Opening day: Up and getting ready to hunt at 4 am. Mack and huntforfood dropped maybesomeday and I for the walk in to our spots around 5 am. I was up the tree, completely settled and ready to hunt, a few minutes before 6. Shooting light would not arrive until sometime after 7. The sky was clear, it was a crisp 34 degrees, and the winds were calm. I saw two shooting stars as I sat and waited for daylight, listening for footsteps in the dry grass and leaves.
As the sky began to turn colors and the stars to fade, I heard something small pass directly below my stand. A short while later, I saw a dark shape moving in the grass at 50 yards, and glassed a big, single doe, crossing from left to right. She dropped into the depression surrounding a pond, and disappeared. I did not see her route from there, but heard her continue on towards the west. Light continued to creep in, and when another deer approached on the same route the doe had taken, I figured this would be a buck, but with the yellow/tan grass background and the low light, I did not immediately see antlers. Through my scope, I saw a decent set of antlers, but my initial impression was that this was a buck in the 100" range. I didn't want to shoot something under 120 this early in the hunt, so I lowered the gun and raised the binoculars. Just before he stepped behind a brushy tree, the buck passed in front of a small dark colored patch of grass, quartering away at 50 yards. In the glasses, I clearly saw a wide spread and a row of long tines.
Here's the area he crossed, a few minutes after the fact.
I immediately switched glasses for gun, but he had dropped into the pond. In the low light and tall grass, I was having serious difficulty relocating him. I hit the grunt call twice, and saw him turn broadside, still at around 50 yards, but across the pond, and about to enter the tall grass there. I found him in the scope and said "Mehh!". He paused for half a second, and as I squeezed off the hurried shot from my inline, he had already begun to move into the grass. I couldn't see what happened to him. I began to glass, and soon found him, 100 yards out, casually walking away through the brush, still following the doe's trail.
I was sure I had missed, but not sure how. I studied my view of where he'd stood at the shot. He was in the green grassy spot just left of center in this pic.
Those sticks and twigs are more numerous than I'd noticed at the time of the shot, and perhaps I got a deflection, but in the early light and in my haste, I just as likely pulled the shot.
I decided to give it an hour before climbing down to look. As I waited, a basket racked 7 pt passed at 8 yards. By the time I could get my camera trained on him, the quality photo ops were gone.
Some doe were on the move around me as well. At 8:00, I saw some locals arriving to drive the area, so even though it hadn't been an hour yet, I climbed down. At the place where the buck had been, I found a small patch of white belly hair, cut about 1/2 length, and no blood. I followed the trail that I'd seen the buck take, to the property boundary, and found no further evidence of a hit. I was bummed, but relieved that I'd apparently not drawn blood. Better a miss than a crippling shot.
Back in the stand, I watched the drive unfold. Behind me I could see does bee-lining across the grassy bottomland, straight towards waiting standers.
My view of the grassy area, through some trees:
The standers waited, with raised, open-sighted shotguns, until the deer were in spitting distance then opened fire. I watched from several hundred yards, fascinated by the lag time between when I could visibly see the muzzle blast and when I heard the report. After quite a bit of hubbub, it seemed pretty apparent that no deer were down. We watch this happen often in Minnesota, and have come to realize that more often than not, the shots we hear there are not resulting in filled tags.
The rest of the day was rather uneventful, as the wind kicked up to 20 mph soon after 9 am, and deer movement was very slow. I did end the day having seen 13 does and three bucks, the last of which was a small fork horn, just before dark.
As the four of us assembled after dark, we compared notes. Huntforfood had seen nine does. Maybesomeday had seen about 9 deer, including three or four bucks, but the shooter buck he saw had already crossed onto private property and was making tracks across the open fields. The last buck he saw was also a shooter, but had been shot at, and just before he could get it in the scope, it button-hooked, lay down, and died. Mack had seen a number of deer as well, but the highlight of his day turned out to be not-so-high, as he missed several shots at a very big buck. None of the shot opportunities were closer than 100 yards or so, and the Minnesota brush saved that deer's life. After scouring the area for blood and finding none, Mack spent the day replaying the shot sequence in his head.
After dinner with our host's family, we again turned in early, listening to the wind blow outside.