A Disappointing Opening Day Hunt

It was pretty brisk at ten-to-five Saturday morning. The sun was an hour and 40 minutes from coming up- not even a smudge of bright on the eastern horizon. I had packed everything into the car Friday night after work, and laid my camo out. Last year on the bow opener, I was sweating in light cotton. This year, it was 39F as I shouldered my pack, and trekked up the road in darkness.  Continue reading

Sighting in and Target Practice.

I drove down to Illinois this past weekend to see my newest family member. My sister had a little girl two weeks ago. I hung around with her for a while and distracted my nephew so sister could do human things like nap and shower. But after a while, everyone was tired  and I decided to clear out. I took the dog to my mom’s house, and after a quick hike to the river to let him swim and catch crawfish, I got my new sight zeroed in and did some practice shooting.

 

 

PicMonkey Collage

 

Target at about 15 yards.

Target at about 15 yards.

Shot a little high at 15, but my grouping is excellent. Adjusted the sight after this.

Shot a little high at 15, but my grouping is excellent. Adjusted the sight after this.

 

I can remember shooting every day after school for hours when I was a kid. With a longbow, and no let off point. My arm, in spite of being stronger, doesn’t have the endurance anymore. So I decided that since our neighbors that had kids moved out, and since my bow is dialed in pretty well (no wild arrows flying into their yard, field point or no), I’m going to set my target up in the backyard to shoot at when I have time. Our yard is not huge by any means, but practicing at 20 yards is much better than nothing. I might look a little bananas standing on the roof of the garage to practice elevated shooting, but I do need the practice.

Hunting: Now With More Tornado Warnings!

We made it back from La Crosse on Saturday afternoon just in time to not see a damn thing. This weekend was a rainy mess. It wasn’t especially chilly until Sunday evening. Saturday we both got soaked through and neither of us saw anything. In spite of the rain, there were two other cars in the parking area.

Sunday, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees over the afternoon. My hunting gear also didn’t dry overnight, so heading out late Sunday morning to hunt the gap between storms, I had a head start on my soaking. We waited out a particularly bad downpour in the truck, and then headed out. I called it for myself around 3pm in some rain, and ended up waiting in the truck for Matt until around 5. I headed back up the road to meet him at our usual spot, and saw just one deer, well past shooting light, heading up the field towards him. He never saw it though, and we made it back to the truck in 30mph wind gusts.

We had some tornado warnings up here in Wisconsin, however the storms hit worst down in Illinois. Some funnel clouds were sighted near home, but they missed my town (this time- three years ago they were hit very badly). Washington and the Pekin area, 60 miles to the southwest, were hit. A friend of mine from home found a piece of a Washington municipal sign in his back yard. Washington, apparently, was flattened. The storms also crossed over into Indiana. Hopefully those places can recover quickly.

Rifle season for us starts Saturday. There’s no hunting at all the day before (Friday). I’m hoping to make it out maybe Wednesday or Thursday night for one last bit of bowhunting until after gun and muzzleloader.  Saturday and Sunday will be the days to really get deer. After that, pretty much everything lays low until the season ends. We’re heading up north for Thanksgiving and the last weekend of rifle season. If there’s a lot of Matt’s cousins and family hunting at the cabin, we plan to hunt his grandfather’s back pasture. Gun season is the time we really count on to bring home deer. Hopefully we get some.

 

♪ Shot In the Dark ♪ ♪

Matt and I decided to head out Thursday night for deer. Figuring that most of the yahoos that run all over the place on the weekends probably hold down weekday jobs, we hoped that the deer had settled a bit.

I honestly wasn’t expecting must, given our abysmal luck so far. I didn’t even take pictures. It was about normal weather- high, thin clouds, a bit of sun. Mid 40s, temperature-wise- much warmer than Monday. The snow has melted off by now. The wind was straight out of the southwest. Matt took his normal spot (which has to be getting overused by now), and instead of trekking all the way to the back of the property, I opted to use the tree stand I found a couple weeks ago. Like I texted Matt, the wind was wrong for it, but since I didn’t expect to see anything, I wanted to at least be comfy.

Just in case of a fluke deer sighting, I put out some doe estrus in both my little resealable container, and I made a little trail of it in the field, to lure any bucks present closer. And then I sat. A little gray squirrel ended up getting quite close- I was still enough that he began climbing my pantleg before I moved my head and scared him.

