Sunday, November 21, 2010

Another blog

Hi, all. I've created another blog for myself. You can reach it by clicking on the link to the right: "What NOT to do."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jason's Deer Hunt - Part Two

Saturday started very cold, 27˚ and clear. We loaded all our gear in our backpacks, ate breakfast and drove up the mountain to our traditional start point. The snow had definitely thinned since Wednesday and the day was promising to be nice.

The trail up the mountain was easier where the snow had melted. The snow was still thick above Pink Rock though. We glassed up the hill but didn’t see anything.

Dad and Lyman at Pink Rock

Dad broke trail through the snow from Pink Rock to the top, not an easy chore at that elevation. We trudged slowly through the snow. The glare of the sun off the snow made it very difficult to see.

Lyman approaching the top squinting against the glare.

As we crested the mountain the snow thinned and we took a break where we could look down over an open area on the east face. We like to glass here and often see deer in this spot - when there isn't snow.

We saw a couple does across a draw but no bucks. So we continued down the mountain towards our hunting camp.

The mountains to the left are the Sweetwater range which climb over 11,600'. Directly in front of us is an unamed range. The highest peak on the right is Walker mountain which is nearly as high.The snow on this side had melted in the lower elevations here where the mountain faced more south. We jumped more chukar on the way and found more gooseberries to eat.

Glassing the "Nursery"

We made it to our camping spot without seeing any deer, then saw a couple run up the mountain as if we might have spooked them. So we set up our beds and ate lunch. Following lunch we strapped on our canteens and started our hunt up the canyon.

The canyon is divided by a creek. The north side is broken up by several deep draws but is mostly open with little bit of sagebrush. The south side is heavily wooded and we don’t hunt it for that reason. Our hunt on this afternoon was up the creek through the bottom of the canyon, watching the hills and openings. We move very slowly when hunting, taking a few soft steps then stopping to watch and look. When we stop to glass an area we may be still for several minutes before we start moving forward again.

We spied a group deer on the hillside, all does, and watched them for a few minutes. Moving on we heard cows up ahead. We found them and passed by. Soon we saw another group of does up on hillside. We watched them but again there were no bucks around. The sun had set and we were almost a mile from camp so we turned back.

Dusk in the canyon

We got to our camp at dark and made dinner. Dad and I enjoyed a rehydrated spaghetti dinner. It was still early when Dad and Lyman went to bed. I like to stay up late because I don’t like to wake up to early when hunting.

I woke up early Sunday morning anyway. It was still mostly dark. I heard some footfalls and poked my head out of my sleeping bag. Fifty feet away I could see the silhouette of a pair of deer, though it was still too dark to make out any features. One of the deer snorted at me, something mule deer do when they are nervous and aren’t sure about the presence of another creature. I tried to continue to watch them but it was too dark and they moved out of sight quickly.

The morning brightened quickly. My plan was to hike out and drive myself home to be at work by Monday. Lyman and Dad were going to stay and hunt. But Lyman wasn’t up yet and I was interested in seeing if there were any deer in a feeding area near us. So I took his gun (couldn't find his 10X binocular) and climbed up to a nice vantage point where I could watch. I didn’t see any deer so I returned to camp.

I packed up my stuff and headed out of camp. I skipped breakfast because I figured I could eat when I got on the road. The hike to the truck is about three miles; from our camp at 9,000’ it climbs to 10,000’ and then drops down to 8,500 where it meets the road. I took my time on the ascent, watching for deer and planning to look in one particular spot near the top of the mountain. I came out of the trees on the east face of the mountain and walked straight past the slope that I had wanted to look down on. I didn’t feel like turning around so I continued on, deciding to look down into an area we call "The Bowl", a semi-circular draw with a steep funnel shaped slide at the top that terminates in a ravine.

I stopped at the first spot where I could get a glimpse into the Bowl. There at the bottom was a doe. I watched a little longer and spotted another, and then another. I moved down closer; there were several trees protecting me from being seen. I saw a few more does. Then I spotted a buck bedded down. Through my binocular I could see he had some decent antlers though I couldn’t make out the points. I was sure he was legal though and worth having. I dropped my backpack on the spot and moved away from the edge of the bowl where I had been watching. As soon as I knew I was out of sight I started running back to the hunting camp to tell Lyman. I was hoping I would catch him before he left camp. But I was afraid he might have started hunting up either side of the canyon.

