DISCLAIMER! This blog talks about hunting and while not graphic (I've left out the yucky and/or gross parts), if you are sensitive about hunting, you have been informed.
I'm writing this a couple of weeks after because things have been so crazy and I've been too tired to stay up to write, but here goes.
This year, once again, I went deer hunting with my son Aaron, my brother Neil and his son Ethan. It was just the 4 of us as it has been for several years, but we really enjoy going together. Ethan was able to bring his trailer, so it made the camping easy and fun as well as much more comfortable. The DWR threw us a curve this year and changed the dates on our hunt. Instead of opening on the 17th like it should have, it didn't open (in our area) until the 21st. We didn't know this until just 2 weeks before when we went for a scouting hike and saw the signs warning folks of the change. I was upset for a while, but then figured, hey, why not just start on Wednesday the 21st (the new opening day) and hunt until Saturday, then come home. That would give us at least 2 days more than we usually hunt, so that's what we decided to do.
We had a plan based on our scouting trips that seemed like it was a good way to get some bucks. Neil and Ethan would go up one canyon and Aaron and I would go up an adjacent one. The first day we were headed for the top to try to find a buck going between feeding and bedding areas at the top passes. So we split up and Aaron and I started up the trail . We started early because it would take us at least 2 hours to get to where we wanted to be at first light or at least by shooting light which is about 7:20 AM. We started hiking at about 5:10 AM. It's a good thing we started early because it took us a little longer than usual to get up the trail. We were loaded down (with about 40-50 lbs of gear) and there had been a snow storm the day before that dropped about 4-6 inches of snow in the higher elevations and about an inch below. So we slid a bit as we hiked and we were just a bit slow because of not enough sleep the night before. Aaron and I had arrived a bit late - around 8:00 PM and didn't get to bed until about 10 PM. We got up at 3 AM so that just wasn't quite enough. Oh well, I figured I usually get a nap around lunch time - :).
Aaron and I arrived at our spots at about 7:30 AM and got settled down to watch the hill and the pass. It was only about 30 minutes and Aaron was shooting at a couple of bucks off in the distance (about 500 yards away). I told him to not worry, it was just too far. Then I saw some other deer much closer and looked to see if they were bucks. I saw a doe first, then I spotted a buck! I got over by Aaron and told him to watch 'cause here they come. They came across the mountain, right where our scouting efforts told us they would. They were about 200 yards away and just walking. There were 3 bucks and 1 doe. The doe led off with the 3 bucks following. Aaron quietly told me "I get the last one - he's the biggest." I told him "OK, I'll take the lead one." So we both got lined up and started shooting. Both of us shot 2 shots that didn't seem to bother them any, then Aaron shot again and his buck immediately spun around and headed downhill. He had hit him! I took 2 more shots at mine and missed (I was shooting too high - sigh....). Aaron got a chance to shoot again when his buck paused a second and turned partly towards the others. It went down with a solid thump! He had him! The buck slid for about 50 yards, then stopped. I looked over (mine was gone by then) and saw it lift it's head and try to get up, but then it collapsed, dead and rolled, tumbled and slid about another 150-200 yards down the hill and into a ravine. I told Aaron to get over there as quick as he could to make sure it was down for good while I watched to make sure he didn't get up and move out. He scurried over there quickly and yelled back to me that he was dead. He was so excited he could hardly stand - he was shaking so bad he had to sit down. Me too for that matter. So I joined him and took a look at his buck. It was a pretty big deer, but was just a nice 3-2 pointer (3 points on one side and 2 on the other). His anters were pretty high and heavy. It looked like it should have been a 4 pointer, but that's OK, as the body was bigger than usual. It was a VERY nice buck! Aaron's first shot had hit it in the left front leg and busted it - almost took it right off. His second shot got it right in the neck! He didn't ruin any meat at all (OK, maybe a little of the neck meat, but that's no problem). I congratulated him and said "Ah Aaron, you've gone and ruined our hunt! Now we have to get him out of here." :)
I was just kidding because I didn't mind - at least until we started to move him. We needed to move him out of the raving (about 3-4 feet deep) and up to a flat area to clean him out. So I got on the back end and grabbed the legs so I could lift and push. Aaron grabbed the antlers and he pulled while I lifted and pushed. We grunted with the effort and made almost 6 inches of progress. Oh man, he was HEAVY! OK, so then we decided to just inch it up one small step at a time. So we would count to 3, then lift. Then we would huff and puff for a minute and repeat. We did this for about 15 minutes and finally had him out of the ravine and in a relatively flat spot with a rock to keep him from sliding downhill while we dressed him out. Whew! That was a lot tougher than we thought. It's hard work to drag a deer. So we dressed him out and thought it should be easier now to move him. Just a word about the cleaning/dressing part. Aaron had never done it, but it was his deer so I just kind of guided him through it, not that I was much more experienced, but I had done it a few times. It was a mutual effort and we bungled it a bit, but nothing serious and we got it done (after about 1/2 hour). It was messy, but the deer was clean. Aaron and I left the deer in the shade and moved into the sun for a bite to eat - we were starving and in need of some energy after the work of hiking / cleaning / dragging the deer. So we grabbed a bite and rested a bit. I told Aaron to stay by the deer and clean it out good with some snow and pack it with snow while I went up to the ridge and contacted Neil and Ethan. I got up and managed to get hold of them (cell phones work in that canyon, thankfully). They told me nothing was happening near them and they would head over and bring the deer carrier. In the mean time, I went over to check out where my deer had gone to make sure I hadn't hit him. There was no sign of anything and another hunter told me he had seen him and he wasn't hurt, so I didn't worry about it anymore. I mentioned that I was shooting high, but that was actually discovered a couple of days later. I couldn't figure out how I had missed him then, but later found that my gun was shooting several inches high at 200 yards which is not good, so I think I just went over his back.
