Monday, November 16, 2009

Watching the Wind

Every seasoned deer hunter knows that outside of being in the right spot at the right time, nothing can influence your chances of success more than the wind. Knowing which way it is blowing is absolutely critical in predicting deer travel patterns, choosing an area to hunt and where to place a stand, and perhaps most important, deciding when to take a shot.

Today I'm going to talk about two of the best wind sensors available. Not only are they extremely sensitive, but if you know where to find it, one of them is completely free. Here it is:

In case you don't recognize it, that is a common milkweed seed and coma (the white fluffy part, otherwise known as a floater). In the fall, you can spot mature milkweed pods opening and releasing seeds in overgrown weedy areas. Here is what it looks like in the field:

The seeds grow in a pod that looks like this:

As the pods mature and dry out, they begin to split open:

Releasing hundreds of seeds:

In about ten minutes, I was recently able to collect enough pods that I spotted in an overgrown field alongside the road to fill a three gallon bucket with seeds and floaters (it has a lid to keep them from blowing out). As needed, I stuff about 50 or so floaters (after I've pulled the seeds off) into a pill bottle that I carry in my pocket. I try not to put so many floaters into the pill bottle that it crushes and deforms the fibers. That way, when I pull one out, it puffs up into a nice ball that floats along on the wind for a long time.

Milkweed works great for checking the wind when there are no deer close by, but particularly during bow season, I want to be able to monitor the wind when deer are within bow range. That way I can determine whether I am in danger of being busted and how long I have in order to take a shot. For that, I use a patented weapon-mounted wind sensor that I invented called Tiger Whiskers.

Tiger Whiskers are made from hundreds of micro-thin kevlar fibers attached to a wire twist. They can be attached to a bow stabilizer or rifle barrel to provide continuous, hands-free wind monitoring. I'm currently discussing distribution opportunities with a couple established hunting products manufacturers and hope to have them available in major retailers next fall. Stay tuned for more on that.

Oh, and by the way, when I did a Google search on milkweed, I discovered that it is the only plant that monarch butterflies can lay their eggs on. Apparently, the larvae eat the milkweed plant which contains something that makes the butterflies toxic to birds. So if you find some milkweed and would like to have an ongoing supply of wind checkers and butterflies, you may want to plant some of the seeds in your yard.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Golden Opportunities

Funny how you just accept some things as hunting facts without questioning them. Like peeing in the woods, or not peeing in the woods as the case may be.

More times than I can count, I've painfully climbed down out of a tree - bladder stretched to the limit, struggled to get my climbing stand off the tree and packed up, then hightailed it for a quarter mile or so before finally relieving myself. Why endure the pain? To avoid spooking any deer that would smell my urine and instantly recognize it as human (or maybe just predator) in origin. At least that's what I thought. Turns out I've been needlessly torturing myself and possibly even missing out on some "golden" opportunities.

This past weekend was the Tennessee juvenile hunt, so my son Hunter and I were in the woods together looking for a big one to put on the wall.

High winds and torrential rain on Friday had done some serious rearranging of the fall colors. A thick layer of freshly-fallen leaves covered the ground, obscuring all deer sign. Luckily, I had done some scouting on Wednesday and had found a couple of dominant red oaks, each with several fresh scrapes nearby.

On Sunday morning, Hunter and I were hunting one of those dominant trees. About an hour after daylight, we decided to try some soft rattling. Almost immediately after putting the rattling horns down, we heard walking and saw movement to our left circling downwind. Our excitement was short lived, however, when we could make out that the movement was not a buck, but a coyote. It continued to circle downwind and eventually bolted when it hit our scent.

We waited about an hour for things to settle down then tried another rattling sequence. Amazingly, another coyote materialized from the opposite direction and it too circled downwind.

After seeing two coyotes, we figured our odds of seeing any deer that morning were pretty slim, so we decided to climb down and do some scouting. We started by checking the nearby scrapes. They were still covered with leaves and hadn't been freshened for a couple days. As we stood there, Hunter remarked that he really had to "go" bad.

Recalling some conversations on where hunters recommended freshening scrapes or even starting mock scrapes with human urine, I told Hunter to go over to the nearest scrape and give it the ol' golden shower, which he did.

Long story short, we scouted hard for several hours, but with all the sign hidden by leaves, we didn't find anything that looked more promising than our morning location. We decided to return for the evening hunt.

At about sunset, a six pointer came to the dominant tree and fed on acorns for a couple minutes. As he wandered off, he walked over to the scrape that Hunter had freshened that morning. Immediately, he began pawing back the leaves. Then he stood on his hind legs and sniffed, then chewed on, the overhanging limb. Next he stuck his nose to the ground and appeared to actually taste the dirt. Finally, he gave it a little golden shower of his own and walked off.

As he moved on, he stopped at another scrape that we hadn't freshened. He gave it a quick sniff then kept walking. It was obvious that not only was that deer not alarmed by the smell of human urine, but he was actually curious about it.

I haven't figured out how I will put that newfound knowledge to use as far as hunting strategy, but I'll definitely be making some scrapes whenever the "urge" hits from now on.

On the ride home, Hunter was very excited about our day together. We talked about the coyotes. We talked about scouting. We talked about the how the six pointer had looked right at us several times and how comical he looked as he bobbed his head up and down and side-to-side trying to figure out what we were. We talked about deer behavior, deer communication, deer senses, and how they live in a scent-oriented world that we can't even comprehend. It was great to engage him in a thoughtful 45 minute conversation about a subject we both love.

Anyone who has raised a thirteen year old boy lately understands how difficult it is to compete for time with friends, girls, school activities, sports, Ipods, text messaging, facebook, and a hundred other things. A couple times during that ride, I instinctively reached for my phone to return calls but stopped myself short, thinking, "I'm not going to jeopardize this golden opportunity to have an uninterrupted meaningful conversation with my son. The calls can wait."

I understand that there are some who object to hunting for various and sundry reasons. All I can say is that I will always remember that day and the bond of sharing a special outdoor experience and a wonderful conversation with my son. And no animals were harmed in the making of those memories! Yes, killing is sometimes the end result, but hunting is really about the process.