2002 Deer Hunting Journal-
I enjoyed keeping a journal of last year's deer hunting. I haven't really put in much useful information (like weather, moon phase, etc.), but in the B-zones, the weather is fairly constant... HOT, DRY, and sunny.
Also, I know this section could really use some pictures. Some technical complications have separated my working computer from the one with my camera software, so I'm sort of at a loss right now. Hopefully, I'll square this away soon. I'm also taking some shots with the 35mm, and will scan any that have relevance. Of course, if I get lucky this year, I'll have pictures one way or the other.
I drew B-zone and G-1 tags for this season. Since I am also hunting archery for the first time this year, I'll be able to hunt from 08/17 through 11/03. As you can see, the end of the B-zone and the beginning of G-1 will overlap. I'll straighten this out as the time comes closer, and I decide where I'll be hunting.
August 17-18 Archery Opening Weekend-B-zone
Well, this year will be my first time ever with a bow. I didn't think I would ever have the patience and commitment to get good with a bow, but after a lot of thought, and the fact that the bow was free (my dad's old bow), I decided to give it a go. With the help of my friends over at Jesse's Hunting and Outdoors (JHO), and a lot of research on various traditional archery websites, I found myself hitting apples on a stick at 20 yards by the time August rolled around. That's good enough for me, so I could hardly wait for the bow season to open up.
I made a practice of shooting 100 arrows a day, every day that I was home. I didn't stress too much about exceptions, as long as I stayed consistent. When I first started, I got really sore in my shoulder and elbow, and had to give it a break. I finally got into the groove by cutting back my practice sessions about 20 shots at a time. I also found that by only shooting three or four arrows in a group, I didn't get as sore. The time walking back and forth to the target let everything relax.
For the sake of record... I am shooting a Ben Pearson Spectre recurve, at 45# (at 28"). I am using Easton Gamegetter II arrows, tipped with 125 gr. Magna two-blade broadheads. This is the setup I practiced with all summer, so I'm going with it. I may change things up for next year, now that I know I'm serious about it. I may even step up to a 55# recurve, and start thinking about elk and hogs. That's for another journal, though.
0445 - The alarm goes off, and despite the fact that I didn't sack out until almost midnight, I'm ready to roll. I've been dreaming about this day since June. The archery bug bit hard and deep, and all I can see when I close my eyes is that big 4x4 crossing five yards in front of me... and the arrow disappearing behind his shoulder.
Sunrise will be at about 0624, and will set at around 2004 tonight. The highs are expected into the 90s (probably closer to 100 up in the canyons). Barometer's high, humidity's low. That'll make for a very long day.
I'll start my season by hiking up the creek where I left off last year. I didn't get to come scout in the pre-season, but I'm sure the deer I saw last year will still be around. Two Red Bulls and a nature bar get me moving, and I wade into the creek. Dang, I'd forgotten how cold this water gets!
I reach the crossing at about 0545, with daylight just starting to glow. I suddenly realize that, as good as this setup looked for a rifle, it's gonna be tricky to find a good spot with the bow. I'll need a good ground stand, but the poison oak is making that tricky. I finally settle on a spot with a close shot both at the crossing and the main trail, and get as comfortable as I can.
It's cooler than I'd expected, and my wet legs and feet are sucking some of my body heat. I find myself waiting for sunrise, and the heat that I know will come with it. No doubt, I'll be wishing for this chill again in a few hours.
0830 - Nothing has moved except a squirrel and lots of jay birds. I can't sit still anymore, and I'm too close to the trail to be fidgeting. I decide I may as well stalk up the creek to the rock jam, and see what that clearing looks like.
In the morning light, I notice that there are only a few fresh tracks in the crossing. That may explain why I didn't see anything moving this morning. As I pass the "oak grove", I start to see more fresh tracks, but not until I'm almost all the way to the rock jam do I see any serious amount of sign. For some reason, the deer appear to be moving mostly deep in, even though there hasn't been any hunting pressure (or any other human sign back here). There is also a fair amount of fairly recent bear sign.
0930 - At the rock jam I climb the hill across the clearing and find a good setup overlooking several trails.
Nothing is moving for a while. I'm dozing off, and catching myself. I adjust my seating, and catch a blur of grey-brown from the corner of my eye. My heart goes into overdrive, and I slowly turn my head. It's the tip of a long ear, sticking over the rim of a draw. The first thing I notice is that no antlers protrude over it. The second thing I notice is that the ear is growing, and growing... a jack rabbit browses over the rim five yards away. Another follows, and I sort of wish I'd brought along a few field points. I watch them as they draw closer, until the lead rabbit suddenly realizes that I am there. I must have moved my hand or something, but he's so close, he can probably see my eyes moving. They don't bolt, but slink back into the thicket.
