VOLUME 89-----------NOVEMBER 2009
SHOOTIN', HUNTIN', AND RELOADIN'
WITH THE OL' MISSOURI HILLBILLY
November 4, 2009
First item on this month's agenda is the promised follow-up on our friend Greg's moose hunting adventures. In my very tardy October Newsletter I told about receiving the early morning phone call, canceling my dental appointment and heading out on the moose recovery expedition. That all went without a hitch on October 12th. You can review that newsletter here if you want to refresh your memory.
With Greg's moose safely in the meat processor's hands, we can reflect upon how this all came about. As I said last month, I accompanied Greg on the October 1st season opener. I picked him up at his home north of Newport about an hour before daylight and we drove the Ford up winding, rocky, Bead Lake Ridge Road.
Greg's cow tag was good only for Game Management Unit 113 and his scouting had zeroed in on this spot, high above and northeast of Bead Lake. He had spotted several cows and at least 3 or 4 different bulls on his previous forays into the area.
Greg told me that rutting activity had been absent until just the past day or so, when he began hearing the bulls making their moaning, grunting, mating calls and started seeing some wallows or scrapes. (For the record, the call of a rutting bull moose may sound sexy to a cow, but it makes me want to get in the truck!)
I'm much more familiar with the rutting/mating behavior of our local whitetail deer than that of the moose, but I surmised that the areas of torn up, urinated upon earth cultivated by the bulls, perform essentially the same function as a whitetail deer scrape. What I observed later that morning reinforced that belief for me.
After we parked the truck and began glassing the canyon below us, it wasn't long before we had spotted a really nice bull, a small bull, and several cows. None, however, were closer than 350 to 500 yards as confirmed by a Leica 1200 rangefinder.
As we continued to survey the brush and thickets below, hoping a cow would move closer, I was again thankful for quality binoculars. The Austrian made Swarovski SLC 8x32's continued to provide their customary clarity, light gathering, and sharp focus without eye strain or fatigue. Any wavering of the image was because of my shivering in the below freezing temperature rather than any fault of the equipment.
By 10 o'clock, the sun was well above the mountain top to our east, and the temperature rose above shivering. The moose seemed to vanish.
Greg said, "That's the pattern I've been seeing. When things warm up about mid-morning, the moose head for the bigger timber and leave these cut-over areas. They've been coming back out in the clear cuts to feed again a couple of hours before dark."
With it looking like no cow moose was going to come within decent shooting range of our current position, it was time to change tactics.
About 125 yards downhill from our position, an abandoned logging trail meanders along, roughly parallel to the road where we were parked. Rick and I had walked this trail a year earlier, only to find ourselves in the midst of a snow squall that reduced visibility to mere feet. Fortunately, the squall passed quickly, and we were able to resume our climb back out of the canyon without mishap or misdirection.
Greg decided he would hike this lower trail to see if he could spot a cow within range of his Remington .300 Win Mag. The old trail intersected with our road about a half mile down hill from our current spot. I drove down to the fork and dropped Greg to begin his hike. When we separated, we made sure our 2 way radios were set to the same channel so we could communicate in case field dressing equipment was needed.
I drove another half mile or so before finding a place wide enough to turn around, and then headed back up to where we had been sitting all morning. As I neared the point, my radio crackled to life.
Greg sounded pretty calm under the circumstances, when he quietly said, "That big bull just came up onto the trail right in front of me, and I'm not sure he wants me to be down here!"
I had news of my own; "I'm not sure you want to be down there either, 'cause a cow just stood up and walked out of the brush up here where we were all morning! Do you want me to back down the road and pick you up?"
"No." he responded, "If she's not spooked, just stay where you are and don't turn off the truck. Sometimes if you shut off the engine, it scares them more that just letting it run!"
I said, "You got it. I'll just wait!"
Greg said, "I'll back out of here and come up as quick as I can!"
Greg's a bit younger than me, but not a lot! He may have set a new world record for the distance, during his rapid hike back up the hill. I could soon see him in my rearview mirror as he huffed and puffed around the last curve.
Meanwhile, the cow had meandered up the road a hundred yards or so and stepped off in the brush to the left. About the time I spotted Greg, she came out of the thicket and walked back toward my position. She then moved off to the right where she had been lying when I came up the hill. She was partially hidden by brush, but appeared to kneel down and get back to her feet two or three times as Greg made his final approach.
After moving ahead of my position, Greg attempted to utilize a large log for a steady rest, but there was too much intervening vegetation. He was forced to move to the left and take a kneeling position for his shot. The moose was getting nervous!
At the boom of the .300 Mag, I saw hair fly into the air, and I think we both expected to see the cow collapse. We were already anticipating the taste of moose burgers!
No such luck. The moose began running, made a hard left, and started up the mountain into the really thick, steep stuff. Before the disappearance, Greg fired a couple more rounds, but the exodus continued. We both thought there was another hit, but weren't sure.
