I've taken a lifetime of deer hunting and added up all the strange, unusual, and interesting things I've seen. Have any of these happened to you?
Deer hunters are an unusual lot. We spend most of the 52 weeks of the year thinking, planning, and looking forward to just the six or eight between October, November, and early December.
Once our favorite season is on, it's certainly no surprise to any ardent deer hunter that we gladly, happily--no, giddily--spend entire days perched up in a tree. Once we've stuck our heads in the sky above the woods and fields, we've had a singular opportunity to observe our natural world from a different perspective.
When you're like me and you've done it for some 37 years and counting, may come upon a few of the strange, odd, and truly unique things listed here. Some of these things you've already seen or heard of yourself, and I'm just as sure that some are quite peculiar to me.
Carry on and see for yourself.
1. Owls in the dark can be really, really creepy.
No real news flash here, but if you've ever listened to them hoot and had them fly by you in the dark on the way to your stand, you might understand where I'm coming from. I don't mean to say that I've ever been attacked by an owl, but when something that size that can fly in the dark swoops over your head and you can't see what it is... creepy.
2. Crows hate owls and might ruin your hunt because of it.
Crows despise owls, and I had the distinct pleasure and, alternately, irritation at seeing this unusual occurrence in the deer woods recently. After hearing a flock of crows screaming in the distance and actually closing in on me, I realized what it was that was causing all their consternation: a large Great Horned Owl.
When the owl lit in a tree not 25 feet away, I got a front-row seat to what crows really think about owls and why they call a group of them a 'murder.' After listening to at least a dozen of them screaming and chasing this owl from tree to tree around me for some 45 minutes, I wanted to start shooting them.
That was opening day of 2015, and I didn't see one deer that day. I've gotten three of my top five bucks in that spot, and in 2014, I saw 23 different deer on opening day there. The only reason I had ever gotten shut out in that spot was because I chose not to shoot a deer.
Was it the crows and all their noise? I'll never know.
3. Foxes are truly excellent hunters.
Every deer hunter ever has been in a treestand wishing for a silencer to shoot those darn squirrels! They're noisy, annoying, and they always sound like deer. I may have had the world record one year when at least 15 squirrels were scurrying around deep in the hardwoods!
I finally thought I saw something bigger in the brush and got excited, until I realized it was way too small to be a deer. What I did see was one red fox sneaking his way up near my location trying for a squirrel dinner. What I didn't know was that the fox's hunting partner was coming up from the other side behind me.
You've never seen anything more glorious in a treestand than two foxes alternately bum-rushing a large group of squirrels in a criss-cross pattern! Tree rats went flying everywhere, except the one that zigged when it should have zagged--squirrel dinner was at hand.
I never saw or heard another bushy tail the rest of the day and I've been praying for foxes around my tree ever since.
4. The mystery of nuthatches calling
The eastern woods are full of birds during deer season, but one in particular has gotten my attention over the years: the nuthatch. Not so much for its peaceful, nasal yank-yank call as it bounces around upside down on trees near me, but for the strangest of reasons, when they really get going, I start seeing deer.
Unusual? Tell me about it, but stay with me for a moment. I'm not saying every time one of these little birds starts twittering, it's a surefire thing that deer are around, only that I can't tell you how many times over the years that when they really start calling actively, it's not long before I start seeing whitetails, particularly flat-tops.
Crazy? Unusual? Absurd? All of the above.
5. Deer can be really dumb sometimes.
One of the greatest reasons we deer hunt is because they so often beat us. Deer are smart, tough, and wary beyond belief, but there are some exceptions. I've busted them out of hedgerows and had them stop dead to look at me as soon as I started shooting. I plugged a big mama once on the edge of an apple orchard among six other deer, and she was the only one that ran; kicked the same young buck out of the same cover three days in a row.
My biggest deer to date, a 10-pointer back in '93 right before my son was born, walked up, looked at me, and died at the base of my tree.
It's not always the greatest of hunts every year, but success sometimes comes in strange ways.
6. People can be even dumber.
Between trespassers, unsafe hunters, and other fools with loaded guns (we're talking about firearms season here) there are plenty to choose from. Fact: "While not required by law in New York State, more than 80 percent of big game hunters, as well as two out of three small game hunters, wear hunter orange."
We all know that deer can't distinguish blaze orange from green and brown, but humans sure can. Between the people I've seen trespassing on private land I hunt and hunters on public land I hunt, the amount of times I've seen people out brush-busting wearing light brown bibs or coats over the years is stunning. In the first week of the season, November 2016, there were three hunting-related deaths in New York State. Zero in 2015.
How the news isn't filled with more hunting accident reports of one person mistaking another for a deer I'll never know. Brown? Really? You know the deer are brown, right?
7. Ultralights can be almost as creepy as the owls.
Now it gets weird. I've been seeing these things flying around my area for years. I can't really say when it all started, but it was before my son was born in 1993. Five out of the last seven years alone I've watched these little UFOs buzz me.
