Saturday, December 31, 2011

My New Hunting Buddy

Today's hunt just wasn't the same.

I sat in the blind and watched the squirrels scamper around. I listened to the ducks whoosh in behind me, land in the water, and proceed to do what ducks do. I waited in vain for deer or hogs to appear. Normally, I would have been loving the experience - I like to be outdoors and the actual hunt is secondary to that experience. However, this time was different. I was thinking about my new hunting buddy and I missed her not being there with me.

You see, Cassie hunted with me on Thursday and it was the best hunt of my life - even if we missed everything at which we shot.

Cassie hasn't hunted with me prior to Thursday and when I asked her if she was interested in going, I was pleasantly surprised that she said yes. Because it was her first hunt, I wanted everything to go smoothly - as often hunting can be hard work, in difficult conditions and I didn't want anything like that to turn her off.

First, I scheduled Thursday afternoon as our day. The forecast called for sunny and warm temps in the high 60's. Since she isn't really outfitted for being in the woods, this was of paramount concern. Secondly, I wanted her to have fun, so I tried to take a lot of the work out of the hunt - even if it meant it diminished the probability of us actually bagging any game. I also had to reset my expectations; that this hunt was about us having fun together and experiencing the outdoors, not about the harvest.

We started our day in the late morning. She indicated that she might like a rifle of her own for her birthday, so we took a drive to Gander Mountain in Sherman. They have a good selection of guns and we had already been to B&S Guns, Cabelas, and Bass Pro looking for a pink .22 LR. No one had one, so Gander Mtn. was our next attempt. They didn't have any in stock, but we definitely found what we were looking for, a Remington Model 527 .22LR in Pink Camo. She indicated that this was the gun she wanted, so we talked to the sales person about when their distributor would have them in stock. We'll have to wait a couple of weeks until we can order it, but they did have the same gun in black, so I bought it for me. I figured she could use it until she gets her own and I could use it whenever I needed a small caliber gun.

We then drove to the hunting area. The first order of business was to sight in the scope on the new gun. We spent about an hour adjusting the scope until we had good groups close to bulls eye. I knew we weren't 100% sighted in, but the sun was starting its decline, so we grabbed our gear and headed for the blind; me with both the .22 and my .270 Win and her with her pellet gun. We sat and I could tell that she was terribly excited. We spoke in whispered tones about the set up. I informed her that I'd seen a lot of squirrels at the hunt area and expected to see them this afternoon, as well. However, there were none to be seen. In fact, the woods were surprisingly quiet. I explained that we likely spooked everything away with our practice shooting and that if we were quiet and still, they would probably come back. So, we waited in relative quiet.

We ended up seeing a several squirrels. We took shots at them, but missed on each one. On most occasions, we squeezed of more than one shot, but were unable to connect. Clearly, the scope still needs a little bit more adjustment. I could tell she started getting a little bored, and I suggested we wait for the feeder to go off, then wait a little after that, and if we weren't seeing anything we could go.

As the feeder went off at 5:00pm, we heard something behind us. I thought it might be a deer off in the distance, but Cassie thought it right behind the blind. She told me her heart started racing. She was right as to location, but it wasn't a deer, it was a crazy grey squirrel. Eventually, it started climbing a tree to our left and I shot at it twice, but missed both times.

We decided to call it a day, but she kept talking about how she felt when she thought a deer was right outside our blind. I know exactly how she felt, but I also know that it pales in comparison to how I felt having her by my side.