And then I sat some more. Around 4:50, I drew just to see if I could see my sight pin. I could, sorta, so I gave it just a little longer. About ten minutes later I was thinking of finally packing it in, when I heard crunching behind me. Over my right shoulder. At first I dismissed it as the little squirrel, but then I listened closer- no scurrying, no digging. Slow steps. Deer.

I watched her come up the hill and sniff at my scent lure. I must have stepped in some of the stuff I dropped on the ground, because she followed my tracks. I haven’t seen a deer even remotely near me since September 25th or so. And here is a deer, no more than 20 yards out. I draw in silence. She doesn’t notice the movement. I look down my peep sight. Shit, I can’t see my sight pins. Right then, I should have let it back and not even tried, but I was too excited. I tried to eyeball it in the increasing darkness. And I missed. A near miss, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

She jogged away, only to come back closer. You have got to be kidding me. Hoping I might get lucky, I tried again, and missed. This time I think she finally winded me (she was downwind, after all) and bounded off in no real hurry, flag up. I found one of my two arrows in the dirt. I’ll have to look around for the other one in the daylight.

Matt didn’t see anything, but the trailcam he left up caught images, unfortunately, they’re all there while its dark. They’ve got to be in the rut by now, if this slight uptick in activity keeps up. Hopefully we do better this weekend- I might set up farther down that hill to catch one while it’s still light enough to shoot.

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This deer appears to maybe have a scar on its hindquarter.

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Anyhow. Tonight we’re packing for the ball. By the time this goes up, we’ll hopefully be on the road so I can make my appointments for hair and makeup on time. Friday night is for celebrating, so there won’t be any hunting stories (but hopefully nice pictures of us in something other than camouflage). We’ll head back down to Madison Saturday morning to hunt in the evening. We’re supposed to have warm weather, but rain. Hopefully it discourages some of the other hunters.

First Snow and We Catch A Break with Trail Cams

This post is way late, as I had a burst of motivation this morning to get some stuff done, and one does not squander that kind of motivation. Especially when it occurs early on a morning that’s about 18 degrees Fahrenheit. Granted, part of it was seeing ice on the inside of our old windows, and the resulting imperative to get the shrink plastic up on them, stat. But then three loads of laundry and three sinkfuls of dishes just kind of happened on their own. My motivation around the house almost always overflows.

Anyhow. Monday was Veteran’s Day. Matt had a 76 this weekend (3-day weekend). So we made it out to hunt again last night. I was looking forward to it- the temperature had dipped the night before, and most of the morning, it had been snowing. Granted, it turned out to be just a dusting, but the low over night was forecast to be in the teens (it was) and Tuesday’s high only in the 30s (it will be). We hoped like nothing else that the deer would be moving.

So, I took Matt’s climbing stand back to that watering hole I mentioned. Never again. First off, I saw one guy dawdling his way up the road. I think he was trying to move quietly and not spook the deer, but at 2 in the afternoon, he would have been better off moving more quickly and trying to keep the noise down than dragging out his noise-making. There’s leaves all over, and if they aren’t dry, they’re frozen. Crunchy either way. Second off- I didn’t have a great grasp on how to use a climber. Getting it around the tree was difficult and noisy. Then, I nearly fell to severe injury not once, but three times. It just sort of slid a few inches each time, sending a jolt of adrenaline through my entire body and giving me a tiny heart attack each time. At least I was only about 8 feet off the ground.

Snowy woods and the watering hole

Snowy woods and the watering hole

I clunked around and made so much noise that I doubt I’d have seen anything anyway. To top it off, that particular stand doesn’t bolt together or anything to pack it out- I didn’t tie up the straps or something, and it slid apart. And smacked against the backs of my legs so much that I had to hunch forward and take baby steps out of the dark woods. Adding insult to injury was the guy walking out, while it was still light, smoking a cigarette.

Winter definitely peeked in on us a month early.

Winter definitely peeked in on us a month early.

Anyhow. I finally got the stupid tree stand out of the woods and to the truck. I’m never using it or any climber again. I’ll keep hunting on the ground, even. By the time I reached the truck, I was ready to cheerfully set it on fire and melt it into slag. So, I stuck it in the truck, and trudged back up the path to meet Matt. He’d not seen anything, but he had swapped out the SD card in a trail camera. When we got home, we checked it. And finally- a deer showed up.

