Monday, January 7, 2013

Bowhunting for No-Show Game

Some deer are just plain rude. We came for a visit and they spent their whole time away from the designated gathering area...

But I'm getting too far ahead in the story...

Back to the beginning.

Last weekend my daughter and I had the marvelous opportunity to go bowhunting for whitetail deer in the Texas hill country. A friend of mine had relatives living in a rural area where the deer are, according to their reports, so numerous as to be a nuisance for those attempting to grow flowers, trees or any other plants in their yard. "Come get'em," we were encouraged. "They're eating us out of house and home." Up until this point living in Texas, I had craved the chance to break into the local hunting scene. Frankly, because it differs so much with the west coast hunting paradigm, wherein you stalk your prey in a wilderness context, I had been skeptical whether I'd ever enjoy a predatory outing in the Lone Star State. Here so much of the land is privately owned that the notion of simply walking off into the mountains to be an ecological participant could not be more foreign. Instead it's necessary, in most cases, to pay for the right to hunt on someone's land (i.e. a "deer lease").

Ah yes...the deer lease. It's been described to me before. Apparently, one goes to this piece of pre-designated land (where you bought an annual lease), sits in a pre-fabricated "blind" (these booths often are elevated off the ground, contain satellite TV, an espresso machine, seat and hand warmers, concierge service and wifi) and points their weapon (rifle or bow) in the direction of a "deer feeder" (these strange contraptions disperse deer feed at pre-set times, along with soothing music, mixed drinks and various recreational drugs meant to offer deer a full pleasing experience) and wait for the appropriate moment when these trained animals of the wild (puh-leeeese!) respond to the dinner bell with crackerjack Pavlovian timing to hit their mark on the spot exactly at that range the marksman or archer had practiced the week before. This is called "hunting" in Texas. I find the term "harvesting" more appropriately applied to this practice. Nevertheless, whether "harvesting" or "hunting," the animal participating in this Circle of Life (shameless "Lion King" reference) has a greater chance of escaping unharmed than...oh say...the one that gave their life so that an anti-hunting activist can have their burger just the way THEY like it. But I digress...

If, however, one does not have a deer lease (they can be rather expensive), the other option is to know someone with land or a lease that is generous enough to invite you along. Such was the case when my friend invited my daughter and I to bring our bows and hunt near his relative's hill country home. I must say, the experience at their home was indicative of all things embedded in the phrase "southern hospitality." The cooking was rich and filling. The sleeping arrangements were plush and accommodating. The hostess' attention was reminiscent of a bygone era when "stewardesses" saw to passenger comforts to the degree unheard of among "flight attendants" today that toss you a bag of peanuts from three aisles away. In this way, the experience already felt nothing like the hunting I knew growing up in which the toughness of wilderness camping was part of the bragging rights. Warm showers available after the morning hunt? Heresy!...yet one I gladly embraced without reservation.

One hunting tradition to which I was accustomed was hiking at least a mile to the hunting spot away from camp, thus necessitating a 4:00 a.m. wake up time to allow for breakfast and hiking time, and be in the right spot at least 30 minutes before sunrise. On this hunt, the blind we were to use was approximately 25 yards from the house in the adjacent lot. This is akin to hunting in your neighbor's back yard. Now while this may not seem like adequate "roughing it" per se, it's important to note that this blind consisted of lounge chairs under low hanging tree limbs, with no espresso machine or wifi; HARDLY the luxury enjoyed by some...Don't judge me! In addition, our blind had two lines of fire that required the deer to stand motionless in front of the archer occupying each chair. In case the reader is thinking that we had it too easy, I'll remind you that the pre-dawn temperatures on both morning hunts were lower than what most people normally subject themselves too unless being initiated into the Polar Bear Club. Both mornings though, the deer exercised their prejudice against these west coast transplants to Texas and stayed warm in their lodge, popping open a cold beer, kicking back and laughing at the hunters shivering by themselves in the deer-less forest. No doubt their recreational drugs involved passing around a joint and giggling uncontrollably at the father/daughter team freezing their extremities, expecting deer to show up and introduce themselves.

Around 7:17 a.m., the silence was broken with signs of nearby animal life. A donkey from a nearby field proclaimed his obligatory "heehaw...heehaw" to accentuate the futility of our efforts. Roosters began their mocking chorus at daybreak, crowing sounds that, when roughly translated mean "You're freezing for no reason, silly people." At one point I did draw my bow back, prepared to let loose an arrow on a majestic "buck" approaching, but on further examination realized that this particular tree stump was never going to turn broadside for me. After the first day of finding about as much evidence of deer presence as can be found in the Houston Galleria, we decide to descend further into the Texas hunting customs with the addition of deer bait into the picture. Purchasing "deer corn" from a supermarket in the nearby town held promise of a different experience the following morning. We spread it along the trail in front of our blind, even pouring small piles of it where we wanted the deer to hold still so we could shoot them. Imagine our shame when, the following morning, we discovered that none of the deer corn had been consumed throughout the night. It was the ultimate insult. Not only did the deer rather stubbornly refuse to show themselves when we were present, but they even lifted their collective nose and rejected the free corn we offered for them to consume in our absence.

To those that feel I am overselling the embarrassment of this, I submit that the only time we DID see deer was, after leaving our blind with icicles hanging from our nose, when we were looking across over in a neighboring field and spied five does holding morning soccer practice. When they saw us from approximately 100 yards away, they pointed and giggled like popular high school mean girls, and bounded away to all go eat at the same table. With our deer corn untouched and our arrows having not flown on this outing, we sauntered back to the house to pack for the trip home. Of course, it was after all the gear was packed away, and our vehicle was leaving, that the once "missing" deer all lined the road leading out of the neighborhood, swaying back and forth, singing:

Na na na nah
Na na na nah
Hey hey hey

Once our SUV turned back on the highway, those lazy pothead deer that had been kick'in it at the lodge got the munchies and filed outside to consume the deer corn we had left for them. Those that were still hungry went back to eating the rose bushes our hostess was trying to preserve through our hunting efforts. I hope to return sometime to be that line of defense for her landscaping.

As this was my first time experiencing Texas deer hunting, I can say that it was indeed a great departure from the wilderness experience I grew up with. However, not all traditions from my youth were discarded. There was still occasion to cover my face with intimidating camouflage paint, looking mean enough to scare the deer to death should my skills as an archer be found wanting. Snickers bars (fun size...a childhood staple) still found their way into the "ditty bag" (fanny pack) to satisfy that special hunger that attacks you about twelve minutes before and after sunrise. All in all, though the deer obviously were better at surveillance of us than we were of them this time, it was rewarding to at least get our feet wet in this new arena, leaving with plenty of ideals to hunt those disrespectful, pothead, absentee animals next time.