Saturday, November 21, 2009

One Shot Wonder

We started stirring around 8am...we were all well rested and very hungry. After a wonderful breakfast from Jerry of eggs, chorizo, bacon, tortillas and the last of the tamales, we planned our day. Jim and I were going to score a javelina. I had originally planned on bringing the meat home and actually trying it, but had been dissuaded earlier by Jim and Jerry. Had they not convinced me that eating the javelina would not have been the most pleasant experience, I would have come to the conclusion on my own as we cleaned them - but that is for later.

Jim had mentioned a group of hunters that had come through a couple of years ago and how they planned on making a skull mount of a javelina. I thought that might be an interesting momento to my trophy hunt weekend. They grow tusks similar to wild hogs, so the skull has some character. Combine that with the fact that Jim knew of people who would appreciate the meat and I was convinced a javelina was a good way to end the hunt.

Now, we had seen javelina on the property and they didn't appear the be the most wary of game. In fact, some would approach the mule as they had learned to equate the sound of the engine with the dropping of corn. However, they typically didn't get too close.

We started driving around the property. We were both convinced that we would be back at the lodge in short order. It didn't turn out that way.

We drove, sat, dropped corn, drove and sat some more. We did this for the better part of two hours and had only seen one javelina. It was a small pathetic one with a hurt foot. We left it alone.

We finally happened upon a feeder and about 20 javelina milling around. Jim turned the mule to face them at about 100 yards.

We glassed them for a while watching them eat and fight. It is amazing that they aren't related to hogs and they look and act so much like them. I had read that they are actually related to hippos. We watched them for a while and Jim instructed me to find the largest of them. I instantly identified the largest and tried to acquire him in my scope. The problem was that there were so many of them running around that the one I had picked was always behind at least one other javelina.

Because we never had to get out of the mule, I had a perfect rest. I also didn't experience the same level of buck fever with these as I did with the deer. I knew I had all day to wait - the javelina weren't going anywhere as long as there was corn on the ground. In fact, of all the hunting I've done, this seemed the least sporting. It seemed a little more like shooting to me. The javelina weren't going to go anywhere. I could have gotten out of the mule, mooned them, did a song and dance and they still would have hung around.

I watched and the one I picked out finally became clear. Or, at least I thought he was clear.

What actually happened is kind of hazy. I fired true and the one that I had picked out dropped right where it stood. My shot was placed on the shoulder and instantly killed my target.

However, another javelina went flying off to the left...He was clearly gut shot and hurt badly. Jim noticed it first and instructed me to put another bullet into him to finish him off. Unfortunately (as we would discover later as we cleaned him), my second shot went through the back and out through the belly - he was now gut shot twice...although definitely dead as well. To my point about the lack of sporting nature of javelina hunting, the others who scattered were back eating around the two carcasses within 30 seconds of my shooting.

So, my one shot killed two javelina. I'm still not sure if the second one was actually behind the first and the bullet passed through both or if there was some strange ricochet off a bone of the first. Jim made the point, and I completely agree, that it doesn't matter. As the shooter, I am responsible for the outcome. If this had been two deer, I would have had paid a significant price for the error. As it was, each hunter is allowed two javelina a season, so I was done.

Javelina are known as stink-pigs and they are aptly named. In fact, these were two of the more nasty creatures on God's green earth. First, you have to leave them alone after you kill them to give the fleas a chance to make their escape. I'm not sure we gave them enough time because I have a bunch of nasty bites on my hands. Additionally, they stink. Forget the fact that one was gutshot - they both stunk and stunk bad. Javelina have a musk gland on their back that they use when they are alarmed. This gland really gives off some odor. Also, while we were cleaning them I brushed off three ticks that had travelled from the javelina to my hands.

We finally got done with that nastiness and took pictures of the javelina and a couple more of buster. We washed and drew up plans for the meat and the trophies and prepared to say our good-byes and Angie and I were anxious to get home and had an eight hour drive in front of us.

I told Jim that I had planned on a trophy hunt weekend and got the added bonus of making a friend.

I'm not sure which was the greater pleasure, but in the end, it all made up a weekend and a birthday present that I will never forget.

