Fall is for Whitetail Deer

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I have always loved fall, having been born a scorpio, and of course finding the many thrills and rewards of whitetail deer hunting in my later years has certainly added to the enjoyment of this special time of year.

I was on stand before first light for the opening day of rifle season in Wake County. It had been unseasonably warm, but luckily that morning had a slight chill to it. It sort of felt like fall. Our weather has been out of wack yet another year, but at least the deer have made a comeback from the EHD outbreak from recent years.

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There was no wind in the forecast, however, after perhaps an hour following first light, a good breeze crept up in the woods. But that wasn’t all that crept up. As they are often described, as simply appearing out of nowhere, the three-and-a-half-year-old doe could have been teleported to my position for all I could surmise.

I hadn’t thought of shooting a doe on the first day, but this deer was by itself. I watched her for a few minutes and she made as if she was going to run off. She scampered a few yards and paused; it was all I could take. The 30.06 made the first crack in the morning light and the deer was down. I was on Harris Lake gameland, and I hadn’t heard a shot yet.

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I descended the tree I’d climbed before dawn and returned to my truck to drop the stand, change clothes, and take my processing gear down to begin the work I’d gladly asked for. She was skinned, quartered and cleaned of meat in an hour or so and my opening day morning was in the book. Backstraps hit the grill the next night.

Four days later, I finished work around midday and noted the wind was right for an area I wanted to explore. It was a power line section on the other side of the lake from where I’d hunted on opening day.

I was on stand around 3:00 with the sun to my back and the wind in my face. It was warm, but not hot, and the wind was a variable 5mph out of the north.

I ended up having one of those unreal experiences.

I actually found myself in the presence of two bucks fighting for twenty minutes plus. They were in a thicket I’d taken a position on, and did the majority of their rumbling in there, and out of sight. It was absolutely nerve-racking. Crashing off trees and running around, I was sure it was a bunch of squirrels or crazy-ass raccoons.  The ruckus went on for over a half hour. After a while I knew there was no way it was deer.

I’ve seen them rub trees, scrape the ground and lick branches, even a little light sparring, but never actually fighting. But then, the first and bigger deer stepped out, he looked like a good deal of steaks to me, but I was in shock and hadn’t put the pieces together yet. I wasn’t thinking of a bachelor group. So when his sparring partner chased him into the clearing I was in, once again, it was all I could take. 

The 30.06 cracked again and the buck tumbled, but regained his footing and made for the opposite side of the power-line. I gave it a few minutes and decided to get down and see if I could find blood. This is a situation hunters do not want to find themselves in, but at times find themselves there regardless. I knew I had a good bit of light left, so I took my time and soon found what I was looking for.

The whitetail wasn’t completely expired however when I found him. I approached cautiously, but could tell he wasn’t going anywhere. I knelt by his side and placed my hand on his side. He protested slightly, but settled and remained calm. I was with him as he took his final breaths and I passed water to his lips, as I have on many occasions in the past, although never when I knew the animal was still alive. I guess it’s a last offering to quench the animal’s thirst that will become sustenance to extend my life, and I have always done so when I had water with me.

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I only wish non-hunters could experience not only the thrill of that evening, but the reward of the harvest, the connection to the land, the personal and deep connection between man and sustenance; man and wildness. There was no jumping and celebrating, no high-fives or fist-pumping; only gratitude and experience.

If you can fool their noses, you can learn their worlds, and see things most could never fathom; all while obtaining the cleanest meat you can find. This hunt had nothing to do with a set of antlers, nor to ‘release’ anything within me.  But, the way I see it, I am not absolved of the responsibility of the death of the animals I eat, because someone else raises and slaughters them. So, until the day I decide I can no longer be a meat eater, which I believe will come sooner because I do obtain much of my own meat, these moments will be about life, not death, regeneration and the circle we all are bound to, and living it as honestly and intensely as you can possibly imagine.

So, since the early gun season has been good to me, I’ve been processing meat….

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And making jerky…

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And there has been a nice drop of pecans from a favorite tree as well…

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I love fall…did I mention that?

 

 

 

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The Rut is On!

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I had a few hours in the afternoon after seeing my clients for the day, and with the rut going on for a week or so….

This is why we go.

In an attempt to explain to non-hunters why average Joes go…we don’t go to kill, that’s a farce, we don’t go to escape anything, we go to live. And we are keenly aware we are never absolved of the responsibility of the death of an animal; deer, pig, cow or otherwise, simply because we allow a farmer to kill it and then give him money for his efforts.

