NORTH BLOOMFIELD, Ohio - Sometimes it takes more than the luck of the draw to put venison on the table.
You don't get drawn for any of the special late-season muzzleloading rifle deer hunts, but your brother hears of a permit available by transfer. “Do you want to go? he asks. “I can't do it and I thought you might be able to use it.”
This is noon Tuesday and the one-day hunt, at Mosquito Creek State Wildlife Area in northeast Ohio, begins at dawn Wednesday. You stare at the pile of post-holidays work on the desk and hesitate. Not much lead time.
But it will be next fall before you can wander the woods again with your beloved muzzleloader. The statewide deer season was between the holidays and you came home empty-handed though happy at the success of others in the crew.
So you bite the proverbial bullet, work late, and drive 45 miles to pick up the permit at 9 p.m. Tuesday night. Then rush home to pack rifle and “possibles” gear necessary to the hunt and the care and feeding of a .54 muzzleloader. Sleep, such as it is, doesn't come till after 11 p.m. - with a 3 a.m. wakeup.
You're on the road, alone, at 4 a.m. and all along the turnpike you tell yourself you must be nuts to be doing this. But there you are, behind the wheel, sipping what must be a quart of coffee and gnawing on a cheesy bagel; it's all the breakfast you have time for.
Stand in line in 15-degree temperature at the check-station to register, then head alone for the assigned hunting ground. Experience tells you there is no sense in rushing off in the dark in a strange area. So you wait for full daylight. Four other hunters, who leave ahead of you in your hunt area, head straight for the thicket your buddy told you to hunt. Luck of the draw.
So you outflank them and head deep into the swamps of this sprawling, 8,500-acre-plus wildlife refuge. Snow up to a foot deep tells the tale of much deer activity, and the deeper you go into the swamp-forest, two days' worth of prior-hunt boot tracks grow more and more scarce. Your tracks become the only ones.
After 90 minutes of moving very slowly, trying to be as quiet but as alert as possible , you stop to gnaw on some beef jerky and drink a can of pop. It's all the food you brought, save for some hard-tack candy. You wanted to travel fast, light, hard. It's only for a day and you can gut it out.
You wait and watch. Be patient, you tell yourself. You can spend the rest of the day creeping along, still-hunting your way back to the car. Just wait here a little longer and see.
Your instincts about the heavy, fresh deer signs you've seen prove accurate. And your sense of timing, about stopping and standing, is lucky if nothing else. A slight noise of hooves breaking soft swamp-ice under the snow on your back-trail attracts your attention. Nine deer bound into view and stop dead when the very slight breeze drifts your scent to them from 80 yards away. It's crunch time.
You do the “muzzleloader duck” - dropping down to see under the cloud of smoke from your shot. A deer is down. Your deer.
The hard work of dressing out the deer and dragging it by yourself to the car still awaits. But already you are dreaming of baked venison steaks in tomato gravy. The wait till next season now will be easy.
Thanks to another hunter's generosity in sharing a permit he could not use. And making a little of your own luck.
wThe Ohio primitive weapons deer hunting season, held between the holidays, set a record with hunters taking 18,398 deer during the four-day season, according to preliminary results released by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
The total bag was 48 percent higher than the 12,462 deer taken in the same season in 1999. The prior record kill for the statewide season was 15,289 in 1997. The snow cover statewide is believed to have helped hunters.
“Hunters enjoyed a highly successful primitive deer season and one that offered many fine hunting opportunities,” said Michael Budzik, state wildlife chief. “These results indicate hunters collectively made the most of their opportunity during the four-day holiday period.”
Though archery equipment also was eligible for use in the season, more than 90 percent of hunters used muzzleloading rifles, the wildlife division said. As many as 125,000 hunters are estimated to have participated.
Top counties in the statewide bag included Jefferson, 723; Athens, 717; Washington, 665; Belmont, 657, and Tuscarawas, 621.
Following is the bag in northwest Ohio counties, with 1999 totals in parentheses:
Lucas, 135 (39); Wood, 56 (38); Ottawa, 30 (34); Fulton, 12 (19); Sandusky, 38 (53); Henry, 32 (17); Hancock, 42 (49); Williams, 74 (52); Defiance, 55 (30); Paulding, 51 (50); Van Wert 28 (10); Putnam, 73 (42); Hardin, 51 (60); Allen (67 (59); Wyandot, 76 (70); Senaca, 111 (77); Erie, 43 (74); Huron, 114 (100).
The Ohio archery deer hunting season continues through Jan. 31.
wThe Pennsylvania bear hunting season last fall set a record with hunters taking 3,075 black bears, the state game commission said.
The kill was nearly double the 1,740 bears taken in 1999, and well above the former record of 2,598 bears in 1998.
The state's bear population began an upward trend in the 1980s and numbered more than 10,000 prior to the hunt.
Ideal weather with light snow cover was a factor in record hunter success, along with an abundance of acorns and beechnuts to keep bears moving about and feeding, the commission said.
Steve Pollick is The Blade's outdoor writer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.