I couldn’t tell whether the dampness on my hat was from the morning dew or from sweat. For all the frost on my car, it wasn’t that cold. Lugging my gear into the woods wasn’t hard, but I was overdressed. Then again, I was 27 feet in the air.
I bounced the idea around in my head without moving a muscle on my face. Eventually I figured it could’ve been either one. It didn’t really matter. Especially since I just heard the thundering crack of a .300 Win Mag tear through the treetops.
My formerly un-moving face of stone worked into a smirk. He got another one.
I slowly worked my hand into my coat. There’s a trick to it. You have to move your hand slowly but fluidly. No abrupt horizontal motion. Prey looks for horizontal movement in a vertical world. The cover of the tree, my ropes, my bag, and then my coat allow me to maintain the illusion I’m not there.
No sense in giving away my position if a kill isn’t confirmed.
I check my phone, and I’m glad I switched from the massive tablet type of phones to a small, old model Blackberry. I depress the button on the top and see the words, “I reckon I got meat now” dance on the screen. Time to get down.
I scan the forest floor one more time, just in case, before climbing down the tree and beginning to pack my gear.
I have a very specific, almost ritualistic, method of organizing my gear. Always I pack in and pack out the same way, never leaving so much as a hint that I was ever even there. Leave no trace.
The first thing I do is loosen my harness from the tree strap. Then I untie my short rope, my insurance if the harness or tree strap breaks. I use these to keep myself from falling if my climbing stand malfunctions.
Next I use my long rope to lower my bag to the ground. I use the rope’s length as a measure of how high I can safely climb. No rope left? Not safe to go any higher.
My bag, filled with everything from food and water to med kits and binoculars, safely slides softly to the forest floor. If I get stranded, that bag is my lifeline. I can’t risk damaging it. My boots and gloves form a pulley system to control its fall.
Now I have to get myself down.
Being much warmer now that the sun has risen, I take off my coat and wrap it around the armrest of my stand. I use my short rope to tie it in place. I begin the climb down, which is a strange movement. Imagine watching a video of someone doing pull ups, but watching it in reverse. Soon, I’m on solid ground again.
I never rest my rifle against the tree I’m climbing. Never. A teenager in my area blew his head off that way, and I’m not in the business of repeating others mistakes. Even if the “safety” is on, my rifle is pointed away from me at all times.
I fold my coat and lay it on whatever’s available. Some robust vines, like pictured above, or a stump, or a tree that forks at waist height. Later I’ll be able to use the ground, but all the spider webs I knocked down on the way in showed me it isn’t cold enough yet. Last thing you want is a big fat spider in your pocket.
Once I untie, fold, and retie my seat, I am ready to start packing my gear onto it. Everything goes into my bag except for my coat (which wouldn’t fit), my short rope, rifle, and ThermaCell. The ThermaCell is clipped to the front of my bag in early season, turned off and put into my bag in late season.
I then stack the top and bottom parts of my climbing stand together and use it as a frame.
The part of the stand where my feet go when I’m sitting in it is the part facing outward. Leaning it against a tree for stability, I tie the top and bottom parts of the stand together.
Next, I tie my bag to one of the slats with a small white rope permanently attached to the bag. I fold my coat, press one half against my bag, pull a permanently affixed elastic band over it, and let the other half of the coat hang.
Finally, I wrap a miniature version of a tow strap sans ratchet around the bottom of the frame. This prevents the weight of my bag from causing the whole rig to bounce while walking. The entire operation I’ve explained sounds like it takes a while, but it doesn’t. The effort is worth it, because I will be completely silent while walking out of the forest.
Turning the stand over, I examine the straps I’ll put my arms through.
I have to make certain they haven’t shifted. The only thing holding them in place is tension, and all the movement could have moved them. These straps have to be perfectly centered if I’m going to pack out without fatigue.
The camo near the bottom of the picture is the folded seat I tied earlier. In folded form, it is in the exact right place to provide cushion for my back. This keeps the strain off, as well as forcing me to maintain proper posture.
In the off season, I replace the coat and bag with weights. Tying rope through the holes in the plates and suspending them from the slats allows me to train as I hunt. I can also do farmers walks with the actual gear on the stand to train for dragging out deer.
It’s important that your training is tailored to whatever activity you’re training for. If you don’t do that, you’re not really training. You’re just exercising. That’s fine, I suppose, if you’re not a hunter.
First Blood 2017
I made my way back to my car and drove to the opposite end of the property. I exclusively hunt with one other person, and until he moves on to another life that’s how it’s going to stay. A hunting party of two is plenty for me.
We usually hunt like this: one of us approaches a property from one end and the other, the other. We choose which direction based on the wind and geography. This allows us to hunt the same land and be close enough to cooperate, but without the risk of catching a bullet. The lay of the land prevents a missed shot from becoming a tragedy.
We both had a good wind, but the geography couldn’t have been more different. He was hunting a side that had been cut and replanted, whereas I hunted the side that hasn’t been cut in decades. By the time I got there, he’d already drove down to the end of the road the loggers made. All that was left was to follow the blood.
“The trees have already grown to be taller than a man. The deer was not ten yards in front of me, bedded down. Well, what can I say? He stood up at the wrong time.”
I wasn’t surprised. He’s been blooded longer than I’ve been alive. He managed to stalk within ten yards of a mature buck, climb a tree, settle in, and never alarm the deer. And when the deer stood up, he was in perfect control of his body.
No flinching. No gasping. Nothing but calm and precise movement to mount the rifle and fire a single devastating shot.
The deer didn’t run fifty yards before falling, and wouldn’t have run that far if he’d been farther away. Being so close, the bullet achieved full penetration before it ever expanded. There wasn’t as much blood as you’d think.
The sun had been up for less than an hour when he took the shot. It was only an hour and a half past dawn when we spoke. That’s why I hunt with him, or at least it’s one of the reasons.
People always talk about finding role models. How to know if someone’s a good one. Maybe my definition is too simplistic.
But you can’t argue with results. You can’t complain about getting a free education and a little meat for a half hour’s tracking and dragging. You can’t beat a good early lunch with good people and the sounds of nature.
And to think…in another life, I could’ve spent this morning in a frustrated and congested commute to a job I hate full of people I can’t relate to.
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