Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Calibrating the Colonel's Calendar

Miss Brenda has been working the Colonel so hard in the yard and garden this past couple of months that my shoulders have stayed sore. Since I gave up heavy workouts as my retirement gift to myself five years ago my upper body strength has atrophied considerably--so much so that the past several weeks of heavy shovel work left me unable to draw the string on my bow without pain. I was watching the bow season for deer slip away without being able to shoot. Yesterday morning, after a five day break from digging, I was able to draw my bow and I got permission from Miss Brenda to go sit on one of my stands overlooking an acre foot plot of mustard and turnip greens.

Back in September, I had begun preparing this particular spot for a deer feeding field. My trusty new tractor (Semper Field) and I bushhogged the grass down as low as possible, sprayed a non-persistent herbicide to kill everything, and then disced the plot repeatedly to get the ground churned up and receptive to seed. I kept a close eye on the weather forecast and just a few days before the next good rain, I fertilized and seeded the field. It was the largest crop I had ever planted--despite having gardens of one sort or another nearly every year at bases and stations all over the world. A week or so after the rain, my crop began to sprout and by the middle of last month it was thick and nearly knee high. The deer began to visit and it was exciting to check the fields each day to see where they had mowed down a section.

Yesterday afternoon about 1530 I camoed up, sprayed down with a scent killer, grabbed my bow, and eased off the hill down into my back forty. Not fifteen minutes after I had settled in my stand, two does tripped through the leaves behind and under me and onto the food plot to browse. For half an hour they munched loudly, not twenty yards away. Presumably sated with salad, they moved off the plot and back up into the woods behind me. I sat shivering as the sun and air temperature chased each other down and the adrenaline high of nearness to wild things drained from me.

Right at sunset, with a half hour of good light left, a buck sauntered across the open hay field to my left and onto the food plot. I had seen this deer several times before and numerous times on a trail camera strategically placed near a corn feeder. It was the second largest of a group of four bucks that we had pictures of from the time they began to first sprout velvety antlers back in the spring. I have nicknamed him Big Eight--there is another, much smaller eight-point in the group that I call Little Eight. The smallest of the four is a precocious upstart we call Half Rack. He has the makings of a decent antler set on one side, but the other is badly deformed. A scar on his opposite hind quarter seems to give credence to the theory that antler deformity is often a result of an injury to the opposite hind leg. We have lots of pictures of Half Rack--he hung around the corn feeder constantly and was the only one of the group that figured out how to stand on hind legs and bump the feeder to get more corn between timed spins of the dispenser. The largest deer in the group is Romey. He is an impressive eleven point buck. He has the pronounced Roman nose of an older deer to distinguish him, along with a wide and high rack of antlers. I have decreed that Romey is the only buck we will take this year--or any deer of equal size and stature. We will let Big Eight grow another year or two.

Big Eight browsed amongst the greens for a few minutes and then went on alert as two other deer emerged from the brush on the opposite side of the green field. I recognised them immediately--Little Eight and Half Rack. They all fed together about seventy-five yards from me--well out of bow range, but near enough to hear them munching. At one point Big Eight saw fit to demonstrate his dominance and advanced on Little Eight, who stood his ground for one tentative antler clash and then danced away quickly from the much bigger buck. I waited hopefully to see Romey appear, but darkness fell without a sign of him.

On the phone later last night with Number One son, I related that it was a good thing it was still bow season--if I had been up in that tree with my rifle, Big Eight would have been hard to pass up. "Dad," he answered with the exasperation of a child with a forgetful parent, "I thought gun season opened on the 16th."

I told Number One that I was quite certain that the gun season wasn't open until this coming Saturday. He was just as adamant that it opened this past weekend, but finally relented that the Colonel knows best.

This morning, I checked my hunting season printout just to make sure. Yep, gun season opens on..., wait a stinkin' second, THE 16TH!

Big Eight has a new name: Lucky Buck!
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