River time at my pace
This time of year I spend a lot of time on the river, alone. For that reason and others, it's a special time. I just see more, hear more and do more. Most wonderful is that there is never any rush, I've only myself to satisfy. Stealth and silence go to another level. Movement and noise while floating along a stream in my olive drab seventeen footer is reduced to zero. If you notice me it's because you're looking and, paying attention. More times then not, IF I see someone along the way farming, driving a four-wheeler or even perched in a tree stand, I'll not be noticed. It can be the same with wildlife, sometimes. About the only thing that will see me before I see them is a Great Blue Heron. Turkey are a close second. They don't miss much. Last year by this time I had floated to within 20 feet of a dozen deer before I was noticed, one young spike buck was asleep and he never woke up as far as I know. Three different deer that did finally see me, all young ones, allowed me to float even closer before they bolted. The wind was right and without any movement on my part, they simply didn't recognize any danger. Of the mammals, it's the Coyote that's the most skilled at spotting danger. I see a lot of them as there are more Coyotes then ever; but, it's a rare day when I see them first. You hear a lot of hype in hunting commercials about some new "camo" that someone's created. Well, man has yet to duplicate nature. In fact, the "best" man made camouflage stands out like a Christmas tree when compared to nature's most gaudy. A fox Squirrel is red, right? Well, not the red that comes to mind; but, red none the less. I've spent at least 20 minutes trying to find a fox squirrel setting on a limb BARKING at me. To give you some idea of nature's ability to blend with the background, me and two other hunters once spent 45 minutes trying to track a buck that I had arrowed from a tree stand. We had lost the blood trail. At least one of us stayed at that spot during the entire time looking for the next spot of blood. When I finally found the deer, folded up and stone dead, he wasn't ten feet away from that last drop of blood. Now that gets your attention! When I'm float hunting, what am I looking for? One way to put it is that I do not "look for deer, Coyotes, or Turkey". I look for bumps or humps on the ground as many times deer are bedded down along streams. I look for vertical, bobbing knobs three feet off the ground (Turkey) I'm also looking for horizontal lines. The line of a deer's back is horizontal and that horizontal line is an exception to the verticals of trees and most other forms of vegetation. I'm looking for exceptions. I also look for ears! Yes, they are shaped like some leaves; but, unlike leaves, they move differently. Deer use their ears like radar cones and many times it is the ONLY thing that moves. That flick of motion next to a tree trunk could be a leaf, it could be a grey squirrel, it could be a Piliated Woodpecker; but, it could also be a big ten pointer locked as still as a rock..........except for that ear! Remember, too, that a deer's time is not our time. A mature buck deer, alerted, can stand motionless for at least an hour, we can't. Your eyes will blink at least a thousand times and at least one butt cheek will need relief. Stay focused, look for that horizontal line and separate the deer body from the background. Even if you miss picking him out you will come up with a true understanding of camouflage! And, you'll be a notch up on your next trip out. I'm much better at spotting wildlife on the river then I was 20 years ago. Perfect? No! But, practice and the experience of another failed attempt finally brings increased success. These puzzle pieces I'm sharing have been learned, and applied, while spending time alone, with my own thoughts and my own observations. Puzzle pieces, applied as they are found can finally give shape and form to the task. Deer and Turkey in some ways are like fish. Fish tend to school together where habitat and conditions dictate. Deer and Turkey can be much the same. Schooled together isn't the term; but, where you've seen a flock of Turkey before, remember it the next time out, and pay more attention to the small details. Deer are even less of an exception. Shoals on a river are always the preferred deer crossings. Chances are, if you've seen a deer while floating, that deer was on a shoal. I grew up on a farm and cattle when lined out to move from one pasture to the next almost ALWAYS used a path, they went to water at the same spot. Keep this tendency in mind with deer! Where you've seen a big buck before, chances are, it's where you will see one again. The more isolated it is from human intrusion, the better. From a deer's perspective, humans are to be avoided. Not only do they not want to see a human, they don't want to hear one, nor smell one. Thus, some things are predictable all the way around. Humans tend to "hunt" where access is easiest. Most folks would much rather hunt within ten minutes walk of their truck or four-wheeler. Most mature bucks would rather feed and rest where they never see, hear or smell a human!. I've learned that if I make the effort with my canoe I can certainly leave roads and that ten minute circle of most hunters. Most important, I've found a half dozen places or so where I'm about the only one that ever makes a human noise or leaves a human smell............and, I'm working on eliminating both of those problems!