HAYDENVILLE, Ohio - New ground. To deer hunters it is a tantalizing prospect, full of promise.
But to veterans of the deer woods - here in southeast Ohio or anywhere - new ground also means a lot of legwork.
Topographical maps, no matter how much you blow them up, only tell you so much. As do a couple of pre-season scouting trips. Deer tracks, no matter how abundant, could have been made anytime in 24 hours. Deer are at ease moving under a half moon as they are in full daylight.
Nothing beats putting some boot leather to earth while on the season clock. Start at Square One and learn as you go. The only advantage is that 30 years' experience helps put the learning curve on the fast track.
On new ground, such as a newly acquired portion of the checkerboard that is called Wayne National Forest, you and your crew may or may not be the only hunters seduced by the siren call of unexperienced territory.
Indeed, on opening morning you tiptoe in the predawn gray toward your chosen stand - on a place you already have named Five-Scrape Ridge - only to find that two other hunters also intended to hunt there. As with so many men afield, they are friendly, ready to accommodate, and forgiving. You got there second. So with a whispered wish of good luck, you apologize for the intrusion and move on.
No veteran treads into any woods, new or familiar, with just Plan A. Sometimes it takes several plans, and several hours, to get happy.
By the time you have reached Plan C - forget Plan B - a deer all but runs over you. The close encounter is so sudden it leaves no time for surprise. Advantage, deer.
Finally Plan D looks like “it.” A remote, isolated, wooded hollow deep in the new ground where there is no other blazing “hunter ornage.” Lots of deer sign, lots of cover. All the right stuff. A massive shed antler - half of a mature 10-pointer from a year ago, cinches the deal.
Now just add deer - on the hoof. Let the wait begin.
Along the way you acclimatize, tune in. After weeks of “civilization,” where you of necessity learn to tune out the noise, you begin to tune in to nature and its laid-back cycle.
You turn up you senses full blast and filter out nothing. Every sound, each change of breeze, may mean something. The animal past in you, so deeply buried, is reincarnated, rejuvenated.
No wonder, after days afield so attuned, the first day of return to life back home seems so surreally loud and chaotic.
By lunchtime you feel better. Situated. And two of your partners have taken deer, a dandy buck and a doe. Two for six. Fine batting average for opening morning.
The afternoon passes - as do some deer - across the hollow and out of range. You tell yourself it's only a matter of time. But the question is whether the clock will run out before you can score.
The Ohio gun-deer season, which opened yesterday under fair skies, runs through Sunday.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife has forecast a week-long kill of 105,000 to 110,000 deer from a pre-season herd estimated at 500,000 animals. Some 320,000 or more hunters were expected to be afield sometime during this week.
About 40 to 45 per cent of the season bag usually is taken opening day, which would translate to about 45,000 to 50,000 deer bagged yesterday.
Preliminary opening day figures, however, will not be available until mid-week.
Mild weather may have led to a high opening day bag, however, at least if a busy Hocking County check-station at Union Furnace, Napier's General Store, is an indication.
The store had checked 152 deer by 6 p.m., an hour after the end of hunting hours. That is somewhat above average, said Paul Napier, store owner, who said that an extraordinary number of big bucks were being brought in this year.
No shooting accidents were reported to wildlife division headquarters as of yesterday afternoon, according to Vicki Mountz, a division spokesman.
One of the more unusual incidents opening day, Mountz added, was the shooting of a black bear in Perry County by a woman hunting deer with her 11-year-old son. The bear apparently had charged to within 10 yards of the pair when they fired. Other details were unavailable but the case remains under investigation.
Steve Pollick is The Blade's outdoor writer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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