1100 - It's getting really hot. I eat lunch, and drink a pint of water. I have forgotten all about being chilly earlier, and the thought of the creek is enticing. Nothing has moved since I got here. When I finish eating, I'll hunt my way back to camp. I think it might be worthwhile to pack in and camp overnight here. That's the only way I can get this far in and be waiting and daybreak. That creek is a killer in the dark.
1200 - Back at the truck, I wash my sweaty shirt in the creek and take a plunge myself. There's no one around, so even though the creek is right by the road, I go au naturel. I am realizing one of the first major benefits to archery hunting. No crowds! With the exception of one ranger, I haven't seen a soul.
1400 - After a nap and some camp cleanup, I decide to move up to Kokopelli Valley. I made a short scouting trip out here during June, and it looks like there may be some deer back in since last season's fire. I also saw a lot of doves, and wanted to see if it would be worthwhile to bring the shotgun out on September 1.
Compare these pictures with last year's, and you can see that the canyon is really coming back nicely. By the beginning of the 2003 season, this should be a great hunt again!
2001 Deer Season- From the trailhead
Straight down the trail from the trailhead.
The west ridge, this is actually the southern end, straight across from the trailhead.
2002 Deer Season - From the trailhead
Straight down the trail into Surprise Meadow (foreground)
The west/northwest ridge.
Straight down the trail to Surprise Meadow- The canyon itself doesn't look all that much different, except you can see that the grasses are coming back pretty strong. Look at the distant canyon walls, though. See all the bushes coming back?
1530 - Camp is set at the new trailhead. It's hotter than hades up here, since the trees still haven't grown back. The red, dusty ground collects and radiates heat at the same time. I knock out a 24oz bottle of water just from the exertion of setting up camp. I throw two bottles in my fanny pack, and start motivating. It's gonna be a miserable hike.
1600 - OK, so 50 yards down the trail, I bump a doe and a youngster out of a clump of bushes I have named the "quail bush". They bounce off about twenty yards and stand looking at me. Obviously, there haven't been many visitors on this trail in a while. Not for the last time, I mentally measure the distance to the doe, and consider if it's a makeable shot. It is. But this is forked horns only territory, so she's in luck.
1730 - I have stalked all the way in past the old orchard. The ground is like walking on Rice Krispies, but I'm moving slow. I bumped another doe down by the creek, and again, was able to get well within bowshot. My confidence is shooting higher by the minute. All I need is a good buck...
I decide to set up in the thicket where the canyon comes to a draw at its northern end. In the past seasons, before the fire, this is one of the places where the bigger bucks seemed to like to hole up. There is lots of sign here now, and I find a good log and get comfy. I sit and sit, and get drowsy. All around me are signs of regrowth, especially poison oak. The sun is starting to slip behind the ridges, and it's finally cooling down to a bearable level. My head starts to nod. Nothing is moving anywhere.
1925 - Nothing is moving here. The sunlight is all shadow now, and the entire west side of Kokopelli Valley is in shade. I decide to move over toward the orchard and see if anything is stirring there. Maybe the deer are coming in from the other end of the valley.
1945 - I'm moving very slowly past the remains of the apple trees. Three trees have survived and look very healthy, but there are no apples. Something moves to my right, and I freeze. 35 yards away, a forked horn buck is grazing beside the creek, head down and apparently completely unaware of my presence. This is what I've been waiting for! 35 yards, though, is too far for my recurve. My practice has been at a maximum of 22 yards, and I don't think that either the bow or myself are up for this shot. I squat down behind a tangle of burnt apple branches and hope he'll feed into this tender green growth in front of me.
He seems to be moving toward me. I have calmed my breathing somewhat, and I'm reminding myself... "pick a spot, come to full draw and anchor, relax, make a clean release. Don't fudge it up!" Over and over until it becomes mantra, "draw, anchor, release". At about 25 yards, he disappears down into the creek bed. I can practically read my posts on JHO when I get home. My first day bowhunting... my first bow kill!
Somebody said something about counting chickens before they hatch?
I'm not sure how long it's been, but I haven't seen or heard him for a while. I should have seen him come back up out of the creek bed, but the thickest part of this dead tree is blocking any more view. I wonder if he has decided to move along the creek, and is by now well on his way out of my life. All my hunter instincts are telling me to sit tight, but I can't do it. I have to lean up, and at least have a look.
I ease up onto my knees, and try to peer over the thicket. There! A movement of red-brown! A glint of antler only about 20 yards away! I slowly stand, straining every muscle with the slowness of it. He has his butt to me, his head is down. I can bring the bow up and get ready to draw. This is working out perfectly! Slowly, gently, I begin to lift the bow.
The feathered fletching scratches against the dried grass. I can't believe how loud it is! The little buck's head whips back over his shoulder and he busts me! I freeze, bow held just about in position. I don't want to try a snap shot. Maybe he'll turn his side to me before he goes, but I can tell he's definitely getting ready to go. And he does, trotting about ten or fifteen yards back to his original position, just out of range, and then turning broadside to look back at me. I have to grin. Score: deer 1, Phillip 0.
