Lucky?

Lucky-deer

“RD with his “lucky” buck.”

Sitting fifteen feet above the frozen ground with a stiff, November breeze smacking you in the face can make a guy appreciate things like hot coffee, long underwear and woodstoves.  It can also make a guy appreciate whitetail deer hunting.

As I very slowly moved my head from side to side I noticed a quick movement to my far right.  My heart rate accelerated and I suddenly forgot how cold I was.  But, within two seconds the excitement fizzled out and I soon felt the cold chill slicing through my body once again.  I watched as the ruffed grouse methodically worked its way through some tag alders with a small patch of rosehips being the big, fluffy bird’s destination.  This was the very first time I had been hunting all season and I was seriously pumped to say the least.  Even seeing a grouse walking by was kind of cool!

I had only been sitting in my stand for about twenty minutes or so and I felt very positive about seeing a deer.  I know this area well since it’s only about a mile down the road from my house and I’d hunted there for about ten years.  I’ve taken nine deer from this very stand during that time; six by way of my bow and three with vintage Model 94, Winchester.  There was plenty of fresh sign at this location and to boot, I had two tags in my pocket.  One buck tag and one additional antlerless deer tag, so I was in a position where I could legally take any deer that presented itself to me.  But, the big question was, would I actually be able to make the shot if I had the opportunity to do so?

If you know anything about me or have seen the show I used to host, you may be wondering about something I mentioned a little earlier.  I’m referring to the comment I made about how it was the middle of November and it was the “very first time I had been hunting” all season.  I hadn’t even hunted for ducks or geese and waterfowl hunting is one of my all-time faves.  In fact, it was just the day before my hunt that I had purchased my deer hunting license at one of our local sporting goods stores.  I then hustled (I may have been driving just “a few” KMs over the speed limit!) over to buy my additional tag at the MNR just before they closed for the day.  In a normal season, I hunt from September 1st, right through the end of December for ducks, geese, grouse, rabbits, bear, deer and sometimes moose.  But, this season was a little different.

Let’s go back in time to October 23, 2007.  Some of you may have already heard about my “ladder-on-the-table incident.”  I won’t bore you with all the juicy stuff, (or, “stupid stuff”) but basically, I pulled a ‘Tool Time Tim’ when I was doing some renovations to my house and realized that I needed an additional two or three feet of height and my ladder was extended to its maximum reach.  So, what would any manly and ultra-rugged guy (many would simply describe it as a bonehead guy) do in this situation?  Hey, I know… how about if I put the ladder on top of a small wooden table?  Sure, that’ll work!  It worked just fine and brought me to the twenty foot height I needed to screw a board down near the peak of my roof.  Well, I didn’t quite get the board screwed down.  When I got out of the emergency room at the hospital (helicopter flights are always kinda groovy when you’ve had a shot of morphine.  “I’m going to Woodstock, man!”) I was told that I had broken my hip, three ribs and my collar bone.  My back was pretty messed up as well.

So after an operation on my hip, another three weeks in hospital, plenty of complaining about hospital food, my very first catheter experience, (this whole deal is over-rated, I’d say) another six months in a wheelchair, along with some much needed physiotherapy, I was finally on the move again.  But, according to my surgeon, the likely-hood of me being able to pull the string back on my bow or being able to withstand the recoil of a high powered rifle or shotgun come September was in question.

Somewhere around the middle of August I just had to give ‘er a try.  So, out came the .410.  That would be asafe starting point.  Not too bad, so the next logical step was the 20 gauge.  Whoa… a little heavy.  After a few shots with it, I figured I’d best put that thing away for a little while yet.  The next idea was to try and shoot my bow.  Being a compound bow with a 65% let-off and only set at about 55 pounds it’s normally pretty easy to draw.  But, that’s when you don’t fall twenty feet off a ladder eight months earlier.  I can’t tell you how bummed out I was thinking I would not be hunting for the first time since I was a kid.  So, when it was all said and done, I made a decision that I would simply not be hunting this fall.  I told my buddy, Mike Plexman, about this and after he finally stopped laughing, he made a prediction that I would not last the season without hunting.  “RD, if you don’t kill something by the middle of November, you’re gonna lose your mind.”  He also threatened to take away my Ruggedtivity Badge and post it on E Bay.  Well, he may have got fifty cents for it…

