#2 Son, AKA Mooseboy, succeeded in bagging his first deer on Opening Day. I t was a bit of a mixed victory, but then again, aren’t they all.
We got up into the stand near the campground a bit late, but still well before sunrise. A screech owl, the wail of the banshee, caught us as we were starting up the ladder; I’ve been hearing it all my life, and it still makes my skin crawl. From the look on #2’s face, it was the perfect spook to get the juice flowing. We settled in and began the wait. Shots began ringing out a good fifteen minutes before legal shooting time. By 0648, we were getting an average of 1 group of shots per minute, and this level was sustained for the first hour and a half.
Shortly after 0715 sunlight started to find its way onto the treetops on the neighboring ridges. We watched it crawl our way like sand pouring through an hourglass. I still had a vision of the big buck I had seen the previous weekend, his big rack caught the first rays of sun while his body was still in the shade. At 0800, the sun had not yet hit our backs. We were taking a stiff breeze off our right shoulders out of the Northeast, as we scanned the opening to Big Oak Creek. Occasionally it would swirl to the North and even the Northwest—not the best quarters for this stand, but this was a major junction of several highways. If the deer did not come out of the bottoms to bed in the pastures at the head of the creek, they might travel up and over the saddle to the south and east, or head for the cedars behind us. One thing was for sure: the rifles of the Orange Army were going off all around us. That meant deer were on the move.
We did not have to wait much longer. At 0804 three doe came through in a hurry, followed by a young buck. #2 brought the rifle up, and waited. The buck hesitated in an opening, broadside. Moose took his shot. The buck held a second, and then walked away downhill, unaffected. When we scouted afterwards, it looked like a branch may have deflected the bullet.
It did not take more than a minute or two for another doe to come in. She stopped, quartering away. I was casually judging her in the glasses when #2 thumbed the hammer and shot. Ooops. Two deer in two minutes—not a good idea with only a youth tag. Oh well, these are the subtleties of the sport you pick up with time.
We came down from the stand and started looking at the aftermath. John was fairly certain of the second shot, and so-so on the first. I had the rifle at that point, a Marlin 336 in 30-30.
I have written a lot about this rifle. This is the gun that was the object of "Ode to a 30-30." John had rolled a doe earlier this year during the Youth Hunt, only to loose her without any sign. It was probably a high shot that grazed her back, but I wanted to do something to change the jinx on this rifle. I went back to the loading bench and switched to a 170 grain load, from the 150 grainers we had been using for the two previous seasons. We had tested them two weeks ago. 170 grain Hornady Interlocks over 28 grains of H4895 made a very accurate load that was still easy on the shoulder.
We went to where both deer had been shot—about 70 yards from the stand, and slightly downhill. We had just started scanning the path of escape, up the creek, when the doe rose up and started to make a run. She had bedded within 30 yards of the shot, and when she saw our attention turn toward her, she tried to make an escape. She was nearly dead on her feet. Rather than risk a lengthy chase, we tried to anchor her with a shot on her right shoulder, but as she pivoted she caught the round squarely in the rump. That at least planted her, and I finished her off with a shot through the top of her spine between the shoulder blades. It was not elegant. It was not romantic, but it was a dead deer. We left the gear and started a search for the buck, still not certain of his demise. We covered all the escape routes through Big Oak Creek, including the fence line that marks passage into the secluded pastures that are the big attraction for the deer. Nothing. Not a spot of blood anywhere. We did manage to ambush a doe that held herself coiled long enough for me to swing the rifle up for a broadside shot without thumbing the hammer out of half-cock. I counted coup on her by bringing the crosshairs of the scope onto her rib cage just before the urge to flee overcame her indecision, and she unwound her self into weeds and was gone. The sun shining off her back, and our gazes locked were enough for me. I have hunted entire seasons and walked away with less.
It took about an hour to reassemble the pieces. The buck had made no sign of alarm in his exit. Moose was certain of a broadside shot. There were a couple of candidate branches, and a slim Vee-shaped track through the moss about three yards ahead of the buck’s divots. With no blood and no other sign in or out of the ravine, except the herd’s normal activity up the creek and into the pasture, I was left to conclude a clean miss. John had his doe. We called back to the house for the pickup, and we lashed our safety harnesses up to the doe, and dragged her out.
She went a good 130lbs dressed, and we had her up on the meat pole and were eating breakfast by 1030. Moose got his practical introduction to deer anatomy, and I managed to get a little blood on his forehead before we finished dropping her off at Meyer’s in Lennoxburg. They were busy—a lot of doe and a lot of young to medium bucks. We went home, and Moose piled up on the couch and did not move until dinner.
We hadn’t found my Buck knife after we were done gutting her. John had put it on the meat pole along with the saw, and then it was gone. We figure one of the dogs dragged it off into the weeds. Oh well, after eighteen years of deer, I guess I’d gotten my use out of it. Success on Opening Day always seems to have its price.
#3 Son is six, and now it was his turn. He’s big, but still not ready to fit a deer rifle. He came out to the first barn and we sat in the open ground blind. He showed his mettle by pointing out a small buck that passed with thirty yards about an hour before sundown. I was looking the other way at the time, glassing the middle of a saddle at 150 yards. #3 got my attention as the buck came out from behind a small curve in the hillside and I was able to get my rifle up before he dipped back behind another. If he had been a mature buck, I would have taken him, but we have got one tag left and two more weekends, and a huge buck that haunts my dreams still in the depths of Big Oak. We did not see another thing before it got dark, but it was all so wonderful. The shadows grew out of the valleys and the last bit of sun faded from the tops of the trees on Gobbler’s Knob. Shots came from all direction and then fell silent.
Girlfriend started cooking a venison roast. I retired to my thoughtful spot and watched the end of Opening Day. The distant rumble of an ATV, the headlights bouncing through far pastures, that one last poignant finishing shot in the dark hours later—those are the things that bring romance to the end of Opening Day. I sipped Scotch and ran things through my head. Yeah, a Texas Heart Shot ain’t the most elegant shot in the world, but it did bring her down. The rest of the day hadn’t scored high on style points, but there was no arguing with a fair chase carcass on the meat pole. John was happy-- I was happy. Just before they called me into dinner, the coyotes started to wail. It was their offering of Thanksgiving.
Moose came to the table with the deer blood still on his forehead, and ravenously hungry. I was too. Girlfriend’s roast was truly a royal affair. One of her specialties is Elizabethan cooking—big 10 course affairs. We get the abbreviated version at deer camp, but it’s always more than enough. This recipe was Henry VIII’s favorite—a roast of venison heavy in wine and clove. To a modern palate it is wholly exotic in a primeval sort of way. Moose and I were left to our reveries, as we finished off the last bits and ends. The added dimension to this was that both of us could still smell the deer from the morning on our hands. Moose was having a bit of trouble maintaining composure while separating the last bits of meat from fat and sinew. So was I. It usually takes a day or two after the kill to get the smell of deer out of my nostrils and I become sanguine to the subject of venison again. Our appetites overcame intestinal compunction.
"The trick, " I said. "Is having done what we’ve done today, and still sitting down and enjoying this feast. Welcome to deer hunting, son." With that, I threw him another wonderful greasy bacon-wrapped end and on we chewed.
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