On a day that seemed more suitable for fishing than hunting, I went afield for the annual Wisconsin youth deer hunt, which took place on Saturday and Sunday.
I led two young hunters in a quest for whitetails — my son, William, and Pete Thompson, son of Chris Thompson, academic dean at the St. Paul Seminary. A year ago, the four of us went to a nice piece of private land in Dunn County and William took his first deer ever. This year, we were all hoping Pete would do the same.
We hunted two ends of an L-shaped field of clover, which the deer love. The landowner had been seeing deer in the field all summer and fall, so we were optimistic.
In the heat of the day
We decided not to hunt in the morning, and go out in the afternoon instead. William isn’t a huge fan of getting up at 4 a.m. to drive an hour to our spot, then climb into a blind in the dark. Plus, we figured it was more likely that deer would visit the field in the evening, as they typically do.
We got to the property at about 3:30 p.m. and prepared to go to our separate blinds. The temperature was in the 80s, as it had been all week. I knew that would put a damper on deer movement, but was hoping at least one or two would move into the field before the end of legal shooting hours (about 7:05 p.m.).
William and I settled comfortably into our blind, then waited quietly. Within an hour or so, a group of wild turkeys came out into the field to our right, then turned and walked right in front of the blind. I used my rangefinder to measure the distance — 21 yards. I wish I would have had a turkey tag and my bow. It would have been a very makable shot, as I have been practicing at 20 yards for several months.
William did have a turkey tag, but we did not bring a shotgun to the blind. It didn’t matter. He didn’t want to shoot anyway because he didn’t want to risk spooking any deer that might be in the area. So, we enjoyed the show and watched them feed their way across the field and into the woods.
Approaching the magic hour
As we reached the final hour of legal shooting time, I started getting pumped up for a deer sighting. This is my favorite time of day to hunt deer, and I had a feeling something might show up. All was quiet until about 6:15 when I heard a shot ring out from the Thompson’s blind. After a brief pause, Pete’s 20-gauge shotgun boomed again. Then, one more time before falling silent.
We had agreed that, no matter what happened, we would all stay in our blinds until the end of legal shooting hours, so that the field would not be disturbed by human traffic. That way, more deer might eventually come out.
Thus, William and I waited until 7:05 before hustling over to the Thompsons. I was hoping they would say that a deer was down. But, no such news greeted my ears — only the heartache of Pete telling us that he fired three times and watched the deer walk away and into the woods on the far end of the field with no signs of being hit.
We searched for a while for blood on the ground, but found none. Thus, for the second year in a row, Pete shot at a deer but didn’t hit it.
Unfortunately, that was the only deer sighting of the weekend. The Thompsons went out Sunday morning and didn’t see anything, and we all went out that afternoon and didn’t see a deer. This year, we would return home without any venison.
A time for learning
I told Chris that it is not at all unusual for young hunters like Pete to miss. In fact, it’s more common for them to miss than to bring down a deer. My two oldest boys, Joe and Andy, did not harvest their first deer until they were 15. Both either missed deer altogether or had non-fatal wounding shots prior to that.
That being said, I also told Chris that it will be very important for Pete to do lots of practice shooting before next year’s hunt. I did that with William last year and I feel that is a big reason why he was able to make his shot. Pete only went to the shooting range once before this year’s hunt, and I don’t feel that’s enough. I will do what I can to make sure he gets more practice next year.
I felt bad that William didn’t even see a deer, but he has two chances left, in Minnesota and Montana. Minnesota has a youth deer hunt over MEA weekend, Thursday, Oct. 20, through Sunday, Oct. 23. We have permission to hunt a piece of private land near Cannon Falls that weekend, so we’ll probably give it a try.
Then, we’re planning to go to Montana over Thanksgiving to visit Grandpa Bob and Grandma Sharon. We’ll buy whitetail doe tags, which are modestly priced. Plus, there are lots of does in the area we’ll be hunting near Great Falls. So, I’m confident William and I both will get some good chances.