Despite the twists and turns of 2010, I am able to reflect upon my big game season with some measure of satisfaction. On my last successful hunt of the 2010 big game season I was able to take a nice coyote and a buck that is easily my second best ever. This in a year that was supposed to be a wash for me, a year that I had written off as a loss, given my injuries in the pre-season. I ended up the year with an antlerless archery tag filled, a buck and a doe tag filled during the shotgun season, and a buck on a muzzleloader tag.
The buck pictured here represents a very memorable shot. I had killed the coyote only about 30 minutes earlier and was debating about ending my hunt when I noticed motion about 150 yards away in a ravine. After a few minutes of watching, I was able to pick out the shape of a doe, who became more visible with time and focus. She was intent on something in the opposite direction of my stand location, and the wind was in my favor. I watched her for over 30 minutes, sometimes laying down, other times standing up with ears pricked forward, twitching her tail. A buck?
After another 15 minutes of this I decided, seeing no other deer, to climb down and try to stalk the doe by creeping to the edge of the ravine and pulling off an ambush shot. I didn't want to take such a long shot on a doe. As I was descending the tree, I kept looking at the doe in the gully, but as I got lower and the angle of view changed, she went out of sight. Then, I caught a burst of motion and the shape of a deer raced by from right to left in the ravine. They're moving...change of plan!
I raced back up the tree, thinking better of my ambush plan, and hoping they would move towards me and offer me a shot. As I reclaimed my position in the tree stand, and brought the binoculars to my eyes, I could see two deer. I looked at them through the binoculars. They were bunched up now, both looking intently away from me, oblivious of my presence over a football field away. Then, out of the right side of my field of vision through the binoculars emerged an antler, which kept growing until I saw a large neck and attached to the body of a very healthy buck in full rut. It was so vivid and clear against the snow, and yet I dropped the binoculars, not trusting the data coming in. I raised them again... he was big bodied, his tines reached beyond his eye in profile and he was beyond the ears... "a shooter," I breathed, dropping the binoculars and raising the gun to asses the situation through a scope.
The shot was no chip-shot, plus 150 yards, down hill, lots of trees and brush. I had two possible openings two shoot through if the buck cooperated. It would have to be perfect. PERFECT. I debated momentarily about taking the shot at all, and then the voice of reason, the one I have grown to trust in deer season told me "you see one shooter per season-- two if you are really lucky... if you have a make-able shot, take it." So the shot was makeable, I told my self, so I'll take it.
The buck was busy sniffing and twitching his tail while I was snuggling up to the seat and the tree on my hang-on tree stand, trying to find a rock-steady rest. As I settled in, kneeling on the platform and using the seat to stabilize, he stepped into the better of my two openings. He was quartering toward me, presenting a thin window at vitals with a sharp down angle, but I felt good on my rest. He stopped. I focused on a quarter-sized patch of fur slightly forward of his front right shoulder. At that angle I'd hit vitals and perhaps break the shoulder, anchoring him. I prepared to commence the squeeze. As I began the exhale and the oh-so-gentle squeeze I vaguely noticed him move his head downward to lick his front left leg and his left hind quarters. The shot. A cartwheel through the scope and smoke. Did I hit his antlers when he moved his head? Still looking through the scope, and not moving an inch, I began to be able to see four legs straight up in the air quivering, and then they became still and listed to the right. Deer down. Was it my buck? Did I hit him in the head or antlers? Did a different deer step in front of the shot? Many questions were racing through my mind.
I regained my seat in the tree stand to compose myself, reloading and checking back every few seconds to confirm that the downed animal was not going to regain consciousness and scamper off (as happened the year before out of the same stand... see the "snorkel deer"). I checked my watch, to begin the agonizing but obligatory 30 minute wait. After 15 minutes, and many, many confirmations with scope and binoculars, I was certain of the presence of antlers and that the deer was dead. I descended the stand and slowly made my way to the downed deer. As I reached him, the two does he was with burst from some brush on my right and bounded away. I worried for a moment that that was a sign that the buck was still alive, but when I reached him, the bullet wound(s) told another story. As the buck had turned his head to lick his left side, the bullet neatly severed his spine, then entered his chest cavity and lodged in the upper portion of his heart. He died instantly.
I hefted the antlers in my hand. I was very aware of the feeling that was washing over me, of a kind of relief mixed with remorse, the beginning and ending, the victory and the end of the struggle. He was a nice buck. One to be proud of. I have only one bigger, but not better. This buck came with much effort, after many trials and barriers, and after a difficult previous season. This buck was a gift to mark a turning point for me, a leaving behind and a striving ahead. The season finale-and a beginning.
On hunting whitetails, Koller once said:
"If we must kill them,let it be quickly and cleanly, without excuses. Paradoxical though it may seem, a sportsman, to enjoy his sport, must kill that which he admires. He must posses it, fondle it, show it to his friends; and to possess he must kill. No one can object to this, for it is the way of nature; but in the name of this mother of all wild things, it should be a sudden, painless death."