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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Gun Season & second half adjustments

With the start of Ohio's shotgun season upon us I've been thinking about the unfilled tags, and strangely empty freezer that taunts me each day I walk past it. I haven't participated in the gun season for the past few seasons due to work obligations. This year however, has the potential to enlist me back into the Orange Army, marching back to the deer woods, and taking part in the very hunt that started fueling the hunting fire that only seems to burn stronger with each season.

Without having a picture of this deer since August I had written him off. Hopefully I was wrong and he's coming back to winter on this property now.
Even with the possibility of getting out during the shotgun season, my thoughts can't help but fall back into the pattern of a bow hunter, what are the effects that gun season has on the deer herd, and how that will change the way I deer hunt for the second half of the game. Going back into the woods with your archery equipment after a weekend of the youth gun season, the full week long regular gun season, extra bonus shotgun weekend, and then mixing in muzzleloader season makes arrowing a whitetail extra challenging. So, I've been thinking about this in terms of a football game with the first half coming to a close at the end of the week long gun season. Going into the locker room, you know that some second half adjusts are going to be needed if those tags still need filled before the season comes to a close on February 5th.

The first halftime adjustment for me is going to be focusing on waterfowl hunting more. Now, what the heck does that have to do with deer hunting? Well, in order to give the deer woods a little bit of time to rest after the onslaught of hunting pressure that they're about to receive this week, I'm planning on backing off for a bit. The change in hunting pursuits will also give me some time to think about late season strategies even more, while recovering from bowhunting every chance I got during the entire month of November. After a few weeks have passed I'll be planning on putting my trail cameras back out to take an inventory of what deer are still around. With that camera placement in mind, putting the cameras on, or near the winter food sources is going to be the thought process and focus for my hunting efforts in the second half. Once the colder weather starts to roll in the deer will be moving to feed heavily for the approaching winter. Find the food, and hopefully I'll find the deer.

The second adjustment that I'm going to be making is more of a self-imposed one. I'll be setting up a few ground blinds on the hottest food sources that I can find at the close of gun season. Hopefully, by making this move at the close of gun season that will give the deer a few weeks to settle back down and get used to the blinds. The gun season will already have the deer stirred up quite a bit, so I think that making the change at this particular time will be less intrusive than waiting a few weeks for the woods to settle. My reasoning for setting the up blinds in the first place is to get my son involved in a few bow hunts before the close of the season. He's shown enough of an interest in going deer hunting now that I think he can start to be introduced to hunting from the ground as long as the conditions aren't too terrible. Time will tell.

The last adjustment to is be selectively and cautiously aggressive. The deer have been hunted since the end of September now, and although I feel that my archery hunting approach has had a very low impact (meaning I've only hunted a stand when the wind dictated, I've rotated stands & properties each hunt, stayed mobile, and have not had any deer blow me out yet) the deer have still been hunted in surrounding areas and will be on high alert from here on out. However this is no longer the time to sit on the edges and wonder about "What if?" I have to not be afraid to make an aggressive move at this point in the season. Again, these moves will need to be strategic, while still paying attention to detail (wind directions, entrance & exit routes, etc.), but when the opportunity seems to present itself, and the deer exhibit a killable pattern, I will hunt like the season closes tomorrow in order to try and fill the tags in my pack.

Hopefully the adjustments being made along with the continued thought process behind what the heck I'm doing will lead to a great second half come back this season. Right now I'm down, but there's no way that I'm out just yet. There's still plenty of ticks on the clock, and if I'm able to make the right moves with the time remaining in the game I have the confidence that success is always a possibility.

Not sure about this guy. He's a good looking deer but if he can make it through the season he'll be even better next season. Then again, if he walks by and I'm hungry...
I don't think this is the same buck pictured directly above, but again, he's probably tempting if walking within bow range during the second half. I wish I had some more pictures to look him over better.
Another good looking buck with some potential. I just don't know if the neighboring properties would let him develop another season. And I am getting hungry.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Introducing a future Huntress

Sunday afternoon was going to be the day. My daughter has been able to experience one so-called hunt this season, but that giant debacle was more of an exercise in managing my temperament than having anything to do with hunting (see my post titled The 870 lives on). No, this time around it was going to be her first hunt with just Papa & Timber, and she was ready.

