Thursday, November 21, 2013

Trip Report: Sundown Forest Deer Hunt 11/16/13 – 11/19/13

On November 16 dear rifle season opened in my part of New York State. So, I planned a four day trip into the woods to see if I can actually get one. I will not keep you in suspense; I came home empty handed. Regardless, I figured I would share the trip with you.

My plan was to hunt the southern section of the Catskill mountains. Specifically, I headed for the southern tip of Sundown Forest. I like the area because it offers relatively flat ground, at least what I would consider flat for these mountains, and I have previously spotted deer sign in the area. The down side of the area is that it has antler restriction. Generally speaking I am restricted to taking six pointers and up.

I intended to spend the opening day, Saturday, backpacking into the forest. I would set up camp, and then hunt the following two days, making my way out on the fourth.

So, on day one, I got to the forest and started making my way in. I would be bushwhacking the whole way in, trying to use the terrain features to make my way.


The are has some beautiful forest, starting with beech and hickory, and eventually transitioning into pine.

As you can see from the picture, I was carrying my Gregory Palisade 80 pack. That’s not because I had any extra gear. The pack was largely empty, and I had to leave my sleeping bag and jacket uncompressed to fill up the empty space. I brought the larger pack in case I got a kill. That way I would be able to carry out the meat.

I made my way into the pine forest, which was more open, and kept my eye out for signs. I didn’t have a specific spot in mind, so I had to figure out exactly where I was going to hunt. After some searching, I noticed a pattern in the direction of travel of the deer. There were a few rubs and crossing points that gave me the general direction.




It wasn’t sign of a huge buck, but it was a place to start. There was also some scat which looked like it may belong to a buck, although it was at least a few days old.


I made good progress, and in the early afternoon, stopped for lunch close to the part of the forest where I planned to hunt the next few days.


With sunset being at 5PM, soon after I started looking for a good camp site, which would offer me a direct route to an area where I could hunt in the morning. The fresh bear scat in the area gave me a pause, but it was too late to change plans.


I set up camp, and got dinner ready. It was a warm evening. I was a bit surprised, considering it had been snowing earlier in the week.


I spent the rest of the evening marking my way from camp to the spot where I was going to hunt in the morning, using biodegradable marking ribbon. Even though this is relatively open forest, if you travel out 50 yards from your tent, you will lose sight of it; 100 yards out, and you will have trouble making your way back.


Ironically, before getting into my tent for the night, I heard and then noticed that a bunch of turkeys were roosting in the trees next to my tent. The irony being that the Fall turkey season ended the day before. It’s as if they know, and come out to mock us.

The night was also warm. I had brought my Western Mountaineering Antelope MF 0F sleeping bag, which was overkill. Another thing I didn’t expect was the rain that started coming down during the night. I woke up around 5AM, and it was really coming down. When the sun came up, I got out to briefly to pick up my food bag, and then hunkered down in the tent, waiting for the rain to stop.


I hoped in vain that the rain would stop, but it just kept going. I personally don’t mind the rain, and typically backpack while it is raining, but the deer tend to bed down in weather like this, which makes spotting one difficult, particularly where I was. I came to this part of the forest because I think it is an area where the deer travel between their bedding areas and their food sources. The food sources usually tend to be fields and farms on private land, but I figured I can hunt them while they are on the move. Since they weren’t moving, there was nothing to hunt. When the rain didn’t stop after a few hours, I decided to get out anyway, and spend some time in the area I wanted to hunt.


As expected, no luck. I spent the rest of the day in the tent. I had myself some lunch in bed, and read from the book I had brought. I usually don’t bring things like books, but I expected periods of inactivity, and wanted to keep busy. The book? Early Riders: The Beginning of Mounted Warfare in Asia and Europe, by Robert Drews. If you like his other books, you’ll love this one.


I spent the rest of the day taking naps, reading, eating, and getting up to pee. When the sun started going down, I cooked dinner.


The following day was more of the same. The rain continued, getting even heavier at times. Fog blanketed the ridgeline where I had set up camp.


I mostly stayed in the tent and repeated the routine from the previous day.


I got out of the tent a few times to scout around and look at different spots. The trick in these forests is to find an area that is open enough where you can take advantage of the rifle, and be able to place a shot before a deer comes too close. Mostly, it was just a way to kill time.


Then, once again cooked dinner when the evening came, and went to sleep.


During the night the rain got even worse, turning into a storm. I figured I would have to walk out in some pretty bad weather in the worming and try to get out of the forest. However, around 4AM, the rain stopped. By the time I had packed up camp, you could even see some sunshine making its way through the trees.


It was day four in the woods, and I had to make my way out. I wasn’t in a rush however, so before starting, I spent a few hours early in the morning calling and waiting.


After being unsuccessful, I set out, heading west, and hoping to hit a ridgeline which would then take me out of the forest.


Eventually I made my way out of the pines, and entered into the deciduous part of the forest. I kept the rifle at the ready just in case. As a general rue of thumb, the moment you put the rifle away, you will accidentally run right into an eight pointer and beat yourself up for the next year. As I was walking, I noticed some fresh deer scat.


I was making good time, so I decided to stop again and spend a few more hours hunting the area. I set up near a dead tree, called, and waited. The weather was nice, and the ridge I had set up on was getting some nice sunshine.


After about two hours, I got up and continued on my way out of the forest. It was a very disappointing trip. Out of full four days, I only ended up hunting for a few hours on the last day. Not a good way to start the season.

