Friday, October 10, 2014

Deer Season 2014

The opening of modern firearm deer season is tomorrow morning. 

Traditionally, this used to be a time of great anticipation and excitement to me.  There was nothing like the feeling of pulling together all of my gear the night before, laying everything out to be ready for an early start the next morning.  As a kid, this day was literally better for me than Christmas. 


"Holy shit, holy shit holyshitholyshitholyshit!"
I still get excited about it, even as a grown man at 34 years old, but this year doesn’t have the pizzazz of years past, for a couple of reasons:

One, I’m not fully released yet for full physical exertion.  I’m still on the “take it easy” program, which means “NO HIKING BIG, DEEP, ROUGH CANYONS WITH A DEAD DEER ON YOUR BACK, GOOBER!”  So I’m pretty much on truck duty, a task usually reserved for the older men in our hunting club.  I’ll drop the physically healthy hunters off on top, then drive the truck around to pick them up at the bottom.  During the drive, I’m welcome to shoot any deer that I might encounter near the road.  Woo hoo…   Sounds like a real fun day, right?

Nothing lik driving around in your truck all day to get hte adrenaline flowing, eh?

Two, we’re kind of in the middle of a generation right now.  The youngsters are all too young to go hunting with us, thus bringing that youthful enthusiasm and excitement, and the rest of us are all too old to still be all excited about stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, we still enjoy the trip, but it’s like Christmas.  As a kid, Christmas was the most magical, enchanting, and exciting day ever, am I right?  As an adult, it’s still a fun day that you look forward to, but it isn’t nearly as exciting as it used to be.  Before you have kids, Christmas just kind of becomes a “meh” day, and after you have kids, it is super exciting again. 

Also, deer hunting in general pales in comparison to the challenges of elk hunting, and moose hunting, and bear hunting.  Those are the seasons that I really look forward to. 

So this year, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m struggling a bit to keep excited about deer season. 
Poor me
Now, on to the fun part.  Gear and equipment.

Most of you have probably seen deer hunting on TV and have a biased notion of what it’s all about.  Back east and in the Midwest, deer hunting it mostly about creeping into a deer stand, holding still all day long, and waiting for a deer to walk past so you can shoot it. 
Out west, here with our massive tracts of open land, we either drive them or "spot and stalk."  Both of those activites involve covering as much ground as you can safely, quietly cover in a day.  It means you get to walk.  And walk.  And walk.  And we’re not walking on a sidewalk here.  We’re walking the Breaks of the Snake River.  Crumbling basalt slides, steep, trail-less hillsides, and thousand foot bluffs. 

"Holy crap, Uncle Goober, are we going in THERE?"  

So the first and foremost piece of gear is your boots.

I wear Meindl Western Guides.  The boots are very stiff trekking boots, that provide excellent foot and ankle support in the rough, uneven terrain, with ruber randing all the way around the footbed to ensure that the sharp, jagged basalt rock doesn’t cut your boot (or your foot).  These are not inexpensive, but they are worth every penny by about noon on opening morning, after you’ve accomplished 6,000 feet in elevation change in the first three hours of the day.


The other major difference between stand hunting and the drive or “spot and stalk” of the American West is the distances.  I laugh constantly when I see the eastern hunters on TV talking about not taking shots because the deer was walking and was out at 100 yards, and it “just wouldn’t stop walking, man!”. 

I am not bragging when I say that I’ve killed a deer with a 430 yard running shot.  Deer run at 40 miles per hour.  My dad’s best shot was 475, also running.  These shots are made generally offhand, with your heart beating a mile a minute from exertion and holding your breath a nearly impossible task. 

One year, when I had two tags, I shot two deer in less than 7 seconds, running across my field of view at top speed, and 225 yards.  Lee Harvey Oswald was a fucking piker.

It’s for this reason that I carry a magnum – not because the 300 win mag is necessary to kill a deer, because it isn’t.  But if you want to have the best chance of bagging a deer where we hunt, you must be prepared to make 500 yard shots and have them count. 

So I haul a Ruger M77 Mark II, stainless synthetic all-weather in 300 win mag.  I load my own rounds, using 190 grain hornady interlocks, with 71 grains of IMR 4350, pushing that big bullet downrange at 3,000 feet per second.  At anything less than 500 yards, that round is nearly impervious to wind, and carries enough energy to drop a moose in its tracks. 

Mmmmmm, Moooose tracks!

A good set of optics is also key.  A Leupold 3x9x40 VX3 rifle scope is mounted to my rifle, and I carry a set of 10 power Nikon binoculars on a stretch harness on my chest.  The harness keeps the binoculars from swinging around all day long.

Next, I’d like to discuss the quarry.  Again, most hunting programs talk about whitetail, because that’s what’s available back east, but out here, we have both whitetails and mule deer.  In our area, the mule deer are 30% bigger than the whitetails, and so we generally go after them. 

"Hey, what's up?"

The downside is that the muleys live in rougher, more unforgiving terrain, and so you put more effort into a hunt.  The upside is that you get to be a snobby and scoff at all those easterners shooting their stupid little whitetails. 

The method goes like this.  In a drive hunt, you drop hunters off at the top of the area you want to hunt, and they coordinate their movements through the area, effectively driving any deer in front of them as they go.  Whatever deer they come upon, they can shoot as they move along.  When they get to the bottom of the drive, another group of hunters is waiting there (this is generally the old guys and the youngsters, as the drive is generally very physically draining).  Whatever deer get pushed into them, they shoot.  This method works better for mule deer than it does whitetail.  Muleys generally run away from a hunter, whereas whitetail are more likely to run for a bit, then take to the brush and try to move around behind a hunter. 

In a “spot and stalk” hunt, generally done when you don’t have as big a crew of hunters, you get up high as quickly as you can, and start walking slowly and glassing for deer.  When you see deer, you try to figure out where they will go, and how long it will take them to get there, and haul ass to cut them off. 

Once you get a deer, you’ve got a choice on how to deal with it, and that depends entirely on where you are an how far you’ve got to go with it.  My advice is to almost always keep it whole, get the guts out of it, and drag it out in one piece, but if you’re in a deep enough hole, or far enough back in, sometimes you’ve got to quarter it and haul the quarters and meat out, leaving most of the skeleton, and the hide behind.  State law requires you to haul the head out.  This usually take three guys, minimum, but it’s better with four.  One man can carry two deer quarters, but we try to mix it up, so that a guy will carry a quarter, and a sack full of backstrap and rib meat.  The other guy will get a quarter and a head.  The last guy will probably get two quarters, but you’ll give him the lighter front quarters.  The other two will generally carry this guy’s rifle for him, or, best case, you’ve got a guy to carry gear and rifles, leaving the meat packers more free to haul meat. 

In any case, when the shooting ends, the fun ends with it.  Hauling a deer out of those canyons can be a real sonofabitch. 

"This is fun...  I'm having FUN!"  

But it’s worth it. 

Last year I made Andouille sausage, breakfast links, and brats out of a 50/50 mix of deer and pork.  They were all excellent.  I expect to do the same again this year.  

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