Lessons From A Late Start II

Posted on December 22, 2015

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Adventures are never fun while you’re having them.
                                                                                                                          Reepicheep, Voyage of the Dawn Treader

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(Editor’s note – It was 7 above with a 20 mph wind and snowing sideways; very cold for a November day for sure. By mid-afternoon I had finally had enough and retreated to the comfort of a warm truck. When my partner reached the vehicle over an hour later, little did he realize how memorable it would be. No, he did not have a buck in tow, but it was certainly priceless, especially the look on his face. Ian first raised his rifle that was encased in ice. Next he moved, which made for quite a cracking sound as he was also shrouded in ice. When I learned how this ice age transformation had materialized, I just burst out laughing, uncontrollably. How did this happen you wonder? You’ll have to ask my partner.

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Over the course of the past ten seasons it has been entertaining, fun and sometimes frustrating helping a guy become a deer hunter, something he never grew up with. He, in my opinion, has done remarkably well (I’ve never had to tell him something more than once) and has transformed from a student to my legitimate hunting partner. Here is the second part of the lessons he has learned over the last decade.)
Although I was expecting adventures while hunting, I was certainly surprised that morning. “Face-paint? Really? Face-paint? You’ve gotta be kidding me… face-paint. Wow.” Bernier rolled in laughter at my reaction to the posse on the side of the road. I couldn’t have been more startled by the gang that piled out of those two trucks, ready to take to the woods with full packs, quad-runners and electronics hanging off every belt-loop. It was hard to imagine that they were off to hunt whitetails and not attempting a war-film reenactment. They talked of going “deep” into the woods and were coordinating their attack like it was a full-blown search-and-destroy mission. I can assure you, it’s been nothing like that while boggin’ with Bernier. The great thing about what he has taught me is that it has all been under a bias to the old ways. Simple ways. Woolens. Compass. Cartridge belt. Carbine… check. I fear I’ve contaminated him a little. We’ve added a GPS to our kit, along with a small can of baked beans for lunch and maybe a few other gimmicks, but compared to the list you might find in a magazine paid for by advertisers, he’s taught me to go pretty light, and certainly without face-paint. Makes for easier and quieter walking, for sure.

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Boggin’ with Bernier is serious business once in the woods, however, and upon conclusion of the day relative luxury and comfort rule our stay. You see, we have not been in a rustic ‘deer camp’ recently, rather, our accommodations consist of nice hotels with comfortable beds and hot showers. As Bernier puts it, “We are not campers or cooks, we’re here to hunt deer.” We are getting older – at least he is – and these simple amenities make a huge difference. When the sun goes down, we commit to a good meal and make ourselves at home in one of the local restaurants. We’ve made friends of the proprietors within the community, and we hope they benefit from us spending money in their stores and restaurants, a token of our gratitude for sharing the woods they also hunt. When we hit the rack well-fed and wake up well-rested, we know we are prepared to push as hard as we have to, or in some cases where preparation has met opportunity, pull as long as we need to get something out. Another good lesson. Here’s the rest of the list of core lessons I’ve learned hunting with RG:
1. It’s okay to make noise in the woods. Deer don’t seem to be bothered by squirrels stomping about, yelling at each other and lighting firecrackers, so it’s less about the noise than the noise pattern. Unless you are a squirrel, minimizing noise is important but don’t let it immobilize you. If you step on and break a stick, freeze for 10 seconds or so before you keep moving. It doesn’t take long for the woods to forget that noise. Learn deer movement in reaction to sudden noises. Anticipate a deer’s response to it. While walking, move in the step patterns they do. Odd numbers of steps more resemble the woods than the one-two cadence of two-legged creatures.

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2. The thing moving is at a disadvantage. The deer and the hunter have eyes that key on movement, so move in the shadows. Break up your outline. Move deliberately. Here’s a good one: If a buck is chasing a doe past you and the doe sees you raise your rifle; you probably won’t get a shot at the buck. Yeah, that wasn’t a fun lesson to learn.
3. Be a quick shot. Period. Practice a lot. Nothing is harder to deal with after you’ve done everything above correctly than not capitalizing on your opportunity because you couldn’t get your rifle up in time. That means about 1.5 seconds from first seeing the deer to pulling the trigger. Don’t expect more than that for the big old bucks. The younger deer may give you 3 seconds, but no more. The deer I’ve killed stood around longer, not knowing I was there. The quick shots have eluded me or wound up in a tree.

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4. Know what deer are eating in the area you are hunting. Their stomachs don’t allow them to eat the full variety of the forest. Their diets have to transition slowly. Look for signs of browsing as much as fresh droppings and rubs and scrapes. Knowing where the current food sources are makes finding the deer easier, obviously. Inspect the contents of their stomach after field dressing them. Take notes on time of year, location and weather.
5. Deer have personalities. They are as different as the hunters chasing them. Some sneak, some investigate, some hide and some run. Remember this in your successes. Too many hunters try to re-enact successful hunts and don’t consider the mystery of whitetail personalities. A grunt or rattling sequence might have pulled one buck in and caused two others to sneak away. Again, learn deer behavior.
6. You won’t beat a deer’s nose. If you’ve heard something different, likely by someone being paid to promote scent control products, don’t believe it. You can’t lock scent. Don’t be stupid, though; try to minimize the odor of your body and clothes, which will help contain the amount of scent you put into the air. When it’s wet or raining your scent carries further. It’s harder on those days. It’s all about the wind.

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7. Be around deer, year round, as much as you can. Learn their body language, reactions and other behaviors. Walk through areas where deer live and see how they react to your presence when you aren’t hunting them. Consider if you can hunt with the same mannerisms as a non-hunter and get closer to deer. I’ve gotten closest when moving casually, and not like a predator.

Perhaps most significantly, I’ve learned that deer hunting has no winners and no losers. We may call the big deer we kill “trophies” but I prefer to think of each as a gift for which to be grateful. I’m not necessarily looking for big deer when I hunt. I’m looking for a dramatic conclusion to a hunt that has a story. Last year, my wife shot a deer larger than anything I’ve killed – antlers and weight – and her thankfulness was for having a full freezer. I was thrilled to see something I started become a way of life for my family, and to see her moment of joy. Yesterday, we walked out of the woods together at the conclusion of the season. Her with her rifle and me with my bow. That’s a moment, a memory. I’ve had many potential kills with my bow, at full draw while hunting from the ground, but I have yet to take that shot. It’s not been about the kill to me. It seems that too many hunters let the commercialism of the industry steal the raw joy and sublime sadness of the experience. Sadly, these days we see too many people share stories of a successful hunt with an apologetic tone towards what they see as a deer’s small size or inferior quality of antlers. Any hunt is a success for those who love the experience and the anticipation of adventure and blessing. Here’s the ultimate secret to a successful hunt: be content with the process, and thankful for the blessings provided.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer