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Snowshoes and a Muzzleloader – a Few of My Favorite Things

Discussion in 'BlueDogs Blog' started by bluedog, Jan 8, 2018.

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    The week before this year’s January muzzleloader season I made a list. Since my husband and I both shot deer back in November and our freezer was fully stocked with venison, I was really on the fence about whether I wanted to take part in my state’s late muzzleloader season. My nature is to overthink my deer hunting so in my head I made one of those lists that weigh pros and cons. It went something like this:

    Why I should go hunting: I LOVE muzzleloader season and I love hunting in the cold and snow which there would be plenty of both. Although we are still being cautious about taking too many does after a population drop a few years back, we did set a goal to take 1-2 does off the farm and so far there had been zero does shot. A good friend who farms part of our land did not have a chance to hunt this year and he and his family would put a deer to good use.

    Why I shouldn’t go hunting: I never want to get too greedy. I really feel that I shouldn’t be hunting just because I have a tag in my pocket. I should hunt to fill the freezer and stop right there. Or I should hunt to specifically manage the deer population especially if there are too many. Many areas of my state have seen a dramatic decrease in deer numbers. While there are many factors involved in this, part of the blame goes to hunters trying to fill every tag they have or shooting too many does. Except in areas where the deer population is way too high, I think hunters need to be more conservative and only shoot the deer that they themselves will use. That leaves enough deer for everyone. This was really my only argument against going hunting but it was a big one for me, the overthinker.

    My list was not helping me make up my mind until someone said something to me. They said we only get X number of hunting seasons in our life. That I should go out, hunt and just enjoy myself. Thank you to the person who said those words to me.

    Of course my ability to overthink things didn’t totally turn off. Heck that would not be me if that had happened. I decided I would try and shoot a fawn, either doe fawn or button buck didn’t matter. I had already shot a buck in November and in my state hunters can only shoot one buck. I would have to shoot an antlerless deer. By January fawns are decent sized. Shooting a fawn would take one crop eating mouth out of the herd but would have minimal impact on this spring’s fawn crop.

    Opening day of muzzleloader was cold and it was perfect. My area had received quite of bit of snow in the last couple weeks but the snow had now stopped. The snowpack had compressed down to about 12” of snow. Very manageable especially with my very 1st snowshoes at the ready. (Dear snowshoes where have you been my whole life?) The morning temps were in the single digits with below zero wind chill when I left the house about 7:20am. This would be the 2nd coldest day I had ever hunted. I had planned to alternate sitting with still hunting to keep a little blood moving. When I got to a good spot to sit that is when I remembered that I forgot to put warmers inside my boots. DOH! My plan then became a slow walkabout the south half of the farm to look for tracks and come up with a plan for the afternoon. I did manage to at least remember to bring fresh batteries and a fresh SD card for the game camera I have set up on a deer carcass so I took a stroll in that direction too. The camera is set low but it did catch the legs of someone out walking with their very first snowshoes. I’m having a severe love affair with these snowshoes. By 10am I was back at the house and making plans for the afternoon. From 10am until 4pm I had a severe case of ants in my pants as my grandma would say.

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    By afternoon the temperature had warmed up to single digits with below zero wind chill. In other words it had not warmed up at all. The afternoon plan was to sit along the north-south fence row with my neighbor’s farm. Most but not all evenings, the deer would exit the woods on the far side of my neighbor’s pasture, cross his pasture, cross the fence, cross our picked soybean field often stopping for a few minutes in a patch of sweet corn that didn’t get brush hogged last fall. Then the deer would continue across our field and into the woods on the far side. The sweet corn patch is 15 yards wide and 120 yards long. It runs parallel to and sits 90 yards west of the north-south fence line where I would be hunting and 150 yards north of our pasture to the south. It is pretty much an island of standing crop surrounded by bare field. The entire section of north-south fence is over 500 yards long and while the deer can cross anywhere, they tend to aim for this patch of sweet corn. Most of the fence is wide open single strand barbed wire but there are some trees growing up on the south end. I chose to sit facing north with the wind in my face and my back up against a large old wild growing apple tree, the last tree before the fence line becomes wide open. The rows of sweet corn were 90 yards to my left and my neighbor’s pasture to my right. At 4:15pm I was ready and waiting for the anticipated evening show.