We had the afternoon all to ourselves, so after running an errand or two we returned home to start loading up the truck, gathering snacks, and layering up our clothes in preparation for a few hours of sitting vigilantly along the water's edge in the steady drizzle. She was certainly excited to be going out despite the conditions, and worked right along my side, carrying gear to the truck, jumping up in the truck's bed to pull bags of decoys around, and making sure there was room for Timber to lay down.

In terms of waterfowl hunting success, we had a completely uneventful afternoon watching the empty skies pass by, but the abundance of snacks she stuffed into the blind bag managed to keep us busy nonetheless. Conversations varied across so many different topics that it's hard to keep them all straight, sitting still for more than 2 to 3 seconds was a daunting challenge at times, and with about 45 minutes left to hunt the winds & temperature both took a turn against us. Despite it all, she hung right in there, still had fun, stayed fairly dry, and kept warm all the while. I think she even got somewhat annoyed with my frequent questioning of her level of comfort, "Yes, Daddy, I jus toll you Um warm enuff. Why do you keep askin' me da same quwestions?"

A lone Rudy duck (of all the things) even provided the opportunity for a spot & stalk jump shot to be taken, allowed Timber to make a very nice blind retrieve across the water, and gave my little girl her first duck in hand. She proudly carried the little diver back to the truck at the end of legal shooting light, and requested that we hang it on the wall rather than have it for dinner. We were both proud that day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The 870 lives on

A few weeks ago during a comfortably warm autumn afternoon, the winds were blowing calmly out of the south, the skies were that brilliant shade of October blue, and I was planning on taking my two hooligans out for their first duck hunt together. My son has been going out with me a few times each year since he turned 4, and now that my daughter is 4, she's been eagerly anticipating her turn to get camoed up. With Mama out of town that weekend, the setting was perfect to take out the little ones and Timber for an evening sit along the woodie pond.

Now anytime I'm taking a youngster on a hunt I'm going into it with a certain mindset. The hunt has to be fun, it has to be comfortable, and it has to be on their terms. Meaning I pack lots of snacks (usually consisting of things that they normally don't get to indulge in), I try to only take them during periods of dry and somewhat warmer weather, and when they're showing signs of boredom or want to go, then we wrap up the hunt and head for home. The last thing I want to do is make the kid's hunt a miserable experience so that they find no pleasure in tagging along with dear old Dad.

Excitement filled the truck as we made our way around the back roads discussing  the way we would hunt this particular spot, and reviewing the three rules we have for any shooting or hunting related functions:
Rule #1 - Safety first.
Rule #2 - Listen to Dad.
Rule #3 - Have fun.

Both kids can recite those rules, and we usually refer to them throughout out outdoor adventures. Point is, as long as you abide by rules #1 and #2 then rule #3 is just going to come naturally... most of the time.

We pulled into the field discussing the privilege of being able to hunt on private property, and the importance of being responsible when you were hunting on another person's property. I put the truck in park, opened the gate, pulled through, parked again, and closed the gate behind us before driving down the dirt two track towards the oak tree lined watering hole.

As the front end of the truck cleared the cattails off a little ways to our right, I made a point to ease along until the truck crept slowly to a halt. Surveying the overhanging branches of the oaks I could see splashes coming from the area I suspected the wood ducks would be dining on the floating buffet of acorns. The kids and I discussed a game plan to pull the truck past the pond, parking it behind the block of trees and out of sight from the birds, while I would then try to pull off a stealthy shotgun sneak attack. The kids elected to stay behind and watch from the front, unbuckling from the back booster seats, clamoring across the armrest and into the front of the truck, their eyes glued on me as I slunk down attempting to use the large tree trunks as cover between the feeding frenzy and my approach. Well, despite my best attempt at a ninja like navigation through the block of woods, the ducks had sensed danger and flushed before I could cut the space any closer than forty yards. No shots were fired.