Let’s move ahead now to Thursday, November 13, 2008.  While in town, I ran into a friend of mine who was looking for a place to hunt for deer with his bow.  Knowing that I wouldn’t be able hunt that season anyway, I told him he was welcome to use one of my stands.  The one I had in mind was the one a mile down the road where I had taken some deer in previous seasons.  I told him I’d sneak in there later that day and look for fresh sign.  When I got in there… wow!  Talk about fresh sign!

It turned out that my friend ended up securing another good spot in which to hunt, so my stand would go the season unoccupied with all that fresh deer sign around it.  Such a shame!  And, then it happened. The “Plexman Prediction” came true.  I just couldn’t stop thinking about all the sign I had seen at my stand.  There were some good rubs, a couple huge scrapes, little chocolate raisins all over the place and four or five trails coming together and crossing a very small creek just thirty yards from where my portable stand was hanging.  I just knew that if I could get my butt in that tree stand for even just one evening, I’d see a deer.

But, I kept reminding myself, that just two months earlier, I just could not get that damn string back on my bow.  I thought, “Well, I might be able to do it.”  Three months had gone by since I last tried to shoot my bow.  So, me being the rugged individual that I am, I got that bow out and wouldn’t you know it?  YES!!!!  I got that SOB of a string back first try!  A little wobbly, mind you, but I got it back.  I don’t think I would have scored full marks for style.  It’s amazing though, what three months can do when you’re dealing with a healing injury.  After taking only about a dozen or so shots my shoulder and collar bone were beginning to feel the stress, so I put the bow away.  But, amazingly, I was shooting very well.  I took about ten or eleven shots at twenty yards and I flung a few at thirty.  I was dead on with each shot.  I didn’t do a “Robin Hood,” but each shot I took would have resulted in meat for the freezer.

I kept thinking to myself that I really shouldn’t go hunting simply because I hadn’t practiced shooting my bow in over a year.  As a sportsman, the last thing I want to see is an animal lost to a poorly placed shot. So far, I’ve been lucky and have never lost a big game animal that I’ve taken a shot at.  I thought I had lost a caribou that I hit with an arrow up in the Arctic a few years back and that was a very bad feeling.  I did find him a while later, but I was far from impressed with myself.  So, I guess I was doing sort of a sales job trying to convince myself that I could do it.  After all, I was “shooting well.” Hmmmm…

Before I knew what the hell was going on, I had my camo clothes out, boots, wool pants, safety harness, orange hat and vest, side quiver, field points were replaced by 100 grain broad heads… the whole deal. The Plexman Prediction.  I just simply could not stop myself from hunting, especially when I saw all the fresh sign at that stand.  All of you hard-core deer hunters out there, especially the archery people, know exactly what I mean.  I was in my stand by 4 o’clock that afternoon.

After the ruffed grouse filled up at the buffet table of clover, high bush cranberries and – rosehips, he slowly meandered out of sight.  My eyes were peeled on the well-used trails that were just about twenty yards from where I sat in my tree stand.  Being just fifteen feet above ground gives the hunter a very revealing view of the area.  Time to check the watch… It was now 4:45 pm and that meant I had about another hour of legal shooting time.  A squirrel was rustling behind me and it caused me to look that way for just a second.  When I turned my eyes back out to the front, like a ghost, there he was.  Just eighteen yards in front of me walked a very respectable eight point buck.  And, just eighteen yards in front of him sat a very nervous Rugged Dude.

