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.  

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