Archive for January, 2021

Recap of the 2020 Season

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

  When the year started, I made plans to go the extra mile to learn about new places, put some miles on, experiment with different theories, and even find a few places close to the road. 

  Throughout the winter, I looked at maps and tried figuring out the places I wanted to put cameras to soak for the entire season in the fall. I love to have data to look at to help me in the future, and I figured I would do that this season. After scanning plenty of areas over a 120-mile range, I decided on a few for the season. While I would hunt in the areas where I’ve always hunted, I would also venture into these other places to see what I could find. I would use the cameras to figure some things out, too. I waited to write this recap until I had retrieved all of the cameras. I put out 35 cameras across the Adirondacks this year, with only two in the regular areas I hunt.  I feel as if I’ve learned enough in those areas to give it a break and not overdo it.  While I like getting pictures of cool things, I try to keep learning in as many places as possible. 

  In late March, everything in my world changed, including my thoughts on hunting. My father, who lives in Florida in the winter, came down with a sudden, life-threatening illness. Within a few short days he was in a hospital fighting for his life. His kidneys had shut down and there were no answers for what led to his condition. 

  The rest of the year was a battle for my father – and me. As all of you know, my father is my best and closest friend. He’s so much more than a father to me. Although there were times that it didn’t appear he would get to the next day, he has a stronger will than any deer I’ve ever pursued after it was wounded. 

 Although I stayed on course with many of the things I wanted to do, I also had to readjust my plans. I knew I had to find places that were easy to get to and close to the road. Dad couldn’t move around too well, and if he was going to hunt, I knew he wouldn’t be able to go very far. I began setting cameras next to the road in many places. I was amazed at what I found. I’ve never done anything like that in the Adirondacks, so I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve done plenty of it around the house and in the Midwest, so I figured it probably wouldn’t be much different. 

  I was correct in my thinking, as I was able to capture some photos of some really nice deer close to the road. After getting photos in August, September and October, I felt confident that we could find a place where he could get a crack at a good buck.

                                          Annual September Elk Hunt

  This was the hardest time I’ve ever had leaving for a trip. Although Dad was doing well, he wasn’t doing well enough to make the trip. Meeting Jacob, Josh and Brian at Dad’s house and packing the trailer was a lot different than what I’ve become accustomed to. When we pulled out of the driveway, it was an empty feeling without Dad going with us. He had always been the team leader, and I have always liked that. It felt incredibly lonesome without him. 

  We had a good trip, and it felt good to give other people an opportunity to experience elk hunting for the first time. I felt like I was carrying on a tradition that Dad had started 30 years ago. Although we came home without a filled tag, it was a good time. Josh and Brian were able to keep Dad involved in the hunt on a regular basis because they had service on their phones. I think they all liked being able to do that. 

                                                    Deer Season

  I stuck to my original plans as far as hunting a lot in the early season, but I adjusted the location of the hunts due to the pictures I had gotten while trying to find places for my dad to hunt. We still decided to stick to our “cutting areas off” plan and hunt deer together during archery and muzzleloader. 

  Unfortunately, the deer quickly disappeared from the cameras when the season began. I’m still not sure if it was due to pressure or if it was due to bucks breaking away from their summer patterns and venturing into different areas in preparation for the rut. Since I am unfamiliar with these areas, I can’t be sure what happened. I’m thinking it was probably a combination of both things that led to some of the deer vacating the areas where I had found them. 

  I plodded through the early season without seeing much. I think I actually went days on end without seeing anything, but I kept grinding. I felt like I was close to where I needed to be. I was happy to see rifle season open. When rifle season comes in, I always feel like things begin getting ripe, and the apples are ready to be picked. 

  I couldn’t have been more correct this year. I passed a really nice deer the first weekend of the season. After letting it go, I had a few regrets, but I figured it would all work out. When the buck trotted past me, I knew I should have shot him, but I also didn’t want to fill my tag that early in the season. He was a good one, but I really thought I could do better, so I held off and let him go. 

