Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sounds of the Woods: Golf Clubs

I was outside this morning enjoying the cool air and a cup of coffee.  Somewhere, off in the distance, I kept hearing someone clumsily walking through the woods carrying a bag of golf clubs.  It would stop for a few seconds and then resume.

Turns out the golf clubs were antlers and the someone was actually two, mid-sized bucks with their heads down, slowly but methodically fighting each other.

That's just cool, any way you look at it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"I'll take 'Deer I Would Not Eat' for $1,000, Alex"

Our neighborhood is surrounded by large tracts of woods and it quite common to see deer and other woodlands fauna.  Our neighbor put a deer feeder behind his fence which usually has a great deal of traffic in the evenings.

Earlier this week, THIS guy came walking out.  (We call him Job.)

At first I thought it was a bush in front on him but it moved when he moved.  (It actually jiggled when he moved.)  Perhaps he had survived a high shoulder shot with an arrow???  After I got the binoculars and then a camera with a zoom lens, I realized it was some sort of tumor or other growth and it was not limited to one area.  (under his chin, around his left eye (not seen above) and between his back legs, etc.).

I looked this up and it appears to be a "cutaneous fibroma" caused by a certain type of virus.  Apparently it is only a skin disease and the meat, in theory, should be fine.  The key word in that sentence is "theory"....  I don't even think my friend Chris the Cajun would eat that.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How to: Save Money on Flashlight Batteries While Hunting

Step 1 -  On a chilly, windless day, take a youngish child to the deer woods for the first time.  For this occasion, my 12 year old daughter Madeleine worked out just fine.

Step 2 - Spend a delightful afternoon in a tree stand until about 10-15 minutes after shooting light.  (Make sure you demonstrate to the child how to move at precisely the wrong time to scare off the only deer seen in the afternoon.)

Step 3 - Wait for a LARGE and VOCAL pack of coyotes to begin howling about 100-200 yards away.

Step 4 - Wait until the child's face transitions from concern to immeasurable terror.

Step 5 - Climb down from the stand into the pitch-black woods and venture back to camp letting the whites of her eyes lead the way.

Friday, December 3, 2010

How to: Miss an 8 Point Buck at 40 Yards

Despite a rough start to deer hunting, I've been very fortunate to have taken some very nice animals. 

About 2 years ago, I killed a beautiful 8 point East Texas Whitetail at 8:15AM, Sunday morning of Opening Weekend.  (One of the few days a year I skip Sunday morning church). 

Last year, I killed an even nicer 8 pointer at 8:22AM, Sunday morning, Opening Weekend.  The two bucks came from different directions but I was in the same stand.  They were shot within 20 feet of the same spot 365 days apart.

This past year, I joked with many people about having narrowed down my "deer hunting window" to a 15 minute time frame on Sunday morning.  Gee, I'm so clever.

Opening Weekend (2010), I was hunting in the same stand, Sunday morning.  I lost track of time and had to remain frozen due to (i) the freezing temperatures and (ii) the 5 does who were too close for comfort.  After 20-30 minutes, they departed.  Some time later, I saw him; a nice 8 pointer coming into the area like he was being pulled on a string.  Not sure if it was the 5 does who had been there not hour before or a the 3 gallons of WildLife Research Center Doe Urine I had squirted in the area. 

We have a 13" minimum inside spread rule in this county and I desperately did NOT want to shoot an undersized deer because (i) it is wrong, (ii) it is illegal and (iii) I knew my friends would make fun of me the rest of my life.  Unfortunately, the deer would not cooperate by standing still and looking directly at me with his ears erect like they do in the Outdoor Annual to give me a good estimation of his spread.  Apparently, much to my irritation, this buck had not read the Outdoor Annual and taken note of their handy diagram.

