Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How to hunt with three people

For the past 10 1/2 seasons, we have been a two hunter show.  I sit, Dad walks and we either find deer or move to a new spot. This time Hubby came along and it added new challenges for us.

Dad and I have three seats up and decided that we would each get a spot to sit during the first few hours of Saturday morning.  We put Hubby in the Sky Condo because he has not hunted/shot from a tree seat and we have some tiny/slanted seats that Dad and I are used to.  It seemed a little awkward to try and get everyone in place early enough so that the last person was sitting at an early enough time to beat the deer moving.

At 5 am, we were out the door and heading into the woods.  The wind was flipping COLD!!! I was my normal, bundled up self and I was comfortable as we walked in.   Dad dropped me off in my tree seat, dropped Hubby off at the Condo and headed up to our third spot.  Dad said I could head out of the woods around 10, get Hubby and meet him at the truck around 11.  I was settled in and bundled up.  The wind was so bad that you could not hear anything. 

The weekend before, I had made an unwlecomed friend in the neighborhood red squirrel.  He was chirping on the tree next to me and when I made an attempt to scare him off, it only made him more curious and he climbed my tree, chirped and made weird guttural noises at me.  When he was eye level on the side of the tree, I stood and rattled my tree seat's bar.  It made me blow any and all hope of having a deer come in, but at that point, I wanted him gone.  On Saturday, the little 'friend' was back but he apparently knew it was me and didn't bother me.

I knew Hubby was not really dressed to sit for hours so at 9 am, I walked up to the Sky Condo to share my hand warmers.  Hubby was frozen!  At 9:45, Dad was at the Sky Condo.  Two hunters had walked right past him and never saw him.  Knowing that if there were deer in the area, they would have jumped them on to him, Dad got down and headed towards my seat.  He found a hunter standing in the trail, just below the furthest point I can see down a shooting lane.  Too many hunters, too close to where we were... so we headed to a new, old spot that let Hubby and Dad walk while I sat.

The afternoon past quickly and Hubby and I sat in the Sky Condo while Dad went back to where he started.  No deer.

We are seeing SO many scrapes and rubs - some of which are new or being worked on a regular basis.  From the pictures on our cameras, the deer are still moving around at night and not in the early morning or early afternoons.  I really hope that something snaps and the rut starts soon so that we can get some meat in the freezer.

Hubby, Dad and I are going out again this weekend - and maybe Thursday afternoon.  Dad has a doe permit so as much as he didnt want to shoot a doe by the Sky Condo (to keep the bucks coming), I think we have reached the point where if its a deer, it's going to be shot.

Wish us luck!!! 

And HAPPY THANKSGIVING ALL!!!  I am so thankful that you stop by to read my blog, comment and share your hunting experiences with me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanks for the company

It was definitely not the best day of hunting we have ever had.  We had planned to skip Friday afternoon so that Hubby could come up with me, but thanks to an illness, he didn't come and I missed the opportunity to catch the last couple of hours with Dad in the woods.

With the moon almost full, Dad and I figured that we would walk in extra early on Saturday and get set up before the deer started moving.  My 4 am wake up call (Mom coming to wake me up so an alarm does not wake the baby up) came at 4:26.  I have never jumped out of bed and dressed so fast!  The problem is that I sit when I hunt, so I dress in many, many... many! layers.  It also means that it takes me more than 30 minutes to get dressed so that I dont get over heated and sweaty before I leave the house.  Not that Saturday.  I was sweating and rushed.  A bad combo.

The moon had disappeared behind thick clouds by the time we started along the roadway.  We got the flashlight out and rounded the corner.

Snap! 

Leaves crunched off to our right.  My mind raced.  If we could get to the Sky Condo, then we could get ahead of this deer. Dad stopped. We listed and heard more steps.  We continued on our path towards the Sky Condo then stopped again.  More steps in the leaves to our right.  It was as though this deer was walking with us to the Sky Condo.  We continued on and as quietly as we could, climbed into the Sky Condo and waited to see if the deer would appear.

Dad walking from one stand to another
He never did.  The rest of the day was spent dealing with some surprising guests and looking for a good buck.   We found a lot!! of scrapes and some rubs. It is very clear that there are a handful of bucks around and marking their scent in as many locations as possible.

Three trees with varying levels of rub marks

A scrape and rub probably belonging to the spike





Saturday was a perfect day to be out in the woods because it was so quiet.  A deer could have stepped out at any moment, but none did.  We ended the weekend without seeing any meat to bring home.  We know there are plenty of deer around, we just need to figure out how to be in the right place at the right time.



