This deer season has been a good one to date. I was successful the first two weekends of the season and had some venison in the freezer before November rolled around. I had to work a lot this season which limited my time in the woods but I was able to enjoy several encounters with mature whitetails including a great 10 pointer. This great buck would score in the 160's and I encountered him 6 times in as many days but never a shot. Needless to say after many years of only slinging arrows I knew it was time to get a shotgun to get a shot at this deer with my limited hunting time as the gun season approached. Unfortunately on opening morning of gun season I found the ridge I bowhunt was loaded with hunters and I was discouraged to the point of nearly giving up but thankfully I didn’t thanks to my wife.
The way into the public land that I hunt requires a boat and usually deters 99% of the hunters from making the journey into this great area to begin with and in three seasons with my bow I had never seen another hunter back there but that would change. While the use of a boat alone is a deterrent to most, the standing timber is yet another. Rising from a few inches to several feet above the surface this timber can be intimidating in itself but it’s the hidden timber just below the surface that force you to creep along at idle to keep your boat afloat and make it through what I call the gauntlet. Little did I know the timber gauntlet would turn into the slug gauntlet as well.
I decided to purchase a slug gun to try and get a shot at one of the bucks I had encountered during the archery season and preferably the great 10 pointer that I believe is the same buck I rattled in last season and got a photo but never a shot. You can see the photohere in last years journal. This was not an easy decision for me after many years with nothing but my Bowtech and Beman’s but I must admit that I was excited about the chance to hunt with a gun. The archery season had been exhausting with the 3 hour drive just to hunt the weekends not to mention I had just flipped my jon boat when I hit some of those standing timbers one cold morning emptying myself and most of the contents of the boat. Fortunately everything floated and I had left my stand in the woods the night before. The boat was full of water but was resting atop a small tree that kept it from sinking while I bailed the water out with a cup. Needless to say this shook me up but I made it back to camp, changed clothes, and was in a tree by 11 am and even had the big ten within 20 and 50 yards on separate occasions that evening but I had penetrated his bedding area and it was really thick so no shot was offered. I grunted once when he was at 50 yards and he just stuck his rack inside a small sapling and shredded it as if to say I don’t feel like coming over there but if you feel froggy here I am. This was my last encounter with the big ten and the desire to sling a slug this season was born.
I was limited this archery season on time in the woods but overall it was a good season even though this was the first season in many I had not harvested a buck with my bow. As I mentioned above the decision to go with a slug gun was not easy and I even went to purchase the slug gun and other needed items for the gun season and left without anything. The bowhunter inside me was fighting the gun idea feverishly. I finally pulled the trigger (so to speak) on a new slug gun and decided I would be in the big ten pointers living room opening morning.
I launched the jon boat well before daylight and had to wait for a couple boats to launch. I hoped that they were duck hunters. I worked my way through the standing timber and had a short cut because of the many trips through the gauntlet during bow season. I could see the boats were heading into the same cove and my heart sank but it got worse as I rounded the point and saw many boats along the shoreline and even a few lights meandering throughout the woods above. The worst thing was a couple hunters at the head of the cove flashing their spotlights to let us all know they were there. I honored their flashes even though that was where I had to go in to get where I wanted. I thought maybe it was duck hunters as I had always seen ducks there when I would come or go from that creek. I didn’t want to park my boat in a decoy spread or even get near their setup for fear of messing up their set up.
I pulled into a cut in the shoreline where I had never been. I was getting my gear out of the jon boat when a boat, the one I had waited on at the ramp, pulled up within 10 feet of me and three hunters quickly moved into the pine thicket I had hoped to hunt since my entrance route had been taken. I attempted to move into the woods but I was greeted with flashing lights every direction I tried to go. This was very discouraging and I called my wife and told her to hold off on her trip to town to do some antiquing and at that point I was going to just enjoy a weekend camping with my wife and maybe even do a little antiquing myself.
