THE 2018-2019 SEASON LOG

January 27, 2018

Starting off early this year, again. Each year brings some new promises of adventure, and as I just turned 70 last adventure time (and physical ability) is probably running out. Time to get cracking.

After being skunked last deer season, I finally got a deer, sort of.  Last Thursday evening I had a phone call  at 5:00 PM from a friend who lives in Riner. "There's a deer in the road by my house; it was hit by a car but it's still alive.  Can you come and deal with it?"

I get calls like this from time to time from friends who know I hunt and presume (more or less correctly) that I will know what to do. I think over the years I've had four or five "mercy killing" requests, and whenever possible I answer the call, out of a sense of what is right and best for the injured animal.

I told my friend I'd come out but before I could do anything he'd have to let the authorities know what was going on, and get a tag of some kind for the processor, since I wasn't going to be able to process the deer myself and I didn't fancy getting stopped and charged with poaching. He said he'd call the Sheriff's Office and get back to me.  Twenty or so minutes later, not having heard anything, I called him. The Sheriff hadn't called back, so he would call 911 and try again.  After doing so he was told by the 911 operator that they would have to "send a deputy." Of course, in the meantime the deer was still there on the side of his road, dying by inches.

Another 20 minutes passed and he called. By then he'd spoken with a game warden who had, finally, given him a check number. At that point I could come out and deal with the animal, but he said, "It's dead now!" Well, no matter: it hadn't been dead very long by then, so it would still be edible, and I didn't want it to end up as coyote and buzzard food, so out I went.

I drove to his place in my truck, arriving about 7:00.  We then went to the site where the deer lay in the ditch.  It was a very young buck fawn with horrific injuries.  His hindquarters and halfway up back he had literally been flayed alive by the impact, the skin torn right off.  Then we went up to it, was ALIVE, still! 

I can hardly believe that the poor thing had lived at least two hours after being half skinned alive, but I put an end to its suffering with my .44 Bulldog right then and there. Strictly speaking this was not kosher, as one is not supposed to discharge a firearm within the right of way of the road, but to hell with that restriction. I wasn't going to let him spend another minute suffering if I could help it, and I could. I might have used a knife, I suppose, but a gun was quicker and more certain. It just goes to show that having a compact, powerful handgun around when you need one is a sensible practice.

I shot it in the head just in front of the left ear, with the muzzle touching its fur. Amazingly the bullet didn't exit, as I found out later.  I was using some moderate "Cowboy Action" level reloads someone had given me. Had I used the very hot Blazer ammo I keep around for Close Encounters of the Anti-Social Kind, likely there would have been pass-through. But what I had was enough to do the job. We loaded the body into my truck, I took it to a local processor, and while it will cost me extra, I let them eviscerate and skin it (well, finishing the job the car started, anyway) preparatory to making the entire thing into hamburger.  I might get 15 pounds out of it, and it's going to be pretty pricey stuff.

I'm glad I put the deer down but I'm mildly pissed off about what happened before I was able to do so. Of a certainty the Sheriff's Office dispatcher should have told him to go ahead and kill it after the first call, which would have saved the deer from a good hour of additional suffering. The poor beast underwent needless agony for bureaucratic reasons. It was very small, not more than 50-60 pounds on the hoof; and some of the hindquarter meat was pretty roughed up by the impact: the car must hit it in the hind end and dragged it, accounting for the skin being half torn off and the left ham being badly bruised up.

Furthermore, I can't imagine that whoever hit it wasn't aware of the impact. There's no way that kind of damage could have been done without the driver knowing about it, especially since it happened in daylight. Driving off to leave it in the road was an act of callous cruelty. I've seen some pretty horrific road-hit injuries but this was one of the worst cases I've ever encountered. If I knew who'd done it I'd tie him to a tree and flog his back down to the bone to teach him a lesson he'd never forget.

February 4, 2018: The Aftermath

I picked up the meat at the processor yesterday. That deer was larger than I thought: I was thinking I might get 15 pounds of deerburger out of it, but it came to a total of 26 pounds! All in nice one-pound packs, plus the liver. I don't eat liver but the friend who showed me the deer does, and I'll give it to him.

February 8, 2017: Getting Ready

My friend Phil and I are planning to take a 3rd-year veterinary student for a bird shoot in Glade Hill. Vince had never shot birds and had no real acquaintance with wingshooting, so we took him to the club's range and brought along an assortment of shotguns for him to try.

I am embarrassed to say that he, a complete novice, a total tyro, out-shot both of us on clay pigeons thrown from a foot-operated trap.

In the end he selected a 20-gauge autoloader of Phil's, and I imagine he'll do even better on live birds than on skeet.

I elected to try for Chukars this time. I usually shoot pheasant, which are big enough that I have some hope of hitting one now and then. Quail are nice but they're such teeny things they're too easy to miss. Chukars are in between, maybe I'll actually manage to kill one or two. The ones I miss...Vince will get 'em, I bet.

February 25, 2017: The Bird Shoot

Phil, Vince and I went to Glade Hill for the annual bird shoot. We paid John Holland for 24 quail, and 8 chukar. The short story is that we brought home all the chukar and 22 quail; two quail had—literally—exploded in mid-air by taking the entire charge of shot at a range of perhaps 5-10 FEET. In once case we found a few bird fragments and that was it.

We also brought home a pheasant, which hadn't been on our order, but who foolishly exposed himself. He'd been left over from someone else's shoot the day before, and managed to survive overnight, fat lot of good that did him.

John had three dogs he'd borrowed from his brother-in-law, because all five of his own dogs, including ones we'd shot over before, had been killed in a kennel fire last January. This was a terrible shame and a tragic loss, and he's obviously still grieving for his lost friends and "employees." I can understand his feelings since I've lost some dogs suddenly myself. Furthermore, Phil had buried one of his pets yesterday at age 14, who died of a stomach torsion. Dogs remind us what we could be if we were only good enough, and I think they were put here as role models for mere humans. Their only flaw is a short life span: to lose them at all is hard enough, but to lose them unexpectedly and in such tragic ways is totally unfair.

