to them: all they want is every advantage they can get and still stay within the letter of the law.

On the 10th we went to the VOATR, where I parked my friend in a spot where I have killed many a deer: it was "bucks only" that day but since I can't ever recall killing a doe from that stand it would be OK. He later told me that he'd seen one deer but never was presented with an opportunity; they had stayed too far out along the ridge that marks one side of the Valley.

Meanwhile I was up on top of the hill that is reached by a path from the "riding ring" (a large clearing where my friend terry used to ride her now-deceased horse), somewhat higher than the Valley. It was not only bone-chilling cold, the wind was blowing to beat the band: trees swaying and roaring, no way I was going to get a shot, nor even see a deer, and I didn't. The Valley is comparatively calm even in high winds—one reason the deer like to use it as a travel route—hence my friend's actually seeing deer even if he didn't get to shoot. We packed up at 9:00 that day, he had to go study for an exam.

The 11th was a "doe day" in Giles County so I headed for the VOATR again, this time alone. The weather was marginally better and drier; I actually heard a deer coming, a big doe; but I think she saw me reach for my rifle (it was leaning against an adjacent tree) and she trotted off before I could even get ready. She was alerted but not, I think, alarmed: her tail wasn't up and she didn't bounce off, she just ambled away at a medium speed.

The following day, the 12th, I went out for the afternoon to the Ravine of Death, and sat at The Throne. I saw zilch, not a damned thing. Packed up and left at 5:30.

So far it's been a bad season, I hope things improve soon! Rifle season starts the 18th, and it's either-sex in all the spots I hunt; so I haven't given up hope. I do start every season thinking, "I won't get a deer this year," and this recent period has reinforced that pessimism; but I've been proved wrong before.

November 14, 2017

Another wasted day at the ROD. Got up at 4:00 AM, was on my stand by 5:40, and saw nothing at all. In the afternoon I shifted stands a bit but still saw nothing. I sat there until dark at 5:40, and came home. Actually I did see deer: there was one on the road on the way out, and FIVE of them, including a big buck, in the driveway of the neighbor's property, I saw them as I was driving out. Phooey.

November 17, 2017

Went to the Ravine of Death today. I left the house at noon and arrived on my stand about 1:00-ish. Started out at the Small Throne but in the course of the afternoon I moved a few times. Reasoning that the deer move west to east in the afternoon I set up on the south flats, where I could see most of the flat areas. In time I found myself at the base of the tree with a curved root, about where I was when I killed last year's teeny-weeny spike buck.

At 2:20 I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye: and a big-ass doe was moving, east to west on the opposite side of the ROD, just ambling along at a slow walk. She was at least 120 yards away, much to far to try a shot; but I thought perhaps a buck might be following her, so I moved about 50 yard closer and sat on the edge of the flat, near the apparently-unused ladder stand, where i could see the entire south slope. I've killed four or five deer on that slope, but always in the morning. I have no idea where that doe was going and why she was moving in that part of the ROD at that time of day, but I'm sure she had a destination in mind.

Sat the rest of the afternoon until 5:40, and saw nothing. Very frustrating!

Both the ROD and the VOATR have been displaying a healthy population of squirrels this year, in distinct contrast to the past few seasons. In the VOATR they're almost entirely fox squirrels, some of them the size of house cats. In the ROD it's mostly greys but I did see one or two fox squirrels. The "squirrel hour" in both places seems to be about 1:00-2:00 PM, with a lull after that and a brief re-emergence around 4:00. I've also had grey squirrels come up and look me over in my blaze orange vest. I'm convinced they can see that color and that they're attracted to it. Not a few have come close enough to hit with a rock, and stared at me, trying to figure me out. All of these rodents are very naive about humans, as I doubt anyone hunts them. I could have had a limit almost any time I've been out this year.

Tomorrow rifle season begins. I will start things off at Spruce Run Farm, a place I hunted for years and to which only this year I have re-gained access. I used to have that farm figured out: I hope the patterns haven't changed much in the years I've been away.

November 18, 2017: Worst.Opening.Day.Ever

Today was the Opening Day of Virginia's rifle season, a High Holy Day, so of course I had to go out. I got up at 4:00 AM.  I've been coaching a protege, a third-year DVM student, and ceded to him my primo spot in the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents; I went to Spruce Run Farm, one of my former hunting venues, from which I was exiled for about a decade when the previous landowner agreed to a @@$#@%$#@!!! lease with some #!$#!$@!!! son of an unmentionable person.