By 9:30 am I was heading back to the boat ramp and it was a beautiful morning and way too nice not to hunt. Another thing I noticed was the absence of boats anywhere else around the lake. I checked out a different cove not too far from the one I had left and decided to be back in a tree that afternoon and my urge to hunt returned and I was even confident knowing that a half a mile away there was at least ten hunters walking in or out of the woods and I had heard at least 8 or 9 shots that morning. Fortunately I would learn later that you could harvest does in that area so maybe my big ten pointer survived those shots since they could have been made at does. I think this is also why I see so few does in that area.
I was back in a tree later that afternoon. I was willing now to take any buck that presented a shot since I was unfamiliar with the area. I love to hunt mature whitetails but this season it just wasn’t in the cards and with the one buck rule here in Indiana I knew that if I shot a young buck my chances were over for a big one this year. All of this weighed heavy on my thoughts but I quickly returned to the reasons I love to chase wild game and that is the hunt itself. So many of “us” get caught up in harvesting mature whitetails that we forget the true meaning of the hunt. I have to say that chasing mature whitetail bucks is as rewarding as it gets when we connect but it just isn't worth throwing away chances at a successful season when those chances are compromised. At least not to me and I have hunted many gun seasons with my bow but I knew my days were numbered this season.
I could have been a die hard and stuck with my Bowtech and Bemans as there is several weekends left to hunt that mature whitetail and maybe even get a shot at the big ten I was so excited about. All of these things certainly crossed my mind and figured into my decision and ultimately the gun hunt won over trying to arrow the big buck and there I was in a tree surrounded by thickets and white oaks with fresh sign and in a spot I had never been with a lead slinger hanging next to me.
My wife was camping with me on this weekend and fresh back strap on a stick also brought back memories of years ago when I used to bring many does to camp before getting obsessed with mature bucks. I promise you that the big buck blood still runs through this old bowhunters veins and I make no apologies for it but I will never forget where I started and what the bounty of the hunt provides. I think I enjoy processing and cooking wild game about as much as hunting them so there you have it. The desire to feel the hunt and to reap the bounty that the woods can provide outweighed the desire to chase the big ten pointer that I can only hope survives the onslaught on the ridge where he lives.
It was easy to find the perfect tree to climb with my new Ol’man treestand. The new stand is much more comfortable than any other stand I have ever used and I settled in after pulling up the new Mossberg 500 slug gun. I bought the Mossberg on Wednesday and finally found an indoor range that allowed slugs. I was impressed with the group I was able to obtain with the slug gun. Even though the range was only 25 yards I was able to put 3 slugs in the same hole.
This new spot had a huge cedar thicket to the south that led out to a vast oak stand dropping acorns constantly. I was really confident in the spot as these acorns was well away from the corn that all the hunters were attracted to that morning. The same corn that attracted me to the area during the past several bow seasons. I knew that it was not only possible but probable that the mornings activity there might drive some deer towards me and the cedar thicket.
As often happens I heard a deer approaching from the total opposite direction I would have thought and down wind. I listened as the steps got closer and waited until the deer was under my tree, or so I thought, before turning to take a look. When I did the 7 pointer was about 15 yards behind me and we both saw each other at the same time and he turned to run as I turned to get the Mossberg off the hanger. I nearly fell out of the tree as I fought the slug gun around and to my shoulder. By now the buck is trotting through the woods at 75 yards and I settled the scope hairs on his brisket and squeezed the trigger and the buck dropped where it stood. I recall thinking at the time and may have said it out loud with a slight chuckle. “Boy this gun hunting is much more forgiving than the bow”.
I field-dressed the buck and drug it to the boat and was headed back to the launch area before dark. It felt good to get my buck even though it was with a gun. I don’t think I would do it every year even if I failed with my bow because you can take a couple does too and I would have taken a doe if she had presented me a shot.
My wife and I had fresh backstrap on a stick over the fire that night, a chilly one helping to wash it down, this is a tradition of mine whether alone or with friends. The fire felt good and you can’t get better company than your best friend and wife to share the moment. Every season is different and that is part of both the challenge and the allure of hunting the great American Whitetail Deer.
Have a good one and I hope your cooler keeps things cold and your arrows (or slugs) fly true. Ken McBroom rambling angler