Last Saturday evening as I scrubbed the deer blood from my hands, I thought of the old saying “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.”
Perhaps I’m selling myself short a bit, but the fact is I really was lucky to tag a buck on opening day of gun season. Though he certainly wasn’t the biggest buck I’d ever taken — not even close actually — he was a nice buck and I was happy to bring home some much-needed fresh venison.
The buck may have been fairly unremarkable, but the shot that brought him down certainly was not. Let’s start from the beginning, shall we.
Saturday morning, I hunted a stand that I admiringly call “clown car.” The name is in reference to the fact that just about the time I assume no more deer will pop out, yet another one or two or three will magically appear from the brush along the edge of the field. Kind of like a clown car.
I had hunted clown car a few times during archery season and like those times, it did not disappoint. Does scampered around the field at legal time as I scanned the perimeter for bucks. As is often the case in this spot, it was long before a decent buck entered the field and chased does half-hazard.
Eventually he found a mature doe that was clearly in the mood. She submitted to his impressive posturing and they walked off to a quiet corner of the property as the other does watched. Then things quieted down.
I had to cough in the worst way so I headed to the vehicle early so I could let loose. What a relief.
Though the wind Saturday afternoon remained perfect for that spot, I needed a change of scenery. Though I hadn’t even set foot on it yet, I decided then and there that I was going to take a look at a new property I had recently gained permission to hunt.
Like most busy families, mine runs ragged throughout the week with school, work and after-school activities such as sports and dance. When I got home, everybody was still in bed.
There is sleeping in, and then there is plain old lazy. I started to wake them up and assign chores like a meanie. I lamented the fact out loud that hunting on opening day of deer gun season was a family tradition and that they were all a bunch of bums for not getting up to go with me.
My son Mitchell is definitely not one to take such taunts idly. Of course, I was well aware of this fact and laid it on heavy as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. A few hours later two of us were hurriedly loading the back of the Suburban and headed to explore that new property.
Judging by the incredible number of deer tracks it was fairly obvious the deer on adjacent parcels spend a lot of time on this relatively featureless, 40-acre field. That doesn’t necessarily mean they do it during shooting hours but I was encouraged nonetheless.
Mitchell and I traveled light. We had brought a ladder tree stand with us, but we didn’t have time to deal with it so we simply used some bag chairs and set them against a steep ditch bank for our backdrop. I quickly trimmed some branches from nearby box elders and made a simple ground blind with natural vegetation.
One concern I had was if a deer were to try and cross the ditch behind us, it would immediately catch our scent on what was otherwise a perfect southwest wind quartering into our faces. When it comes to deer hunting it’s almost impossible to completely eliminate spooking deer, but it’s always best to minimize the issue by considering not only where the deer are going to be, but where they are before they start to move.
We had been sitting there for a few minutes when I noticed some mallards working a nearby waterhole and I couldn’t stop watching them through my binoculars. Though I love deer hunting, I’m a waterfowl hunter at heart and my thoughts drifted off to fat greenheads hanging from my duck strap.
Then it happened. I heard a stick snap to my immediate right. My brain processed the sound as I lowered my binoculars and reached for my gun. Mitchell who has also been fighting a terrible cough, blurted out something unintelligible and cough-like, but it was clear he had seen something. I immediately raised my gun and turned to my right just in time to see a nice buck running across the field.
It was obvious he had done exactly what I had feared and crossed the ditch behind us and ending up immediately downwind of us. By the time he realized his mistake his best move was to just run. And so, he did. An adult whitetail buck running across flat ground is an amazing thing to witness. With his head held high he charged for the cover about 250 yards across the field.
I tracked him through my scope as I yelled at him, “Hey, HEY, HEYYYYY!!!” in hopes that he’d stop, but he completely ignored me. He was quickly moving beyond reasonable range for my vintage 44 magnum Ruger carbine rifle. I’ve taken many deer with this gun, but perhaps I’m a little too confident with it. I leaned forward and aimed with great conviction. The trigger pull must be timed perfectly on a running animal and it takes Zen-like focus.
By the time I pulled the trigger he was further away than any running deer I’d ever targeted. I’d even go as far as to call it a stupid shot. I try to avoid shooting at running deer at all costs, but for whatever reason this time I did.
I knew I had hit him as he immediately changed direction and his gait shifted dramatically. Within seconds he started to go down. It turned out I had him hit exactly where I was aiming.
We tagged the buck and agreed that the shot was right around 100 yards. I can’t say I’ll ever try to drop a running deer at that range again with a short-range caliber or even try for that matter, but all’s is well that ends well.