SL

Friday, November 20, 2009

Buster and I (The Dressing)

After taking some pictures, we finally got Buster out of the field. Jim has an area for cleaning that has winches, water and tools.

After weighing the deer (220 lbs), we hung him and field dressed him pretty quickly. I helped as much as I could, but Jim did all the areas where its important to be careful. Because I am shoulder mounting the deer, we had to keep the cape intact which made it difficult to finish the dressing. Angie stayed with us, but tried not to look at any of what we were doing. At one point she looked up and got a good look and didn't enjoy the experience. Frankly, I think she was surprised that I was, literally, up to my elbows in it.

Jim kept telling her that she had to take a bite out of the heart, but when we realized where my shot was placed, there wasn't much left to bite. Although the shot hit about an inch or two to the left of where I wanted it to, it took out the shoulder and the heart for a clean ethical kill. Buster traveled those 50 feet on adrenalin only. I felt good about that.

We finished cleaning Buster, and Jerry and Jim scored him while Angie video taped (she conveniently did NOT tape the dressing). His scores were:


We returned to the lodge, our work done for the night, to finally sit down to dinner. Jerry put some steaks on and we had an amazing dinner over the story of my deer. It was after midnight by the time we went to bed, so I told Jim we could sleep in Sunday morning - there was no reason to get up early - a doe would have been anticlimactic at this point.

The plan for Sunday was to score a javelina, but we could do that at 10am just as easily.

I dreamed about Buster.

SL

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Buster and I (The Harvest)

Jim asked me if I marked the spot. I had, so he informed me that he was going to get out of the blind and I should yell to him when he gets to the spot on the road where the buck was when I shot.

He walked about 75 yards down the road and I stopped him. He waved me down and began to look for blood.

The shot occurred with about 15 minutes of legal shooting time left. As we looked for blood it became dark. Jim couldn't find a single drop. Neither could I, but this was only the second time that I ever looked for a blood trail, so I knew if Jim couldn't find any that I wasn't going to be of much help.

We looked for what seemed like an eternity - the whole time I got more and more frustrated and fearful that we weren't going to be able to find my deer. I started to think that perhaps my shot missed. I thought the shot was true, and I was confident that I knew where my shot impacted the deer, but with no blood trail, it seemed as though I was wrong.

Jim gave up looking for blood on the road and entered the brush to look.

He appeared to be too far from the spot, so I started looking in the brush, too - but closer to the blind (about 50 feet closer than Jim). I noticed something shiny on a cactus right near the road and shiny means wet - it could have been blood.

I crossed the road, but couldn't find that shiny item again so I started looking further into the brush. I heard something move about 50 feet into the brush. It scared the hell out of me and I yelled to Jim that something was in the brush. He took a couple of steps closer to me and I took a couple of steps further intro the brush. I heard the noise again. There was definitely something in the brush with us and I said the same to Jim. I moved further in, and could see the deer. It was down, but still kicking. I yelled for Jim that I found it. He yelled to me that if it gets up I should shoot it again.

He came over and sure enough, my beautiful buck was lying still under a mesquite about 50 feet into the brush from where he was shot.

We waited several minutes before approaching and brushed the eye of the deer with my gun to make sure it was down for good. It was then that I got a good look at him and he was absolutely amazing. Jim shook my hand and congratulated me on a successful harvest of an excellent deer.

Now that we found him, we had hard work to do. First, Jim and I dragged him the 50 feet back to the road. We were careful not to drag him over cacti or through mesquites, which made our 50 foot drag more like 100. We noticed one thing...the deer was extremely heavy.

We got him into the road but quickly realized we weren't going to be able to get him into the mule. Jim suggested that we go back and get his truck with the winch. I thought that was a great idea. We drove back to the house (passing a very large rattlesnake crossing the road on the way) and picked up the truck and Angie.

The hard work was about to begin...

SL

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Buster and I (The Shot)

I've affectionately named him Buster. He is the most beautiful deer I have ever seen and I will enjoy him on my wall for many many years; not to mention enjoying him on my dinner plate for many many meals.

