Two years ago my brother Andy drew my name for Secret Santa. He bought me multiple cool items from Filson, a fine outfitter based in his home city of Seattle. Among the gifts were a field journal and pencil. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with the journal. I’m a tech guy by trade. I’m always trying the newest devices and apps. Why jot down a note when I can type it in OneNote on my phone and have it in the cloud and synchronizing with all of my devices in a matter of seconds? For the same reason I’m listening to vinyl right now instead of streaming. Because some things just shouldn’t be digital*. After quite a bit of thought I decided that this special notebook and pencil of mine would become my deer hunting journal.
*He says while typing a blog post on his MacBook Pro
I realized that at the end of the day someone would ask, “How many deer did you see?” Now I could keep track. What time did I see the deer? How many? Where did they come from? Where did they go? Did they do something cool like hissing at Tyson? When you spend 11+ hours on a 4′ x 8′ wooden platform 14 feet above the forest your mind frequently wanders. It would be interesting to capture some of these thoughts on paper. Instead of punching notes in to my beloved iPhone, I decided having a physical book would be more fun. After a few years this could become something special.
The 2017 season was my first year writing in my journal. I have not looked at it since. I don’t remember a thing I wrote outside of some mundane details about the deer and the weather. I thought it would be fun to review my 2017 deer hunting journal here on the blog. I will type each entry unedited followed by my thoughts and recollections of the time. Let’s jump right in!
Day 1, Nov 18
8:15 – Nothing yet. This is strange. Usually I’ve seen a few by now. Sherrards got a shot nearby that scared the crap out of me. I wonder what this 7mm mag would do to this squirrel. Also, lots of SWANS!!
One thing I can say with confidence after 30 years of deer hunting: The first few hours of the season are the best. There’s gunfire from every direction like you’re in the Battle of the Bulge. Innocent, confused deer are running like their lives depend on it…because they do. Last year was not like that. It felt like any other morning in the woods. Not nearly as much shooting. Deer sightings were few and far between.
I hunt on the south end of Ron and Jo’s land only about 150 yards north of the property line. The people who own the land to the south of us are the Sherrards. One day I will write a long post about all of our (completely fabricated) run-ins with the Sherrard family and their dogs. For this post I’ll just say that at least once a year I hear shooting from the Sherrard land that makes me jump out of my chair. This leads in to one of my cardinal rules of deer hunting: If Sherrards shoot more than once grab your gun, because they missed and there could be deer coming my way.
If you’ve hunted deer and you say that you haven’t contemplated vaporizing a noisy squirrel with a high-powered rifle, you’re lying. Once you’ve been in the woods for a while and your ears have adjusted, every sound seems loud. You can hear individual leaves hitting the ground. A single squirrel can sound like a herd of elephants crashing through. It produces just enough noise on crisp leaves to make you think, “No, that can’t be a squirrel. That’s deer this time.” No. No it’s not. It’s always a squirrel. They make enough noise to fill the woods. And yet the elusive whitetail moves silently.
About those swans…waterfowl are still migrating during mid-November in northwestern Wisconsin. By 7:45 in the morning the air is filled with the honking of Canada Geese soaring overhead. That sound is usually music to my ears, but when I’m in the woods focusing on every sound I hear on the ground, the constant goose noise is a serious annoyance. Occasionally the honking is replaced with the beautiful trumpeting of the regal swan (not to be mistaken for a snow goose!). A few years ago when Andy and I were sitting in the stand together we recorded video of a wedge of swans flying overhead. We imagined editing the video to look like two groups of swans flying toward each other and eventually colliding with a huge explosion on the screen. It seemed hilarious at the time (and still does). Alas, my video editing software and skills were not up to the task. The best alternative I could produce was the swan video with the word SWANS!!!! in giant capital letters and several exclamation points. Then imagine someone yelling SWANS!!!! in their best loud monster truck rally voice. Someday I’ll obtain the skills required to make a proper swan fight video with explosions.
9:25 – Still nothing, but the sun is out and it is glorious. Literally just heard a shot from Sherrards. I still believe patience will pay off and I will get something here. Until then I’ll enjoy the warm sunshine.
Two thoughts on this one. My first is that I have a tendency to tell myself that patience will pay off like somehow there’s some karmic reward coming to me because I’m capable of sitting on my ass quietly. Also, if karma is really involved in hunting it probably wouldn’t reward me since my ultimate goal is to kill a living creature. This is my way of trying to convince myself that things will turn around. Andy can probably present several years of texts from me in mid-November claiming that my patience was about to pay off. It usually didn’t.
