I got to my camping spot right on time Friday night. The weather report said it would be going down to 40 that night with a high of 70 the next day. We're under a burn ban here in Texas, so no campfires allowed, but I was undeterred. If growing up in Pittsburgh, Pa taught me nothing else, I can handle the cold weather. I started to get all my gear together which brings me to my first Don't Be a Bonehead Like Me Lesson of the weekend: Broadheads are sharp. You'd think this would be a no-brainer, but tell that to the ugly gash on my left thumb. I wasn't paying close enough attention when screwing the broadhead onto my arrow and dug it in pretty good. This brings me to Don't Be a Bonehead Lesson Two: Always pack a first aid kit. Luckily I wasn't a bonehead on this one and it saved me a trip into town. The cut was VERY deep so it took awhile for the bleeding to stop.
So here I am with a big, thick pressure bandage on my thumb while trying to and assemble my tree stand. Don't be a Bonehead Lesson Three: Assemble all your equipment before you get to camp. Luckily I had all the tools that I needed, but I had no idea that the stand would require so much assembly before use. I was all excited about getting into the woods and hunting but unfortunately spent most of my night trying to interpret the cryptic assembly instructions. I was pretty proud of myself when I finally got it all together and strapped on my pack. On public land in Texas you can't leave a stand up for more than 72 hours so I have to pack my stand in every weekend. Some tree stands, like the one I was using, come with backpack straps. They're not the most comfortable things in the world so if you're going to be hiking very far, I'd suggest picking up some seatbelt pads or foam pipe lining to wrap around the straps. I used bungee cords to attach my gear pack to the frame of the stand and they worked really well. It's also important to remember with a metal stand like this, to secure all of the straps so the metal buckles don't bang around when you're walking into your spot. You want to be as quiet as possible.
|All packed up and ready to go.|
Don't Be a Bonehead Lesson 4: Leave yourself MUCH more time to and from the stand than you think you'll need. Though I had intended to, I never practiced setting this particular stand in a tree before the big day. The straps were fed through the clamps incorrectly at the manufacturer so it took a lot longer to figure out how to affix it to the tree securely. I was getting a little frustrated because I was already late and was making so much noise there probably wasn't a deer within 5 miles that didn't know I was there. I'll admit I was pretty nervous the higher up in the tree I got, and by the time I had the stand in place, the butterflies in my stomach had me wondering if I was doing the right thing. After testing the security of the stand, I climbed down and attached my bow to the pull-up rope. You never want to carry your gun or bow up into the tree with you; always use a rope and pull it up to you. Once in my stand and armed I felt a lot better, and couldn't help but notice how quiet the woods were. I'd made a LOT of noise getting set up and it was the best time of the night to hunt, but I was just proud of my accomplishment of actually getting the stand in the air. Just before dark I heard a pack of coyotes howling in the direction of camp and started to worry about Griz back there all by himself. When it got too dark to see my sites I lowered my bow back down to the ground, nervously crawled myself back down, and headed to camp.
You would think that my load would have been lighter since I didn't have to carry my stand, but a heavy dose of guilt was weighing me down on the way back up to camp. I kept hearing the coyotes and even though I was only a half-mile from camp, the hike took forever. All kinds of horrible scenes were flashing through my head and I dreaded what I'd find. I never worried about coyotes before and at 50 pounds, Grizzly weighs more than the the average coyote. But I've recently heard stories about packs of them chasing down and killing adult whitetail. If they can take a buck down, surely they can lure my little Griz out of the safety of the pickup. I can tell you, I've never been so happy as when I flashed my headlamp towards the truck and saw two WIDE green eyes peering over the bed. Ever since he was a pup, Griz has been afraid of the dark and I think he was just as happy to see me and my headlamp as I was to see him in one piece.
After some hot soup and crackers Griz and I crawled into the back of the truck to do a little reading before bed. He usually sleeps at the foot of my cot and as it was getting pretty cold already, I covered him with a heavy blanket. The night was clear and the stars were absolutely brilliant. That's one of the biggest reasons I sleep in the back of the truck and not in a tent...there's nothing in the world like sleeping right under the stars. It didn't take me long to figure out that I wasn't dressed warm enough so I put on a few more layers and settled in to sleep. About midnight Griz woke me up demanding to get in the sleeping bag with me. I'll admit I was frozen so I let him in and we snuggled for warmth. This leads us to Don't Be a Bonehead Lesson 5: Always pack for much hotter and much cooler weather than you expect. I'd checked the weather when I left and packed for 40 degrees. Friday night it was MUCH colder than 40 degrees and that made it a VERY long night. I didn't even bother setting the alarm because I knew the hunting clothes that I'd brought were totally insufficient for weather like this. So I just stayed in the sleeping bag with Griz until the sun got high enough to make moving around a little less torturous. Yep...I'm a weenie. And I'm OK with that. I have cold-weather gear, but it wasn't doing me much good 150 miles away in my warm house. I heated up some water to wash off my face, made some tea, and instantly felt better. Then I got dressed and headed out for Round 2.
|My silhouette in the morning sun|
Just as I was laughing at a baby gray squirrel trying to jump across the creek I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a deer! Finally! All that scouting time, and hiking with the heavy uncomfortable pack, nervous stand set-up, and freezing cold camping was finally going to pay off! She was just a small doe, but she was coming right towards me from about 60 yards away. My heart instantly jumped into my throat. I attached my release to the string and waited in anticipation for her to cross the big green ash tree in front of her that would signal she was in range. Before she got to it though, she turned and headed behind me along the creek. My heart sank, but I still had a chance. If she passed behind me I could still get a shot at her as long as she stayed on the same side of the creek. She went into a little thicket and I strained behind me to see where she went. Sitting still, hardly breathing for what seemed like hours, I waited for her to emerge from the brush. Unfortunately, she never did. It's OK though! At least I know I'm in the right spot. There are deer here and they're moving. It's only a matter of time.
|Really cold morning|
I hiked back to camp, made some lunch, and had a perfectly wonderful nap in the sunshine after which I tried to decide what to do. I really wasn't relishing the idea of spending another freezing night out. Knowing that my stand wasn't in the most optimum spot helped solidify my decision to head home for the night. I took Griz on the hike back down to the stand to pull it out of the tree. It was a LOT easier to get it down than it was to put it up. Back in the truck Griz slept hard all the way home. It was nice to sleep in my own, warm bed, and Sunday was spent unloading the truck, cleaning, organizing gear, and recovering. From all the hiking in and out of the stand and carrying a heavy pack my legs were SORE. I'm glad the way things turned out, even though I may not have gotten a deer, I don't think I've ever learned more on a single hunting trip. I know I'll do things different next time, and can't WAIT to get out again.