Around 7:20 a.m., I had a pretty good size buck stroll into my area. He was behind my tree stand and to my right. I could see his rack and was hoping that he'd keep coming down the runway that I've nicknamed "Suicide Lane." But, he didn't. He turned south and headed down toward the swamp, never giving me a shot (way too thick back there). A little early Opening Morning excitement, but nothing more. I thought for sure I had missed the one chance I'd have that day to bag a buck. I was wrong.
An hour later - about 8:20 a.m. - another buck came strolling into my area almost exactly where the first buck had been. But, unlike the first buck, this guy didn't turn and head toward the swamp, but kept coming down "Suicide Lane." When I spotted him behind me and to my right, I stood up in my stand, using the tree as cover, and readied myself for a shot (as I had done just an hour earlier with that first elusive buck). When I saw that he was going to come down "Suicide Lane," I picked the second shooting lane and waited for him to walk right into my cross-hairs, and when he did, I fired and hit him good. He bolted toward the swamp, but only made it about 40 yards before I heard him go down. There are few feelings that compare to the feeling of knowing that you just bagged a good buck!
I waited until 8:45 a.m. before getting down out of my tree stand to go find the buck. My plan was to go find him, field dress him, drag him over to my stand, and get back up there and hunt the rest of the morning. But, just as I stood up to hook my rifle up to the rope and let it down, I spotted a huge deer on the hill out in front of me. So, I slowly sat back down and grabbed my rifle. I couldn't see the deer clearly through the bright sunshine and dense fog that had just rolled in. I was pretty sure it was a big buck, but couldn't be positive. I had the deer in my scope for a good couple of minutes and could have easily shot it several times, but not knowing for sure what it was, I let it go. It mosied down into the swamp, heading right toward where the buck I had shot had fallen. So, I waited for about 15 minutes and got down out of my stand and headed over to where I had shot the buck:
He wasn't a very big buck - probably only 2 or 3 years old, but he had a nice, symmetrical rack, and had a little drop-tine starting, which is rare, and which made him a 9-pointer, not an 8-pointer, as I had originally thought. But, what was so exciting about this buck for me was that this was my FIRST buck ever! I hunted a few times with my dad and uncle when I was a teenager, but didn't start doing it consistently until my early twenties. This was the 11th deer I've killed (actually, 12th - I killed a buck a few years ago at my uncle's place, but we never found him), but the first buck (actually, second buck - I killed a button buck a few years back, who was on a dead sprint through my area and I thought he was a doe, but that doesn't really count) I've successfully bagged. Pretty cool, to say the least. I've had opportunities to go and hunt on private land, where I'm sure I could have bagged a buck a long time before now, but I've always wanted to get my first buck on the state land we've been hunting now for about 15 years. I've had a few chances to do so in years past, but never succeeded until this year. Very exciting!
Anyway, back to our unbelievable Opening Morning story . . .
So, I found my buck and just began field dressing him when I heard my dad shoot. What the heck? Could it be? Could he have just shot a buck, too? No. That could never happen. But, then again, my dad never fires his rifle unless he's shooting at a big buck. So, I figured he had taken a shot at a buck and probably had one down - unless there was someone else hunting real close to him, which is always a possibility when you're hunting on state land. So, I went back to field dressing my buck, knowing that he would call me if he had one down. And, sure enough, a few minutes later, my cell phone rang. My dad had a big buck down. Wow! Who woulda thunk it? Both of us with bucks down on the same Opening Morning - unbelievable!
