Deer Season: Day One

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.

13 people are having a conversation about “Deer Season: Day One

  1. Sitting still for long periods of time while watching for deer and seeing none — and while your extremities slowly freeze into a state of immobility — does get downright uncomfortable. My first deer season, I wasn’t eager to kill anything, which made the waiting easier. But by my second, third, and fourth seasons, I was definitely anxious to succeed in the hunt, and those cold, interminable hours got difficult.

    Good luck tomorrow!

    And thanks for the mention of my blog and post. I will say, though: I think you may have mistaken mental resignation (“I don’t stand a chance of getting a deer”) for mental discipline (“I am willing myself NOT to want a deer, as a sly end-run toward getting a deer.”)

  2. If I had been struggling with that pop up, you wouldn’t have been able to post the video because I would have been cussing up a blue streak. I admire both your restraint and your tenacity.

  3. Been there! Without the pop-up, though – I’m too cheap.

    As for your frozen extremities, I’ve hunted in some pretty nasty cold in the past week (a dry 10 to a wet mid-30s), and here’s how I kept mostly OK:

    – Smartwool long johns and base layer shirt

    – Polartec long johns and fleece shirt over the Smartwool

    – 3.5mm neoprene waders and duck jacket (OK, you don’t need the waders)

    – Black balaclava from my Minnesota marathon-training days (black is GREAT inside a pop-up blind. Plus, it’s fun to look like a terrorist.)

    – Camo hat with ear flaps, all lined with fake fur.

    – Air-activated chemical foot warmers inserts in my boots (downside – lasted only 5 hours, severely taxed when feet were resting on ice).

    – Air-activated chemical handwarming packs in my wader “hand-warmer” pocket. Trigger hand ungloved and clutching the hand warmer most of the time, ready to come out when needed, non-trigger hand in neoprene gloves trading places occasionally to warm up.

    In dry cold, this worked REALLY well. Wet cold challenged it a bit more. But the Smartwool – stays warm when wet, which is great when you work up a sweat in it – was worth the $150+ I spent on it. So were the chemical warmers, which cost a couple bucks.

    As for the flatulence … well, that’s on you.

  4. Sounds like a great chance to catch up on some reading. Surely only Kevin needs to watch for the deer? Unless of course there aren’t any, in which case no-one needs to watch for them; you could both read.

    How come you sit and wait for the deer to walk by? Why not go out and stalk them?

    Oh, and camouflage is the new black.

  5. Actually, Kingsley has a good point. My dad would always scout about two or three places. And if one didn’t pan out he’d move to another. Generally he planned them by what time the deer would be doing different things: moving out for food, bedding down, etc. Also, I know it can be a huge investment, but a guide can often get you on the right path. He moved up to a guide when he started to hunt elk in different states (versus the mule deer here in So Cal, and up in the Sierras). Something I learned from watching my Dad, husband, brother in law, ex-boyfriends, uncle…. I always brought a book and some good beer for when the hunting/fishing went sour for the day and they wanted to wait it out (something about men and wanting to not come home skunked). By the time they were pissed off and frustrated and ready to pack out… I was relaxed and likely fell asleep reading my book. Just a thought.

  6. Trout — Perhaps chintz is, after all, what’s standing between me and deer hunting success.

    Tovar — Now, with two days of hunting under my belt, I find that I vacillate between willing a deer to come out of the woods, being convinced that I’ll never see another deer as long as I live, and wondering what’s for lunch. How’s that for mental discipline?

    Kate — There is some comfort in knowing we’re not alone. But not much.

    O Husband — That’s funny. Very funny. Now, if you could only remember to hold the camera horizontally, I’d nominate you for Husband of the Year.

    Beth — Glad we keep you amused!

    Paula — Thanks to the sub-standard audio, you didn’t hear some of the choice words I actually said.

    NorCal — I employed some of the same strategies. I borrowed some of the high-tech synthetics from my running wardrobe, but a little reluctantly. Somehow, they always seem to smell, no matter how many times you wash them. And if I can smell them, surely a deer can, too. But then I put a few layers on top of them, and hoped for the best.

    I will definitely go with the foot- and hand-warmers. It’s fingers and toes that are the first to go.

    Les — You’re killing me here. Killing me. Or you would be, if I believed you.

    Kingsley — We did try bringing an audiobook, turned down low, one ear each, but I was already too cold by the time we turned it on and couldn’t focus.

    As for stalking, I’ll tell you all about that experience when I move on to Deer Season: Day Two.

    Brooke — Ditto on the stalking. Because we’re hunting in areas where there are a lot of hunters, the deer’s daily routines are thrown off, and their behavior after opening day is hard to predict. I’m convinced that, basically, you have to get lucky. As for a guide, if we went anywhere where guides were available, I’d be the first to sign up!

  7. John and Patrice says:

    Hi Tamar & Kevin

    very nice website! Sorry to hear you have not seen any deer!!
    My only advice is to keep on plugging, it is easier than digging quahogs!!

Converstion is closed.