Deer season was exciting, rewarding

December 27, 2017

Faith Outdoors

My deer season might be over for the year. After exciting encounters with bucks and does over the last few weeks, I’m a little hesitant for it to end.

But, three deer is definitely enough. I got my third last night, in the last hour of shooting hours as the temperature was falling to below zero. Wisconsin is having a special holiday gun hunt this year, which started Dec. 24 and goes through Jan. 1. In certain counties, hunters can take antlerless deer with any weapon, provided they have the appropriate tag.

I bought both an archery and firearms license this year. Normally, I just get the archery tag, as the nonresident fee is $160. But, if a hunter has never purchased a specific license, or if it has been at least 10 years since that license has been purchased, he or she can get one for half price. I qualified, so I bought the firearms license this year. Unfortunately, I only ended up hunting opening morning of the firearms season, and did not see a deer.

So, as of yesterday afternoon, I had both gun and archery tags in my pocket. Even though it was supposed to be cold, I decided to go out there with my gun and give it a try.

Short sit

I was hunting  a property in a county that qualified for the holiday gun hunt. I had had deer sightings on the property, and had taken shots with my crossbow, but was not able to bring home a deer. There’s one area where the deer like to hang out, and I had hunted from a stand there before. In fact, I had taken a shot at a very nice 8-point buck from this stand, but I rushed the shot and didn’t get a good hit. There was so little blood that I think I only grazed the buck. At least I know he walked away just fine, though clearly spooked.

As I drove in, I spotted two deer on the hillside near the landowner’s house. My stand is located just over the hill, and I figured I could swing around the back side of the hill and slip into the stand without these deer noticing me. Yet, the wind would be blowing toward where I had spotted them. It was a risk I decided to take.

When I got to the stand, I noticed a lot of deer tracks in the snow in front of it. The stand overlooks a large field of tall grass, with an area of shorter grass near the edge where my stand is. I could see the deer were traveling this edge heavily. That was very encouraging.

I climbed in around 3:30 and felt good about my chances of seeing a deer. After about half an hour, I saw two deer trotting across an open area to my right. They were about 200-300 yards away. I figured they were headed to the neighbor’s corn field. They disappeared at the tip of a narrow strip of woods that starts there and ends just to the right of my stand.

I didn’t see the deer go past the far tip and toward the corn. I thought maybe they had stopped to grazed near the tip of the section of woods, which is about the same size as a football field. After about 10 minutes, I began to think that maybe they had turned into the woods and might possibly come my way.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, I spotted a doe to my right. She was only about 20 yards away, but my gun was in my lap. She was super wary, walking very slowly and cautiously, and jerking her head up frequently to look around. I knew making a move with my gun now would only get me busted, and I would be left with trying to shoot at a deer running away.

I didn’t want that, so I froze. Eventually, the deer started walking on the path in front of me. She turned away, giving me my chance to shoot. I quickly put the crosshairs on her and fired. She jumped and ran, and so did a deer right behind her that I hadn’t spotted. I realized then that it was the two deer I had seen about 10 minutes earlier.

As the two deer ran into the woods to my left, I saw a few more deer in those woods run off. There were at least four deer total, and I wondered if the ones in the woods were the ones I had seen while driving in. I’m thinking if I hadn’t seen the two deer to my right, these others might have eventually come out.

It turned out to be a very large doe, and I was able to give it to my friend Bernie who did not get a deer this season. I know the landowner will be happy that I took a doe, as she feels that there are too many deer and that they eat food she is saving for her goats. This hunt was definitely well worth it. But, it wasn’t my best hunt of the year.

Minnesota gun hunt

The highlight of the season came on the Minnesota firearms opener Nov. 4. I was hunting near Red Wing in Zone 3. It has been managed for bigger bucks, with a rule requiring a buck to have at least four points on one side. The rule is definitely working, as my hunts will attest. Just a year or two in, I shot a nice 8-pointer. Then, in 2012, I shot a very big 10-pointer that scored 155. I had never even seen anything that big previously.

