I tagged out for the 2020 rifle season in Wildlife Management Unit 66A on the second last day, bagging an eight-point buck. In all, I sat for five afternoons in two of the four deer stands my hunting buddies and I have on the property we hunt. Unseasonably warm weather kept me out of the stand for several days through the middle of the two week season. It is unusual to be walking outside in the second week of November in shirtsleeves. By the latter days of the rifle season, there were more seasonable temperatures. My enthusiasm for deer hunting waned as I heard reports from hunters around the Ottawa Valley that the bucks were not moving, at least not during legal shooting hours. I saw three does one afternoon during the first week of the season. There are deer on the property, and I held hope that a buck might wander into view before the rifle season ended.
When I woke up yesterday morning, I thought I would call it a deer season. None of my hunting buddies sat this season; Covid fatigue and the freaky weather did not inspire enthusiasm for deer hunting. However, when I looked at the weather forecast, I changed my mind. Along with cooler temperatures, the afternoon’s outlook was for light northwest winds gradually dropping by 4:00 pm, just in time for sunset at 4:36 pm (last shot was 5:06 pm) when the deer are more likely to move. It was too good a forecast to pass up the chance to sit for the afternoon. I chose the stand on the property with the wind direction in mind; the stand is placed against a pine plantation edge, overlooking a meadow that borders a swamp. The deer often travel along the edge of the swamp through an aspen run. I reasoned that if does are using the trail, maybe a buck looking to mate might show himself. In the end, of course, deer movement is up to fortune.
I told my hunting buddy Jason that I would sit for the afternoon, though I expected to watch the sunset. I was seated in the stand by 1:30 pm and settled in as the wind gusted around me. I saw and heard several bluejays as I watched for a deer. I heard someone target shooting in the distance. It dawned on me that this might be the first season since my friends and I started hunting the property in 2011 that none of us would bag a deer. Red squirrels scurrying around the dead leaves on the forest floor made me sit up and take notice briefly, but by 4:00 pm, I resigned myself to dining on tag soup this season. The sound of an owl hooting in the distance buoyed my spirits. “Who knows?” I thought, “maybe it is an omen.” I readied myself for the “witching hour,” what my buddies and I call the last thirty minutes of shooting time when the deer are more likely to get up and move.
At 4:26 pm, the seconds of action I patiently waited for came to fruition when suddenly a deer walked into view, about forty yards to the right of my stand. I looked for and saw antlers–it was a buck, my quarry for this season. The buck emerged from the pines and the right side of the gully next to my stand. A couple of leafless trees partially obscured the deer as I raised my rifle, my Remington Model 700 left-hand bolt-action in .270 Winchester, steadying it in resting my elbow on the bar of the deer stand. When he walked free of the trees out into the meadow broadside from me, I aimed at his vital areas and squeezed the trigger. The animal jumped, indicating that I found the mark, then ran, more at a trot, into the meadow. With the memory of tracking the wounded nine-point buck I shot in the 2016 season in mind, I fired a second and a third shot at the running buck. After the third shot, he stopped dead in his tracks and collapsed; his hindquarters went down first, followed by his head and upper torso. As he fell, his face pointed skyward as if to take a final glance. He came to rest in the meadow about seventy yards from the stand.
The action was over in a matter of seconds, and I sat in my stand, quaking with excitement. With trembling hands, I picked up my phone and called my buddy Jason. It was 4:29 pm when he answered the call, and he knew why I called. I told him I shot a buck, and he could tell by my tone how excited I was. Having experienced buck fever on occasion in previous seasons, I was well pleased with the outcome. He heartily congratulated me and advised me to stay put in the stand until I calmed down. I was shaking still as I spoke to him. I needed to stop shaking before I climbed down from the stand. I sat a moment, letting the reality sink in; I shot a buck and killed him cleanly. I unloaded my rifle and lowered it on the paracord I use to raise and lower my rifle and backpack from the platform. When I had settled sufficiently, I climbed down, retrieved and reloaded my rifle. I strolled up to where I saw the deer fall and found him resting on his right side. I approached with caution and prodded his left ear with my rifle; he was unresponsive–the hunt was over–the buck was in the bag.
I counted eight points on his antlers and relayed this to Jason via follow up phone call. I took photos of the deer resting in situ and rested my rifle on the carcass. I gave the fallen buck his last bite, then walked back to the barnyard to get my Jeep. I drove back to my downed deer and got to work dressing him. Jason asked if I needed help recovering the deer, and I politely (read foolishly) refused his offer. Jason and I live in Ottawa, which is an hour’s drive from the property. I did not want to drag him from his family if I could handle the recovery independently. Once I had the deer dressed, I tried to load the carcass into the back of my Jeep. Yes, I repeatedly tried to find I do not have the strength to hoist a whitetail buck carcass by myself. I am pushing sixty and do not have the agility, strength and wherewithal I had in my younger days. Sheepishly, I called Jason back and told him I did need his help after all. Jason, my friend and sportsman, agreed to help without hesitation.
As I waited for Jason to arrive, I sat in my Jeep and looked at the deer carcass. The familiar wave of triumph and sorrow set in as I pondered my latest big game kill. The whitetail deer is a magnificent beast adept at survival in a predator-filled environment. The deer face disease and starvation in their day-to-day struggle for survival. Granted, I gave the buck a more painless death than he would have faced had I not shot him. Still, given a choice, he would have preferred to take his chances and lived another day. He met his fate this day, and the venison he will yield will keep Mika and me and a few friends a tasty supplement to our diet of domestically grown meats over the winter.
In time, Jason arrived and, to my pleasant surprise, made it a family affair. He brought his wife Fran, who hunts deer on the property, their daughter Rose and his dog Egon. Rose is six years old and expressing interest in her mother’s and father’s hunting hobby. Egon is a six-month-old German Wirehaired Pointer in training. Jason wanted Egon to see a downed deer in the field as we will likely use Egon in future seasons to track deer for us after the shot. Jason brought a rope and pulley, which we used to hoist the carcass into the box of his Dodge Ram pickup truck. Next season, I will get a rope and pulley; that and a rack to put on my Jeep trailer hitch. It will make the recovery of a downed deer. I learn something new every season I get out deer hunting. The deer is bound for the butcher, and I will share the venison with Jason and Fran; I kept the heart and liver for Jason. He dined on the organs this morning. What started as a bland rifle season for deer for which I had little motivation ended in triumph. Sometimes fortune smiles on you when you least expect it.
Posted by Geoffrey