Random deer butt one night

Random deer butt one night

And a little button buck at a different time.

And a little button buck at a different time. Edited to add that if you look at the right side of this picture, there’s another deer. I’d be willing to bet my favorite socks it’s a doe.

Not helpful that they’re near his stand location at dark. But with the height of the rut coming, maybe he’ll finally get lucky. Plus, once gun season starts, all the deer will be running around in a panic, so one might happen by his stand then, too. As for me, once we get back from the Ball this weekend, Matt promised to get me a set like his so I can sit in a tree, too. And I’ll hunt a south-facing hillside towards the back of the property. Maybe I’ll get lucky, too.

He’s even planning not to drink very much this Friday. Which, for anyone familiar with how USMC balls generally go, should be astounding. Last year, I had to push him down to the lobby on the luggage cart the next morning. He played a punching bag machine so hard he punched off his medals and bent the stack. The year before that, he crashed a random wedding at our hotel, and nearly ruined his dress blues with pizza. I had to tell him about all three the day after. So, he’ll be relatively coherent the next day just so we can hunt the peak rut. He’s that serious about it.

The Problem With Public Land is the Public.

This past weekend, we only got out on Sunday. Matt was out Friday night, and was only able to drag himself to the pool function, and then home to nap. His brother, sister-in-law and their newborn stopped by in the afternoon. His brother announced that their grandfather had given him permission to plant 12 apple trees and some food plots on the land up north. We’ll be putting that in with them and the skidsteer next Spring, which is exciting.

Setting up the decoys.

Setting up the decoys.

Dumping out his glove after tripping on a submerged log.

Dumping out his glove after tripping on a submerged log.

A whole mess o' coots.

A whole mess o’ coots.

It cleared up and became gorgeous.

It cleared up and became gorgeous.

GEWe did a double today. The morning was for ducks and geese. Or it would have been, if we’d seen any. The closest any ducks were to us was maybe a quarter mile away. No geese flying, whatsoever. The only birds we got were some coots, which have a daily bag limit of 15. They’re plentiful little critters, even if they’re only really good for sausage making. The skins will be good taxidermy practice for Matt, and I’ll grind them up with some pork fat or something and smoke the sausage.

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We got home around 10:30, after some gasoline-related mishaps at the launch (the truck was completely out and I had to walk a few blocks to the gas station). We showered, had coffee and brunch, and hung out for about two hours before heading out for deer in the afternoon and evening.

My view to the west.

My view to the west.

To the north-northwest

To the north-northwest

There was one truck in the parking area when we arrived around 1:30. Matt took his normal spot, and I opted to hike all the way to the back of the land.  I haven’t hunted here since the last day of last season- which would have been early January, on a day that was about 10F. In nearly three feet of snow. But this is the field I harvested my first deer in.

On the way back, I finally saw some sign around a puddle in an old tire rut. There’s a couple puddles like this that never really fully evaporate, even in summer. The deer drink out of them all the time, since the nearest water source next to them is the creek all the way up by the road. There were all sizes of hoof prints with those from does and fawns/yearlings dominating. But there were a couple big ones, too.

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In spite of this, I saw only a turkey hen, two bird hunters, and two people lollygagging around, walking the field edge right at 4pm. About 45 minutes before the sun set. They stopped at the entrance of every game trail, and stopped to wave at me, oblivious to my growing frustration.

Seriously? Go home.

Seriously? Go home.

The turkey and hunters at least came and went early in the afternoon. I sat in an old stand in the middle of the field- Monday hopefully I’ll get brave enough to use the climbing stand and get inside the tree line of this back field. Even if it’s a mile hike, uphill most of the way. I have to find the deer here at some point.

My Politeness and Good Manners Will Be My Undoing.

Tuesday afternoon, I arrived down in my hometown in Illinois. With work having wound down completely, and the house being in constant disarray with this flooring project, there isn’t much for me to do, really, since Matt works so much. I intended to just stay Tuesday night and then leave Wednesday evening. Well, I sorta kept tying on one more hunt, since I had literally nothing to do in Madison until Friday night. I got to spend all day Wednesday with my sister and little 9 month old nephew (who is just the best). I also got to do a little target practice. I found out I’ve been giving my bow a pistol-death-grip with my left hand (I draw right-handed), which is what’s been causing my arrows to miss high and right. Once I corrected my grip, I was shooting 5 inch clusters and bullseyes. It would be nice to be more accurate, but without a place to practice, I’ll take it.

