Hunting – Year 2

The novice goes into the woods, year two.

The novice being me of course, year one had a lofty learning curve and the steep curve continues this second year.

In the beginning it often seems that the more you know the less you know. The important thing is to grasp enough of the blocky fundamentals to be effective… or lucky!

I had a lucky turkey last year, I wasn’t hunting and a turkey came to me, I still had to do my part but luck it was.

I also shot a doe, not lucky. That really was hunting, the result of scouting, a setup, and persistence.

Deer track

Prior to getting into hunting I envisioned hunting as stalking, while stalking is a method of hunting, I think that the majority of bowhunters in the northeast and possibly elsewhere rely on some sort of ambush, and a successful ambush takes knowledge of your quarry, scouting, setup and patience.

The patience part means waiting, and waiting is directly proportional to how good your information is. If you know deer pass a break in a fence every day at 5:30, then you can setup for that spot and that time, increasing your chances (think game cameras). If you don’t know that you may have to wait all day for a deer to appear and they may not, they may not show up all week and or all month. Having good info is key.

Scouting your quarry, turkeys scat and found feather.

Scouting your quarry, turkeys scat and found feather.

I hunt with a compound bow, although the rest of the year I shoot a recurve. Why  the compound?

Bowtech SWAT on my elevated practice platform, not the latest and greatest, but plenty of bow for the job.

Bowtech SWAT on my elevated practice platform, not the latest and greatest, but plenty of bow for the job.

I just feel that the size, added control of a bow with let off, speed and my comfort level makes the compound a good choice. I’m also a new hunter with plenty to learn, the greater challenge of using a recurve can wait till I’m a better hunter.

Which brings up practice. I shoot a recurve the rest of the year which means that when hunting season approaches, it is important that I get back on my compound horse and practice up. I don’t have any animal targets but I do have plenty of bag targets.

My 20 and 40 yard targets.

My 20 and 40 yard targets.

This year I started my practice at 20 yards to get all the mechanics back then quickly moved out to 40 yards. My thinking being that if I can hone 40 then 20 and 30 should come easier. Once I’m feeling confident I climb up on my roof and practice at 20, 30 and 40 to simulate shooting from a treestand.

Bag targets at 20, 40 and 30 yards, left to right.

Practicing from my roof to simulate treestand conditions, bag targets are set, left to right at 20, 40 and 30 yards.

Practice paying off, 40 yards from elevated position.

Practice paying off, 40 yards from elevated position.

I also tried running to the target and back to get my heart rate up and then shooting to simulate the increased heart rate and adrenalin boost you get when the game you’re hunting shows up.

That is indeed a special moment, when you practice even in challenging situations you are more aware of your form, your bowarm is firm, bowshoulder down, your grip is relaxed and you’re releasing with backtension. When “your” deer shows up, it may fill you with enough buck fever that you pay little to no attention to the shot sequence, form or anything else. The idea is to hone it through enough practice that muscle memory takes over and you make a good shot.

If I have the good fortune this year to draw on a deer I plan to try and focus on form and shot sequence as a way to stay calm. Of course, these things are easy to say, the action of the moment is a completely different thing, so it will remain to be seen.

This is where I’m at on my 2nd year. I’m learning new things, I don’t know what is useful yet, but, we’ll see what proves out over time.

Good luck to all who choose to hunt with a bow. May all your efforts pay off.

First Deer

I took Tuesday off from work to go hunting, I went out in the morning on my property with no success, around the middle of the day I went into public land near my home and in the afternoon I went to a friend’s property where I have a blind setup on a field.

I had setup the blind almost a month prior, enough time for the deer to get used to a new object in their environment and brushed it in to help it blend and so it wouldn’t stick out.

I got into the blind around two o’clock, the interior of the blind is black so I wore black so as to camouflage with the inside. I had gotten reports from the property owner of deer crossing the field, I had seen deer standing next to the blind when I’d intended to go hunting but gotten there late. I also had trailcam pictures of these deer, so I was feeling confident about my chances at seeing them that day. I had drawn a doe tag in the anydeer lottery which was good as I’d only spotted does out there and on the trail camera.

I had talked to other hunters about this field situation and what they would recommend for setting up there. An experienced hunter advised to not hunt the area in the morning because it is adjacent to bedding areas and often the deer will bed on the field itself, sounded like good advice so I had reserved this spot for the afternoon.

I sat on an upside down five gallon bucket and felt tired. It had been an early morning and I found myself with the bow on my lap and my head on top of the bow, not quite sleeping but in a trancelike state. That restored my energy enough that I was able to sit up with my senses on high alert, listening for footfalls. I also took the time to take a few pictures from the inside of the blind using the panorama feature on my son’s camera. See below:

View from the blind.

At around 3:30 I heard them. Pretty loud on the field grass, more than one and coming fast. The adrenalin kicked in and my heart started pounding like it was going to come out of my chest.

