I never got to go hunting growing up. In fact, my parents only took me target shooting a couple of times. Literally, I can think of about two occasions when my dad threw his .22 pistol and 12-gauge shotgun in the car with the tent when we headed out to the woods. Back when a two-liter bottle had the black plastic cap on the bottom, I remember wedging what was left of the bottle of Pepsi from the previous night in the fork of the great tree that no longer stands there, aligning the sights of that Mark I, and pressing off a round. I remember feeling disappointed when I saw no change at the receiving end, and approached the bottle for a closer look. And, I remember the glee and self-satisfaction that came from seeing a stream of Pepsi flowing out of the new hole in the bottle. For a long time, I was not a gun owner. I’ve been a firearms enthusiast since I was a young boy though.
Wee Bot (now Teen Bot) received his first gun for his tenth birthday. It was an older model 10/22. We had him in a competition air rifle class for some time. We took him to Appleseed. Before long, my kid could rock a rifle with a set of good iron sights as well as anyone else I knew. Nonchalantly. It wasn’t even like he was going target shooting so much as picking up a tool to hit the target with it. He has always enjoyed his 10/22, but began to get gunlust for an AR15 of his own. He had shot S&W’s M&P15-22 before it even hit the shelves. S&W’s CEO was even witness to that, in fact. So, we probed him on whether he would want a .22-caliber AR or an actual .223. We let him know that the centerfire ammo was a lot more expensive, so he wouldn’t get to shoot it nearly as much. He said he’d like the centerfire, as he already had a good rimfire rifle. And at that, almost a year ago, he got a brand new, M&P15 Sport for a late Christmas present.
In the spring, when we had Central Oklahoma Gunblogger Schutenfest, we set up a CRT computer monitor on the rifle range. It was about a 17-inch screen, and we set it out at 50-yards. Kiddo fumbled with the controls on his new rifle. I assume that this was in part due to excitement and also because it had been quite a while since he had really worked with a Stoner platform. I helped him out, of course. Once he was in battery and ready to go, he raised the rifle to his face and put his first shot through the center of the monitor, and giggled. I told him to give it another. The second shot struck within two inches of the first. Once he had emptied his magazine, he had knocked out the center of the glass on the monitor. As previously promised, he hasn’t gotten to shoot his AR as much as his .22, but when he has, he has handled it well.
Over the last year or so, we’ve gotten more into hunting. Indeed, Jennifer made a New Year’s resolution to get closer to her food. Hence gardening and hunting and stuff. This has led me to regard .22 lr and short in a whole new light as a hunting round. Also, it has caused me to memorize many of the hunting regulations of our state. It also influenced me to shop and purchase a compound bow. Keep in mind that neither Jennifer nor I knew anything about hunting. We’re total noobs. We’ve made some pretty hilarious mistakes along the way, actually. I owe a lot of my knowledge and most of my success to advice that I’ve received from my friend, Daniel S.
Well, when Deer Archery season opened this fall, I bought a couple of deer licenses. And, we also picked up a Youth Deer Gun license for Teen Bot. This weekend was Youth Deer Gun season. It opened on Friday, thirty minutes before sunrise, and closed yesterday evening, thirty minutes after sunset. While at Academy, I picked up a couple bags of deer corn and perused the aisle of deer attractants. I was looking for something to mix in with my corn. They had all kinds of products with graphics and fonts on the packages that read like a monster truck rally radio announcement. “SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SOMEDAY! ATTRACT THE ABSOLUTE BIGGEST BUCKS!” They had deer acorns, deer feed, deer crazy. But, I wanted deer crack. I asked one of the employees who I have had good interactions with in the past and he recommended a product from C’Mere Deer. So, I bought it and took my new wares home. On Wednesday, I began to organize everything I thought we would need for our expedition.
That’s when I discovered that Teen Bot was about 20% behind in his core classes. Thursday was the first day of Fall Break, but not for Teen Bot. It was the end of the nine weeks, and he was too far behind to start his vacation. “If you are still behind in your classes, there will be no Youth Deer Gun for you,” I told him. He worked hard. At approximately 9:30 on Thursday night, when we were eating dinner (squirrel stew), I asked him if he wanted to give up and not go out or if he wanted to press on and finish his work. We had arranged for my brother to come with us on Friday. It was a little late to call and cancel on him, but not outside of my willingness. Teen Bot expressed that he still wanted to go out and that he would finish his work. I told him that I wouldn’t accept the attitude that usually goes along with a tired kid. I’m sorry, but I will not be punished like that. He agreed. He finished his school work at around 1:00 a.m.
