Saturday’s firearms deer opener was a lesson in perseverance for my hunting party, which consisted of my two oldest sons, Joe and Andy, my friend, Bernie Schwab, and his son, Dan, my brother Paul and our friend, Jim Grill.
By Friday afternoon, I knew this was going to be a tough one. First, there was cold and wind swooping in to greet the state’s deer hunters. Then, there was the sickness I was battling as I prepared to get up at 3 a.m. Saturday and head down to Red Wing.
The good news is, I felt pretty decent when we began our one-hour drive at 4 a.m. So, I was hopeful I could last in the stand as long as it would take to see a deer.
Honestly, I was hoping my wait wouldn’t be long. Based on the location of my stand and the success we had had there the last two years, there was reason for optimism.
Unfortunately, my high hopes were dashed when I got to the stand between 6 and 6:30 a.m. and found that someone had vandalized it. The heavy tripod stand had been tipped over by vandals. We had just repaired it the previous weekend and got it ready to go, so someone had done this within the last week. Knowing the commotion probably would spook any deer nearby, I decided to tip the stand back up. Hopefully, deer might come through later on.
It took some serious huffing and puffing, but I was able to lift the stand up. I had to bend the shooting rail to straighten it back out, then it was fine. I really felt I was in a good spot and I put my trust in God and said a little prayer asking his blessing on my hunt.
Then, a little after 9:30 a.m., I saw a doe running out into the picked soybean field. She was at about 100 yards, running from my left to my right. Momentarily, I wondered why she would be running, then figured a buck might be chasing her. Seconds later, my suspicions were confirmed when a small buck came running out into the field after her. I tracked the buck through my scope and pulled on the trigger of my 12-gauge shotgun.
Nothing happened. I had forgotten to take the safety off. Oh well, it was fun just seeing the deer, and I figured I would see more. I recently had read that deer often move between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so I had four good hours ahead in which to see deer.
By that time, I had come to a grudging standoff with the cold. Though I was uncomfortable, I was not miserable and, therefore, I vowed to stay in the stand until 1:30, when I would leave to get my son, Andy, who was stationed a few hundred yards to the north.
I figured he would get a shot at something before then, as Bernie’s son Dan had done from that same spot the previous two opening days. I did hear a shot coming from his direction and thought he had taken it, but we later figured out that a trespasser had walked into the woods between us and taken the shot.
The deer sighting gave me the confidence to stay put, and my patience was rewarded at about 12:30, when a deer walked out into the field at about 100-125 yards. It was slowly walking and feeding, right where the other two deer had run across.
This time, I very deliberately slipped the safety off of my shotgun and drew a bead on the deer. I fired and watched it take a little hop, leading me to believe I had hit it. Then, to my surprise it turned toward me and came running right at me. It reached the woods and was about 40 yards away. I shot again, then the deer turned to my left and paused briefly in a broadside position. I fired again, using the last shell in my chamber.
The deer then bolted down a trail and into some thick cover. Not good, I thought. I figured at least one of my shots had made a fatal hit, maybe all three. I waited just a few minutes, then climbed down to start looking for the deer. I knew it was a buck because I had spotted a small set of antlers while it was running into the woods.
I went right to the deer trail leading into cover and started looking for blood. I caught sight of a drop of blood on a leaf and knew I was on the right track. However, the terrain started to drop down and get really thick. I scanned the cover, then saw a head poking through a pile of downed tree branches.
Amazingly, the deer had veered off of the trail, crawled under the branches and turned around to face the area from which he had come. He probably was looking for the source of the danger he had just encountered. Immediately, I knew it would be tough work getting him out of there. Thankfully, a next-door neighbor who owns a four-wheeler gladly agreed to come over and help me.
That’s when one of the highlights of the day occurred. The man’s two young sons came with us and seemed to enjoy the little jaunt across the soybean field and into the woods. They were thrilled to see the deer and be part of the process of taking it out of the woods. Their dad is a hunter himself who recently had missed a shot at a big buck in Wisconsin with his bow. He was still a little bummed about that and was hoping to get back there for another try.
Meanwhile, he spent opening morning hunting a few miles down Highway 61 near Frontenac. But, he didn’t see anything and he was going to go out in the afternoon and sit in a blind he had set up on his property. When we got back to our van with the deer, he was able to see his blind at the far end of a field and we watched as two deer, first a buck and then a doe, walked right in front of his blind. I felt bad about it, but he didn’t mind. He had six more days left to hunt.
Later that afternoon, my friend, Bernie, shot a beautiful 10-point buck from a stand in which Andy and I had sat the past three openers. We had decided to switch locations this year and it paid off handsomely for Bernie. I was absolutely thrilled for him and proud to shake hands with him after I laid eyes on the buck.
My son, Joe, also connected on a whitetail, a beautiful adult doe that we were able to give to my brother, Paul, who did not see anything. That may have been the biggest shock of the day. Paul has hunted the same farm at the same spot for the last five years and shot a buck on opening day all five years. This time, he got blanked while hunting there with Jim Grill.
So, all in all, it was a successful, strange and challenging deer opener. But, as always, I thank God for the opportunity to hunt, for the fellowship with friends and family, and for the venison that soon will find a home in our freezers.