So just shy of one week out from the start of the open gun season here in many areas of Ontario, and my inbox is loaded (okay five messages…) with requests from across North America for a Gearhead post. So here it is. Same standard Gearhead disclaimer applies, but even more vigorously in this sense, since of all the types of hunter I profess to be, ‘deer hunter’ is the area in which I have had the least (statistical) success. That is, I guess, if you are one of those people who measures success in body count.
Firearms & Ammunition
On the Thanksgiving weekend when I was fifteen my Dad took me back up to a hollow behind the farm in Lion’s Head. In the early fall woods we walked to the forest’s edge with a piece of split firewood about twelve inches long and six inches wide; we sat the would-be target on its narrow end up against the base of a tree. Then we walked sixty yards or so up the shallow grade of a hill and I sat down on an old tire. With my legs crooked up and my elbows on my knees I used my gangly , teenaged arms to line up the peepsight on Dad’s Model 14 .30 Remington pump-action rifle with a knot just right of center on the target. Dad had put one shell in the gun; I clicked the safety off and tightened my finger around the trigger. With a POW! the round-nosed bullet split the still fall afternoon and I watched the piece of wood all at once jump, shudder, and slowly fall forward. With silky smoothness the recoil had already worked the pump action a quarter of the way back and I completed the motion, savouring the smell of burnt powder and the metallic “sna-chink!” of the gun’s action. We went up and looked at the wood (which was almost split in two) and Dad remarked something pleasant like “If you can hit that from where you were, you ought to be able to hit a deer in the front shoulder.” Then I got off the tire and Dad put a broken down cardboard box inside it. He told me to go halfway down the hill, which I did, while Dad carried the tire to the top of the hill. He arrived at a spot perpendicular to me and well out of my line of fire, at which point he called down for me to put three shells in the gun and that he was going to roll the tire down the hill. I was to shoot for the piece of cardboard and keep shooting until the gun was empty. Dad started it rolling with his hands and gave it a kick as it got away from him and at about thirty or forty yards I opened up, working the action smoothly and evenly…but again that action is so worked in that I think it leverages a lot of the recoil to do the lion’s share of the pumping for me. I think I hit the tire once and the cardboard twice as the target hopped and bounded along unevenly down the hill. With that Dad and I were satisfied that I could handle the power and kick of the gun. A few weeks later, on the second hour of my first ever deer hunt, the .30 Remington swatted down a yearling doe and I was officially a deer hunter.
That Model 14 is all mine now, and it has come with me on every deer hunt I’ve made over the last seventeen years. I have an unhealthy affection for that gun. Its early 20th century vintage, smooth, glowing lines, and ease of maneuverability in the heavy brush I sometimes find myself in have never failed me. I may be tempting fate to boast that it has always shot straight (even when I haven’t) and that it has never jammed or acted up on me. Simply put, I love that gun, and the fact that ammunition for it has been off the market for many a year only means that the hand-loaded, 180-grain rounds I sift through it once in a while are all the more meaningful. It is a brush-gun and it wields that title proudly and performs-as-billed with some aplomb.
I also have a synthetic camo-stocked, scoped, bolt action Stevens in .243WIN that I won at the Barrie District Anglers & Hunters annual wild game dinner and fundraiser in 2009, and this gun (alongside the .30REM) makes its way up to my second week of hunting in the Spence Township area, where there are a few more open hardwoods and moose meadows to hunt and the luxury of a scope is a welcome advantage. 95-grain Hornady SST Superformance fly out of the muzzle on this lean little number at some pretty high velocity (and it is a nice little crossover varmint rifle) but to date I’ve never had the safety off during deer season, let alone let slide with a shot bearing any kind of deadly intent at a white-tailed deer. But maybe this year is the year I break that run.
Clothes and Outerwear
My outer layer is a Remington 4-in-1 coat (actually the same type of coat that I take waterfowling, just in the requisite blaze orange) that I picked up in 2008. It does the trick nicely as it is plenty warm (even when only wearing the outer shell) and has plenty of deep, easy to access pockets. For the last three deer seasons it has been reasonably dry and surprisingly burr-resistant (which where our group hunts is a nice luxury).
