Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Best of 2013

By Mac Arnold
ROA photos by Mac Arnold
Snow made for easy an drag Dec. 20. 

ROA Editor

Despite not knocking down any horned beasts, two fatties in the freezer definitely turned my 2013 deer season around.

The last being a doe right at dark with an 80-yard shot from the Knight .45-caliber muzzleloader.

Can I just say, I love this gun? Yes, I can.

This same instrument of death brought down the best deer of my life, which was a 8-point with a 19-inch inside spread a few years back. Someday I hope to beat this with something better. Maybe next year?

Anyway, with the time dwindling and nowhere else to rip off a breech-clearing shot Friday, Dec. 20, I was either going let loose into a stump or a willing participant and lo and behold in the waning minutes of legal shooting time five customers came prancing down along the neighboring property DMZ line and into our Sanilac County, Mich., camp.

Was I dreaming? I couldn't believe this good fortune.

All I needed was about five more steps from the lead doe to clear a large tree trunk, and I would have an open shot.


Once the smoke dissipated, all I saw were scattering deer every which way.

Ut oh, I thought to myself, even with snow a lengthy nighttime tracking excursion seemed likely in my future.

Muzzleloaders don't always provide great blood trails, which is just the nature of the beast with this primitive weaponry.

But wait ... it seemed as if a heap that wasn't there a minute ago was now there between the two trees where I lined up the doe.

After a careful inspection with the binos, and still seeing a dark heap that I couldn't remember previously, I confidently decided it was time to check the blob out.

I unpiled from the blind gear in hand and down the ladder stand, then slogged through the wet 6 inches of  snow over to where I marked the deer.

Wow. I dropped it right in its tracks with a shot through the front shoulder.

You can't beat that.

Zero tracking. Yee-haw.

This will apparently cap off the ending to the season although I'm not ruling out the annual New Year's Day hunt.

With me practically standing on the freezer to get the top to close, the only way I would take another white-tail is if it was nicely antlered one.

For those who accused me of being greedy or a meat hog, I always donate plenty to friends and any other takers.

But despite this great ending, Mac's best for 2013 is the early fall tom I took with a crossbow.
This fall gobbler was Mac's best for 2013.

Hands down, it is No. 1 for this season. A strong case could be made if I did take a nice buck with a crossbow with the remaining days left. It would complete a coveted "triple" -- one in archery (although some debate could be made if a crossbow is truly archery), one in shotgun/rifle and one in muzzleloader.

In some ways, this year's take could be viewed as a "hybrid" triple, since I did take a fall tom with the crossbow.

Talk about good fortune. I had just arrived late in the blind a half hour after sunrise and within 10 minutes of sitting down and making some raspy yelps -- to mock a jake -- I got a response. And then, suddenly three dark figures began winding their way to me in the still quite green and yellow woods.

I identified two of the birds as toms from their nice beards. The first one slipped past me without a shot but the second wasn't as lucky.

Thwapt!!! A flapping sound and then silence. But only two birds re-appeared from the brush out in front of me.

After waiting for the big hoss bird -- which I not only missed again this time but in spring as well -- to move off, I got down and found the other tom 10 yards from where I shot him.

I figured something was up when a wily bearded gobbler like that doesn't head for the hills after a weird encounter in the woods. He was waiting on his buddy to link back up.

To make matters worse, from a nearby field outside the woods this old boy was gobbling at me, which is uncommon during fall, as I walked off doing the triumphant-over-the-shoulder hoist and stroll back to the truck.

He may have had a good laugh that day but I hope we meet again next spring.

After the nice muzzleloader shot at No. 2, the fat doe I took Nov. 18 to erase the goose egg during early part of the deer season, registers at No. 3.

Once I dropped that plump girl, I was able to settle down and really concentrate on connecting with a buck, but nothing of consequence ever materialized. The only buck I had an opportunity to give a good look was a forkhorn and that is not allowed at the camp I hunt on.

Finally, at No. 4, comes the jake I took to end a two-year slump in spring. After missing the first two shots, one with a crossbow from a blind earlier in the morning and another in the woods with a shotgun, I was able to "salvage" some pride by hitting this bird on a run with the kid's youth gun off the opposite shoulder.

