The Flying Kayak

Hunting, Fishing, Rambling, and Complete Outdoor Hilarity

Tag: Deer

It’s The Freakin’ Weekend

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The obnoxious ring tone of your alarm jerks you awake. For a moment, you simply lay there before realizing how strange it is that at some moment in the past, you purposefully chose an alarm style. You tried different tones and jingles, wondering whether or not it actually had the ‘umph’ to get you out of bed. But after a few minute of searching, you finally found it.

This is the one. This is the alarm tone I will grow to hate. Time to ruin this jingle forever.

It’s 6:00am on a Monday morning and it’s time to go do that thing. That thing that so many of us do every week: Work.

Whether you enjoy your job or not, very rarely is anyone super stoked to be woken from a nice slumber, only to realize it’s not the weekend anymore. Alas, you’ve got five more days of this and another four rude awakenings before you can cut loose again. But at that moment, you merely stare at the ceiling and mentally prepare for what’s going to be another long work week.

Though you may work in an office, you’re an outdoorsman at heart. The only thing that makes your coworker, Janet’s insufferable stories around the water cooler even somewhat tolerable is the anticipation of hitting the woods on the weekend. It’s archery season, and chasing that big buck has been on your mind for almost a year now. The national forest you grew up hunting is just an hour outside of town, and the only thing standing between you and that tree stand you’ve picked out are five days of conference calls, emails, and TPS reports. The woods are calling.

By Friday afternoon you’re completely exhausted. It’s been a hell of a work week, but the one thing that’s gotten you by is the thought of Saturday morning. The crisp, cool Autumn air, the smell of the trees, and the anticipation of seeing deer has been on your mind since Monday morning. And so when you finally clock out for the week, you can barely contain your excitement. Tomorrow’s the big day and you race home to make sure everything’s ready.

It’s odd that the alarm that you absolutely loathed on Monday morning is now a welcomed friend Saturday morning at 4:00am. With a groggy mixture of excitement and anticipation, you get dressed and head out to the woods. The drive is actually kind of nice. Unlike the commute to work every morning, the roads are fairly empty at this ungodly hour. Who in their right mind would be up this early on the weekend anyway?

Soon you reach the cut off road for the national forest and turn down an old, bumpy dirt road. A few moments later a pair of headlights turn onto the same dirt road a few hundred yards behind you.

Hmm…Must be another hunter

With the excitement of getting to your stand beginning to creep up, you speed up a little bit as you head down the road. Soon, your headlights begin to pick up clouds of dust, and it isn’t long before taillights appear in front. The wire cable of a tree stand can clearly be seen poking up from behind the tailgate of the truck in front, and it’s obvious this hunter is on the way to his spot as well.

Eventually you turn off the road onto another and lose sight of the other two trucks. Not far up ahead is where you’ll park and walk in. It’s an area that you -thought- was relatively secluded. So it comes as a surprise when you round the corner only to find a truck parked where you were planning. Your headlights shine on the hunter as he’s getting everything ready to walk into the woods.

Damn it

You get out and greet the other hunter. To your relief, he describes where he’ll be and it’s no where near where you were planning. So with that, you ready yourself, slap the climber on your back and grab your bow before walking down the trail you marked during scouting season.

Once up the tree, you quietly wait as the woods slowly begin to wake up. It’s the magic hour. This is what you were waiting for all week. A chance to escape the office. To spend some time in peaceful tranquility, uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of every day life. With twilight quickly turning into day, you begin to scan the woods for deer. It doesn’t take long before you catch a glimpse of a tail flick, and the body of a doe materializes about eighty yards away. It’s a good sign, and in that moment, work and all your weekly troubles have vanished. This is why you’re here.

Suddenly you hear the sound of a truck door slamming in the distance. The deer, thankfully, seems to have paid no attention to it. But for a brief second you’re reminded that you aren’t alone in the woods. About a half hour goes by and the doe you’ve been watching hasn’t moved a whole lot. Out of nowhere, however, she spooks. Tail up, she blows several times before bounding away into the distance.

What the hell?

