So I finally got a deer – while hunting! I’m 44 so most had completely given up hope on me ever shooting one, and the office humor revolved around how much drinking we were going to do and whether I was going to bring the gun this year, but the area we hunt in isn’t particularly easy. It took me quite a few years to realize some of the tricks to finding the critters in dense human-free woods.
Normally our deer camp has a good sized crowd of die-hard hunters ready to teach me what to do, but this year multiple camp regulars were hit with serious family related problems so the population of our thousand plus acres of Gaia’s wilderness, was approximately two. Dad and I had a great time but when ‘Sausage’ the deer poked his head from the woods, things got pretty interesting. Having 6 or 7 hunters to help with some of the inconveniences of shooting deer, is a lot different than two.
Sitting in my ladder stand on opening day this year, the weather was warm and there was a lot of activity in the woods. If you have ever spent extended time in the woods, you find hours of dead silence and times of amazing activity. In a tree stand, the wildlife seems to have a hard time recognizing that you are any sort of threat. After all, there aren’t that many two hundred pound predators lurking in the tree tops.
A red squirrel spotted me at one point, but didn’t know what I was so he ran up the pine tree next to me and ran out on a branch to where I could have reached out and petted him. Its important to sit still though so the critters don’t cry out an alarm so we just looked at each other for a while until he got bored and left.
Being the natural-born hunter that you know I obviously am from the intro, there were plenty of mishaps during the day. I dropped a glove, 14 ft down and had to go get it and later on I got so tired I was falling asleep in the stand – not the safest thing to do even with modern harnesses. I began shooting video of myself in the tree with whispered commentary, because it was keeping me awake. I was talking about how the deer would wait to come out at dusk and pointed out where they come from and which way they would go. It didn’t help me completely though because I put my head down on the shooting rail at around 2pm and the next thing I knew the iPhone was on the ground – 14 ft down.
Still, I kept hearing the shuffle step of deer in the woods behind me during the day. It kept me excited but right-or-wrong I was certain from past years that the critters weren’t coming out in daylight hours. Deer like to take a few steps then stop. It takes some experience to separate their sound from the sound of other wildlife. Red squirrels are actually louder in dry leaves and even snap twigs on occasion. Deer and large animals snap big twigs. Then there is the sound of falling logs and breaking branches from the natural processes of the general woods. You learn to hear the differences though.
Right at dusk, I was 100% awake and heard the shuffle sound followed by a large stick breaking. It was definitely a deer but bucks are more wary and rare than does. I was so alert that I saw his head poke out from the trees 60 yards away – right where I had expected! It was dark enough that it was hard to see if there were antlers but there was a hint of something there- you can’t shoot doe’s in our area during rifle season. I grabbed my grandfathers 30-06 from the shooting rail as he stepped from the woods and I looked down the scope. I got the hint of antlers again so I clicked off the safety. I was excited so the snap was metallic sounding and even from 60 yards the buck was so wary that his head popped up and he did that perfect ‘shoot me’ pose that you find on the side of every box of bullets or that bottle of Eau-Du-doe —- you know the one:
I wanted to wait for him to walk closer but he was way too alert though so I was expecting that rear-hoof stomp and that would be the last time I saw him. The antlers were still a hint on his head against the trees behind but I was sure and took the shot. The whole thing lasted under ten seconds. Eight years of hunting in the UP of Michigan and ‘Sausage’ and I knew each other for less than 10 seconds.
Unexpectedly, instead of laying down, Sausage decided to run! He took off into the woods running low and fast like a cat escaping certain vacuum cleaner doom. I wasn’t worried though, he wasn’t going far, I unloaded (removed) the other two bullets from the rifle I normally use and realized that I was shaking like a leaf. I took 15 minutes getting down from the stand and gradually walked toward where Sausage was standing. There were hoof prints but no blood or fur! I spent 20 minutes using my best engineer tracking skills (none!) and Sausage the deer was not there, there was no blood, no fur and nothing to indicate that he had any intention of becoming dinner. Just to be clear, that is not typical for a shot from a 2700fps 180 grain 30-06.
It was getting very dark and Dad had driven the truck to my pickup spot so I went to him and we tried finding him together in the dark. No luck, no sign, nothing. We went back to the cabin and had dinner. I spent the night worrying about whether I had actually hit him or if a twig had deflected the bullet. It didn’t make sense. From the deer’s reaction, I was certain he was hit but there was no blood. A book in camp called “Finding Wounded Deer” told a story of a double lung shot with no blood so I found that somewhat reassuring. The next morning we went out in bright daylight and still found no sign that he had been hit. We followed the tracks into the dense woods and Dad found Sausage right away. He hadn’t gone even 40 yards.
It took the two of us 2 1/2 hours to get the deer out of the woods. We had three mechanical problems with the game cart, dense woods to contend with and the fact that Sausage was pretty big for a UP deer! We were very tired to say the least. To give an idea of the size of him, this is a shot of my 6 foot tall father standing next to him on the deer pole at camp.
We got it done though. My field dressing skills turned out to be not much better than my 3yo son Ethan on a stick of butter but that got done also. The bullet entered the right side, snapping the upper leg bone, passed through the chest and exited the left side rib cage. On expert forensic review, the bullet actually turned immediately after the left side rib cage and traveled outside the ribs and under the skin without exiting. No external blood whatsoever! I had actually hit the heart and lungs at a good distance so my night of fretting about a long track or not being able to find Sausage, was completely wasted.
By the time we got him to camp and hanging from the pole, I was very tired. So when I shot this video and I tried to smile as much as I could, after 8 years of hunting it wasn’t that hard to do.