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."
If you expect to wade into the timber and come out with a trophy, you'd better understand the language of your quarry. Elk make a variety of vocalizations—some music to a hunter's ears, others, not so much.
It's the sound bulls make to attract cows and express dominance to the herd. Blow a bugle call to locate a bull then use it to keep tabs on one that answers you while sneaking closer.
Cows use this and other socially positive, high-pitched sounds like squeals and chirps to keep track of herd members. Learn to make them with a diaphragm mouth call to cover your mistakes during movement to contact. When you pop a stick underfoot, mew softly, as if to tell the herd, "Everything's okay over here, folks—just us elk moving about."
A herd bull does this to cows straying from his harem in an attempt to keep them close. If you hear this you're close enough to determine if in fact a satellite is challenging the herd boss for dominance, and thus size up your opportunity to bag either bull.
Barks, Bleats & Whines
Cows warn the herd of danger with barks. They signal their calves with soft whines. And calves signal their mothers with distressed bleats. If you hear any of these vocalizations chances are the jig is up.
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »
Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »
The year that Sumner, Mo., erected a statue of "Maxie" to commemorate being the "Wild Goose Capital of the World."
Maxie sports a 65-foot wingspan while resting on a cinderblock building in a community park.
The number of cackling subspecies.
The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska, is a tundra-breeder with considerably more black plumage than the Canada. At one time, the cackling goose was considered the smallest subspecies of the Canada, but is now recognized as a separate species.