So Neil and Ethan joined us and brought the deer carrier. They would stay up high and watch the hills in case anything came back over. I took the carrier down to the deer and Aaron and we loaded it on. I thought it would be much easier now and it sort of was, but it was still a BIG struggle to get the deer back to the trail. It was a matter of moving a few feet and taking a break. It was complicated by the fact that we had 6 inches of soft snow to deal with and the footing was a little treacherous. We kept slipping. We debated just taking it down in the snow because that would have been relatively easy, but the ravines in this canyon are dangerous and sometimes impossible to navigate. We didn't know if the one(s) in this canyon were bad or not, so we opted to use the trail. Some day next year I'm going to go down the ravine when I don't have a big load and see if it's possible to drag a deer out that way. It should be faster as the trail winds around a bit.
Anyway, we started off down the trail - me in front and Aaron in back. It was very hard on my shoulders to hold the deer carrier up and balance it as well as hard on my legs to hold it back from going too fast down the hill. Talk about your full body workout! This was extreme! We weren't going too fast, but we made decent progress until we came to the part where the trail goes into some trees and there were a couple of spots where a big tree had fallen across the trail and there wasn't a good way to go around. So Aaron and I cleared as much as we could and then just lifted the carrier over the tree. That was just plain exhausting, but we did it. If it hadn't been for my working out and building some muscle as well as endurance, I'm sure we couldn't have done it as Aaron wasn't strong enough without my help. After we got past the trees, the trail wasn't bad. Neil and Ethan caught up with us and said they decided to go down with us as they didn't want to get caught up on top too late anyway. It was 8:15 AM when Aaron downed the buck and at this point it was almost Noon. Yep - it had taken us about 3.5 hours to get the buck cleaned and moved about 500 yards down the trail. Of course, some of that time (about 1 hour) was waiting for Neil and Ethan to get the carrier to us. After they caught up to us, Neil and Ethan took turns helping on the carrier. Aaron got to do it the whole way because it was his deer. The other 3 of us just spelled each other a bit, although I took more time than anyone but Aaron because it was my son's deer and I had been with him which made it partly mine too. We hunt as partners and share the work and the meat.
The rest of the trip down the trail with the deer was mostly unenventful except for the many times we had to stop because one or both of us slipped and lost control of the carrier for a bit. It was actually worse when we got to the part that was covered with sunshine because the snow had melted and left mud behind. It was steep too, so going down was a chore. We slipped a lot, but soon learned to do a controlled slide - my arms would be holding up and balancing the load while my feet were digging into the mud and slowing me down a bit while my legs trembled with the effort to control the slide. I'm sure I got more exercise that single day than in most weeks. In fact, I was wearing my HRM (heart rate monitor) all day and when I checked it my average heart rate for the day was 135 and it showed more than 8500 calories burned. I think I shorted it out a bit - it didn't know how to track anymore, so maybe it was more than 8500 calories. I know that's a lot, but you have to understand that my body was working at a an intense cardio rate for over 6 hours. We finally got it down to the truck and collapsed for a rest before going down to the trailer. During the hike down Aaron and I stopped for many rest stops and 3 times we had to stop to eat a significant amount to refuel - we were using up the energy faster than we could get it back. Whew! So that was just the first day. We had several more to do. Oh, one more thing. We didn't have anywhere to hang the deer in camp, so Aaron, Ethan and I drove to my house and hung up the deer in my shed and put a few bags of ice in him. It would be fine there while we continued hunting. So we got to say hi and kiss our wives before we went back. It had been a long, long day, but a very satisfying and rewarding one too.
