Friday, September 9, 2016

Opening Weekend Success! Deer Season is Here!

Opening day! The words just sounds sweeter when you say them out loud, right? For months, Brett and I have scouted, set trail cameras, and researched an area we wanted to hunt deer in the D14 zone. It's an area untouched by recent fire and we had high hopes. After seeing a couple bucks on camera and having opening weekend off, we made the trek and began our three day adventure.

Day one was simply a travel and scout day, as it was the day before the opener. On the way up the mountain I got tagged a few times by a hornet. Dang thing flew on my arm and I brushed him out the window only to have him fly back in, behind me, and land on my back. Brett pulled over and I ripped my shirt off as fast as I could. I think I may have blinded a few people by the sheer whiteness of my back! Fortunately, the hornet flew out the window, never to be seen by me again.

Once we had our gear settled into the cabin, we opted to glass our hunting location from a half mile away (as the crow flies) from a high vantage point. The area we sat was incredibly beautiful, quiet, and held deer. We spooked two doe when we set up, but they bedded 100 yards from us and watched us for over an hour. Those telltale ears gave them away as they lay on a hillside behind us. Glassing was great, but turned up no movement at all. Back at the cabin, we ate a good meal and hit the hay.

When the 3:00 AM alarm went off, I was grumpy. I had slept awful and the only reason I was thankful to get up was to turn the coffee maker on. Twenty minutes and two cups of coffee later I was ready to rock. It didn't take us long to gear up and head out the door.

The drive to our spot was a decent one, but worth it. We were at the trailhead before anyone else and it was at least a half hour before we saw other headlights on the road. Unfortunately, the wind was kicking up more than we expected. Long before sunrise, Brett got out to check the wind and thought he smelled smoke. It was faint, but present. A half hour later, we got out and began prepping to hike in when we both exclaimed that the smell of smoke was not only present, but strong. The sun now rising, we hiked up to a point and glassed for any sign of a plume. We couldn't find any and with the speed of the wind, and direction, we were on edge. We made a fire plan and set off about 200 yards apart to hunt the morning. We saw nothing and both of us, in our respective separate locations, noticed that around 9:00 the smoke was much stronger and began to fill the valley. I made my way back down the trail and met with Brett. He got up to talk and pointed behind me. Not far off, across a few ridges, was a plume of black smoke. Immediately, we headed for the truck with a plan to get out of Dodge, if we had no other choice.

Back at the cabin, we got online, made some calls, and within an hour the fire was out. It was called a 'trash fire', but we both think some twit got cold and started a campfire. We know the general location where it started and it's a tough to get to area. Then again, we are no experts. With the fire out, we gathered our things and made our way back out for the afternoon and evening hunt. 

A new area had been shared with us and Brett and I decided to scout it out midday. We hiked about 3 miles, over very rocky terrain, and found limited sign. According to Brett (and I agree), it was simply another area we will check off as an area we will not be hunting.

Back at the truck, with our options dwindling, we drove back to our original hunting spot. We split up and I decided to hit up some new, unexplored ground. The wind was still a factor, so I figured I wouldn't see much, but wanted to see what was over the ridge. The moment I crested the ridge and saw what was below, I knew we had been limiting ourselves. I double-checked the OnXmaps and topo map and the area was public land, legal to hunt, and beautiful! There were lush pines, cedar, and brush that would make any deer feel comfortable. I found deer tracks all over and surprisingly, tracks from a young bear. 

I was ecstatic! We had never seen a bear in this area before. I slowly hiked/hunted the area for over an hour and then made my way back to the ridge. I knew that the majority of the deer we saw were moving in the morning. I decided to glass from the ridge for the last couple hours and then meet up with Brett. I saw nothing but chipmunks and birds, but it was a pleasure to be outside. The new Badlands Approach camouflage worked great! The chipmunks and birds couldn't figure out what we were the entire weekend. Brett had a chipmunk sneak right up to him and a hummingbird attacked him. I had a wren do a few fly-bys to see what I was, but decided I wasn't worth the trouble after a while.

The next morning, we made plans to hunt one side of the property in the morning and the other in the evening, provided the wind played along. Mother Nature had other plans and the wind actually picked up. Hunting the first side was going to produce nothing but frustration as the wind was all wrong. We decided to head into the spot I scouted the day before. As we sauntered up the hillside, I pointed out the deer trail and how you'd never see the deer moving from the trailhead. Brett was equally as excited to see the new area as I had been. We explored and decided to hunt two ravines for the first hour. We saw nothing, but felt energized from how amazing the area was. Deer tracks, rabbit tracks, and dense brush for both to hide in. A gem for sure!

As we made our way to a wide-open clearing, we stopped to discuss our next move. As we talked (rather loudly, I might add), I noticed the distinct ears of a deer coming over the ridge toward us. She was actually heading WITH the wind and not into it. 'Stop! Deer! On the ridge!' were the only words I could get out quickly. We stopped talking and moving. Then a buck followed the doe, followed by another even larger buck. He was a shooter! They had come in on the exact trail we had walked in on. They walked directly toward us and the first buck, a spike, knew something wasn't right as he gave us the stink eye. Brett and I were in the worst position imaginable and there was no way to get to cover without spooking the deer. We nocked our arrows and patiently waited as the deer found a large scrub bush and began feeding. They were only sixty yards away, but we had a large branch in our way. Our only option was to wait for them to come in on the trail ten yards closer.

Numerous times, we watched as the mature buck chased the doe around the bush. I was surprised to see them rutting so early, but it was great to watch. Then the doe chased off the spike for a few moments while they continued to eat. After about fifteen minutes, they took a distant trail into another section of forest. We needed to get out ahead of them right away. I wanted Brett to get the shot, so I positioned him ahead of me. I knew there was a chance they would pass through a small window and for him to get ready. Sure enough, the two younger deer went right by it, but the mature buck stopped in the clearing, right behind a tree that completely covered his vitals. The five second stare down was too much for him and he bounded off.

While we were disappointed that we didn't get a shot off, we had a great encounter and a successful hunt. Our encounter brought back the hope that we will indeed fill a tag or two this year. Finding time to get out there again will be tough, but once we do it will be awesome.


  1. Sounds like a great first day adventure. I'd be both excited and freaked out by seeing a bear foot print! I've never hunted deer in beer territory, just in IL. What do you do to prepare for a possible encounter?

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth. The first thing is we have bear tags with us, too. I have no problem filling my freezer with some tasty bear meat. We also carry bear spray. Best deterrent we can keep on us.

  3. Good to know. I haven't yet to date as I have only hunt in IL but I am looking forward to hunting in CA. I can't wait until my three little boys are old enough so I can teach them.