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Bugging out Lessons Learned While Hunting

Hunting
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I went hunting for the first time this year earlier in the week. I have been waiting for deer season to open up in my neck of the woods and finally got my chance to get out there and try my luck at bringing home some meat to fill my family’s freezer. The weather didn’t want to cooperate, never does really, but regardless of the conditions not being ideal to the deer hunting experts, I decided to trudge out to the stand anyway and see what I could get.

Over the course of the next few days I had several experiences that seemed designed to humble me first and to point back to the often discussed scenario of bugging out into the woods, which reinforced for me anyway how this might not be as great of an idea after TEOTWAWKI as you hope. For those of you who plan on grabbing your overly equipped bug out bag when the next crisis or SHTF event happens and walking into the forest, let me share a couple of lessons learned while hunting that happened to me.

Your pack is heavy and noisy

Starting out, I needed to refill my feeders. Where I live it is legal to bait deer and this is usually done by putting corn in feeders that the deer can nibble on whenever they like. This gets them in the habit of coming to your location repeatedly. You can optionally hook up a good game camera and see who is visiting your feeders. For me, at this stand the only things I caught on the camera were raccoons who I am sure appreciated the free meals.

I had been filling my feeder up for a few weeks before hunting season began and wanted to top it off. This involves me walking with a 50 pound sack of deer corn approximately 1 mile into the woods next to my stand. I accomplish this by putting the bag in an old Army Alice pack I have because the large middle compartment holds the heavy bag nicely.

The Alice pack itself is actually pretty light and this was my very first bug out bag due to the cost. You can find military surplus packs on E-Bay for around $60. Rothco makes a new knock off of the bag that will set you back closer to $95 on Amazon. When I filled my pack up the first time with all my gear and took it for a hike I immediately started to rethink my bug out bag, but for hiking the occasional bag of deer corn down the trail it is perfect.

What I remembered again after walking with it is that 50 pounds is not light but that isn’t as heavy of an amount many preppers plan on hauling. On top of that, the pack itself squeaks when I walk. The pad that goes on your lower back rubs against you with that weight and makes a squeaking sound. Almost like someone with cheap shoe inserts or a mild but persistent case of gas. Granted, the noise probably wasn’t so loud that I would alert anyone further than several hundred feet but it was a consideration with the Alice pack.

DeerStand

When you bug out into the woods, you will likely want to keep as low of a profile as humanly possible and the last things you need are to be encumbered by so much weight that you can’t exit the area quickly or worse, making farting sounds as you run off through the woods with your cheap military surplus pack.

Lesson Learned: Don’t put too much gear in your pack that carrying it is a burden. Sound check your pack by using it on a real world hiking trip. Does it make noise or are you silent but deadly? Sorry, couldn’t resist.

You aren’t guaranteed that big game you plan on eating

This next lesson is very embarrassing to relate but for the sake of sharing information I will. I had an opportunity to shoot deer the other day. Two actually, but I didn’t bring home any meat. How is that possible?

I had just sighted my rifle in so I was pretty confident with zero, but there were two other factors that I think worked against me. Both issues in retrospect were completely my fault. I shot the first deer after three walked into my clearing. This deer didn’t fall; she walked around and eventually lay down. I thought OK, I hit her but it must not have been a good shot placement. I assumed she would die relatively quickly and didn’t go down to dispatch her humanely because there were still two other deer down there.

I took a second shot (yes the other two deer stood there while I reloaded my muzzle loader) and the same thing happened. The deer ran just a few feet, but didn’t fall, just walked around for a while and eventually took to lying down. By now I am thinking I am the worst shot in the world but soon another buck came in and ran them all off.

I climbed down and found two blood trails proving that I did hit them both, but obviously not well. I followed the first trail until it ended. I looked around for a long time but couldn’t find where it went. The second trail I followed led me to the deer lying in a creek bed. I had shot it exactly behind the front leg but just a few inches too low missing the heart. I pulled my pistol to finish it quickly but the deer was lying on large rocks which I was afraid my shot would ricochet. Thinking the deer was too weak to move, I grabbed it by its legs and pulled it onto the bank where the ground was better suited for a backstop or so I thought. When this happened, the deer jumped up, bolted out of the creek and ran off through a thicket like its butt was on fire. I never picked up another blood trail or found it again.

