After action report:
Big Rapids Michigan opening Day ‘05 Tuesday 11-15-2005
Will and I were immersed in the Michigan hunting experience, We drove up through the kamikaze traffic, some genius in Grand Rapids decide to do divider work on 2 Northbound lanes, not a good scenario for the myriads of campers, trailers and 4x4’s trying to reach the North woods for opening day.
Arriving at the campsite that evening, Chris, the dad of Will’s good friend Chase had pulled their trailer up, much to the consternation of his Wife, who was left in Holland with the two younger kids in a house without power; windstorms Sunday. Had a wonderful dinner of roasted brats over a Maplewood fire, while the mice that had nested under the rock of the fire ring opted for self-immolation after being disturbed. Must be low on ‘yotes and owls up there, mucho mice everywhere. I contributed some jerky made with a deer harvested by Will during the youth hunt 04. While we were munching away a light rain began to fall, then snowflakes came! By bedtime, Chris and his brother Craig were dancing a jig, lubricated somewhat by the brewski, arm in arm, in front of the fire, anticipating a hunt with snow on the ground. Chris and the boys Cordell (Craig’s boy), Chase, and Will shared the camper towed in for the occasion. Cordell’s dad and I went to our separate pickup truck beds. I slept like a log. The boys woke Chris up and told him to stop snoring. It didn’t work.
We packed out of camp at daybreak and headed to our preferred location. We grabbed some sodas and sub sandwiches on the way to the woods. Will had a 7-gallon bucket with a swivel seat for his accoutrements; I carried a combo backpack rifle scabbard. I also purchased a cats-eye l.e.d. headlamp that mounts under the bill of one’s cap for navigating the woods. We were both dressed well in surplus gortex over fleece for the impending weather, with waterproof boots for tracking across the ice-cream consistency snow (~1/2 inch). Will carried a 6.5 Swedish Mauser built by our late friend Wes Flower with 140 grain Barnes X-bullets, I had a 1886 Winchester Light rifle in 45-70 with 350 grain Hornady round nose hand loads. Will placed his bucket seat combo at his favorite stand; I proceeded onward down the ridge with the wind at my back. I had very strict scent discipline in place, but saw no sign of deer for about a half mile following a 2-track road that runs through the land and intersects with the highway about a mile west of our camp. It was my intention to turn back into the wind, take a stand, eat a little chow, and after things settled down from my insertion into the area, move onto the hills above the two track road and hunt the draws between them.
I have notice in the past, the deer bound across the highway, run up the hills, and then stop on top of the hills to assess their situation. I sat on a stump and ate my sub, washed it down with a cold Dr.Enuf, and played with my binocs for a while then followed the two track until it made its final turn towards the highway. I discovered a few fresh scrapes on the two- track! After a pleasant interlude, I began my trek up the first hill, noticing the abundant wintergreen growing about the forest floor. This is know down south as a teaberry plant, actually ate some of the berries to help knock back the sub sandwich breath.
Kept moving uphill looking for more sign. After still-hunting to the crest of the hill, I noticed movement. Deer were moving from the highway up the hill, racking a 45-70 round into the Winchester, I prepared for the imminent engagement. A large doe in the lead abruptly stopped on the crest of the hill adjacent to me, up-wind about 120 yards away. Luckily I had a doe tag! I pulled the 1886 up to my shoulder, and the buckhorn sights naturally fell upon the quarry, the gun barked and there was no indication of a hit, not a crunch, scwack, kick, bleat…nothing! It was a long shot, especially off-hand. I used this fact as a rationalization for missing. After waiting for about 20 minutes I traipsed on over looking for sign and their lay the doe, a victim of an instantaneous demise. The 350-grain slug had hit the neck just ahead of the right front shoulder.
Field dressing is no small chore, but with two artificial knees it is a big hassle. Did it anyway, took about an hour. I used a Swede Mora knife that I bought last year from the Perimeter surplus store for $12. This knife is particularly nice to work with because those tricky Scandinavians designed it to work with their gloves on! Cleaning up I heard a rifle crack back towards Wills direction. I decided to leave the doe and go and see if Will needed help.
Wishful thinking, I mean he got a buck last year; my expectations were tempered with reality for this hunt. Walking the ridge I saw Will chilled out on his bucket seat, amazed that a 15 year-old could stay put for two hours. I approached and he said, “ I think I got one, but he ran to the left”. I kept him on his stand, and walked until he had placed me in the position where he could imagine the deer had stood, I called him over and we started sweeping back toward his stand in parallel file. He called out, “I found it”. I walked over and there lay a 4-point with a small gnarly rack, but buck #2! There was a grazing wound on the upper back. But this wasn’t Will’s, he had made a perfect heart shot at about 150 yards sitting on that bucket and resting on his knee.
We dragged bucky over to a nice place to work on field dressing, but the combination of the deer jerky from last night’s dinner and the caffeine from the soda pot started my tummy rumbling so I had to make a short trip over to the big wind-fall of trees to answer nature’s call, I came back over to start work on bucky, the circle of life completed. We started the chore of field dressing and two folks here were a definite plus. After finishing the chore, we laced the buck onto a recently acquired “deer sleigher” for a test drag. This was a somewhat tricky proposition, but once Will and I had figured out how to tie him down with the meager amount of twine supplied, it really did reduce the drag.
We drug the buck down to the junction of the 2-track and the highway, a chore made much easier with my new Eberlestock gun slinger backpack. I was able to stash the sling-less Winchester right in its scabbard so my hands remained free to carry gun and bucket. This pack is gonna be the “berries” for us fellows who need to drag out a deer and tote our traditional guns also. It was decided I would hunt out back to the truck, and then drive to the 2-track. Will would stay behind and hunt for another buck with his second tag.
It started to rain, yuck! To mark the almost invisible turn-in, I went out to the highway and hung a blaze orange neck gaiter on a tree limb so I wouldn’t overshoot on the drive back. The hunt out, I should say walk, was uneventful; never heard a shot much less saw a deer. When I entered camp, I ran into Craig and Cordell were simultaneously emerging from the forest, neither seeing anything that morning sitting in blinds. I drove the truck down to the area of the 2-track but could find my orange marker. I pulled off the road and found the entrance, drove in and called for Will. I said “ couldn’t find my orange neck warmer”, he said “oh yeah, somebody stopped and took it.” Scratching my head, we loaded his buck, and headed back to camp. Arriving at camp, we met up with our hunting comrades, who decided to come back to camp for a hot lunch. We were not received all that hospitably; as we were the only fellows to see deer, much less kill ‘em. We hunted the rest of the day, as we had multiple tags, but nothing was to be seen excepts the drops of nearly freezing rain running off my rifle barrel. We broke camp and headed down to the Pizza King for a couple of hot pies and some caffeine. Inhaling the pizza, the uneventful trip back to Holland was underway.
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