The hours can pass slowly on those cold days in the November deer woods. While I always focus on being vigilant throughout the day, staying on high alert hour after hour is, frankly, impossible.
Any sudden movement, even up in a tree stand, can give a deer hunter away, particularly when the sound of gunfire is heard and the stench of humans is in the air during the popular Vermont firearms season. I believe that all deer — and older does and bucks, in particular — go on a much higher alert status once the buck season begins.
So, the smart hunter locates a ground blind or a tree stand with the wind in his or her face, always keeping one’s eyes focused on movement, any movement, in the brown and green setting all around, and keeps all movement to a minimum. If you have to move, do it slowly.
One incident I clearly remember occurred one late afternoon hunting out of my brother’s place, Camp Swampy, up in St. Lawrence County, New York. As the hour drew close to 4 p.m., I was looking down from my tree stand, mesmerized by a young, button buck (a buck born that spring bearing tiny, white buttons growing out of the top of its head, buttons that would in later years emerge as antlers) feeding on the berries dropped by a buckthorn tree. This was going on right under me and I looked on and marveled as the young deer used its tongue to lap up the small berries.
After a little while, I stupidly turned my head quickly to scan the overgrown field to my left. Just as I moved, a buck abruptly lifted his head in my direction, right up into the tree. The buck was only 20 yards away and now studied this “thing” in the tree. I was clearly made and I expected that deer to bolt at any moment. I quickly brought the 30-30 up to my shoulder and found him in the scope. A moment later, he took off. I am usually reluctant to fire on any deer at a full run but this deer was so close I found the chest and touched off a shot. Shot through both lungs, he went down and died a quick death. The buck, a nice seven-pointer, dressed out at just over 160 pounds.
Looking back, all I had to do was turn my head, nice and slow, and that deer would have never made me. Live and learn? Not really. Read on.
Just a few years ago, I was hunting in my favorite Vermont tree stand, and one morning during the archery season, I found my wool jacket became snagged on a little nub that emerged from a horizontal cedar pole that serves two roles — it is a safety limb at about waist high that also serves as a great rest for my rifle. No, this dummy did nothing to saw down that nub.
Fast forward four weeks and the second morning of the rifle season. Here comes a buck, right out of the swamp to my right, in the blink of an eye, appearing, as if by some kind of magic (deer do this, especially if you hunt in thick cover, as I do) out of nowhere. He draws very close and, just as his head goes behind a big hemlock in front of my stand only 10 yards away, I move to raise my rifle and a muffled sound, like a soft oomph (this is wool, mind you), comes down from my place. My jacket once again got stuck on the nub. The buck freezes, clearly from the strange sound, and all I can see now is his large rear end, the back end of the deer. I will not take that shot, ever.
Now I have the rifle up and I am waiting for him to step out, maybe three feet, for a clean, killing shot. But he stands his ground and, after what seems like an eternity, I get ready for this deer to do an about face and head back from whence he came. Nope. That buck (a big four-pointer or perhaps a six-pointer; I never count points on any legal buck until he’s on the ground and has died) turns a hard right, and all I can see is a quick flash of brown and he is gobbled up in the thick cover of the swamp. That little nub on that cedar cost me a buck. In hindsight, I deserved what happened through sheer stupidity.
There are other pretty amazing and, yes, dumb things I have done over the 50 years I have been blessed to be a hunter of deer. But I am still learning, still astonished by the acute senses and behavior of whitetail deer and of what they bring to the table, and for the memories of an older and, what I would hope to be, wiser deer hunter.
Contact Dennis Jensen at email@example.com.