Hunting

2018 Archery Mid Season Recap: “Rut-cation”

The week of Thanksgiving marked the end of the mid archery season (October 14th – November 18th). As I mentioned in my recap about the early archery season, I have been training for a half marathon that took place at the very beginning of November. Before that race, during mid season, I was able to hunt twice in an area just off a field in Pisgah National Forest.

We had previously scouted this area last season and this season to find rubs, and scrapes. This area also had some more dense vegetation that deer would feel safe moving in and out of. Tyler also believes that there is bedding area on a ridge off to the left from where I hung a stand. The first time I hunted this area I sat in the same tree as Tyler. This is the first time we’ve hunted together this season and the first time we’ve hunted together in the same tree since I killed my first deer in 2017.

Tyler and his stand snacks.

We sat on opposing sides of the tree that allowed a 360 degree view between the two of us. We settled in and waited. We knew it was going to be windy as a front was starting to move in however, the weather was predicting a maximum of an eight MPH wind that night.

The weather was INCREDIBLY wrong. The longer we sat the more and more intense the wind started to blow. The wind finally got to a point that Tyler and I conceded the hunt was done. Tyler took his stand down but I left mine to hunt from again as the area seemed well traveled as I could see several trails coming from different directions that intersected near that location.

The second time I hunted that location, about a week or so after, I went in planning on rotating my stand about 90 degrees. I climbed into the tree, wrestled, cussed, and summoned my inner warrior strength for about an hour to get the dang thing to even budge before I could begin to move it. After my pre-hunt workout, once I was finally able to get into the stand, I hunkered down for what I was anticipating to be a good hunt. I had heard rustling, that sounded like a deer walking, behind me over another ridge. Not long after I settled into the tree it started to rain.

Rainy sit with wet boots.

Generally, rain doesn’t bother me. This rain started gently with a slight breeze, then it really started to pick up. It started raining harder and the wind started blowing quite hard. That in combination with being tired with wrestling with the stand and the fact that I had also set a personal record or PR for an 8K race that morning, I happily let Tyler know I was ready to wrap things up when I got the text from him(he was sitting a few ridges over) asking how much longer I wanted to stay.

That was my last hunt prior to my half marathon. The final weeks of October when I should have started hunting harder but, I was running harder. I completed my longest distance at that point to date and then settled into the taper of my run plan. Finally, race day came, along with two weeks of a planned “rut-cation” aka time off from work where I was going to hunt as much as possible.

My Charlotte cheer squad/run coach/”WOO” girl

I headed to Charlotte to run the Charlotte Half Marathon. I didn’t sleep well the night before in anticipation and finally the morning I had trained so hard for arrived. It was a crisp Charlotte morning that turned into perfect run weather (in my opinion at least). I completed my first half marathon in 2:04:59, far better than I had expected to finish. The last mile my left ankle started to hurt, but not enough for me to stop. I powered through and finished strong. After the race I noticed it REALLY hurt to walk but I figured that was just from all of the running, which was partially true. It wasn’t until I got back home that I noticed the bruising on my feet, and by Monday morning was struggling to walk.

Celebratory beer post half marathon.

So, I hobbled myself to the doctor who shrugged and said “could be a stress fracture, could not be a stress fracture. Let’s put you in a boot and come back in two weeks.” I was, of course, not thrilled as I had planned another “race” for the rest of my “rut-cation.” I had initially planned on being in the woods as much as possible and the boot and my hurt feet really put a damper on my plan. But, I’m rarely a woman without a plan!

I came home from the doctor and immediately got my foot on ice, elevated, and took anti inflammatory medication. My plan was to rest as much as possible for the next few days and then put my boots on, laced really tight, and walk around the yard to see how my foot felt. If my pain was manageable, Tyler and I had worked out a hunting plan that allowed us both to hunt with minimal irritation to my injury through the assistance of Tyler.  

Mid week arrived and I strapped my boots on while target shooting and walked around for a bit. By this point some of the swelling had gone down and the pain was becoming more manageable. I was only wearing the boot on occasions when the pain was becoming too much. Honestly, the thing that hurt the most was being forced to ride the scooter around the grocery store.

I was tickled to be back in the woods and Tyler helped me hang a stand about five feet off the ground, just above where my High Expectations stand had been, near where we had found rubs. I was still pretty frustrated about being injured but tried to enjoy being back in the woods where it was peaceful and quiet.

