Creatures of Habit

Taking a day to forget about hunting and simply scout for a well-worn trail will pay dividends. It’s a virtual guarantee.

Mid December and the temperature had “dropped” into the high-60s for the night.“Forget it,” Pelayo snorted over the phone. “Hear that in the background?”

The song became louder. Pelayo must have moved his cell phone closer to the speaker. Ah yes. There’s no mistaking Dylan’s nasal caterwauling. “Naw, naw, naw, it ain’t me babe…”

Then Pelayo’s voice replaced Dylan’s.

“Well, same for me, Bob. It ain’t me either. It ain’t me goin’ deer hunting tomorrow, to swat bugs and waste my time with deer probably bedded all around me and refusing to move.”

“Know what you mean,” I sighed. “Think I’ll skip it too. Good day for scouting though. See if the rut’s on around here.”

“Fine,” said Pelayo. “Think I’ll fish, and scout for ducks between casts. Let’s touch base tomorrow night and see what prospects look better for next weekend, deer or ducks.”

The last thing I expected to encounter as I finally bounced to the end of the gravel road that dead-ended on a little slough off the little Tchefuncte River were fisherfolk. But here they were, canepoles, white buckets, stretch pants (not many in the petite size ranges) house slippers and pink rollers festooning heads.

I’d come here on a whim. In days past, I’d hunted the area and had found a track-churned deer crossing where the slough narrowed. But that was five years and several subdivisions ago. As the bulldozers moved in, I moved out.

But trudging over to the very tree I used to hump up on my climber, I noticed that the deer had not. Moved out, that is. Either that or they moved back in. Unreal. No way I’d gun hunt around here, but bowhunting had definite possibilities. The crossing was every bit as churned with deer tracks as when I’d hunted it. I followed the trail back a bit, and noticed that it skirted the edge of a sage field and followed the edge of a pine plantation — exactly as it had before.

While walking back, some whoops turned my head toward the fisherfolk in time to see what looked like a….?

“Another white poych!” came the delighted cry as the fish swung through the air and plopped on the grass.

“Nice one!” I commented while walking over. “Real nice! How many you got? I had no idea that this time of the year you could catch…?”

“We gots a bunch. Dey is really runnin today. Cleaster? Cleaster?”

The fisherlady motioned to her friend.

“Show him the bucket. Show this fella how many we gots.”

“Looky cheere.”

Cleaster put down her Big Shot pineapple soda, got up with a grunt and motioned me over.

“Man!” I whooped. “How many … at least a dozen, huh?”

“Yesterday we had 20,” Cleaster said with a grin and a nod.

I noticed they were fishing a bend in the slough, where the water deepened. They were using shiners a good six feet under their corks, and shaming any catch I’d ever made in this area with either live bait or artificials.

“We been catchin a bunch here lately, huh Cleo? CLEO! Ain’t we been catchin a BUNCH? Cleo, he don’t hear so good. CLEO! LISTEN UP! Show this man your FISH!”

I looked over, and finally noticed Cleo. I really hated to bother him. He seemed content in his own little world — battered Saints cap on his grizzled head, black rubber boots, two canepoles the length of radio towers on the ground in front of him. He was whistling softly to himself, nursing his MD 20-20, and watching his cork twitch in an eddy.

But finally he looked over, nodded, wheezed an unintelligible salutation, got up from his bucket, and I looked in.

“Even gots me a nice green trout,” Cleo nodded as he pointed out a Kentucky bass in his bucket.

“Man, get your pole out there,” Cleo motioned. “Deyz bitin’ now.”

“Don’t have no pole,” I smiled. “Just came out to do a little scouting, see if any deer around here.”

“Oh, deyz deer out here alright!” whooped Cleaster, while motioning to her friend. “Huh, Ernestine.”

“Oh yeah!” said Ernestine. “When we gots here this morning, a deer was jumping right over there.”

Ernestine pointed straight at the crossing.

While driving back, I recalled how just a few weeks earlier Pelayo and I, during a fishing trip in the Bayou Lamoque area once part of the Bohemia Wildlife Management Area, had disembarked on a whim and trudged through the brush and stunted trees a bit.

We both came back to the boat astounded. The same deer trails we’d hunted in the early ’80s in Bohemia were infested with tracks. Even more amazing, those trails had been pointed out to us by a fellow named Tony Ventura who worked for the Perry Bass Oil Co. and had lived in the oil company compound near Cox Bay since the late ’40s!

I’ll never forget his exact words: “Hom-boy-da, I’ve been watching these deer use these trails for 20 some-odd years. Since well before the state got this land. Back then, me and a few fellow workers pretty much had the run of this place. Now that, Hom-boy- da, was a true Sportsman’s Paradise!”

And I could well believe it. And deer were still using those same trails 20 some-odd years after Ventura’s revelation — even after Katrina rearranged the landscape! Unreal.

It’s gotten to the point that whenever I’m scouting and find good trails — or even better, good trail intersections — even if it’s an area I know I’m hunting exclusively, I immediately start scanning nearby trees for the tell-tale remnants of old wooden treestands, from the era when “open land” was the norm. And 90 percent of the time, I find them, even they’re just a couple of boards hanging from a branch juncture. Which tells me that deer have been using the trails I hunt today since before the Causeway was built — at least.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that I hunt the same trails season long. Indeed, I’m a fanatic for moving stands. But often by Christmas, this might mean moving a stand back to where I’d moved it from in early November. That trail had gotten cold after a few weeks of bowhunting, but deer were probably using it during World War II, so those deer’s ancestors probably heated it up again after a month and a half of my absence.

