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A Hunting Trip to Remember

4 January 2009

Isaac and I came back late Saturday night after the bitter, north wind started beating stuff against the hunting cabin.  We were tucking ourselves into bed in the loft, and with the gas heater on, I had thought it necessary to crack open the two vent windows up where we were sleeping to make sure we didn’t suffocate.  But the wind was making such a racket that it spooked Isaac…it sounded to him like people were trying to get in to get us.  So we crawled out of bed, packed the truck, shut the place down, and headed out at 8:30p to come home.  He fell asleep in the pickup before we even reached the end of the county road.  Given that we had no turkey or deer in the cooler to show for our efforts, the cold front that blew through might have been a disappointing end to the weekend, had it not been for what had happened earlier that day.

—–

After the morning hunt on Saturday, Isaac and I went up to the cabin and fixed some big breakfast burritos.  So much food, in fact, that we used up more of the eggs and tortillas than we had expected, not leaving us enough for the noon and evening meals.  So we hopped in the truck and went to the grocery in Clarendon to get some supplies.  (It was during that little errand that Isaac handled all four gates by himself, a victory in its own right.)  When we got back, Isaac was ready to hunt again.  At midday?  I thought it was nap time.  But he was not going to be denied.  I told him not to expect much, because everything was probably bedded down in heavy cover, but he was unimpressed.  We put our guns in the front seat, and off we went to check out – his idea – the north feeder, whose morning ration of corn had still been on the ground, untouched, earlier in the day.

Something wasn’t right as we rounded the curve by the plow and the planter.  That bush in the shade of the cedar just to the left of the feeder looked odd, misshapen.  So we pulled the truck to a stop, grabbed the .243, and we walked a few steps uphill to the east, to the top of a little knob overlooking the north feeder.  That “bush” in the cedar’s shadow was no bush after all; it was a pretty impressive mule deer buck, just lounging the afternoon away, with a doe nearby.  We stood there and watched him for about 10 minutes, until they bounded off.  He looked to be an eight-point, not symmetrical, but big nonetheless.

We got back in the truck, turned around, and headed south to the windmill turnoff.  Isaac was keen to find some turkeys since he didn’t think he could handle the .243.  I assured him that the turkeys were off in the brush somewhere, staying out of sight.  We turned east and headed down the road to the windmill.  There they were, two dozen or so, at the bottom of the hill, walking down the road ahead of us too far for a shotgun but well within rifle range.  Isaac and I squeezed off a couple of rounds, and the birds headed into cover to the SW of the windmill.

—–

The two of us spent the better part of the next two hours chasing those turkeys back and forth, circling around to intercept them this direction, taking a couple of shots, then stomping through the brush and cutting them off in that direction, having a ball.  We finally ran them off so far that we decided it was time to get ready for the evening hunt.

—–

We wanted to be close enough that Isaac could bag a turkey with his single-shot .20 gauge, so we went back to the cabin, grabbed two of the sage-colored mushroom chairs, and set them up along the edge of the brush, not 15 yards away to the northeast of the feeder at the windmill.  The wind was blowing like mad out of the west, so we thought we’d be able to stay undetected by anything that approached out of the south or west.  Almost perfect, but windy, windy, windy.  After another windshield tour of the other hot spots, we parked along the road to the N of the windmill and walked to our chairs in head-to-toe camo.  Anything we were lucky enough to see would be within range of Isaac’s shotgun, but we were so close I thought our chances were pretty slim.  Plus, Isaac is a chatterbox, so if the animals didn’t smell us, they’d surely hear him and stay safely away.

As we sat down for the evening hunt at about 4:30, the wind was still blowing like crazy.  It wasn’t 15 minutes before muleys started showing up – first a small forkie and five does and fawns we had seen earlier in the day, then a 2×1 cull buck and six more does.  The feeder went off early – maybe 5:15 or so – and I had been so engrossed in these deer that I hadn’t noticed the wind had totally subsided.  We were comfortably in the shade on a calm, 75-degree January afternoon, watching a baker’s dozen mule deer, listening to them crunching their corn amid the…quail?  Sure enough, quail, dove, and at least three cardinals.  Then all the deer whipped their heads around to look at the meadow around the brush to our right, to the NW.  Anything that came in from that direction would surely be within 15-20 yards of us.  If it was a flock of turkeys, Isaac was going to have a shot, or the turkey would detect us and turn around.  Either way, it was hold-your-breath time.

Did I mention that Isaac was totally silent the whole time?

But it wasn’t turkeys; it was an eight-point, basket-width buck and another doe or two.  The count was now up to sixteen, nearly all of which seemed to be within arm’s reach.  (There was some biochemistry and some biology going on, too, which made for a couple of teachable moments.  *chuckle*  Those questions are so BLUNT from an 8-year old!)

This guy was clearly the new sheriff in town, and the feeder wasn’t big enough for three bucks.  The two inferiors backed off and gave him some room, but apparently not far enough for his liking.  His antlers looked worse for wear, with some tines looking as if they had broken off a bit.  Twenty more minutes of stalking does, sniffing the air, snorting at challengers, and totally ignoring the corn, with all the deer so close we could hear their teeth grinding away.

A *fourth* buck?  Sure enough, now came a symmetrical, much more impressive forkie with a thick neck and long tines, big enough to pose a credible threat to the eight-point.  (If he’s a two-year-old, as I suspect, he’ll be quite a sight in a couple of years.)  And another doe.  He saw us, too, and at one point he and a couple of does got so close to us that I decided to shift my feet and cycle my bolt-action to run them off a bit.  The boys were obviously in a testosterone rush, so I wasn’t taking any chances!  

It looked to me as if the older buck knew his influence was fading, seemed sort of deferential to the new guy, who cut in more than once on the elder’s dances with the does milling around.

—–

All in all, the two of us spent the better part of an hour enjoying 18 mule deer in an incredible display, close enough to touch, under a crystalline blue, cloudless, windless sky.  Isaac was thrilled and entranced (and silenced!) by the whole thing.  The sun dipped behind the horizon, the deer started wandering off, and we stood up, grabbed our guns and our chairs, and started up the road to the truck.  Halfway there, the cold front arrived.  I can pinpoint the moment when paradise gave way to Panhandle reality (and nearly yanked the mushroom chair out of my hand).  It was that blast that eventually convinced us our weekend at the ranch was over.

—–

I love being a dad.

qb

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