It may be spring, but already thoughts of deer season are screaming through my head. Your's too, probably. One such thought? The story told below.
It was just after 8:30 a.m. on the first Sunday of the muzzleloading season. A cold morning. A still morning. Heading out to the stand a good 45 minutes before shooting light, the thermometer registered a nearly brutal 4 degrees. There was no wind at all, not a puff, not a wisp. Six inches of snow covered the ground and helped muffle my size 11s as I stumbled my way to the new stand on the edge of the cedar swamp in a fresh aspen cut-over.
Just after first light a group of six does came by no more than 20 yards to the front. Appearing and disappearing as they made their way through the slashing piles and folds of the land the gun followed their progress. More than once the safety was switched off and my finger wrapped around the trigger only to have my thumb put the safety back on. An anterless permit was in hand but I had a buck in my mind. The does eventually wandered off, oblivious.
A special buck. A buck I've watched for the past three seasons- first as a 6-, then an 8-, now an easy 10-point monarch. I'd seen it every season, but never well enough for a shot. During rifle season I cut its track a handful of times as the deer serviced his scrapes, twice I caught glimpses of it as it used a thick patch of mixed aspens and young hemlocks to get to the swamp.
This stand was built specifically to cut him off. And that morning, I saw a huge-bodied deer making its way just inside the swamp, and making its way along the buck's normal path. Maybe this time. No, it was this time. The large buck came out into the open, or its head did. For what seemed like hours the deer stood wooden-soldier still before it finally eased its way into the cut over, directly alongside the aspen and hemlock patch.
With a straight face I can tell you the inside spread was near 20 inches, maybe 21. I can tell you that it sported 10 points plus some numerous stickers around the base of the antlers. Brow tines were nearly 10 inches long and its first points must've been an honest foot. I can tell you this, and you don't have to believe it. But believe this, it is the largest deer I'd ever had in my sights.
At 50 yards my sights found the sweet spot just behind the left foreleg and about six inches up from its chest. It was mine. The trigger was squeezed and the result was, Chick! No Boom. I held on him for a good minute as the deer starred at me, and I at him. After a minute I spoke loudly a rather blue word and lifted my head.
The deer was startled, picking up its tail and raising its ears. When I told him to "git outta here" he did just that. Quickly, but I thought I heard a sigh of relief and a chuckle as the buck entered the shadows. And it came from the deer. Not me.
I knew from prior misfires there was a good chance that the nipple, which holds the percussion cap and sends a fiery charge into the powder in the gun's breech which ignites and launches the bullet, was probably clogged. Back to the camp I went and proceeded to pull the nipple and breech plug and spent two hours soaking the parts and scrubbing the parts and doing everything necessary to get that nipple clean. I still wanted to hunt the afternoon. When the cleaning was done I swear I had the cleanest nipple in the world.
A quick lunch and back to another stand, an afternoon stand. It was just past 1 p.m. This time a doe would do nicely, Karen wanted more venison. But a doe didn't come by, not all afternoon. About 2 p.m. a nice 6-point buck did. I watched it make its way from more than 300 yards away. It finally came into range. It seemed to be out enjoying the bright sun shining on its dark coat. Zigging and zagging its way through the mature and leafless maples and beeches, the deer was out for a slow stroll.
At 30 yards, bucky was broadside and the crosshairs centered on the heater and the trigger squeezed.
Chick! No Boom. Again.
This deer didn't hang around at all and was probably in the next county within seconds as its hoofs flew. This time there wasn't a single blue word, there was a rather flowery phrase (apologies to Father Frigo at the mission church) and then I found myself laughing.
Nipple clean? Check.
Problems? You bet.
But, sometimes that's the way it goes. It was a great day. I saw a great buck that has eluded me for a few years and still does. Both bucks have another year to get bigger still. And it sure beat sitting in front of the TV watching the tube.
And, it proves the old mule skinner saying that says, "Ya gotta keep your powder dry." Which is the only thing that I can figure went wrong. I think I found this deer's tracks a few days ago. Following along a small creek on my way back from the turkey woods, I'm sure they belonged to that buck. I'm hoping it'll be mine come fall.
The point of all this? Get ready for deer season now. Prepare your gear. Prepare your plans. Prepare your mind. And keep your powder dry this season.
Editor's note: This was originally published in 2002.
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