“You shot my deer!” I heard a voice exclaim as I sat in my tree stand, watching the steam rising from the nostrils of my freshly downed buck.
I looked to my left and saw a moose of a man in camouflage heading my way. He crossed from “his” corn field behind me into “mine,” heading toward the magnificent buck I had shot only a few minutes earlier.
I’d heard stories of hunters squabbling in the field over disputed kills, though I had never been witness to such an incident. Of course, as with all other things in life, there is a first time for everything. For an instant I contemplated the probable outcome of my engaging in a physical altercation with a man half again my size.
Fortunately, my story has a happy ending. And perhaps semi-fortunately for you, gentle reader, you get to hear it. So gather ’round, children!
When Tim walked up to his buck in the tilled corn field, he was in shock. He’d just broken the state record by more than 50 inches.
My Hunting Spot
Nov. 17 was the first day of Indiana’s 2012 gun season. The location I hunt in Huntington County is somewhat centrally located in an area of farmland and small woods. I consider my spot inferior, because other hunters on adjacent properties theoretically have “first crack” at any deer moving through the area. From my stand I can sometimes see two, three, sometimes up to 12 other hunters at any given time. On the 2012 opener, I believe there were at least eight of us in the vicinity.
For almost 20 years now my plan of attack has been to take two weeks’ vacation from work to hunt deer. Indiana’s gun season generally is 16 days in November: two full weeks encompassing three weekends.
I try to hunt all day from dawn until dark, maximizing my time in the stand. My thinking is, “You can’t shoot if you ain’t there!” And if another hunter leaving at midday or entering before dusk kicks a deer my way, so much the better.
There are downsides to my plan of attack, however. It takes incredible mental stamina to look at the same soybean stubble or corn stalks 10 hours a day for up to 16 days straight and not go mad from the monotony. Happily, the occasional crow, cardinal, squirrel, barn cat, lost dog, low-flying airplane or whatever else shows up to provide welcome diversion and respite.
Hunger also must be considered. Before I began deer hunting, I could take or leave a bologna sandwich — usually leave. Alas, during deer season bologna sandwiches now are my staple. I always have a few in my pack to help ward off hunger on my day-long vigils. Unhappily, no filet mignons occasionally appear in my pack to provide relief, so by about Day 8 I’m sick and tired of bologna. Consequently, I’ve found that I can eat no cold cuts at all the rest of the year. But during deer season it’s a trade-off I’ve been willing to make over the years.
So on this day, as I had done on ever other opener for years, I arrived at the property before dawn and parked my Chevrolet Silverado 4WD pickup. My Polaris ATV was safely loaded in the truck bed, ready to be used if needed to haul out a buck. (I always walk to the stand.)
I slung my beloved Remington 12-gauge autoloader over my shoulder, being careful not to bump my Leupold scope. The Winchester slugs nestled peacefully in the pockets of my Cabela’s outerwear, ready for action. I checked the time on my Casio wristwatch, adjusted my Duluth Trading Co. ear warmers around my Bass Pro Shops Redhead orange hunting hat and began my walk to my stand silently, giving thanks for the all-day support of my Hanes briefs. (How’s that for subtle product promotion?)
My walk was a little over a half-mile through a corn field that had been picked and tilled. Mercifully, the farmer who works the landowner’s ground leaves an untilled path for me from the road to the woods. It has to be at least a small aggravation for him to leave a truck-width, half-mile strip in the middle of the field, and I’ve always appreciated it.
Missing a Friend
There’s no way to tell my story without anonymously mentioning the man who owned the land on which I was hunting. His relationship to me can probably best be described as “pseudo-stepdad.”
He passed away in August 2012. In his time, he was a sportsman who took many trophy game animals and fish from all over the world. A local museum was built to house his many mounts. He and I were able to go fishing several times, once with a charter captain who had a television show back then.
The 2012 deer season was the first in which the landowner wouldn’t be there to watch from his window as I sat in my tree stand. In a season several years earlier, he saw me shoot a nice 11-pointer. And from his window he gave play-by-play announcements on that hunt to my mother over the phone:
“The buck is coming. It is coming. It looks like an elk! He is going to shoot. He shot. He shot! The buck is running to the woods!”
The old man eventually drove my truck back and watched me gut the incredibly large-bodied buck. “His heart looks like a beef heart!” he exclaimed. I think he was happier than I was. Over the years, whenever I field-dressed deer I harvested the tongues for him; he considered them a delicacy.
Sadly, there was no “tongue bag” in my pack for the start of the 2012 gun season. Opening day I in turn had to watch the dark windows of his empty home for the first time. In previous seasons, the lights had telegraphed what was happening at the house. Eating breakfast. Gone to the garage. In the laundry room. Watching television. Now all of the windows told me the same thing: He’s not here. A sense of melancholy seeped into my usual opening-day enthusiasm.
Here Comes the Buck
I hadn’t eaten breakfast, so by 9 a.m. I’d already consumed two sandwiches to quiet my stomach. Seasoned hunters know a whitetail can hear a rumbling belly from a quarter-mile away. I cursed myself for not bringing a half-dozen of these delectable treats. I checked my pockets for granola bars and found one. Expiration date: 2007. I held it in reserve.
I was in a ladder stand with a padded shooting rail surrounded with camo blind material. I’d hung a few deer scents in the branches
around me, including the scent drag I’d used on my walk in. My hunting pack, sans sandwiches, was on the floor behind me, and my slug gun was leaned against the corner of the stand.
Around 9:30, as I checked the weather radar on my smartphone, I saw a doe cross into the field I was hunting. And a good buck was walking right behind her with love in his eye. They’d been traveling from behind me.
