To hunt in September, be a redneck in July
Despite the sultry weather, I hiked to a remote hunting property along the Root River the other day to check a trail camera and set up a tree stand. Sweat poured from my brow, prompting me to reach into the clear water, scoop up a handful, and then pour it over my head in an attempt to cool off. Deer flies dive-bombed me, looking for unprotected flesh to bite, and an occasional black fly found its way into an ear or a nostril before I could swat it away.
Sounds like fun, right?
But it's a price I'm willing to pay. As any experienced hunter knows, wild whitetails are sensitive to human encroachment. Trips into the woods to hang tree stands, cut shooting lanes, or set and check deer cameras may cause the animals to use different trails, as well as bed and feed in other locations, at least for a short time.
If the activity is light, a mature buck may simply avoid the area for a day or two. But continued human presence in the woods could force them to vacate your hunting area for weeks as they seek refuge elsewhere.
For this reason, I usually have my stands ready no later than the first week of August so that the deer have more than a month to return to normal. This means that I’ve not only hung the stands, but have lightly pruned shooting lanes through the brush with a pole saw or a machete so that I can shoot an arrow in multiple directions.
The key word in that statement is "lightly." Simply put, deer know when you’ve been on their home turf and removing minimal brush and tree branches will have a lower impact on the deer in the area.
But before I could perform those tasks, I had to get to my stand. It lay on the other side of the river and a couple hundred yards upstream.
The easiest and least intrusive way to get there was to wade up the river. As I stepped into the water, I glanced upstream, just in time to see a group of canoeists a hundred yards out and paddling my way.
An old guy who’s hanging deer stands is usually not a pretty sight, and I was no exception. I looked down at myself for a moment, and the immortalized words of the comedian Jeff Foxworthy came to mind.
"You might be a redneck if….."
It’s not a term that I’ve used for myself very often. But I have to admit that it fit. I wore a tattered camouflage shirt and old jeans — chosen intentionally so that I would not ruin a good set of clothes in the dense stands of raspberry, and buckthorn. Likewise, the act of climbing a tree usually results in stained and soiled clothing — I have several pairs of jeans that still bear the marks of such outings in years past.
In one hand, I carried an old rusty machete, and in the other, I held three ladder sections for a deer stand. As the canoeists bore down on my location, I was pretty sure that they could hear the theme song from the 1972 cult classic "Deliverance."
I certainly didn’t want to scare anyone, so I quickly crossed the river and walked into the woods to check another deer trail. A short time later, four canoes passed, carrying two different families. I glanced back toward the water and got a glimpse of a woman looking nervously in my direction. Once they had passed, I stepped back down into the water and resumed the trek up the river.
I soon made the finishing touches on the stand location and tossed the trimmed branches a distance away. Then I stepped back down the bank for the return trip across the river.
This time, the coast was clear — and redneck or not, it didn’t really matter what I looked like.