Then you hear it. The all too familiar crunch crunch of boots. You turn to see another hunter strolling in late to his stand, right down the trail you took to come in. The immediate reaction is surprise. Then anger. Then simply frustration. You wait until he’s about sixty yards away before whistling at him. Stopped mid stride, the late hunter looks up at you and raises a hand apologetically before turning around and slinking off the other direction. With a heavy sigh, you lean back in your stand. You’re beyond annoyed. The doe you were watching is long gone, and the morning hunt might as well be ruined. You slugged through a brutal work week, and the one thing you were looking forward to beyond everything was to be here in this tree. Away from people, and to have time to yourself. But now? Now it’s ruined.

Welcome to the weekend.

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Over the years, the above scenario has happened to me far too many times. Of course, I don’t usually have office jobs, but it’s the same  concept: I have off on the weekends, I love to hunt/fish, so I go hunting/fishing on the weekends. The problem? EVERYONE ELSE DOES TOO.

I’ve been a weekend warrior before, so please don’t think I’m hating on them. Unfortunately many people have no other options than working that Monday-Friday 9-5. So that means they’ve no choice but hit the woods or the water on Saturday and Sunday. Weekends end up becoming insane. Hunting and fishing pressure go through the roof as everything is inundated with people trying to get their outdoor fix. But eventually there’s a point where it becomes unappealing. We all seek the outdoors for some reason, and often that experience becomes tainted with -far- too much human pressure.

“Why bother going fishing this weekend? There’s going to be 8 billion people at the boat launch Saturday morning. I probably won’t find a place to park the trailer”

“I guess we can go to the springs, but we’re gonna have to wait in line half an hour since it’s a pretty day”

“I’d rather not go to the trouble of getting to the tree stand. Someone will assuredly walk in on me”

It applies to almost any outdoor activity you can think of. Too many people end up ruining an good thing. And they don’t have to be destroying anything, or trashing it, or being loud, etc. Simply too many people being there end up taking away the experience that many look for.

Hell, I might as well have just stayed at the office. I’d see less people”

For almost two years now, I’ve been lucky enough to be a guide. Whether it be taking people out in the Everglades to look at Alligators, kayaking to look at Dolphin in St. Augustine, or chasing down Elk in Colorado. I’ve gotten to see people use our natural resources that have been set aside for just that: Use. And since I’ve been guiding, I rarely get a weekend off. Ever. It makes sense though, when you think about it. People primarily have off on the weekends. They want a guide and they hire me on their days off. So I’m thrust into these outdoor settings every weekend with everybody and their brother.

What it’s done is change me. At least as to how I enjoy the outdoors. On the off chance that I actually get a weekend off, you won’t catch me dead outside. I’ll be inside on the couch. I’ve had too many days practically ruined during the weekend rush. Be it a jet-ski buzzing by the kayak at 30 yards and scaring all the fish, or a hunter walking right up to my tree stand. It happens all the time and I’ve grown tired of it. Friends might ask:

“Alex! Can we go kayaking Sunday morning?”

“Absolutely not”.

I simply won’t do it. I can’t do it. There’s too much pressure and it’s lost its appeal for me. So I question; How many others are like me? How many hunters, or fishermen, or hikers, or whatever, have altered the way they use the outdoors? How many have all but just given up? Think about the most popular outdoor spot near you. Now imagine it on a holiday weekend. It’s going to be an absolute zoo. There are so many people that it might as well be Wal-Mart, and lord knows no one ENJOYS going to Wal-Mart.

Luckily for me, since I work the weekends, I often have weekdays off. I can go kayaking on a Tuesday morning and not see a soul on the water. I can hike after lunch on a Thursday afternoon and not see the faintest sign of another hiker. It’s fantastic. But I realize not everyone has the same luxury of doing things on the weekdays like I do. I’ll never claim to be any more or less avid than any of my fellow outdoorsmen. So I ask the question: How do you get around the weekend crowds when you’re stuck to the weekend schedule?

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I’m avid enough that should I ever find myself stuck with that schedule, I’d still try. But I can’t say I’d enjoy it nearly as much as I should. It would wear on me, and eventually might break me. I’d find myself skipping weekends and just watching football and drinking beer instead of being outside. Anything to avoid a tainted experience with something I love.  All because everyone wants to do the same thing at the same time with their days off.

