Starting a new hobby or sport can be intimidating. For a prospective woman hunter, terms like cull, broadhead, high-brass, or choke tube can sound like a foreign language. Add the ever-increasing cost of equipment, the potential to encounter a rattlesnake or large predator, and a societal aversion to firearms, and it's easy to see why many women choose a scrap book over a tree stand. However, in my opinion these initial challenges are also what make being a successful hunter so rewarding. Welcome to my site and happy hunting!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How Not to Be a Bonehead

The first kiss with with your crush.  Opening up on a flock of mallards cupping into the dekes.  Finding the perfect pair of jeans.  There's no question these are some of the best feelings in the world for a woman, but they don't even come close to a hot shower after days of camping and hard hunting in the woods.  I'm back from my first solo hunt on public land in Texas and wow...what a trip.  The learning curve was STEEP and hopefully you can benefit from some of my bonehead moves so your first trip goes a little more smoothly.

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.
By the time I got my stand assembled, lashed everything together, doctored my wound, sprayed myself down with cover scent, and got Griz settled in the back of the truck it was already 5 o'clock, so decked out in my blaze orange (a minimum of 400 square inches is required on public land when any firearm season is authorized )  I set out at a quick pace for the spot I'd picked out almost a month before.   I used my GPS to navigate right to my stand, making sure to come in from the back side.  Even though it took a bit longer, I didn't want to cross the trail that I thought the deer would be using.  Always try to approach your set-up from the opposite side that you expect the deer to be coming from so as not to contaminate it with your scent.

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
Climbing into the stand wasn't nearly as intimidating this time.  Once I got in and settled the sun even poked through the trees and warmed my right side.  The woods was MUCH more active this morning than the night before.  There were at least a half-dozen fat fox squirrels running around providing plenty of entertainment.  I practiced standing up and drawing on them so I'd be ready for when the deer showed.  With a cold front coming through just two days before and the cold night we'd just had, I was SURE they'd show.  I also practiced ranging the trees around me so I'd know exactly how far the deer would be.

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
 For the next few hours I check the trail she came in on for the buck I knew would be following.  The squirrels all went up to their nests for the afternoon and the woods got quiet again.  Every once in awhile I'd hear a raccoon down in the creek behind me and I was hoping a pig or coyote would show so I could practice actually shooting from my stand.  Unfortunately they never did so I finally decided to crawl down and take a break.  When buying my tree stand, I wanted to make sure the one I decided on would be light and easy to pack so I chose the one with the smallest seat.  Don't Be a Bonehead Lesson Number 6:  When you hang your stand in a tree, make sure it's not leaning in the direction you want to place your stand.  Between the small seat and being tilted forward, it was very hard to get comfortable in the stand so I couldn't sit as long as I wanted to.  Before heading back to camp I walked over to where I'd last seen the doe so I could figure out where she went and my heart sank.  Only 50 yards from where my stand was hung, there was a well-defined trail heading north-south crossing both the creek and the east-west trail I was hunting.  There were tons of fresh tracks crossing the creek and I knew if I'd have just looked further down the trail while scouting I'd have found this crossing.  Don't Be a Bonehead Lesson 7:  Placing a stand on one trail is good, but placing it at a good trail crossing is even better.  I contemplated moving my stand over to the crossing, but finally decided against it since it was so much work to get it up there in the first place and my hunting weekend was already more than half over.  My next stand is DEFINITELY going to be a climbing model so I don't have to worry about this problem again.  So I guess that would be Don't Be a Bonehead Lesson 8:  Be mobile if you can.

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.


  1. That's roughing it! I used to tent camp when hunting, but I haven't done that in years. I cut myself on a broadhead just last year trying to take one off. I knew better. But I didn't want to go to the truck for a broadhead wrench and thought I was being very careful with finger placement. When it broke free, it kind of happened all at once and it sliced me pretty good. Enjoyed the read!

  2. Hilary, that was a good read! I have been through most all of the same experiences at one time or another while hunting public and private lands. I managed to cut into the meaty part of my thumb about 4 seasons ago. I had killed a small buck with a bow and was going through my personal ritual of giving thanks and all that. I was not thinking and was stroking the bucks hide with my left hand towards my right hand which held the knife. After a few strokes I stabbed myself pretty deeply. It took a couple of days for the bleeding to completely stop even with a good bandage on it. Anyway I do love the roughing it part of camping especially if I can keep warm! Good luck to you in your future hunts! Donnie