Big woods bears, deer, turkeys and grouse in one weekend? I was all in for Fall Fest.
Though I failed at talking my close hunting buddies into joining me, I succeeded in finding some time to get away for a mid-autumn trip to the hunting camp recently for the overlap of four unique hunting seasons.
For one guy hunting two days, my Dodge Ram was loaded with a ridiculous amount of gear, but there’s no ration more important than preparation. I planned to do a lot of hunting, and the diverse game I intended to pursue required different tools and techniques, so it was a bit of a crowded cab as necessary.
I arrived at our Lycoming County camp amid a deluge of rainfall Thursday evening. It was just enough time to get soaked unloading the camp essentials to the roaring sounds of a swollen mountain “crick” and dry off inside by the woodstove before the power kicked off.
BK, the only other member in camp, and I hustled to find emergency candles and dust off the old kerosene lamps, providing just the right romantic ambience for two grown men with stubble beards to share an evening together. After some beverages and story swapping, we decided to turn in early with lofty intentions for the next day.
Friday morning, I awoke to howling winds and swaying trees around 4 a.m. I fired up the gas stove and warmed a can of soup by candlelight, which I poured into a thermos for lunch. Not wishing to get blown out of any trees by the steady gusts, I crept back to bed for two more hours and got up again at dawn to prospect for grouse.
Twenty steps into my favorite grouse haunt, I shouldered my over-under 12-gauge, to practice mounting and swinging. At 22 steps, a grouse flushed 10 yards away, and I never got the safety off in time to pull the trigger. Two and a half hours later, I arrived back at the truck with no more flushes to show for my brush-busting efforts. I did flick about 20 ticks off my brush pants, however. No problem getting that bag limit!
Arriving back at camp around noon, I found the power still off, but enough water in the tank to take half a scent-free shower. Yes, I got my entire body soaped up, but only partially rinsed, before I emptied the water heater. A hand towel wiped down the remaining soap, and like a waxed boogie board, it was the easiest I’ve ever slipped into hunting clothes in my life.
Hiking the mountain behind camp took an hour. Finding the right tree to climb with my Summit took a half hour. Add those together, and you’ll get the amount of time it took for an 8-point buck to arrive and walk directly under my stand. With my buck tag already filled, all I could do was take pictures and watch as he milled around beneath me.
Just before dark, “couples night” kicked off as two different pairs of does, followed by suitor (and shooter) bucks frequented the area. One tandem headed my way, and I considered filling the doe tag in my pocket. At 25 yards, she picked out my sky-lined silhouette and bolted, preventing me from making the decision for myself. It appears I should’ve searched a little longer for the “just right” tree to climb.
Additional members arrived at camp later that evening, and more “good luck” salutes than I would’ve cared to transpire ensured a heavy sleep and slightly groggy wake up.
Nevertheless, I headed to a dual-purpose location before daybreak where I felt I had an equal chance of killing a bear or a doe. I sat until 11 a.m. and got skunked. You can’t depend on last year’s sign for this year’s hunt – hard lesson learned.
By noon, I was almost in a different county, toting my .17 HMR rifle and turkey vest. Walking down a large draw, the turkeys spotted me the same time I saw them, and I discovered I’m no deadeye on a distant and moving target.
A clean miss at least broke up the flock, and setting up on the opposing ridge, my pleading kee-kee runs brought at least one bird back in to 30 yards a few minutes later. But the turkey stayed just on the other side of the brush, and I didn’t feel comfortable shooting through all the obstacles with such a light round. I never could get the bird to commit, and I reluctantly surrendered to the victorious flock.
In one last ditch effort, I went all in on my Saturday evening sit for archery bear. With no doe tag for this location, it was bear down or bust for my Mathews compound. I hoofed it up a laurel-choked hillside to an open bench that would afford me a shot under 40 yards.
However, as nightfall bore down I had not seen another living creature, and this brought my weekend hunting excursion to a close. As I traveled back to camp that evening, a doe burst across the road, and I slammed on the brakes just in time to see a tall-tined buck scamper across on her trail.
I smiled at the realization that this final encounter perfectly summarized my Fall Fest weekend of close calls and near misses. If I didn’t know any better, I’d even guess a bear snuck by at 60 yards, just out of view, concealed by the laurel.
They say close only matters in horseshoes and hand grenades, but I still enjoy being close to the action. Even with missed opportunities, it’s a lot of fun being out there!
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