Saturday, July 14, 2007

it's not deer sniping, but it keeps me busy

This summer I've taken up a new hobby, branching out further in the hunting arts to don the role of varmint hunter. We've been inundated with a flood of woodchucks this season, and the final straw was the newly-dug burrow under the steps to our newly-remodeled year-old mudroom. Mrs. Zaitsev finally said, "Go out and get a new gun."

How many times have I longed to hear her say THOSE words.

Ahh, sweet music to my ears. I did some research, made a field trip to Bass Pro Shop, where the salesman, short of .22 cal rimfires, tried to sell me everything from .22 Hornets to .270 "varmint guns." This for woodchucks and generic plinking around the yard.

I then made a second field trip to Gander Mountain, where the salesman very helpfully educated me as to the virtues of the Marlin 980 series .22 magnum guns. After briefly contemplating the more expensive CZs and Sako Tikkas, I settled on a very nice Marlin 983S in stainless with iron sights, and bought a scope with rings and mounts while I was at it.

Marlin model 983S in .22 cal WMR

Brought it home, shot some paper, and was very pleased with its accuracy out-of-the-box, which was my prime concern. Trigger pull also seemed good, a pleasure actually, after years of yanking at my slug gun's trigger. (Remind me to get my slug gun a trigger job for Christmas.) I decided not to mount the scope yet but to see how it goes with open sights.

Next morning I'm awoken at 5:30 am by my eight year old daughter, Sophie. "Daddy, I'm sorry to wake you up, but there's a woodchuck in the yard under my window." I of course jump out of bed, look out the window, and thar she blows: VARMINT!

Downstairs I go, load up a single round, and I'm out the front door. I told the kids they could watch from their upstairs bedroom window.

Now, before I go any further . . . . Some of you may recall the exploits of a certain deer-sniping, air conditioner-loving nuisance control hunter named Zaitsev. Last year he regaled us all summer long with stories about the deer sniping life, stories whose main themes aways seemed to center around how tough and hazardous the summertime deer-sniping business is. Idling the truck, not slamming the door, horseflies the size of pigeons . . . that kind of thing.

Let me tell you, summertime woodchuck sniping is no walk in the park, either.

Out the front door I go. Skillfully placing my wife's minivan between me and the chuck, I creapt stealthily behind the van and tiptoed around the back of my pickup truck. Peering over the truck bed, I realized the chuck was now on the other side of the outhouse that we use to store garden tools. Halfway there!

Without making a sound, I stealthily maneuvered my way from behind the truck to a position just behind our propane tank. Peering over the tank's pressure valve, I located the varmint in the grass a mere eight yards away.

I raised the Marlin stainless to the ready, banging it ever so slightly on the propane tank which resonated an empty metallic-sounding echo. The chuck never looked up.

Using the propane tank as a rest, I lined up the sights broadside on the chuck, still obliviously nibbling the grass, although it had ambled away somewhat and now stood approximately 9.5 yards distant. I mentally re-calculated windage and elevation for this new range, slipped off the safety, and calmly lined lined up the front bead on the belly of the beast.

Pop! The woodchuck jumped, kicked out its hind legs, and then proceeded to make tracks for its burrow twenty yards away. "Hmmm," thinks I to myself. "I couldn't have missed it, could I?" If so, that would clearly be a case of . . . chuck fever.

I rechambered another round and was once more ready for anything. I ground-trailed the beast back to its burrow . . . success! There at the mouth of the main burrow lay an enormous female chuck, belly up, breathing her last. The Marlin was christened!

I gave the thumbs-up to the kids upstairs in the window, and Sophie came outside to assess the carnage. "Look Daddy, its leg is still twitching." Proudly I hoisted the now-dead-but-still-twitching varmint for Sophie to inspect, and after the usual self-congratulatory pleasantries were exchanged, I carried it over to the middle of the sheep pasture and deposited it in the middle. I do not feel the need to experiment with varmint stew (sorry PW), but I figured having a dead woodchuck carrion station out in the middle of the fenced pasture would be good for vultures and safe from our dogs.

There you have it. A notch on the buttstock for woodchuck number 1. Vassili Zaitsev hunts again.


Monday, September 11, 2006

day 66

Been busy the last week or two, what with the little Zs starting school, me starting school, and part time wannabe goose sniping with the loyal reader on the weekends.

But yesterday and today we're back in the deer processing business. I thawed out nine pounds of Bambi's mother yesterday and ground a pound or so of frozen pork fat to make some more summer sausage. Loyal reader's macho grinder sure has come in handy (remind me to buy him some more beer) . . . . I discovered I had only enough commercially made spice mix to do 4 pounds of sausage, so I spent the afternoon yesterday sifting through about a dozen summer sausage recipes online and came up with my own "special blend." Apparently the secret ingredient for summer sausage is coriander, which Mrs. Z said (after the fact) is obvious. Not so obvious to me though. The other common ingredient to nearly all the recipes was whole mustard seed (that and cracked black pepper).

So here is Vassili's "special blend" spice mix, which will account for six pounds of the sausage in the smoker at this minute:

Vassili's summer sausage special blend:

1 tb coarse black pepper
1 tb whole mustard seed
1.5 tsp ground coriander
pinch allspice
2 tb garlic powder
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cumin

To which is added 6 tsp of Morton's Tender Quick salt cure (1 tsp per pound). We'll see how this mix goes. Smelled good going into the casings last night! Put the commercial mix into two dark fibrous casings and put my own mix into clear casings so I can tell them apart.

Today's smoke schedule is as follows:

6 am to 8am: bring sausages up to room temp in kitchen oven
8am to 10am: bring sausage temp up to 90 deg F in smoker
10am to 12am: begin smoke (hickory) and cook at 135 deg F
12noon to 2pm: raise cooking temp to 155 deg F and continue smoking
2 pm to 4pm: finish smoking at cooking temp of 175 deg F.
Remove sausages when meat temp reaches 152 deg F.
Give a cold shower with the garden hose until internal meat temp cools to 100 deg. F.

I am indebted to Mr. Ask the Meatman for making this process more intelligible for me.

That's about it for today. Perhaps I'll be back again tonight with an update on how Vassili's special blend turned out. I have to think that with six hours of hickory smoke, just about anything would taste good.

And that's confessions of a deer sniper.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

day 58

It's the changing of the season. Summer deer sniping gives way to . . . early autumn deer sniping.

Except that today we played at being goose sniper. Same idea: pesky vermin that need cleaning up, in this case golf course geese who overstay their welcome and never leave. Last year the state of New York's September goose season saw an estimated 40,000 resident geese go down, making more room for the migratory birds who will show up later in the fall.

But today? this year's death toll was safe from us. We saw nary a bird all day. But a good time was still had by all: the loyal reader cooked us the manly man's breakfast that couldn't be beat, we shot clays until our shoulders hurt, and then we relaxed and partook of the beverage that makes beer camp, beer camp. All in all a satisfying outing. There's always next time.

With luck I'll be in the grapes tomorrow night, especially if if ever stops raining. And that's confessions of a deer sniper.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

day 57

Well, one more deer to go.

Spent the day today grinding burger and wrapping steaks--that is, after going out for geese this morning. The geese didn't cooperate, however, although I did get to see the loyal reader make a spectacular 50+ yard shot on a goose as it was flying straightaway. It's always good to have loyal readers who can shoot. You never know when some misanthropic animal rights wacko from India is hiding in the bushes.

Anyway. The loyal reader loaned me his muy grande 1/3 horsepower electric meat grinder, and boy did that make short work of the job this afternoon. All told I bagged 25 pounds or so of burger meat, destined to become this fall's sausage. Yummy. So I'm a believer now in more power for the grinder--you know what will be on Vassili's Christmas list this year.

