With the current state of the shrinking deer herd across many states in the Midwest, the 2016-17 deer season was a continuation of my attempt to be a thoughtful deer hunter. Currently we are trying to keep the population stable on our farm. I read articles on how many does should be harvested on a property and prior to the season starting I came up with a suggestion of no more than 1 to 2 does harvested for the amount of acres we own. We have a neighbor who we let bow hunt and he shot an adult doe in October. That left no more than 1 doe to shoot and I would leave that job to my husband which he accomplished during our week long gun season. For me, the choice was buck only. I’ve only shot one buck older than a yearling and so my hope was to get a 2 ½ year old buck or older knowing that in my “brown is down” heart of hearts if a hunt was exciting and eventful, I would shoot any buck. My first chance was our week long regular gun season. Gun season was uneventful except for the fox incident (see the previous blog entry). The weather for the first 4 days sucked. The forecast for the first 2 days was a south wind. Without getting into details of the layout of my farm, let me just say that a south wind is the suckiest of all winds to try and hunt. On day 3 the forecast was for the wind to shift to the west which is much better. Unfortunately the wind didn’t shift and it was still from the south. Then day 4 the forecast was for the wind to shift only the wind didn’t shift and it was still from the south. Add to that the temperatures were unseasonably warm and the deer were not moving. At all. Days 5-7 finally saw that wind shift which made it easier to find better spots to sit but the minimal deer movement continued. Cold weather was needed and cold weather did not happen. Oh I did see deer from time to time mostly in the evening at last light. My husband did shoot a doe. We hung it in the garage and I cut out the backstraps, tenderloins and a couple roasts. Then I deboned the rest of the meat and took it to our local smokehouse for them to make deer sticks and hot dogs. A pretty bland 7 days of hunting. Looking into an empty woodlot during a warm day of deer gun season. The bonus weekend was a bit more eventful. We had 2 feet of snow the week before. Then on the first day of the weekend hunt it warmed up to rain. I spent the entire morning alternately trudging through soggy mid-calf deep snow, sweating, and sitting down to cool off then repeat. I didn’t see any deer until my walk back to the house for lunch and then I saw something like 11 deer with none being bucks. During one of my sitting breaks, a doe and fawn cruised by at 30 yards and I let them go. I went back out hunting in the evening and saw a few more deer that were all too far to shoot. The second morning started off by slogging through the marsh and through the melting couple feet of snow and getting melt water in one of my boots. I tried to sit for awhile but a soaking wet cold foot was not working for me so I walked back home. The evening hunt was much more exciting. The wind was finally right to sit at one my better spots. Lo and behold a mature buck came sauntering out of the bedding area well before sunset and in my gun’s range. I won’t go into all the gory details other than to say that I shot and cleanly missed the buck. I have been hunting deer for 20 years and this was the 4th time I had a mature buck in range of my gun. All I could do was laugh hysterically. A rare opportunity wasted. Such is the fate of a “brown is down” hunter who decides to try and shoot a mature buck. There was however still muzzleloader season yet to come. The scene of a missed shot at a rarely seen mature buck. Three weeks later, it was time to pull myself up by the boot straps, quit thinking of the missed buck and move on to the 4 day muzzleloader season. I was really really really really excited. I really was. I love shooting my muzzleloader. That gun is so darn accurate and it doesn’t hurt me like my shotgun does. Oh and it makes a big puff of smoke which is like chocolate sprinkles on top of a sundae. The weather forecast for the first 2 days was for high temps in the mid teens and strong northwest winds making wind chills below zero. The deer would be on their feet for sure. My husband wanted to shoot any deer in range to give to our friend that was unable to get out hunting this year. I was still after a buck only. We skipped the mornings and hunted the evenings by the fields where we knew they would be coming to feed. Yeah, baby. The hubs and I took to different spots on the farm and sat in below zero wind chills without using a blind. We are either tough or stupid. The first evening I had a doe and button buck in range and let them go. Between my husband and me we saw 23 deer, not a single one with antlers. The second evening I had a doe fawn in range and let her go. Between my husband and me we saw 21 deer, none with antlers. My husband never did have a deer in range of his muzzleloader. At least seeing deer made the cold temps bearable. Oh and I gave thanks to hand warmers and toe warmers and body warmers that were tucked into my clothing in strategic locations. I pretty much decided that day 3 of the 4 day muzzleloader season would be my last day of deer hunting for the season. Day 4 had a forecast of sleet, freezing rain and winds gusting over 40mph. I will happily sit in below zero wind chills but that freezing rain thing was for the birds. Day 3 on the other hand was much more pleasant. With temps in the mid 20s, it felt downright balmy compared to the first two days. Well except for the strong south wind which is the suckiest of all winds to hunt on my farm. My husband and I had discussed wanting to get a deer for our friend that wasn’t able to hunt. This friend really helps my husband out on the farm and we really wanted to get his family a deer to butcher. I told my husband that I still did not want to shoot another doe off the farm but that if a button buck gave me a shot then I would take it. My husband set up in one of the best spots for a south wind. He took this spot because his gun has a scope and he can shoot a longer range than I can. That increased range would most likely be needed if the deer came out where they usually come out. I on the other hand contemplated which sucky south wind spot to sit. I decided to sit next to where the Brussels sprouts and kale were planted. The deer usually come out along the opposite edge of the field that is over 200 yards away. They would have to make the long journey across the field to be in range of my gun. I had low expectations of this happening but I was still looking forward to sitting out enjoying the evening. At least I knew I would