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Muzzleloader

Austin's Buck

There I was, all bundled up in blankets, sitting in a chair with a Chihuahua failing at any attempts of adding any body warmth to my lap, as I watched the 2nd ¼ of my son’s football game come to a close.  As I was trying to warm my toes I was not really looking forward to what I had promised to do after the game.  It was one of the first really cold days we have had this fall and also happened to be the day I promised I would take him and his sister hunting.  We had talked about either Chukar or Dove or attempting to fill both the kids deer tags in the last few days left of the Muzzle Loader season. 

All three of us decided that it was just too cold to bird hunt, so deer hunting it was.  We piled into the truck, loaded the gear, filled the tanks and off we went for an afternoon hunt.  We decided to try a new area that was a little closer to home since we didn’t have all day.  Once we got into the area for the hunt, I had the kids load their firearms.  Austin had shot his a couple of days earlier and it became very apparent when trying to load it that he had not cleaned it afterwards.  It was easily a two person effort to load it each time now.  The first place we really stopped to glass the hill sides, we saw nothing but big ole’ Muley butts!  Not having any of our high power optics, I just couldn’t put any horns on them from the distance we were at, but I could tell that a couple had to be bucks by the way they were pushing the others around.

We got back into the truck and drove around the back side of the foothills.  Before coming over the top we all decided to get out, take on the cold and walk over the hill to see how close we could get.  Other than cutting us right down to our bones, the wind was perfect, any scent on us was blown away from the deer. 

We came over the ridge and got behind some boulders where I told the kids to hang tight while I glassed the draw for bucks.  I didn’t even have to pull up my binoculars when I saw a nice buck bedded down about 200 yards from us.  We snuck about 50 yards closer to another group of smaller boulders and took a seat;  Austin to my left and Madi to my right.  It was decided before the hunt that Austin would get the first shot.  He was so nervous but Madi was ready to back him up.  We knew that alongside the deer he was aiming at was at least one more shooter buck.  The plan was for Austin to take his shot, which would alert the others and then Madi would have her shot.  As I watched the bucks to make sure they were snoozing and not nervous, I coached Austin to take his time, take a deep breath and wait till he was ready.  BOOM!  He takes his shot and his deer wakes up, and continues to lie there, while the others stand up wondering what the noise was.  He missed!  His deer stands up and at this point Madi has 7 bucks to choose from.  All of them pretty calm as they started to graze around.  As I am coaching her just like I did her brother, he is on my left whimpering and begging me to help him load his gun again!  His sister turns to me and says, “Mom, let him use my gun, I got my trophy this year and I want him to get a nice buck.”  WOW!  Did that just come from my 15-year-old daughter who loves nothing more than to show up the boys at school with her hunt success stories?!  She hands him her gun and a nice, wide 4x4 starts moving the boys around.  Austin steadies himself again, takes aim at the big boy and squeezes the trigger.  Pop!  Madi and I both look at him to see that his gun didn’t fire.  The primer is the only thing that went off!  Oh My!  We watch the deer continue to graze and decide to go back to the big boulder to reload Austin’s gun.  We reloaded it and went back to the shooting position we had before.  (We hoped that the Laurel and Hardy show had ended!)  Austin got seated, again.  This time the bucks are about 170 yards out.  He said he didn’t want to shot that far so he patiently waited.  As the deer moved around and got closer, I would range them and tell him the distance.  165… “I’m gonna wait, Mom.”  154… “I’m still waiting.”  143, “Not yet, Mom, I want them closer.”  136 Austin and they are starting to side hill a bit…  “Okay, I think I can do it this time”….  BOOM!  THWACK!  He hit it!  We watched the buck run about 50 yards, stop, turn in a circle or two, flip over backwards and drop into a bush.  He was done. 
Austin’s shot looked like it was a little far back so Madi ran up to the truck to get more rounds for when we got down to him.  We watched to make sure this fine buck was not coming out, only to see all the does and other bucks go nowhere!  Some of them even went to see what happened to Austin’s buck.  When Madi got back we decided we would try to give her a chance at a buck before we went down to Austin’s.  I had Austin take her down to a place where they could get a little closer shot while I moved the truck around and got the stuff for dressing out the deer.
He gets her to about 140 yards and I watch them from a distance.  BOOM!  The draw came alive again.  I could not believe how little these deer were not spooking!  Not one of them left the draw until the 3 of us walked through it to Austin’s buck.  Oh!  By the way, Madi missed!  We meet up at Austin’s deer where he is just elated that he got such a nice deer.  He then turns to me and asks, as he bends over and points his rear end at me, “Mom, can you get the cactus out of my butt?!”  While helping his sister, he sat in a cactus, which is why after just one shot by Madi, they both decided that the shooting gallery should close!
We figured that Austin’s buck is a 2nd year buck.  Austin measured him (6 times the first night!) at 25 ¼ wide, but he is not really heavy.  But for my son’s second deer hunt it is a very fine deer! 

