If we didn’t kill a doe, our wives would be pissed. If we did kill a doe, our wives would be pissed.
So goes marriage. And so it was on December 27th, 2017.
At the most basic level, my pal Furter and I were on a mission that night to fill the freezer with a late-season doe or two. Being the self-proclaimed manly-men of our homesteads, we were expected to, at least every once in awhile, bring home the proverbial bacon. But up to that point we’d done a shockingly poor job of it. I had yet to kill a single deer for the year and Furter had only stashed away one. I imagine that our spouses had serious questions at this point about the return on investment they were receiving for the thousands of dollars their husbands had spent on hunting gear, licenses and travel expenses.
On this night we would reclaim our right to the title of “family provider”. Of course, there was a catch. Not only were we to retrieve from the woods a bounty of free-ranging organic protein, but we were to do so in an expeditious and convenient fashion – as determined by said spouses. We were expected inside for dinner and jovial conversation at dark and Furter & Co were to be on their way home as early as possible that evening to ensure their planned early departure time the next morning for a holiday vacation in Chicago.
I knew that the requested task and time allowed were not compatible, but we accepted the challenge anyway. Better to ask forgiveness later, I thought.
Furter and wife were to arrive sometime around 3:00 PM. At that point the two of us would immediately depart for the woods. I knew we would be cutting it dangerously close to when the first deer of the night might arrive on the food plot, but if we arrived to the blind no later than 3:30 PM I figured we’d be OK.
We arrived to the base of the blind after 4:00 PM.
“Be careful when you climb up this ladder,” I whispered to Furter. “It can creak pretty loud if you yank on it too hard.”
I gently stepped onto the first metallic step, demonstrating the stealth and care I hoped Furter would use on his way up next. As I shifted my weight for step two, a sound similar to that of a ball-peen hammer being slammed against a 50 gallon steel drum echoed across the landscape. I winced, shook my head and continued up.
Seconds later, inside the blind and waiting for Josh to make his way up behind me, I looked out the window and caught movement in the power line clearing 80 yards distant. There were white flags bouncing away in all directions.
Murphy’s Law states that if something can go wrong, it likely will. And I’ve seemingly worked hard to prove this true over the course of my entire 25 years of hunting; 2017 being a banner year. But as they say, if you’re not failing often, you’re not trying hard. Any seasoned and honest deer hunter can attest to that.
Or at least that’s what I tell myself.
We regrouped in the blind, organized our gear and settled in for the final 90 minutes of fading evening light. A blinding white blanket of fresh snow covered the landscape. Temperatures hovered in the single digits, so cold that each breath felt thin and hollow, as if no matter how much air you pulled into your lungs it wasn’t quite enough. But each breath came back out full and visible, a wafting cloud of tiny ice crystals. I wiped fog out of the lens of my binoculars and scanned the leafless timber and cut crop fields surrounding us.
A doe fawn was heading our way from the north, her solid form materializing and then disappearing again in the waist-high brush. We watched for more behind her, Furter grabbed his gun and shifted into position. Another fawn appeared. I continued scanning in another direction and spotted more movement, this time along the power line clearing. There was a spike buck, just the dark line of his back and his head showed above the grass. And then a doe. Another doe. Another young buck. And then antler. So much antler.
“Holy shit, look at this buck
The rack seemed to fill my entire frame of view. It was a buck of Iowa-like proportions, a 150-class buck, maybe even bigger. I’d never seen a deer of this size in Michigan during hunting season before.
The first thing I felt was shock. I couldn’t believe I was seeing a deer of this caliber, on this property, at this point in the season. We watched as the buck turned – ten points, tall white tines, main beams spreading well beyond his ears – and headed in the opposite direction, disappearing into a block of timber on the other side of the parcel.
The second thing I felt was dread. Now what was I going to do?
I’d entered 2017 with sky-high aspirations. For my first trip of the year, a public land hunt in Montana, I promised myself that I’d kill a 4+ year old buck in the 130″+ class or nothing at all. I saw lots of deer, passed on nice bucks, and killed nothing at all. I then had trips planned for North Dakota and Ohio, with goals of 4+ year old heavy antlered bucks there too. But first and foremost were my goals for Michigan. I was after one buck here at home, Holyfield, and everything else paled in comparison. In this bull-headed pursuit of a single deer I passed on dozens of bucks, pushed off opportunities to kill does, cancelled my trip to North Dakota, and skipped out on almost all of the Ohio hunting I usually enjoy. I spent hundreds of hours in the tree, from dark to dark, day after day. I stressed and bitched and worried myself away for week upon week. And in the end, I never killed Holyfield. I never killed anything.
But now I was supposed to be changing that. Now I was supposed to be dropping all the lofty goals and instead focusing on the ultimate end-all-be-all essence of hunting. Killing something to eat.
And I was excited for that, I was relieved by that. I wanted to hunt, at least for a few days, without being blinded by obsession. A pure, simple, hunt.
This buck though. He was huge. And he was here. How that came to be, I had no idea, but what I did know was that I should drop everything to hunt him. I should tell Furter that we couldn’t shoot a doe tonight or the rest of the season, and that I needed to focus on killing this buck. I knew that I should cancel all my plans for the next five days, tell the wife to go spend some time with her mom or sister, and put together a game-plan to kill the biggest Michigan buck of my life.
But I didn’t.
“That big one on the left looks good,” I whispered. Furter pulled up his muzzleloader and put the mature doe in his crosshairs. I watched in silence, waiting for the smoke and the fire. He pulled the trigger and we watched the fifteen deer in front of us scatter and sprint. We were hunters again.
Quite a few hours later we arrived back home with a dead deer. And over the next few nights I repeated the scene twice more myself. I snuck quietly into the woods, waited, watched, fired, walked, prayed, cut, cleaned, dragged. The ancient dance of predator and prey completed once again.
Not much went “right” during my 2017 deer hunting season. My lofty goals certainly fell flat and we sure as hell didn’t make it home on time on the 27th.
But I had hunted. A pure, simple, hunt. And that was enough.