Thursday, November 30, 2017

Catching Up

Oof, where to begin?

In a whirlwind of teaching days and basketball nights and hunting trips and Thanksgiving prep November's calendar page was revealed and covered again in what felt like the length of a sideways hiccup (whatever that is).  As I sit on the cusp of December's drudgery I finally force myself to stop, to write, to reflect on at least one event that took place since last I posted here.

Hunting reflections, you say?  Fine, why not?  They certainly won't take long.  A strange season of deer chasing, this was.  Snow on the ground from start to finish.  Daily deer sightings but nary a shot fired.  Hot spots from the past turned barren in the present.  Dead zones in week one became covered with sign by week two.  Twice, a week apart, I crossed bear tracks fresher than the deer tracks I was following.  Twice, two weeks apart, we found fawn carcasses left behind from predator kills.

Adding to the strangeness of the season was a commitment to changing my hunting tactics.  A life-long woods hunter, I concluded at the end of last season that a change in strategy was overdue - it was time to learn how to hunt our fields and tree plantations.  My conclusion at the end of this season: change is a process.  I did, indeed, fully commit to hunting our fields.  But the snow covered up our food plots and messed up my plans on how to hunt them.  Over-scouting a couple of spots prior to season ruined the promise of those spots.  And back problems that intensified if I stood or sat for too long forced me to hunt on foot more than intended.  So the hunting I envisioned did not end up being the hunting I actually did, but much was learned and plans have already been made for how to improve our set-up for next season's hunt.

My Deer Diary informed me that 2011 was the last time I ended a season without shooting a deer; the final sentence of the final entry for that season proclaimed it the "worst season ever".  And while I'm disappointed the most productive five-year streak of my hunting career came to a thudding halt this year, the 2017 season was anything but one of the worst.  For instance:

••My dad revisited his glory days by bagging and tagging three deer.  It's been one or none for him for quite a few years now, and even though he grumbled a bit about all the gutting he had to do I think he felt pretty good to be the main meat getter again.  We'll ignore the fact that he shot his second deer from the front porch of the house.

••I saw a lot of deer!  Only once did I hunt a day and not see a deer, and I hunted only a few hours on the deer-less day.  Saw seven on the opener, six a different day, and at least two every other day.  Nothing is worse than hunting day after day without seeing anything.....just ask hunting buddy George, who hunted for seven years before ever seeing a deer while hunting!  This year he hunted for ten days before he finally saw a deer on the last Saturday.  Not that we would ever tease him about such luck.

••I saw four different bucks.  I used to go years without seeing a single buck during season.  Even though I the bucks I see far outnumber the bucks I actually shoot I don't mind hanging my hat on the ability to at least give myself an opportunity to get a buck nearly every year.  So there.

••And in the end, a season can never be "the worst" when, on the final morning, two does walk out to where I'm standing and bring two bucks with them.  And then stand beside my stand for a while.  And then run circles around me just for fun.  All within ten minutes of arriving at the stand.  I could have easily shot any one of the four.....but the only open tag belonged to my daughter.  The one whom I let sleep in with the promise I wouldn't fill her tag so she could have one more hunt to do so herself. So yes, my streak of success ended because of a promise...and I don't regret it a bit.  But next year she gets her butt out of bed when Dad heads to the Maples.

That 2011 season probably wasn't deserving of the "worst season ever" award, even though the only thing I shot was a porcupine (it was a tree killer....I was saving the trees.....the Lorax was thankful).  I know why I wrote that, though - I still hadn't figured out how much the journey can be enjoyed and remain unchanged by the results.  I'm pretty sure, however, that season became my catalyst for figuring things out, and set me up for getting a lot more out of this season than the frustration that seemed to find me at every turn.  So with thoughts already turned towards the hopes of 2018 I put to rest the unpredictable, tiring, somewhat disappointing, but completely worthwhile hunting adventures of 2017.

Oh, and one last thought:  No season that includes a lunch log session with the hunting party can even come close to being "the worst".  Good times with good people in the Great North Woods - there's nothing better.

Daughter 2 and cousin George

George, my dad, and cousin Blue

Saturday, November 4, 2017

No Place I'd Rather Be

Another opening day of rifle season has arrived and slipped away, and once again my deer license sits unused.  I am now oh-for-my-lifetime on opening days.....I'm beginning to wonder if I should simply stay in bed on opening day in future years.

I may not have shot a deer, but at least the weather was absolutely horrible.  Snow fell nearly constantly all day.  It did stop snowing a few times, which made room for raindrops to fall.  And ice pellets.  Mixed in with more snow.  Can't forget the wind that was just strong enough to make the snow come down sideways to ice up my glasses and the lens of my rifle's scope.  So, in a nutshell, the day was wet.....windy........wintery...............and wonderful.

"Where would you rather be right now?"  I've gotten into the habit of asking myself that question almost daily over the last couple of months.  Ninety percent of the time the answer is "somewhere else".  It's exhausting to fight the constant desire to be somewhere other than where you are, so I've started adding a second question for those days when the answer is "somewhere else" - "How will you get there?"  Answering the second question keeps me focused on earning my income and keeping up with the responsibilities of life, thereby opening up opportunities to answer the first question with the location I desire.  A question that was borne out of the longing for a different life now helps me endure the many, many days between the truly enjoyable days that this life has to offer.

Like this day.  In the midst of sideways snow and cold fingers and icy water dripping down my back I asked, out loud, "Well, where else would you rather be right now?"  My answer was a smile.  A true, genuine smile.  I get accused of not smiling enough, which I don't, but if all of my friends could have been in the stand with me (which was impossible....I don't build 'em big enough for the three of us) they'd have seen that I do, indeed, possess a genuine smile of happiness.  And isn't that what we all search for every day - happiness?  We each find it in different places; mine is found in the midst of the forests and fields of the Great North Woods, regardless of season and weather.

Oh sure, my happiness was tempered a bit by the frustration of another deer-less opener....and the shock of watching a really big buck jump onto and off of the trail I was walking.  He was there and he was gone quicker than I could find him in my scope...which was caked with snow and water and ice.  I don't know exactly how many points he carried or if he was one of the bigger bucks I've seen on my cameras, but I do know he's another nice addition to the impressive wall of missed opportunity bucks I've managed to not shoot over the years.  Within that brief tale of woe lies even more happiness - he was the seventh deer I saw on the day, it was a thrill to see him, and after I saw him I predicted his behavior perfectly.  I thought he'd circle back to get downwind of me so I headed straight into the woods towards where I thought I'd have a chance to see him.  Not a minute later there he was, crossing the ash swale I was walking towards.  Thick brush and heavy snow make excellent cover, though, so all I was able to see was his legs as he headed towards a tag alder swamp that those legs could manuever much more efficiently than mine.

Ok, I'll admit it: there were at least two times today when I asked my question - Where would you rather be? - and the answer was "Under the warm, dry covers of my bed."  And that's where I'm off to.  Another opener is in the books, another batch of opening day memories has been filed away, and the dawn of day number two creeps closer with each passing minute.  No snow in the forecast for tomorrow, but colder temps and more wind mean an even more grueling day awaits.  But already I know - there's nowhere else I'd rather be.