Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Notes from the Hunting Journal--11/18/07

11-18-07: I took another stab at deer hunting. This outing proved that once again that the journey is often at least as interesting as the arrival.

Since John A. had taken his deer last weekend, he wasn’t hunting, but his son, who accompanied us for the first time this season, was with him. We checked in at Range Control on Ft. Carson, a bothersome formality, and chose the area we wanted to hunt. The area John took his deer in the previous week was closed to hunting on this weekend. This bit of news miffed me since I could have sworn that the recorded phone message I listened to that states which areas are open on a given weekend said that area was open. We chose an alternate area, one just across the road from the desired area, completed the sign-in process, and were on our way.

Driving to your hunting area on Ft. Carson before the sun’s come up is good training should you ever think you might go blind. The downrange road rules for Ft. Carson do not allow white lights to be used because they interfere with the night vision equipment soldiers may be using. In other words, no headlights allowed. Only amber lights are permitted, and unless you have some amber-tinted fog lights, this means you must drive using your parking lights. This makes for a slow, and sometimes disorienting, ride.

Luckily, the area we wanted to hunt wasn’t too far from Range Control, so it didn’t take us long. By the time we arrived, geared up, and started hunting, it was light enough to see. I moved to a spot next to a large, leafless bush on the edge of a plateau where below the land fell away about 70 feet to a maze of draws and opened into a large semi-circular, bowl-like area approximately one-half mile across. From this spot, I glassed the entire area slowly with my Pentax 10x43 binoculars, seeing two other hunters on the opposite rim of the plateau. After at least 20 minutes of glassing, I spotted a lone doe to my left. I glanced back to see if the other hunters had noticed her, but they couldn’t see her from their angle. Turning the binos back to the doe, I couldn’t find her again. Damn! I had looked away for less than a minute and now the deer had disappeared. Disappointed, I glassed the area again and, finally, claimed sight of the doe again--as well as two sister doe. They slowly meandered up a hill and there I saw, standing next to an evergreen tree, a buck. Once they were all in the same area, they went down into a small depression and didn’t reappear. During the entire time I watched them, the deer were much too far out of range, at least 500 yards, to take an accurate (read ethical) shot. I left to find John and son, making a mental note to search that depression later. I never did.

After meeting up with John, who was closer than I thought, we decided to see what lay in the opposite direction we had been looking. Our plan of attack was decided upon and we were off. The plan was simple: John and his son, Matt, walked on the sides of some rather large hills while I paralleled them on the road. We were all walking downhill, off of the plateau. The distance between us was 150-200 yards. We kept in contact via John’s two-way radios, which didn’t work about as often as they did.

After traveling a few minutes, I left the road and walked back onto the grass a short distance and did a little glassing. On the road quite a ways below, I saw four doe cross the pavement and melt into a draw. Glassing some more I noticed, at the foot of a hill far ahead of John and Matt, a group of six doe feeding; again, they were too far for a shot. I called John on the radio and told him to get to a spot where he could see them, which he did, and I further said I was going to walk below them and then double back and move the herd in his direction. He said okay and I was off.

Returning to the road, I walked past the feeding ungulates, who took notice of me but did not run. The fact that I was a good distance from them probably helped, as did the fact that they see human activity in the form of soldiers in the area all the time. Passing the herd until we could no longer see each other, I left the road and used small draws to shield my approach. As I neared, I went into a dry creek bed that ran along the foot of the hill and John radioed me that the deer had moved into that same creek bed. I told him to watch for them but not to shoot until they were far above where I was in the creek bed. I walked about 100 yards more up the creek bed and then the deer spooked and started moving back up the hill in John and Matt’s direction. One doe split off from the herd and, less than 75 yards away, stopped to look back at me. I could have ended my season then and there, but for the fact that John and company were in the background. Granted, from where I stood they were to the left of the deer and quite a bit higher on the hill, but it still didn’t seem safe. I did call John and said I was going to take the shot, but he didn’t respond and I thought better of it and let the chance pass.

Matt, on the other hand, took his chance at one of the deer--and missed. Personally, I think they were still too far from the deer and I wish they had gotten closer before making a stand, but so be it. Repeated calls to John on the radio inquiring whether or not Matt connected went unanswered. While making my way towards them, I heard Matt fire three more shots, but not in the direction the of the herd I moved. He saw another deer back towards the road. After he began firing, I guess the deer didn’t stick around, ‘cause I never saw it. Oh well, at least my stalk had worked and I was quite proud of that. I actually felt like a hunter.

We met back at the road and followed it to the vehicles. There, we decided to go down into the bowl-like area where I had seen the first deer of the morning. John and Matt took up a spot a few hundred yards below the plateau’s rim and I said I’d walk in their direction from above and try to scare something up. (I enjoy doing this, by the way, so it wasn’t as if I drew a short straw or anything.) Once I got to the point I where wanted to start my sweep, however, I realized I really didn’t have all that much energy left to perform a strenuous hike (I had forgotten to bring my lunch, and a bowl of early-morning oatmeal only gets you so far), so I called John and told him. Since Matt had to be at work at noon and it was already after 11:00 a.m., we decided to call it a day.