I finished field dressing my buck, dragged him over to my tree stand, and headed over to my dad's blind. I couldn't believe what a monster he had taken down. Huge! Big Bad Swamp Buck! He said that he first saw a doe coming down a runway to the left of him, toward the swamp. Then, he caught a glimpse of this monster out of the corner of his eye a few minutes later, coming down a runway in the same direction as the doe had been traveling, only nearer to his blind. My dad kept perfectly still until the big guy passed his blind to his left, only 20 yards or so away. The buck stopped and did that majestic pose big bucks do, looking up what we call "8-Point Hill." My dad said the big fella looked a little nervous and he was worried that maybe he had sensed him. But, when the buck stopped posing, he turned his head to the left, looking down toward the doe that was still hanging around, and my dad, a lefty, brought his rifle up quickly and shot the monster right-handed, and he dropped right there. This was the second monster buck my dad killed in the last five years - with a nice 8-pointer in between - and so we have given him the nickname, "The Most Interesting Deer Hunter in the World," to go along with his other nickname, "The Man Who Slew Brutus."
So, we had two good bucks down before 9:15 a.m. on Opening Morning. As I said above, we would never have believed it possible to have such success. But, now we had to get these bucks out of the woods - and so, the work began. We left the game cart back at the cottage and there was no way we were going to drag both of these guys out by the horns. So, we decided that we would go drag my buck out, load it up in the truck, and then I would go back to the cottage, get the cart, and drive my truck back to meet my dad, who would stay behind with his buck.
When I finally made it back to my dad's blind, he told me that he had just seen an even bigger buck walk through his area while he was lounging in his blind waiting on me. So, that made five bucks the two of us saw that morning. For one of us to see a single buck in a morning is rare; to see five in the same morning is simply unbelievable.
We eventually got both bucks back to the cottage and hung. We were exhausted. Dragging my buck out without the cart was quite the chore, and even though we had the cart to get his monster out, it was still pretty tiring. By the time we got everything done (bucks hung and cleaned out, everything washed up, the tenderloins, hearts, and livers all sliced up and ready to cook, and showered and cleaned up ourselves), it was nearly 4:00 p.m. Needless to say, we skipped the afternoon hunt that day. :)
As you can see from the pictures above, the buck my dad bagged made my buck look like a baby. I joked with him when I first saw the monster he bagged that we should just throw mine back. :) But, really, my buck was an average sized buck; it just looks small next to the monster my dad killed. Anyway, after getting all cleaned up, the hearts and livers all sliced up and bagged in milk to soak a couple of days, we feasted that evening on fresh tenderloins - simply delicious!
Dad and I decided to skip the second day of the hunt, too. We had two bucks hanging and the second day is notoriously slow, so we slept in, lazed around most of the morning, went into Greenville to do a little grocery shopping, then vegged out the rest of the day and evening, watching old movies and such - pretty relaxing day.
We skipped the next morning hunt as well and waited to go out in the afternoon with Art, who arrived at camp at around 1:00 p.m. that day. We probably should have just stayed in, as it was very cold and windy, and none of us saw a thing that afternoon.
The next morning was a lot nicer, weather-wise, and filled with tons of action, at least for me. I had a mama and two youngins (a little doe and a button buck) come in about 7:45 a.m. The button buck almost walked right under my tree stand, and mama and little girl came within 10 yards before mama noticed me. You can't see it in the video very well, but mama starts stomping her front hoof to let junior (button buck) know to come back to her, so that they could get out of Dodge. Junior was totally oblivious to the danger mama sensed and just pranced around like he owned the woods. Lots of fun watching these three. Video is a little shaky - was holding my iphone 4 in one hand and turning to watch the button buck. Wasn't trying to be very still; just enjoying the action. :)
Then, about a half hour later, I had another mama and two babies come out of the swamp to my right. I wasn't sure what they were at first, so I got on them with my scope. When I realized that there were no antlers on any of them, and that none of them were all that big, I picked up my camera to try to get some video, but all I got was their tails heading into the thickets behind me.
