Hunting the Hill Country’s First Frost


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November has been kind of weird weather-wise in the Texas Hill Country. Last weekend was the San Antonio Rock n Roll marathon which is normally a pretty chilly race that marathoners use to set a decent mark. Unfortunately last weekend saw highs in the mid to upper 80’s. But you know what they say about Texas weather, “Wait a few hours/days and it will change.” And change it has! A cold front blew in Friday morning and the temperature plummeted into the low to mid thirties with freezing rain and sleet. Unfortunately, this was the weekend that I had blocked off to take one of my coworkers hunting . . .

Dave and his family grow or raise the majority of their food including all manner of fowl, rabbits, pigs, and lambs. But Dave’s wife really likes whitetail. So Dave comes out once a year to get two does to take home for steaks and sausage. Dave’s also the owner of the Savage 111 I just put together and he wanted to see how it would do in the field.

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A nice doe hanging up outside my barn in nature’s refrigerator speaks to how well the Savage works in the field. It was apparently a late night last night that included good conversation, some local Fredericksburg brews and lamb chops Dave brought from the farm. While I turned in early, my understanding is that Dave and my parents stayed up late discussing technology, politics, sustainable farming and a host of other topics. Long story short, Dave was deep asleep when I woke up this morning to go hunting, the temperature was in the high 20’s and the coffee was warmest within a 20 foot radius of our back porch.

So I put out some corn a football field’s length from our porch, poured myself a fresh cup and watched the sun attempt to break through the muck. Thirty minutes later, I had two does happily munching away (neither was much of a shooter) when my dad left for work, scaring off my two woodland friends. These are the downfalls of back porch “hunting” I have found. So I packed on another layer, dropped some HotHands in my gloves and went a-walking, on the lookout for a big boar I saw yesterday.

And that’s when it happened, folks. Twenty minutes into my walk, with a 15 mph wind in my face, I stumbled upon a young doe perhaps in her second year, chewing on some grass facing away from me. I stayed perfectly still and watched her for a minute or two until she moved further up a hill. It isn’t the closest I’ve been to a deer, but it ranks high up there, and definitely the first time I’ve been completely exposed without being spotted.

I followed her up the hill and situated myself behind a horizontal tree branch and some brush. I unslung my rifle and took a shooting position perhaps 40 yards away from her. I got my hearing protection in place and slowly brought my rifle into position. Occasionally, she would pick her head up and look in my direction. Each time, I would stand perfectly still, close my eyes, and count to 10. Each time I opened them, she’d be head down again, eating the last of the fall acorns on the ground. Finally, I got my rifle in place, my crosshairs locked in on her vitals. An easy chip shot if I’ve ever set one up. I flicked the safety off, rested the pad of my finger on the trigger, and took a long exhale.

And then I just watched her. I never planned to take the shot. I wanted to know that I could. That I could creep up on a deer that close, get set up and take the shot if I needed to. But why would I? She’s young. At least 40 lbs. away from a viable “shooting” weight. And Nick and I brought home the metaphorical bacon on opening weekend.

There’s enough sausage and steak in my freezer to last for the next year. But more than that, I don’t really enjoy the killing. Truth be told, squeezing the trigger is actually my least favorite part. I like the eating, the cooking and the food preparation. I don’t mind field dressing or quartering either. But man I hate the killing part of things. Sometimes, it’s nice to just sit and watch through the scope.

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I threw my rifle over my shoulder and put my ear protection back on my head. I turned downhill while the doe stayed head down eating. About that time, I heard some rocks tumble downhill and watched two young bucks sprint off. Turns out I wasn’t the only one who had been watching silently.

comments

  1. avatar 505markf says:

    Very nice piece, Tyler. I’ll be smiling all day thinking about it.

  2. avatar jwm says:

    Frost? What’s that? I have been that close to deer. My old man was the best at walking quiet I’ve ever seen. He could get so close to a deer that the animal would have a startled and embarrassed look on it’s face when it finally saw him. For an uneducated country boy, he also has a touch of the poet in him. He communed with more deer than he ever killed.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      I would like to see your father pull off that feat around my parts. The deer around here are extremely weary. I once had a doe (with fawns) bust me from 200 yards away … and I was three rows back in a corn field and motionless!