On the way back to them I met a couple of hunters driving in a truck. They stopped to chat and declared they were looking only for bucks. One offered information, however, that there were quite a few doe in a creek bed below. The hunters continued on and spoke to John when they caught up to him and apparently told him the same thing. We decided to quickly check out the creek bed and walked along a dirt road (more, really, of a vehicle-blazed trail) that ran closely alongside it. After a few minutes, with John and son ahead of me, they stopped suddenly. I strained to see what they were looking at and saw a buck trying to make it up an eroded hill on the other side of the creek. It was too steep, so he went a little farther up the creek, found a better spot, and quickly moved out of sight over the crest. I remember telling Matt not to shoot while it was still in sight because it was a buck, but he said there was a doe also. At this point I finally saw it moving up the same hill and I told Matt to shoot, but he said it was my turn.

Thank goodness I hadn’t forgotten my homemade shooting sticks this time (see photo above), because they served their purpose handily. As the deer was making its way up the steep hill, I dropped to one knee, placed my rifle on the sticks, took a quick aim, flipped off the safety, made a clicking noise so the deer, that had just crested the hill, would stop (I read that sometimes it works--it did this time), and touched off the 100-yard shot. As I was coming out of the .30-06’s recoil, I saw the tail of the deer flip up as it ran out of sight. I thought I had missed it, but John said it looked like it shook after I fired. Ethics dictated that we must check it out, so we started across the dry creek bed and up the hill.

I can honestly say that that hill worked out my thighs like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. No squats have ever given me such cramps. I actually had to stop a time or two on the way up, not because I was winded, but because my thighs cramped so badly that I thought I might topple down the hill. My legs HURT! Thankfully, shortly after reaching the top of the hill and walking on flat ground again, the cramps left. May the never return.

After a quick search of the area, Matt saw where the doe had fallen. The shot had caught her low in the chest, through the heart. Had the bullet’s path been two inches lower, it would have passed harmlessly under the deer altogether. I give a lot of credit to the shooting sticks for helping me make the kill. After a quick field dressing, John took my keys and went to get my truck while Matt and I dragged the doe towards the road, a chore made easier, but still not particularly easy, because the deer was a whitetail and not a mule deer. (28 years earlier, I had bagged a mule deer doe and it took four people to drag her up a short hill; she was quite a bit more robust than the whitetail I had just taken, or the one John had taken the week before that.) After loading her in the truck, John contacted the game processor, who said they couldn’t take the deer before 4:00 p.m. At that point it was about 12:30 p.m. We covered her with a tarp and drove back to Range Control to check out and parted ways.

On the way home, I stopped to buy a couple of bags of ice, as the butchers suggested, to place in the deer to keep it cool until they could get to it. I also called my brother Donald and nephew Michael to ask if they could help me handle the deer while I hosed it out. They arrived at my home shortly after I did and were invaluable in their assistance. After hosing out and drying the deer, I put the bags of ice in the body cavity, recovered it with the tarp and parked the truck with the deer in the bed in the garage. It was a fairly warm day for November, but the carcass stayed cool, always vital when handling edible game.

After a quick shower and meal, I relaxed with my wife and son for a while and then took the deer in for processing. I dropped the carcass off and told them how my wife and I wanted the meat cut, and then enjoyed a hot chocolate at Starbucks while reading Dostoyevsky’s
“The Brothers Karamazov.”

Just over an hour after leaving the deer, they called my cell phone and said it was ready for pick up. The total cost for processing was $103, which included $25 for skinning. I took the meat home and, to my surprise, it all fit in the freezer.

The next day I took the head in to the Department of Wildlife so that they could check it for Chronic Wasting Disease. For the area where I took the deer, this check was free, although it’s not free in all areas of the state. The man said it would be about 10-15 business days before the results were back, so we are now waiting for the yea or nay. In the meantime, I vacuum sealed all of the individual meat packets so that they will last longer and not incur freezer burn. We are not big red meat eaters, so we will likely consume the meat slowly over the next 6-12 months, in between meals of chicken and fish.

All in all I am happy with the results. I am curious to see if the meat from a whitetail deer tastes any different from a mule deer. Once again, the same ol’ Winchester model 670 .30-06 that I’ve had since I was just shy of my 19th birthday helped me bring home the meat. To say that I am really fond of this sub-MOA rifle would be an understatement. By the way, this is the first time I used one of my handloads (165 gr. Hornady bullet #3045, 48.5 grains of Varget powder, CCI 200 primer, Remington case) to take a big-game animal. I can’t wait to enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Take care.


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