This fall I decided that I was going to learn how to hunt (with a little bit of encouragement). In September, I began my journey by learning the basics of gun safety, finding a hunting instructor and making plans to apprentice with a hunting group. I shared these first steps in part one of my "learning to hunt" blog series.
Prepping for hunting camp
As weeks passed by and hunting season approached, my hunting instructor (a.k.a. my dad) and I continued to talk about what I need to know before joining him and his hunting party in the woods. Weeks turned into days; we started watching the weather report and determined that the first day of regular season looked like a perfect day for me to head into camp. But this did come with one final warning:
After a good laugh, I made a note to pack toilet paper (but not magazines) and finalized my plans for my first day as a hunting apprentice.
Morning of the hunt
The temperature was around the freezing point when I left my house on the opening day of regular hunting season. As I drove to camp the fog lifted and the temperatures began to rise. I arrived at 9 am and the guys were just getting in from a morning out in the field. We had planned my arrival so that I could meet up with them as they returned to camp for coffee and to exchange their cold weather gear for lighter hunting clothes. At this time of year the temperatures in the Adirondacks can swing 20 degrees or more in a couple of hours and it was that type of day.
I joined them for a cup of coffee in camp as they recounted their morning hunt, shared stories of their successful muzzleloading season, and planned the morning drives.
My father explained to me that their day's hunt typically consists of three different phases which are based on the activity of the deer during particular times of the day. Deer do most of their movement in the morning and late afternoon hours (or right before dawn and around dusk). This made sense to me as most of my sightings of deer have typically been during these times of the day. For example, when I took out the recyclables the night before going into camp there were 3 deer about fifteen feet from our shed. As a result of these "movement times," the guys will usually go out to different locations where they will stay stationary waiting for deer to come into sight.
During mid-day the deer will usually spend their time bedded in thicker wooded areas where they feel more secure. He further explained that this daytime pattern will alter a little based on weather and if the deer are in rut. During the day, my father and his hunting group will perform deer drives to move the deer toward others in the hunting party. I learned that this is what our plan was for today.
The guys continued their planning as we stepped out of camp and loaded our gear up to move to a different section of land.
watching for deer
The weather continued to warm as we headed out, but the air was still crisp. For the first couple of drives I was a "watcher" with Bobby, a family friend who lived just a few doors down from me when I was growing up, and my younger brother Hayden.
Hayden and I took instructions from Bobby on where to find cover and watch for deer, while on the other end of the property my father and Branden were attempting to drive any deer on the tract in our direction. As I waited, I wished I had grabbed the binoculars; the partridge, squirrels and chipmunks were active and keeping me alert. Since we were sitting still I was very happy to have my dad's thick orange hunting jacket on. Even if it was a little big, I was toasty warm.
The first two drives turned out to be unsuccessful, so we continued on toward another section of the private hunting lands.
Learning to Drive
It's ironic to think that the last time I was at hunting camp with my dad he was teaching me to drive. That was around 15 to 20 years ago, and I was learning to drive in his old stick shift pickup truck. Today we were learning a completely different kind of driving, and there was a lot less grinding of gears.
Branden, my father, and I started the drive by climbing up a steep knoll that quickly dropped down toward a small creek which we needed to cross. I was happy I had warm, waterproof boots on - but if the creek had been any deeper, I would have been wishing that I had my taller muck boots instead.
Once we crossed the creek, Branden looped in one direction toward Hayden and Bobby, and my father and I looped in the other. It was nice walking in the woods with my dad like we did when I was younger. As we walked he explained that these lower lying areas with lots of growth like this is where deer typically like to bed during the day because they feel more sheltered. He said he always carries his hunting rifle with him while he is driving because you never know when you will see a buck, especially once they start to rut in a couple of weeks. He mentioned that over the years he has taken 3 or 4 deer when he was out on a hunting drive. He pointed out where he saw a buck the prior day but couldn't get a shot in because it was moving too far away from him: "Just because you see a deer doesn't mean you can get a shot."
As you drive deer he explained that it is good to zig-zag through the woods toward the other hunters rather than taking a direct drive there. While you do this, you should always keep an eye out for any signs of deer, such as the deer path we spotted.
Any signs that you find of deer can help you get closer to the buck, if not on this drive, on future drives. It can also give you an idea of where they are moving for food in the later part of the day and early morning, and that could provide you with a good place to go back to during "moving times."
Returning to Hunting Camp
My father and I met the hunting group back at the Rhino and we loaded up to head back to camp. Like the previous drives, this one also turned out a lack of deer. Not seeing a buck didn't completely disappoint me (after all I had already seen 3 deer the night before in my backyard), but I was disappointed to be done the drive. I realized I enjoyed driving deer much more than watching for them. I'm not good at sitting still, it allows my mind to go a thousand miles an hours... (Did I switch the laundry over before I left the house? What should I make for dinner tonight? I hope the kid's Halloween costumes come in on Monday. Oh man, Christmas will be here before I know it... I need to get on that soon.) It takes some real discipline to be able to be on the watching end of the drive where you are required to be quiet and still for long periods of time. I can only imagine that it gets even more difficult later into the season as the temperature starts to fall below the freezing point.
I could however see myself joining them more often to participate in the deer drive. The woods also take on a whole new beauty once the leaves drop. For safety reasons, as a non-hunter I have always avoided the woods during this time of year and I was amazed by how the scale looks completely different without interference from the leaves. In order to actively participate in the drive, I will need to get my hunting license. Since I am planning on taking the Hunter Safety Course next spring, this could be a good way to extend the hiking season. It would help occupy the time between paddling season and ski season.
On the way back to camp I enjoyed listening to the guys tell hunting stories. You could tell that when it came to hunting, they truly enjoy every part of it.
Hunting from a Tree Stand
Once we returned to hunting camp, my father and Hayden took me to the tree stand where Hayden got his first buck. It was opening day of hunting season and the first year that Hayden had his hunting license. After having spent the first few years at camp as a hunting apprentice, he was heading out for the first time on his own. He went out to his tree stand and my father hiked for about 15 minutes to get to his spotting location. My dad was just getting situated for the morning when he heard a shot. He looked at the time and it was 7 am, then he received a text message from Hayden: "Got one!"
I opted out of climbing the tree stand. I might need to work myself up to that one as I have never been a big fan of heights, but who knows my mind may open to that - as it has with hunting.
The end of hunting lesson #2
I was pleasantly suprised by how much I enjoyed my second hunting lesson. Since the season just started, I am going to try to make time to join my dad, brother, and their hunting group in the woods again this fall. Maybe next time we can explore some of the different state lands in the Adirondacks. There are so many different tracts to hunt from and I look forward to the idea of exploring them in the future. But before I do, I need to invest in some of my own blaze orange hunting gear!