      I don’t mean to take anything away from your father. I am confident he was great at sneaking up on deer. I just wish the deer around here were a little less alert!

      1. avatar jwm says:

        WV. Hilly and very thickly covered with trees and brush. No doubt this was a factor in the stalk.

        Now I live in the bay area in Ca. The game is so elusive here we have to shoo wild turkeys and deer out of traffic.

  3. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Cold snaps like that (temperatures in the 20s) are the perfect hunting weather because the deer tend to get up and move around. They love temperatures in the 20s. Many people may not know this fact. As it turns out, a deer’s coat is so fantastic an insulator that they can lay in snow and not melt it.

    1. avatar Tyler Kee says:

      I’ve seen some truly awesome activity in a dry cold snap, but its raining like crazy at the moment.

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        Rain is difficult — especially if it is raining hard. I have seen deer move around in light sprinkles. I don’t picture them moving around in decent rain unless something moves them or if it has been raining for a very long time. (They eventually have to get up and eat.)

        They seem to know when bad weather is coming and they will move/feed like crazy several hours ahead of a storm front. That is the ideal time to be out if you can.

        Oh, and I don’t like exposing my firearms to prolonged periods of rain. I don’t know for sure how bad it is for a shotgun or rifle to be out in the rain all day but it certainly cannot be good.

        1. avatar Quinn says:

          Leaving a firearm under water for a year is a bad idea. A few days wont do a damn thing to it. Just wipe it off with a good oil afterwards

  4. avatar Leadbelly says:

    I’ve been a recreational and self defense handgun shooter most of my life. Of course, I was started out by my father with a .22 rifle almost sixty years ago, but a cross dominance issue and, more recently, cataracts in my right eye have tempered any interest in long guns. After correcting the cataracts I decided to give rifles another try, so I read up on the subject and found myself a very lightly used CZ 452 in .22lr at a good price. What a neat gun!

    Now, my best friend has invited me squirrel hunting, and, old hippie that I am, I’m feeling a bit conflicted. This is a guy who LOVES hunting (and eating) squirrels. He spent somewhere north of $2000.00 on a Cooper .22 for just that purpose.

    I’m a rabid animal lover (four rescue dogs) and don’t really know how to feel about shooting something I’d rather pet and talk baby-talk to.
    (Quit laughing – you – in the back – shut up)
    I’ve never felt any qualms about the prospect of lethal self defense, and if I needed to hunt for food I’d have no problem with it. I just have no desire to cook or eat a squirrel. Small animals just still look too much like their live selfs after skinning, for my taste, as compared to a nice anonymous slab of beef, pork, or venison.

    Now, John has said he will happily clean, cook, and eat any I harvest, so I’m not concerned about wasting the little fuzzies just for fun. And, confession, I’ve been wanting to build up a collection of tails so I can add a fringe of ear and neck warming tails to a really well made coonskin cap I bought ten or twelve years ago. So, I’ll probably give it a try as soon as my long gun skills catch up to what’s needed for an ethical shoot.

    I’m just glad to see that someone else has to think about stuff like this before pulling the trigger. Thanks for the article.

    P.S.
    Does anyone know how to process squirrel tails so they dry soft and flexible and don’t give off a scent that will have buzzards circling my head?

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      I’m a rabid animal lover

      I’m not a fan of rabid animals, especially when they get all foamy and stuff.

      1. avatar Leadbelly says:

        I said stop laughing!

        1. avatar Ing says:

          🙂
          I’m not much for hunting either. Every year around deer season I get the urge to do it just to prove I can. I love venison, but the family doesn’t. (I must’ve gone wrong somewhere in raising the kids.)

          In the little bit of hunting I have done — varmints and small game — I loved the challenge of finding my quarry and making the shot, but felt absolutely terrible about the killing part. Even when it was a delicious rabbit dinner. Still, there’s something about knowing that you have not only the tools, but the ability to use them for what they were made to do.

      2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        Now this has to be one of your best comments ever!