Finally, at about 40 yards, he stopped perfectly broadside, surrounded by a plume of doe pee, inhaling through his nose, just taking it all in.  He was just standing there, like a barroom bully, muscles tensed, looking for trouble (or a doe).  After turning his head and looking directly at me LIKE IN THE OUTDOOR ANNUAL!!!!, it only took a glance through the scope to determine that he was definitely a shooter.  Within the next .5 seconds, I dropped the scope and made a perfect shot, behind his front legs, under his massive chest.  He turned, and sprang away, not in that 'I'm hurt and fatally wounded way' but in a ' "WOW, THAT was loud", nimbly jumping over logs and bobbing and weaving sorta way'.  I was so shocked he did not fall over, I did not even think to chamber another round and make a follow-up shot.  (We looked, there was NO sign of a hit.)

To my knowledge, he is still running North.

The only thing I can think is after thoroughly checking out his headgear and dropping the cross-hairs to his chest, the rifle was still moving downward as I pulled the trigger.  (Note to self:  Wait .5 seconds before pulling the trigger to get everything firmly under control.)

The bizarre thing about this was the time.  It was 8:34AM.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Confident Deer vs. Stupid Dog

Dixie "The Urinator"
About 2 years ago, we adopted dog named Dixie.  Prior to Dixie, we had two small (like 5lb small) dogs which, while loved, were pretty much useless.  One of the problems with small dogs is they linger on..... forever.  Abby (one-eyed, arthritic, bag-of-bones with skin spray-painted over them) finally went toes up and was promptly double-bagged and put in the freezer awaiting a good sale on trees.  The kids wanted to plant her under a tree which is now, surprisingly, called Abby's Tree (Yes, they are a creative bunch).  I look forward to Abby's Tree growing and taking out the garage in a high wind!  (Obviously, I was upset about her passing). 

Something to keep in mind, when you are looking to adopt a dog (which honestly, I wish more people would do), you need to learn a new vocabulary.  "Spirited" or "High energy"  means "crazy and will likely tear through the sheet rock to get outside after seeing a squirrel".  "Doing pretty well with potty training" means the animal will relieve itself on the carpet only 78% of the time.  "Does not do well with children" means the dog is a nearly rabid, feral and has mauled at least one family after its initial adoption.  (How do you think they found out it "does not do well with children"?)  "The dog weighs 30lbs" means "we know if we share the true or projected weight of this animal, it will scare off some good families but honestly, you should anticipate the dog being AT LEAST 50% heavier than 30lbs".

Luckily, we avoided all of these traps other than the weight issue (a fact my loving wife frequently points out).  Dixie is an intelligent, healthy, happy, potty-trained, crate-trained 30(45)lb lovable mutt who quickly became a loved member of the family.

Determined to not repeat the errors of my past with marginally trained, useless, tiny dogs, we trained Dixie with a variety of helpful commands such as "sit", "stay", "down", "drag your sphincter on the floor", etc.  Per the books and videos we watched on the subject, these were all combined with hand signals so, when the dog becomes deaf, they will still respond to your desired instructions. 

I also wanted a dog who could go out and be trusted "off leash" so early on, we started to experiment with longer leads and more off-leash time in controlled environments.  About 3 months after adoption, Dixie was doing extremely well off-leash and I was become increasingly confident about letting her walk outside with me without walking or running off. 

One day in the early summer, I let Dixie out in the front yard about 2PM.  As soon as the garage door was up 18", I knew something was up.  She flew under the door and took off after something.  I assumed it was a squirrel or perhaps a dreaded neighborhood cat.  I was wrong.  When the garage door raised to the point I could see, there, standing in the side yard was a LARGE doe with two fawns, each running in 2 different directions at the same time.  (Our neighborhood backs up to some large tracts of woods and seeing deer is quite common.  Seeing them in the middle of the afternoon is, however, quite uncommon.)