So the end tally is two turkeys and two does, not bad. Maybe next year I can hang up some decent antlers.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The 'real' midseason deer report

By Mac Arnold
ROA Editor
A small doe followed the forkhorn Nov. 16.

The Michigan regular firearms season for white-tailed deer ended Saturday, Nov. 30, with me in the rack and not in the stand, which shouldn't surprise anyone since I noted this would likely happen in a previous post.

Sitting along a funnel Nov. 27.
But contrary to what I wrote in it, I did get out one more time for the regular firearms season the day before Thanksgiving (Wednesday, Nov. 27).

It was one of the four times out of 12 total I was out in October and November since the season started that I didn't see deer.

That was OK though because I got off my duff and tried the somewhat nearby Monroe County public land and gathered plenty of intel for future hunts.

So, for the most part, I was satisfied with what I saw despite seeing mostly smallish deer, button bucks in particular. However this could mean good things for the Sanilac County camp I hunt on for the upcoming years. As long as they make it through the late antlerless firearms, which runs from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1, 2014.

As far as mature bucks go, I did not see any, so obviously there weren't any opportunities for shots. The best opportunity came in the late afternoon of Nov. 16 when I grunted in a forkhorn. That was fun. I saw him through the brush from the fixed blind where I was stationed for that hunt. He was about 25 yards to the right, and he backed away to circle closer downwind. When he appeared he was noon high in a wide-open clearing for what would have been a slam-dunk.

But at the camp, there is a three-point-to-a-side restriction, and additionally, I didn't want to incur landowner King George's wrath or even settle for something that small so early into the season.

Get deeper say into December somewhere else during muzzleloader or late archery, and I would have to think about it. Especially if it was a manly hunt with blowing snow or other similar weather conditions.

Reflecting now I'm happy with the take so far. The fat doe in the freezer I shot Nov. 18 will provide many tasty venison meals.

Once again, the freezer-packer (Mossberg 695 rifled slug gun) and I were able to get the job done with a split-second crossing shot while on watch in another fixed blind to the west part of the camp. She and two of her pals were moving pretty good, probably because of the winds -- some gusting to 35 mph that evening. I was able to "nehhhhh" her to enough of a stop and put a Hornady SST slug in the boiler room. She went 40 yards or less.

Really, this time of year, the "smart" strategy would have been to wait and see if a buck was what was chasing them but the window for legal shooting light was rapidly slipping away. By the time the love-struck brute -- if there was one -- came in it likely would have been too late.

In the end, I'm happy with the call.

Moving along to a possibly controversial commentary, I would like to say a little bit about the rise in our ranks of women hunters.

In a Nov. 25 column by our outdoor columnist at The Blade, Matt Markey, he cited the number of females taking to the woods and fields for wild game increased 25 percent from 2005 to 2011.
That's a pretty significant jump.
I welcome their entry into this great and time-honored tradition.

However, here is where I stray. I'm so sick of how defensive and petty the ladies get -- in particular on Facebook -- over their contrived perceptions that a guy is talking down to them by offering a suggestion, or how they constantly have to lift their statures by "showing us men up."

The only ones making it a females vs. males' thing are the ladies.

At 30 in 1993, I started rather late into hunting by most estimations. I never had a older mentor of any sort to guide me on the finer points of chasing white-tails or turkeys in the great outdoors as a youngster.

How I learned was by humbling myself and asking lots of questions from fellow colleagues and by reading whatever I could on the subjects. And there were a lot of trials and errors for sure.

Had I scoffed at the suggestions or tips offered up over the years, I'm positive I would be worse off.

Now, I'm hardly suggesting I'm a Jim Shockey or an Eddie Salter, but I do OK, and I am proud of my accomplishments. Nor am I jealous of kills by women, for I laud any trophy animal taken legally by a man, a woman or a youth; or a well-experienced hunter, a physically challenged person, a lucky doofus or a novice, because I know the effort that goes into being successful.

And I will be sure to say, "Well done," to the female hunters who can be appreciative and grateful without displaying a chip on their shoulder.

But for you ladies who want to keep behaving snotty, I hope the next buck you shoot at jumps your string and comes under my stand, I won't miss.