Under that I’ll usually have a hooded sweatshirt or long sleeve shirt, slung over a synthetic sports shirt (either from Under Armour, or a recycled soccer jersey) that wicks moisture nicely. Unless it is unseasonably mild (as it was in 2008) I’ll also have on some long underwear; I prefer Stanfield’s two piece top & bottom ensemble, although my sister got me one of those thermal unitards (in fire engine red, no less!) with a rear flap for ‘evacuation’ for Christmas in 2008 and I used them the following year after my Stanfields got a bit damp in a rain…I was literally soaked the nuts!…but I digress. I think she got that unitard for me as a ‘joke gift’…I’m okay with that because they were nicely comfortable, and I liked them so much I’ve continued to include them in the annual packing list.
I usually wear the same camo pants that I multi-purpose with all year long, although I also pack some ratty jeans that I don’t mind getting mud and blood on, and a pair of lined pants in case it gets extra-frosty some morning (and since 2011 boasts the absolute latest date that deer season can start in Ontario, it may actually happen when I’m hunting not far from Orrville on November 19th).
I double up on socks (since I don’t want my toes to freeze while I sit on stand…I do a lot of sitting) with a synthetic thermal sock underneath a wool sock. I have two pairs of gloves, both in blaze orange; one pair is just light cotton for days when the temperature is nice, the other pair is Thinsulate lined for rain, snow or just a bitter November wind. I likewise have a blaze orange baseball cap and a blaze orange Thinsulate toque, so that I can wear one or the other (or if the weather is changeable…both!)
The key to all these clothes is flexibility and layering. But I’m sure your grandmother already told to dress in layers so I won’t belabor that point further.
Rubber boots. (If you’ve been following these ‘gearhead’ posts this should come as little surprise.). What can I say? They’re comfortable, cost-effective, insulated, lightweight and they don’t carry much in the way bells and whistles. My cousins and my brother have adopted the modified hiking boot style of hunting footwear (what with scent control on a molecular level, cutting edge waterproofing, and similar upgrades) and they all rave about it, so one is just as good as the other in my eyes. I just like spending around $50 on my boots, while some more ‘advanced’ footwear can run to four times that much.
Just like it is for my wife when she goes shopping, deer hunting for me is all about accessories (again, no surprise to any loyal follower of this blog).
We party hunt in our camp so it is vital that we all keep in touch. For that, we carry some short-wave handheld radios to keep in touch. Mine are from Motorola, and although they came in a pair (I got them in 2001) one of them gave up the ghost last year and is completely non-functional. Its mate is still going strong though!
I have a bag of sticks and plastic rods from Quaker Boy that I can use if I want to try to rattle up a buck, and I use a Knight and Hale doe bleat can. This year I received the Quaker Boy Brawler buck grunt call in the mail for re-joining a conservation organization here in Ontario but before that I used the Knight & Hale E-Z Grunter Plus. My cousin, and other hunting acquaintances have had success with calling deer. Me, not so much. But I keep trying though, maybe this will be year that an old bruiser buck comes galloping to the call. I’m not brand loyal and accumulated these calls in a piecemeal fashion; I can’t pretend to be one of those highfalutin, corporate-sponsored types of writers…although I secretly long to be one.
I use the same combination of Buck 110 Folding lockback (with a clip point) and Gerber Magnum LST folding lockback (avec drop point) knives that I use year round. Both are wicked sharp, but the classic look, feel, and weight of the Buck has made it my favourite go-to blade. I almost cut the tip of my left thumb off with it a few seasons back, but that has more to do with operator stupidity than with any flaw in the knife. The moral…don’t let me sharpen a knife unsupervised.
I have various and sundry other toys on my person during deer season including a compass, toilet paper, matches, a rope, a plastic bag to keep items dry (and to pack out a tasty deer heart if I’m so lucky), a little folding packet for my licenses and tags, another folding pack for extra rifle shells, a water bottle, a candy bar, a Heat-a-Seat, maybe and apple or two…
This year I bought a Rocky backpack for all this, as before I was always forgetting which pocket held certain items, and I tended to rattle a bit when I walked…which is never good for a deer hunter, whose primary aim should be a stealthy silence.
So there you have it…another Gearhead post in the books. I recommend you try out any of these items that you feel like and if you want to adopt some of the same gear as me, go for it. If not, that’s fine too. As long as what you use is comfortable and leads to success (no matter how you define success in the deer woods) than that ought to be good enough.