For those of you who are interested, I had my usual backpacking gear with me. The “hunting” additions you can see in the picture below.


The rifle is a Savage 11-111 F in .308 with a Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40 scope. I also had a pair of Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 10x25 binoculars, a small bottle of doe urine, some marking ribbon, a Primos bleat in a can call, a Primos grunt tube, some T.A.G. bags (the B.O.M.B. kit) along with a few zip ties, and some Nose Jammer spray.

So, that’s it; a very uneventful trip. I wish I had something more interesting to share with you, but I don’t. I did get a chance to catch up on sleep, so I suppose that’s a plus.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Igloo Building Photograph, 1924

The photograph was taken in 1924 and shows an Eskimo family building an Igloo.


It is amazing to think that 1924 wasn’t all that long ago. I’m not sure how much of those skills survive today.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Trip Report: Kaaterskill High Peak Airplane Crash Sites 10/26/13 – 10/27/13

Last December I made an attempt to locate two airplane crash sites on Kaaterskill High Peak in the Catskill Mountains. I made the attempt from the north side of the mountain, but was unsuccessful. You can see the trip report here, here and here.

This year, a few of the guys and I decided to give it another try from the south side of the mountain. It looked like the easier way to go because the starting point is about 1,200 higher on the mountain, which would cut off a full day of travel from the trip. The plan was to take a trail up the south side of the mountain. Surrounding Kaaterskill High Peak there is a snowmobile trail. We planned to bushwhack through the woods from the trail we were using once at the right elevation, to reach this snowmobile trail. Right off that trail we expected to find the first airplane crash site (#1 on the map). We would then follow the snowmobile trail for a bit to the southern section of High Peak. From there we would climb up to the top of high peak. There is a proposed trail there, so while not completed, we expected to see at least some indication of where to pass through the woods. That was my main concern because at about 3,400 ft, we would hit the spruce cap, and going through it without any semblance of a trail is very hard going. The second crash site would be tricky. There were reports that it is right at the top of the mountain (#2 on the map), so we could have seen it once we got there. There were other reports that it was further down on the north side of the mountain (#3 on the map), where I searched without success. If I had been alone, I would have bushwhacked down to search on the north side again, if we did not find it near the peak, but with the group, we planned to go down the proposed path until we reached the other side of the snowmobile trail. From there we would make our way out.

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For this trip we had a sizable group. The usual guys were there, me, Rich, other Rich, J, and George. This time we also had James, Rich’s bother, and his friend, Vlad.

Once everyone had made their way to the starting point, we made our way up the mountain. The going wasn’t particularly tough; just a steady climb. We had a few small streams to cross along the way.

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James had brought his camera equipment and show some video footage along the way.


A few hours of steady walking and we reached the elevation where we had planned to bushwhack to the snowmobile trail.


We were lucky, and it looks like others had had the same idea. There was already somewhat of a path through the woods, marked by a few rocks. We made our way through until we reached the snowmobile trail. From there we turned south, and soon after spotter the first airplane crash site, right off the trail.





We decided it’s a good spot to stop for lunch. It was close to 1 o’clock. We threw on our jackets and got some food.


After lunch we followed the snowmobile trail for some time until we reached the southern side of the mountain. As I had hoped, there was a marker for the location where people had been making their way up the mountain, and somewhat of a path going up.


The way up the mountain was steep and difficult. On more than one occasion it was nearly vertical.



Halfway up the mountain, we reached a section that was extremely steep. We decided to split up. Me, Rich and J decided to climb directly up, while the rest of the guys went further west to seek an easier way up, which they eventually found.


After a short vertical section, we reached a ledge that had been swept clear by the winds.




After a short rest, we continued up, quickly reaching the spruce cap. Fortunately, there was a visible path through the trees, which made the going easy. Soon we were at the top of High Peak.



Right at the peak, we found remnants of the second airplane crash. It was nothing more than a piece of fuselage and a crank shaft from the engine. Clearly someone had moved them there. We looked around for the actual crash site, but could not find it.

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Without being able to find much else, we made our way down the mountain. The descent on the north side was easier. Eventually we got to the base of the mountain. We saw a small stream and decided to fill up on water. I was using the new Sawyer Mini Filter. It worked very well, although the design prevents me from using my usual pre-filter. I will have to figure out a solution.


From there we followed the snowmobile trail for a bit until we found a suitable camp site. Actually the spot we chose was right in the section where we had to bushwhack back to the trail that took us up the mountain from our starting point.



With a fire pit ready and wood gathered, we got the fire going.


We spent the evening hanging out by the fire. The temperature dropped below freezing, and we started to get some snow. Fortunately, none of it stuck around.


The night got pretty cold. It dropped down into the lower range of 20F (-7C). I had to wear my Patagonia DAS Parka in my 32F rated sleeping bag in order to stay warm. I had made the mistake of keeping my damp socks on, which made my feet cold.

In the morning, we got up, started the fire again, and ate some breakfast.




When finished, we set out again down the trail, and not long after, we were back at our starting point. The trip overall, was about 8 miles. Here is the GPS record.



The trip was not difficult in terms of navigation because we followed trails most of the time. The terrain was tough, especially going up High Peak. We were all pretty tired by the end of the first day. We worked well together as a group, and got it done. It is unfortunate that the second crash site managed to elude me again, but I am definitely going to need better information on it before I make another attempt.