The current owner, his son, inherited the property and when I was writing him a kill permit last Summer, mentioned to me that "not enough deer were being taken," so naturally in a spirit of selfless devotion to the Commonwealth I volunteered to help him out come hunting season. Permission was duly granted, and so on Opening Day I went to my old favorite spot, up on the hill above his house.  You can read about this spot in my essay "A Doe In The Snow" on this site.

Time has not been kind to Spruce Run Farm.  The new landowner mentioned they'd had a gypsy moth infestation and "a lot of trees were cut down." I was on my stand about 5:45, but when the light came up I could see that was formerly a semi-open area of woods with a decent deer trail through it was now a tangle of undergrowth that a mouse would have trouble negotiating.  It's been suggested to me that in fact this is an "improvement," in that it has provided the deer with a nice safe bedding area. Maybe, maybe not. But I used to be able to look up the hill and see them move through the woods, and had a lot of opportunities. I forget how many deer I took form that spot in the 18 years I hunted the ground, but nary a deer did I see today: any deer negotiating that tangle would have needed armor plate and a bull bar on his chest.

Worse, someone else rolled in about 7:00 AM.  I was expecting that to happen. Fortunately he went to another part of the farm but to judge by sounds he didn't see anything either.

At 9:00 or so I gave up and went to the VOATR four miles away to see how my friend Vince was doing.  But by the time I arrived he'd left, having some sort of social commitment to meet (he's a newly-wed, and I make allowances for that). I decided there was no reason I shouldn't take his place, so I started hoofing it up the hill to get there.

On the way up I stepped into some sort of hole.  I thought it might have been a groundhog's "plunge hole," one of those straight-down escape routes they use when they're evading danger.  It's the sort of hole breaks horse legs, and it damned near broke mine.  As it was, I managed to stop my fall with my left hand, in the process giving myself a tidy gash across the palm. What is worse, my rifle took a nosedive and came up with a nice, neat, .30-caliber mud plug in the first half inch of the barrel.  So much for the plan to stay in the VOATR that morning.  I didn't have a cleaning rod with me, so back to the house I went (a matter of 10 miles) to push the plug out.

And, not incidentally, to walk my sister in law's dog.  This mutt has been staying with us while S-I-L and her husband are in Europe, and she has to be walked on a regular basis lest she poop in the house.  My wife would have done this job but that was the day she was off at some Christmas show at a dinner theater an hour and half away, and I'd agreed to come back and empty the dog out around mid-day.  As it was I was early, but I managed to leave the house and the freshly-emptied dog around 12:30 to head to Sunrise Farm, some 35 minutes from home.

Now, Sunrise Farm is a reliable spot. I see deer there on a regular basis. It's also the place where I had an entirely inexplicable miss at 27 yards on Opening Day of the BP season.  I had been out there on Friday and seen a deer 125 yards away, way out of range for my muzzle-loader, but a piece of cake for my .308. So I sat with my .308 in a place where if a deer came by she would get shot. Cleverly, however, deer did NOT come by.  I sat there for the next 5-1/2 hours and never laid eyes on one.  Finally I packed up when it got dark and came home.

It's been a very, very frustrating season.  By now I should have had two critters in the freezer, but it's looking very bleak.  Three days this week are already committed to a teaching assignment, a medical visit, and Thanksgiving, so if I don't get out on Sunday and Monday it won't happen for another week.  Alas, I am not able to get up at 4:00 am three days running without collapsing into a heap of ashes, so I likely will have to forego the morning sessions.

November 20, 2017

I gave myself the day off after Opening Day, but decided that today I would get up and get out. So at 4:00 I hauled my aging ass out of bed, and into the bathroom...where I had a massive attack of diarrhea, like unto the kind you get when you do "prep" for a colonoscopy.

That was that. By the time the event was over I was wiped out, it was 4:30, and the thermometer stood at 29 degrees. I crawled back into the bag hoping that nothing more was to come, and stoked to the eyeballs with loperamide to stave off disaster.

I spent the morning doing getting-ready-for-Thanksgiving-visitors chores under Mrs Outdoorsman's lash. By 1:00 I was feeling "well" enough to make an attempt, so I suited up and went to the VOATR. By then it was about 40 degrees, a level I can tolerate with my Long Woolies. Any colder I'd have had to wear my lovely warm heavy coverall, but that wasn't happening today. If I'd had an urgent attack of The Wobblies, I'd not have been able to get them off in time to avert a disaster. I'd have had to burn them.

I sat on my stand, from which I have killed at least 10 deer, and saw zilch, until 5:40. If there's a rut taking place in Giles County, you couldn't prove it by me. If you don't see 'em you can't kill 'em, so when legal shooting time ended I upped and left.

