2016-12-21 / Columns

Deer Hunting, Round Two

IN THE WILD
by Dan Stiles Wildlife Biologist

No deer this year. It was the first time in many years, but that’s all right. I had made up my mind that I would not shoot a doe, and that I would concentrate on waiting for a nicely antlered buck to pass by. Several night time photos of really magnificent bucks were captured by my trail cameras located in the immediate vicinity, so I knew for sure they were out there, and probably close by. But, none ever showed up on my day time watch.

My regular tree stand is 15 feet high, and from it I can see just about everything that moves for a quarter of a mile on the long slope below me. Now and again a doe sauntered by. They all were clearly alert and super suspicious of every sound and movement around them. They seem to know immediately when the deer hunting season is on. It was interesting to note that this year, no little group of four or six appeared. In every case, the deer were singles, all alone. Whenever it was clear that an approaching deer had no antlers, I got my camera ready, and the alertness of the deer is apparent in all the photographs.

In the four days I spent hunting out of my tree stand, one at the beginning and three at the end of the season, none were a bit ideal weatherwise. It was unusually cold and awfully windy on all the four days I chose. I much prefer no wind, and dry conditions, so I can hear a deer (and lots of other wild animals and birds) walking/ running in the crunchy leaves.

The good side of all this is that I did not have to drag a deer up a steep slope, struggle to lift it on my ATV, transport it to our cabin and remove its hide. After all these years, pulling off the hide is still an awful job. There’s not much fun in cutting the meat off the bones either, and in Morgan and several adjacent counties, that’s the rule. We are within the containment area for wasting disease.

Deer hunters have always struggled with explaining logically to non-hunters why they do what they do. Why would a reasonable person truly enjoy sitting motionless in a tree stand for many hours when the temperature is way below freezing and the wind is howling? It’s complicated. Part of the explanation is that I enjoy feeling like a predator, like a bobcat or mountain lion waiting for a prey species to pounce on. Part of it is the exhilaration of being alone and self-reliant. A big part of it is being fully immersed in the natural world. I did not shoot a deer this year, but all day long I did enjoy seeing and hearing big flocks of tundra swans flying way up there in the sky. From my tree stand Snowball reported that he heard three turkeys gobbling repeatedly on Thanksgiving Day. In past years, on my tree stand, I’ve watched a huge black bear approach and sit down beneath me. (I asked her to leave, and she did not hesitate). I’ve seen and heard coyotes, squirrels, cottontail rabbits, fishers, foxes, raccoons, mink, opossums, chipmunks, bald eagles, hawks, owls, flocks of turkeys, pileated woodpeckers, and all kinds of song birds. That’s why it is important to bring along a camera to record these events.

The truth be known, 2016 was a fine, memorable deer season, as it always is.

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