Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Opening Day (PA edition)

I stand atop a shipping container which is stacked on a shipping container that is in turn resting on another and another. And this stack is fastened to another of equal height beside it. We are 42 feet off the ground counting the concrete pad supporting the stack. But as our tower of seaworthy metal blocks is on a hillside, to the south the drop off puts us at something more like 64 feet. The tower is painted and industrial military shade of green to match it's purpose. Someday snipers may train in this very spot with a rifle much more powerful and accurate than my own. We are 3 sentinels guarding this tower from a theoretical onslaught of deer.

I stay at the East side of the stack. My focus is on a field that is visible for 300 yds before it dips and any deer disapear from view. In truth even in the open field they will be hard to spot because the brush in places is nearly 3 feet high, so too are the deer if they drop their heads. More than half of the field is encircled with a thin stand of timber marking property lines and parcel edges. Though only 10 feet wide in most spots it is enough to offer a deer the illusion of cover. I regularly check these potential avenues of travel especially considering that the deer have worn a path directly beneath my perch. in the north there is thick timber from which we expect our quarry to come. It is state land, publicly huntable and filled with rifle bearing men in orange who we hope will shift the deer in our direction. I occasionally look south at a triangle shaped bench along the hill. It is thick with brush but it in a deer pushed upwards my try to catch his breath before continuing to ascend.

My nephew, a year my younger, guards the western flank. His view is wider, more interesting, harder to manage. Straight west is flat for a piece with a line of rotting machinery at the edge of the trees. it then slopes slightly, crests and drops off at 400 yards. But along the shallow traverse there are dips which will hide a deer from sight. A few clumps of pines also dot this section. To the south his view drops off much more rapidly. The hill is steep and we are high so most of it is in view. And arm branching off from the peak is the tipping point of sight but it many places it is 300 yards away.

The bottom of the hill is marked by a dirt road running east-west. Beside it and on our side but mostly out of view from our perch is the 1000 yard range increasing west to east. It is marked at 100 yard intervals with mounds of dirt growing ever higher with distance from the targets. It was seeded with clover and grass after construction this summer and the part that is visible to me is a verdant green even now. Our tower is roughly between the 7 and 8 hundred yard mounds. On the other side of the road the terrain again rises, a low hill that happens also to split a creek and become an island in the process. This island is surrounded on 3 sides by swampy brush and timber and the far side is better than 1200 yards from me as the crow flies. The terrain rises again beyond the island, thick trees for a while then another "open" field with a strip of trees surrouding it, marking pipeline-east, property line-west, and crest of hill-south.

My brother is at an intersection of paths at the bottom of the hill. Treeline, creek, island corner and dirt road meet beside him and very near the 600 yard mark. He paces like a caged animal around the cable spool which is supposed to remain his home base. He covers all directions. Protected from our view and our rifles by a hump in the hill are 2 friends of my brother and father, Sam and Ross. One is on a cable spool above 1000 yards and the other on a spool above 200.

My father for his part walks between us like a commander checking on troops. He has a rifle, loaded, resting on the makeshift plywood table. But he would rather we shoot first. As we wait he points out orange dots and names them, describes the owner of each stand and the stand itself. Talks about how he knows them and the deer they are likely to take. Across the field from me is a party of 4 hunters. They take turns sitting 2 in a tree stand and 2 driving deer. They are shooting for meat and likely have doe tags. For them anything goes. Along the pipeline a party of 2, unknowns to us. Near the edge of the far trees tucked into a fox hole covered with tin is ---, barely visible. His friend sits in the middle of that far field. Every other year --- takes a trophy buck. He will hold out for glory until the final days of the season. His friend, we suspect, will shoot the first shootable deer.

Shooting light comes and goes without incident. By some design of the state, it is not yet light enough to see through a scope until 5 minutes after you are permited to fire. As it was we wait nearly 10 minutes before the first shot christens the season in earnest. It is followed by a volley from all directions and a lull. This patteren continues until an hour past lunch. Five to ten minutes of regular shooting from every which way and then silence for half an hour or more. It is as if the rifles are calling to one another from distance hillocks and checking in to maintain the pack formation.