The VOATR is reached by climbing up a long steep hill from the landowner's house, then down into the valley on the other side. I had come out and was hoofing it down the hill back to my truck when I thought I saw some flashes of white in a pasture next to the hill. Sure enough, there were two deer there. It was dark enough that I'd have needed night vision equipment to kill one, but they spotted me (or heard me) and hit their afterburners, so I'd not have had a chance even if the light had been good.

Meanwhile my neighbor has killed three. Phooey, say I. The rest of this week is gone, and IF I'm lucky I MAY get out one or two days next week. But I doubt anything will improve.

November 20-December 2, 2017: The Second Week of Rifle Season...

...didn't go any better than the first one did.

I went out several times since Thanksgiving weekend, and for all the hours I spent in the woods, I saw TWO deer, one of which was on the road, another of which was so far away a shot wasn't possible even with my .308.  Other than that, zilch.  I didn't even hear many shots around me, so things are moving very slowly.

I have no idea what's going on, but whatever it is, it isn't the rut. In past seasons I've seen bucks obviously in search of does, sometimes chasing them, and does obviously in heat, waving their tails and advertising their charms.  Not this year.  The woods are dead.  Most days I didn't even see squirrels, despite being out from dawn to dusk.

Once, coming out of the VOATR, I spooked some deer in a field, who snorted and ran off.  I didn't see them, however: it was dark and I'd have needed night vision equipment to see one, let alone shoot it. Subsequently I spent two evenings watching that field, with the wind in the right direction and well hidden, to no avail.  It seems that all the deer around here have gone on vacation or something.

I have to say that this is disappointing, and I have to remind myself that I'm not exactly a novice at Virginia deer hunting.  I have killed 53 deer since 1992, and some of these spots—the VOATR and the Ravine of Death, for example—have been very productive.  Since 2009 I've shot 9 deer in the ROD and this year I saw ONE since I missed that doe on Opening Day.  I'm not doing anything different, but the deer are; and I can't figure out what it is.

The biggest disappointment was the return to Spruce Run Farm after 10 years' absence.  The current owner, Randy (the son of the man I used to deal with) has complained to me about "too many deer," so I had high hopes.  I once knew that place backwards, forwards, and upside-down, but Randy has made a lot of changes.  He told me he'd had a gypsy moth problem and cut a lot of trees, but I hadn't realized how drastically he'd done so until the light came up on Saturday.  An entire woodlot has been removed, and a huge hickory tree that used to be a haven for squirrels is gone. About 300 yards above where I used to sit on the pasture fence line (a spot where I killed about 7-8 animals in the old days) there's a sort of tractor road cut into the hillside.  This road was also a good spot, and I made several kills on it.  Now it has been widened and cleared and the underbrush along each side cut back to the point where it wouldn't hide a mouse.

I was out there well before dawn on Saturday, seated near a place where I used to see deer cross on a regular schedule.  Ten years ago I knew when and where they'd come through within ten minutes and ten feet. This time, not only did no deer come through, another hunter did!  This guy drove into the field below, parked his truck at the gate entering the road, and trudged up past me, saying, "I've got a stand up at the top," and went on his way.  I didn't hear him shoot, either.  I was so disgusted I packed up at 9:00 and headed for the VOATR.

I have long since lost count of how many deer I've killed in the VOATR, but my three biggest ones have all come out of it, all three taken within 100 feet of the same spot.  There was nothing this time, nothing at all.  I sat there from 9:00 to 4:00 on Saturday, then moved to watch the field where I'd heard deer snorting. I saw absolutely nothing except a pileated woodpecker and my host's cat.  I hope the cat had better luck than I've been having.

If I don't see them I can't kill them; and after the Opening Day miss, I have seen maybe three in all.  I still haven't explained that miss, on a shot that should have been a "gimme," but that happens sometimes.

Second BP season opens the 16th, and I'll go out.  I doubt it will matter.  I am adding a new part to the Chinese restaurant calendars: The Year of the Skunk.

Speaking of skunks, our dogs got sprayed a couple of nights ago and we're still dealing with the aftermath.  This is the second time this has happened.  They've been bathed and I've washed everything washable in the basement, but the smell persists.  Last time I had to spend three days ripping up indoor-outdoor carpet, but this time wasn't quite so bad; still, it's bad enough.  I have vowed to kill every skunk I see from now on, "just because." Like mosquitoes, skunks seem to have no function other than to be annoying. They deserve to die.