A couple lessons from this hunt…

  • Always clean your muzzle loader after you shoot it!
  • Never assume the deer are gonna run!
  • Watch where you sit your butt!

Whether we are riding horses, watching movies, hunting or fishing, I love the time I get with my kids.  They have grown up so fast and I am going to really miss them when they have families of their own.  I do look forward to the time I get the picture of my grandchild’s first hunt!

It is not always about the trophy you can put on the wall, but about the trophy you keep in your heart.

God Bless

Julie Hughes

 

HAWKEN

The high mountain range of the Bitter Root, a majestic eagle circling over head, a steady Strawberry Roan strapped under you, the trail in front of you is never ending and you know there is no one on your back trail. Sounds like the making of a great Western straight from the desk of Louis L'amour or Ralph Compton. I have to admit I hated reading until my Father begged me to read a western years ago. He told me I would enjoy the book because it was all short stories by Louis L'amour. Needless to say it worked and now I get so into the stories that I get saddle sore, see the muzzle blast and can smell the gunpowder burning.

Jim, my husband, had been on me for years to muzzleloader hunt with him. Now don't get me wrong, I'm the first in line for a bow or rifle hunt. Everyone tells me that I must be half squirrel because I can stay perched up a tree for days and never come down just to be able to hunt. But there was just something about muzzleloading that just did not appeal to me.

Let me see... pour it, powder it, poke it, pack it and pray it don't rain. Oh yeah, only one shot. Hope the first shot is on the money or you will make that bruiser of a bruin furious and you will be the bait. Don't get me wrong I think muzzleloading is a great way to hunt and it does extend your hunting season a week. Jim kept saying, "Just think, you won't have to sit home that week, you'll be able to hunt all season." Well, he did have a point; I do hate missing a week of hunting because I don't carry a smoke pole on our outdoor hunting adventures.

Needless to say he is very persistent and crafty. The next time he saw me riding the rim rock in one of my westerns, he asked me what was happening in the story. At the time one of the Mountain Men in the book was staring down the barrel of his 50 caliber Hawken and he could feel someone stalking him on his back-trail. I informed him I would let him know what happened. "Just think what all those Mountain Men accomplished with that old muzzleloader," Jim replied. I just laughed. " Tell you what, I'll go muzzleloading with you if I can hunt with a 50 caliber Hawken, but it has to have an octagon barrel and brass works; a Hawken that Jim Bridger would be proud of carrying."

We all know that every Mountain Man worthy of riding the river with had a Hawken and I know that they are nearly impossible to find as Peco's Pete getting a shot at the Mountain Man that I was intently helping to watch his back trail in my book. I had told Jim time and time again that my Indian heritage caused me to want a bow in my hand when I went hunting. My Grandmother's grandfather was full-blooded Indian and we have all searched to find out what tribe he was from but we have had no luck. All we can find out is that he was from a French Canadian tribe. Grandma refused to talk to any of us about her heritage because she was ashamed of it. I, on the other hand, am very proud of it and it explains why I think and feel the way I do about the outdoors and hunting.