The way I was able to hike and help get the deer down is just amazing to me. I'm in better shape now in many ways than I was 20 years ago. I think I'm about as fit as I was at 25 - maybe not as resilient, but still able to get things done. What a nice feeling. This is what it's all about - making the effort and being commmitted to staying in shape. What a great, fun and exciting day - made possible by being in shape.
I can't tell you how much it meant to me to be with my son when he got that deer. He was so excited and thrilled and happy. I felt all those feelings too, even though I missed my buck (I'm mostly glad I did - 2 of them would have been almost too much). For me, it's not so much about getting a deer (although it is nice and we love the meat), but it's about being with family and out in the mountains where I feel at peace. Being on top of the mountain, seeing the beauty of the country and spending that time with my son was WONDERFUL! Suffice it to say that I was as happy as I was tired. It doesn't get much better than this!
The next day we decided to hunt in the lower area (about 1/2 up the mountain), so we slept a little later and started hiking about 6:30 AM instead of 5. Aaron wasn't carrying a gun, of course, since he had his deer, so he went high with Neil while Ethan and I stayed on point. They were going to go up above a stand of pines and see if they could move some deer our way. It took way too long and we lost contact with them because of the nature of the hills and so Ethan and I weren't sure what was going on. I spent about 2 hours sitting and waiting, then finally got up and saw Ethan coming towards me. I went with him to where he had been sitting and decided that was no good, so I went back to my spot. While I was sitting there, I saw a deer come over the hill and into the little valley in front of me. I brought up my gun to see if it was a buck and saw a big red splotch on its side. I could NOT find antlers on it, but it had definitely been shot. So I debated with myself if I should finish it off - Ethics or Legal? I thought "Who shot a doe?" I really couldn't tell that it was a buck, so I debated and finally decided I had to finish it off. Unfortunately, I waited too long and it went behind some rocks and went over the hill. Just a minute later, as I was getting up to go get it, Ethan walked to me and said he had gotten hold of Neil and he told him he had wounded one and they were following it. I told him I knew where it was so we hurried over the hill and looked for it on the other side. At first we didn't see anything, but as we moved up the valley a bit, he suddently stood up and we both saw him. We both say down and took aim. Ethan shot first and put him down. I didn't need to shoot. It was dead. So we went over to it and found that it was indeed a small buck. Whew - that's good. I'm sure this is the one Neil wounded because there wasn't anybody else in the area, so I hurried over the hill with the radio and tried to contact them. I got hold of them and let them know that we had the deer and to hup it over there so we could get it taken care of. It was a warmer day and there was no snow where the deer was, so we had to take care of it quickly. Aaron and Neil finally got to us and Neil was so tired and low (he has diabetes) that he had to eat. So Ethan and I started to clean it out. Just like with Aaron, I helped Ethan and did at least 1/2 of the work. So I now had the pleasure of helping to clean out 2 deer in the same number of days. That's never happened before. Once we had him cleaned out, it was about 2 PM so it was time to get him off the mountain. Ethan and Neil rigged up some ropes to drag him down to the main trail. Aaron and I hurried down to the truck to get the deer carrier. It went smoothly and we got the deer down to the trailer (camp) just before dark. Ethan and Neil washed it out with water and we got it in the truck ready to take it home to hang it up. This time, Neil, Ethan and Aaron took it down home while I stayed at camp. It was nice to have some quiet time. I cleaned up some dishes and fixed sandwiches for the next day. When they got back, we talked a bit then settled in for as much sleep as we could get. The plan was to go up high again the next day.
