Happy New Year. Twenty-Fourteen has gotten off to a pretty frigid start here in Western Pennsylvania. When I got into the car this morning it was 6 degrees. When I got out at work a half hour later it was 3. We should have a slight warm up over the weekend before it drops below zero Monday night. We’ll need to be extra vigilant making sure the chickens are comfortable in the barn with plenty of water and food. They usually don’t go outside in their run when it’s snowy, so that’s good. But we’ll keep the door closed and make sure they remain in and out of the wind at least. Their water bucket has a heating wrap around it to prevent freezing. The setup worked great last winter and so far this year.

Due to the busy holidays and a mini-vacation between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I haven’t been in the woods at all. That is somewhat disappointing because I love getting out with the flintlock. Tomorrow will be the first chance I get to hunt in the late season and I plan on taking advantage of the day. Then, next weekend is our annual end-of-year muzzleloader trip to Camp F-Troop. It’s always one of my favorite weekends. I love being in the mountains, walking those hills in challenging conditions, searching for deer that are still a little spooked from rifle season. We always get shooting, whether it be from organized drives or while still-hunting. We’ve had a couple of hunters bring down deer the past few seasons, though I have yet to connect with a flintlock.

Last year, Todd and I did a quick hunt behind camp Friday afternoon. We took it easy working our way up the corner where a hollow meets the face of the hill about a quarter mile south of camp. We intended to climb the 500 vertical feet to the top, cross a long plateau that is directly above camp, then work a deep bowl from back to front a half mile to the north. We always see deer at the back of the bowl, and if all went well, we’d be getting there at a prime time – the last hour of daylight.

We cut fresh tracks not long into our initial climb and soon saw a deer moving away from us about 200 yards uphill. It was slowly meandering through the woods, stopping to eat every now and then. Using the trees for cover, we took an hour to close in on the deer and eventually moved within 125 yards, then 100, then 80. The deer was standing broadside, and I pulled up on it with a pan full of fresh powder and the hammer cocked, ready to fire. All I had to do was squeeze the trigger.

Todd said, “Whoa, hold up.” I turned to look at him and he had his binoculars up. “That’s a spike.”

“What? You’re kidding.”

“Very small spike.” He spread his gloved index finger and thumb barely three inches apart.

“Ugh.”

The deer we had spent nearly two hours stalking was a tiny spike. The tiniest of spikes. Neither of us saw the small horns due to the backdrop of forest. Fortunately, Todd had been watching through his binoculars and he finally got a good view of the small buck at the very last second. Otherwise, the day – and weekend – may have turned out much differently. It was a close one, for sure. We continued on. We saw more deer. But nothing presented itself like the spike had.

Happy New Year
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