Dixie started barking ferociously and closed the gap on the doe to about 15 feet before she stopped.  To my combined humor and horror, the doe casually lowered her head and just stood there, staring down the dog.  The two fawns were running every which way and momma was just standing there, calm as a cucumber.  Dixie approached, very curious about what this "thing" was and the doe, more calmly than before, rears back and literally jumps on my dog.  With a common goal in mind, Dixie started yelping and I started yelling, trying to get them separated.  Dixie was able to get away back to her 15' comfort zone but, being stupid, decided to give it another try and started to move in on the Ice Queen doe again.

Now keep in mind, the entire reason I let the dog out was for her to urinate.  Upon the next Matrix-like, flying, kicking attack, the doe connects with Dixie who is now, on her back, yelping and urinating all over herself like a lawn sprinkler with a cracked washer.  NOW I'm worried my dog is about to get killed and I start yelling louder and clapping my hands.  The doe looks at me and Dixie makes a break for it, charges into the still open garage, and, despite lacking opposable thumbs, practically picks the lock trying to get back inside the house.

The next night, there were 3 deer across the street in a neighbor's yard.  Dixie took extreme interest in a pill bug on the ground.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

When Alligators Attack

A few years back, I read a news story about a guy.  This particular guy was smokin' crack, naked and found himself in the jaws of a 12 foot long, 600lb alligator at 4AM in Florida.  I won't go into the obvious evils of drug use at this time (This is your brain....This is you brain... on drugs... being eaten by an alligator...) but felt the need to state some things which might appear obvious but are apparently not obvious to some folks.

The Florida newspaper story had a link to the actual audio recording of the 911 call.  I listened to the recording twice with my jaw on the floor.  Surely this was a joke.  

In an effort to advance the ball and improve on human interactions and communications, I offer the following advice to anyone I know that, in the unlikely event that (i) I'm ever being eaten by an alligator (naked or not) and (ii)  we are together when it happens, PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS until my semi-conscious body is safely on a helicopter.  (Please note:  The following questions are taken, verbatim, from the 911 call recording.  The answers are how I would personally have responded if the questions had been asked of me.  Feel free to play along at home and add your own questions / responses in the comments section.  This is a family show so please keep it PG-13).

Close your eyes and in your mind, imagine the sounds of crickets, walking, breathing, rustling of clothes, general chatter between the caller and 911 operator, etc.  The caller is explaining he heard “someone” yelling for help in the middle of the night and is going out to investigate with his cell phone.  Upon arriving at the shoreline, the caller “discovers” there is a person, in the swamp, in the jaws of a large alligator, yelling for help.  You can clearly hear the questions and responses in the exchange between the caller and the naked, stoned guy in the marsh.  The caller explains the situation to the 911 operator and then starts asking Marshman questions.  (Remember, the questions are REAL and were actually yelled to the high, naked guy who was in the process of becoming dinner.  The answers are my theoretical answers.)

[fade in from black]

1.  "How big is it?"
How big is it????  Heck if I know.  Do you mean length or weight?  Let's put it this way, big enough to grab me so I can't get way.  

2.  "What's it got?  Your leg, your arm, what?"
While perhaps relevant to the plastic/reconstructive and orthopedic surgeons, the fact that I'm (a) in his mouth and (b) can't get away should be enough information at this time.

3.  "Does the gator still gots your arm?"
I realize now is not the time to correct your grammar.  YES, Matlock, it still "gots" me!  I thought this was obvious since I'M STILL IN THE WATER, YELLING FOR HELP, AND SHOUTING SUCH THINGS AS "A GATORS GOT ME"  Please note, I did not say "A gator HAD me but that, in fact, a gators GOT me (present tense).

4.  "Hey, try to punch him in the nose, he might let you go!"
First, no reason to call out "Hey" and get my attention before your suggestions.  Believe me, being stuck in an alligator's jaws does much to focus one's attention.  Second, thanks for the advice.  This is my fault.  I should have told you that both of my arms are broken.  I guess answering Question #2 was not such a bad idea.  Please understand, by this point in time, I have punched, kicked, scratched, gouged, shoved, pushed, pulled, pried and chopped the alligator many times.  It is quite determined and has not let me go.  I promise you, I plan to keep up the good fight and will inform you should the situation change.   

