Parting Shot image

Now generally, I'm a positive person. 

I tend to see the "glass half full" rather than "glass have empty" when I look at my life or specific situations. I've always tried to take life in stride, and even when it gets stressful or trying at times I can usually find some good in things. The exceptions I've found over the years were when one of our children was sick, if my wife was sick, if a vehicle wouldn't start when I was already late going somewhere, or when I hunt all season and don't kill a deer. 

That last one is what's been plaguing me lately. I bow hunted starting opening weekend in mid-September and spent several days in the woods until rifle season opened three weeks ago. I saw and shot at deer both mornings of the opening weekend of archery season. Both times I missed, only to later discover I had badly misjudged the distance from from the ground blind to the deer. A common new archery hunter mistake, of course. 

For the next two months I hunted as often as possible ... usually at least once per week. But, as it went, my days to hunt were usually decided based on my work schedule or any multitude of other non-deer-related reasons. I hunted on rainy days, and on days when the ground blind felt like a sauna and the ticks and spiders kept me company. I hunted on days when the wind was whipping, and blowing in the wrong direction, pushing my scent directly into the food plot and deer travelways. Some days I was late getting to the property and bumped deer on the way to the blind. I'm sure I also bumped them as I was heading back to the truck or cabin seeing as how I had a pretty lengthy walk to reach my hunting area. 

Although I was rarely seeing deer, and never getting a shot, I was still finding fresh deer sign all the time and seeing countless bucks and does showing up on several game cameras spread out across the farm. But most of their travels had moved to nighttime, likely because they had already learned I would likely be by sometime during the day ... or at least once a week or so. 

Then November arrives. I stopped bow hunting two weeks before "rifle season." I knew I had became too much of a nuisance to the deer already, and hoped by giving them some space they would return to their normal meanderings through my chosen hunting areas. I also needed to rest up before the coming firearms season. 

You know what they say about "the best laid plans of mice and men ..." What, you don't know? As it goes, "The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry." That phrase was penned by writer Robert Burns in 1786 in his poem titled "To a mouse" after he was, as the story goes, out plowing a field and turned up an occupied mouse nest just before winter. John Steinbeck used an excerpt from the poem as the title of his best-selling 1937 novel Of Mice and Men.

But back to the important stuff here. My idea of giving the neighboring deer herd a much-needed sabbatical from me was seemingly too little too late.

Even though I've deer hunted for several decades now, and have never missed an opening weekend, I have yet to ever take vacation time to hunt throughout the week. But this was going to be my year. After several years on the job I've amassed a fair number of vacation days each year. This year, I thought, I'd take off all week and just live at the hunting cabin and hunt from sunup to sundown day after day. 

But then life happened. A couple people at work gave their notice. Now we were a little short-staffed, but still had very qualified people in place who could keep things going in my hunting absence. So then in late October it was announced that the company would be holding a mandatory conference in another state -- and, wait for it, it would be the week of deer season. So as it worked out, my plan changed to hunt hard opening weekend and get this thing done and then head out to that conference with my freezer full, my tag telechecked, and my mind clear and focused.

When rifle season opened Nov. 10 the deer in my woods had apparently gotten the memo and decided to sleep in that day. I didn't see anything all morning, and the same that afternoon until dark. The one deer I saw all opening weekend was staring at me in the dark as I left my blind well after the last shooting light that evening. I looked over to my left and thought I saw two eyes and ears staring at me from about 70 yards away in the dark. I blinked hard and then opened my eyes to have a second look. Yep, two ears and directly below them were two eyes. And about that time one of the ears twitched. Before I could even hardly register the movement, the deer turned, threw up the white flag and bolted into the brush.

As bad as seeing a deer opening day and not getting a shot was in itself, the worst part was facing getting back out in the cold the following morning. They were calling for a sunup temp of about 17 degrees. Here's something that those who know me already know. I hate to deer hunt in the cold. As as general rule I despise bitter cold weather any time, and with each passing year I find it even more off-putting. I now understand the allure of moving to south Florida when you get old. But as much as I hate the cold, I love the taste of fresh venison. 

