Deer sightings

October 11, 2010

Faith Outdoors

I brought up the rear of a parade of young hunters down a hill in western Wisconsin last night. They carried the gear, I dragged  the deer.

The lucky hunter to pull the trigger was my 12-year-old son, William, who managed to bag his first deer ever on the opening weekend of his deer hunting career. The occasion was the Wisconsin youth deer gun hunting weekend, which took place Saturday and Sunday. Youth, both resident and nonresident, age 12-15 are eligible.

After the two of us hunted alone on Saturday, we joined forces with Chris Thompson, who teaches at the University of St. Thomas and the St. Paul Seminary. He brought his 12-year-old son, Peter, and his 14-year-old daughter, Annie. Like William, they were on their first deer hunt.

I had helped the Thompsons get started in the sport. I let them borrow one of my older son’s 20-gauge shotgun. Then, after later discovering they were hunting in an area that allows rifles, I brought two rifles out to them yesterday.

William and I hunted a piece of private property on Saturday, seeing a doe and a fawn at about 9 a.m. They came out of the woods, then turned and walked straight at us. Then, at about 60 yards, the doe jerked to a stop, which told me she had spotted us. She managed to stand still as a statue behind some brush, and William was not able to pick her up in his scope. I could see her, but his untrained eyes could not.

Eventually, she turned, her tail flagged, and she ran off with the other deer in tow. That was the last deer we saw that day.

Meanwhile, Chris, Peter and Annie had an exciting day. They hunted their land in the morning, and saw five deer that were out of shotgun range. Then, they switched to a farm a short distance away that is owned by a friend, and sat at the far edge of a field of clover.

Near the end of legal shooting hours, they saw a doe enter the field. They did not realize that the effective range of a shotgun — even with a rifled barrel — is about 125 yards, so Peter took a shot that was over 200  yards.

At that point, they realized there were five other deer that were even closer. They never saw these deer until after Peter’s shot. All six of the deer made a quick exit at the far end of the field.

Chris was very excited to tell me the story. After hearing it, I suggested all three of the youth hunt that same field the next evening.

Chris quickly agreed, and the plan was set. We arrived at the farm, took a brief walk up a hill overlooking the field, and plotted our positions to set up on the field. William, Annie and I would sit about 100 yards from the corner where the deer had come out the previous night. Chris and Peter would sit where they had the evening before, just in case a deer decided  to come in from that end. The landowner told us she has seen deer on that end on other occasions, so we put Peter and Chris there. That way, the entire field would be covered.

As it turned out, our setup was perfect. Although we did not see a herd of deer, a nice, medium-sized doe stepped out into the field from the corner, just like we had all hoped would happen.

Annie spotted it first, then quickly turned to tell William, who was seated next to her on the left, but had some brush blocking the view of the corner

No matter, the deer quickly made its way out into the field. It looked like it was going to offer a great broadside shot, then it turned and started quartering toward us. I think it wanted to walk along the edge we were sitting on, but could see us. It seemed to get nervous, and even trotted a few steps like it was going to flag its tail and run.

Then, it stopped and calmed down again, taking just a couple more steps before stopping again. This gave William time to put the crosshairs of his .308-caliber rifle on the deer.

We were in about the last five or 10 minutes of legal shooting hours, so it was getting dim. Wanting to make sure not to let this opportunity get away, I whispered to William several times to take the shot.

This is where my impatience often gets the better of me. With deer, and other animals, you often get just a few seconds to shoot before the animal bolts and the opportunity is gone. Having just experienced that the day before, I did not want to have this happen again.

After a brief pause, I heard William click his safety off. At that moment, I knew he was ready to shoot. He had followed his recently completed firearms safety training well. Only when he had acquired the deer in his scope and was ready to shoot was he going to take the safety off.

Not long after that, he pulled the trigger. The deer dropped to the ground, rolled onto its side and immediately fell silent.

I did not jump up right away. I waited to see if the deer would get up, which would require a quick follow-up shot.

Didn’t happen. So, William, Annie and I got up and went over to the deer. Soon afterward, Chris and Peter arrived. We admired the deer and said a quick prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord.

Then, Annie  remarked how beautiful the deer was. I very much appreciated her awareness of the beauty of God’s creation. That one, simple comment made the whole experience that much more enjoyable. It is incredibly satisfying to see someone get so fascinated by the hunt.

I wish people who so ardently oppose hunting could witness a scene such as this. Our experience was not about just killing something, or bragging about shooting an animal. There was a sacred sense of awe, wonder, even reverence as we marveled at God’s handiwork.

I was absolutely thrilled to share this moment with the Thompsons, In fact, that’s what made it all the more special, even to the point of being glad that William did not get his deer on Saturday, which would have brought our hunt to an end and kept us from being with the Thompsons.

The good news for them is that they have another chance to go afield. They have licenses good for the Wisconsin firearms deer season, which begins on Nov. 20 and goes through Nov. 28, which gives them nine days to try for a deer.

My best advice to them is to stay away from the clover field until opening day, then set up on it in the evening. That’s when the deer will come out to feed. If they merely sit where we sat last night, I strongly believe they will see a deer of their own.

Then, the fun will continue.

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