It was a very cold day. I started to shiver again. A sub zero dawn makes bowling seem like a far saner hobby than hunting.
If I was in my usual deer stand I’d have my back frozen to a post by now. (Don’t laugh, it happens. I’ve also had my boots freeze to the plank “floor”.) But this was a new year! I was in my new homemade luxury box and it was time to act like a fat lazy American slob.
In an event that’s almost unforgivably decadent, I closed the plexiglass windows. Then I rearranged my pack, draped an extra jacket over my shoulders, stuffed a cushion under my sore ass, pulled my fur hat down over my ears, wolfed down some junk food, and took a huge slurp of hot coffee from a thermos. (I have concerns about coffee. If I can smell it can’t deer smell it? Then again… coffee!)
Sated, I hunkered down. The windows were pure luxury. It was a thousand times warmer without the snowy breeze. The newly installed panes were crystal clear. The hinges were carefully oiled and silent. I warmed up and smiled. It’s good to be the king.
I decided I didn’t give a rip if a deer showed up or not. Usually I hunt for days on end before I connect. Opening day has never been particularly lucky for me… I’m all about persistence. Besides, the whole point of hunting, like fishing, is to mellow out.
Five minutes later I was asleep.
Man, what a nap! There’s no nap like the nap you’ll have in a sensory deprivation box in the forest. I made a mental note to go out here and nap whenever I wanted. Like maybe when relatives visit for Christmas and fruitcake is prowling… I’ll slip out and go sit in my box. Who needs hunting season?
I didn’t fall asleep again. I swear.
…but I did wake up. What had happened? My monkey primate brain was trying to tell me something.
I had three windows with a 180 degree view and the tail end of a deer was slipping out of sight on a side window. Shit!
About a third of the 180 degrees is blocked by dense forest. (Behind me is an attractive meadow. If a deer came toward me from the meadow they could have a party on the grass and I might miss them. On the other hand if they came toward the meadow from the forest I’d have my chance. One must make compromises and I’d settled on watching the forest.)
Well it hadn’t worked quite like I’d planned. The deer had come along the edge, probably within sight of my right window… but I’d been (apparently) asleep. Now it was in the forest with so much cover there could be six bulldozers and a mastodon having a rodeo and I’d never see them. There’s a trail the deer follow that would lead to even denser forest. It might bed down there or take the trail to the left to a swampy area. I decided I might still hunt the swamp later in the week. If the deer was very unlucky, it might take the fork to the right (where my neighbor’s stand towers on the properly line like a machine gun nest). If the deer went left or bedded down I wouldn’t see it for a good long time. If it went right it would be dead within the hour.
At least it wasn’t running. Clearly it hadn’t noticed me catching 40 winks in the magic green box. Whenever the deer isn’t yet spooked, hope remains.
Just in case, I eased open my front window and peered at a narrow shooting lane that I made years ago. It has since partly grown back and it’s not much good for shooting any more. I can see a narrow path going through the forest maybe 80 yards out before it’s totally obscured. Anything smaller than a rhino can cover that distance in a flash so I would almost certainly not get a shot. On the other hand if I saw it’s outline as it slipped through I would know the critter was bedding down. I made a mental note to harvest some firewood out of there this winter to open up my view again.
I stared through my binoculars until I was nearly blind. Nothing.
Meanwhile the deer, instead of slipping through the forest 80 yards out… was testing the wind in maybe 50 feet from my stand. Jumping Moses it was right there!
I brought up my rifle and couldn’t see anything but leaves. I’d foolishly left the scope dialed to 9x. I fiddled with the scope, got it down to 3x, and drew a bead.
It was on the edge of a somewhat obscured space about 2 feet wide. It paused behind a Charlie Brown Christmas tree and scanned the field behind me. It was literally looking right past me. I could probably drop the hammer and blast through the thin foliage but I didn’t. I’m super uptight about marksmanship. More than any sane hunter.
I had a mental debate:
First half of brain: “Suppose the little tree near its chest has a branch the diameter of a pencil and suppose it deflects the bullet a fraction of a degree. Then my shot would less than perfect. Of course it would still be lethal (at such a close range the deflection would be minimal and nearly any hit would be certain death) but who aims for less than perfect? The same could be said of a tiny intervening twig in front of its head. Better to make an awesome shot. I’ll wait and put the bullet in the proper organs for sure.”