Monday, November 18, 2013

So much for respectable stand placement

Dad has hunted on the land that houses the Sky Condo for the better part of his life. About six years ago, we built the SC and started hunting there full time.   At that time, there were no other hunters near by.  A few years ago, a hunter bought a bordering piece of property, re-did the old camp that was there and brought his buddies along. 

We haven't had a lot of incidents with them (trespassing last year, putting pink ribbon on my tree seat and lying to us when we asked them what they shot - a search through the list at the tagging station said an 8-point buck). 

Two years ago, Dad bought a piece of land that is separated from the Sky Condo property by a powerline and a driveway that is privately owned by our hunting neighbor.  The land was bought in May and once October came, our neighbor put a treestand up along the edge of the powerline, facing our new piece of property and right next to our traveling path.  We were cautious from that point on, making sure we were not seen as we crossed from the powerline and into the woods.  We never saw anyone actually sit in the stand.  Until this year.

After reviewing the pictures on our trail cameras, Dad and I figured we would head down to my tree seat mid-morning.  As we made our way down our path, Dad stopped suddenly and pointed to the treestand.  A blob of orange sat there.  We backtracked and went elsewhere.

In the afternoon, we were prepared to walk right past the stand, hunter or no hunter, and go immediately into the woods and then travel to where my seat is.  But, no one was there.  Still, from now on, we will have to strategize how we get from point A to my tree seat.  Our hunting neighbor has other treestands along the powerline and we are polite and stay clear of them.  It is how you hunt; have courtesy for those around you. Apparently, they did not get that memo.

Next weekend, I will be walking down the powerline in the dark so that I am settled in my seat before sun up.  It's unsettling to think that there could be someone so close to where I will be walking. I will make sure that I have a very bright flashlight and I may even talk to myself or sing so there is no question that I am not a deer.

So, what is your take on this?  How disrespectful is our neighbor?  Would you put a stand up where you knew other hunters travel?  Am I totally blowing this out of proportion? 

Friday, November 15, 2013

This Moment



A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.



Half a deer just won't cut it

The minute my mom got home and could watch the baby, Dad and I were in the woods.  That morning, Dad had pulled the chips from the cameras so we could see what was still around after week 1.  The group of 5 does were still around and coming to the apple trees on a regular basis.  There was one picture of what looked like the small crotch horn and then... that 8 point buck! For the entire week, he would come back to his scrape every other night.  He checked it around 6 pm, ate for about 30 minutes and would come back around 4:30 am to check the scrape again.  He was the most frequent deer on the camera!!!

When Dad and I headed into the woods, I could only think about that deer. 

"When he comes out, just say its him and I'll get him" I told Dad.

We got settled in the Sky Condo and waited...waited...waited.  We were checking all of the possible trails as it changed from bright and colorful to black, white and gray.  A small wind kept things just noisy enough that we could not rely on our ears to hear anything coming in.  I leaned forward to look beyond Dad.

"There is a deer!" I whispered.  "It's coming this way.  I just saw the back end of him"

Dad lifted his binoculars and started looking for movement in the trees.  I shifted and brought my gun up to rest on the window ledge of the Condo.

"I don't see anything"  Dad kept looking into the woods for movement but could not find the deer.  If there really was a deer, it never showed itself.

We hit the end of legal hunting time and headed back empty handed.


The next morning, I was up early and ready to go.  I wanted to make sure that the minute we hit legal hunting time, I would be ready for that deer to check his scrape again.  There was a small breeze still but we were hopeful that a snap would still be heard.  It was the first weekend back in the woods since we turned our clocks back, so it felt like it took a long time for the sun to come up.

Just before dawn, I saw a deer! Just a quick flash of the white antlers as he put his head down to graze. They looked small, maybe the spike or crotch horn again. I slapped Dad's knee

"Deer! Right up against the tree line!"

Dad got his binoculars out and I got in position, lifted my gun, looked through the scope and aimed at the spot where the deer would step out.  I wanted to be ready if I decided to take him.  I could see the brown body and the outline of his tail.  I kept looking through my scope.  My heart was pounding and I tried to take deep breaths without making noise to calm myself down and steady my shot.  He still had not stepped out.

"Where is he?"

"I think he walked up into the woods"

"Should I try my bleet?"

Three calls on the bleet and nothing.  The deer never stepped out beyond the tree but had turned and calmly walked into the woods.   We waited another hour and then headed to a new spot.  Dad left me and made a big loop trying to catch up with the deer we had seen earlier.  He jumped one deer but the cool thing he found was a rub.  A rub on a tree that he could barely get his hands around.  A monster rub that I can only assume belongs to my monster buck.  Dad finds a lot of cool things when he walks.  Some day, I will ask him to take a camera with him and document all of these things!

