Man, where to even begin with this. I got that COVID, y’all. Difficult to maintain a hunting blog (or anything) when you have no energy and have a raging headache that you can feel in your eyeballs. I’m actually feeling overly energetic now after enduring 4-5 days of crap. I’m so ecstatic about the fact that I’m alive and well that I’m bursting with energy. I feel so fortunate that my case wasn’t worse, and I’m excited by the fact that the healthcare experts that I consulted said that I’ll be clear to resume normal human interaction in a couple days. The Rona did its shit to me early enough that I can make it to deer camp. Mighty considerate.
I haven’t posted everything on the blog in the past 10 days or so that I wanted, but one thing I can’t miss this week is the 3rd Annual revelation of the previous year’s hunting journal. If you’re not familiar, let me fill you in. In 2016 my brother gave me a cool little journal and some pencils from Filson as a Christmas gift. I always thought it would be interesting to document my deer sightings while I’m in my stand, so during the 2017 hunting season that’s what I did. Then I didn’t read it for a full year and decided to post it on this blog with my thoughts just before the 2018 season. It’s almost like I did my homework before the 2018 season, then shared it with everyone here. I did it again last year, but I also started filling the journal with random thoughts as well. My buddy Tyson and I have been sitting together for the past two seasons, which means we’re doing a lot less journaling about deer and a lot more about the Polk County Tang Slayer and piss ice. Woods Madness is a great source of entertainment.
Now you can join me as I crack open the journal for the first time since the 2019 hunting season. I’m seeing this for the first time since I wrote it right now, and I know Tyson and I spent most of opening day last year laughing our asses off, so there’s probably some real gold in this journal. Enough delay. Let’s get started recapping the opening weekend of the 2019 deer hunt.
Saturday, November 23, 2019
9:02 – Silence. No deer. Only a fisher and some awful squirrels and birds. One shot by Sherrards at about 7:00. Tyson and I might pull the plug and start drinking. We did laugh for 10 minutes straight at the thought of cramming our pants full of hand warmers to keep our balls hot and sweaty.
See, this is why I keep the journal. First off, I forgot that we saw almost nothing last year. The woods were destroyed by a late-summer derecho and I had forgotten how hard it was to see much of anything because of all of the trees that were knocked down. We did laugh all morning at the idea of not being able to get comfortable until we had a blazing hot nest of hand warmers in our pants keeping our balls sweaty. If I didn’t have the journal I wouldn’t remember to buy an extra box of hand warmers for my balls this year.
9:55 – I was peeing off the side of the stand and Tyson asked if I was coating the ladder in a layer of piss ice. I laughed so hard I think I shit my pants. Still no deer.
Let’s dismiss the fact that I can’t hear the term “piss ice” without laughing. Let’s instead talk about the fact that we didn’t see a single deer before 10:00 AM on opening day. We NEVER have opening days like that in Polk County. Before last year I would’ve said that there were three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and deer movement on opening morning. I wouldn’t guarantee a trophy buck (even though there are always some of those around), but if you want to get meat in the freezer, you’ll get it at Ron & Jo’s land. Every single year you enter opening day with anticipation of limitless possibilities. Until last year, one possibility we hadn’t considered was that we just wouldn’t see any deer. It wasn’t just us. Nobody on the land was seeing any. To be honest, this journal is bumming me out so far. There’s been enough activity on our trail cams this year for us to believe that there is a handful of quality bucks moving around the property frequently. You head out on opening morning dreaming about that. I don’t need a reminder right now that I thought the same thing last year and we didn’t see a damn thing. 2020 has sucked enough. We need deer this year! This journal review was a bad idea. On the bright side, I did not shit my pants.
1:35 – Finally saw our first three deer of the day at 1:12. They ran around and entertained us for over 20 minutes. Now we know there are still deer here. Hoping the floodgates are now open. Still nobody has shot one. BBD is still up for grabs.
1:12! We didn’t see a single deer last year until more than seven hours in the stand?!? Why do I not remember this? I must’ve blocked it out. Again, this journal has been a bad idea so far. Important explanation: BBD is what we call our Big Buck Down Traveling Trophy. It goes to the first person in camp who shoots what is universally recognized as a “big buck.” We don’t have specific metrics to determine exactly what a big buck is. We just know it when we see it. The BBD Trophy consists of replicas of our two fictional deer hunting falcons, Mitch and Gary, sitting proudly on posts with metal name tags around their necks. I currently possess the BBD Trophy because I got the first big buck in 2018. Since we didn’t get one in 2019, the trophy remains with me. I hope to either win or relinquish it this weekend. If I take it home again by default, that means no BBD this year.
