The First Deer of the Season
By Jim Force
Opening day in the Eastern region ended-up a bust. We started with high hopes the night before, telling tall tales and old hunting stories around the fire. We woke-up at 5:30AM, had coffee and headed into the woods in the dark. There were six of us hunting the Farm that day and four got into the various stands. Two stayed on the ground, back-to-back at Daphne’s rock, by the confluence of two streams and a natural funnel for game. I saw crows, a red tailed hawk, about a dozen turkeys and the ubiquitous squirrels. Of deer I saw none and there was surprisingly little gunfire around us.
My old, thin butt was stiff by 9:00AM. I came down from my tree stand and, along with Doc Swanson, cooked a breakfast for the hunting party. We served fresh biscuits, bacon, sausage, fried eggs and coffee. Every scrap of grub was eaten and no one felt like moving for a while. Slowly, we devised a plan for the late morning hunt.
Everyone exchanged rifles for shotguns. Three of the group took up stationary positions on the ground around the two fields. The other three walked the perimeter of the Farm, hoping to drive some whitetails to the fields. It didn’t seem to work, as I heard no shots. I then found a log to sit on across the stream, where I could lean against a tree. I stayed there for about an hour and a half and didn’t see anything, except more squirrels. Around 1:30PM, I walked back to the farm house for lunch and to re-group for the evening hunt.
We build another fire, told more stories and ate some snacks. Around 3:00PM everyone got ready for the last hunt of the day. Steve and Tim, who had been on the ground in the morning, got to go to stands. We put Doc Swanson, who has yet to take a deer, in the stand overlooking the big field. Ryan, the teenager, got the last stand, while and Jon and I went to ground locations. Jon went to Daphne’s rock. I went up the draw some distance from there and sat in my little folding hunting chair.
As soon as I got settled I started to hear hounds barking. We hunt in a county that allows hunting with dogs, which is a 400 year old tradition and must be tolerated. Around 4:00PM I could hear a pack getting closer and closer. I stood up and got ready, in case the dogs ran a deer past me. I heard the dogs moving maybe 300 yards away, probably through the two fields. I waited for someone to take a shot. Silence, except for the howling of the hounds. Soon even that noise trailed off and I assumed that the pack had continued onto the next property.
All became quiet and still as the light faded. At dusk, I walked back to the farm house and Steve came out with several beagles. Steve was pissed. Apparently the dogs had became confused in the big field, stopped chasing deer, came back to the small field and sat under Steve in his stand. Of course, that ended any chance of a deer appearing, so Steve came down from his stand around 5:30 and sat around the campfire with the dogs. When the rest of the crew came back we heard the rest of the story.
The dogs had been chasing “Swamp Buck,” a deer we’d been hunting for two years. Doc Swanson had heard the dogs coming, but wasn’t ready when Swamp Buck appeared ahead of the pack in the big field. With his rifle in his lap, Doc Swanson got buck fever and banged his rifle on the rail trying to get it to his shoulder. He then had trouble finding the 10-pointer in his scope. (How many times have we advised hunters to keep their scopes set at the lowest magnification in the field to maximize field of view? -Editor.) When he finally acquired the deer, it was just for a fleeting glimpse before Swamp Buck bounded into the woods. Back at the farm house at dusk, Ryan called the dogs’ owner (phone number on collar), who came and collected them, after a dressing-down by Steve. Thus ended opening day.
In my state we cannot hunt on Sunday and it was raining on Monday. I decided I would go out to some state game lands near my office and hunt for a little while on Tuesday morning. The state wildlife folks planted corn on a peninsula jutting into a large Army Corp of Engineers reservoir and let the corn stand after dove season. You’re only allowed to shoot bucks on this particular section of game land and have to use a shotgun, so carrying my Dad’s old Browning A-5 is a joy. I got there just as it was turning gray and found another truck already there. I knew they would be in the large fields to the right of the old closed road, so I walked to the left, where the fields are not as big, but still have some corn planted in narrow rows.
I sat on the edge of a 6’ wide tree line facing west, so as not to have the sun in my eyes. I could see down a 30x100 yard lane between the tree line and a 4’ row of corn. On the other side of the corn was the inside angle of the “L” shaped field and I thought there was a good chance the deer would come out of that corner to get to the corn. It got light enough to see and sure enough, around 7:15AM a whitetail walked out of that inside corner. I got a good grip on my old, reliable A-5 20 gauge magnum and eased off the safety. The deer walked to the corn row, stood still, looked around, sniffed and then stepped through it. While it was in the corn I raised the shotgun to my shoulder and when the deer came out on my side I could see it was at least a four point buck. At that instant the deer looked towards me and froze for a second and I let loose with three rounds of #2 buckshot at about 40 yards.
The buck stumbled and crashed through the tree line going east. I jumped up, ran to where it went into the tree line and could hear the deer moving. I went through two narrow tree lines and could see the deer in the next small field, hobbling towards the woods on the other side. I ran up, put a slug into my gun and put the round behind his ear, which ended the chase. After the adrenaline had stopped pumping and my heart rate returned to something resembling normal, I gutted the fork horn and started to drag it back to my truck. I am an old crusty grandfather and trying to carry my gun, coffee thermos, folding stool and drag the deer was too much. I walked some distance ahead with the gun, stool and thermos and leaned them up against a tree. I then went back to the deer and dragged it to the gun, stool and thermos, repeating the process until I reached my truck. It took me a half hour to go a distance I can usually walk in 10 minutes.
State game land can be productive, especially early in the season and on a weekday. As I still have five deer tags to fill, I plan to hunt the state game land on the other side of the lake when the central region opens for white tails. I’m also grateful for having some meat in the freezer.
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