Saturday, January 29, 2011

To Kill a Mule

As I've written before, Opening Weekend of deer season is a much anticipated highlight of my year.  Unfortunately, a few years back, it was a bit more painful than most and after the word got out, it became more and more painful to rehash the story each time.  To save myself breath, embarrassment and pain, I reduced this particular Saturday's events to the barest essential elements so others might learn through my errors and so I can “get it out there” once and for all.

Upon arriving about 20 minutes late to the hunting camp, I quickly unloaded my friend’s borrowed Kawasaki Mule, donned the appropriate clothing, loaded the trusty .308 and headed North to Creek #2.  The past rains were evident in the area with many of the lower areas and trails muddy and holding water.  No worries.  We'd seen much worse in this area and besides, it was Opening Day and the Mule was a 4-wheel drive model.

After parking in some heavy brush ~100+ yards from the tree stand, I applied the vile smelling "doe in heat" scent to a felt pad tethered to my boot, took an indirect route to the stand to ensure scent was dispersed widely, and climbed to my perch.  Several deer were seen with the majority of the activity taking place about 125 yards ahead, across Creek #2.  The thick brush offered no chance of a shot at a solid 8 pointer which happened by, tailing a hot doe.  A doe and 5 month old fawn did come directly through the area and made a heroic effort to cross the creek without getting wet.  I thought it was odd they tried to jump across versus simply wade like they normally do.  (Editor's Note:  When you think something is odd, RIGHT THEN, think about what, specifically, might be odd...)  They passed within 30 yards of my stand without knowing I was there.  What a beautiful morning.

About 10:30, it was time for a change.  Since the majority of the deer were seen on the other side of the creek, it only made sense to move.   After retrieving the Mule, I approached the soon-to-be scene of the accident.  Keep in mind, the Mule has made it through this creek several times and the only casualty to date was a lost set of keys and some displaced mud.  I walked into the water about halfway through the creek with the water not quite reaching the tops of my calf-high rubber boots.  Fine.  It had a bit more water in it that normal but it had recently rained.  This corresponded to a depth barely above the floorboard of the UTV.  I'd have to remember to wash the Mule prior to its return.

Just in case there was a problem, I put down my pack and rifle on the side of the trail.  (Editor's Note:  Probably the smartest thing that I did all day).  The Mule was eased into position, the differential locked, the 4WD engaged while I sat with a double white-knuckled grip on the wheel.  I entered the water at a fair clip and then gunned the engine, assuming the momentum would take me across with only wet boots to show for my trouble.  

After about 12 feet, there was a sinking feeling, both emotionally as well as physically as all forward motion stopped.  The Mule had stalled out, probably from water entering the muffler.  Panic stricken, I jumped out only to land in scrotum-deep water.  After nearly dislocating a thumb trying to get a pistol, cell phone, truck keys and wallet out of the drink, the full impact of this mistake was evident.  The Mule was not technically stuck but more floating to a standstill.  The following diagram should help you visualize the bottom contour of this particular tributary. (Please see Fig 1)

Figure 1.0 - Profile of Mule Eating Tributary

The next 4 hours involved hiking back to camp, starting the camp tractor, discovering the tractor has acquired a leak in the radiator line, hiking back to the Scene, using an interesting combination of tow straps, a come-along and an 8 foot long 2x4 to get the Mule back to boot high water and finally praying the neighbors were home to come drag everything back to camp with a reluctant 4-wheeler.  (Blessings on AT&T Wireless for providing coverage to this area).  The remainder of the afternoon was spent packing up camp, taking the Mule to the Kawasaki dealership, and calling my friend with the update on what I did to his $6000 toy.  (As an aside, apparently I’m the only person in the history of this particular dealer to actually tell the truth.  I mentioned to the mechanic I assumed he gets people in there all the time with flooded-out engines.  He said yes but I was the first person to actually admit it.  Apparently, the correct answer is “It just quit running”.)

Yessiree, you gotta love hunting. 

Cap'n Larry 

PS - I was very, very lucky that the engine stalled out prior to actually ingesting water.  They flushed the engine and all fluids 3X, cleaned everything up and buttoned it back together.  The repair bill was, in the big scheme of things, the cheapest education I've ever earned.

PSS - I bought a decrepit COOT ATV and after teaching myself to weld and cut metal, fixed it.  This is a story for another day but let's just say I'm now the proud owner of a Honda Rancher.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How I was Castrated While using an Ax

Free-range Firewood
We recently had a large tree taken down in the side yard.  The more it leaned, the more I became concerned  about losing all vehicles, part of the driveway and possibly a small child.  (Please note:  this is NOT Abby's Tree (yet)).

Having a strong back and weak mind, I took it upon myself to split the wood for the fire pit in the backyard.  This of course involved the use of various axes and the purchase of a new splitting maul and some bizarre twisted wedge called a Woodblaster.

The logs were cut a bit too long and technically too green so the "splitting" involved me pounding on a section for all I was worth for anywhere between 1 to 3.7 minutes before a single chunk of burnable, split wood was removed.  I tell myself this is "exercise" while having R-rated fantasies about hydraulic log splitters from Northern Tool.