The doe walked out in front of me, turned and angled back heading toward my stand, with the buck bringing up the rear. I waited until the doe turned her head to look back at the buck. When she did, I carefully picked up my gun, put it on the shooting rail and shouldered it. The buck seemed oblivious to anything except the doe and continued to follow her toward me with his head down, his wide rack obscuring much of his body as I viewed it through my scope.
The doe stopped and appeared nervous. I think she spotted me. The buck continued toward her, quartering toward me in the process. At about 50 yards from me, he stopped and raised his head.
Time to shoot, I decided. I put the crosshairs on the right side of his chest and fired.
I hit him. The buck stomped around but did not run. Neither did the doe. After a few seconds, the buck began walking to my right, giving me a broadside opportunity. I fired a second time, and he pivoted and he went down. It appeared that his antlers held his head off the ground. The doe traveled away to my right, exiting my field. I heard a shot. I later learned that a neighboring on an adjoining property got her.
The buck was unmoving. But rather than climb down, I prepared to watch him for a time, “just in case.” On previous hunts I’d taken photos of my dead deer from my stand if practical to do so. That was my plan for this buck, as well. But as it turned out, I never took any “from the stand” photos of him.
A Surprise Visitor
“You shot my deer!” I heard from the mooseman, who was following the same path the buck had taken.
The guy crossed into my field and turned to speak with me. For a split-second I didn’t recognize him — but then fortune smiled on me. I realized he was a fellow hunter from land adjacent to the farm I hunted.
I’d met him a few times over the years during deer season, and we had exchanged key information:
“Which way did they go?” (They’d gone to the west.)
“Did you see anyone messing with my deer stands?” (I had.)
“Do you have any extra bologna sandwiches?” (He didn’t.)
The mooseman asked for permission to go look at my buck, and I granted it. He marched to the deer, and I descended and joined him.
“Ay, Chihuahua!” I thought when I first saw the antlers up close. We counted 36 points. Boone and Crockett later counted 37, which was fine with me! Even later, a Buckmasters scorer counted 38. (If anyone knows of a Safari Club International scorer who can count to 40, please let me know.)
As it turned out, the buck and doe had passed right in front of my mooseman acquaintance on their way toward me. But he hadn’t been able to shoot the buck; Indiana has a one-buck rule, and he’d already taken a buck during bow season. He told me he didn’t try for the doe because he wanted to watch the giant-racked deer. As it turned out, by being patient he witnessed my harvest and congratulated me on a clean, quick kill.
An interesting fact we discovered about my buck was that he had an older wound from an arrow in his right hip. But he wasn’t limping and appeared to be walking normally as he trailed the doe.
We ogled the antlers, chatted a bit and took some photos. (The “official” Boone and Crockett photo of me with the buck in the field was one the mooseman snapped with my camera phone.) Then he returned to his property to continue hunting.
My usual practice upon getting a deer is to send a text message with a photo to my good friend, “Bubba Joe.” He usually texts back something like “good job” or whatever.
So I dutifully selected a photo and sent a message about a “30-something-point buck” to Bubba Joe. Almost immediately my phone rang and he exclaimed, “I’m coming to see!” I then explained where I was and requested that he unload my ATV and drive it to me to save me a walk.
I gathered my gear and field-dressed the buck, “tagging” him with my homemade deer tag. I have an Indiana Lifetime Comprehensive Hunting and Fishing License (no longer offered), which I purchased in 1996. It covers all possible Indiana hunting and fishing licenses/permits, such as deer firearm, archery, muzzleloader, antlerless deer, trout, gamebird, etc. From a cost standpoint, I broke even long ago.
A minor inconvenience is that I have no official temporary tags and have to craft my own. Over the years I’ve used scraps of paper, wrappers, keychain tags (work great!) and note cards, to name a few types of items. Lately, the Indiana DNR website has been offering a temporary tag that can be printed, so I now use that and write “Lifetime” for license type.
Eventually Bubba Joe arrived on my ATV, and I rigged the buck for transport. I hadn’t mentioned bringing my deer cart from the truck, but fortunately, I did have a plastic deer drag sled already at my stand. It’s similar to a child’s snow sled. (No doubt an enterprising company colored it olive drab so it could be sold for 10 times the price.) I’d used it successfully in the past with other deer and felt it would do the job on this one, as well.
Unfortunately, the buck’s rack proved too cumbersome for the narrow sled to handle. So we unloaded the buck from the sled and tied him to the ATV with a tow rope.
Bubba Joe pointed to my truck in the distance and noted that a crowd was gathering there. Word already had spread. I marveled at modern communications technology. I noticed other trucks of hunters milling about, waiting for my buck to get there.
I climbed aboard the ATV and started out again. I had to drag the buck slowly but eventually arrived at my truck with no further issues.
I enjoyed getting to talk to several of the hunters who had gathered to see the buck and offer me congratulations. I believe that more than once I saw the same vehicle leave and return with even more spectators. I allowed photos to be taken by anyone who asked.
(Much to my delight and amusement, some of these field photos later showed up on various hunting websites. They often were accompanied by such comments as, “That deer will never score 300. Nice buck, though!”)
After about an hour, I called an end to my one-man deer show. I thanked everyone for coming and asked them to please drive safely going home. Bubba Joe took charge of loading my buck onto my hitch rack — a rack he recently had fabricated and given to me.
He was as proud of it as I was of the buck’s rack. Perhaps even more so.
As I drove away, I glanced in my rearview mirror at the house and its dark windows. I think the old man would have been proud.