With my permit for the "south unit" in hand, my plan was to be on the refuge at daybreak on the Friday, the day before the 3 day season opened.
A lot of ground would need to be explored. Prior years stand locations would be revisited and new ones sought out. No amount of daylight could be squandered. I would travel light for the day with just my day pack, maps, compass, gps, pack lunch and water.
Here is the recap.
Friday October 17th, Refuge Scouting:
In the best of times, finding concentrated deer activity on the refuge can be difficult and always requires a lot of foot work. A bumper crop of acorns this year didn't make it any easier. Overcup and Nuttall acorns were found carpeting the refuge everywhere. Yes..plenty of fall food for deer but when their favorite food is scattered everywhere in this way...deer are also scattered. With my daylight to dark wide ranging scouting effort I was able to locate three promising stand locations.
|Fresh scrapes around lakes edge .|
Location #2: Long lake Near the Surround. Concentrated feeding activity under a large Nuttal oak near the "Surround". Good feeding location but no edge benefit.
Location #3: Lakeside East side of the river via Indian Bay access. Fresh scrape/rubs line along the edge of one of the refuge's many isolated lakes.(unnamed for obvious reasons.) Lakes, like the river in location #1 also provide natural edge that deer tend to follow. The combination edge effect and scrape line looked promising.
|Lunch and nap on lakes edge.|
Saturday morning no deer sighted.
Saturday afternoon about 5pm, a young fork horn stealthily appeared fifty yards to my right walking along the lake's cypress lined edge. As he was about to pass between me and the lake he finally caught my got scent...he reversed course, bolted a short distance then resumed his lazy stroll until he was out of sight.
Other than a midday lunch break and lake side nap I remained in my summit climber till dark. Throughout the day, I never heard or encountered a single hunter. Excepting a few faintly heard, far off distant shots as the morning passed I was totally alone. Thanks to the remoteness of the refuge's 160,000 acres forest, and the laziness of most hunters it is still possible to hunt in solitude.
After shooting time was over and darkness slowly fell over the lake, I removed my 209 primer from my gun. Using my rope I lowered my muzzleloader to the leaves below. Once I was down, using the blueish grey glow of my LED flashlight, I quietly removed my Summit climber from the tree. With treestand now on my back I quietly began my trek back to the ATV. I had made the decision that tomorrow morning I will relocate 12 miles South to location #1.
Though this location had a much shorter ATV ride it would require a 7/10s' of a mile hike to the river. A few years back I re-purposed an old elk aluminum pack frame by attaching it to the bottom of my Summit climber. It makes for much better packing than the cheap straps supplied by the treestand folks. So with my treestand on my back and my day pack slung across my stand I marched off into the dark, flashlight in one hand, gun in the other.
For hunters that venture in and out of the forest in the dark you know all too well that the 15 foot cone of hazy light projected from a bouncing flashlight does nothing to show you where you are going...only where to place each step. The weight of the stand, pack, gun and early morning darkness would make the hike seem much, much longer.
My compass provided continued corrections to my heading while my flashlight showed me where I needed to place each step along the way.
The open sky over the river allowed the rays of morning sun to hit the forest floor much sooner than might elsewhere. The wait was not long before the woods came alive. As the suns rays continued to scatter beams across the forest floor a coyote seemed to seek one out. He hopped up on a log and stopped to soak up the sun for few seconds before continuing off with that purposeful gait that coyotes always seem to have. They never linger and always seem like they have some place else to be. But on this morning his schedule allowed him to stop and bask in the warmth of the morning sun.
|My hard earned prize.|
|Drag system in place.|
Down just 15 yards from the base my tree BUT a very long 7/10's of a mile through the woods to the 4-wheeler. I was certainly happy at my success but while contemplating the work that lay ahead of me it seemed pretty clear that sometimes there is a debt to be paid for what you are given. A text to my worried wife showed it to be 1:44pm when I finally managed to get all my gear, treestands and my prized chocolate horned buck to the truck. How do you define trophy? A measure of a trophy is not just the measure of a buck rack size but by the challenges and experiences he affords you. Challenges, before and after you take him in this case.
Big woods bucks are notoriously difficult to hunt. Vast un-broken forest with no fence rows or man made pinch points or bottle necks make it difficult to predict movement of big woods bucks. Consider these tips if you're thinking about hunting areas like White River , Felsenthal or Cache River national wildlife refuges.
1. Find natural occurring edges. River edges, lakes and sloughs make natural edges that deer follow.
2. South facing lake edges and river banks. (another edge effect.) These south facing edges receive more light near the forest floor. The response is that the under brush, honey suckle and other browse appear as food and cover along these south facing edges.
3. Pinch points. Use your map. With the refuge's many lakes, slough you can often find pinch points where sloughs or lakes are in close proximity making natural funnels to intercept traveling deer..
4. How to deal with large acorn mast crops like we are experiencing this year. I covered a lot of foot miles on the refuge. Overcup and Nutall oaks acorns where abundant. Though the vast majority of these trees had sparse deer activity, I would still occasionally find lone trees, maybe one in twenty, that would be torn up with feeding activity. It's as if that once a deer discovers a tree that's dropping abundant acorns they will often use it to the exclusion of other acorn abundant trees. My guess is that deer are simply returning to what they know. So keep looking under acorn bearing trees until you locate the one with high deer activity