Hurricane Ernesto is in the middle of dumping an inch or two of rain on us right now. As soon as the ground dries out I will likely be back in the grapes for one more try at Doe Number Three. If it happens I think I'd like to get it out of the way before grouse season starts on the 20th of September. If I leave for my annual hunting Odyssey to Michigan and Wisconsin, the nuisance deer sniping will be over come October 5. So . . . time will tell if I can put one more in the freezer.

The loyal reader is saving me wrapping countless packages of butterfly chops as he has volunteered to cook a manly man's backstraps steak breakfast for whomever shows up tomorrow morning for goose hunting. I told him I'd bring along the most recent backstraps and my favorite jamaican jerk rub for him to sample. Should be a fun morning all around.

And that's confessions of a deer sniper. May the geese fly low.

Monday, August 28, 2006

day 52

Today was butchering day. This doe was changing coats from summer coat to winter coat, so there was hair everywhere. The other thing that made this deer different from the first one was the fact that she was so damn bloody over two thirds of her body. It was like one big hematoma.

When I went back to look for my knife yesterday I sort of kicked through the gut pile to look at the heart (yeah, I know, Path Walker would pickle the thing. I was in too big a hurry the other night). The heart was basically okay, except that slug cut off the top of the heart right at the aorta. This deer bled out internally, and basically the neck was a mess, plus there was hematoma under the hide on both sides of her chest.

Which was unfortunate, because unlike the doe a month ago, this one had a fair amount of muscle in the brisket and the flanks. But the whole thing was such a slimy gooey mess that I ended up scrapping quite a bit of meat that would have been edible with a different shot location. I plan on asking around this fall to see what others' experience is with the different kinds of bullet wounds that folks see.

Anyway. Got the hide off and the limbs off in about 2 hours. Took a break for lunch, then another 2-3 hours to debone the legs. Washing each piece of meat of the slime and congealed blood is what took the most time. Sorry to sound so gory about it, but this deer was really very different than the other one. Good argument for neck shots, I'd say.

Anyway. Tomorrow is a work day, but with luck I'll be able to cut up some steaks in the afternoon and maybe do some grinding. Quite a bit of hamburger is coming out of this one.

That's confessions of a deer sniper.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

day 51

Well, while Faline's mom rested in the cooler today, I went back to the vineyard in the afternoon to retrieve my lost knife. Right before leaving last night I put it on the step rest to the truck bed, then drove off. I followed my tire tracks in the grass to figure out approximately where it might be, and on the second pass voila, there it was--I found the shiny blade under a clump of grass. Whew.

Tomorrow's deer butchering day. Should be interesting with the little Zs around. Wish me luck.

That's confessions of a knife losing deer sniper.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

day 50

Well, we're back on the board again. Sometimes you can do everything wrong, and it works out for you.

Mrs. Z and the kids were off clothes shopping for school, so at 5:30 or so I decided to pack up the truck and head for the grapes. I got there just after 6 and farted around trying to figure out where I wanted to set up for the evening. I walked around a bit, looking for tracks and the like. I also took a break to handle bodily functions (if you know what I mean). It was about 70 degrees, but humid, and a fairly regular 10-15 mph breeze out of the southeast--which is good for the truck location, somewhat less so for behind the winery looking downhill. Twice I walked behind the winery to test the wind flow up by the building, which is so sheltered it didn't feel like there was a breeze at all. So I decided to set up by the building again, even though my scent could possibly flow downhill to the northwest corner of the field, which is where I expect to see most of the deer emerge.

No sooner had I gotten my bucket to sit on--I wasn't even sitting on it yet--then I saw a doe in the grapes downhill and to the south of me looking up at me. I was sooo busted. Damn. I sort of scrunched down behind the weeds and tried to make myself invisible, and to my amazement she just went back to feeding among the grapes. Right behind here were a couple of still spotted fawns. These guys were all moving south to north . . . so much for moving into the wind.

I tried to stand up behind the deck posts to see if I could get a shot. She started walking at a decent clip, from my left to right, northward. From where I was standing, I couldn't get a comfortable place to stand (there's a pile of wood under the deck) where I could brace myself against a post. So I hunkered back down again. Then I saw another adult doe with her, moving in the same direction. And a couple of other fawns.

There is a very large cedar absolutely dead center behind the building and between the grapes and the building. As soon as the first doe went behind it, I crept over to behind the deck's center posts and got ready. After what seemed like a very long minute or so of waiting, she came out from behind it, still in the grapes, presenting a very nice totally broadside shot at 50 yards, right in front of me. Aiming at the lungs, I brought the sight up to just behind the shoulder and fired.

Perfect shot--as soon as I fired she kicked her hind legs into the air like a mule and then took off north towards the woods and gorge that lay 70 yards beyond. The other doe followed, and while I made a half hearted attempt to get her in the sights, I was watching the behavior of the first one mostly. Four fawns made a quick exit as well, although the last one paused in the grapes to look around to see where the noise had come from. I got a real good look at where the deer exited the grapes into the woods, and so I slowly made my way downhill to follow.

At the northern edge of the newly planted grapes there is a thin band of woods right along the edge of the creek gorge that cuts the property in half running downhill west into the lake. From the edge of the grapes I heard and saw one or two of the deer on the other side of the creek take off at my approach. I had the gun up in case one of them was the wounded deer.

At the corner of the grapes where the deer went into the woods I found a ton of blood. This is the first real blood trail I have ever followed that really deserved the name. I mean a ton of blood. Even with my red-green deficient color-blind eyes I could see this blood. So I was very optimistic that I would find either a dead deer or a barely moving deer.

I slowly followed the blood into the woods, then down into the creekbed and up the slope on the other side. At the crest it got a little tougher to follow, but there was still a good amount of blood on the leaves of what looked to be mostly raspberries. I followed through the raspberries another ten yards or so, and then there she was, dead on the ground. She had run a total of probably just over a hundred yards or so from the point of impact, and when I reached her I was happy to see a nice low entry wound right in the heart/lung area.

Now the trick was . . . how the hell do I get her out of here? Dragging her back across the creek gorge was probably doable, but steep and lots of brush to go through. I could drag her all the way uphill on a nice deer trail along the north edge of the creek, but it would be close to 200 yards uphill before reaching a point I could drive the truck through.

I puzzled about it while I went to get the truck, and then decided to get her back along the contour across the creek to where I parked the truck in the grapes.

Which turned out to be easier than I thought it was going to be. I decided not to field dress here in the spot where she fell because of the drag through the creek and then up the bare dirt slope on the other side, but ultimately it was only a drag distance of about 40 yards as the crow flies to where I had parked the truck. The hardest part was dragging her live weight up from the bottom of the creekbed to the top of the slope, which at that location in the creekbed was probably two or three feet over my head.

But I did it--although I was pretty severely out of breath when I got her into the grape field by the truck. I looked at my watch, and it was about 6:45. I had her field dressed and home an hour later, let her hang a bit in the mudroom to drip dry, and she was in the frig and everything cleaned up by 8:30. At which time I poured myself a cold one.

That's confessions of a deer sniper.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

day 48

Well, not to make excuses, but it's been a busy week. We had houseguests all weekend, and then different houseguests from Tuesday until this morning. Plus it was Mrs. Z's birthday today. So, no deer sniping this week. Oh yeah, and my new semester started today--minor detail. (I teach deer snip . . . er, uh, ethics for a living. Go figure.)

So maybe tomorrow night. The weather has really started cooling off, so it will be a much more pleasant experience to sit among the grapes and wait for the hoofed vermin to come along. So let's keep our fingers crossed. Because a full freezer is a sausage producing freezer.