  Shortly before leaving for Illinois, I found a place near home where a few good bucks were working, and I knew I could kill them if I put my time in. After finding a monstrous community scrape in a huge bowl where I have killed some other good deer, I knew I just had to wait the deer out. I had to deal with some horrible weather, and the deer laid low for the better part of a week. When I saw the weather was going to break at the end of the week, I rearranged my work schedule so I could get out early and get into the woods late that afternoon. 

  I’m still not sure why I did it, but I chose to go against everything in my gut and go to a place where I had a lot of data collected from the last two years. My data told me a deer was going to show up in one of two places because he had been there the last few years on that date. Since it was a deer I had history with, I wanted to give it my best shot to kill it. I went against everything I know and traveled to hunt in that spot. 

  When I returned to the place near home the following week, I confirmed everything my gut was telling me. The nice buck showed up at that scrape on Friday afternoon when I should’ve been sitting in that spot. I would have easily wrapped my tag around his antlers. In two days, after the weather finally broke, the bucks lit up that bowl with sign. I had deer all over on my cameras, and that weekend the bucks got slaughtered on that mountain. The weather conditions just played out at the wrong time for me to fill my tag in that area. I did pass a small buck on one of those days and screwed up on a dandy, but the timing was a hair off for me on everything in that area this year. The lesson I’m trying to share with you is that sometimes you need to go with your gut if it’s yelling at you to listen to it.  Instead, I went with the data, and the data made me lose the game in extra innings. The other team hit a game-winning HR off the reliever I brought in because of the data I had. I should’ve never changed pitchers, because that’s what my gut told me to do. 

                                                 Off to the Midwest

  Dad wasn’t feeling great, but he thought he was feeling well enough to make the trip. I told him I would do whatever I could to help him out. If it meant that I had to bring him home in three days after getting there, that’s what I would do. Looking at the forecast before leaving, it called for unusually warm temperatures. I thought that would be better for him with his condition because we planned on staying in the tent like we normally do. 

  The trip started off on a positive note. The first day in the woods, Dad got a shot at a pretty nice buck but the bolt went underneath the buck. Dad thinks it ricocheted off a branch, but he’s unsure. 

  The entire time we were there, the temperatures stayed between 70 and 80. It slowed the deer movement down, but it also gave us an opportunity to scout many news areas and gather information for the future. We made good on the opportunity. We put out 25 cameras over a 50-mile range and used a day to collect all of them before heading home. 

  Brian, Josh and I filled our tags. We didn’t shoot any great deer, but we killed some nice bucks. It was kind of a down year for big buck sightings for us. We also didn’t get any real smashers on camera like we have in years past. I’d say a lot of that had to do with the high heat. 

  I learned a lot of things on our trip this year. Unlike many areas I’ve hunted, the hunting changes every single year in the main areas we’ve hunted in this geographical location. Some places that are on fire one year don’t have as much as a deer track in them the next year. This makes it really difficult because you can never count on past data to lead you to the fountain of success. Instead, you need to go through all of the areas you know, then cover some more ground. If you have enough places in the bank, then one of them should be OK. It’s a game of knowing what to expect and not having expectations. I know that sounds hypocritical, but that’s the reality of it. 

                                             Back to the Adirondacks

  When we returned home, Dad had to go to the hospital for his infusion. We were given all of the warnings about side effects and had no idea what to expect. Amazingly, he had it done and felt a lot better. He began getting stronger and feeling better. It was a great sight to see. 

  As I always do when we return from the Midwest, I try to get into the woods at home as soon as possible. I wasted a day unpacking and getting my stuff organized for the few remaining weeks of the season at home. A few days after returning home, I looked at the forecast and knew I had a solid chance of filling my tag. A great cold front was supposed to come through, and I knew the deer would probably be moving because the dates fell in that magic window of having success in the big woods.

  My past data told me that one day was going to be the day, and the data proved accurate. The temperature dipped into the single digits that morning, and I have always loved those cold mornings. I feel like it gets the bigger bucks up and moving during the late parts of the rut. Most studies show that deer don’t move much when the temperatures dip below 20 degrees, but I’ve always found things to disprove those statistics in the areas I’ve hunted. I guess a lot of that probably has to do with the fact that statistics reach an average for a reason. There are outliers on both ends of the average, which brings everything back to the middle number. 