The alarm went off at 5:00. I thought I was going to die. I reset the alarm for five minutes. JUST FIVE MINUTES, I SWEAR, THEN I’LL GET UP. Much to my surprise, I did find the will to get up at 5:05. My head swam with exhaustion. Shower. I needed a shower. I couldn’t have been in the shower for any longer than fifteen to twenty minutes, but it felt like an eternity. By 5:30, I was dressed and waking up Teen Bot. Usually, I only have to reach in his door, turn on his light, and tell him “good morning”. I only wish getting up had ever been so easy for me. The night before, I had loaded the car with pretty much everything except the valuable stuff. I had a hot-bag with Thermoses full of leftover squirrel stew and another Thermos containing ten shots of espresso – I was going to need that. We threw the guns and my bow in the car and headed to my brother’s house.
Although I hate to get up early, I love to be up early. I’m an extremely isolationist extrovert. I love to be with people, but they’ve got to be the right people. I hate a crowd at the mall and I hate traffic. At o’dark-thirty, nobody is out. The roads that are congested in rush hour are completely clear. The air is crisp and the stars shine. Headed down the road with the windows down and the stereo blaring over the open exhaust was quite stimulating. The coffee didn’t hurt any, truth be known. When you’re up that early, you have the whole day to work with. Sleeping in until noon on a Saturday discourages me. It makes me feel like I’ve wasted something valuable. Like when you’re saving a piece of food for an occasion, but then it goes bad in the freezer. There’s too much life to live to sleep it away.
We arrived at my brother’s house just after six. No surprise to us, he wasn’t ready. My brother’s house is more towards the edge of town than ours, and it shows at times. On that Friday morning, standing on his porch in the dark, I saw an owl swoop down out of the shed at the north-east corner of the yard and soar across the two acres and up into the trees at the south-east corner. The bird must have only cleared the ground by about five feet between the two points. From the trees where it landed, I heard the loud, warbly call of the barred owl. After it hooted and gargled several times, I could hear others of its kind answer the call. There were at least three or four of them that answered from different directions. I knew that owls lived on that property, but that was the most that I’d been able to observe them. Teen Bot and I got a kick out of that.
Once my brother was finally dressed, we loaded his stuff in the car and headed toward the family farm. We parked the car on the private road that leads down to the hollow where we’ve had the trail cameras set up. We hiked down with the stuff we’d need. It took about ten minuted to pitch the blind, set up chairs, and spread the corn mix. Then, we sat and waited. And waited. And waited. And, there was nothing. Granted, it was a little on the windy side, but we saw no animals. At about eleven, we gave up for the morning and broke for lunch. I have spent some time procuring good insulated containers and found that the squirrel stew that I’d packed the night before was still quite hot. My brother complained about the amount of jalapeños in it, but that didn’t keep him from eating his share. After lunch, we wandered around the property, explored the woods, and looked for squirrels that needed to be dispatched. Still, we saw no signs of life. As it turns out, my brother hadn’t gotten to bed much earlier than we did. By mid-afternoon, the three of us were feeling pretty exhausted and discouraged, and I still needed to pick up Jennifer from work, so we headed on home.
Friday we went to bed early, with the intention of getting up early again on Saturday. On Saturday morning, we felt a lot more refreshed. Jennifer and I each had a double shot of espresso, but I felt no need to bump the dosage up to ten. We actually made it to the property a little earlier than the day before, most likely due to not having to wait for my brother. Again, we parked the car on the road and hiked our gear into the hollow. And again, we pitched the blind and chairs, spread grain, and parked. Again, we saw nothing in the morning. When we broke for lunch, I checked the SD cards in the game cameras, and paid special attention to time signatures. It appears that among the deer we have, we have evening deer and not morning deer. Interesting… We had packed bread and ham and mayo and a bag of potato chips for lunch. That was a really amazing ham sandwich. What is it about eating outdoors? During the day, we followed some game trails and wandered around where we’ve seen animals in the past. We saw no animals, but we did see signs of them. We found very fresh coyote droppings and the bones of several animals; turtle shells, a cow skeleton, and a raccoon skull.
