It's a good thing that my assessment of a quality outdoor experience is not based on catching the biggest fish, climbing the highest mountain, or in this case, killing the biggest deer. You will see that there are exactly zero photos of a dead deer in this blogpost - and it's not in this circumstance because none were harvested. It's because, though we do honor the sacrifice of a beautiful animal's life for our sustenance, I cannot claim that it is this that motivates our endeavor.
For the past few years, the opening day deer hunt has been an activity I have shared with my younger son...better said, he has made a significant sacrifice to carry on this yearly tradition though he is now attending a university a five hour drive and two states away. This year worked out really well, as he has no Friday classes or commitments, and even had his Thursday afternoon obligations get cancelled. The upshot was he was home by Thursday night, we had a family dinner, and were on our way to our deer hunting spot in the Missouri Ozarks by mid-morning the next day.
We hunt public land. We don't own private land, and have taken pride over the years harvesting fewer deer than our friends who own or lease land where they can manage deer populations and restrict access. Sure, there have been those moments - lots of them to be honest - where the thought of climbing up in a luxuriously and heated deer stand where trail cams had confirmed that we'd get an opportunity at a mature 10-pointer...that sounds at times pretty good.
Here's how last weekend went and it was awesome.
We arrived and dropped our little trailer in the primitive campground nestled amongst a beautiful grove of shortleaf pines that are so prevalent in this region. We knew where we were headed - a "mountain" where we just started going a couple of years ago after hunting the general area for close to 15 years. It gets little pressure, and there are lots of deer. We go in about a mile, give or take, and hunt from climber stands for the most part.
After dropping our trailer, we packed our stands in to where we'd be hunting the next morning. It was cool and a beautiful evening. We like it a lot better when we have gotten our climbers set the night before opening day, as packing them in in the dark of a a 4:30 morning, and the attendant noise scaring off the deer just a short time before legal shooting hours, is a bummer.
Opening day was COLD! It was the coldest we could remember, down in the mid teens. After eating instant oatmeal, poptarts, and drinking a huge cup of coffee, we were in the Jeep driving up the mountain road to the parking lot where we'd hike back to our stands we'd set the night before. Other hunters we later spoke with could not remember such a cold one for quite some years. After our hike in, up we went into our stands.
It was one of those mornings where if you hunt from a stand with no heat source, you know this feeling; you are struggling to care more about the crunching of leaves or the flicker of brown indicating an approaching deer, and focused more on the whereabouts of a warming sunrise. Time moves very slowly. But, just as the light became sufficient to see a vital area for a broadside shot, a big doe wandered into the chute just below me.
She was too far for a good shot, not because of distance but because of poor shooting lanes. She was however, headed just where I wanted her to, when something or someone caught her attention and diverted her path. She disappeared for a few moments, and then I caught sight of her once more.
She was headed straight up the steep hill directly to my left, and there was an opening right on her path where a shot would be available. I kept both eyes open with my right one behind the scope gauging when to focus just on the scope and try a shot at just the right moment. Finally, she was just trotting into my line of sight, and as a I slowly squeezed the trigger, something arrested her uphill trot. I missed.
A few minutes later, David (my son) radioed over and I had to tell him my bad news.
We hung in until about 9:30, and baled to go get in some warming. It turned out, we spent the whole day lounging by the Current River listening to college football on the radio and in all respects, enjoying ourselves immensely. Zero guilt!
That afternoon, we rolled back up the mountain to get in an evening hunt. It was so beautiful, and we were warm and ready...though we decided to hunt from the base of our trees and not go back up in the climbers. We figured we'd be there until dark and hunting again the next morning.
Instead, within 30 minutes or so after settling in, up the same chute came another big doe, and this time followed the path I'd anticipated. After posing perfectly for a shot, a collapsing mercifully without ever realizing any danger, we'd harvested an opening day deer.
In Carter County, where we were hunting, antler points are nor required, so when we got down to "her," I was only mildly surprised when David informed me it was a spike buck. We got him field dressed in about 15 minutes, as I am not the fastest and I could have had my knife a little sharper.
The drag out was some good exercise, and we had him down to camp by about 7 pm.
David offered to heat up the stew we'd brought, so we were rather disappointed to find it was frozen so solid it would be impossible to get in the camp pot to heat up.
We headed in to the closest small town and ate a good dinner in a dive bar. Reubens and fries never tasted so good!
We had a relaxing and enjoyable trip back the next morning as David was completely happy to get back a little early to rest before his drive back the next ,morning. We listened to football games and enjoyed the warm drive through beautiful Missouri Ozark country back home.
I love these times, and cannot imagine a better was to spend a weekend...not even in a heated tree stand on my own land!