Bambi 2, Scott 0, Nov01

Went hunting today.  First time in almost 25yrs.  Well, for 4-legged critters anyhow. 

I last went deer hunting with Craig McCown in the little town of Rainier, Oregon....The no-stop-light town that I generally think of as "where I grew up".  We were probably 14.  Hunting back then, in Oregon anyhow, seemed to be a matter of tromping around the woods with a rifle and hoping that you'd find a Bambi that was sufficiently deaf and blind that you could stumble upon it unawares.  Our technique was to wander around the woods laughing and carrying-on about all the girls that currently wouldn't give us the time-of-day.  We had long and complicated ways of statistically evaluating the intrinsic variables that comprised the incomprehensive "femaleness" of our real prey.  Our thought was that if we could rigorously assess the likelihood of a specific girl responding favorably to various overtures, we could then focus our sparse resources (aka charms) on the target most likely to return some small something for our investment.  Sadly, the only deep and languid kisses that we would receive for some years would be from our respective dogs.  But I digress.

This statistical evaluation of our area womenfolk, although a subject that we could, in those days, wax poetic on for hours, would bore anyone else to a stupor.  So perhaps if we were unable to sneak up on Bambi, we him bore him into a glassy-eyed stupor sufficient that if we couldn't shoot him, we'd certainly be able to run up and whack him up-side the head.  And since I don't really recall that we'd ever actually sighted our rifles in, the butt-stroke to the head technique was an important reserve plan to have at the ready.

Anyways, deer hunting, I guess, isn't like that anymore.  At least not in Georgia.  Here there are 2 flavors.  Either you spend the day in some spindly chair tied up a tree with a lot of free time to wish you were some place else.  Some place else dry and warm.  Or you do it with dogs. 

Sarah, the lass I duped into becoming my wife, has a friend who recently retired from the spindly chair up-a-tree technique.  Just in case there was doubt, we now have proof positive that falling out of trees can break bones and puncture lungs.

But today was a dog effort.

We linked up with 35 or so other guys at a hunting club this morning.  I was clearly the newby outsider.  Unlike the “in” crowd, I had no camouflage baseball cap, and I didn't have a truck/mobile kennel full of dogs.  It was my boss that had invited me out, so I got to ride in his mobile kennel.  And no one harassed me about the lack of camouflage cap.  Nothing like carrying a firearm to discourage harassment.  I'd considered that hat issue before deciding that I owned no workable solution.  I didn't much figure that they were ready for my tremendously cool and much sought after psychedelically neon-colored cycling cap from the famed Italian bicycle maker, Colnago.  That much coolness has to be introduced slowly, in rural Georgia.

The hunting club leases the rights to hunt on some land.  It's a lot of land.  I don't recall how much, but I think it spanned 3 counties.  Half of us set ourselves up near dirt roads and the other half of the guys took the dogs maybe a mile out and let the dogs loose to run the deer.  Generally trying to encourage the dogs to run in our direction.  I say generally, because these weren't house dogs that are all bonded with the family social group and sometimes do what they are asked.  Nope.  These are "hunting" dogs who's focus seems to be trying to become "stray" hunting dogs.  They just bark a lot when they smell an interesting critter to allay our suspicions.

Trying to walk up to one of these dogs to pet it on the head, for example, would be about as successful as trying to walk up to a coyote and pet it on the head.  You'd just get tired and the dog would wonder if you'd lost your mind.

Oh, one of the rules, apparently was that hunt-club "guests" can't shoot doe's.  Only bucks.  So I needed to spot something with horns.

I found it a little unnerving to be one of many hunters stationed 100m+ apart.  Sometimes you could see the other guy, and sometimes you couldn't.  We weren't supposed to wander too much so the other guy's general location would remain marginally predictable.  It had the look of one of those "no blood, no foul" situations.  I mean, if the dogs ran a deer towards our line of armed camo-cap wearers, the chance of a deer running between me and the next guy was pretty much 100%.  Assuming, of course, that the dogs hadn't all exercised their option to run in the completely opposite direction to find some old folks home where they could all live out their days in the laps of luxury and table-scraps.  Or perhaps to Tahiti.

 In contrast, in Oregon as a youngster, there was a fair chance that there wasn't another hunter for 5 or 10 miles.  And wherever you were walking probably hadn't seen human feetsies in 50 yrs.  That was one of the reasons that we were all using shotguns (OO Buck) instead of rifles.  Shotgun shot doesn't travel all that far, enabling everyone to go home.  Except, of course for those dogs that might be working on exchanging bondage for the palm trees of Tahiti.  The other reason for using shotguns is that hitting a running deer in a two second glimpse is a bit of a trick.  Especially when 1.9 seconds of the glimpse is traditionally consumed exclaiming “Holy Shit!”

