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Wet Wool, Woods, Whitetails, Wish it Weren't Over- My 2023 Deer Season

Dougfirtree

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It’s that time of the year. Deer season is officially over and I had such an enjoyable, frustrating, beautiful, maddening season. I’m feeling the loss today. There’s just something a little shocking and depressing about the realization that if I have a thought and want to go somewhere, try something deer related, I need to wait until next year… I didn’t travel to hunt this year, just chased deer in the Adirondacks, with some family and friends. I got out a bunch (big thank you to my wife) and had a great time. I thought I’d write up some of the more notable days, to share.

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October 8th:



Youth weekend and my middle son, nearly 14, was still working on killing his first deer. This was his 5th season and he’s had several very close calls, but hadn’t had it all come together. We focused on a farm near home where we have permission to hunt. There’s a woodlot there that often holds deer and ahead of the season, we set up some stumps to sit on, a rough blind and weed whacked down a shooting lane through the tall golden rod, etc. that grows in our shooting lane.

We got there early in the morning and enjoyed a nice sunrise. Saw two deer. One crossed quickly at the end of the lane, 180 yards away. No good shot. The second crossed a second lane to our right, also quickly and when we were still distracted by the first deer. Jeez… Good to see the deer, but we felt rusty.

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We came back in the evening and before long, we saw a deer slowly walking through the brush at the end of the first shooting lane. My son got set up on his sticks and followed the deer all the way across the lane, waiting for a good shot. It kept a little brush between us and between the narrow openings for a bullet and his own shakiness, he just didn’t feel confident taking the longish shot. I was proud of him.

Within seconds of him saying he didn’t have the shot, I looked right and noticed a doe standing in the second lane (this lane goes off perpendicularly to the first). As soon as I saw her, she saw us and froze, looking right at us, 100 yards away. What followed was one of those classic standoffs, where the deer and I were looking at each other and my son was stuck looking in another direction, afraid to move. I kept saying, “stay still, stay still, I’ll tell you when you can move.” He would need to pivot 90 degrees and more importantly, move his shooting sticks as well, to get set.

After roughly 72 hours of standoff, she finally turned her head to look the other way. “Now, quickly!” He managed to make the turn and got down on the rifle, as the deer looked back at us. She was still facing us, right on the edge of some thick brush, with her head lowered, blocking a frontal shot. She was also looking more nervous. She started to turn to her left and I said, “when she gets sideways you’ll have a quick shot opportunity. Get ready.” She kept turning, heading back into the brush and I was convinced he wouldn’t be quick enough, but then I heard the rifle boom and she disappeared.

Neither of us saw where she went, but now we could see a doe standing 10 yards to the left of where she’d been, looking freaked out and healthy. Was it her? It was a little tortuous watching her, wondering if he’d missed and this was the same doe, just standing in the open now. My son wasn’t sure either. So, we held off and she eventually ran off.

We were relieved to find, when we walked over, that his doe had dropped right on the spot. We never noticed the second one until after the shot. He was so happy and I felt a tremendous rush of pride and relief!

After field dressing, I sent him back to grab our foam pads from where we’d been sitting, so we could begin the drag. He came back with a smirk, reporting that a nice 6 pointer was standing in the other lane now, calmly watching him… Eh, we’ll come back for him next year!

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October 14-15th:



Early muzzleloader weekend and I made plans to camp out with my brother, his wife and one of my oldest and closest friends. With four of us, and camping near a nasty, tangled swamp that is generally thick with deer, we planned on doing a lot of little pushes, where two people slowly still-hunted through an area, possibly bumping deer towards two standers.

On our first day, after watching the sun come up, I began to work my way up along the swamp. Shortly thereafter, I heard a shot. My buddy texted, letting us know that he had a buck down. Nice! He’s an adult-onset hunter, who has hunted with me frequently. This was not his first deer, by any means, but his first buck! We quartered up the deer and went back to camp for lunch. That evening, my brother shot a doe that turned out to be a button buck.