It was a good half-day: weather was overcast and cool, though there was no rain. We tramped around for four hours and were very satisfied with the outcome. One annoyance was that somewhere I dropped a very nice braided leather gun sling, and I'm hoping John finds it and returns it to me.

Our newbie Vince is a natural. He shot better than either Phil or I did, and although we didn't keep track of who shot what, he unquestionably accounted for more birds than I did. He is a "natural," perhaps because he has no preconceptions about wingshooting and just "does what comes naturally." I wish I shot that well and had his reflexes.

Despite all the walking my hip bursitis isn't too bad, another encouraging thing. I had seen this trip as a major test, and I passed it. I can feel the effects but it's nothing I can't deal with. Getting old really sucks, but I ain't dead yet.

April 28, 2018: Creeper Fest

I do a good deal of volunteer work for Virginia's Department of Game & Inland Fisheries as part of their "Complementary Work Force" (CWF). The CWF people do things that game wardens (excuse me, "Conservation Police Officers") might do, but CPO's have better uses for their time and the Commonwealth's money.

Mostly what I do is write "kill permits" for people who have wildlife damaging their property (e.g., deer eating crops or ornamental plants, etc.) but I do other things. I've stocked fish, helped out at a large fish hatchery, thrown old Christmas trees in Claytor lake to make fish habitat, and most recently, helped staff a display booth at "Creeper Fest" in Abingdon.

The name isn't anywhere nearly as kinky as sounds.  The "Virginia Creeper" was a nickname for an old train. First the Abingdon Coal & Iron Railway, and later the Virginia-Carolina RR. Eventually the VCRR was absorbed into the Norfolk Southern system. The train ran 35 miles between Abingdon and Damascus. Since the area is hilly and the heavily-laden trains had to labor up the hills, they "crept" along and the name—which is also that of a common plant here—stuck to the railroad.

Norfolk & Southern abandoned the line in 1977 and turned over the right of way to the Commonwealth, which incorporated it into the "Rails to Trails" program.  It is now a popular bike path. Two years ago whoever administers the Virginia Creeper Trail decided they needed some PR, so they established the (as yet very modest) "Creeper Fest" to advertise the "brand". This was the second year of the Fest. The event included perhaps 20 exhibits and/or vendors, and two food trucks. One of these, selling South Asian food, cleverly labeled itself the "Pakalachian Food Truck". 

The DGIF likes to set up displays at this sort of venue to gain publicity for the agency and its activities.  CWF people are called upon to staff the booths alongside some employees, so when the call came out I volunteered for this one.

Abingdon is 100 miles from Blacksburg.  I drove to the Division III office in Marion (84 miles from here) where I met "Jake," a recent Virginia Tech graduate who is now employed by DGIF as a Fish Biologist. We also met "Shannon," another DGIF employee.  I had to be there at 8:00, which meant getting up at a ridiculously early hour, but I made it in plenty of time.  In Marion we loaded up the exhibit gear and convoyed on to Abingdon. 

Once at the Fest site we set up a couple of open-air tents, a few tables, a bunch of animal skins, a fish-shocking machine used for sampling rivers, some display posters, and we were in business.  We also had a large banner with the agency name.  The day was a bit windy, and several times we thought we'd lose the tents, but adding weights helped to hold them down.

It was a nice day, if a bit cool, and when the fest opened officially at 10:00 AM we started getting a pretty steady stream of booth visitors.  Shannon had laid out several tanned skins: a skunk, a possum, a river otter, a red fox, a coyote, and a nice black bear; there were skulls to go along with each skin.  There was also a HUGE set of whitetail antlers, at least a 180 B&C set that had been illegally taken in 2016 and forfeited to the DGIF.  Crime doesn't pay! The skins were either from similar forfeitures or road kills.

Jake was doing the fishing stuff: he knows more about fish than the fish do themselves, and he was usually deeply engaged in fish talk with visitors, making recommendations as to local waters, etc.  Surprisingly the fish-shocking machine drew little attention.

As people would approach we'd ask them if they could identify each skin. Interestingly, the kids were the best at this.  Often the adults would miss the otter, but the kids got it every time.  We'd tell them about each animal and why it was significant, and answer whatever questions they had.  Nobody got snotty about hunting, but this is after all southwestern Virginia where hunting is accepted as part of the local culture even by non-hunters.

Some people came from very far distances: we had visitors from Illinois, Missouri, the Carolinas, and one guy from California.  They didn't come specifically for the Fest: mostly they were visiting relatives, or on vacation and traveling through. The Californian was doing a "Roads Scholar" program on fly fishing (also a big deal in this area) and wanted to know about local streams. There were quite a few families, mostly young ones with small children in the 3-12 age range.  It was a very family-friendly event, located in a strip park alongside a railroad track.  Periodically a freight train would come by with its horn blasting and cars clanking.

The hit of the event wasn't our booth. It was a demonstration of dog sports run by a woman from Blacksburg who'd brought four or five Australian Shepherds to show off Agility and Frisbee.  Every time she started up a session our "business" would fall off, people crowding around to watch the dogs.

There were only a few booths selling stuff, mainly items related to their subjects. For example, a booth that was touting water quality issues would offer T-shirts, as did a company hustling mountain bikes.  In Blacksburg every year there's a much larger event ("Steppin' Out") that draws crafters from many miles around selling all kinds of tschochkes, execrable paintings, blown glass junk, jewelry, etc., but there wasn't anything like that at the Creeper Fest. There was one man doing wood carving and he was selling it; it was very nice work, too, but I wasn't ready to pay $250 for a carving of a pileated woodpecker.  Perhaps as the Fest gains in size and gets better known this situation may change: one vendor said to me, with a light shining in her eyes, "Maybe one year we'll have booths on both sides of the street!"

All in all it went very well.  The Fest ended at 5:00, by which time I'd been up and on my feet all day and was pretty wiped out, but I think we got some good publicity for the DGIF.  I'd be interested in doing something similar in the northern Virginia area, where I suspect we'd encounter some hostility from those who oppose hunting; it would be a good opportunity to try to educate people about wildlife, human interactions with it, and the role of hunting in conservation.