    The good thing about the cold was that it took away any temptation I may have had to play on my phone. And by sitting with my knees up and gun resting on my knees I was semi-ready if deer showed up. Plus being crunched up and sitting in a ball, I was pretty warm. The bad thing about the cold was that even with liner gloves, mittens and hand warmers, I had to keep my hands curled up and on my lap to stay warm. At 5pm a lone deer, a fawn, most likely a button buck materialized out of nowhere. Deer are really good at doing that. It had run across my neighbor’s pasture and came up from behind me. I didn’t see it until was near the fence line. In seconds it jumped the fence 30 yards in front of me and headed for the sweet corn patch. It stopped broadside 40 yards out and stared at this lump sitting under the apple tree. It stood there several seconds as I attempted to uncurl my left hand to slide down the forearm of the gun and then my right hand I had to untangle it from the hand warmer, slip my fingers out of the pocket at the end of the mitten, release the safety, grab hold of the grip, raise the gun to my cheek, reposition to take aim and before I could get to the part about lining up the sights, too many seconds had passed and the deer bounded off for the sweet corn, through the sweet corn and off to parts unknown. Dang, dang, dang, dang, dang, dang, dang, dang and dang it! A perfect opportunity lost. Dang it! To make matters worse in trying to get my trigger finger out of the mitten pocket, I lost the hand warmer. I was terrified of moving thinking there were going to be more deer sneaking up behind me. I shifted the hand warmer from my left hand to my right hand because it was more important to keep my trigger finger warm. As my left hand got colder and colder I finally said the heck with those deer sneaking behind me (of which there were none) and I fumbled around under the apple tree and found my missing hand warmer. Whew! I was back to being relatively warm and on watch.

    5:15pm 5 deer exit the woods to my right. They are following the script. Sort of. They end up jumping the fence 150 yards in front of me. That is way too far for me to shoot with my open-sighted muzzleloader. They were on a mission to cross our bare field and all I could do was watch them leave. They never even angled toward the sweet corn patch.

    But wait! There was a straggler just a few minutes behind them. Instead of following the same path, this deer started to angle toward the sweet corn patch. Sweet! It jumped the fence and traveled maybe 20 yards and stopped and stared. It was 80 yards away from me. It was a fawn. But it was 80 yards away. This is not my comfort zone at all. I like my deer much closer. But the deer I shot with this same gun back in November was 88 yards away and I hit right where I was aiming. I had one teaspoonful of confidence in one small corner of my brain. I figured the deer would pause a few seconds and take off like the other deer but it just stood there. And stood there. And stood there. I had the sights of my gun lined up on the deer and it just stood there. That teaspoonful of confidence sent a signal to my trigger finger and a shot rang out. It was an odd sounding shot. Kind of weak sounding with a few sparks coming from the barrel of the gun. The deer kind of trotted off to the sweet corn patch and didn’t act like it had been hit. I caught a couple glimpses of it moving through the corn and then nothing. Then the questions started. Did it just stop in the corn? Maybe it was wounded and bedded down? Most of the corn is thin and I should have been able to see it leave the corn as it crossed the rest of the field on the way to the woods on the other side. But some of the corn was thicker. Perhaps the corn blocked my view and the deer actually did cross the field? My husband was hunting about 350 yards away. I texted him and he got up and looked through his binoculars at the sweet corn patch. He didn’t see anything. I hate this not knowing what happened part of hunting. Ugh!

    I waited a few more minutes but with light fading rapidly, I decided to go look. It was cold and I was now feeling grumpy. I didn’t even reload my gun but I did take it with me. Fortunately I didn’t need it. I found the tracks of the 1st 40-yard deer that got away. I walked further. When I got to the far end of the corn there were lots of tracks. In the dim light I was having trouble figuring out which were the fresh tracks. I crossed through the 15-yard-wide patch of corn and there was a dark blob in the snow right next to the rows of corn. It was the deer and it was dead. Sigh of relief and a little bit of disbelief as well. I had convinced myself that I did not even hit the deer. The shot was a bit back from where I was aiming but the deer was quartering away a little bit so it went in through liver and out the opposite side lung.

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    There was no to time to stop and ponder all of this. The sun had set, the skies had cleared, the temperature was dropping quickly and I had forgot my headlamp. What????? I’m an idiot sometimes. My husband had started walking my way and I met him partway. We had a brief discussion of what to do. I had the snowshoes. He had on boots. Trying to walk through a foot of soft snow is hard on his hips. I decided that I wanted my headlamp superty dooperty bad. Plus it was way too cold to get a tractor started. This meant I was going to have to drag the deer myself. This would be much easier without having to also carry my gun and my groundchair. So my husband and I walked back to the house. I grabbed a small fanny pack big enough to carry my knife, my little rib and pelvis saw, my deer drag and a spare flashlight. I attached the headlamp to my hat, put my snowshoes back on and I was out the door into the dark of the night.