It will be the same way I feel when we go back tomorrow, my knew hunting partner by my side.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Velveteen Buck

"Did it have a nutsack?"
Not understanding, I answered his question with one of my own, "What was that?"
"Your deer, did it have a nutsack?"
Thus began the solving of the mystery behind this morning's harvest.
My hunt seriously started last week when I saw a buck following his five does (Click here for that account). At the time, I thought they were the members of his harem, and I guess they could have been, but that appears to be less likely now.
Yesterday was the first opportunity that I had to hunt. My plan was to hunt hard for the entire week, as I had access to awesome hunting land and the office is shut down for the holiday break. I set my alarm for Monday morning at 4:15. Unfortunately, I wasn't careful about setting the AM or PM designation properly, so I slept until about 6:15, when I awoke on my own. Since this was about the time I wanted to get into the blind, I decided to sleep in a little more. My hunt would have to wait until the afternoon.
I finally got into the blind about 2:00pm. Legal shooting hours go from one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset. This meant I could shoot until 5:53pm.
Other than an unidentified animal that ran along the tree line in front of me about 175 yards away, I saw little. Through my peripheral vision, I thought I noticed through the trees, two puffy white tails bounding on my right, but they were gone so quick I was never really certain. At about 5:40am, I heard the first of a couple of deer come into the wooded area on my left. It had gotten sufficiently dark by then, so I couldn't make them out...I never knew how many (certainly more than one) and what sex. I waited for them to leave until after six, but my bladder would no longer wait. I decided to spook them with my flashlight and shined the beam towards them. They bounded away with crashes through the timber. I was safe to depart, walk to my car, and relieve my bladder.
I had spent another wonderful afternoon spent in the woods watching crazy squirrels and listening to the sounds of nature.
Since I slept in yesterday, I was eager to get going today. So eager, in fact, that I woke on my own at about 3:15am. You think that getting up early would result in me getting to the blind on time, but it didn't. I got to the property about 6:30, and was almost to the blind when I heard the feeder go off. It is set for 7:00am, a good six minutes after legal shooting time.
As I was late to the blind and didn't want to spook anything close by, I got situated as quietly as possible. I was probably good to go at about 7:15am, and within five minutes I heard movement to my left. It was still a little dark in this wooded area, but I could make out the shape of a deer. I remained motionless as I tried to control my breathing. The deer were very cautious, but I could make out two, and then another, and another. Ultimately, it was clear that I was watching the five does from a week ago. I hoped that the buck was with them, but I couldn't see him. At the thought, my breathing became even more difficult to control. My heart was racing to match.
They funneled into the wash in front and below me. My pop-up blind is situated on the top of the bank to one of the property's tanks. The deer were about ten yards in front of me about about 10-20 feet below. I watched in silence as the single filed past me. Two mature does, a juvenile, another mature doe and another juvie. They were followed by my buck. This was the same group from last weekend. At this point, I could have tried for a shot, but decided to be patient. They were too close, my gun was not yet raised and I wasn't in position to shoot.
They continued left to right in front of me, and I soon started to think I made a mistake by waiting. They looked like they were going to continue to the right. However, the lead doe turned left and started up the rise. They were to the right of the feeder as they approached it. I thought I again was going to be denied as they now looked to be going to the right at the top of the rise, which would have put them behind another tree line. However, the lead doe turned left and went to the feeder. All of the other deer did the same.
At this point, they were far enough away from me that if I was very careful, I could arrange myself in the blind. I sat forward in my chair. It squeaked. A cautious doe looked up at me for a couple of moments, but then continued to eat. They all looked relatively relaxed. This wasn't a surprise since the feeder and the blind had been up for a week. I quietly raised my rifle and placed it on my shooting sticks. I had a very stable shot and was watching my buck through the scope as he ate. He turned broadside and was clear of the does. I couldn't control my breathing and breathed very hard through my mouth to calm down. I released the safety, exhaled halfway, held my breath and squeezed. He dropped immediately as the does scattered.
I chambered another round instantly. I've been burned by not watching and be ready to shoot again. He never moved.
I sat for a while as I regained my breathing. Unbelievably, the does returned (albeit about 50-yards away). I looked at all of them closely to make sure there wasn't a slick buck with them and they eventually went off to the right. I exited the blind and immediately went to tag the buck.
As I reached him, I noticed he was in velvet. Velvet is the soft tissue that covers their antlers when they come in. Eventually, the velvet is scraped off, shed, and the antler hardens. This should had already occurred, but on this buck it had not.
After some help from Angie's cousins who live close to where I was hunting, we removed and field dressed the deer. They were also surprised by the velvet, as was the game processor's son. However, the processor (who is an older man and has probably seen 1000's of deer) immediately knew what was up. My buck had no testicles. I didn't notice that when we were field dressing it, as Angie's cousin Russell did most of the knife work on the deer. I called him to verify and he replied that he hadn't noticed, but now that I was asking he didn't remember seeing said "nutsack". The processor went on the tell me that he's seen a couple of deer like this in his years, all of them missing their testicles. He surmised that at some point the deer likely had some kind of trauma and lost his balls. The effect of this is a little bit smaller body, a smaller rack, and velvet that wouldn't shed. Otherwise, he was healthy and a good buck. He estimated his age at 3.5-4 years old. And, in the opinion of the processor, "Real good eatin'!"
I was going to do an antler mount as a trophy, but the processor suggested a skull mount instead. He claimed I would never see another buck like this ever I ordered the skull mount.
I'll never forget the story of my once in a life time buck.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Buck Stops There