This Summer has been one of travel; mainly to Maine, but also to a few closer places. In between I've been busy writing kill permits for local landowners. So far between March 16 and two days ago, I've written 13 permits. Everyone is complaining about deer damage: the DGIF claims the herd numbers are down, but if so, the average deer is eating a lot more than before. Permit season ends on September 30, just before the bow season starts, and I expect there will be a few more requests. I'm not the only permit writer, either; I have no idea how many actually get written by our local DGIF office (we're in Region III out of Marion) but it must be a good many. The northern counties surely account for many more, as the deer are thick up there and there are few people who hunt them. Deer-vehicle collisions are a daily occurrence in Fairfax County. I've been seeing more road kills around here recently, too. They're starting to move.

AUGUST 16, 2018

Mrs Outdoorsman is away for a week at the beach with her sister and her sister's extended family...I flat refused to go, and said I would stay home and dog sit.

Of course I do other things that any man would do when given a pass...I eat food right out of the pot (or the can), eat a lot more meat than I might otherwise do, including hot dogs, and generally revert to bachelor ways.  Among these I include fishing.

My friend Phil has recently retired and he and I went out for a wade-fishing expedition at the place I call "Stoneroller Creek," i.e., the Little River where the Blue Spring Road bridge crosses it.  The water there is fairly shallow, but just before it gets to the bridge it goes down a small incline and becomes very turbulent and well oxygenated as a result.  I've had pretty good luck there.  Yesterday was a very good day, indeed.

We left the house at 4:00 PM and hit the creek shortly thereafter, having stopped to buy some worms for me (There is no God but Live Bait; and Nightcrawler is His Prophet).  Phil is an apostate and uses lures.  But in the end we both caught fish. We waded a bit in knee-deep water (well, it was knee deep for me: Phil is 6'4" and it wasn't much more than ankle deep on him) and fished from the banks. Phil, who's an ardent paddler, found a nice place we can get to in his canoe; next time we'll paddle upstream (ugh) and fish that dropoff to see what happens.  I'm not into paddling but the water is way too shallow to use a motor, and it isn't so very far upstream that I will likely break something getting there.

To summarize, I caught four smallmouth, one of which was easily 13" long, the others 10-11".  I also caught one little sunfish, about four stonerollers, and a monster redeye (i.e., a rock bass, which isn't really a bass, though if you ask one, he'll tell you he ought to be). That redeye was easily 11", which is a big one, for sure. As is always the case with redeye, he hit like a bass and fought like a stick.

All in all a nice afternoon for everyone but the fish and the worms.  For reasons I don't understand, nobody seems to fish that spot but me.  There's easy vehicular access and a local landowner very kindly maintains a sort of private park that he allows anyone to use.  He's even thoughtfully built a set of stairs down to the water, as the banks are quite steep.

I usually fish from a boat but lately taking the boat out has become impractical for a variety of reasons.  I used to think I couldn't ever catch anything from the river bank, but yesterday proved me wrong.

August 19, 2018

Went to the Covered Bridge to use up the last of the worms. A few nibbles and one reasonably hard strike but no catches. Could have been better, but could have been worse.

August 23, 2018

Until today, I have never lost a deer shot with a centerfire rifle.  Until today.

I went to my friend Betty's to do a cull: she had three does she wanted taken on a kill permit, so I put my little Husqvarna in the truck and went out this afternoon.  I saw them while driving in to her property, actually; but though I might have taken a shot I passed up the chance, not sure of what lay beyond where the deer was standing.

I sat on Betty's back porch and watched her orchard, where she said the deer came through in the evenings, between 5:00 and 7:00.  Nothing happened so I switched to the other end of the house to watch the driveway again.  About 6:10 she came out and told me they were in the orchard, and sure enough, there was a doe standing in plain view: possibly the one I'd eyeballed as I came in. It looked like a gimme shot: and in a sense it was.  I fired and off the doe went, leaping like she was on springs and definitely on afterburners.  I expected her to fall, since I was certain I'd hit her: but she went over two fences like they weren't even there and off into the woods.

I walked over to where she'd been: and there was some—not much but some—bright red blood on the ground, a few gobbets of it.  I looked for some more and there was a little bit, not much, along the path she'd taken to the first fence.  I decided I needed a dog. Conventional wisdom has it that any dog can follow a blood trail, however faint. Betty has a dog: we leashed Nika (a Siberian Husky) up and tried to follow the trail, but Nika was either unwilling or uninterested, though she had at first seemed to like the idea of blood.  She started to wander off the line I knew the doe had taken. So much for conventional wisdom.

We put Nika back in the house and I went into the woods.  There was zero blood, not so much as a drop, more than a couple of feet from where she'd been shot.  I wasn't too alarmed at that point because sometimes with a lung hit—and I was thinking lungs because of the color, it was most emphatically not a gut shot—the real bleeding comes a few yards on after the chest cavity fills up and it comes squirting out the holes as the animal runs.  But there was nothing at all: not the usual spray and splash I've seen with typical shots.  I spent a hour in the woods looking for any evidence of a hit, all the while knowing that even if she was down I could have been within three feet of her and not seen her in the leaves.

Went back to the house and tried calling United Blood Trackers, a group that will hire out dogs for tracking.  There are two reasonably close by: but one was out of town and the other—who is 75 miles away—said he had nothing prepared for tracking, as the season wasn't yet open, and he couldn't help. So she ran off and she may or may not yet be dead.  I simply don't know and may never know.

We speculated that the doe may have been in motion as I fired: I've had them do that, turn and run just as the shot goes off.  If that's what happened I might have nicked her badly enough to leave blood at the site, but not inflicted a fatal wound.  I have seen similar things happen to others; and once years ago I grazed a deer with a muzzle-loader bullet who got up and ran, leaving only a small bit of blood and no trail.  I hope that's what happened: and that she isn't going to spend several days dying of internal bleeding.

I was using my 8x57 with Remington Core-Lokt ammunition, a combination which has been very effective in the past.  If the hit was a non-fatal one on her stern end, it could easily have passed through her leg; but the way she was running and jumping she clearly had full use of all four.  No limp, no hesitation, no evidence whatever of a leg injury.  If the bullet did enter her body cavity and she bled internally, she's likely already dead and the scavengers will find her long before I do.

