Friday, November 18, 2011

When Nothing Is Going Right, Be Ready!

I looked at the weather early this week and saw that Thursday was going to have a low of 28 degrees in the morning with a high near 60. With the beginning of the week having highs around 70 and lows in the 40's, I knew it was time to schedule a day off. Wednesday night I called Matt's dad to ensure that I wouldn't be stepping on his toes if I walked in that morning. He was planning on hunting a different area. We decide to get there extra early to have plenty of time to setup in our chosen locations.

Thursday morning, I get up extremely early and start the long drive. I get to where I'm supposed to meet Mark, Matt's dad, and get dressed. I'm ready to go when he gets there. We chose to use a small boat instead of making a long and strenuous walk. All of our gear is loaded in the boat and we back the trailer in. There is a rope on the front of the boat that is attached to the trailer so we can drop the boat in and pull it back to the ramp as we pull the trailer out. Mark backs the boat in and starts pulling the trailer out but the boat isn't coming back toward us. The rope pulled off the trailer and the wind is pushing parallel to the shore. It's 28 degrees and there is ice all over anything the water touches. We both watch helplessly as our stand, gear, and the boat go floating away from us. Earlier in the week I would've just swam after it, but that isn't an option today. Mark decides to go back to his house and grab his other boat. I continue to watch the shadow of the boat as it drifts into the fog.

Mark shows up with the other boat eventually. Luckily, with the cold weather, there were no other boats on the water. As he prepares to drop the boat in, he tries to start it. It won't crank. He removes the shroud and sees that the starter isn't popping up to turn the motor over. The grease is too cold. Time for enginuity. He pulls the oil dipstick on his truck and uses the warm oil to lube up the starter. After doing this twice, the boat cranks right up. I back him in and he retrieves the other boat. We pull the second boat out and redress to get in stand. I make the mistake of pushing the boat offshore with my bare hands. They immediately freeze.We get to our spot and part ways. I walk quietly to my tree and try to quickly put out scents and get up the tree. I climb a bit higher than normal as my boots were too slick to face the west as my stand would angle down. So I face the east. I try to put my safety belt on the tree but as I face the west (behind the stand where I'll get most of my shots) I realize it'll be in the way of any shot, so I take it off. Not a smart move, I know. I look at my phone. It's 8:09. I decide to plop my butt down and not setup the camera. Too much bad luck and too late to not have disturbed the deer movement.

9:15 and I hear movement up the hill to the north. I peer through the treeline and see several deer moving. I stand up and face the tree (to the west). I spot several does, so I relax my grip on the bow. I watch as 5 does feed behind me at 35 yards. As they pass through wide open shooting lanes, I hear something behind me and slowly turn to see a spike behind me at 15 yards, broadside. He's lucky I only have one more buck tag and want to fill it with large inedible antlers. He circles all the way around me and follows the does off to my South West. I figure that'll be all that I see. I give it a few minutes to see if anything else followed the does and then sat down.

I hear movement to my South East at about 75 yards roughly 30 minutes later. I stand, grab my bow, and then grunt as I see a rack coming through the trees. He stops. I grunt again. He marches my way like I just slapped his mom. He walks directly toward me and I draw while he is still in the trees. He walks into the open and stops, facing me, at 40 yards. I'm confident in my shot out to 50 yards. After holding my draw for about a minute and buck fever setting in as I see his 8 points reaching toward the sky, I take a deep breath, place my pin on the center of his chest, and release. The second my bow flung the arrow in his direction, his chest dove to the ground. My arrow flew straight....over his back. I should have known that he was on high alert after I grunted him in and to aim low. He trotted 15 yards into the trees not knowing what the heck just happened. I grunted a few times as I knocked another arrow, but he decided that whatever it was that grunted wasn't worth it and moved on.

15 minutes later, to my South West, I hear a branch snap. I look and 50 yards away stands a large bodied deer. His neck is swollen and he's on a mission. As he steps out of the trees, I notice that he isn't quite gifted up top. He's a dink 6 point with the body of a beast. I watch as he walks by at 30 yards. The 8 I just missed was quite a bit bigger rack-wise, so I don't bother him. I sit back down only to stand a few minutes later as a big bodied deer works just inside the tree line from my North East to North West. I never see a rack and it didn't respond to a grunt. I sit again wishing I had my camera rolling, but figured the morning was over. It's already 11am.