Dense woods seem to provide cover, but they also conceal others too.

Dense woods seem to provide cover, but they also conceal others too.

I was shooting a black powder rifle and had shot this maybe half a dozen times the weekend previous. I put the rifle away without cleaning it because I thought I would just be using it again to hunt in a couple of days and a thorough cleaning could wait. I remember loading the rifle and not being able to seat my round down as far as I thought it should go. It seemed to stop though and I guessed I must be imagining things. Later I learned that my powder and sabot were about 6 inches higher up the barrel from where they should be. This most likely impacted the velocity of the round as my shot hit lower than needed to cleanly kill the animal humanely.

Now, you can say I should have performed better maintenance on my weapon and that is certainly true. You can also say I should have practiced shooting more to be a better shot and of course that is also true, but here is just one example of how I missed what I was shooting at and what could have been dinner, disappeared forever. It can happen to anyone. Even if my weapon was clean and I hit a better shot, deer can still run off and you might not be able to find them no matter how hard you look.

Lesson Learned: Cleaning my weapon might not have been the culprit but I am sure it didn’t help. Make sure you have the supplies you need to clean your weapons and the discipline to clean them after every trip to the range. More so if you know you will be shooting them again and accuracy is important. Accuracy is always important.

Noise travels far

Another lesson is that noise travels pretty far in the woods. As I wait for deer to magically appear in front of me, I hear shots all around me at various intervals. I know that the shots are more than a mile away at least, but if you were trying to keep a low profile, shooting a rifle could easily draw someone to your location.

In addition to gunshots, we hear cars, trains, chain saws, squirrels and just about anything for at least a mile out there in the woods as I sit quietly in a tree. The leaves render almost any movement impossible without creating a lot of noise. If you were in a similar situation, noise discipline would be important and still hard to maintain perfectly. Other environments like the desert or mountains that have less leafy foliage would be easier to contain noise at least when you are walking, but you still have that as a consideration.

The further you go away from civilization, the less likely you are to hear the ambient noises I do, but you are still able to pick up sounds around you. The less noise you have surrounding you the more you will hear.

Lesson Learned: I am not going to be able to sneak my family through the woods without being detected most likely.

You might not be as hidden as you think

My deer stand isn’t camouflaged. It is a ladder stand that sits up against a big poplar in woods that are reasonably thick with other trees. When I got down to follow the blood trail the first time, I left my daughter in the tree. I walked around for probably 20 minutes looking for tracks and got probably 500 yards away from her at the furthest point.

The further I got away from her, the harder she was to see. I know right were my stand is, but the cover of the forest made it very hard to make her out and eventually I couldn’t see her at all. She could see me though and watched me through the binoculars until I went over a ridge. She also saw (and heard) me coming all of the way back in and I didn’t see her until I got close enough that she could have hit me with a rock.

The same thing happened with deer. When I saw one approaching I would let her know but she wouldn’t see them until I pointed them out. Movement is what alerted me to their presence well before they ever made a sound. Just by sitting quietly and watching, I could see movement when it came into my field of view. Even the quietest person in the world will need to move and it is when they do that you can be spotted.

Lesson Learned: The saying can’t see the forest through the trees is applicable here. I couldn’t see one object because of the dense forest. Heavy wood cover can work for you and against you. Someone can spot you much faster than you can see them if they are moving and you are still.

That’s been my experience in the woods so far this week embarrassing as it is. Do you have any lessons for people who plan to bug out into the woods?

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  • LWJ

    I clean my weapons after every trip, I have seen to many rusted out shotguns and rifles because people do not want to take the 15 minutes to clean them. I am also surprised that the wounded deer did not kick the hell out of you! You always approach it from the rear and poke in the eye with your rifle, to first make sure it is down. If your unsure about it being alive, it is always better to double tap it a good distance away.

    • I am usually very good about cleaning my rifles and pistols but I normally put many more rounds through them on an average trip to the range. For the muzzle loader I maybe shot 6 rounds so I thought it could last a few days. Now I know better and that will not happen again.