45 minutes later, I had two does run right down the runway I call "Suicide Alley" (not to be confused with "Suicide Lane") to the left of me. But, neither of them were very big and I decided to let them go. Didn't get video because I was enjoying a nice cup of hot cocoa and didn't feel like putting it down. :)
So, that's 8 deer I saw (at least 6 of which I could have easily shot), and all before 9:30 a.m. Then, just before 10:00 a.m., I spotted a huge deer coming down off of the hill in front of me, moving pretty rapidly. I decided right away that if this deer gave me a shot, I would take it. Couldn't tell if it was a buck or a doe at first, but it was huge. It came down to my left, a couple of runways further out than "Suicide Alley," and when it hit what I thought to be an opening, I took a shot and the deer dropped dead in its tracks. I was pretty amazed that it dropped - she was on a dead run and it was a 70-yard shot with my grandpa's shotgun I had never hunted with before. I literally had about 5 seconds to take aim and shoot. Here's a pic of me standing where I shot her and looking at my tree stand:
While the pics don't do it justice, trust me when I say that this was one huge doe (bigger than the 9-pointer I shot Opening Morning). When I took her to the Amish gentleman who does all of our processing, she was bigger than most of the bucks he had in his barn. Of course, my dad's monster was by far the biggest deer of all.
My dad and I stayed in that afternoon, while Art headed out to hunt in my tree stand, since that's where all the action had been that day. Unfortunately, he didn't see anything that evening. I told him to give my stand another try in the morning, since we were all sure that he would at least be able to bag a doe there and get some meat for the freezer.
Aaron joined us that night, but he wanted to sleep in on Saturday morning. Plus, we wanted Art to hunt in our tree stand that morning. So, Aaron and I stayed in. He slept in, while I got up with dad and Art and got some work done as they headed out for the morning hunt.
About 11:00 a.m., I texted Art to see what was going on, but didn't get a response. I tried calling him, too, but he didn't answer. So, I called my dad to let him know that I couldn't get in touch with Art, and he said that he would go over to my tree stand to see what was going on. He called me a while later to let me know that he was at my stand and that Art's stuff was there, but there was no sign of Art. He said he was going to get up in my stand and wait for Art to return. A while later, Art finally called me back and told me that he had gotten down about 10:30 a.m. to take a walk and do some stalking, and that he ended up getting a little turned around. He knew he wasn't far from Stanton Road, so I told him to make it there and that I would call dad and have him go pick him up. But, when I called dad, he didn't answer. I tried calling him a few times, but no answer. Ten minutes later, he called me back and told me that he couldn't answer the phone because he was watching a big buck travel out of the swamp and right behind my tree stand. He took a picture of the fella, but his head was right behind a tree, and you can't see his rack. He tried taking a video, too, but accidentally hit the record button twice, so while he thought he was getting great video, his camera was actually on Standby. :) Anyway, Art was kicking himself for getting down, since he could have easily bagged this big buck had he just stayed put in my tree stand. My dad couldn't shoot him, because he had only purchased a regular firearms license and had already filled that tag. In fact, he hunted the rest of the week without a rifle, but with only his camera.
Aaron and I headed out to my stand for the evening hunt, while Art headed to his stand in the swamp, and dad went exploring. Aaron was going to be the shooter if we saw a buck. He had my grandpa's 30-06 and had practiced shooting with it earlier that day, and, amazingly, the kid put two in the bullseye from about 50 yards (that's my boy! :).
But, unfortunately, none of us saw a thing that evening. Sunday and Monday were the same. No action. No deer seen by anyone. But, given that we had bagged two nice bucks and a huge doe during the week, it was a GREAT hunt, to be sure. And, we have been blessed for many years in a row now to be able to enjoy a delicious heart and liver dinner while at hunting camp.
So, the 2011 hunt is one for the record books for the Messer Camp. Two Opening Morning bucks is something we've never been blessed to accomplish, nor something we ever expected to accomplish. Already looking forward to the 2012 hunt! Hopefully, Art will have better luck, and maybe next year will be the year Aaron is able to bag his first deer. Whatever the case, we have another year's worth of cherished memories to go along with all those stored up from the past. Man, I love spending time with my loved ones in the woods each year - doesn't get much better than that!