After he trots away back up to his haven on the ridge, I stalk slowly back to the truck. On the way I see two more does, possibly the two that were bedded near the trailhead. No more bucks, and no more opportunities. At camp, the shower water is hot, and the tequila is chilled. When I close my eyes under the shower, I can see that little buck. I know that if I'd sat still, instead of looking over that brush, he would have come right to me. A mental kick in the pants, another sip of tequila, and it's time to plan tomorrow's hunt.
04:45- It's a little harder to get up this morning, but that image of the little forky trotting off yesterday gets me out of the sack. I sleep so well out here. As I knock back another Red Bull and a Pop Tart, I plan the day.
I'll start off up on "my hill". The oaks look healthy up there, and the fire seemed to kind of run around it like an island. The spring is seeping really well too, or at least it was in June. There's a bluff overlooking the spring and the oaks, which should make for a great archery stand.
0545 - Wow, I'd forgotten how hard it is to get up my hill. It doesn't look this steep from the road. About 2/3 of the way up, I hear the familiar sound of "stotting". I have pushed a deer off my hill. The moon was big last night, but has already gone out of sight this morning. The deer were probably feeding all night long. Oh well, I've pushed deer off before, and they still come back. Finish the climb, find a good spot to sit, and let's see what daylight brings.
0800 - Nothing moving anywhere, not even down in the Long Meadow. The sun is fully up, and it's getting hot fast. I'll give it another half hour, then I'm going to work my way down toward the orchard and see if anything is bedded in that green stuff.
0830 - I'll go in a minute. Still nothing moving. I decide to kick back and have a little nap. Then we'll see what's happening.
0915 - Power nap! I feel good, but boy is it getting hot.
I work my way down the hill, and into the orchard. The green stuff (some kind of tender weeds with little purple flowers...any botanists wanna help me out?) is matted down in a couple of spots. They must make beds here sometimes. But not today.
I cruise to all the familiar spots, looking for fresh sign and some ideas of where to hunt this evening. Then it's time go get back to camp.
1100 - I'm burning up! I break camp after knocking back two bottles of water, and decide to go down to the creek. There's a good pool near a campground that's got my name on it!
Down in the valley, there are several campers. They appear to all be dirt bikers, though. I don't see anyone who looks like a hunter. I get to my little pool, and plunge in. Just what the doctor ordered!
After I cool off for a while, I fix some lunch and a margarita. I take my lunch down to the water, and eat with my legs dangling in the cool current. This is a good life. I finish lunch and swim for a while, then shoot some arrows at a burnt stump while the sun draws the water off my skin and out of my bathing suit. When I'm dry, I climb up in the truck for a nap.
Just as I'm getting into a good sleep, I hear the thump of bass. For a moment, I think I'm back in the city, but it turns out to be a truckload of teenagers coming down for a swim. So much for napping. I'm too tired to drive off, though, so I sit and watch. It's entertaining, the interaction of a bunch of guys and one girl... all late high school age. They're drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, and I'm reminded for all the world of my own high school years. That keeps me from getting annoyed with them, so I just kinda grin to myself and sit in the shade while they mess around. I'm happy to see that, when they leave, they take their trash with them. Well, except for the cigarette butts which they flipped into the stream. I collect several of these and one sunken beer can before I leave.
1500 - I need to head back up and get ready for the evening hunt. I'm still thinking about that little forky, so I plan to set up on the canyon wall where he disappeared yesterday. The trails there are loaded with fresh tracks, and I think odds are good that I'll see some action moving on them.
1630 - Yes, it took me that long to get motivated and get geared up and actually get moving. But I head into the valley and beeline for my stand. I find a spot under a burned out manzanita bush. There's good cover behind me, and enough around me to break up my outline without hindering my movement. It's about a 25 yard shot to the creek where the forky was feeding yesterday.
1930 - My butt is sore. I finally have to stand and stretch a little. The sun is behind the ridgetops already, so it's cooled off. I stand, and glass the distant meadows. Nothing to see. Then, I feel like I'm being watched. I turn slowly, and see a little spike standing about five yards downwind of me. He's just looking, like he's never seen a human before. At first I think he's just going to walk on down the trail, but then he realizes that I'm probably not a good thing, and turns tail to head back up the mountain.
2000- I'm going to stalk back out, and see if there's anything moving near the trailhead. I have about a half-hour of shooting time, but it gets dark early in the canyon.
Sure enough, there are two deer standing in the meadow near the trailhead. I watch as they browse out of sight. It's dark now, so I cruise on up to the truck, toss in the bow, and head for home.
All in all, it was a pretty danged good weekend. I am definitely hooked on archery hunting.
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