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Deer Hunting Revisited

November 1st, 2009

Deer Hunting Revisited

November 1997

When the invitation came from Uncle Mike for Deer Camp this year, I jumped a the chance.  Deer Camp always seemed like a rite of passage for a young man from Michigan, and at 26 years old, I wasn’t getting any younger. I didn’t grow up with deer hunting in the family like many other rural Michigan families because it wasn’t a tradition in my family.  We had other hunting adventures for grouse and rabbits. A bad experience as a young man for my father turned him off to deer hunting at an early age, and so he sought to teach his boys how to enjoy the woods in different way.  Combine this experience with all the potential for accidents to happen on crowded state land, it was a conscious decision for our family not to hunt deer.  So when an opportunity came to hunt on 300 acres of private land with deer blinds already set up, combined with the brotherhood of family hunters, I said “YES!!!”.  After all, how hard could it be?  It seemed that deer hunting was such a common thing in Michigan and that almost everyone bagged a deer.   The only downside for me was that I didn’t like the taste of venison.  So I figured it would be a great experience to shoot a deer for myself, gut it, and finally experience what many other men had grown up with all their lives.  My brother liked the meat, so the venison would most certainly be an appreciated gift.

I’m sure that the deer camp experience is unique for each family and group of men that annually gather for the camaraderie, companionship, and the outdoor experience.  There are TV shows, magazines, even a movie about deer hunting complete with all the tricks, traditions, and excitement that go with the annual event.  Everyone wakes up early and gets their quick breakfast and coffee together.  Packing up your daily rations of mom’s cookies, beef jerky, and thermos full of coffee gets you prepared for a long day of sitting out in the blind. So you pack on 25 lbs. of gear, grab your gun and your pack, and with a lit flashlight, truck it out to the deer blind in the dark, cold morning air. Sometimes, it’s so cold out there, that everything crackles and crunches with each step closer to your destination. When you arrive, it’s dark, but you are warmed up, even sweating from all 7 layers of clothing trapping all the heat that you just expended walking the dark path to the blind.  You carefully open up the blind in the dark because you never know what animal might be waiting for you when you open the door. So you get your self situated by flashlight, load your gun, prop it up, or lay it in your lap, and wait. You wait, ever so patiently for dawn’s first light, the light that starts to provide definition to your view. Every sound that you hear makes your heart pound faster for you never really know what it is.  Most often times, the little noises that you hear are from the blind’s residents, scurrying about the floor in the dark.

As you watch the day unfold, and the day begins to brighten up the forest and the woods seems to come alive.   Woodpeckers fly from tree to tree, the familiar call of the chickadee, and the ruffed grouse are all seen throughout the day passing by the dark wooden structure that has always been a part of the landscape.  The deer blind waits with it’s new resident, watching for signs of the white-tailed deer. Off in the distance, a faint crunching of leaves comes from the forest, and a doe emerges on the right side of the clearing.  She wanders through the meadow and passes off into the forest through the tall grass into the pines to the left. An hour later, the day gets brighter, but the sky still remains the same color of November gray it was the day before. About 20 yards from the blind, a medium sized shape makes its way towards the blind.  I look closely and notice it’s a small buck, with a four point spike rack.  I take quick aim with my 20 gauge slug barrel shotgun.  I’m shaking so badly I’m having a tough time keeping my aim still.   I do my best to hold my breath, wait until the gun slows down and pull the trigger.  The deer crashes off into the woods to the right of the blind and disappears off into the underbrush.

My Uncle had told me earlier on in the morning that if I did happen to knock down a deer, that I should wait about 20 minutes for him to go off into the woods and die. I didn’t think much of this advice because I certainly didn’t think I would be shooting a deer on my first day of deer hunting on the first morning. I could hardly stand to wait the 20 minutes, and only after 10, did I exit the deer blind and wander off into the woods in search of my wounded white-tail.   A short walk down the brush path proved to be the right direction, as the deer lay on it’s left side, dead from the shotgun blast and bleeding just above the right hip. It was a shot just in the right place to prove fatal for the young buck. I wandered back up the path to deer camp to get a four-wheeler to aid the transportation of the deer from the field to the garage where I would find Don.  Good thing that Don was there to help guide me through the process of cutting the deer open, gutting it out properly so that I didn’t make any rookie mistakes. I’d never gutted a deer before, and hadn’t read up on the proper procedure. After all, there were several experienced guys at deer camp that could help.  I wasn’t worried about the smell, or the blood, as these things didn’t bother me at all. I was worried about damaging the meat and wanted to make sure that I took my time and made the necessary precautions to avoid any spoilage. A few minutes later and the buck pole had an extra deer hanging from it and I could not have been more excited. What a way to start off the deer hunting experience than by taking a deer the first morning.

November 1998

The excitement in anticipation of deer camp this year is palpable. After a successful first year, I’m ready for another premiere outdoor experience with my uncle and cousins. I arrive at deer camp a night early in anticipation of the early morning of the first opening day this year.  I’m anxious for the walk to the blind in the morning and a good nights sleep comes fast.  The alarm goes off in the middle of the dark and I’m up like a shot. I pack up the necessary provisions in my backpack and dress appropriately for the coming long, cold day sitting out in the blind. With my Browning .270 rifle in my hand, I make my way down the long meadow known as “Death Valley” to the blind waiting for me at the end.