I am mightily pissed.  I realize that any hunter must sooner or later have to deal with a wounded animal that isn't recovered, and it's happened to me before: once with a crossbow and once with a muzzle-loader; but until today, never with a centerfire rifle. Everything else I have pointed that Husqvarna at died right then and there, but this poor doe is the exception.  It's shaken my confidence in the rifle and in myself, and in addition to being angry, I'm depressed.  I KNOW I hit her, and given the range of perhaps 30 yards and the very clear sight picture I had I don't understand why the hit wasn't more or less instantly fatal.  It should have knocked her down or at least rendered her unable to jump fences, but she went over them like they weren't even there.


August 24, 2018

Today I went to the range to check the sight on my rifle to make sure it didn't somehow get bumped and thrown off. Nope: it wasn't the rifle: I put three bullets into 1" at 100 yards; an inch to the right of POA.  I adjusted a bit and my last shot was 1-1/2" high and dead center. Exactly as it should be.

These are local deer, ones Betty sees every day. I asked her to keep an eye out: if three show up I'll know the doe made it, though I still don't see how she could have unless the hit was a graze. It's been suggested that the bullet didn't expand. It was a Core-Lokt RN and I've never known one of those to fail, but if it didn't hit a bone—and there is a real possibility it slipped between her ribs on both sides and/or didn't exit—that could happen.  I have seen this with Federal ammunition from my .308, which has a bullet a bit tough for fragile animals like our local whitetails; that's why I went to the Core-Lokt stuff from Remington. Nevertheless, I didn't miss: since I found blood, I KNOW I hit her. But she jumped at least 2 fences like an Olympic hurdler. Wherever she was hit, it wasn't on her shoulder.  I was aiming just behind it, the so-called "boiler room shot," which ought to have been quickly fatal. It wasn't a gut shot because the small amount of blood was bright, bright red.

The other possibility is that she was turning just as I fired, and bunching her muscles for a run.  In that case the bullet might have clipped her upper leg or even her butt.  I had something similar happen in Africa, with a bullet that went through a wildebeest's hump and didn't expand at all.  In soft tissue even a Core-Lokt, a relatively fragile bullet, might well not expand. If that 's what happened and it left a neat hole it wouldn't bleed much.

On that same African trip another hunter in our party drilled a kudu through the right front leg with a .308. The wound looked like he'd used a 3/8" bit, the hole was that clean.  I shot that same kudu later in the day, and can attest there was absolutely no expansion from the first hit. That bullet had passed through the kudu's leg muscles, and when I killed him a few hours later he wasn't showing any signs of a hit, not even a limp. So it can happen.

If that is what happened, that doe will be hurting but alive.  If the bullet entered her chest as planned, expanding as designed, but didn't exit, she bled internally and is long since dead.  I've killed two deer with that rifle and ammunition in the same location and in neither case did the bullet exit, so this is also a possibility, Maybe the vultures will find her if so. But I am not happy about this outcome, even though as someone has remarked, "Scavengers have to eat, too."

September 9, 2018

My friend Rick has a place in Amherst, VA where I have often hunted.  It's been a while, for various reasons, since I went up but this weekend we planned a squirrel hunt in his woods.  It's a 2-hour drive, and I dragged my aging ass out of bed early enough to arrive about 7:00 after a 2-hour drive.  The we went into the woods and I sat for a while here and there along a ridge covered with white oaks, a spot where I have killed many squirrels and not a few deer.

I started out using my little Remington Nylon 11 .22 rifle, vintage 1962. I've had that gun for 56 years and God alone knows how many rounds it has fired, but it's as good as the day it left the factory. Unfortunately the squirrels were not cooperative:  I saw one about 8:10, and when he came down on the ground and behind a tree I sidled a bit to my right to see if I could get a shot.  No go: he managed to do The Vanishing Squirrel Trick.  Not another one did I see all morning.

Having arisen at 4:00 AM, after that I went into Rick's guest house and took a brief nap, after which I went out again, having switched to a muzzle-loading 20 gauge shotgun.  Went back into the supposedly squirrel-infested woods, and again, no squirrels appeared. On emerging from the woods, I finally spotted one on the grass not far from the guest house.  He saw me and scampered into the crotch of an apple tree.  I had to work my way around to the right to get a safe angle (the house was in the background until I did) and when I fired it was in some haste: in any event the squirrel was apparently knocked out of the tree, running for cover in a large pine perhaps 20 feet from the apple tree.  I think I might have broken a leg, based on how he was moving.  I fired at him again as he ran but all I did was plow a furrow in the grass with the shot charge. 

I searched for that squirrel in the pine, but if he was still in there I never saw him, and he might well have escaped into a nearby overgrown garden.  In any event, another Vanishing Squirrel.  Rick's place is also knee deep in deer most of the time, but we only saw one or two.  Maybe they went where the squirrels did?  The woods were dead this weekend.

Shortly thereafter we decided to look at some local park lakes, and found three very nice ones.  One is 36 acres, another is 41 acres, and the third is much larger: several hundred acres.  These places are stocked with fish by the DGIF.  There were no boats on the smaller lakes, and only one on the big lake, so things looked pretty promising for future fishing. 

Rick has a canoe, a big 17-foot Grumman; far too large, really, but it's what we had.  We hauled it out of his barn and put it into the bed of his entirely-too-small pickup truck (it stuck out the back by at least 10 feet) and tied it in, then drove to another pond he knew of belonging to one of his neighbors.  There we caught several fish, including some very nice bass and a couple of large bluegills.  We'd hoped to go to the park lakes but the weather turned very threatening: and the last place anyone wants to be during a thunderstorm is in an aluminum canoe in the water.  So we schlepped the boat back onto the truck and back home.

At 3:00 AM on Sunday morning it started to pour down rain, a prelude of "Hurricane Florence," we were led to believe.  So about 9:00 I packed up my gear and drove back home.  However, we hope to get out onto those park lakes: they don't allow gasoline motors, but I have a nice Minn-Kota electric that will work perfectly and is OK.  A fishing expedition is in the future.