The nice thing is the people in my hunting party are the only ones the landowner allows to hunt his land. We stay away until the gun opener, so the deer are undisturbed. My friend Bernie wasn’t able to hunt opening weekend, so I decided to take the best stand we have on the property.

I went the afternoon before to trim some branches and brush to clear out shooting lanes, and that proved to be a worthwhile move. On my way to the stand, I saw lots of deer sign on the edge of the woods where the cornfield begins. The corn was still standing, but there were lots of deer tracks and droppings.

So, I was cautiously optimistic opening morning. I got into my stand before legal shooting hours, and was prepared to sit all day if need be. As dawn came and went, I did not spot any deer.

Then, around 9, I spotted a deer at the tip of a small point of woods that juts out into the field. This point seems to draw deer, and this deer was hanging around the point. I spotted antlers, then put my scope up for a better look. I knew the tip of woods was 100 yards away, so I thought about taking a shot if the deer was standing broadside. But, when I put the scope up, the deer had moved partially back into the corn, with only a small part of his body visible. I knew the rack was good sized, but I couldn’t see how many points it had. So, I held off.

I thought he might work the edge of the cornfield, and eventually come my way. I scanned beyond the stalks to the edge. No deer. Then, I shifted my eyes to the stalks right in front of me. To my surprise, there was a head of a deer popped up through the stalks and looking straight at me.

My friend Steve taught me years ago to freeze when this happens, and eventually the deer will look away and keep walking. It took just a matter of seconds for this to happen. He was to my right and then started walking to the left. I quickly put the crosshairs on the part of his chest that I could see and fired.

He dropped instantly and never got up. I started replaying the scene, then wondered if I had really seen enough points on the side of his rack facing me. It all happened so fast. What if I was wrong? I started getting nervous, then finally couldn’t stand it any longer.

I got down and went to the buck, which ended up being only 22 yards away. When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was a very big body. Then, I turned to see the antlers. Holy cow! It was a big 10-pointer with a beautiful, symmetrical rack. The main beams were heavy, and the tines had nice height. Plus, there was one split brow tine, which adds to the score.

I was thrilled to get this buck. The landowner came with his Mule four-wheeler. It’s a good thing. That would have been a huge chore dragging this deer all the way to my SUV. We loaded it up and I took it to Greg’s Meats near Cannon Falls. It closed at 3 that day, and I got there about 2:20. By the time I was done with all the paperwork, it was nearly 3. The guy said it was the biggest buck he had taken in that day.

I am having Corcoran Taxidermy in Hampton do a head-and-shoulder mount of this deer. I don’t know yet, but this one could top my 2012 buck. And to think that both deer were shot from the exact same spot!

The fun continues

I picked up my venison less than two weeks later. I had some venison summer sausage made, and it is delicious. Greg’s is known for its sausages, and this stuff is amazing. I have a bunch in my freezer now, and have been able to give some away, including to landowners where I hunt. This particular landowner likes deer heart and liver, so I gave both to him. I rarely hit the heart of a deer, as I typically aim higher and farther back to hit the lungs. I prefer a double-lung shot, as the deer expires quickly when both lungs get hit.

My friend Bernie and I went out on the following Friday. That’s the only day he could hunt. I put him in the stand where I killed my buck, and I went to a different property. Wouldn’t you know it? I saw a beautiful buck at 30 yards broadside, but had to let it walk because you are only allowed one buck per year, and there is no party hunting for bucks in Zone 3. The nice thing is, I got to watch this buck for about a minute before he turned and walked back over the hill and into cover. Meanwhile, Bernie saw several deer that day, but wasn’t able to get a shot off. I was bummed, but we both had fun in the woods, not to mention some fellowship before and after the hunt.

On the last day of the 3A gun season, I decided to go back to the stand where I had shot my buck. The corn was down now, and I would have more visibility. Once again, I climbed into the stand before legal shooting hours. A light northwest wind was blowing in my face, which is the wind I like to have when hunting this stand.

At about 7, I saw a deer trotting to the point of woods to my right. I figured it would come around the point and offer me a shot, which is what most deer do in this area.

