I took up whitetail deer hunting in earnest in 2011, and every following season I learn more about the sport and become more proficient as a deer hunter. I hunt with a “Gang of Four.” There are four of us in our cadre of deer hunters: myself, my friend and hunting buddy Omer and my friends and hunting buddies Jason and his wife, Fran. Jason is a seasoned deer hunter, and under his tutelage, I shot my first deer, a nice little doe, in the 2012 rifle season. One of the first things I learned from Jason is that you make certain to enter the antlerless deer draw every spring. Antlerless deer tags, or doe tags, are doled out by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources by lottery every year. The advantage of having a doe tag is that you are licensed to harvest any deer you see while hunting. Having a doe tag increases the odds you will bag a deer, so I make sure I enter the draw every year. I was disappointed when I was unsuccessful this season, so much so, I considered not hunting. Jason firmly reminded me that one does not get a deer sitting at home and not having a doe tag does not mean you will not see a buck. I heeded his words, but in the back of my mind remained pessimistic. As fortune proved, Jason got to tell me “I told you so.”
This season both Jason and Omer were successful in the antlerless deer draw; whereas, Fran and I were not. We hunt on a farm outside Spencerville, Ontario from ladder stands. Throughout the year, Jason and I check on the stands and watch for signs of deer movement on the property. Based on what we observed we moved Fran’s stand to a spot that has deer trails leading from a meadow into a stand of pines. We set her deer stand up in a tree at the edge of the pines. We also put out mineral-salt blocks and whole corn in front of the stands. We had trail cameras set up, watching the bait piles until two of the cameras were stolen just before the opening of the small game and waterfowl seasons in September. Thankfully, the deer stands remained undisturbed. Jason and I replenished the bait piles a few times leading up to rifle season which opened November 6th.
The opening day of the rifle season was blustery and mild for this time of year. Omer, Fran and I were in our stands for the season opener, and we saw nothing. The second day Jason and I sat, the weather was better, it was cool, sunny and the wind was much lighter. Neither of us saw or heard anything other than red squirrels, blue jays and ruffed grouse. I sat alone on the third day of the season. The weather was just right, and my hopes were high, but still, nothing was seen other than red squirrels and songbirds. I began to wonder if this would be the first season in which none of us saw a deer. The fourth and fifth days of the rifle season were too cold and windy to bother sitting, so we all stayed home.
By Saturday, Remembrance Day, the weather took a turn for the better, and the four of us got out to sit in our stands. That the four of us got out pleased me no end and I hoped this time at least one of us would see a deer. My hope came to pass when at 4:20 pm I heard a shot come from Fran’s stand. I knew Fran had a buck tag, but her husband Jason agreed to party hunt with her, so she was free to fill his doe tag. “Yes!” I exclaimed privately upon hearing the shot. I knew Fran was armed with her custom Cooper Model 54 rifle in .243 calibre and had a Zeiss scope mounted. “I wonder what she shot, a doe or a buck,” I thought as I remained seated in my stand. Then I wondered if maybe another of us might see a deer before last shot at 5:08 pm. The end of shooting time came without any more action, so I unloaded my rifle, put on my headlamp and climbed down from my stand. I gathered my backpack and rifle and made my way to meet up with Omer at his stand. From there I set out to Fran’s stand and found Jason and Fran searching for the buck Fran shot.
Jason just found the blood trail when I spied them, so I shone the beam of my flashlight in the direction they were tracking and quickly found the downed buck, a nice six point. I called out to Jason and Fran “here it is.” Jason immediately cried out to me not to touch it. For us, hunting is a spiritual experience, and we see to it that the hunter or huntress, as the case may be, who made the kill is first to lay their hands on the animal. I stood by an watched with Jason as Fran took possession of her buck. It was a proud moment as this was her first kill with her Cooper rifle. We examined the carcass and found it was a clean shot. The bullet penetrated the heart and lungs, killing the deer instantly. He ran a short distance in the time it took him to exhale his last breath. Fran experienced the mixed emotions of triumph and sorrow one typically feels upon killing a big game animal. She wanted assurance she killed the buck quickly and humanely. It was. Fran and I got to work dressing her buck as Jason and Omer walked back to where we parked to get Jason’s ATV and trailer so we could get the carcass out of the field. It was a proud moment for all of us.