It might sound strange to a non-hunter that I think he's beautiful, but the truth is that he is a magnificent creature. His death, by my hand, is honored by the fact that he will help feed my family and that I will remember the wonderful time I had on my trophy hunt - which just happened to be my 40th birthday present from Angie.

In fact, the entire weekend was perfect, in every way.
Angie and I arrived at Las Tejanas Ranch thirty miles outside of Laredo at about noon on Friday. The drive from the front gate to the lodge took what seemed like fifteen minutes. While we drove, we noticed acres and acres of mesquite brush, cactus and other hardy desert plants. The country is foreboding, but also beautiful in its harshness. Las Tejanas Ranch encompasses over 1,000 acres of this rough terrain, surrounded by high fence and sports whitetail, feral hogs, and javelina. The owner, Jim Winch, met us along the way to show us to the lodge.
Once at the lodge, we settled in. He had lunch waiting and Angie and I unpacked our gear and ate a little bit, all while taking in the sights of the lodge, it's decor of old pictures and signs and antlers everywhere. Most of the antlers were castoffs, but several were taken as part of harvests and Jim had a story for all of them. Jim ended up being one of those very kind souls wrapped in a tough exterior hardened by a life of physical labor and the Vietnam War. He also was quite sentimental and had a number of items and pictures from his past, each of which also had a very interesting story. In fact, when we weren't hunting, we enjoyed Jim's stories, or those of his cook for the weekend, Jerry.

After we settled in and had lunch, we went to a clearing on the property and sighted in my gun. After nine shots, we were confident that when it was time to shoot the bullet would go where it was aimed.

We returned to the house and decided it was time to get in the blind. Angie planned on sitting in the blind with us for this afternoon session, video camera in hand, in case there was any action to capture. We got into our cammo and into our snake chaps and headed to the blind in Jim's 4x4 gas powered mule. We got into the blind around 3:30pm and got ready.

Two does came in and we watched them eat, get spooked, and return to eat some more. I've seen many does before, but I was still mesmerized. The are so graceful and skittish, it is fun to watch them. I think Angie enjoyed it, too. We hoped for a buck, but we only saw those two until darkness.
That evening, we met Jerry and he prepared a wonderful meal of tamales, rice, beans, and tortillas. It was delicious and Jerry added to Jim's stories. We sat outside talking, smoking a cigar, and enjoying the campfire under the stars.

The next morning, Angie slept in while Jim and I headed to a ground blind. Although the days were in the low 90's, the morning was surprisingly cold. We sat and watched a doe and her yearling buck come in and eat. Another pair of does came in, as well, so we had four beautiful deer in front of us, but no shooters. The mom and son pair got spooked and left, and we watched the doe pair a while longer. A javelina joined them until they all ran off. We didn't see anything else, so we abandoned the blind at around 9am.
We returned to the lodge and had a wonderful breakfast of bacon and eggs and the left overs from dinner the night before. Jim kept saying that the afternoon session would be the one where we scored the buck I was hoping for. I had no reason to doubt him, so I was confident, as well.
After a nap, we left for another blind. This elevated box blind was located at the junction of six trails and Jim instructed me to keep my eyes out on the four in front of us...one had a feeder and he had scattered corn on the others. For several hours, all I did was count dove. Had I had my shotgun, I could have had a nice meal and there were many dove flying around or landing and eating the corn. At this point, I was getting a little frustrated. We hadn't seen a single deer this session and it was getting close to time to go in. But, that's when it happened.
In a whisper, Jim goes, "Scott. There's one to the right. It's a doe."
I raise my binoculars, but I really didn't need them as the deer was within 100 yards. A buck had walked into the middle of the road to eat. It presented a perfect broadside shot. I whisper back, "that's no doe. It's a buck."

Jim replies, "Shoot it". I hear "DON'T shoot it".

I look again through my binoculars...it looks pretty big to me, so I don't understand his instruction. I ask, "is it a shooter?"

"Yes. Shoot it when you are ready. Just don't bang your gun."

