I’ve been told that, often there is a time in your life where everything comes together. Lately, I’ve been feeling that there is only a time in my life when everything falls apart. A death, a loss, a failure, a mistake. Things that make you question what is really important. There isn’t much that has improved my outlook on life lately, not even the deer season, which has been especially slow.
The warm weather is killing the big buck activity, no cold weather forecasted anytime soon, and a full moon is fast approaching, which will be of no help. Right now I can see the season ending with no buck on the ground, and nothing to show for the many hours I spent up in the tree.
Yet everyday like clockwork even on the days when I just want to crawl into bed and hide, I head to the treestand, knowing that at least I’m trying, putting forth the effort. Most days I feel better after a few hours in the tree; it works like therapy to give me to time to unwind after a long day.
I leave the woods with hope that things will get better, that they aren’t as bad as they seem, that things will work themselves out.
It reminds me of last year, also in November, when I was feeling pretty much the same way…and then I got my Muzzleloader Buck and things seemed to slowly right themselves.
On opening day of muzzleloader in New Jersey, it was 40 degrees with a forecast of rain. I hated hunting in the rain, especially muzzleloader hunting. And besides that, rain was depressing. Nevertheless, I was on the road at 5 that morning, headed to my tree stand.
It was also opening day of rifle in Pennsylvania, I expected to see a lot of hunters already parked along the road in the dark, getting ready for drives, but saw only a few. I had to drive a half hour to reach the property I hunted, but it was privately owned, and I was the only one who hunted it. It was a small square of about 7 acres, surrounded by public land that I knew would be full of hunters doing drives. Hopefully, that would push a few deer out to me so I could get a shot. I hadn't used the muzzleloader in a few years, but this year I wanted to shoot what I liked to call the "New Jersey Grand Slam": a deer with a shotgun, bow and muzzleloader, at least one buck.
This year, I had promised myself, this year was going to be different. I was going to hunt hard and shoot the buck of my dreams. The area I hunted was known for its huge New Jersey bucks, and I was lucky to be hunting where I was.
I had started out the early bow season with big dreams, but somehow it never happened. I wasn't having a good season. Things kept going wrong, and not only with hunting; I lost my job, went through a bad breakup, and had problems with my truck. Of course I had caught a few glimpses of big bucks, bucks big enough to make my eyes glaze, as I tried to wish the deer close enough for a bow shot. But ass the season progressed, my hopes diminished. I began believing that I wasn't going to reach my goal of a big buck.
Sitting in my treestand that morning with my 50 cal CVA inline, I wasn't at my most optimistic. I waited and waited, thinking of a unusually long tined four pointer that I had passed up about a week ago. Maybe I should have shot him.
As the dark sky turned a light shade of gray, I stayed tuned in to any sounds that might indicate a deer. Even a doe, I thought to myself, I'll shoot a doe if one comes. We were allowed unlimited doe, and I'd only taken one in the early bow season.
It was after seven o'clock. I was hearing shots in the distance and knew the deer should be moving now. I waited. Nothing. I considered getting down and going in. I stayed.
Then, I finally heard something. Looking behind me, back towards the open hay field, I saw a little four pointer trotting down out of the woods and into the field. I'd seen him many times before, too small to be a "shooter", I even had him on film, along with most of the other small bucks I had passed up.
Suppressing a sigh, I turned back to face the stream. I was no quitter, but in that moment, I wanted to give up. I had hunted every single day of bow season, morning and night, and never had a chance at a big buck. It was the end of November; not much time left, the rut was over. Not many chances that it would happen.
I heard something crashing down the hill in the direction the four point had come from. Turning again, I saw another much bigger bodied deer limping his way down the steep hill side. I squinted my eyes, trying to see the rack at several hundred yards. Of course, I had forgotten binoculars.
When he stepped into the field, he was limping badly. My guess was he had been pushed out of the woods by all the hunters, and had been hit by a car. He lifted his head, and my eyes focused on his rack. It was WIDE. Wide, and the right hand side gleamed white, almost the same color as his face. He was an old deer, that much was obvious, and the biggest bodied deer I'd seen all season. The rack was unique looking, though I still couldn't really judge how big it was from this distance.
I twisted in my stand to face the direction he was coming. I held my breath and checked the primer on my gun as the deer limped slowly towards my stand. One hundred yards, fifty yards. I knew I could shoot. Still, painstakingly, I waited. At 25 yards he stopped and turned sideways, looking towards the other side of the field, where I knew does had probably come out to feed. This was what I had been waiting for.
I lifted the muzzleloader to my shoulder, trying to control my shaking, released the bolt, and squeezed the trigger. The gun went off. To my shock, the buck didn't flinch, didn't fall. Almost lazily, he turned and limped away. I felt panic rising inside me. I knew I had made a perfect broad side shot. I knew it. Why was he walking away as if I hadn't?
I nearly fell out of my treestand when he stopped a moment later, looking around as if he knew I was watching. He laid down, his legs scuffling in the leaves, then he was still. I knew I should wait; to be sure he was dead. I couldn't. I was out of the treestand in seconds.
As quietly as I could, I walked towards him. His eyes were wide open, staring at nothing. I grabbed a stick from the ground and tossed it at his head. He was dead alright. And he was huge. Bigger than I thought he had been when I first saw him standing in the field.. He would go at least 150 pounds field dressed. And the rack was the widest I'd ever seen in my life. Later, it measured 22 inches on the inside spread; the rack scoring 124 and 7/8 inches B&C. Suddenly, I had to sit down. Sinking down on a rock, I stared at my buck. I was so happy. I felt like the luckiest girl alive to have just killed such a beautiful deer. Wasn't this always how it worked? Just when you stopped believing in something, it would happen and prove you wrong. Well I certainly wasn't complaining this time. Instead, I felt the sudden urge to break down and cry.
Sitting staring at my buck, the one antler digging into the dirt, the other gleaming white curving up in the air, it started to rain.
To this day, when I look at the antlers on the wall, or the poster of me with my buck, I remember how after a long wait, things finally worked out for the better.