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The next morning found me working up the other side of the swamp, about an hour after sunrise, trying to push deer through a little crossing, to my sister-in-law on the other side. I reached a point just shy of the crossing and figured I’d better sit tight for a while and wait for deer to work their way to her. I’d been plopped down on a log for about 20 minutes, when I heard crunching behind me and to the right. Two does were fast-sneaking along a trail, heading more or less the way I was looking. I let them pass. I could hear more crunching behind them and glimpsed some antler. A spike was following along behind….followed by a forky…..followed by something bigger. I got my gun up just in case. Shortly before he reached my shooting lane, I got a look at his headgear; a nice 8 point, probably 3.5 years old. I cocked the muzzleloader and when his chest hit the narrow opening between two saplings, I hit the trigger. The deer bolted forward and then stopped about 50 yards ahead. I couldn’t really see him well, but I could tell he’d stopped. I waited to hear the crash, but it didn’t come. In the meantime, another forkhorn came down the path, as if nothing had happened… I don’t think I’ve ever seen 4 bucks together, in the Adirondacks. Chit, I’ve had many seasons when I didn’t see 4 bucks, total! As I reloaded, I saw the forky and another buck who looked bigger, cutting across the swamp in front of me. “Jeez, that must be my buck, but he looks fine…”

Eventually, I walked over to where the deer had been standing. Not a trace of blood or hair, but I did find this.

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November 4th



It was warmer than I wished it was. But, I know a certain swamp that is loaded with signpost rubs and bucks obviously come through there routinely. I decided to go in there and sit and call. 1.5 miles in and I found a nice spot to sit, behind the root ball of a fallen tree. The moss was thick on everything and it was dead quiet. The wind seemed to be holding out for my location, which is rare around here. More often than not, the wind switches direction constantly in these woods (part of the reason so many serious deer hunters here become enamored with tracking. They may smell you coming, but at least they can’t lose you and you can keep trying…

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I rattled and grunted a few times. I waited and waited. An hour later, I rattled again. 20 minutes later, I thought I saw a flicker 70 yards ahead. I shifted my body position a bit to see around a tree and when I did, a deer blew out from my right, only 30 yards away. I never heard him coming. He must have really snuck in. I couldn’t see his head, but I’m sure it was a buck. Before I left that day, I put a game cam on a small signpost rub that was about 30 yards from my stand. It turns out there were several bucks using the area.

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November 14th



I woke up to a dusting of snow. I decided it was worth going up high to see if there was more snow there and I could find a track. I dropped my kids off at school and drove up into the mountains. Bingo, there was about 1.5-2 inches of snow. I walked in on a trail. My plan was to then leave the trail, cross a beaver dam and get to a hillside where I’ve often found deer. I didn’t even get 15 minutes down the trail before I cut a nice, fresh buck track. Awesome! This day was shaping up! The track took me up a ridiculously steep, ledgy bluff that was covered with thick spruce and fir and plenty of blowdown. It was not possible to get up it without making a fair amount of noise and I eventually came to a recently vacated bed. It was a great spot, surrounded by thick brush, not really approachable and several ways to hop down and out of site in a hurry.

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I stayed on him and ended up jumping him off the next thick, brush-choked knob, as well. And the next one… This buck was a master of choosing beds that were just unapproachable. He especially loved the ones that had a little cliff next to them, so he could jump down 8 or 10 feet in a split second and be gone.

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I finally wised up and rather than follow his track up the fourth knob, I circled it downwind and came up from that side. Unfortunately, I wised up one hill too late. He was done with me and never stopped. His track kept straightlining right up the mountain. When I finally ran out of time and left the track, he was making long strides up the hill, determined to lose me. Crap.

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November 25th



The woods were covered in 2 inches of the crunchiest snow I’ve ever walked on. I bumped two groups of deer on my way into the swamp, but I got myself set up overlooking a clearing just outside the area with all the signposts. It was 10 degrees and I was not sure how long I’d last sitting there. I made a few doe bleats, a grunt and waited.

