I never really expected to be writing a part two of my story “A Different Kind Of Success” but sometimes you just get lucky… and that’s about the only explanation for it.
I had been raring to go hunting since archery season opened for me in September. Unfortunately, the only deer that came in range during archery season was a small spiker buck and I opted not to shoot him because it was still so early in the season. I also kind of wanted to keep all my tags open for my mountain hunt, the one that turned out to be a bit of a wash, to put it politely. At any rate, the common word around my hunting pals was that there just weren’t many deer around this year. Hunters, far more competent and dedicated than I, were all reporting strings of plain old bad luck. The season was looking to be about the same for me, until I found and followed some deer tracks through to trees a few weeks ago. Following these tracks and seeing where the buck was scraping, to me, was one of the most exciting things I’ve done while hunting.
The few weeks after my tracking experience were spent in the city. It just seemed there was always something that needed doing. This whole “being an adult” is really cramping my style and cutting into my hunting time. Like always, the day dreams of hunting started to creep back into my head. I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided that on Tuesday I was going back out to the prairies to get that buck. I gave him the nickname “The Boot Leather Buck” on account of all the walking I have done following him. Based on the size of his tracks and the fact that he was scraping (stirring up dirt on the ground with his hooves) and not rubbing his horns on trees, I assumed it was likely a small deer. Probably young and ambitious, and based on the shortage of big buck sightings this year, has yet to be put in his place by a bigger male. I didn’t care, at this point I didn’t want A deer. I wanted THAT deer, the boot leather buck.
Tuesday morning I drove Erin, my wife, to work, and headed into my works office (I work in the field and had to drop off paperwork). One thing led to another and I ended up staying for over an hour catching up with some of the guys, instead of my projected few minutes to file paperwork. Finally I was out of there, and headed home to pack. One thing led to another and I ended up taking longer than usual, it seems there’s always just one more thing I need to do before I leave the house. Finally I was packed and out of the house, now I had to swing by my dads shop before I hit the road to my mom’s house. I never make the mistake of thinking I can make a quick stop at my dads shop. I went there so that we could do a quick test drive of the car he and I have been working on. I’ve nicknamed it the “Radillac” and have been posting pictures and videos of it to Instagram as we rebuilt it. It has been a lot of work, but its nearly done. On this particular day, we tinkered with the carburetor, drove it around, tinkered with the carburetor, drove it around, and tinkered with the carburetor. Finally we were about done for the day because I wanted to be on the road to my mom’s by 1:30. I pulled the car into the shop and woooosh! A hose fell off and there was engine coolant and steam everywhere. We cleaned up the mess on the floor and at 2:30 I was headed for the door. On my way out my dad gave me a wrist watch he ordered me online for about $7 to thank me for helping him with the car. I feel I should explain, I like nice stuff, I really do. But there’s just a certain charm or personality that comes with a cheap watch, an old rugged gun, or a truly terrible car. I dont know what it is but I just have such a soft spot for them.
I made it to my moms house, just before dark but still too late to hunt. I chatted with my mom and step-dad for a bit and eventually I went to bed. While lying in bed I started tinkering with my new watch and found that it had an alarm and stop watch. I set the alarm for 6:30 and went to bed.
Beeeeep beeeeep beeeeep! It was 6:30 and my watch was expelling that awful noise that all watch alarms make. I had no clue how to shut it off and just kind of hit every button until it stopped, then I hoped I didn’t hit some kind of snooze button. I fell back asleep because… well I’m kinda lazy in the morning and I find I have better luck with evening hunts anyway. I slowly clawed my way out of bed and into the first few layers of my hunting clothes and wander into the kitchen. My mom gave me some breakfast, that perked me up a bit. I headed back to my room and loaded on the rest of my hunting gear; layers of clothing, range finder, doe bleat call, coyote call (in case I spot one), bottle of water, granola bar, some cartridges for my rifle, my lucky Buff, and my sunglasses. I laced up my boots and headed out the door. It was cold out, about -20c which isn’t too bad when its not windy and you’re not still tired, neither were the case. I put my wool gloves over my thin glove liners, and pull my buff over my mouth and nose, then clipped the bottom of my fake fur hat under my chin. It kept the heat in but it fogged my glasses, I pulled them off, there’s no way I was exposing my face to this cold at this time of day.
I wandered through the fresh snow, it was coming just over my boot and up the shin of my pants, nearly a foot deep of fresh powder. Not the easiest to walk in, but at least it was light snow and not too loud to walk on, which is a big bonus when you’re hunting. I walked the long way around to get to where I had seen and followed deer tracks and scrapes a few weeks before. My plan was to make a big loop around where I think he’s moving, instead of walking through it (which was the only other option). I walked around the field to the north west corner of the swamp on the north east corner of the field. I thought the buck was moving from the east side of the swamp along the fence line to a patch of trees south of the swamp. Between the swamp and the trees where I found the rub is a treeless patch of field 20 meters wide and 75 meters long with the eastern fence line on one side and a patch of trees on the other. My plan was to walk the edge of the swamp, opposite of where I thought the deer was, making my way to the patch of trees near the large opening and wait for him. All day if I had to.
