Thursday, November 21, 2013

Deer hunting 2013...

The sole sign of life other than song birds and woodpeckers.

The first place I went during the muzzleloading season, mostly for nostalgiac reasons, was north of Leading Ridge Road above Todd Lake in the Dry River District of the George Washington National Forest. Dad first took me here not long after it had been clear cut when there was plenty of browse. We always saw deer even if shooting them was impossible. At the time there was only one "doe day" and you were allowed only one deer per season. Now, 40+ years later, it is once again mostly maturing hardwood or pine with little browse. This year there isn't much hard mast (acorns) either. As a result, there aren't many, if any, deer in the area. I didn't see any and I didn't see any fresh scat, tracks or any other sign that there were deer in the area.

The regular gun season is here. I took my Savage 99A .250-3000 (.250 Savage). Easy to carry and accurate, fairly flat shooting and just plain fun.

So the second day (my first day of I moved down Leading Ridge Road a bit. I hadn't planned to park where I did but there were a lot more hunters out (and many more than there have been in the last 5 years or so) so I moved down to the head of an old logging road and parked there. A slow hunt down along this road a mile or so and back through a couple of open former feed plots found no deer sign here either. All that I found along the road was coyote (?) scat just as I had found elsewhere.

Driving slowly out of the area I noticed that there were at least triple the number of camps in the area. But, that still isn't a lot of camps. Last year I counted 4 and this year there were about 12-14. In the many hours I was in the forest I never heard any gunfire. No shots means that no bucks were being seen by hunters. Yes, it is bucks only on the national forest lands, and I think this is probably a good thing. There need to be does to maintain a population. Unfortunately, there also needs to be some food. I'm just not seeing a lot of dining opportunities for the deer.

Looking down into and up the gorge from Wild Oak Trail.
Yesterday, I was back out and this time I was determined to head into the North River Gorge and see if there were any deer along the river. I parked above Camp May Flather and dropped down onto the Wild Oak Trail. At this point the trail runs about 200 feet above and along the river on the old logging railroad bed. It crosses the river on a suspension foot bridge and crosses the North River Trail and continues to Lookout Mountain. I took the NRT further up the gorge.

Several years ago we had flooding that severely impacted the trail. The USFS has finally made some repairs. I leave it to you to judge whether or not they should have run a small bulldozer all the way up the trail to clear it. Likely this was the least expensive option. A popular horse trail, there was sign that the riders have already been up the trail again. I did find some deer tracks, but they were mostly pretty small, does or yearlings. I didn't see any deer. I did see about a dozen gray squirrels which were missing from the Skidmore Fork area around Leading Ridge Road. The water level in the river is down and crossing dry footed was no problem. It was cold enough that a skim of ice was on some of the pools. All in all it was pretty nice in the gorge. Again, I heard no rifle shots although I could hear road traffic at some points along the trail. Although I didn't see any deer, the concentration of sign dramatically increased about 1 to 1-1/2 hours back. I didn't walk fast, so this is probably about 3 miles or so. That's a long way to walk just to squirrel hunt and it is a long way to drag a deer. I am not that hungry so it would have to a really nice buck for me to shoot one way back there.

Yes, there was some sign...
One benefit to the use of the dozer to clear the trail was that for most of its length the soft earth has been turned up and takes impressions of whatever passes over it very well. That means that if deer are using the trail then it will be pretty obvious. One of two things is happening, either there aren't many deer or they aren't using the trail much.

One thing about these old trails is that you get to see some of the old time ways of doing things. Check out the last two pictures. One is of the rock crib constructed to carry the old railway bed and the other is a cistern used to collect spring water for the railway workers and loggers.

Rock "crib" built to fill a gap in the railroad bed. 
Cistern built to collect spring water.  Somebody has popped the lid.  Note the "drinking" basin on the front.

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