Report from Deer Camp: 26 November, 2011
The drive back Sunday was all too familiar. Rain, a lot of unused tags, snow in the forecast, and listening to the Bengals lose. I explained to Angus that was how I spent a good deal of my early years as a deer hunter. Somehow Phil Samp play-by-play, Horst Muhlman field goals, deer hunting, tag soup, and rain all fit together in one tight little package. That was long ago.
Things change after thirty years. For one thing, the Bengals went on to pull it out over Cleveland in the second half. For another, the unfilled tags belonged to everyone else. Me? tagged out with less than 12 hours to go in the season. So even having it pour rain all day and listening to Cleveland get out to a 10-point lead at the half did not make that much of a dent in my mood. Besides I had Half-a-Monster in the cooler.
The weekend did not start out that way. Supercore, Angus and I got back to camp on Friday and we were all able to get out in the afternoon. I saw a small buck at the Garden of Stone. He might have been a 4 point or a spike– could not tell in the binos. It was pretty late. He came out and was munching with his head down in some tall weeds. I felt lucky to pick out the antlers in the gloom, because he nearly got a round of 30-06 in the chest. That would have been hard to explain, since I filled my one buck tag the previous weekend. It would have been a good one for Angus, but he wasn’t there.
Saturday morning? Same bad luck. Well, I take that back. SuperCore did get a shot at a doe. It was not much of a shot though. He has this new Sauer 300 Win Mag that he picked up in the middle of season– 9.5 lbs with the Zeiss scope on it. He had it sighted in at 200 yards, but had no idea what it was going to do at 300 offhand. The miss was spectacular, and that only dampened his spirits more. That was the last deer he saw.
I left my gear at Midway on the way back to camp on Saturday morning. I was due back out with Angus for a sit in the afternoon. As it was all season, the wind came up about 1000, and kept blowing the whole day. We sulked on the porch in 60-something weather taking 30 mph gusts. It was not fun. Saturday evening was another near-complete bust. A doe and two fawns came out at last light, and I was barely able to make them out with the binos. Both Angus and I tried to find them in our scopes, but it was over 200 yards, and there was too much murk in the scope to figure out where the deer ended and the forest began.
Again, I had a light load coming back. I had the orange clownsuit, the rifle– everything all nicely buttoned up in my blind at Midway. With all the wind, I had finally called it quits in the treestands and decided if I was going to fail, I might as well fail with a roof over my head, wall-to-wall carpeting, a comfortable chair, 2 end tables and curtains to surround me. Midway is quite spectacular now. You should see it.
As you read this over the next few days, there is a good chance it is raining on you. It is probably going to rain here until Tuesday night when it changes over to snow. This is why I don’t like hunting Shotgun Season in Ohio. This is why I like to be home with all my venison before the first week of December. I feel for the guys who are going out this morning. Good luck to ya!
The rain started Sunday at Midnight at camp. It was alternately light and heavy until dawn and then the skies really opened up . Angus stayed in bed. Supercore and I put on our Swiss milsurp Alpinflage ponchos — they’re like personal tents– and waddled out to our blinds. I poked a penlight out of one of the arm holes to light my way the half-mile or so to Midway. After that, I just crawled in, laid out my coffee and my binos and snoozed in the dark with my feet up on the footstool. Legal hunting time came and went without a shot. In fact I did not hear a single shot the first hour– could barely hear anything over the rain pounding on the metal roof. It reminded me unfavorably of my days at the U.C. College Conservatory of Music and listening to master’s recitals from the percussion majors.
It finally got light enough for me to pick up my book, Gerstacker’s account of hunting in America in the 1830′s. I especially liked his accounts of what it was to be a German in Cincinnati during that time. He liked it in Cincinnati; it was his favorite city. However, the Germans were having a rough time of it back then, as were every immigrant group that came after.
The rain poured down. It got foggy. At one point I got up to use the funnel and hose– yes, Midway has indoor plumbing too! Even at mid-fifties, I started to cool off in the stiff wind, so I reached into the duffle and put on the top half of my orange clown suit. At 0853 I was back reading Gerstaker when I heard a rustle through the wall of the hut and a large doe showed up at the window, nearly close enough to insert her head. She was complete unfazed by my appearance. Perhaps it was the seeming domesticity of it all. She only paused for a moment before venturing on.
Behind her came two other doe. Frankly, I get a little messed up this time of year. All Fall, I find myself passing on doe, hoping for a buck. Then all of a sudden I have to switch to a “Buck bad! Doe Good” Besides that, I was wading through a section of Gerstacker’s book, explaining the method by which a hunter could slaughter a score or so of deer a night using torches over a salt lick– bit of a mind bender. I finally recovered my senses and picked up the Whelenizer and started to pick among the three.
Should I bag the lead doe? No. Keep the matriarch. #3? Possibly a button buck from its position in line. #2? Eenie-Meenie-Minie. Then I started wondering if I should even bag any of them. I was going to have plenty of venison with the big buck.
“WAIT! Shaman! What are you thinking? WHY would you go sit out here day after day and NOT take a doe. This is NOT an intellectual exercise. . . blather, blather, dither, dither. . .
I think I’ve said in the past that the 35 Whelen has a very distinctive report. From inside a closed-up blind, it’s. . . pretty rattling.
I had finally settled on the rear doe. From 15 feet out, I had a pretty good look at the head and did not see nubs. In all my dallying and dithering, I had gotten a pretty good bead on where I wanted to put the round.
Some of you will wonder what happened next. 35 Whelen at 15 feet. Was it bullet failure? Was it a DRT? Did she leave a blood trail?
After my brain got unscrambled from shooting a 35 Whelen semi-indoors, I remember watching the doe and her companions go bouncing off into the woods. She was trailing her near-side foreleg. I threw open the door of the blind and took chase. I reached the fence and there were two deer standing about 20 yards out looking puzzled. They saw me in the orange clownsuit and brandishing the Whelenizer menacingly, and they took off. I was hoping the one I’d shot was not one of them. I got across the fence and started looking around. It did not take long to find her. She was toes-up about 20 yards from the treeline.
Okay, let’s answer the big questions?
Miss? Perfect shoulder shot that also took out both lungs and the top of the heart. One lung had followed the bullet and was hanging out the other side.
DRT? Nope. She ran about the same as the Half-Monster, about 100 yards. In fact, you could have seen one carcass from the other.
Blood Trail? About the last 10 yards she started to leak. Outside of that? Nothing.
Moral: CHEESE & RICE, FOLKS! If I cannot drop a 136 lb doe in her tracks with a 35 Whelen at 15 feet with a shoulder exploded, the top of the heart taken off and the lungs flopping around out of the exit wound, what does that say? I think, at least for me, the myth of DRT, the question of best blood trail rifle, and a bunch of others great canards of deer hunting just went up in a puff of H4895. I will let you know when the smoke clears from out of the deer blind.
It continued to rain all the way out. We left all our gear drying on every available chair, bed post and door at camp. Under the meatpole, the ground was getting soupy. I dug a severe rut trying to pull out, with the doe,and SuperCore had to give me an assist with the Honda. SuperCore did dishes while we hauled the doe over to Mike Jett at Salem Ridge Deer Processing and picked up the Half-Monster. It was raining so badly on the way out we saw one of the neighbors drive off the road and slide 150 yards into a tree. I made sure no one was hurt, called 911 and then kept going. We hit the AA highway and then turned on the game.
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