18 November 2007

Hunting Update 18 Nov 06

Cold weather is upon us! It was freezing in the mountain today! It stayed at zero most of the day but the storm clouds whipped by overhead and the wind had everyone feeling quite cold!

I made a late start but still made it in time for the day's first makigari (group hunt). We had 9 members of the 52 club today, not a bad turnout. We did a drive for shika and only flushed two, both bucks. Takenobu missed 2 shots.

We had the first mountain lunch with a huge camp fire, that helped warm us from the cold, and brought back lost of great memories of hunting in the mountain!

We had a long afternoon hunt to no avail and broke company at 3 pm. I headed straight to the river to my second ground blind.

I sat down about 3:25, after rushing to my spot. I finally settled in and slowed down just in time for the wind to stop and the sun to come out! I was checking my watch, counting down the minutes to last legal shooting time and about 15 minutes before sunset, I heard the familiar sounds of a deer casually making it's way down the creek bed. Since the wind had stopped there was just a slight downward breeze so the wind was in my favor. As the deer approached I was a bit confused: He had the dark brown and black markings of a mature buck but he had only ipon-zuno (spikes). I studied him and realized he is probably a 3 year spike, which should probably be taken as a management deer. He had no idea I was watching him and he mulled about for about 7 or 8 minutes, working his way downstream. I Had a dozen opportunities to take this deer but I enjoyed watching him too much. I was worn out from yesterday's deer, hauling it out of the woods and butchering it. The spike started to smell something that concerned him and raised his nose several times sniffing deeply. Suddenly he froze and looked up river. I thought (hoped) that is was another deer coming to join him. It turned out that he had caught my scent (or the campfire I stood next to at lunch). He thought about it and sniffed a few times then bolted up the opposite bank to the pine forest above. Maybe he will grow out of those spikes in a few years and we will meet again...


Hunting Update 17 Nov 07

The first 4 days of hunting season have been very busy! Here is what's been happening:

Thursday 15 Nov 07: At sunrise I went to the mountain to meet up with the other members of the 52 Club. Since it was a workday, only Toshirou and Takenobu were able to make it. Yoshinoiri showed up late and we began the first Makigarai (group hunt) of the season. We did a slow, quiet drive and pushed 2 groups of deer but since we only had one stander, Yoshinori, they all got away. I had chores at home so went home for lunch and stacked firewood.

In the afternoon, I headed to one of my favorite creeks and walked about 1,500meters up the creek to check out the trails and animal traffic. My new Muck Co boots worked great! I was happy to find all kinds of traffic in this area. Since the weather is still warm, I had incorrectly assumed the deer would still be at lower elevations. I hastily cleared up 2 ground blinds for use the next day.

Friday 16 Nov 07: I couldn't go to the mountain this morning, I wanted to stay home and have breakfast with SK-2 & SK-3. Had some great home cooked chow and then headed to the yama. I checked my 2 new ground blinds, and lightly trimmed some shooting lanes, then headed home for lunch.

On my way to my blind, I jumped 3 large does who quickly ran across the creek and up the hill on the opposite side. They taunted me with barking warnings until I was out of earshot. I thought they may have spoiled the hunt, but committed to be in my blind for the last 2 hours of light. I went through all the phases of sitting in a blind, restlessly excited, then meticulously scanning every object in view, then day dreaming, then feeling sleepy, then dozing off, and finally scared to death when I was awoken by something crashing down the opposite side of the river bed.

A monster buck was but 30 meters to my front/left when he froze, knowing something was wrong. I froze too, knowing I could not make a move without him seeing & hearing me. I immediately recognized him as one of a pair of huge bucks that regularly traverse this creek bed with an even bigger buck. After a tense standoff, he made the mistake of taking 2 steps forward, blocking me from his view behind a stand of saplings. I quietly pulled my gun to my shoulder and sighted in on where his shoulder would appear if he took another step or two. He did. I squeezed the trigger. The sound of my shotgun echoed through the river valley and the big buck just ran forward about 30 meters. He stopped and was looking around. I silently chastised myself for missing a basic shot like this. I drew on him again and mentally rechecked all parts of my shooting position and squeezed another round off. He sprinted up the river and disappeared around the first bend. The crashing noise he made as he broke through the brush was quickly replaced with the ringing of the 12 gauge, 3 inch magnum loads I just shot. I knew for sure I had missed both shots.

I secured my weapon and set out to take a look at the places he was standing to see where my bullet had impacted (above or below him). I scolded myself for not re-zeroing my gun after returning from hunting in Hokkaido a week earlier. I searched the site, digging through the heavy leaf litter and could not find an impact. Nightfall arrived as I was following his trail. After about 50 meters and lost it in a maze of deer tracks, leaves, and the quick darkness that sinks into this river basin so quickly. I crawled on my hands and knees to see if I could spot one tiny drop of blood, to no avail. I blew it! Probably the biggest deer anyone in our club would get this year just ran off! I headed home to my family, having succumb to "Buck Fever".

Saturday 17 Sep 07: I could not sleep most of the night, replaying the nightmare over and over in my head. When the alarm went off, I had a pounding headache and slept in. I finally got up and had an idea. First, I would go back to the river and research my mistake in the sunlight, then I would sight in my gun again. I couldn't believe I had made the mistakes of an amateur!

I parked my truck and donned my field gear, (wishfully thinking, "just in case I jump a deer"). I went to the last point where I saw the buck and began following the trail again. Instead of focusing on every footprint in the leaves, I focused on the direction and speed he had run. I thought out loud that if (key word "IF") one of my bullets had connected, he would have run downhill, not uphill. I took the trail headed downhill and 30 meters later, there was the buck, where he had laid all night. Luckily a cold front had just come in and the temperature was hovering around zero degrees Celsius.

The first bullet had been a lung shot and the second a heart shot. He had expired 10 seconds after he left my sight. I commenced to field dress him, then drag him out of the river basin and to a trail. Luckily I have a tiny 4X4 and 150 meters of rappelling rope so I was able to drag him with the truck up the hill. After I put him in the transport bag, I had to haul him on to the top of my engine compartment (for the short ride home). Dressed out he still topped 100KG and has a beautiful set of antlers. His rack turned out to be about 10cm bigger than the monster I took in the same location on opening day 2006! I butchered him that night and he is already being distributed to family and friends. I also save the skull for a mount.

Lesson Learned: I underestimated my first shot and rushed for a second shot. I should have watched a little longer and I would have seen he was mortally wounded. At least he was not left in the bush, as that would be a waste!