Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Running The Backroads Of My Memory
Today was one of those late-summer days when it seemed more productive to travel the back roads of my memory than go outside to work and sweat. I found more fun remembering some of my past deer hunts. Two come to mind, and both happened years ago when I lived near Clio.
This was shotgun country, and although I hunted it some with a bow, it seems that most of my interest was taken up with the Nov. 15-30 firearm deer season. A buddy—John McKenzie—and I would work those back roads, especially those dirt roads and they offered us a glimpse of deer tracks, and we’d begin covering a block of about 10 square miles each. We checked all the locations where deer crossed the road from one section to another. We’d meet at a certain spot at a certain time, compare our notes and by then we would have a good handle on where the deer were moving.
Mind you, this was in that period before tree stands for bow or firearms, but at a time when center-fire rifles were illegal in this area. The .22 rimfire magnum was legal in those days for deer, and I saved money all winter to buy me a Winchester Model 61 .22 rimfire magnum for the following season, and made the last payment on the rifle three or four months before the opener. That year was a big disappointment because the Natural Resources Commission decided to outlaw the .22 mag for Region III deer hunting. I still have that rifle, and have used it since for woodchucks, raccoons, opossum, fox, crows and coyotes.
Anyway, after this short digression, McKenzie and I had our deer patterned. This was still in a day when people allowed others to hunt their land. We would touch base with landowners in key areas, get permission to deer hunt although they always told us they had never seen a deer near their home. We’d know where the bucks would be on opening day, and would flip a coin to see who would be the deer-driver and who would take a stand.
We knew where to find the deer, and knew how they would travel when one of us made a short stop-and-go, zig-zag downwind drive through a narrow woodlot. Tracks in the croplands adjoining the woods always gave us fresh prints, and that’s where one of us one would be standing. We’d be downwind but within shotgun range of the deer’s exit route.
The driver would give the stander time to get into position, circle around, and move downwind slowly with many zigs and zags, and frequent changes of direction. We’d stop suddenly, pause to let our scent drift downwind to the deer, and then move in the opposite direction to keep upsetting the buck’s idea of where possible danger would come from.
One year I was on the receiving end of one of McKenzie’s one-man drives. I knew where the buck would come out but also knew I couldn’t shot back into the woods because that is where my friend would be. I’d have to wait until the buck pulled out of the woods and began crossing the field. I was in the right spot, and could see the buck coming.
He was moving slowly, and when McKenzie would move to the right he would be going to the left. The buck was always moving away from his scent, and as long as the he was moving slowly, the buck would drift from side to side to avoid the human scent. He had to be on the opposite side of the woodlot when the buck came out in front of me. The buck jumped a big fallen log at the edge of the woods, offered me a clear shot, and a 3-inch magnum load of No. 4 buckshot sent him tumbling to the ground.
That particular year was 1972 when the DNR offered its first deer patch to cooperating hunters. That enabled me to obtain the very scarce 1972 patch that is the cornerstone of any collection of deer patches.
A few days later, after a dandy snowstorm that covered the ground in a totally different area, I was able to return the favor. McKenzie took up a stand near another narrow woodlot. The snow told us that deer had moved into the woods and had not come out. Once he was stationed in a prime ambush location, I slipped around and came slowly downwind toward my friend.
The wind was swirling a bit but the downwind path we needed to carry my scent down to the bedded deer was perfect. I began moving downwind, and heard a deer get up in front of me out of a clump of dogwood. The deer wasn’t seen, but he now knew I was dogging his tracks.
My downwind zig-zag movement took me past his bedding area, and I could see the spray of snow as the buck leaped up and ran off on a downwind angle. I stopped near his bed, and moved to the right in the direction the buck had gone. I cawed like a crow just loud enough for my buddy to know the buck was moving, and I moved almost to the edge of the woodlot, stopped for 20 seconds, and cut back over to the other side.
Again, the sounds of a buck in rapid flight could be heard as two or three twigs snapped. I cawed again, cut back that way, and knew the buck had to be within 50 yards of McKenzie. That buck and I played out this scenario to its obvious conclusion, and after one or two more direction shifts and pauses, I heard his shotgun cough once.
I knew the buck was dear because he never missed, and based on the size of the deer’s hoof prints, it was apparent this was a larger than average buck for our area. His buck, a nice 10-pointer with heavy beams lay dead in the snow just 25 yards from where he had been standing.
In some ways I long for such days again but if we tried to hunt that area as we did 35 years ago, we’d be in big trouble with landowners and the law. We never damaged the property of others, and never shot near buildings or livestock. We offered some venison to the landowner, and it was always refused but the offer was made. Now, the police would be all over trespassing hunters.
Those years was a point in time for us, and one that we may never see again. And we both lament the fact that what once was possible is no longer a viable option in this day and age. It makes me wonder what changes the next 35 years will bring, and I suspect they won’t be nice for legitimate hunters.