But in fairness, with hunters on line and so close and the whole intent being to run deer right to them, some safety guidance was indeed given. They told me to take care, should I shoot straight down the road, that I don't shoot anyone's truck.  It was, after all, rural Georgia.

In the first hunt effort I did a lot of standing around in the tree line. For quite a while the pack of dogs were barking like crazy, just a little beyond what I could see thru the vegetation.  It seemed curious that there was no apparent movement of the madly barking pack.  They just barked like crazy, from one constant direction, just out of site.  They didn't move closer nor more distant.  They were either all marking time barking in a stationary formation, making a fool of me, or they'd "tree'd" a deer.  Admittedly deer are ill-equipped for tree climbing, but I was without a better explanation.

I was about 10m off of the road/trail.  At one point someone else's 4 wheel drive kennel started coming down the road.  Not wanting 18 other hunt club members to pile out of the truck in front of "my" spot, I moved to the road and looked their way.  I saw them, they saw me.  They stopped.  I looked at them and they looked at me some more.  Then they put it in reverse and backed away.  "My" spot was now safe, I thought, mildly pleased with myself.  A couple minutes later a pack of dogs crossed my road near me and jogged on to my rear. Stupid dogs.  No way they were following a deer.  I'd been watching like a hawk.  Perhaps that was the trail to Tahiti.

I was to find out shortly after that the folks in the truck had a very different impression of my rescue of "my" spot.  Their reaction was "WOW! LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT BUCK  BEHIND THAT IDIOT!!!" 

Bambi 1, Scott 0.

Each hunt would last 2-3hrs, after which we'd try to round up the dogs.  With various degrees of success.  Each dog was wearing a radio collar that would allow the guys to find the miscreant.  They would pull out a handheld TV antenna looking rig and wander around the area pointing it around until it beeps.  Then you either know the direction of Spot, or you know where to dig a well.  (that was a joke about dowsing rods, by the way).

It was fairly difficult to find the dogs.  It was even harder to grab the dern things once you'd found them.  They seemed to know that getting shoved back into a mobile kennel was not an intermediate step to becoming strays, lapdogs or to a beach with a fruity drink with a little umbrella in it. 

Hunt #2 had me near a dirt road intersection and, once again, the dogs were barking like crazy, in one spot, just out of eye-shot.  Boy how those deer can climb.

I was wargaming various scenarios.  My favorite was that I would see a deer cross one of my visible roads, en route to the other.  I'd scurry down that other road a couple meters and then get it when it came out of the bush again.  I was busy rehearsing my plan for the 5th time when I was interrupted by a deer crossing one of my visible roads.  Having written my part of 100's of Operations Orders, it was an eye-opener to see someone actually execute my plan, for a change.

I hustled to my alternate position per plan and poked up my beady little eyes to try to spot the relative of the Darwinic failure that stove in the side of my truck a couple years back.  I popped the shotgun's safety off.  The deer stepped out 10m away.  I took a knee, brought Betsy up, focus went to chest-area and sights followed in kind.  Was squeezing the trigger when I noticed something.  Or, more correctly the absence of something.  Something like poky things around the ears.  Shit, it's a doe.  I backed off of the trigger, Bambi's mother leaped 6' in the air and that was that.  Bambi 2, Scott 0.

While I was instant replay arm-chair quarterbacking that effort, I got to asking myself why I'd take the time to take a knee.  I mean when you have only 2 seconds, why spend one of them going down on a knee?  I then realized that I'd spent the whole day keeping a constant eye out for fields of fire, folds in the ground to dive in, berms to fire over, low ground to move thru, etc.  My reactions were all screwed up for hunting and I wasn't adjusting.  I'd taken a knee because it was automatic.  I mean it would have been insanity to just stand there and let the enemy deer blow me away.  So I took a knee before firing.  

I was to find out later that it would have been ok for a guest to take a doe.  Oh well.

One final story.  One guy had a hellova time finding his dog.  Finally, using his doggie dowsing rod in field after field, he narrowed it down to an area around a trailer home.  He did a few full circuits of the place and finally had to just go right in their yard.  Near as he could figure the dog was under the house.  He knocked on the door.  Once, twice, 3 times.  Nothing.  He crawled around under the single-wide and no dog.    He checked and doublechecked his doggie dowser radio-direction finder.  He decided that it was clearly telling him that his dog was just inside the back door.  So finally he just said heck with it, and tried the back door.  He found his dog, muddy as heck from the day's work in the rain, all tucked in a big basket of freshly cleaned laundry.

I guess Tahiti is where you find it.