A few months later on one of our daily lunchtime phone calls Jim said, " I have you a goodie." He says this quiet often. He is always up to something. I really didn't think anything of it until he got home. "Oh Lynne, I have a surprise for you," he said with that all too familiar grin on his face. " Now close your eyes and hold out your hands." Of course I played along. This is one of the things I really love about Jim; he is very creative when it comes to gift giving." Now slowly open you eyes and tell me what you see." It was a soft cloth gun case, nothing out of the ordinary. "Now, open it slowly," he said. So I untied the end and reached in with anticipation. The butt of the stock was cold but the wood was smooth as I pulled it cautiously out of the case. I looked at Jim and he just smiled. "Pull it out real slow, I think you'll like it."

As I started seeing what was in the case I'm not sure which was larger, my eyes or my mouth. There it was "THE HAWKEN" 50 caliber, antique brass works, octagon barrel, brass trigger guard and a beautiful walnut stock. Oh it felt good as I raised it to my shoulder! It was magnificent from the tip of the octagon barrel down to the brass butt plate and patch box. "Is it mine?" I asked. "Of course it's yours, we'll go shoot it Saturday." His slow grin had turned into a full sparkling smile by now." Where did you find it! I can't believe it! Is it really mine?" My mind was running at full speed. I looked like Ralphie on Christmas morning with his Red Rider 2000 shot B.B. gun.

I burned a lot of powder that day and it swirled around my head like the low settling clouds on the mesa and of course I was hooked. It's a Thompson Center Arms replica Hawken and you can bet Jim Bridger would have been as proud to carry it in his scabbard as I am. Saddle up the roan and let's head for the high country. I'm ready for what ever comes up on my back trail. So what if your have to pour it, powder it, poke it and pack it? With an extra week in the woods during deer season, just me and the Hawken, who needs more than one shot anyway, right?


Flintlock Fever

Five years ago, the photographer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, who attends my church, was telling me about some new opportunities for flintlock hunters. It used to be that if you purchased the special muzzleloader stamp with your general hunting license, you would have to give up your antlerless license application. That rule was dropped. No longer would I have to risk doing without venison in order to have a special post-Christmas ether-sex hunt. In addition, a week long October antlerless season just for flintlock hunting was created, so I could enjoy the autumn woods when the weather was not quite so bitterly cold, and my flash pan powder was more likely to stay dry...in a "normal" year, that is!

I was sold on the idea from the start. Since I had become ill in 1999, I had not been able to count on getting out to hunt much during our regular firearms season. On my 37-acre farm and the surrounding land, if you do not get out on opening day, your chances of connecting are slim since the deer wise up quickly. I had not the energy to go elsewhere, or hunt as hard as I would like, and I figured these two extra seasons would help make my hunting more enjoyable, as all did not rest on one or two days.

There was just one "little" problem. I had not a CLUE how to load, shoot, or clean the firearm that founded our freedoms. It was all Greek to me, and my husband, although he reluctantly agreed to purchase my flintlock for my birthday, said he would have no part in helping me learn to use it. He hadn't a clue himself, you see! I heard about the new Firestorm from Thompson/Center Arms. It was supposed to be really easy to load and shoot, and was modern enough to use the nifty looking Pyrodex pellets. No measuring required; just drop in, put in the maxi ball, and shoot. Well, it sounded easy enough!

Our favorite gunsmith was nice enough to show me how to load, prime, and shoot right outside his store. I did OK with the first load, but the second time, the gun did not fire. He warned me to hold it on the target for a minute just in case it was a long "hang-fire", when the gun goes off a bit later than you expect it. So began my love-hate relationship with my Firestorm.

It was then that I stumbled upon WomenHunters, and a gal on the bulletin board gave me tips on priming the flash pan with just enough 4F powder to ignite the gun. Too much would make a longer hangfire, she said. Her advice was helpful, but half the time I tried, the Pyrodex pellets still did not ignite. She told me to ditch the Pyrodex pellets, but that first year, I was afraid to do so. I continued to fight misfire and hangfire, and had trouble holding on target long enough to be accurate. My poor health was making matters worse, and if I practiced much, the sulfur would trigger asthma attacks.

