Monday, October 12, 2009

Lessons in blacktail hunting with Phillip

I went blacktail deer hunting with Phillip from the Hog Blog in the Mendocino National Forest this weekend and here's what I learned:

1. There's something weird about Phillip's right foot. But you'll have to ask him about it.

2. If Phillip is walking down a ridge that has a terrifying 2,000-foot, 80-degree-angle drop to the creek below and he has a choice between walking right on the edge or on a perfectly good deer path maybe just five feet from the edge, he will choose the edge every time. Read more...
3. If there are wood ducks in the creek just below our camp site, I will most certainly be too exhausted to walk down there and look for them.

4. If we are flushing quail in easy shooting range, we will not have shotguns or a dog with us, and while I'm willing to aim a .270 at their cute little heads, it's not a legal method of take in this state.

5. If we see a deer, it will be a doe - not legal game in this state.

6. If we have the most perfect spot to observe deer rising from their slumber and feasting in the valley 100 yards in front of us, all we will see is two other hunters tromping up the valley.

7. If we see two hunters park their SUV on the opposite ridge and descend into the chemise, it is wrong for us to assume they will drive the deer up to our ridge. Instead, they will stand just 20 yards below their road, one of them fanning flies with his blaze orange cap, as if the motion might actually attract deer.

8. If we hunt in the eerie beauty of a place devastated by fire five years ago, and I observe that the pine trees growing up a uniform height among the skeletal white remains of tree-sized manzanita remind me of a Christmas tree farm in a cemetery, Phillip will look at me as though I'm on LSD.

9. If we see a buck, he will be a spike - not legal game in this state.

10. If we finally find a trail that allows us to walk into the wilderness without sounding like freight trains pushing through the brush, we will be rewarded with the sight of lots and lots of deer. All does.

11. If we arrive at this hunt knowing full well that deer hunting in California has the lowest odds of success of all game animals here - one deer for every 33 hunt days - we will still be sad at the end that we didn't get to take a shot.

12. If I hear one more anti talking about "poor defenseless deer," I'm going to freakin' puke.

13. If we go to Granzella's for lunch after hunt weekend is over so we can eat burgers and drink beer in the middle of a spectacular trophy collection, Phillip will complain that there are no wild hogs in the collection.

14. If I come home empty-handed from 48 hours of spot-and-stalk in thick brush, star thistle, 70-degree hills and 90-degree days, I will find myself doing the calculus to see if it's feasible to go back there next weekend and try again to find where the bucks are hiding, and see if I can't get one of them in my sights.

Let's face it: I'm hooked. I love this. I want to do it again.

* * *

For Phillip's take on the hunt, click here.

© Holly A. Heyser 2009


Jon Roth said...

Yup, sounds like a typical California deer hunt. That's why I haven't picked up my deer rifle in this state since moving here 20 years ago; just too darn frustrating. The only time I go big game hunting is when I go back 'home' to Colorado elk hunting in the Fall.

Blessed said...

Yep! you are hooked - but that is ok, I'm hooked too!

Phillip said...

Nicely done, Holly! There's very little I think you've missed here!

I'll have to give it some thought.

Seriously, glad you enjoyed. It is kind of addictive, although not for everybody. I was a little concerned that the slow pace wouldn't jibe with the waterfowler's expectation of action, action, action.

And I still don't get the Christmas trees in a cemetery thing. Just odd.

SimplyOutdoors said...

Sounds like a great hunt to me. The Christmas trees in the cemetery thing is odd, but intriguing.

Hopefully you get to do it again soon.

Hil said...

Welcome to deer hunting! :)

native said...

I am still chuckling, with affection of course, cause I know that it can be "that" addicting.

There is no other State which can offer such a diversity in its eco-system and panoramic imagery and also climate, that compares to our lovely California.
I still can't get enough of tromping around here and looking at it, because there is always something that you will newly discover upon each and every outing!

sportingdays said... might want to get back out there ... like right now, today ... the perfect storm has hit Northern California and I'm thinking a lot of blacktails are going to be taken in the next couple of days in this weather.

Holly Heyser said...

Blessed and Hil: It's great to be part of the club!

Native: Agreed! And for me, it's not just the discovery of all the interesting things out there, but the absorption of so much knowledge - like drinking from a firehose. I was like a 2-year-old out there, asking Phillip questions every five minutes.

Live to Hunt: Oh, it's that frustration that activates my stubborn gene. Really makes me want more.

Phillip: I had no problem with the pace; I didn't expect birdy action. And I can't wait to see what I've left out that you'll write about.

