Thursday, June 30, 2011

PostHeaderIcon Saying Goodbye & Remembering Seasons Past

I got my new Iphone in the mail today. That means all the memories stored in my old phone need to be moved or will be lost forever in cell phone purgatory. While going through the photos I found shots of my son from back when he was just learning to walk, shots of him in the backseat of my car sleeping with my dog, and a recent one taken just moments after my daughter was born.

They all brought a smile to my face and made me think about everything this phone has done with me over the past 27 months. It is still a good phone. It almost never drops calls & takes pretty good pictures. But being able to access the internet at anytime is starting to become a necessity. It has been a good run old friend.

Wedged between the photos of kids and dogs were photos of a deer. A really big deer. This too brought a lot of good memories back. The fall of 2009 was the first deer season on a great piece of property I hunt with my dad and a friend. My dad and I hunted turkeys a few weeks before gun season opener and saw some nice bucks that weekend. The only issue was that we would have to shoot antlerless deer before taking a buck. Chronic Wasting Disease is on the landscape in this area and these regulations were in place to promote more deer being taken in an effort to combat the disease.

We put a “kill the first antlerless deer you see” strategy together for opening morning. We would then have a chance at one of the bucks spotted a few weeks earlier. My dad decided to sit out deer season this year so I posted Jason near an area my dad saw a nice buck. I set up on a trail I spotted a big ten pointer on a few weeks earlier. Thirty minutes after legal shooting light, Jason’s .30-30 broke the silence. I’m an overly social hunter. If someone shoots something, I’m always curious to know the story behind it as soon as I can. But in this case, I needed to stay put. I assumed he killed an antlerless deer and I still needed mine so there was no reason to visit with him, even though I wanted to.

I was hunting just above the bottom of a wooded ridgeline where three fingers of woods intersect. The fingers are surrounded by corn. At this point in the season, the farmer had harvested three or four rows around the outside of the fields so there was room between the standing corn and the woods. About thirty minutes after Jason’s gun barked, a half dozen deer emerged from the corn and headed right toward me. As soon as they hit the woods all but one peeled off and headed in another direction. The lead deer continued closing the distance. I grunted at her and she came to an instant halt. I put a 165 grain .30-06 bullet through her left shoulder at 35 yards. She dropped without taking another step. I took a few minutes to allow her to expire without someone gawking at her, but I’m certain she didn’t need it. When I approached what I thought was a her, I noticed two bumps on the crown of her… his head. It was a button buck. Either way, my antlerless commitment was fulfilled.

A few moments later, Jason arrived on the scene. He just finished field dressing and hanging his deer. He had also shot a button buck. I walked up to his stand site which was only about 125 yards from mine to take a look. His deer was strolling along the edge of the cornfield between Jason and the standing corn. He put the bullet right through the lungs. The deer went about 20 yards before falling to it’s death. The edge of the corn looked like a scene from a gangster movie.

After helping me with my deer, Jason was off to sit on stand again. But he planned to set up 50 yards into the woods and hunt the ridge to let his stand cool off. I stayed put. The buck I was hunting had appeared from the opposite direction a few weeks earlier. He’s probably still out there, I reasoned.

Two or three hours passed. More deer sauntered by, but nothing I was interested in shooting. At this point I had venison for the freezer. I was hunting trophies. A lot of people struggle with the ethics of trophy hunting. I must admit that I don’t do it until I already have a deer in the freezer. But trophy hunting is liberating. You can watch deer without putting any pressure on yourself to perform. There are no worries about misplaced shots because you’re not going to shoot. This allows you to really study their movement and body language. A doe and her fawn actually bedded down about 15 yards from me. It was an incredible experience. But it didn’t last.

Three hours after wishing Jason good luck, his gun boomed once more. This time it had to be a buck. We talked at length about our strategy. I studied the forest with extreme focus in case his shot was errant. 45 minutes later I was satisfied that his deer was not on his way to my stand. But I had to see what he shot. I walked up the gully toward where I heard the shot. After a ten minute hike, Jason’s blaze orange peeked through the hardwood forest. As I made my way closer, I saw the look on his face. It resembled that of an accident victim. He was in complete shock. “Where is he?” I said. He just raised his arms up in a Y. Jason couldn’t get any words out but he wanted me to know it was big. Really big.

Jason didn’t introduce me to hunting but he is the one who made me serious about it. We hunted waterfowl exclusively for years. When he met his wife, he started deer hunting with her family. It was a tradition with them and he was sucked into it. I continued duck hunting and just accepted his deer hunting as if it was a bad habit he would eventually grow out of. But he never did. Now here I was with him on the day he shot the biggest deer of his life. But the question remained, where is he?