Are there ways around this? Yes. Well…Sort of. Take hunting for example. Don’t hunt public land like national forests, right? Okay, so you fork over the cash to join a hunting club, and you’ll get to avoid the crowds. But what’s that end up doing? Driving the cost of hunting through the roof. If you weren’t already aware, hunting is becoming a rich man’s sport. Yes people pay big bucks to hunt…well…big bucks. But they also pay up to avoid the crowds of people who flock to public areas when they can’t afford a private hunting lease.

I honestly don’t have a solution when it comes to dealing with the weekends. I’ve figured out how to deal with it personally, but I question everyone else. Do you simply grin and bear it? Do you wake up -extra- early to beat the crowd? Or do you hike those extra ten miles into the wilderness JUST to dodge everyone else?

Personally, I don’t see the issue getting any better. Hell, if it’s even an issue at all. For all I know maybe there are people out there who love fishing around the crowds or watching the chaos that is the county boat ramp in the morning (ok, that’s admittedly fun to watch). But for me, it’s a problem. And I can only hope that we can find some sort of solution before more people want to simply give up.

 

Men Who Spoon With Elk

Icy cold wind ripped down the ridge line as the truck bounced along. Though it was a clear, sunny day, the wind and temperature was enough to chill to the bone. Luckily, the men in the truck were protected from the elements. They were busy telling hunting stories and enjoying the view of the northwest Colorado landscape with the windows up and the heater on. To make things even better, one of the men had just taken his first Elk which was now safely secured in the bed. Everyone was enjoying themselves on this cold November morning.

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Well…Everyone but the two of us forced to ride in the bed of the truck.

“J..J…Jesus it’s cold”, I muttered through clattering teeth. With a full cab of hunters, the other guide and myself had no choice but to ride in the back. So we bounced along, all the while trying to curl ourselves up into the tightest balls possible to conserve warmth, and take in the beauty of the surrounding. Soon we bounced past an open meadow lined with a rocky cliff facing on one side. It was the same meadow that I’d been in weeks before, with one of the biggest bucks I’ve ever seen in my crosshairs. Looking down into the field, I chuckled to myself as I remembered that day, and pulled the hood on my jacket just a little tighter around my head as another icy gust of wind hit me.

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“That’s a big ass deer”, I told the other passengers of the truck as I brought the binoculars away from my eyes. Everyone looked in the direction I was facing and after a brief description of actually where I was looking at (a task much harder than it sounds), everyone had seen the deer. Approximately 1000 yards away, all the way on the far side of a meadow were a group of deer. Several does and one big, BIG, bodied deer fed alongside a rocky cliff facing. The big bodied deer absolutely dwarfed the others around it. It was obviously a buck, but at that distance, there was no way to tell just how big his antlers were. We needed to get closer, and we did just that. We drove the truck around to the back side of a ridge line where we could hide it, and then make a hike up to the top of the hill to get a better look and maybe even a shot at the deer.

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When the two hunters and my boss stepped out of the truck to make a stalk on the deer, I hung back quite a bit. In fact, I almost didn’t even go along with them. But seeing as how I was still pretty new to the whole “guiding” thing, I decided to tag along. Who knew? Maybe all the elk in Colorado would step out. So I threw my rifle over my shoulder and hung back about 30 yards as the trio walked ahead of me and sneaked up to the top of the hill. Once there, my boss scanned down the opposite hill side (which I couldn’t see), and I saw him turn to the closest hunter to him. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but I clearly read his lips as he mouthed “He’s a shooter”

Almost immediately it seemed as though the hunter got visibly nervous. A little more tense, if you will. I could see them both looking down the other side of the hill and discussing something. With a few more words whispered between the my boss and the closest hunter, the hunter shouldered his rifle, took aim offhand, and fired.

Even before the sound of the gun shot had stopped echoing through the meadow, I heard my boss say, outloud, “Shoot. Again”

Again the hunter took aim and fire.

And again.

And again.

And again, and again, and again.

Now I looked over at the second hunter to see that he too had chambered his rifle and was joining his friend at shooting down the hill. Shot, after shot, after shot.

