Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Wet Snowy Hunt Thoughts - Without Bucks

October 3rd was opening day of buck mule deer rifle season and it got off to a pretty lame start, a blown tire and inoperable jack. Once that was straightened out I managed to get myself into the mountains, which were in the process of getting six inches of very wet snow that was sticking. Not too promising.

For my more urban readers I present the following as a beginner's primer.

Mule deer depend on the three senses of sight, smell, and hearing to stay alive in a world containing things that want to eat them. Sight is the least effective of those, from practical experience I can state that what alerts them is motion that is separate from other things. Despite very human appearance in jeans and flannel shirt standing still with something as a background (rock, tree, whatever) does not bother them. Neither does it bother them that I have moved from one place to another if they don't see the actual motion. Their visual acuity or processing of information so gained is limited.

A mule deer's nose is a pretty fantastic organ, it picks up very little very quickly, being down wind from them or in a condition that knocks odor out of the air quickly (like rain or lots of wet snow falling) is about the only defense against their nose.

Mule deer get their name from the size of their ears, great whacking ears that pivot toward sounds at the least provocation. If a human can actually hear himself moving a mulie will hear it at over 100 yds.

This information is all important to a hunter or even nature viewer. There is a lot of spiritual hoohaw around about thinking like your prey or becoming one with it. Please give me a break. A deer's mind (or pick your critter) is a complete mystery. It does not operate in a world you can comprehend, its senses are not developed in a manner anything remotely human and figuring out the processing requires some kind of mind meld that belongs to a Spock. What you can do is understand what works for the animal and try to avoid falling into its range or not looking for them where those senses are compromised - since they'll stay away from that.

I mentioned the wet snow, trying to walk quietly in that stuff was ludicrous, every foot fall was a deep bass crushing sound. When the snow finally started falling from tree branches it began to cover my noise with something similar and pervasive. I became sonically invisible. Understanding this, one should not look for deer in areas with something like running water, they may need to go there for a drink but they will not haunt such a place.

Scent pretty much leaves you at the mercy of the wind, bow hunters will go to great lengths to cover their scent with something common to deer. That works to an extent, you still stink. Mountain air is difficult, it swirls and eddies, you do your best. You can know some things, like cooler air sinks and warmer air rises. This means that in the early morning the air will slide downhill, as the day warms it will move uphill until finally at the cooling of the evening it will once again begin to move downward. You want to be on the receiving end of moving air, pretty simple, so your position in terrain is determined by relative temperatures.

Avoiding the sight of deer isn't that complicated if you see them first, a challenge. Deer depend on that weakness of processing visual information as their first line of defense, staying still in some form of cover, even a slight depression. That doesn't work quite so well against a human's highly developed sense of sight and complex processing of that information. We recognize that something has changed, that it doesn't belong. Deer don't seem to. By moving only when deer had their heads down eating I have moved in wide open ground to within 60 feet of them, covering over 100 yds in wide open. The air shifted and they spooked otherwise I am unsure how much closer I could have gotten, they were clearly beginning to get nervous, something was bothering them.

You cannot think like a deer but knowing their abilities can help you to think a way around them. Fortunately for having success in this heavily stacked game you have the ability to reach out, whether with a weapon or camera. Reaching out is meaningless if you can't find them or you alert them well beyond your effective range - and you will. Someplace is always downwind of you, something will make a sound, or they will see you first. I'm not talking about hunting tame deer, these are wild animals and in OR the bow hunters have been in the woods for a month prior, stinking it up, making noise, and leaving gut bags and other remains in or near deer habitat.

Mule deer are creatures of habit, it takes a great deal to move them out of their patterns and their area. People knocking around in the woods will disrupt their habits and break up groupings but not move them far. Hard droughts and extreme icing conditions in winter will move them. Deer will, within those circumstances, be not too far from where you have previously found them. Not too far is a relative term considering deer, it may involve some pretty extensive human foot travel to match their nearby. There is the rub, if you have to move around the game is all on their side.

Having a nice accurate gun and knowing how to hunt doesn't mean success will happen, luck is still a large piece of the puzzle. Despite some presentations, a hunt is not a slaughter of defenseless creatures. I don't trophy hunt, but as in this hunt I will sometimes pass on deer for being either too difficult to get out once down or being too small. The distinction in too small is this: it is very nearly the same work after a kill if a deer weighs 100 pounds or 25o pounds and it is a lot of work. You have to gut it, you have to get it out of the woods, you have to skin it, you have to hang it, and you have to butcher and package it. A large dead animal is no joke to deal with. This time I've managed to give all that work a miss, next year; maybe.

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