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Happenstance or Strategy?

CormierBy Joe Cormier
-- Some might say that my 2008 hunting season was anything but ordinary. Well, that's because I’ve got this thing figured out.

I’ll let you all in on it, but let me start by sharing the events of my Nov. 11 hunt. It was the first cool morning in nearly a week as I made my way up a ridge to a stand site my buddy and I call "The Ledges."

I was creeping along the edge of some young pine trees, trying to keep my silhouette broken, when I snapped a branch off of a deadfall in my attempt to step over it. The crack echoed through the woods and I froze to listen and survey the damage.

At first, all seemed okay. I pressed forward to my sitting spot near a big rock atop the ledge. After I'd taken three steps, I spooked a big-bodied deer. It ran from the base of the ledge into a hemlock and pine thicket.

I quickly crept along the ledge in search of a favorable angle and stopped to survey the patch of evergreens. I didn't see the deer I'd jumped, but I did see a spike walking toward the small thicket. I thought about shooting the bird in hand, but I opted against it.

A few seconds later, the bigger deer emerged from the thicket. I squeezed the trigger as soon as my rifle's crosshairs settled behind the buck's shoulder.

Instead of falling, the buck took off, angling across in front of me at a steady clip. I swung ahead of the deer and into a clearing. As the animal entered my scope's field of view, I squeezed the trigger a second time. But nothing happened.

I quickly ejected that shell and jacked another one in, which convinced the buck to shift into high gear. It quickly disappeared around the end of the ledges.

I climbed back up the ridge, peered to my left and saw the buck standing broadside about 50 yards away and staring at me. I raised my rifle and, once again, squeezed the trigger.

All I got was a crisp snap, not much more than the sounds emitted by the cap guns my brother and I pretend-hunted with when we were kids.

The buck lifted its tail -- maybe in an attempt to taunt me -- and up the ridge it ran. My rifle misfired. In my attempt to clear the chamber of its cartridge, the action jammed partly opened. Now with the echoes of words that should not be printed, I frantically tugged on the breech bolt until it opened and I was able to remove the cartridge and reload.

I continued up the ridge with watchful eyes scanning left and ahead. I paused at the top and then took a stand in some pines, where I could see about 80 yards down the slope of the ridge.

I'd just taken about three deep breaths and wiped my forehead when I glimpsed the same buck at 65 yards. That time, to my delight, my rifle roared and the shot was true. 

Here's the deal ... Once you shoot at a deer and miss, it doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get out of your way. It’s like they figure you can’t hit the broad side of a barn anyway, so why break a leg?

If I'd dropped that buck with the first shot, I would've had to drag it out around the ledges and back over that ridge to my truck. Knowing the behavior of whitetails after they have been shot at and missed, I shot over that buck on purpose. I then kept bumping him around the ridge until he reached a favorable distance from my truck before I harvested him.

Okay, so that last paragraph isn’t exactly true. But the deer did end up a lot closer to my truck.

Sometimes you just can’t explain why things turn out the way they do in the deer woods. Maybe that’s part of the excitement and thrill that keeps us returning each year to match wits with the greatest game animal of all.

--Joe Cormier

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