They came into sight quickly from the right, paused a second dead ahead at 20 yards, I didn’t have my bow up and I didn’t dare raise it as I was sure they were looking at me. They moved further left and I had the obstruction of one of the diagonal supports on the blind. I took the opportunity to raise the bow, draw and aim, except that the arrow exits the bow lower than the line of sight and I was afraid I’d hit the  window crossbar, they moved further left 30 plus yards, then everything happened as if I had been switched into auto-instinctive mode, I had a correction to make because the single pin sight was set at 25 yards and now they were further, the mind never entered into it, I just automatically raised the bow to the correct height and loosed the arrow at the largest doe. A hit! The three deer took off across the field into a strip of woods with a small ravine and I lost sight of them.

When using archery gear an animal very rarely just falls over after a shot, what typically happens is they take off and you patiently wait then track them to recover your quarry, so I waited, then walked across the field where they had  disappeared. I saw plenty of sign that the doe had gone through there, I climbed up the shallow ravine and exited into another field. It was twilight then but as I looked left I thought I could see a shape, I walked closer and sure enough it was the doe. She had gone a total of about 100 yards.

I felt elated and thankful. I called my wife Laurel to tell her, then set up a towing harness to drag the deer off the field. I had never field dressed a deer before and although I’d watched the YouTube videos I thought some guidance would help. I called my neighbor, Aaron, who is a longtime hunter and we agreed that I’d go tag the deer then meet at my house after he’d had a chance to vote.

This proved to be a good decision as  nothing really compares to someone showing you the ins and outs first hand. Thank you Aaron!

Once we were done, Laurel took the tenderloins and fried them with onions and we all had a beer to celebrate.

The day was over, I was grateful and thrilled at my first deer.

Fall Turkey

I came home yesterday in the late afternoon after having had a bit of a trying day, grabbed my compound bow and rangefinder and made my way out to the backyard target.

I had taken the rangefinder because I wanted to practice at 30 and 40 yards and I had not marked the distance. I warmed up at 20 yards then stepped back to 30 yards. I shot a few ends at 30 yards then heard heavy flapping on the other side of my house next to my driveway, I managed to look quickly enough to catch a turkey flying up to it’s roost. I walked further around the corner and switched from a target field tip arrow to a broadheaded  arrow, fortunately my quiver was attached to the bow.

I then spotted a 2nd turkey walking towards the same patch of woods where the first had roosted. I had my rangefinder so I quickly ranged a tree just ahead of him, 30 yards, the single pin sight was already set at that distance, so I drew, waited for the turkey to clear a clump of brush and loosed the arrow.

I hit my mark cleanly in the vitals and with it had my first ever successful hunt. Laurel and the kids arrived shortly thereafter and there was much excitement and the kids and I went down to the country store to tag him. I’d never tagged anything before so it was all novel. I later cleaned it, which was new too, YouTube showing me the way.

It is so interesting the changes we undergo as people, I would not have thought in prior years that I’d be a hunter, fascinating the paths we’ll take and the growth we can experience when we permit it.

C.

The hunting puzzle

It has been heart lifting to be outdoors lately as the temps have been warm and the fall foliage is in the full throes of its seasonal metamorphosis. I often forget how a little time in nature can re-charge one’s batteries and reset your outlook if you’re finding yourself a bit skewed by life.

The fall foliage is of course the most obvious change this time of year but there are others, for example the great amount of mushrooms to be found in the woods this time of year. they are interesting to see and find, like gnomes hiding in the woods.

The oak trees are turning and dropping acorns, which in turn feed the forest to include deer, squirrels and other critters.

The area I live in is oak full. Which in my view is a plus and a minus. A nice boon because it is a food source for deer which means that they’re around, but with so many oaks it is difficult to pinpoint where they’re feeding and where to locate them.

Oak

Acorns – all over the woods behind my house right now.

On the hunting front I’m starting to figure out why the call it hunting and not “getting”. Fortunately for this greenhorn there is a lot more season ahead to make up for the steep learning curve.

I did have an interesting experience while in my treestand in the pitch with just some moonlight out, as I sat,  I spied  green eyes digging at something in the ground a mere 12 yards away. The green eyes had a very faint glow to them, surely reflecting the bit of moonlight out. I thought back to the trail cam pics and how two does frequented this area at about this time, I could barely see the movement of bodies down there, too dark to tell, also not legal shooting time even if I could see. I stood stock still waiting for daylight only to find that they had slipped away in the darkness.

When I climbed down from the stand, I went over to the spot where they’d been and found a mostly nibbled mushroom. Interesting info in my education of whitetails.

Mostly eaten mushroom

I’ve also been finding some signs of a buck in my area. There is an area of saplings that has rubs on it from previous years but I also found some new rubs, see pic.

Rub!

What I’ve found about hunting so far is that it is very puzzle like.There are hints all over the woods left for you to decipher in order to put together a picture of what is going on. How successfully you form that picture and the decisions you make in reaction to your information plays a big part in how you fare out there.

