Friday, October 22, 2010

"Huntin' on high"

I wrapped my left leg around the top of the tree, cautiously leaned back into the sling and brought the rifle to my shoulder. Bracing the long gun against the roughly textured tree trunk and my forearm I tipped the barrel downward in the direction of the oncoming deer and leaned my head forward, in line with the scope. My right foot was uncomfortably jammed into the crotch of a small limb and was bearing most of my body weight. As I tried to squirm and twist my frame into proper shooting alignment and brought more weight to bear upon that thin leather strap, I became exquisitely aware of the fifty some odd foot drop below me. I knew if the sling did not hold I would go bee-bopping down that big old tree like a steelie in a pin ball machine. The thought reminded me of the age old philosophical riddle; "If a man falls out of a tree in a forest and no one is around to hear him, does he make a sound?" Or something like that. My guess was, yes, he did!

Navajo Deer Carving

The day started out invigoratingly crisp and clean in the high country. It was early morning, opening day of the Deer Hunt, October 1988. I was hunting deep in the oak brush on my in-law's property located on the east facing slope of Blue Mountain, overlooking the small, quaint town of Monticello. I attempted to creep through the Oak brush which was as thick as bristle on a bear's backside and the fallen leaves underfoot crunched like corn flakes on concrete. It did not take long to realize that I was not going to sneak up on any self respecting buckskin in this stuff, much less get off a shot. The age-old Navajo and Ute people that once hunted these same slopes would have certainly laughed out loud at my less-than-skilled attempt at sneaking through the thicket. I finally broke free of heavy cover and came upon a giant Pine tree rising majestically above the surrounding chokebrush. As I stood there in the shade of the tall timber, I looked up and realized that this tree rose head and shoulders above the surrounding brush pile. I reached up and barely touched the first limb protruding from the massive trunk. "Humph!" I thought to myself. If I could get a leg up on that first branch, I might be able to climb higher and obtain a bird's eye view of the surrounding landscape.

Years ago a friend of mine clued me into using a military-like sling on my hunting rifles. This type of strap is heavy, well made and amply adjustable and was about to come in very handy. I adjusted the sling so my Sako .243 rifle would fit over my head and shoulders with the barrel pointing down so as not to get debris in it. I jumped up and grabbed ahold of that first limb and walked my feet up the trunk until I could wrap my legs around the eight to ten inch limb. With much effort I flipped myself over onto the top of the branch and sat upright. Leaning back against the massive trunk I looked up into the extending branches loaded with Pine boughs and said to myself: "Only forty feet to go." I soon discovered that climbing a Pine tree is no easy task, especially when fully outfitted with hunting gear. About half way up, because I was sweating from the labor of the climb, I straddled another limb and stripped off my heavy coat. After replacing my orange vest over a thinner sweatshirt I readjusted my rifle, left my fanny pack hanging there with the coat and continued the climb. When I finally emerged through the Pine needles at the top of the tree, I was puffing like a freight train and was certain the entire country side had been alerted to my presence.

The view from up in that tree was impressive. I was exhilarated by the lofty perch and felt all too precarious dangling there by my fingers and toes. The last four feet of the tree was bare and ended in a three prong forked-like protrusion. I climbed up until the crown of my head was even with the top of the tree. Wriggling free of my rifle, I winced when I saw fresh scratches in the stock. Oh well, I had planned on refinishing the walnut stock anyway, this would force me to do so sooner than later. I unclipped and removed the sling from my rifle, carefully wedged the gun in the fork overhead and extended the sling to its longest available length. I then wrapped the sling around the narrow tree top, then my waist, and used the clips to connect the ends. I was now securely attached to the tree and good to go. Good to go unless the top of the tree decided to let go and send me plummeting back to earth! At this point I was too invigorated to worry, and too foolish to care. It seemed I could see every opening and trail in the Oak brush from my new vantage point.

I must have hung from the top of that tree for an hour or more before I saw any sign of life. At some point nature must have forgotten my rude intrusion and the natural world regained her stride. Soon thereafter I witnessed three magnificent Tom Turkeys promenading about a small clearing no further than 70 yards away. At another point a group of five does and fawns gathered at the base of my tree and played a game of "kick-box" for ten to fifteen minutes before they moved off totally unaware of my towering presence. After a couple of hours dangling from the top of that tree I was starting to get numb from "clinging to the vine." I was considering working my way back down when movement from a small hill about 150 yards to the North caught my eye. Looking closer I realized two very nice bucks were slowly and quietly making their way directly towards my roost. The lead buck was a heavy three pointer, the second a small two point. I could smell buck on the barbie as I watched them move in. It was at this point I wrapped my left leg around the top of the tree and prepared to bring in the bacon.

As I peered through my scope and found the lead deer I recalled a lesson in ballistics and figured that when I pulled the trigger, from such a high and radical angle, that my aim would need be lower than expected. By now the deer were within fifty yards and clearly visible through the branches so I aimed right at the base of the buck's chest and slowly squeezed the trigger. The kick of the rifle nearly dislodged me from my perch. It took me a moment to regain stable footing and relocate my prey. Surprisingly, both bucks were still standing there, frozen in time and place. They couldn't see me. Because of the ridiculous angle of trajectory I figured I had over-shot my mark. The deer still had no idea where the shot came from, thus their indecision. I was feeling lucky. As quietly as I could I re-chambered another round and lowered my aim to six inches below the bigger buck's breast bone. I squeezed off another round and missed again. Dang! and double dog dang! I cussed inwardly. Both bucks were still rooted in place, hunkered-up and looking around wildly for somewhere to disappear. They could not, would not, make an educated exit strategy because they had no idea where the shots were coming from. I chambered another round and aimed at the buck's feet, said a silent prayer to the hunting gods and squeezed off another round. Between the point of aim and the point of impact that bullet climbed over two feet in fifty yards before it found its mark. I had bagged my buck. The smaller buck was still confused but when he saw his comrade fall he exited, stage left and smashed into a wall of Oak brush, plowing his way out of there leaving a new and disheveled trail in his wake. Me? Well I hugged the tree until my breathing slowed and I became a lot less excited. I made sure my deer was down for good, re-slung my rifle and began the slow meticulous descent to the forest floor.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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