Thoughts on the 2016 Season

December 17th, 2016

When the season started this year, I had a really hard time getting motivated. The temperatures were through the roof every day, and I couldn’t find a reason to head into the woods. I just can’t get into it when it’s consistently above 70 degrees. It’s hard to feel good about your chances when you’re tramping around the woods with sweat pouring off from your body.

I only headed to the woods a few times during archery season. When early muzzleloader approached, I went back to the woods to check one camera that I figured might have something on it.

Surprisingly, the card had three different bucks on it before muzzleloader season, and one of them was a really good 7-pointer. At that point, I realized that I should have been in the woods on the cooler evenings when the deer were moving.

It’s always hard to get motivated when I know I’m headed to the Midwest for two weeks during the rut. I usually don’t have a hard time finding the energy to hunt when I return. That’s when I’m all in, and the drive and determination get me out of bed every day and lead me to places that most others only think about.

I took a chance this year when I headed to the Midwest. I didn’t have the normal amount of time to deer hunt this year due to the two weeks I took to go elk hunting in Colorado.

When I looked at the extended forecast, it called for many days in the mid-70s during the first week of November. Instead of paying attention to that and thinking back to past experiences in the Midwest when the temperatures were in that range, I ignored what my brain told me to do and chose to head to Missouri with my dad and Brian.

The deer movement was minimal at best. The temperature throughout the week stayed in the high 70s, even at night. It was miserable. We did see some good deer, which made it somewhat enjoyable. All three of us saw at least one shooter. Overall, the deer numbers seemed to be way down. After talking to a few residents, we found out that the county we were hunting in had bonus deer last year. Although I couldn’t understand them too well, I think the guys said that they could have shot an unlimited number of does if they chose to do so. I’d say a lot of people did that because there weren’t nearly the deer in the area that were there a few years ago.

If I had to make the same choice again, I would avoid going to the Midwest when it’s that hot out. I would either stay home to hunt in the Adirondacks, or I would move my vacation back at least a week. It usually doesn’t stay that warm for two consecutive weeks, even though it did this time.

On my way home from the Midwest, I had a lot of time to think because I was alone in my truck. I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years and sometimes I think I take it for granted. This year was a gentle reminder that it’s not nearly as easy as it seems at times. I got a real taste for what a large number of people get when they go to public hunting areas across the country every year. Realistically, your odds of connecting on a mature buck are really slim. While shooting a deer would be relatively easy, shooting a big buck is really difficult, especially year after year.

Since you can’t control the weather, sometimes you have to make the most of the cards that get dealt to you. Occasionally, you’ll have to sit at the table and wear your poker face as everything around you crumbles. You might get lucky , but more often than not you will have to get up and walk away from the table with nothing in your pockets. You have to put on your poker face and deal with the outcome on your own terms. You need to find ways to avoid getting stuck in a similar situation in the future. If you learn something, not trip is a failure. Some of the trips that you don’t shoot a deer are actually the best trips to help you succeed in the future.

When I got home, I spent a lot more time in the mountains around Lake George than I have in a number of years. I made arrangements so I could go into work early and get out in time to get into the woods for a few hours almost every day.

I never caught up with a big buck, but I did have a lot of fun. It felt good to go back in time to the days when I did that every year. I really enjoyed it. I was able to pass up a handful of small bucks. I’m hoping some of the little guys will grow into nice bucks in the future. I guess only time will tell.

I spent time up to my family’s camp this year where we have hunted for the last few years. This year really made me realize how much I miss being in a tent, miles from nowhere, in a place where I never see other hunters or any sign of them.

After talking to my uncle and my cousin, I guess the hunting pressure goes in streaks in the area we’re hunting now. I’ve always seen a lot more people than I care to see. Occasionally, I’ll see a guy in the woods. He might walk past me in the distance or stumble upon me while he’s wandering around. In a few years, I’ve had more people close to me than I’ve ever had around me in the tent days or even around Lake George, which gets hunted pretty hard. I’ve walked up on a few people, too. It gets really discouraging, especially if I’m trying to hunt a specific buck like I’ve been accustomed to doing for the majority of my Adirondack hunting days.