I put my binoculars down and move to get my gun. Maybe because Jim warned me not to do it, I bang my gun on the window sill. The deer hears the clang and looks at me. I remain motionless and the deer looks away. I slowly move my gun into position, resting on the ledge of the open window. I am starting to breath very erratically and the buck fever starts taking over. I look through my scope and it is all blurry. I cannot see the dear clearly, and the crosshairs are invisible. I do notice that he is a very nice buck with a big rack, but that just makes my breathing even worse. I blink to clear my vision and the sight picture becomes clear.

I take deep breath after deep breath to slow my breathing and my heart rate down. As I do this, the crosshairs on the scope move less and less. I finally have gotten myself under control and the scope is still. I exhale, hold my breath, hear Jim say "don't jerk the trigger", and slowly squeeze. The gun fires. I believe that my shot is true. The deer jumps straight up in the air, lands, and bolts into the brush. Jim says, "I think you got him".

I breath again...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Das Ladenstra├če

It's every man's nightmare. The very thought of it makes me break out in cold sweats. The 'it' I am referring to is accompanying his better half during a shopping spree.
When Angie first informed me of my birthday gift (a trophy whitetail deer hunt in Laredo), we knew that we would have a long ride on our hands. I thought it would be fun to do some sightseeing together on that ride. Fredericksburg was a destination that was often mentioned as a neat little city (and, by chance, it is about the halfway point in the journey). So, we knew we were going to want to stop and spend the night.
I thought this was a great plan. We were going to stop in a German town in the middle of Texas. This meant two things to me: beer and wiener schnitzel. I am not a huge beer drinker, but when I drink beer, I prefer a flavorful German import. I have since I started sucking down 7 ounce nips of Lowenbrau as a much younger person.
We got there pretty late, so much of main street was closed. That was fine by me. In fact, there were only a couple of restaurants open, we were hungry, and I could smell the hops...we found two restaurants side by side. One was indoors and one outdoors. It was a beautiful night, so we opted for outside. We both ordered a Spaten pilsner and all was good. In fact, Angie didn't like hers, so she gave it to me and all was better. She ordered a glass of German white wine to make up for the difference. I ordered the wiener schnitzel and she got a wonderful country fried quail. The meal was great and wasn't completely ruined by the live music which wasn't very entertaining. Angie mentioned going store to store tomorrow, as well as a bunch of other sight-seeing items, but I didn't really understand what she meant.
We got up and ready and left for main street. We parked about halfway down as to keep the full car in sight of a lot of traffic and entered the first store. It was a holiday collectibles store. We entered and didn't come out for over 30 minutes. The store went on and on and on and on and Angie needed to look at everything little thing it offered. I started thinking at this point, if we take 30 minute for every store we'll get out of Fredericksburg sometime in 2012 - just in time for the end of the world which, by then, would have been welcome.
We did the next store and the next. Angie really looked at the stuff and took her time in each. At this point, I noticed that I was neither inclined to keep up nor capable. So, I did the next best thing...I sat on the husbands benches while she shopped. Each time she reached me, I'd move the the next bench. If I needed to stretch my legs, I joined her in a store. This went on, store after store until we reached the end of the block....several hours later.
We decided to have a late lunch in a brewery and then some gelatto in a small shop. We purchased some cigars for the other side of the block and started it all over again. Antiques, collectibles, toys, clothes and touristy stuff...she is like the energizer bunny when she shops (think Lithium) - she just keeps going and going. I went bench to bench, cigar in hand. Sometimes I would talk to another husband, sometimes just play on the phone. She was happy and I was patient, or rather, she was happy because I was patient.
Unfortunately, there is a ton more to do and see in Fredericksburg and that will be for another trip. For now, understand, that the cost of my hunt was not only turning 40, but also shopping with my baby.
SL

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Finally!

As I approached my 40th birthday this summer, I told Angie that instead of a big party that I would prefer a guided hunt as a present. She had had her 40th birthday blast about a year and a half earlier and she wanted (and got) the big surprise party. I opted for some quality time in the woods.

