Although this is only my second-ever deer hunting season; this is the worst hunting season ever! I suppose, really, it depends on how one measures a hunting season. Being a newbie, I tend to rate it first by number of deer harvested, and since the current number as we soon begin the month of December is zero, it rates as a suck hunting season. Yes, I almost got a nice buck with my very first shot, one Friday evening back in October… but you know how the saying goes, “Almost only counts in horseshoes, grenades, and atomic bombs.” Of course there was “Threeper” the 3-point “buckling” who stepped within about 12 yards of me and waited for me to harvest him, but we know how that story goes and Threeper is alive today to tell the tale. And there were those two close encounters with bucks, as a direct result of not shooting the buckling, which then urged me to adventure further from my comfort zone in search of deer; but they basically fit in the “almost” category, which we’ve already determined might make a good story but doesn’t provide food for the incoming year.
In my efforts to harvest at least one deer, preferably three, I have logged in (I literally write down in a log book every time I hunt and the hours I hunted) about 100 hours. Perhaps this is more like a deer hunting season and last year’s harvest at only 40 hours of hunt time was a fluke… but it’s all I have to compare to. Every opportunity I have to go out is taken, to include showering in my office shower and heading out in my scent-free garments straight from work. I have hunted in the rain, a futile effort in my opinion, and deprived myself of sleep in order to maximize my time in the woods and blind on a five-day weekend. Today kind of “takes the cake” though in my self-imposed hunting insanity.
When I left this morning around 1000, it was barely drizzling and the forecast showed a reprieve from rain. My Hunting Predictor app (for my smart phone) indicated it was a fairly good day for deer, so off I went. I dressed extra warm today as we’ve been having below-freezing temperatures and icy roads. I wore five shirts, the outer being my BDU blouse, and a coat, two pair of leggings under my slacks, two pair of socks – with a Hot Hands in between the socks to keep my feet warm, my full face mask, and my winter gloves – also stuffed with Hot Hands. If you can imagine a camouflaged Oompa Loompa than you’ll have an idea of what I looked like. I dutifully let my truck warm up, scraped the ice from the windows and gingerly drove down the road, headed to the Fort Riley woods beside my regular hunting area on my friend’s property. About 500 yards from my apartment, while endeavoring to slow to a stop at the intersection, my “Danger Ranger” began to slide… across the lane and toward the guard rail.
Have you ever noticed that no matter how commandingly or loudly you state, “No! No! NO!” you can’t control a vehicle in an ice slide?! Sure enough, my truck hit the guard rail and then bounced off, and as I didn’t break the rail and go plummeting down the embankment I figured I’d continue toward my hunting destination. I concluded the time to have made a change in plans was before I pulled my truck out of the parking space, and since I hadn’t made that choice, and the truck was still operational, I might as well continue with my hunt – hopefully making it all worthwhile.
Hoping to have better luck on the Fort Riley side of the woods, I parked on the side of the road and hiked in. It took me over 30 minutes to get to where I decided to stop; not because I went that far, but because I walked that slowly and purposefully, trying not to sound like an approaching army of one on the ice and frozen tall grass. I stayed in that spot, a small clearing in the woods, for over an hour waiting for deer to decide it was an excellent time to come out for a nosh. As the rain increased in intensity I decided maybe I should go deeper in the woods where the deer might be hiding. I walked through a thicket of tall grass and bush branches (there were no leaves) which reminded me of a booby trap to ward off invaders. There was nowhere that didn’t create noise, or try to trip me. Finally I reached a cluster of evergreen trees that looked like they might lead further into the woods. I had to duck to walk under the branches of the evergreens, although there was a clearing of a couple of feet. The ground was covered in ice, and as I walked through the passageway I was reminded of crossing a magical threshold into a new world (maybe of faeries and wisps). On the wooded side I saw rich colors of autumn leaves on the forest floor, red berries growing on green bushes, and twisted tree trunks. There were deer tracks in the ice so I knew that this route was a pathway from the deep woods to the clearing. I sat on my stool beside a tree and listened. That’s when the rain became even heavier and colder. After about 30 minutes I realized I would perish before I saw a deer; as my gloves were soaked, my coat and face mask were soaked, my glasses foggy and stained with water droplets trying to become ice, and my crossbow was drenched in water and covered with forming ice. Reluctantly, I went home.
Despite yet one more failed attempt to harvest a deer, I appreciated the beauty surrounding me. Forcing my phone camera to operate while wet and cold I took photos of the area. You could say I was bound and determined to shoot something, even if just photos! One of the hardest things for me to curtail when I hunt is my photographic world-view. Having been a photographer in the Army, and throughout my adult life since, I see life as a photograph, and every hunt presents many missed photo opportunities; as snapping away with my camera would surely keep the deer at bay. Not that they’ve been very forthcoming anyway.
Now home, dry, warm, and comfortable, I have my soaking wet hunting clothes washed and in the dryer to be scent-free and ready for next weekend. Next weekend is rifle season though, and I had a very poor rifle season last year, so am cautiously optimistic. It would be fabulous if this rifle season was opposite last year’s and I finally score a deer. If not, it will be just one more reason to remember this as the suckiest hunting season ever; but one in which I’ve had more fun and more adventure than my first.