It was a pleasant evening, no rain this time, and as the sun began to set I was trying to figure out if I was hearing a squirrel or a deer moving just off the ridge below me. The sound seemed to stop once the sun went down and I packed up and waited in the stand until Tyler came to help me down.

As I stood in the stand waiting to see Tyler’s headlamp heading my way. I heard something walking my way. It stopped and I strained to listen, it started moving again. It was getting closer to me and then I started to see a shadow coming up over the ridge about 20 yards away in front of me. In the dark, all I could make out was dark shadow and, for a moment, I thought that this could be a bear coming my way.

I took my headlamp and pointed it in the direction of whatever was coming my way. I saw the reflection of two eyes low to the ground. I felt briefly assured that it wasn’t a bear, although I honestly was still not 100% sure of what this was. I turned my headlamp off and stood in my stand waiting for something to happen.

Beautiful fall evening in the stand.

As I stood there in the ever increasing night, I heard stomping. It was a deer for sure. The deer and I had a standoff for about 15 minutes. Because of the way the wind was blowing, it couldn’t figure out what I was and just continued to stomp at me hoping I would make some noise in return that would give away what I was. The deer finally decided it was time to get out of there. I saw a flash of white and heard it barreling away from me blowing at least six times.

My heart was pounding and I continued to stand there in disbelief of what had just happened. By this time, I thought Tyler must be close. Just before I finally saw his headlamp coming around the bend, I heard the deer again. This time it was on another ridge a couple of hundred yards in front of me and I heard it take off running again, blowing as it went.

The entire ride home I kept recounting the events that had happened. I was so jazzed. So far, I had more deer encounters on public land during hunting season than I had the previous year and I considered that a HUGE success.

I continued to rest my feet and planned to scout and hunt hard the next week. Tyler started his new job this week so I would be flying completely solo, this thought thrilled me and I was ready for the challenge. My plan for the coming week was to scout and hang my stand on the freshest sign I could find.

My first day I scouted in the rain. I had planned to small game hunt while I scouted but the rain was heavier than I expected. I returned to where the deer and I had our encounter and walked a few trails that lead to a ridge I was interested in hunting but had not scouted.

Fresh deer track I found while scouting.

I found fresh tracks and a few fresh rubs. It seemed like the ridge was an elevator ridge and I wanted to hunt here next, so I made a plan. I found a tree I wanted to be in and planned to be back the following day around the time the rain would stop. I thought that deer would be more likely to be up and moving once the wind and rain had stopped and my stand location would be  between thicker cover and areas that looked heavily traveled. I was hoping to catch deer moving between the two.

The next day I gathered my gear, packed my bibbs into my backpack and headed out. The rain didn’t end like I was expecting but I had an enjoyable hunt. The woods were quiet and the clouds were moving in and out of the trees in an eerie way that was also incredibly beautiful. I left my stand that night because my hands got wet and cold and the thought of touching freezing metal with already frigid hands was not sitting well with me and I knew I’d be back the following day.

Beautiful view as I walked in to my stand.

The next day I scouted an area where I have found rubs and hung a stand last season. I walked around a few ridges and found fresh rubs, historic rubs, and some really cool mushrooms I later found out are called Thin-Maze Flat Polypore mushrooms growing on pine trees. I found a few spots that I wanted to return to for evening hunts but I still hadn’t found the morning spot I wanted to hunt. I decided to change direction and scout a field and the area off of it that I’ve never scouted or hung cameras on.

Thin-Maze Flat Polypore mushrooms

I started by walking the field edge looking for signs of trails, rubs, beds, scat, anything that would indicate that there were deer moving through. I made it to the back corner of the field without finding anything and that’s when I saw it, a deer bed. The kidney shape was distinct in the wet leaves. Not far away from the bed I found fresh scat and then 10 yards away from that was a rub so fresh, the tree was still green where the bark had been rubbed off.

It made sense that this area would be one that deer would like. The field was surrounded by thicker Autumn Olive bushes that deer would like to move in and out of and provide browse. I could also see distinct game trails that mirrored the field edge, something that deer are known to do because it gives them cover and allows them to feel safe before moving into a field. I knew immediately this is where I wanted to hang a stand and hunt.

I found the tree I wanted to hang my stand in and continued to walk the field edge. This field was really starting to pay off. I found more beds, although they weren’t fresh. There were at least a half dozen of them and there was scat in them as well! I was so excited but it was starting to get chilly and I still had to take down my stand from the previous evening and move it to my new location.