Simply: If I'd been able to take my camera out there, you'd see what I mean. The whole place has the feel of Christmas tree farm - new growth, uniform height. But the skeletal, tall manzanita adds this intriguing layer to the whole scene. If I were a kid, my head would be spinning with imagination about the kind of magic and witchcraft that could take place in such a setting. That's part of why it enchants me now - it kindles the imagination.

Sportingdays: I KNOW! I want to go out again. Can't go this second - got that nasty ole day job to contend with. But I'm furloughed Friday. If anyone wants to go on a deer hunt with me. I don't know, maybe I could go out tomorrow if I just decided to postpone my biggest work day of the week. But 1) I can't go alone and 2) I'm not sure it'd be wise to take my car on those roads - no 4-wheel drive. But yeah, this storm ROCKS.

Phillip said...

Sporting is absolutely right! Tomorrow evening and Thursday are gonna be gangbusters on the B-zone blacktail!

Wish I could ditch the day job right now too... but I'm so thankful to have a day job again, I'm gonna be a little more careful with this one.

Holly, afraid I didn't get real detailed in my write-up... but there's still a video coming.

Holly Heyser said...

Oh, I didn't see you'd posted - my Google reader hadn't caught up with it yet...

The Hunter's Wife said...

Maybe you need to come to Indiana and hunt whitetails.

Holly Heyser said...

I'd love to, Jody, but being a teacher, it's really hard to go on out-of-state hunts during deer season, because it's during my semester. If I take up archery, I can probably get in on some early hunts in August somewhere in the country, though...

suzee said...

I finally got around to checking back in to see how your deer hunt sounded like our elk hunt this year! you sure nailed it with your portrayal of the frustrations, ups and downs, of hunting... but the bottom line ... we love it! Right on with #12... "Poor defenseless animals??!!"... why do they keep making us look like fools?! Those "poor defenseless" little rascals know what they're doing and how to drive a hunter crazy... and that's what we love about it all!Hope you get another chance... because you never know just when it will all come together!( in my short limited experience with hunting, I've decided lots of luck on your side never hurts!)Lots of Luck to you!!

hutchinson said...

--> suzee said: Those "poor defenseless" little rascals know what they're doing and how to drive a hunter crazy... and that's what we love about it all! <--

Just have to say it in my gadfly-party-pooper sort of way (no, I haven't gone away yet). You guys know this and I know it's common in hunting vernacular to frame the chase this way. But I do think it's important to reinforce, in their defense, that wild animals are using their wits to stay alive. It's not a rascally game to them, even if they are clever enough to outwit hunters on many occasions.

There have been studies which show intense stress and change in biochemical balance (cortisol, etc), feeding behavior and other alterations due to being pursued in hunting zones -- even if death isn't the final outcome. Much as we would experience stress in a situation where we were being pursued by lethal means.

So, although I would agree with you that this type of deer hunting (as opposed to baiting and blinds) is not easy -- I've been isolated up there in the wilds of Mendocino -- it's hard for me to reduce a situation of life and death for the animal, to notions of chase and play. It's definitely not that for them and it minimizes the seriousness of taking a life.

(You may have noticed that it's when the animal's experience is minimized that I tend to surface here. I realize this is a hunting blog and I'm usually the sole dissenter in a group of friends. I realize, too, that when I read things here, the story usually culminates in the death or injury of animals. Cazadora has been kind enough to entertain my occasional posts, in spite of that. It's just tough when something as grave as the taking of a life is diminished as less than what it really is. That's the part that probably rankles non-hunters most, just so you know. Doesn't help the perception that it's all fun and games out there for hunters. I have a sense of humor, really. No, I mean really. But rarely when it involves genuine suffering. Unless it's my own. I'm fair game, so lay it on.)

Holly Heyser said...

You know, Hutch, I thought of you a lot this weekend, but not when I was feeling disgruntled about the "defenseless animals" claim - I know you give wildlife more credit than that.

What made me think of you was your comments on this blog about how animal stress levels go up during hunting seasons. It occurred to me that what's unnatural about that situation is the fact that their stress levels should ever be LOW in our presence.

That is an unnatural result of the artificial seasons we create to regulate our hunting. In reality, no prey animal should ever feel comfortable within the killing range of any predator, including humans. That's natural.

And I figured if you popped up here, it'd be to chide me about my crack about the quail. I knew that would probably rankle you, but I have to be honest about what I do, and sometimes I am very somber about hunting and killing and eating, and sometimes I see the humor in it.

I come by that honestly, though: I am a lifelong journalist, and we are famous for our gallows humor. I can honestly say I've made inappropriate remarks about human executions, even having witnessed one and being deeply affected by the experience.

Anonymous said...

I see deer in March. I see deer in November. I see deer in May. I see does in August. Sigh.
And I can't wait to try again next year. How many days till A zone Opens? Sigh.


hodgeman said...