Other half of the brain: “You’ve got a .270 with 150 grain bullets and that tree couldn’t deflect a spitball much less a bullet. It’s a done deal. You could kill this deer with a bow and you’ve got a rifle. This buck is about to climb in your back pocket. You’re waiting? For what?!? When you’re close enough to a deer you could kill it with a frying pan, just close the deal. Get ‘er done fool!”
I had plenty of time to think. This was a spike buck, perfect eating size. (I’m not particularly concerned with antlers.) However, if I took it I’d be “wasting” by only “either sex” tag. (I’d have doe tags left but I like to leave either sex tags for last in case I shoot a doe that suddenly grows antlers when it’s down. The very thought freaks me out)
It was the first day of the season, no reason to rush. But that means nothing. I go weeks at a time seeing nothing. Sometimes I go home empty handed. A few years ago I let a deer pass at dawn on the opening day and never got a second chance despite a week’s hard effort. That sucked.
I waited. The deer was testing the air. I could see his nostrils flare. This made me think the windows do well at blocking scent.
His eyes were wide and alert. This was a cautious, vigilant, “I plan to live forever” deer. It watched the field behind me. Checking every angle. Ears swivelling in every direction.
It occurred to me that this deer was doing everything right. He was coming in with the wind in his favor. He was watching the scene with very close attention. He hadn’t left cover. He had moved as silent as a ghost. Yet he’d been unlucky enough to stand right in front of me. Missing the close hazard while scanning the far horizon.
“You’ve scarcely heard any shots today!” Half my brain screamed. “Everyone is getting skunked. Don’t blow it egghead.”
“Seriously dude, it’s time.” The other half of my brain concurred. “There’s savoring the moment and there’s being a dumbass.”
I focused on the area in front of the Charlie Brown tree. It was going to move forward. When it did it would cross 2’ of open space. I would have a clear view for only a brief moment. I saw his muscles tense like he was going to move forward. I took a breath, let it out, finger on the trigger. Then he backed up a bit, paused and smelled the air some more. It had seen something moving… hundreds of yards out probably. Likely a squirrel or a blowing leaf. It was not going to make a move unless it was 100% sure it was safe.
“You are doing everything right.” I thought to the deer. “You’re cautious, wise, and careful. It’s not your fault.”
It’s decision made, it stepped forward. My decision made, I fired. It was gone in a flash.
I couldn’t have missed at that range. I leaned back, treated myself to another slurp of coffee, and forced myself to wait ten minutes.
I found him two paces from where I’d fired. It had been, as it should have been, a perfect shot. That’s a big deal to me. I’m not sure why. An hour later I had him tagged, gutted, and hanging.
Later in the afternoon I was having a celebratory hamburger at the local diner. Orange clad men milled around en masse claiming (as they always do) that the lousy hunting was due to wolves. Or maybe the weather was totally wrong. Also those bastards at the DNR had totally screwed up with the number of tickets they issued. Given time they’d probably progress to blaming alien space rays and global warming. (Apparently I’m the only guy that can come out of the woods empty handed without an external cause in mind.)
I note that people in a cafe are, by definition, not going to change their luck while they’re indoors eating hamburgers. This has nothing to do with wolves. Nobody asked me if I’d tagged a deer and I didn’t volunteer.
It had been a remarkably easy hunt for me. Pretty much an outlier. The box stand had been a new level of luxury. It had made chilly weather tolerable and apparently masked my scent quite well. I’d installed it in just about the most perfect spot possible and the paint had dried in time. I’d had ample time to aim and my shot had been true. Apparently I’d done everything right.
On the other hand the deer had done everything right too. It had been wisely and carefully looking for threats. It just happened to miss me at 50 feet while scanning the horizon for danger. I can’t imagine what the deer could had done differently to live out the day.
That’s one of many lessons nature has to teach us. Fairness is a human idea. Life ‘aint fair. Nature ‘aint fair. That’s that. This year, I was fortunate that luck was in my favor. Other years, it’ll be in the deer’s favor; I promise I won’t blame it on wolves and the DNR.