A String of failures

By Mike Cramer

My deer hunting career has been marked primarily by failure. Opening day of my first deer season I shot a deer. It was a little fork buck that walked along the edge of a clear cut less than twenty yards from my blind. I shot it with my twenty gauge and it ran off into the woods. My friend Brian, with whom I was hunting, said I had missed it and, to prove him wrong, I showed him the very good blood trail. We followed it and pushed the deer away. It ran onto private property where we could not follow and we never saw it again. My first failure.

My second opening day I was sitting in the same ground blind, which was formed by a rock wall, a big dead-fall, and some branches. It sat in between a trail through the woods and a clear cut. I was staring out at the clear cut, where I�d seen the deer last year. In need of answering nature�s call, I stood up and turned around and there was a doe in the middle of the trail staring at me. I slowly raised my rifle and drew a bead on it. I tightened my finger on the trigger. Down the hill, another hunter fired at another deer. My deer bolted just as I fired. Failure.

Later that year I booked a hunt out on long island with an outfitter. We had a permit for a nice piece of public woods that only allowed four hunters at a time. We had to walk about a mile in to get to our spot and just as we got there we scared up a nice buck. By the time I had raised my shotgun it was gone. I didn�t see another deer. Failure.

Hoping to increase my odds I decided to get a compound bow and go out during bow season. I had taken my recurve out a few times, but wanted the extra range and a new toy. In our woods there is a tree stand hunted by an old man who lives down the hill. It is a prime spot, right where a creek, the woods, and the clear cut come together. Up the hill is a field to which the deer like to travel. Since the old man only gun hunts, I went and sat at the base of his tree. I waited and looked and waited. I was concentrating on the hillside. I checked something on my smart phone. A six point buck walked by on my left. By the time I saw him and got my bow up he had disappeared into a thicket. Two days later in the same spot I saw no fewer than seven deer, including two bucks, but they were all on the other side of a thicket and never presented me with a shot. Failure.

On opening day of gun season I was sitting by a rock wall with another friend. We saw a buck jump the wall about fifty yards away, on the other side of some trees and bushes, once again with no clear shot. But it was walking toward a friend in a tree stand. We called his cell and told him where the deer was. He looked over at us and I pointed. His .30-06 boomed. The broken four fell down. So at least I had helped out.

The next day I decided, at the last minute, to go back to the blind instead of sit by the rock wall with my buddy. He saw five deer, shot at them, and missed all five. If I had been there with my .358 instead of him with his twelve gauge, I would likely have gotten something. I was kicking myself for going up the hill (where the old man in the tree usually intercepts anything coming my way). That was a failure of location.

Which brought us to the end of the season this year. It was cold. Me and Big Mike, who is kind of the leader of our hunting band, were sitting by the rock wall. It is the best spot on the south end of the forest. Joe, who had gotten the buck on opening day, was in his tree stand nearby. Brian was in the blind over the hill. It was cold. Really, really cold. Ok, not Saskatchewan cold, but nasty, biting and more cold than I liked. My fingers were in a lot of pain.

About ten o�clock Joe came over to see how we were doing. He get�s bored sometimes. While he was there, seven deer jumped the wall at the same spot as his buck had on opening day. They disappeared like ghosts behind the same thicket. We had all brought our guns up but none of us had a shot. We decided to spread out and see if we could stalk them. Mike went out to the clear cut. Joe went into the thicket. I went up the rock wall. We didn�t go very far, just up to where we could see. I caught a glimpse of a couple of flags bounding through the bush, then nothing. Mike didn�t see them come out. I didn�t see them come back. We figured they had turned left and gone back over the wall. We can�t hunt in there.

A short time later Brian called my cell. It was noon and he had planned to break it off at mid-day. I told him about what had happened.

�Why didn�t you call me and tell me there were deer coming my way?� Brian had never shot a deer and was eager.

�It was happening too fast.� I said, �besides, they didn�t come your way. They never crossed into the clear cut. We figure they doubled back somewhere around the big rock.� The big rock was a boulder in the forest, too close to some houses to hunt safely, but with a good view of the trails. Brian didn�t know it. He doesn�t scout enough.

�What big rock� he asked.

�It�s right across the clear cut from you. It�s a huge boulder. There�s a two man ladder stand there with a good view south. If there was anybody in that stand they�d have seen the deer for sure.� He hung up.

Big Mike was back by this time and we scanned the wall. My phone rang.

�It�s me� Brian said, �I found the ladder stand.�

�Great� I replied, not really interested.

�I�m sitting in it.�

�What?� I almost yelled. �Are you crazy? Get out of that stand now.�

�Why?� Brian asked.

�Because people get shot for sitting in other people�s stands. It�s not yours. Leave it alone.�

I hung up the phone. Brian is a good guy but he lacks certain people skills, like how to treat other people.

�I don�t� believe it,� I said to Big Mike. �He�s sitting in that ladder stand.�

�Idiot,� he said. �You�re right. Some hunter shot another hunter up north of here about three years ago for stealing his spot.�

The phone rang. �Watch,� I said, �this is Brian calling to say he saw a deer.�

I checked the caller ID and sure enough, it was Brian. �Hey,� he said, �I just kicked up two deer and they�re headed your way.�

I threw down my phone. �I was right,� I said, �here they come.�

We moved out a bit toward the thicket. Big Mike had already gotten a deer on Thanksgiving day and had promised the first shot to me. He took up position about fifteen yards to my right. Off in the thicket I saw some movement.

�Over there!� Mike whispered.

A small doe was coming straight for me. It hopped a fallen log. It kept coming. I cocked the hammer on my lever gun and drew a bead on the deer�s chest. It was moving slowly. It paused. I fired. It took a little hop then turned to its left and went behind a bush. I fired again and missed. Then it emerged from the bush and gave me a clear broadside. Big Mike and I fired at the same time and we both hit it.The deer went down. I wanted to yell a Tarzan yell. Instead I just gave a whoop.

Brian appeared. Together we dragged the deer over to the trail in the clear cut. It was not a doe, but a little button buck. My antlerless tag went onto its right hind leg. Cell phones came out. Calls were made. Pictures were taken. I gutted the deer with pride. This was food that I had provided. My friends and I would be eating well for weeks, thanks to what I had done.

Mike and his first buck
Mike and his first buck

I must admit that at some point I did feel some regret. I considered vegetarianism for about a day afterward. There is nothing in the world more natural than hunting and consuming prey. It�s something the animal rights people just don�t get. I don�t think they care about animals so much as they don�t like nature. However, taking a life is not an easy thing. I watch films of lions or bear attacking their prey and there is never a bit of remorse. That gazelle is just food to a lion, like a grilled cheese sandwich would be to me. They don�t have the capacity to feel empathy for their prey. We do. That empathy is unnatural. Still, we feel it, and I felt bad for having ended that deer�s life. I wondered if I would ever be able to do it again.

That lasted about a day. Since then I�ve been proudly showing the picture of me with my first deer.

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