I like fried tenderloin or backstrap medallions. I like a section of backstrap or a roast slow cooked with potatoes and carrots in a Dutch over or even the Crock Pot. I like venison stew, summer sausage, venison breakfast sausage, or chili made with ground venison. A couple years ago I started raising my own pork. I like to add in some pork fat when I grind the deer meat using a course blade in the grinder. The course grind makes for a pleasant looking blend of venison and pork fat, and it really cooks down great in the skillet.

Furthermore, I like being able to answer the question "Did you get your deer?" I can say, "Well, as a matter-of-fact I did (and then I go into a long, drawn-out hunting tale about how I scouted hard before season, chose the best location on the hottest crossing, showed up opening morning and hunted hard every available hour until I finally found him -- man and beast, caught in a struggle for survival ... of which I won out and put venison in the freezer).

The truth is, I pray every fall asking God to please let me see and shoot a deer opening morning of season so I don't have to endure that un-Godly cold wasting away for hours sitting half-frozen in a tree stand or ground blind ... my mind racing in a million different directions, all as I try to sit still on the outside while my bones are shivering like somebody playing a drum solo on my insides, and try to avoid to urge to thumb through my smartphone to see if my friends have killed anything yet and posted it on Facebook.

Be that is it may, in the end I am a hunter and a meat eater ... it's what I do. So I'll stay committed to the search until I either: 1) run out of daylight during the allotted hunting season, or 2) finally find a shoot-able deer and shoot it -- ending the agonizing search.

I've been blessed in that I have a pretty decent track record of harvesting deer. I think I've had maybe three or four dry seasons in the past 25 years when I didn't put venison in the freezer. I've never been greedy and usually settled for one a year, even if I had additional tags. I'm not a trophy hunter and never have been. I "score my deer by how close they are to the cabin or truck when they fall." Nowadays I have a side-by-side or 4-wheeler to get them from the woods to the gambrel, so the days of having to drag one more than a few feet are long over, but the concept remains. Antlers mean very little to me. Oh, yeah, they're fun to brag about, but I've never deer hunted for bragging rights. It's always been about the harvesting of great tasting, healthy meat.

But on the flip side, those three or four years when I didn't kill a deer ... well, the weeks and months that follow were torturous for sure. Everywhere I go -- church, work, the gas station, the post office, Rural King, Tractor Supply, White Castle -- everyone I know asks the same question ... "Did you get ya' deer?" And I'm left having to explain "no, I tried but it just didn't happen this year." It's enough embarrassment to make a hunter turn into a regular ole' hermit and avoid town altogether.

And as if it couldn't get more complicated, two years ago I took up archery hunting. So now I don't only have to face spending time in the blind for 10 days in mid-November, and maybe a week for alternative season later in the year, but I'm faced with trying to harvest a deer from the middle of September into January of the following year. But as long as I have tags in my pocket and no new venison from this year in the freezer I can't sit idly by and not at least give it a try.

So here we are! I find myself facing hunting the "antlerless-only firearms" three day season this weekend. I'll be back in a blind, dressed in camo and accented with a blaze orange cap and vest, watching the sun come up and the squirrels playing on the tree trunks and the forest floor. I hope to not still be there watching them by that evening, or the next day or the next. But if that's how this season unfolds, well, that's where I'll be found.

Then it'll be back to the bow and arrows through the month of December until the alternative methods season arrives with Christmas. At least then I can carry my old .50 caliber Hawkins-style black powder reproduction rifle and feel like a 1800's fur trapper. Or maybe strap on the 1911 .45 caliber semi-auto pistol. 

I think I'll stop at that. A man who can't kill a deer with a high-powered lever action rifle, a bow and arrow, a blackpowder sidelock muzzleloader or an 8-shot large bore semi-auto pistol likely shouldn't even be in the woods and trying with a sharp stick (Atlatl). 

Well, if it doesn't work out between now and New Years there's always next year. We'll just have to eat more squirrels!

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