In May, she shared with me a hunt idea that she was pursuing. She was looking to get me out to the desert of west Texas for a trophy mule deer hunt. Although this sounded awesome, I thought perhaps it wasn’t the best idea for two reasons: 1) the hunt was VERY expensive and included only the deer and perhaps whatever predators we came across and 2) a desert mule hunt can be very difficult usually consisting of spot and stalk hunting across rugged terrain and ending with a long shot. Truth be told, I am a little intimidated by this kind of hunt, so I suggested she call her cousin Steve.

Steve is my 20-minute Turkey caller. He called two gobblers in within 10 feet of us and we had NO cover with four of us sitting in the wide open. He is a very gifted hunter – knowing the game very well. He always puts his son in a position to harvest a big deer and I trust his opinions and instinct. We shared the lease last year and I hope to get to hunt with him and his son many more times.

Angie called him and he put us in touch with his friend Jim in Laredo, Texas. This friend owns 1,100 acres of high-fenced ranch outside of Laredo. His hunt is all-inclusive and is about half the price of the muley hunt and includes a trophy whitetail. Now, the whitetail will likely be much smaller than the muley I might have gotten, but considering I’ve never even scoped a buck, I will be more than happy with anything that I get. Add the fact that he has hogs, javelin and predators on the property that I may shoot at and I think this hunt is a much better value. Add a possible doe harvest and it could be a very productive weekend.

Jim has been sending us pictures from his trail cams. The deer are VERY large and quite numerous. He’s also regaled us with stories of the hogs and javelin and a very mature diamondback rattlesnake that accosted him in one of the ground blinds. I am very much looking forward to the hunt that begins Friday afternoon. Angie is coming but is not too happy that it will be warm and that the snakes will be active (we’ve both purchased snake chaps for protection).
Angie will be coming with me on Friday afternoon’s hunt. She will cammo up and she will be in the blind. However, the only thing she will be shooting is the video camera.

Her anticipated part of the trip is the ride to Laredo. We are planning on taking two days to get down there with a stopover about midway in Fredericksburg. I’ll be updating Facebook and this blog the whole time. I have told her that she is in charge for these two days. If she says turn left, I turn left. If she wants to stop in a small town and go antiquing, I pull over and go shopping. For her birthday, I gave her an itinerary of small towns and printouts of their antique stores. She is definitely looking forward to the first two days…

…Friday afternoon, not so much (although, truth be told it’s the whole idea of the possibility of coming across a rattler that is what she’s concerned about).

Me? I’m going to enjoy the whole time. Being alone with her and hunting are two of my all-time favorite activities. Whether we score a big buck or not, this will be a 40th to remember, even if it is six months after the fact.

Some things are worth the wait.

SL

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Exchanging Pheasant Trees

On Saturday, Utah opened its pheasant season. I didn’t think much of it as we were scheduled to hunt ducks that day.

When the ducks didn’t materialize that morning, we decided to cut out and get a big breakfast at the nearest Cracker Barrel. Fortunately for us, the trip took us through the fields of rural Utah County. We passed many lines of hunters carrying shotguns, retrieving dogs, and families enjoying the beautiful weather.

However, as we drove away from the lake, the most incredible sight any of us ever saw happen right in front of our eyes…about fifteen pheasant flew in front of the truck from the hill on the right to the brush on the left.

Jeremy immediately pulled the truck to the side of the road and got out. He stated putting his waders on. I asked him what was up and he informed me that he was going after those pheasant as there were plenty of roosters in that flight. I didn’t fancy putting my waders back on and he informed me that it was pretty marshy where they landed, so I told him I’d wait for him at the truck. However, Rob said he was going in without waders, so I grabbed a gun and a couple of shells and dove in with the rest of the group. We lined up about 30 feet apart…Rob on the left, Rob’s son next, then me and finally Jeremy on the right. We began walking forward.

After several minutes, we knew we were getting close – we had to be as the lake was fast approaching. Another step and out came a bird. It was literally 10 feet directly in front of me. Unfortunately, it lacked the beautiful red color of a rooster and was obviously a hen. You are not permitted to shoot the ladies, so I let it go.

In an instant, pheasant after pheasant flushed. Shotguns blasted.

When the smoke cleared, we all missed. The several roosters in the group had flown away safely.
We walked back to the truck amazed at the experience that we just had…a five minute pheasant hunt in the middle of our duck hunt.

