My good buddy John lives just over the hill in Rapid City, South Dakota, and let me tell you, he makes the best canned venison I’ve ever tried. One of these days I’m going to beat that recipe out of him, I swear. That stuff is so practical. It can be made into anything, tastes great, and isn’t something you have to remember to take out of the freezer in advance. So many times the canned stuff has saved the day for this shift worker. If only my own came out that good…
Speaking of canned venison, that reminds me of a hunt I was on a while back. It was the magic time in the muley woods. You know the time; a bit of snow, a bit of cold, and a lot of rutting activity. I’m one of those guys that bounce between whitetails and muleys during the fall. While I enjoy sitting a stand for whitetails and attempting to call a cruising buck into range, nothing compares to playing chase with rutting muleys in the cold. Something about crunchy snow, a frosty breath, a foreboding landscape, and bucks chasing everywhere just gets my blood boiling! All of the above came in plentiful fashion on this hunt.
I’d been seeing several dandy bucks harassing does on this one peninsula that I frequent. However, seeing and getting close to are two completely different things. Way too many sets of eyes and ears running around (that, coupled with me not being very sneaky) and I was struggling. Having a long, enjoyable season is a great thing, but when the whole shebang is getting close to ending with an unpunched tag, it’s time for desperate measures. With a major storm on the horizon and work calling, I could actually feel a bit of pressure while sipping a cup of coffee on the drive out to the woods. Today might be my last chance for the year! That slight pressure put a little pep in my step, and the hike to the top seemed to take no time. I had a bit of a plan, see. I’d found one very heavily used trail heading into a bedding area, and intended on making an ambush along that trail. I really thought I was plenty early, too. Still well before shooting light, I was making good time when I suddenly found myself pinned down by a distant herd. Damn crunchy snow! From a couple hundred yards out, I got to watch shooting light come in with a large group of does and a BIG buck heading right to my ambush point. Had I hiked in during the middle of the night, I’d have shot that buck at fifteen yards just like I planned. Instead, I was not even close. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I crawled into some cover and went whitetail on ’em! I pulled out the grunt tube and can call and went to work. Admittedly, the buck did actually look my way before wandering off to parts unknown. The rest of the morning was reasonably uneventful and I hiked out to have lunch and regroup.
Over the years, I’ve found that just walking away and mentally regrouping goes a long way to help me keep a level head in the hunting woods. That big buck had followed all of those does into the bedding area on that trail, why wouldn’t they come right back out the same place this afternoon? After some food, I layered up and hiked in to make a long, cold sit. Desperation had set in, I was using every whitetail trick in the book on these poor muleys! Not quite the same pep in the ol’ step this time as the hill seemed to have gained several hundred extra feet in elevation, though I had high hopes for the afternoon hunt. Having a rough idea where a great buck was bedded certainly helped the negative thoughts to subside. Quick enough, I was hunkered into my spot for the vigil.
A guy has a lot of time to think while waiting on a deer. I think that’s what actually keeps me going back to the whitetail woods. A little quiet, reflecting time goes a long way to soothe the soul, and honestly, while I’m primarily a spot and stalk guy, there are times when I really look forward to this. Today wasn’t one of them as time was ticking away, but wait I did. Somewhere between solving all of the world’s problems and reliving a couple elk hunts I spied a dandy four-point out on an adjacent point. He kept watching his backtrail like he’d been spooked, but finally started moving. Moving my way! In short order the distance went from about 200 yards to about sixty, and he was coming right in on the trail I was guarding. On my knees, I was ready to lean up a bit to shoot. Slight tension on the string. Keep my breathing in check (I get excited by dandy bucks). It’s going to happen now…wait a sec…no! He’s turning around! For some unknown reason the buck did a 180 and simply walked back exactly where he came from. Considering his previous behavior and the fact that he had in no way sensed my presence, this made absolutely no sense. Dumbfounded and deflated I tried to get comfortable again for more waiting. Strangely, a warm wind had picked up and began melting some of the snow. Sudden warm weather can make a guy get a little “too”
I’m thinking I got to be exactly that, as the sound of hooves on hard ground popped me out of my snooze. There were deer close! I looked up to see four does leaving the bedding area on my little trail, and none of them noticed me. Now this was getting real, that big buck HAD to be coming. I got ready again for an imminent shot and waited. This time however, nothing moved. In fact, nothing moved for over an hour, and with my time getting short I couldn’t stand it anymore. Desperate times! I got up and started easing along the rimrock overlooking the bedding area hoping to hit pay dirt on the bedded buck and take him treestand style. It worked on my third pop up and look. Well, kinda worked. I made noise and blew the big buck out of his bed. Talk about a sobering feeling: watching the buck you’re hunting head out in a hurry for parts unknown on most likely your last hunting day of the rut. Dang it, man! How could I have been so careless? It’s funny, a guy can do so many things right, but just one little thing wrong is all it takes. With darkness approaching fast there was nothing to do but simply hike around and hope to get lucky.
Honestly I hadn’t gone very far when I noticed a distant herd of does. They were moving along the top on the far side of the peninsula in a way that I could gain some serious ground on them. No time to wait and spot for a buck, I made my move as quiet and fast as possible, assuming a rutting buck was behind them. And when I got as close as I could to the herd, I saw that I was right. Now, this buck wasn’t near as big as the last herd buck, but I was out of time. He had a big, mature body, and fairly decent rack to boot. One of the smaller herd bucks I’d seen, but good enough for me. The problem was I was out of cover and hunkered down by a bush, and they weren’t going to come anywhere near shooting range. Just a few minutes of shooting light left. What to do, what to do… figuring I had nothing to lose at this point, I pulled out the can call and started blowing into it (the cans are the best mouth calls ever! Try blowing into the hole you cover with your thumb. Now you control volume, length of call, etc.).
Immediately I could see I had the buck’s undivided attention. He started slowly moving my way, and every time he paused I called again. In fact, it seemed that the faster I called, the faster he moved, and the 150ish yards were down to just over twenty in about a minute! What felt like way overcalling instead seemed to just quicken his pace? I’ve never seen a deer come in so fast! The buck was now broadside and in range but looking at me. Just when I thought he was going to blow out, he turned his head completely the other direction to look at his does. In a quick move I raised up, anchored, and shot. The fatally hit buck bounded away fast, but even without the binos up I could see blood hitting the earth, and about eighty short yards away he was down in sight. Not a giant like the other guy, but a dandy buck in anyone’s book and taken with basically minutes to go in my season. And, he was done in with my own canned muley recipe!