I have to say that I was impressed this year. I’m not sure who the guy is, but I know someone is pretty hard-core. I found where a hunter carried two different tree stands quite a distance and set them up. One of them was a climber, and I could see where the person went up and down the tree a few times with it. I never ran into the other hunter, and I’m not sure if he had any luck. He had a camera close to the stand. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to get all of the stuff in there, so I have to respect that, but it was really disappointing to find the stuff.

I’m going to have to think about the future during the offseason. I like the convenience of hunting out of my family’s camp, but I’m very disappointed with a variety of other things. When I hunt directly across the road from it, there are a lot of 4-wheelers that cruise the old logging roads until you get to the state land. That can get tiresome. If I hunt up the road, there are just a lot of people. I’ll have to weigh the options. I do know if I had more time to spend in the Adirondacks during the peak of the rut, I would be in a tent somewhere else, so I could have the entire area to share with a couple of my hunting partners.

Recently, I listened to one of the Wired to Hunt podcasts in which they were discussing different things that notoriety brings with it. At the 13-minute mark of the podcast, they talk about sharing information with others and whether they should or shouldn’t and how it affects their hunting strategies.

I’ve come across the same thing. It never mattered much when I hunted in the area out of the tent. Nobody knew that I hunted there and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t have gone through the hassle of hunting around there.

Now, a lot of people know where I hunt and who hunts with me. It makes it extremely difficult to share information freely. I share some information, but unlike the old days, much of the information stays within the walls of the camp.

If people know you are successful, it can sometimes lead to uncomfortable situations, especially in an area with a lot of hunters. In all of the years I’ve hunted in the Lake George Wild Forest there is one place I go to regularly. In 30 plus years, I’ve only seen two people there. In the last couple of years there have been a number of people in and around the area, and I have reason to believe I know why they’re in the area. It’s really discouraging. That’s why the tent idea keeps gnawing away at me. I know I’ll never see anyone in the place we used to have the tent.

This season was fantastic for a number of reasons. Although it just ended, I can’t wait for next year. I have a lot of things planned. I only hope my dad’s health stays good and I’m well enough to go along with him. Hopefully, we can make some more good memories in the woods next fall. No days are guaranteed in any person’s life. I know I can’t wait to be back in the woods chasing whitetails again. It’s what I live for, and the success I’ve had along the way has brought me great satisfaction. When I look at all of my mounted deer heads, they tell me a story. I can see the history as it unfolded. Every deer head brings me back to a time when I didn’t know if I would ever shoot another buck that I would want to mount. I always wonder what the next one might look like. I’m never sure, but I always try to give everything I have to add to my collection of memories. The memories and the drive to better ourselves are what keep most of us returning to the woods every fall. I enjoy every minute of being in the woods. I’ve learned so much about life, my friends and myself that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Until next season ——— keep chasing the dream and thinking of ways to catch up to the one that visits you in your dreams.

Here’s the picture that I will be updating sometime this year for my new book. This picture was taken more than 10 years ago. I have added a number of new memories to it, and I can only hope there will be many more added before I’m done. I think you have to click on the picture of the mounts for the full picture to display. It appears that some of it got cut off.

  

 

 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

December 17th, 2016

It was 11 degrees when I got out of the truck this morning about an hour before daylight. The moon was pretty bright last night, so I figured there wouldn’t be much early morning activity.

As I neared the area I wanted to sit, I could hear deer running across the crunchy snow. Irritated, I stood motionless and thought that would be all of the activity I would encounter for the morning. A minute or two later, those thoughts were quickly replaced when I could hear a deer walking away.

Since I didn’t want to disturb any other deer if they were still in the area, I planted myself under the nearest tree. Many people probably wouldn’t have stopped, but I have learned that when a lot of deer are in an area, it’s probably a good idea to keep any disturbances minimal. Although I couldn’t see very far, I felt confident about my chances. I hoped that a few of the deer would circle back through a few hours after daylight.

Amazingly, I guessed right. About 9:30, I could hear deer walking across the hill below me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see them. I knew they were close, but a steep drop-off about 25 yards in front of me prevented me from seeing the deer.