Jason, Omer and I were back in the field the next afternoon. Jason and I picked up additional sacks of corn on our way out to the farm and quickly re-baited the piles before going to sit for the afternoon. The weather was just right, sunny, no wind and just cold enough to get the deer moving. I felt all the more enthused as Jason agreed to party hunt with me as Fran filled her buck tag the day before. Jason’s generosity improved my chances of getting a deer this season, and I very much appreciated his generosity. As I sat in my stand, listening intently for the telltale “crunch, crunch” of a deer’s hooves in the dead leaves, the squirrel returned to feed, and a few songbirds flitted past. Last shot was at 5:05 pm, and as we neared the end of shooting time, I thought it would be yet another day spent sitting and hoping fortune would send me a buck to no avail. Then, with barely fifteen minutes left in shooting time, I finally heard the sound of a deer making its way through the wood.
My stand is located overlooking a corridor through the wood at the edge of the stand of pines. Beyond the pines is crown land and it is composed of a thick swath of cedar, evergreen and deciduous brush. The terrain is boggy and filled with deadfalls and hollows. I listened to the sound of the deer making its way through the thicket in front of my stand and silently urged it to show itself before shooting time was up. Just before 5:00 pm I saw the deer step out into the corridor about seventy-five yards in front of me. I watched as it moved toward the pines, then stopped behind a row of trees that blocked my view. I waited several tense seconds for the deer to move back into view, but it kept still. I carefully shifted my position in my stand, peering through the row of trees and found the deer. I raised my rifle, my Browning X-bolt Medallion left-hand in 30-06 Springfield, and found the deer in the crosshairs of my Elite scope. I had a clear view of its vital areas.
Fresh in my memory was the debacle I experienced last season when I shot a nine-point buck holding my rifle free hand. Though I aimed for just behind the front shoulder, the bullet grazed the chest and shattered the right shoulder. A desperate pursuit in the dark followed before I caught up with the buck and finished it off as it vomited blood. I did not want this to happen again. I heeded Jason’s instruction and rested my right arm on the edge of my stand, steadying my rifle, took careful aim, and squeezed the trigger. The shot rang out, the deer jumped, then ran into the pines. I heard his footfalls until they ended abruptly. “Either I shot and killed him cleanly, and he is down, or I missed cleanly, and he ran out of earshot,” I surmised. I texted Jason “shot at a deer,” at 4:58 pm. He responded, “K, will be over @ dark.” I noted the area where the deer stood when I made the shot and after shooting time was over walked over to look for a blood trail. I did not find any blood, which made me think I might have missed.
Jason arrived presently, and I showed him the area where I saw the deer, and he caught the scent of a deer right away. We walked in the direction where I saw the deer run, and though we mistook a downed tree for the carcass initially, in short order, Jason found the carcass. He told me to recover my deer, and when I drew near, I saw it was a spike horn buck. This time the bullet found the mark. The bullet penetrated his heart and lungs; it was a quick, clean kill. Omer joined us at the site of the downed deer and while Jason left to get his ATV, Omer and I dressed the deer.
On the drive home with the deer secured and tagged, I accepted my helping of humble pie, saying to Jason, “you can tell me now ‘I told you so’ now regarding not getting a doe tag.” Still, had Jason not agreed to party hunt with me, I may not have shot the buck.
The next morning Jason and I drove the bucks to a butcher for cutting and wrapping. The season is not over, and Jason and Omer still have their doe tags to fill. I hope they are successful and who is to say they will not shoot bucks. At any rate, I learned this season it is well worth the effort to go deer hunting whether you have a doe tag or not as you never know what fortune may bring.
Posted by Geoffrey