I hustled back to the truck, unloading the unspent rounds of  steel shot from my gun along the way, so that we could finish the drive up to the pond's edge and unload our gear. The kids questioned me about the blown sneak attack as the truck rolled over the two track's final bumpy yards to where we would set up. My only thought was to move as quickly as possible, unload the gear from the bed of the truck, return the truck to the previous parking spot, throw on the waders, set up some decoys, position the kids, paint some faces and prepare for the return of the woodies.

As soon as the truck was in park at the spot we would hunt I cut the engine, instructed the kids to stay put, and began the task of unloading the small amount of gear we decided to bring along today. With everything piled to the right of the tailgate, I grabbed my 870, laid it at about a 45 degree angle against the six slot decoy bag that held and protected my own hand made, custom painted, burlapped decoys. Back in the truck now I fired up the engine, checked the side view mirror as I was backing up, careful not cut the wheel too soon and..... CRRRRRUUUUNNNNCCCCHHH.

No. I didn't just. No. There's no way. No. Putting the truck quickly back in park and jumping out, I immediately rounded the front end as my eyes witnessed the carnage of what happens when you back a full sized Toyota Tundra over the wooden stock of a Remington 870 that was placed perfectly in line with the tire's path of reversal when the wheel was cut a tad bit too soon.

So, here I am, standing in front of my truck with my two children peering out the front wind shield wondering, "what is Dad going to do?" I know they could see the look on my face and read my body language. Neither is saying anything very nice right now. I'm holding the broken remains of the first gun that I had ever bought. The gun that I shot my first deer, duck, goose, pheasant, and rabbit with. I'm furious, speechless, beside myself, yet somehow my thoughts went back to the two little hooligans over my right shoulder with their faces nearly pressed against the glass that safely separated us. How can I turn this into something other than what it was? How can I make this into a teaching moment, rather than losing my mind and exposing my kids to the raging maniac that wants to scream to the skies, kick the ground, and launch into a cursing and cussing tirade right now? Somehow I did.

I set the gun back down on the decoy bag (which now also held two crushed mallard decoys) and returned to the truck.

"What's rule #1" I said as I sat down in the driver's seat.

"Safety" they replied.

"That's right guys. Safety first. Did you see what just happened?"

Not sure what, or how to answer, the kids starred back at me, looking for some sort of guidance. on how proceed from here. "I was in too much of a hurry, and didn't pay attention to what I was doing guys. That made me forget about safety just for a quick second, and you see what happened in that second? I wasn't careful and I broke my gun. It could been much worse. That's what rule #1 is Safety first."

My son was a little too quick to chime in with my wounds still being very fresh, but he did anyway now that he could sense there was no immanent danger, "Yeah, and Mom's probably gonna be really mad when she finds out because guns are probably gonna cost a lot of money if you can't fix that Dad. Do you think you can fix that Dad? And are we still gonna hunt tonight Dad? How can we still hunt if you just broke your gun? You should really be more careful."

We decided to stay for a while. After all, we really had just got there only minutes ago, Dad cooked chicken nuggets, packed chocolate milk, BBQ potato chips, string cheese, and cookies. We might as well make the most of it, smear some camo paint on our faces, and see if some ducks come back around to have their picture taken....

And no worries about the fate of the 870. It lives on with a new stock & forearm. I was fortunate in that only the stock was broken along with the stock screw being slightly bent. The mechanical workings of the pump gun were still in good working order. I was able to order replacement parts through both Cabela's and Remington in order to have the ole 870 as good as new in only a matter of a week or so. Someday I'll be able to hand down that gun I ran over to my son or daughter. That's a memory that they'll be able to look back on and laugh about, but also hopefully learn from.

Unbreakable huh? We'll see about that. 
Good as new... although I'll miss the character of that worn & weathered wood stock.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

11/08/11 Morning Hunt & another camera move

Returned to the G farm where I had left my stand in from the night before. I had been watching the weather forecast and figured on hunting till late morning, climbing down, moving the cameras, then making the call on whether to stick it out all day, or head home for an afternoon with the family. With the deer action all but nonexistent, temperatures pushing mid to upper 60's, and my snack supply looking sparse, I headed in for lunch.

Weather conditions: Morning lows were cool and in the upper 40's but the heat rolled in about mid morning and continued to climb up into the upper 60's by the time I was walking out to the truck. Winds were out of the S between 6 and 15 mph. Barometric pressure around 30.14 with mostly clear skies. The full moon is two days away.

