A smoothbore shotgun and a lucky deer call
It is not very often that I have difficulty coming up with a title for a blog post, but this hunt was special for me in many ways. I could have called it shoot a buck and save a doe because that was my deer hunting goal this season. With the declining deer herd across the Midwest and specifically decreased deer sightings on the farm over the entire past year, I wanted to lay off the does this year. And because I hunt only for meat, any buck would do. I could have titled it something about paying dues because as you will read, that thought was going through my head as I was waiting for a deer to show. Or I could have called it being blessed with one more deer. A little more than half the meat we eat comes from wild animals my husband and I take off our farm. We needed one more deer this season to ensure we would not run out of venison before the start of next fall’s deer season. But what I will remember most about this hunt was the shotgun I used and a Christmas gift given to me by a friend several years back.
As a deer hunter, I find myself caught halfway between the world of the bowhunter and that of the gun hunter. I only hunt deer with a gun, almost exclusively from the ground and without a blind, and yet I have this strong desire to keep my deer hunting a bit up close and personal. Bowhunting does not really appeal to me although I could see myself taking up shooting a crossbow in the future. But right now, I don’t even have a strong desire to do that. I like my guns. Unlike most deer gun hunters though, I like to keep things simple and as I already said, a bit up close and personal. The fascination of outfitting a deer gun with a scope and being able to shoot a deer 100, 200, 300 or more yards escapes me. It is not wrong. I just don’t understand it. I like having to pay attention to wind direction, sitting perfectly still and finding a spot to sit on the ground that allows me to hide and blend in with my surroundings. I want to see the deer’s vital area with my own eyes and if it isn’t close enough for me to do that, I don’t want to shoot it. Both my 20 gauge Remington 870 slug gun and my CVA muzzleloader are fitted with open sights.
Earlier this year I took my niece on a controlled hunt that was shotgun only. I let her use my Remington 870. I was not going to buy a new gun for just one hunt and so I decided to try shooting slugs out of my 20 gauge Beretta 391 that I use when rabbit hunting. I bought some inexpensive rifled slugs, fitted the gun with a cylinder choke and started shooting targets at 30 yards. I was pleasantly surprised when I was shooting groups tighter than I thought possible with just a front bead and well within the accuracy I needed to shoot a deer. My shots were always an inch or two left and varied between even with the bullseye to 3-4 inches low. Yes there were occasional flyers but very few. Shooting at close range and at a deer standing broadside would be quite feasible with this gun. All this practice shooting gave me a strong desire to shoot a deer with this gun. It almost felt a little bit old school hunting with a smoothbore shotgun with nothing but a front bead.
I did not have the chance to shoot a deer on that controlled hunt or during my state’s week long regular gun season. A few days after the week long season, I was talking to a friend of mine about how very few deer I had seen. Several years back at Christmas time, she had given me something called “Legendary’s Lucky Deer Call”. It’s a gag gift: a wooden tube with a small hole to blow through and a leather lanyard to hang the call around your neck. When you blow through the tube, it just sounds like air rushing through the hole. According to the manufacturer:
The gotta have gift for every "serious" hunter! Undetectable to the human ear, our Lucky Deer Call emits an irresistible dinner bell to whitetails. Complete instructions included. Guaranteed! For amusement purpose only.
I remember how much we laughed at the gift. She had bought one for her husband too. Although the call is not a real deer call, the gift means something special to me and so I always carry it in the bottom of my fanny pack when I go deer hunting. When I told my friend about carrying the call during deer gun week and not seeing many deer, she asked if I actually blew the call. I said no that I had only carried it. She admonished me and said the next time I hunted I had to blow through the call. I promised her I would do so. We laughed again. Life is good when you laugh a lot.
My next opportunity to deer hunt was the first day of my state’s 2 day bonus gun season a few days after Christmas. Due to my work schedule I could only hunt one day. I was happy the weather was a good 15 to 20 degrees colder than during gun week but I was not happy about the forecast for freezing rain. My husband and I set out in the dark and headed to two different spots on the farm. The freezing rain held off until 11 a.m. Neither one of us saw a deer that morning and decided to head to the house when the rain started. The afternoon plan would be to head to the same field where my husband shot a deer during our regular deer gun week. He would sit in the same spot where he was sitting during that successful hunt. I would sit at the opposite end of the field.