One day I was reading about a new propellant that was sulfur-free. Not only was it less corrosive for the barrel after shooting, and cleaned up with soap and water, but it also made my sessions a lot more productive as I did not get that nagging catch in my lungs from the smoke. Still, I had no deer to show for it, and continued to lose confidence in my ability to ever get this right. Fortunately, my friend from WomenHunters continued to stay in touch and give me valuable tips, such as making sure my flint was hitting the frizzen high enough and squarely enough. Too bad she couldn't come and teach me to be more accurate! In lieu of a local mentor, I turned to Revolutionary War movies to see how the Minutemen could actually hit their target well enough to win the war. All I needed was a deer; it couldn't be that hard! I finally got it last year when I learned to kneel with my gun squarely leaning against a tree. I hit my mark! Not a bull's eye, but a "killing shot" on my cardboard target on our private rifle range. It was only 30 yards, but that was OK, since for the first few years of hunting I had used only buckshot, and was disciplined enough to pass up shots beyond my range.

Two years ago, the PGC allowed in-line rifles for the October hunt, but I was not going to upgrade. Those in-lines are little more than glorified slug guns, in my thinking. I was determined to do this the traditional way! It all finally came together this year. Although I had a wicked virus the week before my October season, and was too weak to get out that first Saturday morning, I dragged my carcass out for the afternoon. I still-hunted along the logging roads on the ridge behind us, and sat along a traditionally well used trail, but saw very little sign and no deer. As I walked home just before dusk, a deer bolted across the path about fifty yards in front of me. I slowed to a stalk, and just felt something watching me as I came to the spot in our woods just above the barn, where the other deer had crossed. Was that a deer I heard snort softly, or one of our cattle or goats? I heard a critter at the barn scratching on the sheet metal siding, figured that to be the source of the sound, and stepped forward to continue home. Big mistake! I suddenly found myself looking at a very pretty, very alert, and VERY close doe! Oh, why not try, I figured, as I raised my gun. She turned the ten yards into twenty in a flash, and stood right behind a triple-trunked tree. I had no rest, and could not see enough deer between the trunks to get a sure shot, so I passed on it. "Live long and prosper, bring me back some fawns next year" I whispered to her. She bounded away, and I marked the spot where I had seen her and her companion.

We have no Sunday hunting, so my daughter Lisa and I went out that next day to find a place for our ladder stand along the trail above that spot on the logging road. We found a straight and sturdy poplar tree, secured the stand, and prepared for Monday. I was still not feeling well that morning, and chose to hunt the ground on the ridge just above our house and let Lisa use the stand for archery hunting. I saw no deer, but was treated to a successful hunt as a Cooper's Hawk caught a chipmunk near me, and the countless songbirds in the heavy forest understory scolded their beautiful feathered foe. Lisa, on the other hand, saw four deer as she was lowering her bow before climbing down to go home and relieve her dad of watching the younger children. She had to freeze in place as the deer sniffed the sapling on which she had placed some deer lure that Redbird had so generously sent me. I was determined to sit there in the evening!

I headed out after getting some rest, and had been in my stand only ten minutes when I heard some very noisy and deliberate movement. I believe it was the same doe I had seen Saturday evening, and she was with her two fawns. They came out of the woods above the clover field, and were headed my way along the logging road! I very carefully moved my gun into position, using a side rail to steady it, praying for the strength to calm my excitement, telling myself to hold tight when the moment comes, to not move the gun a smidgeon until well after the flash. As the first deer came into range, I was delighted to see that it was a button buck. I did not want to shoot a doe this year. This would be my way of protesting the deliberate over-killing of does Gary Alt had implemented the past few years. Our numbers were pitiful already, and to kill an adult doe means to kill three, perhaps four deer! Bambi stepped up to the fragrant hemlock sapling, and I cocked the flint. My, what a noise that makes! I sat as still as stone, for he was only twenty yards away, I was wearing my required orange, and there were three pairs of eyes trying to find the source of that click. I put my TrueGlo open sights on his boiler room, squeezed, and held the gun on him. For a split second that seemed like an eternity, nothing happened, but a welcomed BOOM then shattered the still woods. Mama and sibling ran one way, the button buck straight away from me. As is usual for me at such a sacred moment when I enter into the mystery of taking my rightful place in nature, I broke into simultaneous tears and laughter, and said "Thank you!" to my Creator for blessing me so generously.