And that's confessions of a deer sniper . . . although soon to be a grouse hunter again.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

day 44

After a full day of rain yesterday, I was itching to get out today, figuring that the deer would be on the move and feeding early. It was a delightfully cool 70 degrees, with a strong 10-15 mph wind out of the northwest, and cloud cover. I was in the vineyard by 6:45 pm.

Tonight I positioned myself under the deck again at the winery building, looking west downhill and hoping the deer would emerge from the woods at the northwest corner of the newly planted grapes. At 7:30, that's exactly what happened.

A doe and fawn came out of the woods well beyond the grapes and the tall grasses that lie between the grapes and the newly planted clover ground cover, which is what these deer started feeding on. They came out of the woods right onto a berm that had been created from the land clearing last season, and they were both in excellent view against the clover. Only problem--the range was 100 yards at least.

Six or seven times I raised the gun and had the doe in my sights. Bracing myself against the deck post, I was able to get a fairly steady hold on the deer each time; but each time, I put the gun down thinking the shot was too long.

The doe stayed there the whole time. She never moved; she never indicated any sense that she knew where I was; and she kept munching away.

Inner turmoil. At first I had a nice broadside shot with her facing to my left. Then she turned, and I had a nice shot at her neck from head on. Then finally she turned and presented a broadside shot facing to my right.

I debated trying to get closer to them, which was in theory possible if I tried to crawl closer using the tall grass as a shield. But the fawn had already gone back in the woods, and I feared the doe going back into the woods if I started making noise.

Finally I reasoned that sooner or later I've got to try one of these shots. I know that's not the best reasoning in the world, but that's what I finally decided after agonizing about it for well over five minutes. I also reasoned that I can't let these deer go unharrassed so close to the grapes. After all, that's why I'm there. The permit even says, "shooting and/or harrassing," and so even my missing a shot would be a form of harrassment I figured. So . . . I brought the gun up again, steadied myself against the deck post, took a broadside aim at the lungs, and . . . fired.

She took off into the woods, not really showing any immediate signs of being hit. The fawn also took off, in a different direction toward the gorge that runs through the property to the north of the grapes.

I went downhill to the exact spot where she had been eating. I could see the section she had browsed, and when I looked around--nothing. No hair. No blood. No nothing.

When I went into the woods where she ran to, still nothing, and no sign of her dragging any legs or anything in the leaves and pine duff. Nothing.

I spent the next forty or so minutes combing the area within about a 100 yard radius within the woods, looking for some sign of blood or disturbance. Nothing. Went back to the spot where she was standing. No hair . . . no blood . . . no blood.

I have to conclude that I missed. At least I hope I missed, cleanly. I'm pissed at myself, of course, for missing--or for hitting her but not putting her down, if that's what happened. But somehow I think I just plain out missed. I've never hit a deer that didn't take off at least a bit of hair, which I can generally see better than blood anyway. Oh well. Here's a case where I could have used that 30-06 sniper rifle again, and it would have been a very safe shot with the berm as a background to the shot.

Oh well. It was a nice opportunity. It was also the longest shot I've ever attempted with a slug gun, and I suppose it was worth the learning experience trying to take the shot. But either I've got to practice that shot a whole lot more often, or next time I really need to find a true rest for the gun--maybe a set of tripod sticks. Who knows. But it was a nice opportunity.

I missed. It happens. That's confessions of a deer sniper for tonight.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

days 40 and 41

Well, you can scratch day 40, because nuthin' happened deer sniping-wise yesterday.

Today on the other hand, was a beautiful night for deer sniping--75 degrees or so, a light wind that died down eventually, and cloud cover. We were in the grapes at 7:00 pm. Because the weather conditions were favorable, I sat (well, stood, actually) near the winery building uphill of the newly planted grapes. There were clouds that covered the sun the whole time, so I was hidden from sight, and I didn't have the sun in my eyes the whole time. Which makes all the difference in the world.

I was rewarded at 8:05 or so with a gorgeous look of a small deer that came creeping out of the woods, through the bushes and into the grapes. At sixty yards the deer was munching happily, broadside to me. I was disappointed, however, to see spots on the deer through the scope. Damn. I debated a bit with myself about shooting, but then I put the gun down in the hopes that mom was somewhere in the vicinity and following young Bambi.

Mom never showed up. I would have had a nice shot at the fawn, and I know some of my loyal readers (or at least my one loyal reader, plus his buddy the loyal fawn killing advocate) will question my judgment in passing up the shot on "venison veal." But understand--I am in the full time sausage making mentality right now, and a thirty pound deer would yield up maybe ten pounds of meat. I'm looking for bigger yields, if nothing else. Plus I honestly thought there was a decent chance that the mother would be lagging behind the young one.

I guessed wrong on that. There's a chance that this fawn tonight was one of the orphaned fawns from the doe I shot last month. You never know.

One other argument against shooting fawns (not a terribly strong argument, but I've read it on other states' nuisance deer control web sites) is that there is a 50/50 chance the fawn will be male. Meaning there is a 50% chance of killing the deer that in five years will be Moby Buck. Hence some states require their hunters to identify the antlerless deer that are shot on these permits as adult females. While I'm not sure I'd absolutely go that far, I'm still looking more for a 100 pound animal than a thirty pound animal.

That's confessions of a deer sniper.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

days 38 and 39

well, didn't get out last night because of the line of thunderstorms that worked their way through the area late yesterday. And today Mrs. Z has her last bicycle maintenance class tonight, so I'll be missing out tonight. But no matter. Went to the grocery store this afternoon with the kids and ordered three more pounds of pork fat for the next batch of sausage. After a trip to Bastard Pro Shops for hickory chips and more sausage seasoning and casings, we'll be making sausage again.

Not much of a confession today . . . there's always tomorrow.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

day 37

Tonight I got a real late start on the woods--Mrs. Z had to work this afternoon, and when she got home at 7:15 I debated whether to go or not. Then, figuring the only time the deer will show up is when I'm not there, I went ahead. But . . . no deer tonight either. I did manage to explore a bit more of the property, it was pretty cool again, and that was nice. But no deer.

On the sausage front . . . one of the two pound sticks is gone already. Between me and my eldest daughter, it's history. Gonna have to smoke some more pretty soon.

That's confessions of a deer sniper.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

day 36

Tonight I got out to the vineyard at about 7:15 or so. I confess that I took a short nap at 5:00 after Mrs. Z took the kids down to the lake for the Taughannock Park concert. And the sausage is a big hit, my oldest daughter insisted on it for supper . . . .

So when I arrived it was only about 65 degrees, with a slight NW wind. So I got out of the truck and for the first time in two weeks, walked downhill and stationed myself down the slope below the newly planted grapes (essentially the vineyard slopes downhill to the west up until the edge of the cliff to the water; at that point the lake cottage property begins). I was basically on the western edge of the property.

Scouted a bit and found out where the deer trails are from the woods to the clover field below the grapes. Didn't see a whole lot of fresh sign, but a couple of trails through the field indicate that the deer are passing through occasionally. As I came out of the woods at about 8:30, I noticed the vineyard owner up on the deck of the winery, so I headed uphill, and we had a nice chat. He says he hasn't seen a whole lot of deer action lately either, so I don't feel so bad.

Anyway. It was a beautiful, cool evening, with no bugs, and I didn't even work up a sweat. But no deer.

It's still a long season.

And that's tonight's confessions of a deer sniper.

Friday, August 11, 2006

day 35

Well, I have to confess. I didn't get out into the woods this morning. I didn't go to bed until 12:30 or so last night, and I was so keyed up that I didn't fall asleep until after 2 am. So when that alarm rang at 4 am . . . it was a pretty easy decision to turn it off and go back to sleep. oh well.

Spent the day smoking. Got the sausage in the smoker at 10 am or so, and it took nearly three hours at 115 deg. F to get the suckers up to 90 degrees, which is the temp they should be when you start the smoke.

