Saturday, February 4, 2017

2016 Deer, A Season To Remember

   I'll be honest, my expectations for this past deer season were not very high.  My wife and I decided to take on the task of opening the Scandia General Store near our home in Warren, PA.  This meant that most of my time would be spent between my current job, renovations on the new store, and working with various state and federal agencies to make sure we had all the permits we needed.  Hunting was definitely on the back burner.  Although, I did make it out for archery season on a handful off occasions, which I was told, was still too much....(Love you honey).
   The archery season was for the most part a bust.  Other than one great encounter with a nice 10-point that I had trail cam pictures of on several occasions,  there were never any other opportunities.
This buck followed a doe around me for 45 minutes one evening in the later part of October.  Never close enough to shoot, all I could do is watch.  Of course, I threw everything I had at him.  Grunts, bleats, rattles, wheeze, and even raking the side of the tree I was in to sound like rubbing.  I recognized him right away when he appeared working a scrape at 60 yards.  The first time he licked the branches I saw those long brow tines. That encounter being the only highlight of my time in the tree with a bow, season came to an end and it was time to get ready for the opening day of gun.
     With there being two weeks between the end of archery and beginning of gun, I left some trail cameras out to try and get a better idea or some confirmation as to where I should be on the first day of the rifle season.  I waited until Thanksgiving day to check the cameras and was surprised to see a new buck show up that I hadn't seen at all this year.
He wasn't very tall but he was wide and definitely mature, even maybe a little over the hill based on his looks in this picture.  Needless to say that with a lack of other pictures anywhere else, I would be hunting this area on opening day of rifle season, which is the same area that I encountered the 10-point in archery.
     Opening morning came and I was in my tree stand by 6:15 am. I wanted to get there before the rest of the crowd came in and started spooking deer around as they raced to their stands just before daylight.  It was not more than 30 minutes into daylight when I heard the distinct crunch of frosted leaves that only a walking deer sounds like.  When I finally caught a glimpse of the deer on the thick brush covered ridge to my right, there was not doubt in my mind that it was a buck sneaking through and after getting him in the scope of my rifle for the first time, there was also no doubt that it was the wide 9-point from my camera on Thanksgiving day.  Openings for a shot were extremely limited, however, there was no worry at this point as he was coming right to me.  As he got closer, it was painful to watch him.  Take a few steps...stop and look around...take a few more steps...stop and look around.  At this point he was at about 80 yards. STILL NO SHOT!  He stopped to look around one more time and as if sensing that something was not right, he made a hard left and started walking away from me and down the hill.  In an instant of worry and panic I just kept looking for a small window to make an ethical shot.  While following him with the scope I remember seeing a gap between two hemlock limbs that allowed me an opening to the back end of his vitals while he was walking away.  With a squeeze of the trigger the deer took two leaps down hill and then headed directly at me before disappearing behind a group of oak trees.  Anyone reading this that is a hunter knows that the next few minutes after realizing that the hard work put into scouting, stand placement, and shot execution has all worked out perfectly....these are the best minutes of your hunting season.  A great feel of relief along with respect for the animal that you just harvested.
     This is where the story line changes.  It took me several pictures and even almost to the point of field dressing to realize that this deer looked familiar.  As I inspected the antlers, I noticed that the brow tines were broken off,  not just short, and that is when it hit me.  This is a deer that I hunted hard two seasons previous to this year.  I had many encounters and trail cam pictures of him.

Even my wife had an encounter with this deer in her first season which was also 2014.  She nicknamed him "Sheister" after she had a quick opportunity at him when he stopped running for a split second coming off a circle that I cut for her.  Even though she could not get a shot, she described the rack perfectly and picked him out of the lineup of trail cam pics from that season.  
      I was very disappointed last year to never see or get one picture of him during the 2015 season, although I still managed to take a very nice 7-point on the second day of rifle last year as a consolation prize.  The only picture I saw of him since 2014 was from this past summer.  Another member of the lease I hunt sent me a pic of a buck that he got on camera in August.

Sure enough, there was "Sheister".  However with no sightings or news of him since, he was not even on my radar come season.  After realizing that the buck I had taken was really him, I sat back again giving even more respect to the deer that had eluded me for almost three whole seasons and almost without even a picture for the last two years before showing up on Thanksgiving of 2016.  
     Now, I assumed that my season could not get any better after taking a buck that I had all that history with 30 minutes into opening morning, however my wife still wanted to get out and try her luck as well.  She took her first whitetail last year in gun season.  A nice mature doe all by herself, without a nervous husband talking in her ear.  Of course, all it took was me walking away to try and get some deer moving to make it happen.  I barley got out of sight of the stand when the gun went off last year.  I was happy for her but wished I could have been with her when it happened.  This year, we went to the same stand that she had shot her doe and that I had killed my buck the previous season.  Even with that success last year, I once again had low expectations since I had not gotten one picture of a nice buck in this area all year.  However, I did know that there were some doe around and anticipated that even if we did not see anything at first light that I could walk around and get some moving.  While getting into the stand we hear some deer spook and my heart sank a little thinking that those ones might have been our only opportunity.  After getting set in the stand, its just breaking into shooting light,  my wife decides that this is the best time to get out her thermos of oatmeal for breakfast.  I really wanted to say "do you think this is the best time to eat", but like a good husband, I kept my mouth shut.  About 3 bites in she says "Oh S**t" and hands me her oatmeal and grabs her gun.  I see the deer moving through the thick undergrowth and determine that it is a mature doe.  When the doe finally steps out, I ask her if she on it.  After she replies "yes", I tell her to just put the cross airs on the shoulder and squeeze.  The gun goes off and the deer drops where it stood.  After the shot, she puts the gun back on safe and gets a congratulatory hug from her very proud husband.

        As if this story could not get any better, it is still not over.  After dressing, tagging, and hanging the doe, it was back to the stand.  Honestly, just so Megan could finish her breakfast.  After we got set again, we had encounters with two small bucks that came looking for the doe.  She must have been in heat.  While having her practice getting on the small bucks with no intentions of shooting, I looked back towards where she had shot the doe and saw another deer coming through the brush.  As I looked through my scope, i saw that it had a nice rack and was just waiting to confirm that it was a legal buck because all I could see was an incredibly large Y on its left side.  Once it looked towards the stand, I saw the brow tines and told Megan to get ready, and that it was a good buck.  This deer stepped out exactly where she shot the doe and she pulled the trigger on him.  He ran about 50 yards and we watched him go down.  Unfortunately his G2 and G3 were broken on the right side, but still is a great first buck.  The best part being that I was able to sit right beside her for both.

      This past season is going to be a hard one to beat.  I look forward to trying though!

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