It has been waaaay too long since I have written a blog post! Life has thrown some curveballs and obstacles at me lately. But I am back and want to share my review of this past hunting season. Many hunters will tell you that the actual pulling of the trigger and putting a deer on the ground pale in comparison to all the “work” that leads up to that moment. I am in that group. I enjoy all the planning and scouting that goes on year-round to get myself set up in the right place at the right time. Even with all the fancy equipment we have to help us, success is never a guarantee.
I felt the need to change things up this year, so I installed a few trail cameras in August and decided I wasn’t going to be as traditional in my approach. I wanted to be more flexible in methods and hunt from the ground more. I needed to try and not overthink and analyze things so much. The signs are all there and enough clues are left behind. But your mind must be open to new ways of pursuing your quarry. Tradition is good but sometimes it keeps you from seeing better opportunities and plans.
I started my revised approach this time last year and after evaluating for a bit I think I made the right decision. I saw more deer this past season than I have in many years and if not for an incorrectly placed 209 primer I would have scored the biggest buck of my life during the early muzzleloader season. Another member of our crew also trusted his gut and made an untraditional decision to try and score. More on his hunt later. Our 100-hundred-acre parcel on Maryland’s Eastern Shore felt and looked different from my new approach. All five of us who pitch in to lease this property had high hopes after viewing trail cam pics of several decent bucks since late August.
Early season hunts can be challenging with high temps and bugs, but last season wasn’t bad at all. We had a dry summer and mosquitoes were scarce. Life kept me out of the woods until my first sit on the afternoon of Oct 5th. My first keep it simple plan of the season was to still hunt with the wind in my face along the top of a drainage ditch that typically has many crossings. I planned to set up on the ground just off the first hot, fresh trail I encountered. I did not have to go far. About 250 yards from where I parked, I spotted a well-worn trail with tracks sliding up and down both banks of the ditch. I started to think that the sign was probably done at night but quickly shook off the typical overthinking and the urge to climb into the traditional stand 50 yards away. I am not comfortable shooting at 50 yards with my crossbow, so I planned a simple ground attack. Scanning the woods to my right I picked a spot at the base of a large oak that had good ground cover to my sides and I nice 45-degree open area in front where I expected the deer to travel into. My ambush was about 25 yards upwind from the trail I expected the deer to use so I got settled in and start enjoying a beautiful early autumn afternoon with temps in the low 60’s. Within minutes I had melted into my surroundings and all my senses were on high alert. With a breeze in my face and the sun just starting to slip behind the trees over my left shoulder I spotted the first deer of the afternoon. A young doe stepped from the shadows into a sunny spot about 75 yards out in front of me. Browsing along with no clue I was there she fed out of sight off to my right. A few minutes later I heard movement to my left and turned just in time to see antlers bobbing above the cattails along the ditch. I couldn’t make out the deer’s body, but he fit my self-imposed minimum of 8points or better. Intel from the cameras showed there was no reason to settle for anything less. The buck had now stopped and seemed to be staring in the direction I had seen the doe. I took a quick peek in her direction and she was still there but not interested in the events unfolding. I peeked back to my left just in time to see the buck drop down into the ditch and out of my sight. I eased my safety off and prepared for a shot not knowing if or where the buck may pop up out of the ditch. Nothing. I glanced back to my right to check on the doe and as I swiveled back to my left the buck ran up out of the ditch, into the woods, and stopped broadside directly in front of me at 10 yards. He was staring in the direction of the doe so I could not move or breathe without blowing my cover. At that instant, the deer gods rewarded me, and the buck turned his head to look back over his left shoulder offering me the perfect broadside shot. I leaned up from the oak, put the crosshairs on the shoulder a fired off the bolt. THWACK! The sound of a good hit brought goosebumps to my skin as I watched the mortally wounded buck stumble 30 yards and expire in a motionless heap. I pumped my fist in triumph and caught more movement from where the buck had come from. Two of his friends, a spike, and four-pointer stared at me from the other side of the ditch with that what the heck just happened look. I waited for a few minutes as they finally gave up on the return of their companion and walked off. I could see my buck from where I sat so no need to trail any blood. At that range, the arrow probably exited the deer and landed somewhere on the other side of the ditch so no point in trying to retrieve that. I gathered my gear and walked over to where the buck expired. My cheeks hurt from smiling as I bent down and grabbed his rack. Not the biggest buck I had ever shot but one of the most exciting hunts I’ve ever had. I inspected the carnage of the shot and the 2 blade, chisel point Rage mechanical broadhead performed well. A double lung shot with a devasting entry and exit wound ended this buck’s life mercifully fast. My Dad was going to love this story! I tagged and dragged the buck about 30 yards to the edge of the woods and left him there to get my Dad. Our plan earlier was for me to hunt one end of the property and dad was going to hang out in a ground blind and do a little recon on the other side of the property. He was about 600 yards from me and I made that hike in less than 5 minutes. I got to the blind and waved him out to tell my story.
