Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Where you can say "Nice Rack!" and not get smacked for it...

My hunting career started much later than most peoples. I grew up a fisherman, and my old man did hunt before I came along, but it wasn't until I was in my early 20's that I got certified in firearms safety. Sure I walked plenty of hunting trails and even helped gut deer before that time, but I actually didn't start pulling the trigger until after many of my fellow hunters were well seasoned.

In 2004 I made the great plunge into deer hunting. I was working for a DNA sequencing plant up in Becida, MN (yes really!) and the owner built the lab along with his house on 40 acres of land. So when deer season came along, he told me to buy a tag and borrow his rifle and go sit in one of the 2 stands on the property. That first weekend was a rather cold one, and a few days before Ron (the owner of said property) told me there was indeed a rather large buck roaming the area and if I see it by all means shoot it. So with visions of large racks in my head, away to the stand I go. The first weekend I saw 4 does and didn't shoot. It was only after conversing with Ron again at work the following Monday that I learned this was an "Intensive Harvest Area", in which you can shoot up to 5 deer. You don't go through a lottery, you just buy additional permits. So, the following weekend with my new found knowledge that I wasn't limited to just bucks, I went on the premise of "brown it's down". As one could guess, I didnt' see a single deer.

And with that, do to a number of factors, I didn't deer hunt again until last year. That time I went up to a friends cabin up in Hackensack, MN. However I didn't realize I was gonna hunt until later on in Oct, well after the lottery deadline. So I was truly limited to bucks that time. It was extremely hot for deer hunting (flirting with 70 degrees), and although I saw plenty signs of deer activity, I actually didn't see any deer. So I struck out for another year.

You kind of suck at this Taylor.

But I was not to be deterred. Besides, after that first experience I was kind of hooked on deer hunting. Much like most of my hunting experiences I wasn't successful, but as I've pointed out in the past that's not why I hunt. I'm most comfortable in an outdoors setting and jump on any chance to partake in one. So I was all set to go back to the woods of Hackensack, this time armed with the fact that the area was in the new "Hunter's Choice" area. This meant although only one deer per hunter, you could take a deer of either sex. No lottery needed. But then I got a text out of the blue about 3 weeks before the deer opener from my cousin Bill.

"Come hunt with us", it basically said.

"OK", I basically answered.

So instead of going to a one deer per hunter area, I was going back to an "Intensive Harvest" area, although rarely did they each shoot more than 1 deer up there I was told, but nonetheless, the hunting wasn't difficult in that the stands were already set out, and they were easily accessible by numerous cut trails up on the 40 some acres of property. We'd all be spread out nicely and if a deer wandered by it was in trouble. I jumped on the chance not only to hang out with family I rarely get to see anymore, but also to partake in an actual "Deer Camp". Plus it gave Elli piece of mind knowing I wasn't going out hunting solo.

You're in trouble now fu*kers!

After a few more texts exchanges and phone calls, and what seemed like an eternity of days, Friday finally came and we were on our way. My Aunt and Uncle live up in Hibbing, a 3 hour drive, but the miles clicked by rather quickly due to good conversation and before long we were pulling into the local watering hole of the area about 10 minutes out from our destination. We sat down and ordered drinks and talked about the upcoming weekend.

"I think we'll put you in John's stand. He shoots a deer every year. It's probably the most productive stand out there", says Bill.

"I don't want to take the best stand. Really wherever will be fine. I don't want to butt right in and take someone else's spot or deer," I reply.

"Don't worry about it," he says, "it's a great stand. You should hunt it."

This was the type of reception I got and attitude that was up there. I was given the royal treatment by family, and had some of the most fun I've had in the outdoor setting. But that would be later. Friday I was introduced to the true meaning of a "Deer Camp", and it started at that watering hole.

"These are really going down well," Bill says.

"Sure are," I respond.