But, our day went on and ended quietly.  No deer in the afternoon or evening.  We ended week 2 empty-handed but still hopeful that a cold snap or the onset of the rut could get that 8 pointer moving more frequently. 

This weekend, we will only hunt on Saturday instead of Friday afternoon due to some scheduling issues and the fact that for the first time EVER, we are bringing along a 3rd person!  Hubby is coming hunting with us.  I told him he was not allowed to shoot that 8 pointer this weekend and he just laughed. Dad and I need to figure out the logistics for a 3 person hunt; Hubby has not hunted from a tree stand and one of mine is too small for him.  I would stick him in the Sky Condo and go sit in another seat but with him as eager to land that 8 pointer as I am, I dont think I want to share that potential good spot.  It's game on!


 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

New Season, New Challenges

I was so worried about my son waking up in the middle of the night and subsequently waking up my parents, that I barely slept. This was our first overnight and every little whimper had me ready to jump out of bed and make him a bottle. When I got up at 4:30 it seemed as though I had just gone to bed. But it was opening day and there were deer to find!

Dad and I had looked over the memory cards from our cameras the night before. Dad asked me to keep track of how many bucks I saw in the photos. One spike, one crotch horn, another spike, a small six (maybe) pointer, two more crotch horns, a NICE, wide six-pointer and a bunch of does. More does. The same does. Turkeys. Grass. Grass. A coyote (boo!) and then... a perfect, beautiful, thick 8-point buck eating grass in front of the Sky Condo. I think he is my ghost deer! I will grab camera photos next week, but he was incredible. His antlers are symmetrical, he has thick shoulders and I want to shoot him very badly! I have my target all picked out.

So, Saturday morning, Dad and I headed to the Sky Condo in the dark. There was only one problem. Dad was sick. To quote Mom, this was probably the "second time in twenty-five years" that he has been sick. Exhausted, coughing, congested and with a runny nose, Dad walked into the woods with me. The smell of cherry would linger in the wind with each new cough drop he ate.

We waited for first light. The sun started to come up but there was no movement in the woods. The does that we had been seeing were the same group from last year (I think) and we knew the area that they stayed in. Instead of moving to my tree seat, I opted to go to the stand that we put up last year. It's narrow and the bar is a lot lower than what I am use to, but I hada feeling that if those deer are not by the Condo, they were up there. I was right! We jump them as we crested the hill. They snorted, blow and bounced away from us. Dad has a doe permit and could shoot one, but he said that he wants to leave them so the bucks stay around. I can only shoot a buck.

Scrape at the bottom of my tree stand
It was slow moving and warm in the sun. Dad drooped me off and pointed out a scrape less than 10 feet from the bottom rung of the seat.

I climbed up and started the watch.

There were a group of turkeys that came in for a few minutes and I got reeducated on how loud a single grey squirrel can be.   Finally, I saw a spike horn but he was just walking through the small gap at the end of my shooting lane.  I didn't want to shoot him but it was nice to know that the deer were still where we thought they were.

I heard Dad cough before I saw him.  He was walking back from where the spike was, but he never saw him.  He did jump a doe and a crotch horn.  He said that he would have shot him but then remembered that I wanted the big deer. 

I was (and am) torn about that.  As much as I really want that 8-pointer, or even that wide 6-pointer, I want meat in the freezer first and foremost.  I told Dad that he could have shot him. Maybe next time.

At lunch, Dad ate half of what he normally eats so I know that he still doesn't feel good.  It was really warm when we headed out after lunch.  I sat while Dad walked a bit.  Our goal was to get back to the Sky Condo in enough time to be settled as the light started to fade.  There was rain coming and we were hoping for some movement. 

On our way back, Dad had to stop more often to rest.  When we made it, he draped himself over the edge and tried to take a nap.  He would have laid down on the floor, but it was wet from rain the night before.  I wanted to called it.

Dad, lets just go in

No, it's a good night.  I will be ok.

Thirty-minutes later.

Dad, this is stupid.  We are going in.  It is just the first weekend.  You need to be healthy to drag my deer out of the woods!

Ok.

We were home by 3pm.  Dad is recovering and should be better for this weekend.  I was able to get home and get my son to bed at his normal bedtime, which was a plus for all of us.

It was not a great opening day, but we saw deer.  This week, we will be out Friday afternoon and all day Saturday.  I am hoping for that 8 pointer, but I will take the wide 6.  My goal is to have a complete set of (even) racks; I have a spike horn (my first), a 10-pointer and the crotch horn that I shot last year.  I need a 6 and 8 point rack to complete the set.  If I shoot the 8-pointer, any of those crotch horns could be 6 pointers next year =) 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Maine's Deer Herd in 2013

I recently sat down with Kyle Ravana, the state’s deer biologist, to talk about what his goals are for the deer herd, what challenges he sees ahead and he answers the question: “Would you rather have a warm winter that is easy on deer or a harsh winter that kills off a lot of deer ticks?”