The upside to crunchy snow and leaves, is that if you’re sitting still, you can hear anything coming. I began to hear a faint crunch, crunch, crunch about 10 minutes after I called. It was coming from behind me and to the right. I turned and got my rifle up. With at least 4 mature bucks hanging out here, and a deer coming to my calls, I figured things were about to finally come together. I saw a glimpse of brown and of antler as the deer got closer. My heartbeat was definitely picking up and I raised the rifle and silently flicked off the safety. As he came out into an open lane, I had to chuckle; apparently there are 5 bucks around and this one was a little 1.5 year old 5 point. I watched him walk past and eventually encounter the scent line where I’d walked in. I spent the rest of the day tracking a buck who was with a doe, but they straight-lined me quite a ways and I ran out of time.
 
November 28th



Another morning of super crunchy snow, but the deer were very active. There were tracks all over the hardwood fingers I had to walk across to get down to the swamp. I jumped a couple of groups of does. Not long after jumping the second group, I paused for a moment, as I came over a rise, to scan the woods ahead. As soon as I started to take a step forward, a deer snorted right behind me. Incredulously (and with a distinct lack of grace), I whirled around and saw a little yearling deer standing about 10 yard away, looking at me nervously. “What are you doing, little one?” I said, and the deer slowly started walking away.

I continued on my way and several hundred yards further on, I heard a soft deer grunt behind me. I turned around and here came this little yearling again, walking in my tracks, about 30 yards away, letting out little plaintiff grunts on every other step, or so. I’ve never had this happen before. I’m guessing I’d jumped its mom earlier and it was too far off from her to run with her. I let it come to about 20 yards and then spoke to it again. It turned, looking nervous and eventually bounded off a little ways. I kept walking and didn’t see it again. I spent the rest of the day following the tracks of a buck with a doe, but again, they were motoring off in one direction and I ran out of time.

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December 1st



The last day I would be able to hunt in the regular rifle season. I bumped one deer on my way down to the edge of the swamp this morning. When I arrived, I slowly paralleled the swamp, looking for a track in the snow that was now crunchy, but was forecasted to soften later in the day. I used a large boulder as cover to peer over a rise and was scanning the woods beyond, when I thought I heard some crunching in the section blocked from view. It got louder and clearly some deer were coming and would pass to the left of the boulder. I got the rifle up and waited. A doe came out and almost immediately looked at me and froze. She hopped back a step, then stared nervously at me before deciding to take a more circuitous route. Unfortunately, the second deer in line saw her do this and veered to the right. I watched it walk through the brush, to follow her. I actually had a good shot at it, but its head was totally obscured by brush. Big body, but I couldn’t see antlers, so I had to watch as they both eventually winded me and ran off. I thought about taking up their track, but figured the second deer was most likely a doe.



I worked my way around the swamp and then into the center and found a nice, fresh buck track near a double signpost rub (I think I posted a photo of those rubs earlier. I've never seen two right next to each other).

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I went pretty slowly on it, as deer do bed down in there. Eventually, he joined up with the track of a doe and I kept going slow and steady, hoping to catch up soon. After more than an hour of this, I noticed where I was and what direction I was going and began to get that sinking feeling. My fears were soon confirmed when I came to the boulder and saw that these were the two deer I’d seen earlier. Bummer…

I was hungry and went up on a rise to eat my lunch. There was a lot of snow falling out of the trees and so noises were constant, but at one point, I thought I heard some shuffling of leaves behind me. Then I heard it again and turned in that direction. The sound was gone, but as I watched, I saw the tell tale movement of a deer working its way through the woods, about 60 yards away. I caught a glimpse of antler. I quickly judged that one of two things was going to happen: The deer would either turn down the little finger ridge he was on and come right at me, or he’d keep on going over it and show up in a dip I could see pretty well off to my right. So I had the rifle up and I waited. And waited… Why wasn’t I seeing him any more? Maybe he stopped to nibble something and he’d appear in a few minutes. After 20 minutes of waiting, I decided something was up. So I began sneaking up the finger, rifle up, scanning for the deer. Eventually I came to his track. He was on a deer trail and right after I saw him, the trail veered uphill and entered a subtle dip that went down off the finger and then angled up the next one. He would have been just barely hidden from me the whole way. Luck did not seem to be on my side today…

