The storm that closed out Friday’s hunt had lasted well into the evening and deposited a nice coating of fresh, crunchy snow. As I crossed the long field toward my stand, guided only by a shimmering pre-dawn sky, I cut a high volume of fresh tracks. Deer were moving, and that was a good sign.
The 15-minute walk warmed me to the core and countered the sub-20 degree temperature I would be sitting through for a few hours until we started our drives.
Ten minutes to 7 o’clock a buck came by at 50 yards, his antlers silhouetted against the snow in the faint light of the brightening sky. He was small and wasn’t legal, as far as I could tell.
At 7:30 the turkeys began flying down from their roosts. Long after they landed their yelps and clucks were the only sounds in the woods, and their dark bodies the only distraction in the whisper-still morning. At times it was frustrating to see movement through the trees and then have it be a hen or jake waddling to join up with their partners.
It was hard to concentrate due to the turkeys and temperature. I was fidgeting. I put additional warming pads in my boots and poured a cup of coffee to thwart the pressing cold. Two does crossed the ridgeline to the north and gave me enough of an adrenaline rush for a brief warm up.
At 8:45 I poured another a cup of coffee and scanned the hillside to my left. I took a sip. I looked right and saw a doe walking in my direction. Behind it was a buck. I silently cursed myself for having my hands full and slowly set the steaming cup down in a small pile of snow next to my feet. When I stood, the blanket I had covering my legs threatened to slide off my platform but I was able to grab it before it fell to the ground below. Finally I reached for my gun. Somehow the deer hadn’t seen my movements.
The buck, a small forkhorn I had seen on opening day, was limping. They were coming at me from the east, about halfway up the hillside. They veered right toward a small thicket. I scoped the buck to confirm he wasn’t legal. I didn’t see his injury either.
Prior to retaking my seat, I gave another look toward where they had been on the hill. A third deer’s head protruded from an opening in a light tangle of grape vines, and it was looking away, toward its rear. The deer had antlers.
I put my scope on him and, as he turned his head, I saw one small tine protruding behind a slightly longer one and the tip of his right main beam. I felt confident he was a legal buck with three points up. For the first time in three-plus days an opportunity at a legal buck appeared before me. I set the safety on my rifle to fire.
Though his head was clearly visible the buck’s body was not. He took two steps and stopped again, this time with his head behind another tree and his body exposed. I wanted to get one more look at his rack, just to make absolutely certain he was legal, so I moved my gun just ahead of where he stood to get another view of his rack. He just needed to take one more step.
After what seemed like hours – but was really just a few seconds – he made that step. Again he looked the other direction. His rack wasn’t all that big, but he was definitely legal. I moved the crosshairs to the area just behind his right shoulder and pulled the trigger.
The buck jumped as the rifle’s report shattered the morning’s stillness. He took three big hops up the hill and then fell down. He got up, took a few more steps and disappeared behind trees and over the crest of the hill. Though he was out of sight, I was confident my shot had connected.
I put my rifle’s safety on and did some treestand housekeeping as my nerves settled and adrenaline ran its course. I finished my now-cold cup of coffee in two gulps and screwed the lid tight on the thermos. I arranged my backpack and seat, and grabbed my smaller waist pack that held my rope, knife and other incidentals. It had been five minutes since my shot. I took a deep breath.
I climbed down from my stand and took care walking across the pitch to where the deer was standing when I shot. I was on alert if he suddenly stood up and bolted. Fresh sprays of blood practically glowed on top of the snow, as if someone took a spritzer bottle full of bright red dye and squeezed the trigger while flailing through the woods. It wasn’t hard to follow the buck’s path based on the overturned leaves and an increasingly heavy blood trail.
I found him in 40 steps. We locked eyes and he watched me as I closed the short distance between us. He waited until I was standing beside him to take his last breath.
The buck was small in body and in rack. His spread of 6½ inches gave an allusion of a pronghorn antelope. Regardless, his meat will be used in various meals over the next several months.
I finished dressing the buck as my uncle arrived. It was a short drag to the field where we loaded him into the bed of a pickup and met up with others to coordinate plans for the remainder of the day.
With the temperature barely into the 20s the others were ready to start moving. It would be hours before I had to worry about being cold.