“Do you know what I love about hunting? The whitetail don’t pester me for no autographs.” – Ted Nugent, psychedelic junk rock musician, gun-crazy NRA Board member, far right Republican activist and Trump troll. And certified asshole.
I usually don’t sleep over at Cedric’s, but in season I do. It is easier, since the hunt always begins very early. Regulations allow you to be at your tree stand a half hour before sunrise and leave a half hour after sunset, max. Hunting is prohibited at night for both, safety reasons (you could kill another hunter, mistaking him for game) and for fairness toward the prey. Killing a sleeping whitetail is considered the lowliest form of hunting sin.
It is paramount that you settle in at your station as early as possible, so that by the time the whitetail are out and about, you’ll become an indistinguishable part of the landscape and the whitetail won’t notice your presence when they appear for breakfast. Unless the winds have changed and you find yourself upwind, in which case you might as well pack up, shimmy down the ladder and go look for some cover downwind, that you can crouch behind. Whitetail are notoriously sensitive ta smell and if they smell you, man, they are gone.
Cedric couldn’t make it that Sunday because an aunt in Trois Rivierès had suddenly been hospitalized and she had nobody, so he had ta go be with her. The night prior, Gina had let me into the outhouse after dinner and I spent the better part of an hour checking out my gear. It is essential that nothing malfunctions out there in the open.
I had already cleaned the Lapua Magnum but even so, I broke it apart and rechecked that everything was where it was supposed ta be. I stuffed the pockets of my Fanatic Hoody jacket with ammo, as well as dry munchies like O’Henry bars and cashew nuts and filled my water bottle. It could be a long day. I cleaned the scope, put my Iphone on the charger, rechecked and updated GPS coordinates online and tried out the IHunt app to see if the doe-in-heat call worked. It did.
I turned to my heavy duty back pack. More ammo, paper towels, extra batteries, Iphone charger pack, my Zeiss Victory binoculars, a tiny first-aid box with sterile gauze, adhesive tape, waterproof bandages, antiseptic wipes, scissors and a tiny bottle of Advil for inflammations and headaches. The bottle of water went into the backpack as well. Sundry stuff like the 20W speaker for my IHunt deer call and the bottle of doe-in-heat pee went in next. And chap sticks for my lips (you have no idea how dry it can get sometimes, in the chill).
For hunting wear, I go with Sitka. If you want ta keep warm and dry, Sitka is unbeatable. Expensive, yes – a head to toe Sitka gear will set you back by a grand easily, but hey, its your health and well-being. Why feel frozen and miserable when you are supposed ta be having the time of your life? October can get awful wet and chilly. You might not get frostbite but you sure could come down with pneumonia.
I laid out my gear on the spare bed in the exact order I would put them on : Gore-Tex thermal long johns and a Merino crew neck thermal undershirt. Over my long johns I would pull on my Incinerator Bib, an ultra-heavy duty coverall that feels as if it weighs a ton. Next came the Sitka neck gaiter – it would protect me from the chill, from the bridge of my nose down to my shoulders. Beside the gaiter, I placed the Gore-Tex camouflage balaclava, through which only my eyes and lips were going ta be visible. The Fanatic Hoody jacket came next – thermally sealed and waterproof, it would keep me at room temp even at -40℃.
Now for the extremities – for gloves, I went for the best : UnderArmour Scent Control 2.0. Solidly thermal and bone dry, they trap 100% body heat. My Gore-Tex thermal socks were the last of the gear on the bed.
I wasn’t done yet. The most important part of my gear came last – my MuckBoots rubberized fabric knee high hunting boots. I got the boots two years back when I went hunting for caribou in the Tundra. They are deceptively lightweight but capable of keeping your toes warm even at -65℃. Besides, the deadly massasauga rattlesnake has yet ta sink its fangs through my boots and believe me, you’ll find ‘em in the unlikeliest places. Itself a hunter, the massasauga knows when hunting season is on and it packs a bite that can kill within minutes. In the wilderness, the massasauga is a death knell.
The reason why you go in for the best in hunting gear is that it has got ta be scent and odor cancelling. Suppose you are up on your tree stand and the wind changes. You can’t just climb down, carry your tree stand on your back and go set it up some place else.
A tree stand is a permanent fixture, fixed to the tree with solid bolts, straps and lattices for your own safety and it remains in place through the year, right up until the next season. With the ladder and foot rests, it can weigh upwards of 80 lbs . Dismantling that, taking it off the tree and setting it up again at another spot is a half-day job for at least two hunky guys. The only time you remove a tree stand is when the prey have moved away from that region or if the stand has rusted and grown unsafe or the tree has weakened somehow. Moving a tree stand every time the wind changes is something only a certified schmuck will think of doing.
However, in spite of all scent cancelling gear, it is still a good idea ta station yourself downwind, because you will always have exposed scent-emitting parts of your anatomy, like your eyes, cheeks, lips or other stuff like the steam from your coffee mug. Or maybe you’ll want ta remove your balaclava for a while because it suddenly feels hot and stuffy or you’ll remove your gloves ta scratch a sudden itch under your armpit.
Remember, a whitetail can smell you from great distances, though given the location and ambient conditions, the distance can vary widely. I hunt at Cedric’s farm, an area that is heavily farmed, with a fair smattering of humans going about their daily chores. The whitetail here have come to recognize humans and have gotten used to their presence. A doe might walk up pretty close even though she has detected my smell. Then there is the kind of wind – if it is a gentle 20kmph breeze, a whitetail can detect you at maybe 2-300 yards.
There’s one other thing I do that gives me a high kill chance – remember Part-7, the prep for the hunt, those fifteen days prior to season start? Every one of those fifteen days, I come and go in broad daylight, first ta fix the SpyPoint cameras and then ta choose the right spot and fix the tree stand. Thereafter, every day I go there to replenish the lure – the salt and the piles of apples and carrots and even if I cannot actually see them when I enter the clearing, I know they are there, just outside my line of sight, fully conscious of my presence. I let ‘em smell me and grow accustomed to my smell. And what with all the largesse in the form of apples and carrots, I figure they look at me with a positive frame of mind.
You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned all the gear needed ta skin and clean the kill, after its over. If you’ve been paying any attention, that’s because I have written about that in one of the prior parts in this series, I don’t remember which. Suffice it ta know that all those items – the Gerber kit of skinning and dressing knives, the rope for stringing up the whitetail and of course the coupon that I’d have ta attach to one of the deer’s earlobes as proof of my permit – were already stowed in my pick-up truck, ready ta roll.
Before I went to bed that night, I did one last thing – I laid out my Alpha Chef Bullet Shaker Thermos flask on the table, ready to be filled with piping hot Colombian mild, first thing in the morning. The Alpha Chef carries a 24-hour steaming hot guarantee.
The season would start 5:30am next morning, October 17, 2016 and one of those whitetail in the clearing, gorging on my apples, taking me to be Santa, would find out I actually wasn’t.
I was hoping it would be Zorba.
(to be continued….)
Ps: Hang on. Don’t miss Part-9, the final part – my encounter with Zorba.