So deer season consumed every ounce of my free time from the time I went bow hunting through the last day of muzzleloader season, which many of you know was last Saturday. I never even got to go expanded archery hunting because I spent so much time hunting the regular seasons.
I wasn’t able to score an any-deer permit this year, so I knew I’d either have to shoot a doe with my bow or a buck with my rifle.
Bow hunting didn’t have many great nights to sit, but I could sit fairly late. The winds were awful most nights and it was hard to hear anything. I hadn’t had any action until one night, at almost the end of the night, when I could sit no longer, I stood up. Not expecting anything, I was soon surprised and confused by an animal that charged across the road and into the woods. What to heck was it?! It was so low I swore it wasn’t a deer, but looking back now, it had to be a deer…or a bear…I still don’t know. It rattled me a bit because I had no other form of protection, which is the last time I bow hunt without a handgun also close by.
Rifle season was much more exciting. I had some great morning hunts. The camera we put up for three days had three different deer on it. One was an eight point buck, another was a spike horn and there were does. Awesome. I was sure I’d see a buck. I’ll put up a couple of those videos on my Facebook page.
I set up a blind where the camera was since I had a buck chasing a doe in video. It was a very long walk into the blind, and trying to beat sunrise while being quiet was proving difficult. So on one morning, I opted to stop at this hemlock tree and sit on a rock beneath it. It was awkward, but I had heard deer running around and I didn’t want to blow my chance. I made a grunt call with my call. Immediately, I had two deer start walking toward me. I readied my gun as they approached. One stayed in the woods, but the other one was in perfect view: broadside. The only problem was that it wasn’t shooting time, and the deer’s head was in the shadows of the sunrise and I literally couldn’t see if it was a buck or doe. The entire head was shadowed by its body. I waited, with gun pointed. Eventually my arms could no longer hold my gun and as I lowered it, the deer heard me and blew. Game over. The deer left and I never saw the second one. Five minutes later, and it was full daylight…damn…so close, but I think the one deer I saw was a doe. Her tail was curled up and she had responded to a buck grunt. The other deer may have been a buck chasing her, and if it was, I’ll never know.
Many mornings I made the hike up this hill that had weeds chest high. John and I rode the four-wheeler over it so a lot of the brush was knocked down, but it certainly wasn’t quiet. A few wet mornings made going easy, but I also had some really crunchy, noisy mornings trying to get to my treestand that we put in the hemlock I had sat beneath.
I heard deer where I couldn’t hunt because it’s too close to houses. I heard deer to my right. I heard deer to my left coming up the hill. I saw more buck paws and scrapes than I thought possible. I managed to call a doe out at night and watched her head out in front of me in the tall weeds. I saw two doe another morning, that I called in. They came up behind me in the tree line, then moved out in front of me only briefly before heading back into the woods. They didn’t take the easy route up the road and out in front of me-well except for the deer I encountered after traipsing all over the woods until nearly 10 am. As I headed down the road back to my car, I came face to face with a doe.
And the deer in the beeches off to the right of my stand refused to show themselves but instead headed for the oaks below me. I heard them every morning, and even got one to come my way a couple times, but I couldn’t get them to actually come into view because of the trees blocking my view. It was as if they had me figured out.
So I took some days off and hunted other spots to give my “hot” spot a rest. This was pretty cool because on one of these days, I got to see a bobcat make its way across the bog that I was hunting. This was only my third bobcat I had ever seen in the wild. I couldn’t shoot it because it wasn’t bobcat season unless I was trapping it…which we did after this.
Then one morning, I heard what I’d been waiting for all season. I heard a buck chasing a doe as I climbed the hill. I heard him rattle his antlers on a tree. The wind is always in my favor walking up the hill, but once to the top, anything behind me could and would smell me. So I carefully sprayed a little doe-in-heat lure on some old goldenrod flowers. I had instant lure and cover for me.
I made my way to my stand. I climbed in and secured my harness and took a seat. This time, I made a doe call but not right away. I sat and waited until it was almost shooting time. I still heard other deer, but as soon as I made the doe bleat call, I had a deer coming. It was undeniably a deer coming my way. He raked his antlers on some trees right behind me! A buck! I waited. I finally heard him come behind me and make his way to my right. I watched him over my right shoulder. He came into view for a second. A buck with crotch horn thick antlers…all he had to do was walk out around the trees between me and him…just walk out in front of me.
But he didn’t. He veered right and moved through the next bunch of trees in the tree line. I had to sit there and watch him walking away. He swung left and stepped through an opening in the trees right at the road. It was a small opening, but I was afraid I wouldn’t get another chance. I aimed right behind his left shoulder and pulled the trigger.
He kicked like a bucking bronco then stood there flicking his tail, which told me I didn’t hit him-or at least it wasn’t a lethal shot. I jacked out my shell and as I went to cycle another round my gun didn’t do as it was supposed to. I had to cycle a second time to put a shell into my chamber. By then he had moved and was about 90 yards away walking broadside toward the treeline. I took another shot. He continued to walk stopping briefly. Then he did the unthinkable. He moved behind a growth of birch trees. All I could do was watch him, but it was pointless to try another shot because the growth was too thick.
He turned and walked into the woods. I called John hoping I had a deer to track.
At first we couldn’t find any sign of blood. I had to climb back in my tree and wave my arms to where I last saw the deer. Finally we managed to find a small drop of blood, perhaps from my second shot. We followed a one drop at a time blood trail for about 30 yards, then there was no more blood. None. I had probably just grazed him, but it didn’t take a way the feeling of guilt and failure.
I tried to figure out what I did wrong. This is the first season with my new 30.06. “Was my gun off ?”, since I can say I generally don’t suck at aiming and shooting. I had fallen with it days earlier, but didn’t think I hit anything. We had purchased different ammo. This ammo was to separate and expand upon impact. John used the same ammo for his hunt. His deer had no exit wound…if this was the case with my deer, then there was only one way to bleed and that could make tracking a lot harder.
Going back the next day, as the sun rose, I could see clearly many more branches through the opening than I did the day I shot at my deer. I clearly didn’t make a good decision to take the shot, and that’s something I have to reconcile in my own head. Had my bullet hit a branch, broke apart, and just grazed him then? I’ll never know. I hope he survived.
I continued to hunt from my stand, but with the rut over, things weren’t happening. Later I moved to the bottom of the mountain and sat over a buck rub area that would make you dizzy. The very first night I called out a deer. He actually came crashing out, but instead of coming out into the opening, he also stayed in the treeline and circled around me. I could hear him smelling, sniffing the air, trying to find his doe, but with so many trees behind me, I never saw him…and he walked away…and after that night, he never responded again. He had figured me out.
So I ended the season without getting a deer tagged. There was no second chance buck to make it right. It was hard to swallow losing my only chance I had at a buck, but that’s what makes it hunting. I not only saw deer, but each and every hunt I was graced with nature’s amazing wildlife, celestial events, and just complete enjoyment being outdoors. And for that I am thankful. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.