As thoughts turn to the commercialized rat race which is the modern-day Christmastime, many a local outdoorsmen (men, women and youth alike) have already celebrated another late fall/early winter tradition – deer season.
I've heard many tales of successful hunts – big deer, good shots, good times at deer camp – already this fall. I’ve also heard a lot of talk about hunters heading back to the woods with that bow, or waiting impatiently for the “alternative methods” season in late December.
As for me, this fall’s deer hunting can be counted in the “success” column for several reasons. I’ve returned to bow hunting after a nearly 20 year hiatus. I put venison in the freezer during the November firearms portion of season. I have a new hunting cabin which is quickly becoming comfortable and accommodating. And there’s still more hunting to be had in the next six weeks.
First things first! I said I returned to bow hunting after nearly 20 years. It was about that long ago that, after an unsuccessful fall of many uneventful trips to the farm to spend the evenings sitting in a blind waiting for a deer to amble within range, I decided my time could be better spent at home with my wife and small children.
I vowed back then that I’d give up the hobby temporarily, but return to it when either 1) my kids had grown and moved on to pursue their own interests, or 2) had taken up bow hunting themselves and we could enjoy the time afield together. As it was, while one of them became a great deer hunter with a rifle and the other became a great camper and canoe/kayak paddler, neither took up archery hunting. Add to that both are now grown and have been out of the home for several years, and we have a comfortable cabin for my wife to enjoy while I’m hunting (more on that in a minute) … the time was right to return to archery hunting.
I sold my compound bow and all the accessories shortly after I decided to take the hiatus from hunting with it so many years ago. I’ve since bought another compound bow, but have opted to take advantage of the recent changes in regulations to hunt, instead, with a crossbow. Even a relatively inexpensive bow such as mine shoots amazingly flat and fast and accurate. And there’s not that learning curve of shooting a traditional bow accurately that comes with lots of practice.
I can pick up my crossbow and shoot it just the same as shooting my deer rifle – albeit the quarry has to be much closer. But that’s not an issue on our hunting land, since most shots are 50 yards of less anyway. The last three deer I’ve harvested during the rifle portion of season have all been within 20 yards when I fired.
All that said, to date my attempts at getting a deer with a bow have been unsuccessful so far this fall. I’ve only seen one deer while bow hunting, and it had sneaked up on me as the sun was setting one evening the week before rifle season. I had heard it wind me and take off through the brush some 35 minutes earlier, and suspected it might circle back to get to where it was going earlier. But I hadn’t seen it approaching through some thick brush, and when I stood up to exit the blind as the sun was setting the deer (couldn’t see if it was a doe or buck) spooked and took off in a mad dash back into the thick cover.
Also, my busy schedule only allows for very few hunting hours in my normal weekly routine. I build a few days off around rifle season each fall, but haven’t taken any vacation time to bow hunt. My hours in the woods have been built around my other obligations and not necessarily the best times to hunt. But still it’s gotten me outdoors and on my land more, and I enjoy being in nature and watching a morning unfold or an evening settle in from the quiet comfort of a deer blind any chance I get. I made it out four or five times before rifle season, and then spent about an hour-and-a-half this past Saturday evening sitting in the blind with the crossbow.
I hope to give it another couple tries in coming weeks. My game cameras confirm that a few good bucks, several smaller bucks and nice does survived rifle season and are still traveling their normal paths through woods and fields.
I have several landowner archery tags to fill, and a remaining firearms tag set aside for the “alternative methods portion” in late December. I’m thinking I’ll spend a couple days that week trying to connect with a deer using my favorite .45 pistol and one of my own hand-loaded rounds.
Rifle deer season was a big success. My son was able to abandon his (relatively new) wife long enough to spend opening weekend with me. With no other family members making the trip this year, a longtime hunting buddy and friend joined us at deer camp for part of the weekend. They each got a shot at different bucks on opening day, and I shot a doe. Then the next morning the friend got another doe. The second weekend I went back and harvested another nice doe within the first hour after sunup on Sunday morning.