I’m sure the look on my face and my presence at the blind before dark confirmed that I had scored. He congratulated me and I reenacted the scene picking a nearby tree to demonstrate my position and every detail of the hunt. The camaraderie of sharing your stories with loved ones or passionate hunting friends are some of the most enjoyable times. After replaying the hunt for my equally excited Dad we walked back to where I had left the buck and I laid out the scene once again showing him where I was sitting and where the buck dropped. I gave his flip phone toting soul a quick lesson on taking pics with an iPhone and we grabbed some pics. One of the cool things about this property we hunt on is its accessibility. There is enough room between the woodline and the top of the ditch to drive a pickup through, so I left Dad with my buck and went to get my truck. I returned in a few minutes with my truck and we gutted the deer, checked him in online, and loaded him up. We were out of there before it got dark. Perfect!
Now my not so perfect hunt. Variables and details. Too many to mention and impossible to cover everything no matter how long you stand there at your truck reviewing and thinking before the trek to your chosen spot. Maryland’s early muzzle-loader season is almost just as exciting to me as the opening of rifle season. The deer have not been pressured too much and they are still on semi-predictable patterns. The morning hunt was slow and thought a lot about where I was going to hunt that afternoon. This time, I decided to go traditional and hunt a stand that I had seen many deer out of in the past during archery season but out of range. This stand sits about 40yards back in the woods from a field edge and overlooks a good staging area for deer before entering the field to feed. About an hour before dark I heard deer approaching my spot from behind me and to the left. I slowly swiveled around to my left and spotted two nice freezer sized does about 40 yards out. As I was contemplating a shot, a heard movement behind me and to my right. I slowly twisted back around to my right just in time to see a beautiful 6×4 pal matted buck bed down about 30 yards almost directly behind me. I had several pics of this guy on my trail cam and wanted him badly. If I were lucky, he would be the largest buck I had ever taken. Careful not to alarm the does who were still milling around, I slowly completely turned my self around in the stand. The only way I would be able to get a shot would be to crouch on the platform with back against the shooting rail and the gun barrel resting in a notch between the handrail and backrest. A large Oak between myself and the buck allowed me to only see his nose and antler tips when he swiveled his head around. Just as my knees and feet were starting to burn the buck stood up in his bed. The time had come. After standing up I could only see his head. I centered the crosshairs of my muzzleloader on his ear and waited for a better shot. My mind begged for him to just take one step to my right. Finally, after 2-3 minutes he took that one step and offered a perfect broadside view of his vitals. I tore my eyes away from his rack and aimed just above the shoulder joint. I slowly squeezed the trigger and a sickening muffled “POP” broke the silence. Panicking, I looked down at my gun I saw the gross remnants of a misfired primer! As I fumbled around for another cap, I looked back up just in time to see the buck walk slowly out of sight with those alarmed stiff legs. Upon further inspection, I realized that the primer was not fully seated correctly and when struck, the gap between the cap and load was too great to fire the gun! Lesson learned. With this style of black powder rifle always take a thumb and press the cap to make sure it is all the way on. Back at the truck, I put on another cap and the gun fired as advertised. Frustrating but I was thankful for the encounter.
I had several more sightings over the next two months, but it wasn’t that 6×4 my mind was aching for. Ending the season on a good note, the youngest member of our small group on this lease managed to down his largest buck to date during the late modern firearms season. He to listened to his gut a bucked tradition (no pun intended). Getting a late start to his stand for a morning hunt he jumped a doe at close range and decided to hang at that spot for a while instead of rushing on to get to his stand before sun up. His change in tactic was rewarded a short time later just as legal shooting light began. He heard another deer moving in the same direction as the doe he jumped earlier. Big body and antlers came into view and he downed the deer in his tracks with a great shot to the neck. When my phone lit up with a text from him at 7:20 am I knew something special happened. When his father and I met up with him a short time later I thought he would tackle us in joy. The buck was a true giant for the area we were hunting, and a lifetime memory was made as he excitedly told us the story of his hunt.
On a final note, when I pulled my cameras in February, I had a pic of the palmated 10 pointer with 9 lives. He had survived the seasons! Looking forward to next fall maybe I’ll try a little unconventional 10 am to 2 pm hunt instead of napping and maybe catch him off guard. The next season never gets here fast enough. Time to dust off the kayak and paddle away from this damn virus for a while. Stay safe everyone.