Monday, October 13, 2008

Deer hunt: Me, Trailfeathers and ... OMG!

You'd think with all the animals I've hunted so far - ducks, geese, pheasants, doves, pigs and Corsican ram - that I'd've bagged a deer by now.

Until this weekend, though, I had never hunted deer at all. I just couldn't fit it into my schedule.

What changed it? This summer, I went to my mom's house up in the Gold Country foothills to help her with a little roofing project, and when we were done, we decided to take a walk around the less-traveled portions of her property. And what did we see?

Poop. Massive piles of deer poop. Obscene amounts.

"Mom, can I hunt here?"

"Oh, sure." Mom never lets me down.

This weekend, it was time. And boy was I lucky. I'd been meaning to field test my new fleece Trailfeathers double-fly pants and jacket that I'd gotten last month, and this was the weekend that weather would finally turn cold - I could wear the outfit without dying of heat stroke.

Boyfriend and I went up on Saturday afternoon, looked for a spot and settled into some buck brush to see what would happen between then and 7:01 p.m. - the end of shoot time.

What happened was nothing. Lots of little birds flitting through the brush. Lots of honkers flying over. Lots of braying animals from neighboring farms. A very, very small hawk that swooped about a foot over Boyfriend's head. But no deer.

No worries. I had a better feeling about the morning anyway. Boyfriend would sleep in, and I would hunt alone.

Can I just say what a glorious thing it is, waking up, using a real bathroom, pulling on your clothes and walking a mere 75 yards to go hunting? Glorious.

It was also cold and dark - 28 degrees, and the waxing moon had already set. I knew where I wanted to go, but in the dark, getting there would be perilously loud. There was lots of dead scotch broom lying all over the place, and that stuff is dry and flimsy, snapping with the slightest provocation.

There was a good chance this was an active bedding area, so one bad step could blow my chances for the morning. I went through the gate, and made a quick decision to set up in the crook of a big boulder nearby. Then I waited, listening to the sounds of birds flitting through the brush and straining to hear anything that might sound like the deliberate footsteps of a deer.

Flit flit flit.

Flit flit flit.

Scrape! Snort! Scrape scrape!

Oh. My. God.

It sounded like a horse. Thunderhoof?

Whatever it was, it sounded like it was no more than 30 yards away.

My heart started thumping I'm sure my eyes bulged out as I scanned the brush to find what surely must be a monster buck. A doe wouldn't sound that aggressive, would she? You can't shoot does here in California.

Scrape, scrape, snort, scrape.

I turned my gun in the direction of the hubbub and flicked the safety off.


It was so loud.

I waited for the buck to burst through the brush into the small clearing in front of my boulder.

But he didn't. In fact, after that click, I didn't hear any more of that aggressive deer posturing. I didn't hear him crash off in the other direction. But nor did he come my way. And I sat there for nearly two more hours.

I had to admit it was over.

No deer.

But what a thrill. For the rest of my life, I will never forget that sound.

I learned a few things too. We need to clear out some of the dead brush to make walking quieter. We need to clear some shooting lanes. We need to set up a tree stand in a conveniently located pine near that boulder. And we might even need to get a game cam, which makes me laugh, given that I have bashed game cam marketing in this blog not once, but twice. Doh!

And I got a chance to try out my Trailfeathers clothes.

Guys, this is the point where you can stop reading, unless you're looking for a really nice Christmas present for your hunting wife or girlfriend.

Ladies, here's what I can tell you so far:

Warmth: Trailfeathers owner Wendy Butler told me this outfit is her coolest, which she knew I'd need for deer hunting in September. Too bad I had to cancel that September hunt. But the fleece was still super cozy and warm. I probably could've used long johns, but I was OK without them.

The only problem I had with the cold was the classic chick problem - fingers and toes. I was wearing thick wool socks and my new Cabela's Glomitts with 150g of Thinsulate, but obviously I need heat packs for still hunting. Lesson learned.

Comfort & fit: Like so many hunting outfits made for women, my Trailfeathers pants and jacket fit beautifully.

One thing worth noting: These pants have the highest waistband of any of the other hunting pants I've tried so far. It was actually near my waist (yeah, the beautiful part of the body that has been lost in an ugly sea of corpulent muffintops for the past five years or so).

I am high-waisted and I hate low-waisted pants, so I was thrilled with this. And it was very comfortable because the pants have elastic in the back of the waistband. If you hate high-waisted pants, that elastic band might mitigate any discomfort you'd have.

For reference, the lowest-waisted pants I've tried have been Prois and Filson; and the middle territory is occupied by Foxy Huntress and SHE Safari.

Another note on fit: I'm one of those chicks with a small waist and (ahem) some serious thighs that I make even worse with an aggressive hill workout on the treadmill. I tend to buy pants one size larger than would be indicated just to accommodate those thighs, and the result is often a waistband that is way too huge for me. However, that was not the case with these pants. If you've got the same body type as me, you will LOVE these pants.