Welcome to deer hunting! I've got a trip booked to the Prince William Sound for blacktail and bear next year.

Regarding comments about stress levels during hunting season- in a ecosystem where genuine apex predators still exist(other than people that is) those animals are under stress constantly. Wolves don't have a season and in real nature animals are pursued by lethal means unceasingly. Something to think about.

Phillip said...

Hodgeman, one day I'd love to make that trip for blacktail. I'm still on the fence about shooting bears (personal choice, not general), but I think a hunt is the way I'd like to see some of that great state.

And I'm with you on the stress level issue.

I try real hard to remain respectful of Hutch's point of view, whether I agree with it or not, but it's really roaming the realm of fantasy with this idea that wild animals would live in some state of peaceful relaxation if hunters would just leave them alone.

Not only is that simply not a natural state, but humans are an incontrovertible aspect of the environment, whether it's hunters or highways. We're here, like it or not, and we belong here. We are a part of the environment, not apart from it.

And Hutch, as to "notions of chase and play," you've pointed out yourself (and I agree) that we are hunting for recreation. It would follow that our choice of language, from time to time, is the language of people having fun. After all, despite the inherent seriousness of blood sport, we don't spend our days afield discussing biology and ethics. So yeah, we talk about being "outwitted by that wily rabbit", or "outsmarted by a crafty buck". It's human nature, and certainly not restricted to hunters. We cannot deny who or what we are.

Josh said...

hodgeman makes a really good point about apex predators, something we've seriously lacked in California for well over 100 years. We used to have wolves and grizzly bears. In addition to keeping deer in higher states of alertness, they also moved them considerably, and the plant regimes here in the state had evolved with those movement patterns. Now that deer are more sedentary, particular native plants get hammered, nutrients shift, and watersheds drain and erode differently. Hoofed ungulates are supposed to move around in a place.

hutchinson said...

--> holly said: I come by that honestly, though: I am a lifelong journalist, and we are famous for our gallows humor. I can honestly say I've made inappropriate remarks about human executions, even having witnessed one and being deeply affected by the experience. <--

I get it. I'm as sardonic as they come and recognize humor and sarcasm as a necessary defense and coping mechanism. My family is filled with war refugees and you simply cannot survive those atrocities with some semblance of what Holly suggests -- gallows humor.

But my personal belief is that there's a difference between using humor at our own expense versus using it to distance ourselves from the pain of others. I know humans do it all of the time. But I feel that it's in that language that we lose our sense of connection to what we ought to be feeling. And I do feel it's important to point that out when, again, an ethos or prevailing POV toward non-humans is at stake.

In my pre-vet studies, I saw this mechanism at work in labs where animals were used. Putting rascally or playful motives in an animal's heart -- animals that were acting out of terror or high stress -- was a way to deal with the effects people knew they were having on those animals.

The same is true when working with animals in the field or in shelters, as I've done throughout my life. For instance, I don't like banding any more than I like hunting from an emotional point of view. It's traumatic, with the main difference being the animal survives to live another day. I take photos. I have a long lens and do my best to never intrude in a way that stresses animals out. Once in a while I do and I can't rationalize that away, either, in the interest of a photo.

I tend to side with biologist Marc Bekoff about the invasiveness of ostensibly helpful scientific practices. And I don't relish watching difficult veterinary procedures. In almost all cases, the people identified with the work tend to use the same coping mechanisms. The rationalization does, however, tend to be that the outcome is preferable to not doing anything.

Contrary to what Phillip may believe about me from the admittedly idealistic views I sometimes express, I live very far from a fantasy world. And yes, humor is one way to make it through those days when the pain of the world seems insurmountable.

I find it funny that people who care about animals are often labeled with this fanciful "Bambi" mentality when, in fact, many of us come from extremely painful backgrounds which is what led us to this place of empathy with others to begin with. I find the least amount of empathy among those who either haven't had many challenges in life, or who shut themselves off emotionally in response to their hardships.

Anyway, again, my Achilles Heel. When we were deliberating harming or stressing animals (any of us), I feel it's a dangerous road to tread -- to put upon the animal the same motives in escaping death as we have in capturing it for our purposes.

I don't know if you've ever traveled to areas where animals experience no harm from humans. It's a different world indeed. That juxtaposition is darn near painful for those of us who've been in that place. Idealistic? Yes, for sure. A silly, fruitless dream? I don't think so. I tend to hold us humans to the higher standard of compassion by virtue of the fact that we can make those choices. And often, we choose for the worst.

Holly Heyser said...

I'm not sure where to go with this, Hutch. I believe we're at an impasse.

