We’ve all had hunting experiences that are more memorable than others — but not because the result was a trophy buck.
My buddy Darren Cooper and I had painstakingly chosen the stand site to cut off a big buck that everyone in the club knew frequented a narrow strip of woods between a large field and the highway cutting through the lease. We built a platform in the fork of a big magnolia tree, and then cleared a shooting lane that stretched about 40 yards long and about 10 yards wide. The lane cut across several well-worn game trails, so any deer moving down the aptly named “Narrow Strip” was bound to walk into the open.
At the far end of the cleared opening was a tree about 6 inches around that had been hooked in years past and was worked over anew just before the season opened. To top it all off, corn was scattered along the lane as both attractant and to convince a deer to pause long enough for me to get a shot.
The plan was solid. No way it could go wrong.
Yet I had spent half the season staring at an empty lane. I was sick of looking at it. I hadn’t seen as much as a squirrel or rabbit on the trail.
Until a buck taunted me one morning.
As I sat high in the tree, comfortably watching nothing, I heard a noise off to the left. I eased my head around, and about 30 yards away, a tall bush was shaking like crazy as a deer obviously wore it out.
Of course, there was so much underbrush that I couldn’t see a hair.
So, after walking over after the hunt to find sap-wet curls of bark hanging from the bush, I decided I had to make a move.
I went back to the camp, grabbed a climbing stand and placed it off my shoot trail so that I could see where the buck had been hooking the bush. And the view from 30 feet was stunning; I couldn’t see the shooting lane, but I could easily get a 75-yard shot in much of the big bottom.
About three hunts in from the climber, I was getting tired. This was years ago, when I still struggled to stay awake during slow hunts, so I was adept at napping in my stand.
As my head bobbed, and I slumped lower and lower in the stand, I heard rustling in the leaves. It sounded like birds picking through the flotsam cast from the oaks lining the bottom, but I decided I better pry my eyes open and take one final look before catching a few Z’s.
I glanced around, and at first saw nothing.
And then movement right on the edge of the shooting lane caught my eye, and I awoke fully in an adrenaline-spiked high.
A big, muscular deer had just walked out of the shooting lane (of course) and was standing at the edge of a thicket, quietly peering into the bottom. I could see the animal from its eyeballs down, but thick greenery obscured the top of its head.
And then it slowly turned and eased along just inside the thicket on the other side of the bottom, sticking to the shadows of the morning.
My heart was doing flips inside my chest, making it difficult to do anything. As I watched the muscle-bound deer picking its way directly across my site zone, I struggled to raise my rifle.
I finally eased the scope to my eye, and searched feverishly for what I knew had to be sitting atop the deer’s head. All I saw were leaves.
Glancing around the scope, I could clearly see the deer’s body — but the deer kept its head high enough that I could see nothing.
I finally pushed the safety lever forward, and decided to take the shot. After all, it just had to be a buck. I quickly re-engaged the safety, knowing I couldn’t take the shot if I wasn’t sure.
I repeated that process until I was certain the deer would hear the safety clicking on and off. By this time, the deer was only about 30 yards from me, and as safe as if I were standing a mile away.
It took the deer a full 10 minutes to slowly walk the edge of the bottom, and then — still only 30 or so yards away — turned its head away from me.
I panicked, jammed my thumb forward to disengage the safety and snapped the rifle to my shoulder — just in time to see the deer disappear into the underbrush.
And then it reappeared in a sun-drenched briar thicket, and my worst fears were confirmed.
A huge swath of polished calcium flashed in the sun, and was gone just as quickly.
In vain, I glared through the scope, but never saw more than a glimpse of movement.
Finally, the deer was gone, melting into the thick cover.
I didn’t have any problem staying awake the rest of the hunt, and when I dejectedly climbed out of the tree, I hurried to the edge and followed the trail the buck walked back to the shooting lane.
And, sure enough, the deer had not only walked across the lane, but had spent time skinning more bark from the small tree at the end of the opening.
I could only grind my teeth in frustration, knowing that if I had been sitting in the magnolia, I would have gotten a shot at the biggest deer I’d seen to that point.
As frustrating as the hunt was, it’s one of my fondest hunting memories. Cooper and I have laughed about it for years.
Any hunter who has spent any time at all chasing deer can relate similar stories, so Louisiana Sportsman decided to share some of the best hunting bloopers we could track down.