Pretty much every single time it was one of those go-cart-with-wings jobs. Even stranger, they seem to circle a few times. I'll admit that during firearms deer season it's got to be fun to pick out all the blaze orange dotting the woods from the air (see number 6) But I'm starting to feel watched.
8. Texting is awesome.
In my day, the thought of having a phone outdoors was as close to reality as flying cars. Always keep an open mind, and your credit card ready! Some things have come and gone, but the idea of a 'radio' in the tree stand is one of the best ever conceived, and it is one major reason so many deer have been harvested.
I always carry a walkie-talkie, but they make too much noise at times for my taste, and some people just can't shut up. Along comes the quiet power of the text, coupled with the convenience of a telephone!
Now, we just have to put it down and hunt.
9. I learned to keep an aluminum slate call in my bag.
It may not be the same for everyone, but where I hunt, there are always turkeys in the area. Despite the fact that their eyes are easily focused on the blaze orange camo I wear (again, see number six) I've still had some small success keeping birds happy near me with a few well timed clucks and purrs.
This is a fact for me: when I turkey hunt this area, I see deer, and when I deer hunt here, I see turkeys. If we want a call to fool a boss Tom, it will at least keep deer from easily spooking.
10. Golfing can turn you into a human rangefinder.
First if all, don't make a face like that, because as your mama told you it might stick. I've been golfing since I was six or seven years old and in that time, before I ever began to hunt, I learned to gauge distance and gauge it well.
I did more duck hunting in my early years than deer hunting and I figured out quite early on how to set up the farthest dekes in the block out 25-30 yards max, so outside, wing-cupping puddlers would eat lead. It's the same as a short sand wedge to the green (fact check: when I started duck hunting, lead shot was still king, unfortunately).
Once I started climbing into trees and trying to hide from wary whitetails, it was only a matter of time before I started gauging how far they were based on 'distance to the pin' From 90 yards in I'm deadly. I've made longer (actually much longer) shots, but I haven't always had a rifled barrel and a scope either.
11. Kee-kee run calling turkeys can be really annoying.
Watching and listening to eastern wild turkeys do their business during the deer hunt is as good as it gets in the northern woods. Seeing a flock come out of the trees, while you're way up in one, is an amazing sight.
Listening to a boss hen call them all back for 40 minutes straight, not so much.
While the kee-kee run call is a must for every turkey hunter's arsenal, being forced to listen to it with no escape is maddening. The high-pitched shrill that it can be is tantamount to a broken predator call when the girl in charge is standing in one spot, and that spot is 25-yards from your tree.
All in all, it's an amazing thing to watch as the flock comes running back one by one, but once they're together and the noise stops, I want to shoot them.
12. When I see bucks, I don't see any bucks.
Let me explain, because God knows I've already shared some odd things here. In the many years that I've been chasing whitetails, I've learned to keep my eyes open. Whether it's in the scouting or just watching out the window of the truck.
It never fails: when I have a good scouting season and see a lot of bucks, I never see them in the tree. Sometimes from a distance, but never anything close enough to shoot at (see number 10). In fact, it gets worse: they start showing up dead! The deer pictured above was 50 yards outside the house on the 60 acres I live on Halloween afternoon dogging does. The next afternoon, I had to personally make the call and then watch a county sheriff's deputy put a slug in it after it was paralyzed by a car. I've seen two other nice bucks belly-up in the ditch since then.
Let's review: The 2016 season is almost over here in WNY as I put the finishing touches on this. It's been almost a month and what seems like 100 other posts since my editor gave me the green light to put these things down on 'paper.' In that time, I saw a fox under my tree first thing on opening day, and I haven't seen a squirrel since. I've neither seen or heard an owl this year... yet. The six men and two women that hunt this property have harvested three 8-pointers and two does this season, and they still bed on the septic system hill just outside the house almost every night.
There have been three hunting-related deaths in NY, whereas all of 2015 showed none. At least one of the fatalities was due to a hunter mistaking another for a deer: the victim did not wear hunter orange (and was not required to). Some of my own group wear little to none.
I just don't get it.
For the first time in years, I didn't see a turkey or an ultralight aircraft, but man did I do some texting!
I broke a long standing string of defeats by harvesting a beautiful 8-point on opening morning after seeing bucks everywhere before the season began. The best part was telling myself that it was an 85-yard shot then measuring it later at 267 feet from the base of my tree... that's 89 yards, golf fans!
Whatever the case, I haven't been deer hunting nearly as long as some out there, but quite a bit longer than others. Even at that I'm far from a deer hunting expert and leave that title to those who really deserve it. If you spend as much time in the woods as deer hunters you may come across some odd, silly, and interesting things too.
What better reason to keep a written journal in one hand and a camera in the other! What crazy stories do you have?