Perhaps next year we will plan on a real pheasant hunt as part of our waterfowl weekend.

SL

Monday, November 09, 2009

Ducks and Cover

This weekend I participated in my annual Utah duck hunt hosted by Jeremy and Robert Hunter…I’ve worked with Jeremy for almost a decade and we share a real passion for hunting. He’s appropriately named, for sure.

We met at 5:00am at the park and ride – I was waiting as the Hunter’s pulled up with their boat. They have a great little john boat with sides that popup as blinds. About a month ago, Rob’s wife painted the outside of the boat in a cammo pattern so it looks real sweet. It’s got three seats and although a little unstable for three people to hunt from, but it is perfect to use to get out to where we are hunting. They’ve got a very large number of decoys, mojo’s and feeder-butts, so they added a sled this year. They pull the sled full of decoys behind the boat. Additionally, Jeremy jerry-rigged a step on the front of the boat so you can step up and get into it without fear of tearing your waders. I don’t know what they will have next year, but some kind of chair for standing/sitting in the water or some kind of stabilizer to shoot safely from the boat is a good bet. Oh, and they were waxing wishfully about something called a muddy–buddy motor to get them through the shallows much more quickly than the 5-hp lawnmower engine they have today.

Ultimately, I was just happy to be in a boat. My Texas-based experience of duck hunting is that it is very hard work, often trudging through waist-high water or knee-high mud for an hour to get to your spot. And, after getting to your spot, not seeing any duck not to mention shooting at any.

So, it doesn’t much matter to me that we went out three times over two days and got skunked twice.

On our first morning we got out into the water and set up pretty late. In fact, it was after 7am by the time we were ready to go. However, the duck that flew into our decoys while we were setting up told us we were going to have a great day. It was to be a lie.

Jeremy and his brother are great hosts and allowed me the first shot. A swimmer entered our decoys. Most of the time, the ducks that swim in are coots; a duck that forages in the mud and tastes appropriately bad. This time, however, this was a real duck. As the duck took off I shot. We had blood in the boat, a golden-eye hen. As I retrieved my duck, I got stuck out in the open. As it usually happens, when someone is not prepared, the ducks come. In fact, two came in a buzzed right over Jeremy and Rob back near the boat. Unfortunately, they flew right in my direction and no one could safely shoot. The circled and crossed us again, everyone taking a shot but all of us missing. They flew off and I hurried back to the boat.

As you would expect, as I returned, the ducks stopped showing up. For a while, ducks would fly around the perimeter of our set up, ignore our calls, and fly off. Rob got bored and took the boat to see what else was going on. While he was away, a flock of gadwalls flew directly overhead. Jeremy and I dropped one each. While he was scouting, Rob bagged a pintail. Later on, I took a coot figuring I would try and eat it – but I was dissuaded from my plan.

We stayed out for a little longer enjoying the beautiful weather and the amazing scenery. Even if the hunting is slow, I can just look around and enjoy the beautiful mountains that surrounded us on every side. We decided to call it a day and motored back to the car.

We decided when we were finished in the morning to return for an evening session. We were a little disappointed with the showing, so we thought we’d try again. Last year, we scored three in the boat, so our five actually an ok day one.

That evening however, and the next morning, for that matter was more of the same – ducks either completely ignoring us or taking a look by flying the perimeter, but never coming in. It was a completely foreign frustration. Last year, Rob was able to turn any duck and convince it to flair into our spread for a good shot. In fact, we killed fifteen ducks on day two last year…this time? Nada. Nothing even came close. The only interesting thing about our evening was a couple of flights of Canadian geese that flew overhead. We shot at them – all of us unloading our weapons, but they were out of range.

By then, the sun was beginning to hide behind a mountain to the west. A beautiful site for sure, but one that also let us know our day was over. Beside, the mosquitoes started swarming by that point, so it was time to go.

The morning of day two (our last hunting opportunity) was more of the same without the geese or the mosquitoes. We gave up early and decided to call it a day.

That was before we realized it was opening day of pheasant season – but that is a story for another time.

SL