I took up his track and followed it for several miles, eventually jumping him in a bad spot, right around the time I should turn around and head out of the woods. Two bucks seen, but no shot opportunity. I passed this scene on my way out. I know many of you can relate:

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Dec. 6th



Late muzzleloading season and I had a few days to hunt. I got out on the 4th, after a nice snowfall, but it warmed up fast and I spent the day being absolutely hosed by falling snow, while not finding any fresh tracks. This day was much drier and cold. There was a thin fluff of new snow on top of a hard crust. As I headed into the woods, I heard the sound of a yearly tradition. Late muzzleloader is the ending to our deer season and at some point in it, I’ll be out in the woods and I’ll hear the giant flocks of snow geese finally leaving our area to fly south. This was that morning and I watched a few thousand go over in wave after wave of intersecting V’s.

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It took me about 1.5 miles of searching, but I finally found a fresh(ish) buck track. I followed him for another mile, or so into a little stream valley full of pines, some of which were quite large! I encountered the tracks of two canines, loping along next to each other, more or less following a deer trail. You can see in the photo, the larger of the two tracks next to my Leatherman, which is 4 inches long. Big-ass coyote! The other one wasn’t much smaller and they were even breaking through the crust in places. I bet the bigger one was at least 60 pounds.

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My deer never stopped and eventually headed off of public land. I decided to spend the evening sitting on a farm in the valley. There were a couple of decent bucks passing through there occaisionally and I was in the mood for some deer sightings, which I got. I passed on a doe, saw 7 others, but no sign of the bucks.
 
Dec. 10th



The last day of deer season. The weather forecast was terrible. High of 52 degrees and rain. I had obligations in the morning and mid-day, but decided that if the rain wasn’t too bad, I’d sit the evening. Well, the rain was steady, but not hard and it was the last darn evening of deer season, so of course I went. I found a hemlock tree to sit against that blocked most of the rain and let me see out into a good lane that deer cross.

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I’d been sitting there for about an hour when I happened to look up into the woods behind me and to my right. I sat in this spot once before this season and had a spike horn chase a doe almost into my lap, then come visit for a bit, from that direction. In any case, I couldn’t hear anything over the pitter patter of raindrops, but I caught the flicker of a deer tail about 50 yards away. As I watched, 3 does silently wandered past, mostly hidden by the brush, angling like they might come out into the lane I was watching. I sat still and waited for them to make their slow journey. A few minutes later, I looked back where they’d come from and realized a deer was working it’s way right at me. It was mostly hidden and stepped behind a clump of bid trees, so I took the opportunity to turn and roll onto my stomach, so I’d be ready for a shot. As it kept coming, I saw a flash of antler and some points. The deer was about 20 yards away and should come into a nice opening very soon. I pulled back the hammer and got down on the rifle. It stepped into the opening, unaware of my presence, a beautiful little forkhorn. It stopped about 10 yards away and I had one heck of an easy shot, but I decided not to shoot. I’d hold out for one of the larger bucks and if that meant no deer, I was ok with that. I wished him good luck and he eventually decided he didn’t like the look of that lump on the ground and bounded away. Nothing else came out that night and so my season came to an end.



It’s funny. There were times during the season when I could relate to this meme:

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I worked really hard and spent a bunch of time in the woods, and didn't end up with that buck I wanted, but the truth is I really did love it. The focus of hunting is such a relief to me, compared to the million things that are always going on in the rest of life. As always deer hunting got me back into cool places that few people ever see. I not only saw a bunch of deer, but other wildlife as well. I particularly liked watching a mink fishing in a stream, eventually catching a small fish and bounding off with its prize sticking out of its mouth. I saw all sorts of great trees, boulders, animal sign and I hunted with family and friends a few times, which is always a treat. I can’t wait to do it again next year. Hope you all had a fun season too and good luck if you’re still at it!

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Awesome photos, beautiful habitat. Thanks for sharing. I'd call it a good season just being out in the solitude and beauty of the location! It sounds like quite a few bucks survived for next years opportunity and so hopefully you'll have to choose between big, bigger, or huge.
 
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