Finally, I spotted an ear twitching. I could barely see the top of a deer’s ear, and it was only about 40 yards away. After identifying it as a doe, I could hear another deer walking up the drop-off. When it appeared, I saw that it was a really big doe. She seemed a little nervous and didn’t hang around for an extended period of time.

When I got up to head out of the woods around 11:00, there seemed to be a lot of activity on the private land across the border of the state land where I was hunting. There were four 4-wheelers cruising up and down the trail and the guys on them were yelling back and forth. Standing behind a tree, I observed the shenanigans for a while. Finally, I decided to head up the hill and go back to the truck.

That’s when I saw something I will never forget. A couple of deer that were just inside the state border, trotted to a nearby log and ducked in behind it while the wheelers made their way down the trail. After the wheelers passed, the deer got up and headed directly away from the trail. I was amazed at the events I witnessed.

The rest of the day was uneventful. When the sun went down, I headed out of the woods. In many ways I was glad that the hunting season had ended, but I was also sad to see it go. It was an incredible year in a variety of ways.

It’s always a sad day when the sun sets on the last day of hunting season. I guess I’ll have to wait until next year to chase new dreams if I’m fortunate enough to be alive to be granted the opportunity.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

December 17th, 2016

Today made me question my sanity. Since I know that deer movement rapidly decreases when the temperature is in the teens, I didn’t feel that great about heading into the woods this morning. When I got out of the truck, it was 9 degrees. The wind was blowing out of the northwest, which made it feel like it was below zero.

On my way in, I flushed a flock of turkeys out of the roost. They scattered in every direction imaginable. Shortly after it got light, they began making all sorts of racket to get back together. I was able to snap a few pictures, but I never got the one I really wanted to capture.

Around 8:30, I could hear some deer running but couldn’t locate the origin of the noise. I never saw the deer before the noise stopped. When I got up, I walked out over the top of the mountain. I wanted to see some country that I haven’t been around in a few years.

I found a lot of sign in a few places, especially the place where I killed a pretty good deer a number of years ago. I could see where there were a few big scrapes on a flat. There had been a lot of traffic on the flat over the last couple of days. It felt good to rest my back against a tree that I had sat against many times in my younger years. A small pile of rocks still rested at the base of the tree. As I sat there, I went back in time to the evening I rushed in there after work and killed a nice buck shortly before it got dark. I remember the drag taking a lot out of me, and my father had to go back in with me to help me get it the rest of the way out.

Dad sat on a ridge about a mile away from me. He had a pile of deer go by him this morning but no bucks. He had about 10 deer filter past him before he decided to get up and move. He said there were tracks all over the place.

I went back to the same place this afternoon. Between the time I got up earlier today and when I returned for the evening sit, a nice buck had rubbed a tree about 20 yards from where I had sat. The bark was lying on the snow. That’s the kind of season it has been, too. I’ve just been a day off, an hour or two, or even just a few minutes behind. I haven’t been able to crack the code this year.

Around 3:10, I could hear a deer walking. Upon further examination, I could see a small buck making its way up the hill toward me. At first, I thought it had a nice rack. When it got closer I saw that it was a small buck with pretty good genes. It was basically a spike, but it had a couple of itty, bitty brow tines and a few tines where the beam hooked that wanted to be an inch long. If the buck survives the winter, it will be a good one next year. I didn’t see anything the rest of the day.

Dad didn’t see any deer tonight. He’s going to give it one last shot with me in the morning before the storm rolls in. We’ve both put a lot into the season. I’ll be glad to get some rest when the season is done.

Brian and Josh hunted a new area today. They covered some ground and found a lot of sign. They also saw quite a bit of people sign. There were a lot of buck rubs scattered around the area and a few scrapes had recently been opened.

Doug heard a shot after dark last night by his farm. Today he found a spikehorn about 100 yards off the road. The coyotes had made a meal out of it. The poaching never seems to stop in the area around his place. It’s too bad that people have to resort to doing things like that. Hopefully, the person gets caught if they continue breaking the law.

 

 

Friday, December 9, 2016

December 17th, 2016

I flexed a little bit of time at work today so I could get into the woods and cover some ground. I wanted to walk around the back of the mountain I’ve been hunting to see if I could locate an area where the deer have been feeding.