Hunters and many other people choose not to wallow in pain. I can do it, but it just doesn't make sense to me to do so.

I learned something important from the Dalai Lama (from a book, not a personal meeting): Life is struggle - that much is unavoidable. The degree to which struggle causes us pain is directly related to how we choose to experience it. We may choose to wallow in it, or we may choose to acknowledge it and move on. I believe the latter is a more successful life strategy.

While this concept generally applies to personal struggle, I believe it applies equally well to external struggles we choose to experience, too.

(Writing this made me wonder if the Dalai Lama is vegetarian. I found that addressed on his website here.)

Josh said...

Holly, I was surprised to read that the Dalai Lama is not always a vegetarian. Talk about a middle road!

Hutchinson, I've worked regularly in places where animals are not afraid of humans, and it is different, and not always good. In fact, it is rarely good for the animals. I'm talking about National parks. For example, Yellowstone suffered greatly until wolves were reintroduced, as an entire habitat system was eaten completely away. Today, animals contract disease at higher rates from human contacts, they eat poorly, and they often get in trouble after human confrontations. Also, my earlier points about flora hold true.

Phillip said...

Just as a note, Hutch, because otherwise I agree with Holly about an impasse... I don't believe you "live in a fantasy world". I believe, based on your word here, that you live in a world with a lot of sadness and pain. I'm sure you see some pretty awful stuff, and it's generally caused by wildlife's interaction with humans...whether hunters or otherwise... and that causes you to have some pretty deeply held convictions.

But you can't wish it all away, no matter how deeply you feel. The wild world is a harsh and violent place, and would be just as harsh without us as it is with us. I'm fairly sure that you understand that on an intellectual level.

Me? I choose to take an active part in that bloody, brutal wild world because I fear that otherwise, we are at risk of losing something much more important than our "humanity". We're losing our wildness.

We're becoming separated from nature, real nature, and the deeper that chasm grows, the less attuned we'll be to the bigger picture of our effects on the world around us.

As strongly as you may believe that we should back off and let the animals live in peace, I believe that by going out and bloodying my hands to feed myself, both physically and spiritually, I am maintaining a connection with the elemental reality that I am an animal, and no better or worse than any other creature that walks, crawls, swims, or flies. I do what I can to thrive, and the other creatures do the same. Neither of us expects more or less from the other. The deer and rabbit should expect me to try to eat them just as I would expect the same from a grizzly bear or shark. That's natural. That's right.

The idea that the natural world should be treated like some sort of preserve... a museum or a zoo... that's as unnatural as it can get and will only lead to disaster for one species or the other.

TommyTriTip said...

You need to come back to Upstate with me... We will got with the if its brown its down rule on this special occasion.

hutchinson said...

Yes, we are at an impasse. I think I finally have to agree with Holly and spare you the same tired philosophical discourse I've been inflicting for a year now. I say finally, because I've said this before. I really mean it this time. Really. But a year's anniversary is probably a good time to make a life change. Plus, if I keep reading as I have, it's bound to stir the heart in similar ways. You know what they say: you keep doing what you're doing, you'll get what you've got. :)

Although I realize we've all stretched to accommodate a respectful engagement here -- especially you, since it's your forum -- it's very clear that our world views are at opposite ends of the spectrum (much as I wish it were different, only because of the animals, not because I disrespect diverse viewpoints).

I understand that for you, your engagement with life and nature necessitates hunting and taking of animal lives for genuine fulfillment. For me, I simply wish humans could be part of the compassionate solution on this planet, not an added source of violence and pain. We do have that individual option, even if the world at large has much injustice beyond our control.

I don't see nature as a zoo. On the contrary. I see it being ripped away in the context of modernity. I know you have some of the same concerns. I don't think we will for long have the luxury of treating nature and animals as we see fit. For that reason, I like to appeal to the magnanimous, less selfish side of human nature, wishing we could reduce our impact on the natural world's already heavy load. But again, that points to life perspectives as different as the Dalai Lama's versus Ted Nugent's.

So, I will just sign off once and for all with a fare thee well, and a thanks for accepting me into this fold as long as you did. I hope to make more of a difference in my life in terms of engendering respect and love for nature and wildlife. I admit I venture forth into many hunting seasons with a heavy heart. But I imagine it's a heaviness I will have to carry the rest of my life, given, again, that your mission is yours, mine is mine, and never the twain shall meet.


Hi, Holly --

Were you hunting wilderness or the normal section of Mendocino?

Used to hunt the area near Clear Lake and ran into what you're talking about. Moved further north, and except for opening weekend, not a soul. Lots of good bucks and bear.

Did write an article for CA G&F and the very ridges I mentioned got hammered that following year--lesson learned. ;)