It was nearly a mile back to camp. As it was all downhill I was able to run almost the entire way, leaping over sagebrush with huge strides and imagining myself spraining my ankle. I got back to camp without any harm though, but Lyman and Dad were gone. If they had climbed up the south side of the canyon I would never find them. If they had gone up the north side it would take me quite a while to get to them. So I guessed that they headed up the creek since they didn’t reach the end yesterday. I started up that direction, whistling occasionally and knocking rocks together to call to them. But they never heard me. Unbeknownst to me I walked right past them about ¼ mile out of camp and that’s when they got my attention. I told them about the buck and we immediately headed back up to the bowl.

I still had a pretty good adrenaline rush and I was in a hurry to get back up the mountain. Without backpacks or anything to weigh us down (except for one rifle) the hike was much easier.

Lyman on his way up.We approached the top with care. I led Dad down toward the edge of the bowl until we could see some deer. Then we started looking for the buck. We had great position in the shadows of the lodgepole pines growing at the edge of the slide. When Dad found the buck he signaled Lyman to come down so he could see and get into position. There were several deer in the bowl as well as another buck, a spike. Dad or Lyman identified the bigger buck as a 4-point (which means four points on one side).

Lyman moved down closer to the edge to get a better position. He waited several minutes for the buck to move away from the other deer so he could have a clear shot. The buck began working away from us though. Suddenly the 4-point lifted its nose high in the air. It had caught our scent, which was really foul after so many days in the woods, and was acting very nervous. I was afraid the deer was about to bound away. He was facing almost directly away from us when Lyman fired. The buck fell and rolled down the hill through the snow coming to a stop 100’ down the hill. Dad and I congratulated Lyman on a great shot. We were thrilled with our success.

Lyman moved down the slide to the deer while Dad and I headed back down to camp to retrieve his and Lyman’s gear. When we arrived at camp I was feeling sick from the morning’s exertions (traveled three miles, 1200' of climbing, 1200' descending, without eating my Wheaties). Lyman dressed the deer while Dad and I rolled up camp and climbed back up the mountain.

About 400' below the top, the toughest part of the climb.

When Dad and I got back up to the bowl we loaded my backpack with as much of their gear as I could carry. This would limit the weight they would carry to mostly meat. They were going to walk down the mountain and meet me at camp.

I made the climb over the top and back down to the truck and drove down to camp. My plan to leave without them was abandoned when I spotted the buck. I drove down to the meadow and waited for them at the back gate. I got out and explored around the trailhead for a while. Then I went back to the truck and took a short nap. Dad and Lyman surprised me a short time later by driving up in Dad’s truck. They had taken a different route back to the road. We went back to our camp in the meadow and loaded up and headed out. At dinner Dad said, “Its too bad for that buck that the last thing he ever smelled was us!”

The antlers are about the same height and width. Lyman's have one more point on each side. Both sets have only one eye guard.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Jason's Deer Hunt - Part One

Warning: This is long! and one sided...Lyman and Dad, you're welcome to correct/alter/twist my words or submit additions (editions?) here as you wish.

On the Monday before my October deer hunting trip I went to a shooting range after work to make sure the .280 was sighted in. I arrived at 4:30 pm and the place was going to close at 5:00. So I had very little time. At 4:45 I had my target set up, eye and ear protection in place and the rangemaster called “Open Fire!”

The sun was setting behind the target so it was pretty difficult to see. I don’t recall if it was windy but I was having a difficult time keeping the target in view through the scope. Every time I would get the crosshairs on the target my view would start to fade away. So each shot took over a minute. My plan was to shoot three groups of three shots. With two shot left to go the rangemaster called out the two minute warning. Feeling rushed, my last group wasn’t very good. In fact I could only find two of the last three shots. But my second group was about an inch over the bull’s-eye so I left satisfied.