Here's the data from my "sausage log" (to paraphrase Path Walker . . . everyone should have a sausage log):
Two 2 lb. sticks summer sausage; Eastman Products summer sausage mix; added 1 tbs extra spices to 4 lbs meat
--put them in 10 am at 56 deg F; smoker at 115 – 130
--at 12:45 internal temp reached 90 deg; began smoke and smoker temp at 135-145
--at 2:00 internal temp 111; smoker heating element unplugged, burner plate alone keeps box temp at 150.
--3:00 internal temp 122, burner plate alone keeps temp at 156
Here's a picture from the Bradley Smoker forum of someone else's summer sausage hanging in a smoker; I only did two sticks obviously, but this is basically how the setup looks. Next time I will fill the box like this guy does.

At 3:30 pm I put the turkey in, which in hindsight turned out to be a mistake. Mostly because I should have been smoking/cooking the turkey at a higher temp than the temp for the sausages. I also had to cut the strings for the sausages and instead of them hanging, they had to be laid on their sides on a rack. Doesn't effect the taste any, but it puts aesthetically unsightly rack marks onto the casings. (shudder) oh well.

At this point I turned on main heater element all the way and changed the water. The temp in the box dropped to 129 but climbed within five minutes to 140. The sausages were now on the top rack, laying on their sides at 125 deg. internal temp. Ultimately I was shooting for box temp of 160-165.

Here's the rest of the sausage log entry:
--5:00 smoker temp 165, internal temp of sausage 137 deg.
--6:45 temp reached 152 (smoker temp 181); water shower in sink for 15 minutes only lowered temp 25 deg. Had to leave to bring kids to park at 7 pm. Upped box temp for turkey to 220.
That was about it. No deer sniping tonight. The turkey took til 11 pm to reach 185 deg. But boy did it look good when it came out.

The sausage turned out perfectly, I just tried some. yummy.

And that's confessions of a deer sniper.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

day 34

I was unable to get out into the grapes tonight because Mrs. Z was working late, so I was home with the young Zs. No matter. Sausage making proceeded for real this evening, stuffed two casings with two pounds each of the summer sausage meat. Fried up a patty to taste . . . this is going to be good! Because the Bradley smoker is a fairly short unit, I cut off a couple of inches of casing from the 20 inch length, so these puppies will end up being about 15 inches or so.

I also cut the dowels to hang them from in the smoker. Everything proceeds tomorrow morning when I get back from the grapes. We also got a small turkey to smoke at the same time--with six hours of smoke, I hate to waste any of it. So we'll have turkey for the weekend as well.

Guess that's about it. The little 70s grinder that could is earning its keep these days. In the woods tomorrow at 0530, sunrise in Lodi is 0612.

And that's confessions of a deer sniper.

day 33

Well, last night was another bust deer-wise, but I did manage to do a bit more hedge clipping up the woods line for a better view. The loyal reader suggests that perhaps the deer have figured out that I'm there, and that's probably true. With the cool weather I'm back out of the truck, so that's good. I'm thinking of setting up down below the newly planted grapes and watching out over the clover where I've previously seen deer. The other thing is that I'm hoping to get out tomorrow morning. Mrs. Z is taking the day off from work, and so there will be no rush to get back home so she can go to work.

Sausage making progresses. This morning I thawed 4 lbs of last fall's venison burger, and then I added just under a half pound of pork fat that I got from the T'burg butcher a couple of weeks ago. Added the spices and cure (upping the spices 1/3, the pre-packed stuff always seems a bit tame), and right now the whole thing is resting in the frig. Turns out I don't have large enough mixing bowls to handle the job, had to use a big Farberware soup pot to mix the stuff. So bigger mixing bowls will be on the Christmas list this year.

If I go deer sniping tonight, I'll smoke the sausage tomorrow. If Mrs. Z gets home late tonight, maybe I'll smoke it tonight. Everything I'm reading calls for about a six hour smoke. Can't wait. Yum yum.

That's confessions of a deer sniper.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

day 32

A wonderfully cool evening tonight amidst the grapes, no horseflies to be seen anywhere. I actually spent some time out of the truck catching some rays. . . . And here's a confession for you: I put my head back, closed my eyes, and dozed off. How's that for deer sniping technique? Just like in the movie when Vassili has the chance to shoot Major Ed Harris, er, Kronig, in the back but he can't because he's too busy snoring. I can assure you that it was at that precise moment that a herd of overweight does and their descendents passed by under my very nose, and I missed them.

Because I certainly didn't see any deer tonight. Where are all these deer? Have Bambi and Faline spread the word that the red truck means certain death? Or are all these deer just having too much fun eating tender green things in the deep woods, far far away from Vassili? who knows.

Anyway. Cranking up the sausage factory tomorrow. Our loyal reader suggest cheddar cheese and jalapenos . . . may have to try that eventually, though probably not with the very first batch. Wish us luck.

That's confessions et cetera et cetera et cetera.

Monday, August 07, 2006

day 31

Hard to believe I've been at this a month.

Tonight: nada. Nothing. Zilch. Either these deer are wise to me, or it's just too damn hot for them to move around. Tonight I was buzzed (within my air conditioned coccoon, of course) by a flock of horseflies that were as big as birds! hummingbirds, anyway. They kept banging into the windows and doors of the truck. Weird. Fortunately for me Bambi's mom didn't put in an appearance which would have forced me to go out into nature and confront the buggers.

Maybe that's what kept Bambi's mom away.

There's a chance of a morning hunt or two this week, however. Mrs. Z has a light week at work, and with the predicted cool weather, it could be good timing to get out there in the am and see what's moving around.

Getting ready to make a batch of venison summer sausage in the smoker. Will keep the loyal readership posted.

That's confessions of this deer sniper.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

day 30

Day 30 was relatively uneventful. Did manage to get out into the grapes by about 6:45, and did some housekeeping at Position A, namely cutting low branches so that I can see up the woodsline further. No deer, however, and an increasingly swirling south wind as the evening progressed. I packed it in by 8:45.

This week's weather forecast is for cooler weather, so I'll be trying to get out there as often as I can. Gotta get some hamburger meat for sausage making . . . .

That's confessions.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

day 29

Hard to believe I've been at this deer sniping nearly a month. Cool weather is going to make it a bit easier to do this, but it will also get harder as I split my time starting to get the dogs back into shape. Still no idea whether I'll be able to take my bird hunting trip this year, but if not, the nuisance permit is good right up until the eve of bow hunting season.

Had a bit of fan mail the other night from a reader in India. Posted it on the other blog before deleting it here. Funny how the nonviolent types can be the most threatening . . . .

No sniping today, just blogging. And that's confessions of a deer sniper.

Friday, August 04, 2006

day 28

Vassili here. I've given up trying to write a daily account, especially when it's 96 degrees in the shade as it was Wednesday and Thursday this week. Needless to say, I gave deer sniping a rest this week.

But we were back at it again this evening. Beautiful 80 deg weather, a slight breeze that eventually disappeared, and a good book to read in the truck. While I didn't see any deer, I did have two tourists walk through the firing zone on their trek around the vineyards following a scrumptious dinner at Dano's. So I talked to them for a while and showed them around the winery building. Turns out the husband knows a colleague of mine from my "day job." Small world.

So, no deer were seen. Mrs. Z has the Cayuga Lake Triathlon all weekend long, so I'll be home with the little Zs and supporting the race effort in that way. While Mrs. Z has given me the option of deer sniping in the morning, I'm coming to realize that weekends are a busy time around the vineyard, and that a better morning strategy would be early in the week any given week, say, Monday or Tuesday. So I'm passing on sniping in the morning. But rest assured that Vassili will find something deer-related to do tomorrow, and with luck will write about it.

