Patience rewarded on firearms deer opener

November 7, 2011

Faith Outdoors

Deer hunting can produce glorious highs and agonizing lows — sometimes in a matter of seconds.

Such was the case on the Minnesota firearms deer opener on Saturday. Hunting by myself on a piece of property near Red Wing, I was entering the eighth hour of my vigil in a tripod stand and wondering if this day would end with my two tags unfilled.

The windy hours ticking by gave me lots of time for quiet reflection. I spent much of that time reliving the events of two days earlier, when I had been out bow hunting in the northern suburbs. I entered the woods with four arrows in my quiver and exited several hours later with none of them. I had taken four shots, the last at a nice 8-point buck. Unfortunately, I missed that deer and missed two of my other three shots. The one that connected ended up hitting the shoulder bone and did not penetrate into the vital organs. Thus, I failed to recover the deer.

Such was the heartache I couldn’t seem to shake as I sat in my stand overlooking a section of a picked corn field. I had spooked two deer walking across the field in the dark on the way to the stand, and had watched one run across the corn about 20 minutes before legal shooting hours began.

Thus, I was optimistic when the dawn broke and the season began.

Wind wreaks havoc

Yet, I was not happy about the high winds that were blowing and looking to pick up velocity throughout the day. It is well documented that strong winds can curtail deer movement, so I was uneasy about the less-than-ideal conditions.

Fortunately, the rut was kicking in, which can offset things like poor weather. Deer can move throughout the day, rather than just at dawn and dusk, which is their normal pattern the rest of the year.

I kept reminding myself of this as each hour went by without a deer sighting. Just as the does are starting to go into estrus, bucks reach the height of their sexual energy and get so antsy that they go on the prowl for does. Then, when a doe goes into heat, the bucks smell the hormones she emits and go crazy. One or more bucks will chase the doe for up to a mile before she finally stops and lets one of them breed her.

That’s why it’s smart to stay in the stand all day. You never know when the chasing will commence. Thus, I had made up my mind to stay in my stand until 3 p.m., then move to another stand nearby to finish the day.

At about 2:30, I contemplated the idea of getting out early and going to the other stand. At 2:44, I looked at my cell phone to check the time, then nearly gave in to the temptation to leave. It was warm and windy, and I had been in the stand for eight hours. I was looking forward to climbing down and walking to the other stand. But, I decided to stick with my original plan and stay put until 3.

Action begins

Just minutes after my decision, I heard rustling in the leaves off to my right. On the other side of the ravine to my right, I spotted a doe. As soon as my eyes locked on to her, she made a loud snorting noise. That usually means a deer has smelled you. In that split second, I realized that the southeast wind was blowing my scent right to her. Usually, that spells the end of the deer encounter. Almost always, deer will bolt when they smell you.

She did turn to go back the way she came, but she didn’t run away and I knew she was in range. I turned my scope up to 4x and started trying to find her in my crosshairs. Then, she turned back again to her original direction and started running along the ravine. Sadly, she disappeared from view before I could get a shot off.

Darn, I thought. I wait all day, then when I finally see a deer, it gets away before I can pull the trigger.

I didn’t have time to get bummed out, however, as I heard another deer running down the ravine. I should have figured out why the doe was running — a buck was chasing her. He ran down the ravine after the doe, but came over to my side of it. I swing my gun on him, put the crosshairs on his body and pulled the trigger.

After my shot, all went quiet and the deer disappeared. I figured I either hit him and he dropped down into the ravine where I couldn’t see him, or he just kept on running. But, I didn’t hear any footsteps, so I thought maybe I had hit him.

Several seconds went by, then he popped up on my side of the ravine in full view. He stood there looking, as if trying to figure out where the loud noise had come from. Quickly, I put the crosshairs on his chest and fired again.

He turned and ran down into the ravine and up the other side. As he did so, I fired a third time. When he neared the top, I noticed he was struggling to keep going. He was hobbling noticeably and I was hoping he wouldn’t go far.

Time for tracking

Quickly, I climbed down from my stand and hustled toward the buck. However, I circled around the tip of the ravine in an attempt to get ahead of him. Around the point was a road that comes up from the bottom. I walked down the road and kept my eyes peeled for the buck. Just a short distance in, I caught movement to the left of the road.

I got my gun ready in case I needed to take another shot. After just a few steps, I saw the buck laying on the ground to the left of the road. He took his final breaths and I finally had my first deer of the season.

And, what a beautiful deer it was — a dandy 8-pointer similar to the one I had missed with my bow. Certainly, this made up for all of the archery heartaches I had suffered this season.

Now the bad news

As I admired my prize and gave thanks to the Lord for this great blessing, I felt a twinge of disappointment because I had left my camera at home. How can a professional photographer forget his camera?

Well, I came to grips with the realization that I would not get a professional quality photo of me with my deer. However, I did have my cell phone, which has a camera. I had just gotten the phone passed down to me from my wife, after mine died and she got a new one.

I fumbled around with the buttons and figured out how to take a picture. I snapped a few of the deer by itself, then tried to hold the camera at arm’s length and get a picture of me with at least the deer’s head.

No go on that one. Fortunately, my hunting partner and friend, Bernie Schwab, came through later. His son, Dan, had a camera and he took a few pictures. Though it was dark, at least I got something.

I’m working on letting go of the lack of quality pictures. The antlers on this deer are similar to the ones on the first buck I ever shot back in 2000. It was a great buck and a great hunt and I have it all captured in my memory.

I’m sure I’ll never forget this hunt. Praise God for his goodness!

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