Advertisements

Tag Archives: Hunting Western New York

Dear ol’ Deer Camp: 2018 Version

I shot the biggest buck I’ve ever taken off of our family farm this year. He’s not among the largest I’ve ever taken and barely would rest inside the top-10 by looking only at his antler size. But he’s special and will go down as one of the most memorable.

But that’s not what this recap post is about.

IMG_2941

One of the most picturesque deer drags I recall!

Nope.

It’s about spending the opening week of New York’s gun season with my family and seeing the sunrise on the season from a tree on our home farm for the first time in many years.

It’s about the cadre relationship that hunting camp provides.

It’s about cold mornings where the fireplace at camp feels a whole lot better than Mother Nature’s bitter touch on your cheeks.

And it’s about the reverence for a camp diary.

Each fall, many deer publications publish stories about deer camp. I love reading them all. Stories of the brotherhood that exists when families and extended families come together in the big woods of the north country, or in Michigan’s upper peninsula, … or anywhere else … have always caught my attention.

IMG_2933

One of the spectacular views Mother Nature provided

This year was no different. I read an easily relatable story about deer camp, written in first-person by Dan Ladd (“The Joy of Deer Camp”) in New York State Conservationist magazine and got me excited before I even stepped foot into camp.

We weren’t necessarily at full capacity in our deer camp this year, but we had a bigger group than we’ve had in a long time. My brother Doug, uncle Paul, cousin Nicholas and nephew Matthew, represented three generations of family. My young son, Reid, also joined the group for a day of sharing the family woods!

Buck photo

My brother Doug and me sharing in the success!

Once a rookie of the camp himself, uncle Paul now represents the old guard. He married into our family over four decades ago. A “city guy” who married a farm girl in my late aunt, Paul had broad enough shoulders to join her brothers in camp, taking all of the ridicule that comes with being new to the sport of hunting. I’m happy to report he acclimated quite well and became a fixture at camp, to the pleasure of my late father and our family.

Uncle Paul shared stories this year about his first years in camp. Needless to say, he experienced a great deal of ridicule and good-natured hazing that would typically be reserved for a rookie joining a sports team. I’m a few years older than his son, Nicholas, who has been a mainstay at camp since he was a young teenager.

IMG_2772

From (L) to (R): Brother Doug, me, Cousin Nick, Uncle Paul

My nephew, Matthew, came into camp riding a three-year streak of punching his tag (and was able to fill it again this year)!

There were drinks. There were stories. There were fun memories of our family members no longer with us. The pool table, even with its minor off-kilter intricacies, became proving grounds one evening. The poker chips had the dust blown off of them for an evening of cards.

IMG_2936

Another beautiful view afforded by the snow.

Memories of successful hunts that culminated with shoulder mounts in the cabin were bandied about. Our camp diary, an invaluable asset that has 40 years of history documented, was utilized as a reference point a number of times. Uncle Paul has served as the primary scribe of the diary over its entire existence. Others add only when he’s not available to do so.

It’s often discussed, but there is just something cleansing for the soul when it comes to the time at deer camp. Having experienced some semblance of camp across a number of states, there are many common threads that connect the spirit of deer camps everywhere. Those who have experienced it know it and no documentation of deer camp can do it perfect justice.

IMG_2937

My son, Reid, joining in the fun on a cold, cold morning!

Perhaps that’s why I remain a sucker to the stories – to pull those parts that carry a similar look and feel to my own experiences.

I look forward to introducing my own kids to it.

There also were successes. The best part of those during deer camp is the ability for everyone to bask in that feats. In this case, everyone played an important role in the process – especially with over a foot of snow on the ground!

IMG_2780

Cousin Nick and I share a photo before taking to the woods.

Of course, the week culminates with figuring out who won camp’s big buck contest! This year, my buck was fortunate enough to take the honor.

Once the bags are packed and camp is cleaned, departure day comes with its sadness. More than 50 weeks of great anticipation and mental reps have ended with “goodbyes.” The countdown, though, to next season’s deer camp begins.

