It ends, and it begins.

This weekend is the last weekend of the Minnesota deer season (rifles), but it is also the opening weekend of the Wisconsin deer season.

As you may have guessed by the lack of pictures of dead deer, my 2016 Minnesota deer hunt went about as well as my 2015, and 2014 seasons. In terms of deer shot on the property I was hunting on, it was a great season. Four deer were shot this year, but they were taken solely by Larry and Amber, who accounted for two each. I should get a decent amount of meat out of it though, and that’s half the reason I do it.

This weekend I had been planning to drive up to the Minnesota cabin on Friday evening, but a big snow storm hit northern Minnesota on Friday and so I delayed my departure until Saturday morning. I got there in time for the evening hunt, and I had just got myself into an appropriate tree with my climbing tree stand when I heard Amber shoot her second deer of the season. I climbed out of my stand at 6:30, having seen nothing.

I had decided to use my climbing stand this weekend in order to get practice with it ahead of my Wisconsin adventures. And by doing that I learned that it is heavy, noisy, frustrating, slightly terrifying, and if there is more than a few inches of snow for me to hike through, I will be drenched in sweat by the time I finally get up in the tree. Also, because I didn’t have a chance to scout out decent trees in advance, the trees I found myself in offered less than optimal shooting positions.

But that’s okay (This is rapidly becoming my hunting motto).

On the plus side, these are all useful lessons. And Wisconsin didn’t get 15 inches of snow, so I don’t have to worry so much about the sweat.

However, whilst I am currently sitting in the cabin in Wisconsin, starting my second movie and my fourth (or maybe fifth) beer. My hunting partner for the week, Jason, is still in Minnesota and won’t get here until late tomorrow morning at the earliest. So I won’t be using the climbing stand in the morning.

Other lessons I learned this weekend are that I should get scope covers to keep the lenses of my sight clean, and I should put tape over the muzzle to stop snow and debris getting in there. I bought tape at fleet farm on my way to Wisconsin, but the scope covers will have to wait.

In the morning, since there will be no one around to save me if I get into trouble, I will leave my stand behind and hunt from the ground. Assuming I don’t get a deer, it will give me a chance to select a good tree to hunt from for the rest of the week.

I find it easy to get frustrated by my continuing lack of success in Minnesota, and one of the sources of that frustration is the lack of control I have over my hunting situation. I feel powerless to affect my chances of getting a deer. I know it will happen; Amber waited longer than three years to get her first, and I feel like I’m being ungrateful to feel so frustrated about it. I do enjoy hunting there though, and I want to keep going because I like being part of that group.

However I also relish the chance offered by hunting public land in Wisconsin. There are no tree stands ready for me to climb into, and I don’t know anyone with knowledge of deer movements in the area, so in truth my chances are probably even lower than they are in Minnesota. But that also means there is a lot of room for me to learn. I have dreams of hunting even further off the beaten track than northern Wisconsin, and I won’t get there until I first get comfortable walking beside the beaten track.

So tomorrow I will step out into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory, alone (if only briefly), and ready to learn from my inevitable mistakes.

The ups and downs of hunting

I am now home from deer camp and enjoying a beer and a good book with my feet up. I decided to head home after the morning hunt instead of in the evening, since I am pretty tired and I have to work tomorrow.

This morning was for the most part representative of the rest of the weekend, except that I actually saw deer. Unfortunately they were either too far off, or moving too fast, or both, and I never came close to taking a shot. After they disappeared from my view, they reportedly passed by another member of the group who decided they were too small to shoot anyway.

I climbed out of the stand at 10am at the insistence of my bladder, and after taking care of that, I proceeded to get to grips with my new climbing stand.

I have been moved to remark recently, that, for a person who likes to keep things simple and in their place, I have a lot of hobbies that don’t let me do that. The shooting I do invariably requires bag after bag of clothes and equipment and stuff that all needs to be remembered, and then not forgotten again later, and this climbing stand is the icing on the cake.