Tuesday night I got home from work, finished throwing stuff in the car, kissed Ruth and the children good-bye and left for Applegate. I spent the night at Mom and Dad’s.
Day 1 - We woke around 6am to finish packing and loading the truck. The trip up to camp was uneventful, though the gate on Highway 108 was closed at Pickel Meadows. We drove around the gate and found Lyman in camp. He told us of rain on Monday and snow on Tuesday that had kept him from hunting very much.

There was snow up on the mountains so we decided to hunt the rest of the afternoon but come back down and sleep in the meadow. With that plan in mind we headed out. We parked in the usual place and rock-hopped across the creek. Lyman slipped and got a foot in the water but didn't mention it until later. The mountain was covered with snow from the previous day. It had softened and refrozen making a slight crunch with each step and with Dad’s walking stick. It was very cold and clouds covered the sky, but the hike was steep enough that I started shedding layers fairly quickly. We saw lots of deer tracks heading down the hill but none going up. We could hear snow falling from the trees as it melted.

The climb at that elevation is quite a workout. It’s easy to get your heart rate going. We paused often to look around and take breathers. I don’t want my heart pounding when I am shooting so I like to go slow. Even with our slow pace I developed a headache, most likely from the elevation and my lack of fitness. About two-thirds of the way up the mountain we came to an outcropping of pink granite we call Pink Rock. Snow completely covered the mountain here, about eight inches deep, and we still hadn’t seen any deer, though at this point that is not unusual. All the tracks we have seen are still headed downhill, which was not good news.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement, a small grey mammal that at first I believed to be a bobcat. It was moving across our path, and then I realized that it was a coyote. I pointed to show the others. The coyote continued and actually turned toward us. Lyman got ready to shoot but the coyote saw him and at 100’ from us, turned and bounded back away and up the mountain. Then another coyote jumped up out of the snow and ran away up the mountain.

At that point we talked about our options, about not seeing any deer or tracks going uphill or side hilling, and the amount of snow. We decided to change course and instead of climbing up and over the mountain into the canyon on the other side, we will work our away north along a ridge where we usually don’t hunt. This would allow us to occasionally look over both sides of the mountain.

We proceeded with this plan until Dad decided that he didn’t need to continue with us. He would head back to the truck and down to camp. Lyman and I would continue hunting down this ridge and find our way back to camp. There used to be a horse trail leading this direction off the mountain that I was interested in finding.

Lyman and I dropped down the west side of the mountain through the snow. I was excited to be exploring new area. We found our way back to the ridge as it was steadily falling away to the north, the direction we were going. We took a couple opportunities to sneak over to the edge where we could and peek down into open areas. There was still snow everywhere though and we saw no deer. We continued down the ridge.

We had hiked about ¾ of a mile when we came to a plateau where we could look down over an open bench where there was a prime feeding area. The eastern exposure here was exposed to more sun and protected somewhat from wind. This bench is also almost 1000 feet lower than Pink Rock so the snow had begun to melt enough to expose some feed. We watched and glassed for maybe ten minutes when I got up and started to move away along the plateau. I had moved some 50 feet when Lyman softly called me back, saying there was a buck and to stay down. I moved carefully back to him where I could look over the edge. Through my scope I saw the buck, and then Lyman said there was another bigger buck behind the first. Upon finding the second buck I moved into a prone position to get ready to shoot. I was a little concerned about hitting the rocks in front of me, but decided it wasn’t going to be a problem.

The first buck was a spike and seemed to be aware of us but not afraid. Mule deer tend to be curious when they cannot smell you and you aren’t standing up. The second buck was oblivious and was standing broadside behind the spike, calmly eating and slowly working towards our left. I waited for a signal from Lyman to shoot. I could not see the buck’s antlers very well and was waiting for him to tell me whether to take him or not. I also wondered if he would want to shoot the buck since he was the one that spotted it. From my position I would lose my shooting angle very quickly if the deer moved very far. It seemed like a full minute had passed before he said to take him. I squeezed the trigger and the gun clicked. I hadn't loaded it when we left the truck!. I slid the bolt back and chambered a round. The buck hadn't moved. I took the shot and the buck reared up a little and fell down away from us and lay almost completely still. The spike just stood there. My ears were ringing and the headache I had got suddenly worse with the shot. I reloaded and continued watching. Lyman complimented me on a nice shot. With the dead buck on the ground we started working our way down. The spike finally decided it didn’t want to be around and ran off. We also jumped a doe out of the trees.
This picture is after the snowmelt on Friday. We were on the top of the outcropping towards the right.
We came to the buck, a 3x3. First we took a picture. Then with Lyman’s instruction I gutted the deer. We pulled it into some trees. I scrubbed my hands clean with snow. It was still very cold and the deer would be fine there until we could retrieve it tomorrow. We had about 1-1.5 hours of light left to get back to camp. We found our way, not by any trail, in a nearly straight course of almost two miles back to Leavitt Meadows and to our camp. We told Dad about our hunt and he congratulated me. We finished the night eating hot dogs, grapes and cantaloupe around the campfire.

