- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2004

With Virginia deer hunting season in full swing and Maryland’s to begin Saturday, is there a guarantee that you will bring home the venison? The answer, of course, is no.

Even though we see deer standing along the roadsides by the dozen and watch helplessly as they run into busy traffic lanes and we continue to hear experts say there are more deer now than 200 years ago when this land was still sparsely populated by people, there are no guarantees.

If you haven’t had a chance for a sure shot yet, you’re not alone. Despite the large numbers of whitetailed deer in these parts, the fact remains that you’re dealing with a wild animal that among all woodland creatures continues to rank high on the “smart survivor” scale.

But if you do a little field work, a little studying of your subject, before long you’ll be digging into onion-smothered venison steaks, accompanied by mushrooms, mashed potatoes, maybe a nice salad.

I proved as much to a friend a few days ago when I spoke to him about a winning combination for venison. In the space of four hours, four does and two bucks were seen — all but one within easy shooting distance.

So the first in a trio of “musts” is a first-rate deer stand that is so comfortable you won’t mind spending seven, eight hours in a tree, so to speak. In my case, I have what we call a “Deer Haus,” a tree stand I learned about when I hunted roe deer and wild pigs in Germany.

It actually is a little house with a pitched roof in case it rains or snows and wind-shielding waist-high walls all around but nonetheless plenty of open area above to see in four directions and make a well-placed shot. There are several molded garden chairs, shelves for ammo and gear, and notched wood to lean a gun barrel into. I can bring a small camp stove and cook soup or coffee, even eggs and sausage. There also is room to hang up spare clothing in case of weather changes.

So Priority 1 is comfort. Let the waiting game begin. I realize not everybody can erect a kind of playhouse in a tree, but by now you should have put up something that makes sitting and standing a pleasure, not a painful chore.

But even if you’re as snug as a baby under a blanket, it doesn’t help if you’ve set up your stand in an area that simply isn’t visited by the whitetailed wizards.

In close proximity to either of our deer houses, plus the three large metal ladder stands that sport padded seats and backrests with plenty of room to stretch your legs, there also are a number of buck antler rubs and ground scrapes.

The “rubs,” torn and shredded bark on cedar trees, are seen all around our various tree stands. The bigger the tree a buck will polish his antlers on and practice fighting with, the bigger the buck, say many good deer hunters. I believe this is true.

The “scrapes” are cleared, circular spots on the ground, usually under low hanging tree branches the buck can reach with his face. He’ll scrape and clear an area, urinate in it, tear it up with his hooves and rub his antlers in it. The reason? He hopes the ladies pay attention and when they’re in estrus and ready for l’amour, they’ll scent and visit these areas and … well, you can imagine the rest.

Finally, if you really want to be reassured that an antlered deer has been cavorting about near your deer stand, study the ground and see if you can find deer droppings. If they look like scattered darkly colored raisins (only smoother), they were made by does — the females.

However, if those raisin-sized pellets are pressed together into a small ball, those droppings were made by a male. Some hunting wags suggest the Latin name for this is Buckus Poopus. You can’t miss it if you keep your eyes open as you study the ground.

Once you find it, rest assured that it wasn’t put there by a ghost. Something with horns on his head has been visiting, so get ready.

Sooner or later, you’ll be dining on venison.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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