Stay Until Dark
By: Pat Harmeyer
I have always seen more deer during mornings than on evening hunts, so when having to make a choice, I have always picked morning hunts. This year, that all changed when I killed my biggest deer ever, right at the end of legal shooting time. I was just about to give up for the day, when a nice 8-pointer gave me an opportunity for a shot. Five more minutes, and I would not have had that chance.
It was mid-January, toward the end of the rut, with weather being less than ideal. Temps were in the low 70's, with a 15 to 20 knot wind coming from the Southeast. I was hunting at my hunting club’s lease near Pine Grove, La. The stand I chose favored this wind, as I looked directly Southeasterly down the main trail. I didn't expect to see much action that day, but with the season coming to an end within the next 2 weeks, I was just happy to be in the woods.
I got to my stand around 3:30 and it looked like it could rain before dark. My stand has a tarp cover but the rain never did appear. I couldn’t hear much movement in the woods, because the wind was so strong; but I knew that this could help cover up any noise I might make. Still, I hoped for the best, but realistically I didn't expect that I would be shooting anything. Boy, was I ever wrong.
It was 5:30 when the darkness started to close in. My trail is about 75 yard long and the end of the trail was no longer visible. I knew that I didn't have much time left. I was tempted to start packing up, but I fought off that temptation and decided to give it my best effort. I had until 5:45 to make a legal shot, but the trail kept getting shorter and shorter.
My 30-06 has a 50mm scope, which allows more light in and gives me better vision in these low light conditions. I rested my gun on the frame of my stand and started scoping the trail. Suddenly, at 5:40, I heard a shot in the distance, which made me think to myself: "That’s what I'm talking about, the deer are starting to move.” Just then, as if on cue, a huge deer appeared in the middle of the trail at about 55 yards out, heading for my feeder. It looked like a Volkswagen sitting out there. I couldn't see whether it had horns or not, but I could see his huge neck. "Man what a big deer," I thought, "This has got to be a big buck.” It was surreal; all this happened in a split second, but it seemed like time was moving in slow motion. I clicked my safety and the deer looked up. When I shot, I could not see whether he fell, jumped up, ran off or what. It was just too dark.
As anxious as I was to see if I hit the deer, I gave it some time. I got out my light and started packing up. I lowered my gun and pack from the stand and climbed down the ladder. When I got to the spot where I shot the deer, I found five big spots of blood, but no deer; the buck had run off. The blood was thick and bright red; in my mind I felt like it was a kill shot. I marked my spot, and started into the woods. After about 15 minutes of looking without finding any more blood, I decided to go to camp to get some help. I figured that more eyes looking would be better.
When I got to the road, I saw lights coming my way. My friend Ben was coming out from hunting his stand, which was about a half mile down the road. He called some of the guys from the camp on his cell phone. All totaled, we had about 10 hunters looking. After about forty minutes or so, we decided that we weren't going to find the deer, and started walking back to our vehicles. Obviously disappointed, I asked if we were missing anyone and the only person left in the woods was Brett. We yelled for him to come out, but when he did he told me that he knew where the deer was and that if we waited until morning the meat will be spoiled. Exhausted but still optimistic, I agreed to go back in with Brett, Eugene and Jessie to look some more.
When we went back in, Brett showed me the trail he found. I had already checked that one but he said that he saw where I veered left when I should have veered right. So when we got to the fork, we went to the right and found some skid marks the deer made when he was running. We went another few yards and found some droppings in a straight line about 3 feet long. It was obvious that the deer was running when he was defecating. Eugene shined a Q-beam back into the creek bed and saw the deer lying in a pile. We hadn't found any blood since we left the main trail, but here was a beautiful 8 pointer. What a shame it would have been to lose him. No words could express the appreciation I felt for Brett and my other buddies for helping me to find this deer. As it turned out, the bullet pierced the deer’s heart and was lodged in the hide. No exit hole meant no blood trail. The buck weighed 175 lbs. and won me the club's big buck contest for the season.
I learned some great lessons that night about hunting in the evenings. Human nature being what it is, I have always paid more attention to details going in before daylight for a morning hunt than for an evening hunt. I also know hunters that come out when it first starts getting dark, rather than wait until the time when it is no longer legal to shoot. I don't mind coming out with a flashlight; so staying as late as I can gives me the best opportunity to get a shot. I won't ever be leaving before dark again.
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Harmeyer Computer Associates, LLC