  5. avatar Mike Crognale says:

    Well written, and played, Sir. I felt as though I were in the field beside you. You are a truly talented writer. Thanks for a great story.

  6. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Tyler, great story to start my day!
    Love it! It’s the hunt. Not always the kill.
    I was able to sneak up on a fox in a field across the street as it was digging like crazy after something. Each time it came up to check his surroundings, I stood still.
    Armed with my canon eos and 300 mm image stabilizing lens, I started snapping pics. Got the money shot as it started walking away. I squeeked, it stopped and looked at me from about 50 feet. Camera set in RAW mode. You can see the toes on the gophers feet that is in it’s mouth.

    1. avatar JaredFromTampa says:

      By any chance, did you happen to catch what the fox said…I want to know? 🙂

      1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

        Mmphm, sniff, sniff, mmph ohm mmph
        Or something like that.

        1. avatar Ralph says:

          Or maybe “please don’t throw me into that brier patch.”

        2. avatar JaredFromTampa says:

          Meh, never mind. Pop culture references are usually lost on me too.

      2. avatar jwm says:

        Watch the Ylvis video. If you dare.

  7. avatar Matt in FL says:

    Great post, Tyler. I enjoyed reading it.

  8. avatar Ralph says:

    Sweet article, Tyler. Please, sir, I want some more.

    I used to ride my mountain bike in Rhode Island’s game management areas — out of season, natch. On many occasions, I rode up so close to deer that I could have hit them with a well-aimed pebble. Once, a big buck jumped across a trail right in my path and almost knocked me off my bike. I also had close encounters with coyotes, foxes, groundhogs and one Black Racer the size of a fire hose. And those were the animals that I saw. Imagine what I didn’t.

    I love the woods.

    1. avatar JaredFromTampa says:

      The woods are awesome.

  9. avatar Hank says:

    This reminds me of one of my favorite hunting days, one many would find “unsuccessful” but that I thoroughly enjoyed.

    It was in 12″-18″ of snow out in the woods of Upstate NY, and I had only a buck tag. Naturally all I saw that day were does and fawns. But about an hour before dusk I was sitting beneath a large hardwood tree, and about 8 does & fawns came into the clearing ahead of me. They played and grazed for over 1/2 an hour right in front of me. One doe and her fawn noticed me, but seemed unfazed, they were no more than 10 yards away at any time. The forest was so peaceful and quiet in the new snow that day, and they were so content and unbothered by my presence that frankly, had I had a choice between getting a deer and having that experience, I’d take the experience. This year I’ve already gotten three deer, but I’ve enjoyed watching many more. There’s more to the hunt than the shot.

    1. avatar JaredFromTampa says:

      Exactly this. I haven’t taken a deer in 3 years by no fault of mine, but it fills my heart with joy just to be in nature. Living in the city, one forgets and laments the solitude of the Forrest. Great story! I’ve had similar experiences up near Lake Oswego and the Adirondacks.

  10. avatar William Burke says:

    ” It was apparently a late night last night”.

    “Apparently”? You were there; was it, or wasn’t it? “Apparently” is unnecessary, at best.

    1. avatar Matt in FL says:

      He said he went to bed, so he wasn’t there.

      You’re not usually pedantic like that. Someone kick your dog?

  11. avatar Mediocrates says:

    I am not a big fan of the killing either. I will take mine nice and wrapped tight at the supermarket.

  12. avatar Jake_in_AK says:

    Not gonna lie- a little bit jealous here.
    It was -40F night before last where I live. Today was a heat wave~ we got up to -12F.
    By middle of next week we are expected to be at the seasonal normal temp of -20F during the five hours of daylight and dropping to -35F to -55F at night.
    No hunting for me right now. Also not a whole heck of a lot of shooting.

  13. avatar Gary Kimberlin says:

    I can say I lost my passion for the beauty of nature one night as two bucks decided to tangle antlers in the middle of the two lane road I was driving. Came over the hill and there they were. Or the early morning in a snow storm and a bunch decided to cross right in front of me while driving to work. Thinning the herd is a service to mankind.

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