November 24, 2005

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

I need to make a correction on last weekís Outdoor Corner. I stated I was, without a doubt, the worst bowhunter alive. I apologize, I was wrong. Well, I was right, but it was a bit of an understatement. What I should have said was that I am, without a scintilla of a doubt, the worldís worst deer hunter. That means Iím really bad whether Iím armed with a bow or a rifle.

Iíve seen more big bucks this deer season than I have ever seen before. So odds are, if Iíve seen more than Iíve ever witnessed before, surely Iíd have one checked in by now, the close of the second weekend. Guess again.

My first, and only miss, happened on Saturday afternoon. I had sat with the wife on opening morning without any luck, so we went our separate ways that afternoon.

I still was having nightmares about The One, whom I missed with my bow just two days earlier. So I decided that stand would be worth a few hours of my time that evening.

If only my aim was as good as my stand choice. About 3:00 p.m., my buck charged into the picture, leaving his bed in the tall switchgrass behind me, as he began chasing a doe.

It was so windy, I didnít hear their motion, but his grunt was unmistakable. I whipped around in time to see the big guy following his girlfriend on one of the heavily traveled paths into the timber.

I knew I was only going to have two chances at him, as the path heads directly away from my stand, winding between some pretty heavy undercover and brush. I grunted and the buck stopped just past the first opening. All I could see in my shooting lane was his back half. He began his pursuit again, only to pull up to my grunt call again. This time he hit the brakes just shy of my second opening. I had him in the scope, with the target just behind the front shoulder. As he eased out from behind the tree a little more, I pulled the trigger.

I watched him bound out of the brush into the tall grass just north of the timber. I got to see him bounding away, but just for a dozen or more hops before my view was obstructed by the tree line. The wind kept me from hearing how far he made it, but I was sure that I would be able to follow the blood trail a short distance to find the biggest buck of my life.

Fifteen minutes was about all I cared to wait. I didnít want to push him, if the deer had simply laid down, but I was confident that I had a good shot. My confidence took a blow when I found no sign that I had even hit the deer. I double-checked the area but found no trail. Of course, with a high-powered rifle, there isnít necessarily going to be much of a trail. Still, it makes it difficult to pick a search pattern if you have nothing to start with.

I did a quick review of the grassy hill but the buck was nowhere to be found.

I went back to the stand and immediately began to pout. I sulked through a few more hours of limited deer activity. Well at least I didnít see much, probably because I was having difficulty focusing on anything but my misfortune.

I was given a little hope that evening when I got home. I told my story and several listeners assured me that I likely hit the deer and would be able to find him the next day.

That didnít prevent The One from haunting my dreams that evening. Still I awoke the next morning, believing I would find him.

Well, The One took a backseat to another trophy buck, this one harvested by my wife as I sat beside her encouraging her to take the shot.

Unlike most of us who will admit that our big buck suffered from ďground shrinkageĒ, meaning they looked bigger before you pulled the trigger, my wife was pleased to reveal that the deer was much bigger than she had initially thought.

Iíll just say that sheís lucky that I left my rifle in the truck. We saw him initially in a draw to our left, some 50- to 60-yards away. If it was me, heíd never have left the ditch. But my wife was more patient. As a matter of fact, I had to hand her rifle to her and tell her to get ready, as she was still uncertain if the buck was large enough to harvest. I guess she really could study the rack, as the deer was just 18 yards from the stand, and all she could see in her scope was fur.

Apparently it was too windy for her to hear me the first two times I told her to shoot, so I added a little nudge to the ribs with my elbow on my final instruction. She got the message, and the rest is history.

When we were done at the taxidermistís, a group of volunteers joined me for a quick search of the grounds for my deer. An hour of cross-country walking basically extinguished the last smidgen of hope. The icing on the cake was a huge buck tracking along the canal, some 400 yards away from us. Iím uncertain if it was my deer, but one of my fellow searchers stated it was the largest deer he had ever seen.

With all hope dashed, I made it back into the stand several more times. Believe it or not, Iíve had a couple opportunities at two other big bucks. I didnít get off a shot either time, but letís just say my heart has received its fair share of workouts this week, the kind only big deer can give you.

I was sure hoping to have better news, but maybe it just isnít meant to be. Maybe I should have my wife start writing this column.

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