Then, at 11:30, another deer works just inside the tree line following the previous deer. I stand and watch, hoping it will step out. At 65 yards, I spot an absolute brute of a deer step out. This deer reminds me of Iowa deer body-wise. He walks so proudly. I look toward his had and see nothing but straight tines that make all other bucks this morning look smaller than ants. I see 4 points on his left side. I manage to grab my grunt call as I feel like falling out of my stand. I grunt. That's when I had my Field & Stream moment. He looked in my direction. His ears don't compare to his rack, they look small. There are 8 points. His G2's are at least 22 inches with mass reaching throughout. I guess him at 160+ inches. He walks toward me about 5 yards then turns toward the South West again. I grunt again and he sways his massive head, but continues walking. I grunt several more time but to no avail. He clears an obstacle with ease and disappears. I stand there in disbelief. I am in awe of what just happened and the next hour flies by.

Mark had text me around 10 saying he shot a spike. I get down at 12:30 and find my arrow from my miss. I unscrew it from the broadhead as the 63lbs of draw-weight buried it deep into the tree.
I head to Mark's location and we find the back half of the arrow with blood spray on it. We track the deer for 200 yards through some nasty thickets. The blood stops. I start doing a grid search. Mark says he found him. I spin around and there's a pile of leaves. When the deer piled up, he completely covered himself in leaves and was easily missed. We drag him about 400 yards out. The hit was good, it hit one lung and sliced directly through the liver. We are looking for the other half of the arrow and the broadhead that is attached. It is lodged in the skin lining the guts pointing toward the back leg. The shot had been broadside, but the arrow took a 90 degree turn. Every time he ran, the broadhead sliced into his leg, exposing the entire knee joint and giving the appearance that something had tried to chew on him.
All this to say, if you're day is going absolutely terrible, you'd better be ready! The deer of a lifetime only needs seconds to appear and a few more seconds to disappear. How I wish I'd setup the camera.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Huntography 2011 Deer Tour Comes to Town

Hunting has been a little slow the last 2 weeks. We've seen deer here and there, but it's been warm enough to make afternoon sits unproductive until literally last light and the morning have provided a few deer sightings, but no real shot opportunities, that is, until this week.

I took a follower of our blog, Charles, on his first duck hunt last Saturday. It was opening day and we opted to sit on a river that flows into the lake. I knew the competition wouldn't be as great and hoped that the birds would seek refuge there. We had 1 flock of teal work by and we got all of 2 shots off, but no birds. A group of mallards gave us a look, but my calls were locked up and by the time I got one to work, they lit into the water 200 yards from us. Opening day was too warm for the birds to be here yet.

I took off Monday-Wednesday for Rudy (aka Huntography) to be here. Monday's weather was like springtime here. Tornadoes, hail, torrential rain, and we even threw in an earthquake for good measure. Rudy decided to come in on Tuesday afternoon to try and avoid the weather. Matt and I decide to hunt Tuesday afternoon to get an idea as to what the deer were doing as we had backed off to keep them from feeling pressured prior to Rudy's visit. Matt and I both chose locations and got up in our climbers. The woods were dead. With the time change, shooting light was ending near 6pm. At about 5:30, Matt had a doe walk in and present him with a 16 yard shot. The arrow sailed over her back. Matt was nailing a target at 40 yards no problem prior to the season and we knew it wasn't nerves. Almost right at 6, I had 2 does come in. One walked to 20 yards broadside and looked straight at me in the stand. She walked backwards and around a brush pile. The second doe also came in broadside at 20 yards. I decided to pass as I wouldn't have time to pick up another tag before hunting with Rudy the next morning. Just behind them was another deer, but with light all but gone from the sky, I couldn't tell if it was a buck or a doe. We got down from our stands and found that Matt's dad had shot a button buck. Being public land, all deer are fair game. If you pass on a deer, the next guy will shoot it. There is no "Quality Deer Management" with public land. We go to help him track it. The shot was 30 yards, but almost no blood at impact. We find blood about 10 yards from where he was shot.
We trail him for about 100 yards finding decent blood, but not a lot. It is all dark red. The arrow didn't pass all the way through. The blood stops where the buck stood for a moment. Matt and his dad start doing a grid search. I'm on my hands and knees and find the blood trail again as well as 3/4 of the arrow with the broadhead, but there are only specks of blood here and there. This is the largest section of blood we found after that.

