Deer hunt memories live on

DEER HUNTING MEMORIES area being made as you read this.  Somewhere either locally or in other far reaches of Iowa, a guy or gal will not necessarily be seeking a specific big buck deer. They are just participating in the hunt with family or friends where any adult doe or even a small buck may suit them just fine. That probably is as it should be, as the biological need to reduce deer numbers is part of the overall DNR management plan.  Iowa hunters are the best tool in the toolkit for purposeful reductions in deer numbers. Right now the deer take is at about 30,000 before the first shotgun deer season. By the time the second shotgun season ends on Dec. 18, the total deer take will be over 90,000.  In fact, the 2015-16 seasons last year took 105,401 deer by hunter harvests.

I have noted in previous editions of Outdoors Today how the Iowa deer herd can easily replace its numbers from year to year. Without careful biologically sound science supporting a modest deer harvest, and left unchecked, Iowa deer number could double in just two years from 400,000 to 800,000. In theory that number could double again in a few years. The intolerance of people to this over-population is not a good thing. So to keep the deer levels from these wild fluctuations, biologists help formulate regulations to manage the land for what can be tolerated by landowners and still offer quality deer hunting excitement for hunters.

However it will be inevitable that new deer hunt stories will emerge in the weeks to come. Stories will be told and re-told of how a hunter was just minding their business on stand or drive, when out of the corner of their eye they detect a big buck. He is in range but needs to clear some brushy area, or move from behind a tree. Some of these stories will tell how the hunter muffed the situation either not getting a shot or missing or … making a quick clean one shot kill. You can guarantee the latter will be met with smiles of approval from other hunters.

Part of the reason other hunters treasure these stories is because at some time in their own hunting past, they have been in similar circumstances, spied a nice buck worthy of taking but the plan never came together. Ask any hunter who has been pursuing deer for a few decades and they will relate past hunts that did not pan out well.  Missed shots, or missed opportunities are the norm. Connecting is a bit more fickle. But when it all comes together, another Iowa buck or doe deer has helped write a chapter in the memory book for someone.

Locally, Syndey Vilez, an 18-year-old senior at East Marshall High School has a new chapter in her deer hunting book. She took a nice 10 point buck with her bow and arrow during the third week of November.  Congrats to Sydney for her first archery deer. Her story may be more common than one thinks.  At a place like the Iowa Deer Classic which is held late February to early March, an entire leader board category is reserved for youth archers, youth shotgun or youth muzzle loader hunters. Deer brought to the show get scored and ranked with the top five in each division.  When these young folks are asked about how their hunt transpired, the audience is eager to hear the details.  Those details are not all alike but every hunter listening can relate to those details. They have been there and done that themselves. Now they get to congratulate a young hunter who is all smiles with their Iowa Deer Classic Award.

Entire chapters of a deer hunter’s book, if written, could be dedicated to missed shots. Deflected bullets, arrows high or low, buck fever excitement that sent high doses of adrenalin into the blood stream that prevented a controlled shot are just some of the ingredients to be related in descriptive words. Many of these instances bring back memories of what went wrong and why, usually followed by a bit of laughter at oneself for not being able to pull it together.

Take the instance where a big buck stood behind a tree. A  “V” notch in the tree offered the muzzle loader hunter an opening. The shot was taken but the projectile slightly grazed one side of the tree notch and deflected making for a clean miss.  Did the deer run away? No, it just stood there looking back at the hunter. The hunter in this case tells of the deer seeming to sense it was not in danger and slowly walked away.

I can relate to one of my early archery deer hunts in Kossuth County in 1967. I had climbed into a tall oak tree and was surveying the area.  A dead limb was in my way so I broke it off.  It made a loud snapping sound and when it fell to the ground crashing into other branches, is made a lot of noise, noise I did not intend to make. Well, I learned something that day. In a nearby brush pile, a nice buck deer was bedded. When he heard the limb crashing and making noise on the ground, he came running hard and fast to investigate. His take on the matter was that another buck had invaded his territory. He stopped at the base of my tree looking in vain for the other mystery buck. When he started to leave, I was able to shoot an arrow at him. The arrow went high and missed. The next arrow went low and missed. The third arrow also went low and missed.  Only now did the buck get the idea that leaving may be a good idea.  Truth be told, I was so rattled over this incident that I laughed at myself for foolish incompetence, bad luck and poor shooting. Did I learn anything? Yes indeed just as I have in every deer season since that time.  Deer have a way of humbling anyone anytime. That is part of the fun associated with hunting as there are no guarantees of venison to bring home to the freezer. So the memories live on and on.

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A new footnote to this scribe’s deer hunting adventures has been seeing birds and hearing the cackles of rooster pheasants. It has been a long time coming.  And it is good to see them again in places where one might not expect them to be.  Pheasant number are not likely to rebound to numbers considered ‘normal’ if you use the benchmark of a 1980 population. This is 2016 and a lot has changed in habitat conditions. Lots of Conservation Reserve Program land contracts have expired.  The net effect from high CRP acreage enrollments of three decades ago to now is equivalent to a strip of land across Iowa from Davenport to Council Bluffs that would be nine miles wide. Our local pheasants are responding in part due to milder winters and warmer dryer spring weather. Biologists can also predict with some regularity how pheasants will survive an Iowa winter based on snowfall totals. If we get way more than 30 inches of snow between December and the end of March, losses will be high.  If our winter snows are way lower than 30 inches, pheasants can withstand such a milder winter much easier.

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Snow flakes in the air this past week are a reminder that real winter weather is knocking at the door.  And it will make its entry whether we are ready or not. Christmas is an annual tradition that is only three weeks away. Preparations for holiday gatherings are under way.  Gifts are being purchased, wrapped and stashed under a tree. Oh yes, did I say tree?  Get a real Christmas Tree this year at the local Izaak Walton League grounds.  They are located two miles south of Iowa Avenue on Smith Avenue.  Tree sales take place today between 10 am and 4 pm.  Ikes members sell the cut and trimmed trees only on Saturdays and

Sundays. If you miss today, you go can go on Dec.  10-11, and the 17-18. The last day for tree sales is the 18th. You select and cut your own tree. Each tree will cost $35.  A shaker device is offered this year to attempt to loosen old needles for you. Lots of trees of good size are available. It is a fun exercise for the entire family. Make sure that these fresh cut trees are placed in a sturdy tree stand and kept well watered.  Never let the basin of water get below the cut line of the tree stump.  That is your helpful hint of the day.  Merry Christmas!

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“Imagination is more important than knowledge.  For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination enhances the entire world.”

–Albert Einstein,

theoretical physicist

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Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.