  Brian has an incredibly hard time staying warm, so he decided he wouldn’t hunt for a few days after we got back. He wanted to wait until it warmed up a little. I told him he was making a mistake. After the season ended, he told me a few times that he wished he had listened to me, but he couldn’t find it in himself to battle the cold. The cold just destroys him. Every year we search for ways to keep him warm. Going into next year, we think we may have finally found something that will work. He’s going to try some of the Sitka gear that I use to see if it helps. I know for a fact that the material is awesome in the wind. It prevents wind from getting through the fabric, and this allows me to stay warm. It also has the front hand muff built into the coat. This should help him too. Hopefully, next year he will be able to enjoy himself a little more.

  The morning I filled my tag was awesome. I almost could feel it coming. I get these strange feelings that tell me I’m right on the edge, and those feelings are rarely wrong. I don’t know where they come from or how they find their way inside my brain, but I like being able to acknowledge them and prove them right when they appear. 

  I’m still not sure why the two deer I killed this year excited me so much. Neither of the deer were that big as far as antlers go, but they gave me a sense of satisfaction that is hard to rival. The Adirondack deer just seemed like a lot of hard work coming together at the right time, and the size of its body was impressive. A lot of deer don’t keep their weight on in late November. I’m certain he would have been hovering around that 200-lb mark if I had taken him the first week of November. The deer in Illinois was rewarding because of the high heat we battled all week. It’s tough to get deer to cooperate when it’s 80 degrees every day, and it’s even tougher to stay motivated. 

  After filling my tag in the Adirondacks, I spent the rest of the season studying to increase my odds for the future.  While I was hoping to run into a bear, I’m really a deer hunter and my focus was already on the next year. It’s not like I didn’t put a valiant effort into taking a bear, but I did get distracted more than once when I saw deer sign. I wanted to keep learning and studying.

                                         Looking Toward Next Year

  I feel good about everything I was able to accomplish this year in the woods.  A lot of unique situations influenced things, and it took me a while to figure out why things had changed in certain areas. I couldn’t believe how much stuff was blown over this year. I saw where deer changed their travel patterns in many areas due to newly blown over stuff. In some places, it changed things entirely and kept deer from traveling through them at all. 

  Nature has a way of wreaking havoc on its own surroundings. I’ve always been amazed at the things that can happen in the woods in a moment’s notice.  I fought a mental battle this entire hunting season. I’ve never heard so many trees fall while I was in the woods. I heard them on windy days, calm days, and every day you can imagine. So I can answer the question as to whether or not trees make noise when they fall and nobody is there to hear them. Some of these trees didn’t know I was in their world when they fell, and I could still hear them. 

  As the season progressed, I heard more and more trees falling. I began to wonder if one was going to fall on me while I was hunting. Maybe I was being forewarned. I’ll never know for sure, but it was causing chaos in my mind, even if it was for a few minutes here and there. 

  Every year I head to the Midwest to hunt I feel less and less enthralled with it. I’ve returned to my routes, and the mountains of the Adirondacks beckon my soul to stay. I love the experiences I’ve gained in the Midwest, but I also love the solitude of the big woods and the excitement of trying to see a deer – any deer. I also know that if I didn’t go to the Midwest for a year, I would miss it greatly. It’s become part of my hunting season, and it’s a part that has brought me tremendous memories and continues doing so every year. Hunting season isn’t nearly long enough. Every year, I remember a guy telling me something that I will never forget: “There are only so many ruts in a man’s life that he can hunt. You better make sure you make the most of them because they pass faster than you think.”

  The day he said that to me, I understood it immediately. Now, as I’ve gotten older, it humbly slaps me in the face every year as the chapter closes on another season.  I hope all of you get to experience some luck in your pursuits this coming year. I hope all of you find success from your efforts. And most of all, I just hope you enjoy the ability to be outside with your friends and family doing the things you love to do.