Until then . . . that's confessions of a deer sniper.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

days 22 through 25

Hello again deer sniping fans. I was out of town this past weekend giving deer sniping advice to the hunter ed instructors of Maryland and Virginia, recounting how to "stealthily and skillfully" exit an air conditioned truck and use the cab of the truck as a blind for maximum concealment. I'd like to think the participants learned a lot from my talk--like how not to turn the engine off while sneaking up on Bambi's mom.

Tonight our dinner guest was none other than the world famous Doctor Dirt, he of the phosphorus philosophy doctorate. While the kids had chops from last fall's vineyard buck, Dr. D and I sunk our teeth into the succulent tenderness of Bambi's mom, the first meal out of July's doe. I grilled it on the Weber with some Jamaican jerk rub, and it was excellent. With some Wegman's "wings of life" salad smothered in creamy garlic dressing, corn on the cob, and washed down with some fine beverages, it was a meal fit for a deer sniper.

With today's temperatures soaring into the 90s, and tomorrow's prediction for even hotter temps, I am unlikely to deer snipe until the weather breaks . . . which should be Thursday. Expect an account Thursday night.

And that's confessions of a deer sniper.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

days 20 and 21

My apologies to the one dedicated reader of "Confessions" . . . yesterday's confession didn't get written. I admit it's because I'm getting ready to go out of town for the weekend and don't want to shoot a doe to just sit in the frig all weekend. I'm into butchering deer fresh now.

I'll be heading out of town tomorrow morning and won't be back until Monday evening July 31, so there won't be any confessions until at least Monday. I'm headed for Maryland where I'll be giving a couple of talks about hunting ethics to hunter ed instructors. I'm pretty sure that my recent deer sniping activity is going to make it into the talks, too. So maybe I can chalk all of this up to a business expense. Yeah right.

We'll get back to deer sniping as soon as we can next week. That's confessions of a deer sniper.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

day 19

The only confession for today is that I didn't get out to deer snipe today. We had some major thunderstorms roll through this evening around 6 or 7 pm, and I also had a errand to run for Mrs. Zaitsev downtown. So, we gave the deer a break today.

Photos seem to working well through Flickr, I'll post one or two here for laughs and giggles.

This first one shows the entry wound, which, in contrast to what I thought the other night, was pretty much where I was aiming, although maybe a tad low. I also think she must have turned her head at the moment I shot, because the slug appears to have gone in at a slight angle. The exit wound is clear in the second photo below.

What's interesting to me is that I absolutely could not find the entry wound the other night. Of course, I didn't spend oodles of time looking for it--but the exit wound is the only one I found at the time. Funny how the mind plays tricks on you.

Anyway, that's confessions of a deer sniper.

Monday, July 24, 2006

day 18

Once again we were back in the field taking advantage of the relatively cool weather. A big cold front came through Saturday, flooding everything in sight, and yesterday and today were beautiful. It was 80 deg. F down in the vineyard at 7pm this evening.

But saw nothing. Nada. A big fat zippo.

But not to worry. Photos have been developed, which should make this a much sexier blog (if blogger's photo uploading function ever works again, which today doesn't seem likely). But here goes nothing.

Truck in Position "A"

Here is where I set up for an evening of deer sniping. Vineyard grapes can be seen to the left, the woods the deer come out of are beyond the truck.

The View from Position "A"

Here is a view looking over the truck bed to the spot where Bambi's mom died. I was standing a bit closer to the cab, she was left of the picnic table and beyond, past the pond.

That's confessions of a deer sniper.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

day 17

Well, got back on the horse again tonight and deer sniped for a couple of hours. I saw one uphill and far away in a neighboring vineyard just as I was driving in; other than that, nada. I spent the evening believe it or not reading a book called Survival Poaching that I've had on my shelf for a while (I think my sister-in-law gave it to me).

Earlier in the day I disposed of the carcass from last week in a secluded corner of our property, with luck the dogs won't find it. I also mixed up a batch of venison pepperoni jerky last night, um good.

With weekend travel plans, I may have to cease fire on the deer sniping after Tuesday or so. Not sure I want to keep a deer in the fridge drying out as long as the last one, but who knows. Some of it is weather dependent--last night was unbelievably gorgeous, 72 degrees at 6:30 pm and not an ounce of breeze.

That's confessions of a deer sniper.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

day 16

Got a late start today at the meat packing business. Managed to get the hamburger ground up and packaged, but it took a while. Gonna ask Mrs. Z for a new grinder for Christmas--my 1970s era hand me down doesn't sound all that strong or confident, and it lacks power. I also cut up and wrapped the steaks. Only thing left tomorrow is to slice up and butterfly the back straps (or maybe I'll leave them whole, who knows) and figure out what to do with the damn flank meat. My guess is that flank meat is the reason they invented sausage.

That's about it. Haven't discarded the carcass yet, which is bagged and in a garbage can in the mudroom. Thursday is trash day, which seems pretty far off given the heat. Could be a trip to the swamp is in order--I just don't want the dogs to get at it. That will happen tomorrow as well. Then it's back to deer sniping.

And that's confessions of a deer sniper.

Friday, July 21, 2006

day 15

Well, I'll go ahead and confess right up front: I'm pretty tired.

Spent the day in the mudroom butcher shop, got started skinning the beast around 11:00, and that took longer than it should have (about an hour). Trying too hard not to do anything wrong, I still took a lot of flank meat and brisket off with the hide--which I was not saving at any rate. Next time I'll do better.

Then dismembering the beast and pulling out the back straps, tenderloin, etc. All of that took two or so hours, maybe two and half. I took some pictures along the way, and if I get them developed tomorrow I'll try to post some here.

I learned a couple of things. First, when I killed the deer I didn't need to skin nearly at all when I field dressed it the other night. Where I did skin it (the hams) the meat dried out something fierce, wrecking a portion of the roasts in the hind legs. I had also left the tenderloins in, which was a mistake, as they dried out also. I see now why it's best to pull those out the same night or possibly the next morning after shooting. I'll do that next time.

After a break for lunch, I moved on to cutting up the legs. This took quite a while as I kept referring back to my butchering book as well as an online source I've found helpful. Towards the end I kind of lost my patience with the shank meat on the front leg, and so some of that got tossed. Perhaps on another doe I'll have the time and/or inclination to save the shanks and make some soup stock.

Learned an awful lot here too. I understand now why folks who do their own butchering at home end up grinding much of it for hamburger. I could have prepared some nice roasts, I suppose, but in the interest of time I through much of the roast meat into the pre-burger heap. Because we're nearly out of burger from last fall's two deer. and because burger meat in our house is the most often utilized form of meat (mostly for chili, meat sauce, and jerky), I feel pretty good about grinding up most of the roasts for burger. Most years I have the roasts cut into stew meat, anyway, which we still have plenty of right now. So burger it is.

By about 6 pm I was beginning to lose steam, so I got everything bagged in ziplocs and in tupperware until tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll cut and wrap the steaks, tenderloin, and backstraps; and then I'll move on to grinding the burger. Unfortunately I can't get any beef fat at our local store until next week, so I'll be freezing the burger without fat and will have to add it later.

I think that's about it. The sirloin off the hind legs was most impressive looking, given this doe's size. The back straps are smallish, but that's okay because that's mostly what my kids eat. I'll salvage the good stuff off the tenderloins tomorrow, also.

I'm also left with a bucket of very slimy flank and brisket meat. Unsure what to do with it . . . doesn't look clean enough for grinding into the burger, but there's an awful lot of it. It would be hellish to clean the slime and silverskin off of all of it. I'm open for suggestions. Maybe dog treat meat.