Maine Biologist, Kyle Ravana

You took over this position in February. What are your goals for your first year on the job?

I really want to get familiar with the job, the materials that we have and the current deer data. I’m diving into the management systems that we have and looking at what our strengths and weaknesses are. I have been researching how other states work with their deer herds and what works or doesn’t work for them in terms of management. Places like New York and Vermont as well as Canadian providence’ like New Brunswick all face the same climate challenges that we face here in Maine.

I have also been talking to regional biologists and hearing their opinions and suggestions on what they want to see in their areas of the state. I want to make myself available to the public and really get out there and talk to stake holders and hear what their issues and concerns are. We are all invested in a healthy deer herd and I want to hear about it.

What about your five year plan?

In 2015, we will be in our planning phase of the deer work plan. The last time we did this was in 2000 and we put together a comprehensive plan on where we wanted the herd to be in 15 years. Now, it is time to look at where we are and where we want to be in another 15 years. The public is a critical part of the plan and I want to learn about the goals and issues that people have when it comes to hunting, viewing and the overall total of deer in their area. When the plan is done, it will lay out how we want to shape the deer herd in terms of health, harvest numbers, and goals for each wildlife management district. I want to make sure that I have as much knowledge and partnerships in place as possible so that we can design a successful new system to meet the needs of the herd over the next 15 years.

What is the current health of the deer herd?

The herd is rebounding really nicely. We have not had a bad winter in a few years, so the population is really coming back. Our buck kill index for the 2012 hunting season is almost above our ten year average. Zones 3 and 6 had their highest buck harvest since 1963.

Maine deer biologist Kyle Ravana and his 2012 buck
I want to get a deer study going (like IFW currently has for the bear population in Maine) and look at the survival percentages for does and fawns, as well as get some regional specific information on our deer. It would be the first time in 30 years that this has been done, but it could really help us to see if there some issues that we might not be aware of right now.

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to keeping the herd healthy and growing?

Weather is a big one. If we have a harsh winter, there is nothing I can do about it but it can have a big impact. Also the loss of habitat has played its part in hurting the well being of local herds or driving them out of the areas where habit loss is an issue. We are constantly working with logging companies and land owners to manage habitat.

Winter is always a variable. Would you rather have a warm winter that is easy on deer or a harsh winter that kills off a lot of deer ticks?

(laughs) Huh. I think I would rather have a mild winter to help the deer. You can always control the population if it gets to be too strong, through more permits being issued or control culls. By controlling the number of deer, you can also control the concentration of ticks.

Anything else that you want the readers to know?

I am glad that people are so passionate about the deer because we can turn that passion into action to help grow a healthy deer herd. What we need to stop doing, is talking about how there are no deer here. I have had people come up to me and talk about how they are seeing deer or more deer on their property than they have in the past three or four years. We need to stop being negative when it comes to our deer population; we went though a normal ebb and flow in our numbers and deer are resilient and bounce back quickly. If we want people from out of state to come back to Maine to hunt, we need to stop talking about the lack of deer and realize that they are coming back stronger than before. It is a great time to get into the woods and hunt deer!


Friday, November 1, 2013

Better to have seen and lost or to never see at all?

Deer season starts tomorrow!!!  Dad and I have had the cameras up seriously for about a month or so.  The excitement of bringing the memory cards home, waiting to see if there are new pictures and then of what... it's almost like Christmas morning for us.  We have three cameras out, two by the Sky Condo and one by my tree seat. One of this year's photos (the last one, below) got Dad and I talking.  Is it better to know what you have out there, even if you never see it? or is the element of surprise better?

For example, here are some photos that we have taken from the trail camera of deer that came, got their photo taken and disappeared.

This buck is right below the Sky Condo

A different buck (look at the tines and width of the rack), 10 minutes later, also at the Sky Condo

This photo was taken near the tree house that Dad and I first built in 2007.

This is the same deer as above
This year's photo.  This is the only photo we have of our ghost deer and he is walking away from the Sky Condo.  He is approx. where I dropped my deer in 2012.


So what is your preference?  Would you rather get some great photos of awesome deer but never see them again or would you rather be surprised when you are out there hunting and a big deer steps out?  I realize that before trail cams, the later was the norm but now that we are spoiled, which do you prefer?

Dad and I start season #11 this year and it will be a totally new experience as we juggle a baby with our hunting schedule.  It should be a great season!