probably see deer even if none came into range. Which brings me to a short digression about the Brussels sprouts and kale. Every year for the last several years we have grown Brussels sprouts and kale and most years we have picked Brussels sprouts all the way into January. The deer never seem to bother either the Brussels sprouts or kale. Back in December we were getting ready to harvest all the Brussels sprouts at one time and take them to a processor to be frozen for sale. That’s when it was discovered that the deer had eaten every single Brussels sprout and all the leaves off the plants. All we could think is that with an extremely poor mast year, the deer did not have as much natural food as usual and instead turned to the Brussels sprouts and also the kale. That little escapade of theirs cost us a bit of money. But onward to the deer hunting tale. Brussels sprouts reduced to bare stalks by the munching of hungry deer. I got out to the field a little after 3pm. I found a tree stump to sit against near the edge of the field. About 50-60 yards to my left was a grown up hedgerow. The expanse of the produce and soybean field was off to my right. When I sat down, I thought the spot to be a little too exposed so I took a few minutes to carry some downed limbs over and fashioned a small quickie ground blind. About 15 minutes later a pair of chickadees came to inspect the ground blind. They were just 3 or 4 feet from me and I thought about this is why I love to hunt. At that moment it did not matter if my season ended without getting a deer. Watching those chickadees was pure magic. An improvised small ground blind overlooking the Brussels sprouts and kale At just after 4pm, I spotted a deer walking along the far opposite edge of the field 200+ yards away. It was by itself and walked until it was directly across from me and started browsing on bushes on the field edge. I pulled out my binoculars. I could tell it was a fawn by the short boxy face and since it was by itself I was hopeful it was a button buck. I still thought the chance of it crossing the field was slim but at least I was watching a deer. About 20-30 minutes later it was joined by another deer and that too looked like a fawn. Then 10 minutes a later another deer stepped out and it was definitely a big mature doe. I continued to watch all three deer and tried to determine if the fawns were button bucks or not. I convinced myself that both fawns were indeed bucks and waited. The first deer to step out started to work into the produce field and started nibbling on the remains of the Brussels sprouts. Slowly, ever so slowly, he fed in my direction. I picked up the binoculars once more and while not 100% sure, I was 98.7% sure this was a button buck. As he continued feeding in my direction, I had a whole lot of time to think. I thought about that deer (and his relatives) and how they ate all those Brussels sprouts. I thought about how my husband really wanted to get a deer for our friend that farms with him. I thought about how I had not shot a deer yet this season. I thought about the deer I let pass by earlier in the season and the buck I missed just 3 weeks earlier. It took nearly 50 minutes but as the little buck got just over halfway across the field, he quit eating and started cutting diagonally in front of me left to right. About this time, I could really start to feel my heart beating in my chest. When he got closer, he saw me. Or he saw the ground blind. Whatever he saw it was something that wasn’t there before and he started staring. I went into statue mode. My heart beating in my chest was now so loud I could feel it in my ears. Yes here was a button buck heading my way and the excitement of the hunt was intense. It’s been 16 years since I shot my 1st deer and I’ve shot around a dozen deer in those 16 years. I cannot comprehend when someone says that they don’t get excited by a button buck. Any deer excites me. This deer that was heading my way was no less exciting than the mature buck I missed earlier. All deer are created equal in my head. The button buck turned directions and while still coming toward me, he now was angling right to left. He started doing very brief pauses with short foot stomps but kept walking. I got my gun up and had to wait for him to clear a small clump of brush. He was about 40 yards away when I shot. Boom! Always a relief when the primer touches off the powder in a muzzleloader. The smoke cleared quickly in the strong breeze. The deer spun and ran. He ran straight back the way he came then started veering toward the overgrown hedgerow. He crossed through the hedgerow and there was a large crashing sound. I was hopeful that he went down. I reloaded my gun and waited just a few minutes. I could not see anything with my binoculars over where the deer was last seen. I didn’t wait as long as I should have but I really hate tracking in the dark. I have shot 4 other deer with my muzzleloader. None went very far but none of them left blood trails. At least today I had snow on the ground. I found the spot where I had shot the deer and there was no sign of blood. I followed his tracks and in about 20 to 30 yards I finally found blood. Whew! At least I know I hit him. The blood trail wasn’t great but it was there. Slowly I followed his tracks to the hedgerow. He crashed all they way through a particularly thick spot and there on the other side was my deer laying dead. It was indeed a button buck. The shot was a double lung, just a bit high above the heart but really a very good shot. Crashed through the old hedgerow My usual mode of operation is to forget to pack a flashlight and have to field dress a deer in the dark. I actually remembered my little light that clips on my hat and it came in handy as I field dressed him in the fading light. I had sent my husband a text and he texted he would go get the tractor. I decided to drag the deer to a tractor path about 120 yards away to keep the tractor from rutting up the spot where the deer had died. When I got there, I crossed paths with my husband who was walking up from where he had been hunting. He had seen some deer but none close enough to shoot. We decided to tag team and finish dragging the deer back to the house instead of getting the tractor. I think we dragged the deer about 580 yards total. Not too shabby for a couple of middle aged out of shape flatlanders. What followed was all the usual stuff. I checked in the deer online and fed and walked the dogs. We loaded up the deer and took it to our friend’s house. There was the usual telling of deer hunting stories and we hung the deer in the barn. Another deer season has passed and has enriched my life with more memories. I am blessed to be a part of this lifestyle.