Thursday morning when we woke up the air was a crisp 36˚, which was warmer than usual. We ate breakfast, hot granola for me. Dad and I drove up to the base of the mountain where we would hike in and retrieve my deer. Lyman would hunt from the meadow up to the bench and work along the bench to the south, hunting the openings.

Dad and I worked our way side-hilling as much as we could because our destination wasn’t much higher than where we started. You can see that it was still fairly cloudy.Descending onto the bench we were surprised when we jumped a covey of chukar. We got to the deer and with some effort, got it hanging from a tree. We were halfway through butchering the deer when Lyman arrived. He had a rough trip up the mountain, climbing the steep terrain through the tall bushes. He helped finish the deer. Then he continued his hunt while we headed back down the mountain. Instead of going back to the truck, we went straight down the hill back to the meadow. We got back to camp tired and took a short nap. We drove to the back of the campground to wait for Lyman. A doe and fawn crossed the road in front of us. Then we saw a covey of quail work their way across our view, eating as they went. I tried to open the door to take a picture, but the quail fled into the cover.

When Lyman returned we drove back up the mountain to retrieve his truck. He told us he got a shot at a big forked horn but he missed. Dad then took us to Carson City for dinner. In the fields near Sonora Junction we saw an incredible number of deer, at least twenty does and fawns and one buck. Lyman didn’t have his license or tag with him so we didn’t stop. We ate dinner in town and then returned to camp.

Friday morning began beautifully. We had decided to hunt from the meadow up the mountain to the same bench and work our way south as Lyman had the day before. It was at this point that I borrowed Lyman’s camera. I wouldn’t be doing any hunting, just hanging back and enjoying the scenery. I wanted to capture some shots of the areas we visited.

We started walking to the back of the meadow, but Lyman and Dad decided they would rather not climb 1500’ to get to the start of the hunt. So we got in the truck and drove part way up the mountain.
To Lyman’s chagrin we found a place where we could cross the creek across a large deadfall. We were blazing a new trail at this point and not sure we could find a way around the mountain to the desired point. But we made it with just a little steep climbing and a shorter path than our original route.
The day was clear, sunny, and almost warm. We slowly worked our way along the side of the mountain, glassing every opening and occasionally tasting gooseberries along the way. The landscape was very pretty with patches of snow all around and covering the ground under the trees. The aspens were fading from green to yellow and some leaves were falling. The tops of the mountains were completely covered in snow. But the temperature was better than the previous two days which gave us hope for a good snowmelt. We covered nearly 1.5 miles when we turned around. We then found a group of five deer, all does. We watched them for awhile to see if any bucks were hanging around. Then we moved on. We didn’t anticipate seeing any bucks for the rest of the day so we moved a little faster than usual. Instead of going back to the truck we decided to take the old trail down the mountain and identify as much of it as possible so it could be found from the bottom. We were able to find most of it and set up some markers so it wouldn’t be lost again. Here is the area we hunted outline in red. (picture from internet)

When we got back to camp it was evening. We went out to Sonora Junction again to see if any deer were in the fields. This was the closing weekend of deer season for this area so we saw a lot of hunters driving slow, watching the mountainsides. There were no deer to be seen. So we went back to camp and ate dinner. We talked about what we would do tomorrow and decided that we would hike over the mountain and into the canyon, feeling that the snow should have melted enough that the deer would have moved up to where we like to hunt. This night was clear. We were able to look up and find the Andromeda galaxy. Jupiter was also very bright and we could see three of its moons.

Part Two to follow!