I expected to find more than I did. I made sure to navigate around the edge of two swamps where we’ve had a lot of luck in the past. The snow was a little deeper than I thought it was going to be.

By the time I got around the second swamp, I was highly disappointed in the number of tracks I had cut. I figured there would be a lot of sign along the ridge where we killed the Blizzard Buck many years ago, but nothing of any significance caught my attention.

As I wandered through a bottom where a bunch of fingers run down into it, I began to see more sign. I found an incredible scrape, one that I will have a camera on next year. It had a number of broken branches on the tree above it. I’m not sure if they all acted as licking branches as it appeared, or if a few bucks just caught the other branches in their antlers while they were using the scrape.

When I finally reached the top of the mountain and began my journey out, the wind picked up and howled with a vengeance. It blew right through me. I was glad when I finally arrived back at my truck. I didn’t see a deer tonight or much sign of any deer. I’m not sure where I’ll go in the morning, but I’ll be out there someplace. I live for this. I killed this deer when I was 16 years old. It was just a short distance from where I hunted today.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

December 17th, 2016

I’m exhausted tonight. Although I should have skipped hunting this afternoon, the woods called my name, and I answered the call. I rushed to my old stomping grounds when I got out of work to see if I might be able to find a little bit of luck on one of the ridges that I’ve walked across since I was 14 years old.

After settling in and resting my back against a tree to break up my outline, I waited for some action. It didn’t take long before I spotted a flock of turkeys in the evergreens below me. The birds walked in single file before disappearing out of sight.

Shortly after they were gone, I spotted a deer making its way down the hill off to my left. I quickly identified it as a doe. A fawn appeared a few minutes later and began eating acorns with its mother. As they fed on the ridge and slowly made their way toward me, I spotted another deer filtering off the ridge behind them. Steadying my elbow against my knee, it allowed me to see through the scope and identify the deer as another doe. I figured a buck might be following them to enjoy the meal they had located.

Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed when I could feel the wind on my neck. Seconds later, the deer were running back up the hill, and the woods became quiet once again.

I waited until the darkness overtook the sky before heading back to my truck. Time is running out on the season. My body is telling me that it can feel the stress that I’ve put on it. It only has to endure the pain for a few more days.

Here is one of the deer I killed on that ridge in my younger years. This deer dressed out at 180 pounds.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

December 17th, 2016

I had a last-minute request at work today, which made it impossible to get out of work in time to return to the area I hunted last night. I had big plans all day, and it was a perfect day to hunt. I was highly disappointed that I couldn’t get to where I wanted to go.

I was able to sneak out behind dad’s house again. I sat in a place to observe the surroundings. I wanted to see if I could spot some deer from a distance and figure out a few things I’ve been wondering about.

I didn’t see any deer before it got dark. I felt like today was one of the best days of the year to hunt. I wish I could have gotten to the place where I had originally planned to go. I will get there tomorrow no matter what I have to do. Here’s the place I wish I was sitting tonight.

 

 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

December 17th, 2016

I met Alex at the McDonald’s right next to work today at 1:50 p.m. We raced to the Lake George Wild Forest to find a place to sit until dark. I went with my gut and brought him to the place where I killed the Grunter, which I wrote about in my first book. I passed a few bucks in that place last week while I was rifle hunting.

I told Alex that I would shoot a small buck if we saw one so he could get it on film. As we made our way to the place I wanted to sit, I stopped to show him where a buck had made its way down the hill before we got there. I showed him how I could tell that it was a buck by observing the urine marks in the snow. He was amazed.

Since he’s neither pro or con about hunting, he has the ability to be completely unbiased and objective. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to be in the woods with a grown adult (he’s about 36) who doesn’t have a pre-established opinion on it. Instead, he sits back and takes everything in on his own terms, organizes it in his mind, and has the ability to see both sides of the argument without falling onto one side or the other.

Shortly before dark, I spotted a doe coming down the hill. I raised the gun and put the crosshairs on her shoulder. I grabbed his ankle and alerted him of her presence. He’s not the quietest fella in the woods, but he did a pretty good job staying still. I whispered to him that another deer was just out of sight. He asked how I knew. I told him I heard a stick crack and the doe kept looking that way. I figured it was probably one of the small bucks.