Make no mistake, if you pay, you kill. So you may as well, obtain your anti-biotic free, steroid free, hormone free, organic meat yourself. Re-connect to nature and the land, you won’t be sorry.

Took the afternoon off and hit the woods. The rut is on in my areas, which are public lands. No wind. No brainer.

I slow stalked in and the deer were moving. After walking in nearly a half mile, I came across a spike and watched him browse an area before moving on. I was pumped. Deer movement in early afternoon is good. Then, a doe busted me after another quarter mile.

This spot is two miles from the road. A very rich area I found years ago. Got on stand just inside a thicket and got set in. After maybe an hour I heard crashing coming thru the woodlot. Then a sight that may change my stance on killing coyotes. Two of them dogging a yearling doe. I didn’t have a shot anyway but I know how that ended. Never shot one. Don’t like killing if I’m not eating. I know it’s natural for coyotes to do that but damn.

So anyway the squirrels went crazy, probably from hearing my heart pounding in my chest. If you’ve never heard the calls and barks of alarmed squirrels in the woods, you are missing out on a very social event. After hearing that commotion coming my way I thought for sure a buck was chasing does, not a coyote.

Talk about blood pumping.

So then I decided to rattle; to try and shut the forest noise down and hope a buck might think he ought to investigate. I knew no self-respecting doe would enter the area after all that commotion. So I started tickling antlers at first.

Ten minutes passed. Nothing, and the sun had set.

So I went ahead and crashed ’em good. Grunting with my call at the same time. The first 3 weeks of the rut is the best time of the year for rattling; really the only time of year. So I raised hell with ’em for a good three or four minutes.

I heard the deer as soon as I put the antlers in my bag. It walked directly behind the tree, probably to within thirty yards easy; exactly how I’d come in; through the edge of the thicket. I couldn’t even see a bit of him. My heart was absolutely wailing again. I wish non hunters could imagine what this is like. He stood there forever and never moved. I thought he was gone and after end of legal light and dark, he blew like crazy when I got down.

Smart fella.

I thought he was gone for sure. That’s a mature deer. So after my heart was out of palpitating stage, I finished climbing down 30 feet and exited the woods. Best hunt in five or six years and I never thought of pulling the trigger.

 

Trendkill: Death of the Canned Hunt

There is an image of the American hunter many anti’s have. But it doesn’t have to be that way; because it’s an inaccurate image created mostly by hunting shows.

I could not put a collection of essays together, concerning hunting and fishing, without a word on the state of trophy seeking. I believe there is a difference in the pursuit of trophies between hunters and anglers. This is most evidenced in televised hunting and fishing programs on television and on-line. The pursuit of trophies, in itself, is a good thing in either past time, unless he or she who kills has no intention of eating the animal, or has no sound reasoning for wildlife population intervention. The art of patterning different species on land and in the water, taken further in targeting only mature creatures, is far more rewarding in experience and building of proper ethics, than what a person gets back from the taxidermist. I find no faults in the keeping of trophies. The animals we harvest are beautiful, and should be cherished when we are fortunate enough to cross paths with them. It’s the way in which many in the hunting community obtain their “trophies”, and how their voices outweigh the voices of the real hunters in America, that should be of great concern to us these days.

We see hunting shows and the way killing is glorified. We see self-proclaimed stars that show up on a piece of land to hunt; in exchange for a few kind words regarding the outfitter on an enhanced commercial – or they pay for the trophy they take. We see these stars, or ‘professional hunters’ arrive in ‘camp’, which is often a five-star ranch, only to begin viewing photographs taken from cameras placed by guides – rather than scouting the land themselves. Then we see these ‘hunters’ informed of where the deer or other game approach from – what wind is best – perhaps when the areas were baited last, and so on. They are taken by a guide to their approved of destination, and then often told which animals they can shoot, or which ones are off limits, or carry a higher price tag.

Then, these shooters kill an animal – a trophy in inches or weight no doubt. I would not call it a harvest, for a harvest involves more than merely shooting an animal – only to keep the head – then often donate the meat on the way to the next property. This seems to me an odd form of charity. I would not say it is unkind to, or unwelcome by the needy, although perhaps strangely out of place. I think hunting ranches could be a great thing for those who have physical limitations, or may otherwise not be able to hunt, due to financial or geographical hindrances. But for those who are healthy, who can get around physically and have the privilege of being able to do the work themselves – actually hunting – why would they want to cheapen the meaning of a trophy?