Advertisements

Things Change While Anticipation of the Hunt Remains

Things are different now. Some parts are better, some are … well, different.

I was able to catch up with my buddy Nick Pinizzotto today, and we spent a good deal of time talking about the evolution of our hunting passion.

the view

In a little more than a week, I’ll be enjoying the familiar view from the woods with bow in hand!

Days of worrying about how big the buck might be on the receiving end of an Easton arrow have been replaced more by the full nature of the experiences.

That’s not to say that we don’t dream of big bucks, or that the experiences of yesteryear weren’t important. It’s just that the priority is … well, different!

Nick, who also serves as the Executive Director of the National Deer Alliance, recently moved back to his home stomping grounds in Pennsylvania. He became a father a couple of year’s back. Both of those life changes have an innate ability to change perspective on the true values of hunting. We spoke at length about the eagerness of hunting with our kids – how that trumps any time we spend in the

fun in blind

Having a little fun in the blind while waiting on deer can be an acceptable practice these days!

woods on our own.

I’ll be returning to my own home land in Western New York in just a week to spend several quality days looking for the biggest, oldest and baddest buck on the farm. The likelihood of seeing a buck soaring near the minimum Boone & Crockett standards are very low. I know that going in, but my excitement to get there couldn’t be much greater.

For starters, I don’t take the hunting part quite as serious. I still work hard and put in my time, but saying that is more of an indictment on how serious I used to take deer hunting.

nap in blind

So too can taking a brief cat nap!

Additionally, my new career has me headed to the woods during the heart of the rut without the backdrop of serious end-of-season stress that my former job at NASCAR provided. I’ll be able to dedicate my energy to the daily chess match with the land, trying to execute a strategy that puts me within reach of taking a great deer.

This trip also means so much due to the fellowship with my dear friend, Kenny Roberts. We’ve made this trip together for over a decade and it serves as our opportunity to catch up on family, friends, parents and life. Over the years, there have certainly been more laughs than tears during those conversations. That said, there always is some time earmarked to get serious about life and chat through many of the important stuff in each of our lives.

greg

Greg Johnston with NYS’s No. 1 muzzleloader buck in 2017!

It’s likely I’ll be able to see another friend and frequent AHT contributor Greg Johnston, who 21 years ago joined me as the renegade who would skip out of classes at our Basilian Catholic college to chase bunnies and deer all over Western New York. Just seeing Greg is always enough to get you excited.

Just as special for this trip, though, is the land. I love it on our family farm. I took it too much for granted as a young hunter. It’s hard, as a teenager, to understand that very few have the opportunity to leave school, grab their bow and get into a tree before dark. I thoroughly cherish my time spent in those woods now. Those woods shaped me more than I can easily explain.

Here’s to the challenging week ahead that will be anchored with anticipation. I can’t wait for the journey there, the cabin upon arrival, the time together with friends while I’m there. I can’t wait to get into a stand and steal a small part of that magical time during November when the rut is in full swing.

Come to think of it, maybe not everything is different now.

 


‘The Show’ Stopper

The Show Hero Pic

Shooting mature deer in New York State isn’t the easiest task to accomplish. Heck, let’s face it – shooting mature deer in Iowa or Illinois isn’t easy either, but you get my drift.

That’s why I take great pride in saying that between my Dad and me, we’ve killed at least one mature buck the past five seasons.

Putting on a show.

Putting on a show.

Heading into this archery season, Dad and I had a handful of target deer, but there was one buck in particular we were hoping to get a crack at. I had nicknamed the deer ‘The Show’ after a particular series of trailcam photos captured him standing on his hind legs while working a licking branch.

Fast forward to September of this year when I pulled one of my cards only to find this same buck make reappearance. I was ecstatic.

Sept. 15, 2013

Sept. 15, 2013

He was now mature and sported a handsome Pope and Young 8-point rack. I relied heavily on my trailcams throughout October, monitoring the buck’s daylight activity.

On October 22 I got my first daylight pic of him. It was time to move in. Dad and I hunted this deer’s core area hard for the next week or so, without any success.

