VOLUME 69-----------MARCH 2008
SHOOTIN', HUNTIN', AND RELOADIN'
WITH THE OL' MISSOURI HILLBILLY
Posted March 2, 2008
It's February 28th as I write this first line; two days before my very flexible deadline. I hesitated to begin today because when I started early on last month's newsletter, we were forced to plow and blow snow every day thereafter for a solid week! Today the sun is shining brightly and it's 51 degrees, so I feel a bit safer.
I spent some time this morning watching deer behind the house as they foraged for browse in the two or three feet of snow we still have on the ground. I spent a good bit of time behind Ann's Swarovski binoculars confirming that the four we were watching were all mature bucks.
At times the deer were within 40 or 50 yards of the house, and you can see a lot of detail with 10X glasses at that range. These animals had all shed their antlers, but the bare pedicles from which they dropped were clearly visible. Won't be long until this fall's future weaponry will begin growing.
From our observations over 20+ years here on the Ranch, the bucks mostly lose their old antlers from mid January through early February. The latest I've personally observed a buck that still had his antlers was on April Fool's Day several years ago.
We have seen more mature bucks the past few weeks than we usually do this time of year. With several years of mild winters and little snow, we figure that the bigger bucks simply stayed in the higher country until 'green-up' in the lower valleys. In recent years, we haven't seen them until late April or early May. We think this year's heavy snowfall has forced them down early.
Last night I read an article in one of my hunting magazines about ageing bucks on the hoof. Scientists and biologists use tooth wear as a guide to approximate age, and they claim to be able to determine exact age via a cross section of a tooth. Unfortunately, obtaining tooth data is rather hard on the deer being studied!
While ageing deer by looking from a distance will never be an exact science, I did try to apply some of the criteria I read about to the four deer I was watching this morning. Two of the four were obviously young bucks. They simply weren't quite as large as the others, and had slender torsos and straight back lines. Their antler pedicles were smaller in diameter as well.
The two larger animals were a bit different from each other too. While both looked mature to me, one had a very noticeable flap of loose skin running from chin to brisket; according to the 'expert' a sure sign of old age for a deer. (Dang, I notice the same thing when I look in a mirror!)
Other indicators are said to be a sway back and pot belly. The deer with the dewlap had the sway back behind the shoulders, but not a prominent belly. I suspect that having a lot of their forage beneath a couple of feet of snow might have something to do with that. He also had droopy ears and a more grizzled face than the others. He just looked old!
I sure wish I'd seen him during the season last fall, because his antler pedicles looked to be pushing two inches in diameter, quite a lot larger than his equal body sized brother.
While these deer were not fat by any measure, they did appear to be healthy and hearty. Most breeding age bucks go into winter worn down and skinny from chasing the girls throughout November instead of eating, and our winter came early and hard this year. But, barring more really severe weather they should make spring in pretty good shape. I hope so 'cause I'll be lookin' for that old guy come fall!
With today's emphasis on 'Quality Deer Management,' which is intended to balance the herd by taking more females and allowing more bucks to reach maturity before harvesting, it's important to be able to recognize and pass up the younger bucks. This, of course, according to Q. D. M. aficionados.
Many of our state game departments are setting regulations and bag limits to address this issue. Such rules as 'Earn A Buck,' (requiring harvesting a doe before being allowed to take a buck) loosening or eliminating the bag limits on female deer, and antler point restrictions are geared toward the Q. D. M. concepts.
As brother Ed reports from my home state of Missouri, point restrictions and increased doe harvest have improved the trophy quality of many of the bucks they are seeing today. (See last month's newsletter for some pictures of bucks taken on Ed's property.)
I started this newsletter yesterday by writing about the magazine story that piqued my interest in analyzing those backyard bucks for characteristics about how old they might be. (They were back again this morning so Little Heifer and I had another good look at them.) While I found that story to be both educational and worthwhile, I find some to be less useful.
Any periodical that carries hunting stories and information seems to have certain 'mandatory' subjects that receive a supposedly 'new' treatment on a pretty predictable schedule. Not surprisingly many of these articles are 'how to' pieces about our most hunted big game animal; the whitetail deer.
Now many of these articles have some truly helpful information about such things as new insights into deer behavior. Scientific studies into how deer interact and communicate with scent and sound, for example, I find interesting. How they react to changing environmental conditions like the increasing urbanization of their habitat is another timely topic. But, the subject of one of those annual 'mandatory' treatises by a professional 'writer/hunter/whitetail expert,' sorta leaves me cold.