Sure enough, it came around and started walking toward me. It was a doe, which I still had a tag for. She kept coming and finally stopped facing me at about 60 yards or so. It looked like she had been pushed, so I wasn’t sure she would stop again. Sometimes, deer that walk briskly can keep on going, and even start running. I felt like I could make the shot, so I fired. She turned and appeared to be hunched a little bit as she walked into the woods.

I knew I had hit her, but wasn’t sure how good the hit was. I decided to give her time. As I waited, not one but two bucks came in and crossed in front of my stand. The first one was larger and definitely legal. He walked in front of me at about 30 yards, then went into the woods to my right. He circled behind me and ended up coming to about 15 yards. I was turning to look at him, not caring about staying still. He saw me move and bolted. If I had wanted to shoot him, I’m sure I could have gotten a shot off.

Then, a few minutes later, another buck came, this time from my left. He crossed in front of me at about 40 yards, again offering an easy shot. I was able to take a few pictures of him, plus a short video. That was fun. I know I saw three points on his main beam. If he had a brow tine, he was legal, too. These are two bucks I will be watching out for next year. This second buck ended up milling around in the field for a while before walking over the hill and out of sight.

Then, I climbed down and walked to where the doe I had shot went into the woods. I got there and went in. It was the tip of a ravine, with cover on both sides. As I moved to the center, a deer jumped up and ran out of the woods and into the field. I was bummed. Its tail was up and it ran like it wasn’t hurt at all.

I couldn’t believe I had missed the doe altogether. Turns out, I didn’t. I walked farther into the woods, and the doe I shot stood up and started walking away. It only went about 20 yards, then stood with its tail flicking constantly. There was thick brush between the deer and I, plus it was facing directly away. So, I didn’t shoot. Instead, I circled around ahead of it to go for a finishing shot.

The deer went no further, dropping down where it stood. I did take a finishing shot, but probably didn’t need to. The landowner came with his Mule again, and now he had his deer. He took the heart and liver, and ended up cooking the heart for dinner that night. He later told me it was fantastic, and he wishes I would have stopped in to eat dinner with him.

Next time, I will. I had a lot of encounters with deer this year, and learned some important lessons. One is that bucks often will go into an area where does bed in the morning and wait for them to come. I think the deer that spooked and ran when I went into the woods looking for my doe was a buck that was doing just that. This means that the point of woods to the right of my stand is an important area. I may take a different approach to my stand next year, as I walked right by this point on my way to the stand both times I hunted there this year. If I come from a different direction, I won’t alert a buck that may be waiting in that section of woods.

I also learned that freezing when a deer looks at you really works. I had it happen four times this year, and only once did a deer spook. It was in Wisconsin, when a doe and fawn came out to my left. She looked up at me and didn’t like what she saw, so turned and walked away. If I had been holding a gun, this wouldn’t have been a problem. I would have had time to take a shot at this angle. But I had a crossbow on his occasion and didn’t want to take a shot at a deer going straight away.

The final lesson is the importance of back cover. On my stand in Wisconsin, there is good cover behind me in the form of a thick trunk and branches if a deer comes from the right. If it comes from the left, I am more exposed. That’s why I think the doe spooked. One thing I will do is hang some fabric or something on the branches to break up my form. That should work.

This has been a very fun season that I have enjoyed very much. I do still have a buck tag for Wisconsin, and a doe tag for Minnesota. Plus I can buy additional doe tags for the county I hunt in Wisconsin. I probably won’t because I don’t want to take too many deer. I  want there to be plenty for next year, though there always seems to be deer on this property. With extreme cold coming, I may just hang it up for the year.

Soon, my thoughts will turn to turkey hunting. I already have big plans for this spring, and have applied in both the Minnesota and Wisconsin lotteries. The anticipation will keep me warm during the next couple of months when the temperature dips below zero.

April will be here before you know it!

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About Dave Hrbacek

Staff photographer and writer for The Catholic Spirit. Also, avid outdoors enthusiast with a passion for hunting, fishing and photography. Married to Julie and have four children, three boys and a girl.

View all posts by Dave Hrbacek