Anyway. That's confessions of a deer sniper for tonight. Sure hope this deer tastes good!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

day 14

I spent day 14 mostly getting the butchering space ready--cleaning up clutter, sweeping and mopping the floor, getting organized. I did go to the hardware store to get a nice solid screw hook from which to hang the hoist. So we're basically ready to go. Kids are out of town, and I can spread out if necessary.

And that's confessions of a deer sniper--which sounds stupid when there's so little to say. But the readers demand it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

day 13

Despite being accused of resting on my laurels by a faithful reader of that "other" blog, I spent the day preparing for opening up the butcher shop in my mudroom.

First we took the kids to the Auburn Mall to do a bit of shopping at Bass Pro (again). This time for the burger bags and tape thingamajig, and also for a hoist/gambrel. The working plan is to hang the deer from one of the loft beams in the mudroom for skinning, etc. I was disappointed that they only had the world's cheapest hoist in stock, so I bet I'll be having to get another one of those sooner or later. I was also disappointed (only a little) to learn that the grinder plates for my hand-me-down Sunbeam Oster grinder are non-standard, and so I can't use any of the LEM grinder parts that are available at Bass or Cabelas. No worry, if we end up doing all of our own processing from here on in, maybe I'll trade up on the grinder.

From there we proceeded on to Sears where I bought a window air-conditioner for the mudroom. We had the mudroom done rebuilt and remodeled last year (maybe I'll take some pics and post here for show and tell), and now that it's superinsulated it holds the summer heat in like nobody's business--and our poor dogs have been out there all summer . . . lucky for them it's been cool so far for the most part, and I've cooled it off at night by opening the door and blasting cool outside air in to drop the room temp. But I figured if the mudroom is where all the deer carving's going to happen, I'll be damned if I'll be carving in 110 degree heat. So Sears had a nice 8000 BTU unit on sale for $169. Later when I'm not deer carving, I may demote it to a bedroom, or keep it where it is and get another one for the house.

So got home and after dropping the kids off at the lake again with the missus, I came back home and installed the AC in the mudroom. Works like a charm.

Finally, tonight I made a Wegman's run for the missus to return some videos, and while I was there I stocked up on Saran wrap and freezer paper. Had a tough time finding the freezer tape--guess where they keep it . . . that's right, with the school supplies! and with the post-its, pencils, pads, etc. Guess that's simply where they keep all the tape. But it took a while to find it, finally the night manager found it for me.

So that's that. Tomorrow we skin the critter--the kids want to see that before they leave for the weekend. With a nice cool space and room to get the job done, I should be back in the field in no time.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

day 12

Well, what successful deer snipers do on their day off is to let their deer age. So that's what I'm doing. Aging my deer. In the cooler. While I wait. It's hard work.

Anyway. The plan is to butcher the doe on Friday after Mrs. Z and the Zlets are out of here for the weekend to visit friends in Saratoga. Because I've got three full days to myself and cool weather in the forecast, I'll probably get out to do some more deer sniping even if there's still some carcass left in the fridge.

Tomorrow's plan if all goes well is to take the kids up to Auburn and visit Bass Pro for some last minute butchering tools: burger bagger, fine grinding plate for making summer sausage, maybe one or two other items.

That's about it. Gotta get back to aging my deer . . . .

Monday, July 17, 2006

day 11

The wait is over, number one is in the cooler.

After predictions of record high heat today (predicted 96 deg F), I didn't have much thought about going deer sniping tonight. But late afternoon clouds and a fairly stiff breeze kept the temperature down to the low 80s, so at 6 pm I bade goodbye to Mrs. Zaitsev and the little Zs swimming at the lake and headed for the vineyard.

Got settled in by 7 pm or so. The truck thermometer read 86, so I decided basically to park where I had last night in the parking lot and wait it out. I monkeyed around a bit with the "parking configuration," giving myself a bit more of an angle to lurk behind should the opportunity present itself to shift and shoot.

Nothing for the first hour. I sometimes catch myself getting antsy and wondering if I should go take a walk. Then I remind myself, it's 86 degrees, and you're in the best spot so far for evening sniping. So I decided to stay cool and sit tight.

Good thing I did. Right about 8:30 Bambi's mom and the two little fawns from the other morning showed up behind the truck, coming out of the woods behind the small drainage pond and walking the berm around it toward the grapes. Mom took her time and waited for the bambinos to move up.

I basically and bloodthirstily decided that if she stayed out in the open and I could get out of the truck and ready to shoot, that I would finally take advantage of the opportunity and "manage the resource." She was basically about ten yards from the spot where last night's deer came out of the woods.

I opened the door (leaving the engine running!) and she briefly looked at me through the glass, then kept going. I wheeled behind the cab to reach for the gun in the truck bed, and could see through the cab that she was still there. I got the gun ready to mount before sticking my head out, got it focused on her, moved a bit more away from the cab for good measure, and pulled the trigger.

The image of what happened next is vivid. The doe did what seemed like a backward flip with all four legs in the air and landed on her back. The two fawns split up, one into the grapes and one past mom around the woods corner and presumably back into the woods. I felt a little bad about orphaning those deer, but at this point I've seen enough deer around Richard's place to realize he really does need these deer removed. I had convinced myself ahead of time that if I again saw that mom with the fawns that I would shoot and chalk it up to management. Who knows, with luck they may just make it anyway, although clearly the mother was full of milk and still nursing.

I walked over to the doe, who by this time had slid down the berm in her death throes into the weeds in the shallow water of the pond. She only kicked for another half minute or so, and that was it. One shot kill at thirty yards, and she fell over--just like I wanted.

Checked my watch, it was 8:30. I was able to pull the truck right to the deer, and I was out of there by 9:00. The weird thing when I pulled her back up onto the berm was that I didn't see where the slug hit. Turning her over, she bled profusely from her neck. Best I can figure is that right when I shot she turned toward the fawns, because the entry hole was in her neck on the "away" side (her right side). When I hang her to butcher I'll look more closely to figure out what exactly happened; but because of the heat I was in a hurry to get her field dressed and get her home as quickly as possible.

Because I gutted the doe so close to the building and the parking lot, I scooped up the guts into a manure tub and dumped them later in one of his fields away from the building. I washed up at the hose bib outside the building, and headed home. There I hosed out the body cavity, skinned the hindquarters back some more to cool, removed the legs, and sawed the pelvis. She was in the mudroom refrigerator by 10 pm, not a bad turnaround time-wise. Next time it will be quicker because I'll have my routine down. A quick mop of the mudroom floor and hosing out of the truck, and I was inside cooling off by 10:15.

Fortunately she's not the largest doe in the world, so horsing her around and into the frig was fairly easy. She'll also be easy to handle for butchering, which is a good thing because she'll be my first home butchered deer (confessions, confessions). Gotta learn sometime.

Anyway, that's about it. We're "on the board" as they say.

And that's confessions of a deer sniper.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

day 10

Aargghh. Muffing these chances is getting old. Tonight I had my best opportunity yet and flubbed it.

One of the interesting things about deer sniping so far is learning the tricks of the "non-sporting" trade. So for example, when tonight it was 90 degrees until the sun went down, I elected to sit in the (air-conditioned) truck in a good spot, with a game plan of getting out and sniping if the opportunity presented itself, which it did.

I had parked the truck in the shade at the corner of the winery's parking lot, near a corner of the woods that jut out by a small drainage pond right next to the grapes. I had gotten there fairly early, about 6pm, and for the first hour or so nothing happened.

At about 7:15 a doe poked her head out of the woods right at the corner by the pond--thirty yards away. I'm in business! Here was my mistake: I turned the engine of the truck off, which the other night had no effect on the deer that I saw that night. Here, it turned out to be a big mistake.

