This is a big deal. Work will wait, schools will close—all in the name of deer season. Can you feel the wind blow out of the northwest? Oil up your guns. It's opening day.
In the pre-dawn darkness I haul my carcass up the same hill I've climbed for more than 30 years. It's not a long walk, but it's a steep one. I like the spot "up top" because it overlooks a bench deep in the woods where bucks like to bed. It's also close to national park land, which spells "sanctuary" to me. Tapping a little honeyhole like this next to un-huntable land has worked magic for generations.
About halfway up, I pause to keep the lather to a minimum. But it's too late, as the bead of sweat that runs down my back reminds me. I remove my hat and wipe my brow, and my mind wanders to all the bucks we've killed here over the years. The spike I shot over a scrape in muzzleloader season; my oldest son Anthony's first deer; Uncle Steve's 14-pointer and a wide-racked sucker that looked like it belonged in Texas; my brother Marc's two 150-inch whoppers; and the double-mainbeam freak I tagged the day before Thanksgiving just a few years ago—all were taken on this hillside.
Then I think about all the brutes killed by hunters in places that grow bigger bucks than our little piece of the Old Dominion will ever produce. Beginners, one-week-a-year types, diehards, eccentrics—I see every hunter's face, go over every account I've read in magazines in a 10-year span. A choice location is almost always part of the equation. But surely there is chance involved, too. No matter how smart or how persistent we might be, Lady Luck always has her say. How else to explain the first-timers who drop Booners on opening day?
Yes, that's the ticket, that's the key that helps me put one foot in front of the other, sweat be damned. It doesn't matter where one hunts, only that he does so. Luck can shine her light on any of us, anywhere. It doesn't matter whether it's our first step into the woods or if we've spent half our lives there, we need only hunt to join the fraternity. Still, I can't help thinking a nice buck would ice the endeavor. Why can't this be the year I drop a Booner?
So I climb, anxious with the knowledge that it could happen here, now. I'll never know for sure unless I get up top and settle in before the bucks show up after a night of feeding. As inveterate gamblers like to say, "Ya gotta be there for the roll."
How to Think Like a Rabbit
by J. Scott Olmsted,
Editor in Chief
Rabbit fur provides poor insulating qualities.
So think about it: Where would you escape the cold if all you had was a light jacket? Check briar patches and fruit brambles that offer shelter from the wind while remaining open to the warm rays of the January sun.
When hunting thick cover look for their eyes,
not their brown fur, to spot rabbits. A rabbit's shiny, round, dark eyes stand out against the monochromatic gray tones of the places it calls home like a dime on a cow pie.
Anyone who's hunted them knows rabbits are nervous critters, likely to bolt before they need to in the face of danger. When you enter a briar patch walk slowly, then stop, look and listen for about a minute. Then repeat. Your movement will likely flush a bunny from its hide. If not, the silent treatment should convince the critter it's been spotted and it'll make a run for it.
Contrary to popular belief,
rabbits don't exactly run in circles when chased by dogs. They do, however, tend to run within their range. If your beagle jumps a rabbit stand and wait—the dog will chase the rabbit back within shooting range.
Use an improved cylinder choke and No. 6 or 7 1/2 loads
to provide a wide, sufficiently heavy pattern without excessively damaging meat when hunting alone. Beagles push rabbits farther afield; switch to a modified or even a full choke and No. 4 or 6 loads when hunting with them.
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