Gone Huntin' : Archery season was a mixed bag
The Massachusetts six-week deer archery season that ended Saturday provided me with a good perspective on a subject often in the news: wind. I can say with certainty that there is plenty of it on Martha's Vineyard.
The season also prompted a discussion on ethics among local Island hunters. Many were upset to learn about a trophy buck shot by a hunter who used bait to lure the animal within range.
I took every opportunity most mornings and late afternoons over the past weeks to climb into a tree stand. Like most Island hunters, I was reluctant to give up even one day in pursuit of my quarry because of the weather. Periodic gusts caused me to question the strength of my mighty oak, as well as my common sense.
My strategy throughout the season was to sit about 16 feet up in a tree near where I expected a deer would walk by and provide me with a clear shot. But the deer did not cooperate.
The archery season that just ended was notable for the large crop of acorns that fell across the Island. Deer did not have to travel far to eat and that may have lessened their inclination to roam.
Steve Purcell, owner of Larry's tackle shop in Edgartown, an official state deer checking station and a supplier of archery and firearms equipment, told me he checked in 123 deer this season. Last season, he checked in149 deer.
Steve described a mixed bag. "Some people said it was crazy, they were all over the place like wild National Geographic stuff," Steve said. "And there were people like me, I saw two deer this year."
Steve said there seemed to be a lot of nice bucks. For example, Dave Blackinton shot a large nine-pointer and Gary BenDavid shot a ten-pointer that weighed in at 197 pounds, the largest Steve weighed in.
"It was one extreme to my extreme," Steve said. I sympathized.
Warm weather, windy weather, and an abundance of food all factored into the movement of deer this year, he said.
That a deer never walked by me within range was a great disappointment. And it was not due to a shortage of animals where I hunt.
My frustration was heightened in the evening by watching the Outdoor Channel. Pretty much the plot line and the dialog remain the same: hunter with a southern accent shoots big buck. Hunter, buddies and outfitter say, "nice buck, that's a big buck, whoeee."
My wife, Norma, insists that the same footage of the same buck is shown repeatedly. Her critical view of cable hunting shows does not extend to her interest in me putting venison into the freezer.
Deer provide plenty of clues about their presence. There are the obvious tracks. As they travel a familiar route, bucks will scrape the ground bare of leafs and urinate on the spot. It is an olfactory calling card for does in the mood for love and a caution sign for rival bucks.
I set stands in trees in areas where the deer appeared to be moving. But more often than not the deer did not travel, or at least not by me while I was sitting in a tree stand with a nocked arrow.
On one particularly windy day I happened to catch a glimpse of a monstrous buck moving through the brush. My heart began to race when it appeared the deer would walk in my direction, but he decided to amble away up a slope and away.
I moved my stands in the hopes of intercepting the deer. I saw the large buck twice more, once in the late morning and once in the late afternoon. Each time it stayed out of my shooting range.
Many hunters experienced similar frustrations. Most accept it as part of the challenge of "fair chase." But not all do. Some use bait to bring deer within range, a practice that is illegal in Massachusetts.
Environmental Police Sergeant Matt Bass is responsible for enforcing state wildlife regulations on the Vineyard. He has been vigilant since taking over his new post last summer.
Sergeant Bass has issued several non-criminal citations to hunters for hunting over bait that has included corn, apples and a commercial attractant product touted on hunting shows known as "C'Mere Deer."
Most of the hunters he bagged were embarrassed and repentant. A common excuse was that other hunters do it, or that it is a long-standing Island practice. That may be true for some, but not for most.
On Saturday, the last day of the hunting season, Sergeant Bass and a Chilmark Police officer went to investigate a report by a homeowner of an unknown vehicle on her family's property near the Chilmark-Aquinnah town line.
They encountered a hunter returning to his vehicle. An initial search turned up little evidence of wrongdoing. The man was allowed to leave. Further searching turned up an 11-point buck and a pile of apples near a tree stand.
Sergeant Bass could not provide many details because the case remains under investigation. He has applied for a complaint against the hunter, a Vineyard Haven man, who he was unwilling to identify pending court action. The charges: failure to tag a deer, failure to display a deer, hunting too close to a house, trespass with a motor vehicle, and hunting over bait.
Albert Fischer of Aquinnah was born and raised on the Island. He is also the caretaker for one of the largest pieces of private property in Aquinnah. Bert is very familiar with the buck Sergeant Bass discovered.
He had watched it for several seasons and asked the hunters he allowed on the Aquinnah property to leave the buck unmolested so it could breed. It was not that the deer fell to a hunter. Bert and his son were looking forward to hunting the deer this season. It was the circumstances surrounding the buck's death.
Bert has no use for hunters who bait deer. "These aren't hunters in my book," Bert said. "You play by the rules. What they are doing is ruining it for all of us who play by the rules and are hunters."
"It was a terrible way for a magnificent deer to go down."