She instantly froze and looked at the truck. She didn't run, but she sure didn't stick around. I eased out of the truck to get my gun which I had rested on a bucket in the truck bed. From there I tried to see if I'd have a shot over the truck bed, which I didn't; and by the time I got to the front of the truck, she had moved up the treeline parallel to the grapes and was obscured by grass.

At this point, I made mistake number 2 which was when I elected not to follow her, which I could easily have done while screened by the corner of the woods. Stupidly I had some idea that she might be followed by more deer, or that it was still early and that another chance would present itself later. In hindsight I should have followed her, because she was unthreatened and lingered eating in the tall grass for some time.

The big mistake was turning off the engine. Later I tested getting out of the truck cab and resting the gun on the hood with the engine running. Guess what--the vibration of the truck and the engine is so minimal that at thirty yards (hell, at eighty yards!) I could get a nice steady sight picture.

So you can be sure I won't be making that mistake again. Again, this is not something you ordinarily have to be concerned with during the course of the regular hunting season. I've never had to hunt from the cab of a truck when it is 90+ degrees out--but this was the best opportunity yet. Oh well. Still a long season.

That's confessions of a deer sniper.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

day 9

It's going to get boring reading these accounts if I don't kill one of these deer one of these days.

Went out last night again for two hours; got there at 7 pm, left around 9. Nothing. The highlight, however, was putting up a brood of very young grouse as I drove into the driveway near the winery building. There were six or seven of them feeding in a bunch of summer grape right next to the driveway, and I got excellent looks at them. No tails on those buggers yet.

Mrs. Z. went biking this morning, so that was out. It was a ninety degree day in the shade, though, and after a long day of heat what better way to cool off than to go deer sniping. Yeah right.

As I pulled into the parking lot tonight (about 6:40 or so), of course I see a deer in the tall grass about 80 yards off (I paced it later), and the deer saw me. Turning the engine off, I looked around near him and saw another larger deer feeding under an overhanging tree right on the woods edge. The first one turned and went back into the woods, taking the second one with it. I stayed in the truck for quite some time, and maybe twenty minutes later a third deer about 100 yards away moved out of the grapes into the woods. So that was that.

I got tired of sitting and waiting in the truck, so I got out and did a bit of hiking--downhill first, then north across the creek, then back uphill to the east through the woods where the grouse had flown into last night. Saw lots of deer trails, an old deer stand out in the woods with a rusty (and sturdy) metal folding chair, and more deer trails.

I came out of the woods fairly well steaming (it was about 85 degrees and fairly humid), but I decided to make a loop around the vineyard to see if I could stumble across any deer in the grapes. I didn't see anything, but when I got to the last row next to the driveway I was able to see the main deer trail out of the woods that the deer are traveling. From there I further figured out what they're seeing in terms of where I park the truck, and I got some ideas of how to hide the truck a bit more but still see down the grape rows to try and spot them before they disappear into the grapes. I'll try that setup one of these evenings.

Anyway, all in all it was a fairly sweaty night. I did see three deer, but they were pretty far off and obscured by vegetation. Probably not much chance of getting out there again for another couple of days, although tomorrow night may happen, who knows. At any rate, those are the confessions of a deer sniper.

Friday, July 14, 2006

day 8

Finally went out this morning and saw some deer!

Hit the vineyard by 4:45 am, civil twilight this morning was approximatly 5:10 am. Nothing for the first hour or so, and I started getting antsy sitting on my spackle bucket. I'm sitting up by the winery building looking west downhill into the newly planted grapes.

As I'm contemplating making a move, I see motion down by the edge of the grass in the corner of the plot. Sure enough, two itty bitty fawns come out, followed by mom. I creep back down and sit on my bucket, thinking "this deer assassination stuff is going to be harder than I thought if these deer are dragging their babies around with them." But I reminded myself that the vineyard owner really wants some of these deer (ahem) eliminated, so I steeled myself to make a good killing shot if she came a bit closer and presented herself broadside to me.

It was not to be. I don't know if she saw motion from me, but she went about ten or fifteen yards, then turned around and led the babies across the grapes into the woods. I could have taken a shot any number of times during the time she was in the open, but my vision was partly blocked by the grass in front of me, and there was still that nagging "killing Bambi's mother" guilt trip going on in my head.

So I wimped out; it would have been about a 75 or 80 yard shot. Had she come down the grape rows to a point right in front of me, it would have been more like a 60 yard shot. But again, it's a long season, and it's fun right now just to see what the deer are doing. They disappeared, and looking at my watch I noted it was 6:15.

So I hunkered down in the same spot to see if anything else would come by. Around 7ish my butt is getting tired of the spackle bucket again, so I stand up and lean behind some deck posts to break up my outline to anything below. At some point I start watching a cottontail rabbit take a dirt bath out between the grape rows, and I'm really enjoying watching him.

I turn my head, and there is a doe standing 15 feet away from me, only five feet from the corner of the building.

She had no idea what I was. I'm completely busted at this point, but I'm totally still. She could smell me, she had her nose in the air, she went down to feed, and then the nose went back up. This went on for two minutes or so. I figure I will shoot her if I can get my gun up and in position.

Slowly I pick the gun up from where I'd been holding it propped up against the deck post. She was still sniffing the air. I dialed the scope down to "1" because of how close she was. She moved a bit to a point where she was hidden from my sight (and I presumably from hers?) by the double posts in the corner of the building.

I started bringing the gun up slowly, and I think that's when she saw the movement of the gun barrel. She was off!

I brought the gun up quickly and got a sight on her as she was bounding away, but I'm not much on running shots--and that shot would have been a "Texas Heart Shot" anyway, as Jack O'Connor used to say.

My heart was beating pretty well. She was beautiful, reddish coat, kind of skinny, which makes me think she was a yearling female. Anyway, she'll be there tomorrow.

And that's confessions of a deer sniper.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

day 7

Doe fever.

It can happen. It happened to me tonight. I showed up at the vineyard at about 7 pm, changed my shirt, put on my rubber boots (more to avoid poison ivy than anything--the place is loaded with it), and walked around to the back of the winery building to have a seat. It was 80 degrees and humid, and I was in the direct light of the western sun setting.

So of course as soon as I sit down I see movement below me. I stand up, and there are two big does below the newly planted vines, past the tall grass strip beyond, and in the clover that Richard planted after having cleared the five acres or so of timber last year.

Ouch. I sat down again quickly and wondered what to do. Should I wait for them to come uphill, stalk them where they are, or attempt a shot from where I sat?

Like an idiot I stood up again. One of them pretty much saw me, and started moving. Quickly I sat down, where I could still see the other doe calmly grazing in the clover. I didn't see much of her body, but if I'd been ambitious (or reckless) I could have tried a head shot.

Like an idiot I stood up yet again to see if I could see her body. At this point she's figured out there's some doofus up by the winery building bobbing up and down in the sun like an idiot. (Deer are smart that way.) So she moved off.

At that point I decide to try to go to them on the outside chance they stopped at the edge of the woods to wait and see. So I tried a mini-stalk through the new vines, behind the tall grass, and through the tall grass. By the time I got there, nada. And in 80 degree heat, I'm pretty steamed up.

I decided to recon the woods below, and I'm pretty sure I caught the fresh tracks of at least one of them (it rained ALL day yesterday, and these tracks were fresh). I'm still trying to figure out what these buggers are doing in the summer time, but damn if Richard wasn't right about them being in the clover. Go figure.

So I head back up to the truck for some AC to cool off and to finish a soda I'd left in the truck. I get there, turn on the AC, and about two minutes later I'm starting to cool down when I see a fawn in the grapes not forty yards away.

Yee hah, I'm in business. I turn the engine off, open the door when the fawn is behind some vines, and get the gun from the truck bed. I'm hoping to get momma, and I catch a glimpse of her uphill of the fawn, coming downhill into an open area of the vines that the deer have kept browsed. Just where Richard the vineyard owner said they'd be.