I got back to Wisconsin late on Thursday night so I could put the house back together before the weekend. My mom was lobbying for me to stay another night since she had Friday off, but I’d left Matt and the dogs completely unsupervised for three days.

The pre-rut is definitely going hard down there. It should be going up here in Wisco too, but the deer on the land we hunt are so quiet and secretive that it’s hard to know. We’ve seen one scrape up here, but my second evening hunt down in Illinois, I heard two bucks rattling and grunting somewhere out of view of my stand. The younger, smaller bucks are also chasing does already.  Since I haven’t already inundated this post with pictures of myself posing with a beast, it should be obvious I didn’t get anything.

The first two nights, my mom’s friend and I hunted the corner of a bean field over decoys. Nothing the first night, and just the rattles and grunts the second.

The decoys.

The decoys.

Most of the week was heavy, over cast skies and spotty showers.

Most of the week was heavy, over cast skies and spotty showers.

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Got a little mud on the tires.

Got a little mud on the tires.

The third night was a clutch decision on my part on Wednesday evening. Again, with nothing of particular interest of import to do back at the house, I opted to stay for another hunt- I’m much more likely to see deer down there on this private land than I am to see any up here. Plus, these are the kinds of deer this guy regularly pulls out of there. If I said that wasn’t affecting my decision, you’d all be allowed to call me the filthy liar I would be for making that statement.

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This guys antler bases are about the size of RedBull cans.

This guy’s antler bases are about the size of RedBull cans.

So. We head out for a third evening hunt. I have the stand I want to use in mind. The ladder stand I used last time I went home.  One of his buddies from work was headed out with us, too. When we parked the trucks near the road, he mentioned wanting to use the same stand I did. So I told him he could have it, and I took a stand about 50 yards to the south, down in the creek draw. I shouldn’t have done that.

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I figured that since it was such a windy day, and the temp had dropped about 15 degrees that afternoon, the deer might stick to the sheltered little valley anyway. I saw a small buck chasing a doe about 80 yards away from me within 5 minutes of climbing up. And then nothing else. About 4:30, I heard the coworker’s bowstring twang, a deer hauling ass away, then some crashing to the north. When we all climbed down at dark, he said he’d watched two does and a 5 pointer pass before taking the shot at that doe just before the sun set. I should have taken that stand.

So we tried to track the doe. There wasn’t a blood trail to go on, just the prints from her taking off after impact. And she’d run north down the bean field towards the pasture. We kicked around in there for a bit, searching, until we realized the bull was at that end. We called off the search, and they were going to head out today to try to find her, if the coyotes didn’t get to her first.

So. I came home empty handed again. I can’t describe how very badly I wanted to fold down the Jetta’s seats, lay down a tarp, and try to stuff a big, corn-fed buck in there. I’m not sure when I’ll make it down again. The rest of November, our weekends are chock-full. Next weekend is the USMC ball up in LaCrosse, the weekend after that is opening day of gun season, and the third weekend is right after Thanksgiving. That’s the last weekend of gun season, and Matt gets a 96 for the holiday- we always go up north to hunt there. Maybe I’ll make it down for another middle-of-the-week trip next week or the week after. And just maybe, the third time will be the charm.

Same Old, Same Old.

We had another relatively uneventful weekend in the woods. We’ve had to put waterfowl hunting on hiatus for the time being, as Matt’s gun is still on the fritz. There seems to be a spring gone awry in the trigger mechanism. We’ve tracked down a couple gunsmiths in the area. Additionally, a friend of his has mentioned lending Matt his gun, since said friend has a pregnant wife at home, and thus won’t be doing any duck hunting.

Matt seems to be zeroing in on the deer, which is good. Getting off the field edges and into the cover has been key. The hillside he hunts on is thick with brush and scrub under the oaks. Having a stand in there is essential, and I don’t have one yet. I’m relegated to the field edges still, I suppose. I did try with my ground blind in the brush, but I couldn’t see more than a couple yards. The tree stand I found is in the trees enough that it might help, but the wind was wrong both days this weekend.

The thick stuff

The thick stuff

Matt was out Friday night on his own while I was at work. He saw that 8 pointer again, without a good shot. He also saw a big 4 pointer, which could be the deer I shot at and missed back in September. Saturday and Sunday we both had other hunters walk past us. Saturday, someone inexplicably crawled up the wrong side of the hill, through the brush, with a climbing stand on his back, more or less ruining Matt’s hunt. I want to start looking for private land, but getting permission for deer is tough.

