Vermont Rifle Hunt 2021, Day 1Nov 14, 2021
Hello! I'm going to blog about my rifle hunt for deer this year. Here's the first installment. This hunt took place on public-access land in Worcester, VT.
This is the first year I can remember that I haven't been up hours before dawn to get into the woods for Opening Day of Vermont's rifle season. Friday I worked a 15-hour day at my essential worker job (as an interstate trucker transporting organic farm-fresh food to Boston), and I just could not fathom getting up at 4am after that long day. So I slept in! The pandemic has made me value rest more than I used to. Keeping my immune system strong is a bigger priority these days.
Penrose knows how to prioritize rest!
Have JUST finished up producing the self-paced video hunting course Hunting With Heart two days ago, I felt a little underprepared for my own hunting season! So I opted for a gentle start. I sat in my warm bed with the kitten by my side and made a list of all the hunting grounds I have easy access to from my home here in Vermont, and let that simmer in the back of my brain. Then I made a list of the things I still needed to do before I began hunting: pack my daypack, re-activate my GPS/SOS satellite device subscription, check the photos on my game camera, take the trigger lock off my rifle, and leave a ceremonial offering and some prayers up in the Hemlock Grove. I puttered through these tasks at an unhurried pace, learning that there was one decent buck that had walked by my game camera on November 1st (and also some very cool pics of our resident black bear).
Bucky McBuckerson doesn't stroll up the hill till almost 11pm.
The deer never seem to cross my land in daylight, so I'm always trying to puzzle out where I can find them during legal hunting hours. Around 2pm I drove to the spot that was feeling most intriguing for a rainy afternoon hunt.
Yesterday's rain left the thick carpet of fall leaves utterly silent under my boots as I walked up to an overgrown logging road that had intrigued me. I started up it, and found that even in my big clunky rain boots I could do the fancy new deer-step that I'd read about in Fred Asbell's book Stalking & Still-hunting, making a two-part thud with every step that imitates the clip-clop of a four-footed gait. He swears that the deer don't move away as readily if they hear this step approaching. Fun new trick!
Fred Asbell's books are always worth reading...too bad they are all out of print!
I still-hunted my way up the hill. Still-hunting means sneaking quietly through a promising landscape looking for deer (rather than sitting still in a promising spot and hoping they come to you). I can't say I've had much luck with it, but it is a great deal more fun than sitting in one place, not to mention a good deal warmer. Since I was behind on my scouting, this would let me check for rut sign in the area as I hunted.
Walking up the logging road today.
The logging road had a clear deer trail on it, but I wasn't seeing any buck sign. Eventually I came to an area where many of the young sugar maples had their bark chewed by moose (maple bark is an important part of their spring diet), which had no bearing at all on deer presence, but kept me entertained.
Finally I found a tree that had been rubbed by a buck... at least four years ago. Well, there was ONCE a buck here... but that doesn't mean one is here this year. I'm happy to shoot antlerless deer where it is allowed, but during rifle season here you can only shoot bucks. As the trail turned south and began to flatten out, I saw it: a fresh rub on a sugar maple sapling! Wow! There's definitely a buck here this year! I usually see whitetail rubs on striped maples or spotted alders, but maybe this buck is trying to imitate his big moose cousins by choosing a sugar maple.
A fresh rub!
Now the young spruces on either side of the old logging road thickened into ideal deer-bedding brush. I began to creep along VERY carefully on the soft spruce needles. Slight bends in the roadbed obscured the trail ahead, so I was constantly edging around curves wondering if there would be a buck right around this corner. I felt like a thief stealing through the carpeted hallways of a castle looking for treasure... (I turn everything into a medieval adventure in my head. I blame too many viewings of the Princess Bride as a child, plus a Medieval Studies degree... the habit cannot be broken!).
The trail through the spruces
The gentle misty drips in the air became denser and turned into a serious rain, giving me plenty of sound-cover for my movements. The logging road began to divide into a grid of paths lacing through an old clearcut. A spruce maze! Suddenly I scared up a family of four or five grouse who had been roosting in the spruce-sapling tops. As usual, I wondered if I would do better out here with a shotgun harvesting grouse than searching for the elusive bucks. At least then Clyde could come along. I am still figuring out how to be a dog-parent during hunting season. No more nice long dark-to-dark hunts unless I pay for a dogsitter, I suppose... since young Clyde rebels by eating the furniture if he is left alone for unreasonably long.
Penrose: "Did somebody say dog-sitter? I love sitting on dogs!"
At 4pm I turned around, heeding the dimming light. Slowly the forest turned grayscale as I crept back down the hill, until the only way I could see the trail ahead was by the silver reflection of the dusky sky in the wheel-rut puddles. I reached my car three minutes before Last Legal Shot... and at least ten minutes since it had been too dark to accurately identify a legal buck (one with forked antlers) in the gloom.
Of Vermont's 16-day rifle season, I am able to hunt 7 of those days this year. Each one is precious. It felt odd to start this season in such a laid-back manner, but the lack of urgency was also really nice. I like to hunt hard and push myself, but one of the great lessons hunting teaches me is to slow down and be present in each moment. I think I did that well today.