Function: In addition to hand-warming sweatshirt-style front pockets, the jacket has a bib pocket that's handy for holding binoculars. I didn't need binoculars in this place, but I found that pocket was a very handy place to keep tissues, which I always need when my nose gets cold.

Workmanship: I gave this outfit the Mom Test. Mom, you may remember, is a textile artist and former seamstress, and she has super high standards. She was very impressed with the workmanship, and very pleased that the outfit was made in the U.S.A.

Remaining testing: There are two things I haven't done with this outfit: I haven't hiked a long distance or done anything vigorous in it, and I haven't tried the fantastic "double fly" that allows you to take a leak without pulling your pants down. Neither of those activities was called-for this weekend. After I've completed field testing, I'll come back with a full review.

Click here to read my gear review policy and disclosures.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


Tom Sorenson said...

Ah yes - the anticipation of what might have been standing there is sometimes the greatest thrill of all!

Josh said...

What a great story, with many parallels to my first hunting experience in the foothills this year, too. I'm wondering if the lunar phases are to blame...

I also clicked on your link to thunderhoof (great portrait), and then on to the wikipedia link to Megaloceros, and then I got sad, which I do whenever I study the critters that were around until about 13k years ago. We had some really cool creatures, and I would have loved to see them.

Holly Heyser said...

The nice thing about not actually seeing it is that forever more, it'll be whatever I imagine it to be.

Holly Heyser said...

Thanks, Josh. That's exactly what it was - a megaloceros!

Editor said...

thanks for the link!
that would be about like that stupid deer to come annoy you on your first real deer hunt.

Holly Heyser said...

California's quite a hike, but you're right - that would be just like him. Pretty sure I scared him back, though...

Anonymous said...

Great tale, Holly. One thing, though... if you get the big game bug, little things like ducks aren't gonna seem so important any more. Sure, you'll still shoot birds, but while you do it you'll be scouting the habitat for decent deer sign, trails, and bedding areas.

Seriously, it's a great thing... and having that deer so close to you certainly made it better. (It could've been a doe, by the way... if she got your wind, she'd do exactly what you described, stomping and blowing... but it's entirely possible it was a buck).

By the way, despite the close range of the area, a good pair of binoculars would be a worthwhile investment. Among other things, it'll keep you from relying on your riflescope in the event you have to take a closer look at something.

Good luck getting out there again. Very cool that your mom has a place you can hunt!

Holly Heyser said...

Ducks rock, man! I mean, I LOVE all the other hunting I've done, but I'm absolutely giddy about the duck season starting on Saturday.

Thanks for the info about the possible doe. Someone else had suggested on the phone yesterday that whatever it was might've gotten some wind of me and been issuing a challenge. There was no wind, but I'm sure I exuded human reek for at least a 50-yard radius.

I actually took binos out (and hey, you weren't supposed to read that far!) on the first day but they'd mostly gotten in the way, so I didn't take them out Sunday morning.

Anyway, Thunderhoof or Megaloceros - that's my story.

SimplyOutdoors said...

I do love deer hunting. It is quite a rush. It made me give up bird hunting, but I'm not saying that will happen to everyone.

You can't shoot does in California? Seriously? That doesn't make any sense to me.

Holly Heyser said...

Yep, we get two deer a year, forked horn or better. That's deer hunting on this side of the Rockies, where deer aren't quite the infestation they are everywhere else.

So, contrast two deer a year with duck hunting, where for the next 100 days I can hunt at refuges three days a week if I want and bring home seven ducks and eight geese each day. Where I can hunt for 3-5 hours and get lots of opportunities to shoot on most days. Where variety is the spice of life - pintail, teal, wigeon, woodies and once in a while even a mallard, plus all the diver ducks you could ever ask for.

If I'm a good hunter, I can't do three solid months of deer hunting here because I'll get my limit pretty quickly. But as just a moderatly skilled duck hunter, I can, and I'll bring something home almost ever time.

And all that fast action! Yep. I can't wait 'til Saturday...

Blessed said...

I'm thinking that I'm going to be interested in getting a Trailfeathers outfit.... looking forward to the rest of the review.

Ducks vs Deer - ducks win every time in my book although deer hunting during archery season runs a close second.

Native said...

Great storytellin' Holly, kept me on the edge "o" my seat just like a good movie or book does!

The game cams are a wonderful tool but, nothing takes the place of sitting up in a tree all night long with your binos and watching the show unfold below you.

I agree with Phillip, once the big game bug bites, then birds are just good table fare. But, I have seen hardcore bird hunters go downright nutty about a month before winter sets in as well.

This next statement my draw some fire but you know me well enough!
If one of them MEGALOCEROS critters were alive today, I would be thrilled to hunt it!

Holly Heyser said...

Draw fire? Not on this blog. I'd be right out there with you. But I probably don't have a room in my hosue big enough for one of those racks.

Native said...

You will "know" when the big Game bug bites you because you will seriously consider knocking out walls and making additions just to accommodate them "Racks".

Marian Ann Love said...

You may have been Thunderhoof...he is so elusive!

One day you will get bitten and that will be it! :)