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Hunting with heart

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By Brad Bowman

Robbie Aldridge hunts for his family, not for sport.

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Deep in the hills and hollers, along the tributary commonly known as Six Mile Creek, Aldridge hunts on his family’s 52-acre farm.

Dawn barely touches landmarks known to Aldridge’s family like Fool’s Holler and the site of the Salem schoolhouse, a location marked only by a well. Aldridge can trace his family roots back 200 years in the area where he hunts.

“We are going to hunt on what used to be part of the Boothe farm,” Aldridge said. “I love hunting, but I don’t enjoy killing anything senselessly. There is so much going on in these hills that hold a lot of fascination for me.”

Aldridge hunts with a recurve bow and 90 grain archery arrow field points, blade broadheads and Judo points for small game like rabbits and squirrels. He uses a grunt tube to imitate a buck.

Aldridge doesn’t use a lot of modern technology just knowledge passed down to him over several generations.

“I look for signs in nature to tell me where the deer are,” Aldridge said. “I’ve used a tree climber and stands they are just as successful, but I scout my areas and find the active scrapes where I know the buck will revisit.”

The Rut

During the rut or mating season, a buck will clear the ground and urinate making his mark territorially to other bucks and especially to does in estrus.

“When a doe is ready to mate she’s in the estrus phase,” Aldridge said. “She will come and smell the scrape and urinate there too letting the buck know she’s here in area.”

Wildlife biologists differ on opinion, but does generally go into their estrus cycle at different times lasting up to 36 hours and if the deer doesn’t mate the doe can go into what is called a second rut.

“A buck will revisit these active scrapes looking for partners,” Aldridge said. “You have to know the difference between an active scrape and ones made before the rut.”

Aldridge ascends near an old logging road above a deer trail. There are more than four distinct scrapes in the area. Bucks revisit active scrapes sometimes daily to check for does also to keep out unwanted competition from another buck.

“I like to be above the deer trail and clear out any leaves around a big tree,” Aldridge said. “I will also move any branches out of my way near active scrapes. If I need to move to make a clearer shot, I am not making a bunch of noise.”

Prerut

“Before the mating season, a buck may come up here and claim this area,” Aldridge said. “He will either eat some of these branches or rub the glands underneath his eyes on the branches to tell other does and bucks that he’s here.”

As daylight begins to shorten around the autumnal equinox, hormone levels increase inside deer for the mating season. Bucks break off from packs, establish a pecking order or hierarchy and establish their territory. Hormone levels increase in glands underneath their eyes and concentrate in the scent of their urine for scrapes. Does begin their heat cycle around the same time.

“Here on the high ground is where a deer will go if they are in danger or get excited,” Aldridge said. “When it is cold they will move around in the early morning and at dusk for water and food. If it is warm you might have to wait till later in the afternoon to see any movement.”

The Hunt

Aldridge climbed higher on the ridge to older, larger trees. During the climb, the active scrapes and rubbed trees looked more recent. At least one spot easily showed an area where a large animal had pressed leaves and grass down indicating it had laid there for extended amount of time.

“The lay of the spot here shows me how large this deer is,” Aldridge said. “You can sometimes measure this too by the rub it leaves on a tree. People think it is the size of the tree that indicates the size, but that’s not true. Sometimes you can tell by how high the rub is for obvious reasons.”

Aldridge points out other resources around him as he carves some bark away from a sassafras tree.

“People worry a lot about sound when they hunt and it is important,” Aldridge said. “But the most important thing, especially when it is warm, is scent. I don’t buy the no-scent products. You can put this sassafras bark in a water bottle and spray it on you — you’ll smell like the tree. Turkeys can sound like bulldozers moving through the woods when you are stationary. Scent can be crucial during a hunt.”

The hillside slowly warmed nearing noon with more squirrel traffic and chatter absent any deer sightings. Doe tracks littered several scrapes, but they made no appearance.

For Aldridge, being outdoors carries  just as much reward as bringing home a deer.

“I can get two deer a season and have enough meat for myself and my family all winter,” Aldridge said. “Some kids all they can think about is a video game or  get into trouble by doing things they shouldn’t be doing, these hills have a lot of fascination for me. This land has a lot of history with all of these things going on it. It keeps my blood pumping.”

 

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