We trail another 150 yards then grid search again. After 2 hours on the grid, we give in to hoping is was not a kill shot. Matt's dad returned the next morning to look some more but didn't find any more sign.

I finally meet up with Rudy at 9:15pm. He's been waiting for 5 hours. I felt really bad. We chat for a couple of hours and crash.

Tuesday morning, we start out at 4:45 so we can both get ready and out the door. We meet up with Matt earlier than normal so that we can all get positioned and give Rudy time to get setup. Rudy is sitting with me this morning and I put him in the west tree, 30 yards from mine, the east tree. Here is where I screwed up. He was going to be facing east, directly into the rising sun. I didn't even think about that until we were already positioned. The morning started slow, but it was cold. Around 8:15, a doe comes in from behind Rudy and he starts filming. She is 20 yards from him and feeding slowly through. As she works toward me, I look behind her in the woods. There's a buck! He's shredding a sapling! I try to get Rudy's attention, but he's focused on the doe. I text him "Buck! your 5 o'clock!" He turns the camera and starts filming what appears to be an alright sized buck. Then, he steps out of the shadows of the woods. Rudy almost fell out of his stand. We are on public land and have an absolute brute of a 10-point coming straight at us. The buck angles a bit and stands in a shooting lane from Rudy's stand at 20 yards, BROADSIDE! He slowly works toward me, but is angled slightly to my left. I see where he's headed and slowly range an opening. 50 yards. I look at the buck. This guy is a good 3-5 inches outside of each ear and has mass that carries past his G-3's. I look back toward my opening and see my curse. a branch with two less than inch diameter twigs shooting straight up into the opening. The buck continues to tear into every sapling in his path and is about 75 yards behind the doe at this point. Good, she's not fully in heat yet. He steps into my opening. He is again broadside, but those two twigs have names now. One is regret, the other, agony. I never draw. Instead, Rudy films and I watch as this majestic animal continues his course away from us. I tried grunting and bleating at him, but the wind was strong and he couldn't quite hear me.

Rudy's view. A picture he took while recording the buck move through.

10 minutes later, Rudy signals to look behind me. I do, but don't see anything. Instead I hear crashing 75 yards away. Rudy texts me that it was a buck hot on a doe. He was bigger than the 10 and Rudy guessed he'd go 150ish. I can't believe the kind of day we are having. Matt texts me that he shot a spike. He got down from his stand, found the arrow and the deer expired about 100 yards from the stand and climbed back up to see what else happened by. Another 2 and a half hours go by without a deer sighting. We decide to get out of the stands and grab some lunch. Just as I take my hand off my bow for the first time all morning to start putting stuff away, I catch movement. I look up and there is a pig of a coyote right under Rudy's stand. When I say pig, this dog looked like he'd been eating nothing but cheeseburgers for a year. He looks directly up at Rudy who made sudden movement to try and get him on film. I, at the same time, quickly grab my bow and attach my release. The coyote bolts. I kiss and whistle at him. He had enough of those weird trees though and meandered off into the woods. We exit the woods and Matt drags his deer out and guts it.
We get back in stand a bit late due to quartering out the deer among other things. Matt had obligations that kept him out of the woods and Rudy and I headed back into the same stands as the morning. I left Rudy in the west stand as the sun would set behind him. About 5pm we here antlers demolishing a tree. This goes of for at least 10 minutes. It almost sounded like bucks fighting with how loud it was, but Rudy confirmed that it was a buck making toothpicks. The buck grunts 3 times. Each time was a low gutural grunt. I grunt back trying to entice him. He steps near the edge of the treeline, but never presents himself. He shreds another tree. I grunt a few more time, but to no avail. He walks down the treeline away from us. With 20 minutes of light left, I hear a deer come to within 25 yards, but it stays behind a brush pile. Then I hear another deer come crashing in on the party, but it also stopped behind this giant brush pile. I hear thrashing, crashing, jostling, etc. It didn't sound like antlers meeting. I had no idea what was going on. After every bit of light was gone, and before the moon rose, the deer walk directly below Rudy's stand. He could have spit on them. After we get out of our stands, he tells me that it was two spikes in a constant shoving match for 20 minutes. He got it all on video. He's smiling from ear to ear. I might not have harvested a deer for Deer Tour, but the footage that Rudy got made it so very worth it. Rudy and I enjoy the long walk back to the truck under a bright full moon, reminiscing about the incredible end to the day and Deer Tour. It was as if it had been written in a script.