I think this is my sixth year hunting deer, and I haven’t shot one. You can’t shoot something you’ve never seen. Until today I’d never seen a buck during legal shooting time. Oh, once there was a deer. It probably was a buck but it was in the last few minutes of hunting for the day and he was in a dark spot at the edge of a field. I’m told he acted like a buck but I couldn’t be sure and I don’t take chances.
I went to a new place today. After picking my way through the slash piles I walked the tree line, looking ahead, behind, to the side, stopping to listen. There were piles of droppings and a lot of tracks. Two deer had been bedded down together in one spot. At the ends of two trails where they meet the clearing I listened for anything resembling a deer coming toward me.
Eight ounce red squirrels can sound like moose when they’re on the forest floor. Juncos, tiny birds that weigh a couple of ounces, sound like what I think deer must sound like coming through the trees when they’re in the dry leaves. They caught my attention several times.
I sat, looking, listening, waiting, and then I moved to another spot. Snuggled up to a fallen, long-dead pine tree, hidden by the brown needles still clinging to the branch, I waited again. There were still frosty spots here and there but the ground wasn’t cold. Noise. In the woods, behind me, coming toward me. Not a squirrel, not a junco.
Turning. Slowly. Slowly. I slid off the safety and got ready. I saw his legs first as he walked through the trees. My heart was pounding and my hands shook a little. My rifle was half way up when he stepped out.
There he was. The first legal buck I’ve seen during legal hunting time. He was mine to shoot.
I took a deep breath and watched him, savoring the moment. My heart and hands calmed down. He was 40′ away and didn’t know I was there. All I had to do was find him in the scope and gently…squeeze…the trigger. He moved. He walked 10′ forward, putting himself in a 10′ space between two trees. I had a perfect shot.
He sniffed a low-hanging branch the same way I’ve seen them do it on television. He looked at me, and I looked away, not wanting to spook him by making eye contact. I’m patient. I waited him out. He walked a few more feet and winded me. Game over? He spun around, took three leaps, and stopped. He walked away, turned around and walked back. I clicked the safety on and placed the rifle across my lap.
There I sat on the ground, snuggled into the branches of the dead pine, watching my first buck that I could shoot. He was legal, but barely. I’m sure his antlers were 3″ long but not much more than that. When I thought “first legal buck” I always pictured a spike horn. I could live with a spike horn as my first deer, he’d be great eating. When I saw “first legal buck” my thought was “toddler.” Maybe I’ll see him again in a few years. I took his picture as he walked away. Squint and look closely. He’s there.