November 2, 2015, opening day of the rifle season for whitetail deer in Ontario and what a memorable opening day it was for Omer and me. This hunt goes into memory as the culmination of camaraderie, sportsmanship and teamwork between me and my hunting buddies, notably Jason and Omer. By the end of legal shooting time at 5:18 pm, we had a button buck and a coyote in the bag. I saw a doe from my stand too. It is going to be very difficult to top this hunt in this and succeeding seasons.
The start of the day’s hunting was uneventful. Omer opted to sit in his stand for the whole day, getting in position before first light. Nothing was seen and he heard shots in the distance. “It’s pretty quiet” he reported to me when I texted him late in the morning. I spent the morning taking Hera for a run and getting ready to sit in my stand for the afternoon. I left for the property just before noon; it’s about an hour’s drive. I arrived in good time and met Omer who was resting in his car. We gathered our gear and rifles then set out for our stands. Peter, our host, came outside and wished us good luck. As we made our way to the stands we proceeded stealthily. Two seasons ago as we made our way haphazardly to our stands a nice doe jumped up catching us completely off guard. We would be ready this time. We reached our stands and I was seated at about 1:50 pm. That gave me roughly three hours until the end of shooting time.
As I sat in my stand watching and listening intently, hoping a buck would come by (I have a buck tag this season) I heard a series of strange calls. I think it was birds, but I am unfamiliar with the calls. I tried to see what was making the calls, but whatever was making them remained out of sight. I had that fleeting flurry of excitement when I heard a red squirrel rustling through the leaves on the forest floor until the squirrel came into view. The same thing happened when a blue jay landed on the ground and foraged in the leaves. I heard jays screaming “jay jay” around me and wondered if they were sounding the alarm. Does “jay jay” mean “beware, there’s a man with a rifle seated in the wood”? A brown creeper flitted up to the trunk of the tree next to me and made its way up the trunk.
As time wore on I scanned the surrounding tangle of hardwood and cedar looking for gaps where I could shoot should a buck happen by. I dozed momentarily at one point. I heard one or two shots far in the distance as the sun started setting. Just after sunset something caught my eye to the left of the stand. I turned carefully to look and saw a deer at the edge of the stand of pines. My pulse quickened as I watched, waiting to see if the deer was a buck. In short order, the deer, a nice fat doe, stepped out of the pines into the open offering me a clear shot. “What do I do,” I thought. “How often do I get such a clear shot at a deer? It’s true I don’t have a doe tag, but my buddies have theirs. Is it really easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission?” I discussed the fact that I did not get a doe tag with my buddies beforehand and whether or not they would mind if I filled one of their tags. They made it clear they wanted to fill their own doe tags. “But what if this is the only deer we see all season,” I thought. “Isn’t better to take the deer and share the venison than to let it go?”
I admit these thoughts ran through my mind, but they were overruled by my determination not to trade my integrity for a freezer filled with venison. I was not going to go against the wishes of my hunting buddies. We do not take to the field looking to bag a deer at any cost. In addition, I never want it said that I am a game hog. The doe looked as though she enjoyed my predicament. She walked up to the base of my stand, looking up at me. I kept frozen, silently watching as she shifted her gaze and sniffed the air. Finally, she snorted and took two leaps away. Then she continued tempting and teasing me, walking directly in front of my stand in plain view, shaking her tail, daring me to shoot. I carefully texted Omer in his stand and Jason at his house, telling them there was a doe in front of my, clinging to the hope that one of them might tell me to take her. Jason asked if I snapped a photo. Omer did not respond right away. Eventually, the doe wandered off into the hardwoods, leaving me with the hope a buck might follow her into the open in front of me.
No buck came into view, but with roughly ten minutes left in shooting time, I heard the sound of an animal approaching from the direction the doe departed. I watched and a coyote came into view. I raised my rifle, taking aim at its chest and fired. The coyote fell over and I set down my rifle then sent a text to Jason that I just shot a coyote. I thought the coyote was down for the count, but it raised its head and let out a couple of yelps. I took aim and fired a second shot into it. This time it was stilled for good. I was troubled by this turn of events. When I make the choice to kill, I do my best to see it’s done quickly and humanely. We are not looking to torture the game animals we hunt. As it was very nearly the end of legal shooting time, I unloaded my rifle and climbed down from the stand. I checked on the coyote carcass and snapped some photos. Jason advised me to leave the carcass for scavengers. Coyotes are considered vermin and treated accordingly.
As I walked back to the spot where Omer and I agreed to meet after the hunt and at the 11th hour of shooting time, I heard a shot from Omer’s stand. I called Omer on my cell phone and asked if he shot a deer. He said he had so I told him to sit tight and wait for me. I reminded him a deer when shot usually runs as far as it can until it exhales its last breath. If you climb down too soon, you can push the deer farther before it expires making it harder to retrieve. I made my way to Omer’s stand in the dark and found him seated. He directed me to where the deer stood when he shot it. I scanned the ground with my flashlight and found the blood trail. Omer climbed down and I asked him to stand by the blood where he shot the deer, while I tracked it in the dark. I asked if he heard it kicking its last and if it had made it into the swamp. Omer said he heard it for a few seconds, but there were no footfalls in the water.
I tracked the blood trail to the edge of the swamp finding nothing so I retraced my steps and started again. This time I walked and found the blood trail veered a little left of the route I took the first time. As I shone the flashlight through two cedars I saw the carcass resting on the ground in an opening in the cedars. I called to Omer to come get his deer. I took care not to touch the animal. It was Omer’s first deer and his first big game animal. Once he took possession of his deer, a button buck, I told him of the tradition Jason and I keep concerning the killing of big game. First I placed a sprig of cedar in the deer’s mouth. This symbolizes its last meal. Next, as this was Omer’s first big game kill, I dipped my fingers in the wound and smeared the deer’s blood on his cheeks. Finally, I put a sprig of cedar from the first tree on the scene into Omer’s hat band. This tradition goes back to the Middle Ages when European hunters made the sign of the cross in the animals blood on a hunter’s face when he made a kill.
We dragged the carcass back to where Omer shot it and got on the phone with Jason as he is the most seasoned deer hunter among us. I dressed the doe I shot in 2012 with Jason guiding me. This was my first solo effort at field dressing a deer. Jason guided me through it over the speaker on Omer’s phone. My job of dressing may not be the neatest, but I managed to complete the task without puncturing the intestines or the bladder. We saved the heart and liver also. We tagged the deer with my buck tag, thereby freeing Omer’s doe tag for me to fill in the remainder of the season as we continue party hunting. Omer and I dragged the carcass out to our meeting place where Peter was waiting with his tractor to take the carcass back to where we parked. I took the carcass back to my house as I have a garden shed, not attached to my house, we rigged for hanging deer. The garden shed is cool and the best place we have to hang a freshly killed deer. The next morning Omer and I took the carcass to a butcher for processing. This was a great start to the 2015 deer season.
Posted by Geoffrey