I was a little worried because I had felt some chest pain that day while hurrying up the hill. It didn't last long, but gave me a little cause to wonder. I was also still very tired from the first day. The next morning, after considering it carefully, I told the guys that I didn't feel right about going up the mountain that day, so I decided to stay at the truck and wait for daylight, then maybe just go up the hill close by and watch the trees down low. They weren't too excited to head off without me but decided it would be OK - they admonished me not to go more than a couple hundred yards from the truck and I agreed. They took off and I settled down for a nap until it got light. This was about 5:30 AM. I was just snoozing off after watching them go until I couldn't see their lights anymore when I heard a loud sound behind the truck. I startled awake and looked back to see them back. It seems that they had gotten off on the wrong trail and just didn't feel right about going on. Now the trail isn't hard to find, even in the dark, so they figured it must be a sign that something wasn't right and not to go up today. Neil was way too low (he tested his sugar and was down in the 40's) as well and needed some food right now. We gave him some, rested a while trying to figure out what we should do, then decided to go back to the trailer and rest. So we went back to camp and took a very nice 3 hour nap. I have to tell you that it was one of the best naps I have ever had. I felt SO much better after the nap. I suggested to the guys that we have lunch and head up the mountain and get an afternoon hunt in. They all agreed and away we went. So we ended up going back to the same area where we were the day before, but did it a bit differently. We knew there were more bucks in there because we had seen them. It turns out they were there, Ethan found their beds later, but they had kicked over about 300 yards ahead of us and some other hunters got shots at them. We never found out if they got them. I got separated by a ravine and ended up on the opposite side from them, but I wasn't worried as they could see me (it was open country where I was - trees where they were). In fact, it looked like a good idea to just sit down and watch a while, so that's what I did. I had no idea when I made that decision that it would be 3.5 hours before they would join me again. Oh well, I spent that 3 hours in quiet comtemplation and had a very relaxing, good time. While I was waiting for them, I heard some noise up above and over the pass from me, so I snuck around the edge and peered into a little ravine down from that pass on my side. I spooked about 10 does and fawns and one very tiny buck. That buck had little nubs for antlers and was not much bigger than Chloe! I just smiled and let them go - he wasn't legal and I didn't want him anyway. I was hoping for a bigger one, if any.
After that, I went back around to where the guys could see me and waited for them to come to my side. The finally made it and we went over the top and started down the other side towards the lower trail and the truck. As we started down, Aaron saw a deer down below us in the open field. We looked, but couldn't see antlers. Aaron saw it bed down and so we thought let's just see what happens as we go down the hill towards it. At this point we were about 500 yards from it. When we had cut down almost 300 yards (about 200 yards from it), it got up and Ethan and I both saw it at the same time and said "It's a buck!" I think Aaron said so too, but I was busy getting ready to shoot. I sat down and took aim and shot, but missed. Ethan shot and I heard a thunk - he had hit him! The buck turned broadside to us and instead of going off to our left where the cover was close, he headed to our right where the cover was a ways away. Ethan said "You have to get him Ron, my gun's jammed", so I pulled up and shot again and knocked him down. He tried to get up but could only drag himself on his 2 front legs. Evidently my shot had taken him high in the back. I tried another shot to put him down for good, but it kicked dust up high and beyond the buck. Neil and Aaron both shouted "You shot high!" I got ready for another shot, but he dropped down of his own accord and just layed there. I could tell he wasn't dead yet because his head was moving. Ethan had his gun fixed and he headed quickly down to the deer and finished him off before he suffered too much. I hate not killing them immediately, but he didn't suffer long. So, now we had another deer. This time it was about 5:00 PM and we had to hurry because it was getting dark. It was Ethan's deer because he hit him first, but since we had to hurry, I just took over the dressing out and did it as quick as I have ever done. I guess practice helps. This was my third in 3 days to do or help with. So we got it ready before dark, but just barely. Neil had already headed down to get the deer carrier and bring it to the trail. We just had to drag him down to the trail which was about 400 or 500 yards further down. We got him down in the dark with Aaron shining a light for me as I took the back end and Ethan took the front. It wasn't far, but it was a chore because we got caught up in one of those blasted ravines and this one was chock full of dead fall - crisscrossed fallen trees all over the place. We sometimes took him under and sometimes took him over the trees and even though he was small (a nice spike buck), he seemed very heavy by the time we got down to Neil and the carrier. This was Friday and we only had 1 tag left (mine) as Ethan had tagged this one. We decided that our hunt was over though because we still had to skin out and cut up and package the meat from 3 deer, so the first thing in the morning we headed back to town and spent all day Saturday taking care of the deer. When it was all done, we had about 170 pounds of boneless, lean venison in the freezer to share with each other and our families.
It was a wonderful, memorable and successful hunt. Aaron lost 10 pounds on the hunt and I lost 5 pounds in the 3 days we hunted. Not bad! That's in spite of the fact that I ate twice as much as usual and lots of high fat, high energy, high calorie foods. I could use that kind of exercise about once a month! :) Well, maybe not, but it was nice that I could do it and have fun doing it AND live to tell the story!
What a great hunt! I will remember this one for a very long time. So, in summary, we got 3 bucks in 3 days. The first was on top in the early morning. The second was about 1/2 up in the early afternoon and the third was in the late afternoon down in the lower country. How's that for a pattern?
It's sometimes hard to stay motivated, but times like this get me psyched up to keep it up another year and have more stories to tell about future hikes, camping, fishing and hunting trips. All made possible by keeping as fit as I can.
If you ever wonder is it worth it, I'm telling you - it IS! Hang in there, the view from the top is defintely worth it.