5.  "How the hell did you get in there?" followed by "How did you get out there, on a boat or something"?
Again, I'm in the jaws of an freakin’ alligator.  The trip and logistics leading up to this situation are not critical at this time.

6.  "That's got to be a helluva gator, you know what I mean?"
(Thankfully I only heard this from the tape of the 911 call and this was not said to me directly.  Your grasp of the situation is truly impressive.)


Other questions I'm really glad he did NOT ask:

"Is it male or female?  You know, the females are very territorial around their nests."
Thanks for the tip Jack Hannah.  I don't see any testicles or anything but then again, I'M IN HIS MOUTH.

"Do you see a nest?  It will look like a big pile of rotting vegetation"

"Prior to the alligator grabbing you, were you having any luck fishing?  I heard this is a good place for crappie."
Chris, is that you?  Will you PLEASE call someone for help??...  What is that sound?  Are you putting new line on your reel!!!  

"Help is on the way but will take a few minutes to get here.  Seriously, what were they biting on?"
White curly tailed grubs.

It appears this fine gentleman is a habitual naked alligator whisperer.

Larry - A Man in the Woods

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My First Opening Day - 20 Lessons from a Beginning Deer Hunter

As stated in my bio, I did not grow up hunting.  Other than dove and duck hunting a few times in my teens, I did not start hunting until my early 30s.  A friend invited me to go turkey hunting in Seguin "Chigger Capital of the World", TX.  “Sure” I said, “I’m always up for a new adventure”.  We called many turkeys but killed exactly none.

But something awakened in me during the trip.  Hunting, I found out, along with the general campfire camaraderie, was an absolute blast.  I was actually angry I discovered this later in life but planned to make up for missing it in my youth.

Ignoring the fact that I had NEVER been big-game hunting in my life, about a year later, 3 of us went in as partners on a small piece of recreational hunting property North of Houston.  (I’m still shocked all three wives agreed to this).  For months, we worked at the camp, built a few crappy stands, and generally got all “geeked up” about the up and coming hunting season.  The other two partners had hunted all their lives so I tried to follow their lead.  I also read just about every book or magazine I could find along with making a nuisance of myself to anyone who would listen and answer my questions.  (Thank again Bob for your patience and help.)

I researched deer rifles and actions.  I researched calibers and cartridges.  I learned that asking 2 people at the same time which caliber was “best” will elicit more opinions than seeing Nancy Pelosi in a bikini.  I studied whitetail diets, habits and mating rituals.  I crawled all over that little parcel of land looking for 'sign'.  I knew where deer crossed Creek #1, Creek #2 and the back fence line.  I purchased knives, coolers, saws, boots, camo, water bottles and a bit more camo just in case.  I purchased a beautiful stainless steel Ruger M77 in .270.  I bought premium ballistic tipped bullets.  I went to the rifle range and practiced... a lot.  I WAS READY!!!!

Many people warned me not to get too ambitious and reminded me, more than once, than many people go years and years without even seeing a deer, let alone a nice buck.  (We call this “managing expectations” in my line of work.)  Fine.  I understood that but I wanted to increase my odds of success in every way possible.  

It was finally here.... Opening Day was just a few short days away.  Unfortunately, two small problems arose.  Dave was being forced, under duress, to attend a wedding.   (Hunters HATE Fall weddings BTW).  Genaro had a family medical emergency.  Neither of these two experienced hunters were going to be able to make Opening Day!!!  Well, after all this planning and dreaming, I was not about to NOT go.

Saturday morning finally arrived.  I woke up, packed and hit the road at 3:45AM to make the 2 hour drive and give myself plenty of time to get in the stand.  I arrived and immediately headed to the world’s crappiest platform blind I had built between two trees.  (It was about 5’ off the ground and leaning about 15 degrees).  I climbed up, sat down and waited.  After all this time and all the dreams and preparation, I was finally,.... officially,.... deer hunting.  I was stoked.

