Deer Season, Day Ten

There are only twelve days of the year when you can take a shotgun into the woods and shoot a deer. Ten of them, as of sunset this evening, are over. We hunted six of those ten days, including a sojourn to the National Seashore yesterday, and saw nary a deer.

We assume we’re making many, many mistakes, and we’ve been talking to as many hunters as we can to figure out where we’re going wrong. Last night, Kevin and some of his fellow oystermen shucked oysters for a charity event, and I took advantage of a break in the action to talk to Dave Ryan, of Wianno Oyster.

You know how we’re making a big hairy deal about trying to source as much of our food first-hand as we can? Dave Ryan actually does it, but just doesn’t feel the need to shout it from the rooftops. He and his wife have taught their three sons about seasonal eating by hunting, fishing and gardening with them from the time they were small. Every year, Dave harvests two or three deer, and that’s the bulk of his family’s meat until next year’s deer season rolls around.

Did you get that? Every year, Dave harvests two or three deer!

This will give you a clue as to the level of Dave’s hunting expertise. Granted, he has property in New York where the hunting isn’t quite as maddening as it is here on Cape Cod, but lots of New York hunters go deerless. Just not Dave.

He was good enough to give me some tips about how and where to hunt, and then he said, offhandedly, “You do have the whole scent thing down, right?”

Scent thing?

It seems deer have very sensitive noses, and as soon as they catch a whiff of you, they’re off and running. So you’re supposed to wash your clothes and yourself, early and often, with scent-free detergents and soaps. You can’t smell human.

This requirement does not play to our strengths. Once the weather gets cold, we play by hygiene’s winter rules, which specify that you don’t have to remove your base layer except when A) there’s a freakishly warm day, B) people you really like have invited you to their home, or C) it’s April again. Just so you don’t think we’re total barbarians, I’ll point out that it’s whichever comes first.

Some Cape hunters point out that deer populations in densely peopled areas don’t bolt at the first smell of Homo sapiens. If they did, they’d run for the hills every time somebody took out the garbage within a half-mile radius. They’re certainly attuned to human scent, but don’t necessarily flee, we’re told.

Still, Dave’s opinion on hunting carries a lot of weight with me, and I’m going scent-free as soon as I can stock up on the right kinds of detergent.

In the meantime, there are two days left of deer season. Tomorrow, we’re going to try a section of the National Seashore that a friend of Kevin’s, also an experienced hunter, recommended to us. I’ll be showered and ready at daybreak.

14 people are having a conversation about “Deer Season, Day Ten

  1. So… were you talking to him at the charity event? And does that count as someone inviting you over? y’know I’m just kind of wondering whether he asked you “You do have the whole scent thing down, right?” in person. 🙂

    I grew up with a lot of folks in WI who hunt, but I know nothing about it, and I wouldn’t imagine them showering before going out there! I get the impression some years are good and some bad, do you know if others are successful this year?

  2. Wow, and I thought bathing every other day during the cold season was outside the norm. Well, I guess it is, but you sound like you might possibly be ?….

    So what is the difference to a deer between a human sporting a get-down human funk and smelling like mango and cucumbers, or rosemary and mint?

    Too bad you don’t already have a deer pelt you can roll around in….

  3. Oh, I do hope you bag one before the season is out! And thank you for posting on topics such as this one that are all too obvious to the experienced hunter. I’m pretty much in your camp when it comes to winter hygiene. It’s cold outside, baby. And not a whole lot warmer upstairs where the shower is! Daily showers are for washing off the summer heat and sweat and garden dirt.

  4. Tamar,

    I don’t hunt. But there was a time when I was doing a lot of flyfishing. But living in NYC, I was teaching myself. I read John Gierach’s “Flyfishing Small Streams” and “Flyfishing the High Country” cover-to-cover maybe a dozen times. (A good read even for the non-fisherperson) I was going a lot – every weekend from April to September. It was a long trip. I would have to take the train North up into the watershed and then catch a taxi to the stream. Over the maybe 8 years I fished seriously, I spent many happy hours alone in the woods. I looked and looked and saw nothing. It took me three years until I caught my first fish! And then another two until I could smell the fish in the water. They were everywhere I looked. I remember one glorious day where seemingly I was catching a fish on every cast – I know that can’t be true.

    What I learned during that time was how to be quiet and “put my best sneak-up” on the fish. I learned to distinguish “intelligence” under the surface from all the movement of the water. But most of all I learned what is and how to pay attention to what was important to the fish. It was fun. A lot of fun.

    Read Gierach. He’s good. Most of the ideas above are his.

    Cheers, Kim

  5. Your first deer season reminds me a lot of my first deer season, during which I hunted four days on the Cape. I. saw. not. one. deer. Except the one my uncle killed on day 3.

