Former Elizabethtown resident, Fred Myers sent along these photos of some of the trophy whitetail deer he has been raising on a large private ranch in Texas. Even though the whitetails were still in velvet when the photos were taken, the size of the headgear is truly amazing. Fred and his brother Tom continue to spend their time on the hunt whenever time permits. It is easy to understand the reason why.
I first took notice of the full power of a Full Moon during my two year stint working as a Residence Hall Director at Plattsburgh State.
Invariably, I was the one who always pulled the short straw and ended up as the Director on Duty during a full moon weekend.
In the course of my first two tours of duty scouting the campus for trouble, I encountered more drunken students, accidental injuries and similar instances of non-conforming behaviors than I experienced for the remainder of the school year.
And mind you, Plattsburgh State was a really notorious party school during the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Exhibitions of bad behavior and misconduct were the rule, rather than an anomaly.
The Residence Hall staff always worked closely with the Campus Police to lower the level of disobedience. However, we quickly learned where the term ‘lunacy’ comes from, as we witnessed the normally sane students run amuck like lunatics for two full nights of near full lunar exposure.
On weekends with a forecast of a full moon, the Director of Residence Life regularly issued Moonlight Madness alerts to warn of bad behavior. Janitorial staffers often used their personal days on Mondays, following a full moon event. There was usually just too much of a mess for them to deal with.
By now, readers of this column are probably wondering what any of this ancient history has to do with a current outdoor column.
Well, the point of this background story is to illustrate the power moon phases affect all animals, even humans.
Last weekend, many whitetail hunters came to realize this power, as the Rutting Moon came to pass.
This moon phase, is often confused with the Hunter’s Moon which occurred on Sept. 19 this year.
The Rutting Moon, which occurred on Sunday, Nov. 17 is the single, most important date in a deer hunter’s year, as it signals the peak of the rut, the whitetails mating season.
By the time you read these words, the rut will have already peaked, and the bucks will still be looking for love in all the wrong places.
As evidenced by the behavior of college students I witnessed in the 1970’s, all animals are affected by the pull of the moon. Animal House wasn’t a documentary film, but it wasn’t all fiction either.
Fortunately for deer hunters, evidence has well established that a majority of whitetail does will be in peak estrus through the end of the week.
This is also a timeframe when bucks get weak in the knees, after chasing down all the does they can find. It is also a time when hunters get weak in the knees after putting in some long cold days on the stand, waiting for their buck to stroll by.
Over the past weekend, it was evident that deer were on the move. We had over a half dozen sightings, with just two shorts days in camp. If the weather cooperates, (read snow and cold), I expect there will be a lot of deer taken this weekend.
Whitetails 101: The Learning Curve
My first trip into hunting camp came at the ripe old age of 11, which is considered rather late by most Adirondack standards.
On my first trip, I was a guest at the Niambi Hunting Club, which was located near North Creek.
My own children first went to hunting camp when they were still too young to walk all the way. My packbasket always got heavier as the closer I got to camp, with the girls curled up among the hunting clothes, food and other essentials.
I made up for my late start by asking questions, and listening to a lot of experienced hunters.
Although I am far from an experienced hunter, I do recognize some of the best advice I’ve learned in my quest to improve my odds of harvesting a buck.
Unfortunately, there is not one, single solution to the puzzle. Rather, it is comparable to a long series of steps that must be taken in order to reach the top of the hill. Shooting skills are just the beginning.
Scent control probably ranks second. Learn to monitor the wind regularly. A pocket full of puffball mushrooms is very useful in this regard.
A major key to the process begins by observing deer, which is very difficult to do if you don’t know where to find them.
When you do find deer, which are often out in the fields during the late summer, take the time to study their shapes. Note the flat back, the four posts of legs, the flicker of white from the tail.
Other obvious tell tail signatures are the black dot of a nose, the black sheen of a hoof, the square shape of a full body or the point of an ear.
You need to get really good at recognizing just the parts and pieces of a deer, before you’ll ever have a chance to see a whole one. They have an amazing ability to blend into the natural cover and simply disappear.
It may seem to be difficult, but finding and recognizing deer are the easy part of the puzzle. The really tough part is controlling your emotions, and the accompanying adrenaline.
Buck fever isn’t a joke, as most hunters have experienced a bout or two of the malady. It begins with the shakes and ends with deep breathing and alot of “what if’s.” In between is usually a bit of hell.
It often begins with the first sighting, and grows as the target gets nearer. On average, a hunter has less than seven seconds from first sight to final shot. That’s about the length of time it took you to read this paragraph.
In that timeframe, a hunter must confirm the deer is actually a buck, and small horns are often difficult to see when they’re hidden by large ears. It is an almost impossible feat to accomplish when the background is all brown, and especially when it includes beech whips. This must be accomplished as your breathing becomes difficult and your knees grow weak.
On my first experience hunting with a bow, I could hardly move when a deer appeared directly below my stand. I was frozen like a teenager awaiting a kiss on the first date. I didn’t know what to do, as my heart was nearly pounding out of my chest.
But I remembered the advice of a friend. Don’t look at the whole deer, focus on one point of aim and be sure to follow through and watch the deer’s reaction. Often the reaction will provide an indication of your aim. Mark the line it runs in your mind.
One of the most common mistakes a beginner makes is to rush things after a shot. It is only natural to want to hurry over and see if you hit it. Fight the urge. One old timer advised me to pack a pipe full of tobacco immediately after you shoot, and don’t go looking for the deer until you’ve finished it.
If you missed, you’ll be calmed down. If you hit it, the deer will likely have run a ways and died. Never pressure a deer that’s been hit, they can run a long ways on adrenaline, and it’s always a long drag home.
Leave your hat, or some other item as a marker on the location where your took the shot. It will help you to find where the deer was when it was hit.
A hunter’s best weapons are patience, persistence and perseverance. It is a mindset that becomes a mantra. It is a learned behavior that is only achieved through confidence. It is not fun to go back out on a cold miserable day when the wind is whipping snow into your eyes and the only thing you can see is your own breath.
Be on your watch in the dark, and exit the woods after the sun has set.That’s what flashlights are made for and it’s what real hunters are made of.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.