As soon as things calmed down, we began examining the area for evidence. We found no blood between the moose's location when shot, and the brush where she disappeared.
Greg began climbing the mountain where the moose went up, and soon shouted, "Here's blood!"
I climbed up to assist, but it quickly became apparent that the blood was becoming more scarce as we climbed the steep slope.
At that point we decided that I should go back to the truck and drive around to get on another road some 400 or 500 yards above our current position. This few hundred yards in position change required about a mile of driving to accomplish. I parked in a spot I guessed to be directly upslope from where I had left Greg.
As I looked for sign of a wounded moose having crossed this upper road, I began to hear intermittent crackling and crashing in the brush below me. Shortly a cow moose climbed a steep bank onto an overgrown skidder trail a mere 30 feet from where I was standing. The moose poked her head out of the bushes and stared at me.
The 'stare down' lasted maybe 5 seconds. Should I have dispatched the moose? What would you have done? The odds were that this was Greg's wounded moose, yet I could see no evidence of injury and the cow had just climbed a steep, brushy bank that would give pause to a monkey. I stood, immobile, as the moose turned and bailed off the skidder trail to crash back down the steep mountainside.
It would have been illegal for me to shoot that moose without a proper tag. But, would it have been ethical to do nothing had I seen clear evidence that the moose was mortally injured? A good question for the wildlife agent at our next hunter education class.
Greg's blood trail had petered out completely, so guided by intermittent honking of my horn, he threaded his way up the mountain and joined me. (I had misjudged being directly above him by quite some distance) Minute examination of the area where the moose stared me down, showed no evidence of blood, either on the ground or the bushes she pushed aside as she shoved her way through.
The two roads that I had followed from the site of the shooting to our present location form a sharp V about a half mile west of where we now stood. Time to move on to Plan B. (Or C, or D, whatever the hell it was)
I suggested, "Greg, why don't you take the truck down to the point where the roads meet, and I'll drop over the edge here and work along the mountainside toward you. Maybe I'll push her out where you can get another shot."
After pushing into and through some of the steepest, brushiest, thickest, stuff I've ever had the pleasure of traversing, no moose.
We drove to Greg's house in the dark with him berating himself every mile of the way! He would later write in an email:
You really don't know how bad I felt that day, personally. I should have not taken the shot until my a$$ quit sucking air after the long walk on lower roadway to upper roadway. I thought the shot over & over & over ... time again, what went wrong? Even re-sighted the .300 in again, right on! I really believe that "trying too hard" & "a$$ sucking wind", contributed to the failed shot!
After I dropped Greg off, I did some thinking about the situation. I replayed a mental video of that shot as I saw it from the truck, over and over as I drove home. I told Ann and Rick later that night, that I thought the shot hit high on the cow's withers and was probably superficial. That would explain the lack of blood trail early on as it would need time to run down through the hair and drip off. If indeed superficial, it could also explain why the blood stopped after 100 yards or so.
"Unfortunately, I said, we'll never know!"
Now I'll return to the skinning and quartering of Greg's moose as described last month. As we skinned the hide from belly to backbone, we discovered a bullet wound right at the top of the front shoulders; a wound that went unnoticed until the hide was peeled away!
As incredible as it may seem, Greg had walked in on the abandoned logging road and killed the same moose he had shot 12 days earlier, just a few hundred yards away! A fitting, lucky, and satisfactory end to a story that didn't start so well.
I do think I learned something about this 'moose scrape' or 'wallow' business, or whatever it's called. Closer inspection showed that the cow I disturbed was lying in or near one of those churned up, peed in, areas. The cow had urinated in the dirt and the odor from downwind smelled like cat pee. My assumption is that the cow was coming into estrous, was advertising the fact, and awaiting the bull that made the scrape. Should I ever draw another moose tag, I may be able to use this knowledge to my advantage.
After the moose retrieval, our thoughts turned to deer hunting, but before I get into that discussion, I'm gonna' revisit a subject I last addressed in these pages in 2003: Why do many of my friends and neighbors in the great Northwest, insist upon counting whitetail antler points in a way similar to the traditional counting of points on the bifurcated antler species?
When I describe a whitetail as being an 8 point for example, I often hear, "Oh, you mean a 4 point." or "Oh, you mean a 3 point."
