Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Prepared Man's Guide to Being Unprepared

    The night of my last post was spent diligently preparing and packing for the morning's hunt.  Without a driver's license and a set of wheels of my own, most of my hunting is limited to a ten acre woodlot behind our house in rural central Virginia.  That being said, my hunting pack is normally set to tackle much more, usually containing food, water, a good knife, extra ammunition (be it rifle cartridges, shotgun shells, etc.), hand warmers, a flashlight  and headlamp (for backup), calls, personal medical supplies, a compass/GPS, a cell phone, my camera, a seat cushion and camo netting (in case my game plan changes and I need to make a makeshift stand), and sometimes a book.  What this list does lack is first aid and field dressing supplies, which do find their way into my gear on outings away from home.  On this outing I even threw my computer into the pack so I could check my trail cameras and adjust my game plan accordingly.
    After checking my empty trail cameras and hunting four solid hours the next morning, watching a known bedding area on a south-facing slope, I left the woods cold and without meat.  The only noise in the woods came from scampering squirrels and birds, and my confidence was riding at an all time low.
    The afternoon crept up on me and I sprung into action when my neighbor called at 3:00 asking me where I would be hunting that evening.  In record time I gathered all of my gear, got dressed, and set out for the woods.  Twenty minutes later, I was fully camouflaged, behind a makeshift, burlap blind, and seated comfortably in a creek bottom that would allow me a large field of vision.

    An hour crept by and my spirits sank at every squirrel I saw and every minute that yielded no sign of deer.  Deer season was almost over for me, and with the rain that was predicted for tomorrow, the next minutes would surely be my last in the deer woods of the year.  I needed a miracle.
    As these thoughts flowed through my head, I leaned forward in my seat at the base of a thick beech tree, stretching my back, and shifting my weight to my vertical shotgun.  At that very moment, three does trotted down the hillside about fifty yards to my left and across the creek--adrenaline took over my body immediately.  I slowly reclined to rest my back against the tree trunk and raise my knee for a rest.  My breathing was shallow, and I closed my eyes and controlled my breathing--and prayed.  Never have I been this excited by a deer, even by the buck I had a chance at last year, or the six-pointer that came in before sunrise on the first day of bow season.  After all of the planning and anticipation that went into this deer season, that doe that was slowly making her way along the creek towards my stand in the last ten minutes of light, on my last day of the season, had me trembling.
    Overcoming my fever, I was reminded by my childish giddy feeling that there was a boy with his father in a two man treestand three hundred yards to my right.  If the deer kept coming the way they were, I could take the last one in the group and give him a chance at his first deer--what a feeling!  However, I was stretching my luck, and the lead doe was turning around in a clear shooting lane, and started working her way back from where she came.  I knew that was my chance, at fifty yards, I rested my twenty gauge on my knee, put the bead over her, and fired.
    I was too excited to notice any sound that indicated I had hit her, but she was slightly separated from her group as they bounded up the hill.  Finding a clump of long white hair at the point of impact worried me, and the absence of blood did nothing to support my belief that my slug had hit her fatally.  I followed her trail up the hill for several yards, still without blood.  Finally, halfway to the crest of the ridge, there was a sizable blood spurt on a log, which sent my confidence through the roof--she was mine.
    I called my dad to inform him I would be late for dinner, and he came out to help in tracking her.  Dark was setting in, but I had my headlamp to help in tracking.  The blood trail began to thin at the crest of the ridge, but I could hear the other members of the group of does in some thick pines blowing and wheezing, which to me was a good sign that they had been separated.  The trail continued for about two hundred yards, but through some nearly impenetrable laurel thickets and pines, until it reached another creek bottom.  This creek bottom and laurel thicket was what separated our subdivision from the neighboring one to the north.
    Another two hundred yards and an hour later, we were only a stone's throw away from a house in the neighboring subdivision and we had no blood trail.  We ended on some smears low to the ground through a wall of ceder trees and merciless briers.  My dad was walking around on a whim, looking for more blood or a dead deer.  I heard him yell as I was searching desperately for blood, but it was not an excited yell, so I slowly walked towards his flashlight beam, praying that he had found her.  As I approached him, he was staring off into some tall grass, and when I turned I saw it--two glowing eyes looking back at me.
    She was still moving, throwing her head from side to side, and I shucked a buckshot shell into the chamber, and put her down with a headshot--it was all over.
    As we all know, when you track a wounded deer through several hundred yards of thick laurel, down a steep hillside, and over a creek, when you finally recover the deer, your work is far from over.  We made quick work of it though, I secured my shotgun to my pack, gave it to my dad, and began dragging.  I knew my way back in the dark, so I led up the hill and through the laurel, and then directed from the rear how to get back to the car.
    As I hauled the deer back through the woods, I learned my lesson of year:  Even though I normally hunt a small wooded parcel of land, anything can happen.  With a wounded deer on your hands, a ten acre piece of woods can turn into fifty, and things like trail markers, drag ropes, and other "after the shot" tools can make a big difference.
    When I finally broke through the woods, and reached the cul-de-sac where my dad parked, I had a chance to look at my animal for the first time.  He was a small button-buck, shot in the left hindquarter, not a preferable shot, but none the less, he was down.  The important part was, I now had my deer, the meat, and the story for the year, and I was proud to have it.

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