I called the house on my two-way, and Lisa asked excitedly, "Did you get one?" "I think so!" I answered. She and my husband had both heard the shot, just under a couple hundred yards from home, and both broke into big grins. Lisa donned her orange and came out to help me track, and I climbed down to check for a hit. I was going to reload, but found sign of a lung hit, so knew it was unnecessary. We found the little fellow in the fairly thick brush, just fifty yards away. He was not a trophy by usual standards, but to me he represented the end of a long period of bad health, bad shooting, bad fortune. I felt alive once again, and the thrill of connecting with my flintlock was something so awesome, I can barely explain it. It was so much more rewarding than shooting a similar sized deer with my .30-06!

While I did hunt the regular rifle season, when I could only shoot a buck with my general license, I saw absolutely no deer, thanks to the radical environmentalists' planned decimation, which caused the collapse of our once thriving herd. Lisa saw only five in two weeks. I was beginning to see how perilously low our numbers were, and hunters from all over the state were reporting even more dismal experiences. I had used my antlerless tag, but had minimally impacted next year's crop, and I vowed to refrain from using my flintlock tag on a doe in the post-Christmas season, even though it was permitted. Fortunately, my allergist's father, who lives in Western PA and still has a robust deer herd, invited me to his farm to hunt. That was to be the hunt that really topped off my year, but to read about this fun time, you must visit my doctor's site at www.huntertohunter.com

 

© February 2005

All the Good Things in Life Are Worth Waiting For

Does it seem to you like some people are luckier than others are? No matter what they attempt to do the first time, they are successful, almost as if some higher power is always looking out for them and everything comes to them the easy way. I do not believe in luck but more in destiny. If everything came easy for me, I would lose interest. Being in the right place at the precise time is what makes it a successful hunt versus just another day in the woods. It seems my destiny is that I must travel great distances in order to get the “first” of anything. Some have higher dues to pay than others do. An example of this, I had been bow hunting for five years but it took flying nine thousand miles to another country before I was able to achieve my first animal harvested by bow. Apparently, the same must be true for my first buck as well.

My husband came home a few weeks before Christmas 2006 to inform me we were going to Alabama between Christmas and New Years to hunt on a friends’ parents’ property between the holidays. All we needed was our non-resident license. Our host would provide everything with the exception of our hunting gear. We accepted the invite and decided to take both our bows and our Thompson Center fire muzzleloaders. We packed our gear into my truck, left home about 9 pm, and drove all night to get there. It was about nine hundred miles from our house to the hunting lodge.

Tired but ready to hunt, our host; Jean, Elizabeth and Dr. Hardy Downey showed us to our quarters so we could unpack and get ready for an afternoon hunt. They showed us around the property and explained their rules for hunting. They explained they do not harvest any buck less than eight points. The first night out, I had several deer come in and since I could not get a clear view to verify it was not a button buck, I choose to watch thru my binoculars. One was a six-inch spike.