September 11, 2018

I spoke with Betty today. I hit that deer that I shot at on August 24, but she didn't get killed. Betty saw her yesterday along with her regular companions. I think she must have been turning to run when I fired and got grazed by the bullet. That accounts for the small amount of blood I did find but the lack of any significant blood trail; and no appearance of injury either on the day she was shot or later. I imagine she was hurting for a while but she lived. I'm considerably relieved.

October 24, 2018

A lot has happened since my last entry, including a 3-week trip to France (watch for the Trip report!) and it has taken me until today to get out into the field.

I went to the Ravine Of Death and found's being logged. The landowner is in the timber business and there were several machines out there cutting trees and stacking logs for transport. I went into the woods on one of their logging trails and banged my truck on a stump...not enough ground clearance! But no harm done (apparently). Had a nice chat with one of the loggers, who is himself a hunter. Then I went into an undisturbed part of the ROD and sat for a while with my shotgun and my Kindle, not expecting to see anything. And I didn't. After an hour or so I went home.

Logging makes a mess but it's not always a bad thing. I have observed deer browsing on fallen tree tops' small twigs; and next year the increased light on the floor of the woods will encourage the growth of small shrubs they find attractive.

We'll see what happens this Fall; the operation will be over by the time the black powder season begins November 3rd.

November 4, 2018: Yet Another Opening Day Disappointment

Yesterday was the start of the black powder season, and it did not go well. After getting up at 4:30 AM, when I went out to the truck, I discovered the battery was stone dead and the truck wouldn't start. Why? Because on this vehicle (a 1999 Ford F-150) the cigarette lighter socket into which my GPS has to be plugged is "live" even when the ignition is off. Having forgotten to unplug the GPS the last time I drove the truck—about 2 weeks ago—it had remained on and drained the battery.

Luckily I was able to jump-start the truck with cables from my Toyota Corolla and the 25-mile drive to the Ravine Of Death charged the battery up again. Unfortunately, on the way out a deer crossed the road ahead of me; I'm not (very) superstitious, but I've decided this is bad luck. Every time I see deer driving to a hunting spot, things don't go well when I get there.

The ROD is a shambles, it's really heartbreaking. The owner is in the timber business and he's had much of the flats above the actual Ravine logged off. I can't blame him for that: the timber is worth big bucks, but it's simply destroyed a lot of the places where I used to sit. The Ravine proper is intact, but no doubt the cutting has altered deer movement patterns. Next year the cleared sections will begin growing up into shrubs that provide browse, and things may be better, but I'll have to re-learn all the patterns again. Furthermore, the wind was blowing to beat the band: gusts of 25+ miles per hour and a steady stiff breeze. I had it in my "favor," for what that was worth, but it wasn't worth much. I'd taken up a spot on the side of the Ravine, just below an old ladder stand that some !##!%$@$#!! put up a few years ago and seems to have abandoned. I've killed five or six deer from this location, but yesterday I saw nothing. Not a deer, not even a squirrel.

It wasn't too cold but my aging carcass feels the chill much more acutely than it used to (in my 30's I could sit on a rock in the snow in southeastern New York for a week) and though I was reasonably bundled up, I had to knock off at 9:00, after about 3 hours. I drove off, made a quick pass through Betty's place, stopped at home for about 10 minutes and thence to the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents in Giles County.

Giles is an antlered-only county during BP season, but since all the deer I've killed there (and I've long since lost count of how many that has been) I felt that it was worth a try. I did in fact see a deer as I trudged up the 600-yard-long hill: a doe who was browsing about 100 yards away and who was unaware of my presence. It had rained the night before, everything was damp enough to permit very quiet walking, and my sciatica forces me to move very slowly, so I spotted her before she spotted me. I never had a shot, of course, and couldn't have killed her even if she'd offered one, since she was antlerless. Eventually she figured something was up and hopped away, so I limped farther up the hill, and then down into the VOATR on the other side. There I saw zilch, nada, nothing at all except one grey squirrel and a few little tweety-birds late in the day. I held out until 6:45 and sundown and then came home.

I'm still trying to blood my T/C "Big Boar" .58 rifle. Last season I had an inexplicable miss with it and until I actually make a kill with that gun I'll be distrustful of its "luck quotient." Of course, my wonderful T/C .54 "New Englander" went three seasons before it started on a string of kills, so I'm hopeful that this new rifle will eventually break its losing streak too.

November 10, 2018: Either-Sex Day in Giles County

Left the house at 5:30 to go to the VOATR. It was near freezing: in fact the air temperature never got above the mid-30's all the time I was out. Got onto my stand at 6:20 and set up.

On the way out I'd seen three deer when I turned off Route 460: a doe and two fawns, about 6:00. Bad omen, always; no different today. I saw zilch while in the Valley: not even a squirrel. The wind was blowing hard: trees whipping back and forth like windshield wipers, and noise, noise, noise. Very unpleasant conditions. At 9:00 I was chilled to the bone despite my heavy weight coveralls and other layers, so I upped stakes and headed to the Ravine of Death, figuring it could be no worse.

It was no worse but no better. The wind was still howling, and there was nothing whatever on offer in the animal kingdom. It was quiet but I'm thinking the cutting has disrupted deer movement patterns.

Got a burger at the Buffalo & More restaurant in Riner, thence to Betty's, arriving about 1:00. The wind was no better but I was in a sheltered spot. Still no animals of any kind. I finally got disgusted and came home about 3:00 PM.

I am feeling the cold much more than I used to: one of the effects of advanced age, as is an increasing level of frustration with long, cold, boring days on the stand. I used to calculate I spent 12 hours on a stand for every kill, but I wonder if that will be the case this year. I was out more than 12 hours between last week and this one, so if it is, I'm "due," but of course nothing is certain.

The Big Boar remains unblooded. I heard no shots at all today, so nobody else seems to be having much luck, either.

Hell of a season so far. Next Saturday is Opening Day of rifle season, maybe things will be better then.