Jason sat down and explained what happened. He was sitting in a tangled dead fall when a doe bedded down right above him on a ridge. Moments later a big eight pointer slogged through thick brush at the bottom of the gulley. He could see the antlers as plain as day but never got a good look at the body. He had to pass up the biggest deer he had ever had a chance to shoot. Ten minutes later he heard steps to his right. When he turned to look, a giant whitetail was headed toward the doe. He was less than 15 yards away. Jason put the crosshairs on him and sent a bullet flying. The buck hesitated but kept moving in the same direction.

We retraced the deer’s steps and found blood. I called my dad on the phone. He was back at the cabin relaxing. I told him to walk out in the direction we last saw the deer. We would stay put in case he spooked the buck back in our direction. Five minutes later my dad called back. He saw the big buck. He was limping badly but made it into the corn. We decided to back off for a few hours.

The lunch counter at the cabin was filled with excitement but apprehension. We had deer hanging in the woods and a possible wall hanger that needed to be recovered. But would we be able to recover him? Three hours later we approached the corn field. Jason would enter the corn. I posted up to his right and my dad would spot from Jason’s left. Jason made it ten yards into the corn before the thrashing began. My vantage point was higher in elevation allowing me to see the pursuit. I couldn’t make out the deer but I could see the corn stalks shutter as the deer rushed through the field. I kept pace with him but from forty yards outside the edge of the standing corn. The chase continued for a few hundred yards. Jason shouted to me. “Are we doing the right thing?” I could see a clearing ahead where the farmer cut a few rows right down the middle of the field. Fifty more yards and the buck would have to show himself.

Jason kept going and the deer did too. I knew he would pop out of the corn at any moment. And just then, there he was! His head was down and his tongue was out. He was out of gas. But at the sight of me, he turned the burners on one last time. I had closed the distance and my first shot was taken at around 20 yards.
The scope was just a blur of brown. The shot sailed over him. He was running away from me but still less than fifty yards away. I set myself and put the second shot right behind his rib cage. The bullet traveled through both lungs. We later found it buried in the opposite shoulder. The big fella took a few final bounds but collapsed at the edge of the field. He was down, and he was big.

One of the best parts of this recovery was that we were all there. Jason and my dad appeared a few minutes after the buck fell. We all experienced the pursuit and it’s conclusion. There is a great deal of satisfaction in a successful recovery. Smiles were wide and abundant. The deer sported a distinctive 7 x 5 rack with double brow tines on one side. But there is a shred of sorrow involved with killing a deer like this. It is sort of like landing on the moon. At that moment, the moon loses some of it’s mysticism. Every time someone else lands on the moon, the achievement loses a bit of it’s luster. Hunters kill bigger deer than this one every year but this was the biggest deer either of us had ever seen while hunting. Jason wondered aloud if he would ever gain as much satisfaction from hunting as he did that day. Would any deer ever stack up to this one?

Jason dressed the deer as I went back to the cabin to get the truck. The good thing about dropping a deer on a field edge is there isn’t much dragging to do. We carefully loaded the giant buck in the truck and headed back to the cabin with excitement about the day’s events. Upon our arrival, there were more pictures taken including this one.

Then the phone calls began. He called his dad and even the inlaws. It was at this time, I started to feel bad for him. His big buck story included someone else killing his deer. He could not have all the glory to himself. I should have let him stand where I stood. I honestly believed the deer was dead and that Jason would find him in the corn. Once the deer was up and running, we couldn’t make the switch. He calls it a team effort and is just happy we found it. I didn’t want credit(or the taxidermy bill). But I will be forever connected to his trophy.

The next day we hunted together but didn’t see another buck. We enjoyed watching does snack on corn and keep their fawns in line. At the end of the day we loaded his buck on the back of his truck. More pictures were taken. Handshakes, smiles, and promises of having more time the following year were shared before his truck cruised down the driveway headed for the taxidermist.

When the deer was caped out, Jason's bullet was found pancaked on the shoulder blade. The .30-30 never made it through the shoulder and into the vitals. It just broke the big brute’s shoulder. That was another source of frustration for him. He wrote about it shortly after the season. He hasn’t hunted with that gun since. Jason now totes a Browning A-Bolt in a .30-06. As it turns out, there is still a lot of satisfaction in hunting. We don’t do it for the antlers or the mounts. The story of that day, that buck, and the teamwork that went into a successful hunt is what it’s all about. Every day we spend in the woods is an opportunity for another great story.

Today, the buck hangs on the wall in our cabin. The mount looks great and I would show it to you. But I don’t have a picture of it on my phone.


LAR said...

I’m a lucky man. The wife agreed to let me call Backyard Rooms and build that hunting cabin I’ve been talking about. Glad they finance. Check it out at

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