The next day, I hunted the Green Field. I watched all the woodland critters and birds come to life but no deer. I went back to the same stand that afternoon. I decide to use my TC Omega this time out. Shortly after getting into my stand, two turkeys came into the field. I watched them feed in the field for two hours when I caught movement from my left. I could see it was a buck but not sure enough to know if it was, indeed, a shooter. I watched as he worked his way into the field to feed with the two turkeys already there. I had to be careful of my movement, as the turkeys had worked their way up to me and were only about 30 yards from me. Then the buck turned his head so that I could see he was, indeed, a shooter. This deer had eight points and antlers out past the ears. I knew I could shoot him if I could only get my adrenaline under control. I picked up my gun and put him in the cross hares of my scope and pulled the trigger. All I could see was smoke for a minute. Did I hit him? He was just standing there not moving or running off. I could not figure out if I had hit him.  I set my gun down and watched him through my binoculars and I could see him hunched up but he did not move or go down. Now what do I do? By this time, the turkeys had left but the buck was still standing there not moving. I decided I needed to get another shot loaded in the gun. I was shaking like a leaf blowing on a windy day, so reloading was not easy. I knew I hit him but he just stood there, not moving. This is not how they show it on the hunting TV shows! Why was it just standing there? I finally got my gun loaded five minutes later and still shaking, I raised it to get another shot into him. He went down this time. I had just harvested my first buck! I called camp to let them know I had a buck down. Elizabeth and Al came to help recover the deer. Elizabeth laughed as she saw me in tears kneeling beside my buck. I had finally done it! It took nine years but I had finally harvested my first buck.

We hunted the next day, shot trap, visited with our new friends, and enjoyed the warm Alabama day before we would head back home to Illinois and the cold that night. I drove all night to get home, as I had to work on Saturday morning. I went to work, got my work completed by noon and headed to my taxidermist with my first buck.

I want to thank Jean for inviting Al and I to your families’ hunting lodge and I want to thank Hardy and Elizabeth for all your hospitality and great food but most of all, for giving me the opportunity to harvest my first buck. Thank you!

 

© April 2008
 

Muzzleloader Buck

I started hunting with a muzzleloader when I lived in Colorado in 1990. At that time, Colorado’s hunting regulations allowed a hunter to participate in one of the three rifle seasons; a muzzleloader would let me gun hunt in another season though, so I bought a .50 caliber TC Renegade Hawken and learned to shoot it.

I had mis-fires and no-fires out hunting and moved from Colorado without taking a deer with the smokepole. In North Dakota, I had to draw a tag to muzzleload for deer. I only drew one tag the four years we were there; took a shot at one buck and missed him. Also moved from North Dakota and still had not taken a deer with the muzzleloader.

Since moving to Arkansas, I have taken vacation for all deer hunting seasons until last year. I changed jobs and was now in a job that revolved around key times of the year (Thanksgiving/Christmas) that coincided with the hunting seasons, so I could only take off for the first muzzleloading season.

I’d hunted the previous muzzleloading seasons, but had mostly used this as an excuse to scout for what I’d shoot with a rifle or shotgun. I did fire on a nice 7-point a couple of years ago, but when the smoke cleared, there were no signs of a hit.

Our 2007 muzzleloading season opened around the second week in October. I took vacation for the first season, knowing that my opportunities for hunting in the other seasons would be very limited. Arkansas has a 3-point on one antler restriction in the zone I hunt, and I had made a personal commitment to not shoot anything less than an 8-point (total). I had hunted early morning and late evening and had been seeing large numbers of deer each time, including legal bucks, but nothing that met my minimum requirements to shoot.

The weather was changing daily, from dry and hot to wet and cold. There were good signs of pre-rut, but no big buck activity at my stand. On Tuesday morning, my husband had a mis-fire on what he described as being a monster buck. Granted, he typically does have quite a bit of ground shrinkage, but when he says monster buck, it’s a good one. After he’d had a cap that didn’t fire on his Knight, I popped off the old cap on my .50 caliber and put on a new shiny one.

I headed to my stand after lunch and my daily nap (ahh - the joys of vacation!). Like clockwork, the does and little nuisance bucks came in starting at 3:00. I watched them, sweating in the 70+ degree weather (my thermostat is broken; I would have probably sweated in 30 degree weather!).

A nice 8-point came in and fed on the corn I had out. He intermingled with the other feeding deer and left. I thought maybe I should have shot him since I wouldn’t get many more opportunities to hunt, but quickly let any regrets fade as I watched the other deer.

I was watching one of the little bucks who kept looking up and looking behind him; the does were starting to get nervous. I knew another deer would be coming in. The 8-point came back in and I watched him. I decided I’d take him if he presented a good, sure, clear shot. He sparred with some of the younger bucks in the area, sniffed at some of the does and headed out slowly on one of the trails to the left of my stand.