The other thought this post brings to mind is just how much I enjoy sitting in my deer stand. It’s my meditation. By 11:00 on opening morning I’m already starting to feel bad because my day is half over. I love being in my deer stand letting my mind wander. I feel enough stress the rest of the year. When I’m in my stand it’s just me and my thoughts. For a few glorious days nobody gets to tell me that the network is a piece of shit or their computer is a piece of shit or their phone is a piece of shit or that my idea is a piece of shit. The animal lovers among you are probably thinking, “If you love sitting there so much, why do you need to have a gun there to kill something?” Great question. My answer is the anticipation. The game. Just sitting there with no goal would get boring. Deer hunting is a marathon sometimes. Obviously not physically, but there is a mind over matter element to it that feels like distance running. There are times you are so bored that you want to walk away, but to me that’s what separates the good hunters from the rest. I used to get bored and walk away. Now I embrace the tranquility of the woods and enjoy it. I am typically in my stand for at least 11 straight hours on opening day. I can stay connected and run around like my hair is on fire the other 360 days of the year. For a few days every November I find my peace sitting in the woods staring at nothing.
10:25 – DEER! Finally the first sighting of the day. A doe creeping through 50 yards or so south of me going east to west. Got some footage on the GoPro. Very skittish. She knew I was here and didn’t like it. She should be grateful I let her live.
I go in to every hunt with a plan. Recently my plan has been that I will only shoot big bucks on opening morning. After that, I’ll shoot the first decent doe I see so I can put meat in the freezer. Most years I stick to the plan. 75% of the time I see deer before 7:00 on opening morning. Every single other year I’ve seen deer before 8:00. Last year I saw my first deer at 10:25. I was feeling desperate. When that doe was presenting me with an easy broadside shot at 50 yards while staring me down it crossed my mind to reach for my gun and try to fill the freezer. Then I imagined Grandpa Dick’s voice ringing in my head. “If there’s a doe, there’s a buck not far behind it.” Wrong again, grandpa.
11:38 – The woods feel alive right now. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m imagining things. Today feels like the kind of day when legends are made. There’s a buck somewhere in here and he’s going to show up when I least expect it. A mid-afternoon cruise for a hot doe is going to end badly for an unfortunate buck. Mark my words.
12:31 – Dearest mother,
The quality of my woolens is waning and I’m in desperate need of fresh textiles. The Sherrards sense my desperation and weakened state. They are rallying to the south. I’ve spent my munitions staving off repeated attacks by their bloodthirsty hounds and the ridge is littered with mongrel carcasses. My blade has been damaged beyond repair. I fear my time is nigh. I shall defend my life armed with nothing but a yard of rope, the numerous aforementioned dog carcasses, and my wit. Please tell my wife and children that I defended the southern property line proudly and that I was a delicious meal for the Sherrard family. Send warning to the rest of the camp that a horde approaches.
Farewell and godspeed,
OK, I made that one up.
1:28 – As I experience the slowest opening day I’ve ever had in this spot I keep thinking about 2:50 PM 19 years ago. The first time I hunted this spot I was having a similar slow afternoon. Then, out of nowhere, at 2:50 PM a nice 8-point buck came trotting across the bottom of the ridge. The first (and one of the nicest) buck I ever shot. A hunt can change at any moment.
That was a nice buck. 1998. My first year in that spot. It was an old tree stand at the time. Pat used to hunt there but he moved to another spot because “there aren’t any bucks there.” Ouch. I’ve dropped quite a few in 20 years.
1:42 – Doe and fawn to the west heading north toward Kneecap. Totally silent. Appeared out of nowhere. Deer count up to 3.
1:42 is an odd time to see deer just up casually walking around. I had no desire to shoot either of these deer. It was fun just to see something and break up the monotony.
2:30 – Just heard the first shot in a long time. LET’S GO!
For those of you who haven’t hunted before, the best hours are those nearest sunrise and sunset. Anytime before 10:00 AM and after 3:00 PM. In the afternoon, the closer it gets to sunset, the better the chances. Deer generally lay low during the day. I like to stay in my stand all day because I know most other hunters are up moving around. I hope that their restlessness will be my reward. Nothing is more exciting during the midday hours than knowing that someone else is walking around because they might scare something up. In hindsight, I don’t recall ever shooting a buck in the middle of the day. I will continue to believe in my “sit still all day” theory despite the lack of supporting evidence.
When I posted, “LET’S GO!” in the journal I knew it was because the magical late-afternoon hours were approaching and I was more than ready for it after an unbelievably slow opener.
3:23 – Sun is starting to cast long shadows when it’s not hidden behind clouds. Only 90 minutes left in Opening Day 2017. Time for something good to happen. Focusing on the southwest because of the wind and because that’s where I’ve seen deer today. The next time I write there will be blood on the ridge.
Note to self: Fewer bold predictions in the journal this year. If they don’t come true it just looks silly.