November 15, 2018: The Dumbest Deer In Montgomery County

Took this little doe yesterday morning.  She was so dumb she deserved to die. Mrs NRVO was having a hen party and I was instructed that I was NOT to be in the house until after the ladies left; that I was NOT to come home without notifying her, and that under NO circumstances was I to allow a dead deer to be seen.  So I went to Sunrise Farm and the Ravine of Death, leaving at about 5:10 and settling into my stand at a place I call Three Trees about 45 minutes later.

Sunrise Farm is being logged and this may have affected deer movement patterns.  The ROD proper is still intact, but part of the flats on one side are all cut up.  There is Monster Logging Equipment on site, to pick up and haul the logs out.

Deer reliably enter at one end of the ROD in the morning after feeding in the open fields across the lane, via a route that takes them witing 30-40 yards of the Three Trees. The typical time to see them is between 7:00 and 9:00 AM.  Despite the disruption, more or less right on schedule I spotted a small deer coming in via the usual route about 8:50.  I couldn't hear her because the leaves were still wet from the previous night's rain;  but she was moving along from my right to my left, maybe 35 yards off.  Small or not, this was the first legal and shootable deer I'd seen so far this season, and she was going to get shot.  She stepped into a place where I thought I had a clear lane, and I fired my .54 New Englander,  using a patched round ball over 83 grains of GOEX FFg. 

Parenthetically I'll note that I'd always used a wool wad under the ball prior to yesterday but recently I'd had some real issues with the wad not coming out.  Last season a stuck wad blocked the flash channel on my flintlock, causing misfires; wool wads also got hung up in my .72 double, and in my shotgun.  So I dispensed with it, though I feared it might affect point of impact: BP rifles can be very touchy and when you find something that works, it's best to stick with it unless there's a sound reason not to; and of course I'd had no chance to get to the range to try the wad-less load.

At the shot she jumped a little, but didn't run off.  I had obviously missed her. That's when things got weird.   Normally a deer who'd been shot at would have been off and running immediately but she didn't do that.  Obviously very naive, instead she stood her ground, looking straight at me, trying to figure out what I was and what the noise and smoke meant. I've seen deer do this from time to time, actually: they won't run until they've determined the source of the danger. She must not have seen the smoke, but she could clearly tell something was happening down at Three Trees and she wanted to know what it was. 

Believe it or not, she WATCHED ME RELOAD the rifle!  (This is hard to do when you're lying down, behind a tree, and have forgotten the ball starter, but I managed.) I fired again, and then she ran off, though her tail wasn't up.  I was pretty pissed off because of what I took to be a second miss.  I went to where she'd been, and found no evidence of a hit at all: no blood, no hair, no scuffed ground, nothing.

Now, that New Englander is a Lucky Gun.  There's some sort of quasi-telepathic communication between us.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but there it is.  The GUN kept telling me, "No, you didn't miss.  I bet you'll find her piled up in a ditch.  You wait and see."  I didn't listen.  I went back to my stand and sat down again.

Shortly thereafter the foreman of the logging operation showed up and told me they were going to be moving logs as soon as his Monster-Equipment driver arrived.  So I moved to another site, but at 10:40, sure enough, the lumber guys came roaring by on quads and then chainsaws and the Monster started up.  I pulled up stakes and left in my truck.  The gun kept warning me to keep my eyes open, and what do you know?  It was right!  As I made a turn coming out of the property onto the road, there she was, stone dead in the ditch on my left, right at the edge of the property.  She'd run about 100 yards and collapsed.  I've since apologized to the rifle for doubting its word. That's eighteen one-shot kills it's made.  It was a young-of-the-year doe.  She weighed 60 pounds field dressed and 55 pounds hanging weight.  Using the standard formula she'd have been 75-80+/- pounds on the hoof.  Not much of a deer, but as the loafers at the check stations used to say, "She'll eat good." 

This wasn't the cleanest kill I've ever made,  but a kill is a kill, and pretty satisfying after a long dry spell.   Not wanting to dress her out on the road, I put her in the truck, and drove back onto the property,  performed the formalities of checking her in on one of Harry's DMAP tags, called her in, got a check number, and headed home.  Along the way, having some time to kill before I could safely come home, I stopped briefly at my friend Betty's house to play with her dogs.  Then at 12:30 I called She Who Must be Obeyed, and was given permission to return to base.

When I carted the deer around to the workshop the dogs had a grand time sniffing and snorking and trying to eat the carcass.  I got her skinned, and I have to say that this little girl was the toughest skinning job I've ever had with any deer I've killed.  I don't know why, but it was as bad as skinning a squirrel.

The second ball hit her on the left side in front of her hind leg, high up.  Not high enough to break her spine or hip, or she'd have fallen down.  It exited just behind the right shoulder. I wonder how long she took to die?  Not all that long, I hope, but when I got to her she was still warm and the blood wasn't coagulated.  A friend and veterinary colleague has suggested the track of the ball went through her liver. This certainly makes sense: the blood was mainly in the abdominal cavity, the lungs were untouched, and the blood was rather dark.  She bled to death internally  and the position of the track might explain why there was no blood trail.  It seems to have missed her lungs entirely. I think she must have been in the act of turning away to run when she got hit, based on the entry and exit points.  There was a significant amount of bloodshot meat, too, not something I usually see with round balls.  I'm not sure why that happened.  In any event she's in the workshop hanging: the just-above-freezing weather is good.  I may quarter her and put her in our spare fridge to age.

Three days in the woods for this one.  Rifle season starts Saturday and I'll be back out.  Montgomery is an "earn-a-buck" county: you have to kill an antlerless deer before filling a second buck tag.  I'm covered.

November 17, 2019: The Kimber Does It Again

Hauled myself out of bed at 4:00 AM, and headed for the Ravine of Death. I was on stand just before 6:00 and legal shooting time started about 6:40. Nobody volunteered. I did see a deer, a doe that went scampering through the woods above me, but all I saw were her ears and tail, about 8:20. Right on schedule, but on the wrong track.