At about 16:30, we returned to the blind. It was hot. We were set up on the east border of the hollow, so it had been pretty cold in the morning. After spending the afternoon in direct sunlight, it was fairly sweltering in the blind. At first, we left the door and all the windows open. At about five, we started to hear more birds and saw a few squirrels playing in the woods behind us. We slowly started closing the door and the non-essensial windows of the blind. And we waited. And waited. I was never so thankful to have spare batteries for my android phone. Teen Bot was pretty good, all things considered, but he did get restless and began to fidget several times. I had to remind him to be still so that he wouldn’t make noise. At about 18:30, we heard what sounded like footsteps in the woods behind the blind. It was too thick to see even if we hadn’t already closed our rear-facing windows. We sat and silently listened in anxious anticipation.
Legal shooting hours are thirty minutes before official sunrise until thirty minutes after official sunset. On Saturday, official sunset was at 18:49, which gave us until 19:19 before we had to give up for the day. It was right about 18:55 when Teen Bot spotted the deer entering the hollow. It was a nice looking doe and two yearlings. He pointed toward them and turned to face me, his mouth agape in a gasp, and his eyes lit up in excitement. We had just traveled through time. My son was six again, and this was Christmas morning. We watched the three deer wander into the hollow and begin their nightly exploration, that I’ve witnessed in digital pictures so many times before. I tapped Teen Bot on the shoulder and pointed to his rifle, sitting on the stool in front of him. I’m not sure the three of us even breathed for a good three minutes there.
In Oklahoma, we don’t have game that is very big. Indeed, there’s not a thing in the state you can’t legally hunt with a rifle that they won’t let you hunt with 55-grain .223. Our whitetails are pretty small, actually. Teen Bot’s M&P15 has a 1:8 twist rate, and he had a seven-round magazine loaded up with 62-grain, semi-jacketed Federals. The deer got closer. The doe stopped probably 40-yards from our position. My heart was pounding in my ears. My bow lay on the stool in front of me, and I knew that there was no way I could nock an arrow without spooking the deer that were so close now. It was all up to Teen Bot. I made eye contact with him and gestured wildly for him to shoot the doe. He sighted it in but then dropped his rifle to low-ready. The doe raised her head and sniffed the air, staring directly at our blind. She stamped a little bit and then settled again, this time at about thirty yards away. She stood with her side presented to us, head down to sniff the grain mix. Again, I wildly gestured for Teen Bot to shoot, this time with more desperation. He looked down the sights and whispered, “I don’t think I can get a good shot from here.” Are you kidding?!!!??!?!? That’s a gimme shot! Perhaps because of the whisper, or perhaps just because of the sheer energy of the situation, the doe rared up, snorted several times, and bounded off into the woods on the other side of the hollow. The yearlings hesitantly followed her. It was very clear that they wanted that corn. I was disappointed and a little peeved.
We waited out the remaining twenty minutes until we could no longer legally take game. Then, we called time and began to gather our things. Jennifer suggested that we leave the blind in place to normalize the deer to it so hopefully we would have a better chance the following day. We agreed that this was a good plan and hiked back up to our car. Along the way, Teen Bot attempted to explain why he didn’t take the shot. I cut him off, telling him that we should remain quiet, but that he could explain on the way home. As I approached the car, I saw a tractor parked next to it. It was very dark and I was having a hard time seeing it. It was hitched to a flat bed trailer, and was parked in such a way to pin in our car on the path. As I strained my eyes in the dark, I saw two figures sitting on the trailer. “Hello?” I asked.
“Hi there,” my greeting was returned. The one speaking had a white beard and I recognized him as my mom’s cousin, B.J.
“Oh, hey guys!” I said, approaching them.
“Hello,” said B.J., clearly having trouble in the dark, himself, “Who am I speaking to?”
“It’s me, Evyl Robot,” I identified myself.
“Oh, hi there Evyl,” B.J. said, and we shook hands all around. The other one on the trailer is one in B.J.’s family who I have met before, but his name escapes me. I get the impression that he regards us as the city slickers that don’t deserve that piece of land as inheritance. I could be wrong, and he may just have a brusque personality though. I noticed that he had a bolt-action laid across his lap and so I stepped to the side of its muzzle. We chatted for a few minutes. B.J.’s family has kept an eye on the property for years, running off the riffraff, who have apparently been a bigger problem than I ever imagined. He requested that I give him a call in the future when we’re headed out to hunt so that he won’t disturb our hunt. He also asked if we were going to hunt muzzle loader. I told him that we weren’t going to, but that I’d be working with my bow. Muzzle loader season is only two weekends, and the week in between. I told him that I could leave the hollow to him for those weekends. He defensively said that I could hunt anytime I wanted. The land belongs to my side of the family and not his. But, as much work as he does on it, I’m not going to pull a monopoly on the harvest there. He asked about my parents and brother. We talked about the deer and about the local people. Soon thereafter, we parted ways.