The day elapses as if it were in slow motion.  There are no deer to be seen today and the grouse seem to be having a convention out in the middle of Death Valley. The afternoon slowly passes and the anticipation of seeing the day’s first deer is weighing heavily on my mind.  The evening usually shows a little more deer activity, as they move on to their evening and night spots.  Three does grab my attention as they appear in view, far off in the distance.  I watch carefully, hoping to see a buck following the does by scent.  If nothing else, three deer are a welcome distraction after a long day of inactivity. The deer wander off into the forest with no horns following them after 20 minutes.  The day of hunting comes to a close as the darkening sky ends the long hours of waiting in the blind for the deer that never seemed to appear in the shooting lanes. I make my way back up to the hunting camp for a good dinner and a few games of euchre before calling it a night. The next two days of deer camp at the Death Valley blind were as uneventful as the first.  The food, the outdoors, and the family are always a good time, while the deer would wait for another season.

And so it would go for the next nine years…

November 2007

November 15th arrived on the calendar on a Thursday this year, and I was once again excited to join my brother, uncles, and cousins at deer camp this year. For the first time in as many years, deer camp would be a full house with all ten hunters making it up to the lodge this weekend. I was unable to drive up the night before opening day, and even had to miss the opener due to some family responsibilities.  Instead, I drove up the next morning, as early as I could in order to join my fellow hunters in this year’s pursuit of the white-tail deer. Leaving the house at 6:00am got me to deer camp about 9:15am or so.  I turned in off of the main road and cautiously drove down the 1/2 mile driveway, looking out for deer, hoping not to spook them off in the wrong direction for those guys already occupying the forest in the blinds. As I approached the lodge, I expected to see a trophy deer already on the buck pole.  “I wonder who’s already on the board today,” I said to myself as I pulled up to the lodge, only find the buck pole empty. I couldn’t believe it.  Most deer are taken on the first day of the hunting season, and in past years at deer camp, it usually has been the most productive.  I park my truck safely out of the way and I am excited once again to experience the woods and all the splendor of the outdoors for this year’s hunt. It’s a nice crisp morning and the sun is shining through a thin haze of clouds.

I drag out the necessary gear out of my truck and place it inside the porch of the lodge where I quickly assemble my outfit to get out to the blind as soon as possible. After unpacking all the necessary items, I suit up and make my way across Death Valley to the blind that awaits me.  The walk is different this time because it’s the middle of the morning.  I’ve not walked out to the deer blind during the light of day before, so the view is pretty and the light is bright.  “It’s going to be a great day,” I think to myself, enjoying the fresh air and the sound of the stream as it trickles over the rocks to the left.  I arrive at the deer blind only to be frustrated by a lock on the door.  I know I’m supposed to remember the combination, but the lock does not seem to be cooperating with my memory.  I set down my gun and take off my gloves. Within a few minutes, the lock remembers to allow me to open it, and the door soon follows. I set my backpack down on the extra chair and take my seat so that I can get the best view out of the windows.  I always keep a spare handkerchief so that I can wipe off the plexiglass windows from the cob-webs and dirt that cakes on during the course of the summer.

I begin to settle in for a long day of hunting, knowing that I’ve missed the best part of the day in the morning by driving up early, or late, as the case may be.  I pull out my thermos and a cupcake to enjoy a nice cup of coffee and a second breakfast.  It hasn’t been more than five minutes.  I turn on the walkies to listen to the chatter of the 10:00am check in on the radios.  As I look up, I notice a deer crossing Death Valley at about 175 yards, far off in the distance.  As I take a closer look, I notice that the deer has horns.  “HOLY COW, that deer has horns!” I say to myself as I raise my gun through the window to line up the site on the target. I’ve been sitting in this blind for 9 years and had yet to see a deer with enough horns to be able to shoot at it.  Buck fever hasn’t set in yet, but I am excited as I talk myself through the shot to ensure that I don’t miss. “Okay, don’t get excited, aim, take a deep breath, hold it… bang!” As I pull the trigger, the smoke from the discharge blocks my view and I can’t see. I’m fairly  certain that I hit the deer as I seem him bolt off to the left, with a slight stagger in his gait.  Wow, I just hit a deer in the first five minutes of hunting today, and I haven’t even finished my first cup of coffee!

I raise my cousin, Mike on the radio, and he tells me to wait it out to make sure he bleeds out before approaching the deer.  I can hardly stand it. I have to walk out to the spot of the shot in order to make sure I hit it.  I walk around for 15 minutes looking for signs of blood.  Finally, on the far side of the meadow, I find a few fresh droplets of blood on some leaves that are clearly spattered from the buck I nailed.  I bend down to look in the grass for the direction of the blood trail and 25 yards off into the woods, I spot him.  He is laying over, facing me underneath a pine tree with wide open eyes, dead from bleeding and still.  I approach slowly to make sure he is dead and a few nudges with my boot indicate that he has passed on.  I can hardly believe it, that he is lying here and I shot him at that range.  I pay my respects and honor his death, as I realize that a spirit is now free in the great outdoors.  What a magnificent animal he is, 8 point buck with a full spread and I am beaming from ear to ear knowing, that I just got the first deer of the season at Deer Camp this year.

It was a great hunt for me this year, and the guys didn’t let me live it down that easily.  I made sure that dinner was extra special that night as we sat down to each tell our stories and check out the videos we took during the day.  The deer camp experience doesn’t read like this for everyone, and I could live another lifetime before it happens to me again.  I’m just glad that I had some terrific friends and family to share the experience with and I look forward to another experience next year in the great outdoors of northern Michigan.

Footnote: Since this was my first “Trophy Buck,” I had him full-shoulder mounted by the taxidermist. The mount from this deer has now taken up permanent residence in the Hootch. The sneak pose set up by the taxidermist creates a nice warm look to the trophy. It’s not awkward, it’s not phony or staged, he looks very relaxed and majestic watching over the kitchen and dining room.

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