Not 20 minutes after sun up, a caught a split-second glimpse of a LARGE deer running through a neighbor’s field.  Very cool.  Nothing like seeing game.  After about an hour, I realized the human butt is not, after all, a good cushion for prolonged sitting on 15 degree-angled-wood.  I had not thought to bring a cushion or small chair.  It was just my butt, a couple of layers of clothing, and an exceeding hard piece of pine which apparently had dreams of becoming a proctologist when it grew up.

With my lower back and posterior screaming, I had to move.  Stretching my feet was not helping any more.  The only thing I could really do was turn around and face the other direction for a while.  Under my breath, I cursed all 2x4s and made a mental note to buy a cushion.  

An hour and 20 minutes into my first ever deer hunt, I saw it.  Slinking along the underbrush of Creek #1 was a deer.  A really big deer.  It just appeared.  This was sooo cooool.  It was a doe so I just watched (there was no doe season).  When she moved behind a tree, I lifted my rifle so I could look at her through the scope.  This was soooo cool.  Upon studying “her” head, I noticed “she” had two little bumps.  “That's odd” I thought.  Then it hit me.  This is a buck and the little bumps are small (like the end of your pinky fingers small) antlers.

Now keep in mind, I had sighted in this rifle 2.5” high at 100 yards with premium grade ammo so I’d be “good to go” out to 300 yards.  The irony of this did not hit me until after I shot the buck at the impressive distance of 47 feet.  At that range, I think the muzzle blast literally scared him to death with the bullet catching up after the fact.

“Wow” I thought.  “I killed a deer.  I actually just killed a deer!!!!”  He had nothing as far as head gear but he was huge.  Not sure why everyone warned me about how long this would take.  It was fairly easy:  Climb in stand, wait an hour, shoot deer, go home.  

In spite of my interviews, reading and dreaming, my education was about to begin.  Theory was about to be trumped by application (FYI:  Hands-on application ALWAYS wins over theory).  Over the next 4.5 hours, many, many lessons were learned.  To “share the wealth” of my “knowledge” and perhaps make this easier for someone else in the future, I’ve included these below.   

Lesson #1 - Deer are heavy.  

Lesson #2 - A deer will increase in weight by approximately 50% upon dying.  This is counter intuitive but the life-force of living animals is apparently made of anti-matter.  Upon leaving the body, it no longer counter balances the true weight of the animal.  This is the scientific explanation behind the term “dead weight”.

Lesson #3 - There is not one, good, convenient place to hold onto a large, nearly antlerless buck.  The head is bumpy with no good handles.  (Having later killed bucks with antlers, I realize that is the biological purpose of them - handles.)  Dragging it by the front legs results in the head catching on everything attached to the forest floor within 100 sq ft of the body.  Dragging by the rear legs and against the grain of the hair increased friction by approximately 370%.

Lesson #4 - There are places on bucks you should never, ever touch.  While experimenting with the best way to drag a dead deer (see Lesson #3), I grabbed, firmly and with both bare hands, the tarsal glands on the inside of the back legs.  Of course I did not know what these were called or where they were located at the time.  I missed that one in the books too.  (For readers who do not know, tarsal glands are on the inside of a buck's "knees".  They urinate directly on these when marking scrapes, etc.  They are oily and smell worst than an old lady's house full of 27 cats with urinary tract infections.)

Lesson #5 - You cannot wipe tarsal gland scent off your hands.  Do not even bother trying.  The skin has to die and slough off.  A belt sander might speed the cleansing process.

Lesson #6 - Like with “dog-years”, there is a multiplier that needs to be taken into consideration when determining distances before and after killing a deer.  The kill took place ~1/3rd of a mile from camp.  The distance I had to drag the deer back to camp was approximately 8.7 miles.  The technical term for this phenomenon is “deer-miles”.

