Monday, December 12, 2011


Southern Iowa -

I've asked myself, and I've often been asked by others, "Why go to Iowa to hunt?"

Why would anyone want to pay for a permit to hunt deer- and receive a doe only permit - then travel 700+ miles in a truck loaded with gear, then spend the first day in a tent-blind in pouring rain, with virtually no opportunity to see or shoot a deer?

If you are from Wisconsin, it sounds like a good idea.   And if you have two sons eager to hunt, one who lives in Michigan, the other from Washington Island, steeped in hunting knowledge, and who gets excited just spotting deer from the Interstate - and if you'll spend 16 hours in the truck visiting, plus hours  hunting with them - that's time and money well spent!

But, I wasn't quite so sure of myself Saturday, opening morning December 3.

Rain had only begun to fall that evening, and it picked up speed and volume as the day flowed on.  I was assigned to a blind, a kind and gentle effort that distanced mea from the activities of the real hunters, Hoyt and Thor, who would sit in tree stands.  Eight hours later, I was grateful to have had that tent, despite its leaks and drips.  Each hour, I imagined those two boys in huddled on their tree stands, soaked to their long johns, getting soggier by the hour, shivering, suffering out in the open, waiting for the big buck that would never appear because it was too rainy.  Thankfully, the temperature had been a balmy 41 degrees that morning, a saving grace as opposed to 38 or 36 degrees.   I managed quite well, thanks to heavy hunting parka, coveralls and the blessed pop-up blind.

As an afterthought that morning, I placed a small notebook and pen in my hunting jacket pocket, along with shells, gloves, knife and a bag of trail mix.  What started out as a long day went rather quickly, I found out.  Here are sample entries, with approximate time of day:

   Our bunkhouse is situated in hilly, south central Iowa, an area noted for outstanding whitetail deer. Not only are the deer themselves larger than typical Wisconsin deer, the antlers of bucks are larger in spread and thicker in beam.  It's a fifteen minute drive from the bunkhouse where we slept to the private land where we hunt, rolling land which abuts a large, several-thousand acre state forest.  Oaks, deep ravines and adjacent grasslands with small creeks provide good habitat, along with nearby croplands of corn and soybeans.  

Unfortunately, this year's opening morning we awoke to steady rain on the tin roof of the Bar-M.  None of the hunters we stayed with were anxious to get started in the pitch black wetness, but the call to duty, the short 5-day season, and cost of out-of-state permits made staying indoors not an option.

I was dropped off first at the edge of a field, next to a thicket, while Thor and Hoyt drove further to a low field where they would park and hike to tree stands set up Friday afternoon.  Their stands would be somewhere on a wooded hillside overlooking both woods and field.  I considered their situation often those first hours as the rain intensified.

From roughly 10 am to 11 am, the heavy rain subsided to a moderate drizzle.  I began to hear the water flowing nearby, a 3-ft. wide rivulet that bubbled over stones, once the pounding rain had lessened.  Yesterday when we set up my hunting blind the ditch had been dry.  This ditch flows into a larger ditch, and joins several other small creeks on the property.  The dark, almost rockless Iowa soil is deep, and where creeks become swollen and flow fast, they cut deep, creating steep-sided gullies.

Hoyt told us on our drive here of a hunter on this same property a few years ago who drove his car across the dry creek bed. When he returned near dark after a day hunting in the rain, the water had deepened to 3 feet.   He had no choice but to try crossing with his car in order to get back to his lodging.  The car stalled.  With no one nearby to help, and without cell coverage, he walked to the top of the next rise along the road from where he could place a call for assistance.  Eventually, a tow truck came to pull him out, for a fee of several hundred dollars.   

It might be this way later today, the rising creek, if the rain continues apace.

12:45 and its raining hard as it has all morning.  Haven't heard from the boys since around 9:30 (by phone).  I've seen 7 deer so far, all at a distance, all does as far as I can tell.    My permit is "antlerless only" so I must avoid shooting any deer with horns...that are hard to see if hidden between large ears.   Almost impossible to differentiate small antler points on a moving, distant target.  

I called home and spoke with Mary Jo, a tech marvel in itself that, despite my being far removed physically, I am still tied in to home life.    At our home, in front of our house and near the water's edge, a wounded doe stood for over a day.  Its injury was apparent to Mary Jo, and it seemed unable to eat and was losing strength.   I had contacted friend Bill Crance on Friday, and Saturday morning he performed a favor for us and the doe by mercifully dispatching it.  He had also contacted the DNR to get their approval and to dispose of the carcass.   

This was an example of unintended consequence, not a welcomed sight, this victim of a poorly aimed shot during the gun season that ended the Sunday before.    

2 pm -   It's been spattering into the shooting openings of the blind, pouring continuously for the past several hours.  The little stream before me is now six inches deep and about 4 ft. wide.  The two deer I observed a short while ago ran swiftly through the corn stubble, perhaps moved from their cover by other hunters in adjacent property.  I am in no hurry to leave this tent, not until the sun goes down or the rain stops, not even to answer the call of nature.

Almost 3 pm -  It's rained steadily, hard that is, since noon.  I learned that Hoyt and Thor left the woods, returned to the bunkhouse for a dry change of clothes, then headed back to their tree stands.  By now, they are again soaked, I should think, and more soggy than at midday.    I've seen no deer since 12:30.   

The skies are slowly darkening as the afternoon fades, as if someone is slowly twisting the dimmer rheostat.  My tent, under downpour, now drips inside everywhere, but I'm still thankful my shift will end at dark and I'll not be required to spend the night here outdoors.  Even the ground inside the tent is soggy now.

I observed several small stones and one large flat rock, all in view earlier.  Now, they've been fully submerged and the current is swift, carrying with it sticks and leaves, sometimes leaves in clumps, and they temporarily dam up the shallow crossing in front of me.  It's still a jumpable creek, but it's rising.    

Hoyt told me during his last call that he has the stamina to last the afternoon, but he wondered if Thor may have to head to the truck and a warm heater.   Or, he may elect to walk my way - but I would doubt that, given the constant downpour.

Its been a day maybe best forgotten, memorable only for its miserable, relentless rain and stolen hunting opportunity.     

End of day, Hoyt and Thor return to the truck where I await
in relative comfort.  No shots were fired this day
 As it turned out, both boys stayed in their tree stands until dark, soaking up rain.  I photographed them as they slid down the muddy creek bank and waded across to the truck.   -    To be continued...
 -   Dick Purinton

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