It was all very different this year, mostly I suppose because it actually went down according to the plan. It started back in September when it was resolved that the majority of time would be devoted to sitting in a tree stand. Stalking has been my hunt mode in the past, mostly I suppose due to an inability to sit still for very long and a desire to be safely on the ground. Due also to a desire for the family - younger brother, in-laws and kids to be successful - they sit in the trees. Sometimes I push. Mostly I facilitate. It was all very different this year.
The crew was a bit smaller. Just the brother, one brother-in-law, and one nephew. They could all fit nicely at the farm, so the home place would be all mine. That prompted the thinking about doing things differently.
A trip to the local Farm & Fleet during the pre-hunting season sale produced an 18 foot tall, double wide, powder coated, easy to assemble, easy to install, shooting railed, padded seated, sure enough sniper shit ladder stand. The assemble and install bit was not quite as advertised, but success was had none the less, if not in a very timely fashion. The contraption was erected roughly in the vicinity where several deer had been whacked by family members in years past. Scary tall at thirteen feet, the last ladder section wasn't used. Camera traps indicated a goodly mess of does and fawns working the trails and as time moved closer to opening day the bucks began to make both night time and daytime appearances near the stand. The double wide was in the right spot.
For the first time in my sporadic deer hunting experience, I was way too prepared. What could possibly go wrong?
In the tree in the dark, waiting for the dawn on the first morning, something light was flashing in the distance - not a light like a flash light or headlamp, but something lighter than the darkness. Again and again it flashed. And then it flashed as it rapidly moved left to right through the woods and disappeared. OK. Sure. That was real? Not exactly spooky, but kind of weird.
The brain went back to my first ever deer hunt. Twelve years old, walking into the blackness of a trail that I had never been on with the Old Man. "Sit here. When it gets light, if you see a deer shoot it. I'll be down the trail a couple hundred yards". And he was gone into the dark and I was very alone. Soon wolves began a long howling - the first I had ever heard - they sounded close - and I knew they had come for me! Scared shitless doesn't even begin to describe the terror. Of course neither deer nor wolves ever showed that morning, and the Old Man never left the kid alone in a dark forest again.
As the light improved over the next fifteen minutes, I figured that the flashing must be the flapping and flight of a barred owl that I had seen two days earlier while giving the dogs their evening run. So, no UFOs. No problem. Good to go.
Then the real dawn and two deer came slowly but steadily up the hill and close enough for a try. They stopped behind a trio of oaks and then some minutes later disappeared as smoke. It would be revealed later in the full light of the morning how they pulled that off. Half and hour later a spike buck came up the same trail and casually wandered around as I scoped him out and plotted his demise - but he walks - there is plenty of time. Then another spike an hour on. Different from the first, he has a wide and long pair of straight tines - looking sort of spike elkish - very cool he walks as well. I was feeling pretty fat and happy up in my tree but by now my feet were cold and I had to pee, but I couldn't immediately climb down because as I looked to my right there was another deer slowly making its way in my direction. This one moved differently from the others and was coming into the wind - not the preferred scenario. And of course, this was the one with real headgear. The horns bobbed and weaved for what seemed a long time as he tried to figure whether to keep coming and get killed or to bug out - he decided the latter. Through the scope I saw a smallish eight pointer - if there were brow tines - a nice basket buck. But he was in the thick oak and hazel brush - not a good shot. He walks.
Another four hours were spent in the tree over the remainder of the weekend and three more does were seen. Most of the weekend was devoted to splitting the birch and filling up the woodshed. And the family filled their tags out at the farm.
Friday was Veteran's Day and a holiday from the daily grinder. I got a late start and flushed a little fawn as I walked in towards the stand. About an hour passed and a big doe walked right on by at about thirty yards. This was the most golden opportunity so far and I scoped her out good. My sector was hunter's choice this year, so she was meat to me - but I let her walk............what could go wrong ? Saturday I figured I had blown the whole deal by passing on the doe, as I did not see any deer that day.
So Sunday dawned with confidence and feeling good vibes. About a half hour after dawn I was intensely looking left down the hill when I got the spidey sense. The tingle. The pull. That thing..................
As I turned my head slowly back to the right, there was a buck right there. Fifteen yards and walking fast with a stiff legged gait, he gave me no time to think or even get nervous. Boom! ............ Loud like a cannon in the windless morning!
The buck lurched upward with a hunched leap and bounded down the hill. I had expected it to drop in its tracks, so had a moment of panic as I watched the second, third, fourth, fifth bound down the hill. But then it faltered, changed directions, and ran headlong into a jack pine. Down. Flat. Done.
So, I guess it's true - deer don't look up - except for the opening day buck that came upwind, none of the deer that I saw made me. And that was the big difference this year.
No brow tines
Then the work
Then a very late but excellent breakfast