By: Jim Kushner.
As we get older our measure of success seems to change in more ways than one. Personally my measure of success in my teens was just to fill a deer tag. I was deer hunting crazy from well before I ever went on my first hunt. That first year at age 14 I think I saw only 3 or 4 deer in a full week of hunting. No one in our group filled a tag and as much as I badly wanted a buck I went home a very happy camper just because I finally made it to deer camp. It was the shortest week of my life.
Always stump sitting State land we didn’t see many deer, the first live buck I saw was the first time I filled my tag. A six point on my fourth opening day if I remember right. Getting your first deer should be a special moment, it sure was for me. I still have those antlers, mounted on a wood plaque that my brother made in school shop class. I remember picking up the spent shell later and tying it to the mounted antlers. My biggest regret is that I only have one photo of myself and Dad standing beside the deer. You can barley see that it has antlers. That deer was killed in the early afternoon of opening day and I was alone at the time. I considered that a huge success back then and I still do now.
As the years went by and I hunted with both gun and bow my opportunities increased but my success rate did not. I always wanted that big 8 or 10 point but it would be many years before I even saw such a buck. Where you hunt makes a big difference in what kind of bucks you see. I heard “if it’s brown it’s down” & “if I don’t shoot him, someone else will” all the time. Most of us, yes me to, were more than happy to just fill a tag once in a while.
My “success” has been measured by ‘firsts’ and my idea of a ‘trophy’ has grown from a nice racked buck to something bigger than the last big buck. Looking back over the years I remember seeing a few nice bucks, I never even shot at them but at least I knew they were out there & there was always that chance. Sooner or later maybe it would be me that finally got lucky enough to actually tag one.
The private land where I live and have been hunting now for many years has provided me the opportunity to tag several nice bucks. Each one provided something unique that combined with the season as a whole was a real success for me. I do not think that I would feel the same if I had put on my camo and shot the first deer I saw even if it was a big buck. There is far more to the hunting experience than just the killing of a deer, no matter how big the antlers. While on the subject of big antlers I can’t help but notice that no matter how big a buck most of us take in this area they are really only average compared to some of the monsters that get so much press anymore. My Dad sees a picture of a guy with the 170- 180 inch monster buck and he always says it came from a deer farm. It may or it may not but I refuse to let that become my standard of success or what a nice buck should look like.
I have written about similar ideas like this before and I have had a few unique situations that have resulted in my tagging a nice buck, each of them all added up to what I would call a success. Last year I shot a buck on the second evening of the gun season after a long and uneventful bow season. I had spent pretty much two full days sitting outside in some of the coldest weather we have had in November. That afternoon I moved to a spot where a fallen log made a good natural blind. The buck I ended up taking was a bit of a challenge to identify as a legal buck (3 points to a side) and then find an opening to the vitals before he moved again, chasing the doe who’s trail he was on. Later I remembered seeing this buck the year before during the bow season. He had a spindly 4 points on one side and a long skinny spike on the other. He wasn’t a really big deer but I kind of doubt he had the potential to ever be anything much more than he was.
I seriously considered doing a shoulder mount of this buck just because he was so different. If I had more room in the house I probably would have. Did I call that a success? Yes, I put in a lot of time, between that and being lucky enough to sit in the right place at the right time. Stopping him in just the right spot where I could get a shot and (not messing it up:) all led to me ending my season feeling like I was happy with my success.
Was one year more successful than any other? If I had to pick one I would have to say it was the year I shot my biggest buck. Not just because he was my biggest but because I shot him on the 3rd day of the December muzzle loader season with an old caplock and patched round ball. It had been a long season, 6 weeks of archery, two weeks of firearm and 3 days of muzzle loader. I had seen deer almost every time I hunted that year and I am sure that was why I kept going out. Just seeing deer will always keep me from staying on the couch.
It had been a long eventful season but the only tag I filled was on the biggest buck of my life and at the end of the season. What more could you ask for?
This year my situation changed drastically but coincidentally it was not the first time this has happened. In 2009 I was very sick and as I started to recover from having to sit out the whole season the previous fall I was lucky enough to take a really nice 9 point during the bow season. This year I am again dealing with the same situation. I never hunted a day or even tried to shoot my bow, I just didn’t have the strength or energy to do it. The mind was more than willing but he body just couldn’t do it. As the gun season approached the thought of sitting out another season was more than I could stand. I devised a plan to build a makeshift box blind on the edge of the old pasture just behind the house. I had little expectation of even seeing a buck but I did it anyway. To my surprise I saw several deer cross the back edge of the field the first time out. One was a small buck and the last two deer was a nice size buck chasing a doe. I had no time to shoot but I was happy when I went back into the house that night. What a success that day was.
