Woke up at 5AM on the last day of rifle with a lot hope. Temps were to be comfortable and I am smart and experienced enough to know there are always plenty of good bucks and young bucks alike (for the kid) left on the last day to make it always worth your while. My son (11) was to go with me in the AM , my wife would come out at lunch after my daughter headed to a horse show for the day around noon and my youngest boy went with a sitter.
Johnny woke feeling a bit under the weather and therefore not much desire to hunt, so my wife said she would go instead in the AM for a few hours leaving John in charge for a bit and return in time to help our daughter prep for her activity around noon, then she would run Johnny up in the afternoon to hunt. So out the door we went, just me and the Mrs. She had already tagged out on doe so she was buck only, I had a doe tag but told her I am most likely buck only too as I was pretty buck hungry and we have some meat. Shooting does just does not rev the engine for me like it use too, so her harvesting them and/or giving some youths a chance in October has been the norm for me as of late, no youths scored in the early season this year so her does were the only females that were harvested at this point. Next year john will be 12 and he can jump into that role as much as he wants.
The morning was real slow and truthfully kind of lonely sitting in that big double stand alone. I missed my kid and prayed to God that I do NOT see a sub AR buck that morning that he could of harvested. A light snow fell and more than once I set my head back closed my eyes and just let the flurries hit my face, a pretty relaxing moment and one of deep thought. No deer were sighted by the wife or I and 11 AM got there real quick and it was time for Janet to head down to her vehicle so I climbed down to walk her out and chat a bit about the PM plans. Safely on her way I ate my lunch at the truck and talked to a passing neighbor, then I headed up and climbed back into a stand around noon. I thought about sneaking around but with 8” of rock like crust of snow covering most of the forest floor still I decided that would do nothing but ruin my evening deer hunt as I figured with the moon and the wind being right the deer would be drawn heavy to the fields near the road.
I think about a discussion I had with the neighbor just moments ago , a neighbor that knows all the other neighbors around real well. He tells me of everyone’s else success and I won’t lie and said it did not hurt a bit to hear of many bucks falling in all age groups and very likely some of the ones I got picture after picture of all summer long. Folks had a GREAT year. When you got the smallest parcel on the hill and the land around you is all off limits, it is the rule of the acreage odds you must learn to deal with, constantly reminding yourself that the work you do on your peice is not for the harvest , but for the survivors who do not get harvested. It is going to be a hard winter on the hill as the 2’ of snow that came early then froze to this unsightly crust has already started the clock ticking for the survivors, and this clock ticks much too early in my opinion this year. One thing the 2’ of snow did help me realize is where my land lacks and that is winter cover where there is no short term soultion. The briar thickets of the clearcuts that buzzed with deer in bow season are now nothing but acres of sparsely treed openings with a tundra crust beneath them holding in the cover, hardly a good winter range for a whitetail. This was evidenced really early in the year to me when the snows came and all the tracks shifted to my creekbottom and red pines down near the road. Therefore that is where we did all of our rifle hunting this year , something that made a small parcel all that much smaller , especially to a guy that bleeds to stillhunt dawn to dark. Thank god I made it over to Potter County and the endless mountains there for a few days earlier in the week or else this guy might of felt like a hamster in the exercise wheel sitting in that treestand today.
The sun came out and it got downright comfortable once again sitting facing the South. I sat there and reflected on what was a nice year on the hill. I am here almost every weekend all year tinkering around from planting tees in the spring ,to planting some small food plots in the summer, to dropping some trees here and there , and lastly moving all the stands for the year’s expected new patterns before the hunts begin. A fun year indeed, but it was then I realized that I have not harvested a piece of game since I got a ringneck rooster during my annual pheasant hunt in 2007 over a year ago. Not much of a problem for me, but it does tell me how much this little piece of dirt has taken over my life. I saw plenty of grouse, bunnies, turkeys , and squirrels here but not once while in their pursuit. Every hunting day was with bow in hand and as glorious as those days in the Fall woods are they produced nothing for the table although providing plenty of the memory bank. My head nods a bit and I snap back to being awake. I look around from the stand and begin to mentally mark the trees that will find their fate to my saw and browse cutting this year. Many I see can open up fantastic shooting lanes from this perch and provide what appears to be much needed feed this year and also some of that cover that now seems so lacking to my eyes.