Doe fever. Of course like an idiot I'm not content to just sit on the ground and wait for the doe to emerge and take a shot. Nope, I have the grand idea to go around to the OTHER side of the truck where I'm hoping for a better angle and also to use the truck to screen me. Bad idea.

I get to the other side of the truck and there is momma staring right at me. BUSTED. She was only forty yards away, standing broadside to me, but I am clearly in the open next to the front fender of the truck, and she sees me. I've got the gun up but when I look through the scope the kill zone is exactly behind a post in the vines. damn.

And then she runs. She heads away from me up the vine row, and about eighty yards away crosses over a hump partially obscured by tall grass, and heads into the woods below. The fawn follows. I make a feeble effort to go to the back side of those woods to see if I can cut her off, but don't see her, and the neighbor's house is too close anyway. In hindsight I think she and the fawn crossed the neighbor's driveway and headed off the property.

So I screwed up two wonderful opportunities . . . well, one wonderful opportunity anyway. The two does in the beginning were a long shot for me and the slug gun--probably 125 yards, pretty much out of my comfort zone and my ideal of knocking them over. Had I had my planned-on rifle, on the other hand, I would have gladly taken a shot at the second doe beyond the tall grass.

Oh well. It's a long season, the deer aren't going anywhere, and I'm starting to see some patterns to their behavior. So that's good.

But doe fever happens--that's the lesson for today.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

day 6

Well, call me a wimp, but I woke up dutifully at 3:15 am this morning, ignoring the pitter patter of raindrops on our tin roof, and paddled on downstairs where I made my coffee and then checked the weather report.

In a word . . . it was raining all the way back to Michigan.

I wrestled with the inner debate that always accompanies such momentous decisions. Do I drop the atom bomb or not? Do we invade France in Normandy or at Calais?

So I decided against sniping today, figuring there's a long season ahead. Of course, the coffee damage was done, so I stayed up and continued reading the current tome, Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship (hence the WWII allusions).

In the "staying close to deer and being the deer" department, I did make a very nice venison lasagna today that we had for lunch and supper. So my heart is in the right place.

Tomorrow evening? You never know. It rained absolutely all day today, and I'm glad I stayed home. Call me a wimp.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

day 5

Didn't do a whole lot today that had to do with deer sniping, other than eat some venison pepperoni jerky and a roast venison sandwich for supper. If I can wake up early enough, I'm going to try and sneak in on some deer tomorrow at 5:00 am. Wish me luck.

Monday, July 10, 2006

day 4

Tonight I was able to get down to the vineyard pretty early, around 6:30 pm or so. Walked around a bit, parked in a couple of different spots, and waited. Muggy weather, and swirling ozony southerly winds as numerous thunderstorms worked their way through the area, but it never did rain where I was. Had a book in the truck so I read that for quite a while.

No sign of any deer while I was there. That's not to say they're not there, of course, only they didn't manifest themselves while I was around.

Around 8:45 or so I got out of the truck to stretch my legs, went around the backside of the winery building, and sat overlooking an acre of newly planted vines downhill from the building. Nothing at all, and at 9:05 or so took a walk up the vineyard to the barn and then back again. Bu 9:15 it was pretty damn dark, so I called it a night.

Found a site on the web the other night that gives sunrise and sunset times for any location, but also twilight times:

Here's the data for today:

U.S. Naval Observatory
Astronomical Applications Department

Sun and Moon Data for One Day

The following information is provided for Lodi, Seneca County, New York (longitude W77.4, latitude N42.6):

10 July 2006 Eastern Daylight Time

Begin civil twilight 5:07 a.m.
Sunrise 5:41 a.m.
Sun transit 1:15 p.m.
Sunset 8:48 p.m.
End civil twilight 9:22 p.m.

Moonrise 8:11 p.m. on preceding day
Moon transit 12:21 a.m.
Moonset 4:33 a.m.
Moonrise 9:06 p.m.
Moonset 5:47 a.m. on following day

Full Moon on 10 July 2006 at 11:01 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Pretty cool stuff. The twilight times roughly correspond to "half hour before sunrise" and at least give an idea of the approximate time it should be light enough to shoot.

I think we're going to try our hand at sniping on Wednesday morning, and see if mornings are any better than these evenings have been.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

day 3

No sniping today, the vineyard owner busy with the tasting room during the day and an awful lot of weekend traffic on the driveway down to the lake cottages below the vineyard. So I figured it would be best to wait for a weekday to try a morning hunt.

Not that we wasted time today. I made three pounds of venison pepperoni jerky from ground meat from last season's deer (that is, I started with three pounds, it probably dries down to about a pound or so). That and during the afternoon smoked a two pound venison roast in the smoker, seasoned with garlic salt and covered with bacon. It smoked for about 2 hours with hickory smoke until it reached an internal temperature of 145 deg. F, at which time I pulled the roast, wrapped it tight in foil and let it sit. Several hours later warmed it back up, cut into it, and umm umm good, roast venison rare! man, that's good.

Tomorrow morning's hunt is likely postponed due to predicted rain, plus Mrs. Z wants to go swimming early in the morning before work, so I'm likely not doing a morning hunt until Wednesday or Friday. But could be an evening hunt tomorrow, who knows.

Right now a beautiful orange moon, nearly full I'd say, and a clear sky.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

day 2

Today we took our lab back up into the forest for a walk and some swimming/retrieving, and on the way we drove the road where I saw the ghost chicken last night. Sure enough, at the same spot in the road there was ghost chicken, but with three of his friends! Another white leghorn (?) and two more exotic roosters. My guess is that somebody had a bunch of roosters he didn't want and dumped them. They should do alright as ferals until it snows in January.

No deer sniping today, but I did manage to get out of the house for some gun shopping. First a little gun shop that recently (February) opened up in the town just north of here. Nice guy, very talkative. He tried to interest me in a used Remington 742 that he had on consignment. I said I'd think about it.

Then off to Bass Pro (or Bastard Pro, as some of the local goose hunters like to put it). Got to talk to a real gun guy for over an hour. He walked me through the entry level bolt action guns. I'd been thinking that a Remington 700 special purpose synthetic would do the trick, but he disabused me of that idea after saying he'd been a factory certified Remington repair smith for over 25 years. Nope, he liked the Weatherby Vanguard in synthetic and also the Beretta Tikka T3 lite. So that's where that decision is likely headed.

My thinking is that it would be nice to have a rifle for some of these potentially longer shots down the vineyard rows, plus enhance the probability of a one shot instant kill at those slightly longer ranges. With my slug gun, instant kills using sabots are generally within 50 yards or so, or at least that's been my experience.

Anyway. That's confessions of a deer sniper.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Day one of 2006 nuisance deer slaying season

Tonight I began my efforts as a deer sharpshooter on a New York state nuisance deer permit. I saw one doe driving into the vineyard that my neighbor owns; by the time I had parked and walked back uphill to where she had been, she was gone. I spent the rest of the hour or two walking through the vineyard and trying to piece together a summer strategy for hunting these deer. Although I previously had thought of these nuisance permits as "not hunting," it occurred to me tonight that, well, you still have to hunt them even if it is July and on a nuisance permit.

It was dark by 9:20 or so, and on the way home I drove through the public forest near my home. An odd thing happened: at one point in the middle of the dirt road there was a white chicken just lying there. Mind you this is 10:15 or so at night. When I got out of the truck to see if it was hurt, sick, or dead, it took off in the liveliest of manners . . . so I'm pretty sure it wasn't dead.

Anyway. First light is at 5:00 am, legal shooting time on the permit (half hour before sunrise). I'm in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and my neighbor the vineyard owner has three tags to fill between now and October. This is my log of the attempt to fill those tags.