You've seen the story titles: "See More Deer" "Are You Missing Your Chance?" "How To Spot More Deer In The Woods" "See Them Before You Spook Them" One and all, these articles give you the 'secret' clues to spotting deer in the woods! Some examples I recall off the top of my head are: Look for horizontal lines where they should be vertical, sun glinting off an antler, a tail or an ear flick, look for 'a part or piece' of a deer, and others that I disremember.
Sorry to be a party pooper, but I for one, am not a good enough word smith to explain on paper how to see deer in the woods. In my humble opinion, even the top writers whom I've seen address the subject ain't either! If you want to really learn to spot deer you gotta' spend lots of time spotting deer. There ain't no substitute for that!
We've now lived here on the Ranch for over 22 years. Our house happens to be smack dab in the middle of where our local whitetail deer live. We see them, up close and personal, nearly every day. We see them loafing, traveling, resting, playing, procreating, and eating. As each year passes, we become more adept at spotting that telltale 'something,' that says "There's a deer!" They can be nearly hidden by brush or trees, with only a small piece showing, and we just know "It's a deer."
This is much like identifying various tree species, except the deer aren't rooted to the earth so you won't have time to consult your identification guide for all the clues. Our local tree species were as a foreign language when we moved here after growing up in the hardwoods of the mid-west. Marketing a few logs, along with just living among these trees has now made identification of many of the local conifers second nature.
At first it was study the books, compare the characteristics, and finally, I could name the tree of interest. Now, at a glance I can tell you what many of them are. (Some of these names are local vernacular, rather than the scientific designation) Tamarack, Red Fir, White Fir, Lodgepole Pine, Ponderosa Pine, and Hemlock are all readily identified. In this country, that's all you need to know to sell timber.
I think you'll find successfully seeing and finding deer much like my experience with the trees. Do it enough, and suddenly it becomes second nature. If you're reading about seeing deer and not actually lookin' at 'em, over and over, where they live, you will likely overlook many deer while hunting.
March 2nd. (Sunday evening)
Now see what you've done? Made me late again.
Actually we got all wrapped up in getting ourselves ready to go to the local Friends of NRA banquet last night. This is about year number 5 for us, and we enjoy the festivities. Many of our local Hunter Education instructors attend the banquet, including some with whom I teach.
I've bought a gun at the live auction the last two years, but neither Ann nor I have ever won anything in the drawings and raffles. We always buy lots of raffle tickets and enter several of the on site games and drawings. Things like the dice game, card game, goose band game, cartridge case game, and others at $20 a pop, can get into your wallet. We happen to believe in helping to protect our Second Amendment Rights, so the money is for a good cause. We won't be going hungry.
I did not buy a gun this year. However, the $20 single rose and its accompanying ticket won Ann a Charter Arms Pink Lady! The Pink Lady is a .38 Special snub nose revolver, made and targeted for the 'girl' market.
My opportunity came a little later, when a special 5 minute ticket sale found me spending another $20 for a ticket on a gun case. Now the gun case was kinda special. It was a Kalispel brand case. This is the popular heavy welded aluminum case with a locking rod that secures all the latches. It's made right here in Washington by the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, and is sized for two scoped rifles. They do tell the ticket buyers, up front, that there is a gun in the case, but they don't tell you if its a BB gun, rifle, shotgun, or water gun.
You can bet I got rather excited when the drawn ticket matched my number! Then, the excitement escalated. Opening the case revealed a shiny, wood stocked, Weatherby Vanguard rifle chambered in 7mm Remington Magnum!
We figure the MSRP for these 3 items comes to around $1300. Then comes the letdown. You can touch and fondle those new beauties for a few minutes, but then they must leave you and go to one of a number of local firearms dealers, to be picked up later during 'regular business hours.' Durn near brings tears to yer eyes don't it?
Our Monday morning is obviously all mapped out. It's 10:00 AM at Sharp Shooter Indoor Range to pick up Little Heifer's revolver and then to All American Arms for the Weatherby.
Such a terrible problem occurs with possessing the Weatherby though. It has no sights, which means I'll be forced to by another new scope and appropriate mounts.
We'll try to have pictures for next month's newsletter. We'll also hope some of the dang snow melts so we can actually get out and shoot them too!
This month's hillbilly wisdom is a quote from George Bernard Shaw:
"A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."
Well, It's time to shut down here, So . . . .
'Til next time, Keep 'em shootin' straight, shoot 'em often, and above all, BE SAFE!!!!!