On the way home, we talked to Teen Bot about the day, and why he didn’t take that shot. As it turns out, the yearlings with the doe bothered him. He didn’t want to shoot some babies’ mom. It’s nice to see that level of empathy in the kid. We explained to him that those were not baby deer, but they were more like college deer. They’re practically grown and will be out on their own soon, one way or another. We also explained that deer are simple creatures and won’t be emotionally scarred by the loss of one of their own in the same way that we would be. He also expressed a concern for shooting through the blind material. I told him that I can get camouflaged duct tape that will patch a .22-caliber hole with no problem. By the time we got home, he seemed reassured, confident, and perhaps a little silly for giving up such a great shot. I’m proud that he thought about his actions so thoroughly before pulling the trigger.
That night was a blur. We went to bed and slept in some, with the intention of going to church in the morning. Since we’d just had two days in a row where we had seen nothing in the morning, we decided that it would be a good idea to take Sunday morning off. Sunday morning, we got dressed and went to church. I chuckled at the thought of myself in my Armani suit, handmade Italian peccary oxfords, and a pair of S&W Performance Center revolvers, singing in the church choir, only to go home and put on my surplus BDUs and hike out into the field with my bow, hopefully to put venison in the freezer. It is like leading a double life. After church, we changed and loaded up the car, and headed to my parents’ house for our weekly, Sunday lunch. We had homemade spaghetti and meatballs, and discussed all the recent goings on. At around 16:00, we got back in the car and headed back out to the property.
It was hot. The previous afternoon had been warm, but it was hot and humid at this point. I was melting in my t-shirt and BDU pants. I was trying to drink enough ice water to cool myself but not so much that I’d need to leave the blind. I was sweating enough that I could smell myself. I only hoped that it would cool down enough when the sun dipped below the tree line that we’d dry off before the deer came in again. No such luck. At around 17:20, the same doe as the previous day wandered into the hollow from one of the game trails. She only made it to within 75-yards or so before she caught our scent. Figures. She began to snort and stamp, and she retreated back into the woods, shaking her head with her tail held high. Queue simultaneous sigh of disappointment from three people in a deer blind. Still, we waited.
We were about to give up. It seemed that the sun had long since sat and it was still hot. We heard footsteps and sniffing at the back of our blind. The doe had doubled around on us to investigate in the dark! Again, she snorted and stamped and took off. If it had been gun season, I would have just ended her with my M&P45, right then and there. My Bowtech Assassin isn’t nearly so nimble. A few minutes later, the two yearlings wandered out into the hollow, investigated a little, and wandered off again. Checking the time, it was exactly 19:19. We called time. It was officially the end of Youth Deer Gun 2012, not a bullet fired. We packed up our things and headed home again.
On the way, Teen Bot expressed regret for not taking that shot on the previous day and that he hadn’t put meat in our freezer. I reassured him that he did the right thing for not taking the shot when he wasn’t sure it was right. We had come closer to bringing home venison than ever before. For three people that don’t really know what they are doing, it was an impressive degree of success! His deer tag is still good for Deer Gun season from November 17 through December 2. That will give us a full three weekends that we can try again. In the meantime, I’ll have to see if I can take one or two with my bow. My archery tags are good through the end of the year. I haven’t seen our buck in any recent pics, but he may still be out there. I understand that once the rut starts, strange things start happening.
I want to grill up some deer steaks so bad. The other day we had a small pronghorn tenderloin for dinner. Then, there was the aforementioned squirrel stew. A couple months ago, we bought meat from a traveling salesman with a refrigerated truck. We’d purchased from him before, so we were happy to buy his beef pack and his pork pack. We have just now depleted what we purchased from him. It’s not like we’re out of food, but the frozen meat has gotten more sparse than I’m comfortable with, and things are lean as they ever are this time of year. I hate to admit that I really had my heart set on venison. Oh well, upward and onward. I think Jennifer and I are going to take the afternoon off on Friday and head back out once more before muzzle loader season starts on Saturday, just the two of us. The forecast looks like it will be quite a bit cooler than it has been, so that should help with scent concealment. As close as we’ve gotten already, I see it as only a matter of time and persistence before we do have a freezer full of venison. Wish us luck!