    I try not to be too stinky in the woods. For instance, all year I store my hunting clothes in plastic tote-boxes with some woodland materials (leaves, balsam sprigs), the scent of which permeates the fabrics. The materials HAVE TO BE DRY, lest I start a mold colony.

    Some hunters swear by total scent elimination. Others consider it impossible; given the sensitivity of a deer’s nose, they figure the best you can hope for is scent reduction. I guess I’m in the latter camp.

    Best of all: arrange for the deer to be upwind of you (or crosswind). Easier said than done, of course, especially when the breeze is changeable. But if you’re hunting while walking v-e-r-y slowly (called “still” hunting, oddly), do be sure you’re walking into the breeze or across it.

    Good luck…

  6. G’day,

    All this talk of scent made me think of this book.

    It’s a 1922 work by Saxton Pope – “Hunting with the Bow and Arrow”.

    It’s out of copyright, so go grab yourself a copy:

    It’s about a doctor (Saxton Pope) and a Yana Indian “Ishi”. Ishi was found as the last remaining tribesman, brought sick to the doctor. They became friends. Ishi teaches the doctor hunting and bow-craft. It’s possibly a bit heavy on the archery for someone not interested in bows etc. But it does give insight into hunting methods. The initial (true) story about finding Ishi is fascinating, and overall the book is a great read.

    Anyway, Here here is the relevant quote:

    “[…] he prepared for the hunt. He would eat no fish the day before the hunt, and smoke no tobacco, for these odors are detected a great way off. He rose early, bathed in the creek, rubbed himself with the aromatic leaves of yerba buena, washed out his mouth, drank water, but ate no food. Dressed in a loin cloth, but without shirt, leggings or moccasins, he set out, bow and quiver at his side. He said that clothing made too much noise in the brush, and naturally one is more cautious in his movements when reminded by his sensitive hide that he is touching a sharp twig.”

    So if you go home and drown your sorrows in a “Thyme, Garlic, Garlic, Garlic and Vongole Cream Pasta” … well, maybe that’s part of the problem.

    Of course I was undone at “ate no food”.


  7. Pegggggy — I suppose it says something about me that your interpretation of events didn’t occur to me. But now that you mention it …

    We don’t have a good sense of whether it’s a good year or not. We don’t know enough hunters to have our finger on the pulse. But I suspect we’ll talk to people after it’s all said and done, and find out. To hear it was a spectacular year, and STILL not get a deer!

    Rick — Thanks. We clearly need all the support we can get.

    Paula — I think the aim is to smell like nothing, but as Tovar pointed out farther down, that’s gotta be next to impossible. I’m going to try to smell like the woods.

    Kate — I think a lot of people are in our camp; they just don’t admit it in a public forum. But I figure every shower I don’t take — every gallon of water I don’t heat, every layer of clothing I don’t wash — is helping save the environment, a little grime at a time.

    Al — That was my thinking precisely! They figure the season’s winding down, time to go out for a stroll.

    Kim — I am awed by your perseverance. I know what a big hairy deal it is to take the train out of the city, and then a cab from the train. To do it every week for three years, with no fish to show for it — by god I wish I knew you in person so I could buy you a drink.

    I will read Gierach. And I will think of you every time I’m discouraged by not shooting a deer, or catching a fish, or growing a peach, or finding a mushroom. I know these kinds of enterprises require skills that aren’t acquired overnight, and reading can’t be more than the beginning. All the finishing has to happen outdoors, with the real live deer, fish, peach, or mushroom.

    Thanks for telling me about the fly fishing. Really. Thanks.

    Tovar — That is one of the best hunting suggestions I’ve had. I will wash and dry all our hunting garb, and stow them with pine and various woodsy sundry. We’ve also tried to be wind-sensitive, and go into it whenever possible. Somehow, though, it’s easy for the best intentions to be derailed once you’re in the woods. You see a trail, or hear a noise, and all of a sudden you find yourself upwind instead of downwind. But we’re trying.

    Kingsley — I sure wish I’d checked the comments BEFORE I had dinner! How did you know what was on the menu?

    I have no idea how the hell you found me, but I’m damn glad you did. Kevin and I both laughed out loud when we read that bit about hunting in a loincloth. We would have caused quite a stir at the Cape Cod National Seashore.

    I will read Saxton Pope, mostly on the assumption that, if you liked it, I will too.

    And you’re right. Eating no food is about as realistic for me as hunting in a loincloth.

  8. We have bar towels that we have dubbed the cape cod beer loin cloths…if you need them ( grin)
    You are just plain good fun..both of you,

    Signed lovingly…your wife!

  9. I’m an artist and today at a show a soap maker next to me told me there is a soap made especially for hunters when they are heading out to hunt deer. It occurs to me now that I should have asked her if its to hide human smell or to appeal to deer. Seems pertinent.

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