I’ve lived in America for over 20 years, and in Upstate New York for about 13. I’ve always been an outdoorsman and fisherman since my father introduced me to fishing when I was 4 or 5. Since moving to the States, I’ve become interested in guns and hunting, and about 9 years ago, a friend offered to take me deer hunting for the first time.
There is a lot to deer hunting, but basics first. I had to take a Hunter Safety Class (2 days of classroom training with a short practical shooting exercise (air rifles) to drill home safety and ethics) before I could get my hunting License. In New York, these are the rules. My friend loaned me a rifle, so I bought a good pair of boots and some fairly cheap, warm, camouflaged clothing and went along. Of course, I had no real idea what I was doing. At deer camp, I got to shoot the rifle (a scoped .308) and discovered I was actually a pretty good shot.
Out in the woods, leaving camp before first light, was magical to me. Every sound is amplified. Every squirrel sounds like a deer coming towards you…
I saw maybe 6 does that first year, and my hunting license only permitted me one tag (which must be attached to the harvested animal as proof of license) with which to shoot a buck, so I didn’t get to harvest an animal for my freezer that year.
I then discovered that there are other facets to hunting. There is a muzzle-loader season, which allows you spend extra time (via extended seasons) in the woods with a muzzle-loading rifle that uses black powder pellets to propel the bullet and must be loaded through the barrel with a ramrod, similar to an old musket. Better than that, when you get your muzzle-loading license, you get an extra tag, so can harvest up to two deer.
So the next year, I went and bought my first gun, a muzzleloader. I had to pass a background check, no problem. That year I saw even fewer deer and none I could shoot during the appropriate season. Oh well.
Another aspect to deer hunting is where to go. In New York there are vast acreages of public land, which are for the most part sparsely populated with deer and very popular with hunters. The way to go (if like me, you don’t own suitable land) is to cultivate friendships and get into the good graces of people that do own land with significant deer populations. In this respect I have been lucky and favoured with access to several nice properties over the last 9 years. This also give the options to go to different places and see new wildlife. While hunting and in the woods I have seen owls, bald eagles, fishers (a large member of the weasel family), polecats, porcupines, and once a black bear (that was out of season, every hunting license includes a bear tag as well).
One of the great things about hunting, for men, is that it offers vast opportunities to acquire new things, much like fishing or playing the guitar. There are many items advertised to help in the quest for deer, from bleat and grunt calls that imitate deer, to real doe pee, to attract bucks, to field dressing knives and of course, new and improved hunting implements. Over the course of the last 9 years, I have acquired many shiny items, including a compound bow, a shotgun (not strictly for deer hunting, but for small game (and home defense)), a new bolt action hunting rifle and most recently, a crossbow. Each of these purchases has provided me with more opportunities (tags) plus the chance to learn the new skill of archery.
Here are the tools of the trade:
From top to bottom, right to left:
12 Gauge pump action shotgun, .300 Win Mag Hunting Rifle, .50 cal Muzzleloader, compound Crossbow, Compound bow and Heckler and Koch VP9 Semi Auto Pistol (OK, not really for hunting this one, but handy for home defense and great fun at the range).
Archery really does give the hunter the opportunity to learn a new skill. The ranges involved in bow hunting are rarely longer than 40 yards, which, in itself requires a good amount of skill to make consistent shots. The kill-zone on a deer is about 5 inches square, and consistency is required to make a clean shot at any distance over 20 yds. Practice is essential and also, fortunately, enjoyable.
Of course, to reap the rewards of these purchases and new-found skills, there is one essential ingredient. White-tailed deer.
These wild creatures are largely nocturnal. During most of the year they feed at night and bed down during the day. At dusk and dawn they move from food areas to bedding areas. During the spring fawns and born and they spend the summers with their mothers, gradually becoming independent by late summer to early autumn. By this time they are still quite small, and easily distinguished from adult deer.
This lady was caught munching on a pumpkin outside my friend’s house last week. The big time for deer hunting in New York is mid – October, when archery season begins, through Mid-December, when a one week Bow and Muzzleloader season ends the season. The regular rifle season is just 3 weeks from mid-November to early December. This time coincides with the Rut, which up here is typically the month of November.
During the rut, white-tailed deer habits change. As the does get ready to breed, the bucks start to become much more active. The larger bucks seek dominance over the smaller bucks for the rights to breed does. They become more active during the day and at peak rut can be seen fighting over does and for territory.
For all that, deer are still pretty elusive creatures, their sense of smell and hearing demand that great care be taken to avoid detection when hunting. Making sure to be downwind of where you believe the deer will be and keeping noise to an absolute minimum. Deer see differently than humans, so camouflaged clothing to break up your outline, or the use of a blind or cover to obscure yourself and avoidance of movement are essential. Another good method of obscurement is the use of a tree stand, to get you up out of the deer’s sightline and keep your scent above the ground. Here is a picture of mine, plus the view.
Imagine walking into the woods before dawn, sitting 20’ up a tree in the freezing cold for hours on end, hardly moving, keeping a constant watch all around. Now imagine doing that pretty much every weekend from October to Mid-December, in rain, snow and wind, for 9 years. Without seeing a deer that was,
- Legal to shoot,
- within range (of whatever weapon you happen to be carrying), and
- a safe clean shot.
That’s how long it took me to learn the craft of deer hunting before I harvested my first deer.
Yes, this year my perseverance finally paid off on the opening day of the regular rifle season, November 17th. I was able to use the skills and knowledge I had learned over the previous 9 seasons to recognize the sound of a deer. That morning I heard a buck making his grunting call, while concealed in thick cover, close to where my stand is located. I made a few grunts back on my grunt call, and few minutes later, I saw him walking through the snow towards me from the thick brush where he had been hiding. Despite the excitement, I was able to maintain my composure as he moved slowly towards me. At one point I made a slight noise and he detected that there was something not quite right and turned and walked away from me. At this time I was trying to be very quiet, slow my breathing and raise my gun to a shooting position. He stopped about 40 yds away, concealed behind a couple of trees. At that time I was able to line up my rifle on where I expected him to emerge. About a minute later, he moved away from the trees, presenting me with a perfect side on profile. I looked through my sights and put the crosshairs right behind his shoulder, breathed out and pulled the trigger. I had to make the shot left handed (I’m a righty), but it was an accurate kill shot and he dropped right where I shot him.
There was a certain rush of adrenaline, coupled with a definite sense of achievement in humanely harvesting an animal with which to feed my family over the coming months. He wasn’t a huge deer, but with 5 points in his antlers, he is the perfect size for good eating.
Of course, the work isn’t over after the shot has been made, the deer must be field dressed, which is essentially removing the internal organs to allow the carcass to cool so the meat doesn’t spoil. Thankfully YouTube has some good video instructions for field dressing, for someone who has never gutted anything bigger than a 12lb salmon. The harvested animal must then be dragged out of the woods to be transported. In my case I dragged over 200 yds uphill, greatly aided by the snow that was on the ground, before I got the deer to the trail where the ATV could pick it up.
I am having my buck professionally butchered and am looking forward to having 40 or 50lbs of venison stocked in my freezer very shortly.
I know a lot of people are morally opposed to hunting. I am an animal lover and pet owner (both dogs and cats over the years) who would never wilfully hurt an animal. But I believe a clean ethical kill which enables me to feed my family and preserve a tradition that stretches back over centuries is not a cause from moral outrage.
© Lady Hamilton’s Pussy 2018