We pull into the property, meet my Uncle Gary as he comes home from work, and start setting up camp. Our campsite would be out in their large garage heated comfortably to 70 degrees (we backed it down to the low 60's when Gary wasn't looking). We'd sleep on air mattresses over on one side, and live it up at the poker table watching satellite TV and drinking bottled beer dispensed from our own bottle machine on the other side. The other member of our group, my cousin Greg, wandered on in an hour or so later. The crew was set, and eventually my Aunt Marilynn, Greg's wife Shelly, her son Chaez (sp?) and his girlfriend Danika joined us as well. We through some money into a pot, sat at the card table, ate some frozen pizza, walked over to the bottle dispenser very frequently, and had a great time. But then a mysterious bottle showed up, and I was told it was a drink called "Apple Pie". Indeed it tasted exactly like pie, and went down very very smoothly. While working on one of my several pulls from the bottle, I commented to my cousin Greg that that rifle was going to be awfully loud the following morning.

"Yes it will be," he replies.

"What's in this?", I ask.

When "Goo Gone" just won't cut it.

We whooped it up until 2:30 Saturday morning. Needless to say, when I got up a few hours later I was hurting. But I did manage to drag myself out to the stand and sit for a while. The gentle rocking of the stand caused by the tree billowing in the wind did not help settle my stomach, and after a deerless morning I went back to my air mattress seeking relief. After breakfast, another attempt at napping, and wandering around in the fresh air for a while with little results, I figured it was time to back to the stand. It was around 2pm Saturday. Finally, after about an hour or so of sitting up in the tree, my stomach stopped it's mutiny and we reached a truce. Good thing too, because about 10 minutes after that I heard a slightly different noise coming from behind me and to the left. I was told that all of the deer taken from this stand had come in from behind it, and so very very slowly I started turning my head in the direction of the noise, and then froze.

15 yards behind me a rather nice doe was foraging around and slowly walking in my direction. The wind was in my favor and it had no idea I was there. For the next 45 minutes I patiently watched as it made it's way farther into the woods. But it was hanging out right on the other side of brush and trees, not giving me any shot. However it was making it's way painfully slowly to a trail directly to the left of me with no obstructions whatsoever. So I sat there waiting, hoping and willing that it would continue on it's way. Sure enough, it came right where I wanted it too. When it was about 5 yards from coming out onto the trail, I brought the rifle up and lined up the cross hairs. The head came onto the trail first, and I clicked off the safety.

"Gotch'ya." I said out load, albeit in a very faint whisper.

As if following my thought perfectly, it continued out perfectly broadside onto the trail and when the scope settled on the vitals, it popped it's head up. I squeezed off the round. The .44 mag carbine kicked into my shoulder and the telltale sign and sound of impact was both seen and heard. The deer went to run, but only went about 15 yards and fell down stone dead. I tilted the hat back and breathed out a sigh of relief. Adrenaline surged and a smile lit up my face.

I finally got my first deer. And it was a hunt I will not soon forget.

When we field dressed it, I was even more delighted. The deer did not suffer, it was basically dead when it was hit. It was a perfect shot right behind the shoulder. My Uncle Gary helped me gut it out, since my knife failed about half way through the opening (always always ALWAYS sharpen your knives before the hunt) and I was amazed at how fast he did it. Just another way they took care of me.

Back at camp that night there were high fives all around and cocktails to be had, although everyone had their fill the night before so we took it fairly easy this time. We hung my deer out to dry in the cool night air and fried up it's tenderloins in a mixture of butter and onions.

The next morning I was content to hang out at the garage and wait to help the others if they got deer, but my Uncle told me to go out in the stand and if a deer wandered by shoot it and he'll tag it. Party hunting if you will. I didn't see anything but Bill ended up shooting one towards the end of the day. So our camp took 2 deer. We'll call that a definite success.

The Deer Opener of 2011 will not be one I'll soon forget, if ever. Huge thanks to my hosts which included my cousin's Bill and Greg, my Uncle Gary, and my Aunt Marilyn. Thanks to all of you for having me up at your awesome property, and thanks for making this deer season my first successful one. I had barrels of fun and hope to be able to make it back up there again sometime.

Something tells me the venison is gonna taste even better knowing that I was responsible for getting it.

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