1. Sheet metal deer stands suck
There’s something attractive about a big metal box on stilts. Even if it is reminiscent of a German pillbox, circa 1942, it offers a wide view and predictable comforts.
It also rings like a kettledrum. Any movement inside one of these damn things tends to reverberate and echo across an otherwise silent field. And movement may not be as free or as easy as it would seem. Even though I had a nice view that extended in a wide arc, said arc was split by a couple of support poles holding up the roof. Getting a rifle into the stand and back out on the other side of the pole was complicated and noisy.
And the worst part was the wasp nest in the wall. I’d been down to check the stand for spiders and such, and hadn’t seen any wasps, but as the sun started to descend on the horizon, the angry little bitches started buzzing back home. They’d built a nest in between the plywood lining and the corrugations of the metal. And, according to them, I wasn’t an invited guest. So much for the tree stand. I think the deer might have put up the stand, as a joke.
2. Deer aren’t as stupid as they look
I see deer everywhere I go. I was at a metropolitan airport recently and watched a group of whitetail bucks cavorting and playing on the side of a runway. I’d been scouting the acreage where I was hunting this year and I have video footage and pictures of countless deer. Almost all of these deer have the same look on their face—and it doesn’t really instill confidence in their intelligence.
But I’ll be damned if they don’t know how to tell time. I can hunt here until 30 minutes after the sun goes down. The deer that had been cavorting all through the afternoon the week before had all donned ghillie suits and laid motionless until 31 minutes after the sun had set. These bastards had been coming up to the game cams and posing for selfies the week before.
The squirrels I see here in town are fast, but they’re incredibly stupid. Incapable of making decisions, they’ll zipper back and forth across the road in a misguided attempt to confuse oncoming cars. Their fuzzy grey corpses litter the streets.
The squirrels I saw in the woods were much smarter. While not nearly as fast, they’ve worked out a series of barks that function somewhat like triangulation. As soon as I’d settled in the stand, a spotter squirrel bark out my location. Moments later, a second, on the opposite side of the stand, confirmed the sighting. The third, somewhere behind me, picked up the call and sounded the alarm. I’m not sure what the deer are paying them, or if this level of rodent hysteria was simply woodland philanthropy, but it worked. I didn’t see any living thing besides the wasps. In fact, I never even saw the damn squirrels.
4. Not all rifles are created equal
So I didn’t kill anything with my well tested and perfectly sighted in muzzleloader. After abandoning my pillbox, I bellied out in the field and waited, most uncomfortably, near a trail I know the deer used earlier that day (and later that night). The next morning, I tried a different spot. After giving up, I walked the trails, and edged fields until about noon.
I learned two things. The Remington 700 Muzzleloader, considered by Remington to be the Ultimate Muzzleloader, is really heavy. I’m not sure how it happens, but that rifle packs on pounds like a new bride. I think it weighed close to 9 pounds when I started—but it would have topped the scales at 15 pounds, easy, by the end of that day.
And it also has a curious feature that I hadn’t considered earlier. Unloading it isn’t easy. I’d gone hunting with another GunsAmerica writer, and he was carrying the Traditions Vortek. When he didn’t kill anything, he simply unscrewed the plug at the breech and pushed the powder and bullet through. He swabbed it down and was done. In order to unload the Remington, you need a serious wrench. Even then, a vice is helpful.
Yes, you can worm out the bullet—but that’s a bitch. You can also pull the trigger and unload it the loud way, but that means you’ll still spend an afternoon with that vice and wrench and a lot of cleaning supplies. Cleaning the Ultimate Muzzleloader is hellish.
5. A Daisy Red Rider is hell on Rats
I didn’t kill anything with either muzzleloader. I’m a terrible hunter. But I’m hell on rats. On the first night, after the deer had come out of hiding to stand around our cabin and point and laugh, I thought my hunt was a bust. But we weren’t alone in the cabin.
The cabin is, to be polite, rustic. It is also perfect for this sort of excursion. And there’s an air of mystery, too, as you never know when you might fall through the floor. But, as far as hunting cabins go, it is a palace.
While we were eating dinner (which, sadly, included no venison), a rat emerged from under the sink and made a food run—stealing dried corn from a bag we’d emptied earlier in the day. I’d found a pink Daisy Red Rider that lives in the cabin, and quickly loaded it back up. The rat took a predictable path, emerging and returning to the same spot each time he made a run. So I timed the run—he ran—and on his return I capped him from across the room. One shot kill. I got him in the base of his skull, and he dropped. It was the best shot I’ve ever made with any gun, ever.
The last thing I learned is that black powder season is Arkansas, where I’m now a proud resident, is painfully short. One week? Ludicrous. If I lived in the woods where I hunt, I might be able to pull it off. But I’ve got a lot of things I need to work out before I go out again–tomorrow–with more modern guns.