Success of hanging a stand in the rain

I got my stand moved and set up. By the time I had gotten back to my new spot it started raining. I got my stand hung and headed back home. I wouldn’t be back in the stand for a day and a half since Thursday was supposed to be rainy all day. I took this day as a day to relax, ice my feet and work on some blogging at a local coffee shop.

I debated Thursday night on what my plan would be for Friday. By this point in the week I was pretty tired from all the excitement the week had already brought. I had looked forward to a morning hunt but the thought of getting up and going to sit in a stand in the cold wasn’t too enticing. I decided to suck it up and get up early to hunt the morning but, would I hunt the evening too? I went prepared to spend all day in Pisgah National Forest just in case.

I headed out, with lots of Hot Hands in tow. As I turned onto the road that lead up to the parking area I saw snow! I love hunting in snow, no matter how much there is. For me, snow brings a quiet peace that provides different mood I really enjoy to my hunting experience.

Light snow on my Friday hunt.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize all the rain and then freezing cold temperatures also resulted in ice. The ice under the snow made for a noisy walk in and then posed a challenge once I got up to my stand. I couldn’t clip into my safety line so that I could climb in. I tried to muster all my strength to try to pull and pry it off the tree so I could get my carabiner wedged in but had no luck. After a lot of yanking, trying to heat the strap up with my Hot Hands pack, and wedging my carabiner in I finally got clipped in and settled in the stand.

Although this hunt was truly in the cold, this is the first hunt I had in these temperatures where I wasn’t absolutely miserable. I had distributed my hand warmers strategically in my pockets and I was toasty. Compared to last year when I sat in my stand in a sleeping bag, still cold, this was an amazing feeling and my morning sit flew by. By the time 10:00 am rolled around I felt warm and good enough to sit for about another hour, which would bring my sit at this point to about five hours. This sit had been pleasurable. I hadn’t seen any deer but once bear hunters arrived I got to watch their bear dogs running trails about 50 yards below my stand.

AT Trail that runs through Hot Springs where I had lunch.

I got out of the stand and took it down. It was time to decide if I was going to go home or if I was going to stick it out for an afternoon hunt. I decided to stick it out and I headed to Hot Springs for a warm lunch. I came back, with a belly full of food and wanted nothing more than to take a nap but I powered through, got my stand hung off of a field we turkey hunt in where I found a fresh scrape and fresh rubs.

The evening hunt started off really pleasant, the weather had warmed up and it was clear out but then the wind started to pick up. I’m no stranger to hunting a tree stand when it’s windy but this night it felt like I was on a roller coaster. I debated on calling the hunt but then the wind would die down only to pick up again once I got settled back in.

By golden hour, the last hour of light, I began to reflect on how great of a week I had. I spent 4 of 5 days in the woods either scouting or hunting. I hung and took down a stand at least 4 times by myself, even with an injured foot. The scouting and hanging a stand on fresh sign made each hunt exciting in the hopes that I would see whatever had left the sign. This week had been full of growth for me as a hunter. I felt more confident and proud of all I had accomplished.

Then I heard something snap behind me….

I turned my head to look over my right shoulder and saw a doe moving from the woods into the field off to my right. My heart began to race and I stood in disbelief. This was the first deer I have ever seen on public land, in the daylight, during hunting season, while I was in a blind or stand.

Sitting in the stand for the last hunt of “rut-cation”

She looked to be a yearling, relatively small bodied but absolutely beautiful. I watched her from my stand through the pine shrub that separated us. She stood in the field and appeared to be eating but also on alert, picking up her head with her ears up, listening. I wasn’t sure if she could hear me or was even aware that I was there but she did seem on edge.

I stood watching her with a bow in my hand for at least 15 – 20 minutes. I knew unless she walked back into the woods, I wasn’t going to take a shot at her. I hung my bow back up and enjoyed watching her until the light faded. I tried grunting at her with a grunt tube. She looked in my direction but still stayed where she was. As I packed my things to begin to head down, I heard her blow once and run off.

I decided to exit the field off of an area that was cut in the spring, away from where I thought she ran. As I walked out of the field I scanned the field off to my right with my headlamp and saw her eyes on the other side looking in my direction.

This was the perfect end to this week of hunting and archery mid season. I knew I probably wouldn’t have time again to hunt until the final archery season and then the challenge would be that the season is antlered deer only. Even if I wasn’t able to hunt again this season I was thrilled with how this week and season have played out so far.

Stay tuned for my last few hunts in the last weeks of season as I try to make every hunt count and then a recap on the season as a whole, a season that has marked many milestones for me as a hunter.

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