It’s Saturday afternoon prior to the buck season opener and I am in camp making a big pot of chili. No doubt I am usually not so perceptive about such things, but it dawns on me that I am probably not the only one in the continental United States to be doing this. By this I mean I am in deer camp, opening day is the day after tomorrow, I am making enough chili to feed a small army, and college football is on the tube. I love this country!
The dogs watch with some interest but after realizing they are not going to get much graft from the chili making process they return to their stations of sleeping on the various couches and one comfy chair. Somebody has to do it.
I am glad to be here and happy to be part of the whole tradition of deer season and the joy it brings to many hunters but in truth I am a little low in spirts. The crowd in camp will be smaller than usual, prior commitments and last minute problems always claim a few hunters and one of our friends is in a very hot and sandy place right now serving his country. Hopefully he will be home soon.
Stirring the chili and feeling sorry for myself I am jarred out of this reverie when my main hunting buddy for the week comes busting in. Clad in full camo and face paint, he is talking a mile a minute and telling me has (A) taken a turkey with his crossbow, and (B) he has shot at a very large buck. Soaking in every word of his story I realize his excitement is very contagious and I feel my spirts meter go up a full third.
The incident with the deer happened at the very edge of darkness as they usually do and he was unable to find any evidence that he had connected with the buck. He is an experienced bow hunter and decided to back out of the area, come to back to camp and have a pow wow with me to decide what to do. I let him talk but agree with his choice to not look for the deer this evening and take up the search tomorrow.
The next day bright and early (well, more bright than early) we do an extensive search of the area and find nothing. No blood, no hair, no crossbow bolt. With a range finder we check the yardage from where my buddy took the shot to where the deer was standing for the fifth time. After running the memory of the shot and the buck’s reaction through his mind over and over he concedes that it probably was a miss. On a hike in the direction the deer ran he runs right into a buck that he is sure is the same deer. This buck is chasing a doe and seems to be fit as a fiddle. We both breathe a sigh of relief.
In the afternoon we take the Polaris Ranger side by side to check some trail cameras. This place is remote, very rough and steep and not exactly a favorite of my hunting partner. He claims it is too hard to traverse and is not exactly polluted with deer and other game. He is right but I argue the point at length and so this is our little joke. I like this wild six thousand acre tract that seems to have more bears than deer and he doesn’t. Just to put a nice ending on the day we get a flat tire on the side by side on the way out but thankfully make it to the only cabin in the area. The hunters there lend us a tire pump and we are saved. It would have been a long walk.
Monday is opening day of the rifle season and we are in the zone. I wander quietly to an area I know deer will be moving through, as I saw does here the day before. I sit and watch the woods and things are quiet as a tomb. I am hearing distant shots in some number and wonder as to the marksmanship of those involved. Truthfully I feel a little guilty because I am more interested in seeing some turkeys or turkey sign than any deer.
I watch and wait and begin to enjoy what these woods may offer, woodpeckers and other birds, a few squirrels, (I make a note to return with Cur Dawg) and a little button buck that stamps his foot at me when he gets too close. I’m sure he doesn’t know how lucky he is to run into me and not some others. The big eight point that my buddy has seen twice is not at home.
We return to camp for lunch and find the dogs have instigated a colossal escape from the pen. Cur Dawg is waiting for us in the yard but Bo; the big running brown dog is nowhere to be seen. While repairing the dog pen for the tenth time I am in full stress mode thinking this is the worst day of the year for a dog to be running loose. Bo returns about twenty minutes later oblivious to my concern. Later, on the afternoon sit on my deer stand I am so relieved I promptly fall asleep. I don’t see any deer, either in the woods or in my dreams.
Tuesday the weather turns a little sour and it gives me an excuse to catch up with some chores at camp. It really isn’t that bad but I have deadlines calling my name that I should have already taken care of. I think about what a pitiful excuse for a writer I am. I venture forth in the afternoon more to get pictures of hunters and deer season, but I tell myself I am doing this and hunting at the same time.
After it gets dark I pull into a church down the road that sponsors a deer hunter’s supper every year on this night. I figure I will take a few pictures of the crowd and leave but I am quickly drawn into the warmth and genuine hospitality of the people putting on this supper. I talk at length with the pastor of the church and joke with the ladies in the kitchen. The pastor’s wife is making biscuits to die for and I find myself not wanting to leave, it is all I can do to grab two dinners to go and run for the hills. Driving to camp I work on my excuses for being so late.
I will hunt some on Wednesday but will also have to work a little to get this story to you. In the evening I will return home and do Thanksgiving with the family, maybe my favorite holiday.
Right now the plan is to return to camp after turkey day. I wonder if that big eight point will still be around?