In my experience, this holds especially if the trail leads to a bedding area. Trails to feeding areas change during the season as the food preferences change, as persimmons and white oak acorns run out, for instance, or as freezes kill preferred browse. Trails to or through bedding areas (hellishly thick stuff) tend to remain more constant, at least in my experience.

With all this churning in my mind — especially that morning deer sighting by the fisherfolk — I returned that evening with my climber — not to hunt but to set it up for the morning. I set up near my old stand site — the border between what had been a 5-year-old clear-cut (10 by now) and the gum and hardwood strip that paralleled the sac-a-lait-filled slough.

I’ve noticed this same travel pattern in most pine timberland. Wherever two landscapes meet, deer trails appear. Here I probably differ from most hunters who seem to prefer hunting bottoms. Sure they’re pretty and allow great visibility, but they can be deceiving. Deer tracks — invariably big, sharp ones — usually crisscross a bottom.

But not all bottoms are created equal. On public timberland, these bottoms will usually attract more hunters than deer. After just a few days, the deer start visiting them only at night. Other bottoms have mainly gum or poplar trees. These produce no deer food, but make ideal climbing stand sites to face up away from the bottom to the better-used trails.

The mud in bottoms captures every deer track and keeps them fresh-looking for days. Most deer don’t actually travel in the bottom itself. It’s just that the relatively few times they do, they leave such pretty tracks. Most deer trails run parallel to the bottom but halfway up the ridge from it.


The ground was hard here and only a browse line on the briars (and my experience in the area years earlier) prompted my set-up. Looking really closely, I saw the tracks, mainly marks made by hoof points, which from a distance look like armadillo tracks. A fresh rub clinched my decision. For whatever reason, hunting near rubs leads to many more deer sightings for me than hunting scrapes. A camera survey in Georgia that showed 85 percent of scrape visits by bucks came near midnight might have something to do with this.

The temperature said 59 when I awoke, but I drove out and humped up the tree anyway while sweating buckets. Next came the gnats.

By 8:45, with no deer sighting and not even a squirrel or raccoon sighting to liven the morning, my mind started wandering. As usual PETA came to mind, especially their brilliant “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaign wherein Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Kim Basinger and Pamela Anderson appear in ads nude but strategically covered. “We hope to save animals’ skins by showing some of our skin,” says a sidebar to the campaign.

Somehow my brain isn’t up to the task of following PETA logic. But let me try . They’d rather go naked than wear fur, right? So if only fur clothing existed — which is to say, with more trapping and with more purchases of fur garments — they’d be constantly naked, right?

And this is how they propose to end the market in furs? Methinks these gals spend too much time around the fellows who do their hair and photography. Listen up gals: Most trappers are male. Most fur coats, I’d venture to guess, are bought by husbands and boyfriends. Out here in Red-State America, human males are extremely fond of the unclad female form. When these forms look like yours, this fondness can reach a type of delirium. I’m now thinking of running a trapline myself.

But remember, as we do our part by flooding the clothing market with furs, we’ll hold you girls to your promise!

Maybe PETA members’ vegetarian diet results in this type of reasoning. After all, it’s no secret that zinc, iron and vitamin B-12 deficiencies all lower sex hormone levels. All these elements abound in meat, and with regards to vitamin B-12, exclusively in meat.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that the Hindu religion that recommends vegetarianism also makes a fetish of celibacy, warns that men are enfeebled and weakened by meat and counsels that sex four or five times in a lifetime is plenty enough. Maybe it’s a coincidence that a book published by the American Vegan Society, “Here’s Harmlessness,” denounces meat for — among many other sinister qualities — it’s aphrodisiacal qualities?

Cellulose makes up the walls of all plant cells. The human digestive system cannot break it down. We break down raw meat in two hours flat.

Talk about “natural” food! That’s meat. Most plants are an unnatural food for humans, not just hard to digest but toxic. Plants can’t run from predators like deer, rabbits, gazelles and wild swine. So like disco babes tottering on huge platform shoes, they had to find means of repelling predators while standing still. The disco babes evolved a series of facial contortions that expressed extreme disgust or actual poisoning when asked to dance. Plants, on the other hand, built up toxins for actually gagging or poisoning their attackers. And these you can’t wash off.

Movement to my right finally ended my philosophizing. I focused, and the shakes immediately started. No horns, but who cares. Not much size, but who cares. Certainly not I.

The little doe was only 70 yards out, and moving down the trail like clockwork — but my bow was hanging from a branch! Where I’d put it during my mid-vigil boredom. As I reached for it, my movements were those of molasses in wintertime. A slight click when I slipped on the release stopped the deer in her tracks, brought her ears up and pointed her eyes directly at me.

I refused to even breathe. A truck passing down a nearby residential street finally turned the deer’s head away from me, and when she turned back, she started browsing. WHEW!

She was at 40 yards now, but I don’t even contemplate a shot until 25 yards, which meant controlling my shakes was becoming impossible. John Voight drawing on that deer in Deliverance came to mind. Another 10 yards, please.

But she stopped again. Her head went down again. Then she started that little head bobbing bit. Then she turned and wandered into the thicket. At 11 o’clock, I finally humped it down. I felt content. I’d gotten quite a jolt of excitement that morning. Some venison would have been nicer, but there’s always next weekend with maybe a cold front.

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