A Hunt To Remember!
By: Joe Jankowski
I slow my breath and concentrate so intensely as to see the individual hairs behind the shoulder of the animal. My crosshairs settling in as I hold…one more easy exhale…The unknowing squirrel scurries across the branch and launches itself to the next oak. I slowly hang my rifle back onto the holder and I ease myself back down onto the seat of my stand and finish the last couple bites of my lunch.
I have been on stand since just before 6 a.m. this morning and to say the action has been slow is a gross overstatement of the facts. I have seen exactly zero deer and even more incredible, I have not heard a shot all morning! It’s the second Saturday morning of the gun deer season and thankfully it’s a bit cold at 26 degrees. These are the perfect mornings that a Wisconsin hunter dreams about.
So far this season we had two near misses in our group. The most remarkable was my nephew and brother and their close encounter with a buck we called Pumpkin. He was 19 inches wide inside and weighed in at a whopping 215 lbs. field dressed. Talk about a beautiful deer! Wow! Other than that, the season has been quiet.
My brother, Mike, and his son, Harper, were in the car on their way to the land and planning to join me in the woods by 1 p.m. for the afternoon hunt. We all enjoy the second weekend. It seems the pressure of “the opener” has gone and this weekend is all about just relaxation. Our expectations are low but we all remain hopeful. My brother, Wally, does a nice job of creating a relaxed atmosphere this weekend and several friends join us for the second weekend of hunting, food, cards and dice.
One last slow stretch of my lower back and a couple more core twists and I’m back into the hunt mode. My eyes working to visually penetrate the sun glistening thickets as I scan the area. I sigh, as once again I see nothing to capture my attention, or was there? A quick shimmer of light from the far edge of the thicket guarding the area we call Livyloo Lookout. The area got this name from my then 8-year-old daughter because it was her favorite place on the land and it had a breathtaking view of the valley below. This mystery shimmer deserved some study!
My binos are now trained on the thicket, scanning for any clues as to the source of the shimmer. I see an ear twitch! Now another! Well I’ll be dipped in mud, there is a deer bedded down! Maintaining my focus on the ears I finally discover the source of the shimmer. He turns his head slowly while chewing the residual food in his mouth. It appears to be a solid buck. I can’t see for sure but he looks tall and mature. My arms are starting to succumb to fatigue from the glassing and my field of view quakes slightly. I bring the binos back down to my chest and I ever so slowly reach for my rifle. The deer is bedded close to 100 yards away which is an impossible shot in this woodlot but I wanted to be ready when he stood and started to move.
I am thankful for the shooting rail on the stand as I lay my rifle across it and peer through the scope at the buck. Time is moving so slowly it seems now, but I concentrate on being patient and enjoying every second of it. I feel the rapid beating of my heart, and my breath has become jagged as the initial excitement overtakes my physical being.
The initial burst of adrenaline has now subsided as I continue to enjoy watching this beautiful buck. Fifteen minutes or more has passed now and without indication the buck seems to spring to his feet. He shakes the frost off his coat and begins to browse. First, moving away from me and then turning west and paralleling my position. I am working my scope ahead of him and scanning the areas around him to find an area where I might be able to slip a shell. NOTHING! Worse yet is that he has seemingly vanished into thin air! The sun glare is brutal! My thoughts are telling me to breathe and stay calm, but I STILL CAN’T FIND THE BUCK! Come on! Finally, after scanning for what seemed like 5 minutes, I pull my head back from the scope and readjust my eyes. What a turn of events! I went from feeling like I was holding all the cards to now having gotten punched in the stomach.
As if by habit, I check the wind with my puffer. NNE. Perfect wind? Light and steady and taking my scent away from the field of play. I replay every movement the buck made and attempt to put together a movement pattern. Where was he going? What was his intent? Scenario after scenario runs through my head and for the life of me I still can’t put it together. I convince myself that he plopped back down for another siesta, but I remain diligent in my search.
My eyes continue to scan in the area where I saw him last as well as every inch of earth from there to my tree. My subconscious screams out “behind the tree on the trail!” I focus intently and cock my head back and forth. I see a flicker of white hair…and hear the slap of the loose hide as the animal shakes again. The tree is only 35 yards from me! My rifle still perched on the shooting rail, I once again lower my eye to the scope. My movements slow and deliberate as I adjust the scope to 3.5 power, my cheek now firmly against the stock and thumb resting on the safety. I’m locked in and ready. He is moving slowly towards me but is still in line with the large tree. 30 yards! 25 yards! He makes his choice to take the lower fork of the trail and goes below the tree that has been obstructing my view. His pace is steady as his chest clears the tree. The crosshairs lock in. I squeeze……….
I texted Mike to just come to my stand when he arrives at the land. He and Harper are there by 12:30 p.m. As per tradition, Mike had named this buck as well. He was called Denny Hamlin. To hear that story you’ll need to show up at deer camp.