Yesterday was opening day of firearm deer season here in Michigan. The weather was not right for it; unseasonably warm with a high that topped out at 63 degrees. It was also fairly windy, averaging 8-10 mph from the southwest and west-southwest all day with gusts up to 20 mph or so.
In other words, too warm for the deer to be moving around, and so windy that scent (more specifically, human scent) was blowing all over the woods.
But, it was opening day, and we have no venison in the freezer, and it was Sunday so none of us had to take off of work in order to hunt. So we hunted. Or, at least, DH and I and one of DH's buddies (aka a 'guest') hunted in the morning. In the afternoon, DH, his buddy, myself and DS1 hunted.
The tree stand I chose to sit in is in the northwest corner of our woods. Because it was bought as a Christmas present for DS2 back when he was in high school, it's official location is known as "DS2's Stand". Now, with the wind coming right off the field from the west, and DS2's Stand being only about 25 yards inside the woods off the field, DH tried his best to convince me that DS2's Stand was the wrong place to sit yesterday. The wind was all wrong, he said. I wouldn't see any deer, he said. They would scent me long before I could see them coming through the woods.
But, I had a persistent feeling that I was supposed to sit in DS2's Stand on opening day. And when I have a persistent feeling, it is very hard to get me to change my mind. That gut instinct has proven itself right too many times.
During the four hours I sat in the stand opening morning, I saw six deer, all to the north of me. Some headed west to east, but most headed east to west. And none of them came within range of my gun. But, at least I saw them. I knew they were there. A very good sign, since the last two weeks (bow season) DH hadn't been seeing hardly any deer.
Still, when we came in for food and to watch the Lions actually play some decent football on TV, DH tried to convince me I should sit elsewhere for the afternoon hunt. But no, my mind was made up and I wasn't budging. Back to DS2's Stand it was, at 3:00.
Now during the morning hunt, there had been a fairly good amount of shooting going on in the neighborhood. And by neighborhood I mean a couple mile radius. Basically as far as you can hear, that's the neighborhood in this instance. I counted 45 shots between roughly dawn at 7:00 a.m., and when I got into the house at 10:30 a.m. (I'd been sitting since 6:20, but not enough light to shoot by until around 7:00).
By contrast, I think I may have heard three shots during my afternoon sit. Don't know if there were suddenly less hunters in the afternoon, or if there were markedly less deer. I saw a deer in the woods to the north of me (on the neighbor's property) go from west to east around 4:00 p.m. Then about 4:45 I saw one of the same size, roughly the same distance north, go from east to west. My assumption, being that it was smallish and alone, is that it was a button buck just wandering around from one side of the woods to another.
A little after 5:00 p.m., I heard deer coming up from the south, about 40-50 yards east of me. It took a while for them to come into view, as it is fairly brushy in that direction. I got a visual on them about 5:20 or so. In the lead was a large doe, followed by what I assumed where her two fawns. They didn't seem frightened at all, just on a normal jaunt through the woods in search of food and water. When they were almost due east of me, I heard another, heavier sounding, deer coming up the same path from the south. Thinking it might possibly be a buck, I let the lead doe go through my shooting lane and continue northward. The two smaller deer followed her at a leisurely pace. By the time the third deer of that group was in my shooting lane, I could see the following fourth deer. It was good sized, but it was not a buck. No matter, as I had in my pocket a doe permit too, since I first hunt dinner, then horns. (DH will not shoot a doe until the final week of November, prior to that he is out for a large buck.)
So, as the front three deer moved out of my shooting lane and into a little more brush, I brought my gun up to my shoulder, and waited for that fourth deer, that bigger doe, to come into the clearing. To my surprise, she not only came into the clearing, but she turned and headed right toward the tree I was sitting in!
Now, with a wind from the west, and the deer being to the east of me, she was not supposed to do that! She was supposed to scent me on the wind that blew right past her nostrils. Because I was in the wrong stand for the weather. I don't know if the wind suddenly died off in that moment, or what, but I ended up with a hefty doe standing broadside to me at about 20 yards distance.
So I shot her. Knocked her sideways, and when her feet hit the ground again, she took off running west toward the field, then changed her mind once she was past my tree and headed south into the brushy cover. A couple of big crashes, then the sound of dead branches breaking, a little gurgling wheeze, and silence.