Lesson #7 - Do not waste your time trying to build a deer-drag-cart out of two mismatched 2x4s, some rope and the plastic wheels off of a decommissioned gas grill.  It will not work.  The deer will slip off the 2x4s several times into the mud before the plastic wheels break.

Lesson #7.5 - Mud adds dramatically to the weight of a dead deer.

Lesson #8 - (stated in the form of a word problem) - How long will it take a 147lb, 5’6”, 34 year old, inexperienced, slightly out-of-shape male to drag a dead, ungutted, nearly antlerless buck 1/3rd of a mile (8.7 deer miles), slightly uphill, through mud and heavy brush after failing to build a deer-drag-cart out of 2x4s and plastic wheels?  Please show your work.

A.  30 minutes
B.  2.5 hours
C.  4 hours
D.  All day

Lesson #9 - Deer should be gutted as soon as possible.  Bad things happen in the GI tract if you wait approximately 2.5 hours.  ("Bad things" is defined as a face full of bowel gas upon opening up the deer.)

Lesson #10 - You WILL become angry when trying to call friends on the cell phone for real-time “deer cleaning advice”.  They will NOT believe that you killed a deer on your first deer hunt and will not believe you are so naive as to have to call someone to “walk you through it”.  Be prepared for this emotion.  (Thanks again Tim!)

Lesson #11 - It is impossible to keep sticks, branches, dirt, debris, ants, and sweat out of the first deer you are trying to clean while the ungutted deer is on the ground having expired ~3 hours beforehand.  The hide you very carefully peel back to keep the meat off of the ground will shrink.  One look into the cooler at the “victim” and the butcher simply stated “I’m going to have to charge you an extra “clean up fee“ ".  I did not protest.

Lesson 11.5 - The going rate for an extra “clean up fee” is $20.

Lesson #12 - The human lower spine can only take so much abuse.  After sitting for 1 hour and 20 minutes on an unimproved piece of pine, dragging a dead deer for 2+ hours in 3-10’ increments for a 1/3rd of a mile (8.7 deer miles), and standing over a dead deer for 2+ hours, bent at the waist, trying to clean it while keeping out the debris, my back was literally killing me.  I could barely move or stand straight.

Lesson #13 - It is barely possible to dig a hole for the guts without moving your lower back.  I could put pressure on the shovel and get some dirt in it but could not bend over to lift it and dump it out.  It is best to use the outside of your foot to sorta “flick” the dirt out while standing straight up like you have rods in your spine.  This is not an efficient method of digging.

Lesson #14 - You NEED to believe your buddy when you call to tell him you finally have the deceased in the cooler and are about to leave and he asks about the head and explains that you MUST take it with you or you’ll get a gigantic ticket from the game warden for not having “proof of sex” with you.  

Lesson #15 - When burying the remains of your first deer in a shallow grave, DO NOT put the severed head at the bottom of the hole underneath the guts, hide and 2 feet of dirt.  It is much better to keep the “proof of sex” with the body of the deer.  As an aside, it is much easier to dig through recently disturbed dirt and ant/debris-covered deer guts than through fresh, virgin, undisturbed soil.

Lesson #16 - Before you stop at Starbucks in Huntsville, TX to get a cup of coffee for the road and to “clean up a bit”, wash off most of the blood, sticks, debris and ants at the camp, not in their restroom.  

Lesson #17 - When you go into ANY Starbucks looking like you killed a family of 5 with a ball-peen hammer, people will give you a wide berth.  This apparently is very normal.

Lesson #18 - Sticks, branches, dirt, debris, ants and sweat do not affect the taste or quality of the sausage.  As a matter of fact, that was easily the BEST venison sausage I’ve ever had in my life.

Lesson #19 - 4 wheelers are cheaper than spinal fusion surgeries.  I’m now the proud owner of a Honda Rancher.

Lesson #20 - Learn from your mistakes, share them with others and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself.

Larry - A Man in the Woods