By Matt Spets
-- The evolution of a hunter or outdoorsman is an interesting concept, especially when, as in my case, that evolution is a direct parallel to the maturation process of the individual. I believe that sometimes one season, one hunt, one harvest, or even one moment can be a powerful experience that can influence a hunter and change his or her perspective on the sport for the rest of one's life.
My experience occurred Nov. 17, 2001, the third day of the Michigan Rifle Season. At this time, I was 22 years old and in my eighth season of rifle hunting. I had taken a handful of nice deer at the time, including one semi-irregular 11-point buck that has a composite score of over 145 BTR points. Yet I was still in the mode that deer season started with baiting in October, sitting in the same stand I had since I was 14, and shooting the first 2 1/2-year-old or decent antlered deer that came my way.
Additionally, I was sort of a selfish hunter. I wanted to be the first one at camp to shoot a buck and would even feel a slight twinge of envy if someone other than me would harvest a nice deer.
By noon of that day, my evolution as a hunter was initiated, and I became a better person. It was a wet, rainy morning, and I stayed in my stand until 8:30. My stand is set high on a ridge overlooking a river valley and a massive bend in the river that forms a peninsula of land that is flanked by clay banks on each side.
The clay banks force the deer to either cross the river and move directly below my stand or climb the steep ridge and appear at the top on either side of me within 50 yards of my stand. It is a tremendous natural deer crossing where I have taken many deer. Normally I would have stayed on the ridge until at least 10:30, however, I was disgusted at the fact that I had not seen a buck for three days and annoyed at the unseasonably warm, rainy weather. I decided that I would head back to camp to rest.
Camp is the Left-Hook Lodge, aptly named after more than one argument was settled with a round or two of fisticuffs. The structure is a stick-built shack on county land that was built by my grandfather and father in 1985. There is not quite enough room for the eight of us that stay there and hunt the surrounding public land but we have it pretty good.
It is nestled near a creek that winds around a series of beautiful ridges and small hills not far from the Michigan and Wisconsin border. I made it back to camp just before 9:00. I had not been there five minutes when my younger brother, Ross, who was 17 years old at the time, walked through the front door and calmly said, "I think I shot a nice one."
Still disgusted with myself for not seeing any bucks, I remarked, "How big?" My brother mumbled something about not being sure how big it was. He then proceeded to explain that he did not see the buck fall nor did he check for first blood. I shot him a skeptical glance and we jumped on the four-wheelers and headed to his stand.
My brother's stand was set nearly a mile west of mine on the same ridge. After the 3-mile ride, we parked the machines at the top of the ridge and walked in the direction of where he told me he last saw the buck. I had no inkling whatsoever as to what I was going to find not 5 minutes later.
Nearly 50 yards from the spot at which my bother last saw the deer, I stepped over the trunk of a large aspen windfall and, not more than 10 yards ahead of me, I saw the back and swollen neck of my brother's buck. It was lying in a clump of saplings that led down a draw to a small pocket of cedar trees. I quickly noticed the left side of the rack - a massive, dark main beam with impressive tine length. I ran to the deer, turned to my brother in amazement and simply stared at him. My little brother and I looked at one another without saying a word.
We immediately understood how amazing this animal was. Merely by the sight of this magnificent animal, two brothers, young outdoorsmen, had in one minute gained a respect for the white-tailed deer neither of us had ever imagined. He had harvested the nicest buck I had ever seen in person and the largest to ever be killed by a member of our camp. The buck had a massive typical 10-point rack with P2s and P3s of better than 10 inches and unique, twisted brow tines. The chocolate-colored rack had bases of over 5 inches and had a BTR composite score of over 160.
I quickly snapped out of my state of amazement and thought about my father. I thought about how excited over the deer and proud of Ross he was going to be. Our father, a very successful deer hunter, had given to us a wealth of information about deer, hunting, and the woods in general. We knew dad was still-hunting the ridge between our stands and would actually be arriving near Ross's stand any minute.
We decided to field-dress the deer and wait for him. As I field-dressed it and Ross punched his tag, I asked him a hundred questions about his hunt. He excitedly recalled the entire sequence of his hunt, right down to when he confidently took the 75-yard shot with his Remington .30-06. I told him how proud I was that he made the shot on such an impressive buck.
Around 10 a.m., looking through the big maples, aspen, and hemlocks, we saw dad sneaking down the ridge. He quickly noticed the scene below him and knew Ross had shot a buck. As we watched him climb down through the timber and make his way toward us, neither of us spoke. We simply looked at each other with huge grins on our faces in anticipation of his reaction when he laid eyes on the buck.
Most men know about the frequent tension that exists between a father and a son. Add to that the tension that exists between two brothers, and you can assume our little trio had more than its share of arguments. But on this day, at this moment, when my father approached two brothers, young men, in their prime - feeling invincible after the successful kill, the tension vanished.
After Ross told dad the details, and we again examined the buck, the moment turned surreal and emotional. My father's pride in his sons, my brother's triumph, and the fact that all three of us were present, at that particular time, relishing in Ross's success made everything come together for me. Even though I was not the successful hunter that day, I took more from that moment than anyone. I grew up right then and there. I became a better son, a better brother, a better person. It took that moment for me to truly understand a father's love, a little brother's determination to gain respect and how important hunting actually was to me.
One other important thing happened to me that day. I knew without a doubt that whitetail hunting was the one activity that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I started reading books, articles, anything I could get my hands on. I started scouting potential stand places in the spring, summer, and early fall. I began tracking weather patterns and recognizing the correlations these patterns have with deer movement and activity. I researched scent control and began to practice various techniques. I know that a portion of my motivation was due to the fact that my brother's buck was concrete proof that record book whitetails existed where I lived and hunted.
Since that day I have made much progress toward evolving into the deer hunter that I want to become. Over the past few years I have learned much and have had success, culminating in last year's archery kill, a typical 11-point buck with a BTR composite score of over 150 harvested off my own property. Deer hunting to me is the ultimate challenge. Being consistently successful takes organization, dedication, and extreme patience. The greatest thing about the sport is that each hunt is a different experience.
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