Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hunt In Iowa - Part II

South Central Iowa -

The second morning, Sunday, began with a clear sky.  Rain had stopped a few hours after the Badgers had beaten Michigan State for the Big Ten Championship, which we watched with a hunting group from Kewaskum, WI.

Overnight temperatures were in the lower 20s, so that the ground began to firm up.  More importantly, the return of cold temperatures helped to get the deer moving about.  Because of the wet 24 hours leading up to Sunday morning, deer seemed anxious to move, returning to more normal activity.

Here are sample entries from Sunday, December 4, 2011:

   By the time the Badgers had clinched the Big Ten Championship vs. Michigan State, the stars had come out and the wind had shifted northerly.  We were more than ready for a night's sleep.  Hoyt had already turned in by 9 pm.   A shower and dry clothing felt like heaven to those who were soaked by the rains.  Earlier that evening while the boys showered and changed to dry clothes, I grilled cheese sandwiches at the stove.  It was pretty basic: hot buttered bread and melted cheese, with beer to wash it down.

 In the morning, I was the last to wake up, a few minutes after six.  My ear plugs had done their job! Hoyt and Thor were dressed and ready to go.   The Kewaskum group had left for their hunting grounds, and so had the pair of hunters from New York, in order to walk to their stands before daylight.  For some, there was a mile or more of hiking in the dark from their truck, by flashlight, to the spot they had picked out within the state forest.  

Hoyt had in mind for us a short drive to start the day, with himself walking in a N/S direction, and Thor and I would post east and west on a ridge above a creek in a small patch of hardwoods.  It was 28 degrees with the slightest northerly wind, and the ground had thankfully hardened after the mushiness following Saturday's saturating rain. Still, the pickup truck made deep ruts in the mud near the access gate, and when Thor and I set out to take our positions, we had to high-step through a creek that was swiftly flowing, deep enough to overtop our boots.  

This same drive produced two does for us last year, also on a Sunday morning by coincidence.  We didn't get a single shot today on this drive, but we did see deer on our way to the stand, and Hoyt spotted several deer, one a smaller 8-pt. buck, while walking toward our position. 

Hoyt and Thor changed to dry socks and boots (which they had the foresight to bring along in the truck), while I followed instructions to walk west, staying downwind of a tree break, paralleling  yet another creek bottom.   I would find a suitable location and stay there for quite an indefinite time. I began looking for a good spot to observe activity, and to have an open shot if the opportunity arose.   

As I approached the margin of the creek, an area thick with brambles and downed walnut trees, I saw a buck with two other deer ahead of me, beyond a ravine covered in dense growth.  I assumed all of these deer were bucks.  The lead buck's antlers were high, wide and white in the bright sun, and the size of the buck indicated its maturity.  It took off at a full run and was followed by the others. They crossed the densely covered creek bottom and in no time at all were high on the grassy slope of the far side, following a fence line that divided the land we hunted from private pastureland of a neighbor's farm.  All deer were at a full run, and they hesitated only once, at the top of the ridge.

With the morning sun low and bright behind me, I walked into the thick brambles to a downed tree that would be my seat and my hunting stand.  After the string of deer led by the large buck trotted along the far fence line, more deer soon trailed them.  Two diverted their direction of movement to a finger of trees that headed back toward the creek I overlooked, east of my position, and too far for me to identify antlers, or for me to shoot, had I been able to determine what they were.  There was also too much brush in between for a clean shot.   

Hoyt and I had Iowa antlerless permits only.  Thor was the only one to hold a buck tag.  

Within minutes, another deer, this time a doe, walked into view on the far bank, also traveling east.  It stood long enough for me to sight the cross hairs of my muzzleloader scope, and for the first time this hunt (and the first time in the field with this new .50 cal. gun) I shot.   The deer stood still, looked around for a few seconds, then it trotted slowly to the east.   As I followed its movement, trying to determine if it had been hit, yet another deer came into sight in the creek bottom, not more than fifteen yards away, its head poking above the steep bank on my side of the creek.   I crouched slightly as I began the process of reloading the muzzleloader, a somewhat clumsy evolution, and I glanced at the deer as it fixed eyes on me.  

Then, it disappeared below the bank, reappearing on the opposite bank where it climbed to level ground and open field, looking back toward me.  I saw two spikes between its ears through my scope.   I watched as it loped in the same direction as the doe I had just shot at.   The spike buck sniffed where the doe had stood, then began trotting off with its nose to the ground.

About 45 minutes later I left my stand, having seen at least eight deer in rapid succession, and I crossed the steep creek ravine to examine the grasses on the far side for signs of blood.  None were to be found, not a sign of having hit my target.  The cross hairs had been right on, but my shot was not.  The distance, looking back to the fallen walnut tree where I had shot, was around 80 yards, and within my range.

I recrossed the ravine, snagging gloves and sleeves in the thorns and bramble, only to see four more deer to my south, running across the grassy slope, alerted by my thrashing efforts.   

Nearly at my feet where I took my shot, half buried in grass and leaf debris, was half an antler, a shed possibly from the previous winter, with some of the tines showing signs of rodents nibbling them.  This would be my prize for the day, that and the blast of a 12-gauge from over the hill and through the woods, coming from the direction of Thor and Hoyt. 

Thor, changing to dry socks and boots.

[And this from memory...]

The sun went behind clouds around noon, and with that the air chilled. My damp boots and socks required me to stamp about to keep warm.   After a great start to the morning, for several hours I had seen only the neighborhood fox squirrel as it went from tree to tree, chirping down at the orange intruder.  Perhaps he saw his antler snack in my possession on the log.

Around 1 pm, I called Mary Jo to let her know how the day had been going.   While we talked on the phone, I heard a deep shotgun blast from over the hill and through the woods, a 12-gauge sound.

Thor with his buck.
Ten minutes later Hoyt called me to say that Thor had shot an 8-pointer, and he was tracking it to be sure it was down.   While I offered congratulations, another blast sounded.  "Now he's down," Hoyt said.  "Get the truck and drive over our way."

The rest of the afternoon was spent field dressing Thor's deer, and also the antlerless deer Hoyt had shot, not long after Thor got his deer.   We returned to the bunkhouse late that afternoon, pleased with our efforts.  One other hunter staying there had also been successful, shooting a 10-pointer.  As a trio, we had been lucky, and Thor had made a good shot at a deer that was moving away from him.  But Hoyt had carefully guided him in to that spot, so it wasn't all chance.

During our stay at the bunkhouse our host Terry Mothershead, who also guides during the various game seasons and is himself a terrific hunter (as is his wife and son), showed us the fine buck he took in November during bow season.  It's an example of what may be possible, given the right circumstances and patience in the field.

Iowan Terry Mothershead with
antlers that rough-score in the 180 range.

Although we hunted for four hours again Monday morning to fill our two remaining antlerless tags, we didn't get any shooting in, and we went home with Thor's buck and Hoyt's antlerless deer, and my half-set of chewed on horns.  During our stay, we had met other hunters at the camp, swapped stories, and we had watched two terrific football games on TV (Packers beating the NY Giants Sunday evening).

That's why we hunt in Iowa!

Hoyt and Thor, packed up and ready
to head home to Wisconsin.
-  Dick Purinton

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