This story is dedicated to my cousin Mikey though he has heard it at least a dozen times he keeps asking me to tell him again. So here it is one more time.
It was a cold Michigan morning just before dawn near the end of the gun season. The day started much like every other day of the season with one exception I was determined to do whatever it took to finally get that first deer. Well before the sun came up I was in my blind made of fallen sticks in my favorite spot, with a borrowed single shot 10 gauge and three rounds of buckshot. As soon as the sun started to show it was evident I hadn’t dressed warm enough for the low temps and high winds. After shivering for a couple of hours I realized I’d never make it for long if I didn’t start moving. So I gathered up my gun and gear planning a short hike.
40 yards was all it took for me to find a decent size deer track right on top of my pre-dawn boot print. Discouraged that I hadn’t seen the deer but encouraged that a deer was in the area I made the decision to follow. The 3 inches of new snow made tracking pretty easy even for me at my first attempt. After 30 minutes of following these tracks with no problem I wondered why I have never done this before. It wouldn’t be long before the reality of how difficult killing a deer by tracking might be. As the impatience of youth started to take over my pace began to quicken. Mistake number one. Trotting up and over the first hill with my focus on the ground and not on the forest ahead of me I heard him run just giving me a glimpse of white tail cresting the next rise. Lesson learned this might be tougher than I figured.
One more mile of hiking and another hour of my last chance to hunt for the season used up, I’m not giving up now. Noticing the angle the deer went over the hill, a thought occurred maybe it’s time to try to cut him off. Skirting around the next valley, again I started looking for tracks. Finding no tracks it was time to peek up over the next ridge. Scanning the valley below with binoculars for 15 minutes I thought I could make out the trail he used to cross. By this time the wind had stopped and the woods were silent. That’s when I heard the crunch of leaves and sticks muffled by snow. The pace of my heart started to quicken until I saw the busy red squirrel below me. Chuckling to myself at the fact that a red squirrel could get me so exited I began to wonder if I would be able to keep myself together when I got a shot at the deer I’d been chasing. Ignoring the sound of the squirrel I resumed scanning to see where the deer might have gone. After ten more minutes I couldn’t resist checking on those squirrels that seems to be getting close. That’s when the whole field of my 10 x 50 binocs became full of deer at under 20 yards. I still don’t know if it was the gasp or me falling on my backside that scared him but he ran like the wind away at a 45 degree angle for what seemed like a mile.
Now that it’s midday and I have hiked 3 miles giving up is not an option. Again it is time to go around the next valley and wait a couple of ridges over for him to show up again. 2 more miles and two more hours later I found his tracks he beat me there. Although this was my first time trying to track down a deer it was feeling like maybe he had played this game before. Staying tight to his trail I crested the next hill, guess who was watching his backtrail. Wow another lesson learned when tracking it’s probably not a good idea to crest a hill very close to where the deer did. This time I did come over the hill a lot slower and more quiet this might be why he didn’t run as far or fast away from me.
By now I’m starting to think I am not going to kill this deer but it’s a long way home and he is kind of heading that way. Maybe I could still learn more by following him. Turns out this wouldn’t be the last encounter of the day for me and this little buck. 3 hours till dark now and wishing I had thought to bring a sandwich or maybe some trail mix. After who knows how far or how long I again cut his tracks. Fighting the urge to follow the tracks directly going over the next hill I went wide and slid over the rise with my binocs up and pulling the gun beside me. What do you know it worked? The deer is too far to shoot but this time I saw him before he saw me. A small victory but at this point I’ll take it. The deer laid there watching his backtail for another 30 minutes then just got up as if he had somewhere to be.
An hour and a half till dark now and still a couple miles from home. Looks like it’s time to head back home. On the way back I was sort of surprised to see a familiar set of deer prints twice crossing the main trail. Walking at a pace that will put me where I started with a few minutes shooting light left I kept moving forward. 10 hours and I’m getting tired. It seems like I am more at one with the woods now than ever before. That’s when I first notice a squirrel then some birds making noise ahead of me. I was starting to think they were trying to tell me something so I listened. As I approach the field where this adventure began I knew what the other animals were trying to tell me. There he is!!! Sneaking up slowly as the deer entered the field I used the trail I had cleared to climb back into my stick blind.
With less than 10 minutes of legal shooting light left I settled back down on my bucket and he walked right down the trail he had used 10 hours earlier. This is what I have been waiting for for at least 3 years. I have only seen a dozen or so deer in my first few seasons of hunting with only one chance to shoot and I wasn’t really ready for that shot. What stands out most for me in the next few minutes was how heavy a 10 gauge is after lugging it through the woods for 10 hours. I got the gun up and the hammer back just about the time the buck was broadside at 30- 35 yards. With one round in the gun and two more between my fingers I placed the bead on the deer. BOOM!!! The deer never moved, the same can’t be said for the woods forty yards behind him. I guess the sound of the trees falling apart behind him concerned him more than I did because he turned towards the woods and away from me. This gave me the chance to reload and assess what went wrong. Of course I did not get my head down on the gun. For the second shot I pulled down the hammer and settled my eye right down into the little notch at the rear of the barrel put the bead on him and he looked at me. I must have flinched because the shot was off but close enough down he went.
Without even looking at the deer off to the house I went to get grandpa. Grandpa had heard the shots and made his way to the door of the barn where I found him waiting to hear my story. Grandpa went out with me to retrieve my first deer making the experience even that much more memorable. After a messy but much needed lesson on field dressing we put the deer into the truck to show the rest of the family of my success. I learned many lessons that day that served me well for the next 30 years. I have had the opportunity to share these experiences with many hunters over the years some young some not so young. I like to think these stories have enhanced their successes and enjoyment of the outdoors. Here’s hoping for a chance to make 30 more years of adventures to share with family and friends.