At 9:00 I left, went home and had a bit to eat; then headed for a hillside near the Valley Of A Thousand Rodents. I call this place "Flintlock Hill," because I shot my first flintlock deer there some years ago. I got there about 1:30 PM. Last season, when coming down out of the VOATR, I spooked several deer out of the pasture below that hill (the one where the dumbest horse in Latin Christendom used to live; now she's dead of old age). I reasoned that I had seen deer there many times, both in and out of season; that I'd actually made a kill there; and that if last season was any guide, the deer used it in the evenings. After trying several places I chose one on the side of the lane that leads to the VOATR, finally plonking myself down there about 4:00 PM.

My deductions proved correct. At 5:20, just about 20-25 minutes before legal shooting time ended, two small deer came tearing down out of a clump of woods and into the pasture; the leaves were dry enough that I heard them coming a few seconds before they appeared. I figured one would stop, and it did: the Kimber barked, and down he went. A small (75-80 pound) button buck, shot through the chest: took out the top of his heart and punched holes through his lungs on its way out. He dropped in his tracks.

This year I've switched over to Remington's Core-Lokt ammunition: the Federal stuff I'd been using is too tough for our little deer; the bullets often passed through without doing much internal damage. I like a bullet that goes all the way through, but it has to rip some stuff on its way. The 150-grain Core-Lokt bullet performed perfectly, as it always does. That bullet has been around for 75+ years and it's more or less specifically a whitetail bullet. It's a bit "soft" and the lighter weights wouldn't be suitable for big tough animals, but our whitetails rarely exceed 120 pounds by much. The 150-grain Core-Lokt has done me sterling service in my .30-06, and it seems to do equally well in the .308.

I had a long drive to a processor: after cutting the last deer myself (I always do one to prove I still can) this one, small though it was, went to a professional. Traffic on Interstate 81 was horrendous, thanks to an evening football game at Virginia Tech letting out just about the time I got into the area of Blacksburg. I dropped him off and headed home: got back about 7:40 PM. A long day! But this was the 8th one-shot kill for the Kimber. Very pleased with the rifle and the ammunition!

November 20, 2018: Drilling a Doe

Today I went back out to Flintlock Hill, where I had popped that button buck on Saturday. As I'd expected, the gut pile from that kill was totally gone, not a vestige of it remaining. The local scavengers surely do a thorough and efficient job of clean-up.

I got there about 1:00 PM. I'd decided this is an "evening spot," and there was no need to go through the agony of a 4:00 AM wakeup. I knew that if the deer appeared they'd be out there between 5:00 and 6:00 PM, and so it proved.

Just about 5:00 PM I heard a deer snort, off to my left. I looked and sure enough, a doe was staring at me, perhaps 40 yards away. Now, I hadn't seen her come in: like most deer she seemed to have to ability to just materialize out of thin air. Had she remained silent I never would have noticed her, but she didn't remain silent and that was her undoing.

It was a "gimme" shot, really. I put the cross hairs on her and BOOM!, down she went, dead before she hit the ground. The bullet hit a little higher than I had planned, perhaps because she was so close: the gun is sighted in for 100 yards.

I used my lovely Burgsmüller drilling (left). I bought this gun from Cabela's "Gun Library" a few years ago and have used it in the USA and in Namibia with outstanding success. Prior to this I'd only taken one deer with it, however. I had originally intended to bring the Kimber .308 I'd used on Saturday, but the Burgsmüller insisted it should get a turn, so I took it instead. It's a "Lucky Gun," no question.

The rifle barrel is chambered for the 8x57JR caliber: factory ammunition has a round-nosed 0.318" bullet weighing 196 grains, with a good deal of exposed lead. Sellier & Bellot make this old-style caliber which still has a following in Europe (they're the only company that does and I wonder how much longer they will make it). The current fad for high velocity tends to snicker at calibers like this, and certainly the 8x57JR is no speed demon; but a heavy bullet at moderate velocity has a lot of killing power. The bullet cut her spine and aorta; she died so fast she probably still doesn't know she's dead.

With two deer in the freezer already I had no room for more, and my policy has always been that if I take a third deer, it goes to Hunters for the Hungry. H4H is a worthy charity that distributes venison to the needy. All the local processors will take deer as donations, at no cost to the donor; they cut, wrap, and freeze it for H4H to take to food banks and homeless shelters. I did keep the tenderloins from this deer for my own use.

The processor I took it to, Hunter's Burden in Elliston, is one of the largest facilities around here. They do hundreds of deer during the season. The image below will give some idea of what their cold room looks like at the start of the rifle season. My Saturday button buck was #232; this doe was #368. By the end of the complete deer season (which in Virginia runs until mid-January) they will probably have processed well over 1000 deer.

November 24 and 29, 2018: Probably The End Of Rifle Season

I went back to Flintlock Hill on the afternoon of the 24th, hoping to pull off the Hat Trick: i.e., killing three deer in the same spot in one week. No such luck. Nobody showed up at all. I had brought my Kimber, though in retrospect I might have been luckier with the drilling or perhaps the Husqvarna. Oh, well. It was bloody freezing out there, too.

On the 29th I decided to give it the Old College Try one more time because the following day (Friday the 30th) I was scheduled to be dragged to a concert at the Moss Center, and the weather forecast for Saturday was rain, followed by rain, followed by periods of rain.

On the 29th it was cloudy but there wasn't any water falling out of the sky. My friend Betty had called the night before and told me there were 5 deer coming through her place every day between 3:00 and 5:00. I left the house about 12:00 and first went to the Ravine of Death, thinking I could get in an hour at Three Trees. Uh-uh. The way in was blocked by a massive crane lifting logs into an even more massive log truck. I turned around and headed for Betty's.

I sat where she told me the deer came through and saw nothing at all. At one point I think I probably spooked one, though: later she told me she'd seen one running away from the general area where I was sitting. I stuck around until 5:30 and then checked in with Betty, as I was forbidden to return home until 7:00 PM so as not to horrify my wife's students (she does private tutoring).

Betty's place is a little odd, and after sitting down and thinking about it where I had located myself was not really a good place for the .308. There are houses within a few hundred yards and a more or less hidden road at one end of the area. All of these limited the directions in which I could safely fire a rifle. I'd have been better off with the drilling. It would have been much safer to use buckshot in some directions than the rifle barrel but I'd still have the option if a safe longer range shot had presented itself.

