Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Final Hunt of 2010
*Cough* I wanted nothing more than to fill my deer tag and I was all pumped for it. It was December 30 and I had two days left to try to fill my archery tag. *Cough* - the only problem I was facing was the fact that I was still fighting asthmatic bronchitis. It's a nagging cough that I had been fighting for 6 weeks. Waking up in the morning I'd cough and wheeze. Sure I was given some meds, but they didn't work too well. Despite the fact that I was having issues with my lungs, I had a deer tag to fill and I was not about to sit around and let it go to waste. The mountains were calling me and I was going to answer.

*Cough, wheeze, cough* - 3:30am had come too quickly. The coffee tasted smooth as I got dressed and thought about how I would attack the day. My friend, Jeff, was meeting me at our spot so he could glass for me. Coffee in hand, I hit the road. Jeff was running a little late, so I took the time to get my Carbo Mask on (review to come) and to drink some water. Being out in the cold, the clean, December air felt good in my chest. I wasn't coughing much in the 37 degree temperature air and that was a plus in my book. I knew I wasn't going to get close to an animal if I was hacking up a lung on a stalk.

As we hiked up out trail we found that the seasonal rains had done some work on the path up the mountain. There was a tree blocking the path, so we had to hike up the hillside a bit to skirt around it. A few yards up from that half of our walkway had succumbed to erosion from a newly formed stream. Literally half of the path was completely gone. We carefully tip-toed the lip and ventured on. We found new streams that were beautiful as they cut into the earth. As destructive as the rains have been, I was amazed at how beautiful the new features were.

A mile into our hike I spotted a deer on a hillside. We quickly surmised that it was a spike-horn. In California terms - it was a deer that I could not go after. I could shoot a doe or a forked horn, but not a spike. After discussing what to do we hiked a bit further and the water had eroded the dirt away to solid rock. The flooding had done some serious damage, but I have to admit, walking on the solid rock that was left was nice on the feet. Trudging through the mud was tiresome and the rock base was a welcome change. All of a sudden a very healthy coyote burst from the trail and got the adrenaline pumping. Jeff, who loves a good yote hunt, dropped to a knee and started squeaking to get his attention. He stopped broadside, but was too far away for a bow shot. Jeff let out an imaginary rifle shot and we both had a laugh.

Moving up the trail some more, we spotted our spike still checking us out. Only this time I also noticed a large set of ears behind our young stud. Sure enough, a nice looking doe was bedded about twenty yards behind him watching us as well. It was time to decide. Do I try to put a stalk on them in hopes of getting a shot at the doe, or do we look elsewhere? I opted for a little of both. I knew that a stalk on these deer had to come from one area only, downwind. The only issue was that I had an inkling that there was an acre of brush standing in between the trail and the venison. We wanted to narrow down the search and figure out what our options were. We burned some more boot rubber and climbed a bit higher. That's when we ran into a major landslide. It completely covered the trail in two spots. The only way to move on was to climb over them carefully and that's what we did. 

*Cough, wheeze, cough* Now, I had been sucking wind for most of the hike, but here's where it hit me hard. I was trying to keep up with Jeff. Let me describe our gear so you can get a better mental picture of what was happening. I had my pack on with video gear, water, snacks, tripod, first-aid equipment, and a few other odds and ends. Altogether it weighs around 30 lbs. I also had my binoculars on and was carrying my bow. Now on to Jeff's gear. Jeff had an invisible pack, full of heavy gear... and ok, I am being a smart-ass. Jeff was carrying his water, his binoculars and that about covers it. Plus, I must outweigh Jeff by about 70lbs and I was fighting asthmatic bronchitis. I'll freely admit that I need to drop about 50lbs of body weight, but the lung ninjas were taking their toll on my bronchial tubes. A few times I had to ask Jeff to slow down and while I knew he was trying hard to find me a deer to shoot, I needed to be up near him to do so. He agreed and we continued on.

Jeff spied another hunter cresting the peak of a steep hill and he waved at us to let us know he was there. Trust me, he didn't need to worry, I was not planning on hiking up that steep of a hill. My lungs just couldn't take it.
 
On our descent, we spied three does moving down to where we had just hiked from. We hurriedly made an attempt to get in front of them by finding a decent lookout plateau where we figured we would cut them off. To our dismay they took another route. I wanted to set up and glass for a bit. Jeff took one side of the plateau and I took the other. After only 15 minutes, Jeff came back over to tell me he had located 3 deer worth putting a stalk on. Packing my gear quickly, I followed him over to see where they were. As I focused I realized that all three were in the middle of a cactus patch. Not something I was interested in pursuing. If you haven't ever tried to put a stalk on through a cactus patch, it's not fun and is a downright pain. Literally. It can also be a pain to drag a dead deer out of it. Jeff hiked over to spot them on the other side of the hill and I stayed up top in case they spooked my way. Wouldn't you know it, they spooked over the hill in the opposite direction. It was a bummer, but that is hunting and that's what I live for. The anticipation and adrenaline rush of the hunt.

