By Shawn Perich
On the evening before deer season, a spike buck was grazing in my backyard. He started hanging around in August and is accustomed to people and dogs that are not interested in chasing deer. I tried to warn him that he’d be fair game for someone the next morning.
“Run away,” I said.
The spiker just looked at me.
“Bang,” I said, doing my best imitation of a deer rifle.
The little buck just kept looking. A few minutes later, I let the dogs outside. The deer bounded to edge of the woods and eyed the dogs from a safe distance of 50 feet. When I next went outside about an hour after dark, I could hear at least four deer in the yard. None ran away.
I contemplated the irony of backyard whitetails on a deer-less morning at my hunting area, a few miles from my home. I don’t hunt around my house, although others do hunt in the vicinity. Instead I choose to hunt in a place where deer are far fewer, but the country and thus the hunt, are more interesting. Alan Lutkevich of Duluth glimpsed a buck trailing two does—the only deer the two of us saw on opening day.
On Sunday, we decided to change our luck by trying another location. About 11 a.m. I heard Al shoot and walked over to find him field-dressing a doe. We ate lunch after he finished the task and discussed our afternoon plans. We were more than a mile for the truck, with no way to get the deer out other than by old-fashioned dragging. We decided to keep hunting, because we were in a good place. Later, Al would walk back to the truck to get the heavy toboggan we use for hauling deer and we’d meet to drag it out at 3 p.m., allowing enough time to get out in daylight.
We went separate ways, sneaking very slowly through a forest littered with fallen trees—perfect north woods deer cover. I didn’t go far before a doe walked out and I inexplicably missed the shot. I made a long a thorough search of the area, eventually reaching the conclusion the doe made a clean getaway.
I still had an hour or so before it was time to meet Al, so I walked a short distance and found a fresh buck rub on a sapling. Thinking it was a good omen, I sat down on a log chosen as much for comfort as anything. I was surrounded by deadfalls and unable to see 40 yards in any direction. This didn’t bother me. When you are after bucks, it is better to be in good cover than to have a good view.
Pulling out some string cheese for an afternoon snack, I heard a faint noise in front of me. Then I heard it again. A deer was coming my way. I put down the string cheese and picked up my rifle just as I caught a glimpse of movement. It was a deer all right. In fact, it was a nice buck. I shot him as he stepped into an opening. He bolted off with his tail down, which usually indicates a hit. So I was surprised to find no blood or deer hair where he’d been standing and no blood along the path where he ran away. The cover was so thick I just kept walking along what seemed his route and soon found the buck lying dead. The bullet did not exit the body, so there was no blood trail. Clinging to his antlers were fresh shavings from rubbing a sapling.
After field dressing the deer, I marked its location with orange survey ribbon and headed over to where Al was waiting. We dragged the doe through deadfalls and across three ravines to reach our main trail. We decided to leave the doe there and go back for the buck, so we could get both of the deer to the main trail before dark. I also left my hunting jacket and rifle in the same place. In the jacket pocket was flagging ribbon, a compass and a flashlight. The time was 3:55.
“We should be able to get out of here before dark,” I said.
We are not greenhorns, but I make no excuses for what happened next. The buck was maybe 200 yards beyond where Al killed the doe, but instead of following our familiar path back to it, we decided to cut straight to the buck. We couldn’t find it. Finally, after wasting precious daylight looking for it, we used Al’s GPS to find the place where he killed the doe. Light was fading when we reached the buck and lashed it into the toboggan. That was when I discovered Al hadn’t marked a waypoint where we’d left the doe and my gear.
We were hunting in familiar woods, so we started heading for the trail, knowing we had to go through a stretch of deadfalls and cross three ravines. There was no clear path through the deadfalls and the buck was heavy. Using the toboggan like a litter, we lifted and pulled the buck over countless deadfalls. We were still in the deadfalls when darkness fell. We pressed on, knowing the going got somewhat easier after we crossed the final ravine. The only problem was that it was pitch black when we got to the ravine and neither of us had a light. Mine was in my jacket by the doe. Al’s was back at the truck.
Have you ever been in the woods at night? Suffice to say it gets dark out there. We tried to keep going, but it was impossible. We decided to leave the buck and come back for it in the morning. There was some risk wolves or other critters might find it, but I’ve never had problems leaving a deer overnight in the woods. We had no way of finding the doe and my gear, either.
The task at hand was finding our way out to the main trail, which was about a quarter mile away. Using a lighter, we took a reading on Al’s compass and headed east. We walked in the dark for a while and found ourselves back in the ravine. Checking the GPS, we discovered we walked in a circle. Finally, we decided to use the GPS to find our way out, even though we had no waypoints. Al discovered the GPS screen threw enough light so he could see to walk. I followed behind, walking by feel.
I don’t know what time we reached the main trail, but we still had about a mile to go back to the truck. Without the light of the GPS, we wouldn’t have made it. As it was, we walked slowly, Al straining to follow the trail with the faint light, me walking by feel. Twice we heard deer walking near us, not frightened by two humans bumbling around in the dark. Once, a very large bird, perhaps an eagle, flapped out of a tree overhead. It was 7:30 when we reached the truck.
We went back for the deer at first light on Monday, carrying a second toboggan so we could haul them out in one trip. We found the buck with little difficulty and pulled it out to the doe. Then we climbed aboard the deer train and started dragging. It was better on the trail, but hard work nonetheless, especially because we had to cross a canyon to reach the truck. We took the deer down and up the canyon sides one at a time. It wasn’t fun at all.
We finished the task around 11 a.m. Even though we’d planned to hunt on Monday, neither of us had any energy remaining to do so. But we’re not giving up. We’ll be back at it next weekend, rested and ready to do it all again. I may even bring a flashlight.