I would also say that this puzzle solving process is an enjoyable one and it constitutes a big part of this endeavor. I’m new to this but I would venture to say that preparing, practice,  research, scouting, interpreting information, then setting up situations based on the knowledge gained is most of the experience. I would put the rest of it as waiting or being patient, good hunters are a patient bunch. The actual encounter with an animal is the smallest part of this, probably falls in the minutes and seconds category for most.

I believe this equation probably changes with experience and technology. A trail camera for example can be your eyes while you’re running your life. Someone who has hunted the same patch of woods for 30  years probably has a lot of accumulated knowledge of the habits of their local quarry and can shorten the process if they so choose.

You can also hire knowledge in the form of a guide or an outfitter if your time and access are short. With our busy lives I’m sure this makes sense for many.

Lastly there is luck, always plays a part. I just need it to play it’s part for me before the season is out!

Fall, walk and scout.

I worked Saturday, so missed a chance to give hunting a go again.

Sunday in Maine is a closed day to chasing critters, it also rained which was threatening to keep me home all day, which given enough time would probably make me a crank, so after some calls to friends I got permission to stroll through their properties, look around, hone my new found scouting skills and just be outside in these early fall days.

Beaver dam area

Because I was in a beaver area, 1st thought was beaver tracks but not convinced yet.. any thoughts??

Turkeys

Turkey scat

Red squirrels are loud, deer are quiet

I had my first hunt yesterday. I started trekking out there a little after 5 AM, the northerly that was predicted was really a southerly, which was not what I wanted as it would blow my scent downwind towards the deer,  but I have but my one stand and it was my first time so I pushed on.

I don’t know what flashlight protocol is,  I used one and wondered if every animal in the area was aware that an intruder was in the house.  Many moons ago, when I was in the army the flashlights came with colored lenses to reduce the likelihood of being spotted. I may try that next time.

A lot of things came to light that could use improvement. I could use a small pack as my pockets are full of stuff. I have to figure out a better way to play the wind, are flashlights a good or bad idea, etc?

In the treestand

I also discovered that red squirrels are loud and deer are quiet.

Red squirrels are a noisy bunch, you can hear them scurrying through the ground cover, in the trees and if they get to chattering, oh my god, cover thy ears. If you are a newbie like me every crack and crinkle in the forest is the monster buck of a lifetime about to present himself in fact it is really an ultra hyper 4 inch long red squirrel after his daily nut.

I spotted a doe out in the distance yesterday, not a sound, just appeared, totally silent.  That’s my current working theory anyway.

Speaking of silence, the other visitor I had yesterday was a cat, a cat out in the middle of the woods. What?? As far as I know cats are domesticated beings that live in houses and around them, not this cat. He was on the hunt too. Appeared silently out of nowhere (probably heard the red squirrel chatter) and about 8 yards from me. I could see him sniffing around, I was sure he’d made me but didn’t see me. My scent seemed to freak him out enough that he slinked away through the underbrush to other hunting grounds.

My last animal sighting was a raccoon. I was pretty excited about this one as he was big and fell under the huntable category unlike meow mix earlier. He was also but 8 yards from me, also sniffing around but never saw me. He then climbed a huge pine not 5 yards from me and when he got to my level, he sniffed around some more, I’m sure he knew I was there. Then climbed 75 feet or so up the pine to his resting spot, he was very interesting to watch, hunting wise he’s out of season.

Raccoon, sniffing me out!  (you can click on this to make it bigger)

So go my hunting experiences,  more soon…

Treestands – my first

Sunday, I purchased a tree stand, I got the type you hang not the ladder type, I half wished I’d gotten the ladder type as setting it up would have been easier and in the end  cheaper as you don’t have to buy screw in rungs or climbing sticks to get up there, but I wanted to make it as low key as possible so went with a hanging type.

Ladder tree stand

It took me far longer to install than I thought it would, first to assemble the stand then to scout for the right tree on my property, lastly to set it up. I had bought screw in rungs, which screw into the tree, setting these up to 18 ft or so takes a bit, I had an actual aluminum ladder out there with me to help with the process.

Hanging the actual chair was a little less dramatic than I expected but all of it is working at enough height that if you took a fall you could hurt yourself badly. With the chair came a harness and as soon as I could set up a safety line up there, I donned it and climbed up and just sat for a while.

You may know by now that hunting and hunting stuff is new to me so I wasn’t ready after laboring for the respit the stand provided, and how quiet and beautiful it can be up there. I’m guessing half the guys (and gals) are there for the introspection and the hunting is just incidental.

The climb down was a little awkward as I had to do the rung thing and slide the safety prussic knot down as I descended, made me wonder what going up there in the dark was going to be like. There will certainly be a lot of new and firsts in the coming weeks. I’m excited to experience it.

More to come..