That's when I started shaking. I was shaking so hard from adrenaline that it's a wonder the stand wasn't clanging against the tree. I did some Lamaze breathing (I tell you, that breathing technique I learned in child birth class back in 1989 has steadied my nerves more times than just the four births I've been through). I answered DH's text that yes, the shot was mine, and I believed she hadn't gone very far. Then I waited. And waited. And waited. Approximate shot time was 5:36 p.m. Dark fell about 6:05. I had to wait until dark to get down, so as to not interrupt anyone else's hunting.
Then, once it was dark, and DH walked over to my stand on his way in, he wanted to go in the house and eat dinner before we started tracking my doe. He didn't want to kick her up and make her run if she wasn't dead yet. I agreed, as I really really hate tracking in the dark, so I didn't want to risk pushing her from where I thought she was based on the sounds she'd made and the direction she'd run after I shot. I was pretty sure she was within about 50 yards of DS2's Stand, south and a little east, on the edge of the woods and not in the field.
Earlier, between hunts, I'd put together a big batch of chili and had it staying hot in the crock pot while we went out for the afternoon hunt. Serving up dinner took only a few minutes, and about fifteen more to actually eat it. Then I was raring to go retrieve my deer. I had in my pocket a Ziploc bag to put the heart in, two gutting knives, my doe permit, and a flash light.
It seemed like forever before I got DH and his buddy up out of their chairs and out of the house. I don't remember for sure, but I might have said something about going and getting the deer all by myself if they didn't get a move on. They, I'm pretty sure, thought she wouldn't be dead yet (from their collective past experiences with shooting and tracking their own deer and those of their friends). But I was positive she was. Her short running distance, big crash of sticks, and gurgle sounded like the last deer I'd gotten, years ago, that I'd clipped through the heart and had dropped and died within a few minutes of being shot.
Once we'd gotten the tractor from the barn (the loader bucket on the tractor is so handy for carrying deer in from the woods) and driven to the edge of field at the woods, DH wanted to start looking for blood right there where the woods and field met. I insisted she hadn't run that far.
I walked back to where I'd aimed in my shooting lane so close to DS2's Stand, and turned on the flashlight. Almost immediately I found the blood trail. DH's buddy jumped five yards ahead of me, to where a small tree was sprayed with blood, and he practically rushed through the woods looking for my deer. DH called him off, saying that I was to take the lead and do the tracking. If I lost the trail, then they would fan out and help look.
I didn't lose the trail. It was well marked, bright red droplets of blood plentiful in the fallen leaves. Brush and small trees were splashed with it, clearly showing the way my doe had ran. It wasn't even ten minutes later that I found her, crawled up underneath a wild apple tree, definitely dead.
At that point, DH handed me the spot light and told me to break a path through the brush so that he and his buddy could drag the doe out to the field for me. Sounds nice, like I got the easy job, right? Unless you know that the brush happens to include some nasty stuff with 2" thorns on it. So, I backed my way through the brush (to protect my face from getting scratched), using my body to break a path for them to follow, and shining the spot light at the ground so they could see what was under foot.
Once we had her out in the field, I insisted on a posterity picture (mainly because the last deer I got--2009? 2010? I can't remember--I never got a picture of because after it was dressed and hung, I went in to wash up and forgot to have someone take a picture of me with my deer).
(of course I had to edit this photo in keeping with my
no recognizable faces policy on this blog)
Then it was time for the messy job of field dressing her. I took off my coat, rolled up my shirt sleeves, unfolded the preferred gutting knife, and got to cutting. She was still hot inside, and that kept me from getting chilled, since the temperature was down below fifty now. Doing the gutting didn't take long, and when I putted out the heart, I proudly showed off what had sort of become my 'signature': a heart with a top corner shredded. Ever deer I've harvested (all whopping three of them now) has been shot through the edge of the heart. Like I mentioned before, I hate tracking in the dark. You shoot the deer in the right spot, put the bullet through the heart, and it's a pretty quick death for the animal. Some people bemoan the loss of that section of the heart as meat once it's been shot. Personally, I'd rather give up a little meat and give the deer a quick death. I feel it's more humane. And, it saves me some tracking.
Once she was relieved of her internal organs and other inside partss, I rolled her up onto her belly to let the large puddle of blood out of her gut cavity. Then we put her in the tractor bucket and drove her up to the barn for hanging.
And weighing. Several years ago, DH received a game scale as a Christmas gift. Since then, we've weighed all our deer. It's curiosity more than anything else; we tally up the weight of the meat once it's all cut and packaged for the freezer. It is nice to see the ratio between hanging weight and the weight of the meat procured.
My doe weighed in at a very respectable 125 pounds, dressed. Not bad. Not bad at all.
one less deer in the woods