ALL THE ELK IN COLORADO STEPPED OUT!! I thought to myself as I raced up the hill to see what the hunters were shooting at. I chambered my rifle, stepped up next to them, and looked down the hill…

At one deer. Just one buck stood there, and he was looking the opposite direction from where all the shooting was coming from. Shots zipped down the hill striking nearby boulders and shaving juniper branches from their trees. But nothing touched the deer. He was just standing there.

Unsure as to whether or not someone had actually hit this deer yet, I decided to take aim. Almost immediately the buck turned, ran to his right, and stuck his head into the bushy branches of a juniper tree. In his mind, he was now hidden, though his entire butt was sticking out. Seeing such a strange behavior, I figured he may have been hit, so I took aim at the only shot I had on his right ham and squeezed the trigger. I watched as a boulder exploded three inches high over his back. I’d forgotten about shooting uphill and downhill.

I’m from Florida. Flat, flat Florida. So prior to going to Colorado, I’d never shot at any sort of angle to speak of. To shoot downhill, you need to aim low. Uphill, aim high.

So I chambered another round and took aim again. This time, however, the buck had moved and the only shot I now had were on vitals, but through thick sage brush. I pulled the trigger and…nothing. I chambered another round and fired again. Still…nothing. The buck then turned and ran back down the hill directly toward us. My boss was quick to say “No one shoot…let him get closer”. And closer the buck came before finally stopping and giving us only one shot: Right between the eyes.

Well I wasn’t about to try and dome shot this trophy, so I waited.

Suddenly I heard the hunter to my left say “I’m out of ammo”. And to my horror, I heard the other one speak up as well. “Me too”

I should note that at this point, my boss (who didn’t have a rifle) was about to lose his mind. Very calmly, but with every emphasis to suggest he was about to start foaming at the mouth, my boss said, “Somebody…has…to shoot this deer. Please…Someone shoot this deer”.

I looked down at my rifle to see that in its stock sleeve, I had one round left. One single 30-06 round. So I chambered it, walked down the hill some to get a better angle, and took a seat to rest my rifle on my knee. Almost immediately the buck turned, jogged right out into the middle of the meadow, and stopped broadside at 120 yards. I put the crosshairs low on his vitals, said one of those silent-pleading-instant prayers, and pulled the trigger.

A satisfying THUMP echoed back up the hill toward us, and the buck finally dropped.

A massive wave of relief instantly swept over me. My last round, last few moments of the last day of deer season, and I miraculously came through. I’ve never been one to make the game winning catch, or really pull through during clutch moments. So damn it felt good.

The deer was, of course, not really mine. It was the hunters’ deer and I proceeded to walk down to the buck to take their hero pictures. In total, we found out later that 16 rounds were shot before the buck every got hit. And at one point, one of the hunters had gotten so flustered from missing that he reached into his pocket to load more ammo and accidentally tried to chamber his chapstick.

I didn’t manage to get any shots of me with the deer in the field, but later that night I went down to the skinning shed and took a couple of the monster. Estimated at about 320lbs, the Mule deer absolutely dwarfed any whitetail I’d ever seen, much less gotten to shoot at. It was a buck of a lifetime, and with it came a story I’ll never forget.

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The truck hit a big hole just as we passed that meadow and I banged my back into the side of the bed. Rather than continue to get banged around, I needed to reposition, but the massive body of  a bull elk laid smack dab in the middle of the bed. With a shrug I knelt down and took a seat on his shoulder. Not only was it softer and infinitely more comfortable than the side of the truck, but it was warm. VERY warm.

“Dude…you have to take a seat on this Elk”, I told the other guide next to me. He sat down on the Elk’s thigh and immediately responded, “It’s warm”

Even though the thing smelled horrible, it was, in fact, quite warm. So much so that we soon found ourselves resting more and more of our body onto the Elk. First just sitting, then leaning, then practically laying on him. It was probably the closest I’ll ever come to a Luke/Tauntaun moment in my life.

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Eventually I ended up just spooning with the elk for warmth. It was one of those weird nature experiences that you hope to never have again. But I was grateful for the dead elk at that moment in time. After all, it isn’t every day you can get to say you were big spoon to an Elk.

What? Of course I was big spoon. Little spoon would’ve just made it weird.

 

 

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