Really not much to write up about this hunt. Even the squirrels were loafing around and not their usual selves. If it wasn't for the weather being so damn comfortable for a morning spent 20 feet up in a tree, and the thought that it's still the rut, and anything can happen at any given moment, I probably wouldn't have stayed in the woods so long. The only highlights were listening to two owls hoot back & forth to one another as the sun was lighting up the sky, and the flock of wood ducks that came screaming over top of my tree like a set of fighter jets.

Wednesday is preparation & packing the truck day, with the rain probably making for a long day to sit in the tree anyway. Then after dinner with the family, it's off to deer camp for a few days with the weather looking like it's going to taking a turn for the colder and better. Let's hope so...

Too hot to hunt... pack it up.
For the cameras I moved one over a primary scrape that is still seeing some action. Not sure for how much longer the bucks will be hitting this one up, but figured I'd freshen it up a bit myself, hang a camera and see what happens. This scrape is located on an outside corner. Standing at this scrape, to the west is a bean field, turn to the north and there is standing corn. The deer have a path mowed down going into the corn, and they're definitely going in, knocking down the stalks and devouring some corn.

Freshened scrape, facing west with standing beans beyond the trees.

Walking north from the scrape and into the corn. It's mowed down in here the whole length of the woods.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Camera Check then an Evening Bow Hunt 11/07/11

Headed back up to the G farm for the afternoon sit. On the way up I did manage to stop off at the M farm and pull the trail camera that was set up along the center fence row for the past month or so. The pictures dropped off completely once the beans were taken off on 10/30/11, but I did manage to catch a pretty cool fight sequence with one decent looking buck. No further sightings from G3PO however. He must have shifted to his fall range which has him spending more time elsewhere. Hopefully he's just waiting for me to be on stand before he returns to the M farm. Here's some pics from the fight sequence that went on from 4:54 AM through 5:37 AM. I bet these bucks sparred up and down the fence row with the camera catching them intermittently. It would've been a heck of show to watch...

Lockin' up!!
1st & last time I have pictures of this particular buck. He must have been just out lookin' for a fight that night.
Who wants some more!?!?
Beans coming off and deer pictures greatly reduced after this date.
With the camera pulled, I was on the way North to the G farm. Tonight's weather conditions: Temperatures were bouncing from the mid 50's to close to 60 by around 3:00 PM. Winds were blowing between 2 - 7 mph from the SSW for most of the hunt. Just after sunset the wind was non-existent. Barometric pressure was around 29.95 with clear blue skies once again.

For this sit, I approached the spot I decided to hunt from the north end of the farm, keeping the wind in my favor for my approach. Checking the edge of the woods along the way in I came across a few more scrapes that were freshly opened, each one having multiple licking branches showing signs of being worked over. I'm planning on moving one of the cameras after tomorrow morning's hunt over some of the fresh sign to see what I've been missing.

My Lone Wolf sticks & stand were hung in a nice, sturdy split trunk tree by around 3:30 PM. Here's a couple picture from my surroundings. I'm basically in the middle of the section of woods on a slight hillside that has a small ridge running where my stand is. I noticed that all the deer I saw on Saturday morning came across this area, so I figured there must be something to the terrain here that they like.

View to the NW, thick with the creek winding through. Standing corn beyond the woods here. 

View to the East. Inside corner to the top left of the picture. Cut bean field beyond the timber.

View to the South. Thick bedding area. All of the bucks skirted the edge of this area and worked into the open area where my stand is hung today.
The combines were again involved in this afternoon's hunt. This time taking another section of beans off just before dusk. I was hoping that they'd send some deer moving my direction but that just wasn't the case. I have a feeling that tomorrow morning they'll be in there again taking off the last field of beans, which is right next to the standing corn. That could be a very good thing if there's deer bedded down in the corn. I spotted 3 does tonight, 2 traveling together that came from the south, then hit the inside corner, and exited into the corn. Then a single doe who came from the thick stuff to my south, working her way north about 50 yards from my stand. I kept waiting for the Big Boy to follow her, but he didn't get the memo. Oh well, time to fight another fight in the morning....