I walked slowly along the swamp stopping frequently and looking through the trees for movement. Historically I have seen a lot of coyotes and mule deer in this area, but this time I just saw trees. Finally I arrived at my destination, the patch of trees. I was quickly disheartened when I realize I forgot to take into account how hilly this open section is. If I hid where I wanted to I would only be able to see a portion of what I wanted to. I started to formulate another plan, I was going to hide in the trees along the edge of where the swamp meets the field. I spotted what appeared to be a good sitting log, it was about the right height,and looked good and sturdy. I walked up and just before I started sweeping snow off I noticed movement through the trees. My first thought is a coyote but as I looked more closely I realized it was a buck walking toward me. As it got closer, maybe 150 yards now I realized its a nice whitetail buck. I was shocked and excited that the buck in this area was much larger than I had thought, but now I cant shoot him because of all the trees and brush in the way. The path he was on ran between the swamp and a steep ridge, all I had to do was keep quiet and he would walk out on the trail 15 meters to my right. I watched with excitement until he disappeared behind some heavy trees. I found a clear line of sight for a shot, it was a small opening in the trees at the bottom of a short but steep hill just before the trial entered the field, once in the field I could shoot as soon as he faced broadside. I slowly spun the ring on my scope and brought it down to 3x zoom, if there was going to be a shot, it would be at close range.
A lot of time passed after I lost sight of him behind the trees, I worried that he took a trail I didn’t know about, or smelled me and ran off. I slowly started to work down the zipper of my jacket pocket to fish out my doe bleat. Maybe I could use the sound of a female to lure him back. I cracked that zipper about half an inch. Then I heard it. The unmistakable sound of a deer walking in snow. I pulled my hand slowly from my pocket and shouldered my rifle. I aimed it through the opening in the trees and froze with amazement as he walked through my sights. He was way bigger than I expected and way closer than I have ever been to a live deer, maybe 20 yards away. He picked up a bit of speed as he went up the hill and I was sure he spotted me. With my scope I followed his silhouette behind the brush. If he went into a full run, I would be ready at the top of the hill. He reached the top of the hill and stopped to look around. He was only 10 or 15 meters from me and glanced right past me. To him I was invisible. I took aim and squeezed the trigger and my old .243 let the world know it still had some fight left in it. The deer perked up and jogged forward another 10 meters as though nothing was wrong, and then looked around. The way he reacted, I wasn’t sure I hit him. I ran the action of my rifle to load another of my hand-made cartridges. I took aim and squeezed again, there was no mistake this time. First the front fell, and then the back. He was still.
I pulled back the sleeve of my jacket to expose $7 wrist watch my dad had given me the day before. I started the stop watch feature. When I shoot a deer, I like to wait 15 minutes before approaching it. I do this for a lot of reasons, and you guessed it, I’m going to tell them to you. A deer that is shot and down might still be alive. If you run up to it, you will scare it and it could attack you or it could run away frightened and now you have to track it and find it instead of just watch and wait. During this time you can mentally prepare for how you’re going to handle the animal. When I first started hunting I was told a simple truth, the work starts when you pull the trigger. That 15 minutes helps you organize your thoughts and make a plan to make your life easier, and you’ll need it because you’ve got a lot of work coming your way. Lastly, and in a way most important to me, this animal just gave me its life. It gave me literally all it could give me, its earned 15 minutes of peace to itself at the end and in a way that time is me giving it a moment of silence out of respect and appreciation.
I called the house to let everyone know that I had gotten a deer and that I might need some help getting it back. Since my mom was the only one home at the time I decided to field dress the animal to make it lighter for loading. While field dressing, I noticed both shots had been right on point. I then walked back to the house with an understandable amount of speed and excitement. Fired up the truck and grabbed a loading ramp. My mom jumped in, in case I needed help. We arrived and got some quick photos, then I drug the deer up the ramp and into the box of the truck, my mom helped… kinda. We got it home and into the garage where I finished cleaning it up and its currently waiting to be butchered.
Its pretty close, but I believe this is my largest buck to date. I doubt I’ll ever get it measured and scored, to me its not about that. To me its about the miles and miles of walking and following tracks. Its about the books I read about deer and hunting. The hours of sitting on frozen logs and cold boulders watching seemingly barren game trails. All to have it end up with finding the right place and having the luck of being there at just the right time. I hunted for days and days this year. I put more into this hunting season than any other. I was at the trees for maybe 5 minutes that morning before I got this deer. If people didn’t know how much effort I put in on the previous days, today would make hunting look easy. Hunting is a sport of luck, luck that can be swayed with skill, experience, and determination. If you asked me, I would likely say luck played the largest factor.
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