    • TJ

      It’s a good idea to keep a gallon ziplock in the truck with a small container of CLP and a rag. That way you can wipe down your gun before you get home. I hunt in the rain frequently, and had my guns get surface rust before I even get home. Now that I wipe them down with CLP and squirt a couple drops in the action, I never see rust on my guns.

  • Bolofia

    Pat, the two things that I try to preach are silence and blending in with your surroundings. I will go out of my way to avoid crossing an open patch of ground. When in the shadows, I want to look like a shadow. Noise is a killer, whether it is a ruined shot opportunity or the fact that you’ve just given your position away to a non-friendly.

    • Thanks Bolo,

      Blending into my scenario would be relatively easy with the right planning, but noise would be an issue no matter what. I don’t know how to avoid that on certain surfaces.

      • Bolofia

        Frankly, I don’t think anyone’s choice of footwear makes a big difference in how quiet they are. The issue really comes down to where you choose to plant your foot, and whether your are moving slowly and methodically, versus being in a rush. The only recommendation that I can make is to practice quiet movement in varied terrain. If you think you are going to be primarily traversing forested area with twigs, branches and dry leaves, then work on that challenge first. Damp ground conditions will always be favorable.

        I have practiced quiet movement through terrain for years, but I don’t know how to translate the technique into words.

        • Bolofia – I have seen sound deadening booties made of wool that you slip over your boots to help with the sound – ever hear of those? Ever tried them? I live in coastal NC, so I have moist ground in the early morning to cover sound for the most part…

          • Bolofia

            Yes, and they do help to an extent, but they can be a hazard on slippery surfaces because the shoe tread has no contact with the ground. In my region, illegal aliens and drug packers frequently use carpet booties to cover their tracks on smuggling trails. This type of bootie can also muffle sound to a degree, but they are also a detriment on steep hillsides and loose rock. The point is, if you are in a hurry and wearing booties, one slip can cause an awful lot of noise; sometimes followed by a “thud.”

  • Gino Schafer

    You shot and wounded TWO DEER? And brought neither home? Why are you shooting a second deer when you haven’t dispatched the first? You are the type of person that gives real hunters a bad name. My God, this kind of stuff really pisses me off. Two wasted animals because you are a clown that should have his license revoked. Or didn’t you bother to get one? That would not surprise me in the least. The worst part of this is that you probably don’t understand what you did wrong.

    • Gino,

      You are absolutely right and I deserve to be called a clown.

      I shared this with the full expectation that I would receive some choice words from hunters out there and I fully deserve it. My intention in relating this story wasn’t to brag, but to highlight my failure, my mistakes and hopefully share a lesson that I learned.

      To your second point I do have a license and I do understand what I did wrong. That certainly doesn’t make what happened any better but I know what I need to change and any subsequent trips out will be with a different view and method for taking animals.

      Pat

    • LWJ

      Don’t be so quick to judge. Pat made a mistake, I am sure you have done so as well. I am sure you have habits, that I would consider to be undesirable.

  • RickS

    So much about this “hunting” article is troubling (a poster below already pointed out the issue of shooting two deer and retrieving neither of them: in my state it is illegal to shoot a second deer until the first has been retrieved, but it is also illegal to bait), but here are two comments:
    1. Black powder (as opposed to the powder in modern ammo) is highly corrosive: it must ALWAYS be cleaned shortly after shooting or it will damage the barrel.
    2. I prefer hunting with a crossbow: it has a much more limited range, but it is deadly within that range (mine is equipped with a scope) and much quieter than a firearm. In fact, I just killed a turkey with it this week at about 27 yards. It is well worth considering as a prepper hunting weapon.

    • Rick,

      Thank you for your comments.

      The powder/pellets I use is supposed to be lower corrosive, but you are right in that I should be cleaning after every time I am finished shooting the weapon. That would have not only solved one problem, but prevented another.

      A crossbow is definitely a weapon that I think has merit, but I haven’t put the money together to make that purchase yet. Besides, I still need to master my rifle apparently before I try another weapon.