At this point I was getting pretty tired. The backpack was feeling like lead and my lungs just wanted to rest. As we came out of the ravine we again spotted deer moving. Here it was 9:30am and the deer were still out and about. It was a good sign! There were four deer below us and I hustled to get to within shooting range. When I got in a good spot I had two of the deer broadside looking directly at me. They didn't seem edgy, but I didn't want to take any chances. I nocked and arrow and quickly ranged them. 60 yards, but they were just too close to the top of the ridge. Just a bit further than I was willing to shoot and it was an unsafe shot in my book. There were houses behind the deer and I would have been shooting uphill. It was tough to watch them meander off, but I felt good about not taking the shot.

Our last plan of attack was going to be the toughest of the day. Deer had been moving up a far hillside all day long. We spotted one lone deer, bedded in the open, between two large bushes right near the top of the ridge. Neither of us could make our whether it was a buck or a doe, but seeing as my tag was slowly wasting away it was going to be worth the stalk. It was going to be quite a hike just to get to the base of the mountain. The deer was a half mile away as the crow flies. That meant more than a half mile of hiking and then we had to hike up a steep hillside. When I say steep I am not joking. It was vertical. Jeff helped me out by taking my pack and lugging it up the hill. I am sure he could see that I was dragging. He is in much better shape than I and he wasn't sick. I was happy to oblige. It was a huge help, but I was still gasping. We started our ascent. One...heavy...step...at...a...time. Jeff quickly got ahead of me. My calves were screaming and tightening up. I noticed movement out of the corner of my eye and had to hiss at Jeff to stop. Sure enough, there was a doe peeking around a bush at 50 yards. She was straight uphill, therefore no shot, but I wanted to slow it down. She disappeared and we kept moving. 

After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was about 20 minutes, we made it to the top of the hill. If our calculations were correct, the deer would be bedded just the other side of where were standing. I nocked an arrow and ever so slightly crept up to the ridge line. As I peeked over the edge I got busted. Not by the bedded deer, but by the doe we had seen earlier. She was now 100 yards away on the opposite side of the ridge. Wanting to get a shot at the bedded deer before the doe spooked, I continued on up. Immediately I started seeing more deer. Right behind her was another doe, then another, and another. By the time I had moved to a shooting position I had nine does 100 yards from me. Only one had seen me. I carefully looked to where the deer was bedded...and there sat an empty bed. A mere 10 yards from where I was standing.

*Cough, cough* It would have been a textbook stalk had the deer remained bedded and if I had been able to get a shot off. We concluded that either the does spooked the deer or we did on our hike up. It could have been either one. Nonetheless, we were walking off the mountain empty-handed *Cough*

We watched the does walk bound off away from us. I had no strength to go after them. In my opinion it wasn't worth it. I was beat and needed to rest. Jeff hiked after them and I rested. I walked around glassing and viewing the mountains until he got back. It was close to noon and we were done for the day. My body was tired, my lungs were on fire and my coughing was acting up from time to time. As much as I wanted to fill my tag, I was spent and just wanted to take my boots off and relax.

Our hike back to our vehicles was mostly downhill and that felt incredibly good. About halfway back I told Jeff that my 2010 season was done. He was more than willing to help me out for the final day, but for me it was over. My body was out of shape (although round can be considered a shape of sorts) and I needed to get my health in check. I definitely had a fun season. I wasn't able to fill a tag in CA or in NY, but I still had fun. I have a pig tag still ready to be filled in the future months, but 2010 left me without me killing an animal. I know that 2011 has plenty more in store for me and I have slowly started to get back in shape. No, I am not jumping on the 'New Year's Resolution' bandwagon. I am focused on getting better, getting healthy and being able to scale a mountain much better than I did last year. My goal for 2011 is to be healthy enough to go elk hunting and to run a 5K by Fall. I've never attempted either one, so this should be a good year. All I can say is bring it 2011. Bring it.

2 comments:

  1. AQ,

    It's tough trying to fight through an illness. I've had a case of fome kind of Afghani Dysentary for a few days, and it is kicking my butt!

    Better luck next year my friend, hopefully for both of us!

    Happy New Year to you and all!
    Best Regards,
    Albert A Rasch
    Albert Rasch In Afghanistan™

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  2. What a bummer on both the hunt and the sickness. I hope you get better soon!

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