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Anything outdoors!  Tornadoes, eagles, blizzards, or auroras.  If it is in the sky, running through the woods or swimming in the water, I'm there!

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Monday, November 8, 2010

2010 Deer Hunting Story

Well, the crew I hunt with has an uncanny knack for having something interesting happen which creates a memory for each season. Well, after laying in the grass for a few years, this was my year. One of the areas we go into hunt is a USFWS WPA which consists of several hundred acres. This spot used to be off limits during deer hunting as the feds designated the area as a critical waterfowl migration refuge. The odd thing is a large portion of this WPA is big woods. Several years ago the feds removed the refuge designation opening it up to hunting. Well, this year after sitting in our stands in a different area, we decided to walk the woods (as we do every year) in the early afternoon. Myself, Seth, Cullen, Isaac, Melinda, Matt, Ryan and Pete devised a game plan using the prevailing southerly wind on how we would cover this huge area and still give our 4 posters the best chances at seeing a deer. Pete and Isaac stayed on the north side while Melinda and Cullen took the east. Seth, Matt, Ryan and myself headed into the woods. This place is more than big and thick enough to have bucks run circles around you with barely giving you a glimpse much less a shot. While Seth, Ryan and Matt worked the middle and eastern sections, I headed to a cut-off point in the northwest corner where I had seen a lot of deer sign earlier and several bucks over the years. Same thing this year as I made my way through the buckthorn brush. Deer moving out in front of me with nothing but legs and tails for a view. After looping around, I walked my usual route of heading back south to the big lake and working the thickets and cane grass with the idea of meeting up with Cullen and Melinda to the east. About 2/3 of the way back a nice sized buck came tearing out of the brush and was crossing from right to left in front of me about one hundred yards away just below the crest of a ridge hell bent on getting back into the big woods. Game time. I thought this would be an easy shot as I squeezed off the first round. BOOM! The deer ducked as if I had shot over the top of him! BOOM! The second shot was obviously behind so I quickly re-calculated the distance and speed of the deer. BOOM! The third shot hit paydirt at about 120 yards. The deer quickly did a 180­° spin and went flying through the grass down the ridge and crashed into a small cattail slough. I figured I would wait 10 minutes then go get him. I wasn't thrilled by the splash sound I heard when he went down but oh well. He wasn't going anywhere and getting a little wet to recover the buck was no big deal. Getting him back to the truck would be an issue though as it was a good 3/4 mile to the nearest road in any direction.

No one in our party showed up to check on what I was shooting at so I headed over, found the heavy blood trail going into the cattails and started tracking. I was surprised at how high up some of the blood was and that had me a little worried about where the shot had hit. About 25 feet in the slough the buck suddenly jumped up and started heading west up the ridge. I had to go all the way back around the slough since the water was too deep for me to stay right on the track. The buck wasn't going anywhere too fast up the steep hill so I knew I had time to pick up the trail again. The shot had hit high up on his rear quarter. Once I got to the spot where I saw him crest the ridge, I heard shooting just to my north. It was Ryan and Matt. I asked them if they shot the buck I was tracking but they said it was a doe they missed. After picking the track of the buck up again with the guys, we jumped the deer along the shore of the big lake. The deer was slowly making his way due west and thankfully towards an easier access point. I instructed Ryan not to shoot until the deer cleared the worst of the terrain and let Matt, who was the point man, take the shot. Suddenly Ryan yelled "HE'S SWIMMING!!!". I couldn't believe it! In hunting this area for some 20 odd years, I had never seen an injured deer do this! The guys took a few shots to see if they could dispatch the animal but no luck. I stood on the shore leaning over a deadfall watching the deer swim for a point about 1/3 of a mile across the water. It made me sick to know there was a chance I would not be able to recover this animal. One of my pet peeves is hunter who only make a minimal attempt at recovering a wounded animal. The wheels where turning in my head weighing the options of how to get to the other side knowing full well the road into that area was washed out due to high water.

About this time Melinda and Cullen along with the rest of our party showed up. Their decision was the deer was a lost cause and started to head back. Melinda stayed behind to see what I was going to do. I stood there on top of the ridge and picked the spot where the deer had likely made it to the shore. That spot has 12'-15' cliffs and there was no way that buck was in any condition to make that climb. About this time, an old acquaintance of mine, Paul Viger showed up with his daughter Sophie. They had also watched the deer swim the lake. Paul confirmed what I already knew about the road being washed out. However, he said he would call his brother Donnie and see if he would bring a duck boat for Melinda and I to use to go across to the point and see if we could find the animal. Well, I was all for giving it a shot so Paul called Donnie and we walked back to get our truck and drive back around to the west where the boat would be waiting.

About 30 minutes later we pulled into the trail where we had talked to Paul and right on queue, there was the boat. A 12' jon boat never looked so good. Mel and I got our gear loaded as I grabbed the oars to head over to where I has last seen the buck. It was quite breezy and it didn't take long before Melinda was soaked in the front of the boat. I had worked as a hunting guide and trapped on this lake as a kid and was quite aware of the winds and to be careful as not to swamp the boat. Another 30 minutes later we neared the cliffs along the point. I figured the buck would try to hide in some of the tall grass clumps along the shore so we were extra careful and took our time. Sure enough. There he was laying in the water, still very much alive but unable to get up. I felt awful about what this deer had gone through the past hour. I am a huge believer in making a one shot humane kill whenever possible. Sometimes stuff goes wrong though and I will do whatever it takes to fix it. I loaded a single slug into Mel's 20 gauge Mossberg as I swung the boat around upwind of the deer. A single shot ended his suffering.

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As Melinda and I sat there, a new problem arose. How in the world was I going to get a 170 lb deer who was now soaking wet and closer to 200+ lbs into a 12 foot jon boat? My initial idea was to drag the deer along the shore over to the tip of the point, gut it, then load it in the boat. Off came the boots and socks and into the 35° water I went. From having extensive experience on this lake, I knew the bottom was relatively soft but it looked firm enough to walk on close to shore. My feet were quickly going numb and what started out as a good idea went right down the tubes as I broke through the top 3" crust into a foot of muck below. Crap! OK, time for plan B. Mel rowed the boat into a flat, shallow area and we wrestled 200 lbs of soaking wet deer into the boat...which now has about 2"-3" of ice cold water in the bottom. We get everything balanced and start to head back across the lake to the truck, dry land, and warmth. I am all too familiar with the extreme dangers of cold water and took every precaution to ensure a wave didn't broadside us sending us all into the drink. It had been a long time since I had oared a fully loaded duck boat but once again, there is no substitute for experience. As we neared the shore, Melinda spotted a mink hunting along the rocks who gave us an escort of sorts back to the truck. Upon reaching the steep shore, it was obvious there was no easy way of getting the buck up the bank to the trail where the truck was. Out came the rope. Yup, tied it off to the deer and the hitch on the truck as Melinda slowly pulled it up the bank. Whew, what an effort to recover the deer but it was all good now. About this time, Paul and Sophie came by again to offer up their congratulations of finding the deer and it also gave me the opportunity to once again thank an old neighbor for going above and beyond to help out. Heck, he even offered to take this picture!

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This was the second worst recovery of a deer I have ever been through. Only the record book non typical buck from 1994 tops this. Once again, what started out as a typical hunting day for Melinda and I ended in extraordinary fashion as a memory we will hold for the rest of our lives...or until next year when maybe we can come up with something to top this!

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