This month, my good editor tasked me with picking out some of my most memorable deer hunts. This is no easy feat. Looking over four decades of deer hunts, the things that stand out are not always connected to a successful outing. In some cases, the final result did not yield a large animal, or any animal. Much like life, the elements of surprise, good luck and weather, all played a role.
One hunt I will never forget took place over a decade ago, in the bush north of Vermilion Bay. It was early November and the rut was kicking into high gear. I was alone, walking down a bush road, on a hill. Despite the date, it felt like winter. The ponds were frozen, there was snow on the ground and it was windy. Very windy. As I topped the hill, a large, relatively open swamp was down in front of me. To my surprise and shock, it was full of deer. They were running around, chasing each other.
One of them was a buck of a size I’d rarely seen before. Even at 600 yards, the rack looked massive. It was both high and wide. This buck was chasing several smaller ones, while trying to keep an eye on a harem of does. There were at least a dozen animals visible—more than I’ve seen during some full seasons. There was no chance for a shot where I was, so I began picking my way down to the swamp. The lower I got, the less that was visible, until there was no view.
It took about 10 minutes to wriggle through the trees and break out onto the edge of the swamp. By then, the big buck was gone. A couple does were still hanging around though, which is always a good sign. After about 20 minutes, a buck appeared on the far side of the swamp, about 160 yards away. It was hard to tell how big the rack was as the snow was swirling, but I wasn’t going to wait. I laid a bead, exhaled slowly and squeezed. The deer fell in its tracks. It was not the monster but a very respectable 8-point. As I was dressing the deer, I heard a shot from over the hill. It was my father. He had taken the largest buck of his life. But that’s another story.
Two other deer hunt stories I like to recount have to do with my sons, Devin and Austin. Both stories are quite different, but will forever be in my memory bank.
When Devin was 13, we slipped out on a warm, late October, Sunday afternoon. We drove to a new cut-over area northeast of Thunder Bay. There was a little snow on the ground, but it was a few degrees above freezing and sunny.
Devin was a newly minted hunter-education grad, and could hunt deer on my license. We walked slowly around a skidder trail, and my young son, all neck and hair and braces, clutched the old bolt action .250/3000 like his life depended on it. The first circle tour was quiet, but we noticed several sets of fresh deer tracks. “Let’s go around again,” said Devin, and we did.
As he topped a hill, I could see him stop, slowly drop his gun, take aim and fire. From the corner of my eye a deer bolted and disappeared. A half an hour later we were standing over a button buck. His
My youngest son, Austin, was a bit of a late bloomer compared to his older brother, but got two deer in the same day when he was 18. There was a dry spell for a couple years, but in 2016, he got back in the game.
It was November 13, and a full “supermoon” hung high in the air. The night before, Austin, Devin and I had split up to hunt. Austin was in one blind and Devin and I in the other. Just 45 minutes into the hunt we heard Austin shoot. One antlerless deer was down. On our return the next night, Austin offered Devin the same blind, but Devin decided to stick it out with me in the same spot. Barely an hour had passed when we heard someone shoot again, then again.
“It’s the kid.” Devin said. After what seemed like an endless wait, a text arrived on Devin’s phone. He looked up at me with a mix of resignation and shock. “You are not going to believe this.”
When we got to Austin, he was sitting next to a buck, its massive rack curling off the ground. “It walked down the trail to my right,” he said. “I was actually putting on a shirt and was worried he had heard me. But he kept his nose down and kept walking.”
Austin got him good the first shot, but put the brakes on him with the second. It was a buck I had seen on my trail cam many times, usually at about 2 a.m. in the morning. This time, the 11-point buck had walked out an hour before dark and not 50 yards from Austin.
Other memories? Well, there was the “ghost buck,” an animal that had only been seen at first and last light, running down a fence line on a farmer’s field near Emo. It had eluded several previous hunters due to his appearance just before or after shooting time. The buck appeared for me as advertised, but just a little later—about a minute after first light. It was a 200-yard shot from my wooden blind and my first attempt was a bit high. To make matters worse, the spent shell jammed in the barrel. Due to a premonition, I’d brought a barrel cleaner and knocked it out. For reasons only God knows, the buck just stood there. I reloaded, took a deep breath, put the crosshairs a bit lower and pulled the trigger. The buck ran off into the thicket. After about 15 minutes I could see my dad, Gord Sr., approaching me.
“Where is it?” he said with a smile.
Not long afterwards we stood over a beautiful 10-point. It had ran a short distance and died on its feet. It went down forward, its rack buried in the ground. Not much needed to be said. It was a majestic animal, and it was a moment of great joy and some sorrow for both of us.