On the afternoon of October 30, Dad texted me around 3 p.m. to say he hadn’t seen a single deer all afternoon. Things soon changed. About a half-hour later I got a call from him saying that he’d just shot ‘The Show.’ We were pumped. Dad marked the blood and returned home where he waited for me to return from work.

'The Show' bedded with a hot doe less than 24 hrs. before Dad's encounter with him.

‘The Show’ bedded with a hot doe less than 24 hrs. before Dad’s encounter with him.

We gave the deer roughly three hours as Dad was concerned the shot may have been a touch back. When we initially took up the trail, I was astonished at the amount of blood. It was as if someone had walked through the woods dumping red Kool-Aid from a gallon jug. But just as the trail began, it ended.

The blood trail.

The blood trail.

I was confident the deer was liver hit and in fear of us bumping him, we backed out. I had to work the next morning and get my kids to school, so Dad took up the search by himself. It wasn’t long before my phone vibrated. It was Dad. He had located the buck, but the deer wasn’t yet expired.

Dad knocked an arrow and moved in for a final shot. We had done it – Dad had done it. Our number one hit list buck was down. I wanted to jump through my skin with excitement.

A mature NYS buck.

A mature NYS buck.

I returned home that night just in time to snap a few nice photos of Dad and his trophy.

My Dad is 66-years-old and has overcome more than most. He suffered a severe back injury in 1995 and has fought through numerous other ailments including broken bones and most recently a detached retina in his right eye.

To say that I’m proud of him would be an understatement. Having him shoot our number one hit list buck gives me more pleasure than I ever would have if I had tagged the buck myself.

Next week on AHT read how my slow season picked up in a matter of 16 hours.


Roots of Hunting Passion Linked to Turkey Day

My brothers and I were among the less fortunate youth who grew up in New York State waiting until we were 16-years old to legally chase whitetails with a gun. Most states are far more accommodating to introduce youth to hunting deer at an earlier age – and I applaud New York for finally starting a youth mentoring program that gets kids hunting earlier.

Many years after those initial hunts with my dad (far right), my family still hits the field. This picture, from 2008, is only missing my oldest brother, Bud, from our core group.


In hindsight, that long wait years ago helped introduce me to archery and bowhunting as it afforded me the chance to get into the woods earlier. For that I am thankful.

But one of the things I’m most thankful for during this time of year, is that my dad let me accompany him on a special Thanksgiving Day hunt when I was just a little tyke.

Each year, dad would keep me held in suspense until after the tryptophan had nestled itself deep into our bellies before he’d invite me to join him, my two older brothers and my uncles for an afternoon hunt on Thanksgiving Day. I’m sure there was a bit of constant nagging by me leading into those moments, but being able to join made me look forward to that day more than most others during a calendar year. During those years, the season opened on Monday and the it was only four-days old each time we went afield.

It mattered none that I walked and sat next to my dad unarmed. To me, I was hunting. And you needed to look no further than the solid blaze orange hunting suit I wore to know I dressed the part!

I think I was a solid good-luck charm too. Very few trips to the woods ended with someone not finding luck on those hunts.

Something about those Thanksgiving hunts planted something in me that no amount of drugs can tame. Perhaps it was the anticipation of the hunt alongside my family. It very well could have been the opportunity to share something with my dad. Maybe it was a reclamation of my hunter roots. It might have had something to do with my birthday always falling somewhere near that day. More than likely, though, it was a combination of all of those things.

Regardless, the passion for chasing whitetails that those early hunts instilled in me runs deeper than the roots of a century-old oak. For that, to me, is something to be thankful for.

Cat Tales: With a little boy expected to join the world any day now, this marks one of only a handful of years that I’m unable to hunt with my family on our farm in NY during the opening days of gun season in New York. Obviously, it’s a lot easier to take when the reason includes such an awesome blessing as having a child enter our family. There will be many more “openers” in the future – and I look forward to sharing them with my kids. For starters, though, I can’t wait to take them on Thanksgiving! In fact, I’m likely going to take my little girl “hunting” (which will consist of a short walk in the woods) later this week here in NC. She has been asking to go all season!