Beginning in July 2020, I became a regular contributor to Wisconsin Outdoor News (WON) in "From The Little Cabin In The Woods" column.
This article was published in the WON August 21, 2020, issue.
I am always deer hunting.
Take it easy Wisconsin Conservation Wardens. I do not mean this to be a literal statement. What I mean is that deer hunting is a four-season operation. Hunting season, in the harvesting sense of it, is a subset of two of those. The avid deer hunter is always looking for deer and signs of deer. Each walk in the woods is a chance to size up what the deer herd is doing.
Winter is the quiet time in our woods. The deer are fewer and less active. Hunters have harvested some and some have gone to better winter locations. There is the occasional flash of a white flag in the leafless oak thickets. A winter walk may reward you with a lonely deer track on the trail atop Turkey Track Ridge. The trail cameral photos are fewer and less interesting. With the loss of spots and antlers, deer achieve anonymous sameness. Winter is the least amount of fun for the deer hunter in me. Of, course, winter is my least fun season, period.
Trail cameras have become the centerpiece of our deer enjoyment, because we can use them all year. We have four of them. One of them always stays in the northeast corner of our south cornfield. That corner is the best deer-viewing place on the land. The deer hang there. It is like a deer singles bar. The other cameras move around according to the season. For example, in a few weeks the apples on the 26 wild crab apple trees will start to drop. We will position a camera under one of them. Later, when the acorns are ripe, cameras will move again.
Our neighbors, Ken and Becky Kranz and their sons have cameras as well. Shannon, our daughter, set up a text message group called The Deer Report. Matt Kranz manages their side and I manage ours. We share our most interesting trail camera shots, whether deer or other wildlife. This adds a great social aspect to our year-round hunt. Shannon and her husband, Dan Honl, are partners with us on the land. They live on the east coast. The text group helps them stay engaged in the land on a weekly basis.
Spring is when the action in the woods picks up. Those first days when rye cover crops begin to green up in the fields bring deer out to replenish the energy they burned over the cold, short days of winter. We really enjoy driving around the area on late March afternoons to count how many are out chewing on the greenery. One day this spring, there were 50 in a field on our side of the road – our deer. The next there were the same number on the other side – Ken’s deer.
Spring is a time when the circle of life in the deer herd is evident. Early spring walks in the woods with my Airedale, Major, will show me where deer have died or been killed by coyotes. Major will haul in bones or lead me to circles of bone and hair where predators and scavengers have used up the energy stored by the deer in another season. Conversely, cute little spotted fawns will show up on the camera photos. This spring, I stumbled onto three different fawns while hunting morels. One came boiling up out of a raspberry thicket just feet from me. My reaction brought Major charging in to see what might be trying to kill me.
Late summer into mid-fall is when the action really heats up. Antler growth progresses. Mast crops of acorns and apples ripen. Deer begin their mating rituals. The rubbing of velvet off their antlers leaves sign posts of polished tree trunks for deer and hunters alike. Christine and other does begin to look for scrapes under low hanging branches on well-travelled trails.
This is the time when The Deer Report text group is really firing up. Matt Kranz keeps a meticulous log of all the photos and can identify which deer we have seen in previous weeks and even in other years. We have developed a tradition of taking turns naming the biggest ones. Sometimes we use descriptors like Tall Tines or Tall Tines Junior. Sometimes we use nicknames like the Chairman of the Board, a monster with split brow tines that we saw three different years.
Often we have used names of famous people. Two years ago, the big boy was Jon Snow (I was on a Game of Thrones kick). Jon did not make it to the second day of the gun season, as a neighbor to the east got lucky. Unfortunately, for Jon Snow, there was no Red Queen to rescue him from the stew pot.
During late July and August, the bucks seem to hang in bachelor groups on the south end of the farm, with does and fawns staying to the north. As the weeks go by, the bucks begin to move north and eventually range across the farm. As the rut peaks in early November, we will see photos of bucks we have not seen before. Presumably, this is a result of the super cute does we have in our neighborhood.
This time of year brings photos of the Boys of Summer sporting magnificent velvet-covered rack. The text messages fly. The crazy names start to stick. Last year the big bruiser was Clay Matthews. We watched him all fall. He showed up on every camera. Matt saw him as well. We caught him on camera the night before the season in the center of our farm.
The Little Cabin in the Woods hunting party did not take a deer last fall. However, several neighbors took nice deer. Matt’s son took Tall Tines Junior. Nobody tackled Clay Matthews. We saw him on camera in mid-December. That took us into winter hopeful that Clay would be back for the 2020 season.
So, for the next few months, we will go out to the land and “pick up the chips” from the cameras in anticipation of seeing Clay among the Boys of Summer. We will anxiously watch for signs of the rut and count the days until November 21. I will not want these days to go by too quickly, however. Summer is one of the best seasons of the hunt. We need to soak up this season because in the words of the real Jon Snow, “Winter Is Coming.”