    The headlamp kept me from fully appreciating the night sky but I could see the stars were out. I was smiling as I walked back to the dead deer. For most of the way I could follow my previous snowshoe tracks, then I turned into fresh snow and walked the edge of the sweet corn to the far north end. It was nice to have snow to push up against the deer to keep it on its back while I worked field dressing. The insides of the deer were still warm. It was a stark contrast to the night air. Not surprisingly for a fawn traveling by itself, the deer was a button buck. This would be good eating for my friend and his family.

    After field dressing I attached the rope drag to the deer and put my snowshoes back on. I texted my husband to let him know I was on my way home. Within just 20 yards the deer dragging behind me caught a tail of my snowshoe and I fell flat down in the deep snow. Ha! That was worth a good laugh. What was more comical was me trying to stand back up with my snowshoes on and the weight of the deer pulling me back down. I knew I should have taken the ski poles with me. Eventually I did get back up, repositioned my set-up and I was back and moving toward the house. I had 3/10ths of a mile to travel but I was in no hurry. There was no need to over-exert in the now below zero temperatures. I would drag for a bit and then rest a few seconds and repeat. Between my glasses fogging up and the glare from the headlamp, I had tunnel vision. My mind was focused on following my previous tracks back to the house. Around the halfway mark I left the soybean field and rounded the corner by the pasture fence. From here it was a slight downhill drag to the creek culvert then a slight uphill drag to the house. This was a good spot to pull out my phone to text my husband and let him know my progress. As I put my phone away I saw it for the first time. There was the constellation Orion rising in the southeastern sky. The hunter was there in all its glory. Breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. So many inadequate words to describe the view. I couldn’t help but smile. Here I was by myself, dragging a deer through foot deep snow, wearing snowshoes, feeling the below zero air sting against my cheeks and feeling the warmth rising from my hard-working body. Down the slope to the culvert with Orion guiding me home. As I started the upslope to the house, my husband appeared out of the darkness to help me finish the drag home.

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    After checking in the deer, we drove it over to our friend’s house. The truck thermometer said -10°F. Our friend tried to hang the deer using his engine block hoist. It was frozen and even some heat from a gas torch couldn’t bring it to life. He quickly chose an alternative location to hang the deer. Then he retreated to the warmth of his shop and my husband and I took shelter in our warm truck. And just like that, another deer season comes to an end with memories that will last a lifetime.
     
  2. Totally enjoyed this and thank you for sharing! Congratulations on successfully harvesting yet another deer this season, and such a nice thing to do, offering up some excellent venison for a neighbor. A hunt that will last in memory for years to come I'm sure. Well done!
     
    bluedog likes this.

  3. Bryan six

    Bryan six Staff Member Super Mod Mod

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    What an awesome night blue!! I can see the stars in the sky above the snow covered pasture!! You have me smiling!!! Awesome pure awesome!! :bowdown:
     
    bluedog likes this.
  4. When I read the title, BD, I started to get worried but then I thought: "Hah.....BD wouldn't be hunting snowshoes as she knows that's illegal in Ohio. Glad I was right. Great stroy with a super ending. Congrats.
     
    bluedog, Kyle13 and Bryan six like this.
  5. Bluedog I sure do like your stories.
     
    bluedog likes this.
  6. LOL! Yeah I don't even live anywhere near where they tried to re-introduce those snowshoe hares years ago. I've never even heard if anyone in that area sees them at all.

    I was laughing today because I had a Facebook memory pop up from 2011. It was about how deep the snow was and that I really needed a pair of snowshoes. It only took me until 2017 to buy a pair. LOL!!! These things are AWESOME! It is still work trudging through the deep snow but what a huge difference it makes. I've been wearing the snowshoes all week every time I go out back to do anything.
     
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  7. Deehntr56

    Deehntr56 Staff Member Mod

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    Well done Bluedog!
     
  8. Bawana

    Bawana Staff Member Mod

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    Great story!
     
    bluedog likes this.
  9. Thanks for the comments guys. I'm still grinning as it was just a very cool experience from start to finish. I know you all understand and have your own hunts that are the same. This hunting gig is just a wonderful part of life.
     
    R. Toker, Bryan six and steveOh like this.
  10. Thank you to the person who said those words to me.

    You are very welcome!!! Great write up, as is the norm for you. I enjoy reading them all.
     
    bluedog and Bryan six like this.
  11. Thanks again. That was a one of kind hunt and to think that I was contemplating not going out hunting. :) :) :)
     
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