Suddenly, the doe spotted us and became alert. I knew she was going to bolt, so I relayed the information through another whisper. Then, she bounded up the hill after blowing a few times, and two other deer that were just out of sight appeared and followed her up the hill. Just like that, the excitement was done, and we headed out of the woods.

I really thought tonight was going to be the night. I had a great time. This might have been one of the most rewarding days I’ve ever spent in the woods, and my stay only lasted about two hours.

Dad called me today. He told me that there were two bucks on the camera that I set up behind his house last night. One was a small 4 or 6-pointer and the other one was the buck he thought was a 10-pointer, but this picture clearly shows that it’s a 9-pointer. It’s a relatively young deer. We are hoping that it survives and has a chance to put on some antler growth next year. Time will tell. Here he is.

M2E1L0-18R350B300

Monday, December 5, 2016

December 17th, 2016

I couldn’t get out of work early enough to get into the Lake George Wild Forest tonight, so I ran out behind my father’s house for the last hour of daylight today. It’s the first day of late-season muzzleloader in the northern zone. The season runs through this coming Sunday, at which time I will be lost. I’ve had an incredible season, and I’ve been able to hunt more in my home state than I have in a number of years. I’ve loved every second of it.

I wandered around to see if I could find any tracks in the snow. The snow was fresh, and there weren’t many tracks around. I’m sure the place will be lit up with tracks by tomorrow night. That’s just the way it works.

I found a place to sit and saw two deer before it got dark. I couldn’t tell what they were. It actually felt good to be close to home. I’ve never really hunted there, but inside it felt like the right thing to do. My father’s blood is in that soil. It felt right to be a part of it tonight. I’m sure I might return there again this week if I get held up at work and can’t get out in time to get to the Lake George Wild Forest.

On my way out, I put a camera up in a place where I always get pictures. I get them before the season, during the season and after the season. It’s usually very discouraging because it’s typical to get an average of seven different bucks on camera before the season. By the end of the season, one of these bucks might make it back in front of the camera. Most of the others get killed. In a few weeks, I will see if any of the summer bucks are still around.

I will be meeting Alex Kershaw, the visual artist from Australia, tomorrow, so he can film me while hunting. He wants to get a kill on video for his art project that he’s finishing. We’ve worked on it for about five years now. When it’s finished he will be releasing it in an art gallery, most likely in New York City. He’s a well-known visual artist and he’s extremely intelligent. I look forward to spending a few hours with him tomorrow.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

December 17th, 2016

Today was the last day of rifle season in New York’s northern zone. A fresh coat of snow greeted us when we woke up. Driving along the road, we could see where a lot of deer had moved the night before. Hopefully, they would still be on the move when the sun came up.

On the way in, I battled conflicting thoughts about where to go. Should I still-hunt all day on the fresh snow? Should I sit in the place that required the least amount of energy to get to? Should I sit in a place near the road where I noticed a lot of tracks the last few days? Should I go back into the depths of hell, where I sat the last few days? I didn’t listen to my gut today. Instead, I just did what I figured I should do. If I sat in that place three days in a row, I figured one of those mountain bucks might just be on the right day of his cycle to come cruising by me.

We could only hunt until about noon today and planned on meeting Josh and Brian at that time to clean camp and pack our stuff to head home. When I couldn’t sit still in the morning, I got on a track and started following it. I went up ridges, down fingers, across streams, through open hardwoods, in and out of saplings, and into the middle of a few different swamps.

Finally, I knew I was closing in, so I tiptoed through the thick evergreen trees. Then, the unmistakable thud rang through my ears. My eyes darted to the left, to the right and back to the left. I knew I was standing in the presence of the deer I was after. Unable to locate him, my mind raced to figure it out before I ran out of time. Suddenly, I heard him running. Completely familiar with my surroundings, I bolted forward and raced over the hump in front of me. A tremendous crash echoed through the woods and the unmistakable noise of a deer breaking ice filled the air.