Far and away the most exciting thing to happen for me this weekend (if you don’t count the dog eating a bottle of Doe Estrous Pee, and personally, I’d just as soon forget that if the smell would only fade) was a great gear find. We were moseying around Farm and Fleet yesterday, after stopping at a home improvement store (we’re installing new floors in the house, fortunate, with that whole deer pee thing). They had a very thick, insulated, fleece pair of ScentBlocker pants. In women’s small. The only pair on a whole rack of men’s gear. The tag said $80. I’d looked at a thinner pair of UnderArmour pants with scent eliminating properties for $180 at Gander Mountain. I snatched them right up. Holy moly, are they warm. And they fit correctly. No hitching, hoisting, yanking, or picking requiring. It’s like wearing warm pajamas into the field.

I told Matt it's a good thing they were ScentLok. I was sweaty enough by the time I sat that there was plenty of scent to lock in.

I told Matt it’s a good thing they were ScentBlocker. I was sweaty enough by the time I sat that there was plenty of scent to lock in.

No word on how much they really block scent yet. Or their durability. But they’re warm and comfy, and really, that’s half the battle. Or it is when you spend a couple seasons wearing ill-fitting, cheap youth larges.

Anyhow, we’re hoping to make it out sometime during the week, since the place is a little less crowded then. I’m also hoping to head back home before November goes and gets all wall-to-wall busy, because it will. Hopefully I have better luck than last time, since the rut’s getting going.

 

I Never Thought I’d Be Wishing for November

The rut can’t get here fast enough. Seriously. I haven’t seen any deer in a month. Yes, that’s my frustration talking. I was out both Saturday and Sunday evening this week. Saturday I was out on my own, and with only the Jetta and no deer cart, so perhaps it’s better that I didn’t shoot anything- I’d have had  to drag it to the car myself, and then jack knife that thing into the trunk. Most deer probably weigh pretty close to my own body weight.

Anyhow. We’re seeing sign, at least. Last weekend, we noticed drag marks and shed deer hair on the tractor access near the road- someone dragged one out. There’s still hoof prints all over the place. Yesterday, I got off work way, way earlier than I planned to, and thus was hoping to get out way early, and maybe catch some deer out in the afternoon- I think these deer keep weird schedules. I was assuming Matt would still be up in Buffalo county for the evening hunt. I was wrong- he was on his way home when I got off work at 10:30, and he wanted me to wait for him. He got home around 2, and then we were out. I posted up in my field, he went to his.

The clover in my field is all kinds of trampled, and some it it grazed down to stems. Something is going on up there, which gives me hope. With the wind out of the southwest yesterday, I had to find a different spot to sit- my usual spot is ideal for winds ranging anywhere out of the North. This is where the only bit of good to come out of this weekend occurs- I found a tree stand.

The view from the stand- it could use a clean up.

The view from the stand- it could use a clean up.

Old wine and beer bottles at the bottom of the ladder

Old wine and beer bottles at the bottom of the ladder

The tree beginning to grow around the chain.

The tree beginning to grow around the chain.

I don’t know how many times I’ve walked past it, not seeing it. But there it was, just around the field edge from where I usually sit, in the tree line a ways. It’s a built-on wooden platform one. It’s sturdy, and old enough that the red oak it’s in is growing around the chain holding it to the tree. If it’s from when this land was still privately owned, I would hazard to guess it was once actually on the field edge, but with only sporadic maintenance by the county, saplings have grown up, and now it’s 8-10 feet back from the field. As you can see above- it could definitely use a clean up.

So yeah- no deer last night for either me or Matt. I’ve pretty much got the entire week off until Friday, with the golf course winding down. I’m debating what I want to do- I want to make it back down home to hunt here in a week or two, but I had more things crop up this weekend, and probably can’t make it. I’m considering making it down during the week, but I have no idea how everyone’s schedule down there works with that. Otherwise, I want to go and have a long sit- make it out in the morning before light, and sit until about noon. I’m not seeing anything in the evening at all, so I think it would be pointless to sit all day long, but maybe the deer are coming out at weird times late in the morning or something. It’s worth a shot, considering I won’t be doing anything else, and that it’s not like what I’m currently doing is working.