By Dan Andrews
-- In early December 2004, a friend of mine named E.O. and I were invited to hunt on a friend's lease near Abilene, Texas. We arrived late on a Friday night and were greeted by another friend. In our minds, the lease was the ideal place to hunt because there is plenty of land and a warm old cabin.
The weather was nearly perfect, with the morning temperatures in the low-30s, and the high only getting into the mid-40s. After a good night's sleep, we awoke early and met with the lease manager, whom we followed for about 15 minutes to the section of land that we would be hunting. The lease manager showed us where to park, and we gathered our things to head out to our stands.
He also told us that for management purposes we should harvest bucks only and leave the does alone. He explained to me that the stand that I would be hunting out of was 300 yards away, and gave me a direction of travel. Unfortunately it was pitch black and this was land that I was unfamiliar with.
This is a good time for me to explain that I was very new to deer hunting. Although I had hunted birds a few times with my dad when I was young, it had been many years since I had sat in an old metal folding chair on the edge of a treeline, freezing and dozing off while waiting for my uncle's dogs to come running up and scare the fire out of me. It is also important to mention that I grew up in Texas. Simply put, I hate the cold! I enjoy living in Texas because of the extreme heat. When I started hunting again, I was determined to stay as warm as possible. This included purchasing as much cold weather gear as I could find, including very thick bibs.
Once given a direction of travel, I set off to find my stand. I marched with my rifle and a very heavy pack on my back through a field with 5-foot-tall thickets. After what seemed like a very long hike in the pitch black morning, I spotted a white beacon ahead that would be my solitude for the morning's hunt.
The stand appeared to be in good shape but didn't seem to have been used in a long time. I slung my rifle over my shoulder and began climbing. This is where my lack of experience in deer hunting came in. When I attempted to open the door to the stand, I found that it was rusted shut. No matter how hard I tried, the latch wouldn't give. I was then forced to make a choice. I was either going to find a way into the stand or find a comfortable tree to sit under.
Being unfamiliar with the area, the idea of sitting on the ground didn't sound appealing. I then removed my flashlight from my pack and began beating on the latch to the stand. These were not soft quiet taps, but loud rude awakening bangs that I was sure would run off any kind of wildlife within 5 miles. A few hard bangs, one good tug, and I was in the stand.
Once in the stand I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise and began to take in the terrain. I could not have been luckier to have such a scenic view. All around me were rolling hills, peaks and valleys.
About an hour after the sun rose, I saw what I thought were two coyotes walking toward me. As the animals closed the distance I noticed these were not coyotes but two very large does. This was very exciting since I was seeing more deer at that moment than I had seen in three years of hunting. I respected the lease manager's request and left the does alone.
As I returned from the morning hunt, I was looking forward to telling my friends about the does, the story about the stand and then returning to the hunt. Everyone was happy to hear that the banging noise that was heard all over the county was just me, but they were quick to tell me that next time I should just find a tree to sit under.
E.O., who had been in a stand a couple of miles away from me, had not been as lucky as I to see deer. He decided to come back out to my stand with me after lunch. At the time this seemed like a really good idea. I was wrong.
We returned earlier that afternoon and parked a little closer this time to avoid another long march. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse that afternoon bringing in sleet and a 30-mph wind. E.O. and I are not what would be considered in great shape, so when we decided to approach the stand from the opposite side and walk the steep hill up to it we were quite out of breath by the time we got there.
I handed my rifle to E.O. in order to make the climb up to the stand and begin my battle with the stand door. As I began to climb, I heard EO whisper something to me, but I ignored him and kept my concentration on not slipping on one of the steps or being blown off the stand.
I reached the top of the stand and decided that this door would not beat me again. At that point several things happened at one time. As I gave the door one hard jerk, a gust of wind caught the door and swung it open. For a brief moment I hung on for dear life. My feet had apparently decided that was a bad decision and began to quickly return to the ground. As all this was occurring in just a matter of a few short moments, and I could hear E.O.'s whispers growing louder.
As I began falling, I attempted to turn my body so that I could at least see where I was going to land. What I saw was E.O. staring up at me as the distance between the two of us closed. Fortunately for me, E.O. is about 6 inches taller and outweighs me by about 20 pounds. I hit the ground hard, grabbing E.O.'s shoulders as we both attempted to stop from rolling back down the North Face of the Eiger-like hill we just climbed.
I was just about to start laughing when E.O. looked me dead in the face and said, "Deer." He pointed in front of us. Apparently there was a giant, prehistoric 12-point buck about 350 yards away that had stood there the entire time enjoying the show.
Eventually we both made it up into the stand and spent the next several minutes watching the buck wonder farther away from us never giving us a clear shot. I'm quite sure that even from that distance I could hear the buck laughing as it wondered off into the treeline.
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