3:31 – Still only three deer. Haven’t seen anything in two hours. On the plus side, the new heater is awesome. Plus, Tyson put a fresh layer of piss ice on the ladder. 80 minutes left. I don’t have my hopes up.
OK, for the record, there’s no such thing as a bad day in the woods. However, the fact that I’ve mentioned piss ice more than deer in the journal with only 80 minutes left in opening day is not good. What a depressing opening day. I did mention the little propane heater, though, and I’m glad to have that as part of the hunting arsenal now. If I had an enclosed stand I’m sure that thing would keep it hotter than July, but with the open stand I hunt from, it does just enough to keep your hands warm and take the bite out of the cold. My 11-year-old son is sitting with me on opening weekend for the first time this year and I have a feeling that heater is going to be his best friend. Well, that heater and his cell phone.
4:46 – Saw a spike buck at 4:35 and considered shooting as he stood broadside on the swamp at about 100 yards. Would’ve just been shooting out of sheer boredom. I don’t want that little deer. Slow day. Only four deer spotted. The late buck is hopefully a promising sign for tomorrow. I hope I don’t slip on piss ice.
I forgot about the little buck on the swamp. That reminds me of an interesting opportunity this year. I have a large swamp that starts about 75 yards in front of my stand and takes up much of the landscape to the east of me. The growth in that 75 yards between me and the swamp used to be so thick that most of it wasn’t visible, and therefore it wasn’t an option for shooting deer even though I would occasionally catch fleeting glimpses of them out there. With all of the logging that’s taken place in the past year this year might be the first season that hunting the swamp could be an option. I’m not sure how I would recover the carcass, but if I get a safe shot at a trophy buck in that swamp I will not hesitate to take the shot and figure out the details after. I’ll just have my son drag it out. That’s what the kids are there for, right? It’s a rite of passage!
Sunday, November 24, 2019
8:18 – There have been geese honking and dogs barking all morning. Multiple bear sightings by our deer camp. No deer…at least not for us. Jo shot an 8-pointer earlier. Kneecap might’ve had a chance if he didn’t get hung up at Teabag Junction. A beautiful morning nonetheless. Watched a meteor shower from the stand at 6:00 this morning. Nothing else to report.
Again, from a deer hunting perspective this is about the most depressing journal I’ve ever read. However, if you think my idea of a successful deer camp is measured by how many deer we bag, you haven’t been paying attention. One of my favorite hours of the year is that hour in the deer stand when it’s still dark before shooting is legal. Last year there was a gorgeous, clear night sky full of shooting stars. You don’t see that shit in bed. There’s something magical about waking up with the woods.
This is important. Teabag Junction was new in 2019 and Tyson and I had completely forgotten about the origin of the name. Kneecap, however, was quick to remind us about it. When the derecho blew down trees all over the hunting land the walking paths we had learned over many years were decimated. We had to create and learn completely different paths to our stands last year. The walk to my stand that I could’ve once done blindfolded and walked many times in the dark with no flashlight, was now destroyed. At one familiar spot on the way to our stands on the south end of the property there was a fork in the road. Staying to the left meant continuing toward our stands. If you turned right you would walk along the edge of a large swamp and turn to the north. That spot in particular was completely ruined by downed trees. The only way to pass through was to climb over multiple large tree trunks. It was a harrowing experience carrying all of our gear and straddling trees on slippery snow in the dark on the way out to hunt. Thus the name, Teabag Junction.
Since the loggers removed all of the trees last spring we now have a danger-free four lane superhighway directly to my stand, but the name Teabag Junction remains. We should put up a plaque to commemorate it.
11:30 – Still nothing. Tyson is gone back to his stand since Brett and Phil left. I forgot how much ground there is to watch here when you’re alone. Constantly surveying. It’s getting down to crunch time. Our hunting weekend is 3/4 over and I’ve only seen four deer. Ugh. Something needs to happen to turn this around fast.
Man, this is some sad shit. It’s funny…Tyson and I talk about deer hunting all year and not once have we said, “Man, remember last year when we only saw four deer opening weekend?” We’ve been laughing at piss ice and the tang slayer for a year, but I completely forgot what a rotten year we had hunting last year. The mind has a funny way of erasing that.