I couldn't move. He was looking directly at me...hell, it felt like he was looking right through me. I couldn't understand how he could see me, but clearly he was uneasy. It may have been the fact that the five does he was with had run away in alarm, white tails up in what deer hunters call the big 'middle finger'. He was slower to leave, wanting to check out what was the cause of his concern. I don't think he actually saw me. I don't think he winded me. I don't think he heard me, but he knew something was wrong. You don't get through several seasons with a harem surrounding you without being careful. I'm hoping he doesn't get through another...but, I am getting ahead of myself.

As I walked to my spot, I couldn't get over how eerie it was walking through the woods in the pitch black. It was about 6:15am, and it was cold. I knew where I was headed, and would course correct with a quick push of the button on my bright flashlight, needed as the dim gleam on my headlamp really didn't illuminate more than a couple of feet in front of me. I had my pop-up blind on my back, my chair around my shoulder, and my rifle in my hand. I shoot an entry level Savage Arms .270 Win. Its an OK gun, but when I put a Leopold scope on it a couple of years ago, it became a much better rifle. As I emptied a magazine the previous day, I knew it was still accurate without any need for additional adjustment to the scope.

After about 15 minutes I arrived at my spot, set up the blind and got situated. I made much more noise that I would have liked, but I wasn't really expecting too much success this morning. I really wanted to set up everything and check the feeder to make sure that NEXT week was well prepared. I wouldn't have to wait a week for some excitement.

I sat and shook. It was much colder than I expected. Although decked out for winter, I was extremely uncomfortable. I had about 25 minutes before shooting light, so I doze. I had my phone set to vibrate at shooting hours which was 6:53am. As a backup, I knew that the feeder would wake me when it went off at 7:00.

I woke with the phone and again struggled with the cold. The sun was starting to come up, but I was set up in a heavily wooded area, so I never really warmed up. I checked my gun, my seat and surveyed the area through my scope to ensure that if the opportunity to shoot came about, I would be comfortable with my rest and position. I sat and waited and tried to stay warm.

First came the crows. They are loud and annoying, but I love watching them hop around looking for corn from the feeder. The squirrels descended next. In fact, a couple of squirrels were able to run off a dozen, or so, crows. However, the crows came back in greater numbers and started working on the corn again. This back and forth continued for a while...then the ducks arrived in the tank behind me. Ducks wings make a peculiar noise as they cut through the air. A large flock of ducks can make an amazing song. I listened to them for a while until they decided to fly off to another area. By the gunfire that I could hear in the distance, I thought they should have stayed with would have been safer, as I wasn't hunting their kind today.

As I enjoyed the solitude, the sounds of nature, and the adrenaline that accompanies every little noise around me, I caught some movement out of the right window of the blind. I froze, although truth be told, I could no longer feel the outside temperature...there were deer in the field to my right. I was well covered by a line of trees between us, but that means I also couldn't see them well. I raise by scope to peer through it. I saw several does, five in total. A couple of larger mature does were keeping watch while the smaller ones seemed to be playing...jumping and running and generally having a good time knowing that mom was keeping an eye out.