On November 25th I got up before daylight but really didn’t feel well. It wasn’t until almost 9am that I decided to go sit for a little while. Shortly after getting settled I was surprised to see what turned out to be two small bucks enter the field less than 100 yards away and then cross the field at a slow walk. The last one may have had 3 points on one side but I had no interest in shooting him. I was very happy that I had decided to come out instead of staying inside yet another day. It was shaping up to be a pretty nice morning, the sun was out and the temperature was starting to rise toward 40 degrees. Just before 10 am I was starting to think that I would head in soon. What were the chances of another buck coming by, especially this late in the season? I had not heard a single shot that morning, it was a Monday who else would be out there anyway?
Suddenly I saw a nice buck running along the edge of the field and instead of far back in the field he was coming from the same end I was sitting on. He was maybe 40 or 50 yards to my left when I first saw him. I quickly grabbed my gun and snapped off the safety. He clearly met the antler restrictions, I didn’t waste any time finding him in the scope and that’s when I remembered my own restrictions, I wasn’t going to take any shot unless I was certain of a good hit. I had a couple of friends who had offered to come and help track if I needed it but I really didn’t want to have to do that. At any rate even though I had the buck in the scope at a reasonable range and in the open I decided to try and stop him. When the usual methods failed I simply shouted HEY and to my surprise he locked up the brakes, skidded to a stop and snapped his head around to stare at me. It only took a second to put the cross hairs on his shoulder and squeeze the trigger. I didn’t hurry but I didn’t waste any time either, he was running for some reason and I was pretty sure he wasn’t going to stand there much longer. He whirled around and in one long leap was gone.
I chambered another round but he was not coming back and I had seen nothing to indicate I had even hit him. At only about 70 yards I was confident in my shot but it didn’t take long for the doubts to start. I have messed up in the past and it’s always the big ones that get away? I sat there staring at that spot knowing I wasn’t going to see him there again. Eventually I developed a plan, make a mental note of where he had been standing and where I last saw him. That was easy since the pines he disappeared into were distinctly different right where he ran through them. I called a friend and told him I had just shot (at) a nice buck. His quick response was, “just now” “Really?” I told him I would let him know if I found blood and explained quickly what had happened. Then I went back to the house.
My wife Mary had heard the shot and listened to my story, I asked if she wanted to go along while I looked for any sign I’d hit him. She eagerly said yes. That was a bit of a surprise but an extra set of eyes looking for sign in a grass field was a good idea. It was probably 45 minutes after the shot by the time we had driven my truck out into the field. I showed Mary where the deer had run into the pines and approximately where he was standing. We looked for only a minute when we found deep tracks and dirt sprayed around from where the buck had whirled around or maybe from where he had skidded to a stop. A little ways away we found a single spot of blood. That was exciting all by itself, I sent Dan a quick message, he would be there in 15 minutes.
The first blood sign was minimal and hard to find but knowing exactly where he had gone helped. By the time we entered the pine row the blood sign was getting heavier and there was less grass to help obscure it. Tracking in a field of tall dead grass can be challenging. On the other side of the pine row is a hill that goes down to a narrow creek bed, the trail was easy enough to follow at that point. We stood at the top of the hill hoping to see the buck laying somewhere close by. When that didn’t happen we slowly moved down the hill. Half way down we could see that there was a lot of blood near the bottom, he almost had to be here somewhere, but he wasn’t. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill I could already see blood on the opposite edge of the next hill. That side only went up a few feet and then it leveled off. That was about the time Dan arrived and caught up to us. He was quick to say that the deer has to be close by with all the blood we were seeing. Still, I wanted to go slow just in case. So we did, walk a few steps along the trail and watch ahead for the deer. Then the trail was gone, Dan had blood right at his feet but nothing in front of him. I looked all around me, nothing. I told Dan to look off to the side in case the buck had changed direction. I have seen that before, sometimes just before they go down they make a sharp change in direction for some reason. We took a couple of steps and that’s when I saw what was either a stick or antlers from behind a log a ways in front of us. A quick look through the scope confirmed an ear and antlers. I watched for a while but he didn’t move.
What I had though to be a nice 8 point turned out to be a nice 10 point. That was a pleasant surprise and just added to the whole success of this particular hunt. My time in the field had been very short compared to any other year and I guess persistence plays a big part but in reality I suspect I was just plain lucky to have 3 bucks enter that field that particular morning. All of these things added up to what has made my 2019 season a success. It is the opposite of my long late muzzle loader season but it sure felt good to be there this morning.Maybe I will rethink where to sit in coming years, the field has started to grow up and now I wonder what I may have been missing the last couple years.
Words of wisdom? The woods are always changing and so does deer movement to some extent. It pays to do your homework instead of just relying on good luck like I did this year. Author/hunter Jim Kushner with his 2019 10 pointer “despite all odds”.