It is comprised of two steel structures that individually attach to whichever straight tree I set my sights upon. I then stand with my feet attached to one, and my backside resting on the other, and alternately sit and lift my feet, then stand and lift the other part. I need to wear a safety harness while I’m doing this, and there are a bunch of bungees, ropes, straps, and cushions, that have to be tied up, down, and around, and invariably moved again a few moments later, that makes the whole affair rather frustrating, not to mention a bit scary.

It is awkward to carry, and noisy, and pretty heavy as well (because I didn’t buy the aluminium version), but when I sat down after climbing not very far up the first tree I could find, it turns out it’s actually quite comfortable. I think there might be hope.

Here is a picture of me in the stand after my first exploratory climb:

Next weekend at the cabin my plan is to do all my hunting from this stand, in the hope that I’m thoroughly versed in its operation before I venture out into the wilds of Wisconsin, where help will be a lot further away if I get into a spot of bother.

In other news, although I didn’t get a chance to fire it, I am fairly happy with the rifle I have been carrying this weekend. The Marlin 336 is fairly light, and easy to point and carry. The operation is slightly more complicated than the bolt actions I’m used to, but I think I’m getting the hang of it. With any luck, next weekend, I’ll get to see how it works on deer.

With me luck.

Still nothing

My first day of the 2016 Minnesota deer season is done, and the only deer I’ve seen were shot by other people.

This afternoon I struggled to stay awake, since I had a full belly and the sun was shining on me. After about two hours of power naps I pulled myself together and managed to stay conscious until the sun went down, but it clearly didn’t do me any good as I still have no deer that I can claim as my own.

Tomorrow I’m going to make an effort to hide my silhouette, since the stand I’m in is quite tall and I don’t think my human statue impersonation looks enough like a tree. 

In the afternoon I will take my new climbing tree stand for a spin. I bought it because I’m going to be hunting on public land in Wisconsin in about a week, and I think it will be to my advantage (both for hunting and safety) to be off the ground. I have never used a climbing tree stand before so I hope to figure out all the quirks tomorrow afternoon, so I don’t have to do it at dawn in Wisconsin.

Tonight I plan to drink beer, eat steak, and do my best impression of an American deer hunter. I’m already wearing a flannel shirt so I’m part of the way there, but I’m drinking craft beer instead of light beer, which when combined with my accent, may undermine my efforts.

Fortunately the deer don’t discriminate…I think.

Good morning from deer camp.

I have just returned to the cabin after hunting this morning. I was in the stand by 6:45am, and I stayed there until 11am. 

Here is a picture of me just before I called it quits:

I’m squinting because the sun was bright.

The morning started out cool, 35F (1.5C), but I was wearing enough clothes to avoid discomfort. There were no deer to be seen, but the sky was clear and the sunrise was beautiful, and apart from a bit of a chilly breeze that kicked up mid morning, I had nothing to complain about.

After a quick lunch I will head back out for the evening to try my luck once more.

Happy New Year

I didn’t intend to take this long to write another post, but things get in the way. Since I graduated from my Masters degree in May I have been getting used to my new employment situation. I am now working at a gallery in a temp position that doesn’t employ me all the time, and doing some freelance writing. The freelance writing is a new thing and I will admit I never expected to be in a position where I got paid for my writing, but I am and I’m enjoying it quite a lot. It is the perfect other job for my gallery work as it doesn’t conflict and it also keeps my brain turning when it might otherwise fall into disrepair.

On to the shooting:

In November I went hunting for the second time since I arrived in the USA, and prior to the season opener I managed to try out two variations of my new load (45gr AA2520 in a Lake City LR case with a Hornady 165gr BTSP @2.800 OAL). One involved the same load but in a Winchester case, and the second was with a 2.850 OAL. Neither appeared to make a significant difference so I decided to leave it as it was.