But opening weekend is about much more than deer hunting. “Deer camp,” as anyone who has ever experienced one can attest, is about camaraderie, good food and lots of down time visiting around the wood stove as much as it is about the hunting. My brothers and I didn’t hunt deer growing up, but all took up the hobby as young men. Our dad, who enjoyed fishing much more than hunting, decided it would be a great thing to start hosting family ‘deer camp’ some 20 years ago.
Early on dad would keep the fire going in the heating stove and help with the meal prep and other chores. The rest of us would hunt in the mornings and afternoons, and then spend the midday hours and evenings after dark preparing and enjoying big meals and sitting around cracking jokes and sharing old stories of past hunts or growing up together. Opening weekend was spent in the old farm house on the land, the house my grandpa built for him and grandma back in the early 1900s.
A few years ago dad decided he was too tired and it was too much effort to make the trip to deer camp. In the years prior my brothers had become hit-and-miss with their hunting (and I’m not talking about the way they shoot, but they were hit-and-miss with that, too), and started taking years off and not showing up for the annual camp. But my son and I have kept the tradition alive, occasionally joined by friends. Both of us are now going on 20 plus years with missing an opening weekend deer camp.
And this year marked the first deer camp in a new cabin. My wife and I recently decided we needed a new cabin to replace the old dilapidated and deteriorating farm house. She’s learned to enjoy time spent at the property even though she doesn’t hunt. The peacefulness of time spent sitting under a shade tree listening to the breeze whistling through the pines, relaxing in lawn chairs late into the evening with the stars bright overhead in a sky not bombarded by street lights, or enjoying a good book near the toasty wood stove can sure help melt away the cares of an otherwise hectic week.
She likes to tell people, “It’s much more fun playing house than it is being at home and living it.” At the cabin meals are prepared in cast iron skillets and pans on a set of antique cast iron propane burners or the top of the circa late 1800s wood stove. Dishes are washed in a galvanized tub crafted into a sink and rinsed in one of grandma’s aluminum dish pans. Hot water for dishes, coffee or hot chocolate is heated the same way the meals are cooked.
Preferred lighting is a combination of oil lamps and candle lanterns, although a solar array and battery system provides all the stored power needed to run electric lights, charge cellphones or use a laptop for hours. But there’s no television, and computer or smartphone use is limited to emergencies. The preferential forms of entertainment are reading books, good conversation, stargazing, front porch sitting, tending the wood stove, making improvements to the land or hunting. Plans call to clean out and enlarge some existing ponds and build new ones to include fishing in that list of activities.
We spent several weeks prior to firearms deer season getting the cabin finished to the point of using it for deer camp. There’s still many improvements to be made and work to be done, but it’ll all come together in time. The goal is for each weekend spent there to be part improving the land, part enjoying the property, and part simply relaxing and recharging our own internal batteries away from the hustle and bustle.
So as you can tell, I’ve had a good fall and great deer season so far. While the freezer is pretty full of venison, rabbits and squirrels I’ve hunted, or pork and tame rabbits we’ve raised and butchered, along with the usual frozen vegetables and quick meals, there’s still enough room for another deer or two to be added by mid-January.
And as I mentioned at the start of this story, I’ve heard some great deer hunting and deer camp stories from many of you. And along with the stories, harvest numbers released by the state conservation department confirms that the deer population in the state continues to flourish and hunters are having great success.
Our annual Best Buck Contest here at the paper continues with another few days left to vote for your favorite hunter and his or her deer. We had more than 120 entries this year and have received several thousand votes for those hunters so far. Voting ends in a few days and I’ll announce the winner of the contest in next Saturday’s edition and online at www.dailyjournalonline.com. The hunter with the most votes will take home a new Can Am Outlander 450 ATV courtesy of Midwest Sports Center, a $1,000 gift card from Hoods Discount Home Center, and a $500 Visa gift card from Sam Scism Ford Lincoln. You can vote by going to http://dailyjournal.secondstreetapp.com/Best-Buck-Contest-2017/gallery/.
Until then, make an effort to get out and enjoy these magnificent Ozarks this coming week. God bless!