Now, I don't like buckshot. My experience with it is very limited but it's been unhappy. I think it's a crippler at any range beyond a few yards. With only 9 pellets in a load of #00 there are pretty big holes in the "pattern" and it's just random chance what pellet hits what. I am still haunted by a doe I fired a load of buckshot at, nearly 30 years ago: she ran off, apparently—but only apparently—unhurt. But to this day I can't be certain I didn't put a pellet in her gut and condemn her to a slow and agonizing death. I don't like it and am very reluctant to use it, but in some places in that spot the range would have been measured in feet, not yards; and it ought to work.

In any event, since the rifle season ends Saturday, I'm probably not going to get out again before the second black powder season in mid-December. That's a tough time: all the stupid and unlucky deer are dead, and the rest have been "educated." Twenty-odd percent of them have been killed. Only once have I made a kill in late BP season, but there is always a chance.

December 1, 2018: Coda

I managed to get out for one last try at the rifle season today. Went to the Riding Ring: this is a clearing perhaps 80 yards in diameter at the top of a hill: one end leads into the path down to the VOATR, the other to the field in front of Flintlock Hill, where I killed two deer this season.

The weather was chilly but not ghastly cold; not enough to require my heavy-duty coveralls. Unfortunately it was also wet. Not raining, exactly, but the air was thick enough with moisture that everything was clammy and damp. About as uncomfortable as it could get without actually raining.

Needless to say it was a fruitless session. I arrived about 2:00 PM and stuck it out until legal time ended (about 5:40) with nothing to show for it. One of my hostess's neighbors struck up a shooting session about 3:00 PM and kept it up for a good two and a half hours, rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat, endlessly. God knows what he was shooting at and what he was shooting. It sounded like large-caliber pistol fire and at times it sounded like a machine gun. Machine guns are legal in Virginia so long as they're registered with the BATF, so it may well have been one; but there were noises that indicated more than one gun and more than one shooter, so I can't be sure.

On the way out, my hostess's dog Jack (a Boxer mix) who normally barks for hours on end, decided I wasn't entirely bad (Jack has seen me before many times) and actually let me pet him. For all his noisy bravado Jack is something of a coward. His buddy Kiki, a Beagle/Whippet cross, is one third his size and ten times as aggressive. Kiki tried to take a piece of my trousers once: she's a feisty little monster and if she were Jack's size she'd be dangerous, but she isn't.

Well, the rifle season has ended. The second black powder season starts December 15, and I'm hoping that the Ravine of Death will be back to some semblance of normal by then. Does aren't legal at the VOATR until December 31 (to January 5) so I'll be hunting the ROD until New Year's Eve.

As Casey Stengel once said, "The opera ain't over until the fat lady sings," (hey, it's Casey Stengel, it doesn't have to make sense) so perhaps I will break my "personal best" record and get my fourth deer this season then. Late BP season kills are tough, but on occasion I get lucky.

December 17, 2018: One More Try

Went to the ROD, after a 4:00 AM wakeup and got on stand at 6:13. Nothing and nobody came by, except around 8:30 the foreman of the logging crew showed up. I found that out when I left the Three Trees stand and came back to the truck: he was waiting, and said, "I didn't fire anything up, because I didn't want to disturb you." Nice of him. He then went on to tell me how many deer his tree-cutters and log movers had been seeing. I politely refrained from gnashing my teeth.

Went home and had a bit of lunch, then out to Terry's place about 3:00 PM to sit and watch the field above her barn. She had reported seeing deer tracks in the recent snow, crossing the field. This was consistent with what I'd seen: the two deer I killed out there in rifle season had been doing exactly that. While I was sitting in the bay of the barn, out of the wind, I kept hearing weird noises, like someone dragging pieces of sheet metal around. Finally I looked into the barn, and it was...ducks! Terry had penned in her waterfowl for the winter in a large wire cage inside the barn, and they were flapping their wings and flying back and forth in the limited space. It was an unearthly noise, but once I saw the ducks do it, it made some sort of sense.

The ROD is still a shambles. I'm not going to try that spot again until next season, hoping that after a year, they will finally be finished with the work of cutting, stacking, and loading logs. The foreman had told me weeks ago that they'd be done by the beginning of muzzle-loading season! At the rate they're making progress I won't be surprised to see logs waiting for pickup in November 2019, by God.

I have been instructed that I have Honey-Do duties at home in preparation for the Christmas Juggernaut, and a visit from my sister-in-law and her husband. In any event, Giles County (where Terry lives) isn't either-sex until the end of the year and into the first few days of 2019, so I'll try again then, when I can kill whatever deer comes along (if any do). My friend Vince told me today he'd missed a shot at a deer in the Riding Ring this morning, so there are still some critters out there waiting to be killed. Well, even if I don't get another deer in the late-late-BP season, I've tagged three this year (four if you count the mercy killing in January) so it's been a pretty good year for me.

January 2, 2019: Last Hunt of the Season and First Hunt of the Year

Weny up to Three Oaks Farm on New Year's Day for one last try to kill a fourth deer. My friend Rick has a little guest house in which I stay and the farm is chock-a-block with deer. He'd invited me to come up. I arrived about 3:00 PM and sat on the porch of the guest house until dark.

I did see deer, plenty of them. Just at dusk a group of 9 of them came trotting past, with a big doe in the lead. They weren't very far off, maybe 30 yards; but they never stopped moving and were going too fast to risk a shot. Rick was at the far end of a field where they were headed and he saw them, too but never got a shot, either. I had hoped that finally I could break the jinx that seems to be on my .58 T/C "Big Boar," with which I have managed to miss a deer at all of twenty-seven yards; but it was not to be.

Oh, well. It hasn't been a bad year and my friend Phil and I have our annual bird shoot scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday on February 3rd. I expect to get some deer on a kill permit this Spring or Summer, too. So this will be my last blog entry for the 2018-2019 season, and I wish all my readers a Happy and Prosperous New Year!