My other thought is that over the years the overwhelming majority of the deer I’ve seen have been on the east side of my stand. They come pretty evenly from the north and south, but I’d say 80% of the deer I have seen have been on the east side. Two of the three deer on opening day last year were from the west. This is why I keep the journal!
4:50 – Almost dark. Getting cold. Only saw three deer today, but a great day nonetheless. I wish I could do this all week. Another chance tomorrow.
7:45 – The air has a bite to it today that yesterday was lacking. Frost adds a crunch to the leaves making it easy to hear everything. Before dawn it was perfectly still and I saw one deer and heard another. Nothing since shooting light, though. The wind has picked up making it cold and difficult to hear. We only have until 11:30 this morning so we have to make something happen. I wish I was staying for a few more days. I could sit in this stand all week and this deer camp has been a blast.
Sunday morning was COLD last year! You can see the frost in the picture. I’m cold just looking at it. I can’t wait to do it again! Followers of the blog probably recall that last year was our first year at a different hotel. After 15 years at the Blacksmith Shop we changed gears and moved to the Best Western in Siren. The hotel itself was an unbelievable improvement for a million different reasons, but I’ll state three of them now: Pool, hot tub, sauna. After spending an entire day in the 30-degree woods a sauna was the luxury I never knew I needed. Also, our trip to the Minneapolis airport to pick up Dave was legendary. That’s a full post by itself and I’ll need assistance from Tyson, Colin, and Kneecap to write that one. The major drawback was that we barely got to spend any time with Ron, Jo, Kristen, The King, Tim, Chicago Dan, or anyone else who wasn’t staying in Siren. We were 1/2 hour north of deer camp. Ron and Jo live 1/2 hour south. We’re in the woods alone all day, then we go our separate ways at night. We need to figure out a way to spend more time together this year.
9:56 – Just completed an hour-plus hike around the swamp. Took a bunch of cool pictures. Saw deer tracks everywhere. No deer. This is what I imagine hunting deer on the moon is like. Enjoyable, but if you measure success by the number of deer seen or harvested, ultimately unsuccessful. It’s crunch time now. 90 minutes left before we head east.
I’m far more likely to venture out of my stand after opening day. I figure if I’m up moving around at least maybe I’m kicking up deer for others in camp. Maybe I will push a buck out of the swamp and straight toward Jo or Kneecap. Again, history says that it never happens, but there’s a first time for everything.
10:52 – Just had a 1-1/2 year old come trotting through 15 minutes ago. Closest I’ve been to a deer this weekend. I considered shooting for about 1.1 seconds, but decided I’d rather see if she had a boyfriend. So far…no. All five of the deer I’ve seen (and the one I heard pre-dawn) have come from the south. Not necessarily that unusual, but worth noting.
Why did I write 1-1/2 year old? Did the deer show me her birth certificate? I do like trying to guess their age, though.
About my obsession with the direction of the deer…I feel like my stand is unique in that there could be deer coming from anywhere. There are some heavily worn deer runs to my east that run north-south, but they really do come from all directions. I am constantly on a very slow revolution in my swivel chair to make sure I’m not neglecting any area of the woods for too long. If I had to pick a spot that has produced the most deer over the years, I’d say at the foot of the ridge to the northeast by the big pine. That direction has been relatively quiet in recent years. Last year it was the opposite. All but one deer came from the southwest. The early morning deer came from the southeast. Of course, all of this means nothing when I get back out in the woods in two weeks.
11:27 – Barring a miracle this will be the last entry from Polk Co. this year. To sum up: five deer, none shot. No antlers. Jo thinks she may have seen a wolf this morning?!?
That’s it for this weekend. Great time. Siren was awesome. 364 days until 2018!
Actually, as I type this it’s 14 days and 9 hours until we leave for 2018 deer camp. Last year’s stunning lack of success leaves me hungry for redemption. It wasn’t just me. The entire camp was quiet last year. You know it was a bad year when Jo went home empty-handed. No matter what happens, I’m excited to take my journal along and add to it. I hope it becomes something that I look back on in years and makes me laugh at all of the stories. There will be better stories ahead than there were last year.
Side note: On Friday afternoon my wife and I are taking the kids to visit Ron and Jo for the weekend. We have made this trip a few times now and have a blast when we do it. We weren’t able to do it last fall, so everyone is more than ready to head out this weekend. The kids love going there and being out in the woods. We love getting to see Osceola. We get to spend time with Ron and Jo since, as I mentioned above, we don’t get to see nearly enough of them when we’re hunting. I can’t wait to get out there with everyone in a few days. It’s also one last chance to take in the woods, check for deer sign, hang trail cams, and analyze our stands before the real thing in two weeks. I’ll have an update after our trip to the woods on Saturday.