I learned a few lessons this year (always nice), but unfortunately I didn’t get a shot at a deer. There was a deer I could have taken a shot at, but elected not to. More about that later.

The weather was pretty warm, a lot warmer than last year, which was both a good and a bad thing. It was good because I wasn’t freezing sitting in the stand, but it was bad because accepted wisdom has it that deer move around more in cold weather. The hunting season being what it is though I have no flexibility to wait for colder weather, so I decided to just accept it and enjoy feeling my toes.

Jason the night before opening day.

Jason the night before opening day.

I had been hoping to make it up to the property before the season started to scout and pick a place to hunt from, but it never happened and I arrived at the cabin the night before the first day without having seen the place in daylight. That night it was just myself with Amber and Jason, and it was fun to hang out, but I think I drank too much. The next morning when I left the cabin at 6am I was feeling a little hungover, and without having seen the land it took me longer to find a spot than I wanted, and it wasn’t till after the sun came up that I was settled in and hunting. I had initially wanted to hunt from the ground and set out with that intention, but after I had found a spot and sat down and the light started to come up, I realised that my view was almost completely blocked by brush. I soon realised that I wouldn’t get a clear shot unless a deer wandered within 20 yards of me, so I reluctantly got up and made my way to an open stand.

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Early morning view from the stand.

I didn’t see anything that morning, but Amber shot her first deer not long after the sun came up. It was a clean shot at a young buck from around 70 yards. That evening I went to a stand further onto the property, and right around last light I saw a deer. When I spotted it it was on the edge of a dense patch of trees about 60 yards away and walking away from me. I could have made the shot, but after a moments thought I elected not to. In the failing light and at the awkward angle the deer presented I decided the chances of a bad shot were too great. Even a well shot deer will run, and a badly shot deer will run a lot further. I didn’t want to risk wounding the deer and losing it in the woods.

I didn’t see anything the next morning, and Amber had to leave at lunch time, so on the Sunday evening it was just me and Jason. Once again I didn’t see anything, and as the light started to fail I stopped looking. I was quite tired and looking forward to getting home, and I didn’t want to delay that by chasing a deer around. I was just getting ready to pack up and leave the stand when I heard a couple of gunshots from the other end of the property, where Jason was hunting. Then I got a text “I need your help”.

Jason had taken a shot at a deer in the failing light and it had run. There was a scant blood trail which we followed for a while before it disappeared. It took a couple of hours but we eventually came across the deer by searching in the direction that it appeared to be heading based on the last blood we found. All’s well that ends well.

I hadn’t planned to hunt the second weekend as Neither Amber or Jason could make it, but at the last minute I changed my mind and decided to hunt. It was just me with Amber’s uncle Rick and his friend Larry. They were very entertaining and I had a good time. I did see a couple of deer the second weekend, although I couldn’t get a shot. I was sitting quietly in a stand when they appeared out of some trees to my left, one was a doe that I didn’t have a tag for, and I couldn’t get a good look at the second one to see if it was a buck. Then they disappeared walking away from me, and that was the last I saw.

Another beautiful day.

Another beautiful day.

 

I elected not to hunt the last weekend, and although Amber and Jason did neither of them saw anything. So that was that-but like I said at the beginning, I did learn a couple of lessons. First: I need to scout the property. I felt almost blind because I had no idea where the deer paths were. I was sitting in stands and guessing which way to face, and in the case of the deer I saw the first weekend I’m pretty sure it came from behind me. If I had had a chance to look for deer tracks ahead of time, I might have been facing the right way and seen it as it passed. The second lesson I learnt was: Sit Still. Up till now I have spent quite a lot of my time in the stand looking through my binoculars and panning back and forth, but I think I underestimated how good deer are at spotting movement. In future I will sit still and use my binoculars less. Patience is a virtue. The third lesson I took away with me was: Don’t reheat a frozen dinner in a pyrex dish on the stove top! The dish will probably explode and leave you eating food seasoned with glass. I still tasted good though.