My loving wife comes out to observe her "man" in action (I assumed).  Chopper of wood, reader of books, hunter of beasts, provider of food and shelter....  yes, surely she felt lucky to be married to such a multi-talented renaissance man.

She watched for a few minutes and then asked dryly..."How come 'Pa' on Little House on the Prairie could split wood with ONE chop?"

Instantly, my height, self-confidence and testosterone levels fell to record lows.

"Thanks honey... I love you too."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How to: Judge Distances While Hunting Aoudads

Larry - Pursuer of Aoudads, Killer of None
In March of 2010, my good buddy Devin Kavid (not his real name) and I went in pursuit of aoudads in Central / West Texas.  Aoudads (also called Barbary sheep) are fascinating animals which were imported into Texas after WWII.  As is usually the case, they went feral, spread to surrounding environments to their liking, and took the jobs of hard-working Americans.  They are notoriously hard to kill and LOOOOONG shots are apparently quite common.  

I had visited this particular area in the past where I learned a valuable lesson of not "dorking around" and wasting too much time before taking a very doable shot on a beautiful animal.  (This is the exact opposite problem I had when I rushed and missed a 40 yard lay-up shot more recently.)  I have since learned it is best to take the first good, solid, high-percentage shot you have AND that you can make versus waiting for or trying to move positions for an even better shot which might not present itself.  I'm still bitter over this but therapy has helped.

The evening before the first hunt,  Devin and I sat in lawn chairs near the camp about 1/2 - 3/4th of a mile away from the long, skinny mountain, becoming one with our binoculars.  To our surprise, we actually spotted several aoudads moving through a boulder strewn slope on the south side of the mountain.  You'd scan an area and see nothing only to re-scan the area and see a boulder now had grown a head with the tell-tale "T" shaped horns.  THIS is why we were here and we were stoked.  Man this is cool.

We planned to hunt the top of the mountain but since we had seen sheep on the lower slopes, we made new plans to hunt the lower levels in the morning.  Devin was to take the left side of the ridge and I was to take the right.  Simple.

After a freezing 4-wheeler ride to the mountain where I used my face to knife through the air and protect Devin's delicate features, we climbed a small ridge which projects off the mountain and each found a spot to our liking about 100 yards apart.  What a beautiful day!  Cold, crisp air with no wind.  It was a great day to be alive.  30 minutes after sun-up, the radio cracked with Devin's whispering voice:  "There are 5 in front of me now.  Two look like shooters!"  Updates to the herd quality, genders horn quality and general location were exchanged over several minutes.  They did not seem to be moving much closer so Devin decided he was going to take his shot.  He propped up his pack on a 200lb piece of pink granite, settled in, got his breathing under control and squeezed the trigger.  (There is nothing quite like the report of a rifle on a chilly morning!)

The following conversation went something like this. 

Larry:  (upon arriving to where Devin was still hunkered down after letting loose his 130 grain .270 bullet)  "OK, where were they?"

Devin:  "See that big rock with the stick on top?"

(Larry distance estimation =  ~200 yards away)

Larry:  "Yeah!!!"

Devin:  "Now look straight past it to that clump of rocks with the big bushy tree to the right."

(Larry distance estimation =  ~300 yards away)

Larry "err... OK"

Devin:  "Now, look up the mountain past that big boulder to those three trees with the one leaning over..."

(Larry distance estimation / guess =  ~400 yards, plus or minus a lot))

Larry:  "ummm ...  OK?"

Devin:  "There were 5 of them standing on those rocks just past that dead tree to the right!!!!"

(Larry distance estimation / complete-stab-in-the-dark, wild guesstimate =  ~500-800+ yards away)

Larry:  "Man, that is a looooong way.  How far do you think that is???"

Devin:  "About 300 yards or so."

Larry:  "And how far did you hold over his back?"

Devin:  "I just held high about 6" higher than normal"

Larry (thinking Devin has undershot the animal by a tad more than 6") "eeerrrr....well.....ummmmm...let's go have a look????"

After an inefficient journey through God's own rock garden / rattlesnake condominium, the only things we found after hiking the 1/4 mile over the "kill" zone were a twisted ankle, a bruised ego and immeasurable emptiness.

For Christmas, Devin will be receiving the following trajectory table (suitable for framing).  For discussion purposes, I've highlighted the range by which he missed.

Lessons learned:  Carry a range finder; practice judging distances with it; and have a thick skin following the de-construction of the event!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Helpful Hunter Hint: Adventures in Food Aversion

Helpful Hunter Hint:

Try to time dropping off an animal at your favorite deer processor when they are NOT cleaning out the grease traps by the loading dock.  Otherwise, you will forever associate the smell of their smokehouse with the smell of putrid, rancid grease.

It is hard to place your order when fighting off waves of gut-kick nausea.

Larry:  "OK, ummmm, let's go with your regular, garlic link sausage.... (gulp), 15lbs of survival sticks, .....(awwooofgh), ground venison with no fat added (AUHG...awwwoofhgh)...can we go inside?"

As my Grandmother would have said... it would "gag a maggot".