"It's a beautiful day in the neighbor's woods." I hope Mr. Rogers allows me to use and slightly alter his famous phrase, but I thought of it as I entered the woods this afternoon.
It was opening day of the 2019 Indiana firearms deer season, and I had planned to make an all-day hunt, hoping someone would “run deer” to me. On Friday (Nov. 15) evening, my wife, Diana, and I had attended a high school football game in northern Indiana, and it was after midnight before we got back home. I had the alarm clock set for 4:30 a.m. so I could rise and shine early. As my luck would have it, after setting the alarm, the battery decide to die. When I woke up, it was daylight. (You can insert your own #*$%$$^&*@ words of being upset.)
I had not missed an opening day morning in 55 years. I decided I would wait, eat a warm lunch, and then go hunting. I kept imagining several big bucks parading within spitting distance of my tree stand that morning, and I was not there! I hooked up the trailer with the “critter-getter” all gassed up and ready to go, and I was hoping my investment would come in handy. I had used it numerous times setting out trail cameras and relocating tree stands, but this was going to be the “maiden voyage” for hunting.
As I parked my truck, I noticed most of the recent snow had melted. But the ground was still frozen, and the air temperature was in the low-30s. The sun was shining, and the wind was about 10 mph. I just wished I had been in the stand before daylight. I unloaded the ATV, put the CVA muzzleloader in the gun rack on the front carrier rack, and finished getting my orange parka and Hunter Safety System harness on.
I fired up the ATV and took off heading for the woods. I noticed the wind direction had changed so I decided to hunt the “back stand” that was best suited for the wind direction. The first time I hunted that stand, I shot a huge 13-pointer on opening day of the Indiana archery deer season, but with the pain I have had in my hips and knees, I had not hunted it often. Still, I could ride the ATV most of the way to it.
I was somewhat happy that inside the woods and down the ravines, there was still plenty of snow on the ground, and it was really beautiful. I placed a couple dispensers of “doe in heat” scent, and I noticed four buck scrapes on the ground where the buck was leaving his “calling card” for any receptive does. I parked the ATV about 100 yards from the stand, and the snow made spotting a deer pretty easy. I climbed the ladder, hooked up my safety harness, set down on the cushion, zipped up my parka, pulled the muzzleloader up, and got settled in.
I looked at my watch, and it was 12:45 p.m. I figured it might be a long wait sitting there hoping for deer activity. Wrong!
I heard a commotion going on behind me on the ridge on the other side of the ravine. I looked, and I saw a doe headed down the ridge. I turned around, and I watched her as she stopped, squatted, and urinated. She started walking directly in my direction. I started getting ready, and then I noticed another deer about 30 yards behind her. It was a dandy buck. He stopped where she had urinated, and his nose was “glued to the ground.” I knew what that indicated. The doe was in estrus. He followed her, and when she started up the ridge on my side, the buck was following her. I knew if the doe continued up the path, she would pass directly in front of me. The buck was watching her, so I was ready for the shot. I watched the doe walk by me, and she never detected me. The buck was about 30 yards from me, and I needed him to take maybe three more steps.
As he walked into the opening, I placed the crosshairs just behind his shoulder, and I grunted to him. He stopped. I never felt the muzzleloader fire, but I sure heard it! The doe took off, and the buck stood there for a second. I thought I had missed. The smoke from the muzzleloader sort of hung in the air. The buck took two steps forward and looked back in my direction. Suddenly, his hind legs quivered, and his nose went straight to the ground. I knew I had taken a really nice buck! Opening day, 15 minutes in the tree stand, and I shoot a nice buck.
Folks, I have been hunting for 55 years, and I always said, “When I lose the excitement of deer hunting, I will quit!” My knees were shaking so bad I had to sit down and gather myself. I could look down and see the buck laying there, and after a few moments, I managed to safely climb down and go take a look at my buck. Nice eight-point symmetrical rack. Four evenly-matched, tall, thick points all perfectly matching the opposite side.
I took some photos with my cell phone, and of course, I called my wife and told her. I made a special call to my hunting buddy, Big Ed down in Florida, and I told him I had shot a really nice buck and that I needed his help dragging! I also called my grandson, Conner Zeck. He was home, and he volunteered to drive up and help me get the buck back to my truck. I had a difficult time field dressing the buck because his weight kept making him roll over on his side. Conner arrived and I took him on the ATV back, and he assisted me with the field dressing process. We used a ratchet strap and drug the buck out of the woods. When we got to the field, we made a dozen efforts to place the buck on the carrier rack of the ATV.
After loading the ATV on the trailer and strapping it down, Conner congratulated me on my buck, and he headed back home. He teased me because he said, “Papaw, last year, we (he and his older brother) had to carry you out of the woods when you had the blockage issue, and it was more fun carrying the buck out this year.” Thanks Conner for helping your poor, old grandpa get another deer out of the woods. It was certainly a beautiful day in the neighbor's woods.