At 2PM, I hear my neighbors ATV crunching along their trail above me, sounds like they are hanging it up for the day, likely cause they have done so well by now. As the motor's sound fades, I pick up more crunching. I look back to see something I have not seen since in a long time and that is a single file string of deer, 14-16 deer long. They are hundreds of yards away as they come down his hill and head straight for my creekbottom. I crank the scope to nine power, pick a crossing and watch them all go thru. No racks, or at least no racks I could see or likely that would be legal. I wait and put the gun back down as they hang out in the pines in the creek. About 15 minutes pass before I catch more movement as a few head up the draw towards the corner of my other neighbor's field. The whole time I waited I think about why I would see so many , and the answer I provide myself is that they are yarding due to the snow which i accept as true. thinking back the neighbor on the road I talked with said a guy saw 20 or more together on the other side of the ridge where farm fields are much more bountiful so it must be happening.
I ID all the deer as they wander up the spring-fed draw, and they are all does and fawns. They mill around and I look over the lead doe to make sure she is not young or a BB. And I am guessing in that moment with all that has gone thru my head that day I decided that taking a doe was indeed no sin. I flip the safety off and using the rail as a rest go for the perfect thru the ribs kill shot. The gun kicks and surprises me which always tells me I got a good squeeze off on the crosshairs and the deer erupt in all directions and I see one with tail down running back down the draw, I hear her crash and watch all the tails fade into the pines and my whiteoak slash on the opposite hillside . A slash that I know will be on the dinner plate for that group all winter long until the snow pack fades.
I unload the gun and lower it, and crunch over to see the doe at the base of the draw. The blood trail does not need followed, but is one I would loved to have my son pursue as it has the classic spray of a good hit. I go down to her and poke her eye and get no blink, I unload and kneel down to give her chest a pat and even a jiggle as she has some good fat on her. I say my thanks to God and my passed on mentors and do my rituals and I hunker back and think about why I did indeed pull that trigger, not out of remorse but more out of wonder. Was it my need to kill? Was it seeing a group like that facing a likely tough winter? Was it the need to reward my hard work with something? Was it to protect future hard work I may do? I am not sure, but I treat her death with the respect it deserves and stop the second guessing.
She has an old face, one that I know may be staring into several of my trail cams over the past two years. I pat her chest again…and fill out and attach my tag. I go to take a picture but realize the camera is in Janet’s pack today not mine. So I call her to let her know I got one and that I believe the deer will be filtering in for the evening to head to feed in a full moonlite night, and that if they have a free hour or two it may be worth the trip back over. Johnny still not wanting to suit up, Janet heads back over solo. I gut the doe and walk back to the stand to finish the day.
I hear a short horn beep around a ½ hour later to signal that Janet arrived and she settles into her stand near the creek bottom to wait out the season's end with me. Around 4:10 I see more does coming down the trail of all the others, there are 4. I again see no racks. Looking out in front of me I then see a deer feeding down along my treeline over 150 yards away. It is a buck, but not a large one it has a Y and heads down the hump between the draws towards Janet. I hope it is the legal 5 point I passed on the opener and that her gun will erupt to reward her second effort on this day. Her gun remains silent as I watch the young buck enter and leave the area I knew she would be watching it. It is now about 4:35 and I look over the does on the hill behind me once again to make sure a last minute miracle does not exist. It does not, so with a deer to drag out I decide the season has ended and unload the rifle for good in 2008. I start my drag and see Janet in her stand, what a year she had, but she will remain buck hungry just like me, which I chuckle thinking this should give me another year of free Sundays to come play on the hill and with its habitat projects, already realizing it it is a cycle that I will have a hard time to ever break.
I have never in my life worked harder thru the year or hunted a spot harder thru the season by devoting all but a a hunting day or two to the pursuit of a real trophy buck I know that is or at least was here.
While I drag the doe I think , I may have a day or two with the flinter, but that season falls at a bad timework wise for me so I am not considering it to be much of an effort. I give the doe a tug, and get her to the trail were dragging is easier. Later on at home as the skin is peeled and the meat steaming in the night's chill, I realize I never did get a picture of this doe, a doe that could very well be the last of my hunting career as my oldest turns 12 in 2009 and I look forward to handing over to him that part of harvest chores in hopes that the magic and excitement of a doe harvest returns once again to both he and I.
Thanks be to God for letting me do it all over in again in 2008. Maybe 2009 it will be the year of the buck of a lifetime for someone in my family.