If you’re a deer hunter that has ever had an animal, buck or doe, within eighteen yards of you, you know what it’s like to feel your heart pounding through your chest!  Now here’s where it starts getting hectic.  I knew right away that he was a deer I wanted, badly.  Not a bruiser by any stretch, but a good deer nonetheless.  The problem was that I had my bow between my knees, resting on the platform of my stand, and I had my hands inside my coat sleeves to keep them warm.  (Ach!  I had forgotten my hand warmer!)  This buck was on top of me before I knew what was happening and I was afraid that any movement at all would send this lad into orbit.  I was in a jam.

At this point the deer was basically right below my stand.  Luckily, he turned a bit and started walking away slowly so I figured I’d start to make my move.  Don’t forget about that whole heart pounding through the chest thing… it was worse now than ever.  As I very slowly started to raise my bow, the buck stopped and looked right up at me!  Uh oh… “Busted,” I thought to myself.  The tree I was in didn’t really have much cover in it, but it’s really the only tree that’s big enough to hang a stand on in the immediate area.  After about three minutes (which seemed like three years) of moving a few inches at a time, I finally had my bow to where I could almost draw back.  The problem was, that this young buck had me pinned, but really didn’t know what I was.  He actually slammed his front hoof down once, which normally shows a sign of nervousness.  It’s also usually the last thing you see before the white flag goes up and the panicked deer lays rubber and peels out.  But amazingly, he didn’t bolt.

Whew!  I was lucky so far.  The good thing at this point was that he was no longer right below me at nine or ten yards.  He had slowly and cautiously walked over beside a small spruce tree that I knew was exactly 31 yards away from my stand.  And, he didn’t seem to be quite as nervous as he was when he was in tight.  “Great,” I thought.  “Now, just give me shot!”  This next part is insane.  When the deer turned sideways at 25 yards I figured it was time to close the deal.  Then, to my utter horror, I realized that my shooting release aid (wrist type) was jammed sideways inside my sleeve!  Talk about frustration and panic!

You must realize that this deer and I had been playing hide ‘n go seek and “let’s avoid eye contact” for about five minutes now and when he finally gave me a shot, I couldn’t get my release out of my damn sleeve.  Finally, after some very weird wrist, finger and sleeve manipulation, I got the release out and attached it to my string.  To make matters worse, I really had to fart.  Luckily, I was able to hold off on that whole deal.  But, now he was facing me, straight on.  No shot.  Just a few seconds later and now at 31 yards, the young buck turned slightly quartering away (an archer’s choice shot) and to my amazement, he stood perfectly still and looked in the opposite direction.  I slowly raised my bow and drew back smoothly.  I rested my sight pin and aimed for the far leg, held my breath and gently touched the trigger on my release.  Thwack!  It was a perfect shot, straight into to lungs, ensuring a quick and humane dispatch.  Then, you guessed it… I exhaled, lifted one cheek ever so slightly… and let one of the most awesome farts of my entire life!  And, as an additional bonus – it was just a fart… Nice.

After a short dash of about forty yards, I could hear my deer crash down into some tag alders near the small creek.  Even though I’d been hunting for more than thirty years, my heart was still pounding and I was shaking like a leaf.  I was almost as excited as I was when, on Christmas morning, at the age of five, I opened my first present and discovered that I got a GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip!  After waiting about twenty minutes, I lowered my bow and climbed down the tree.  Being almost dark now, I pulled a flashlight out of my pack and went to claim my prize.  Prior to this animal, I had taken three caribou, six bears and about fifteen deer with my bow.  But, this one was my personal best.  Not by measurement, but by circumstance.

Remember, other than a few warm up shots in my yard, I hadn’t even pulled the string back on my bow for well over a year prior to hunting this animal.  It’s highly debatable whether I should have been hunting in the first place.  I hadn’t done any scouting either.  And, to be honest, I’m a decent shot, but there are plenty of local guys who could easily kick my rear end any day.  But, in the end it all worked out and I was happy to have 100 pounds of tender venison in my freezer for the long winter ahead.

So, was I lucky?  Well, um, maybe… a little, I guess.

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