When I cleared the next hump, I could see the deer breaking through the ice as he tried desperately tried to escape my pursuit. I leveled the crosshairs on him and thoughts quickly dashed through my mind about what the right thing to do was in that situation. Should I shoot? Should I let him get out of the water and onto the bank? Should I just let him go since he had no chance at that point?

After everything transpired and on my way out of he woods, I wondered how many people would’ve shot the buck while he was breaking ice to escape. Is it ethical to take deer while they’re swimming? I’ve made many different decisions in my hunting career that I’m sure others would have done the opposite of what I did today. I’m not sure there is a right or a wrong in many of these instances. I just wonder what other people would do.

I would normally share with people what I did in this instance, but I would like all of you to think about it and put yourselves in the exact same situation. What would you have done? I feel good about the decision I made. I’ve hunted long enough to feel confident about the choices I make. I can look in the mirror every day and feel really good about my experiences with wildlife and in the woods.

This is a situation where every hunter would have to make his or her own decision. No two people will have the same exact thoughts when presented an opportunity like this. Some people wouldn’t even think there was a right or wrong. I’m glad that the thought crossed my mind.

With rifle season ending today, I will be back at it with a muzzleloader this week. I can’t seem to get enough this year. I think I’ve been enjoying it so much because I’ve been able to spend so much time in the Adirondacks. It has been an awesome year. It felt good to spend so much time in the mountains this year. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here’s a buck I killed on the last day of the season in the past. The last day has always treated us really well. Although it comes to an end every year, we always make the most of it right until the last day. Here’s a good one I killed on the last day of the season. I ended up in the hospital the next day which is why dad is posing with the deer.

 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

December 17th, 2016

Today was one of the more miserable days I’ve spent in the woods this year. Something made me return to the same place I went yesterday. I can’t explain why this place has been calling my name, but I’m listening. The voice is getting louder and louder by the minute. Do any other rational people hunt areas where they’ve never seen deer? I often wonder that. Looking at past history, I’ve had success doing this. It’s exactly how I killed the Ghost, which I wrote about in my first book.

The forecast called for a 10% chance of precipitation today, turning to 0% after 10:00 a.m. I’m pretty sure the meteorologist missed the boat on this one. I got pelted the entire day by a mixture of sleet and snow. Unprepared with all of the essentials to stay completely dry, I sat under the small beech tree and took it on the chin. I turned to the sky a few times and gave a few gestures that explained my feelings just in case anyone out there was listening.

Shortly after a dousing of snow, I decided to brush my coat off to clear the white stuff off from me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention to anything around me and started making all sorts of rapid movements.

A loud “Wsssshhhhh, Wssshhhhh” startled me. Pulling the gun to my shoulder and centering the crosshairs on the deer running through the woods, I waited for an opportunity to get a look at their heads. I identified one of them as a fawn and the other as a doe.

After they disappeared, the minutes crawled into the noon hour, and I couldn’t remain seated to endure anymore of the misery. Getting up, I strolled over to where the deer had been standing when they alerted me of their presence. Amazingly, they were less than 30 yards from me. I can’t believe I was that oblivious to my surroundings. As I stood there looking at the tracks, I felt like a rookie. I had failed the deer hunting 101 test. I had lost my concentration and let it lead me into a place I shouldn’t have been.

I continued still-hunting the rest of the day. I didn’t cut anymore fresh tracks. It didn’t look like the deer moved very much today. When I met dad at the truck at dark, he didn’t have much better news. He saw a few does and a fawn shortly after it got light out but that was it for the day.

Brian and Josh covered a lot of ground. They put on about 6 miles on their GPS units. Brian said he found a few places that he would like to return to next year, but a tent might be necessary to hunt it effectively. We will head back into the area in the spring to see what it has to offer. He left a camera in there for the winter. Let’s hope he has better luck with cameras than I do. I’ve been losing them faster than I can replace them. The quality of them has gone down rapidly since more people have started using them. I think they’re made to last about a year or two at the most.

Here’s a picture of the Ghost that I mentioned earlier. I killed him the first time I ever sat in the area. It was a place that I’m sure most people would have never thought about sitting. I still can’t figure out why I sat there the day I killed this buck.