Dec 7, 2009

A perfect hunt

What makes a hunt perfect? I guess that depends on your personal preferences. For me, it's a combination of things, and two completely different hunts can both be perfect. It's not any one thing, but my mood combined with the rest of the experience. A perfect hunt may not even include a kill.

Today? Today was a perfect hunt. I spent my morning skinning the doe I took from the farm last week, in preparation for butchering over the next few days. After cleaning up and looking at my honey-do list, I decided I'd rather hunt. I left the house around 1:30 with the proper accoutrements, and headed (after a fair bit of waffling) to Hunting Buddy's place, about a 35-minute drive. I already had the perfect spot in mind...

I parked the truck and finished getting ready - I end up looking like the Michelin Man when I go hunting, but that means I'm usually warm enough. Loaded my shotgun and headed in to the stand. I make no extreme efforts to walk quietly when I walk in, but I do try to keep noise to a minimum, and carry my gun at low-ready. Nothing bumped out in front of me, and I was in my stand shortly before 2:30. I settled in to watch and wait.

A light snow started falling. Something about snow in the woods, particularly when hunting, holds a certain bit of romance. The woods are quiet enough that you can hear the individual flakes of snow rattling down onto dry leaves, and there was no wind to chill things any further.

There I sat, listening to the snow, watching the woods and fields around me, and generally enjoying the solitude. As if on cue to complete the scene, a goose honked off in the distance. One lone honk turned into the melodic cacophony of a flock. For as long as I can remember, I have always looked for the "V" when I hear geese, and this was no different. I watched to the northeast, and listened as the flock grew louder - and started to sound bigger. The first "V" flew into sight above the trees and flew nearly directly over me... followed by another, and another. I looked farther towards the horizon, and the skies were filled with geese - hundreds, perhaps as many as a couple thousand. The honking grew louder, to the point of drowning out everything around me... all I could do was watch as this magnificent flock flew over me, and this is the image that came to mind. Nothing but geese, horizon to horizon, in a seemingly un-ending stream. Not one gigantic "V", but dozens of individual ones, from five or ten to well over a hundred. Amazing.

After the geese passed over, the snow stopped and the sun broke through the clouds for a few minutes. I watched and listened, smiling at the chattering grey squirrels and glaring at the woodpecker rat-a-tatting on the tree next to me. In the marshy bottom to my right, a flicker of movement caught my eye. Partially screened by a pine tree, I craned my head around to get a better look, and saw a doe moving through the brush on the far side. No clear shots from the stand, so I took a chance and quickly climbed down to ground level. My foot hit the dry leaves below and she snorted once and ran off. I climbed back up and settled in for another wait, hoping she or a friend would circle back around through the brush.

Shortly after four, a small doe (probably a yearling) picked her way up the creek bottom behind me, and started up the small rise under my stand. I'd been waiting for just this situation, and carefully unholstered my pistol, hoping to mark down another "first" in the hunting memories. The rustle of fabric as I reached under my overalls, however, startled the deer, and she stopped and stamped once, looking for an as-yet unknown threat. I gave a soft grunt on my call and she stopped looking quite so nervous. She took a half-step forward, slightly screened by a small sapling perhaps 15 yards from my stand. I extended my arm and started to cock the hammer for a single-action shot, waiting for her to move clear of the sapling. The tiny "click" of the cylinder unlocking spooked her and she ran off into the clearing 40-50 yards away as I eased the hammer back down. I could have taken the shot with my shotgun, but the deer wasn't big enough to make it worth it. The challenge of a pistol shot, yes, but not the "gimme" of a rifled shotgun.

She slowly moved out of the marsh and to the edge of the field in front of me, and I considered a few options for taking a shot with the shotgun, but decided to let her walk. I hoped there would be a few more deer following behind shortly, and I wasn't disappointed. A few moments later, a pair of doe crested the slight hill at the edge of the field and started walking across, followed by three more. I picked a likely lane and waited for the larger of the first pair to move through it. She did, I shot - and missed. *shame!* The first pair ran off, and the second group ran a few paces before stopping to look around. I drew a bead on the larger of the group and waited. She stepped into a clearing, and I shot - and missed again. (Note to self: MUST replace crappy factory irons with dot or scope!) This time, though, she didn't run - she stood right there. I took careful aim again, and pulled the trigger...

... and down she went. I gathered my stuff quickly and climbed down, walking to the edge of the field where she'd dropped. She was still panting and thrashing a little, so I shot her once more, this time with my .44. While she finished dying, I walked the edge of the field, checking for sign to make sure I had actually missed the first deer. I found her tracks and followed them for forty or fifty yards, and found no blood or hair - it was a clean miss.

I went back to the deer I'd shot and dressed it out. In the process I discovered that (A) this "doe" was a large button buck, and (B) nicked my glove and knuckle while getting the diaphragm/heart/lungs out. I tied my drag on and headed back to the truck. Home with a stop for another set of eyebolts to hang this one, and now he is hanging in the garage, waiting to be skinned and butchered next week.

So what made it a perfect hunt? Not just killing a deer - although that is a plus. The snow. The temperature. The lack of wind. The sun. The squirrels. The woodpecker. The deer that got away. The geese. The time to myself, to turn off the things stressing me at home and work and focus exclusively on the world in front of me. When I'm hunting, I can forget about my work schedule, the payments for the truck and the house, what groceries I need, what still needs fixing, etc. It's simply me and the world, and that's the best possible time out there.

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