Bow deer season opens this Saturday in Wisconsin. I’ve requested that day off, and gotten it. For the rest of the season, my weekends are scheduled around hunting. In some places, the season has already begun. I’m beyond ready. We didn’t do much this past weekend, so here is the story of my first Opening Day gun hunt, and my first deer.
It was a Saturday in November of last year. The 17th, to be exact. It was opening day of gun season. However, we hadn’t been out for deer at first light. Throughout bow season, we’d spent the mornings on the water for ducks and geese, and the evenings in the woods for deer, nearly every weekend. Even though it was opening day, this Saturday had been no different. Luckily, we’d moved away from spending literally all day in the blind- bird activity slacked off around 9 or 10 am, and we’d headed in about then to come home and have brunch.
Fueled up and in a change of camo, we headed out to our public land parcel. Early for an evening hunt. We got there around 12:30 or 1 in the afternoon. In spite of the land being near town, and popular to boot, I don’t remember seeing any other hunters’ trucks there. We certainly didn’t see anyone hiking in. Praising our luck, we started the hike up the hill to the back field of this property.
As we neared our destination, we decided on where we would stake out. Matt had his climber with him, and took one of the only spots we’d found with trees straight enough- Just inside the treeline on a heavily used game trail. It was on the edge of the back of the hill, where it drops down fairly steeply into some thick, brushy woods before the property ends at Airport road.
I opted to go a few hundred yards counterclockwise around the edge of the field from his location. I only had a folding tripod stool and our little ground blind in my pack. It’s this style, which makes it very portable. I had my choice of game trails coming up out of the brush down the hill. The land here sort of rolls, so I picked a spot where I could see two of the three. It was afternoon, and I was on the west edge of a field. The trees cast their shadows over my head. The wind was out of the north-northwest at about 5-10 miles per hour. I was settled in by a little after one.
After our very hot, very dry summer last year, we had a very warm Fall. Now, Autumn has been getting warmer and warmer since I was a kid- I remember being in college, walking to class, and it being 80+ degrees one year. In October. But the warmth really stuck around last year. This particular mid-November day was a little over 50 and sunny. I was in a blaze orange coat, with a stocking cap on. I had just hiked a mile, uphill. I was warm, to say the least.
I’m also an epic fidgeter. It’s not that I’m bored, really. I love to just sit and watch Nature happen around me. But I checked my gun across my knees. I unzipped my coat. I arranged my pack at my feet, adjusted the height of the blind. Made sure I was low enough behind it. I took off my gloves. I did it all fairly quietly, at least. I’m working on that.
Finally, I sat still for a bit. I could hear gunshots in the distance- other hunters’ opening days turning from good to great in just moments, just by the addition of a sharp eye some luck, and a bit of gunpowder. I watched a fox run along the top of a groundswell a few hundred yards from me. Then a turkey. Minutes passed, and I watched some turkey vultures lazily circling a few times before flying away. A few crows. I listened to farm dogs barking somewhere.
My ears were itching, so I rolled my hat away from them to take care of that. Suddenly, a flash of movement to my left. I turned, with my hands still on my head near my ears. My eyes found the source of the movement, frozen at the top of the swell in the ground, coming from the trail I’d chosen to not be able to see. My brain, new to all this, shorted out on me. It went “A dog?! Who the f*ck lets their dog run during gun seas… holy shit.” The deer wasn’t the only one frozen in place.
She was upwind of me, maybe 15 yards away, looking at me head-on. I was short and slouched enough behind my blind that she could only see my head. She stomped her front hoof, flicked her tail. My heart was thundering away, but time slowed, and my breath came slow and steady. As slow as slow could be, I lowered my hands to shoulder level, and then down to the 12 gauge lying loaded across my knees. The doe turned broadside, lowered her head, and took a few steps closer on a diagonal to figure out what this creature in the shadows was. Just as slowly as I lowered my hands to my gun, I raised it to my shoulder and cocked the hammer in one motion. I took three breaths as I traced her movement closer, found the area behind her front shoulder with the muzzle of my shotgun.
I remember squeezing with my right index finger. I remember a tremendous kick, harder than from the birdshot I’d been using in this gun. It takes more to get a slug moving than pellets, I would think. I shook my head- shooting the 12 gauge always leaves me a little bit disoriented and shell shocked. In less than a second, the ringing stopped, and I looked to where the doe had been standing, knowing my newbie self had for sure missed, and yet hoping that I hadn’t. At first, I didn’t see anything, but then my eyes found windmilling hooves. She’d dropped where she stood. A rush hit me then, and the joy of hunting clicked neatly into place in my head. I was hooked.
What happened next in my mind is clear as crystal. I stood and reached for my cellphone in my pocket- I had to tell my dad! But more movement caught my eye. A flash of gray and a white tail, out of range of my now empty shotgun. A buck, fleeing. He’d been just behind her. He ran a few hundred yards away, and turned to look at me. He watched me for two or three minutes as my shaky, adrenaline filled hands texted Matt (we don’t have walkie talkies) that there was a six pointer headed straight for him before he continued running away. Next I texted my father in ALL CAPS. Judging by the deluge of text messages that came next, my father then jubilantly called my entire redneck family, and the not-redneck ones, that I had gotten my first deer. The only time I’ve heard him happier was when my nephew was born.
Matt’s frantic text came through once I had sent off the one to my dad. “DID YOU GET ONE?!”. I responded that yes, I had, but a buck was still headed to him. A couple seconds later, I heard his gun’s bark. He texted me that he’d hit it, but it kept running. He was headed my way. Only a couple minutes had passed, and I was still standing, shaking. First things first. I opened the breach of my shotgun, expelling the spent shell. I set it down on my pack, and walked over to my deer. I was turning her over as Matt walked up.
He asked me how far she had run. I said ” She didn’t”. He saw she was shot through. At this point, it was only 2pm. He congratulated me on my shot and hugged me. We decided there was plenty of shooting time left, and no other hunters out. We dragged it to the shade of a thicket of trees in the middle of the field, so as not to throw off any other deer that might come through. We returned to our stands, but didn’t see anything else the rest of the day.
At dark, we tried to follow the blood trail of Matt’s buck, but we lost it in the brush on the back of the hill. It hadn’t been a very strong trail. We returned to the doe carcass, and cleaned it. Then we dragged it the mile back to the truck.
We would come out again the next day. Matt took the old tree stand in the hackberry thicket where we’d stashed the doe the day before. A previous owner had found it an equally good hunting spot, and put up a stand in the tallest tree. It was grown over, but it would serve. I chose a different field, almost a quarter of a mile away. I wouldn’t see anything but other hunters that day. But late that afternoon, I would hear Matt’s gun. Then a second time. And a third, and a fourth. And a fifth. All spread over about 20 minutes. After the third time, I texted “did you get it that time?”. He responded “I don’t know”. After the fifth shot, I waited until dark to pack up and head to him. Apparently, the buck he was shooting at had just been running between Matt’s stand and the treeline, in spite of being shot multiple times. After the fifth shot, it had stayed in the woods. We prepared to track it. No need. It was only 10 yards inside the treeline. Matt took the front and I took the back, we hauled it out. As he was cleaning it, we noticed a dried but recent wound on its foreleg. This was the sixpointer from the day before. He had grazed its leg, and it came back to the same field. Matt was thrilled. It was his biggest buck to date.
What came next, I’ve covered already. That Monday was warm- 70 degrees, so we skinned and quartered the deer, then froze them. This became a problem later, when I finally began to process them. You can read about that here, here, here, and here, if you haven’t already.
I’m ready for Saturday. I want to get a deer with my bow this year. It would be another first.