Hunting, Fishing, and Deer Camp
By Eric McGrady
Mossy Oak Camouflage has a cool slogan. They say, “It’s not a passion, it’s an obsession.” I’d be willing to bet that many deer hunters who consider themselves highly involved in the sport would agree with that statement. For most of us we have goals associated with our hunting. Maybe we are trying to get our first deer, or our first buck. Maybe we are trying to get our biggest buck or a buck on public land. Another possibility would be that you are trying to fill the freezer or tag out for the year. Regardless of what your goal is, most of us have one. The quest to complete that goal can drive us to lengths that non-hunters simply cannot understand. As trail cameras have become a staple in the deer arsenal and food plots have grown in popularity the levels that hunters can go to has increased exponentially. Truly, if you want, you can make hunting whitetail deer a 12-month endeavor. The thing is, no matter how dedicated you are to preparation, scouting, or conservation, you are not going to experience the pay-off you are looking for if you aren’t in the stand. An entire year’s worth of getting ready can be lost if you aren’t in the stand on right day at the right time. Certainly, there are some of us who can be choosy about when we hunt; if the wind or weather is not perfect you wait for another day. More common are those who, like us, have full time jobs and have to squeeze every second of stand time in we can hoping to capitalize on an opportunity. Such was the case as my obsession got the better of me on November 2, 2014.
In a previous article I wrote about killing a really solid 8 point buck in the 2016 season on a trip back to where I grew up to hunt. As I mentioned in that article, that trip has become a long-standing tradition and one that I look forward to as much as anything in the year. 2014 was no different save for one major detail. The past two hunting seasons had been marked by pictures of two great bucks using the farm we were hunting. The biggest of the two was an 11 point giant that my buddy had taken the year before. (stay tuned for that story because it is amazing) The other buck had been a beautiful 10 point the year prior but had dropped to a heavy 8 point for this year. For the first time in two seasons, we only had one trophy buck on the farm to look for. Knowing that buck was there was enough though, so we kept hunting that property hoping for an opportunity. On this particular trip, I was hunting Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning. It was the first year that hunting in Virginia was legal on Sunday and I planned to hunt the morning and make the drive home that night.
Early November can be an incredible time to hunt, but the weather in southern Virginia is also terribly unpredictable. This trip was destined to be a tough hunt all the way through. The weather was calling for intermittent rain, wind, cold, and basic misery. To make matters worse it was muzzleloader season so the moisture would be a constant consideration for our black-powder rifles. To make matters even worse than that I was feeling pretty awful. Definitely a sinus infection or something going on but it would simply have to wait until after this hunt. Friday and Saturday lived up their prediction as miserable days to hunt. Not only did we not kill anything in those two days but also opportunities were slim and no shooter bucks were sighted. Sunday was forecasted to be even worse than the previous two days with temps in the low 30’s high wind and rain snow mix. We made the decision to go ahead and hunt Sunday but only until around 9am. So, in spite of the miserable weather and whatever terrible bug had befallen me, we headed to the stands well before daylight on November 2nd. We were hunting in two permanent blinds so there would be some measure of protection from the elements. Unfortunately, my blind did not have windows and I bet you can guess which direction the wind and rain were coming from. Around 6:45, I noticed movement to my right. I slowly spun around and looked in the dark trying to make out the sounds. Wait, there’s movement, oh wow that’s big; oh…that’s a cow. The cows in the field had made their way to the blind I was hunting in and apparently, they really enjoyed it there. They scratched themselves on the legs of the blind and slowly worked their way up through the woods and back down toward the field. Discouraged, I was certain that the cows had ruined my hunt.
It was now past 7 o’clock and it was not looking good. I was trying to fight off coughing, freezing, and frustration at the cows and hoping that I could even last until 9am. So I sat there, waiting. Finally, around 7:30, I caught movement to my left. That was no cow; it was a deer, and a buck at that. Unsure of how big it was I turned and readied my Thompson Center. The buck crossed one draw turned and headed straight for my blind. He closed ground quickly and popped over the closest ridge only 40 yards away, facing me head on. He continued to the blind and started to angle up the hill. I knew he was a good buck, but was uncertain of exactly how big. As he angled, he turned nearly broadside and stopped to investigate the blind, he was only 20 yards away. I fired the shot and through the smoke saw the buck take several steps forward, seemingly unharmed. I was surprised and feared that maybe I had somehow missed an easy shot. That fear was quickly relieved when the buck stumbled and fell backwards. I texted my buddy across the farm to tell him I had a good buck down, then left the blind to check out the buck and give a moment of thanks. He was a beautiful symmetrical 8 point, and was definitely the buck from the trail cameras. I was incredibly excited to have just taken my biggest buck ever and one that we had been watching for several years but I could not deny I was feeling pretty bad. My buddy got there quickly allowing us to field dress the deer and get him out in a reasonable time. After spending some time at the check station and talking to some other hunters it was time to take my trophy home and start prepping for the taxidermist.
The drive home was interesting at best. I was thrilled to be taking a great buck home but at the same time, I was feeling worse and worse. Cough drops did nothing to stop my cough and I was starting to feel pain in my back. Once I made it home I skinned the deer and got it ready for taxidermy, then went to bed. The next morning I went to work and spoke with a co-worker about my trip and how I was feeling. He encouraged me to go to the doctor, much to the delight of my wife who had been telling me to go. I left early and headed to the doctor’s office to see what was going on. After some tests and a chest x-ray my physician informed me that I had a significant case of pneumonia. It took approximately two weeks and three different treatment attempts before we finally gained the upper hand. The doctor seemed confident that sitting still for long periods with what was probably an upper respiratory issue had contributed to my pneumonia. My obsession and commitment had paid off with a great buck, but definitely at a heavy price. A lot of people would call me crazy but I still say, “it was worth it!”
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