They wandered around for a while and continued on their way. There wasn't a buck with them, but I know enough that the does often lead the, I stayed motionless and quiet. Then, he showed. I saw antler, but from the side I couldn't tell if he was a legal shooter. It didn't matter anyway as I didn't have a shot through the trees. I maintained my vigilance hoping they'd show up again.

They did. About 20 minutes later, they showed on the other side of the tree line. However, they were also much further away, about 175 yards. My feeder is set up about 75 yards away from the blind and there are low hanging branches blocking a much longer shot. Additionally, the does seemed to be very cautious. They slowly started to filter down to the feeder, but the buck stayed back. 150 yards. Then, about 125 yards. I still didn't have a shot on the buck...he never really moved. He just seemed to stare at me. Before I knew it, the does had run off.

The buck just stayed there. I raised my rifle to size him up in the scope. He was about 150 yards (a makeable shot), but was directly facing me (not ideal). Additionally, the low hanging branches were very much a concern. I sized up his antlers, he was what looked to be a solid four point, with tall antlers, but not very wide. I think he is a legal buck (13 inch inside spread). I decided not to shoot. I want him broadside and closer to me....a week of no pressure getting acclimated to the blind and the feeder should do the trick. I'm going back to get him.

That's why I was there today in the first place. Not necessarily to bag this buck, but to get ready to do it right. This is the second time I've seen those five does in the same spot - so they shouldn't be going anywhere.

I think I'm going to be thinking about that buck a lot until next week.


Monday, December 12, 2011

My Thoughts (and Legs) Are Racing For More

I'm thinking of more. My heart is screaming for more. It's probably a good thing, since there is so much more to do.

I've been talking to Paul at World Vision on what we could do in 2012. I am thinking of something big...bigger than just 13.1 miles and $3,000. There is so much more to do and I want to do more to meet that need. I was thinking, could I raise $5,000? How about do a couple of races and raise $10,000. Then, it struck me - what about three 13.1 races next year? I think I could do that. Basically, it means training all year with no significant down time.

Now, I just needed to figure out how much I can raise and how I was going to do that...

Then, the World Vision gift catalog arrived in the mail.

The catalog is simple and wonderful. It is full of various items that can be purchased and delivered to the recipient. Although you don't get to select the recipient, you are secure that it is going to someone that needs help. Last year, the kids chose presents for others from the catalog...they chose gifts that meant something to them and they knew that the value of the gift would be taken from the budget put away for their own gifts. It was rewarding watching them chose gifts for others. If memory serves, they chose water, clothing, bibles, and livestock.

As I thumbed through the catalog, I noticed the page for a deep water well. The description reads,

Pray. That's the first thing that our well-drilling teams do when they come to a thirsty community. They take their work seriously, because they know that dirty water and poor sanitation are major contributors to the deaths of about 1.5 million children every year.

1.5 million children dying from preventable disease and diarrhea. Children dying because they don't have access to clean water. It seems so senseless, especially in the knowledge that I can get virtually unlimited clean water just by walking about 20 feet from the computer from which I am typing this message.

The description continues,

Help one of our teams drill a deep well and fit it with a hand pump. One well can provide 2,800 gallons for safe, life-sustaining water every day for up to 300 people.

Your gift will save lives for years to come, and help transform an entire community.

As I finished reading the description, I knew I found my goal. I didn't care about the price. I DON'T care about the price. All I knew is that this is what I was looking for, and I didn't need to pray about it for confirmation. I'm going to run to provide a deep water well.

I don't know how I am going to raise $13,700.00. Given the wonderful generosity of some many for the 2011 effort, I feel somewhat reluctant to ask for more. All I know is that this is a worthy, wonderful thing to work for and that I all have to do is train and run.

I trust that God will work on softening hearts.

Be a part of something that will leave a legacy. Allow God to soften your heart towards generosity to those who need what we commonly waste. Be a part of something that will transform a community and save lives for years.

What could be more important?

I will be posting more information and my fundraising page in January. In the meantime, I would appreciate your prayers for this effort and my training.

Thanks for taking this journey with me.