No, dammit, I don't mean EITHER a 3 point or a 4 point. I mean exactly what I said, "An eight point!" (The reason I used the term 'similar' in the above paragraph is because the 3 or 4 point advocates often can't agree whether whitetail brow times are included in the count or not)
What's wrong with describing whitetail deer the way the rest of the country does? Read some outdoor magazines. Watch some hunting shows. Can everyone be wrong except the 'count one side only' advocates? Whitetails are button bucks, spikes, fork horns, or whatever number of points are on BOTH antlers
Here's my take: (This is offered somewhat 'tongue-in-cheek' but I have actually had some 'single antler counters' get peeved at me for expounding on this. It probably ain't the most pressing issue our country faces today)
In our country's early days, the whitetail was an eastern deer. There were relatively few areas west of the Appalachians, where whitetail deer existed. This might be why the whitetail's Latin name is Odocoileus virginianus (emphasis mine) and sometimes called the Virginia Deer. Thus, people in the west, were accustomed to hunting and eating mule deer, or along the west coast, blacktails.
Both species grow bifurcated antlers, usually with very small or no brow tines. The most common configuration for a mature mule deer is an antler that branches or Y's into 4 points. After hunting became more of a pastime than a necessity, and bragging rights were invented, such a deer was historically called a 4 point.
As whitetails proliferated, both by transplant and natural migration, they came to far outnumber mule deer and blacktails combined. The last estimate I saw, said that some 36 million whitetails exist in the U. S. today! They have become the most widespread, most sought after, and most common, big game animal in the country. As the whitetail harvest grew, I suppose it's only natural that the traditional mule deer guy would extrapolate the point count from one species to the other.
Now aren't you glad you stayed with me through all that?
Our early deer season opened on October 17th. As usual, the deer have been attracted to our plum trees and eat the fruit as it ripens and drops to the ground. When the plums are gone we substitute stunted apples that Rick and Jennifer scavenge from various locations around the neighborhood. A little alfalfa and cracked corn on occasion also helps keep the deer around. (Yes, boys and girls, this is perfectly legal here in Washington)
Because of our over-abundant whitetail population, the Department of Fish and Wildlife offers several options for increasing the deer harvest. For example, we 65 and over hunters can take either a buck or doe during the early season on our general tag. Disabled or youth (under 16) hunters are also allowed either sex. Others must take only bucks on the general tag. Lottery drawings are also held for a tag that allows a 2nd deer so long as it is antlerless.
This year Rick, Jennifer, and Ann all drew 2nd deer permits, while I must be content with only my general tag. Our early season ended October 30th. So far Jennifer has filled her doe tag and Ann has killed a spike buck.
Jennifer shot a dry doe on October 18th. She and her dad were in a ground blind south of the house when the doe came out of the woods to the west. Ann and I were watching the action from the kitchen windows. It seemed to us that it was taking forever for Jennifer to shoot.
Rick later told us, "Jennifer had the safety off and on three times, waiting for the exact shot angle she wanted."
This year Jennifer graduated from the .243 to Grandma's old 7X57 MM Mauser rifle. That rifle took my first whitetail, and Ann has killed numerous deer and one bear with it. When Ann began using the Mauser, I cut off the butt stock to provide a length of pull of 11½ inches which is now perfect for Jennifer as well.
Under most circumstances the 7 MM is simply more effective on deer sized game than the .243, without a great deal more recoil. Both will certainly kill deer, but the bigger diameter bullet will usually leave a much better blood trail if the animal gets into the thick stuff!
Finally the Mauser's crack echoed through the hills. The ammo was a handload assembled in September 1989 with IMR 4350 powder behind a 160 grain Sierra boattail bullet. The doe turned and dashed for the timber. I could see via binoculars that she wouldn't go far and there would indeed be a visible blood trail.
This splash on a stump shows vividly the ease of following the trail.
Turned out the deer was shot through the heart, which almost always results in a mad dash for a short distance.
Here Jennifer follows what we teach in Hunter Education class. Poke it with a stick to make sure it's dead before you attempt to tag it.
As they still have venison in the freezer from last year, Jennifer decided to donate her doe to the Union Gospel Mission. Ann and I delivered the deer on Monday. The Mission folks are always grateful for dressed game animals and have volunteers available to process the meat.
On October 29th, Ann did what she does every year. Points her Remington 7MM-08 at a deer, pulls the trigger, sends a Hornady 139 grain SST bullet on its way, and the deer falls down. This time it was a spike buck on the hill behind the house. I'd guess she's killed at least a half dozen deer at that spot over the years.
Ann's spike buck. A little snow on the ground always makes the retrieval more interesting.
This will be our 'meat deer' for the year and is now being made into summer sausage and pepperoni by Tim's Special Meats in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
The late season opens Saturday, November 7th and ends on the 19th.. Ann and Rick both have doe tags to fill, and Rick, Jennifer, and I a buck tag each. The bucks should start rutting activity soon and the bigger ones will be moving around and more visible. I'm holding out for a big one this year, which could mean I'll get skunked! We shall see.
This month's hillbilly wisdom is a quote from basketball coach, John Wooden:
"You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."
Well, It's time to shut down here, So . . . .
'Til next time, Keep 'em shootin' straight, shoot 'em often, and above all, BE SAFE!!!!!