      Pat

    • TJ

      Blackpowder is just as effective as a crossbow. Weapon of choice is irrelevant, it’s personal preference. Knowing how to be effective with that weapon is what’s important, and making good decisions. That being said, everyone makes mistakes. The critical thing is to learn from those mistakes. I am certain Mr. Henry had that sickening feeling you get when you know you’ve lost an animal, and I sure the guilt will prevent him from repeating it.

      • Thanks for the comments TJ. You are right about that feeling I had. Since then I was able to pull one out of the woods without so much drama and I know the experience of that day stays with me.

  • Ridgerunner

    I think Geno says it for me. and I say you do not belong in the woods.
    Ridgerunner

    • I understand what you are saying Ridgerunner and I don’t have any excuse. I got greedy and that is pretty much the whole story. For what it is worth, I have learned a valuable lesson and will never let the same thing happen again. Coincidentally, I had my sights on a 6-point the next day, but I did not have a clear shot. He had walked into a thicket away from me, leaving me no side shot. I would have had to hit him from behind, but I didn’t want to make the same mistake so he walked away with me looking. Not that this redeems me, but I do believe I have learned my lesson and will act appropriately in the future.

      Thank you for reading and your comments.

      • Bolofia

        I lost a buck after hitting him with a 180 grain 30.06 at about 250 yards in the North Kaibab Range above the Grand Canyon some years ago. We tracked him for hours across a mesa and into some steep canyons, but lost the blood trail. It does happen. I knew the shot was misplaced right away and I should have waited. That shot has always bothered me.

        • Thanks Bolo. I know exactly how you feel.

    • LWJ

      It happens from time to time. There are many people who do not belong in the outdoors, you could very well be one of them. Don’t be so quick to judge.

  • EgbertThrockmorton1

    Excellent article Pat. I don’t have a black powder rifle, wasn’t there, so I can’t (and won’t) comment on what “you did wrong”…that would be highly arrogant of me to do so.
    I have seen a number of folks miss shots over the years, or wound animals and have those same animals take off at warp speed and were not found. Did the shooters “do something wrong”? Again it’s a highly subjective judgment call.
    Each situation in hunting presents itself differently, at least in my personal experience.
    I loved the observations on noise discipline! I’m always careful with what I bring to eat as well, in case there is an expulsion of flatulence that can leave a tell-tale “whiff” that I’m in the area. Yeah, that happens to ALL of us, even the super-duper-ninja-hunters.
    I’ve smelled HUMAN flatulence in the forest from a LONG way off before, (I don’t smoke) and could almost tell you what they were eating and drinking. So can the deer, elk or other game.
    Sorry you missed those shots. It happens to everyone. How about an article on CHOOSING a blackpowder/muzzle loading rifle for we neophytes? I would find that extremely interesting.
    For the record, I am OCD on cleaning my firearms, just how I do it.

    • Thank you very much Egbert! An article on black powder does seem interesting. There are many advantages I see to this type of firearm so maybe I can wrestle up a post on it.

      Pat

  • proneshooter nz

    Hey Pat. Yet another good article which reinforces a most important factor… theory is great and planning is essential BUT ya gotta test EVERYTHING you are likely to be reliant on before you are relying on it.

    With regards the noise made when shooting that is one advantage we have down here in New Zealand is no restrictions on owning suppressors and they are now rapidly becoming standard equipment for hunters because of their noise and recoil reduction qualities.

    I think the other factor to consider with the “bugging out to the bush” concept is, what time of year is it? Middle of summer? what are your water sources going to be like. Middle of winter? How easily can you get and stay warm and how abundant will game be as a food supply.

    Frankly, I hope ALL my prep-stuff just gathers dust because of not being used, I’m hoping to be home in heaven WAY before any real EOTW thing happens BUT if that isnt the case then I need to know what I have planned will actually work!

    cheers
    Tracy

    • Thank you so much Tracy! Yes, the training is more important than all the thinking in the world. I still have much to learn and hope to always have that opportunity to keep getting better and learn from my mistakes.

  • John

    Hey Pat,

    I liked this article a lot. Noise discipline is something that a lot of people don’t consider! Glad you brought it up.

    A good read. Thanks for keeping the Journal going. As always, head down rifle up.