I had my smoke pole resting on the gun rest of my Gorilla two-seater treestand. As quietly and cautiously as I could, I raised the butt to my shoulder and cocked the hammer. He was walking away from me broadside, but there were several trees between us, blocking the vital areas where I initially planned to place my shot. I don’t know if he heard me or smelled me, but he paused with only his neck clearly visible. I knew it was then or not at all. I decided that would be a good shot; I would either kill him or completely miss him (I never want to injure another deer that I can’t recover) so I put my sight at the base of his ear and fired. He went down like you’d knocked over a decoy - I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve shot deer that collapsed where they stood, but they went down more on their belly; this boy went over on his side and never moved.

I went to gut him and found that the knife I had was so dull it wouldn’t even make the first incision. I walked back to the house, got a decent knife, actually a new knife, and tried to call my husband (he was hunting on the other side of the lake) so he could help me load my buck in the truck. Of course, any time you need them, you can’t get them - when you don’t need them, you can’t get rid of them! After gutting the buck and dragging him to the road, I tried to load him myself and couldn’t. Dead deer are not very cooperative when it comes to getting them in the back of a truck. You can get their head loaded, but when you let go to load the back end, the loaded part falls off. With the temperature as warm as it was, I knew I needed to get him home and skinned soon, so I called a neighbor and asked him to come help me. He did. By the time my husband got home from his afternoon hunt, I had the deer home. He helped me get him skinned and quartered up so we could get him in the refrigerator to chill down.

That was the only hunting I really got to do this past year. As we were putting the last of his meat in the cooler, my husband told me he was so very glad that I hunted. Looking back now, that was almost eerie as there would be a series of events that would make me feel like I never wanted to hunt again. Okay, that’s another story, maybe one that just hurts too much to ever tell. No, I’m not turning into an animal rights activist, or joining PETA, but I’m not sure that my first muzzleloader deer wasn’t the last deer I’ll shoot. At any rate, it was a great, albeit short, season, a fantastic shot - very clean kill, and the steaks off of this one are excellent!
 
© June 2008
 

Empire

BOOM……Boom, boom!  Someone nearby shot and my guess was a deer was down.  The shots startled me in my tree stand, which was hidden in a patch of thick brush and hardwoods.  I was hunting whitetail deer in western New York State on private farmland located just south of Lake Ontario.  The terrain was flat with mostly tilled crops with large patches of woodland like the one I was sitting in.

The particular property I was hunting was planted in alfalfa and rye.  This hunt came about from a new friend, someone I met just the summer prior, another woman that hunts.  Phyllis and I became fast friends and she told me about this place she went deer hunting and asked if I wanted to give it a try as well.  I said sure, what the heck. 

So I prepared and gathered up the information I needed to get a New York deer license and applied for some antlerless management tags.  A few short weeks later my information arrived along with a buck tag and two antlerless tags.  The area I was hunting was a non-rifle area.  That meant one could use a shotgun, handgun, muzzleloader or bow.  I elected to take my CVA muzzleloader.  This firearm has always been a tack driver for me.  I double checked the zero at the range a few times before leaving and stayed with the Hornady sabots, which have worked so well in the past.

Alfalfa field and woodlot of the hunting area
Finally the day came to leave for this trip, Phyllis and I caravanned in our own vehicles from Vermont as I had plans to finish the trip by going on to Michigan after hunting for Thanksgiving with family. We were excited for another hunting adventure. Phyllis had some awesome bear and moose hunts already behind her for the season.  I didn’t see any deer in my area of Vermont so I was itching for some venison for the freezer.

As I left my place, I had to cross a big section of the Green Mountains to get to Phyllis’ house.  At the same time, an early blizzard was also pushing through and I had a 2500-foot climb ahead to get over Lincoln Gap.  The mountain road was treacherous - more so going down than up, but I went slow and made it to Phyllis’ house without trouble.  

