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Three weeks and counting

Can you believe it’s less than a month until fall firearms deer season? That gives us three weeks to gather and inspect gear, do some scouting, and get the tree stands in place … unless you use a climber, rely on year-round perches, or hunt from the ground like I prefer to do.

In the past 30 years of deer hunting I’ve used all types of stands. But I tend to doze off while sitting in the woods, and after nearly falling out of both a climber and a ladder stand, I’ve decided I feel much safer napping closer to the ground. For years I sat on a little camo-covered foam pad about a foot square while leaned back against a tree. Nowadays I start each season hunting out of a permanent ground blind where I sit — and nap on occasion — comfortably in an antique metal folding chair. More than once over the years I’ve awoke to find one or more deer feeding or sneaking past me. But sitting in the woods for hours watching for a deer is about the only time of the year where I can completely relax and try to put all the other responsibilities of life on the back burner for a time, and when I relax I tend to fall asleep. I also tend to nap really well during Nascar races for some strange reason.

As for getting pumped up about deer season, this past Wednesday’s cold snap was the kicker for me. When I walked out the door to go to work that morning it just felt kinda “deer-y” outside. By early afternoon the temperature had risen very little and the rain had stopped, replaced by a light but blustery breeze. I know it wasn’t just me, because I got calls from a couple fellow deer hunters wanting to talk hunting. One even commented on how the weather had a definate deer hunting feel to it.

Last week I told of my plan to take my teenage daughter squirrel hunting last Saturday morning. I’m happy to report we made that trip happen. At the farm we’re still dealing with a lot of downed timber from the May 2009 storm and straight-line winds that ravaged from this area south. Easing through the woods is almost a thing of the past for now, with storm-toppled trees scattered like pick up sticks and under brush growing anywhere the canopy is open to let in more sunlight.

We saw two squirrels but never got a shot. The first went up a tree and around on the back side. By the time we closed the distance for a decent shot it had either gone in a hole or down the backside of the tree and left the vicinity. The second squirrel was hightailing it across a lane between a woodlot and overgrown fencerow. My young hunter was determined to get some squirrels on the trip. When that didn’t happen she started targeting them in the backyard back at home later that day.

Still we had a great time hunting together. The weather was perfect and she enjoys spending time at the family’s century farm nearly as much as I do. Even with no squirrels to carry home, the trip still provided good news. Fresh deer sign was everywhere we looked. We saw lots of tracks, fresh droppings, a few new rubs and the start of some scrapes. All but one scrape was at intersections of travel paths and obviously not “hot” scrapes, more like the first attempts of young bucks or pre-rut efforts to begin to establish territorial dominance. There was nothing resembling a hot scrape — with droppings and urine and a sizable area of disturbed ground beneath an overhanging branch. Since our focus Saturday was finding squirrels, we didn’t investigate closely enough to note if the rubs we spotted were part of rub lines. But most of what we noticed were in areas known for lots of buck activity year after year.

I’ll be back two or three more times between now and opening weekend. I want to set up the game camera for a round of pictures. I need to top off the woodpile for the stove, and see that the stores of necessary household goods are ready to go. I think she wants to squirrel hunt again. At least one of those trips I’ll take the 4-wheeler and cover more ground and note fresh deer sign to report to the other hunters in our camp. Some live some distance away and don’t see the property until they arrive on Friday night before opening day. They have to rely on my reports of what I’ve found on my visits in the weeks before. I take great pride in my role of ameteur “guide”, having put my siblings on good stands that have produced well in recent years.

Of course, while we as hunters can do our part in preparing for season, we still have to rely on Mother Nature to do her share of the work. In the next three weeks (or two weeks for those taking out young hunters for the “youth-only” season Nov. 5-6) we need a couple light freezes followed by a couple bouts of strong winds and heavy rains. That’ll strip the leaves off the trees and open up the woods for better visibility. A good cold snap lasting at least a few days will also help trigger the rut and get the deer moving.

The only negative I saw on our trip to the farm last weekend was the overabundance of acorns. The ground was thick with nuts, sometimes piled two and three deep beneath the bigger oaks. With an exceptional amount of browse and enough rain to keep the streams flowing and the puddles and ponds full, there’ll be little reason for the deer to travel much except for bucks searching out does. But those small negatives won’t deter a true deer hunter from finding some venison for the freezer … and maybe a trophy for the wall.

Happy scouting.

Doug Smith lives in an old house, drives an old truck, tinkers with old tractors, is married to a young woman, hunts and fishes often, and can be found on any given day wearing his Buffalo plaid flannel jacket and matching Elmer Fudd hat. ( … and can be found in the next three weeks watching deer hunting shows and videos.)

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