Hunting, Fishing, and Deer Camp
The story of my biggest buck of 2016 and the events that led to that great hunt.
Deer hunters are unique. We can be the most optimistic people despite overwhelming odds and terrible conditions that would tell any sane person today is not the day for this. How many times have any of us headed into the woods convinced that today would be the day to get a shot at that buck from the trail camera this summer or even to see a bigger one that never got his picture taken? Despite this eternally optimistic streak, hunters can be realistic too. If weather is approaching you know the best time to hunt will be in the hours before the front sets in. Once the bad weather gets there the deer are likely to shut down but that is of little concern to you, because of course you will get yours before the weather gets there. So, with a storm front bearing down and a long walk ahead you set out from the truck with all the hope that comes with a hunt that is yet to unfold.
This was exactly the situation I was faced with for the Virginia firearms opener this year. I had traveled the 200 miles south from my home in northern Virginia to hunt with my best friend in very place where we met and grew up. This trip is certainly not uncommon, I make the trip at least once or twice a year to hunt there and have even taken several good bucks on such trips. Unfortunately, this trip was a little different. Typically, I time my trip south to coincide with the early muzzleloader season. We have had great success during that time and it’s one of our favorite times to hunt. This year would have been the same had it not been for a last minute invitation to fish for muskies on Michigan’s Lake St. Clair on the very weekend that I would have normally been headed south. (The trip to Michigan turned out to be a total bust but that story will wait for another day) In any event, because of my inability to pass up a trip north for musky fishing I was forced to push my annual hunting trip back two weeks. This time I would be hunting the opening day of the general firearms season, and carrying my Remington 7mm-08 instead of my Thompson Center Omega.
The weekend arrived well enough as I went to work on Friday and headed out that night destined for what I hoped would be a great weekend of hunting. My arrival was round 10:00 pm. After getting settled in and getting a late bite to eat we finally got to check the weather forecast for the next day. What we found was discouraging at best. The forecast had changed and the window of good weather we were hoping to hunt had dwindled to just a few hours. Hunting should be good until about 10 am the next morning but after that the temperature would drop 20 degrees, rain was imminent, and wind was expected to reach 20mph+. While definitely not an ideal situation the optimism that only hunters possess was ever present. I remember our discussion after that point and someone said “someone is going to kill a good buck tomorrow, but they are going to have to do it early.”
The next morning, we left the house well before daylight and headed to the farm we planned to hunt. The ATV was unloaded from the trailer, backpacks were filled, headlamps were switched on, and we headed out into the dark. I climbed into my ladder stand about 20 minutes later. It was early, and dark, and warm. I knew cold and wet weather was coming but for now it was calm, warm, and dry. Slowly, the dark gave way to light and reveled a gray, cloudy, sky. There was still no wind but surely it was definitely coming. After about 30 minutes on stand I realized I had put one too many layers on before daylight and was forced to shed my outermost layer, leaving me hunting in a t-shirt and a heavy sweatshirt in mid-November. I settled into my stand as the woods came to life. It is an incredible thing that happens when you are on a deer stand. If you do it right, you become part of the environment. Squirrels and birds go about their normal business completely unaware of your presence and for a time you are privy to a show that only plays in the deer woods in November.
Sitting in that stand I was enjoying the warm weather and the beginning of my weekend when I heard leaves. I could tell right away that it was a deer so I slowly turned and started looking for the source of the noise. A small doe was walking up the ridge toward me. There was another deer behind her but I couldn’t make out what it was. A third deer came from even further down the mountain than the previous two, passed one deer, and headed straight toward the one closest to me. What turned out to be a small buck chased the doe closest to me across the point I was sitting on and back down the mountain into a thicket. The remaining doe stayed close by but didn’t seem alarmed. The next 15 minutes or so consisted of watching the small buck chase does below me. It was too thick to get a great look at any of the deer but I could tell none of them were what I was looking for. I heard another sound, but this one wasn’t from the same place, it was further over and closer to the low gap that I had hoped to see deer in. I scanned that area and quickly picked out a fairly large bodied deer. A quick look confirmed that not only was it a buck, but a solid shooter buck at that. I pulled the rifle into position and looked through my scope. “Outstanding, this deer is going to walk right up the ridge and give me a wide open shot at about 60 yards.” He was calm and angled in the right direction but then the thought occurred to me, “I can see the deer now, I have a good shot now, why wait for him to walk further and risk something going wrong?” With my mind made up to take the shot now I clicked the safety off as quietly as I could and settled the crosshairs on the buck’s shoulder. It was a quartering toward shot but the rifle should be able to go through the shoulder the vitals and out behind the other shoulder.
At the shot the deer ran straight away from me. His head and tail were down but he ran fast and hard. Although I felt good about the shot there is always a nervous element present when you have to track a deer. I waited about 10 minutes before tracking. Because I am color blind I struggle to find blood on a tracking job. Instead, I look for tracks and trails that indicate the path of travel. I slowly worked downhill toward the thicker woods the deer had come from. Finally, I looked up and saw the buck’s left horn sticking up over a small log. Nervousness immediately gave way to excitement and relief as I looked at the 8-point buck in front of me. The time was around 8:00am. A good buck had been killed and it had been done early. After a brief moment to give thanks and a much longer moment to field dress the deer the excitement and relief I had experienced for such a short time gave way to a much more pressing matter, I had to drag this deer uphill for a long way to get him out of here. Thank goodness hunters are so optimistic!
Note: Within two hours of killing this buck the weather had turned terrible. 15-20 mph winds and a 20 degree temperature drop were accompanied by intermittent heavy rain. There were no more bucks killed in our group that weekend.
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