At 3 p.m. I headed out the door. The temperature was 32 degrees and while not a torrential downpour, the rain was quite steady. My hunting spot was a cluster of aspens near the north end of our picked corn field. The field slopes gradually toward this end and with all the rain we had in the previous three days, a good portion of the field was under water. The woods alongside this edge of field belong to my neighbor and were logged several years back. The brush and logging slash in those woods is nearly impenetrable to a human and the deer love to hide there during the daytime. It was 3:30 p.m. when I got settled in and pulled out the lucky deer call. “shhhhhhhhhh shhhhhhhhh shhhhhhhhh” I blew on it at least 6 times. I paused and then blew two more times for good measure. It was hard not to laugh out loud. The rain may have dampened my mood, but blowing on that call sure lightened things back up. I put the call back in my bag and sat and waited.
Most of my attention was focused on a well used deer trail that came out of the woods a little left and front of where I was sitting. Occasionally I would look left into the field or right to an opening in some woods that leads to one of our other fields. I was thankful for good quality clothing and the heat from some hand warmers. As I watched the cold rain running off my gun, my mind thought how this is the type of weather one sits through to pay one’s dues. If I didn’t see a deer, I would be at least earning some kind of good luck points by sitting through these miserable conditions. At least that was what I was telling myself – anything at all to keep my spirits lifted. Collecting good luck points is always important to a deer hunter.
The view of the field to my left.
The phrase “sitting perfectly still is the best camo pattern” kept running through my head. It was hard to sit still but I did my best to just watch the main deer trail entering the field in front of me with very occasional glances left (open field) or right (opening through some woods). And then as things so often do when hunting, events started to unfold rather quickly. I looked left to check the field and there was a deer feeding. I may have jumped a bit. Where did it come into the field and how long had it been there? I could feel myself starting to shake. The deer had antlers. Wow, a buck. It was a young buck, but that makes no difference to me. The goal was to fill the freezer and to not shoot a doe. Slowly I had to move my gun to the other side of an aspen tree in my little cluster of trees where I was sitting. The deer kept feeding. My longest shot ever at a deer was around 60 yards. This was just a bit further at 70 yards. I told myself I could do this. A summer of shooting groundhogs and a fall of shooting squirrels had given me a bit more confidence than I usually possess. That was until I actually raised my gun to aim. With only a front bead, the gun nearly covered up the entire body of the deer. Holy crackers! That was a shock to my system. At least with my other deer guns, the fiber optic sights sit a bit above the gun barrel. I was clueless that this was going to happen. And the shaking, this too had to stop. The deer kept feeding. At first it was broadside but then it turned to face directly away from me. I took the opportunity to breathe. Oxygen is good in such a situation. Some deep breaths helped the shaking. The deer turned broadside facing the other way. Again I took aim and again I lost my nerve. The deer turned toward me and kept feeding. I took the opportunity for a pep talk. “I can do this. A little high. A little right. I can do this.” The deer turned broadside once more. I settled my aim at the level of the spine (not the top of the back, but a little lower where the spine runs). Safety off and squeezed the trigger. Boom! The deer dropped instantly and that was followed by the usual flood of emotions running through my entire body. The shot ended up going a little left of my aim, through the shoulder blade and hitting the spine where it dips downward before running back upwards through the neck. I must have just barely missed the front of the chest cavity. With the spine shot keeping the deer from running off, I was able to walk up and make a finishing shot.
My husband who was sitting at the other end of the field heard the shot. I texted him that I got a deer and he texted me he would go get the tractor. Between the excitement and the cold, I was shaking badly. I had to first drag the deer out of the flooded part of the field over to the plain old muddy part of the field so I could start field dressing. The mud was trying to suck off my boots along the way. I was glad to warm up my hands by field dressing the warm deer. My husband arrived with the tractor and we put the deer in the front end loader. Normally I would sit on the fender of the tractor for the ride back to the house. It wasn’t until I went to sit down that I noticed the entire tractor was covered in ice from the freezing rain. Sitting on the fender was like sitting on a slip 'n slide. Not wanting to end up under the tractor tire, I walked back home.
The buzz from a successful hunt was strong. My ol’ 20 gauge rabbit gun and cheap rifled slugs did the job. I could chalk up my success to all my practice shooting and choosing my shot carefully by waiting for the deer to be perfectly broadside. But I know I earned some good luck points in that freezing rain and the lucky deer called worked. What a blessing to have a freezer full of venison for another year.
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