Once we left her house and crossed the bridge at Chimney Point over the south end of Lake Champlain, we found ourselves in bright sunshine for the rest of the drive.  Our route took us through the heart of the Adirondacks. Once out of the mountains, the land leveled out and many hours later we reached our destination.  We unpacked in our motel room and settled in for an early morning meeting at the outfitters farm.

Our host and Outfitter, Tom, is a registered guide in New York State.  He allows a limited number of hunters to come in during deer season on his farmland and land bordering that he has leased.  There are stands set in numerous sections through out the 2000 acres he utilizes.  His alfalfa fields were gorgeous and I anticipated the deer to be pretty healthy there.  Tom’s assistant guide was Jim, a successful New York fishing guide who would be responsible for getting some of us to our stands each morning.  We were booked for a three-day hunt.

That early first morning we met the rest of the hunters in front of a woodstove in one of Tom’s big barns.  Some of the hunters were from New York, many from the Big Apple area and a couple of guys were from Pennsylvania.  I was the newest of the group; Phyllis and I were the only women.  Some brought their teenage boys with them to hunt.  After warming up and chatting over a cup of coffee, we departed into the brisk cold of the morning darkness.

I was assigned to hunt the “Cat House” stand, which was located in some thick woodland near a small camp the men had named.  It looked like one of those places reputable girls were not allowed to go to but a fun place for the guys.  I had a comfortable tree stand and settled in and listed to the world wake up as it got light out.  The heavy frost was popping leaves off the trees surrounding me.  As it began to get light out I was able to make out a large rub line running past the stand.  That’s a very good sign, I thought to myself!

Gorgeous red headed buck

The morning wore on with birds, chattering squirrels and lots of local gunfire.  Then I heard the unmistakable sound of a deer coming through the woods behind me.  I slowly moved around to take a look and saw a deer approach.  It was a button buck so I relaxed and watched him until he finally meandered off, disappearing into the thick underbrush.

Late morning approached and I was beginning to feel hungry.  I had brought some food out with me and I was about to dig into it when I heard the close by shots mentioned above.  So I sat back and listened since I knew the shots were not very far away.  I was hoping who ever it was had pushed deer my way.  Suddenly I heard something walking through the leaf litter and then saw shadowy movement.  Through the tangle I recognized a deer and it was a buck.  I could see antlers! He was walking casually, periodically sniffing the ground. 

The deer started moving through the woods off to my right side when it stopped and then turned and began to cross in front of me.  I had difficulty picking a spot to shoot due to the thickness of the woods but determined the buck’s path and focused on that spot.  Once I saw him enter the hole I fired.  He was still walking but his shoulder was clearly visible.  Once the smoke from my muzzleloader cleared I could see the buck running with the near front leg sticking straight out.  His shoulder was broken and I knew it was a killing shot.

The largest buck I have ever taken
Large body size on this buck

I got down from my stand and reloaded.  I looked for the buck a bit and had no luck so I phoned the guys for some help.  Tom and Jim came out and told me their story.  Jim was the one I heard shoot; he had killed a doe that was being trailed by the buck I just shot.   A short time later Tom found the buck and we had a small celebration there in the woods.  The buck had a massive neck and a beautiful eight-point set of antlers.  His forehead hair was a beautiful shade of red.

On the third morning I filled one of my antlerless tags and called it a day for my hunt.  A long nosed doe with two big healthy fawns in tow approached me head on.  She stopped about 70 yards away and looked my direction.  I took aim at the white patch on the throat and pulled the trigger.  The muzzleloader dumped the doe on the spot.  She never knew what hit her.  I waited for the fawns to depart.  I could have filled the third tag with one of them but opted to let them go.  Perhaps they would be seen next year for a return trip.

Guide Jim and Outfitter Tom with the take. 
My buck shown in the middle and my doe next to Jim.

Back at the farm we processed our venison, vacuum packed the meat and spent a fun afternoon talking of deer hunting.  This was my first trip to hunt in the Empire State. I paid a deposit for the 2008 season before leaving for a Michigan Thanksgiving, so it won’t be my last trip to New York.

 

© June 2008
 

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