The tree stand hunters have luck early, within the first hour of light they take something. We cannot tell from our vantage point if it was buck or doe but it never crossed within our line of sight so it probably doesn't matter much. Across the island, friend of --- makes a kill. This is unfortunate as the pair is old and the deer is far from a road. It takes them over a hour and a half working together to drag their beast up the hill and into the back of a faithful pick-up. They do not stay to fill another tag.

My brother takes a shot. It makes contact but does not kill. He calls to inform as he gears up for a hike through swamp. An hour later we here a shot from his supposed direction and half an hour past that we get another call. Among other things he is wet waste deep from the failure of a beaver dam he was crossing. His deer is now cooling in the creek while he seeks dry clothing. One of the pipeline brothers saw him and bored with his station wandered down to investigate. Obnoxious and unhelpful. Why the deer did not drop immeditately is beyond us all. The first shot was accurate, true and more than enough to end things quickly. Perhaps this deer found a methamphetamine stash this morning.

Kurt has a doe tag but wants to save it for a snow covered day. His plan is 5 buddies on the tower and a doe crossing the island at 1200 yards. The stuff of legends. He joins us for a while on the tower while his deer cools in the creek.

While he is hiking we see a buck too far away to shoot let alone count points. It is headed for Sam and his failure to shoot tells us that is was not legal. My father sees a doe come and go quickly. For a long time my nephew watches a buck, well within range. He is perhaps a year and a half old. The same age as the pair we took a few short months ago in Idaho and every bit bigger for having grown up here. He is a 5 point, 3 on one side including the brow tine and 2 on the tine. For a man who has only 5 hours to shoot before he has to travel home, this is more than large enough to take and in most of the state it would be legal. However, on our side of the state, where deer grow larger faster, we are constrained to only shoot deer with more than 4 points on one side...or rather 3 points off the main beam and you can skip the brow tine (so goes the rule new this year). The buck pauses for him more than once as it makes it's way down the hill. Until next year good sir. I dare you to walk this way again.

Time comes and goes. My sister comes. She and my nephew go. They fix my father's tire before they head for Indiana and in turn have tire trouble of their own crossing Ohio. A pothole of epic proportions blows one tire and bends another rim. The police tell them "We know, we know. File a claim with the state." They are home in time for my sister to start her shift at 10pm.

We pack up and head home. There has been no volley for over an hour and we suspect there is no one left in the game lands to drive us deer. Rain fell in torrents throughout the morning and continued to pizzle down for the duration of our stay. We are cold, wet, hungry and unenthused.

At home we each scavenge in the fridge for food to heat. Top this off with a hot drink and spirits lift slightly. We reaquire wet gear from piles on the livingroom floor and step out of the house for round two. This time I mount my fathers tree stand in the field below our house. He circles behind and tries to drive deer my way. His first and second loops return nothing. His final kicks up a doe, shot in the back leg and limping. She puts some weight on it but not much. I burn with anger at whatever fool did this. If there is a chance that your hit will be half that bad you do not bother to flip off the safe. There is no honor in a wound like that, no respect in causing suffering. The goal is accurate and therefore quick and painless. I have no tag to exchange for her life as she limps up the hill as quickly as she can manage. She will bed down in the trees beside my uncles house and his boys are flush with doe tags. I will see them tonight and tell them where to go.

Thus ends opening day. With rain, pain, and a twinge of sorrow. I shower immediately. I found a solitary deer tick on my hand and my mind has convinced me that I am covered in wee beasties. My dinner of leftovers is heart-warming, though I skip the stuffing, please pass the potatoes (and forgive the pun if you happened to pick it up). I sleep quickly, soundly and late. Tomorrow (now yesterday), according to weather forecasts, a horrible day for hunting.

Today I am in bed equally late. The world is shaddowed in full blowing blustering white and wind howls through cracks in the windows. This is supposed to stop in a few hours at which time I will gear up and remount the tree stand. But at the moment my thoughts wander to eggs, ham, coffee.


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