Creeping along through the timber.

Tonight's sunset from the stand.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Morning Bowhunt 11/05/11

Saturday morning's conditions: Cold & Clear. Lows in the morning were in the lower 30's for Delaware county with clear, star filled skies as I stepped out of the truck at about 6:00 AM. No precipitation was forecast for the day with winds blowing out of the ESE between 5 - 10 mph, which was much calmer than yesterday. Barometric pressure was around 30.30 and holding throughout the hunt.

View to the NW from the stand.
Today's hunt took me to the first morning hunt of the year at the G farm. I just secured permission to hunt here this summer, and have been mainly hunting the edges, not wanting to push too deeply into the thicker interior of the woods. It had been about two weeks since my last sit here, and the amount of sign has just blow up! Lots of fresh rubs, and on my walk out to the truck I lost count of the number of fresh scrapes I came across along the edge of the bean field. I also located a huge primary scrape about the 5 - 6 feet across with 3 other sizable scrapes off to the sides.The bucks are definitely active right now!

One of many small scrapes that lined the field's edge.
Rub on a 6" diameter tree. I'd like to see the deer that left his mark here!

The stand spot that I planned on hanging out at today is the inside corner of the woods on the west side of the big block of timber. The spot has a little bit of everything. The field to the west is holding standing corn at the moment, along with a half picked field of beans. There's a thin strip of fallow field that acts as a buffer and bedding area between the inside corner of the timber and the planted crops. Running just inside the edge of the trees is a small creek that zig zags through the woods and is always littered with tracks.

With the cooler temperatures and the whitetail rut starting to get underway, hopes are always high this time of year because anything can happen. The deer sightings this morning kept hopes high the whole time I was on stand, as the bucks seemed to be on their feet, roaming throughout the woods with a purpose. I ended up seeing 5 different bucks and 1 or 2 does. The only problem was that the bucks that came within bow range were yearling to 1.5 year old deer. They're fun to watch, but not quite what I'm holding out for when it comes to filling out my deer tag. I did see what looked like a good buck, but he was too far off, and moving through the woods to really get a good look at him.

One of the young bucks working into the wind.
Another young buck that slipped in through the corn, now surveying the woods.
With some family obligations keeping me out of the woods on Sunday, I'll be back at it on Monday afternoon. The next 3 day's weather forecast is looking horrible for being a bowhunter, with the temperatures rising up into the 60's and possibly 70 by Tuesday before some rain pushes through on Wednesday, bringing much cooler temperatures with it for Thursday through the weekend. I'll have my fingers crossed for those cooler temperatures, and a quality buck within bow range this week.

All the critters were active this morning.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Quick evening hunt

Facing east and walking towards tonight's stand.

With vacation kicking in officially next week, I decided to head out for a quick sit this evening after tying up as many loose ends as I could. With only a few hours of daylight available on stand it was going to be a short hunt, but it's November, and anytime you're on stand something can happen.

Weather conditions at the M2 Farm tonight: Clear skies with winds blowing steady out of the E NE around 15mph, with gusts upwards of 30 mph. Barometric pressure was holding at 30.06.

These wouldn't be left standing for much longer.

The spot I decided to hunt is the intersection of a long fence row that runs east to west, and a V shaped block of woods that is wider to the south and narrows as it points north into this farm. The woods always funnel deer movement in this area, and with the double inside corner it creates the deer also like to cross through this general area. The field to the north of the fence row is planted in corn which is still standing and probably acting as both a bedding and feeding area for the deer, with the larger field to the south planted in beans. This particular section of woods is also full of oak trees, but the acorn production is pretty light this year.

Only a yearling buck was spotted tonight as he crossed within bow range of my double inside corner stand. I watched as he navigated his way through the corner section of knocked down corn, across the section of woods, and into a fallow field. A short time later the bean field that I walked along was being cut down as the combine fired up and mowed through the field like a giant lawn mower. I hoped that all the commotion would kick up a few deer my way, but that just wasn't the case tonight.

Sunset from the stand.

Time to start planning out the hunt for tomorrow morning...

Combine lights off in the distance at the end of the hunt.