It’s 3:30am December 7th 2013. That familiar sound I hear is the alarm on my iPhone telling me it’s the beginning of opening day of Muzzleloader season. In reality I have been awake since 3. It seems that I always awake before the alarm on the days I’m gong hunting. This day is no different. I dress quickly in an attempt to not awaken my wife and I head down stairs to get a cup of coffee and let the dogs out. Around 4 it seems my attempt to allow my wife to sleep in has failed. Down the stairs she comes to the excitement of the dogs who welcome her with tails a wagging. This is a rare occasion as she gets up most days at 5. As normal I have all my gear packed and ready to go. The truck is hooked to the trailer with my Polaris ranger loaded and ready to go the night before. After I grab the Thompson Center 45 cal muzzleloader from the gun safe I kiss the wife good bye and let her know I should be home from camp by 6pm. Legal shooting is 6:41am to 4:41pm. I plan to be in the hut by 545 allowing an hour for the woods to settle down from my arrival. The drive to camp from home is about 20 minutes with a quick stop for a snack at local Mobil station. Camp is about 3/4 a mile up a logging road that requires a 4wd truck or ATV to get to. This was not always the case. Back in the 60’s & 70’s the guys could make it to camp in cars. However, the erosion of the logging road over the years has taken its toll on the road. This isn’t a big issue as it keeps us a bit secluded from drive by traffic. I park my truck and trailer at the usual parking spot next to the red barn. This barn isn’t really a barn. Back in its hay day it was the place the “Hippies” gathered. Now it’s just a red old run down building. Hence the name “Red Barn”. After parking at the red barn I unload the ranger and make my way up the logging road to camp. In a truck this could take another 20 minutes with all the banging and bouncing as you drive up. In the ranger it’s about 5 minutes as you can navigate nicely over the bumps and wash outs. Once at camp I tuck the ranger around the side and make the 150 yard walk to the hut and quickly climb up in and get things set up. A quick check of the time on my iPhone shows I’m in position and ready at 545 with an hour to spare just as I had hoped. As you can guess at an hour and a half before sunrise you do not have any light. So when I snap off my head lamp it appears I have just shut my eyes even though they are wide open. It’s not long before they are no longer wide open as I drift off into a quick nap to catch up on the lack of sleep I have succumbed to since the start of bow season and all the early mornings of waterfowl hunting. By this time of year I could sleep for a week solid and not catch up on the sleep I have lost. In literally a blink of an eye it’s now around 6:30 and things are starting to lighten up so you can make out shapes throughout the woods and the food plot. At 6:41 it becomes officially muzzleloader season. This year I am excited being that we have seen about 7 different bucks on trail camera and several nice does. I happen to have drawn a doe tag this year and would willingly fill that tag at first chance. Although I have plenty of duck and goose in the freezer the venison has been much more difficult to acquire this year. Nothing in bow season and nothing in rifle season. So my ability to put back straps in the freezer this year hinges on the next 9 days. 7 am becomes 8 and then 9 and then at 10 at which time my shivering has taken its toll. The hut, although it’s very cozy, is currently at 29 degrees. The portable heater that I started at 830 lasted to 835 as it ran out of propane. At this point I have successfully used the urinal in the hut 4 times since 6am. Nature is starting to call and I may have to use the outhouse which on its best day is a place no one likes to venture. I decide to make the short walk back to camp and have a coffee and start a fire. The nice thing about camp is that when your sitting at the table drinking coffee you are technically hunting. The remoteness of the camp allows for deer to walk by within range quite often. My dad a few years back harvested a deer from the porch during bow season. I can’t begin to count the number of deer taken from camp over the past 45 years or so. My last bow kill was a 5 pointer weighing 153 lbs that I shot from my tree stand only 25 yards behind camp. I hope as I sit here in camp writing this will be another year one is taken from the porch at camp. As luck would have it natured called and the dreaded trip to the outhouse was made. It pains me that we could land a man on the moon but we can’t seem to get a bathroom in camp. I think this last trip to outhouse will be my last this year as I will be building a bathroom at camp this year for sure. Well it’s approaching 11am and camp is up to a cozy 60 degrees. I will heat up some lunch and then head back to the hut at 11:30 to make the 5 hour sit until dark. If all goes well I will be writing about the deer I harvested today. If not we will do it all over again tomorrow. Well hopefully not the trip to the outhouse part. Well opening day ended as it started with no deer and just plain cold. The one positive is that I pulled the trail camera and it had captured no less than 8 different deer. There were 5 bucks on camera and 3 doe. The bucks were a 5 pointer a 4 pointer and what looks like 2 different spikes as well. All of these buck will be nice next year if they survive the winter. The 3 does were the ones I was looking to put my tag on. Don’t get me wrong I’d tag either the 4 or 5 pointer if the opportunity arises. Because of the evidence on the trail camera I’m back in the hut for day 2 of the hunt. This time with an additional layer of clothing and a new Big Buddy heater capable of producing 18,000 BTUs. I will say this was one great investment. Although I have a smaller heater that ran out of propane 5 minutes into the day yesterday this new set up will blow you right out of the hut. Runs off twin 1lb propane tanks or dual 20lb tanks for a full 48 hours of heat. Right now I have the twin 1lb tanks in it and on medium so should get 5 or so hours of heat. It’s 25 out with no wind to really speak of.
As I tap away on the iPad writing this today it’s around 830 in the morning. Seen only a few blue jays picking at the apples that the tree in the meadow has fought to hold onto into December. My trail camera was hanging on this apple tree which is what those 8 deer seemed to be snacking on. Unfortunately for me they are choosing to do so between 6 pm and 6am leaving only the thought of a day time visit in hopes of allowing the old smoke pole to work its magic.
I’m hoping this hunt today doesn’t need me to use up all 10 hours of legal shooting time. I’d prefer to be back at home at noon skinning my deer. Leaving the remainder of the day to spend time with my wife and our labs. The boys are off to college and the air force which leaves their mom home alone during my hunts. She has mentioned she’d tag along but things never seem to play out that way. From September to December I spend a lot of time pursuing ducks, geese & deer. The spring it’s the turkey that holds my attention.
I have to admit hunting waterfowl has way more action and allows for much more spirited conversations in the blind than deer hunting does. The only one I get to chat with while deer hunting seems to be Mr. iPad. With waterfowl you have action pretty much throughout the day most days. With deer its a major waiting game, with very little laughter and conversation. I will say though there is something about the whitetail deer that when things do align it can be magical. I hope that this season is the season where it all comes together.