December 5, 2002

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

Traditionally the Saturday after Thanksgiving has always been a special day in my outdoor life. After all the holiday festivities and as much food as my body could possibly contain, Saturday was set aside for bird hunting. In the recent past it had taken on even more meaning, as with two kids, work, and simply getting older, it has also marked the first time I've been able to go bird hunting that year even though the season opened nearly a month earlier.

However with the declining bird populations and more than my fair share of uneventful bird hunts, this year I decided to leave the shotgun behind. Why be burdened with the extra weight if all I was going to do was walk around the farm all day? Speaking of getting rid of burdens, then why take my troublesome dogs? Especially after the week before when I had tried to take Lake with me on a walk and 10 minutes into the hike he has chased a skunk out of the ditch (up wind of me of course).

Besides I had other things on my mind, in particular, trying to find that deer that was still haunting me from bow season. In today's firearms deer hunting world, even with a blaze orange jump suit and some neon lights, one often may not feel safe walking around in the woods, so I had waited and waited for the 10 days to pass. I'm not kidding when I say this deer has been haunting me, as on more than one occasion I have dreamed of finding it. I sat straight up in bed after the latest nightmare when I located the deer only to find a little spike buck. My wife didn't seem to understand my anguish and told me to go sleep on the deer stand (couch) in the living room if I was going to keep waking her up.

I can't help myself, it's just a nagging presence in the back of my thoughts. I don't doubt there is guilt involved as well. No one likes to shoot a deer and not know what happened to it. However I take some comfort telling myself that it was a good shot, and that I would not have loosed the arrow, regardless of how big the deer was, unless I was comfortable that I could make the shot. There is always going to be the element of human error (seems like with me that element always is quite a bit bigger) and I simply drifted the shot to far back.

It's funny, I can still see the entire process, start to finish, deer walking in and deer running away. However, I have no recollection of how big the deer was, well not in exact terms. I've told this story to everyone that will listen (even bored grandma with it at Thanksgiving day dinner) and they always act a little funny when I say I don't know how big the deer was. I don't really know for sure. I guess that's the reason for the nightmares. But I can say this, over the 10 years I've been deer hunting it has been STRONGLY impressed upon me that we do not shoot bucks unless we are going to shell out the cash to the taxidermist and have them mounted. And let me just say that I follow these guidelines, sometimes too well. I can list three or four times that I have let a buck pass, trying to see how big he was, only to realize he is a shooter as he escapes into the brush or timber. On this particular Saturday, when that buck walked up out of the ditch to my left, there was absolutely zero hesitation. I never once stopped to count points. It was obvious as he walked straight to me that this was a trophy deer, as I felt like I could have kicked a field goal through the uprights created by his antlers. The width was well outside the ears and a momentary look over his left shoulder showed me the mass that I was looking for. But even before that I knew this was the one.

Two weeks later I'm still looking for the one. I walked all the ponds in the area and went back to the scene of the crime and trudged through all the draws back there as well with no luck. I was disappointed, there's no doubt about that, but I did enjoy the walk. While I did not find my deer, I was pleased to see that unlike in years past, I did not find anyone else's deer either. To top it all off, I guess I should have taken the dog and the shotgun because I kicked up seven pheasants (all hens so I wouldn't have needed the gun for them) as well as a good covey of quail. So at least I have a good excuse to try it again this weekend.

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