I won’t keep you in suspense. I didn’t shoot a deer.
I didn’t see a deer, I didn’t hear a deer, I didn’t even step in deer shit. It was a relentlessly deerless day.
Basically, we made a mistake. Like real estate, the first three rules of deer hunting are location, location, location. If you are where the deer aren’t, you’re doomed to failure. You don’t even get a chance to make those other mistakes, like smelling human or wearing blue. Or just plain missing.
Our chosen location – and I can’t believe I’m actually balking at telling you where it is even though there are no deer there – was the Old Jail Lane conservation area, a 180-acre parcel that I heard from reputable sources does have deer. Several weeks back, Kevin and I cased the joint, hoping to find a spot to put the VarmintCam to scout for deer.
We walked the trails, looking for signs of deer. I’d read up, and I knew to look for deer droppings, spots on trees where bucks rub their antlers, bedding areas, and places in the terrain that deer were likely to funnel through.
Once you’re in the woods, though, it all just looks like woods. I’m sure the deer droppings were there, and I know the rubbed tree trunks were because our friend Les pointed them out to me after the fact, but I couldn’t spot them the first time around. As for deer beds and deer funnels, I wouldn’t know them if they had road signs.
If you can’t track deer, the next best thing is to track deer hunters. OK, I missed the tree rubbings, but even I found the pile of Bud Light cans under the tree stand.
That last bit is an exaggeration. Most hunters I know are safety- and wilderness-minded, and they don’t drink and shoot or leave cans in their hunting grounds. But it’s true that the best clue we got as to the deer’s whereabouts came from evidence of hunters, rather than of deer.
We found a spot with a decrepit tree stand that obviously hadn’t been used in a long time. This, of course, raises the question of why it was abandoned. The most obvious answer? No deer. But there was something about the look of the place that made us think a deer would enjoy it, so we set up the VarmintCam and left it for a few days.
During those few days, we bought a deer blind. It’s a pop-up tent big enough for two, in woodland camo, with openings through which you look for and shoot at your deer.
Maybe it’s because my only exposure to camouflage as a child was in the cartoons, but I can’t help thinking there’s something inherently funny about it. Unless it’s wartime, and your camo is deadly serious, it’s hard to glue leaves to your hat and make like a shrubbery without seeing the humor.
Our deer blind has little nylon leaves on the edges to help it blend in, and a black interior that’s supposed to help contain our scent. Despite the fact that our VarmintCam revealed no deer activity whatsoever, the day before the season started, we set the blind up on our chosen site. (Below is a video of that event, but you have to turn your computer sideways to watch it.)
This morning, before sunrise, we hiked out to it and set up shop. The weather was cold – about 25 degrees – but clear and still. We settled in and waited for 6:16, a half-hour before sunrise, when the first shot could be fired.
6:16 came and went. As did sunrise. As did an hour after sunrise. All we saw was the occasional hunter, who would spot our blind and wave his orange hat – Kevin tells me that’s the international sign for “Don’t shoot me.”
The two rules of deer blinds are no talking and no moving. Ideally, there is also no farting, but that can’t always be avoided. As time went on, and we didn’t talk (much) or move (much), we became increasingly aware that it is all but impossible to keep your extremities warm while sitting still in sub-freezing temperatures.
I’d known to dress warmly, and I had more layers than a henhouse, but after two hours or so, I’d lost feeling in my fingers and toes. Another half-hour of deerlessness, and Kevin suggested we take a walk around. Not that we hoped to actually find a deer; we just needed some time out of blind.
We took a little hike, half-heartedly scoped out some other potential sites, and returned to our blind for one last chance. By 10:00 we were done.
My fellow writer and hunter Tovar Cerulli, of A Mindful Carnivore, posted about deer hunting just a few days ago. In the piece, he touted the virtues of a Zen attitude. (One of his commenters, Joshua of EnviroEthics, called his hunting Zen “the deer of no deer.”) Don’t try too hard, Tovar says. Commune with nature, he says. His aim, on opening day of his deer season, was to “just sit” and “just listen.” He wasn’t going to care about getting a deer.
Naturally, he wrote the post after he got his deer in the first hour of the first day of the season.
I don’t have Tovar’s mental discipline, and I’m afraid that there were only two thoughts that went through my mind on this, my first day of deer hunting: “I really want a deer,” and “Don’t shoot Kevin.”
I expect the same thoughts will be going through my mind tomorrow, my second day of deer hunting. We’re abandoning our deer blind and going with Plan B. Stay tuned.