I have mixed feelings as I write this. I know there is many a person, who sits and stares at an animal obtained in such a way on many days. They surely felt as though they were hunting when they sat in the blind or on the stand. They may have waited a few hours, or even several days. The weather could have been adverse. The time invested could be measurable. That is for them to decide and live with. That is for them to determine, and decide whether that is a true trophy. And if they wished to promote that as acceptable in the hunting community, if they feel that is what should define a trophy – that inches matter more than experience – that size is more important than passing on a different code of ethics to the youth – which we often call the future of hunting – then they will have to live with what hunting becomes – perhaps a click of the mouse in time.

All hunters go through the stages of the hunter, and ultimately should seek mature animals or trophies, but the trophy sought should not be singularly defined by the length of beams and tines. Of course the experience is of the utmost importance. An outdoorsman should be able to scout the land himself, determine animal movements, food sources and bedding areas, by reading sign on the ground as well as utilizing careful observation. He should determine himself where the dominant wind comes from, where to place stands and if bait need be used at all. Hunting ranches often bait areas to up the chances of sighting game for paying customers, so they may move more hunters through more quickly. While the man who hunts an area responsibly, and knows what the deer are eating, often needs no bait at all. He will hunt near the white oak dropping acorns, or the persimmons tree. The true outdoorsman should have a good idea of the carrying capacity of the land he hunts – be it public lands or private lands he has access to. Then, there is the proper selection of mature animals. Young hunters tend to shoot at all ages of animals. This is not discouraged early on, as most want new hunters to be interested. But as those that will stick with hunting become more seasoned, they will naturally learn to let younger animals pass. This has been described as the “evolution of a hunter”, and is essential in the art of taking mature animals. The ethics involved in allowing young animals to live is obvious in many ways. But only after we hunt a piece of land over time will we see the age class of deer, and know which deer may be the trophies in the woods we stalk. In one county a four year old, hundred and eighty pound, eight point might only have one hundred and ten inches of antler. While a tract of land miles away, where there are many more acres, and managed strictly for whitetails, may have a deer of similar age and weight with one hundred and seventy inches of antler. Is one really a better trophy than another? If the hunters put in the same work – should one really be more coveted? Because one man lets the deer exist as they would with the least of his intervention, and has less inches of antler, but the other man plants supplemental feed in the ground or baits? And I have heard the arguments that those who plant fields with different crops for deer are managing deer and not baiting them. To me this seems about the same as the fly-fisherman referring to his bobber as a strike indicator – funny how that works.

Most citizens of this country don’t have the land or money to grow big deer or hunt on the elitists lands. Or perhaps they weren’t as lucky in what they inherited. Most hunters actually hunt for the meat and the experiences obtained during their outings; any trophies they may perceive or take are only icing on the cake. But they have little influence in the way hunting and trophy seeking is perceived by non-hunters. Non-hunters see these ‘pros’ pounding their chests and shouting to the Lord seconds after the killing of a big game animal – as if God himself placed the animal in their path to kill. Then they see high fives and behavior they don’t really like to see at the Super Bowl, much less after an animal has been shot dead for television.

I do not see this evidenced with professional fishermen. Sure there are a few with outrageous behaviors and self-marketing strategies, but they all put in the work. I don’t see many television shows with anglers sitting on a two acre pond, yanking eight pound bass from the water and gathering and maintaining such large audiences or such prestigious notoriety. I see television shows that take place in truly free-range places and fair chase scenarios. I see anglers on large lakes and strong rivers, battling harsh conditions with outcomes not always the best. Now there are a few TV shows where hunters actually put in the work, but they are vastly outdone by the programs that do not.

Why do fishermen seem to need a more pure experience involved with obtaining a wall-hanger than so many hunters? Perhaps it is because taking a citation fish is in fact harder to do. I have never known an angler that would think of going to a trout pond, hooking a trophy class rainbow, and then taking it to a taxidermist. So why are there so many people that will basically do the same thing for a deer mount?

I suppose there could be psychological explanations, full of nonsense. I suppose it could be explained away as just another example of the apparent need to “keep up with the Joneses”. Regardless, this hunter is sure of one thing. I will take a hundred inch four year old deer, taken on public lands, where I have no fences, no guide, no bait and no control over others hunting pressure, over a paid for set of giant, unnatural looking antlers, someone I barely know points at and tells me I can shoot, after they were paid to do all the work for me.

So I have written this not to divide the hunting community – but to let those on the fence about hunting know that the majority of those who hunt in this country are not represented by what you may see on television. Virtually nothing you see on these programs would accurately depict what real hunters do or care about. For the few shows that actually provide content which show more realistic situations, or those programs which focus on getting our veterans or handicapped citizens in the outdoors – thank you. At least these types of hunting shows represent something different than a canned hunt.

Capone & Pop
Tom Sullivan