Snowshoes and Muzzleloaders-Tom Lounsbury
Sun, 12 Jan 2014 07:16:11 EST
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Snowshoes and Muzzleloaders
By Tom Lounsbury
Some of the most environmentally challenging memories I have are of December deer hunting in Michigan. The ’08 December muzzleloader deer season had its share of unique challenges in my home Thumb area. The temperature had to be close to zero, otherwise the snow wouldn’t be squeaking under my snowshoes like it was, and my moustache was getting heavier with frost each time I exhaled. My cross-country trek across the open, white landscape found me headed for what might seem an unlikely location for deer hunting. The quiet, windless afternoon and noisy snow however, prevented me from approaching too close to deer bedding cover.
I had previously discovered a well tread deer trail through the open farm country that seemed to be a prominent travel corridor for deer to and from a large, standing cornfield. Their travel was well concealed by the rolling topography, and they used it well to avoid detection. I had surveyed the location previously, and knew just where I’d set up and used the topography as well to cover my approach
Because my truck was parked a half mile away from the spot, I was towing an empty toboggan attached to a rope tied around my waist. This wasn’t due to any over confidence because I like to be prepared, just in case. Such can save on excess trekking if I was successful. Besides, the toboggan was the only thing I could sit on for a breather in the knee-deep snow. Thanks to my snowshoes, I was skimming along the surface instead slogging my way with each step.
I finally reached the location at the heavily snow-drifted fencerow and sat on the toboggan to remove my snowshoes. From here, I would wade my way through the waist deep snow to a clump of sumac, where I turned in a circle to form a hole I could shift my feet in, and create a blind for my lower body. The sumac would break up my upper torso clad in snow-camo, and my head topped with an insulated, hunter-orange cap. With my muzzleloader barrel resting in a handy sumac forked branch, and the buttstock tucked under my arm I began my vigil.
The muzzleloader I was using is a favorite deer gun of mine, a T/C G2 Contender 45 x 209 rifle, topped with a 3-9 X T/C scope. I had it stoked with a pet deer load that entails 100 grains of 3f Triple Seven loose powder topped with a 200 grain T/C “Shock Wave” bullet. It is a combination that when properly placed, puts tenacious whitetails down for the count, and offers a relatively flat trajectory I truly appreciate.
A problem with this evening I noticed right away was that my exhaled breath hung like a suspended cloud in front of me in the still air, and quickly coated the lens of my binocular with a layer of frost. I rubbed the lens clear with a cotton hanky that I keep in an outer pocket for just such things, and in a matter of seconds everything was frosted again, rendering it useless. This clued me in that I would have to be quick with the sighting process involving my scope, and I left the quick release scope covers in place.
The first deer suddenly materialized over the hilltop to my left, which caught me by surprise. I had been expecting the deer to be heading from bedding cover to feeding area, instead of the other way around. This had the deer coming at me in a frontal angle instead of the expected, and much preferred, broadside to quartering away angle. However, I learned a long time ago that deer tend to make out their own itineraries no matter how you try to figure them out.
I eyed the first deer carefully as several other deer heads began to pop above the hilltop. All were antlerless, and after careful scrutiny minus my binocular, I determined the first deer was a button-buck, and the second a large doe. The angle remained frontal, and the distance closed from 80 yards to 40 yards with the remainder of the deer forming a tandem line. The button-buck stopped to investigate something in the snow and the large doe eased by. At 30 yards, she stopped to pan the horizon, paying no heed to my position tucked into the snow bank. She turned slightly at this point and provided the angle I had been waiting for.
When the deer had first appeared, I had slowly shifted my feet and eased my muzzleloader forward to rest in the fork on the forearm for a steady and accurate shot, while I worked my right hand into position, and readied my trigger finger. Everything was done in slow motion because whitetails are very quick to sight any movement and focus intently and very suspiciously on it. When the time arrived, I would have to act quickly and quietly in popping the scope covers, sighting and firing.
I visualized the anatomy of the deer as it turned and knew I would have to hit the leading edge of the shoulder, with the bullet making an exit out the center of the ribcage on the offside. There was a hillside in the background that made this a safe shot to take, as well as no other deer were in line if and when the bullet made an exit, which knowing my load, I was sure it would. These are all calculations that must be made before touching the trigger.
It was when I eased up the scope covers that the doe noticed something and snapped her head in my direction, but by then the G2 was cocked with the crosshairs in place. The scope lens was just beginning to haze with frost when I touched the trigger, and my view was immediately obliterated with a cloud of smoke while the sound of the shot shattered the calm evening. As the smoked eerily faded away, there were no deer to be seen. I was certain my shot had been good, and I eased out of my hole and wallowed my way through the deep snow to my toboggan and snowshoes stashed behind the drift.
After strapping on my snowshoes, I cleaned the frost off the scope lens and quickly popped the covers back on and began the reloading process by placing the rifle butt on my foot. I didn’t hurry any because I wanted to give the deer time to expire before locating it. I retied the toboggan’s rope to my waist and eased my way over the drift towards where I had last seen the doe standing. Not far away I noticed a splash of blood on the snow, with another splash just over the hill. When I glanced down the hill on the other side, I saw the doe’s form appearing black against the white landscape. She hadn’t gone far before piling up. Even though I was sure the deer was dead, I followed my usual procedure of approaching at the ready and not taking anything for granted.
The doe was large and very fat, and I made quick work in tagging and field dressing her. The frigid temperature made me appreciate the shoulder length plastic gloves that allowed me to keep my coat on and my hands dry. I also used the heat from the deer’s abdomen to keep my hands from freezing until I could slide them back into my wool-lined chopper mittens.
With a comforting load tugging at the toboggan’s rope around my waist, I snowshoed my way back out to the road. By this time the setting sun had been replaced by a half moon surrounded by stars popping out in a clear, ink black sky. In the distance I heard the mournful howl of a coyote that capped a wonderful outdoor experience.
Happy New Year folks!
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Some of Tom Lounsbury's most enviromentally challenging moments have been
encountered while December deer hunting in Michigan.
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