Logging. That was the problem. And all those skidder roads the loggers had cleared through the woods.
Those were the obvious excuses for my dismal hunting results during last year’s deer seasons. We had our woodlands selectively logged, about 45 walnut trees plus some ash and red oak. The log skidder opened new trails for deer to make their way through the east, south, and west wooded tracts of the farm. As a consequence, my six ladder stands were placed in the wrong trees, perched over trails that were no longer the main thoroughfares for deer traffic.
Those same trails had been used unfailingly by deer for thirty-plus years, so I assumed there was no reason to move the ladder stands. Things wouldn’t change that much. There was no need to set up any trail cameras or do any preseason scouting. I could hunt from those stands the same as any other year.
For the first time in as many years as I can remember, I saw only a few deer on the traditional trails and was able to take only one shot at a nice doe – and missed. That was my fault. I changed the broadheads on my arrows a few days before the bow season opened, and I failed to do any target practice with the new blades, so the shot was over the doe at about fifteen yards, cutting her across the shoulders. I waited twenty minutes before I climbed down from my stand to track her. I’ve had more blood loss from a broken nose.
But no worries. I was certain to get shots at two or three more deer. Wrong again!
No more shots during bow season. Or muzzle-loader season. Or first firearm season. Or second firearm season. Clearly, the whitetail deer population had cratered to an all-time low.
Fortunately, two members of the Over the Hill Gang were generous enough to share venison with us. Unfortunately, they reported that deer populations were high. They saw lots of deer, more deer than you could shake a stick at. Filled all their permits in two or three days of hunting.
I brooded. I whined. I made excuses. But I had no one to blame but myself.
In the depths of gloom in January, I resolved to change my errant ways and rise to the challenge. No more lackadaisical preseason scouting. No more taking the deer hunt for granted. I was determined to become a serious hunter again.
It began in late winter when two of my grandsons, Ander and Odin, pitched in to help me build a deer blind from a pile of spare PVC tubing, scrap pieces of wood, and wire. We spent a day making project sketches, cutting, assembling, gluing, drilling, attaching boards, and lacing wire. They were less than impressed with the results, but I assured them it would be a functional blind. We hauled it to the shelterbelt on the south side of the hayfield and placed it alongside a new deer trail that led into my neighbor’s bean field.
In April I anchored the blind in the spreading limbs of a red cedar tree, wove cedar branches through its cross wires, and painted it mat brown. A most excellent ground blind, one from which I could shoot at least two deer, maybe three. Ander looked over a photo of the set-up and astutely asked if deer used the trail during the day or only nocturnally. Well… Uh… Hmmm… I must do some groundwork.
Bored and restless during these months of self-isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and trapped during rainy days in my clubhouse with laptop computer and wi-fi access, I became obsessed with planning and preparing for the opening of deer season. Although the October bow season opener is still five months ahead, I convinced myself immediate action was required.
To wit: purchase two new trail cameras, and purchase two additional ground blinds. Furthermore, I needed to relocate most of my ladder stands and scout weekly for evidence of new deer trails.
The first order of business is relocating three or four of the ladder stands and setting up the three ground blinds – but there is no point in siting them until I discovered which trails the deer are using – and when. And so the trailcams are mounted here and there and everywhere in an attempt to solve the mystery. I’m hidebound and set in my ways, but I can change my hunting regimen if I must.
Spring has arrived and I have great hopes for the deer season ahead. No shirking my responsibilities as a hunter. With my new attitude and all the new equipment I have acquired, success is certain. Although my beautiful blonde wife says I had better get at least three deer; if I take only one the price of venison will be $96.27 per pound.
Expensive, yes, but this is a matter of pride, a blade that cuts to the very core of my identity. I’ll keep you informed of my progress and let you know how it works out next deer season.
More essays and stories about life in the North Country are published in my six collections of essays, available through Amazon.com at Jerry Johnson Author Page
The next time we’re drinking beer, I’ll have to tell you about my deer meat adventure. It involves the brother of my ex sister-in-law, Texas, a bunch of mystery writers (some vegetarian), and my dad. It is, as we say, a very Iowa story.
But PS – given the meat shortages they’re projecting, gosh I’m glad I have a freezer full of deer. (LMK if I need to bring some on my next sojurn to Iowa. Which, at this rate, may be in October. 😉 )
SKM – would love to hear your deer meat story. Will probably require two beers: it sounds complicated and convoluted. Thanks to the generosity of friends who were more successful last deer season than I, we have much venison in the freezer. Also about a dozen pheasants, a few huge chickens, some beef, and some pork. That should see us through until October, at which time we have another quarter of grass fed beef on order. And I’ll probably be processing at least one deer in October, right? Ummmm… maybe. 🙂