I have to add that it’s always a sad moment on Sunday morning every year when Brett and Phil head out. They’re usually the first to leave unless someone is dying of food poisoning from ingesting gray prime rib. Every time I get the text from Brett saying he’s leaving it’s a reminder that the weekend we wait for all year is starting to wind down already. The woods feel emptier when they leave, literally and figuratively. 2020 has been a gigantic disappointment and I gave up hope that our deer camp this year would be normal months ago. No Brett, Phil, Dave, T-Bone, or Chicago Dan for deer hunting this year is going to leave us with a much smaller crew than usual, and we’ll be missing so many of the people we love. That doesn’t mean we won’t make the most of what we’ve got. I’m thrilled that my son is finally joining us. I’m also going to have 2021 already in the back of my mind as the time when we can bring everyone back together.
1:33 – Not seeing anything but I don’t want this to end. I keep hearing crashing by the Big Pine but I see nothing. All of these trees aren’t helping. Just enjoying every second of this beautiful day because it’ll be 364 days until I’m in this stand again and things will be much different with Andy here. It’ll be awesome, but I’m guessing he won’t sit in a stand for 11 hours. I didn’t either until I was in my 30’s.
Bullshit. That kid is going to sit all day and like it! That’s what we did with Uncle Rick. He can learn the hard way like I did! OK, I’m mostly kidding. Here’s what I really hope for the Big Cat as he joins us for his first opening weekend: That he finds something about it that he loves. I don’t expect an 11-year-old to have a lot of enthusiasm for sitting in the cold all day, especially if we’re not seeing anything. I just hope he has a lot of laughs and fond memories when it’s over. I know I didn’t love the hunting aspect of deer hunting when I was a kid, but I always looked forward to going back every year. I hope the camaraderie and the laughs draw him in. The feeling of being one of “the guys” instead of one of the kids. I’ve been teaching him cribbage for a while now and he’s got a basic understanding of the game. He’s excited to lose a few dollars playing cards, drink a few sodas, eat some junk food, and hopefully see his dad shoot a buck. That’s the best I can hope for him. I’m excited to bring another generation of the family in on the tradition. I don’t take that lightly. I wish dad was here for it.
2:37 – Everything is quiet in these woods except for this chair. Never had issue with it before. It makes a terrible noise when I swivel and it’s not smooth. Needs WD40. Remember that next year. Just two hours left. Let’s go!
Noted. WD40 on the chairs before we leave Thursday!
3:36 – Thinking a lot about dad right now. About how happy he was last year when I got one. About how he’d be giving me shit right now telling me I should be hunting at the cottage. Guessing how many times he would’ve called me by now. About how fun this time of year was with him. Mostly how I wish he’d send a buck my way right now. Come on!
No doubt last year was different. My first deer season without dad. He didn’t hunt due to health problems in 2018, but he was still a presence, calling constantly for updates. Nobody was more excited than he was when I called him to tell him about my buck. I stopped by mom and dad’s house on the way home from deer camp that year to tell dad about it and it was actually one of the last times I saw him walking. His health was already deteriorating at that point, but it didn’t stop him from getting up to walk to the door so he could see the deer in the back of my truck. I’m 44 years old now and it occurs to me since he’s gone that you’re never too old to want to have someone cheering you on. My buddy Hoot and I shot ten ducks on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago and all I wanted to do was call dad to hear him be as excited as we were about it. I miss that stuff the most. Having someone who cared about this nonsense even more than I do. This weekend will be the second camp since we lost dad, but that part won’t feel any less empty. We miss him just the same.
4:44 – Just saw three does. Exciting. Was hoping one was a buck since Jo said she saw a buck and a doe. Not the case. Quiet now and less than ten minutes left. Fun day. Packer game tonight. Want to hunt tomorrow.
That was it. I spotted a total of seven deer on opening weekend in 2019. Six antlerless and one spike. The Packers got their asses handed to them by the 49ers that night. Tyson and I drove by the hunting land to drop off something for The King the next morning but didn’t hunt. An uneventful journal despite the fact that we had a lot of fun last year. It was not reflected in my writing. The good news is that you can’t keep that land down for long. There was extensive logging done this spring and the landscape is completely different. It’s more open than I’ve ever seen it. Ron has had that land for almost 40 years and he’s always told me that the hunting is the best in the few years following logging. The trail cams have more good bucks than we’ve ever seen. I will enter the 2020 hunting season the same way I enter all of them: with an absurd amount of optimism. There’s a deer behind every tree. Big Cat and I will arrive in my stand by 6:00 AM Saturday morning ready for anything. I’ll tell you all about it in exactly one year when I reveal the 4th Annual Deer Hunter’s Journal.